Saturday, February 27, 2010

Conoco Phillips Rodeo Run 2010

All I can say is, I've never seen so many 6:30 mile pace runners in my life that ran a 9-minute mile pace. Let me explain...

This race had 13,000 participants, and the crowd at the starting line stretched back as far as I could see, which was several blocks. To organize the crowd, they put up large signs to represent expected mile pace, with the expectation that everyone would organize themselves by speed. They had signs for 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, etc. I lined up in front of the 6:30 sign, which was my pacing goal for this run.

Gun goes off, people start shuffling toward the starting line, then the shuffle becomes a jog as we pass through the starting line. A 6:30 pace jog? Nope. 7:30 pace? Nope. Try 9:00 pace. And I got the feeling that they weren't getting any faster. So I did what any impatient Garmin-watch running fool would do. I literally clawed my way through a wall of about 500 people to reach the runners that were actually running a 6:30 mile pace (yeah...they lined up at the 5:00 sign).

Guess who else I passed? At mile 3 I passed a child!? What the...? How was a child ahead of me for 3 miles? Yay for me...I'm faster than a 10-year old. Then as I was feeling very manly after having asserted my dominance by passing that kid, I saw another kid ahead of me at mile 4. He coughed as I was approaching, and in the high-pitched tone of his cough I could hear that he hadn't even gone through puberty yet. Holy crap! How is some prepubescent kid running a 6:50 mile pace? Total stud.

I finished with a time of 42:45, or a 6:52 mile pace. That's probably like thousandth place or something. Yay for me again. I got thousandth place. I also got the same time as the 10K that I ran last year. This race time shows me that I have some major conditioning required if I want to qualify for Boston. Well that's good, because I'm not letting up anytime soon. So take THAT rodeo run!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hitting the Trails

I've known for some time now that I live only a couple miles from a number of dirt trails that loop around all the hills here. It's taken an injured knee though to get myself to stray from my routine of hitting up the paved trails that are accessible from just behind my apartment.

I looked at Google maps to understand all my options for accessing the dirt trails, and finally settled on a route 2.7 miles from my apartment. I hopped on my bike, put on my Five Fingered Toes, and took off for the trail head. When I arrived I couldn't believe my eyes. Wide dirt trails, tall green grass, and hills as far as the eye could see. And practically right in my back yard! I parked my bike against a cattle fence and started running.

At the first fork in the trail I turned right, which quickly narrowed into what was merely an indention in the grass. And the grass was two feet tall and soaking wet. After continuing for a quarter mile and seeing the trail slowly disappear from under me, I decided to cut my losses and head back to the fork. So I turned around and chose the other path. Here is what the grass-indented trail looked like where I turned around. Can you see the trail?

Another fork had me choose between two trails, and I soon found myself running through what I'll call "Ankle Twist Alley." The trail was covered with deep rivets everywhere caused by horse hooves. And it ain't easy running through hardened horse hoof indentions. There was really no way around it. And while it didn't feel too good in my shoes that simulate barefoot running, the view was phenomenal (see below).

In all, I ran six miles through the trails before I got back on my bike and headed home. And guess what? My knees didn't hurt a bit. I'm looking forward to getting back out there and becoming one of those weird trail runner dudes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Please Don't Grow Hooves!

On the day of my first barefoot run, my girlfriend went out to lunch with a friend of hers and mentioned that I went running barefoot that morning. Her friend replied that there were tribes in various places of the world that develop "hooves" as a result of living barefoot. Not actual hooves of course, but just that their feet become so calloused that they resemble hooves.

My girlfriend quickly connected the dots... (1) I can be become obsessive about things, (2) running barefoot might become one of my obsessions, (3) if I start to regularly run barefoot I will grow hooves, (4) there's a good chance I'll grow hooves.

Result: She came home and begged me not to grow hooves.

Confused, I tried to imagine how a foot might be slowly morphed by many barefoot runs to resemble a hoof. Below is my best guess.

On the left is an image of my foot, with a cut on my big toe from accidentally scraping it on the ground during my barefoot run. I'm sure that as the cut heals, the skin that replaces it will grow back tougher and more calloused. After even more abuse from the trails, it will eventually resemble the foot in the middle, and finally make its way to full "hoof-dom" as you see on the right. For all we know, the image on the right could be an actual human foot. And for all we know, that could be my foot in two years.

Out of curiosity I went online and searched for images of the feet of barefoot tribes. I tried all kinds of phrases: "hoof feet", "barefoot tribe", "goblin foot", "calloused feet", and more. In conclusion, I saw that a healthy foot, no matter how calloused, looks just like a normal foot. Except that the dude with the calloused feet is more of a badass.

Seriously though, imagine two guys walking on gravel. One guy is looking like he's walking on hot coals saying "ouch, ouch ouch," and the other guy is standing tall, looking like he's walking on soft grass. We all know who the badass is. The guy with the hooves.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Intervals Suck

Ever since running intervals in high school cross country practice I have never forgotten how much they suck. So much so that I have spent the last two years unsuccessfully trying to will myself onto a track for an interval workout. The solution? Enlisting a few friends for motivation. I wrote down the workout on a piece of paper and handed it to them in the car during our ride over to the track. There were no complaints, so we busted it out and went home feeling fantastic! They joked that they hated me for making them do intervals. But they stanked up my car on the way home. So we're even. Bunch of stank hater lovers.

Here's the workout:
  • 1 mile: sprinting the straightaways, jogging the turns
  • Two 800-meter sprints
  • Two 400-meter sprints
  • Two 200-meter sprints
  • 10 pushups or 20 situps between each sprint
  • 2-minutes rest between each sprint (we may have cheated a little)
I made up this workout with three things in mind. First, make it challenging but not grueling. Second, have lots of variety to keep it interesting, Third, put the most difficult segments at the beginning, so as people finish those difficult segments they are motivated by the idea that everything will be "easier" going forward.

I'm convinced that peer pressure is the only way to run intervals. And what a great workout! Intervals are how you get FASTER, in the same way that heavy weights and few reps gets you buffed in the gym. You can run 10-milers all day long, and while these runs will help you run far, they aren't the most efficient use of your time if you're trying to cut down your average mile pace.

High intensity + shorter duration = huge increases in performance. Try it. There's a reason it hurts so good.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Mortal Eccentricity

Running barefoot down a heavily populated bike trail isn't for the faint of heart. Of course, first is the discomfort experienced by the foot after years of being pampered in comfortable shoes. But second, and perhaps the more difficult challenge, is being aware of the fact that you are that freak on the trail that everyone is puzzled by.

An unlikely character made this second challenge a piece of cake.

I've been reading The Dharma Bums. The book is about the Beat generation, and follows the journeys of a man as he seeks nirvana. At one point the protagonist is living with his mother, jobless, his hair long and shaggy, hanging out in the woods meditating every day, and frequently spouting off Buddhist philosophy like "Everything is empty but awake. Things are empty in time and space and mind." Obviously many people in town thought he was a nut job. I kind of think he's a nut job.

Personally though, I have been very impressed with how comfortable he is with being different. And something he said about this really impressed me. He says, "So what did I care what the old tobacco-chewing stickwhittlers at the crossroads store had to say about my mortal eccentricity, we all get to be gum in the graves anyway." Well put.

My experience consisted of a 1.5 mile run to a public pool where I swam a mile, and then a 1.5 mile run back home. It was exhilarating. The ground was cold and slightly wet from yesterday's rain. I filled up a small backpack with a towel, a bottle of water, and my swim card. And then I took off. There is a lot of required concentration on the present moment when you are running barefoot. Foot placement is a big deal since a wrong move can mean that a sharp rock gets jammed up your foot. So I was continually focused on the task of foot placement, and making sure to keep my knees slightly bent so that they could catch my fall if I made a wrong move.

I recently read that one of the tenets of zen running is to spend time concentrating on the moment, not the past or the future. This run really helped me accomplish that, as I was literally forced to focus on the way my feet struck the ground. Looks like I may be on my way to nirvana as well...