Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


Last to Start, Last to Finish: Pineland Farms Trail 50K Race Report

Me and Brad and Team SquirrelWipe, at the starting line.

Throughout four months of training for my first ultra marathon, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. And even seconds before the gun went off, standing in the grassy clearing at the start line of this race in my Pace Gloves and my Team SquirrelWipe tank top, I still had no idea. I have come to the conclusion that one has no way to fathom what a trail ultra is like, until one completes a trail ultra.

My friend Sherée and I started the race at the very back of the pack because I knew we’d be there soon enough anyway. Besides, I’m not too fond of watching 300 people (including my more talented running friends Shelly Robillard, Adam Gentile and Brad Waterson) whiz past me at the beginning of a race – it’s just not great for morale. And I had to pee in the woods ASAP because the lines at the porta-johns were too long.

We started at a modest pace, feeling brave and adventurous. I knew there would be hills, lots of them. Steep ones. But I did my best to ignore that reality for as long as possible. We flew over the first few of those hills and glided back down. The trail was clean, soft and mostly rock-free. There were frequent breaks from the woods into acres of gorgeous, grassy pasture that had been mowed down to form perfect 5-foot wide trails snaking around and crossing over each other. I was exhilarated and the view was breathtaking. There were cows, white picket fences, farm houses and sunshine. It was ridiculously awesome, and I’d never been happier to be running.

We had a timely arrival to the second aid station of the race, which was actually three stations in one, all set up at angles connected to different sections of trail in the middle of a mowed pasture. Turns out I would have some important encounters with people at this very station throughout the race. The first of them was right then, as Brad waved at me from the second of the three stops. Damn he’s fast. “How did he already get there?!” Sherée asked me as we stuffed our faces with bananas, Oreos and quartered PB&J sandwiches (we didn’t give ourselves time to eat breakfast before the race). I didn’t know…but all of a sudden I needed to catch up.

I might have wanted to catch Brad a little too much, though, because we probably went too fast and I lost Sherée once we got back to that station again. Her injury was flaring up so she decided to call it early. At first I was thinking “lucky bitch,” but it wasn’t until many miles later that I would realize how lucky I was that she didn’t run the whole race.

The second time I met someone at this three-in-one aid station, it was Jason Robillard. He was on mile I-dunno-what (he was running the 50 mile race) and I’d just started my second of two laps around the course, probably somewhere around mile 17. I had just left the porta-john and was busy eyeing the water truck that had just come in, fantasizing about hopping in the back and calling it a day. Just as I opened my mouth to ask someone if I could get a ride, I was pulled violently from my reverie with the sun-shiny words “Hey, Trisha!” to my right. There was Jason, looking fresh as a fucking daisy.

I will admit I was thrilled to see him again, after having already spent some time running together a few miles back. When he came up to me then, hooting and hollering something about Team SquirrelWipe from behind me, I was insanely relieved to have him there. I was working on mile 12 or 13 (now’s a good time to mention that I purposely didn’t wear my Garmin – the jury is out on whether that was a smart move), and hitting my first major low. We chatted a bit and compared notes, and then before going ahead on his own, Jason helped me visualize running past the start/finish at mile 15.5, and then moving on to that second lap without even thinking. He told me to ride out the low end of this wave like these rolling hills, and then he took off up the hill like a barefoot stallion. Er…yeah.

He probably didn’t realize that every one of the 50 or so 25K runners that flew past me after that were going to sink me further and further into that wave.

But I digress. Now I was past the start/finish, and I’m sure he was glad to see his advice helped me get this far. He listened to me garble on about being tired and completely ignored my ideas about quitting, as if I hadn’t even voiced them. He didn’t seem to give one or two shits that I’d been crying only minutes before reaching this aid station. He told me this was all normal – normal! – and sent me on my way, telling me which station I should plan to get food from. He never stopped being positive for one millisecond. Damn him.

And after some time I found the aid stations were becoming part of an emotional pattern for me. I’d see one, speed up, arrive with a smile, and then someone would ask me what I wanted in my handheld (eventually they stopped asking and just took it from me, because I was too exhausted and confused to answer). I’d spend a few moments lollygagging around (later, I’d spend a lot more moments) and then I’d grab a handful of the closest food item from the table and shove it in my mouth as I left. Then I would run for a good clip, feeling refreshed and rather happy. And then after awhile I would grow tired, come to the bottom of a big hill and start to walk. Then I would sink into a deep, lonely despair, unable to run much more (because there were too many hills) until I caught sight of the next aid station.

This cycle repeated for me until the 6th and final time I reached that infamous three-in-one aid station. I let the nice aid station lady (it could have been a dude for all I know – people were getting sort of fuzzy by now) fill up my handheld with Cytomax and I took a little sit-down on the grass beside the food table. I was perhaps at mile 23 or so, and I couldn’t feel my face. This time I was definitely going to get someone to drive me in. I don’t know how long I sat there deciding, but it might have been ten or more minutes. The teenagers were starting to give me worried looks when a 70 year old woman named Terry came along. I remembered passing her back at mile one (good lord). She asked me why I was sitting down, and I nonchalantly told her that it was because I was waiting for my ride back.

Now, tiny little Terry might have looked frail, but she pulled me off that grass like she was plucking a daisy in a field. “Let’s go,” she demanded. “You’re nearly done, you’re not stopping now.” I spent the next three miles walking with her, while she distracted my exhausted tears with stories from her long and amazing ultramarathon career (and I do mean amazing). She got me as far as the start/finish area (mile 26), where I decided to take a short pit-stop at the porta-johns. I had only five miles left.

In the porta-john I decided that since I’d just run a marathon, that was good enough. That it was taking too damn long for me to finish this race, and that it was time to go find Sheree in the crowd, tell her I’m all set, and have a beer together. Mmmm. Beer. Then I realized there was no more toilet paper, so it was a damn good thing that I’d shoved some in the side pocket of my handheld that morning. Phew.

I stepped out, looked up, and…shit. There was Sherée. Standing at the top of the hill like a monument of resolve. The look on her face said she wasn’t going to let me stop. “Let’s go, honey, there’ s just five miles left and I’m running them with you.”

Now I realize that obviously, I never really wanted to quit before I finished. If I did, I am more than pig-headed enough to have overcome all of my friends’ determination to keep me going. It’s embarrassing now that some of them had to watch me whine like an over-tired 5 year old as I walked through the start/finish toward my final 9K loop, but I was going to do it either way.

I think in the end I just needed some companionship, and I’m not sure I could ever make Sherée understand how much it meant to me that she was there right then. Those hills, those woods were really lonely. It’s fairly obvious that my legs were not quite prepared for the constant barrage of hills on this decidedly hellish course, but I was absolutely blindsided by my emotional despair and overwhelming sense of aloneness. Normally I prefer running alone, I even have written articles on the positives of running alone. But my mind, my heart, just could not handle my loneliness during this race. And that’s probably why I lingered for so long at the aid stations (I figure I wasted about 1.5 hours at them), and why I practically waited for people like Terry and Jason to come along and lift me out of my interminable funk.

I was also surprised that I preferred the fields to the wooded parts of the course. Everyone around me (er…passing me) was bitching about the heat and sun as the afternoon closed in, but throughout the day I found that the sunny fields were the only areas I really felt like opening up to a run. The sun was hot and yucky, but I barely noticed. Its familiarity lifted me out of my emotional darkness. But more than anything else, contrary to the woods the fields were more or less flat. Even toward the end of the race I found I could maintain a much better running pace on these flat areas. In the end I guess it really was the hills (and, perhaps, the hills alone) that made this race so profoundly difficult for me.

After a quick stop at the bag drop-off to bandage a small blister and check my phone for inspirational text messages (of which I had many, because I’ve got amazing friends), Sherée and I took off for the last five miles. The first half mile was in the fields – those lovely fields – and Sherée gingerly commented that I was going pretty fast. I didn’t care. I felt good, I wanted to run fast and I wanted to be done. Soon as we entered the hilly woods, I fell apart again like clockwork. But she whisked me through this last hour as fast as she could on fresh legs. She was so unwaveringly supportive, that I’m pretty sure she would have carried me to the finish line if necessary.

But before too long (well…nevermind, it was way too long), we were almost done. All I had to do was cross the street and enter the clearing toward the finish line. Sherée sent me on as I sped up to a trot, then a run, then a faster run. Brad appeared before me – barefoot, flailing and making wild noises like he was trying to scare the cows. There were strangers clapping and hooting at me, and cowbells ringing out their metallic monotone as I sprinted for the finishers chute, dead fucking last, with a colossal grin on my face.

I got a fever. And the only prescription is…more cowbell.

I have a few conclusions about this race. Some of them relate to my embarrassingly bad finish time, my feelings about having walked too much and whined too much, my regret over picking such a difficult course, etc. And others point to the little victories, like the fact that I didn’t get hurt, that I handled all the downhills surprisingly well, and that I finished at all, even though I was the last one to do so.

In the end, perhaps my finishing this race was more of a testament to my will and determination than it was to my slacker training. But the bare fact is that I finished. I did it. I might be the slowest one under the age of 70 but I am an ultra-marathoner.

And as Jason Robillard promised would happen, I kinda can’t wait to sign up for my next 50K.

One with fewer hills.


Adventure Packing

I haven’t had much time to write this week because I was in NYC for work. But now I’m back and I’m exhausted, and hoping I can stuff enough hours of sleep into the days and nights leading up to the race so that I can actually finish without conking out on the side of the trail.

And speaking of stuffing, I have been spending just about the whole day thinking about what the hell I’m going to pack for the weekend. My friend Jason Robillard says that the amount of stuff a runner packs for an ultra is directly proportionate to the runner’s experience. And since I’m a complete noob, I pretty much plan to pack half my home. The list includes:

  • Running tanks
  • Capri-length running tights
  • Running skirts (INKnBURN, baby!)
  • Zensah calf sleeves
  • Invisible Shoes (re-laced and cut shorter to better match the shape of my foot)
  • Merrell Pace Gloves
  • VIVO Breathos
  • Merrell Dash Gloves or Vibram SeeYas
  • at least 2 pairs of Injinjis
  • sports bras
  • albuterol inhaler
  • my handheld water bottle
  • my Nathan hydration vest (even though I’m 99% sure I won’t use it)
  • tons of snacks
  • at least 2 gallons of water
  • Body Glide
  • my Garmin watch
  • Nuun
  • a cooler
  • almond milk
  • bananas
  • chia seeds
  • dried mangos
  • dates
  • whey protein
  • homemade potato salad (the race director requested a food donation)
  • my blender

You should notice two things here: 1. I did not list underwear.  2. yes, I said I’m bringing a blender. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

The things I hope to learn from this weekend’s adventure are the following:

  • whether I am able to run 31 miles without dropping dead or injuring myself
  • what I don’t need to pack next time
  • how well I can function after a week’s worth of sleep deprivation and high alcohol consumption
  • why Jason Robillard insists on wearing such short shorts

The race is in three short days, readers. Wish me luck!


Releasing the Dark Pacer

In just ten days, I will be standing at the starting line of my first 50K race.

The question “Am I prepared?” floats around in my mind frequently, but for the last few days I have been batting it away like a hungry mosquito, with the answer “Doesn’t matter – it’s too late to do anything about it now, anyway.” I’ve completed my last long run now, so for better or worse, I am as ready as I’m ever going to be (insert other applicable cliché phrases here). But has my training been good enough to get me through 31 miles of dirty, hilly trails? I find that as that date gets closer, I’m spending more and more time letting every conflicting opinion I come across seep into my brain and allow me to doubt myself.

I recently downloaded the book Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons (Bryon Powell), and while searching it desperately for tidbits of information that might help me out during the race, I have been sweating bullets whenever I come across an especially intimidating reference or recommendation about training for an ultra. Back-to-back long runs, double-run days, 10-12 mile “short” runs, tempos, intervals, strength training and so on. I have done few of those things and none of them in any sort of dedicated manner. So when I read things like this my openly confident “slacker training” theory begins to feel loose and shaky. There seems to be no way this author would consider my rather lackadaisical training to be good enough. And even though I shouldn’t care what this author would think of my training, I can’t help but attach his imagined opinion to my own feelings about it.

Because I have no reference for understanding how prepared (or not) I am for such a distance, I’ve taken to comparing myself to others…to trainers, authors, friends – a decidedly deleterious habit. My mind fills with negative rationalizations like “but he’s been doing back-to-back long runs, and I haven’t,” and “but she’s already run a marathon and I haven’t.” All things designed to help me believe that I’ll never succeed. Conversely, I’m easily relieved whenever someone admits their own ultra training has been lazy or substandard (and yet they did fine), or assures me in some other way that my current level of training is adequate.

My self-confidence has been hopelessly tied to the beliefs and experiences of other people, and it’s because I quite literally cannot wrap my head around the enormity of what I’m about to undertake. I mean, thirty-one miles? Who can picture that distance? From where I’m standing, a 50K might as well be 100 miles. Or a thousand. It’s all too much for me to understand right now, and so all I have to draw from is the stories of others.

I think this is precisely why a lot of people tend to ask the question “how will I know if I’m ready?” The answer is you can’t possibly know if you don’t know yet. I realize that’s a strange sentence but it makes sense in my brain.

As I have experienced triumphs and failures throughout my training, a few people have told me that they think I’m too hard on myself. I’m not sure I agree. The reality is that I’m both too hard and too easy on myself, depending on which day you’re referring to. In the last four months I have enjoyed moments of pure, intense confidence, and I’ve endured an equal amount of delirious uncertainty. It’s a mixed bag.

My emotions about this race stay with me, like a faithful pacer, with every mile I train. Or, more accurately, there are two pacers – one in white, who congratulates my efforts, and a dark one (perhaps like Dexter Morgan’s dark passenger?) who chides every missed opportunity to further my training.

Maybe everyone has a dark passenger.

But now my training is over, and I have no more pacers. I’ll just have my legs, my determination and my friends to keep me going on race day. I just hope none of them asks me how many back-to-back long runs I’ve done.

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Wallis Sands Half Marathon Race Report

Photo “borrowed” from the Wallis Sands site (click photo for link).

Just in case I’ve got any readers who may have somehow been lead to believe that I’m not a hack that I’ve run a lot of long distance races, let me correct your misinformation here and now: I’m still a relative noob. Up to this point I have never run a race longer than a half marathon, and the Wallis Sands half marathon was only my second half marathon. Like, ever.

In fact, Wallis Sands has been my first race longer than a 5K since last June. But not for a lack of trying, though. If you are sort of new to reading my blog, you may not have seen the solid three-month-long block of posts on the subject of being out of commission due to a major foot injury last summer (and lucky you). The suckiest part of all is that if you count the time it took me to re-train myself, I was set back nearly a year of progress, and gained ten pounds as well. So this half mary was a triumph of sorts for me.

Last year I ran Great Bay. It was extremely hilly (something I didn’t know until the day before the race when I picked up my race packet and a shirt with “These Legs Conquered the Hills of Great Bay” printed on the back) and my lack of preparedness for those hills had me struggling through it at the end. So this year I signed up for the other really popular New Hampshire spring half marathon. It was almost totally flat. And the irony of it is that since last year’s half I’ve acquired a love of hills, so it was a bit boring to run such a flat road race. Ah well, such is life.

I signed up for this race with my friend John, who wanted to run his first half this year.  I’m certainly no veteran of the half marathon, but it was pretty cool to witness his milestone experience.

And it was nice to approach the starting line with some basic knowledge of the distance. Much unlike last year’s half, I’ve run farther than 13 miles now and I understand a bit more how to pace myself, how much water and fuel I require for the distance and how tired I’ll feel at the end. Per experience, I had fully expected to become tired enough to take walk breaks by mile 7 or so, little did I know at the starting line that I’d be surprising myself soon.

My bib had a yellow stripe on it. It had been so long since I’d signed up that I couldn’t even remember what finish time I’d selected, but the race went in heats (which I thought was genius) and yellow meant I was heat 4. Luckily John’s bib was the same color as mine so we got to stand around the starting line together, me in my INKnBURN skirt and him in his bright red Devil’s Chase race tee. We exchanged anxious grins and absorbed the excitement in the air around us. But as soon as the gun blared, he took off ahead, and I took out my mantra.

Don’t go fast. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t go fast. Don’t follow the crowd. This is not a race for you – it’s just a training run for the 50K.

And I didn’t go fast or follow the crowd. I sunk into a nice conservative 11:30 pace right away and really just happily stayed there, determined not to use up too much energy. I enjoyed the overcast, 45-degree morning. For the first few miles the ocean was to my left, just over the rocks near the road. It was pretty amazing to look at, and, amazingly, it was also the first time I’d ever gone for a run so close to the ocean. Being that I’m an insatiable ocean lover I realize that this is preposterous. At any rate it sweetened those first few miles that are always hardest for me to get through.

Early on I caught up and began chatting with a woman in her 50’s, whom I later found out was from my hometown and knew one of my cousins in high school. Then, like an alarm going off, I had to pee. I always have to pee about a mile or two into my long runs. Why is this? As if on cue, we came up to a porta-potty and I dived in. I’ve probably never peed so fast in my life. I jumped back out and banged out an 8-minute mile to catch up with the group I was in before my pit-stop. The woman in her 50’s was now talking with someone else so I paced in behind her, hooked an earphone into my right ear and started chugging at 11:30 again.

Photo “borrowed” from the Wallis Sands site (click photo for link).

During the race I passed water stop after water stop, snagging a water and a gatorade each time to be sure I took in enough fluids. John got smaller ahead of me, until he was just a little red dot in a sea of black, blue and gray. I didn’t mind it at all; I enjoyed the relative quiet of the runners around me. I felt like I was with them, silently one of them.

Like I said before I fully expected to start walk breaks somewhere around mile 7, because, well…that’s my usual modus operandi. But at mile 7 I felt fine. I was two miles into my first Gu (those things never get easier to choke down, do they?) and feeling hydrated enough. I was still doing fine by mile 8, and still by mile 9 – even though my GI tract was starting its usual fuss and noise, which I was, however, successfully ignoring. The flatness of the course made it so incredibly easy that I was covering the miles with little trouble. And so by then I decided I might as well just stick it out the rest of the way.

Soon after, I started passing some of the people who had blown by me back at mile 1, and John-the-red-dot started getting bigger again. I caught up to him somewhere after mile 10 and although he was still plugging along, he looked a little tuckered (later I found out that he hadn’t consumed anything but water for the whole race). He was busy concentrating on his run so I continued on and soon he was lost again behind me.

That’s when I realized I was having a really good race. I only had two miles left and I hadn’t stopped to walk even once. Sure, my feet were a little tired in spots and my hips were achey, but I’ve grown used to those minor pains and they don’t really bother me much anymore. My IT band was fine, my lungs felt great, and even though I was slowing down a bit (I was riding a 12 minute mile by then), I was thrilled.

The only annoying thing was the mile markers were WAY off throughout the whole race. And because I stupidly trust mile markers on USATF Certified race courses, I thought my Garmin was dying when it was beeping almost a half mile after I’d passed each marker. Then, mile 12…well, mile 12 was a mile and a half long. Looks like the guys they sent out to set down the markers were off from the start, and didn’t go back to fix their mistake. Yeah, pretty evil.

Photo “borrowed” from the Wallis Sands site (click photo for link).

Even though the last mile was a bit brutal, being right on the beach again made it a little easier to take. And then, soon as I came around a bend and saw the tents near the finish line, “The Final Countdown” played on my iPod – true story. It’s like that song has a sixth sense or something. I grinned big and bore down on that last quarter mile like I had zombies chasing me. I finished 13.1 again, and this time I did it with a big smile on my face, instead of tears. And despite being ten pounds heavier than I was last year, I finished three minutes faster, and pain-free. It felt like breaking a curse.

But now the Final Countdown has truly begun. Pineland 50K, Memorial Day weekend. Will I finish? Will I DFL? Will I die? The answer is still two weeks away, my friends, so stay tuned. But at the very least I plan to enjoy it as much as I can and, when in doubt, do my best to smile like a badass.

Or maybe I’ll just follow Kate Kift‘s advice and wear a pink tutu.


Thoughts on Being a Loner

Credit: New York Social Diary

A few weeks back I was invited to a small 6-hour running event happening tomorrow. It’s a 3-mile looped trail course that my friend Brad put together. It was planned specifically for people in the area who are training for the Pinelands 50k, but open to all. I looked at the event description on Facebook and it seemed like a good time, and a good way to get some major mileage in. But I didn’t plan to go.

Why not? Was it because 6 hours is too long for me to run? Because I have a half marathon next weekend and I should be taking it easy? Nah…I  mean, come on, you should know by now that I don’t usually miss out on doing fun things just because they’re stupid.

No, I wasn’t going to attend the 6-hour Fatass run because I’d already planned a 15-16 mile run for today, and well…I wanted to run it alone.

Turns out, even though I’m an exceptionally social person, when it comes to running I’m a loner by nature. I realize this is a weird dichotomy, but it’s just the way I am. Normally, I will happily wax poetic with anyone on almost any topic, especially running. But the more time I actually spend running, the more I find I prefer being completely solo (except for my dog Oscar).

Running with a buddy is still fun, of course. It makes the time fly by, kills two birds with one stone (catching up with friends and exercising), and it’s good training for the slower or less fit person. Which is usually me.

But I don’t really want the time to fly by when I’m running (in fact, I’m usually sad when a run is over). I want – I need – to be mentally focused on my long run. On how my legs feel. How my form feels. How steady my breath is. How the woods sound. I want to run slowly and feel every rock under my feet, not pass the time talking about work or comparing cellphone carriers. I like to slow to a walk every once in awhile, and sometimes stop altogether. Stretch my legs out. Observe the brook rumbling along beside the trail. Refuel without having to chew while bouncing. Direct Oscar to some fresh water and watch him drink. Then start up again.

And that’s probably why it takes me so much time to be done with a long run.

Most people I run with seem to just want to run fast the whole way, and finish under a certain time. In that way, maybe the long run is different for me than it is for some others. I’m there to train, sure, but I’m also there just to be outside. And it’s hard not to feel pressured to move faster with the other person, or feel guilty because I can’t.

Perhaps that just makes me a runner (or maybe a jogger…heh), but not a racer. I suppose I’m okay with that. But, I digress.

I mean, lovely as it is, it’s the very distraction of running with someone else that screws up my whole run. It’s not so bad on a 4-5 miler where I barely have time to get tired, but it is on the long run. I get so caught up in conversation that I lose focus of my body’s movements. I never catch myself slouching, or over-striding. I talk the whole time, use up too much energy in conversation and have none left for the run. It usually results in premature fatigue, a bad race time or an injured…something.

In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, the only races that I’ve ever even kicked ass at were run alone. My first 10k, my best 5k and a stellar Thanksgiving 5-miler. My performances at those races still make me proud, and not only because they were nice PR’s, but because of how I felt throughout. Strong, calm, and most importantly: focused.

I can’t achieve those things while I’m chatting up a friend during a race, and I can’t stop chatting once I’ve started. So it stands to reason that my most important races and runs must be solo. And maybe for the most part, this also includes Pineland. Sorry, Sheree.

That said, I have decided to go to the 6-hour run tomorrow, after all. Why? Mostly because I need to train myself to be “alone” even when there are lots of people around. I need to learn how to ignore the temptation to be social every minute just because there’s someone within earshot to blather at.

I figure tomorrow’s run might somewhat mimic the social situation on race day at Pineland. So it will be a good opportunity to practice running my own race even though I am not running alone. And even if it turns out I’m by myself 90% of the time because I’m so slow, it will still be a lesson in not trying to keep up with everyone else. A lesson in letting go of my fears of being the slowest person there (which I am sure I will be). And the other 10% of the time it will be a lesson in still focusing on my form while there’s someone running beside me.

So wish me luck, folks! It’s going to be a brand new trail for me, hopefully a new distance PR, and a tough mental training challenge. Also there might not be any bathrooms – and some of you may know by my status updates how many times I’ve ended up at a Dunkin’ Donuts bathroom after 8 miles or so. Could prove interesting.

Those Central-Massachusetts squirrels better be on their watches tomorrow.


Slacker Theory

“Hey Trish, how’s the 50k training going?”

The answer is….well, it’s…going. Going where, you ask? Who the hell knows! Not that I can figure out how to answer that question satisfactorily, anyway. Every time I try, the following obdurate facts stomp through my head:

  • My longest training run so far is 14 miles (until Saturday, hopefully)
  • I haven’t run long for the past two weekends, due to life
  • I can’t even find the training plan I printed out in February
  • My left foot has been acting like a spoiled army brat

I feel like I’m supposed to report these facts to everyone who inquires about my training, as if they are some sort of disclaimer for my slacker ways.

But I guess I wouldn’t look so much like a slacker to you if you were my next race.

The Wallis Sands half marathon is on May 6th. It’s my “Birthday Run,” and I’m going with my friend Kirby. It will be my second half marathon race ever, and I am totally confident. As long as I don’t do anything stupid like attempt to race it, the event should be a piece of cake. Naturally I’m trying to ignore the fact that it’s a road half marathon and I hate roads. More on that later.

Now I am going to take a moment to admit that it positively tickles me to call this half marathon a “training run.” Okay, moment over.

And what about the 50k itself? Am I scared, nervous, intimidated by the thought of running perhaps twice as far as I’ll ever have before then? Strangely…no. I have none of those feelings. Or, perhaps more accurately, I’ve gotten over them. My head is totally in it now, and I am experiencing nothing but excitement and anticipation. Like a 5 year-old forcing herself to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, I simply cannot wait for May 27th to arrive.

I know this race is going to be hard for me. Really hard. But with the understanding that a race like this is 90% heart and soul, I’ve built a little theory of my own about it. My theory is that no matter what sub-par training I’ll have under my belt by race day, I’ll still be somewhere on the mid-to-high end of the “Total Slacker” scale. And therefore, barring injury, I should at least be able to finish by cut off time. Even though, in pure slacker-style perfection, it is fully possible that I may even acquire my first DFL (dead-fucking-last).

And that will still be good enough for the books.

I mean, there are certain facts that I accept about my current self: I’m slow (averaging 12mm on a long run if I don’t have to walk), I’m kinda fat, and I’m not all that experienced as a distance runner. But another fact about me is I’ve always been excellent at overcoming roadblocks and adversities. So why would something like a few extra pounds stop me?

Answer is, it won’t.

And neither will all the people reading this who are shaking their heads, thinking I’m an idiot for attempting a 50k at all. You can’t stop a steam train once it’s full speed ahead. Even if it is a slacker of a steam train.

If you’ve been around long enough to read my previous posts about this race, then you’re probably wondering why I sound like a completely different person now. It’s because I am a different person.

I’ve become a slacker trail runner.

That’s right. I might be a total noob who doesn’t (yet) deserve to walk the ranks (yet) of the ultra-marathoner (yet). But I finally found my confidence for this race, and it came to me the day I uncovered my true, abiding love for the trail.

I know the exact moment it happened, too. It was the day I turned an 11-mile long run into a 13-miler, and would have kept going if it wasn’t getting dark and if I hadn’t already been out of water for two miles. It was the moment I chose the hilly trail over the one that stayed flat, and then grinned like a shithead the whole way up. My feet still didn’t hurt by mile 10, and my IT band never hurt at all. It was the very second that I finally learned how to cruise over rocks and sand as blissfully as my dog, Oscar. And yes, it made me into a different runner. A better runner. I’ve been a better runner ever since.

Even if I still am a slacker.

So, screw the obdurate facts. Screw the numbers, the mileage per week, and fuck all these ridiculous training expectations. I’m chomping at the bit, and one way or another I’m going to chew up Pineland on May 27th.

Like a prize fighter bracing for the first hit, I’m ready.

Sidenote: I got my Team SquirrelWipe shirt in the mail the other day! Who wouldn’t be excited to be part of this ridiculous team with Jason Robillard, Shelley Robillard, Brad Waterson, Sheree Dunwell, Adam Gentile and Heather Wiatrowski? Especially when you get to wear an equally ridiculous shirt designed by my friend Krista at ZapsThreads and inspired by Jason’s latest book endeavor:

Watch out, we're kinda grabby.

See you at Pineland.


How to Learn a Big Lesson in 9 Minutes

Yesterday I learned the hard, shameful way that I really don’t spend enough time running barefoot.

After walking around the Boston Marathon Expo like an addict in a crack store and talking to some awesome folks at all the minimalist shoe companies, my local barefoot buddy Brad and I participated in the first annual Boston Barefoot 5K. It was a gorgeous day and everyone was walking around barefoot like a bunch of filthy heathens. It was awesome. I got to see KenBob, Pat Sweeney, and also meet his friend Bookis (CEO of Luna Sandals) and the rest of his super-cool, barefoot, date-seed-spitting crew, sitting on the grass at Artesani Park in Boston.

I had spent the entire morning in my Invisible Shoes with no problems (save for the brand new INKnBURN skirt I apparently ordered at least one size too large – and quite nearly gave a free show to half of Boston at least once before making use of a couple safety pins). So for some reason that made me believe I would be able to run the entire 5K barefoot.

I am, regrettably, much more of a minimalist runner than a barefoot one. Part of it is laziness, part wussiness, and part because I have over a dozen pairs of minimalist running shoes to choose from, perfect for just about any terrain and temperature. It’s just too tempting to put off training my soles. When I do go barefoot, it’s usually on the silky-smooth, well-kept concrete and pavement surfaces around the pond near my office. Or here:

As you can see, it’s really not much of a barefoot challenge. Not that I’m trying to challenge myself, either. My longest barefoot run ever has been maybe close to two miles. So it probably isn’t much of a surprise that when I started out running this 5K totally barefoot, on the grittiest kind of asphalt, way too fast (big surprise), it wasn’t going to be long before I regretted my decision. It was less than a mile, in fact. When I looked down at my left foot and found an angry, tennis-ball-sized blister going, I put my huaraches back on. But it was already too late. I spent the rest of the race owwing and belly-aching instead of enjoying the sunshine and the pretty views. Poor saintly Brad stuck back with me, keeping me motivated with phrases like “Don’t feel bad, this race is tough terrain for bare feet” and “It’s all about conditioning – you’ll get there over time.” It took me almost 35 minutes to finish – my worst 5K finish time ever.

But hey, I still beat KenBob (for some reason). :p

So yesterday I learned that even though minimalist shoes are great, I really do need to spend a LOT more time running and walking barefoot, and not just on easy, smooth surfaces. It’s time to put more of my money where my mouth is. If I’m going to talk about minimalist shoes, I’ve got to be more accustomed to running totally barefoot. It was a bit of a hard lesson for me. And it’s a lasting one, too – I expect to be limping around for the next two or three days.

Some other things I learned yesterday:

  • Pistachios are called “the death nut” by most allergists.
  • NewBalance offers wide-width versions of their minimalist shoes. Cue the choir of angels.
  • I should have spent more time networking and less time consuming copious amounts of beer at last year’s NYC Barefoot Run.
  • Peeing in a porta-potty barefoot does not cause instant death, although I’ll have to get back to you on possible delayed death.
  • nuun tastes better cold.
  • You simply cannot have a conversation with KenBob Saxton without him politely pointing out that you’re wearing shoes and that they are the devil.
  • If you’ve been running in <45 degrees for the last 6 months, sweating on a run is always new and strange on the first 75 degree day.
  • It only takes about half an hour for a pasty New Englander to get a sunburn.
  • What Pattie MacIver looks like.


Non-Runners: Stop Making Dumb Excuses Not to Run

Photo stolen from WIRED Magazine

“I don’t run unless it’s away from something. Like…a zombie.”

Such is the absolute stupidest, and most common, excuse to avoid running that I have ever heard. I’ll be in some social situation or another and someone will ask me a question about running. And sometimes, before I even answer, I’m smacked in the face with this ridiculous statement. Sometimes it is varied (but equally stupid) and sounds more like: “the only time I run is after my child…like, if he gets hold of a butcher knife or something.”

I’m sorry if you’ve said it to me in the past and I’m insulting you…well, actually no I’m not sorry. I mean it. And if you’re a friend of mine you’re probably a pretty smart person, which makes this an even more insanely dumb thing for you to say.

First of all, if a zombie was chasing you, you wouldn’t be running….you’d be sprinting. And most runners don’t sprint, anyway. That’s a completely different sport that even I don’t really understand. Second, if the first and only time you ever run is at the start of a zombie apocalypse you wouldn’t make it a block before you became a screaming, bloody mid-afternoon snack.

But I digress.

Some of the other dopey excuses that I’ve heard from people who refuse to try running are the following:

I don’t run because I have bad knees
Truth is, you don’t run because you have bad knees, and you have bad knees because you don’t run. Also, you’ve spent years in cushioned shoes that have fostered your poor posture and shitty running/walking form. Or perhaps you have an injury from way back in high school when you played sports. What kind of shoes were you wearing then? Corrective cushioned shoes? I figured. Strengthen your feet, straighten out your posture, fix your form, and you might discover that your knees aren’t as “bad” as you thought.

Running is bad for you
I hear a lot of this crap from the pro-orthotics camp. They stuff these ridiculous custom orthotics into their cushioned shoes to splint their feet indefinitely, closing them up from the sensory environment they were meant to thrive in. These folks have lumpy, weak feet and legs and therefore running hurts them. Then they read some study from other pro-orthotic folks on the frequency of running injuries (among shod runners), and conclude that running must be bad.

It’s just plain wrong, guys. Some animals are made for walking (like cows), and some are for running (like cats). Humans are built to run. We have features all over our bodies that are there to be used for the act of running alone. Running isn’t what’s bad for you…not running is bad for you. Your sedentary life is bad for you (and not just because it’ll make you fail to outrun zombies). Modern society allows us to sit on our ever-growing asses almost all the time, parked in front of computers or bad reality television, stuffing ourselves with artery-clogging processed foods that we drove our cars 4 blocks down the road to pick up at the supermarket. Most people basically do everything they can to never have to move their bodies. And then they pass a runner in their car and shake their heads because “running is bad for you.”

I have to lose weight before I’ll try running
I don’t even think I need to explain why this is stupid. But postponing exercise to lose weight is surprisingly common. Heck, I’ve even done it. Super diets like Weight Watchers and Slim-Fast try to make you believe that you can lose weight and be healthy without ever exercising. And well, it’s partly true – losing weight is really all about taking in less calories than you burn, but that has nothing to do with being healthy.

If you sit on your ass all day long, you don’t need very many calories at all. But chances are you’ll be kinda hungry if you only get, say, 1,100 calories per day. And that usually yields one or more of these results: your body goes into starvation mode and significantly reduces your metabolism to conserve calories, effectively slowing weight loss; You fail the diet because you eventually give up and eat four hamburgers to avoid passing out from hunger; Or you resort to living on low calorie, high-carb diet junk crap which is full of simple sugars and has absolutely no dietary significance. Then, the second you hit your goal weight and have to go back to “normal” eating, you don’t even know what that is so you make all the same wrong choices you used to make and in less than three months you’re back where you started again.

How about this time you eat some real food, up the calories so you’re not starving and add in some daily exercise? Or even better, stop dieting to get skinny. That’s all bullshit, anyway. You don’t have to be skinny. I’m not skinny. Just be healthy and active. The rest will follow eventually.

I’m bad at running, I can’t even run a mile
This is probably the dumbest of all the dumb excuses. You don’t run at all, so of course you can’t run a mile, stupid. In my opinion, the All-American addiction to immediate gratification is really getting out of hand. I’m the sort of person who loves working up to my successes. I love the idea of taking a low-end job at first and working my way up to the top. I take pride in the fact that I was given practically nothing in childhood, but have made so much of myself as an adult. Nothing makes me happier than the repayment of lots and lots of hard work toward my goal – especially in running. And I still have so much farther to go in running, which keeps me motivated. But I’m different from a lot of people. Most kids want to barely graduate college but expect their first job to be CEO of Apple. And they want to be able to lace up their Nike’s for the first time, take a left at the end of their driveway and run 5 miles at 8:30 pace. And if those things don’t happen right away, it’s time to pack it in and start blaming the world for being so unfair. You guys all give up on shit way too easily. Also, I think you’re too comfortable with being mediocre.

Hey, we all make excuses for shit. I tell people that my lawn is ugly because nobody taught me how to care for a lawn and I can’t afford a gardener. But that’s just an excuse. The truth is I’m overwhelmed by how shitty my yard already was when we moved in, and I’m too indifferent about lawn care in general to waste an entire spring weekend working in my back yard. Excuses are essentially lies. Lies we tell ourselves and others so that we can circumvent our own guilt about something. I should just tell anyone who asks me why I have a crappy yard that I don’t give much of a shit about it and I don’t spend any time in it anyway. The trails are my backyard.

I wish people would be more truthful about why they don’t run, rather than making these dumb excuses. If people were more truthful, they could give me the real reasons why they won’t ever try to run (unless something is chasing them):

  • I’m too lazy to exercise
  • I don’t want to do anything that’s difficult
  • I can’t handle an endeavor that doesn’t have immediate positive results
  • I refuse to try running barefoot or take the time to learn correct form
  • I would rather conform to the idea that running sucks

But of course nobody will say that to me. It sounds lazy and defeatist. And if they were to admit to themselves that they’re just being lazy and defeatist about running, they’d have nothing left but to change their ways.

Of course I realize that for most of my readers, I’m just singing to the choir. What other dumb excuses have you heard from people who refuse to try running?


Where Have All the Strong and Mighty Cowgirls Gone?

I have had a string of observations lately that I think might be interesting to put here. Just as back story, I currently own a home in southern New Hampshire, and I work just a few miles north of Boston, Massachusetts. So generally speaking, I live amongst a pretty open-minded population. This makes me pretty happy. Kids with dreads and tattoos, lots of skinny jeans and interesting mop hairdos, also some peacoats, schoolish glasses, and Starbucks coffee shops filled with MacBooks. And lots and lots of runners. Runners everywhere. In fact, I drove home tonight from an event in Saugus, MA, and I counted 11 runners before my tires hit the driveway.

What I’m getting at here is that even though I see a ton of runners practically everywhere I go in this very open-minded region of the country, it’s rare to see a pair of bare feet or even minimalist shoes. And to take it one step further: with the exception of personal friends and the few “barefoot” races I’ve attended, I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve run by a woman wearing minimalist footwear. I just…don’t see it.

Hard to tell if it’s the cause of, or the response to, a possibly chilly female consumer climate, but there is a distinctive inequality of selection and style between men’s and women’s minimalist footwear. For example, men’s color choices will often be bright, gorgeous and plentiful, while the women’s colors are boring or much more limited. Not only that, but often the women’s version of a new shoe will come out weeks or months after the men’s one appears, or be a totally different shoe altogether. Almost like it was an afterthought.

Do these companies fail to understand that women in general are fashion devotees, likely to consume any beautiful thing we can use to decorate our bodies? No, I don’t think so.

Do minimalist shoe makers not care about women engaging in the sport of natural running? Very unlikely.

I believe the problem isn’t obtuseness in the minimalist shoe industry. The problem is women themselves.

Think about every time you’ve seen some beefy dude powering down the track or hefting gargantuan weights at the gym. Every time you’ve turned on a football game to to watch colossal men bashing into each other at the fifty yard line, or soccer players bolting across a wide field and deftly kicking a black and white ball towards the goal line. When men perform feats of strength and endurance it’s just another day in the life.

But when a woman shows a high level of strength and endurance it’s like we’re all watching She-Ra battling the Evil Horde. She’s a superhero. She’s a biological enigma. Or better yet, she’s out of her goddamn mind.

Generally speaking, aside from the obvious musculoskeletal differences that  make women physically weaker, women possess just as much strength as men. And in some non-physical ways, maybe even more. Overall, women can endure just as much toughness as men, and we can grow physically strong in the same myriad of ways. And although they will rally and cheer at that last sentence all day long, but most women don’t actually believe it.

I don’t know if it’s a side effect of our being raised on Barbie and princess tiaras, but for some reason I find that most women generally believe they need help with everything. They think that they need help bringing the groceries in, killing the spider in the basement, purchasing a new car.

They are ready and eager to accept that their feet need help, too. In my observation, more women believe they need extra cushioning for their delicate little cotton-candy-pink-painted footsies, and are much more likely than men to jump on the “test my gait” bandwagon at the local running store.

Now, I’m not trying to dump on my gender here. I’m also not suggesting that women are gullible or that all women runners are these high-maintenance pink and purple princesses (although some are). But I do find it an interesting dichotomy to be in when you are a woman and you’re also a barefoot runner, training for an ultra-marathon with all the boys. I mean, there just seems to be this huge divide between the feminine chick and the hard-core runner (who is usually a dude), because there’s almost nobody in between. And since I rather prefer it over on the hard-core runner side, sometimes it’s easy to forget that I’m still a chick.

What I wonder the most is how things ever got this way. I mean, where did all the feminist rebellion go? Back in the late 60’s women would have been wearing Vibram FiveFingers while they burned their bras, if they were wearing any shoes at all (and if Vibram FiveFingers existed). Women had real power back then. And I don’t mean the “man-hating feminist” label that people nowadays like to pin on the Women’s Rights Movement (the amazing time of change, by the way, that included our receiving equal rights to vote, own property, apply for divorces and take birth control pills). For a time, women saw themselves on an equal playing field with the men.

But the strong arm of women’s equality has slackened, in my opinion. The widest slice of the female American culture that I’ve seen these days is from women who are perfectly content languishing under the cushy roofs that their husbands put over their heads, with no other ambitions than that of raising perfect little rosey-cheeked babies and baking perfect little pies from scratch, just like their grandmothers did back in the 1940’s. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having those ambitions, of course, but it’s disappointing to see so very few women my age in America like me, who feel any kinship at all to those sharp, capable, fiercely independent women of the feminist movement.

Fortunately, I have met a few women along the way who do fit this bill. Most of them have become good friends of mine and I am grateful for this. I was also grateful when I saw Merrell’s new “Pretty Strong” website, launched for the sole purpose of educating women in the barefoot and minimalist running movement (and to sell lots of shoes too, I’m sure). The new site is gorgeous, information-packed and it communicates a message that I definitely dig.

But seeing that site also raises a note of discord for me: Why do we feel we need this separation from men – one that seems to suggest women can’t work out just like men do? Why must we be spoon-fed by a nifty teal and orange marketing campaign (charming as it is), informing us that we can indeed be “strong” and “pretty” at the same time?

My answer is I don’t exactly know. But I’d love to hear what you think.


I’ve never been one to “reblog” someone else’s post, but I think this is worthy. Thanks, VanessaRuns.

Vanessa Runs

Photo Credit: Luis Escobar Photographer

Over the past few days, the running community has been swarmed with news of Caballo Blanco’s death (Born to Run star aka Micah True).

I won’t repeat how tragic this is, or how deep of a loss the running community has suffered. But I can’t help wonder how, going forward, this event will make its mark in ultra running. What will change? And how will we move ahead?

I never had the privilege of meeting Caballo Blanco, although we chatted briefly via Facebook. I can’t claim he was a close friend, but he was someone I followed, drew inspiration from, and very much admired.

Much good has been said about Caballo, and I won’t repeat his exceptional qualities here. But in addition to those great things, I was also drawn to his quirkiness and his slightly fiercer side.

I enjoyed watching Caballo’s hardass demeanor and…

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