Last Saturday, I ran my first running race at maximum aerobic function pace AND my first race barefoot on a significant amount of of sharp asphalt. Here is a summary of lessons I learned from the experience:
1. Going to check out the pavement and dirt roads ahead of time was a really good idea. (You can read about that test run here.) Knowing ahead of time about the terrain that I needed to manage, and having determined it was within range of my current barefoot capability, really helped me pace myself and relax about the event. Already having such a good idea of what I would be capable of under those conditions saved me from being frustrated when the rough roads kept me on the slow side. It also helped me make decisions at the beginning of the race when my feet were cold enough to be just a touch numb. If I hadn’t already known about the pavement and how to handle it, I would have been more concerned about injuring my soles. Everything was completely warm by the 2 mile mark.
2. Testing my capacity for the several long and/or steep hills also made me better able to appropriately pace myself. Sometimes there is a tendency for me to push too hard on hills, thinking I just want to get to the top! Then, of course, there is the real risk of being too fatigued to take good advantage of the downhills and enjoy the flats.
3. Running slowly up the hills was faster than any person walking them ahead of me, that I could see. This is something that I wonder about when I am running by myself; but from this race experience, I can say that a slow run was more efficient, and more fun, for me than walking was for them. This was good for me in two ways. One, it would have been very discouraging to be “running” slower than the walkers, and two, I mentally needed to keep up some sort of run, no matter how slow. Even though I may have been at the top end of my aerobic functioning level, I was not breathing hard and my muscles were not complaining, so I must have been doing something right.
4. Limiting myself to the maximum aerobic pace during the race (except for the very last 20-25 yards mentioned below) was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. It was more tempting to push the speed during the race, but I helped offset that by starting nearly at the very back of the pack. That meant that, no matter what, there were people I was going to pass. This mentally made me feel faster than I was. 🙂 However, it was so encouraging to be breathing so comfortably, and still be doing better than so many other runners around me, that I was inspired that I am on the right track with this training approach. Thoughts of injury also helped me limit my desire for speed.
5. Relaxing the whole leg, all the way up to the hips, made running on rough terrain more enjoyable. I’m not saying it was all easy. I enjoyed the less jagged pavement when I got there (I’m not saying it was smooth, just nicer by comparison), but I could get into a rhythm more on any terrain when I let my legs relax. Plus, it helped with the natural shock absorbing that is one of the goals with barefoot running. Relaxed legs also made it possible to run the dirt orchard roads in more of a trail-like mode, as I skipped through oddly dispersed rock and sticks.
I have no idea where I placed compared to other runners in my age group, or overall in the race. My total time was 1 hour 5 minutes and about 26 seconds. (I forgot to stop my watch at the finish line or look at the race timer. They had a computer meltdown of some sort, so results were not posted while I was still on site.) At an average 10:54 minute mile pace, I wasn’t vying for a top ranking. (Edit after results posted: 77th out of 134 runners, can’t find separate list of female placing for overall ranking, 5th in my age group for females, their chip apparently did not wait to activate when I crossed the start line and it was about 1.5 minute walk to get there from the back of the crowd, so their time is higher than mine.)
This year’s course was different than last year’s, when I ran it in my Moc3’s. And I think there were more hills this year. My new iPad app, called Route Mapper, says the elevation went up and down about 55 meters (give or take a couple meters) three times. The first hill is showing up as a mile long. The second elevation gain was accomplished in closer to 1/2 mile. The third gain included smaller, intermediate hills at the top of it. My Garmin watch tells me that my slowest pace this year was at the top of one of the long, steep hills, briefly a 13 minute mile pace. On the rough pavement, I was running between a 10 and 11 minute mile pace, depending on how warmed up I was and if there was any incline or decline. On the nicer pavement, I was gliding by many people at approximately a 9:30 – 9:45 minute pace. I believe the reason for this was that because of working at the maximum aerobic function pace, I was always in a comfortable place, whereas most of the racers running around me were feeling the strain of trying to keep up that stressful “I’m trying as hard as I can” pace. So, once I passed them, they were rarely up to gaining on me again.
With with 10K racers numbering around 134, it was unexpected to find myself nearly isolated for the last mile of the run. I couldn’t hear anyone behind me, I couldn’t see anyone in front of me, and I only passed a couple of walkers near the end of the race. (I’m going to assume they hadn’t walked the 10K faster than I had run it… so were probably participating in the 5K.) There was the volunteer at the turn into the orchard, which would have been very crucial with me by myself like that, had I not previewed the course.
The race ended on a large grassy lawn at the Ste. Chapelle Winery. After I made my way down the 1/4 mile, rather steep downhill orchard road, I hit the grass. I sprinted the last 20-25 yards across the finish line. My Garmin said that was a 5:23 minute mile pace. The thing was, it felt effortless and glorious. It wasn’t my final gasp and I didn’t even get out of breath for it! When I crossed the finish line, I was struck by the fact that I didn’t even feel like I had just run a 10K. My feet did start to feel slightly sensitive this time, too (the other time being the test run), but not as quickly and not as much. I will be trying to compare their recovery compared to the test run, but my initial thoughts are that the test run was also good conditioning for my soles and they were tougher this time. (Edit: my calves were pretty tight the next day. I guess I need to go out and sprint on my lawn regularly after a run…)
I will be interested to see how I progress with this maximum aerobic function approach. I understand the desire to place well, but it’s not like it is for big money. It is so nice to be running for so long (months now) without a troubling knee or leg injury. AND to not feel wiped out after every run or struggling to go an “acceptable” pace during a run. When I started this method, it was kind of embarrassing to go slower. It’s hard to say how much because it depends on the terrain and how I’m feeling any given day. However, strangely, I don’t feel as slow as I did when I was trying to push the pace into higher thresholds all the time. Now, I tend to look forward to the actual whole runs themselves, not just parts of it and not just the feeling of health after the run. (click on any photo to enlarge)