Around me, dozens of naked people are applying sunscreen and stretching out their legs.
I’m still wearing street clothes, but in a few minutes, I know, I must join them. After all, I’ve come to Star Ranch, a nudist park about 10 miles east of Elgin in McDade, for the Bare Buns 5K.
It’s taken a lot of soul searching to get here, and for days I’ve contemplated how the race might unfold. Will I run into anybody I know? (Yes, three so far.) Will it be weird? (Sort of.) Will everybody have a perfect physique? (No, of course not.) Will my boobs get in the way? (No, too small.) Will my butt jiggle, horrifying runners behind me? (Who cares?) How will it feel to run without clothing? (I’m about to find out.)
To bolster my confidence — and frankly, I’m less worried about the nudity than my running pace, because I’ve been sidelined with plantar fasciitis for the past 14 months — I’ve enlisted a trio of friends. Two are running the race; the third is providing moral support for her husband while he runs. When I finally shuck off my shorts, she sprays a little glitter on my rump and gives me a fist bump.
I can’t believe I’m doing this.
I’ve written about the Bare Buns 5K in my Fit City blog several times in the past few years, and organizers always ask me to join in. Until now I’ve turned them down, but since I’ve declared 2017 my Year of Adventure, participating seems somehow fitting.
Besides, a quick scan of the website makes the place sound bucolic — “wholesome and safe! 110 wooded acres! Newly remodeled swimming pool!” The park opened in 1957, and about 50 people live here year-round. Others pay a day fee to use the tennis courts, nature trails, the Nekkid Lunch Cafe and campground. An activity calendar is packed with events like the upcoming Jimmy Buffet-themed Parrot Head weekend.
The park is part of the American Association for Nude Recreation. The Bare Buns 5K is one of four naked races in the organization’s southwest region. Although runners can wear whatever clothing they want (sports bras for women, for example), most are nude except for shoes.
My male friend is among them. “You want to see my new running outfit?” he asks with a wink. My female friend has covered her important parts with a tiny costume — a bird mask over her eyes, a pair of panda masks over her chest, and a black kitty mask at her groin. She’s practicing flicking her head like an eagle, and I can’t stop laughing.
Me? I’m suddenly down to a pair of running shoes and a straw cowboy hat. If I’m going to do this, I’m going all in.
As race time approaches, runners crowd toward the front to get a good start. I hang at the back. I’ll be happy just to finish.
This event, organizers tell me, typically draws between 100 and 120 people, most of whom don’t live at the park. But the residents get into it, handing out timing chips and directing athletes along the course. Afterward, there’s a pool party and burger cookoff.
“A lot are not nudists, but they’re willing to get naked and run and think it’s cool and different,” says park manager Rod McClanahan. “I think it has a lot to do with the uniqueness of it. We have lawyers, bankers, people that have been on TV — I think they just like the freedom aspect. Maybe it goes back to when we were little and we liked to run out of our diapers.”
At that, the race starts. Suddenly I’m running, in the buff, over pine-needle covered trails, sandy roads and a hay field. It’s hilly, and the course challenges. After a few minutes, I almost forget I’m naked. I’m just out there running.
Even better, I realize my heel doesn’t hurt. I start passing the other runners, and about two-thirds of the way in, one of the course attendants yells, “Females No. 1 and 2!” I’ve never won an overall race before, so that lights a fire under my (naked) butt. I pump my arms, speed my cadence and sweat. I catch my straw cowboy hat as it blows off my head.
And, in the end, I persevere, crossing the finish line first overall among the other females.
“This is the epitome of ‘I don’t care what people think,’” my guy friend tells me as we stand panting at the finish line. “I want to be able to sit on a porch and say, ‘Yep, I scuba dived, I sky dived, I did Ironman triathlons, and I ran a naked 5K.’ Everything’s an experience.”
I bump into another friend who hasn’t told anyone he’s here. He tells me later he signed up partly as a sort of test.
“I think it’s because I want to believe in myself, and in my self-confidence, that I’m comfortable enough with myself and that I love myself so much that I still want to experience and learn from new life adventures,” he says. “A part of it was a curiosity of running nude and what it would be like.”
He worried, though, that he might inadvertently stare at someone. That didn’t happen. He described the overall experience as freeing and exhilarating.
“I only experienced a short moment of being uncomfortable, and that is when I initially disrobed at my truck,” he said. “It was fleeting, and, once nude, I was amazingly comfortable with it.”
We agreed that once we began running it didn’t feel much different than any other race, other than a nice cooling effect from the breeze.
I will say this: I loved the naked run as a one-time, special event, but I’ll never become a nudist. My naked body is sacred territory, and I’m not going to share it with just anybody.
As for my friends? They loved the race, too.
“This was so fantastic,” one said. “What are we doing next?”