Sunday, October 10, 2010

Barefoot Mile #91 -- 1st Annual NYC Barefoot Run

There will be a lot of people writing about this cool event, so I will tell you about my own experience of it.

Overall, this turned out to be a very peaceful and relaxing event. It was so enjoyable, that I don’t think I have a really exciting whooped-up story to tell.  My pictures are kind of run-of-the-mill, but I shall share them anyway so you get a little peek at what this event was like for Barefoot Fresca, the least of the barefoot runners.

This event was organized mainly by John Durant of the NYC Barefoot Runners Meetup group.  Earlier in the summer he had organized another barefoot running event, the Born to Run Harlem to Brooklyn Run with Chris McDougall, which I also attended and wrote about here.

This barefoot run took place on Governor’s Island, a little island off the southern tip of Manhattan which used to be a military facility, but is now being used as a recreational and picnic area.  You had to take a ferry over.
I brought along with me two running buddies.

We all got up really early and one running buddy’s husband drove us over to the ferry.  So, I had some people to run with and to take some pictures of me at the event.

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This is me on the ferry. While riding over, I stuck my event T-shirt on right over my regular T-shirt.  The air was brisk enough so that this would not be too cumbersome.  As you can see, my number was #134.  However, the numbers were not used to keep track of what “place” the runner came in, because this was a race that was not going to be officially timed.  Instead, they used the number to connect you with your backpack, which would be checked under that number, and to identify you in the raffles that were going on.

Once we got off the ferry, there was a 15-minute walk to the starting area at the other side of Governor’s Island.

This will seem really wimpy, but since this is a fairly honest blog I have to own up to the fact that I was worried about the 15 minute walk to and from the race area in addition to what I was going to try to do during the “race",” which was to go my furthest barefoot distance thus far – twice around the island for a total of 4.2 miles.

A person who is already in great condition would not have an issue with this, I imagine, but someone like me who is building back very gradually from many years of being overweight and sedentary, every step counts sometimes.

Here are some pictures from the walk over: Me with the Southern tip Manhattan!

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Here’s one with the Statue of Liberty in the background, but it’s hard to see it because it’s so teeny.

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There were a fair number of people who had showed up (did I hear someone say 250?), and some tables set up with minimal footwear products. Lots of cool colors and designs that I wish I could own (even though I haven’t worn my pair all summer).  I have black because that was the only color in my size in stock when I went to the store last spring.

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The “port-a-potty” bathroom facilities were really great – individual stalls in trailers with running water and soap and lots of toilet paper. I also liked that they had a “backpack” check area.  They told us about this ahead of time, that there would be someone there to watch our stuff while we were running.  These details make a difference.

People lined up to check their backpacks.

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Since this was a “run-your-own-distance” event, there was a casual quality about the people lined up.  There was not that tense competitive energy in the air.  It just felt like everyone was out there to run together and have a lot of fun.

Earlier this summer when I had joined up with the Born to Run Harlem to Brooklyn run with Chris McDougall, I had taken a picture of the feet of the runners.  At that time I had remarked that there were more Vibrams than bare feet.  However, at this race, even though all runners, whether they ran completely barefoot or not were welcome, it seemed that the bare feet had grown in numbers, and were making a better representation at this race.

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I kept toward the back with my two running buddies and we all started off, passing under the race banner.

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No sooner had I taken my first few barefoot steps, than my barefoot running buddy friend called to get my attention.  There she was running beside Daniel Howell, PhD, author of a book I had lent her earlier that month called The Barefoot Book. She motioned over to me to come run with them.  It turned out that Daniel Howell ran the whole first lap around the island with us.  He goes everywhere barefoot, not just running – into restaurants, on planes.  I wrote on this blog about how his writings had made me aware of the weird things shoes have been doing to our feet and their shape.  I told him about my New Balance shoes and how I thought they smushed my pinky toe in. I was able to comment on and ask questions about a lot of the stuff I’d been thinking about since being exposed to the information contained in his book and on his blog.  I really enjoyed that.

By the time we went round the island once, some other runners had recognized him and it was their turn to run with him and have fun chatting.  He told me that I was going at a very consistent nice pace.  I felt encouraged to hear that.

We saw some interesting other things going on along the way.  Some people were not sticking quite to the path.  They were running in the terrain around and above us and doing some somersaults and climbing some trees, etc… My running buddy and I guessed that these folks were part of the special groups that were participating in the “wild persistence hunts” being led by barefoot personalities “Barefoot Ted,” and MovNat founder “Erwan Le Corre”  I wasn’t sure who was who from where I was running down on the paved path, but I must have caught a glimpse of one of them as they crawled, lifted, balanced and varied their speed and directions.  Although the concepts are very appealing, I feel I am very far from exploring that wildly.  One step at a time!

Well, I wish I could say that I took some more exciting pictures.  I was mainly focused on just being there and enjoying the company of a lot of other people who liked barefoot running.  Usually taking lots of pictures is my way of just being somewhere and participating in an event.  But I guess I felt a little shy about just taking pictures of people that might end up on my blog.

I also felt very shy about asking for photos with other people.  I am sure that many people would not have minded at all, but I didn’t want to impose.

After I easily finished my second loop, for a total for 4.2 miles.  My other running buddy (who had gone ahead of us and run around 3x) told me to go back and run to the finish again so she could get some pictures of me.  So, these next two are fake, but it gives you the picture (Oh, those are my vibrams stuck in my belt -- “just in case):

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After the finish, I stood watching the raffle numbers with the prizes for T-shirts and Vibrams shoes being given out.

I ran into one of my barefoot “angels,” Chris, who had been the volunteer sweepers at the Born to Run Harlem to Brooklyn Run.  It was pleasant to check in with someone who had seen my run back then and could appreciate the progress I had made since then.

I got myself a banana, and was just finishing it when I saw Jason Robillard, author of The Barefoot Running Book and of the Barefoot Running University web site and blog, finishing up his barefoot marathon in his trademark kilt.  He had put on some shoes at the end of the run because he was practicing what he preached, listening to his body.  He was recovering from a big season that included some ultras, so his feet were a little tender and needed some protection to finish up.  I admired the humility of that, I have to say.

I did get up the courage to introduce myself to him.  He's been one of my learn-to-barefoot-run gurus, and I have found much of his lessons on barefoot running from his book very helpful as I've been trying to get the hang of it.  He had recently put out a notice that he was looking for guest bloggers for his site.  I had written him a proposal of something I would like to write about and he liked my idea and I am working on that blog post right now.  I had mentioned to him during that correspondence that I would be showing up at the 1st NYC Barefoot Run and so it seemed fitting to go over and introduce myself.  Maybe just approaching him after he had just finished running 26 miles was not the best time I could have done it, but he didn’t show one bit that he minded, and we had a nice little conversation and I introduced him to my two running buddies.

The next thing that happened was a little weird, and maybe even embarrassing.  But I’ll tell you about it anyway.  I looked out and saw this runner who looked just like Barefoot Josh.  His form was amazing and he was running fast, wearing a cap, and his head was so level. For a second I thought it was truly Barefoot Josh, but I immediately realized, "no, it couldn’t be – I read on his blog he cannot come.”

But then this man behind me said, “That’s Barefoot Josh! That’s Barefoot Josh!”  “Are you sure?” I asked the man.  “Yes! yes!  I’d know him anywhere!”

Well, I certainly would not want to be standing so close to Barefoot Josh, another of my learn-to-run-barefoot gurus, and miss my chance to meet him.  So, I just blurted out, “Are you Barefoot Josh?”

The guy smiled and said, “no, I am not.”  (Did he know?  Did he know he looked like Barefoot Josh?  Is he trying to look like Barefoot Josh???  Does he think it’s funny when people think he’s Barefoot Josh?) He was there with his family but very friendly.  The guy who had blurted out “That’s Barefoot Josh” complimented the fellow on his running form.

I was just embarrassed, but extra embarrassed because I knew, just knew, that I was going to have to write about this on my blog and that Barefoot Josh might read it and know how foolish I was.

Oh well, maybe he won’t see it!

To finish up, we had to walk back to the ferry again.  Here’s me with my two running buddies.

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Oh and one that came out silly of me – not planned – looking like I’m serving up a platter of lower Manhattan.

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That’s all, really!  It may not sound too exciting, but it was a satisfying day.  Except that it would have been nice to meet Barefoot Ted too.  Ah, well, another time, maybe.


ac said...

Great report and great pictures!

Q said...

Sounds like a fun run, and cool that you got to meet two authors!!

Lauren said...

I'm always impressed by barefoot runners...I could probably get down to the vibrams level, but I'm paranoid about stepping on something. And while I'm not sure how much protection vibrams really give the foot, in my head it it makes me feel calmer about the idea.

Anyway, neat race report - I like how the race sounds relaxed, and cool that you got to meet a couple of authors!

I actually got to listen to a speaker once a kinesiologist maybe? anyway, he did this study about shoes and after he did this study, people should just try on the shoes that they like the best - because it was looking like different support shoes for pronation, didn't really give all that support they were claiming.

Avocational Singer said...

Hi,Lauren, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I had the same idea as you, that I would start with the Vibrams. I was paranoid about stepping in something too. But as I continued to read and research, I heard that there was a danger of over-doing my training in the Vibrams because they felt too good, and that by going completely barefoot I would get the feedback from my feet needed to know how much is too much etc...

It's hard to believe that this same girl, in just a few short months, has gone from someone who was paranoid about stepping in something to someone who actually stepped in some goose poop yesterday (yuccch!)

Keep researching!

Barefoot TJ said...

Hi Fresca,

My name is Tamara Gerken, and I am the president of the Barefoot Runners Society. Jason Robillard is our Activities VP and a co-founder as well.

I'm writing to you to ask you for your email address. I have a couple of items I would like to talk to you about.

Would you please email me at BarefootTJ at BarefootRunners dot org, and if you haven't joined the Barefoot Runners Society yet, please do at

Thanks so much,


Avocational Singer said...

TJ, Nice to meet you and thanks for your note!

Yes, I have already previously become a member of the Barefoot Runners Society web site (great site!).

I'll contact you by e-mail as you've requested!

Julie said...

I really enjoyed reading about your experience at the run. And I loved how they did the run - not as a competition but as a personal challenge. Good job on 2 laps around!

Junk Miler said...

I was not in NYC last weekend. I was at a five-year-old's birthday party. I beat all of them at freeze tag. I was merciless.

That poor guy, burdened with the curse of a dramatic nose/chin combo. Was he very short? I'm like, 2'6".

Anonymous said...

that looked like it was fun! i loved reading about your experience, good job!! and doesnt it feel great to see so many people who share an interest like that?? or maybe thats just me wishing i had gone!

Daniel Howell said...

Running that lap with you was one of the best parts of my day! Keep it up and stay in touch!
~Daniel Howell

Avocational Singer said...

BFJ -- I'll bet every parent in the world would hire you to come to the party and freeze all the children! And the fellow at the race was around 5'5 - 5'6" I would say.

Barefoot Lorena -- Welcome! I went over to your blog and just loved the pix of you in your first barefoot 5K -- especially that WTF moment when the girl pointed at you!

Daniel -- Very nice to be in contact again! Thanks for stopping by my blog! You made that first go-around the island go so fast that the rest was a piece of cake.

Anonymous said...

Great race report, thank you. Well done for taking part too.

Ewa said...

OK, I am going to follow your blog. It seems you know all the important barefoot people. :)
Seriously, that was a truly fun report to read. I wish I could see MovNat people. I've been quite interested in more natural approach to fitness and nutrition. Funny, what used to be natural, might look a bit strange these days.

Avocational Singer said...

Ewa! Welcome and thanks for your comments. Over the years I have permitted my ability to move naturally to fall by the wayside and I regret this immensely.

I'm hoping it's not too late to regain strength, flexibility, and my full range of motion in many areas but it is not an easy process once one has let it go.