Saturday, December 11, 2010

My First Barefoot Half Marathon

This past Friday (yesterday) was my first race of this marathon season. The Bet She'an Half Marathon, which is the premier half marathon in Israel, now in its 32nd year. And my Vibram FiveFinger Bilia barefoot running shoes did not let me down in crunch time. I must say though that people ask really silly questions when they see the Vibrams.

The day was forecast for really lousy running weather - strong winds and rain (the beginning of a four day storm). I went to run, shlepping two hours up north to do so, only because this is the barometer of progress before the marathon. I am familiar with the course, it is mostly flat making for a good run, and it is the premier half marathon in Israel. I had no expectation to have a particularly good run, mostly because of the weather, and partly because I have not been training with any particular level of intensity.

Yet, the forecasters seem to not know what they are talking about.

I went up north with my friends, the Running Bubby and her husband, and the weather was absolutely beautiful. The day started off sunny and cool, heating up as time went on but there was a nice cool breeze throughout.

The run started off with lots of excitement and adrenaline. I was careful to not start off running too fast, sticking to my expected pace of about 5:40km/m. I did not know exactly how fast I'd run, especially because I had been expecting a slow run due to bad weather, but I figured I could run it a bit faster than the average pace of my long runs, so I figured 5:40 was a safe pace to settle in at.

After a couple of kilometers I was feeling great and figured I could pick up the pace. At least for a few kilometers of a tempo, and then I could always slow down to my expected pace..

Not to belabor the details, I had a great run, and felt all the way through that I could keep going at my faster pace. Eventually I realized that if I can keep it up I could break my personal record from my first year running the half marathon two years ago. The trick would be to actually keep up the pace. Especially with the uphill stretch still coming up. Uphills always kill me, even if I run it decently. The run after the uphill always seems slower.

The uphill came, and the Bet She'an uphill is not really such a serious uphill, but it is significant, and I powered through it only slowing down a bit. For the first kilometer after the uphill I still felt a bit slower, and then I motivated myself to pick up the pace again. Familiarity with the route makes a big difference. I knew what was coming up and what I could expect. So speed up I did. I still felt great, though when I hit kilometer #19 or so I was starting to feel a little winded, but I was on track to a personal record so I figured I could push myself to the limit and keep it up for just a bit more.

At kilometer 18-19 people I am picking up my pace a bit and am passing other runners. The final stretch comes, and I exploded through the finish line with a new personal record of 1:51:44. It is amazing how you can make a big deal, and be so excited, about a difference of 1 minute.

Now, about the Vibrams. They generated a lot of interest. A lot of people saw them and started talkign to me about them, before, during and after the run. I actually saw one other person wearing Vibrams. I saw him after the race, in the staging hall after returning the chip - he was on his way out and I was on my way in. Because of the crowds flowing I could not ask him about his experience, but we both looked at each others feet and then up at each other as we passed by.

People ask silly questions. The silliest of them all is the question about whether I am going to be running the whole thing in them - what should I say? No, I am going to be switching to regular running shoes halfway.. Other questions like are they comfortable or do they hurt.. those are not as silly, but they get shocked when I answer no they are not comfortable. After their initial moment of shock, like if they are not comfy why are you wearing them, I say they aren't comfy but they are not meant to be - there is no padding and cushioning..

Anyway, lots of people looked and noticed and asked about them. It seems people are interested, they just are hesitant to try them out.. I suspect we'll be seeing increasing numbers in the near future. Eventually the interest will turn to people actually running in them.


George Burlington said...

I was actually cynical at first because of its odd looks, and some claim it has health benefits for our feet. So what I did was I bought a pair of Vibram Classic and tried it for a couple days and to my amazement, I was quite impressed. It's very lightweight and comfortable to wear. Health benefits and protection are just amazing. There's even a story I've read about an old man who recovered from plantar fasciitis. To ready his story, check out the link here.

Nicole said...

Congratulations on your PR, and your first barefoot half!

Rafi G. said...

thanks Nicole. the full marathon is less than a month away...

Twinlance Books said...

This is inspirational! I am glad that you have had early success with your barefoot running. Remember to keep taking it slow as your feet get used to the different landing style and impact. There are other types of footwear available, some of which Dr. Craig Richards and I review in our running barefoot book that will be out soon. Way to go and let us know how it goes!