Friday, June 18, 2010

Glass? What glass?

This is an article I wrote for the Barefoot Runner's Society

“There's nothing neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”

~William Shakespeare

       One of the first things a barefoot runner is asked by any shod runner they encounter is, “What about glass!?!” I admit, I was a bit worried about this myself when I decided to try barefoot running. In my first weeks of walking, I managed to pick up a tiny crumb of glass up near my toes. No big deal, my dad picked it out for me (yep, 40 years old with my foot in dad’s hands to have my boo-boo fixed, LOL). He gave me a raised eyebrow, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” look, but didn’t say much else. The next month, when I had kicked it up a notch and was running, I picked up another crumb of glass. Keep in mind, on both occasions it wasn’t a big enough piece to stop the run, and I definitely wasn’t bleeding. I was beginning to think this would be a monthly occurrence and began contemplating a shift to minimal shoes instead of barefoot. As the month rolled over, I was expecting my next piece of glass to follow me home. When I felt the expected prick, I hunted around with a needle and tweezers for days, but never found anything. Hmmm, phantom glass.

       I was holding onto the hope that the barefoot runners groups were right, and once I learned to step lightly, I wouldn’t exert enough pressure when contacting the ground to push glass through the skin. It seemed reasonable enough, since one can gingerly pick up bits of a broken glass from the kitchen floor without shedding blood, but the thought of my running lighter than the bone shattering heel stomp I grew up with left me a bit uncertain.

       The good news is, since then I have not picked up another piece of glass in my feet! I’ve never lacerated my foot on a shard, embedded a crumb, or slit a plantar artery. Glass has not been an issue. I have been poked pretty harshly by a stick buried in the grass (which is why I have an aversion to grass – I cannot see through it) and I have had a uncomfortable run-in with a sweet gum ball, but in over 350 barefoot miles, I’ve never had to limp home from an injury that would have been prevented by shoes. I occasionally feel a bit of a prick and pause to brush off my feet, but nothing goes through the rubbery, smooth skin that has developed on my soles.

       Fast forward to this past week. I was out running and thoroughly enjoying the warm pavement as my mind drifted through the bizarre month I had come through, when I suddenly noticed I was running through the remnants of a brown beer bottle. It didn't catch my attention right away as the glass was dark brown and in the shade, but glancing down I saw the tattered label with bits of glass stuck to it and realized I was surrounded by glass for 3 feet in every direction. Thankfully, I didn't stiffen or change my form when I realized it, or I probably would have hit the brakes and slammed my foot into the pavement. I simply stayed my course and waited apprehensively for the inevitable prick of pain heralding a crumb of glass breaking the skin barrier. Nothing happened.

       I have looked into the abyss and no longer fear the sharp teeth of glass. I can stand proud with my fellow barefoot runners and honestly say, the histrionic warnings of the shod are poppycock. Okay, I already knew that, but it is fun to say “poppycock.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bull Island 4 Miler

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self.” **Aldous Huxley**

          I have been waiting a year for the 2nd annual Bull Island 4 miler in my current home town of Poquoson, VA. In 2009, at the race’s inaugural event, I was just starting to feel good about racing. I had run my first sub 30 5K and had been working all winter on extending my endurance for my first half marathon. I was a brand new member of the Peninsula Track Club, who was timing the race, so I was also enjoying meeting the members and beginning to feel like part of the local running community.

         This year a few things were different. I’m a much more seasoned racer, I know tons of people at the local races, and I have given up traditional running shoes. On the other hand, unlike last year, it was blazing hot and the mosquitoes were out in force. Before the race even started people had given up, not even wanting to try in this heat. I was feeling like I had a slight edge in this case since I have been running mid-day for the last few weeks and am fairly acclimated to the heat.

          The road we were running on is one that has flooded recently and many houses are being repaired so I ran the route a few days ahead of the race to check out the viability of running in barefoot. The asphalt was good, but there were a lot of loose rocks and other debris. I was also worried about how hot the road would get since there was no shade and no grass on the edge of the road to retreat to if I felt like it was getting too hot. With all this in mind, I decided to wear my huaraches. The sole material I chose is very thin, flexible, light weight, and not impervious to rocks, but they did fine on the training run. Needless to say they got a lot of attention at the race start. “Are you running in THOSE?!” One guy yelled, “Cool huaraches!” He told me later he had planned on running in racing flats, but after seeing my huaraches, decided to go bare. It must have worked for him because he won 3rd place overall for the men. The best part of that was knowing I’m not longer the only barefoot runner in town! I hope to run with Elijah again soon!

          The race itself was miserable. I have to laugh at my complaints about the heat and humidity for last year’s race because we would all have killed to have those relatively cool, bug free temperatures again. Unfortunately, I feel like I have lost a lot of speed over the last few months while focusing on distance. I set a much too ambitious goal for my last 5K and burned out so I wanted to set a goal I could stick with and decided that 9 minute miles would be a good place to start under the conditions thinking, if I felt good after the first couple of miles, I could kick it up. I ran a one mile warm up, which served me well because I felt really sluggish at first and needed to get the blood moving in my muscles.

          I didn’t take off too fast, but it took a lot of will power to hold my pace in that heat. I had decided to carry my own drink so at the water stop I just dumped it over my head and kept running. My knee didn’t hurt at all, but I knew from the last couple of weeks that if I stopped and walked, it was going to stiffen up so I kept on running. I had started out pretty far back in the pack, but steadily passed overheated runners one by one. My final finishing time was 35:41, almost a full minute per mile faster than last year! This moved me up from 6th place last year to 2nd (once again missing first by a frustratingly small margin.)

          Just like last year, the best part of the race was beer and pancakes afterwards. Any other time that combination sounds revolting, but after a hard race it is the perfect recovery meal!

          Walking back to my car after the awards ceremony, I was stopped by a couple that said they had seen me running around town. Of course, they thought I was nuts at first, but after a few minutes of answering their questions, they were intrigued and ready to look into it more.