Bahokus Peak: Too Slow For Salmon

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Port Gamble Trail Half: Happy Hoppy New Home

“I’m actually not that hungry anymore, but I’m going to have another serving of the potato salad and spinach salad because they are delicious and I want whoever made these dishes to feel appreciated,” I said with my mouth full, spitting flecks of walnuts and potato everywhere. If I were to have a complaint of the day, it would be that those entrees were not being consumed as they deserved. This “complaint” is only brought up to illustrate how very splendid a race the Roots Rock Trail Running group organized.

While pinning our bibs, Iris and I were greeted with a friendly “Hello!” from a five-fingered footwear-wearing friend from the internets, Mike. We both immediately started making excuses for not being barefoot, as is the way with the short list of usually-unshod runners on pointy trails. I was wearing my trail shoe of choice, the Merrell Vapors. The black ones, because I was going for an understated look.

Because nothing says "understated" like a neon green shirt with a giant tick on it.

Because nothing says “understated” like a neon green shirt with a giant tick on it.

Trotting back and forth doing my best impression of a “Runner” doing “Warm-Ups,” the race director gave my rugged ballet slippers a sideways glance. “Are those going to work for all the rocky roads?” he asked while doing the mental calculations of how much it would cost to retrieve a broken-footed runner from the middle of the woods. This is a difficult question for me to respond to due to the variety of impulses it elicits.

1. Ego. “Don’t you know who i AM?!?”
2. Snobby Smartypants. “Actually,” (always beware of a response from me that starts with the word, “actually”) “it is ironically the cushioned shoe that causes hurt feet, since the runner is incentivized to employ said cushioning and stomp. With practice blah blah blah blah…”
3. Funny Dumb. “Rocks? No one told me there would be rocks. Crap.”
4. Bravado. “Don’t worry about me; pity the rocks. Graaaugh!”

I ended up with a weak mix of 1, 2, and 4. “Run barefoot enough, these shoes feel like tanks!”

Oh well, could have been worse.

On with the race. I’ve been running A LOT. And by A LOT I mean ALOT.

The theory behind this training method is attributed to Arthur Lydiard and his theory that zzzzzzzzz...

The theory behind this training method is attributed to Arthur Lydiard and his base building theory that capillary beds cardio no rest days FIRST wrong so hungry sleepyzzzzzzzzz…

I’m not really in racing mode, is what I’m trying to say. So the plan was to run with an honest effort but not get caught up in silliness. I took the uphills easy, played it cautious on the BEAUTIFUL singletrack, then let myself have fun on the downhills. And, for those of you who think this race report is getting too long already, you’ll be happy to know that’s what I did and there’s not much else to say about that. The course was tough but not crazy tough. Very fun and incredibly well-marked. I didn’t get lost, but that was in large part due to being able to hang with the first-place marathoner on his first loop. Thanks, dude! The upshot is I’m tired but feel good and should be able to continue with my training for the Victoria Marathon without a hiccup. I crossed the finish line at 1:42:39 in 4th place overall, 2nd in my decade AG. Works for me!

Oh, and beer. There was delicious hoppy beer after the race. The PNW is all about the hops, which makes my haps.

So there you go, a race report in under 600 words. I’m working on brevity; it’s going well, don’t you