Bruce Tulloh the original “Forest Gump” and world famous barefoot running champion passed away this April from cancer at age 82. He was an inspiration to athletes around the world. A renaissance man, excelling as an athletic competitor, coach, teacher, scientist, musician, and author, Tulloh described his record-breaking trans-America journey in one of running’s best narrative books, Four Million Footsteps (1970). He was also one of a handful of athletes who ran with Raramuri in Mexico during the 1970s.
Bruce’s trademark secret weapon was his remarkable ability to burst into a furious sprint during the last 300 meters to 700 meters before crossing the finish line. He claimed his bare feet, unencumbered by the weight from shoes, empowered him to accelerate quickly, giving him the winning edge even on world-class fields.
Here is some footage of one of his many astonishing victories:
After I moved from the warm, sunlit shores of Santa Cruz to the cold, snowy mountains of Sandy, I discovered with horrifying clarity the power I surrendered.
I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and in my barefeet when I left my apartment, realizing just as the gateway to my only source of shelter slammed shut with a loud bang that I left my keys inside with the kitchen stove boiling rice while the bleak winter clouds blasted down snow on a Sunday when all the honest locksmiths were closed. My wife who was tired from a long day’s work had to hike six long miles to get home, she screamed at me when she arrived watching me hopping from toe to toe on the glaciers of our parking lot–she was mad, mad about the burning rice, mad about freezing her butt off outside in the cold dark night, and most of all mad at me for desperately eyeing the hefty stones on the ground near the kitchen window, my intentions to escape the polar tundra as clear as glass.
Eventually we got ahold of a”locksmith” who drove all the way from Gresham, losing his way many times on the long, winding country roads, barely arriving in time to spare my dark blue toes from frostbite. I had my doubts about the locksmith perhaps because his company car was a rusty old pinto, perhaps because his oversized jeans were dirty and torn, perhaps becuase he hadn’t bathed in weeks, perhaps because he kept rocking back and forth and grinding his brown gooey teeth.
Legitimate locksmith or not, he knew how get into a locked apartment, his tools being what looked like a thick a hairpin and tension wrench fashioned from an old windshield wiper. After a fair amount of fiddling and cursing, we burst inside the apartment. I rushed over to the pot of rice which was smoking fiercely just about to catch flames, turning off the hot stove just in time to trigger the fire alarm’s piercing squeal.
That was the night I decided to learn how to pick locks only to discover that picking locks is a reckless waste of time when all you really need to get inside almost any house is a bump key. Bump keys are frightening easy to buy or make and they’re foolproof for most neighborhood locks.
Sometimes when WhatsHisFace who starred in YouKnowThatMovieIAmTalkingAbout escapes me, I wish I could make a bump key for my brain. I’d unlock all the good memories from my childhood, all of the college lectures I attended, all of the fantastic ideas I’ve read in books, but mostly I’d use the bump key to open the part of my brain for remembering to not to lock my barefeet outside in the cold winter snow.
I live in a small town, a cute town with a donut shop named “Joe’s” and a coffee shop named “Mountain Moka”–yes they spell mocha with a “K”–’cause Ks are real Klassy.
364 days of the year, Sandy, OR is a layover to your weekend camping trip to Mt. Hood. We’re an afterthought, a place swing in for gas or grub, except for one Thursday in July. On that singular day, for a few brief hours, Sandy, quite literally stops traffic on the only highway leading up to Mt. Hood to hold our annual Mountain Days parade and crooked carnival. The week leading up to the parade, citizens place chairs on the sidewalk, staking out their views for the procession of “floats”, which are simply cars trucks and vans with a little bit of window paint and streamers full of teens who toss candy out to kids on the street.
I grew up in San Jose, CA, which is not a small town by any means. If you placed a folding chair on the street a hobo would steal it before he tried to take your wallet. San Jose is a loud obnoxious city with a weird clapping ritual at the Century 21 movie theater on Bascom Avenue. So I think mountain days is charming in its own way and it inspired me a ballad. (Read this ditty to the tune of Giligan’s Island)
The Ballad of Billy Butts
Now here’s a tale of a little town
Whose pride is bold and true.
In summer when the sun is out,
A fair is what they do.
The streets are cleared: a grand parade.
On curbs, folk park their chairs–
Some days ahead to claim their spots,
Ensuring views are theirs.
But Billy fell upon the scene:
That night, he rigged the streets:
Instead of chairs: a bed of nails,
He left them for their seats.
How cruel! How mean! the mayor bawled
How can we all proceed?
What nasty waif swiped all our chairs?
Who have we disagreed?
Two miles away his truck was full
With folding chairs and nails.
The driver spoke up to himself,
They’ll never find my trails!
The light was red; his truck went through.
The police flagged him down.
Some chairs! Some nails! the copper said,
And then a mighty frown!
To jail he went, the petty thug.
And that is where he’ll stay
His cell is hard, his butt is sore:
His seats, taken away!
One of my favorite podcasts recently ran a show about the Tormentor of the Toes, the modern day sneaker. In the show, Steven Dubner interviews Dr. Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist who teaches at Harvard, and Elizabeth Semmelhack, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum who worked on the Rise of the Sneaker exhibit. The episode explores the benefits of walking, running, and moving about the planet without shoes. It also clarifies a few of the benefits of protective footwear. I love Freakanomics. It’s an exceptional show. Listen to These Shoes Are Killing Me!
You don’t need shoes to become a celebrity or a sell out. Checkout these five famous luminaries who tread the streets in bare feet.
This hardcore savage co-hosted of Discovery Channel’s popular reality television series, Dual Survivaluntil the hollywood hacks replaced Dave Canterberry (a shod, but awesome dude) with an ornery pile of spicy donkey crap named Joe Teti.
Despite leaving the show, Codi continues to share his valuable expertise at his Aboriginal Living Skills School in Prescott, Arizona. He focuses on working with Mother Nature, not against her. You can learn more about his particular approach to life and to survival from his delightfully illustrated book, 98.6 How to Keep Your Ass Alive!
I almost didn’t include Steve Jobs because of his disgraceful ethics. That said, the man was not stupid and revolutionized the computer industry. When he was just a poor entitled, middle class white male, little Stevie Jobs shunned shoes. According to Walter Isaacson while Steve attended Reed College in Oregon he “went barefoot most of the time, wearing sandals when it snowed”. To his credit even after making it big, Steve didn’t ditch his partiality for the sanctity of his lower leg often shopping at the super market in his bare feet.
Abebe was an Ethiopian double Olympic marathon champion. He set a world record when he won the marathon at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome running barefoot. I wrote a separate blog post about how a minimalist shoe company tried to steal this man’s amazing legacy.
Philippides inspired the marathon and the Spartathon. He is credited with running from Marathon to Athens (150 miles) to deliver news of a military victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. It took him only two days. The Spartathon is described as the world’s most grueling races, it runs over rough tracks and muddy paths, crosses vineyards and olive groves, climbs steep hillsides and, most challenging of all, takes the runners on the 1,200 meter ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night. The ominous mountain is covered with jagged rocks and thorny bushes, on which it is said Pheidippides met the god Pan. There is still no pathway over the mountain that is swept by strong winds with temperatures as low as 4°C. Even the finest athletes hallucinate as they cover the final stages of this epic race that retraces the naked foot steps of Pheidippides the ancient Athenian herald*.
She is a semi-main stream actor who was married to both Ethan Hawke and Gary Oldman for brief periods–you can’t get anymore Gen X than that! In 2015, she ignored the requirement for women to wear heels at this Cannes Film Festival parading around barefoot instead.
*Pheidippides was a hemerodrome , which means “day-runner / professional courier”.
Let’s be honest, barefoot running hurts like hell for the first few months. It’s not easy. You can’t just barge out the door and stampede down the streets like a wild rhino. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes a strong mind and a strong heart.
Not everyone can run barefoot because not everyone has thick skin. And that’s what you need when you run unshod. You need thick skin, tough skin. Does Donald Trump have thick skin? No! No! No! Read his tweets about being parodied on SNL:
Trump’s skin has been sculpted by a surgeon’s blade, powdered and colored for camera, crowd and stage. It’s frail skin, flimsy as toilet tissue.
The Donald couldn’t run barefoot, not even for a block, not even a few paces, not even one big toe dipped gingerly on the plush white house lawn. He doesn’t have the spirit for it.
But what would happen if he did decide to chuck his loafers and socks for a day hike in the forest. Without the fabricated barrier between his body and the ground, he might feel the pulsing energy of the earth rising up through the dirt, he might experience the enchanting dribble of soothing raindrops flowing down his instep, he might even succumb to the primal urge of dance. And then, swinging and swaying to an invisible rhythm, barefoot between the wet cedars and pines, he might reconsider strip mining for Coal, ransacking planned parenthood, and banning Muslims from our borders. It certainly wouldn’t be enough to make him a great president, but it would be a start.
If Trump did start running, or even just walking barefoot, America might not be lost in its teenage self indulgence. And I along with all of the other barefoot runners from around the world would rejoice, knowing that Trump’s bare feet would be hitting the cold, hard streets of DC and hurting like hell for the first few months.