Anna McNuff and the Big Barefoot Marathon

On the 26th April one of our ambassadors, well-known adventurer and now barefoot runner Anna McNuff took on the London marathon without her trainers. Here is her account of the day in her own words:

“It’s early morning on the 28th of April, 2019 and all is calm. Later on today I’ll be running the London Marathon. I’m a tad bit nervous because, although I’ve done marathon distances before, this will be my first official marathon event. There is also the added twist that I’ll be running it barefoot. No trainers. No nothing. You what?! Precisely. I know. Have I lost my mind?! Quite possibly.

The furthest I’ve run barefoot so far is 17 miles, so today I will be running into a whole world of unknowns. I’m hoping I can just get to 17 miles then… hang on. It’s a foolproof plan.

There’s something quite beautiful about the stoic silence of the bus journey to the start at Blackheath. A bunch of strangers, deep in their own thoughts, on a ride to the edge of their capabilities. No ego. No bravado. Just quiet. The bus journey isn’t long enough. I want more time in the peaceful cocoon, because if I know one thing about today, it’s that it’s really going to hurt.


Somehow in a crowd of 42,000 people I manage to find a few friends on the start line, and (thanks to social media) we’re joined by a few more people I’ve never met before but they recognise my pink hair and come over to say hello. Hugs are dished out and luck is sprinkled in every direction as the runners in my start pen begin to surge forwards. A we are off! Under the start line banner and underway.

I settle into a steady rhythm and am immediately greeted by waves of cheers, people with megaphones and clapping, as hundreds line the city streets. Is it going to be like this the whole way? I wonder. Surely it can’t be. I had originally planned to pop in my mega marathon playlist (which includes many, many 80’s anthems) from the start. But the atmosphere is too good to block out, I want to soak it all up.

Three miles in and I feel great!! Really great in fact. ‘Chill out Anna’ I tell myself. No use getting excited and running too hard this early on. At mile four I run past a woman who has rigged up a sound system on her balcony and is belting out Tina Turner’s hit Proud Mary. I wonder whether I can pick that woman up and just carry her for the whole course to spur me on.


My strategy for the day is to get to halfway through still feeling good, and then reset the mind and pretend I only have a half marathon to run. So I try to stay in the moment, bobbing and weaving through the people around me – something which I soon realize takes a lot of energy. But having to concentrate so hard sure does pass the miles swiftly. At mile nine, around Surrey Quays, I hear my name being screamed very loudly and look right to see my cousin going nuts at the side of the road. I give her a hearty wave.

‘How you feeling??’ she hollers.

‘Good. Really good!’ I say, and I mean it.

Onto mile 11 and there’s a drag queen standing on another balcony, just above the road. She shouts over the microphone. ’Oh honey! That hair. And those bare feet? You are FABULOUS!’ I thank her kindly and shuffle on. Past a robot costume and a man dressed as Minnie Mouse. The noise around the halfway mark over Tower Bridge builds to a deafening crescendo. It’s bonkers! There’s music blasting from all angles, steel bands playing and a sea of people in front of me. It’s impossible not to grin from ear to ear and I surf my way along a wave of positivity through to mile 16.

I keep waiting for the wheels to fall off, and I realisz that I haven’t actually yet thought about the fact that I’m barefooted. My feet are fine… I think? I dance along the smooth white lines in the middle of the road every now and then, and take great joy when I see a bus lane (because the white lines on them are double width). Running through the areas where they’re giving out sports drinks is all a bit sticky, but not long after those there are the water stations and they offer a much needed foot bath as I shuffle on.


At mile 20 I’ve started thinking about the mile markers an awful lot. Too much, in fact. I pop my headphones in and start the tunes playing in a bid to get ‘away’ from the road. To go somewhere above it and float along in my mind. It works beautifully. Mile by mile, my legs get heavier and the crowds lining the road begin to thicken. At mile 22 it’s ten people deep on the crowd barriers at Embankment and I can see some runners around me start to suffer. By mile 24 I am in a fair amount of pain and my left leg has started threatening to cramp – if it can just cling on for a few more miles.

Just then, Big Ben comes into view, followed by Parliament. Westminster! Almost there! I think, and then at last. After a few more lefts and rights, the red tarmac of The Mall appears – tarmac which, as it turns out, is far smoother on the souls of my feet than I thought it would be. 600 metres to go… 400 metres… 200 metres… ‘there’s the freakin’ finish line!’ I think, and at last – I am done. Phew.

26.2 miles in 3 hours and 44 minutes – I’m pretty darn happy with that!

I wobble off into the finish line chute and conclude that human bodies are simply amazing. I had no idea whether my feet were going to hold out, but they were fine. Well, sore, but fine. Happy days! What a rockin urban adventure. I’m greeted by my mum at the finish area and we begin the hobble towards the train home. As I plonk down in the seat on the train carriage, I have three things on my mind – beer, curry then… bed.”