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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Police Half Marathon Race Report

After all my bitching and whining over at my facebook page I had no excuse to skip it. I thought about it though. I ended up getting there later than I would have normally and misjudged the amount of people there, so I missed visiting with some of the people I wanted to see.

I did get to see Paul and his brother. Paul is living the barefoot lifestyle to get his feet ‘Leathered’ up for the Half Ironman in August.

I saw my main shoe sherpa, and best person of the day, Darren

Bumped into Barefoot Brian. Brian was the first person I ever saw wearing Vibrams over a year ago. I was only barefoot curious back then.

And of course it wouldn’t be a race without Dawn, the Pick Chick. She likes pink. btw.

Ok. So. On the way there, I wasn’t feeling good about the race. I was having an internal debate whether I would wear my Vibram’s or my Merrells. To be honest the only reason I wanted to wear the Vibrams is because it gets me the most attention when I have to wear shoes. It is an ego thing, but more than that, it is my way to meet awesome people. I get to meet all kinds of coolness once the conversation starts regarding my bare feet. Well, today wasn’t going to be the day for barefoot, but maybe it was going to be the day for toe shoes.

I put them on in the car, stepped outside and almost took a digger on my second step. So it was back to the car to put on the Merrell Trail gloves. Immediately I noticed a huge grip difference. To be fair, the Vibrams I own are the regular KSO’s, so no additional grips. They are better on bare clear roads and dry trails than the Merrell’s, but today belonged to grip. I think I knew I was going to be wearing the Merrells, but its like a progression of reasoning with me, and I have to go through all the steps before the s-m-r-t part of my brain kicks in. Even on the drive over, I was trying to figure out if I was going to be able to go barefoot at some point.


The other first thing at a race for me was, I waited for the main group of people to leave before I got going (chip timed, obviously). I am usually in the pack and gone as soon as possible, but for some reason I just hung around and chatted with people. while waiting around, I was trying to take a picture of myself when a lady asked if I wanted her to take a pic of me. Sure. The other pic below is of her and her buddy who was racing.


So, when I finally got going, I realized quite quickly how hard the race was going to be. Our running surface of packed snow had been churned into the consistency of buttery sand. not good right from the start. Didn’t matter at this point, it was a downhill start and the company was good. I started chatting with Barry, who was just setting his MapMyRun on his phone, and we kinda hit it off. We yammered for the about the first km, we talked about clinics and training, up until Darren came up from behind us and asked why I wasn’t barefoot (in jest). Well that started a conversation amongst the runners around us that progressed to me stating “Well you might not know me here, but I’m a pretty big deal on the Internet!”. Well that got a few guffah’s, and I ended up getting ribbed a bit especially a while later when these two below startled me by yelling “OMG it’s Barefoot Neil!!”, for a second I was all ‘woohoo’, but then realized I was being rightfully punked.


Barry and I carried on, chirping like a couple birds in a tree.

Pretty much until we got here.

This is where the path went from bad to really bad. Just across that bridge and into the woods would prove to be a really slippery section, with glare ice covered with the fresh falling snow. I think about a quarter of the people ended up falling, some ended up with race ending injuries. Most of the runners were walking, and there were even a few that were sliding on their bums to get across the worst of it. All the runners were off the trail on either side, so the middle was wide open and I just kept running straight down the middle. That’s one of the beauties of barefoot style running, your feet are on the ground for a very short time, and you are in balance for the most part. The feet never really have a chance to slip out from under you and you are picking them up again. Tricky. On everything but the glarest of ice, the Merrells gave me some pretty nice confidence. I could feel them gripping the ground and driving me forward. I couldn’t even imagine using a worn out pair of trainers.


As we left the woods area we ended up on a flat section again where I caught up with run buddy Liz. Liz was on a mission since a tough Regina Marathon last year and since had brought her half marathon times down about 15 minutes in the last 6 months or so. Way to go! too bad this wasn’t your PB attempt race, but I think it will be soon! good luck.

By this time we had run about 8km and I was feeling the effects of the surface in my legs and in my lungs. This was going to be a tough race. Barry and I chugged up a loooooong hill and both of us kinda sighed in unison as we crested the top, I think both of us getting the idea that no records were going to be broken today…

Oh well. Keep on plugging. To be honest, I was really worried about what the backside of our race was going to look like. The Weaselhead Natural area is the link between North and South Glenmore parks and while the paths are paved and smooth in the summer, they are not maintained in the winter. I was very glad to have experience in the 2 XC races I ran this winter, as I learned then how to run on really rough snowy trails. Kms 11 to 14 were the unmaintained path area.


Oh, first. My apologies to Barry. We approached an area of the path that was completely flooded and there was a single file line of racers waiting to tiptoe through the only part of the path that wasn’t underwater. I ran right through the big puddle, passing probably 100 people and just carrying on. That was the last time I saw Barry. The water was cold, but since I had my Merrell Trail Gloves on with no socks, it made no difference to me if they got soaked.

Ok, once we were in the Weaselhead area, the path was brutal. Like the worst running conditions I have ever encountered. Think icy, lumpy, deep snow, narrow cupped path with no way to see your next step as everyone was so close all you saw was heels. there were 3 ‘runable’ paths parallel to each other, and while running on one, the others always looked smoother, so I like many others ended up jumping from one to the other. I could feel my feet being contorted with every uneven step, and I had to really concentrate on small strides and letting my feet do their job, trusting that they would hold me up.

This was still the nicely maintained part of the path

At the 12km mark we come to some really steep downhills. I was blown away with the grip I had over everyone else here. Again I ran straight down the middle while others were sidestepping and almost crawling here. At the second of the 2 steeps I ended up colliding with a guy who stepped in my line. I kinda grazed off the guy and was able to stop and ultimately hold him up from falling. I apologized and kept on going with an exasperated ‘SERIOUSLY?’ from the guy. Hey dude, not my fault you chose the wrong footwear for this event. Worn out trainers were NOT a good choice today.

With the toughest of the downhills behind me, I was able to settle into the ‘Flats’ area at about 13.5km. I was really getting my head set for the big climb out of the park as it’s kinda our Heartbreak hill in this event.

I hiked it.

Yeah, I was in no shape by then with 6km+ to go that I just decided to hike it. It still took a ton out of me. I was feeling the effects of my lack of training, the rough surface conditions, and my unreasonable expectations at the start of the race. I say unreasonable because I thought I could manage the conditions better, and with all my whining about snow and snow plowing, I felt the need to perform. Well.

not so much.

I just barely held it together for the rest of the run. No conversation with anyone, just my own brain telling me I’m an idiot for pretending to like this. It really was my hardest run. As the last few kms ticked away I started to think about barefoot. I needed to salvage something from this run. I wanted to know if it was possible. To run in the snow.

I had decided in my head that I would make the final decision at the 1km left mark. Here is what the surface looked like when I reached that point.

So there was a bit of visible asphalt, but it was obviously cold. I pulled off the main running line and kicked off my shoes. I started running and right away my thought was that I probably took off my shoes 950 meters too soon. (A km is 1000 meters, btw). I was committed now. I had just gotten back into stride when I saw Darren coming back toward me from the finish area. As I approached, he takes up stride next to me and says lets go, and on top of it, he offers to be my shoe Sherpa and carry my shoes.

Yes! please! Thanks Darren. We run for a bit and I am feeling absolutely done. Full disclosure and for your information, my feet had pretty much froze numb and I was a bit worried I was doing damage to them. This had to be the longest km I had ever ran. It just seemed to go on forever. I walked a couple times, the surface changed from slush to wet pavement to hard packed snow and back to slush,  but with the coaching from Darren and a few cheers from fellow runners I was able to keep going. Darren was hilarious as he ran ahead of me and was shouting to everyone “Look Look! it’s barefoot Neil! No shoes No shoes!!” It was flattering and embarrassing at the same time. There must have been a few hundred people lining the finishing chute and the last 1oo or so meters were downhill so it was a nice finish.

I grabbed my medal and made an immediate right turn into the building. My feet were so fricking numb. I didn’t know how this was going to play out. Was this the line, and had I crossed it with my barefooting? as I sat there wiggling my toes and having to look at them to make sure they were moving, I couldn’t answer the question yet. Darren came in and gave me back my shoes. I just sat there. I could feel my calves and feet cramping up a bit, so I guzzled my water and some more of my GuBrew, and just kept moving my feet waiting for them to warm up. They were obviously very cold all the way through as Paul came up a few minutes later and he laughed at the ice that was still on my toes. I got my shoes back on and walked out to the car to grab my phone and call Traci (and update Facebook of course), then went back in.

My feet seemed to be thawing out by then and it wasn’t really painful, so I figured I dodged another ‘stupid’ bullet. They were however, very sore. You know, generally sore. The overall workout was intense. So much varied terrain. I tried to do some stretching, but that seemed to trigger some cramping, so I just walked around and chatted for a bit.

I’m not sure of the physiology of nerves as it pertains to cold, but my toes were numb, even after some time at home (including a hot shower and stretching) they wouldn’t gain back total feeling. I went to bed and still had numbness in my big toes, but slowly they gained feeling again and by last night (Monday) they are back to normal. I wonder if that was due to the cold or due to the extreme workout they endured. As a testament to the effort, my hamstrings and quads are very sore today (Tuesday) and they NEVER get sore anymore during my runs. It’s usually my calves that are beat.

What did I learn? That feet can get Really cold without falling off. That’s about it. I think I knew the effort was going to be very hard. Would I do it all again? Probably. Maybe next time with less expectations. I am not injured. I am still a bit sore, but am ready for a run tomorrow… That has to say something, right?

Ok, whats the next race? Oh yeah, my Marathon! You can enter this race at any point up to May 1st! You  just need to get 42.2kms in, in the amount of time you have left. Good Luck! I’ll get a registration update posted soon.


  1. That race looks cold, cold, cold. Way too cold for bare feet. Amazing you managed those last km.
    I've been training in Merrell Trail Gloves lately and I love them. As much as I like Five Toes, for my foot Merrells are better.

  2. Those conditions are obscene. Way to push thru.

  3. Good job on getting through it. Here I am bitching about cold weather in April when you have that up there. argh.

  4. Fun race, although the unplowed portion through Weaselhead was frustrating - not much room to pass.

    The old trainers did the trick. :)

    Again, nice work!

  5. I had trouble reading this because of all the snow...if it snows here again I may lose it. Congrats on getting it done.


  7. This is a long "comment" so delete at will, but I thought the blogger might be interested.

    I went to watch Chris McDougall and his "Naked Cabaret" at the weekend.

    Featuring: Christopher McDougall, Dr. Daniel Lieberman, Dr. Irene Davis, Lee Saxby, John Durant, Marshall Lewy, and Scott Jurek.

    Imagine if you will a Ted Talks without the style or the money behind it. Powerpoints were the order of the day, with varying levels of success.

    Dr. Liebermann was interesting and had gravitas in his subject area around persistence hunting. Dr. Davis was less convincing and at times made errors or at best over-simplified with her letterman-style "top ten running myths" which included such gems as 'the most expensive running shoes will prevent injuries' (does anyone who runs actually believe this?).

    Lee Saxby was the hidden gem. I had heard Saxby called the "best running coach in the world" by Chris McDougall (possibly out of a sample of one), and was not expecting a great deal, but Saxby was frank, realistic and informed when it came to barefoot technique. He was in tune to the fact that biomechanics change with speeds, and was a proponent of barefoot running as a form of technique rather than delving into the more political shoes versus no shoes.

    John Durant was there apparently to tell us that if you feed artificial foods to animals in captivity then it's not as good as the foods they get in nature.

    Marshal Lewy is the screenwriter for the Born to Run movie, a project involving Peter Saarsgard and Jake Gyllenhaal. By the sounds of it, and with McDougall's full blessing, the movie will not be a barefooting documentary but more a more semi-fictional account leading up to the greatest race the world has never seen...

    Scott Jurek is awesome. Aware of time constraints, he simply gave constructive tips for endurance running.

    Chris McDougall came on. I have to admit he is a little like the wild west apothecary selling marvellous tonics. He's brash and a polemicist, but in the time he was on it was too short a time to tell if he is really a raconteur. He drops the f-bomb frequently (lots of kids in the audience, he did apologize), and certainly with his 6' 5" frame you can see how the revelation of better biomechanics would have aided his running - heavy on your feet with a linebacker's frame will surely end in injury. One cool part of his talk was when he brings on an opera singer to sing Caballo Blanco's speech from before the race - it was a bit of fun but not as profound as I think Mr. McDougall thought it was :0)

    All in all, this was a very different kind of book tour, but honestly I think a max three speakers would have been best. If you don't live near a tour stop, you aren't missing out on anything.

  8. wow... that race sounds horrible!! you are one brave man!! I would hate to run a half marathon in that kind of weather!!

  9. Tough conditions out there and lots of tough runners to tackle them. You bunch are insane :)

  10. I glad it was yo running in the race and not me. BRRR! Great Job and you have some great photos.

  11. What a tough race! Congrats for enduring it and making in through!

  12. Ha!

    Neil you crack me up. When I saw you running without your shoes, oh I almost died laughing. You are a crazy SOB, no two ways about it, not withstanding I look like the nut bar in the picture.

    I gotta say though, you held 'er together pretty well there at the end, I wouldn't have guessed you were suffering so much, seemed to me that you finished pretty song.

    Oh, and you never realize how heavy shoes are until you have to carry them while you are running.

    Too funny.

    Here is my little rr if you are interested.

  13. Just thought I'd come over to Neils blog and make a comment. Great race report Neil. As usual, looks pretty tropical.

    Your race report was a little longer than mine. Mine was a one page powerpoint. My race report is on my blog in case you are interested.

  14. wow.just wow. I see the pics, but its stil hard for me to imagine those conditions

  15. Great report, thanks fo the mention and the photo. But where's the