My First Barefoot Run ... And, I'm Hooked

Went for a run this afternoon, my first in about six weeks. I intended to run to the Piedmont High track from my home in North Oakland (about 3 miles), do some barefoot laps, and run back home. Instead, I ended up doing my first legit barefoot run. And let me just say ... it, uh, kicked ass! After I finished my six or seven barefoot laps on the track, I laced my shoes back on for one final lap and the run back home. But lo and behold, my shoes felt utterly ridiculous. I could hardly run. Running barefoot around the track was so freeing, so light, so easy, while putting my shoes back on felt cumbersome, awkward, and slow. So I removed them again and took to the streets.

To get home, I had to run down the hill in Piedmont, then across Grand Ave., Piedmont Ave., Broadway, and finally Telegraph Ave. -- four busy commercial districts that one might assume wouldn't be all that friendly to the feet. This is the assumption that keeps most people from running barefoot on city streets. But beyond a small splinter in one foot that I easily removed, I didn't experience a single problem -- no glass, no sharp rocks, no needles or what-have-you. Instead, I felt fantastic all the way home. I also felt silly, carrying a pair of shoes in my hands and running barefoot down the street, but mostly I felt fantastic.

Six miles, usually, is too much for your first barefoot run. Most people recommend starting with as little as 1/4 mile. I'd run barefoot on the track before, and had been conditioning my feet by walking around barefoot throughout the summer (much to the chagrin of my lovely wife, who told me to stop stepping outside and into the dirt without shoes -- what can I say?), so I figured I had a leg up. And, sure enough, my feet held up well. Now, two hours later, the pads of my feet (which, being the first point of impact on the ground, take the most punishment) feel a bit raw and my calves (which are worked harder by the barefoot running style because they're used for shock absorption) are a bit sore. Tomorrow, I figure, they'll tighten up. But that's all minor stuff, and a small price to pay for such a rapturous running experience.

In fact, I had such a fun time, and felt so good running barefoot, that I've made a decision. You heard it here first: I'm going to try to run next March's Oakland Marathon (my first) totally barefoot. Not in Vibrams, not in Nike Free's, but barefoot. Last year, just one person ran the marathon barefoot (see my article in the Express for more), but this year I hope to join him. This means I'll be doing all, or almost all, of my training for the next six months without shoes. We'll see how it goes! In the meantime, if you spy a dude running around Oakland with no shoes, give a holler.