Monday, 19 November 2012

Can I run Barefoot and Finish my first 50Kms race

Did, what I once thought, was impossible.

In the year 2010, I ran 37.5 Kms during my first Bangalore Ultra run, and had a blackout few meters before the finish line. Inspite of drinking Enerzol at every water station, I was dehydrated which caused the Blackout. Regained consciousness after 30 mins and took an hr to be out of the bed. That day, I saw the stronger Ultra runners continuing their run for more and more Kms. I would find it difficult to understand on how they could run for 50, 75 & 100Kms. Running through the pain in the hot sun, with smiling faces would just amaze me. So my logical conclusion was, Ultra distance is not my baby. If running for 3 hr and 21 min was painful, then running for over 5 hrs was just impossible.

The next year 2011, I again ran 37.5 Kms at Blr Ultra, but inspite of a consistent practice, I was slower that the previous year by around 5 mins (3hrs 25min 46 sec). But again would see the Ultra distance runners running for 5 to 12 hrs. I did not have the strength to run for an additional 1 Km over and above the 37.5 Kms. I could feel my quad muscles churning and could barely manage to walk around. The heat had taken a toll on me. It was no fun to look at the runners continuing the run for hours and hours together. This further confirmed that running for so many hours in the hot sun was not my cup of tea. My obvious conclusion was that I could not be an Ultra distance runner.

This year, Blr Ultra did not have the 37.5 Kms category  and I  was not interested to participate in the 25Kms run. Travelling the distance for the short distance did not fascinate me and would also impact my training run for the Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). Running for 50Kms was not in my dreams or imagination. Madhusmita from Egypt had confirmed her interest to participate in the event and she did mention previously that she would be happy to get a pacer to support her. So I registered for the event, with the moral responsibility to support her and also to network with the Ultra distance runners. It would also serve the dual purpose of running around 35 to 38 Kms, as part of my training plan.

My training plan was directed as per ‘The Pace Makers’ Coach Kothandapani. During the year 2012, I had a 28Km run in July, a 26Km run in Sept, two 30Kms in Oct and one 32 Kms in Nov the week before the Ultra. The maximum long distance runs, before these events were 20Kms. The training gave me the confidence to maintain a faster pace for short distance rather than slow long distance run. With this background, I did not have the confidence of running over 35 Kms during the run. Also barefoot run of over 30 kms would hurt my heel and minute thorny pieces would enter my feet. The pieces were too small to be removed, and would experience the pain for two days and later vanish.

A couple of days before the event, had a chat with Madhusmita and could feel her excitement & confidence of running the 50Kms and there was nothing to stop her. With the kind of pace she was intending, I personally was finding it difficult to see her reach the finish line. I tried to put down her expectations, by reminding her that the heat after 9.30am would strain a runner and trail runs are not as comfortable as the road runs.

Three days before the event (7th Nov) I was mentally rehearsing myself for the 35 Km run and also gave a thought on the remote possibility to complete the 50Kms. On the Timing Technology site, I had a look at the runners who had completed the 50Kms in year 2010 and 2011. I gained confidence that there were a couple of runners, who were not as much experienced as me and had successfully completed the run. But since the Mumbai Marathon run scheduled on 20th Jan ’13, was my priority, I did  not want to injure myself by attempting for 50 Kms. My Barefoot run, increased the possibility of injuries, as I had only around 6 months of Barefoot run experience. My legs were not yet comfortable for distance barefoot running. The past 3 months was pure Barefoot running, hence a shod run was not a possibility. Also enquired with my Coach if I could attempt 50 Kms and as anticipated, he flatly refused. Knowing my prior background on training runs, he would not want me to take any risk for the SCMM training. Friday morning a Best wishes and confidence boosting email from Neera added to my urge to attempt the 50 Kms run. But my fear and the priority to remain injury free post the run, would put me down and not let me think of completing the run. Constantly, I reminded myself to be positive for all possible options.

On 9th Nov (Friday), collected the bib from the RFL office and met Madhusmita, Priya Vaidyanathan, Natasha Ramarathnam & Kavitha Kanaparthi. As always, each one inspired the other with their individual running related achievements. Priya had raised funds for education of young kids and was attempting her first Ultra 50 Kms run with the injuries she was carrying, Madhusmita had the challenging target to complete a Sub 5 hrs run.

Any evening prior to the event would be high anxiety, on multiple aspects of the race e.g. Comfort of the body, Start the run, Maintaining the pace. But for the first time I was at ease, and excited for the run. This would be my first ever fun run for an event, where I could look at other runners, smile and greet each other. I was also not pressurized on the mileage  to run, as I could stop myself after 25 Kms or extend upto 50 Kms. For the first time I had the choice of maintaining the pace according to my comfort and distance based on my capability. As always, kept my gear including the Crepe Bandage kit ready before sleeping. Planned to get up at 2.15 am to ensure that I leave home by 3.20, pick up Coach Pani at around 3.40 am, park car at Kanterava Stadium and reach Reliance Jewels (JDP) before 4.00am to catch the RFL bus.

Morning routine went as planned. Had Coffee and breakfast and also packed some snacks for pre and post run. Applied Vaseline across the hip area and nipples. Also carried a bottle of Gatorade to boost the energy levels. Left home at 3.25am, picked up Pani and reached the RFL bus location at 4 am. In the Bus met a 50 K runner from Gujarat, another 50 K registered girl, and both had not run over 25 Kms during their practice runs. But they were committed to complete the 50 Kms, without any constrain on time. Reached the venue by 5 am to see the 75Kms, 100Kms & 24 Hrs runners start their runs. Gave best wishes to most of the known runners and prayed for their successful runs. Our friend Jagadish Damaina was targeting to run / walk / crawl for 24 hrs and Udaya to complete the 100Kms run. Also met the BHUKMP runners who were at the highest level of enthusiasm.

Met Aanchal many other known faces who were either runners or family members to support the runners at the venue. Met the ladies Madhusmita, Priya & Natasha. Madhu was well equipped with the Hydration kit and Energy Gels. Her gear and smile showed the confidence and said would maintain the 5 mins 30 sec / Km pace. I planned to be pace her for the first loop of 25 Kms and maintaining the pace of 5m30s / Km was reasonable for the first loop. For the 2nd loop I had the choice to take it easier. Coach Pani helped me bandaid all fingers in my feet and also the forefoot. This would protect me from minor pointed objects on the trail and let my bare feet sustain well for longer distance.

Run started at 6.00 am and we started the run together. A lap was of 25 Kms with the U turn at 12.5 Kms. As was previously informed, the initial 1 Km on tarmac road had loose pointed pebbles which did hurt my feet, but managed to scrape through. After around 250 meters, realized that I had not switched on my Garmin watch. This took around a couple of mins and then realized that the setting was incorrect. During the well paced run and in the minimal light, I managed to correct the Garmin setting and start the workout. I continued my run with Madhu and after around a Km, realized that we were at around 5m10s pace, which I thought she would slow down later. We continued our chat on when & how we started running and the history of our run events. I again realized that we were running at below 5 mins/Km pace and Madhu was happy to maintain this pace. I knew that I would be able to maintain this pace for 1 loop and might need to stop my run or slow down a lot more than planned for the balance distance. I skipped the 1st water aid station as I was struggling with my Garmin settings and stoped myself in the 2nd aid station at around the 4 Kms mark to pickup a glass of Enerzol. Madhu was self supported with her hydration kit and did not have to stop at any of the aid stations. By the time I finished my drink, she had gone over 25 meters ahead and had to pace up to reach her. We were later joined by Stephen Pollock, where he shared his running background. He completed the Hyd FM in 3h43m which would be pretty similar to Madhu’s pace. I soon noticed that both of them were very comfortable at each other’s pace and let myself ease down. In a couple of mins, both of them were out of site and I started maintaining the easy pace of 5m40s / Km. Some sections of the trail had small gravels which would again hurt my bare feet. Since this was the first half of the 1st lap, my legs could bear the stress. I then made it a point to stop at each aid station to gulp 2 glass of Enerzol and half an orange. I then started to see the fast 75 Kms and higher Ultra distance runners on their zooming ahead on the opposite direction. As always called them by names and cheered them at the pace they were maintaining. A couple of Kms ahead I saw Jagadish running comfortably. This did surprise me as he had committed for a 24 hrs walk and would not run any distance. I felt myself very comfortable at the easy pace of around 5m40s I was maintaining and the band aid around my forefoot protected me very well. Stepping on the gravels would hurt, but was nothing new. Around 500m before the U turn, I saw Madhu and Stephen Pollock running comfortably. On the U turn at 12.25 Kms, I found myself at peace with the pace and was happy to cheer other runners. Completed the first 12.5 Kms in 1 hr 5 mins 9 secs.

Hari Menon who was behind with Bhasker Sharma, comfortably increased his pace and ran with me for some time. I was surprised to hear that he had trained for a max of 30 Kms with the BHUKMP group and had not run any Marathon events. He directly targeted the 50 Km Ultra distance and looked very comfortable. At the next aid station, when I stopped to grab a drink, he continued with his pace. I continued with my easy pace of 5m40s / Km through the trail. Through a lot of the sections, my barefoot runs were not difficult, but a section of around 750 meters, in the mid distance had a lot smoothly curved small gravels which hurt my bare feet. But the ease of light feet took precedence over the pain, and hence could not complain. Continued the fun run, greeting and cheering the runners running at the opposite direction. Some of them were going strong while others were on walking spree in between their runs. Also saw Vasu, Nari, Sunil Chainani, Vishy Kuruganti (My barefoot companion), Udaya who were all on the 75 Kms or 100 Kms challenge. Also met Jagdish Damania who was on the 24 hrs run / walk challenge and Sindhu (his wife) who was complaining that he was running, more than his initial plan. I continued my stop at every water aid station, and have 2 cups of energy drink and half an Orange to ensure that I am well hydrated and continue strong till I complete my run. There were sections where I would be all alone, and not see a soul ahead and would have to patiently run, till I would see the road markers or some other runner to confirm that I was not lost in the trails. A couple of Kms before reaching the finish line, I saw Steven Kaplan zooming past bare chest. He was at an amazing pace. Also saw Stephen Pollock leading the run with Madhusmita a couple of meters behind him. My worn out feet, made the last 1 Km (in the 1st loop) of running through the loose stones on the asphalt road, more of struggle and painful experience.  Saw Hari Menon going strong in the opposite direction after completion of his first lap. 25 meters before the finish line, I could hear and see Atul Chandra as always, greeting & cheering runners. A great moment to be happy with the completion of my first lap of 25 Kms and remain reasonably strong, but was not sure on how much more I could run. Completed the second 12.5 Kms in 1 hr 12 min 14 sec and total of 25 Kms in 2 hr 17 min 23 sec.

My energy levels and the comfort of running gave me the confidence of running over 35 Kms. Continued with the painful run through the initial 1 Km on the loose pointed edge stones. On the start of the 2nd loop, I met Bhasker Sharma again and was going comfortable with his cheerful smile to finish the 1st loop. Also greeted the other runners who were running behind to finish the 1st loop of 25 Kms. The soles were getting more tender and the pain was not easily tolerable. The small gravels were creating more pain, but ran through them. At the mid mark of 6.25 Kms, I was to take the incomplete U turn to go back, but decided to continue further for some more distance. This continued till I reached the U turn mat at 12.5 Km mark where I completed a total of 37.5 Kms. Around 1 Km or 1.5 Km before the U turn, saw Madhusmita had taken a lead over Stephen. She was running strong. The 3rd 12.5 Kms took 1 hr 15 min 8 sec.

At the U turn I met Praveen Singh who was suffering a Groin pain and was looking for some tips. He was pretty upset on experiencing this for the first time. I continued with my run and was going pretty strong. I was not sure if I could run / walk to reach the finish line. After around 3 to 4 Kms, met Captain Rishi &  Amrita running in opposite direction, who enquired for the distance to the U turn.  After around the 42 Kms, A small thorn entered my right leg heel. I could feel the thorn when I rubbed my fingers over the heel, by raising my leg backwards. To remove the thorn, I stopped myself and raised my leg backward, but had the feeling of getting a muscle cramp. I continued to run on my forefoot for some time and again tried to remove the thorn by raising my leg backward. Again I could feel the cramp getting in on my thigh and had to bring my feet back down. I then had no other alternative other than run on my forefoot till the finish line. After around 300 to 400 meters run, I was blessed by God to send The Pace Makers Coach Pani on time to remove the thorn. He took me on the side of the trail, sat down and I raised my leg forward, for him to remove the thorn. I thanked him and gave him a hug and continued my run. Now I had no energy to greet or even cheer the runners in the opposite direction. I was at my own pace, feeling a bit heavy on my thighs. The energy drink with Orange and Wafers gave me the strength to move further and further. Now there was no looking at any runner and the objective was just to reach the finish line. This time it was not possible for me to run over the painful gravels, and resorted to fast walks. Met Arvind (A2) at half way mark, who enquired about the trail for the barefoot run, which I gave a negative response due to the painful gravels. The duration of my halt at the aid stations increased to give some relief to my thigh and bare feet. Around 4 Kms before the finish line, had the company of Pavan from RFL who was cycling with me and was a great companion almost till the end. He continued encouraging / motivating me to carry on with my run. Skipped the last aid station 1 Km before the finish line, as I knew that I would barely be able to run through the painful asphalt road. Again somehow managed to walk / run through the final 1 Km eagerly looking forward to reach the finish line. Again I could hear Atul Chandra greeting the runners reaching the finish line. He asked for a confirmation if this was my last lap or had one more to go. Body expression of my raised hands gave him the confirmation that this was my finish. He congratulated me on my 50 Kms of Bare foot running. Before I could step myself on the finish mat, I received a niced warm long hug from some (don't recollect him), but before I could cross the finish line. I thanked him for the hug, and rushed to cross the finish line.

Woo Hooo, did I actually run the 50 Kms, and that too Barefoot? I looked around to see if this was a reality. What a milestone to achive. Saw Madhusmita standing close to the finish line, hugged and thanked her for being the reason for me to register for the event. Saw Hari, Stephen, Brian & Sunil Chainani relaxing close to the finish line. On enquiring, realized that I had completed the run in less than 5 hrs. The time taken to complete the last 12.5 Kms was 1 hr 20 min 16 sec and total time of 4 hrs 52 mins 47 secs. Could not believe that I completed the run, that too bare foot and in less than 5 hrs. I was in the seventh heaven and praised the Lord for the successful run. Thanks to RFL, got a foot massage and then realized that I also had a Podium finish in 2nd position in the veteran category.

Now confirmed that for a Marathon event, it is not mandatory to run for over 32Kms during the practice sessions. I have been arguing with myself on how beneficial will it be to train over 32 Kms during the practice sessions. Now this gives me the confidence that multiple practices runs upto 32 Kms will lead to injury free trainings. Run Less Run Faster program recommends 5 time 32 Km practice in a 16 week training program.

Special mention of ‘The Pace Makers’ group and Coach Kothandapani who have inspired and trained me for such challenging events. Inspiring runners like Suresh Seshadri, Ravi Venkatesam, Shreyas(Aham Brahmasmi Shreyaskarnad) & Running Hippie who have transformations of loosing over 20 Kgs primarily by running. My wife & darling daughter who have always supported me, with my crazy demands and make my runs as comfortable as possible.


  1. Bobby,

    Very good description of the race. Mind should be willing more than the body. In my run, body never gave up, even though, the mind did it a couple of times.

    Dont tell me, you were having all these doubts about the distance and endurance, training alongside me. Most people (including me) thought I was crazy initially.

    Running barefoot is a little risky as I found out during the ultra training. After switching on to regular shoes, my feet has recovered. I should be back on vibrams (if not barefoot) soon.

    1. Thanks Udaya.

      Mentally, I was never an Ultra distance runner. So any training program would not give me the confidence.

      But now, I can dare to run for 75 Kms too :).


  2. Good inspirational stuff. took me a long time to read full script, but i was determined to complete the run :)

  3. Hi Bobby,
    Awesome performance! you & your feet rock! Neatly explained your 50k journey with your feetback :) !

  4. Thanks for sharing ur experience bobby....It was cool...Like our coach Beedu says.......Running a maraaaaaathan is not so easy......:)