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November 22, 2009

The Barefoot Files: Toro Park Trail Run

In an earlier training update, I described how my evolution as a barefoot runner was something of a “two steps forward, one step back” progression, with gradual improvements occasionally knocked for a loss by something stupid or unforeseen - or sometimes, stupidly unforeseen – to make me question why I’m doing any of this to begin with.

Last week was another one of those setback days, as I put my newfound confidence as a barefoot trail runner to the test in a new, yet very familiar setting: Toro Regional Park in Salinas, one of my favorite playgrounds in all of Monterey County.

I never really need a reason to run in Toro Park, but I was looking forward to this particular outing for a couple purposes. Primarily, I wanted to see if the good vibes I experienced on my last barefoot trail run would carry over to a different type of terrain. But also …

… I wanted to check on one of my favorite trees. It had been a few weeks since I’ve been on this particular trail, and I knew that this tree explodes in brilliant reds and browns during the winter months. Seasonal changes in Monterey County tend to run several weeks behind the normal calendar, so I’ve still got a few weeks before the colors here start to get spectacular. (And to assure you I’m not making this story up, I’ll keep posting pictures from this tree into December and January. Trust me, they’ll be cool.)

The outbound leg includes a few sections of gently groomed single track, which I’ve start to become more comfortable with. However …

… there are also some fairly treacherous sections, such as when the trail wanders through a small eucalyptus grove. The hard seeds of eucalyptus trees are super painful on bare feet, and they’re abundant enough that it’s very tricky to pick your way around them. Through stretches like this, I’m always reminded of Marlin and Dory hopping through the jellyfish forest (scroll to 3:15 mark): I can bounce from one safe spot to another pretty effectively at first, but eventually I know I’m going to get nailed.

The fire road eventually enters a clearing and climbs for a total of nearly three miles before a low ridge line that meets the connecting return trail. My feet had nearly recovered from the eucalyptus beating, so I decided to play around a bit …

… by experimenting with some action shots using my camera’s self-timer. This is the one that came out best – and I’m not going to say how many attempts came out poorly. I’m not exactly an expert at this stuff yet.

I eventually reached the connecting trail, where I normally enjoy some sweet views of the Salinas Valley on my return trip. However, although I had only traveled a few miles at this point, my feet were really beginning to hurt. It wasn’t anything muscular or joint-related; but all of a sudden the bottoms of my feet were feeling completely raw and vulnerable. The rough trails were taking their toll.

Instead of being in the moment and soaking in my surroundings, I had to keep my eyes nailed to the ground, constantly searching for the best footfall. It reminded me of the last several miles of an ultra, where most of the joy of the run has drained out several miles ago, and your focus is consumed by the simple task of safely putting one foot in front of the other. Whatever the opposite of runners high is, that’s what I was feeling by this point.

Needless to say, I was relieved to reach the picnic areas that cover the lower valley of Toro Park. My feet welcomed the soft embrace of the grass, but even then, I wasn’t completely in the clear …

… because the grass passes beneath some large oak trees. Know what lies under oak trees? Lots of acorns. Acorns that are nearly as hard as eucalyptus seeds, with shells that are pointy on one end. It was the jellyfish forest all over again – but this time, I didn’t have nearly enough energy or agility to avoid getting stung. Repeatedly.

Eventually I made it back to the park entrance – and instead of my usual sitting, grinning, “No worries!” post-run photo, I took this one: it’s more of an “I’m SOOOO glad to be done with this” picture. If I’m being honest, I have to say that the majority of this run wasn’t really enjoyable – in fact, it kind of sucked. It was painful. And painfully slow. The negatives greatly outweighed the positives, and the overall workout was quite discouraging.

So that’s my dilemma in a nutshell (or perhaps, an acorn): all the pleasure that I normally get from running barefoot, and from running on trails, somehow combine to create a less-than-pleasurable experience than either one does on its own. It also raises the question of what my overall intention with pushing in this direction might be.

I have some ideas about the answer … but that’s a bigger picture discussion that I’ll put off for another day. In the meantime, I’ll just chalk this run up as another learning experience, and continue exploring various paths of this ongoing adventure.

*See other Barefoot Files reports on sidebar at right


Rainmaker 11/22/09, 7:59 PM  

"I shall name him squishy"...

Ha! Thanks for the reminder about how awesome that movie is. Actually the first DVD I bought after getting a larger TV.

Oh a related note to your post, on my Thursday night right a group of us were cruising along with a barefoot runner joined us. I was fairly impressed given he was not too far off cookin' pace - and all while in the city streets on a dark and rainy night. I'm so conditioned to seeing your posts on barefoot running off in pretty places, and then to see someone knocking it out on a crappy night in the concrete jungle was pretty cool.

And finally, on a third note - I actually just clicked on an Ad on your page, sorta a rarity I admit. But it was related to something I was interested in (Amazon Black Friday ad).

Gretchen 11/22/09, 10:23 PM  

With fronds like these, who needs anemones?

I had to answer a security verification question on the phone last week, and the customer service rep actually laughed out loud when I confessed with chagrin "Finding Nemo." (Just a tip: When setting your security questions, consider that that you may have to give your response out loud to a real person, not just online!) Seriously, at least you have the excuse of being a parent.

Jo Lynn 11/22/09, 10:33 PM  

Love the pictures, especially the beautiful single track trails. Aaaaah, so so pretty! ;)

You having to watch every single step? That's exactly what I have to do all the time now because of the fear of spraining my ankle again. Sometimes it makes it very hard to enjoy what's around me.

That park looks awesome. I've never heard of it. Thanks for sharing.

Darrell 11/23/09, 7:26 PM  

I can't imagine that one nutty barefoot run is going to dampen your enthusiasm for the adventure. A learning experience it is, as are most days, this one was just more recognizable.

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