If the legend of Pheidippides has any truth to it, the Athenian messenger probably wasnt wearing an expensive name-brand pair of cushioned running shoes on his run from Marathon.
He likely wore something similar to Dave Gwyns Vibram Five Fingers, a pair of shoes more closely resembling gloves for feet. Gwyn, a 45-year-old tennis professional from Potomac, wore the untraditional footwear for the first time in Sundays Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon.
The shoes, designed to imitate walking or running barefoot, are a marked departure from the athletic footwear youll find in most shoe stores, Gwyn said. Instead, the gear is closer to what the Tarahumara Indians subjects of the controversial book, Born to Run wear on their long distance treks.
[Shoe] heels have been getting bigger and bigger yet the injury level is not going down, he said, dripping with sweat, but eager to talk about his footwear. Is it really about more heel cushioning or less?
Preparing for the upcoming New York Marathon, Gwyn decided to take the new pair for a spin across the Potomac River, from Mount Vernon to National Harbor. While he enjoyed the glove-like shoes, there were some disadvantages.
You have to develop a different stride Around mile 12 the course switched from pavement to gravel and all of the sudden youre feeling every stone and pebble, Gwyn said. It really feels like youre running barefoot. At first it feels a little funny. You run barefoot as a kid and you dont think about how youre running, but its a very different heel strike.
Other competitors interrupt, rapidly firing questions at him about the footwear. Gwyns happy to oblige, spreading the five-fingers gospel.
But he wasnt the only marathoner drawing interest from onlookers and competitors alike. Retired Navy SEAL Jim Lake finished the half-marathon with Old Glory in hand and its not the first time hes brought the Stars and Stripes along on a road race.
Im a patriot, he said, fresh from the race and still clutching the shortened flagstaff. I spent 42 years in the Navy as a SEAL and Im glad to be alive.
Fellow marathoners find it inspiring, he said. The sight of him bearing the flag of the United States encourages them, he said. As if proving the point, Lakes competitors surround him, clapping him on the shoulder or shaking his hand and thanking him.
People sure appreciate it and it just became fun to put something else into a marathon than training, he said. One day I saw somebody else carry a flag in a marathon and I said, I can do this.
Lakes been running since he joined the Navy. As a member of a bomb disposal team, Lake fell into the sport while stationed in Hawaii in 1981. Hes slowed down a bit, but for a 70-year-old, Lake is pleased with his performance.
The flag-bearing runner didnt come close to touching Ethiopians Deresse Deniboba and Tesfaye Senduku finishing times; Deniboba, with a completion time of 1:04:44, took the top spot by just two seconds more than his countryman. Lake is a veteran long-distance runner with 69 full marathons and 23 half-marathons under his belt.
Its about keeping in shape, he said. When I turned 70, it showed Im still in pretty good shape.
And while Lake had his patriotism out for show, others had their politics on display. Onlooker Michael Ganoe, a development associate with the Alexandria-based Media Research Center, wore placards decrying what he called liberal media bias and cheering on his friend and runner Kristen Spriano.
Every chance I get I talk to people about conservative values, Ganoe said. Its a lifestyle. I love my country; I love my organization. Im always on the job. Im like a firefighter.
At least one person didnt agree with the display, telling him to keep politics from sports, Ganoe said. It didn’t deter him at all, he said.
Ganoe also hoped to give Spriano, an Alexandrian, enough encouragement to finish the race.
You rock my conservative running world, read another of his signs.