The Emperor's New Shoes

Bloomsday 2019

Caleb Walsh illustration

"I used to run with the Flying Irish," Hank Greer says. "One guy comes up and says, 'Let me look at your feet,' and he says, 'They look normal,' and I say, 'They are normal!'"

Hank Greer's feet are normal, he assures us. It's what surrounds them — or doesn't — that make the difference.

Greer had tried plenty of different shoes on plenty of Bloomsday runs. But these? This particular sartorial choice was special.

Greer says it "changed my running form so that I could run more comfortably for long distances. You run on the ball of your foot, not on your heel. You keep your knee slightly bent, it acts as a shock absorber."

They're light. They're breathable. They feel like freedom. They're like running on air. Think of the story of a certain emperor, who wore luxurious garments that could only be seen by people who are truly pure of heart, clear of mind and swift of foot.

That Bloomsday — in 2010 — Greer passed a runner on the jaunt from SFCC to TJ Meenach Bridge.

"Hey, that guy's running barefoot!" the runner yelled.

"Yeah?" his running partner responded, "Well, he's kicking your ass."

He not only kicked that guy's ass, that year Greer earned his personal record Bloomsday time without any shoes at all.

That's not to say running barefoot is easy. Barefoot runners have to contend with all sorts of hazards from painful chip-sealed pavement to goose poop on trails.

"I was worried about stuff being on the road," Greer says. "The water stations, people throwing cups all over the place, slipping on something. People spitting. That's what people ask a lot, 'What do you do about glass?' I go around it! That's what my eyes for."

For the rest of us? That's what shoes are for.

But we can't get too smug. That barefoot guy is kicking our ass.

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