Monday, November 3, 2008

NYC marathon Barefoot!

I ran the NYC marathon barefoot! It felt as magical as my first marathon three years back. The support and encouragement from fellow marathoners for running barefoor was absolutely amazing... never mind the crazy nyc crowd. Ironically, running barefoot was so shocking to many in the crowd that they would *stop* shouting because they would be speechless about what to shout for me. I intentionally kept it low profile as I didnt want to get over excited but still had some moments. At mile 24, there was this young woman behind me who shouted "Oh my god" at least 20 times till I realized that she was referring to me and was repeating the same thing like a broken record. I just smiled at her. I cant believe I forgot how much fun it is to run NYC. 

The barefoot part of the race was picture perfect till about mile 18 and then it was pure meltdown. I finished the race in 4:15. I was on pace to finish below 3:50 with enough reserves to even speed up in last 6mi. But something happened at mile 18 which I had never even thought about training for. Mile 18 has a "Power gel" zone with thousands of runners ahead of me throwing half empty gel packs over next couple of miles. I didnt really felt very gross about it because I was careful not to step on any pack but by mile 19 I noticed that every step I took felt like step on a sticky tape. It, in fact, felt good and strange for a while. But by mile 20 it was clear that there was something wrong. The outer skin attachment was becoming weaker and it was becoming prone to blister. The best analogy would be skin of a bruised banana compared to fresh banana. To make things worse the "soft" carpet covering harsh metal mesh on the 1st/125th bridge caused a lot of overall bruising. To add salt to the injury (so to speak), the bridge back from Bronx to manhattan was like a torture maze designed specifically for barefoot runners (it was so bad, I remember thinking of the needle scene in Saw movie). 

I have run on rough surfaces before but already susceptible skin quickly deteriorated into multiple blisters within span 1.5mi after running a near perfect 19mi made me rethink the racing strategy. Despite being at 20mi, i did NOT hit the wall. I was in very good spirit just felt like car full of gas with flat tires. Since I never had a serious blister problem before, I didnt know how to deal with it. It feels idiotic now but given that I developed 4 deteriorating blisteres within 1.5mi and 5 more miles to go seemed like a hopeless situation... no matter how good rest of my body felt. In fact, typically such injuries quickly deteriorate into bigger issues including other damages caused by compensating movement legs made to minimize pain instead of maintaining right form.

By mile 21, I put a bandaid but with gatorade and water and more gels all over course, it wouldn't stick. I put a mega-bandaid on top of it but it still wouldnt stick. I ran out of bandaids after that. All this ultra-conservative steps slowed me down from 8:30min/mi pace to 13+min/mi pace (thats extra 5min per mile). Finally, I spotted a medical station and decided to tape up the worst of the 4 blisters on the ball of the right foot. For better or for worse, I didn't feel right occupying the station tapping up (never mind treating them) all the blisters. I thought there are probably other runners around at this distance who may have more serious needs. I guess, I also didnt want to gamble them noticing that I was running barefoot (they never did) in case they discourage me from finishing barefoot. I wasted another 4min in the station and then took off. 

Amazingly, the following 4miles were quite uneventful. I think the insanely loud crowd on fifth avenue had something to do with it. It is next to impossible to stop running with so much cheering and pressure not to quit from this crowd. The last 4miles since the aid station were 10:39, 10:21, 9:36 and 7:46 where 7:46 reflects the full realization that blister crisis is over and was the second fastest mile in whole race (fastest being run down queens borrow bridge into manhattan).

Punchline, however, is that I was carrying my vibram shoes and I never gave into temptation to put them on. I almost gave in before I saw the aid station but now I am sure I would have regretted it if I had put them on. All in the all, with three of the 4 blister well on way to heal, I don't expect any damage and good to go by the weekend. The forth is a blood blister on heel of the right foot. Ironically, barefoot running has strengthened the skin so much that the blister is well covered naturally and is less likely to puncture. 

On a more subtle point, all this barefoot running has made it possible to compensate for FOUR localized pain points and still run efficiently. This part would be hard to explain to non-barefoot runners but perhap a good analogy would be shopping cart with uneven wheel and alternating between two misaligned weels to minimize damage to those wheels. Its amazing to see the hyper-complex architecture of foot in *real* action for a change. I guess there is good reason why more than one in four bones in our body are in the foot. Perhaps next time (yes there will definitely be one) they will take me to the finishline in less than 4hrs.

BF in NY for 750mi


JohnnyGo said...

Awesome! When I saw you on the Queensboro bridge I couldn't believe it. I'd seen you run in the Vibram shoes before, and that was impressive enough. But the marathon barefoot? Wow. Congrats!

NYC marathon said...

Thanks John. I had a blast. You seem to be in great shape going up hill on the bridge as well.

Anonymous said...

Great report! Your blister woes are very similar to my experiences of running a mountain marathon the previous weekend.
It's frustrating, isn't it! I think also that at the 20 mile stage, our running form can worsen as we tire which will result in blisters. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about the marathon slogan:

What does it take?

And after reading your marathon report, it's clear to me that it is mental toughness.

Kudos to you. See you around in CP.

NYC marathon said...

Thanks scorpio. You know how to find me when you see me in CP:)

Yanni, I read about your marathon on a BBC report. Your marathon was in harder (at least 10 times harder) conditions. But yes, it was very frustrating, especially after training so much to avoid just problems like this. I can honestly say that I had NEVER ran a long distance training run through barefoot-related pain since I never had injury during training. But I guess it only made the marathon special:-)

Benny said...

Hey man, great job on doing the marathon BF. I'm aiming to do the upcoming NYC Half in my Vibrams, but my weekly mileage is way too low at the moment. Got any tips?

Also, how has Crossfit been working out for you? Have you seen major changes in your stamina, body weight, overall fitness? Thanks.


NYC marathon said...

If you are not injured and can run 6miles without stopping, you should be fine. Tapering before the race adds few miles and the electricity of the race, especially in NYC makes up for the rest. If you do crossfit then it will be even easier.
Yes, crossfit is working well. I gained 10pounds (while loosing fat) in upperbody and have been breaking PRs easily in shorter distances. Just like running, the key is consistency and willingness to push the limits.
Goodluck with the race.

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