Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


10 Comments

Review: Luna Sandals Mono with Ribbon Laces

topview

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.

bothfeet

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.

mainphoto

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.

dressedup

Advertisements


24 Comments

Obstacle Races and Ultrarunning: A Horrible Match Made in CrossFit Hell?

I started running for real about three years ago. And by “for real” I mean three years ago I announced to the public world that I am a runner, and I did this by signing up for my first race (does that sound too much like I’m comparing my running life to the way more meaningful “coming out of the closet”? Hm. Is that weird? Whatever, nevermind). I started with 5K’s, then 10k’s, and then eventually I moved up to longer races and I have pretty much stayed there ever since. I guess you could say I evolved into a distance runner, or at the very least I found my sweet spot. Which, by the way, is somewhere between “pretty slow” and “fucking really slow.”

But of course, staying anywhere for too long is never enough these days. You’ve always got to be striving to finish faster or go longer. A couple of years ago, while I was still doing my best to pin down a better half marathon time, the ultramarathon snuck up on everyone and became the new thing. Plain old 26.2’s just didn’t cut it anymore (unless you’re a road runner, and I mean, who wants to be one of those? Ugh*). The new standard went that you didn’t know what it was like to really love running unless you’ve run a trail race that’s so long you needed to change your shoes, stop to poop more than once, and consume full meals during the running of it. But once you ran your first ultra, you were from then on deemed an “ultrarunner.” Oh yes, that nifty, arbitrary term that has absolutely no real meaning. And once you’ve earned it then maybe, just maybe, you could even call yourself a real runner. Anything less than that was sorta washy.

So of course, I just had to have it. In due diligence, I completed my first ultra marathon. And then I ran another…you know, for posterity. Did I run them for the privilege of being able to call myself a runner? Maybe, who the hell knows.  After all these years I’m still not even sure where walking ends and running begins, anyway.

But no need to get stuck on all that baloney: because the whole expectation has changed once again. Have you noticed? Now it’s all about the obstacle race. I for one blame the trendy, LuluLemon-outfitted, meteoric rise of the CrossFit workout. Now, CrossFit is all about obstacles. Machines. Heavy weights. Upper-body strength. Anaerobic exercise. Grunting. In other words, being a CrossFitter is the exact opposite of being a runner. And obstacle races, well…from the looks of ’em, they are the CrossFit of races. Or, wait…maybe they’re the race of CrossFitters? Either way they totally confuse me, because 5K obstacle races are everything that a 5K race…isn’t.

I have a handful of friends who make an enormous deal out of “running” obstacle races. I’m happy that they are getting off the couch and being active (even if they are only ever being active as such, on the day of the race). My friends, like most other obstacle race enthusiasts, seem to have taken the act of climbing walls, crawling through mud pits, jumping over small fires, carrying buckets of water, hanging from ropes and knocking down dozens of burpees, and packaged it up into their definition of “running.” As in, “BillyBob and I are running the Spartan race next weekend.” But the message is totally faulty. Because from what I’ve gathered about obstacle races, the skills required to finish them have very little to do with the skills and training required to finish, say, the regular old 3.1 miler. In a 3.1 miler, you run. And you don’t stop, for the whole time. In an obstacle race, what little energy devoted to running is just for the purpose of getting from one obstacle to the next.

spartan

So why do so many obstacle race enthusiasts identify as “runners”? Has the obstacle course addict now become the new “runner”? Has CrossFit completely rearranged everything about fitness, encompassed it, right down to our beloved foot race? Have obstacle races taken away the hard-earned and much-coveted, bemedaled glory of the distance runner?

One might say yes, it has. But I reject that, gosh-darn it! Obstacle racers are not, in and of themselves, runners. They are obstacle racers, who participate in obstacle races. They may be strong, they may be badass. They may be able to do twenty more pull-ups than me (which is to say they can do…well…twenty pull-ups). But one thing they can’t do as well as me is train like a distance runner! They don’t spend long hours logging miles on their feet, they don’t obsess about pace and fueling, or sacrifice entire weekends for the long run. I declare that obstacle racers belong to the CrossFit Team, not the Runner Team.

Indeed, if you Warrior Dashers, Mud Runners and Spartan Sprinters want to prepare your bad asses for an obstacle race, you’d be much better off doing something like, oh I don’t know, 100 burpees a day. And then some deep squats. And a lot of grunting, too. You obstacle racers should stay over there with the kettle balls and the chin-up bars, and let us runners keep our race medals and our GPS watches and our useless upper bodies. Guys, there’s just no room for any kind of crossover**. You’re either one of them, or you’re one of us. I mean, seriously, I’ve never met an ultrarunner who does 100 burpees a day for fun. Have you?

(Shut up, Vanessa Runs)

I propose we all henceforth agree that obstacle racers shall call themselves “CrossFitters” (or some preferred variation of), instead of “Runners”. Because with all the man-made, non-runner-friendly contraptions littered all over the course, calling it a CrossFit race is much more fitting than calling it a Sprint or a Run. Or at the very least, if you want a true crossover, you should allow for the individual interpretation of the race by each participant, based on their preference and skillset. I mean, think about it: as a runner, using my very well-rounded*** runner’s logic, I would argue that the best way to complete the Spartan Sprint would be to…well…sprint. Sprint past, around and between all of the obstacles. A real “runner” would never climb over walls because that would just eat up precious seconds from our PR.

So don’t call it a sprint. Don’t call it running. Call it racing, if you must…but it would be even better if you found some other term. Maybe you could just settle on something more accurate, like hustling, or maneuvering. Or how about scampering. I’ve always liked that word, scampering. Nobody uses it anymore. I think we should bring it back.

*Before you get your panties in a bunch, I should let you all know this post is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Get off the treadmill/rowing machine and laugh, people.
**Yes…still jesting. This is supposed to be fun, no whining allowed.
*** I know what you’re thinking: my logic is airtight thus far.


14 Comments

Born to Run Ultramarathons 50K 2013 Race Report

btr

Balancing a wooden bowl of avocados, a folded lawn chair and a Solo cup full of margarita in my arms, I followed my good friend Caity and her two kids toward the center of the campground, where folks were selling stuff and Luis Escobar was up on a bandstand announcing contenders for the next round of ball races. I stopped on the way to chat with Pat Sweeney. Little Guadajuko, the ghost dog of the Sierra Madres, walked by us behind his mistress, the one and only Maria Walton.

I remember wondering how this could even be real. The series of events in one’s life are often entwined and complicated, but my route to this place was so linear that it seems almost fictional. It was probably true for most of us here at this 2013 Born to Run Ultramarathons event. One day, for whatever personal reason, we all picked up this book written by a NY Times journalist, entitled Born to Run. We read it, we fell in love with the story of Micah True and his Raramuri, and then we fell in love with the idea of running an ultramarathon someday. Many of us actually ended up running them, too. For me, that book placed a pivot point in my life so deep and strong that in three years time I’d ended up finally following my longtime dream to live on the west coast, wearing a pair of Luna Sandals, running a 50K race with a tribe of wild, beautiful, like-minded human beings and creating friendships with my own personal superheroes. And I credit that book, most of which I read during vacation on a beach in Bermuda, for the entire succession of events that brought me to that very moment, and that bowl of avocados.

view

Before that moment, I hadn’t done anything that could be considered camping since I was probably fifteen years old. So, to make a 5-6 hour solo drive up the California coast and pitch my own tent on a ranch with no shower outbuildings or running water of any kind…well, that was kind of a stretch for me. And as this fact arose in full-color about a week prior to the event, I almost decided not to show up at all. A big part of me was intimidated by the “ick” factor caused by not showering for three days, and the knowledge that, as compared to the rest of the runners attending, I am totally a “city girl.”

And let’s talk about my training. Yeah, exactly: what training? A bunch of hill runs, a solo-ten miler here and there and a couple half marathons is probably not what most of these ultra runners would consider a good 50K training plan. But I went anyway, and I’m really freaking glad I did because I learned a shitload of important things about myself.

What did I learn? Well one of the things I learned is that I don’t need to train my head off to complete a 50K race, and in fact it’s probably a bad idea. I learned that finishing this kind of distance is 30% about adequate fueling, 10% about training and 60% about mental fortitude and a good attitude. Last year I spent 6 months running long in preparation for my first 50K. I suffered and toiled and even though I finished, I was mentally exhausted and totally over running even before I crossed the starting line. I didn’t eat enough all day, I indulged in negative thoughts, I whined, I cried, and I almost quit twice. And then afterward, I didn’t even feel like running again for a solid 8 months. All that training? It did jack shit for me on race day.

For this ultra I didn’t “train” at all. And that wasn’t even a strategic thing, really…I just didn’t feel up to it so I didn’t do it. Instead I joined a local hashing group and stopped taking running seriously. I ran gnarly technical trails on crazy steep hills with a bunch of insane beer drinkers, I ran several days in a row without fretting about it, skipped several days in a row if I felt I needed it, ran as slow as I wanted to and ran as fast as I could when the mood came over me. I signed up for a couple of half marathons for the hell of it, and really I just enjoyed myself. I even stopped wearing my Garmin watch because I didn’t care how fast I ran or whether the run was 4.0 or 4.2 miles long.  That is the attitude I brought with me to the starting line of the Born to Run 50K, and it’s the attitude that carried me, with much fewer tears this time, down the finisher’s chute.

And speaking of the start, this was the most unique one I’ve ever been to.

cows2

*   *   *

Three gunshots pierced the quiet morning in quick succession, followed by the most exuberant mariachi music you’ll ever imagine wanting (or not wanting) to hear at 4:15am. In my damp tent on the hard, cow-pie spotted soil of the ranch, it barely felt I had slept a wink all night. I took a moment to release myself from my margarita-and-dancing-induced fog. By the time I managed to unfurl from the warm sleeping bag and meander over to the porta-johns, there was a line four people deep, all toting their own roll of toilet paper…you know, just in case. It was still dark and everyone moved like slow mutants, a strange contrast to the upbeat yipping of the mariachi singers.

Once the spikey tune of Voodoo Child started to ring through the camp, I was back in my tent dressing for the race. It was about 45 degrees and overcast so I chose capri pants, a long sleeve shirt and a handheld. Then I shoved as many calories as I could down my gullet: a banana, a pre-made protein smoothie, and some iced coffee to stave off the caffeine withdrawals. Krista Cavender, Jacobus Degroot, Caity McCardell and Tracey Longacre got themselves ready in their own camps all around me.

At 6:00 Luis gathered up the 400-person crew of 10-mile, 50K, 100K and 100-mile runners, went over the course markings, and made us repeat Caballo Blanco’s famous pre-race oath:

“If I get lost, hurt or die…it’s my own damn fault.”

With that done, another gunshot cracked through the air and we were off. Just like that. Excited runners whooped, hollered and yipped back and forth across the pack for the whole first mile. Unlike every road race I’ve ever participated in, where the runners are separated by race distance, lined up according to pace, and the fastest ones elbow each other for room behind a straight line drawn on the pavement, this was just a jumble of happy people all starting together as one, worrying not who was in front, running with dirt on their feet and huge fucking grins on their faces. The feeling of the crowd was wild, colorful and raw, and I felt completely at home in it. I was living inside my own poem that was written for Caballo. This was his world, and what a world it is!

Dust ascends on the horizon
A deep, rumbling thunder without rain
The sound of rampant hearts, a legion
Earthly, feral and unconstrained

Crista1Photo courtesy of Crista Anna Scott.

*   *   *

The first ten mile loop flew by, and I finished it pretty quickly. I don’t even know what I can say about that first 1/3 of the course, except that it just felt great. I had to wait out the first four miles until my body warmed up and got with the program, typical for me, but after that I was fine. The chilly air kept me comfortable, the two dozen or so runners around kept me company, and all my months spent on the hills of SoCal made the inclines on this first loop barely noticeable.

The ranch was wide and hilly with gorgeous, leaning oak trees spotting the gold-colored fields.  I chatted, laughed, heck I even sang: I ran by a chick who was singing a tune from the Muppet Show and I just had to join in. At this point I didn’t actually plan to finish the entire race, but I wasn’t worried about it yet. I just ran, and I smiled. When I finished the first loop I went back to my tent to change into lighter clothing, drink some Gatorade and eat something.  And to my surprise I noticed I still had so much energy left that it was as if I hadn’t even been running yet. What a wonder proper fueling does! So when I was done changing into my INKnBURN skirt and cotton tank, I just got up and started the second loop. Easy-peasy.

By mile 12 the racers had spread out enough that I was running solo, and I found myself a little off course. I backtracked for a bit and then saw a girl running up the road toward me. In my relief I yelled out, “Oh good, I’m still on course!” right about the same time she was asking me, “is this the right way?” There were a dozen cows standing on the trail and blocking the markers, but when they heard us talking they shifted away. We found the markers and continued on together. I expected her to fly on past me but we were running at the same pace, so we started chatting. Turns out that she was the same girl singing the Muppet Show song back at loop one, and we didn’t know it yet but we were going to be each other’s motivation for the remainder of the 50K.

Evy-Lynn1The famous Barbie Aid Station. Photo courtesy of Evy Lynn

Her name is Crista Anna Scott, and she’s from Ventura California. She writes a blog called Run, Eat, Create, Repeat and she had just received her Master’s Degree the day before the race. She wrote her thesis on ultra running, and this was her first 50K. And, she didn’t really “train” for this race either. I mean, it couldn’t have been a more perfect match-up. We spent the entire second loop running, exchanging stories, laughing, missing turns (oops) and backtracking, being halted by cow stampedes, and pondering the invaluable glory of downing Coca-Cola during a long race. We didn’t really notice that we were tired, we didn’t care if we were slow (we totally were), and we didn’t even talk about the steepness of the hills we were climbing. If I believed in that sort of thing, I would say the universe sent me a buddy to reflect back to me all the positivity that I wanted to have about this race. Whatever it was, I couldn’t be more grateful, especially during the third and final loop.

Twenty miles in, I was getting tired. But it was really only a half-marathon kind of tired, so I was still a bit bouncy. Back at the tent I refilled my water bottle, grabbed a Luna bar and stuffed a bunch of gels into the pockets of my skirt. I met up with Crista and her friend Alexis (who decided to join us for the last lap) and we continued on together. We ran for probably two miles but then slowed to a comfortable, speedy walk. I had been ignoring it successfully for the last few miles, but my IT band was now starting to give me some real pain. And I knew exactly what it was: too much slouching early on in the race (likely during the aforementioned first four mile shuffle) had me over-striding for long enough to cause inflammation that was slowly getting worse as I continued on. It was too late to fix it with a form change, so my only choice was to walk for a large portion of the last loop and hopefully finish without causing any lasting injury. I was a little peeved because I had fixed my IT band issues over a year ago and I should have known better than to cause it to come back again – but for the most part I didn’t let the disappointment bring me down.

It was tough to walk. Every other body party was still on board to run. My feet were tired but okay. My hips were sore, but they liked running better than walking. However my knee only had a little left in her so I decided to save it for the last push at the end. I think Crista wanted to run more, too. But she refused to go on without me so we resorted to speed-walking through the fields as the sun grew hot in the clear, cerulean-colored sky.  We avoided the subject of our physical struggles and instead passed the time by singing. Rather loudly and badly, too. We covered Disney tunes, The Beatles, Tom Petty, Michael Jackson and the Steve Miller Band, and the wind passed our noise to the racers walking behind us, who laughed amiably whenever a voice cracked or we all forgot the words at the same time. Eventually we arrived back at the Muppet Show song (“mahna-mahna”), and by then we’d been dancing around on the trail like fools and had forgotten all about our sore feet for nearly an hour. And now we only had about four miles left to go.

The power of music, indeed. Someone should write a master’s thesis on that.

The last four miles were long, and my knee was starting to hurt significantly, but at this point I only remember the pain intellectually. Emotionally, I was all-in. Before, I had all but planned to drop out of this race, but while it was happening I didn’t spend a minute considering it. Each time I came back from a loop my mind was on fueling for the next one, instead of stopping or taking a nap. During the moments when I was the most tired, I was thinking about what I’ll do differently for my next 50k, instead of swearing off ultras for the remainder of my life. Rather than worrying over how exhausted I felt in the moment, I remembered one of my favorite things that my friend Vanessa wrote a while back in her blog, about ultra running: “One foot in front of the other, forever.”

amuletAmulet hand-made by Akabill. Mahalo!

*   *   *

So the final thing I learned about myself during this race is that I’m stronger than I usually give myself credit for, and I’m more beautiful than my eyes let me believe. Sure, today I may be looking at photos of myself during the race and lamenting my recent failures at weight loss – the one thing that, if successful, would have helped me finish the race much faster – but my body, at its current weight and training level, still took me across the 50K finish line. And has done it twice. However much I complain about my round tummy or my flabby arms, my body is strong, and my will is even stronger. It’s unfortunate that my eyes have trouble seeing the beauty that my heart feels for these chunky legs that carried me for 31 miles, and it’s a dichotomy that troubles me every day – and possibly it even hinders my weight loss goals. But I sincerely hope that my motivation to run this race again (and do it better next time) will naturally help to reconcile this conflicting double-vision body image that I struggle with, and that next year I’ll come back with both kinder eyes and a lighter body. It’s probably about time those two made up, anyway.

mencrista Taken with Crista and “Skirt Dude” (who handed out all the medals) right after finishing the race.
Photo by Michelle Amber Evans.

Thank you to Luis Escobar for putting on a race that to me is the ultrarunning adventure Mecca: I can’t wait to do it all over again next year. Thank you to Crista for your companionship: you were like my North Star! Thank you to Guadajuke for letting me pet you: your presence alone imploded my symbolism-loving mind. Thank you to my friends who made it to the race, new and otherwise: you continue to inspire me in ways I never see coming. Thank you to those who believe in me and especially to those who don’t: you give me strength beyond your understanding. Mahalo nui lo!


8 Comments

If You Can’t Beat Your PR, then Kick a Pacer’s Ass: La Jolla Half Marathon

la-jolla-half-marathon

You know that quote “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? Well, that’s a really great excuse for the person who actually plans accordingly for distance races. Clearly, that person is not me.

I signed up for the La Jolla Half Marathon because I ran the Carlsbad Half Marathon back in January. I realize that makes no sense yet, bear with me. The Carlsbad Half Marathon is race #1 of a Triple Crown series, so I decided to just do the whole thing and earn the extra medal (yes, I got suckered in to running three races just for a damn medal, get over it). And considering the fact that a two month running hiatus prior to Carlsbad yielded my worst half marathon finish time ever (even though I had a ridiculously great time running it), I promised myself that I would prepare, train and most importantly of all, plan for La Jolla. I even promised myself a half marathon PR, since it’s probably about time I work a little harder and start breaking 2:30.

Makes sense, right? So what is it that they say about the best laid promises of mice and men?

lajolla2

You probably don’t have to strain much to guess that I didn’t train for this race, and that I didn’t PR, either.  As much as I have been tearing up the trails and climbing insane hills for the past several months with some great people, my distance training has gone completely awry. And by awry I mean that between Carlsbad and La Jolla, I only ran three long runs, ever. Okay, two. And by long runs I mean only one of them was over ten miles. And it was barely squeezed in between breakfast plans and a visit to the Safari Park (which, honestly, was way more fun), just two weeks before the race.

Aside from the non-existent training, I planned my route to this point-to-point logistical nightmare of a race only two days beforehand. I sent a friend to pick up my bib. I drank almost no water the day before, and sat in the sun all afternoon. I picked my race outfit by smelling what was clean rather than washing what I actually wanted to wear. I invited myself to stay at my friend Laura’s house the night before, with exceptionally short notice. I forgot to buy gels and bananas for pre- and during-race fuel. I didn’t eat any breakfast, even though I’d managed to pack a granola bar. On the morning of the race, surrounded by four bright-eyed and well-organized racing buddies, I was the most unprepared. None of those things made me feel nervous or guilty however, and that may be the worst part of it all. But I figure that maybe by admitting all of this to you in a super-adorable way, my lack of motivation will somehow become more forgivable.

I’ll give you some time to mull that over while I quit babbling on and talk about the actual race.

The La Jolla half marathon happened on a perfect day for SoCal racing. And I add the SoCal part because the perfect day of all for racing is about twenty degrees cooler than it ever gets in SoCal, so I’ll take 62 degrees and overcast. At least it wasn’t humid, as they say. And the gorgeous scenery: palm trees, sand and ocean views…forget about it. You can’t ask for better. I was just glad that this was only a half marathon race and not also a full, that way I didn’t have to feel like one of the jerks only putting in half the effort for the day. After waiting in stellar traffic to park and emptying our bladders in the even more stellar porta-johns, Laura and I lined up at the very back of the starting line with the old ladies in walkers while the other three girls we came with filtered in farther up. I love standing at the back of the start line, though, because there’s a greater chance of passing a few people on my way to the finish.

lajolla3

Me and my hash lady friends, taking photos at the porta-johns in order to take our minds off our screaming bladders.

A quick aside on the whole passing people thing. While I was running the race I was thinking about this. After passing 50-100 people over the first three miles or so, I started feeling bad. Like I was picking people off, using them to give myself the illusion of being faster. I would set my sights on someone’s back and decide I had to get past them. Hey, little pink shirt that says “12 in 2012”, eat my dust. You there, lady with the running skirt that keeps riding up, you’re next. But, kind of like with driving (you know, when you’re safe inside your vehicle and removed from real human contact), those people ahead of me aren’t really people. They’re improvised mini-goals. Like little moving pace markers, with faces. So the truth is that when I’m trying to pass people at a race, I’m not actually competing with them, I’m competing with myself and using their ever-changing speed as a point of reference. And at that realization is where I met my biggest improvised mini-goal of the day. That one might have been personal.

Because I didn’t drink enough water the day before the race, I freaked out and gulped down an entire bottle of water that morning. Naturally, the one pre-race porta-john stop was not sufficient so by mile 5 I was dying. Each pit stop on the course had two porta-johns and at least 8 people in line, so I waited until I came upon the public beach bathrooms that I knew would be open at the base of the Torrey Pines hill. There were a dozen stalls so I only waited a couple of minutes. By the time I was done my breath was all caught up and I had an easier than expected mile-long climb up Torrey. But once I arrived at the top I looked ahead, and to my horror I saw that my bathroom break had gotten me behind the 2:45 pacer! Frack. All that well-intentioned “I’m just having fun here” be damned, I’ve never taken 2:45 to finish a half marathon, and I wasn’t going to start today.

So I kicked my pace up a notch or two, which was really hard because it was mile 6 and miles 6 through 9 is often my dead zone during a half marathon, and it definitely was today. I was hungry and my legs were lead bricks. I was feeling every missed long run and every burpee I never did. It took me two miles just to pass that bastard 2:45 pacer, whom I was convinced was either running too fast (definitely running too fast) or downright mocking me. What an asshole.

And that’s when my stomach decided to have a say.

Now, I have some pretty irritable bowels. And I don’t mean a little gas here and some indigestion there. I’m talking a stomach full of gray-haired, bejowled and sour-faced old curmudgeons in ugly cardigans, who hate when I run for longer than 90 minutes and often don’t wait until the run is over to tell me so. Today was one of those days. Thankfully, the porta-johns were clear right before the 10 mile signs so I didn’t have to wait behind any other unfortunate pit-stoppers. Also thankfully, I had swiped two of the caffeinated gels from the volunteers and downed the second one just minutes earlier. So by the time I finished dealing with the curmudgeons, my legs were finally ready to run the damn race.

I always love the last few miles of a half marathon. I’m usually numb from the waist down by then, hopped up on various forms of sugar and artificial energy boosters, and I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. And the great thing about this race is the last three miles are a direct payoff from the previous nine’s upward-bound hills. I flew past that 2:45 jackass again, this time for good (although it still worried me that I ever saw him – those pit stops were going to cost me dearly), and made up a shitload of time on all those downhills while everyone else hemmed and hawed about their bad knees. I crossed the finish line with a grin on my face (as always) and never even looked at the clock on my way by.

For those of you who are curious, my final time was 2:41. My current PR (on a completely flat course) remains unmoved at 2:34, which is just about what I would have run if I hadn’t stopped at the bathrooms. I wish I could tell you that I’m embarrassed. I think fundamentally I am – a few of my friends set immense PRs that day – but in reality I didn’t expect much from the race, other than to complete it. I’ve been feeling that comfortable indifference a lot lately, and I think that’s just fine. Well, for now.

I believe there really are two completely different – and acceptable – ways to approach a race: for a PR performance or for fun. And lately I’ve just been choosing the fun route. I make a lot of jokes about being lazy and unmotivated, but in all honesty I have been putting in some good mileage over the past few months. I even broke a few weekly mileage PRs. But I actually have mindfully chosen to spend my miles elsewhere besides on the path toward the half marathon race. Or any race, really (I apologize in advance, Born to Run 50K). Instead I have been doing a great deal of group running (and beer drinking), and have come to love it so much more than running solo. I have also been spending a lot more time in the hills, which are often steep enough to require hiking, so running has sometimes taken a back seat to those amazing views of the mountains and the ocean from up above. I have rekindled my love for practicing yoga and skipped quite a few runs to hit up a class…or to recover from one. I have taken the opportunity that my new home and lifestyle has afforded me, to discover new things I love about running. And to seek out new ways to keep from burning out while keeping my mileage high enough to be able to wing a half marathon….you know…if the day ever called for it. I am most definitely enjoying this new more laid-back view of training running, no doubt about it.

But don’t worry, I’ve still promised myself that I’ll train harder and PR at the America’s Finest City half marathon. Why? Well, because I’ll never learn, that’s why. The curmudgeons in  my belly are already shaking their heads.


6 Comments

Review: The Summit Seeker, by Vanessa Runs

summitseeker

Vanessa Rodriguez doesn’t look like your typical 100-mile ultra marathon runner. She isn’t wiry-thin and excitable. She is quiet and diminutive, with dark Central-American skin, muscular legs and black hair that falls lazily into several small, still-kinky dreadlocks. Sometimes she runs 100 miles in a week, sometimes maybe twelve, and sometimes she walks her dog Ginger or does yoga instead. She doesn’t use training plans. She doesn’t monitor her heart rate or record her running splits. Vanessa does not run with the front of the pack. Often, she doesn’t even know for sure how far she ran or how long it took her to finish. For these and many other reasons, Vanessa is not only a dear friend of mine, she is also my favorite ultra runner of all time.

The Summit Seeker is a story about this incredible runner. It is comprised of several snippets that, when bound together, open a wide window on the life, love, pain, joy, grit and heart of this woman who has grown from a lonely, introverted child into an inspiration for all those who cross her path. Its title is derived from the nickname she has given to the home she now shares with her boyfriend Shacky, a punchy little Rialta RV. It is also a rather tidy definition of Vanessa’s mantra for life: always seeking the highest point, always looking up and traveling toward a better, wider and more beautiful view on things from above. A view that one can only enjoy after overcoming the most difficult of climbs.

The best thing about this book is that it is so frank in its storytelling, so raw in its honesty that you will undoubtedly find yourself somewhere in its pages. Maybe it’s the neglected grade school aged girl charged with feeding and caring for her younger siblings, or the young woman whose first months living on her own found her lost in an unexpectedly stifling marriage. You might see yourself running all the many miles it took her to gain enough distance from her own inner darkness so that she could finally see the light of change. The story of The Summit Seeker is in all of us, and that is why it will inspire you, challenge you and perhaps even change you, as much as it did for me.

You don’t have to be an ultra runner, or even a runner at all, to gain something from Vanessa’s story. But who knows? You might just want to become one when you’re done reading.

The Summit Seeker by Vanessa Rodriguez is currently available from Amazon.com in several formats: Paperback Edition Kindle Edition, for Kindle/Kindle App or Smashwords version for Nook and other eReaders. You can also request a digital signed copy from Authorgraph.com.

What are you waiting for? Pick up your copy today and help support Vanessa Runs as she takes on her next adventure!


40 Comments

Fatty

loverunning

Across the street from my little neighborhood, there is a park with hilly trails, single track, streams and a small pond filled with ducks, geese and seagulls. I like to take my dog there a few times a week and do some running. Sometimes I unclasp Oscar’s leash so I can watch him let loose on the large open field at the far end of the trail, which is one of my favorite things in the world.

It was cloudy this morning, but once my work day was over at 3 o’clock the sun peaked out and burned off all the clouds in short order. The cool February air felt nice. Oscar and I jogged down our usual path that runs past a swath of eucalyptus trees and headed toward the field. Sometimes there are horses grazing on the other side of the fence that delineates the public park area, and Oscar always looks for them. There were no horses today, but that was okay.

I’ve been feeling kind of lazy for the past two days, but on a whim I decided to add some sprints to my workout, maybe wake myself up a little. I found a straight section of the path around the outside edge of the field, walked to the farthest opposite end with Oscar, and then turned around and booked it, full-speed. Oscar followed behind and quickly overtook me, wagging his tail and running with enough joy to light up half the planet.

Like my dog, I adore sprinting. I love feeling all the normally awkward and separate parts of my body come together at once, feeling the fluid rhythm of my legs and arms as they push me forward. I love that even though all systems are on full-force, it feels like my muscles are only expelling as much energy as needed to do the job. When I sprint I feel efficient and beautiful. When I run like this, for a few brief moments I transform into a wild animal: I am a bird in flight, I am a lion in chase.

I did three sprints like this. Just as I was about to turn back for a fourth, I heard the couple across the field. They’d been hanging out by the little stream the whole time Oscar and I were there. They were two college-age kids, probably no older than twenty. She posed on the wooden bridge in her size 2 skinny jeans, knitted hat and fluffy shearling boots, while he took photos of her. As they walked back toward the parking lot now, I heard the boy remark in a low voice, “you’re still slow, fatty.” They both laughed.

There were so many reactions that I could have had to hearing this. I could have called them out on their rudeness or insulted them back, and I would have had every right to do so. I could have stated all sorts of facts and studies proving that fat athletes are twice as healthy as skinny couch potatoes. Or I could have let it hurt my pride, stopped running for the day and gone home. But instead I pretended I didn’t hear them, and turned back around for my fourth sprint as they disappeared down the path. And this time I ran harder.

Truth is, I am a fatty. I have been more fat and less fat than I am now, over the years, but I’ve pretty much always been at least ten or fifteen pounds overweight. I prefer being lighter, but hey it is what it is. When I was in elementary school the other kids called me “Mount Killamanjaro” and laughed at me any time I tripped and fell or ate junk food in public. They made fun of me for taking gymnastics classes and shook their heads when I tried out for the cheerleading squad. I was never very obese. It was just that I was the only overweight girl in the class, so it was fat enough.

fatgirldoll

I’m used to the stigma that’s placed on overweight people when they’re exercising. I’ve always been fat, but I’ve always been active, too. Only during my drunken college years did I not do some kind of physical activity on at least a semi-regular basis. So I’ve heard it over and over again. “You don’t have a dancer’s body.” “You’re too fat to be a gymnast.” “You don’t look like you could run twelve miles.” Even my father has said these kinds of things to me, and my Godmother said them to other people behind my back.

But despite my extra weight, I’ve always done well at the physical activities I chose to take part in. I was always placed front and center of formations during dance recital numbers, I was the first gymnast in my 7th grade group to perform a back handspring without assistance, and I was selected to be Captain of my cheerleading squad after only one year of participation. And let’s not forget that I’ve run an ultramarathon, despite what I look like I can do. In other words, fat has never stopped me.

So even though I made the choice not to respond to my antagonizers this afternoon, I spent a few minutes thinking about their perception of me. Their prejudice toward fat people has lent them the belief that they know what I’m running for. They think that I run so I can look more like them. But the truth is I really don’t. I don’t run to be skinny, even though weight loss is a fortunate side-effect. I don’t really run to be fast, either. And I certainly don’t run so that I can impress them. Or anyone, for that matter.

And even though I never spoke to that couple at the park, and probably won’t ever see them again, I want to respond to them here. I want to tell them, and all the others who have doubted my athleticism, why I run:

I run because I like to be outside.
I run to spend time with my dog.
I run to be social.
I run to be alone.
I run to listen to music I haven’t had time to experience yet.
I run to hear silence.
I run to put space between myself and my inner demons.
I run to escape my negative body image, the one that people like you have given me.
I run to sweat.
I run to breathe hard.
I run to hear my feet land almost silently upon the earth.
I run to feel the sun’s heat on my face, and the cooling wind at my back.
I run to burn off steam.
I run to burn off excess calories.
I run to recover.
I run to discover new trails and to see the ground from the top of a mountain.
I run to get lost in my thoughts, and in the wilderness.
I run to learn things about myself.
I run because it’s hard, and because sometimes it hurts.
I run because most people don’t.
I run because in some ways I’m good at it, and in many ways I am not.
I run because some have told me I never could.
I run because it constantly challenges me to be better.
I run so I can live a longer life.
I run because it is my life.

In some ways, I encourage people to tell me what they think of me when they see me running. I welcome the disapproval from judgmental family members, and the disgusted gaze from skinny elite runners as I slow to a walk up a steep hill and allow them to whiz by. And I gladly accept all the wary looks from people who don’t believe that I have run over thirty miles at once (and in one day), because it helps me to sort out the difference between the people I respect and the people I don’t. It fuels the fire in my (rounded) belly, the one that burns hot enough to add strength to my character and poise to my stride.

And I challenge them all to love the run the way that I do.


13 Comments

The Great Big Wild World of Hashers: It’s Not What You Think

beerbuzz600

It’s been awhile since I’ve added posts to this blog. There’s a bit of irony to this fact, because it seems the busier I am the less time I devote to writing – but the more things I experience, the more I have to write about.

Well, what have I been doing with myself, you ask? True to form, I plan to answer that only in part, and I plan to do it in a very meandering, roundabout way. Starting with a conversation I had last night.

My cousin Alysa and I joined a Monday night running group sponsored by my friend Jon, who works for Merrell. I hadn’t seen him since the Raptor Ridge half marathon last fall, so we used part of the 4 mile trip to catch up.

Jon: So what have you been doing over the past few months?

Me: Well, I went through a brief running rut back in December, but then I picked it up again. And then more recently, I became a hasher.

Jon: So what…like, you smoke hash now?

Clearly, the popularity of the hash run isn’t as widespread as I originally thought. The reality of which has spurned this very post.

What is a hash, you ask? Well, first I’ll refer to Wikipedia for a history lesson:

Hashing originated in December 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, then in the Federated Malay States (now Malaysia), when a group of British colonial officers and expatriates began meeting on Monday evenings to run, in a fashion patterned after the traditional British paper chase or “hare and hounds”, to rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend. The original members included, Albert Stephen (A.S.) Ignatius “G” Gispert, Cecil Lee, Frederick “Horse” Thomson, Ronald “Torch” Bennett and John Woodrow. A. S. Gispert suggested the name “Hash House Harriers” after the Selangor Club Annex, where several of the original hashers happened to live, known as the “Hash House” where they also dined.

After the end of World War II in an attempt to organize the city of Kuala Lumpur, they were informed by the Registrar of Societies that as a “group,” they would require a constitution. Apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and finding the trail, harriers reaching the end of the trail would partake of beer, ginger beer and cigarettes.

The objectives of the Hash House Harriers as recorded on the club registration card dated 1950:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

At present, there are almost two thousand chapters in all parts of the world, with members distributing newsletters, directories, and magazines and organizing regional and world Hashing events. As of 2003, there are even two organized chapters operating in Antarctica.

Most chapters gather on a weekly or monthly basis, though some events occur sporadically, e.g., February 29th, Friday the 13th, Typhoon ‘T8‘ or a full moon.

At a hash, one or more members (“hares”) lay a trail, which is then followed by the remainder of the group (the “pack” or “hounds”). The trail periodically ends at a “check” and the pack must find where it begins again; often the trail includes false trails, short cuts, dead ends, back checks and splits. These features are designed to keep the pack together despite differences in fitness level or running speed, as front-runners are forced to slow down to find the “true” trail, allowing stragglers to catch up.

Members often describe their group as “a drinking club with a running problem,” indicating that the social element of an event is as important, if not more so, than any athleticism involved. Beer remains an integral part of a hash, though the balance between running and drinking differs between chapters, with some groups placing more focus on socialising and others on running.

Generally, hash events are open to the public and require no reservation or membership, but some may require a small fee, referred to as “hashcash”, to cover the costs incurred, such as food or drink.

The end of a trail is an opportunity to socialise, have a drink and observe any traditions of the individual chapter (see Traditions). When the hash officially ends, many members may continue socialising at an “on-after”, “on-down”, “on-on-on”, “apres”, or “hash bash”, an event held at a nearby house, pub, or restaurant.

In most chapters, the use of real names during an event is discouraged. Members are typically given a “hash name,” usually in deference to a particularly notorious escapade, a personality trait, or their physical appearance. In some chapters the name must be earned – that is, hashers are not named until they’ve done something outstanding, unusual, or stupid enough to warrant a name. In other chapters the process is more mechanical and hashers are named after completing a certain number of events (5-10 being the most common).

A few weeks ago, I joined the North County Hash House Harriers. Since then I have run with the group three times, and also attended an annual event with the larger San Diego Hash House Harriers, where they renamed their management group. I have not yet earned a hash nickname, but I am looking forward to finding out what it will be. And also a little scared.

I like being part of this hash group, the North County Hash House Harriers, or NCH3. I like it so much that I’ve even volunteered a chunk of my free time to designing their weekly newsletter. We have published one issue so far and it was met with a fair amount of appreciation, constructive criticism and good suggestions.

newsletter

Newly designed header of the hash newsletter.

And that’s all the really boring, above-the-board stuff. What I really like about the Hash Harriers is that they are a world-wide group of completely irreverent, politically incorrect, gutter-minded, disrespectful, beer worshiping, bushwhacking trail runners. They ignore fashion trends, make fun of each other, drink booze while exercising, and utilize completely inane terms like “on-in” and “down-downs.” After the runs are over, they call out those who have done stupid things to earn the Grand Master’s attention, and sing ridiculous, barbaric songs to each other. All while consuming at least one keg of beer together.

In other words, I absolutely love it and cannot wait until next Saturday.

Many of my readers (and a few estranged family members) might question my judgment for becoming part of such a group. Perhaps you’d ask why I’d let a bunch of almost-strangers make fun of me publicly and give me a trashy nickname, full of insult and sexual innuendo. You might want to know what kind of training I’m really getting with a running group that spends more time drinking together than running. You might even begin to question my own moral code (as short as it may be), running with a crew of folks who wear knee-socks with sayings on them and call themselves “hashers.”

The truth is, over the course of these few weeks I have met some of the most honest, open-minded, caring and considerate people imaginable. So what if they have names like “High Twattage” and “Anal Rose”?

All kidding aside, I recommend finding and joining a local Hash Harrier group (there’s probably one in your area). And here are 16 reasons why:

  1. It’s really refreshing to hang around an entire group of people who have quick wits and a wickedly good sense of humor.
  2. Hashes are a great example of social Darwinism: those without such a sense of humor typically won’t stick around (and from what I hear they usually leave shortly after their naming ceremony).
  3. There’s beer.
  4. The group is mostly made up of trail and ultra runners, so nobody bats an eye if you have to spit, snot-rocket, trip and fall, or make a trail-side pit stop (although they might bring it up later at the down-down).
  5. You don’t get assigned a hash name until the group knows you, which in a way is endearing and thoughtful (even if your name ends up being something like “Asian Orange”).
  6. Beer checks.
  7. Most groups run a different trail every time, so you get to experience a lot of new trails and see so much more of your local area than you probably would by yourself.
  8. Trail is planned ahead of time. You just have to follow it, sort of like a scavenger hunt. This way you can follow a cool trail without getting lost.
  9. You still might get lost.
  10. It’s a fantastic way to meet new people, especially if you’re new to an area. Or if you just hate all your friends and want to make new ones.
  11. It only costs a few bucks to run a great new trail, socialize with people and enjoy all the beer and food you want afterward.
  12. Lots of beer.
  13. Running in a large group like this is really good exercise, the kind you don’t feel like you’re doing. Instead of just running in a straight line up and down your street, you may be searching for the right trails, doubling back, traversing through heavy brush, climbing excessively steep hills, balancing on drainage pipes and jaywalking across busy roads. It’s the kind of stuff you probably did as a kid. Only with more beer.
  14. Boob checks.
  15. Hashers love dogs. People who love dogs are A-OK in my book.
  16. Being part of a hash group is like being part of a fraternity, only without all the hazing. Actually that’s not true, forget that. Once you’ve received a hash name, you become part of this network of thousands of people. You have instant credibility to other hashers all over the world. I mean, how many other social circles have that perk?

Those are just the reasons I can think of while writing this. Hashes are my greatest new find: they are a lot like your average running group, only with a little extra pomp-and-circumstance and a whole lot more beer.

Are you a “hasher” and love it? Have you never heard of such a thing and think it’s fantastic or horrible? Share your story/opinion/questions in the comments below! I would love to hear from you.