Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Journey to a Barefoot 50-mile Endurance Run: Weeks 14 and 15 of 18

Apologies for being behind in my postings.  I think I'm busier when I'm on "vacation" than I am when I'm working.  I need to review what has been happening for the past 3 weeks.  I'm going to do Week 16 as a separate post so I can catch up :)

So, let's see...

When last I wrote, I had just completed a 50K run from my town to the next - 31 miles.  After that run, I took it easy for the remainder of the week with a 5 mile run on Thursday (after the Monday 50K).  The following weekend, I ran 12 miles with my half marathon training group.

The following week (week of March 11-17) I started took it fairly easy as well because that Saturday I was planning to do a training run on the AR50 trail section put on by James Barstad.  I was also hoping to meet up with Jason and Shelly Robillard that day.  However, they took the opportunity to head over to the Rodeo Beach 50K a day early to prep for the race (in costume no less) with Shacky, Krista Cavender and Vanessa Runs.

There were a lot of runners from the Folsom Trail Runners.

Here's a recap of the trail run.

I got up early to make the hour plus drive up to the Auburn Overlook where people were meeting to carpool to one of two starting points Beals Point (22.5 miles) or the Nimbus Fish Hatchery (31 miles).  My directions were terrible and got me to Auburn, which I already knew how to get to.  Thank God for smart phones.  I managed to find directions and arrived as everyone was taking off.

A HUGE THANK YOU to Veronica (I think that was your name) for allowing me to ride with your group from the Overlook to Beals Point.  Also thank you to your small group for helping me pull out the last few miles of that run - especially the Dam Wall!

Beals Point is at a little over 26 miles into the AR50 course.  The first 3 miles out of Beals is gravel levee tops.  Since my feet were fresh, this was not too terribly bad.  The cold did make my feet a bit more sensitive to the rocks.

Once the gravel ended and the single-track trails began, that's when the real fun began!  It had been raining for most of the week and rain was predicted that day.  However, the skies were beautiful and it was a perfect morning for a run.  The best part was a big storm had blown through the night before and left the trails wonderfully muddy in places.  By mile 5 I had really started to find a groove.  Most of my miles were averaging in the 11-min range with mile 5 down in the 9s. 

I was feeling pretty good after the first hour, which is when I kind of made my first mistake.  What I should have done was pause to eat a shot blok and maybe even a couple of salt pills.  I felt pretty good and didn't want to take the time to stop.  I actually had to stop several times in the first 7 miles because my water belt kept falling off (the velcro is shot).  So, I pushed on until about mile 9 before pausing to eat and take some salt pills.  Still, I was feeling great.

At about mile 10, I began to hear the ringing of a cowbell.  At the top of a small hill was the one aid station that the organizers had set up.  The small crew there was awesome!  They had a great spread of food (one of my favorite parts of ultra running) and were very friendly. 

The first question I got was, "How long have you been doing that?" (referring to my bare feet) 

"Do you mean today or how long have I been doing the barefoot thing?" I replied.

"Today," he clarified.

I informed him that I had come in from Beals Point and that I was planning to go the whole 22.5 miles that day.  The group was quite impressed and we chatted about the course and how I got into barefoot running.  The lady at the aid station took a couple pictures of me and my feet.  After hanging around for 5 minutes or so, I figured that I should be moving on.  I thanked them for being out there and headed off down the trail.

Things continued well for the next few miles.  My pace was slowing down a bit due to the hills and having to climb across a few fallen trees.  Climbing over fallen trees while barefoot was a new one for me.  Most weren't too bad, however, one section had a nice sharp manzanita tree that was a bit tricky to get across. 

The best part of the day - MUD!  There were puddles everywhere.  I splashed through nearly every single one.  Gooey mud, red dirt mud, and even slippy mud.  All of it was FANTASTIC!!!  After crossing a small bridge there was a fair sized puddle of mud.  At that point the trail took a hard right turn.  I planted my right foot in the middle of the mud and turned my body to the right.  My foot began to slide and had I not been quick to put my left hand out I would've smashed into the side of the mountain. 

After I left the aid station, I began fueling a little more regularly now.  But when I approached mile 17 my head started to get a little fuzzy.  At one point, I was crossing a small log bridge and it appeared as though the bridge was floating/moving a bit.  I decided that I needed to eat something and take a few extra electrolyte pills.  I stepped off to the side of the trail for some approaching runners while I ate.  As it turned out, it was several of the people who I had hitched a ride with down to Beals Point.  They paused a for a few minutes to fuel up too.  It was a pretty nice location to look down over the American River Canyon and enjoy a snack.

Their arrival turned out to be a good thing for me.  Although I am used to running alone and enjoy it, it can be nice to have company.  I let them take the lead for the next 3 miles.  It was kind of like having a pacer, I guess.  Just some people to stay focused on and chat with from time to time.

They informed me that the Dam Wall was rapidly approaching and that it was not going to be an easy climb.  They reached the base of the hill a few minutes before I did and were admiring the view.  As I came up to the bluff, I could see the hill climbing to the left.  The trail or fire road was very steep and  was covered with some pretty rough looking gravel.  I paused for a minute or two and chatted with a few other runners procrastinating the upcoming climb.

I started out in a brisk walk.  No sense in killing what little energy I had left on such a steep hill.  After cresting the first rise, the gravel was somewhat more manageable.  I started to take the next hill at a slow jog.  The next section was paved chip-seal asphalt.  It would have been easy to run this section except there was tiny sharp gravel spilled across most of the roadway.  I began to run/walk this section trying to avoid as much of the loose gravel as possible.  The chipseal gave way to another section of gravel fire road.  By now, my feet were virtually on fire and super sensitive to every rock.  At about 21 miles I finally threw in the towel and slipped on my Sockwas. 

Not long after throwing on my Sockwas, I realized that I was stark-raving hungry.  All I could think about was food - more specifically a Carls Jr Western Bacon Double Cheeseburger.  Since none was to be found, I devoured an entire pack of shot bloks and kept on moving. 

One of the guys I rode with was now run/walking with me as we approached the main road to the Auburn Overlook.  With the road being smoother asphalt, I tore off the Sockwas which had started to blister my toes and completed the last stretch to the "finish line" in the parking lot.  It was a great relief to be done.  My right foot had developed a half dollar size blister between the ball and arch.  The tips of the first three toes had also blistered due to the Sockwas combined with softer skin due to running through all that water.
At the aid station, I wolfed down a bowl of nice hot chili followed by a couple of large M&M cookies.  I chatted with the group I had met.  It was then that I noticed that the weather had changed and the next storm was moving in.  The wind was picking up and the temperature had dropped.  I realized that I had begun shivering pretty bad.

I said my good-byes and headed over to my truck, threw on some pants over my running tights and stripped my wet shirts off and replaced it with a dry shirt and my jacket.  I shivered for a good 20 minutes as the my truck's heater warmed up.  On the drive home, I stopped in at an In N Out for a juicy Double Double.  It wasn't the bacon cheeseburger I had been craving, but it was satisfying just the same.
My right foot - post run

My left foot - post run

The next morning I met with my running group for their 11-mile training run.  I had taped my blisters and decided to run in my SKORAs to protect my feet a bit more.  My quads were very sore, but I knew that the 12 miles I was planning to run that day were going to help more than hurt. 

So for that weekend, I ran a total of 34 miles and a total of about 8 hours. 

Stay tuned for my next post (I'm still catching up)...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Journey to a Barefoot 50-mile Endurance Run: Week 13 of 18

The countdown to race day is looming.  Nerves are starting to kick in.

This past week was a mixed bag for training.  Tuesday went as usual, but school obligations for the kiddos took priority on Wednesday and Thursday.  (Also, my training schedule told me to take the latter half of the week off because of the 31 mile training run for Sunday).

On Saturday my half marathon trainees were scheduled for a 9-mile run.  It was going to be their first significant mileage point since beginning training.  I debated whether I was going to run with them or set up an aid station around the midpoint.  The time came and I decided to run with them.

I started out with my pack of 12/13-min milers with the plan to catch the front group after a few miles.  Well, they are starting to get pretty fast up in the front.  I left the rear pack just after 2 miles.  It took me nearly 3 miles to catch my front runners.  I think next time I'll start in front and drop back :)

Everyone did a great job and made it back in under 2 hours!  I'm so proud of my runners!

I ended up with 11 miles for that morning.

Sunday I rested with the thought of a 31-mile run looming.  I still wasn't sure when I was going to do the run or where.  I live in a town called Stockton which is south of the capital, Sacramento.  It is just about exactly 31 miles from Stockton to Elk Grove.  I've toyed with the idea of running the distance between the two cities for a while now.  So, it seemed like the right time.

My town is too small to run 31 miles without running loops or zig zagging all over town.  I dislike loops and zig zagging even more.  It makes it too easy to stop or short-cut it back home.  I've always found that running is 98% mental (provided that you are trained up on the distance).  So, the best way for me to run 31 miles was in one long stretch.

Yesterday morning, I ate a packet of oatmeal with chia seeds mixed in, loaded up my hydration pack with some salt pills and shot bloks.  The plan was to use the county back roads leading up to Elk Grove and hit 2 mini-marts on the way for additional food.

The first few miles were smooth and easy along a very busy road.  I stayed to the sidewalks for these first few miles.  Once I turned onto the main county road, I was subjected to the very small paved shoulder and weed ridden dirt shoulder.

I had originally planned to run the majority of the trip barefoot.  However, I had carried along my Sockwa G2s for back up.  It turned out to be a good thing.  The county road was (as I had predicted) very harsh chip seal.  The thought of shredding my feet over miles and miles of this stuff only to fail at making the entire run was not an option.  So, I paused, slipped on my Sockwas and kept running.  Perfect!

It's amazing to me how little regard drivers have for pedestrians along the side of the road.  Very few cars moved over to give me a slight cushion of space between myself and their car.  More often than  not, I had to duck onto the dirt shoulder and knee high weeds for safety.

A little over an hour into my run I had hit the 7 mile mark at a truck stop area on Highway 12.  I wandered into the Chevron minimart and grabbed a gatorade to mix down in my hip bottle.  I took the opportunity to eat a few shot bloks and a couple salt tabs for good measure.  While going through these motions, a guy in a truck pulled up after dropping someone off at the minimart entrance.  He asked if I was a long distance runner.

He mistakenly asked if my hydration pack was oxygen.  Then quickly realized his error and asked if it was water.  We chatted for a few minutes about my pace and mileage.  He commented that he couldn't run a quarter-mile without having a heart attack.  He mentioned that this was his year to take control.  I wished him well and headed out down the road.

The next 8 or 9 miles went very smoothly as I ticked off the roads and freeway off-ramps that I normally speed by in my truck to work.  I finally arrived in the little town of Thornton.  I stopped off at "aid station #2", otherwise known as another minimart.  I wandered in and grabbed a gatorade and a bag of chips.  I sat down on the small lawn outside the store and proceeded to devour the chips and guzzle the gatorade.  I was worried that the gatorade might make my stomach ill since I was not watering it down.  I really didn't care at this point because I was hungry.

As I got ready to head down the road, I thought I'd pop in my ear buds for my iPhone and listen to the last part of my audiobook.  I had so much trouble with the ear bud and the audio files getting scrambled that I gave up and stuffed the whole mess back in my camelback.  (Now I know why I don't run with music anymore.)

From here it was a good 13 miles to the town of Franklin and the outskirts of Elk Grove.  These 13 miles proved to be the most tedious of my journey.  It was during these miles that my feet started to hurt more, my legs became a bit weary and I was questioning whether or not this was a good idea.  I dug down deep and told myself that I could do it.  I knew that I still could beat my 50K time (7:22) - the course being virtually flat. 

I began a schedule of walking for a minute or two and running a mile.  Toward the end, I was walking a quarter mile and running the remainder of the mile.  This kept my per mile pace at about 13 minutes per mile.  Also at this point, I let my wife know that she would not be able to pick me up at our planned time of 2 pm.  We told my dad to meet me at 3 pm.  

After I passed through the town of Franklin, I happened upon this odd sight and seriously considered using it for a few minutes.  It even had a pull-out bed.

But being that I was running short on time, I continued on down the road.

As I got closer to Elk Grove Blvd, I could feel my energy coming back (ever so slightly).  I managed to keep running more than I was walking.  Then came the sight that I both had been anxiously awaiting and dreading.  At mile 29, there is an overpass over the railroad tracks.  This hill is fairly long and takes a little work to get over when you're fresh.  It is one of 2 "hills" in Elk Grove.  I wasn't sure what I'd do when I got here.  I think mostly I planned to walk it.  However, as I reached the base, I took off in a run at a surprising 11-min mile pace up and over the hill.

Home stretch.  About another mile to the am/pm for some food and a car ride home.  I arrived at about 3:10 p.m.  My time a rough 6:24 (including my stop in Thornton where I forgot to stop my watch).  A full hour shorter than my Skyline 50K run (granted there is some serious elevation at Skyline).

I went through the am/pm like a man on a mission.  I grabbed 2 - Gatorade G3 Replenish drinks, a tall bottle of water (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I ran out of water and gatorade at about mile 25), two large hot dogs, and a big bag of Doritos.  My mind was such a blank I couldn't remember my PIN number for my card.  I had $10 and change on me - my bill $12 and change.  After I apologized to the lady at the counter and explained what I had just done, she told me she'd cover the difference because "we need to get some nutrition in you."  - THANK YOU :)  I did need some nutrition.

I went outside, sat on the curb and stuffed my face until I noticed my dad had finally arrived to pick me up.

When I got home, I stripped the Sockwas off my feet.  I knew I had a blister or two coming.  I had a nice quarter size blister on the ball of my right foot and a nasty looking blood blister on my pinkie toe of the same foot.  I guess one should probably wear socks with Sockwas if you're gonna run 31 miles.

Blood blister on my right foot

I felt pretty good at the end.  And still today, I'm feeling pretty limber.  I will say that one probably should not drink two Gatorade Replenish drinks back to back.  They did not go well through my system.  However, at the time, I really didn't care.

Back to running tomorrow. . .