Friday, August 31, 2012

Running More By Running Less (Often)

A frustrating fact of life for many runners is that some of us are more injury-prone than others. While most people will eventually become injured if they push themselves too hard, there are some who seem almost injury-proof, while there are others who seem to find themselves sidelined every time they start to make any progress. Unfortunately, I belong to the second group.

I shouldn't complain too much, though, since it used to be a lot worse. Back in my foot coffin days I got injured on literally every run over five miles I ever attempted. Switching to minimalist shoes has helped a lot, as has strength training, building mileage gradually, and trying to be less of an idiot.
Plantar fasciitis? Is that made by the nut company?
Still, I will never be one of those people who can run as much as they want without worrying about getting injured. I will always have to worry about getting injured--or at least, I will always have to be conscious of the possibility of injury.

As frustrating as this is to me, it really isn't the end of the world. We have all been given different strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are social butterflies with dozens of devoted friends but who struggled in school; others are academically gifted but socially awkward and lonely. Either way, as I see it, we all have a choice: either we can spend our lives complaining about our personal disadvantages (which we all have) or we can figure out ways to achieve our goals anyway.
Goal: reach other side of lake.  Solution: ride moose.  (Duh.)
The key isn't just to work harder at our weak areas (simply working harder at running just gets me injured faster) but instead to outsmart the problem by finding ways to get around it. I can't make my body less injury-prone but what I can do is avoid my previous mistakes and find new ways to approach training.

Like most difficulties in life, with every injury comes an opportunity to learn. I for one have learned a lot from my injuries. Every time I have been injured I have come back from the injury stronger, smarter, and with a better understanding of my body. My injuries have forced me to find new ways of training that are safer and more effective. I have learned different methods of cross-training and strength training, the importance and function of muscles in the body, and which kind of aches and pains are not safe to run through.
"What do you mean I can't run on it?"
Perhaps most importantly, I have slowly learned how to structure my training in a way that fits the needs of my body instead of trying to fit it into the mold of some online training plan. This has recently resulted in a bit of a personal breakthrough for me, which I can sum up in one sentence:
Don't run on consecutive days
I first got this idea from Fellrnr's website (it's also one of the main tenets of the FIRST approach), but it was a while (and several injuries) before I finally gave it a shot. It seems a bit extreme (actually, it seems a bit lazy) but the results have been fantastic.

The idea is based on the fact that your body grows stronger by a process of stress (exercise) and recovery (rest). Exercise breaks down your muscles which adapt and rebuild themselves to be stronger during the recovery period--but only if they have a recovery period in which to do it. When you run on consecutive days (especially when you run hard on consecutive days) you are stressing your body but not giving it a chance to recover and rebuild muscle. This not only stunts your body's ability to build new muscle, it also puts you at a greater risk of injury because you're putting stress on your body when it's in a weakened state.
Sometimes you just need to rest
Most plans try to get around this by alternating hard and easy runs, with the easy runs designed to function as recovery days. While this seems to work fine for some people (especially those who are accustomed to high mileage and aren't injury-prone), the problem is that by not resting fully you're limiting the amount and intensity of running that you can do on your hard days--in other words, you're choosing quantity over quality. By having complete recovery days you can run longer and harder on your on days and recover fully on your days off.

The part that has really surprised me during this experiment is that not only have the quality of my individual runs improved, the quantity of my weekly mileage has increased as well. Back when I was running five days a week this spring, my weekly schedule at peak mileage looked like this: [rest, 5, 5, 5, rest, 20, 5], with a weekly total of 40 miles per week. (In practice, it more often ended up being 35, since I tended to skip the last run of the week because I felt so beat up). This schedule left me constantly fatigued and feeling on the verge of injury (eventually it just left me injured). With my current running plan, my peak mileage week looked like this: [7.5, rest, 10, rest, 5, rest, 25], for a total of 47.5 miles. (My weekly mileage varies wildly since running every other day means some weeks I run 3 days per week and some weeks 4.)

Best of all, even though I'm running more, I feel like I'm running a lot less. There just isn't the same amount of cumulative wear and tear on my body that there was when I ran on consecutive days. I feel more energetic when I run and my legs feel fresh instead of achy when I start. Best of all, I'm achieving my goals (peak weekly mileage near 50, longest run 25) and staying healthy, which is a novelty for me. In fact, even though I have been running races for two and a half years now, when I run the Paatuwaqatsi 50k next week it will be the first time that I will have ever gotten to the starting line of a "goal" race without having gotten injured during training.
And if that's not a reason to dance, I don't know what is

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Socrates Barefoot in the Winter

"There was a severe frost, for the winter in that region is really tremendous, and everybody else either remained indoors, or if they went out had on an amazing quantity of clothes, and were well shod, and had their feet swathed in felt and fleeces: in the midst of this, Socrates with his bare feet on the ice and in his ordinary dress marched better than the other soldiers who had shoes, and they looked daggers at him because he seemed to despise them."
 ~ Plato, Symposium

(Socrates, like Diogenes, was known for always being barefoot.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Shoe Review: Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek

Okay, time is short, so here's my review in a nutshell: these are my favorite FiveFingers model, Vibram is discontinuing them, but you can get them on sale at REI this week.

The Basics
Vibram recommends the KSO Trek for "light trekking, trail running, fitness walking and travel." I have used the shoe for three of those four categories (I'm not sure what fitness walking is) and it works great for all of them.

The sole is lugged 4mm Vibram rubber which is both tough and very flexible. The upper is suede kangaroo leather. There's no lining, so the leather is against your foot. There is a single velcro closure across the top of the foot.

There is another model which Vibram still makes called the TrekSport, which uses the same sole with a thin mesh upper similar to the classic KSO. I don't like it as much.
The TrekSport
The KSO Trek retailed for $125 but since they are being discontinued at this point you will probably find them on sale or not at all.

The fit is pretty consistent with other FiveFinger models, running maybe a fraction of a size larger than the classic KSO. I am a 42 in both but my classic KSOs are just a little bit more snug than my KSO Treks.

Overall, in my opinion these are by far the most comfortable model of FiveFingers. The kangaroo leather feels great against the foot. They also breathe well; I don't have a problem with my feet getting too sweaty. My only issue is that since the shoe isn't lined I have had some issues with blisters on longer runs, but I've never had a problem except when I was putting in a lot of mileage in them.

Much more than any FiveFingers model, the KSO Trek is built to last. I have had my pair for almost three years now and they aren't showing any wear yet. This is really what you would expect given that almost the entire shoe is made out of leather and Vibram rubber. Getting the leather wet doesn't hurt it. In fact, the shoe is machine washable, although I have always just rinsed them off and left them out to dry.

Let's start with running. These shoes really perform well on the trails. The sole is very flexible and lets the foot function as well as any shoe I have worn. Groundfeel is excellent, much better than something like the Merrell Trail Glove, but at the same time the sole provides good rock protection. Traction is also excellent, due both to lugged sole and great proprioception (feedback) you get from the groundfeel and flexibility. The only reason I don't use my pair more for running is that they tend to give me blisters on longer runs. However, on runs of ten miles or less they are a real joy to run in. The lugs are small enough that they work fine for running on roads as well.
What I use my pair for the most is hiking. These are the by far best minimalist hiking shoes I have ever found.
Although there are many good minimalist running shoes available now, there are still very few good options for minimalist hikers. The KSO Trek is just about perfect for hiking.
The shoe allows your foot to function well and has great traction for when trails get treacherous. The low stack height lowers the risk of twisting an ankle when you're carrying a heavy backpack. Best of all, they work great for scrambling and climbing rocks and trees.
The advantage of the KSO Trek over the TrekSport or one of the other FiveFingers models is the kangaroo leather upper, which is much more durable than thin mesh (in addition to being really comfy). It's nice to be able to go bushwhacking without worrying about your shoes getting ripped like a pair of stockings.

Even though my pair is probably going to last for many years longer, it still broke my heart a little bit when I found out that Vibram was discontinuing the KSO Trek. However, if you act quickly this can be to your benefit since they are currently on clearance at REI and elsewhere. Go get them while you still can.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shoe Review: Merrell Trail Glove/Pace Glove

merrell barefoot trail glove shoe review

These shoes aren't exactly hot off the press (they came out spring 2010) but this seemed like a good time to write a review because (1) I've run several hundred miles in my pair, (2) they're still Merrell's flagship minimalist shoe, and (3) they're still probably the best minimalist trail shoe on the market right now. In fact, when Emily was looking for a new trail shoe this summer to replace her New Balance MT10s, getting a pair of Pace Gloves ended up being a no-brainer.

The Basics
First of all, Merrell has different names for the men's and women's version of this shoe. The men's version is the Trail Glove, while the women's version is the Pace Glove.
merrell barefoot pace glove shoe review

No, I don't know why they have different names. Yes, it's needlessly confusing. In this review I will refer to both models as the "Trail Glove," mainly for convenience, but also because I'm a sexist pig.
"A sow's place is in the barn!"

The only difference that I can find between the Trail Glove and the Pace Glove is that the Pace Glove has an elastic material around the top of the heel, while the Trail Glove doesn't. More on that in a bit.
Trail Glove on the left, Pace Glove on the right
Uploading that last picture I just realized that the Pace Glove also doesn't have one of those loops on the back of the heel. So if you're one of those women who depend on loops on the back of your shoes to get them on, then you might be out of luck.
"A woman of true inner beauty will have feet which fit into a shoe without effort." --Merrell  promotional material
On the other hand, if you are one of those people who have always wondered why shoes need loops on the back in the first place, you might be okay.

Merrell lists the weight as 6.2 ounces for the Trail Glove and 4.7 ounces for the Pace Glove. They certainly feel very light on my feet. The shoe is zero drop (meaning there's no raised heel), with 4mm of EVA cushioning (that's not very much) and a 1mm rock plate in the forefoot.

The Trail Glove retails for $110 and the Pace Glove for $100. Why the price difference? Beats me, unless $10 is what it costs to manufacture a heel loop. The Trail Glove comes in eleven different color schemes (including one with the uninspiring name of "drizzle") while the Pace Glove only comes in six, apparently reflecting Merrell's belief that men are more fashion conscious than women when it comes to shoes.

These are very form-fitting shoes. They fit snugly around the entire foot except for around the toes. This combined with a non-bulky upper makes my feet seem smaller when I'm wearing the shoes. (Emily says my feet look "dainty" in them, so if that's what you're going for, great). The last (shape of the shoe) matches my foot well, without any wasted space. The toe box is roomy enough to not constrict the toes during running, but not so roomy as to feel luxuriantly spacious. In other words, my toes don't feel squished during a run, but if I stretch my toes out they will hit the sides of the shoe. This isn't necessarily a problem but if you spend a lot of time barefoot or in huaraches it is noticeable. I for one would prefer a roomier toe box.
This is how a barefoot runner's toes respond to shoes
For those of you with especially wide feet, or who just want more room, a wide version of the shoe is available, although there aren't as many color options (only two for men and three for women).

These are not shoes that strike you as comfortable when you put them on. There's virtually no cushioning anywhere so they don't have that bedroom slipper cushiness that many cushioned running shoes have.
Next year the Brooks Addiction 10 will have more cushioning, advanced motion control, and bigger ears. 
I also don't find them very comfortable for wearing around town. In fact, I never wear them except when running because I find them uncomfortable and constrictive.

However, complaining that the Trail Glove is uncomfortable walking around town is like complaining that the four point seat belt in your Ferrari is uncomfortable driving to the grocery store. Of course it is. The real question is whether the Trail Glove is comfortable while trail running, and the answer to that is yes. They feel great while I'm running, which is to say that they don't feel like much at all. They almost let me forget I'm wearing shoes, which for me is the ultimate test of a running shoe.

Some shoes have bad spots where they rub the foot but the Trail Gloves don't and blisters haven't been a problem for me. I always wear socks but the shoe is designed to be able to be worn sockless. I tried running sockless a little bit and it felt fine, although I can't say whether that would be true for longer distances.

Emily loves the elastic around the Achilles tendon and says that it's extremely comfortable when she runs, especially compared to her New Balance MT10s which often left the back of her ankles bleeding. The backs of my Trail Gloves have never caused me any problems.
Me about to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in my Trail Gloves
Okay, now we get to the real question: how do these shoes perform on the trail? The answer is, almost perfectly. Where this shoe really shines is running fast on technical trails. If you've tried this in bulky shoes you know how irritating or downright dangerous this can be, with falls or twisted ankles a constant possibility. The Trail Glove's low stack height (how much material there is between your foot and the ground--not much in this case) makes it hard to twist your ankle, the snug fit and lack of a padded upper keep the shoe from moving around as you run, and the slim profile of the shoe (mainly due to its lack of extraneous material) allow you to place your shoe with precision on the trail, reducing the odds of tripping. Traction is pretty good, with tread that is aggressive enough to work well on most trails without being too pronounced to be comfortable on flat surfaces. You're going to slip around in deep mud or snow, but that's true just about anytime you're not wearing crampons.

Most importantly of all, the shoe allows the foot to function naturally. The sole is very flexible (the rock plate is only in the forefoot) and this combined with the minimal cushioning gives you excellent proprioception and groundfeel. However, groundfeel is a double-edged issue in a trail shoe, since you always have to strike a balance between being able to feel what's under you and being protected from it. Even good shoes will fall on a continuum, with shoes with great groundfeel and terrible protection on one end and shoes with terrible groundfeel and great protection on the other. Where on that continuum your ideal shoe falls is determined by what you are going to be doing--if most of your runs will be 10 miles or less in the daytime then you'll want something on the groundfeel end, whereas if you are going to be running rugged 100 mile ultras in the dark, you probably want something with more protection. I think the Trail Glove has more than enough protection for people running distances less than 50 miles. I have run up to 25 miles on extremely rocky trails in my pair and have never come close to needing more protection. That being said, if you step directly on a sharp rock it's going to feel bad, but that's why you don't step directly on sharp rocks.

Toe protection is something that's an issue for some people. I have extensively tested this quality of the shoe and can conclusively tell you that if you kick a rock or stump in a pair of Trail Gloves it is going to hurt a lot, though much less than if you had done so barefoot.

The mesh upper breathes well, although the flip side of that is that plenty of dirt and moisture is going to get into the shoe, especially into the toe box. Several times I have dribbled water from a bottle onto my shoes and instantly ended up with wet socks. Water-resistant, these are not. On the other hand, once your feet do get wet the shoe drains quickly, although it will still take hours to dry completely. If you want something water-resistant, Merrell does offer the Sonic Glove/Lithe Glove, which is basically the Trail Glove but with a water-resistant softshell upper.
merrell barefoot sonic lithe glove shoe review
It's $25 more, but at least you ladies finally get a heel loop
As for durability, at this point I have several hundred miles on my pair and while they wouldn't pass for new, they seem to still be near the beginning of their lifespan. I expect them to last much longer. The Vibram sole is most likely going to last forever and the upper still looks as good as new. In fact, at this point it's impossible to tell what the weak link is going to be since nothing is showing much wear. This is an extremely well-made shoe.

Although the Trail Glove is of course meant for trail running (just as the Pace Glove is of course meant for pacing back and forth), I have done a lot of road running in my pair. They're definitely not ideal for road running (no shoe with a rock plate and off road tread would be) and if you are going to do most of your running on the roads I would recommend getting something else, preferably something farther toward the groundfeel end of the spectrum. However, if you're going to be doing both trail and road running and want to use one shoe for both, then the Trail Glove will work just fine. In fact, I've been surprised at how much I like running on the road in them, although they are a bit loud when they hit the ground.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I think the Trail Glove is hands down the best minimalist trail shoe on the market today, at least for the needs of the average person. If you are going to run 100 milers over rugged terrain you may want more protection, whereas if you do most of your running completely barefoot it may be a bit too much shoe for you. For most people, however, the Trail Glove will be just about perfect.


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

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Race Report: Hopi 10k

Current day Oraibi--note the combination of original stone and modern cinder block 

"Askwali! Askwali!"

The woman at the water station ahead was shouting to all of the runners as they passed. We were in a lonely stretch of desert about three miles west of Oraibi, a small village near the western edge of the lightly populated Hopi reservation, which is surrounded by the U.S.'s largest Indian reservation (the Navajo Nation), which itself is located in the most remote corner of Arizona. To put it another way, we were in one of the most isolated places in the country without a significant polar bear population.

Another runner passed the woman.


I don't know many Hopi words but that one I recognized.

"Emily, do you know what that woman is saying?"

"No, what?"

"She's saying thank you."

The woman was spending a hot Saturday morning handing water to runners along a remote dirt road in the middle of the desert, and she was thanking every one of them as they passed. Man, I thought, suddenly able to put my finger on what was so special about this race, these people are utterly unique.

When I reached the woman she handed me a cup of water and then tossed the contents of another cup on my back which had been baking in the bright sun. It felt great. I started to thank her but she beat me to it.


Third Mesa seen from the east. Oraibi is just left of center; the ruins of the church are farther left. 

The two hour drive from Holbrook to the Hopi reservation is the type of drive that makes you second-guess your vehicle maintenance. When we left I-40 a few miles east of Winslow, we were already in country straight out of an old Roadrunner cartoon or Pixar's Cars (Radiator Springs was based on Holbrook and other Route 66 towns).
From there, we drove north through fifty miles of the Navajo Nation until we reached the Hopi reservation. All of the Hopi towns are on or around three spider-shaped mesas, logically named--from east to west--First, Second, and Third Mesa. We took the fork toward Third Mesa to pick up our packets.
Oraibi in 1899
The Hopi are relatively unique among Native American tribes in that they were never displaced from their traditional lands. Whereas the Cherokee Nation is currently located on a reservation a thousand miles from the Cherokee's original territory, the Hopi people are still living in the same villages and farming the same land that their ancestors were half a millennium before Columbus. Oraibi (also called Oraivi or Old Oraibi) is the oldest of all the Hopi villages, dating back at least to the 11th-century.
Another vintage photo of Oraibi, this one from 1896
Oraibi is also where the packet pickup was. As we pulled in (after missing the turn entirely the first time), we could see that the village has changed a lot in the last hundred years. Remains of the original multistory stone "condos" are still there, and still inhabited, but the current residents have built with modern cinder block and plywood giving the village a patchwork appearance. At first I was a bit disappointed since present day Oraibi doesn't have the same pristine beauty you see in the old photographs, but the more I thought about it the more I felt embarrassed by my reaction. The reason modern Oraibi doesn't look like 19th-century Oraibi, or Montezuma Castle, or Wupatki, is that it's not a ruin--it's a living village of 21st-century people. The real surprise shouldn't have been that they use modern materials but that they're still building homes in the traditional style at all. You don't see modern Sioux living in tepees, but walking through Oraibi I saw multi-story pueblo-style homes complete with wooden ladders.

(You may notice that I don't have any pictures of my own from inside the village. This isn't by accident. As a general policy the Hopi discourage photography in their villages in order to protect the privacy of the residents. Considering the average temperament of the people I've met it's hard to imagine actually being called out on it, but given the incredible graciousness with which we were welcomed the last thing we wanted to be was rude so we left the camera in the car.)

We picked up our packets and then drove back to the Cultural Center on Second Mesa to pitch our tent. After that was done, we decided to have dinner at the Center's restaurant. The food was a combination of typical American (burgers, etc.) and the Mexican-Indian fusion that many Arizonans would recognize ("Indian tacos" and tostadas--tacos and tostadas on frybread). One thing I'd never had before was blue frybread (most Indian frybread is made with normal flour); presumably they make it with blue corn flour in addition to wheat flour.
After dinner we went to our tent and settled in for the night. As I was starting to drift off, though, I noticed a sound in the distance. It was deep and rhythmic. Is that... drums? It seemed unlikely. Am I having a racist dream? I asked Emily and she was hearing it too. I wriggled out of my sleeping bag for a look. Sure enough, next to the Cultural Center there was a woman playing a drum while someone taught a dance to a group of children. The drum had a deep sound that sounded like it was coming from miles away.

It seemed like the middle of the night when the alarm on my phone went off. We packed up our campsite in the dark and got in the car. It was only when I started the car that Emily noticed that our car's clock was an hour earlier than what we thought the time was. Not again... My phone was apparently getting its signal from a tower on the Navajo reservation (which observes daylight savings time) instead of one on the Hopi reservation (which, like the rest of Arizona, doesn't). Oh well, at least we weren't going to be late.

Late we weren't. We got to Oraibi in time to see the sun rise over Second Mesa (a gorgeous sight). We had plenty of time to wander around, take in the scenery and meet people while the fun run and 5k started. The people we met were fantastic--quietly friendly and welcoming, with a wonderful perspective on running. Emily struck up a conversation with a middle-aged woman who talked about how the Hopi run for strength and prosperity rather than for finishing times. This certainly seemed consistent with what we were seeing. Instead of the atmosphere of your typical 5k/10k--a small bunch of semi-competitive men (always men, it seems) in singlets and expensive shoes jostling for a place at the starting line, a crowd of women in tutus (usually, but not always women) acting like they're at a party and on their third martini, local residents irritated at not being able to drive their normal route home--the atmosphere of this race was quiet and noncompetitive.
Pictured: someplace at least 200 miles from Oraibi. 
This was especially surprising given that the average pace of the runners was by far the highest of any race I've been to. Everyone was fast, everyone was running hard, and yet no one looked like he was "racing." The villagers were uniformly supportive of everyone, native or visitor. The overall feeling of the event wasn't that of a few people racing but of a community coming together to do something of value. It was an amazing thing to be a part of.

When the call came for the 10k we shuffled over to the back of the group. It was obvious that was where we were going to end up anyway. The largest percentage of the runners were Hopi and Navajo teenagers. All were very fast, at least one was wearing a Foot Locker regionals shirt, and many were wearing ratty old sneakers. There were a smattering of white runners as well but we were definitely a minority.
The course took us straight through the village, past a "no visitors beyond this point" sign and the ruins of a 17th-century church, and down the side of the mesa on a well-worn path. I wondered how many Hopi runners had run down that path in the thousand years that they have been living there. Like all tribes without horses, the Hopi relied on running as a means of transportation, communication, and hunting. In addition, the Hopi ran as part of many religious ceremonies. More than most American tribes, the Hopi are a running people, and these were their ancestral paths.
I wondered how many white runners had run where I was running. There were of course a few from the seven years the race had been held, but not that many (looking through the race results, in 2007, the second year the race was held, there were only six runners from outside the reservation). How many from before 2006? Any? The Spaniards first came to this town in 1540 while searching for the Seven Cities of Gold but didn't stay. In 1629 Franciscan missionaries came and built a few churches but they were all destroyed in the pueblo revolt of 1680.
The race took us past this church, which was burned down in the 1680 pueblo revolt
Eventually America acquired the territory but the government had no contact with the Hopi before 1850 and, aside from building a few schools starting in 1887 and settling border disputes with the Navajo Nation, surprisingly little since then. No settlers came to the Hopi lands, and very few visitors.

And probably no runners. The fact that we were allowed to come and run with them, here, was amazing to me. I felt honored, and very out of place.

And then people started thanking me.

It wasn't just that one woman. We were thanked by at least a dozen people. All the aid station volunteers were thanking everyone, including Emily and me, for running. We were both taken aback by it. From what I can gather, in the Hopi tradition running brings blessings to a village and by running we were bringing blessings as well, and so we were met with sincere gratitude. It was an amazing experience.
Once we were off the mesa the course took us straight out toward... nothing, really, aside from the Grand Canyon 80 miles away, where their tradition says the Hopi came from, or the San Francisco Peaks a similar distance to the southwest, where the Kachinas are said to live. After three miles we turned around and went back up the mesa. We were running strong but the course was sandy and it was slow going, and the mesa wall was a brutal last hurdle.

The post-race refreshments were an eclectic mix of Gatorade, melon, and piki bread, the traditional Hopi bread made from blue cornmeal and ash, baked paper thin and rolled up.
After the award ceremony (everyone stayed for the award ceremony, another thing you don't often see at a 10k), we drove back to Show Low. We arrived home less than 24 hours after our trip started but it felt like we had been to another country and back.

I can't wait to go back for Paatuwaqatsi.


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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Running Goals

Today was day 1 of my taper for the Paatuwaqatsi 50k. The great thing about tapering after a demanding training cycle is that you finally have time to stop and think. The bad thing about tapering? Plenty of time to think.
Specifically, time to think things such as "what have I gotten myself into," "I am definitely going to die," and "why did I eat all those doughnuts?"
And on a completely unrelated note, why am I so fat?
As a break from those sorts of thoughts, I decided to go over my (ridiculously optimistic) plans for the rest of this year. First of all, on September 8 there is Paatuwaqatsi, a 50k through some of the oldest villages in North America.
Did I say oldest?  I meant most inconveniently located. 
Assuming (optimistically) that I survive finish my first ultra without ill effect, my plan is to jump back into training and then run the Man Against Horse 25m on October 1 and Cave Creek Thriller 50k on October 20. After a few more long runs, this will (theoretically) prepare me for the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 miler on December 8.
What do you think? Is this too optimistic? Or do I need to just believe?
(Forget about believing--I would rather run for 14 hours than sit through this whole video)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Appropriately Named Allyson Felix

There were a lot of great track and field moments from the London Olympics (it was hard not to be as excited for Mo Farah as Galen Rupp obviously was) but one of my favorites was seeing Allyson Felix finally win an individual gold in the 200m. Felix (which, incidentally, is Latin for "happy") seems to have the most indomitably cheerful disposition of anyone in her sport today. If you watched the women's track events you probably noticed that once they take the track most of the sprinters--even those who seem quite pleasant off the track--tend to take on a demeanor that I can only describe as blood thirsty. Felix, on the other hand, always just seems happy to be out running today, and even when she has her "game face" on she can't seem to make it more than ten seconds without breaking into a smile. She's also the only one I saw smiling while she ran.

So to Allyson Felix, congratulations, and I hope you always find as much joy in running as you seemed to this summer. To everyone else, run joyfully--good things will come!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Aesthetics of Minimalist Running

I recently discovered that Anton Krupicka wrote an article for Running Times entitled Why Anton Krupicka Runs Barefoot. It's a great article and a well-reasoned discussion of the benefits that come to even a world-class ultrarunner by switching to barefoot/minimalist running. Most of all, it's a fascinating look at why someone at the top of his sport would start making such drastic changes to the way he runs.
"I don’t see myself as a fanatical adherent to any sort of unshod dogma. Rather, as a trail, mountain and ultra runner, I find myself balancing the practical demands of my preferred terrain (steep, rocky, rooty trails) with the more aesthetic requirements of taking the simplest possible approach to running in the mountains."
Krupicka then lists a large number of specific advantages that he receives from running barefoot and in minimalist shoes.
"But, for me, incorporating barefoot running into my training isn’t only a means to a more coordinated, performance-oriented end. A really big part of my motivation for running in general comes from the actual “doing” rather than in just the end-goal “achievement.” My best runs are where the felt kinesthetic experience of moving quickly and efficiently through a natural landscape is most fully realized, not necessarily the runs where I make it to the top of the mountain and back down the quickest. However, I think it is not by accident that these two ideals often coincide."
"The most appealing aspect of barefooting and minimalist footwear is that its underlying ethic is one that meshes best with my overall outlook on life: Simplify, and most of all, pursue the purity of the experience."
What struck me the most was his comments about the "aesthetic requirements" of his running. When I really think about it, that's exactly the reason I came into the minimalist fold so abruptly--it's a purer, more natural way to run, and to me that meant it had to be better. As soon as I heard about FiveFingers and that people were running in them, something clicked in my brain. Even before I had tried running in them, I knew they were what I'd been looking for. Running in minimal footwear just seemed right--obviously, simply, right.

Put another way, podiatrists and running store salesmen want me to feel like this:
But in cushioned shoes I really feel like this:
And when I run barefoot/minimalist I feel like this:

This wasn't a slow, carefully reasoned analysis of the available data--I hadn't started reading the scientific research on the subject yet--this was a instant, aesthetic judgment, but as Malcolm Gladwell readers know, sometimes those judgments are the most accurate.

We know in an instant which people are more attractive than others but it takes painstaking scientific analysis to show that the faces we find attractive are more symmetrical and therefore often indicate better genetic health. It takes years of study to be able to explain the perfect voice leading and harmonic structure of a Mozart symphony, or the elegant geometry of a cathedral, or the difference in running form between David Rudisha and your average jogger, but your average person can sense these things in an instant.

As for Krupicka, and as for many other runners, Barefoot/minimalist running just feels right for me on an intuitive, aesthetic level.
And yes, I do realize how ironic it is to mention VFFs in the context of aesthetics
Part of this is personal preference but I believe that it is also an indication of the underlying reality that our bodies thrive when we can feel the ground under our feet.

As Steve House (a mountaineer Krupicka quotes in his article) puts it: “The simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes.”