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Conversation of the Day
Someone asks me, “You’re not going to run barefoot, are you?” I answer, “Of course!”Another young man claims he saw a guy run barefoot at a trail marathon in Napa Valley last year. I admit, “That was me!”
- distance: 26.2 miles
- any interesting statistics
I leave Huntington Beach early in the morning. I’ve been looking forward to St. George Marathon for over a year. It’s downhill. I love running downhill. I love running fast downhill. I’ve been running some respectable 5Ks, 10Ks, 10-milers, even half-marathons. St. George is where I planned to find out if I could actually run a respectable marathon. At the very least I wanted to finally break 4 hours!
I did the homework: I ran on the streets Saturday mornings in Irvine with Al Valdez (winner of the 1999 Rancho Cucamongo 10K), Fred Shufflebarger (First in his age group at the 1999 Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon), and Maurie Bousquet (55-59 divisional winner of the 1999 Fiesta 5000). On Sunday mornings I ran, up and down steep hills on the trails with “Buffalo Bill” McDermott (who earned his nickname by winning the very hilly Catalina Marathon more than anyone else – 13 times over the first 20 years of the race I think? Or maybe it’s 14, according to Roy M Wallack, who would in 2011 co-author a book with me, but of course, I don’t even know who Roy is at the time of this writing ;-). I ran my easy runs with A Snail’s Pace Running Club on Mondays and Wednesdays. Emphasis on “easy”, that’s why they’re called “snails”. I even ran barefoot on the sand with some guy, who just wanted me to call him “Moon.” And two weeks before the marathon, I ran 26 miles in Huntington Beach with fellow Snails, Bobby Porter, Steve Kashynski, Sherrie Kubiak, Alan Locher, and Chris Huy.
I had the plan: Pick up my number, chip, and shirt on Thursday. Drive up the course Thursday afternoon. Relax and camp in the forest Thursday night and Friday. Drive back down the course Friday night. Sleep in the van near the finish line. Then, Saturday race an easy 8 or 9-minute per mile pace for the first 2 miles. After warming up, I hoped to steadily increase my pace to average 7:38 minutes per mile (3 hours and 20 minutes is my age division Boston qualifying time).
I had the fuel: four small oranges that fit in my belt bag. I planned to eat one at 5, 10, 15, and 20 miles. That felt good at Rock ‘N’ Roll marathon where I paced my neighbor on her first marathon.
After driving and listening to cassette tapes for 8 hours, I decide to see what the locals listen to. The one music station I find is playing “Everything from Striesand to Miller” (Glen, not Steve). I get a strange feeling, like I’m in the movie “Pleasantville.” Perhaps the Barefoot Runner could bring a little color to this town Saturday morning.
I pick up my number, shirt, poster, computer-timing chip, etc. at the marathon headquarters. They tell me that I need to verify my chip at the expo. Oh well. I can still relax in the forest until late Friday afternoon, then go to the “zoo”.. er.. Expo Friday evening.
I drive North up Highway 18. This is the race course backwards. St George Marathon starts at 5,240 feet and finishes at 2,680 feet. That’s about 100 feet per mile decline. Some of the steeper downhills worry me. I love running downhill. I also like almonds. But, eating more than a pound of almonds doesn’t feel so good. I’ve barely run 26.2 miles on flat roads in previous marathons. More like running 22-24 miles and walking the remainder. If I run too fast down the hills, I’ll wear myself out. It isn’t all downhill, though. There are uphills too. There’s a slight uphill at mile 1, and a long uphill starting at mile 7 and continuing almost to mile 8. Mile 9 has another good uphill. Then, near the end of the race, in case I get tired of running downhill, there are small uphills at miles 16 and 22. Hopefully, I’ll still be running after mile 22.
I drive past the start area. They’re setting up porta-potties, firewood, and, the start line. About 10 or 15 more miles further up the road I turn onto a dirt road. I find a place about 5 miles off the highway in the forest. It’s the perfect place to get some peace and quiet and relaxation the day before the race. There’s no one around for miles. I take a short run on the trails before eating raw carrots for dinner.
I sleep well, but the dry climate has caused a nosebleed. My body doesn’t like the desert. Hope it won’t be a problem on Saturday.
I’m relaxing on the grass enjoying my book, fighting off occasional ant attacks, when I hear a vehicle approaching. I watch as a truckload of men with rifles drive by. I grew up in rural Northern Michigan. I remember deer-hunting season begins in October. This is October 1st! As I recall, back in Michigan when bunches of guys carrying loaded rifles (usually drinking beer) are looking to kill furry animals, they often “shoot first, and ask questions later!” I imagine my bloody body strapped to the roof of the car of a proud hunter who bagged a barefoot runner.
I pack up the van, wave at the hunters returning down the road, and head back to the city. It may be noisy, but (hopefully) there’ll be less bullets flying around. I hear occasional gunshots in the distance as I leave the forest.
I get my computer-timing chip verified at the Expo and find a parking space next to the park where the race will finish. I relax on the grass reading a book, eating fruit, and napping the rest of the day. I watch as the sponsors set up canopies for the race. I play with a dog. I watch families picnic. Edy, from Irvine, waves as she runs past the park on a day-before-marathon-loosen-up run.
After the sun is down, I settle down to sleep in the van. The traffic keeps me awake until near midnight.
At 2:30am I am wakened by scrapping noises outside the van. They’re dragging roadblocks into place. I move the van around the corner. At 3:30am the busses arrive to take runners to the start line, 26.2 miles away. Good thing I rested all day Friday.
I expect they’ll have packages of slimy, gelatinous, sugar and caffeine mixture at the aid stations. I don’t want to eat plastic food and I don’t want to run out of gas at mile 22. So, I bring my oranges. The computer-timing chip, that everyone else ties on their shoestrings, is held to my ankle by a Velcro strap. After all, I don’t have a shoestring, not even a shoe!
It’s going to be a couple of hours waiting in the cold so I wear a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, socks on both my hands and feet, and sweatpants over my running shorts. It’s a short bus ride to the start line. Way shorter than the run back. We sit in groups around fires anxiously waiting for 6:45am. People begin to notice that I don’t have shoes. “You’re not going to run barefoot, are you?”
“You’re not going to run barefoot, are you?”
Another young man claims he saw a guy run barefoot at a trail marathon in Napa Valley last year.
I admit, “That was me!”
I walk down the hill to look for people I know. It’s too dark, there are too many people, and the wind is blowing the smoke down hill. So I run, back against the wind, up the hill to the first fire. There’ll be a nice tail wind running down the hill!
5 minutes to start
I get rid of my sweats and find a warm place in the crowd of people waiting to start. I realize that I will probably need the restroom before I get past mile 2. We are using the “chip” and I’m not an elite runner, so I don’t need to start near the front. I make my (hopefully) last pit-stop. The starter horn blows while I’m in the porta-potty. No problem. My time begins when I cross the start line.
I cross the start line and begin my stop watch.
A searchlight shines on the heads of runners flowing down the hill and, almost a mile away, up the first hill. But I can’t see the road below my feet. I just follow the flow.
As the sun comes up, and the crowd starts to stretch out, I resist the temptation to weave back and forth passing runners. I stay in a straight line, saving my energy, waiting for the runners in front of me to spread out even more. One of my mistakes (besides no oranges) at Pacific Shoreline Marathon, last January, was burning up too much energy at the beginning.
I’ve been running (slowly) for over 20 minutes. I was planning on 16 minutes for the first 2 miles. I’m not worried. As the crowd thins out, and I head down the hills, I will pick up speed. My current P.R. is 4:12 (from Pacific Shoreline). If I break 4 hours, it will have been worth the trip here.
The marathon is the great equalizer. After running a few marathons, and usually walking several miles, I have come to realize at least one thing. The most difficult aspect of finishing a marathon is not the race. The marathon is just a test to see if you did your homework. Race morning is not the time to see how I feel and determine my race pace. The weather and other uncontrollable factors may influence my performance slightly. But the greatest factor is training. Training is where you teach your body to run the distance, to keep on going, to save gas for the end, and most importantly to determine how fast (or slow) you should run to complete 26.2 miles.
I would really like to run a 3:20 (7:38-minutes per mile). I’ll have to make up some time later, so I’ll need gas for the second half. I continue to take it easy, but I pass more people as I steadily build speed. I feel like I’m running an 8 or 9-minute pace now.
I slow a little for an interview with BYU-TV. “What’s with this running barefoot? Is it a religious thing?”
” I do run barefoot religiously,” I say, “because I hate blisters.”
Scott, a student from BYU, starts running with me. We pass more people. I here someone behind me, “He’s crazy. He can’t finish without shoes.”
My stomach hurts a little. Must be from the blood I swallowed when I had a bloody nose. I hope I can keep running to the finish!
Ben from Diamond Bar, also attending BYU, starts pacing with us.
Scott slows down to run with his friends. The road climbs steadily, as it wraps around the side of a hill for almost a mile. My friend Barry warned me about this hill. Many people try to power their way up. Then they’re reduced to a crawl. We don’t push hard, but maintain a decent pace. The other runner’s Gung-Ho attitudes fade before they crest the long hill. And we pass them as they drop, like flies without wings, to a walk.
It’s all downhill from here! Well, almost. “I love running downhill!” I explain to Ben, “Relax, let your knees bend as you run down the hills. Don’t try to slow down. That just puts stress on your body and, of course, slows you down.” I hope he keeps up. We pick up speed. I try not to let myself get carried away. Still a long way to go. I eat half an orange, but my stomach still hurts. So I don’t finish it.
We get to the half-way point in 1:47. I’m thinking that 3:30 is a reasonable expectation, but I will need to run faster the second half. I forget that my “chip” time is 2 minutes less, and that I am running faster.
I let Ben know that we just ran a 7-minute mile. Actually 6:59.
A 6:39 mile! I just love these long downhills! We’re in cruise control now. I’m thinking 3:30 will be no problem if I can continue coasting down these hills.
People are taking the next corner wide, to get in the shade. I just ran through a shower of water and I don’t have a shirt or shoes (and that serves me just fine!). I’m comfortably cool. I stay to the inside of the curve running in the sun, passing the hordes of overdressed runners cowering in the shade.
Ben has never run this distance before. I hope he doesn’t hit the wall. He’s good company.
Ben tells me to go ahead and not let him slow me down. He’s getting tired. “You’re not slowing me down,” I say, “This is as fast as I plan to run!” Ben stays with me.
2 more Miles!
I hear someone shout, “Just 2 more miles!”
The road levels out. Still downhill, but not as steep. I feel like I’m plodding slowly. I’m passing a lot more people, but it looks like they are moving really slow, and I’m just going less slow. I feel like walking. I can still make 3:30 even if I walk a little. There are crowds along the streets, encouraging us. I keep picking my feet up, and putting them down. I can’t believe I’m still running! They’re still shouting, “Just 2 more miles!” These last two miles seem to go on forever. It’s as if time has slowed way down. I listen to the people. Are they shouting at slow speed? I can’t tell, but I hear it again, “Just 2 more miles!”
I’m running on the edge of the road. I decide to move to the center of the lane where it’s smoother. Another runner, on my right, is in the way. I run faster to get around him. He runs faster. A moment ago, I was thinking of walking, now I’m racing this guy! I don’t notice the rough pavement anymore. I’ve been challenged! I don’t push hard. I need to run another 2 miles. So does he. It’s still downhill. Nobody beats me downhill! I pass him. The crowds are shouting, “Just 2 more miles!”
These last two miles seem to go on forever. Didn’t I already say that? I can see the town, and I know we turn left on one of the streets ahead. People are still yelling, “Just 2 more miles!”
I start recognizing street names now. N 400 Street. I think we turn at S 400 Street, or was it S 300 street. The crowds are yelling, “Just 2 more miles!”
I round the corner at S 300 E Street (or was that E 300 S Street?) and I can almost see the finish line ahead. Almost! It looks like a long, long way. But, I know it must be about a mile or less. Just a few minutes away, if I was running a 6-minute pace. But, I’m not running a 6-minute pace. I hear a faint echo behind me, “Just 2 more miles!”
“Just 2 more miles!” Oops. I mean “point 2″ miles. I can see the finish clock. “3:21:xx.” I look at my watch… 3:19:39! I don’t know if I can break 3:20, but I’m sure going to come close. I run faster. Was that Edy I just passed? The crowd notices that I am running barefoot. They start yelling “Go Barefoot!” I run faster. The crowd goes wild. My arms are pumping and I’m sprinting (well for me it’s a sprint). I cross the finish line as fast as I have ever crossed a finish line in my life. Oh the exhilaration! I stop my watch at 3:20:18! I wonder, do the extra seconds count when qualifying for the Boston Marathon? (I found out later that they do not, the time is truncated for purposes of qualifying for Boston.. but I don’t get around to actually running Boston until 2004, but that’s another story)
Remind me to thank the water softener company (I don’t remember which one) for the showers in the finish chutes. There is only one other person in front of me in the shower. I guess everyone else doesn’t want to get their shoes wet. I relax for a few minutes letting the cool water soak into my skin.
My quadriceps and calves hurt! I lay down on the grass in the park. I don’t feel like getting up to get food or water, so I eat the 3 and a half oranges I carried with me. It’s about time they earned that 26.2-mile ride! About a hundred people ask to see the bottoms of my feet. They want to know how I can run barefoot and not get blisters? I wonder how they can run in shoes on and not get blisters? I tell them the truth, “I stopped getting blisters, when I stopped wearing shoes.”
Back at the Beach
St. George taught me that I can run a respectable marathon and still have gas in my tank at the finish. The people of St. George seemed really nice. Even that guy, at mile 4 who said I was crazy, came up to me, after finishing more than half an hour behind me, and told me he was amazed. And of course, he asked to see the bottoms of my feet.
After I run a few more marathons, I’d like to come back and run down these hills again! As I write this, I can feel my legs growing stronger. I’m curious. Can I run a flat marathon as fast, maybe faster, than I did St. George? Can I convince myself that it really is all downhill? Next stop, Pacific Shoreline Marathon 2000. Maybe 3:10-3:15? Then LA Marathon 2000. . . under 3 hours? We’ll see! (ended up just a couple minutes faster at Pacific Shoreline – now Surf City – Marathon, finishing with my lifetime P.R. of 3:18:50)
Originally published in A Snail’s Pace Running Club Newsletter, as “Saint’ George Marathon, Without a Shoestring!
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