Sunday, May 8, 2011

Kalamazoo Marathon

Turning out to be a good day here are the Kalamazoo Marathon. I'm here early, once again, due to not being sure on the parking availability, but it was fine: I'm parked right out front of “Tent City” where the race will start, sipping tea and water, watching the people come in. This course start kind of off away from downtown, where I spent the night, and where the expo was, so there are a lot of shuttles (also known as school busses) coming in from various and sundry hotels in the area. I almost took one, and ended up leaving around the same time, but the info folks yesterday weren't too sure on when I'd be able to get a shuttle back. Starting downtown would be nice, though perhaps logistically more difficult, and Tent City is on the campus of Nazareth College, a nice wide open area, though since I'm wearing socks before the race in order to protect my feets as much as possible beforehand, they're sopping wet.

'Blue lagoons' are in short demand too, with long lines and the start time approaching, 'forcing' some of us menfolk to head out back the main building to some bushes, for an unofficial men's room (only for number one of course).

We line up on the main driveway into the campus, and it's packed tight. There should be about 6,000 people running, if I heard right last night, though some of those will be doing the 5K later, after the halfers and us full marathoners take off.

I'd thought there were going to be some other barefooters and minimalist-ers running this thing, but so far I haven't seen anybody. Good thing I don't know anybody, because people are looking at me weird for walking around in bright white socks.

I was going to identify two 'problems' I face with today's race, but after hearing a good motivational speaker on stress management at work this week, I'm going to be more positive in life, starting with identifying things that I don't want (ie bad things) as opportunities. Thus:

Opportunity #1: I ran the Pinkney Trail Marathon just last week and, as my training for the Burning River 100 Miler in July, I was still out running every day this week except yesterday. I did cut down in mileage, only running once a day versus twice, and have felt a little sore-ish and stiff-ish, but right now, today, I feel ok. I anticipate my body to wear down quicker, maybe start to 'feel it' a little sooner. But, knowing this race is part of a master plan, I'm actually mentally ok with just finishing, and even finishing a little slow. So, the opportunity is to see what my body can do in this situation.

Opportunity #2: I don't quite have my summer hobbit feet, meaning my soles aren't quite up to the thickness they were last summer for the Woodstock 50K and the Detroit Marathon. I survived the Trail Marathon last week, which was rough, but running on pavement tends to sandpaper away the calluses, over time. With a heavy snow winter, I've been consciously trying to toughen my feets up now that the weather is warm. So again, I'm curious: can my feets can actually handle this? I did bring my huaraches on the trip, they're laying in my gear bag, but I'm not going to even carry them, in case. If my feet get shredded, then they get shredded, and this becomes an opportunity to test my limits, knowing I'll have to face way more pain on the Burning River.

There are time-pacer people for this, holding signs up. I position myself behind the 4:30 person, fully content to just trot and either warm up, or accept that pace depending on if my body freaks out on me. For perspective, I ran a PR in the Detroit Marathon last Fall at 3:59. Like I said, I feel alright.

And we're off! I slip off my wet socks, good riddance, and hit my watch timer as we cross. My main concern (another opportunity?) is to avoid getting my feet stepped on by people eager to get a good position. I try to keep a space between me and the person in front of me, but people keep jumping into the space.

We zip out of the campus and onto Michigan Avenue, a wide main street. Two of its lanes are still officially open, with cars bumper to bumper (the 5Kers coming in) but we have three lanes, so suddenly there's plenty o' space for everyone. And yikes, this road is pretty rough. Pavement varies so much, and this particular pavement is like running on the Grand Tetons. Ish. Uh oh. If the roads are like this all the way, my feet around going to be shredded, and this race is going to be a long sloooow one.

Fortunately at Mile Two, the pavement smooths out a little. I feel good. I feel like I'm in a warm-up trot, not trying for a fast start, and yet I find myself pulling away from the 4:30 folks, with my sights set on the 4:15ers. Somewhere in here the route changes to red bricks. There's a name for that, but it slips my mind right now. But it's actually a nice surface. A little uneven, sure, but smooooth.

We run into the downtown area, past the Raddison hotel and through the pedestrian mall, more good smooth running surface. Folks are out in numbers, both people from the Start who came down on bikes (lots o' bikers!) and others. And, somewhere in here, I'm not sure on the time or how far we've come, but not that far surely, the route splits and the half-marathoners take off to the left. That's new: I'm used to the Detroit Marathon where the halfers stay with us right to their end. But, that certainly clears the field. Now I have plenty o' room to maneuver. And then the pavement gets rough again. Ouch. When possible, even actually when the pavement is smoother, I'm trying to run on the painted road lines. I'm still unsure of what my feets are getting into, so I'm trying to minimize roughness, and the painted lines are a significant difference.

I am getting the remarks about being barefoot, but maybe it's my imagination but the remarks seem to be more along the lines of, “Hey, there's a barefoot runner!” That is, people, the general running population, now seem to know of us, even if they haven't seen one in person. Seeing me isn't a total and complete shock, beyond their comprehension, so now I feel like those exclamations are exclamations of respect, like, “Dude, that's hardcore!” Rather than, say, “That's just crazy.” Although, there are some of those too I guess. Ah well. This is an opportunity to embrace my craziness.

It is around this point that I hear a man point out to his partner, “Hey, that guy's barefoot!” and she replies, “Wow, that's takes a lot of trust.” Which, I've never heard before, but she's right, and it's well said. I'm trusting my body to get me through, even with some unknowns ahead of me.

Gotta give kudos to all the attractive women out here, in all shapes and sizes. Running with attractive runners is like liking pizza and being surrounded by 3,000 women who can make awesome pizza. Or...something like that.....

We head onto the Western Michigan University campus, huge and deserted at this point, except for some Bronco Buddies manning the water stations. I've caught up to the 4:00ers, and even pass them, again feeling like I'm just doing a basic barefoot trot. Alas, I must stop for a pee break. An empty blue lagoon is right there, I'm probably not going to have a better chance. And when I'm done, the 4:00er group has passed me. Drat. On the plus side, the roads on campus are pretty smooth. Part of the route takes us all in a small loop, so that I can see the 3:45 group passing by. Yeah, I'm not going to catch them. At this point, I've gone the fastest I can go, or maybe want to go, in order to plan for the long haul. I'm going to be happy if I can stick with the 4:00 groups, which I can see up ahead again.

An asian woman running next to me asks, “Your feet no hurt?”

I say, “Not yet!” to the amusement of a guy behind us.

After campus, which is a big chunk of the course, we head into a residential area, where again the roads are on the rough side, and much as I hate to admit it, I feel like I'm losing speed, not from weariness, but from simply having to back off on the foot strikes, slightly. Which brings up the question again of, What if I were wearing my huaraches? Perhaps I'd be going a little faster? And yet, the pride of running barefoot is stronger. And barefoot running saved my life, perhaps literally, after I couldn't run for two years from plantar fasciitis, which contributed to a massive depression. If I couldn't have ever run again, who knows where I'd be right now?

Onward. I guess we gained a lot of elevation on campus, because now, still in a residential area, we begin a long long descent. I try to take advantage of it and get the feets moving quicker, noting that many runners tend to slow down on the downhills (when their heelstrikes get the worst?), so I'm hoping to go into Barefoot Ken Bob mode and just let gravity take me, but my feet are now a little sensitive, and I'm a little tired, and the road is a little hard, so although I'm passing some folks, the 4:00 group remains a hundred feet ahead of me. And, as we go through the 13.1 point, I'm thinking I'm not going to catch them. I'm thinking I'm not going to go any faster, and in fact that battle at this point is to maintain this pace, which seems doable. Maybe. Perhaps. In any case, this is an opportunity (!) to see if I can stay ahead of the 4:15 pace team, which would still put me fifteen minutes faster than I'd originally estimated. That much I think I can do. If I don't meet any more rough pavement.

And, pinche huevos, here it is. We move back out onto main roads, with traffic stopped up for a quarter mile in all directions. Police officers are playing traffic control, sometimes slipping a car through when there's a big enough gap between runners. You'd think people in the care would be a little irked, but my impression, from what I see and hear, is that folks are enjoying the show, watching us sweaty pain-faced runners go by, some of them honking, and/or yelling encouragement out the window.

And, the crowds have been great. The people in the residential area for very vocal, enjoying a neighborhood party of sorts, coming out in their lawn chairs to watch. And the people out on the street are great. Some of them are again folks on bikes who are moving around nimbly. They're supporting relatives or friends, sure, but they're also enthusiastic for everyone. Plus various and sundry people coming out to watch, residents, or workers. When we run down a 'Restaurant Mile' area there are people out in their uniforms, including for example a guy from Starbucks. Dude, I would LOVE a black ice tea right now. That shall be my reward to myself afterwards.

A-ha. We're turning off the main road, onto a side road (with lots o' pebbles! Ouch!) which leads to a paved bike line into a park, following a river. Good. I generally likes me some bike paths, they tend to be smooth. Six miles to go.

I'd thought earlier I'd heard a couple watchers say something like, “There goes another barefoot runner” when I'd passed, and wondered if someone was up ahead, and lo! up ahead I see a barefoot guy! I'm not alone! I catch up to him. He's carrying a pair of VFFs, looking like he's contemplating putting them on, seemingly slowing down a little. I pat him on the back and say, “Nice shoes!” (Barefoot runners can say that to each other. It's our way of 'taking it back'). We talk briefly about the Barefoot Running Society website, and exchange names, which I promptly forget (I'm horrible that way), and he tells me to have a good finish. Meaning he's going to be taking things a little bit slower. I wish him the best and take off.

Seeing another barefooter, finally, after three years, energizes me a little. It's also in here that I come across two guys in VFFs. One of them I pass, he's walking and looking beat, but the other I go back and forth with a while. I myself just do not like running on pavement or cement in VFFs. Something about their thickness makes me run a little harder, and I start to feel like my plantar fasciitis comes back. That does not happen in my Luna huaraches, since they're thinner.

At this point, most people have locked into a semi-steady pace, and we're all running with the same folks, give or take. I'm seeing a lot of the same faces and bodies. That look of pain is on everybody's face. The look that say, I just want this thing to be over. I'm kinda almost there, though kudos to myself: I haven't stopped to walk once. But then, DOH: I get passed by the 4:15 pacer guy. He's by himself, face red, not looking so spry. Interesting that the 4:00 pacers had a whole pack of folks. I guess anyone slower than that just isn't into the team spirit?

But, dammit, I'm going to keep him in my sights. Grrr. This is an opportunity to kick out the jams and leave 'it' all out on the course. And yet, four miles!

I'd feared we would shift back out onto Michigan Ave again for the finish, thinking the last two miles would be that Grand Teton pavement, but now I realize that I read the course map wrong: We're going to be running through park land up until the very end, passing some lakes and streams. There are folks from the half-marathon and 5K out along the trail, and yes even some real marathoners (meaning those who can run one fast) still wearing their number tags, giving encouragement. I'm getting so many “Yeah barefoot runner!”'s that the people running around me have got to be getting sick of my stealing all the glory. But, I'll take it. It's weird, if I smile and wave at bystanders, they get rowdy. So, I want to do that rather than trudge along with a pained frown. Thinking positive. Give out positive, and people will give it back.

And, as I'd feared, the last mile takes us back out onto Michigan Ave. But, it's not as bad as it was. Or, doesn't seem like it. Maybe my feet are numb by now? Still, I'm feeling pretty raw, so I'm actually running on the cement curb section below the sidewalk, which is mostly clear, but close to spectators. Thankfully, those who are sitting on the curb see me coming and get out of the way. Very cool. They didn't have to do that.

And more and more spectators now, on both sides, narrowing the route. I have to move back onto the road. And, it's ok. I've got that last mile adrenaline rush going, pain is temporary, leave it all out on the course. I can see where we turn left back onto the Nazareth campus. And, for some reason, this guys stands out, a marathoner, who has obviously already finished. He notices me, notices that I've straightened my back, got my feet moving again, beyond trudge-mode, and he looks at me and says, “That's it, man. Finish strong!”

That kicks it in, and I start to run, passing people, and when we get to the last driveway section, the End in sight, I start, if not sprinting, then pretty damn close. I can feel my feet hitting hard and scraping, I'm perhaps shifting back into old shod running mode a little, not lifting my feet, but pushing down, but dammit, that's ok. I pass more people, my sights set on this woman up ahead, until I notice that her three children have come out to run with her to the finish. Awww. I can't steal that. People are applauding her. So, I pass the next guy and come in behind her.

Check the watch: 4:13? Ish? Hm, did I pass that 4:15 dude somewhere in there? Doesn't matter. I will take that time gladly! Now, water. And orange slices. And, a monster deep bathtub waiting for me back at my hotel!

After Action Review (AAR)

What did I expect to happen?
To run a slow marathon, but be ok with that.
To maybe have my feet be pretty raw by the end, to the point of affecting my time significantly.

What actually happened?
I ran a decent time. Faster than I thought.
Feet check: the front pads are 'pink raw' but not the heel pads. So, not are raw as I was even for the Detroit Marathon. Still, the course had some rough spots that, I'm pretty sure, affected my speed a little. But only a little.

Lessons learned:
Running a paved marathon fairly early in the year is doable. Probably if I ran this route later in the summer I'd have even less trouble.
Running two marathons a week apart is very possible. I feel like running barefoot allows my body a faster recovery time.
Running races really helps my push myself. I need to do some more, as many as I can, to help prepare for Burning River. That said, I would like to up my weekly long run, and/or do a twice weekly long run.
Thinking positive helps. Giving out positive vibes to spectators helps them give back positive vibes. Heck, the whole experience is supposed to be fun. Even when I'm in pain and exhausted, I will smile more and engage with people.