First of all, let me apologize that this is not technically a “Running Barefoot” race report. This happens to be about my first marathon, and the only marathon in which I wore shoes! But, that race was the main reason that I went from being a recreational barefoot runner on beaches, grass, and dirt trails, to an exclusively barefoot runner, who has finished 65 (as of March 2008) marathons barefoot, and hundreds of shorter races barefoot, even a 50 kilometer trail ultra-marathon, barefoot!
It started in this tropic port…
OK, now sit right back, and listen to my tale…
- 26.20 Mile
- 05:05:00 (official time) Personal Record
- 1 Shod 26.20 Mile races (to 1987/05/03)
- footwear: Saucony
- City: Long Beach
- State: California
- Unitied States of America
- The only marathon I have completed with shoes.
The Goal to Finish ONE Marathon in my Life
Once upon a time, around 1972 or thereabouts, while I was still in high school, I was in my bedroom one evening, listening to the radio. The announcer reported the results of a local marathon. I was amazed! The winner had averaged a 6-minute per mile pace. Now, this was just a small city in northwestern lower Michigan, so no world record pace. Even I could run a 6 minute mile. Still this was a marathon, 26.2 miles! 26.2 miles in a row! At a 6-minute pace!
I decided that evening that I would someday complete a marathon…
OK let’s jump ahead to 1987.
It was a dark and stormy afternoon.
Or maybe it was a bright and sunny day. I really don’t remember. But I do remember that I was working the day shift at California State University in Long Beach (CSULB), in the Electrical Engineering department, in the Vivian Engineering Center (VEC) building. I was an electronics technician. But none of that is important right now.
I was busy changing a field effect transistor in a Tektronix 2445 oscilloscope, when an excited Lebanese graduate student rushed into the tech shop with a flier for the Long Beach Marathon – and none of that is important now either – but the following is…
“Hey Ken,” he said, “Let’s do this marathon!”
I looked up from the dying oscilloscope, briefly, and returned to soldering the transistor. I plugged the ‘scope into the wall socket, and turned the power on. “No smoke. That’s usually a good sign” I said, “O.K., let’s do the marathon.” I added, as I replaced the cover on the oscilloscope.
I went home that evening contemplating what I had just committed myself to doing. Could I really complete a full marathon? 26.2 miles? 42.195 Kilometers? Did I install the correct field effect transistor in that oscilloscope?
The idea of completing a marathon wasn’t completely out of the blue. 15 years ago while I listening to the radio in my parents rural home in the small town of Grawn, Michigan, just 15 miles south of Traverse City, Michigan, the D.J. on the radio mentioned the results of the local Bayshore Marathon, and noted that the winner had run a 6-minute per mile pace for the entire distance of 26.2 miles. “Wow!” I thought, “I can complete one mile in 6 minutes!”
Realistically, I had no expectations to be able to ever win a marathon, but, I figured I might some day, in the distant future, actually be able to finish a full marathon. The nice thing about setting a goal, for such a non-specific day, “sometime” in the future, is that I didn’t really have to do much of anything right now…
Gradually Building up Distance to 6 miles
During those 15 years, I had ramped my mileage up from a 2-mile run a few times each week, to an occasional long distance trek of 6-miles once every week or two. I had also moved to California, to find work, and milder weather, so I could spend more of the year running barefoot on the beach.
At this time, it still hadn’t occurred to me that I, or anyone else, could, or would run barefoot on streets or sidewalks – though I suppose I never really avoided running on such surfaces, when it was necessary to get to a beach or trail on the other side of the road. But, it also didn’t occur to me to run with shoes on the beaches, and I had often run barefoot, back in Michigan, in the fields and forests surrounding my parents home.
Now, instead of “sometime in the future”, I had a specific date to work towards being able to complete a marathon. So, I figured, maybe I should start running longer distances – more than 6-miles anyway. So, I started hanging around with, and running some runs of 8-10 miles with my Lebanese friend, but already I was noticing some hostility from him, not only toward my frequently bare feet, but also for the women at the beach in their wonderfully skimpy bikinis.
Practicing most of the Distance with Shoes
A few months later, I had built myself up to being able to go out and run some 10-15 mile distances at one time. It was now time to start doing some long runs, and I had an ideal course mapped out right outside my door, with only about 8 miles on streets. The rest of my triangle loop, would be along the multi-use path along the shores of Huntington Beach (8 miles), and back up the Santa Ana River trail for another 6 miles. I started and finished a couple miles from the river at my home, which I sharied with a couple of friends, just a block off Warner Avenue. The loop worked out to about 22 miles. And after running the first 5 miles, west on Warner Avenue, I figured why not just run barefoot on the beach sand, instead of wearing my shoes on the asphalt multi-use path? So, with shoes in hand, I ran the 8 miles along the beach, on the sand. The sand was soft, and provided even more conditioning for my marathon. And if it happened to be low-tide, I ran down at the edge of the water, which is one of the most pleasant places for running barefoot.
Then, where the Santa Ana River separated Huntington and Newport Beaches, I put my shoes back on my feet, and ran 6 miles up the river trail, plus the final 2 miles on Warner Avenue, back home.
I ran the triangle loop and shorter versions of it, several times, over the course of the months leading up to the Long Beach Marathon. And figured, I was pretty close to being ready, at the time, I had figured my triangle course at about 15 miles, but, being a bit lazy, didn’t bother to attempt any longer runs than that. Luckily, my long route was a bit more than 22 miles, an ideal distance to train to complete a full marathon (26.2 miles)
Since I had never participated in a road race of any kind, or any other kind of foot race, not even cross-country or track in school, outside of physical education classes, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to run a few short races, just to get an idea and feel for what it was like.
At this time, since the full marathon was my goal, I saw no reason to run any short races, so if an event had a 5 kilometer and 10 kilometer races, I would run the 10 kilometer. If an event had 10 kilometer and 20 kilometer races, I would run the 20 kilometer race. The only “short” race I ran was a low-tide run from Newport Beach pier to Balboa Pier, and back, about 4 miles overall.
I didn’t pay too much attention to my times. Again, my goal for the marathon was simply to finish, and never really having run competitively, I didn’t even know about times, or age divisions, or even that we were supposed to pick up T-shirts for the events we ran. But, as I recall, I was finishing the 10 kilometer races, on flat courses, typically around 42-43 minutes. With my inexperience, I had no idea if that was good or not. Again, I didn’t really care, at this point.
I did notice that I generally finished near the first or second place female runners, so I guessed I wasn’t particularly slow. But then again, as I found out later, it hadn’t been very long ago, that women weren’t even allowed to run long distance races, and so I guess, at the time, there wasn’t a lot of women competing.
Map of my Long Training Run (for Long Beach Marathon 1987)
View FIrst Marathon training route in a larger map
The Guy with the Thick Red Handlebar Mustache
I also noticed, just about 10-20 meters before the finish, a guy with long red hair, and a thick red handlebar mustache would pass me and finish just ahead of me. I got used to seeing this guy at most every event I did, but never learned his name. Some twenty years later, I would just happen to run into him on the shuttle bus for the Orange County Marathon. Now his long red hair was short, but there was no mistaking that thick red handlebar mustache. I also should have learned a thing or two about pacing during races from my mustached friend… but, I continued starting out too fast, and finishing slow, and being passed before the finish line. Keep in mind, in racing, if you’re keeping track of placing, it’s not about how long you’re in front. It’s about crossing the finish line first.
Starting with a Goal to Finish . . . sometime
Anyway, getting back to 1987, My Lebanese friend was shooting for a 4-hour or faster goal. I wished him luck, and said that I wasn’t concerned with competing, or setting a time goal. I was just going to try to finish. I knew that was going to be enough work for me, having never run 26.2 miles before in my life!
Since I didn’t have a goal finish time, I didn’t bother wearing a watch, or paying any attention to the splits at the mile-markers along the way. But, I was doing all right – for the first 15 miles or so.
The Big Brick Wall
At mile 18, there was a big red brick wall. Well, actually it was cardboard, with a hole big enough for several runners to get through.
By mile 19 I felt blisters forming on one foot. By mile 20, I was feeling a bit exhausted, and both my feet were thoroughly blistered. It was taking more and more of my energy just to endure the pain. I tried to move in a way to avoid the pain.
I walked, tenderly, for another mile or so, but the blisters hurt more. I walked for another mile or so.
The walking helped me recover enough energy to run again. But when I tried to run, the shoes rubbed the sore my feet and it was far too painful to keep running. It felt as if I had no more skin left on my feet, and my shoes and socks were rubbing against open, raw, bleeding flesh!
I was really glad that I was almost finished, and that my life-time goal was to complete only ONE marathon!
I painfully walked across the finish line, and heard a young lady read off, “5 oh 5”. I’m really not certain if that was 5 hours and 5 minutes or 5 hours and 5 seconds. At the time, I didn’t really care, I just wanted to go home.
One of my room mates, met me at the finish line and drove me home, where I carefully, but painfully peeled my shoes off. Revealing that I had indeed blistered and rubbed the blisters raw on nearly the entire area of both feet. Well, almost everywhere. The soles were just fine, but then, that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the soles of our feet are the only part of our feet that are designed to withstand nearly continuous contact, as we stand, walk, and run. The problem is the rest of our foot is not designed for continual contact against the inside of a shoe or socks.
Anyway, I was glad that my lifetime goal, of completing ONE marathon was over. And I had no plans of ever attempting another marathon.. nor have I ever attempted another marathon … with shoes!
It still hadn’t occurred to me that I could have done that marathon, or any other foot race barefoot – but that idea would cross my mind in the future. And that’s another story…
First Shod Marathon vs. First Barefoot MarathonCathy, Ken Bob's and Psycho Herman's 2015 August 8 Family Reunion Road Trip to Michigan through Colorado from California.
Note: All plans are tentative until completed. -Ken Bob Saxton
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