Off and running
The day after this interview with Ted McDonald, well-known in the running community as “Barefoot Ted” McDonald, the Santa Barbara resident who lives near West Beach was leaving for Colorado to compete in the Leadville Trail 100 Run (aka the Race Across the Sky), an ultramarathon held annually on trails and dirt roads near Leadville through the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
First run in 1983, the 100-mile race climbs and descends with elevations from 9,200 to 12,620 feet. In most years, fewer than half the starters complete the race within the 30-hour time limit.
This year’s event is Sunday and Aug. 19, and Mr. McDonald is getting there early to acclimate his body to the high elevations in the area.
On his feet he’ll be wearing LUNA Sandals, the revolutionary footwear that he designed in 2006 and now manufactures in Seattle, where he lived for 10 years before moving to Santa Barbara in 2017.
“I’m a 21st century sandal maker. We make the best simple sandals we can. We are like surfers making surfboards. It’s an organic process. You have to feel it. Surfing is an experiential sport just like running,” said Mr. McDonald, who is written about in a chapter in the best-selling book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.
He is also a contributor to the newly published paperback “Running for Good: 101 Stories for Runners & Walkers to Get You Going!” by Amy Newmark and Dean Karnazes (Chicken Soup for the Soul, $14.95). His chapter is titled “The Roots of Barefoot Ted.”
The 55-year-old entrepreneur said he didn’t become interested in the “art of running long distances” until he was 40 years old.
“I remember that 20 years earlier I was at a party for the son of Senator Alan Cranston who celebrated his 40th birthday by running a marathon. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, a 40-year-old can run a marathon!'” recalled Mr. McDonald. “I wondered if I could do it at that age.”
During the next 20 years, while traveling around the world and enjoying life in the surfing and beach culture, he tried running various distances but experienced so much pain that he always quit after an hour.
“My solution came with a leap of faith in late 2003 … I took off my shoes and rediscovered the light, quick and smooth motion that truly efficient runners know. If a foot has been trained through years of exploration and use like mine has been, a foot can do amazing things. And when I learned that I could master a way to run better, smoother and more joyfully without shoes, I knew I had to share it,” writes Mr. McDonald in “Running for Good.”
In 2006, he traveled to the Copper Canyon of Chihuahua, Mexico, to run a 50-mile ultramarathon with the legendary Tarahumara tribe, who are considered to be the greatest long-distance mountain runners in the world.
“That’s where I met Manuel Luna, who made me my first pair of traditional tire ‘huarache’sandals. The spark for LUNA Sandals was born, and the rest is history,” said Mr. McDonald, who describes the sandals as “basically having soles of tire tread with a continuous leather strap that wraps around the side and back of the foot.”
He began tinkering and experimenting with sandal designs and in 2007 went back to the Copper Canyon Ultra and ran the race in a pair of huarache sandals that he had made himself.
“I was hooked and knew I was on to something that I really wanted to share with the world,” said Mr. McDonald, who started making the simple sandals in his garage in response to numerous requests from other runners.
“In March 2010, I met two young brothers, Scott and Bookis Smuin, slacklining in Volunteer Park in Seattle. They had already been making and running in tire sandals. We quickly became friends, and LUNA grew enough to move production into a small space on Capitol Hill in Seattle, just three blocks north of the Space Needle.”
Today, the company produces a large collection of the sandals for a full range of lifestyles, not just running. They include camping, date nights, weddings and other special events, beachcombing, hiking, backpacking and climbing.
Prices range from $59 to $140 for premium leather.
“The top sellers are the LUNA Mono for outdoor adventures and daily training runs and LUNA Oso for trail running,” said Mr. McDonald. “They have been carried by the Santa Barbara Running Co. and were recently featured on lower State Street in the experimental ‘Pop-Up Town.’ We will be announcing some new local retailers soon.”
They are also available online at www.lunasandals.com.
In “Running for Good,” Mr. McDonald writes, “The meeting (with Manuel Luna) changed my life. It inspired the creation of a sandal company and the introduction of sandal running to a much wider audience. Today, like surfers making surfboards, we make LUNA Sandals in our own factory. We take pride in keeping alive the art of sandal making, and we celebrate with our fans all over the world the simple joy of running free!”
Or as he likes to say, “One foot at a time. One sole at a time. One hell of a good time.”
For more information about LUNA Sandals, call 855-586-2726 or visitwww.lunasandals.com.