Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fat Ass Marathon, Brighton MI December 2011

I probably shouldn’t be here. I’m recovering from a bad cold this week, even though the fever broke, I’m still not feeling well, aggravated by having to get up early, and whenever I have to get up early, I end up not sleeping well the night before, thus effectively putting me at only a few hours of sleep.

But I can’t help it. I’m curious. I’m at my first “FAT ASS” marathon. Although it’s being put on by the ‘RUT’ (Running Fit Ultra-Running Team), as I understand it, this is a growing nation phenomenon, in which someone with a little bit of time on their hands, enough to make some flyers and make a FaceBook group page anyways, invites anyone that wants to come out and run an unofficial race. For free. Yep, let me repeat that: For free.

And, a bunch of local runners have come out to do just that. We’re in the Island Lake Recreation Area, near Brighton, Michigan, so there are lot’s o’ folks from here and Ann Arbor, plus some from the outer Detroit burbs, and even a couple of us from wee ole Jackson, an hour away. We’re gathering in the parking lot of the trailhead, or a trailhead. Running Fit, the local running store chain, has actually donated their van, and some logistical items like flagging and a sign up/in sheet. The organizers seem to be upper management, or at least managers, from the local stores. Running Fit hosts a ton of ‘real’ races during the warmer months around here, so it’s very cool of these folks to donate their time to doing this. I suppose Running Fit gets some free promotion, but really I think it’s because they, and the RUTsters, just love running, and love getting runners together.

And, I’m seeing some familiar faces. There’s Mark, a fellow teacher at JCC, and all around crazyassfast distance runner. And there’s Sweet Melissa, my running partner from the Woodstock 50M, back from her finish at the Javelina Jundred down in Arizona. And here’s Jocelyn, another member of the Barefoot Running Society, who I keep bumping into (and sometimes just missing) at various and sundry races.

Those folks, plus others, faces, that I recognize from other events in the last two years. Many people seem to know each other really well, from the weekly RUT runs, but even they are saying that there’s a lot more people here than normal. Word is out I guess.

This does feel race-ish. The nervous chatter. The insider jokes. The war-stories and semi-bragging of when everyone’s next ‘real’ race is. I put my name on the big sign in sheet, where there’s a space for my distance and time when I get done, so they at least might have an idea if someone is out lost and wandering in the woods. Everyone (except, like, me) has brought food or something to drink, and it’s all mostly junk food, though some fruit.

One of the organizers explains the route is a combo of the two biggest trail loops in the rec area: the longer ‘blue’, which is I think around 8 miles, combined with the yellow, which is around 5 miles, which then hooks back up to the blue for a little bit at the end, making for a big loop of 13.4 miles (at least, according to on RUTster I spoke with). So, people can opt to run one or two loops, with the option to run the yellow loop again to make it 50Kish. It sounds and looks complicated on the map. I’m sure I’ll get lost. I’m sure I’ll be running by myself and be in my zen zone and completely miss a turn-off, but Mark assures me that it’s super easy. As for how long I’ll go, the way I’m feeling, I’m not sure if I’ll be up for more than a half-marathon today, though on the other hand, knowing my stubborn self, who knows.

By the way, it’s cold! Below freezing now, though supposedly going to be sunny and in the high 30s by the end of the day. I’m wearing a wicking shirt, an Ibex wook shirt, and my Bigfoot 50K warm up long sleeve, plus gloves and a knit hat. I have on my regular running shorts, some running pants over them, and then my warm-up ‘shell’ pants, which I was going to take off for the race, but Sweet Melissa and I both decide to keep that extra layer on.

My big new thing is my pair of Merrell ‘Glove’ minimalist shoes, which I’ve bought basically for this very purpose: cold weather. I’m a barefoot guy mostly, and even ran barefoot all one winter, but only in short spurts. Now that I’m more used to longer running, I just want to stay warm, and keep the snow and slush off a little.. The VFFs don’t cut it, at all, and in some ways seem to make my feet colder than when I’m barefoot. So far, my feet have been ok, wandering around, but the toes are starting to get a little cold. I hope we start running soon!

We all gather for a group photo. I’m bad at judging crowds, but it seems like there’s 40 of us? Maybe? Being with a bunch of other crazy people that would run a race in the cold feels great.

Then, people start running. Jocelyn and I look at each other. I ask, “Is that the start of the race, or are people running to the start line?”

“I’m not sure!”

Finally we just figure out that the ‘race’ has indeed begun. Ok, fine, I wanted to start out slow. I just don’t want to get all hot and sweaty right at the beginning. So, I jump in behind someone and we’re off down a trail.

Seems many people have the same idea as I, except for like Mark who I know took off sprinting. It’s actually kind of funny, I’ve never seen a ‘bottleneck’ this long, with about ten people in front of me and 20 behind, all of us in one long line. It actually reminds me though of why I like these races, because they’re less a competition than some kind of primal reenactment of a tribal hunt. Here we are all, the tribe, lined out and ready to isolate and run down an antelope.

There’s about an inch of snow on the ground and in the trees, which is nice. The trail is either packed down snow and ice, or sometimes melted off to reveal dirt. We’re certainly not in the wilderness, zigging and zagging over one road already, and then skirting another parking lot, but it’s quiet. Our pace is slow, enough to get me warmed up. I feel ok. I actually feel like my body is responding to running. Like, my cold felt worse just sitting around the house. Now that I’m outside with fresh air on my face, exerting myself, I’m feeling good.

So good that when the trail eventually widens into a two-track that I break out and pass the folks ahead of me. I’m not the only one: the whole long line dissolves as people find their pace. I end up with three others. We pass yet another parking area and zip out onto a road. And, get passed by one of the organizers, who must be getting a quickie in, since he’s going fast. I bet that one, he’s some kind of superfast ultra god, and two, he’s just going to run a half-marathon real quick and be there waiting for the majority of us back at the start. He smiles at us as he goes by. “Well, no one’s got lost yet! That’s good!”

The trail takes us over what I think is the Huron River, through some forest, over some fields, “where the winds hit heavy” and back into forest. It’s nice. I’m still feeling good. I like knowing that even if I’m feeling kinda crappy that I can still run at least a half-marathon, almost literally in my sleep! And my new minimalist shoes are working perfectly, keeping me warm and dry. Wouldn’t want to run on pavement with them, since I have absolutely no sensation down there, and am therefore striking harder than I would, but on a trail that’s ok. Or, at least not that bad. I’m still trying to run in good barefoot form: bent knees, lifting the feet, and relaxing my upper torso. It’s just amazing how tense I get, and amazing how much better/faster I run when I simply take a deep breath and exhale, letting my shoulders drop.

As aid stations, the organizers have left some big water jugs sitting on chairs as a couple places, but so far my water bottle has been enough. I should probably be drinking more, but when the air is cold like this, I hardly feel like I’m sweating at all.

And lo! There’s the turn off onto the yellow loop. I didn’t miss it! Yay! This section is a wee bit more hilly, but nothing too bad. It’s Michigan, it can’t ever be that hilly. More forest, river(s) (ie maybe the same one), and small lakes. Mostly low-lying swamp, with ‘sandhills’. And, the sun is out, for sure, reflecting brightly off the snow. An actually really good day for a run.

Through a parking lot filled with dudes and their mountain bikes. Not a woman to be seen. Biking has always seemed like a dude sport to me, because guys just seem to get into toys, like leaf blowers and chainsaws. They like have some machine that makes them feel manly. I just can’t get into it. I have two bikes actually, which I use to bike to work, and was a bike messenger at one time, but road biking just seems like an never-ending money trap. I mean, you can buy rims for $2000! Just rims!

And back on to the blue loop for not more than a mile before popping out back at the start, where other runners are gathered under the nearby pavilion, eating and drinking. I stop in for a banana and some orange slices, resisting the junk food until at least after I’m done. There is some homemade chicken soup though, so I break my vow of vegetarianism and partake. Thank you Chicken! I take you into me, so that you become a part of me, and I of you. We are one. I am Chicken Man.

Invigorated, I go to my truck to change clothes. Because yes, I’m going to do a second loop. I feel good. My three top layers are all soaked though, which throws a small wrench in my plans. I was sort of planning on using the top two layers and just changing out the shirt, but no. Hm. Well, I guess I’ll wear the second shirt, plus the hoodie I was just going to where after. It’s certainly warm enough, but it’s cotton, and if it gets really wet, will one, not hold heat, and two, be really annoying to run in. But it’s all I got.

After another cup of Mr. Chicken, energized now with Chicken Power, I head off for round two. Bwock bwock!

And I’m alone. I’m thinking a lot of folks just ran the half. Or are going to. I think I’m about half-way in the pack. I feel a hell of a lot more alone, and now I start having thoughts like, Crap, what if I’m one of the only slow people to do the second loop? Then they’ll be waiting on me.

But, wait, there’s someone coming up behind me. I remember seeing her in the parking lot. We exchange pleasantries, I tell her I’m glad I’m not the only one out here, and then she scoots on by, leaving me alone again.

The fields are a bit more windy this time around, creating a windchill factor, but once back in the trees, with the sun getting higher, the air is getting warmer, and the snow is melting a bit. A guy catches up to me and we run together for a while. He’s not sure he can do the whole loop again, having run 30 miles on his own recently, and with a ‘real’ race to do next weekend. He tells me about the short cut: that instead of taking the yellow loop, if one stays right on the blue, it’s only less than a mile back to the start.

“Man, I wish you hadn’t told me that! Now it’s going to be very tempting!”

We laugh, and despite his reservations, he’s on a faster pace than I am and takes off.

There are some more people out here though, because here comes two more. They run a little behind me for a while, so I can hear their convo, and the guy is telling the woman that he’s going to speed up a little. They say goodbye, he passes me with a hello, and is gone. Gotta admire all these people who can pick up the pace on the second loop, but anyways, the woman and I start talking. Her name is Hong, I remember her from the pavilion. She too is not sure about doing the whole loop the second time around, but seems ok with running my pace, which helps pass the time and in fact probably keeps me from bogging out. She’s one of the RUT people and has some ultras planned for winter and spring. We exchange histories and race info and I talk her into doing the yellow loop portion.

Another woman catches up to us, Melissa I think her name is, and she and Hong are friends. They’re going to a race somewhere soon together, along with a bunch of other women RUTsters. After handing with us for a while, she feels the energy and scoots on ahead. Again, admirable.

She seems to get Hong worked up, as she picks up the pace just a little bit. And...then I start to lose it. I friggin know that since we’re on the yellow loop that we can’t have more than a few miles at the most to go, yet, I just start to bog down. My stomach feels weird, like an alien chestburster might be lurking there, and the water I filled up on tastes weird and...I simply may not be in the shape I need to be. I’m trudging. Not walking, but not running too fast either.

Finally the parking lot with all the mountain biker dudes, though they’re all mostly gone now. Less than a mile! I still can’t pick it up though. Crazy.

But, then, finally, there’s the pavilion! I made it! Check my time: 5:33. Ok, I’ll take it! That’s about my normal time for a trail marathon, and this was actually a little longer.

Hong and her friends are there and I have to admit that it’s nice to have people know your name. The Cheers effect I guess. Now the eating of the food begins. Plus, why not, a Coke. Tastes friggin great. And the last slice of pumpkin pie!

I check the sign in sheet. Man, there was 91 people! Some of them must have started late. And I think the majority of folks ran just the half-marathon. Mark ran the 50K and in fact finished like 25 minutes before me. And actually, Hong finished in 5:03. Man, if I could have just stayed with her! But that means I lost most of my time in those last 3 miles, when she took off.

Most people have come and gone, most of the parking lot is empty. The organizer dudes are staying until 4pm (It’s like 1:30), but while I’m there, three guys come in and go back out for the shorter yellow loop to get their 50Ks in. So, I wasn’t even last!

But, I’m done. I’m fine with a marathon. Now that I’m starting to cool down, I’m beginning to cough a little. Interesting: I’ve been fine all this time. But, this may explain my bog down right at the end. I best be getting changed out of these clothes. Merrells did good though. Some blisters on the heels, but they’re still new.

I big adieu to everyone and the organizer shakes my hand and thanks me for coming out. How friggin cool is that? These guys rock! There’s another FAT ASS scheduled for New Year’s day up around here. I’m totally in. To run, free, with a bunch of other people who love running as much as I do. I hope this FAT ASS idea spread more.

And, now, I’m going to head on into Ann Arbor and hang out for the day. Hopefully there’s a good movie playing, as that’s about all I have the energy for. Sign me up for a nice hot green tea....


[photo courtesy of Mark McCaslin]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jackson Turkey Trot 2011

What better way to spend a free day than running around the deserted streets of my town, especially when it’s with 400 other crazy runners. Yes, this year’s Jackson Turkey Trot is actually kinda halfway serious, with sponsors and everything, so that I believe attendance has like, quadrupled. There’s a 5K, 10K and a 5K walk, as well as a kids run to start things off.

And, they’ve even got swag bags, with some stuff I’ll actually use, like a pen, a travel size toothpaste (? for a run? alright....) and, in addition to the obligatory t-shirt, they’ve included a pair of light wool gloves, which I think is nice, and appropriate for the Michigan climate right now.

It’s in the 40s, and overcast, though the sky it supposed to clear up today and be sunny. We’ll see about that, but at least the streets are dry this year. My feet are a little raw from all the BF running I did last weekend, trying to get all the days in I can before the snow really gets here, and wet pavement would make running just that much more uncomfortable. I think I’m going to be ok, even though I remember some parts of this route are a little rough.

I’ve arrived early, and obtained a good parking space, twenty feet from the start/finish line, right outside the YMCA, so I can hang out in my truck and stay warm. In getting my swag, I also heard that the kids run will be at 9, then the adults will run at 9:15, so I know I can stay in a little longer. I also saw the line for late registerers inside, and I suspect we’ll start even a little later. I could actually probably bear standing around outside except that my feet are bare, and the pavement is cold, so I’m going to wait until the last minute.

So, from my truck I get to see the gaggle o’ kids that do the run. There’s only about ten of them, but they’re all insanely cute as they start off, most of them too young to even really know how to run yet, just doing their best imitation of what adults do. They run around the block and come trickling back in, to a huge roar from the adult crowd, which I’m sure they love.

I figure I better get out and join the horde standing around in the street, though instantly regret it because, well, it’s cold. I see Steve, the guy who organizes this run, standing up by the door, looking back inside through the window at the people who are still trying to sing up. Kinda annoying, that those of us who signed up ahead of time are having to freeze while we wait for these slowpokes, but ok John, let it pass. It’ll all work out.

I see the JCC cross country team is all here so, not that I had any aspirations at winning this thing, but I just know they, and I think I see the hoodies from some other cross-country teams here too, are just going to tear this thing up, probably finishing it before most of us get halfway. It’s weird. I know I have no chance of winning, yet somehow I’m all pumped to give it my all, to run as fast as I can. I guess I don’t see it as a competition so much as some kind of ritual, with all of us runners participating and pushing each other. Ah hell, who am I kidding? I’m also competitive, and I’m sure I’ll be trying to beat the majority, especially since I’m the only barefoot dude here. Gotta represent!
Interestingly, I do see two VFFers: a guy about my age maybe, and a young teen boy. For Jackson, that’s significant. I, of course, am getting the odd looks. Nobody’s being blatant, but they’re all kind of looking at me when they think I can’t see them, then whispering to each other. Ah well. I’m used to it. I do hear them using the term ‘barefoot runner,’ (vs. “that dude has no shoes!”) so I once again think that that ‘idea’ or ‘concept’ is now in the public consciousness. Even in little ole Jackson, MI.

Ok, the last of the late signer-uppers finally comes out the door and Steve starts to talk into the mic, but the PA isn’t that loud, and everyone is talking, so that most people don’t even notice. I just kind of read his lips as he begins the countdown and bam, we’re off!

We head east on Wesley. This year we even have cops blocking off the streets! I hear some more comments about me, like, “Are you serious?” “Look at that guy!” and (my favorite) “Oh my gosh!” Only in the midwest do people still say ‘gosh.’

We cut over to Washington, a two-lane one-way street. No cars, but we stay in the southern lane. The road is kinda rough. I stay out towards the middle, where there are less cracks and potholes. The crowd thins quickly, and I’d say I’m towards the front of the pack, though I can see the cross-country youths (or, ‘yoots’) way out ahead. And, I’m running pretty steady. Just slightly under out of breath, trying to keep good barefoot running form, lifting the feet, fast cadence, bending the legs. I’m trying to be better about upper body form too, since I’ve now been able to see pics of myself running, and when I go fast, my torso tends to go straight up and down and, embarrassingly, my head tends to tilt backwards! I look awful when I do this, so I’m really trying to lean forward slightly with my torso, and bend my neck forward. Thing is, I’m not sure doing so really gets me anything. That is, I feel like I run just as fast in that wacked-out posture. But, ‘better to look good than to feel good.’

We cross South West Ave., the main north/south artery through town, where cars are waiting patiently for us to get the hell out of the way. More cops here too! We must be the only game in town right now. And, so far I’m hanging with the crowd. There’s not a lot of position changing, everyone has now settled into a steady, but fast pace. My idea is to just go balls out for the 5K, which is what most people are running, and then see what I have left for the second loop (which makes it a 10K).

And here’s that nasty road. We turn left, south, for a block, over all kinds of potholes and cracks and chunks. I can’t help but slow down a little and get passed by a couple shodheads. Grr. Oh well. But then we turn left again and head back east, on Division, another one-way road, and it’s nice and smooth. And, it’s downhill, so I actually pass the passers!

The streets have been deserted mostly, and quiet. Even all the houses just look empty, but by now some people have realized there’s a race going on and are coming out on their porches in their jammies and giving us some words of encouragement. There’s even someone from an apartment building, who I can’t see, but who yells out, “Go on, y’all!”

We come back into the downtown area, out back of the Y, and turn left, then another quick left, and voila, there’s the finish line three blocks away! Everyone guns it, though again, we’re all kind of at the same pace, so there’s no last minute passing. Most people head into the flagged off chute to end the 5K, but a few of us keeping going. And again, just like last year, Steve, the organizer, who has done Iron Man Triathalons, looks at me and shakes his head, saying, “I could never do that.”

I shrug and smile, but then a young woman onlooker suddenly yells out, “Woo! Somebody’s rocking the bare feet! Yeah!” Sounds like she’s maybe even a BFers herself. And doh! I forgot to check my time on the clock!

Onward. I’m still keeping a good fast past, and steady, though maybe yes, a wee bit slower. Feeling the urge to pace myself a little. I’ve got two guys up ahead of me, and I can hear someone right behind me, she seems to be pacing off of me. I hate when people do that, but on the other hand it does kind of kick in my competitive nature and keep me moving.

And yep, the feet are feeling a little raw. I don’t usually, actually, never, run this fast on pavement. Last time I ran this fast was for the Naked Foot 5K over in Grand Rapids, but that was mostly on grass! But, it’s not affecting my speed, I’m feeling good actually, until we take the left onto that horrible road between Washington and Division. I can just feel the grit, and have to slow down, so that the runner behind me finally passes me. But again, once I’m on the smooth pavement, heading downhill, I pass her.

We’re running into the 5K walkers now, and sometimes have to duck and weave around them. They seem surprised that we’re still running, though surely there have been more than a few that have already come by. I get some more shocked gasps about my feet at this point.

One guy passes me, and at one point he tries jumping up on the curb to run in the grass. Ah, I remember when I ran shod and did stuff like that. I bet he gets plantar fasciitis. Come join the forces of light, Sir!

I don’t feel like I’m slowing down, but maybe I am, because the woman following me makes her move and passes me again, and this time puts some distance between us. Then I really do feel like I slow down a bit, with no one on my ass challenging me. But, not far now. Road’s kinda rough as we come back into downtown. I try running on the paint lines in the middle, but then the road seems to get smoother, and I’m coming up on a couple lefts anyways, so I decide to just tough it out.

And there’s the finish! There’s a long line of walkers, including some groups with strollers, but I zig and zag, not quite what I’d call sprinting, but pushing my cadence, and zip into the chute at almost 45 minutes exactly! I’m not sure if that’s good or not, but it feels good! I feel good.

I wander inside the Y, grab a banana and a bottle of water, talk to someone I know for a little bit, then head to my truck.

Driving home, I realize the time is only 10:30, so when I get home, I throw on the VFFs and go for a half hour trail run, just because I can. Tomorrow, another day off, and a LSD run. Foot check: I actually have a couple little blisters on the bottoms of my feet, which is new for me, but which I know is from running fast on pavement. I didn’t even get blisters on the Detroit Marathon, so speed really does change the way I’m running I guess. Perhaps a little bit more on the sloppy side. Perhaps inevitable?

John Yohe

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Detroit Marathon 2011

Detroit, where the weak are killed and eaten. This is my fourth Detroit Marathon, my third barefoot, and it’s become kind of my ‘test’ for my running skill, since it’s the only race I’ve run where the course has mostly been the same, and paved. There are still variables, like especially the weather, but it’s the last long race I’ll do in the year, barefoot at least. So, this year, after attempting a hundred miler and bogging out at mile 70, and then running two fifty milers, I feel like I should be able to do better here, since my mileage has been way up. The qualifier on that though is that I maybe haven’t been keeping the high mileage up since the Dances With Dirt 50M a month ago, and even before that I had started to slack off. As a teacher, I had the summer off, so could run all I wanted, but once the Fall semester kicked in, my running time was cut drastically. An excuse? Yes, maybe. But I’m hoping that my body is still ‘charged’ after Dance With Dirt, enough so that a measly marathon will be no problem, and therefore I can go a bit faster.

The weather this morning is surprisingly warm. Yesterday a big windstorm went through lower Michigan, with some rain, and we’re supposed to have similar conditions today, but right now, at 6 in the morning, the air feels the warmest it’s been for any Detroit Marathon. In fact, I have no problem with ditching my warmer gear, my jacket and moccasins, and putting them in my gear bag, to be reclaimed later. In fact, I’m almost wondering if I need my running ‘shell’ jacket or not, since it doesn’t breathe. But I only have a wicking t-shirt on underneath, and from past experience I know the Ambassador Bridge can be bitter windy cold.

Other than that I have a pair of compression shorts, with some old running pants on over them. I’m also wearing two pairs of old cotton socks until the race starts, which are bright white compared to all my other black clothing, so getting some odd looks. People can see that I have a race bib on, but where are my shoes? Odd....

A little after 6:30 I get in the monstrous line already forming. It’s blocks long, so getting to where I want takes some time. Even now I’m unsure of my strategy. Usually my MO is to start in a faster pace than I anticipate, and take advantage of the adrenalin to run a fast first half, then penguin waddle my way to the end. After talking to some other marathoners, particularly my friend Mark from work, I’m considering starting slower, so that I can kick out the jams on the second half and feel good. Problem with that is, I tried that once, on my first barefoot Detroit Marathon, and ended up with a dismal 4:45. I kinda feel like after two hours my body just goes into ‘trudge’ mode, that no matter how slow I run, the act of being on my feet, even running slow, creates a fatigue that is hard to dispel in the second half. But I’m not sure on any of this.

Still, my tentative goal is to get under 3:50. My PR for this race is 3:59. As it happens, weaving through the crowd, I end up by the 3:50 pacer dude, so I decide, ok, I’ll start at the time I’d actually like to finish, the Middle Way, and see where I end up.

Since there’s so many people, thousands running the half and full, plus walkers in the back, the organizers start the race in waves. I’m in the ‘D’ wave, so even with the official start, we take some minutes to walk to the start line. The whole process seems to be going more smoothly this year, maybe because I’m a little farther up than usual? And when we cross, there’s no log jam, where we have to walk again. Everyone starts running and keeps running. The pace is a good warm up, doesn’t seem too fast, though the adrenaline has kicked in. We head down Congress I believe for a mile, with some onlookers coming out to cheer on their friends and relatives before heading back and meeting us when we come out of the tunnel.

Still dark, but with some street lights. I’m scanning the pavement for glass, trying to keep some space ahead of me, though people move into it as they jockey for position. A guy from the sidelines yells, “Go barefoot dude!” Which causes some guys behind me to notice. “Hey, look at that!” “Man, we should stick with him!”

Other than that, the comments have been minimal. Usually there’s shocked whispering. But maybe up here with the quick people, barefoot running is more heard of? Or maybe it’s just more in the public consciousness at this point? Or maybe I’m thinking too hard about it?

I happen to get in front of another group of people and one guy, with a noticeable southern accent, yells out as the continuation of some conversation, “I think they outta have forced sterilization for anybody on welfare!”

There’s kind of a chilled hush from everybody. He continues: “That’s right, I said it! I’m running a goddamn marathon so I’m going to speak my mind!”

The guy he’s running with, I’m not sure if he’s a friend or just ended up unlucky, tries to joke. “Aw no, we’re not going to talk about politics for 25 miles are we?”

“I just think anybody taking money from the government like that outta not have children!”

A guy ahead of me yells back, “Well, you’re sure making want to run faster than you! So I can get away!”


After the first mile, the route starts to curve, as we make our way up to the Ambassador Bridge. Something’s wrong though. A volunteer lady is yelling, “Be careful! You’re on gravel now!”

Gravel! My old enemy. And yep, there is is. Why is there gravel here? Or we not on the main ramp up? Youch! I try to maintain my same pace, invoking the spirit of Barefoot Ken Bob: “Play with the gravel John!”

Yeah right. Thing is, the gravel goes on for a while. We’re making a second loop around! What gives? This is very different. The only thing that give me hope is that the gravel surely can’t last. And then it does end, thankfully, and we get on cement and pavement, with a definite incline. Both lanes heading to Canada are blocked off for us. There doesn’t seem to be any traffic heading east at all? Hm. Oh well.

One thing I’m trying right from the start is running on the painted lane lines whenever possible. Along with my reduced mileage in the Fall, I also tend to run barefoot less, so I’m a little bit worried about rawness. I was fine for the Wild Life Half Marathon last week, but I just want to give my feets any help they can get for the long haul.

The sun is trying to come up and out from behind some clouds. Downtown Detroit looks awesome with all the building lights still on. And the buildings and lights going up each side of the river. No boats, looking kind of tranquil. It’s funny and kind of embarrassing maybe, but there’s an Occupy Detroit demonstration supposed to be happening this weekend as well. I’m not sure where they are, but I heard it’s ‘only’ five hundred people. So, 20,000 people will come out to run around the streets, but only 500 will come out to actually protest corporation take over of our government. And hey, I know, I’m one of those runners.

Oh, and the wind? Yeah, it’s bitter. I’m glad I have my shell jacket. Some people, women especially it seems, are in shorts and t-shirts. That’s gotta be uncomfortable.

The pavement feels rough. Or, rougher than I remember from last year. Even when we come down into Canada (where the first thing you see is a McDonalds sign-so, they’re civilized) the pavement seems rough. Do I just have a selective memory? Probably. But, I swear I remember the road along the river being one of the smoothest places on the course, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Hm, maybe my feets aren’t as tough as I’d like? Eep!

At least the crowd has more room here. The Canadians still seem normal in every way. Perhaps a little quiet, but it is after all 8 in the morning. They don’t have any extra limbs or anything, and they even seem to know English.

The first relay switch is here, which hardly seems that long, really. What are we at? Five miles? Six? And then we curve around and descend into the Tunnel! The only underground mile in any marathon on the continent!

Just the echo-y sound of heavy breathing and the clomp clomp of shoes. Still a quick pace. In fact, faster than I run on my own, for sure. So, will I be able to sustain this for another three hours? I’m starting to have some doubts.

On the way up and out of the tunnel, there are some Homeland Security folks yelling to make sure everyone has their bib’s visible. Notice that the Canadians didn’t care at all. Much to my surprise, when I round a small bend, I see two ‘migras’ heading towards me! But then one says into his radio, “No, hold on, he’s got his bib on his left leg.”

Wow, I was almost detained!

And then back in the USA. And, it’s raining. Uh oh. Rain is not good on the feets. Softens them up so they get scraped raw quicker. Drat. Am I going to have to bag any shot at a PR? Hm. But, well, it’s not a downpour, just a shower. Still, I make sure to try and keep running on the painted lines. Kinda tough sometimes when shodheads are hogging them. I learn why, potentially, when I overhear a woman say to her boyfriend/husband to stay in the middle of the road in order run the least amount of distance. True? I’m not sure. Doesn’t seem like it, but I’m just a dumb English major. I could write a poem about it though!

Fortunately the rain seems to stop, though the sky is still grey. The roads are still wet though. I find myself behind the 3:45 pacer. Excellent! If I could just stay with him for the rest of the race, I’d be fine. But, he and his group gradually pull ahead. I’m feeling a tightness in my upper thighs, right by the hips. Grr. Is this left over from the half marathon last week? Seems too early to be getting sore.

In the course of what seems like only fifteen minutes, I feel like everyone has started to be passing me, and then, with a loud rumble behind me, a huge group of 10:55ers passes. Really? That quick? I just lost ten minutes that quick? Argh. So I vow to stay with them.

Until, wait, what do I see but another barefoot guy up ahead! The first I’ve seen. There’s supposed to be at least five of us today, but I haven’t seen the others. So, I kick in the overdrive in order to catch up to him. And, it’s Brandon! From Burning River and Dances With Dirt! I pound him on the back and say hey. He says hello and I notice he jaw isn’t wired shut any more. But when I mention that, he looks at me kinda of strangely and says, “I think you have me mixed up with someone else. Must be a good looking guy though.”

I take a second look and I swear it looks like him, but it isn’t. Wow. Ok. I apologize and ask what he’s running. Turns out he’s doing the half, and, he’s only been running BF since September! Wow. He says he was having problems with his Achilles tendon (I think?) and that, and this is hard to believe, his doctor actually recommended that he try barefoot running! Oh how the tides are turning, that a doctor would actually recommend this.

I explain my plantar fasciitis woes from three years ago, and by then we’re coming up on the 13.1 mark. Also, we seem to have fallen a little behind the 3:55 folks. I apologize again, this time for slowing him down. He’s says it’s fine and we part ways, the halfers going off to the right for the last .1, and us marathoners going left.

That thins the herd a bit. We’ve also go a lot of spectators at this point too. My legs are still bogging out. I’m trying the whole relax the upper body thing, but bending my legs is the problem. Still, just focusing on going back to quick short steps seems to help a little.

The route winds into Indian Gardens, the cool, seemingly secret, nice neighborhood right near downtown Detroit. I don’t know how it exists, but there are plenty of trees, and cool big old houses. As usual, the inhabitants have come out to cheer us on, few in number, but loud in voice and stereos. The roads are better here. I don’t know, maybe running on the painted lines makes the roads just feel rougher? And if I just ran on the pavement my feet would get used it, like it seems they are now? The thing about barefoot running is the speculation and experimentation never end. Every run is a new adventure.

While I’ve only seen that one other barefoot guy, I continue to see minimalist runners, almost all of them VFFers. Some pass me, others I pass. One woman in VFFs stops to run a bit with me, saying, “You’re the inspiration to the rest of us out here!” Meaning I guess the other minimalists. That is very kind of her. I thank her, though I’m feeling a little down on myself for getting no where near that 3:50 goal. And, she passes me. So much for inspiration.

I feel I’m not being consistent with my running, but at least I seem to not be getting passed anymore, or not too much. I even decide to take off my shell, feeling a little too warm. But then we get out on Jefferson, right next to the river, with Belle Isle coming up, and the wind immediately gets stronger. So, I put the shell back on, having to feel how wet and slimy the inner lining is. But, as soon as it’s zipped up I feel better. I don’t know, maybe if I let myself be a little cooler I’d run better? Am I sweating more because of the shell? Lots o’ self doubt now as we head over the bridge onto the isle.

And, I seem to slow down again. Pre mental wall? We’re at Mile 19. What I usually like about Belle Isle there’s not mile markers, so we pass over Mile 20 almost without noticing, and we come out at Mile 22, with only four miles to go! Four miles is nothing! I should be able to kick in the overdrive for this.

Yet I can’t. I’m not penguin waddling, but somewhere in there the 4:00 pace team got ahead of me. I was still thinking if I could stay with them until the end, then just kick out the jams right at the end to slip in under 4:00, but....I fear there will be no PR today.

But then it seems like I’ve got some energy and I’m passing people again as we head out onto the Riverwalk, a nice cement pathway, ideal for barefoot running.

We turn back into the city, onto streets. A little uphill. Everyone straining. I can feel people digging deep. I’m trying to maintain a good posture. I’ve noticed in some photos and videos of my running that I tend to lean my head back, and I wonder if that has something to do with my speed, that I’m not leaning forward enough, and therefore not as efficient as a could be, so I’m really trying to keep the head tilted a little bit.

We’re close. Under two miles out. Other runners are bogging out, just stopping and walking. I want to tell them that they’re almost there! Maybe they know already. I don’t know. I’m trying though. Trying to keep steady, wondering if I’ll have a last minute sprint in me.

A left. Two blocks. A right. Slight uphill. I know that next left is the last one and the finish will be right there. I don’t know if I have it.

Then a hand pats me on the shoulder. I don’t know who the guy is, but he’s wearing VFFs and says, “You’re my hero!”

I thank him. He starts to pass me, kicking in, so I kick in too. “Alright! I’m following you in!”

That seems to inspire him. He speeds up. We’re getting to the last turn. Unlike myself, I yell, “Alright man, take me home!”

And we run. We make the turn, and there’s the finish a couple blocks away! We weave and duck between trudgers, and I even end up ahead of him, though just.

The course is now lined with people, but no one is really making much noise. Again, very unlike me, but I decide to try and get them going, lifting my hands and arms, signaling them to start some noise!

It’s works! Everyone starts cheering. I keep signaling as I sprint to the end! A roar of applauders! I finish!

I high five the VFFers dude and thank him.

Check the watch. Ouch. 4:06:59. Basically 4:07. Ok. I’m kinda sad, kinda down on myself, even though that’s basically a normal time for me. Same as my second marathon over 10 years ago. I guess too it’s just feeling emotional, having given my all. Also too seeing everyone finishing and having a family member or someone they know there. I gotta get a girlfriend. But then, she’d probably be running this with me. That would be ok too.

I get my medal, super heavy this year, and a reflective space blanket. A reporter for the Free Press stops to interview me, having noticed my feet. He seems guilty, because I’m eyeing the water bottles behind him, but I’m actually glad to have someone to talk to, and to represent the barefoot running lifestyle. I even give him my email in case he wants to follow up on anything. He’s just shocked when I tell him about my plantar fasciitis woes, and how they vanished. Turns out he too has the dreaded PF, and can’t quite seem to make himself believe me. “It’s just really counter-intuitive!”

While I’m talking, I hear someone call my name. It’s Katie, a coworker! She ran the half, and watched me come in. Good to see a familiar face.

I finally get some water, then two bananas. There wasn’t any fruit at any of the stations, that’s the only thing I didn’t like. Ah well.

I wander to the gear drop and get my bag, glad to sit down and put on my moccasins. My feet actually don’t feel as raw as they have in the past. I guess the run-on-paint-lines strategy worked?

Katie comes by, with her husband and two friends, who all ran the half it looks like. She congratulates me. I’m still down, so I thank her, but then go into how I’d had the 3:50 goal. After they leave, I realize how dumb that was. I should have just said thank you and shut up. No excuse. And also, I mean, I just ran a marathon barefoot in 4:07! That’s pretty damn good! I represented! Maybe I should just drop the whole PR thing and run to enjoy the run. But, how else to challenge myself? Not sure. I’ll have to think about this some more.

Shod, with another jacket layering me, I stand up slowly and start to hobble to my car.

Feet and Medal, post race

Post Race Foot, bottom view

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wildlife Half-Marathon 2011

I like having races almost in my back yard: I get up at six o’clock and that feels like a luxury. After a ten minute mediation session and a somewhat leisurely breakfast (plain yoghurt with almonds, dried cherries, a spoonful of chia seeds, and another spoonful of honey for sweetener), I head out the door at 6:45, and the ride over to Concord is only 15 minutes! Plus they have a more reasonable start time of 8:00.

What a day for a race! What a season! Fall in Michigan is the best, with the leaves all turning color, and a predicted temp of 80. I’m in shorts and a cotton t-shirt and feel fine.

I’m also feeling good because I had a great dinner last night, over at Mark’s. He’s a coworker and monster runner, getting 10th in the Burning River 100. A couple of Mark’s Marathon Maniac friends are up from Missouri to run the Wildlife Marathon, plus Joel, a JCC student, runing his first marathon, with Mark pacing him through for a good quick pace. I rarely get to talk to other runners, and never more than some quick banter before a race, so it was nice to hear all kinds of ‘war stories’ over delicious pasta, courtesy of Mark’s wife, Misty. Made me regret not signing up for the marathon, instead of the half-marathon. But, I’m running the Detroit Marathon next week and want to be in tip-top shape, so I can try for a PR.

I get to Concord High School at 7:00-ish, and zip in to get my bib and chip and t-shirt. Since I ran this last year, I figured they’d have a chip, so this time I planned ahead and brought some duct tape, to form a sticky ankle bracelet so the chip will register when I pass over the mats.

About quarter to eight I spot Mark and the crew hanging out in the Marathon Maniac t-shirts, so I close up the car and head over, barefoot, already getting some neck-snapping second looks. There’s more runner conversation, like about why ultra marathons aren’t represented in the Olympics, and why it shouldn’t be possible to qualify for the Olympic marathon try outs by running a half-marathon, which one guy is going to do today. I also learn that I qualify to be a Marathon Maniac, because I’ve run two marathons within 13 days of each other! Sign me up!

A quick kids dash starts things off right at eight. There’s about twenty of them, in all sizes, from small to super small, though the girl who wins, easily, is decked out in the latest running wear. I think she must be 12, so wow, that’s an early start. Future Olympic marathoner probably.

Then the marathoners are called to the the Start line. I wish everyone good luck. There’s about 40 of them, maybe a little more. Man, that’s going to be a long lonely marathon once they all spread out.

And without much fanfare they begin, Mark and Joel right at the beginning. Man, Mark looks determined. I hope he doesn’t run Joel into the ground!

Next up are us halfers, both runners and people who are walking the whole way, which is going to take all day. I put myself somewhat towards the front. I’m kinda not sure what kind of time I’m going to do this race in, but I’m thinking at least under 1:45. My PR is 1:39, but I’ve been pretty slow this year. Still, I’ve run a couple of 50 Milers recently, and I’m wondering if the upped mileage will help. That’s Mark’s claim: that running faster on marathons comes from upping overall mileage. Still, runing ultras, I tend to go at a fairly slow penguin waddle, which doesn’t really use the faster running muscles. I think. Not sure.

Anyways, I end up next to a woman who teaches yoga. She says she’s not built for barefoot running, even though she says she goes barefoot 90 percent of the time. That stuns me, that someone so much into the barefoot lifestyle, and who runs marathons, would be resistant to even trying barefoot running. I think I convince her to at least try it. Hopefull she does before the weather gets too cold. I don’t think anyone in Michigan is going to try barefoot running during the winter months.

And we’re off! I try not to start too fast, but the adrenaline is hard to resist. Still, even with holding myself back, I end up at the front. We go through a few twists and turns through little Concord, and the roads are pretty rough. Fortunately I know we’ll spend most of our time on the Falling Waters trail, which I’ve run many a time, and which is a nice smooth bike path. Still, to save my feetsies, I run on long strips of rubber/tar that have been laid over road cracks. Nice and soft cushy surface.

And, another plan-ahead moment, when we reach the Falling Waters trailhead, I know enough to zip around the gravel parking lot, along the outer grass edge, which I didn’t do last year. Much better this way, and I don’t lose much time at all, way less than if I tried to man-card up over the rocks.

And onto the paved path. Man, gorgeous day. Sunny, warm, but not too warm, with the leaves en regalia, and our first lake on the right. Us halfers are scooting pretty fast, so we actually end up catching some of the marathoners, who at this point are still on the same route, making for a, if not crowded, then full trail, which is about car width. I even pass one of the Marathon Maniacs from last night, who’s name I forget already. But, we exchange pleasantries. If I were running the marathon, I might be running about his pace, but for now I wave and move onward. I wish I could keep this pace for a whole marathon. Maybe I’ll be closer to doing that next week.

In the meantime, I’m loving having the home field advantage. I’m not sure why, or if it’s even really true, but I just feel like seeing all this familiar territory helps me relax a little? Which lets me run faster? Not sure, but I’m still really trying to relax into my pace. Relaxing the upper body, but keeping a good swift cadence. And, after getting a little out of breadth back through Concord, now that I’m out on the trail and basically just going straight and flat, I’m only just a little bit into anaerobic mode. That is, I probably couldn’t hold a conversation, but don’t feel winded either. I feel good. I feel like the more I relax, the faster I run, which is weird, but cool.

Through a couple aid stations. I’m carrying my Amphipod bottle, so I don’t even have to slow down. I’m liking not drinking Gatorade anymore, at least not for these shorter races, so I have all the water I need for the whole race, probably.

One guy comes up next to me and goes, “Well sir, I’ll say one thing, you’re certainly not making a lot of noise!”

And it’s true, one of the main sounds, the main sound, is the thump thump of running shoes on pavement. In fact, another guy comes up behind me and he just sounds like he’s SLAMMING his feet down: THUMP THUMP THUMP. I hate picturing what’s happening to his knees right now. There’s not way he can keep that up for years. I don’t know, maybe he’s just really giving his all, trying to catch the barefoot dude, since he seems to be kind of hanging out right behind me. Maybe not, but he’s that loud that I want to kind of get away from him. But again, instead of tensing up and forcing myself to run faster, I try to relax, breath deep, lower the shoulder, and without feeling that I’ve increased my cadence, I move faster. Relaxation = better efficiency.

At about Mile 5, the marathons split off to the right, south, to go run around the back country roads of Jackson County. Again, I feel the tug to go, but I’m enjoying the half too, the feeling that I’m going to run a fast race and still have most of my day ahead of me, without feeling exhausted! Only because I still have some student essays to grade, but still, I’m going to be in Ann Arbor to do it, with all the Ann Arbor hotties to stare at longingly.

But no, John, concentrate on the race! Man, I didn’t realize how many marathoners I’d been surrounded by. With them gone, the pack has dwindled considerably. And here comes the lead halfer, coming back the other way, well ahead of everyone else. Well, if he can keep that up, then I guess he would make a good Olympic marathoner!

There’s a final aid station at the half turn-around, with youths (or, ‘yoots’) passing out bottled water and Coca Cola. I pass on both, but thank them for being out there, since they’re not by any road.

The comments on my bare feet have been non stop. The best up to this point was one woman who said, when I passed her and her husband, “He’s barefoot! I couldn’t stand stepping in all those micro-organisms!”

But now that I’m heading back, right along all the runners behind me, which is most of the pack (not that I’m anywhere close winning this thing, no sir) everyone gets a full view of me running back towards them. And everyone is super supportive! There are many shocked, “He’s barefoot!”’s but I don’t hear any “He’s crazy!”’s. I guess since I’m ahead of all of them. This especially goes on when we start getting back to the walkers. I also see the woman I’d been talking to before the race, way at the back. I smile and point to my feet. She smiles back and yells, “Ok!”

My time at the split was 53 minutes. So, yikes, I gotta at the least maintain that pace to get any kind of decent finish time. I’m actually feeling good, no ‘bogging out’, no loss of energy. I’m wondering if indeed all the high mileage I’ve been doing is helping me out here. In fact, again weirdly, I’m kinda feeling like I have more energy than my body can use. That is, I feel like I could be running faster, yet don’t feel I can really make my feet go at a faster cadence. With five, then four, miles to go, I’m not feeling the my body is physically taxed at all. I only kind of maybe slow down just because I’m sort of by myself and can’t really gauge where I should be, speed-wise, until a woman I’d seen going the other way catches up to me, going at a good clip. Interestingly, she’s wearing shoes, but taking really short steps, and a really fast cadence. Basically, a barefoot running from almost. That’s inspiring, reminding me to get my own cadence back up, and I do, but I also go through another ‘relax’ moment, and slowly scoot back ahead of her.

After that, I don’t see anybody passing anybody, though the people ahead of me are all way strung out from each other. We get back to the gravel parking lot and I re-take the outer grass edge, not even being overtaken by the woman I recently passed. I think she slowed down to get some Gatorade at the aid station.

Back on city roads. And here comes someone just hauling ass, a guy I don’t remember seeing. He must have really been playing it slow because now he’s coming through with power. I tell him, Nice pace!, as he goes by and he’s nice enough to look back and say, “Stay with it! We’re almost there!”

Indeed, we are. We make a left, where a race volunteer informs us, “Only about a 1,000 meters to go and I can’t believe you just ran this barefoot!”

Up a short hill. That guy is way gone. I can hear someone behind me a little ways, I think it’s the swift shod woman. Again, the roads are a little rough. I at first try to run on the tar strips, but then decide, phuk it, just go for speed and take the pain for two more minutes. Not that it’s really pain even.

A twist and a turn, and another turn, with some Concordites out to cheer everyone on, and there’s the high school! Push it John! I don’t want to go into an all-out shod-type sprint, but I again feel like I can’t get my feets to move as fast as I’d like them to in proper BF form. Still, I speed up a little. I always have the fear that someone’s going pass me right at the end, probably because that’s what I would be trying to do if anyone was anywhere close. Nobody is though.

I pass over the initial chip scanner, which allows the announcer to call out my name, “John Yohe! From Jackson! Looks like you lost you’re shoes somewhere along the way!”

A round of applause from the onlookers and I cross! Check the watch: 1:44. Hm, ok. I’ll take it. Actually, let me do the math: If I was at 53 at the half, that means....Holy crap! My second half was faster than my first! 51 minutes! I also don’t feel exhausted. A little tight around the inner thighs, but not like I ‘left is all out on the course.’ Hm....

I hang out, get some water, a banana, and a muffin, and just wander around barefoot a little. A woman walks by barefoot and I joke, asking if she ran barefoot too. She smiles and says no, but that she’s tried wearing VFFs, but that she didn’t like them because they made her lower calves sore. I tell here that that’s normal, just using some new muscles, and to give it 2 or 3 weeks. I think I may have convinced her to try again.

As with a lot of races I’ve been to lately, the most up to date results are posted as soon as someone can print them up. At first they only have one guy in my age division, who finished at 1:33. Yeah, I wasn’t going to catch him. Then, the next sheet that comes has me at 5th in my age group, with the 2-4 guys anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes ahead. Ok, I’ll take it.

I also meet a guy in his 50s who finished at around 1:30 or so. I want to be like him when I grow up. He expresses interest barefoot running, saying he’s try it except that it attracts too much attention and he prefers to go unnoticed. I tell him to at least try it out on some wooded trail where no on can see him. He nods and smiles and says maybe.

No minimalist runners that I saw. Hm, well, Jackson County is always a little behind the times. Well, I think I did a good job of representin’. I’m not up for waiting around for Mark and crew to finish, I’ll check in later via text to see how they did. As for me, I’m headed back home, with another medal, for a nap, a shower, then a sunny afternoon still left ahead. I think I’m even going to go for a run tonight.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

RunBarefootGirl interview

Caity from RunBarefootGirl.com recently sent me some questions for her site. I was happy to answer. I'm putting them here for the curious. Her site is very interesting. I'm going to link her here. She has a big picture, historical, outlook on barefoot running, and also talks about the barefoot lifestyle, which I'm a supporter of. Enjoy.

You've been blogging since 2009 - what inspired you to start? Your
passion for running? Something else?

I started blogging soon after I started running barefoot. It was, and still is, and experiment. I had been interested in blogging, but didn’t, because I didn’t feel I had anything unique to offer. My philosophy about a blog is it must have a unique ‘thing’, and idea or twist, something beyond just ‘I did this today’. The first things I posted were some essays I’d been working on about barefoot running, and the reason why I started, but then I ran a race and decided to just right about that one event, and that’s been the focus of the blog, mostly. This year I’ve run a lot more races than previous years, so my blog posts are up!

I like writing about the action, and my thought process(es), and even though they may be filled with action, I also try to reflect on what worked, and what didn’t, and to share with others my mistakes. But, I think it’s the action that people really like, and that’s fine. I now have 30 followers, most of whom I don’t know. I’m glad to have inspired people to try barefoot running.

What's the craziest thing that's ever happened to you while bf running?
At first I’d say it was that whispered comments at races, by people who thought I couldn’t hear them (although I also have a theory that they actually want me to hear them, so they can know that they really do think I’m crazy!)

After that, ‘crazy’ moments might be the ‘firsts’, like first barefoot marathon, first barefoot trail marathon, first barefoot 50K. I recently did two 50M, one of which, the Woodstock, was a complete mudfest! The other, Dances With Dirt, I have to walk upstream through a river, and walk through a lake! Those were wearing VFFs.

It looks like you mostly run bf - is that right? Do you have a fav
minimalist shoe brand? Do you go bf when you're not running?

Yes, mostly, though this Summer/Fall I tried ultra-marathons: Burning River, Woodstock, and Dances With Dirt, all of which I ran in VFF KSOs.

I’m not sure I’m entirely a fan of VFFs, though they’ve served me well. They’re good for trail running, but my feet end up hurting if I have to run on level pavement. They just kill the sensitivity in my feet.

I also have a pair of Barefoot Ted’s Luna huaraches, which are thinner than the KSOs, and more comfortable in warm weather. For any regular non-race running where I feel the need to use footwear, like when my feet are just too raw, I opt for the Lunas, but for races the VFFs are better. Lunas don’t work well went wet.

Also: A friend of mine just made his own huaraches with about 5 dollars worth of material from Home Depot. I’m not sure I’d ever buy a pair of Lunas again.

Nest next purchase is probably going to be a pair of Merrills: they look like regular shoes, but have the same bottoms as VFFs. I’d like something warmer in the cold weather! VFFs are not warm at all!

I love your documenting people's responses to your bare feet. What
would you like to tell people who are barefoot-curious?

If you mean barefoot running curious, I’d urge them to go ‘all in’, and not try to switch back and forth between shoes and bare feet. There’s potential for injury there, since the running style is different for both. I’d also say give it three weeks. The guy from Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (Peter Segal?) wrote a negative review of VFFs after only wearing them a week. His problem was that his calves ached. That’s natural because we’re using different muscles. The ache goes away after about a week.

That said, I’d also urge people to run barefoot first, then incorporate minimalist footwear if necessary. Also, ideally, try to start in warm weather!

Do you foresee a world of barefoot people - or at least bf becoming
more popular?

I would love this, but I’m not sure. The corporations have really brainwashed people, to the point where going barefoot may always be considered by most people as something ‘dirty’. There are places where BFing is more acceptable. I hear Hawaii is good, and the west coast. But here in Michigan, people are pretty socially conservative. I lived in Ann Arbor and could mostly walk around barefoot, but now that I live in Jackson, I’ve had people go out of their way to get angry with me, so I’ve opted to not be as barefoot as I’d like. I do see the barefoot lifestyle becoming more popular, though I also anticipate a corporate/government crack down. It happened in the 60s.

What would you like listeners of The Living Barefoot Show podcast to
know about you?

If you’re a runner, please check out the Barefoot Running Society website! It’s nice to make connections with others, as barefoot running can be isolating: http://barefootrunners.org/

Also, please check out my blog: http://johnsbarefootrunningblog.blogspot.com/

And, please feel free to check out my website, where you can find more info about me, and read samples of my poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction: http://www.johnyohe.com/

I just got back from the New York City Barefoot Run. Any reason why you didn't go? I've participated in the Merrill Naked Foot 5K (I
noticed you attended one, too), which was so wonderful - and NY is
like that and then some. Next year?

I can’t afford it! I spent all my money going to Spain this summer! The Merrill Naked Foot in Grand Rapids, MI this summer was awesome. Barefooters were in the majority for once! I’d love to go to NYC, I lived there for two years, but I’d want to go longer than one weekend. I’m a teacher and can’t take off time in the Fall.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dances With Dirt 50M 2011

With a name like Dances With Dirt, I’m expecting a mud fest today. I’ve heard rumors and snippets, of mud and swamps, and there was a light rain last night. At least if it’s muddy, I can use that as an excuse if I don’t do very well on this fifty miler! It’s been three weeks since the Woodstock festivities, where I ran a muddy 50 miles also, but since then, some new classes have kicked in at work, so I’ve been a lot busier, and not at all running as much as I was able to do this summer. I’m hoping that my body is still in shape enough from Woodstock to be able to power through. And, I did get to run the Capital City Half Marathon last week, with no problem, so I’m hoping that helped keep me in shape for this monster race as well. If I can do this, I’ll be able to comfortably call myself an ultra-marathon runner.

I get to the Start area early, up in the Pinkney Recration area, near where the Woodstock festivities were, and the same spot as the Trail Marathon in the Spring, all put on by Running Fit. I still need to pick up my bib, so I head over to the dimly lit tents, getting my VFF KSOs soaking wet already. Poor things. They’re three years old now, with a bunch of rips and holes, and the straps basically useless.

I check in, get my bib number, 790, and return to my truck to wait until closer to start time. The air is cool. Not cold, but having my Ibex wool shirt is comfortable, though I’m still in shorts at this point in the Fall. In fact, weirdly, when I get out of the truck a half hour later, the air seems even cooler.

Also, I now realize that I’ve forgotten my watch. Wow. I thought I’d packed everything last night. But no. Well, ok. I mean, I’m not one of those super obsessive people who have to know every minute of the race (although I acknowledge that that seems to help people) so ok, I’ll just run and get my time at the end. I even kind of like the purity of that somehow.

By now, people have been gathering. There are two main activities today, the ultra-marathons of 50K and 50M, who start at 6:15, and a team relay of 100K, which starts at 7:30. I’m not entirely sure what the relay entails, but I know my friend Mary is on one of the teams, so I’m hoping to run into her today.

But, speaking of people I know, here’s Brandon, another barefooter/minimalist ultra runner who I keep running into at races. He’s the one who ran Burning River in RunAmocs, and who has apparently been getting his 15 minutes of fame for running the North Country 50M with his mouth wired shut, which he told me about, through clenched teeth, the day after at the Naked Foot 5K. He says his story has been picked up by newspapers and running magazines, as a kind of ‘holy crap!’ interest story. Hopefully they’ll include that he’s a minimalist runner. That tends to be a ‘holy crap’ idea for most folks anyway!

Since we run about the same pace (except that, you know, Brandon can actually finish a 100 miler, unlike yours truly....) we agree to run together, at least as long as we can.

It’s funny, at something like the Detroit Marathon, people will be lined up 45 minutes before the start. Here, the director has to actually announce that they’re going to start in five minutes before any ultra runner even starts heading towards the Start. Brandon and I kind of wander up to about twenty feet before the actual sign, because neither of us expects to be up front for any portion of this race, but no one goes ahead of us. Everyone just lines up about 15-20 feet away. It’s odd, because I know there are a bunch of faster runners here. But, too late to move back farther, the horde is now all bunched up.

And, surprise surprise, here is sweet Melissa, from the Woodstock 50M, who I had the pleasure of running with on the first two loops. After her finish there, she felt good enough to sign up for the 50K race today, and she says she’s be talked into going down to Arizona to run the Javelina 100M this Fall. I wonder if we’ll end up running together on this one, though I kind of doubt it, since I’m not going to be in any hurry to compete with the 50Kers.

And here we go! The headlamps come on and we lope out onto the wet grass, along the parking lot, and up the road entrance to this Half Moon Park, passing along a row of vehicles waiting to get in, which would be the relay folks just getting here. And then, into the woods. Everyone going about the same pace, nobody in a hurry to try passing in the dark. It’s nice to have Brandon along, just to have someone to talk to and pass the time, and also so I can pick his brain a little. The one thing he says that really helped at Burning River was that, even and especially at the beginning, he walked the hills on the road section, and walked all hills the whole race. So, I’m going to try that this race. I’m usually gung ho at the beginning, about the small hills at least, but this time I’m going to see what a little conserving of energy gets me in the long run.

The trail bails out on a dirt road and Brandon and I stop to take off our wool layers. The good thing about the Ibex wear is that it’s thin, so I can roll it up easy and tie it around my waist without feeling it’s getting in the way. Maybe coulda just gone without.

As we run, I look back at a glowing line of lights through the woods. The dwarves coming back from the mine. At this point people are still enthusiastic, there are occasionally whoops, and when Brandon yells out, “Marco!” he gets a lot of “Polo”’s. Surely this can’t last.

At one point Brandon stops to gulp a Gu or something and tells me to go on, so I do, knowing he’s the stronger runner. And after going on more trail, and coming back out on another dirt road, he does catch me. We run some more, then make another pit stop, and since he’s running with a pack, has to take it off to get something out, and tells me to go on. So I do again, thinking he’s right behind me, though I think I hear him cough, kind of unhealthily. Jesus, is he ok? Should I go back and check? Am I being like the climber who abandons his climbing partner?

We head down, I think, into lower lying swamp area, and since cold air tends to go down, the air is actually chillier here, so much so that I put my Ibex wool back on. No Brandon yet. Oh man, what if he had a heart attack? And I left him to die!

Onward. We have light now. I’m actually not sure running that half marathon last week ‘helped’ now, since I’m feeling an ache in my inner thighs. Running fast made me use some other muscles. Or, that doesn’t make sense, since I wouldn’t be using them now, right? Still, I kinda feel like I haven’t quite recovered from last week. Maybe. Maybe my body is already going through it’s list of excuses why it shouldn’t have to run fifty miles. Still, now I’m wondering if I should really run the Wildlife Half Marathon a week before the Detroit Marathon in October. Hm, oh well, let’s worry about today.

And lo! Brandon appears! He checks his watch and says we’re making good time, which is good because I was thinking we weren’t exactly all going balls out. We’re going a good slow and steady, for the long haul, I guess. And then, we get on a trail, and a group of runners passes me and slip into the space between me and Brandon. And then some more. And then I lose him. Ah well. These things happen in long races. I’m sure I’ll seem again farther up.

After doing the Trail Marathon twice, and Woodstock twice, I’m now starting to recognize certain sections of trails. They’re not the same routes, but all a part of the Pinkney Recreation area, which is huge, with plenty o’ trails to make all kind of routes it seems, though for some of this I’d swear we were kind of trailblazing, enough where I’m like (and say out loud), “Is this really a trail?” To which someone replies, “It is once a year!”

But yes, here we are out on that long straight sandy trail from Woodstock, and some runners are coming the other directions, with yellow bibs instead of white, so they must be the relay folks, and they seem to be having more fun than us, since many are in costumes, including, notably, the young man wearing only (including his shoes of course) black panties and pink fishnet tights. At least, I think he’s in costume....

I check in to an aid station. They’re keeping track of our numbers, to ensure that people are actually still on the course and not wandering lost in the woods. I fill up on water. I’m still experimenting with nutrition. This race I’m abstaining from Gatorade, trying to avoid sugars so they don’t mess with my blood sugar levels. Also going to avoid the potato chunks dipped in salt, which seem to be the latest ultra trend. I want the salt, but I’m not sure on the starchy, insulin producing potato. Instead, I’m putting pieces of pretzel rods in my mouth and sucking the salt off them, then just spitting the bread part out. So, that, plus just water, and all the fruit I can get.

This route is different than I’m used to on these trail runs out here. Instead of smaller loops that we’d repeat, meaning that I would come into the Start area multiple times, and therefore be able to stash stuff in a bag, this race is two big loops. The first will be 50K in entirety, and then another loop, in new territory, of 18 miles or so. Meaning I’m a little more dependant on the aid stations, but fortunately they’re doing a great job of stocking them with fruit, which is all I really need. I’m not sure of any of this, since, for example, many runners are like Brandon, who pops a Gu pack every hour or so. As a hedge, I’m still carrying a packet of Clif Blok Shots, the little gummy bear-like things that supposedly work like the Gu packs. They don’t have high fructose sugar, but do have rice syrup, so I may indeed still be just eating sugar. I’m saving those for later in the race though.

So far the route has been fairly dry. There’s even one section, the infamous mud bog near the Halls Gate Campground, where the Woodstock races were, which is barely a little muddy puddle. But, I’ve spoken too soon, since here’s something different, the route ends right at a twenty foot wide river. And yep, there’s the pink flagging we’ve been following on the other side. We are supposed to cross this. Ok...

I think about maybe taking off my VFFs and Injinjis, just to keep them dry, or even just the Injinjis and walking across in my VFFs, remembering my firefighting days in Idaho when we learned that getting boots wet was ok if the socks were dry, but the KSOs are just a little too tricky getting on and off, and hell, this is Dances With Dirt, and the shod people are just slogging across, so ok, here we go. The water is only knee high, and the current isn’t strong at all. It’s actually kind of pleasant. I’d like to be out here backpacking or something. Why don’t I do that more?

Turns out we cross the river two more times after that. We’re doing a lot of zigzagging. That is, crossing the river wasn’t necessary, the race director just purposefully put the route that way. Ok, ha ha. Actually, if I had known how long this section was, I would’ve maybe just taken off my VFFs and run the whole way barefoot.

But, after some more trail running, we come to the river one more time. And, right when I get to the water, a woman, with whom I exchanged pleasantries with earlier, is neck deep in the water. Holy crap! We have to go that deep? But no, something’s wrong. As I get closer, I realize she has fallen into a deep part of the river. The problem is, she has a water bottle in one hand, and her GPS in the other, and she’s got her arms raised above her trying to keep them out of the water, so she can’t, or won’t, swim. Fortunately, she finds some footing and kind of pulls herself out to waist deep water. Another guy and I get in the water and ask her if she’s ok, and she is, more seeming to be embarrassed than anything. And the whole time there was a photographer on the other bank taking pictures of us.

And no, the pink flagging is not on the other side, it’s up river. Yes, we’re to walk upstream, looks like for a ways. Wow, ok. The good news is that the VFFs seem to make walking through running water a little easier than with shoes. That plus I’m trying to find the shallower areas off to the sides rather than some folks who try to plow right up the middle and get mid-thigh high.

We pass some buildings and I realize where we are: Hell. Hell, Michigan that is, the ‘downtown’ of which is composed of a general store and a bar, which are these buildings. And as we crawl out and up the bank (yes, on the same side we came in) we are greeted by a crowd of folks, including what looks like at high priest and priestess at a Satanic ritual. The high priest smiles and says, “Welcome.” I say, “Am I hallucinating?”

This is one of the two drop points on the whole race, for those smart people who actually knew they’d get their footwear wet and have a dry pair waiting. Actually, I feel ok about my VFFs and Injinjis. Yes, they’re wet, but I just don’t feel that uncomfortable in them. They don’t have any padding to feel soggy in.

And well well well, who should be here but Brandon, sitting in the grass changing shoes. He yells over and friendly “You suck!” as I’m getting ready to take off. There’s an aid station here, so I’ve devoured some oranges and bananas sections, and have stashed some more pretzel rods in my pockets to suck on. There’s a whole crowd of runners sitting on the grass but no one seems in an hurry to get going. Ok, well, I’m off! Of course, once I’m gone I think of the reply I should I yelled back to Brandon, something like, “Hey, what are you doing sitting on your butt? We’ve got a race to run!” I’m so clever in my own mind.

I expect Brandon to catch me again but instead, I end up with a bunch of 50Kers, which makes me feel good, that I’m still going fast enough to keep up with them. Though actually, I’d probably be running the same pace if I were in the 50K.

At one point I and a guy right behind me are following a main trail, and come to a Y, with no flagging either way. Hm. That’s odd. We go right, the wider trail, but no flagging. The guy goes, “This ain’t right,” and turns around and sure enough, back a ways there was a double ring of pink flagging going off on a thin little game trail.

A little way later, the same thing: I’m on a main trail with some other guys and suddenly the flagging runs out. We stop, look around, back track, and there’s some double pink flagging taking us off into more bushwacking. I’m not sure why I’m missing these turn offs. I guess I get in the zone on main trails and just expect to stay on main trails, and maybe i’m busy staring in front of my feet that I’m not paying attention to the flagging at eye level. Plus like maybe no sleep last night.

But, as we get back on trails, and even again sort of bushwacking, I end up at the front of a group of four of us and some kind of weird energy happens where we’re all going the same pace, and kind of feeding off each others’ paces. I’m reminded of my firefighting days, being a squad boss leading my folks to or from a fire out in the woods, where we used the same exact flagging. I’m trying to keep a smooth steady pace but still pay attention to the flagging, which sometimes doesn’t seem to have a logic to it. For example, the route may take us up a hill, only to move over 20 feet and go back down again.

Eventually I see another runner up ahead of us and follow him and whoops! No flagging. I did it, I did what the DWD website warned us all not to do: I followed the runner not the flagging. It wasn’t much, we backtrack easily, but that seems to break the spell. The guy right behind me takes off ahead of us, and the woman with us slows down and falls behind. But the other guy, about my age, stays with me, saying I set a good pace. Other people have said that, but I feel weird because it doesn’t feel that way to me. I feel like I trudge slowly mostly, and tend to slow down, but I don’t know, maybe not. I certainly never train for consistency, except for the good ole barefoot 180/190 cadence in my head. Which maybe works. Anyway, so this guy, Jerry? (I think?) and I end up talking, which helps pass the time. He’s from Wisconsin. He’s done the DWD 50K over there, and is going to run the DWD in Florida, looking to do all four DWDs and get that fancy belt buckly. And he’s interested in coming over to the forces of light and trying minimalist running. Oddly, he claims he’s not at all in shape for a 50K and is surprised he’s come this far, but yet he runs way faster marathon times than me, and in fact qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon. I ask him what the secret of fast marathon times is and he claims he doesn’t know, that he’s just kind of stubborn and when he wants something, he forces himself to do it. Sounds easy!

Chatting like that about many other things, we bring it on home back to Half Moon Park, to a sizable crowd waiting for us. I wish him and his wife a good stay in Michigan and we shake hands, and then split off, him going into the finishers chute, and me winding around the edge to the 50M aid station, where my bag awaits me with a strawberry banana smoothie with my name on it.

And here is the tough mental part. Running Fit has a policy where a runner can always stop wherever they’re at and just switch to a shorter race. So, I could technically just say I’ve had enough and still get the same exact medal for running the 50K, and then go on to have a nice saturday lounging about relaxing. Or, I could run 18 more miles and five to six more hours. Ugh. And it’s not like those 19 miles are in smaller loops. Once I get out on it, I’m out on it and there’s no easy stopping halfway along. So, gotta commit. Which I do. I don’t know why. What am I proving. I don’t know. I guess don’t overthink it John. Just pound the smoothie, eat some fruit and some PB&J sandwich, grab some more pretzels, and head on out. There’s not even anyone to cheer us 50Mers on from here, since we kind of leave out the back way, along the edge of the parking lot.

At first I’m not even sure I’m going the right way. I’m following some pink flagging, but it’s not on trail, it’s through some tress paralleling the parking lot. Only the fact that I’m passed by some relay people, going real fast, kind of assures me that I’m going ok. In fact, we’re trailblazing at this point, which kind of equalizes everybody since we kind of have to walk, since the forest is so thick with downed trees, which are pleasant to have to step over at this point, though the hardest is to crouch down to go under some trees. Bending legs=pain at this point.

A woman passes looking fresh and energetic, and since she has to go a little slow, I ask her, because I’m curious, how far she’s running, since I’m not clear at this point how long the relay folks are running.

“Oh, I’m a fifty-miler like you.”

“Oh. Wow. Where’s you get the energy?”

She laughs. “Um, I think it’s an uncontrolled burst. Not sure how much longer it will last!”

We catch up to another two 50 Milers, who I remember running with earlier. The four of us navigate over a mud bog. Many people seem to be just running right through it, but I guess we’re all feeling dainty because we pick our way around the edge, walking on logs. Still getting a wee bit muddy though.

Once we’re back on trail, they speed up. Argh, I’m going into penguin waddle mode, I fear. In fact, I’m on a main trail and suddenly can’t see any flagging either way and hesitate, thinking I probably missed another turn off, but I see two hikers up ahead, so I scoot up to them and ask if they’ve seen any runners come this way. Fortunately they describe the “fresh” woman, so I know I’m ok.

Then, an odd thing. I’m on a main trail, I see the three people ahead of me. A couple turns later, still on the same trail, I can’t see them anymore, but hear some sticks breaking uphill, in the trees, and hear them talking. I can actually see some pink flagging up in there, but I can also see some pink flagging still going along the trail. Hm. Uh oh. Ok, don’t follow the runner, follow the flagging, so I stay on the trail. The flagging takes me left, uphill, then left again, going back the way I just came, only farther uphill. Ah ha, this is the flagging I saw earlier, meaning those three people just cut. On purpose? Not sure, since the flagging was visible down on the main trail. If I’d lost track of it on the main trail for even a second I might have gone uphill too. But hm, I just did a half mile more than them. Oh well.

After that, I don’t see any more 50 Milers with the white bibs. Instead, I start to have a steady stream of relay folks, in the yellow bibs, passing me hauling ass because they’re fresh. Which is not good for my confidence right now, making me feel I’m going slower than I really am. I have to say though, that they are all amazing polite and encouraging, almost all of them giving me at least a “good job!” or “Right on Ultra!” on their way by.

And then the trail ends at a lake.

And then I see people walking in the water.

Yep, the flagging actually goes out into the water and along the shore of a lake. The shoreline is too thick with brush to navigate. We simply must walk in the water. Looks like for a ways too.

Wow. Ok. I wade in. The water is about thigh high, and cold, which actually feels good on my sore feet and legs. There’s no question of running, though one guy behind me sounds like a boat crashing in when he comes in and he’s doing his best to actually run in thigh-high water, expending vast amounts of energy. He passes me and the folks in front of me. He rounds a patch of weeds and suddenly sinks down to his neck. Climbing out, he looks back at us and yells, “There’s a hole here!” And then immediately sinks down again. I can’t help it, yelling, “There’s another one!”

So, I follow behind these two guys in front of me, letting them find any more holes. Just like in the rice paddies back in ‘Nam.

I swear we go for like a half mile. Feels like a half hour, though I’m sure it’s like 15 minutes. And when I swish out, my legs have frozen up. Fortunately there’s no room to run, so we have to walk through brush and mud and yes, now, we have true mud. No getting around it either, with huge weeds on either side. Time to sink the feet in up to their ankles.

And when I finally get back on solid ground, it’s the hardest thing to get me feet moving again. I fall back to the basics: just running in place, getting the feet moving at a decent cadence. Then, the slight lean forward and I’m trotting again. Trying to get back into good barefoot running form, legs bent, but man, bending the legs at this point is hard.

And still the continuous stream of fast relay runners. I’m starting to think I’m like the last 50 Miler out on the course. And what the hell happened to Brandon? He better not have bailed out with just a 50K!

And here I’m not sure if forgetting my watch was a good thing or not. I have no frame of reference for how far I’ve come, or need to go, nor even what my finishing time will be, since I feel slow, and that damn lake sucked up a good chunk. And the relayers are going by too fast to be able to ask them how much farther. Even when I do ask one of the slower ones, she says, “Six miles!” And what does that mean to me? Nada. That must be the length of this leg for her.

I do start to here cheers though, and I think, No, can’t be the finish already. Can it? Maybe? Hope? I start to run faster, wanting to finish strong. And when I run out of the trees into a clearing....it’s only an aid station. Or, an aid station for me, and a transfer station for the relayers, so there’s a huge contingent of them, awaiting their respective runners. They give up a huge cheer for me though, which rocks. I refill my water, eat fruit, and find of it’s 2.9 miles to the next aid station, then 4 miles to the finish. Seven miles. Ok, I can do that. I can run seven miles in my sleep. Ugh. Well, I can make it 2.9 miles for sure, then it’s only four. That’s how I gotta do it, just break the course down to little chunks. But man, seven miles. And, ridiculously, I know that’s going to be like a couple hours more of running at the pace I’m going. Ugh.

As I set off, the relayers send me off with clapping and a bunch of “What to go Ultra!” so I raise my fists in salute. I so much want to stop and give the line from the movie They Live: “I came here so kick ass and chew bubble gum. And I’m all out of bubble gum.” But I fear they might not get it, and I’d look silly. Oh well. At least I’m still clever in my own mind.

Trudge trudge trudge....and the relayers go streak streak streak! Just like that old Muppets skit. My sister is the only one who probably would understand and remember it. I am in a serious mental head space now. Not talking to anybody except a continuous series of ‘thank you’’s to the passing runners’ ‘good job’’s. I just want this to be done. I know I’m going to finish, but I just wish I could run faster so I could end it sooner. One small part of me is interested in the fact that, exhausted, I can somehow maintain a basic slow cadence. Thinking about just running in place really helps me, my body seems to be able to do that forever, so just adding that little leans makes me go forward. I’m not sure I’m being as efficient with it as I could be though.

The next aid station. It’s another transfer point too, so another crowd of relay people. More awesome encouragement. Seems like I should have run into Mary some time today, but no go. Too bad. Would really help to see a familiar face out here. I load up on more water, then head out to more clapping, and with a fresh stream of relayers passing me.

Waddle waddle waddle...March of the penguins here. Or, penguin. Singular. Tortoise and the hares. The good news is much of this section of trail is either sand, or grass. Meaning softer on my sore feet. And lordy mama, I forgot, there’s pizza waiting for me! Now that is a motivator. And I’m going to drink a couple glasses of nasty old Mountain Dew, too.

Onward onward. I hear some relayers talking about time or something, so I yell to the guy who passes me, “Hey, how much farther?!”

He checks his GPS watch. “Less than a mile!”

Oh. Wow. Holy crap. Right on. Hell yeah! Done! Time to give it some gas and finish strong!

I run. I run fast enough that I’m keeping pace with the relayers. No more passing. And then we bust out at the top of a grassy hill, where I can see the finish about 200 yards away, and there is a ton of people there! All the relay groups are there! This is it, this is the end my beautiful friend!

Downhill over grass, the route lined with onlookers and people already eating pizza and drinking beer. And having people recognize my white bib number and call out “Way to go Ultra!” really feels good. Usually on races like this by the time I’m finishing most people are gone. Not here. Everyone stays. Nice to be given some respect. Some acknowledgment of effort put in.

I cross the finish.

A woman takes me name and age. As usual, I’m nowhere close to finishing in the top three of my age division. Lots o’ men my age running these things. I ask my time, and they don’t have it. Their official clock is running the relay teams’ times. But one worker gives me the time, 6:30, and in my groggy mental state I realize that that’s 12:45. Not bad! Better than I thought, especially since at least fifteen of those minutes where in that damn lake! Almost exactly my time for the Woodstock 50M.

Ok, I did it. Now where the heck is the pizza?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Capital City River Run Half Marathon Half Marathon

I can think of no better pump up song than Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along The Watchtower” to come on the radio right before I hop out of my truck to head for the start of the Capital City River Run Half Marathon. Thank you anonymous radio DJ with the early Sunday shift, thank you Jimi, and thank you Mitch Mitchell for some kick ass drums to get the blood pumping. All right. As Vasquez says, Let’s rock!

New territory today. And a beautiful day. I’ve barely run up here in Lansing at all, just a little over on the MSU campus. This will be all paved, and I’m going barefoot. Feels good to get the cement and asphalt under my feet after so many minimalist races lately. My main goal for the race is to just try and run it with the best running posture I can. I know I’m not going to win, and I know I’m not going to get a PR (Under 1:39) but a minor goal is to at least get under my yucky time at the Somerset Stampede a while back.

We’re starting right in front of the Lansing Center, on Michigan Ave, a few block east of the state capital. I’m always bad at estimating numbers of people, but there has to be over a thousand, including the 5Kers, who start at the same time, but run a different route. One cool fun thing this race seems to do is have their pacers wear costumes. So, there’s a couple pirates, and slutty girl scout, a sexy ladybug, two Cary Grants, and a couple ballerinas.

The sun has risen over the buildings, the temperature must be about in the upper 50s or low 60s.. I’m in shorts and wicking t-shirt, with the race long sleeve shirt over the top. I’m already getting some odd looks for the feet. This is back in civilization, not with the hardcore trail runners, so some of these folks won’t have even heard of barefoot running yet. Like this woman, who comes up and says, “Are you really going to run this race with no shoes?”

“Yes ma’am.”



“Aren’t you scared you’ll get hurt?”

I give her my spiel about how I had plantar fasciitis for two years and couldn’t run at all, then tried going barefoot and could run immediately. She nods when she hears the words plantar fasciitis, though stares like she doesn’t believe me, but says, “Well, good for you.”

I wish her a good race and wander away. The crowd is gathering. I’m not sure where to start, since I know we’re going to get log-jammed up here at the start, but I end up between the 9:00 and 9:30 pacers, a ballerina and a ladybug. I can here the whispers behind me already: “Dude’s barefoot!” “Oh my god!” “That’s hardcore!” “That’s really minimalist!” Sigh. Ah well, that’s part of why I’m here I guess. To represent and spread the gospel. Repent, shodheads! Join the forces of light!

But, just to show how far we’ve come already, I happen to be standing right night to a VFFer and a woman in Merrills.

And we’re off! The expected log jam happens through the start gate, but then we get two lanes of traffic to spread out a little. I’m able to keep a space in front of me so I can see where the heck I’m putting me feet. And youch, Michigan Ave. is wee bit rough through here. I hope the whole route isn’t like this? That’s going to a be a long slow painful run if so. To take some of the edge off, I run on the paint lane-markers when I can.

More whispers, so not-so whispers: “Look at that!” “That’s crazy!” Well, I may be crazy, but I’m ahead of you!

I’m concentrating on posture, which helps with the rough road. A little. Straight back, head high, but relaxing the whole upper body, especially the shoulders. Bending the knees. Lifting the feet to the 180/190 cadence of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation”: “I don’t give a damn ‘bout my bad reputation! You’re living in the past, it’s a new generation.” Sing it Joanie.

And, when I’m really relaxing and lifting the feet and getting a little forward lean at the waist (though that’s the hard part, how to lean with bent legs) I can actually feel myself go faster even though I feel like my legs are moving slower and with less power. I can’t claim to maintain that feeling, but it’s there, in and out. That’s my goal for today, to stay in that zone as much as possible. I feel doing this in a race is actually better, because I have the challenge of other people moving fast around me, keeping me honest.

We head east, into the sun, into familiar territory: Michigan State campus, my old old stomping grounds. Man, I can’t believe I didn’t run back when I was a student. Right before we turn onto the campus proper, we can see where the route comes back out and crosses this same street farther down, and the super fast insane guys are just crossing it already, going all out sprint. As one guy behind me puts it, “That’s sick!”

Anyways, we zip in and along the Cedar River for a little bit, on mercifully smooth cement and pavement, then surprisingly, we’re back out of the campus grounds pretty quick. I would have though we’d take the Cedar River bike path all the way to the other side of campus. But, we’re on some other bike path, following the river back west. Man, was this here when I was a student? Looks old, but then, so am I. Seems like I would’ve found this just walking around back then. But, nice just to be off the road and in the trees.

I’m already seen a couple other VFFers, but lo! There ahead of me is another barefoot runner! Gotta catch up and say hello! I don’t recognize him from another other races, nor from the Barefoot Runners Society Website, I think he may be a rogue. He’s actually caught up in a convo with two shod folks who are grilling him: “But what about when it gets cold?” It’s funny, I’m right behind two women who are right behind the other barefoot dude, and I hear them say, “Oh my goodness, would you look at that!” Then I pass them and it’s like, “Oh! There’s another one!” Like we’re Marfa Lights or something.

Anyways, I slip around the rogue barefooter and give him a wave, and we share a look of understanding. The secret brotherhood of barefoot dudes. Then I’m off, actually getting a burst of energy.

We seem to be going through a whole series of bike paths in parks I never knew existed here in Lansing. Seems like a whole green beltway. It’s nice. Lots of bridges though, with wooden railroad ties and such, so I’m like pleasenosplinterspleasenosplinters! But I’m fine.

One older shod guy comes up next to me and asks, quite earnestly, “Are you doing ok?”

I turn it around and say, “Yes, I’m fine. Are you ok?”

He laughs, caught in his condescension. We run together for a while, he’s breathing heavy, then gradually I pull away. Or, he drops back more like it. In either case, I’m doing ok.

There’s one section where the route is two-way for a little bit, so we can see the faster folks coming back from a loop. I get a couple surprised exclamations from them of “Barefoot!” Or maybe it’s like, “Barefoot?!”

I get a moment of fear when we turn left onto a gravel trail. No, please flying spaghetti monster, no! But it’s only for 100 feet or so, then back bike trail. Whew! See? Ask FSM and he shall care for thee!

And then we curve around and come back to the two-way section, which seems strangely longer going this direction. Lots o’ people behind me, just a steady stream of folks. Just awesome to see so many people out running and being fit and feeling good.

As we curve around a pond-ish lake, another younger shod guy comes by me a little later and says, no intro, no hello, “How are your feet?”

I shoot back, “Fine. How are yours?”

He looks at me sideways, to see if I’m joking or not. I am, but he can maybe see I’m not amused, so gives a grimace/grin to show he knows I’m making fun of him and pulls ahead.

Then, ack, we shoot out into a residential area, meaning back on roads, meaning back on rough ground. So, all those smartass remarks I say to people, when they ask, ‘Doesn’t that hurt?’ and I reply, ‘If it hurt, I wouldn’t do it’? Well, sometimes it hurts, gotta admit. My hope is that the hurtness doesn’t ever last very long, but this stuff seems to. Argh. I feel myself slowing down. Getting passed. Argh argh argh. Posture John, posture. And cadence! “I don’t give a damn ‘bout my bad reputation...” La la la....

We take a zig and zag through a city park, Potter Park?, where I think the BRS runner meetup was earlier this summer. Seems to be many people out and about by this hour, including what looks like an antique car show. Pace-wise I seem to be about even with folks around me, maybe dropping a wee bit. Always surprises me at this point in a half –marathon where dudes comes powering by. Like, where have they been the whole race?

Cadence. Posture. Relax. Bent legs. Raised feet. Joan Jett.

A guy in VFFs passes me, and he kind of defies the argument that VFFs will give you better running posture, since is feet seems to be going in circles, and his left arm just sticks out to the side and both his arms move side to side with each stride. Kinda odd, but hey, he’s ahead of me!

We pop out on a main street, I’m not sure which, but I can see the city center buildings in the distance. And we wind back down onto a bike path along the Grand River. This is it, the home stretch. Only a couple more miles! I check my watch. Hm, 1:25ish. Two ten minute miles and I’m at 1:45, well under Somerset Stampede time. Ok, I can do this!

And I run into a guy from the Naked Foot 5K! I think his name is Eric. When I say hello he recognizes me immediately. “Hey brother! How goes it?”

He’s wearing some homemade huaraches that look pretty durable. Cost: 8 bucks. He tells me to go on, that he’s slowing down, so I do. But good to see a familiar face.

But dagnammit, the bike path uses its wonder twin superpowers to take the form of angry rocks. Argh. Bend the knees John! I am John! Lift the feet John! I am John, would you shut up?! Ok, here’s where I swallow my pride, and bump out onto the grass edge. Or, I mean, that’s legal right? I’m not morally obligated to run on the pavement. It’s not cheating.

We hit a wood boardwalk and I can hit my pace again. Trying to pick it up while still maintaining good posture. But guy man dude, it’s hard. Bending the legs when tired is hard. So is keeping a good cadence. We’re actually passing under Michigan Ave, right where we started. Almost there! Let’s rock! But no! More angry bird-rocks! Argh! But yes! Cement! Run! Then rough path. Argh! Run anyway!

There’s the finish. I can here the announcer calling off finishers’ names. Just gotta go past and cross this bridge. All the runners around me are pushing, I can them breathing, grunting, moaning. No wait, that’s me.

Over the bridge! The sides of the route lined with people clapping and cheering. “Go barefoot runner! Woo hoo!” Cadence! Cadence! Lean! Lean! Rocks! Rocks! Argh! Argh!

I cross....

Whew. Lordy mamma. Check my time: 1:45. Ok, I’ll take it. I collect my finisher medal from a woman shocked to see me barefoot and wander over onto the soft grass of the small park, where a band is playing some cool classic rock tunes and there’s a tent with all the bananas and pizza I can eat, plus cold apple cider. Aw yeah!