• Running of the Boots raises funds for Sitka Local Foods Network

It’s time to dig your XtraTufs out of the closet and gussy them up. The 18th annual Running of the Boots begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Crescent Harbor shelter.

So what is the Running of the Boots? It’s Southeast Alaska’s answer to Spain’s “Running of the Bulls.” Sitkans wear zany costumes and XtraTufs — Southeast Alaska’s distinctive rubber boots (aka, Sitka Sneakers). The Running of the Boots raises funds for the Sitka Local Foods Network, a non-profit group that hosts the Sitka Farmers Market and advocates for community gardens, a community greenhouse, sustainable uses of traditional subsistence foods and education for Sitka gardeners. The network also has a representative on the Alaska Food Policy Council.

The Running of the Boots is a short race for fun and not for speed, even though one of the many prize categories is for the fastest boots. Other prize categories include best-dressed boots, zaniest costume, best couple, best kids group and more. The course involves a run from Crescent Harbor to the corner of Katlian and Lincoln streets and back, with a short course for kids looping around St. Michael’s Cathedral.

The entry fee for the Running of the Boots is $5 per person and $20 per family, and people can register for the race starting at 10 a.m. Costume judging starts about 10:30 a.m. There is no longer a lip synch contest after the race. Prizes will be awarded right after the race so folks will have time to get to the free Season’s End Celebration food booths on Lincoln Street, which are being sponsored by the Alaska Cruise Association and the Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce.

Local merchants have donated bushels of prizes for the costume contest, including a flightseeing trip for three from Harris Air and a new pair of XtraTufs from Russell’s. Honeywell, the maker of XtraTuf boots, is helping sponsor the event and all prize winners will be provided with a new pair of XtraTuf boots (Honeywell is providing 50 pairs of boots). The Sitka Local Foods Network will host a Sitka Farmers Market booth with fresh veggies for sale. The booth will be able to take debit cards, WIC vouchers and Quest cards.

“This is a really fun way to advance the Sitka Farmers Market and our other Sitka Local Foods Network projects,” Sitka Local Foods Network Board President Kerry MacLane said. “This is a must-see annual change-of-the season tradition in Sitka.”

To learn more about the Running of the Boots, contact Kerry MacLane at 752-0654 or by e-mail at maclanekerry@yahoo.com. Historical information about the race (through 2005) can be found online at http://www.runningoftheboots.org/, and info about the Sitka Local Foods Network and more recent Running of the Boots events (2008-11) is online at http://www.sitkalocalfoodsnetwork.org/ (type Running of the Boots into the search bar at the top of the page).

• 2012 Running of the Boots flier (feel free to print a few copies and post them around town)

• New book on XtraTufs includes photos from Running of the Boots fundraiser for Sitka Local Foods Network

Author/photographer Larry Johansen poses with a copy of his new book, "XTRATUF: An Alaskan Way of Life," during the Sitka Artisans Market on Dec. 4

Author/photographer Larry Johansen poses with a copy of his new book, "XTRATUF: An Alaskan Way of Life," during the Sitka Artisans Market on Dec. 4

Photos from the Running of the Boots, an annual fundraiser for the Sitka Local Foods Network, are featured in the new book “XTRATUF: An Alaskan Way of Life,” by Douglas resident Larry Johansen.

The Running of the Boots is a fun, end-of-the-summer event where people run a short downtown course while wearing colorful costumes and their XtraTuf boots, which also are known as Sitka Sneakers or Juneau Tennyrunners. About three years ago, the board of the Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce, which had managed the race, decided to let the Sitka Local Foods Network use the Running of the Boots to raise money for its main projects, which include the Sitka Farmers Market, expanding community gardens in Sitka, trying to get a Sitka Community Greenhouse and Education Center built, encouraging the sustainable use of traditional foods, and providing education and encouragement for people who want to garden or harvest more local foods.

Runners hit the trail during the 14th Annual Running of the Boots race on Sept. 27, 2008, in Sitka.

Johansen, who used to work for now-defunct cruise company, was an amateur photographer who began taking photos seriously after his employer abruptly quit business. He told the Juneau Empire he focused on XtraTufs as a way to talk about how Southeast Alaskans connect with their environment. He started his own business, Rowdy Dog Images, and tried to take at least one good photo a day while he worked on the book. Johansen wrote all of the copy in the book, but did use some borrowed photos (including his photos from the Running of the Boots, which were supplied by Charles Bingham).

Since the book came out in October, Johansen has been traveling the region to promote it. He did this Oct. 29 interview with Jeff Brown on KTOO-FM’s A Juneau Afternoon show. Johansen also had a booth at the Sitka Artisans Market on Dec. 3-5, and he did an interview with KCAW-Raven Radio news director Robert Woolsey, which appeared in this story on KCAW’s regular newscast with extended audio posted on the station’s website (the extended audio aired on KCAW as a Morning Edition interview on Wednesday, Dec. 8).

According to a 2008 article in Capital City Weekly, about a third of the 100,000 XtraTuf boots sold each year end up in Alaska. Commercial fishermen liked the boots because the chevron outsole doesn’t slip on wet boat decks, and the neoprene kept fish oils from getting into the rubber. The boot’s popularity quickly moved to land as people saw how well the boots worked in Southeast Alaska’s rainy and icy weather.

The boots have been around since the 1950s, when B.F. Goodrich commissioned Norcross Safety Products of Rock Island, Ill., to manufacture the boots. Norcross bought the rights to the brand in 1985, but in 2008 to Honeywell Safety Products acquired Norcross and the XtraTuf brand. Until this year, the boots always had been manufactured in the same Illinois factory, but now they will be made in China.

Johansen’s book can be found in Sitka at Old Harbor Books. People also can order it off of his website for $19.90 a copy (plus postage).