Kevin Blacquiere was a standout Division II runner while attending Hillsdale College. In his time there, he was able to lay claim to the indoor 800 (1:52.84) and Mile (4:06.59) school records. While setting the Hillsdale mile record, he placed 3rd at the Division II Indoor National Meet. After some medical problems slowed his last seasons of his competitive collegiate career he began to move on in life. After sometime out of the limelight, he resurfaced in a most peculiar way. Read on to find out more about Kevin Blacquiere and what he has done recently.
RunMichigan: For our readers, when and why did you start running?
KB: I started running right around middle school. I was fast around the playground in elementary school; which was big-time then. I played soccer in middle school but decided to train for a 5k in 7th grade rather than sit the bench. Once track season rolled around in the spring I was in it for good.
RunMichigan: You ran for Zeeland High School, Hillsdale College, and Grand Valley State. How would you describe your high school and college running career?
KB: That is a pretty big question. There is a lot to fit in there but I’ll give it a shot. High school was fun but I never thought it would be much more. I really didn’t know what training was. I thought I was doing fine running 3 or 4 miles a day. When I graduated high school I wasn’t sure if I’d even go to college let alone run. Fortunately, Bill Lundberg’s path and mine crossed.
Bill Lundberg was the reason I went to and ran for Hillsdale College. I knew nothing about the school or even Bill’s history as an athlete or coach but I knew I wanted to run for him just from talking with him on the phone. Bill took me from mediocrity to exceptional. I never thought I would run like I did but he always believed for more than what I thought I was capable of. Bill has an amazing way of bringing significance to little things. Bill has a love for life that is expressed in how he loves the Lord, his family, and those in his life. That love permeates every aspect of who he is and you can’t help but want to be a part of what he is doing.
The first couple years the team seemed to be focused on winning for our own reasons. By my junior year we just wanted to win for Bill. We started to realize how much he gave to us and believed in us and in turn we just wanted to win for him. As our mentality changed so did the dynamic of our team. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a part of such a close knit group of guys again. I love them all. What we found was as we ran for Bill we began to achieve our potential. What we all wanted in the beginning for ourselves we achieved as we ran for Bill.
I was satisfied with how I performed as an athlete at Hillsdale. I don’t think any athlete can say they ran fast enough and nor will I. I wanted to be faster but I have so much to be thankful for. Being a part of the team, traveling, and racing were great experiences I would never trade.
My transition to GVSU was anything but easy. When graduated from Hillsdale I started to coach high school cross country that fall. That led me to want to teach. GV was only 20 minutes away and it would only take me 3 semesters to finish their school of Ed. After only one semester off I began the winter semester at GV. I was able to use my final two eligible semesters there in track and cross thanks to their head coach Jerry Baltes.
I had mixed support from my team in my decision to attend, and more critically, run for GV. It wasn’t just that I was attending and running for another school it was that the other school was a rival in the conference. I have never in all my life had to make a difficult decision as that one. And I have never in all my life felt like I betrayed someone so close to me, Bill especially as well as the team, as I did when I went to GV. It may not seem like a big deal but at Hillsdale we were very close, like family.
GV was a great experience. Coach Baltes was very supportive and made my transition as smooth as possible. He is a very good coach and the head of a very good program. I’ll always be thankful to Jerry for giving me a second chance to compete and be fast again after my senior year was cut short when I came down with mono. Jerry has always been a support. Even while I was attending Hillsdale he made efforts to let me use their facility to train over breaks in seasons while I was home. Jerry quickly became a friend of mine when he entered the GLIAC as the head coach of GV during my junior year at Hillsdale.
Training at GV was also an adjustment. Trying to make a comeback was difficult after ill. I don’t feel I ever fully recovered while I was at GV and for a while even after. The training took me a while to get used to and believe in but all I needed was a little time. I learned a lot from Jerry and the team and I am thankful to have had of opportunity to be a part of his program.
RunMichigan: Now that we have taken care of that, what were you thinking when you thought to run the Fifth Third 25k barefoot last year?
KB: Well, when I stood the line minutes before the race I thought to myself, ‘there is still time to back out’ and ‘what are you getting yourself into?’, but I went through with it any way. It all started with an idea a team mate from GV gave me. There was an Alumni and team tempo at GV the summer before the race and I came to run in some pretty old pare of shoes. Those shoes were worn by a team mate of mine at Hillsdale who got them from his team mate in high school (you’ve seen those shoes Nick). I was still wearing them even though they had a number of large holes in them. He made a comment to me to the effect that I would probably be one of those guys who would end up running barefoot. At that moment I had a new idea I couldn’t get out of my head.
Life changes and goes on. Unfortunately, I am unable to afford the time and effort toward running like I used to. Looking at the river bank run I knew I could run the distance and I knew I couldn’t afford the time to run it fast, so I had to look for a new way to challenge myself. What better way to do it than without shoes. At least that is what I thought. To me it was all about challenging myself.
As I questioned myself minutes before the race I realized it became more than myself. My high school team I was coaching knew what I was attempting and honestly they were the only guys who actually believed I could do it. Everyone else I had mentioned it to or talked to about it thought I was 1) crazy, or 2) never going to finish. Those were two statements I often wondered about myself but none the less had to disregard. What really made me make the decision to go through with it in the end despite my fears were my high school guys I was coaching. Every practice all season long I was pushing them to fight pain, take risks, push fear aside and trust me every step of the way. What kind of coach would I be if I was unwilling to do the same for myself? If I wouldn’t have followed through with what I was attempting I know I would have lost credibility and influence with my team. I would have disappointed them and I couldn’t do that.
RunMichigan: What type of training did you do to get yourself ready for such an endeavor?
KB: When I first started training it was the winter before the race. The only thing I could do to get started was run indoors on a tread mill. I didn’t do a lot of that because the tread would get pretty hot and give me blisters. Most of my training was outdoors when the weather started to get nicer. I would run a half mile or mile here or there with my team or on my own when ever I could on bike paths mostly. I couldn’t handle any more than that because my foot muscles weren’t strong enough and my form wasn’t correct. Those two things only lead to more blisters. As the race drew closer my form and foot strength improved but I still had a lot more improving to do. I could only handle running barefoot 2 maybe 3 times a week and my longest run prior to the race was one or two 6 milers, which I suffered knee problems from. That run happened less than two weeks prior to the race and it concerned me but I didn’t want pain to get in the way of what I was about to attempt. Especially as athletes, runners in particular, pain should hardly be an excuse to quit something. I averaged about 3-4 miles at a time 3 times a week barefoot on a bike path to prepare for the race. With and with out shoes my weekly mileage was only about 25 miles a week. The riverbank run was my first barefoot race ever. I figured anything less than 10 miles wouldn’t be challenge enough.
RunMichigan: What was your experience during the race and was it what you expected? Did the fans or competitors even notice that you were running barefoot and if so what were their reactions?
KB: I didn’t know what to expect in the race but my experience was priceless. I was encouraged and given comments from runners all along the way but what was half the fulfillment were the spectator’s comments and reactions. The only thing I can liken it to is if I had run naked. Big eyes, blank stares, jaw drops, gasps, you name it I saw it. It was great. I enjoyed that so much from the crowd.
Everything was going good in the race until about half way through. The knee pain I had experience less than two weeks before the race was now surfacing again. It was actually the same pain I felt years before during my freshman year in college. It was that pain that forced me to sit my first cross season as a collegiate athlete. I wasn’t going to think about giving up but what I knew I could do was depend on the Lord. I began quoting scriptures in the Bible about health and strength in my body and it wasn’t more than a few minutes passed by when it didn’t hurt anymore. So I pressed on and before long the pain came back. So I began quoting scriptures again until it went away. I probably had to do that 4 or 5 times until it didn’t come back.
RunMichigan: Did you have any lasting negative effects from running the entire race barefoot?
KB: The only negative effect I had from the race were temporary. Three days after the race I did another barefoot run. The night after the race I was walking with a top speed of 1 mph. And the way I was walking I must have looked like I was well over 100 years old. It wasn’t until the last 5 miles that I noticed the bottoms of my feet were hurting. My inexperience as a barefoot runner was starting to come through. It rained the last 3 miles of the race which I think helped sooth my feet. When I got done there were 3 large blood blisters on the bottom of each foot. I thought with about a half mile left I tore one open. I felt a very sharp pain when I tried to pick up the pace but nothing tore open.
By the end of that summer when my I was strong enough I was running 5 barefoot comfortably on a bike bath at 5:30 min. per mile 2-3 times a week. The end of a runs like that were without a single blister or any pain; not because I had built calluses but because I was finally running correctly.
RunMichigan: I noticed that you wore some old shoes during the race this year but knew that you had planned to run barefoot, what happened?
KB: Those old shoes you are talking about are the ones I was mentioned earlier. I decided to retire those shoes finally. Five miles into the race my left foot started to slide out the side of the shoe. The fabric by the toes wedged between my little toe and the next leaving my little toe and part of my foot hanging out the side for the last 10 miles of the race. That was annoying.
It had been raining most of the morning on race day. Prior to the race my feet were already wet and the skin was already soft and saturated, like when you get out of a bath or been in the water for an extended period of time. I knew the road would tear my feet up and I didn’t want to risk it. I almost didn’t run at all but I decided to try it those old pair of shoes. They proved to be a challenge anyway. I was pretty disappointed but it was the right decision to make. I had only been training constantly (20 miles a week) for the previous 6 weeks and the month before those 6 weeks I took completely off. My training wasn’t where I wanted it to be and I thought it would be too much a risk to go through with the race barefoot.
RunMichigan: How did you feel about this years race compared to last? Did you enjoy having the extra cushioning under your feet or did you feel awkward having the extra material on your feet?
KB: This year’s race was fun but it wasn’t what I was looking forward to. I’m glad I did it but I wish I could have done it barefoot. I didn’t really enjoy the shoes because of my foot slipping out the side and also for the sake of cushion. It is awkward for me to run with shoes now. I only do when I don’t have a choice because of rain or the terrain doesn’t cater to bare feet. I feel slower, less natural, and sometimes I’ll have a muscle strain after running with shoes. I’d rather run without out shoes.
RunMichigan: What did you learn from all this?
KB: Many times I am asked, “doesn’t that hurt?” Often I reply, “only at fist”. Running barefoot only hurt because I had been running incorrectly my entire life. Once I started running correctly I didn’t have any of the problems I see most people with on a daily basis. Problems like foot pain, joint, muscle, and back pain.
In this process to me and overall as a runner, pain was a motivation. It motivates everyone the same but people respond to it in one of three ways. There are those seek it, seek relief from it, or to never feel it. The first reason is what separates good and great athletes. Pain/opposition is what makes us stronger in the end. Pain does not negate truth.
Most people look at me and don’t get it. What they don’t understand is there is satisfaction in thriving where others dare not venture. They also don’t understand that there are levels of life that are so efficient it would cripple most who would dare attempt them.
What I have learned as a runner has paralleled in so many ways with what I believe as a Christian. It has built my faith and helped understand the simple truths within.
RunMichigan: What can we expect next from Kevin Blacquiere?
KB: I’m not quite sure myself but hopefully more races barefoot.
Thanks for the great interview! (Interview conducted by Nick Cordes)