Posted by: Mark | December 16, 2009

Barefoot Running – the Redux

About a month ago I wrote about barefoot running, after having heard so much about it and finally giving it a try. Since then, I have gone on about a dozen barefoot runs, and I think that my increased experience merits another blog post.

I continue to love running barefoot. I particularly love it because I live next to a huge beach and can spend most of the run there, and running barefoot on a sandy beach is as wonderful as the cliche would imply.

I have added a new twist to barefoot run: a barefoot, night run. This raises the bar into a new stratosphere as for how arrogant and holier-than-thou one can be. I don’t just run barefoot, I run in the dark. On the beach. With a headlamp. Oh. Yeah.

Barefoot night running implies that not only are you a running purist (hence the barefeet), but are so committed to running that you won’t let a busy day prevent you from going on a run, no matter the time of day. And in my case, since I’ve taken the semester off, “being so busy” means being wrapped up most of the day in trying to get a gold medal in Mario Kart Wii 100CC, which is really damn hard. So, when night settles, it’s time to not put on my shoes, juice up my iPhone, and go running.

I always bring a head-lamp, because I don’t want to accidentally step on glass for the 1/2mile it takes me to get to the sand. This does not always work, as evidenced by the fact that I am writing this with a throbbing foot which, until this morning, had a piece of glass in it. I always bring my iPhone, so that I can listen to podcasts or music while I run. On my first barefoot night run, I listened to the This American Life Halloween Special, which was about demons and was truly creepy, especially to listen to while in the dark, on the beach, running barefoot. And combined with the coincidence of eating a particularly greasy snack on an hour before my run, I can claim with literal accuracy that for the first time, something scared the shit out of me.

I have since timed the night run perfectly where at the right moment, I switch from podcast to music, more specifically, “For Reverend Green,” an Animal Collective song from the album Strawberry Jam. It is at this moment that the run turns from fun and games to all business. My speed intensifies as the throbbing guitars echo from ear to ear, and as Avey Tare’s vocals kick in, I am officially in the zone.

Barefoot beach running at night is mystical. Sometimes, I will run on the sand with the headlamp on. On a clear December night, the mini-spotlight beams out of my forehead and is entrancing. The light casts a blurry circle in front of my feet, and I find myself staring into the white the same way that Henry Sugar used to stare into candlelight in Roald Dahl’s classic book of short stories, with a similar, hypnotizing effect. It’s hard to focus on anything but the light from the headlamp. The headlamp acts not only a visual portal into some bizarre pseudo-altered universe, but is also a safety measure. Ocean Beach is littered with rocks that have been smoothed to perfection by the Pacific Ocean. I swear I could make millions by selling these rocks to New Agers who want stone pathways in their backyards. Also, there are real seal carcasses, and I really don’t want to step on one.

Other times, however, I will throw caution to the wind and turn off the headlamp and put it in my pocket. The light of the city burns brightly over the sand dunes, but there is nothing but darkness in the West. The moon and light cast a bluish light over the white roar of the waves. “For Reverend Green” works even better without the headlamp. It’s very hard to make sense of what Avey Tare is screaming as he stretches his vocal chords to the snapping point, but one of the lines from the chorus sounds like “Now I think it’s the best you ever had it.” I’ve checked the lyrics, and they aren’t that, but sometimes what you hear is better than what it actually is, especially when you are running at night. I soundlessly sing along, but if you put me in a fast car with the windows down, I swear I can do a really, really good impression of Avey Tare in this song.

When I’m really flowing, I lift my head up and stare into the sky. My arms will hang limply behind me, as I slump all the weight out of my shoulders. It’s stupid to do this, but I can’t help it. I pick up my speed and lose all focus. The sky is a crystal clear blur. I know that I could go for miles this way, that no rocks or dead seals on the beach that will get in my way. I run out all of my pain and anxiety, I am fluctuate between being totally tense and loose like a feather. I breathe all my worries up into the night.

The song ends, I re-connect with the ground beneath my feet, and Animal Collective dances me home to the sounds of “Fireworks.”

But in that moment, “…I think it’s the best you ever had it.”



  1. I love Ocean Beach. I live nearby and get sandy as often as I can. But I have found so much sharp or gross stuff washed up or deposited on the beach over the years that I can’t imagine going barefoot in the dark. You’re a brave man.

  2. well if you’re afraid of stepping on things you can try what they call the “barefoot running shoes” saw some interesting ones here:

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