Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stockton Half Marathon - A Newbie's First Barefoot Half Marathon

November 14, 2010 - While tossing and turning through the night wasn’t anything new to me the night before a race, this time the race was the Inaugural Stockton Half Marathon.  What was so different about this race?  Well, for starters, it was my first barefoot half marathon.  Additional stress was coming from the fact that this race was the first half marathon being held in my hometown, which meant that I would likely see friends both runners and spectators – some of whom I had trained with as a shod runner.  Lastly, I was racing alongside my brother-in-law, his girlfriend, and my mother.  Yep, my mother was racing too!  It was to be the first half marathon for all three of them.  
My biggest fear - A DNF, as a barefoot runner, in front of a hometown crowd.
My alarm clock blared at 5 a.m. not that I was asleep.  I got up, got dressed, and ate a breakfast of oatmeal and chia seeds.  Then I downed a glass of iskiate for good measure.  Surprisingly, the food helped to ease my nervous stomach.  You see, before all of my other big races, I never could stomach anything more than a little toast with peanut butter.  Double-checking that I had all my gear, I headed out.  I drove over to my mom’s house to pick her up and we headed over to the hotel near the starting line. 
As I exited my car, I immediately saw two of my former marathon training buddies.  They quickly noted my Vibrams to which I responded that I was only wearing them until the race start – pointing over to the line of port-a-potties.  They caught my drift.
My mom and I wandered over to the hotel and went inside where it was nice and warm.  Outside it was a chilly 40 degrees.  I had opted not to wear my running pants and instead was wearing shorts.  After about 15 minutes or so, my mom and I headed over to the area she was supposed to meet her training group for a photo op.   Her group never really materialized, so I posed with my mom for a quick pic for the local Fleet Feet owner. 
We wandered over to the starting line where we finally ran into my brother-in-law, Chris, and his girlfriend, Dez.  Dez was sporting a nice pair of Vibrams for the race.  By this point I had shed my own VFF KSOs and had them strapped to my water belt.  My mom had begun pointing out to the runners milling about at the start that I was barefoot and crazy.  Gee thanks for the support, Mom!
Now, I’ve run barefoot in cold weather – I had started last January.  However, I had never really stood around long on cold asphalt.  The ball of my left foot had started to feel a little numb and had the feeling as if I was standing on a small, smooth rock.  Fortunately the wait didn’t last too long.  The announcer came over the speakers for a few last minute announcements.  The start horn blew and we were off!
We all raced down the first street and I noted that I still had that lump-like feeling in my left foot.  I started to worry.  I had never felt this before.  I kept wondering if it would go away or if it would get worse as the race progressed.  As the herd approached the mile mark, I passed some more extended family members - more concern about a DNF in my hometown. 
As I rounded a turn close to mile 2, the odd knot in my foot seemed to disappear.  The group approached the University of the Pacific and the levee running path.  I crossed the footbridge into U.O.P. and saw others crossing back from the loop through the campus. I was starting to get in a groove. 
One of my fears about running through the campus was if the course might take us across cobblestone.  That fear turned out to be unfounded as we ran on the concrete sidewalks through the quad area.  However, upon my return to the footbridge it turned out there was not a second paved ramp up onto the bridge.  Instead there was a 20-foot uphill section of dirt and gravel.  I wasn’t greatly concerned since I had run a 10K trail run bare.  But I was worried that there could be a sharp rock or broken beer bottle (it was a college campus after all) that could put a quick end to my race.  I crossed without incident and made my way across the bridge and onto the levee road. 
Now I was in my element.  I had run this levee many, many times in training for shod races.  The levee road was rougher than the streets that I normally run, but still comfortable to run on. 
Along the way, an older gentleman asked me about the Surf City Marathon shirt I was wearing.  We started chatting about various races we had done.  He was on a mission to run a half marathon in every state.  He had done the Pike’s Peak half marathon (a future goal race of mine). 
As we ran along, a girl ran up alongside and asked, “Why are you running like that?” 
I laughed and explained briefly how barefoot running teaches you to run more efficiently and quickly added that it was fun too!  She dropped back to her running companions.
Not long later, the course dropped off the levee road and into town.  I was approaching mile 6.  Along the side of the course was a guardhouse for one of the gated communities in Stockton.  In front of the guardhouse a small crowd had gathered to cheer us runners on. 
As I passed the guardhouse, a man shouted, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!  Where are your shoes!!!” 
I looked at him, looked down at my feet, looked back at him and shouted, “Damn it, I knew I forgot something this morning!”
I continued down the road toward the intersection for the upcoming loop where my dad, my wife and kids were supposed to be watching the race.  As I crossed the intersection, I glanced through the small crowd – no sign of them.  Feeling a bit disappointed, I continued on down the road.  By now I was approaching mile 7 and really getting into a comfortable groove. 
As I was coming around the backside of the loop, a guy casually asked, “So, how does that feel?” 
I replied, “I’m feeling pretty good.”
Then I received the best compliment I’ve ever received about my running.
“You look like you could run all day like that!”
I was thrilled to hear that!  I really did feel like I could run all day like that.
My stride was smooth.  My arms were pumping smoothly.  My feet seemed to glide across the asphalt.  I felt as though I was extremely energy efficient.  It was like perfection. 
We continued to run and chat through the rest of the loop.   As we approached mile 9 and the intersection again, there was a long stretch of shattered glass that spanned about 25 yards.  I kept a measured stride and put my full concentration on clearing this obstacle course of glass. 
As we entered the intersection, I saw my kids playing around on camp chairs on the corner.  They were both fully distracted by things other than runners.  I shouted my kid’s names as I ran by, even lagging a bit trying to prolong the moment that I passed them.  They looked up as I passed and we waved to each other and I was off and running again. 
After passing through the intersection, we turned down the street that would lead us back toward the river levee.  This was the first of two major surface obstacles that I would face on this course.  This street was in the middle of a repaving.  The center of the street was beautiful, smooth, freshly paved asphalt.  The edges were scraped with long streaks of uneven, rough asphalt.  The cones marking the run vs. drive portions of the road were right along the dividing line of the new and old asphalt.  I tried running in the designated area for a few feet and decided that was definitely not a good idea.  So, for the stretch of road under construction I tried to straddle the “cone line” on the smooth asphalt watching for cars as I went.  When I had to, I would run on the rough stuff. 
I reached the levee frontage road, which was the end of the road construction.  In my mind, I was approaching the home stretch.  I was about at mile 10.  My feet felt great.  However, my legs were starting to feel a bit sluggish – my pace had dropped down to about 10:30/mile.  I redoubled my efforts and focused on my form.  This picked my pace back up to about a 9-minute mile.  The next two miles went pretty smooth. 
Nearing the 12-mile mark, I was back to the main street that took us out at the beginning.  However, something had changed.  We were not running on the main road on the way back in.  Instead we were on the winding walking path next to the roadway.  No big deal I thought.  Then it happened.  I crossed an intersection just beyond the 12-mile mark.  The pathway changed texture.  Instead of nice paved asphalt, the path was now horrifically paved chip seal.
Now, I’ve run on chip seal before.  It’s not always terrible.  It just is a bit more challenging and there is a bit more “sensation” coming through the feet. This chip seal was not that kind of chip seal.  The small rocks embedded in the asphalt were sharp and widely spaced.  This did not provide a decent surface in which to run barefoot.  So, I did what I had to do.   I ran on the grass alongside the path.  Doesn’t sound so bad?  Well, again, not ideal.  The grass was a good 6 to 7 inches high with very soft soil underneath.  It felt like running through dry sand at the beach -definitely not what you want to be running through on the last mile of a half marathon.  I slogged along until I reached the roadway at the end of the path.  By now my feet were caked with wet loose grass.  When I hit the roadway, I paused for a moment.  I had been carrying a water bottle that I had not used yet.  I popped the top and doused my feet shedding my “grass shoes”. 
Less than a half-mile to go!  I picked up the pace.  The two-hour mark was approaching fast.  Not going to be a PR, I thought.  Oh well, first barefoot half marathon - it’s a new kind of PR! 
I crossed the finish line, arms up in triumph and a smile.  I had done it.  A half marathon – barefoot!  Official results – 2:06:17, 20 out of 27 in my division, 285/638 overall. 
My mother, Chris, and Dez had somehow bumped into each other toward the end of the race.  They all finished their first half marathon at 3:13 with my son and daughter escorting them across the finish. 
Next stop, a barefoot marathon.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ultramarathon Training - Part I

So, I got it in my crazy head to try a 50K ultramarathon.  My goal race is the Diablo Trails Challenge in March.

How did this happen?  Well, it was kind of a sequence of events that got me in trouble.  It all began last February with an article by Jason Robillard of Barefoot Running University.  The article was "Can I Run Ultras If I'm Already a Slow Runner".

Now, prior to reading this article I always thought of ultramarathoners as crazy, elite runners who had some kind of special superhuman ability to run for a ridiculous number of miles.  I had read in Born to Run by Christopher McDougall about races like the Leadville 100 and Badwater in Death Valley - not to mention the fact that the book revolves around a 50 mile race in a desert canyon in northern Mexico.  My notions about ultras was built on these amazing athletes that could run all kinds of crazy distances.  So, an ultramarathon, for me, was out of the question.

In Jason's article, he talks about how being a slow runner can be a positive in long distance running.  Next, he demonstrates how this can be true for a person interested in finishing their first .  Jason asks you to look up the cutoff time for any 50K race.  Then use a pace calculator like Cool Running to determine the per mile pace you would need to run to complete in under the cutoff time.  For my goal race that turned out to be 19:18 per mile.  The seed was sown.

The day before running the Stockton Half Marathon (posting coming soon), my neighbor loaned me the book Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes. 

After completing the Stockton Half Marathon (my first barefoot half marathon), I felt a confirmation of sorts about the barefoot training I had been doing all year.  I had never before felt as good as I did post-race than I did after this race.

Now, I've heard good and bad things about Dean Karnazes.  I am not going to takes sides because that is not my concern nor is it the purpose of this post.  For me, the progression of events that Dean describes in his book fed the curiosity in my mind about ultramarthon running.  In short, reading this book helped sprout the seed sown by Jason.

Next, I looked up a 50K training schedule online - Santa Clarita Runners.  I plugged in the date for the Diablo Trails Challenge and printed out the schedule.  The schedule is based on successive runs that build through the weeks.  The mid-week runs are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; the long runs are split over Saturday and Sunday.

So, I was set!  Or so I thought.  The beginning of my training schedule started the week of Christmas.  Since Christmas fell on a Saturday this year, I didn't get in my first long runs.  The second week wasn't much better because this was New Year's weekend.  So much for serious training.

Once I got past the chaos of the holiday season, I got down to business.  While I missed a short run here or there, I started increasing mileage fast.  I was feeling great - tired, but great!  The purpose behind back to back runs is to run miles while your legs are still fatigued.  This allows your body to feel what it is like to run long miles without having to spend hours at a time day in and day out. 

All was going well until this past week.  I had just finished with a fantastic 24 mile week (was supposed to be 32) - with my longest run of 14 miles.  I started this past week with a 4-mile on Tuesday and a 6-miler on Thursday.  I had taken Wednesday off because I was just tired.  Well, Thursday night I started feeling a tickle in my throat.  By the weekend, I had a full-on dry, hacking cough.

My thinking is that I had so worn down my body with more miles than I had done in a long time that I had opened myself up to illness.  With two school-aged kids and myself being a teacher, I am bombarded daily with all sorts of germs.  Well, one of them got me.

So, I took the weekend off and slept and slept and then slept some more.  Usually when I get sick, I don't slow down.  I plow right through it.  However, in this case, since my body is physically spent from running, I'm actually listening to my body.

With a little luck and some more rest I'll be back on the road later this week, piling on more miles in training for my first ultramarathon.

Stay tuned for the next installment of my progress (post-illness).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sharing an article

Last Place Jason just posted this article on  First of a 4-part series...enjoy everyone!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cold Weather Running

So, after Tuesday's toe-swelling/frostbite-like mishap (or whatever it was).  I decided that now is the time that I have to switch to the "minimalist" side of the barefoot/minimalist runner.  For some reason, I don't recall last winter being quite so cold.  I started this barefoot journey last January and never once had an issue of being too cold. 

On Thursday I went into my local REI and purchased a pair of injinji socks to wear inside my VFFs.  I was interested in trying a pair of these socks to see how they might help with the cooler weather.  My main intention in buying the injinji socks was for my huaraches that I recently bought from  (Stay tuned for another post about my new huaraches.)  However, I plan on taking the huaraches out bare for a couple runs this week before utilizing the injinji socks for warmth and any possible chafing between the toes. 

I went for an 8-mile long run yesterday evening.  It was an odd feeling of wearing "shoes" with socks and running.  It has been a long time since I've had that feeling on my feet.  However, my feet felt nice and toasty.  Another benefit I found to wearing the injinji socks was that I did not get any blisters on the inside ball of my foot from my VFFs.  I had previously had issues with getting a small 1/4 inch circular blister, often on my right foot, from the Vibrams. 

The one downside that I experienced during yesterday's run was not shoe/foot related, but diet.  Around mile 4 I started feeling a bit off in the stomach area.  By mile 5 I really started to feel bloated.  I started taking short 30-second walking breaks.  I decided that I needed to focus on something other than the nauseating feeling that I was having.  I buckled down for the next mile and a half and concentrated on running form - good arm swinging, lifting my foot, and quick cadence.  I managed to make it to about 6.5-miles before the nausea took over again.  I spent the last mile and a half walking more than running.  I managed to complete the 8-mile run in 1:27.  Disappointing since it was 13 minutes slower than my previous 8-mile a couple weeks ago.

So, back to the cold weather running.  Like many newbie-barefooters, I was a purist.  Now, I'm feeling more comfortable with delving into the minimalist mentality of Last Place Jason from Barefoot University - go barefoot when you can and use the most minimalist shoe for the situation.  The colder weather, upcoming trail runs and other situations are making me consider my minimalist options.  My preference would be huaraches, but that is still to be determined.

Until then, it's all about staying warm!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Barefoot Running Shirts and Stickers

Hello all!  I have designed some barefoot running shirts and stickers with more products to come.  I hope you like them (and if you do, I hope you buy one or two or more!!!).  I welcome any feedback.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Coldest Run

So, yeah... tonight was about the coldest barefoot run I've ever done (35 degrees).  I think my toes are still down there, though I couldn't really feel them after the first mile.  I don't know how you barefoot snow runners do it.  On a positive note - my first mile was 8 min with a 8:15/mi pace overall for the 2 miles.  Getting faster!!!

My huarache kit is in the mail.  I hope it comes soon.  I don't know how my feet will keep up with these temps.  Yes, to all you snow runners, I'm a wuss.