Welcome to barefoot running, where almost every run is a new experience, a new adventure. Six weeks ago I ran a PR at the Detroit Marathon, barefoot and happy, no problems at all. Today, I'm wondering if I'll be able to finish a simple 10K. Two big factors are affecting this: One, the colder weather means I'm wearing my moccasins more. No evil arch support, but still covering up the soles. And two, living in Jackson, Michigan, which is not pedestrian friendly at all, and in fact kind of barefoot hateful, so that I find myself covering up even more. These two factors resulted in a weirdness a few weeks ago, when we had a weekend of great warm weather and I went out for many barefoot runs in three days, resulting in my feet being worn down raw, with three points on my left foot actually bleeding at the end of my long Sunday run (I didn't notice how bad it was until I was out at the turn-around point-oops). That resulted in my wearing minimalist gear (VFFs and huaraches) for a couple weeks, and even though I healed fine, that resulted in even thinner calluses by the time this Turkey Trot rolled around.
I woke up this morning half-expecting there to be snow on the ground, since it had been raining when I went to sleep, but no, in a moment of Michigan weird-weather-ness, the temperature actually went up a little overnight, and now there's a light fog/mist, with the pavement still wet. The radio tells me that there will be rain all day, maybe snow later, but right now, it's in the low 40s, which is actually getting into prime running weather...except for the wet pavement. I know from past experience that running on wet pavement can really soften up the feet, and end up turning them to hamburger on really rough surfaces. And, given that I haven't run this route before, and also given that Jackson is infamous for its horrible roads, I'm wondering if I can actually do this. Or, do it and still look, and feel respectable. I would hate to get out there and then limp through the whole race, making barefoot running look like a miserable experience. So, after some hemming and hawing, I decide, better to to minimalist and strong. So I put on my huaraches. At least I can still freak people out at little with them.
The Jackson Turkey Trot (“Extreme Family Fun”) is fairly low-key. When I get downtown and collect my number tag, there can't be more than fifty folks, and that's with a 5K Run/Walk too. I have some time, and it's still kind o' chilly, so I retreat to my truck to listen to tunes to amp myself up, and yes! Golden Earring's “Twilight Zone” comes on!)
While I'm sitting there, I watch the people filtering in, and for some reason it seems like everyone's got brand new running shoes, all shiny white. Maybe that's what makes me change my mind. Maybe it's seeing a young teen girl wearing those absurd shoes that look like a half-circle on the bottom. I hate seeing our youth being indoctrinated by bizarre technology like that. Or, maybe it's just that I'm thinking back to my first barefoot marathon, again in Detroit, a year ago (only? seems so long ago) when it was literally freezing at the start. If I could survive that, and run well, surely I can handle cold wet pavement for ten kilometers! And, just like John Candy in Stripes after he's been talked into mud-wrestling two bikini-clad babes who will go on to kick his ass, I tell myself, I'll do it!
I take off my hauraches, get out of my truck, and walk to the front of the YMCA where this is happening. Yep, that pavement sure feels cold and wet. And yep, that parking lot sure feels gritty. Still parking lots are always worse than actual roads.
I was hoping I could slide right into the start line just before they actually start, but no, people are mingling around outside, and there's still even a line inside of people registering. The rest of my body is bundled up fine. In fact, I'm probably over-dressed, with too many layers, but there's not way I can really say that my feet feel ok, and they just start to feel worse as we wait. Then the organizers comes out and yells that it'll be another ten minutes. Hijo de la chingada.
I am of course getting some odd sideways looks, though strangely, not as much as at other races, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because I have some running shell pants that come down almost to the top of my feet, maybe it's just that there's less people in general.
Finally, the organizer, who I recognize as the guy I took my one, and only, spinning class from. Steve I believe his name is. Friendly guy, triathalete I believe, and fellow long-hair. He informs us that this is an outlaw event: there'll be no police support, and that roads are not closed off, so we should be careful crossing main roads. He lines us up behind a telephone pole and a crack in the road (I swear), not much time to really think about positioning, and yells out, 'Two, one, go!'
We go. Immediately, as soon as I start moving, I feel better. It's just the standing there that really sucks. Once I get moving, the blood starts flowing down to my feet and that seem to warm up. The road is a little gritty, I'm still wondering if I can take a whole wet 10K of that, but I'm certainly doing better, ie going faster, than some of the shod folks. In fact, I feel more comfortable going faster, just not letting me feet hang out very long on the ground, so I start to scoot up past some people, though of course, let's not pretend this is a super serious competition. It's actually nice to see whole families out running this, including, amazingly to me, some boys that have to be around ten or eleven, and they're up toward the front of the pack too. I couldn't have conceived of running a race when I was that age, though surely I must have been capable of it.
We zip up (west actually, though uphill) Weseley Street a few blocks, then cut north one block to Washington, a major one-way street running east. So ok, that makes sense, it's two lanes, so we can run in one lane and if by chance there is any traffic, they still have a lane. I was wondering how all this was going to work. We're not actually running in the downtown area though. Instead, we're heading into a residential area. Probably best for an outlaw race.
The sky is grey, and will be for about five more months here. No fog, no mist, but feels like ninety-five percent humidity. No rain, though it looks like it could downpour at any moment. Like I said, actually relatively warm. We pass some people out walking their dogs, and/or each other, enjoying a quiet day. At West Ave, the main north/south thoroughfare, we have a race volunteer out with a schoolkids crossing STOP sign, waving it and stopping traffic for us, because there are actually cars, with people perhaps wondering what the hell these people are doing on Thanksgiving for God's sake.
Our pack stretches and thins quickly, leaving the walkers behind. I haven't run a 10K in about fifteen years, so have no idea what kind of pace I should have, or even really how long 10K is. Seven miles? Five miles. I'm hopelessly American when it comes to the metric system. But, people are hauling butt, even those boys!, so I just start to haul butt too, going at what is probably my half-marathon pace, or at least what I'd do at the start, and I'm trying to just maintain that. So, more than the 'Turning Japanese' cadence (side note: I found a better song: Joan Jett's “Bad Reputation.” April LaVigne does a cover of it too. I like singing the chorus after some shod-head tells me I'm crazy).
Speaking of that, I do now start to get noticed by fellow runners. One woman I pass gasps, “Are you shitting me?” She must have turned to someone next to her, because then I hear, “Am I crazy or is that crazy?”
And then I pass a younger guy, just running in shorts and a t-shirt. He sees my feet and says, “Hey, making the transition, huh? Feeling born to run?”
I know he's kinda sorta trying to joke, but it makes me feel like he's making fun of me in a way. Or something. Like, dude, it's not just about that book. I did start running barefoot before it came out. So, I say, “Well, I do like to run, yes.”
“That's cool. I'm trying to do that. Right now all I'm doing running in worn down shoes first.”
Ok man, you go with that idea. I'll see you in a couple years. Still, I know, he is perhaps a potential convert, but I'm worried we're going to be running the same pace, but I pull away from him. Maybe that'll get him to just leave those shoes behind, for good.
We cut south for two blocks and head back east on Division, the main one-way street going the other way. Same concept: one unofficial lane for us, and we do actually have some traffic on this one. It's all good though. And there's a sign saying Mile 2. So....what does that mean? How many miles are there? Argh. If it's a 10K, keep it in kilometers!
And, surprise surprise, back at West Ave, there's a police officer stopping traffic for us! He must have just happened on the race and decided to help out. Cool! Again, traffic stopped for us. That's always a nice feeling.
Onward, back into the edge of downtown, with a mix of residential and business and churches, right behind the Y actually, where we cut north again for two blocks, then back west on Weseley, and there's the Y up ahead. Ok, so that's what five kilometers is. I think I get it now.
At the Y, Steve is there directing 5Kers into the coned off finish chute, and sending us 10Kers back around for another loop. He sees me coming and say, “Ouch! I could never do that!” Which is weird, coming from a guy who does triathalons. Why would somebody like that be so willing to set a limitation on himself? Still, to be fair, only three years ago I might have said that same thing. I have to remember not to get to righteous. All we can do is set a good example.
Now the herd has been thinned. Seems most of the runners were only doing the 5K, though I've got some guys strung out on ahead of me. So now I have to plan: Can I actually maintain this balls out pace for another loop? I have been out of breath the whole time, but man, I'm doing ok, still actually passing some people as we get back onto Washington. At West Ave though, we've lost out volunteer stopper, so me and another guy actually have to stop to let traffic pass.
The residential part is even more quiet, a huge gap between me and the next guy up, so that I start to sort of zone out, like on a regular run, so much so that I run past the next turn. Not too much though, I realize something is wrong immediately, and zip back around, though the guy behind me that I just passed gets to catch up. This section is the roughest. It was ok the first time around, but that wet pavement is starting to soften up my feets a bit, so I have to grit my teeth over some of the grit. But, back on Franklin, the going gets smoother, and here now are all the 5K walkers, in clumps, families and friends out for a walk before the feast later on. I've never quite understood the whole 'official walk' thing, since it seems they could have just taken a walk at their homes, but maybe not, who am I to say? Suffice it that here are some folks out getting some exercise. Gotta respect that.
We still have a volunteer at this West Ave intersection, though the cop is gone. Again, the pleasant feeling of traffic stopped. I scoot across quickly. For some reason, the runner guys that were right behind me don't seem to be around anymore, nor can I see any runners ahead. Seems like it's just me passing a bunch of walkers, with the obligatory gasps of “Barefoot!”
By the time I've zipped back around to Weseley, I think, but I'm not sure, that I've passed all the walkers, and it's just me and three blocks to go, though strangely, I guess there was a church service this morning, because people seem to be emptying out and on to the street. Also getting in their cars and trying to drive, except for the crazy sweaty guy running barefoot down the middle of the road!
And there's the finish chute! I finish strong, feeling like I did mostly maintain a balls out pace, maybe slowed down a little over there on Franklin the second time down. I click my watch and hand the volunteer lady the bottom of my tag. So they are actually keeping a tally of who finished when, with another guy entering in times and places. There are about twenty spectators hanging about, and I hear more “Barefoot!” comments, and one guy, trying to impress a friend I guess, says, “Yeah, we have a couple of those barefoot runners up in Traverse City too,” in a tone that sounds like he's talking about raving lunatics.
I walk in the Y for some after race refreshments: a banana half, some grapes, and a chocolate chip cookie. I check my watch: No! I have no time! Somehow, either I erased it just now, or maybe I never started it, but I got nothing. Damn. Oh well. I'll just have to run another one!
Coming soon! The Bigfoot 50K down in Ohio! Which I am sadly not in shape for!