Well, Maybe…

I’m thinking of attempting a barefoot 100K ultra in June of 2013. The event is the Niagara Ultra, which, in 2013, takes place shortly after my birthday. It seems to me that would be a notable way of celebrating the fact that I’ll have turned 65.

I’ve done the 50K version of the Niagara Ultra twice before. In 2009, I did it shod, in torrential rain which lasted all the time I was on course. I finished in 6 hours and 19 minutes. In 2010, I DNF’ed, calling it quits at the 37K mark. I ran that one barefoot, and did it four days after my father died. I didn’t really expect to complete the distance, as I’d only had about four hours sleep in the preceding week. But I had a lot of issues that needed to be dealt with, and I knew that running to exhaustion was the best way of doing that.

The Niagara Ultra route is a nice one. The 50K event starts in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and goes to Niagara Falls and back. The turnaround point is at the Falls, which in itself is kind of a memorable moment. The route is an all-paved, traffic-free trail which snakes along the edge of the Niagara River Gorge. It’s a pretty run, and has only 200 meters or so of climbing, all on one hill at Queenston Heights.

The 100K route comprises a 12.5K out, 12.5 back, 25K out, 25K back, 12.5K out, 12.5K back pattern based on the 50K route, which allows the longer distance to be tackled in manageable chunks.

Why would I want to run 100K barefoot? Well, first there’s the challenge. Though I’m sure that it’s possible to do such a thing, I have no idea at all whether it’s possible for me to do it. And there’s only one way to find out, which is to try it. Second, it would be kind of cool if I could pull it off. Something for the personal history books, as it were. But the best reason, if I’m completely honest, is that it offers an opportunity to go somewhere when I can learn more about myself.

I’ve found that “somewhere” before. Once, in my very first marathon in 1980, when I was in so much pain from the 30K mark that I scarcely knew who or where I was. Then again when I DNF’d on the Niagara 50K. That was a more positive “somewhere” – in spite of the exhaustion and my very sore feet, I resolved some deep and long-standing issues. Funnily enough, the “somewhere” never happened on the three other marathons I’ve done, nor on the 50K ultra I did in the rain.

What I’m looking for was once described by Hunter S. Thompson, one of my favourite authors, as “the place where the definitions are.” That works as well as anything for what I want. I already find meaning – and lots of it – in my running, but on the 100K I’ll be after something even deeper.

And the title of this post? Well, I have to confess that, though I very much like the concept of running 100K barefoot, I’m not sure I can actually do the deed. It’s pretty daunting. So, at this point, though I’m marking my calendar for a Saturday morning in mid-June next year, it’s really a matter of “Well, maybe… “


  1. I have to admit, the thought of being able to do 50 k freaks me out, and I have 20 years less wear and tear than you, and so far I’ve not had the fights you’ve had to fight. You’re clearly massively fitter than I am, both in body and mind though. As Ewa said, you’re a great inspiration to us out here, and I can’t imagine you would not give it your best shot. All your experience seems to have made you more equal to the tasks you’ve set yourself, and I’d say go for it too, though that’s easy for me to say.

    100 k barefoot is quite a task – how would you prepare for that? Would taking part doing one portion shod and another barefoot be an option?

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Stig. My preference would be to attempt the whole thing barefoot, even if it means bailing before I complete the entire distance. Then I’d at least know how far I could run barefoot. 🙂 There’s grass alongside some sections of the route, and running on that would offer some sole relief. As for training for it, my thinking is that I’ll train as if for a marathon, and add some very long weekly distances, as well as some long back-to-back runs. What I’m not sure about yet is how to toughen myself mentally for what’s likely to be a 13 to 14 hour run. (The Niagara 100K has a 14 hour cutoff.)

      1. Phew, 14 hours running. Yikes, I can’t really imagine that, even with some nice cool grass to run on. Still, training-wise what you say makes a lot of sense, and you have experience I just don’t have there. Definitely the best option HAS to be to attempt it barefoot, as you’ve made a definite achievement even if you do have to bail. I’m sorry, I just keep coming back to that 14 hour cut off. That’s just SO impressive to be able to keep going that long, footwear or no!

  2. Alan, just go for it. I honestly think you can do it.
    I am also saying all this because of selfish reasons. People like you inspire me so don’t you dare to doubt yourself. 🙂

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