(Long) Grandfather Marathon Race Report, or, Holy Leg Cramp Batman!

Pictures to come.

Time: 4:21ish, might be 4:22 4:22:08
Feet: I traversed the whole thing barefoot, even the gravel. Left foot a little tender, but overall great. Surprisingly clean. I mean, before I washed them.
rest o’ me: better than I was a few hours ago.
attitude: a paradoxical mix of disappointed and frustrated, yet positive and upbeat.

Let’s start where we left off. Thursday night I actually slept ok, no nervousness or anything. Got about 6 hours, would have preferred 8, but whatever. We got to Boone, grabbed some dinner (non-spicy Thai), everything totally calm and uneventful. Still not nervous. Maybe I’ll sleep!

Not to be. I felt totally calm and sleepy, but I was awake for most of the night. Still, in the morning I felt fine, and was pleased to see a mostly dry parking lot out our window. The forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms, which would have been annoying to say the least. I ate a banana and some oatmeal, feeling good, thinking about how I’ve been racing fast lately and surely my long taper would pay off. I was feeling, dare I say,  a little ambitious.

It was drizzling a bit at the start, but that did nothing to dampen my mood (ugh. Sorry. Look, I’m tired, ok?). No ceremony, just a Bang! and we were off. It was cool having Iris there to cheer us on.

I ran with a workmanlike pace, as planned. Not breathing too hard, but making an effort. Hill, hill, run, run, chat, chat, etc, etc. Fast forward to mile 8, the first mile marker I noticed. 1:06. Uh, that was a little faster than expected. But I was going at the highly-touted “conversational pace,” as was evidenced by all the conversing. I ran with a guy from South Africa (lives in Richmond now) who ran Comrades 10 times. At mile 10, I ran with this cool dude for about 4 miles. We were talking so much that in the back of my head I was thinking this is the pace I should be running at. Mile 13 was at 1:50. I was feeling good, a little tired, legs a little heavy, but good.

Still, at mile 14 I decided to slow it down a bit. The legs were feeling a little more tired than I would have liked, and I was well on my way to smashing my marathon PR. But my legs kept getting tireder and tireder. I was in rough shape by mile 15. Mile 15? Yes, mile 15.

Fortunately, that’s right about where the long gravel stretch starts. Since I wouldn’t have been much faster in the aquas (and if I was, I’d surely pay for it later as it’s a very steep climb), I had no reason to put them on. As long as I finished, this was to be my first official barefoot marathon (here’s why I don’t count Blue Ridge). So I hiked a bit, ran a bit, hiked a bit, and, uh, kept hiking. My left leg was doing the cramp twitter in my quad. At gravel’s end a volunteer informed me that there was only one other barefooter. “What?!!” I said. “Is he/she ahead of me?” Upon reflection I realize that sounded like I was asking if I was being beaten by a barefoot hermaphrodite. “No, this was years ago. He also ran Pike’s Peak barefoot.” “Yeah, I think I’d need a little more practice before trying that one. That’s pretty amazing.”

So in 43 years of this marathon, I was the second barefooter. That’s cool. Not as cool as first, of course, and I’m dying to know the guy’s time, but very cool.

Back on the asphalt at mile 17 and bereft of an excuse to hike, I started running again. Until mile 18 when my left quad seized up. I limped off to the side hoping no one thought it was a foot injury. “Foot’s fine, just my stupid leg. Seriously, it’s my leg. I’m not confirming your fears of the hazards of barefooting. I’d show you, but I can’t lift my foot, because of my stupid leg. Move along, nothing to see here.” I wasn’t speaking to anyone, in fact I was totally alone. Just talking to myself the way one does sometimes at mile 18. The time, by the way, was 2:48, still with a shot at a PR if I could get my leg working.

I ran-hiked the best I could. I got passed by an elder statesman talking to his running buddy, “I have to go easy with my asthma.” That would have taken the wind out of my sails if I had any. Instead, my left hamstring joined the quad in crampy town.

The final stretch of about 1/10 mile before the loop around the track to the finish was gravel again, only this time with a lot of spectators. Rough gravel too. I hid my slow pace by hamming it up a bit, balancing with my arms out, dancing a little more than necessary. The final loop was slow and agonizing, but I managed to put on a pretty face. Since it ends at the Highland Games, there was quite a crowd. I could hear a bunch of “barefooted? barefooted!” in my wake. I was very glad to be finished.

And boy, was I. I thought there was beer at the end. Or maybe I just wished really hard. There wasn’t. I had a bbq sandwich, some potato chips, and couple of scoops of chocolate ice cream instead. Then we went home. I have a beer in my hand now. Well, not now, since I’m typing. Which means I should probably stop typing. Tomorrow’s post will be a fun one, where I try to find something to blame for my less than stellar performance.

Although, if I had a great race, would this post be as entertaining? And what’s more important, fast races or funny posts? I think we all know where my heart lies.

24 thoughts on “(Long) Grandfather Marathon Race Report, or, Holy Leg Cramp Batman!

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Barefoot Josh » Blog Archive » (Long) Grandfather Marathon Race Report, or, Holy Leg Cramp Batman! -- Topsy.com

  2. I’m so proud of you man! Grandfather Mountain, completely barefoot and only the second to ever do that. That is truely awesome! Now, finish that beer, maybe have another, and then get you some well deserved rest!! Congrats!

  3. LESS than stellar? I know it’s not the time you were hoping for but look at this objectively. What would YOU think of someone who told you they ran “America’s Toughest Marathon” in bare feet in under four and a half hours?? Very impressive, Josh. Congrats!

  4. Congrats on your first official BFM (barefoot marathon) !
    But I know it’s a bummer when something goes awry, and you know you could have done a lot better.

    It took me 8 marathons before everything went right, but I think you’re smarter than me. You’ll figure this out and nail the next one.

    Although it will make for a dull report. Actually have a post coming up on how perfect marathons are boring to run (and read about).

  5. A BIG congrats! Great accomplishment to add to your others.

    I like what AC said–it takes a while to get it right and you’ll figure it out. Not that what you did wasn’t right, it just wasn’t what you wanted. Thanks for the great write up.

  6. Hills, heat, gravel and barefeet, Oh my! Could you make it anymore challenging? How bout next year you eat spicy Thai?

    Congratulations on your accomplishment.

  7. Good to finally meet you, Josh. We talked briefly while on the gravel section. I asked if you were Josh. I’m glad you ran the whole thing barefoot.

  8. RunnerDude: Thanks! It’s a tough barefoot course, that’s for sure. I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve learned how to do it well enough for the road to feel good the entire way.

    Dena: I would say “You got cramp-leg? That’s a decidedly less than stellar experience. Congrats on sucking it up and being a badass. Although you looked kinda fruity dancing over the rocks.”

    ac: I’m smart enough to know who to copy – I think I see trail runs in my future.

    MissZippy: There are always things we could do better, though, and getting better requires figuring out what those things are. Getting better is fun, especially when it involves less cramp-leg.

    kelly: Wait for it… wait for it…

    Yeah, I could wear shoes! ba dum-bum.

  9. Chad: You were looking good! Someday I’ll run that section. Congrats on a good slog!

  10. Nice job, Josh! Just knowing it can be done gives me encouragement.

    The good news (from my perspective) is that it wasn’t your bare feet, but your legs that slowed you down. And it wasn’t an injury, but cramps. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that you can fix that by tweaking your diet a bit.

    That PR will probably come next time.


  11. Angie: Brutal and beautiful. Which I think is what I wrote about Blue Ridge. I said to a passing runner around mile who-knows-what “one of these days I’m going to run this thing intelligently.” The guy replied, “I’ve run Grandfather eight times and I still haven’t figured it out yet.”

    RunrGreg: While running barefoot is a lifelong education, I’m feeling less and less like a Barefoot runner and more like a runner who happens to run barefoot, if that makes sense.

  12. I should have packed beer. Next time I’ll do better advance recon. Who would think a fricking Scottish festival would be beerless? That ain’t right.

  13. ac: according to godaddy, it’s available. Not sure it’s a succinct as I would like, though.

    Rick: It certainly was tough for me; when the day comes I run a marathon well there will be much singing and dancing in the streets. Until the neighbors call the cops on me for being a public nuisance.

    Jamoosh: Don’t I have to sing or something for that?

    wife: We’ll get this marathon thing worked out. In fact, I think I need to resume beer training starting… now.

    RunnerDude: It’s because you guys are always reckless with your claymores when you imbibe.

  14. Ludo: That’s Matt Jenkins. He’s always run the gravel section in shoes, I think. And because I’m a stickler about these things, socks aren’t barefoot.

    He is running across NC barefoot this summer, though: https://twitter.com/BarefootNCRun

  15. “And because I’m a stickler about these things, socks aren’t barefoot”……… No kidding!!

  16. Josh, as far as I know, you are the first to run this race barefoot. I ran the last 6 miles in socks, and I did The Bear barefoot in 2009. When I ran it in 2010, with tape on my feet, John Weaver told me I was the first. I had tape on my feet though, you were way ahead of me, and he isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, so he may have missed a barefoot runner in the past. In my book, you were the first to run it barefoot. I could be wrong, but I think the rumor of someone else doing it stemmed from me in 2009.

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