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.