New Website: Launch of Sporting The Small Stuff – Soft Opening

Sporting The Small StuffHi! New website alert: Sporting The Small Stuff. It’s a sports blog covering running (including minimalist running and races), martial arts (mostly kung fu), and miscellaneous adventures and excursions.

I need your help!! This is a “soft opening” of Sporting the Small Stuff, so I would love for you to stop by the site and poke around (leave comments, sign up for updates, visit some links, etc.). I want to know about any quirks, broken links, cool features, design faux pas, dangling modifiers (grammatical errors – get your head out of the gutter) – anything: good or bad.

We decided to go back to using our wedding site for what it was intended for – wedding and honeymoon-related updates, so Michele is launching STSS to continue writing and to further engage the online athletic/sports community. Parts of the site are still being tweaked, but it’s far enough along for you to check it out.

Thanks in advance for your help!

And… Down She Goes

Well, that race didn’t quite go as planned.

I found a 5K trail run that I REALLY wanted to participate in (since we know how much I’ve grown to love trail runs), but Eric had a convention. Luckily, a few friends were up for the challenge, so we registered for the XTERRA Trout Creek 5K trail run. I had just run the Gasparilla 5+3K one week prior, so this was going to be a fun, low expectation run for me – scenic, shorter, with friends. Little did I know that this would be the most…well…arduous race of my blossoming running career.

We arrived at the Wilderness Park – Trout Creek site, picked up our registration packets, and followed the crowd (and signs) to the Start line, which happened to be located immediately at the bottom of an elevated berm. About 2 minutes prior to the start of the race, I began fumbling with my iPod – setting the music, setting the distance, etc. I set the music, then hoped for a race countdown before activating the Nike Sport sensor. Unfortunately, the countdown never came, so when the race began, I was still fumbling to activate it, but I was doing so while going up a steep hill. Steph moved ahead from the start, faster than me and not hindered by her Garmin. On the way up, I thought I was having a conversation with Michelle, but when we got to the top, I looked over and I was actually conversing with myself.

At the top of the berm, the course split and 15K-ers went to the left while the 5K-ers went to the right. We (5K-ers) stayed on a sand/gravel trail for about a mile before turning off through the trail. I had settled into my pace and I maintained the same distance behind Steph for about 2/3 of the race (it was nice to have a human speed gauge – Eric usually takes off and I get to talk to him again 28-29 minutes later), although I did have another unfortunate encounter with the water stop on the way into the woods. There was one person manning the water stop. I knew that both Gatorade and water were available, but I noticed that the liquid in the cup he was holding out toward me was yellow. As I was approaching him, I said “Water”. He said, “No, this is Gatorade”. I said, “I know – Water”? He said, “Oh, water” and proceeded to lean toward the water cups. By the time he got the water, I had to slow to a crawl to avoid passing him.

So, I made my way into the woods. The crowd thinned and the trail narrowed. I was enjoying the scenery and winding trail, but I remained cognizant of my surroundings. It rained all night before the race, so the course was wet and the leaves were slippery. I opted to wear the Vibram Sprints because I prefer to wear wet Sprints over wet Bikilas. I was navigating the tree roots, wet leaves, and brush well. I must have gotten too comfortable because all of a sudden, I was attacked by a tree root. I never actually saw said tree root. I have no recollection of it. All I remember is feeling like I stubbed my toe and got it caught a little. Then it took me down. I fell forward and popped back up quickly, barely breaking my stride. I immediately thought of Eric because he tripped on a root during our last trail race and cut up his toe. However, he also said that he didn’t feel pain in his toe until he finished the race. I, on the other hand, felt pain – a lot of it. I continued running (with occasional hopping), playing mind games with myself, trying to convince myself that the reason I was in pain was because I just didn’t have enough adrenaline racing through me. I had that conversation in my head all the way through the last mile to the finish line. I barely even saw the finish line (I was quite engrossed in the conversation in my head), but I heard Steph rooting for me, so I followed her sound and was handed a time card and a water canteen by the race volunteers, so I figured I was finished (and I knew I was among the top 25 females, since I had the canteen).

Since Eric fell a few races ago, we now bring a pair of flip flops to each race in case we, say, hurt a toe or something. I hobbled over to the car to change my shoes. My toe didn’t look too bad. It wasn’t bleeding. It was a little puffy, but nothing to write home about. I could barely walk on it, but no worries. We hobbled back to meet up with Michelle, scope out the food, and exchange trail stories. We also came to the conclusion, based on our race histories, our pedometers, and our projected finish times, that the course was absolutely longer than 5 kilometers. Even running the last mile with a broken toe, there is no way that my time was 30:41 for 3.1 miles (I’m not just being competitive – many people commented on the course distance being off for both the 5K and 15K).

So, now I’m left with a foot boot, significant pain, and fond memories of 2/3 of the race. Any suggestions on activities for the next month or so while my toe puts itself back together? I can do upper body kung fu, right?

Pirates and Runners – Gasparilla 5+3K

Some of my race fears were justified (see pre-race jitters post), while others were completely unwarranted. Parking, for example, was an unnecessary concern. Although the Convention Center parking garage was full upon our arrival, we had no problem finding parking across the street. The justifiable concerns began when we reached the Start line.

We arrived at the parking garage with too much time to spare (we were a good 90 minutes early due to such a successful parking pursuit), so we took a stroll through the Convention Center and along the bay. Since the 5+3K was scheduled to kick off at 9:00 AM, we walked to the Start line to secure our standing position toward the front of the racers, as we were worried that getting stuck toward the back would cause us more problems. We cheered on the half-marathoners as they pushed toward the finish line. The temperature was rising quickly and I couldn’t seem to quench my thirst, which was likely half heat, half nerves. By 8:30 AM, the Start line became so packed that it was difficult to stretch and warm up without hitting another person. By 8:45, the pacers arrived with signs, so people rearranged themselves based on their expected paces.

We were, of course, sporting our Vibram Bikilas and we were surprised by how few other minimalist runners we saw during this race. I decided to set my iPod to rock out to the Dave Matthews Band album Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King, which is becoming a race favorite for me. The 8K began promptly at 9:00 AM. As I crossed the official Start line, I tried to hit both my watch and my iPod Nike Sensor while navigating among the other racers. For the first mile or so, I think I went out too fast and wasted a lot of energy jumping on and off the median to pass other racers. The course was along Bayshore Blvd, which is a scenic local road along the water. The route had us running straight down the road for just over 2 miles, then turning around the median and returning beyond the Start line to the Finish.

Although the first mile was packed, the crowd seemed to thin during mile 2. Eric reached the turn-around before me, so when I began seeing runners coming towards us, I started searching for Eric. We waved to one another from across the median and he looked to be in a good position. I knew the round-about was coming up in the next few minutes for me and I was relieved that the halfway point would be shortly thereafter. I was exhausted after the 2nd mile. The heat (and lack of shade) was uncomfortable, I went out too fast, I wasted energy – I was just uncomfortable, but I knew the 5K marker was coming up soon. A funny thing happened when we reached the 5K line: half the people around me started walking. Did they really sign up for an 8K just to run a 5K and walk the remaining 3K? Some of the racers began running again later, but that was bizarre.

After hitting the 5K, I did slow up quite a bit. I was determined – no matter what my time ended up being, there was no way that I was going to allow myself to walk during the race. I knew I was capable of completing the distance and I would have been frustrated with myself forever if I had started walking. But, I was struggling. I was looking forward to the 3rd water stop, although the first two were…disappointing.

I have developed a fear of water stops. I am apparently not coordinated enough to drink liquid from a cup and run at the same time. I tried the pinching method with little luck. At the first stop, I grabbed the sports drink and proceeded to spill half of it on myself, leading to sticky fingers for the rest of the race. During the second stop, I grabbed water, drank some, spilled some, and poured the rest over my head. During the final stop, I grabbed a sports drink and tried to drink it, then grabbed a water and poured it over my head. What was particularly frustrating during this race was that people actually stopped at the water stops. I was under the impression that you run, grab a cup while running, drink your cup while running (or pour it over your head), throw the cup while running, and continue running. This is, after all, a RACE – stopping doesn’t really seem like a decision well-suited for racing. That definitely added some time to my total.

There wasn’t much distance remaining after the final water stop, but I was hurting. The heat was brutal and I began to feel nauseous and I got really tired. But, I was determined to finish the race running, and that’s exactly what I did. I was ecstatic to see the finish line and I even worked up a tiny bit of speed to cross it. I stopped my watch and iPod, but I didn’t know my exact chip time yet. After crossing the Finish line, I proceeded to the medal pick-up and met up with Eric, who had finished several minutes before me. I had to breathe for a few minutes before I could join in his excitement of finishing an 8K.  It actually was an exhilarating experience – each distance we conquer seems to come with a unique sense of fulfillment that is quite rewarding.

Eric finished in the top 37.5% of his age division, 33.5% of males, and 18.5% overall. I finished in the top 34% of my age division, 24% of females, and 35% overall. According to the age grade, neither of us are competing at a local level yet (we have to be above 60%). I’m not overwhelmingly impressed with my time, but that doesn’t diminish the excitement of finishing our first 8K. I’m feeling a 10K in my future… :)

Pirates and People

Countdown to the Gasparilla 5+3K – less than 20 hours. I am getting considerably more nervous as the hours pass. Not only will this race be testing the limits of my ability to run the required distance, but I’m worried about the parking and the people. This is a huge event (more than 25,000 total participants) and thousands will be racing in the 8K with me and Eric.

During my 6-month running career, I have participated in two 5K trail runs (BarefootFunRun and Flatwoods Ramble) and one 5K Warrior Dash mud run. Both 5K trail races had less than 300 total participants. While the Warrior Dash had over 11,000 participants throughout 2 days (over 5000 on Sunday), there were only about 600 racers per heat. Although I was intimidated at the time, I didn’t feel like I was running with 600 people. The group thinned out rather quickly once we crossed the Start line.

Gasparilla is huge. We volunteered yesterday at the 8 On Your Side Health and Fitness Expo at the Tampa Convention Center, assisting race registrants with finding their race bib numbers. The Convention Center parking garage was already full when we arrived around 10:30 AM and the actual races hadn’t even begun yet, so I can’t imagine how packed it must be today. Both today and tomorrow, they are closing several roads to allow for the race courses, so add road closures to the existing frustrations of navigating one-way streets, looking for available parking garages, traffic, and tons of people.

Once we do find parking, we will have to find the Start line and secure a spot among the thousands of other racers. We don’t want to begin too far in the back of the pack or we’ll risk having to walk for a portion of the race. We don’t want to begin too far in front or we’ll be pummeled by the fast runners. I guess I would rather be pummeled than have to walk after crossing the Start line…

This leads to my next concern – actually finishing the race running (rather than walking). I have run 5 miles, but it’s not a comfortable distance for me at this point. I want to earn myself a respectable race time, which means I can’t go out too fast and exhaust myself too early, but I can’t dilly-dally along at a pace slower than my jogging speed.

I’m probably unnecessarily worrying myself. Everything will be fine…right?

Eric’s bib number is 27311 and mine is 27312, in case you want to check up on us tomorrow. Tampa Bay Online (TBO) is providing coverage of the race and the Gasparilla Distance Classic is supporting numerous charities, so check them out, as well.

Wish us luck!

I Love Trail Running – Our Second 5K

It’s official – I Love Trail Running.

I found the Flatwoods Ramble 5K about a week before it took place. As soon as I saw it on tamparaces.com, I immediately began reminiscing about our first 5K just 3 months earlier, which took us through the trails of Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs, FL. It didn’t take long to convince Eric that we HAD to run in this 5K. Never mind that we were still beat from the Warrior Dash two weeks prior. Never mind that we’re scheduled to run the Gasparilla 5+3K in another 2 weeks. This was, after all, a local trail run, which is highly preferable to any paved run.

We awoke on February 13, 2011 to Florida temperatures hovering around 35 degrees. Cold running = runny noses, so we tossed a few snot towels into our bags before heading to the park. We arrived with plenty of time to pick up our registration packets, affix our bibs, and freeze. The 10-milers took off at 8:00 AM and we (the measly 5K-ers) were scheduled for 8:15 AM. We were, of course, sporting our Vibram Bikilas, although we didn’t encounter too many barefoot or minimalist runners during this race. We gathered at the start line with a group of 122 runners.

I was excited to have an iPod Nano with the Nike Plus iPod Sport Kit during this race. During the first 5K, I felt discouraged at times with no distance gauge (and no music). This time, I cranked up the Dave Matthews Band album Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King and warmed up toward the back of the crowd. At 8:17 AM, they kicked off the race. We started along a paved trail by the parking lot and continued along that trail for over half a mile. A strange thing happened – I was passing people (counter to what happened during the first 5K, when I felt abandoned while everyone was passing me). During this race, Eric had already taken off ahead of me, but I was feeling good.

The race took an off-road turn and we made our way through the winding wooded trail. The ground was uneven and roots were poking through the piles of leaves. The path narrowed, forcing us into a single-file race, which was unexpected. It became a ‘plan of attack’ strategy to evaluate the course and muster up enough of an energy burst to pass someone without getting hit by the brush and tree branches lining the sides of the trail.  I passed numerous people before getting stuck behind several girls. They were going too slow for my comfort level, but too fast for me to want to pass them. I remained behind them and they picked up the pace enough for me to have a difficult time keeping up.  We spent approximately 2 miles on the trail before heading back onto the pavement.

We remained on the pavement briefly before the course directed us onto a small section of trail leading to the finish line, which was a bit obscure. There was no big banner stating “Finish”. There was, however, a large clock showing our race time, and I assume that was the finish line. I glanced at it briefly, but paid more attention to stopping the Nike+ iPod Sport so I could have my “real” time. See, although there were official timers at the end of the race, since we didn’t have time chips, everyone’s race time began when they started the race, not when we hit the “Start” line.

My official finish time was 28:19 – 21 seconds faster than my first 5K and placing me 14th out of 46 females (top 30%). Finishing in the top 25 females also earned me a coffee mug.  My Nike+ time (from the start line to the finish line) was 28:08.

Eric met me at the finish line, since he had finished about 3 minutes prior. His run was going well until he tripped on a tree root on the trail, slowing him down and shutting down his momentum (and giving him nasty toe cuts and bruises).  He enjoyed the race, but didn’t pick up time over our first 5K. Then again, we’ve been focusing more on distance, rather than speed, in preparation for the Gasparilla 5+3K.

The more events we participate in, the more I realize how much I appreciate the intimate atmosphere of these trail runs. I am a bit hesitant about the Gasparilla race coming up in one week. The distance is pushing the limit of my 6-month running career’s single-run distance and I know thousands of people will be assembling at the start-line. I’m looking forward to the experience, though.

Mud and Obstacles – Warrior Dash 2011

The Warrior Dash was not nearly as intimidating as the BarefootFunRun 5K (my first ‘competitive’ run) in November. That’s a bit strange, considering the first 5K didn’t include mud, palmetto trails, a hay climb, tires, junk cars, over-under walls, a balance beam, a mud tent, cargo nets, raised logs, more mud, typhoon winds, more cargo nets, more palmettos, 2 fire jumps, and a mud swim under barbed wire over 3.02 miles.

We drove 1 ½ hours to Triple Canopy Ranch in Lake Wales, FL on 1/30/11 to join over 5000 participants (more than 6000 racers on 1/29/11) to compete in Florida’s first Warrior Dash. We made our way toward the spectator area in anticipation of the first wave of runners. From the viewing area, people could only see the final two obstacles: the double fire jump and the mud swim under barbed wire.  The rest of the course was a mystery.  Although the website gave us an indication of the obstacles awaiting us, we quickly learned that the site wasn’t being 100% straightforward.

About 20 minutes before our 12:00 PM heat, we secured our patch of grass at the start gate, which was an area sectioned off for racers to assemble leading up to their respective start times.  Apparently, there were approximately 600 racers per heat, although it didn’t feel that crowded. We took this opportunity to warm up and marvel at people’s costumes.  We had a 10-second countdown before the fire torches blew, indicating the start of the race.  We ran for a bit before we hit mud, more mud, and even more mud. FYI: deep mud is heavy and shallow mud is heavy and slippery (just in case you were wondering). We continued running over the hay pile, over the junkyard cars, and through tires. The legs that came with my 5’0” frame found the tires to be quite far apart.

After running a bit more, we hit the over-under walls. There was a plank that we had to scoot below then a few feet later, there was a wall that we had to go over. Repeated several times, that’s what I call the over-under. Next was the balance beam, where we ran up a wooden plank, walked across two thinner wooden beams that were parallel to each other and to the ground, then we ran back down the wooden plank to the ground. We made our way to the mud-tent, which was a long, dark tunnel of quicksand-like mud. Several people lost shoes, but since we were sporting our Vibram Sprints, we were good to go.  Next were the horizontal cargo nets that kept shifting with everyone else’s weight, followed by knee deep mud and several overturned logs.

Nearing the end of the course, we braved typhoon-force winds (well, Eric braved the winds and I hid behind him), then onto the vertical cargo nets.  We had a “relaxing” jog before reaching the double fire jump and the final obstacle: swimming through the mud pit under barbed wire.  The mud was so heavy that all I could think about as I was making my way onto dry land was whether or not I was still wearing all of my clothing.  I did a quick check before Eric and I ran together through the finish line covered head to toe in mud.

We show up around 20 seconds.

Maybe it was because it wasn’t my first ‘competitive’ run, or maybe it was because I didn’t have expectations for my finish time, but regardless of the reason, I wasn’t nearly as intimidated as I was gearing up for my first 5K. We finished the Warrior Dash at 38:25.  Out of 5159 participants on Sunday, Eric finished at 2023 and I finished at 2024. Of 343 females in my age group, I finished 75th (top 22%) and of 526 males in Eric’s age group, he finished 237th (top 45%). Granted, Eric would have finished long before me if he had run it by himself, but I’m glad he agreed to stick with me.  It was more rewarding doing it together.  He can run the Flatwoods Ramble 5K at his own pace this weekend and the Gasparilla 5+3K at his own pace in two weeks.

More Photos and Videos

For more photos, visit our Facebook pages.

Watch Eric’s graceful dive into the mud bath via this video, courtesy of Moverati.

Watch us cross the finish line in this video, courtesy of Moverati.

If you want to see the obstacles, one participant (mblitch) wore a helmet cam on Saturday’s course and created an excellent video.

Warrior Dash 2012 – I’m in!

Day After Wedding [with Photos]

In case you forgot what transpired during our wedding day since we’ve been slacking on updates, please refer to our Wedding Day post.

Since our wedding day (and the days leading up to it) were so exciting (and exhausting), we decided to ‘take it easy’ on Wednesday, October 6th. Our destination was Corcovado Mountain, also popularly referred to as the ‘Christ Redeemer statue’. The statue sits atop Tijuca Forest, which we explored the following day.

When we arrived at Corcovado Mountain, we took a 20 minute train ride up the mountain, during which time we had beautiful views until we were about halfway up the mountain. At that point, we entered a cloud and we remained in the cloud during the rest of our visit. We did, however, get a neat photo of Christ holding the sun (see below).

After returning to our guesthouse, we decided to take a walk to Arpoador Rock to see if we could catch the sunset.  The clouds did not cooperate, but we had fun romping around the rocks where we had been married the day before. I particularly appreciated the lack of high heels this time around.

During the evening, we took a stroll along Copacabana and parked ourselves at one of the stands along the beach. Eric ordered a caipirinha, which appeared to be strong based on the pained face Eric made every time he took a sip. He seemed to stop noticing the taste after drinking about half of it. I ordered água de coco. They chop off the top of a coconut and give you a straw. When you finish the milk, they break it open with a machete so you can eat the coconut. Meanwhile, we had a chance to watch some people play a game of footvolley on the beach.

It was a relaxing evening after a hectic few days and it helped us to gear up for our upcoming adventures.

Guest Writer for Barefoot Running University

Barefoot Running University is a barefoot running blog created and maintained by Jason Robillard, author of The Barefoot Running Book and one of the founding members of the Barefoot Runners Society. All are excellent resources for the barefoot running enthusiast (or for those who want to learn more about barefoot and minimalist running).

I am most appreciative that Jason chose to include me as a guest writer on his blog.  If you’re so inclined, the article can be found here: http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/2011/01/10/2840_michele_pliner/.

2010 – Year In Review

2010 was an incredible year. Let’s get the most obvious reason out of the way – WE GOT MARRIED! In other news, 2010 was a year of friends, family, learning, traveling, concerts, and adventures.

The first half of 2010 was relatively quiet. In January, Eric began his second semester at HCC and, in March, he was inducted into the Alpha Lambda Alpha chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, an honors society with which he has since become extremely active. We cleaned some adopted roads and supported Michele’s dad, 2 uncles, and several friends by participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in April. Also in April, Eric decided to take up running. In May, Eric was elected Vice President of Communications for Alpha Lambda Alpha and he subsequently finished his spring semester with his second round of straight-As. He went on to take a summer term of classes, which he also finished with straight-As. Meanwhile, Michele took a summer term of GRE prep classes, although she has yet to take the GREs.

During the summer, we started to get busy. We made the rounds locally, visiting Animal Kingdom Lodge, passing through Jack Kerouac’s house near Orlando, FL and touring Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, FL. We then ventured up the east coast for a summer road trip to visit family, friends, and some Philly history. We spent about a third of the trip in Beachwood, NJ, a third in Philadelphia, and a third camping in Kutztown, PA. That doesn’t include the driving portion, during which time we stopped in D.C. twice – once on the way up and once on the way back to FL.

Upon returning to Florida, we attended a Dave Matthews Band concert in Tampa. Then, we attended a Jack Johnson concert in Tampa. Michele finally decided to hop on the running bandwagon in August. Eric, however, did not jump (or hop) onto any Kung Fu bandwagons. While Eric began his fall semester of school, Michele began volunteering for her local chapter of ACRP (Association of Clinical Research Professionals) – a clinical research organization related to her job. She soon learned that a proposal she submitted to speak at the global ACRP conference was accepted and she will be presenting in Seattle in 2011.

Michele turned the big 3-0 in September, which was celebrated with a relaxing weekend in Longboat Key, FL. Somewhere between work, school, running, and kung fu, we decided to get married…in Brazil. [Sidenote: We're not finished writing about our adventures. Please stay tuned...]

A few weeks prior to the wedding, there were 2 kick-butt bridal showers thrown for Michele, which was particularly impressive considering the short notice. The week before leaving for Brazil, Michele tested for her brown belt in Kung Fu (she passed). We went to Brazil, got married, went to a Dave Matthews concert in Rio de Janeiro, had some crazy adventures, and met some incredible people. Upon returning from Brazil, we decided it would be fun to run our first 5K, so we signed up for the Barefoot Fun Run, which we ran in November. Also in October and November, we went to 3 Halloween parties and participated in the Heart Walk and Light the Night Walk.

Eric finished his fall semester with another set of straight-As. He then took a whirlwind winter course, in which he also received an A. He has also been nominated for several awards and scholarships. Concurrently, Michele learned that her application to serve on the national Membership Committee for ACRP was accepted, so she will begin that appointment in 2011.

We already have a stellar lineup for 2011. However, we acknowledge that we’ve been slacking on the wedding/honeymoon updates, so expect more of those in the coming months. Happy New Year!

Our First 5k

When we signed up to run our first 5k 3 weeks ago, I made 4 goals for myself (in no particular order):

  1. Pacing myself (well enough not to have to stop to walk because I pooped myself out too early)
  2. Not finishing in last place
  3. Finishing under 30 minutes
  4. Having fun

Eric’s goals included:

  1. Not being the last male to finish
  2. Beating 27 minutes
  3. Having fun

Background

We signed up on October 23rd to run in the BarefootFunRun on November 13th (sponsored by TravelCountry, benefiting MD Anderson Cancer Center, Orlando), leaving us 3 weeks to prepare after taking 3 weeks off during our wedding/honeymoon (miles of walking, adventure courses, and rappelling don’t count). Eric began running in April after about 12 years off from cross-country running and some serious lazy time.  I began running in August after about 10 years off from recreational running and 3 knee surgeries. This time around, we started running in Vibram FiveFingers, initially in an attempt to relieve shin splints in Eric and pounding in my knees, but we’ve grown very attached to our goofy foot shoes. :)

Pre-Race

I have to admit – I was nervous. I’ve never run competitively and I didn’t know what to expect. We visited the park the night before the race to get a feel for the surroundings, but the course wasn’t marked yet. When we arrived at the race on Saturday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find a smaller (and therefore less intimidating) group of people – about 130 registered, rather than thousands. We picked up our registration packets, including our running bibs (I was #568 and Eric was #592). We made our way to the 45 minute barefoot running clinic, led by Michael Sandler who wrote the aptly titled book Barefoot Running.

Everyone then made their way to the start line just minutes before the 9:15 AM start time. It looked like about 1/3 – 1/2 of 5k race participants were actually running barefoot. About 3/4 of the rest of us were in Vibrams, and the remaining few participants were in sneakers.

The Race

Since I have nothing to compare this race to, I’m told this was a very casual setup. Our start line was a volunteer holding a sign where we were supposed to begin, and we started running when someone yelled “Ready, Set, Go!”. The beginning of the race took us through a section of the parking lot, along a sidewalk, then onto a paved trail in the woods. We stayed on the paved trail until we came to a section where we were told to turn around, so we backtracked for a short period of time before going up a hill onto grass and continued behind four softball fields. The trail then took us down a dirt path onto a sandy trail that made two loops before continuing on to the finish line.

When we began the race, everyone took off and I was feeling a bit abandoned, but I was focused on pacing myself. Unfortunately, I had no pedometer and it turned out that there were no distance markers along the route, so I had no idea how I was doing throughout the race. I had my watch timing me, but that didn’t help much when there was no distance to compare to the time. So, as I focused on pacing myself, the hoard of people thinned out as we made our way onto the paved, wooded trail. I felt steady in my pace, although I became a little more discouraged every time someone passed me.

I knew the turn-around was coming up sometime in the near future when people started coming from the other direction, so I was looking forward to seeing Eric. He appeared to be in the top third based on when he passed me and he looked to be in good shape. When I finally went around the bend, I was a bit sad to see how few people were behind me. I just kept telling myself to keep my pace and trust that my body knew what it was doing from our practices. As I neared the hill leading up to the grassy softball fields, there was a slight turn of events.  People had exhausted themselves at the beginning of the race. Some were slowing down, while others were stopping to walk, so I was finally able to pass people instead of being left behind.

As I was nearing the end of the grassy portion and heading toward the sandy trail, I started hearing cheers as the first people finished. I finally let myself look at the time on my watch (I didn’t want to psyche myself out by looking too early) and it was around 20 minutes. That gave me a slight indication as to how much run-time I had left based on the times I was finishing our practices, but I still had no distance gauge because of the lack of markers throughout the course. That was extremely frustrating. I was feeling good and felt like I could pick up my speed a bit and I knew I had approximately a mile left, give or take a few yards, but I was really wishing I had a better gauge other than what logic was telling me.

I made my way onto the sandy wooded trail, which was probably my favorite terrain to run on in vibrams out of the three trail sections (pavement, grass, packed sand). I made my way around a loop and followed the signs to go around the loop a second time. I knew I was nearing the end at that point, but I still had no distance gauge. I picked up my speed around the second loop, then continued along another section when the finish line just seemed to appear and I spotted Eric and my mom. I booked it once I saw the finish line and wished I had started a sprint earlier. I crossed the finish line and was so excited to finish that I finished that I forgot to stop my watch and look at my time. Eric reminded me about 10 seconds after I finished, but we still had to go back to the official timers to find out what my time actually was. I was pleasantly surprised to see 28:40 – almost 2 minutes faster than any practice time I’ve had over the past few months and our usual practice doesn’t include hills or multi-terrain.

Not only was my time faster than in practice, but I was comfortable. I wasn’t gasping to catch my breath, which immediately made me frustrated that I hadn’t increased my speed sooner. Nevertheless, I was completely comfortable with my time andI was particularly excited that I had met all four goals. 1) I maintained a steady pace throughout the course, 2) I didn’t finish in last place, 3) I finished further under 30 minutes than what I expected, and 4) I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Eric met his goals, as well. 1) He was far from the last male to finish, 2) He finished under 27 minutes – around 25:17, but we’re waiting for the official times to be posted to know the exact seconds, and 3) He had such a great experience that he’s now planning to do a 10k, half marathon, and marathon.


Post-Race

Once everyone finished, we gathered for the awards ceremony, the check presentation to MD Anderson, and Q&A with Michael Sandler, who had been running the 5k and chatting with groups of people as they ran. Finally, there was a book-signing, but since we didn’t have the book with us, we asked him to sign our bibs.