Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference – Robert Frost
Saturday I ran my first competitive race in over 7 years. It was a 10-mile trail course. I ran barefoot, of course.
I would say that runners who are serious enough to run these events seem to be very open minded and legitimately curious about doing it barefoot. I was the only person, of several hundred competitors, running barefoot. Yet, of all these people, I only heard a few comments (from slower runners as I passed them) like, “I could never do that!” Most were curious to see the bottoms of my feet, and surprised that they look pretty normal, not all scarred up or cracked. One guy I paced with for a few minutes was from Nigeria. He said he used to run like that all the time, but didn’t think he could now (I assume he has been living in the USA for a time).
A few people asked if it hurt my feet to run barefoot. I worked out a good reply, as Linda Wright suggests, answer their question with a question.
“Doesn’t it hurt to run with those on your feet?” To which, many runners agreed was a good point.
One guy said that the shoe sponsors must really hate me — “Where would they be if running barefoot caught on?” I said that people had been doing it for thousands of years and it doesn’t seem to be catching on.
It was a hilly course on a dirt trail. Mostly up, with a few downs, for 5 miles, then back the same way, mostly down, with a few ups. There was a creek crossing the trail about a half mile from the start and finish lines.
I started out at the back of the crowd. It not only gave me a good feeling to pass so many people (the psychological effect of passing so many people cannot be underestimated), but I was able to talk with several about my barefeet while stuck in the crowd at the beginning. Another interesting benefit was that so many racers couldn’t help notice I was running barefoot as I passed them.
The first stream crossing on the way out all of the shod runners I saw went around to a narrow point to jump or step across. I just looked at the creek and said, “This isn’t a problem for my feet.” The people near me laughed as they carefully tip-toed around and on the few rocks that stood above the water.
My first mile was fairly slow, since this was my first real race in 10 years, and my first real barefoot race, so I wasn’t certain what I would be able to do in a race. For the first few minutes, I ran and chatted with a Nigerian man. He had grown up running barefoot, but had lived in the U.S.A. for a while, and was pudgy like many Americans, he was also wearing shoes, and running slowly enough that I left him in the dust when we started climbing the first hills…
I steadily passed most of the crowd on the first 4 or so miles out and up the hills. About a mile or so from the turnaround, I noticed it was getting harder to pass people (No duh, Ken!). The runners were scarcer and faster.
I was still taking it slow – until the big downhill…
Soon I was reminded of a discussion I had with Tammy, the wife of Cathy’s (my wife) flight instructor, about running downhill. She said, and I agreed that most people seem afraid of running downhill, and don’t take advantage of the natural acceleration of gravity. I would pace with a runner up the hill, then on the downhill, I would let gravity carry me past them. At least I didn’t have to worry about tripping over my shoelaces.
When I crested the last big uphill, and started running the first big downhill in the second half of the race, I was flying. I yelled ahead to warn people that I was “coming through, no brakes!”
I heard one woman reply, “No brakes, no knees!”
She just didn’t get it, as I flew past her, watching her land stiff-legged, launching herself up into the air (away from the hill), only to come down harder and harder with each step, as she pounded down the hill.
I thought to warn her, “Brakes destroy the knees!”
But I had already flown a quarter-mile down the hill ahead of her…
I was running all alone, as I had passed most of the pack, and the leaders were several minutes ahead of me. I may have gotten some of the spectators wet as I ran through the creek without slowing down. Later, after finishing, I came back to soak my feet in the cool water and several other runners and spectators thought it was funny how so many of the runners, after running this far, were worried about getting their shoes wet.
I didn’t win the race, but I did pretty good. I finished the 10 miles 41st place overall, 8th place for my age group (40-45), 1 hour, 11 minutes and 6 seconds was my time (about 7:07 per mile).
I felt almost like a celebrity as many of the runners “interviewed” me, after the event, about running barefoot. One man, who looked like an old hippy, didn’t run, but had brought his son to run, said he used to walk barefoot all the time but, couldn’t even walk comfortably barefoot on his carpet anymore. I told him, “You’ve got to get some new carpet, man!” He laughed.