The Importance of Being Honest: Complaining is Good

No one will be surprised, I’m sure, when I state that some surfaces are more friendly to a bare foot than others. While practice makes for an excellent social lubricant in the foot-ground relationship, some stuff will always be a challenge in one way or another. Usually, the challenge doesn’t last for a whole race, so each barefooter has to come up with their own pleasant/unpleasant ratio of acceptability when deciding whether to sell out to Big Shoe.

For instance, if there’s a 0.1mi stretch of gravel in a marathon that is otherwise decent pavement, most barefooters would eschew the shoe. Ridge to Bridge, mostly on loose gravel of the nastiest sort, will likely never have a barefoot finisher, unless someone way more skilled than me is looking for a challenge. Most of us will set our BAREometer (oh, that’s good!) somewhere in between, sliding one way or the other depending on objectives. Ultimately what this means, is that there are going to be plenty of times a barefoot runner will be running on an unpleasant surface in public.

How should the barefooter deal with the situation? Act like it feels good? Like it’s no big deal? Being an ambassador of sorts, he’s not going to want anyone to think he regrets his choice to go shoe-free.

Or maybe he should suck it up and carry some flip flops for anything uncomfortable the ground throws at him. Then he not only has a cushy ride, he avoids the EXTREMIST label.

The answer to both of these options is no and no. I mean, do what you want, you’re your own person and really, who am I? The one with the right answers, that’s who. The best thing for an Ambassador of Shoeless Slogging to do is to whine and complain.

Why? Because it’s honest. It’s the truth. No propaganda, no spin. If you fake like it doesn’t feel bad and people believe you, they will assume being abnormally tough is a requirement to run barefoot. If they don’t believe you, they’ll think you’re an idiot.

As for option flip flop, I think it’s overly sensitive. Too sensitive of foot and too sensitive to the judgement of others. Besides, you’re missing out on a lot your feet have to teach you. And who wants to carry flip flops around all the time anyway? Might as well put them on and leave them on. On a side note, I would also question the wisdom of dulling every pain that comes your way.

I say complaining about the rough times is best. Because then, when you finish a marathon and answer “Great!” to the question, “How do your feet feel?”, your word is believed by those who know you’ll complain about a tiny rock.

Hinson Lake 24/42

“The Answer to the Great Question… Of Life, the Universe and Everything… Is… Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.
- Douglas Adams, The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Well that went perfectly. I got to do everything I wanted, and feel like retelling the tale in listform.

1. I traveled twenty-eight laps at the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra Classic, which equals the fundamentally wrong answer of forty-two (and a half) miles.
2. The first twenty-one laps (over thirty-one miles) were barefoot, which people insist on declaring an official act of badassery. This just means they haven’t gotten around to reading my blog and don’t appreciate me for the wimp that I am.
3. I think the course is very barefootable, even for a newbie. I mean, it’s not polished marble or anything (that would be awesome), but I think a few laps around that lake would be a happy experience for the barefoot curious. Except maybe the gravel parking lot:

(video by Bryan Hojnacki)

I’m as graceful as a pregnant yak.

4. I got to run with everybody. Elite ultra runners, beginners, a lady whose shoes were lost somewhere in her daughter’s bedroom so she was looping the course in her socks, the guy who made excellent race commentary in lyrical form set to classic rock tunes, friend Dena, and, well, everybody. Young, old, fast, slow, and everyone in between and outside the perimeter.

5. Twenty-one pleasant barefoot laps in the books, I volunteered for a few hours at the lap-counting table. This was incredibly fun, and I don’t even think I messed anyone up. Whew!

6. Eat and eat and eat and eat, drink an drink and drink and drink. Turns out I can eat pretty much anything and run, and I ate a lot. Although I did manage to lose four pounds (gained two back, though). The food station was fantabulous. Thanks, food-giver-outers! You were wonderful.

7. After volunteering and a brief tornado warning scare, I was back on the course. It was getting dark, and my legs were pretty tired. The sand-textured trail was starting to feel abrasive. These are conditions where a shoe comes in handy. Or footy. Whatever. The Merrell Road Gloves were excellent. If only they were a little more flexy-bendy, lighter, and had a cool name like, Mist. Or Smoke. Or Steaming Water. Or something that rhymes with Paper.

Ultra runners wear bandanas, right?

photo by Blueliner Donald Coldwell. Thanks for the soup!

8. Hmm, this list format is starting to take on a more conventional narrative tone, don’t you think? Oh well. On! On! The whole day was a fartlek. Not a very good strategy for maximizing distance, but I had a blast.

9. Somehow I had the chutzpa to run the last two loops (three miles) quite strong, at what felt like an eight minute mile pace. Being in the good company of Mark Manz definitely helped put pep in one’s step. By the way, I’m calling it now: Manz wins the Umstead 100 next year. (I interviewed the dude here)

Dorks? Where?

photo by Emmie and/or Krista)

10. Oh right, the calfankilles. The thing that got me all worried since April, making me question the continuation of my running life. Never an issue. I’m a lucky man, and I’m just going to consider that hiatus to be a deliberate training strategy. In case anyone is wondering, I haven’t taken any NSAIDS at all since the five-day Advilathon.

11. Not only was I with Iris as I crossed the marathon mark and into ultra territory, but I was at the scoring table and got to score her marathon and 50K laps! The only way I could be more proud of her is if I were less sure she was capable of such achievements.

12. And the feet (well, just the left one. The right one looks exactly the same. Well, opposite, actually):

After 50K. Tired, tingly, but totally together tootsies. And there’s nothing special about them! Yours can do this too (with practice and patience)!

So there you have it, I’m now officially a barefoot ultra runner. Ta da! The Hinson Lake 24 Hour Classic is a class act, and I highly recommend it to anyone who cares about my recommendations. Now that it’s over, Iris wants me to trim my beard. I don’t know, maybe I should leave it alone and see what happens. What do you guys think?

My Form Could Be Terrible, You Know

On this blog, I present myself as a runner with good form. However, very few people have actually seen me run, so anyone believing that is just taking me at my word. That’s no good! You should be demanding proof. On the other hand, maybe you’re just being polite, which is good. We hurt for lack of civility in this world. Oh, what a conundrum.

A conundrum easily resolved with a little initiative of my own. The wife was ever so kind to take these videos of what I look like when I run at a 5K race pace:

I think I look alright, although maybe I’m landing in front of myself a bit. Might be a result of the lack of flexibility in my ankles/calves/oh who am I kidding my whole person. I think after The Scream I’m going to take a running hiatus and focus on trying to be more stretchy bendy.

UPDATE:
One more, this time at a 5:00/mi pace:

Anyway, opinions/advice/snarky comments are welcome as always.