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?”
“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!
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!