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.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Interview with me by Dan Clark

Fellow runner Dan Clark, who I met at the Somerset Stampede, recently interviewed me for his blog/podcast. It's an audio recording.

You can hear it here.

Thanks Dan!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The 'Falling Forward' Technique

Today I ran four hours on the Falling Waters Trail starting in Jackson and going out to Concord and back. A little over ten miles one way, so about twenty-one miles. I didn't mean to go quite so far, since I've signed up for a 50K in two weeks, I thought I'd just go out for three hours. But, the weather was great, a cool day with the sun out, the trees just starting to turn, running by lakes and through forest. At my pre-determined time turn around time, I just thought, 'Aw, what's another half-hour out to Concord?' I was feeling good, in part maybe from having a decent night's sleep, and a breakfast of chia seeds with peach slices and some almonds.

I think though, that I was feeling good because of how fast I was going. Even though I've been running barefoot for over a year now, I'm still experimenting, and my main experiment this summer has been the 'falling forward' technique that Barefoot Ken Bob explained at his seminar in Okemos (see previous post). Jason Robillard also talks about this in his Barefoot Runners Handbook (see another previous post for a review, though he now has a new expanded edition).

I'll back up by giving a brief explanation of the barefoot running stride, at least as I understand it. I am by no means the originator of the idea. Ken Bob and Jason talk about this, and it can be considered common knowledge in the barefoot running scene. Instead of 'pushing off' with the feet, like shod runners do, I've been working on the technique of 'lifting' my foot. It may seem like a matter of semantics, but the effect really does make a difference, and makes for a much softer landing (I can't even call it a foot 'strike' like shod runners use, since my feet land fairly softly). The pace should be fairly quick, and I start off, as recommended by Ken Bob, by just standing in place and lift my feet to a 180/190 pace (about the beat of a fast paced pop song). By concentrating on lifting each foot, the other foot just naturally comes down softly.

Another key point: Keeping my knees bent. After seeing Ken Bob and how low he goes, I try and do something similar. This doesn't initially feel 'natural' but feels more and more so, the more I do it.

After that, the idea is to keep that pace, and just lean your body forward. The feet naturally just move in a forward motion to keep the body upright. They actually make almost a little circle: Once the foot lands, the body is moving, so when the foot is raised, it automatically pulls forward a little as it comes up. With enough lean, and maintaining a good fast lifting pace, the body scoots fairly quickly forward. Seeing Barefoot Ken Bob demonstrate this was amazing. His upper body and torso don't appear to be doing any work at all.

Nevertheless, I've found that, left to myself, when I zone out on a run, I tend to run fairly slowly. When I do do the 'falling forward lean' I've felt that my feet were 'hitting' harder, and that this was hurting my feet. But, as I've been experimenting, I've come to think that it's been more of a question of technique. When I really relax my whole body (easier said than done!) I seem to run fairly quickly. I think the relaxing part is key. If I'm running stiff, with my body tensed, I think THAT actually causes me to 'strike' with my feet rather than lift. As I've been experimenting, I've been able to fall into my groove, when my body feels relaxed, my feet are moving fairly quickly, to the point where I can feel my heart rate go up, which makes me think that leaning forward increases my pace.

Giving a lean still feels a bit unnatural, and I've found that for trail running I run a little slower, in upright position, because I just don't like running that fast over trails with lots of pokey things. But on pavement and cement, when everything is clear, I can go pretty quick. But I do have to concentrate on leaning forward, and it's surprising how much just leaning forward an inch (or so it feels) can change my pace.

As my mind wanders and I go into my zone, my natural inclination is to lean back, torso straight, and this does feel good, and gives me a slow mellow run. So, the longer the run, the harder it is to stay concentrating on leaning forward. But I think I'm getting better. My evidence: Last time I ran out to Concord and back, it took me 4.5 hours. This time, while really working on the falling-forward technique, I did it in four hours on the dot. There are other factors, surely, but I really feel I upped my speed considerably, without feeling that much more exhausted. Since the feet are, ideally, lifting up at the same rate, torso straight or leaning forward, I should be technically expending the same amount of energy. But like I said, if my heart rate goes up when 'falling forward,' that sounds like I am actually running at a faster pace.

It's seems odd that I have such a hard time relaxing while running, and having to concentrate on relaxing seems almost like a type of oxymoron, but my hope is that, as I continue to practice, my relaxed, leaning forward zone, will come easier.

Just another reminder that, at least running barefoot, every run is still an experiment, still a new experience. That's why I like it!

Coming soon: My Woodstock 50K experience!