I awoke Sunday February 28th got dressed and hopped in my truck for the drive to Norwalk, CT for the Boston Buildup 25k (15.5mi). I made a quick stop at Duncan Donuts to grab coffee and a ham, egg and cheese on a English muffin to supplement my Nature Valley granola bars and Powerade Ion breakfast. Not my usual nutritious prerace meal, but this was sort of a last second decision to run the race and I was ill prepared food wise. The heavy winter storm we’d just come out of had made going for groceries difficult.
Armed with my grease meal I made the 30 minute drive to the race start. I left an area with an average of 18-24 inches of snow and arrived to find the land around the race start only covered with about an inch of snow. It’s funny how such a short distance can make such a huge difference in weather.
It was a cool, crisp morning. The sky was clear of clouds and the sun was shining brightly. The air temperature was in the low 40’s and with the sun brightening the day it looked to be about a perfect morning for a race.
I quickly found registration, signed up, got my number and headed back to my truck to get ready for the race. I had on shorts, put on a tech long sleeve t-shirt, slathered my forefeet with body glide to help lessen the problems with my blisters, put on and my my wool Injinji socks and my blue camo Sprint VFFs (Vibram Five Fingers). I’d forgot my number belt so resorted to pinning my number on the old fashioned way. I grabbed my Garmin 305, put on my heart rate monitor, secured my key and headed over to the race start.
It was a relatively small race, but looked to have some pretty good runners. The race was put on by a local running club and was relatively low key. Part of the purpose was to help club members prepare for the Boston marathon. Even though it was sort of a club event, it was opened up to others. Aid stations were farther apart than typical for most races, there were no t-shirts, prizes were virtually non-existent, and entry fee was very low, but it seemed to be well organized.
I was a little nervous, I’d run many ½ marathons before but this was my first race running in VFFs. I’ve been running for almost 30 years and over 1000 races of varying distances and all of them had one thing in common that I was putting at risk with this race. Every race I’ve ever started I finished. Zero DNFs. I’d only run this far once in VFFs and that was only 7 days ago and at a very easy pace. Here I was trying to repeat the distance with severely blistered feet from my run a couple days before and I was going to be pushing the pace pretty hard. I could have just run it as a training run, but I’d learned from years of experience that no matter how much I may want to and plan to take it easy in a race, once the race starts the plan goes straight out the window and off I go full out. So I was sure this would be no different and I wasn’t going to pretend it would be.
Driving in I noticed the area was rather hilly and I was expecting that the course would be as well. Hills were still giving me some difficulty, the uphill seemed to burn the bottom of my feet some and the downhill was very hard on the feet all around. Coupled with this the course was most likely going to be rather wet from the melting snow and in VFFs this pretty much guaranteed my feet would get soaked which would make things with my blistered feet even more difficult.
I joined in with the group at the starting line, reset my Garmin and I was ready. After a few quick words the race started and off we all went. Just like I expected I was immediately pushing the pace and the course quickly proved me right about the hills and the wet roads. The hills weren’t real big or step, but they just kept coming one after the other and my feet were thoroughly soaked before the first mile was finished. My pace through the first mile was about a 7:30 and I was feeling good.
The body glide was helping with my feet on the uphills, I barely felt the blisters and noticed no burning in my feet. The downhills were proving to still be a bit difficult. For the first time in my life I was getting passed on the hills quite regularly. I was doing well on the uphill, but on the down I wasn’t able to lengthen my stride and take full advantage of gravity. I had to hold back some or my feet would start getting painful. I hadn’t been sure how slow I’d been running downhill until now, because I’d been running for last month on my own, but now that I was running with and against others I knew from the number of people passing me that I was even slower than I’d expected. I obviously still either still had something to learn about barefoot/VFF running or needed to develop more foot strength or both. I was frustrating getting passed this easily and I kept trying to open things up a bit more with each successive downhill.
I could feel some top of foot pain developing, nothing severe yet, but I needed to keep very aware of it. The water stations were about every 3 miles, which was further than I’d expected, but so far it wasn’t proving to be a problem. I just focused on drinking more at each one than I normally would. Before I knew it I’d blown through the ½ way point in just about 1 hour on the nose and I was feeling great.
The rest of the race continued pretty much the same way except for one thing. Around the 9 mile mark the body glide I’d applied to my feet had given out and I was really starting to feel the blisters. They didn’t seem to be getting worse, but they were definitely reminding me that they were there. As it would turn out, my feet held up great with only a small increase in the size of the blisters.
In the closing miles I was really pushing myself and the top of foot pain was starting to be of concern. Concern, but not enough to cause me to back off and I kept pushing with each downhill I was still trying to increase stride and speed. I was still getting passed, but by fewer people and they were going by me at a slower rate. Throughout the race I’d repassed just about everyone that had passed me once I got on the brief flats or on the next uphill, but I was sick of having to recatch them and was trying to do what I could to keep as many of them as possible behind me the rest of the way.
I finished in a time of 2:00:34. It was far from my fastest, but it was a solid performance for this time of year and especially for my first race in VFFs, besides it had years since I’d run significantly faster. Overall I felt good. Blisters were aggravated but not excessively so and my feet were sore enough to be concerned but not worried. As far as I was concerned I was now officially a barefoot runner. I’d also learned that even though I was doing well with this ‘new’ style of running that I still had some work to do, primarily with downhill running, especially since the soreness in my feet would last several days and by the end of the day I had developed some slight swelling in them again but nothing that prevented me from not only running, but continuing to run in VFFs.
Overall the experience was good. It was a good race, well organized, a challenging course and strong competition. I was happy with where I was in my training and how well I was running with my VFFs. It was a good start to the upcoming race season.