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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Barefoot Running Controversy... WTF?

There has been an interesting backlash against barefoot running in the recent weeks.  Matt Fitzgerald's article that apparently associated barefoot running with an increased incidence of plantar fasciitis seems to have been the impetus of this backlash. 

Months ago, we saw a sudden surge of anti-barefoot running propaganda.  That particular wave, led by Road Runner Sports, used a tired fear campaign to dissuade runners from attempting barefoot running.  It was an obvious attempt to sell shoes.

This new wave has taken a different approach.  It uses self-reported "data" from medical professionals.  Fitzgerald based his plantar fasciitis argument on one particular doctor's estimate on the rate of injuries he saw in his clinic.  Fitzgerald also made reference to his own failed attempt at transitioning to minimalist shoes.  

This article is a typical example of this new wave of anti-barefoot sentiment.  It relies on incorrect assumptions backed by non-research-based reports from supposed experts.  Most of these articles are not as blatantly anti-barefoot as the Road Runner campaign.  Instead, they suggest barefoot running may be acceptable in small doses for people that are physically superior.  

The truth is barefoot running is accessible to almost everyone.  The injuries that are found in the barefoot running population is almost always the result of an impatient transition.  If a runner can listen to their body, they can learn to run barefoot.  

At the heart of the matter is a simple principle- do what works for you.  Furthermore, do not begrudge others because you failed at something.  We're all an experiment of one.  We need to support each other, not cut each other down.  We all run the same races.  We are a community.  Let's start treating each other as such.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A 5k training plan for barefoot runners

I've started working on the second edition of my book- "The Barefoot Running Book."  Among the new information I'm adding will be a section on training plans.  This in an excerpt from that section:

 My Training Plans

Once you complete each of the stages covered in this book, you will be free to run faster and longer.  Many runners run races as a means of increasing their running abilities.  To help you achieve your own running goals, I am including several of my own plans.

Note – I am not nor have I ever been an elite runner.  I am a recreational runner.  All of these plans are developed for recreational runners.  If high performance is your primary goal, seek the assistance of a qualified running coach.  Running coaches can be found via Road Runners of America ( or United States Track and Field (

If these plans do not suit you, there are many plans available online.  The workouts are as follows:

•    Repeats: A repeat is a very fast run (near-sprint) over a very short distance.  When doing repeats, you should not be able to talk.  The purpose of a tempo run is to build speed.  Repeats are expressed as “A” x “B” where “A” is the number of times you run and “B” is the distance you run.  Generally, I rest one minute between each repeat.  When running repeats barefoot, it is important to never increase your pace more than 15 seconds per mile per week.  This will help assure you remain injury-free.

•    Tempo Run: A tempo run is slower than repeats, but still a fast run (10k pace.)  Talking during a tempo run should be difficult.  A tempo run will cover a longer distance than repeats.  The purpose of a tempo run is to build speed over longer distances.  When running tempo runs barefoot, it is important to never increase your pace more than 15 seconds per mile per week.  This will help assure you remain injury-free.

•    Fartlek run: As discussed in the Intermediate Running section, a Fartlek run is a run of varying speeds and distances.  A Fartlek run is a type of interval training.  I vary the pace from a sprint to a walk and everywhere in between.  I like them because they add an element variety to a run.  Same deal as repeats and tempo runs… don’t increase pace too fast.

•    Long run: The long run is a slow-paced run over a long distance.  The pace should be slow enough to allow you to easily hold a conversation.  The purpose of the long run is to build endurance.

•    Hill repeats: Hill repeats are simple- you run up and down a hill.  This workout will build muscles, help develop hill running technique, and seem to improve speed.  The hills I use are sand dunes, stairs, or a local Midwestern ski hill.  Pretty much any sort of hill will work.  Hill repeats are expressed as “Z” x hills where “Z” is the number of times you run up and down the hill.  Generally, I rest one minute between each repeat.

•    Crosstraining: Crosstraining includes any non-running activity.  Some people use swimming, biking, or playing an active sport (croquet doesn’t count.)  I prefer a form of weight training known as high intensity interval training.  I will describe my workouts in the next section after the training plans.

Many of the workouts will have a specific distance recommendation.  There are a variety of methods used to track distances.  I used to drive around in a car and use the odometer, but the local high school track team complained my car took up too much of the track.  I then used a good map website (  I finally took the plunge and purchased a GPS watch.  This turned out to be one of the best running purchases I’ve made.

5K Cheetah Plan

This plan is designed as a first step after finishing stage four of the transition plan earlier in this book.  At this point, you should be able to run at least 2 or 3 miles barefoot without pain.  This plan will begin introducing speed to your workout.

The “Cheetah Plan” is designed to help you complete a 5k (3.1 mile) race.  At the conclusion of this plan, you should be able to easily complete a 5k race barefoot or in minimalist shoes. 

Week 1:
•    Sunday – Rest day
•    Monday – Tempo run: 1 mile
•    Tuesday - Crosstraining day
•    Wednesday – Intervals: 2 X 400 meters
•    Thursday – Crosstraining
•    Friday – Rest day
•    Saturday – Long run: 2.25 miles

Week 2:
•    Sunday – Rest day
•    Monday – Tempo run: 1.25 miles
•    Tuesday - Crosstraining day
•    Wednesday – Hill repeats 2 x hills
•    Thursday – Crosstraining
•    Friday – Rest day
•    Saturday – Long run: 2.5 miles

Week 3:
•    Sunday – Rest day
•    Monday – Tempo run: 1.5 miles
•    Tuesday - Crosstraining day
•    Wednesday – Fartlek run: 1.5 miles
•    Thursday – Crosstraining
•    Friday – Rest day
•    Saturday – Long run: 2.75 miles

Week 4:
•    Sunday – Rest day
•    Monday – Tempo run: 1.75 miles
•    Tuesday - Crosstraining day
•    Wednesday – Intervals: 4 X 400 meters
•    Thursday – Crosstraining
•    Friday – Rest day
•    Saturday – Long run: 3 miles

Week 5:
•    Sunday – Rest day
•    Monday – Tempo run: 2 miles
•    Tuesday - Crosstraining day
•    Wednesday – Hill Repeats: 4 x hills
•    Thursday – Crosstraining
•    Friday – Rest day
•    Saturday – Long run: 3.25 miles

Week 6:
•    Sunday – Rest day
•    Monday – Tempo run: 2.25 miles
•    Tuesday - Crosstraining day
•    Wednesday – Fartlek run: 1.75 miles
•    Thursday – Rest day (taper)
•    Friday – Rest day (taper)
•    Saturday – RACE DAY!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fellow Bloggers- How to make a little extra money with Amazon Associates

Quite a few people have been asking me if I plan on setting up an affiliate program so people can sell "The Barefoot Running Book."  The short answer- maybe later this summer. The logistics will be difficult to set up, but I am working on it.

Until then, I'd recommend using the Amazon Associates program.  It works like this:

1. Sign up for free.
2. Choose  products you think your viewers/readers will be interested in (such as The Barefoot Running Book.)
3. Amazon will provide you with code, just paste it in the appropriate spot on your blog or website.
4. You can either suggest people buy the product through your site or just wait for people to click on it.  For each purchase, you get a certain percentage of the sale price.  You can even add a "search" box so people can find other products.  This is great if you know people that do a lot of shopping via Amazon.

I've been using the Associates Program for a number of years for my website's "store."  It provided enough income to keep the site alive in the beginning.  Many people use the program, including Ken Bob

Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Reviewers Needed and a Call for Photographs!

Have a blog or website?  I'm looking for a handful of individuals that would be willing go read my book and post an honest review on their blog or website.  The site does not have to be specific to barefoot running, I will consider any site that has a relatively large following.

All I would ask is that you include a link to the book on Amazon:

I will only be able to send review copies to a handful of people, so please respond quickly.  If interested, email me the URL for your blog or website here: robillardj "at" gmail "dot" com.

Also, I am working on another project and am in need of high resolution pictures of barefoot runners.  Specifically, I am looking for pictures of barefoot runners running in interesting places.  

I would need your permission to publish the pictures in print and electronic form, so please consider that when responding.  If you have a picture or pictures, please contact me at robillrdj "at" gmail "dot" com.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Proper Care and Feeding of Blisters

Every once in awhile, I like to do something really stupid.  First, it keeps me humble.  Second, it gives me the opportunity to experiment with situations I don't normally encounter in normal training.

What did I do today?  I ran three miles.  Fast.  On hot asphalt.

Without any previous adaptation, I decided to test my limits.  The problem- the hot asphalt limited my perception of the development of hot spots and susequent blisters.  The result- the heat and friction caused a sizable blood blister to form on my right foot.  

It's not a serious issue... it will keep me from running tomorrow and likely force me to wear minimalist shoes for about a week.  Blisters usually aren't deal-breakers... you can train through them.

This particular blister was creating significant pressure, which made it difficult to walk.  As I usually do in this situation, I decided to drain it.  And take pics of the process.  Now I'm posting the gory details for your viewing pleasure!

The blister:

 The alcohol wipe used for sterilization:

Sterilizing the skin:

Sterilizing the needle:

Popping the blister:


More popping:

A little squeezing:

One last poke:

...And a band-aid.

The moral of the story:  Don't leave pictures of your amateur blister draining on your wife's new camera without telling her.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mind the Ducks Race Report- Part Five: The Race

I woke up around 4:30am.  I like to have plenty of time to prepare.  My exact pre-race tradition is a closely-guarded secret, so I will only reveal this: it includes pop-tarts, instant coffee, and duct tape.  Once Shelly and I were ready, we headed down to Mark and Jesse's room.  After a few "what were you guys doing behind closed doors" jokes (which were even funnier after last night), Shelly and I made our way to the car.  We loaded our gear and waited for Mark and Jesse.  And waited.  Out of boredom, we took some pictures.  And waited some more.  What seemed like hours later, they emerged from the hotel.  Shelly and I took some pseudo-paparazzi pictures, but it wasn't as funny as we expected.  You win some, you lose some.

We made a quick pit stop at Starbucks.  The caffeine and pretentiousness would give as a boost early in the race.  I ordered a large... err, I mean venti... to get a little extra helping of both.  Since I was the only one that had eaten, we stopped at a staple of Ontario and New York- a Tim Hortons.  I don't believe I had ever experienced a Tim Hortons, so it felt slightly exotic.  While their breakfast sandwiches sounded very good, I opted for a bagel and glazed sour cream donut.  I decided to save both for the early stages of the race. Mark received an extra-special treat when the bagel girl asked him "Would you like anything done to your bagel?"  I'm pretty sure he declined.  Once in the car, I suggested he asked "Are you familiar with the game of ring-toss?"  Mark gave the standard male response, "It would have to be a pretty big bagel."

We arrived at the park, drove past the zoo, and made our way to the tiny lake and surrounding asphalt path we'd become intimately familiar with over the next 12+ hours.  We parked the car, scanned the surroundings, and started unloading our gear.  Shelley V. came by to welcome and direct us to the packet pickup area.  Here we met Liz, Shelley's friend we know from Facebook.  After getting our swag bags, I attached my race bib to my shorts.  I anticipated that I'd be changing shirts often; this will prevent having to move my bib.  We procured our timing chips which were embedded in Velcro ankle bands.  Jesse told us they were triathlon bands.  I like this idea.  The absence of shoes makes it difficult to attach chips.  Nice touch, Shelley!

I ate my Tim Horton's bagel as we were called to the line.  Our entire group moved to the back.  Jesse and I had joked about asking where the starting blocks were located or lining up in a sprinter's stance, but we decided against it.  Maybe next year.  After a brief review of the course rules, there was some sort of signal the race began.  Funny how I never remember what exactly started the race. 

It's worth noting- Shelley made a rule that running on the right (outside) grassy area off the asphalt path was allowed, but running on the inside (left) was prohibited and may result in disqualification.  She noted this several times in all rules, and gave us a verbal warning before the race.  I'll talk about this later as it was the lone disappointment for this race.

All of us took the conservative approach.  The four of us ran together for a lap or two, then Shelly fell back a bit.  Mark, Jesse, and I stayed together a bit longer.  At this point, we were running at about a 10:20 pace.  Bill, who had warned us about starting too fast, lapped us at least once in the first few laps.  He appeared to be running at around an 8:30 pace.  Clearly his definition of starting too fast was different than our definition.  We wondered aloud if his advice was just meant to build an early lead.  We had a good laugh and continued on. 

After the first hour, Jesse and I decided to quicken the pace.  I settled into a comfortable 8:50-9:20 pace while Jesse moved slightly faster.  The first three hours were uneventful.  I chatted with some runners, made sure I consumed plenty of HEED (my preferred sport drink), and monitored various things like chafing and the condition of my feet.  At some point during this time, Jesse and I decided to occasionally hop on a series of ornamental rocks along the outside of the path.  The idea was simple- it would help break up the physiological monotony of the flat loop.  It would be distant approximation to trail running.  I only did it every few laps until about hour five.  At that point, my legs were too stiff to safely jump.  Jesse continued the routine for the entire race.  I wondered if the other runners assumed it was a show of arrogance instead of a feeble attempt by us trail runners to compete with these superior road runners.

Since I was running the race barefoot, abrasions and terrain variation was important.  If I run on the same surface (i.e. asphalt) for more than about 20 miles, I start to develop top of the foot pain.  Also, I was mildly worried about blistering after 12 hours on asphalt.  To combat this, I ran on the grass along the outside of the asphalt loop for about 3/5 of the loop.  The slight variation in terrain and the need to hop around to avoid sticks, goose poop, and other such debris gave me just enough variety to avoid both top of the foot pain and blisters.  The strategy worked marvelously!

Around mile 15 I decided to eat my donut.  I took the first bite and almost immediately vomited.  I LOVE sugary food early in races, but there's a finite point where the taste becomes absolutely repulsive.  This almost always happens around mile 15-18.  This would force me to rely on my as-of-yet unproven fuel source... the Mike's Hard lemonade and chia seed iskiate.  It's not true iskiate.  I pour about two or three ounces of liquid into a cup, dump in a scoop of chia, and immediately drink it.  If the chia seeds are allowed to sit in the cup, they will quickly absorb water.  It's like drinking a cup of frog eyes.  By drinking immediately, it went down smooth.  The carbonation of the Mikes was a welcome treat.  Since I usually prefer de-fizzed Coke or Mountain Dew, I was surprised to find the carbonation in the Mike's to be refreshing.

When I began using the Mike's iskiate, I tried opening the bottle thinking it was a twist-off.  I cut my hand a bit.  On my next loop, I asked Shelley if they had a bottle opener.  The advantage of a loop course- I just kept running, picked it up on the next lap, then gave it back on the lap after that.  Imagine how silly I felt after realizing Mike's Hard Lemonade really was a twist-off... I was just too much of a wussy to open it. 

The first three hours went by quickly.  I enjoyed chatting with a few people, many of which belonged to Ultrarunning Matters.  This is the club that sponsored the race.  They were such a supportive, accepting group, I decided to join!  I also met Linda Brooks, a runner I knew from the Kickrunners "Extreme Running" forum.  She was responsible for giving me the 'Runner of the week" idea I brought to Runners World.

This is probably when I reached the highest point on the leader board.  I believe I made it to fifth.  It was pretty exciting to see my name that high, but I knew it wouldn't last.  At the very least, Jesse was below me at that point.  I knew it was only a matter of time before he leapfrogged me.

Mild stiffness had set in around mile 12-15 or so.  By mile 20, things were starting to hurt.  This is a pretty familiar pattern I've experienced in more or less every race.  From mile 20 until about 25, I felt relatively good.  I think this was about the time I ran by Jim.  To say he looked bad would be an understatement.  His face was caked with salt.  His walk was decidedly Lurch-like.  I asked him how he was doing.  In a barely-audible whisper, he responded with something about Perpetuem.  For the uninitiated, Perpetuem is a high-calorie drink designed for endurance athletes.  It has the consistency of chalky curdled milk.  Pine cones would be easier to digest.  Anyway, I walked with him for about thirty feet.  He said he was going to keep going.  I think I may have blabbered something about this being good training for Burning River, then continued running.  I wouldn't see Jim for awhile after that.

As the race ambled on, I was eventually passed by a few runners.  The leaders were plugging away with amazing consistency.  Jesse was looking great. Shelly was doing well.  Shelley V. kept me updated on her progress; informing me of the points where she surpassed the marathon point and eventually 50k point.  Mark was doing well, too.  I knew he was a few laps behind.  When we would both meet at our junk pile of gear, he complained about his legs quite a bit.  Since he had never surpassed the marathon distance, this was new territory for him.  At some point, he came up with an idea... he was going to take off his shoes.


Mark had tried barefoot running once that I was aware of.  He ran about a quarter of a mile on a trail.  Now he was going to ditch his shoes?  When people begin barefoot running, I advise them to start with a quarter mile.  This was a half mile loop.  I warned him repeatedly about the dangers of doing too much too soon.  He nodded and gave me the same look my students give when asked "Are you sure you understand the directions?"  I then ran ahead... I couldn't watch this.

At around the same time, Mark also solicited a massage from an older guy that was crewing for the eventual winner of the race.  I didn't witness this, but the guy apparently gave Mark three foot and leg massages over the course of the race.  I'm still a bit confused as to how the topic of massages came up, but Mark swore it helped his performance.  The massages did nothing to make us forget Mark's "Sign me up!" exclamation from the previous night.

Throughout the rest of the race, I saw Mark five or six times.  Most of the time he was shoeless; only wearing his Injinji toe socks.  Every time I saw him, I warned him about the potential dangers.  He gave me the same defiant nod every time.  He even yelled one of our now-trademarked "Shoes are for suckas!" mottos.

My lowest point of the race came sometime after Mark ditched his shoes for the first time.  It was between hours five and six.  It must have been around 25-28 miles or so.  I hit a major funk.  It wasn't quite as bad as the 100 miler funks I've experienced, but it was difficult to run.  Everything hurt.  I felt very uncoordinated as I attempted to achieve some consistency.  Luckily, the funk ended around hour six.

The half-way point.  It time was going by quickly... except for the last hour.  I pounded a little extra chia and Mike's, ate some Sport Beans, and even ate some aid station food... which I think was pizza.  The odd thing about this point- my memory is very sketchy.  Quick sidebar- Shelley's aid station was absolutely fabulous!  The selection of food was top-notch.  She had all they typical ultra foods, including candy, sandwiches, pizza, and cookies.  The official drink was HEED, which I was thankful for.  It's my preferred drink and infinitely better than Gatorade.

There were some interesting groups in the park throughout the day.  There was a large group playing baseball for at least an hour or two.  The scary part- they were using part of the course as their left field foul line.  With each lap, you'd nervously run by the group.  As you passed, you'd flinch at the metallic ping of each ball that was hit.  Luckily, no runners were capped.

I'm not sure what rescued my from the funk, but the next hour was a major high.  I ran some of my fastest laps at this point.  I only made one quick stop for some iskiate.  At the end of the hour (seven down, five to go), I started fading.  I knew I would have to employ a good run/walk strategy.  For the next three hours, I would walk one lap, them run the rest of the hour.  I think I was averaging about 4.5 miles per hour using this technique.

Toward the end of my high lap, a group of four 15-16 year old adolescents (best guess) started milling about on the course.  Based on their dress and mannerisms, I would use the term "hood rat" to describe their appearance.  They often walked four-wide, thus blocking the entire path.  I managed to avoid them because I encountered them on the "grass" sections.  As a high school teacher, I was intimately familiar with their "we own this place" attitude.  Oh, how I wanted to belt out a good-ole' "GET OFF THE ROAD!" in my best teacher voice.  Eventually they left without incident.

Those hours between seven and ten hours were very familiar.  it's the point where you develop what I like to call an "ultra hurt."  Your legs are no longer capable of full range of motion.  you've experienced a few cycles of highs and lows.  The areas you forgot to lube are burning from the chafing.  You repeatedly ask yourself why you subject yourself to this punishment.  You consider retiring from ultras and focusing on something easier... like recreational jelly fish wrestling.  In other words... it's what running ultras is all about!

I would be remiss if I did not mention Rebecca Schaefer and her mom.  Along with Jesse, she was the youngest runner.  This was Rebecca's first ultra.  She placed second out of all females with a hair under 60 miles.  Her mom was crewing for her and walked in the opposite direction around the loop... for the entire 12 hours!  I don't remember, but she racked up over 30 miles herself!

During those three hours of walking/running, my pace would slow as each hour passed.  Each walking break would rejuvenate me to a degree.  At the beginning of hour seven, I was running at about a 9:30 pace.  By hour ten, I was reduced to a 14:00 mile pace.  My lack of crosstraining and speedwork were apparent at this point.  This would give me a good list of things to improve and sharpen prior to Burning River at the end of July.

Somewhere near hour ten, a portly, drunk lady started wandering the course.  As I ran by her, she mumbled something about "goin' fishin' bit later."  She also warned me about running around barefoot with a hearty "You gonna step in a bear trap or sumpin' like that!"  It's good to have people looking out for your well-being.

The part of the race that disappointed me was the apparent cutting of the course.  After the first few hours, a definite line appeared on one of the inner parts of the course immediately past the wooden bridge.  This path was identical to the paths along the outside of the circle.  Shelley has clearly explained that the inner grass was off-limits.  Based on the trail that was blazed, it was obvious it was not a solitary occurrence.  At first, I thought it may have been Rebecca's mom.  I was dismayed to see the blades of grass pointing in the direction we were running... it was definitely a runner.

I'm not normally the kind of person that follows rules.  Running is different, though.  This is especially true in an ultra.  There is no prize money.  The competition could best be described as "friendly."  The greatest competitor in any ultra is yourself.  I simply cannot fathom how a runner could allow themselves to do anything so obviously outside the rules and still feel good about their performance.  Alas, I did not actually observe anyone cutting the course.  Still, it left a very bad taste in my mouth.  In the event the person cutting the course happens to read this- shame on you for taking the easy way out.  Sure, it may have amounted to a minuscule distance, but the rest of us made the effort to run the longer circles along the outside grass.  When it comes to race ethics, this one is even worse than being rude to volunteers.

Back to the positive stuff- a little after the ten hour mark, I made it to mile 50.  That was my minimal goal.  My running pace was reduced to about 14:00 miles, but I was prepared to keep plugging along.  Then I met up with Shelly at our junk pile.  She asked me if I wanted to walk a lap with her.  We don't get to spend a ton of time together with our three kids and busy lives, so I jumped at the opportunity.  We walked a lap.  Then another.  And we spent the last hour and a half walking, talking, and joking.  We were both physically exhausted, but we were having tons of fun.  I think I fell two spots on the leader board because of my walking, but I would make the same decision again.  I could tell by the looks of my competitors that they didn't quite understand why I was walking.  I probably looked pretty good.  Minimally, I was smiling most of the way.  I was okay with letting others pass me; it allowed me to watch many great success stories.  Also, running 12 hours is a testament to what Shelly and I will do to get a babysitter for our three lovely but "spirited" children.

One of the best parts of the timed race format is the finish.  Once Shelly and I finished, we were able to congratulate our fellow runners as they finished.  We took some pictures, shook hands, thanked the volunteers, and slowly packed our gear in the car.

Shelley held the awards ceremony over pizza in a cabin-like building near the loop.  The pizza tasted magical after hours of running!  We talked with Rebecca and her mom for a bit, saw the award winners, then decided to head out.  Even though we knew we had more than enough time, we didn't want to risk the "liqueur store debacle" we experienced the previous night.  After all, we'd need our "joint juice" to help us forget the pains of having run for 12 hours!   For those that have read and will continue to read the other installments of this race report, this is where the "egg" jokes originated.  Jesse won a cool large wooden egg "trophy" for his great finish.  It would become the butt of many jokes.  Heh, heh.

Here are just a few of the stories from the race:

Shelly:  Shelly finished with 40.2 miles, which almost doubled her previous long run.  This was Shelly's first ultra.  Actually, it was her first race beyond a 25k.  I was very proud of her for keeping moving for the entire 12 hours.  She ran the race in Vibrams... only her third in minimalist shoes.  She far surpassed her goals prior to the race.  I also loved walking those last laps with her.  It gave us a chance to talk about the experience while it was happening.  It also gave me the chance to truly enjoy our surroundings.

Jesse:  Jesse finished with 63.7 miles, which almost doubled his previous long run.  He placed fifth overall.  He represented minimalist runners very well by running the entire race in Vibrams.  The most astounding things I saw all day was Jesse's last lap.  He ran his last half mile in 2:44 or so.  I can't run an 800 when I'm fresh; he did it after running for 12 HOURS!  The ultra world will be hearing Jesse's name very often in the near future.

Mark:  Mark finished with 51.5 miles, which almost doubled his previous long run also (see a pattern here.)  What makes this even more astounding is that Mark ran about 17 miles in socks.  At some point, Jesse and I commented that we'd feel a bit douchey for always recommending people exercise extreme caution when beginning barefoot running... then Mark runs 17 miles in socks.  After the race, Mark commented that he could not have made it to 50 miles without the variety provided by switching from his foot coffins to the socks.  He's become our new poster boy.

Jim:  Jim finished with 54 miles.  Based on how he looked earlier in the race, I was positive he would have dropped out (or would have been pulled for medical reasons.)  Not only did he survive that low, he went on to grind out some amazing mileage.  I had some reservations about having convinced him to try Burning River, but I think he'll do just fine.

Mark Seigers:  Mark was the overall winner with 87.3 miles.  Watching him was simply amazing.  His average pace was faster than my fastest pace.  If I ever have any dreams of becoming a decent ultrarunner, this is what I need to be able to do.

Bill McGovern: Bill didn't win, but he did run 71.6 miles.  Watching his approach was the best education I could have received during the race.  I am grateful I had the opportunity to talk to him before and after the race.

The volunteers:  The volunteers for the race clapped and cheered every single time we passed... for the entire 12 hours!  Psychologically, this was an incredible lift.  As soon as we'd enter the aid tent, they would quickly tend to our every need.  I would do this race again just to have that support!

The other runners' crews:  The really unexpected source of support came from the other runners' crews.  Special mention goes to the gentleman manning the UM aid tent (at least I think that's what it was.)  Collectively, they added an entire layer of friendliness and welcoming to the event.

Shelley V.: Shelley did an amazing job organizing this event.  It was obvious every detail had been thought out and execution was flawless.  She has often touted the appeal of these silly events where you run in a tiny circle for hours and hours.  I was skeptical.  Based on what she was able to accomplish with Mind the Ducks, she converted me.  Unfortunately for other races, this is my new gold-standard for what an ultra event should be... a supportive, fun event that brings like-minded people together.  I only hope we'll be able to register for the 2011 MTD before registration fills up!

One disappointment I had- we never got to see Shelley run.  I've known her for about a year.  During that time, she's blossomed as a runner.  I can't wait to have the opportunity to actually see her dominating races!

What?  There's more?!?  Yes, I still have a few things to say about the return trip.  I haven't talked about the anus burgers, customs searching our car, the Mountain Dew scam, or Mark and Jesse's "hide the trophy egg" game!

To be continued...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mind the Ducks Race Report- Part Four

Part One
Part Two 
Part Three

We pulled up to Shelley's driveway about 12 hours after leaving Grand Rapids.  It has been a long drive, but we could finally relax.  We knocked on the door; Shelley answered.  We exchanged hugs and she led us inside.  We grabbed some beer or wine, more pizza, and began talking to our fellow runners.  Everyone there was either running, crewing, or volunteering tomorrow.  We answered a few questions about the trip, about barefoot running, and about the race.  After more beer and pizza, we started talking about running in general.
At about this time, Shelley's husband Jimmy entered.  We had met online.  Shelley and Jim had offered to pace me at Burning River this year, but I really just needed crew members.  Somehow, I managed to convince Jim to run the race, too.  He's even newer to ultrarunning than me, but I felt a definite mentally tough vibe in our conversations.  He even offered to wager on tomorrow's race, but I declined.  Outwardly, I do not like to make ultras competitive.  I love the sense of camaraderie and mutual adventure.  I love helping others reach their potential.  As such, I don't like the idea of introducing extrinsic motivators in my running.

Inwardly, Jim's offer for a wager was a good motivator.  Why?  I knew he was likely going to try to run farther than I did.  I like knowing I can push people to surpass previous limits.  I hoped he succeeded... it would be excellent training for Burning River.
As we stood around talking about running, I asked about strategy for tomorrow's race.  Bill McGovern, one of the expected front-runners, shared some great tips.  He was taking an even-paced approach.  He would begin slowly and take appropriate walk breaks.  The idea was simple- remain strong as long as possible.
I then shared my strategy- run as long as I can, then adopt a run/walk strategy as needed.  Jesse and I had conversations about this.  We both determined this strategy worked best for us.  My fellow runners dubbed it a "crash and burn" strategy, though that's not exactly how it works.  When I began running ultras, I used a very regimented run/walk schedule.  I continually varied the times in an attempt to find something that worked.  In 2008, I tried a 10 minute run, three minute walk strategy for Burning River.  It worked okay until I reached a major low point and was unable to maintain a fast enough pace to avoid the cutoff.  Since that time, I have used the "run as long as you can" strategy I adopted from Jeremiah Cataldo, a fellow ultrarunner.  Based on the conversations I would have the next day during the race, my strategy was pretty controversial.

The conversation jumped from one running topic to another.  At some point, someone brought up real estate.  I generally dislike the topic.  It's like talking about stocks, bonds, inflation, or other such money-oriented subjects.  It's a bit too boring for me.  I had to play the ace in my hand... I brought up the fact that Shelly and I rent.  Based on previous experience, it is an immediate topic killer.  Everybody wants to talk about how renting is simply flushing money down the toilet, but nobody ever does for fear of insulting me.  It works great!

After a few moments of awkward silence, someone brought up the Mind the Ducks course.  This led to a discussion of porta-potties, which led to a discussion about certain parks around Rochester being used as pickup locations for males seeking the company of other males, presumably on the down low.  Socially, I'm very liberal.  I have no problems with a person's sexual orientation.  The rest of my traveling companions also shared this level of comfort as we frequently and sometimes publicly joked about Jesse and Mark's sleeping arrangements.  The topic was obviously a bit taboo for the rest of the room as nobody actually mentioned the conversation was about males.  Someone told a story about being repeated solicited at one of the parks.  At the mention of prostitution, Mark enthusiastically blurted out "We're going to one of those parks? SIGN ME UP!"
The room fell silent.  Everybody was staring at Mark with a mortified, confused look.  Inwardly, I could barely contain my laughter!  Based on the reaction from our New York friends, they didn't realize Mark didn't pick up on the subtle hints that we were talking about male prostitutes.  By the look on Mark's face, Shelly, Jesse, and I could tell he was obviously confused.  Yet none of us spoke.  After about ten seconds of tension-filled silence, Shelley V. quietly said "We're talking about dudes."

The look on Mark's face was priceless!  He stammered as he tried to explain.  Shelly, Jesse, and I immediately started teasing while everyone else laughed nervously.  Afterward, Shelly and I lamented about the impression we mush have made.  Not only were we a band of shoeless gypsies from Michigan, but now we had the burden of social awkwardness to carry.  We did nothing to make barefoot runners seem like stable, normal individuals.
The rest of the evening was spent talking about running, which was absolutely fabulous!  At some point, Bill started asking Jesse and I questions.  I got the impression he was trying to determine if we would be serious competitors.  If he were concerned about me, I'm sure the three beers I drank alleviated some concern.  Jesse on the other hand was a wild card.  He was young.  He didn't appear cocky, rather a bit self-depreciating.  In my experiences, these are the runners that tend to do extremely well.  I wondered if Bill thought the same.  He did give us advice to start slow.  He told a story of a young runner that went out way too fast.  He lapped Bill six times my mid-race, then crashed.  Bill ended up beating him by many miles.  This story was enough to convince both Jesse and I to exercise restraint the next morning.  More on that later...
I'm grateful Shelley V. opened her home to all of us; it was one of the high points of the weekend.  At around 9:00, we decided it was time to head back and get some rest.  I planned on testing a new energy source for this race- wine-based iskiate.  It was a combination of wine, water, and chia seeds.  My friends Kate Kift and Andy Grosvenor suggested the technique, and Mind the Ducks provided the perfect testing ground.  I asked Shelley and Jim where I could buy some wine.  As it turns out, liquor stores in New York close at 9:00.  Jim offered to drive ahead of us.  Since it was late, I felt bad about having him lead us so I asked for a map instead.  We hurriedly said our goodbyes and were off!
Jim's map led us directly to the nearest liquor store.  We pulled into the parking lot with three minutes to spare.  Damn, we're good!  Then they shut the lights off.  I jumped out of the car and quickly walked to the door.  As I approached, the liquor store clerk waved me away while shaking her head.  NOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Okay, now we're without alcohol.  A momentary panic set in until Shelly (or Jesse... maybe Mark) remembered seeing a beer sign in the window of a gas station around the corner.  We drove a few hundred yards to the gas station.  All they had was beer... no wine.  Damn.  I settled on the only non-beer-like thing they had: Mike's Hard Lemonade.  This will have to suffice.  We picked up a 12 pack of Bud for the rest of the evening.  Is it a wise pre-race strategy?  No.  Is it a fun pre-race strategy.  Of course!
We arrived at the hotel, briefly went to our rooms, then re-convened in Mark and Jesse's room.  We enjoyed a few more beers, talked about Bill's race advice, made fun of Mark's faux pas, and eventually decided to head off to bed.  I thought I would be more nervous, but I quickly fell asleep.  I'm sure the six beers helped with that.

Next: The Race (finally)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mind the Ducks Race Report- Part Three

Part Three: We meet Marsha

We pulled into the dilapidated 7-11.  Two kids on rusty bikes loitered in the parking lot.  A rusted, hand-painted 1990's era Ford Escort sat in front of the store.  Since there was no clearly-defined parking spaces in the dusty gravel-laden parking lot, I pulled around to the side of the store.  The Sanford and Son theme began playing in my head as I parked a few spaces away from a well-used pickup loaded with random shit.  I could identify a lawnmower, a hula hoop, the stocking-clad leg of a mannequin, and the top half of a artificial Christmas tree. 

I asked my fellow travelers if they would like anything; they responded with a curt "No."  As I got out of the car, I glanced toward the pickup.  That is when I saw her.  At first I wasn't sure, the pink shirt and pony tail screamed "woman", but the dirty fingernails, beefy forearms, and wispy mustache whispered "androgynous trucker."  Though the glance was fleeting as I hurried into the store, the image was seared in my brain.

As I walked toward the store, I instinctively patted by back pocket to be sure I hadn't been pick-pocketed while walking across the parking lot.  As I approached the entrance, two preteen boys opened the door for me.  At first I was warmed by the gesture, but then I saw the pack of cigarettes in the husky kid's hand.  They were shoplifting cigarettes and using me as a human shield to block the cashier's line of sight.  As an added measure, they were using their apparent act of politeness as misdirection.  After all, criminals don't hold doors open.  As an amateur magician, I could appreciate the technical skill of their shenanigans.  As a member of society, I bristled at the thought that these kids are probably smart enough to avoid capture.

The inside of the store was shocking.  It was as if every convenience store stereotype suddenly came to life at this very point in time.  My senses were invaded by the overpowering scent of turnips and bacon.  The cashier was wearing a turban and of obvious Middle Eastern descent.  With his arms crossed, he gave me a stern nod as if to challenge me to shoplift something.  I could only imagine what he had behind the counter.  A bat?  Pepper spray?  A .38 special?

A fidgety man stood by the rack of over-the-counter medication.  He appeared to be fumbling with a box of Sudafed.  The moment he noticed me, he jumped slightly.  The unfamiliar face seemed to add to his paranoia.  Did he think I was a drug enforcement officer?  For good measure, I glanced his way a few times as if I were noting the details of his appearance.  If I would have had more time, I may have even pretended to talk into a radio concealed in the sleeve of my hoodie.

I found the rack of maps, picked out a laminated Buffalo Metro area map, paid, and headed back to the car.  As I rounded the corner of the building, I saw the same junk-filled pickup.  The driver was reflexively clenching and releasing his/her hands.  Was it obsessive/compulsive disorder?  Maybe it was a methamphetamine-induced tick... this could be the wheel man... err, wheel person for the meth head in the store.  I approached the car, opened the door, and quickly stole a glance toward the pickup.  She (I'm sure of that now) was looking directly at me.  Even though I immediately averted my eyes, that smile will be with me forever.  It was a smile of innocence, much like you would see on the face of a child at their first afternoon baseball game.  Despite their state of decay, all three of her teeth were proudly displayed.  I can't be sure, but I think she may have winked.

I opened the door and hopping in the car.  My traveling companions were giggling like school girls.  Shelly said something to the effect of "Mark, I think Marsha wants to offer her services!"  Marsha... okay, a little back story is in order.  Prior to beginning the trip, the four of us exchanged Facebook messages.  At some point, I jokingly suggested we stop at a Canadian strip club to take advantage of the maybe-mythical combination of full nudity and alcohol service.  Jesse offered to pay for a table dance for all of us, but we'd need an extra-big dancer.  He named his fictitious plus-sized dancer "Marsha Mallow."  Since it was unlikely we'd make it to said adult entertainment establishment, it seemed only fitting to bestow the "Marsha Mallow" name on our shaky new meth-smoking friend.

As we pulled away, we rattled off a litany of jokes.  One of us commented that Mark gave her his phone number to enlist her services to help reduce that pre-race tension.  Someone else commented on the untold pleasures that could be provided by her near-toothless mouth.   Needless to say, the cumulative effects of spending about ten hours on the road were having an adverse effect on our ability to self-edit.

Shelly and I switched spots.  As we learned on the freeways of Los Angeles, we work best in unfamiliar places if she drives and I navigate.  She can't read a map to save her life, and I have no ability to respond quickly to verbal directions.  Once the roles are reversed, I can use my cartographic skill to plot out our location and destination; she can use her aggressive disregard for traffic rules and the basic laws of physics to get us there in a timely fashion.  Based on my expert calculations, we would be arriving at Shelly V.'s doorstep in about 90 minutes.

Now that I was free of driving duties, I could take care of more important tasks.  The first order of business- eat a few fistfuls of licorice.  I could feel my blood-sugar levels plummeting... I had to continue my strict carb loading regimen.

Serving as the navigator also allowed me to find a YouTube video we discussed earlier in the trip: "Spiders on Drugs."  It gave us a catch phrase we'd use for the rest of the trip, "Building webs is for suckas!"  Of course, we used it for anything and everything imaginable.  "We'd see an obese gentleman mowing his lawn- "Mowing grass is for suckas!"  We'd talk about Marsha "Oral hygiene is for suckas!"  You get the picture.

The rest of the trip to Rochester was relatively uneventful as fatigue was quickly building.  Without making any wrong turns (surely due to my superior navigation skills), we made it to Rochester.  As we pulled up to our hotel, we had to evade a horde of elderly people milling about.  Mark wondered aloud if we were actually staying in an assisted living facility.  Truth be told, having a nurse on-call wouldn't be a bad thing given the physical state we would be in the following day.

We checked in and dragged our luggage to our rooms.  I showered, changed into my best camouflage t-shirt, piled back into the car, and headed to Shelley's house.  I was excited but apprehensive.  I've known Shelley via the Interwebs for around a year, but had never met in person.  I had recently met a lot of online friends, and it was a really positive experience.  Shelley also had several friends and race participants at her house.  I think I was more nervous about that.  I knew some were expected to do extremely well.  It would be a bit intimidating, yet I was eager to pick their brains.

The rest of the evening was defined by one singular phrase Mark spontaneously uttered.  It was a moment Shelly, Jesse, and I thought was hilarious, but I suspect it shocked and possibly mortified the rest of the crowd at Shelley's house.  What did Mark say?  Stay tuned. :-)

Continue to Part Four

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mind the Ducks Race Report- Part Two

Part One
Part Three

Chapter Two: The Trip Begins

Jesse met us at our house.  We tossed his lone backpack next to our suitcase, backpack, and two Tupperware containers of gear.  I envy his simplicity.  I may try that for my next ultra.  Mark met us at a local gas station as his nephew Greg dropped him off.  We tried to convince Greg to join us, but he mumbled something about the craziness of running for half a day and drove off.  We immediately hit the gas station to begin carb-loading.  I chose a hunk of cellophane-wrapped cheesecake bread and some raspberry cappuccino for a healthy shot of 1,100 calories.  This would begin another trend for the weekend- eating a ton of garbage at every stop.

The entire trip was really defined by one thing... a sincere, genuine lack of seriousness.  Maybe we were repressing some latent fears over the mountainous endeavor before us.  Our Lack of focus could be our brains' last-ditch effort to divert us from the inevitable suffering staring us in the face.  Or maybe we're just a bunch of adult-sized adolescent goof-offs that got a momentary reprieve from their stress-filled lives.  At any rate, it did not take long for the ice to be broken.

Mark immediately produced a family pack of snack crackers, a case of bottled water, and a bushel of licorice.  It's good to know he came prepared, AND we would have plenty to eat between our multiple stops.  I think the pound of licorice I ate really helped in the race... I will have to remember that strategy.

Things were going smoothly as we cruised through the Michigan countryside on the way to the Canadian border.  The route was familiar, so I didn't bother with maps or GPS.  At some point I had a feeling we had been driving too far.  We should have changed highways.  Without voicing my concern, I discretely pulled out my phone and checked Google maps.  Hmmm... not only did I miss our exit, I missed the entire metropolitan area of Lansing.  That speaks volumes about my power of observation.  I pulled off the highway under the guise of needing a "bathroom break."  After a short 30 minute drive through the sticks of rural Podunk, Michigan, we were on the right highway cruising towards Canada!

Going through customs always makes me a little nervous.  As we approached the bridge separating Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario, I gathered our passports.  We pulled up to the booth and I handed the documentation to the girl. 

"Where are you heading?" she inquired.

"New York." I replied.

"What's going on in New York?"

"A race."

"What kind of race?"

"Ummm... a foot race?"

"Oh.  Like a marathon?"

"Well, actually it is a 12 hour race."

With a "what the Hell is wrong with you" look, she replied "You run for 12 hours?!?  Okay, have fun."

That exchange would be repeated several times.  Once in Canada, we were struck by two things.  First, there are huge fields of nothing but dirt.  Second, Canada has a $10,000 fine if caught speeding 50km over the speed limit.  Both would be frequent topics of our asinine jokes.  

I'm sure Ontario is just preparing for the planting season, but the thousands of baron acres led to a lot of speculation.  Are they growing hockey pucks?  Maybe hockey sticks?  We even tried busting out Canadian accents.  As it turns out, it was more fun to pretend our crappy British accents were Canadian.  Okay, that was the extent of our Canadian stereotypes.  Well, that and the "I love the Queen" spelling of words like "centre", "colour", and criticise."  And we couldn't tell them apart.

Somewhere around London, Ontario we stopped to eat and get gas.  We pulled into a small town, but the only gas station was full service.  I'm weird.  I don't like people pumping my gas, I prefer to do it myself.  After driving around a bit in a state of indecisiveness, I pulled back onto the highway.  We found a truck stop/gas station/country buffet a few miles down the road.  They had nice urinals.

After the bathroom break, we decided to grab a bite to eat at Pizza Hut.  We lucked out- they had a buffet.  I'm not a huge fan of buffets as I tend to overeat.  Tomorrow's ultra gave me a free pass, so I was pumped!  The Pizza Hut had interesting facts painted on the wall, such as the first Pizza Hut was located in Wichita, Kansas and the sound E.T. made walking was made by a man squishing his hand in jelly.  After binging on the equivalent of eight pieces of pizza, I was ready to go!

As we approached Hamilton, Ontario, it seemed like we were going quite far north toward Toronto.  I vaguely remembered that Toronto was on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, we needed to be on the south side.  If only I had printed out some maps.  Damn my lack of preparedness!  I had a gut feeling that I should exit, so I cut across three lanes of heavy traffic and hit the exit.  It felt as if the hand of the Canadian Gods were gently persuading me to take this particular exit.  As luck would have it, the exit was a shortcut through southern Hamilton.  We saved about 10-15 miles due to my stupidity.  Score one for procrastination and laziness... or maybe it had something to do with channeling my French Canadian ancestors.

It was about this time that I brought up Niagara Falls.  We'd be driving right by the mighty falls, why not stop?  Shelly, Jesse, and mark had never been there.  Unfortunately, I had (in a previous life (figuratively, not literally.))  We decided to stop now; we may not be in the mood on Sunday after the race.  That turned out to be a wise choice.

We meandered through the streets of Niagara Falls, Ontario following the "FALLS" signs.  While driving around to find parking, we came across what appeared to be the only parking lot.  It cost $14.  That surpassed by "cost/see natural wonder" threshold.  I was just about to park on the sidewalk and pretend we were looking for our lost children when I spotted a $4 lot about 100 meters from the $14 lot.  Hmmm... nice tourist racket they have here.  The more expensive lot was full... ours was empty.  It was so empty, we could change into our Barefoot Runners Society swag right out in the open.  Side bar- Mark has really nice pecs.

We made our way toward the falls.  The rushing water and rapids were quite a sight!  Also noticeable- the came across pretty much every tourist stereotype you could imagine: the Japanese tourists with the expensive cameras, the disinterested teens traveling with their families, an apparent homeless dude sleeping in the grass, the honeymooners with rug burns on their knees... we saw it all.

The falls themselves are always impressive.  As either Mark or Jesse commented- you only see the same water once.  That's deep.

Of course, we spent more time climbing in a tree that could easily have doubled as a house.  We have a few pics of Jesse and I appearing to be walking out of the tree.  After several thinly-veiled comments about "sharing" the tree, we were on our way.

This would be a good juncture to mention a reoccurring theme throughout the trip.  Mark and Jesse were sharing a room.  This arrangement resulted in a steady stream of both Mark and Jesse making references to their "extracurricular" activities behind closed doors.  Clearly we are all very comfortable with our sexuality.  This would be put to the test later that night...

We piled back into the car and headed for the border.  In my naivety, I assumed crossing into the U.S. would be even easier than entering Canada.  We are, after all, citizens.  I was wrong.  We pull up to the booth.  The Customs Agent seemed friendly enough.  I handed him our passports.  He asked the requisite questions.  I confidently answered them all.

He then opened the passports in an attempt to match the pictures with the car occupants.  He looked at me and asked "Where's Mark?"  I dutifully pointed to Mark in the back seat on the passenger side.  "Okay, how about Jason?"  "That's me." I replied.  "Scott?"  he questioned.  'No, that's his last name.  His first name is Jesse, he's behind me."  "Oh." came the response.  "So which one of you is Shelly?"  At this point, I was questioning his expertise.  Seriously?  There's only one person left.  She's the only female in the car.  The picture clearly looks like her.  Shelly confirms her identity.  The agent then turns and appears to be entering our information into a computer.

I'll spare the details of the next part, but as it turns out Mark had an old issue that raised a flag.  I'll let Mark explain the details some day, but I like to pretend it involved a $3 debt owed to a dancer in Windsor, Ontario.  "Mark, you're going to have to get out of the car and come inside." he directed.  Mark hurriedly unbuckled his seat belt and began climbing out of the car.  Immediately the guard screamed "SCOTT, GET BACK IN THE CAR NOW!"  Three armed guards immediately rushed to the car with weapons drawn.  My first thought- "Holy shit, they're going to Tase mark!"  I still feel a little guilty about that one.  Mark complied and climbed back into the car.

We drove around the small hut and left the car as we went inside the Customs office.  It was slightly awkward sitting in silence for 10 minutes awaiting the outcome.  I was silently wondering if Mark was a fugitive serial killer.  If so, would he kill Jesse first, thus allowing Shelly and I to escape?  What if he were a cannibal?  Which one of us looked the most appetizing?  Maybe that's why he brought two kilos of licorice... he was trying to plump us up! I coughed a few times hoping he'd be weirded out by eating a sick person. 

As we sat there, I couldn't help but wonder just how secure our borders really were... this guy repeatedly got ALL of our names wrong.  Anyway, the resolution with Customs was simple.  Mark wasn't a cannibalistic serial killer, which was a good thing.  

Soon we were back in the car and on our way.  As we sat outside the Customs office, I realized I had no idea how to get to Rochester.  My phone GPS was acting up.  It forced me to do what any guy would do.  I drove aimlessly.  We headed toward Buffalo.  That seemed wrong, so I turned around and headed back to Niagara Falls.  Once there, I finally broke down and decided to stop to buy a map.  We stopped at a 7-11 in a suburb of Niagara Falls that looked like the ugly offspring of Detroit and rural Arkansas.  What happened next would be another one of those life-defining moments we only experience once every few years.

Continue to part three