That Little Bit of Extra


November 23, 2015 by scratchtype1

It’s on South Street in Philadelphia early on in the fifth mile of the half-marathon when I am tempted to shout, “This street is like butter!” What I mean is that the pavement is almost deliciously smooth to the bare soles of my feet. But all I know is that everyone that I can see wears shoes and they would have no idea why a crazy person would shout that.


It’s in the second mile that I begin to hear, “Go carrot!” I look behind me to my right and spot a guy in a carrot suit. He slowly draws up almost alongside me and I say, “I didn’t think I was going to get chased by a carrot.” We converse for a little bit. He’s running the full. A woman runner splits the gap between me, barefoot guy in kilt and The Carrot. She says, “I never thought I would I see this today.” She zooms on by us. After that, he either drops off pace or maybe my slow increasing of pace drops him.


Some time while running Chestnut Street, I know I’m somewhere kind of close to the time I was running last year. I’m thinking of slowing it down and just relaxing. I feel disappointment that I’m not clearly ahead of last year’s pace, maybe even slightly behind. It’s been a strange year and maybe Lyme disease took a chunk out of the little speed I have. My endurance is probably better, but I probably sprint slower than last year.

And there’s a headwind.

But there’s also this crowd of runners around me, many around my own pace because this year I started in faster corral. Last year’s corral forced me into a nightmare of weaving my way past slower runners. This year, I’m probably getting passed more than I’m passing others, but I won’t complain about that.

And maybe I’m being pushed along that current some. Maybe I’m being pushed along too by knowing how people contributed $875 to my fundraising page for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Maybe I’m being carried along by the sense of membership as a part of Team JDRF. Maybe I can’t slow down. Maybe I’ll just have keep going faster.


If you run barefoot in a big race like here and you’re barefoot, you will hear spectators and runners exclaiming, “Barefoot!” I had a good number of runners comment to me directly about it, along with the kilt. To some of them I joked about how I did this last year and I’m disappointed that I don’t see more like me this year.

Just after the mile 9 marker and slightly before the last tough uphill at mile 10, someone asks, “Why do you run barefoot?”

“I believe it’s better.”

“Fair enough.”


Late in mile 10, I feel the first twinge of potential cramping. I’ve also got diabetes mouth, those times when as a type 1 the blood sugar is running a bit high. But I’m not stopping for that or for the bit of sticky glue packet stuck to my left toes then. I do hope that’ll eventually peel away because it’s annoying me some.


This is the last stretch to the finish. I’m running about as fast as I can after more than 13 miles and a series of cramp spasms in the legs that brought me to a stumbling walk for maybe five to ten seconds. When those had finally subsided, I began running again, gingerly at first, and felt the muscles wanting to spasm again. Then I found that if I tried to run even faster, it somehow beat the muscles thanks to the faster timing. I can’t say I’m sprinting, hell, even when I do sprint with fresh legs I might be too slow to call that sprinting, but I’m running hard and feeling good. Damn good. Fucking good. The big banner stretched across the Ben Franklin Parkway is still quite some distance to go.

I’m passing people. I would say left and right except I’m on the far right so they’re all to my left. There are still twinges down in the calf muscles. Fuck it. I’m going to outrun those cramps. The finish line draws closer. I see a photographer up on a stand and I can’t help thinking, “Goddamnit, just this once, get a good photo of this. All my photos in previous years have sucked.” There’s some unknown guy out in front of the finish line offering high fives to my right. I thump it good, not even caring too much about the broken right thumb.

Then there’s some guy standing in the middle of the finish line giving out high fives. I angle in to give him one. As I flash by him and my left hand thumps satisfyingly against his, I realize that it was Mayor Michael Nutter.

Then I am slowing to a walk, the calf muscles still twitching. Fuck them. Fuck me. I start shaking my head in disbelief. Faster than last year. Maybe not nearly the time I imagined might be possible earlier in the year, but I persevered through a diagnosis of lyme disease and its effects and after effects.


Postmortem thoughts:

I suspect lyme disease really did a number on me some this year. 6 months earlier, in a race environment like yesterday’s, I think I could have run down close to 1:50.

If you run in a big race like Philly which will have very crowded streets for non-elites, it can be really important to be in the proper corral. Last year’s race was a nightmare some. I started from a back corral and spent so much of that weaving and changing pace to get my way through and by slower runners. I even wonder some if I could have run 2014 faster than this year had I been running from the same corral position in 2015.

I’m not exactly sure what to think about Maffetone training for me at this point. I am fairly convinced it helped kept me going early in September when I was nearly burnt out because of lyme and the running streak. But the fact that my Maffetone tests showed very little slowdown probably indicates my big limiting factor is the lack of high-end speed. Maybe a thing to try would be a short six-week stretch of of low heart-rate training followed by training like used by runners who do 800 meters or the mile.

My running form continues to improve slowly. In 2014, I did end up a bit raw and bleedy on the sole pad near the left pinky toe. This year the left foot came through nice and clean of any over-abrasion from too much twisting or pushing off.

Along with the number of times I heard people exclaim, “Barefoot!” I also caught a number of other things like, “That’s impossible!” or “That’s crazy!” But it’s not. It’s really not. I’m not a barefoot purist and I think there are circumstances when footwear is appropriate. But it’s just that the current cultural mindset overestimates that and the culture dictates wrongly and badly some. If you’re like me, someone who has lived in shoes for most of your life, it can take time and patience. When I began barefoot running at the age of 43, I had a lot of bad habits and movement patterns to unlearn. And they still affect me some. So don’t expect if you start doing some barefoot running it’ll solve everything all at once. It’s a journey that’ll be uncomfortable sometimes, although if done right, never so uncomfortable that you injure yourself and can’t run.

I do believe that barefoot running is the single-best training tool for running form. Those nerves in the soles of our feet are there to teach us how to walk and run like our evolutionary forbears. Shoes interfere with that. I know that even the 4 mm of rubber when I wear Xero Connects interfere with that sensory feedback. If I were a running coach, I would try to have all of my runners do at least some portion of running barefoot.

It was a race I’ll long remember. Doing it barefoot last year was wonderful, but to do it a second time, now it seems less like a freak occurrence or only a passing passion. Last year I achieved a goal, and I used that as a stepping stone to a tougher goal and perseverance through the effects of lyme disease.

Finally, I did fail this year. Early in the year, I thought maybe if things went well, maybe I could run under 1:45. I was more than 11 minutes away from that. And there was some point during the summer a person posted how they were sick and tired of people blaming environmental factors for a lack of success. I have suspicions as to why they said such things and I believe there are serious and grave flaws to those things, ethically, morally, and intellectually. I need to spend some time trying to write those out and why even if people fail, maybe because of environmental factors, or maybe even because that person didn’t persevere sufficiently, they are still human beings and our job as human beings is to help others. I ran stronger yesterday because of my desire to help find a cure for type 1 and because of the thought of how people contributed almost $900 to my fundraising page. That’s all for now.

Oh a picture of the blue JDRF shirt I ran in yesterday and the half-marathon medal. Then at the JDRF tent, I was also given the white singlet and the medal atop it.


2 thoughts on “That Little Bit of Extra

  1. So... says:

    Quite a recent barefoot runner and its been very interesting. It happened quite by chance and just feels right.

    • scratchtype1 says:

      I understand what you mean by feels right. Somehow it seems to complete the experience, makes the experience deeper and richer. I can’t get that same feeling when I run with some sort of shoe on my feet.

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