Half Marathon in KSOs

Sunday’s Run for the Grapes half marathon went really well. It was second race in my Vibram Fivefingers KSOs and my first KSO-equipped longer distance race (the first was the Underwear Affair 10K a couple of weeks ago). Here are the stats:

Finishing time: 2:07:45
Pace: 6:04
Category placement (men 60 – 64) 7/12
Gender placement: 189/244
Overall placement: 305/451

That’s not bad at all, considering that I’ve really only been running in my KSOs for three weeks. Before that, I took about four weeks off training because of injuries I’d sustained from overdoing it when I started running barefoot. But the healing process went well, and my “on the fly” three week training program got me to the half marathon.

The Run for the Grapes starts in St. Catharines, a small town in southern Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula wine country. It’s an out and back route – starts downtown, goes briefly through some quiet suburbs, out into awhole bunch of vineyards, and back. The route is on flat, nicely paved roads. There aid stations every 5K, staffed by happy, enthusiastic, and capable volunteers. (This was the 32nd running of the Run for the Grapes, so the organizers and sponsors have had time to get things right.) The weather was just about perfect – cool to start, about 10C, then warming up to about 18C. Skies were absolutely clear, the sun shone brightly, and there was no wind.

(The last half marathon I did in this neck of the woods was in mid-February. The temperature was -18C, there was a nasty strong wind, and there was snow on the roads. At one point in the race, I looked behind the pack to find that we were being followed by two humungous snowplows. Who says Canadian runners don’t know how to have fun?)

I got lots of interest in the KSOs, all the way from cute comments to serious enquiries. Interestingly, the more experienced runners said they’d heard or read good things about them, and wanted to talk about transitioning from conventional shoes and whether running in Fivefingers might help alleviate long-standing injuries. One young runner said he already had a pair of Fivefingers Sprints, and was just beginning to transition from conventional shoes. After the race, I had a couple of long conversations with runners who said they would seriously consider buying VFFs. I think I might have made some converts!

The only post-race issue I had was a very tight right hamstring. I think that was simply about my glutes not being as strong as they should be. Feet felt great, calves ditto. I wasn’t quite as fast as I’d hoped to be, but I was very close. Besides, I’m never quite as fast as I want to be!

Races like this are fun for a lot of reasons. One is that at each race things happen that make me laugh, that charm me, and that teach me. The examples from this year’s Run for the Grapes are…

The two young guys I met at the turnaround point. Probably about 19 or so, dressed in basketball hightops and great baggy nylon shorts. Not runners, I thought to myself. First, one big guy said to his friend that he could probably “do better if I hadn’t drunk those two liters of beer last night.” Then he whipped out his cellphone and called his grilfriend to tell her that he was OK. Then he proceeded to share with his buddy his plans to get into “indoor farming” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Said he had all that he needed, “spores, a plastic box like a big shoebox to grow them in, and, you know, those bright lights” and was all set to go. Now, I’ve known a lot of dopers over the years, and these guys were definitely not dopers. They were so much fun, though, that I ran with them for a while before moving on.

In the suburbs we ran through, folks set out lawn chairs at the end of their driveways, and cheered the passing runners. At the end of one driveway was a family of four, Mom, Dad, a little girl of about four years of age, and a little boy about six. Mom and Dad had big lawn chairs, the kids had their own miniature lawn chairs. There was also a small, low table, with little paper cups on it. The little girl would wave these big pink pompoms at all the runners who went by, then take turns with her brother handing out water at their “aid station.” The best part of all this was that a lot of runners – even the fast ones – would slow down, cross the road, bend way down to drink a tiny glass of water, and then thank the kids for being there. That kind of stuff makes me believe that the world may be a decent place to live in after all.

And a new learning… Towards the end of the race, my form began to suffer. (Happens in every race, whatever the distance.) This time, I found that I could “center down” into good form, simply by consciously and intentionally breathing into my center. Four breaths would do it, and take me from being tired, tight, and a little nervy to being calm, smooth, and loose. My form would come back, as would my pace. I have no idea where all this came from. I hadn’t planned it, I hadn’t experienced it before, and I didn’t even have to think about doing it. It came all by itself, all very natural and easy.

I had hoped to post a finish photo with this report, but the good folks at Instride Canada (the race organizers) haven’t got those photos online yet. As soon as that happens, I’ll post the photo.



  1. So you said that your finishing time was 2:07 and your pace was 6:04. I’m a bit new to this running thing, but if you ran a 6:04 pace – wouldn’t your time be around 1:19? What am I missing?

      1. Ok, that was an easy one! I should’ve guessed. I’m following a lot of your posts over at birthdayshoes (AlanT) now. Since I am attempting a VFF half-marathon in June, a lot of your knowledge will come in handy! Thanks Alan!

  2. Thanks for this entry! I’m a very novice runner training for a half in KSOs and this entry both calmed my fears and reminded me how races are freaking fun!! Yay!

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