Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Spartan Race Giveaway!

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Yes, sure, it’s been a hell of a long time since I’ve reviewed or written anything on this blog (exactly one year to the day, actually – weird!). And it’s been quite a long time since I’ve written at all. But, just the other day I was approached by a Spartan Race promoter, inquiring as to whether I’d be interested in trying out a Spartan Race and doing a giveaway. I thought perhaps this opportunity might as well bring me back to my writing, and as a positive side-effect, back to actually running.

But more on that another day – today is the day for a free race entry!

SPARTAN is an obstacle race series popping up all over the country, and gaining crazy popularity. It’s been responsible for getting thousands of people up off their couches and on the streets and into gyms to train, get fit and reach their goals year after year. SPARTAN is not just for runners, and it’s not just for Crossfitters – it’s for everyone. They started with the Sprint, but now they have introduced many different races of different distances and levels of difficulty, so there’s a race at your level no matter who you are. And I might as well even tell you all – even I’ve decided to sign up for a SPARTAN Race! (a review/race report will be posted afterward) (and yes, I know, I did write this post knocking obstacle races awhile back, I concede!). So just to be informational, here’s the breakdown for each of the race types:

The SPARTAN SPRINT is a 3 mile race with about 15 obstacles
The SPARTAN SUPER is an 8+ mile race with about 20 obstacles
The SPARTAN BEAST is a 12+ mile race with 25+ obstacles

So, if you want to try out your first SPARTAN race, or challenge yourself to one at the next level, this contest is perfect for you! I am giving away a race entry to any one of the following promoted races:

  • 12/06/14 Malibu SPRINT – Santa Monica, CA
  • 12/07/14 Malibu SPRINT – Santa Monica, CA (both these days were about 90% full at time of publishing – you’d have to hurry on this one or be willing to choose a different location if it’s full)
  • 01/17/15 SoCal BEAST – Vail Lake, CA
  • 01/18/15 SoCal SPRINT – Vail Lake, CA
  • 01/24/15 SoCal SUPER – Vail Lake, CA (this is the race I am most likely doing, FYI)
  • 01/25/15 SoCal SPRINT – Vail Lake, CA
  • 02/07/15 Arizona SPRINT – McDowell Mountains, AZ
  • 02/08/15 Arizona SPRINT – McDowell Mountains, AZ
  • 03/07/15 Atlanta SPRINT – Atlanta, GA
  • 03/08/15 Atlanta SPRINT – Atlanta, GA
  • 04/11/15 Charlotte SPRINT – Charlotte, NC
  • 04/12/15 Charlotte SPRINT – Charlotte, NC
  • 04/18/15 Las Vegas SUPER – Las Vegas, NV

Please do me and everyone else a favor and only enter if you are willing and able to attend one of the races listed above. In order to enter, you must do at least one of the actions listed below. if you do more than one you get an entry for each thing.

IMPORTANT: Please don’t forget to leave a comment each time you complete an entry item (even if it’s multiple times, for example the FB posts, so I can keep track of each entry and count it!

  1. Repost this blog post on the Facebook (you may do this once every day for an additional entry)
  2. Repost this blog post on the Twitter (you may do this once every day for an additional entry)
  3. Post about this giveaway on your Tumblr page
  4. Follow my blog
  5. Write a comment below about either your experience with the SPARTAN races, or about why you want to run a SPARTAN race

The winner will be drawn on WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH

The winner-publishing blog entry will also include a race discount promo code, so be sure to come back and check it out.

Good luck!

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Review: Merrell Ascend Glove

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I’ve done a lot of shoe reviews over the past couple of years, and in so doing I’ve come to approach each new offering with the same sort of mild expectation of unspecific excellence. Being that I’m ever in search of the absolute perfect minimalist running shoe for myself, it’s kind of hard not to always put each new shoe on with the highest of hopes. In the end some shoes I’ve tried have wowed me, and some have not. But that’s not what happened at all with the Merrell Ascend Glove. Maybe it was my bad past experiences talking, I don’t know, but I gotta be honest: I kind of expected to not like this shoe.

Why? Well, because it’s not what I would normally prefer in a trail shoe. It’s cushiony (6mm of it), and it’s got a huge stack height (10.5mm) and a rock plate (“TrailProtect pad”). The sole is stiff, the upper is super thick, and the women’s shoe wasn’t offered in a wide enough width for me so I had to order my pair from the less-than-pretty-for-obvious-reasons men’s line. I was sure this would be the kind of shoe that would do nothing more than assist me in jacking up an ankle or contributing to the degradation of my already only barely-good running form. I immediately relegated the Ascend Glove to the back of my mind, alongside the NewBalance 1010 and the HOKA One-One (which I have still not tried but secretly really want to).

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Needless to say, I was skeptical at first. After having spent two years wearing paper-thin minimalist footwear, the Ascend Glove felt like a god-damned marshmallow. It took a little getting used to. Aside from the zero drop, this shoe looked on paper to be just like every running shoe I’d ever worn before I discovered barefoot running. If I wore this heavy (8 oz) foot coffin on the trails, how would I ever reconcile my identity as a minimalist runner?

That last sentence was kind of a joke. Sort of.

But I decided to put the question on hold once I happened to snag a pair from my favorite Merrell rep. I figured why the hell not just try ‘em, right? And anyway, at the time that this shoe arrived I had been offhandedly looking for the next really good trail shoe. I’ve been running a lot more rugged trail out here lately, the kind with steep dirt hills, sharp, rolling rubble, lots of technical stuff and at times, obvious danger. I needed a shoe with better grip that would keep me from falling on my ass all the time. I also wanted something that wouldn’t feel so much like a cleat when I had to mix roads into my run. As it turns out, the Ascend Glove may be just the answer I was looking for.

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My first run in these was a short, mixed-terrain run. I took them over pavement, through loose dirt trails, down steep, rocky embankments, up some sandy hills and over about a half mile of 3” drainage “gravel.” This is a pretty typical run for me these days. The first thing I noticed is that I didn’t slip as much on the steep downhills because the lugs on this shoe are pretty deep and substantial. After about 60-70 miles I have managed to visibly wear down the lugs on the balls of both shoes and on the lateral edges, but since I have been putting them through the ringer I would say this is a fair amount of wear (more on this later).

frontAside from the narrow-ish last (which is more or less Merrell’s modus operandi) that forced me to switch to the men’s version, I am impressed by the way this shoe is made. Like the men’s Trail Glove, arguably the best minimalist shoe Merrell ever made, the upper is rugged, durable and reinforced in all the right places (toe, heel, etc). I should also mention this shoe has also taken on a lot of crud, dozens of foxtails and several throws in the washing machine, so far to no loss of durability. The laces are traditional on this model, none of the lace-locking system that I know many of you loved but I didn’t particularly care for. From what I can tell, there are only small cosmetic differences between the men’s and women’s model. This is refreshing to me because in the past the women’s versions of Merrell’s best minimalist shoes have been much flimsier than the men’s, and that totally bummed me out.

Basically, the two big things I really like about this shoe:  its rather simple, straightforward and durable construct, and its specificity. Even though it’s a bigger, heavier shoe than I typically wear on roads or on easy trail, the Ascend Glove is simple and knows its job. It’s not all bells and whistles, and it’s not trying to be a do-everything, go everywhere shoe. I dig that. Even though the original Trail Glove was an excellent model, its non-specific construction was only great on mixed or easy runs. It wasn’t my best trail shoe, and it wasn’t my best road shoe either. But the Ascend Glove is a great choice for any tough terrain or a long trail run because I know it’s going to have excellent tread for the shiftier terrain, it can take a beating and the thicker sole provides more protection than many other minimalist shoe choices, without being too mushy. So, contrary to my original expectations, I have been wearing and loving the hell out of this shoe.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that this is one of the very few truly rugged trail shoes I have seen out there with a low enough profile and also absolutely zero-drop. I know some people are just fine with a 4mm or 8mm heel, but for whatever reason I just cannot hack it. I have tried. The drop is a deal-breaker for me. If you are the same way as me, then this is the shoe for you.

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As always I know I’ll learn more about the Ascend Glove as I put more miles on it, but so far the only down sides that I have noted (and already mentioned above) are the lack of width choices and the tread wear. I think it’s safe to say that I support Merrell offering a wide-width version for all of their shoes, considering the regular lasts they make fall so far off on the narrow scale. We have all seen what happens to me when I try to wear the regular stuff they make for women! It would be nice for those of us who have strong, wide, barefoot-runner’s feet to have an option that better fits our feet, without having to hit up the men’s selections all the time.

And a moment on the tread: although my Merrell rep has told me that my amount of wear seems normal, I guess I expected this shoe to wear a bit more slowly. But after inspecting the tread wear on my other beloved Merrell shoes, and comparing the amount of erosion on each, I realized he was probably right.  So if you’re putting your shoes through the ringer like I am and will be counting on the tread to keep you safe, you’ll want to replace this shoe at around 300 miles or so. It’s odd for me to recommend this, too, considering that one of the great things about minimalist shoes is you don’t have to deal with replacing shoes for their “supportive” qualities. But if good tread is important for your runs, then the replacement factor still exists.

comparison

All in all though, guys, this is my best trail shoe now. It’s an ideal choice for men and women who are real dirt devils like me and want something that will hold up to the terrain while protecting your feet from the harsher bits, and also from the longer miles. It’s also a great shoe for anyone who loved the Trail Glove / Pace Glove, but would like to move on to something a little less minimal. If you’re on the fence I suggest you check it out, you’ll probably be as pleasantly surprised as I was.


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Rambling Post #170: So I Signed Up for Ragnar

ragnar-car

Just today, I officially committed to running on a Ragnar team. The race happens in June of 2014, at Wasatch Back in Utah, which I guess is the “original” Ragnar. I’m excited, and surreally motivated. In fact, I’m even tempted to go buy one of those nifty little “Team Ragnar” jackets and wear it around this winter to keep myself inspired about the whole thing.

A funny thing happens to me when I sign up for a new kind of running challenge. I immediately start figuring in my weekly training program, planning my next veggie-heavy supermarket shopping spree and promising my body that more hill work and squats, and also less fat cells around my waist, will be a reality of the near future. I start to daydream the perfect outcome to the race: finally being in the best running shape of my life, soaking in amazing views, impressing my friends as I blast out new personal records, et cetera.

Ragnar is no different. In case you’ve never heard of it, Ragnar is a 200-mile relay race where up to 12 team members share vans that exchange runners for their individual legs of the adventure. You don’t sleep much, you live in very close proximity to eleven other people who you hopefully like being in close proximity to, and you run three 4-8 mile sections of the course through the mountains, all night long and into the next day. Besides this and the fact that it commands an almost solemn brand of respect among most trail runners (and a rather interesting brand of scrutiny by the rest), that’s really all I know about Ragnar. Needless to say (if you know me), I’ve kind of always planned to run one of these races someday. Someday, when I have a stronger running body, a bigger group of running friends and the motivation to do it. Right now I’ve actually got two of those, and the third is going to require a lot more squats.

Let me interrupt myself here to acknowledge that yes, in the last two paragraphs I have mentioned getting in shape three times. You probably noticed that. What you didn’t see was that while I was typing out those paragraphs I was also scarfing down a donut from the pink box of evil that Shawn’s friend Damon brought into our home this morning. And I’d freely blame Damon for my complete list of diet faux-pas if it weren’t for the fact that I also bought a large chocolate bar AND a package of red velvet cupcakes at the supermarket last night, and definitely drank half a bottle of white wine with them after dinner. And I would definitely blame PMS for the chocolate splurge if it weren’t for the fact that I’m on birth control pills.

The truth is, even though on the everyday I tend to cook like a spokeswoman for clean eating, I still eat crappy food way too damn often. When I go to the grocery store I sail mostly around the outside of the building, filing half my carriage with fresh produce before adding meats, eggs, whole wheat items and toilet paper. Desserts in our house comprise of frozen real-fruit bars – you know, the ones that contain a grand total of three pronounceable ingredients, and are about 70 calories apiece. Sure, they come in packages of 6 for $4.99 but we consider them an investment in our collective avoidance of cupcakes.

Except, of course, when we buy cupcakes.

And that’s just it: there are so many exceptions to our insanely healthy at-home menu that it feels like a self-deception every time I look at the overflowing fruit-veggie bowl in my kitchen. There is almost always beer and wine in our house. And if we run out, it’s like a red-alert emergency to restock before Friday night’s OMG-it’s-the-weekend beer and grilled chicken dinner night. We go out to eat together a few times a month and, I’m sorry, but we aren’t ordering salads. Then add in the hash runs I attend twice a week on average, which pile on the calories of two to three heavy craft beers plus a not-very-healthy meal, and snack items that I never buy at home – thus tend to indulge in guiltily every couple of weeks, as that feeling of cheesy-Doritos-and-soda-pop-deprivation starts to set in.

Throw all of that onto that super-fun, once-a-month cupcake buying adventure, and today’s Boston Crème donut just sounds like another day in the life, doesn’t it?

As I’m writing this I tried to avoid pointing out that my exercise regime hasn’t looked like any arguable interpretation of the word “regime” in about eight months or so – but now that I’m halfway through it seems inevitable that I’m going to talk about it anyway, so get ready.

I mean, I gotta admit it: for the most part, I no longer run long. I no longer do core exercises. I no longer do hill repeats or sprints or even fartleks (yes you’re right, I just put that in because it’s a funny word and I have a 12-year old’s sense of humor). Hell, I don’t even carry my Garmin with me anymore. And that’s because I don’t care how far I run. I tried to tell myself this is because I’ve finally dropped my sophomoric vanity about arbitrary running goals, but really it’s because I don’t run far enough for it to matter anymore. In fact, I haven’t run more than about seven miles since my 50K back in May. And it’s not even that I’m in a running slump – I still love it. I’m just not pushing myself anymore. In other words, I’m fucking lazy.

Now, if you’re reading this and getting worried that it’s some desperate cry for help or advice on diet and exercise, please don’t. I assure you this is just my style of self deprecating humor, sprinkled in with a lot of useless, go-nowhere complaining. I know that I am overweight right now (at least three socially-inept male hashers have already taken it upon themselves to remind me of this in the last couple of months).  And yes, I even know why – and as referenced by my inconsistent eating habits, it’s pretty clear that it’s not just about genetics.

Or is it?

I mean, the most annoying part about being overweight is not that I’m a runner and that 99.998% of all the runners in Southern California are thin, so I stand out (although that’s really annoying, yes). It’s that I’m supposed to be ashamed of being overweight because I obviously must eat like a pig. The reality of the situation is that while I don’t pray to the gods of perfectly clean eating 100% (or even 80%) of the time, I do have a refrigerator stuffed full of fresh produce and lean meats that make up just about every meal I prepare at home. Except for the very rare occasion, I don’t buy soda. I don’t buy ice cream. I don’t buy potato chips, macaroni and cheese, frozen dinner items, canned soup, cow’s milk, American cheese, microwave popcorn, candy, cookies, white bread, anything with the word “diet” or “light” in it, or any product that has to tell me it’s “gluten-free” because it thinks that’ll fool me. My overall eating habits aren’t very different from my average thin runner friend. Most thin people cave in to the occasional chocolate bar/cupcake/handful of cheesy Doritos, just like me. So yeah, I happen to put on weight a little more easily than some people, but I don’t see why I’m supposed to be ashamed about that. Because I’m really not ashamed. I have a different metabolism. Some people have curly hair. It is what it is.

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The only thing I legitimately have to feel bad about (and I do) is this damn lazy streak. I’ve had access to far too much beer for my own good, and it’s making me fatter, drunker and lazier. “Running to the beer” is a really fun idea, but in practice it’s like trying to bail out a sinking boat with a spoon. My reward for a great hard run used to be an even better run later on, not 400 calories of dark beer that my stomach will make me pay for tomorrow morning.  And I used to do more than running before, too. I did core work after every run, lifted weights and took boot camp classes. Yeah, that was back before I was married, when my arms weren’t floppy and my weight was below the “overweight” line at the doctor’s office. Although to be completely honest, my diet was pretty much the same then as it is now, only without as many veggies.

Okay this is where I’m going to stop before the useless complaining really kicks in. Instead I should go buy that Ragnar jacket so I can wear it in anticipation of my exciting new race endeavor. And then maybe I’ll hit up a yoga class, or head out for a run with the dog, or I dunno…..maybe throw that pink fucking box of donuts into the dumpster. And the rest of the red velvet cupcakes too.

But not the chocolate, no way. That shit stays. I’m PMS’ing, dammit.


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A Place Called Home

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I am now approaching the eve of a full year spent living in San Diego, on the other side of the country from where my life began. I have been procrastinating this post for awhile now; partly because I’ve been keeping myself too busy to write (more on that later), but mostly because I wasn’t really sure what’s left to say on the subject without worrying that it’ll sounding braggy or trite. But I think I’ve finally come down from that surreal, vacation-like state of having first moved here, and I’ve had time to reflect on what this year has changed about me.

To be honest it doesn’t even feel like a whole year has passed. More like five or six months. A strange thing happens as we get older: the world just keeps spinning faster and the years fling by like boomerangs. Christmas, birthday, Summer, Autumn, Christmas. I remember being a kid and thinking how very long a year was. “Summer is right around the corner,” my Grammy would ponder, but to me it felt as if decades passed before swimsuit weather was upon us again.

Speaking of my Grammy, she lived here in San Diego once. She and my Grampa schlepped themselves west for promising work right after high school, along with my Grampa’s brother Pete and my aunt Pauline. They only stayed for a year, living for a time in the North Park area with my aunt Marion and her husband. It was tight living quarters for sure, but that was part of the family-centric culture back in the 50’s. Even though it was short lived, my grandmother definitely loved it. I know this because she told me so many stories about San Diego when I was a child that I think the soul of this place was permanently imprinted on me even back then.

Views of Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak, just ten minutes from my house.

Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak. My house may actually be in this photo.

This was apparent when I first vacationed here with Shawn in 2005 – and then kept finding excuses to come back. I knew it then as much as I know it now: this town, by the truest definition, is my home. For 33 years I existed in eastern New England, floundering a lot, finding friends and losing them again, moving from town to town. I looked hard between the forests and the cities for a place I could call mine. A town I would fall in love with. In 33 years I never found one. Finally I began to fancy myself a floater: I figured I must be just one of those people who prefers to be unbound to a particular place in favor of trying everywhere. I realize now I was just unsatisfied.

Unlike just about everyone I knew, I never retained a close-knit group of longtime friends who would drop by the house to borrow a cup of sugar or feed my cat while I was away. I had one or two very close friends whom I love like siblings, but because I moved all over the state we always seemed to be an hour’s drive away from each other. I’ve never been very close to family; both of my parents are deceased and my family of aunts, uncles and cousins are spread out all over New England. And frankly, our emotional distance is even wider than that. I’ve never felt I could count on anyone to be there for me the way I saw others could. I always thought it didn’t bother me, but I understand now that it really kind of did.

But you know, I think we all live our lives normalizing whatever is around us. Palm trees and year-round temperate weather is business as usual for a native Californian. But they were a far-off daydream to me, as I dug my car out of snowdrifts all winter long. A dream so big that I think part of me simply waited to begin living any actual life until I had a permanent tan and a back yard full of queen palms.

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The SoCal Sunset.

And so here I am. Home, and finally living my actual life. This place suits me like a soul mate. I now get to look out the windows of the loft I’ve made into my home-office at a landscape rife with southern Californian beauty. Rocky hills and mountains in the distance that make way for sun-struck glimpses of the great Pacific, hawks flying above, coyotes howling at night, and skies so wide and so blue that I finally understand what it’s like to feel miles of open space and the roundness of the earth as it curves away before my eyes. The mercury hardly ever rises so high that I need air conditioning, nor falls so low that I need to put socks on my bare feet. That perfect happy temperature and humidity level, which tends to elude New England for all but ten days per annum, is the absolute norm here. And so is the sunshine. Sunshine, which has ever been the perpetuator of my deepest personal happiness, couldn’t be more plentiful: it has rained only 6 or 7 times since we arrived.

The beach-sandy, easy-living culture of SoCal plays to all the best parts of my personality. All 70 miles of San Diego coastline is public turf, which means you can park anywhere and walk, run, swim, surf, kayak, paddle or relax on the beach all year round, any time of day or night and never have to be elbow-to-elbow with a bunch of annoying overly-tanned strangers. There are stretches of beach, and even an entire island, dedicated to San Diego’s love of dogs, and a large number of restaurants welcome our canine friends with spacious outdoor seating and plenty of doggy water bowls.

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A view of my neighborhood

San Diego is one of the largest hops-brewing cities in the world, housing over 100 breweries and microbreweries within the county lines. The city’s passion for beer has spurned some of the best hashing in the country as well, with something around 15 kennels of trail-running, beer-drinking Hash House Harriers, littering the earth with chalk symbols and baking flour dollops on just about every day of the week. People who become Hashers and Harriettes tend to be a lot like me: they are mostly educated, laid-back people with a love for good trails, fine beer and dirty jokes. Many of them with either no kids or grown kids, they are free to live the social lives they desire. They are athletic but not competitive, health-conscious but not militant. They tend to be quite comfortable within themselves, which makes for an exceptional (and exceptionally large, for me) network of friends and acquaintances who have kept me busy, entertained and running dozens of insanely awesome local trails for over eight months now (which explains my lack of time for blogging). Because of Hashing, I finally have the opportunity to gain that centralize social circle that has always eluded me in life.

Trails in Escondido

Trails in Escondido

And at least two-thirds of the people I have met here, hashers or not, are transplants like me. They have been equally drawn in by the magnetic pull of the SoCal life. It only figures that people who are bold enough to leave their original lives behind for something better tend to have a lot of other personality traits in common too. Because of this I find it much easier to be present in the friendships I have made, and I feel much more understood. Nobody here bugs me to have kids or to buy a home, or alienates me for my divergent choices. I no longer feel surrounded by complainers who hate their lives but are too lazy or cowardly to improve them. I sense more independence amongst these San Diegans: people play more active roles in their own lives and don’t seem as likely to expect from the world (or their parents) that morphine-drip of emotional and/or financial support that I saw so often back east.

I once heard the advice: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Southern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” I used to worry that losing my east coast roots would bring forth the departure of my soul, my grit. But now I see that’s a completely bullshit notion. The only thing I have lost since I’ve moved out here is my bitterness: bitterness about the weather, about the traffic, about friends lost, about the insane cost of living and the life-sucking obligation to always settle for less than what I wanted. I don’t feel that way out here. I don’t feel poor like I did in New England, even though I make roughly the same amount of money. I don’t live in a crappy neighborhood because that’s all I can afford. Instead I live in a nice house in a quiet community, close to the beach and a few minutes from the nearest mountain views.

No, I have not lost my soul: instead I have introduced this soul to the joys I never knew I could afford or deserve. I have not lost my grit: instead I’ve applied it to more positive endeavors, like running for miles up mountains and learning how to stand on a surfboard (it’s much harder than it looks, by the way). I have learned that people desire different things in life and that there is just no good reason – not family, not a job, not fear – to relegate myself to a place or a lifestyle that’s less than what I ultimately desire. I only get one body and one finite period of time to live in it, and I’ve done myself a disservice to have even for a moment wasted it at the hands of my lesser obligations.

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A photo taken after my first surf lesson

As a result of this realization, I have come to no longer care what my distant family members think of my free-wheeling lifestyle. I don’t care how new parents feel about my rejection of the parenting life. It means less than zero to me whether other married couples think Shawn and I act married enough or spend an adequate amount of time participating in each other’s chosen pastimes. I don’t care if fellow runners think I drink too much beer or if fellow hashers think I run too many races. It took me 33 years, but my choices finally feel like they’re completely mine. I finally feel beautiful. I finally feel whole. I finally feel happy. And I mean really, honestly happy. And I don’t even give a shit if you don’t believe that. This is what it means to “find yourself”.

This, my friends, is what it feels like to find your home.


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Tutus and Shiggy Socks: Finding the Spiritual in an Unexpected Place

It’s going to be another one of those brightly sun-drenched days, I think, as my steady plodding trot turns to a hike and heads skyward once again on this wide open, sandy trail in desert-like northeastern San Diego County. My legs feel like boulders beneath my hips as they labor up another steep incline, more slowly than I wish they would. My hydration vest has come in handy so far but I’m still feeling a little dizzy from the heat and the effort. The trail continues on an upward trend for three more miles before leveling off, and I have to stop twice to catch my breath. I curse the recent bout of bronchitis for setting back my cardio endurance so much, but despite my struggle I am alright. In fact I’m genuinely glad to be here. I would smile to prove it, if I wasn’t so sure that my squinting into the sun would make it look more like a grimace than a grin.

uphillA small part of the pack making their way uphill last week.

The best part of this hot, late morning run is that I’m not alone. If I was, I am sure I’d have turned around and headed home by now. I am travelling with a group of forty or so people, stretched for miles across the two trails which have been laid for us that day: the 4 mile “Turkey” trail and the 6 mile “Eagle.” A handful of people I have grown quite fond of toil beside me, as we hike the hills and run the straight-aways together. There is something special about running with these people. There is something spiritual about following these trails, laid in all-purpose baking flour by a different volunteer each week. There is something extraordinary about the entire event called a Hash, something I know each one of us there senses, but never really talks about.

Every hash group follows the common theme a little differently: some will focus a lot on the run itself, and others are more about gathering socially. Some attract single, twenty-somethings and others are populated by a more middle-aged crowd. But despite their divergent outward appearances, each hash has the same history, and the same backbone. It is the gathering of a pack of like-minded individuals, each participating in a symbolic “hunt” through roads, trails and quite often complete wilderness, which concludes in a “feast” for all involved (beer and food provided by the volunteers who laid the trail). It didn’t take me long to realize that a hash is a perfect modern-day symbol of our most primitive of social activities.

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The Hash House Harriers glossary of terms found in chalk on trail.

Even though we all run together, the hash is way more primal than your average jaunt through the city with a training group or a trail race with your friends. During a hash run you must chase a trail through varying terrains which are completely unpredictable in nature. You may need to run on roads or trails, up steep hills, down slippery embankments, over ankle-twisting gravel, along drainage pipes, and through hip-high brush or bamboo forests. You might be forced to climb fences, jump off walls or walk across roofs. During the run you may be fooled by a cleverly laid back-track, or lose the trail altogether. But no matter where the flour takes you, you will always have to be thinking while you are running. You must keep your eye to the ground – both for your safety and for the latest trail marking. We may all be chatting jovially as we form groups and seek out trail together, but don’t let this levity fool you – the hash transforms us all into the savage hunter, and our prey is the “hare” that was loosed a mere fifteen minutes ahead of the pack.

Even though we all eat good food and drink craft beer once we reach the end of the trails, the hash is nothing like your ordinary summer barbecue. Strangely similar to that of our ancestors, we are a modern-day tribe of revelers, oftentimes bedecked in costume, knee-socks, kilt and handmade ornamental jewelry that displays the names to which each of us is given by the tribe itself. We have appointed chiefs who lead us in verses that we all know and sing (and sometimes dance) during the ritual called a “circle,” which takes place after the trail at every hash event. This ritual is often humorous, unorganized and slightly debaucherous, but a ritual it remains. At some hashes the circle is so unique and esoteric that it actually resembles something spiritual. Something religious, even.

And if I dare to call this experience religious, it’s because I’ve learned so much more about my inner self as a Hasher than I ever did during my years as a Churchgoer.

Being a Hasher has taught me what my strengths are as a runner and it has taught me to accept my weaknesses. It has taught me that running works best as a social sport, the way it was back when our ancestors hunted for dinner on foot. Hashing has taught me the power of positive motivation and of generosity. It has taught me how to train better for races, mentally as well as physically. It taught me that my body can handle most of the things I’m afraid it can’t, and that my odd sense of humor is not lost on everyone. The hash has gifted me with amazing new friendships that have potential of existing for the long haul. And perhaps best of all, the hash has taught me the value of unconformity: grouping people of different age groups, education levels, socio-economic status, birthplaces, religious and political views, morals and vices, sexual orientation and athletic ability into one running, beer-drinking, laughing, roasting, singing, tutu-wearing, joyful assemblage makes for an impossibly high level of awesome that can rarely, if ever, be achieved anywhere else on the planet.

In the words of my dear, dear friend Caity, the hash is “too awesome to actually be real.” Heh. Amen to that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go wash the poison oak out of my favorite shiggy socks. On On!


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Review: Sport Kilt

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In the most general sense, a kilt isn’t exactly your typical piece of running gear. When you think of a kilt, you’re probably picturing weddings, funerals and hairy, middle-aged Scottish men with bagpipes.  That is, of course, unless you’re not the typical runner.

In my travels, I have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of runners, of all sorts and styles. Just like with any given group of people, you can divide runners up into several different categories. You’ve got your uber-serious runner, pounding out 100-mile weeks wearing $300 racing flats and a hard-set jaw, and your relaxed runner donning some old sweatpants and a grin. There are road runners and trail runners. Ultramarathoners and 5K’ers. And then there are the minimalist runners, wearing nothing but short-shorts, Luna Sandals and a beard, and your maximalist runners hauling around a 4-bottle hydration belt, GPS watch with heart-rate monitor, ID tag, sweatband, tie-dye calf sleeves and Hokas.

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Sprinkled somewhere within the heart of all those groups is the Sport-Kilt runner (like my ultrarunner friend Jason, pictured left). It may seem outlandish for many of you to imagine that running in a kilt would ever become popular enough to warrant designing one with the word “Sport” in the title. But I assure you that it’s not outlandish at all. In fact it’s quite the opposite, at least in my experience. Of the three groups of runners that I have fallen in with at one point or another over the years (minimalists, ultramarathoners and hashers), they have all had several members who embrace the Sport Kilt as a commonplace piece of running attire.

I have always been curious about what it’s like to wear a kilt while running. I had a lot of questions, like how would a piece of pleated polyester sit on you while you’re running? Would it twist, fall, hike up or rub? How hot would it get under there? Are there pockets? And most importantly, from a traditional standpoint, am I allowed to wear underwear?*

So I reached out to the good folks over at Sport Kilt, and they were happy to send me two of their ultra-feminine UltraMini kilts to try. One of them is their basic model Ultra Mini, and the other has added belt loops and lower profile sewn-down pleats. Both kilts have a wide, adjustable Velcro waistband closure and a hidden, surprisingly secure front pocket. Both kilts fit me the same way, but I don’t really care about the belt loops, except maybe to hang keys off them or something, and I prefer the one with the sewn-down pleats because it stays pleated better (this I learned during my years as a Catholic school kid). I like the adjustable closure because it allows me to tighten the skirt while I’m running so it doesn’t fall down, and loosen it later on if I want more of a low-rise look (or a slightly longer hem).

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And speaking of hem, the Ultra Mini kilt is quite, well…mini. On a hasher website, a Sport Kilt banner ad begs the question: “How short do you go?” Apparently, short enough to answer that whole underwear question with a resounding “YES”, since I have no intention of getting arrested for indecent exposure. Of the handful of times I have worn my Sport Kilts, I have paired them with compression shorts, a bikini bottom and regular underwear (hey what the hell, I am a hasher!). With compression shorts the skirt seems bulky and rather redundant. With underwear I was flashing my fellow hashers all day long (not that they minded). This I know because of the nearly constant shouts of “Pink!” from behind me as I leaned forward or climbed steep embankments… the color of my favorite Victoria’s Secret cheeky panties. That said, I much prefer wearing a less taboo pair of bikini bottoms or RunBuns under this skirt, which is more like something you’d find attached under a RunningSkirts brand skirt.

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Being that I’m originally from a cold-weather state, I am pretty sensitive to the heat when I am running. I will wear a short sleeve shirt running all the way down to 45 degrees. So I was a little apprehensive about the prospect of wearing a kilt running in southern California. Surprisingly, even though it’s not my lightest piece of running clothing, I didn’t feel particularly hot in the kilt. The pleated fabric allows a lot of air circulation when you move, and the fabric is somewhat absorbent, so the bit of dampness keeps you cooler (unlike with sweat-wicking materials which dry right away, thus rendering your sweat useless in dry climates). You probably won’t catch me wearing one of these kilts on a long run through Escondido in August, but other than that it serves as a perfectly reasonable running “skirt”.

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You might be asking yourself why wear a Sport Kilt rather than your usual running skirt/shorts/hiking gear? Well for one, most running skirts are made of sweat wicking materials so if you buy into Jason Robillard’s theory that absorbent cottons actually keep you cooler, then a kilt is a great alternative. And if you’re a dude who likes to keep your junk free and cool while running but aren’t into the Naked American short-shorts thing (left), then you’ll probably like wearing a Sport Kilt (although I would suggest you get a longer one). Not to mention you’ll always have something appropriate to wear to St. Patrick’s Day 5Ks, Irish weddings and sexy school-girl events.

Check the Sport Kilt site out here. You can choose from dozens of different tartans, including the California Tartan and the Hash House Trail tartan.

*in case you’re unfamiliar with the underwear conundrum, there’s an old riddle that goes like this: What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? His shoes.


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Review: Luna Sandals Mono with Ribbon Laces

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Having been part of this whole “barefoot” and “minimalist” running world for a few years now, and having seen it change and grow, I have come to know a lot about the innovators and entrepreneurs who have brought so much to it for so many people. One of those innovators is the Luna Sandals company. Powered by some of the most fun-loving, kind and down to earth people you could ever meet [at the Born to Run Ultra], Luna Sandals is as much a culture as it is a company. How great would it be to work for such a place!

It’s sadly just so rare these days to find a company that is just as good at professionalism and quality as it is at having fun and being passionate about the same things their customers are. Luna has this and I find it totally refreshing. This is one of the biggest reasons why I love to support and promote them and their products.

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The other reason is that I really love their sandals, guys! Last year I got the opportunity to review their original suede-covered sandal (renamed “Venado”) with the ATS laces that had just come out. Once I wore those babies in they became my only piece of footwear during the summer. I wore them for the 3,000 miles from Boston to San Diego when we made our big move. I ran, hiked, climbed and lived in them so much that the foot bed now has a fine patina and they have a fit so perfect that it would charm the likes of Cinderella.

oldshoeLast year’s Venado – beautifully worn in.

The only place I didn’t love my Luna Venados was when I ran up steep hills, which is a frequent occurrence for me around here. The tread on the soles was pretty flat and didn’t hold on to the ground as well as I liked, especially after building in some wear. So when I saw the new Mono food bed (pronounced “moe-no”, and is Spanish for “monkey”), I thought it might be a good alternative for the trails. Much thanks to the generous Lunar Monkeys, I was able to snag a pair cut down to the shape of my foot, and this time I decided to try some tie laces rather than the ATS.

The Mono Foot Bed

Instead of suede like in my Venado footbed, the sole of my Mono is covered in Pittard’s leather. This is supposed to be a more premium material than the suede, and less slippery in wet conditions. I found the leather to be comfortable and yes, seemed to have a better traction to my foot when wet. But the leather doesn’t get that nice form-fitting wear-in that makes my Venados feel so special. At least not yet, anyway. That could be due in part to the thickness of the sole (12mm as opposed to the Venado, which I think is 6mm), which turns out has its own list of considerations.

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Because the sole’s rubber is so thick, the toe and ankle holes are able to be counter-sunk, which means they dug into the sole a bit so that the laces don’t rub against the ground. This is a definite plus for the life of your laces. The sole of the Mono has some tread, so the traction is much better than the Venado for trail, although not as rugged as the Leadville (their recommended trail sandal). The Mono is more of an all-terrain sandal, which works for someone like me who is just as likely to wear them to the farmer’s market as I am to bring them on trail.

bottomThese photos shoe the sunken-in laces and toe plug.

And speaking of trails: I actually found myself running some trails in this shoe, especially when paired with the right laces (more on that later). The extra oomph of the footbed gives me just a little more traction – not enough to run down Torrey Pines Gliderport, most likely, but it works. The only negative I experienced is the thickness of the foot bed. It’s 12mm. That’s thick enough to keep me from feeling the ground. Most people don’t have the ankle problem that I do, but if I can’t feel the subtle ground changes below me, I lose proprioception, and thus I lose the reaction time I need to prevent twisted ankles.

So unfortunately I’m not really sure how much trail running I’ll do in these sandals, and I may consider purchasing a pair of Leadville Pacers for their rugged traction and thinner sole, and then have the full array of Luna sandals to meet my running needs.

The Laces

Your choice of lacing is probably the most personal, make-it-or-break-it aspect of any Luna Sandal. There’s the no-fuss ATS lacing, the ¼”  or 10mm leather laces, traditional hemp laces, and new to the game, the ribbon laces (currently offered in black and blue). I requested the tying laces as opposed to the more popular ATS laces this time around because I really love the way they look all wrapped around my foot and ankle – I find it pretty and stylish. I got my Monos before the ribbon laces were available. So when my pair came in they had a set of 10mm laces, the thicker leather that they offer. I don’t actually know why I chose the 10mm (or even if I did), but I wasn’t a fan. They were so thick and unflexible that I couldn’t get them to stay tied. They literally fell off my feet while I walked. Perhaps the ¼” laces would have made me happier. However, once I saw a few photos of sandals with the new ribbon lacing, I had to snag a set for myself (and at $12, they weren’t too much of a risk).

oldlacesMy feet up on the dashboard in the 10mm leather laces.

And my gosh what a world of difference! The ribbon laces may or may not be as long-lasting as the leather ones (this remains to be seen) but I very much prefer the plush, pliable fabric of the ribbon (which is sort of like a much softer version of a backpack or seatbelt strap).

Used to be I always stuck with the pre-tied huarache because traditional tied laces tend to slide right off my heels. Doesn’t matter how tight or loose I tie the things, the heel strap just doesn’t stay put. But because the ribbon lacing is so workable, I was able to find my own tying method (see below) that keeps the shoe in place permanently. For the first time, my feet are comfortable, there is no rubbing, and I don’t have to adjust or retie…ever. This tying method has worked so well for me that I even prefer it over the ATS lacing, and the new ribbon is so perfect that it makes any Luna sandal the most comfortable huarache you’ll ever put on your feet. Yeah, I said it. For the first time ever I can actually see myself comfortably running a distance race in a pair of sandals.

That’s big.

backThe tying method for those with flat heels: loop the lace once under the heel strap, and it doesn’t budge.

The Wrap-Up

Overall, I dig the Mono and I know I will wear it a lot. I miss the suede footbed, but I think I’ll get used to the Pittard’s leather and eventually see the up-sides of it. I probably won’t be spending a lot of time running trail in the Mono because of its thick sole, but I can see myself tying them on for a road run on a hot day or for some hiking with my dog. I will probably wear them everywhere I go this summer, however. I love the way they look and feel with the ribbon lacing, especially now that I have the tying part down. They are exceedingly comfortable, secure and even fashionable. If you’re looking for the all-terrain, super comfortable huarache shoe that has a little more sole protection, this is your Luna. If you don’t have a problem with thicker soles on easy trails (or prefer it), you’ll love wearing the Mono on the trail as much as on the road. But if you’re hoping for a sandal with amazing traction and don’t care about the leather footbed, go for the Leadville (12mm thick sole) or Leadville Pacer (9mm) instead. Either way, I highly recommend the new ribbon laces for their versatility, adjustability, stability and comfort. They’re just a total win.

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