Nicole, Gail and Me Before the Run
I have come to a conclusion, after finishing this race, that I definitely enjoy running more in the peace and tranquility of nature and all it has to offer, than in the hustle and bustle of 'the city'. All aspects of the run, from the starting point which appears to have been used as a Buffalo Jump at the Horseshoe Pavilion, thru the town of Pincher Creek path system adjacent the creek, up the asphalt country highway, gravel roads, jeep paths, pastures, and down onto the Piikani Reserve into the Powwow grounds and into the arbour to finish were unbelievable, and a experience that I will never forget. The varying terrain and visual vistas were inspiring and I honestly felt like I was floating up the highway, with my bare feet not even touching the ground, as I took in everything I could. I could imagine myself running thru the fields in search of the buffalo, like many courageous Buffalo Runners had done previously for centuries and centuries before.
This is a shot of around the start line, I first thought this was the way we were starting and heading.
Like N said in her post, I am not the fastest of runner's either, my best half marathon time is 2 hours, 12 mins (my goal was to reach the 'under 2 hour plateau') in Vibram Five Fingers, and both were in the flat terrain of Winnipeg (with the biggest hill being a speed bump). The thought of running 13.1 miles with not only hills but also at a much higher elevation than I was used to was a little scary at the start to say the least. I was really not sure how my body was going to react, and if I would even be able to finish the run (got to love pre-run jitters, but at least they weren't the runs). The intent was not only to finish this race, but also complete my first half marathon mostly barefoot, can we say, was I nervous as this would be the furthest that I have run without at least some protection for my feet. My previous longest distance is 10 miles with a combination of asphalt, concrete sidewalk and dirt paths, this would be 13.1 with limestone paths, asphalt, gravel roads, rose bushes, thistles and gopher holes, etc. (and how could I forget cow patties). We were all warned that the run would be challenging at the start of the race, but wow, little did I know what I was in store for once I hid the gravel road. Anyway I digress, I will get into that more once I start the actual race report below.
Going back to the previous comments of running in the wide open spaces of nature verse running in the city, I will try to express what I mean by this. Running in the city, reminds me of the typical phrase, 'like a rat race', lots of stops and starts, can't hear yourself think noise (that I try to block out with my ipod), ignorant people who are in too much of a hurry to stop and smell the per viable roses, visually boring and to often the case just dirty. In short most runners are worried about finishing times (I will admit even myself as I always take my wife's garmin with me to find out what my pace is) and how far they ran that time. Running in nature to me is the complete opposite, the trail has little to no stops, the serenity of the sounds (the wind, my feet as they glide across the ground, the wildlife and the rustling of the fields) of the area are calming, visually stimulating with all the different vistas that are there for your viewing pleasures. Most of all having the ability to just let go and run naturally like you should with nobody judging you is absolutely fantastic (that was a plug for running barefoot in case you missed it).Enough of my ramblings, on to the race report (at least my version as it pertained to me):
Friday July 30th, 2010
I will not go into details of the festivities the night before at the Piikani Nation Powwow, because Nicole said it all in her post before this, other than it was an enlightening and eye opening experience, and I am glad to have been able to bear witness to all the powwow events that we did. The dancing, costumes, drumming and singing were amazing, and being able to experience this all as the sun went down over the arbour, creating the most wonderful sunset I have ever seen.
Saturday July 31st, 2010
Both myself and N woke to the sounds of the birds in the trees around our campsite and the sun shining in a bright blue sky (a sign it was a good day for a run). The morning was a little cool so I decided I would wear my long Nike training pants and fleece jacket over my running gear to keep warm until just before the run. My parents were up and ready for the challenge of watching our 2 boys and the dogs while we were running (not sure if I said thanks enough for that, in case I did not, I will say it again, Thanks Mom and Dad). By the way watching our kids is a challenge at the best of times, as they are both more busy than your average child, we have testimonial from all our babysitters, daycare facilities and school teachers so I know we are not going crazy (at least not from that).
7:30 am to approx. 8:30 am
G, her husband Br, and their daughter O, picked us up and we started the short car ride to the starting point (we were actually thinking of running there to warm up the night before, what's an extra 4 or 5 km to the run right). Upon arrival at the Horseshoe Pavilion, I realized once again I forgot to eat something for breakfast, so I decided to try the energy bar that came with the kit, all I can say is I will not be buying those anytime soon, tasted awful.
Once all the runner's arrived, the race coordinator, Mr. Ken Williams addressed all the participants and we all moved over to behind the pavilion to take part in the opening ceremonies, which touched on the culture and history of the Buffalo Runners and the importance of them to the survival of not only the Blackfoot Nation but numerous others as well. For more information about the opening ceremonies see N's post that precedes this one.
At this point I knew this was not only a half marathon run but would be an enlighting experience that I could see changing some aspects of my life for the better and in ways opening my eyes so they see things more clearly. Once the ceremonies were completed with a drum and song by the soon to be newest member of the Buffalo Runners, and some words by the elders, we all moved back to the starting point to get ready for the run.
Approx 8:45 am
(Miles 0.0 to 6.0)
Seeing the starting point and the parking lot gravel, I made the decision that I would start this race in my VFF's and lose them as soon as possible, once I felt more comfortable (this was my pre-run jitters coming out in full force). Once everybody was ready, I looked over at N and G and said good luck, then Ken counted down from 5..., 4..., 3..., 2..., 1... Go!
We were all off. Everybody took off like a shot, and all I could think of was Ken's words about pacing myself, as this was going to be a challenging run. At this point I slowed down a little to test how my feet were reacting to the gravelly terrain plus (I like to stay near the back for the start of the race not sure why but I always seem to do this). Everything seemed good, but I decided to leave the VFF's on a little longer just in case (definitely nerves).
I hit the limestone paths and ran about a half of a km and decided it was time to loose the shoes, so I stopped to slip my VFF's off and put one in each hand and I was off again. The first couple of steps were cautious to see how my feet would react to the limestone, but all felt good, so I picked up the pace and felt free to just go for a run. I passed a couple of people including a couple of ladies who looked at my bare feet and called out, "Awesome your barefoot", this always makes me smile, so I responded with a , "Yes, yes I am" and carried on. At this point the course took us up and onto a road which had a very helpful RCMP officer halting traffic for us (I must thank all the assistance that all the RCMP officers gave to ensure we had a safe race when we crossed roads, etc.) as we crossed, I got a couple of looks and points from some of the car occupants as I passed by. The creek paths were about 3 to 4 kms of the run.
I got to the first water station and decided I would wait to get some water until the next one, as I felt great, and did feel I needed to stop. A couple of comments of interest from the station attendants about my bare feet and "wow, there is a gravel parking lot ahead you might want to put your shoes on", which I responded "Thanks, but I am good." and carried on.
At this point I started to run with a gentleman whom I forgot his name, all I remember is that he was the race coordinator's (Ken's) brother from California (if you ever read this post, I apologize for my awful memory, if my name was not on my driver's licence I would probably forget that too). We had a great conversation about barefoot running and some of his running issues that he was overcoming. We ran up Highway 785 past the ball diamonds and the cemetery out of town towards Township Road 64. At this point Ken's brother had to stop to stretch, so I carried on after a quick good luck, and I expect you will catch up soon.
A view of the asphalt road already travelled and Pincher Creek, way in the background
Running on asphalt always worries me, as I have had issues with my toes breaking open and bleeding in the past from striking the pavement, but I have been working diligently to change my running stride to more of a short quick leg and foot lifting motion instead of a swinging motion, this in conjunction with curling my toes up made all the difference (thanks Barefoot Ken Bob for your advise). My stride felt effortless and smooth and I felt like I could run forever and nothing could stop me. I almost felt like my feet were not even touching the ground, like i was floating over the asphalt, it was the most amazing sensation. At the next water station, which was at about the 6 km mark, I stopped to get some water and a banana (thanks again for that was an awesome touch for some quick energy), all the volunteers were awesome at the stations, and I got a couple quick comments of that's awesome no shoes, and we were off again. The scenery along this road as I started climbing the hill that seemed to never end was breath-taking, it felt like you could see for miles. Normally when I run barefoot I am looking down about 10 feet in front of me only so I can avoid any rocks, etc., but I found myself just looking around in amazement at the views (I am still amazed that I did not step on a rock or something, but I still think I was barely touching the ground with my running stride).
There was even some foreshadowing on this run as we passed by a metal work sculpture of 2 vultures by a rancher's driveway (N, G and myself will be running a 50 km ultra called Vulture Bait in October).
The sounds along the run were surreal to me, just hearing the cattle and the horses in the pastures, the birds in the sky, the movement of the grass as the wind shifted from one direction to the next, and even the passing of an occasional vehicle created an orchestra of melodies that I have never noticed before. Between the visual and audio sensations that surrounded me, I hardly noticed that I almost made it up to the top of the asphalt road part of the hill climb. Along the way I passed a few more runners and ran with a another guy who was using this race as a prep for a triathlon in mid August (kudos to him, I would like to try that one day, if only I could swim), he was impressed that I was running minus the shoes. Overall I had ran the hill very well, and seemed to be as fresh as when I started about 6 miles ago (that would be 10 km for all you metric type people). I must also mention my feet felt awesome, not like I had just run 6 miles of combined limestone and asphalt surfaces or anything. Also a foot note (no pun intended), when you are running barefoot on an asphalt road 0n a hot day, if you run on the white line it is much cooler than on the blacktop itself (of course this would depend on traffic levels and all).
I also must mention the couple of horses that I passed along the way at about mile 5, they were standing at a gate stamping their front hoofs, shaking their heads and neighing loudly, if i didn't know better I would of swore they were cheering me on, I used this for some further inspiration, as I know that a month before I would not even of noticed this curious sight.
Miles 6.0 to 9.0
(The gravel road)
A look at the end of the asphalt and the start of the gravel road from H-E-Double Hockey sticks
I want to start this with the following, I was feeling so good about how my feet were performing, I almost thought I was invincible, I hit the gravel portion of the road without even slowing down. Let me tell you a little about this gravel road, I would guess that it had been just re-graveled in the last week, lots of loose sharp rocks, and not much for a clear path to keep my feet on. This resulted in lots of jumping around and side stepping to try to avoid the numerous and sometimes sharp and angle twisting pieces of stone.But I am getting ahead of myself a little bit, I will go back to the transition from asphalt road to gravel. As I was saying, I did not even slow down when I hid the gravel road, and I was on such a high with how the run was going, I thought to myself, and actually said to the gentleman that I was running with, "This is not to bad" as I skittered from one wheel track to another to try to maintain a clear route. I maintained a fairly quick pace for the first half mile up the hill to the next water station, it was definitely slowing down though, as I was doing more deking and sidestepping than running straight. At this point my running partner of the moment stated, "I am carrying on, but I expect you will catch up to me once we get off this gravel". I looked up quickly, smiled and said, "We will see, and if I don't, have a great run and I will see you at the finish." He smiled, waved and headed out at a quicker pace then I could keep up to dodging all the rocks as I was.
As I looked up to see how far the water station was so I could grab a drink, and a cleaning for my dusty feet, I saw this little girl running towards me with a Dixie cup full of water, the first thing I thought was, 'What a sweetheart, bringing the water to me like that'. As I accepted the cup and thanked her for bringing it to me, another older girl (I am assuming her sister) brought me another cup and while staring at my bare feet, proceeded to say, "Cool, that's how I run too!" All I could say was, "that's awesome, and thanks for the extra water." Getting up to the actual water station, still deking and dodging, I am assuming the mother of the two girls, asks if my shoes were having issues? I actually had to think and look down to see if there was something wrong with my shoes that I was carrying in my hands, when it clued in. Starting to laugh, I said, "No I am running barefoot, carrying the shoes is like a security blanket for me, just in case." She started to laugh, then said, " I looked great for someone who had just ran over 10 km and mostly uphill." At which point I thanked her and her girls for the encouragement and the water, and carried on my way around the corner.
My Nemesis, the gravel road, a look heading downhill
By this time, the tire treads (the only fairly clear areas) in the new gravel was getting less and less apparent, so I was constantly hitting bigger rocks and stones, and basically slowed to a fast walk. I could tell my feet were getting bruised, and my pace had slowed drastically. In fact the majority of the runners that I passed on the asphalt road ended up passing me. I struggled thru this area which included a pretty good down hill until mile 8, just before we turned onto Range Road 291A. At this point, another gentleman that I passed at mile 4 passed me, and with my bruised feet and my pace slowing down to a quick tiptoe thru the gravel, I decided to put my Vibrams back on for the rest of the gravel. Boy what a difference, with the little bit of protection on the bottom of my soles, I started running again, not full out but substantially quicker, i still had to watch to avoid the larger rocks but this made a big difference over the mile distance to the next water station and the transition to the 'Jeep Path' to the top of Tower Hill and the wind mills. I actually passed 3 of the people who passed me, thru this mile, so I must of made up a little time. I will say the experience of running on the gravel was good, I ran about 3 plus miles thru the worst terrain barefoot and survived to carry on, I was so pumped, I decided as soon as I got off the gravel, the shoes would come off again.As I got closer to the last water station and travelled over a 'texas gate' on the road (this is a set of metal grates in the road to keep the cattle or livestock from travelling off of a property instead of having a gated fence on the road to keep them in), I looked up at the 'Jeep Path' and thought to myself, "I have to run up there? This is going to be great but damn hard". This challenge kind of monopolized my thoughts, as I stopped at the water station. I was greeted with a big hello from both the volunteers, and two cups of water, which I thankfully accepted. After downing one cup and pouring the other over my head (this is my ritual at most water stops) to cool me down, I asked if I could grab a bottle for the road, which they graciously said 'Absolutely'. I quickly thanked them and headed over to the start of the next transistion.
The Jeep Path (The trail up Tower Hill)
Miles 9.0 to 10.5
A look up the Jeep Path, that is G running up towards the Top of Tower Hill
Once I said thanks to the volunteers, grabbed by bottle of water, and I was so glad to get off the loose gravel road, as soon as I hit the ditch, off came the shoes, and it felt like my toes were screaming, "Finally you have unleashed the hounds, lets' be free and run like the wind." Even though I only had the VFF's on for about a mile, it felt awesome to get them off again.
This was the most interesting part of the run (not including the sharp gravel), imagine running UP a dirt path, the width of a tire tread that is full of gopher holes, rocks, thistle, rose bushes c/w thorns, ruts and a number of other items that I didn't even know what they were. Even though it was challenging, it was also a whole lot of fun. Hearing the breeze whip the long grass around you, as you climb up to a 4100 foot elevation from a starting elevation of 3737 feet down to a finish line elevation of 3491 feet (remember that Winnipeg's elevation is around the 750 to 800 foot range. Not only was running up the wheel track a challenge, but some of the most astonishing views awaited me at the top of Tower Hill, you could see Pincher Creek and beyond to the west, Waterton National Park to the south, the Piinaki Nation lands and beyond (possibly to Fort MacLeod) to the east and the Old Man Dam and beyond to the north. If only I had brought my camera along for the run.
It was also surreal running along the working wind turbines, as they went around and around generating power and another source of income for the Piinaki Nation. You never realize how big they are until you are up close and personal with them. The picture above is of the wind turbines that line up along the jeep path, as you can see they are quite substantial in size. They were a awesome site to see, and yes there is a slight hum emitting from them as they spin round and round.
Running up the hill was difficult at times, and I did stop and walk for a couple of the sections due to loose rocks, and some particularly thorny bushes and thistle. (I had to get N to pick thorns out of the bottom of my feet for about 3 days after the run, didn't think I had got that many, but obviously I had). But for the most part I ran the entire distance up to the top. Not having a garmin, I could only guess at my pace, but I did catch up to another runner on the ascent (once again a puzzled look on his face, as he looked at my shoeless feet). Once I reached the top, I stopped with I am sure a stunned look on my face and just turned around 360 degrees over and over again to look at the stunning views that surrounded me. I looked back towards Pincher Creek, and thought to myself, wow, 10 miles is actually quite a distance when you can look down to where you started. I must of stood there taking everything in for at least 5 minutes (and I just didn't care that my time was ticking away), as two runners eventually passed by me and started their descent. At that moment, I honestly thought I was on top of the world, it was a feeling that I had not experienced in a long long time. With a final shake of my head, a long drink from the water bottle I was carrying, I decided I should start heading down so I could finish the race. On On....
Mile 10.5 to 11.5
Similar to the ascent, this was a continuation of the jeep trail with the same features and same natural hazards with the addition of one more different type of 'mine field'. This was a active cattle pasture, so there was cow patties everywhere. One point of interest was, at the start we were informed we might run into some wandering cattle, as we would be passing thru a pasture. Luckily we did not encounter any livestock of this size roaming the course (if we did, it would of been my luck that it would of been a bull and probably a angry one to boot) as we made our way down the path. I did encounter a couple of gophers running by in front of me, but that was the extent of the wildlife.
As I made my way down the path, I envisioned myself running behind a herd of buffalo, trying to keep pace with them, this pushed me to run most of the down portion of the hill. Normally, due to my previous issues with my left knee, I am not very comfortable running down hills, so I usually walk them to ensure nothing happens, but this time, everything felt great so I just let my momentum carry me down in a controlled kaos type of hop/run. Needless to say, this is not so smart when you are running barefoot, and you can't avoid rocks, etc., so by the time I reached the flatter pasture land, my feet had taken quite the beating.
With this in mind, I slowed my running pace thru the grassy pasture, trying to ensure I missed any larger hidden rocks and thistle to try to save my feet for the last push to the finish line. Nearing a fence it was very apparent that we were going to be running thru someone's yard, as we rounded a building (I believe it was a house, but it could of been a barn, I was in the zone so I honestly am not sure), we came across another water station. This was perfect, because I was not only able to get a good cool bit of water, but I was also able to dump a couple of cups of water onto my feet, which was very refreshing. I must once again thank all the great volunteers who not only gave up their valuable time, but also allowing us to run thru their fields and in some cases yards. Your selflessness is not lost on this runner, and my thanks to you all. After the quick fluid fill up, it was going to be a last push for the last mile and change.
Brocket Piinaki Nation - 10th Avenue and 14th Street to Powwow Arbour
Mile 11.5 to Finish
Well I took off from the water station like a shot, still barefoot, and optimistic that I was going to have a good last kick to the finish. Then it happened, I got to the driveway and looked at the road ahead and saw 'GRAVEL', the only thing I could think was 'Oh Shit'. My feet were fine on dirt, asphalt, grass, etc. but the gravel that I went thru previously had bruised my feet pretty badly, I didn't think I would be able to go to far on that barefoot.
Well, I took deep breath and started making my way over the gravel, with a few words that I will not use on here (my mother might read this you know), I knew I was not going to get very far and would have to stop and put my VFF's back on for the extent of the gravel road. I did make about a hundred feet or so, and the bruising on my feet was just to tender. I will admit I was a little disappointed at first, but then I thought back to what I had completed to that point, and a big smile slowly creeped onto my face, as I pulled my Vibrams on.
Once my VFF's were on, I took a quick look to the road ahead and another look behind to see where Nicole and Gail were. I was on such a high with what I had finished so far, that the time ticking away did not concern me at all. I thought to myself, it would be great to finish this race running in with my partner in life (and now in running), so I decided to start walking and let Nicole catch up, and we would run in together. I could see them running in the distance with Gail starting to pull away from Nicole (as usual Nic was probably encouraging everyone to not worry about her and finish strong, one of the things I love about her), and it did not take long for Gail to catch up and eventually pass me on the road. Gail had a big grin on her face as she steamed by me wearing a long skirt emblazed with wolves (to represent her spirit name I think, hopefully I didn't get that wrong), it was interesting to see a runner complete a half marathon in a long flowing skirt, it was quite the sight. With a quick good luck and a bit of my special words of encouragement, Gail was on her way to the finish line.
I continued to walk and look back as Nicole caught up to me, she also had this look of content on her face as she slowed down to match my walking pace. She asked me how I was doing, which I believe I responded that we should run the rest of the way in (it might of been Nic that said it, but I am taking credit for it this time). As we hit the corner of 10th Street and 14th Avenue, we were greeted by a volunteer and a finished runner, clapping and cheering us on, what a feeling to see this considering we were two of the last runners on the course. As we reached the corner, we slowed down to thank them, and Nicole looked down at her feet, to see a piece of flower lodged between the toes of her VFF's (I usually end up with dandylions or some weed or another), after a bit of discussion it was decided that it was sage. The volunteer, then told us that was a symbol of good luck, and that most of the local women runners were carrying it while they ran, but not quite in the same way as Nic was. Thinking this was pretty neat, we thanked them and took off at a blistering pace (of about a 14:00 min/mile) down 14th street.
We could see the Powwow arbour in the distance, and the last corner we would be taking onto someone's driveway and thru a gated fence for the last sprint to the finish. As we turned into the driveway, we were met with some more cheering volunteers, encourging us that we were almost there. And (yes I know you should never start a sentence with 'and' but it's my blog post so blleeccchhh!!!) then I saw it, more grass, ever so inviting grass. I looked at Nic and she looked at me, and I must as of been smiling from ear to ear, because she said go for it! I stopped quickly and took off my VFF's for the last sprint to the arbour. Once again freedom, the grass on my soles and hitting my toes was awsome, I hardly cared at how bruised my feet were, I just dug in and ran. Once again Nic was encourging me to just go, she didn't want to hold me up (well there goes finishing together). As I passed some more volunteers, cheering and hollering, it must of been quite the sight, a skinny partially sun burnt guy, not wearing shoes (but holding them in his hands), running with this big grin on his face towards the finish line. That was when it happened, first the cheering started, then the car horns starting beeping, the cow bells started ringing, and there was people everywhere cheering me into the finish line within the arbour. It was the greatest feeling in the world passing all the teepees (including the Buffalo Runner's teepee), and all the people lined up cheering and I literly was the 3rd last one in, it was totally unexpected and just plain awesome. As I entered the packed arbour and crossed the timing pad (dragging my shoes on the ground to ensure my time registered), my name and home town was announced over the PA system to a round of applause and cheers. I was met by one of the elders who shook my hand and congradulated me, which to me was the best finishing gift I could of got, as I was honoured to have the opportunity to run and finish this great race. I was on such a high, I felt like I could run longer, even though my feet would probably disagree. I turned just in time to see my wife coming up the finishing run and see here cross the finish line, what a sight, we both came to this run to have an experience, and I believe we both came out of it with so much more.
This was definitely my favorite race to date, and one I will remember for until next year when we do it all again. I would recommend this run to anyone who not only likes a challenge, but also likes something different, and runs for the enjoyment of running.
Gail, Nicole and Me After the Run And What A Fun Run It Was
(I think I can call myself that now)
Also please refer to the post race activities as listed in Nicoles post a couple posts ago, you definitely do not come to the race just for the run, there is so much more to participate in and experience. In short, this was something I will never forget.
Thanks again Ken, all the elders, and everyone else who allowed us to share a little bit of your culture and ceremonies, we were blessed and awed at the beauty of it all. Until next year.