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Barefoot trail race report: go-go granny!

August 2, 2013

A year ago I was having the best running summer of my 50+ year, injury-plagued existence, so I celebrated by running a local trail race.

It was an exuberant barefoot romp* through trails I have known since cruising them on horseback in the early 1970s: Peters Canyon on the outskirts of Orange, CA, my hometown. (*Romp to this granny means 5 miles in 52 minutes.)

By the end of the last summer, after (perhaps) a bit too much romping up-down-and-through our local hills, I began having left ankle and back-of-foot pain; so much for the best running ever.

Always the optimist, in October 2012 I signed up for a grueling week-long backpack over tough trails to Thunder River in the Grand Canyon . . . and with this to motivate me began throwing (once again) dollars at physical therapy.

With runner-ific results!

One-on-one Pilates with Kristine Ngo of Full Potential Pilates in Orange, along with focused physical therapy with Dr. Derek Suecki of Knight Physical Therapy in Garden Grove, has finally got me “un-stuck”–and I thank them (and God!) for helping me return to this weird passion of mine: running trails without shoes.

The Grand Canyon hike this past May went fabulously—I was able to carry a week’s worth of food and gear down and up some crazy, beautiful, rocky trails (wearing Merrell Pipidae sandals).

Backpacking through Surprise Valley, Grand Canyon National Park (photo by Bill and Sue)

Backpacking through Surprise Valley, Grand Canyon National Park (photo by Bill and Sue)

June and July were spent cautiously transitioning from hiking to running on my 3-times-a-week excursions in my dear sweet local Orange County wildlands (home of amazing biodiversity and all-altogether-too-cool plants, animals, and rocks).

The rare and endangered Intermediate Mariposa Lily, along Barham Ridge, OC Parks

The rare and endangered Intermediate Mariposa Lily, along Barham Ridge, OC Parks

Two weeks ago the scales tipped: I could finally spend more minutes running than walking, for the first time in almost forever . . . but I guess it was just 10 months.

An hour of running! I reached that goal last week (with, sadly, a few too many pauses to pick up trail trash).

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Almost immediately, my inner-barefoot-competitor started coaxing me into researching trail races—there are several local series that I have enjoyed in summers past. Sure enough, the final Renegade Racing Summer Trail Run Series #3 was happening on Aug. 1.

So yesterday evening found me lined up with 281 other runners—all shapes and sizes, all shod—at the Cedar Grove Park start line.

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While last year’s weather had been deliciously rainy, this race was a classic So Cal afternoon: clear skies, mid-70’s, light breeze—perfect running weather. (It just struck me that the complete lack of stinging/biting insects might also be a reason that home prices in this North Tustin area are upwards of $900,000.)

So there I was, from the wrong side of the tracks in low-budget west Orange, a lonely barefoot grandma with a bit of pre-race jitters, hearing a whispered comment or two about my lack of footwear. It was a relief when I found myself next to a gentleman around my age wearing some kind of hand-crafted running sandal—I commented on his footwear, he did the same for me, and we had a nice chat during which he told me about Paleo Shoes and his running and horseback riding exploits.

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The bull-horn blasted, we took off, and I immediately got passed by a good 20 runners. Oops. Guess I was optimistic in my self-seeding.

The bike/horse/hiking trail was a bit crowded—probably not designed for 282 runners at at time—and we actually raised a cloud of dust as we stampeded the first mile on decomposed granite. Fortunately it was more decomposed than granite, with moderate peppercorns of grit and a scattering of eucalyptus pods, but after my recent rock-shard experiences of the trails of the Grand Canyon and Wallowa County, it was pretty dang runnable.

The rocky Zumwalt Prairie . . . a rough place to run barefoot . . .

The rocky Zumwalt Prairie . . . a rough place to run barefoot . . .

The lollipop course through Peters Canyon  alternates directions each time; this race was run opposite from when I did it last year, so that my probably has some affect on my attempt to compare my two times: 52 minutes last year to 50:45 last night.

We had to run the really long gradual hill up instead of down, which was a bit more challenging, but the roller-coaster ridge-line is a butt -kicker when approached from either direction: 5 or 6 steep up-and-downs, which I thoroughly enjoyed since I am slightly addicted to hills. With no weight on my feet, it feels like I can just fly on up, which is fun for me but maybe disconcerting for the foot-coffin folks I’m passing.

Of course my old-lady-runner ego was also flying high, fueled by comments like “That’s hardcore” coming from 20-something young men as I floated by them. Okay, ego, back in the cage . . . at least until I finish my first trail marathon . . .

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