One day this past summer, as my fiancé, Nat, and I were walking up Fifth avenue toward Central Park, a young man ran past us. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be worth mentioning because there are a ton of runners in New York. But this guy was different. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. He was wearing extremely short shorts. And he was barefoot. The fact that just about everyone he passed on the sidewalk either turned to continue watching him or made a comment about him is pretty remarkable. You have to do something really crazy to get noticed in this city. And I’m not sure what it was about this guy, exactly, but he definitely exuded the sort of crazy vibe that got people’s attention.
I’ve since seen a pretty significant number of barefoot runners. I’d go so far as to say I see at least one every time I go running, although I’m including in the category of barefoot runner anyone wearing Vibram Five Fingers. I’ve even seen what looked like it might be an entire barefoot running club, a group of people gathered at one of the park entrances either before or after their run. None of these runners look as crazy as the guy I mentioned above did, so I’m not trying to correlate craziness and barefoot running. But as I ran past a guy last night who was completely barefoot, it occurred to me that since this movement of barefoot running is just taking off, the pressure must be on for these guys. I mean, they are essentially brand ambassadors of their own feet, and a lot of people are pretty dubious about leaving their shoes behind (I include myself here). When you’re out running without shoes, you have got to make it look good! You have to have a broad smile on your face, and look like you’re totally fresh and feeling no pain…even if you’re finishing up a twenty-mile long run. Otherwise, people might look at you and think, “Well, that person looks miserable. I’m keeping my shoes on!” I don’t know that I could handle that sort of stress. When I’m running, I tend to lose all concept of what I look like. Terrible grimace with sweat stains and snot running out of my nose? I don’t care. After all, I’m not trying to impress anybody. But let me tell you, that carefree attitude would not last long if I chose to run barefoot.
I guess I’m kind of curious about barefoot running in general. I tried a few google searches to see if there is, in fact, a barefoot running club that meets in Central Park. I found this. And they do have group runs in Central Park, so maybe they’re the people I saw that one time. And they have an upcoming event. I’d kind of like to pick John Durant’s brain (he’s the site organizer) and find out if barefoot runners do indeed feel like the running world is watching them, and just waiting for them to slip up. Also! How do you overcome the fear of contracting 7 varieties of hepatitis and possibly a rabie or two the minute you take your shoes off on the streets of this nitty, gritty city?