Monday, May 2, 2011

Pinkney Trail Marathon 2011

Well I'd wanted this race to be part of my 'Road to Burning River 100' summer project, but I got more than I wanted when my beloved neighbors decided to have a party last night in their apartment at 2:30 am, after they'd gotten out of the bars: I haven't gotten a lot of sleep, which is I guess how I'll feel for the 100 miler. But I get up at 4:30, as planned. Seems like we could hold these races at a more reasonable time. But, I'm not sure how long getting to the Pinkney Trail Marathon will take, with MapQuest taking me all through BFE north of Chelsea.

I meditate for 15 minutes. Focusing and gathering energy. Skip a shower, just gonna get sweaty and dirty today. Breakfast is some yoghurt with almonds, dried cherries, and two spoonfuls of chia seeds. Looks like we didn't get the predicted rainstorm last night, the parking lot is dry. Drats. I'm hoping for a wet muddy course like last year. The softer and wetter the trail, the faster I'll be able to go barefoot.

I've done this race before, last year, in 5:25. Do I think I can PR? No. Last week, my long route from Jackson out to Concord an back on the Falling Waters bike trail, 22 miles, which last year took me under four hours, took me five hours. So, I'm feeling kinda slow. This big winter we had here in Michigan really cut into my running time. Or something.

New things: I'm wearing compression shorts, with running pants over the top. Along with a dose o' BodyGlide, I'm hoping the shorts will end chafing once and for all. Also, I'm taking my new toy, the Amphipod hand-held water bottle. I'm hoping to get into the habit of always carrying it with me, no matter the length of run, as a way to get myself better about hydrating. I recently re-read Born To Run and Jenn uses one in it, and if it works for her, well, gotta be good for me. I can't remember if this race is good about hydration stations, but even so, I want to be taking sips continuously, rather than pounding papers cups of water in a hurry.

I'm wearing my best wicking shirt, along with my New Balance running 'shell' jacket, which I love. Also a new thing, I stuff the pockets with dates from Plum Market, for my personal carb energy source. They're heavy and sticky, sitting down at the bottom of the pocket without bouncing around.

The MapQuest route does prove to work, and I'm there waaaaay early, one of the first vehicles to arrive, so I sit in my truck listening to tunes. Someone at Q106 is cranking out good stuff this Sunday morning. They should give her a mainstream slot. Can't really sleep here though. Too excited.

I missed the early packet pick up yesterday, one reason I wanted to get here early, but getting it is really no trouble at all. I could've slept another half hour. Ah well. For some reason, I get a cool bib number: 1212. Maybe just reminds me of Rush's 2112. And, there's Rush on the radio! A good omen.

I sit in my truck some more, then get out to use the facilities. While I'm at one of the 'blue lagoons', the early starters start at seven. This is the only race I've ever seen do this, where people can get a half hour head start if they want. Cool idea, though the owner of Running Fit, and the organizer of the race, gets on the PA and eviscerates them: “This early start is for those people who are too out of shape to run a real marathon.” I think he thinks he's trying to be funny, but he's not. That's the problem with owners of companies, they're used to everyone laughing at their jokes. Capitalist swine. Exploiting his workers and selling runners shoes that are bad for them. It's capitalism run amok, basically. I've been reading too much Slavoj Zizek lately....

Wait in the truck some more. I don't know, the weather isn't that chilly. Maybe I'm overdressing? There's folks in just shorts and shirts. But, what if it finally rains? I don't want to be in just a shirt if I get dumped on. Hm...

The route is a 13.1 loop, run twice. We marathoners start at 7:30, and the half-ers will start at 8:30, which I think is a good idea, to avoid trail bottle-necking. Again, no rain. I'm starting to get worried. I just don't have my summer hobbit feet yet. I know I can finish, I just don't want my feet to be shredded. Still, I remember this route being fairly sandy, so should be ok. (<--foreshadowing).

Start time approaches. I lock up the truck and head to the start area, which is on the grassy knoll area around the DNR bathroom, right on a lake shore. No sand, the grass just ends at the water.

I'm fearing a repeat of last year, when at the beginning of the race somebody behind me, obviously talking about my bare feet, said, “That's just idiocy,” which kind of put me on the defensive for the whole race. But this time, immediately, a guy in Vibram Five Fingers comes over to talk barefoot running. He turns out to know Jason Robillard, and is one of Jason's converts from Grand Rapids. And, he too is going to do the Burning River 100. So we compare training strategies, which we both agree are so full of unknowns, who knows what the best way to train is? Unfortunately I'm horrible with names, so forget his instantly. I want to say Rob, but that may be wrong.

As we're talking, the crowd gathers. I have decided I want to start more to the front, in order to avoid the numerous bottlenecks from last year. That strategy seemed to work well at the Bigfoot 50K as well: Start fast, get ahead of the pack, then ease into a steady pace without being surrounded the whole time. Rob opts to start towards the back. Oh, he's also going to run an extra loop after he finished. Just because. Ultra-marathoners are crazy! I love it.

We're off! I hear the usual muttered exclamations of, “Barefoot! Barefoot!” though they are accompanied with, “That's hardcore!” so I'm ok with it.

The pace at the front is quick, no bottlenecks at all. And, just like I did with the Bigfoot 50K, I overheat a little, especially with my running shell. I unzip it and roll up the sleeves almost immediately. Yep, should've left it. But, it is holding my secret weapon, the dates!

The trail is....pretty rocky. I going at a good clip, a quick cadence, minimizing contact time, but...yeah, this seems rockier than last year. There are sections of sand, and good firm dirt, but alas, no mud. I'm going fairly quick, taking the little stings and bumps in stride, but I'm thinking this is going to be painful the second time around when my feets are a little more raw. Hm...

Also, my Hanging Toe Syndrome returns. For some reason, on my trail races, I seem to catch my middle left toe on rocks or roots. It's like it's hanging down a little abnormally, and then BAM, ouch, pain. Feels like I've broken it. But, my motto when trail racing is, “Don't look down!” Just keep running. Until, BAM, I catch my second left toe too. Pinche huevos. I suppose this is what I get for having a faster pace. Less time to focus. Fortunately, the pain goes away after awhile. So, that means it isn't permanent, right? Right? Argh....

Then BAM, another toe-hang scrape. Against my better judgement, I look down: All three of my longer toes are scraped and bloody, with the middle and big toe having skin hanging off. Great. I'm not going to make any converts to barefoot running today. I just keep going. Maybe the blood will get covered up with mud.

One thing I notice is that I'm getting passed. A lot. Mayhap I started a little too far up front. This is going to suck if I'm getting passed the whole race. Speaking of that, we're catching up to the early starters, who are admirable, sticking it out and quite probably going to get passed by every one.

For some reason I'm going over math problems in my mind, thinking ahead to the Burning River first, and about how much time running it might actually take. If I average five miles an hour, it should take me 20 hours, which I know is not possible. But, weirdly, if I average just two miles an hour, that comes out to fifty miles! How much difference a little change of speed makes at that distance. Crazy.

The other math question I have is if the half-marathoners can actually lap some of us. Since it's looking like my first lap will be over two hours, it might conceivably possible, if someone was hauling ass and didn't have to pace themselves for the second loop. Maybe possible in a paved, flat, race? Seems like one of those physics problems from high school: A marathoner leave the Start line running five miles an hour. An hour later, a half-marathoner leave the Start line in the same direction, at seven miles an hour. How long until the half-marathoner catches the marathoner?

And nope, the route is not getting that much less rocky. There a patches of dirt and sand, and many boardwalks, thankfully. I'm trying to use the downhills, letting gravity work, and I notice that most shod runners do slow down then, but once I get going fast, I have a harder time choosing my footing, which with these rocks is important.

I am already finding long time frames running by myself through the woods, which I don't think happened until the second loop last year. Also, the people up front don't talk, they're not in groups with friends. I think at first I've evened out and found my pace, meaning that no one seems to be passing me, but no, after a while more people seem to be moving up, even talkers and group. Two guys pass me and say, “Good job,” but after they've gotten ahead, I hear one say to the other, “Dang, that's gotta hurt.” But I'm also getting some “That's hardcore!” and “Right on!” One women, one of the early starters yells out, “Way to rock the barefoot running!” which is my personal favorite.

The route is the same as last year, vaguely familiar, but not enough to know how far along I am, or how far I have to go, and I don't have one of those science-fiction watches with a GPS, which is fine. Despite the rocky patches, I'm enjoying myself. But hark: I hear the Start Line PA cranking out some CCR in the distance. And this stretch is more soft dirt than rock, so I can pick up my pace. And then the grassy knoll area looms into sight. A volunteer is standing there to direct marathoners to the left and half-marathoners to the right. So...maybe some halfers are in our ranks by now?

Grass. Lovely grass. Nice and soft. I can pick up the pace and look respectable in front of the onlookers, who are very few in number. I get the feeling that a lot of runners have come out to this solo, or in groups where everyone is runners. I guess this race wouldn't be as exciting to watch as the Detroit Marathon.

Round Two

The Amphipod is working well. I like coming into the hydration stations and just filling it up versus drinking from the paper cups. Seems quicker, just fill up and go, and sip later. I am coated in sweat. I pause to take off my shell jacket. Wish I could just dump it at this point, but there isn't a gear bag drop for this, and I'm not going to just leave it sitting somewhere. Instead, I roll it up and tie it around my waist. Works well, and I can still reach into a pocket for dates, which....are tasty, but I'm not sure I'm getting any energy boost, or maintaining energy levels either. But...I just don't. Getting two hours of sleep and getting up at 4:30 throws everything up in air. Who knows. I'm also nibbling on the occasional banana and orange slice, which seem to be more nourishing, maybe because they have more water. Again, who knows?

After leaving the grassy knoll, I seem to be on my own again. There's a short section of road, and as I get out onto it, a photographer dude at the other end yells out, “Good day to be running barefoot! On International Barefoot Running Day!”

Oh. I'd forgotten about that. Before I can say anything, he asks, “Are you John? I'm Jason. Jason Robillard.”

Wow. We passed each other briefly last year at the Woodstock festivities, but I finally get to meet him. We shake hands and he says, “I gotta hand it to you. This trail is rough. I ran one loop barefoot and that was enough. Good job on doing two.”

Wow. Kudos of the gods. Getting complimented by Jason Robillard is like one of the old shaolin monks from Kung Fu saying, “You have walked the rice paper without leaving a trace. Time for you to leave.”

He's not running, in jeans taking pics. I wonder what he's doing here? Maybe he came with that guy I talked to at the beginning of the race? Anyways, he takes some pics of me, so maybe I can finally present proof to TJ and the BRS crew that yes, I do actually run barefoot. I wish him luck on the Western Races (?) Ultra coming up. In fact, I was inspired by Jason doing the Burning River in huaraches last year.

Also, oddly, at the next water station, a guy calls out, “Good job John.” He looks familiar, but I have to ask how I know him. Turns out he ran parts of this race with me last year. And he remembered my name! His name is Stu, but I don't get the chance to ask why he's not running this year. Onward.

I'm still getting passed. To the point where I'm starting to think I must be getting towards the back of the pack. Wow. How humbling. The guy from the Start, Rob?, even catches me. He's running strong and steady, with a couple other people, one of them a woman in some kind of minimalist shoe. She looks familiar. Oh. I think she might be Jason's wife. That makes sense. There must be a Grand Rapids contingent here.

The water stations are now checking my bib number and name off a master list. I guess they're keeping track of all the runners, so they don't leave anybody behind. I ask one of them, “So how many people are behind me? Like, five?”

“Actually there's about forty people behind you.”

Hm. Ok. Not sure how many people there are exactly, but I've gone from about fortieth place at the beginning to fortieth from the end.

I'm running slower. The rocks are killing me, as predicted. I just cannot run very fast, and my feet are in raw stage. There are now sections I have to stop and walk up and down due to the rocks. This is starting to not be fun. Note though, that it's the rock pain holding me back. I do feel like I have the energy to be running faster. But, ok, I'm back to long stretches of running by myself, and starting to talk and sing to myself. Which is fun. I'm actually smiling now, when I wasn't before. I guess it helps to just give up on the idea of running any kind of decent time and just try to run. What I mean is, run well, noticing that I'm getting sloppy, slouching. When I straighten, and concentrate on the quick cadence, I immediately start running better. And, curiously, my feet seem to hurt (a little) less when treading on rocks.

Here at the end of the pack, the passive-agressive comments seem to be happening more. Like one woman passing me says, “Barefoot, huh? More power to ya.” Yeah thanks. What not just say nothing? Ah well, I come back with one of my clever witticisms: “And to you.” Yep, I'm the king of comebacks.

I do get one guy who at first does the 'nice shoes' comments, and I do think of something new to say: “Sorry, I can't say the same for yours.”

“Oh I know. After this summer I'm going to convert over to barefoot running.”

I joke about Winter being a bad time to start running barefoot. I then go into expert mode and tell him that he needs to go all in on the barefoot running, just give it three weeks. Turns out, this guy if a super ultra-marathon runner. He's going to be running the Western Trails, the Badwater, and...some other monster race, maybe Leadville. Oops. So much for me offering advice. He also says this is his third time around. He's a volunteer, following behind people and picking up stray clothes and such. I'm hoping that he started early maybe, but what I suspect is that he has lapped me. Zoikes. I'm starting to have some doubts about the 100 mile thing....

Right around this time, I hear another voice calling out my name. It's Steve, a friend of my Somerset Stampede friend, Rob, who came down with him to run the Bigfoot 50K last year. He DNFed that race, but I didn't realize why: He broke some kind of bone or something, and has been in a cast all winter. This is his first race of the year. And yeah, we've both at the back, but he passed me at a steady pace.

I, on the other hand, am just having a hell of a time with the rocks. It's like the whole trail is as rocky as a gravel road. I'm walking up the hills by now anyways, but now I'm also walking downhill rocky areas. I joke with one guy who passes me that if I was in shoes I'd be done now. And, that's not far from the truth. I feel strong, I just cannot run as fast as I'd like. This is tough, and I've seen Jason discuss it on his blog too, the idea of having the pride of running barefoot all the time, versus the desire to push the body, see what it can do, length-wise. Or, even to PR, to run a race as fast as possible, which, at least with a route like this, means some kind of protection. I think I still run barefoot as fast as minimalist on a paved route like the Detroit Marathon.

I mean it doesn't matter, really. I wouldn't be a contender for a race if I ran it in huaraches. What is happening is that I'm strangely still having fun, talking to myself in a really bad Scottish accent, like, “John, I dinnae ken wot yr doin' oot here in da woods.” I don't know, I amuse myself anyways. Slow and steady baby steps, picking my way through the rock fields.

I end up going back and forth with an older guy, who's going in spurts, getting bursts of energy, then going to a walk and saying stuff like, “I just want this thing to be over.”

“Aw come on, tomorrow you'll be wanting to run another marathon.”

“I seriously doubt that.” We pass to young women walking the other way. “Where's my stretcher? I'll give you a million dollars for a stretcher at this point.”

We hit the last mile, where the trail get less rocky, and more just dirt. I can now finally open up a little bit, and unfortunately leave him behind. There's another guy ahead of me, and I set my goal to pass him before the finish, just reeling him in. By the grassy knoll, we're even, and I urge him, “Come on! Let's finish strong!”

He just looks at me with pain. So, ok, on my own. I open up to a sprint. I have grass. I can run. Time to leave it all on the field. Seems ridiculous, I know, to sprint when there's only thirty people behind me now, and that I can see the volunteers are even breaking down the PA and other race stands. Not a lot of spectators either. Doesn't matter. Finish strong. I sprint across the Finish Line. Time? Something like 5:50. Yeah, not good. That's just ten minutes less than the Woodstock 50K I did last summer. But, again, with a trail marathon, there are just so many variables.

But, done. I grab a bottle of water, collect my medal, and proceed directly to the muffin box.

Something new, again from reading Born To Run: I stay and cheer runners coming in. Doing my part to spread a little compassion, though I'm not sure how much those runners really care. A couple do, then that next two guys seem annoyed with me, so I stop and go soak my calves in the lake for a while.

My left foot is shredded. Three toes have scrapes on the tips, and they bled a little. Right foot is ok, and the actually bottoms seem ok. Sore, but no scrapes. Maybe raw feeling though.

After Action Review (AAR)

What did I expect:
To run a slow race.

What actually happened?
I ran a slow race.

I think if I run this race again, and the weather is as dry as this year, I may consider running it in huaraches. I do have pride in running barefoot, but this was just a little too much, to the point of running it not being fun.

On the good side, no chafing at all. So, that was successful. And, my Amphipod worked well. I feel more hydrated, though still thirsty. Could be even better on that perhaps.

And, I finished. The rocky trail from Hell. Also met some ultra-marathoners, making me feel I need to get even more serious.

But, on that note, next week, The Kalamazoo Marathon!