I just got back from running the Morat-Fribourg race – 17.17 km over bucolic Swiss countryside from the charming walled town of Morat (Murten in Swiss German) to Fribourg. The race has historical roots; it supposedly retraces the steps of a courier who was spreading the news that Charles the Bold had been defeated in a nearby battle. This was back in 1476. The runner carried a branch from a linden tree. Like so many runners to follow him, he collapsed on arrival. They planted a linden tree to mark the event.
I’m not going to get into Swiss history here because I would definitely be out of my depth. Who the heck was Charles the Bold and what was he doing in Switzerland? I’d just reveal my ignorance. (Wait, didn’t I just do that?) The race, however, is very popular. There are people who have run Morat-Fribourg every year without fail for most of their adult lives. This was number two for me.
The defining feature of this race is its altitude profile. (If you look at the link, notice all the first-aid stations…) It can be summed up in two words: bad-ass hills. The race finishes on a brutal uphill. This year I ran it in my New Balance minimalist trail shoes that have recently become my number-one preferred footwear. I was a little nervous about this because the race is run entirely on pavement. Up to now, most of my runs in the minimalist shoes have been at least partly on trails. (They’re trail shoes).
They were fine. Perfect. My feet feel great. My left calf muscle is a little sore, but it was 17.17 km, a lot of uphill. I suppose that’s to be expected. I’m sure a couple of beers and some chocolate will take care of it.
But that’s not the news. The news is that for the last 10k of the race, I ran alongside a woman who was wearing Tarahumara-style sandals!! Universes are truly aligning here. This cannot be a coincidence.
Let’s backtrack for a minute to the pre-race milling about in the starting area and the port-a-potty lines. I spent a lot of time looking at other people’s feet. NO ONE was wearing anything other than bonafide, cushioned, stablilized, run-of-the-mill running shoes. No one but me, that is. So imagine my surprise when a pair of huarache-type sandals edged into my peripheral vision on a hill at about 6 miles. WOW! She wasn’t wearing lycra, either. All of a sudden, the race got a lot more interesting.
We had the same basic pace, that is to say, strong on the ups and lame on the downs – without all that cushioning you don’t tend to overstride and slap your feet down so much doing downhill. Even though we were both running along in our own little zones, I loved every minute – I’d found a kindred spirit. Her form, which unfortunately I got a good look at as she pulled away from me on the last hill, was impeccable. I tried to imitate it, even as I was internally empathizing with the poor courier and his linden branch, and worrying about my own imminent collapse.
I didn’t collapse after all, and as I caught up with her in the finish chute I congratulated her on her footwear. She pointed mine out, too. She said she’d tried to find shoes like mine in Switzerland, unsuccessfully. I told her I’d gotten them in the US, and she raved about all the great possibilities in footwear that could be had across the pond. We basked for a moment in our mutual admiration. She asked me if I’d read Born to Run. Does the bear shit in the woods? Is the Pope Catholic? Then we went our separate ways.
The only other person I saw wearing anything alternative was a man walking barefoot across the finish line, way at the back of the pack. But he was carrying his shoes and his feet had some really nasty-looking blisters on them, so I don’t think the barefoot part had been planned ahead of time. He didn’t look too happy.
On a brief, last barefoot note – last week I walked barefoot all the way from the nasty gnarly trail I photographed for my barefoot blog post to our house the other day (maybe 2km). I just had a sudden desire to go barefoot. It was painful, but great. I like feeling the ground without an intermediary. One of the commenters on my Running and Rambling post obviously lives near me because he recommended a path that I know well. That’s my next step, to run/walk that trail barefoot. I’ve survived Morat-Fribourg, so I’ll do it next week and keep you posted!