Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Born to Run Ultramarathons 50K 2013 Race Report

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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.

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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!

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Think Running is Boring? Then Go Find Some Trails.

Like most people who don’t run much, I used to think that running sucked because it was boring. Back then I would gut through a couple miles on a treadmill twice a week and talk to my friends about how much I hated it. Then once the hamster wheel got so monotonous that I would work through my lunch break just to avoid it, I took my boring two-mile lunch hour outside. I liked running outside better; there were cute dogs, hills, some good people watching. But it didn’t take more than a couple years before that got rather boring too.

So I took my runs to different places; I ran around my neighborhood, sought out a different lake near my office to jaunt around during lunch, started going after work, got myself a dog to run with. In that time I started running barefoot/minimalist and grew to love it. I even mapped out a 10-mile loop around my town to train for my first half marathon.

But, soon enough, that got boring too.

It wasn’t until I signed up for my first spring 50K race last winter that I learned exactly how not to get bored of running. How? Well, you gotta run trails.

Because the 50K I’d signed up for was on trail, I knew that I probably should start training on them. And at first I wasn’t even sure I understood why it was so important; I mean, running is running, right?

Wrong.

What I discovered during my training is that trail running is a totally different animal. And trail running can turn you into a totally different animal. All of my ultra-running friends know this, but almost everyone else does not. Running trails can turn you from a lazy-ass who jogs around the block on the weekend just to work off Friday night’s beers and pepperoni pizza, to an ultra-marathoner who gets up extra early on Sunday mornings just chomping at the bit to get a few hours of undisturbed miles in. In other words, running trails has the potential to change your mind about running entirely.

Recently, I had a revelation of sorts. It was about 11 o’clock on Sunday morning and I was running down some rough, gnarled New Hampshire trails with my best friend, Kathy. We were aiming for somewhere around 10 miles, and we were already at mile 8. A couple miles back, we had turned off the main trail onto a 3-mile long fire road we’d never run before. It was unmarked, rocky, hilly and so narrow we had to run single-file. At a few points the terrain was so rough we couldn’t run without falling on our asses, so we walked. We tripped over vines and roots a lot. At one point I kicked a rock the size of a basketball that I should have seen but didn’t. Kathy laughed. In fact, we were both smiling and laughing pretty much the whole time, despite the fact that the rain had washed off our bug spray and we were being eaten alive by mosquitos and I-don’t-know-what-else.

At one point during this run I looked up from my feet and noticed that we were traveling in a scene of utter beauty. The trees around us were tall and magestic, with all their branches way up over our heads. The undergrowth was lush and so bright it seemed to be lit from within. Everything was a shade of green so ethereal that it could never be replicated by any hi-def computer graphics in this world. This place, not more than 12 miles from my home, was timeless and magical, really something to behold.

I will say with complete honesty that I have never enjoyed a run so much in my entire life (one or two have come close, though, and they were also trail runs). When it was over I wasn’t tired, and I barely noticed that my hamstrings were sore and that there was a half pound of dirt in my brand new trail shoes. In fact, probably the only reason we stopped was because we were starving and tired of batting away the swarms of insects. After our feet were freed from our filthy shoes and the bagels and juice were gone, I think we both felt a little let down that the run was over.

That morning held all of the reasons I love to run. And I think more people who profess that running is boring should try running trails. I mean, try it in earnest. And I’m talking about real trails, too: winding, hilly paths of dirt that challenge your balance, not just those stick-straight and flat ones cut artificially into the land.

If you hate running, I think the right trails can change your mind. And here’s a few reasons why:

Trail Running Brings You Closer to Nature

Yeah, you’re probably thinking this one’s too obvious; of course, you’re not only going to be close to nature, you’ll be in it. But I’m not just talking about spacial geography here. I believe there’s a little part in all of us that needs to feel primal, animal-like. Many of us have lost that intrinsic part of ourselves, and running trails can bring it back.

This may sound corny to some of you, but when I’m flying over rocks and roots, splashing through puddles and sliding around in mud, I can feel the rich and layered history of my ancestors. Trail running calls to a side of me that is purely instinctual, a side which understands the movement of the wind and the growth of the trees. I feel the hunter and its prey, I hear my steady breath, I trust my legs. Running in nature is meditational in a way that doesn’t feel forced, but totally natural. Afterward my body sings and my mind is at ease. It’s better than years of therapy.

Mental Distractions Become Unnecessary

Used to be I had to have music in my ears on every run. In fact, I have skipped runs altogether, turned and gone back home because I forgot to bring my iPod with me. True story. And if you think running is boring, you probably have your head plugged in at all times too.

Well, all that changed once I started running more trails. And it wasn’t like I stopped bringing music with me out of some hippy/purist sensibility to never run with it. I stopped bringing my iPod because it was a distraction to my run, and I didn’t want to be distracted. At some point I found the music irritated me, made me feel clumsy and blocked off from the experiences of my surroundings, which were renewed and different every second. I think it’s a lot like when you’re driving somewhere new, and once you’re close to your destination you turn off the radio so you can concentrate. You don’t need your ears to find the right place with your eyes, but somehow the noise still becomes an obstacle to your concentration.

With no extraneous sound pumping into my ears I can monitor my form, enjoy the sounds of my dog’s panting and happy frolicking through the underbrush, and take in everything around me with all five senses at once.

Another point I want to make is that running trails can be just as much a mental workout as a physical one. This makes it a lot harder to get bored. During the tougher trails my mind is on overdrive, constantly measuring distance and making thousands of calculations on where to land and how to maneuver around rocks, brush and roots without falling. It’s so much fun! And when I’m not watching my feet, I’m taking in all the minutia of my surroundings: the flowers growing just off the trail, the variation of trees around me, the way the sun casts shadows in the soil…my scenery changes every second, and I don’t need any other diversions to help me enjoy my run.

Trails Strengthen Your Feet, Ankles and Legs

Mental advantages aside, going out on trails can have a huge impact on your physical strength as a runner. When you’re traveling on smooth paved roads, your feet touch the ground in the exact same spot each time, without variation, for thousands upon thousands of strides. Roads may feel easier than trails, because in many ways they are. There’s just not much there on roads for your body to contend with or learn from. No wonder you’re bored.

Trails, on the other hand, tear up your muscles by making all of them work harder to keep you upright and moving forward. On such varied terrain, each and every landing is different from the last, which keeps your proprioception wide awake and in a constant state of practice and adaptation. The day after your first trail run your ankles and calves will likely be on fire for the first time in ages. And yeah, that’s because you actually used them the way they were supposed to be used. Muscle imbalances solved. How novel.

But Trails Are Easier on Your Joints

Although I have no real prejudice against running on roads for speed or for an easy short jaunt, I will say I have noticed that over longer distances (greater than 8 miles), trails are much easier on my hips and ankles. The constant, consistent pounding of the pavement makes me sore and achy the next day, while I’ll typically feel just fine the day after running the same distance on trail. I believe the lower impact on dirt and natural land, combined with the variable foot landings, is what makes all the difference.

No Traffic, No Fumes, No Noise

Sure, I tend to run in places where I’ll cross paths with a lot of cyclists, dog walkers, other runners and even folks on horseback (and, further down the path, piles of horse crap). But I prefer it to all those honking, fuming hulks of loud metal that populate all the roads on my dangerously sidewalk-scarce hometown. It’s pretty hard to relax into a nice run while you’re dodging oncoming cars and trying to keep your confused dog from running you into traffic. Besides, I don’t really think I want 20 people at a stop light to see me blowing snot rockets into the bushes, anyway.

It’s Better for Your Dog, Too

Like to run with your favorite canine? That’s wonderful! And I mean it. All dogs need plenty of exercise and not enough people take the time to do it (especially my neighbors). But physical exertion isn’t the only thing that makes a simple walk so fulfilling. Dogs need a mental outlet too. Just like us, being cooped up within the same four walls day in and day out can drive a dog to tail-chasing. And walking the same route around the block is just as monotonous to them as it is to you.

Dogs live for running in the woods, just watch yours once and you’ll understand. Whenever I take my Boxer, Oscar, out for a trail run, he embodies the mere definition of happiness. He is exuberant and beautiful. He holds his tail up higher, he bounds bigger, and he acts, well…like a dog is supposed to. When there aren’t a lot of people around I let him off his leash so he can chase squirrels up trees, pick up sticks to carry with him, sprint and stop and then sprint again (a running pattern that is more natural for dogs than our near-constant steady pace). I let him cool off and have a drink in the natural ponds. When we get back home Oscar is usually exhausted, panting and drooling up a storm, and I know he loves me for it.

Oscar smiling after a nice long trail run.

I will admit that I do find road running to have its merits, and I spend a good deal of time on them. But if you don’t run, or don’t run enough because it’s boring to you, then really…try running out in the trails sometime. Just don’t forget the bug spray.

*nevermind the fact that at about three miles in, some bug bit or stung my forehead and drew blood. I cleaned it off and ignored it for the rest of the run, but by the time I got home, my entire face had swollen so much that I looked like Sylvester Stallone at the end of Rocky 2. Lesson learned: early morning rain makes bugs come out in droves, not hide in shelter as originally thought.


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Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail

So far I have put two runs and 24 miles on my VIVOBAREFOOT Breathos. As you can see by the amount of dirt on them in the photos, they have been rugged miles – full of dirt, mud, pond scum, horse poop and heavy brush (I have a small bladder, and spend a good deal of time off the path).

Actually, that’s not true. I’ve put more like 27 miles on the Breathos. I first wore them walking my dog on the trails right by my house. I decided to wear them walking first because I wasn’t sure how they were going to fit and I didn’t want any surprises to end my next trail run abruptly. Why? Because my first thought as I took them out of the box was, “Crap. They’re kind of narrow.” I compared them to my Neo Trails. There is a definite difference. And being as sensitive to the width of shoes as I am, this could have been a problem.

Width difference: Neo Trail on left, Breatho on right.

But as soon as I wore them walking, I learned why the slight difference in width is there. The upper of the Breathos are made from a really thin mesh rather than the much thicker padded mesh of the Neo Trail, making the extra sole width unnecessary. Once I started to walk in them it all clicked: the mesh is stretchy. Stretchy mesh makes anything feel looser (just look at skinny jeans, or the Vibram SeeYa).

With that little mystery solved, it was time to take these babies out for a spin.

Looks

Like most footwear companies, VIVOBAREFOOT has a pretty consistent stylistic theme to its products. The look is classic, a bit retro and not necessarily as “sporty” as what you would typically find out there in the running shoe world. The one superficial comment that I have about Vivo’s styling in general is that most of their shoes seem to look more jeans and t-shirt than running tights and sports bra. Sparsely styled, block coloring, roomy and shapeless lasts. But that’s not so much a criticism as it is an observation.

With that said, the Breathos are the sexiest shoe in Vivo’s athletic line. At first glance they look just like everything else Vivo makes, but they’re much sleeker, leaner. They remind me of the Minimus Trail that NewBalance makes (which I can’t even get my feet into, otherwise I would have reviewed them) – rugged, curvy and perhaps a little showy. The Minimus has so far been my pick for the best looking minimalist shoe. The Breatho has that same edge. It has better lines and much more shape than some of Vivo’s other offerings, making it a shoe that’s just as beautiful as it is functional. As a consumer and a designer, I know this is extremely important to the success of a product.

The only suggestion I would make on the looks front is to add more colors. The only color ways they offer at the moment for women are pink, blue and black, while the men’s styles always seem to have more and better color choices. Really? Most men don’t spend three seconds making a color choice on their footwear, but women? We are generally much more selective and appreciate a well-rounded group of color choices. I say give us some oranges and purples and yellows. Maybe even some heather gray.

Now that I’ve gotten that out, on to the important stuff.

Fit and Feel

If you’ve read my past reviews, you probably realize that I’m not one of those really smart technical reviewers who is hyper-focused on factors like weight or the differences between shoe materials. The way I see it, my feet don’t understand weight in tenths of ounces or know what EVA rubber is. They just know how it feels to land in the shoes I put on. They feel heat and cold, crunched and roomy, security and flexibility. And when I test a new shoe, I pay much more attention to what my feet tell me than all the stats that matter to the big-time shoe reviewers.

Maybe that’s just a girl thing. Or maybe it’s why I’m not a big-time shoe reviewer.

But I digress. I took my Breathos out walking instead of running for the first time, because I really wasn’t sure how I was going to like them. But the walk was fine and I learned that what I originally thought would be a width problem was no problem at all. The only thing is, I still haven’t figured out exactly how tight to lace them. The tongue of the shoe is attached to the rest of the upper (smart move) and is made of a moderately thin and breathable wicking fabric. So if I tie them too tight I can feel the lacing on my metatarsals even though the laces are spaced out really nicely, as if that decision was made in order to add comfort. But it wasn’t comfortable at all so I loosened them, and then the minute I started running they felt way too loose. My foot was sliding around because the mesh has so much give, much more like a sock than most of the other shoes Vivo offers. So I tightened them again and they held on to my foot better. After awhile I didn’t feel the laces as much anymore, but I still kept futzing with them unconsciously every couple of miles during my 14 miler the other day. This could have been a downfall of my wide feet, maybe most people with normal feet won’t have the same issue. but I’m curious to find out if they do.

Other than that I definitely liked the Breatho. I found them to be slick, form-fitting and true to size. Also a whole lot cooler (temperature-wise) to wear than the Neo Trail. And because they are so light, I consider the Breatho and the Neo Trail to be perfect summer and winter companions.

Side note: I have a tendency to run right through puddles rather than jumping over them (unlike normal people with brains). And since it’s still kind of chilly outside in mid-March, the Breathos didn’t dry right away and my toes got kind of cold afterward. Which will make them perfect for the summer! And they were dry in an hour or so – unlike the Neo Trails, which kept me warmer when wet but took several hours to dry.

I will say that I’ve resorted to keeping the insoles in these shoes, because I just don’t like the way the lugs feel on the balls of my feet and my toes. A soft sole equals more sensitivity, I guess. Gotta take the good with the bad.

Performance

I like to get dirty when I run.

Because they use the same sole, the Breatho’s trail performance is the same as the Neo Trail. The 4.5mm directional lugs cut through dirt, rocks and sand just as well, and I was pretty happy with that. I really, really like Vivo’s trail soles. I feel extremely confident and sure-footed on them. And I’m such a huge fan of the super flexibility – even though it gives up some protection, the way it curves around the terrain like a bare foot means the difference between a strong trail run and a bummer ankle sprain. Even if I have to take an occasional sharp rock to the arch of my foot.

Because I am training for a hilly 50k this spring, I have been tackling as many hills as I can find on my long runs. One thing I always hated about downhill running (besides my tendency to take them too fast and anger my IT band) was that my feet would always slip on rolling rocks and sand. In the Breatho I might still slip on the worst stuff, but it takes a lot more before it happens.

Price & Durability

I’m not entirely sure why, but the Breatho Trail is priced lower than almost the entire VIVOBAREFOOT shoe line. Maybe it’s that the lighter materials aren’t expected to last, or maybe Vivo decided to go easy on the price of this shoe in anticipation of its popularity. Either way I think it’s a decent price, and so far as I can see, worth it. They seem to be well constructed, for the most part.

The one thing I did notice happened to my particular pair is that after only a few wears there is some loosening of the stitching on the heel tag. I didn’t notice it right away, but I realized it after I took this picture.

I don’t remember using the tab to pull on the shoe, so I’m not sure how it even happened. Could have happened in production. But it looks like a surface flaw that probably won’t have any detrimental effects on the rest of the shoe, unless it starts to pull away at the fabric on the heel. But I’ll definitely check back in after a few hundred miles on these, and let you know how they last.

Conclusions

  • Beautifully crafted shoes that appeal to the sportier side of trail runners
  • Light, breathable and stretchy uppers that wear more like a sock than previous Vivo models
  • A good fit for warmer weather and climates
  • Flexible sole grabs onto the trails and provide excellent stability
  • Exceptional off-road traction that is on par with the popular Neo Trail
  • Rugged lacing can be a problem for some, against the soft fabric of the uppers
  • Color choices are a bit sparse on the women’s side
  • The price is nice, durability is to be seen.

And, my 14-Mile Run

And as a special addition to today’s review, I am adding some photos of my latest trail run in my Breatho Trails. Know why? Because these shoes got me through 14 MILES this weekend – my longest run. Ever. That’s worthy of a little celebration, don’t ya think?

Most of this trail is regrettably flat, but there are some hills. Unfortunately for you, I didn’t have the wherewithal to take photos while I was figuring out the hills.

Oscar is an excellent trail running partner. He’s always up ahead with this look like “well, are you coming or not?” Best dog in the world.


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A Runner Puts Her (Bare)foot Down

Looking back at my last few posts on this blog, I am going to admit that I am a bit perturbed at what I am seeing. I have been expressing two deeply contrasting emotions:

1. absolute confidence that seemingly comes from nothing, about accomplishing a seemingly impossible task that I am, in a typical sense, not nearly prepared for.

2. crushing insecurity and doubt about accomplishing a difficult task that I, in theory, could adequately prepare for in the time allotted before the day the task must be completed.

Reading through your own blog posts is definitely a good way of surveying your own issues. I mean, whatever happens in Pineland on May 27th, I’m probably going to look back on these last few weeks of undulating confusion and either be completely embarrassed, or laugh at myself. But either way, my recent habit of allowing outside influences to keep me in a persisting state of inner conflict has got to go. It’s not how I usually do things – I am much braver than that.

I mean, I’m usually the type of person who jumps feet-first into the icy waters of unknown scary things, holding my nose and wearing nothing but a red swimsuit. And holding a big ole’ bucket of chum. With the exception, of course, of when those decisions affect other people (like moving to California tomorrow, for instance).

So…why, on this occasion, am I acting like a feeble child who can’t so much as choose a balloon for herself? Why do I let other people’s opinions attach like a virus to my doubts, and why do I allow myself to so easily vacillate from confidence to hesitation and back again?

The answer is probably because this is the biggest high dive (or the biggest pail of fish chum) that I’ve ever endeavored before. It’s intensely scary. The more I think about it, the scarier it becomes, and the easier it is for me to forget my original reason for clicking the “Sign Up” button in the first place:

Because that day I decided I’m okay with failing. And even though I might fail, I would feel like more of a failure if I never even try.

This is something important for me to remember, the next time someone tries to knock some logical sense into my head about this race.

And I would like to thank my friend Jason Robillard, who wrote this post about “Choosing Impossible Challenges“, for once again reminding me what kind of person I actually am – and it’s not the person who wants to live a safe, predictable, boring life.

I am going to stay signed up for the 50k race. Hills and all. And I am going to run it until I’ve either finished 50 kilometers, or until I decide to accept a DNF. I am going to learn a lot that day, not the least of which will be how strong of a person I am. I’m dying to find out.

Other related posts:
Flirting with a DNF

γνῶθι σεαυτόν
(know thyself)
My Final Thoughts on 100 Miles


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Why I Might Not Run a 50k – Yet

As it stands, I am no more than a mediocre distance runner.

I am a better than bad distance runner who has made friends with some really good distance runners, and has subsequently been caught up in the exciting culture of the ultra marathon. Ultra marathoners, especially ones of the barefoot variety, are these fascinating, motivating, awe-inspiring and infinitely friendly people – who will tell you without a doubt that you can do what they do. Even if you have inadequate training and you are a mediocre distance runner like me. They are like running salesmen, and they’re really good for your self confidence.

And if you love to run, like I do, the ultra marathon culture is catchy. Every day it seems like a new person signs up for a 50k after having never run, for example, more than the distance of a half marathon. And these guys make it look so darn easy, which is why I signed up for a 50k, in a moment of sheer go-big-or-go-home insanity. Jason tells me that it’ll be easier than I think. Vanessa tells me I can finish it no problem. Pablo tells me that the training for his first 50k was no more strenuous than a few back-to-back 8 mile “long” runs, and he did fine.

I think the problem is that it’s easy to overestimate someone else’s endurance capacity if you’ve never run with them.

Here’s what I mean. Yesterday I ran 10 miles with Heather and Brad. They’re much better than mediocre distance runners. It’s an eye-opener when you’ve always done your long runs alone or with someone who is on your endurance level, and then one day some friends take you out on trails (when you’re primarily a road runner) that beat the shit out of you by mile seven, while they’re still floating uphill like gazelles. And they’re older than you.

Today I am seriously considering dropping down from the Pinelands 50k to the 25k. And not because I don’t think I could do the 50k. I probably could, simply because if I’m signed up to run 50 kilometers that day, I’ll finish if I have to crawl across the line. But I may not enjoy it. Pineland, Heather tells me, is 100% steep, rolling trail hills. Just hearing that makes me think of being totally unprepared last year for the Great Bay Half Marathon, because it had these ridiculous hills – and I’d only ever trained on flat roads. I finished just the same but it was so emotionally defeating that I didn’t run for almost a month afterward.

Despite the fact that I would love to become an ultra runner and be part of this culture, I think perhaps I’m just not ready yet. There are some hard, inevitable facts in my way. The first and biggest one is that I am overweight. The same effort it takes me today to complete 10 miles could probably get me to 16 or 18 miles if I was at the correct weight. Actually, forget anything else – that’s really the only thing holding me back. If it was easier for me to train, then I’d be less afraid of bigger distances and back-to-back long runs. I honestly believe I have the same insane drive as everyone else, which is why I fit in with them so well. I just don’t have the fitness to back it up.

And that’s what it really comes down to. I signed up for the 50k because I want to run it, because I love running that much, and because I’m the same kind of person as all of my crazy ultra running friends. The only difference between me and them is they’re not overweight and I am. And until I’m as fit as them, I’m just not going to be able to effortlessly make the huge jumps in distance that they routinely do.

I hope nobody takes this as me being self-depricating. It’s really not – this is way past a self-esteem issue. This is simply a logical conclusion that I am at a performance roadblock, and I must get past it if i’m ever going to become a better than mediocre distance runner. I am sad about the thought of setting aside my 50k goal, it feels like giving up and I almost never give up on things I want.

But I also don’t ever settle on being mediocre.