Fast-forward to the present (and the removal of shoes) . . .
After I raced the Skyline 50K barefoot in August 2011, someone asked me, “Why ultras and why barefoot?” My response was simply, “Just to see if I can.”
Not only do I find myself racing and training for ultras, I am having more fun than I’ve ever had before while running. I attribute most of it to barefoot running. As many barefoot runners will attest, it’s just more fun to run barefoot!
For the past four months I have been training for my first 50-miler – the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. This will be my second ultra. What are the keys to training for an endurance race such as this? Here are my Five Fs.
Most any long-distance runner will tell you that running long distances comes down to time on your feet. I feel that this is even more important as a barefoot runner. Your feet are your vehicle. If your feet are not prepared for the amount of time you will be using them, they will ultimately fail you. Just as it takes time for an individual to transition to running barefoot, it takes time to build up to distance running.
Additionally, you need to train on surfaces and conditions that mimic the course (trail, asphalt, gravel, hills, flats, etc.). I’ve learned this the hard way. I live in a FLAT valley. My first ultra had 4750 feet of ascent and descended 4750 feet. It was brutal, and it punished me in the latter miles.
Listen to your feet. Developing a hot spot? Pain on one foot not the other? Are you pushing off? Your feet will tell you very quickly if you are doing something wrong.
Long distance running requires fuel – LOTS of fuel. Fuel includes water, electrolytes (gels or liquid or other), and actual food.
When I first started running, I couldn’t eat before a race. I would force myself to eat a slice of bread with peanut butter. Now, I’ve learned to eat a bowl of oatmeal with chia seeds before races and long runs. I’ve also practiced running on a relatively full stomach. While I don’t have a cast iron stomach, I’m much better off now than I used to be.
Eating on the run takes practice. You should practice eating various things during your training. Whether it is runners’ fuel like gels and other runner “supplements” or actual foods like pretzel sticks, cookies, chips, candy, or even pinole, fuel is important.
I suggest starting to eat/fuel early and regularly. Last weekend, I did a training run on the AR50 course, but I didn’t start fueling until I was on the course an hour and a half (roughly 7-8 miles). When I hit 17 miles, my body was spent and my mind was toast. I was playing catch up with my shot bloks and salt tabs. By 21-miles, all I could think of was a large double cheeseburger.
Remember to eat. Your body needs the fuel.
One of my barefoot running colleagues, Kate Kift, posed this (condensed) question:
True/False: The more you run, the better form you have.
If you are practicing good form, then it logically follows that the more you run, i.e. practice, the better you will get. But fatigue on a long run can make your form suffer. When your form suffers, you increase the likelihood of injury – whether in the form of a blister, or something worse.
It is when you’re feeling tired on a long run that is the most important to concentrate on keeping your cadence high and your form good.
I always tell people I’m training – running is 98% mental. If you have trained and conditioned your body for the distance, your worst enemy is your own mind.
I cannot count the number of times my brain has told me that I need to give up on a short run. The worst time for me is often in the first three miles. Often, my mind does not settle down into the routine until five or six miles into a run.
On a long run, your mind starts telling you things like, “You can’t do it,” “Too far,” or “Let’s take a break.” This is where you need to steel your mind and focus on the task at hand. Some people use music. I let my mind wander. If I really need a distraction, I start calculating pace and mileage in my head. (Doing long division in your head while on a run can really help you lose yourself for a mile or two.) Count footsteps for cadence, focus on the scenery around you (trails are awesome for this) – do whatever it takes to get your mind off of running. Most of all – don’t give up!
The most important of my Five Fs of Running is FUN!
When I was a shod runner, I hated training. I knew I had to do it, so I did. Now as a barefoot runner, I have so much fun when I run that I often can’t wait until my next run. That being said, I also take days off when I don’t feel like running. I run when I feel like it. I run as far as I want. By keeping things fun, you will find that you can hit most of your running goals.
Running is FUN! Keep it FUN!