Beating the Heat (and my feet)

Saturday was my second 5K race, this time in sunny Richmond. I finished Couch to 5K in early May just in time to have my first 5K on my 35th birthday (May 20). But as I've been reading from others, once you can run a 5K it's a little tough to know what to do next. Some try to increase distance. Some try to increase speed. Some try to do both so that they get a more intense workout. But I decided to decrease footwear.

Instead of my next run after my inaugural 5K being 3.2 miles or so, it was a measly mile. But it was a mile without shoes. Several things came of this. First, I learned that I'm still pushing off with my feet a bit, though only on the right side (as was evidenced by a blister forming on only one foot). But more importantly, I learned that if I use the right form, I'm faster, stronger and significantly happier! All those sounded like good reasons to stick with it.

This entire month I've worn nothing but my huaraches sandals to work and around town. And whenever possible I've been dumping them in favor of going barefoot. All that has been great. It's nice that it's warm outside so I don't have to worry about getting "cold feet" in this new endeavor. And all my workouts on the treadmill have been barefoot. They've been ridiculously short as I work on toughening up my feet, but they've been pain free and I'm still breaking a sweat.

Fast forward to this Saturday, though, when I wasn't sure what to do about the race. I was up to running 1.5 miles or so barefoot but that was all on the treadmill which is an extremely controlled environment. I wasn't quite ready for downtown Richmond, particularly considering when we parked that morning for the race I opened the car door to an entire chicken wing dinner discarded in the street at my feet.

I brought the huaraches and my Vibram Bikilas. My feet felt good in the sandals while we wandered around the starting area. I foolishly thought I would be fine in them given I'd been walking in them exclusively for the last two weeks. Nope!

Mr. Smith had registered for the race with me and when they sounded the siren to start, we headed off together. Mr. Smith is already much faster than I am, talking about how he's working on getting under a 9 minute mile, but he kept pace with me as we both ran down the hill and around the first corner. At that point, I had already realized the error of my ways, but it was too late to turn back. My sandals were too loose for running so they shifted from left to right under the ball of my foot. The cord between my toes would shift so that it would actually be under the ball of my foot as I landed. This was not part of the plan.

I made it maybe the first 3/4 of a mile before I had to walk. Surprisingly, Mr. Smith walked with me. We talked about my shoes and his shoes and races. After a bit I thought I was ready to try running again. We took off, but it was the same problem all over again. I could keep the sandal stable but only by curling my toes, which is the exact opposite of good form.

I stopped and tried to tighten them but was afraid of going too far in the other direction. I was also feeling really short of breath and frustrated by that. I'm just so damn slow! So we walked again. We talked about the trains. We talked about Facebook and camping and the kids. It was really nice. I tried one more section of running but after suffering through the big hill I felt the balls of my feet starting to burn and I was afraid blisters were not far off. I broke the news to Mr. Smith and he reminded me that he drove to Richmond so he could run a 5K with me, not so he could just run a 5K by himself in a strange city. I was relieved.

When we got to the last stretch towards the finish, we decided to give it one last go of running. My form was awful. I was heel striking. I was shuffling. I was panting. But I was at least running so that I could run across the finish line.

Our time was crazy slow. We finished at 39:23. I picked up my medal, walked over to the curb, took the water that Regan handed me and immediately poured it all over my naked feet. Holy toes that felt amazing! I surveyed the damage and was pleased to see that I managed to avoid any blisters, just some tender spots. I was also proud that I started the race with a blood sugar of 116 and finished it at 112. By the time we got to brunch, I was still at 106. Diabetic running success!

On the drive home I was disappointed in myself. I felt slow and crappy and sore. My stupid Vibram shoes were in my bag! If I had just worn them I could have probably shaved five minutes off my time. I told Rich how I felt naive and foolish.

In retrospect, the people who finished five minutes ahead of me didn't get anything that I didn't. We all got water and bananas and medals and t-shirts and friends standing around smiling and congratulating. There were folks cheering us all on no matter if you finished in 18 minutes or 57. But unlike many of those that finished ahead of me, I learned more about my body on Saturday. I learned that I still need to work on my lung capacity. I learned that hills aren't as bad as I thought they'd be (easier than the head wind we had on the oceanfront last month!). I practiced not braking as I came down a very steep hill while a mother and daughter next to me made airplane arms and laughed. I listened to my feet and heeded their warnings. I felt my hamstrings engaging and my quads relaxing. I bent my knees. I kept my head up. I spent the entire race with Mr. Smith (thank you, Jason!) and got nearly 40 minutes of uninterrupted company with him.

And today, 36 hours post race, I am 100% fine. We went for a long bike ride yesterday and my legs are pleasantly sore from that. My feet are barefoot right now and don't hurt a bit. My ankles and calves and achilles all feel strong.

I saved both race bibs from these last two races and decided to write notes on the back of them about how they went. I noted the date, the distance and my time. But I also noted what shoes I wore, how I felt about it and what I learned. Writing all that down, I realized it's not about my finish times but about the experience. Running barefoot feels really amazing. It's all about muscle memory and perfecting a form. I really get that. I get that more than I get mileage or heart rates or anything else.

My next official race isn't until BlogHer at the beginning of August. We'll see what footwear I bring that day and what I learn from it. But I'm still looking forward to it!

Me and Mr. Smith after our run