By Mike Oatley
Rick Roeber runs barefoot and the question he gets most
often is why. The Kansas City area man has his rhetoric lined
up: there were the leg and knee injuries he attributed to
years of running “shod,” or with shoes on; there was the
desire to learn to run properly.
But it goes deeper than that.
“When I was a kid I was always barefoot,” he said by phone
this week. “I really enjoy the freedom of it.”
He has a ready-made joke for those who wonder what running
barefoot is all about.
“I say I’m just a little more stupid than most,” he
laughed. “I can’t run with shoes on.”
Roeber is doing what he can to raise the profile of
barefoot running. Since he began transitioning away from
running in shoes in October, 2003, he has put nearly 9,000
miles on the soles of his feet rather than on the soles of a
pair of running shoes — his website, barefootrunner.org,
pegged his mileage at 8,897.42 as of Thursday morning. He’s
been a 100 percent shoeless runner since April, 2004.
“I was fascinated by the idea that one could run without
shoes. I have always loved going barefoot, so this seemed very
logical to me,” he writes on his website.
While he does run trails, he admits that barefoot running
is easier on asphalt, and though trail runs like the Lawn Lake
one are substantial, he generally is geared for running
marathons. He has a full slate of them this summer and fall,
in Kansas and Nebraska and culminating with the New York City
Marathon in November.
Barefoot running is a very small subculture within the
sport, but Roeber’s doing his part to elevate awareness of it,
and he puts the marathons he barefoot runs to dual purposes,
raising money for the Kansas City Rescue Mission in the
Yes, you read that correctly. Roeber extends his barefoot
running to full, 26.2-mile marathons. He had already qualified
for the Boston Marathon when he went shoeless.
“Then I’ve run 27 more barefoot —just to prove it wasn’t a
fluke,” he said.
Roeber and his family have been visiting Estes Park off and
on during the summers for a some years but the way it has
always worked out, he’s missed the Estes Park Marathon every
time. He’s done a few long runs here though, including to Lawn
Lake and back. This summer he was trying to think of something
with a higher profile to run while in town. He considered
running Trail Ridge Road but decided against it, given the
volume of traffic on the road.
Old Fall River Road, on the other hand, seemed perfect –
light, one-way traffic and a good surface for a barefoot run.
So sometime next week he’ll pull on, er, off his shoes and
make the run up the Alpine Visitors Center in Rocky Mountain
National Park by way of Fall River. It may be, he says, the
first ever barefoot run the length of Fall River Road. He’s
You might be surprised to learn barefoot runners generate
their share of negative feedback but after a feature on the
subject ran in a Kansas City newspaper, agitated readers piped
up. “I hope kids aren’t reading this,” one reader wrote.
Another claimed barefoot running is a good way to get
hookworms, and argument that may once have held water in the
U.S. but less so now. Hookworms were once a major problem in
the rural south.
But Roeber says the potential risks are slight while the
rewards are great. He says running barefoot runs is a more
natural way, with a shorter stride, a quicker cadence and
“Overstriding equals bad knee,” he said. He attributes that
to the heel strike caused by the raised heel of running shoes.
Running with shoes, Roeber ended up with bad knees, a stress
fracture in one and clicking in the other. Since he switched
to barefoot running, he’s had no reoccurrence of the problems,
Of course, one can hardly expect to pull off the “foot
coffins,” as Roeber calls them, and hit the road. It takes
some time to transition. Roeber used sandals to help him make
the change. Now, though, he dismisses the worries that some
have. Yes, you might get bruised by a stone here and there but
Roeber says that a barefoot runner quickly learns to run with
focus and concentration and develops good foot-eye
“You learn to make instantaneous judgments constantly,
especially when you are running everyday, as I do” he said.
“You might get a stone bruise but you learn to avoid the big