102 Mile Barefoot Ultra - No Simple Feat


102 Mile Barefoot Ultra - No Simple Feat
A BRS interview

Todd Ragsdale, 41, of Oregon set a Guiness World Record for the Longest Barefoot Run by running 102.65 miles completely barefoot in a 24-hour period this past Sunday. He broke the previous record barefoot run by 12 miles. His record was set on a rubberized track at South Medford High School in Medford, Oregon, with 413 laps. Here's his incredible story...

How long have you been running? I flirted with jogging a bit in my twenties, but just after my 30th birthday in early April of 1999, I went out to the track at Southern Oregon University and did a run to see what kind of shape I was in. Four laps left me exhausted and sick. I felt pathetic and decided that by the end of the summer I would run 10 miles. That goal came quicker than I thought, and my goal was raised to run the Portland Marathon in October of that year. I've been running ever since, so I've been running for a little over 11 years.

How long have you been running barefoot? I've been a proponent of minimal footwear for most of my years as a runner, naturally gravitating to the lightest, thinnest, flattest, and most flexible shoes on the market. However, I often doubted my instincts to go minimal because most of my more experienced running friends were inclined to go the other way, only wearing light shoes for racing. My convictions however persisted, as evidenced by my homemade duct tape shoes and socks coated on the bottom withacrylic gel as my own personal prototypes of extremelyminimalistshoes. For about 8 years, I've done small amounts of barefoot running in the grass as a way to build foot strength and improve running form, but it wasn't until January 27 of this year that I decided to run barefoot on a regular basis.

This was just your second barefoot race. That is quite a jump, I'm sure, from your first barefoot race. What was the distance of your first barefoot race? It was the Bridge the Gap 10k race in Medford Oregon on April 24 on a pavedbike-path. I finished second place overall with a time of 37:04 which gave me a lot of confidence in the progress of my training.

What was your longest barefoot run prior to this event? Preparing for the 24-hour race, I did 26.2 miles barefoot on the track at Southern Oregon University in early May.

How did you train/prepare to run 102 miles barefoot?I knew that after 41 years of wearing shoes my feet had become weak and soft and that I wasn't allowing myself much time to change that, so here was my plan. First was to strengthen the feet and ankles with lots of stair climbing at odd angles (on my toes, sideways, pigeon-toed, and duck-footed), slow treadmill jogging at 8 to 15 degree incline, calisthenics, and stretching. Second was to run barefoot. I stuck to dirt tracks and trails in the beginning toacclimate my feet to the stress without the hard pounding of asphalt or concrete. In the beginning I was only able to do a couple miles at a time but have worked my way up to trail runs of 10 to 14 miles. I still avoid hard surfaces with the exception of the 10k race I did. Third was hours of stationary marching in a tub of gravel (a good way to relax while watching TV or hanging out with the family). That's about it.

What inspired you to run for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life? I work at a Fred Meyer store in Medford which has had a team in the Relay for Life for a long time, and I have participated with the team for the last several years now. We have several people at our store who have been deeply affected by cancer, so it was easy for me to want to support the cause by using the 24-hour race as a way to draw more attention to the cause and do some fundraising too.

How is the Relay for Life structured? Are there teams and individuals? The Relay for Life is not a competitive event but a fundraising and community awareness event to help in the fight against cancer. This year the Relay for Life in Medford had about 60 teams that all kept at least one member of the team on the track at all times during the 22 hours of the Relay because "Cancer never sleeps," so neither should we (at least during the Relay). The event director was kind enough to allow me to do my 24-hour race in conjunction with the event, but I was the only one racing. It really is a cool event. Every team has a decorated booth based on an overall event theme and there are activities throughout the day and night. If there is ever a Relay for Life being held in your area you should check it out.

How long did you run in time and distance in the Relay for Life?It was a full 24-hour race in which I covered 413 laps for a total of 165,200 meters, or 102.65 miles.

How did you place? Since I was the only one racing, FIRST... and last. But since it broke the oldbarefoot 24-hour race record by 12 miles, I'd like to focus on the coming in first place side of things.

Have you run ultras before? If so, can you elaborate on which ones, how many, what distances, etc.? I have done a few ultras, mostly 50k races, including several running of the S.O.B. in Southern Oregon (my personal favorite). In 2007, as a personal challenge, I did run 100 miles, then in 2008, I tried to run the Javalina Jundred 100 mile race but due to a knee injury late in the race had to drop out at mile 92. I wish I had the time and a bigger travel budget to do more, but I do then when I can.

How was it running on an oval rubberized track for the duration? Did boredom ever set in? How did the surface feel under your feet in the beginning, later on in the run, toward the end of the run? Part of the reason I chose to run at the track was to take advantage of the support and distraction that I would get from the Relay for Life. I always had people cheering me on or running with me. It was really a lot of fun... most of the time. The surface felt great at first, but as the hours wore on, I could start to feel every little bit of grit or small pebble with growing sensitivity. There were two places where carpets had been placed across the track to cover electric cords leading into the infield. I always looked forward to those two steps of softness. Overall the surface was good. The bottoms of my feet held up great, but the overallconditionof my feet got pretty bad, and I had to walk for the last three hours or so.

In some of the photos, others are also running barefoot. Were they part of the Relay, or were they there for moral support? If they were part of the Relay, what distances did they cover (roughly)? Everyone in the photos who were barefoot just joined in for moral support. Most of them were from other teams and just thought they would give barefoot running a try. Some of them were my running friends that were just humoring me by taking off their shoes for a few laps.

I noticed in one of the pictures you have red marks on the tops of your feet. What do you suppose caused this? The red marks werebruisesthat formed during the last few hours of the race. I have to admit that I was surprised when I saw them, but then again, they did take quite a pounding. What was moresurprisingwas that when I woke up late Sunday afternoon both fee
t had swollen to humorous proportions. Idefinitelyunderestimated the toll the race would take on the soft tissues of the feet.

How are you feeling/recovering today?It's been three days since the race. The first two days were really rough. When I walked I looked like a penguin with elephant feet. At first, the soles of my feet felt like they were on fire all the time, but with diligent icing and tender loving care, I am happy to report that I am well on the path of full recovery. I was even able to work on my feet all day moving around boxes of produce. I'll still give myself a few more days of recovery before starting my training again.

Do you have any future barefoot ultras planned, and if so which one/s and when? With a great amount of respectful fear, I plan to run the Pine to Palms 100 mile race barefoot. It is a very challenging course with lots of gravel covered forest service roads and rough mountain trails. I'm not sure it is evenphysiologically possible to finish a race like that barefoot, but I suppose I'll find out. It's not until September 18, so I still have time to get the feet ready. In the meantime, there are a few shorter races I might do as well. Wish me luck!

Congrats on your great accomplishment, Todd. We wish you luck in all your future endeavors!

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Todd - training by marching in a tub of gravel is an intriguing method to learn how to relax the feet. I think I'll try it. By the way, I don't think I get enough stares running races barefoot, so maybe I'll give the mohawk a go.