Barefoot Running: The Army Ten-Miler

Army Ten Miler coin FrontEach year tens of thousands of runners and spectators come to Washington, DC to run the Army Ten-Miler (ATM). Put on by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, the race starts and finishes at the Pentagon, passing by DC landmarks including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Capitol Building.

Five years ago I ran the ATM at 1:13:05 (7:18 pace). Back then I was a little younger, about 20 pounds lighter, and wore feet coverings more commonly referred to as shoes. For the ATM2011 I was going to take a different approach—ten miles, sub 8, and barefoot.

Since I was in the middle of training for the Outer Banks Marathon I had no doubt I would finish the ATM. I was, however, a little uncertain if I was going to be able to pull off a sub 8 pace because my average training pace prior to the race had been a mere ~9 min/mile.

My wife, son, and I rolled into DC on Friday night and met up with our group on Saturday. We toured the White House in the morning, grabbed my bib in the afternoon, and joined the group at Carmines that evening for some good ole fashioned carbo-loading.

group of people outside of White House

Race Day
At 6AM I made my way to the Pentagon, dropped off my sandals, emptied my bladder, and jogged a half mile to the starting area. With a few minutes to spare I took in the moment. It was a spectacular day. Sunny and in the 50s. Perfect for running. The closer it got to 8AM the more anxious the crowd got. The announcer came on. Put us on our mark. And…KABOOM! The cannon fired, and Wave 1 was off and running.

ATM2011 course map

Down the hill and around the corner Mile 1 came and went. On the way to Mile 2 we crossed the Potomac River on the Arlington Memorial Bridge then passed the Lincoln Memorial and Watergate. By Mile 4 we were getting friendly with the Potomac once again on our way to the Washington Monument. Looking down at my watch I could see I was running a solid 7:48 pace. I thought to myself, “Would I have enough to carry me through?” That’s when a guy came up from behind and said:

Barefoot, huh? You got yourself a double helping of HOOAH!

I laughed and kept on trucking. His comment was all I needed. Around Mile 5 I came across the only other barefoot runner I saw that day. I dubbed him the leprechaun because of his beard and St. Patrick’s 5K t-shirt. We chatted for a few moments then he took off. For a second I thought about keeping up with him, but then stuck to my plan and my pace.

Mile 6 took me by the National Mall at a steady 7:49 pace. I kept my eyes peeled for my wife and son who were going to meet me at Mile 7. The marker came and went. No sign of my wife, son, or any other folks I knew. I’m not gonna lie, I was bummed. But I still had three miles to go. Two of which were on the George Mason Memorial Bridge and all its rolling goodness. Just over the bridge, and just before Mile 9, I came across an impromptu beer/gatorade stand (didn’t try) and the grim reaper (didn’t die). I waved at both and moved on.

barefoot Army Ten Miler runner
Can you guess who took these photos?

By Mile 9 people had begun to walk. For me, walking wasn’t an option. I could hear the announcer and knew I was close. A few minutes later I made my way down the off ramp and around the corner to the home stretch. Wow! What a sight. Thousands of supporters cheering, clapping, waving, and banging out more cowbell than I could ever desire. Adrenaline took over. I was sprinting. Then, with about 50 yards to go I noticed this one guy starting to slow and slump. I patted him on the back and said, “Let’s go boss!” And the two of us took off towards the finish line.

As soon as I crossed I knew I had met my goals: 10 miles, sub 8, and barefoot.

ARM2011 results

My feet survived with only minor blisters. My legs and calves were intact thanks to Zensah. And, while I wasn’t as fast as I was five years ago I had accomplished what I set out to do. Bring on the OBX.