I achieved a personal barefoot running record yesterday by turning up Spring Grove Avenue in San Anselmo instead of taking my usual way along Greenfield Avenue, which runs parallel to what’s known as the Miracle Mile. This, plus some other hillside streets past G Street, added up to six miles according to Google Maps.
Well. It turns out, unless your feet can handle broken rocky asphalt — the standard condition of Spring Grove — this is not the best way to go barefoot. But if you insist, you can you employ psychological techniques to train your brain into believing that this is some sort of drill work.
Some would call these lies.
One aspect of such drill work is to avoid looking at the ground at all. This is because when you see how terrible the ground looks, you know the pain that’s about to jar through your entire body, so you tense up even more, wanting to cry. This is unavoidable.
If you keep your gaze straight ahead instead, you remain upright. The knee bend absorbs the shocks. You can relax.
This was the mental state I was working on, when I was confronted with the San Rafael Police squad car parked diagonally across the roadway, barring anyone, me, from passing.
Here we go again, I thought to myself.
Two Months Ago
It’s a balmy November day in San Rafael. I’m about to embark on my typical five-miler. I’ve just turned left onto the 4th Street sidewalk. I must pass shoppers carefully, as they cannot hear me, in part because barefoot, I am as quiet as a stalking leopard, and in part also because they’re on their cell phones and couldn’t hear me if I were screaming like Tarzan.
I weave in and out of the heavy 4th Street pedestrian traffic, using my stealth barefoot collision avoiding techniques. I’m getting primal.
To my right, on the road, a bicycle cop rides in the same direction as I.
Perfect, he is just the man I want to talk to, I think to myself. I have some questions for him about bicycle law. I wonder if I should flag him down.
It is precisely as I think these thoughts that he circles back towards my general direction, and I think how conveniently lucky I am. Before I can wave him down, I see that he is, in fact, hopping the curb and riding straight for me.
He stops his bike, and we exchange greetings.
“So where are you off to?” he asks me, slowly and loudly. No one has spoken to me this way since I was perhaps four years old.
“Just to San Anselmo and back,” I say.
“Really. Interesting. Barefoot,” he says, looking me up and down.
“Yeah, it’s great!”
“Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?” he asks. His partner has just arrived on his own bicycle.
“What’s going on, Officer?”
“We’ll get to that. Why don’t you take a seat right here.” They usher me to a cement stoop holding flowers outside a local shop.
His partner also notices out loud that I’m running barefoot. Have they read the literature, and are perhaps interested in this growing phenomenon?
“So. Where do you live?” the first cop asks.
Feeling flustered, I cannot remember my exact address. I’ve moved two months ago. It’s not at the tip of my tongue.
“Albert Park?” I say, giving the general neighborhood, immediately realizing that Albert Park is also a known homeless encampment.
“Where are you running to?” he asks me.
“To San Anselmo, like I just said.”
“What’s going on?” I ask. I’m not liking how they’ve circled around me, making walking away impossible, were I to try to escape, which is a dominant thought. I’m not liking how pedestrians, some with faces I recognize after ten years of living downtown, avoid eye contact with me.
“We’ll get to that. What’s your name?”
“Right. Katie Kelly.” They wink at each other, and the first cop reaches for his radio.
“Have you heard from your boyfriend lately, Katie Kelly?” says the second cop.
“No, has something happened? What the hell is going on!”
“Why don’t you tell us your boyfriend’s name.”
My breathing is rapid, and I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I tell them his name, which actually sounds like a real name, apparently, unlike Katie Kelly.
“Oh. Well. Wait a minute,” one of them says. “That’s not adding up.”
“How old are you?” asks the other.
“I’m 42,” I say. They tell me to take off my sunglasses.
“Oh, yeah, I guess she does look 42,” one cop says to the other.
“I do not look 42!”
“Okay, you can go.”
“You just said I look 42!”
“It’s okay, you’re not who we thought you were.”
They said I matched the description of a woman who had escaped from the hospital, last seen running barefoot in a blue hospital gown. As I was wearing running shorts, and not a hospital gown, I am assuming that their only other connecting clue was that I was barefoot.
“Ma’am, it looks like you forgot your shoes,” said the officer on Spring Grove, walking towards me from his squad car.
Here we go.
“Listen, pal. This is for skill building, for improved running performance. I’m not the one you’re looking for,” I said, while still managing to employ my psychological pain awareness and absorption techniques with moderately believable results.
“Uh, okeedokey,” he said. “I’m looking for a lost dog. Have you seen him? You look miserable, by the way.”
Now. Miramar Avenue and Reservoir Road, up on the hillside just past G Street, that’s where the road is as plush as velvet, and you’ll want to run barefoot forever.