We Sweat it Out in the Streets: Going Barefoot & a Few Lessons

This morning I walked the six blocks to the dog-run completely barefoot.  I’ve taken off my shoes and walked through the park barefoot a few times, but the six blocks of Bed-Stuy concrete sidewalks has always given me pause.  There’s the obvious practicalities, like broken glass and such, but honestly that’s pretty easy to avoid if you’re paying attention.  Honestly, the biggest hurdle for me was self-consciousness: I would be walking down the street, barefoot, and people would notice.  I hate admitting this, as I like to pass myself off as someone who is completely indifferent to the judgement of others, and in fact revel in being “different,” and to a large extent that is true.  I rap in front of the entire student body at talent shows; I get a mohawk each summer for the last week of school and dye it some obnoxious color; I walk down the sidewalk (sometimes with said mohawk), playing the harmonica.  But for some reason, walking around barefoot seemed entirely different: that people wouldn’t find me so much eccentric or weird as a complete freak.

In the end, the reluctance itself was what pushed me to take off my shoes.  I hate not doing something because I’m scared or reluctant; it makes me angry at myself for being weak.  So I carried my Vibrams (I wasn’t about to walk around the dog-run barefoot), and headed out shoe-less.  It felt fantastic – we’d had rain the night before, so the concrete was wet but still warm, and cutting through the main lawn of the park was brilliant, all dew and mud and grass.  And no one noticed.  At least, no one said anything or stared at me, but I’m pretty sure no one even noticed.  Because no one cared enough about me to look at my feet.  I was the only one obsessing over what was or was not covering my toes; everyone else was to busy with their own lives to worry about my bare feet.

When I got home, the internet reminded me that it was June 11th, National Go Barefoot Day.  I’d completely forgotten, but perhaps it was in the air.


The last run I wrote about was on Tuesday.  Since then, I managed to fit in a five mile run at lunch on the trail through High Bridge Park twice, as well as a 12 mile run today.  My hope today was that Nat and I would be able to track down Christopher McDougal, who was leading a barefoot run in Prospect Park as the last stop on his Naked Run book tour, but sadly the author and his unshod acolytes remained elusive.  That small disappointment aside, I learned a few great lessons this week:

1) I might dislike running in heat, but it takes both a Heat Advisory and an Air Quality Alert to get me to admit I shouldn’t go for a lunch-hour run.

2) And yet I’m still sort of convinced I wimped out.

3) It is possible, if you’re willing to duck through a broken fence and run along the dirt trails in High Bridge Park, to go an entire mile in Manhattan without seeing a single other person.

4) That feeling is both awesome, and bit eerie.

5) After a 5 mile run in 94 degree weather, a 5 mile run in 87 degree weather two days later feels remarkable cool and refreshing.

6) Running a trail north-to-south is an entirely different experience than running that same trail south-to-north.  The time I ran through High Bridge Park headed north, the trail was easy to follow.  Both times I’ve run it going south, I’ve lost the trail and had to climb through undergrowth and over rocks to get back to the trail.

7) It is possible, if not advisable, to use Altra Instincts for bouldering purposes, if, for example, you need to scale a 12 foot rock face to get back to the trail you’ve somehow managed to lose.

8)) Trail running in running shorts without a shirt feels wonderfully free and almost wildly natural, and also makes you feel like Anton Krupicka.

9) Anton Krupicka must spend his entire life covered with small lacerations, or else have skin that is much tougher than mine, because those branches are really scratchy.

10) Nobody cares about what you wear or don’t wear on your feet.  Nobody thinks about shoes or feet that much.  You know the only people who think about shoes enough to stare at the shoes of everyone they pass?  Other minimalist or barefoot runners, that’s who.

11) Stopping 6 miles into a 12 mile run to let your toddler play at a playground is fantastic fun.  Forget run-walk strategies – take a break to play in the sand, swing on a swing, or go down a slide.  Its loads of fun, and leaves you refreshed and ready to keep running.

12) Just brush the sand off your toes first.  Chafing is bad.

About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
This entry was posted in Barefoot Running, Long Runs, Lunchtime Runs, Run:), Running with Nat, Runs and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to We Sweat it Out in the Streets: Going Barefoot & a Few Lessons

  1. Eric says:

    This actually reminds me of a time when I would walk barefoot in Astoria, just around the block and what not. One day a guy yelled at me about it. Of course, he immediately was talking about the animal urine and feces, the chemicals and other germs that were percolating on the sidewalk. I still often walk barefoot from my house to take out the trash etc, but that day did give me pause from doing it more often. Kudos for you though!

    • Chris Van Dyke says:

      Yeah, I probably won’t make a regular habit of it — NYC sidewalks are a bit sketchy. I never wear shoes in my apartment, and never bother to put them on if I’m just running down to the curb. I see shoes as a necessary evil, and try to take them off whenever socially appropriate. You might like Vibram Fivefingers — I’ve become completely addicted to mine, and wear them constantly. You have to be willing to have complete strangers ask you about them on a regular basis, but they are comfortable and make walking fun.

  2. Pingback: Another Shoe « A Rose By Any Other Name Blog

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