Dean Fulton has been running in the Benicia Education Foundation’s Run for Education since its inception nine years ago. There were only about 150 runners back then, but he’s proud to say he was the first to win in the “Masters Male” category for men over 40. These days there are more than 1,100 runners each year, but Dean still makes his mark in an extraordinary way.
He runs barefoot.
And not just in Benicia. In August, Dean ran his first full marathon in Santa Rosa with the balls of his naked feet hitting the ground for the full 26.21 miles. His leg muscles and hips took a beating, he says, but his feet were no worse for wear. Actually, he ran faster without the weight of shoes, and made an impressive time of 3.26—just 100 seconds before the cut off time to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which he’s training for now. All without soles. “Our feet are these crazy things with a ton of nerves and bones and ligaments that aren’t made for being cooped up in a shoe,” says Dean.
Four years ago, after suffering from a painful foot condition called planter fasciitis, Dean had to stop running. Then his physical therapist recommended a book called Born to Run, which would change his life. The book explored the lives of the Tarahumara tribe of northwest Mexico, otherwise known as “super athletes” for their ability to run hundreds of miles in thin homemade sandals, or bare feet.
Dean wanted to get back on the trail, so he gave this tribal method a try. “I felt kind of dumb at first,” he says. “My calf muscles had to adapt, but then it was only a matter of months before I was back running a 5K.” To his surprise, he made one of his fastest times.
If he could, he’d go to work without shoes too, but they are required at Tesoro Refinery, where he’s an instrumentation engineer. His wife Peggy, who he met at UC Davis, is a kindergarten teacher at Mary Farmar Elementary School. They have lived in Benicia for 18 years, and have three children. Their eldest son Jake studies at UC Irvine, Andrew is a senior at BHS, and Kara is at the middle school.
Hobbies come in seven-year phases for Dean, and before running he spent a lot of time on the Carquinez Strait participating in the Vanguard 15 little boat races now sponsored by the Benicia Yacht Club. He still keeps his boat in the Benicia boatyard, but it’s taking a back seat to his training for the Boston Marathon in April. His goal is to make a time of 3.28. “I’m an engineer, so I love numbers. I get motivated to keep getting faster, and beating my own time,” he says. And about running barefoot, he says he’ll never go back to wearing shoes. “It’s kinda what I do now.”