Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back on the Trail... Sorta. (or) Vibram FiveFingers KSOs at the Wayland XC Festival

Today marked the first time in over two months that I have broken the serenity of a peaceful weekend morning to head out to a race. I really had no intentions of racing in the near future, mostly because I can count on both hands with a few fingers to spare how many times I have been out to train since deciding to shut it down after the Oxford Dam Trail Race in August. Most of those training sessions have also been more 'walk/run' campaigns more than actual training runs.

Mostly, I have been dealing with the ?abdominal strain?/stomach discomfort that has been bothering me even before the decision to cease racing in August. Trips to the doctor's office have produced the assurance that I don't have an infection or a hernia, but now I have to go see a specialist for more poking and prodding in areas I'd just assume be left alone!

With that said, I have been going through far too much stress at work, and have been sneaking in a couple short run/walks of a couple miles when I really need the release, and during one of these short excursions, I pushed myself a little bit and found I was able to cover 4 miles on the roads in my Vibrams at 8:30/mile pace using a 3 minute run, 1 minute walk strategy. I know, 8:30 isn't blazing, but the workout made me think that I probably could handle one or two short races this Fall, and, of course, the next day I was on the computer looking at the race calendar to see what was coming up!

Knowing the trail racing schedule, I knew Ravenswood Trail Race was coming up soon, and I knew it was only 4.1 miles, granted, it is a rugged 4.1 at that. I was also delighted to find that this weekend the Wayland (Massachusetts) High School XC team was holding their annual fund raiser race. I first thought maybe it was a bit premature to scratch the racing itch THIS weekend, but 5k on a HS XC course, during the bloom of the Fall Foliage was far too much to turn down.

I was also interested in continuing to test out the Vibrams, and admittedly, had really only been using them for short road runs, maybe once a week. I thought an XC race would be a great way to test their mettle in a racing situation. So there I stood, Vibrams strapped to the feet, number pinned to the tech shirt to try to conceal the fat belly of two months worth of 'God-knows-what', and a smile:
The fact is, I was fully prepared and beginning to embrace the idea that I might not be able to run a race this Fall, or for the foreseeable future due to the injury, so to be standing a few minutes before a race, no matter how fat or slow I felt, was an utter blessing to me. Honestly.

So the announcement came over the bull horn to report to the start line:

and I headed over, looking for fellow trail animals and chatting with some of the other back of the pack folks. Having no time goals or expectations was pure gold for the nervous system, and where I typically might be freaking out about all the big guns in the front of the pack, or rationalizing how I didn't deserve to be racing on account of how little I had been training, I was fairly zen looking at the deep blue sky, green grass, and potpourri of colors of leaves on the trees surrounding the group of runners. The RD came over and gave us the low down of the course, and sent us on our way.

Instantly, the Vibrams made me smile because they really made my strides feel effortless. I could initially feel that my form was not the best, and caught one or two heel strikes, which were enough to remind me to tidy up a little. As mentioned, I really had no goals for times, so when I came through the first kilometer in 4:30 and the first mile in 7:30, I knew I was probably going a little too fast. Regardless, I decided to go with it and run as smooth and relaxed as I could, picking off other runners at a reasonable clip.

My strategy with walking breaks was just to treat them as an 'as needed' resource, and all told, I only had two 30 second walking breaks during the 2nd mile, which was really great. Not so great was the last half mile where I felt like I was going to puke all over the Wayland HS track during the last 300 meters to the finish, but I managed to keep it down and actually nearly nipped a Greater Boston TC runner at the line. I finished the mildly challenging course in 24:48 (7:58 pace). Not to pour over the stats too much, but my first mile, and last 1.25 miles were continuous running, and under 7:45 pace, it was merely the middle mile of single track and hills, combined with those two walking breaks that slowed me down, which, considering the circumstances, sort of impressed me.

As I said above, the race was totally a blessing for me, and the ability to run an XC race during probably the best time of the year to be a New England Trail Runner is simply something of which I am so thankful. Pace and place really held no huge foothold in my thoughts, because, hey, I haven't been training.

The Vibrams were awesome on the various surfaces. There was quite a bit of grass field, but the second mile is almost exclusively on wooded single track with roots, rocks, and undulating terrain. Obviously, with a little less protection I was a little more vigilant about foot strikes, but I never had to slow down in spite of the terrain, and actually felt far more nimble and in control going down some of the gnarly descents on the single track. My calves are a little sore from using the Vibrams. I think this is partially the newness of the running style and form that one is encouraged to maintain by the act of barefoot running. It really in new, and demands more from the legs. They really keep you... pun warning... on your midfoot and toes, and, if you are like me, and start to get lazy during the latter half of a race with form, you get an instant reminder with the first couple heel strikes.

When I think about it, Vibrams are really close to waffle-style XC spikes, in that they have the flat bottom of very little cushioning. With the Fivefingers one basically has the Vibram rubber sole between the terrain and their foot. Though it appears the sole protects less than the waffle XC shoes, having worn Nike Zoom Country's through my college XC career, I'd say the protection is the basically the same. The Vibrams just seem to have a more natural fit, and don't crush the toes, like my Zoom's often did!

The bottom line is that I am pleased with my 'barefooting' experiment so far, and feel like I am making some progress in the VERY limited amount of time I have had to test run and test walk. I am learning and am excited to see how they will help when my fitness level is at a far different place.

I am seriously thinking about taking the Vibrams to a much more rugged course at the Ravenswood Trail Race next weekend to continue the experiment... we'll see.

Speaking of Ravenswood, I have signed up, and feel like I should be okay to take on the challenge. If anything, it'll be in the woods and away from the speed demons, so if run/walk law has to be instituted it'll be far less embarassing! I am also excited to hang with a few of my trail friends, whom I have missed very much, but am glad to see they are staying healthy for their continued Ultra Running endeavors later on this Fall.

Until next weekend, Happy thoughts, happy feet, and happy trails!


pathfinder said...

The more I read about the Fibrams...the more I think about trying them..
Great job on the race, what more could you ask for? I have been training and I am not sure I could beat your time! Great job!

Trail Pixie said...

Way to go Rob! Happy feet!