November 13, 2013 by scratchtype1
Maybe yesterday, a strange unexpected thought came to me: I’ve been having lots of fun and enjoyable runs. What I mean is that there is a quality of enjoyment I had not experienced in my shodden running experiences from 2007 to 2010. That doesn’t mean all those runs were drudgery, and there were some which took on beautiful aspects that I cannot forget, but they were mostly infrequent occurrences. The big driving motivation was to prove something to myself, to challenge myself and probe what kind of limits that type 1 diabetes may or may not impose. I took enjoyment from that, but much of the enjoyment was not centered around the act of running itself, the sensation of the legs carrying me across the earth and ground.
I don’t know if I can adequately describe how barefoot running has changed it. I won’t lie and say that I don’t take some enjoyment in the challenge and brazenness of barefoot running, to do something that few others in our culture dare to do, but that’s a small part now. The beauty of these barefoot runs is in how they connect me to the world, how they connect my feet and head together, how they move me. Last night it was chilly. Some wind was blowing and the world was darkening around me while I ran. I felt beautiful almost, just comfortably running and putting down what at one time would have been a wicked pace for me. Now I look back and think that with enough training, I could hold that pace easily for a half-marathon, and maybe even a marathon in length. The feet were quick, probably tapping along at 180 steps per minute, and when there were downhills, I focused on relaxing the legs and letting gravity quicken them.
This year saw the awful tragedy of the Boston Marathon and the bombs set off there. Shortly after that, my brother decided that he would run the half-marathon in Philadelphia in November. At that time, I couldn’t seem to imagine a way to run again. I found no pleasure in brief tries to run again between late 2010 and the first half of this year. At one time running had seemingly opened up a future to me that I could have never dreamed. Then real life took over and those hopes and unexpected dreams got pulverized, their dusty remnants tickling about in my memories and ones which brought me no joy during any running I tried to do.
Things began changing in June when I made the decision to ditch the shoes and then further changed when I began doing the first short runs barefoot come late July and early August. Early August was the time when I first began to run for more than a mile at a time.
I don’t know if I understand perfectly how my brother regards this fact that I run a lot barefoot now. He has at least conceded that it probably can do a good job of strengthening the feet, but he has not ever been averse to often shaking his head and saying something about nails, screws, and flat tires. That’s understandable enough. I fear sharp objects too. That’s why I look for them when going around and also have come to trust that there is an elegance in how a decently developed bare foot can react to such dangers should a barefooter step on them. So far I’ve run about 88 miles total barefoot. The worst that’s happened has been a blister a couple of times, and scraping off some flesh a few times. All have healed well.
Anyhow, my brother was unfortunate enough to get bit by plantar fasciitis some time back and couldn’t run for a while. When I talked with him last week, he had been able to do a few easy runs again with no pain, but also said that if he did develop any pain again, he would choose not to run in Philadelphia this coming Sunday.
Which got me thinking and wondering. Prior to last weekend, my longest run had gone 7.3 miles. I’ve been pretty cautious about adding mileage but if I have noted one thing, is that I’ve been pretty good at going those distances without feeling fatigued too much. So I wondered: what if my brother decides not to run? And what if I could go out and do a long run over 10 miles in length, and if in doing so, it didn’t feel too terribly hard, could I then be positioned to say to my brother, “I can run it if you can’t and you want me to take your place.”
So there came Saturday morning. Beautiful running conditions, somewhat cold, but hardly any wind and sun to help take the chill away. I did decide to run in the Xeros to avoid beating up the skin on the soles of the feet too much and I set out on a course I plotted. It was hilly:
I ran hilly because I wanted to and because I also knew that it would help to tell me if I could easily handle a mostly flat course like Philly’s half with just one big hill coming near mile 10. That’s why I designed the route to have the last big uphill near mile 9. If I could handle that big hill easy after all the previous hillwork, Philadelphia should be doable.
Right from the start, I settled into a good easy pace. The rhythm felt good and I moved along nicely. The only somewhat bad patches were between miles 3 and 4 and one after mile 6. The first bad patch came from thinking I still had to go more than 7 miles and my longest run before then had been a little over 7 miles. The second bad patch came after flying down a downhill and then having trouble settling into the easy rhythm again.
When I crested the last long uphill at mile 9, I felt good. So good, I decided that I could add another mile to the course I had plotted. No problems with that whatsoever. Finally, after 11.4 miles and 1:56:10 running time, I hit stop on the watch, walked around some and went on with the rest of my day. The legs weren’t all that tired and felt like I could have easily run a few more miles had I wanted to.
I had gone crazy and long. Long and crazy. Crazy for that big of a jump. But everything felt good and still feels good a few days later now. Also crazy is how I ran those 11.4 miles at 10:12 pace. My half-marathon PR was run at 10:25 pace and left me with trashed legs the next day. There’s simply no doubt now that I’ve become a better and faster runner. If it does end up that I run this coming Sunday, I feel confident that I could tick it up a slight bit and probably easily do 10:00 pace.
And that’s more than enough to tell me that if I continue to enjoy running, continue to train, that I will some day have no problem in running a half-marathon in under 2 hours. It also makes me think that a longer-term goal will be to run a sub 1:45 half. I see no reason why I couldn’t someday be able to run 8 minute miles for a half-marathon.