Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chiang Mai Half Marathon race report

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Winston Churchill

We planned this trip months and months ago. My youngest daughter and I would spend Christmas with my parents in Thailand while my oldest was working at Disney World and my Husband was deployed to Afghanistan. While thinking about what I wanted to do during our visit I looked up races in Thailand on the off chance that there would be a local 5 or 10K while I was in Chiang Mai. I was so excited when I discovered I would be there for the 4th annual Chiang Mai Marathon, especially since they also had a half marathon and 10K at the same time.

The race was scheduled for the 27th, so after arriving in the early morning hours of the 17th (following 23 hours of flying in 3 planes, and 7 hours of layovers in Atlanta and S. Korea) I followed a light taper/continuation of my running from the Outer Banks half marathon. My runs were going really well, despite the ubiquitous exhaust fumes and warm tropical climate, so I was looking forward to a great race. Unfortunately, at dinner Christmas Eve, my stomach started acting up. I ended up being up all night throwing up (sorry, TMI, but nothing pulls every muscle in your body like that!) and spent all of Christmas day feeling like I had been beaten up by a whole baseball team. I thought I was done for, it seemed like there was no way I was going to recover enough to even crawl a race, let alone run for over 2 hours.

However, on the morning of the 26th I actually felt a little hungry and could eat rice and leftover turkey. I felt much better, but definitely not in race condition. I decided that one more day would be enough to at least walk the course so I went ahead and registered. Everyone thought I was nuts except the couple down stairs that were planning to run the full marathon. Only another runner could really understand why I was still planning to run this race. So I spent the day eating as much rice and turkey as I dared (which wasn't much) and drinking electrolytes. Despite several naps and sleeping the whole day before, I still managed to get to sleep about 8:30.

My alarm went off this morning at 3:10, UGH! The full marathon started at 4 and the half started at five, so the runners down stairs had arranged a taxi to pick them up at 3:15 and then come back to get me an hour later. As soon as I got up, I drank a huge glass of the electrolyte drink, nibbled some toast and turkey and had a little Asian banana (about half the size of the ones back home.) Foolishly, I went for a cup of coffee, I'd regret that for hours!

The Tha Phae Gate was a beehive of activity. They used the same arch for the start of the full and half marathons, and then 10K and kids’ fun run, with one race starting each hour. To prove you were at the start, you had to go to "Check in" where they drew a blue line on your bib with a Sharpie. There were maybe 150 runners so everyone was over the start line within a minute. I had met lots of people and a great guy from Washington State ran with me for the first 7 miles. He was probably around 60 and had lived and run all over the world. Now he runs slow and for fun, but he spent the first hour and 20 minutes telling me about running in Athens, Greece, Paris, France, and dozens of other places. I really credit him with surviving this race because he totally took my mind off of how cruddy I felt and kept me going until past the point of no return. He also kept me from worrying about the fact that I had no idea where I was or how to follow the course!

When we hit the turn around, we nearly missed it. They handed us water, waved flash lights in our faces to get our attention, gave us rubber bands with a piece of blue yarn tied on to prove we made it that far, and signaled us to go back the other way. I'm sure some people missed the point because one couple that I had talked to before the race, and could see for the first 5 miles, never passed us on the way back!

At about mile 8 I was beginning to feel the lack of food over the previous few days. Earlier, when we passed tables set up to give food to the Buddhist monks, the smell turned my stomach and brought my coffee to my throat, so the thought of eating my Sports Beans or Gel did not appeal to me at all. In hind sight, I really should have choked down the beans. I finally waved on my adopted running buddy and took my first walking break. It was still full dark at this point and I was feeling really low, but now there was nothing to do but keep going. Thankfully, most of the race was along a canal where the main traffic runs and things hadn't really gotten started for the day so the exhaust fumes weren't too bad. As the sun started to brighten the sky, I realized I was surrounded by probably 100 roosters! Every person that has 10 square feet of dirt has chickens, and they are the most pitiful looking chickens you ever saw, but they crow with the best of them and every rooster in Chiang Mai was trying to outdo his neighbor. Thankfully, that cacophony kept me distracted (that and trying not to kick or step on them.)

Miles 9 and 10 seemed like they went on for hours. I was so tired and wanted to stop so badly, but I wanted it over with more so I kept putting one foot in front of the other. The traffic was getting thicker as we approached the old city, but they had great control on the intersections with the Thai Royal Army lined up every 10 feet to make sure the cars didn't run down the racers.

As I reached the old walls I knew I was getting close. I had been running for 2 hours and 8 minutes and had 2 miles left to run. If I could just kick it back up to 11 minute miles and skip my last walking break, I might come in sub 2:30! It was just the incentive I needed to focus my mind and motor on. As I hit mile 12, I had 12 minutes left, the darn .1 was gonna get me if I didn't keep pace! Suddenly, I turned a corner and saw the finish line, WHA!! Now, I know Garmins loose a little distance when you make a lot of turns, but I KNOW I didn't make enough turns to lose almost .8 miles! Honestly though, I was so glad to see it I really didn’t care. The finish line had 3 chutes, one each for the full, the half, and the 10K and I was so focused on keeping moving I nearly went down the wrong chute! I crossed the line just over 2:23, I couldn't believe it! Keeping with the low tech theme, they drew another blue line on my bib to show I crossed the finish line and checked for my rubber band with yarn. Anyone who placed in their age group was given a plastic card with their place on it and were sent to a table to have their name recorded for the awards ceremony.

My mom was waiting for me at the finish. No one expected me to finish that early, I was even carrying taxi money in case I couldn’t get back on my own, but she couldn't wait to get down to the race finish and just happened to have walked over to scope it out when she spotted me. As I came out of the chute, I was handed a medal and a plastic grocery bag that contained a vegetarian sausage biscuit thing, half a sandwich (with who knows what on it), a bottle of water, and a bottle of electrolyte drink. Needless to say, I threw away the food as soon as I could. They also had home made rice soup that was probably wonderful, but still not on my edible list, and boxes of soy milk. I didn't feel like I wanted anything, but standing around talking my calves and toes all suddenly started cramping horribly. As fast as I could, I downed my sports beans and the drink they gave me. I must have been really low on salt because about 10 minutes later everything started to relax.

I wish I could have stayed for the awards show, but I was done in and ready for a shower and nap. Now, 9 hours later, I'm feeling pretty good. I have bland food in my stomach, I've had a nap and shower, and rubbed Tiger Balm on nearly every joint. Looking back at my race report, I realize it begs the question, why didn’t I just run the 10K. Well, it never occurred to me! I didn’t have to run, I could have quite and no one would have faulted me, but I needed to test my metal once again and I passed with flying colors.

PS I ran in VFFs :-)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chiang Mai Run

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” Buddha

I woke up this morning at 6:15 (a huge improvement over yesterday,) and decided to go for a run. The morning sun was just beginning to turn the mountain pink and purple and the city had a misty haze of fresh rain from a torrential tropical downpour in the night. We had the windows open so the sounds of a few scooters and people beginning their day drifted in, a lovely change over the midday din of thousands of trucks and motor bikes.

I dug around to collect my gear and get out the door without waking anyone else and headed for the Chiang Mai University campus about 1.3 miles away. By the time I had dressed and reached the main street then traffic had already quadrupled! Fortunately, this main street has a sidewalk. Unfortunately, that is where everyone parks their scooters so it was slow going as I picked my way around vehicles, damaged cement, trees, dogs, and business signs.

Finally I reached the University and lost most of the traffic. There I found lovely paths that were much less treacherous and lots of other people walking or running. A couple of times I let my mind wander, enjoying the beauty of the lush greenery and interesting surroundings, and nearly collided with another pedestrian because I had forgotten to keep left instead of right.

After I had run about 3 miles, I set my Garmin for “back to start” hoping to retrace my path. Having no information on the streets though, it tried to take me back as the crow flies. By the time I realized this I was totally turned around and had no idea where I had turned to get where I was. I knew I was still on the campus, so not too terribly lost, and the Garmin does have a compass (a feature I had never had show up before.) I also had my parents address and enough money for a Tuk-tuk to take me home if I got to far afield.

I worked my way to the corner of the campus, headed back towards the main street, and found myself up against one major obstacle, the City Moat. Ooookaaayy. I ran along the moat, running parallel to where I needed to go, trying not to get run over on a street with 4 lanes of traffic each way and no sidewalk. The neighbor that will be running the full marathon next week told me always to run WITH traffic in Chiang Mai. He said he knew that it was totally counter intuitive, but that all the cars and scooters are used to dodging obstructions in the road and your best bet is to be headed in the same direction so they have more time to spot you and go around. That is the huge difference between Chiang Mai and Naples, Italy. In Italy they TRY to hit you! In Chiang Mai, Thailand, they try to miss you.

Eventually I found the bridge that the marathon neighbor had told me about. It is totally crumbling and blocked off for car or scooter traffic, but is apparently deemed perfectly safe for pedestrians. Unfortunately, as far as I could see in either direction it was the only way across the moat, it was starting to get hot, and my lungs were beginning to protest about the car exhaust which was getting so thick I was affecting visibility. I said a prayer and ran over the bridge. I probably would have shut my eyes too, but if the cement started to fall away, I wanted to know when to jump!

At that point I could see the high rise my parents condo are in, so I wound my way through little side streets, packed full of homes and business with everyone sweeping their part of the street and setting up their shops for the day. Humorously, NO ONE noticed my VFFs. I was just another crazy Farang in weird clothes (Shamrock Marathon tech shirt, running skirt, striped socks, and 4 bottle Fuel Belt.)

No, I was not running barefoot. Even the Buddhist Monks do not go barefoot in this city. So far I have seen a few barefoot early in the morning when they go begging for their breakfast, otherwise they are in flip-flops (if they are young) or very nice hiking sandals if they are older.

By the time I finally arrived back at the condo, I had run 7 miles (two more than planned) and walked up 9 flights of stairs. There is an elevator, but unless I’m laden with groceries, I’ve made a habit out of taking the stairs in order to speed my acclimation to the heat, humidity, and slight altitude. We shall see how effective it has been on race day!

Despite the traffic, winding alleys, and chaos, my run relaxed me and really helped me shake off the last of the jet lag. I was refreshed and ready to begin the adventures of the day and I know I will get a great night’s sleep tonight. Running is where I find peace in the land of Buddha.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Between races

“I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot have than to have things I am not able to appreciate.” **Elbert Hubbard**

I’ve been a real slacker since my last half marathon, but my running is back on track so I think my blogging should be too. :-)

Recovering from the Outer Banks Half Marathon was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I really pushed my limits for that race which, when added to the fact that I was tired before I hit the start line, and then didn’t rest enough after the finish, made for several weeks of feeling like something the cat dragged in. It was worth it though!

I also made a real mistake in not letting my calf fully heal before trying speed work again. I’ve had a couple of instances of stepping down off of a stool or something similar and re-injuring it, in addition to running sprint intervals. I’m fine if I run at a consistent pace of 9 minutes per mile or less with a proper warm up, so I decided to enter a 5k with my track club last weekend. I’m sure I would have been fine if I had stuck to the plan: warm up, go easy, and enjoy the run. However, I waited too long to start my warm up so it wasn’t long enough for the cold conditions, and then I decided to add a 100 yard sprint to the end of my warm up. This was MONUMENTALLY stupid as I managed to pull my calf before the race even started. Irritated as I was, I ran it anyway and managed to do almost an 8 minute mile for the first mile and then spent the rest of the race limping back.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve gotten in a few 3 to 5 mile runs, one 13 miler, and one 10 miler with a couple more weeks to go, so I won’t be totally out of shape for my half marathon on the 27th. I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to approach that one though. Between 12 hours of jet lag, an increase of 1,000 ft. of elevation, weather change from 30 degree days to 90 degree days, and probably not getting in a lot of miles for the next couple of weeks, I will probably just take it slow and easy and enjoy the run. Mostly I’m looking forward to a few weeks of 90 degree days!

I doubt I will do any more totally barefoot runs for the year, so I’ll go ahead and state that my barefoot mileage for the year is 258.5! My running total for the year is approaching 800 miles.
I did not run the Atlanta Half Marathon. It was a huge disappointment to have to give up my trip, but I needed to take care of my dog and frankly I wasn’t up to running another 13 miles that soon after the Outer Banks race so it wouldn’t have gone well anyway. I’ll settle for 3 half marathons in a year, assuming nothing gets between me and the race in 2 weeks. I’m happy with my totals and do not need to compare them to anyone else’s. I’ve made great strides this year and met several goals earlier than expected and even met a couple of new ones I hadn’t considered at the beginning of the year! I’ve battled a bit with RA flare ups, but mostly I have been able to keep it under control. I still have that 25 minute 5k to beat and the long term goal of a 4 hour marathon that is probably still a couple of years away. I have more than enough to look forward to in the next year, including my husband returning from Afghanistan and lots of fun races with friends. It will be very cool to see the elites of South East Asia pass me on the Marathon course in a couple of weeks. How many sports are there where you can compete on the same course at the same time as world competitors!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

OBX race report

The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.” Leo Tolstoy

The Outer Banks Marathon weekend was amazing! Almost a year ago, I started planning this trip with some of my running friends. In that year, we connected across the states via facebook and became an amazing support group. The changes that happened through the year were astounding, but 6 of us made it to the start line, one for the 8K, 4 for the half marathon, and one for her first ever full marathon.

The weather was amazing, getting a little warmer each day until I woke up to warm, sultry beach air and knew I would run my half marathon barefoot. I had old socks and 99 cent flip flops to wear while standing around on the cold asphalt so my feet wouldn’t be numb at the start. My friend Cathy and I decided to do a quick warm up for about 10 minutes so I ran in my socks, adding nearly a mile before the start of the race.

They started us in waves with guns for the elites, 6 to 8 minute milers, 9 to 10, etc. so I located the 2:00 pacer and wormed my way to his area after dropping my socks and flip flops on the side lines. He confirmed we would be keeping a steady pace from start to finish, including the dreaded bridge to Maneto Island. I was nervous, but ready to get going.

The first 6 miles were a breeze. I was chatting away with other people in my pace group, cracking jokes and laughing without ever being out of breath. I loved how comfortable I was. I could see how easy it would be to run too fast at the start, but I stuck with the advice I have been given and stayed with my planned pace. A couple of miles in, a guy caught up to me and said, in a very curious voice, “I just noticed you aren’t wearing shoes.” We had a nice chat about barefoot running, benefits, where to find info, etc. and he continued on his way. Occasionally, I would hear comments behind me as people spotted my feet, but they weren’t as shocked or laughing as people were at the 10K, half marathon runners are much more serious. My one scary moment in the race came when someone tripped on my foot. I don’t know how it happened, if she was cutting behind me or I was trying to get past her, but suddenly I realized her foot was hooked on mine and she was headed for the asphalt. Without thinking I reached out, grabbed her arm, and pulled her back to her feet, asking if she was okay. She gave me a weird look, like “what the heck just happened,” but we never broke stride, both of us just kept running.

At one point we turned off to wind our way though some housing tracts. In these areas the asphalt was very rough and my feet were still cold, so they stung a bit and I was a little concerned about how I would keep up the 9:05 minute miles we were pulling if it didn’t smooth out, but eventually we turned back onto the main road and it got easy again. We could see the bridge and Manteo Island, which brought on the jokes about, “Look, there’s the finish!” while we were still many miles away. I was a little worried about the bridge, which I knew would be scored concrete like the twin bridges race back in June, but the bridge was very comfortable to my feet and the roads had been well swept of debris.

The bridge had been my biggest fear. By mile 10, things had started to be a bit more difficult. The easy relaxed pace of the first half had given way to having to push to keep up with the pacer. Conversation was trailing off and most of the people around me were concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. Looking up the bridge, it was an unbroken sea of people. I picked a song I used to sing to my kids at bed time and decided not to look up until I had run though all the verses, “Young Mr. Moon flew away in the night…” “…chanson pour toute le monde”, and there I was cresting the hill with the pace group, having lost no time. Down the other side we went, trying not to get carried away, but glad to have the hard part behind us. On the back side of the bridge I spotted my track club’s photographer, so cool to see a friend! We yelled hello, and on I went.

Somewhere at about 11 and a half miles, I hit a wall. Not a huge wall, but suddenly I was REALLY tired and wanted to quit in the worst way, but I kept telling myself, just 15 more minutes, just 10 more minutes, just 5 more minutes, and there it was! The finish line!! With the last bit of life left in me, I kicked it up and pulled a few feet ahead of the pacer. The Queen of England could have been high fiving the finishers in full regalia and I wouldn’t have noticed, all I knew was I crossed the timing mat.

Crossing the finish line meant coming to a sudden stop at the traffic jam of runners collecting medals, visors, water, Gatorade, and stampeding the food table. My head spun from the sudden halt and I was afraid I would pass out from not cooling down properly. Slowly, I walked through the gamut and made my way to the oranges and bananas. I downed both the water and the Gatorade is single swigs, realizing how dehydrated I was when my toes started curling with cramps. I hobbled over to the trash can to toss my orange peels and saw a runner in Vibrim Five Fingers talking to someone saying it was only bad once when he stepped on a rock. I had caught up with him near the finish line and laughingly told him to man up, referring to my bare feet, but he just picked up his pace and didn’t get the joke. When I pointed to my feet and said, “This is why I was saying ‘man up’” his eyes about popped out of his head, it was a cool moment.
It was a hard run, but the last couple of miles weren’t as hard at last week’s 10K so I knew I could talk myself through it. My feet fared well, one very small blister on the ball of one foot and one blistered toe, but they were dried up and fine by the next day. My friend that ran the full, on the other hand, had several huge blisters on her feet.

So now I have one more half marathon behind me, and one more ahead of me next month. My goal for the next couple of HMs is to continue to finish under 2 hours, but to be able to do it more comfortably and get more accustomed to the distance. I haven’t made any decisions about when I will start training for my first full, but it will be in the next 2 years, I’m sure. This weekend is dedicated to putting my yard back together after a strong Nor’easter, but next weekend I will return to my long runs.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wicked 10K Race Report

With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.
**Thomas Foxwell Buxton **

It has been a weird couple of weeks. After my calf injury, I didn’t run for a couple of days and then went back to my training plan and ran 5 miles on Saturday, three of them at HM race pace. After the run, my calf felt good and the next morning it felt the best it had since the injury so I knew I was better off to keep running carefully than to rest more. So Sunday I went ahead and ran my 12 mile long run. With all the progress I have made, I felt it was time to step up my long run speed and keep it at 11 minutes per mile. It worked out great! I finished my run in just under 2:12 and felt really good, not over tired or sore. The calf felt great too, a little tight, but not too bad. At that pace, I would still have a PR of 26 minutes better than last time!

A few minutes after I got home from the 12 mile run, my neighbor stopped by. She had her dog with her so while we talked, my puppy hopped and played around her very patient older dog. We do this all the time and Lucy stays with Kramer, showing no interest in anything else, until this time. I don’t know what got into her, but she saw a car coming and decided to catch it! Unfortunately, she did catch it, and in the process her foot was run over and crushed. It was beyond horrible! We got to the emergency vet clinic where we spent the next several hours before leaving her there for the night. In the end, she is okay and should have no problems after her 6-8 weeks in a splint/cast, but it was a really scary couple of days.

Needless to say, it was an extremely stressful few days. At first they thought her injury was much worse and the stress of worrying about her, the vet bills, and canceled plans, had me exhausted and not sleeping or eating well. By the time the day came for my 10K, I was still tired, had hardly run all week, and had lost 4 pounds from all the stress. My friends that were going to go with me to cheer me on had to cancel to fly home for a funeral so I headed out to the race alone and feeling defeated already.

There were 5,000 registered racers with friends in tow so the boardwalk was a mad house. This is not the first race put on by this company here in Virginia Beach so I was appalled at the lack of organization. There was nothing to give people an idea where to line up, so there were walkers, with strollers even, at the front and anyone trying to set a consistent pace spent the first mile or two dodging people and trying to break through groups walking 4 or 5 abreast. I managed to keep my tongue in check and didn’t yell the profanities that were popping up in my head, but a couple of people got a pretty good elbow.

After the first couple of miles, people thinned out a bit and it got easier to maintain my pace. I had my virtual partner set up on my Garmin so I could catch up to pace if I walked at a water stop or got stuck behind people. By mile 3, I was already feeling tired, but I knew I was prepared for this speed and distance so it was all in my head. My super-hero cape had also turned into a bit of a problem. Running against the wind, it created a lot of drag. Running with the wind it tangled up in my ankles and drove me nuts so I carried it draped over my arms for most of the run. I seriously considered ditching it in a trash can, but it would have taken too long to get all the safety pins undone to get it off.

When I reached the 4 mile water stop the conversation in my head started:

I can’t do this for two more miles!
Yes you can
It is a lot hotter than it was supposed to be
So what, you trained all summer
I’m tired; I haven’t had enough rest this week
Oh well
I’ve been under a lot of stress
Tough luck
This cape is heavy
You picked the costume
The wind is blowing hard
It will be blowing next weekend too
My calf is starting to hurt
Hold your form!
I’m really tired!

I finished with a chip time of 54:08. My Garmin, set for the 10K distance, thought I was done 9 seconds before I crossed the line, which shows how much I lost dodging walkers at the start! That’s okay though, what I most wanted was the confidence to join the 2 hour pace group for the Outer Banks half next weekend and now I have it.

After the race, I picked up my free beer and waded into the cold ocean to cool my tight calf. It was so peaceful standing there with the waves lapping at my legs and carrying away the pain and strain. Later I talked to people that had seen me running barefoot and wanted to know more. It really was fun hearing the reactions as I ran. All my previous runs have been small local ones where most people either knew about my barefoot running, or saw me around the start. This race was huge though, with literally thousands of runners, each one I passed was shocked. I heard everything, surprise, horror, laughter, and the inevitable, “OMG, we just got passed by someone in bare feet!”

Although the costumes were a kick, the race wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped. My head really wasn’t in the game, it was home with my dog, or in Kabul with my husband, and the crowd was just too much. I’m okay with that many people for a half marathon or farther, but I think I like the smaller races for short distances. I was 31st out of 363 finishers, which just doesn’t have the same ring as 3rd out of 36, and there wasn’t a single familiar face at the finish line.

Next week OUTER BANKS!!

Friday, October 23, 2009


"Everything changed the day I understood that if I was to become a runner, I would have to run with the body I had." John Bingham, The Courage to Start

I read this quote in the blog of my friend Amy and it really struck me. I need to take it to heart and stop beating myself up every time I step on the scale. Amy will be part of my group at the Outer Banks in a couple of weeks running the full marathon, her very first! She inspires me. Amy learned to swim recently so she could compete in a triathlon and hasn’t let anything stop her. This is what I love about running, all the people overcoming their fears and getting out there even though they aren’t top athletes, even though they aren’t going to win, but just to be part of something and show they can do it.

We are all up against our own bodies. Maybe we carry a few extra pounds that slow us down, maybe we have nagging injuries, illnesses, or busy lives, but we get out there and run. Images like Paula Radcliffe sitting in the curb, head in hands, remind us this is not unique to amateurs, but we keep running. When we can’t run, we obsess about it.

I blew it last week. I’ve been doing too much speed work, desperate for the sub 54 10K that will give me the confidence to try to break 2 hours in the half marathon at OBX. “Desperate” is the problem. As I hurdled down the street, doing an 800 meter interval, I leaped off the curb and landed with a sickening pain in my calf. It was such a graceful leap. I was enjoying every moment of being airborne, planning to land with the precision of a ballet dancer in toe shoes, instead I nearly crumpled to the ground. 1 ½ weeks to the 10K, 2 ½ weeks to the half marathon, and I’m limping down the street trying to figure out who to call to pick me up. After a few minutes on the curb I started walking, bending my knees and finding a way to walk without pain. Once I got the walking down, and realized I still had over a mile to go, I tried a slow jog. I was able to very slowly plod home (turned out that jogging hurt less than walking) and won’t try running again until Saturday. If I can’t run Saturday, I won’t run at all for a week. It will be a long stressful week, but better a week than a month or a year.

So, I’m on a forced running vacation, but it won’t be forever.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Surround yourself with great people!

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." **Mark Twain**

Running has been one of the best avenues I’ve ever taken. It has made me stronger, it has made me healthier, and it has given me goals to work towards and meet, but the best part is the people. Both on-line and in person, the people I have met have been the happiest most supportive group ever. It doesn’t matter if someone can run a 15 minute 5K, they are totally supportive and cheer on the person struggling to cross the line after 45 minutes. Everyone cheers for your new personal record and commiserates with you when a run goes badly. No one is forgotten. From the youngest kid running their first 5K, up to the octogenarian who lost count decades ago, they all get cheered and high fived.

I’m getting more accustomed to running 5Ks so I don’t get nervous, although I still get pumped. I recognize people, wave and hug, encourage the people I pass and give ‘at-a-boys to those that pass me. Once in a while you see a hyper-competitive person grumbling over their time, but they are few and far between. I know, regardless of how I’m feeling, or what is going on in my life, that going to a race, either to run it or work it, will be a happy time that will lift my spirits and buoy my soul.

Friday afternoon, I wasn’t feeling well. I have been letting my circumstances get to me and was battling a major pity party and an RA flare. I had a stuffed up head, no energy, just generally feeling cruddy, but I wasn’t sure if I really had a bug or was just stressed. I figured, if I was really sick, I could just DNF on the run, but if it was stress, the run would be the best thing for me.

Once I was there and warming up, I felt great. A full page article pulled from my blog was in the new news letter so lots of people were asking me about my bare feet and commenting on my article. Okay, so now I had to run well or look like a goof. Additionally, my husband, who would rather avoid crowds and not stand around waiting for me for half an hour, had come out to see me run one last time before heading to Afghanistan and I wanted to show off for him. Our daughter stripped off her shoes and ran the kids’ one mile fun run barefoot. She said several people asked her, “You’re are a Nail, aren’t you?” I was so tickled. I’ve been hoping to interest her in running without pushing her and she really had a great time.

It was finally gun time. I sailed through the first mile, but totally botched the water stop at the mile mark. There was a darling little girl, about 5 years old, holding out a cup of water. She was kind of hard to reach, but I went out of my way so she would feel good about helping. Unfortunately, just after I got hold of the cup, my hand slammed into the hand of the next guy holding a cup and sent both cups flying. It was warmer out there than I had expected and I REALLY wanted that water, so before my brain kicked in a loud expletive slipped out, SH**! I turned around and started back to grab again for water, but of course, I had sent the last two cups flying and they were turned around picking up refills. Apparently when I thought, “Oh, to he** with it,” I thought it out loud because a few people that had watched the whole thing chuckled at me. Okay, 1 mile in and I’ve already traumatized a 5 year old, sheesh. By the water stop at mile 2, I was parched and really wishing I had carried my own bottle. Not wanting a repeat of the last stop, or to inhale my last chance for hydration, I decided to make a Jeff Galloway stop and walked for one minute. Water in I was ready to do the last mile. I was feeling pretty good about my pace, but didn’t look at my Garmin. My best is my best, and knowing my pace wasn’t going to make me go faster. I was really pouring it on during the last mile and started to get a little light headed, not good, time to throttle back a little. Apparently I had my Garmin set for a max heart rate because at this point it was beeping at me constantly and I’m sure the people around me wanted to rip it off my wrist and shove it down my throat.

As I approached the finish line, I could see the clock 25:XX , dang, no sub 25 today. Oh well, let’s see what I CAN do. The official time was 25:45, second place for my age group. I can’t help but wonder if I hadn’t messed up at the water stop or walked for a minute could I have finished sub 25? Maybe, maybe not, maybe next time. That is what it is all about, getting out there again and again, doing a little better each time, reaching a little higher, and being surrounded by friends who are truly great.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Be an Eagle, GET OVER IT!

Every plant knows this: It’s only when you get crap thrown on you that you really start to grow. ** Scott Sorrell**

It has been a very long and stressful week since my 5K PR. The 9 miles on Sunday went okay, but I was pretty worn out from the race. The rest of the week went pretty much downhill from there. I think I am more stressed about Rusty leaving than I have let myself feel. Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis is very sensitive to stress and I have been getting little red flags all week. Saturday, I worked two back to back races, 5K and half marathon, and several hours of standing followed by a 5 mile run was too much for my feet. Saturday night they swelled up like balloons.

I was so upset that I let myself go on a major pity party this morning. I typed a long whiny blog about the details of each crummy run and all the things I hate about arthritis. Then I decided to get the heck over it. I put on my Brooks running shoes and wore them around the house for a while to see how my feet felt with some padding and then decided to hit the road.

I took it very easy and walked a tenth of each mile, but I felt good and got slightly faster as the miles went by. Now I’m tired, but it is a good tired, not the sick tired that I was afraid I would be. I’m still a bit tender from the RA, but my mind feels better and I’ve gained a lot of confidence knowing that if I had run my half marathon today, even being under the weather, I could have finished and probably even improved my time. Running in shoes was the pits, but worth the price to be able to run. Hopefully by my next run on Tuesday I will be back to bare, but if not, that is okay too, as long as I can run.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

26:09!! CNU Race Report

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb." **Sir Winston Churchill***

It has been a crazy couple of weeks since I last posted! We had a wonderful time at Disney World and I took the whole week off from running. At the beginning of the week I kind of felt like I was fighting a cold so with all the running around the parks, I decided I’d be better off getting all the rest I could and not pushing with morning runs.

My first run after vacation was rough though. My feet were sensitive from being in sandals all week and I felt rusty from not running. It was tough to talk myself into getting out there and doing it, but once the 4.5 mile run was behind me I felt much better. The next day was speed work with a mile and a half warm up and 4 Yasso 800’s. The Yassos went really well, between 4 and 4:15 with the last one just barely under 4! That last Yasso was amazing because for the first time I got that flying feeling I have heard runners talk about. I felt like I was just gliding over the surface and could go on forever.

The following day, Thursday, was an easy 3 mile recovery run. I should have lifted weights afterwards, but decided to skip it so I wouldn’t be sore for my 5K today. Friday was a rest day, but we decided at the last minute to go for one more theme park day while Rusty had time off and went to Buschgardens Williamsburg for the day. There was hardly anyone in the park and the weather was perfect so we rode roller coasters until we were sick and then watched shows. It wasn’t as long of a day as a day in Disney, but my legs and back were still pretty tired by the time we got home. I started rethinking my 5K, especially when I couldn’t find my race flyer with directions and times.

This morning, Rusty put his hand on my shoulder at 6:32 and asked what time I needed to be up for my run, ummm, 6:00! Not a good start. I threw down some coffee and a banana, grabbed my gear with a bottle of Gatorade and some sports beans. Without a clear idea of where I was going, I headed out the door for the 8am start hoping the start was where I thought it was. At least running late didn’t leave me time to contemplate throwing in the towel on this one. I didn’t feel rested after the long day yesterday and I REALLY wanted to go back to bed, but I was on a mission and didn’t have time to think.

I did find the registration table on time, after walking around for 10 minutes, handed in my check and started warming up. By 7:55 I was warmed up and ready to go when someone told me the kids run started at 8 and the 5K started at 8:30. Dang, all warmed up with nowhere to go. I wasn’t alone, there were a bunch of people griping about the unclear start time so we all stood around getting cold and then had to warm up again. Along the way, I had the usual bunch of funny looks when people realized my feet were bare, but no questions at this point. I guess they assumed I'd put them on for the race.

At 8:30 we were ready to roll so about 200 runners lined up for the start. I spotted a runner that I know is fast, but I know is also injured and thought maybe I could keep up with her today. This was my first 5K where I actually warmed up before the race so for once I was able to start off at speed and not crash a mile into the run.

At mile one I felt pretty good, but was questioning my sanity about keeping up such a hard pace. I was intentionally not looking at my Garmin and just going by feel with the occasional glance at my heart rate. Susan, the runner I was pacing off of, had realized I was on her heels and since she knows I’m slow decided to kick it up a notch to stay ahead of me. I stayed on her heels through the first and second mile, but by mile 3 she started pulling ahead.

As we hit the 2 mile mark, there was someone calling out times. I really didn’t want to know so I stuck my fingers in my ears and repeated, “I don’t want to know!” about three times. When I took my fingers out of my ears he was laughing at me, but didn’t call my split. Near the end of the third mile, I was in trouble. My breathing was getting tough, my legs were tired, and I was mentally not there. I could still see Susan, but I knew I’d never pass her in the final stretch. As we turned the last corner, I was able to pull a last bit from the tank and picked it up for the last 100 yards or so. I didn’t look at the clock because I didn’t want to know yet what my time was. I stopped my Garmin at the finish line and was aggravated by the stack up to turn in our tags. I don’t do well going from full speed to full stop and was worried that the drop in blood pressure would make me pass out in the chute! Fortunately I was able to keep the black spots at bay, turn in my tag, and walk my cool down. When I finally took a peak at my Garmin, it said my time was 26:07!!!! WHOOT!!

My mile splits were 8:16, 8:18, 8:30 with my final 1/10th mile sprint below an 8 minute mile, so although they weren’t negative splits, they weren’t terribly far off. I managed to pull of 2nd for my age group with a clock time of 26:09! That was way cool! I finally feel like part of the group now and can’t wait for my next 5K. If I’m more rested, have a calmer morning, and warm up right, there is a good chance I will improve on my time. The best part was all the questions about being barefoot. People take more notice when you are doing something different and finish with a good time!

Next hurdle? Tomorrow’s 9 mile long run!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

8 Barefoot Miles

"There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but only one view." **Harry Millner**

I've been a really lazy blogger lately, mostly because I haven't had all the much to post about. I just finished week 5 of my half marathon training plan and am feeling really good about how it is going. I've done nearly all my training barefoot, the only shod running being when I wear my VFFs for group runs on really rocky trails.

My times are improving nicely and giving me hope of actually running at respectable speeds one day, LOL. I've been posting to Hal Higdon's forums to get better coaching on my training plan (what better than to go to the source!) I've picked up a lot of good info there and had many questions answered by Hal Higdon himself. For interval training I have been doing Yasso 800's under 4.5 minutes for 4 repeats. I'll test this new pace in a 5K on Sep. 19th and see if I can sustain it for 3.1 miles straight. To curb the incessant hunger that has been waking me up an hour early, I have added a bedtime shot of protein powder. It seems to be working nicely and I'm continuing to see a downward trend on the scale. Ideally I'd like be to down about 10 pounds by November, which should be totally doable if I don't get too out of control on vacation next week.

Today was my longest barefoot run ever! Saturday was a 3 mile pace run so I ran a little over a mile to warm up and then ran 3 miles at %80 HRR (heart rate reserve.) I don't know if I could actually keep that pace up for an entire half marathon, but that is the target zone for an HM race so I thought I would give it a try and just go by heart rate without looking at my pace. It turned out that I had 2 miles at about 9:30 and one at 8:58. I was totally stunned! Needless to say, I was tired after that run. My feet were tender, although undamaged, and after my run I went to a race expo to pick up some needed gear and decided to do that all barefoot too.

Anyway, on to my point, by Saturday evening my feet were sore for the first time since I started running barefoot. I don't mean tender as in hot spots, blisters, or damaged skin, but a deep in the tissues tired like they had had a very good workout. Apparently this is a pretty common feeling for most beginner barefooters, but owing to my barefoot youth and my propensity to go barefoot in my house, my feet have been fine with my only limiting factor being the skin on the bottoms. I was a little worried about running 8 miles on sore feet, but decided they weren't too bad off.

I really didn't want to run today and nearly talked myself out of it. I was really tired from the pace run, but that is the point behind running hard the day before your long run, it teaches your body to keep going when it is tired. It was hot out, I was tired, I was hungry, I had a lot to do, we had company coming for dinner, my list of excuses was as long as my arm, but I kept moving forward, headed for the door. It was definitely one of those less fun runs. Every mile felt like slogging through molasses and I never did get my second wind. Usually by the time I pass the 3 mile mark I perk up for a couple of miles, but not today. I kept going though, up and down dead end streets, with every return tempting me to short cut home. My feet were starting to sting so I concentrated on relaxing and keeping my form good while watching my heart rate to keep it at about %70.

About half way though the run I started taking walking breaks. I don't usually take walking breaks on long runs, but I was SO tired! My running pace was staying around an 11 minute per mile pace, but the walking breaks added up to bring the whole run to a 12:15 pace, which is still about a minute per mile faster than my long runs were back in January so it wasn't too disappointing. I finished my 8 miles without being too sore or damaging my feet and now I have it behind me. Week 5 is done and I have a new record distance for barefoot running. Next week is a fall back week and we are going to Disney World. So, although I will be on my feet plenty, I'll get in a tempo run before we fly out on Tuesday, and then probably let it go for the rest of the week. If I really feel like a run there is a 1.5 mile track at the hotel, but I'm guessing several days on my feet will be enough stress for my body :-)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bye Bye Birdie

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is not safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing" ***Helen Keller***

Week three is behind me! It was a good fall back week, despite my deviations from the plan. I won't be able to push the envelope so much later and I have a few little warning signs that my RA is threatening to flare so I’ll behave myself and stick to the plan more.

I was supposed to do 3 miles of a general run on Thursday and rest Fri/Sat with a 5K Sunday, but since I couldn't find a Sunday 5K and my husband's group from work were running my favorite trail for military PT I decided to skip my Thursday run and do 5 with them. This trail is a lot of steep ups and downs with many of the hills having boards to terrace them so it is quite technical and definitely killer. I set a 12 minute per mile pace, which is pretty ambitious for me on this trail. I've run this trail in under an hour before, and I've run it barefoot before, but this was my first attempt at finishing under an hour AND barefoot.

Happily, I managed to maintain my pace and met my time goal. I didn't watch my heart rate during the run, but now looking at my stats I think I probably ran a bit too hard for the temps. It was definitely a Lactate Threshold run which isn't too smart on a fall back week. I'll do a little strength training tomorrow and then do a short easy run on Sunday before the next week starts.

Saturday I worked a race with my running club. I LOVE working races, all the fun without the blood, sweat and tears :-) I got to do timing again. Apparently most people don't like to do timing so when they pull out the machines everyone looks really busy, LOL. I get a real charge out of cheering everyone on as they hit the chute and observing all the different levels of intensity on people's faces, judging who did their best and who was out for a stroll. It was very hot and sticky and one woman managed to cross the line looking perfect, every hair in place, make-up fresh, and no sweat spots anywhere! Obviously, she could have done better. Other people staggered across the line well after her, soaked in sweat, looking like they were in dire pain. They are the ones I cheer hardest for because they are working their hearts out, even if it did take them 55 minutes to finish a 5K.

Anyway, I met my running group Sunday morning at 7 and it was lovely. We had an outrageous storm the evening before so the temps were down and the humidity was tolerable. Water still dripped from the trees, but the sky was blue and people were out fishing and enjoying the day. I ran with another relaxed runner and did between 12 and 12.5 minute miles for three miles and then walked the last two back. My heart rate for the 3 miles of running was at a nice %60, other than the spike at the beginning for taking off too fast :-) The guy I ran with is over 6 ft. tall so the walking at the end just about killed me! I'd have done better to just trot beside him, but I didn't want to run more than 3.

We were running in an area that that was new to me so I wore my VFFs and was very glad I had. It was all cut limestone gravel, my most hated surface, but the VFFs saved the run. I'm going to the Expo for the Virginia Beach Rock & Roll HM in a couple of weeks and plan to try on racing flats to see how they feel. I can’t imagine them being comfortable at this point, but it would be good to at least get a real idea of how much the weigh and how the heel feels.

In non-running news, today is my daughter’s 18th birthday and her launch. We left for the airport at 4am to send her to her college internship in Florida. It is only a 5 month internship, but she plans to stay in Orlando one way or the other to work and continue school so this is my first taste of empty nest. It is softened by the fact that we will see her in a few weeks when we go to visit Rusty’s family (so he can say good-bye before leaving for Afghanistan), but she will be working and not playing in the theme parks with us. They grow up much too fast!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Week 2 Int. Half Marathon Training

"Health is the thing that makes you feel that now is the best time of the year. "

**Franklin Pierce Adams**

I have now finished the second week of the Int. HM plan and I'm feeling really good about it. Even though I kind of blew my 3 mile pace run yesterday by doing a 5K pace instead of HM pace, I still managed my 6 mile long run this morning and it went well. I maintained about a 13 mpm pace to keep my heart rate down in the heat, (80 degrees, 80% humidity). My plan for the half marathon is a pace of slightly better than 12 minute miles, with the hope of a few 11 minute miles for a target finishing time of 2:30:00.

I can very comfortably run 6 miles, which wasn't the case at the beginning of the year so I'm already ahead of where I was when I was just starting my first HM plan near the end of last year. I do have two extra weeks programmed into my training plan so I can slow things down a bit if need be, and I have a 10K (Virginia Beach Blue Moon Wicked 10K, Oct. 31st) planned the week before the HM. I hope to run for a PR with a goal of finishing in less than an hour.
Yesterday I ran in my minimal shoes (Vibrim Five Fingers Sprints) because of the rough roads, but my 6 miles today were all barefoot. No joint pain, sore hips, tight back, or calves. My only problem this weekend is that I wore a cotton tank top today and didn't think to Body Glide under my upper arms, ouch! This was my second 6 mile barefoot run and I have one very small blister on the ball of my foot. I tend to twist my left foot when it hits the ground if I'm not paying attention so I know I slacked off on form at some point.

I’m really happy with how I have been doing since I switched back to Enbrel to treat my RA. I rarely take Naproxen so I have no more need of constant Aciphex and I have cut drastically back on Flexeril (which I was only taking ½ dose of) and can count on one hand the number of Darvon I’ve taken in the last month. Even when it is happening to me, I have a hard time believing how dramatically running controls my RA! Since I feel best when I’m working the hardest, I’m confident that I will keep getting stronger and faster. A marathon still seems impossible, but I seem to have a knack for doing the impossible lately, so who knows when I’ll make the breakthrough to my first 20 mile training run!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ASYMCA Mud Run: Race Report

"We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. " **Anon**

I’ve been waiting 2 years to do the ASYMCA Mud Run and finally got my chance. Road races are fun, trail races are better, and obstacle races are the craziest and most fun of all! The location brought back a whirlwind of memories, but most of all it was the most challenging race I have run to date. It was also perfectly suited to my barefoot tangent.

The race was held on the Little Creek Amphibious Base in Norfolk Virginia, right on the edge of Virginia Beach. 20+ years ago I worked in the medical clinic as a Navy Corpsman with the Reserves so driving through the gate and onto the base brought back a flood of memories. I was allowed to work full time for the better part of our year in Virginia, so it was more than just weekends. I knew the base, and saw the SEAL team guys pass through our halls, but never knew what happened to any of them because the day after we left Virginia Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we were off to Italy for forward deployment.

With all that in my head, I lined up with the third wave of the start. There were nearly 2,000 runners in all, most participating in teams, and many wearing their combat boots and camouflage pants. The waves were sent out with 5 minutes between each, and we all headed off for the first mile on the beach. Everyone headed straight for the water to run on the packed damp sand, but three times we were directed back up the beach to clamber over huge piles of soft sand, or through pits full of salty, muddy water. Thankfully, after the first mile, we turned off the beach and were greeted with a water stop. I gulped from one cup while pouring a second over my head, successfully washing salt into my eyes. We crossed a piece of asphalt topped road and turned onto a forest path. This was WONDERFUL!! The ground was packed sand that quickly turned to a blanket of pine needles as it wound through the trees. It obviously was not a wildly used trail and in most places it was impossible to pass people, which slowed progress down quite a bit and forced anyone who wanted to pass into a sprint through the occasional break in the trees. This was also where we crossed our deepest water hazard. It was a surprisingly deep channel, owing to the recent rains, and we all plunged into the chest deep water single file, laughing hysterically.

The tree-lined path gave way to sandy dunes as we emerged and headed back toward the beach. This brought us nearly to the start where the crowds of spectators got a chance to cheer and photograph the runners as we approached the second water stop. Turning inland again, we ran on roads that changed constantly from asphalt, cement, and dirt before heading back into the trees. People were starting to flag at this point, myself included. My quads and glutes were screaming from all the sand dunes and my legs felt like lead. Then there was the wall. I was kind of expecting something more intimidating, but was glad that it was only about 5 ft. high. I had to stand in line for my turn to climb over and managed to get in two running steps so I easily got my leg up and over the first time. I was worried about dropping down onto my ankle that has been giving me fits for weeks, but I landed well and continued my run. The last mile of the run was up and down the sand dunes, snaking around to get the distance in. I kept turning corners and thinking, “Oh no! Not another hill!” Very few people were running at this point and we all trudged along with people shouting the remaining distance. It would have been better if they had been a little consistent, LOL. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of how far it was to the end.

Our last major obstacle was the water crawl. Frankly, collapsing to my hands and knees to crawl seemed like a pretty good idea at that point, plus the water was cool and refreshing, despite being totally opaque with mud. Unfortunately, the bottom was course sand that ground painfully into my knees, making me very grateful when I crawled under the last wire and could stand up to finish the race. The crowd at the finish line was huge and cheering everyone on. Through the chute, I stopped to take off the timing chip that had been digging into my ankle for 8 kilometers and found my family. I had made it back in time to see my daughter run the kids’ one mile fun run. She isn’t a big fan of running, but she gave it her best shot and got a lovely finisher’s medal. I was proud of her for doing it even though she would have preferred to sleep in and watch TV in the air conditioning.

All in all, it was a really fun race. I was good and dirty by the end, but you really had to make an effort to get totally muddy. The serious mud hounds did belly flops into each water hazard just to get muddier. The best part, though, was the teams. There were teams of every configuration from all male, to all female, co-ed, all military, all in boots, you name it. Other teams were there to specifically honor a friend or family member that is a fallen hero; those teams were the most touching of all. The teams were required to cross the finish line together, no one left behind. Listening to them as they encouraged each other and worked together to keep the team moving was very inspirational. At one point I passed a group of military guys and heard combat poetry being shouted out loud and clear. I don’t remember the exact words, but what I heard went something like this:

We fought all day
We fought all night
We fought until our gun barrels glowed red and we were out of ammunition
Then it was time for had to hand combat…

I will never be a combat soldier; I will never know what they go through or what a day is like facing a fierce and determined enemy. I don’t have to live in the sand and muck, day in and day out, to do my job. I can only admire them and do what I can on the home front to support them and their families. It was an honor and a privilege to share the race course with our military and a joy to see everyone having so much fun.

P.S. I’m now on week two of Hal Higdon’s Intermediate Half Marathon training plan. Being back to a regular running routine is improving my RA and my sleep patterns dramatically. I feel so much better! My ankle isn’t totally healed, but since it wasn’t a running injury, it is healing and not being aggravated. As long as I don’t put my foot down and then turn or twist, it is fine.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going." **Jim Ryun**

Today was the Coast Guard 5K and I was feeling really good about being back to running. While organizing my gear, directions, and plan, I saw that most of the race was on the same rough roads as my fateful 4th of July race and it immediately struck fear in my heart. I simply didn't look forward to it. I decided to carry my VFFs and put them on when the road got rough, but the minute I stepped out of the car, I knew I needed to put them on from the start. I felt a little defeated having to give in to shoes already, but I really wanted to just run for fun, no worries about time, take it easy on my ankle, and NOT be in pain the whole time.

Standing at the start, I got a few comments and questions about my weird shoes. One seasoned runner said, "I hope you have a good heel pad in those." Of course my answer was that I didn't need one because I don't land on my heels. He furrowed his brow and said, "Forefoot strike, eh."

I wasn't in a hurry so I hung at the back of the pack and started passing people shortly across the start line. Not far into it, I was starting to think that maybe I had lost more ground than I thought during my injury recovery, but then I realized we were on a pretty good incline, ugh. Not the best way to start a race! I plugged along, purposefully not looking at my Garmin and just going by my breathing. By the first mile mark I was really happy. I felt good, I was still passing people and my ankle didn't hurt at all. I was feeling warmed up and picked up the pace a little. I thought again how glad I was to have my VFFs on. As much as I love running barefoot, if it is miserable and no fun I'll give up. Better to take a break than throw in the towel.

When I hit the second mile mark I decided to increase my speed again, but I started getting a stitch when I hit the next hill so I relaxed a bit. All through this mile I was constantly doing form checks. It is a lot like learning to drive a car. At first you are totally conscious about checking mirrors, position of hands on the wheel, signaling, turning, it is all conscious and consumes all your attention. Relearning to run properly is the same way. I'm constantly thinking, "Am I landing on my forefoot or my heel? Am upright? Am I picking my feet straight up? Are my feet falling inline in front of me? Are my hips moving, or are they stiff? Are my shoulder and neck relaxed?" Pretty much every time I checked, there was something to be corrected. If I let my mind wander for a few minutes, there were more things to correct. However, as time went on, the interval between the correction and the detail falling apart again got longer. I look forward to not having to think about it, but it is going to take a while to break these bad habits!!!

When I turned the last corner, with about 50 yards left to go, I punched it! I sprinted for all I was worth and crossed the finish line with a Garmin clocked speed of 6:20 minute mile!!!!! WOW! I had no idea I could do that! Granted, I only sustained it for about 10 seconds, but WOW!!! My final time wasn't all that impressive, 31:20 clock time (edited to add, the official posted time was 31:34, don't know what happened to those 14 seconds), but considering the heat, my time off, and my history, I was quite happy with that :-) My splits were great:
Mile 1: 10:55
Mile 2: 9:58
Mile 3: 9:40

Unfortunately, I don't know my final Garmin time because I forgot to hit the stop button until an hour later, no biggie.

The best part of the race set-up was that just past the finish line there were two huge ice chests filled with ice water and washcloths! Each person got a sopping ice-cold cloth to mop their brow and wipe down their scorched limbs. It was amazing! They also had a great snack table with plenty for everyone. I hung around for the awards and strolled around a car show for a few minutes before wandering back to my car to go home.

It was a great day, I feel privileged to have been able to race, and blessed that my ankle healed so quickly and that my RA is being beaten back into submission.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Pavement

"Fall seven times, stand up eight" **Japanese Proverb**

I haven't had much to blog about lately as I've been patiently waiting for my ankle to heal before trying to run on it again. I'm up against starting to train for my next half marathon and another setback for being impatient and stupid would really throw a serious wrench into my plans!

My parents were visiting so I was doing a lot more walking than I should have, which probably slowed healing by at least a week. At one point, I decided to wear my good running shoes for the day, hoping the support and cushioning would help my sore ankle and making being on my feet all day more comfortable. I hated every minute that they were on my feet and after less than an hour I was carrying them over my shoulder. At that point, there was only a small area of flexation that hurt and I simply couldn't avoid it in stiff shoes, so I was much more comfortable in bare feet, and the dirt paths in the Indian village and Jamestown fort felt wonderful under my toes.

Finally today, I felt no tenderness or pain when I took a few running steps across the living room. As I dug out my running clothes and Garmin, my dog went nuts! She was so excited to run again, almost as excited as I was. We headed out the door into air as hot and thick as a Louisiana Bayou. After a 5 minute warm up, we took off running. It felt great! My ankle had that soft tugging of fresh healing and the stiffness that goes with it, but otherwise, no soreness. I ran easy, staying at a relaxed comfortable pace and finished my mile in what seemed like way too little time. In truth, it took me 11 minutes to run the mile, which is actually a minute or two faster than my usual relaxed pace :-)

My dog actually didn't do as well. The heat was too much for her and I had to pass her off to my mom, who was walking and carrying water, after about 8 minutes. I'll have to get up much earlier if I'm going to take her with me again during summer.

My feet had really gotten lazy during the 3 week break, but they did well with no blisters. Once, I wasn't paying attention to the road and managed to hit a rock just right, so I have a slightly bruised spot, but nothing serious and it will be good in another day or two. This coming Saturday, I have a 5K race with my running club and I can't wait! I'm sure I won't set a PR, but it will feel so good to be back in the game it hardly matters! One more week of testing the waters with my ankle and then training begins in earnest!

Upcoming races:
Coast Guard Day 5K, Aug. 1st
AFYMCA Mud Run 8K, August 8th
Outer Banks Half Marathon, November 7th
Atlanta Half Marathon, November 26th
Chang Mai Thailand Half Marathon, Dec. 27th

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Most Challenging Run

"Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs." **Malcolm Stevenson Forbes**

Sometimes things can go very wrong, but turn out right. Yesterday was one of those days. Earlier in the week I had hurt myself doing a stretch with the wrong form in my yoga class. I’m sure I should have let the 8 kilometer race go and just helped out, but I figured I’d run anyway and just take it easy and enjoy the scenery. After all, the race was through the Yorktown Battlegrounds on a beautiful Independence Day!

We were tardy getting out the door and it was a long walk from the parking lot to the race start so, by the time I threw in a last minute port-a-potty stop, I barely made it to the back of the crowd when the start was signaled! There were only about 400 people so it didn’t take all that much time to get to the start line, but it struck me right away that the pavement was very washed out and rough. No matter, I thought, I can deal with it by running in the grass at the side of the road. This worked for about ¼ mile.

The road continued to get worse as we entered the woods. The areas on the side of the road turned into weeds that concealed big chunks of rocks and gravel, with trees and shrubs very close to the road. I found if I looked for places where the top layer of pavement, a coarse later addition to the original pavement, was worn away it was smooth enough to be comfortable, but this too was short lived. All I could think about was running fast. I wanted this race over as soon as possible and the faster I ran, the less it hurt. Unfortunately, I couldn’t maintain that speed for long.

The terrain changed constantly: wooden bridges, woods, fields; sometimes there was a nice grassy shoulder, other times it was steep and uneven. My hips were starting to hurt from all the crazy angles and constantly being ready to recover from stepping into a hole or unseen hazard hidden in the grass and weeds. I’m sure I added a lot of distance to my run, zig-zagging back and forth across the road looking for the least chewed up patches of pavement, or a bit of softer even grass on the other side.

I was sorely tempted to flag down the little gas powered golf cart that was zipping around and beg it for a ride to the end, but that would mean admitting defeat. If I arrived at the finish line by anything other than my own two feet, everyone would simply nod and say, “Of course it is too hard to run barefoot! Were you crazy?” My ankle hurt, but not as bad as the soles of my feet. I was tense and exhausted from the extreme concentration it took to keep my footing in the tangles of rocks, roots, and weeds on the side of the path. Every muscle in my body ached, but I was making good time. As the miles ticked away, I started thinking again that I could make it.

Then, with 1.3 miles left, the runners were directed off road onto a narrow gravel path. You would think that after the horrible pavement, gravel wouldn’t be much worse, but it was big chunks of cut limestone, and they were the last straw. There was no side of the path to escape to. The path itself was so narrow that I had to stop walking and stand aside in places to let runners pass me. I had no idea how far we had to continue on the gravel, but there was only one way out, and that was to keep moving forward. I dug deep and continued to gingerly pick my way across the gravel like a cat in a puddle.

Finally, with about ¼ of a mile left, I was back on the pavement, but it wasn’t welcoming at all. As we came out of the woods, the open field next to the road was recently mowed and very dry so the blades of hay were sharp and deeper than my ankle. I had to get pretty far off the road to get away from the rocks, and then cut back across to go through the finishing chute. I’ve never been so happy to see a finish line in my life!!! My husband met me with my slides and I put them on before I even handed in my tag or left the chute! Humorously, the curmudgeon from my track club, who has been the only person to be sarcastic and derisive about my barefoot running, was just outside the end of the chute. He glanced down at my feet and said, “That is cheating to be running in those!” As if I had run 5 miles in my sandals! I was in no mood to be nice so I shot him a withering look and said, “I did NOT put these on until AFTER I crossed the finish line!” He shrank back, muttering an apology and I walked on. My husband, who was pretty much done with standing around bored, wanted to get home to prepare for holiday guests so we headed straight back to the car.

After a cool shower and careful scrubbing of my feet, I looked them over for damage. I was amazed to find I didn’t have a single blister! I am, however, rather bruised, my ankle is tender again, and my hips will be sore for a couple of days. When all is said and done, I believe this race did a lot for improving my form. I had to be totally precise in how I set down and picked up my feet, no matter how tired I got. I had to use my abs and hips to control my gait, and had to keep going when I wanted nothing more than to take my ball and go home. This was one of the most mentally challenging things I’ve ever done.

I believe we benefit every time we challenge ourselves and rising to a challenge, even a self imposed one, builds strength. We can sit around and let our muscles atrophy until we are too feeble to get out of a chair, or we can hit the gym and build muscles so they are there when we need them. I believe mental fortitude can be similarly built by finding challenges and rising to the occasion. Our lives are too easy for normal daily activities build our bodies enough, and it is the same for our minds. In our safe little world, we are often complacent, jaded, and totally unprepared when tragedy strikes. As I prepare to send my first born across the country, and my husband across the world, I wonder if I will have the strength to deal with the realities that may come my way. During the course of the race I was called a warrior, said to have iron feet, and told I am tough. I don’t think I am any of those things; I’m just a lump of coal hoping that someday I will have the strength of a diamond when I need it.
**Special thanks to Mike Angelo, the Peninsula Track Club photographer, for the great pictures!**

Monday, June 29, 2009

If running barefoot is a mistake, it is mine to make

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."
**Mahatma Gandi**

I had a fantastic run today. It wasn’t long (only 3 miles), it wasn’t fast (actually, I didn’t check so it might have been), but I was focused and it was beautiful outside with the birds and trees, and all the things that make it wonderful to be outside and full of life.

I’m learning to be much less conscious of running barefoot. Not that I don’t watch the road, pay close attention to my form, or forget that I’m shoeless, but rather that I don’t brace myself for comments or funny looks by people I pass. It adds to the sense of freedom when you can finally let go of the fear of scrutiny.

On Saturday, I met a couple from my running club at the trail head for a 5 mile run. The whole area was buzzing with activity, people stretching, chatting, beginning and finishing their runs or walks. I had never seen so many people there at once! With so many people came many comments: “Where are your shoes?” “Did you forget your shoes?” “Why aren’t you wearing shoes?” Some people are just looking for a smile and a wave, others really want an explanation. When that is the case, I’ll talk with them for a few minute, enjoying how they relax as the understanding of what I’m doing takes away the concern and tension on their faces. In one case, a gentleman was very worried that I didn’t know what I was in store for. He kept listing the hazards of rocks, twigs, gravel, and broken oyster shells one at a time, as if one more danger would snap me back to reality and send me scrambling back to my car for my running shoes, horrified at the near miss by disaster. There was only one negative response, an old granny pushing a stroller scowled at me with all the disdain and disapproval she could muster. I found it rather sad that she would waste so much energy on a complete stranger that was not threatening her in any way.

Sunday I was sore from a couple of blisters obtained while sliding up and down the hills on the trail, probably because I wasn’t focused enough on my form, due to the overwhelming heat and humidity dominating my thoughts. I figured 3 miles around the neighborhood would be alright though, so I clipped the leash of the dog, and headed out. Again, it was hot and sticky and I had to stop 3 or 4 times to give water to my panting pooch, who was becoming less and less enthusiastic about “walkies” by the minute. Unfortunately, with my focus on the dog, and still being tired from the day before, my form was horrible and I ended up with sore calves and stinging feet.

Which brings me to today. I really didn’t feel like running, my feet hurt, it was already getting hot, and I was tired from not sleeping well, but I knew I wouldn’t get to run tomorrow and with a race coming up on Saturday, I needed to get my runs for the week in early so I can rest for a couple of days before the race. I decided not to take the dog, but to really focus on my form and figure out what is giving me blisters. The first mile was agonizing. I didn’t want to be there, but I concentrated on keeping my torso straight, my knees bent, picking up my feet, and staying aerobic. The second mile was better and I was finally feeling into the groove enough to let my mind wander a bit. Near the end of the second mile, I passed an older lady out for a walk who looked at me astonished, and blurted, “You’re running without shoes?!” To which I replied, “Yes, Ma’am!” Her comeback was, “[laughing] You must be from Carolina.” “Nope, California.” I could hear her laughter as we continued in our opposite directions. Shortly after beginning my last mile, a police officer on a motorcycle rolled up next to me. I thought to myself, “Oh great, here it comes, he is going to tell me I have to have shoes on.” The police in my little town are well known for being a bit over the top, mostly because they don’t have a lot to do. He looked at me curiously, no doubt watching my body language to get a read on whether I was up to no good or not, and then started the usual conversation, “Runnin’ without shoes?” “Yes, Sir” followed by my list of reasons to run barefoot. He responded with chatter about how he never wore shoes as a kid, slipping in a question about where exactly I lived, and for the next half mile we discussed kids, TV, races etc. By the end of the interview, I guess he decided I was harmless, told me to have a Blessed Day, and motored away. I’ll never know if he spotted me on a routine round of the neighborhood (I’ve never seen a motorcycle cop in my neighborhood in 2 years of running here) or if someone called to complain about a raving lunatic running barefoot down the street, but it is nice to know I passed the test and now have police consent to be running unshod.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hills, Heat, and Bare Feet: 10K race report

“Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.”
**Thomas J. Watson**

WOW! What a day! I ran my first barefoot (BF) race!

I signed up for the "Chesty" Puller Memorial 10K, long before I considered running it BF. I was warned it was a tough one, just like its name sake, the Marine hero Chesty Puller. We ran past his childhood home, up over a huge bridge, back over the bridge, and then over and back on another huge bridge. That is 4 Bridge crossings in 6.2 miles, with the thermometer nearing 80, and the humidity at about 90%. I haven't run a 10K since the Turkey Trot back in November of 2007, when it was cool and flat, so I really wasn't planning on a personal record. Once I decided to run it BF, my goal was simply to finish without shoes or blood.

The number one question I was asked was, "Why are you running barefoot?" My answer was honed down to: 1. To improve my running form, 2. To rebuild the muscles in my feet, 3. To slow or halt the damage of RA to my toes, and 4. To decrease the impact on my joints when I run. Generally the person would focus on one of these and ask more questions.

I got a lot of positive comments along the route, including a shout of, "Impressive!" from one of the front runners passing me after the turnaround, COOL! The best part was that my back didn't ache after my run, and any joint that started to hurt caused me to reassess my form and fine tune it, which always made the tenderness fade away. My single biggest problem was the bridges. Not because they were high, which they were, or because they were steep, which they also were, but because the concrete was grooved to give the cars traction. The grooves consisted of a deep ¼ inch wide cut, every ½ inch. I had to really focus hard on my form to keep from scuffing my feet going up or down. There was also a lot of debris on the road. I'm guessing there are a lot of logging trucks that pass through this area because the side of the road was littered with large and small chunks of wood, in addition to the usual gravel and junk that accumulates on the side of the road. It turned out that the wood wasn't a problem, and I only hit one rock hard with the outside edge of my foot. I ran the next 10 minutes with that foot falling always on the painted white line and by the time I had to turn off, it was feeling much better. With ½ mile left to go, I was feeling a blister coming on just below my second toe. Again, I checked my form, relaxed, and focused on not popping it with a twist or a scuff of my foot. It worked because my Garmin recorded my last .1 of a mile with a 7.5 minute per mile sprint and my blister never opened up.

The break down of the mile splits were:
Mile 1 (11:31) "Okay, cool, I can do this, the pavement isn't too bad."
Mile 2 (11:42) "Yikes! That is a really big bridge!"
Mile 3 (11:02) "So far so good, the bridge isn't so bad, I can do it again. This is a nice neighborhood, kind of need to resurface the road though."
Mile 4 (11:41) "Crap, another dang bridge."
Mile 5 (11:07) "OMG, will this bridge ever end!"
Mile 6 (11:14) "This road is a LOT rougher than it was on the first pass."
Mile 6.1 (0:40) "To heck with it, I'm sprinting across the finish line!"
Post race, "Can I have a second bottle of water to pour on my steaming feet?"

Sitting on the steps watching the awards being given, I talked to a couple full of questions. The wife, who won the first place plaque for my age group, was really interested in how BF running has taken away my back pain, a constant problem for her. I lamented the fact that if I had been 6 months younger, I would have had a 3rd place plaque (seriously, who would have thought women over 40 were SO fast!) All in all, I may have limped a bit walking back to my car, but it was so worth it! I'm tired, but not as tired as I usually am after a race. My feet are a bit sore from the blisters, but not from the muscle fatigue that I usually have after a long run. Most of all I'm excited to be part of the small minority that has the courage to kick off their shoes and go for it.

Morning after post script: This morning the mild tenderness in my hips (most likely due to hills) is gone, the blisters are dried and don’t hurt, and everything else feels great! I’ll take a couple of days off to rest, but I can’t wait for my next barefoot adventure!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Feeling Prepared

Feeling prepared

I have to type fast this morning because it will be a crazy day! The packed schedule for this weekend is what prompted me to run my long run yesterday. I knew I would feel better knowing I had it behind me.

It was the first really good running day we have had in a couple of weeks. Temps were in the very low 70's, overcast skies, and almost drizzling, MY FAVORITE!! Actually, totally perfect would have been temps in the 60's, but heck, for June in the South I'll take it.

I started out with plans to just make it a 6 mile LSD, but most of all, I didn't want to watch my Garmin like a hawk. I needed a relaxed feel good run so, although I did take it with me and wore my chest strap, I put it on my fuel belt and left it alone. My first 4 miles were at a comfortable pace, breathing easy 3 steps in and 3 steps out, with the occasional yawn or deep cleansing breath. As usual, the first mile was tough, second was comfortable, third was tough, and the rest was smooth sailing.

After mile 4 I decided to step it up and finish my run strong. I push some, but not hard, again avoiding my Garmin and going by feel and breathing. At mile 5 I decided to do a complete 10K, and really push my last 1.2 miles. As I stepped it up, warmed up and feeling really good, I increased my breathing rate, but never pushed to the point of huffing and puffing. The temp had crept up a bit and I was drenched in sweat, but it was still comfortable and not stifling like a few days ago. I finished feeling exhilarated, but drained. I definitely put in a good effort, but not a race effort.

When I got home and checked my Garmin, I was really pleased with my result. My slow comfortable miles had been around a 12:35 mpm, my slightly stepped up mile was 11:24 and my last fast mile was 10:15! The total for my 10K distance was almost to the second the same as the 10K I ran a year and a half ago, and I was really pushing then. I have a couple more weeks to get ready for my 10K on June 20th, but I'm really feeling good for a PR, despite the warnings I've gotten about the bridges. The biggest factor will be the weather. If it is hot and sticky, I won't shave much time off, but if it is cool, I will be golden!!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bull Island 4 Miler Race Report

It was a beautiful day in Poquoson, our current home town. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze and the bugs weren’t out yet. Poquoson is known for being the worst mosquito breeding ground in the area, so beating the bugs is a common running goal around here.

Our race started at the Poquoson Yacht club, a lovely little place way out on the far edge of town. I arrived, picked up my t-shirt and number and pulled off my overshirt to line up. It was really humid, despite the breeze and I knew, even though it was in the low 70’s, that the heat was going to get me before this was over, so I wore a running bra that didn’t have to be covered, knowing I was not going to be the only one with my tummy getting fresh air. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. I had woken up twice with cramps in my calves, which I haven’t had in years, and the dog got me up at 2:30 to go out. Along with being tired, I was just feeling off, but I lined up near the middle of the pack, and got ready to go.

As usual, the part of the pack I was in took off faster than I expected so right off the bat I was doing a 10 mpm pace. My goal was for that to be my average so I figured what the heck, I would just roll with it and try to keep that pace. I had my Garmin set up for a 40 minute/4 mile quick work out and turned on Fred, my virtual running partner. I decided not to look at time or heart rate, but just to try to stay a few steps ahead of Fred and monitor my breathing.

The first mile was rough as always. I was thinking I wasn’t going to reach my goal feeling so crummy and it was just too humid. I felt like I couldn’t get a good breath, or that there just wasn’t enough oxygen in the air. The second mile was better, I was starting to loosen up and get into a good rhythm and my breathing was a steady three steps in, three steps out. Early in this mile I started seeing the front runners passing me going back. At first I thought, “Oh good, I’m near the turn around.” Yeah, not so much. By the time I hit the turnaround most of the racers had passed me, including some really small kids and a couple of people that didn’t look like they could run to the end of a driveway. Being stomped on by 8 year olds does not do my ego any good! At the turn around I grabbed two cups of water. The first one I dumped down my back and front, the second I drank, and inhaled a little which gave me a momentary coughing fit (I know, I should know better by now.) The turnaround marked the beginning of my least favorite mile, #3.

The third mile is always my worst. For some reason my mind really messes with me here which is why I don’t care much for 5Ks, it is over just after the worst part. I needed to pick it up a little as I had lost a few seconds at the turnaround so I was behind Fred. I passed Fred not long after, but my breathing was beginning to deteriorate. I was breathing 3 in 2 out, then 2 in 2 out. The middle half of the race was through houses so the breeze was gone, and with it all the fresh air. I was really feeling like I wasn’t getting any air at all and my stomach was turning on me. I was thinking, here I am, wearing the skimpiest outfit I had ever run in, and now I’m going to be on the side of the road puking while everyone passes me, great!

I managed to hang on though and started into the last mile. I felt like I was still miles and miles from the finish line. Ahead of me were marshes with the black top winding through them in an endless ribbon. The runners were scattered as far as I could see, forward and back. Knowing this was my last mile lifted my spirits. If I could just hang onto this pace for 10 more minutes, I would be done and have met my goal. With about 2/3 of a mile left, I had to walk. I just felt like I couldn’t breathe and it was really getting to me. I walked for what seemed like ages, but I caught my breath a little and started to run again. With ½ mile left to go, I could see the tree tops and building where the finish was and decided to give it all I had. I gave in to running one breath in, one breath out and pushed. I caught and passed Fred (drop dead Fred!) and dug deep. I crossed the line with the clock reading 39:14. I DID IT!! One more goal met!
After drinking a bottle of water and walking around long enough to cool down, I finally headed into the yacht club for breakfast. The food was free for the runners and we each got orange juice, a cup of fresh fruit, three pancakes, and a beer. I think you have to run a few hard miles to really appreciate how a cold beer compliments pancakes.

Once everyone had eaten their fill, they gave out awards and turned us loose. My track club (of which I think I’m the newest member) had a pool party just down the street. This is the second time I’ve participated with the group and I have to say it is a fantastic bunch of people! It isn’t a hyper competitive or cut throat group, it is more of a social group that likes to have a good time, and we definitely did.

My next race is a 10K in 3 weeks. I was hoping to be ready to run a sub-60 minute race, but from the descriptions, this one won’t be it. There are a lot of steep bridges to cross, but it will be fun and bring me one step closer to my goal. I’m not in a hurry; I have the rest of my life to get there…

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Newest Adventure

"When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of hell." **Brian W. Aldiss**

I'm not sure how it started, where I first noticed this new movement in the running community. Maybe it was the article on the guy that ran the marathon barefoot to provide shoes for the homeless, or the article in Runner's World that talked about a famous running coach that made his team compete barefoot in the snow (they won!). However, somewhere the spark struck me and kindled a fire.
The next step that added to the flame was downloading an audio version of Born to Run. Listening to tales of ultra marathons, Tarahumara Indians, and a cure for most running injuries, fascinated me. I have not been plagued with injuries, but the idea of cutting joint impact by 50% definitely made me want to give barefoot running a try.
So why was a 40 year old woman with rheumatoid arthritis so willing to give up her precious shoes? Simple, I hate them. Of all the things that disappeared from my life, being barefoot was probably one of the least important, but strangely it was still very emotional. When the joints in my feet are inflamed, it is like walking on marbles and my feet get wider. For two years this meant I could not walk comfortably in anything but trainers with the most cushions that existed. I had to give up all cute shoes, pumps, sandals, boots, anything hard or narrow and bare feet even on carpet.
I grew up in Southern California, 3 miles from the beach. We only wore shoes to school, in the coldest part of winter, and maybe when we went to the store. Even when we wore shoes, they were as minimal as possible. My earliest baby shoes are white leather sandals and my senior year of high school was spent in one single pair of pink OP flip flops that were paper thin by the end of the year, but never blew out. I ran, rode my skateboard, climbed trees, and had my first kiss in bare feet. Bare feet are what feel natural to me, whether it is in my home, on the grass in my yard, or trying to get from the snack shack back to my towel across scorching sand. I mourned being trapped in shoes.
Now, with my RA mostly under control, I'm spending a lot less time in shoes. The thought of carrying that into my running life is exhilarating! The more I read, the more convinced I am that not only is running good, running barefoot is better. Unfortunately, to get my feet back to kid-tough is going to take time. At first it felt crazy, but after my first few tentative walks, being barefoot started to feel more comfortable so I started to do some running. Next, I bought a pair of Vibram Five Finger (VFF) shoes so I could continue to build up the long dormant muscles in my feet while I waited for the soles to get used to the idea. Of course, running barefoot takes a very different form and I immediately went out and practically destroyed my calves by running 3 miles on my toes (not a recommended running form). With my calves finally healed and a few barefoot miles tacked onto the end of my shod runs (I'm sure the neighbors think I'm nuts for running with my expensive running shoes in my hands) I decided I was ready for my favorite trail in bare feet. Fortunately, I at least had the intelligence to carry my VFFs with me in case things got to dicey. Unfortunately, I did not have the good sense to put them on for four miles and now have blisters all over the bottoms of my feet, DUH! I would have been okay if the trail had been all dirt and flat, but this trail is steep, graveled, and I was using my feet as brakes to slow down my very exuberant puppy (who could tow sleds down the street easily).
So now I sit with my feet grumbling, wondering how long it will take them to heal so I can try again. I would love to walk out into the world and never wear shoes again, but I know that is not only socially unacceptable, but also maybe a tad unrealistic when the snow hits. Although I still feel like an uncoordinated dork trying to relearn how to run in bare feet, I do think it is one of the most liberating things I have done in a long time. I believe all healthy people find little ways to revisit childhood, whether it is with roller coasters, race cars, or being silly with our kids. To totally leave behind freedom and frivolity is to die completely inside. I've always loved bucking the trends with clothes, hobbies, or philosophies so to throw away an opportunity to run barefoot through the neighborhood because someone might think it is unseemly, or I might get hurt, seems crazy to me, especially when I now believe it is the far healthier way to run. More importantly, to let barefoot running pass me by would be to deny the child that still lives within me, the one that I need to truly live.