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Barefoot Running University.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Barefoot Running... Predictions for 2010

This last year has been a banner year for barefoot running.  Here are just a few of the major events that occured:
  • "Born to Run" was published.  This event really put barefoot running on the map.
  • Chris McDougall goes on media tour to promote book, ends up convincing hordes of people to give barefoot running a try.
  • The Runners World Barefoot Running Forum is founded and becomes a major resource for new barefoot runners.  
  • Ted McDonald's Minimalist Shoe Google group experiences an avalanche of new members.
  • Three of us (that I know of) run a 100 miler in Vibrams (I ran Hallucination, Ted ran Leadville, and Leif Rustvold ran Hunderd in the Hood.)
  • Rick Roeber is closing in on 50 barefoot marathons.
  • Many great barefoot resources become available online (http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/resources.html)
  • Several races add a "barefoot division"
  • Vibrams become crazy popular; become difficult to find.
  • Barefoot Running University was launched.  Yes, that's a shameless plug.
This leads me to my predictions for 2010.
  • The soon-to-be-launched Barefoot Runners Society will become a national organizational force in the barefoot running community.
  • Barefoot and minimalist running clinics will continue to develop (http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/clinics.html)
  • Individuals will continue to push the envelope of barefoot running.  Personally, I would like to run a 100 miler barefoot.
  • Barefoot running clubs will begin to spring up throughout the country.
  • Peer-review empirical research will be published adding further support to the practice (there's already a sizable collection of empirical evidence supporting BFR: http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/research.html)
  • Major shoe manufacturers will roll out new lines of minimalist shoes (ala Nike Frees) to capture the upswing in minimalist footwear interest.  They may also remarket their current minimalist lines (racing flats) as barefoot-friendly.
  • POSE and ChiRunning will REALLY embrace barefoot running and tout themselves as being THE way to learn barefoot running, which will annoy me even more.
  • A host of books and movies will be released about barefoot running (including my own book that should be released sometime in January... stay tuned!)
  •  More members of the medical community will embrace barefoot running, nay-sayers will point to "too much too soon" injuries as evidence that barefoot running is bad.
  •   Hollywood will embrace barefoot running which will cause us long-time barefoot runners to groan... we will have officially reached "fad" status when Joel McHale makes fun of us on "The Soup".
2010 will be a huge year for barefoot running.  This is a movement that will reshape the running industry.  It promises to be an interesting ride!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Barefoot running, Vibrams, and winter traction

So far, I've done about four snowy runs barefoot and three in Vibrams.  The results- Vibrams suck for traction on trails.  Barefoot offers surprisingly good footing, but is difficult when the temps drop below 25 or so.  The positive about Vibrams... they really force you to work on trail running skills.  There's nothing quite as scary as flying down a hill at a 5:00/mile pace on what are essentially ice skates. 

The winter experimentation continues...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Barefoot Running, Running Barefoot, Vibrams, and any other keywords that will attract fellow Barefoot Bloggers/Webmasters!!!

I have recently come across A LOT of people that have started blogging about barefoot running. Some are brand new; some have been doing it for some time. I have also come across a large number of new websites dedicated to barefoot or minimalist shoe running. My ultimate goal is to unite the worldwide barefoot and minimalist shoe running community to help promote our common cause. As a means to that end, if you are currently blogging about barefoot or minimalist shoe running, have set up a website, or are writing articles, PLEASE CONTACT ME!!!! I will be happy to add your link to my sites. There are a lot of us out there... we just have to find each other!

Best of luck in your adventures!

-Jason Robillard

Monday, December 14, 2009

Second Barefoot Book; Winter Running

What started as a slight modification of the original barefoot and minimalist shoe book I was writing has turned into an entirely different project.  I have since decided to separate the books with the new one being directed toward the brand new barefoot or minimalist shoe runner.  The previous book will be geared toward a wider audience.  The beginner book is nearly complete and will hopefully be printed by mid-January.  The other book will continue to be a work in progress as I collect more information and continually update by sending out the newest pdf to the individuals that have purchased it.  

In other news, my experimentation with winter barefoot running has netted mixed results.  Trail running has been better than expected, even in very slippery snow/mud conditions.  I really feel as though I am honing my barefoot skills as a result.  Both trail runs have been about 28-32° with still winds.  I did find a definite limit, however.  We had a blizzard this last Thursday.  I saw it as an excellent opportunity to test winter barefoot running.  Air temp was 15°, -2° (F) with wind chill.  I ran .33 miles through about 12" of snow.  It was horrible.  I still have some residual "weird sensations" on the tips of a few toes as a result.  There's no frostbite, but still... it was a bad idea.  I have since learned that 23° appears to be the magic "frostbite" number.  Warning to all BFRs... as the temps approach that mark, exercise extreme caution!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Western States

Well, the western States lottery was held today. I cannot believe how enthralled I was with the selection process. I think I spent two hours glued to my computer screen watching the names being drawn. As luck would have it my name was not called. I can now cross the 2010 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run off my schedule.

This more or less solidifies my 2010 schedule. It should look something like this:

January: No planned races
February: No planned races
March: Phil Stapert's Fat Ass, likely a 70 miler
April: Running Fit Trail Marathon, Pinckney, MI
May: Mind the Ducks 12 Hour, Rochester, NY
June: Wild West 100k, Lowell, MI
July: Great Lakes Relay
August: Burning River 100, NE Ohio; One of the Woodstock races, Pinckney, MI
September: Dances With Dirt, Hell, MI; North Country Trail Run, Manistee, MI
October: Oil Creek 100; Oil City, PA

Of course, this is a best-case scenario. In all likelihood, I will only do about four of these races.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is barefoot running a "fad"?

The following excerpt is from my barefoot running book- "The Barefoot Running Guide"

A fad is defined as a temporary fashion, notion, or manner of conduct that is enthusiastically followed by a group. Until very recently, barefoot running was an obscure practice followed only by a tiny group of dedicated individuals. Several events have worked to change this. First, the peer-reviewed research began to make headlines as it became increasingly clear that the modern running shoe was not meeting the needs of all runners. The advances in technology may have a negative impact on the health of runners. This has led some members of the medical and running community to question the logic of the modern running shoe. This skepticism made a relatively small impact on the running community.

The second major event was the release of the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. McDougall presents a convincing argument in support of minimalist shoes and barefoot running. The popularity of the book as spawned an enthusiasm that creates the perception of this movement being a fad. Personally, I do not believe this movement is a fad. I do not think barefoot running will ever surpass the popularity of shod running. However, I do believe this movement will pressure shoe manufacturers to critically examine the research and development of their current shoes. I believe there will be a slow movement away from the supportive and cushion technology so prevalent today. There will be some that run barefoot a majority of the time. The “fun factor” alone will assure that. The majority of runners will opt for the more conservative approach and switch to more minimal shoes. Barefoot running is not a fad. Rather, it is a movement that will eventually help all of us become healthier runners.

There will always be some skeptics that question to logic of the barefoot/minimalist movement. There are many runners that have no history of injury using cushioned, supportive shoes. Those runners should continue running as they have previously. If you are one of these runners, occasional barefoot running may be a healthy supplement to your normal training routine. Unless you are interested in barefoot running for the enjoyment factor, there is no need to completely abandon your shoes. You will get some benefits of barefoot running even from a single unshod mile each week. If you are one of these runners, read through my guide. There are various sections that will be useful to you, even if you decide to forgo barefoot or minimalist shoe running.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Foundation of Learning to Run Barefoot


The following excerpt is taken from my Barefoot Running Guide.

The following are the principles that guide my philosophy regarding barefoot running. These principles have been developed over time based on my personal experiences, studying the available research, observing other runners, and discussing barefoot running with peers.

Principle One- There is no single right answer. Barefoot running is inherently a very individualistic activity. Each of us will develop our own style and form. There is no single “correct” way to run barefoot. My job as a teacher of barefoot running is to help you find your own style.

Principle Two- You must experiment and learn from your successes and failures. George Sheehan famously said, “Each of us is an experiment of one-observer and subject-making choices, living with them, recording the effects.” In order to master the art of running barefoot, you must be willing to try new things. You must be able to adopt the successes and discard the failures.

Principle Three- Your body is your best teacher. When following principle two, your best feedback will be your own body. Your brain has the amazing ability to receive feedback from your body, interpret that information, and adjust accordingly. Our own thought process often creates a roadblock for this process. We must learn to trust our own body.

Principle Four- Patience is mandatory. Learning to run barefoot takes time. Allowing your body to adapt to this new running style takes time. All too often we want to rush the process. This results in injury. We must be willing to start from nothing and rebuild ourselves.

Principle Five- Relaxation is the secret to great form. Barefoot running requires relaxation of the skeletal muscles. Running free and easy is the secret to running injury-free.

Principle Six- You must enjoy the process. Learning to run barefoot should be a process, not a destination. If you take the time to enjoy each stage of your development as a barefoot runner, you will be successful. This is a fun activity! Watch little children run around barefoot. Embrace that joy! Smile and savor the process!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Teaching Barefoot Running

Since I finished Hallucination, I've thought a lot about how new barefoot runners learn. Part of this fascination came from talking with other runners running the Woodstock races. I was shocked at the number of runners that had purchased and began training in Vibrams (the minimalist shoes I wore for the 100 miler). Most of the conversations revolved around them asking me for advice on transitioning to minimalist shoes. I began to realize there was a genuine need for more educational resources for new barefoot and minimalist shoe runners. This realization has been reinforced by my participation in the Runner's World barefoot Forum. Many new barefoot and minimalist shoe runners were asking the same basic questions despite the many resources available on the web. Teaching is my profession. I get great joy out of educating others. I decided to begin actively teaching barefoot running as a coach and clinic director.

At first, the clinic idea seemed like a pipe dream. Would I really be able to find enough people interested in barefoot running to hold a clinic? There are other clinics available throughout the country. Ken Bob Saxton holds clinics in Southern California. Barefoot Ted McDonald holds clinics in Seattle (and a few other places on the West Coast). Jessica Lee and Michael Sandler started a barefoot running school in Boulder, Colorado (runBARE). Clearly others were finding enough runners to populate the clinics. Why wouldn't the clinic idea succeed here in West Michigan? The first order of business- finding a place to hold the clinic. That was easy enough. The next step- publicizing the clinic. I was lucky enough to get Gazelle Sports, a local running store, to hang a flyer in their stores. Our local Crossfit gym (Crossfit Grand Rapids) was also willing to publicize the clinic. I'm a huge fan of Crossfit as an ideal workout for runners and plan to recommend it to all clinic attendees. I was also able to contact the physical therapists of PT360. Scott Hadley and Adam Fujita had been recommending barefoot running to their patients from some time, and were interested in developing a barefoot running club in Grand Rapids. They are also working on an exercise routine to help injured runners. I was overjoyed to find all these wonderful contacts! As it turns out, the barefoot running scene in Grand Rapids may grow much faster than I anticipated!

As it stands today, I have one clinic scheduled (see the flyer here). I am planning on holding more starting in February. The winter months can make barefoot or even minimalist shoe running VERY difficult in West Michigan. My hope is to begin networking now. By spring, we'll have enough barefoot runners to begin events such as group runs and coordinated races. The future for barefoot running is bright!

Shameless plug for my barefoot running book "The Barefoot Running Guide"- it's available in ebook form for $10 here. I am working on a printed version.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Barefoot Running Guide

I finished my Barefoot Running Guide! This is what is included:

Table of Contents:

  • Why Barefoot Running?
  • Common Terms
  • Learning to Run Barefoot
  • Jason’s Guiding Principles
  • Running Happy
  • Barefoot versus Minimalist- Do I need a “transition shoe”?
  • Importance of Patience
  • How to Start: The ‘Lose the Shoes” Plan
  • Form
  • The Importance of Experimentation
  • Developing a Training Plan
  • Injuries
  • The Role of Relaxation
  • Terrain
  • Always Look for the Opportunity To Train (Drills)
  • Special Considerations
  • Dealing with the “Hecklers”
  • Developing Speed and/or Distance
  • Extreme Weather/ Conditions
  • Trails
  • Crosstraining
  • Training Periodization
  • Racing
  • Diet
  • Ultramarathons
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Research
  • Barefoot Resources
  • About Jason
  • My Barefoot Story
  • Bonus FAQ: How This Journey Has Impacted My Life.
  • Hallucination 100 Mile Run Race Report

It includes 77 pages (including pictures) detailing my advice on the topics covered in the table of contents. I will be developing a more detailed webpage dedicated to the guide in the very near future. As of right now, it is only available as an ebook. I will be offering printed copies in about three or four weeks. The ebook cost is $10. To go to the download page, click on the link below:


http://barefootinstruction.com/the-barefoot-running-guide.html

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Off-season

It has been about a month since Hallucination. The weather is getting colder. The days are getting shorter. My motivation to run is waning with each passing day. Each year, I seem to go through what can best be described as psychological burn-out. Each year, I try different strategies to combat it. This year, I think I am going to resign myself to the fact that I need some time off from running. I plan on doing an occasional long trail run to help maintain my endurance base, and I will do a few runs during the week when the mood strikes. Instead of forcing myself to run, I am going to focus on some other cross-training endeavors. The next few months will be filled with the following activities:
  • Swimming- My new gym has a pool. Even though my swimming form is horrible, I like the relaxation that comes from a few laps around the pool.
  • Weight lifting- Throughout my 100 miler training, weight training was a secondary concern to running. Since I will have greater access to our gym mid-week, and I will occasionally work out with out advanced P.E. classes at school, I will have the opportunity to get back to the routines I did throughout 2008. Time to dig up the old Gym Jones-esque workouts! I'm especially excited to tackle Pete Kemme's crazy variation of the famed "300" workout... the "1000" workout!
  • Wrestling- I plan on working out with out wrestling team at least once per week throughout their season. This will provide a perfect full-body workout.
  • Indoor soccer- I may play an occasional game with a group of former students. For some reason, they keep asking me to play, even though my soccer skills rank well below my swimming skills and only a hair above my basketball skills. Still, the sprinting and direction changing will be an excellent method to help maintain some of the running skills. I'm still not quite sure what I will do about shoes...
  • Running- Of course, I will do SOME running. After this week, I will probably join Mark Robillard and the group he runs with at Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon. Their subtantial trail running skills will require me to work hard enough to maintain my trail running skills throughout the late fall and winter.
These activities will keep me in shape throughout the winter. They should provide enough variety and intensity to prepare me for next year's running season while still maintaining my base from this year. It should be my most ambitious ultrarunning year to date. My tentative plan calls for a 12 hour race, a 100k, a 10-person 270 mile relay, one or two 100 milers, and a marathon.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Recapturing Distance and Speed: Hope for the new barefoot runner


Learning the art and science of barefoot running is an exercise in patience. The basic form required to run injury-free is generally fairly intuitive, but mastering that form does take time. This time frame can be disheartening to the new barefoot runner. Maybe the new barefoot runner is accustomed to running a certain weekly mileage that simply isn't possible when learning to run barefoot. Or maybe the new barefoot runner regularly runs at a fast pace and cannot match that speed without shoes. When transitioning, some may opt to still continue their shod running. While this can be a good strategy to pacify the inner-competitiveness that simply cannot give up the mileage or speed, the new barefoot runner will eventually cross a threshold where running in their old shoes will be uncomfortable at best; injurious at worst. At this critical juncture, the new barefoot runner will invariably question their decision to run barefoot. They may have been an accomplished runner. Now they can only muster short, slow distances barefoot. Shoes are no longer an option. What are they to do? Worry not, new barefoot runner! There is light at the end of the tunnel!

The progression of speed and distance is very slow when beginning barefoot running. Finding a form that works well for you can be a difficult task. It may take considerable time and patience. Once found, the buildup of mileage is slow. Your body needs time to acclimate to the new style of running. Bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments need time to adapt from the time they were imprisoned in the foot coffins (thanks again, BF Ted). Run too far or too fast and you will likely develop soft-tissue injuries, such as the dreaded "top of the foot" pain. Worse, you may develop a stress fracture. It is critically important to go slow while learning and adapting. It is necessary to exercise patience to learn and adapt. This period can range from annoying to frustrating to downright depressing. It will feel as if you will never regain your old speed or distance. Worry not, new barefoot runner! There IS light at the end of the tunnel!

Once you find a form that works for you AND you allow your feet, ankles, legs, and the rest of your body to adapt to the feeling of losing the shoes, you will be free to radically increase both distance and pace. You should still exercise caution and follow reasonable guidelines, but the rate of improvement is NOT linear. You will reach a point where you CAN run longer and/or faster. You will reach a point where you can run more weekly mileage because you will be less prone to injury. You will reach a point where you can run faster without the anchors tied to your feet. You WILL recapture your previous abilities. It just takes patience. Have fun with barefoot running. Your feet will enjoy the new-found freedom... you might as well enjoy it, too. Relax. Smile. Enjoy the journey!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Now what???

Hallucination was a success. It was THE goal I have worked toward for years. Now that I reached that particular goal, where do I go? I have other goals, but none are as emotionally-charged as the first successful 100. I'd like to run more 100s. I would like to expand my barefoot capabilities, including possibly Mind the Ducks 12 hour and eventually a 100 miler. I would like to qualify for Boston one of these days, but road running really is not appealing on any level. I could go after some PRs on the short road races, but that isn't very exciting, either. I could set my sight on one of the REALLY hard races (Hardrock, Badwater, etc), but I don't think I have the means nor time to train at this point in my life. I guess I'm going through an internal struggle to set new goals. Do I even need goals? Can I just be content running races for the sheer joy of running? There is a myriad of races I'd love to experience. Locally, we have some races I am tentatively planning for next year. The Wild, Wild West 100k in lowell, MI is practically in my back yard. Dances with Dirt has always sounded like a really fun 50 miler. And there's always Woodstock... I would like to tackle the Poto barefoot for 100 miles. I could avenge my DNF at Burning River. I could try one of the Midwest 100s... McNaughton has always sounded like a good time, especially in the rain. Kettle Moraine is relatively close. Superior sounds beautiful, and would be a major challenge. I entered the Western States lottery, but the lottery registrant number is approaching 1,000. Not a good chance that will be happening.

I guess I'm an ultrarunner that is somewhat temporarily lost. I reached my goal. I didn't really plan on a new goal once this one was reached. I will definitely keep running. I used to run as an escape from my problems... now I run more for the sheer joy of running. [warning- cheesy analogy coming up] It is like the frosting on the birthday cake that is my life. Now that Shelly and I are done procreating, we will have more opportunities to run together. I loved that she crewed and paced me at Hallucination... it was an indescribably emotional experience to be able to share that with her. I hope to convince her to begin dabbling in ultras one of these days- it certainly enhances the "running for the sheer joy of running" feelings. Now I just need a goal... something to motivate me during the dark, cold days of January...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Grading Hallucination

It has been one week since Hallucination. To help me with training for future races, I'll grade my training/performance on various race details.
  • Training base (mileage): B I could have used more mileage. Specifically, I could have built my base over a longer time. In my next 100, I will be shooting for a faster time. A solid year-round endurance base should help with this.
  • Crosstraining: B+ The program I used was very successful, but I probably stopped too soon. I stopped crosstraining about four weeks before the race. Next time, I will only taper for two or three weeks.
  • Hydration: A Gatorade/water for first third of race; HEED/water for last two thirds of race.
  • Electrolytes: A S-caps every hour.
  • Heat acclimation: Didn't do... and didn't have problems. The race conditions were cool.
  • Chafing prevention: A- Tried SportSlick... reapplied every four-eight miles. It worked like a charm!
  • Foot care: B+ Feet were in good shape for the entire race except for some maceration around mid-race. Frequent sock changes, powder, and Sportslick was a winning combination.
  • Caloric intake: A- I consumed about 500-550 calories per hour, a little more than planned. I only had one crash for the last two miles. I used a lot of chia with good success.
  • Clothing: B+
  • Gear: A- I could have used some better organization, but I had everything I needed.
  • Lighting: A
  • Pacing/ race strategy: A I had four excellent pacers, and my crew did an exceptional job of keeping on my desired pace.
  • Drop bags: Did not use
  • Mental toughness: B I could have pushed harder over the last two laps, but still did MUCH better than Burning River.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hallucination 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

The Seed is Planted

We were watching the Janet Jackson nipple-slip Superbowl at our friends' house. Doug, an old work friend of Shelly's, mentioned running the local 25k road race. I was amazed... who would run 15.5 miles?!? That brought up the insanity of running a marathon. Now those people are really crazy- 26.2 miles! At that point, the furthest I had run was a four mile adventure in high school. Then Doug uttered words that have haunted me for years: "There are even longer races. They're called ultramarathons. Some are one hundred miles long!"

Moments later, the now-famous nipple slip occurred. I missed it. I was entranced by this idea that people would run 100 miles at one time. Little did I know that wintery day in 2004 would change my life. That spring, Shelly and I started running regularly. The thoughts of ultramarathons brewed in the back of my mind for that entire year. I would occasionally do some research. The more I discovered, the more intrigued I became. The next year, Shelly and I decided to enter a local 15k. That led me to my first attempt at training for a 50 mile ultramarathon in September. I trained hard all summer, but repeated injuries derailed my mileage. I settled for the marathon version of that race. I managed to finish (in pain), then ran another marathon a few weeks later.

In 2006, I was determined to make it to the 50 miler. That spring, my father passed away due to a major heart attack. He was a lifetime smoker that ultimately led to his death. That event had a profound impact on me. My second child was born a week after he died, and I did not want my children to lose their father like I had. My quest to complete an ultramarathon became a near-obsessive quest to ensure health. Doug's words continued to echo in my head "Some are one hundred miles long." To reach my goal, I knew I would have to overcome the injury bug. My exhaustive research led to barefoot running, which I adapted in earnest. That fall, I ran and finished my first 50 mile race, the North Country Trail Run. Running through the forest alone was an incredibly emotional experience... it reminded me of the many days spent hunting with my Dad. I felt this powerful connection to the wilderness. This connection made the race especially powerful. I knew I wasn't ready for the 100 miler yet, so I ran the same 50 miler again in 2007. Once again, I finished without major problems. I decided I was ready. In 2008, I entered and ran the Burning River 100 mile race in Northeast Ohio. I made many stupid mistakes, hit a serious wall, and ultimately gave up and walked my way to being pulled from the course at about mile 65. It was a devastating blow to my confidence. It was the first time I had really tried to do something and failed miserably. I had doubts about my ability to finish a 100... maybe it was just too hard. maybe I just don't have what it takes.

Hallucination

When 2009 rolled around, I was undecided about attempting another 100. Some major personal issues resulted in incredible self-growth through the spring and early summer. At some point during this time, I reevaluated my goals as a runner. I had this obsessive drive to run a 100 miles, but why? I concluded I was simply seeking at adulation that comes with doing stuff others cannot fathom. I slowly began to realize my quest had to be about my own spiritual growth and not about the outside world. Finishing a 100 became the final act in my transformation from the troubled, broken person I was to the ideal person I wish to become.

I scoured the ultra schedules looking for a race that would match my available time frame. As luck would have it, there was a brand-new event two hours from my house- The Woodstock Running Festival. It featured a few short races, a half-marathon, a marathon, a 50k, a 50 miler, and a 100 miler. The Hallucination 100! I liked the sound of that! I immediately began working on a training schedule. I determined I would have time to train. I would be able to correct the mistakes I made the pervious year at Burning River. Most importantly, my wife was unbelievably supportive. She agreed to make the trip and crew for me. This was the single best motivator I could have received. I solicited additional help from some other friends to help me complete my journey.

As far as training, I knew I needed more miles. I ran more, including more night runs. i became an expert at running trails at night. I also had to work on eating during the race. I experimented with every food I could imagine. I found a good selection: ice cream, pancakes, and hot dogs. I decreased my weightlifting routine and lost some more weight. I ran Burning River at about 184. For Hallucination, I was down to around 177. I tweaked a few other things, including simplifying my crew plans and bring less junk, bringing more socks to change into, etc. I would be ready!

The Crew and Pre-race Festivities



Pictured: Jason, Mark, Stuart, Me, Shelly, Michael

Before I knew it, race weekend was here! Our crew was set to meet up. This is the crew making the trip:


Shelly Robillard- My wife and mother to our three wonderful children [snicker]. Shelly is a runner, but just gave birth five months ago. Still, she was planning on pacing for me. She was also the official crew chief.


Jason Saint Amour- My friend from elementary school... we've known each other forever. He got into running after crewing for me the previous year. He trained for the half-marathon at Woodstock, but hurt his ankle the previous Sunday. His wife Sara would also be with us for part of the day on race day Saturday. Jason would earn the job title of "Lube Man" as the race progressed.

Mark Robillard- My running friend that is also my unofficial older brother. Mark is an experienced trail runner that finished a trail marathon the pervious week. Mark was "Picture man".

Stuart Peterson- A friend of Mark's. I met Stuart a few times briefly. He was known as "RV man" for the 32' RV he brought that acted as out base of operations. On a personal note- Stuart is the single most entertaining person I think I have ever met.

Michael Helton- A friend from the Runner's World Barefoot Forum (he's known as Notleh there). I had never met Michael in person prior to the Friday before the race, but I know he ran barefoot, had a great sense of humor, drank beer, and would have no problem doing whatever it took to get me to the finish line. Michael generously volunteered to drive from Chicago to crew and pace for me, which I am very grateful for. Michael came to be known as "The Time Management Man".

Rich Elliott- Technically not part of the crew, but he made the trip with us. Rich was attempting to run the 50 miler with training that consisted of a 5k road race three weeks earlier. That's it. That should pretty much sum up Rich's personality.

The race started Saturday at 6am. I took Friday off. I was frantically packing, shopping for groceries, and picking up a few running supplies. Around 10:30, i picked Shelly up from the school we teach at. We ran to McDonald's to grab a quick bite to eat. Quarter-Pounders are a favorite pre-race food of mine. We picked up Rich and headed out to Jason's house. On the two hour ride, I was a nervous wreck. I was sweating profusely, even shaking a bit. I felt like a gamer emerging from his mother’s basement to go on his first date! I was very nervous that I had forgotten some critical piece of gear. Luckily, I calmed down when we got to Jason's house. We unloaded most of our gear, talked for a bit, got bored, and decided to head out to the race site. We'd be meeting Michael at the race site later that day.

The ride to the race site was interesting. Jason drove his Honda Element. Rich immediately jumped in the back seat leaving Shelly to decide on being the navigator and risk getting us lost, or sit in back with Rich and be subjected to his not-so-subtle sexual harassment. She elected to take the back seat. I was riding shotgun. I immediately pulled out my HTC Touch Pro smart phone (sucks, BTW) to crank up Google Maps to find directions to the race. Jason fired up his Garmin Nuvi affectionately called "Gloria". We entered the destination. Through some confusion, we ended up entering different destinations. Neither of us realized the error. Jason followed the directions from Gloria. At some point, I realized we were heading towards the wrong location. After much confusion, accusations, name-calling, and brief crying, we managed to reach a suitable navigational compromise. After about an hour, we reached the race site. It was still early. We seemed to be the only runners there. We took some pictures, then meandered over to the headquarters tent to pick up our packets. We took a few more pictures, talked about the race a bit, then got bored again. Michael wouldn't arrive for at least another hour, so we decided to find a bar to grab a bite to eat and a few beers. We loaded into the Element, fired up Gloria (now referred to as "Candy" because of the stripper-like huskiness in her voice), and proceeded to drive around back roads for 30 minutes. More confusion.

Eventually we ended up at the Dexter Bar. Going on the theory that carb-loading is good and beer has carbs, I drank two tall Killian's to wash down the order of Nachos we ordered. Eventually Michael showed up. We talked awhile to acquaint ourselves with each other, had another beer, then headed back to Jason's house. We hung out there for a little while, got hungry, then headed to the Fenton House restaurant for pizza and beer. As it turns out, they don't serve beer. WTF? At least their breadsticks were to die for. The parmesan dip was Heavenly. Eventually, Mark and Stuart arrived and had some pizza. We started talking about the race logistics. At this point, I began to realize I really hadn't planned much of anything. There was some shifting of the "Crew Chief" title... I'm not quite sure who secured the role. At any rate, Stuart eased the building anxiety by asking Michael for his uneaten pizza crust sitting on his plate. Stuart easily transcends the social barriers that normally repress the rest of us. That quality would pay dividends when he was pacing me at 6am Sunday morning.

We left the restaurant to walk the two blocks back to Jason's house. On the way, we stopped to check out Stuart's massive 32' RV parked behind the restaurant. I expected something more modest... maybe something about 2/3 the size. We went inside to check it out. There was a "For Sale" sign on the table. Rich asked Stuart if he just bought it. Stuart replied "No, it's my Uncle's. He's been trying to sell it for five years. I'm the only one that uses it, so I took the sign down." We got back to Jason's house, had a beer, then crashed around 10:00. I fell asleep almost immediately. Being ramped up all day took a toll... I was exhausted.

Race Morning

Three o'clock in the morning always feels early. I needed time to go through my routine, but it was tough. i woke up, pulled on some clothes, then went for a walk around Jason's house. It helps me loosen up. When I got back to the house, Jason was awake. We headed out to get some coffee. Jason wanted McDonald's, I needed Speedway gas station coffee (superstitions).

At McDonalds, they actually f-ed up the coffee machine. We told them we'd be back, then got the coffee from Speedway. Busy place for 3:15 on a Saturday morning. Anyway, we picked up the Mickey D's coffee and headed back to Jason's house. I scarfed down a cream cheese coffee cake and my 24 ounce cappuccino, jumped in the shower, got dressed, strapped on my Vibram KSOs, packed the car, then headed out. I was amazingly calm on the trip to the race considering I was a nervous wreck the day before. It was during this ride that Rich threw out his now-famous "Anyone can run 50 miles if they train for it!" quote. He made me feel very sane. The rest of the trip was uneventful; i just reviewed some race and aid station strategy with Shelly. We got to the site without incident- Gloria didn't let us down today!

Once at the start/finish line, we met up with Michael, Mark, and Stuart. It was cool and humid.. it felt as if it were about to rain. I thought my choice of attire was well-planned, but my crew couldn't resist teasing me about the "GAP" sweatshirt I was wearing. It's a good-luck charm, damn it! Every other runner and most of their pacers and crew were wearing running attire. I was dressed in clothes that appeared to be pulled from a "lost and found" bin at a Walmart. So I'm not the snazziest dresser...

We milled about, talked to a few other runners, then got the call to line up. Rich and I would be starting together, and decided to start near the back of the pack. We took our places next to a local guy that trained on the trails often. He gave us some good information about the terrain, but I forgot it within seconds. I'm sure it would have helped... damn my poor memory! After a few minutes and some directions from the RD, he gave some sort of signal (I don't remember... was it a horn? Did he just yell "GO!"?) We milled through the timing gate, then headed out over the damp grass. Let the adventure begin!

We passed a few people before the trail head, where we were funneled into a single file line. Rich fell in behind me with maybe eight or ten people behind us. Almost immediately, it began to lightly rain. We had emergency rain ponchos, but decided it wasn't necessary yet. The course started with a boardwalk over a swampy area, then a rooty, rocky hill. Then another hill. And another. That pattern would repeat itself throughout the race. We did get a quick reprieve from the rockiness when going through the "Crooked Lake Commune" campground. There were other runners and crew awaiting the later race starts... they cheered us enthusiastically! It was a cool feeling. A soon as we exited the campground, it began to pour. My precious GAP sweatshirt was absorbing water, but the other two layers kept me warm (I don't like the cold). Almost as soon as it began, it stopped. That would be the extent of the rain for the remainder of the race. The first leg was slow, about half of the time was spent walking as the trail was not conducive to passing at this point. I relaxed and just focused on warming up. The earlier rain had left the downhill sections especially slippery... some runners were slipping and sliding repeatedly. The Vibrams provided fairly solid traction, but that was probably a function of my form. The soles are pretty smooth.

After about 45 minutes or so, we hit the first aid station ("Grace"). It was a zoo! My crew was eagerly awaiting our arrival. There was considerable confusion as the crew tried to accomplish each task. I swapped the water bottle of my Nathan handheld with a full bottle and guzzled about two cups of a Ben and Jerry's Cookies and Cream/milk concoction. I would save the clothes and sock change until the next aid station. Rich refilled his water bottle, then we were off!

The second leg started rough... lots of hills and roots. Rich was still behind me, but starting to look a bit tired based on my pace. I think I was running at about a 20 hour pace at this point. The crowd thinned out a bit, but I didn't do too much passing. I took my last succeed as the sun was beginning to rise. I was starting to get warm, so it was a relief to get to the second aid station ("Janis"). I ditched the sweatshirt and hat, swapped my water bottle, and replaced my stash of electrolytes. I sat down in the chair and pulled off my socks. The Injinjis were pretty wet, but feet looked good. I doused them with powder, put fresh socks on, and slipped into the Vibrams. The last task was to reapply Sportslick lube to the groin/thigh area. The tube was freezing cold and hard as a rock. I managed to coax some out, handed the tube back to the crew, and asked them to keep it warm. Jason immediately volunteered. Rich and I left this aid station in pretty good time... it seemed as if the crew were a little more organized.

The next section was about 2.5 miles. I didn't know it at the time, but crew access here was tough. During this leg, Rich and I passed a few runners. Rich seemed to be slowing down a little just as I was warming up. I made a decision to start pulling away. I knew a good time padding now would be critical for the second half of the race. My pre-race strategy called for as much running as possible for as long as possible. In Burning River, I tried using a run/walk ratio of 4/1 which ultimately put me too far behind. This time, I used a race strategy given to me by Jeremiah Cataldo, an ultrarunning friend that had recently finished Mohican (his first 100). His strategy was simple- run as long as you can, only walk the up hills. This section was relatively smooth with slightly less rolling hills. I settled into a comfortable pace. Soon enough, there were several runners between Rich and I. I arrived at the next aid station ("Richie's Haven") sans my crew. Since it was a short leg, it wasn't an issue. I refilled my bottle with a mix of Gatorade and water, grabbed a Gu for the trail, and headed out.

The fourth section started smooth, but got rough quickly. During this lap, I talked with a few runners including the guy that had fallen multiple times. This was his first 50 and he was looking strong. I also met up with a gentleman that was checking the ribbons. He also worked the course for Dances With Dirt, a notoriously difficult race held in the same area. We talked for a few miles before he turned back. I encountered what would come to be my nemesis throughout the daytime hours... mountain bikers! First, I have to say about 80% of the bikers I encountered were considerate. They would both stop and get off the trail, or at least move to the other side. Some were downright awesome... I had multiple bikers cheer me on. However, the remaining 20% ruined it for the rest. Some ranked quite high on the scale of douche baggery. It was not uncommon for some to yell at us for "using their trail". Aside from the bikers, the day was going well so far.

The fourth aid station ("Jimi") was smooth as silk. The crew seemed to find a groove. I was in and out in no time at all. As I was leaving, I told them to tell Rich I was sorry for ditching him. The last leg was approximately 4.1 miles of rocky Hell. The hills were about the same as the rest of the course, but the trails were decidedly more technical. I would grow to hate this leg as the day wore on. I was feeling good at the beginning of this loop. I think I was riding a high from the two pints of Ben and Jerry's I consumed. I was flying through this loop! About half way, i suddenly started to crash. It was totally unexpected... it hit me like a boxer that aimed a little too low below the belt. My pace slowed, I didn't have any energy, and my motivation suddenly disappeared. This wasn't supposed to happen this early! I started to panic. As the lap progressed, i went through my mental checklist of possible causes. I was going okay with hydration and electrolytes. I had plenty of calories. Maybe it was a sudden blood sugar crash due to 3000 calories of coffee cake and ice cream I ate. I decided I needed some protein. I could snag something at the start/finish line ("Strawberry Fields"), which was quickly approaching. I knew I was getting close when i crossed the road into the park. The line was about 1/2-3/4 of a mile away. I spontaneously decided to take my Vibrams off for this section to dry my feet a bit. It felt good to strip my damp socks and shoes off; to feel the ground beneath my feet. the trail leading to the start/finish line was fairly rough, but I was alert enough to easily avoid the small, sharp rocks. I traversed a few hills, hit the cut-grass path, turned the last corner, passed by the cheering crowd sitting around the fire pit, ran down a small hill, and crossed the line to finish my first lap. The tent at the start/finish was a busy place... lots of runners, lots of food. I ate a turkey sandwich and a cup of chicken noodle soup. I didn't see my crew. Hmmm... maybe they got caught up wait for Rich. I exited the tent and started the 1/4 mile run to the trail head. As I crested the last grassy hill of the park, I saw my entire crew cheering loudly. They had a chair set up for me near the trail head. Their logic was simple- it was close to the RV. It worked out well. It allowed me to do my aid station routine without having to deal with the aid station traffic. I didn't tell them I felt like garbage... I just smiled, did my thing, and then hit the trail again.

Lap two started badly as it took awhile to get out of the funk I fell into. Eventually I did start feeling better. Still suspecting the sugar buzz as the culprit, I was leery about the remainder of the Ben and Jerry's shakes. When I got to the first aid station on lap two, I took one sip and nearly gagged. Yup. I was officially past the point where I could tolerate sugary food. I asked for the pancakes. I swapped my water bottle again, replaced my Succeeed e-caps, changed shirts, and was about to relube. When I asked for it, Jason pulled it out of his pants. I'm pretty sure it wasn't in his pocket, rather actually down the front of his pants. If it was, hats off to his testicles... they kept the lube good and viscous! I relubed, grabbed some pancakes and stuffed them in my pocket, and hit the trail. After about 100 yards, i tried eating one. As soon as I put it in my mouth, I gagged. Damn! The pancakes caused the same gagginess as the ice cream shakes. I knew this was a serious problem. The only other food I brought were hotdogs, and I didn't have enough to sustain me for the entire race. I don't remember a lot from this leg... pretty much the entire three or four miles was spent choking down quarter-sized pieces of pancakes. Right before i got to the next aid station, i remembered I had packed some chia seeds in my gear. I packed them almost as an afterthought... I figured they may make a good topic of conversation before or after the race. I toyed with them in training, but didn't think of them as a primary fuel source. Hey, if it works for the Taramuhara, it could work for me!

As soon as I got to the second aid station of the second loop, I asked Shelly to get the chia. I lubed up, replaced my packet of electrolytes, and checked my pace. Michael was doing an awesome job of keeping track... I was still on about a 22 hour pace. Perfect. Shelly brought me the canister of Chia seeds. I didn't think about the best method to eat them, so i jest took a scoop and dumped it in my mouth. It felt a little like eating fine kitty litter. I immediately gagged, then choked on the tiny seeds that instantly absorbed the saliva from my mouth. I instinctively tried to swallow which only caused me to cough. Seeds sprayed everywhere! I'm pretty sure my crew, the aid station volunteers, and the other runners were laughing at that point. I then grabbed a cup of water, dumped another scoops of seed in the cup, and pounded the seedy water mixture. It went down easily. Success! At that point, one of the aid station workers started asking questions about the Vibrams. I tried not to rudely cut him off, but I had spent WAY too much time at that aid station. I told my crew to have some chia ready at the next aid station and hit the trail. I didn't know if I could keep eating the chia for the whole race, but it was worth a shot.

The next short leg was uneventful. As i approached the third aid station, I suddenly came across my waiting crew. They had found a way to traverse the two-track roads to get to this remote point on a road immediately before the aid station. Hmmm... I'll have to take this crew if I ever run Hardrock. Anyway, I went through my usual routine. They handed me a bottle of chia and water, but it looked like it had been mixed for thirty minutes or so. Chia absorbs water and turns into a thick gel. With enough chia and time, it turns almost jello-like. I turned the bottle upside down and the chia just stuck to the bottom of the bottle. I frantically started dumping any liquid I could find into the bottle, shaking it up, and attempting to get the chia out. I worked, but was very disgusting. I left this stop quickly, the actual aid station was only about 1/4 mile down the trail. I felt like a bad-ass here- I just grabbed a Gu, gave them my number, and took off. The crew had an interesting story at this aid station. Apparently after I left, some French dude in an SUV demanded that they give up their parking spot. The funny thing- they were the only car parked by the side of the road. There were literally miles of nothingness, but the ass just HAD to have that one spot. In true passive-aggressive fashion, they took their sweet time moving. I was proud of them!

The next section was fun. I met up with Brian Thomas whose lupusrunner.org blog I had read. He was a really cool guy who had recently finished Burning River (the race I DNFed last year). His 100 mile advice- "Keep moving!". Brian's advice actually served me well! We swapped positions throughout the day. I believe he expereinced ankle pain and wisely DNFed after the fourth lap. I also met up with Dusty, a friend from Kickrunners . She had given me a lot of tips for running this particular trail as she trains here often. It was cool to finally meet her in person. She's running Oil Creek in October. Based on her pace, she will do great! I also met Scotchkee, another friend from Kickrunners. He was running the 50 as a training run for Javalina in a few weeks. He looked great, too! Together, these three made this an interesting and fast loop. Somewhere in there, I stopped at the fourth aid station of the loop for the usual treatment. In this last leg, i met up with Jesse Scott. He is another barefoot runner, though he just started. He was running the 50k and was looking great! We talked for a minute, then he was off. I would see him at the finish later... his first ultra was a success! I was getting excited... once I passed the start/finish, I'd get Shelly as my first pacer!

Picking up Shelly as a pacer was a major boost. I was feeling pretty good anyway, but that really added to the fun. This lap would be a major challenge for Shelly. The furthest she had ever run was 15.5 miles (in a 25k), and that was two kids ago. Our youngest son is five months old, so she hasn't been training for too long. To add to the challenge, she has only run trails a handful of times. On loop two, I realized Shelly was behind the awesome organization of the crew at each aid station. Prior to taking her away to pace, I asked her to make a list of duties for the rest of the crew. The aid station stops throughout this loop went pretty smooth. This is the first point where my feet started looking kinda bad. They felt fine, but were becoming a bit macerated from sweat. Michael seemed a bit shocked, but I thought they would be fine. This is also the lap where the running joke about Jason and the lube started. I was a bit hazy for some of the comments, but it was something related to him spooning the rest of the crew and keeping the lube in his pants. I briefly ran with a guy running the 50. We talked about my feet after he asked about the Vibrams. I told him about the macerated skin and he reminded me about putting lube on your feet to essentially waterproof them. At the next aid station, I liberally coated my feet in SportSlick before I put on the Injinjis and Vibrams. That turned out to be a winning combination. Throughout the rest of the race, I only developed three dime-sized blisters and the maceratedness was limited to the damage already done. As we neared the end of this lap, I was a bit sad... I would miss the opportunity to talk to Shelly except the brief 30 second "how are you feeling?" conversations at the aid stations. Still, she was looking a bit rough towards the end of the lap. As I neared the finish line, I gave Shelly my water bottle to swap while I grabbed some food at the finish line tent. The food selection was improving now that the marathon mooches were gone. I grabbed four pieces of pizza, a hunk of turkey sandwich, and a cup of beef broth as I walked to the waiting crew at the trail head. The pizza may be the best I've ever eaten... or at least it seemed like it at the time!

The Half-way Point

Lap four was Mark's lap. I had run with Mark a few times in training, so I was familiar with his pace. I knew I could count on him to keep me moving if I ran into trouble. In my previous 100, this is where I crashed and burned. i was feeling pretty good, though. This lap is where the haziness set it. All the aid stations became indistinguishable... each hill felt like the rest. I remember the cheering coming from the campground early in the lap. The trails were now nearly empty... all the short races were done and most of the 50 milers had finished. Darkness would be setting in soon. I started having problems with hand chafing early in this lap, so I had to bust out my girly stretchy gloves. I was still pretty warm, so I only wore one on my water bottle hand. Someone on the crew commented it was a tribute to Michael Jackson. Darkness fell sometime around the middle of this lap... I really don't remember. We picked up our lights at the second aid station. I was using a Fenix handheld... it has served me well! At some point, I was worried about being cold so I asked my crew to get my pants. I think they were surprised they were cotton pajama pants... plaid pattern and all. It went well with my Gap sweatshirt. So after taking more flak for my attire, I decided to temporarily forgo the pants. I would run in shorts the rest of the way. This lap also saw the onset of my first knee pain when running downhills. This severely slowed my downhill pace, but was manageable. The mid-point aid station was absolutely fabulous at night... the volunteers were awesome! They gave me some sweet tea which gave me an immediate boost. I also appreciated their support and reassurances that I looked great. On the last leg of this lap, I stubbed my pinky toe on my right foot for the first time. It felt as if I had ripped it off, but it didn't affect my gait. I was able to continue without breaking stride. I also felt the beginnings of a hotspot on the bottom of each heel where blisters would eventually form. This wasn't a huge issue, but it had been a long time since I ran with a blister. At some point, mark asked if I would do this again. As much as I wanted to say "No", I knew this wouldn't be the last time I tackle this challenge. As would be the pattern for the last three laps, the last leg became a Hellish walk-fest. At least the people at the finish line at this point were VERY supportive... it was a great atmosphere to experience! If it were not for the support of my crew, I may have considered quitting at this point.

Lap five was Michael's lap. He would be with me from 11pm Saturday until around 5am Sunday. Based on our email exchanges, I knew he would keep me moving at all costs. Also, he was our time management expert throughout the race. Even in my diminished state, I knew I should finish if I could keep moving. We had what I vaguely remember as great conversations... but I cannot remember exactly what we talked about. I think we discussed food, real estate, and a lot of running. I think the Runner's World Barefoot Forum was discussed, as was immigration policy. I felt pretty good this whole lap, but I walked almost the entire time. The pain was getting pretty bad, but I felt strong mentally. There were no signs of the complete crash I experienced at Burning River. I remember Mark taking pictures at each aid station. I remember hallucinating weird things in the depths of the forest. I saw a lot of buildings... outhouses mostly. I'm sure Freud would have something to say about that. I also remember Michael losing his Gu virginity... turns out he liked the gooey sledge! I also remember stopping to take a poop (yes, I have three small kids... "poop" is a major part of our vocabulary). Eating 30 scoops of chia produces some interesting digestive issues. All I can say is chia isn't fully digested when running. It was pretty gross. At the end of this lap, I had discussed the possibility of taking a 15 minute nap to reset my circadian cycles and ward off involuntary sleep. I wasn't feeling tired as the loop ended, so I didn't mention it. As I found out later, the crew wouldn't have let me. I still think I could have handled it if I had a bigger time cushion, but I appreciate their concern. Oddly, I don't remember going through the finish line tent at all. I DO remember seeing Stuart, though!

As I walked over the last hill before the trail head, my light illuminated what appeared to be a giant burning flare! As I got closer, I realized it was Stuart wearing an incredibly reflective crossing guard-style shirt. It was blindingly bright. I would have no problems finding him in the darkness. We set off on the final loop. I knew my time would be fairly close, so I dug deep and managed to run some flats with Stuart. Almost immediately, he started story telling. I forgot 90% of his stories, but I do remember being thoroughly entertained. I do remember Stuart talking about his memoirs "My Life As A Dork". His stories about growing up as a dork had a profoundly positive impact on the person he is today... and I could relate to every one of the stories. It was a strangely powerful moment. Then I remembered I've run about 88 miles and I snap back to reality. Stuart was really pushing the pace. I didn't want to run, but had to in order to keep up with him. I knew I had plenty of time, but blindly complied. My quads finally started to get fatigued to the point where the hills felt difficult. The problem was exasperated by a feeling of sleepiness that were hitting me in ever-strengthening waves. As if he could sense my struggles, Stuart broke into showtunes. I don't remember what songs were sung, but I do remember Stuart's hauntingly beautiful voice. I felt as if I were dreaming. Granted, it was a dream filled with sharp dagger-like pains from blisters, a strange grinding pain in my knees, a searing pain in the back of my right knee and quads, and a myriad of other seemingly traveling pains caused by a combination of fatigue, overuse, and friction. The pain was beginning to fade as I began to relax... Stuart's singing was fading slowly. The dream abruptly ended when I felt myself falling. I somehow managed to catch myself before I hit the ground. It took a few seconds to realize I was running. It was dark. I could hear Stuart singing... his bright crossing guard shirt easily visible in the beam of my light. I had fallen asleep while running on a flat boardwalk. Damn that was scary! I continued to trudge on wishing the sun would come up. I think we passed a few runners during this stage, some may have passed us, too. My memories are VERY fuzzy.

Somewhere between the first and second aid station, the sun came up. Experienced 100 runners will say it makes a huge difference... and it does! It was an immediate boost! The sleepy grogginess faded and I felt alert. Unfortunately daylight brought more mountain bikers. The first group passed us. The lead biker shouted out "Four of us!" as he whizzed past. A few seconds later another passed. Then another. Hmmm... no fourth bike. That's odd. About twenty minutes later, the lead biker came back and asked us if we saw his friend, the fourth rider that seemingly disappeared. We hadn't, so he continued to backtrack. About a half hour later, we saw him again. Stuart asked if he found him yet. The guy replied "No, I'm checking all the other trails." Stuart, perhaps channeling some of my new-found disdain for mountain bikers, quipped "Don't worry; I'm checking all the ditches!" I laughed a little, realized it hurt too much, and continued shuffling along. Eventually we started to meet a few recreational runners running in the opposite direction, most were on the trail running Saturday morning. it was surreal to think that I've been running for over 24 hours at that point.

When we pulled into the last aid station, I knew it was almost over. I was getting very tired of running; I just wanted it to end. It was a lot like getting a tattoo... the constant pain, while tolerable in the short-term, begins to play games with your mind. I now understand how people DNF at mile 95 of a 100 mile race. Luckily, that wasn't me today. My entire crew was going to hike the rest of the course- approximately 4.1 miles to the finish. I was glad they would be there to keep me company, especially Shelly. Her feet had taken a horrific beating on the lap she paced. She described the feeling as "It feels as if my toenails came off in my socks". Needless to say, her swollen, painful feet wouldn't fit in her running shoes or sandals, so she put three or four pairs of socks on her feet. It looked as if she were wearing giant puffy socks. I think the crew made a joke of it, but I wasn't coherent enough to understand. We started hiking this long, Hellish, rock-filled leg. It started pretty well. I was tired and in a lot of pain, but still pretty much "there" mentally. At some point, I stopped to pee on the side of the trail. A tree immediately to my left had what appeared to be a mouth... and the tree was chewing something. And making a chewing noise. Then it winked at me. Okay, maybe I wasn't as mentally sound as I thought I was. My last solid memory of the last leg was of Michael exclaiming "My ass crack hurts!" which brought an immediate reply about Jason spooning the rest of the crew as they napped and the tube of lube he kept in his pants. I remember laughing. Then nothing. The remainder of that leg was a strange memory of looking into a tunnel and hearing muffled voices around me. I guess there was a flower picking incident, and I hallucinated a bee flying around me. I do remember feeling very emotional with the realization that I'm finally going to fulfill this long-standing goal, but the emotions felt dream-like.

The Finish

Eventually we made it to the asphalt... the landmark that indicated about 3/4 of a mile left. I remember that clearly, I suppose the realization that the end was near caused me to snap out of my trance-like funk. With Shelly by my side, I walked the small asphalt hill, turned right on the trail, traversed a few hills, and hit the mowed grass of the park. A few people were milling about, they started clapping and yelling encouragements. I crossed the field, turned down a small hill, then turned towards the finish line. With fifty yards left, I managed to break into a half-assed run. Running under that sign was one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced... not so much because of the gravity of the situation or the realization of a long-time dream, it was because I got to stop running. Finally. Twenty-nine hours and five minutes after starting, I had finished running one hundred miles. I shook the hand of the RD as he placed a medal over my head and handed me my buckle. That was am amazing feeling. I shook the hands of my crew, thanking each one for helping me reach this pinnacle. Then I hugged Shelly. I had been fighting back my emotions for the entire leg. Holding her in my arms at that very moment was one of the best moments of my life. That hug was the culmination of the transformation I had begun months earlier. Those rock-laden rolling hills through the rural trails of Pinckney had served as a metaphor for my life... now I stood at the end, victorious in the arms of the woman I love. There will be other hundred milers, but this one will always be special.

Special thanks to Nergock from the Runner's World Barefoot Forum for proofreading!!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Barefoot Trail Running Technique

Here are some videos that show the barefoot technique I use when trail running. The technique is very similar to running on flat, hard surfaces. The last video shows the two techniques I use for climbing hills; a power hiking technique and running. The final clip also shows my downhill technique.







Feel free to post comments or ask questions!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My experiences in my last 100 mile attempt...

I have a lot of free time during this taper for the race on Saturday. In a failed attempt to occupy myself, I compiled some pictures and the audio clips I recorded during last year's Burning River 100. The pictures don't line up with the commentary; I was too lazy for the fancy editing. My production values are pretty poor, actually.

The last clip was recorded around mile 60 or so.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Words of Barefoot Wisdom

"Easy, then light, then smooth, then fast."
-Micah True (a.k.a.- Caballo Blanco)

When people ask how to start barefoot running, Caballo Blanco's advice to Christopher McDougall in 'Born to Run" is nearly perfect.

Easy: When first starting barefoot running, it is critical to start slow and relaxed (easy). Proper form is impossible to achieve without relaxation.

Light: Once you learn to run relaxed, you have to learn to run light. You should make little or no discernible sound when your feet touch the ground. The foot/ground contact should be a light kissing... almost as if you were floating over the ground. This insures you run "light".

Smooth: After you can run relaxed and softly, learn to run with great efficiency. Every movement should serve a purpose with no wasted movement. Your upper body should barely move as your lower body effortlessly navigates the terrain under foot.

Fast: Once the first three are met, speed will take care of itself (to paraphrase C.B.). Speed is a function of excellent form. The other three elements will guarantee excellent form.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Using a Screwdriver to Pound Nails: The life of a barefoot runner


As a barefoot runner, many dedicated heel-strikers will claim the human foot was designed for heel striking. This demographic apparently includes some podiatrists... doctors that have received extensive training on the anatomy and physiology of the human foot. I am perpetually amazed and perplexed by this. How could anyone look at the complexity of the human foot, including the presence of the arch, and conclude that it was designed (evolved, created, whatever you believe) to land on the heel? Never mind the dumb-assery anatomical logic that is used... if this were the case, how did humans run prior to the advent of the modern running shoe some 30 years ago? Anyway, here's an analogy:

You're holding a screwdriver. The majority of the people around you insist it is designed to drive nails into wood. CAN it be used to drive nails? Sure, but it's not going to be pretty. In fact, there's a pretty good chance you're going to hurt yourself. In fact, an entire industry springs up to sell you shit that will help you avoid hurting yourself when pounding away on the nails. They sell you gloves, band-aids, different screwdriver grips, etc. You buy their wares. After all, it's what everyone else is doing. You try to pound the nails, but you still end up hurting yourself. In a moment of frustration-fueled enlightenment, you try using the screwdriver to turn a screw. Aha! THIS is what it was designed for! It connects the pieces of wood and there's no pain! You try sharing the knowledge with those around you. You insist you've found the right way to use the screwdriver. You get better results and you don't beat yourself to a bloody pulp. Instead of considering they may be wrong, they label you a zealot and continue pounding away.

So is the life of the barefoot runner.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Overcoming the Grip of Death...

In nineteen days, I will be running my second 100 mile race. The first time around (Burning River) resulted in a DNF. Many lessons were learned. I'm better prepared. I trained harder; I put in more miles. I solved many of the problems that arose the first time around. I have a better food strategy, better anti-chafing plan, better foot care plan, a larger crew with more pacers, and a more realistic expectation of what to expect as the race unfolds. The most significant preparation comes from the experience of having failed.
Ah, failure. It is perhaps the greatest of life's teachers. Prior to Burning River, I read as many 100 miler race reports as i could find. The lessons were wonderful. I read about the death grip that hits sometime after dark. Based on my marathon and 50 miler experience, I was familiar with the physical and psychological peaks and valleys associated with distance running. I had enough experience to know the valleys were always followed by peaks... you just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had developed some pretty good self-affirmations to help deal with the inevitable pain. I had run in the dark to prepare for the time after the sun went down. I thought I was prepared for that death grip. Oh, how wrong I was.
It was around mile 50. I was feeling fatigued. My knees had been hurting for the last 15 miles. Going uphill was slow, downhill even slower. My feet were swelling in my now-too-small Vibrams. I had to ditch my Injinji socks to help compensate for the swelling, which led to several painful blisters. The too-small shoes had caused the dreaded under-the-toenail blackening. My groin, ass-crack, arm pits, and hands were chafed. I could feel the salty sweat burning. The only thing that distracted me from the many pains were the other pains that sprung up with frightening regularity. The last food I consumed was a cold piece of pizza at mile 35 or so. As I coasted into this aid station, my crew was still chipper. I think I was smiling, but I started having doubts. Still, I kept pressing on. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress. I knew the drill.
At some point between 50 and 55, I started to seriously question if I could finish. I went from about an hour ahead my goal pace (28 hour finish) to barely staying ahead of the cut-off pace. Miles 55-60 were horrid. Darkness fell. The pain that had been growing seemed to intensify with every step. I was reduced to a slow shuffle. Walking down the slightest decline was so painful, I had to walk sideways. I had pressed on with the expectation that this valley would eventually blossom into a peak. The pain would go away and I would be inundated with a rush of endorphin-fueled energy. The peak never came. The valley just kept getting deeper and deeper until it felt like a bottomless chasm. I wanted to quit. I kept hoping the aid station would be around the next corner. It felt like I was slogging through the darkness for hours. I seriously considered lying down on the trail knowing my crew would find me... eventually. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that the misery would end faster. The trail went through an area with several houses. Each light I saw brought a brief sliver of hope that this Hell would be ending... then I would fall into a deeper abyss when I discovered it was just a house. At some point, I eventually stumbled into the aid station. This was the point where I was supposed to pick up my first pacer. I sat down in a chair as my crew hurriedly refilled my bottles, gave me some food that I don't remember eating, and gave me some warm clothes. At this point, I was shivering uncontrollably. I was hoping an aid station volunteer would see my "obviously unable to continue" state and pull me from the race. I'm not quite sure what my crew was doing at this point, but it felt like I was sitting in the chair forever. Suddenly my pacer was pulling me out of the chair and on to the trail. The next 3-4 miles through the wilderness that is Suburban Cleveland was the low point of my life. I only have vague memories of that 2 hour journey up and down hills and stairs. It was a death march punctuated with moments of dull disembodiment followed by sudden, unpredictable episodes where I would be thrust back to the cold, dark, pain and hopelessness that had come to define the last few hours of my life. I remember having moments of clarity where I was able to talk. I even remember a point where I noticed my heart was racing despite the fact that I was moving at a 30 minute per mile pace (160 beats/minute... I thought I was dying). My other crew member eventually backtracked from the next aid station and met us. He informed us I was 30 minutes behind the cutoff pace. I was definitely done. I remember him telling us this... it was a feeling of relief but did nothing to change my severely handicapped physical and mental state. We eventually slogged into the next aid station at 64.7 miles. Once they pulled my tab from my bib, I could finally relax. I think I thanked the aid station workers. I was the last person on the course at that point, so I was keeping them from getting the rest they deserved. I apologized to my crew for giving up. I ws a horrible feeling of defeat. It was the first time in my life I had tried to push my limits and actually failed. At the same time, it was such a sweet feeling of relief to sit down knowing I could finally relax.
Wouldn't you know it, but 30 minutes after sitting down in the passenger seat of my pacer's van, the chasm of Hellish suffering lifted. Suddenly I felt great! I was unbelievably stiff and still in some pain, but I would have been able to run at that point. Son of a bitch. It turns out the saying is correct- I never ALWAYS gets worse. The lesson learned was a difficult lesson to learn. Even the deepest chasms eventually lead to peaks.
So now I am on the verge of toeing the start line again. I am better prepared. i learned from my training mistakes. I learned from my logistical mistakes. I've grown as an ultrarunner. Most importantly, I now know what to expect. I know that Hellish chasm is awaiting me somewhere on that 12.5 mile loop. I know I will get the opportunity to experience the searing pains that accompany extreme physical activity. I know there will be points where the allure of stopping will be overwhelming. But I also know that the chasm isn't bottomless. I know the pain and suffering are nothing more than a temporary condition that I can survive. I know how to silence the voice of self-doubt that echos in my head. I anticipate the opportunity to prove to myself that I can overcome my self-imposed limitations. Only nineteen more days...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Erik Skaggs- Fellow Ultrarunner In Need

Erik Skaggs, a fellow ultrarunner, suffered renal failure after the Where's Waldo 100k. He was hospitalized for several days and incurred VERY substantial medical bills. Erik does not have health insurance. If you were considering donating money to my site, please send Erik the money instead. Also, fellow bloggers and webmasters- consider adding this request to your sites. The ultra community is unique in our camaraderie... lets do what we can to help out one of our brothers! Here's an excerpt from the Rogue Valley Runners blog that is updating Erik's condition:

"
Many friends throughout the ultrarunning community have already asked how they can help. One of Erik’s biggest concerns is the mounting medical bill. Erik does not have health insurance. He may be eligible for some assistance through his membership with USA Track and Field, but will no doubt require monies for the deductible and for the expected costs well above the coverage. An Ashland runner and friend of Erik’s has opened a bank account at Umpqua Bank in Ashland, Oregon to receive donations that will be used to help defray these medical expenses. You can contribute by sending a check to Umpqua Bank, 250 N. Pioneer Street, Ashland, OR 97520 made out to the “Erik Skaggs Medical Fund.” Any assistance that you could provide would be much appreciated by Erik. Please note that the Fund name should be on the outside of the envelope.

Vibrams versus barefoot....

First, I have to say I am a huge fan of Vibram Five Fingers shoes. I believe they are an excellent product! I personally own two pair of KSOs and plan on buying the new Treks when they become available. I highly recommend the shoe to anyone interested in going the minimalist route.

Having said that, I do believe there is a time and a place for ANY minimalist shoe. If you are interested in learning to run barefoot or make a switch to a minimalist shoe, start barefoot. If you start barefoot, you will learn proper technique and form in a short time. Encasing your feet in any sort of shoe will simply inhibit that process. If you have no intention on running barefoot and are only interested in moving to a minimalist shoe, that transition will be greatly facilitated by learning barefoot form first. Use the minimalist shoes once you learn the form.

To learn good form, it is critical that your brain receive accurate sensory feedback from the rest of your body. This is especially true of your feet. The soles of your feet will tell you if you are overstriding, running too fast, or creating too much friction. If you cover your feet, even with a minimalist shoe such as the Vibrams, you will short-circuit that neural pathway. Too many people seem to be tackling barefoot or minimalist running too aggressively, which leads to injury. Resist that temptation!

For further information, check out the "Lose the Shoes" barefoot guide (for the do-it-yourself-er), or contact me about barefoot coaching options (for those that want more assistance).

Monday, August 31, 2009

100 mile training

Here's a brief update on my training. I have 26 days left until Hallucination. The training has went well thus far- no injuries to report. My training mileage has been pretty good- 45, 65, 81, 31, and 71 over the last five weeks. This week will likely be somewhere in the ballpark of 50 miles as I start a gradual taper over the next four weeks.

Mt crew is coming along. This last week, about 30 of my miles were run with Mark, one of my pacers. Some of Mark's friends may also pace which would be great! I will probably need all the help I can get! I'm still finalizing the plans for the race weekend, but it looks like everything is falling into place!

I bought a new pair of Vibram KSOs for the race- size 46. They are two sizes larger than what I typically wear to account for swelling in the latter stages of the race. I wore them for a 35 mile trail run over the weekend without incident. It is interesting, Vibram decided to make the soles of the KSOs slightly thicker than previous versions. This is somewhat disappointing as the new version loses some of the ground "feel". I was excited about the new "Treks" Vibram is set to release in October, but the sole is supposedly twice the thickness of the current KSOs. I'm not sure I could tolerate the difference.

In other news, I'm currently exploring the feasibility of starting a barefoot instruction business. Over the last four years, I've immersed myself in the study of barefoot running. My research, coupled with the practical training and race experience I've gained could be very useful to a new barefoot runner. I may have finally found a way to couple my love of barefoot running with the years of professional education and coaching experience! If anyone is interested in being a guinea pig for my methods AND you happen to live in the greater Grand Rapids area, drop me a line at barefootchronicles@gmail.com. I will offer the coaching for free to a handful of individuals to get some feedback prior to going public.

Friday, August 21, 2009

How to Run Barefoot: A guide to losing the shoes

The contributors to the Runner's World Barefoot Forum had a lengthy discussion about a guide to barefoot running designed for the new barefoot runner. Yesterday, while sitting in the doctor's office waiting room, I wrote a guide. It is posted on my website here. I am in the process of refining it based on input from my friends at Runner's World. Here is what amounts to the second draft:

How Do I Start Barefoot Running?

This guide will help you transition to barefoot running. This plan is universal; it is designed to be used by either novice runners or runners with years of experience. If you are a novice runner, simply begin the program as written. If you are currently training, you may continue your current mileage. Simply add the workouts in this program to your current running schedule. The idea is to replace some of your "shod' mileage with the barefoot mileage. Some people have done this by simply adding the barefoot mileage at the beginning or end of their already-scheduled runs. I would recommend doing this at the beginning of a run so you will not be as fatigued. Once you reach Stage 5, you may decide to continue replacing barefoot mileage with your shod mileage until your running is completely barefoot, or you may decide to continue both shod and barefoot running. Both options should help reduce injuries.

Form

Form may vary greatly. There is no one "right" method. However, there are some general guidelines that seem to be fairly universal among barefoot runners. The most important is the way the foot impacts the ground. When wearing modern running shoes, most runners use a heel strike. The heel of their foot is the first thing that strikes the ground, and they continue to roll their feet forward and inward. With barefoot running, the ideal is to use a midfoot strike by softly landing on the outside half of the foot and rolling inward. The rest of your foot will then gently touch the ground (see video). This foot-ground contact should occur directly under your body, not in front as many heel strikers are prone to doing. After your foot touches the ground, you will lift it straight up primarily using your quads. It is analogous to riding a bike with your feet clipped to the pedal and using your leg muscles to pull up on the pedal. Sometimes it is beneficial to imagine lifting your knees or hamstrings instead of your feet. If done properly, there should be no pushing off, thus no friction. This relaxed, loose lifting motion tends to force the development of the other elements of good form.

Some other points- your knees should be slightly bent throughout your stride. You should have a very slight forward lean that originates from the ankles. Do not lean forward at the waist. Your posture should be upright without a forward hunch. You do not want to lean forward from the waist. Your head should be up with your eyes focused on the running surface in front of you. Your entire body should be very relaxed. The following is an excellent description of proper posture from PeaceKaren, a contributor to the Runner's World Barefoot Forum:

"What works for me is to not think about leaning at all. I either think about pushing myself forward from the hips using my gluteus muscles (like my hips are in a race with my feet and I want my hips to win) or imagine being pulled forward from the hips. I sometimes visualize a cord running parallel to the ground, attached at the center of my hips (just below the belly button) and at the other end connected to a winch on a tree or telephone pole or some object directly in front of me. Then I imagine that winch winding in the cord pulling me forward from that center hip position. This automatically pulls my hips under me, improving my posture and causing the lean to happen naturally."

The cadence (how many times your foot touches the ground) should be around 180-200 per minute. To achieve this, shorter strides are required. The strides will typically be shorter than the strides of a shod runner as you are not extending your stride ahead of your body. Some people have found an MP3 player with a metronome track to be especially helpful in learning good cadence. Download one here.


Video of Barefoot Running





Pain and Injury

One of the dangers of beginning barefoot running is doing too much too soon. Your feet have likely spent most of their active life confined in shoes. Shoes weaken the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons of your feet. The skin on the soles of your feet will not be used to the sensory input of the ground. In order to prevent injuries, it is important to begin barefoot running cautiously. Barefoot running feels wonderful! The urge to do too much before your feet are ready is very powerful. As such, it is important to follow a conservative plan even if you feel great in the beginning. Going too fast may result in a myriad of injuries, including tendon and ligament damage, excessive blisters, stress fractures, and other over-use type injuries. If at any time you experience pain, STOP! Add a second day of rest, then try again. Continue until you are pain-free. Do not give in to the temptation to "run through the pain". The soft-tissue injuries that can occur during the foot-strengthening process can set your progress back by weeks or even months. Give this process time and the rewards will be great!

Barefoot or Minimalist Shoes?

"Should I begin transitioning to barefoot running by wearing a minimalist shoe (Vibram Fivefingers KSOs, Feelmax shoes, cross country racing flats, huararche sandals, etc.)? Many people will ask this seemingly logical question. It is my belief that it is better to learn the proper form of barefoot running first, then use minimalist shoes as needed. If you begin by wearing minimalist shoes, you may be insulating your best form of feedback- the soles of your feet.

The Plan

Stage 1 (2 weeks)

Walk around barefoot as many places as possible. Do not start running yet. This will begin to condition your feet and soles for more active barefoot running. This stage could also include barefoot activities such as hiking.

Stage 2 (2 weeks)

Begin running in place barefoot. The idea is to learn how it feels to lightly touch the ground and pull your feet straight up without pushing off. This will also begin the process of preparing the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments of your feet to barefoot running.

Stage 3 (4 weeks)

Find hard, smooth surface without debris. Examples include new asphalt, smooth sidewalks, or running tracks. Begin running 3 times per week with at least one rest day after each barefoot run. Limit distance to 1/8 to 1/4 mile depending on running experience. Increase distance by 1/8th mile each day. Pace should be VERY slow, the focus is on finding a form that works well for you. If you experience pain, take an extra day off. If you develop blisters, slow down or reevaluate form.

Stage 4 (4 weeks)

Begin adding different terrain, including softer surfaces and hills. This can include grass, dirt trail, sand, etc. A good strategy is to run a hard surface one day, then a soft surface the next. At this stage, you should be running approximately 1.5 miles barefoot. During this stage, continue adding 1/8th mile per run. Continue going slow, your focus is going to be perfecting your form. Again, if you experience blisters, slow down. If you feel pain, take a day off.

Stage 5 (No specific time frame)

By this point, you should be running about 3 miles per run. You may begin experimenting with slowly increasing your pace, increasing your distance, or adding technical trails or hills to your routine. Only add one element at a time. Do not increase distance by more than 10% per week or speed by more than 15 seconds per mile.