Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ted's Run For Literacy : What's Not To Smile About?

It has been a while since I have written a post specifically orientated towards one event or topic, but in my mind Ted's Run For Literacy deserves whatever notoriety that I can deliver. When I first heard that my friend (I hope he doesn't mind me calling him that) Mike from See Mike Run was organizing this run, I decided it was my obligation and honour to help in whatever way I could to make it a success. Not only was the run for a great cause, Start2Finish, but it was in memory of a great man, Ted Swain. Although I did not have the pleasure of ever meeting Ted, unfortunately I did not take up running until after his much to soon passing. The majority of new runners within the city of Winnipeg that have ever taken a running clinic at The Running Room prior to his passing had him for a running coach. This also includes wife, Nicole who expressed her enjoyment of his classes because of his being supportive and helpful and an abundance of fun loving nature complete with  his never give up attitude and endless and infectious smiles. I have heard many stories about the man who wore shorts it seemed all year long, and I really do wish I did have the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for his display of passion for two of his favorite things, teaching and running. RIP Ted, let it be known that you are not forgotten and you will remain in our heart's forever.

The following blurb I took from The Ted's Run For Literacy website, I think it says it all:

Ted Swain was a passionate English teacher and runner. His enthusiasm for both influenced thousands of students and hundreds of runners over the years. Tragically, Ted passed away May 3, 2009. In Ted's memory we have established Ted's Run for Literacy. Proceeds generate will be donated to Start2Finish (formerly KidsFest), a charitable organization that promotes reading and physical activity right here in Winnipeg schools: a perfect tribute to Ted's passions and a fitting legacy.

In Memory of Ted Swain 

Now I must begin this with a big congratulations to the organization committee including Mike Bennett, Sherri Grandmont, Aldo Furlan and the multitudes of others who took time out of their daily lives and busy schedules to help put together this fantastic event. It is not easy putting on an event of this magnitude, especially the inaugural event, where numerous details have to be arranged, etc. Let me say you all did a fantastic job, and I see nothing but this event getting bigger and bigger each and every year. I can also see Ted looking from where ever he is with a great big smile on his face.
Now of course the run did not go as smooth as everybody would of wanted with a couple of hiccups that happened during the event. But I am a firm believer that the only way to get better is if mistakes (or hiccups) happen, which they usually do, take them as an opportunity to learn from them and get better from it. That is exactly what I expect will happen and I know that everybody involved will do just that. With that I am going to list the couple of items that I noticed that could of been done differently to enhance the experience:
  • First of all the race kit should of included a race route map. This could of given the runner's the opportunity to review the route prior to running it and not having to rely as heavily on the volunteers to ensure they were on the correct route. Note the kit did include a map of the park but really that was not much help unless you had never been to the park before.
  • The walk to the start line, at least the one that I completed where I was following the volunteers took us the long way around (approx a km) when there was a shorter route through the parking lot. Normally I would not worry about stuff like this, but it was a cooler morning being Oct 23 and all. I was walking with bare feet through wet grass and puddles, not good for keeping your feet warm.
  • The biggest hiccup did not affect me, but it did affect some of the lead runners who ended up getting misdirected on the route to take, thus ended up not running the complete 10 km. Now a side note to this was that Mike and his team did a fantastic job of dealing with this and bringing the hiccup to light and explaining the situation to all those involved as well as taking complete responsibility. A class act move and a sign of a good race director.
Now on to the run review:

As noted above, the temperature was a little bit on the cooler side around 4 degrees Celsius at the scheduled 10 am start time, but you could not ask for better conditions. It was partly cloudy and little to no breeze, absolutely great running conditions. Nicole, myself and the kids pulled into the park at about 9:35 am, and quickly got things together, I started removing my warm up pants and jacket and got out my wool socks to cover my bare feet until closer to race time (got to keep the tootsies toasty). Nicole was running the 3km with the kids which started 15 minutes after my start with the 10km run. So as we started over to the ceremonies, I was getting some really interesting looks from other runners as they noticed my wool socks. I just smiled and continued on my way, thinking to myself, 'just wait you haven't seen anything yet'.

After the opening ceremonies which included the national anthem sang by the niece of a friend and some inspirational words, the call was announced for everybody to move towards the start line. I pulled off my socks and handed them to Nicole, to some gasps and the usual comments. Along the way I met up with a fellow running partner from the WH3 who occasionally runs barefoot, Snow Goose or Peter was currently wearing shoes, so I felt it was my obligation to convince him that he should shed the foot coffins and take this race on the way I knew he really wanted too (now I really did not expect him to do it, but he did). His words to me were"I hope I can keep up with you", this still makes me laugh, as Goose is tall and lanky and one of his legs are longer than both of mine put together. A perfect comparison is Goose runs like a gazelle while I run more like a turtle (thanks TJ for that analogy as it fits me to a tee). Goose proceeded to take off his shoes and socks and put them up against a stop sign along the road, to the shock and dismay of a number of runners as they realized what he was doing. Cool, so there was going to be two of us running this race barefoot, odd looks are best served with company. This got me smiling because all of a sudden he was getting bombarded with questions that would normally be directed at me, this was definitely a interesting perspective. I just sat back and watched him handle all the questions and comments like a pro, I helped out a little bit where I could but for the first time in over a year, I let someone else field the barefoot questions.

When we reached the starting area, Mike got everybody's attention, thanked everybody for coming out and supporting the cause and wished everybody luck prior to setting the runners loose. After a quick hi-five with Goose and Mike's Ready, Set, Go, we were off. As expected Goose was off like a shot (will be lucky to keep up with me now, eh!) and was up with the pack behind the lead runners. I as per normal started out slowly to allow my leg muscles and feet to get warmed up prior to picking up the pace. During this time, I had a conversation with another runner who was experimenting with barefoot running (I later found out this was a gentleman who also coached running clinics at the Running Room, hi Jeff, thanks for the great conversation.) He asked some great questions about blisters, etc. and I hope I provided some helpful feedback. With a quick good luck on the run, I said my goodbyes and started picking up the pace. I could see Goose galloping along ahead of me, stretching out the distance more and more, I just started to smile and shake my head. We headed around the perimeter of the park and I continued to pass runners as I was slowly ramping up my cadence which in tune increased my pace to about a 8:30 minute mile. Not supersonic but a comfortable pace to have some fun along the way. That was my intention, as I saw a number of runners and volunteers that I knew, including GP who I ran up and gave a big hug when I saw her cheering on the corner (I am sure a lot of the other runners thought I was nuts beyond the fact that I was barefoot). As we headed down by the eventual finish line where all the 3 km runners and walkers were still gathered, I started hooting and hollering and high-fiving as many of the school kids as I could. Showing them that you could have a lot of fun while you run, I think I did a pretty good job of firing up the crowd. Because is that not why we were out here to celebrate the memory of a great person, have a little fun and encourage the kids to have some fun as well. Of course I was happy to see my wife and my two boys right in the mix smiling and yelling as well, that made the smile on my face grow till it could grow no more.

As we headed out of the park and onto the roads zig-zagging towards Scotia Street, there were volunteers at every corner making sure there was no confusion on which way the runners were to go. I had to laugh it seemed like I knew every volunteer out there, and I sure some of the other runners that I was passing felt the same way, because I was calling everybody by name. I swear the majority of the WH3 were out either volunteering or running the race, because I saw a Hasher at every turn I made. The other great thing was even though this was a Running Room sponsored event, Erick, Cheryll and Alice from City Park Runners were out volunteering and Khristjan was out running and would eventually win the event. The Winnipeg running community helps each other out, that is the name of the game, it is definitely a bit of a family attitude and everybody supports each other no matter what. I was having a blast talking to runners and volunteers alike, just enjoying the day and the run. Questions were asked, and I answered as best I could at the time, I thanked everybody for coming out and taking time out of their day to help make the run a success as I went by. I spooked a few locals as I floated along the roads, , made sure I high-fived all the kids along the way and thanked the two City of Winnipeg Police Officers for helping keep the runners safe. I did get some weird looks from them both, but I assume they are not used to dealing with runners without shoes unless they are putting them into the back of their cars for one reason or another (not today I say).

At about the 4 km mark I was starting to get passed by the lead pack coming back the other way, first it was Kristjan who was ahead, then the pack and not to far behind them was Goose, galloping along almost effortlessly, he was still smiling, that was a good sign. With a high five and some words of encouragement, we headed in opposite directions looking strong and determined to finish this one off. As I headed along Scotia towards the last corner before the turnaround, I found yet another Hasher volunteer, Agent spots me coming from a distance away and she yells out On On, which I retort with an On On of my own, then she says it, the only thing that will bring a Hasher to their knees, 'Beer Near', all I could think and say was 'Mmmm foaming refreshment, must run faster.' So around the corner I go, almost in a full sprint now, and I see the turn around and the 'water stop', I hit the round about and take it effortlessly and head right to the table, thinking they wouldn't have beer here would they? The only thing i can say is, no they did not have beer, it was only water, the disappointment. Boy oh boy, to play on the heart strings of a hasher like that, Agent will pay for that with a very large down down the next time she is out. So with a quick shot of water, I was off again and heading back the way we had come, I was maintaining a good pace and was quickly catching up with another runner. I wasn't completely happy with my form as I felt I was being a little to noisy, this was confirmed when I caught up to the runner in front of me. As I pulled in line with her, she explains that she was trying to figure what was making the noise behind her. She had thought it was a loose race bib that was slapping against someone but she could not figure out why she could not hear the standard clomping noise of the shoes hitting the ground. I told her I was a little disappointed that she heard me at all, I should be in ninja silence mode right now, you should be able to hear a pin drop as I run along. She just laughed and we started talking about running both with shoes and without, pace, trail running and most of all having fun while you run. We ran together swapping stories and experiences until we reached the park, where I was slowly starting to pull away. So with a quick bit o:f encouragement for her to finish  strong, I headed out to bring it home. I picked up my pace to around a 8:10 min/mile and continued to pick it up a little bit more as I rounded the corner to where my friend GE was positioned at the 9km mark (or so they believed I had a little more than that but oh well better to be more than short). Gail yelled out encouragement to me with a 'One more km to go', I just looked at her, smiled and joked back 'I should of passed that a bit a go, but who's counting.' As I rounded the last corner to the finish line, where I would of normally started sprinting, I found I couldn't quite get it into the next gear, as I started ramping up a little to early so my reserve was a little more tapped than normal. That being said, I got passed twice, I could not believe it, two shod runners passing a barefoot runner right near the end, the nerve. Well it was kind of funny because prior to those two lone runners passing me, I thought I was going to get trampled by a stampede of elephants or something. The noise was crazy as they were stomping the ground with their shoes, it honestly looked painful to watch them run past me. I am ever glad that I do not run like that, it just sends shivers up and down my spine just thinking about it.

As I saw the finish line, I dug a little deeper and pushed towards the line, raised my arms and floated into the finish with a big silly grin. I stopped my Garmin just after I came out of the chute and it was sitting at 53:36, I had to do a double take because that was a little more than 4 minutes faster than my personal best. I knew I was having a great run, I usually do when I go out to have fun, but I was not expecting that. Especially since I ran 6.30 miles or 10.15 km instead of just 10 km. I got some congratulations from Laura and Debbie (another couple of Hasher volunteers, this keeps up and people might think we are a respectable running group or something) as they take my bib number for the final timing tally. Officially I finished with a 53:30 time which was 4th in my age category, I was very happy with that.

Overall it was a great experience, and a great run, kudos to the organizers for putting it together a fantastic job all around. They were able to raise a good chunk of change on behalf of Ted Swain for Start2Finish, and I am sure Ted is smiling wherever he is.

Some other notables:
  • My boys did end up leaving the shoes on for the run, but both ran strong and hard and I am very proud of both of them.
  • Goose ran the entire 10 km barefoot and finished in a very impressive 48:36 for his first barefoot race in not ideal barefoot conditions for a first timer. He ended up with a few blisters and one that popped mid run but was still smiling at the end. He also found his shoes where he left them so it was a good day.
  • Kristjan finished first overall in a time of 35:55. Way to go.
  • The runners who inadvertently shortcutted were given honoury mentions. A very classy act by the race director and his team.
  • There were 122 10km finishers plus numerous 3km runners and walkers out, pretty good for a first time event.
I have attached some random photos for your viewing pleasure below,
and the following words I have borrowed from Mike but they are most appropriate in my books,

It was definitely a great day for a run.

My oldest son heading towards the finish line, he had a great run and a lot of fun

My youngest son heading down towards the finish line.

The other bare foot runner!!

Me heading out of the finishing chute.

Goose's feet after the run, just a few blisters.
Have to work on that form at high speed.

After the run bare feet shot for prosperity.
Looking no worse for wear at least top side for Goose.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sunday October 23 Run

I be thinking there will be no running for any of us early tomorrow morning. I will be taking part in the 10km Ted's Run for Literacy at Kildonan Park,to support a great cause. Nicole will be running the 3km event with our two boys, look out I see at least one boy losing the shoes tomorrow morning. Gail will be splitting herself in two to be at both events as she has apparently double booked and signed up for both the Ted's Literacy Run and the Run for Haiti at Assinboine Park at the same time. Should be interesting to see how she pulls that one off.

Anyway where ever you are tomorrow make sure you Run Smiley because running any other way is just crazy.

Also for your reading pleasure, I was asked about a month ago to help contribute to an article for on Barefoot Running. Here is the product of all the hard work done by the author Tara Struyk with a little bit of knowledge passed on by yours truely. Enjoy.

Have a great weekend, and enjoy every step with a smile.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Journey of a 1,000 Barefoot Miles Km - The Vulture Bait Ultra Edition

A view of Fanshawe Park close to the start line of the Vulture Bait Ultra Marathon

All I can say is, Wow what an experience, there is no other way to describe it participating and finishing your first ultra has got to be one of the most satisfying moments I have ever been involved in. Don't get me wrong, meeting my future wife, my marriage and the birth of my kids are tops in my books but holy crap this is way up there. A few years ago I couldn't even run a mile without falling over in pain, and here I am today finishing my first ultra marathon and barefoot to boot (or should that read shoe to barefoot?). Now, let me clear it has not been a smooth path getting to this point, more like a very rocky and sometimes frustrating one to say the least. If you were not aware this was our second attempt at finishing this race, last year both Nicole and I DNF'ed and it weighed on the back of our minds for the last year with the intent to rectify that wrong. Now that being said the both of us probably did not have the mindset nor the training to realistically finish last year, but it was still left a very bitter taste in the both of our mouths that we did not. I pulled my groin after 30 plus km and pulled myself from the race at 48km finally once I realized I could not go any further. Even though there was only 2 km left to finish, I did not feel doing permanent damage to my groin was worth it, at the time. Nicole was pulled after 25 km because she did not make the cutoff, she was having to much fun taking pictures and talking to everybody on the course that she lost track of time, so there were officially two wrongs to be corrected, not only finishing but proving to ourselves that we both have the ability and the drive to push through, and persevere the adversities to the ultimate goal of finishing.

It has been a year in the making, a lot of ups and downs for both Nicole and I as all our nicely laid out plans of getting an official 50 km ultra done this year was looking like a complete bust. First of all our first scheduled event in May, the Manitoba Trail Ultra at Spruce Woods, was rescheduled to August due to major flooding throughout Southern Manitoba. Then in August it was cancelled for the second time and for the year due to unsafe conditions as deemed by the Race Director and Manitoba Conservation. This is why it is so important to have a good race director, even though we were disappointed that the race was cancelled I do not want myself or anyone else to participate in a race that is deemed unsafe due to trail conditions. Also the Lemming Loop Run was also cancelled due to unsafe conditions, and finally we did not believe we had the funds to get back to Vulture Bait in London, ON to get another crack at finishing that one. But with some creative financing and some planning, we officially signed up on October 7th, for the race to held on October 15. Wow, it has been a year of late registrations, nothing like planning ahead, oh well what fun would that be right?

So the last minute preparations started in earnest, including flight reservations, hotel, car rental, sucking up to my sister so she will watch the kids while we are away (just kidding on this one, my sister is the best, she helps us out all the time with our crazy little adventures, sometimes I think the kids want us to go away more just so my sis' gets to watch them). The biggest challenge is to decide what running gear to take, the conditions were calling for cool and light rain, gear is always important in this type of race because you are out there for 5 to 7 hours, a lot of different weather conditions can happen in that time period. Oh well at least the footwear issue is taken care of, that would be none and my ZEMGear 360's as my emergency toe covers just in case. We were flying into Hamilton on Friday and then a short drive down the 403 to London followed by a quick dinner at Tony Roma's then hopefully some sleep. Well it was wishful thinking, but sleep was not going to come easy Friday night, to much anticipation and preparation of game plans swirling in my head. In total I think I managed about 4 hours, not a good thing because Saturday was going to be a long and draining day.

6:00 am, Saturday morning came quicker then the both of us really wanted, it was a slow drag of our posteriors out of bed, organization and finalization of running gear to be worn, put on BRS shirt, take off, rethink what I was wearing, put on Bismark marathon shirt, assess, no this is not right, take off, put back on original shirt, realize that I forgot to glide the nipples (very important, don't want that rub, rub, bleed effect), shirt comes back off, glide, then shirt goes back on again. I think I am ready, nope forgot my shorts, put shorts on, find my hat, Northface jacket and gloves good to go. No, wait something missing, think, think, hmmm what could it be, oh yes must find 360's, can't go to breakfast with no shoes this early in the morning they might think I was weird or something. By this time I think Nic was all ready to go and was patiently waiting for me, wow this is kind of ironic, usually it is the other way around. After a quick really awful breakfast (thankfully it was free but I still almost considered asking for a refund), we packed up the car and checked out. The weather was not the best, off and on rain, about 5 degrees Celsius and a stiff north wind, it was going to be an interesting run, that much I was sure of.

I know I will regret this but I have to explain our drive to Fanshawne Park from my perspective, prior to Nicole attempts to twist things around. Nicole asked me the night before if I knew where I was going, of course I said yes no problem, because I was quite sure I would remember the route as we drove there. Just because I didn't remember the street names that we need to turn on really doesn't mean I didn't know how to get there right? Well withholding this tidbit of information apparently was not a good idea, as Nicole didn't figure she needed to set the location in the GPS to assist in getting us to where we needed to be, well as we drove towards downtown I haphazardly mentioned that the first street we needed to turn on started with a 'D', Dundas or something like that and the next turn would be at a street that I couldn't remember the name but there was a Brick or something like that on the corner. Well this did not go over so well, so as Nicole lovingly chastised me for not relaying this information earlier she starting frantically entering info into the GPS to secure directions. That was when I spot Dundas and cheerfully mentioned, "Oops that was the street we wanted, so I proceeded up to the next street to double back. Once on Dundas we headed east and I started picking out familiar landmarks from last year. Now more confident I would recognize the street to turn towards the park on, I mentioned that I knew I would be on the right road, because I remembered a particular monster truck that was parked as a display in a customization shop. Well once again this did not go over to well, I really didn't consider that the display that was able to be moved might not be there a year after I had seen it last, hmmm food for thought. Anyway as we got closer to the turn, I spotted what I was looking for, The Home Depot on the corner (yeah I know what your thinking, Home Depot is not the Brick, that was exactly what Nicole said, but it does sell bricks does it not). As we headed up the road I saw my monster truck and this little smile creeped across my face and Nicole just shook her head, I did not say a word. After that, it was smooth sailing to the race start.

Nicole and I 'Toeing the Line' Before the Run

We got to the start, parked and headed to pick up race kits, got some comments about my shoe choice (decided to not mention at that point that I was not going to wear them for the run) and just got prepared for the race to come, also would like to note that Nicole won a door prize this year to go with her early entry draw prize last year, and I won squat. After the explanation of the rules and the all the other pre-race info delivery, we started heading down the hill for the start line.

The Runners Making Their Ways Down To The Start
Nicole and I Prior To The Start
(Still Clean)

There was alot of anxious anticipation by the both of us to get going as we milled around more towards the back of the pack. With all that nervous energy I was looking around at all the different runners and checking out the reservoir when I notice a pair of bald eagles gracefully gliding through the air just over the water. Dipping and diving, obviously looking for breakfast, it was just what I needed to calm all the nervous energy that was building in me. Appropriately we had the best fly by that could be had to start a race of this type, it was very fitting, all we needed was a vulture to appear and the day was set. I just stopped and started watching them as they floated in the sky together without a hint of effort totally free of any apparent worries, just being together was all that seemed to matter. This became my goal for the day. I was going to start and finish this race with my wife with no care of time, just finishing with my partner in life, so we can enjoy every minute of it together. With this thought, all the nervousness went away, a smile creeped onto my face as I pulled off my shoes to get ready for the signal to go.

A pair of eagles flying together over the reservoir prior to the start of the race.
(Who needs a plane flyover when nature provides one for you)

As the signal to begin was sounded there was the ever present slow movement of runners as the pack proceeded onto the trail. The conditions were going to add to the challenge of this run, with the cooler temperatures, the off and on drizzle and the gusting winds in the open areas it was going to be interesting to see what shape the trails would be in as the day went on. With a smile to Nicole, and a quick 'Are you ready', we headed off. I had some comments from some of the runners about my bare feet, but that was fairly typical at the start of any race. That was when I heard someone from the starter's area, chime in with this little dosey, "You are going to regret not wearing shoes for this." The only thing I could think of at the time was, "I would only regret wearing shoes for this." But I just let it go because nobody was going to ruin this day for me and we started to pass some runners. As the runners started to spread out, we were just enjoying the run, not trying to go to fast, but ensuring we were going fast enough. The intent was to finish the first 25 km in around 3 hours, because the cut off would be 3 1/2 hours at the half way point and if you were not finished the first 25 km by that point you would not be aloud to go any further. I was going to ensure that this was not going to happen again to Nicole.

The first 5km of the race was criss-crossing through some easy trails from one side of the access road to the other using a combination of different walking trails. The route at this point was pretty flat and easy to keep a good quick pace due to the easy terrain. The ground cover consisted of hard pack dirt, to grass, a little bit of gravel and a good carpet of soft pine needles. What a treat this was to run on, talk about varying the sensations to your feet, especially since everything was still damp due to the week or so of rain that the area had been getting. A prelude of what was to come later in the run presented itself as we entered the first real wooded area, it was a dirt single track (which turned into mud) with some areas of leave coverage. Lots of downed trees and branches littered the trail along with some good ups and downs. Let me say, after this run I have learned the importance of why to slow down to achieve good traction with barefeet, because if you go to fast you will end up skating everywhere with no control (I almost ended up going off a cliff at one point). Needless to say this area did slow us down a little bit, with gauging for traction, keeping an eye out for those ever jumping out to surprise you tree roots and rocks, and of course the occasional good hearted splash through a puddle. I had a couple more comments about my lack of foot coverings, which I quickly corrected them on by saying, "I've got a nice layer of mud developing here, does that not count." This got a couple of giggles and some strange looks, but darn it I was having fun.

A view of the damn from the first aid station

As we tromped out of the woods adjacent the dam we hit the first aid station, a rather busy place at that point with about 10 to 15 runners re hydrating themselves by grabbing water, Heed, Coke or an assortment of other good ultra sugar type treats.  The volunteers were working like a well-oiled machine, as a cup of fluid disappeared another one magically appeared, no one was waiting for anything. These volunteers were awesome, they did not miss a beat, but with them being so busy I was able to sneak in and out with a coke, a chocolate chip cookie and a hand full of chocolate covered raisins to help with the refueling process.
Nicole had a glass of water and a Gu to help refuel, I was personally leaving my Gu's till a little later as it was still early. As we were getting ready to head out of the parking lot and up the gravel road to the main road, all I hear is a 'Holy crap, he's got no shoes on!". I looked around with this look on my face, and said, "Where? Oh, you mean me? My shoes are right here", as I held up my shoes with a grin and we started heading up the road. We passed by a number of runners up the road, with a couple of "Doesn't that hurt", "Wow that is crazy" and " Your the man" comments, my responses in order were, "Nope, feels great", "Not really, quite natural really" and "Thanks, right back at you!"

As we pulled out onto the road to head across the dam seen above we hit our first bit of traffic, I was getting some weird looks from some of the vehicles and thumbs up by others. This was also our first encounter with the wind as it picked up to the point that it blew the hat right off of my head, luckily it did not go over the edge so I was able to sprint back and pick it up.

Nicole heading to the dam crossing making good time

As we continued down the road towards the front gate with some quick cuts into the woods for some more trails we were heading to one of my favorite parts of the run. Just beyond the gate, we turn into the evergreens and follow a path of soft pine needles that winds through the trees like a outstretched red carpet. It is the most surreal feeling as you enter this area, it's so peaceful you get lost in the beauty of it all, then you loose focus and trip over a outstretched tree root, bringing you back to reality.But it was nice as it lasted, but it also gets you prepared for the focus that is required for the trails to come which is the beginning of the technical trails.

Don't let the looks of the trail fool you, this is actually a treat to run on soft pine needles with the occasional stick or root to jab you in the foot just to keep you on your toes.

Once you exit this area, there is a short jaunt up an old jeep trail to another gravel road along the south part of the reservoir. This is another perfect spot to pick up the pace normally before you get into the ups and downs of the technical single track trails to come. Normally on a dry day the trails are challenging but fun because you can really fly over them, at least that was my experience last year. But this year with all the rain they have turned into a very muddy, slippery trail, especially with all the foot traffic that was trampling over it today (over 300 pairs of trail shoes and one pair of trail skin). Normally I attack the uphills and pick my way through the obstacles but with all the rain, I could not get any traction at all, so I had revise my running strategyy completely. Instead of running light and landing more on the midfoot with my toes slightly curled up, i had to had to be a little more heavy with the landing and dig my toes down in the mud to help stabilize my balance.This was definitely more of a challenge and having to concentrate more on footing and my balance through a larger twist into the run. When I mentioned skating earlier in the post I was not kidding, as my feet got muddier (at one point I had about an inch thick layer of mud on my feet) it was harder to get any traction at all and my feet continued to slip out from under me. So I went with it, where I found that the mud was the slickest, I started this skating motion with my running and concentrated on keeping my balance by utilizing my arms as stabilizing bars, it worked really well. That is until I got to a down hill portion of the trail, skating down a hill with barefeet over roots and rocks, not a good idea. This caused me to walk most downhills or find a path least travelled in the underbrush so I had traction. There was one hill in particular that led down to a bridge over a stream, last year I ran down it really quickly, this year it took me a couple of minutes to negotiate my way down. I was definitely using a lot of different muscle combinations to not only stay upright on my feet but to ensure I did not go sliding off the trail into trees or off the side of a cliff.

Me negotiating down a hill

This was a standard trail lots of mud but the
leaves actually helped with traction.

One of the hills up, this was a lot steeper than it looks
and lots of squishy between the toes mud

Last year I was proud to say I did not fall or trip once at this race, this year I was not so lucky. I hit the mud 3 times on the first lap as I tried to figure out my footing tactics, and it must of worked because I did not hit the ground again on the second lap, so what ever I did to compensate did the trick. I will admit there was a few times when it was pretty close, but I was able to keep my balance. We were still keeping a decent pace going back and forth with a bunch of runners including Raymond who was running his first 25km and Marcel our very optimistic Frenchman who keep telling Nicole, "You will finish, you have to believe you will finish!" This is very true advise, you do have to believe you can do it, any negative thoughts and that will play on you and odds are you will not finish the race.

Aid stations 2 (12 km mark) and 3 (18 km mark) were not quite as busy when we arrived, the majority of the faster runners were quite a bit further ahead of us and that was ok. We stopped for some water and some quick snacks and headed out as quickly as possible. The terrain between aid station 2 and 3 consisted of asphalt road, chip and seal, a little bit of gravel and more awesome trails. The trails were really messy, and I had to let a few runners by for fear of holding them up to much, traction was still a bit of an issue. I was definitely utilizing a different combination of leg muscles at every turn, trying to stabilize myself or keep moving forward, this was becoming one hell of a workout, but I was enjoying every minute of it. About the half way point between the second and third aid stations there is a crazy steep hill that you have to go down, normally I take it fairly slow due to the loose rocks that cover the entire single track length. But this time add the slippery mud and this was a really interesting challenge, I was actually contemplating sliding down on my butt, but I figured that would hurt more than if I tried to negotiate my way down. Once I was down I had to pick up the speed to catch up with Nicole again who scaled the hill like a mountain goat, I am still amazed at how she just cruises down all the hills with little to no trouble at all. We were still making good time, at the rate we were going we would come in at the half way point at about 3 hours, that would give us 4 hours to complete the second loop.

Between Aide stations 3 and 4 there are some more asphalt roads, single track trail, a creek crossing and my favorite area for the entire race. That would be entering an area of pines that create a corridor or a canopy over your head its so quiet you could hear a pin drop or a shoad runner clomping away at least. It goes really quiet through this area and the ground is covered with red soft pine needles that make it seem like you are running on a thick soft red carpet absolutely awesome feeling on bare feet. Its like you are running down a aisle towards the front and everybody is watching you and silently cheering you on. It is a very surreal feeling, one that I quite enjoy. I was still finding that I was skating quite a bit, so I started running back and forth between the mud trail and the areas beside the trail to see if I could find a bit more traction. It appeared to be working cause I was able to pick up some speed and make my way by a few runners. There were quite a few areas where I had to slow down and pick my way through but for the most part I was quite happy with the pace that we were keeping through this stage of the race. When we hit Thorndale Road and crossed the bridge over the river, the rain was starting to come down a bit and the wind picked up. It was a bit of a challenge through that area until we reached the trail head again at the top of the hill. But once we got back into the woods again it was smooth sailing except for the mud. As we reached the creek crossing I just smiled, everybody was complaining about having to get their feet and shoes wet and the water was higher than last year, etc. I just did a quick look for the quickest path through and jumped on in and negotiated my way to the other side. It was great, very refreshing and I was able to get most of the mud off of my legs and feet at the same time.  The bigger challenge was getting up the hill on the other side to the trail because there was nothing left of the ground that would work for traction just mud, so you had to make your way into the brush a little bit to get a hold of some tree branches to help pull you up.

The creek crossing, last year you could see the rocks out of the water but not this year.
Note the mud hill on the other side not easy getting up.

This is the very scenic part of the trail, single track running along the river for most of it, including some areas where the ground just drops off towards the river. It was really interesting at corners here, because if I did not have my footing in check I would of just slipped and slid right off the trail and the cliff. So needless to say I made sure I was planting my feet on as solid ground as I could find.

By the time we reached the 4th aide station at 22 km we were quite excited because we knew the first loop was almost done and we were in great shape to reach our half way point goal. I took my first Gu at this stop because I felt it was important to start the energy boost now and not leave it to late. Everything was going good, both Nicole and I had lots of spring in our steps and were raring to 'Get er Done'. As we came out of the woods by the golf course, we ran into this volunteer who was screaming her head off, then she saw my feet and her eyes opened wide. I wasn't sure if she was surprised by my bare feet or that I was carrying a very clean pair of shoes in my hands. I was a little amazed that my shoes were still as clean as they were as well, but they were new and I didn't want to get them all messy unless I had too. There was a good group of us running towards the finish area and cut off for the next lap, and once again the majority of them veered off to the finish line, and only 4 of us veered to the left. I yelled 'Great run' at Raymond as he headed to the finish line, this was his first 25km run and he did fantastic. As we passed the mid point we were at 3 hours and a minute (plus or minus a few seconds), so I looked at Nicole and said half way there lets go finish this off. Nicole was estactic because she had made it past the half way point and she wasn't getting pulled.

With objective one done, we headed out onto lap number 2, we ran with a gentleman named Hans for the first 3 or 4 km of the second lap. What an inspiration, he is a 78 year old great grandfather who has been running numerous ultra marathons over the last few years. He was out here running the race with his grandson (who finished way ahead of us), and was going to continue to run for as long as he was able. He looked strong and had no signs of fatigue at all, I just hope I can do what he does at his age that would be awesome. The funny thing was he keep telling me he was in awe of me because I was running this barefoot, and I kept turning it back around to him, and he keep shaking it off like it was no big deal. I had the pleasure of meeting his family after the run including his wife, his son, grandson and great grandsons and they were a treat to talk too.

As we hit the first aide station again, we stopped for a bit longer as Nicole had to use the facilities and I started talking to the volunteers. One of them remembered me from last year as the barefoot runner with the kilt. It was interesting, it seems I was the talk of the course for going out barefoot again this year and with the conditions that were at hand to boot. So after some questions and answers, Nicole and I headed out up the gravel road to a bunch of good lucks and have a great run. I really like how all the volunteers are so friendly and appear to be having a good time. Its also amazing the selection of drinks and food products that they have available even this late into the run.

Everything was going great as we went along, we ran over the dam, passed the gate, ran the pine needles hit the dirt roads and boy was I smiling as we passed the spot where I put my VFF's on last year. My feet were feeling fantastic, no ill effects of running 35 kms without shoes, I could sense it I was going to finish this thing off without my shoes. That was objective two complete, now just one more to go and then the big finish, things were looking good and both Nicole and I were getting more and more confident as we progressed. Its funny one of the reasons that Nicole got pulled last year was because she was camera happy and taking to many pictures. So what do we do this year, we stop and take pictures, it seems to be a trend with our runs, we are out to finish but we are also out to just have fun.

Nicole looking relaxed, confident and
 fantastic at 38 kms

The time slowly ticked away as we passed Aide Station 2 and then 3, we were still making good time but there were some areas where we had to walk up hills or down hills because the traction was not there. But I do have to say, other than forced walks due to conditions we did not walk very much at all. I was very happy with that, I felt strong for pretty much the entire run, my legs were finally starting to get a little heavy from all the extra muscle work near the end. The traction was a little better on the second lap as well on the flats, unlike the first lap where I was slipping and sliding everywhere, this lap I seemed to figure it out. Things were going fairly smoothly as we carried along the trails. I will say I did end up stepping on a couple of roots or stones that were hidden within the puddles on the trail but other than that everything went perfectly.

As we hit the 4 aide station, we had about 25 minutes to finish the last 3 or so km, so after a little bit of refueling we set off. This was objective three, last year I pulled myself out at this aide station because my groin would let me go no further, so the perma-grin attached itself to my face for the rest of the way. I was glad that there were no bugs out, because I would of been eating lots of protein with me showing all that teeth. So here we were at about 47 or 48 kms in, and only a couple more to go and we would be officially finished our first ultra marathon, who would of thunk it.

1 km to go, woo hoo!

As we hit the 1 km remaining sign, we had to stop to take a picture to commemorate the occasion, because damn it we were almost done. A little bit of gravel road, some single track and a grass run to the finish line and the nemesis that is the first ultra is done. As we broke out onto the grass to some cheering, all we hear is 'sprint the last little bit to the finish'. All I can think is, but I am sprinting can't you tell. As we got to the timing pad, Nicole and I finished like we started, we crossed the line at the exact same time, 6 hours 56 minutes and zero seconds (not the best time but for the conditions I will take it). So the last goal was completed to start together and to finish together, my partner in life and my partner in running. We did it, together, now how many people can say that, at least I know I can.

What a day, what a great weight off our shoulders, now we can move onto the next challenge.

Nicole and I after we finished, notice the nice shiny metals
and my nice clean shoes.

Better shot of my barefeet and yes we are tired but still standing.

Just a little bit dirty but the ZEM 360's are clean
They performed admirably sitting in my hands.

Vulture Bait 50 km done like dinner.

Here are my miles for the last couple of weeks lets see where we are at.

Tuesday October 4, 2011
Run Around Assinoboine Park
Barefoot: 4.06 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 4.06 miles

Thursday October 6, 2011
Run From Work to Charleswood
Barefoot: 11.57 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 11.57 miles

Saturday October 8, 2011
Run with City Park Runners
Barefoot: 8.79 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 8.79 miles

Sunday October 9, 2011
Run with Leslie
Barefoot: 2.79 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 2.79 miles

Saturday October 15, 2011
Vulture Bait Ultra Marathon London, On
 Barefoot: 31.21 miles
ZEM 360: 0.00 miles
Total: 31.21 miles

Totals This Post:
Barefoot: 58.42 miles
Minimalist: 0.00 miles
Total: 58.42 miles

Year to Date
Barefoot: 698.57 miles
Minimalist: 80.20 miles
Total: 778.77 miles

Not to shabby for a total since mid April.

Have a great week, brisk and cold weather is a comin' so we will see where we can get before it gets to cold to continue with the barefeet.

May the wind be brisk to help push you along.

On on,


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Heading To Vulture Bait

Nicole and I are on the road (or in the air) tomorrow for a follow up encounter with Vulture Bait 50 km Ultra Marathon in London, Ontario on Saturday. Nicole is going to run in her NB Minimus and I am going to tackle this one barefoot of course and utilizing my new ZEMGear 360 split toe for my emergency gear just in case. Wish us luck, have to erase the demons from last year (DNF'ing really sucked).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Journey of 1,000 Barefoot Miles - Week Ending October 2, 2011

What more can you say about the weather that we are currently having, this has definitely been a barefoot runner's dream type situation. Here we are heading into October and we are still consistently hitting the 20+ degree Celsius mark. Absolutely fantastic, I am having such a hard time controlling my giddiness about this and the desire to strip and run through the fields screaming at the top of lungs is being barely held back (aren't you glad I have some willpower left, because that would not be a very pretty sight).

Update: We hit 32 degrees yesterday if you can believe it, we were actually warmer than Phoenix, AZ at 27 degrees. All I can say is wow!

I do know one thing, when it does start to cool down, and it will (this is Winnipeg, Canada after all), I will look back at all this beautiful sunny weather we have had this year with fond memories, because it has been an absolutely perfect year for running. A lot of firsts have happened for me this year: my first and second official barefoot marathons were completed, I broke under the hour mark for a 10 km, amassed some additional PB's, completed my first barefoot gravel half marathon, ran an unofficial 50km, ran downtown Winnipeg in a red dress with a bunch of other crazy runners (and no it wasn't Halloween), amassed some major miles and learned a whole bunch about what the human body is actually capable of doing if you allow it too.

I have made some great new friends and acquaintances alike over the last year as well, it amazes me how many people are generally curious or interested in the way I run. I can honestly say, I have probably met or talked to more people this year, then I have in the last 10 years. I don't know what it is about barefoot running or running in general that allows people to throw away their inhibitions and just start a conversation with a complete stranger. It makes for some pretty interesting discussions, that is for sure.

Within my last post I mentioned that the week ending October 2nd, I was expecting to pass the 1,000 km barefoot mark for the season, and I am happy to report that I have achieved that. As of Saturday morning prior to my run with City Park Runners I was sitting at 621.19 miles or 999.70 km, I found it quite interesting that I was that close before I put my barefoot to concrete sidewalk outside the store. Basically by the time I hit the other side of the bridge into the park, I had passed the mark, even though my Garmin was not working properly I still consider that the spot.

Although this was not the original goal that these posts were about in the beginning, I am proud that I have passed this milestone and still have some time to tack some additional miles on prior to the end of the season,.Who knows 700 miles is in reach maybe even 750, only time will tell to see where I end up. But I do know one thing for sure, I will be starting over again next year more determined to eclipse the 1,000 mile mark then ever.

Does anyone else have any goals they have achieved or want to achieve next year as well? Races? Distances? Times?

My miles for the last week are as per below:

Monday September 26, 2011
WH3 Monday Night Run
Barefoot: 4.02 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 4.02 miles

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Barefoot: 5.75 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 5.75 miles

Thursday, September 29, 2011
Run Home From Work
Barefoot: 13.18 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 13.18 miles

Saturday, October 1, 2011
Run with City Park
Barefoot: 6.95 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 6.95 miles

Sunday, October 2, 2011
Barefoot: 12.01 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 12.01 miles

Week That Was
Barefoot: 41.91 miles
Vibrams: 0.00 miles
Total: 39.33 miles

Year To Date
Barefoot: 640.15 miles
Vibrams: 80.20 miles
Total: 720.35 miles

Have a wonderful weekend, and take advantage of the great weather everybody, I know I will be.

"20,000 years ago if you didn't learn to run barefoot you were eaten"

quote courtesy of Vibram