50 Miles Barefoot!

October 22, 2010

On Sunday I ran my 14th race barefoot.  Fourteen races!  That’s  eleven 5Ks, two 5-milers, and a 10K.   Thirteen of them since mid-July.  And just now it struck me:  that 5K on Sunday pushed my barefoot racing total above 50 miles.

Fifty miles!  Fifty barefoot miles.

That’s a lot of miles!  (Even when you run them 5K or so at a time.)

I still feel new at this.

Ken Skier ("the running photographer") running barefoot at the 2010 EHS Kick'n Into Gear 5K in Exeter, NH Running barefoot at the 2010 EHS Kick’n Into Gear 5K in Exeter, NH

It’s nearly the end of October now, and since Labor Day almost every time I’ve run, I’ve been barefoot.    Not in Vibrams or some other minimalist shoe.  Bare!   Stark naked skin on the asphalt.

I make this distinction not because I think running with nothing on your feet is better or nobler or purer than running with something on down there…but because I’ve found it is really hard.   In my case I’ve had to control the way my toes work when I run.

I know what you’re thinking.  Toes?  Did he say toes?

Who ever heard of controlling your toes?

Runners learn to control their breathing, or their cadence, or the length of their stride.  Maybe they try to control their attitude.  (Think positive.  No negative thoughts!  Positive!)  But when have you ever heard one runner say to another: “What I’m working on right now is controlling my toes.”

Never!   That’s the last time you heard it.   In the entire history of running, no runner has ever said such a thing!   The toes are just there.   Like your earlobes, or any other appendage.  We don’t consciously control them.

But I have spent the last few months learning to control my toes.    Maybe my feet are unusual.   (This wouldn’t surprise me.   They don’t look like anyone else’s feet.  Mine are size 14’s.   I’ve been a swimmer all my life, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood on the pool deck, self-conscious as other swimmers hooted, “Hey!   No fair!  No flippers allowed!”)

On each of these giant feet is a Big Toe.  And it’s big.   (Bigger around than an Italian sausage, or a kielbasa.)   But it’s not disproportionately large, if you step back and give yourself a good wide-angle view of the entire foot.  A foot the size of a skateboard should have a substantial big toe.

The problem is the next toe–the one next to the Big Toe.  I call it the Long Toe…because it reaches out beyond the Big Toe like the talon on a velociraptor.

( That doesn’t look right!  What the heck is THAT thing doing there?  Who needs a toe that sticks out beyond the Big Toe?)

Ken Skier ("the running Photographer") Running barefoot at the 2010 Baystate Memorial 5K in Lowell, MA.

2010 Baystate Memorial 5K in Lowell, MA.

Mind you, I’m not embarrassed about how my feet look.  If they make you laugh then I’m glad I brightened your day.  No… what bothers me is that whenever I run, that Long Toe curls down like a parrot’s claw gripping a perch.

This is actually helpful when I swim.  There I am, poised on the blocks at the start of a race, and my toes get a rock-solid grip on the block–a perfect launchpad for my dive.  So maybe it’s not just my flipper feet that helped me as a swimmer—maybe it’s that velocoraptor claw.  They both helped me, in a lot of races.

But they don’t help me when I run!

Ken Skier ("the Running Photographer") Running barefoot at the 2010 Lone Gull 10K in Gloucester, MA

At the finish line of the 2010 Lone Gull 10K in Gloucester, MA


When I run, my toes curl down and try to dig into the earth.  No doubt due to some  gene that was helpful a million years ago when we were all running around on the African savanna, chasing down our dinner.

But we’re not running on the African savanna now.    We’re running down a road or a sidewalk or a bikepath–some paved surface–and when my toes curl down and try to dig into the earth. they just rub themselves raw on the pavement.

So now you understand why I need to control my toes.   I’d run a mile and my long toes would be bloody meat.

Somehow I had to turn off that million-year-old gene that tries to curl my toes down when I run.  I had to teach my toes to splay forward and out,  barely touching the asphalt…so the contact would be as gentle as a kiss, and not as harsh and insistent as a gripping claw.

This is a work in progress.  Sometimes I can run four miles and my toes feel fantastic afterwards.  Other times I run 5K and my toes look like hamburger.  But I’m getting better at it.  I know I can figure this out.

And when I do–I won’t ever  have to go into a running store and listen to the laughter that is inevitable when I ask for minimalist running shoes… “in a size FOURTEEN”!

© 2010 by Ken Skier. All rights reserved


5 responses to “50 Miles Barefoot!

  1. Hi Ken,
    Met you yesterday at the Butterfly release Race.I was the person who hasn’t missed a day in years!
    Hope you have recovered and hope to see you in the future.
    Bill Henry

  2. My 2nd toe is the the same length (or only slightly longer) than my big toe, but I still suffer from “talon toe.” I had a physical shortly after a half marathon a few months back and the doc thought I smashed my toes because of the black nails. Curling toes and blisters may be more common than you think.

  3. Really loved this story! I can’t even imagine running barefoot as yet! I have gone to Pureflow2’s which are kind of in between a minimalist and a support shoe. And, over the last 2 years have converted to a forefoot strike. Right now I am doing physical therapy for chronic pain at the insertion point of my left heel. If I finally get that under control I would love to transition to minimalist or even barefoot running. I wear size 12 and my second toe is also longer than my big toe but probably not as much as yours. I have noticed that I have a callous on the tip of my second toe so without even realizing it I too must be curling my second toe in my shoes.

    Enjoyed the pictures and plan on checking out more of your site!



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