Trail running in Mallorca, in the Tramuntana mountains in which Deià sits is not for the fainthearted. But it is intensely rewarding and even relaxing. Tramuntana-based barefoot runner, coach and trail running guide Rebecca Lewis explains why.
Rebecca is no stranger to islands. She grew up in the remote and beautiful Isles of Scilly, off the UK’s Land’s End. After 14 years’ as a professional photographer in London, she escaped the craziness of the underground youth culture, fashion and music scenes she was shooting by spending a few months boat hopping in the Caribbean. For six years, she crewed on sailing yachts, which brought her to Mallorca. She thought the island was beautiful and hoped she could make it her home.
Deciding to leave yachting, she certified as a yoga instructor. But she also qualified as a natural or barefoot running coach. After five years teaching yoga, running and natural movement fitness, running and teaching outside in nature began to resonate more. She built Barefoot Mallorca from her home off-grid in the mountains near Bunyola and Santa Maria, where she now coaches running and helps people optimise the way they move, resolve pain and prevent injury through Anatomy in Motion.
Rebecca started running around 17 years ago because I was heartbroken. ‘It was the best thing that ever happened to me!’ she says. ‘I couldn’t sleep through the night so I got up and ran. It was my Forrest Gump moment: “I just felt like running”.’
This was the spark that ignited Rebecca’s passion. ‘Something shifted during that first run. I came back empowered and uplifted. Running gave me a feeling of freedom, peace and clarity of mind and it still does. I run for how amazing it makes me feel. When done right, without damage and pain in the body, running is the most natural, simple and liberating thing to do.’
Rebecca tells me that up to 80% of running injuries are the result of heavily marketed cushioned running shoes. These are often not much more than fashion items, that compromise the shape and function of our feet, affecting whole body movement. As she says, ‘Most runners wear thick-soled shoes that don’t give them the necessary sensory feedback to change into their running gait. They actually run in their walking gait. This is where problems arise. It’s not surprising, then, that barefoot running which respects our physiology and biological needs is becoming more mainstream. Nature got it right, not Nike!’
I can understand why barefoot running makes sense, but I can’t imagine how anyone could run like that in the mountains. Is Rebecca literally barefoot when she goes trail running in Mallorca?
‘You can run barefoot if your feet are conditioned for it. But barefoot running is usually done in minimalist shoes that allow the feet to respond to the ground without compromising their shape, function or sensory feedback. Minimalist running shoes enable runners to shift into their running gait pattern and run as nature intended. I teach runners how to change movement patterns, so your body occupies, by default, patterns that encourage pain free movement.’
Nature got it right, not Nike!
Rebecca’s approach to running is guided by the Anatomy in Motion (AiM) principles formulated by Gary Ward in his book What the Foot . These encourage looking at the body as an integrated system to enable a process of unravelling movement patterns built up over a lifetime. The process is specific to individual runners and understanding the traumas, injuries or simple habits that have influenced their movement patterns. Once this work is done, Rebecca uses neural reprogramming to bring bodies back to their centre.
‘If we can simply come home to what nature intended,’ Rebecca says ‘I believe a lot of our pain and suffering could be resolved. And when we can move well, we generally feel well.’
Her teaching is popular with runners who want pain free running, have often tried everything else and not had lasting results. As she says, ‘I don’t “fix” them, I simply guide their bodies to heal themselves”.
Rebecca makes natural trail running in Mallorca sound highly appealing. But I’m someone who’s only ever walked in the mountains and finds the idea of any kind of running somewhat daunting. Could she work with me?
‘I would work with anyone, whatever their level,’ Rebecca told me. ‘My goal is to get people out in nature, enjoy their bodies and discover how capable they are and how natural running can be for anyone, whatever the speed. And we don’t need to run all the time. Moving up and down through the gears is also important.’
According to Rebecca, trail running is more natural to the human body than consistently flat ground so it’s actually easier to start with trail running. She recommends starting by walking the trails and then breaking into little runs when you feel the urge. ‘Soon you’ll be running more than walking. And when you’re running on the stunning, unspoilt trails that traverse the Tramuntanas you can never get bored.’
If you live on the island and would like to try trail running in Mallorca, you’re a keen runner visiting Mallorca or you suffer pain when you’re running, Rebecca would love to have a chat. Contact her here.