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1st Annual New York City Barefoot Run: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at History in the Making

Posted by on Oct 18, 2010 | 5 Comments

This last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in the 1st Annual NYC Barefoot Run John Durant, the organizer, asked me to participate as a clinic leader.  I was excited to attend the event, but it fell directly in the middle of a series of planned road trips.

Shelly and I were apprehensive about leaving our children for multiple weekends in succession.  Since school had started, our family time was dramatically reduced.  After mulling the idea for a week or so, Shelly volunteered to take care of the kids for the weekend so I could travel to New York.  Needless to say, I am grateful she was willing to wrangle our three rowdy kids while I ran around New York City.

Initially, I was one of the few that committed to attend.  John was trying to recruit as many barefoot runners as possible, and it looked like he was going to get Erwan Le Corre to attend.  I was excited as Erwan’s MovNat program was very similar to my own workout routine minus his focus on using nature as the training ground.

Soon after I committed, Dr. Daniel Howell of Liberty University, author of The Barefoot Book, agreed to attend.  I had communicated with Daniel several times via email and Facebook and was excited to meet him in person.  I had learned a great deal from his book and highly recommend it to anyone.

I also found out Dr. Dan Lieberman of Harvard would be attending and giving a presentation about his research.  Being a bit of a research dork, I looked forward to hearing him talk in person.  His published research had helped add credibility to barefoot running.

The real clincher came when Barefoot Ted McDonald signed on.  Ted has been one of my original barefoot running virtual mentors.  After meeting Ken Bob earlier this year, I had to attend just to meet him in person.  Also, I had been running in Ted’s Luna sandals for several months and was eager to get the latest scoop on any new developments.

The weeks leading up to the race were excessively busy.  I didn’t have a chance to plan too much as I was distracted by teaching and keeping BRU afloat.  I received periodic emails from John and his sister Maggie in the weeks and days leading up to the event.  It seemed as though their organization was quite thorough… much better than my sad attempts at organizing events.

My itinerary was pretty straight-forward.  I had planned on leaving early Saturday morning to fly into NYC to arrive in time for the clinics from 1-4pm, then grab some dinner.  Dan’s presentation began at 7pm at Terra Plana’s New York store and was scheduled for three hours.  This would include the actual talk followed by a question and answer session with the panel.  I would then get some sleep for the race in the morning.  The race was scheduled to start at 8:30, but I would begin about 45 minutes earlier in an attempt to run a barefoot marathon.  After the race, I would fly home at about 9:00pm.

Saturday morning came quickly.  Surprisingly, I slept well.  Until 2am.  Our daughter, suffering from a cold, came to our room to sleep on our floor.  This is our typical “sick kid” routine.  Once she was settled in, I planned on getting another two hours of sleep.  Moments after she fell asleep, the electricity went out.  Shelly was still awake and told me the electric company had planned this outage.  Seriously?  On the one day I needed as much sleep as possible?  WTF?

Since I didn’t finish packing, I was confronted with the challenge of gathering my supplies in the darkness.  Luckily I found my trusty Fenix handheld.  I dug up my backpack and started sorting through my running gear.  After I finished, I warmed up some water on the stove, bathed, brushed my teeth, and threw on some clothes.  I still had three hours before my flight, but I wanted to account for any problems.  I really didn’t mind getting to the airport earlier since I could use the quiet time to continue reading “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” So far, it’s a great read!

The airport, takeoff, flight, and landing were uneventful.  I did get a great view of the entire New York metropolitan area as the plane circled when landing at LaGuardia.  After landing, I grabbed a cab and headed to Terra Plana’s store (256 Elizabeth if you’re ever in the neighborhood).

I arrived at about 9:30.  I planned on the store opening at 10:00, so I wandered around for awhile.  The city seemed to be nearly deserted; I really expected to see A LOT more people.  It didn’t occur to me that it was still quite early on a weekend morning.

Outside Terra Plana's store

Ten O’clock rolled around and I headed to the store.  It still was not open.  Hmmm… maybe they’re just late.  I waited around the store for about 10 minutes.  Nothing.  Okay, back to exploring the city.

While wandering around, I noticed the only stores that seemed to be open were used commercial kitchen appliance stores.  Was this the commercial kitchen resale district?  Weird.  I did get to see two construction workers screaming at each other.  There’s something inherently comedic about people screaming obscenities in a thick New Jersey accent.  I checked to myself and continued on.

Random NYC picture

At 11:00, Terra Plana opened.  The store wasn’t quite as big as I expected; we were planing on squeezing 100+ people in here later that night.  It looked like it was going to be a tight fit.  I did get the opportunity to inspect the entire VivoBarefoot line.  They make a ton of excellent casual/ business-casual shoes.  The store also carried Terra Plana’s non-minimalist shoes, which included some 4” heels.  They looked painful.

After a few minutes, Maggie Durant, John’s sister, arrived.  We talked for a few minutes, then Ted arrived.  Maggie would be escorting Ted and I to the clinics in Central Park.  Ted made a joke about running the clinic in the boots with 4” heels.  We chatted for a few more minutes, then headed out.

Since we had not eaten, we stopped by the local Whole Foods.  We do not have a Whole Foods in West Michigan (as one may guess based on the average body type of the area).  I was envious I did not have this kind of food selection at home.  Damn you West Michigan and your bland, processed food preferences.

On the way to the subway, Ted and Maggie tried doing a muscle-up on a scaffold bar hanging over the sidewalk.  Both had attended one of Erwan’s week-long summer MovNat workshops where they learned the technique.  It was pretty impressive!

We rode a few trains to get to our destination.  Inwardly, I was savoring the whole experience.  Maggie was super cool and Ted was a tremendous story-teller.  That, coupled with experiencing New York for the first time, was awesome.  Eventually we came to Central Park.  There were a ton of people milling about.  Some were riding bikes, some were walking.  Many were running, though few were sporting minimalist shoes.  The collective poor running form reminded me of the classic “Ministry of Silly Walks” skit.  We wound our way through several roads until we reached the area where the clinics were held.

There were a handful of barefoot runners sitting around chatting, and a few more milling about, including Dr. Daniel Howell.  I met John and a few other member of the NYC Barefoot Runners club.  Maggie, Ted, and I found a shady spot to eat.  When we sat down, the rest of the crowd moved with us.  As more people started showing up, they formed a large circle around us.  It was a little awkward eating with a bunch of people watching, but Ted helped by telling stories.  His oratory skills were impressive.

John, Maggie, Ted, myself, and Daniel eating

Once we finished, John gathered the growing crowd in a large circle and introduced Ted and I.  We didn’t really have a format planned; we were supposed to decide that on the way to the park.  At the last minute, we decided to split the group.  Ted would take half and I would take the other half, then swap after about 25 minutes.  Before we split up, John asked us to say a few words.  My speech was rather disjointed.  I briefly thanked everyone and explained my theory of barefoot running.  Ted, on the other hand, launched into a fascinating explanation of barefoot running and the connection with nature.  It sounded like a well-crafted speech, but was really just Ted utilizing his improv skills.  For the next few mini-workshops, my own introduction speech grew shorter and shorter as I was eager to hear what Ted had to say.

John talking to crowd at the beginning

One of Ted's clinic

We split up and I took my group to a nearby paved area.  I spent most of the time with this group talking.  We did some running and I answered a few questions, but I did a poor job of estimating time.  Before I knew it, we swapped groups.  We did more running with this group.

One of my clinics

With each successive group, my comfort level increased.  At some point, we had to dodge crowds that were gathering to remember John Lennon.  It was the anniversary of his death.  Which was being observed in a number of unique ways.  Our groups of barefoot runners definitely got plenty of strange looks, lots of positive comments, and one “What the f&%$ is wrong with you?!?” comment.  So goes the life of a barefoot runner.

The clinic participants were great.  The experience level ranged from total novices to very experienced.   People asked a ton of great questions, and others shared their experiences.  As is often the case, I learned some good tips and techniques that I had not previously tried.

Central Park Barefoot Running Clinics

By the time the last group finished, I was ready to relax.  The fatigue of the early morning chaos sans electricity, flight, walk to the park, and the mental and physical demands of teaching had taken their toll.  The plan was for Ted and I to take a cab back to Terra Plana, and then meet up with Lee Rawlings, the barefoot runner that volunteered to host us.

It took some time to get a cab as the city was now bustling.  We wandered around a bit to find a good location to catch an on-duty cab.  After about 15-20 minutes, we managed to procure an off-duty cab.  Sweet!

On the ride to Terra Plana, Ted told me about the developments with his Luna Sandals.  He was testing a few new prototypes.  I’ll go into details in a future post once I get permission from Ted, but I will say he’s doing some exciting stuff!  Ted really is a master craftsman and is developing some truly revolutionary improvements and options.  If I could have bought stock in Luna Sandals after that cab ride, I would have cashed in the kids’ college fund.

Eventually we got close to Terra Plana’s store.  I paid the cabbie and we hopped out.  After a few minutes’ walk, we arrived at Terra Plana.  The store was quite crowded with customers.  They hadn’t closed for the set-up yet.  We washed up a bit and were preparing to make our way to Lee’s apartment about six blocks away.  It was then that Ted realized he did not have his phone- a new iPhone 4.  It was in the cab!  Shit.

We spent the next 45 minutes brainstorming ways to get the phone back, Ted calling AT&T customer service, and intermittently meeting the rest of the Terra Plana staff.  When I paid the cabbie, I did not get a receipt, so tracking the cab would be impossible.  Leave it to the big-city rookie to make a mistake like that.  We went through every step possible to possibly retrieve the phone, but AT&T was less than helpful.  I felt bad for not getting the receipt.  It would prove to be the lone negative of the entire weekend.  After some much-deserved venting, Ted took the loss in stride.  Note- if anyone happened to find an iPhone 4 in the back of a NYC cab, please email me.

Once we concluded there was little we could do, we hurriedly walked to Lee’s apartment.  We arrived, met Lee, changed our clothes, and headed back out.  I wish we would have had more time to get to know Lee, but we had to hurry back before Lieberman started.

It was about 6:30 and we still needed to eat before arriving at Terra Plana.  Lee, a fellow paleo diet follower, recommended a corner deli-like place.  Ted branched off to go to his brother’s apartment a block or so away to send some emails to his iPhone contacts.  Lee and I ordered a salad and were soon rejoined by Ted.

Realizing we were short on time, Ted decided to get a beer in lieu of food.  It sounded like a good idea so Lee and I followed suit.  The IPA tasted great!  I gulped mine like water at a 5k aid station.  We chatted for a few minutes as the other two calmly drank their beer.  Apparently I drank mine a little fast.

Lee, Ted, and I

The slight buzz from the beer took the nervous edge off our arrival at the Terra Plana store.  There was already a sizable crowd inside.  We met up with John and Maggie, met the rest of the Terra Plana staff I missed earlier, and started mingling.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Terra Plana was serving wine, so I had a glass.  I met Daniel Howell and Dan Lieberman for the first time, and met up with a few friends from the Google Huaraches group.  I always enjoy meeting my virtual friends in person.  Howell and I discussed our books briefly.  It seems he has the same experience I have- people assume you’re rich because you wrote a book.  It made me laugh.  Daniel said he gets so little in royalties his publisher pays him every six months.  I’m still several thousand dollars in debt from the design and production of my own book.  Note to those that want to make a living off writing books: acquire a taste for beans and rice.

While mingling, I had another two glasses of wine and forgot about eating my salad.  Unfamiliar situation + interesting people = Jason forgetting to exercise moderation when drinking on an empty stomach.

Inside Terra Plana

John ushered us to our seats at the front of the room.  Lieberman had set up a projector and screen and was preparing to begin.  John did some introductions and mentioned the schedule for the evening.  I wasn’t really paying attention as this must have been the point where he reminded the panel that we’d be talking after Lieberman.

John introducing Lieberman

Dan’s presentation was terrific.  It was a combination of his research on barefoot and endurance running blended with data, pictures, and plenty of humor.  After the first few minutes, John pulled out a bottle of wine.  He filled his own glass, then Ted’s.  Erwan and Daniel Howell wisely abstained.  I motioned for John to fill mine.

About half way through Lieberman’s talk and somewhere around my sixth glass of wine for the evening, I looked down at my feet.  They were caked with dirt and other Central Park debris.  I had forgotten to wash them after the clinics.  Damn.  Every person I talked to that night looked down at my feet.  To those I may have talked to that evening, my feet aren’t normally that dirty.  The wine helped me shrug off my faux pas.

After Lieberman finished, John gave the microphone to Ted.  As always, Te did not disappoint.  I have no idea what he was talking about, but it got a healthy applause.  Erwan was next and did a great job, too.  At this point, I was a bit panicky.  I was frantically rehearsing a script in my head, but immediately forgot every idea that came to me.  Why the Hell did I drink so much?!?  Howell was next and did a similarly great job.  I was next.  When sober, I can usually click into “teacher” mode and spew out some pretty good stuff.  When drunk, it’s a crap shoot.

Daniel handed me the mic.  I looked out at the crowd.  I started talking.  I don’t remember exactly what I said, though I think I may have attempted a joke about running in a kilt and going commando.  I think I rambled for a few more minutes, then concluded.

Intoxicated Jason with a mic

Whew!  That seemed like it went well.  Of course, everything seems to go well if you drink enough.  The next day, several people complimented me, so maybe it wasn’t too bad.  Or maybe they were trying to give me pity affirmations because I bombed horribly.

Let that be an important lesson, kids.  Public speaking and intoxication do not mix.

Following our brief speeches, we had a question and answer session.   We only made it through a few questions before we ran out of time.  John thanked everybody for attending and gave some last-minute directions for tomorrow’s race.  We stayed at the store for about another 30 minutes mingling with the attendees.  I got the chance to talk to a few more of the attendees.  I love doing this; so many people had such interesting stories.

We left the store and walked back to Lee’s apartment.  The streets and sidewalks were now packed!  It was a definite change from the morning.  Lee likened the atmosphere to Cancun during spring break… lots of drunk people partying everywhere.

At one point when crossing a street, a van ran a red light and almost hit us.  A few people yelled and Lee hit a back window.  The driver immediately slammed on his brakes.  I felt a rush of excitement… could this be my first New York City fight?

I’m guessing the driver saw Lee (he’s a pretty big dude) and decided to stay in the van.  Maybe it was for the best… getting my ass beaten would probably hinder my running the next morning.  Regardless, it was exciting.

We arrived at Lee’s apartment, I gathered my gear for the morning, ate my salad, and went to bed.  It had been a very long 20 hour day.

A few short hours later, my alarm went off.  I dragged myself out of bed, climbed in the shower, and started dressing.  Lee made an excellent breakfast of bacon, eggs, and a yam and apple concoction.  It was damn good.  Despite having never made coffee before, he also made me a cup using a percolator.  It was some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.

About that time, we received several calls from a whispering Ted.  He was going to meet us at a designated street corner, and then the three of us would cab it to the ferry docks to Governor’s Island.  He was looking for a place to get coffee.  Luckily there was a Starbucks near our meetup location.

We met up, I grabbed some coffee, too, and we headed to the docks.  When we arrived, there were already a few people waiting in line.  I would be making the first trip with the volunteers so I could get an early start.  We loaded the boat and started the short trip to the nearby island.

I rode over on the topside of the boat to get a view of sunrise over the city.  I see why John chose this location, the view was picturesque.

Brooklyn Bridge


I briefly talked to a small group of people, one of which was from Tip Top Shoes.  Tip Top was one of the race sponsors as they were a long-time supporter of the barefoot and minimalist shoe movement.  The Tip Top rep noticed my not-yet-released New Balance Minimus Trails.  I wasn’t sure how much information I could divulge, so I was somewhat evasive about the details of the shoe.  I think she may have taken a picture, too.

Lady Liberty

When we arrived, I started my pre-race routine.  I turned on my Garmin, on my SportKilt and Zensah leg sleeves, and started walking toward the start/finish line.  It turned out to be a longer-than expected half mile walk, but I got a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Financial District of Lower Manhattan.  I arrived at the staging area, dropped my gear on a table, and started running.

Prior to making the trip, I developed a rough plan.  I would begin an hour before the rest of the runners started and run at an eight minute pace.  That should allow me to run a 3:30 marathon and finish at 11:00.  That was the plan.

The first three laps went very well.  The asphalt was relatively smooth except for one section near the docks.  I averaged about 7:30 miles for the first 6.3 miles.  As I came around for the end of the third lap, I realized I wouldn’t have time to finish another before the start.  I decided to stop so I could re-start with everyone else.  It took some time to get everyone organized and lined up, so I ended up standing around for about 20 minutes.

Once I restarted, I warmed quickly.  It was much easier to run with the large crowd.  I started about half way back in the pack, but that pace was too slow.  At this point, my projected finish time would be in the ballpark of 11:15-11:20, later than I wanted.  I would have to increase my pace even more.

I weaved through the crowds and occasionally chatted with some fellow runners.  By the time I neared the end of the loop, I was near the front.  I ran a bit with the front runners at the point.  The group of four or five was speeding up progressively as the finish line came in view.  I mentioned something about a kick and sped up even more.  It turned out to be a bad idea.  According to my Garmin, I was running at about a 6:10 pace at that point

I should mention my training for this run… I did nothing.  Shelly and I had been doing occasional 5k tempo runs and hill repeats, but I wore the shoes I have been testing and reviewing.  I hadn’t run a significant distance since the 25 miles at the North Country Trail races.  I hadn’t run barefoot on asphalt since the first sections of Burning River at the end of July.  Agreeing to do this on so little specific training really was a bad idea.

After crossing the finish line, I dropped back a bit.  The leading pack continued to run at around the same pace, but I felt what I thought may be a hot spot.  I was concerned as I still had about nine laps to finish.

The next lap was uneventful.  I was averaging about a 7:45 pace, well under my planned 8:00 pace.  At the end of the fifth lap, I felt a definite hot spot on my left foot.  The “kick” at the end of my fourth lap would prove to be a stupid mistake.  I briefly entertained the idea of putting on my Minimus Trails, but declined.  The slight raised heel would likely cause problems on this flat asphalt course.

By the end of the sixth lap, the hot spot was burning.  I knew I would need the shoes.  I grabbed the shoes at the finish line and continued on.  My gait immediately changed as expected.  I battled to maintain my barefoot form.  I managed to find a decent groove and focused on maintaining a fast pace.

The seventh lap was difficult.  By the time I started the eighth lap, I was seriously reconsidering my decision to commit to a marathon.  When I passed the ferry docks, a mass of barefoot runners were leaving.  Damn!  I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk to others.  The allure of stopping was building.

By the time I got to the finish line, I was experiencing frequent cramping.  I decided to stop for a minute and try to scrounge up something with sodium.  As a wandered into the crowd, I saw Frances Marsh.  We had been communicating via email for awhile as she volunteered to write a guest post on my blog.  As I was talking to her and her two friends, Chris, another barefoot runner, gave me a beer.

That beer ultimately sealed my fate.  I decided to bag the run and enjoy the company of my fellow barefoot runners.  I spent the next several hours sharing ideas, advising on running form, drinking, and laughing.  The post-race atmosphere would be the most enjoyable part of the weekend’s events.

Erwan, Ludo, and I

Among the highlights- Daniel Howell floated the idea that all of this year’s attendees wear a kilt next year.  Several people were already agreeing to the idea.  I know Daniel will take the plunge… we’ll see about the others.

Other highlights- a drunken Sean Gavor discussing the merits of running completely naked and SillyC and others discussing dangers of pathogens present in goose shit.  If anyone would like to volunteer for a clinical trial, it does involve eating goose droppings.

Keg + barefoot runners = fun.

John, me, and Maggie

Myself, Lee, and Ted

Chris Moffett and I

Eventually we had to pack up and leave.  We gathered our belongings and headed to the ferry.  The ride back was relaxing.  I went back to Lee’s apartment, showered, then headed to the airport.  I arrived several hours before my departure, but the down-time was welcome.  It had been a chaotically-busy weekend.

The flight home was uneventful.  It gave me plenty of time to reflect on the events of the weekend.  This was one of the best running-related events I’ve ever been a part of.  John and Maggie did a spectacular job developing and executing this race.  If you are a barefoot or minimalist shoe runner, this race NEEDS to be on your 2011 calendar.  I think this will become THE premiere barefoot running event in the United States.

If you attended the event and have stories or pictures to share, feel free to post a comment with a link to the pictures or race reports.  I am eager to hear other people’s accounts of the weekend’s festivities.

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  1. Jania
    October 20, 2010

    Hi Jason,
    I am the girl that ran with you a bit at the end of the race. I guess what ended up being your last lap before the beer! I was working on my fourth lap, which was also my last lap. It was fun meeting you and reading your recap was great. I also thought this was an awesome weekend and can’t wait for next year. I loved being in an environment where going barefoot was the “norm”, and meeting lots of interesting people. There was a ton of great energy/mood, whatever you want to call it. It would be cool if all the barefooters that live all over could come together on a more frequent basis, but I guess once a year will have to do. Thanks again for the funny recap and hope to see you and all the other barefooters next year.

  2. Sean Gavor
    October 20, 2010

    Great report, Jason. Any and all additions to the body damage running skill. Goose poo is ok if you sprinkle some chia on it 😉

  3. Boris Terzic
    October 19, 2010

    Great recap of the events! I wish I could have gone, hopefully next year.

  4. Angie Bishop
    October 18, 2010

    Great recap! I am so excited for next year! On the calendar already 🙂

  5. Sally McDonald
    October 18, 2010

    I was actually ~~LOL LOL~~~ as I read your story,re living your trip,and the drinking too much thing,OMG, you poor thing. Very entertaining and telling about Ted and how he can just launch off into his story telling was very real true to how it feels when you have a conversation~~ with him should I say let him talk..way cool stuff I wish I could have been there for this ,but plan on doing it next year..
    Ted’s proud Mom Sally