Thursday, August 27, 2009

Baretooth and Horsefoot

I hadn't seen my friend Ben for a month and a half, as he was busy hitting all the midwest hot-spots for a few weeks: Twin Cities and Alexandria, MN; Iowa; and Chicago, if I recall correctly. In the meantime, though, he started reading "Born to Run" and also started running barefoot. I'm a big fan of both of these, though Ben had a few more good ideas which he's been up to: making your own duct-tape sandals (cool idea and very comfy!), and speed jump roping barefoot. I'm going to consider these for fun projects and training.

Anyway, earlier this summer, we had a few Thursday mornings of running up to Horsetooth. It had been awhile, so I was hoping he was game for it, even though CSU is back in session and he had a morning class. Luckily, time of day doesn't seem relevant to him: as long as it's fun and he can fit it in then he's game, sleep be damned! I feel the same way, except for the sleep part catches up with me more quickly in my old age...

I rode out from my house just after 5am. Now that August is almost over, that's entirely before dawn. Most people might curse being up that early -- including myself for most of my life -- but instead I cursed myself for not doing this more frequently: the stars were clearly visible; traffic was non-existent; the humidity was higher than it is after sunrise, and, coincidentally, the scents of plant life. I acknowledged a fox that crossed the street. As I rode, the Eastern sky lightened subtly, a glorious gift from a direction that otherwise merely provides the odor of livestock. Upon reaching Ben's house, and heading up to Horsetooth, the sun cleared the horizon, and not a cloud was visible in the sky. For some reason, this surprised me: the idea that you can't really tell just how clear it is until the sun is up. And this is just a plain Thursday -- 27 August 2009 -- that will never happen again, yet will happen always. I try not to take this magic for granted, but regret how many weeks pass between viewing of sunrises. I can't help but think of "Johnny Got His Gun", where the blind, deaf, faceless, quadruple-amputee Joe Bonham begins to mark the days as he feels the warmth of the sun on his skin. While he ultimately pounds out a frantic tirade against war, I also see him as trumpeting the beauty of the natural world, and the simple blessing of a sunrise. Here, we have the convenient excuse of being a "morning person" or no, but who, given a week to live, would not awaken for seven sunrises? Given a month, I should hope to choose the month, and see 31.

Back to this Thursday, or today's impression of one: Ben suggests we at least try running some of the trail barefoot. First, as a lark, but also (and perhaps more importantly) because his Facebook status said so! A plan committed to Facebook is a plan committed. The bottom of the trail, however, is just the right kind of wrong rockiness: medium-shaped stones that are too prolific and have strategically dispersed themselves across the trail, so we begin in our shoes. After the initial few turns, though, things clear up a bit, and we try a few hundred yards barefoot. Conversation ceases, breathing changes, and we both pick lines of self-preservation between rocks. A fun experiment, to be sure, but not sustainable, so we put back on our shoes and crank up the hill. We do find one more forgiving spot, in the shade just after the branch of the Horsetooth trail coming off of Soderberg, and we make it a bit further, including an occasional stretch of blissfully rock-free sand, which reminds us how running in shoes also doesn't convey temperature. Overall, we might have gotten a quarter-mile of barefoot running in total.

We put our shoes back on and headed to the top. Here, I should point out that we saw nobody on the trail, and this is my 7th or 8th time up top without any other parties, on perhaps Fort Collins' otherwise most popular trail, at the best time of day.

Thank you, Thursday.

We enjoy the view, pick up some leftover fireworks, and bomb down the hill, more often than not at speeds at the nexus of 'fun' and 'utterly reckless.' I sprain my ankle slightly, but fortunately run it off, focusing on keeping my foot pointed utterly straight, and we finish out the run.

We head back, I grab my bike, and head through campus with some time to spare. Unwittingly, I head past the track, and see some sort of women's calisthenic program, along with a few joggers. With some time to spare, I decide to try a barefoot lap to see how the track feels on my foot. 400 meters later, I have my answer: fantastic! At the start/finish line, I decide on one more lap, after glancing at my watch, to see how fast I can run barefoot. Up until now, I have no idea, and I submit to you, dear reader, that the normal internal clock is uncalibrated for the slightly increased focus and concentration required for barefoot running. I finish the next 400m, at pretty much the same pace as the first, and have my answer: something in the high 1:20's. Feeling great, I figure, why not finish the mile? Why not, indeed. The next splits are all in the 1:20's, and I'm even capable of a kick on the final backstretch. I'm not big into numbers themselves or being prideful, but I'm pleasantly surprised that slapping my feet barefoot for a mile takes less than six minutes. To this, I will add that I felt less out of breath than I would have in shoes, but my feet and calves were a bit more fatigued. So, not only is running barefoot fun, but it also might just figure into good speed workouts in the future, which might help my overall form.

Plus, good for the soul!

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