Dave Vezmar began running cross country since high school but took a break for a while before picking up running again at the age of 30. In 2009, he developed ankle and hip pain after long runs, so he went to a local running store where he was fitted for special shoes.
“They were horrible, I felt like I had 2×4 planks strapped to my feet,” Vezmar said. “I started looking for alternatives and happened upon a brand new forum on the Runners World website for barefoot runners. There were only a few people there at the time, but I was intrigued and went all in. That was March 2009. I ran my first barefoot race in Dewey that July.”
For many years, Vezmar has run in the Milford area as well as in races throughout the state, all as a barefoot runner. On Monday, April 17, 2023, he achieved one of the ultimate runner’s goals when he ran the Boston marathon, running the entire race barefoot.
“Sam Adams is the official beer sponsor for the marathon, so we get a certain number of bibs for each race that they raffle off,” Vezmar, an employee of Boston Beer Company, said. “All Boston Beer company coworkers are able to enter. I got lucky this year and they drew my name.”
Vezmar prepared for the race by increasing his weekly mileage over the past several months. When he found out he was running, he started looking at training programs and says he quickly became overwhelmed by the sheer number of programs as well as the wide range of training regimens.
“I basically did what I typically do, and I just listened to my body as I trained as long as I felt good,” Vezmar said. “I kept increasing mileage. If I started to feel worn out or thought there was a possibility of injury, I scaled back. My longest run during training was 15.5 miles, total mileage that week was around 25 miles. One challenge we have training in Slower Lower is the lack of hills. Boston is known for its hills, so I had to figure out how to get hill training in. I did some hill work on a treadmill, but I also spent a lot of time running back and forth over the Route 1 overpass by the new hospital.”
Aware that he would be fairly slow, Vezmar expected to finish the race in about 5.5 hours but finished the race better than expected.
“When I got to mile 20 and knew it was just 10k left, I knew I had a chance of beating five hours,” Vezmar said. “I ended up at 4 hours and 52 minutes.”
After joining the barefoot group online, Vezmar explained that the small group of runners in that group became a great group of friends. They eventually launched the Barefoot Runners Society, a global community at TheBarefootRunners.org a few years later. He explained there has been a significant amount of research into barefoot running and Vezmar himself was part of a barefoot running study done at the University of Delaware ten years ago. International Barefoot Runner’s Day (IBRD) is celebrated the first Sunday of May around the world, he stated. Vezmar offered advice to those interested in barefoot running.
“Start slow, no more than a quarter of a mle per run for the first couple weeks, then slowly increase,” Vezmar said. “It may sound counterintuitive but stick to asphalt or concrete; grass feels so much better, but sharp things can hide in grass. They can’t hide on the road, plus the hard surface really helps dial in the proper running form. It’s unforgiving, so it forces you into a natural gait. I hear all the time people saying they can’t even walk to their mailbox barefoot. I’d urge everyone to spend more time barefoot, even if you’re not running, it’s healthy and will help build strength and conditioning.”
Another fact that Vezmar wanted to point out is that his feet are not “jacked up.” He does not have calluses or blisters, explaining that developing either of those means the runner is doing something wrong. His feet are just strong and conditioned. In fact, he pointed out that after the marathon, his feet looked exactly as they did before he ran the race. For those who are considering running the Boston Marathon, Vezmar offered more advice.
“Start training early so you have time to slowly build miles reducing the chance of injuries; beyond that, don’t over think it, don’t stress. Travel a few days before the race so you have time to experience the expo and all of the activities, the whole city has marathon fever, it’s fantastic!” Vezmar said. “This race is different than any race you’ve ever run, the crowd will push you the entire race; it’s like a 26.2 mile party. High five all the kids, high five all the girls at Wellesley, dance a little with the fans who have been drinking all day, experience it all; for most of us, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, take it all in!”
According to Vezmar, the entire race was fantastic with crowds the entire length of the course. He joked that the “scream tunnel at Wellesley definitely lived up to the hype.” His favorite part of the race was the last half mile.
“The mantra is on “Right on Hereford, Left on Boyleston” and when you make that last left turn and see the finish line and hear the screaming crowd, there is not a lot that can compare to that feeling, knowing you’ve done something that very few have or will ever do,” Vezmar said. “The best part of the best part was having my brother, Stephen, right there at the finish line cheering me on. He was my support team all weekend and I don’t think I would have been as successful without him.”
Weather was the biggest challenge Vezmar faced in preparing for the marathon.
“Being a barefoot runner, weather does play an important part in training,” he said. “I had to do a lot of treadmill training where I had to wear shoes, so I had some concerns with making sure my feet were properly conditioned. During the race, we had an occasional light rain, and the roads were wet for the full course. In my 14+ years barefoot running, I have run many races in the rain, but I did have some nervousness about 26 miles on wet roads. This turned out to be perfect conditions, I probably would have had more challenges if it were dry. After the race, I was very sore on day one, walking was tough. Day two, I was able to stretch out a bit and I felt a lot better. By day three, I was back to normal.”
Vezmar stated that he would absolutely run the Boston Marathon again. The bib raffle is open to those who have not run the Boston Marathon before, but he says that if he ever gets the opportunity, he will run the race again.
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