Monday, October 24, 2011

Run Like Hell! 10k

Run Like Hell! Portland

The last week in October. The days here in Pacific NW are already short, cold and rainy. It is the perfect time for a hellish race like Run Like Hell.

Run Like Hell is a Halloween-themed race that sees participants dress out in full costume for a run through Portland’s urban parks and along its waterfront areas along the Willamette River. Run Like Hell has become a Portland Fall tradition. This year the theme of the race is zombies.

This race is very special to me. I ran it first a year ago and it was my very first race ever. And first one barefoot too. I was running in a Hawaiian man costume, it was raining and I had a blast.

Today it looks like it is going to be a bit chilly but nice sunny day. I feel good a ready for a strong run but this was not the case some two weeks ago. I pulled my calf muscle and it took me well over two weeks to get rid of it. On some recent runs my right calf has been still acting up and I am hoping today it is going to stay calm.

I pick the 10k distance again and my plan is to enjoy the run and - if the stars are right - beat my last year's time of 48:33 minutes. For a costume I need something very light that allows bare feet. Since last year's Hawaiian man worked very well I choose to do a couple of alternations and improvements and go as a Hawaiian dancer this time.

And the best part at the end - I am not going to be a lone barefooter this year, Mike as a "zombie killer" is running too.

Warm-up hula dance before the race

8 AM, 52 F.
20 minutes to start.
Waiting for the "zombie killer" to show up but he is nowhere to be seen.

10 minutes to start Mike calls me he is on his way. That's a good news I guess.
But I am getting cold fast. My grass skirt is not generating as much heat as I was hoping for.

Finally I hear the starting horn blasting from a distance so I start running towards the start line leaving Mike to his own destiny.
Really glad to be moving. The start line is a little chaotic but once the crowd gets moving, my feet are happy. I do not bother starting slow. I feel a strong urge to run like hell so I just go for it. The adrenaline works its magic, I feel great, really light and unbreakable.

Because of the "end of the pack" starting position I just keep passing runners the whole time which also adds some motivation. People around are cheering "Go Hawaiian!" and sun finally wakes up and starts to shine.
As expected the grass skirt is ventilating very well which unfortunately is not the case of my heavy wig. Sweating heavily.
But finish is in sight. I save some energy for the last 300 feet of fast sprinting and it's over. So soon, I feel like running more.
I check the time and feel some accomplishment. 40 seconds faster than last year and what a blast !

Finishing the race

I am pretty sure Mike eventually made it to the start so I am waiting and cheering up the incoming zombies. And sure enough after a while there is a barefoot "zombie killer" with a happy face approaching the finish line.
We get together and head down to the post race refreshments at waterfront. Jen with her husband from the 5k division join us and we have much to celebrate with a couple of good beers.

It was a good day today.

Myself after the race

Mike the "zombie killer"

Race stats:

Length: 10k
Time:  00:47:51 (Pace 07:42)
Placed: 15th (from 65) in my AG
             137 (from 1424) overall

Race course

Monday, September 5, 2011

Wildwood Trail Trial 10k race

Monday Labor Day.

8:00 AM

I arrive to Josh's house filled with the usual pre-race excitement.
He is already stepping outside barefoot and more than ready to taste the trail today. While waiting for our last comrade he offers me a shot of his special Chia seeds cocktail. This is the first time I am trying it and it tastes quite good.
Mike arrives so the team is ready and off we go.

We park the car near the finish line and start waiting in a long line for a shuttle to move us uphill to the starting point. It is still cold. Mike pulls up a thermos with a hot tea. It feels good.
We catch a couple of curious looks at our bare feet from a group of runners waiting in front of us.
One gets the courage: “You guys know what the trail looks like right ?”

- - -

The Wildwood Trail again.
Oh yes.
We know it more that one would think.
In the past month I ran 48 miles on it and I feel really good today. It is going to be mostly downhill so we should be flying ! Spirits are high.

The organizer - Oregon Road Runners Club - picked a great course:
"...packed earth trail with many turns. Mostly good surface but with some rocks, roots, and occasional slugs. A 650’ elevation loss in the first 5.7 miles and a 200’ climb in the last half mile. Participants start in 1 to 2 minute intervals, from 8:30 to 11:30 am, in heats of 4 or fewer."

9:30 AM

A beautiful morning forest with sun peaking through the dense canopy. The air is fresh and warming up. Four of us line up on narrow fire lane road.

Josh starts with a wild shout. Him and Mike take no time to warm up and start rolling down the hill right away. I stay behind but not for long. After 4 curves I catch up with Mike and we run and chat together for a while.
Josh is nowhere to be seen which is not unexpected. I decide to go after him. I know how fast he is but it is worth trying.
Soon I start passing some runners from the earlier starting waves.

I feel fast but comfortable and relaxed. The perfect form. The perfect day. Heel pain from the last week is gone.

I reach the lowest point of the course all alone and start running along a creek.
The trail changes to a rocky more technical section.

I am slowly giving up on the idea of actually seeing Josh's back again at the race today. 

Soon enough I register a runner behind approaching with a steady pace. It is only a half a mile to the finish line but all uphill now. 200' vertical climb zig zagging a steep stream bank.

"No way he is going to pass me here on the way up." No idea where that is coming from.

I start pushing more. Passing runners in front who just started walking up. My lungs are on fire and I am rapidly losing power in my legs but still keeping the distance between us.
Last curve and the finish line. I have no energy left for sprinting so I finish nice and relaxed with a feeling of pure enjoyment after a great race.

Me finishing

Josh finishing

Mike finishing

Race stats:
Length: 10k
Elevation change: 650’ elevation loss and a 200’ climb
Time:  00:47:48 (Pace 07:43)
Placed: 35 (from 260) overall and 5th (from 44) in my AG

Race course
Wildwood Trail Trial Ortho

Wildwood Trail Trial Aerial View

Wildwood Trail Trial Profile

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Stride analysis video

When camping in Gifford Pinchot National Forest (WA) I run 6 miles out and back on an old chip seal forest road.

Rough chip seal

Running at the base of Mt. Adams

The surface is quite rough and it slows me down a little. I climb 400 feet up, turn back and I quickly find out running on chip seal is worse downhill.

After the run I shoot some footage of my current form.

After analyzing it later I find out my right foot turns outwards far more than the left and the recovery pull from the floor is much higher on one side than the other. Clearly something is out of balance.

My feet are sore half a day after the run but I feel the soles getting stronger. It will only get better next time.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wildwood trail Half marathon

It is the evening before the race. I am with my family and we drive to a small cabin in the mountains. Before I go to bed I remember to get up early tomorrow for the race.
In the morning I leave the cabin and start walking over some hills to the car. Snow appears. More and more snow around me on the ground. I start worrying. When I get to the car it is buried half way under the snow. There is a couple of feet of snow on the mountain road. I start panicking. There is no way I can get to the race in the next half an hour left to the start.
- - -
I open my eyes. Check the clock. 5:30 AM. Big relief.
Just a bad dream.

Yes, I am really excited about this race so it is probably I can hardly sleep. It is my very first Half Marathon and it is on a Trail. On a trail I know very well. My favorite trail.

I feel really good today. Well rested and strong. My last training run was just two days ago on the same trail, I did 6 miles and felt pretty comfortable going more.

There is only one thing that worries me a little. For the past 4 weeks there has been a sensitive spot on my lower left fibula. Just above the ankle. I can run with it, there is no pain. It only hurts when I push directly on it. I have no idea what it is but if it does not get worse after today's run I guess I will just forget about it.

6:30 AM
I have a banana as a main course and for an appetizer I pick a granola bar with Chia seeds and leave the quiet house with my wife and son still sleeping.

Excited before the race

I meet my friend Travis at the park where the race starts. He is running the 10k route today.
The two of us are the only barefoot runners here.
"You are going to win the half marathon barefoot division today" he is joking.
As if there were such a thing :-D

The little Macleay park is packed. There are about 360 runners, 170 for the half, 80 doing the full marathon and the rest for the 10k. Everyone stretching, tuning MP3 players, filling water bottles and camel bags.
I have decided to run this one very light so I am taking nothing with me. No water, no food, no emergency shoes.

8 AM
I start somewhere towards the end of a huge pack of runners in no hurry.

Full and half marathon runners start together

Mile 1
Familiar rocky trail along Balch creek.
The group is still dense and the pace is slow. Warming up.

Mile 2
First climb up. Most runners in front of me slow down. I can finally start passing and move forward.
I can feel my spot on the left fibula but there is no pain.

Mile 3
Steeper and longer uphill. My strong point. I feel like my feet are on springs. I pass a bunch of runners.

Mile 4
Still climbing but more gently on rolling terrain. Running alone for a while, then I catch up with a small group of four runners and stick to them. The discomfort on my fibula is gone. I feel relaxed and in a great shape.

Running at mile 4

Mile 5
Still at the tail of the group. The trail changes to a wider firelane forest road. When uphill I pass all four runners and take the lead.

Mile 6
Aid station and the turn around. I only grab a cup of water and keep running. The uphill part is behind us. Now it is only going to be downhill.

Running on Firelane road

Mile 7
I am being closely followed by one guy from the previous group. I am trying to shake him off but he is still glued to me. I am running really fast right now. Reaching my limit.

Mile 8
It is just two of us running fast down through the forest. I am running completely silent with high cadence but I keep hearing the slow slapping from behind. Slap, slap, slap...
I sure feel sorry for his knees.

Mile 9
We catch up with a group of two girls and stay behind for a while. Slower pace refreshes my energy so I accelerate again and shoot forward.

Mile 10
My legs start feeling heavy. I am running too fast. I concentrate on the form trying to relax with bent knees even more.
I think about what Jason Robillard says in his Barefoot running book:
"A necklace around your neck should not bounce up and down when running barefoot."
It is helping. I slow down a little. The guy from behind finally passes me.

Mile 11
I am running alone again. Long and fast downhill. Some 5 weeks ago running a training 12 miler my knees started to lock up right at this spot to the point I had to stop and walk for a short time. Since then I have learned a lot about running downhills. I am flying down this time.

Mile 12
Back down on the rocky Balch creek trail. Two girls close in from behind.
How can you handle all these rocks ? Your feet are probably used to it.” the closer one starts a conversation.
I convince her it is not as bad as it looks. They both pass me some 500 feet before the finish. I stay right behind them. The end is not yet.

Mile 13
Last 150 feet to the finish line. The trail changes to a nice paved path through the park. Now or never.
I start sprinting. A surge of energy. For a second all three of us running next to each other. I do not feel my feet touching the ground anymore. I feel like flying. Then I see no one next to me and hit the finish line at exactly 1 hour 57 minutes. Adrenaline rush. High, intoxicating feeling.

When I check later my Garmin reports 4:50 pace for the last 150 feet.

I grab some water and start walking. Calves are quickly becoming really tight. Almost to the point of cramping. I roll them out on a water bottle and go get some more goodies from the tent.


Awesome race.
The discomfort on my left fibula is gone.
Feet all in one piece, no scrapes, no cuts. The front pads are quite tender but amazingly that tenderness goes away in the next two hours.
Just 5 sticky spots from smashed slugs. Sorry guys.

Happy after the race (the brown on the feet is not tan but dust from the trail)

Race stats:

Length: 13.1 miles
Elevation change: 925 ft.
Time: 1:57:33 (Pace 08:31)
Placed: 20th from 170 overall

Race course

Aerial map

Course profile

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Race for the Animals 10k trail run

It is a gorgeous Saturday morning.
The sun is up but the air in Lower MacLeay Park is still cool and fresh from the last night as I arrive to the starting point filled with the usual pre-race excitement and expectations.

The Race for the Animals is a 5k/10k event which takes place in Forest Park and the course is mainly on the beautiful Wildwood Trail. Today the trail is all dry and not muddy as most of the year here in Pacific Northwest.That promises a perfect run today.

I am really happy to know I am not going to be the only barefoot runner here. Our Barefoot Runners Society Oregon Chapter really represents today.

Josh, Jasmine, Suzanne, Mike, myself and Martin (down)

I know the course well. I have run it multiple times (it is actually one of my training runs) so I know almost every pointy stone on the trail. This gives me a real confidence so I am not taking any emergency shoes with me. I am pretty sure I can finish  easily and my only goal for today is not getting injured on the sharp rocks, have fun as always and stay under 1 hour.

First part of the course follows the beautiful Balch creek

Me at the start

The first half a mile is on a rocky trail along the charming Balch creek. The runners pack is dense and it is hard to slip further ahead. I start passing runners anywhere I can find a wider spot and soon I end up at a tail of a small group running at my pace.

Rocky section along the creek

First half a mile is somewhat technical at places

I stay behind the group and wait for my moment. That comes at mile 2.
There is a steeper climb up ahead so I shoot forward. I easily smoke all 4 runners in front of me and quickly find myself running alone in the woods. I see some faster runners in front of me flashing through the trees but other than that it feels like there is no race today. I am just comfortable running mu usual route enjoying the calm forest.

Three miles climbing up done, now to the downhill part. I lean forward, bend knees more and fly downward with a hellish cadence.

At mile four there is a short but steep climb. Two shoddies in front of me stop and start walking up.
As I pass them I hear some nice encouraging cheering from behind.
"What a nice day it is to run today!" I think to myself.

Soon my feet hit the familiar rocky surface of the Balch creek trail again and I start hearing some runners behind me closing in.
"Nobody is going to pass me here and now !" I hear my competitive part of me and I decide to listen to it.
The last half a mile is definitely the fastest I have ever done at this place. The chasers are gone and I can not be happier seeing two fives on the timing board as I sprint to the finish line. I wait for Mike, Martin and Suzanne and snap some pictures for them.

Jasmine finishing

Martin finishing

Mike finishing

Josh with Jasmine ran the 5k course and Josh actually won the race ! We had a good celebration after the race in the park with a cold refreshing beer.

Our contingent of barefoot runners even got a bit of respect in the local newspaper's running blog :

"Starting and finishing at Lower MacLeay Park, this well-organized tour of Portland's urban forest brought out an enthusiastic group of runners, including a contingent of barefoot athletes who somehow braved the rocky surface of the trails east of the Stone House."

Race stats:
Length: 10k
Elevation change: 610 ft.
Time: 0:55:08 (Pace 08:48)
Placed: 18th overall

Race course:

Race profile

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My 1 year anniversary of running barefoot

On June 23 2010, exactly one year ago I decided to ditch my shoes and went for my very first run barefoot.
I only did 0.9 miles on a rubber track and it took me 10 minutes. My feet were quite sore after that run and I had to take the next day off to recover.
But that memorable run successfully started my path to barefoot running and what a great journey it has been so far !

I have run total about 700 miles, all barefoot with only two exceptions. One winter run on snow in freezing conditions and my very first trail run on a rocky forest road. Both in Vibrams.

For the first 25 weeks I was running on a pavement only. Then I tried trails and immediately got hooked. These days 80% of my running is on trails, the rest is pavement. 

My weekly mileage in my first year of barefoot running

As much as I was trying to avoid it I also fell victim to TMTS.
Looking back at the graph now I realize running almost 35 miles in my 26th week was not such a good idea. I paid for that and got injured in my 31st week. Luckily it was only a stress reaction on my lower fibula but it still took me 6 weeks to fully recover.

Here are some highlights of this great adventure

Fastest run
June 21, 2011 (week 53)
Summer Solstice 5k
Time 0:23:32  (7:31 pace)

Farthest run
June 12, 2011 (week 52)
Wildwood trail, Portland, OR
Distance: 12.5 miles
Time: 01:59 (9:30 pace)
850 ft elevation change

Fun run
October 24, 2010 (week 19)
10k Run Like Hell Portland !
Time:0:48:19 (7:47 pace)
Running in Hawaiian man costume

Most beautiful trail run 
March 14, 2011 (week 39)
Wildwood trail, Forest park, Portland, OR

Coldest run (barefoot)
November 25, 2010 (week 23)
10k Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day
Time: 00:54:34
Temperature: 32F, icy patches mixed with a little snow on the trail

Most painful run
...not counting the one I injured my fibula on...
November 28, 2010 (week 24)
Leif-Erikson drive in Forest park, Portland, OR
Distance: 8.8 miles

This was my very first trail run, the forest road was full of gravel and sharp rocks, not the best choice for a beginner. I lasted for about an hour and then I gave up and put Vibram Five Fingers on for the last 20 minutes. My feet were burning after that and I got 4 bruises in my arches.

Needles to say these days I run on the same road about three times a week, comfortable, relaxed and without any pain. It still amazes me how human body can adapt.

Muddiest run
May 15, 2011 (week 48)
X-Dog Havoc at the Hideout 5 mile trail race
Elevation change: 980 ft 
Time: 0:53:46 (10:30 pace)

It was raining all night before and all day at the race. Everyone was slipping like crazy. We had a ton of fun :-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice Sundowner 5k race

It is a beautiful hot summer evening, the longest day of the year.
I am taking my son Lukas and his buddy Jessie and we head to Oregon City for the annual Summer Solstice Sundowner 5k run.

It has been almost exactly one year since I first put my shoes away and started my barefoot journey.
I remember myself and Lukas being here at the same spot one year ago just to see the race because as much as wanted to run I simply could not. I was just in my early transition time to barefoot running and my calves were really sore after almost every run at that time.

A year has passed and it is a different story now. Today I feel strong and confident. I have run 700 miles in the past 12 months, all barefoot on all kinds of surfaces and right now I am really looking forward to run a road race since it has been a while I ran one.

Lukas and Jessie run first their ¼ mile Kids run. It is just one loop on the track and they both enjoy it with the kids spontaneity.

For the 5k there are about 220 runners. The course is mostly flat, two loops around the Clackamas Community College campus on pavement with some sections of a crushed gravel paths.

7:15 PM and the gun shoots. I am starting with no rush somewhere in the middle of the pack. I am the only barefoot runner here today and I only see one older lady in Vibram 5 Fingers.

I feel strong but relaxed. I start adding speed right after the start and start passing people in front of me. Then we hit the pointy crushed gravel part. I am really curious how fast I can handle it and happily realize right away this is going to be an easy one.
I am well trained running barefoot on gravel and rocks from all my trail running in the past 6 months so I do not slow down much and even keep passing people. For the whole race nobody passes me and that feels really good.
Two loops done and I am sprinting to the finish line. I glance on the numbers on the board – 24 minutes. I am really happy and smiling.
My new 5k personal record, my fastest run up to date and my feet and legs feel great.

“Daddy, I want to run with you next time” Lukas asks. What a lucky dad am I :-)

Time: 0:23:32
Pace: 07:36
Overall place: 39/212
Place in my age division: 2/15

Summer Solstice 5k course