Why Barefoot Comrades 2014?

Why Barefoot Comrades 2014?

The obvious answer is that I am a barefooter and Comrades 2013 inspired me to run Comrades again in 2014. The initial idea was to run Comrades 2014 barefoot. This idea germinated and grew into the project which is called Comrades 2014 and consists out of two parts, the first to run from Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg in the days leading up to Comrades 2014 and the second to run Comrades to complete the Johannesburg to Durban journey.

The idea came to fruition when it was decided that the project will partner with a community development partner as a fundraiser. The initial question was which partner to choose. Seeing that social and eco justice issues are part of the reason that I go barefoot the obvious type of partner would also be involved in these. It was with this in mind that the project started looking for possible partners. It was with great excitement when Reel Gardening agreed to be the community development partner in this exciting project.

But who is Reel Gardening and why them. Reel Gardening is the company that was founded by Claire Reid and works closely with their partner NPO Reel Life, headed by Emily Jones. As a teenager Claire developed a seed tape to be used in the planting of vegetable gardens. Using the seed tape it becomes fairly easy and straight forward to plant a garden. Seeds are protected in the seed tape, spaced correctly, fertilized, and the correct planting depth indicated. All you need to do is to plant the tape and keep it moist. Due to the protected space in which the seed germinates up to 80% less water is needed in the process of germination. A product and company that makes it really accessible for most people to start their own vegetable garden at home.

Reel Gardening is not only involved in the production of seed tape, but created a box with the specific goal to aid in the development of vegetable gardens in communities, at schools and orphanages, and other places where food is desperately needed. The box includes seed tape to plant a 100m2 vegetable garden with a variety of vegetables which will feed up to 50 people once a day for 30 days. However, that is only one aspect of the community garden box; the other aspect is the training that goes along with it, as well as an initial assessment of the area the garden will be developed in, equipping the community in terms of spades and forks et cetera, the training of the community and the transfer of skills via workshops, garden layout plan, information cards, as well as telephonic support and follow up meetings. Typically a complete garden developed at for instance a school will consists out of four community boxes, four training sessions, a selection of tools, information cards as well as telephonic support.

The development of vegetable gardens becomes essential in certain communities that are faced with an ever increasing threat to their food security. In a later blog I will look at the challenges faced by some communities in regards to food security and the amount of households in South Africa that’s faced by food insecurity every day. It is worthwhile to keep in mind that those who suffer most from a lack of food or limited access to food are children.

Thus the purpose of the Barefoot Comrades 2014 project; to raise as much funds as possible to develop as many as possible vegetable gardens, especially at schools and orphanages with the aim to feed children who have limited access to food.

How does it work? Every community box consists out of 280 meters of seed tape, a complete garden of four boxes out of 1 120 meters of seed tape, as well as the assessment, training, information cards, tools, as well as follow up. To implement a complete garden costs R15 600, or translated to cost per meter, R16.67. And I know you can already see the way that the project is structured. You are invited to become part of the project by sponsoring a certain amount of meters. This can be done in different ways.

  • You can sponsor a certain amount of meters at R16.67. For every 1 120 meters sponsored in this way, we can develop one complete garden.
  • You can sponsor a leg of the run, for example the run between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the 89 km Comrades. The amount per meter is up to you to decide. If you sponsor 18c per meter for the distance of the Comrades, you have sponsored one complete garden.
  • You can sponsor the whole journey from Johannesburg to Durban. Once again the amount is up to you to decide. For every 2.5c sponsored per meter will implement a complete garden.
  • You can donate a fixed amount, for example R1 000. We will convert this to an amount of meters by dividing your donated amount, R1 000, by R16.67, the cost of one meter of seed tape. In the case of the example R1 000 / R16.67 = 60 meters of seed tape.

Throughout the project a seed tape indicator, on the website, will show how many meters of tape contributors have donated to the project.

Claire Reid with a few seed strips. This is where the funds are going. To plant these for schools and orphanages.

Claire Reid with a few seed strips. This is where the funds are going. To plant these for schools and orphanages.

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Race Report – Breakthru Midrand 15 km – 21 July 2013

Dawn 21 July 2013 and the day of my first ASA licensed race on the journey towards Durban arrived. Luckily the venue was fairly close to home, 20 kilometers on an easy road, so everyone in the house was afforded a tad bit more sleep than the average race morning would afford. This was not the only good news; the blustery wind of the previous evening died down and the morning looked bright, fresh, a little bit chilly but absolutely runable.

On the way to the venue I was hit with a sudden awareness, with a serious lack of recent racing exposure, I did not prepare my kit as well as I should have. I left my running jacket, my hat, as well as my Garmin Forerunner 305 at home. Maretha, my wife, solved the latter by giving me her iPhone, app’ed with Runkeeper, to run with. Pacing and documentation of the run sorted. Running cap, not really needed so that wasn’t too much of a hassle. The most severe result of my lack of preparation was the cold I had to face just before the start of the race. Unlike Orchards, where we live, Midrand was downright cold. Thus I stayed in the car till the very last moment.

Luckily the car was parked right at the start line so I could wait out the 15 minute starting delay in relative comfort. I did however have to face and brave the cold for the last two or three minutes, which made me even more grateful for the proximity of our parking spot to the start line.

Eventually the start gun sounded and we were off. Imagine the surprise that waited for me when we exchanged asphalt for some serious dirt road running within the first kilometre. Most of my training is done on asphalt and I am still a little hesitant to run extended distances on trail-like surfaces. What to do? I attentively made my way across the next three kilometers, knowing that if the surface continued like this it was going to be a long morning.

Of course the comments, questions, and remarks flowed right from the start. The most common: “Did you forget your shoes?” It seemed that I was indeed the only barefoot runner in a race of about 1200 runners. After the race I met two guys that ran in minimals, but no other barefoot runner surfaced.

Luckily the surface changed from dirt road covered with loose rocks to interlocking paving, a stretch of raw concrete, and a few stretches of lawn. With the change of surface, the good company of fellow runners, and a few conversations on the benefits of barefoot running, my pace picked up and the my average pace heading towards my goal for the day.

And then the race was over! At 11 kilometers the news started filtering through that the run was 2.2 kilometers short. This was a distinct disappointment as I really wanted to do a 15 kilometer run. However, with my son waiting at the finish line I decided to finish my run at the line on 12.8 kilometers, 1:09:01 after the start gun signaled the start of the race earlier the morning.

I ended the race in 266th position (out of 1235 runners) and completely content with my time and the way the morning went.

All in all an enjoyable race and morning, with one or two glitches, which once resolved, will result in a race I will definitely returned to in the future.

My race in numbers

My race in numbers

Enjoying the company of fellow runners

Enjoying the company of fellow runners

The Challenge by Numbers

5 May 2014. That is the day my training journey is headed to, the day that the Barefoot Comrades 2014 journey will start at 158 Loveday street in Johannesburg with the aim to be in Durban on the 1ste of June 2014 any time before 17:30 the afternoon.

In the process I will run a total of approximately 664 kilometers (664 000 metres).

The Challenge comes in two parts. The first part of the challenge is to run from Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg which hosts the start of Comrades 2014. The second part is to line up on the 1st of June at the start of the Comrades and complete it before the cut-off gun sounds the end of the race.

The first part of the challenge consists of 577 kilometers (577 000 meters). The plan is to complete this distance over a time of 23 days, which include 4 rest days.

  • This comes down to an average of 30.37 kilometers (30 370 meters) for every running day.
  • The longest running day will be on the 23rd of May when I will be running from Mooirivier to Howick. The total distance of the day will be just shy of a full marathon at 41.2 kilometers (41 200 meters).
  • The shortest running day will be on the 27th of May, the final leg to the Comrades office at 18 Connaught rd. The distance for the day an easy 10.8 kilometers (10 800 meters)

This part of the challenge concludes on the 27th of May and will be followed by four days of rest. I am certain I am going to need it!

The second part of the challenge is a one day affair, the Comrades marathon. It might be fair to call the Comrades the world’s premier ultra-marathon. 18 000 Athletes will line up to tackle the 89 kilometers (89 000 meters) from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

  • The start gun sounds at 05:30 in the morning.
  • The final gun that signals the end of the race sounds at 05:30 in the afternoon, a twelve hour window to finish the race.
  • On average there are 50 refreshment tables
  • 200 000 sachets of water
  • 660 000 sachets of Energade
  • 800 kilograms of bananas
  • 7 840 kilograms of oranges
  • 1 ton of assorted chocolates
  • 2 tons of potatoes
  • 800 000 bottles and/or cups

Thus, if everything goes according to plan, I will start the journey in Johannesburg, arrive in Pietermaritzburg in time to start the Comrades marathon and complete the journey 664 kilometers (664 000 meters) down the road in Durban.

If you’ve been wondering why every kilometer is translated to meters, there is a good answer, which you will find in my next blog which will detail the purpose of the Barefoot Comrades 2014 project.

Why I choose a Barefoot Lifestyle

Question: Where are your shoes?

Answer: I don’t wear shoes.

Question: Why?

What a good question! It is the question that always stops me in my tracks, captures my attention, and will most probably result in a 10 minute conversation with anybody who is brave enough to ask it. So allow me to engage with you for a few minutes on why I choose to go barefoot almost all of the time.

The initial motivation to go barefoot was purely functional; I simply feel more comfortable not wearing shoes than wearing shoes. The discomfort of walking barefoot was lighter than the comfort of shoes but the loss of connection. I love the feel of air over my feet, the textures underfoot, and the way your body responds to the connection with the environment. Thinking back the seeds of the answer to the why was there from the start.

The four plus one reason I am going barefoot is as follows, in no particular order:

  • Creating an awareness of eco-justice issues,
  • Creating an awareness of socio-justice issues,
  • An anti-consumerism action,
  • It slows me down,
  • And the plus one; in my opinion it is the healthier way to live (at least in most situations)

Creating an awareness of eco-justice issues

Humankind is part of an immense web of life. It seems that most of us can agree at least to this. The sad reality is that it seems that we as humans have somehow elevated ourselves to the pinnacle of this web of life, part of yes, but certainly the very top part, the most important part; to some extent, not part of at all but instead wholly different. And in this process we have succeeded in destroying whole parts of the web, for example the nine species of Moa in New Zealand, the Dodo on Mauritius, the Passenger Pigeon of the great plains of North America, and the Bluebuck from Africa to mention only a few. It seems that, although we are intrinsically a part of the web of life, we have the unique ability to knowingly destroy parts of the web. We pollute the very water we, as well as every part of the web of life, are dependent on, we kill species to extinction for the benefit, even luxury of a few, we transform biodiversity into deserts of monoculture or barren wastelands of brick and mortar, and we create doomed islands of species populations where the same species once celebrated life in all fecundity. This list is not even remotely exhaustive; the history of mankind is littered with example on example of how we have an apparent near suicidal disregard for the web of life as a whole.

I go barefoot so that we remember that which is underfoot and to remind us to tread lightly.

Creating an awareness of social-justice issues

The apparent disregard that we have for the intricate web of life does not stop at the way we treat other species but seems to shape the way that we treat other people as well. Poverty is a reality that most of us face every day, maybe not as a part of our own lived experiences, but certainly at the corner of traffic lights, on early morning and late night drives from or to home. It confronts us when we see a hunger child begging or a homeless person settling down in a doorway for another cold and uncomfortable night. We turn a blind eye to the part that we play in upholding a system that creates haves and have-nots. We find ways not to make eye contact with the person standing with cupped hands begging or argue that giving hand-outs perpetuates the problem rather than solve it. We use this excuse to not give at all, not to the person nor to those who might make a difference. And if we give, we give money; because it is easy and clean, soothes our consciences and helps us avoid the harsh reality of poverty, the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.

I go barefoot so that we remember to treat others with dignity, respect and compassion.

Anti-consumerism action

It seems that society moved from valuing substance to valuing labels. What we wear, what we drive, where we live, what we earn et cetera seems to be the primary criteria in deciding one’s place in society. This approach to evaluating people purely focuses on external criteria and fails to give any credence to the internal gravitas of a person or persons. It seems that the equation holds true, the more money you have, the better labels you wear, the more society can see your wealth, the higher society values you as an individual. Going barefoot challenges this construct. It constantly and non-verbally asks if the criteria we use to attribute value to people are a valid one. People intrinsically have value because of who they are, not because of their net worth. The challenge is to remember not to fall into the label fallacy, but to treat everyone with equal respect and compassion. Stuff does not matter nearly as much as we think it does, in actual fact, more often than not less is indeed more. It might even be true that when we choose to leave the status equals stuff equals happiness behind and opt for a simpler approach to life we’ll find that living a life of simplicity and frugality increases our self worth as well as our sense of well-being and happiness.

I go barefoot so that we remember that labels don’t matter and that less is more.

It slows me down

“People are born and married, and live and die, in the midst of an uproar so frantic that you would think they would go mad of it” A quote from William Dean Howells that seem to capture the reality of our every day rushed lives. The catch, William Dean Howells said this in 1907, and since then the speed of lives as steadily increased. It seems that the best way to describe the era we are living in as the ‘age of rage’, where speed is of the essence, people suffer from “time-sickness”, and life is reduced to a superficial experience in service of the economy. Going barefoot helps me to slow down, to walk slower, and to take note of where I put my feet. Slowing down is an inevitable result of living barefoot, however to me it is also the biggest challenge. Going fast-er seems to be ingrained in every aspect of our lives, so much so that slowing down becomes an intentional lifestyle decision. One which influences the way we eat, the way we dress, the way we drive, the way we spend time with others, and the way we think to mention only a few.

I go barefoot so that we remember to slow down and breathe.

Plus 1: The healthier option

The science is still out, but it seems from personal testimonies that going barefoot has a number of health benefits. These include physical, psychological, and emotional improvement in health. At the very least going barefoot helps in the alignment of our skeleton as a whole and specifically our spines, it improves balance and blood flow, as well as strengthening and stretching the muscles, tendons and ligaments in our feet, ankles, and calves; it increases a feeling of emotional and psychological well-being, decrease anxiety and depression, and creates a feeling of connectedness to our environment. Even without conclusive evidence that proofs the health benefits of going barefoot I think it would be safe to argue that barefoot is the most natural way to live. We weren’t born with shoes on our feet!

I go barefoot so that we remember that everything society creates is not beneficial to our health.

I hope this starts to answer the Why?