The Merrell Naked Foot 5K is the first race of its kind in the country- participants bring a pair of shoes to donate and then run the race barefoot or in minimalist footwear. Here are the cities and dates: Santa Barbara, CA; May 21;  
Boulder, CO: June 18
; Minneapolis, MN: August 20; 
Grand Rapids, MI: August 28; Austin, TX: September 24; Highlands Ranch, CO: September 11; Nashville, TN: October 15. The used shoes will be collected and distributed by Soles4Souls. On the day of each event, Soles4Souls and The Merrell Naked Foot 5K will gather up your gently worn footwear and/or donations to ship the shoes to a person in need, whether they are victims of a natural disaster (like the recent devastation in Japan) or subject to living in extreme poverty.  It is estimated that Americans have 1.5 billion pairs of unused shoes lying in their closets. The charity can use each and every one of these pairs to make a tangible difference in someone’s life.

Soles4Souls is a Nashville-based charity that collects shoes from the warehouses of footwear companies and the closets of runners. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has given away over 5.5 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes (currently donating one pair every 9 seconds.) The shoes have been distributed to people in over 125 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States.

Meanwhile, Merrell has hit the jackpot with its new 2011 collection of “barefoot-style  running” shoes; it shipped over 500,000 pairs this Spring to retailers.  Nothing minimalist about this new product launch.

Plans are also underfoot to add more cities to the race series. One future event locale will be in Northampton, Massachusetts, and will be co-organized by Good for the Soles running store.