Friday, October 14, 2011

New To the Collective and Smiling and Enjoying All The Way

I stumbled onto this little gem of a blog a couple of weeks ago via the BRS and have been stalking (I mean enjoying) it ever since. Enough so, that I had to contact Kate to check if I could help contribute in anyway, and hopefully help spread the word of the great joy of running.

To me running is not work, or something that you have to do because someone told you too, for me it is fun and pure enjoyment. To get out and just go for a run whether it be by myself or with a group is absolutely fantastic and it usually brings a perma-grin to my face that just doesn't want to come off and that is the way I like it.

As this is my first post, I figured I would start with a post I had on my blog, from the last marathon I ran in Bismark, North Dakota last month. I had so much fun and the experience was second to none in my books in a short history of running for me. This will also give you a idea of what I consider a great running experience and why I like the smaller runs so much.

I hope you enjoy,

So this has been an interesting week, since last Sunday when I ran the entire Treherne Half Marathon barefoot on gravel to the dismay of a lot of people, and accepted an invite to join a friend on an excursion to Bismark, ND to run there on Saturday, I have found out alot about the resilience of my feet and body in general.

Lets start with Sunday, after I finished the half, my feet were a little tender, ok that would be an understatement they were down right sore. After running 13.1 miles on gravel (with about a mile reprieve on asphalt) that was very understandable, I figured I would have tender feet for a couple of days. I was wrong within hours my feet were back to normal, my calves were a still a little tight the next day and my big toe was still sore from my toe drag at mile 10 or so, but other than that my feet felt fantastic. Also note my toe healed up nicely in a couple of days. I was even able to do some trail running Monday night out at Kilcona Park with the WH3 barefoot and it felt fantastic, no ill effects of the race the day before.

But just to be on the safe side, I did not run the rest of the week, since I committed to going to Bismark with Mike (from See Mike Run), I wanted to ensure my feet were ready for what I was thinking was going to be a fast half marathon. Nothing like a last minute decision to run a race, within the last two weeks I have signed up for 2 runs at the last minute (Treherne the Wednesday before the race and now Bismark the day before). The crazy thing is that on the trip down to Bismarck, I was contemplating running the full instead of the half because I didn't know what I would do waiting the extra approx 2 hours for Mike and David to finish after I was done. So as we drove the 450 miles (not km's eh Mike) to Bismarck I tossed the idea of throwing caution to the wind and running the full marathon around. So here we are driving for about 7 hours to an American city, trying to figure out what race I was going to complete. We arrived in Bismarck around 6 pm and headed straight to the race pick up / registration area which was located in the mall which was adjacent the Scheel's (a really cool sports equipment store similar to MEC and REI). Still completely undecided which way I was going to go, I started the registration process and got to the run selection and checked Full, I thought why not you only live once, right?

Now lets put this into perspective for all you runners and non-runners out there:

  • I have not ran more than 16 miles since June 17th in one shot (only adding 10.2 miles onto of my max run, no problem).

  • I haven't trained for a marathon at all and definitely not at race pace.

  • I was still battling my breathing issues, carried my puffer through Trehere just in case and would do the same here.

  • There was a killer hill to tackle not once but twice (1.5 or so miles up at a 5% grade incline) Remember I am from Manitoba the biggest hill we have is a speed bump

  • There was chip-seal on the course

  • There would be off and on rain throughout the run and a pretty good head wind

  • Of course I was running barefoot

  • That all being said, I was pumped to get out there and run. It was really interesting, as I was registering, one of the ladies behind the table noticed my Vibram shirt and mentioned that her son runs in them, and Mike mentioned that I actually run barefoot and would be running tomorrow that way. That was when all the hoopla started, all of a sudden they were quizzing me so they could write down my bib number, my name and contact info on a separate sheet, for at the time some unknown purpose. It really didn't hit me until the next day what it was, but I will expand on that later. I just answered their questions, smiled and we headed out to go check in at the hotel and then off to Olive Garden for some pasta and beer (a traditional pre-race feast).

    With a 7:30 am start time and really not sure where were going and how to get there (thank you Garmin GPS), we wanted to ensure we were up early enough to ensure we had plenty of time. After we got back to the hotel, it was a early bedtime to try to maximize on the sleep that we would probably not get and true to form all three of us didn't get much. Pre-run jitters are common, as you start to run the course in your head and lay out and try to perfect your strategy for the day ahead (note: I have found this really never goes to plan but so be it I still do anyway). It was interesting to hear this never goes away, I found out that David who has run over 80 marathons and a number of ultras (including The Canadian Death Race and numerous other 100 milers) still has this happen as well.

    Mike was up at around 5:00, I dragged my butt out of bed at around 5:20 and David fell out of bed at about 5:35, a quick shower, dress and prep for run and we headed downstairs to hit the continental breakfast and a coffee. Met some other runners from Ohio and Kansas who seemed a little over dressed to me wearing touques, tights and heavier running jackets, but they were ready to 'Get 'Er Done!' (That one is for you Mike). Here I was planning to wear my shorts, tri shirt (which is sleeveless) and my arm sleeves for the start, along with my bare feet, must be a Canadian thing, overheating is not a good thing in my mind. Anyway, we piled into the car and headed out to find the run, thanks again GPS for pointing us in the right direction. About halfway there we picked up a runner who was walking along the side of the road looking rather chilled. He in fact was from Houston Texas, and was only wearing his running gear which consisted of a muscle shirt and shorts, he was very grateful for the ride. He was unaware how far it actually was from the hotel to the start line so we were glad to give him the opportunity to warm up before running the full marathon. As we arrived we started to get ready, I took off my long sleeve shirt and my VFF's but left my Injini toe socks on to keep my toes warm, I did get some looks from other runners as I was walking around in socks (just wait till those come off, hee hee!).

    It wasn't long before everybody started lining up at their posted target times, we all settled on a 4:00 goal (I say this with tongue in cheek) and positioned ourselves in that area. Off came the socks and the OMG's started with earnest and with them the questions. Now I do not think myself an expert in any stretch of the imagination (with only about a year and a half of experience) on barefoot running but I do like to pass on my knowledge if people are interested. This race seemed to be one where there was a lot of interest, I had numerous conversations and questions with runners, volunteers and spectators alike on the way i run. You would almost think this 'Barefoot Running' thing was catching on or something. After the National Anthem was sang (and she did a fantastic job), we counted down from 10 to the start, it was nice to hear everybody get louder as we approached one..... and we were off!

    It's always interesting how runners always position themselves in time areas that are realistically beyond their capabilities, even at the start. I love optimism (and I will admit a 4:00 marathon for me is a stretch but I can keep that pace from the start for a number of miles), but Mike, David and I must of passed numerous runners in the first few minutes that couldn't keep up that pace at all. For some runners this could be very frustrating, if they are looking for a time or a personal best to have to weave in and out of slower runners that they really shouldn't have too. I personally say, even though it is frustrating, you have to keep a positive outlook and be happy they are out enjoying a run, because not that long ago you were probably exactly like them. Life is to short to let little things like that get to you, enjoy the day.

    On to the race, let me say it was a blast, they had friendly volunteers and for a smaller race and not ideal weather conditions there was some very enthusiastic spectators along route. I kept pace with Mike and David for probably the first 10 miles or so, which was fantastic for me because they are both stronger runners than I am. The course of the start was on a bike or runners asphalt path so it was a little congested until things started to thin out, but once it did it was smooth sailing. I had numerous conversations along the run (which did slow me down a little bit) with runners along the way, either with runners that had started the conversion to barefoot or wanted to give it a try but were a little hesitant, too the runners that thought I was totally nuts but amazed at the same time. I ran and talked with a younger guy from Bismarck for about 5 minutes about how to start running barefoot and what not to do. I was amazed at how enthusiastic he was, I almost thought he was going to stop and take his shoes off right there, but luckily he didn't he still had a good 24 miles to run. I do not know what it is about running, but you can talk with a complete stranger about anything and there is no problem, no inhibitions at all everything is fair game. One girl I was talking to about barefoot running suddenly changed topic to bodily functions and noises without a bat of an eyelash. This is someone I met not 2 minutes before, where else do you get that. This is another reason I like to run.

    As we trucked along the course, we started heading to "the Hill", that would be Mary's Hill towards the The University of Mary (she must of been important to have a University named after her) which was located on top of a plateau to the north side of town. This hill was very interesting, not usually on the course the race director had to change the route due to the flooding of the Missouri River, thus the hill was added (not once but twice - at mile 5 and 18). It is a on paper, one mile long at a 5% steep grade incline up towards the University (officially I would say 1.5 to 1.75 miles up to the top by the University but who's counting). This was going to be a challenge for us flatlanders but of course we were up for it. Along the way to the Hill we passed a couple of young musicians playing away to help inspire the runners. It put a smile on face to see a couple of teenagers playing their hearts out in the cold and drizzle as they were. One had a full drum kit set up and was going at it like a wild man and the other was a younger teen who was strumming Smoke on the Water on his electric guitar. Very impressed that they took the time to do this, they were still going at it as I passed them for the second time on the second lap, pretty darn impressive. There was also a harpist playing at the University grounds as well, I would think her fingers were probably pretty cold strumming the strings for 4 hours, so kudos to her as well. The view at the top of the hill behind the University was really impressive, you could look into the river valley and even with the fog and mist it was still a pretty impressive sight. I of course had to stop and take some pictures, as I decided that I was going to play tourist on this little adventure and I was having so much fun. As I started up and headed towards the first Relay Transition Point, the strangest thing happened, I heard some guy on a bullhorn calling out relay numbers as they came into the transition area (not unusual) but then i heard him announce the following, " Look out folks, here comes our Barefoot Runner, give him a big cheer when he goes through!" I really didn't think much of it, I waved, high fived a bunch or spectators and runners alike, smiled and thought to myself, wow that was nice, and carried on my merry little way towards the down the hill part of the run.

    As David and Mike pulled away once we got down the hill and headed back to the end of the first loop, I got once again into a conversation with a couple of runners who were running the half marathon, they were having the time of their lives and you could see it all over their faces. Not really paying attention to my pace I ran with them for a while, fielding more questions and comments, having a few laughs and just enjoying the run. They started to slow a little bit and I said my goodbyes and good lucks and slowly pulled away. My legs and feet felt fantastic, there was no sign of fatigue at all, and I was keeping a good pace somewhere around 9:10 mile, which I was ecstatic about. I then started running with this one older gentleman who was running a leg of the relay, I believe he was a city engineer as he was telling me about the earth dikes that were still along the side of the road and how they had just finished clearing some of the dikes off the course route that week, kudos to the city workers who helped get the course in as good of shape as it was. He also told me he wanted to run the half but he was out early putting all the race signs out so he decided that the relay would still give him the chance to run. Awesome stuff, I like to hear stories like this, it shows dedication, unfortunately I did not get his name but I know he finished strong.

    Once again, I was coming around the corner towards relay exchange number two, when once again "I hear, "Here he comes give a big cheer for our barefoot runner, Bob Nicol from Winnipeg". I really didn't think much of this once again, just thinking that's strange why did they announce my name as I ran through with some more hi-fives, etc. As I headed to the half way point and the end of the first lap, I started thinking to myself, 'How did she know my name?' (this also happened at the rest of the Relay Stations as well, very humbling. Shaking that off I proceeded to the half way point, and came up to the only area that was really a little confusing, there was a volunteer standing on a split in the path asking the marathoners as they came through if it was their first or second time through? Me not really comprehending what he was talking about, said, "Damn only the first time, I am not that fast", thinking he was talking about finishing of my second loop. Nope, it seems the start of the second loop consisted of a loop inside a loop so you pass that junction twice in about 15 minutes or so, a little confusion but I guess it could of been worse. As I ran towards the half way point (and the finish for the half marathoners), I once again heard, " Lets hear a big cheer for our barefoot runner, Bob Nicol from Winnipeg who is running the entire marathon barefoot today!" At this point, I started wondering what the heck is going on, this is a little weird, I am no where near the front, I do have a good split with just over a 2 hour 13.1 miles but really. Then as I pass the announcer he gives me a big thumbs up and a quick reference to 'Born To Run' being a great read and wishing me good luck on finishing, as I was the only barefoot runner.

    I was a little taken aback by all the attention, but figured ok, lets finish this baby off. I headed out on the final lap, with a little bit of a slower pace but still good in my books. As I finished the loop I came up to the volunteer who directed me around the first time, and joked with him see you in a couple of hours, he smiled and cheered me on. The second loop was very similar to the first time around a lot of chatting with everybody, I got to see a really cool drum solo, and the guitar player was still cranking it out as I ran by. Everybody was throwing comments my way about my feet and I was having a great time. I even started playing duck, duck, goose with another marathoner as I would pass her, then she would pass me, then I would pass her. We did this the entire rest of the race. Going up the second hill I decided to walk a good chunk of it to conserve my energy for the final push to the finish, this was a good thing as there was a killer headwind as well for the entire distance up the hill. I ran down the hill with a fresh abandon, just letting go and with a great tail wind to boot, I have never had that type of energy at this stage of the run (was around 20 to 21 miles). I cruised to the bottom, and stopped for my one potty brake and a gel stop. I think the volunteers thought I was crazy because I was grinning from ear to ear and even started picking up some of the cups around the garbage can that missed (must be a Canadian thing). Off I went to catch up to my duck, duck, goose partner, when I noticed that she was slowing down quite a bit, so as I passed her I told her she had to run in with me and I wouldn't take no for an answer. She smiled, agreed and I took off ahead, so I got a couple of minutes ahead of her and started to walk to let her catch up and pass me, even though I felt fantastic and could of ran it in I was having fun and I wanted to help this runner get in. So once she got about 500 yds ahead of me, I started running again and passed her with a 'Duck', ran ahead stopped and started walking again, in which she passed me again with a smile and a 'Goose'. This happen a couple more times until we were at about mile 25 and change, this was where Valerie from Nebraska and I started running together to the finish. We also picked up Melissa who was part of relay team (who were running in support of a friend with cancer), Melissa started running a couple of years ago to get active and has lost 60 pounds since starting. She was doing awesome but I could see she was starting to falter a little, so on went my 'Motivational Speaker Cap' and I told the both of them, let's go we are almost there, and I want to both of you to kick my barefoot Canadian butt. They both laughed and the closer we got, the more I pushed them to finish. You could see Melissa's teammates cheering her on in the distance and that must of inspired her as she took off from the both of us, it was great to see and put a smile on my face. That was when I looked at Valerie and told her, now its your turn and egged her on through the finish line. She beat me by 3 seconds. Official time was 4 hours 36 minutes and 55 seconds. With a quick hug and thank yous from both of them we parted ways, it was fantastic to see. This is another thing I love about running, to see them as they crossed the finish line was priceless, and why I will continue to run.

    Even though I could of shaved some time off my finish, to me it was not about that, it was seeing the looks on everybody's faces as they crossed the finish line realizing if they push themselves that little bit harder, they can do it and have done it. To cap this off I had a great time running this race and even though it was not a personal best, I will not forget the fun that I had and discovering how my body and feet have adapted. Previously, I could of never imagined running a marathon, let alone one without training for it, I be thinking this ultra marathon thing could be possible after all.

    In short, I like to just go out and enjoy the run and the company along the way. My biggest objective to make sure I am 'Smiling at the start, the middle and definitely at the end'.

    Me at Mile 8 still smiling and having a whole lot of fun

    Just before crossing the finish line, man my feet were black, and yes I was still smiling.

    Barefooting Bob aka Bob Nicol

    1 comment:

    1. Fantastic first post Bob. I loved this report as it showed the race was about the people you were with and not how much you were pushing it for a PR. I really liked the fact that you slowed down and helped people that needed the support and you got them to the end with smiles on their faces. Keep up the good work.