Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reading with Thea in Flagstaff for ON FOOT

I had the pleasure of finally meeting Thea, a fellow barefoot runner, barefooter, and BRS member. She and I both have essays in ON FOOT: Stories of Backpacking in the Grand Canyon, published by Vishnu Temple Press.

We both were part of the reading/opening party for the book, held in Flagstaff, at the Grand Canyon Trust.

Thea's essay is about going barefoot Rim To Rim. The whole book is great, I'm honored to be in it, and I'd buy it even if I weren't included.

Here's the link to Vishnu Temple Press where you can order ON FOOT. Or ask your local bookstore and library to order it!

And here are some pics:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Volunteering at Mogollon Monster 100M

Call me The Mysterious Stranger.

After getting laid off my seasonal summer job for the Forest Service, I’m heading north, beginning my long road trip. I pass through Payson, and on up into the small village of Pine just north of there, around dinner time. Outside the Thai restaurant on the left there seems to be a large gathering of people outside on the patio. I think, ‘Hm, that looks like a packet pickup for a race.’

I continue on to a different restaurant and, parking, happen to look up at a banner saying, MOGOLLON MONSTER 100M, Sept. 27-28. Hey, that’s tomorrow! Hey, that was a packet pickup! I’ve heard of this race, too.

So, over dinner and think and think. I actually have a couple of days free until I meet some relatives over in Sedona. I’ve been wondering what kind of adventure I could have in the meantime, though I’d been thinking about some kind of camping trip. But, crazy as it seems, I decide to see if the race organizers would like a volunteer.

I’ve run many long-distance races and been helped by those unsung angels at the aid stations who make life for a runner so much easier, from refilling water bottles, to kind words of encouragement, to just pointing me in the right direction when I’m groggy. And, I’ve always thought that I should take my turn, to pass on the kindness I’ve recieved. So, I decide to try and be an angel.

I head down to the packet pickup area, just in time, as it’s dark and they look like they’re loading things up. One guy sees me coming and smiles, introducing himself as Jeremy, the race organizer. I offer my services, apologizing for seeming so weird to come at the last minute, but he loves it, he loves that someone would just be driving through and stop and volunteer for two days. I’m in!

Jeremy assigns me to Geronimo Aid Station, out by Geronimo Camp, which I’m familiar with, having worked on the Tonto National Forest many years. The only question is whether to head out there tonight and camp out, or stay and camp out at the Pine Trailhead where the race begins tomorrow at 6. I’d love to see the start, but am not keen on trying to sleep in a parking lot full of people and having to get up at 4, so, since I was going to camp out in the woods tonight anyways, I head out to Geronimo.

I find the Geronimo Trailhead, no other race folks there until tomorrow, though there’s a steady stream of boyscouts heading up to the camp for the weekend, despite the forecasts for thunderstorms.

Because, yeah, there are thunderstorms and rain predicted for this weekend. Sleeping in my tent, the rain starts, with thunder and lightning. I don’t mind, kind of pleasant actually, but I begin to wonder about tomorrow. Oh well, a little rain never bothered ultra-runners.

The next morning, about start time, the rain turns into a strong downpour. Uh-oh, I think. Brutal way to start a race, soaked to the bone.

I wait around in the small turnout at the Geronimo Trailhead. Much of the race is on the Highline Trail, a 30 mile-ish long trail going from Pine out to Highway 260 east of Payson. It’s a historic trail, which used to connect the early homesteads in the area, and it runs right under the Mogollon Rim, huge cliffs, where the Colorado Plateau officially ends. If Payson is about 5,500 feet, the top of the Rim is 7,000.

And, of course, no ultra race would just be level ground if the organizers could help it. So, along the way, runners will leave the Highline Trail to climb up to the Rim, not once, not twice, but three times! The course map is insane. The course itself is gorgeous. I’ve explored this territory, both above and below the Rim, and it’s maybe my favorite overall land in the US. It’s also, because of its unique formation, a place where storms tend to congregate. Every afternoon this past Summer I’ve watched clouds build over the Rim, usually brining lightning, and the winds can be strong.

So, interesting.

Support crews trickle in, though the first runner won’t arrive until maybe ten. This aid station is eighteen miles in (and will be the 90 mile stop on the way back) with the first climb up to Milk Ranch Point and down added in. The Aid Station organizer, Chris, arrives, with his pregnant wife Sierra and a rented mobile home. Chris is a friend of Jeremy’s, and claims to be the one to actually get Jeremy into running, and has been helping out on previous MM100s. He and I unload all the equipment, and some of the support crew folks help out, which is nice.

More volunteers show up, and we set up two tents, and tables with food. One thing I’d never thought about, but now find myself doing, is making the actual peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that are cut in bite size quarters for runners. Plus mixing the Gatorade, and pouring plastic cups of Coke so that is settles and becomes flat. Opening cans of boiled potatoes to dip in salt. Hanging garbage bags out around the area. Little stuff like this keeps us busy for a while, but then we’re done and ready and waiting, with still an hour-ish until the first runner.

The weather is better. The rain has stopped, though the sky is still overcast, and the clouds are just hauling ass north, so I’m not sure we’re in the clear. Otherwise, the temperature is perfect for running, in the 50s. I learn more facts, like that 78 people total signed up for the race, but that not all of those showed. Chris doesn’t have total numbers, but says that the start did not look like 70 folks.

But then! The first runner! At 9:30! He comes in just wearing shorts an shoes, skinny as hell, with a beard, glistening with sweat, but not looking tired at all (!). He knows what he’s doing, doesn’t f— around to much, though talks to his crew person about how it went up on top, and says, “Well I didn’t do too well on the roads. You know, I don’t run roads very well.” Which, I don’t even know how to take that statement. But then he’s off!

A minute after, the next incredibly skinny guy comes in, this one at least with a shirt. He’s gone soon too. This looks like an epic fast competition between these two, though soon after three more guys come through.

After that, there seems to be a pause. The gods have passed through, now the mortals will trickle in. Though not quite true, the first female runner comes in, a goddess. And another about five minutes later. All total, I don’t think I’ll see more than six women in the whole pack. Also, interesting observation: All the super runner males are all skinny as f—, with no body fat, whereas the super runner females are all ripped. No body fat, but with big muscles, arms and legs. But as the race goes on, the body types seem to switch: the ‘slower’ (a relative term) women tend more to skinny and the ‘slower’ males get bigger, both in muscles and/or fat. Are those fact only correlations? Or causes and effects?

Another observation: The fast runners don’t f—— around at stations. They maybe fill  up on water and grab some food to go, and get the hell out. The slower runners come in, and just hang out, mostly adjusting footwear and making adjustments to their feet.

Because my dog, their feet: they take off their shoes and soaked socks and their feet and shriveled pale pieces of meat, with blisters and shredded skin and hotspots. It’s just horrible. The more stuff they cover their feet with, the more terrible shape their feet are in. And some men, slower ones, have these new ‘trail shoes’ that have super thick soles, like monstrously thick soles, which don’t seem to be doing any good at all, just heavy and soaking wet. What a waste. I have to hold myself back from saying stuff like, “Ditch your shoes!”

The runners come in fairly steadily, though by the last ones, I think back and realize that there’s an two hours and a half difference between first and last. Though over 18 miles with a huge uphill, I’m surprised there are more stragglers. The cut-off time for this station (or, the first one) is either 1 or 2, no one really seems to know, though it’s moot really, since everyone has made it. by noon-ish. No dropouts. There is only the 100M, no shorter distances, no mere 50 milers allowed. 18 miles is nothing to these people.

With all runners now through, they won’t return until much later, when this becomes the Mile 90 aid station. Inspired, the only thing I want to do now is go for a run! I change into my shorts and head up the Highline trail after the runners, except there is a new development: One of the other volunteers is a 15 year old girl, who’s cross country coach is in the race. She’s getting volunteer hours for some kind of honors program at school for doing this, and she’s come up with her whole family, who have been just hanging out all day. Except her 13 year old brother decided he wanted to run after the runner a while back, and no one noticed for a while, but he hasn’t come back. No one’s seen him for a couple hours.

So shit. So, I’m going that way anyways, so I keep an eye out for him. I’m sure he’s ok, just misplace, and as I run up the trail, I just don’t think a 13 year old would have come this far, because it is mostly up hill. Nice trail though. Awesome area, in the pines and piƱon-junipers, with red dirt and rock and sand. After three miles I finally top out on a mesa, with a huge upfront view of the Mogollon Rim to the north. And south down over the forest and hills. Lovely. I even catch a glimpse of the last runner.

No kid though. On the way back I run into the Sweeper for this section of race. If the kids still farther up the trail, he’ll find him and may even at that point walk him to the next aid station 1.5 miles farther on, which might be easier. I just don’t think the kid came this far though. Doesn’t seem possible. But when I get back to the trailhead, he’s still not back. The race is using the services of an amateur network of HAM radio operators, and they’re on the case, because cell service, and even regular radio service, are both sketchy in this territory. Search and Rescue has been notified and are on the way. The mother, is now breaking down and crying, the father is doing what father’s do, and about to head out on the trail on his own, even though he won’t get as far as I did.

Chris and I go up to Geronimo Camp, in the chance that the boy wandered over there and is playing with the boyscouts, though that seems slim. I decide to make another excursion up the trail, just to check some side trails, though the main trail is super obvious, there just doesn’t seem a way that someone could go off-track. I don’t find anything, but when I get back, the boy has been found: he actually did run all the way almost to the next aid station, and was found crying. He apparently thought the trail would loop back around somehow. So, just shows how being out in the woods can be confusing so some city folks.

Anyways, with that out of the way, and hours before the runners return, I head into Payson to fiddle with internet at the one cafe, and get something to eat. While I’m there, the rain returns. And stays. And is strong. Usually most rains in Arizona come in for an hour and go. This one does not let up. And I think of the runners, now up on top somewhere, maybe running around in hail, or even snow. Just brutal.

Get back to the aid station, and everyone is gone. Just Chris and Sierra, and two HAM radio dudes. And it’s raining. I just sit in my truck and listen to the radio, working myself up to going out to my tent and maybe sleeping until midnight, if possible.

But then one of the HAM guys gets out of his vehicle in a hurry, running over to Chris. Un oh. I get out and go over. The HAM guy takes off in his vehicle. Chris looks glum. “The race has been called, due to weather.”

Wow. So that actually happens. Il y des limites, even in ultra-running. The idea is that the rain is not going to stop, really, because there’s another big mass of storms on the radar, heading north. Which means people would be running around up on the Rim in the dark, in wind and low clouds and cold and wet. Apparently there’s already been one case of hypothermia.

So, bummer. I feel for the runners, some of whom I bet don’t want to stop, but maybe some of whom are grateful. I also feel for Jeremy, the organizer, who had to make the call, and who now has to deal with the logistics of getting everyone off the hill.

And thank goodness for the Ham radios, who are now invaluable for those logistics. Chris and I break camp, in the rain, while our remaining HAM liaisons gives us updates about what we can do. Can we help shuttle runners out? At first yes, then no, then yes again. Finally, once everything is packed up, we get the word to go stage out on the Control Road, the main dirt road through the area, that parallels the Highline Trail basically, and wait and see if runners need rides.

So we head over south of Washington Park, the main aid station, and kind of in the middle of the route. We try to be patient, but can’t help speculating about what’s going on, wanting to head up to the station to get tired and cold runners back to Pine. Finally, we do get the call, and some runners are shuttled down in four wheel drive vehicles. I take three in my truck and we all head back west.

The runners with me aren’t too bummed. I think just tired from having to wait around while things were decided about them. It’s dark now. My group had all made it to either high 40s or on into 50 miles. One guy explains that he was actually just going to pace his brother the last 18 miles only, but decided at the last minute to run the whole race, without having trained for an ultra at all in the last year. (!) His strategy is one I’ve heard variations of: that with 36 hours to run the race, if you do the math, technically if you just maintains 3 miles an hour the whole time (ie walk almost) you should make it. So, he says, he’s basically been mostly on a hike versus a run. And, it seems to have worked up to this point. Which makes me think that I may still be able to do a 100M, that one doesn’t need to devote lots of time to training, at the expense having a life. Hm....

Back to Pine, drop off the guys, wait for one’s wife to come get him. Many runners and crew are lost, cut off from commo. For example, some guys have left their cellphones in their finish bags, which are lost somewhere in the U-Haul truck Jeremy has at Washington Park. But my guys and Chris’ guys all connect with their folks. No one knows what to do with equipment or drop bags (we have bags from the Geronimo station). People come and go, mostly go, runners just happy to get to a warm hotel room. Chris and I and a couple other volunteers hang out and unload stuff at the Pine community center. Some people’s drop bags are bulging with food and clothes, but apparently the word comes to just leave it and people can pick up stuff tomorrow, though some runners just want to leave and go home to, say, Phoenix.

Jeremy finally arrives in the U-Haul, and he is seriously bummed, maybe on many levels, the most immediate one being logistics, like how do be get all this shit back to people? But we at least load all the race materials in the truck, and unload any drop bags. Some aid stations didn’t even see runners. Some volunteers are trapped up on the Rim for the night, though all runners seem to be accounted for, somewhere. Weirdly, the decision is made to just leave people’s drop bags out under a picnic veranda thing for the night. But, it’s Pine, a small town, probably nothing will be stolen.

Kudos to Jeremy for the organization of both the race and the calling of it. There’s just nothing one can do, except protect people from, like, freezing to death or something. But, Jeremy seems to be doing this race out of pure love, he’s not making money at it, for sure. And it’s nice to hear runners thank him, and us volunteers, saying that despite the weather this is a really well run race, that they felt taken care of.

At around 10:30 everything is done which can be done. I say goodbye the rest of the hardcore who stayed to help, and Jeremy, and finally take off, down the road back to the Pine trailhead, to spend the night in the back of my truck, exhausted. I finally did it, finally helped at a race. So fun. So interesting. So awesome to help people, to help runners achieve goals and push themselves.

I immediately fall asleep.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Reading in Flagstaff: Saturday October 4th

I'll be part of a reading celebrating the new book ON FOOT from Vishnu Temple Press, in which I have an essay, "Holy Water."

The reading with be in Flagstaff, AZ, on Saturday, October 4th. Readings will be from the various and sundry essays included in the book.

4-6 pm, at:
The Grand Canyon Trust
2601 N Fort Valley Rd.

If you're in Flagstaff, come on down! See you there! Btw: free!

Friday, August 29, 2014

ON FOOT now available!

ON FOOT: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories, edited by Rick Kempa, is now available! Featuring my essay "Holy Water" among many good ones, including one by a Barefoot Running Society member on hiking barefoot!

Vishnu Temple Press is offering free shipping through September. Click on any link to go there and order.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Barefoot in the Mist

My summer of being barefoot all the time is winding down. Six more weeks. It's been great, though not so much long-distance running. I run almost every day, depending on weather, which lately has been pretty rainy and cloud and lightning-y. I look forward to my return to civilization, kind of, and the opportunity to run some more races! And no, the photo below is not from Oregon, but from Arizona, if you can believe it!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tower pics

Some tower pics. Note the wind in the second one!

Friday, June 27, 2014

SoftStar Shoes ReReview

I've had my Soft Star shoes/moccasins for almost two years now, since I moved to Portland, Oregon. I honestly do not wear my kind, my brand/style, at all.

My main complaint with the model I have is their look: they just look 'blobby.' Really wide, with the thin leather poofing out. Which, is what they're supposed to do, what they're designed for: to have minimal contact/pressure against the foot, and provide a big wide area for the foot. They stay on via an elastic drawstring lace around the ankle.

What I do like about them is the very thin rubberish sole. They are comfortable to wear and walk around in. They just look dopey for a 45 year old man. And I'm not even normally that self-conscious.

From what I understand from the Soft Star website, some of their shoes/moccasins are for children, for parents that want their children to grow up with strong feet, but who want them to have some kind of minimal protection. For this, Soft Stars would be perfect.

My reason for buying Soft Star Shoes was some kind of dressier minimalist shoe I could wear around town, and the video on their website featuring a dude in jeans dancing seemed to offer that. But the video is deceiving. Comfy? Yes. But that's about it.

What I never have never done is run in them. I just have other options. Either I, in warmer weather, I want my feet in fresh air and therefore use some form of huarache sandal, or in wetter weather I would use my VFFs. Or, in colder weather I would use either VFFs, or opt for my Merrill minimalist shoes. But, if someone was just coming new to minimalist footwear, Soft Stars might be a decent option for colder trail running. But that's about it. I have seen people running in them, in warm weather strangely. I think maybe because they somehow still want to run in a 'shoe' versus huarache-sandals. But if you think running in huaraches is weird, and therefore might lean towards some minimalist shoes like this, I urge you to try huaraches. You'll never go back! [see my other reviews on this blog]

That all said, Soft Star now features a new brand that I'd be very interested in trying out: The Portlander. It's the same super thin sole, but sleeker top design, with laces. Looks like a dressy, hipster-ish, sneaker. This would be good for around-town, day and night, and at work, as long as you weren't dressing too fancy. If I get enough disposable income, I may try this, though I'll drive over to Corvallis to try them on in person first.

What I hope Soft Star does, because no one else has, as far as I know (let me know below in the comments section if you have recommendations) is create/design a minimalist dress shoe for me. Something close to The Portlander maybe, but black or brown, no laces, and a still sleek design.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Oatmeal on running marathons

The Oatmeal nails it.

Click on the image to go there:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Luna Sandals ReReview

I feel somewhat guilty and conflicted about Luna Sandals, because on the one hand, I'm not recommending them, but on the other hand, I use them all the time.

It's all about the price.

I want to like Luna Sandals, because the company was started by Barefoot Ted, one of the runners featured in the mythic book Born To Run by Christopher MacDougall. I bought my first pair from him, when it was still a “one monkey operation,” and his huaraches were super thin and rubbery.
All of the Luna Sandals now are thicker, at least 6mm or more, and some now with some hardcore treads. My first Lunas are long since gone (the knot at between the big and second toes finally wore through the rubber. I now own a pair of the 'regular' 6mms with the leather laces. Actually the leather laces are from my first pair. I ordered this pair with the hemp laces, thinking, that since hemp supposedly tightens up when wet, that they would be good for Portland, Oregon running. But the hemp laces just never felt good, despite not ever having to stop and relace like with leather laces, and actually broke off at the toe joint area on a long cold rainy run, and they are almost impossible to re-thread when wet, and when one's hands are cold, and when one is dehydrated, and losing sunlight.
My other pair of Lunas are Leadvilles, slightly thicker, though also slighty more spongy—I'm not sure of the exact composition. And it's this pair that I've actually used on two trail marathons in Forest Park, where the gravel fairies have been busy on the trails, and also Leif Erickson road is just awful with gravel and rocks. I opted for the Leadvilles because of thickness, to just give my feets some sturdy cushion. And they performed well, because both races were during dry weather.

All huaraches do poorly in wet conditions. If the tops get wet, then my feet slide all over the place, causing the laces to dig into flesh, and making any kind of incline, up or down, hard to get traction on. For wet conditions, my go-to minimalist footwear is still Vibram Five Fingers, the KSOs. They cling to the feets well, wet or dry.

The best thing the monkeys at Luna did was come up with a cool, practical, new sport lace, the _____, which is partly elastic, so stays snug, and doesn't need re-tying, and makes slipping huaraches on and off easy. As with everything at Luna, it seems pricey, at $15, and if it were the only option I'd pay it. But Xero Shoes now offers a similar sport lace. 

That said, there is something to be said for the tradition leather laces. I just like the gladiator look, and it tends to make people do a double take. And, when tight, the leather wrapped up around the ankles seems to provide some stability, which most minimalist runners shouldn't need, really, I guess. I do always have to stop on a run with them, and re-tighten the laces. The leather just stretches out. So, if using them for a race, try and wear them with plenty of time before hand, and may even go for a light job, then readjust right before the race start.

Many people like the look of Lunas, especially with the sport lace, and use them for a more sporty casual look around town. They look kind of like Tevas or Chacos, say, but with a way thinner sole. You can get some models with an additional leather top, which make them look more traditionally sandal-ish, and may make them less slippery (I've even heard of people putting surfboard wax on them to prevent slipperiness). And, I do like the look, and sometimes just walk around in them. But I find, for some reason, I'm not sure why, that when I walk around with them on pavement in the city that my heels get a soreness, almost plantar fasciitis-y. Maybe it's something to do with the sponginess, or maybe the thickness lessens my foot sensitivity and I lapse back into longer strides and heel-striking.

The main, and best, way I've used my Luna Leadvilles (with sport laces) is for backpacking. I wore them for my two recent epic trips down into the Grand Canyon, with great success. With an extra 40 pounds on me, I can't be as nimble-footed as I'd like, so still wanted some thicker soles, while also, because of the heat, being able to have natural air-conditioning on my feet. I did manage to both freak out and impress my hiking companions, all of whom still opted for boot-coffins. Again though, on the one trip, in which there was some wet muddy trail, when my Leadvilles got the least bit wet, my feet would slip all over the place in them.

So, with all these good things to say about Lunas, why am I not recommending them. Well, the price: Almost a hundred dollars, or more, for most models. And, Xero Shoes offers some equivalent models for almost half the price. Xero also still offers a thin-soled huarache, and Luna does not. Xero Shoes now also even has a sport lace similar to Luna's. Some of Lunas more hardcore models do have some super tread, but if that tread is supposedly for maybe wetter muddier conditions (though may just be about looking gnarly and cool) then your feet are going to be slipping around on top anyways.

But, I bought my two pairs of Lunas before Xero Shoes was even in business I think, and they're still basically good, good products. Which counts for a lot. But I think also the mystique of Barefoot Ted and Born To Run counts for their popularity too. There are other huarache brands out there—Xero Shoes are the only ones I've bought and used. As someone with a limited budget, I just can't afford to buy all of them, nor even opt for the 'cool' expensive ones.

If you buy Lunas, you won't be disappointed. Just know that Xero Shoes huaraches, for example, are almost half the price.

[also note: the best way to learn to run in huaraches is to run barefoot first. Do NOT run in huaraches like you would in 'regular' running shoes. Keep a shorter stride, smaller and quicker steps. Just go slow at first, and use them on trails. For pavement, you're better off barefoot anyways]

Friday, June 13, 2014

Merrill Trail Glove ReReview

Merrills are shoes, and therefore lower on my list of go-to minimalist footwear for running, but they have had some good uses.

First, I just prefer running barefoot when possible. When not possible, for longer trail runs especially, when rocks and sticks just start to wear on my feet, I like huarache sandals, where my feet can be in the open air, but I have a minimal rubber-ish sole. Huaraches just don't work that well in wet weather though, and so, being from Michigan and Oregon, I've used Vibram Five Finger (the traditional KSOs) as my go-to minimalist footwear for most of my longer races.

What neither huaraches nor VFFs are good for though, is cold weather running. And that's why I bought a pair of Merrills. I was looking for a minimalist footwear that offered a zero-drop heel, while also covering the feets. And, for this, they work very well. As I wrote before in the race report on this blog, I ran a trail marathon in Winter in Michigan, temps just around freezing, on packed snow trail, wearing just the shoes, no socks, and my feet were fine—snugly warm.

The other big thing I used my Merrills for was when, two Winters ago in Portland, Oregon, I was training for Badger Mountain 100 Miler in the Spring. For my long training runs, there was no other footwear that offered what I needed: warmth. Though I will say that Merrills offer both a durable foot shell in general, and some traction on the soles, for the very muddy trails in Forest Park.

I like the way these shoes are designed: they 'grip' or 'hold' at the mid-foot, around the arch, and at first I didn't like that feel because if felt too 'arch support-y'. But it's not, and this allows the area to the front of the foot to be wider: my toes have plenty of room to spread out, without the shoes slipping forward and scrunching them up.

They are shoes, and shoe-ish, so I do not at all like to run on pavement in them. They do limit foot sensitivity, like typing with over mitts on my hands, and I find myself falling back into heel-striking if not careful. For pavement I run barefoot, or with super thing Xero huaraches.

I do use these shoes for occasional regular streetwear. If I need shoes, and the occasion is not too dressy, then I'll put them on. I don't use socks though—if I did they'd bee too tight, and I don't like socks anyways—so they (like the Vibram Five Fingers) can get smelly. Sometimes really, embarrassingly, bad. So if you want them for wearing around town, get a size up if you plan to wear socks. Also: I will wear them for biking around town, since my pedals tend to tear up my moccasins.

Also, if you're buying them in a store (which I recommend, because the sizing is slightly different than 'regular' shoes) make sure the salesperson actually uses them herself, which might actually be rare. Also note that minimalist shoes like these are now usually being sold as trail shoes, with the idea that one should use 'regular' running shoes for street running. Which, is kinda true, but for the wrong reasons: they're 'trail shoes' because barefoot runners might want a little bit of protection on rocky trails.

One more note: in my quest to find a pair of men's minimalist dress shoes, the kind I could wear with a tie (ack) and dress shirt for an interview, say, I bought a pair of black Merrills. They apparently don't make this model anymore, or at least not in black. They still look a little running shoe-ish, with laces, though I don't run in mine, and I have in fact worn them to interviews, even with the laces. I'm not sure if that affected my chances or not, but I didn't ever get an offer. But, for a night on the town, especially in Portland rain, and so as not to embarrass my date by wearing worn down moccasins, I've worn these.
So, if you're a barefoot runner, these might be good for cold weather trail runs.
If you're a regular running shoe wearer, but looking to try minimalist, first I'd recommend running barefoot first. Do not run in Merrills, or any minimalist footwear, in the same way you'd run in evil bad normal running shoes. The heel strike will mess up, badly. As will the longer stride. And, mostly, take these out on the trail.

And if you're just looking for a good sporty minimalist shoe to wear around town, these will do. Much better than any non-minimalist shoe. Though consider moccasins, and/or something like Soft Star Shoe's new model, The Portlander.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Vibram Five Fingers ReReview

If you go back and read my 'race reports' over the years, you'll see that my go-to footwear, IF I use footwear, has been VFFs. All my paved runs and races have been barefoot, but my VFFs have served me well on multiple trail marathons and 50Ks, two 50 Milers, and on the Burning River 100 Milers (which I DNFed on, but they got me to Mile 67—the problem was not my feet or footwear).

I've been using VFFs for five or six years, ever since I've been running barefoot. I use the traditional KSOs (“keep stuff out”) that come up over the top of the foot. Vibram has since come out with multiple new brands, some of which are built like tanks, other of which are made to look more shoe-ish, and some of which even offer arch support (!) none of which I recommend. And there are VFF imitators out there too, most of which seem to opt for the more tank-like design. But I recommend the old-school KSOs. You want minimal protection in your minimalist footwear. VFF KSOs offer a good thin rubber-like sole, flexible, yet sturdy enough to keep sharp rocks and sticks at bay. That is, you'll still feel what's underneath you, but you'll avoid and cuts or contusions.

I prefer to wear huaraches—I like having my feet to the open air, but they just do not function well in wet weather. The rubber soles get slippery. VFFs however (especially KSOs) work great in wet weather. They cling to your feet, wet or dry. Most of my running and races has been in either Michigan or Oregon, both wet states. On one of my Michigan 50Ms, the course was laid out so as to be as annoying as possible, with many stream crossings, and even wading through a lake. Other runners had to plan out shoe changes along the way, but I could just breeze on through. And the Hagg Lake 50K Mud Run in Oregon was no problem, though I did slip a bit. KSOs don't have a lot of traction.

One disadvantage VFFs have is cold weather: They just do not hold heat at all, and in fact seem to be colder because the toes are separated out in individual sockets, rather than huddling together for warmth. For colder weather running, I've been using Merrills, which are an actual shoe and enclose the whole foot [see my latest review of them on this blog].

Another thing about VFFs is that they get strongly smelly. You can wear the Injinji toed socks—either thicker cotton, or a thin nylon. The thin nylon ones will work for keeping the sweat smell to a minimum, but note that one, they're pricey ($12-15 for one pair!) and two, they wear out and tear quickly. The thicker ones last longer, but then you'll have to bump up your VFF shoe size, meaning you'll either have to wear socks all the time, or buy another pair for wearing barefoot. The thicker socks will also had some warmth, though note, I recommend buying socks a size bigger than what they recommend on the package. But I don't wear socks anymore. And there are ways to combat the smell, though they involve chemicals.

Also, I should mention this. My first pair of VFFs fit fine, and were always comfortable, so much so that I keep wearing them even though they're almost falling apart. My newer pair, which I won in the Bigfoot 50K for being the first, and only, person to finish in VFFs, fit basically the same, but something inside rubs against the skin on the ball of my left foot, causing a blister or even a cut on longer runs. I think this would go away if I used them more. But I should note that this happened to a friend of mine with his VFFs too. Try a new pair out slowly, and check for hot spots. If so, apply some duct tape to the area.

Unfortunately, Vibram just got hit with a class action lawsuit, claiming that their claim that VFFs will make your feet stronger isn't true. I actually think it is true, and the real problem is idiots going out and running in them like they would in 'regular' running shoes, with the hard heel strike and a wide stride. You can't do that. The best way to learn how to run in VFFs (and actually to re-learn how we should be running) is to run barefoot first, or at least in conjunction with VFF running). I've never had a problem, though I now don't like running on pavement in VFFs, and don't recommend it. If you're in the city, just run barefoot, and/or use a thin huarache, like the Xeros (please see my reviews of them on this blog).

Actually, those people that get injured running in VFFs may have just been misinformed by the idiots who work at running stores but who know nothing of running barefoot and/or minimalist, but pretend to—if buying minimalist footwear from a store, make sure you ask the person selling them to you if she or he actually runs in them).

In any case, the only people who 'won' in that class action lawsuit were the lawyers. I'd like to have a class action lawsuit against the shoe companies who claim 'running shoes' are good for you. Where's the proof? Where's the science?

But, I rant. Here's the deal:

The Vibram Five Fingers KSOs are my top overall favorite minimalist running footwear. First prize!


Friday, May 30, 2014

Minnetonka Moccasins ReReview

I've been wearing moccasins for maybe five or six years now, ever since I started running (and trying to live) barefoot. And the types I've used have all been from the company Minnetonka—the most readily available, in stores and now you can order them from their website.

Moccasins, or the models I wear, are 'zero-drop' at the heel, soft and comfortable, and the leather generally hides odor. I don't wear socks with them, not even in a Michigan Winter, where they generally kept my feet warm (I now live in Oregon and Arizona, so cold isn't an issue so much). 

Minnetonka does offer a type of hardcore cold weather moccasin-boot, the Pug Boot, in the style of what Inuits and other northern tribes use. Leather on the outside and rabbit fur lining, with plastic soles. Super warm. I wore them with just my bare feet in Michigan blizzards and felt fine, even when the rest of me was freezing!

One thing I love about moccasins is how easily they slip on and off, more so than even any model huarache I have. Once they get stretched out and form to your feet, you can slip feet in and out without even having to reach down with you hands. So, for example, if I'm going to go hang out in a cafe and write and read, I may actually opt for my mocs versus my huaraches, simply because I know I'll be able to slip them off quickly and conveniently, and even a little discreetly too. And if I need to get up for something, so as not to freak out non-barefoot-friendly people, I can slip them on quick.

The biggest advantage of moccasins is that they are fashionable, yet still comfortable. A couple years ago, in Michigan, they even seemed to be somewhat 'cool'—at least with my young female students. And I've been told my female friends who are way more conscious about these things than I am that they look fine for a night out on the town, in jeans and a dressier shirt for guys. And, I think they offer a slight air of eccentricity. Perhaps. But the main thing for me is comfort.

People do use moccasins, and especially Minnetonkas, for other things. Some use them as slippers around the house, and in fact I did have a student ask once, in class, “Why are you wearing slippers?” And you can buy versions that have flannel or wool linings.

Some hunters like to wear them out in the woods, to be quieter. Which, you know, makes sense. They're what the natives of Turtle Island (at least in the northern climes) have been hunting in for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

There are two kinds of Minnetonka moccasins I use and recommend. The first are the more commonly found in stores, and offer the double layer sole. These are the kind most often used as slippers. Note: there is a version with only one layer of sole, and though comfortable (like, feels almost barefoot) if wearing out on pavement in city, the bottom is going to wear through pretty quick. The double layer version may feel a little too cushy at first, but it'll mash down. Note too that these layers, these soles are of soft leather, and will get wet and soggy in any kind of wet weather.

For wet weather, I would recommend getting Minnetonkas that offer some kind of hard plastic sole. Women have more options here, as far as bottoms that are zero drop on the heel. For men, Minnetonka only offers one brand that is true zero drop, the Classic Moc. I did try one other kind for a couple years, the Double Bottom Hardsole, which look more like Docksiders, with a slightly raised heel, and they were ok, and even looked more 'normal' or acceptable, though one big problems is the inner lining was not soft leather, and therefore didn't absorb foot odor. 

But the Classic Mocs do a good job of keeping the feet up off of wet pavement. The soles are a little high, all-around, and stiff, and if there are puddles, the leather can still get wet. Note: bought new, Minnetonka puts a leather heel insert inside that actually raises the heel a little. The inserts are just glued in, and I pulled mine out. This may have cause in bottoms to wear out quicker, and the inserts might just mash down after a short while, and off more shoe life. The next pair I buy I may keep them in for a while to see how they feel.

I did experiment with running in my moccasins. Not the dressier ones, but the soft-soled kind. And, they do work really well in cold weather for keeping the feets warm, even on snowy trails. They only problem was, again, they got wet, and the soft soles are kinda too soft, and wore out very quickly. On dry terrain they might last longer, though for that I'd just use some form of huarache sandal. But, if Minnetonka, or someone, could pair their basic double-layer moccasin with some kind of rubber or Vibram sole, that might be a nice cold weather running shoe.

Unfortunately, Minnetonka doesn't offer any moccasins with hard leather soles. That might be ideal both for wet pavement, and even for trail running. I have seen moccasins like this, one of my students in Jackson, Michigan wore some one time. I asked her about them, and she said that she bought them on her reservation nearby, but I didn't actually get the name brand, nor even which reservation. But they exist. [If you know what these are, please let me know down in the comments section!]

I'd recommend trying them on in-person at a store. Moccasins, being leather, tend to run smaller in sizes, but they will eventually stretch. Get them snug. Also: whenever I get a new pair, for some reason they chafe on my heels for a while. It's good, they're designed that way, to curve in and grip the heels. But fear not, just ease into wearing them and soon they'll be comfy. Like wearing slippers but out and about.