Friday, November 20, 2009

Manchester City Marathon 2009

If you’ve been reading my post, you’ll see that I had a rough fall leading into the 2009 Manchester City Marathon. Repeated foot injuries kept the mileage down and left me less than ready for a great race. Heading into the marathon I spent 3 weeks fighting the last foot injury and wasn’t fully recovered by race morning. The Monday before the race I tested my foot by going for a 10 mile run. The foot felt ok, but was still painful when I stepped on it wrong or stepped on acorns, rocks, etc. But, after the 10 mile run was over, I felt confident that even though it would be slow, I could complete a marathon and so signed up to do Manchester.
So, the evening before the race I arrived in Manchester, NH about an hour before the race expo and packet pick-up closed. Unfortunately, even though it was supposed to go another hour the expo, except for 2 vendors who were still packing up, had shut down. Packet pick-up was still going and the volunteers were busy stuffing t-shirts into the race packets.
I checked in, got my packet and was informed that they only had small and medium shirts left, even though I’d ordered a large. I looked at all of the packets of people that were unlikely to show up yet that night, even though there was supposedly no packet pick-up in the morning, that had shirts already stuffed in them and couldn’t help wondering if any of them had larges. After all, I made it to pick-up on time, shouldn’t I be the one to get my size?
Anyway, gathered my stuff together, gave it a quick check to make sure everything was in there and headed off to check into my hotel. The rest of the evening was relatively uneventful. I was at the race alone, but had a number of people there for the race strike up conversations with me because they were curious about the VFF’s I was wearing while walking around.
Race morning arrived and I got up about 3 ½ hours before the race. I ate the leftover pasta and chicken wings from my dinner the night before and started getting my stuff ready for the race. I went back and forth between wearing my more traditional running clothes or switching to my tri gear. I finally put on my running clothes, strapped on my chip, my number belt, loaded my gear bag and headed out. I made it about 3 blocks before I turned back and went to change into my tri kit, which I’d found to be more comfortable for the longer runs.
Finally dressed in the clothes I would race in, I again started the .4 mile walk to the start area. It was a beautiful, sunny, cool, crisp fall morning. It was absolutely perfect weather for a marathon. Too cool to just be sitting around in race gear, but once the race started it would be perfect.
When I got to the start area, I stripped off my warmer clothes and stuffed them into my bag. Loaded my pockets with my packets of accel gel, my container of electrolyte tablets and checked my bag into the bag check. To keep warm I went for a very easy mile jog and then headed to the hotel by the start to use the restroom. On my way I ran into @Oblinkin and stopped to chat with him for a bit. While we were talking @Luau came over to talk to him as well. @Oblinkin was getting ready to run his 2nd marathon in 3 weeks and @Luau his first ever marathon and he was running it in VFF’s (Vibram Five Fingers).
We all chatted for a bit and then separated to take care of our last few things before the start of the race. I saw them both again in the starting area and chatted a bit more. Moments later we were underway.
The first miles were pretty uneventful. I ran behind @luau for about a mile before dropping back and got passed by @Oblinkin about a mile later. This would be the last I saw of either of them during the race. My goal had been to run 8 min/mi pace as long as I could and then go into damage control and just find a way to finish. I went through the first mile at 7min pace and then settled into a 7:30 pace. I tried slowing to an 8min pace, but somehow stayed at 7:30pace anyway.
I felt real comfortable through the first 10 miles and then my lack of training started to come through. I managed to hold pace through 13.1 miles before slowing, but it became more of an effort. By mile 18 I was just about done. I was still on an average pace for a 3:30 marathon, but slowing quickly. I actually started walking somewhere between mile 18 and 19 and finished the marathon alternating between walking and jogging. I never walked more than 100yards at a time or ran less than ½ mile, but it was a struggle the rest of the way. Just before the 25 mile mark there was a bridge with a sharp zig-zag in the path we were running and the base of the downhill side. I don’t know what cruel, sadistic SOB put that in there, but my legs almost gave out trying to make the turns (heard many complaints about that section after the race). I walked briefly at the next aid station and with the 25 mile marker in sight I started my final run which I carried through to the end. No matter how badly I felt in the closing miles of a marathon (done more than 20) I have always run the last 1.2 miles and that includes in my 3 Ironman triathlons.
I did manage to pass @luau somewhere in the final 4 miles, but never saw him. I spent the closing miles focusing on keeping moving and getting to the finish. I’ve run over 800 races in my life and I don’t have a single DNF which is a huge motivator when I’m really struggling. I also like to use fans, volunteers and other racers to help keep me going. Instead of focusing on how miserable I feel I start to become an entertainer, cracking jokes with everyone along the way. During the closing miles I had a running joke (yes, pun intended, groan and get over it) going with another runner who was dressed in a hockey outfit (shorts, jersey, pads, helmet, gloves, mini stick…) that really helped keep my mind off of my body. It also helped push me because there was NO WAY I was letting someone who was wearing all of that through the whole marathon beat me.
After the race was over (yes, I beat hockey guy), I wandered the finish area getting rehydrated, eating and chatting with other finishers. After a while I came across @Oblinkin and sat down to talk with him for a while and do some gentle stretching. I turned out that we had a lot in common beyond running and we talked for a quite a while. @luau stopped by briefly and chatted as well. He told me he saw me pass in the last 4 miles, but evidently I was very focused and never saw him
After the race I did my usual self analysis of my performance. I was happy with my time and effort, but puzzled over how I had felt. The first 8+ miles felt great, but somewhere between there and the half way point things didn’t feel quite normal. I started noticing muscles I’d never really had problems with in marathons. This coincided with when I started focusing more on my form. I was pretty sure that I was running with my usual heel strike through the first part of the race (confirmed by @Oblinkin’s video around 10k mark and official race photos). However, sometime after the 8 mile mark I tried to focus on running with more of a forefoot landing, which is very difficult to do in my current running shoes. The further the race progressed the more successful I felt I was in doing so based on the way it felt like my feet were hitting and the way the different muscles were starting to feel. Official race photos, though inconclusive, do seem to lend some support to my success in this area. I did however in the closing 1.2 miles revert back in a final effort to reach the line.
This leaves me wondering whether I’d have done better sticking with my normal heel strike or whether by changing my form and how I used my muscles did I allow myself to maintain my pace longer. @Oblinkin has lots of data yet to sift, but I’m hoping that when he gets to video from the 20mile mark of the race I can get a better idea if I truly changed my form like I believe I did. Regardless, I won’t know whether the switch helped or hurt me, but if I was successful it gets me a step closer to becoming a forefoot/barefoot runner.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ironman USA, Lake Placid, 2008

I'm working on my write up of the Manchester City Marathon from 1 1/2 weeks ago, but thought I'd share another race story that until now hadn't been shared except with a few friends and family members.
Some of you may have seen the results and a few of you have heard some of the details, but here is the full length account of Ironman Sunday.
We got up 5am Sunday morning had a quick breakfast, grabbed our special needs bags (1 bag for each the bike and run that we can get midway through each leg that we can put whatever we think we may need during the race, usually food, sometimes extra clothes, tubes, etc) and our swim gear, went down to the motel parking lot, got on the shuttle bus and headed for the start line.
As soon as we got off the bus we walked to the area where we dropped off our special needs bags, then headed to the transition area. In transition we pumped up the bike tires to proper levels, slathered on the body glide to help w/ wetsuit removal and prevent chaffing, made a quick visit to the good old porta-pots and then put on the bottom half of the wetsuits. The sun was up and peaking through the partly cloudy sky which made me glad I’d decided to put the polarized lenses on my sunglasses for the bike ride and we walked out of transition and headed to the swim start.
Once we got to the beach we put on the top portion of the wet suit, zipped up and entered the water to await the start. The morning was cool, the sun was shinning and it looked like a great day for the race. Floated around for a while waiting for the actual start w/ the prerace jitters churning up the stomach. Fortunately we didn’t have long to wait before the gun went off and Mirror lake became a churning frenzy of human bodies all scrambling away from the start turning the calm waters to a boiling froth that resembled a B-movie piranha attack and off we went. I started as close to the far shore as I could and away from the roped line where the majority were swimming in an effort to avoid being pummeled to death before I even completed a single lap.
I got off to a good start with minimal bumps, thumps, kicks, punches etc and got a fairly clear area to swim in. I swam strong to the first turn where things got congested a bit going around the two turns (the swim course was a very long narrow rectangle, a little over a ½ mile long and no more than 20yards wide that we swam around with the last corner hitting the beach where we exited the water briefly and ran back to the reentry point) and then I somehow managed to find another clear pocket of water to swim the rest of the way in to the beach in. I got to the beach and exited the water to complete the first of the two swim laps and saw the time on the clock at 46 minutes. I quickly ran to the across the timing mat to the swim reentry point dodging around other racers, the majority of which were walking, as I went.
When I got back to the water I quickly ran in dodging more of the other racers until I found an opening big enough to dive in and start swimming again. I quickly found an open area to swim in right along the underwater cable connecting the swim buoys which made things very easy. Normally in an open water swim you periodically have to look up (sight) to see where you are going since you don’t have the nice line to follow like you do in a pool, but Mirror lake has a cable system set up for a kayak course that the Ironman attaches their buoys to. Everyone likes swimming along the cable because they don’t have to sight during the swim, which is why I started way to the outside to avoid being pummeled by the masses, but for some reason I get lucky and find a gap to safely swim in for the second lap. Shortly into the lap I notice that I’m getting splashed quite heavily which is odd since I don’t detect anyone near me. I swim for maybe 100 yards puzzling this out and trying to figure out if my swim was really my slowest swim ever by 6 minutes for the first lap or whether the clock showed the time for the pro’s which started 10 minutes before the rest of us. After a couple minutes I sighted to see how far I had to the turn and realized I couldn’t see very far. It took a moment to realize that I hadn’t been getting splashed it was now pouring rain. No big deal for the swim, but I quickly dreaded what I might be facing on the bike. The rest of the swim went well and as I exited the water I saw the time on the clock as 1:15 and I received a quick adrenaline boost as I realized the time after the first lap was in fact incorrect and instead of swimming exceptionally slow compared to what I’ve done in the past I had actually set a new swim PR for myself.
Surging out the water with this rush of adrenaline I quickly peeled off the top part of my wetsuit as I ran to the strippers (not the kind I needed a bunch of $1’s for, but volunteers who help the athletes pull off their wetsuits). They rapidly stripped me down and off I went running for transition with a big smile on my face from my PR and splashing through the puddles that were rapidly growing from the rain accumulating on the ground. Volunteers quickly helped me find my swim-to-bike transition bag (transition bags and bikes were put in the transition area the day before) and I dashed into the changing tent. Unfortunately, even though it was my fastest swim ever, I was still clumped in with the majority of the athletes and so the changing tent was very crowded. It took me a while to find a spot with enough room to change, but I finally did and proceeded to change from my swim suit to my bike gear. Volunteers were helping as best they could but even if one were available I still can’t bring myself to let a man help me get undressed and dressed so I struggled through it on my own. I say struggle, because if you’re not familiar with the clothing, spandex and cycling clothes don’t come off or go on very easily when you’re wet. I finally get dressed and then realize that with the pouring rain I need to change the lenses on my sunglasses. I won’t be able to see anything with the polarized lenses so I lose some more time changing them to my yellow lenses. Finally I exit the changing tent and run off to get my bike.
By this time enough rain has fallen and with several hundred athletes already having run in and out of the transition area the ground is a muddy mess. I get to my bike as fast as I can, but shoes are fully mud caked by the time I leave the transition that I lose more time stomping my feet on the ground once I reach pavement in an attempt to dislodge the mud from my cleats so that I can fasten them onto my peddles. As soon as the mud is cleaned away I’m on my bike and headed out on to the road. There are several short, steep down hills and a number of sharp turns so everyone is riding very slowly and cautiously out of town.
Once we are out of the town the road straightens out and I start picking up speed. It’s still pouring rain so I still need to be somewhat cautious but I’m off and rapidly gaining speed. There are several big hills coming out of town that I strongly ride up and slowly move past a number of other riders. I’m getting passed by a few cyclists but passing more than pass me. About 7 miles into the ride there is 6 miles of down hill parts of which are very steep and when dry I’ve reached speeds well over 50 mph on. The majority of the riders are going down them very slowly, but I open things up a bit and ride them between 38-42mph and occasionally get passed by several people even crazier than I that are probably topping 50. Shortly after the downhill we make a turn and I feel a slight pop on the bike and about a mile later I realize something is a bit off w/ my seat. It’s nothing major, but the seat just isn’t quite right.
Anyway, I quickly ride through the first 40 miles of the course averaging over 20mph (official time is slower because it has the time I lost demudding my cleats) and catch my girl friend about 50 miles into the ride. She is having a good ride to this point as well.
At this point everything is going well, I’m sticking to my nutrition schedule, riding comfortably (well, as comfortably as one gets in a pouring rain w/ wet bike shorts and a bike seat shoved up their a$$) and I’m ahead of expected time to this point. Shortly after passing my girl friend I start into the final 5 hills of the lap: little cherry, big cherry, mama bear, baby bear and papa bear. They are not the worst hills on the course, but because it is a tough course and they are at the end, they are tough. I’m quickly over the top of the first 4 and as I’m cresting baby I see papa and I’m quickly puzzled by what I see. The top half of papa bear is covered w/ people and I fear that someone has had an accident and that on a rather steep hill I’m going to be forced to come to a stop to get around them. I charge down baby anyway and start pounding up the base of papa when I realize that the crowd is just fans cheering us on. I reach the first of them a third of the way up the hill and their enthusiasm carries me the rest of the way up. They are loud, they are crazy, they are obnoxious and they are having a blast and give us an incredible boost up the hill. There are people w/ drums, w/ horns, w/ cow bells, and dressed in various costumes. They are running up the hill w/ us, yelling at us, screaming, cheering and just plain going nuts. There are fans all over the course cheering us on, and the volunteers at the aid stations/bottle exchanges are fantastic, but this is insanity at its finest.
I’m quickly over the top of papa and make the turn for the final 2 miles to the special needs station to pick up my nutritional stuff for the second loop. I’m riding faster then expected and my legs are feeling loose, but I’m starting to feel a bit off.
I arrive at special needs, dump my empty bottles, reload the bike and take off. As I take off and start cranking away at the peddles I feel another “pop” and now something is really wrong w/ my seat. I stop and get off the bike grab my bike tool and quickly adjust and tighten the seat and take off again.
As I get back out onto the course for the second time I realize from the way my legs feel that I may have gone too hard on the first lap because they it is starting to become a struggling. I did feel like I was pushing the pace on the first lap, but evidently it was still too much and as each mile progresses I realize I have another problem developing. I’m steadily become sick to my stomach and can no longer eat or drink and even more than a sip of water at one time makes me feel nauseous almost to point of purging my stomach, in addition I’m starting to feel some intestinal cramping which steadily gets worse as the ride progresses. I’m still riding well, but slowly losing some speed and some of the places I picked up on the first lap. I’m still passing people on the hills (up and down) but overall losing ground. About mid-way through the lap I give up and discard all my nutritional supplies since I can’t stomach them there isn’t any reason to carry the extra weight. I’m not sure if my breakfast or my nutritional stuff from the first lap is causing the problems, but intestinal cramps are getting steadily worse. I just hope that I’ve taken in enough calories and fluids to get me through.
With about 25 miles left on the bike I feel another “pop” and just miss wiping out as I suddenly slide off the back of my bike seat and just barely manage to keep from landing on my rear wheel. The front of the seat is now pointing almost straight up and even though I managed to stay on the bike I have to pull over again. I quickly readjust the seat and tighten it so hard I’m afraid I’m going to either break the tool or the seat post. I get back on and take off again. The seat is still not right, but not bad enough that I’m willing to stop and try and make another adjustment. At this point I’m steadily getting more and more discouraged. I don’t think the stomach and intestinal issues, as uncomfortable as they are, are slowing me down, but the drop in pace, the weather and problems w/ the seat are starting to get to me.
Finally I reach the base of little cherry and I start digging in for the final stretch in an attempt to save as much time as possible. I charge over the first four hills and as I top baby bear again the sight of the crowd that is still cheering everyone on despite the weather on papa gives me a surge of adrenaline and I charge down baby and up and over papa and carry my momentum the last couple miles back to the transition area.
I quickly jump off my bike and pass it on to a volunteer who puts it away for me, grab my transition bag that another volunteer hands me and head to the changing tent again. It is still chaos in the tent, but things have thinned a bit and I’m able to find an area a little quicker to change. As I start changing the intestinal cramps worsen and I realize I’ve got another issue to deal w/. So I finish changing as quickly as I can but unfortunately in my rush I forget to change my shorts and have to take my shoes and socks (for some reason I’m trying to keep them dry) and change shorts and then put my shoes and socks back on. A volunteer comes over and takes my bike stuff and puts it in the transition bag for me and I run out of the tent and ask directions to the nearest porta-pot only to find out I have a choice of fighting my way back through the changing tent or waiting until I’m 1 ½ miles into the run. Another cramp makes the decision for me and back through the tent I go.
Business taken care of I plunge back into the tent, charge out of it and out onto the run course. First mile goes by at a quick 7:30 pace which I hold until mile 4, with about a 10 yard walk at each aid station to try and force in a little water. Shortly after the mile mark I’m sent scurrying for another porta-pot and my 7:30 average now becomes an 8. Fortunately my stomach starts settling and I’m starting to get more and more fluid at each aid station. Still walking about 10 yards at each one so that I can drink as more than I’d be typically able to do if I ran through them and I am now able to start eating some gel (a carbohydrate packet). Still maintaining even with the short walks about an 8-8:15 pace. There are two big hills on the run at towards the end of each lap and I fight my way up each of them passing people as I go, many of whom are walking them. Finally I reach the special needs area for the run and I grab a few more gel packs from my bag and keep going. They have gels and other food on the course, but I prefer my gel packs which have carbs, protein and caffeine and theirs are just carbs.
Shortly after starting the second loop I suffer a now all too familiar sensation and start my search for my smelly, plastic buddy. Pass several occupied and/or unusable ones before finally finding one. Other than the pit stops and the realization that I have huge blisters on both arches the run is going well. My pace has slowed some, but I’m still running under 9 minute miles even though my elapsed time shows differently. About 17 miles through the run I have to stop briefly and stretch the ham strings, start running again, only to give it up and walk the next 100 yards where I stop and stretch the hamstrings again and give the quads a quick stretch and then set off at a run again. A mile later I’m on another search and make one last quick visit to the plastic pit.
As I take off again I find I’m still running at a sub 9 pace and as I hit the first of the two hills in the closing miles I run strongly up it and start pushing the pace. I walk only a couple yards at the next couple aid stations and finally reach the last climb and charge up it. This hill, like papa bear, has been lined with cheering and enthusiastic fans all day and they give me another adrenaline boost that pulls me up the hill and around the corner where I can now hear the fans at the finish line, which even though it is a short distance away, is still almost 3 miles off for me. At this point the distance becomes unimportant as even more adrenalin is released by the roar of the crowds and the realization that I’m almost there. I steadily keep picking up the pace and don’t even pause at the next two aid stations. The run from the mile 24 to 25 mile marker only takes me 8:05 to run and I keep picking up the pace. I start to feel a familiar twinge and ignore. The fans along to road are going nuts for everyone that goes by, I start slapping every hand that is stuck out for me, my smile keeps getting bigger and bigger and before I know it I’m entering the Olympic speed skating oval and have less than 100 meters to go. As I come around the final turn, I see that I’m coming in just over 12 hours. I know the crowd is going nuts and the announcer is saying “Douglas Sawyer you are an Ironman!” but I don’t hear a thing. The adrenaline, the emotions, the pain, the fatigue and everything else just overwhelms my senses and all I notice is the finish line and the young ladies scrambling to put up the finish tape for me to run through and then I’m across the line and into the arms of a volunteer who helps me through the finish area where other volunteers quickly put my finishers medal on me, then my finishers hat, give me my finishers t-shirt and take my timing chip off for me and then w/ a final check to make sure I’m ok points me off in the direction of the food tent which I temporarily bypass for a less pleasant but often frequented destination.
Oh, and one last thing, it was still raining!
And that’s the rest of the story…
Thanks for all the well wishes and congratulations!
As for post race, I stuck around in the rain waiting for my girl friend to finish. She had a strong race despite not being able to do much training for the run until June due to some knee problems. We collected our bikes, clothing, etc and walked then (uphill of course) back to the motel, quickly changed and went back to cheer on a friend and to cheer the last finishers in as the race closed at midnight. The fans and volunteers were fantastic and despite the weather were still going crazy at midnight as we cheered to last couple finishers in.
The next day we got up a little stiff, had breakfast and went back to the transition area to look at the finisher merchandise and then drove home. Shortly after getting home I went to watch my softball team’s game and due to short numbers ended up playing and of course the game went into extra innings before we finally lost. I pitched for our team and on offense I struck out once, walked twice, scoring both times and had two deep fly outs that forced me to run to first and round for second before they were caught. So all things considered, I’m doing pretty well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ironman Louisville, KY 2007

This is my write up after finishing my first Ironman (Louisville, KY 2007). Emailed it to friends and family, but thought would share here:

I know this is very late in coming, but better late than never. Some of you may already know the results but I don’t think any of you have heard the full story, so here it is…
Race morning Jennifer (my girlfriend who was running in her 8th ironman and 2nd for the summer) and I got up, had breakfast, got dressed and headed off to the start line. They had changed our swim course a couple days before the race due to heavy rains upriver from Louisville. The river had a fast and strong current and instead of a 1.2 mile out and back course they decided to have us start in a narrow waterway between a small island and shore. We were going to swim ¾ of a mile upriver and then around the island and then swim 1.7 downriver. Normally everyone would start at once, but since where we were starting was too small for this they had us start one at a time w/ someone jumping in every second in the order that we got there. I dove in right behind Jennifer and Brian C. (who was doing his 11th and 2nd for the summer) forgetting that the force of the dive and a head on current might be too much for my goggles. Sure enough, as soon as I hit the water the goggle over my right eye peeled back and filled w/ water. I tried to stop to empty it but within seconds I’d drifted yards past the start and I would have probably been several hundred yards beyond the start line before I could have gotten the goggle empty and repositioned, so I closed my eye to keep the water out, which I’d end up doing for the whole distance, and started to swim.
Even though we were only swimming a short distance against the current it was a long tough battle. The day before on a practice swim I’d swam for 15 minutes against the current and it only took about 1 minute to get back to where I started. On top of this, the water was 86 degrees. Brian and Jennifer were long gone by the time I gave up on my goggles and started swimming. I was continually running into people, being run over, elbowed, passing people, being passed and at one point deliberately shoved under water (I didn’t connect the resulting punch as soundly as I’d hoped, but I hope it was enough that he had some thigh cramping later in the race) and along the way accidentally drank about ½ the river. The river water and my stomach didn’t exactly get along and I ended up throwing up during the swim before we got to the end of the island and almost did it again several more times before the finish. After what seemed an eternity I finally reached the “end” of the island and turned toward the finish for the swim. Other than almost vomiting several more times the swim was pretty uneventful the rest of the way. 1:25 after starting the swim I finally climbed out of the water and started the long .3 mile run to my bike and gear.
I got my bike gear bag and started to change. I had some food packed but my stomach would have nothing to do w/ it so I settled for forcing down a carbohydrate drink and while clumsily trying to change clothes and pack my swim gear into the bike gear bag, took a brief rest to cool down (the water temperature was so great that I was actually over heated during the swim), hit the porto-potty and then ran the .2 miles out of transition, hopped on my bike and took off.
The air temp was already in the high 80’s by this point and of course even greater on the road. I drank a 24oz Gatorade during ~ every 12 miles of the ride and poured a bottle of cold water on me to try and cool off. About 17 miles into the ride I turned to ride down a short out and back on the course and passed Brian going the other way and figured out he was 6 miles ahead of me (he and Jennifer finished the swim 20 minutes ahead of me) and a few miles later I saw Jennifer who was 3 miles ahead of me. I tried eating some of my food after about 20 miles and gave up because my stomach was still sick and would have nothing to do w/ it. It was hard enough keeping fluids down. Around 37 miles I passed Jennifer and a few miles later got lapped by the first of the pro’s (there was a 40 mile loop that we did twice and the pro’s started about 25 minutes ahead of me). Around the 50 mile mark I tried eating again and gave up and pitched all of my food (or at least thought I did because 2 days later when doing laundry I found that most of it was still in my jersey pockets) because I saw no reason to carry it if I couldn’t eat it. About the ½ way point of the bike they had an area where we could pick up bags that we’d dropped off w/ food and other stuff we thought we might need and I grabbed another of my carb drinks from it and left the food behind. By this time it was getting very hot on the course I was fighting to keep from massively overheating. The air temp was in the 90’s and the heat radiating off of the road had to have taken the temp to the low 100’s. I just kept exchanging bottles (one in me and one on me), popping electrolyte tablets (I was taking them every 20 minutes during the ride) and tried to maintain a steady pace through the rest of the ride. At some point I found a couple gel packs (little pouches of carbohydrate gel) and forced them on my stomach as well as some shot blocks that I had in my bento box. About a mile from the end of the bike ride I caught Brian. Normally there is no way I could have closed a 6 mile gap on him (600 yards would be tough), but he’d decided to take it easy the last part of the ride to save a little more energy for the run which is his weakest part and where he often struggles. When I hit the end of the ride I got off my bike and ran it the .2 miles back into transition and grabbed the bag w/ my run gear.
I struggled out of my bike clothes and into my running gear and clumsily stuffed bike stuff into the transition bag. Brian joined me shortly after I got into the tent and we chatted for a while. I was still very hot (by this point the air temp had reached 98deg) and hoping a couple extra minutes would help cool me down. Finally ran out of tent, hit porta potty again, and took off on the run with my carb drink. The early part of the run was rather uneventful. I only got about ½ of my carb drink in me before tossing it. The upset stomach combined with bouncing from the run proved too much for it. Every mile I came to an aid station and drank some water or Gatorade and splashed some water on myself, every 3 miles I popped an electrolyte tablet and every 4 miles I forced in a gel pack. I ran the first half of the marathon at a fairly strong steady pace. The heat was tough, but I thought I was keeping the pace down enough to handle it. About 4 miles into the run I saw a pro on the way in who was walking which unfortunately bolstered my self confidence. On my way in from the 1st of 2 laps I saw both Brian and Jennifer and cheered them on and received cheers back. I ran through the turn around for the second lap and all of the cheering from the crowd must have given me a shot of adrenaline because I picked up the pace for a couple of miles. It was during this stretch that I started feeling a chill off and on and part of me thought that it seemed weird because I thought I should be sweating more than I was. I was puzzled by this but kept running and a few miles later I saw Brian and Jennifer again going the other way. The chills slowly got worse and I started feeling a little lightheaded which didn’t make sense to me because I’d been drinking plenty and getting my electrolytes as well as some gel packs. I don’t know why, but about a ¼ mile before the 18th aid station I started walking. When I got to the aid station I started drinking everything I could get my hands on and shoving any and all food into my mouth and soaking myself with cold sponges. The food was hard to keep down but I did it somehow. I kept walking the next mile to the next aid station where I did the same thing. About ¼ mile after that aid station I started jogging slowly and stopped about 200 yds short of the next aid station. I walked to and through that aid station, primarily getting a drink and another cold sponge, hit the porta potty and within 100ft started running again at a little faster pace. The next 2 I stopped only at the aid station and walked just long enough to get a drink, grab a sponge and took off, each time at a faster pace. The next aid station I ran through grabbing a drink and sponge on the way and I totally skipped the last one because I had recovered enough that I had a fast pace going and wanted to hold it through to the finish.
Looking back I know that I suffered greatly from the heat and my problems started during the swim. I didn’t realize it until well after the race (a day or two later) how bad I really was between the clumsiness, confusion, stomach problems (some was from river water, but I don’t think all of it was), chills, etc. I probably bordered on heat exhaustion all day and actually crossed into it during the run. Fortunately I stopped running in time, which was not done as a conscious effort on my part, and cooled off enough to avoid serious problems. The one good thing was that I maintained a high level of hydration and kept my electrolytes up, if I hadn’t, I might not only have not finished, but would probably have ended up in the ER. Unfortunately, that may have also been part of the problem for me recognizing what was going on. I was confused enough, but there were no cramping issues to help warn me.
But, I survived with no long lasting ill effects and finished in a strong time, 11:40:58, which I am still totally stoked about.

Thinking back, the important lesson to me is that no matter how knowledgeable you are about heat illness and careful you are, you can still be in danger of sucombing to them. I'm an athletic trainer and work with athletes in very hot, humid conditions, I teach first aid and CPR to my coaches and really emphasize being aware of the signs and symptoms. Despite this, I was almost overcome by the heat, myself. Upon further reflection I'm confident that I was suffering from heat exhaustion and bordering on heat stroke. Learn the signs and symptoms, prepare for the heat, and race smart.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Barefoot Running: The Agony of De Feet

My last VFF (Vibram Five Fingers) run ended in disaster. Stepping on whatever it was caused severe bruising to my foot and continuing to run on it anyway caused major top of foot pain (TFP) and swelling in both feet. Then, spending another 11 hours on my feet working while wearing my VFF’s just made matters worse. By the end of the day I could barely walk.
I spent the whole weekend in my sandals to give my feet some padding instead of wearing my VFF’s which I’d taken to wearing all of the time since I’d bought them in the beginning of September. I also took the weekend off from running. By the end of the weekend most of the swelling had dissipated and there was only minimal discomfort left in my feet. My right foot where I’d stepped on the object was still very tender but I was fully functional again.
The Monday following my injury I laced up my regular running shoes (Brooks Beast) and went out for a 14 mile run. There was a little discomfort in my right foot but for the most part I felt pretty good. I started wearing my VFF’s again during the day as well. I went for shorter runs in my running shoes on Tuesday and Wednesday and felt very good with them, to the point that I felt ready to give running in my VFF’s another try.
So, on Thursday October 1st I headed out for a short run in my VFF KSO’s. It was just an easy 3.4 mile run with the usual down hill to start and up hill finish. The run felt great until I got to the up hill finish. I felt the now regular discomfort in the base of my toes during the climb, but felt great afterwards. There was no return in swelling or additional pain afterwards.
Buoyed in confidence from my successful run on Thursday I decided to do my first back to back days running in my VFF’s and ran in them again on Friday. I did the same course as Thursday but at a slightly faster pace. About midway through the run I felt a little discomfort starting in my right foot, but nothing that concerned me. The discomfort grew worse on the up hill section, but once again, nothing that I felt was alarming. I knew I needed to develop the strength in my feet and lower legs and just wrote it off as muscle soreness from overworking the muscle with the back to back days in my VFF’s.
My foot was a little tender the rest of the day, but I was able to walk around and work in my VFF’s without any problems. The next day the soreness was gone. I took the weekend off from running anyway just to make sure that everything recovered fully. I really wanted to master running in the VFF’s, but didn’t want to risk serious injury.
By the following Monday my feet were feeling great and I decided to go for another run in my VFF’s. My confidence had risen after successful (I deemed the soreness on the second day insignificant) and decided to up my mileage again. This time I was going to try for 6 miles. I was going to do the same route I’d done on Thursday and Friday of the previous week, but extend it further before I turned around.
The run started off great. My feet and legs felt fantastic and I was comfortably holding a 7 minute/mile pace. I reached the 3 mile mark and made the turn to go back and almost immediately started feeling a sharp pain at the base of my toes and along the top on my right foot. I backed off the pace, tried altering my stride and foot plant, but the pain continued. Even though pretty sharp, I still considered the pain to be simple muscle/tendon soreness and pushed on through the run. My pace slowly dropped to an 8 minute/mile pace and then a 9 minute/mile pace. I made it all the way back in running, but I started to develop a bit of a limp by the end.
I soon as I finished my run I iced my foot for 25 minutes and took some ibuprofen. About an hour later I had some pretty significant swelling in the foot and was having difficulty even walking. Not sure what I was doing wrong, I posted my problem on twitter and quickly got a reply from @Oblinkin.
Based on the info that he gave me (links below) I realized what I’d been doing wrong. It wasn’t just simple soreness from muscles/tendons that needed to be strengthened, I was running incorrectly for barefoot running. I was trying to combine a heel strike running form with a barefoot. I was landing correctly on my forefoot like proper barefoot technique, but was pushing off with my toes the way I would with the heel strike form I’d been using for years. The problem was, to push off with my toes like that I needed the support from running shoes that I was no longer wearing. I needed to modify my running technique further to correct this problem.
Unfortunately, by continuing to run on my foot I caused myself a fairly significant injury. I had to take the next several days off and then I was alternating very slow, short runs in my running shoes with 1 to 2 days off. I took slightly over 3 weeks before I was able to run normally again and another week beyond that before I was pain free in my right foot.

Links explaining top of foot pain and how to avoid:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Barefoot Running: Going off the Rail

A couple of hours after my last VFF (Vibram Five Fingers) run on Wednesday September 16th I noticed an ache in several of my toes (joint at base of toe). It wasn’t anything bad, but definitely uncomfortable. This pain faded to barely noticeable and was gone by Friday. I wrote it off as too much strain on the toes going uphill. My run had finished with a ¾ mile uphill section and I thought the pain was most likely due to the stress placed on the shoes while making the climb.
So on the morning of Monday September 21st I decided to give my VFF’s another try but this time at a slightly shorter distance. I was going to try an easy 3.4 miles on the pavement. I’d have a ¾ mile downhill to start and have to climb it again at the end just like in my last run. The run was pretty much uneventful until near the end when I was headed back up the hill. I started feeling the same soreness in my toes that I felt after the last run, but this time I was feeling it while still running. It started shortly after I started the uphill climb and got steadily worse. This, at least in my mind, confirmed my thoughts from my previous run that it was due to the stress of going up the hill. Not a good thing, but something I felt was easily fixed.
The toes continued to get steadily worse as the day progressed. Nothing unbearable but they were aching pretty bad by the end of the day. I finally gave in and iced them that night, which helped somewhat, but didn’t completely ease the soreness.
The next day they were still pretty sore but I was able to go for a run in my normal running shoes, which I was running in daily between my VFF runs. I did the same route and had no problems whatsoever. The toes ached a bit on the uphill again, but were no worse after the run. They actually felt slightly better than they had before the run.
The week continued on and my toes felt steadily better. I did a 3.2 mile run on Wednesday and a 6 mile run on Thursday in my regular running shoes. I had no further problems and was feeling great. I was itching to try and run again in my VFF’s. I knew I had to find an adjustment or build strength in my feet so that the uphills no longer bothered me, but I had to get back out there and give it another go.
So on Friday, September 25th, I set out on another run in my VFF’s. Confident that my problem lay solely in the uphills, I decided to go for a longer run. I was going to have the same downhill start and uphill finish as the last two runs, but I was going to have a longer stretch of flat in between.
The run started off great. The first 1.5 miles felt great and I was having absolutely no problems. Unfortunately, that’s when things went bad. I stepped on something with my right foot, directly below the toe that had been the sorest. I’m not sure if it was a rock, an acorn or something else, but I felt a searing pain shoot through my foot like I’d been stabbed with a red hot nail. I hobbled a few more yards before stopping to walk. The base of my third toe felt like it was red hot and burning bright. I walked a short ways hoping for the pain to subside, which it didn’t. I started running again anyway and made it about another 100 yards before stopping to walk again. I was positive that something had pierced the shoe and my foot so I sat down to take a look.
I took my VFF off and examined the base of the toe. The skin was fine, not cut, discoloration, inflammation, bruising or any other problem. I took a look at the bottom of my VFF and found no damage there. I put it back on, got up and started walking again. The pain was no better, but it was also no worse so I decided to try and finish my run. It still hurt like crazy but it was getting no worse so I continued on.
After about a mile the pain, though still pretty bad, had lessened somewhat and my pace had picked up. At this point I reached my planned turn around point and I headed for home. Almost immediately I started feeling some soreness in my other foot. It wasn’t bad and I figured that it was from over compensating for the injured foot. I kept running and slowly picking the pace back up to where I had been before I injured my foot. I wasn’t running pretty, but I was running at a steady pace. The climb back up the hill was torture, but it was short lived and the run was soon over.
After the run I iced both feet. They felt slightly better afterwards and I was able to walk with out a limp. Unfortunately, I had a very long day of work left, mostly on my feet, and 11 hours later, when I was finally done for the day, I could barely walk. I got home and both feet were very swollen and painful. It didn’t take a genius moment on my part to realize that I’d made a huge mistake by finishing my run. I was pretty confident that I hadn’t damaged the bones, but I really hurt myself. My attempt to bullheaded charge into being a barefoot/VFF runner been derailed. I’m still convinced that forefoot running is the correct way, but I needed to take time out, heal and find out what all I was doing wrong.

Helpful links to cause and fix for some barefoot/VFF running foot pain (courtesy of @oblinken):

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Barefoot Running: The First Steps in VFF's

My first real run in my VFF’s (Vibram Five Fingers) came after a long day of work in which I wasn’t able to get out for a run. Dark was settling in for the night and I’d finally finished everything that I needed to get done. My legs were restless from having missed their run the last 2 days and I decided to get a quick run in. I hadn’t intended running in my VFF’s again so soon. Even though 2 days before they had proven they could protect my feet, I’d still only run 2 miles barefoot and had a good deal of calf pain and tightness to go with it and I wanted to get at least 3miles in. But after changing for my run I realized I still had my VFF’s on, my legs were feeling good, and decided what the heck, let’s give them a go.
So, on Wednesday September 9th, 2009, I took off on my first VFF run on pavement. Initially I tried to pay close attention to where I was stepping even though it was too dark to really see the road clearly, but quickly gave up trying as I realized the VFF’s were doing a great job protecting my feet. About a mile into my run my calves started to tighten up and get sore again and steadily progressed to painful. I also noticed that the bottoms of my feet were starting to get very hot, especially on the down hills. However, nothing felt like I was really injuring myself so I continued to push on through the growing pain and discomfort.
Halfway through the run I discovered that letting my heel touch the ground helped lessen the amount of calf pain. I’d been running without letting my heel touch on all of my “barefoot” runs but evidently my calves weren’t up to the demands being placed on them. I was pretty sure that heel wasn’t supposed to touch, but figured it would be ok to let it lightly touch for now until I developed a little more strength. The pain in my calves lessened considerably with this change but didn’t let up entirely, but the burning on the bottom of my feet continued. I was sure I was blistering the bottoms of both feet but decided to ignore it and finish the run. I couldn’t let my quest for the truth be sidetracked by a little skin loss.
After my run I got online to look for a little more info on barefoot running. I quickly found some videos on YouTube that I studied carefully. Contrary to my first thinking that correct form meant keeping the heel from touching down at all I was seeing a lot of videos where the runner’s forefoot hit first and then the heel gently touched briefly to the ground. This was a big flaw in what I was doing which I could quickly change.
I also found that the blistering I was confident I had on the bottom of my feet was very minor. The skin was bright red and very irritated but hadn’t fully developed the major blistering I had feared. From watching the videos I figured that part of the problem was that I needed to shorten up my strides a bit more, especially when going down hills.
Even though my first VFF run was full of mistakes, I learned a lot from it and was ready to try again.
Two days later the school that I work with had a number of activities going on one of which was an orienteering exercise. Everything went well with it until the end when we had a couple of kids get lost in the woods. My feet and calves were still bothering me from my run on Wednesday, but I knew the woods better than most of the people on campus and so I set out running through the woods in search of the kids. It was a wet rainy day and I had my VFF’s on as I scrambled along trails, crossed streams, swampy areas, scrabbled up rock formations and just about every type of terrain. The VFF’s were working out great and my legs and feet felt fantastic. We were in touch with the kids via cell phone so I was slowly zeroing in on them. I can only estimate how far I ran based on time and basic knowledge of where I was but I estimate I ran approximately 2.5-3miles while hunting for the kids. Fortunately, the kids found their way to a road and another teacher was able to drive out and get them.
My next run came 5 days later on September 16th. My calves and feet had fully recovered and I was itching to give my VFF’s and “improved” knowledge of barefoot running a go. Never being one to enter into anything cautiously and being confident in my running I increased the distance again. I decided to increase my distance from the previous week by over ½ a mile. The run I planned started with a long downhill which was very steep toward the end. This would really test my new theory on the hotspots on my feet and how to rectify.
I started out on my run with my heels gently touching, my strides shortened and confident I was finally figuring this thing out. By the time I’d gone ¾ a mile and reached the end of the downhill section my calves felt great and my feet were feeling pretty good. I’d still developed a little bit of a hot spot on both feet, but significantly less then the last run and I was confident of no blistering. The rest of the run went without any problems. I finished it feeling great and excited about my progress.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Barefoot Running: The Beginning

After spending the summer reading and hearing about barefoot/forefoot running and finally reading the book “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougal, my view of running and running shoes had altered significantly. After all, I can’t think of a single other sport other than distance running where we are taught to use our heels so much. Basketball players, football players, baseball players, wrestlers, sprinters and more are all taught to stay on ball of foot or on toes. Only in distance running do we get away from that. I fully believe that Bill Bowerman thought he was doing the right thing and for many years I’ve believed it, but now, I’m not so sure and I started to get the itch to find out if this really was the way to go.
The barefoot journey officially began for me on Thursday September 3rd, 2009. After I got done with work for the day I went home, got changed, laced up my running shoes and headed out for a run. I ran about ¼ of a mile up to our practice field hockey field, which was all grass and very soft, and took off my running shoes. I meant to start out at a slow jog, but before I had completed one lap of the field I was up to a normal running pace comparable to what I ran in shoes. The grass felt great on my feet and the field provided plenty of cushioning. I did 8 laps around the field for a total of one mile (measured by GPS) and then put my running shoes back on to complete my workout.
I ran another 3.5 miles of trails in my running shoes and was miserable the whole time. The heel of the shoe now seemed to be hard as a rock and continually interfering with my run. The shoes
and orthotics that I had loved for the last several years and credited with saving my running were now being considered an evil. Mentally, I was already becoming a barefoot runner.
Latter in the day I noticed some tightness and minor soreness in my lower legs, but nothing unusual for starting a new workout. My feet felt great and I was raring to try and up the distance. I did have some concern about it, because chronic calf pain and tightness is what drove me into orthotics 8 years ago, but I was fairly optimistic that this was different.
The next day after work I decided to continue my quest. I again laced up my shoes but this time ran 1/3 of a mile to our baseball/softball fields where I again took off my shoes and started to run. Unlike the day before, these fields were a little less grassy, hard in places and had a number of places covered in acorns. I was a little worried how my feet would fair, but decided to give it a go anyway.
About ½ mile into my run my calves started to get real sore, primarily from the run the day before, but despite the surface being a little harder, my feet were feeling great. I stepped on a number of acorns, small rocks, sticks and other objects but my feet handled them well. I pushed through the soreness and completed 2.1 miles and then put my shoes back on and ran about a mile further back to my athletic training room. I don’t mind a little soreness but decided it would be a good idea to treat my legs and feet to a nice ice whirlpool to make sure that it stayed only a little soreness.
I knew that I pushed myself pretty far in the first two days so I decided to take a few days before trying again. And so the next day I took completely off of running to give my legs a little recovery time. Besides, I had a home football scrimmage that Saturday and my time was going to be somewhat limited.
For the scrimmage I put on my shoes, which, other than for running, I hadn’t worn all summer. By the end of the afternoon my feet were in pain. Every summer outside of workouts I wear nothing on my feet except sandals, and only wear those when I have to. Every fall when I go back to work my feet hate me for the first several weeks and this year looked like it was going to be more of the same if I let it. My runs had me somewhat convinced that there was definite credibility to the whole barefoot idea and I decided I’d had enough.
As soon as things were done for the day and I had all of my gear put away I went home and got on the computer. I quickly found the closest place that sold Vibram Five Fingers (VFF), which are a very minimalist shoe that I’d been hearing and reading quite a bit about all summer. They are nothing more than a very thin, flexible rubber sole that is held on with minimal material and allows your feet to function in a more “normal” manner including allowing your toes to be separate and spread out.
I drove over to the nearest store and bought a couple different pairs (KSO and Sprint). I walked out of the store in my sandals, but before I reached my car I changed into my VFF Sprints, which I wore the rest of the day. By the end of the 3 day weekend I was wearing nothing else, except for during my workouts.
That following Monday, which was Labor Day, I decided to give my new VFF’s their first break in run. I put my VFF Sprints on and ran 1/3 of a mile up to our cross country trails. I took a very rocky trail as a short cut up to the cross country trails wanting to give the VFF’s a real test. But, despite the large number of very sharp rocks littering the trail I had no problems running on it. The VFF’s had proven they could protect my feet.
I took the VFF’s off when I got to the trails and put my regular running shoes on and ran for another 3 miles in them not wanting to push my calf muscles which hadn’t fully recovered from Friday’s run. When I came out of the cross country trails I put my VFF’s back on for the run back to my apartment.
I’d now completed my first weekend in my VFF’s, done my first several barefoot runs and was feeling pretty good. Calves were still a bit tight, but no longer sore. Feet were feeling great, and I was optimistic that I was on the right track. I knew I needed a day off, but I couldn’t wait for the next step in the journey.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Barefoot Running: The Basics

This blog is bound to go in multiple directions with entries made in regards to Athletic Training and to my training and racing triathlons and running. This is where the name of the page comes from, thus covering both areas.
I figure a great way to start off is writing about a topic that applies to both, barefoot running. Over the last few years I've heard a lot about this growing trend and this summer I finally started to take notice of it and do a little research. What I found surprised me, more so, because it didn't surprise me. Confusing, I know, but then so is this whole topic and the lack of documented research proving either side of the argument. Despite all the supposed research into developing new running shoes, there is no proof that they actually do what they claim. Here is an article that came out in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that came to conclusion that there is no evidence to back up the prescribing of our current high tech running shoes:
Humans have been running for centuries and in the grand scheme of things, shoes have only been around for a very short period of time. It's been an even shorter period of time that shoes were anything more than a thin protection from the ground. The modern running shoe made its appearance back in the '70's with Bill Bowerman's creation of the waffle soled running shoe. Since then the company Bowerman co-founded, Nike, and many others have taken off with the idea and brought science to our footwear. These high-tech shoes provide cushioning and support and come in so many types that they accommodate just about everyone's individual needs.
As a result of the development of a modern running shoe, runners switched from a forefoot/midfoot running style to a heel strike form of running and a new era dawned. Unfortunately, from what I've read so far, a new era of running related injuries developed as well. Injuries that were basically unheard of in running were now becoming very common. As a result, shoes were designed to take care of these problems, and redesigned and redesigned and...
Nothing I've read convinced me 100% either way, but what has swayed me is the thoughts back to my history as a runner and the experiences that I have had. The more I read, the more I remembered and the more I've come to believe that forefoot/midfoot running is probably the correct way to go. I don't know what my original running style was, but I do remember very fondly my first pair of running shoes. They were made by converse and I remember that the heel wasn't noticeably thicker than the forefoot. I ran in that same pair of shoes for two years in middle school and never had an injury. I was sad when I finally wore out the sole on them, because I knew that converse no longer made that shoe.
My next pair of shoes were the Nike Daybreak's. It was a tan shoe with an orange swoosh. I remember being amazed at how cushiony they were and I quickly forgot about my old converse shoes. I also remember my freshman year in high school wearing the shoes and our coach (cross country and track) emphasizing that I lengthen my stride and get a good heel strike. By the start of track season my sophomore year I suffered my first running injury, a stress fracture in my right tibia. There is no proof or certainty that the change in my running form caused the injury, but it is an interesting chain of events that has helped lead me to reconsider how I run and the recommendations I make to others.
In addition to my experience as a runner I also have some of the things that I do as an athletic trainer that also lend to my new way of thought. Quite a bit of the rehab I have my athletes do for foot, ankle, lower leg injuries involves them exercising while up on their forefoot in attempt to strengthen the body part and restore proper balance. I do this because I've found it to be much more successful than if they do same exercises on more of a flat foot stance.
In my next entry I will start to document my journey to become a "barefoot" runner.
Additional links:
recent article in Baltimore Sun:,0,5156711.story
article in NYTimes about barefoot running:
video showing difference between forefoot/heel strike running:
proprioception and barefoot workouts:
more info on barefoot running:
info on minimalist shoes:
home page for Vibram Five Fingers: