A glimpse into my life...
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Also, I now have a barefoot coaching site located at http://barefootrunninguniversity.com, and have written a barefoot running book that can be found here:
My Running History
In high school, I wasn't a fan of running. I was relatively fast, but not track-team fast. I played football, baseball, and wrestled, but that was the extent of my athletic endeavors. Towards the end of college I started running occasionally. A mile here, two miles there, but nothing too strenuous.
After college, I started my first real job- teaching high school kids. I also coached football. I would occasionally jog with the team, but had more or less given up running.
Then I met my future wife, Shelly. She had been running for fitness for a number of years. Before we dated, she ran a 5k. I was amazed at the distance- 3.1 miles. Needless to say, I was impressed! We started dating and fell in love! :-) We began working out together, which included recreational running. We slowly increased our mileage until we did a 10 mile run together. I still remember the feeling afterwards, I was absolutely amazed we ran that far!
The next year, we were hanging out with some friends. One friend who was into running, Doug, mentioned marathons. It was something I thought I might be able to accomplish some day. He also mentioned these crazy long ultramarathons. My curiosity was piqued!
We begin racing
The next spring (2005), Shelly and I decided to run the Seaway run 15k in Muskegon, Michigan. We trained for a few months and thought we were adequately prepared. The race went well, but I went out too hard. The last three miles hurt a lot... it was as if my quads were being dipped in molten iron! After the race, I couldn't really walk. I had sore quads, calves, my pelvis felt like it was cracked, I had blisters, I lost three toenails, etc. Despite the pain, I was hooked!
I then revisited the ultramarathon idea... if I could run 15k, I'm sure I could run 50 miles. I found a local race, the North Country Trail Run in Manistee, Michigan. It was in mid-September, I'd have plenty of time to train (or so I thought).
That was a rough summer. I tried following the Runner's World 50 miler training plan, but physically broke down. I had a myriad of injuries, including very painful plantar fasciitis. I managed to survive until late August, but changed from the 50 miler to the marathon.
The race was great, though three times as painful as the Seaway 15k. I lost six of my remaining toenails and couldn't walk up stairs for weeks. I foolishly signed up for the Grand Rapids Marathon after the NCT race... I had six weeks to recover. During those six weeks, I ran 3 times. The longest run was 10 miles. My PF was so bad, it took about 30 minutes to walk without hobbling when getting out of bed. I did manage to run a pretty good race, though, finishing in a few minutes under four hours. I haven't tried the distance since. It currently stands as my PR for the marathon.
Over the next few months, I quit running to recover. I didn't think I would be able to survive another season like that. I started doing research on injury prevention and came across some research correlating running-related injuries with modern shoes. I was intrigued that barefoot running seemed to be 'healthier" than running with the latest and greatest shoes. After all, Shoe companies spend millions to convince us otherwise. I decided to try barefoot running once per week for a few minutes on grass. The first few runs were strange, my feet definitely weren't used to the sensation.
After a few weeks, I increased the time, then added other terrain. By mid-summer, I did most of my training barefoot. I was a bit scared to race barefoot, however. I ran three races that year (2006) wearing aqua socks (sometimes called beach shoes)- the NCT 50 miler (which I finished!!!!), the Fifth Third Riverbank run in Grand Rapids, and the Grand Rapids Half Marathon. I was shocked- an entire season, not one injury!
The 50 miler was very special, my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on May 1st of that year. My dad was an avid outdoors man, my fondest memories of him are the times we spent in the woods hunting and scouting. The setting of the NCT brought back a lot of wonderful memories. My dad got me through that race, it was as if I could feel his presence in the peaceful solitude of the trees, animals, and hills. This race continues to hold a special place in my heart.
The True Test
The 2007 running season would be the true test of barefoot running. I ran the Riverbank Run in aqua socks, then ran the rest of that season's races barefoot. It was an awesome experience! It was a little strange answering so many questions about running barefoot since I'm not much of an attention seeker. The barefoot season included the Seaway run (15k), Grand Haven, MI Coast Guard Festival 5k, Homerun 5k in Comstock Park, MI, and the NCT 50 miler. Again, an entire season without injury! Well, I did have one- at about mile 30 of the NCT, I stubbed a toe on a root and broke it. Luckily, it was the fourth toe on my right foot... it did not interfere with my gait. I was able to finish the race, but only about nine minutes faster than the previous year.
Now that I'm fully ensconced as a barefoot runner, my challenge is to improve as much as possible. So far in 2008, I finished the Riverbank run 25k in about 1:54. I'm hoping to finish the Seaway 15k in under 1 hour (though it may be a pipe dream...) I am also planning on running the Burning River 100 in August. That will be my greatest challenge to date. Admittedly, my confidence sometimes wavers. Luckily, my wife is very supportive and has tremendous faith in my abilities. I couldn't do this without her!
I did not finish the 2008 Burning River 100. Sadly, my training was not adequate. I did, however, learn many lessons that will help me with future 100s. As of early 2009, I am planning on running the Seaway 15k, maybe the Coast Guard 5k or 10k, the Marquette Trail 50 miler (a new race as of 2009), the Hallucination 100 in Pinckney, MI (another new race and my second stab at 100 miles), and the Grand Rapids Marathon. My plan is to run all races barefoot.