Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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So I signed up for a 50k Race…I mean, how hard can it be?

Thanks to Vanessa Runs‘ awesome helpfulness, here’s my answer:

Yeah, you read it right. Back-to-back long runs. Thankfully, the real commitment to craziness, according to this schedule, doesn’t start for a whole month (thanks to a smart commentor, Jason Fitzgerald, for catching it – because I thought it was this week – yikes!). But, I mean…did you see week 11? That’s 24 miles on Saturday and then 10 on Sunday!

Gulp.

Okay, okay. Maybe this isn’t so out of bounds. I did want to increase my weekly mileage this winter anyhow. And I can (hopefully) run without hurting myself if I go nice and slow. I mean, I’m not going to win the race anyway, so forget that. But because I’m REALLY slow right now, I can work on speed during the week, along with some lifting and strength workouts.

I will admit something, though. I am not holding myself to the full 50k, if it becomes unreachable to me that day. I promise not to beat myself up if I have to stop after the first of the two 25k loops (and then beg the race director to let me pretend I’d signed up for the 25k, to avoid a DNF). With that said, if I spend these next four months training my ass off and manage to not get hurt, then I can’t see why a marathon wouldn’t be possible. And once I get to a marathon….well, what’s five more miles? Right?

But I am not completely obtuse. I know that most people train for years and years to get to ultra-marathon status. They run these things with serious goals in mind, besides beer and social networking. They are lithe and strong, they have earned their runner’s bodies, they can easily run a mile in under 7 minutes, and they haven’t eaten ice cream in at least 18 months. And most importantly, yeah so they’ve already run at least a few 26.2’s.

But me? Well, I’m a slow-as-fuck runner who averages between a 10-12 minute mile (these days it’s 12, and sometimes worse), I’m overweight, short, and I haven’t picked up a free weight in…at least 18 months. And I’ve never run more than 13 miles in my entire life. And that one time that I did? I didn’t even do a great job, I ran down a hill wrong and busted my IT band.

And I worked hard for that half mary. Busted my ass, even. I lost weight, worked my way up to three 10 mile long runs and one 11 miler. But since that didn’t seem to work for me much in the end, I think maybe this time I’ll go about it in a completely different way.

Oh, I am going to train. I’ll try my best to knock down all those back-to-back long runs. I’ll start doing strength training to even out. We’ll see how it goes. But if something starts to hurt? I’m going to stop and rest. If it starts to feel like a job? I’m going to stop and rest. If I can’t get all the miles in? I’m going to spend more time at the gym doing strength training. I’m not going to stress about it. I’m going to call these next four months of training The 50k Slacker Program. The way I figure it, I may actually be the least experienced person at the whole race, and my completion of it will be out of sheer dumb will, kind of like Forest Gump running cross country. And because I’m going into this just to have a good time, I’m going to let my Slacker attitude prevail, all the way.

So with that in mind, I have 5 possible goals for this race, in descending order of successfulness:

  1. Finish the 50k and drink my first beer as an ultra-marathoner (take that, disbelievers!)
  2. Finish the 25k and have time for more beer
  3. Drink Jason Robillard’s share of the beer while he runs 50 miles
  4. Drink beer with a bunch of cool barefoot running people like a total slacker
  5. Walk around barefoot drinking beer and wearing somebody else’s cowbell around my neck (they give away a cowbell instead of a medal, how cool is that?)

No matter what happens, though, I will come away from these four months fitter, lighter and stronger than I am today. So even if I don’t complete a single one of these goals on May 27th (although I’m pretty sure that walking around barefoot with a beer in my hand won’t be much to tackle), the Pineland 50k will have done me a whole lot of good.

So what’s to lose, right?

(except dignity, self-respect and the ability to stand?)


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The Runner I Am

It’s Thanksgiving night. As I sit in a quiet house, belly still full from pounds of comfort food lovingly prepared by family, head still spinning from those hours of catch-up conversation and several glasses of wine…I’m remembering how just before this day last year, I decided to train for my first half marathon.

I think last winter, the project of training for such a long distance (for me) was the most memorable and fulfilling thing I accomplished all year. And I have decided that I am going to do it again, and I am going to start training tomorrow. Now, when I say I’m training for “the half marathon”, I don’t mean that I have signed up for any races yet (I have one or two in mind, sure, but that’s beside the point). Nor do I mean that I have printed out any sort of training program with the ridiculous intention of starting it four months before spring race season (though I do find training programs mildly helpful as a guide for safely ramping up mileage). What I mean is I want to get myself mentally and physically back there again — to the place of running in the cold winter days and loving it, piling on the mileage and being thrilled about my ability to complete it. But this year, naturally, I want to improve my outcome. I want to have a better race. I want to pay closer attention to my eating habits and be lighter come race season. I want to improve my form. And most importantly, I want to enjoy it even more than last year. This year my resolution will be to quit all my whining and run smiley, even if it kills me. Okay…that was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Because, someday, I want to be an ultra-marathoner, and hopefully by then I will have become the runner I want to be.

And what is that?…the runner I want to be. What kind of runner am I now? Do I even qualify as a runner? These questions have been spinning through my mind for a very long time now. Then just the other day I read an article* by Kate Kift (the creator of the Run Smiley Collective) called “What is a Runner?” And it had a bit of an effect on me. Not too much of what she said surprised me, she and I are on the same page about most running-related topics – many barefoot and minimalist runners are. But she concentrated quite a lot on how others label us, and to me she seemed to paint the “runner” label as sort of trite and one-dimensional. But that’s probably because she has so many other hats, occupations that fill out her life, that she’d much rather be associated with them instead. And that’s totally cool.

But lots of people think of Kate Kift as a runner, myself included. Doesn’t she think of me as one? What about all these other runner people that we consort with?

Perhaps some of these amazing barefoot runner personalities don’t think of me as much of a runner. I can’t run fast – my fastest mile ever is barely under 9 minutes (and that was just a one mile run, no hills, on a really good day). I’m neither a Vegan nor a Paleo dieter. I’ve never run farther than 13 miles, nor have I run more than 21 miles in a week. I don’t have a slim runner’s body. Up-and-coming minimalist shoe companies aren’t tossing any free trial pairs into my mailbox. I don’t write books about running, and my blog doesn’t usually generate more than 50-60 hits a day. Being the fence-gazing, super-ambitious chick that I am, I think I’ve been stuck on all of this a little too much lately. I’ve got all this useless anxiety about my place in the world of barefoot and minimalist running. I can’t stop wondering: should I even be calling myself a runner, counting myself amongst these crazy badass barefooters, writing articles on the subject as if I’m some kind of authority? What do I even have to contribute, that one of these guys can’t bring a hundred times better?

But many of my friends, coworkers and my loving husband (i.e. people who don’t run) call me a runner. Some are even generous enough to say I’m a good one. I relish in the label. Know why? It gives me an identity. A place to exist in the world of my peers. And their role for me doesn’t include parameters like speed, distance or miles per week. They just see that I do something I enjoy, and they applaud and appreciate me. When they hear I ran 8 miles on Saturday their eyes get big and it makes me feel like a rockstar. It brings me back to the first days of my long training runs last winter, and how big my eyes got when I saw the mileage on my Garmin. “Yes, I really did it, and I am awesome!” I would gush at myself. I was proud. It was enough then. Why shouldn’t it be enough today?

So when it comes to whether I’m a runner or not, whether you are a runner or not, it really is just about perspective. A runner isn’t a person who gets endorsed by shoe companies, or who is an authority on the subject of good form. It isn’t the woman who ran the longest ultra marathon, or the dude with the fastest 10k time. A runner is simply a person who runs. But I’d like to add: a runner is a person who loves to run. This is the runner I am. I shouldn’t forget that this year.

*Also read Kate’s follow up article on Jason Robillard’s site: “Definition of a Perfect Runner


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Repost: Blisters, Snot Rockets and Frozen Tears

Last weekend I sprained my ankle on leaf-covered trails, like I do almost every year. It’s angering, but it may also be a badly-needed lesson that I absolutely CANNOT wear traditional running shoes (forget what my podiatrist says), and that I MUST stop blowing off those ankle-strengthening exercises.

Although I am out of commission (AGAIN), I remain optimistic. There isn’t a lot of swelling and I know I’ll be back on my feet soon enough, and hopefully doing my cool-season long runs again before I know it.

In the meantime I think I’ll repost one of my favorite blogs on here. I wrote it last winter after my first 10-mile half mary training run, and it still makes me smile. It’s fittingly called “Blisters, Snot Rockets and Frozen Tears: What I’ve Learned on My Quest for the Double-Digit Run.”

Please click here to view.

As always, thanks for reading!


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The Final Countdown

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to this blog. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been too busy [running] to post. But the reality is that sometimes I’m so afraid to be uninteresting, that it keeps me from posting at all. I have two drafts started on other topics, but haven’t finished them. I’m going to have to work on that.

My half marathon is this Sunday. Which means I’m finished “training,” I’ve done all the prepping that I can, for better or for worse, and I’m tapering for the week. In case you’re reading this and you’re not a runner (assuming I even have readers) , tapering means significantly lowering the amount of miles you run over the course of a week or more (depending on the distance of the race), following the height of training. The whole point is for your body to be rested, primed and refreshed by the time race day hits.

My last long run in training was my longest, fastest, best performance thus far. Up until then I’d been pushing against a wall of 12:00 miles. I swear, every time I’d look down at my Garmin I would see an 11 on the pace meter…but would still turn up pretty much exactly a 12:00 pace by the end, every time. It was frustrating. I know, I know, a lot of folks will click their tongues and say that for a beginner distance runner, 12 minutes is a fine pace. But I felt like every long run had some setback that kept me from running as fast as I knew I could: either I hadn’t eaten enough, was running hard trails, too many hills, had a sore something-or-other, or got too winded from chattering with a running partner (more on that later). This last run did have one setback: I brought my Boxer, Oscar, and even though he’s been known to run pretty endlessly with me, he just didn’t seem to feel up to snuff that day. I’m not sure if he was tired, feeling yucky, sore, bored, or if his backpack was chafing. I was practically dragging him behind me for the last 4 miles. I felt bad, but I was 4 miles from home, it was too cold to walk, I was too prideful to call for a ride, and besides the dog wasn’t showing any outward signs of needing to stop (i.e. limping, panting, excessive water consumption, tail between legs). And I was averaging an 11:15 minute mile, so I wasn’t willing to give up my personal best for a pooch who was just being stubborn.

(For those of you who might be worried about Oscar’s well-being, don’t feel too bad…once we got home he happily ran figure-8’s around the yard for twenty minutes).

Don't let this sad face fool you; Oscar is an ultrarunner.

Anyway, even though 11 miles was the most I’d ever run, and even though the last mile was pretty mentally rough, I got through it in my best time: 2:04. I beat my 10-mile pace by 7 minutes and I was pretty darn satisfied with myself. I also didn’t take a walk break on the “colossal hill” that gets me every time. Not even for a second.

The upside (or perhaps, the down-side) to having done so well that day is that now I have a mental time goal for my first half. I know your only goal at your first half marathon should be just to finish it, but I can’t help myself. My current comfortable running pace is about 10:45-11:00. My best long run was at an 11:15 pace. If you factor in race-day adrenaline (the same adrenaline that let me finish 5 miles in 52:00 at last year’s Turkey Trot – a pace I have yet to ever match over that distance in training), then perhaps that can get me down to an 11:00 pace. And an 11:00 average pace will get me to the finish line in 2 hours 23 minutes.

Seriously, this stuff is way too easy to get all over your face.

I’m trying really hard not to hold on too tight to that time, but I do believe wholeheartedly that, barring any major catastrophes (injury, sudden unforeseen energy depletion, energy gel mishaps, runner’s trots, etc.), I should hope to be able to finish in less than two and a half hours. I am running with two friends of mine, one who is in much better shape than me and will likely spend the entire race pretty much just pacing me (that is, unless I can convince her to try for a better time, which I know she can do – she just isn’t as competitive as me, a.k.a. she is sane). The down side to that is since she’s in such wonderful shape, it won’t be a problem for her to converse heavily throughout the entire 13.1 miles. But if I’m trying to maintain an 11-minute pace, I don’t want to waste too much energy pushing hot air out of my lungs. I think I learned on my lone training runs that while it is much lonelier to run without a buddy, it’s much easier to put out my A-game. Unfortunately for me, she’s fun to talk to and it will be difficult to 1. tell her I don’t want to talk without feeling bad about it, and 2. actually not talk. Maybe I’d better bring my headphones just in case. Heh.

Race-day jitters aside, I feel pretty accomplished that I even finished training for a half marathon at all. I mean, isn’t that the hard part anyway? You can’t run a distance race unless you’ve put in the hours of training (or unless you’re a running demi-god, like my friend Meg Fox). I know – I hope – that one day I’ll look back on my peak running weeks during this training (20 miles) and think it’s not a lot of miles to run in a week at all, but at this junction it has been a big challenge. Just like last September when running a 5K race was a great challenge for me, and when 4 miles was my long run. The expectations get bigger as you move forward, but the mental challenge never diminishes.

I live for those moments in life when you realize you’ve just gone and done something you never thought you could do. Up until a couple of months ago I never thought I could run a half marathon, but on Sunday I will. I can’t wait.

Stay tuned for the race report!

In case you were wondering, yes, I did name this post after the song by Europe. And yes, the hook has been stuck in my head ever since. (video contributed by Larry Gibbons)



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Suck it up.

I hope this blog post doesn’t jinx the run I am planning for this afternoon, but I think I might be finally getting into the groove of the whole distance running thing. I’m starting to understand a little more about what my body can handle, what to do to keep it from hurting, and most importantly, I’m getting much better at figuring out what discomfort I’m supposed to stop for and what discomfort I’m supposed to suck up and stop whining about.

It has been quite a transition from shoes to barefoot/minimalist, as it has been quite a transition from “whatever” mileage to “holy crap I just did that” mileage. My legs hated it at first. They got sore, they made it hard for me to walk, and they even tried to feign just about every major running injury in the book, in turn, for at least several days. Since last July, on any given week I have been unwaveringly convinced that I was afflicted with:

  • TOFP (“top of foot pain,” can be anything from tendon damage to stress fracture)
  • achilles tendonitis
  • sprained ankle (I actually did have a sprained ankle)
  • permanently torn calf muscles
  • exercise-induced asthma (I actually do have that)
  • plantar fasciitis
  • peroneal tendonitis
  • stress fracture on my pinky toe metatarsal
  • pes cavis (abnormally high arch)
  • IT Band Syndrome
  • plantar fat pad atrophy
  • hamstring strain
  • infected blisters

Now I believe, or I hope rather, that for the most part my body has finished freaking out. Partly because my nervous system has run out of involved body parts to inflict, but also because I think the growing pains have helped me bang out most of the kinks in my running form and training methods. I know what it feels like when I’m overstriding; I can tell when I’m hunching over or when my cadence is too low. I know that I can’t run more than about 7 miles without bringing some form of fuel and water with me. I know that if I don’t stretch, massage and ice certain parts of my legs after long runs, I will pay for it later in the week. And I know that I can run 13.1 miles, even though the last 6 will be pretty uncomfortable.

And that’s where the sucking-it-up part comes in.

I can’t wait for the Great Bay Half Marathon on April 3rd. Whether I cross the finish line running, crawling or in an ambulance, it’s going to be a great time and a great accomplishment for me. And I do hope that I will have my dear friends there with me.


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Dedication is.

Dedication is going outside to brush 12 inches of snow off your Honda at 1pm on your day off, and heading to the gym with the very edge of nausea climbing down into your stomach from god-knows-what you ate the other day. It is dusting icy remnants from your old winter boots before getting into your pre-heated car, and still wondering slyly to yourself: should I just exchange them for my running shoes right now and go out on the road anyway…throwing caution to the 18 degree wind? Dedication is running three miles on a treadmill and then hurling your face into a public toilet to dispose of this morning’s toast, coffee and perfectly ripe banana. And feeling really bad because you wanted to run five today.

Dedication is also sometimes a crazed and unadulterated surrender of all reason and good sense.

Since starting this blog I’ve been hesitant to write a post about running. I am well aware that talking about my new hobby bores the hell out of half my friends and makes the rest want to claw my pretentious, holier-than-thou-sounding eyes out. It’s not an interest I share with my husband, any of my family members, or most of my friends. But I think it’s okay for it to be a lonely endeavor. Because running has become a part of who I am in a way that was always there but never fully realized until the day I ran my first road race. Running is how I feel closer to the natural world, to the roads around my neighborhood and to the day’s running partner (sometimes a friend and sometimes my dog Oscar), and it’s how I feel closer to myself. And the closer I am to myself, the smaller are my clouds of insecurity and self-loathing.

Right now I’m training for my first half marathon, which is happening in the beginning of April. I find it’s an oddly intimate thing, training for a big race. You find all your self-inflicted limits and then bash them senseless with your newer and better expectations. You get used to aches and familiar with ice packs. It’s a time to feel like a bad-ass rock star, and it’s a time to fail like a big ole’ loser. Clichés aside, running at times can be murder, but there’s kinda nothing like the day you learn that you can run 9 miles all at once. When you’ve finally made friends with discomfort, that dark pursuer, and trade in your excuses for the satisfaction of getting that round number to show up on your GPS watch.

It’s a hallowed place, that number. Whatever it is, three, seven, thirteen-point-one. It’s where the ghosts disappear. But of course, every time you reach one number your eyes turn immediately to the next, and tomorrow you’re chasing a new ghost. A runner is an addict. Like one who must consume a substance just to make the world balance out again,  the runner needs this self-sustaining heroin. I feel the most normal when I’m in motion. To settle into that familiar rhythm is to know lucidness again. My feet glide softly over the surface of the ground, the arch of one foot propelling my frame just enough to land squarely over the next. A perfect balance of strength and velocity. I feel I belong in this place. Here I can’t be judged for admiring a quiet pond, can’t be rushed out of feeling the warm sunshine. I can make a right onto a street I’ve never been or stop to watch my dog chase a squirrel off the path and up an oak tree. Here I can have the air, I can feel the earth underfoot. It is freedom.

In the summer.

And then there are the days I’m donning wool socks and a “burglar-chic” face gaiter, to run for two hours in the dead center of a New England January. And when the roads won’t abide, there’s the suicidally boring gym treadmills and endless episodes of Oprah and Family Court playing on the corral of ceiling-mounted TV sets facing me. Training myself to run 13.1 miles outside in the sunshine, wearing tank tops and those cool new running skirts that everybody loves, that sounds like a piece of cake. No excuses, no fear of nature biting back with ice-slick roads and purple toes. But, training for a half marathon in the screaming-cold, angry winter? That takes some major dedication.

Or insanity.


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A Better Resolution

Well, well, well…here we are. The third day of January, in the year twenty-eleven. Half a week into those lofty, ever-looming New Year’s resolutions. You know, those well-intentioned promises we declare out loud, as if just by voicing them we are re-inventing ourselves for the next three hundred sixty-five days. It’s unfortunate that most of these promises are swiftly abandoned, leaving diet plans unrealized and fitness centers empty all over the country by mid-February.

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. I avoid the expectations altogether by admitting to myself that a date on a calendar is just not enough to motivate me to lose 30 pounds or to clean my closet more often. I do, however, have some goals for the year 2011. One of them is to start a blog (done). And the other is to start training for a half marathon (done). It’s a win-win when all you have to do is promise to continue something you’ve already begun, right? To me, that’s better than making some stinkin’ resolution.

It feels good to have started a blog. I don’t know why I didn’t have one before – perhaps it was laziness, fear of failure or lack of motivation. Or maybe it was the realization that the internet doesn’t need another self-important, nameless American blathering on about their preference for wet-wipes over regular toilet paper. At any rate, I’m disappointed in myself at how little I’ve written over the past few years. I was born a writer. And by that I mean I had a deplorable, tragic childhood, which is the perfect canvas for a brilliant writing career. I’ve always planned to write at least one book in my lifetime. A seamstress in a school uniform store once told me, after having been briefed by my aunt on the events of my childhood, that I should write a memoir someday. I’m not sure many people would be interested in a memoir about me – maybe only about as many as I expect to read this blog, if that. And even if my life story were compelling enough to land on Oprah’s Book Club list, I still haven’t written it. I haven’t even decided whether to write it, or to write fiction instead, or something in between. “Write what you know,” mentors advise, “find your voice.” But maybe that’s just it: I haven’t yet found my voice. I guess my hope is that having a blog will tease that voice out of me. I have some ideas; but whether they work or not, at least I’m finally writing again.

The half-marathon (or “Pikermi,” as it’s been affectionately nick-named, after the city which falls mid-point between the Grecian cities of Marathon and Athens, in the historical 26.2 mile race) is a new ambition of mine, even though I have been a “runner” for several years. I put the term in parentheses because for about 8 years I only ran for the sake of punching out 30 minutes of cardio on the dreadmill twice a week, in an effort to aid my Weight Watchers diet plan. There was no attention to form, distance, footwear, no attempt at improvement or acquisition of skill. I didn’t love doing it, and I injured myself a lot. It wasn’t really running. It took me until last June to understand how much I do love to run. I won’t go into minute detail here, but one day I discovered the joy and freedom of running without “shoes” (i.e. heavily padded, rubberized, motion-controlled foot coffins known as the modern running sneaker). Since then I’ve learned how to be a runner. Now I run because I want to be a better runner, and being a better runner requires physical fitness and a healthy body weight. Which brings me to the core of my running goal: to train, and eat, in such a way that I can complete at least one half-marathon in the year 2011 (and, hopefully, beyond). My endeavor officially began on New Years morning with a 10 kilometer race, and I’m well on my way, as they say, with a stack of celery on my desk and a 9-mile long run planned for this weekend.

So there’s my introduction to this blog, and to the year 2011. Now let’s get down to work.