Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Road to Badger Mountain: More Notes

First off, I have to apologize to readers, because I misinterpreted/mis-read/mistook my friend Mark’s post about the 30/30/45 running schedule for a Hundo. In fact, that schedule is NOT to be done every week, but more like every three weeks! Big oops, and very embarrassing for this former English major. But good news in that it doesn’t sound quite as insane now!

That said, with x-mas done and over, I did another 30ish mile run last Thursday (see previous post) and today, Sunday, did another. The same route. I also plan to run it on New Year’s Day. I have yet to run the ‘45’ portion, but the good news is that this 30 (or more) route feels very doable now, though of course I am sore and tired as I write this tonight. But, I had enough energy to come over to a cafe to write this!

The big lesson learned was about nutrition: Last Thursday I wrote about running the route having fasted the day before, and feeling very low energy. Well, this time, I carbo-loaded the heck out of myself yesterday, with gobs of spaghetti. And today I felt much more energy. I also increased my food intake on the actual run, with a second Clif Bar, in addition to the first, and some raisins, but even before I ate my first bar, on the 11 mile run up Leif Erickson Road, I felt way more energy. I could just tell that the run was going to feel better.

So, I know, sounds basic, but, fasting the day before a big run? Not a good idea. Not impossible, but not a good idea. Fortunately, now that I’m not running the 30/30/45 every week (!) I can still fast one day on the weeks off, when I’ll be doing more ‘normal’ runs (whatever those may entail). Something to remember for Badger Mountain: carbo load carbo load carbo load!

Interesting how having energy just changed my perception about the route. What felt like hills on Thursday, needing to be walked, today seemed only mere inclines that I could run up! In fact, the best news of the day was how much time I cut off the route: 50 whole minutes!

The weather of course was great, clear and sunny (in Portland! In December!) which didn’t hurt, but I really feel this was all about nutrition. Again, probably a no-brainer for most folks, but I’m a slow stubborn learner, and need to make my own mistakes.

Now a day off, and ring in the New Year with another long run!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Road to Badger Mountain: Notes

Yesterday, Thursday, after a short house/cat-sitting break, in which I did nothing but watch lots of DVDs and eat mostly junk food, I returned to my new schedule of a long long run. Again, I’m not sure on the length, but I was out for another eight hours. I’d like to say that puts the route at 35 miles, but I run really slow, so it could be 30. I think it’s at least 30.

On Wednesday, I also fasted, something I’ve been doing for a while now: fasting one day a week, though on the run I felt pretty low energy, so I’m not sure fasting the day before a long run is the best thing to do. I may have to change the day. I’m trying to find the optimal three days for running, based around what’s going on in the rest of my life. So far, it seems that Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, will work best, with Friday and Saturday off. The holidays are kind of messing with that schedule though, what with people coming into town and such. I don’t want my running to interfere with my social life (such as it is....)

Anyways, though I felt low energy, and walked mostly all the hills, that eight hours wasn’t much different from my last run on the same route, which is something to remember: feeling low energy doesn’t mean running isn’t possible! With the low energy, my mantra became, don’t fall in to the Death March.

I invested in better gloves, which made the run much more enjoyable. I was warm enough the whole way. In fact, the weather was good, with actual sun. I still dressed fairly warm, with a shell and two shirts and runing pants and a pair of shorts over them. Most of the other runners I saw were dressed much lighter, some in just shorts and a t-shirt! But they were moving faster than I was. I didn’t hardly break a sweat.

The Merrell Trail Gloves are still the best tool for the job, for both the cold, and the muddy trails. I wouldn’t run on pavement in them, but for cold trail running, they’re perfect. I suspect I’ll want to use them for at least the night portion of Badger Mountain.

The things I carried: One Clif Bar and a bag of raisins. I didn’t seem to get the boost of energy from the Clif Bar that I got on the last run, but I think I’ll be taking one with me on each run. Maybe even take two. They’re cheaper than I thought, just over a dollar.

What I was really grateful for was being able to attend a yoga class almost right after I got home and ate something. Doing all the stretching, along with some strength poses, took the ‘edge’ or ‘bite’ out of my soreness. I could move a little more easily afterwards. This option isn’t available after races, which are on the weekends, but I’m thankful to have this yoga studio right down the block! Yoga maybe be my secret weapon on the road to Badger Mountain!

The one thing bothering me is that I'm not running barefoot. I miss it. And, in fact, need it. For this trail route, carrying my Merrells part of the time is just not really feasible. I'll have to move out to some city running, where I can carry my Xero Huaraches part of the time. That or sneak in some short barefoot runs here and there.

Now, two days of rest, and then another 30 miles on Sunday. I do like this ‘not running every day’ schedule of Mark’s. I just wish I were a little faster so the 30 miles didn’t take all day!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Road to Badge Mountain: 30/30/45

I'm trying out a training schedule recommended by my friend, and ultrarunner extraordinaire, Mark Ott. It's kind of scary sounding at first, and goes like this: 30/30/45. That is, run 30 miles one day. Rest one day. Run another 30 miles. Rest another day. Run 45 miles. Rest two days.

Mark's thinking goes, that if marathons are no longer a problem, and for me they aren't, then it's time to up the mileage. Which I knew, and I needed this kick in the pants to get me to do it, but I'll admit that the length of each run kind of shocked me. I mean, I can run 30 miles, and even 45 miles, without much problem. I did finish two 50 Mile races last summer (2011), and DNFed a “Hundo” at Mile 70. But those were races! This would just be me, on my own, with no competition to inspire me along.

Still, what I like about Mark's plan is the days of rest in between. My initial reaction was, Wait, shouldn't I be running every day? Even just small ones on the days off? But then I came to my senses: I would need those days of rest to recover for the the following day. It seems/feels a little counterintuitive, training for an ultra with four days off a week. And yet, this has been one of my 'excuses', that training for a hundo seems to require someone to be independantly wealthy. Mark's idea is that this schedule gets you the mileage, while also allowing for plenty of time off, to take care of business, and have a social life. So much for my excuses....

And, since I actually have a lot of free time lately (laid off from job—long story) I figured even if I was totally destroyed by this schedule, I have time to play with it. And recover from it.

First 30 Mile Run
Went well, in that I felt good after. It may actually have been more than 30. Previous 50Ks I've run in 6 hours. This took me almost 7! I think I wasn't running as fast as I would in a race. And, if it was more, that's ok. But, although tired, I certainly wasn't wiped out, and was walking around my apartment ok. Still, seven hours is a big chunk of time. I have to remember that Mark can run a 50K in like 4:30, so this did become an all day thing.

Tied in with that is the fact that I didn't plan for loss of daylight. I ran the last hour, hour and a half, in the dark, which probably added even time. I could've anticipated this problem a little better, but didn't. I haven't run a long trail run here in Portland, so I was going on my normal short run routine. Could've been injurious to me! I adapted by getting off the trail as soon as I could and back out onto this dirt road, though the problem with that is the road is the Gravel Road from Hell, so even in my thick Luna sandals, my feet got hammered.

I did end up dressing appropriately. I started my run with almost clear sky, and almost didn't bring my 'shell' jacket, but did at the last moment, because of the cold. Well, five hours later, I was in a hail storm, and I never really sweat that much. If anything, I could've worn some Injinji socks with my huaraches, though they would've been soaked in mud very early. My feet were actually ok. A little cold by the hail storm, but the huarache soles kept me up off the cold ground (see the second run day).

Also: I have to remember to lube up. Again, just not thinking. Used to only lubing up for marathons and other races, not for lone runs. Had some chafing when I got back!

Day of rest
This felt good, to just do anything but run. I was a little slow-moving, but otherwise felt fine. Yoga classes helped immensely, as did eating a lot, carbo loading for the next day.

Second 30 Mile Run
No hail, which was good. I was running a little slower, though not much. I felt surprisingly strong. More mud, more rain, though mostly a light mist. The big unexpected problem was my footwear malfunctions. Not one, but both of my Luna sandals broke down: The hemp rope laces do not seem to like wet weather. I'd been trying them because I thought they shrunk when wet, and so would be more stable (ie more than leather laces) when wet and on hills. And, they don't stretch as much as leather would, but they don't necessarily tighten up either. I had to stop and tighten the back heel straps numerous times. But the big problem was the rope rubbing against the soles and getting cut off. Both of the 'toe knots' snapped right off, and both laces were cut off at the outside 'heel holes' as well. All of this seemed sudden, though I wonder if I could've inspected and anticipated this, by checking for wear on the ropes.

Unfortunately, it's really really hard to re-thread the rope through those little holes, especially when the rope is wet and muddy, and especially when my hands are numb from cold and running five hours. I was able to sort of force the rope through the holes, though sometimes just strands of it, enough to barely hold, and finally, with the last toe hole break, I just could not fix it. On a dry trail, yes, but not in these NorthWet conditions. Fortunately this happened three-fourths of the way through the run, so I could simply run barefoot the rest of the way, though I will say the Wildwood trail is not the most barefoot friendly, with lots of gravel laid out. That plus the cold made for a pokey run home, though at that point I knew where I was, and even knew a couple short cuts.

Still, with all the repair stops, and the slightly slower run in general, my run ended up lasting almost eight hours. (!!!). I felt ok when I got home and showered. Kind of like I'd run a 50K. But, considering the 50K I'd run two days ago, I felt surprisingly ok. My feet were ok too.

Neither day did I actually run the route I thought I'd run, which would have added maybe at least 45 more minutes!

I'm not happy about the sandals. For the next run, I'll either try the Leadvilles, and see how that fancy lace fares, or take my Merrills out of retirement, which is kind of what I bought them for: colder weather and rougher trails.

And, I might try my 45 mile run out in the city somehow. Do a Dean Karnazes “Runabout” and just stay on my feet all day. Which, might work out, since if running this 50K took eight hours, 45 will have me running at night. In which case maybe I'll just wear my thinner Xeros. But in any case, I have to figure out a way to reload on water and food. Either do this 30 Miler, come to my apartment for replentishment, then head out again, or, just bring money along on the city run. but 45 Miles is going to be on up to 12 hours! (which is what those 50 Mile races took me). But, so far this is taking a big chunk out of my days. I'm ok with it for now, but I'm not sure if this would work for those normal people with jobs and families. We'll see what Mark has to say about that.

Now another day of rest....

Monday, December 10, 2012

Resolution: Badger Mountain 100M

Well, I've done it: gone and signed up for another 100 Miler. The Badger Mountain Challenge in March 2013.

I feel good, both in running and in my yoga cross-training. And, I have the extra free time to devote. There's no excuse not to do this, other than it's a crazy idea.

I will share my training and thoughts as I go along, in the chance it might help any of you in your running challenges. But I hope to, to hear your thoughts and encouragement as I go along. Please share! Running has always been a solitary time for me, and I'm bad at asking for help, but I'm asking for help now. And advice or kind words, I'll take it all!

Stand by for training updates, as well as more run/race reports (I'm signed up for a couple Fat Ass 50ks next month. Thanks for reading! I'll see you in the comments section below!


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Eat and Run by Scott Jurek: A Review

Scott Jurek is known as kind of the patron saint of ultrarunners. Most people outside the ultramarathon world will know him as one of the profiled runners (you could almost say 'characters') in Christopher McDougall's best-selling Born To Run. With Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, Jurek shares his journey to becoming a world class runner and athlete, and as the title hints, much of the journey involves food.

The structure of the book is based around one significant physical event in every chapter, usually tied in with a significant person, like, say, his friend and pacer (and monster runner in his own right) Dusty, but also other interesting people pushing the limits of what the human body can do. So, he doesn't cover all the races he's run (though he does list them in an appendix in the back), but highlights, for example, winning the Western States 100 one year (the first “flatlander” to do so) and then coming back the next year and setting a new record for it. And he of course devotes a chapter to his race in Copper Canyon, described more thoroughly in Christopher McDougall's Born To Run, where he came in second to one of the native runners. Interestingly, almost as a side note right at the end of the chapter, (and this wasn't mentioned in Born To Run) he mentions that he returned the next year and won.

There are also to smaller 'threads' woven in: At the end of each chapter, he spends a page discussing some aspect of running and/or training—Helpful tips from a veteran. And, he gives a very tasty-sounding vegan recipe, for some healthy dishes that also double as good running food. I'm a vegetarian, and have always said that going vegan would be sacrificing to much in my enjoyment of food, but after reading these recipes, my diet seems bland. These recipes are my main argument for buying the book!

The more radical, and maybe risky, move Jurek takes in the book is to talk openly and earnestly (though never zealously, or in a preaching manner) about his veganism. He presents both scientific and ethical arguments for having a vegan diet, which I appreciate. I fear that this might turn some readers off, but I also know this will inspire others to at least question and think about their diets. His basic argument is that eating healthy is just plain smart, and no one can doubt after reading this book that Jurek isn't a smart runner. In fact, that may be his main legacy, that he was a smart runner, rather than one of those macho guys that just tries to muscles through races. Not to say Jurek doesn't have the ability to muscle through things—he won the Western States 100 with a torn ligament in his ankle (there's a picture of him doing it—as someone in the book says, his ankle is the size of a grapefruit!) It's his combination of determination and brain-power that makes him the monster runner he is.

Something I was personally glad to see was Jurek's openness to barefoot and minimalist running. He himself goes minimalist, or at least endorses 'running flats', and not the super science-fiction shoes out now, but he doesn't spend too much time lecturing people on the type of shoe they should wear, if any. Instead, he stresses the value of running right: shorter strides, but with faster cadence (in fact, his secret to running up hills is maintain the fast cadence and move the foot stride down to “granny gear”), which is the basic advice barefoot runners pass on to each other. He does say that regular running shoes tend to lead runners to over-stride and heel-strike. It was refreshing to read a running master not excluding the barefoot running world. In fact, if anything, Jurek comes off as open to anything that will make someone a better runner, and he encourages readers to experiment for themselves on what works for them.

Jurek is not without some puzzling contradictions: While in many places claiming he runs for the zen-like quality of running, the purity of the feeling it gives him, in just as many places, during races, he comes off as highly competitive, to the point of talking smack to people he passes and/or beats. He very much likes winning, exults in it, and I don't fault anybody for that, but sometimes he comes across as almost unsportsmanlike. This might, I think, be a by product of having the story 'filtered' through his ghost writer, Steve Friedman (not so ghost-y actually), where the words, said out loud, may have seemed more play-like, or friendly talking-smack-like, but when copied down, loose that humorous emphasis, as sometimes happens, say, with email. Sometimes I was left wondering if some sort of emoticon should have been used to let me know as a reader that what I was reading was supposed to be funny, and the only reason I started to maybe realize this was towards the end when Jurek talks about hanging out with some of those very same guys he seemed to be mocking years, and chapters, earlier, in races.

Also, after the chapters and chapters arguing for good, whole, non-processed, food, he'll pound the sports drinks, the shot-bloks, and the Clif Bars during races and runs. This is the one point where I would have like more explanation of why, or how those processed, sugar-loaded foods and drinks work, and/or how they're better than eating, say, fruits and nuts, and drinking straight water. And, as the poet Walk Whitman says, “If I contradict myself, well then I contradict myself.”

That said, what comes across more than anything is a man who is sincere, in both his desire to be the best runner he can be, and a healthy eater, and in the Buddhist idea (which he surely came across in his readings) or 'Right Living', of living in a way that is good for other people, and the world. In fact, Jurek shows that this is not only possible, but that one can also live the best life for oneself, and that the two forms of living are inseparable: to live the best life for oneself is the best way to live for others. Just like in Born To Run, the case is made that running makes us better people. It's not only good for us personally, it's good for the world.

[Note: Blogger doesn't allow me to use the ampersand '&' in the title or the labels/tags. If you want to search for the book, use the ampersand!]

[I'd love to hear your comments about this review, or the book, or Scott Jurek, down below in the comments section! —John]

Monday, December 3, 2012

Huarache Review: Xeros vs. Lunas

I’ve now spent enough time with two (actually three) new huaraches that I know which ones I prefer for which situations. In brief, I’m recommending the Xeros (formerly Invisible Shoes) over Lunas for ‘regular’ runs, including pavement and mild/smooth trails, and for the best minimal feel for walking and hiking. For more rougher and/or longer trails and gravel roads, I’m recommending either the new ‘original’ Lunas, or the Leadvilles. The rest of the review will be a more in depth explanation of why.

First of all, I recommend running barefoot. It feels better, whether on pavement/cement, or most mellow trails. I love being able to feel what I’m running on, and doing so makes each run a unique experience. And it made my plantar fasciitis go away. I basically wouldn’t be running any more if I hadn’t run barefoot.

Still, there are times when a little added layer on the bottom of the feet really helps out, when my feet get a little raw from longer runs, either from the ‘sandpaper’ effect on pavement, or the ‘poking’ effect from trails. I have worn both Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) and Merrill minimalist shoes but I, and I think most minimalist runners, prefer the feel of huaraches, where the feet are open to the air. Exceptions in the past have been longer runs (50Ks, 50Ms, and a DNF 100M with my VFFs) and snow (a Fat Ass Marathon in the snow with my Merrills), when I just needed a bit more protection than what my huaraches at the time offered.

Those huaraches were Luna’s, from back when Barefoot Ted’s company was a “one monkey operation” and were custom cut for my feet.

I used these huaraches, with the leather lace option, for almost three years, and loved them. The rubber sole was very thin, almost flimsy, giving me the ‘closest to barefoot’ feel I could get. I ran a few half-marathons in them, but mostly they were for when my feet felt raw from longer runs, and/or sometimes for night runs, when I just wasn’t too sure about whether I could see what I’d be running on. Their thinness/flimsiness also made them fairly easily carryable, either by hand, or tucked in the back of a water bottle pouch.

I would probably still be using them if I hadn’t abused them so badly on a hiking trip down in Kentucky, where I was on wet, muddy, hills. When wet, the leather laces stretch, and the rubber soles get slippery, so that I finally put too much weight on one of the side holes and it tore open. Lesson learned: muddy and hilly are the worst conditions for most huaraches.

After that experience, and because I moved out to the ‘Pacific NorthWet’, to Portland, Oregon, I wanted to try a pair of huaraches with hemp laces, which shrink when wet.

Also, I’d been interested in the Luna Leadvilles, with much thicker soles, ever since I’d attempted a 100 Mile Ultramarathon, and completed two 50 Milers, all three of which left my VFF-wearing feet feeling pounded. I didn’t want cushion so much as a thicker barrier for the long-term rock and root contact. So I indulged in buying a pair of both kinds.

Full disclosure: I received a 30% discount from both Luna and Xero in exchange for writing this review. That said, and I’ll repeat this later, the price of the Lunas just seems too much. The ‘original’ Lunas start at $50. The Leadvilles at $95! Not even including the ATS laces, which are another $15. Part of the pleasure of switching to barefoot running was the idea of not having to pay for running shoes anymore, yet now minimal footwear, and sandals, which are essentially a slab of rubber, cost as much as shoes. At the time, I didn’t know how much less the Xeros cost, otherwise I might have decided to just not review the Lunas at all.

Also, I’ll say here, again, that the concept of a sandal, a huarache, is pretty basic. All you need is some slabs of rubber, or rubber-like material, or just hard leather, a whole punch, and some laces. My excuse has always been that I don’t have a workshop, nor any tools to cut rubber, and that at least for the first pair I just wanted to see how they were made before I tried it on my own. But, those are excuses. It’s totally possible to make your own pair. My friend Mark made some for under $20 out of an doormat, which he bought new at Home Depot. Check out his post about it here:

The ‘Original’ Lunas

I was disappointed with my new ‘Original’ Lunas. They’re now cut cookie-cutter style (though you can request a custom fitting, for more money) and though that would seem to cut down on actual time spent making them, the price has gone up since I bought my old pair.

Also: they’re thicker.
Old Lunas vs. new Lunas

Gone is the thin flimsy feel. I don’t know the technicalities, but the new soles are made from a different material, not only thicker, but sort of ‘foamier.’ Some people may not mind this, and in fact may not even know that Lunas used to be thinner (in fact, maybe the company was just responding to consumer demand for a slightly thicker sandal). When I got them in the mail, I had just arrived in Portland, still in dry season, and was exploring the trails of Forest Park: lots of rocks, pebbles, and roots. The ‘Original Lunas’ handled all of these well, in the sense that I felt little discomfort, though could still feel the bumps. The older thinner versions would have still felt a little rough over certain rocky areas (which is not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion).

I did, and do, like the hemp laces. They do tighten up when wet, though to be honest I haven’t actually worn them in a complete downpour, nor in the super muddy conditions, just because I really like running barefoot in the mud! If anything, they tend to loosen/stretch when dry. I also like the look, which is even more primitive-looking than the leather laces, especially in the traditional ‘gladiator style’ wrap around the ankles, which seems to freak out people even more than the leather, which is always a good thing.

After less than three months though, my new ‘original’ Lunas blew out: The knot on the bottom, where the lace comes up between the big toe and the long-skinny toe, began to tear up through the sole. I’m not exactly sure why/how, because I never had this problem in my older Lunas. I suspect that the hemp rope is thicker, and doesn’t squish down as much as leather, but I also feel like it had something to do with the material of the sole—the foaminess of it, so that, despite the thickness, it’s actually less durable than the earlier rubber.

In any case, I will say that the guys at Luna Sandals were very nice, and quick, about replacing my blown out Lunas, though I haven’t worn the new pair at all, because in the meantime, I had received my Xeros.

The Xeros (formerly Invisible Shoes) have the thinner and flimsier-feeling soles of my old Lunas, that feeling I love of being the thinnest they can be besides barefoot.
Xeros vs. Old Lunas

They too are cut cookie-cutter style, and are actually a little wider all around, with two ‘flaps’ that hang out on either side towards the back, for the holes. I don’t mind the extra wideness at all, though I’m not sure it adds any sort of protection.

The thing I really had doubts about with the Xeros is the laces, which are simple nylon shoe strings. They seem to have neither the ruggedness nor the thickness of leather or hemp. Yet, they actually work well. They don’t stretch out when wet, like with leather, nor are they at all bulky like the hemp, but they stay in place, and they’re easy to tie. In fact, they add to the flimsiness/lightness of the whole feel, while keeping the rubber sole tight against the feet. You can now even get soles in colors like pink and blue, along with various colors of laces, though I am not at all interested in this feature. I also liked that with every order, the company includes a rubber hole punch, allowing the buyer to make the hole between the toes, and to customize their sandals, for example adding more holes on the sides for an ‘across the toes’ lace design, for those folks who don’t like the lace coming up between their toes. They even offer free videos on their website on how to do their alternative tying methods.

Best of all with the Xeros is the cost: Around $25 for a pair. I don’t know why anyone would still go with Lunas at this point (with the exception, maybe, of the Leadvilles: see below). Even if you didn’t like the nylon lace, you could buy a pair of hemp or leather laces, and they’d still be cheaper.


As I stated before, I was curious about the thicker-soled Leadvilles, for possible use on longer ultramarathons. I had no desire for thicker soles for any of my ‘regular’ minimalist use, and as a general rule, I still feel the thinner the better. But I have to confess that I did like my Leadvilles at first purely for their look: Rather than the longer gladiator-style laces, I opted for the new ATS laces ($15) which do a great job of holding the soles tight to the foot, without any extra length needing to wrap around the ankles. Because of that, they actually look more ‘normal’, like for example Tevas (which I can’t wear anymore—too cushion-y, hurts my feet), so that, during the summer at least, one could fit right in with all the other outdoorsy-types. For a while there, I felt like women might not think I was too weird, though apparently I guess sandals, at least on guys, are just not cool anymore.

The problem with the thickness of the soles is that, for general walking around, they tend to hurt my feet. The added cushion, and/or my inabilty to feel what I was walking on, made my walking stride a little longer. I think. I’m not sure. But if I wear them a lot, just for walking around, my heels start to ache, almost that plantar fasciitis feel.

That said, I did run in them, and they provide smooth sailing over rocky trails. I never would have considered running on pavement with them, that just sounds painful. But I did try them out for the Forest Park Marathon. As I said, Forest Park can have some gnarly rocky and rooty parts, enough that there was no way I was going to run that race barefoot. I’ve learned my lesson on that with trail marathons. There’s a point where the pain just slows my way down, and running becomes not fun. My new ‘Original’ Lunas could have handled that, but there’s also a gravel road to end all gravel roads called Leif Erickson that part of the rout was on, and I just didn’t want to have to worry about it. The Leadvilles handled the gnarly gravel without problem. I almost felt guilty somehow, that since I was a minimalist runner, I should have at least a little suffering while running on gravel. But no. For contrast: My friend Katherine ran the race in her VFFs, and was definitely uncomfortable during the gravel road section.

But after that marathon, I have not worn the Leadvilles at all. No need. I will only bring them out when I do an ultra, and maybe for the night section of the Hood To Coast, if I end up on the gravel roads section again. If I didn’t have them, I’d just adapt and overcome with either the new Original Lunas, or maybe my VFFs. But, since I have them, I’ll use them.

To summarize
First I’ll recommend running barefoot. Unless you start getting up into the marathon range, most runners are probably ok with mostly running all barefoot. Still, for those times when some extra protection is needed, I recommend the Xeros over the Lunas, more than anything because of the price, but also for the thinner soles of the Xeros. For super gnarly trails or roads, the Leadvilles will provide excellent protection, though the new ‘Original’ Lunas are almost as thick and might do just as well, though the Leadvilles seem made of more durable material.

Please click over to my latest review of Xero Shoes, 2014, here.

Xero Shoes Website:

Luna Sandals Website:

Friday, November 30, 2012

50/50 by Dean Karnazes: A review

I've just finished Dean Karnazes' book 50/50, about his epic 'fifty marathons in fifty days in fifty states' in 2006. I confess I actually hadn't heard of this feat until recently, and the book came out in 2008. Still, if you haven't already read it, I'd recommend it to runners of any level. Might even be a good Christmas present for a fellow runner if you're into that kind of thing!

Karnazes uses the structure of the event, the individual marathons, as the structure of his book, using each marathon to talk about different aspects of running, from basic tips on training for a marathon, to hydration, to how to set up a donation system, so you can collect money for your favorite charity by having friends give a dollar for every mile you fun. Along the way he shares some amusing and interesting and inspiring anecdotes from each marathon, and from his other running adventures.

He even talks about minimalist shoes and running, claiming some credit for Nike's Free minimalist shoe, though he himself wears North Face Boas, since North Face is his main sponsor, and the one's responsible for the amazing organization and logistics for the whole event. He doesn't quite commit to saying running barefoot is a good idea, though confesses that running barefoot on the beach is when he's felt the most natural. In any case, he recommends the 'mid-foot strike' running style, to avoid the dreaded heel-strike, and thinks that shoes do tend to make people try a longer gait.

I was surprised at how engaging the book was, fearing that with the marathon after marathon type narrative that it would end up sounding like 'and then I did this, and then I did this', but each of the marathons was unique, and his stories are so interesting, that my attention was held, and I even stayed up late reading it, wanting to find out what happens next! The guy's a monster runner, but makes it sound so easy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Seattle Marathon!

A foggy morning here in Seattle. Seagulls squawking. Strange weirdos in running clothing stumbling in the chill towards the Space Needle like zombies. When most people are still in a food coma from Thanksgiving, some of us have decided that running 26.2 miles on a Sunday morning sounds like a good idea.

I'd heard that the Seattle Marathon was well-run, and so far so good, since the Start is near the Armory, a huge heated food court with clean bathrooms in which to wait (the Armory, not the bathrooms). Plus not one but two places to buy coffee and tea and nibbles. My friend Katherine and I thought we'd be shivering in the cold, but this is nice. We even end up cutting things a bit close because we don't want to leave the warmth until the last minute, but find out that the bag drop is kind of more than a hop, skip and a jump from the start, but we get to there with five minutes to spare. And really, it's not that cold. I have running pants, a wicking shirt, and my Detroit Marathon long-sleeve over the top of that. (Representin' my roots: Detroit: Where the weak are killed and eaten!). Plus some wool gloves and my Columbia Gorge beanie (which I love).

I am barefoot. I'm going for it. Surely the pavement in Seattle can't be any worse than Portland, and I'm betting it's better, that somehow the gods of Microsoft and Lockheed-Martin wouldn't allow rough roads in their town, and my feet have toughened up even more in the last month, thanks to an increase of barefoot trail running in Forest Park, now that mud season has begun. Plus I figure, you know, that Seattle has all these famous barefoot runners. I gotta show them some Portland pride. I may not be fast, but I'll finish.

The route is weird. Or, I had a hard time figure out where it was going, thinking we'd be downtown and going along the Sound. But we're actually going to be over on the east part of town, along Washington Lake. In fact, Katherine and I went up in the Space Needle yesterday, and that was sobering, holding up the route map and then looking out at all that land we'd be running. A marathon is a long ways!

Still though, I'm feeling good. Even if I haven't run a long run since Columbia Gorge a month ago, I know I'll finish. It's just a matter of how much it will hurt afterwards.

I'm surprised at the smallness of the crowd. Seems like a city this big would get more participants. That is, it's still thousands of people, but the Start area is only about two blocks worth. The halfings and the 5Kers started earlier of course. But everyone here is very enthusiastic! And without too much drama, we are off! Surging down Fifth Street. One of the organizers is standing under one of the Monorail columns and yells encouragingly, “Point two miles!” Yes! Only twenty-six more to go!

Almost immediately, we are running up a freeway ramp, over the I-5/I-90 tangle. Very cool to have a whole freeway section shut down for us, and to see the city from up here, though much of it is still in fog, feeling like a Stephen King story. Like, the nerds at Microsoft have opened a gateway to another dimension by accident (or not??? cue doomy music!) and soon huge shadowy reptilian creature will be seen roaming the streets, eating anything moving (Damn you Bill Gates!).

And I think the key to a marathon being well-run is how many Honey Buckets they provide for runners, and there are tons of them, both at the start, and along the route, more thanevery mile. Kind of funny to see lone Honey Buckets sitting on the side of freeway, but us runners are grateful. In fact, let us give thanks for a multitude of Honey Buckets.

Katherine and I are surprised, and maybe a little disappointed: We haven't seen any other barefooters, nor even minimalists—no huaraches, not even VFFs. A couple of people I see have some zero-drop shoes, like Merrills, but most runners are wearing running shoe tanks. Maybe it's my imagination, but ever since I've stopped wearing running shoes, the models seem to be getting bigger and thicker.

We also get to run through a long tunnel, where somehow some spectators have arrived. I'm not sure how you would get here except by the actual route, but good to have them. One of the comments about the race on some of the online reviews was that there aren't a lot of spectators, and it kind of makes sense, at least so far. No access!

The cool thing about this race though is there are a couple of long out-and-backs, so as we're heading east out on the floating bridge to Mercer Island, the city vanishing in fog, we get to see the lead runners, the young skinny dudes hauling ass the other way. Crazy. Some of them actually seem to be sweating heavily. I'm finally warmed up, and in fact my feet feel very warm. If anything, my upper torso is chilly from the cool lake breeze (or the chilly other-dimension breeze).

We go through another tunnel, to the turn-around, where there are yet still more Honey Buckets, and another fluid station (every two miles). Weird to come back west along the same route, because the way we just came, seemingly, is pretty deserted at this point, making me feel like we're at the end of the pack! I didn't think we were that bad. We started near the 4:40 pacer, planning on doing some road-killing (passing). But, at last!, there's an older gentleman is huaraches coming the other way. And they're like super-home-made ones too. We say hello to him, but he seems in his zone, and maybe in fact thinks we're making fun of him or something, because he doesn't seem to look down at our feet (Katherine is in VFFs).

I spot a woman with a piece of tape on the back of her shirt saying QUADZILLA, along with three number bibs. A ha! I've heard of this. Four marathons in four days! We catch up and I ask her about it, and she's very friendly, explaining that there is a marathon in the general area every day, starting on Thanksgiving. Two of them are small trail marathons, and the third is in Seattle, along the Puget Sound coastline. She says she's an ultra-runner, having finished hundred milers, but that this is harder, though she seems to be fine. I may have to try this next year!

We also finally start to see a few VFFers, including two dudes, they might be a father-son team, who we say hello to. Doesn't seem to be a real talkative crowd though. Some races you see people, strangers, running together to help pass the time, but this one, everyone seems to be in their own little worlds.

Back across the bridge. At this point, the halflings would have turned north and back into town. The marathoners though, take a left, south, along Washington Lake Drive (? I think) heading toward Seward Park. So much for the great views we though we'd get. The fog is still thick, but it's not unpleasant. We're definitely in a residential area, a good one. This must be where all the rich IT nerds live. And again, we get to see the leaders coming back the other way. There's three guys right at the front, way out ahead of everyone. Man, they're just almost sprinting, with maybe ten miles to go.

At this point, Katherine bids adieu, wanting to get into a little slower pace, and we separate. I check my watch, wondering, if I speed up a little, if I could maybe get to 13 miles in under two hours. Gonna be close, and don't want to overexert too soon, but I do feel good. Feet are more than fine, the pavement has been great. It's the rest of me that I worry about.

And here come the first women. They too seem to be in a group of three, though surrounded by a pack of dudes. I bet there's some kind of rooster-dude stuff going on, like, “I'm at least not gonna get beat by a chick!”

And I hear one of the spectators say when they see me, “There's another barefooter!”

“There's more of us?” I ask.

“Yeah, there's more up ahead.”

And soon, who should I see but a barefoot runner! Yes! I catch up to him, and say, ironically, “Nice shoes!”

I kind of startle him. Whoops. But he recovers and smiles. Turns out he's from Portland too! Looks like us Portlanders have to come up here and show Seattle-ites how things are done!

Seward Park. It's a long loop, on an old road that is now a bike path going around the coast of a peninsula. Here we have trees/forest on our left and the Lake on our right, though still foggy. At the far end of the loop is a chip-reader thingy on the road, which marks the 13 mile point. My time? 2:02. Ah well, just missed it. So, chance of finishing under four hours is kinda nil. Well, it's not like I really trained for this, both nursing a minor injury and concentrating on National Novel Writing Month for all of November ( So actually, doing pretty good!

Back out onto Washington Lake Drive. I'm sure Katherine is already in the park by now. Back along the line of lake-front properties worth probably millions. Yeah, not a lot of spectators along here. Fog still thick, nothing to do but admire the backsides of women runners in tight running pants. I'm a terrible's just that the resemble my childhood ideal of comic book super-heroines: athletic woman in tight body suits.

Now the long slog begins. I'm feeling ok, a little stiff (Um, not that kind of stiff). My main twinge of pain is in my back, between my shoulders. I tend to tense up when I run. I'm trying to get better about relaxing, and I think the yoga I've been doing recently helps. I'm certainly not as slow as I thought I'd feel at this point. Which makes me wonder about the minimum training one could do for a marathon. It seems like after a certain amount of marathons a years, one can do fairly well even without a lot of heavy training in between. Which makes me wonder two things: one, what would happen if I actually trained? Like maybe I could finally get under four hours! And two, what is the minimum training one can do to finish a 100 miler, since it just seems like one has to be independently wealthy, and/or not have a life otherwise, to train for one.

At Mile 20, we leave Lake Washington, and head up a steep hill. Nobody at this point tries to run it. We all just walk up. This will take us over the hill and back more into downtown. It's weird, I can see our goal: the Space Needle. And it still looks miles away. I guess it indeed is.

And at Mile 22ish, who should catch up to me but Quadzilla! She looks fine. We talk for a bit about this almost being over, and then she speeds up. Awesome. Otherwise I'm basically in the part of the pack where I'm slightly still passing some people (especially back on those hills), which I like. If I'd sped up earlier, which I could have, I'd be farther ahead, but running slower, and getting passed more, which is really discouraging. Checking my watch, I'm not gonna make four hours. But still, perhaps under 4:10? That would be way better than I anticipated.

And after that hill, we get some downhill, though my legs aren't wanting to bend too much at this point, which makes using gravity a little harder. I feel like I'm running still-legged, heel-striking way to much (which, I mean, heel-striking is never good). But that Needle is getting closer. Not a lot of mile markers here, just some posted on the still seemingly numerous Honey Buckets. There are race volunteers out though, informing us that we only have mile! Then less than a mile! I start pouring on the speed, such as it is, such as remains. I always try to finish strong.

And I hear a PA announcer, and see the high school football stadium where we'll be finishing. This is it. I kick in my afterburners and zip down a last hill, coming out into the stadium, and down onto the field. Once I'm on grass, I go into a long-stride sprint and cross! Check the watch: 4:13. Ok, I'll take that.

Whew. My medal, and my very welcome reflective blanket, and surprise: there's a “Recovery Area” inside the stadium building, heated. With some food (bagels have been picked clean by now though) and where there's even changing areas, so we can get out of our wet clothes. Nice touch!

Speaking of touching, I go back out to wait for Katherine, and I stand along the finish line, cheering in other runners. There's not a lot of people watching, so I don't think most runners are even expecting recognition, but I and a few others clap and yell, and I can tell it's appreciated. And some people I can see are coming in about to cry, which makes me almost cry. I don't of course, because I'm a real man, but it is touching.

Turns out there was one other guy from Portland, Todd, who ran half VFF/half barefoot, and 'BQed' (Boston Qualified)! As for the famed Seattle barefooters, nada. Looks like us Portlanders have to come up and show them how to get'er done!

[Photos courtesy of Katherine Melo, except the first one, which is from the Seattle Marathon Website]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Return of Plantar Fasciitis

I was unpleasantly surprised to have a resurgence of plantar fasciitis recently. I’d thought that now that I don’t run in bad-for-you conventional running shoes, that I would be PF free, but not so.

Just like when I first began suffering from the PF, I can’t help but speculating as to the cause, or causes. My resurgence seemed to pop up right after the Portland Marathon, when I decided to keep running a lot, no rest, as a prep for possible ultras next year. Since my feet were raw from running the marathon barefoot, I was running in my my Luna huaraches, which I'm not exactly happy with since they're thicker now, thicker than my old pair.

Plus, here in Portland, in an effort to appear normal so women will like me, I've been wearing shoes more. They're Merrills, but I still think I walk differently in them (one pair seems to feel better than the other, but who knows).

But as much as I like speculating, I think the reality is, like most disasters, it’s a combination of many little things adding up, either from the above reasons, or stuff I’m not even aware of.

Anyways, when the ache didn't go away, I went back to what had worked for me, which I pass on to you, hoping it might help:

1. I went back (not that I really left) to running pure barefoot. I swear my feet respond to being used 'properly' and though I started with smaller runs, I increased them, and felt no pain after pure barefoot runs. In fact, I felt better.

2. I ran less, which for me meant not doing doubles for a while.

3. I started massaging my calves, which were tight as hell. A trick I picked up from Jason Robillard is to use a rolling pin, and just roll it over the muscles, finding the really tight spots. You can also buy this thing called 'The Stick' for the same effect, at 4X the price, though it's bendable. I'd recommend their stiffest version.

3. Also used hand massage, and tried to find the really painful spots, acupressure points, and just hold down on them with my thumbs.

4. Yoga. I was going to do this anyway, but I've started back to yoga, and all those balance poses are great for exercising and strengthening the foot muscles, as well as just stretching out the leg muscles in general.

5. Before I go to sleep, and before I get out of bed in the morning, stretching my feet: curling, extending, rolling them at the ankles.

6. Finally got my Xero/Invisible Shoes huaraches, which are super thin, the way my old Lunas were. Unless the routes is super rocky, these will be my default footwear, IF I must wear footwear.

But I swear, the most helpful thing was just going back to pure barefoot running. I think I got a little used to my huaraches, especially for trail runs, but now that the rains have come, the trails are nice and muddy and lovely for barefooting.

Now it’s your turn readers: Have you experienced any surprising foot problems after running barefoot? Plantar fasciitis or otherwise? Please share down in the comments, and what you did in response, and whether it has worked or not. I’m interested, and others may be too.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Columbia Gorge Marathon

We're driving to the Columbia Gorge Marathon and I have no idea what the weather is going to be like. Right now we have rain. That bodes ill. I've brought two different jackets, but I'd prefer not to wear either one, because though they'll keep off the rain, they'll add to my sweat factor.

In the meantime the Gorge itself is starting to become visible: huge dark cliffs rising just to the right (south) and equally bigger shadows on the north side, though with more houses visible. Lots o' trophy homes over there.

But lo, as we pull into Hood River, the clouds are parting! We park at the Marina, where some yachts the size of my apartment building are docked, and I assess my clothing needs: I will take my 'shell' jacket, just to stay warm while we wait for the start, then hopefully leave it in my check bag. Hopefully. There's still an evil dark cloud to the north.

I'm also wearing my Luna Sandals for this one. Yep, I'm wussing out. Based on my experience with the Portland Marathon and the Run Like Hell Half-Marathon, the pavement around the Portland area has just been pretty rough, just too unpleasant to be running for four hours on. If I'm wrong, and I hope I am, I have the option to just take them off and go barefoot.

The problem? I just noticed this morning that one of my sandals is on the verge of blowout: these new versions have what's supposed to be an improvement: a small shallow circular area cut out of the bottom, where the knot from the (in this case) hemp rope feeds up through the hole between the toes. Apparently, some folks get really freaked out by that lumpy knot, so this shallow circle is supposed to give some space for the knot to 'nest.' I never had a problem with the knot in my last pair, and when I learned the new versions have this area, I remember my first thought was, Hm, seems like that thinner area might get torn more easily. Et voilà, three months after buying them, the knot has torn almost all the way through. After a quick stop at a party store (is that what they call them out here? Or am I betraying my Michiganderness?) I've got some duct tape, which, as everyone knows, fixes everything. I've placed small strips surrounding both the top and bottom of the hole, to hopefully stop the knot from bulging through. We'll see, especially if they get wet. But yeah, I'm very disappointed in this pair of Lunas.

The half-marathoners will start here, at the finish. Us full-marathoners have to get on a bus and get shipped a couple miles east, and up, where we'll start, at nine o'clock. Yes, I'm liking this marathon already. An actual sane start time. And get this: there's a taco bar at the finish. How cool is that?

So, on the bus, up to a visitor center. Steep road. Going to be killer on the quads coming back, because by the way, this is and 'out and back' race: We'll run about twelve miles east, paralleling the Columbia River, turn around, come back through this visitor center, then barrel down through the town of Hood River back to the Marina area. Some of it, like right here, is on a bike/hike trail, but most of it will be on actual roads, and the roads aren't closed off either, though we are assured that there won't be much traffic. But yeah, two lanes of runners, with vehicles in the middle. What could go wrong?

There's about two-hundred of us full marathoners, maybe more. I'm not sure on the halflings. Big enough that there will be a continuous stream of folks, but not too chaotic. I hope.

My friend Katherine is here, for her third marathon, and all three have been within two months time. She's insatiable, even though now that school has started back up, she hasn't been running as much. Both of us are nursing injuries. I know, you might then ask, why are we running? Because we're marathoners, and as long as the pain isn't anything tearing, game on!

She's wearing her VFFs. While we're waiting around, a woman comes up and asks to take our picture. She and her husband recently read Born To Run, and she's amazed to actually find someone wearing huaraches, so she wants to send him some pics. She's got some Merrill Trail Gloves, and says they've changed her life. Katherine tells her about the Portland Barefoot Running Society FaceBook page, so hopefully they'll both sign up and come out for one of our meetups. Yay, new recruits!

There are some other 'zero drop' shoes around, and well as at least two other runners with VFFs. So, the minimalist contingent is well represented. I'm looking at the bike trail we'll be on for the first five miles or so, and man, it looks pretty smooth. But still wet, and cold, so I wuss out. Though the air temp is not that cold actually, and no rain, so off comes the shell, leaving me with a wicking long sleeve, and a long sleeve tech shirt over it, as well as running pants (trousers for you Aussies and Brits—NOT underwear).

Ok, time to start. The announcer encourages us to move to the Start line, but only a few hard core people go up to the actual line. The rest of us don't want to be mistaken for people who are actually fast. And, with a small race like this (though, side note: why is this race small???? It's in a freaking gorgeous place, not far from a big city, and didn't cost that much! And it didn't even fill up!) the announcer merely says, Go! And we go!

Ha. With an immediate uphill. But, well, that spreads out the pack pretty quick. And yeah, this bike path is smooth. But I'm already running. But I tell Katherine, “I'm gonna run this part barefoot when we come back.”

The view. Amazing. We are up towards the top of the south side, and can look down on Hood River (the town, and the river itself, which runs north from Mt. Hood), and then east and west along the Columbia, with some sun, but also wild-looking grey swirly clouds. And the leaves are turning: oranges and reds mixed in with the many shades of evergreens. Cool air on the face. Perfect weather. Man, why don't I come out here and explore more? Oh yeah, I don't have a car anymore. And, have been wanting to explore Portland, have a city experience. And, if the rain were pouring down I'd probably be less enthused. Though I don't know. The Gorge is just gorgeous any way I look at it. This may beat out Missoula as most beautiful marathon I've run.

I guess this race benefits the local high school cross country and track teams, so the aid stations are manned by future recruits to the marathon madness. No mob to get water either, we're all spread out now. I do have my Amphipod bottle though, just to be able to drink when I want.

So far neither Katherine's nor my injuries are bothering us. That'll come later, after the race. For now, just a good solid pace, the uphill behind us, and a long long downhill, out of the recreation area (not sure if it's a state park or part of a National Forest) and down into the small town (population 240!) of Mosher. And yeah, once on regular roads, the pavement gets rougher. I'm glad to have my huaraches at this point. I know I know, what happened to my badass days? Gone. The wussman cometh.

And we're on regular roads, with regular traffic. Or, well, actually the cars on the road seem to be friends and family of runners, so therefore going very slow. Many are parked on the main street of Mosher, and they're generously cheering on everyone. That's nice. We're not going to have much of that on this race. Nope, this is one of those 'get in your head zone' runs, unless you can talk with someone. I again feel bad that I'm not that talkative with Katherine, but she's got her iPod Mini and headbuds in, grooving. Though, we do have some short convos with people along the way, just people saying hello as we all lean into our first real big hill out of town.

Up up up. Not steep, no one is walking, but it goes for a while. This may not be my fastest marathon. And that's ok. Again, the view, the colors. Now that we're getting further east, the terrain is changing a bit, looking, to me, a bit like Idaho, with less thick woods, and more pines and open meadows. Also a bit like, to me, northern California, with the oak trees in those meadows. Bringing back memories of wildland firefighter days, but not unreasonable to see these things in this area. We are, after all, close to both Idaho and Northern California. Much different than back in Michigan, where I've been for some years. I'm much happier to be out here, back in the west!

And then a downhill, right where the halflings will be turning around at an aid station. And soon, can it be? Already? We start to see runners coming back the other way, on the other side of the road. Really? When we're just at Mile 7? That just doesn't seem right, and the people we're seeing don't seem to be running that fast, and don't like like the sleek marathoners one would normally see at the front. The only thing I can figure is that they're part of the 'early start' pack. But then more runners appear, and some of them do start to like like the emaciated marathon types, and they do seem to be running faster than I. So, I don't know. Odd. Maybe some people just decided to turn around? Like, 'Screw this!'

On the uphill to the turn around, Katherine tells me to go on ahead, that she's feeling the need to go a little slower. Ok. We will meet at the taco bar!

I speed up a little, but only a little. Enough to catch some people on this uphill. Yeah, fatigue is setting in for all of us. But coming up to Ravencrest Point, a small parking lot/scenic point, with an amazing view of the rolling hills to the east, I feel a little energized. I'm not alone. A young woman cheering us on, one of the cross country people I'm sure, yells out, “You guys are leaving here running faster! Amazing!' Ha ha, we'll see how long it lasts, mon amie.

I cross paths with Katherine who's just coming in, not that far behind. She's smiling, grooving on tunes. Man, when I ran my first marathon I had no clue that one could actually run more than one marathon in a year. I thought it took a year to recover and train for the next one!

Also here are two state highway workers manning flags out on the road. I nod to one guy and we share a smile. He sees my huaraches. “Damn man, you got the coolest shoes out here!'

I smile. “Thanks!”

Nibbling on raisins, I descend back into the long downhill. I'm feeling good. Keeping a steady pace. I've actually forgotten my watch, so have no idea of my time, which is kinda nice. Not that I'd want to be running any faster at this point. It'll be what it'll be. I'm just having fun.

Down down down. Up up up. And down down down into Mosher again. And here, when the bike path starts, I can resist no longer: off with the huaraches! Interestingly, I immediately start taking smaller strides. Or, ha ha, hardly a 'stride' with this hill. More like baby steps. But running still, and with no loss in speed. My cadence automatically increases. Something to remember: just how much even wearing huaraches changes my running style, with just a little bit more heel striking, I think.

But no one, or at least no one around me, is walking this hill. We all just keep on with the penguin waddle. I end up running with one woman who has run this marathon like eleven times. She seems like she's got plenty o' marathons under her belt, so I ask if she ran the recent Portland Marathon.

“No. I ran the 10K. I didn't train for it. But I didn't really train for this one either.”

“Yeah, if you've run enough marathons, it becomes more of a mental thing.”

“Exactly. You know you can finish. It's just a question of how much it'll hurt.”

She and I bump back and forth, then I bump back and forth with someone else. We're all strung out pretty far apart by now, but I find myself running faster on the downhill's than most of the shod folks. One guy, looks like some kind of military, passes me and says, “You're an animal!”

That's the kind of comment I like! Not like another guy that passes me, turns slightly and says, “I'm sure you've gotten plenty of comments about your feet, so I won't make one.”

Ok...can we get more passive-aggressive? But I just smile and say, “Alright.”

Man this is a long hill. But we eventually top out and start the long downhill all the way to town. We pass the Start line at the visitor center. The tent is still up and the youth are still cranking the PA music, though there's no aid station or anything. They're just hanging out.

And yeah, this downhill is pretty steep. Nice of the organizers not to make us run up this one. Too bad the halflings had to. I'm no longer running faster downhill than the shodheads, but at least I know I'm not alone in being in pain, with almost-exploding quads. And the pavement is now rougher again, but I'm not going back to huaraches. Barefoot to the end! Ouch! Ok, well, I'll run on this center line for a bit, until we get down into town, and we're flagged off onto the sidewalks. Ok, fine by me!

Zigging and zagging through the streets. Crossing Hood River once, then down by the freeway, and back across a pedestrian suspension bridge right at the river mouth, where the water is strong and brown and flowing fast. Almost there! I can see the park. But no, we zig to the left. Argh, we have to run around the city park first! Just let it end! And, it's on a gravel road! Nooooo! But, it's muddy! And soft! Ok! A little added pleasure of splashing through muddy puddles. No one around me. I speed up, not wanting to get passed at this point. A couple more turns and into a flagged off 'chute', on muddy grass. One guy ahead of me. Ok, sorry dude, but you just became my last goal. Must. Pass. Dude.

And I do, coming around a bend, in full on sprint over the great, no need to worry about small stride here!

And over the line. The announcer states, anti-climatically, “Good job John.”

We all get hand crafted medals, ceramic, locally made. No slaves in China were used. Nice touch.

I do some yoga stretches. The sky is now dark grey, and a slight drizzle has begun. I change into my dry clothes and go into the heated tent because, oh yes, that taco bar is calling my name. And, bonus: hot cider. I am kinda in heaven right now.

4:19. 90th overall. 9th in my age group. I'm a little disappointed, but hell, with those hills, I'll take it. I gotta get older though, so there's less dudes in my age category. The awards are starting, and two of the women I ran with, including the one who didn't train, have placed in their categories. Also cool: the woman who wins the 60+ age category, and she's the only woman in that category, finished before me, and does not look over 60. Overall winner for women ran it in 3:26 I think, and overall men's in 2:50-ish.

And Katherine zips in just before the deluge begins! She's hurting, but she finished! Third marathon ever! She too partakes of the holy taco bar. Up next? Seattle Marathon in about a month.

Now the long drive back to Portland, trying not to have all my muscles freeze up.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Run Like Hell! Half Marathon

I don’t know if I’m up for this half marathon. I wasn’t going to run it, due to just trying to watch my money, and pick and choose races (opting for marathons at this point) but someone offered their bib at the last minute, free, and I can’t argue with free, but it’s interesting: If I weren’t running this half, I’d be doing my weekly long run of 15-16 miles, though at a much slower pace. And, if I’m at all going to get serious about running another 100M next summer, maybe I should be putting in extra miles. But, a half marathon is an opportunity to get some speed work in. Or, speed for me. Faster than normal anyways, so using some different muscles. And again, free.

But my running buddy Katherine is running late, waiting for a third person who shall not be named. So I’m sitting here in my dark apartment, waiting, tired, wanting to just go back to sleep. Maybe I just haven’t had the time to mentally psych myself up for this.

Katherine and her shuttle van finally arrive. Yikes, we’re cutting it a little close. Race starts at 7:45 and it’s 7:10! But she zips us downtown and we park and get down to Pioneer Square, where the races start and end. The Half starts first, and the 10K starts a half hour or 45 minutes later. I’m not sure but there might be a 5K too. We get in line for the Honey Buckets, which is odd because, instead of lining out along a completely empty cordoned off road, people have lined out in the opposite direction, out onto Yamhill Road, which is not shut off at all, just doesn’t have traffic at this particular moment. Sheep. We’re all sheep.

Katherine and I get through the Honey Buckets quickly, but The Nameless One is taking a long long time. And, he’s left his bag with us. If he’d taken it, we could’ve just left. He’s running in the 10K so doesn’t seem to have a sense of urgency. When he finally gets out, we give him his bag, make quick vague arrangements on where to meet (“By the beer”) and zip over to the bag drop-off, for which there is also a line. Argh. Announcements are coming over the PA, telling Half runners to start lining up. In line, we briefly run into another member of the Portland barefoot contingent, Chris, who is also running the 10K. We’ll meet up with him later.

I finally get my bag checked, opting to keep my sweatshirt-ish thing for a second layer, because by the way, it’s raining. Yep, welcome to Portland. And it’s cold. And it’s not until we’re walking over to the starting area that I realize that I forgot to take off my huaraches and put them in the bag. Doh. Well, hell. I mean, I could carry them, and might even very well opt to use them on what I now know are the rough Portland roads, and if the weather were any nicer, I’d do that, but right now, the rain is coming down, my feet are freezing already, and I can’t imagine standing on wet pavement would feel any better. Ok, forget pride and principle: I’ll run this one shod, even though it’s overkill: I’m wearing my Luna Leadvilles, super thick rubber meant for longer distance and rough terrain. Well, since I don’t have to worry about road roughness, I have no excuse not to run fast. My goal? Under 1:50

But we are not starting on time. Instead, we are standing in the cold rain, unable to hear the announcers, who seem not to realize this. We should have started ten minutes ago. On the other hand, this is a great opportunity to look around at the people, because by the way, this is a costume race! The theme this year is superheroes, and there are plenty. All kinds of Batmen and Batwomen, Supermen and Superwomen (or girls, there never was a Superwoman in the comics), and with some Flashes, Green Lanterns, Catwomen. The guy next to me is Wolverine. And, Portland being Portland, even more obscure stuff, like The Tick, the Ambiguously Gay Duo (two different duos), a group of Powderpuff Girls. Ninja Turtles. Superchicken. Lara Croft. Also, perhaps my favorite, a Hunter S. Thompson with a red cape, with the guy playing it in character.

And it’s not just superheroes: There’s a group of Rainbow Unicorns. A zombie family. A group of sharks. A woman dressed as a Tri-Met train. A Bullwinkle. I’m feeling a wee bit lame. The Nameless One is going as a Native American. Katherine is Dorothy. I’ve had Katherine draw a cat nose and whiskers on my face, so I can at least be a black cat. A tailless black cat. I don’t know, I’m just not an extrovert, though I love seeing everyone out and being fun and weird. Especially, holy yowza Batman, there’s a rocking sexy Zorro woman, with half her fake breasts hanging out. I love Halloween: the only time of the year when woman can dress as sexy as they really want to, without damage to their reputations. Or dress silly. The guys just look silly though. Guy in Superman outfit? Silly. Woman in superman outfit? Hot.

Ok, finally! We start! North at first, around downtown, then south on Naito Parkway. Still raining, though some sun starting to appear to the east. My Leadvilles are ok. Definitely don’t have to worry about what I’m stepping on. I’m trying to maintain good running form, though running faster than normal, and therefore can’t help but have a longer stride. They’re at least not slippery when wet, that new custom lace Luna makes really keeps the soles tight against the feet, without any discomfort. I am slapping a lot though.

I’ve seen a few Vibram Five Fingers in the crowd. People seem as freaked out by my huaraches than if I were barefoot, with a few snide ‘Ouch’ comments, and one guy, on passing, seeing the 50K on my sweatshirt, asks kind of passive-aggressively, “You don’t run ultras in sandals, do you?”

I just stare ahead and say, “Yes.” I don’t know what people expect me to say to a question phrased that way. But, here I am getting grumpy, when really, I’m feeling good. The rain has stopped, the sun is even coming out, I’m warmed up. I’ve lost Katherine. One of her ankles has been bothering her, and we had already planned to separate pretty quickly. I hope she’s ok though. We’re going to be running the Columbia Gorge Marathon next weekend!

The route takes us up, up into the hills, above PSU, near the VA, with some nice paved bike/running trails in the trees, along quiet roads. I’ll have to come back up here and explore sometime. In fact, wow, this is a long uphill. But now we ‘peak out’ and head down Tewilliger (I think? sp?). I try to let gravity do its work, and let myself be pulled fast downhill, but really I’ve been going pretty fast already (for me) and I can kind of feel it in the feets—slapping them down hard. And the road here isn’t that bad at all. I think I really could have run this barefoot with no cost to my speed. Even the rougher road parts have had convenient paint strips that I could have utilized. Well, the Leadvilles are still not slipping, and it’s a good opportunity to try them out in another kind of way.

Somewhere in here we’ve gone halfway. I check my watch. Under fifty minutes. Ok, good, that puts me under two hours for sure, and probably around my usual 1:45. I was wondering about the long uphill, how it would affect my time, but this long downhill helps make up for it.

Back up Naito Parkway the other way, waving hello to the homeless people who slept under the overpasses. What must they think of all this? Decadent middle-class luxury.

The weather is much better. Sun! Too bad everyone’s clothes are now soaked, especially costumes. Plenty of people with sopping wet capes clinging to their backs. Ick.

At this point, the 10K course comes in from the west and joins up with us, which is a little....not annoying, not frustrating, but....after running 10 miles, I’m feeling weary, and here come all these super fast runners whizzing by.

But wait, can it be? Yes, a train is actually crossing the road, and everyone is forced to just stop and wait. Wow. That’s some good planning for the course. The timing company has put some timing pads before and after the tracks, so supposedly they can erase the wait time off of our official time, but having to stop and wait kind of sucks something out of everyone mentally. Or, it does to me, because now all those people I passed in the last mile have caught up and are in front of me again. Good thing the train was really important: just four engines linked together, going very very sloooowly. As soon as they pass, runners are zipping under the lowered gates, lights still flashing.

Some twists and turns through downtown, and suddenly from 4 miles to go we’re at 1.1 miles to go! Ok John, time to kick out the jams. Finish strong!

Pass pass pass. Weird to see some people actually walking at this point, just physically kaput. or probably mentally. But they’re so close! I want to say to them, just keep jogging! Baby steps! Penguin waddle in!

There’s the finish! Same as the start. The course is now kind of crowded as we get narrowed down and the halfers and 10Kers mush together. I have to do some more whipping and dipping like at the beginning. Not a full on sprint, no room for that, nor maybe inclination, but at least still strong to the end.

Et voilà, le fin! Check the watch: 1:44. Ok, cool, I’ll take that. That’s about my average. Good to know I still got it.

Festivities are going on in Pioneer Park. A band playing, the whole area crowded, with people enjoying their two free IPA beers for finishing, plus veggie chili (I love Portland that way) and whole grain bread slices. Still cold. I get my bag and take off my wet top layers, which helps. And, I eventually come across Chris, who directs me over to the Barefoot table. He and the Nameless One have been there a while, and I get to meet another member of the Portland BRS, Daniel, dressed at a Hawaiian dancer, with coconut bra and everything. And Katherine eventually comes in, though nursing that hurting ankle. Still, she finished.

We hang around for the race awards, then the costume awards, hosted by The Joker, who is funny, and people’s costumes are funny. Seriously, only in Portland. Maybe San Francisco I suppose, but for example, the Detroit Marathon always happens around Halloween, and costumes are suggested, but most people don’t dress up. They’re boring like me. I guess I need to be less boring. Next year. Maybe I can finally indulge all those crossdressing fantasies I’ve had.

The costume contests are ok, but I’m cold, and sore, and tired of standing up. It’s been a good day so far, but I’m ready to get on to other things. The good thing about a half-marathon (versus a full) is that one can actually have the rest of the day and not be bed-ridden with fatigue. And so, we all say goodbye and head out.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Portland Marathon!

The weather continues to be fantastic here in Portland, in the first week of October. Someday soon it’ll get rainy, but right now we have another clear day. Still a little dark here downtown, the sun just starting to rise, as we gather in our corrals for the start of the Portland Marathon. I’m in shorts, and I soon ditch my sweatshirt to the bag check volunteers (note: a separate bag check in each corral is a great idea!) leaving me in just one wicking shirt, and yes, a little chilly, but not unreasonably so, and we’ll soon be warming up.

I’m also barefoot, which normally (though what is normal when barefoot running is involved?) wouldn’t be a...doubt, I guess, though in my couple months here in Portland so far, I’ve found that the roads, the actual pavement, not the sidewalks, seems to be a little rough, to the point where I was considering at least carrying my huaraches in a drink pouch, if the roughness got to the point where it was affecting my normal speed. But, yesterday, I happened to run with Barefoot Todd, up from California, and joining our Portland Barefoot Runners meet-up. He’s run twenty zillion marathons barefoot and said that this course is “very barefoot friendly.” So, with that advice, I’m just going barefoot, no backup, come what may.

I’m joined once again by my new running buddy here, Katherine, who I conned into running the Forest Park Marathon only two weeks ago. Her first! And here she is again, for more long-distance torture and merriment. She’s wearing her VFFs, and we’ve already spotted a couple other VFFers in the crowd.

Our corral is one of the later-starting ones, which we are kind of committed to (the marathon police are pretty strict around here) and though we both think we could bump up to an earlier starting one, the advantage of being back here is that we’ll be passing people most of the race: a good psychological boost.

The corrals are sectioned off in kind of a circle to the start line, so we’re not even in a long line, and can hardly hear the official start. As our block of folks moves up to the start, I’m surprised at the...lack of festiveness. No loud PA cranking inspiring music. The announcer is just a guy kind of standing off to the side, with no real announcements, except when he comes on a man and woman at the head of our pack dressed in a tuxedo and a wedding dress: they’re going to get married at Mile 20! That’s awesome. I generally disapprove of marriage, but if you have to, that’s the way to do it.

And without much ado, some volunteers lower the rope in front of us, and we’re off! And we can actually run right from the start, since we waited a bit after the previous group, so there’s space for the faster folks to take off. Which we do.

Hard to stay together and pass people, since other slower people are clustering in their own groups, so Katherine and I kind of duck and weave around people as we all loop around downtown and out to Naito Parkway, the main road that runs along the Willamette River on the west. There’s actually a riverwalk type park, with a bike path, etc, but we’re out on the road, and since this section is a quick out and back heading south, we get to see the leaders of the pack coming back on the left. All the skinny guys (and soon some gals) with no body fat. I tell Katherine that I keep waiting for all my extra body fat to fall away, and she says, ‘You mean you wish you were young again?’

“Um, yeah....”

Anyways, watching them, I feel like there’s some kind of optical illusion going on, because they don’t seem to be going that fast. Certainly not an all out sprint. I guess it’s because they’re so relaxed-looking, when actually they’re probably hauling ass.

As I suspected/feared, the pavement is a little on the rough side. So I’m doing my best to seek out the painted lines, either in the middle of the road or the side, which sometimes requires some whipping and dipping and passing. Katherine is better off, and in fact is helpful in pointing out lines for me, going into what I’ll soon call ‘pilot fish mode,’ swinging back and forth on either side of me depending where I need to run. Although we ended up separating towards the end of the last marathon, this one we’re hoping to stay together on, if only because finding each other at the end might be impossible. Though seriously, it’s good to have someone I know, who’s the same speed and ability, and also a barefoot/minimalist runner!

We head north up into the industrial area for another short out and back. And on the way back, we come upon another barefooter! I don’t recognize him, he hasn’t been at any of the BF meet-ups, so must be going rogue. I try to ironically say to him, ‘Hey, nice shoes!’ but I’m not sure he sees that I’m barefoot, and so does what I might do, go into defensive mode, thinking I’m making fun of him. In any case, doesn’t seem in the mood to chat, which I respect. Much focus is needed running on this rough pavement, and he doesn’t even seem to be using the paint lines.

We also come upon someone in huaraches. They look huge on him, so I ask as I pass if they’re homemade, but no, he says they’re Lunas. So with the VFF wearers we’ve seen, we barefoot/minimalistas are fairly represented.

At this point the half-marathoners split off and head back into downtown, while the rest of us take a right and head north again. Oddly, at least for me, because I didn’t know until like two days ago, the route is actually going up into my neighborhood, to within a block of my apartment. Unfortunately, I don’t have to go to the bathroom. Seems a waste not to take advantage of being able to use my own actual bathroom. But then I’d probably want to stop and get a drink and toast a bagel and lie down for a little bit, so maybe it’s better this way.

We lope down onto the Mt. Hood road, which I think is also Highway 30 at this point (? I’m still learning the territory) which is where the Hood To Coast race come through. Was that only like six weeks ago? Seems like a lifetime already. I’ve had so many adventures here in Portland! If you’re reading this, drop everything and move here!

And now for a little uphill, as we all head to the St. John’s Bridge. Katherine and I are both pretty strong trail runners, so while everyone else starts walking, we bag dozens of ‘roadkills’ (H2C slang for passing someone), and as an added bonus, I can jump up on the sidewalk. Ah...nice smooth cement.

And wow, the view from the bridge is just amazing. All of Portland visible in the early morning light, with the huge Willamette River heading north to join up with the huger Columbia River. Perhaps even more beautiful: the stream of runners on either side. All these fit people give me faith in humanity. They could be home watching Dancing With The Stars on TiVo, eating Doritos, but no, they’re out here, challenging themselves. And, we’re challenging each other. A tribe, out for the big mammoth hunt. Or something like that....

We take a right and start our way back south, via neighborhood roads, and this is where the first real large groups of spectators appear. I’m of course getting lots of ‘good job barefooter!’ comments, which is nice. It may be my imagination, but I swear that here (versus back in Michigan) I’m getting less, basically none, passive-aggressive comments, or those comments from people twenty feet behind who sorta kinda think you can’t hear them when they say, ‘That’s crazy!’ Instead, I feel like that, while people are still noting my barefootedness, it’s more either as an observation, or as a compliment. I guess it’s that, here in Portland, I’m just another weirdo. Which is nice.

Also, some of the comments I hear are, ‘There’s another barefoot runner!’ So I think there’s yet another rogue barefooter out here. An actual fast one.

The road continues to be rough. Ok, well John, time to just suck it up. But note to self: never believe what California barefoot runners say about road barefoot friendliness. And/or, California barefoot runners might all just be super badasses.

But, the good news is that from here on into downtown, it’s mostly downhill! And Katherine and I still seem to be placed well in the pack. We’re now more with people of our speed and ability, still passing some folks. Not being passed much has been nice. And, now that we’re at Mile 20, people are starting to stop and walk and/or stretch. The Wall has begun. This is where the mental strength comes in. And gotta give Katherine credit, she’s sticking with it. I think if I weren’t here she’d be going a little slower. Though, hell, the reverse might be true as well: I’m feeling pretty stiff and sore. Without her here as my pilot fish, I might go into my trudge zone. Having someone with me gives me this sense of responsibility. Like, I gotta help her finish! Unasked for I know, and she may at this point be thinking, ‘Goddammit, I just wish he’d get the hell away from me so I could freaking slow down!’ But neither of us is quite into ‘penguin waddle’ mode, we’re still running, if slowly and stiffly.

By the way, someone has thrown rose pedals in the road, so I think the wedding has happened, or it happening, but I don’t ever see the actual ceremony. Good luck to both of you! Don’t think about the fact that half of all marriages now end in divorce. La la la!

A slight uphill gets us onto the Broadway Bridge, with another great view of the city, and over into downtown. Weirdly, suddenly, we seem to have gone from Mile 20, to now Mile 25. That went fast. I guess the pain helped distract me. Katherine is right with me. I’m actually more excited about her finishing than me finishing. The streets are lined with people now, though all mostly quiet, just looking for people they know. So, uncharacteristically for me, I raise my hands to get them to make some noise. And they respond, roaring. With some ‘Go barefoot runner!’ yells as well. Whew. How embarrassing would it have been if they’d ignored me? But the crowd roar is nice, carrying us through to, yep, there it is, the Finish line!

4:19 for both of us. I’ll take it! Whew, I’m tired, though we both pass the visual inspection from the medical folks waiting for us, looking for people who may be about to pass out. We collect out shiny medals, our finisher t-shirts (another great idea!), plus a memorial coin and bracelet charm (wtf?)(don’t think about how all this stuff was made in China by slave labor—just don’t think about it) and filter along the food tables, though really, once we collapse on the sidewalk with everyone else for a little bit, and can walk somewhat normally, what we really are craving is a late breakfast of ginger pancakes. Onward to our victory feast!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Forest Park Marathon

This is never going to happen again in my life probably, but I am actually walking from my door, two blocks to a marathon. This is the advantage of living near the Forest Park Conservancy, in northwest Portland. I’ve already been running miles and miles on its trails, but when I saw the sign for this marathon, I couldn’t resist, even with the perhaps steep price of $150, since I’ll be saving money on not having to drive, and all proceeds go to supporting the Park, which I’d want to do anyways. Plus, in a raffle before the race, I actually won a $150 gift certificate to a running store! Another thing that will never happen in my life again.

I still somehow have to get up at five in the morning though, but ok. After forcing down a bagel and peanut butter, I grab my stuff and simply walk over to Montgomery Park, a huge office complex, and a well-know landmark around Portland. Here I get on one of the shuttle busses to take us to the actual start of the marathon. The half-marathoners will be starting an hour later in Macleay Park, my normal entry point into Forest Park, only four blocks up the street from me, and we’ll all end there as well.

As usual, I’m one of the early arrivers. Just my personality. I like to plan in case something goes wrong. But really there’s no advantage to being so early, since the bus merely dumps us at a dirt road farther north, where we wait around in the cold dark.

I’d thought there were going to be 100 marathoners, but as start time approaches, we seem less than that. Fortunately I actually have someone to talk to: my friend Katherine, who I met on the “Prepare To Die” BRS meet-up about a month ago. This is her first marathon. It was going to be the Portland Marathon, but I conned her into doing this one, as a ‘training run’ for the Portland Marathon in two weeks.

Katherine is another barefoot/minimalist runner, and is sporting her VFFs today. I’m trying out my new Leadvilles, the heavy duty huarache from Barefoot Ted’s Luna Sandals. I know some of the trails up in here are fairly rocky, and we’ll be on some gravelly roads, so I want to give 6mm of rubber a try.

Surprisingly, we spot a few other minimalist runners. Mostly folks with VFFs, though most interestingly is a woman wearing Crocs! I don’t know if that counts as minimalist or not, but I’m totally interested. Katherine talks to her, and the ‘Croc Lady’ says she’s been running in Crocs for seven years now, and that she just doesn’t like the toe sockets of the VFFs, though didn’t seem to be aware of minimalist shoes like Merrells, etc. I never do get to ask her why/how she started running in Crocs though.

And without much ado, and the sun just coming up, the head of the Forest Park Conservancy yells ‘Go!’, and we go!

The good news about this route, which I didn’t realize until just this morning, is that, after this first bit on gradual dirt roads, the rest of the route will be on the long Wildwood Trail, and mostly downhill-ish. Yes!

And the roads up here in the north part of the Park are way less gravelly than the section of Leif Erickson Road that I sometimes run on in the south section. My Leadvilles handle the rocks easily. I can still feel the occasional bumps, but these soles are thick! That said, Katherine is doing fine in her VFFs, running on the edge of the road where the rocks are less.

The road is indeed gradual. Enough to keep us slow and not overexert ourselves right at the start, but not so steep as to be annoying. We even pick up another VFFer after a while, a guy down from Seattle running his first marathon as well. Dude’s got like four kids, including a newborn. I don’t see how people like that can stay active enough to run marathons, but right on.

Although the northwest industrial area of Portland runs basically parallel to the north of Forest Park, and the industrial noise-hum is more noticeable down where I live, right now all I can really hear is birds, and the heavy breathing of other runners. It’s nice starting this trail marathon on a dirt road, so there’s been no bottle-necking, and runners have dispersed easily according to their ability.

At the eight mile mark, or so, we get to the first aid station, which is at the northern most part of the route (and Park too I think). From here, the five or six of us in our ‘group’ line out, with Katherine leading, and head up a short side trail, which soon puts us on the Wildwood Trail. This trail runs the length of Forest Park, basically along the ‘spine’ (ie at roughly the highest points) and only right at the end will we turn off to head to Macleay Park and the end. I’m glad to be seeing this territory up to the north here, so I can start to form some longer runs of my own.

And it’s true: Although there are of course some small ‘ups’ the trail generally seems to be going either level, or downhill-ish. If it holds, this will be good! And we’re off the gravel! The trail is really hard, compact, dirt, but mostly gravel and rock free. This would be basically good barefoot terrain, though down at the south end the trail maintenance folks tend to dump gravel in sections, I think as some form of erosion control.

Our pace so far is slow and steady, which I’m all for. Not getting passed, and not passing many people, so about perfect. The only problem seems to be footing: Both Katherine and I take some spills. My Leadvilles seem to be a little longer than I’m used too, or I’m just not quite used to them (a review of them soon to come, btw) so that the tip can catch on a rock sticking out. That, and/or I’m just a wee bit clumsy.

But, we seem to be going a little slower than the rest of our group wants, as they eventually all pass us as a pack, including Croc Lady. Katherine is doing well, though I think mentally starting to feel those doubts as we pass beyond 13.1 miles and into uncharted territory for her. I take the lead and bump our pace up a little, and she seems game, and we end up with a couple other runners in the vicinity.

At about Mile 16 though, Katherine really wants to deploy her iPod and hear some music, which I understand. At this point I think she needs tunes more than me for moral support, so we agree to separate. I feel bad for abandoning her, but I think she feels bad for holding me back, and we’d agreed ahead of time that we would both just run at our normal pace. I know she’ll be fine though.

I pick up the pace a little, enough to catch up to a guy we’d been seeing off and on. He’s got a weird technique, and/or he’s just got super long legs, because he hardly looks like he’s moving at all, but I have a hell of a time keeping up with him. But that ends up inspiring me to run faster, and in fact, weirdly, I find myself with energy. Instead of my normal ‘penguin waddle to the finish after burning out early’ I’m actually still running. I think this is in large part to the still general downhill of the trail, though also perhaps to my Leadvilles, which allow me to be not so dainty when doing downhill: I can simply let gravity work for me, and not have to worry about poking my foot. Which...leads to the question: whither my barefoot running? Because if I was doing this barefoot, I’d still be picking my way along that gravel roads.

What I mean is, do I remain pure to barefooting, because it feels good, or do I go ‘heavy duty minimalist’ with Leadvilles and thereby increase my speed. And: by being able to barrel down these downhills, am I falling back into the potential injury zone that ‘normal’ shoes bring, where I’m putting more stress on my joints? But I still feel like I’m running light, picking up my feet rather than slamming them down. I don’t know. It’s seems to be a question of, do I want to be a barefoot runner (in which case I run slower) or a runner (and thereby choose barefooting or minimalist, or whatever, as an option).

If that makes sense? Because, I like races. I don’t view them so much as competition as ‘group efforts’, where we inspire each other to run better, in the same way going to a yoga class makes one a better yoga practitioner than merely doing yoga at home. But maybe there is some competition, because I don’t just want to be at the end of the pack, and get to the Finish when the organizers are already packing everything up (which has happened while doing a trail run barefoot). And going minimalist (at least on trail runs, not really on pavement) helps me ‘go faster’ and keep up with shodheads. I’d love it if I could keep up on trails with people with shoes, but I just don’t think that’s every going to happen. And I want to be a part of organized trail runs.

I know, shoes/footwear are a tool, to be used if the situation calls for it. But what exactly does ‘the situation calling for it’ mean? And I bet it means different things to different barefoot runners.

These are the thought ramblings of a (barefoot/minimalist) runner twenty miles into a marathon....

As I get into the south part of Forest Park, more ‘normal’ people are appearing—people just out for their normal runs, since the Park is not at all closed off for this race. This doesn’t slow things down, and there are no crashes, though this probably wasn’t the best day for some high school cross country team to be up here running ‘against the stream’ of marathoners.

My energy level stays high. I’m amped, running faster now than at some points in the first half. Maybe this is what the whole ‘run the second split faster than the first’ strategy is about? Or, again, the downhills help. As long as I can keep lifting my feet fast enough, I can keep barreling down, which in turn kind of inspires me run faster in the straight-aways. Or did I finally find the right combination of food to eat yesterday? Or is it the bagel and peanut butter from this morning? I don’t know, but I’m digging it. I even finally pass Legs McGee, both of us wondering if we might actually finish under five hours, which would be way under a PR for me on a trail marathon.

I’m even passing some people that passed me earlier, including that VFFer from Seattle, who’s now walking. Oy. I hope he’s just resting and not burnt out. And now I’m in familiar territory, the part of the Wildwood Trail I’ve run on, with all the side trails, like Dogwood and Wild Cherry. I know exactly where I’m going, and when I get to the old stone building, I don’t even need the friendly volunteer pointing me to the extreme left and saying, ‘Less than a mile to go!’

All downhill from here, baby! Time to kick it into overdrive!

Of course not even this trail is closed off, and it’s a popular one, so there are all kinds of normal people out for a Saturday stroll, though at this point they all seem aware that there’s a race going on and get out of my way. Still, weird, since I’m like the only runner I’ve seen for a while, and I don’t catch up to any. But voilà, there’s Macleary Park, with the finish line, and a kind of pathetic-looking crowd of about twenty people. But, they clap and cheer, and I sprint across the line.

5:01! Ha! Just missed getting under five. Well, like I said, that’s a PR for trail marathons, by like a half hour! And I really do feel good. Or, well, now I feel kinda exhausted.

And, two minutes after I finish, they start raffling off some free stuff and I’m the first winner! I get a free jar of ‘trail butter’, some kind of peanut/almond/cashew butter with other goodies mixed in for supposedly long slow-burning energy for a race. Well, ok.

The race results come up almost immediately on some handy iPads at a table. Along with my time, I find that I’m the 28th marathoner, and 7th in my age group.

I think the festivities were more festive when the half-marathoners were coming in, since there were more of them, but there are yet some half-marathon walkers coming in. It’s a nice day to just sit down (finally!) on the lawn in the sun and watch runners come in, though they are few and far between. Katherine comes in a half-hour later. Yes! Her first marathon! She did it! And in way better condition that I was when I did my first one.

She also adds another possibility as to my quick finish: that the route might not be in fact 26.2 miles. While she started her Garmin a little late, it registers as her having gone 23 miles and some change. Who knows though, with all the twists and turns in a hilly area like this.

We wait around and rest, trying to decide if pancakes sound like a good idea or not. Still not that many runners coming in, which is odd. Half the pack is still out there. I don’t ever see the VFFer from Seattle come in. Man, I hope he didn’t just walk the rest of it. Overhearing the organizers, sounds like some people are dropping out at some of the aid stations.

Well, time to go. I thank the race organizer for a fun run. And it was. Well-organized, not so big that the trail was bottle-necked, but enough people to be inspired to run well. And for a good cause.

The best part? After saying goodbye to Katherine (we’re going to see the Portland Cello Project later tonight!) I can simply walk four blocks back to my apartment and get in a hot bath.