Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: Your New Favorite Running Accessories

Running bloggers write a lot of reviews on running shoes. I do too. Trail shoes, road shoes, minimalist shoes, sandals, et cetera. Shoes are great tools for running, but shoes are just one of the tools in the toolbox.

So I thought I’d do a little compilation review to show my appreciation for some of the more useful non-shoe running items that I’ve come across recently. I’d like to do one of these reviews every so often, because I’m always looking to discover great new running gear.

Injinji Performance Toe Socks

Injinjis aren’t news for most minimalist runners; I’ve been wearing them for years now (when, that is, I wear socks running). But I’ve always bought the same kind, the regular performance micro-crew sock. I have about seven pairs (all permanently trail-stained, might I add). Recently I noticed on their site that they have a few newer styles that I hadn’t seen before, so I snagged a few samples. My favorite of them were the Performance Mid-weight No-Show sock, and the Performance Ultra-thin Lightweight No-Show sock.

The mid-weight sock was interesting because it’s kind of a wonder of design. To be honest, I’ve never really paid much attention to how socks are made until I had to review these. They seem to be made of different materials at once: a super-stretchy top and slightly cushy at the bottom. The slight thickness of the material is very useful if you get hot feet like me. These guys soak up sweat like a pro, and I like to wear mine on long runs. I dig the no-show tops too, they are actually no-show, as opposed to the other socks I’ve bought in this style that end up being way too long and are more like “extra-show.” The sizing is always pretty good for me with Injinji.

The lightweight sock was also great (mine were black so I couldn’t get them to photograph well – thus the stock image above), it was very, very thin so it fit comfortably with my most snug-fitting shoes, unlike the mid-weight pair. Some have said the really lightweight socks get damp too quickly and allow blisters to form, but I didn’t seem to have that problem. If you’re a chronic sock-wearer, they are a great option on a hot day.

So if you’re a distance runner and you’ve never tried Injinji toe socks (I’m thinking of a few friends of mine), I suggest you try them. Having a sock with toe pockets to buffer every surface of skin on your feet is an excellent way to keep away blistering for a long time. Also you never have to worry about your socks twisting inside your shoe, or that annoying seem-on-the-toe issue that always bothered me about wearing traditional socks.

AYG All Year Gear – Women’s Brief and Crewneck

If you’re a reader of Jason Robillard’s running blog, you may have read his thoughts on thermo-regulation and moisture-wicking fabrics. I did too, and it really got me thinking about the role that fabrics play in my running here in SoCal. I hail from a very humid, cool climate where overheating and dehydration is almost a non-issue throughout most of the year. But here, I can’t do things like wear two layers of t-shirt or don any kind of heavy wicking fabric.

I was impressed by the samples I got from this company called All Year Gear (AYG). They specialize in performance underwear for women and men, out of this exceptionally-stretchy, mostly cotton fabric (they call it XTRdry cotton), but they offer t-shirts and other items as well. It’s the most amazing fabric. The first time I went running in the briefs and crewneck tee was pretty hot and dry outside. I came back with a damp shirt. And this is an excellent thing because when the fabric is slightly damp, it’s cooling me off. Most moisture-wicking shirts pull moisture away from your skin and dry immediately, which is excellent in a humid climate but can help you to overheat in a dry one, because sweat is your body’s only cooling mechanism.

Why not just wear cotton then, you ask? Well, I don’t like how cotton feels when I’m running. I find it absorbs too much moisture, gets heavy and feels sort of gross. The AYG cotton is much lighter than your typical t-shirt cotton, and the stretch in the fabric ensures that it’ll keep its shape after miles of sweaty running.

As for the undies (there will be no live photos of those, thanks), I don’t typically wear underwear when I’m running. I don’t like the extra layer. But there are a couple of down sides to going commando, one of them is having to wash your bottoms between each use. That can get annoying and seem wasteful over time, so I like that I have the option of wearing these bikini briefs to stretch out the wears of my favorite running clothes. And the fabric is lightweight enough to not feel like much of an extra layer.

Buff Headwear

I love Buffs! I only wish I discovered them earlier than this. My friend Vanessa wears these things all the time, and I recently inquired as to where she got them. When I looked into the company I loved the whole idea. Way more than just a sweatband, the Buff is an ingenius, multi-use fat band of fabric (they make them in everything from lightweight stretchy cotton to Polartec fleece) that can be worn in dozens of different ways.

I like to wear my Buff as a wide headband for running and for whenever (i.e. lazy bad-hair day). I have a small head so I have a lot of trouble finding a headband that won’t slide off in five minutes. The Buff has a lot of fabric so it doesn’t move around much, especially if I wear it with pigtails – then it won’t move at all. I absolutely hate the idea of wearing a hat while running, so the Buff is a good alternative for keeping the sun off my head (especially my part, which is particularly prone to sunburn), and for keeping sweat out of my eyes. I also find it works well when there’s a bite of cold in the air – I slide the Buff down over my ears a bit and it’s pretty toasty warm.

You can wear your buff like I do or you can wear it in dozens of different ways. Check out this video on their site where they show you how to wear it like a scarf, a beeny hat, and various other fashions.

Here is one way you should not wear your buff:

This is my friend Shacky. He didn’t get the memo.

That’s what I have for now…as always, thanks for reading! Hope this helps you discover something new for your running toolbox. Do you have a favorite non-shoe running accessory that totally rocks? I’d love to hear about it.

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Last to Start, Last to Finish: Pineland Farms Trail 50K Race Report

Me and Brad and Team SquirrelWipe, at the starting line.

Throughout four months of training for my first ultra marathon, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. And even seconds before the gun went off, standing in the grassy clearing at the start line of this race in my Pace Gloves and my Team SquirrelWipe tank top, I still had no idea. I have come to the conclusion that one has no way to fathom what a trail ultra is like, until one completes a trail ultra.

My friend Sherée and I started the race at the very back of the pack because I knew we’d be there soon enough anyway. Besides, I’m not too fond of watching 300 people (including my more talented running friends Shelly Robillard, Adam Gentile and Brad Waterson) whiz past me at the beginning of a race – it’s just not great for morale. And I had to pee in the woods ASAP because the lines at the porta-johns were too long.

We started at a modest pace, feeling brave and adventurous. I knew there would be hills, lots of them. Steep ones. But I did my best to ignore that reality for as long as possible. We flew over the first few of those hills and glided back down. The trail was clean, soft and mostly rock-free. There were frequent breaks from the woods into acres of gorgeous, grassy pasture that had been mowed down to form perfect 5-foot wide trails snaking around and crossing over each other. I was exhilarated and the view was breathtaking. There were cows, white picket fences, farm houses and sunshine. It was ridiculously awesome, and I’d never been happier to be running.

We had a timely arrival to the second aid station of the race, which was actually three stations in one, all set up at angles connected to different sections of trail in the middle of a mowed pasture. Turns out I would have some important encounters with people at this very station throughout the race. The first of them was right then, as Brad waved at me from the second of the three stops. Damn he’s fast. “How did he already get there?!” Sherée asked me as we stuffed our faces with bananas, Oreos and quartered PB&J sandwiches (we didn’t give ourselves time to eat breakfast before the race). I didn’t know…but all of a sudden I needed to catch up.

I might have wanted to catch Brad a little too much, though, because we probably went too fast and I lost Sherée once we got back to that station again. Her injury was flaring up so she decided to call it early. At first I was thinking “lucky bitch,” but it wasn’t until many miles later that I would realize how lucky I was that she didn’t run the whole race.

The second time I met someone at this three-in-one aid station, it was Jason Robillard. He was on mile I-dunno-what (he was running the 50 mile race) and I’d just started my second of two laps around the course, probably somewhere around mile 17. I had just left the porta-john and was busy eyeing the water truck that had just come in, fantasizing about hopping in the back and calling it a day. Just as I opened my mouth to ask someone if I could get a ride, I was pulled violently from my reverie with the sun-shiny words “Hey, Trisha!” to my right. There was Jason, looking fresh as a fucking daisy.

I will admit I was thrilled to see him again, after having already spent some time running together a few miles back. When he came up to me then, hooting and hollering something about Team SquirrelWipe from behind me, I was insanely relieved to have him there. I was working on mile 12 or 13 (now’s a good time to mention that I purposely didn’t wear my Garmin – the jury is out on whether that was a smart move), and hitting my first major low. We chatted a bit and compared notes, and then before going ahead on his own, Jason helped me visualize running past the start/finish at mile 15.5, and then moving on to that second lap without even thinking. He told me to ride out the low end of this wave like these rolling hills, and then he took off up the hill like a barefoot stallion. Er…yeah.

He probably didn’t realize that every one of the 50 or so 25K runners that flew past me after that were going to sink me further and further into that wave.

But I digress. Now I was past the start/finish, and I’m sure he was glad to see his advice helped me get this far. He listened to me garble on about being tired and completely ignored my ideas about quitting, as if I hadn’t even voiced them. He didn’t seem to give one or two shits that I’d been crying only minutes before reaching this aid station. He told me this was all normal – normal! – and sent me on my way, telling me which station I should plan to get food from. He never stopped being positive for one millisecond. Damn him.

And after some time I found the aid stations were becoming part of an emotional pattern for me. I’d see one, speed up, arrive with a smile, and then someone would ask me what I wanted in my handheld (eventually they stopped asking and just took it from me, because I was too exhausted and confused to answer). I’d spend a few moments lollygagging around (later, I’d spend a lot more moments) and then I’d grab a handful of the closest food item from the table and shove it in my mouth as I left. Then I would run for a good clip, feeling refreshed and rather happy. And then after awhile I would grow tired, come to the bottom of a big hill and start to walk. Then I would sink into a deep, lonely despair, unable to run much more (because there were too many hills) until I caught sight of the next aid station.

This cycle repeated for me until the 6th and final time I reached that infamous three-in-one aid station. I let the nice aid station lady (it could have been a dude for all I know – people were getting sort of fuzzy by now) fill up my handheld with Cytomax and I took a little sit-down on the grass beside the food table. I was perhaps at mile 23 or so, and I couldn’t feel my face. This time I was definitely going to get someone to drive me in. I don’t know how long I sat there deciding, but it might have been ten or more minutes. The teenagers were starting to give me worried looks when a 70 year old woman named Terry came along. I remembered passing her back at mile one (good lord). She asked me why I was sitting down, and I nonchalantly told her that it was because I was waiting for my ride back.

Now, tiny little Terry might have looked frail, but she pulled me off that grass like she was plucking a daisy in a field. “Let’s go,” she demanded. “You’re nearly done, you’re not stopping now.” I spent the next three miles walking with her, while she distracted my exhausted tears with stories from her long and amazing ultramarathon career (and I do mean amazing). She got me as far as the start/finish area (mile 26), where I decided to take a short pit-stop at the porta-johns. I had only five miles left.

In the porta-john I decided that since I’d just run a marathon, that was good enough. That it was taking too damn long for me to finish this race, and that it was time to go find Sheree in the crowd, tell her I’m all set, and have a beer together. Mmmm. Beer. Then I realized there was no more toilet paper, so it was a damn good thing that I’d shoved some in the side pocket of my handheld that morning. Phew.

I stepped out, looked up, and…shit. There was Sherée. Standing at the top of the hill like a monument of resolve. The look on her face said she wasn’t going to let me stop. “Let’s go, honey, there’ s just five miles left and I’m running them with you.”

Now I realize that obviously, I never really wanted to quit before I finished. If I did, I am more than pig-headed enough to have overcome all of my friends’ determination to keep me going. It’s embarrassing now that some of them had to watch me whine like an over-tired 5 year old as I walked through the start/finish toward my final 9K loop, but I was going to do it either way.

I think in the end I just needed some companionship, and I’m not sure I could ever make Sherée understand how much it meant to me that she was there right then. Those hills, those woods were really lonely. It’s fairly obvious that my legs were not quite prepared for the constant barrage of hills on this decidedly hellish course, but I was absolutely blindsided by my emotional despair and overwhelming sense of aloneness. Normally I prefer running alone, I even have written articles on the positives of running alone. But my mind, my heart, just could not handle my loneliness during this race. And that’s probably why I lingered for so long at the aid stations (I figure I wasted about 1.5 hours at them), and why I practically waited for people like Terry and Jason to come along and lift me out of my interminable funk.

I was also surprised that I preferred the fields to the wooded parts of the course. Everyone around me (er…passing me) was bitching about the heat and sun as the afternoon closed in, but throughout the day I found that the sunny fields were the only areas I really felt like opening up to a run. The sun was hot and yucky, but I barely noticed. Its familiarity lifted me out of my emotional darkness. But more than anything else, contrary to the woods the fields were more or less flat. Even toward the end of the race I found I could maintain a much better running pace on these flat areas. In the end I guess it really was the hills (and, perhaps, the hills alone) that made this race so profoundly difficult for me.

After a quick stop at the bag drop-off to bandage a small blister and check my phone for inspirational text messages (of which I had many, because I’ve got amazing friends), Sherée and I took off for the last five miles. The first half mile was in the fields – those lovely fields – and Sherée gingerly commented that I was going pretty fast. I didn’t care. I felt good, I wanted to run fast and I wanted to be done. Soon as we entered the hilly woods, I fell apart again like clockwork. But she whisked me through this last hour as fast as she could on fresh legs. She was so unwaveringly supportive, that I’m pretty sure she would have carried me to the finish line if necessary.

But before too long (well…nevermind, it was way too long), we were almost done. All I had to do was cross the street and enter the clearing toward the finish line. Sherée sent me on as I sped up to a trot, then a run, then a faster run. Brad appeared before me – barefoot, flailing and making wild noises like he was trying to scare the cows. There were strangers clapping and hooting at me, and cowbells ringing out their metallic monotone as I sprinted for the finishers chute, dead fucking last, with a colossal grin on my face.

I got a fever. And the only prescription is…more cowbell.

I have a few conclusions about this race. Some of them relate to my embarrassingly bad finish time, my feelings about having walked too much and whined too much, my regret over picking such a difficult course, etc. And others point to the little victories, like the fact that I didn’t get hurt, that I handled all the downhills surprisingly well, and that I finished at all, even though I was the last one to do so.

In the end, perhaps my finishing this race was more of a testament to my will and determination than it was to my slacker training. But the bare fact is that I finished. I did it. I might be the slowest one under the age of 70 but I am an ultra-marathoner.

And as Jason Robillard promised would happen, I kinda can’t wait to sign up for my next 50K.

One with fewer hills.


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So I signed up for a 50k Race…I mean, how hard can it be?

Thanks to Vanessa Runs‘ awesome helpfulness, here’s my answer:

Yeah, you read it right. Back-to-back long runs. Thankfully, the real commitment to craziness, according to this schedule, doesn’t start for a whole month (thanks to a smart commentor, Jason Fitzgerald, for catching it – because I thought it was this week – yikes!). But, I mean…did you see week 11? That’s 24 miles on Saturday and then 10 on Sunday!

Gulp.

Okay, okay. Maybe this isn’t so out of bounds. I did want to increase my weekly mileage this winter anyhow. And I can (hopefully) run without hurting myself if I go nice and slow. I mean, I’m not going to win the race anyway, so forget that. But because I’m REALLY slow right now, I can work on speed during the week, along with some lifting and strength workouts.

I will admit something, though. I am not holding myself to the full 50k, if it becomes unreachable to me that day. I promise not to beat myself up if I have to stop after the first of the two 25k loops (and then beg the race director to let me pretend I’d signed up for the 25k, to avoid a DNF). With that said, if I spend these next four months training my ass off and manage to not get hurt, then I can’t see why a marathon wouldn’t be possible. And once I get to a marathon….well, what’s five more miles? Right?

But I am not completely obtuse. I know that most people train for years and years to get to ultra-marathon status. They run these things with serious goals in mind, besides beer and social networking. They are lithe and strong, they have earned their runner’s bodies, they can easily run a mile in under 7 minutes, and they haven’t eaten ice cream in at least 18 months. And most importantly, yeah so they’ve already run at least a few 26.2′s.

But me? Well, I’m a slow-as-fuck runner who averages between a 10-12 minute mile (these days it’s 12, and sometimes worse), I’m overweight, short, and I haven’t picked up a free weight in…at least 18 months. And I’ve never run more than 13 miles in my entire life. And that one time that I did? I didn’t even do a great job, I ran down a hill wrong and busted my IT band.

And I worked hard for that half mary. Busted my ass, even. I lost weight, worked my way up to three 10 mile long runs and one 11 miler. But since that didn’t seem to work for me much in the end, I think maybe this time I’ll go about it in a completely different way.

Oh, I am going to train. I’ll try my best to knock down all those back-to-back long runs. I’ll start doing strength training to even out. We’ll see how it goes. But if something starts to hurt? I’m going to stop and rest. If it starts to feel like a job? I’m going to stop and rest. If I can’t get all the miles in? I’m going to spend more time at the gym doing strength training. I’m not going to stress about it. I’m going to call these next four months of training The 50k Slacker Program. The way I figure it, I may actually be the least experienced person at the whole race, and my completion of it will be out of sheer dumb will, kind of like Forest Gump running cross country. And because I’m going into this just to have a good time, I’m going to let my Slacker attitude prevail, all the way.

So with that in mind, I have 5 possible goals for this race, in descending order of successfulness:

  1. Finish the 50k and drink my first beer as an ultra-marathoner (take that, disbelievers!)
  2. Finish the 25k and have time for more beer
  3. Drink Jason Robillard’s share of the beer while he runs 50 miles
  4. Drink beer with a bunch of cool barefoot running people like a total slacker
  5. Walk around barefoot drinking beer and wearing somebody else’s cowbell around my neck (they give away a cowbell instead of a medal, how cool is that?)

No matter what happens, though, I will come away from these four months fitter, lighter and stronger than I am today. So even if I don’t complete a single one of these goals on May 27th (although I’m pretty sure that walking around barefoot with a beer in my hand won’t be much to tackle), the Pineland 50k will have done me a whole lot of good.

So what’s to lose, right?

(except dignity, self-respect and the ability to stand?)

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