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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Harvest Half Marathon Race Report and more…

This is going to be a long report, with TONS of pictures. Overall Results are here!

I’ll get my technical stuff out of the way first.

  • Beat last years time by 30ish seconds, 2:08:0X this year
  • Ran the race Barefoot
  • There were some pretty knarly gravel sections that went exceedingly well.
  • Perfect Fuel/Hydration Strategy.
  • Save 200 meters up a significant hill at 17k, ran the ENTIRE thing. No water or Gu walks. RAN. this is HUGE for me.
  • After snowshowers at last years version, the weather couldn’t have been better. I mean PERFECT. Like this.
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OK, on to the report.

I think I'll do this Chronological style. Should be able to remember everything this way.


Traci wakes me up. I actually had a good sleep and am surprisingly chipper! This looks to be a good day. I head downstairs and start to go throuhg my race morning routine.

  • Make PBJ sandwich
  • Drink big glass of water
  • Make Coffee
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  • Head upstairs for shower (I know I am going to be gross in a couple hours, but the shower helps set me up for a good day)
  • Back downstairs, drink coffee
  • Get dressed
  • load hydro pack
  • Put Garmin/bondi-band/sunglasses/RoadID/Timing chip on.
    • DSCF2500


Out the door and on our way to the race. Part of our drive is on the race route and like the crazy rebel I am, I drove in the ‘coned’ off section of the road where it said not to as there is a road race happening.


We arrived at the Mid-Sun community hall right on time, and unfortunately the only other vehicle there was the pOp truck, unloading toilets. It wasn’t more than a few minutes and everyone who was supposed to be there, was there. We had volunteered to help out before the race and as soon as we were inside the gym, we were put to work. We hauled tables, set out chairs, got bins of race packages together and did whatever else they wanted us to do. Traci wasn’t running the race, but was kind enough to help out for the duration of the race!

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The race organizers have the package pickup 1 weeks ahead instead of a couple days ahead, and the insturctions for this nuance is explicitly stated on a couple different areas of the Website and Registration forms. Still 300 people didn’t pick up, so Traci and I were employed as runners for the nice ladies who actually knew what was going on at the race morning pickup stations. We had fun helping people get set up with their packages and we got to meet and greet a number of people we wouldn’t have normally.

Here is Dr. Leger.


He owns the Lasik Eye surgery clinic here in Calgary and was the Dr. that fixed my eyes 2 years ago. When he walked up he said his name and I said, “As in the Dr Leger?” yep. I told him that he did my eyes and he makes a funny comment something like “Uh, is that a good thing?”… Yes Dr. you did a great job. In fact, getting my eyes lasered was one of the factors that triggered me to start working out and getting fit! Thanks Doc! Since you live in my Neighbourhood, why don’t you come out running with us! What a picture hey? I took it and I still didn’t smile right… Tell you what tho… that surgury was freaky weird. If you ever do this, and you get an offer for some valum, accept. under all conditions, accept. You are WIDE awake as they cut your cornea into a flap and flip it away so they can do the laser part. Really weird to watch! Also, the laser smells like burning hair… That said, knowing what it did for me, I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

As I was handing out race packs I was making comments about some of the peoples awesome race numbers. Like #800, in an 800 person race. That’s cool. Then, 2 BFF’s came in to pick up their bibs and they had bibs 199 and 198. I handed 199 to the first girl and said “Wow, 199! that is an AWESOME bib number!”, then I handed 198 to the other girl and said “and here is your slightly less awesome number.” heh, got a few laughs from the peanut gallery for that one.

Special moment of the day, I met Mr Flagg. He is the Father of Tracey Flagg, who died 6 years ago of Brain Cancer. This race is Tracey’s legacy (The Family and Friends took over the race from another group at that time, in Honour of Tracey) and raises money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Mr Flagg was a class act, thanking all us runners for coming out in support of this run. Most of the race crew are close friends with Tracey and/or the Flagg family, and it makes this race a very easy one to lend support to. It’s a very positive and upbeat group and I am sure the success of my day was directly related in part to our commitment to the race crew, helping where we could.

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I took my leave of the the race pack pickup area and headed out to take a run and look after some business. Business as usual, is good.



I met up with most of my team! everyone was pretty nervous as this was the first half for lots of the group. I did my best to not help, but actually tried to get them riled up as they took enough photos to get even me a little pissed off (coming from the guy who takes a billion pictures).

Here is Kelly, Me, Tammy S, Mariea, Tammy C, Judy and Jamie.


I had to go back into the gym to get the car keys from Traci as I was driving the race instead of running, but driving it barefoot so that counts letting our runners use our trunk as a bag check. When I went inside I met Earl. Earl is a kindred spirit, obviously. I didn’t see him on the race as he was faster than me by a couple minutes. We’re not friends anymore.  wow, do I look smug…

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We all headed over to the Race start area.

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I am a marketing fool. as demonstrated in this video.


Joanne is here again. She was quite under the weather for this race and could only muster a 1:45:xx. My other new buddy Ron, lower right, had a good day and ran a 1:39 flat. Question. Do you think me hanging out with all the really fast people will help my speed? C’mon Osmosis!


You guys and gals excited?!?



The gun goes off and we are away!

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It’s a new route this year to try and alleviate some traffic woes from last year and while it was pretty pleasant through the neighbourhood, we ended up going down a gravel back alley and then through a really narrow access back onto the pathways. This was my ONLY complaint in the entire race.


Lots of questions from lots of people about the bare feet, all positive or humorous, so it made the race entertaining to say the least.


At the 2k mark I hear “Hey, Barefoot Neil!” I look back and Runner Dianne was there. I had not met her before but we had an email exchange and I was able to help steer her in the right direction so she could get her brother a bib, after the event was sold out. Here was the first email. Needless to say, I was glad to help.

I hope you don't mind a quick question. I found your website and noticed that you have a group training for the Harvest Half Marathon that's coming up on Oct 2. Would you happen to know who I might contact to see if we can add one more person in that race? I know that registration is closed, but I'm hoping to get my brother-in-law from Edmonton added, as he did not sign up in time.

I realize you folks don't arrange the run at all, but it seems from your website that you're very connected to running in Calgary and I was hoping you might be able to pass on a name of one of the organizers. If not, that's fine, I just thought I'd try.

I just started running recently and did my first half marathon at the Calgary Marathon. My brother-in-law and I were supposed to run with each other there but we lost each other in the crowd as the race began and never found each other until the end! We promised we'd try to do another one and this time actually run together, but then he missed the signing up of the Harvest Run. Anyway, if we can make this work this time, that would be great.

Thanks very much for anything you can do to help out. I sure appreciate it.


I’m pleased to report that Dianne and her brother Jeff had a nice race and came in just after I did! Nice work! It was fun to meet you and I’m glad you found me.

8:01 am

I was running slightly ahead of Kelly and Adam when Caroline caught up to us and we all ended up running the entire race together. Caroline said she was feeling ready for a great run and I was feeling super great by then too! Doesn’t she look like she feels great! It was at this point that the Run then walk then run people were starting to pull up and insert walks. I had no plans to walk until I needed to, but with all the uphill to come I was thinking it would be a distinct possibility at times during this race.



We start up the hill that goes for 4ish km with not much of a break and people are already starting to peter out.


Here’s the elevation profile for the race. It’s certainly not a flat race. Especially at the 17k mark where we climb out of Fish Creek park.


We got over the initial really steep part of the first climb and everyone seemed to be in pretty good shape, so keep running was the mantra. This was the first time Kelly mentioned that she really LOVED the hills, but it certainly wasn’t the last time. We were in a really nice groove, with really great people all around us, and that kept us going for this early part of the race. Conversation was easy, the sun was coming up. It was shaping up to be an incredible day.


We are almost at the Crest of the big climb and I hear: “Barefoot Neil Z!!!” I look over and there is a guy calling out my name. Never seen him before. Who are you? I ask. He tells me he is “A Real Old Triathlete”… HEY!! great to finally meet you! We have been buddies on a Calgary Running blog comment section and were on the same team during a relatively heated comments exchange with a very antagonistic jerk in a different local blog. It was nice to finally meet you, even though I never got your name. If you come on here, leave me a comment or email me your contact info!


Here was the part of the run that I was most anxious about. It was time to put on my barefoot ninja face and get down to business. It was probably a 1/2k of smallish gravel, covered by leaves. Light, quick, easy steps. Bend the knees, quick. On top of this gravel, the section was pretty much straight downhill. You can see it on the elev. chart, just before the 6k mark. I ended up ahead of the group at the bottom, just by a bit, but wow, the extra concentration and the incredibly tough gravel course in Drumheller, paid off as I came out of it no worse for wear! I let out a *WoOT* when I got back on the asphalt path and just carried on! The next 10k are my favourite part of the race. Net down hill and the best scenery in any race I have been in.

We met Ally here, when we got back on the path, she had lots of comments on my feet and my bouncing backpack, and we had some fun yakking it up for a while. 2:05 Ally! great run!



HEY!! There’s Keith!!! Thanks for coming out Keith! here is a shot he took of me as we ran by. He photoshopped it to make me look like an angel… awww. And Ally stuck her tongue out for some reason.

Keith Pic of me


Up to this point we all feeling VERY good as the easy downhills gave us a chance to collect ourselves and reflect on how amazing the day was turning out to be. There was quite a bit of chatter about the scenery and various other small talk chatter. We started to sort of focus in for the long run too. It seemed like we got into a groove, and started to feed off each other. We kind of synchronized our fuelling, and talk changed form small talk to supportive talk. I would say “Form Check” and we would all relax and check our posture, relax the shoulders, get efficient again. It was starting to feel like a really special day.


Here is probably one of the best race photos ever taken. What do you think? Excitement!!


I figured it was time to check in with a video. We were cruising and happy!


This is the last photo I took out on course. This was was at about the 13k mark and while we were all still in a great mood, it was becoming more business like. We had quite a number of great folks that kept passing up and we’d pass them back when they’d walk on the 10’s so we made fast friends and it was a source of our Mojo from then on. Who ever you were, the people who kept calling us the Energizer bunnies, Thanks for the chi!


Adam, Caroline, Kelly and I really made for a good team. Only a couple times did I reign Kelly in as she started to boogie a bit fast. I think Duran Duran would come on her ipod and zooooooOOOOm, off she’d go.

A little backstory for you. Kelly has been trying for at least 2 years to get to the start line, let alone the finish line of a Half marathon, but various illnesses and injuries has stopped her up until today. I had the pleasure of racing with her 2 weeks ago (she beat her 10k pb by 2 minutes) and then our 16k run last weekend. I could tell she was going to have a banner day today, but she was still very nervous. I think the group dynamic made it great for her and she smashed her expectations to bits on this day.

9:12 am

We were chugging along between 14 and 15k when i heard Kelly say “This is for you mom”… I sort of stewed on that for a minute, then I asked what that was about. Caroline got involved in the convo too and Kelly relayed the story about her Mom, who passed away just this spring. Kelly told a very inspiring story and I ended up with this really cool surge of energy. I told Kelly this and she said “Me too!, I have goosebumps too!” this surge carried our group for a bit and knowing that Kelly was running each mile for someone different, was a source of energy for the rest of the way.


I started to feel my feet. 15k had come and gone and my feet were starting to fatigue a bit, and my calves had the start of a cramp in them. No problem, a little adjustment in stride, less push, more lift at the end of the stride and I could feel the whole foot/ankle/lower leg structure relax. If forced me to focus on what I was doing more and in the end it helped with pace and easy striding.


I crossed over the 16k mark and was now into new territory. It was only last weekend that I ran the 16k training run, and before that it was 12k as a barefooter. So here we go.

I’m not sure what happened, but there was this chick that just showed up behind up that was the noisiest runner I have ever heard! Her shoe strike was like chopping wood. *WHAP WHAP WHAP WAHP WHAP*, she tucked in behind Caroline and I, and in front of Adam and Kelly and just stayed there. Caroline was trying to look back at her and give her the ol’ Stinkeye, but she figured it wasn’t going to work while wearing sunglasses. I finally got fed up and just told Caroline to move over and slowdown. This girl went by and WHAPped her way up the trail. She was a faster runner than us, so I don’t understand what the heck she was doing just riding our tails and not moving on. Seeya.


We are approaching the Sikome Lake hill. This is where we climb up and out of the park. See the 17k mark on the elevation chart above. About 300meters to the hill Caroline blurts out “I don’t think I'm going to be able to run the hill!!!” I reply, very matter of factly. “We’re not, we are going to hike it”.


We cross the 17 marker and we start to hike. we are hiking as fast as many are running, some are heaving their way up the hill past us, and some are just barely making it by walking. We are strong, and have  a purpose. This is a pretty long hill for this spot in the half and it was a definite advantage to us to be fresh when we started running again 3/4 of the way up. Almost immediately we started passing the folks that passed us on the hill as they were out of gas. The only person in our group that I was worried about, who might not appreciate the hike, was Kelly. We got running again and she says “good call on the hike”. so. there.


Talk of, ‘I’m tired’ start to creep into the conversation. ‘I don’t think I can make it’ was another. I just calmly told them that if they want to do this they will, and their mind can tell their body to do what ever it wants. We are so close now, just an easy 3k to go. Posture check, use the slight downhills as a rest, really try to relax and breathe here. WTF are all these people doing following the outside of the curve, what a waste! We are running the tangents to the extent of the rules! We are fully on course, but passing people who are simply running farther to get to the same place.

Don’t get me wrong, I may have been calm and collected, but this was pretty unchartered territory for me too, as I had never ran steady for an entire half, and… well… the barefoot deal was pretty new to for this distance. I don’t think they knew how hard it was for me at this point. Not close enough to the finish to believe that it’s doable, and feeling the effect of every step of the previous 18.


I think I surprised them, when Caroline said at the 19k mark, “Tracy and Liz are up here, get your camera ready Neil” my reply: “no… can’t” and I added “stop talking”. I actually think that provided a boost for them, as they realized I was hurting as much as they were, and that was comforting to them. maybe. All I did from there was run. I thought about a short walk, but I didn’t want to ruin it. I had an amazing steady run going and I wanted to finish it off. Kelly told me afterwards that she appreciated a comments I made to a couple struggling runners back about the 14k mark. I said “It’s supposed to feel like that, you are running a half marathon”. I believe that. I am not in better shape than I was last year at this time, I have just chosen to accept the fact that it is hard. And that I can do this, even though it’s hard.


The last click! The path leaves the roadways and enters a very scenic pathway system between the nice homes of this neighbourhood, but it feels pretty ling as you can’t see too far ahead due to the curvy path. Kelly took off. She finished with an amazing 1k final kick that got her a 2:07:xx and the half marathon monkey off her back. I had to finish with a 100m kick as someone was trying to chick me again. I have learned that no one really wants to be beat by the barefoot guy. She never got me. Traci was up the path and heard me say, as this girl was clomping up behind me, “Enough of this” and off I went.


Crossing the line

All 4 of us finished within a few seconds of each other. Caroline crossed the line after me, but she beat me chip time as she started way back and had to catch up in the first couple k. Adam sorted his knee issues out from the last number of weeks and completed the half very strong. PB for Kelly, PB for Caroline, PB for Adam!!!


Pretty consistent race! I am really happy with the way the day turned out. I think I’ve earned the title of Barefoot Neil Z now, and I’ll wear it with pride. I had a conversation with someone after the race and I kind of clarified things for myself, when I answered one of their questions like this “It’s not about the BAREFOOT running anymore, it’s just about running again, and I just happen to choose barefoot as my footwear of choice”

Maybe this winter when I am longing for a barefoot run again, it’ll be about the barefoot again, but for now, I'm just running.

I had an amazing day, one of my best days. Traci being there is the best and once we got home and cleaned up we went out on a geocaching adventure to top off this incredible day.

DSCF2577ooooh that's nice.

I’ll follow up tomorrow with more photos and the story of our other runners, as well as some Geocaching tales,  but my fingers have started to bleed from all this typing and I NEED to go to bed.


Here is a sneak peak at where geocaching took us today!

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  1. Amazing and inspiring tale. Congratulations! So many heartwarming stories and people connections.

    I never get tired of looking at your gorgeous photographs. I'm marveling at how you got those shots with the sunbursts behind people without the subjects being obliterated.

    I'm going to say it again, you're got the material in these photos for a great photo book about running! Well, I would buy it anyway.

  2. What can I say AS? I have great friends!

    Thanks for the kind words about the photos. I love taking them. As for the sunbursts et al, I set the little green camera on 'Scene Recogniton' and just fire away!

  3. Can't wait to hear about the geocaching!

  4. Great, awesome, fantastic race report. Congrats on your effort and results. Looks like you really sucked it up at the end - no pics for the last 43 minutes. BTW, I prefer to call you "Crazy Barefoot Neil Z".

  5. I should write a comment as long as the blog post, and I wasn't even in it. Man do you ever have some dedicated readers. Who's up at 4:45 am reading blogs? (me, a few days.)

    Something you didn't tell people is that it was darn cool! Cool enough to see your breath on the air. That hill up and out of Fish Creek just west of McLeod trail is a killer! I'll have to try running it some day.

    I didn't really do anything special with the photo I took. The original you can barely make out Neil at all, since the camera is point right into the sun. Played with it in iPhoto till I could see that he was indeed in bare feet, not that anyone who knows him needs proof, but I figure there are always a few skeptics. It was fun hanging out with Rod, the official volunteer at that right turn, and cheering people on. I even scored two pairs of gloves that a racer asked me to throw away. NOT!

    And Neil is right, the west end of Fish Creek is an astonishingly pretty place to run any time of year, and fall is the best.

    Big time congrats Neil, running a half is hard enough, and doing it barefoot is amazing!

  6. Well done Neil! Wear your new title with pride! Great race report too! You are truly inspiring!

  7. Way to go Neil!
    Thanks for taking all the pictures and for the race report. I am glad that the weather was better this year-especially for your sake, but I also don't do too well when it gets really cold.

    I was feeling pretty rough, but still glad that I didn't just stay in bed--Daren made me go!

    What's up next?


  8. Great blog! It was the most amazing day and great company to run with - thanks for everything. Even under the weather, way to go Joanne!

  9. Congrats on a great time and great photos!

  10. Congrats! You are a barefooting machine! Great photos, but please, no more bathtub shots...

  11. Ahaha, AC, I thot someone might comment on that. I am wearing my running shorts still in that shot, just out of frame. So calm down ur imagination!! yowza!

  12. I don't know how you run and take such great pictures and videos at the same time. That takes talent! Looks like a great day/temp to run!

  13. So I'm not going to read your blog to watch a newbie learn how to run barefoot anymore. Instead, I'm going to read your blog for advice and insight.

    Nice work on the gravel.

  14. You are amazing!!! That is the best report ever! I love all the pictures and I am really curious now about the geocacheing! I have always wanted to do that :)
    I need to take cues from your video and photos for your reports!
    seriously, nice job on the gravel!

  15. I just have to say that I don't remember being up at 4:45 a.m. I think I woke up about 7:30am this morning, and was probably posting that with my morning coffee by about 8am (I went out running at 8:30). I don't know why my post has that time.

    I also don't know why I am telling you this!

  16. Great Run and great blog! I was running out of steam towards the end and I could feel the blisters forming on my toe, rubbing against my shoe. I didn't believe the volunteer who told me I had less than one minute of running left, "just around the corner" she said. As I turned that corner, I realized that this was the end point and sprinted my way past "WHAP WHAP WHAP" chick who I ended up passing and being passed by due to her faster pace followed by stopping to walk. Being able to see that finish line was the greatest feeling, the adrenaline truly kicked in at that point.
    Thanks again to Neil, Kelly and Caroline for making this half such a great one!

  17. Congrats on your impressive race and your 'footwear' of choice. Now for the bloody typing fingers, how about some protection typing gloves? :)
    Great report and photos, as usual. Loved the sun in your pictures.

  18. Nice going, and gorgeous location! I'm in awe of anyone who can run fast and take great in-race photos at the same time. That's some mad skillz, yo.

  19. Fantastic recap - I like that you seemed to relish every part of the day. Congratulations on a great race!

  20. Looked like a great day, race.
    I enjoyed the scenic photos, Nice :]

  21. Thanks Kelly!

    I hope you enjoyed yourself as well. You guys all seemed to have a really good race. Congratulations! What's up next for all of you?


  22. I dunno what I am going to do Joanne! only thing on the docket is the Last Chance Half. Oh and B-day run on 10-10-10 of course. Where are you running?

  23. I have Thanksgiving run this week and then the Gorilla Run the following week. Winterstart and Last Chance Half as well.

    I know for the virtual race I have to post a race about Lost Soul? But I don't know how to post anything...