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Jeff Kolpack, Published May 14 2012

Grand Forks runner plans to race barefoot

FARGO – A chiropractor in Grand Forks put his own medical training to work to address a knee ailment that prevented him from running.

The pain got to a point where Joshua McSparron had to practically give up the sport in favor of biking or swimming. It worked. On Saturday, he’s going to run the 26.2 miles in the Fargo Marathon.

Barefoot.

“I was thinking there has to be a different way,” he said. “I wanted to see what else is out there.”

So McSparron, owner of McSparron Family Chiropractic, began a research quest to address the chronic knee problem, brought on by a lack of meniscus cartilage. It led him to change his form, specifically landing on his mid-foot instead of his heel, which most runners do.

To do that, he had to get rid of running shoes.

It was not an overnight process. His first training run without shoes was around five minutes. From there he progressed about a minute each time until he reached 40 minutes.

“It took a couple of months to get to four miles,” McSparron said.

So far, he has not endured any injuries, bad cuts or bloody scrapes. He admits to getting some quizzical looks. One person riding a bicycle in the Grand Forks greenway bike path by the Red River rode off the surface while staring at McSparron.

“I have to credit the cities,” he said. “Grand Forks and East Grand Forks keep their streets clean.”

To the knowledge of Fargo Marathon officials, nobody has run the race bare foot. Four North Dakota State college students are doing the relay in bare feet to raise awareness for Samaritan’s Feet organization.

Running barefoot has been a steady climb for McSparron. He did a 10K last July and finished the 13.1-mile Fargo Mini-Marathon in October in 1 hour, 51 minutes. He did a long training run of 20 miles two weeks ago.

“I was fine,” he said. “No blisters.”

He can run without shoes as long as it’s not raining and the temperature is above 25 degrees. It’s easier on his knee because running on his mid-foot requires a bent knee landing.

“It acts like a spring,” McSparron said. “It lessens the force on the knee. When you land in tennis shoes, your leg is straight and the force can go all the way up through the knee to the hip.”

“This year, I didn’t have to take any days off because of knee pain,” he said. “I would call it a success. There’s still some soreness, it’s not perfect, but it’s not to the point where I have to try and manage my running schedule around it.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia