I probably shouldn't be here. I'm going to be running the Detroit Marathon next week, but I'd probably be taking a two hour run today, Sunday, anyways, and this half marathon (and marathon too) is right in my back yard, on very familiar territory: The Wild Life Marathon, Half-Marathon, Walking Half-Marathon, and 5K start out in Concord, a small town/village just west of Jackson, where I now live (again). The majority of my race will be on the Falling Waters Trail, a ten mile paved trail between Jackson and Concord, an old railroad lane going through some of the most quiet and scenic land in Jackson County. In fact, the Jackson end starts almost outside my apartment door, and I've made the long run all the way to Concord a few time this summer. I feel obligated to come out and support the race, which is new, in its second year now, and a pleasant surprise in an area not known for it's interest in sponsoring anything interesting. In fact, I half-way expect there to be protesters outside claiming this run has something to do with witchcraft. You laugh, but if you grew up in Jackson you would not.
I get out to Concord High School, where the race starts, early. The website said the start was at eight o'clock, but I learn that the halfers actually start at 8:15. I register easily, no lines at all, the advantage of participating in smaller races like this. The bad news: I forgot to bring duct tape. They have the clunky square race chips that tie on shoes. Usually I'd whip up a duct tape band around my ankle. No go. I'll have to tuck it in the inner pocket of my running pants. It just fits. I'll also have to remember to take it out and swipe it over the timer pad.
And, coincidence, I happen to park right next to Rob, my running buddy from the Somerset Stampede Half-Marathon. We're switching today. At the Woodstock races, I ran the 50K while he ran the Half. Today he's running the full marathon, and I'm impressed with his goal of getting under four hours. Inspired, I decide to push myself. He and I ran the Stampede at 1:45. I'd like to keep that speed. So much for maybe taking it easy in preparation for Detroit!
At eight, the marathoners take off. There's about 40 or 50, and I want so much to be with them. But no, I am a mere halfer today.
Their route will take them out on a portion of the Falling Waters trail, but then off into back roads for a long loop. Us halfers will be on the trail for most, after running through Concord a little. I line up in front, deciding to just start strong instead of coming up from the back. I'm hyped, ready to go and like the idea of breaking off from the pack.
There are of course the obligatory comments coming from behind me: “Holy crap! He's barefoot!” “That dude doesn't have any shoes!” A photographer from the local Jackson paper, because people here still read newspapers, takes my pic and asks me for some basic info. So, that feels good, spreading the word.
And we're off! And I immediately forget to swipe my time chip. Doh. Well, maybe it'll register. Not sure how strong those transmitters are, but come to think of it, maybe it's not a good idea to keep it right by my testicles.
We sweep through the quiet sleepy streets of Concord. The roads are fine, nothing too rough on the feets, no pebbles, and certainly no glass. And, we're going at a good clip. Or, I should say that I'm going at a good clip, since I do have a choice in the matter. I figure I'll make a good fast start, then mellow out for the middle. After some twists and turns, maybe a mile and a half, we arrive at the start of the Falling Waters path. Here's the familiar territory, except, ouch, I've never had to run over the gravel parking lot. Damn, that's probably going to hurt on the way back. Certainly slows me down a little, though it's not that long a section.
Back on the pavement. Gorgeous. Off to the right is a lake/pond/river, with some swans swimming lazily on the edge of a cattail forest. We go over a wood bridge, the last houses drop away, and then we're in Fall trees: reds, yellows, greens. No breeze. Sunny. Warm. I'm in running pants and a short sleeved wicking shirt. Could've gone with shorts even.
Man, we're going fast. I'm going fast. I'm on right on the edge of being out of breath. Wouldn't be able to talk, except for a quick sentence or two. Fortunately everyone else seems to be panting too. That plus the clomp of their shoes are almost the only sounds, seemingly, except for the soft dainty pad of my feet. But then, “BWEEP!” No! One of those guys (and they're always guys) with some beeping watch or heart rate timer. I pass him, but I have a bad feeling that we'll be running the same pace. Argh. Why mimi, why? He's even listening to an iPod, so he can't hear his bweeps. But I'm sure he thinks he's impressing us all with his cool toys and professionalism.
Argh, I gotta stop letting this stuff bother me. Enough. Basta. Back to running. This trail is great. Smooth, new, straight, wide, I can actually afford to look off the side every once in a while to admire the view. More trees, a bigger lake. More houses, though off at a distance. We cross a road, with the first water station. I try not to slow down, just grab a water and take one gulp and toss the cup. A half marathon is short enough, and the weather's cool enough, that I'm not worried about dehydrating.
I'm practicing my fast barefoot pace, getting right cadence, lifting the feet to the tempo of the song “Turning Japanese” (thanks Jason for that tip, though please can we think of a better song?) and then doing the 'falling forward' lean, which really works. My feet don't move any faster, but I do. The trick is maintaining the lean, because as my mind wanders I tend to straighten back up. But being up with the big dogs, the fast runners, is definitely a motivator, more so than being way in back and pacing myself. I think this is how I'm going to do the Detroit Marathon.
We even pace some of the slower marathoners, though soon the split happens and they shoot off to the south. Good luck guys!
Crossing more roads, moving east. There are civilians out on the trail, it's not closed off, so I pass a mom out taking her two young daughters for a walk and one of them yells out, “That man doesn't have shoes!”
I'm keeping the fast pace. I feel good. I think running that 50K a couple weeks ago really helped my confidence, my ability to say fuck it, and push myself, take a risk. I'm still just holding on the edge of being out of breath, feeling pretty Kenyan even, though as we get out the half-way point, here comes the guy in first, on his way back. Nice. He's cruising, followed by others a ways back. Maybe he's a real Kenyan?
Ok, but not too much farther and here's the turn-around. I check my watch: 50 minutes. At first I think that's not good, then I think about it: Fifty and fifty is one hundred. An hour and forty minutes if I keep up this pace. Wow. I'm going faster than my Somerset Stampede pace! I'm doing ok, position-wise. In the top twenty maybe? And most of the people ahead of me seem to be wee young lads and lasses. Yes, here I am pulling the age card!
Actually, that said, and suddenly I seem surrounded by guys my age. They all seem to know each other, and many of the folks we're now passing, still on their way back out. Must be a bunch of Concord folks?
In a moment of weirdness, a few of these guys seem to lock in behind me. Me? At the head of a pack? Uh uh. Freaks me out. So, instead of mellowing out on the middle section, I up the ante a little, experimenting with the forward lean even more, seeing how fast I can actually get. I even get into a new kind of groove, my feet barely lifting, or that's how it feels, so that I feel like I'm doing some kind of extreme penguin waddle or something. Feels really...efficient I guess, though I can quite keep it up. I also notice that I tend to lift my head up, and even back, and that if I concentrate on leaning my neck forward, that that helps my forward lean. Another thing to concentrate on, though I could see where it could become more natural. But, interesting. I don't think I would be experimenting with these speeds on my own, so that's the value of races, and competing.
No! It's Toy Man! And he's right behind me, drafting off me. Goddammit. I know he's locking into me, the Barefoot Guy. Hate that. I mean, the trail is super wide, no need to hang right behind a guy. I lean forward and slowly leave him, but, then my mind wanders and I slow down, and he catches up, and we do this dance for a while. I'm this close to just stopping and letting him pass, but no dammit, this is a good time, I'm not going to let him spoil it.
But, my nemesis gravel returns: That short patch at the end of the trail slows me waaaay down. My feets are a little more tender this time. I get passed by about five guys. Drat. Though one of them is Toy Guy, so good riddance. When we get back out on pavement, back into Concord, the return route takes us up a hill, which slows a couple of them down. I like hills, so I go up pretty easily and re-pass them at least.
Through the quiet streets. Still no people. But, it's Concord. It's probably quiet all the time. We runners are all spread out, everyone tapping into their reserves. A volunteer yells out that we have a kilometer left, which is helpful, cause I would have no idea where we are, with all the turns we're taking. I'm pushing it as much as I can, though I know I've slowed down a little. Only two of us on one block, I pass him slowly, and he gasps out, “Good job! I can't do it. I'm cramping up!”
“We're almost there! Stay with me!”
He does, he stays just a little ways behind me me, and bam, there's the high school, and the parking lot, one last turn and only about 200 feet to go! A woman is on a mic, announcing names as people cross. I cross the finish, do a little hop, and I'm done! A quick check of my watch: 1:39:44. Wow. That's five minutes shaved off my Stampede time. Who'd've thunk?
I hand off my chip, collect my medal, and head for the refreshments table, for a much-deserve water, banana, and doughnut, in that order.
I didn't hear my name when I crossed, so I walk about around to the announcer, and check in with her when no one's coming in. She doesn't see my name. Uh oh. She sends me to a guy sitting in a van nearby. He confirms that indeed my chip never registered. Doh. But, he is cool enough to take my watch time and enter it in. Thank you timer dude!
I place 23rd overall, with a 7:35 mile pace. 3rd in my age category. Pas mal!
So, to recap: I think I prefer a fast start. Just keeps me motivated, and helps push me. I will try this next week.
Also: I think after this and my 50K, I really feel 'healed' from my plantar fasciitis nightmare of two years ago. I think it's taken me about a year to really get used to barefoot running, in part because of some not-so-great experiments. But this summer I now feel as strong, if not stronger really, as I did before I got the ole PF.
Also also: There is something to having a good race at least once a month, instead of just mentally telling myself that I should only run one marathon in the Fall. I think if a runner can get to the point of running a marathon, especially in the Spring, that he/she can probably build on that fitness level and go on to a marathon a month, or certainly these half-marathons.
Next week: The Detroit Marathon!