Authors Note: There isn’t going to be a lot of pictures with this one.
Yesterday I ran a clothing optional 5k. I had seen the flyer posted by Pretzel City Sports weeks ago. I am not any sort of exhibitionist and have never intentionally been to a nude beach or nudist resort but for some reason the idea of running a 5K in the buff was interesting and exciting. Maybe it was just the idea of finding something different, or a new twist on an old idea. Regardless, the idea grew. As the race date of June 11th neared, the weather looked hot and sunny. Just the kind of day one might want were they going to run around buck naked. Plans to go away for the weekend also fell through. Hmmmm.
I had read several articles about clothing optional running events and triathlon. To a person, each author had been skeptical, nervous, self conscious, and committed not to actually do the event. And to a person, all were happy they did it, had a great time, and decided it wasn’t nearly as big a deal as they thought it was going to be.
So I gamely made my way to the Sunny Rest Resort and Lodge Saturday morning. (I still can’t help but think that Sunny Rest sounds like an old folks home). I had an image of a park filled with naked old men playing cards. But I had read all the commonly asked questions and even e-mailed the resort a couple questions and felt confident I at least understood proper clothing-optional etiquette. I also made sure I had plenty of sun screen!
I was greeted at the guard shack by a couple very friendly (and fully clothed) staffers who asked if I was there for the race. “Yes. Yes I am”. After a quick check in, I drove through the resort to the race area and parked. It was 56 degrees . . . not a single naked person yet. So far it looked like any other resort, lodge, and campground. People of all ages were walking around sipping coffee or hanging out and talking to each other. A couple people were playing a really serious game of tennis on the beautiful court. The race registration table was buzzing with people.
I still wasn’t sure if I was going to go the full monty for this. Both the resort and race flyer emphasized they wanted to fully welcome clothed runners. But then it also seemed sort of silly to drive an hour and twenty minutes from home to a clothing optional event to run fully dressed. I could have done that 10 minutes from my house.
I went to the registration table where there were some familiar faces. I handed over my registration form and check and was mildly surprised to see the woman behind the table start filling out a bib. “Um, what do I do with that”? She laughed and said “You don’t need to wear it, we just need the bottom of it for scoring”. She then explained that a couple years ago a young man showed up with pierced nipples and pinned his bib to his piercings. Ouch. Double-ouch. Helene Horn had a sharpie marker in hand and asked are you running with, or without? The moment of truth. “Without”. She then marked my bib number in large numbers on my thigh below my still-present shorts. Okay. Registered. So far, nothing much different.
I went back to the car and was fishing out my Garmin, and road id when a hatchback with two women parked next to me. The entire back end of the car was covered in race bumper stickers. She had run all over the world. Nearly every well-known marathon. Comrades, JFK, and many other ultras. She was as serious a runner as they come. And she was here to do this fun little 5K. This spoke volumes to me.
There was still 45 minutes until race time. I chatted with other runners. Part of me expected this to be a novelty event where people that like to take their clothes off come and run/walk a 5K. As it turns out, nearly all the participants were runners just like any other race.
The day was warming quickly. The clouds cleared, the sun got hot and people began to shed clothes and apply sunscreen. As you can imagine, not a step you want to skip, especially if you plan to enjoy the resort facilities for the remainder of the day which the race registration entitled you to. I found myself standing around in a group of runners talking about different races around the country. I had removed my shirt to do a little warm up run but still had my shorts on. I suddenly became aware that I was the only one still wearing anything . . . and it felt really awkward and a bit silly. I walked back to my car, stripped off my shorts and that was it. I expected to feel embarrassed and self conscious at this moment. I expected 200 pairs of eyes to turn and focus on my naked body studying every detail and to have everyone burst out laughing but nobody even noticed. I returned to the group I had been chatting with. We were discussing the changes at the Philadelphia marathon. It was no different than any other pre-race conversation.
15 minutes prior to the race I wanted more of a warm-up so set out up the road. The woman with all the race stickers and the gentleman parked on the other side of me joined me. They had both done the race several times and explained a bit of the course. I realized this would not be an easy 5K. There was a lot of hills and a little bit of tricky trail. I started working on a mental strategy for the race. I had seen previous race times and knew I could be near the top if I ran like I should be able to. In hindsight, the fact that I was running around naked with two other people (male & female) and a whole bunch of other people were jogging around naked didn’t even enter my mind at that point. Funny how quickly something you think would be awkward becomes normal.
10:00am was the scheduled race start. It warmed up to the high 70s by the time Ron gave his pre-race instructions. If you know Ron you know he has a good sense of humor and today was no different. The course winds through the roads of the resort which isn’t that big but is on the side of a hill. It sounded confusing but Ron would be leading us on a bike for the first of two loops. As Ron talked I looked around at the crowd. There was some fit looking racers and some not-so-fit folks who had their game faces but little else on. There were people from all walks of life and levels of fitness. Of the field of 150 so runners a very small percentage were wearing any clothes. Some of the more well-endowed ladies had sports bras on, and one or two others had regular running clothes on, but most of us were au naturale and intently listening to Ron’s instructions. I did notice at least one Ironman M-dot tattoo that you wouldn’t be able to see at any other race.
Ron finally ran out of pre-race jokes and we were ready to go. I was near the front knowing I’d probably be one of the faster runners. Ron mounted his bike and the starer gave the “Go!” command and we were off. At the beginning there were about a dozen other runners in front of me. I knew some of them were misplaced at the start and were running too fast. There was one young hard-core looking runner who I was pretty sure was going to win. Otherwise I weaved past the slower runners as they dropped back. We headed down hill for the first third of a mile or so. Then we looped around a flat area and headed back uphill. Rounding a bend I almost ran smack in to 3 naked people walking casually along the road but darted around them. This is not something you see in most races. But the racing got difficult quickly. Clothed or not, 5K pace hurts. We started heading uphill racing through the campground and, like any such event, the campers rang cowbells, and cheered loudly. Some were clothed. Some were not. But their enthusiastic cheers were real.
We headed back uphill past the start and looped out past the parked cars. It was hot and I was already sweating so tossed my hat at my car. Yes, I did start with a hat to protect my already over-exposed bald head. I also had on my road ID, sunglasses, Zoot race shoes, and Garmin. We turned the corner onto the short trail section. I really paid attention to my footing here. Not that a micro layer of latex provides very much protection but today of all days I really didn’t want to fall. I cleared the trail successfully and then was back on pavement. We neared the 1 mile mark. I hit 1 mile at 6:10. Wow. That’s a fast first mile.
We passed the tennis courts and turned down Cardiac Hill. Thankfully we didn’t have to run up cardiac hill. That would have hurt a lot. But running down it wasn’t a lot better. It was very steep. There were two runners in front of me, both far younger. The leader disappeared somewhere down the road. The gentleman in front of me had a very artistic boat anchor tattooed on his back. He was just ahead of me and I thought if I could hold pace perhaps I could catch him.
We made our way down through another section of the resort and then back up hill past the tennis courts again. After a brief loop around another road, we set out back past the start for loop 2. This was around mile 2 of the race. You know mile 2 of a 5K. It hurts. You want to stop. It’s only another mile but gosh it hurts. And it’s hilly. I had long since forgotten about being completely naked or, for that matter anyone else being naked even as I passed them as they were going the other way. Like any other race, we got a “nice job” or “keep it up” from the slower runners.
My recent 5Ks have all been sub twenty minutes but none of them were as hard as this course. There was very little flat. Also the 56 degrees when I arrived had long since given way to a VERY warm day. It was hot but the breeze in the open areas blowing on exposed skin felt very good.
As I made my way up the hill toward the start half-way through lap 2 I had been holding a very difficult pace. My heart pounded. I wished I had put my heart rate monitor on and knew my HR but felt that might look a little silly. In retrospect, about 1/3 of the field had some sort of HR monitor or race belt on. Anyway, I was at risk of blowing up so intentionally backed off climbing back up the hill. I knew I was giving up any hope of second place but felt I had third well in hand if I could keep from exploding. I ran a bit easier up the hill and around the trail section. This was especially important since there was now a lot of traffic with the slower runners.
Back down Cardiac Hill, around the loop, back past the tennis courts and . . . oh thank God . . the finish line! I crossed through the chute and darted across the road and collapsed in the grass under a shady tree. Wow. That was tough but I finished a solid 3rd behind the guy with the anchor tattoo. The young runner dude had finished well ahead of both of us. After a few minutes of getting my wind back I went in search of water or gatorade. I found the first and second place finishers and we stood around in the shade discussing the race. The breeze in the shade was delightful. It occurred to me how hot wearing race shorts would be at that moment and I had to stifle a laugh.
We stood and cheered on those still working on the second loop and congratulated those finishing. I watched my parking mates cross the finish and high-fived them. Both met their expectations for the day.
I had had this plan in my head that I’d finish the race and immediately get dressed and head home. There were two problems with that. The race was still going on and I couldn’t drive out through it. I had won a podium spot . . something that rarely happens for me. I decided to hang out and collect my award if they got to that in a timely fashion. After waiting for my parking neighbors to recuperate, we all headed down to the pool area to await the awards ceremony. The ultra runner and her friend were planning to hang out at the resort all day.
Up until now, I had been focused on racing. Heading to and hanging out at the pool (still completely nude, BTW) gave me the opportunity to observe a bit more. FACT: Old fat men and old fat women look nearly identical nude. FACT: People from all walks of life down to and including families were at the resort. Kids couldn’t be nude (18 or older I think) but they were there hanging out at the pool like any other sunny weekend at any other pool. FACT: Nobody was looking around staring and judging people. FACT: Not just old fat men. As mentioned, all ages and genders were present. Attractive people, average people, not attractive people. Again, after about 5 minutes you really stop noticing that people are all naked and ultimately forget that you too are naked.
The resort was having a volleyball tournament too. They have a full regulation volleyball court and real, certified officials and scoring. Like the race it was a mix of clothed and non clothed players but all VERY serious. The pool looked like fun. It was the only place you were not allowed to wear anything (except children). I thought about going in but it was really crowded as it was a hot day and there was also pool volleyball happening.
I was hoping Ron would be expeditious with the awards ceremony. I didn’t intend to spend the day and it was a long drive back home. 11:30 came and went. No Ron. I knew when he got to the pool it would take him some time to setup before getting in to the awards. At 11:45 I gave up. Pictures at the resort are frowned upon and cameras and phones are not even allowed in the pool area so there was not going to be a podium picture. I decided I could collect my award from Ron some other time. I see him often enough through the summer. I made my way back up the hill to my car. Ron was still at his camper frantically searching for something. Back at the car, I donned my clean, dry running shorts and shirt and it occurred to me that one nice thing about clothing optional events is the lack of laundry and chafing.
As I drove home, I thought about the day. Was it fun? Hell yeah! It kinda was. It is a bit cliche but it was certainly freeing to forget your inhibitions a bit and realize we are all a little too self-critical when it comes to our bodies. It truly is all natural. Am I going to become a nudist? No. It was fun for a day but I certainly don’t have a need to make a lifestyle out of it. Besides, it is kind of nice to have pockets. This is especially true for the couple that managed to lock themselves out of their car. That’s going to be an awkward roadside assistance call. Would I do it again? Maybe. They have a 7K in August. That would be an automatic PR just on the distance.