Make Room On The Road For The Naked

Running naked for 50 miles in one day is normal.

Last weekend saw the 115th running of the Boston Marathon. The race brought runners from all over to participate in this prestigious event, even some nude runners. Among the barest of them all was Chris McDougall, who has been labeled by some as an advocate for this unique movement, one causing much debate within the running community.

McDougall is bringing nakedness to Gulf Shores this Tuesday.

Over 1,000 people are expected to join McDougall for a naked run on Tuesday, April 26, starting at The Hangout, according to Karin Wilson, owner of Page & Palette bookstore in Fairhope. Wilson said she’ll be among those in attendance, but don’t expect to catch her or the others trotting down the beach in their birthday suits.

The term barefoot, or “naked” running, refers to a person wearing no shoes, or a minimal amount of foot protection while running; a term closely linked with “Born to Run,” a book written by McDougall.

This National Bestseller explores the life and running habits of the Tarahumara Indians, located in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Throughout the book, McDougall references members of the tribe running 50 to 150 miles at one time, wearing “the thinnest of home-made sandals, with zero cushioning, no motion-control, and certainly no orthotics,” leading him to some interesting discoveries.

“Almost everything we know and hear about running is wrong,” McDougall told Lagniappe.

While traveling all over the country speaking about his book and explaining running techniques, McDougall said hands were always raised after he finished talking, all with the same question, “How do you do it [running]?”

The abundance of questions has led to his naked revolution.

Gulf Shores will be the sixth stop of McDougall’s 2011 Naked Tour, a nationwide celebration of running’s bare essentials. The event will give participants the opportunity to experience and learn more about naked running.

“Every podiatrist, sports physician, and running magazine preached endlessly about the absolute necessity of corrective footwear. I was never told what to do; I was only told what to buy,” McDougall explained on his website. After researching running shoes, McDougall claimed to have discovered “no evidence whatsoever that running shoes do anything.”

Despite his findings, McDougall said it’s ultimately not about footwear, but form.
“Once you master form, going barefoot or wearing shoes are both viable options,”
McDougall said. “If there’s some nice, flat, smooth asphalt, I’m probably going
barefoot, but if it’s a rocky or unpredictable terrain, like a trail, I’ll wear a minimalist trail-running shoe.”

Come Saturday, McDougall’s feet are going naked on Gulf Shore’s beaches, though.
“I’m really excited about this event,” McDougall said enthusiastically. “Getting one’s bare feet in touch with the planet is an important principle when establishing good form. It’s going to be a lot of fun, which is just as important.”

Shaul Zislin knows a thing or two about having fun, too.

Wilson contacted Zislin, owner of The Hangout, after receiving confirmation that McDougall had agreed to participate in an area event.

“After talking to Chris, I knew he wanted to try and do something barefoot,” Wilson said. “There isn’t a strip of beach long enough in Fairhope, so I immediately thought about Gulf Shores and The Hangout. People always have so much fun at the venue, it was a no brainer, so I called Shaul and ran the idea by him.”

“Honestly, I was ashamed I heard about it so late,” Zislin confessed. “The idea is so unique, and we’re [The Hangout] constantly looking to bring events and experiences like this to the area.”

Zislin, who founded the Hangout Festival, which will fill the beach with thousands of people in mid-May, has a habit of turning events into nothing short of world-class caliber – this race will be no exception. And expect some world-class caliber runners to be on the beach.

Scott Jurek ran 165.7 miles in 24 hours, setting a US record. Yes, you read right, 165 miles in one day. Jurek, a ultramarathoner, is a prominent figure in McDougall’s book, along with Eric Orton, the certified Functional Training Specialist who coached the author for his 50-mile canyon run — Zislin is flying both in as well as putting them up for the event.

But there’s more.

“This year is only the beginning,” Zislin said. “We want to turn this into an annual event, especially since there’s currently not a premiere beach run. My goal is to have the best runners from all over the world attending in the years to come, and hopefully have 5,000 participants in 2013. Right now, we’re just planting the seed and nurturing it.”

“A big problem associated with running here in the states is the mentality people have about the sport,” McDougall said. “People look at it as just another form of work or stress when it’s the exact opposite: it’s about having fun. ”

“This weekend is going to be the biggest party of year for the running world,” McDougall said.

The event starts at 4 p.m. on Tuesday (April 26), allowing participants a chance to mingle with one another as well as meet McDougall, Jurek and Orton, while also getting a “barefoot running” demonstration. Runners will be split into three separate waves, the first taking off around 5:30 p.m., and the others at 5:35 and 5:40. Following the run, McDougall and company will hold an open discussion and a Q&A starting around 7 p.m. A book signing will commence afterwards.

“I’ll be at the starting and finish line cheering runners on,” Zislin said. “Probably with a beer in my hand, but I will still run at least a mile or two.”

The original title of this story, as published in Lagniappe:Hangout with your…feet out. It originally appeared in the April 19, 2011, print edition.