Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Journey to a Barefoot 50-mile Endurance Run - Week 3 of 18

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I hope all my readers had a fantastic holiday.  Ours seemed crazier than usual with lots of food to be prepared and gifts to wrap.  Lots of fun was had by all, way too much food was consumed, a giant Nerf gun war, and lots of karaoke singing.  As for gifts, I managed to score a reflective running vest as well as a blinking runners light - now I'll finally be visible on my evening runs!

Last week I had assumed even as Christmas approached I would be able to get in most of my miles for the week.  The plan was T/W/TH = 2/2/4 and 12/8 for Sat/Sun.  Well, that really didn't work out too well.  I managed one midweek run of 7 miles on Thursday evening.  As for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - well ... yeah, that didn't happen either.

The one midweek run I did was pretty decent.  I held a good pace (just over 8-min miles) for most of the 7 miles.  I did have to play mind games at the beginning of the run.  My favorite game that evening was shadow-running.  I watched my shadow to keep an eye on my form.  Minimize the bouncing and concentrate most of my energy to drive me forward.  This kept my mind occupied for the first 3 miles as I was trying to keep myself motivated to get to at least a 3.5-mile turnaround point. 

On my return I had my first ever near fall.  Driving my left foot hard into the sidewalk, I nearly did a forward slide across the concrete.  I managed to catch myself and maintain my run.  Something to say for quick cadence??? 

So, apologies for nothing exciting this week. 

The plan for the coming week is to tack on a few extra miles on the week:  T/W/TH 4/6/6 and S/S 14/8.  Have a great week, everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Journey to a Barefoot 50-mile Endurance Run - Week 2 of 18

Week 2 has been an interesting week on a number of fronts.  As you all probably are experiencing, the stress and bustle of the Christmas season can get pretty crazy sometimes.  Our family and extended family had a wide range of events that happened all in 4 days - everything from the joy of a baptism to the funeral of a loved one and a college graduation.  Additionally, there were Christmas parties to attend.  Despite all of this rushing around and emotional roller coaster of it all, I managed to get almost all of my mileage in.

I managed to get two of my mid-week runs running barefoot despite high 30s nighttime temperatures.  I have been doing a most of my miles in my Sockwas because of the cold, but this week I decided I would just deal with the cold so I could have the joy of having my feet actually in contact with the ground.  I had no problems running in the cold.  That being said, the concrete of the sidewalk is much colder than the asphalt of the street.  Another interesting thing I noticed with my bare feet was the temperature gradients as I passed various landscaping features.  There were noticeable temperature changes (colder) in the first 5 - 6 inches off the ground as I passed areas of plants.  The grass areas were slightly warmer.  Extended periods of running on the sidewalk made the balls of my feet slightly numb so I would try to switch up running on the sidewalk with periods of running on the street.

My third mid-week run was skipped due to one of the aforementioned events.

This weekend I had to switch my Saturday and Sunday distances.  Saturday morning I headed out to Cosumnes River Preserve for a quick 6-mile on a trail.  The temperatures were a very frosty 32-degrees.  After 5 miles, I tried pulling off one of my Sockwas to see how cold the ground was.  It was very cold and wet too.  So, I decided against running at near freezing temperatures with wet feet. 

A cold, frosty start to the morning - just before sunrise

The leafy path and fog

Sunrise across the Cosumnes River Preserve

The temperature was about 40-degrees as I went out for my 10-miler late last Sunday night.  I started off in the Sockwas and switched to barefoot for the second half of the run.  The run started off rough.  As I always tell people, running is about 99% mental.  At about 3-miles my brain started to complain that I was too tired to finish the run.  I had to debate myself out of stopping or turning around.  By the time I reached 4.5 miles, I had found my groove and was floating down the road.  At about 8 miles, my body started to protest all of the food I had eaten over the past 48 hours - 2 Chinese multi-course meals, various cocktails, and a Christmas lunch from that day.  I managed to make it home without any incidents and just over 90 minutes for the run as a whole.  So, I was fairly satisfied with the run.

The thing I have been learning to do lately is how to run on a relatively full stomach.  I've always been a weak-stomach runner.  Before races I used to only manage a slice of toast with peanut butter.  I had a breakthrough last summer with the Skyline 50K that taught me that I could eat a lot of different stuff without adverse effects.  This week was definitely no different.  Wednesday night, I had eaten a very healthy bakers dozen or more of chicken nuggets about an hour before my run.  If that didn't put a damper on my running, then I don't know what would.

For this coming week, the running plan is 2/2/4 on T/W/TH and 12/8 for Saturday and Sunday.  The challenge will be that this weekend is Christmas.  I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to manage the weekend miles.  I guess you'll find out when I post next Monday!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Journey to a Barefoot 50-mile Endurance Run - Week 1 of 18

This is the first of 18 weekly installments as I train and prepare for my first 50-mile ultramarathon.  This will be the longest distance I have run with or without shoes and of course, I plan to do it barefoot.

My goal race is the American River 50 Endurance Run on April 7, 2012.  This week (of December 5, 2011) marks my first week of 18 weeks of training to come.  Each week I plan to write a short summation of my training for the week and a look toward the week to come.

My training for this race is based on the schedule produced by the Santa Clarita Runners website for ultramarathon training.  It is a schedule based on successive days of running.  I will be running Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  Long runs are back to back on Saturdays and Sundays.  It's a fairly simple plan, but definitely rigorous.  I used a similar plan from their site when training for the Skyline 50K.  However, I lagged a bit while training for that race and did not complete several of the longer runs.

This time around I don't believe I will able to "fake it" or just "dig deep" for a 50-mile finish.  So, I intend to hit as many of the runs as possible and keep the missed runs as close to zero as I can.

So with that introduction. . . Here is Week 1 of training. . .

This past week (Dec. 5 - 11):  Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday - 2 miles each;  Saturday 8-miles, Sunday 6-miles.

I officially started my training on Tuesday, December 6th with an easy, evening 2-mile run.  Even though it was quite chilly out, I wanted to be sure to start out on the right foot (a bare one).  The air temperature was hovering in the upper 30s (F) and the concrete sidewalks were definitely closer to freezing!  I remembered reading something about a barefoot snow-runner dunking his feet in hot water before snow running to get the blood flowing and feet warm before going out.  I gave it a shot - well sorta.  I ran the hot water in the tub over my feet for a couple minutes - then headed out.

One thing about cold-weather running for me is that I run much faster.  So, cold-weather runs = speed workouts for me.  I managed an even 16-minutes for the 2 miles.  I varied my run between asphalt and concrete.  I had been taking some time off of running in November so I wanted to get my feet stimulated.

The ground was cold, but not unbearably so.  I was concerned because I did have an incident last January in which the tips of my toes had swollen following a run on sub-freezing concrete.  There was no problem with that this time.  However, I did notice that the couple times I skirted across the grass from street to sidewalk that the spray of dew across my feet caused a considerable temperature change.  This happened about 3 times during the run, the last one unintended due to a person walking their dog off-leash.

The next two nights I chose to wear my Sockwa G2s.  These shoes are awesome!  They are so thin (1.2 mm) that you can really feel the ground but keep your feet comfortably warm.  On Thursday, I was having issues with my Garmin not syncing with the satellites and spent a good 5 minutes standing on the cold sidewalk - even the G2s couldn't keep my feet warm.  I finally gave up, since I knew the exact distance I was running and just took off using the stopwatch only. 

Saturday morning came and I chose to get a good 8-mile trail run (as it turned out I ended up doing about 7.4 due to avoiding wildlife photographers).  I headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  The ground was very frosty and the bridge heading over to the trails was iced over.  Thankfully, I chose to wear my G2s again.  Being back on a trail was heaven!  I love the feel of the ground, rocks, gravel and well, no mud this time.  In the coming weeks, I am hoping to mix up minimalist/bare trail runs to maintain good running form.  I have managed to run cold-weather for two years barefoot.  I think I'm just being prissy this year.

I closed out the week this morning with a quick 6-mile run (about 55 minutes).  So, that is my first week of training - a total of 19.4 miles. 

The mileage plan for the coming week:  T/W/TH at 2/2/4  and Sat/Sun at 10/6

Stay tuned.  . .

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sockwa G2 Minimalist Shoe Review

This article was originally published in the blog section of www.barefoot-running.us.  Enjoy!

As a barefoot/minimalist runner, I run over 85% of my miles barefoot.  I am very particular about any “shoes” that I wear for a run.  In extreme weather (hot or cold), I will run in huaraches.  For very rugged trails or gravel levees I might wear Vibram KSOs.  The Sockwa G2 offers something in-between. 
When the Sockwa G2s arrived, my first thought was that they were basically water shoes.  One of my co-workers that I train with runs in water shoes.  Her shoes and the ones I examined in the local mega-store have fairly thick, inflexible soles.  Water shoes are difficult to fold in half.  The Sockwas can be rolled into a small tube.  There is also a noticeable weight difference.  

The first evening I had them, I wore them around the house.  They are very comfortable.  They quite literally feel like you are wearing socks.  I made sure to trim my toenails.  Because of the snug fit, I was concerned that any sharp nails might wear quickly on the neoprene uppers.

The G2 has a ultra-thin 1.2 mm TPU sole.  (For comparison, my huaraches are 4 mm.)  The snug neoprene uppers offer some protection from debris that might be kicked up on the road or trail.  The top of the shoe has a breathable spandex-type material.
Like the name implies, the Sockwa G2 fits like a sock.  It is snug, but very comfortable.  Due to the ultra-thin sole, the shoe is extremely flexible.  I was concerned that the snugness of the upper material would inhibit toe splay.  However, during my runs my feet did not feel restrained.
The foot bed has a very thin layer of neoprene material.  It is cushy, but not overly padded.
First Test Run:
I took the G2s out for their first trial on a 10-mile morning training run.  My intention was to only wear them for about a mile.  They turned out to be so lightweight and comfortable that they stayed on for the first four miles.  At that point, I felt a slight hot spot developing on the tops of my two smallest toes on my right foot.  I removed them for 2 miles and then I tried them again for another mile.  Another light hot spot developed under the inside ball of my right foot.  So, I figured that was enough for their first trial.
Additional testing:
A couple days following the first run, I took them out for a 4-mile night run.  I wanted to determine the cause of the “hot spot” issue.  I started out with a quick mile (7:45 pace – fast for me).  Next I did 2 miles very easy (12-minute pace).  I closed out the run with another fast mile.  Not once did I sense a hot spot developing anywhere on either foot.  It appears that the initial “hot spot” issue on my toes could have been from some rubbing against the stitching toward the outside of the shoe.  However, there were no issues on this and subsequent runs with the stitching.
In addition to my first two runs, I took them out several more times on runs as well as wearing them for an afternoon at work.  They provided protection from warm/hot asphalt on an 80-degree California afternoon.  You can feel the warmth of the asphalt or concrete through the soles.  The G2s are very comfortable to wear at work if nobody minds you wearing moccasin/sock-like shoes.
The G2s can give a slight measure of protection from chip-seal asphalt.  The chip-seal that these were tested on was pretty horrific and barely tolerable in bare feet.  Since the Sockwas have excellent ground feel, you definitely feel the gravel.  However, the shoes give some relief from the really sharp stuff. 
I did receive one blister on the ball of my foot during testing.  However, in all fairness, I must state that the blister developed after I finished running a barefoot half marathon.  I had gone back to run some friends to the finish during the last mile.  The G2s had gotten wet and my feet were already slightly tender.

Extremely lightweight
Ultra-thin, flexible sole
Comfortable feel

Possible blistering

Overall, I feel that the Sockwa G2 is an excellent addition to a barefoot/minimalist runner’s arsenal of shoes.  They allow for excellent ground feel and are extremely flexible – both musts for a barefoot runner.  The G2s offer a thin layer of protection from general abrasions during road running. 
If you are a regular road-runner who is looking for minimal protection from the surface and are not satisfied by the weight of other minimalist options, you will likely be pleased with the Sockwa G2.  For those who are not ready or able to make the barefoot leap, this might be just the to get that maximum barefoot-feel without being truly barefoot.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Made the local paper again!

So, yesterday I raced in my 3rd barefoot half marathon - Stockton's inaugural St. Joseph's Half Marathon.  Also in the race was my mom, racing in Vibrams, as well as two of my co-workers who I trained for this race - Jeannie & Jessica. 

My mom and I made the paper as the "mother and son" team.  Enjoy the article... race report coming soon!

Why They Run - from The Record newspaper

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My First Barefoot Ultramarathon: The Skyline 50K - Part II

So, I left off with me heading out from Skyline Gate realizing that I had not even bothered to grab my drop bag.   I was mildly concerned whether or not I would have enough shot bloks to last the remaining hours of the race.  Being only a half hour ahead of the cutoff, I chose to push on because it was likely that I had enough to get me through.
About a mile or two down the trail, I started to realize that my head was really getting down in the weeds.  I was starting to feel like crap and my focus was poor.  My fingers had begun to swell and were starting to look like red sausages.  I felt like I had mild tunnel vision.  I swung my pack around and pulled two Hammer Electrolyte pills out and downed them with water and Gu2O.  After about 10 minutes, my head cleared up and I felt incredible.  Even my fingers felt a little less swollen. 
I starting moving steadily down the single-track trail through the gorgeous redwood forest.  This was some of the best trail running I’ve done to date (not that I’ve done a lot).  The ground was soft with the dirt and needles from the trees and it was gorgeous.  I felt like the guy from the trail running video from movenat.com, effortlessly gliding across the trail, over rocks, down shallow dips, surrounded by redwoods, ferns and creeks.  It was truly my favorite part of the course.
Pausing for a pic among the redwoods

For reference, Skyline Gate is roughly the furthest point out on a figure-8 course from the start/finish line.  The beautiful redwood section runs about 6 miles as it winds its way back towards Big Bear aid station through and across many intersecting trails.  The race officials had really taken care to mark the course well considering the many trails that seem to crisscross the parks in the area.  Yellow ribbons were present to reassure you that you were on course.  At every possible trail intersection there were white chalk arrows for the correct trail and a line with the word “NO” across the front of the wrong path.  They also had race officials seemingly in the middle of nowhere to point out the correct course at certain junctions.  

As the morning wore on, there were more and more hikers on the trail – many of them had dogs.  I can’t remember the last time I ran around so many dogs.  Fortunately the dogs were all well trained and did not seem to pay much attention to the runners.  There was one section of trail where I passed a few people running the trails with their dogs.  The dogs got ahead of them and started running along with me.  As they called back their dogs, the dogs looked back with a bit of confusion.  They joked that the dogs must have thought they were running with their barefoot pack leader.
Later on, a couple of runners caught up with me and said, “We’ve been following your foot prints, but I thought you were in Vibrams not actually barefoot!”
I came back out of the redwoods just before lunch – crossing the road and hitting the Big Bear aid station for the second time that morning.  I had run just over 20 miles at this point.  I was reaching my furthest distance ever run barefoot (20.41 miles).  I popped a couple S! Caps to keep my head clear.  After refueling at the aid station I headed back onto the trail.  The trail passed back through the parking lot at MacDonald gate staging area.  This parking lot is gravel and now my feet were beginning to feel a bit tender.  I navigated through the parking lot without too much trouble since it was maybe 30 yards across.
A long way down to the trail below

From here there is a 500-foot climb over about a mile before the long downhill to the finish.  I believe this was the point in which my quads went from a bit tired to completely trashed.  I pushed myself to keep a 15-minute pace on the climbs, but it was becoming increasingly difficult.  As I crested the ridge I thought I was out of the woods.  It actually became the point at which I started to realize that the last handful of miles (mostly downhill) might actually be more difficult than I had envisioned. 
I reached Bort Meadow at 23.3 miles and chatted with the volunteers there as they filled my pack with water.  After they filled it, I tried to take it back to close the cap.  My fingers were still slightly swollen and I had no real dexterity to put the lid back on.  Fortunately, one of the gentlemen there told the gal with my pack to take care of it so I could get some food and get out of there.  It reminded me of when I volunteered at Western States, taking care of bottles and packs for the runners.  The reason we were instructed to do this all made sense now because the simple things like twisting bottle lids becomes more difficult.
While I was eating a conversation broke out among the volunteers about my running barefoot.  They asked the usual questions about how long I had been running barefoot and if I had been barefoot the whole race. Then one lady made the funniest comment I had heard on the trail that day.
“I don’t know whether to be impressed or horrified,” she said.
I had a good laugh at that as I threw my pack back on and headed out across the parking lot.  The gravel and paved sections were pretty horrific but not too long.  I wanted to get back onto the dirt fire roads.  My feet were becoming increasingly tender which made the little rocks more painful and annoying than the larger ones.  I made sure to run through every mud puddle I could find.  This served a dual purpose – first, a nice cooling splash of water on my heated feet; second, and more importantly, it was FUN!
As I had mentioned before, I had realized that the last miles were going to be difficult going even though it was mostly downhill.  My trashed quads were becoming weaker as the miles wore on.  I was quickly becoming unable to run slow or fast downhill due to the fading strength in my quads. 
Despite the soreness that was building in my quads, I actually felt great.  I knew that I had about 5 miles to the finish.  I had basically run a marathon at that point.  I downed a couple more hammer caps and the last of my shot bloks.  Even though I had no doubts in my mind whether I’d be able to complete the 50K, this was the point at which I became excited at the reality that I was going to finish my first ultra and barefoot!
As I came out of the forest and up onto the ridge before Honker Bay, I got my first glimpse of Lake Chabot.  This was a real morale booster.  I knew that all I had left to do was to make it around the shoreline to reach the finish!  I was hiking slowly up a hill when I saw the Honker Bay aid station.  I broke into a steady run as the hill leveled off.  I remembered this intersection of trails from my day of mountain biking the trail.  This would be the last aid station before the finish.  It was also the top of  a 300-foot descent to the lake’s edge.  

First view of Lake Chabot on the return

When I reached the aid station, I pulled out my water bottle.  I had downed the last of my sports drink about a half-mile back and was seriously wanting more.   I passed it to a volunteer who dutifully filled it and passed it back to me.  I distinctly remember eating quite a bit at this aid station.  I had 4 chunks of banana, the equivalent of a snickers bar that had been cut up into cubes, and a handful of M&Ms. The volunteers informed me that I only had 3 miles to the finish.
The time was a little after 1:30 and the fog had rolled back and the sun was warming the ground.  I headed down the wide dirt fire road.  This last downhill proved to be extremely difficult.  I ended up walking most of the half-mile downhill.  My quads were thoroughly trashed and my feet felt every tiny pebble as if they were needles.  Once I made it to the bottom, I took off at a steady run.  I was able to get down to between a 10 and 11 minute pace.  I was quite amazed that I had the ability to gain that pace.  I really needed it though, since I had fallen back during the second half of the race.
While running along the lake a lady in Vibrams caught up with me.  I think her name was Joan.  We chatted and ended up running most of the final 2 miles together.  I told her about the BRS.  She told me about her transition to Vibrams.
Source:  Skyline 50K Website
When we reached this bridge just under 2 miles from the finish, I was worried.  On my biking trip, I had scouted this bridge.  The metal steps on the far side have oval holes with vicious looking teeth.  The bridge, or more precisely the staircase, was the main reason I was carrying my huaraches.  I told Joan I didn’t want to lose time getting my sandals out when we were so close to the finish.  So, I braced my arms on the handrails and stepped down lightly and evenly on the step.  It worked!  I maneuvered my way step by step, putting most of my weight on my arms while balancing myself with my feet.  I gained the top of the stairs with lots of stares from the numerous hikers and bikers at the top.
I had done it!  I had reached the final stretch.  Joan and I continued to run reaching the paved path that would take us to the finish.  There were a few steep switchbacks, which we walked and then resumed running as soon as we reached the top.   With less than a half mile to go, Joan’s knee started bothering her.  She told me to go on ahead.
As I rounded a small peninsula on the lake I could see the marina.  The excitement really started to build inside me.
“Keep running.” I told myself. “Less than a quarter mile to go!” 
As I approached the picnic areas, I saw orange fencing material.
“That’s the chute!“  I thought to myself.
I sped up.  When I reached the fencing, I realized it was only there to keep people off the bank of the lake. 
Upon passing the misleading fencing material I saw two signs pointing to the right.  I looked and saw the final bridge crossing.  I heard a cowbell ringing!  They were calling me in!!!
As I crossed the bridge I saw my family standing at the finish line.  My wife and my mom had their cell phone cameras up snapping pictures.  Amazingly, I started sprinting for the finish.  Thirty-one plus miles and here I was sprinting. 
I crossed the finish line and walked about ten feet past it.  I bent down and put my hands on my knees and exhaled a deep breath and stood back up.  
Approaching the finish line
I had just run 31.65 miles!  I couldn’t believe it.  I had completed my first ultramarathon and I’d done it barefoot!
Official time:  7:23:55
Post-race update: 

My feet post race (next morning)

I hobbled around my house for about 2 days.  Unfortunately for me my house has stairs.  It was quite a feat to maneuver up and down the stairs the first day or two.  My feet did remain somewhat swollen and tender for about 4 days.  I had pictures of the wasp stings, but they did not come out too clear.  However, nearly 2 weeks have passed since the race and I still have itchy traces of the bites.

I have to say that I really appreciated all of the runners and volunteers at the Skyline 50K.  They were all very positive and supportive of me running barefoot.  I did not get one ill comment the entire day.  Most people were excited to see me and cheered me on.  It really made the day all the more memorable.
I’m truly amazed that I finished a 50K ultramarathon.  Five years ago I would have never guessed that I would be at this point.  In fact, if you had asked me if I’d run an ultra, I’d have told you that you were crazy. 
Next stop 50 miles!

Monday, August 15, 2011

My First Barefoot Ultramarathon: The Skyline 50K - Part I

The Skyline 50K is a trail run held the first Sunday in August in Castro Valley, California.  I knew it might be a tough one.  First of all, I knew that the course was very hilly.  Second, I live in a flat town.  There are no hills in the immediate area in which to train regularly.
A few weeks prior to the race, I headed out there with my wife’s cousin to scout out part of the course on mountain bikes.  I realized quickly that there were some steep hills.  Reviewing the course profile, I realized that there were some stretches that lasted a mile or more.  So, after seeing the course first hand and reading about other ultramarathoners strategies for racing, I decided that my plan of attack would be to walk as fast as I could on the uphills and make up time on the downs and flats.
In the weeks leading up to the race I had fallen behind on my training due to the general demands of life with a family.  The longest training run I was able to manage was 20.5 miles mostly on flat asphalt.  (I was supposed to hit 24 miles as a peak run.)  I tried to work at least one run a week on trails.  However, the trail that was closest to me was, again, basically flat.
Despite my training flaws, I was feeling confident that I could complete the 31.65-mile course in under the 8-hour time limit.  I did have a secret goal time, but we’ll get back to that later.
I had officially signed up for the race the Tuesday night before the race.  Up until that point, my nerves hadn’t really kicked in.  After registering I felt a looming presence every time I thought about the race.  Fortunately, I was able to overcome those feelings with positive visualization of me completing the race.
The day before the race I organized my gear.  This was my first race where I’d be allowed a drop bag (stay tuned for more on that).  I packed my second bandana, extra salt caps, pretzel sticks, and CLIF Shots.  I also made some bags of Cytomax powder to mix on the run just in case the course sports drink wasn’t agreeing with me.  Lastly, I threw in my VFFs.  This last-resort precaution was in case the trail became truly barefoot unfriendly.
That night, I was still running around the house making sure everything was packed in the right bag.  Then about bedtime, I realized I had not repaired and re-tied my huarache sandals.  I pulled up a couple of videos from Invisible Shoes and got them situated.  My huaraches were my immediate backup if sections of the trail where I suspected gravel were un-bare-able.  These I placed in the slip pouch of my hydration pack.
Considering my normal sleepless night before a big race, I slept pretty well.  I woke up at 4 a.m. without any grogginess.  I showered, applied generous amount of Body Glide in all of the necessary areas and then some – then tossed it in my drop bag, just in case.  I cooked some oatmeal and tossed in a bit of chia seeds for good measure.  I packed up the remaining goodies, pulled my water bottle, containing Cytomax, out of the fridge, loaded up the car and headed out.
The drive to the race took just over an hour.  As I was exiting the freeway I began to feel a bit nauseous.  I started wondering if I was going to toss my breakfast before the race.  I arrived at the park without incident, parked, then headed over to the check-in table in picnic area.  After I got my bib, I noticed something that I had seen at Western States – many runners had folded their bib to a small rectangle bearing their number only. 
“Hmm . . . Is this how the ultra-crowd does it?

Next headed over to the restrooms to . . . well, we’ll skip that part. 
I head back to my car to get my gear.  I did one last check of my bags to make sure everything was there.  I put on the hydration pack and my water belt. 
Hmm . . . Now where to affix my bib? 
The area on the front of my shirt was now crowded by the shoulder straps of the pack and my water belt covered my waist.  I did see someone attach the entire unfolded bib to their shorts.  That looked way too awkward as the bib practically covered the entire front of one leg. 
“Well,” I thought, “if I’m going to become one of these ultra guys today, maybe I should fold my number.”
The folded number looked much more manageable on my shorts, so I kept it that way and headed back to the staging area with my drop bag.
While waiting for the start of the race a gal named Micky asked if I was going to run in my huaraches.
I said, “No, I’m taking them off for the race.”
“You’re going to race completely barefoot.”
“That’s great!”
That was probably the first time at the start of a race where someone was not completely puzzled by my racing barefoot.  This was actually a sign of many great conversations to come along the course.
I wandered over towards the grass area by the marina and awaited the start.  A couple more people asked me about racing barefoot.  And then, after a few minutes of chatting someone stood up on something near the front of the pack and said, “GO!”  It was kind of anti-climactic.  I was expecting an air horn or some RAH RAH speech over a bunch of loud speakers before the start like at most races. 
So, we were off.
The first couple of miles of the Skyline are along Lake Chabot on a paved bike path.  The start is fairly smooth but it deteriorates the further away you get from the marina.  It never breaks down to something completely barefoot unfriendly, but it does not maintain a consistent surface.  By the time you reach the dam, the asphalt has turned into something more like chip seal, but again nothing unmanageable.  (Note:  I have run barefoot on 9 miles of pretty rough chip seal during a previous half marathon – this wasn’t that bad.)
As I mentioned before, my strategy for the race was to walk, fast, up hills of any significant length while bombing down the hills and across the flats.  In the opening few miles, there were a few moderate hills that many people chose to walk.  The good part about this was that even though I was fresh, I was able to maintain about a 15-minute pace while conserving energy, then blast down the other side.

Not long after crossing the dam the thinning group moved onto a nice dirt fire road and trails.  While running on the Goldenrod Trail, I noticed several people stopping and shouting about something.  As I passed by I realized wasps or bees had stung them.  Just as I made this realization, a fiery sensation sunk into my left shoulder. 
Damn!  Wasps!
This happened to me the last year at my first barefoot 10K trail run in an area not too far from here.  I started running faster to move out of the area where they were apparently swarming.  After I had gone a hundred yards or so, I slowed down to check my shoulder.  I found a nice half-inch welt at the top of my shoulder.
“Great!” I thought.  “I’m only at something like mile 3.”
And as I was thinking that, another fiery sensation hit me in the outside of my right thigh.
Shit.  More wasps!
I started running faster again.  A few others around me were dealing with the same thing.  Throughout the rest of the day I spoke with others who had been stung on their arms and legs.  One poor guy had gotten stung or bit multiple times on his back. 
As things settled down, I reached the first aid station, Grass Valley at 4.3 miles, with water and Gu2O only.  No problem – oh wait, no cups, they were only filling bottles.  Well, since my pack and bottle were still full, I plowed ahead.  I think at this point I was chatting with a guy named Gary, I think he was running with TNT.  As we were quickly running down a hill towards a cattle gate, I realized that there was a patch of large gravel at the bottom before the gate.  With a quick shifting of lanes I managed to maneuver around Gary and the gravel and arrive safely at the gate.  After another mile, the trail opened up to some nice rolling, grass-covered hills. 

Gary was running a pretty good pace, so I dropped back on a hill so we each could run our own race.  This part of the trail was quite nice to run on – mostly dirt and only about 300 feet of gradual gain in elevation.   It was also the shortest section between aid stations - about 2 miles.  Bort Meadow was the first full aid station at 6.29 miles into the course.  I approached the Bort Meadow aid station I was greeted with a very broken paved path and the gravel parking lot.  The path and parking lot were manageable since my feet were quite fresh. 
I dumped the last quarter of my Cytomax and had my bottled refilled with Gu2O.  As I headed down the trail again I swung my pack around and pulled out some shot bloks, quickly downed a few, packed the rest into my belt and got moving again.  I was very conscious of staying hydrated and keeping my electrolytes balanced.  This always seemed to be my challenge in marathons and I did not want it to ruin my shot at my first ultra.
Leaving Bort Meadow the trail begins one of the steeper climbs – about 400 feet in just over a mile.  For someone who had not trained on hills, it seemed like a never-ending mile.  Along this section of trail, I chatted with a guy named Doanh.  He had done the course before and didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry.  We took turns leading and falling behind for the next few miles.  I fell behind more, but caught up with him at Big Bear aid station. 
I reached Big Bear a little over an hour and a half into the run.  As I was getting my bottle filled and downing some bananas, the gal there asked us if we needed any S!Caps.  I had a stash of Hammer electrolytes in my pack, but didn’t want to dig them out.  So, I took my first ever S! Caps and headed out of the station and across the road to the trail.  My hope was that the S! Caps and Hammer Electrolytes would be the answer to my weakness during distance races – the dreaded dry heaves.
The first two miles out of Big Bear were a lot of nice single-track trail.  However, there was a section of gravel-strewn path that ran through a couple of gravel parking lots leading to the Canyon Meadow Staging Area.  It was more annoying than painful to run across and I was happy to get back onto the dirt fire roads leading out of Canyon Meadow.  Well, mostly happy.  The fire roads leading out are the start of a 3-mile, 750+ foot (that’s net) climb to Skyline Gate.
As I was approaching Skyline gate, the foggy mist was wafting over the trail.  I was looking down into one of the canyons.  I popped out my camera to take a shot.   It was then that I realized that the orange fencing along the left side of the trail was not just any fence, but electrical fence holding back a large herd of goats.  This lapse in focus actually was the hint of something more to come.  

I made my way past the goats and their goat-herder’s trailer.  At this point the trail became mostly gravel as it was leading to the paved path into Skyline Gate.  I looked at my GPS watch and it said I had gone about 13.7 miles or so.  Skyline was supposed to be at 14.4.  Later in the race I realized that my watch was losing count on miles due to heavy tree cover.  However, at the time, I couldn’t get my head wrapped around what was happening. 
I heard someone shout, “Welcome to Skyline Gate!” as myself and a few other runners were entering the area.  I wandered up to the table and again grabbed some bananas.  I also popped a salted potato for good measure (I had seen these at Western States and was curious).   Next I got my bottle filled.
Before heading out, I pulled out my cell phone to text my family my location.  I had given a chart to my wife to calculate splits for 10-minute, 12-minute and the cut-off 15-minute miles for each aid station.  The idea was to be at the finish with our kids and my parents at the finish when I got there.  The time was just before 10 a.m. - which put me about a half hour ahead of the cut-off.  To this point, I had been averaging about a 12-minute pace.  I had hopes for 10-minutes, but satisfied with 12s.  In my head, I guesstimated that I would be finishing over 6 hours, but in under 7.  Having sent out my message, I headed out of Skyline and back onto the fire-road.
Like I said before, this was the first race I’ve done that had drop bags.  However, I had been so preoccupied with getting some food in, bottle filled, and pondering what the hell was going on with my watch that I failed to get my bag before leaving Skyline.  It was about a half mile down the trail that I realized my error.  I decided that there was no way I was running back to the station.  I quickly catalogued in my mind what supplies I had in my pack.  I figured I had just enough shot bloks to get me to the finish.  Worst case, I had some Jelly Belly Sports Beans and there was always stuff at the aid stations.  With that I settled back into my run.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My First Presentation on Barefoot Running & related news article

Last Monday, July 18, 2011, I gave my first formal talk on Barefoot Running at the local REI in Stockton, CA.  There was quite a good turn out.  The room was pretty much full and had a handful of familiar faces - my parents (of course), my wife's cousin (who is now training barefoot with me), a couple of my old shod training buddies, a neighbor, and the father of a buddy of mine (both of whom are runners.  It also turned out that one of my high school PE coaches was present in the audience.  He approached me after the talk.  That was pretty cool.

Going into the presentation I was worried that I would not be able to fill the time slot of an hour plus.  In the end, it was perfectly timed.  I had intended to video the presentation and even had the camera set up.  However, in my nervous state just before the talk, I forgot to turn on the camera!

For the presentation I gave a brief introduction of how I came to BFR, a little about the Barefoot Runners Society, a brief history of BFR, how to get started in BFR, and a discussion of minimalist running.  I had planned to show a couple of short video clips of Barefoot KenBob, Last Place Jason, and Lieberman's video of impact forces, however, due to a technical glitch in my powerpoint I was unable to play the videos.  Nonetheless, the night went fairly well and people seemed to enjoy the talk.  I hope that the local barefoot running scene picks up, since it would be nice to have some local runners to train with. 

I may offer to do a class on the actual implementation of BFR next time rather than just talking about it.  All in all, I had fun.

This is the link to the article that The Record did on barefoot running in advance of my presentation last Monday night at REI in Stockton.  Enjoy!


Monday, July 4, 2011

2011 Western States 100 Endurance Run

What an experience!!!  What else can I say?

I have been a runner for the past 5 years.  In those years I have never volunteered at a race.  So, for my first volunteer experience I thought I'd help out at a little known race - the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run.   I spent the day at the Forest Hill Aid Station at mile-62 of the Run.

My day actually began earlier in the morning at the Run 4 Independence in Elk Grove, CA.  I had trained several staff and parents from the school I work at to run their first 10K.  So, the first part of my day began with me cheering on my runners.  I also bumped into fellow barefoot runner, Running Romeo, and his son who were racing in the 5K.  Romeo (aka Rob), running barefoot, and his son, in Vibrams, had an exciting sprint to the finish with Rob edging out his son at the line.  Congratulations to Janice, Jeannie, Jessica and Kathy for completing their first 10K!  Additional note, Jeannie ran the race in water shoes.

Running Romeo & Son at Run 4 Independence
My 10K Runners and I at Run 4 Independence

After the 10K race was done and congratulations and water were passed around.  I headed up the hill toward the little town of Forest Hill.  I made a quick call to my wife to check the latest information coming from the race.  The leaders were about a third of the way along the course.  "Amazing," I thought.

When I arrived at Forest Hill, the town was buzzing with spectators, volunteers, and crews all over the tiny town.  Cars were lined up and down the street.  I walked up to the volunteer booth and checked in and got my "Race Official" T-shirt. 

My job - "Greeter".  Now, when I first found out this is what I was going to be doing, I thought, "Oh great, I'm going to be directing spectators and answering questions all day."  My wife joked (in a very jovial, sarcastic voice), "Did you stand around all day saying to the runners, 'Hi, my name is Terry.  How are you today?'"

My actual experience that day was as far from those scenarios as you could get.  I got to run alongside runners as they arrived at mile-62 and guide them through the aid station.  I made sure they made it to the weigh-in station with the doctors, took their bottles and packs and got them filled with whatever they needed, made sure they had an opportunity to eat, guided them to their crew or dropbag and made sure they got checked-out of the aid station.

I was standing by the entrance to the aid station when the front-runners, including winner WS100 Killian Jornet, came racing through the aid station about 2:30 in the afternoon.  I was fortunate enough to run fellow barefoot/minimalist runner "Last Place Jason" Robillard through the station and hang out with his crew for a short time.  I was even standing by when THE MAN, Gordy Ainsley, passed through the aid station that night (unfortunately Gordy dropped there at Foresthill).

Switching out shoes and clearing blisters

Jason and his pacer leaving Forest Hill
When Jason was coming through the aid station, he asked about the 24-hour cut off.  I had to break the news to him that he was 45 minutes behind the cutoff.  However, he was safely inside the 30-hour cutoff time.  Jason took some time with his crew to change out his shoes and lance and clear a few blisters.  Then, Jason and his pacer headed back out onto the course with hopes of clinching a silver Western States buckle.

One of the most amazing things I noticed that day was how strong so many of the runners appeared as they arrived at the aid station.  I mean, really now, you just ran 62 miles over snow, through canyons and over mountains and you look like that?   Many of the runners were in high-spirits.  They were smiling and waving at the crowds.  They were grateful and courteous to the many volunteers at the station.  Several runners entered the station holding up digital cameras to record video of the scene at Forest Hill.  One video, made by James Elson from London, England shows the approach to the Forest Hill aid station (you can see me at about 50 seconds on the right side of the screen escort him into the station).  Others had their children running alongside as they approached the station.  It was quite an eventful day.

I am truly impressed by the dedication and organization of the aid-station captain Lon Monroe.  That man knows how to run a ship.  Watching Lon work was amazing.  Everything had a clear plan.  Though Lon had extremely high expectations for everyone and everything at the aid station, he ran the crew with humility and a sense of humor.  At our pre-opening meeting, Lon would sometimes answer a question with a humorous comment as if he had no idea what we were all doing there.  You could often find him checking on individual runners (he seemed to know many of them) to see how they were doing.

Most of the runners I saw were strong through mile-62, a few were badly beaten.  I saw one runner who had so many blisters on his feet they ended up removing the skin on the bottom and replacing it with tape, powdered his feet, put on dry socks and shoes and sent him on his way - AMAZING!

At about 30 minutes to closing, an official blew an airhorn 3 times.  Minutes later a crowd of bobbing headlamps could be seen charging up the hill toward us.  This happened two more times at 20 minutes and 10 minutes - each time a small crowd rushing toward the aid station to beat the cutoff.  The last runner I escorted through the aid station was a Swede who wanted to call it quits.  He entered the station with less than 5 minutes to the cutoff.  Many of us volunteers encouraged him to pick up a pacer and get out of the aid station gate (he had less than 2 minutes before the last cutoff).  He managed to continue onto the next aid station 3+ miles down the trail before ultimately dropping.

After the final horn, the volunteers broke down the aid station and packed away all of the gear.  It was pretty quick work - about 45 minutes or so.  I headed down the road to Placer High School to see what was going on at the finish line.  Cars lined the streets surrounding the school.  The football field was covered with tents.  I found a parking spot and wandered over to the field.  When I asked an official at the runner info tent, I was surprised and delighted to hear that Jason had picked up about an hour of time and was likely to finish under the 24 hour cutoff.  With that I called it a day and hopped in my truck for the long drive home. 
The Finish Line for the Western States 100

View from above the stadium

As it turned out, barefoot/minimalist runner, Jason Robillard did manage to pick up just over an hour of time and finished at 23:39 to receive the coveted Silver Western States buckle!  Congratulations, "Last Place Jason".  It was truly a privilege to be present at such an awesome race - what an amazing experience!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Western States 100

So, it's official!  I'm working at the aid station at mile 62 of the Western States 100!!!!

I am very excited to be a part of my first ultramarathon.  I have been training for the past month gearing up for my first ultra, the Skyline 50k at the beginning of August.  So, to get a glimpse of these hard core ultramarathoners is going to be a real treat!

I'm hoping to meet "Last Place Jason" Robillard author of The Barefoot Running Book: A Practical Guide to the Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running.

Good luck to all runners racing this coming Saturday for the Western States 100!  See you there!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon

My 2nd barefoot half marathon is officially done!  That being said, I should probably change my name to "Stubborn" Barefoot Terry.

Why, you may ask?

Well, let's start with being under trained for this race.

For some reason, the Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon seems to come at a time when I'm not fully trained up for the distance.  I've run this race twice now - the first time was the inaugural race (I was still running shod).  I had run the California International the previous December and had not put in much serious running since.  Yet, I was compelled to run this race because it was the inaugural race and the most local half marathon around at the time.  I suffered for my lack of training and ran/walked the second half of the race.  I finished at 2:22:49.  Not bad, but easily a half hour over my PR.

If you've been following my journey, you know that a couple months ago I had a terrible cough/cold that put me out of commission for two months.  Prior to getting sick I had completed my first barefoot half marathon and was working my way toward a 50K race in March.  Since recovering from my illness, my training miles have been sorely lacking.  I've been lucky recently to get out a couple days a week at best for short runs, but nothing very long.  In fact, since coming back my longest run was a 10K for International Barefoot Running Day on May 1, 2011. 

The day before the race I was feeling very much "off".  I had slight nausea, dizziness, achiness, and let's just say issues in the bathroom.  I tried to sleep it off through the day and missed a family baby shower.  My goal in sleeping was to be able to attend my son's first communion and dinner that night.  I made it through dinner but was not feeling great and likely a bit dehydrated.  My son, however, must have had something similar because he vomited twice that evening before we managed to get home.

I informed my parents that I was unsure if I would run the race the next morning.  Both of my parents were going to be running in this year's event - Dad in the 5K and Mom in the half marathon (wearing VFFs).  Since they were planning to drive me to the race, I told them to text me in the morning.

Strangely, sleep came pretty quick that night (I never manage to sleep early or well before races). However, I slept very lightly and got up a few times during the night.  I woke at 5 a.m. to be ready to leave by 5:45.  I showered and went down to get some breakfast.  As the oatmeal was cooking, I found myself doubting that I would be able to stomach anything.  I managed half a bite of oatmeal before my parents arrived.  I grabbed my water bottle, belt, and huarache sandals and headed out.

After we had parked,  I headed over to the winery to get my bib.

A very tall gentleman stopped me and asked if I'd be running in my sandals. 

"Nope," I said.  "I'll be running barefoot."

Like most people who inquire of us barefoot runners, he was amazed.  We wished each other luck and I headed off.

After I had retrieved my number and timing chip, I wandered outside to find my parents again.  Dad was running around getting warmed up.  My mom however took to pointing out the various clusters of runners who were pointing and talking about me standing there in my sandals.

A couple of ladies approached me to ask the usual set of questions -
   - Are you really running like that?
   - So, your feet must be really calloused, right?
   - Can we see the bottom of your feet?

I chatted with them and answered their questions.  Then one asked, "But, doesn't that hurt?"

I've been reading Barefoot KenBob's new book, Barefoot Running Step By Step, and thought it was the perfect time to use one of his responses.

"Don't those hurt your feet?"  I asked, pointing at their shoes.

The ladies laughed and took the point graciously.

My parents and I caught an event photographer to take our picture before the races started.  Then my mom and I headed over to the starting area.  My father went to wait for the 5K (which would start 15 minutes behind us).

My mom and I lined up for the race.  I could see a few clusters of people chatting and pointing at my feet (something I've grown accustomed to).  A few last minute announcements about the race sponsors and beneficiaries, then the horn sounded.  We were off!

Now for reason #2 for possibly changing my name, two words - chip seal.

Last year, I had run the 5k as my first barefoot race.  The course, as I remember it, was fairly smooth asphalt - and it was.  For the first two miles, anyway.  Almost as soon as we passed the 2-mile marker, the street changed from smooth asphalt to fairly rough chip-seal.  No worries, I thought, hoping that the course would not be all chip-seal.

As I made my way down the course, focusing intently on my form, one of the cycling-medics passed by and shouted, "You're running barefoot!  You are a stud!"

"Thanks," I said.  "But this chip-seal isn't the easiest to run on."

The next couple of miles were fairly uneventful.  I had my huarache sandals tucked in my belt just in case of rough asphalt.  However, as I said at the beginning - I'm stubborn.

As we came off the country road and onto a more major road, the asphalt became very smooth.  The course passed several choice-smelling dairy farms.  The roadway was spattered with - well, let's just hope it was dirt from various farm machinery.

I entertained several questions about barefoot running, the book "Born to Run" and whether or not the asphalt hurt my feet.  I was quite pleased with the current smoothness of the roadway after running for two miles on something that left something to be desired.

We made a turn about the 6-mile marker at the furthest corner of the roughly rectangular course.  This again was more rural road - a single lane road with even rougher chip-seal asphalt.  I took a deep breath and focused even more on my form.  Fortunately, I've been reading Barefoot KenBob's book "Barefoot Running Step by Step".  I had even begun to experiment with running on the gravel on the edges of roadways in my training.  In my mind I was saying, 'lift the foot' and trying to keep my cadence high.

Somewhere around mile 7, I decided that I was getting tired, so I began alternating running and walking.  This is about the same point that I fatigued five years earlier on this course (having been undertrained as well).  One lady (I think she was a teacher), in the brightest neon green shirt I have ever seen, and I began a series of short chats and turns racing ahead and falling behind.  She began calling me "Tough Toes Terry" to whomever was around at the time.

By mile 9, I was pretty fed up with the chip-seal.  The asphalt was rougher here than it was between miles 2 and 4.  I kept thinking about the huarache sandals flapping on my back.  The stubbornness in me kept saying - no, you're going to run this half marathon barefoot even if it causes blisters.  I did happen to check a couple of times and happily found that no blisters were forming.

By the time I reached mile 10 or 11, my thoughts turned to - hmm, what was my mom's goal time?  I was hoping it wasn't 2 1/2 hours.  I kept checking my pace and time on my Garmin.  I knew a PR had long since passed me, but I did have a shot at beating my course record.  However, the thought of my mom catching and/or passing me was something I couldn't bear.  (I do love my mom, but I'm also very competitive.)

After making the final turn at about mile 12, I focused on the task at hand.  I tried running the entire last mile, emphasis on tried.  I ran about a quarter mile, then walked some more.  Once I got within about a half mile, I buckled down and was determined to finish with a strong run.

I crossed the finish line at 2:20:01 - 2 minutes and 48 seconds faster than my shod run at the inaugural Avenue of the Vines in 2007. 

After finishing, I found my dad, who had taken 1st place in his age division (70-79).  We wandered around while waiting for my mom to come in.  The clouds were moving in and the wind was becoming unbearably cold (especially in running shorts and a microfiber shirt).  We finally spotted my mom as the rain started to fall.  She crossed the finish line at 3:10:10 sporting her VFFs.  Way to go MOM!

While it was not my best half, shod or barefoot, I did finish.  Undertrained and with a healthy helping of stubbornness mixed in, I completed my second barefoot half marathon after running 9 of the 13 miles on rough chip-seal.  I don't think the chip seal mattered as much to me as being undertrained.  The chip-seal was challenging, but with proper barefoot form it was manageable.  I ended the race with not so much as a blister on my foot.  However, they did feel tender for the next few days.  I don't know if I'd run this course again barefoot, but then again, I'm pretty stubborn.