The second race I ever ran was the Maple Ridge Memorial Day 5K on May 28, 2012. I still wasn’t sure how races were put on; I was studying race course maps before events back then. I even drove the Maple Ridge race path with a printed map in my car the day before so I wouldn’t get lost should the crowd fly past me.
Everything was a new experience, but there was someone that really stood out at that race. At that race back in 2012, I saw this guy I call “the barefoot hippie” for the first time – you may know who I am talking about. I got to the race early and was standing around anxiously, and people watching before the race started. This guy with long dreadlocks casually strolled up wearing Crocs, t-shirt and baggy shorts. I was in awe because I thought, “Holy moly! That guy is going to run in Crocs! That’s crazy!” But then right before the start gun went off, he kicked off his Crocs and took off barefoot. Mind blown! Knowing me, I probably said a curse word and watched him disappear into the horizon in front of me. I think I even snapped a picture of him to show people later.
I didn’t see him again that day, but saw him at races every now and again – always barefoot. I always noticed and always had a million questions about it.
Back in 2012, I was so new to running and racing, and I had never heard of barefoot running before. I subscribed to a running magazine once I got the running bug, and there were several articles about minimal running. I had so many questions: Doesn’t it hurt? Why would you want to do it? Does it require a lot of training? Are your feet disgusting to look at? Are races harder? Do you ever run with shoes, do you like to be barefoot more?
As a kid, I would spend the summer barefoot, and my feet could handle anything. I ran, rode my bike, walked on hot asphalt, and did everything shoeless. As an adult, I rarely go outside the house without some kind of footwear. I’ll throw on flip flops for those quick visits outside. My childhood calluses are long gone.
I struggled with running when I started. I had shin splints so badly and had to get a stability running shoe. With the shoes and training, my shin splints eventually went away, and I worked to get my legs strong. There was no way I would have been able to run barefoot; I needed the support of my shoes.
I set a goal to run a 5K barefoot because of the barefoot hippie, because it seemed a little nuts, and because I wanted to prove that I was strong enough to do it. I set the goal, but did not pick a goal race or date.
September 2014, I went to Dallas for a 9-11 Goruck Challenge event. The cadre that lead us made us take our shoes off, tie them to our bag and run for about 2 miles in the dark at a fast pace. The purpose was to push us out of our comfort zones. It definitely worked. People stepped on rocks and rough ground but couldn’t stop to cry about it, as we had to push to keep going through the pain.
For me, it awakened that barefoot 5K goal. After all, I handled two miles with a backpack filled with four bricks on my back in the pitched black night – surely I could handle a 5K race during the day.
However, months passed and I still didn’t make my commitment to a race. Winter hit and I just didn’t want to run barefoot in the cold.
In May, however, I was looking at the race calendar of upcoming races and saw the Maple Ridge 5K. I thought, it would be perfect to run my first barefoot at the very race I first saw someone run barefoot. It was time to tackle this goal I’ve talked about for years. I registered at the race, but I kept telling people that I was planning to do this thing because I didn’t want to talk myself out of doing it. If enough people knew about it and would ask me about it, I had to do it. I hoped that the barefoot hippie would be at the Maple Ridge 5K this year, but sadly, he was not there. I’m sure he would think my story was a little strange, but I will talk to him at a race at some point and find out how he got to running barefoot.
My barefoot race experience was good. I walked up to the start line and took off my socks and shoes. People stared. I was so nervous. The monologue in my head included “What am I thinking?” and “This is crazy.”
“Runners ready….Go!” I took off with the crowd. My initial goal was to be social and only run with one headphone in so I could talk to people around me as I ran. But as I got going, I thought I don’t really want to talk about my bare feet hitting the pavement the whole time; that surely would be the topic people would want to talk about. I needed to be distracted. There was pain in my feet and I needed to just run. I changed my plan and plugged both headphones in, cranked up my music and just zoned out. I was lip syncing and arm dancing as I ran barefoot. To those that don’t know me, I’m sure I looked crazy. I occasionally saw some pointing at my feet and got weird looks, but I have no idea what people were saying, I couldn’t hear them.
I apologize to my fellow racers if you wanted to talk or talked to me, I was buckling down and embracing the suck.
I was happy that my legs, shins, and the arches of my feet felt completely fine despite the lack of support of a shoe. I was surprised at how good and natural running downhill felt. I felt like a gazelle running downhill, light and graceful. I felt myself adjusting how my feet struck the ground and my stride. I found that I run with a pretty heavy foot and really stomp my feet into the ground. I ended up adjusting my steps while barefoot to be lighter and land softer.
My legs never cramped, my back never hurt, no shin pains, no ankles twinges – all the things I thought would happen. I did end up with a few blisters on the bottom of my feet, one toe was rubbed raw, and the bottom of my feet felt bruised from my heavy steps at the beginning of the race. There was a lack of conditioning, as I didn’t actually train and build up my skin toughness before the race. I don’t’ recommend this. Two days after the race, my calves were pretty sore because I had used my muscles differently than if I were wearing shoes.
I think if my feet were more conditioned, I could really enjoy barefoot running. I’ve also considered trying minimal shoes.
My conclusion with running three miles barefoot: it wasn’t all that bad. I was more aware of my body and stride.
There will be people that are against this sort of thing and have negative things to say. Others will praise it and tell you that you should do it. I have read a lot about both views and chose to find out for myself by actually doing instead of assuming. I ran the whole race, crossed the finish line and didn’t die.
Am I a barefoot runner? Ehh, I don’t know. I’ll do it again I’m sure, as I’m always up for a challenge and there are definitely a lot of mental and physical barriers to overcome with running barefoot.
Set goals. Do the things that are “crazy.” Don’t miss the opportunity because you are waiting for the perfect moment. Instead, make the moment and make it perfect.
A great Steve Jobs quotes goes, “We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know?”
I think I will spend the summer with my toes on the ground as much as possible instead of always being covered up. Grass felt AMAZING on my feet after running 5K on the asphalt.
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