Thursday, December 9, 2010

The First 100-Miles

On November 14, 2010, I ran the inaugural Stockton Half Marathon.  About two miles into this event marked my 100th mile running barefoot.  This milestone is special to me for two reasons: first, one hundred miles run barefoot is a milestone in itself; second, the race took place in my hometown.  Here is a look back at my first 100 barefoot miles.

My first barefoot run took place almost a year ago.  I had received Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” as a Christmas gift.  At that time, I didn’t know that the book had anything to do with barefoot running.  I had asked for the book because I had heard about the Tarahumara Indians running incredible distances and I was looking for inspiration.  I had been out of running for about two years.  Prior to this break from running, I had run a number of half marathons and three full marathons.  Not long after my last marathon I pulled a muscle in my ribs from a horrendous cough and cold.  After about 6 months of healing and no running, I had lost my built up endurance and with it my motivation for running.

My hope in reading “Born to Run” was to discover just a little bit of Tarahumara knowledge, so I might apply it to my marathon running.  In all my training and racing over 2 years, I could never hit a 4-hour marathon.  All of my training pointed to it, but on race day I could never pull it off.  I had no idea that while devouring that book over 2 days it would lead me to an entirely different perspective on my running.  

On the morning of January 2, 2010, I got dressed in my winter running clothes, but I left my shoes in the closet. It was an invigorating 2.5-mile run around my neighborhood.  I was hooked instantly.  I loved running barefoot.  In the weeks and months to follow I relished in the sensations and feedback that different surfaces gave my feet.  I discovered that I preferred to run on the asphalt of the street versus the concrete sidewalk.  I learned that running across manholes or the wheelchair accessible metal ramps, with their inch-and-a-half circular bumps, on street corners were not fun, even in Vibrams.  I even learned that the bare foot does not like kicking metal L-bars at the base of construction signs - apparently it causes large gashes that require an up to date tetanus shot.  My favorite experiences running barefoot have been running in the rain, splashing through puddles like a kid; and running through mud puddles on the Cinderella Trail 10k while shod runners dodged to the sides of the trail to avoid them.   

However, like many newbie barefoot runners, I did far too much too soon.  I ended up struggling for months with the infamous top of foot pain (TOFP).  I would take a few days to a week off and try again, but I couldn’t seem to shake my TOFP issues.

One of my early goals had been to run the Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon last May.  I opted for the 5K instead of the half marathon due to continuing TOFP and a likely bone bruise.  I finished in a respectable 26:42.8 (sixth in my age bracket).  Afterwards I took about two months off to properly heal my foot and to learn my art. 

During this time, I read up on running form, watched videos, asked questions and contemplated my running goals and how to achieve them.  By August I was back!  Barefoot John and I took on the 10K Cinderella Trail Run in the Oakland Hills.  While my time was not fantastic, 1:35:01, I was able to complete my first attempt at a trail run barefoot. 

Next stop - Half Marathon. 

There are quite a few fun half marathons in my surrounding area in the fall.  However, when I heard that my hometown was holding the inaugural Stockton Half Marathon, I could not think of a better time or place to run my first barefoot half marathon.

I began my half marathon training not long after my first trail race.  With two young children at home, finding time to train can be difficult.  Some weeks I managed to get in two runs.  Some weeks I did none.  Most weeks, I was able to get at least one good run.  In the final few weeks to the race, my work schedule became hectic and running took a back seat.  The most I had run to this point was 6 miles barefoot.  The Saturday before the race I managed an 8-mile run with just under a 10-minute per mile pace.  I had a quarter-sized blister develop starting at mile 5 just behind my toes on my left foot.  I noticed I was pushing off and corrected for the remaining three miles.  I managed not to tear the blister - an indicator of using proper form. 

My biggest fear going into the half marathon was that I had not done enough training.  I was fearful of what would happen when I past 8 miles.  Would I get a TOFP type injury?  Would I be unable to finish the race?  The last thing I wanted was to be the lone barefoot racer and have a bad showing.  I didn’t want to hear the “see, I told you so” commentary.

Fortunately, it appears that my feet have finally made the transition to barefoot running.  Despite not having been able to complete all of my training runs, I have made up for it in focus and proper form.  I was able to complete my first barefoot half marathon without any problems. 

While I still feel that I have a lot to learn about barefoot running, I believe I have developed the initial foot strength and basic knowledge to take it to the next level.  Having met my initial goal of a barefoot half marathon, I am now looking to complete a barefoot marathon (possibly a trail marathon).  I have recently become interested in the possibility of venturing beyond the marathon and into the realm of the ultramarathoner. 

Here’s to the next 100 miles and beyond!


  1. Terry, this is quite a journey. Congratulations on 100 barefoot miles. I am also learning that going barefoot takes patience, and respect for one's body.
    I find running on trails barefoot very challenging. I have done a number of barefoot hikes but running is altogether a different animal.
    Good luck with your training.

  2. Great job and very true. Barefoot running on trails can be quite difficult, especially as the temps begin to drop. Not sure if it would interest you, but Dr. Richards and I have a whole chapter dedicated to barefoot trail running in our book about running barefoot due out by Penguin in February. It would be interesting to interview you for our website as well. Feel free to send us an email: ) Enjoy barefooting!