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3.6 Miles Barefoot: Heart & Sole Race Report

Posted May 20 2010 12:00am

“Never knowing - shocking but we're nothing –
We're just moments - we're clever but we're clueless –
We're just human - amusing but confusing -
Helping, we’re rebuilding and we’re growing –
We never know.”

- Jack Johnson, “Never Know” (video after post)

Although it happened more than 25 years ago, I distinctly remember my thought process after finishing my first marathon. There was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction with the accomplishment, and a slight inkling of a new identity being forged - although it was still tempered somewhat by internal skepticism about whether I’d be able to do such a thing again. The only reasonable thing to do, of course, was to look for another marathon right away, so I wouldn’t have to re-build the fitness base I had spent months acquiring.

Four weeks later, I did another marathon. Six weeks after that, I did my third. And when all that was said and done, I was hooked. I decided that my fitness might wax and wane in the years to come, but I was certain that many more races lay ahead of me. I just knew it.

So maybe it shouldn’t have shocked me too much when my 8-year-old daughter asked if we could do another 5K race just three weeks after her first-ever 5K at Big Sur. She figured that since she had done all that training, she might as well do another race or two while she’s still in shape to do it. And I couldn't fault her one bit.

That’s how we found ourselves on the start line of the Heart & Sole 5K in Salinas, which turned into something of a family affair last weekend. My wife made a last-minute decision to jump into the 5K, and my 6-year-old was chomping at the bit for the children’s half-mile race after the “grown up” events were finished. That left my 8-year-old and me to hang out at the back of the pack …

… with only one of us wearing shoes. I’m very familiar with the roads of this particular course, and I’ve run several barefoot miles on them throughout the year, so this seemed like a pretty safe environment to make my barefoot race debut. To just about everybody else in the crowd, it was an irresistible reason to gawk and make crazy comments – but I pretty much expected that.

The race takes place entirely in a South Salinas neighborhood that’s everything you think an average middle-class neighborhood should look like: tree-lined streets, cars parked on the sides of the roads, neighbors standing in the grass to gawk at the crazy runners going by.

Incidentally, the scene above cracks me up every year: during the first half-mile, when 700 people are trying to work their way around each other to settle into their particular pace, there are about three curb signs that read “Single File Please”. You can see for yourself how effective they are.

The black shirts these four ladies are wearing are from this morning’s event; obviously, not nearly enough mid-pack 5K runners are familiar with my long-standing precautions against bad juju . If only I had a public platform where I could voice my opinions for anyone to see … oh, wait.

The course doesn’t have any hills, but it has lots of turns and a couple of short out-over-back segments that make it difficult for the front runners to maintain a steady pace – but further back in the pack, nobody seems to mind.

Throughout the race, I heard more than a few “That dude’s crazy!” and “Oh my God – look at that guy!” comments from runners as well as spectators, as well as a few wise-guy remarks to inform me that I forgot my shoes. And watch out for glass. And doesn’t that hurt? And what if you have to use the bathroom? You know … all the predictable things. I didn’t really care, though, as all the commotion seemed to distract my daughter from the miles she was covering …

… and before we knew it, she was at the finish line with her second 5K under her belt. We wandered over to the post-race refreshment area (more on that in a second) to grab some water and snacks before Act II of the festivities …

… starring her 6-year-old sister in the half-mile kids’ race. I took a picture of the group at the starting line, just before my daughter bust to the front like Usain Bolt. It took me about 200 meters of barefoot sprinting to catch up – and nearly halfway through the race, she had gone off the front, running all alone with the pace bike. However, with absolutely no sense of distance or pace, she began to sputter and wheeze during the second half of the race.

To her credit, though, she didn’t let anyone pass her without a fight. Whenever any kid passed her, she sped up to keep pace as much as possible, and the boy in this picture must have tried to pass her about five different times, but never did. My daughter finished 4th in the race, and all three kids who beat her were girls. Girl power!

Since the Salinas Valley is the Salad Bowl of the World , and the agricultural industry is so prominent, the Heart & Sole always features a lot of fun, goofy gimmicks to get kids excited about eating healthy. For example, medals for the kids race were handed out by a corn cob and a carrot …

…and the registration table was manned by grapes, peapods, and a strawberry. That wasn’t even the only strawberry in attendance …

… and the other one was extremely energetic, running alongside kids in all of the day’s races. It’s really not the Heart & Sole unless you see giant fruits and vegetables running around.

Here’s one healthy eating stunt that didn’t quite pan out, though: this tent was barbecuing hot dogs, but they purposely didn’t have any buns; instead, the hot dogs were wrapped in a big lettuce leaf. Maybe it was the wrong time of day or something … but I don’t think I ever saw more than about two people standing by that tent.

On the other hand, the normal bagels and fruit tent had lines out the door all morning long. On the plus side, the tables also included stacks of those pre-washed salad bags you get from the grocery store, and by the end of the morning, those had pretty much vanished.

Apparently I keep some fast company at home, as both my wife and my 8-year-old won age group awards - so we had to chill out in the grass for a while to let them collect their hardware. If there’s a better feeling in the world than sitting barefoot in the grass after a memorable race, I must not be aware of it.

If you’re wondering, my feet were feeling just fine as well. I’ve reached the point where asphalt running doesn’t pose any major discomfort anymore, especially if I’m cruising along at a mellow pace. I don’t have any ambition to do “bigger” races (like trail races or road marathons) barefoot, because in my mind, there’s really no logical counterargument for wearing minimalist footwear in situations when you’re trying to give your best effort. But it’s nice to know that on any given day I can kick my shoes off and go for a casual run around the neighborhood. I’ll definitely continue running barefoot whenever it’s convenient, or whenever I feel like it – and lately, running with my daughter has given me the perfect scenario to go shoeless.

As for my daughter, I’m not exactly sure where her running habit goes from here. Maybe – as I experienced after my first big races - there is an identity forming inside her, and perhaps there’s still a healthy dose of self-doubt about whether she’ll do races like this on a regular basis. Her older brother did a couple of 5Ks one year before deciding it wasn’t really his thing – so it’s far too early to predict whether this girl is hooked on racing like I was all those years ago.

Days like this are just moments, and we never really know for sure where they’ll lead. But the next day, my daughter asked me if there were any more 5Ks coming up this summer – so I’m taking that as a positive sign.

Jack Johnson, "Never Know" (click to play)

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