Over the several days that followed the Boston Buildup 25k my feet had soreness along the top of the metatarsals and in the toe joints. This pain disappeared midway through the week but would pop back up again every few days as I worked on trying to improve my downhill running nothing serious, but enough to be annoying.
After 2 weeks of running after the race, bringing me to 7 weeks of running in nothing but Vibram Five Fingers, I decided to try another race, the Celebrate Life Half Marathon. I’d run the race for the first time the year before and really enjoyed it. I had hoped to make it my first VFF race but buoyed by my success in running in them I’d jumped the gun and run a different race. But, I’d been working on my downhill weakness and was ready to see if I’d made any improvement and I knew the CLHM course would give me the test I needed.
The temperatures in the week leading up to the CLHM had been fantastic, upper 40s to low 50s and I was looking forward to a fun race. Unfortunately the rain gods figured this out and brought in a huge storm the night before which abused the whole area, ripping apart trees, power, phone and cable lines, tearing up roofs, flooding roads and just bringing general chaos to the area. Race morning came and the remnants of the storm were still lingering in the area threatening to attack again. The air temp was in the low 40s which was plenty comfortable but the threat of cold rain made the prospect of racing less than fun.
On the way to the race I again stopped at Duncan Donuts to get my grease fix on with a bacon, egg and cheese on an English muffin and large coffee to supplement my Nature Valley granola bars and Powerade Ion. Not what I would like for a prerace meal, but it seemed to do me rather well 2 weeks earlier at the BB25k, so what the heck. Harden my arteries to start the morning and get my heart working early in the race trying to pump blood through my clogged arteries. Life didn’t get much better…
When I got to the Rock Hill Lodge I quickly found a parking space along side the road and went in to get my race packet. Unlike the previous race where hardly anyone blinked an eye at my VFFs, I was drawing quite a few stares and curious looks. Evidently this group wasn’t quite as familiar with them as the last. On my way pack to my truck after getting my packet I had several people that came up to me to ask me about them. One had heard of them, the other 2 would slightly incredulous that they were not only shoes, but that I was going to run in them.
Once I finally reached my truck I quickly donned my race gear and headed to the start. I got no further questions on the way but could feel the eyes following my every step. I didn’t care for all of the attention when I first started wearing the VFFs back at the end of August, but I’d gotten to the point where I found it quite entertaining to see people’s reactions. I had one training run a few weeks before where the same truck looped around and drove past me slowly not once, not twice, but three times with the last one the passenger was hanging out the window trying to get a better look. So everyone here was no surprise to me.
I’m guessing it is so they can try and have everyone in at the same time for the post-race celebration (which is catered by Outback Steakhouse and includes steak, chicken, salad and beer) but this is one of the only races I know that has 3 different start times with all of the racers going the same distance. They let the walkers start at 8:30, the slow runners who request an early start (and therefore disqualify themselves from awards) at 9 and the rest of us at 10. This meant that midway through the race when the field started to thin out that there would still be plenty of people to pass, chat with, motivate, etc. I’d found it strange but rather fun the previous year.
I had one more brief conversation about my VFFs, they played the National Anthem and off we went. Since the course is continual rolling hills it was almost immediately that we started our first uphill, and downhill, and uphill, and downhill, and, well you get the idea. None of the hills were all that long, and they weren’t very steep, but they kept coming at you like a prom date after that elusive final (vertical) dance of the night.
I was passing and being passed and jockeying back and forth. I still wasn’t as fast on the downhills as I was in running shoes, but I was holding my ground on them much better than the previous week. That flats, short though they were, and the uphills I was still running strong. I had an occasional conversation and question about my VFFs with runners as I passed them or got passed. The rain was holding off and we were only running through an occasional light mist.
About 4 miles into the race I encountered what would be my only physical challenge of the day. I don’t know if it was from my wonderfully nutritious breakfast or from over indulging at a friend’s birthday party the night before, but my lower digestive tract was starting to protest mightily, threatening a flood of their own. It wasn’t impossible to run through, but it made things about as much fun as listening to a GWB speech and slowed me slightly. I ended up running the next 6 miles with the old glutes flexing like they were in a Schwarzenegger movie.
About 6 ½ miles into the run I started catching the first of the walkers. This is when things began to get more entertaining. Since they were moving a little slower and I guess had more time to look and more oxygen to talk I started to hear a lot more chatter about my fancy dancy footwear. There were occasional shouted questions of “are those Vibrams”, and “how do you like them”, as well as comments amongst themselves that I overheard wondering what they were, or explanations to friends about them. I never got full conversations, it was all snippets due to the disparity in our paces, but they kept me entertained and my attention of my ailing tail pipe.
Finally around the 10 mile mark I saw the oasis in the form of a plastic portable shi# box that I’d been desperately searching for. They are disgusting things that I absolutely abhor, but as an endurance athlete they are a necessary evil that is part of the sport. I took care of business quickly and made the final 3 mile dash for the finish.
I was still feeling strong as I made the final ¾ mile downhill descent to the finish. My overall pace wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but considering my physical condition through most of the race and still learning how to run in VFFs I was happy with what I was doing. I crossed the finish strong hitting almost an 8 minute pace for the day.
Afterwards I quickly went back to my truck, changed shirts and put on a fleece to try and stave off the post race chills. I then wandered back to the finish area grabbed a bottle of water and went inside to get my post race meal, which was not a thing to miss at the CLHM. It was catered by Outback Steak House and they served steak, chicken, ceasar salad, rolls, bananas, coffee, hot chocolate AND BEER. It is quite a feast.
Of course while standing in line and while eating there were more conversations and questions about my VFFs, all of which I gladly welcomed. I finished my food, beer and chats and slipped out before the awards. An 8 min/mile pace is way too slow to be making the podium so I opted to beat the traffic getting out of there.
It wasn't a great day for me, but I was coming along. I could tell from the way my feet felt that I'd redeveloped my blisters on the front part of my left foot, but my running was improving. I was getting better on the downhills and while still no speed demon I was beginning to hold my own on them again. The final .75 miles of the race was all downhill and I managed to pass about 12 people and only got passed by 1. I definitely still felt a little fire in the top of my feet when running down the hills but it was less intense and my stride was slowly starting to lengthen back out.
My VFFs were taking me for a fun ride and I was no longer paying a high price for my passage. I was starting to feel reborn as a runner and loving every second of it. I'm not sure where this will end up, but I was aching to find out and to continue to push my luck.
For those interested, I highly recommend the race. They do a great job and you can't beat the post race feast!