Perhaps if we had turned around immediately to run back down once Iris got to the top of Bahokus Peak, maybe we would have gotten back to the Makah Days Festival in time to grab a plate of fire-cooked salmon fresh from the water. One should never assume the salmon will last forever.
We drove out to Neah Bay with fellow members of the Crooked Knee Running Club, Bruce and Kathleen. Going in, I wasn’t even sure if the Bahokus Peak Challenge (1300+ feet up in three miles) was a race at all; for all I knew this was a solemn traditional event, one where trying to win and wearing flashy running clothes would be disrespectful. This concern was unfounded.
This is not an example of a traditional Makah outfit.
Still, it would have been unwise for me to race. I had run a tough ten-mile tempo that morning, and I’m trying to stick to the plan for a fast Victoria Marathon in October. This plan also dictated a two-plus hour long run the next day. So to keep my racing ego and pace in check, I decided to go barefoot on the all-gravel road. It’s good to push the comfort level in different ways, I think. Learning how to be a good runner isn’t just about running fast or far. It’s about learning how to use the tools you have, and even though I have thousands of miles on my bare feet I still have much to learn.
You might think since I’ve run a few marathons barefoot, have a blog with “Barefoot” in the title, and a closet full of free shoes that I’m an expert on the whole barefoot thing; how much is there for me to learn? Why not stop being such a weirdo, put some shoes on, give in to the racing urge like a normal person and maybe even win the race? Seriously, how tiny were the chances that a hard run up a hill would have any effect on a race scheduled seven weeks in the future? Even if it did, who cares! Self-sabotage: that’s what runners do!
Rookie-like apprehension. SOOO much more to learn.
The fact is, assuming there’s more to learn is an integral part of my running life, and education starts at the feet. The road up Bahokus Peak was rocky, sure, but within my abilities (as far as I could see, anyway). I was nervous all the same, which to me was something that needed to be confronted and overcome. I’m not trying to create dramatic tension here, just letting you know that I too on occasion have the urge to succumb to the shoe placebo. In addition to the always valuable act of getting over oneself, this would be a lesson in focus, patience, and pace. Things I know, but don’t know know, you know?
Besides, it’s not that rocky. Yet.
Focus: the rocks don’t hurt so long as you don’t overreact and tense up. Staying tuned in to the task at hand… er, foot enabled me to see the ground for what it was instead of what I feared it was, also to feel the ground for what it was and accept it, using it to propel me onward and upward.
Patience: My feet (or more accurately, the rocks) prevented me from starting too fast and chasing down the field when they started to wilt. Perhaps more importantly, the ground also created a sense of timelessness; the finish line wasn’t going anywhere, no point in fretting about how long until I arrived; just find the happiest line and be gentle in the now, as Siddhartha might have said. Siddhartha? Can’t remember; it’s been a long time since I’ve read that stuff. I’ve been reading science fiction lately.
Pace: For all of my efforts not to, I still managed to reel almost all the runners in. Mile one was very steep, very crowded, and the pointy ground took some getting used to. 10:50. Mile two was similar but without the crowd, just chugging along. 10:28. Mile three leveled off with a half-mile to go, as well as the man in the neon tights. Oh, why not, a little bit of racing couldn’t hurt, right? I passed and gradually put some distance between us. As soon as the finish was in sight, I heard him powering to catch up. We sprinted to the finish in front of an audience of volunteers and the five or six faster runners I didn’t pass.
Good intentions, and gravel, pave the way to hill.
A little bit later, Iris finished with one thing on her mind: to run back down. So we ate some fruit, chatted with my new neon friend and others, tried to get the photographer to show me the pictures of my finish (apparently all the zen “oneness” with the ground didn’t make me any less narcissistic), and it was time to ditch the shuttle vans and fly down on our legs. I put on a pair of Luna sandals for the descent so I could be a little more carefree (and keep up with Iris). It was all pretty spectacular, and Iris ran her fastest three-miles by quite a bit.
With all that educational and zen stuff said, know this: next year I’m putting on the Vapors and going for the Bahokus Peak Challenge course record.