Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton at the 2011 Born to Run ultra marathon.

What barefoot runners taught me about gear

Posted by on May 3rd, 2012

Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton at the 2011 Born to Run ultra marathon.

Last year I wrote about and photographed something called the Born to Run Ultra Marathon; an event where supposedly sane people get together and run as far as 100 miles — some even attempt it without shoes. I started thinking about this ultra-minimalist approach to fitness again when I took up running last month.

Right away, actually even before I started running, I had a craving for gear. My wish list soon filled up with items like jackets, compression tops, shorts, leggings, sunglasses, hats, water bottles, iPod armbands, fanny packs, and shoes. Things I thought I “needed” before I could start running.

Fortunately, before I clicked the checkout button on Amazon, I remembered that none of that stuff really mattered. There is nothing in any sporting goods store that will allow someone to run 100 miles. Sure, some products might make you more comfortable but nothing you buy is going to transform you from a couch-potato into an ultra-marathon runner.

I can’t think of a single product available to runners than could benefit them more than getting up and going for the a run.  When it comes to fitness and creativity, we need to follow the advice of Nike and “just do it,” (which somewhat ironically would actually hurt the company’s bottom line).

The problem with gear is that sometimes we use it as an excuse to avoid hard work. Buying a new gadget feels really good and can often seem productive. But does it really make us better runners, photographers, or film makers in the end?

I don’t think so, or at least I don’t think it benefits us as much as actually getting out in the field and creating work does. You might argue that some technology changes so fast you can’t do without constant upgrades, but consider this; even my 5-year-old 40D can shoot something close to 4K time-lapse footage and scanned 4×5 film will compete with even the highest resolution cameras.

We need to stop using the pursuit of gear as an excuse not to create. The next time you consider putting off shooting or staying in bed instead of running, because you don’t have the right gear, remember there are people taking phenomenal photos with iPhones and runners logging insane distances in nothing but a pair of flimsy sandals.

I’m not saying gear is bad. It can be incredibly useful. Just don’t use it as a crutch. For now, I’m squeezing every megapixel out of my 40D until it bites the dust and racking up the miles in a pair of beat up TOMS and some bargain-bin gym shorts.

4 thoughts on “What barefoot runners taught me about gear

  1. Ethan Brown

    Breakin’ it down, and you’re spot on. But in my recent mileage, I have found that certain gear can enhance your progress to goals. As an ultra-marathoner, I do a lot of running. I’ve ran in a plethora of different shoes. I do a lot of barefoot training to keep my feet strong and tough and blister-proof, but shoes definitely help my times and speed. If I’m wearing my minimalist New Balance 730’s, I have to keep an eye out for sharp rocks because they will prod straight into my feet, which causes me to slow down on rocky descents just to be careful that doesn’t happen. If I’m wearing my minimalist New Balance 110’s (which have a rock plate), I can be a lot less careful and fly down rocky and sketchy descents. If I’m wearing my well protecting and supporting Montrail Mountain Masochists, I can fly at, what seems to be, supersonic speeds with very little care or precision. Obviously much more prone to injury, but faster nontheless. I have a lot of friends who run in those goofy moon shoes, Hoka One One’s and they say that any descent on any terrain is like a downhill racetrack for them. I’ll never run in those things because I am a much bigger fan of New Balance’s minimalist lines. Point being, gear can be used to enhance potential, but when one builds a house, one must start with a solid foundation. And to build a solid running foundation, I remember some wise words a wonderful man…”Keep It Simple Stupid.”- Steve Carrell. Keep it up, Buddy. If you ever want to run when you’re back from Peruvianaland, let me know!

    1. Isaiah Brookshire Post author

      Good point. I think the thing I wanted emphasize most is me four months ago (250lbs never ran a mile in his life) wasn’t going to find a piece of gear that would make running easy. I just had to run.

  2. Ethan Brown

    That is definitely correct. It’s what I call road cycling syndrome. I’ve noticed in the sport of road cycling, people decide they want to get fit and healthy so they go out and buy a carbon fiber bike for 6,000 and they purchase all the matching and colorful compression gear, and the teardrop helmet, and the fancy clippy shoes, with the expectation that all that gear will make fitness easier to achieve. Then they actually get out and ride only to realize that road cycling is still very difficult and then sell all their crap on craigslist for great prices to vultures like me. I see it happen all the time.


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