More thoughts on the "barefoot versus minimalist" shoes issue and the difficulty of abandoning an un

Blog entry posted by Last Place Jason, Aug 16, 2010.

The last 17 days have been an interesting journey for me. First was the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. One of my goals was to run the entire race barefoot. I made it to mile 33 before an especially gravelly section sabotaged my efforts. Fearing the slowed pace would slow my pace beyond the cutoff times, I ran the rest in huaraches. While it sucked not reaching that goal, I ended the race on a high note which stoked a competitive fire.

This past weekend, I ran the Fallsburg Marathon near my home in Michigan. I ran it sans shoes. The course was changed from last year, which I also ran barefoot. A long section of gravel road greatly slowed my pace, which significantly affected my time. Furthermore, the beating from the rougher-than-expected gravel limited my ability to run the trail sections with abandon. The result was a less-than-enjoyable experience.

I wrote a blog post about this on my barefoot Chronicles blog. All of the comments basically urged me to wear some sort of shoe when conditions warrant. Since the race, I have struggled with the decision... should I stop pushing my own barefoot boundaries in races and instead focus on times? If taken at face value, the decision seems simple. Barefoot Josh had a thought-provoking blog post about this very topic... it helped my clarify my own motivations.

Here's the dilemma- I really enjoy challenging myself on difficult terrain. However, I think I may be reaching a plateau in regards to barefoot ability. As you progress in ability, you experience diminishing returns. No matter how much I train on the gnarliest terrain I can find, there are some conditions (namely densely-packed sharp rocks over a hard compressed dirt base) that are really difficult.

Given the training time I have, I do not think I will be able to get to the point of mastering this particular obstacle. I'm okay with this challenge on a training run, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to stomach in a race setting.

Originally, I ran ultras for the challenge of finishing. After finishing two 100 milers, Ifeel I've reached that goal. The next goal was to finish a 100 barefoot. That goal seems very unlikely. As an alternate goal, I am VERYtempted to chase a faster time or a more difficult course. That goal is incompatible with the barefoot 100. To chase the second, I have to abandon the first.

My problem- I've never had a serious goal I could not reach. Can I do that? Can I just give up on it and focus on another? It seems like a simple idea... but it is surprisingly difficult to accept.

The practical reader is probably thinking "why not just put it off until later?" It's a valid point. I should be able to just set that goal further back in the queue. Unfortunately, my brain doesn't work like that.

As I read through Josh's post, I could relate to each of his 10 points. It also helped me realize I was missing out on the enjoyment of some races simply because of my drive to reach one particular goal.

While it will be difficult to lace up the huaraches for my next rugged race, I think I will be okay with the decision.