ULTRA RUNNING BAREFOOT
After signing up for the North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco (50 mi) I realized I wanted to also sign up for the Ultra Trail Marathon du Mont-Blanc (100 mi) in 2012. While the NFEC is in December 2011 in San Francisco I need to accumulate 5 points to qualify for the UTMB. This means that I need to run (and finish!) the NFEC and probably a 100 km run (62 mi) or a 100 mi run (not quite ready for that yet – eventually ran Rio Del Lago 100 mi). This post is about Ultra Running Barefoot!
Last year was all Ironman races and marathons. I got a bit bored with that and I find the entrance fees outrageous. Running was my first sport and I felt I needed to focus more on that. I could decide to get under 3 hours at the marathon distance (my PR is 3:07) or I could decide to work on endurance by running ultra-distance events. Getting 2:50-something at the marathon requires a lot of speedwork on tracks or on the street. I don’t like that too much and I’m not that interested in speed (as my performance at the last Silverman can show!).
I like the outdoors, I like to run and I like to climb mountains too. So working on bigger and further endurance goals seems like the way to go. I’m not that fast (I’m getting older) but I can go for a really long time. I don’t remember being tired after any of my IM races.
So since Silverman, I’ve been running in Griffith Park a lot. Typically 50 miles of hills a week. I love Griffith Park, we are so lucky to have this in Los Angeles. I think it’s the biggest expanse of urban greenery in the world. There are so many locations in the park where you can forget that you are in a major city. My running has mainly consisted of 4 runs a week (I swim long distance in the pool and I take one day to cycle a bit). These runs are 8 miles of hills and a weekly long run (usually 22 miles with a 26 miles once a month). This had gotten a little too comfortable. That’s why it was time to step it up and sign up for the above-mentioned events!
In preparation and with great anticipation, today I planned to run 30 miles. Because of the loops, I ended up running 33 miles. It was actually quite easy. Here are the highlights:
I have two different measures of distance: Google maps and MapMyRun give different values (33.0231 and 32.98 respectively – so it’s safe to say it’s around 33 miles!).
A lot of hills! There was about 2700ft of elevation gain (2700ft of climbing). I went across Griffith Park three times. No cars and I met some friends training there along the way. There are plenty of water sources (more on nutrition below). The course is good preparation for the NFEC (hilly). I will have to run at a higher altitude for the UTMB. I ran on roads most of the time and I will adjust that to start focusing on trails. There was no time to work out a strict trail course for today. I like running on trails more, although I see a lot of rattlesnakes these days (the eggs have hatched in the spring and they are getting bigger and bigger!). Snakes cross the roads too, causing me to jump!
It took me about 5 hoursr and 30 minutes to cover the distance. I took several walk breaks and I had to stop to buy a drink and food.
I run with Vibrams which is like running barefoot but with a glove on the feet so that one doesn’t get cut. It is possible to run strictly barefoot but there is the occasional piece of glass or horse poop! I own several pairs of Vibrams but for this course, I used the Treksport model. It has a little more padding on the back of the heel and I buy them half a size bigger to accommodate for swelling over time (not that much). I started to run exclusively barefoot almost three years ago.
Prior to that, I was using Newtons which are great but because I have a good forefoot stride I’m better off running barefoot. If you are interested in the benefits of barefoot running read the Born to Run book. It is often shown that barefoot running is more bio-mechanically correct/optimal/healthy and will prevent a lot of chronic injuries. In other words, the shoes that Nike and the like try to sell you aren’t that good for you (look at it as the junk food of shoes!). Throughout human history, running was pretty much barefoot, we’re born to run barefoot!
The rest of the gear is a Fuel Belt with a pouch and an extra pouch for extra fuel. A pair of shorts (very short) and a tank top (all technical fabric of course). I put Bodyglide under my arms as the salt and the friction can cause quite some chaffing usually. I recommend Bodyglide versus anything like Aquaphor because it stays there and doesn’t need to be re-applied for a long time. No need to put some on the feet at least for me but there have been times on other long runs when blisters were looming (it was more the consequence of a asymmetrical gait) so I should have done that. I got lucky there.
I should have put sunscreen but I tend to forget.
I fill my Fuel Belt with Gatorade. I buy the powdered kind because it allows me to double or triple the concentration. It wasn’t too hot when I started (nice cloud ceiling) so it lasted until the Pony Ride stand (mile 12) where I refilled with regular Gatorade (it tastes flat after the double concentration one…). After that, I used the water points in the park to refill my bottles. I don’t know how much I drank overall but I’d guess one gallon.
Since I was peeing at regular intervals I assumed I was staying hydrated enough (although peeing should NEVER be taken as an indication of full hydration. Cells get dehydrated even if you pee). By the time I got to Trails Cafe, I bought lemonade to refill my bottle. The woman there was bitchy enough to not want to fill my glass to the top! What is an inch extra of lemonade going to cost especially considering the generous tip I left? This made me angry for 30 min at least.
I usually take some EnduroLyte capsules but I had run out and it wasn’t hot until the end when the sun starting pointing its nose (last 90 minutes of the run were sunny and hot). It’s really important to take those when the sweat rate is high. In a couple of long training sessions in the summer in the California sun, they saved me from deflating due to electrolyte depletion.
This also was a bit improvised. I grabbed some Cliff Bars from my mountain food bag and that was it. I usually use adzuki bean paste bars that are made in Japan. My stock ran out and with the Fukushima situation, I haven’t replenished it. I will have to find some that are made somewhere else. They are the perfect nutrition as they are easily eaten (like jello) and pack carbs and protein. I bought some trail mix at Trails. Also gulped a Guayaki Energy shot at mile 26 to celebrate and to give me a boost.
I made an effort to remind myself to eat about every hour. I might even have overeaten a bit but that is safer, once the glycogen stores go there is no going back for a while. When I look on the Gmap page it says I burned about 3500 calories. That is probably about right because I think I ate about this amount. I weighed myself at the start and at the end and I had not lost any weight at all which is always the goal (I know, a lot of people exercise to lose weight!).
No weight loss meant that I was right on the mark for nutrition and hydration. It’s probably also why I didn’t feel tired or depleted. Part of this experience but also part of it is luck. There have been long runs where I messed up and ended up dehydrated and hungry and 5 pounds lighter.
Before this run, I didn’t run for two days and went swimming instead. The nights preceding the run, I didn’t sleep that much. At least 8 hours to run at my best. I slept about 7.5 hours which isn’t so bad either. I started in a decent condition though and because the distance was long I made a conscious effort to slow down instead of dashing out of the door as usual.
This really helped cover the distance and not get tired I think. I climbed all the hills without feeling a burn or struggling. Just steady. Muscles, lungs, and heart worked great today. Yeah. I did take some walk breaks, maybe I walked 20% of the time, this works as a great in-run recovery and allows me to run strong until the end.
The only problems I encountered were due to my right foot. It started to hurt at about mile 11. Even after stopping to refuel at the Pony Ride it was hurting. I know the cause of that. I tend to curl my right toes slightly and it creates tension in the foot system. For a while, I thought I was breaking my bones in this foot (due to fear only as I had read it can happen to ultra runners). At mile 13 I just stopped, sat on the road and did 5 minutes of massage on the foot.
The pain dissolved and didn’t come back at all. I also worked on having a more relaxed gait. Running barefoot is great but on the downhills, the front of the foot gets slapped a bit. It just takes a bit of awareness of what is happening and focuses on running balanced. I find that it is what happens in the mind that will cause a poor running gait which in turn leads to biomechanical problems and tension.
Regarding the mental aspect of the run, I started with a decent, stable stream of thoughts. Nothing major, no nagging or looping thoughts and this carried me a long way. I usually sit meditating every morning but I skipped this morning as I was eager to go on with my run. I had a very happy and relaxing run for the most part. The only part that was challenging was dealing with the anger that arose after the Trails Cafe person wouldn’t give me an extra inch of lemonade.
It sounds trivial but that’s what it was. I ruminated on that for about 30 min and I managed to control it. Running with any type of neuroses such as anger, impatience or other types of aggression stagnating or looping in the mind is very detrimental to the running itself. This is proof for me that the body and the mind really aren’t separate…
Right after the run, I applied the usual routine: cold shower (mostly on the legs), compression socks, Traumeel cream on legs and calves. I rested with legs elevated, I wasn’t sore. The next day only the back plant of my feet were hurting a bit. I was going to go for a run but instead, I cycled on my stationary bike for one hour to get the blood flowing. Arnica cream helps a lot. If necessary, homeopathic arnica montana is also effective.
Refueling for recovery – a shake right away (hemp protein powder + berries + almond milk). Tons of other foods after that (chili, sausage, salad, etc.). Because I didn’t lose weight during the run there’s no need to go overboard with refueling.
This was a very successful training exercise for me. It’s the longest distance I’ve ever run. I know I had run 30 miles before (by accident – I thought I was running a marathon but my GPS was set to nautical miles…). I haven’t learned anything but it encouraged me. We would change very few parameters. Next week I’m going back to run only a marathon or 22 miles depending on how I feel.
I will step it up to 38 miles in two weeks or so and progress from there. Normally one shouldn’t increase mileage by more than 10% each time but I feel quite confident that I can add a little more. It will also depend on the weather. I haven’t been that great at getting up at dawn to run so I have to deal with the heat more often.
I love running.