I finally have a chance to blog on my latest evolution in running: barefoot style. After reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and learning of Barefoot Ted’s Adventures, I decided to shuck the shoes, start at zero mileage, and feel the effects of this natural form of athleticism. My legs still feel a little off-balance on occasion, like I never fully recovered from my wrist injury in 2007 and my left side is still adapting to the extra weight. Nevertheless, as time goes on and my style progresses, I can only hope for the best.
I was so lazy this past weekend in Auckland and didn’t even find the details for the Human Race (why didn’t they post the starting time/place?) Also been oversleeping for morning runs a lot lately. My body is still getting used to all the physical activity required as the caretaker of a forest monastery – weeding, construction, heavy lifting, hiking – and I’m torn between getting up early and running on an empty stomach or heading out immediately after my shift when my body is worn out and dehydrated.
Still, with my weekly total at zero on a Thursday, I felt compelled to go for a long run. Setting the goal of obtaining a coveted Bundaberg ginger beer in Bombay certainly helped. I was literally past the point of no return from the moment I slipped on my Vibram Fivefingers and began the ascent to Paparata Road.
What a day. My legs were heavy, but more in a pleasantly-used sense rather than worn out. The wind was incredible and against me as I set out towards the setting sun. I love the sensation of barefoot running – in fact, I caught myself landing on the balls of my feet (as opposed to the heel, with shoes) as I dashed around downtown Auckland on Saturday looking for a friend. I know it’s better for form and endurance – burns fat, not carbs – but every now and then along the paved road I’ll let a rock slip under the arch of my foot and make me consider the virtues of “normal” running shoes. Still, the fact that I am writing this at my starting point with a cup of green tea and weary yet perfectly comfortable legs suggests I might be on to something with the Fivefingers.
In any case, the thought of drinking an ice-cold beverage is my driving force as I edge onto the side of the road for car after car. The wind is rustling the trees so loudly I can’t hear anything approaching until it’s right on top of me, but drivers in this area are pretty observant; well, I’m still alive, anyway…
The 3k mark at the T-junction gives me pause… I hadn’t gone past 6k for a few weeks, and although I knew I could just run one way for another few kilometers and hitchhike back, the smarter part of me knew I could never let myself get that close to the finish without pulling through.
The hill at the 4k doesn’t even change my heart rate – a good sign; I must be in better shape than I had thought. A quasi-vegetarian diet and seven hours’ physical labor every day will do that, even if both your legs aren’t off the ground. But now the challenge begins: a big dip to the 5k mark at the turnoff to the Simunovich Olive Estate and from there it’s all uphill for 2-3k. I’ve tried to make the trek over to the store along this route before, only to get winded about 500 meters into the uphill. Not today. Not with ginger beer, chocolate, and a good story at stake. I shift to the left side to take advantage of the sunshine, and try my best to keep pace with the changing grade: 1%, 3%… as the final stretch looms, I can see it’s at least a 5-6% grade, mocking me, daring me to conquer it with my feet. Not so easy after all. It’s been so long since I’ve felt this way while running: CHALLENGED.
And I see, I remember that these moments in training or in races are the only parts worth running for, when you’re really not sure if you have the ability to keep going, but will tear yourself apart to find out. One foot in front of the other…
After that little test of humanity, I’m free and clear, a gentle coasting 2k to the convenience store, where I happen to catch the latest headline: someone is training to run the Taupo Ironman wearing a full Darth Vader costume? Craziness. Oh, and if you don’t believe in karma, I should point out it took a full two minutes for a familiar face to give me a lift back to the monastery.