NYC Barefoot Run 2011 – A Life Changing Weekend
Posted by Ivan Olarte on October 12, 2011
It has been three weeks since the great weekend at the NYC Barefoot Run 2011. Enough time has passed for it all to have sunk in and for me to savor and process all that I learned. I have been basking in the energy and motivation which I gained from the whole experience. Ironically, I almost did not attend because I found out about the weekend on short notice and had reservations about going, expenses, where to stay etc… My wonderful supportive wife Raye, convinced me that this was tailor made for my interests in BFR (barefoot running), that I would love it and would enjoy being around like minded people. So with her encouragement and my buddy Joe’s offer for me to stay at his house, I signed up with two days to go, packed up, got in my Mini Cooper and took off for NYC on Friday morning.
A trip down to NYC is usually a pleasant 3 hour drive. Well, I had a nerve racking drive to NYC due to the weather. A trip that should have taken a pleasant few hours in the car, turned into a nearly five your drive due to torrential rain. Thankfully, this was the worst of the weekend and I would be happily rewarded for having braved the storm, with perfect weather and a great adventure over the next few days. After spending the night at Joe’s house in Queens, I woke up early and took the subway to Battery Park. This was a homecoming of sorts for me as I grew up in Queens, and worked a block from Battery Park in the the late 80’s. Looking forward to the weekend ahead, but not really knowing what to expect, I arrived at Battery Park at around 9am, with a knapsack full of all my barefoot running books. I had read the list of who would be attending, and was hoping to get all my books signed by the pioneers of the BFR movement. The area has changed a lot in the last few years. Even though it was 9am, it was full of tourists. As I started looking around, I spotted a barefoot running rickshaw being pulled by no other than Barefoot Ted. Ted is easily recognized by his energy and happiness that radiates from his being. I caught up with Ted, and his passenger, and trotted along to the area where all the other barefoot runners were gathered.
The Fun Begins:
Only in NYC, could a large group of barefoot runners get lost in the sea of tourists. For the next four hours or so, I met folks from around the US, and over 11 countries. In addition, I met the greats in BFR, including Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton, Barefoot Ted, Michael Sandler, Lee Saxby, Jason Robillard, and the great brother and sister team who organized this event, John and Maggie Durant.
During this time, I managed to get most of my books signed, take pictures with the authors, and participated in several clinics held by some of the legends mentioned above. A great surprise was how much of what I saw and heard validated what I was already putting into practice. And still, there were plenty of new ideas, exercises and concepts for me to absorb and to further my practice of BFR. At one point there were several clinics going on at once, all with the personal touch of these leaders of the BFR scene. I learned how to manage running up\down hills from Barefoot Ken Bob, Some key concepts on form, balance and symetry from Michael Sandler, Received some personal coaching form the Vibobarefoot coaching team, discussed shoe as tools, with Barefoot Ted as he rode people all around in his custom made rickshaw, and met with Steven Sashen the maker of The Invisible Shoe.
The clinics finished near 2pm. As mentioned, this was my old stomping grounds, so I put on my Vibram Bikilas, loaded up my knapsack, and walked around for the next four hours until the Merrell BFR party started.
Even though the morning was great, the best was yet to come. With a Smuttynose beer in hand, I browsed through the vendor tables including Merrell, Injinji, Vibobarefoot and others. I chatted with the friends I had made earlier that day and before I knew it I was meeting more BF running gurus Kudus that I had not met earlier. The energy was contagious and I was able to meet, chat and take pictures with non other than Chris McDougall, an inspiration for many of us, and Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a true pioneer in the scientific research of the benefits of BFR.
An hour later, we all settled down for an informative, friendly and open discussion about barefoot running. All the gurus spoke in turn sharing their thoughts, and answered questions from the crowd. Afterwards more Smuttynose Beer and Barefoot Wine (of course!) was consumed, and we chatted, laughed and had a great time discussing our adventures in BFR, and looking forward to the next day’s run at Governor’s Island.
On To The Run at Governor’s Island:
After a late night subway ride back to Queens, carrying a knapsack full of treasured books, and a bag of goodies from the party, I finally fell asleep at around 2:30am, knowing I would need to be up in three hours. I could not help but chuckle as I remembered a story from the book written by Chris McDougall, Born To Run, where the runners partied all night right before going on a grueling ultramarathon run the next day.
I was in the subway by 6am and arrived promptly at the Governor’s Island Ferry around 7:30am. I was greeted by Barefoot Ken Bob, and a few of the other runners that I had met the day before. The energy was palpable as we took the short ride over to the island. We all walked the mile or so down to the starting\staging area. We chatted, took more pictures, ate some fruit to fuel up for the run.
As the start time drew closer, we gathered at the starting line and got ready for the run to begin. A few things made this run truly unique. Even though we all had assigned numbers, the run was setup with no specific distance in mind, it was a “run your own distance” event. The purpose was not to compete with each other but rather to share the experience and joy of BFR and learn from other like minded people. Just before the race started an official group shot picture was taken, a moving a Capella rendition of the National Anthem was sung by Melissa Bybee, and a young couple, Kat and Olly got engaged! as they rode in the rickshaw being pulled by Barefoot Ted, to start the run.
And so we all took off. I ended up running three full loops totaling just under seven miles. While my previous personal best had been a half marathon a few weeks before, I was very happy with the seven mile run after such an exciting weekend, the clinics I participated in, a day of walking in my five fingers shoes and barely three hours of sleep. It was a unique experience running with so many like minded people, running with, and high fiving greats like Chris McDougall, Barefoot Ted, Barefoot Ken Bob and many others, and cheering everyone as they finished their run.
Post Run Party:
Afterwards there was plenty of healthy, nutritious foods to eat, as well as the refreshing Smuttynose Beer. Other activities included a kids race, a Hula Dance class, a chance to try on various Merrell shoes and plenty of pictures, stories and chatting all around. As we all started leaving by noon, we exchanged e-mails, said our goodbyes (until next year) and left filled with energy, motivation and plenty of ideas to mull over and put into practice.
A Call To Contribute:
Since this adventure, I have realized that I have a duty to myself and others to spread the word of this wonderful movement, the practice of natural running\walking. I also returned home feeling more motivated and validated than ever. On my drive home, I made plans to start up my own chapter of barefoot runners here in southern New England, to teach others, and to continue to share what I learn so that I can help others along their journey. I was happily surprised to find a wonderful organization the Barefoot Runners Society http://barefootrunners.org which was co-founded by a very active runner Jason Robillard. Even better I discovered that this site has a great infrastructure for promoting BFR, and that the Rhode Island Chapter was in need of a leader. And so I joined this community and offered my services to head up the Rhode Island Chapter. While I had the idea of setting up a blog to spread the word etc, I can now focus my efforts on the actual work involved in promoting BFR, thanks to the good organization that the Barefoot Runners Society has in place already. My plan is to get organized as we head into the winter, and be able to start with monthly meets, clinics and a collection of materials and information to share by next spring.
A Personal Accomplishment:
On a personal level, two great things have happened. By the time I left NYC, my best friend Joe decided to give BFR a try, and so he is my first “student” of BFR. Even though we live three hours away from each other, I have been monitoring his progress to insure that his experience in BFR is enjoyable and successful.
The other great accomplishment is that within a week of returning home, I ran a personal best of 16 miles followed by a glorious full barefoot marathon (26.2 miles) along beautiful New England country roads in 4 hours and 14 minutes. The best part is that the Marathon was much different than I had expected, I did not “hit the wall” did not feel tired or in pain. In fact running over 4 hours all barefoot was much more pleasurable, entertaining and relaxing than the 4 hour drive down to NYC in a heated, comfortable car.
And so this is the end of my story…for now. I continue to live and love life, to experience the joys of being barefoot on a daily basis, the absence of joint and back aches and lethargy, and the rewards of sharing all that I know with Joe, and with anyone that has any interest in knowing more about how to run better, without pain, and to connect with the earth in such a personal and wonderful way. If you liked this story and are at all curious about barefoot running, I strongly encourage you to use the power of the internet to find the information that you seek. There are plenty of resources, and others willing to share what they have found through their own experience. Of course feel free to contact me here, and I strongly encourage you to join great online communities such as, etc. Most of all I hope that you get to attend next year’s NYC Barefoot run 2012 and we get to meet there. You can find out more about this unique event atBarefoot running is a growing movement, it is a return to our primal and basic way of being, it’s truly the way we were meant to be.
A Word of Thanks:
My gratitude goes out to John and Maggie Durant, and all my, teachers, gurus and friends who made this weekend a memorable, unique and life changing event. They taught me, motivated me, and joined me for a bit in my Barefootin’ Journey.
Ivan M. Olarte
The Journey is the reward…
Barefootin’, it’s the way we were meant to be.