Matt Jenkins Runs Shoeless Across North Carolina to Save Youth Program

North Carolina is a ridiculously long state.

Just ask Matt Jenkins, a veteran marathoner from Boone who recently ran 760 miles across the state to raise money for a local non-profit. Even more amazing is that he ran the entire 760 miles barefoot.

Jenkins is an after-school instructor for the Western Youth Network, a nonprofit that provides substance abuse prevention programs for kids in North Carolina’s High Country. In 2010, a round of state budget cuts to after-school programs eliminated $155,000 from the Western Youth Network’s operating budget and left Jenkins and his co-workers struggling to find funding. Jenkins jokingly offered to run barefoot across the state to raise money. A few months later, his bare soles were pounding the pavement along the coast in Manteo with his eyes on the Tennessee border almost 800 miles away. Jenkins completed the run in under 30 days, pushing a baby stroller loaded with food and camping supplies. He ate lots of canned pasta and was bitten by a venomous copperhead along the way.

Running across the state is impressive enough. Why run barefoot?
It was a stunt, pure and simple. I did it to get attention for the cause. Losing that $155,000 in funding is devastating. These cuts are statewide too. It’s as if someone in North Carolina’s legislature decided kids aren’t important. I didn’t think my run would get this much attention, though. We raised $5,600 so far.

How did your body handle the mileage?
At the beginning, I did a lot of running, but I discovered it wasn’t as efficient as a speed walk. When I was running, I’d do 20 miles before lunch, but then struggle with the last 10 because I’d be so beat up. I found out if I just walk at  four miles per hour, instead of running  five miles per hour, it’s easier on my body and I can actually go further each day.

Tell us about the snake bite.
I was bit just outside the ankle on my right foot by a copperhead just a few days from the finish. I was alone and it started swelling up. My cell phone didn’t have service, so I approached the first friendly-looking house I saw. That family was amazing. They took me to the hospital, stayed with me there until 1 a.m., and then took me in for two nights while I recovered.

Did you see much of that kind of generosity on your adventure?
In the smaller towns, you see that sort of thing. On the first day back from my snake bite, the sheriff in Franklin stopped and asked if I needed anything. He ended up paying for me to stay in a hotel that night.

Why not run on softer surfaces like grass instead of pavement?
I stay away from the grass. You can’t see what’s in the grass. Beer bottles, sticks, snakes. The pavement is better.

And you tape the bottoms of your feet?
Sometimes. I have my own code regarding duct tape. If I’ve got open cuts, I’ll tape my feet to keep any infections out. Otherwise, no tape.

What was in your stroller?
Mainly food, plus some trekking poles, water, bug spray, sunscreen, and a sleeping bag. I’ve camped about half the nights and stayed with family and strangers the other nights.

What are you eating on this trip?
Lots of Chef Boyardee—especially the spaghetti and meatballs. I can eat that for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and snacks in between. I eat a lot of gas station food too—particularly hot dogs. The hot dogs at the gas station in Cullowhee were especially good.

What made you decide to become a runner?
I started running in the Marines, but I didn’t like it. They yell at you throughout the run and then make you do pull-ups when it’s over. I didn’t like running until I started doing marathons. Everyone’s nice to you in a marathon, and you get a medal at the end. I swear there’s a chemical reaction in the body when I run. When you find that perfect stride, it just feels good.

Any incidents with trucks or bad drivers?
The whole Parkway was bad. Drivers didn’t want to give up room on the road, but I’m not going to give up room either. No car hit me, but I’ve certainly made contact with them. You’ve got to be assertive and demand your three feet of space.

What was the most memorable day?
When I got to meet up with the family that took me in after the snake bite. Thinking about that big speed bump, not knowing whether I’d be able to finish, and then taking the first few steps back on the road toward Tennessee, it was pretty emotional.

Any plans for future runs?
I’m now planning to run 50 shoeless marathons in 50 days to continue raising money for the Western Youth Network.

Shoeless Matt’s 50-50 Adventure
You can follow Matt Jenkins’ progress at runninginsocks.blogspot.com