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John Holmes Trail Run - Race Report

  • Wednesday, October 13 2010 @ 04:42 AM UTC
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Running and Fitness

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Saturday I ran the John Holmes 16 Mile trail run at the John Holmes 50k Trail Run and 16 Mile Fun Run in the Withlacoochee State Forest, Florida (the area is sometimes known as the Croom hiking trails).

I finished! That was my longest run ever in my whole life... and I ran it barefoot.

The course consisted of challenging single track over undulating terrain with a trail surface that varied between packed sand, loose sand, sand covered in pine needles or oak tree debris with enough tree roots to keep things interesting. It made for very intense barefoot running!

I had planned to run this race barefoot because I heard it was sandy. I also wanted to scope out the course for a potential future 50k trail race. I felt ready for 16 trail miles since I had completed a 15 mile barefoot training run two weeks ago on the trails of San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park. However, during races things do not always go as planned.

This picture is from early enough in the race that I am still smiling:

Here is a more detailed race report:

I woke up at 5am to drive down the morning of the race rather than staying in one of the nearby hotels. I was pleased that it only took 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive from Gainesville, including a pit stop at a rest area. The 50k race started at 7am, the 16 Mile race that I ran started at 8am. I arrived just in time to watch the 50k runners depart the starting area with barely a hint of daylight in the early morning sky.

The first half mile of the course runs on Croom-Rital Road, which is hard-packed limestone (I think) with a fair amount of loose gravel. After driving in on this road, the material had me worried (since bare feet do not like rocks). After warming up in my shoes I did a test run and the rocks turned out to be a non-issue. The road surface was fine for barefooting and the occasional errant rock was not hard to spot.

After some last minute course information from the race director Jim Bodoh, the 16 Mile race started down the road with about 50 runners. This first stretch of road helped spread out the runners before entering the single track. When we entered the single track I found myself at the back of the lead pack. We quickly lost sight of any runners behind us.

Somewhere around mile two I thought to myself, "I need to look around and enjoy this beautiful nature!". It didn't take long after taking my eyes off the trail... step, step, step, step... "Ouch!". I stepped on a small tree stub at a tender spot near the front of my arch. Pain from this bruise bothered me the entire race.

Other than the bruise, I felt pretty good for the first half of the race. It was very cool during the first hour. When we got to the back hilly part of the course we came over the tallest rise and felt a blast of warm air on the sunny side of the hill. I actually thought this felt good on my feet. I remember seeing the famous pine cone Peace sign sculpture. I started singing or humming to myself at that point. I was feeling really great.

I ran the race carrying my Nathan water bottle, and the little zipper pocket held a Larabar and a couple of nuun tablets. This worked well since I have tested Larabars and nuun on training runs and I know that they don't give me any stomach issues. The nuun are easy to drop into the bottle and just add water (I wrap each tablet individually in plastic wrap to keep them fresh in the zipper pocket). I skipped the snacks at the aid stations (I didn't see any bananas) and just refilled with water to mix my nuun. I ate my Larabar while running, which turned out to be more difficult than expected since I was getting over some sinus issues.

Later in the race I started passing some 50k runners and also got passed by some 50k runners (including someone I later figured out was Matt Mahoney). Everyone seemed friendly and open to a little chit-chat.

I died hard hard hard after 1 hour 50 minutes... for some reason I thought I should try to race that second (last) 7-mile loop. I drank all of my water to make my bottle as light as possible. I skipped an aid station to try to make up ground. I could see a woman ahead of me and started closing ground. I pushed up the hills and she got closer. And then I realized how hard I was breathing. And then my shoulders and back tied in knots. The temperature was now about 20 degrees warmer than at the start of the race. Then I lost sight of that woman. And then I was passed by some other runners. Then it got hard to pick up my legs. Then it got worse. I finally made it to the last aid station and the turn to the finish... a technical uphill section with lots of tree roots. I actually shouted at myself "Come on!" to keep myself moving. And finally, I made it to the trail head, looked both ways before crossing the road, and passed through the finish chute.

I felt bad immediately after the race. The tension in my back and shoulders was awful. After grabbing a can of Coke and a bottled water, I spread out a towel and laid down in the sun for a while. I tried more water and a couple salty sweet peanut bars. I started to feel better. I stayed around the finish area after the race to enjoy the food. I drank another Coke. The hamburger tasted GOOD.

Lots of people were interested in my bare feet. I was asked why I run barefoot or why I didn't run in Vibrams, etc. Generally, I run barefoot for injury prevention and because I have not yet found the "perfect" shoe. When it arrives on the market, I'll certainly be buying.

And what about my feet on the day after the race? They hurt.

I realize now that *racing* barefoot is way more dangerous that *training* barefoot. One of the tenets of barefoot running is listening to one's body. When I hit the wall, my body was screaming at me to stop running. I screamed back a few times. It was a race. I needed to finish! I can't wear the race t-shirt if I don't finish the race! I didn't listen to my body... so now I have sore feet from banging them on the ground over and over and over again, much too hard since I lost all leg lift and could not land softly for the last 40 minutes of the race.

I do have to say that barefoot is a great way to go when running on sugary sandy trails. Parts of the trail were similar to running on the beach. Those sections were very pleasant on my bare feet but I'm not sure they would have been fun in shoes.

My finish time was 2:31:29 (9:28 per mile pace) which was good enough to earn 3rd in my age group. Overall, I'm happy with this performance and the experience that I have gained for running these longer races. It was a fun day, a challenging course at a great race event.

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