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