Helping your 2-year-old daughter put on shoes before leaving the house is a perfectly understandable parental task. Reminding your 31-year-old husband to do the same? Now that’s strange. But that’s life for Amy Peterson, the wife of The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy. “It’s normal … to me,” Amy says with a chuckle.
Before the nickname, Christian Peterson read a magazine article on the abnormal sport in 2008, and he decided to leave his sneakers at home as he ran near Weaver Lake one spring day. “It felt like I was stealing,” Christian says with a smirk. “Like you aren’t supposed to be doing it, but you are. There is a bit of a taboo around not having shoes on if you are an adult. I felt like I was doing something bad, but I liked it.”
With shoes, the daytime prosecutor would run three miles at night. He wanted to run a half marathon, but pain would set in after 10 miles. Without shoes, the 6-foot-7, 190-pound man who didn’t make the varsity track or cross-country teams at Wayzata High School now totals around 60 miles a week. He has finished marathons and is considering ultra marathons. “It felt good,” he says. “I was listening to my body and it said, ‘keep going.’”
The conventional advice is to start barefoot running very slowly, but The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy is a bit of a contrarian. “They recommended a ¼ of a mile, but I ran 3,” he says. “I didn’t listen, and I didn’t run in shoes after that.
“It became an explosion,” he says. “My wife would call it an obsession.”
Before the Petersons headed out to a recent graduation party at Maple Grove Community Center, Amy told Christian to grab some footwear. They were going to an indoor public place after all. (You know: No shirt, NO SHOES, no service.) “She made me bring sandals along,” Christian says reluctantly.
Barefoot running (and living) isn’t the first eccentric thing Christian has done. Before marriage and baby Clara, Christian was on a diet of protein shakes and chicken breast when they started dating 10 years ago. Barefoot running is “not the first odd thing that he has ever done, so I wasn’t that surprised,” Amy says.
Amy, who prefers fitness videos to running, began to understand the benefits of barefoot running once Christian presented his reasoning. He says it’s less stress on your joints and feet. “The way that you land with the barefoot stride is just a different way to absorb shock,” Christain says. “When you land on your forefoot, you don’t transfer all that shock that you do by landing on your heal.”
“Then that was fine with me,” Amy says. The general public has started to become fine with it, too. Around Christian’s Maple Grove home, people will see him running barefoot and say, “Oh, it’s just Christian,” he says. As he gets further from home and into other suburbs, “They are more shocked and ask why,” he says. “As it becomes more popular, people are curious about it … Less hostile and more interested.”
Christian, who blogs about running and co-chairs the Minnesota Chapter of the Barefoot Runners Society, is eager to share. On a recent run, he came across a fellow runner that wanted to talk about the Huarache running sandals he had on. “He pronounced them right, and we started talking,” Christian says. “He said, ‘I heard about these for the first time on this blog. He’s a local guy. He is called The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy.’
“I was like, ‘Huh, he sounds really cool.’”
One Step at a Time
Since he runs without shoes, it’s no surprise The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy gives minimalistic advice to people considering the hobby:
“Take one step outside your comfort zone. If your comfort zone is to be barefoot inside the house, then walk to your mailbox barefoot and see how that feels. You don’t have to pop your shoes off and go for a run if that’s not what you are comfortable doing.
“Do that one extra thing. Then (go barefoot) maybe the next time you take your dogs for a walk. Then maybe the next time you run down your block on something really smooth that you aren’t worried about hurting your feet on. Go from there. Then you build up distances and get to your normal speed.”
How about those feet?
“They are about the same,” he says. “People ask if they are all calluses. No, but it’s thicker, leathery. It’s not scraping. It’s landing soft to where it feels right to you.”
@ Read more about barefoot running online:
Christian Peterson’s blog
Minnesota Chapter of the Barefoot Runners Society
By the numbers
150 – Members of the Minnesota Chapter of the Barefoot Runners Society
4,000 – Estimated number of members in the U.S.
40+ – States with chapters in the society as well as many countries, including Brazil, South Africa and New Zealand
4-6 – The mileage range of an average run with the chapter