Barefoot Running UK

Anna Toombs and David RobinsonAnna Toombs and David Robinson of Barefoot Running UK always do a fantastic job with their newsletters, which is why I post them for download when they come up.

This time, though, they’ve outdone themselves. Their latest offering is a full magazine, incorporating the newsletter, but with lots and lots more content. It’s a very impressive effort, and one which I commend to you.

You can view and download the magazine (a PDF-format file) here on the BFRUK website. (It’s titled “April 2012.) I’m giving you this link rather than the file itself, because I want you to visit the site, and see for yourself what the BFRUK goodness is all about.

I keep saying that one day I want to attend a Barefoot Running UK workshop. The more I learn about BFRUK, the more I believe that, in fact, one day it’s going to happen.

VFF Marathon

Dan Batchelor: “I’m a geologist working in the environmental consulting field in New England. It was in July 2009 when I decided to take up running again. I had never been an avid runner, but circumstances in my life changed and I needed an outlet. After my first few runs in running shoes I came across Vibram Fivefingers and the concept of minimalist running. Discovery of minimalist running changed the way I perceived running and opened my eyes to the joy of running. Running has since changed my life and I cannot imagine a life where running is not part of it. I am only at the beginning and I look forward to where this journey will lead me.”

I was training in Massachusetts in temperatures below 40°F for my first marathon to take place on February 19, 2011 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

As race day approached, the extended forecast predicted temperatures in the upper 60s. My goal for my first marathon was to finish, but I did have a time goal of 4 hours 30 minutes. On race day, at 6:00 AM, the temperature was in the 50s. I located the 4:30 pacer and felt confident that I could run my first marathon around that time despite the warmer weather.

At 6:30 AM, the cannon fired and the pack began to migrate towards the start line, I started my run and I was feeling great. At around 6 miles, I found that my pace (10 min/mile) was starting to slip a bit, yet I was still ahead of the 4:30 pacer so I was still on track. The temperature at this point was somewhere around 50-60°F and a slight wind was starting to pick up.

After a few more miles the 4:30 pacer with pack in tow were on my heels. Despite pulling ahead a few times, the group eventually passed me somewhere around 12-13 miles. This was my first realization that I was not going to finish in 4:30.

With little cloud cover, the sun hung bright in the sky and I started to noticed the heat around 6 mile. At 8.25 miles the hotel buildings, located between our route and the beach, provided some shade and relief from the sun, but this ended around mile 13. I had reached the halfway point after approximately 2 hours 20 minutes, and it hit me that there were still 13.1 miles left to go. I was already starting to feel the fatigue and I realized that this race was going to be a lot harder than I anticipated. I slowed my pace and just focused on finishing the race, which at that point I was sure would still be under 5 hours.

Things were looking grim in Mudsville. At mile 14 I slowed to a walk for the first time as I entered the 14-mile water station. It was here that I realized I had seriously miscalculated my hydration strategy – I was getting dehydrated – I drank down one cup and poured a other over my head I knew I was in trouble, I told myself that I would walk through each subsequent water station (about every 2 miles) to take in fluids and electrolytes. I didn’t quite make it to the next station before I found myself walking again. At mile 16 the wind seemed to have picked up and was blowing against us.

As each mile past the end seemed further and further, I had slowed considerably. As the day continued to warm and the wind persisted, my fatigue got exponentially worse between miles 16 and 20. At around 3 hours 40 minutes into the race, I reached mile 20 and I remember thinking how impossible the next 6.2 miles seemed. I thought about how I had run 22.6 miles in December while training for this race and how quickly I recovered after it, which gave me the confidence I need to feel ready for this race. Yet at mile 20, I couldn’t seem to comprehend that I had actually run this distance before. I knew the heat was taking its toll, but somehow that didn’t seem to register. Every step I took for the next 6.2 miles was a mental battle.

There was one moment when I realized that by not reaching the finish, would mean that I had quit the race. Quit? Where did that come from? Quitting had never before even crossed my mind – it was never an option and wasn’t going to become one. I knew then that I was going to finish. I dug deep and pulled on sources of strength that had always helped me through in the past. Getting to the end was a combination of running and walking, knowing that the more I ran the sooner I would get there.

Finally, after 5 hours 21 minutes 30 seconds and a temperature of 70°F, I had finished my first marathon.

I learned a lot on this day, not just about running a marathon, but also about myself. After I had a chance to hydrate and cool off, I began to think about my next marathon in October. I registered for it months earlier – there was never any doubt, after all, that I would run another.

(Spoken like a true marathoner, Dan. Thanks for the post! ~Alan)

To Trail or Not To Trail

Stephen Longhurst: I’m an over-forty student of running for the past 9 years. I’ve run everything from short runs to long runs on both road and trail. I got into running as a way to stay in shape, have fun and meet people. What started out as a desire for better physical fitness has turned into a passion of varying degrees. I started running at the Running Room in Port Credit in the learn to run clinic and everything just went from there. I made a decision to go as close to barefoot as possible about one year ago and that is currently a work in progress. I am hoping to get my distance back up barefoot or close to it as possible and continue to run longer distances like half marathons, marathons and any ultra events that I feel I’m capable of doing. My blogs are Barefoot in Port Dover and My Running Sole.

A few years ago I was a committed road runner. If I was going to run it had to be a nice, even, hard-packed or asphalt surface. The closest thing I wanted to do off-road were bike paths or walking paths in local parks. Then a friend told me that I should try doing a trail race. He told me that he had started doing a small series of trail races around southern Ontario called 5 Peaks. I was now curious. It sounded like fun. I checked out the Web site and promptly registered for the race at Rattlesnake Point. This, little did I know, was the start of my new addiction.

I showed up at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton at 9:00 AM on race day and found my running buddy to help myself get oriented. The start time of the actual race was 10:00 AM, which was a kick-butt concept to me. For once I didn’t have to get up before the sun to go to a race. I picked up my bib and my swag and got ready to run.

They gave us our pre-race briefing, which included a course description, and the thing that stands out the most were the warnings about roots, rocks, the technical difficulty of the course and of course the cliff. The main warning was to follow the trail markers and to yield to other runners when necessary in narrow sections of the trail.

I now did not know what to expect from this course. This sure wasn’t going to be a bike path in Erindale Park and it didn’t sound like I was in Kansas anymore. The horn went off for my wave of runners and I was off. I soon discovered that any trepidation that I may have had was completely unnecessary. There were lots of rocks, roots, dirt paths, single track running and elevation change. Yes there was certainly a great deal of up and down hills of all description.

It was at this point that I realized that I had been missing out on some of the best running around. I had to be a little bit more careful about my footing, but it was the most fun that I had on a run in a long time. There seemed to be something so pure and natural about running along a rocky path with the sun occasionally peeking through the canopy of the trees.

I finished that first trail run and it was fantastic. I was hot, I was sweaty, I was out of breath and I was completely sold. I should mention that I did that first run in trail shoes. I have since switched to the Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek and it is working out like absolute magic.

The simple fact that you are running practically barefoot makes you more careful with your footing. When I did a trail race last year in mine I actually felt a little more fleet of foot and able to deal with terrain change than my shoe-wearing comrades. This isn’t to say that stepping on a good size stone isn’t going to hurt a little, but the Treks definitely make a difference in the effect things like this have on your feet.

No matter how you do it, you should definitely get yourself out on the trails this year. There are plenty of trail events that go on all spring, summer and fall like 5 Peaks, the Ontario Ultra Series, and countless other independent events. They are all loads of fun, the people are friendly, and the courses always present new and interesting challenges.

Guest Posts

I’m delighted to announce that there’ll soon be a couple of guest bloggers here. What a great way to start the new year!

First up will be Vanessa Rodriguez. She’ll write about natural sports nutrition. Vanessa is a fellow member of the Barefoot Runners Society, and is also my nutritional advisor.

Next, my friend Stephen Longhurst will write about running trails. Stephen is also a BRS member, and does tough trail races in Vibram Fivefingers and a sport kilt!

My thanks go to Vanessa and Stephen for contributing. I’m sure you’ll be informed, educated, and entertained by their posts.


I surprised my self this morning. I ran quickly.

I still have a bit of a cold, so was simply aiming for a decent tempo-paced run. I wore my VFFs rather than going barefoot, as I opened a small blister on one toe on Sunday’s wet 10K run, and aggravated it further on Tuesday. The remedy was simple – a little Nu-Skin, a Band-Aid, and the VFFs.

It’s a pleasant morning. I started just before daybreak, when it was 2C and overcast. Little traffic, no pedestrians, and still relatively quiet in my sometimes busy neighbourhood.

Got into a groove quickly and easily, so I decided to chug along at an optimistic pace, and ran the5K at my targeted 10K race pace. Not only was I surprised at going quickly, but also that it required minimal effort. I think the last two weeks of using the Sports Breather has helped a lot; belly-breathing comes much more naturally and easily. And it probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve lost five pounds over the last three weeks.

Sometimes I amaze me. That’s a good feeling.

2011 Race Calendar

This is the time of year when I build my race calendar for the coming season. More accurately, this is the time of the year when my race calendar sort of forms itself. Some are races that are a more-or-less permanent fixture for me; some are similar to races I’ve done previously, but in different places or on different dates; others are the results of suggestions or invitations from other runners; some are entirely new initiatives.

My 2011 calendar is a mix of all of the above. Here’s what it looks like:

Around the Bay 30K, March 27, Hamilton, Ontario. I’ve done this race twice. It’s a challenging route, it’s got lots of history behind it (first run in 1894, three years before the Boston Marathon), and it’s well organized. In 2009, I ran it in “regular” running shoes and with a small group of friends. The weather was dreadful (6C and torrential rain). I finished in a time of 3:02:45. This year, I ran it solo, in my VFFs, and the weather was better (3C and partly cloudy). I finished in 3:16:23, but without the pain and cramping I’d experienced the year before. This year, I’ll do it in my VFFs (unless I get really crazy, and try it barefoot), and would like to finish somewhere close to 3 hours.

Mississauga Half Marathon, May 15, Mississauga, Ontario. I haven’t done this one before, but I know the route well, as I did the full marathon in 2009 and again this year. I had a horrendous crash and burn experience at 27K in 2009. This year, I completed the race In my VFFs with an “I’m just cruising” time of 5:26:29. I’m going to do the half this year, barefoot, and with a goal finish time of around two hours. (My PB for the half is 2:02:55.)

Next up will be something new, the Self-Transcendence 6 Hour, June 4, Kingston, Ontario. This is a time-based rather than distance-based race. It’s a variant of the the Niagara 50K Ultra, which I ran in each of the past two years. In 2009, I ran the 50K Ultra in conventional shoes and a heavy rain, and finished in 6:19. This year, I ran the Ultra barefoot, and made it to 35K. I’m going to do the Self-Transcendence 6 Hour barefoot. If I get close to 50K in the alloted six hours, I’ll be happy.

At the end of August, for the third time in a row, I’ll do- the Toronto Underwear Affair 10K. It’s a cancer fundraiser, it’s lots of fun, and it’s the only race I do each year where I ask for pledges. I ran it barefoot this year, and finished in 1:04. Next year, I’ll be barefoot again, and will try to finish under the one hour mark. (My PB for the 10K is 58:18.)

Then it’ll be time for another new one – the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon, October 16, Toronto, Ontario. This will be my first barefoot marathon, and one I’d like to finish in about 5 hours. (MY PB for the marathon is 4:30, set way back in 1980.) In some ways, this race will be an even bigger challenge that the 6 Hour race in June. There’ll be a lot more people running in the event, and much more a feeling of competition.

That’s a pretty ambitious program for a nearly-senior citizen with metal in his leg and cancer in his prostate. It may or may not turn out as planned, depending on training and external factors. (John Lennon once sang “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” How well I know the truth of that!) But it’s a good calendar, and I think it will bring both a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction.

Catching Up

It makes some sense, I think, to bring things up to speed on what’s happened with me since mid-August, when I temporarily stopped posting here.

At the end of August, I ran a 10K race. It was a good one for a number of reasons. First, I ran the event barefoot. Second, it was a cancer fundraiser. Third, I did it only two days before I had the first of two new cancer procedures. The race was, therefore, both a celebration and a preparation.

It worked well in both respects. The race – called the Underwear Affair – is always kind of a giddy party with a very serious undercurrent. Almost everyone running in it is either a cancer survivor or has a relative who has or has not survived a “cancer below the waist” (hence the event’s name). It features silly costumes, much laughter, some tears, and a pretty decent course along a Toronto waterfront park.

Race day featured my kind of weather – hot and humid – so I ran in just an old pair of running shorts, my sunglasses, and a “cancer survivor” bandanna handed out by the race organizers. The weeks before the race had been pretty busy with medical tests and consultations, so I didn’t really train for it – but still managed an almost respectable finishing time of 1:04.

Two days later, I had a cancer treatment. Ten days later, I went back for another one. Both procedures involved a rather cool technology called MRI-imaged high dose rate brachytherapy. Cool tech, yes, but invasive and pretty wearing. I was off work and away from running for the next three weeks.

After those three weeks, I started running again. Good news for me, as the physical and psychological benefits kicked in very quickly. Good news, too, for my loving wife, as I’m not the easiest person to live with when I haven’t run for more than a couple of days. (Thank you, JoAnne, for all the love and support.)

After that, I simply ran. Not very far, and not very fast. But I ran. Barefoot as long as the weather was warm, and then, when it got colder, in my Vibram Fivefingers. And things got better. Now, I’m up to about 25K a week, divided into two tempo runs on the treadmill, one steady pace run outside, one long run outside at an LSD pace, and three strength/stretching sessions.

Three weeks ago, I got another tattoo. I’ve got six now, three of which are cancer “markers.” I got the first of the three when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago, the second at the beginning of that first round of radiation therapy, and the last of the three shortly after I had after the most recent set of procedures. (The story of those tattoos probably deserves its own post. Stay tuned. )

And I’m heading for another 10K race. This one will be the Tannenbaum 10K, on December 12 in Toronto. It’s a small event, and is a fundraiser for a local community centre. I won’t be barefoot this time, naturally, but I’ll be running with my friend Simon, who recently suggested a winter run together. I’m delighted he did.

Simon’s a much stronger – and faster – runner than me, so I’ll be chasing him the whole distance. But that’s good. It means that I’m a runner again.

And that matters. It matters a lot.

Tired, Tired, Tired

I ran 15K this morning, in my VFFs and at a slightly faster than my target ultra pace. What with my father in his last days and the new greyhound taking up a lot of time, I haven’t had nearly enough sleep in the last couple of weeks. I’m bone tired. But I’m glad I ran anyway.

I have to find some way of getting some rest in the next few days, or Saturday’s 50K ultra is going to be a disaster. I can’t see how, though. Simply too many responsibilities and far too little time.