If the shoe fits, wear it — or not

Running barefoot: Insanely brave or just insane?  Illustration by Jim Carroll
Running barefoot: insanely brave or just insane?
Credit: Jim Carroll

The other night, our team training consisted of 16 200-meter sprints. It took a real toll on my feet. I hobbled home to my apartment like a survivor of the Bataan Death March (ask Google, it sucked). Getting home, I took off my running shoes, wept a bit and put them next to the other pairs.

Today’s runners are damn lucky to even have running shoes. Pheidippides, the original marathoner, ran in sandals. Of course, he didn’t even know he was running a marathon, so we can excuse him for his casual footwear. What we can’t excuse him for is inventing the marathon — a deed that makes him solely responsible for ruining over a million pairs of feet. Pheidippides ran 26.2 miles to Athens to announce the victory of the Greeks over the Persians at the battle of Marathon. I’d prefer he had invented the telephone instead. Hell, I would have settled for the carrier pigeon. Legend has it, he died at the end of his run. OK, we’re even.

I buy my shoes at The Super Runners Shop, a chain of stores pretty much devoted to the running shoe. They have a computer system that analyzes a customer’s step (apparently I have an extremely high arch with the structural integrity of a Chinese suspension bridge). This information aids them in directing a customer to the right shoe. They carry Nike, Asics, Brooks and Saucony, to name just a few. I own two pairs of Asics, one pair that’s padded for runs over 14 miles and a less-padded “minimalist” pair for 13 miles and under. I also have an old pair of Sauconys for running in the rain and painting a boat, if I owned a boat.

There are the Vibram FiveFingers, shoes that look like gloves for your feet (a perfect gift for the health-minded, pedi-dexterous thief who has everything — no finger prints and a quick getaway). They’re the closest thing to running barefoot.

Then there are those who actually run barefoot. Yes, they are out there. Actually, the winner of the 1960 Olympic Marathon ran barefoot. Today there is the Barefoot Runners Society, a group of unshod runners who run 26.2 miles au naturel. I’m intrigued by these people. I’m not sure if they’re insanely brave or insanely insane, but I bet there will be a couple of them running in this year’s marathon. It may be difficult to spot them in the shuffle of 42,000 pairs of feet. I suggest looking for the person running with a Corn Flakes box on his or her head muttering about the alien abduction of JFK. But more likely it’ll be the person with a total look of confidence that says, “Yes, not only am I running a marathon, but I’m running it barefoot. I also have X-ray vision and sleep on broken glass.”

Either way, old sneakers, high tech racers, sandals, weird web things or damn bare feet, it doesn’t make a difference — as long as you make it to the finish on Nov. 3, and then give those sweet feet a nice eight-month break.


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