Thursday, May 26, 2011

Perfect Running Form

People ask me, "how is barefoot running different?", and it's nice to show, instead of describe. Here are two good examples:

I love this video

And this one, too:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

My next race is coming up in the next few weeks. It will be the Virginia Wine Country Half-marathon.  Back in November, some of my DailyMile friends suggested it, and I decided to come along.  The course is downhill overall, and has a mile of gravel in the middle of the course. 

I'm just barely able to do 6 miles on asphalt barefoot, but really no good at going on gravel barefoot.  My first skin-on-pavement race will have to be later.  I don't think this would be a good debut as a barefooter. There are lots of wine-tasting parties after the race, and I think this could be a lot of fun. It's a good thing Stacy is coming along as my designated driver. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

My First Half-Marathon

Since I already did the "big deal" running a full marathon last year, it kind of seems like a non-big-deal to write about a mere half-marathon, doesn't it?  Not to me!

On Monday, I ran 12.2 miles and wondered out loud how I had ever managed to run a full marathon only 6 months prior.  Around Wednesday, I was browsing the Marine Marathon website, and saw that the half, only 4 days away was still available for registration, so I took the plunge.

The cheapskate that I am, I couldn't bear the thought of spending the night in a hotel, so I went to a KOA campgrounds just south of Fredericksburg.   I found the plot to be just big enough for my Ford Escape and my tent, and a small place to set my campfire.   The facility provided firewood for me, and I tried to light up a nice campfire after I got back from a dinner at Noodles and Company.

The fire never lights as easily as Bear Grylls does on Man vs. Wild.  Despite soaking my firewood with lighter fluid and using paper towels as the lighting agent, I just couldn't get the fire to start.  The KOA provides firewood, but doesn't provide any kindling, and I didn't pack my hatchet to chop the firewood into smaller pieces to get the fire started.

After my second failure of lighting a campfire, I was getting killed by mosquitoes, and it started to rain.  Off to the tent I went.  It wasn't much later than 1930, but without anything to do, I turned in early and got to sleep during the ever increasingly powerful thunderstorm.  My neighbors at the KOA were what appeared to be a newlywed couple with their dog, Toby, and a guy with his wife up from Blacksburg visiting the battlefields. I know the dog's name was Toby, because I heard his owners shout, "Toby! Stop barking!" about 8 times.  Dogs hate me.

I slept pretty well, sometimes waking up wondering if the waterproofing job on my tent was going to hold up or not.  When the alarm went off at 0500, and then again at 0510 (I set two separate devices to wake me up), I spent about 20 minutes tearing the tent down and packing it up, in a light rain, in complete darkness.  There turned out to be only a little bit of water at the bottom of the tent, which I think was from condensation, and not a leak.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I parked in the Walmart parking lot with about a third of the other race participants and walked to the event.  I decided at the last moment that the rain jacket would not be necessary, and this was an excellent decision!  I left it in the car with everything else, except for my belt, my bib and my Garmin.

At the starting area, I looked for my friends, but couldn't find any.  At the starting line there was about 10 thousand porta potties, and I managed to find the cleanest one in the lot.  It's a very important part of pre-race preparation, you see.  I took my time, and was interrupted by somebody knocking on my porta-potty door.  Maybe it was too much time.  Glad I got that taken care of before the race!

Everybody packed up to the front of the line as the race was about to start.  Whatever feeling of chill I had before that point went away as everybody standing next to me radiated enough body heat to take the chill out of the air.  I was rather worried that somebody was going to step on my toes, it was so crowded.  There was no water to be found at the starting line, and I hadn't yet drunk any water that morning, so I started off thirsty.  Drew Carey, the special guest at the event, made the leading announcement, and the gun went off at 06:59, first for the wheelchair participants, then again at 0700 for the rest of us.

I get nervous before these races. I have a resting heart rate around 60, but standing at the starting line before the gun went off, I think my heart rate was around 130. Once I got started, I used my GPS watch's function of the "virtual partner" to keep me at a reasonable pace. (Watch the video to see what the virtual partner is) I was shooting for a 2:30 finish time, which would theoretically mean I could run a 5 hour marathon.   By mile 2, I was nearly 3 minutes ahead of my virtual partner, meaning I was really hauling a lot faster than I should have been.

I've recently been reading Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton's book about barefoot running.  And although I was wearing my VFF Sprints for this run, there are a lot of techniques that apply.  One such technique is running downhill, which I had not mastered.  I used to think that since barefoot-style running could not heel strike, that barefooters were at a serious disadvantage going downhill.   Not so!  Just let go of the brakes, and let the hill take you downhill as fast as your legs can comfortably go. 

Each time that a downhill stretch approached, I would leave the pack that I was running with and fly down the hill without having to work at maintaining the speed at all.  I heard one lady say to her runner friend, "ooh! that looks painful!" and I'm sure that if I was wearing thick-heeled shoes like she was, it probably would have been painful to do all that heel striking on the way down.   Instead, I justed used the bouncy tendons in my feet to spring me down ever-so-smoothly.  Neat!

I was chugging along quite nicely ahead of my virtual partner.  After mile 8, he started to gain on me.  I gave up my 2 minute lead, which turned into a 1 minute lead, which looked like a 22 second lead as I walked into a water station.  I tanked up with Gatorade and water, and headed back out, and found myself 48 seconds behind my virtual partner.   I tried to catch up, and managed to catch up after a few minutes, but could no longer maintain the pace, and watched my virtual partner fade off into the distance.

After mile 9, there were no more downhill sections for me to let go of the brakes, and it was all uphill from there.  Between miles 10 and 11 is a 100 foot climb called "Hospital Hill".  It's not named that because running up this hill will send you to the hospital, but simply because that's where the hospital is. I really didn't have a lot of energy left at this part of the run, so I certainly walked a few parts of hospital hill.  I did refuse to walk up the entire hill, though, and managed to run out a significant part of it.

By the last mile, the top of my right foot had started to wear on my shoe, and I had a patch of skin get rubbed through. I actually bled enough to make the blood stain through the top of my shoe. Remember, I don't wear socks with VFFs, so it's not as bad as you can imagine.  I thought about taking off the VFFs and running barefoot to the finish line, but decided that stopping might mean extreme difficulty in getting back up again.

The crowds cheering along the way were really fantastic, but I can see that people cheering probably didn't cheer as much as the people a half-hour in front of us.  There were a lot of people walking at this part of the race, but I refused to spend any more time walking, and ran as much as possible.

I crossed the finish line and had this spaced-out look for a while, as I was given my medal, a bagel, a bottle of water, and some sort of Gatorade pouch with lots of sugary gel inside that I didn't get around to drinking.

I met up with my friends at our designated meeting point, and got in for a group photo. After meeting up with the DM friends, I moseyed over to the beer tent, and got my beer -- Especially delicious after the lost opportunity at the beer tent that I didn't get from the full marathon last October.

Here's my Garmin wristwatch's impression of the race results:

Hey 2100 calories on a morning run. Not bad!

And the official race result's impression of my run: Official Results:


Age: 38 Gender: M
DistanceHALF MAR

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Marine Corps Historic Half

May, 2010.
It was a wonderful flying day.  I took out my glider and contacted wave lift, and climbed to 10,500 feet on a day when nobody expected there to be any wave.  I headed home after a very long day of flying, expecting to be fully refreshed for my first half marathon on the next day.
My mother came over to be the one to drive me to the half-marathon all the way down in Fredericksburg, VA the next morning.  I was reading through the paperwork, looking for information about where I could pick up my race packet.  "Hmm. OK, it says here that I can pick up the race packet on Friday, but that's already passed. " I couldn't do it on Friday, because some sort of emergency happened that obviously wasn't important enough for me to remember today, a year later.  "OK, it says we can pick up the race packet on Saturday, ending at 7 pm" Too bad, it was already 8 pm by that point.

Then I saw in italicized words,
"There is no packet pickup on race-day"

Those words hit me incredibly hard.  I didn't faint, but certainly could have!  At that moment, I think I was willing to go out and play in traffic.  Instead, I went outside for a walk to cool my head.

What do you mean there is no packet pick up on race day!?  My only other race experience was the Marine Corps Run2Register 10K that was in March earlier that year.  They had a packet pickup on the morning of the race, but there were only about 2000 participants there. As a running novice, it had never occurred to me that you could have a race that doesn't have packet pickup on the morning of the event. 100% of the events I had attended beforehand had packet pick up on the morning. 

Sure, it made sense after I thought about it -- thinking about the logistics of the event, and the difficulty it must entail -- getting all of those packets to a place where you can have volunteers show up HOURS before a race. These things make sense -- NOW.    I'd even read that in the race literature months prior to the race.  But for some reason, I had just not remembered that tidbit when I was doing my final planning on the days before the race.   Mentally, I tried to blame everybody, but eventually accepted that the failure rested on one person: Me.

Skip forward to May 2011:
...well just a week prior to the event was Mother's day. I skipped my long Sunday run and did a 12.2 miler on the following Monday instead.   A few of my friends said they would be doing the Marine Corps Historic Half on Sunday.

So on Thursday, (after I cleared it with the wife), I signed up!

I signed up only 4 days before the event, and hoped that since the system didn't say I couldn't sign up, that it would be all right.  Come Friday before the race, I check the online status to see if I could get my E-Card.  The E-card is the piece of paper you have to show to the volunteer who hands out the race packets, including the racing bib.  I cut and pasted my confirmation number that I got in my email, and pasted it into the "confirm your registration status" link on the web page.  It returned:

We're sorry, the confirmation number 473944239-23484329 is not valid at this time.

Uh oh. This doesn't sound good.  It was Friday morning.  Packet pickup is Friday and Saturday (and not Sunday morning!)

I decided to take Friday afternoon off from work and race down to Fredericksburg to see if everything was in order.  I didn't want to spend Friday at work worried about it, or ruin my Saturday morning, also being worried about it.  I left work at 1 pm, and thanks to the nightmare that is Interstate 95 on a Friday afternoon, I showed up at Fredericksburg nearly 4 hours later.  Google Maps says this trip should have taken 1 hour and 19 minutes.  HA!

I got to the Expo, and Ray Javier was there, and picked me out of the crowd.  I was still a little too nervous about the possibility of not being able to get my race packet to make any substantial chit-chat, but at least we had time for a quick photo.

I got to the service desk, and they had everything under control.  I was given my race bib, a nice technical tee shirt that I can use for running, and a few nick-nacks in the goodie bag.
I see that there is a beer festival after the Half Marathon.  Missing out on the beer tent was my greatest regret from the Marathon last year. I won't be missing it!

Race morning can be quite stressful, so I decided to reduce the amount of stress by spending the night relatively close to the race.  Google Maps says that a trip from my house to the race should take 1 hour and 16 minutes, but that would mean that I would have to wake up awfully early.  I also am a terrible cheapskate, so I will be staying at a KOA campsite just south of Fredericksburg.

Here are my race clothes for Sunday.  I haven't figured out if I'll run with my favorite burnt-orange shirt, or if I'll run with the shirt I got with the race.  That's my race belt with running gel (fancy sugar packets) on the left.  You can see my goofy shoes on the top.

I should be heading out for the drive to my very comfortable campground any minute now.  It's supposed to rain all weekend, but I don't really care if it rains or not.  If it rains, I'll have puddles to splash in!  I have been practicing barefoot running quite regularly, but I'm not quite up to the level of being able to do a half-marathon skin-to-pavement barefoot.  I'll be running in my trusty VFF Sprints, just like I did for the marathon.  Expect a post-race report to be posted on Sunday evening!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Google Apps Transition

When we decided to move to Switzerland, the way I manage my computers and Internet access had to change.  Beforehand, all of the servers for were served out of a puny linux laptop that I had running on my DSL line here at home.  The connectivity was terrible, and when I played online, I suffered lag each time somebody downloaded a document or something.  It was just awful.

I am a Linux administrator by day at work, and doing new and neat things with computers is what we nerds crave.  But as we were moving out of the house to a new adventure in Switzerland, keeping a bunch of dusty computers here in the basement just wasn't going to work out.

I discovered Google Apps, where they allowed the whole family to get a GMAIL account, and I could administer everything for everybody.  Since I was already a Picasa user, this was a great convenience.  I later created a blog, made the website online with Google Apps, and everything was really running swimmingly.

Well, very recently, Google changed some stuff around recently, where my Google Apps account, which made it so that I had to log into two different places to view my mail and to read my news groups.  This kind of sucked.  Also, because of the recent changes to Google Apps, I wasn't able to read email and update the blog (not that I do that very often), or be logged into my YouTube account at the same time.

Well for lots of complicated reasons that I don't really want to get into, this is why the Piet Barber blog moved from to  I also am going to have to make some adjustments to my Picasa account, too; and I hope that won't be to disruptive to the links to pictures that I have out there.

The good news is that Blogger (the software that I use to maintain this blog) made it very easy to export my old blog (at and re-import it, including comments, links, pictures, and everything to the new blog (now at   Well, easy for a nerd like me to figure out. Maybe not easy for a non-computer expert to figure out. :)