On Sunday I gave myself a birthday present. I turned 59 on the 23rd and ran the Fairfield Half Marathon on the 24th. It is a race I’ve run several times in the past, but this was a milestone run for me. It was the first time I’ve run it in minimalist style.
A year ago a 10+ mile run was not a big deal. I was putting those out on a regular basis all through the summer. Then in late fall I started the transition to minimal style and my mileage and milestones all changed drastically. Back in May I hit a plateau where I felt my form was good and I was going to slowly add miles. The form has stayed and miles have been added. It has not been without pain and adjustment. It has been enlightening and exhilarating.
Well, first off, my times aren’t that much different. I went back to the records and in 2002, 10 years ago, I ran Fairfield in 1:52:28. My personal best was somewhere around 1:51, but I can’t remember where I ran that. I know, I’m not much of a record keeper for running. As you can tell, world class does not describe my times.
This year I finished in 1:54:52, 968 out of 3522 and #30 in my age group. And I ran it in my Luna Sandals
BTW, my feet aren’t purple, but I couldn’t find a place where the light was decent for the shot.
NOTE: The right sandal is a little bigger. I was trimming them down for a more custom fit and screwed up the the right one. Luna sold me a separate sandal and I am waiting for the imprint to finalize before I do the last trim. That is what is great about sandals – you can cut them to fit. They guys at Luna are just great to deal with. To be fair, the guys at Invisible Shoes and Bedrock Sandals have always been easy to deal with, too. I think it is part of the mental framework that comes from this style of running.
What About The Race, Already?!
The Fairfield Half course is not flat. There are five of six good climbs and a number of rollers along the way. The last climb hits at about 10 miles and is a sharp uphill for .2 of a mile followed by steady upward grade for a just under a half mile. That doesn’t sound long, but when it is hot and you’ve already run 10 miles, it is taxing. I was looking forward to that last climb because I know it had stopped my on my second run of the course in 2003.
Before the race I did the wait-in-the Port-A-John line routine and then some walking around to kind of loosen up. A man walked passed me and asked if I was going to change into shoes when the race started. I smiled and said I was running in the sandals. The two women with him almost gasped and did the “Really? You’re running in those?” response. That made me smile as I told them they were pretty comfortable.
About 10 minutes before the start I was sitting on the side of the road people watching. )(It is an occupational hazard for a writer who is also a slight introvert.) As I watched, a man who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties walked by me. He was barefoot. I got off my butt and asked him if he was running barefoot. His name was Adam and he confirmed his barefoot intention. Then he asked if I was wearing Luna’s and we talked a while. It turned out he was almost two years into minimal style and it had saved his knees and lower legs. He told me that it took a long time for his calves and achilles to adjust. That made me feel better about the ongoing muscle adjustment I was experiencing.
The gun went off and we did the shuffle for a minute or so until we got passed the start line. I set off Sportstracker on my iPhone and got ready for the first mile warmup.
You can tell from the picture that it was a very accurate monitor for the run. I kept the audio alerts off and put my iPhone into sleep mode and only used about 10% of the charge during the run. Not bad. I could – will – do a marathon with it.
About 5 miles into the run, a young man pulled up next to me and asked how I liked my sandals. I told him that it took adjustment to the new style, but I loved the feel. He was wearing some minimal shoes and agreed on the adjustment. He asked me what brand and I told him “Luna” and spelled it for him because he thought I said “Muna”. We chatted for a little while and then he moved off to the side to join up with a young woman. As we hit a downhill and I started to pull away (more on that later), I heard him saying “No, Luna. L-U-N-A.” to his friend. I smiled. It’s funny to witness when people are shy about talking to someone. At least she had a boyfriend to help satisfy her curiosity.
After the turnaround, somewhere around mile 8, I was coming off another downhill when I heard a male voice over my shoulder. “True minimalist running!”
“I love it,” was my response. That led to a nice conversation while we ran side by side for a mile. He was wearing a pair of Merrel’s that he really liked. We talked about how long the adjustment took and how nice it felt to have the feel of the road under your feet. And, more important, how much more fun running had become. He said he was disappointed that he couldn’t get any of his friends to take up the style. I agreed since most of my running friends think I’m crazy or that I’m doing something so herculean that they can’t imagine taking on the effort. I guess that making running easier is hard work in their minds!
All along the way people made a comment here or there. I had no problem with that and I tried to be a good representative of minimal running and barefoot style. The great thing was every time I got asked a question or someone commented to me, I found myself smiling.
One of the male things to do on the race course is what I refer to as Tail Watching. Not very clever, but descriptive, so you figure out what it means! Post a comment if you need more details. During the race there was one female GenY’r who seemed to have a pace about the same as mine. I would gain some distance on the ascents and decents and she would catch and pass me on the flats. She had on bright orange shoes and a black kneeband on her left knee and, with my admiration, was running for the Whole in the Wall Gang, a charity started by Paul Newman for kids with terminal and chronic illness.
About a mile from the finish, after I had gained on the last long climb of the day, she pulled up next to me, said “Good run”, then proceeded to pull away to finish ahead of me. Maybe she had been watching my ass? It’s my story and I can believe what I want!
Listen. I am way passed worrying about people beat me in a race, so I don’t get all macho in the last 500 yards and try to run people into the ground. There is always someone ahead or behind me. I did pick up my pace thanks to her wake up call and finished in a time faster than I had expected. I was shooting for 2 hours.
Reflections on the Day
I had a great time. The weather was clear and sunny and the course was just beautiful. It was usually shaded by tall trees and it meandered through some wonderful New England residential areas. People were out in front of their houses cheering us on. Bands were playing great music every few miles. The volunteers at the aid stations were fantastic and the local police represented for all peace officers. It was a well coordinated, well appointed race that was a pleasure to participate in. My only complaint is that is should have started an hour earlier because it was over 85 degrees when I finished.
As I crossed the finish I got a pretty cool medallion, too.
The Downhills Were Awesome!
I have put on close to 400 miles in minimal style over the past 7 months. If you’ve been following this blog, then you have read about the adjustments I’ve made in style. The biggest difference in running in sandals is going downhill. In regular shoes, you just clomp down the hills and let your feet get squished a bit in the toe area. When you wear sandals you have a little part of the strap between you first and second toes and if you land and push forward, you’ll screw yourself up.
What I discovered over the miles is that going downhill means a faster cadence while keeping the stride pretty short and landing on your forefoot or midfoot to keep the impact minimal. It feel very unfamiliar. I was going to say uncomfortable, but that is wrong. Running downhill that way in sandals is comfortable, it just feels strange.
For months I’ve had no one to compare against on the hills. Flats are just time, but hills are different. Quite frankly, I knew I was tearing up the hills and this run proved it. I get into this nice smooth forefoot strike mode and I move up the hill, I don’t run it. Shorter stride, higher cadence and smooth. I gained on just about everyone on every hill I ran in Fairfield. A couple of times some guys tried to keep up with me and I watched them blow up near the top. Just to be clear, I wasn’t sprinting. I was maintaining the rhythm and the hills didn’t kill me. I killed them.
Going downhill was an eye opener. I thought I’d get womped because the style I had developed seemed slow when I was out by myself. The opposite happened. When I got to the first real descent I had to find a clear path otherwise I was going to run over people. The form turned out to be efficient as hell and so smooth I even surprised myself. All of a sudden, it felt very familiar. It was so much fun that I smiled like a kid on every descent.
I walked around and ate watermelon and bananas and drank a lot of water. People asked about my sandals and I continued to represent in as positive a manner as I could considering I was hot and tired (I had gotten up a 4am to be able to drive to the race in time).
When I got home I noticed my calves were very stiff and my right knee was hurting. That was new. It only got more tight as the day went on. I didn’t take any aspirin of Advil because I wanted to keep an eye out in case it was an injury and not just post race shock.
To make the story short, the pain in both areas dissipated the next day. I made sure I ate Omega rich foods and took some Omega oil blend that I had gotten as a sample. That, I believe, helped the recovery. On Tuesday, I was back to normal.
I have now hit the third phase of my transition.
Running the half was the longest distance I have gone since my transition. I’ve hit 10 miles several times but had to back down to let recovery happen. I crossed a bridge this weekend and now realize that I am at the same point in mileage buildup as I would be if I were wearing shoes. I am back to where I was last year, except I feel like I have a lot more headroom in my running.
Does that make sense to you? After talking to the minimalist runners on the course, I think they would understand. My transition isn’t over and an idea occurred to me on my drive home on Sunday that I will share with you in my next post.
Right now I just want to celebrate regaining my running legs. More than ever I am convinced that your body can take a lot more than you give it. I am also convinced that if you give it the test in a form that matches what the body was built to do, you can maximize the benefit and push further than you ever thought you could go.
Keep Running. Dig Deep. Run Free.