It’s not every day that you get a chance to make history but last Saturday it appears that I did just that on a beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
My distance-running exploits took a turn to somewhere between the unique and bizarre when my wife Leslie signed me up for another 5K.
Signing up for anything athletic outdoors in southern Florida when it’s still summer automatically qualifies as an extreme sport. Heat and humidity is not something that significantly diminishes at any time there. A normal 5K run would have sufficed.
This would be like no other 3.1-mile run I’d ever attempted. I would be running barefoot on the city’s municipal beach shortly after sunrise on what was quickly becoming a steamy South Florida morning.
Somehow Leslie had come across the Naked Foot 5K Run while scouring the internet looking for a memorable addition to what was a trip for a family-related event.
As I always do, I followed Leslie’s lead thinking that the T-shirt would make for a great conversation piece and the heck with finishing the race. I had never previously run on sand and the likelihood of covering the entire three-plus miles seemed, frankly, impossible.
I have very sensitive feet and covering a beach strewn with sea shells and the occasional bottle cap seemed a recipe for out-patient medical care or, at the very least, antibiotic ointment.
Apparently, running barefoot in the sand is an accepted and effective workout, although only about 50 brave souls signed up for Saturday’s run and only 29 finished.
As Sandy, the amiable yet undaunted race organizer, tried to explain: early man was a barefoot runner whose capacity for endurance allowed him to ultimately chase down his prey without synthetic Nike treads. But she failed to mention the soles on the feet of these early hunters rivaled the tread on a Goodyear all-season radial.
But chasing down food has changed considerably over the succeeding millenniums. Nearly all restaurants today pay little respect to prehistoric man and require you to wear footwear into their establishments. Still, there seemed something fascinating about Sandy’s drive to elevate the barefoot beach run into the ever-expanding realm of silent-sport offerings.
I didn’t realize until later that this may have been the first such 5K barefoot beach run ever held anywhere. At least Sandy said her extensive research failed to pop up any similar events.
“You made some history today,” she told the small group — a weary lot desperate to find whatever shade was available under the handful of palm trees that surrounded the picnic table that served as race headquarters.
The modest turnout was actually pretty good considering the anticipated pain this run would ultimately inflict on our muscles.
“Even the little muscles in the toes will hurt,” Sandy warned.
Being a beach run, the course was pretty basic — up and down the beach while touching a rock at the furthest point. Early in the race I had a chance to don my shoes I had stashed when we looped back past the starting point.
Surprisingly, I didn’t. Running much of the time with my feet in the ocean, I covered the entire distance without shoes. Yes, I did walk a bit of the distance and finished well back in the pack. But I survived without any cuts, sand rash, jellyfish bites or more serious medical assistance.
And in the process made history.
As insignificant as that may seem, try telling that to my calves.
Jon Gast writes a weekly sports column for the Advocate. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org