I woke up excited this past Sunday because I was in for an experience of a lifetime. This is, of course, my lifetime as the events that day may not have interested you at all. Still, I was fortunate enough to get to hear Barefoot Ken Saxton (or Barefoot Ken Bob) speak. Barefoot Ken is an icon and a legend in the world of barefoot running. I don’t think he ever meant to be, but he is, and I think that is how the true greats are made. If you have read Born to Run then you know who Ken is, sort of. As he put it, “I’m the guy who had the website that Barefoot Ted found”.
It was not a large crowd that turned out to hear him speak but a good one nonetheless. I estimate there were about 50-60 people there total. I had hoped for more with all my lobbying, but the people who showed up had a real interest in or already loved running bare. I got there and made my way around the room, talking to a few people and chatting about the Vibram Five Finger Classics I had on. I took a seat next to two wonderful and energetic ladies who were curious about running bare. One had made the switch to running in racing flats already and was really enjoying it. Her friend had never done anything close to running bare but had lots of really good questions for me, both before and after the talk.
Duncan Cragg, Luke’s Locker Community Running Coach, introduced Ken and gave us a little background on Luke’s stance on barefoot and minimalist running. For the record, they are all for it. Over the past few years I have watched Luke’s change toward that stance, and I applaud their efforts to be open minded and logical when it comes to running and different types of runners. For a store that I’m sure makes the majority of its money on running shoes, to host a barefoot running event and then say we support barefoot running is a big, bold step. Thank you to Luke’s for hosting.
Barefoot Ken took the “stage” and started off by introducing us to Herman, a very impressive dog that was tethered to Ken for most of his talk. He then started to tell his story. It’s an interesting story of never really letting go of a childhood joy of running around barefoot in the country. He adopted life in running shoes but always maintained part of his running without shoes. He told us of friend of his who has run more marathons than him completely barefoot, and Ken’s run over 70! One person he spoke of has run over 120 barefoot marathons and is still going. That’s a staggering number of marathons, given this person has only been running them since 2004! The room was also shocked to learn that this person is quite speedy and has never suffered an injury from running. Ken’s approach to speaking is an honest and humble one. You can tell he never thought about seeking out fame or recognition for running without shoes. He did it because he enjoyed it, and it felt good to him. In 1997 it was after a nice long run that he got the idea to start a website to help answer all the questions he got when he was out on his runs. This happens to a lot of us barefooters so I knew what he meant. In 1997 the web was not what it is today, and he believes that his was the first barefoot running site. I would say he’s probably right.
Ken demonstrated some form techniques as well as answered a lot of questions, even though he said we asked fewer questions than his other stops. I think the room was more interested in getting out on the trail and getting a little running in with the barefoot legend. So with the energy boiling he took us outside. He gave no instruction or really said anything when we got to the trail. He just started running, and we all did the same. He stopped a couple of times and watched everyone run by, but he never said anything. He just watched, smiled, and said hi as we all trotted by. I found myself in the middle of four or five people, answering questions and trying to help them iron out their form. I guess that’s what happens when you wear a shirt advertising yourself and handing out your cards to people with questions. After we had all run a little, Ken stopped and chatted some more. He gave general advice to the group and told a few more stories. I had an idea that he was just watching everyone when we ran, and at the end, the things he talked about were covering the most common issues he saw as we ran by. He is the first to say he’s not a coach, but his brain is a veritable fountain of information, and he knows how to dispense it in a way that is beneficial to everyone. This was obviously a time saver, which was nice because it was hot and humid out.
On the way back to the store the group got split up by traffic lights, and I had a chance to walk with Ken and listen to him interact with the others in our group. I was very impressed with his humble approach and admired the way he looked at himself. At times during the talk and the walk he mentioned things in very general terms. For instance he’s a vegan, but he doesn’t like worrying about food or splitting it into subcategories like protein, carbs, or fats. Food is all encompassing and you need the whole of it all to be healthy. He also addressed a stretching question by saying he’s like a cat and stretches all day when he feels tight. He’s never stretched specifically for running or exercise. I don’t know if it’s just his California mentality, or if he’s just that way, but there is a very cool, laid back, and unassuming nature to the man that I really liked. Once we got back to the store he chatted with anyone who wanted to chat, and he even spent a little time with me.
While we were talking, people started gathering, and then some questions popped up. I am used to being the “expert” and, not realizing it, I started to answer a lady’s question. I’m sure I looked funny, as I know my eyes were the size of silver dollars when I looked at him and realized I just stepped on his toes. Something very interesting happened in that moment as I stopped talking and he started; he didn’t start with a fresh answer but added to and finished mine. Then for the next five to ten minutes we stood about two feet apart answering questions together. It was a great feeling to have someone I look up to defer to me at times and trust in my knowledge and experience.
What a day and what an experience. I knew that losing the shoes would change my life as a runner, and it has with amazing dividends. I never really thought it would lead to me standing next to a running icon, fielding questions right along with him. It’s an amazing world out there, people, and I for one plan to explore it. I hope you do the same.