Friday, November 30, 2012

50/50 by Dean Karnazes: A review

I've just finished Dean Karnazes' book 50/50, about his epic 'fifty marathons in fifty days in fifty states' in 2006. I confess I actually hadn't heard of this feat until recently, and the book came out in 2008. Still, if you haven't already read it, I'd recommend it to runners of any level. Might even be a good Christmas present for a fellow runner if you're into that kind of thing!

Karnazes uses the structure of the event, the individual marathons, as the structure of his book, using each marathon to talk about different aspects of running, from basic tips on training for a marathon, to hydration, to how to set up a donation system, so you can collect money for your favorite charity by having friends give a dollar for every mile you fun. Along the way he shares some amusing and interesting and inspiring anecdotes from each marathon, and from his other running adventures.

He even talks about minimalist shoes and running, claiming some credit for Nike's Free minimalist shoe, though he himself wears North Face Boas, since North Face is his main sponsor, and the one's responsible for the amazing organization and logistics for the whole event. He doesn't quite commit to saying running barefoot is a good idea, though confesses that running barefoot on the beach is when he's felt the most natural. In any case, he recommends the 'mid-foot strike' running style, to avoid the dreaded heel-strike, and thinks that shoes do tend to make people try a longer gait.

I was surprised at how engaging the book was, fearing that with the marathon after marathon type narrative that it would end up sounding like 'and then I did this, and then I did this', but each of the marathons was unique, and his stories are so interesting, that my attention was held, and I even stayed up late reading it, wanting to find out what happens next! The guy's a monster runner, but makes it sound so easy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Seattle Marathon!

A foggy morning here in Seattle. Seagulls squawking. Strange weirdos in running clothing stumbling in the chill towards the Space Needle like zombies. When most people are still in a food coma from Thanksgiving, some of us have decided that running 26.2 miles on a Sunday morning sounds like a good idea.

I'd heard that the Seattle Marathon was well-run, and so far so good, since the Start is near the Armory, a huge heated food court with clean bathrooms in which to wait (the Armory, not the bathrooms). Plus not one but two places to buy coffee and tea and nibbles. My friend Katherine and I thought we'd be shivering in the cold, but this is nice. We even end up cutting things a bit close because we don't want to leave the warmth until the last minute, but find out that the bag drop is kind of more than a hop, skip and a jump from the start, but we get to there with five minutes to spare. And really, it's not that cold. I have running pants, a wicking shirt, and my Detroit Marathon long-sleeve over the top of that. (Representin' my roots: Detroit: Where the weak are killed and eaten!). Plus some wool gloves and my Columbia Gorge beanie (which I love).

I am barefoot. I'm going for it. Surely the pavement in Seattle can't be any worse than Portland, and I'm betting it's better, that somehow the gods of Microsoft and Lockheed-Martin wouldn't allow rough roads in their town, and my feet have toughened up even more in the last month, thanks to an increase of barefoot trail running in Forest Park, now that mud season has begun. Plus I figure, you know, that Seattle has all these famous barefoot runners. I gotta show them some Portland pride. I may not be fast, but I'll finish.

The route is weird. Or, I had a hard time figure out where it was going, thinking we'd be downtown and going along the Sound. But we're actually going to be over on the east part of town, along Washington Lake. In fact, Katherine and I went up in the Space Needle yesterday, and that was sobering, holding up the route map and then looking out at all that land we'd be running. A marathon is a long ways!

Still though, I'm feeling good. Even if I haven't run a long run since Columbia Gorge a month ago, I know I'll finish. It's just a matter of how much it will hurt afterwards.

I'm surprised at the smallness of the crowd. Seems like a city this big would get more participants. That is, it's still thousands of people, but the Start area is only about two blocks worth. The halfings and the 5Kers started earlier of course. But everyone here is very enthusiastic! And without too much drama, we are off! Surging down Fifth Street. One of the organizers is standing under one of the Monorail columns and yells encouragingly, “Point two miles!” Yes! Only twenty-six more to go!

Almost immediately, we are running up a freeway ramp, over the I-5/I-90 tangle. Very cool to have a whole freeway section shut down for us, and to see the city from up here, though much of it is still in fog, feeling like a Stephen King story. Like, the nerds at Microsoft have opened a gateway to another dimension by accident (or not??? cue doomy music!) and soon huge shadowy reptilian creature will be seen roaming the streets, eating anything moving (Damn you Bill Gates!).

And I think the key to a marathon being well-run is how many Honey Buckets they provide for runners, and there are tons of them, both at the start, and along the route, more thanevery mile. Kind of funny to see lone Honey Buckets sitting on the side of freeway, but us runners are grateful. In fact, let us give thanks for a multitude of Honey Buckets.

Katherine and I are surprised, and maybe a little disappointed: We haven't seen any other barefooters, nor even minimalists—no huaraches, not even VFFs. A couple of people I see have some zero-drop shoes, like Merrills, but most runners are wearing running shoe tanks. Maybe it's my imagination, but ever since I've stopped wearing running shoes, the models seem to be getting bigger and thicker.

We also get to run through a long tunnel, where somehow some spectators have arrived. I'm not sure how you would get here except by the actual route, but good to have them. One of the comments about the race on some of the online reviews was that there aren't a lot of spectators, and it kind of makes sense, at least so far. No access!

The cool thing about this race though is there are a couple of long out-and-backs, so as we're heading east out on the floating bridge to Mercer Island, the city vanishing in fog, we get to see the lead runners, the young skinny dudes hauling ass the other way. Crazy. Some of them actually seem to be sweating heavily. I'm finally warmed up, and in fact my feet feel very warm. If anything, my upper torso is chilly from the cool lake breeze (or the chilly other-dimension breeze).

We go through another tunnel, to the turn-around, where there are yet still more Honey Buckets, and another fluid station (every two miles). Weird to come back west along the same route, because the way we just came, seemingly, is pretty deserted at this point, making me feel like we're at the end of the pack! I didn't think we were that bad. We started near the 4:40 pacer, planning on doing some road-killing (passing). But, at last!, there's an older gentleman is huaraches coming the other way. And they're like super-home-made ones too. We say hello to him, but he seems in his zone, and maybe in fact thinks we're making fun of him or something, because he doesn't seem to look down at our feet (Katherine is in VFFs).

I spot a woman with a piece of tape on the back of her shirt saying QUADZILLA, along with three number bibs. A ha! I've heard of this. Four marathons in four days! We catch up and I ask her about it, and she's very friendly, explaining that there is a marathon in the general area every day, starting on Thanksgiving. Two of them are small trail marathons, and the third is in Seattle, along the Puget Sound coastline. She says she's an ultra-runner, having finished hundred milers, but that this is harder, though she seems to be fine. I may have to try this next year!

We also finally start to see a few VFFers, including two dudes, they might be a father-son team, who we say hello to. Doesn't seem to be a real talkative crowd though. Some races you see people, strangers, running together to help pass the time, but this one, everyone seems to be in their own little worlds.

Back across the bridge. At this point, the halflings would have turned north and back into town. The marathoners though, take a left, south, along Washington Lake Drive (? I think) heading toward Seward Park. So much for the great views we though we'd get. The fog is still thick, but it's not unpleasant. We're definitely in a residential area, a good one. This must be where all the rich IT nerds live. And again, we get to see the leaders coming back the other way. There's three guys right at the front, way out ahead of everyone. Man, they're just almost sprinting, with maybe ten miles to go.

At this point, Katherine bids adieu, wanting to get into a little slower pace, and we separate. I check my watch, wondering, if I speed up a little, if I could maybe get to 13 miles in under two hours. Gonna be close, and don't want to overexert too soon, but I do feel good. Feet are more than fine, the pavement has been great. It's the rest of me that I worry about.

And here come the first women. They too seem to be in a group of three, though surrounded by a pack of dudes. I bet there's some kind of rooster-dude stuff going on, like, “I'm at least not gonna get beat by a chick!”

And I hear one of the spectators say when they see me, “There's another barefooter!”

“There's more of us?” I ask.

“Yeah, there's more up ahead.”

And soon, who should I see but a barefoot runner! Yes! I catch up to him, and say, ironically, “Nice shoes!”

I kind of startle him. Whoops. But he recovers and smiles. Turns out he's from Portland too! Looks like us Portlanders have to come up here and show Seattle-ites how things are done!

Seward Park. It's a long loop, on an old road that is now a bike path going around the coast of a peninsula. Here we have trees/forest on our left and the Lake on our right, though still foggy. At the far end of the loop is a chip-reader thingy on the road, which marks the 13 mile point. My time? 2:02. Ah well, just missed it. So, chance of finishing under four hours is kinda nil. Well, it's not like I really trained for this, both nursing a minor injury and concentrating on National Novel Writing Month for all of November ( So actually, doing pretty good!

Back out onto Washington Lake Drive. I'm sure Katherine is already in the park by now. Back along the line of lake-front properties worth probably millions. Yeah, not a lot of spectators along here. Fog still thick, nothing to do but admire the backsides of women runners in tight running pants. I'm a terrible's just that the resemble my childhood ideal of comic book super-heroines: athletic woman in tight body suits.

Now the long slog begins. I'm feeling ok, a little stiff (Um, not that kind of stiff). My main twinge of pain is in my back, between my shoulders. I tend to tense up when I run. I'm trying to get better about relaxing, and I think the yoga I've been doing recently helps. I'm certainly not as slow as I thought I'd feel at this point. Which makes me wonder about the minimum training one could do for a marathon. It seems like after a certain amount of marathons a years, one can do fairly well even without a lot of heavy training in between. Which makes me wonder two things: one, what would happen if I actually trained? Like maybe I could finally get under four hours! And two, what is the minimum training one can do to finish a 100 miler, since it just seems like one has to be independently wealthy, and/or not have a life otherwise, to train for one.

At Mile 20, we leave Lake Washington, and head up a steep hill. Nobody at this point tries to run it. We all just walk up. This will take us over the hill and back more into downtown. It's weird, I can see our goal: the Space Needle. And it still looks miles away. I guess it indeed is.

And at Mile 22ish, who should catch up to me but Quadzilla! She looks fine. We talk for a bit about this almost being over, and then she speeds up. Awesome. Otherwise I'm basically in the part of the pack where I'm slightly still passing some people (especially back on those hills), which I like. If I'd sped up earlier, which I could have, I'd be farther ahead, but running slower, and getting passed more, which is really discouraging. Checking my watch, I'm not gonna make four hours. But still, perhaps under 4:10? That would be way better than I anticipated.

And after that hill, we get some downhill, though my legs aren't wanting to bend too much at this point, which makes using gravity a little harder. I feel like I'm running still-legged, heel-striking way to much (which, I mean, heel-striking is never good). But that Needle is getting closer. Not a lot of mile markers here, just some posted on the still seemingly numerous Honey Buckets. There are race volunteers out though, informing us that we only have mile! Then less than a mile! I start pouring on the speed, such as it is, such as remains. I always try to finish strong.

And I hear a PA announcer, and see the high school football stadium where we'll be finishing. This is it. I kick in my afterburners and zip down a last hill, coming out into the stadium, and down onto the field. Once I'm on grass, I go into a long-stride sprint and cross! Check the watch: 4:13. Ok, I'll take that.

Whew. My medal, and my very welcome reflective blanket, and surprise: there's a “Recovery Area” inside the stadium building, heated. With some food (bagels have been picked clean by now though) and where there's even changing areas, so we can get out of our wet clothes. Nice touch!

Speaking of touching, I go back out to wait for Katherine, and I stand along the finish line, cheering in other runners. There's not a lot of people watching, so I don't think most runners are even expecting recognition, but I and a few others clap and yell, and I can tell it's appreciated. And some people I can see are coming in about to cry, which makes me almost cry. I don't of course, because I'm a real man, but it is touching.

Turns out there was one other guy from Portland, Todd, who ran half VFF/half barefoot, and 'BQed' (Boston Qualified)! As for the famed Seattle barefooters, nada. Looks like us Portlanders have to come up and show them how to get'er done!

[Photos courtesy of Katherine Melo, except the first one, which is from the Seattle Marathon Website]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Return of Plantar Fasciitis

I was unpleasantly surprised to have a resurgence of plantar fasciitis recently. I’d thought that now that I don’t run in bad-for-you conventional running shoes, that I would be PF free, but not so.

Just like when I first began suffering from the PF, I can’t help but speculating as to the cause, or causes. My resurgence seemed to pop up right after the Portland Marathon, when I decided to keep running a lot, no rest, as a prep for possible ultras next year. Since my feet were raw from running the marathon barefoot, I was running in my my Luna huaraches, which I'm not exactly happy with since they're thicker now, thicker than my old pair.

Plus, here in Portland, in an effort to appear normal so women will like me, I've been wearing shoes more. They're Merrills, but I still think I walk differently in them (one pair seems to feel better than the other, but who knows).

But as much as I like speculating, I think the reality is, like most disasters, it’s a combination of many little things adding up, either from the above reasons, or stuff I’m not even aware of.

Anyways, when the ache didn't go away, I went back to what had worked for me, which I pass on to you, hoping it might help:

1. I went back (not that I really left) to running pure barefoot. I swear my feet respond to being used 'properly' and though I started with smaller runs, I increased them, and felt no pain after pure barefoot runs. In fact, I felt better.

2. I ran less, which for me meant not doing doubles for a while.

3. I started massaging my calves, which were tight as hell. A trick I picked up from Jason Robillard is to use a rolling pin, and just roll it over the muscles, finding the really tight spots. You can also buy this thing called 'The Stick' for the same effect, at 4X the price, though it's bendable. I'd recommend their stiffest version.

3. Also used hand massage, and tried to find the really painful spots, acupressure points, and just hold down on them with my thumbs.

4. Yoga. I was going to do this anyway, but I've started back to yoga, and all those balance poses are great for exercising and strengthening the foot muscles, as well as just stretching out the leg muscles in general.

5. Before I go to sleep, and before I get out of bed in the morning, stretching my feet: curling, extending, rolling them at the ankles.

6. Finally got my Xero/Invisible Shoes huaraches, which are super thin, the way my old Lunas were. Unless the routes is super rocky, these will be my default footwear, IF I must wear footwear.

But I swear, the most helpful thing was just going back to pure barefoot running. I think I got a little used to my huaraches, especially for trail runs, but now that the rains have come, the trails are nice and muddy and lovely for barefooting.

Now it’s your turn readers: Have you experienced any surprising foot problems after running barefoot? Plantar fasciitis or otherwise? Please share down in the comments, and what you did in response, and whether it has worked or not. I’m interested, and others may be too.