Barefoot Trail Race Report: Good News/Bad News
Good News: My running had been going well enough that it seemed like a 10k race (the OC Trail Wings Spooky Raptor Run) over my favorite trails between Irvine and Santiago Oaks Regional Parks would be a good idea last weekend.
Bad News: “Seemed like a good idea” is the story of my running life.
Good News: The weather was perfect (high 60s-low 70s) with lovely morning cloud cover. Trail conditions: equally stellar . . . the So-Cal-pre-rainy-season sensuous mix of dust and rocks and dusty rocks that I enjoy moving through several times a week.
Bad News: Three days before the race I was checking out “the course” (on the network of trails I’ve been traversing, shod and un-shod, since 1997), and caught the ball of my left foot on one of those rock-icebergs that barely poke through the dust. The result: not too much dripping blood, but a blood blister later that evening that I performed needle surgery on. Then the bruising began. And throbbing. So I did my best to keep the blood flowing through the area to enhance healing, the old “wiggle-waggle-twist-and-twitch” method of keeping my toes moving whenever I was sitting or standing. A bit painful, but effective.
Good News: By Sunday, my foot was feeling 90% better.
Bad News: By Sunday, my right hip, which has been stiff and sore for months (ever since a particularly intense hilly run one fine summer day) felt . . . pretty stiff and sore, still.
Good News: I got there early and walked and trotted and did some mild hip/torso loosening movements . . . and then the race began and I happily headed down a familiar path across (dry) Santiago Creek and past my favorite grove of cottonwood, sycamore, and very old oaks. By having realistic expectations (let’s just have fun) and seeding myself at the back of the pack, I was able to relax and enjoy the moment/movement.
More Good News: For 8k–which included 1000 feet of elevation gain/loss in the form of two lovely hills–I had the run of my life. I was able to push my 55-year-old cardio-pulmonary engine close to capacity a few times, and even made some passes on the uphills. The downhills were long and luscious with more dust than rocks, and I pushed myself just as hard going down as I had going up. I’m sure to a race observer (but there weren’t any, except a few mountain bikers out for a Sunday ride) all my running and capacity and pushing must have appeared as slow motion . . . but to me: pure shoeless flying.
As I approached the last very steep 30-yard uphill to go up and around the Villa Park Dam, I saw a few people power-hiking up it. “I can catch them. I own this hill,” I said to myself, an uncharacteristic bit of positive self-talk.
And I kept running, even though my legs were starting to feel the effects of 7 kilometers of nothin’ but up-and-down the ridges and hills of Santiago Oaks Regional Park.
And I actually caught one of the stragglers, a sturdy gentleman I’d passed quite a bit earlier in the race, but due to some, uh, interesting course markings (or lack thereof), I found myself staring at his muscle-y calves again.
Very Bad News: Around the 8k mark, after the last short downhill that led us back below the dam and onto the final flat section of the course, my left knee felt a slight twinge that soon became a major stabbing-cramping-inside-the-knee agony. Having recently listened to an hour-long conversation between Michael Sandler and Dr. Tim Noakes–who both emphasized the mental aspect of physical injury, I tried to “out-think” the pain.
Positive self talk!
Hmmm . . . this was an odd experience. On the one hand, I was able to keep a very slow jog going and not succumb to my left knee’s pleas of “Just walk, and I’ll behave. I promise.” Every other time I’ve had this pain (and it first surfaced during the final 10-mile downhill of a 20-mile race back in 2004), walking would indeed make it go away. Oh, the years of frustration and the fistfuls of dollars I’ve thrown at physical therapy to make my left knee reliable. The NSAIDS. Taping. Icing. Quad-strengthening exercises. Active Release Technique (ART) sessions. Rolfing series. Acupuncture. Rooster comb injections. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
And here I was back to square one: knee pain that sucked the enjoyment out of my running.
Good news: My feeble attempt at mind-over-matter sort of worked . . . only once did I give an audible whimper (a Charlie-Brown-like cry of “Aarrggh”) and walked for about five steps. Yes, the pain diminished. But I hadn’t paid $35 to walk along trails I could travel for free any day of the week. This was a race, dang it, and I was here to push myself–if not against the other racers and against the clock, then against my own mysterious psyche.
So I recollected all the inspiring ultra-running blog posts I’d ever read (including the most recent Grand-to-Grand Ultra race report by the amazing Sarah Lavender Smith), and just. Kept. Running.
As I motored slowly along, I tried to inventory how my hips, legs, feet, were feeling. Both my hips had felt oddly stiff as I careened downhill; now my left ankle seemed like it wasn’t flexing like the right one, so I attempted to let it flop a bit more loosely. Big mistake. A crampish pain immediately radiated from my knee up and down my left leg. Yikes. I locked my ankle back into its awkward, less agonizing place, and just. Kept . . . you know . . .
Good news: When I saw my newest friend Brent-the-photographer (he, my husband, and I had had a nice pre-race chat) pointing his camera at me during the final bit of trail-straightaway, I was able to limp a bit less and smile as I crossed the finish line in 1:17:42
Bad news: Dang. I could have shaved at least two minutes off that if I’d been able to keep my kick-butt race-pace (insert Nelson’s “ha ha” here) up the last mile.
Good news: Then I realized my time didn’t matter so much. I’d had a fabulous run on my favorite trails and had had the privilege of meeting some really nice fellow racers–folks who, both pre-and-post-race, had all kinds of interesting questions and comments and insights into running and their own searches for footwear that would keep them enjoying this most excellent activity.
Best news of the day: During the post-race chatting, a couple came up to me and said that when they had been lost on the course (did I mention the markings were a little sketchy?) they had looked for my barefoot footprints (barefootprints?) to help them find their way. That made my day, and my super kind and accomplished Feldenkrais coach will be happy to know she has continued job security as we keep working on sorting out how I move now, and how I can learn to move more effectively.
Here’s a few photos by my hubby, who scooted around the course on his BMX bike (his mid-life-crazy hobby):