Sunday, May 5, 2014 at 7:30 a.m. – the official start of the Mississauga 1/2 and Full Marathon. On a cool, blustery morning, thousands left Mississauga’s Square One Mall & City Centre to do battle with the roads.
My Team Over The Top gang were there in full force – some doing the full and some doing the 1/2 (details on their race results will be in my next blog). Somehow, the old coach got conned into racing the 1/2 marathon by one Megan Leon (a long time TOTTer) – 18 years young and just coming off the end of 1st year university at Queen’s. She said “if you run the 1/2 with me barefoot, I’ll also run it barefoot”.
I hadn’t raced in the Mississauga 1/2 since 2004, being too busy coaching my runners and pacing them on race day. I also wasn’t convinced she would hold up her end of the bargain; thus, I did not train for the 1/2 (my longest run since hernia surgery in October, 2013 being 11km!) and only registered 1 week in advance. It turned out that Megan DID register but also DID NOT train for the 1/2 and only got up to 8 kms running barefoot. As we started the race, I was fully prepared to let Megan go after her goal of a sub-1:48 with me thinking a sub-2:00 would be great. As is often the case (I suppose), I somehow got into a focused, relaxed zone and ran faster than I had in over 10 years. This even though I turned back a number of times to pick up Megan as she started to lag. She did go barefoot from kilometres 10 to 16 but had to put her Vibram 5 Fingers on to finish. The pace we were holding was just too fast for her level of fitness on this day.
Anatomically and physiologically, I cannot explain why I was so strong throughout. This is where I came up with the title of this blog. I never got tired, my feet never hurt, my aerobic system was never taxed…and this was with me going well under 5 minutes per kilometre. I honestly felt like I could have gone much deeper…as a matter of fact, I never felt sore post-race nor the days following. If the mood moved me, I could have gone for a solid 10 to 15 km run the morning after.
From a learning perspective, if I had to offer a scientific explanation, it would be that running barefoot most of the harsh winter (even though my distances were generally short) improved the toughness & responsiveness of my feet to the ground, increased the efficiency of energy transfer from my heart and lung systems to my working muscles and, most importantly, improved my ability to focus on the moment. As a result, I got used to a faster than normal foot turnover, a stronger than normal foot push-off and a quicker flicking action off the ground.
At age 61, I was literally blowing by many runners 30 to 40 years younger…all of them in ‘coffins’ (running shoes) or ‘minimalist’ footwear (Vibrams, Nike Frees, New Balance Minimus etc.). Only those going faster than 4:30 per kilometre were ahead of me. I dare ANYBODY to come up with a reason/reasons NOT to run barefoot!
As for Megan, she is a mature soul who happens to be mentally tough, spiritually grounded and morally in tune. I believe these are the reasons why she was able to run a 1:51 Mississauga 1/2 Marathon (only 2 1/2 minutes off her goal) with little to no training after a tough 1st year of university. There are not many teenagers like her…it just so happens that a few of them are Team Over The Toppers!
Here’s to someone coming forward and proving to the old coach that barefoot running is only a fad of the lunatic fringe!
My next blog will feature my TOTT Mississauga race results.