Burning Runner: Battling The Barefoot Runner

Week 14: T.J. gets 15 minutes closer to his goal at yesterday’s Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll L.A. Half Marathon.

Written by: T.J. Murphy

I first saw the Barefoot Runner at mile 8, at the point in the half marathon where the finish line feels out of touch despite the fatigue that triggers a shadow of doubt about whether or not you’ll be able to hold the pace to the finish line. Luckily for me, the Barefoot Runner gave me a focal point for the next few miles as I couldn’t drop him and he couldn’t drop me.

It’s not that I don’t like running with others during a distance race. I absolutely do, and like most, the effect of being alongside a competitor brings the pace up a notch from what you might be doing alone.

Of course, this was at the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon yesterday, and in a Rock ‘n’ Roll race the fellow or gal next to you might be wearing a hot dog costume or showing off their particular interpretation of Elvis.

When the shirtless Barefoot Runner pulled up in front of me and I saw that he was without even Vibrams on his feet, how could I not be amazed? The course was hilly, with several long sweeping uphills and a couple of steep, sharp drops on pavement that was not laid yesterday. As it was for the cheerleading squads along the course who spotted him, the sight of a guy prancing along on the balls of his feet for 13 miles is a shocker. Because he had an iPod plugged into his ears I’m not sure how much he heard the howling cheers from the fans and screams of ‘Go barefoot guy!” but I sure did. In fact, a lead singer from one of the bands at around mile 10 or so hit the brakes in the middle of the song: “Hey barefoot guy! Wow! Are you from Fiji?”

The fuss didn’t bother me, but I pushed my pace to try and drop the Barefoot Runner because he was terrible at running tangents.  At one point we entered an S curve, and if you were paying attention it was impossible not to see the straight line that sliced right through the belly of the S. Not barefoot guy. He surfed his way right through it, which meant he kept cutting in front of me, swooping past, back and forth, like Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel. So I kept pressing to stay ahead of him. It wasn’t to be. The Barefoot Runner pulled away in the last mile and I didn’t have the gas to go with him.

But I was very happy with the race, having crossed the finish line in 1:36:37.

Progress Report: 14 Weeks, 14 pounds, 15 minutes

I started the Burning Runner project back in mid-July. The broad goal of the project was to  focus not just on training for a December half marathon, but to give equal thought and effort to diet throughout the training period. It’s common sense, of course. We know that diet alone can have a positive effect on health and body composition, and we also know that exercise can do the same. I’d been training for nine months and felt that to open myself up for more improvement I needed quit screwing around in the kitchen and make a serious effort.

It’s been 14 weeks and here are the results so far: I’ve lost 14 pounds and improved my half-marathon time by 15 minutes (at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago event on August 1, I clocked 1:51:04).

More importantly, I’ve discovered (duh!) that by eating an extremely healthy diet (not cutting back on foods but rather trading in the junk for the healthy stuff) the weight not only falls off but I’ve also been able to enjoy the following advantages:

  1. Improved state of being and energy throughout the day.
  2. Infinitely better sleep.
  3. Faster recovery from training.
  4. Less stress.

I have six weeks until the Zappos.com Las Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon, and there’s plenty of challenge ahead. My goals at the beginning were to get to 167 pounds and to record a sub 1:30 half-marathon. I have a ways to go and not much time to do it. But that’s the fun of it, right? As I’m sure I’ve reported in a previous column, Ironman legend Dave Scott once said that the key for him in training and diet was to make a game of it—to use challenges to energize your intensity, your drive and instead of exercise and diet being a chore, make it fun. This was a principle I’ve been trying to apply since the beginning and it has been a lot of fun. It’s especially fun to not get beat by a guy in a hot dog costume (although I did get beat by an Elvis).

One principle of training that makes it all fun: when you do the work, the results follow. To quote from “Once a Runner,”  by John L. Parker, Jr., there’s no way to fake your way through it; there are “no deals to be made.” In a time when the world seems out of whack, living the running life is a reminder that consistent work and smart choices can yield surprisingly good results. For example, I went through the 10K marker in yesterday’s race at 45 minutes flat. Back in February, on a fast, flat course in San Diego, I ran a 10K race all-out and my time was over 46 minutes. One day of training may not seem to produce incredible results (because it won’t) but when you stack up month after month it all adds up.

Six weeks to Las Vegas, a good time frame to make one last jump. The race is December 5 and I must work to keep in mind that how I perform each day is going to count.

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T.J. Murphy is a contributing editor to Competitor and the Editorial Director of Triathlete and Inside Triathlon magazines. Previous installments of his Burning Runnercolumn can be read here. He can be reached by e-mail at burningrunner@gmail.com.

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