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Marathoner bares his soles
Roeber runs HOA race sans shoes.

Rick Roeber wasn’t the fastest finisher in yesterday’s Heart of America Marathon, but he must have been the most aware of his surroundings.

Parker Eshelman photo
Ryan Miller, right, checks out Rick Roeber’s feet as they emerge from a pool after finishing the Heart of America Marathon yesterday on Broadway. Roeber, a Lee’s Summit resident, ran the marathon barefoot, as is his custom.

Roeber, a 50-year-old Lee’s Summit native, has been running marathons barefoot for almost three years - having logged more than 6,400 miles - and he proudly notes he has stepped on only two or three shards of glass along the way. And those were easy to pick out of his feet.

"Eye-foot coordination," he said.

Ever since the race that gave him frostbite in one of his middle toes, Roeber has learned to be more wary of the weather. It wasn’t that he was running on a snow-covered course - he had done that before - but that the snow was too deep and the temperature too frigid.

"If it’s down below 10 degrees, then it’s usually a little too cold," he said.

For all the precautions, some pains are still unavoidable. Take, for example, the long stretch of gravel road every HOA racer confronts.

"The rocks were a little easier this year," he said.

Roeber’s calloused feet take quite a beating, but it’s nothing compared to the chronic knee pain he used to suffer when he ran with shoes. After trying medical creams and contemplating having his knees scoped, Roeber started reading about barefoot running. The idea stuck. Since October 2003, he has competed in 21 marathons barefoot, three more than the total number he ran before going bare.

Roeber said barefoot running forces him to run with proper technique, shortening his stride and ensuring he doesn’t land on his heels. With his improved form, Roeber said he no longer experiences knee pain.

"Basically, what I’ve found is a better way to run for me, a way that will give me longevity in something that I love," he said. "I love to run. It’s allowed me to run with no pain. My knees are fine. They don’t crunch anymore."

Roeber doesn’t run as fast barefoot as he did with shoes. He finished yesterday’s HOA 38th. His time of 3 hours, 48 minutes, 2 seconds was more than a half-hour slower than his 2001 time, which he accomplished with shoes. But Roeber embraces the challenge, just as he does people’s reactions to seeing him shoeless.

"They say, ‘Oh, man, that hurts just looking at your feet.’ And I say, ‘Well, that hurts just looking at you running in those shoes. That’d kill me,’ " he said.

Yesterday, Roeber used his perceived disadvantage as a motivational tool.

"Toward the end, I was passing a few people, and I said, ‘Come on, man, you’re not going to let the barefoot runner guy beat you,’ " he said.

Yesterday was Roeber’s fourth HOA race. It was race winner Chris Cook’s 10th. Cook, 35, a Columbia native and first-time winner, finished with a time of 2:54:59. After breaking the sacrum bone in his back while placing sixth in last year’s HOA, Cook couldn’t start training until April. He wasn’t sure three months ago if he’d be able to race this year.

"But with physical therapy and a lot of prayer - I had a lot of people praying for me - I made it," Cook said.

Columbia natives claimed the top three spots. Matt Dreir, 31, finished second in 2:59:29. Derek Ganzenmuller, 35, placed third in 3:01:18. Other hometown runners in the top 10 were sixth-place finisher Andy Emerson, 37, and 10th-place finisher Steve Bourgeois, 42. For the second straight year, Branson native Becky Lawrence, 49, was the top female finisher and was 14th overall with a time of 3:21:32.

Reach David Robb at

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Copyright © 2006 The Columbia Daily Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

Columbia Daily Tribune