Monday, April 30, 2012

Trail Marathon 2012

Today is looking perfect: sunny and let’s-run-a-marathon-ish, though right now, driving over to Pinkney, frost is glowing on the ground. When I get to the now-familiar parking lot (where not too long ago I ran the Pot O’ Gold Fat Ass 50K) I’m surprised at the lack of car chaos. This year for the Trail Marathon, the sponsor, local running chain Running Fit, has split the half and full marathon, the half was yesterday, Saturday, and they’ve also added a 50K option for today, as well as the ‘No Wimps’ Challenge: run the half AND either the full or the 50K today. I, alas, am feeling wimpish, and am ‘only’ running the full marathon. I just couldn’t justify the extra entry fee cost, nor the additional 45 minute (one way) drive over in one weekend.

I’m also not necessarily feeling up to the Challenge. I mean, I could’ve run a half yesterday on my own, but didn’t. I guess I just don’t feel, despite that Fat Ass 50K on St. Patty’s Day, that I’ve been running as much as I could this Winter (which I’ll probably go into in my next post) and even though I now know that, unless something drastic happens, I can power through a marathon on not a lot of running, I kinda want to redeem myself from last year, where I finished in this very race miserably. Plus also I’m going to run the Kalamazoo Marathon next week, so that feels ‘no wimp-ish’ enough. But, no excuses, these are just statements of fact. I signed up for the marathon and I’m kinda psyched to be here. I am not carrying on my two-year tradition of running this barefoot. Last year was brutal—this is a rocky trail—so I’m wearing my old VFF KSOs, still usable despite a bunch of holes and rips. Also, because of the frostiness this morning, I’m wearing a pair of Injinji socks, which though warm, give me the ‘Stay Puff Marshmallow Man’ feel. i.e. my feets aren’t at their most touchy-feely.

And who should come up to my truck but Rob, my old running buddy from the Somerset Stampede and the Bigfoot 50K, ready and raring to go. He took last summer off but now he’s back and, sounds like, in better shape than I am at this point: He’s doing the ‘No Wimps’ half/50K with his sights set on a 50 Miler later this summer. I tell him, briefly, about my last year’s experiences with the Burning River DNF and the two 50 Milers as we go over to get our race bibs. I note again how little traffic there seems to be today versus last year, but I guess that’s because the halfers aren’t here today. Rob says there were 1,000 runners yesterday, and ‘only’ 400 signed up for today, though I don’t even really see 400 cars. We go back to our respective vehicles to stay warm while we wait for the start, though he runs into his friend Steve (I think they’re brother-in-laws?) who I also know from Bigfoot and some other races last summer. After you do these things for a while you start to run into familiar faces.

Like for example when we head to the start, I run into all kinds of people I know. Here’s Brandon, another barefooter/minimalista/ultrarunner who I’ve run all kinds o’ races with (or, we end up running together for some of them—he and I seem to be around the same level)(i.e. not too fast, but steady). And here’s Mark, ultrarunner extrordinaire, from Jackson. And some of the Running Fit Ultrarunning Team (RUT) who I ran with at Pot O’ Gold. There’s even a woman from the Wildlife Half last year, who’s doing the No Wimps Challenge! Ok, I’m feeling wimpish. Another weird start. No one seems to want to line up until a couple minutes before 7:30, and even then most people hang back, no one wanting to really be up front. The owner of Running Fit tries something new this year: waves of starters. Which is all very unofficial, just him saying, “Ok, the first hundred people, people who think they might win this, line up.” Maybe fifty do. I’ve been hanging back, or I thought I was hanging back, but since I’m kinda nearby, I think, Hm, well, I do like to start fast on these trail runs, so as to miss all the bottlenecking that happens. So, when the owner yells “Go!” I slip in right at the end of the wave, predicting that this will probably mean I’ll get passed by people for the whole race. Well, this is kind of my M.O.: Start strong and penguin trudge the second half. I just do not run on my own anywhere near the speed I run races at, so if I started out at my ‘normal’ (slow) pace, I’d just be that much slower, and still end up trudging. I just don’t think going slower at the beginning gains me anything at the end. After the mid-way point, I’m just gonna be exhausted no matter what. So might as well take advantage of the adrenaline surge now.

And away we go. Yeah, no bottleneck, which is nice, but we’ll see how long this lasts, though being at the end of the first wave means no one is passing me immediately, and all the phaster-than-phuck guys like Tom are already way ahead. And yeah, the trail is rocky. It’s almost like running on a gravel road. The sun is up though, and my body is heating up. Gonna be an about perfect running day. At about Mile 4 I pass a guy I’d seen at the Start, wearing huaraches. He’s stopped to readjust them, so I confirm with him that they are in fact Barefoot Ted’s Luna’s, as I pass. And not far after, on a seemingly flat and relatively rootless section of trail, I trip and fall.

Impressively, I don’t fall flat, but rather do a whole somersault coming in sitting position. Wow. Youch. But nothing seems to be broken. I get up and run. Hm, grr, a little sore. Well, isn’t that special. But, as I keep running, my body loosens up and goes back to relative normal. I’ll probably feel it tomorrow, but right now the only consequences seem to be that I’m covered in leaves. And the passing has begun. All the fast people from the second wave, who didn’t want to admit that they were actually fast, are now zooming by. But we’re all spread out enough, and the trail is mostly wide enough, that passing isn’t a problem. Except that it’s going to be happening all day. Ah well.

My pace is a ten minute mile almost exactly. Not that I have a fancy GPS watch, just that the few mile makers there are line up exactly with my stop watch, as in, at Mile 4 I’ve run 40 minutes and Mile 8 I’ve run 80 minutes. Not sustainable though. I’m running way faster than I would on my own. But, I’ll go with it. I would love to finish this thing under five hours, that would be a PR, but I’m thinking I’ll bog down by the second thirteen mile loop.

But lo, I hear my name spoken by a female voice behind me. It’s Sweet Melissa! from previous races. Another person on the same running level as me, except she can maintain this pace for the whole race. We catch up. She did the Javelina 100 down in Arizona last year, and seems to have caught the ultra bug big time, with a bunch of ultras already under her belt this year, and another 100 Miler in two weeks over in Vermont. So maybe we’re not really on the same level anymore. But her shin’s bothering her, so she’s taking it easy, and in fact locks in behind me, though we don’t talk much, and in fact she drops behind for a while without me realizing it, though later catches up and runs with me back to the Start line for the end of the first loop, though she steps out to I think shed layers.

Onward. Still a decent pace. What would help is someone to talk to, distract me and keep me at an honest speed, but aside from Melissa, this race seems to have been one of the less social ones. I bet the slower folks in back are being more social, which would have been another advantage of starting later. Again, ah well. But yes, the couple people I start the second loop with gradually pull away, leaving me on my own, and I go back in ‘normal’ mode, almost without thinking about it, just going back into a jog, looking at the pretty forest around me. La la la....

The clomping of runners behind me. A spoken “John!”: It’s Rob. We exchange greetings and I think he’s looking forward to running with me, but man, I can’t, they’re going way too fast. I step aside and let them pass and tell him I’ll see him later on, though he’s looking strong, I don’t think I will. Even Melissa catches me. She and two others stay behind me for a while, but I’m starting to bog out, and let them pass. She hesitates, the other two pass her, she can’t keep up with them, that leg must really be bothering her, but she’s doing better than me. I give a last “Good to see you again!” and she vanishes in the trees.

Remember that old Muppets skit? Trudge. Trudge. Trudge. Trudge.

Streak! Streak! Two runners pass me.

Trudge. Trudge. Trudge. Trudge.

Streak! Streak!

Trudge. Wonder. Trudge. Wonder.

I’m in self-doubt mode, wondering if I should’ve started slower. Wondering if I’m just going to totally bog out and do another slow finish. I guess the good thing is that finishing is not at doubt. I will finish. I know enough about myself that I can mentally power through, no matter how slow. But still.

On the other hand, the day is gorgeous. The sun is out. Birds chirping. Squirrels. I even end up in the middle of a pack of deer charging across that trail, slightly worrying me that I’ll get hit, that the ones in back won’t see me, they’re all so panicked. And, the advantage of running alone and in non-clomping VFFs: I pass an opossum sniffling in the leaves. Does he really not hear me? Or maybe he’s just rabid? O possum my possum!

I do run into that huarache guy though, who’s going about my pace. We talk a little bit. He’s actually from Colorado, just in visiting. His Luna’s are the Leadville model, slightly thicker than the ones I have, and thicker than these VFFs I think, which would be good on a trail like this. He says he doesn’t run barefoot at all back home, living up at 9,000 feet, so in snow most of the year. He’s actually doing the Leadville 100 this year. I throw out how I’ve been thinking of at least being someone’s “mule” there, and he says he is looking for one or two, he can’t find anyone back home who wants to. So we agree to meet up after the race to at least exchange info. We’re going at the same pace, though he pulls ahead at this point, so this seems possible. Who knows? I’m moving out west this summer, I’m just not sure where yet (depends on where I can get a teaching gig, kinda) so I might just be able to swing by and help out. Would be cool to be a mule for a fellow minimalista.

Another guy comes up behind me and asks if I’m from Jackson. He’s seen my Turkey Trot 10K wool gloves I’ve been wearing, which are maybe the best swag I’ve ever gotten from a race. I’ve used these things all winter. We run a together a little bit. He’s just catching the running bug, having done a few marathons, and is thinking about doing some of the same races I did last year. Alas, I won’t be around here for all the end o’ summer races. Hopefully I’ll have some waiting for me wherever I end up! The miles slog on, but I’m getting there. A woman ends up behind me who I at first think is talking to me, but she’s just talking to herself, and to the butterflies and trees, saying over and over what a great day it is. Surprisingly, this is not unpleasant. Kind of amusing, and hell, why not thank the butterflies for fluttering by? With two miles to go, I hear, “Marco!” behind me: That can only be the one and only Brandon! He started at the back and slowly and steadily has been making his way up. Just seeing him gives me a jolt of energy and I ask if he wants to sprint with me to the finish. Alas, he’s doing the 50K, but we push it, and I’m actually passing people that just recently passed me, on a power surge. A little earlier than expected, but I’ll go with it. The hills still get me though, and Brandon passes me on one, but I keep him in my sights. Check the watch: 5:10.

Oh, ok, well, I didn’t get under five, but ok, still maybe my quickest here. I’ll have to check what my first time was, but certainly a lot faster than last year! And, we’re on that last long boardwalk before the clearing! I’ve done it! Almost there. I speed up. And the trail breaks out into the open! Now is the time to sprint, and I do! You’d think that since I can do this that I might be able to do more than trudge before, but I’m sure it’s all mental. Anyways, I push it, arms and legs pumping, getting some clapping from the bystanders.

And I cross! 5:16. Ok, I’ll take it. I get my medal. No mug for placing though. There’s a ton of men in my age range doing this, I’m not even in the top five, or probably not even in the top ten. That’s ok. I did it. I feel good. Not super dead, but a good, nice, exhausted.

Brandon stopped off to shed layers and passes by to do his final five mile-ish loop for the 50K. We slap hands. Good to see him again.

And a little stretching out on the sunny grass. No hurry. More runners coming in. Well, I wasn’t last! Though some of them are 50K finishers. Hm, I wonder. I check the posted finishes. Goddamn, Mark finished his 50K about forty-five minutes ago, for a ‘second’ in his age category. The first placer for that category finished the 50K in four hours! Whew.

And I’d hoped to find that huarache dude, but now I realize that he too is probably doing the 50K, which means he’ll be another hour. Doh. Well, maybe somebody who reads my blog, or someone from the BRS website knows him and can pass on my contact info.

Now home, to a nap, and a hot bath. Maybe two.

Official results: First loop: 2:16:50 for almost a 10 minute mile Second loop: 2:59:49 for about a 14 minute mile.

Fifteenth place in my age and gender 95th overall

Friday, April 20, 2012

Letter from a reader

A letter from a reader, with my answers after:
Dear John, I am a high school cross country runner in Naperville Illinois. I have read several books and studies and have fallen in love with the minimal style of running. I run about 65 miles a week and I currently wear the New Balance Minimus Trails and I do all my runs in them. I have not had any trouble at all with them. The reason I am sending this is because for my English class, I have a project that requires me to learn how to do something. Taking advantage of a great opportunity, I have decided to make Huarache Sandals. One part of my project involves interviewing an expert on my subject. I was wondering if you were willing to answer a few questions for me about the huaraches and minimal running in general. I would greatly appreciate it if you e-mailed me back so I can send you approximately ten questions about this subject that I am eager to find the answer to. 1. Why is minimalism becoming a trend in the United States and what has led to this "rebirth" in barefoot running? 2. What are the benefits of running barefoot vs with big shoes? 3. How have Humans Developed to have features built for running long Distances? 4. What parts of the body enable us and help run long distances? 5. Why do you think people developed to run long distances? 6. Do you think running high mileage early on will disable you in the future? 7. Do you think that the Tarahumara have the right idea going in their way of life? 8. Do you believe that running barefoot/minimalist will help reduce injury. 9. Do different body types affect the efficiency of distance running? 10. Is it possible to strengthen the arch of ones' foot and if so how? I would greatly appreciate it if you got back to me if soon as possible if you are able. I would love to learn more about this fascinating topic and would be forever grateful if you helped me out. Thank you so much, Lukas Skucas
Lucas: Thank you for writing. I don't claim to be an expert on huaraches, especially not making them, but I'll try to answer your questions to the best of my ability. First, I wear the huaraches made by Barefoot Ted: Luna's. I bought my pair about two years ago, in part after reading about him in Christopher McDougall's book Born To Run. At that point Ted's huarache business was a "one monkey operation" and he was still making them custom. What that entailed was me tracing the outline of my feet on a piece of paper and sending it to him. Now I think he and his monkey minions have standard sizes, which you can find out more about at his website: I prefer to run completely barefoot, but my huaraches are my next favorite way to run, either because my soles are a little raw from a long run, or for night running, when I just can't be certain what I'm running on. I run in the huaraches both on pavement and on trails. They're very thin and sometimes for trails I've been tempted to 'upgrade' to something a little thicker, but really they work fine. Other minimalist footwear I use are the Vibram Five Fingers (for longer trail runs/races) and I also have a pair of Merrell's, which I bought for cold weather running only, though I'd only use them for trails. Otherwise they're too shoe-ish and actually hurt my feet if I run on pavement with them. Too much coverage. If and when I ever live back where the weather is warm, I'd use huaraches for most of my minimalist needs, but again, I do run completely barefoot a lot. Now I will attempt to answer your questions!
1. Why is minimalism becoming a trend in the United States and what has led to this "rebirth" in barefoot running?
I think it was helped by the book Born To Run, though I'd heard about the 'trend' just before I heard about the book (which is more about ultrarunning than going barefoot). I think honestly that runners have been getting frustrated with the quality of shoes. I was suffering from plantar fasciitis, couldn't run for two years, saw 4 different doctors, and nothing helped. But when I ran barefoot, the PF vanished. Minimalist running helps runners connect better to trails (I think it's more popular for trail running) by allowing them to actually feel some kind of sensation, to feel the terrain underneath their feet.
2. What are the benefits of running barefoot vs with big shoes?
The benefits seem to be stronger feet. Period. No more common shoe-related injuries like plantar fasciitis, or 'bum knees.' The benefits of "big shoes"? I don't see any anymore. They just seem to weaken our feet.
3. How have Humans Developed to have features built for running long Distances?
Well, I'm not an expert on this, but again, check out Born To Run, it goes into how we humans evolved over at least a million and a half years as runners, in order to hunt. We ran animals down. We had to. We hadn't developed bows and arrows, or even spears yet.
4. What parts of the body enable us and help run long distances?
I think the whole body helps. Yes, our legs and feet, but when I run long distances, my whole body feels sore!
5. Why do you think people developed to run long distances?
See question 3, though I will add here that Born To Run is merely condensing info that's already out there about how we humans evolved and lived.
6. Do you think running high mileage early on will disable you in the future?
No! It will make you stronger! That is, unless you run in shoes! Then all bets are off! Then it seems like the ole PF will get you, or your knees will give out from all that jarring heel striking.
7. Do you think that the Tarahumara have the right idea going in their way of life?
From the accounts I've read, in Born To Run and other sources, they seem pretty darn healthy. But I don't know all the information to be able to answer this.
8. Do you believe that running barefoot/minimalist will help reduce injury?
It reduced my injury! I can run again. I have a friend who stopped running because of a bad knee, but now runs again, in VFFs. I will say though, that I've heard about people injuring themselves by running in minimalist footwear they way they would in 'regular' shoes. You have to learn to run differently: No heel striking, lifting the feet instead of slamming them down. If people are interested, I'd send them to the Barefoot Runners Society Website. Or, just start slow. Trot. Listen to your body.
9. Do different body types affect the efficiency of distance running?
I'm not sure. I do know that when I attempted the Burning River 100M, I saw a variety of body types, especially some big dudes. Distance running seems to be at least in part about endurance, stamina, stubbornness.
10. Is it possible to strengthen the arch of ones' foot and if so how?
Yes. By using it. 'Regular' shoes, or anything with arch support, weaken our arches. Like I said, I could immediately run again when I went barefoot. My feet seemed to enjoy being used again! Also: Go barefoot whenever possible. There is also a movement building to live a barefoot lifestyle. Even if you don't run, go barefoot around the house. Switch to minimalist shoes for any footwear needs. Avoid arch support or cushioning. I hope this was helpful Lucas. Again, thank you for thinking of me. Cheers! John