Ridgewood Turkey Trot 8K—Or, how to do barefoot all wrong

Like many runners and other athletes, I hold several concurrent goals in mind — most of which are ever-moving targets. First is the simplest and most familiar: the shifting distance goal. At first I just wanted to work up to a 10k. Then it was maybe 15…

Like many runners and other athletes, I hold several concurrent goals in mind — most of which are ever-moving targets. First is the simplest and most familiar: the shifting distance goal. At first I just wanted to work up to a 10k. Then it was maybe 15k, then a half marathon. Now I’m signed up for my first full in March. I think that’s probably it for me in terms of pushing my distance. Probably. Maybe.

I’m always working on my breathing, and keeping my arms swinging straight forward and back instead of indulging my habit of punching at some invisible spot that floats just in front of my chest. But the goal I easily put the most thought into is the constant improvement of my foot and leg mechanics.

The best way to get instant feedback on what you need to work on is, of course, running barefoot. Your body just won’t stand for any nonsense if you listen to it, and barefoot helps you hear what it’s saying. So one of my running goals was to work up to a 10k completely barefoot. I’m not there yet.

How’s it going so far, you ask? Read on. But maybe make sure you haven’t eaten recently.

I started running barefoot occasionally in spring of this year. It was the natural extension of my ever-more-minimalist training plan. As I am wont to do, though, I escalated too fast. Ended up getting some top-of-foot pain and had to scale back. Which was fine, since it was getting into the heat of the summer down here in the south. Didn’t want to bake my feetsies.

I ran my first unshod 5k race in July. It was held on a stretch of recently built, unopened highway. (Read: free from glass and other debris!) It was relatively mild day for July, with perfectly overcast skies. Too much heat on the pavement wouldn’t be a problem. I ran it in under 29 minutes, a 9:20 pace. Not fast, but I was pleased — especially given how good I felt afterwards. I was the only barefoot runner there and felt proud.

Soon after the 8k, before my feet had warmed up.

Fast forward a few months. I’d run a few other races in huaraches, including my second half marathon. My form’s been improving. I was signed up for a Thanksgiving day Turkey Trot 8k. It was a fast, flat course that had more of an air of fun to it than other races. Seemed like the perfect race to get back into my barefoot escalation.

Thanksgiving morning was colder than it had been lately. These kinds of race days are a problem for me because I warm up so fast once I start running that I have to wear as few clothes as possible for the race, but waiting around beforehand is torturous. Waiting in the corral I had to hop around to keep myself warm. (Yes, I know the trick of wearing disposable clothing and tossing it, but even that can get expensive if you do it often!)

I got the usual questions and concerns about my feet. Aren’t you worried about stepping on glass? Or on a nail? Doesn’t that hurt your heels? And so on. I answered politely. Of course I’m worried, but not much. I’ve gotten used to glancing at the ground ahead kind of like quick glances in your side mirrors while driving. No, it doesn’t hurt my heels — running barefoot is different than running in trainers.

Then we were off. I felt great. I warmed up quickly and kept a solid pace. I passed more people during this race than any other that I can remember, though that’s probably more a result of this being a bigger, family-oriented type of race than it was my being speedy. Lots of inexperienced runners not knowing how best to place themselves in a corral, runners not moving to the side to tie their shoes or walk, that kind of thing. No biggie — I was still doing okay. I even felt truly fast was on the uphills, where forefoot running always seems to help me move better.

In the last mile or so I could feel a little bit of pain in my feet. Didn’t think much of it. Then my right big toe got some sharp pain for a few minutes, but it went away as quickly as it had come. I’d find out later that this was because a large blood blister had formed and then torn.

I crossed the finish line with a 9 minute pace overall, which I was very happy with. Inspecting the aftermath I noticed a little blood but it looked like just a scrape so I poured some water over my feet and went back to the finish to watch my friends come in.

My feet began to ache a little more as we walked back to the car, enough to finally hold my attention. Then as my feet started to properly warm up in the heated car they really started to hurt. I went from being mildly concerned to distracted to completely unable to concentrate. The entire second half of the drive home consisted of me doubled over holding my feet, shuffling and gripping them to find some position that relieved even a little of the pain.

Immediately after the race, before the pain had set in.

You know when your legs fall asleep and there’s always that moment when they’re tingling back awake where it actually hurts for a moment? It felt like the soles of my feet were frozen in the highest intensity of that moment for the entire day. I soaked, drained, and cleaned the various blisters as best I could. Several of them were deep beneath my callouses and took a lot of work to treat. Fortunately I’ve been dating a nurse for quite some time and she’s rather used to me and my dumb schemes. Patching me up could easily be listed on her resume, or at least as one of her hobbies.

I was bothered by more than the pain, though. Why had my barefoot experience been so different in this race? It can’t have just been the extra 3k, I thought. The answer was simple: it was just too cold to get proper ground feel. Sure I could feel my feet and the ground, but not to the extent that a 200 pound relative novice needs to. I ran too hard, too fast, and without as much attention to form. The damage tells that story, especially given that my first barefoot race didn’t result in any injuries at all. Not a single scuff from that one.

This is not meant to be a treatise against barefoot running, by any means. But it is meant as a warning. Be reasonable. Be humble. Be prepared. And also be aware that if you’re not any of those things, be truly ready and willing to suffer the consequences. I was an idiot on that day and now I have to drastically scale back my training with my first marathon only three months away.

I’ve heard it said before, but it’s worth repeating. Injuring yourself during your training — for any athletic event or goal — is not a badge of honor. It’s a sign that you weren’t ready yet. It’s a sign that you’re doing something wrong. It’s a sign that you’re doing too much, too fast.

It’s probably a sign that you’re a stubborn idiot, like me. Seriously, I would’ve rather stepped on that ever-elusive nail that everyone worries about than walk around like a penguin for as long as I’ve had to thus far. The biggest concern with barefoot running is not the various hazards that the uninitiated bring up in the corrals; what you really have to worry about is yourself.

Five days later… still waddling.

By Greg

Greg is a runner, CrossFitter, trainer, and self-proclaimed geek. He also blogs on [url=]intellectual engagement, fitness, nutrition, and more at[/url] and [url=]writes fiction over at[/url].

23 replies on “Ridgewood Turkey Trot 8K—Or, how to do barefoot all wrong”

That was an awesome story! I’m still trying to get the hang of the whole running barefoot thing, and its been tough. But i do hope to increase distance and improve running posture. Any advice for this humble beginner? Cheers 🙂

Yow. That does NOT look fun!
Running completely barefoot on pavement is exposing feet to far more than we are conditioned for. Let’s face it-most of us have spent the majority of our lives with our feet pampered in thick socks + cushiony sneakers. Unless our soles get like boot leather – or a dog’s! – it’s going to be a really tough road. Please consider this – don’t kill your feet!

@hadi – Best advice I can give is to keep the ego reigned in. Listen to your body, progress slowly, be humble, and you’ll be fine. Barefoot Ken Bob ( has a great set of simple reminders on his site, too. Here they are verbatim:

1.Running Barefoot should NOT hurt (on almost any terrain)
2.Running Barefoot should NOT be work
3.Running Barefoot should be FUN!

@Larry Prater – I’ve seen worse than this on shorter distances and I’ve seen nearly flawless feet after ultras. How a runner’s feet (and arguably their physical form as a whole) look after a race are a good reflection on how prepared they are and how smartly they planned.

@bf in az – Thanks for the shout out! I’m a big fan of your blog.

” The entire second half of the drive home consisted of me doubled over holding my feet, shuffling and gripping them to find some position that relieved even a little of the pain.”

Try not to disgrace racing by being such a wimp. Racing is supposed to be a challenge. I’m not sure why you felt it necessary to write this blog complaining about your “pain”. Maybe one day you will do something that actually challenges you instead of these meager attempts.

OUCH! I can only imagine how much that hurt, but I can definitely relate. We tend to hear the good things about barefoot running while conveniently ignoring the bad.

After a few setbacks, I’m probably more cautious than I need to be, but I still push myself more than I should once in a while – just to remember I need to respect the road 🙂

Thanks for sharing

Alex: The only one being disgraceful here is you.

Greg: Man can I relate to this one! When I got my first set of fivefingers I ran races in them at a seven and a half minute mile pace within four months. Ended up with a stress fracture and had to take six months off from running. Being humble would have prevented that.

Alex, Seriously, really you can just type that comment out? Why don’t you step up and try to be a positive part of this community.
Greg good story, it just reminds all of us to take it easy, for me you reminded me of how we can make mistakes, but to learn from another’s misfortune, well you can come out ahead.

LOL @Alex, dude went in on Greg!…. it’s kind of funny, i thought this type of “hate” existed only for famous people, not people just trying to pass on some helpful advice :/….smh

My experience in learning to run barefoot taught me to take it slow and build gradually.

Despite being used to running in minimalist shoes I found it took some tweaks to my form to prevent blisters. Even 3mm thick minimalist shoes and 6mm huaraches will mask a lot of scuffing.

I had to focus on landing without pronating as much (caused blisters on outside of the foot) and not pushing off aggressively (blisters in toe area).

The other key is pace. Keep it way slower than normal and build speed.

Starting with 1 mile cool downs then increasing to 5K I was able to work up to 15K and 1/2 marathon running 4 to 5 minutes/mile slower than my normal race pace.

I finally have worked up to running as far as I want at full speed without getting blisters on pavement. Next challenge is trails!

The two biggest benefits of barefoot running to me are the simple joy of bare feet on the ground and it is a fabulous way to teach yourself efficient, low impact form that you can’t get with any form of footwear attached.

@Kurt – Stress fractures are one of my biggest fears when it comes to injury since it’s such a seemingly minor thing but can completely sideline you.

When I first switched to minimalist I kept getting the familiar top-of-foot pain that lots of minimalist runners get from running too far up on the forefoot. That was enough to warn me to back off. You’re in good company, though. I think runners get injured so much because we’re a stubborn bunch!

@Doug and Robert – Learning lessons is what it’s all about!

@Russell – EXCELLENT advice. I’ve got a long way to go to catch up to where you’re at.

@sizart – Haha — maybe this means I’m famous now!

Check out my blog (http:/ There are lots of pointers on how to toughen up soles of feet to runner safer, stronger & more efficiently barefoot. Keep working at it – if done properly, you’ll never get injured running again!

coach Jeff

This is more a masochiste running but a barefoot runnig. I’m not surprise that, if you were naked, we can see lot of whip marks at your back and on your butt.

Great post. I took a while build up enough skin on my feet to be able to run regularly barefoot on road. My limit now is 13km. With minimalist shoes I run 25km. However, the pleasure of running completely barefoot is something else. I never get tired of seeing people’s face when they realise I running barefoot. Keep at it.

I’ve found that when running barefoot if you run faster, like in a race, you tend to push off harder and have more friction and tend to blister like you did. That might have been the difference compared to your training. The cold might have prevented you from feeling it, although usually cold weather makes my feet more sensitive.

For me, the soles of my feet didn’t ever get tougher. They never got like shoe leather. What changed was how I was running. I think the blisters are simply a result of friction in your stride.

I feel for you man. I’m really surprised you didn’t feel those blisters. They look REALLY painful. When I get blisters they feel awful and I immediately stop and walk home and when I get home they are the size of grains of sand and I can barely see them and they are healed by the next day. I can’t imagine what those feel like.

BTW, hands down the worst blister I have ever gotten was on my pinky toe while wearing ASICS shoes during a 20 mile race. My entire toe was one giant blister filled with blood and fluid. So barefoot or shod you can get blisters and lose toenails.

too much too fast.
you dont have any hardskin on your feet! running 8k on grass would have worked better than on the street.
for my point of view your feet still look well after what you have done.
i think if you decide to go really barefoot there is no way back for longer time. you need much more hardskin, and if you have it, it will kill all your shoes.

John said:
“Let’s face it-most of us have spent the majority of our lives with our feet pampered in thick socks + cushiony sneakers. Unless our soles get like boot leather – or a dog’s! – it’s going to be a really tough road.”

He is right. You really need to WALK barefoot everywhere, on varying terrains first, and gradually get your feet to be tough like leather. Then transitioning to running is much easier. Many of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s went barefoot everywhere, all summer long. It was obvious to us that early in the spring we would start slowly toughening up our soles by doing longer and longer walks, so that by june we could walk all day barefoot, anywhere, even on hot pavement. You grew up in a shoe obsessed society and have never developed the tough skin you should have. It takes a while.

Some really great advice all around! And some well deserved criticism of my doing too much too fast. I’ve definitely got a long way to go.

@Timetraveler – you unintentionally settled a debate I had with a friend about whether runners from even just one generation before were better off for walking around barefoot more often. Thanks!

men! you should take it slow when you are running barefoot…im from Barefoot Running Philippines. our motto is “No,It doesnt hurt.Take it slow and you will get used to it. you should run 1 Kilometer and as you progress you cant have blisters any more RUN HAPPY! 🙂

That looks awful! I’d run barefoot, but the inside of my right ankle pronates and my XC coach won’t let me… It’s not like a lot of girls want to get their feet dirty. I’m just glad my boyfriend is on Cross Country too. Anyway, I tried to run barefoot last summer and was fed up with not having calluses, so I ran around, grating the full of each of my feet on the asphalt of my culdesac. I then put my feet in an ice bath. Anyway, I did this for a week and a half every other day and then just let them alone. My feet were tender for three days, but two weeks later, I got thick calluses that I run well in, don’t look gross, and don’t attract too much attention. (Except when I get my nails done with my Bff’s. They shudder in horror!) <3!

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