NYC Barefoot Run 2011

This last weekend was the 2nd annual NYC Barefoot Run — though the term “run” isn’t quite fitting.  Perhaps “Barefoot Happening” would be better, which also captures the easy, almost communal mood that seemed to permeate the entire event.  Besides the various events themselves, what I was really looking forward was getting to meet my online blogger “friends,” and to have the chance to finally remove the air-quotes from the term whenever I referred to them.

Saturday morning: At around 9:30 I headed out for Battery Park, where Vivobarefoot was hosting a series of barefoot running workshops.  The forecast had called for rain, but we had a nice, high overcast instead.

The first person I saw was Steven Sashon (the guy behind Invisible Shoes) hanging out and talking to people about his hauraches.  I was actually wearing my Invisible Shoes, so we talked a bit about his sandals and he gave me a free technical t-shirt to wear at the run the next day — sweet, free stuff already!  The scene was pretty small: a tent with Vivo Shoes, some guy giving out free Vita Coconut Water, and a group of about 15 people in a circle getting a clinic.  And Barefoot Ted, and Lee Saxby, and Barefoot Ken Bob, and Michael Sandler . . . basically everyone famous in the barefoot running world, giving the event about a 1:5 famous-to-not-famous ratio.  Barefoot Ted had a rickshaw that he spent the whole weekend having people pull him around in.  There didn’t seem to be a reason to it, and it was just kind of weird.

I got there at 10:15 or so, and since I was planning on doing a 10:30 clinic along with some of the other Run Smiley people, I just sort of hung around and watched the group that was already doing some exercises.  At 10:35, however, there seemed to be no sign of another workshop starting, so I wandered over and joined the circle, and realized that most of the people I was expecting to see had been there the entire time.  Kate Krift, Christian Peterson, and Jason Robillard I recognized, and it was a bit odd standing there being pretty sure it was them but not actually being sure, and, of course, not having ever spoken to them before.

Eventually there was a break, and I wandered over to Kate and said “So, welcome to New York.”  There was a bit of a pause, and then, “Chris!  I was expecting you to have a mohawk!”  And I suddenly realized that I hadn’t changed my facebook profile picture in about two months, and there was no way they would have recognized me.  Kate (Ramblings on Barefoot Running) then took the social reigns and introduced me to Christian (Maple Grove Barefoot Guy) and Jason (Barefoot Running University), then Shelly (Shoeless Shel Bell) and Jesse (In Search of Solid Ground), and we talked for a little while.  Jason was actually one of the “Kudus” of the weekend, one of the “Big Names” that was giving talks and running things, so he did a clinic on the ABC’s of barefoot running, then led a short run around the Battery.

Afterwards, everyone I knew was whisked away to a round-table discussion with Merrell and some of their shoe designers, since they were theoretically in town to “work.”  I drank some more coconut water, then had a one-on-one workout with Chris, one of Vivo’s barefoot running coaches.  He video taped me running barefoot, showed me the footage, and gave me the analysis: I had pretty good posture and form, but I was landing too far in front of my center of gravity, which puts a lot more stress on the foot at impact.  He ran me through a few drills and exercises, and worked with me for about 20 minutes before I headed home.

Saturday Evening: That night was the expo, and since M wasn’t feeling too well, I showed up to with Angelica in tow.  Like the nerd I am, I showed up ridiculously close to when it actually started, so I was one of the first people there.  I wore my Softstar shoes there, but kicked them off the second I was inside — when else can you show up at the opening expo for a weekend and know you can walk around barefoot?  The expo was held at South Street Seaport, one of my least favorite places in Manhattan, but it does have a beautiful a balcony with fabulous views of Brooklyn and the Southern end of the island, and with an open bar  serving Smuttynose beer and Barefoot (of course) wine on a gorgeous evening, it was pretty ideal.

One of the people who WAS there already was Christopher McDougall, the man who pretty much is responsible for the current growth of barefoot running.  I’ve always been terrible at approaching anyone famous, since I know I don’t have anything slightly original or interesting to say to them, but fortunately I had Angelica with me, and it is impossible for anyone to resist coming up and telling me how cute she is, even, apparently, celebrities.  McDougall came up, told me that he already knew who was going to win the award for prettiest attendee, then insisted we get some pictures with him holding Angelica.

He was really friendly.  In fact, the entire weekend, all I saw him do was hang out with people and chat.  He never disappeared or hung out with the other big names, and just seemed really nice.  Of course, it probably helps that he is a celebrity to a pretty small circle of out-of-the-mainstream barefoot runners, but still.

I picked up my bib and shirt and bag of goodies, got some free beer, then wandered around until I ran into Kate and the rest of the blogging crew.  As the speaker portion of the night started, we settled into the back row and started chatting and laughing, until we started getting dirty looks from the people in front of us — just like back in high school, I’d already fallen in with the well-behaved-but-endlessly-sarcastic crowd that never knows when to shut up.  Eventually we moved out to the patio where the beer was, since really there is only so many times one can hear about foot cadence and posture in one day.  I stayed until about 11, talking and having a few more beers, but I needed to get home with Angelica, while everyone else was taking a taxi back to a hotel, so they stayed out later.  (Much later, as it turned out).

Sunday: Despite being the homebody that ducked out early on account of my kids, I slept through my alarm and woke up 30 minutes before I was supposed to be out the door to make the run at Governor’s Island.  If it wasn’t for Nat sitting up at 6:30 and loudly declaring “It’s morning time!” I might have missed it entirely.  As it was, I rolled out of bed, power-walked Star to the dog run, threw on my running clothes, stuffed a few tutu’s in my backpack, and took off at a sprint to the subway, stopping just to grab a coffee and muffin for breakfast.  I took the A to Fulton, then ran down to the Governor’s Island Terminal just in time to be one of the last people to make the 7:50 ferry.   Once aboard, I found a no-yet-to-hung-over-because-they-were-still-drunk Kate and Krista (Running Naked on Sharp Pointy Stuff), and bit better off Christian.  Assuming that the best cure would be tutus, I broke out the Glam Runners tutus, and Kate and I put them on.

After the short ferry ride, we all walked to the start of the “run,” or “event” or “happening.”

Its sort of hard to describe because there was a starting line, but that’s it — no set distance, no time-keeper.  Run as far as you want, as fast as you want, as far as you want.  Barefoot or not, your choice.   So after some more coconut water (I think Vita converted me this weekend) and chatter, Krista had on her boa and Christian changed into his Spartan outfit (our group seemed to be the only people there who viewed a barefoot run as a chance to dress up).

We all milled about for a rather uncoordinated group photo, then lined up for the run.

Barefoot Ted ran through with a recently engaged couple in his rickshaw, and we were off!

I ran the first half mile or so by Christopher McDougall, then sped up a bit to catch up with Christian.  He and I did two laps together, and I had a great time talking with him.  After 4.5 miles we took a break, and I slipped on my Invisible shoes — 4.5 miles was the longest I’ve run barefoot, and although my feet were feeling fine, I didn’t want to push it.  Kate seemed to be recovering, so we headed out for another lap with her and Josh Sutcliff.  As we passed the dock, the 10 am ferry was arriving, unloading a group of unsuspecting citizens who had no idea that the island had been taken over by shoe-less freaks.

Back at the start, I hung out a little longer, ate some fruit, and we got a group photo with most of us who had made the run — Larry, Trisha, and Bob (Downtown Runner) had left earlier.

And since I did NOT have the entire weekend freed up by a shoe sponsor like some people I know, I had to head back home.  I took the ferry back to Manhattan, and then ran home from there, about 8 miles up through the Financial District, over the Brooklyn Bridge, then through Brooklyn to home.

This weekend was definitely a breakthrough for me in terms of minimalist footwear, since I ran over 14 miles — 4.5 of which were barefoot, the rest of which were in my 4mm Invisible Shoes — and I felt great.

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend, with some great running a great people who met and exceeded my expectations — and not JUST in terms of ability to consume alcohol, no matter what Kate might think).  We’re pretty far-flung — California, Minnesota, Canada, Colorado, New York, wherever the Robillards’ RV is right now — but I hope we get a chance to hang out and run again some time.  In the mean time, I certainly am tilting a bit further towards the barefoot end of the minimalist spectrum, and might need to start tracking down some barefoot running groups in the area.

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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.
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One Response to NYC Barefoot Run 2011

  1. Stephanie says:

    I was thinking about how shy I would have been if I’d have been in your… um, shoes? … feet? Having the cutest kid is a fantastic ice breaker.

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