In five days, my rag-tag crew of barefoot gypsies will begin our journey to Northeast Ohio to begin our latest adventure: the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. This will be my most ambitious running feat to date as I will be running the race completely barefoot.
I have to admit... I'm a bit nervous. First, I've hardly mastered the art of running 100 milers. I'm only batting .500 thus far in my ultra career. My lone finish was 55 minutes before the cutoff. My DNF was at Burning River in 2008. Second, I'm not exactly sure how my body will respond to the lack of shoes for 100 miles. To date, my longest barefoot run was 53-ish miles at Mind the Ducks in May.
I have a few things working in my favor.
I have an excellent crew and pacer. Shelly is an excellent crew chief and I have great confidence in her ability to provide the necessary support. Jesse Scott, my primary pacer in part-time training partner, is a gifted trail runner and entertaining conversationalist.
I'm familiar with 2/3 of the course. Aside from one especially rocky section about 22 miles in, it is relatively barefoot-friendly. The trails are technical in some spots, but still runnable.
My training has went exceptionally well, including a 68 mile training run. My overall mileage has been low, but the long runs have been executed without issue.
I've had some excellent sessions of hill repeats. I finally nailed an efficient uphill and downhill technique. In '08, I was strong on uphills. Downhills killed me. I think I'm even stronger on the uphills now, and downhill, while still slow, can be run with enough efficiency to survive 100 miles.
I also have a few things working against me.
The course will have a lot of memories... many of which are pretty bad. I'm not quite sure how I will react to passing the area where the wheels fell off in '08. For fun, I listened to my audio recordings from 2008 (located here). The audio does a good job of capturing the feel of that race. I was pretty optimistic until about mile 50, then hit a low point like no other. It was a good reminder of the mistakes I made that day.
Some elements of my training have been lacking. My heat acclimation training has not went well... I should have started weeks ago. I could have done more night trail running to prepare for the darkness.
Of course, there's precedent. To my knowledge, nobody has completed a 100 miler barefoot. The combination of fairly rugged terrain, sleep deprivation, and fatigue will make it difficult to focus. That lack of focus is a definite liability without the protection of shoes. [EDIT- This attempt will NOT be the longest barefoot run... Todd Ragsdale ran 102 miles at a Relay for Life earlier this year (and set a world record). Burning River is only 100 miles and I will likely take more than 24 hours to finish... I'm just trying to complete the first barefoot 100 mile race] thanks to Shannon McGinn for reminding me of this.
Despite the potential negatives, my confidence level is high. I now know what to expect from my body at long distances. My ability to diagnose and fix problems has increased substantially since 2008. My overall endurance base has improved. Most importantly, my barefoot running skills have be immeasurably honed.
At the very least, it will be a fun road trip. Aside from my crew, there will be many friends at this race. My occasional training partner Jeremiah Cataldo will be running. Phil Stapert, another occasional training partner, will be pacing Rachel Sterk on her quest to finish her first 100 miler. Shelley and Jim Viggiano, friends from New York, will be there as Jim attempts his first 100. There are also a lot of interweb friends at this race, many of which I will be meeting for the first time.
Five days... this is going to be a long, slow taper...