No, Really, Can You Run in Those?

Updated: Jun 24, 2020


| This is the 498th story of Our Life Logs |

I was the fastest boy at Whittier Woods Elementary School. When it was time for the races for the Presidential Physical Fitness awards, I was competitive and I was flying.

Unfortunately (for me), my elementary school competitors grew into teenagers with long legs while I…didn’t. Sprinting got less interesting for me when the others caught up, but that was okay. I had moved on to my next obsession: gymnastics. And hypnosis. And magic. And anatomy. And psychology. And… Turns out, curiosity doesn’t kill the cat. Instead, it makes the cat want all his nine lives so that he can explore and pursue everything that perks his ear.

That’s been my whole life, and truly that mindset has been key to my journey—the journey I’m going to share with you.

Section Break-Mountains

1 | A Jack-of-All-Trades 

I was born in Washington DC in 1962. I was an active child with a curious mind; I loved flinging my body into flips and jumps on my parents’ king-sized bed that would make any mother apprehensive and I loved scouring the encyclopedia for a new hobby. That was my normal. So, it didn’t really surprise anyone when, in college, I finished my Pre-Med degree at Duke University in North Carolina while working part-time as a magician, only to switch paths after college to go into stand-up comedy (based in NYC but touring around the US). That led to acting in NYC, which made me want to control the camera and write the scripts. So, while still doing stand-up at night, I was in the Columbia University MFA program for film.  That got into software development—because once you imagine a software program that makes it easier to write those scrips, well, why not?

It’s tricky to follow, I know.

So, by the time I was 31 in 1993, I had a…diverse resume. As much as I loved my New York City life, I realized I was moving away from performing and more into software. This inspired me to change up my scenery. So, I chose a place to live that sounded like a good fit, which was Boulder, Colorado. There, I built a software company. When I had extra time, I ran a lot of what many would call “side hustles”— internet-based businesses and real estate investing. I had my hands full, the way I seem to like it.

Section Break-Mountains

2 | Lena

Now, let’s back up and meet Lena. She’s an important character in my story (which is the understatement of the century). It’s a long story, but I’ll tell you this: after years of asking, “Will you marry me?” (with the answer being “No,” unfortunately for me), she finally said yes. We got married in 2003.

With Lena in my life, I was able to expand my businesses (amongst other things, of course) as she helped me manage everything on my plate. By 2000, thanks to money coming in from investments and businesses, we could, essentially, retire. It was a modest retirement, but when there’s a chance to live frugally and NOT work, it’s a no-brainer.

While I loved that I was able to retire at 38 with Lena, I wanted to do something else. I just wasn’t sure what yet.

Section Break-Mountains

3 | Try Running Barefoot 

Colorado is a beautiful state full of mountains, long-haired hippies, and a lot of fitness-focused people. Many of my friends were runners, and while I had loved sprinting back in the day, I had given it up because I didn’t see much of a point if I wasn’t training for anything. I was explaining this to one of my runner friends when he shook his head and said, “Didn’t you know there’s a whole Master’s Track & Field circuit, and it includes sprinters?” And just like that, after a 30-year break, I got back into sprinting, feeling like I’d found my next “something.”

Getting back into sprinting was not as easy as I had expected. While my brain thought I was 18 still, my 45-year-old body had a different opinion. I was injuring myself constantly and limping my way through life the first couple of years. Seeing how miserable I was, a friend suggested that I try running barefoot. What?

I did some research and found the Boulder Barefoot Running Club which just so happened to be holding a class that weekend! On my first barefoot run, I was so transfixed by the feelings of having my bare feet on the ground, of experimenting with my gait, that I didn’t even notice that we’d run over 5 kilometers (which, for a sprinter like me, is practically a marathon)! Running barefoot helped me discover why I was getting injured and, more importantly, learn how to alter my gait to prevent more injuries and make me a better, faster runner.

I think you know where this is going. Yes. This was my next obsession.

I wanted to continue this natural form of running while still protecting my feet. Plus, I wanted to be able to go into a coffee shop without getting thrown out or given strange looks for being barefoot. So, I came up with an alternative. Inspired by the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, who run in sandals they make from used tires, I got some rubber from a shoe repair shop, some cord from Home Depot and made my first pair of barefoot sandals—and, yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron.

Section Break-Mountains

4 | That’s a Terrible Idea 

Running with them was just like running barefoot, and my new DIY sandals were catching the eyes of other barefoot runners. When I told them I’d made them myself, they wanted me to make some for them. Soon in the community, I was known for making these sandals. When a local barefoot running coach caught wind of what I had stirred up, he approached me and said, “You should turn this sandal-making hobby into a business. If you had a website, I’d put you in the book I’m writing about barefoot running.”

BRILLIANT. There were thousands of barefoot runners in the world, not to mention the average person who could be turned on to the power of minimalist footwear. I rushed home to pitch the idea to Lena thinking she’d deem it genius.

Except she didn’t. In fact, she said it was a “terrible idea” that “wouldn’t make money anyway” and was “a distraction” from finding a way to replace our retirement income, which had dried up thanks to the housing crash in 2008. Still, my wife had said no, so I said, “Yeah, you’re right.”

Then, when she went to bed, I built a website.

But this risk (and blatant disobedience) wound up paying off. Once we had a website, the business could expand beyond the local runners. Thanks to word of mouth and how easy it is to spread the word online, Xero Shoes took off in 2009. Lena and I rushed to fill the orders that kept pouring in. Within six weeks this was our full-time job. At the seven-month mark, we had guys who had worked at Nike and Reebok helping us design new products and advise us in our new shoe business. Their biggest advice? Don’t go into the shoe business because of how challenging it is! We acknowledged that we were hyper-optimistic and naïve, but we decided to press on and, soon, my simple idea became our new entrepreneurial retirement plan.

Section Break-Mountains

4 | Swimming with the Sharks 

 “You guys sh