April 6, 2014 by scratchtype1
I am tucked inside a pack of runners waiting for the start of the 5K. It’s bright but chilly because of the strong winds that are blowing and I feel somewhat grateful that the pack is sheltering me some from it. As far as I can tell from the time I’ve been walking around before the start of the race, I am the sole crazy one, the sole one with bare soles. My throat tickles, I am a little bit ill, the second time I’ve been coming down with an illness in the last 3 weeks. My mouth is a bit dry, the blood sugar is about 150 mg/dL and I did a small bolus injection into muscle about 20 minutes earlier. It’s maybe not enough, but when I took the injection, I felt uncertainty about whether I would be able to sustain a moderate effort and as a diabetic, it’s always a more cautious plan to let your blood sugar run a bit high for something like this.
A woman notices my bare feet.
“You forgot your shoes?”
I smile lightly, about the best I can do at the moment because I don’t feel well. “Yeah, I did again.”
“You really run like that?” she asks.
“Yes, you have to be a little bit crazy.” I’m poking fun at myself with that, but I suppose if I’m to serve as an example of what barefoot running can do, it’s probably better to say something along the lines of how it’s a lot of fun and feels really good. The problem with that really feels good aspect though is that I believe I had at least 5 people at some point or another exclaim “Doesn’t that hurt?!?” People who have lived with their feet inside shoes all their lives can’t imagine it not hurting. But it doesn’t. If your feet aren’t adapted, yeah, you could put yourself in pain and perhaps I am slightly nervous that my feet lost some conditioning over the winter, but I’ve still elected to do this race barefoot. Prior to the race, I had greatly enjoyed walking over various textures of asphalt, brick and concrete. The only difficult thing was the chilly wind and as I was only dressed in shorts and a tee shirt from the JDRF 5K I did last October, I had sometimes nearly started shivering. With a drippy nose and ticklish throat.
Yet here I am, surveying this pack around me. It’s a mess. Lots of participants and lots of them with no clue about trying to line in an appropriate place for their pace.
Finally we start. I’m jammed up some behind groups of friends and people wearing Ipods. About a quarter mile in, I dodge around a young girl who is slowing down, then comes nearly to a stop while veering left into my path. I just barely dance around here and break clear. Thankfully it is now fairly clear and the runners are sorted out. The leaders are way out ahead of me already.
I’m running. Not easy, but not hard either. I’m trying to find a pace that I can enjoy myself and not risk blowing out the legs to where I might end up walking because my nose and throat and chest will get to feeling too lousy. I find it. I don’t know what exactly it is because I don’t look at the watch. So finally I reach the bottom of a downhill and turn right. Just keep it steady I tell myself. This street is a bit rougher than the first street of the race. I have to watch for the chance of uncomfortable pebbles. The feet are doing fine and I’m surprised some by how much better I feel emotionally already. A race course volunteer smiles and yells, “Barefoot!” I smile and shout back, “Thank you!”
This isn’t so bad, I think. Sure, I can’t run it hard like I had hoped to do back in December when I chose this for a goal race, but I am running. I am alive. My feet are dancing across the town streets. I don’t think I’m crazy. I am simply someone who has found out that the bottoms of my feet can be wonderfully stimulated by using them the way they were selected for by evolution. If you can imagine that, then you can also imagine how I might be thinking, “All those people running in shoes, how crazy is that!” But they aren’t crazy either. They just don’t know, they just don’t realize what cultural expectation has done.
The second right turn turns us runners sharply into the wind. We’re running a roughly square route in the town, and we’ll run it nearly twice since the full perimeter of it is greater than 1.55 miles. It’s this section that’s the most daunting. The wind gusts sometimes so hard I nearly feel like I’m at a standstill and it seems to take forever to reach the 3rd right turn. That third right turn doesn’t yield an immediate benefit of wind at the back, large buildings to the right block out the wind. Still as I go past a pedestrian crossing area where race volunteers were staffed, a strong wind catches me from behind. I raise my arms and shout to the volunteers, “I wish I’d brought a sail!”
The goal is to keep the pace going. I’m doing so. I also aim to slowly pick off runners in front of me. Once again past the starting area, just keep running. Bottom of hill, turn right. Wind in face again some. Just keep working. Pick off some more runners on the second side of the square. Turn right again. Bad wind. Off to the left side of the street, the 2.5K walkers are noticing the barefoot guy running by. I hear lots of people saying to others, “That guy’s running barefoot!”
I catch a couple more runners along the third side of the race course. Also, one of the fast runners is coming back towards us, he’s obviously already finished and coming back maybe to look for a friend or something. At this point, we’re all running against that wind while he’s got the wind pushing him along. I laugh and yell at him, “Oh sure, make it easy on yourself and run with the wind!” He smiles.
Finally, the last turn. Still maybe .2 miles to go or so. I actually have a couple of people pass by me. I let them go. It’s not time to kick yet, I’m going to wait. Wait until Wayne Street I tell myself, then go when the uphill starts. I ran a total of 25 hill repeats in March and I haven’t run hard this race. I’ll have a kick those people who just passed me probably don’t. I cross Wayne Street and begin to kick. I count 3 people I can catch, one is quick and easy but the other two are farther ahead. I got’em I think. I can see them faltering because of the uphill and fatigue. And they fall too when I pass them inside of the last 15 yards or so. I slow down to walk and thank a volunteer who hands me a bottle of water. The water tastes good, my mouth had been somewhat dry, but during the race there had been times I had wanted to spit and blow a snot rocket. The water helps to alleviate that discomfort.
So it’s done. Not the race I had exactly dreamed of, but a fair bit of fun and I feel good in spite of the throat and nose. The feet feel great, I can’t sense any signs of blisters. I do check the bandaid I had put around the left pinky toe — one strange aspect to my running form is that my left foot doesn’t seem to rotate inward so much and I roll some over the outside of the foot. Sometimes when running faster than easy, I scrape some skin off the outside of that toe. I put a bandaid there to protect that and the bandaid shows some wear and that I was rolling over the outside of the foot. I suspect this is caused by tightness in my left hip and side, I really need to get to work again on freeing up my hips and the left one especially and if I get that done, I think that my foot will be begin to roll inward more properly. When you’re 44 years old, and you’ve been sitting in chairs and wearing shoes much of your life, there’s a lot of compromised movement patterns. I am still learning how to run. That’s okay, life would be rather boring if there was nothing to learn.