BENGALURU: It’s easy to spot Thomas Bobby Philip in a marathon – just watch out for the person running barefoot. Funnily enough, for a self-confessed ‘cleanliness freak’, this 53-year-old has been running barefoot since 2012, after having begun running only couple of years ago in 2009. “I want people to know that it is okay to be barefoot. Think about 100 years ago… Everyone even went walked to school barefoot. We’ve just been brainwashed that it’s necessary to wear shoes or that they can say a lot about a person,” explains Philip, who will be running two upcoming 10K races – TCS World 10K Bengaluru and the My Country Run – in the city barefoot as well.
Philip’s first steps into this journey began in April 2012, when a short break from running made him try walking barefoot outdoors instead. Despite the dirt on the road, Philip pushed on, covering a couple of metres, before finishing a 1km walk and a 1km jog that day. Such was the newness of the experience on his feet that after sometime, he found running with shoes to feel heavy, before eventually giving them up altogether. In the same year, within a span of few months between each, Philip covered 10K races, half marathons and full marathons. The Keralite, who grew up in Mumbai, has been in Bengaluru for 15 years and has been doing this for seven years now, running at 8-10 events a year.
“It all began in 2009 when I was helping my daughter train for her school sports event. I continued even after she stopped but I never thought I’d reach where I am today, running barefoot 70-80 km a week,” he says, adding that over time, the number of barefoot runners at events has slowly gone up. “There’s at least one or two such people for every 100 runners.”
Having run this way in different parts of the world, such as Boston, California, New York and Phuket, he adds, with conviction, that India is the best for this activity, thanks to the smooth tarmac roads here. “In the US, the path sometimes has pebbles to prevent people from skidding in the snow, so that makes running barefoot quite tough,” he explains. But even this hasn’t stopped him from running up to 50km at a stretch. “It really is more of a mental barrier than a physical one,” adds the capability development manager at Nokia.
Philip’s barefoot trials extend beyond a running track . With just four shoes in his closet leave his wife and daughter happy with the extra space they get. While his friends and family are used to seeing him barefoot at holidays, weddings or at work, other passers by are still getting used to the sight. Recalling an instance when an rickshaw driver denied to take him to his destination for this, he says, “I’m not too bothered by such instances. After all, I asked for it,” he laughs.