Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My First Barefoot Race

Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 7:15 a.m. I officially started my first barefoot race - Avenue of the Vines 5K in Lodi, California. 

First of all, to those of you who are just finding my blog.  I began running barefoot this past January after reading "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall.  My goal was to run the Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon.  Due to two illnesses (in the final 9 week training ramp up) and some transitioning difficulty, I decided the weekend before the race to run the 5K.  Better safe than sorry.

Rewind to Friday Evening . . . 

I walked into my local running store to sign up for the 5K.  The lady at the table was putting together my envelope with the timing chip, race bib, etc.  She was adding the little zip ties to the envelope when I told her, "I don't need those.  I'm running the race barefoot."  She gave me an 'odd look' (to steal a phrase from the Barefoot Runners Society) and simply replied, "Oookay."

I began walking across the store to pick up my t-shirt when I spotted the owner.  I shouted across the store that I wanted to talk to him before I left.  He shouted back, "You and I have nothing to talk about.  You're a BAREFOOT RUNNER now!"  He was joking, of course.  We knew each other from several of his half and full marathon training groups I had trained with.  We spoke about minimalist shoes and barefoot running.  He mentioned reading my letter to the editor of the local paper about barefoot running and how I was stealing business from him.  I asked if he carried the neoprene triathlon chip strap for my timing chip.  He said no, but I could attach them to my SHOES!  We laughed and I left the store.

Arrival at the Race . . .

I arrived about an hour prior to the race because I wanted to be able to find a good parking spot that would allow me an easy escape after the race.

Decision to make... Do I wear my VFFs while walking around for the hour or do I ditch the shoes in my truck and go barefoot for an hour?  After a couple of ins and outs of my truck, I decided that I didn't want to have to find my way back to my truck just before the race to ditch my Vibrams.  So, I went barefoot.

It was a bit chilly that morning and standing on cool pavement without my shoes didn't help much.  I wandered around the various vendor booths and checked out the starting area.  I'll admit I felt a bit odd standing around barefoot.  I wasn't part of a training group and hadn't found anyone I knew yet.

The Race . . .

When people start lining up at the start, I usually find a good spot in the middle to front.  I am careful about starting so far up front that I'm a pain to those faster than me and on the flip side don't want to have to dodge people slower than myself.

Being that it was my first 5K and barefoot, I didn't want to get too caught up in the adrenaline rush and start out too fast.  I moved myself to at least three-quarters of the way to the back.  HUGE MISTAKE.  Again, being that it was my first 5K, I had no idea that there would be so many strollers, walkers and teams of walkers.  This proved to be quite the obstacle for almost the first half of the race.  Some teams spanned out almost the entire width of the roadway.  When I used to run shod, I would just go onto the shoulder and pass.  Barefoot on a country road, no way that was going to happen.  There was way too much large gravel, thorny-weedy grass and other undesirables for a newbie barefooter to deal with.

By the time I reached the mile mark, things had gotten better.  I had started to get into a groove at about an 8:50 pace.  I was taking it easy as not to aggravate my tender left foot and I also didn't want to blow all my energy at the start.  Just prior to my reaching the mile and a half marker, the lead runners were heading full steam on their way back.  (By the way, it was an out and back course.) 

After I hit the turn around, I had really found a sweet spot.  I had increased my pace to about an 8:30.  I was passing lots of runners now.  I was really focusing on my cadence and stride.  Then I remembered something that Barefoot Jason had written - SMILE.  I was having fun, so I began to SMILE as I ran.  I could hear conversations of people pointing me out.  One lady still on her way out shouted, "Doesn't that hurt?"  I smiled big and replied, "Nope!"  By now I could hear the announcer at the finish calling out names.  I became very excited.  The finish line was approaching!  I was about 2.5 miles in now.

I could see the race photographer.  I smiled big and gave a big two thumbs up as I approached.  I reached the final turn and noticed that the asphalt was very badly worn.   I took the turn wide down the middle of the roadway.  I could see the finish line now.  I increased my pace once more for a final dash as a shod runner tried to beat me into the chute.

The running store owner called out my name as I crossed the finish line.  I had finished my first BAREFOOT race!  Twenty-six minutes and forty-two seconds after I had started, I crossed the finish line.  I ranked 46th out of 321 runners overall.  In my age bracket (30 - 39) I placed 6th out of 27.

Then came my favorite moment of the entire morning.  I approached the volunteers retrieving timing chips.  The high school aged volunteer looked at me, looked down at my feet, and looked back at me. He was speechless.  As he looked to his friend, I said, "Hold on, I'll take care of it."  I bent down, undid the neoprene strap around my ankle and stripped the chip off of the band.  As I stood back up, I handed him the chip.  He stood there looking at the chip in his hand as if it was from outer space or something.  I smiled big and walked away to get some water.  I think he stood there for a good 30 seconds after I left holding the chip in his hand.

Final Thoughts. . .

Truth be told, my left foot was a bit sore due to my TOFP issues (as well as dropping a desk leg across the top of my barefoot 3 days prior to the race).  However, it has been two days since the race and the pain had begun to subside.  While I didn't get to do my barefoot half marathon, I am very glad to have my first barefoot race behind me.  My plan now is to allow my foot to rest and to start back a little slower to allow my feet to fully strengthen.

Stay tuned for some exciting news related to some work I will be doing for the Barefoot Runners Society. . .


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. As a pretty new barefoot runner I haven't run my first barefoot race yet. But I will, eventually.

  2. I was wondering about what one does with the timing chip if there are no shoes. I would be concerned that the band would bother me but I guess not.
    Good report. I love people's reaction to bare feet. Can't wait for my injury to go away. I miss those 'gosh, you have no shoes' comments.

  3. Useful reading your barefoot running experiences - thanks.