Meme met reality Saturday night.
At the stroke of midnight, more than 200 people ran across the Stone Arch Bridge. With their heads tucked forward and their arms pulled straight back, their form would make any serious runner wince.
The event, titled “Run Across the Stone Arch Bridge Naruto Style,” had no real purpose other than to play out a viral meme in real life. (See our photo slideshow here.)
“There’s an underlying harmony to it,” one runner, Lamar Jinkins, explains. “There’s a lot of bullshit in the world, but it’s cool that everyone can just come out and have a good time. I’m pretty sure that 30 percent of the people here don’t even know Naruto.”
Naruto is a teenage ninja who stars in the eponymous Japanese manga. Eventually, the series was adapted into a popular Japanese television show, which brought Naruto’s unique gait to life. The "Naruto run" meme can be found as a GIF or video featuring Naruto, or some human impersonator, running full speed with his arms back and his head tilted forward.
The WikiHow page with instructions on how to run like Naruto says to “step forward with your right foot... lean forward with your back straight... hold both arms straight out behind your back... and sprint forward.”
Naturally, the form is less successful in practice than Naruto makes it look on the show. But that isn’t stopping thousands of people from attending Naruto runs all over the world, with Facebook events popping up everywhere from Seattle to Sydney. The Naruto Run in Auckland is getting the most attention, with over 12,000 people “interested” on Facebook. The run around Trump Tower in Chicago is a close second at 9,000.
These runs aren’t just for diehard fans of the show. In fact Rey Riera, one of the organizers of the Minneapolis event, has never even seen Naruto before.
The idea to put this local happening together started out just as so many things that go viral do: as a joke. It was Friday night, and Riera was sitting around a bonfire with friends, including event co-host Wilhelm Urbina, and drinking beer.
Riera was scrolling through Facebook when an event in Omaha popped up on his feed that made him laugh: “Run across the pedestrian bridge Naruto Style.”
Thinking it would be funny to do a run in the Twin Cities, Urbina and Riera made their own Facebook event, invited about 100 friends, then went back to cracking open cold ones. When they woke up the next morning, the page had blown up.
“I even had coworkers saying to me, ‘Dude, are you going to this event?’” says Urbina, who works at Best Buy. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I made that event!’"
Over 400 people were “interested” in attending that morning, and the tally continued to grow. “It reached a point where it was like, 'We can’t go back now,'” Riera says. By Saturday, more than 800 people were “attending” and 2,400 were down as “interested.”
“Y’all know the drill,” the event description advertised, as if the concept was self-evident. The meet up would be at 11:30 p.m., with the run starting at midnight. Cosplay, a.k.a. dressing up like fictional characters, was encouraged.
By 11:20 p.m. Saturday night, the Historic Main Street Park at the end of the bridge was crowded. Two kinds of runners had gathered: Urbinas and Rieras.
Urbina grew up watching Naruto. Runners like him came to channel a favorite childhood character. They took the cosplay encouragement seriously, wearing outfits inspired by the show. Urbina wore an “Akatsuki” outfit, which is the evil group in Naruto.
“It’s like the illuminati, but they’re worse,” Urbina explains.
Trevor Dwyer, who has seen Naruto beginning to end, came dressed as Edo Tensei Itachi, another character in the show.
“This is just a way for people in the anime community to get together around something we love,” Dwyer says. “It’s almost like its own culture in a way.”
Riera, meanwhile, has never seen the show. He opted for a dark outfit: black jeans, black T-shirt, black jacket. Runners like him were more in it for the meme than for a love of the show. Riera types included runners like John Chancellor, who came dressed as a meme totally separate from Naruto: Food Network star Guy Fieri.
“You’ve got to meet a meme with a meme,” he explains.
At 11:30 p.m., Quentin Johnson stood up on a bench to lead a group of people in a warmup stretch to limber up for the run. “Really lean into this one, you should feel the burn!” he yelled during a hamstring stretch.
Around 11:45 p.m., the runners marched to the bridge chanting, “Na-ru-to! Na-ru-to!”
At 11:55, Urbina and Riera stood at the front of the pack and instructed stragglers to stand behind the official chalk starting line. “Three…two…one,” Urbina counted down. “Go!”
The pack lurched forward as people set off sprinting and stumbling, some adhering to the form more than others. The bridge is deceptively long, at just under 0.4 miles.
“That run was tiring,” Riera says. “You’re running in a weird body stance.”
By the end, people were sweating and panting, but still had enough breath left for more cheering and chanting.
With the success of Saturday night's run, Urbina and Riera are considering planning another, bigger run with more advance notice. But ultimately, fun, rather than meme fame, is the real driving force behind the event.
“When you see memes like this, it just makes life funny,” Urbina says. “Life isn’t a joke, but I like to laugh along the way. To me, that’s how it goes.”
Image credits: All photos by Sarah Brandt.
Photo 2: Event co-hosts Wilhelm Urbina (left) and Rey Riera (right) posed on the bridge minutes before the run.
Photo 3: L-R: Allen Witkowski dressed as an Argonian from the video game Skyrim, Sophia Norwood wore a thrift shop shirt, and John Chancellor dressed as Guy Fieri.
Photo 4: L-R: Lucas Heyne, Toby Johnson, and Lamar Jinkins posed in the Historic Main Street Park before the run.
Photo 5: Trevor Dwyer posed as Naruto character Edo Tensei Itachi.