Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wildlife Half-Marathon 2011

I like having races almost in my back yard: I get up at six o’clock and that feels like a luxury. After a ten minute mediation session and a somewhat leisurely breakfast (plain yoghurt with almonds, dried cherries, a spoonful of chia seeds, and another spoonful of honey for sweetener), I head out the door at 6:45, and the ride over to Concord is only 15 minutes! Plus they have a more reasonable start time of 8:00.

What a day for a race! What a season! Fall in Michigan is the best, with the leaves all turning color, and a predicted temp of 80. I’m in shorts and a cotton t-shirt and feel fine.

I’m also feeling good because I had a great dinner last night, over at Mark’s. He’s a coworker and monster runner, getting 10th in the Burning River 100. A couple of Mark’s Marathon Maniac friends are up from Missouri to run the Wildlife Marathon, plus Joel, a JCC student, runing his first marathon, with Mark pacing him through for a good quick pace. I rarely get to talk to other runners, and never more than some quick banter before a race, so it was nice to hear all kinds of ‘war stories’ over delicious pasta, courtesy of Mark’s wife, Misty. Made me regret not signing up for the marathon, instead of the half-marathon. But, I’m running the Detroit Marathon next week and want to be in tip-top shape, so I can try for a PR.

I get to Concord High School at 7:00-ish, and zip in to get my bib and chip and t-shirt. Since I ran this last year, I figured they’d have a chip, so this time I planned ahead and brought some duct tape, to form a sticky ankle bracelet so the chip will register when I pass over the mats.

About quarter to eight I spot Mark and the crew hanging out in the Marathon Maniac t-shirts, so I close up the car and head over, barefoot, already getting some neck-snapping second looks. There’s more runner conversation, like about why ultra marathons aren’t represented in the Olympics, and why it shouldn’t be possible to qualify for the Olympic marathon try outs by running a half-marathon, which one guy is going to do today. I also learn that I qualify to be a Marathon Maniac, because I’ve run two marathons within 13 days of each other! Sign me up!

A quick kids dash starts things off right at eight. There’s about twenty of them, in all sizes, from small to super small, though the girl who wins, easily, is decked out in the latest running wear. I think she must be 12, so wow, that’s an early start. Future Olympic marathoner probably.

Then the marathoners are called to the the Start line. I wish everyone good luck. There’s about 40 of them, maybe a little more. Man, that’s going to be a long lonely marathon once they all spread out.

And without much fanfare they begin, Mark and Joel right at the beginning. Man, Mark looks determined. I hope he doesn’t run Joel into the ground!

Next up are us halfers, both runners and people who are walking the whole way, which is going to take all day. I put myself somewhat towards the front. I’m kinda not sure what kind of time I’m going to do this race in, but I’m thinking at least under 1:45. My PR is 1:39, but I’ve been pretty slow this year. Still, I’ve run a couple of 50 Milers recently, and I’m wondering if the upped mileage will help. That’s Mark’s claim: that running faster on marathons comes from upping overall mileage. Still, runing ultras, I tend to go at a fairly slow penguin waddle, which doesn’t really use the faster running muscles. I think. Not sure.

Anyways, I end up next to a woman who teaches yoga. She says she’s not built for barefoot running, even though she says she goes barefoot 90 percent of the time. That stuns me, that someone so much into the barefoot lifestyle, and who runs marathons, would be resistant to even trying barefoot running. I think I convince her to at least try it. Hopefull she does before the weather gets too cold. I don’t think anyone in Michigan is going to try barefoot running during the winter months.

And we’re off! I try not to start too fast, but the adrenaline is hard to resist. Still, even with holding myself back, I end up at the front. We go through a few twists and turns through little Concord, and the roads are pretty rough. Fortunately I know we’ll spend most of our time on the Falling Waters trail, which I’ve run many a time, and which is a nice smooth bike path. Still, to save my feetsies, I run on long strips of rubber/tar that have been laid over road cracks. Nice and soft cushy surface.

And, another plan-ahead moment, when we reach the Falling Waters trailhead, I know enough to zip around the gravel parking lot, along the outer grass edge, which I didn’t do last year. Much better this way, and I don’t lose much time at all, way less than if I tried to man-card up over the rocks.

And onto the paved path. Man, gorgeous day. Sunny, warm, but not too warm, with the leaves en regalia, and our first lake on the right. Us halfers are scooting pretty fast, so we actually end up catching some of the marathoners, who at this point are still on the same route, making for a, if not crowded, then full trail, which is about car width. I even pass one of the Marathon Maniacs from last night, who’s name I forget already. But, we exchange pleasantries. If I were running the marathon, I might be running about his pace, but for now I wave and move onward. I wish I could keep this pace for a whole marathon. Maybe I’ll be closer to doing that next week.

In the meantime, I’m loving having the home field advantage. I’m not sure why, or if it’s even really true, but I just feel like seeing all this familiar territory helps me relax a little? Which lets me run faster? Not sure, but I’m still really trying to relax into my pace. Relaxing the upper body, but keeping a good swift cadence. And, after getting a little out of breadth back through Concord, now that I’m out on the trail and basically just going straight and flat, I’m only just a little bit into anaerobic mode. That is, I probably couldn’t hold a conversation, but don’t feel winded either. I feel good. I feel like the more I relax, the faster I run, which is weird, but cool.

Through a couple aid stations. I’m carrying my Amphipod bottle, so I don’t even have to slow down. I’m liking not drinking Gatorade anymore, at least not for these shorter races, so I have all the water I need for the whole race, probably.

One guy comes up next to me and goes, “Well sir, I’ll say one thing, you’re certainly not making a lot of noise!”

And it’s true, one of the main sounds, the main sound, is the thump thump of running shoes on pavement. In fact, another guy comes up behind me and he just sounds like he’s SLAMMING his feet down: THUMP THUMP THUMP. I hate picturing what’s happening to his knees right now. There’s not way he can keep that up for years. I don’t know, maybe he’s just really giving his all, trying to catch the barefoot dude, since he seems to be kind of hanging out right behind me. Maybe not, but he’s that loud that I want to kind of get away from him. But again, instead of tensing up and forcing myself to run faster, I try to relax, breath deep, lower the shoulder, and without feeling that I’ve increased my cadence, I move faster. Relaxation = better efficiency.

At about Mile 5, the marathons split off to the right, south, to go run around the back country roads of Jackson County. Again, I feel the tug to go, but I’m enjoying the half too, the feeling that I’m going to run a fast race and still have most of my day ahead of me, without feeling exhausted! Only because I still have some student essays to grade, but still, I’m going to be in Ann Arbor to do it, with all the Ann Arbor hotties to stare at longingly.

But no, John, concentrate on the race! Man, I didn’t realize how many marathoners I’d been surrounded by. With them gone, the pack has dwindled considerably. And here comes the lead halfer, coming back the other way, well ahead of everyone else. Well, if he can keep that up, then I guess he would make a good Olympic marathoner!

There’s a final aid station at the half turn-around, with youths (or, ‘yoots’) passing out bottled water and Coca Cola. I pass on both, but thank them for being out there, since they’re not by any road.

The comments on my bare feet have been non stop. The best up to this point was one woman who said, when I passed her and her husband, “He’s barefoot! I couldn’t stand stepping in all those micro-organisms!”

But now that I’m heading back, right along all the runners behind me, which is most of the pack (not that I’m anywhere close winning this thing, no sir) everyone gets a full view of me running back towards them. And everyone is super supportive! There are many shocked, “He’s barefoot!”’s but I don’t hear any “He’s crazy!”’s. I guess since I’m ahead of all of them. This especially goes on when we start getting back to the walkers. I also see the woman I’d been talking to before the race, way at the back. I smile and point to my feet. She smiles back and yells, “Ok!”

My time at the split was 53 minutes. So, yikes, I gotta at the least maintain that pace to get any kind of decent finish time. I’m actually feeling good, no ‘bogging out’, no loss of energy. I’m wondering if indeed all the high mileage I’ve been doing is helping me out here. In fact, again weirdly, I’m kinda feeling like I have more energy than my body can use. That is, I feel like I could be running faster, yet don’t feel I can really make my feet go at a faster cadence. With five, then four, miles to go, I’m not feeling the my body is physically taxed at all. I only kind of maybe slow down just because I’m sort of by myself and can’t really gauge where I should be, speed-wise, until a woman I’d seen going the other way catches up to me, going at a good clip. Interestingly, she’s wearing shoes, but taking really short steps, and a really fast cadence. Basically, a barefoot running from almost. That’s inspiring, reminding me to get my own cadence back up, and I do, but I also go through another ‘relax’ moment, and slowly scoot back ahead of her.

After that, I don’t see anybody passing anybody, though the people ahead of me are all way strung out from each other. We get back to the gravel parking lot and I re-take the outer grass edge, not even being overtaken by the woman I recently passed. I think she slowed down to get some Gatorade at the aid station.

Back on city roads. And here comes someone just hauling ass, a guy I don’t remember seeing. He must have really been playing it slow because now he’s coming through with power. I tell him, Nice pace!, as he goes by and he’s nice enough to look back and say, “Stay with it! We’re almost there!”

Indeed, we are. We make a left, where a race volunteer informs us, “Only about a 1,000 meters to go and I can’t believe you just ran this barefoot!”

Up a short hill. That guy is way gone. I can hear someone behind me a little ways, I think it’s the swift shod woman. Again, the roads are a little rough. I at first try to run on the tar strips, but then decide, phuk it, just go for speed and take the pain for two more minutes. Not that it’s really pain even.

A twist and a turn, and another turn, with some Concordites out to cheer everyone on, and there’s the high school! Push it John! I don’t want to go into an all-out shod-type sprint, but I again feel like I can’t get my feets to move as fast as I’d like them to in proper BF form. Still, I speed up a little. I always have the fear that someone’s going pass me right at the end, probably because that’s what I would be trying to do if anyone was anywhere close. Nobody is though.

I pass over the initial chip scanner, which allows the announcer to call out my name, “John Yohe! From Jackson! Looks like you lost you’re shoes somewhere along the way!”

A round of applause from the onlookers and I cross! Check the watch: 1:44. Hm, ok. I’ll take it. Actually, let me do the math: If I was at 53 at the half, that means....Holy crap! My second half was faster than my first! 51 minutes! I also don’t feel exhausted. A little tight around the inner thighs, but not like I ‘left is all out on the course.’ Hm....

I hang out, get some water, a banana, and a muffin, and just wander around barefoot a little. A woman walks by barefoot and I joke, asking if she ran barefoot too. She smiles and says no, but that she’s tried wearing VFFs, but that she didn’t like them because they made her lower calves sore. I tell here that that’s normal, just using some new muscles, and to give it 2 or 3 weeks. I think I may have convinced her to try again.

As with a lot of races I’ve been to lately, the most up to date results are posted as soon as someone can print them up. At first they only have one guy in my age division, who finished at 1:33. Yeah, I wasn’t going to catch him. Then, the next sheet that comes has me at 5th in my age group, with the 2-4 guys anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes ahead. Ok, I’ll take it.

I also meet a guy in his 50s who finished at around 1:30 or so. I want to be like him when I grow up. He expresses interest barefoot running, saying he’s try it except that it attracts too much attention and he prefers to go unnoticed. I tell him to at least try it out on some wooded trail where no on can see him. He nods and smiles and says maybe.

No minimalist runners that I saw. Hm, well, Jackson County is always a little behind the times. Well, I think I did a good job of representin’. I’m not up for waiting around for Mark and crew to finish, I’ll check in later via text to see how they did. As for me, I’m headed back home, with another medal, for a nap, a shower, then a sunny afternoon still left ahead. I think I’m even going to go for a run tonight.