This past weekend I ran the inaugural On the Rocks trail run at Rocky Ridge Park in York, Pennsylvania.  As the name suggests, the surface was rough and the 8-mile course, while fast, was also really technical.  I'd nursed a nasty cough all week long leading up to the race and was a bit concerned that I was in over my head.

My head (and lungs, for that matter), didn't prove to be the problem.

I actually ended up pretty pleased with my performance, clocking a time of 1:18:32 for 24th place.  In addition to a nice participant medal, I walked away with two other pieces of memorabilia, nasty bullet-hole-looking blisters on each heel.

I've been logging most of my summer miles in Montrail Mountain Masochists, but have been itching to switch things up from time to time.  I recently unearthed a pair of INOV-8 trail racing shoes from the back of my closet that had been mouldering away nearly untouched.  When I received them as a Christmas gift a few years back, I wasn't putting in the technical trail miles that justified my wearing them.  I could've used them over the course of the last year but frankly forgot that they were available.

Though the lugs on the soles are built-up and ready to tackle gnarly terrain, the rest of the shoe is streamlined and lightweight.  The heel cup doesn't come up as high as I'm used to and the upper has deep recesses beneath each ankle.  While this design keeps weight to a minimum, it also allows some movement that I don't experience in higher cut running shoes.  My very first (hot, humid) workout in the INOV-8's ended with a torn heel on my right heel.  They were immediately returned to the closet.

On the evening before the On the Rocks run, I decided I needed to give the shoes a second try.  While I had never been to Rocky Ridge, I'd gotten pretty good beta from a friend and running partner who spends time there and felt certain that the technical track would suit the INOV-8's nicely.  I laced them up as tight as I could get them and toed the line.

Again, here's a visual on how things ended:

My legs, however, felt great and I'd managed to break up most of the clutter that remained in my lungs.  By Sunday afternoon, I was ready for more miles.  I'd bandaged my heels and switched to a pair of Pearl Izumi road shoes to tackle some hill repeats on a local winding farm road.  Three + miles into the workout, I realized that the bandages had slipped and my heels were suffering further damage.  What to do?

I'd driven to where I was running and so climbed back behind the wheel for the ride home.  As I neared my driveway, the large grassy lot surrounding the decommissioned elementary school behind our house caught my eye.  The perimeter stretches further than a standard track and includes some undulating slopes.  I pulled into the parking lot, kicked off my shoes and socks and started running.  I ran four "laps" and loved the unfamiliarity of having no separation between the ground and the bottom of my feet.  I wasn't going fast but I maintained a steady pace and my heels weren't the least bit bothered.

This morning, Wednesday, I woke early, grabbed my Garmin, DIDN'T lace up my shoes and headed back to the school.  The first (and very unofficial) In the Grass 5K was a fantastic start to the day.  A controlled sub-9 minute mile pace proved very manageable but also demanded work from my arches that built-up running shoes and hard surfaces do not.

I'm feeling a very satisfying fatigue in both my arches and calves.  I have no intent of fully converting to barefoot running but I think I've found a nice complementary workout to add to my regular running routine.

Wish I hadn't waited 'til the end of August to discover it.