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?
BWEEP BWEEP BWEEP!
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.
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.