(photo compliments of my friend Mary at owlhaven.net unless otherwise noted)
After three months of really transitioning to barefoot running, I was ready to try my first barefoot race. Conveniently, the 27th annual Harvest Classic Fun Run was scheduled in my home town. I was very familiar with the route, part of which I have run regularly since it is hardly 5 minutes from my house. I couldn’t ask for a more comfortable situation. I have worked up to 3.5 miles completely barefoot, so the 2 mile course was my choice.
It was chilly when we got there for check in, so I kept covered head to toe, wearing my Moc3’s that I wore in my first sprint triathlon. Fortunately, a couple of my kids and friends were there so we could try to find a balance between cuddling and other more traditional pre-race warm-up activities.
Sadly, I passed up the raised glazed doughnuts, bananas, and other available snacks for racers. I had been practicing a routine of hot Malt-O-Meal (… with butter, sugar, and a sprinkling of chocolate chips…) a couple of hours before I ran. It was best not to deviate. We made sure we had our timing chips on our ankles and found a hint of warmth in sunny spot of the early dawn.
The organized pre-race warm up at the starting line was a lively 15 minutes of aerobic dance lead by instructors from the Recreation Center. Since I had been dancing vigorously the previous night for a full three hours until midnight, I was already unsure how my legs were going to hold up and so did not participate much. When it was time to line up, I positioned myself about 4 layers back and wondered if my toes were going to be at risk in the initial stampede.
Having no speed or time expectations for the race, I did not have any perceptible adrenaline to deal with. I attempted to settle into my bent knee, relaxed barefoot form while hordes of people whizzed by me. There was even a speed walker ahead of me, but he had gotten into a more frontal starting position and I soon passed him. My husband caught a fun little video of the start of the race:
I was pleased when I began to pass people right away. I was just keeping my pace, thinking about my form, and enjoying the run. Then I began to pass more and more people. The fastest I had run a training run was just the week before, at a 9:20 mile pace and I felt that I was running easier than that. I had not taken into consideration that the first two miles of my main training course has about four challenging hills. The race course was flat.
I think it was hardest on the couple of college age boys when I passed them. They upped their pace for just a few seconds, but soon let me go on my way. I guess they need a better training regime. 🙂 I kept passing people right up until the last quarter mile, when I came up behind a lady who looked rather close to my age. My competitive side kicked in and I was irked that she had been ahead of me all this time. She was in shoes, as was EVERYONE else, but she looked comfortable. I decided that just a little increase in my cadence would enable me to pass her and make it more likely that I got first place in my age group.
Right after I passed her, I turned the corner to the straightaway. Some of my family were there to cheer me on. Then I thought I heard a pace increase behind me and possibly a shadow begin to creep up on my right. I couldn’t let this happen. With 25 yards to go, I broke into a sprint and raced happily across the finish line to a cry of cheers from the crowd!
I have always loved sprinting. I was a sprinter during my brief time in junior high and high school track. But my feet aren’t used to sprinting on asphalt. I felt an uncomfortable sensation on one of my toes. An examination revealed a popped blister the diameter of a green pea and some blood. I headed for the first aid station to ask for a bandaid. The nice lady there greeted me with a smiling “You’re the barefoot runner!” She wasn’t accusing or “I told you so” in her greeting, but there was a hint of “this isn’t surprising.” I was her only customer, so she listened to my explanation of the blister.
The results of the race were already available near the finish line. I was very happy to discover that I was first in my age group (50-59), placed 21st out of about 62, AND I had run at an average 8:30 minute mile pace! for a total race in 17 minutes.
Of course, my 25 year old son and 15 year old daughter beat me by a wide margin. They haven’t even been training as much as I have either. My son took 3rd overall; and my daughter was 11th overall, but 3rd of the women. However, I’m the only one with a “gold medal” because of being first in my age group. Kind of funny. Here are a couple of pictures of them looking very impressive at the finish:
Here’s the blister. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t represented barefoot runners well, until I remembered that all the runners I know have blisters from their shoes on a regular basis. That has not been a normal problem for me. I will give the foot a couple of days to heal, but I will run again very soon. However, I do need to train more for the finish and do some more research, because I can tell that I will instinctively respond to the spirit of the race and sprint again. (photo at right by Greg)