Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bigfoot 50K

Here we are in hilly Ohio. I keep thinking Ohio is just like Michigan, except without the cool Upper Peninsula, but on my drive down (or, over and down, I-80 to I-77), entering Salt Fork State Park, I was reminded of how hilly Ohio is, much more than the parts of Michigan that I know. This could be a brutal course.

I stayed the night in the Lodge, right smack in the middle of this huge park, and where the race will start. It was nice not having to get up at 4:30 to drive somewhere, with the seven o'clock start, I ended up getting up at five-thirty anyways, to get a half hour of meditation in, and even that got cut short, as I just got too distracted wondering if I was allowing myself enough time to get ready, in having to carry out one of my bags (filled with student papers: I read about five) out to my truck to facilitate the check out procedure. The Lodge is being cool about letting us runners check out later, but I've asked for a two o'clock check out, and who knows, I may be slower than I think. Still, it will be wonderful to get a warm shower in before I have drive the five hours back up later. Ugh.

My goal is to get under six hours. I ran the Woodstock 50K a few months ago and that was my time, almost to the second, so now that I have some mental sense of what to expect (ha!) I'd like to slip in under six. My plan for today is to start out fast. That seems to work for me, rather than, especially on a trail race, getting bogged down behind the slower hillwalkers, though I think there's only 145 runners, so I imagine we'll all get strung out pretty quick. On the other hand, I haven't run more than two hours since the Detroit Marathon about six weeks ago, so I'm not sure I'm in as good of shape as I was for Woodstock. Still, the race is a big ten mile loop, which we'll run three times. I'm thinking that if I can get a good fast first loop, then momentum and fear of being passed will keep my at a decent pace for the next two loops, and if I can merely run them both at two hours, then I'm golden. Ha.

I confess that I also have another motivation this race: There's a Vibram Five Fingers Division, and the winner gets a free pair of VFFs. I think I might have a chance at this. In ten years everyone and their brother will be wearing minimalist shoes, but right now we're few and far between, so maybe there aren't any monster runners for this. It's COLD this morning, 20 degrees, and won't get much above freezing all day. Plus winter and snow flurries. Woo hoo! So there's no way I would do this pure barefoot. I have my KSOs, and my Injinji socks, and those plus my clothing layers should keep me warm once I start running, at least based on my running so far this Fall. The Vibrams actually feel like luxury. I've been all barefoot all summer, with this added layer, I feel invincible! Though I'm not letting myself go back to shod mode at all.

One oddity: Official sun up isn't until 7:30, and the sky is supposed to be cloudy all day. So, not being a night runner (running barefoot at night freaks me out), I don't have a headlamp. So, I'm brought my mini-light from my bike. It's small and lightweight. But, do I need it? Could I last for that half hour and just coast off of other runners? That doesn't seem right, so I opt to take it, thinking I can easily slip it into one of my many pockets in my New Balance running shell jacket-thingy.

The start is weird: Since it's so cold, everyone is congregating on the fourth floor of the Lodge, where the packet pickup was. Btw: The Lodge is built into the side of a hill overlooking a reservoir, so the fourth floor is the top. At ten to, one of the organizers yells out, “Can everyone please head outside?”

We head outside onto the porch/patio. He yells out, “Can everyone please head out onto the pavement?”

We head out onto the pavement. But, where's the stop sign? Which way to we run? He once again yells out, “Can everyone please line up behind the starting gate?”
We look: Oh, there it is, behind us, hidden by a truck. We all move in that direction. Since I've decided to start off fairly fast, I move to about twenty feet behind it, thinking the fast folks with fill in in front of me. But no: Everyone starts to line up behind me and some others nearby. Nobody lines up right at the gate. It's like nobody wants to start off fast. So we stand there with twenty feet of space between us and the start line. Weird. But, I mean, I don't move. It's too crowded, and why not? Why not start up front, for a change, and for something risky and new? I've underestimated myself a couple times on races this past summer, and I've been telling my students to think beyond what they think they can do, so...Let's see.

The organizer dude give us directions: Orange flagging, with occasional blue arrows. Three loops. And, “Your feet will be wet the whole time.” Ok, great. That means my Vibrams are going to be soaked.

He yells, Go! and we go. Through the start gate, following some orange arrows in the parking lot, doing a huge loop of it, then cutting out on to some grass, and to what starts to develop into a trail. One guy's hat flies off and he stops to collect it. The guy next to me says, “Oh, that's hit. That cost him the race right there!” So, good to be with people with a sense of humor. And, the pace isn't insane actually. No sprinters. Just a good fast trot. Plus we're heading downhill, heading down to the edge of that reservoir below. I'm actually like tenth, which is bizarre, but the first ten are fairly bunched up, taking it easy down the incline. The rail is a little muddy, a little slippery, and will only get muddier and slipperier as the day proceeds.

We bottom out, and immediately there's a minor fiasco: Two people, in the lead, run right past a sharp turn to the left, going back uphill. There is flagging, but it came pretty quick and if I'd been alone I might have missed it too. But, the bump back in ahead of me, with some grumbling.

It's dark, but not super dark. I should have remembered from my wildland firefighting days that the sky starts to get light before actual daybreak, but I just wasn't sure if, once we got in the trees, things would get dark again. Turns out not. I've had my mini light on, but it's not really doing anything. Kinda cool to look back as the trail curves around to the right, and see and string of moving lights in the woods. Elves! But, I turn off the light and put it in my side pocket. Problem: The pocket is so deep that the light actually starts bumping against my boys. Grr. Ok, I take it out and unzip my jacket, dropping it in the inner pocket. But, same thing, it's so deep that it bangs my boys again. Argh. What to do? Well, I have a back pocket in my shell pants, where I keep my spare truck key. I tuck it in there, but it's just I little too heavy, and starts to drag my pants down. Argh! I shouldn't have to be worrying about this.

So, that, plus to somewhat fast pace, and the determined feel of my fellow front-runners, and the fact that we're heading uphill again, plus the fact that I'm trying to do all this while still running, and with my gloves and hat off and held in one hand, makes me break out in a huge sweat. I mean, it's pouring off my face, soaking my hair. That knocks some sense into me. I don't want to get hypo-thermia out here. So, I just slip my light back in the side pocket and decide to suffer. Seems not to knock my gnards when going up or downhill, which seems to be the majority of the race, so maybe I'm ok.

In the meantime, I've dropped my hat. Crap. Go back? Go on? Will I need it? Will I cool back down. Argh. I stop in indecision, looking back, and that's when the guy behind me yells, “Drop your hat?”

Yes. He has it! Right on. I give him a Cheers! and we continue. And, as the trail goes back to some downhill, and not that I'm not jerking around with my stuff, my body cools back down and I put my hat back on. But it, and especially my new snowmobile-level gloves are super warm, so I'm going to taking them on and off the whole race I fear. If it gets too warm, I may be carrying them, which would sucketh.

Up and down, generally making our way sidehill around fingers of the reservoir. The land, when I actually take some time to look, is beautiful. I mean, the sky is grey, the air is cold, and all the trees are bare, but the water reflects a cool grey light, and just the feeling of being out in the middle of the woods is nice. All the Troubles from work vanish. This is John in his element. This is John doing something he cares passionately about. Like meditation, thoughts come and go: A thought about my poisonous department meetings comes, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it, so it hangs our a while and vanishes, like it should. Zen running.

The trail is muddy in parts. Ok, it muddy in most of its parts, which makes for some interesting slipping and sliding in my VFFs. I am running 'harder' than I would purely barefoot. The rubber sole allows me to barge through and over leaves and rocks and twigs. Right now, it works, with the adrenaline, but I think I'm going to regret it later, but the third lap. Just having a little protection makes me shift more into shod mode. Not super-slamming my feet, but also not entirely light-footed either. But, the mud helps with that too.

Then: The Hill of Death. We turn left, uphill, and though all of us have been running up the smaller hills to start, there is just no way to run up this bad boy. It's like straight up. So, we become Hillwalkers. And man, I start working up another sweat just hiking this thing, taking off my gloves and hat. There's been some rearranging of positions, people pass me, I pass some. We're all definitely getting strung out now. I look back and actually don't see anybody behind the vanguard of twenty or so, though I think I can hear folks. Too many twists and turns anyways, and enough vegetation, even with the barren trees.

Up up up, and there is light! And space! A road! With a volunteer in her SUV pointing us to the left. Good thing, since there's been a light dusting of snow over night, so all the painted directional arrows on the road are covered up.

And with space comes wind. Brrr! Blustery! Back on with the hat and gloves. And uh oh, I'm feeling a little sore already. Methinks I may have overexerted a little. Out in the open here, with two clear lanes, a couple more people pass me. Also: The snow has some ice underneath. My VFFs are slipping a little, except where cars have packed things down. So, I can see where Vibram might be experimenting with different models, something with a little bit more bite.

Also, warmth might be nice. I'm mostly warm, except my face (my nose is basically a faucet, I'm breathing through my mouth the whole time) and my feets. Not too bad, but praise Allah for the the Injinji socks, which will hold (some) heat even when wet.

We pass some campgrounds, there are people even camping, with tents and everything! Nice! And there are what looks like some retirees out with their Winnebagos. Not a lot, but the park is apparently still open for business. Also, there are hunters, which is kind of a heads up feeling, but they're apparently hunting to our right, in an area we won't be in. Still, kinda yikes.

The “aid station” is set up on the leeward side of a park shower/bathroom, across from another campsite. The volunteers seem to have just gotten there, still setting stuff up, including a portable...handwarmer I guess it would be called, a heater with a tube that shoots out concentrated air. There is water, and I gulp a couple cups. I think I've gotten a little spoiled on my last few races, with aid stations always every two miles or so, seemingly. I'm thinking I should have brought my bat-utility-belt water bottle holder. I have it, I just rarely use it, and didn't at all think to even bring it. Maybe I should be more methodical in bringing supplies, just in case. I'm thirsty, and perhaps already on the road to dehydration. As long as I'm at it, I have a cup of the Dew o' the Mountain. And there are snacky-snacks: chips and cookies, though of course the things I zero in on are the Fig Newtons! I heart figs!

And I'm off again. Me and this other guy are kind of together, with no one else close by. He's from Ohio, on his first 50K and first trail run every. Nice. He says he's only begun doing long races recently, in the past year of so, and says his last marathon time was 3:10! Doh! Wow. I kinda wonder what they hell I'm doing running the same pace as him, but I assume he'll eventually pass me. But actually, he falls off a little as we head left off the road, up a short hill, to what could be the highest point in the park, since there's a water tank. But after that, the trail starts to head down down down again. More mud, kind of slippery, but I take it pretty fast, sometimes jumping side to side on the trail to kind of brace my controlled fall.

The trail levels out, back in the trees, and suddenly a spot with lots of orange flagging appears. It's a 'T'. I can go right or left, and and either way has more flagging and blue arrows. Wtf? I stop, trying to figure out.

The guy I've just been talking to catches up, starting to say, “I think it goes to the—“ He pauses. “Oh. Wow.”


We both stand there. I have no idea what to do, feeling the urge to just go, but fearing going the wrong way. I just can't get my head wrapped around it. If we're on a loop, how can there be two ways to go?

The guy takes a step back and finds a blue arrow sign sticking out of the ground. “It says 'go right'.”

Um, ok. I go right, but am not entirely convinced. We continue to ponder it, especially when we start to run by the reservoir again, this time on the left, and can see another trail across the finger, where two people are walking. They're just walkers, right? Not runners? Right? But, he seems more sure than I am, so I go with it.

Then around the bend comes a young guy running towards us, in shorts, and VFFs! All three of us slow down. The guy behind me asks, “Are you heading the right way?”

The other guy hesitates as we pass him. “I thought so. This is the route for the 50K, right?”

We say yes, keep going, leaving him there. Another guys comes towards us and the guy in shorts yells out, “Fuuuuck!”

We keep going, and gradually it comes to us: This is the trail we started out on, that there's actually a section at the beginning where runners go both ways, and that 'T' is where the loop actually splits. This is confirmed to me when we start back up here, walking of course, and I see two of the people from the front of the pack earlier this morning, coming down. Ok, that makes sense, they're ahead of me, and have already gone up to the Lodge and are now on loop number two. I get it. Wow, why did it take me so long to get it? The guy I'm with and I figure out that we didn't remember seeing that 'T' on our way in. Just goes to show how different things look in different light, and how easily small things like that can get someone lost. If I'd been alone, I might've gone left and still been out on the course. Who knows when I would've figured out I'd gone the wrong way? Maybe the organizers could have explained about the loop split in one of their (admittedly numerous) group emails. Maybe they did and I didn't pay attention. I'm kind of embarrassed I didn't figure it out, but on the other hand, a little heads up, even this morning at the start, might have helped. But I'm betting there's going to be some other people getting messed up back there.

Anyways, up up up, walking slow, pulling off my cap and gloves again. Not until the trail turns to grass, almost to the parking lot, does the ground level off enough to trot again, thankfully, so I can at least look respectable coming into the Lodge and any people crazy enough to be out spectating in this cold. And, there's not a lot, though a few men busy setting up things. A Park truck is actually pulled up right in front of the timing gate, so we have to slip around it to pass through. They're unloading a generator, not sure for what. I stop long enough to pass along to one of the organizers that he may have some angry lost runners out there, and I see her face kind of go blank, as he thinks both, How can people be such idiots, and, How many angry emails am I going to get about this tomorrow?

And, I don't realize it's a problem until I start back around the parking lot, but there was no aid station there. Meaning, no water. Uh oh. It's going to be a long race. I may already be dehydrated, because I even look down at the lower parking lot, off to the side, where I parked my truck last night, and don't even think about running down and dropping off my mini-light. Or, I do, but I tell myself that would be five minutes or more, and I'm trying to not do all those little time-wasters that all end up adding up. Perhaps a little dumb on my part. Time for the first loop: 1: 42. Not bad. Sustainable? Probably not.

Another thing I might have dropped off is my shell pants, which now that they're sufficiently soaked, seem to getting a little baggy and slipping down my butt. Great. So, instead of stopping and pulling them up, I try to do it on the run, which fails miserably, so that I do eventually just have to stop. Maybe I should be paying more attention to how silly my thinking is being this race. Just, not very focused.

On my way down I start to meet others coming up, with the same lost looks that I think I had, wondering if they're going the right way. I and the guy behind me try to reassure them that yes, they're going the right way, and they're very much relieved. I'm expecting to see Rob, my running buddy from The Somerset Stampede Half Marathon back in Michigan. He and his friend Steve (?) are staying at the Lodge too, and we had dinner last night. This is his first 50K, and though he and I are about the same running speed and strength, he opted to start farther back in the pack.

At the T, people coming from the road seem to want to almost follow us, and my bet is that that may have actually happened. I might've done that if I'd come up to the T alone and seen a couple guys heading away off to the left. In fact, I kind of feel like that might have just happened, because suddenly there are three more people right behind me and that one guy I've been with for a while. Oh well, I can't worry any more, I'm starting to worry about me. I'm going slower, definitely already feeling the strain. I'm wondering if from now on I'm going to just be gradually passed and passed. So, there is that to consider with the fast start: having to suffer the humiliation of being passed a lot at the end. I mean, it's not like any of us are going to the Olympics, but yes, the competitiveness does take over.

One guy who passes me has an odd-looking shoe. I guess I only notice it because we're going uphill, so they're right at eye-level. They've got super thin soles, but with super traction bottom. I ask him if they're minimalist shoes, and yes, they are, Inov8s. Still look a little too thick in the sole for me, but man, I'm envying that traction out here in this mud. Fortunately is still kind of 'congealed' I guess, though some places are more wet than others, and I do get some water down into my VFFs. The bad part about the VFF soles is they curve up on the sides, which sort of holds moisture. I'm thinking a pair of VFF Flows might have served me a little better. If I win the VFF division, maybe that's the kind I'll ask for.

Because, yes, that's still on my mind. I remember seeing a list of about ten people in the division on the race website, but I haven't seen any besides that one guy doing the relay, so I wonder if other VFFers decided to go shod for the cold weather. But, I'm now fearing (or, ok, that's a little extreme) that the next person who passes me will have VFFs, and I'll go, Nooooooo! But so far so good.

People do ask about the VFFs, either humorously, like the woman who says, “I wonder what people who don't know about minimalist running will think when they see your footprints.”

“Maybe they're think there's a real Bigfoot out here!”

More than a few times though, a guy will just ask, “How are your feet?” And I'm not quite sure what they mean. They're asking if my feet hurt, yes, but do they mean hurt in a poking way, or hurt in a non-arch supported way? I suspect the later, but in either case, I say, “Fine.” And then they say, “Good job!” And I say back, “You too!” Both of us probably thinking they other is a little crazy. Ah well.

Speaking of Bigfoot, a sidenote: How cool would it be to run this thing dressed in a Bigfoot costume? It would almost be possible, since you wouldn't have to worry about overheating necessarily. How cool would it be to see a bipedal hairy creature running through the woods? Might get shot, but hey.

The huge hill is once again huge. It's just walking, which is pretty tough on the ego, since it's walking for what feels like a long long time. And by the time I get to the top, behind a group of guys, I'm feeling pretty dead. Man, and this is only Loop 2.

And the wind is even more brutal this time, right smack in our faces. I think the temperature has actually dropped again, though it could just be the wind chill. But no, when I finally, and kinda barely, make it to the aid station, the water in the paper cups is frozen over. When I drink some more Dew o' the Mountain, I actually get brain freeze it's so cold. As I'm grabbing treats to nibble on later, one of the workers kind of looks at me funny. “Are you alright?”

I tell her yes, and hope it's just the brain freeze. I get that a lot though. I must have a naturally pained-looking expression when I run.

Off, once again, this time a wee bit more slowly. Trudging. Man, I'm starting to have some doubts about this. But soon, we're heading downhill again, so I can let gravity kind of carry me along, though I'm also not up for slamming down fast either. My thighs can't take it, so I'm being a little bit more dainty. Or, well, maybe that's not the right word. I'm being a bit more sluggish, really.

Still, after the down hill is some relative flatland for a while, going back through the 'T' and now passing people going the other way again. I've actually ended up by myself, at least in this direction, so there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of people who've been hanging back, though maybe everyone is conserving their energy for Loop 3 at this point.

Up the first hill again, and this time at the top I have a little bit harder time starting back up again. It's more through shame of being seen by people at the Lodge that I return to trudging. And, there are even less people out now, but, they now have an aid station! Yes! Two guys are hanging out there, I think they're organizers. They seem bored and want to talk to me. One of them, again, asks me if I'm ok. I am, I just wish the other guy would stop standing in front of the cups of water. The first guy asks me if I want any power drink, or gel, or other science-fiction stuff, but nope, I just want water. I'm a simple man. All that gunk just has a lot of nasty sugar. He seems to think my reaction is weird, but that's certainly not the first time someone has thought that about me! One of the women behind the table asks me if I want some hot soup. I pass, though say I might want some after the race. I'm not super hungry anymore, though I do take a handful of M&Ms as I leave.

Time for second lap? 3:45. Uh oh. I don't think I'm going to make six hours. There's no way I can even run this third lap in two hours, but that's in part why once again I look over at my truck but don't stop, which is stupid because my shell pants are getting really baggy now, and either they, or my running pants, or my underwear, something, seems to be falling down and dragging on my thighs. Tmi, I know, but what's I can feel the material rubbing against my thighs, and though I did apply some lube this morning, I didn't apply it down that low. Again, knowing this, do I stop? Of course not. That would be unmanly. Must. Suffer. To be. True. Runner.

Down down down again, and yep, ouch. I'm trying to keep my legs bent for cushioning, except keeping my legs bent now hurts, so I'm kind of pogo-sticking on my legs. Thankfully, the ground is still fairly soft.

I still haven't seen Rob either coming or going. I wonder if everything is ok with him, since he should be catching up to me, having started off at a more reasonable time.

Now is the Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. Runners are now strung out all over, and I find myself on my own. My reminder that we are all alone: Born alone, we run alone, and die alone. I think I'm definitely dehydrated. And yes, not as in shape. Still, I'm not getting the feeling that anybody else is either. That is, except for those ten fast starters, and the fifteen or so that have passed me, no one else seems to really be going that fast, which I think is an argument for the fast start: Establish position while full of energy, with the idea that everyone else will be just as weary as time goes on.

Or not. I'm just tired, and right at the turn off up the Huge Hill, a group of five guys overtakes me. I start hiking before them, but they pass me quickly. Yes, I'm getting passed walking.

At the top, my legs are just stiff. Looks like the other guys' are too. Some stop to stretch. I just trudge, trying to keep up with them, keep them in my sights. I feel like if I get off by myself again, I'll just let my mind wander and start the penguin shuffle.

At the aid station, all I want is water. I stand in front of the table of goodies, seeing if anything sounds good. Nothing does. I have a few potato chips, I think my body is craving salt.

Alright this is it. I think the aid station is about at 26 miles, so I've done the marathon. Five more miles. But man, I am so tired. I seriously feel like quitting, which at this point would mean just walking the rest of the way. But, I can't bring myself to do it. I can't bring myself to just walk and be passed, especially if there's some lurking VFFer out there. So I shuffle along. Even downhill now I shuffle. Pain. Both the thigh muscles, and the bottoms of my feet a little. Plus the mud is muddier, and slipperier. That's all I need right now, is to slip and fall face first into some mud. But I don't

The trail levels out. Can't be long, though I'm not sure. I try to pick my pace up a bit, try to force myself to jog up the smaller hills, though I'm not sure that gains me anything. The 'T' is no longer a T: Someone has come down, or maybe they have a sweeper, and changed the flagging so that is only points in one direction now, towards the Lodge. So, everyone is through two laps.

I see no one for those last miles, or maybe it's only one mile. Feels like ten. Just goes on forever. I just want to stop. My thighs are on fire from what I know is going to be a bad rash. My feet are cold and wet. Let it end!

And, even though I've wanted to just stop running and walk, when I finally get to the last hill and have to walk, if feels...I'm not sure of the word. Anti-climatic? To walk toward the finish line.

A spectator in a big heavy parka stands almost at the top. He claps. “Good job!”

“Thanks. Not with a bang, but a whimper.”

He laughs. “Still, amazing that you're even out here.”

At the top, at the grass, where is levels in, I have 'the talk' with myself and start running. I will finish strong, even if it's just across the parking lot. And, it's not a sprint, but it's more than a trudge. I look back, expecting to see my imaginary nemesis, a VFFer come sprinting up to catch me. But nope. Nobody still.

No spectators. The aid station is even gone. Just two organizer dudes, who nevertheless are enthusiastic. I glide through the gate, at 6:10. My third loop was about two and a half hours. Ok, not a PR, ten minutes later than my last 50K, but I'll take it.

One of the organizer dudes says, “Holy crap, you did that in Vibrams?”

I nod. “Yeah. I think I may have won the Five Fingers Division.”

He smiles. “I think you might have been the only in Five Fingers out there!”

He checks with the other dude, who gets an envelope out of the car. My prize: A certificate from the Vibram company for a brand new pair of VFFs! I did it!”

I ask the other dude what my overall place was: Sixth in my age division, but 36th overall. Hey, that's fairly respectable. And here I was almost going to quit! I was really thinking I was not doing that great.

There are refreshments inside. I go in, grab the last banana, eat a doughnut, and get a free Muscle Milk drink. Mm. Lots of calories, but tastes great.

Best of all: I get to go back to my room and take first a quick hot shower, then a quick hot bath, then another quick hot shower. That rocks. That makes the price of the room worth it.

Interestingly, my toes seem to have gotten a little more frozen than I suspected. They throb with pain in the hot water, and one, the left 'pointer' toe, is numb. I've had frostbite before, and none of them are black, but still, I had no idea I was that bad. Nor did I realize how bad that rash on my thighs was: I'm almost bleeding back there. Yikes! After I dry off I apply a good dose of Goldbond, miracle powder, but now I'm walking kind of bowlegged.

There's even a free meal after the race. Luxury. Actually, I guess it's the fact that the race is small that this is happening. I'm so used to just having to drive home. This is nice. There are tables set out on the fourth floor, with catered grilled cheese sandwiches, soup, and Sun Chips. The best part is being able to actually talk to other runners. I've never done that before. I get to check in with some of the fast runners I saw at the beginning, and people who have come in after me. I even meet some more folks from Michigan, who, insanely, drove all night to arrive and run. I finally find Rob and Steve. Turns out they ran together for most of it, until Steve DNFed on the second Loop. No harm in that, and he doesn't seem that bothered. Incredibly, Rob took off and actually ran his third loop the fastest, to slip in under seven hours.

Speaking of crazy driving, I have to get going. I'll be on the road for five hours, perhaps in a blizzard. Ugh. Oh well, I hear a Starbucks ice tea calling my name on the Ohio Turnpike somewhere.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jackson Turkey Trot!

Welcome to barefoot running, where almost every run is a new experience, a new adventure. Six weeks ago I ran a PR at the Detroit Marathon, barefoot and happy, no problems at all. Today, I'm wondering if I'll be able to finish a simple 10K. Two big factors are affecting this: One, the colder weather means I'm wearing my moccasins more. No evil arch support, but still covering up the soles. And two, living in Jackson, Michigan, which is not pedestrian friendly at all, and in fact kind of barefoot hateful, so that I find myself covering up even more. These two factors resulted in a weirdness a few weeks ago, when we had a weekend of great warm weather and I went out for many barefoot runs in three days, resulting in my feet being worn down raw, with three points on my left foot actually bleeding at the end of my long Sunday run (I didn't notice how bad it was until I was out at the turn-around point-oops). That resulted in my wearing minimalist gear (VFFs and huaraches) for a couple weeks, and even though I healed fine, that resulted in even thinner calluses by the time this Turkey Trot rolled around.

I woke up this morning half-expecting there to be snow on the ground, since it had been raining when I went to sleep, but no, in a moment of Michigan weird-weather-ness, the temperature actually went up a little overnight, and now there's a light fog/mist, with the pavement still wet. The radio tells me that there will be rain all day, maybe snow later, but right now, it's in the low 40s, which is actually getting into prime running weather...except for the wet pavement. I know from past experience that running on wet pavement can really soften up the feet, and end up turning them to hamburger on really rough surfaces. And, given that I haven't run this route before, and also given that Jackson is infamous for its horrible roads, I'm wondering if I can actually do this. Or, do it and still look, and feel respectable. I would hate to get out there and then limp through the whole race, making barefoot running look like a miserable experience. So, after some hemming and hawing, I decide, better to to minimalist and strong. So I put on my huaraches. At least I can still freak people out at little with them.

The Jackson Turkey Trot (“Extreme Family Fun”) is fairly low-key. When I get downtown and collect my number tag, there can't be more than fifty folks, and that's with a 5K Run/Walk too. I have some time, and it's still kind o' chilly, so I retreat to my truck to listen to tunes to amp myself up, and yes! Golden Earring's “Twilight Zone” comes on!)

While I'm sitting there, I watch the people filtering in, and for some reason it seems like everyone's got brand new running shoes, all shiny white. Maybe that's what makes me change my mind. Maybe it's seeing a young teen girl wearing those absurd shoes that look like a half-circle on the bottom. I hate seeing our youth being indoctrinated by bizarre technology like that. Or, maybe it's just that I'm thinking back to my first barefoot marathon, again in Detroit, a year ago (only? seems so long ago) when it was literally freezing at the start. If I could survive that, and run well, surely I can handle cold wet pavement for ten kilometers! And, just like John Candy in Stripes after he's been talked into mud-wrestling two bikini-clad babes who will go on to kick his ass, I tell myself, I'll do it!

I take off my hauraches, get out of my truck, and walk to the front of the YMCA where this is happening. Yep, that pavement sure feels cold and wet. And yep, that parking lot sure feels gritty. Still parking lots are always worse than actual roads.

I was hoping I could slide right into the start line just before they actually start, but no, people are mingling around outside, and there's still even a line inside of people registering. The rest of my body is bundled up fine. In fact, I'm probably over-dressed, with too many layers, but there's not way I can really say that my feet feel ok, and they just start to feel worse as we wait. Then the organizers comes out and yells that it'll be another ten minutes. Hijo de la chingada.

I am of course getting some odd sideways looks, though strangely, not as much as at other races, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because I have some running shell pants that come down almost to the top of my feet, maybe it's just that there's less people in general.

Finally, the organizer, who I recognize as the guy I took my one, and only, spinning class from. Steve I believe his name is. Friendly guy, triathalete I believe, and fellow long-hair. He informs us that this is an outlaw event: there'll be no police support, and that roads are not closed off, so we should be careful crossing main roads. He lines us up behind a telephone pole and a crack in the road (I swear), not much time to really think about positioning, and yells out, 'Two, one, go!'

We go. Immediately, as soon as I start moving, I feel better. It's just the standing there that really sucks. Once I get moving, the blood starts flowing down to my feet and that seem to warm up. The road is a little gritty, I'm still wondering if I can take a whole wet 10K of that, but I'm certainly doing better, ie going faster, than some of the shod folks. In fact, I feel more comfortable going faster, just not letting me feet hang out very long on the ground, so I start to scoot up past some people, though of course, let's not pretend this is a super serious competition. It's actually nice to see whole families out running this, including, amazingly to me, some boys that have to be around ten or eleven, and they're up toward the front of the pack too. I couldn't have conceived of running a race when I was that age, though surely I must have been capable of it.

We zip up (west actually, though uphill) Weseley Street a few blocks, then cut north one block to Washington, a major one-way street running east. So ok, that makes sense, it's two lanes, so we can run in one lane and if by chance there is any traffic, they still have a lane. I was wondering how all this was going to work. We're not actually running in the downtown area though. Instead, we're heading into a residential area. Probably best for an outlaw race.

The sky is grey, and will be for about five more months here. No fog, no mist, but feels like ninety-five percent humidity. No rain, though it looks like it could downpour at any moment. Like I said, actually relatively warm. We pass some people out walking their dogs, and/or each other, enjoying a quiet day. At West Ave, the main north/south thoroughfare, we have a race volunteer out with a schoolkids crossing STOP sign, waving it and stopping traffic for us, because there are actually cars, with people perhaps wondering what the hell these people are doing on Thanksgiving for God's sake.

Our pack stretches and thins quickly, leaving the walkers behind. I haven't run a 10K in about fifteen years, so have no idea what kind of pace I should have, or even really how long 10K is. Seven miles? Five miles. I'm hopelessly American when it comes to the metric system. But, people are hauling butt, even those boys!, so I just start to haul butt too, going at what is probably my half-marathon pace, or at least what I'd do at the start, and I'm trying to just maintain that. So, more than the 'Turning Japanese' cadence (side note: I found a better song: Joan Jett's “Bad Reputation.” April LaVigne does a cover of it too. I like singing the chorus after some shod-head tells me I'm crazy).

Speaking of that, I do now start to get noticed by fellow runners. One woman I pass gasps, “Are you shitting me?” She must have turned to someone next to her, because then I hear, “Am I crazy or is that crazy?”

And then I pass a younger guy, just running in shorts and a t-shirt. He sees my feet and says, “Hey, making the transition, huh? Feeling born to run?”

I know he's kinda sorta trying to joke, but it makes me feel like he's making fun of me in a way. Or something. Like, dude, it's not just about that book. I did start running barefoot before it came out. So, I say, “Well, I do like to run, yes.”

“That's cool. I'm trying to do that. Right now all I'm doing running in worn down shoes first.”

Ok man, you go with that idea. I'll see you in a couple years. Still, I know, he is perhaps a potential convert, but I'm worried we're going to be running the same pace, but I pull away from him. Maybe that'll get him to just leave those shoes behind, for good.

We cut south for two blocks and head back east on Division, the main one-way street going the other way. Same concept: one unofficial lane for us, and we do actually have some traffic on this one. It's all good though. And there's a sign saying Mile 2. So....what does that mean? How many miles are there? Argh. If it's a 10K, keep it in kilometers!

And, surprise surprise, back at West Ave, there's a police officer stopping traffic for us! He must have just happened on the race and decided to help out. Cool! Again, traffic stopped for us. That's always a nice feeling.

Onward, back into the edge of downtown, with a mix of residential and business and churches, right behind the Y actually, where we cut north again for two blocks, then back west on Weseley, and there's the Y up ahead. Ok, so that's what five kilometers is. I think I get it now.

At the Y, Steve is there directing 5Kers into the coned off finish chute, and sending us 10Kers back around for another loop. He sees me coming and say, “Ouch! I could never do that!” Which is weird, coming from a guy who does triathalons. Why would somebody like that be so willing to set a limitation on himself? Still, to be fair, only three years ago I might have said that same thing. I have to remember not to get to righteous. All we can do is set a good example.

Now the herd has been thinned. Seems most of the runners were only doing the 5K, though I've got some guys strung out on ahead of me. So now I have to plan: Can I actually maintain this balls out pace for another loop? I have been out of breath the whole time, but man, I'm doing ok, still actually passing some people as we get back onto Washington. At West Ave though, we've lost out volunteer stopper, so me and another guy actually have to stop to let traffic pass.

The residential part is even more quiet, a huge gap between me and the next guy up, so that I start to sort of zone out, like on a regular run, so much so that I run past the next turn. Not too much though, I realize something is wrong immediately, and zip back around, though the guy behind me that I just passed gets to catch up. This section is the roughest. It was ok the first time around, but that wet pavement is starting to soften up my feets a bit, so I have to grit my teeth over some of the grit. But, back on Franklin, the going gets smoother, and here now are all the 5K walkers, in clumps, families and friends out for a walk before the feast later on. I've never quite understood the whole 'official walk' thing, since it seems they could have just taken a walk at their homes, but maybe not, who am I to say? Suffice it that here are some folks out getting some exercise. Gotta respect that.

We still have a volunteer at this West Ave intersection, though the cop is gone. Again, the pleasant feeling of traffic stopped. I scoot across quickly. For some reason, the runner guys that were right behind me don't seem to be around anymore, nor can I see any runners ahead. Seems like it's just me passing a bunch of walkers, with the obligatory gasps of “Barefoot!”

By the time I've zipped back around to Weseley, I think, but I'm not sure, that I've passed all the walkers, and it's just me and three blocks to go, though strangely, I guess there was a church service this morning, because people seem to be emptying out and on to the street. Also getting in their cars and trying to drive, except for the crazy sweaty guy running barefoot down the middle of the road!

And there's the finish chute! I finish strong, feeling like I did mostly maintain a balls out pace, maybe slowed down a little over there on Franklin the second time down. I click my watch and hand the volunteer lady the bottom of my tag. So they are actually keeping a tally of who finished when, with another guy entering in times and places. There are about twenty spectators hanging about, and I hear more “Barefoot!” comments, and one guy, trying to impress a friend I guess, says, “Yeah, we have a couple of those barefoot runners up in Traverse City too,” in a tone that sounds like he's talking about raving lunatics.

I walk in the Y for some after race refreshments: a banana half, some grapes, and a chocolate chip cookie. I check my watch: No! I have no time! Somehow, either I erased it just now, or maybe I never started it, but I got nothing. Damn. Oh well. I'll just have to run another one!

Coming soon! The Bigfoot 50K down in Ohio! Which I am sadly not in shape for!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Detroit Marathon 2010

I'm exhausted already. I had to get up at four o'clock in order to drive from Jackson to be here in Detroit at six. The race is at seven, and already parking is congested. But I fine a good spot, close to the finish for a quick get away. The one time I decided to actually get a hotel room the night before, planning way ahead so as to ensure getting a room, the hotel goes out of business a month before. Ok, well, that'll save me a hundred buck, but man, seeing as how I was nervous the night before, I'm not running on much sleep.

I shouldn't be too nervous really, since I ran this same race, almost the same route, last year (see some of my earlier blog posts) with success, meaning I finished, barefoot. This year I won't be carrying my VFFs as a back up, no Plan B this time. The one thing I am a little...not nervous about, but concerned perhaps, is that fact that my feet don't exactly have their ideal hobbit feet toughness. I've moved from Ann Arbor, where I walked barefoot all the time, to Jackson, not pedestrian friendly at all, so I feel I'm lost some summer callus.

Oh yes, there is the minor worry that running that Wild Life Marathon last week might screw me up a little. Not sure if my body is totally recovered. But, after running it, fairly quickly, and the Woodstock 50k a month ago, I feel like I can push myself a little. Dare I even contemplate under 4:15? Last year I finished at 4:45 or so, and was happy to just finish, since that was my comeback race after a year and a half of plantar fasiciitis woes. Now that I've been running barefoot for a year and half, I'm feeling stronger.

The weather is perfect. Still a little chilly this early, but supposed to get up to 60. No wind, the sun starting to send some light out from over in Canada. I'm wearing running pants/tights, though could maybe have gotten away with shorts. Many people are doing that. I'm also playing it safe with two wicking shirts and my Ibex wool shirt. Probably overdoing it, I know, but one Detroit Marathon, four years ago?, was just brutal, with a bitter north wind coming down the river as we went over the Ambassador bridge.

After dropping my gear bag (note to organizers: the military academy guys weren't so efficient this year, causing much anxiety to runners) I head over to the line up area. I still haven't decided where to start. I know I don't want to start way in back this time. I did that on the advice of Barefoot Ken Bob last year, and also I loved the feeling of just passing people the whole race, I feel it ultimately slowed down.

By chance I come out into the the 4:10/4:15 area. Ok, that sounds good. Though then I begin to doubt: Maybe I should go back a little farther? Am I really going to run that far? But then I think of my ENG 090 students, and the 'First Year Seminar' section attached to it, and how we've been talking about writing down our dreams, both personal and academic, and forming goals from that. And I think to myself, 'Well John, you have dreamed about finishing under four hours. Why not go for it?' Why not at least try it, and if you end up doing 'only' 4:15, that's fine. I know I'm going to start out fast, carried along by the excitement of the crowd, and end up in an even faster pace area. Ok, I'll do it!

I did take one bit o' advice from Barefoot Ken Bob: this time I'm wearing socks to keep the feetsies warm. Or, warmer. Still kind of cold, but way better than last year. I can tell people are giving me some odd looks. Like, what the hell is that guy just wearing socks? But, at the competitive folks start, and our mass of people moves forward, I slip off the socks. Suddenly the group of women to my right almost get whiplash as they jerk around to look. There are gasps from behind me. Uh-oh, here we go again. I got spoiled with all the trail races I've done. At least those runners have heard of barefoot running. Here, I'm the first experience with barefoot anything that most people have even heard of.
We cross the start line! About ten minutes behind when the official clock started. I hit my watch and start running. Yes, much better up here. Last year, starting way in back, I basically walked the first mile as people sorted themselves out. Here, we're starting out running. Not sprinting, but a good fast warm up pace.

Man there's a lot of people. I do love that. I like the trail races a lot, especially being on my own a lot, but there's something about having thousands of people out on the streets, and having the streets shut down for us, that is just very very cool. As we wind around to begin the climb up onto the Ambassador Bridge, there's just one long continual stream of runners, bobbing heads everywhere, backlit by the now rising sun. Beautiful moment.

Speaking of beautiful, have I even mentioned that amazingly attracitive women in these things? Just, amazing. Tight spandex everywhere, and more than how they look is the fact that they're out here, rocking, running, being healthy amazons. I heart women who run long distance.

Ok, enough of that. The bridge: One of the four lanes are closed for repairs, so we all congest up in the one single lane we're given, while huge semi-trucks go by right next to us. Yikes. Please Mr. Truck driver, don't have been driving all night and wired on speed.

At this point there is still much jostling for position as fast people from back try and pass, and slower runners from up front realize they may have miscalculated. I'm still tending to be on the fast side, though am content to slow down a little here, just to keep warming up.

No brutal wind coming down the river. Calm. Awesome view of both Detroit and Windsor. A coast guard ship is out on the water, all its fire hoses spurting for us. About halfway across, and entirely unexcited man in uniform watching us go by says, “Welcome to Canada.”

Woo hoo! We come down and through the customs gates, now empty for us, and loop around back to the river. People here even seem to speak English! No, I'm kidding. I'm getting flooded with memories of the summer I lived here, back in my youth. So long ago, pre-running John even.

Odd: There's a DJ hanging out talking to us as we go by, and coming up to him, I hear him say, “Hey, there's a barefoot runner!”

That's odd, I think. He hasn't seen me yet, has he?

Again, the streets of Windsor are the smoothest I've ever run. I don't know what the secret is. The first relay change out happens in here.

And oh yes, the comments on my feet are happening all the time. More gasps. More, “That guy doesn't have any shoes!' said from ten feet behind me. I wish people would at least acknowledge that I can hear them. But, I do have to say that I might have been wrong about me being the first most people have heard about barefoot running. I'm getting lots of “Good job barefoot runner!” comments as well, meaning that people know the phrase “barefoot runner,” meaning that the idea, the concept now exists in the mainstream, as a 'meme,' meaning that, if people know the term, it may be coming into more widespread acceptance. That's my theory anyways.

I have only seen one VFFer, which surprises me, since on the trail races I've done this summer, they were fairly numerous (ok, relatively speaking). Different crowd perhaps, more city runners, though I wonder if it's the case that people are only using VFFs on trails, but still using shoes for pavement? Not sure. Hope not.

North, following the river a couple miles, or since it's Canada, kilometers. Still at a good clip. But yes, as I feared, my thighs still feel a little tight from the half-marathon last week. That, and/or my body is already trying to play psych-out tricks on me. But, it does cause me a little worry. Should I maybe slow down? Pace myself? Am I just going to fall apart after mile 15? But no, I'm going to push it, I'm going to keep a half-marathon(ish) pace, ie fast, and see what happens. I'm not going to 'take is easy' at any point, at least not now. If I need to switch to penguin waddle mode at the end, then so be it. It's to maintain a good pace, or easier, because everyone around me is still going strong too. Helps that the relay teams just made their switch out, so now fresh runners are floating by. Lot's of half-marathoners up here too.

A loop around and down into the Tunnel: The only underground mile in any race in the US. We lose the ambient noise, and the people cheering, and now it's just the clomping of shoes, the echo of the clomping, and heavy breathing. Warms up too. I unzip my Ibex shirt and push up the sleeves. Damn, maybe I did over dress.

But no, when we come up and out, the temperature drops about ten degrees. I zip back up quickly. We zip by Joe Louis Arena (my first concert! Def Leppard! way back in....83? Man, I'm old.) and head into that nice neighborhood from last year, though a slightly different route, which I now remember is Indian Village. It's right downtown too, we go from passing abandoned buildings to perfectly trimmed grass lawns in about two blocks. Quieter here, though the Indian Village locals are out, quietly clapping, and even offering free beer! Somewhere in here come the M&Ms ladies, handing out handfuls, which rocks. Much better than that nasty GU crap.

I am a celebrity today: All kinds of spectators are yelling out, “Go barefoot runner!” and sometimes it spreads up the route. I smile and wave. Way more than last year, not sure why? Maybe because I'm up in a faster pace?


NO! A fucking goddamn beeping watch again. And, worse case scenario, the person with it seems to be right at my pace. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck. Why does this bug me so much? It just distracts me, and the BWEEPs seem to happen like every minute. I look around to see which asshole has the toy, and lo, the asshole is a woman this time! Well, equal rights and all that I suppose, but I'd thought it was a male thing to have loud toys. Well, like I did in last week's half-marathon, instead of giving up, I speed up, to get away from her. Trouble is, she seems to be speeding up too. In fact, she ends up right behind me. I cannot resist: I turn around and ask her, “Hey, can you turn that off, please?”

She looks down at her watch, a big thick square thing, and says, “Um, I don't know how.”

That stumps me. How....why....how can you not know how to turn off the beeper? Wtf? Argh.

But, turns out, she passes me, speeding up significantly. Of course: We're coming up on the end of the half-marathon. Suddenly there are runners all around me speeding up for a strong finish. I was surrounded by halfers! Pesky critters.

We end up back in the downtown area and they split off to the right. Adios mis amigos!

Now the herd has thinned considerably, though the course seems to have narrowed too, with lots of spectators closing in on us. I check my watch: 1:55. Hey, that's pretty good, at least for me. Hey, if I can keep this up, I'm looking at coming in around four hours. Holy crap. That's a motivating boost. I lean forward. Can I stay strong? Or will I penguin out? Not sure, but I will not take a breather, I will not stop pushing myself.

I guy passes me on the left. “Man, you are crazy.”

I nod and say, “Thanks.”

He laughs and goes on.

I pass two women and get the gasps, but one says, “Wow, that's stupid.”

Ok, I can't not say anything. I turn around and say, “Thanks, I can hear you.”

Their eyes go wide. The one who spoke says, “I love you and respect you, I just wouldn't do it myself.”

I wave. “Fair enough.” But as I'm pulling away, I hear her say, “They say that only fifteen percent of people are able to do that.”

Wtf? Whatever lady. Keep living a life of excuses.

We come back by the river, and I notice some kind of cool-looking apartment buildings. That is, they're cool because they're right on the river. I wonder what the rent is here? It'd be a drive to anywhere though, since we're not by any businesses.

Belle Isle! A three mile loop. We cross the bridge over and can see the steady stream of runners already coming back across. I'm sore, I will admit it. The feet, but also the rest of me of course. Some one asks, “Doesn't that hurt?”

I give my standard answer, “If it hurt I wouldn't do it.” But, it hurts. But, everything hurts. And yikes! Glass! Wow, I'd thought I wouldn't see any, but there's some pieces in the bike lane. I veer right, stepping through some. Fortunately my ninja-like reflexes save me from stepping on any. But, after that, the road clears.

The isle is quiet, not a lot of spectators have opted to walk out here, too far from el centro. Time to mentally prepare. The good thing about the isle is that it goes from Mile 19 to Mile 22, kind of a cool way to get past the potential wall at Mile 20 or thereabouts, not sure why. But, when we pop back out, we'll only have four miles to go!

I pass another VFFers and say, “Nice shoes!”

He says hey and points to my feet. “Man, I'm working up to that! I just couldn't stop my training for this.”

“Ok, next year!”


Behind two guys, one of them says to his friend, “You know, there's a guy running this thing barefoot.”

“Is that right?”

I can't resist: “Yeah, and he's right behind you!”

They look back and smile, but the first guy goes, “Actually, I wasn't talking about you. There's another guy going barefoot too.”

No! Another barefooter? Can it be? Ah, that would explain incident at Canadian customs. Hm, I wonder who he is. I ask the guy how far ahead he is, if I can catch him. He shakes his head. “I think he's like three miles ahead.”

Alas. Oh well. Hm. I wonder who it is? Someone from the Barefoot Running Site?

The problem with getting tired is that I start to lose my barefoot running form. I become less nimble-footed, and it feels like I'm foot-striking hard. Not that I'm striking with my heel, but that my whole foot just seems to be coming down harder than normal. Which then seems to snowball the problem somehow, because the harder my feet hit, the more tired I become. Or, that's the mind-games that go on at this point. On the other hand, it's not like my feet are the only body parts in pain right now.

As I come off of Belle Isle, I can see the stream of people coming onto it, and in a strange coincidence, I see the pacer holding the 4:30 sign: Last year, I saw the 4:30 pacer leaving as I was coming! And then I check my watch: 5:10. Really? With only four miles to go? Holy crap, my dream of under four hours is a distinct possibility! At the very least I may pull off a PR!

So, inspired, I lean forward and keep going. We make a couple turns and leave the crowds for a bit as we head out onto the Riverwalk area. As we're getting closer, I can see all the runners around me doing the same thing, starting to push themselves, trying to pick up the pace, yet they look how I feel: beat, tired, not the straight-backed runners they were when they started, and all with that clenched teeth, determined look. I don't think we're really competing with each other anymore, if we ever really were, but now digging deep in ourselves, pushing our own personal limits. I am very proud to be surrounded by these people, and I'll admit it, I almost start to cry, a little overcome. I don't quite, but it is an emotional moment.

At the 24 mile flag I check my watch again. Around 3:35. Goddamn, I think I can do this! Thing is, my body is now at its limits. I'm not stopping, but hell if I can speed up. Can I make it? It's gonna me a loooong 2.2 miles.

Back out into the city, making our way towards downtown and the tall buildings. We pass some construction and yikes, a wee bit o' gravel on the pavement. Curses! A minor setback. Then a small hill. And another one. I probably wouldn't have called them hills at the beginning of this thing, but now? Ugh.

The runners I see, man, they just look in pain. Like me. That long stare, just looking for that finish line to end this suffering.

The course is designed though with a couple turns right at the end, though we can tell we're getting closer by the amount of spectators lining the streets. Both sides are packed, all of them cheering. God, that helps. I hear some more “Go barefoot runner!” people, and I want to speed up so bad. Last year at this point I broke into a regular shod stride and sprinted, really screwed up my feet, so I'm remembering to stay in form, trying to just take faster smaller strides, but man is that hard right now!

One last turn to the left, and there it is! The finish! I do speed up a little, we all do, and finish strong. I check my watch: 3:59:45. I did it! Just barely, but I slipped in under four hours! And, beat my old PR of 4:05 from my first marathon ever, way back in 1999.

I get my medal and walk slowly over to get a water and banana. Tired, but my feet don't feel as raw as I'd thought. Just sore. But only about as sore as the rest of my body. But I feel great.

To recap:
What didn't go so well? Running a half-marathon the week before, though it give me the confidence to push my running speed today.

What did go well? Starting in a fast start group. Getting a good fast start seems to work well for me, rather than going slow to start out. Also, mentally just not ever allowing myself to take it easy for a while, to concentrate on the barefoot runner falling-forward method, which takes a lot of concentration.

What feels good? Knowing I'm a stronger runner now, barefoot, than I was shod back when I was 30.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wild Life Half-Marathon

I probably shouldn't be here. I'm going to be running the Detroit Marathon next week, but I'd probably be taking a two hour run today, Sunday, anyways, and this half marathon (and marathon too) is right in my back yard, on very familiar territory: The Wild Life Marathon, Half-Marathon, Walking Half-Marathon, and 5K start out in Concord, a small town/village just west of Jackson, where I now live (again). The majority of my race will be on the Falling Waters Trail, a ten mile paved trail between Jackson and Concord, an old railroad lane going through some of the most quiet and scenic land in Jackson County. In fact, the Jackson end starts almost outside my apartment door, and I've made the long run all the way to Concord a few time this summer. I feel obligated to come out and support the race, which is new, in its second year now, and a pleasant surprise in an area not known for it's interest in sponsoring anything interesting. In fact, I half-way expect there to be protesters outside claiming this run has something to do with witchcraft. You laugh, but if you grew up in Jackson you would not.

I get out to Concord High School, where the race starts, early. The website said the start was at eight o'clock, but I learn that the halfers actually start at 8:15. I register easily, no lines at all, the advantage of participating in smaller races like this. The bad news: I forgot to bring duct tape. They have the clunky square race chips that tie on shoes. Usually I'd whip up a duct tape band around my ankle. No go. I'll have to tuck it in the inner pocket of my running pants. It just fits. I'll also have to remember to take it out and swipe it over the timer pad.

And, coincidence, I happen to park right next to Rob, my running buddy from the Somerset Stampede Half-Marathon. We're switching today. At the Woodstock races, I ran the 50K while he ran the Half. Today he's running the full marathon, and I'm impressed with his goal of getting under four hours. Inspired, I decide to push myself. He and I ran the Stampede at 1:45. I'd like to keep that speed. So much for maybe taking it easy in preparation for Detroit!

At eight, the marathoners take off. There's about 40 or 50, and I want so much to be with them. But no, I am a mere halfer today.

Their route will take them out on a portion of the Falling Waters trail, but then off into back roads for a long loop. Us halfers will be on the trail for most, after running through Concord a little. I line up in front, deciding to just start strong instead of coming up from the back. I'm hyped, ready to go and like the idea of breaking off from the pack.

There are of course the obligatory comments coming from behind me: “Holy crap! He's barefoot!” “That dude doesn't have any shoes!” A photographer from the local Jackson paper, because people here still read newspapers, takes my pic and asks me for some basic info. So, that feels good, spreading the word.

And we're off! And I immediately forget to swipe my time chip. Doh. Well, maybe it'll register. Not sure how strong those transmitters are, but come to think of it, maybe it's not a good idea to keep it right by my testicles.

We sweep through the quiet sleepy streets of Concord. The roads are fine, nothing too rough on the feets, no pebbles, and certainly no glass. And, we're going at a good clip. Or, I should say that I'm going at a good clip, since I do have a choice in the matter. I figure I'll make a good fast start, then mellow out for the middle. After some twists and turns, maybe a mile and a half, we arrive at the start of the Falling Waters path. Here's the familiar territory, except, ouch, I've never had to run over the gravel parking lot. Damn, that's probably going to hurt on the way back. Certainly slows me down a little, though it's not that long a section.
Back on the pavement. Gorgeous. Off to the right is a lake/pond/river, with some swans swimming lazily on the edge of a cattail forest. We go over a wood bridge, the last houses drop away, and then we're in Fall trees: reds, yellows, greens. No breeze. Sunny. Warm. I'm in running pants and a short sleeved wicking shirt. Could've gone with shorts even.

Man, we're going fast. I'm going fast. I'm on right on the edge of being out of breath. Wouldn't be able to talk, except for a quick sentence or two. Fortunately everyone else seems to be panting too. That plus the clomp of their shoes are almost the only sounds, seemingly, except for the soft dainty pad of my feet. But then, “BWEEP!” No! One of those guys (and they're always guys) with some beeping watch or heart rate timer. I pass him, but I have a bad feeling that we'll be running the same pace. Argh. Why mimi, why? He's even listening to an iPod, so he can't hear his bweeps. But I'm sure he thinks he's impressing us all with his cool toys and professionalism.

Argh, I gotta stop letting this stuff bother me. Enough. Basta. Back to running. This trail is great. Smooth, new, straight, wide, I can actually afford to look off the side every once in a while to admire the view. More trees, a bigger lake. More houses, though off at a distance. We cross a road, with the first water station. I try not to slow down, just grab a water and take one gulp and toss the cup. A half marathon is short enough, and the weather's cool enough, that I'm not worried about dehydrating.

I'm practicing my fast barefoot pace, getting right cadence, lifting the feet to the tempo of the song “Turning Japanese” (thanks Jason for that tip, though please can we think of a better song?) and then doing the 'falling forward' lean, which really works. My feet don't move any faster, but I do. The trick is maintaining the lean, because as my mind wanders I tend to straighten back up. But being up with the big dogs, the fast runners, is definitely a motivator, more so than being way in back and pacing myself. I think this is how I'm going to do the Detroit Marathon.

We even pace some of the slower marathoners, though soon the split happens and they shoot off to the south. Good luck guys!

Crossing more roads, moving east. There are civilians out on the trail, it's not closed off, so I pass a mom out taking her two young daughters for a walk and one of them yells out, “That man doesn't have shoes!”


I'm keeping the fast pace. I feel good. I think running that 50K a couple weeks ago really helped my confidence, my ability to say fuck it, and push myself, take a risk. I'm still just holding on the edge of being out of breath, feeling pretty Kenyan even, though as we get out the half-way point, here comes the guy in first, on his way back. Nice. He's cruising, followed by others a ways back. Maybe he's a real Kenyan?

Ok, but not too much farther and here's the turn-around. I check my watch: 50 minutes. At first I think that's not good, then I think about it: Fifty and fifty is one hundred. An hour and forty minutes if I keep up this pace. Wow. I'm going faster than my Somerset Stampede pace! I'm doing ok, position-wise. In the top twenty maybe? And most of the people ahead of me seem to be wee young lads and lasses. Yes, here I am pulling the age card!

Actually, that said, and suddenly I seem surrounded by guys my age. They all seem to know each other, and many of the folks we're now passing, still on their way back out. Must be a bunch of Concord folks?

In a moment of weirdness, a few of these guys seem to lock in behind me. Me? At the head of a pack? Uh uh. Freaks me out. So, instead of mellowing out on the middle section, I up the ante a little, experimenting with the forward lean even more, seeing how fast I can actually get. I even get into a new kind of groove, my feet barely lifting, or that's how it feels, so that I feel like I'm doing some kind of extreme penguin waddle or something. Feels really...efficient I guess, though I can quite keep it up. I also notice that I tend to lift my head up, and even back, and that if I concentrate on leaning my neck forward, that that helps my forward lean. Another thing to concentrate on, though I could see where it could become more natural. But, interesting. I don't think I would be experimenting with these speeds on my own, so that's the value of races, and competing.


No! It's Toy Man! And he's right behind me, drafting off me. Goddammit. I know he's locking into me, the Barefoot Guy. Hate that. I mean, the trail is super wide, no need to hang right behind a guy. I lean forward and slowly leave him, but, then my mind wanders and I slow down, and he catches up, and we do this dance for a while. I'm this close to just stopping and letting him pass, but no dammit, this is a good time, I'm not going to let him spoil it.

But, my nemesis gravel returns: That short patch at the end of the trail slows me waaaay down. My feets are a little more tender this time. I get passed by about five guys. Drat. Though one of them is Toy Guy, so good riddance. When we get back out on pavement, back into Concord, the return route takes us up a hill, which slows a couple of them down. I like hills, so I go up pretty easily and re-pass them at least.

Through the quiet streets. Still no people. But, it's Concord. It's probably quiet all the time. We runners are all spread out, everyone tapping into their reserves. A volunteer yells out that we have a kilometer left, which is helpful, cause I would have no idea where we are, with all the turns we're taking. I'm pushing it as much as I can, though I know I've slowed down a little. Only two of us on one block, I pass him slowly, and he gasps out, “Good job! I can't do it. I'm cramping up!”

“We're almost there! Stay with me!”

“I'll try!”

He does, he stays just a little ways behind me me, and bam, there's the high school, and the parking lot, one last turn and only about 200 feet to go! A woman is on a mic, announcing names as people cross. I cross the finish, do a little hop, and I'm done! A quick check of my watch: 1:39:44. Wow. That's five minutes shaved off my Stampede time. Who'd've thunk?

I hand off my chip, collect my medal, and head for the refreshments table, for a much-deserve water, banana, and doughnut, in that order.

I didn't hear my name when I crossed, so I walk about around to the announcer, and check in with her when no one's coming in. She doesn't see my name. Uh oh. She sends me to a guy sitting in a van nearby. He confirms that indeed my chip never registered. Doh. But, he is cool enough to take my watch time and enter it in. Thank you timer dude!

I place 23rd overall, with a 7:35 mile pace. 3rd in my age category. Pas mal!

So, to recap: I think I prefer a fast start. Just keeps me motivated, and helps push me. I will try this next week.

Also: I think after this and my 50K, I really feel 'healed' from my plantar fasciitis nightmare of two years ago. I think it's taken me about a year to really get used to barefoot running, in part because of some not-so-great experiments. But this summer I now feel as strong, if not stronger really, as I did before I got the ole PF.

Also also: There is something to having a good race at least once a month, instead of just mentally telling myself that I should only run one marathon in the Fall. I think if a runner can get to the point of running a marathon, especially in the Spring, that he/she can probably build on that fitness level and go on to a marathon a month, or certainly these half-marathons.

Next week: The Detroit Marathon!


Monday, September 27, 2010

Woodstock 50K

I've been called a freak for running barefoot before, but now I guess it's a official: I'm running the Woodstock 50K today, one of many different races being run, all with a hippy-themed title, such as the 'Hallucination 100 miler.' Mine is the 'Freak 50K.'

Why? you may ask. Why in God's name would you run more than a marathon (or, why even run a marathon?). Well, after teaching a class at JCC that's designed to help my students think about their lives, and develop life plans, along with a list of goals, and specific steps to achieve them, I decided that one of my own goals is to run a 100 miler next summer. On top of that, I wanted to show, to them and myself, that it is possible to push beyond what we think is possible. So when I saw that the Woodstock events featured a 50K starting at the same time, I thought, ok John, do it.

Trouble is, I'm not sure I can. I've been contemplating at possible 'DNF' (Did Not Finish) every since I signed up. The problem being that, being American, I have no idea how long fifty kilometers actually is. One the race website, the description says that the marathon is two thirteen mile loops, and the 50K adds on a third loop, so I've been thinking 50K is like, 39, 40 miles. That is, until one of the organizers announces that the half-marathoner, the marathoners and 50Kers should follow the blue flagging, and that the 50Kers should then follow the white flagging for an additional five mile loop.

Five miles? Is that right? Oh hell, then I know I can do this! No worries, 'ees very possible!'
The other concern, of course, is my feet. I'm fairly sure I can do a marathon barefoot, since I did the Pinkney Trail Marathon this last Spring, and it's basically in the same area: DNR land northwest of Ann Arbor, and northeast of Jackson (my new home)(no comment). And, coolest of all, I had to drive through Hell to get here. Hell, Michigan that is.

The Woodstock organizers have rented a private campground, Hell's Creek Campground, for a three day running fest in the Michigan woods. Many people are camping out for the all three days, and as I'll learn later, many are even from out of state. The festivities began yesterday, Friday, when the 100 milers and the 100kers started, at 4 PM. Meaning, they're been running all night. Crazy. Also, the 50 milers started a bit earlier this morning, at 6:30. They'll be running all day. Crazy.

I'm here at 7:00. At 7:30 the halfers, the marathoners, and us 50Kers will start, and then a little later, a 5K and 10K will be held. Not a huge crowd, seems like maybe a hundred folks to me, but I'm horrible with numbers. Still, I saw a list of all the 50Kers, and there was only like twenty of us, so maybe. I'm not entirely sure how Running Fit, the sponsors, are making money at this. But, they recycle their running chips, and the trails are there, and everyone paid, and for camp grounds too, so maybe it's worth it. I myself would drop the lame Woodstock theme and go with something about Hell. The 'Runs from Hell,' something like that. But, being Michigan, that would probably offend somebody.

The weather about perfect: mid-50s, overcast all day. Threatened rain last night, and there was a high wind advisory, but everything's dry. I was actually hoping for mud, since, 1. it's fun to run in, and 2. it would ease my concerns about the feet.

My plan for the race had been to just run slow and finish, because it's an experiment in something longer, but, now that I know I only have an extra five miles, I'm suddenly re-evaluating that. Doesn't help that I'm starting with the half-marathoners, who will be going fast right from the start. Or, most of them. Ok, some of them.

After dropping off my bag in the runners' tent, which holds dry shirts and my huaraches and VFFs in case I need a Plan B for the feet, I wander up to the port-o-potties for a last purging. They're located right where the trail into the woods starts. There's a short line, nothing too bad. As we're all waiting there, a woman runner comes walking up the road from the tent. I notice some dirt on her shins and think, 'Huh.' It's only after she walks by us and off into the trees that I wonder out loud, “Was that one of the 100 milers??”

The woman in front of me in line turns to me. “I think it was. I didn't realize either. We must look like the most horrible fans ever.”

After that a couple more runners come walking by, and we clap and give encouragement. They're so quiet, and they look like us, except just a little dirty. Ok, maybe a little tired looking, that should be my big clue.

The campground is set up in a circle, with campsites around the perimeter and inner circle, and with a large grass field in the middle. Two tents are set up right next to each other, one for runners' (mostly the hardcore ones that started yesterday I think) to store things, and the other for registration and perhaps food later. Next to the ten is the Finish line, with a large banner over it. To finish, runners have to veer off to the right into a flagged off 'chute'. Otherwise they go through a side entrance in runners' tent, with timing pads laid out in front.

On the far side of the grass field is a large stage with amps and a drum set, though no bands are playing yet. Classic rock music is blaring through the PA though, and one of the organziers, dressed long black wig, with tie-dyed t-shirt and John Lennon sunglasses, gets up to start us off, and it's about as low-key as I've experienced, even more low key than the Somerset Stampede. The only interesting thing is that some runners are dressed up, vaguely, as hippies. I'm not, I already have long hair and have suffered enough hippy taunts for the rest of my life. For the record: I'm not a hippie, I'm a metalhead.

But, we start. No gun, no nothing really. And ouch, the first part is on the gravel road right in the campground. Made harder by the clumping of people. I like to have some clearance, so I can see a few steps ahead, especially for gravel roads. Not happening. But soon, we're up on the grass and on the trail and into the woods!

A guy next to me says out of the blue, “Hey, are you John?”

I look down, he's got some hauraches on. A ha! And yes, he confirms that he's Ryan (? I think?), and on the Barefoot Running Society website. Also from Ann Arbor it turns out, though we never saw each other there. He's running the half. “I'm only used to running 5Ks!” And he's got a good pace going already, so I wish him luck.

So, yes, at first I sorta kinda try to pace myself and go slow(er), but everyone is pumped up, and that's infectious, and it just feels damn good to be out in the woods running, so eventually I'm up to what I'd consider my half-marathon pace. Not sprinting, but a good trot, passing people when possible on the trail, though also of course getting passed.

The trail is just like it was for the Pinkney Trail Marathon: soft dirt, sand, leaving, with only a little bit o' rockage. Hills for sure, which I'm running up, instead of doing the Hill Walk. I'm feeling good. I can do this. I've been running some pretty rough trails near my new apartment in Jackson, in Ella Sharp Park, with a lot of twigs and acorns and other pokey things. This? This is cake.

One part of the course actually dumps us out on a long straightaway, a bike/horse trail perhaps, almost a dirt road, though not gravel, just kind of larger sand chunks. Very doable, and with the the wide lane, and what looks like flat ground for miles, I go into fast mode, bending my legs and leaning forward, the 'falling forward' technique I've been working on. I know I shouldn't be doing this, that I should just pace myself, but I can't help it. I'm passing a lot of people, some of them half-marathoners, so I think I'm getting a sense of superiority. Selfish I know, but it feels good.

And yes, the shocked gasps, the comments: “Barefoot?” “Holy shit!” “Man, look at that guy!”
Interesting, I didn't think about it at the time, but in the Somerset Stampede a month ago, there didn't seem to be as many of these comments, I think in part because I was wearing huaraches. I got some, but not a lot. Apparently, some kind of footwear is ok, but barefoot just freaks people out.

By the way, never have I seen so many VFF wearers in one spot. I saw like two guys wearing them at the Pinkney Trail Marathon last Spring, but here, I've already seen, I swear, like ten people in VFFs. Are they finally catching on? Or is this event in a different group of folks? Not sure, but I'm glad to see them out here, and give them some 'good jobs' though even they are shocked to see a real barefooter. I'm telling you guys, you could be out here barefoot next year! You're so close!

At the first refreshment station, business is brisk, as we're all going out to a point and turning around and coming back. I grab some water and one of the women asks me my number and what race I'm in, noting something on a clipboard. I can't quite tell if she's doing this for everybody, or just the 50Kers, but I think it's to make sure people are indeed running their proper distances. Though, if I hadn't stopped for water, she wouldn't have noticed me.

Back to running. With people already on their way back, we get to look at each other. Lots o' men, at least up front, though with some hardcore females. Once again I have to say the runner women just look amazing. Just lean and tough and healthy and I love them.

My feet continue to create a stir. Amusing. Lot's of comments like, “Oh, I could never do that.” or “My feet aren't tough enough to do that.” But, you could! With a little time, they would be! Anyone can do this! I swear! That's what I want my students to know: if they want to do something, and take the steps to do it, there will be a pay off.

We run out to an arbitrarily placed-looking pole in the middle of the road, with a sign that says, 'Circle around.' No observers, but there are timing mats, hooked up to some kind of battery-powered counter sitting off in the weeds. Does it actually work, or is it just for looks? Probably works, and I wouldn't want to be the poor sap who might've had to stand out here all day making sure people ran around the poll.

We return back to the refreshment station and I drink some more water. The woman again notes my number and writes something on her clipboard. A little ways past we shoot back onto a forest trail. People are more spread out now, finding their pace. Less talking, more heavy breathing, though there are still some energetic individuals coming up strong from behind. Me, I'm starting to regret my fast start. My legs have been feeling a little, how can I say? wobbly. The way I felt at the end of the half-marathon, which is about where I'm at, though my last marathon I was feeling strong at this point. I feel it all may be a penguin waddle from here on out.

Still, that said, I'm not the slowest, and I'm still passing some folks. And, on that bike path there was a loooong line of folks behind me. So, confidence John, confidence.

Another little side trail/loop, this one going into an Enchanted Pine Forest. Actually an old tree farm looks like, with the trees in rows. But, nice soft needles to run on. Interestingly, so far the race officials have been fairly good about keeping track of us runners, with race pads at the major turn arounds, but here in the pines we're kind of on our own, and the course zigs and zags so that, when I see runners ahead of me, I actually almost run right by the blue flags signaling a left turn.

But, feeling plenty of space now, no bottle-necks on the trail at all. Surprisingly not a lot of chatter on this race. I wonder if that's because I started fast, putting me up with the serious folks? If so, that's another argument for the fast start! I know the value of conversation during a race (check out my Somerset Stampede post) but when I'm on my own, two loud guys jabbering behind me is annoying.
But no, this is a fairly quiet race, and soon we're out of the Enchanted Forest and back on the main trail, past a mean looking crevasse that I would NOT want to come across in the middle of the night after running 50 miles. I hope those guys got a more mellow route.

I end up behind two more VFFers. Post college guys, still athletic, are obviously still pounding the protein powder (Beefcake! Beefcaaaake!) with these big arms, yet here they are with almost dainty-looking feet. The second guy keeps catching his feet on roots, which is what happens to me in my VFFs, and finally he trips and takes a huge spill, but he's up in a second, pretending it didn't hurt.
They're going at a good pace, so I lock in behind them. They don't even know I'm there, since none of us is clomping away in shoes, but then we come across the coolest thing: a mud bog. One guy with shoes is already trying to creep around the edge of it, and VFFers try to do the same. Me? I go straight through, squishing up to my ankles, and coming out with grey muddy feet stuck between my toes. One of the guys goes, “Holy shit! Barefoot!”

The other I hear faintly: “No way!”

Dude, way.

And I leave them behind still trying to stay non-muddy.

A couple more miles. Another drink station with more kind, generous, folks helping us running fools. Another couple more miles et voilĂ , I come up a hill into the campground! Some people standing there, some of them camping right there, clap and cheer me on. “Way to go barefoot runner!”

And back on the cursed gravel road. My feets are getting a little tender by now, so this gravel is even more hurt-like. I hop onto the grass berm, but there are big chunky gravel bits hidden in it, so that running in the actual dirt is less painful, or a least less painfully surprising.

I go around one bend in the road and there's the Finish area, I'm the only runner coming in here at this point, looks like. Instead of taking the Finish chute, I take the side route that goes through the main tent, but before I get inside, I hear someone yell my name, or something somewhat close to it: “Vaugh! Hey Vaughn!”

It's Rob, my running buddy from The Somerset Stampede! We'd talked about both being here, and I'd looked for him at the start, but figured he'd had a change of plans. But no, he's just run the half, already wearing his medal. To confess, I also don't have his name quite right, but we re-introduce ourselves, and he hits me with some surprising news: I actually won the Stampede for my age category. I hadn't planned on that, so after the race I'd just left, but he stayed around. And, he went above and beyond the call of duty by bringing my medal out to me. He was waiting around hoping to see me. What an awesome guy.

I show him wear my bag o' stuff is in the runners' tent and tell him to leave it there, along with his email so I can properly thank him later. Unfortunately, I can't really hang out and chat. I'll be running for a few more hours (!) and he's of course getting ready to take off.

Also unfortunately, I'm so psyched with this double pleasant surprise that I completely forget to drink any water or eat anything and don't realize it until I'm back out on the trail. Doh. But I check my watch for my half-marathon time: Almost two hours exactly. Ok, that's cool, that's good. Can I sustain that pace? Not a chance in Hell. On the other hand, I'm feeling ok. Trotting now, but it's a good trot. Not a penguin waddle. Yet. Feet feel a wee bit tender, but ok. Nothing painful. No cuts, no bruises, no dislocated toes. Just a little bit like the soles have been worn down a little. If anything, it's the rest of my body that hurts, especially my inner thighs.

Now that all those pesky half-marathon critters are out of the way, the trail is much more open. In fact, I'm alone for a while. And, since I've not going as fast, most of the people I see are people passing me, though after a while I start to pass people walking and/or barely trotting, and then I remember that there was a 5K/10K starting later in the morning, so that must be those people. Also, at one point I come across a whole line of people from the campground, who I guess are just out for a hiking excursion. Probably friends and family of runners. That's what I'd do too I guess, if I had to wait around, just go out for a hike.

At one point I pass a couple of women running and one of them, seeing my feet, asks me if I'm on the Barefoot Runners Society website. BFS members everywhere! She tells me her handle, which I think is Buzzy, though I'm not sure. I don't look back to check, but I think she was actually shod, so must still be in a transition period. Maybe next year she'll be doing this barefoot!

I'm sore. Definitely. Still moving forward, but bending my legs is starting to hurt, so that, interestingly, I'm starting to run with straighter legs, which puts me more in shod-running posture, and makes me feel like my feet are less likely to be coming down flat. Not sure I'm explaining that very well, but anyways, having to do something like bend down to get under a tree across the path is almost agony.

Back at the first refreshment station, I stop for water and Gatorade, but this time, holy crap, I'm noticing some of the other things on the table: In addition to orange slices and banana halves, they've got a bag of Doritos, and some other chips and, miracle, Fig Newtons! These guys know how to throw a race. I grab some Doritos, just because it's funny to be eating something so bad on a super healthy activity, and they taste wonderful actually. I guess they're scientifically designed by corporations to be that way. I also eat some fruit, lovely fruit. And then grab a handful of the Newtons. I heart figs!

The gravel/sand road is now sparsely populated, though still with folks going both directions. I pass a big football-looking guy, going pretty slow, with a pained expression on his face. I say hey and we exchange pleasantries about the weather. I don't ask, but after I pass him, I start to wonder if maybe he and some of the other slower people out this far are actually either half-marathoners or still on their first loop for the marathon? Could I actually be lapping people? Not sure.

We return back, I grab some more Newtons, thinking 1. I'm not going to burn any calories today, and 2. I hope I don't cramp up from eating too many of these. And I shoot back onto the forest trail. I don't know how many miles into the loop I'm in, but I still find it amazing that there are sometimes people passing me at a good clip. They must have just been really holding back for the first half of the race. I'm still not sure on that strategy, because it seems like even after pacing myself for thirteen miles I'd still be beat at this point, but man, how great would going that fast for the rest of the marathon be?

Two slightly odd things: First, there are hunters out. Or, people with guns dressed in orange and camo. Is it hunting season? I thought that was later? What's in season? Not good to have guys shooting guns with runners all over the place.

Second, I come across two women riding horses through the trees, onto the path. As per trail etiquette, I call out to them way before I get there that there's a runner on the trail. Good thing too, since the front horse gets startled and jumps backward, almost throwing the woman. Hate to think what might've happened if I hadn't said anything and just come up right next to them. If I was wearing shoes he probably would have heard me clomping. I tell them that there's going to be runners going back and forth, and this seem to be the first they've heard this, and I'm the first runner they've seen. They seem a little disappointed at the news. Understandable, but I wonder, along with the hunters, if there were announcements about the races made? Signs posted?

I'm alone again, to the point where if I wasn't absolutely sure I was on the right trail, with the blue flagging everywhere, I'd be feeling like I'd taken a wrong turn. But, when I enter the Enchanted Forest again, suddenly there's a whole bunch of us running together. Again, almost mysteriously, once we exit the Forest, I go back to, seemingly, running alone.

I say that, but actually there are guys passing me. After all those people I passed earlier, the tide has turned, and now some of them are passing me back. I'm both a little leg sore, plus my soles are starting to get sensitive. Rocky places that I remember cruising over the first time around are now feeling kind of rough, enough that I slow down and tip-toe through the stones.

But there are still plenty o' sandy spots, soft dirt spots, and yes! the mud bog! Once more into the mud!

Which means, I'm getting to the end of loop #2. I hear what sounds like an elk off in the forest, but then realize that it's a guy at the last refreshment station with one of those vuvuzelas (sp?). Not so funny: I do hear rifle shots off in the distance.

Funny how 'getting to the end' takes on a different meaning in a long race. I still run about another two mile maybe before coming up the hill into the campground. Lots of spectators out now. some looking to the stage, others hanging around the tents, and others in lawn chairs out on the grass. One of my favorite songs, “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones, is just starting, right when the drums and bass come in. What an awesome groove. Just sends shivers up my spine and fills me with energy.

A band seems to be setting up, and someone with a mike on stage goes: “That guy's got no shoes!” and so everyone hanging around turns to look at me and starts cheering and clapping. Eep. I feel I should give them a show, so, a little out of character for me, I raise my hands above my head in a double devil's horn salute. Hey, we're in Hell. Plus I have to look strong, maybe make some new converts to the barefoot cause.

This time through the tent, I stop at the refreshment station, and man, do that have all kinds of stuff: Water, Gatorade, three different kinds of pop. M&Ms, chips, licorice, and even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! This is where the 100 milers come through too, and I can't imagine how wonderful this stuff would be after seventy-five miles.

Btw, where are the 100 milers? I haven't seen them. They must be on a completely different, route, though I've seen signs giving directions, therefore I think they must overlap at points, like at the first refreshment station, but I guess they just blend in. I think though that they must have begun to filter in finish? Also, the 50 milers must be out and about too? I have no idea.

Ok, this is it, uncharted territory for me. I've never run this long, or for this much time. Surprisingly, I feel ok, like I've got a little burst of energy, which is bizarre, since if I'd run the marathon I'd be standing back there thinking that I was exhausted and that I couldn't have gone any further. I think it really is psychological.

And now I follow the white flags, which at first go along with the blue flags, but soon I see what's going on. I now get to skip that whole sand/gravel road section. On sections where it's just white flags, I'm alone. Makes sense, since that list of 50Kers I saw only had like twenty people. Chances are we're spread out all over the place.

But then the white flags join back up with the blue flag route and I'm amongst people again. And this time it's true, I'm actually passing people on their second loop of the marathon.

At a point where I'm by myself, I stop for a quick piss break. I casually look down to check my urine color, just to see if I'm on the more dehydrated side. What comes out is red. I'm pissing blood! Uh oh. This can't be good. Wtf? Is that extreme dehydration? Or am I about to die? I feel ok. Shit.

Well, I'm halfway through my last loop, might as well finish, but, eep!

Turns out I also get to skip the Enchanted Forest section this time around, and I come in right where some marathoners are coming out of it, and to my woe, behind a guy with a beeping watch. I still do not get this, this fascination men have with toys, nor do I understand what this beeping is gaining him. They come every couple seconds, and he seems to still be varying his pace with the hills. Is it a heart monitor? But, it's not beeping every heartbeat, so what good is the beep? Just seems like more of an egotistical thing, to show off to others that he has money to buy a toy, and is therefore a 'serious' runner. Dude, seriously? On a trail marathon even? Just turn off your watch and enjoy the ride.

But, that's just me, and yes I know I'm getting dehydrated and tired and feeling grumpy, and possibly going to die soon from blood loss through my penis. So I channel my annoyance and pass him on a hill.

But then, there are the two women on horses again. Or, are they two different women? Not sure, they're just sitting there in the trail, the horses facing each other. I call out that I'm passing through, and go around off the trail, giving the rear horses hooves a large leeway. One of them gasps. “You're barefoot!”

I yell back, “Yes. I am,” and continue. But, I hear her ask beeping guy, “Why's he barefoot?”

And, he answers, “Oh, some people just think it's cool.”

Grr. Motherfucker. Fuck you you fucking fuck. Why don't you just say you don't know? Grr.

I hope he doesn't end up being around me for the rest of the race. That would suck mightily. Fortunately, I hit a kind of rough downhill area, where I have to slow down. So, instead of fighting him and trying to outrun him, I just step to the side and let him pass. Bye bye beeper. But know this: I'm going to be finishing my 50K a few minutes later than your marathon. With no shoes, and no beeping watch.

Ok, so maybe I am kind of a superior-sounding barefooter. Righteous even. Breathe John. Concentrate on important things.

Like the two attractive women I'd noted earlier, on the first loop, who I'd thought were running the half, but who now breeze on by me. Lovely. Wearing tight black running shorts and t-shirts that say 'Mongo' which I don't understand. Do they work at Mongolian barbeque? Anyways, they're gone. Visions. Angels.

I'm ok. I'm going slow, but not waddling. That initial energy burst is gone, perhaps pissing blood will do that, but I'm not trudging either. I'm looking forward to being done though. But, there is no doubt that I'm going to finish, which in itself kind of gives me energy.

And, as a last treat, I get to go through the mud bog a third time. If predator space aliens ever hunt me through the woods, I know to come here and cover my whole body in the stuff, in order to avoid their infra-red sensors. It's important to know these things.

And if I'm at the mud bog, that means, yep, I'm almost done. One last refresh station, couple more miles, getting passed by a couple small groups of people. One guy running with two attractive women: “Boy, he's going to have to wash his feet when he gets home!” Har har dude, you're overwhelming the ladies with your wit.

But, basically alone for the last bit. I come up the hill into the campground. By now, the gravel road is just brutal on my feet. No strong fast sprint finish here, though I feel I could have. I just try to keep a decent pace and aim for the less rocky bits.

A band is playing, lots of people out on the grass field watching, though I pass by almost unnoticed. I take the Finish shoot and people there do clap and cheer. There's a photographer on the other side of the finish line, so I stop and raise my right foot in a Karate Kid crane position, trying to look fierce, which gets some laughs and cheers. Then I playfully hop on and over the running mats.

A woman with a clipboard is waiting for me. “Well, since you have so much energy, maybe you should've run a longer race.” Indeed, that's exactly what I'm thinking.

She takes my name and race and age. She's handing out top finisher prizes for each age and race category, but alas didn't place anywhere close to first in this one. No surprise, seemed like any 50Ker I met out there was a forty-something male.

She cuts my chip off (duct-taped btw), and her daughter hands my my medal: A peace sign with rainbow ribbon. Of course.

And then....A real feeling of anti-climax. People are watching the band, or wandering around. I'm the only one to have come in for a while it seems. I see other runners with medals, but they look like they're been sitting around. I don't know. Weird, but I guess it's the fact that the half-marathoners finished long ago, and even most of the marathoners will have finished by now.

I wander down to the tent, where there's free food for finishers. I down two bottles of water, still worried that I may be extremely dehydrated and not know it, though again, I feel ok. The food they have, sandwiches and salads, is kind of stale and unappetizing. I'd rather have some more PB&Js and Fig Newtons.

Another runner comes in. He looks exhausted, and since he's got some people there to greet him, I presume he is one of the 100 milers. Or, 100K? Or 50 miler? And, nobody but his crew is paying attention to him either. Dude, the guy just ran 100 miles. There should be cheering, balloons going off. I know it would be hard to have some sustained celebration for all the finishers coming in all day, and I don't know how the organizers could do this any better, but still, it seems almost disrespectful to not acknowledge this courage.

And, there are still people running: two women come through for another loop. Man, there's just going to be people finishing for hours maybe.

Ok, well, I feel kind of weird just standing around. I go into the tent and grab my bag o' stuff that I didn't end up needing at all. But at least I can slip on my huaraches and some dry shirts. I was hoping I'd run into some of the people I met on the trail, but no. I do, however, run into a woman sitting with one leg raised and an ice pack wrapped over her knee. She notices my muddy feet and asks which race I've done. Turns out she's just finished the 100K. You wouldn't think it from looking at her. She's petite, thin, quiet, with white hair. She must be over fifty, maybe over sixty. As we're chatting, she lets slip that she used to run 100 milers, “back in the day,” though nowadays she says she always gets 'timed out' in them (meaning she's a bit too slow and can't make the mandatory cut-off times). She likes this race, which she drove 800 miles to be in, because the 100Kers are given the same time to finish as the 100 milers, so she can make it. Amazing. I tell her that she's my hero. I want to be like her when I grow up. Unfortunately I don't get her name. She's probably somebody famous in the running community. Maybe I've just missed the opportunity to crew for somebody cool.

My priority is to talk to an EMT, and I'm directed to a fire department truck up near the parking lot. They inform me that pissing blood has nothing to do with dehydration, that I may be passed a kidney stone, or have some kind of infection. I should monitor it and if I'm concerned, get my urine tested. They offer to give me directions to a nearby medical station that's open on Saturdays, but since they don't seem overly concerned, meaning that I don't seem to be in imminent danger of dying, I decide to wait.

And, since I'm basically almost to the parking lot, I decide, well, to just get heading back home. I'm not exhausted feeling. I'm tired, but certainly up for driving. One of these days I'm going to need to get a girlfriend to do these things for me, so I can allow myself to suffer.

When I get to the parking lot, it's mostly deserted. All the people who are left seem to be the ones who came for the whole weekend. Farewell Woodstock! Perhaps next year for something longer?

So, to re-cap: I remain undecided about the fast start. Seems like it works psychologically at least, tapping into the initial adrenaline burst.

As for the question of how possible running a 50K is, I say,in my best Russian accent, 'ees very possible!' For all you Americans out there, according to 'teh internets,' 50 kilometers equals 31.07 miles. Seriously, if someone can run a marathon, they can do a 50K no problem. I can now see myself running 50 miles. I think it really is a mental thing after a certain point.

Final note: my next urination is yellow. All is apparently well.