Friday, May 20, 2011

Barefoot in Barcelona

Barcelona doesn´t seem like a good place for running, especially for shod runners, since all the runner surfaces in the city proper are made if cement, and rock. I cringe at the thought of heel-striking through these streets. Though for the record, I will say the city is pretty set up for bicyclers.

Instead of concrete/cement, the sidewalks are made mostly of what seems like tiles made out of rock, which would be fine except that if the tiles are small enough, they create space between each other, so that my feet kind of drop down into them a little, meaning that I´m constantly catching the edges of the tiles, and though not sharp, are uncomfortable. A little.

I´ve found two good places to run. The first is the park Montjuic, which is a big hill right by the ocean. From where I´m staying, getting there takes about 20 minutes, then the city noise disburses a little, and the sidewalks turn to pavement and/or cement. It´s a good uphill run, either to the Miramar area, or all the way up to the top, where an old castles looks out on everything. I´ve yet to explore all the twists and turns, but basically I´ve spent a good two hours there most times, and it´s a good quiet place.

The best place to run is the park north of town, who´s name I have yet to figure out. It´s the set of hills visible from the city. Just getting there, 45 minutes, is one long uphill climb, but very must worth it, because I get up beyond the city smog. There are dirt roads, and best of all, mountain trails through pine trees. And, scattered throughout are these old springs (called fonts) where I can refill my water bottles, so I don´t have to worry about not having enough. The trails are marked at intersections, so as long as I know some of the main points of interest, like the old monestary, I don´t ever feel like I´m totally lost, though the area is big enough that I can get lost a little, or enough, to make me forget that I´m ultimately surrounded by city on all sides.

For Montjuic I can basically go barefoot, but for this park, the terrain, both the roads and the trails, is pretty rocky, so I need my huaraches. Today I ran over to the park barefoot, then slipped the huaraches on while on the trails. The terrain reminds me of Arizona or New Mexico (though the climate is more like San Diego, with lots o´ sun but not too hot) and I´ve been wondering what BF running would be like out in the southwest. Well, I think I have my answer now, and maybe should be thankful for muddy Michigan. I never thought I´d say I was grateful to Michigan for anything!

The reactions of people to my running barefoot have been interesting. I actually feel more selfconscious here, I guess because as a visitor I don´t want to seem disrespectful (having memories of wearing cut off shorts in Mexico and having old people get angry with me). But, I have to look out for myself, and perhaps the Spanish need a little shake up. I certainly haven´t seen any minimalist runners at all. It´s funny because Spanish people seem to think gawking at someone is impolite, so that, instead of in the US where people seem to snap their heads to look at me, the Spanish seem to snap their heads looking away quickly after seeing me. Though, that said, one funny time a woman saw me running and let out a long mournful,´Ayyyyy´ as if she were in pain.

The funniest reaction I got though was from a group of German tourist in Montjuic. They were actually all men, and they literaly all had their jaws hanging down, just staring at my feet. Maybe they were German podiatrists.

And today, as I was coming back from a 4 hour run, therefore sweaty and tired-looking, and barefoot remember, I swear this couple who was running saw me and I heard the woman say, ´Something must be going on´ I think they were thinking that I´d been an accident or something, and was running away from danger. Ah well....

The other good place to run might be the beach, but it´s so far away from where I´m staying that trying it hasn´t been worth it.

One unexpected advantage to being a tourist is that I´m walking all over, all day, which is good prep for the Burning River 100 Miler. In fact, I think I may have overdone it a little one a couple days, with running two hours, then walking all day. I´m certainly losing a few pounds, in part because I´m not exactly eating well, or healthy. Or, not like I would at home. I´m renting a room from a Uruguayan woman, and though she is way cool, I still don´t feel I can have all the food I´d like. Though, the oranges here are awsome. But, again, perhaps good training, in maybe not getting all the calories I need.

Also unexpected was my flight over, which lasted forever, and I was in the aisle seat and just could not sleep. So, I was up, for over 24 hours or so.

I have seen two other people walking around barefoot, down by the Rambla, where everyone, tourest and Spanish alike, go to walk around, all day and night. One was a British guy, younger, and the other was a young woman. They may have both been coming from the beach area. As for me, I sometimes walk home barefoot, when it´s darker and there´s less people to freak out. As long as I´m running, my feet actually get a little raw, so I don´t feel the need to go barefoot all the time. Though, it does feel nice. The best place to wander barefoot during the day is down by the beach and the harbor. And I have to say the the city of Barcelona keeps it´s streets super clean. I hardly ever see glass, and even walking home at night, there´s plenty of light to see, but the sidewalks are always clear.

I find my hobbit feet are coming in here, which feels good. The only problem is running enough for the Burning River. After walking all day, going for a run doesn´t sound good, though I´d like to be running twice a day, at least some days. But I think what I find my body wanting is more long runs up in that park north of town, perhaps alternating with shorter runs in Montjuic. And, two days ago I just took a day off, exhausted, and just walked a little around town, trying to sit more.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Kalamazoo Marathon

Turning out to be a good day here are the Kalamazoo Marathon. I'm here early, once again, due to not being sure on the parking availability, but it was fine: I'm parked right out front of “Tent City” where the race will start, sipping tea and water, watching the people come in. This course start kind of off away from downtown, where I spent the night, and where the expo was, so there are a lot of shuttles (also known as school busses) coming in from various and sundry hotels in the area. I almost took one, and ended up leaving around the same time, but the info folks yesterday weren't too sure on when I'd be able to get a shuttle back. Starting downtown would be nice, though perhaps logistically more difficult, and Tent City is on the campus of Nazareth College, a nice wide open area, though since I'm wearing socks before the race in order to protect my feets as much as possible beforehand, they're sopping wet.

'Blue lagoons' are in short demand too, with long lines and the start time approaching, 'forcing' some of us menfolk to head out back the main building to some bushes, for an unofficial men's room (only for number one of course).

We line up on the main driveway into the campus, and it's packed tight. There should be about 6,000 people running, if I heard right last night, though some of those will be doing the 5K later, after the halfers and us full marathoners take off.

I'd thought there were going to be some other barefooters and minimalist-ers running this thing, but so far I haven't seen anybody. Good thing I don't know anybody, because people are looking at me weird for walking around in bright white socks.

I was going to identify two 'problems' I face with today's race, but after hearing a good motivational speaker on stress management at work this week, I'm going to be more positive in life, starting with identifying things that I don't want (ie bad things) as opportunities. Thus:

Opportunity #1: I ran the Pinkney Trail Marathon just last week and, as my training for the Burning River 100 Miler in July, I was still out running every day this week except yesterday. I did cut down in mileage, only running once a day versus twice, and have felt a little sore-ish and stiff-ish, but right now, today, I feel ok. I anticipate my body to wear down quicker, maybe start to 'feel it' a little sooner. But, knowing this race is part of a master plan, I'm actually mentally ok with just finishing, and even finishing a little slow. So, the opportunity is to see what my body can do in this situation.

Opportunity #2: I don't quite have my summer hobbit feet, meaning my soles aren't quite up to the thickness they were last summer for the Woodstock 50K and the Detroit Marathon. I survived the Trail Marathon last week, which was rough, but running on pavement tends to sandpaper away the calluses, over time. With a heavy snow winter, I've been consciously trying to toughen my feets up now that the weather is warm. So again, I'm curious: can my feets can actually handle this? I did bring my huaraches on the trip, they're laying in my gear bag, but I'm not going to even carry them, in case. If my feet get shredded, then they get shredded, and this becomes an opportunity to test my limits, knowing I'll have to face way more pain on the Burning River.

There are time-pacer people for this, holding signs up. I position myself behind the 4:30 person, fully content to just trot and either warm up, or accept that pace depending on if my body freaks out on me. For perspective, I ran a PR in the Detroit Marathon last Fall at 3:59. Like I said, I feel alright.

And we're off! I slip off my wet socks, good riddance, and hit my watch timer as we cross. My main concern (another opportunity?) is to avoid getting my feet stepped on by people eager to get a good position. I try to keep a space between me and the person in front of me, but people keep jumping into the space.

We zip out of the campus and onto Michigan Avenue, a wide main street. Two of its lanes are still officially open, with cars bumper to bumper (the 5Kers coming in) but we have three lanes, so suddenly there's plenty o' space for everyone. And yikes, this road is pretty rough. Pavement varies so much, and this particular pavement is like running on the Grand Tetons. Ish. Uh oh. If the roads are like this all the way, my feet around going to be shredded, and this race is going to be a long sloooow one.

Fortunately at Mile Two, the pavement smooths out a little. I feel good. I feel like I'm in a warm-up trot, not trying for a fast start, and yet I find myself pulling away from the 4:30 folks, with my sights set on the 4:15ers. Somewhere in here the route changes to red bricks. There's a name for that, but it slips my mind right now. But it's actually a nice surface. A little uneven, sure, but smooooth.

We run into the downtown area, past the Raddison hotel and through the pedestrian mall, more good smooth running surface. Folks are out in numbers, both people from the Start who came down on bikes (lots o' bikers!) and others. And, somewhere in here, I'm not sure on the time or how far we've come, but not that far surely, the route splits and the half-marathoners take off to the left. That's new: I'm used to the Detroit Marathon where the halfers stay with us right to their end. But, that certainly clears the field. Now I have plenty o' room to maneuver. And then the pavement gets rough again. Ouch. When possible, even actually when the pavement is smoother, I'm trying to run on the painted road lines. I'm still unsure of what my feets are getting into, so I'm trying to minimize roughness, and the painted lines are a significant difference.

I am getting the remarks about being barefoot, but maybe it's my imagination but the remarks seem to be more along the lines of, “Hey, there's a barefoot runner!” That is, people, the general running population, now seem to know of us, even if they haven't seen one in person. Seeing me isn't a total and complete shock, beyond their comprehension, so now I feel like those exclamations are exclamations of respect, like, “Dude, that's hardcore!” Rather than, say, “That's just crazy.” Although, there are some of those too I guess. Ah well. This is an opportunity to embrace my craziness.

It is around this point that I hear a man point out to his partner, “Hey, that guy's barefoot!” and she replies, “Wow, that's takes a lot of trust.” Which, I've never heard before, but she's right, and it's well said. I'm trusting my body to get me through, even with some unknowns ahead of me.

Gotta give kudos to all the attractive women out here, in all shapes and sizes. Running with attractive runners is like liking pizza and being surrounded by 3,000 women who can make awesome pizza. Or...something like that.....

We head onto the Western Michigan University campus, huge and deserted at this point, except for some Bronco Buddies manning the water stations. I've caught up to the 4:00ers, and even pass them, again feeling like I'm just doing a basic barefoot trot. Alas, I must stop for a pee break. An empty blue lagoon is right there, I'm probably not going to have a better chance. And when I'm done, the 4:00er group has passed me. Drat. On the plus side, the roads on campus are pretty smooth. Part of the route takes us all in a small loop, so that I can see the 3:45 group passing by. Yeah, I'm not going to catch them. At this point, I've gone the fastest I can go, or maybe want to go, in order to plan for the long haul. I'm going to be happy if I can stick with the 4:00 groups, which I can see up ahead again.

An asian woman running next to me asks, “Your feet no hurt?”

I say, “Not yet!” to the amusement of a guy behind us.

After campus, which is a big chunk of the course, we head into a residential area, where again the roads are on the rough side, and much as I hate to admit it, I feel like I'm losing speed, not from weariness, but from simply having to back off on the foot strikes, slightly. Which brings up the question again of, What if I were wearing my huaraches? Perhaps I'd be going a little faster? And yet, the pride of running barefoot is stronger. And barefoot running saved my life, perhaps literally, after I couldn't run for two years from plantar fasciitis, which contributed to a massive depression. If I couldn't have ever run again, who knows where I'd be right now?

Onward. I guess we gained a lot of elevation on campus, because now, still in a residential area, we begin a long long descent. I try to take advantage of it and get the feets moving quicker, noting that many runners tend to slow down on the downhills (when their heelstrikes get the worst?), so I'm hoping to go into Barefoot Ken Bob mode and just let gravity take me, but my feet are now a little sensitive, and I'm a little tired, and the road is a little hard, so although I'm passing some folks, the 4:00 group remains a hundred feet ahead of me. And, as we go through the 13.1 point, I'm thinking I'm not going to catch them. I'm thinking I'm not going to go any faster, and in fact that battle at this point is to maintain this pace, which seems doable. Maybe. Perhaps. In any case, this is an opportunity (!) to see if I can stay ahead of the 4:15 pace team, which would still put me fifteen minutes faster than I'd originally estimated. That much I think I can do. If I don't meet any more rough pavement.

And, pinche huevos, here it is. We move back out onto main roads, with traffic stopped up for a quarter mile in all directions. Police officers are playing traffic control, sometimes slipping a car through when there's a big enough gap between runners. You'd think people in the care would be a little irked, but my impression, from what I see and hear, is that folks are enjoying the show, watching us sweaty pain-faced runners go by, some of them honking, and/or yelling encouragement out the window.

And, the crowds have been great. The people in the residential area for very vocal, enjoying a neighborhood party of sorts, coming out in their lawn chairs to watch. And the people out on the street are great. Some of them are again folks on bikes who are moving around nimbly. They're supporting relatives or friends, sure, but they're also enthusiastic for everyone. Plus various and sundry people coming out to watch, residents, or workers. When we run down a 'Restaurant Mile' area there are people out in their uniforms, including for example a guy from Starbucks. Dude, I would LOVE a black ice tea right now. That shall be my reward to myself afterwards.

A-ha. We're turning off the main road, onto a side road (with lots o' pebbles! Ouch!) which leads to a paved bike line into a park, following a river. Good. I generally likes me some bike paths, they tend to be smooth. Six miles to go.

I'd thought earlier I'd heard a couple watchers say something like, “There goes another barefoot runner” when I'd passed, and wondered if someone was up ahead, and lo! up ahead I see a barefoot guy! I'm not alone! I catch up to him. He's carrying a pair of VFFs, looking like he's contemplating putting them on, seemingly slowing down a little. I pat him on the back and say, “Nice shoes!” (Barefoot runners can say that to each other. It's our way of 'taking it back'). We talk briefly about the Barefoot Running Society website, and exchange names, which I promptly forget (I'm horrible that way), and he tells me to have a good finish. Meaning he's going to be taking things a little bit slower. I wish him the best and take off.

Seeing another barefooter, finally, after three years, energizes me a little. It's also in here that I come across two guys in VFFs. One of them I pass, he's walking and looking beat, but the other I go back and forth with a while. I myself just do not like running on pavement or cement in VFFs. Something about their thickness makes me run a little harder, and I start to feel like my plantar fasciitis comes back. That does not happen in my Luna huaraches, since they're thinner.

At this point, most people have locked into a semi-steady pace, and we're all running with the same folks, give or take. I'm seeing a lot of the same faces and bodies. That look of pain is on everybody's face. The look that say, I just want this thing to be over. I'm kinda almost there, though kudos to myself: I haven't stopped to walk once. But then, DOH: I get passed by the 4:15 pacer guy. He's by himself, face red, not looking so spry. Interesting that the 4:00 pacers had a whole pack of folks. I guess anyone slower than that just isn't into the team spirit?

But, dammit, I'm going to keep him in my sights. Grrr. This is an opportunity to kick out the jams and leave 'it' all out on the course. And yet, four miles!

I'd feared we would shift back out onto Michigan Ave again for the finish, thinking the last two miles would be that Grand Teton pavement, but now I realize that I read the course map wrong: We're going to be running through park land up until the very end, passing some lakes and streams. There are folks from the half-marathon and 5K out along the trail, and yes even some real marathoners (meaning those who can run one fast) still wearing their number tags, giving encouragement. I'm getting so many “Yeah barefoot runner!”'s that the people running around me have got to be getting sick of my stealing all the glory. But, I'll take it. It's weird, if I smile and wave at bystanders, they get rowdy. So, I want to do that rather than trudge along with a pained frown. Thinking positive. Give out positive, and people will give it back.

And, as I'd feared, the last mile takes us back out onto Michigan Ave. But, it's not as bad as it was. Or, doesn't seem like it. Maybe my feet are numb by now? Still, I'm feeling pretty raw, so I'm actually running on the cement curb section below the sidewalk, which is mostly clear, but close to spectators. Thankfully, those who are sitting on the curb see me coming and get out of the way. Very cool. They didn't have to do that.

And more and more spectators now, on both sides, narrowing the route. I have to move back onto the road. And, it's ok. I've got that last mile adrenaline rush going, pain is temporary, leave it all out on the course. I can see where we turn left back onto the Nazareth campus. And, for some reason, this guys stands out, a marathoner, who has obviously already finished. He notices me, notices that I've straightened my back, got my feet moving again, beyond trudge-mode, and he looks at me and says, “That's it, man. Finish strong!”

That kicks it in, and I start to run, passing people, and when we get to the last driveway section, the End in sight, I start, if not sprinting, then pretty damn close. I can feel my feet hitting hard and scraping, I'm perhaps shifting back into old shod running mode a little, not lifting my feet, but pushing down, but dammit, that's ok. I pass more people, my sights set on this woman up ahead, until I notice that her three children have come out to run with her to the finish. Awww. I can't steal that. People are applauding her. So, I pass the next guy and come in behind her.

Check the watch: 4:13? Ish? Hm, did I pass that 4:15 dude somewhere in there? Doesn't matter. I will take that time gladly! Now, water. And orange slices. And, a monster deep bathtub waiting for me back at my hotel!

After Action Review (AAR)

What did I expect to happen?
To run a slow marathon, but be ok with that.
To maybe have my feet be pretty raw by the end, to the point of affecting my time significantly.

What actually happened?
I ran a decent time. Faster than I thought.
Feet check: the front pads are 'pink raw' but not the heel pads. So, not are raw as I was even for the Detroit Marathon. Still, the course had some rough spots that, I'm pretty sure, affected my speed a little. But only a little.

Lessons learned:
Running a paved marathon fairly early in the year is doable. Probably if I ran this route later in the summer I'd have even less trouble.
Running two marathons a week apart is very possible. I feel like running barefoot allows my body a faster recovery time.
Running races really helps my push myself. I need to do some more, as many as I can, to help prepare for Burning River. That said, I would like to up my weekly long run, and/or do a twice weekly long run.
Thinking positive helps. Giving out positive vibes to spectators helps them give back positive vibes. Heck, the whole experience is supposed to be fun. Even when I'm in pain and exhausted, I will smile more and engage with people.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Day After

Yesterday I ran the Pinkney Marathon. Today I have been sore, like after other marathons I've run. Kind of painful going up and down stairs, for example. This morning I treated myself to a massage at my chiropractor's, and the massage therapist was amazing, finding sore spots I didn't even know existed. I still felt sore afterwards, but it was a relaxed sore.

I decided to bike to work. I almost didn't. I almost told myself it would be easier to drive my truck and just recover from the race. But no. The weather was fine, and I would be using a different set of muscles, and more importantly, I knew I could do it. Therefore, I should do it. And, I was fine. The worst part was that the bottoms of my feet were (and still are at this writing) a little sore and raw, even in my VFFs.

I spent the afternoon sitting down at my desk, which may have had something to do with my next decision: When I got home, still sweaty, I thought, hmm....I wonder if I actually could run? How bad would it be? If I'm going to be running a 100 miler in July, I need to be both pushing myself physically, and getting used to performing while sore and tired.

So, I exchanged my bike shorts for my running shorts, and donned my Luna huaraches, telling myself I'd just do one of my short mellow runs: the loop around Ella Sharp Park. Just stick with pavement, and go into baby-step mode.

Hard to believe I was trying a run when I could barely walk down the stairs out of my apartment, but once I started trotting in the parking lot, my body shifted. Yes, I was stiff. Yes, a little sore (especially stepping on rocks! I swear the parking lot is the toughest surface I know). But, I was running. Really short steps, feeling a little ridiculous at how slow I was going. But I was going.

I got out into the park, just trying to maintain good posture, but a strange thing started to happen: my body loosened up, and I found myself not doing the penguin-waddle, but instead a regular light run. Muscles still sore, especially when I went down a hill. But, not bad. Then I passed one of the trail signs and I thought hmmm...why not?

And then I felt like I was running the race all over again, with fatigue and soreness, but neither impossible to bear, and in fact I felt great. Again, baby-steps, not trying for speed, but attaining a good feeling of smoothness, muscles warm, as I navigated the twists and turns. And none of those killer rocks from yesterday either!

The end of that trail, a mile maybe, comes back out on the road, where I had the option of finishing the loop on pavement, or....the Hedgerow trail which parallels it. Well, at this point, why not? Why not more trail?

And at the end of that one, I felt like I could've even gone further, if I'd really wanted to push myself even further. But, dinner called. I finished up the park loop, and headed through the parking lot. I think around two and a half miles. Maybe three.

Lesson learned? That my body can perform, can run, through soreness and tiredness. That it in fact likes running, even when sore. That I like running, even when sore.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pinkney Trail Marathon 2011

Well I'd wanted this race to be part of my 'Road to Burning River 100' summer project, but I got more than I wanted when my beloved neighbors decided to have a party last night in their apartment at 2:30 am, after they'd gotten out of the bars: I haven't gotten a lot of sleep, which is I guess how I'll feel for the 100 miler. But I get up at 4:30, as planned. Seems like we could hold these races at a more reasonable time. But, I'm not sure how long getting to the Pinkney Trail Marathon will take, with MapQuest taking me all through BFE north of Chelsea.

I meditate for 15 minutes. Focusing and gathering energy. Skip a shower, just gonna get sweaty and dirty today. Breakfast is some yoghurt with almonds, dried cherries, and two spoonfuls of chia seeds. Looks like we didn't get the predicted rainstorm last night, the parking lot is dry. Drats. I'm hoping for a wet muddy course like last year. The softer and wetter the trail, the faster I'll be able to go barefoot.

I've done this race before, last year, in 5:25. Do I think I can PR? No. Last week, my long route from Jackson out to Concord an back on the Falling Waters bike trail, 22 miles, which last year took me under four hours, took me five hours. So, I'm feeling kinda slow. This big winter we had here in Michigan really cut into my running time. Or something.

New things: I'm wearing compression shorts, with running pants over the top. Along with a dose o' BodyGlide, I'm hoping the shorts will end chafing once and for all. Also, I'm taking my new toy, the Amphipod hand-held water bottle. I'm hoping to get into the habit of always carrying it with me, no matter the length of run, as a way to get myself better about hydrating. I recently re-read Born To Run and Jenn uses one in it, and if it works for her, well, gotta be good for me. I can't remember if this race is good about hydration stations, but even so, I want to be taking sips continuously, rather than pounding papers cups of water in a hurry.

I'm wearing my best wicking shirt, along with my New Balance running 'shell' jacket, which I love. Also a new thing, I stuff the pockets with dates from Plum Market, for my personal carb energy source. They're heavy and sticky, sitting down at the bottom of the pocket without bouncing around.

The MapQuest route does prove to work, and I'm there waaaaay early, one of the first vehicles to arrive, so I sit in my truck listening to tunes. Someone at Q106 is cranking out good stuff this Sunday morning. They should give her a mainstream slot. Can't really sleep here though. Too excited.

I missed the early packet pick up yesterday, one reason I wanted to get here early, but getting it is really no trouble at all. I could've slept another half hour. Ah well. For some reason, I get a cool bib number: 1212. Maybe just reminds me of Rush's 2112. And, there's Rush on the radio! A good omen.

I sit in my truck some more, then get out to use the facilities. While I'm at one of the 'blue lagoons', the early starters start at seven. This is the only race I've ever seen do this, where people can get a half hour head start if they want. Cool idea, though the owner of Running Fit, and the organizer of the race, gets on the PA and eviscerates them: “This early start is for those people who are too out of shape to run a real marathon.” I think he thinks he's trying to be funny, but he's not. That's the problem with owners of companies, they're used to everyone laughing at their jokes. Capitalist swine. Exploiting his workers and selling runners shoes that are bad for them. It's capitalism run amok, basically. I've been reading too much Slavoj Zizek lately....

Wait in the truck some more. I don't know, the weather isn't that chilly. Maybe I'm overdressing? There's folks in just shorts and shirts. But, what if it finally rains? I don't want to be in just a shirt if I get dumped on. Hm...

The route is a 13.1 loop, run twice. We marathoners start at 7:30, and the half-ers will start at 8:30, which I think is a good idea, to avoid trail bottle-necking. Again, no rain. I'm starting to get worried. I just don't have my summer hobbit feet yet. I know I can finish, I just don't want my feet to be shredded. Still, I remember this route being fairly sandy, so should be ok. (<--foreshadowing).

Start time approaches. I lock up the truck and head to the start area, which is on the grassy knoll area around the DNR bathroom, right on a lake shore. No sand, the grass just ends at the water.

I'm fearing a repeat of last year, when at the beginning of the race somebody behind me, obviously talking about my bare feet, said, “That's just idiocy,” which kind of put me on the defensive for the whole race. But this time, immediately, a guy in Vibram Five Fingers comes over to talk barefoot running. He turns out to know Jason Robillard, and is one of Jason's converts from Grand Rapids. And, he too is going to do the Burning River 100. So we compare training strategies, which we both agree are so full of unknowns, who knows what the best way to train is? Unfortunately I'm horrible with names, so forget his instantly. I want to say Rob, but that may be wrong.

As we're talking, the crowd gathers. I have decided I want to start more to the front, in order to avoid the numerous bottlenecks from last year. That strategy seemed to work well at the Bigfoot 50K as well: Start fast, get ahead of the pack, then ease into a steady pace without being surrounded the whole time. Rob opts to start towards the back. Oh, he's also going to run an extra loop after he finished. Just because. Ultra-marathoners are crazy! I love it.

We're off! I hear the usual muttered exclamations of, “Barefoot! Barefoot!” though they are accompanied with, “That's hardcore!” so I'm ok with it.

The pace at the front is quick, no bottlenecks at all. And, just like I did with the Bigfoot 50K, I overheat a little, especially with my running shell. I unzip it and roll up the sleeves almost immediately. Yep, should've left it. But, it is holding my secret weapon, the dates!

The trail is....pretty rocky. I going at a good clip, a quick cadence, minimizing contact time, but...yeah, this seems rockier than last year. There are sections of sand, and good firm dirt, but alas, no mud. I'm going fairly quick, taking the little stings and bumps in stride, but I'm thinking this is going to be painful the second time around when my feets are a little more raw. Hm...

Also, my Hanging Toe Syndrome returns. For some reason, on my trail races, I seem to catch my middle left toe on rocks or roots. It's like it's hanging down a little abnormally, and then BAM, ouch, pain. Feels like I've broken it. But, my motto when trail racing is, “Don't look down!” Just keep running. Until, BAM, I catch my second left toe too. Pinche huevos. I suppose this is what I get for having a faster pace. Less time to focus. Fortunately, the pain goes away after awhile. So, that means it isn't permanent, right? Right? Argh....

Then BAM, another toe-hang scrape. Against my better judgement, I look down: All three of my longer toes are scraped and bloody, with the middle and big toe having skin hanging off. Great. I'm not going to make any converts to barefoot running today. I just keep going. Maybe the blood will get covered up with mud.

One thing I notice is that I'm getting passed. A lot. Mayhap I started a little too far up front. This is going to suck if I'm getting passed the whole race. Speaking of that, we're catching up to the early starters, who are admirable, sticking it out and quite probably going to get passed by every one.

For some reason I'm going over math problems in my mind, thinking ahead to the Burning River first, and about how much time running it might actually take. If I average five miles an hour, it should take me 20 hours, which I know is not possible. But, weirdly, if I average just two miles an hour, that comes out to fifty miles! How much difference a little change of speed makes at that distance. Crazy.

The other math question I have is if the half-marathoners can actually lap some of us. Since it's looking like my first lap will be over two hours, it might conceivably possible, if someone was hauling ass and didn't have to pace themselves for the second loop. Maybe possible in a paved, flat, race? Seems like one of those physics problems from high school: A marathoner leave the Start line running five miles an hour. An hour later, a half-marathoner leave the Start line in the same direction, at seven miles an hour. How long until the half-marathoner catches the marathoner?

And nope, the route is not getting that much less rocky. There a patches of dirt and sand, and many boardwalks, thankfully. I'm trying to use the downhills, letting gravity work, and I notice that most shod runners do slow down then, but once I get going fast, I have a harder time choosing my footing, which with these rocks is important.

I am already finding long time frames running by myself through the woods, which I don't think happened until the second loop last year. Also, the people up front don't talk, they're not in groups with friends. I think at first I've evened out and found my pace, meaning that no one seems to be passing me, but no, after a while more people seem to be moving up, even talkers and group. Two guys pass me and say, “Good job,” but after they've gotten ahead, I hear one say to the other, “Dang, that's gotta hurt.” But I'm also getting some “That's hardcore!” and “Right on!” One women, one of the early starters yells out, “Way to rock the barefoot running!” which is my personal favorite.

The route is the same as last year, vaguely familiar, but not enough to know how far along I am, or how far I have to go, and I don't have one of those science-fiction watches with a GPS, which is fine. Despite the rocky patches, I'm enjoying myself. But hark: I hear the Start Line PA cranking out some CCR in the distance. And this stretch is more soft dirt than rock, so I can pick up my pace. And then the grassy knoll area looms into sight. A volunteer is standing there to direct marathoners to the left and half-marathoners to the right. So...maybe some halfers are in our ranks by now?

Grass. Lovely grass. Nice and soft. I can pick up the pace and look respectable in front of the onlookers, who are very few in number. I get the feeling that a lot of runners have come out to this solo, or in groups where everyone is runners. I guess this race wouldn't be as exciting to watch as the Detroit Marathon.

Round Two

The Amphipod is working well. I like coming into the hydration stations and just filling it up versus drinking from the paper cups. Seems quicker, just fill up and go, and sip later. I am coated in sweat. I pause to take off my shell jacket. Wish I could just dump it at this point, but there isn't a gear bag drop for this, and I'm not going to just leave it sitting somewhere. Instead, I roll it up and tie it around my waist. Works well, and I can still reach into a pocket for dates, which....are tasty, but I'm not sure I'm getting any energy boost, or maintaining energy levels either. But...I just don't. Getting two hours of sleep and getting up at 4:30 throws everything up in air. Who knows. I'm also nibbling on the occasional banana and orange slice, which seem to be more nourishing, maybe because they have more water. Again, who knows?

After leaving the grassy knoll, I seem to be on my own again. There's a short section of road, and as I get out onto it, a photographer dude at the other end yells out, “Good day to be running barefoot! On International Barefoot Running Day!”

Oh. I'd forgotten about that. Before I can say anything, he asks, “Are you John? I'm Jason. Jason Robillard.”

Wow. We passed each other briefly last year at the Woodstock festivities, but I finally get to meet him. We shake hands and he says, “I gotta hand it to you. This trail is rough. I ran one loop barefoot and that was enough. Good job on doing two.”

Wow. Kudos of the gods. Getting complimented by Jason Robillard is like one of the old shaolin monks from Kung Fu saying, “You have walked the rice paper without leaving a trace. Time for you to leave.”

He's not running, in jeans taking pics. I wonder what he's doing here? Maybe he came with that guy I talked to at the beginning of the race? Anyways, he takes some pics of me, so maybe I can finally present proof to TJ and the BRS crew that yes, I do actually run barefoot. I wish him luck on the Western Races (?) Ultra coming up. In fact, I was inspired by Jason doing the Burning River in huaraches last year.

Also, oddly, at the next water station, a guy calls out, “Good job John.” He looks familiar, but I have to ask how I know him. Turns out he ran parts of this race with me last year. And he remembered my name! His name is Stu, but I don't get the chance to ask why he's not running this year. Onward.

I'm still getting passed. To the point where I'm starting to think I must be getting towards the back of the pack. Wow. How humbling. The guy from the Start, Rob?, even catches me. He's running strong and steady, with a couple other people, one of them a woman in some kind of minimalist shoe. She looks familiar. Oh. I think she might be Jason's wife. That makes sense. There must be a Grand Rapids contingent here.

The water stations are now checking my bib number and name off a master list. I guess they're keeping track of all the runners, so they don't leave anybody behind. I ask one of them, “So how many people are behind me? Like, five?”

“Actually there's about forty people behind you.”

Hm. Ok. Not sure how many people there are exactly, but I've gone from about fortieth place at the beginning to fortieth from the end.

I'm running slower. The rocks are killing me, as predicted. I just cannot run very fast, and my feet are in raw stage. There are now sections I have to stop and walk up and down due to the rocks. This is starting to not be fun. Note though, that it's the rock pain holding me back. I do feel like I have the energy to be running faster. But, ok, I'm back to long stretches of running by myself, and starting to talk and sing to myself. Which is fun. I'm actually smiling now, when I wasn't before. I guess it helps to just give up on the idea of running any kind of decent time and just try to run. What I mean is, run well, noticing that I'm getting sloppy, slouching. When I straighten, and concentrate on the quick cadence, I immediately start running better. And, curiously, my feet seem to hurt (a little) less when treading on rocks.

Here at the end of the pack, the passive-agressive comments seem to be happening more. Like one woman passing me says, “Barefoot, huh? More power to ya.” Yeah thanks. What not just say nothing? Ah well, I come back with one of my clever witticisms: “And to you.” Yep, I'm the king of comebacks.

I do get one guy who at first does the 'nice shoes' comments, and I do think of something new to say: “Sorry, I can't say the same for yours.”

“Oh I know. After this summer I'm going to convert over to barefoot running.”

I joke about Winter being a bad time to start running barefoot. I then go into expert mode and tell him that he needs to go all in on the barefoot running, just give it three weeks. Turns out, this guy if a super ultra-marathon runner. He's going to be running the Western Trails, the Badwater, and...some other monster race, maybe Leadville. Oops. So much for me offering advice. He also says this is his third time around. He's a volunteer, following behind people and picking up stray clothes and such. I'm hoping that he started early maybe, but what I suspect is that he has lapped me. Zoikes. I'm starting to have some doubts about the 100 mile thing....

Right around this time, I hear another voice calling out my name. It's Steve, a friend of my Somerset Stampede friend, Rob, who came down with him to run the Bigfoot 50K last year. He DNFed that race, but I didn't realize why: He broke some kind of bone or something, and has been in a cast all winter. This is his first race of the year. And yeah, we've both at the back, but he passed me at a steady pace.

I, on the other hand, am just having a hell of a time with the rocks. It's like the whole trail is as rocky as a gravel road. I'm walking up the hills by now anyways, but now I'm also walking downhill rocky areas. I joke with one guy who passes me that if I was in shoes I'd be done now. And, that's not far from the truth. I feel strong, I just cannot run as fast as I'd like. This is tough, and I've seen Jason discuss it on his blog too, the idea of having the pride of running barefoot all the time, versus the desire to push the body, see what it can do, length-wise. Or, even to PR, to run a race as fast as possible, which, at least with a route like this, means some kind of protection. I think I still run barefoot as fast as minimalist on a paved route like the Detroit Marathon.

I mean it doesn't matter, really. I wouldn't be a contender for a race if I ran it in huaraches. What is happening is that I'm strangely still having fun, talking to myself in a really bad Scottish accent, like, “John, I dinnae ken wot yr doin' oot here in da woods.” I don't know, I amuse myself anyways. Slow and steady baby steps, picking my way through the rock fields.

I end up going back and forth with an older guy, who's going in spurts, getting bursts of energy, then going to a walk and saying stuff like, “I just want this thing to be over.”

“Aw come on, tomorrow you'll be wanting to run another marathon.”

“I seriously doubt that.” We pass to young women walking the other way. “Where's my stretcher? I'll give you a million dollars for a stretcher at this point.”

We hit the last mile, where the trail get less rocky, and more just dirt. I can now finally open up a little bit, and unfortunately leave him behind. There's another guy ahead of me, and I set my goal to pass him before the finish, just reeling him in. By the grassy knoll, we're even, and I urge him, “Come on! Let's finish strong!”

He just looks at me with pain. So, ok, on my own. I open up to a sprint. I have grass. I can run. Time to leave it all on the field. Seems ridiculous, I know, to sprint when there's only thirty people behind me now, and that I can see the volunteers are even breaking down the PA and other race stands. Not a lot of spectators either. Doesn't matter. Finish strong. I sprint across the Finish Line. Time? Something like 5:50. Yeah, not good. That's just ten minutes less than the Woodstock 50K I did last summer. But, again, with a trail marathon, there are just so many variables.

But, done. I grab a bottle of water, collect my medal, and proceed directly to the muffin box.

Something new, again from reading Born To Run: I stay and cheer runners coming in. Doing my part to spread a little compassion, though I'm not sure how much those runners really care. A couple do, then that next two guys seem annoyed with me, so I stop and go soak my calves in the lake for a while.

My left foot is shredded. Three toes have scrapes on the tips, and they bled a little. Right foot is ok, and the actually bottoms seem ok. Sore, but no scrapes. Maybe raw feeling though.

After Action Review (AAR)

What did I expect:
To run a slow race.

What actually happened?
I ran a slow race.

I think if I run this race again, and the weather is as dry as this year, I may consider running it in huaraches. I do have pride in running barefoot, but this was just a little too much, to the point of running it not being fun.

On the good side, no chafing at all. So, that was successful. And, my Amphipod worked well. I feel more hydrated, though still thirsty. Could be even better on that perhaps.

And, I finished. The rocky trail from Hell. Also met some ultra-marathoners, making me feel I need to get even more serious.

But, on that note, next week, The Kalamazoo Marathon!