On November 14, 2010, I ran the inaugural Stockton Half Marathon. About two miles into this event marked my 100th mile running barefoot. This milestone is special to me for two reasons: first, one hundred miles run barefoot is a milestone in itself; second, the race took place in my hometown. Here is a look back at my first 100 barefoot miles.
My first barefoot run took place almost a year ago. I had received Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” as a Christmas gift. At that time, I didn’t know that the book had anything to do with barefoot running. I had asked for the book because I had heard about the Tarahumara Indians running incredible distances and I was looking for inspiration. I had been out of running for about two years. Prior to this break from running, I had run a number of half marathons and three full marathons. Not long after my last marathon I pulled a muscle in my ribs from a horrendous cough and cold. After about 6 months of healing and no running, I had lost my built up endurance and with it my motivation for running.
My hope in reading “Born to Run” was to discover just a little bit of Tarahumara knowledge, so I might apply it to my marathon running. In all my training and racing over 2 years, I could never hit a 4-hour marathon. All of my training pointed to it, but on race day I could never pull it off. I had no idea that while devouring that book over 2 days it would lead me to an entirely different perspective on my running.
On the morning of January 2, 2010, I got dressed in my winter running clothes, but I left my shoes in the closet. It was an invigorating 2.5-mile run around my neighborhood. I was hooked instantly. I loved running barefoot. In the weeks and months to follow I relished in the sensations and feedback that different surfaces gave my feet. I discovered that I preferred to run on the asphalt of the street versus the concrete sidewalk. I learned that running across manholes or the wheelchair accessible metal ramps, with their inch-and-a-half circular bumps, on street corners were not fun, even in Vibrams. I even learned that the bare foot does not like kicking metal L-bars at the base of construction signs - apparently it causes large gashes that require an up to date tetanus shot. My favorite experiences running barefoot have been running in the rain, splashing through puddles like a kid; and running through mud puddles on the Cinderella Trail 10k while shod runners dodged to the sides of the trail to avoid them.
However, like many newbie barefoot runners, I did far too much too soon. I ended up struggling for months with the infamous top of foot pain (TOFP). I would take a few days to a week off and try again, but I couldn’t seem to shake my TOFP issues.
One of my early goals had been to run the Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon last May. I opted for the 5K instead of the half marathon due to continuing TOFP and a likely bone bruise. I finished in a respectable 26:42.8 (sixth in my age bracket). Afterwards I took about two months off to properly heal my foot and to learn my art.
During this time, I read up on running form, watched videos, asked questions and contemplated my running goals and how to achieve them. By August I was back! Barefoot John and I took on the 10K Cinderella Trail Run in the Oakland Hills. While my time was not fantastic, 1:35:01, I was able to complete my first attempt at a trail run barefoot.
Next stop - Half Marathon.
There are quite a few fun half marathons in my surrounding area in the fall. However, when I heard that my hometown was holding the inaugural Stockton Half Marathon, I could not think of a better time or place to run my first barefoot half marathon.
I began my half marathon training not long after my first trail race. With two young children at home, finding time to train can be difficult. Some weeks I managed to get in two runs. Some weeks I did none. Most weeks, I was able to get at least one good run. In the final few weeks to the race, my work schedule became hectic and running took a back seat. The most I had run to this point was 6 miles barefoot. The Saturday before the race I managed an 8-mile run with just under a 10-minute per mile pace. I had a quarter-sized blister develop starting at mile 5 just behind my toes on my left foot. I noticed I was pushing off and corrected for the remaining three miles. I managed not to tear the blister - an indicator of using proper form.
My biggest fear going into the half marathon was that I had not done enough training. I was fearful of what would happen when I past 8 miles. Would I get a TOFP type injury? Would I be unable to finish the race? The last thing I wanted was to be the lone barefoot racer and have a bad showing. I didn’t want to hear the “see, I told you so” commentary.
Fortunately, it appears that my feet have finally made the transition to barefoot running. Despite not having been able to complete all of my training runs, I have made up for it in focus and proper form. I was able to complete my first barefoot half marathon without any problems.
While I still feel that I have a lot to learn about barefoot running, I believe I have developed the initial foot strength and basic knowledge to take it to the next level. Having met my initial goal of a barefoot half marathon, I am now looking to complete a barefoot marathon (possibly a trail marathon). I have recently become interested in the possibility of venturing beyond the marathon and into the realm of the ultramarathoner.
Here’s to the next 100 miles and beyond!