An account of my first barefoot half-marathon
I’m standing at the starting line, among a couple friendly faces and a sea of jumping people. The air is electric. I check one last time that everything’s in place. My music, my food, my water. I still can’t really believe it, yet.
This is the big day.
Of course, it could have been sunny. Or warm. Or both. But the early spring weather was grey, humid, and cold. Really fucking cold. I waited until the last possible minute to take my street clothes off and put on my FiveFingers, trying to stay as warm as I could. People are walking around with megaphones, warning that the starting gun is about to go off. I take a deep breath. It’s about to begin.
It’s overwhelming. The energy is so high, it seems you could fly. The long line of thousands of eager runners slowly starts to move, like a big jittery multi-colored caterpillar. Before I know it, the wave of movement hits me and my friends and we’re on the move. Don’t freak. Focus.
One last look at Kendra. She’s smiling. In an instant, I’m reminded why I’m doing this. For fun. I smile my teeth stupid and I get moving. It takes me less than five seconds to start feeling like I’m stuck in a herd of slow cows and I can’t fight the urge to speed up serious.
As I pick up speed, I know that this could be a fatal mistake. Giving in to the excitement, starting strong only to run out of fuel somewhere along the way. “Don’t jizz your shorts, idiot”. I laugh. It’s all right, I think, I’ll get the stress out of my system, warm up quicker, find my pace, and then cruise.
The first 100 meters wasn’t over that a light rain started coming down. Not much more than a little mist, at first, but enough to get me worried. Any accumulation of water on the track means I will have to endure soaked, cold, soggy feet for the whole race. At the first turn, there’s already a large patch of mud and gravel. The track is packed with runners. I can’t avoid it. I step in reluctantly, and instantaneously feel the mushy, cold mud rushing in. Suddenly, my cross-country training doesn’t feel so crazy or useless anymore...
Runners are looking at me funny. Some are smiling, others have puzzled looks of disbelief. I suddenly realize that of 3,500 runners, I’m probably the only barefoot dude, so I’m getting the same kind of looks runners who show up to races dressed as giant chickens or drag queens must get all the time. People in the crowd are nudging others, pointing at my feet. Some send me thumbs up, others seem to think I’m not going to last five minutes. I don’t like the attention. Breathe. Look forward. Find your pace.
The drizzle quickly turned into a shitstorm. The wind picked up, too, and the rest of my clothes rapidly matched the state of my feet. At this point, I made a decision; for what it’s worth, I’m giving it all. I’m not gonna try to save up some energy or run a restrained, controlled 21K. Fuck it. If these are the conditions we’re gonna get, I’ll run it to the top of my lungs, maximum effort, head down. At least I won’t be cold.
So I keep my speed up. Every couple minutes, I feel my energy crashing. I regret my decision to rely on SportBeans for energy, as the PowerGel seems to give me a much better boost. Hey, there’s nothing I can do about it anyways, I only have two pouches. It’ll have to do. I follow the advice from that nice girl at The Running Room (sip it). It works. I’m just afraid that every little boost I get is the last...
The distance markers start to go by. 7, 10. I look down, most of the time. Seems it took me forever to complete the first half of the challenge. I try not to think of the distance that remains. I know I’ve slowed down sensibly since a couple minutes, and my initial motivation is starting to escape me. I separated from my friends a long time ago, no one’s in sight. It’s me and the track. I feel alone. For the first time today, I’m afraid.
A little pinch on my elbow. Shaken out of my thoughts, I turn to see a little lady, shining a large smile at me. She points at my feet, gives me a “hang loose” and a wink as she passes. It is impossible to explain the feeling completely; it’s like she hosed down my worries and gave me a warm bowl of soup. I know, it makes no sense. But man, does that ever feel good. I love you for what you did, smiling lady.
I reached the 11KM marker in pouring rain and strong winds.
At least I was half way.
- Read on to part II -