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The Accidental Barefoot Runner – From Zero Running to Barefoot Marathon in 10 Months and Beyond

When 15 year old Chandler Prohl’s mom signed him up for the 2012 Race to Robie Creek half marathon (13.1 miles) he was not a runner.  His mom had run several races, including a couple of half marathons, though, and would give him training guidance. But Chandler had always hated shoes.  Since he thought he needed some for running, he went shopping and found some Vibram Five Fingers and began 4 months of half serious training.  He ran 3 to 4 times a week, only getting up to an 8 mile distance a couple of times right before the race. His Vibrams had been giving him blisters in the side of his foot near his toes, so he switched to regular tennis shoes for the race.  He had a respectable finish time of 2 hours and 36 minutes, which is almost a 12 minute mile pace.  He came away from the experience thinking, “Hey, running is pretty fun, but I need to do it without shoes!”

Chandler did not know that anyone else ran with bare feet.  First, he tried one other pair of minimalist shoes, but it was too much foot covering.  He switched to no shoes and 2 months later began doing some internet research.  His dad recommended the book Born to Run. Soon, Chandler discovered there are people the world over who run barefooted on purpose all the time.

At this point, Chandler still didn’t consider himself a runner.  He wasn’t emotionally attached to running certain distances.  His only goal was to run with bare feet, so he started with just a couple of miles.  It was summer, so he could run 6-7 days a week.  Each week he increased his longest distance by 2-3 miles.

Chandler with his Ponderosa Pine Relay team

Chandler with his Ponderosa Pine Relay team

In July of that same year, he signed on as a team member for the new Ponderosa Pine Relay.  As part of this 12 person team, he would run 3 legs of the 194.89 mile race.  Each leg was about 6 miles long.  One leg was at night, so he wore his recently acquired Luna sandals for that.  The other two legs then totaled 12  barefoot miles, which was not a lot more than his 9-10 mile barefoot level at that time.

In October, he was ready for his first marathon, the City of Trees marathon in Boise. Its course was downtown and included some rocky, worn down asphalt.  He ran it in 4 hours 16 minutes.  Twice the distance of Race to Robie and a pace just over 2 minutes per mile faster.  His lack of shoes was not slowing him down!

Changler's feet after his first marathon

Changler’s feet after his first marathon

The school year and winter weather meant some adjustments.  He could only schedule runs 4-5 times a week.  Cold temperatures made him choose dry, sunny asphalt.  Dirt trails that he had liked so much during the summer sucked the heat out of his feet in the cold.  He also waited until the warmest part of the day.  As long as it was dry, he found he could run in temperatures as low as 20°F.  He tried running barefoot in the snow once, just to go around the block, and decided that his Luna sandals were preferred for that.  He didn’t wear socks, though.

Chandler crossing the finish line at the Race to Robie 2013

Chandler crossing the finish line at the Race to Robie 2013


The following March, Chandler ran a 40 mile race.  The time allotted by those in charge was 12 hours.  He got it done in 8 hours 40 minutes.  Since it started in the dark, at 6 AM, he wore his Luna sandals for about 2 hours.  Then, he ran with bare feet for the remaining 6 plus hours.  His feet were a little sore, but he mostly noticed his knees and calves being sore from the repetitive motion.  This didn’t deter him from running the 2013 Race to Robie  3 weeks later.

This time, Chandler ran Robie totally bare footed.  He had tested the course through the first 6 miles.  The first 4 miles were asphalt, including some gravely parts, but then it was rocky dirt that he found fairly comfortable.  He could pick his footing without difficulty and enjoyed the feeling of the dirt on his soles.  With a completion time of 1 hour 54 minutes (about an 8:50 minute mile average pace), it is obvious he had made progress.

Now, Chandler is ready to run the Great Potato Marathon with his mom.  It will be her first marathon.  He has tested the course and plans to run it with bare feet.  His usual testing method is to ride his bike along until he sees a spot he wants to feel with his feet. A short run is sufficient and then he gets back on his bike.

Chandler plans to keep running.  He enjoys both barefoot running and his identity as a barefoot runner.  Kids at school think he’s kind of crazy for running so many miles.  He’s not sure they’ve comprehended that he also does it without shoes.

He would like to promote barefoot running, so is organizing the first annual Barefoot Boise 5K and 10K Run on September 14, 2013. Before the actual race, he is leading barefoot training runs on the race course.  He has certainly already set an example of what is possible with barefoot running.

  • Anemone Flynn

    Great story! Way to go, Chandler!

  • Ronibird

    Awesome interview. Wish I were making it back to town in time for the race.

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