June 7, 2012

Around The Corps

Minimal is More: Marine takes on new challenge

Cpl. Patrick P. Evenson
MAWTS-1 ComCam
Photo by Cpl.  Patrick P. Evenson
Gunnery Sgt. C. Nuntavong, a student at the Defense Information School, stretches before a barefoot run on the track at Fort Meade, Md., Jan. 19, 2011.

Every step is a tender struggle. Every sensation is heightened by each consecutive strike. Most would not even think about braving a cold winter’s day without a coat, or taking an evening stroll around the block barefoot. So, naturally it would be ridiculous to take it one step farther, and at a faster pace — Ridiculous to everyone, but Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. C. Nuntavong who for nearly a year has been running with nothing between his own two feet and the ground, except for a thin layer of conditioned skin trained to take the brunt of every step.

It’s called minimalist running or forefoot running, a running style which relies on, uses, and, more importantly, trusts the natural design of the foot to do the work of running without the added padding that shoes are designed to provide. The logic of it is simple – when running directly on the balls of the feet, they absorb the shock of your running, rather than landing on the heels where there is a shock that is sent straight up the leg.

“I prefer to run barefoot, completely without shoes, because I feel it’s healthier for my body,” Nuntavong said. He said he needed something new to take him away from the monotony of running; the kind of running that he has become all too familiar with throughout his 15 years in the Marine Corps.

Even before he joined the Marines he swam varsity all four years in high school, so when a friend joined the Navy, Nuntavong figured it would be a good fit for him. One evening after school he went to the Navy Recruiting office in Pacifica, Calif., but discovered an empty room. Disappointed, he turned to leave and ran into a Marine recruiter who asked, “Why do you want to join the Navy?” When Nuntavong explained his swimming ability, the recruiter said, “Marines do that too. We do it all.”

So began his long journey out of the water, and on the hard surface of the world, as a Marine and runner, one heel strike after another, left followed by right.

“Up in the morning with the Maryland sun, We run all day until the day is done, We love to double time, We do it all the time, MARINE CORPS!”

In San Diego he ran. In Yuma, Ariz., he ran. In Garden City, New York, Miramar, Calif., Iraq, Okinawa, Japan, Denver, and Washington, he also ran.

And today, he is running, on a track at Fort Meade. Nuntavong nonchalantly strips his shoes and socks from his feet and takes off running in a silent rhythm. The track is still damp from last week’s snow, and just an hour earlier the sun peeked from the clouds for the first time in four days. The few other people running the quarter-mile loop double-takes at the shoe-less athlete who passes them. He glides across the ground in short deliberate strides as if he was enjoying a run on a soft-sanded beach.

The Thailand descendent is first generation American and stands at five feet, eight inches. He calmly composes himself with an unassuming confidence. He speaks in a relaxed manner and lets out a scent of humility, especially when talking about running.

“Running is a very individual sport, and it gives me time to think, or even not think. It kind of takes you to this mental plain where you can clear your thoughts,” he says. “I’ve never experienced, what’s called a ‘runners-high,’ but I do enjoy running.”

It shows. Now on his second pass around the track, he seems to find his stride and escapes from the chaos of life. In removing his shoes he has symbolically removed any pressures of responsibility he carries. He is a child with innocence and wonder, who can’t be contained by manufactured soles and laces.

At times it is hard to imagine that this calm, peaceful man is a Public Affairs chief in the Marine Corps who no doubt has encountered anything but calm situations. In August of 2009, he was part of the Social Media Team at Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington D.C., responsible for integrating the Corps into the world of social media.

He said it all started with a Twitter account and the question, “What do you think we can do with this, Gunny?” From there and without any guidance from anybody, the team set out on the venture of liberating the Corps to the World Wide Web. Once the leadership realized that social media was a good way to communicate its mission to the masses, they expanded the strategies that Nuntavong helped plan.

“It was definitely hard,” Nuntavong said. “We had to work with different elements of the Marine Corps and work together.”

In May of 2010 the Public Relations Society of America asked the Marine Corps to be part of its Digital Impact Conference, along with Google and The New York Times.

It is the same ambition and discipline he displays in the Marines that led him to take on the unique endeavor of minimalist running.

His wife of ten years, Jennifer, a minimalist runner herself, introduced him to the style after he hit a plateau in his running.  It was no longer fun for him. He started by running three miles with shoes and added a half-mile barefoot at the end. Every two weeks he would tact on another half mile.

Weather became a limiting factor. He said, “The problem was I was running in the summer, and I was running on black top. It was like 120 degrees off the blacktop and my feet didn’t like that at all. So when you get moisture and heat together you get blisters.”  There might have been a better time of year to start running, he says, but after a couple weeks the blisters were gone.

Depending on the weather Nuntavong runs as often as he can. The key of starting minimalist running is not to do too much, too fast, he says. “Bones, muscles, and tendons aren’t used to it. You didn’t learn to walk in one day; you can’t learn to run barefoot in just one day.”

After his second jaunt around the frigid track, he comes to a bouncing stop with a grin of refreshed relief on his face like someone who has just woke up from a power nap. He’s relaxed, at ease, but the glint in his eyes says at any moment he may spontaneously take off for a few more laps. His posture says he still craves the earth beneath his feet. He desires it. He needs it.

This past fall he competed in the New York City Barefoot Run and the Fort Belvoir Turkey Trot 10k. He says that in both races he could have kept running.

In any sport, pushing past physical and mental trials is part of the game, but for Nuntavong, the social struggle of running barefoot was the hardest part. He hears people whisper their judgments and sees their shocked looks as he speeds by. He says his wife has on an occasion been stopped and asked if she was in trouble.  “I don’t have time to educate everybody who is out there. Hopefully they will get home, do some looking on the Internet and make a decision for themselves, whether or not barefoot running is good for them.”

It was his own research that led him to an up-in-coming minimalist shoe company.  According to its website, its mission is to, “Design footwear that encourages biomechanically correct performance with as little interference as possible.” Through its simple five-page site the message is clear – it isn’t shoes it is trying to promote; it’s a healthy lifestyle.

For Nuntavong, the company sparked a marriage between his running and social networking passions. When he found on Twitter that they put out a request for a social media manager he jumped at the chance to commit his free time apart from the Marine Corps to this endeavor.  This was right up his alley, and he was just the man they were looking for. So much so that CEO personally called Nuntavong.

Today’s welcomed rise in temperature is a mirror of Nuntavong’s post-run spirits. As he walks away from the track with his shoes and socks apathetically in his hands, he says just one thing with a smile on his face, “My feet are cold.”

All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.



Don’t let outside opinions determine your situation

If you have ever told someone you are stationed in Yuma, the common response might have been, “Oh wow, that stinks.” Or something along those lines. Most Marines would probably agree, but let me provide some food for thought. As a daughter of a former master sergeant and air-winger, my dad always told me, “Every...

News to Use July 26, 2012

Hard Road Closure Access to Airport Loop between Avenue A and County 14th is CLOSED due to a sink hole until further notice.  This includes access to emergency vehicles.   2012 Hiring Our Heroes Veterans Event Please join us for a FREE one-of-a-kind hiring fair sponsored by Hero2Hired (H2H) for job seekers and employers, August...

Fact or Fiction? July 26, 2012

Q:  When do I have to use any extra accumulated leave by?   A:  According to MARADMIN 390/12 all additional leave exceeding 60 days must be used by Sept. 30, 2013. Submit your question to


5 Questions: Sgt. Lydwin Grizzle

1. What is a ground safety manager? A ground safety manager ensures the safety of all personnel in the workplace through training, safety stand downs, assigning collateral duty safety representatives in work places and annual work place inspections.   2. What are some common work place safety issues? There are a variety of issues that...
Courtesy photo of the Veteran’s Home

Brewer Applauds Official Federal Recognition of Tucson Vet Home

PHOENIX – Governor Jan Brewer today announced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has designated the Arizona State Veteran Home in Tucson an officially-sanctioned State Veteran Home.

Paint It Red

Photos by Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison Food service specialists Pfc. Justine Strickland, a native of Dallas, and Lance Cpl. Jhon Betancurt, a native of Lauderhill, Fla., paint the interior of the station chow hall as part of a general renovation of the facility, July 24. Food service specialists Pfc. Justine Strickland, a native of Dallas...


Be the first to comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>