Friday, October 25, 2013

Here Goes Nothing...

So this year has been a crazy running adventure, and tomorrow I start the most ambitious/insane leg of all.  I will be starting (and hopefully finishing) Javelina Jundred 100 miler near Fountain Hills, AZ.  Emily is driving us from Tucson right now.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

TUNEFootwear Minimalist Penny Loafer Review

Hey guys!  This is just a quick post to let you know two things.  One, I'm not dead, so cancel that memorial service and stay tuned for more content.  Two, you can read my recent review of TUNEFootwear's minimalist penny loafer at Toe Salad HERE.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I'm Still Alive

Okay, I know I've been MIA for a while now, but no need to send out the search party just yet. I've been taking a much needed break from running after finishing my best season of running ever--by far--and seem to have lost the motivation to do much of anything else--such as write--at the same time.

Which isn't to say that I've been completely idle. In the last couple of months I've run my first 50 miler, my first barefoot race, and my fifth ultra in 5 1/2 months (reports for all three coming soon). I finished up my 7 day fruitarian challenge, which ended almost exactly three months after it started (it turns out that 1, I can't count, and 2, I really like fruit). I've been marketing my book (mostly unsuccessfully), starting CrossFit, and relearning how to cook (I'm thinking of doing a paleo challenge). In unrelated areas, I've also started on a CD of hymn arrangements for piano that I'll be writing and recording, and Emily and I are in the midst of planning our upcoming vacation, 9 days of which will be spent running through the Crete Senese of southern Tuscany.

I can't look at this without getting hungry
All of which has given me a lot to write about but very little time in which to actually write. But never fear, more actual content to come. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Redemption Tastes Sweaty: McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50k Race Report

It's strange how things end up sometimes, especially when it comes to the human body (and super-especially when it comes to my body). DNF'ing at Pass Mountain 50k was a demoralizing, embarrassing experience that apparently shattered my ambitious plans for the year (it was number 3 of the 8 ultras between September and March that I was signed up for). Still, as much as I'd had my heart set on finishing the races I'd signed up (and paid) for, the last spark of common sense in me told me to not be an idiot and to take time to heal before I did real damage. So, I went down to Tucson for some Graston Technique therapy, cut out most of my running, and resigned myself to running a shorter (non-ultra) distance at McDowell Mountain Frenzy the following month.

Fast-forward to four weeks later. It was 7 or 8pm the night before the race and Emily and I had just finished setting up our tent when it occurred to me that both of my Achilles tendons felt pretty good. I tried bouncing up and down for a little bit. No pain at all. That's weird. A thought--probably a stupid thought--started to form in my head. I wonder if they'd last through a 50k... One fierce internal argument later, I decided to wake up in time for the 50k and see how I felt then.

Amazingly, I still felt fine the next morning, so I said what the heck and lined up with the 50k runners. This would not be a particularly easy race to drop from but I promised myself that if things weren't going well I would call it a day, even if it meant walking 10 miles back. I really didn't want it to come to that, so I started out extremely slowly, even by my standards.

10 miles in, the backs of my ankles still weren't painful but they felt a little bit off, so I kept the pace slow. It wasn't until mile 15 or so that I felt warmed up all the way, but once I was, my legs started feeling better and I let myself run more. In fact, over the next 10 miles I felt better and better.

By the time I came through the start/finish area at mile 25 I felt fresh as a daisy. I was a little bit tired but not much, and my legs felt the happiest they'd felt in over a month. On top of that, my watch read around 5:30-something, which put me on track for a PR. I wasn't sure how it had happened, but it had somehow turned into a good day for me. I refilled my bottles and pockets and took off like the proverbial bat out of H-E-double hockey sticks and covered the last 6 moderately hilly miles in under an hour (which for someone with a road marathon PR of 4:25 is borderline supersonic). I crossed the finish line in 6:35, 43 minutes faster than Paatuwaqatsi and over an hour faster than Cave Creek.

I couldn't believe how well the day had gone. Not only had I run a PR, but I had felt great doing it. It was my first 50k in which I genuinely felt good the whole race, instead of wishing for death to take me like I usually do the last few hours.

So how did this happen? Beats me. The moral of the story, I suppose, is once again to listen to my body, whatever it is trying to tell me. I did that when I DNF'd at Pass Mountain and I did it when I ran here, and both ended up being the right decisions. I also think my injury ended up working to my advantage. First, being constantly worried about my legs forced me to pace conservatively, which gave me my first negative-split ultra. Second, it forced me to take some time off from running, which in retrospect was probably rest I badly needed. Even aside from the injury, I didn't enjoy Pass Mountain because of how lethargic I felt. It was a beautiful day but and a scenic course but I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for running. Looking back, I was exhibiting textbook overtraining symptoms. After four weeks off, I was ready and eager to run again.

Due to my extreme laziness, I'm writing this five weeks after the race. Since then, I've been training moderately but consistently for Coldwater Rumble on January 19, where I will be attempting the 50 miler. Based on McDowell Mountain I'm cautiously optimistic, but if I've learned anything from the experience it's that you never know what will happen.


Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Secret to Good Health

I read an excellent article recently about the problematic nature of scientific research in the area of human health, and it made me think of all of the idiotic news stories I've read recently about how exercise is bad for your heart, or obesity helps you live longer, and on and on. If you've ever been worried or confused by headlines like these, I encourage you to read the article. One eye-popping statistic is that about two thirds of the studies published in top medical journals reach results that turn out to be wrong. (Let that sink in for a moment. Two thirds--that's a result 16% worse than having a monkey flip a coin.) The article goes on to parse out the reasons for this; two of the big ones are the difficulty of experimenting on humans and the journals' preference for exciting results (scientific journals love catchy headlines as much as any other news source).

So where does that leave us? If we can't believe the latest sensationalist headlines, what do we believe? Well, for starters you don't have to completely throw out scientific research; you just need to take everything with a grain of salt and work with the assumption that if a result of a study doesn't seem to make any sense, there was probably something wrong with the study. It also helps to look at research about a topic as a whole, instead of just one study. Over time, the scientific community often (but not always) corrects itself. The problem from our end is that the "Oh wait--exercising is healthier than sitting on the couch eating Cheetos after all" articles tend not to get quite the same press coverage.

Newspapers try to avoid using the word "duh" in their headlines
But let's take a step back. Does it really have to be this complicated? Do we really know so little about the needs of the human body that we have no idea what a healthy lifestyle looks like, or are we just being willfully ignorant? I believe that deep down we all know what we're supposed to be doing, we just don't want to do it. And like a kid who puts off homework until the last minute in the hope that somehow there will be a snow day or the school will burn down, we all secretly cling to the hope that someday science will justify our current lifestyle.

I can't help but wonder if this accounts for much of the success of the Atkins and paleo diets. If you tell a kid that he doesn't have to go to school because the school burned down, he's not going to become suspicious and demand proof; he's going to start planning his day off. Likewise, if you tell an adult that, yes, a whole plate of bacon and some chicken wings is a healthy meal, you're not going to get the same degree of skepticism that you would if you asserted that bacon causes AIDS.

In reality, there's nothing mysterious about getting healthier. Everything you need to know you heard from your mother as a kid. "Finish your vegetables." "Go play outside." "Eat your apple slices and stop asking for a Twinkie." The only trick is to buck up and stop acting like you don't know what you're supposed to be doing.

So what is it that we all know? Let's start with things that we all know are good for us: fruit, vegetables, exercise. Many people would argue that there are other things to add to that list, but let's cap it there for the moment. (Others would argue that some of those items are bad for you, and if you are one of those people, do me a favor and slap yourself.)

(Side rant: if you're following the paleo lifestyle and refuse to eat fruit because of it, I've got bad news for you: you aren't paleo, you're on the Atkins diet. There's never been a real hunter-gatherer who refused to eat fruit because it wasn't on his diet.)

Okay, now let's cover the things that we all know are bad for us: fast food, processed food, refined flour and sugar, sedentariness, tobacco, excessive alcohol. Again, there are a lot of additional items we could add, but let's stop here.

Now, assuming you're with me so far, we have two lists that we can all agree on, one of things we know are good for us, and one of things we know are bad for us. Guess what? That's really all you need to know to be healthy. The only secret to feeling better, weighing less, getting fitter and living longer is to get more of the first category and less of the second. It's really that simple.

Now, obviously there are a lot of foods that don't fall into our two groups, and aside from a few crackpot studies and diets (*cough*, Atkins, *cough*) it's those other foods that are the subject of most of the health debate. It's tempting to join in the fray, but first you really need to ask yourself this question: are you getting lots of our first group--are you eating tons of fruit and veggies and exercising regularly--and avoiding the second? Because if you aren't bothering to do that, you have no business arguing the details of an optimum diet. Go finish learning arithmetic, and then we'll talk trig.

Okay, back? Great. Opinions differ greatly over the relative merits of virtually all the remaining foods. I'm sure you're dying to hear mine, so here it is. Personally, I divide them into two main groups. One, foods that are probably bad for us but may be okay in small quantities: red meat, dairy, eggs, olive oil, honey, alcohol. Two, foods that are probably healthy but that are either debatable or not as healthy as fruits and veggies: whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish. That gives me four groups total, which represent a progression from healthiest to unhealthiest:
  1. Fruit, vegetables
  2. Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish
  3. Red meat, dairy, eggs, olive oil, honey
  4. Fast food, processed food, refined flour and sugar.
This also represents a chronological progression for me. Three years ago my diet mostly consisted of foods from groups 3 and 4. Gradually, I gave up the foods in group 4, then group 3, and finally group 2, so that now my diet is comprised almost entirely of fresh fruits and vegetables. At every stage along the way there was a marked improvement in the way I felt, in how much I weighed, and in my running performance.

Like this, but with fewer lobbyists
So there you go: the secret to good health in one blog post. Let me know how it goes.


Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Barefoot Running: The Movie Review

I had previously mentioned this movie here, so I was excited to get my hands on a copy to review. It is made by Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee of, and is a follow-up to their book called (surprise!) Barefoot Running (I also have a copy of that and am currently working my way through it--review coming soon).

This is a great movie to get if you are curious about barefoot running, currently run and want to improve, or know someone who could use a push in the right direction. Michael, the star of most of the movie, has put in the literal and figurative miles both running and teaching and obviously knows what he's talking about. His story of how he found barefoot running is truly remarkable, and manages to be both inspirational and horrific (and if you think he's making it up, just wait for the part where he shows you where his ACL used to be.  Oof.) Jessica brings a different, complementary perspective in her sections which gives the movie a nice variety and change of pace.

The movie is 76 minutes long and is split into 17 bite-size chapters:
1. Why Run Bare
2. Michael's Story
3. Anatomy of Running
4. Jessica's Story
5. Proper Running Form
6. Syncing with Nature
7. Warming Up
8. Proper Running Form
9. Benefits for Women
10. Form Drills
11. Nature Play
12. Balance Drills
13. Blindfolded
14. Building Pads
15. Recovery
16. Footwear
17. Happy Trails & Credits

The chapters are easy to digest and make it easy to find portions you want to review. They cover form, drills, warming-up, cross-training, footwear, and quite a bit on the play and spiritual/philosophical aspects of barefoot running. These last sections have irritated some of the reviewers here but I find them to be very valuable. Not only are they some of the most enjoyable parts of running barefoot (nothing will make you feel more like a kid or closer to nature than being barefoot in the woods), but the more in touch you are with your body, the more successful your transition will be and the less likely you will be to injure yourself. Far from being new age mumbo jumbo, exercises which teach you to listen to your body have the practical value of protecting you against the injuries that many people assume are inevitable.

The video is designed for beginners but those who have been barefoot running (or running shod, for that matter) for years will still find much that is new and helpful. The advice overall is very good, and ranges from the familiar (ChiRunning practitioners will recognize the section on pelvic tilt) to the new (rolling your foot on a tennis ball before running to warm up the muscles). There were a few parts that confused me, usually offhand comments or use of some of Michael's quirky terminology. For example, at one point he recommends running with "hand weights" (which would be a terrible idea) and it wasn't until a little bit later in the movie that he mentions that "hand weights" is his term for shoes that he has beginners carry with them (which is a great idea). On the whole, though, the instruction is clear and straightforward and free of misinformation.

I can't help but mention the fantastic cinematography. The production quality in general is very professional, way above what you might expect for a how-to video in a niche sport, and the locations (all in Maui, which is much more diverse than I realized) are gorgeous. In fact, in addition to making you want to kick off your shoes, this movie will also make you want to move to Hawaii. It's also surprisingly entertaining, not at all the bone-dry monotone that instructional movies tend to be. I have to give two quotes that I especially like: "If it's a fad, then it's the longest fad to ever be on the earth". "You'd never put on your shoes to steal a cookie." Love it.

In sum, it's a great movie--instructive, entertaining, and inspirational. I highly recommend it. You can get your copy on Amazon.

DVD provided by the authors.


Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Year in Review

Well, 2012 is coming to a close, and since we've survived the Mayan apocalypse it looks like I should start preparing for another year after all. Running-wise, the year has had its ups and downs but overall it’s been a remarkably productive time full of adventures for me. I know you’re dying to hear the details, so here is my 2012 in review.

December 2011 (yes, I know that’s not 2012. Deal with it.)
I ran my first marathon (the Holualoa Tucson Marathon). This was a huge jump in distance for me since I had finished my first half marathon only six months earlier. It was also the first race I ran in huaraches (my homemade original Lunas).

January 2012
Emily and I went on a cruise to Hawaii (basically an extremely belated honeymoon). Oddly enough, it ended up being our first vacation to feature running as one of our main activities. We ran virtually every day, including the seven days at sea, and when we were on the islands we ran when we would have otherwise walked. What we found was that our runs were some of our favorite moments of the trip and that running is an extremely pleasant and efficient way to visit a place. Our next vacation is going to be entirely on foot, and we can’t wait.

We ran our first trail race, the Mesquite Canyon half marathon. After this race, all interest I ever had in running road races vanished. Honestly, I’m not sure how I ever put up with them—the hotel cost, the hassle of parking, the crowds, the monotonous urban scenery, waiting in line for 45 minutes for a porta potty, the people who think it’s okay to cut in line for the porta potty even though everyone else has been waiting in line for 45 minutes (Garrrghh!!!), and on and on.

Emily ran her first marathon (Rock n Roll San Diego), paced by her loving husband/pacer/Sherpa (I brought a lot of snacks). This was my second marathon and only the second time I had run farther than 22 miles. The experience was a mostly positive one, though it highlighted for me how much I preferred trail races (I had to consciously resist punching people in the porta potty line). On the plus side, I ran part of the race barefoot, which was another first for me.

It was also in June that I started this blog, which I’m sure was a significant event in the lives of many of you. It certainly didn't seem very significant to me at the time since I assumed that no one would ever read it. 

In July I ran the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim. Now, this was an adventure. In fact, it's still my favorite running adventure I've had to date. 

Emily and I ran our first race on the Hopi reservation, a 10k in the ancient village of Oraibi. The experience made such an impact on me that I ended up writing a whole series of posts on Hopi races and running tradition

We returned to Hopi land for Paatuwaqatsi 50k, an absolutely unique race and my first ultra. 

September also marked the milestone of receiving my first pair of free shoes to review, which was pretty exciting for a shoe nerd with a limited budget. The unanticipated downside of my dawn of swag has been that ever since then I've had a backlog of gear that I haven't gotten around to reviewing yet. (Sorry guys; I'm working on it).

I ran my second 50k, Cave Creek Thriller.

I also had my first experience pacing and volunteering at Javelina Jundred, which inspired me to write this post on the Christ-like service common at ultras.

My attempt to run my first three ultras in three consecutive months resulted (predictably) in my first DNF at Pass Mountain 50k after I tweaked my Achilles tendon by adding speedwork on top of peak mileage. Not my brightest moment.

November wasn't all bad news though, since it saw the publication of my first book, a children's book about barefoot running that (in my biased but correct opinion) is the most adorable thing in the history of ever (though I should mention before the gods smite me for my hubris that the adorableness is mostly due to the fantastic illustrations which, unfortunately, were not done by me).

If that weren't enough, Emily and I also got the nutty idea of trying a fruitarian diet for a week, which (now a month later) has mushroomed into what is increasingly looking like a permanent lifestyle change. (Okay, I just realized I used not one but two food metaphors in that sentence and neither of them involved fruit. How's this: "We thought we'd be going bananas, but so far everything's been peachy"? Better?). I'm currently working on that post, and the results are surprising. Stay tuned.

December has been a good month so far. I bounced back from my injury and ran a PR at McDowell Mountain Frenzy (report for that is coming as well). It was my first 50k where I genuinely felt good at the end, instead of wishing for death to take me like I usually do.

Last but not least, Emily is finally making the switch to huaraches. She bought herself a pair of Luna Leadville ATS's for Christmas and had a blast breaking them in during our Christmas morning 10 miler in the desert. Hopefully soon I won't be the only nut running around in sandals at our races. 

Next Year
So that's 2012. What does 2013 hold for me? Based on how surprising this year has been, I have no idea, but here is what I'm planning/hoping for:
 - I will be attempting my first 50 miler at Coldwater Rumble on January 19. I'm a bit freaked out by the distance, but given how well my last 50k went I'm going to just close my eyes and jump. We'll see what happens.
 - Once I have a 50 miler under my belt, I want to attempt a Grand Canyon double crossing (rim-to-rim-to-rim), preferably in the spring. Ever since my single crossing I've been itching to try it. Hopefully this will be the year.
 - If everything goes well, I'd like to take a crack at Javelina Jundred next October. This is still a bit of a pipe dream at this point, and I'm certainly not signing up just yet, but a 100 miler is something I want to work toward in the coming year.
 - I also want to make the year as injury-free as possible. To that end, my two resolutions are to:
(1) Accept that high-intensity speedwork just gets me injured and focus on mileage and gradually increasing my easy run pace.
(2) Cross-train more. I've increased the amount I do a lot this year and it has really helped my running, especially strength training on my legs (air squats, etc.).


Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?