Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: Merrell Wide Width Pace Glove

In case you didn’t hear it, that explosive sound was me giving a giant round of applause to Merrell for designing a really kick-ass minimalist trail shoe.

End of review.

Haha…just kidding. I’ve got to write more than that, because I took a bunch of really awesome photos and I like to anchor my photos with a little text.

The Wide Width Pace Glove is of course the wide version of the popular Pace Glove, Merrell’s minimalist trail shoe for women. The Pace Glove came out last spring, and I picked up a pair of them one day while out looking for a non-toe-pocketed running shoe to wear on the trails by my house. They were a strikingly cute lime-green color and I loved them. But alas, after a few miles I realized they were just too narrow for my monkey feet so I gave them away to a friend. Sad face.

Fast forward to this spring, when my contact at Merrell tells me they have a wide-width version of this shoe now. Imagine my drooling surprise! I was so glad to get them in the mail – it was like being reunited with a long-lost friend. A long lost friend who’s changed her ill-fitting ways and has come back as an improved version of herself. And in gray and purple.

Since wiping the drool off, I’ve put about 25 trail miles on these girls, including last weekend’s 13 mile long run. Some quick and relevant stats on these: they have 4mm zero-drop Vibram rubber soles with a 1mm thick rock plate that protects your feet from the occasional sharp, pointy rock that you didn’t see. The uppers are made of microfiber mesh and synthetic leather, and there is a nifty little rubber bumper at the toe – perfect for the 300 or so rocks I inevitably end up kicking around the trails during my runs. Merrell’s Omni-Fit lacing system keeps the laces evenly tight throughout. It’s a slick design with some pretty sound details overall.

But, all construction features aside, the thing that makes this shoe such an exceptional piece of footwear is the fact that it’s…just there. It just stays there and does its job, no questions asked. It’s definitely more “shoe” than most of what’s in my closet these days, but it really doesn’t feel like much. When I’m running there isn’t any rubbing, chafing, pinching, twisting. No adjustments need to be made. My foot doesn’t get cramped or go numb. My heel doesn’t get chewed. The shoe surrounds my foot perfectly, and then pretty much gets forgotten as I enjoy my run. It’s hard to quantify just how amazingly good this is for someone with feet like mine that just…well, don’t really like shoes.

The only painful thing that happened with these shoes is at one point I clipped my right ankle with the sandy heel of my left shoe, while making a sharp turn on some loose dirt. It dug a pretty good chunk of flesh out of my ankle bone. These are some rugged trail shoes, they’re like little trail-chewing monsters. The tread isn’t all that deep, and there hasn’t been any ice or slippery ground available for me to test on, but so far they’ve been great at keeping me upright over rocks, roots and gravel.

I loved the Wide Width Trail Glove so much that I even let my good friend Kathy test it for a few miles today (woohoo, two-for-one shoe review!). She’d had some prior questions about the “supportive arch,” as she put it, that she felt once when trying the regular-width version of these shoes on at the store. I assured her that the molded construction of the sole is there to hold your foot in place, not support it. I think she believed me. After a couple of miles, Kathy reported that she found the Pace Glove to be much roomier than the shoe she’s been wearing (last year’s original NB Minimus Trail – now called the “Minimus 10“) and that she wasn’t getting the usual hotspot in her forefoot that had been causing her blisters. I think she liked them as much as I do.

The only real gripe I have about the wide width Pace Glove is that it never really came out in stores – or at least not any of the ones I frequent. So I never even knew they existed, and had written off the shoe altogether. It could be because the regular width shoe sells quite well and perhaps Merrell isn’t seeing enough of a demand for it to add it to every store shelf. But given that I’ve owned both, I think the wide-width Pace Glove is a better choice for anyone who doesn’t describe their foot as narrow. That extra bit of room makes an amazing difference in the wide width shoe; it provides an appropriate amount of space for the foot to flatten on landing, and for toes to splay. It does what it’s supposed to: encourages natural foot movement.

I can finally see why everyone loves this shoe. My wide-ass feet are pretty late to the party, yes. But hey, at least they got there.


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Today’s Trail Run Brought to You by: Solid Ice.

Only in New England can you go 4 trail miles out and back and run through dirt, sand, mud, sheer ice, snow and flood waters in the same day.

Stats

  • Number of miles run: 8
  • Number of times I stopped to pee: 1 (not even two miles in…too much coffee)
  • Number of GUs consumed : 2
  • Number of times I had to walk/slide through sheets of ice: 4
  • Number of times I had to wade through knee-deep water: 2
  • Number of other runners on the trail: 1
This was the first time I’ve run 8 miles since my stint of injuries earlier this year. Basically every long run from here on out is going to be my longest since then, until they just become my longest runs ever. I was tired when I was through – trails are easier on my feet but harder on my leg muscles, which is good. But I didn’t feel dead, like I remember feeling last year during Half Marathon training. I’m taking that as a good sign.

This was also the first time I’d ever run the trails by Lake Massabesic, and they go out pretty far. But I’m not sure I really knew what to expect. And I figured I’d be out for awhile so I took pictures of my experience.

The run started off so well. Aw, look how pretty those trees are, and the soft pine needles on the ground. Awww.

Lake Massabesic is just so pretty this time of year, isn't it? It was nice to start out the run meandering through the sites.

The trail didn't stay nice for long. About a quarter mile down it started to get gnarly. I didn't think there would still be so much ice, since it's all melted near my house 10 miles away. Snow racers come through a lot and draw lines in the trails, that ice over. Makes it hard to find a spot not to slip on.

A couple miles in, I come across this bullshit. You can't see it here, but there's lake on both sides of the path and currently this section of the path has become one with the lake. I had to cross it twice, soaking myself up to my knees in slushy water. I cursed myself the whole time for not choosing the wool socks.

A half mile from my turnaround point, I saw this sign. Yeah, tell em! I wish those smart folks could be hired to write highway signs.

My turnaround point. Those trees are tall. That's all.

No, that is not poop on my shoes. It's mud and dirt and hard work. And my Vivos match the rocks.

Before dealing with the puddle-o-doom for the second time, I crossed a bridge and really liked the view of the lake from it. The first time I crossed the bridge there was a man out on the ice. Now he's gone. I'll try not to think too much into that.

Yeah - that's all ice. Fun times. I walked that stretch.

I ran out of water in the last two miles. I wondered to myself if that was drinkable*

*And speaking of that, did you see this video yet? Shit Ultrarunners Say. Hilarious.


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Review: Feet, by Mother Nature Incorporated

Today I’m reviewing a lovely pair of Feet that were generously sent to me by a very small company called My Two Parents, a division of Mother Nature Company, Inc. I was delighted when they arrived, as they have become an excellent running tool ever since.

Looks
The pair of Feet I received were a women’s size 8, or EU 38. They are light in color, almost pasty, and also a little bit bony with short stubby toes and an exceptionally wide toe box. The soles are smooth and pink, with a high arch. But they look strong overall so I think they can handle most of the terrain I typically run on. The toenails aren’t too pretty, though, looks like they haven’t been through a pedicure in awhile. There’s some chipped polish on most of the toes. But that’s okay, I checked with the company and it turns out it’s only a cosmetic defect that won’t affect overall performance.

Weight
As far as weight goes for minimalist footwear, Feet are the lightest things on the planet. In fact, you can’t even weigh them because of how close they fit with your body, and their difficulty to detach and be weighed separately. But I can guarantee you that no shoe, no sandal and no FiveFinger can match Feet’s sheer invisibility in weight.

Construction and Durability
Feet are made up of 26 tiny bones, 33 mobile joints, layers of tendons and muscles intrinsic to helping you run. They also have several layers of skin that hold everything together flawlessly, without any stitching or lacing to fuss over. Feet are, without a doubt, the most complex and beautiful running tools out there, and yet the most simple. They’ve got stellar cushioning capabilities, in this case called the Arch System. Pronation control? You don’t even need it! Feet can allow you to run beautifully no matter what biomechanics flaw the pimply sales guy at your local running store tells you that you have (they don’t like Feet too much over there). Furthermore, you don’t have a mileage limit on these babies, meaning there’s no need to shell out hundreds every couple of months to keep your running “fresh.” You only ever need one pair. By my count, that’s Mother Nature: 3 Nike: 0.

Unlike all the other footwear brands, the more you put Feet through, the stronger and tougher they get. If you overdo it and mess them up, they’ll get better after a while and let you abuse them again. They’re waterproof, highly washable and dry almost instantly. There are no seams on the inside, so no chafing. You can save some BodyGlide there. And you don’t need to wear socks inside them either, Injinji or otherwise. Very cost-effective.

Performance
I love to take my pair of Feet out for runs on their own during mild weather. The ground feel is exceptional. The best, actually. There is zero loss of prioperception on trails, and they are most definitely your best choice of footwear when it comes to learning or correcting your running form. My only complaint is that the soles don’t come strong enough at first to put up with highly textured ground…for that you’ve got to wear them in a bit before you stop getting ouchies. Kind of like wearing in a good pair of leather flats. Also they’re arguably not all that great during tough New England winters, mine especially – the toes go white when it’s too chilly (but that might just be my pair – every one is different). Some crazy fools and nut bags do go out there in the snow with Feet, though, and to each his own. Shoes as tools, right?

Feet are not great for every situation, but that’s okay because no footwear is. Have no fear, you can still wear your Feet under a great pair of minimalist shoes, like Vibram FiveFingers or VivoBarefoot footwear. As long as the shoes don’t prop up the heel or mess with ground feel too much, Feet can still do their job. They’re pretty amazing that way.

Conclusion
Feet are exceptional, unprecedented footwear, and every runner should own a pair. I take mine with me during every run…heck, I never leave home without them. They are your best running tool, right after, of course, supportive underwear and sports bras.

 


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My Favorite Things (so far in 2011)

As you surely know, the runner’s product review blog has become ever so popular over the last couple of years. I hope to continue adding my four or five cents to this phenomenon as time goes on. But I like lists a lot, so I’ve decided to add a quarterly (or at least bi-annual) list of all the running-related things that impress me the most. I expect this list to change and contradict itself over time as I become exposed to new and wonderful products. I also think it’ll be fun.

Because this is my first ever list, it’s going to include everything from January 2011, when I started this blog. I hope some of my readers will agree and disagree, and perhaps even suggest new things for me to try out. By the way, I couldn’t come up with a good order in which to arrange these, so I’m just going to put them in the order I discovered them.

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS

Yeah, you read it right. VFF‘s are at the top of my list. My first inclination was to apologize for being stale and unoriginal in this choice, but after some consideration I don’t think I will. Vibrams have lost a lot of popularity among many of my barefoot/minimalist friends and readers, I think partly because of their meteoric rise in popularity over the last 18 months, and partly because some other good (“one-toed”) shoes have moved in and lots of people like them better. I myself feel a little guilty for running out on Vibram. Maybe I was sick of the weird looks, maybe I was tired of dislodging little rocks from between my toes. But mostly I think it was because I wanted to try other stuff too. And I have. Some shoes were great, some not so great. But I’ll tell you this: when I put my Bikilas on my feet last week to walk the dog – I hadn’t worn them in nearly 4 months – they felt awesome, and I couldn’t remember why I ever stopped wearing them. I realize that Vibram has had a few problems with quality control and their newer models have been met with lukewarm response by some of the more die-hard VFF purists. But I still think Vibram gets it the most right.

Let me just clarify my reasoning here. In my observation, there are three different kinds of minimalist shoe: what I call the shoe, the slipper and the sock. The shoe is a piece of semi-rigid protective material that straps to your foot and is somewhat binding, for whatever reason. I put the Merrell Pace Glove and the NewBalance Minimus Trail in this category. The slipper is a softer, roomier contraption that is very flexible and allows more foot movement against ground surfaces. It’s kind of just there, it protects you but also provides an environment of freedom. VIVOBAREFOOT (which I’ll bring up again further down) and SoftStar make this type of shoe. Then there is the sock. An actual sock is stretchy and takes on the exact form of your foot as you move it. A sock wears your foot, instead of the other way around. This is what we’re talking about with Vibrams (and, though I’ve never tried them, Zems seems like another “sock”-like style). You don’t need to worry about width of the shoe, flexibility vs. protection, heel drop…all of that is moot. Because a Vibram FiveFingers shoe is created to wear your foot, to be your foot, in all its five-digited, super-articulated glory. How could it be any closer to barefoot? In the future I may move on from my Vibrams completely, but I challenge other minimalist shoe companies to equal the absolute freedom of that strange sock-like, multi-toed monkey shoe.

Injinji NuWool Toe Sock


Exactly how do you get through a winter of New England outdoor running in VFFs without a good pair of Injinji NuWool socks? I know that I certainly couldn’t have done without them this January, those days when the temps barely reached to the 10’s in the afternoon, the roads were frigid and slushy, and I had a long run ahead of me. NuWool is pretty much the same as the branded SmartWool. It’s very thin, moisture-wicking, and warm. The most amazing thing about these socks, besides the interesting split toes, is that you can prance through all the puddles you want in shoes that are completely non water-resistant and you’ll never get chilly feet. The material seems to soak up the moisture and then allow it to warm to your body temperature, thus drying the sock faster. The only setback, equal to that of the VFF, is the design that separates your toes from each other, so if you start out with chilly piggies it’ll take a little extra mileage before they warm up.

Garmin Forerunner 305


My husband gave me this running watch for Christmas last year. I wasn’t going to buy it because I didn’t think it would be worth the price. And it’s kind of ugly. Okay, it’s really ugly. But it’s got to be one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Not only does it tell me how far I’ve gone, but it gives me a host of other information on how mediocre of a runner I am. Time, pace, average pace, laps, heart rate, elevation, and a whole lot of other stuff I’ll probably never even use. Plus when you connect it to your computer it gives you this whole analysis of the run, your highs and lows, a map, and stores all the information by date. Now I know it is worth the price. I’d buy it again. The only complaint I have is that on occasion I’ve had to wait forever for it to find the satellites, especially in urban areas with a lot of buildings. And it’s run out of battery on me a few times, mostly because it doesn’t have a battery gauge on the main screen so it’s easier to forget to charge it up.

Nike Pro Combat Thermal Running Tight


I’ll be the first one to admit that most people look silly in running tights, myself included. They’re like slightly shiny leggings – and there some are very strict rules about leggings that all stocky, short girls like me should never stray from (i.e. cover the bum). But anyway, I tried on about 38 pairs of running tights last fall, and just about every one brought me back to that unpleasant afternoon in early 2010 when I decided to try on bikinis at Marshall’s. The Nike Pro Combat tights fit me exactly the right way. I can’t even really tell you what it was about them that made a difference – maybe it’s the rise that actually covers my buttcrack, or just the right amount of stretch, I dunno…either way these babies kept me warm, but not sweaty, all winter long. They’re not cheap – they sell for $55 big ones, but I’ll probably buy another pair.

Polartec Wind Pro Glove by Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS)


There are probably a hundred different pairs of good running gloves out there. I picked these. They were warm enough to block the icy wind, light enough to keep me from taking them off and losing them two miles into my run, moisture-wicking, dark enough to hide my inevitable nose-wiping, and cheaper than the ones NorthFace had. Turns out I really like these gloves for running and for cleaning snow off my car. Who knew?

UnderArmour ColdGear Fitted Mock


Two things: 1. Thank the running gods for this long-sleeve; and 2. I wish I’d bought two instead of one last year while they were on sale. I wore mine during the local Turkey Trot 5-miler last November at 33 degrees, and I wore it under a light jacket when it got colder. And I never needed more than that, even in the dead of winter. The thin, warm material seems to seal in your body heat, but not any of the sweat. It’s nice and long too, it covered my running-tights-clad bum and kept me comfortable without riding up too much. I plan to add another one of these to my stockpile of running clothes this winter.

The GAP Body Pima Cotton Tank Top


Okay, ladies. If you don’t have some of these, go get one. Get two, five. They’re fantastic. They’re usually on sale for something like 2 for $30, or for much less on clearance when the next season’s colors arrive. They are fitted, nice and long, and roomy in the armpit area (for lack of a better description), so no chafing. They are cool in the summer, the perfect first layer in the winter, they’re cut to look good on everyone, and they come in all your favorite colors. I have five. I hope GAP never stops making them.

Running Skirts


There is one official company (RunningSkirts.com) that boasts the invention of the running skirt. Recently I was very generously given one of their skirts and will be reviewing it shortly. But the whole revelation here is just the running skirt in general. I am of French-Canadian and Native American descent, which means I’m short, stout, very muscular, and more importantly I can’t run in shorts. I’ve tried. Short shorts, long shorts, compression shorts, doesn’t matter. I spend more time twisting and adjusting them than actually running. Enter the running skirt. Pretty, girly, mid-thigh coverage in a myriad of different colors and patterns. Some running skirts have compression shorts built in underneath, some have skivvies. I prefer the latter, and not just because they remind me of my cheerleading days. No shorts = no riding up. I love running skirts, I wear them all summer long in lieu of shorts, and they make me happy. I don’t care who invented them, in my opinion they’re the best thing that ever happened to the female runner.

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo


I plan to do a full review of this shoe in the next week or two as well, but I couldn’t help but include it in this list because it really is one of my favorite things. First let me say that if you want a really fantastic minimalist shoe and you don’t like Vibram FiveFingers, VIVOBAREFOOT is the way to go. They have several different running shoes to choose from, but the one I chose was the Neo. It’s lightweight, zero-drop, adorable, comes in several colors and it’s reasonably priced. I just got these babies in the mail a week ago and I really haven’t taken them off since. They feel like nothing I’ve ever run in. They have great ground feel but exceptional protection. They allow my foot to curve and roll but they’re not tight or binding. In every way, the Neo is an exceptional shoe. Also, they seem to have some water resistant properties and definite warmth, so I imagine they will be my winter shoe this year. Don’t worry, I’ll still be wearing my Injinji NuWool socks inside.

So this is my list at the moment. Thanks for reading. Got anything new and fantastic that I should try? Go ahead and leave a comment below – I’d love to hear about it.


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Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Kali

This review was originally posted on Sept. 26, 2011 in The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy‘s blog. Worth a visit if you want to learn about new running shoes and gear – he’s reviewed a ton of things.

My very first real product review. More to come!


Back in January I was looking for a casual minimalist shoe to wear on a business trip. My company sends me to trade shows a few times a year, and I have to stand and talk to people for 10 or 12 hours each day. I love my soft faux-leather flats but they don’t last, and Aldo started putting a kitten heel on the one I always buy, subsequently killing the reason I loved them so. At some point I stumbled upon the Kali on vivobarefoot.com (I think it was actually because Christian was giving away a pair to one of his readers so I checked them out), and ended up ordering them in black (they don’t have black anymore – I wonder why?). I wore them to the show and they were everything I wanted in a work shoe. And SO COMFORTABLE! I left the trade show each night without sore feet/back/legs, which is a lot more than I could say for my work buddies. That was eight months ago, and I have been wearing them two to three days a week since then.

The Look and Feel

I gotta say, these kicks are stinkin’ cute. They are classic without the boring, and the available colors are just darling – I’ve been eyeing the beige/lavender ones for weeks. They are made of high-quality nappa leather that hasn’t broken down at all over these months of wear and weather, and I’ve never used any leather protector products on them. I just have some creasing in the toe area, which impresses me because I tend to beat up shoes pretty quickly. Their simplicity is perfect for everyday wear, with jeans, slacks, skirts, shorts and leggings. I love the look of the wide toe box, very boho-chic, and I’m grateful for the room to accommodate my extra-wide barefoot runnin’ peds. I wouldn’t be quick to recommend these to people with very narrow feet, you might be flopping around in them. But then again that may be the reason for the elastic band over the top. At first I thought I’d have to cut the whole thing off, because I figured it would annoy my very high instep like all other elastic straps. But it didn’t – it’s actually quite supple and has a lot of give. The fit is snug for me but not constricting. I will admit I do get a mark across my midfoot by the end of the day, but it doesn’t cause any real discomfort.

Downside: the first couple of weeks in these guys was a little rough. The leather isn’t soft enough out of the box, so like most good pairs of shoes they need to be broken in. I had a pretty nasty blister on my heel for a while, but now they’ve turned into something like mary-jane-style foot gloves.

Minimal Enough for Ya?

Vivobarefoot’s commitment to the minimalist movement shines through quite well in this product. The Kalis have an exceptionally flexible, zero-drop, 3mm sole and they weigh only 5.5 ounces. I have been tempted to go for a run in them, they feel so much like my minimalist running shoes! The Kali comes with a removable insole (see pictures – sorry for the dirty worn-in shoe pics…but hey at least you know they last!). Leave it in and I have a ground feel similar to my Vibram FiveFingers Bikilas. Take it out and it’s like walking around in my FiveFingers Classics. I chose to leave the insole in because I’m not as much of a stickler for ground-feel as many other folks are. Also, I like to take out the insole and machine-wash it periodically…because I’ll tell ya, running or not, if you don’t wear socks with your shoes you’re eventually going to start wondering what died in them. Or maybe it’s just me. Hm. Either way you can replace the insoles for $15, which I’m thinking of doing soon.

I should mention that although the hexagonal-patterned rubber soles have not worn down at all (!) since I bought them in January, they do make a lot of squeaky noises when I walk on slick surfaces. I sound a bit like a basketball player scuffing my sneakers on a hardwood court. Sort of weird but not a deal breaker. The manufacturer’s details say that the thin sole sacrifices some traction, but I have actually found they have terrific grip – the first month I wore them there was 36” of New England snow and ice on the ground and I had no slippage problems whatsoever.

What’s in a Pricetag

The hardest detail to swallow about the Kali was the price. Sure, I’ve spent $100 on my running shoes and I’d do it again. I’ve spent $250 on a fantastic pair of fashion boots, no problem. But the $120 pricetag on a pair of flats was a little tough for me to swallow. And coupled with the fact that I can’t buy them in stores (they’re sold out of the UK), it was a hefty risk that I wouldn’t like them or they wouldn’t fit. But I took the risk and I found the fit true-to-size (I’m exactly between EU38-39, the 38 is perfect), and I consider the long-lasting quality well worth the sack of change. I may not have to buy another pair of casual minimalist shoes for another couple of years….but I’m not promising anything because that Venus style is looking mighty fine in purple.

I hope that this review has been helpful. If indeed I have helped along your decision to purchase a pair of VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, please show me some love by entering VIVO’s site via my blog. You can do that by entering any of the links on this article or by clicking the VIVOBAREFOOT banner to the right. Thanks so much and happy running!


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Repost: Blisters, Snot Rockets and Frozen Tears

Last weekend I sprained my ankle on leaf-covered trails, like I do almost every year. It’s angering, but it may also be a badly-needed lesson that I absolutely CANNOT wear traditional running shoes (forget what my podiatrist says), and that I MUST stop blowing off those ankle-strengthening exercises.

Although I am out of commission (AGAIN), I remain optimistic. There isn’t a lot of swelling and I know I’ll be back on my feet soon enough, and hopefully doing my cool-season long runs again before I know it.

In the meantime I think I’ll repost one of my favorite blogs on here. I wrote it last winter after my first 10-mile half mary training run, and it still makes me smile. It’s fittingly called “Blisters, Snot Rockets and Frozen Tears: What I’ve Learned on My Quest for the Double-Digit Run.”

Please click here to view.

As always, thanks for reading!


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Why Form?

Just for the sake of argument, let’s just talk about running form for a moment. Barefoot or natural running form, that is.

Let’s talk about the rigamarole on correct and incorrect barefoot running form. Because, as it seems, you can’t just slip off your shoes (or slip on a pair of natural running shoes) and go out trotting along the sidewalk however you choose. There are all these rules and guidelines you need to know first. If your foot doesn’t land right under your center of gravity, if you’re pushing off from your toes, if you’re leaning too far forward, if your arms aren’t right….well, then you’re headed right for an injury.

And don’t get me wrong, I believe that for the most part these form regulations are helpful and their implementation has improved my running life.

But just for the sake of argument, why do we have rules for natural running form? Many of us carnal barefoot running beasts do it because we believe in the evolution of the human body (creationists need not apply, I suppose) and look to nourish and utilize it as our ancestors once did. One obvious point to make is that our ancestors didn’t have the interwebz and therefore couldn’t google “correct running form” or watch videos of others gliding along on treadmills and emulate them. Nor did they have certified running trainers or dozens of authors writing volumes on the subject. No, our ancestors just ran after their prey, ran to get to a destination, ran just out of joy and celebration (I can only assume). They didn’t study how they were supposed to run, they just did it. And we, the people of Modern Day Earth, have descended from the very genetic material of those persistence hunters and fruit gatherers. So, besides the one requisite that you run like you’re supposed to, don’t heel strike, etc., why does your modern body need extra help?

Because if you think about it, it makes sense to assume that given two unhindered feet, your back and legs and arms would simply fall into place. And if not right away, then shortly thereafter. And if you were lucky enough to have always run naturally, then by the time you’re an adult there would be really no room for bad form.

But, let’s go back a moment to the person who just shed their shoes last week. She is maybe several inches taller than me (most people are), has longer legs, or perhaps is a man instead. This person is different from me, right? He or she has differently-sized pulleys and levers, different weight distribution, different joint flexibility and muscular strengths. Why should this person run exactly like me? CAN they run like me, even?

Perfect running form, how I understand it, is a balance of optimized energy efficiency with a reduced chance of bone and soft tissue strain. But if my bone and tissue makeup is different from yours, that would stand to reason that my perfect form would also be different. Maybe not by a lot, but likely some. Perhaps I need to lean forward more because I have a lower center of gravity, or something like that. I really think when it comes down to it, “perfect form” is utterly unique to each and every runner.

So how can it be taught?

I dunno. All this talk about certified barefoot running coaches. Why hire one, really, when your bare feet know a heck of a lot more about your personal good form? And they are absolutely free of charge! And besides, I’m pretty sure my legs have a thing or two to say about that 186 bpm cadence rule, and probably none of it is very nice.


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My Shoes are Invisible

Today when I got home tonight my very first pair of huaraches (from Invisible Shoes) had come in the mail. Commence numerous instructional videos of Steve Sashen and his curly locks, chunks of flying nylon and several failed attempts at assembly. But I finally got them together and laced up. The process may or may not have involved scissors, a hand drill, an exacto-knife, pliers, a hair pin and more than one F-bomb.

I plan to do a writeup on these as soon as I get a chance to fully test them out. In the meantime, get your pair!


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What You Can Learn from a Pair of Cushiony Running Shoes

Let me just start this blog with the following points: I consider myself a “minimalist runner.” But, more importantly than that I am a runner, and one who practices good form. I have said this before: I am at the point in my belief system where I don’t think it’s as important to run barefoot as it is to run with good form. Some believe it may be easier to learn good form while barefoot, and there may be a lot of truth to that. However, I think the notion that you must go barefoot to do it right carries with it an air of exclusion, division from the rest of the running world. Like others before me have said, there shouldn’t be “regular runners” and “barefoot runners.” We are all people who share a love for the same activity – the only necessary difference is what’s on our feet. I have always had a little trouble with barefoot runners having to be separate. Even from the beginning, my opinion was that I would rather have a whole world of runners learning about the importance of correct form, than a few hundred people converting to barefoot and the rest of the running world shunning their extreme views and missing the whole point. I mean, why wouldn’t you want everyone to learn how to run better? Why let a few millimeters of foam stand in your way?

I would like to say that I came to these conclusions after much inner debate and deliberation, and because of running barefoot for a whole year. But no, I must admit that what taught me the most about barefoot running were:

  1. my summer-long hiatus from running due to injury
  2. my Saucony Kinvaras

Saucony Kinvaras. They're loud. They're pink. And they're not as evil as you think.

Currently, I am not running barefoot. I am not running in my Vibram Five Fingers, or even in my Merrell Pace Gloves. I am running in Saucony Kinvaras. Kinvaras have been heavily marketed as a lightweight minimalist running shoe. But really – they’re not. They have squishy-bouncy soles, zero ground feel and a 4mm heel-to-toe drop (not much, but still). So, like most runners who prefer to be barefoot or minimally shod, I sort of object to the concept of the Kinvara as a “minimalist” running shoe. With that said, I am perfectly happy running in them for the time being. Why? Well, as I was coming back from my injury I decided to take the advice of my podiatrist, and ease the muscles of my foot back into their job more slowly than barefoot running would allow. But more importantly, I am just too damn paranoid of re-injury to run barefoot right now. So yeah, I was willing to drop the $70 on a pair of shoes to ease my mind as well as my feet. And when I’m good and ready, I will go back to running barefoot and in minimal footwear, and all will be well with the world.

What I know now is that when you’re running you must take heed of your feet. You must be sure to care for them, from the inside out, because without them you cannot run at all. My time being injured has taught me to respect my feet. To respect their workload limits, and more importantly, to run more for pleasure, health and meditation than for some constant self-imposed pressure to always improve. It was getting me nowhere, anyway.

Some people have asked me why I don’t just stay away from running at all until my foot is completely ready for barefoot running again. The answer is simple: because I don’t have to run barefoot to run. This is what my Kinvaras have taught me. When I first put them on in the store I was convinced this purchase was going to be the end of my credibility as a minimalist runner. And by the way, that attachment to my credibility was the reason I’d kept wearing unsupportive shoes all summer and subsequently prolonging my injury.

But when I took my first few strides in the Kinvaras I realized that they didn’t keep me from running with my usual form, as I had been told to expect. With the exception of the squishiness that had just enough give to satisfy my bum foot, I could still avoid heel striking. I could still stand up straight, lead with my chest and land with my feet under my center of gravity. All of a sudden, barefoot’s monopoly on good form seemed like a bunch of bunk, and for a moment I felt the disappointment of a child learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

That moment of clarity brought on the completion of a shift I needed to make in my thinking. Finally it didn’t matter to me if I was shunned from the barefoot community for running in shoes that had more than 6 millimeters of sole, because the people who were stuck on that rule were going about it all the wrong way. They were preaching to a small, exclusive group of followers who would conform to the letter, and all who fell outside their canon need not apply. My resistance to conformity was the exact reason I fell in love with barefoot/minimalist running in the first place, yet here I was feeling compelled to conform to a group of non-conformists. So you know what? Fuck ’em. It was time to break away.

It was also time to quit worrying about stupid unnecessary things like distance, speed, pace, competition, blah blah blah. I run to run. This is my hobby. I’m not a career racer. I don’t have to run any faster or farther than my feet are willing to take me today. And I don’t have to be an ultra-marathoner lest I be named a hobby-jogger. I don’t care about any of that crap anymore. In three weeks I am going to be running in a race called the Devil’s Chase. I chose it because its 6.66 mile distance is gimmicky and fun, and because I can wear a goofy costume. And I plan to not give a shit how long it takes me to finish or if I tire and have to walk some. I’m going to put on a ridiculous outfit, run a few miles with a couple of my friends, and then I’m going to hang around Salem, Massachusetts, the center of the Halloween Universe, and I’m going to smile. If you’re looking to find me, I’ll be the one wearing bright pink marshmallow shoes and running with fantastic fucking form.

That, my dear readers, is what running is all about.


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Walk this way….run this way.

Choose your weapon or free your sole.

Yesterday afternoon I had my first appointment with the sports podiatrist. She told me I have injury to the intrinsic muscles of my foot. She put me in a walking cast for 1 week and told me to take 800mg of Advil twice a day for four days. She also told me that I’ll be able to run the half marathon I signed up for, in the beginning of October.

I remain skeptical.

Of course, being that she (like most of the medical community) isn’t a fan of barefoot running, she made the cursory attempt to convince me that I shouldn’t be running barefoot. Though, with that same breath she touted the advantages of barefoot form, and told me that I should try to mimic that form in supportive running shoes. It made me think the following two things:

  • Why does everyone hate you when you’re barefoot? You’re born barefoot – why is it so difficult to imagine living and exercising that way?
  • Maybe there’s some truth in what she is saying.

I’m not going to expand on the first point, because really it’s just more of a complaint. But I will say that nobody has ever been able to satisfy that question for me, and it is sort of frustrating. That’s a post for another day. I’d like to talk more about the second thought. In the year that I’ve converted from a hobby-jogger to a runner, I’ve stood firmly on the extreme deep end of the barefoot spectrum:

  • Barefoot is best, but minimalist shoes such as Vibrams or Merrels are acceptable.
  • There is a right and wrong form in which to run.
  • Arch support is your foot’s arch enemy.
  • A bare or minimally shod foot is a strong foot.
  • Everyone running in those cushy built-up Asics trainers is a damn fool.

I started running barefoot and minimalist because I read Born to Run and it inspired me to change the way that I run. To run smooth, light and strong. To run for health and happiness, like the Tarahumara people of the Copper Canyons (who don’t actually run barefoot at all, by the way). Caballo Blanco became my hero. But somehow along the way I completely forgot his message:

“[Running] is about form and it’s about running free. It’s not about what you wear or don’t wear on your feet.”

And it’s the same message that Christopher McDougall preaches to the crowds that gather to hear him talk. It’s the same thing that Mr. McDougall said to me when I briefly ran alongside him in Boston this spring. It doesn’t matter what you wear on your feet. Just have good form. Run smooth. Run light. Run free. In my forced hiatus from running this summer, I have thought a lot about what I should change in the future to prevent this from happening again. But being that I am so very prone to injury (I’ve barely ever gone an active year without something happening to my feet or ankles), and being a supinator (I land on the outside of my foot and fail to roll inward enough, which means no shock absorption) it’s tough to say that anything could change my future. However, since I have no plans to ever stop running, I am willing to adapt and find what the right thing is for me.

But what is the right thing for me?

  • Barefoot runners say that Barefoot is best, no matter what issues or ailments you may have.
  • Shod runners say get some cushioning shoes with curved lasts to force your foot to pronate when you run, with a pair of $400 orthotics stuffed inside.

I am finding that I agree with neither of these inflexible viewpoints. Life experience has taught me that being on one extreme end or the other of any issue is never as beneficial as seeing the positives of both sides and then falling somewhere between. Of course, there isn’t much of a supported middle ground when it comes to barefoot vs. shod running. For example, if I strap on a pair of Nike Frees I’m going to get an egg in my face from both sides. If I don’t shun one side in favor of the other, I have no home. And that sort of sucks because whomever I turn to for advice and support will just start by telling me I’m doing it wrong. But if I just remember what my first motivator taught me: “it’s not about what you wear or don’t wear on your feet,” then isn’t that where I belong? If I follow the Caballo, who runs in just about every kind of shoe there is, and also barefoot, then how can I go wrong?

I believe running is a sport of one: and that is why I love it. I run for myself. I motivate myself. I compete against myself. The only person I have to answer to is me, and I should run in whatever suits my feet, my body, my stride. What I should take away from others is the importance of good form and the inspiration to learn more, to work harder. And after using all the information I know to find what’s right for me, what others say about my footwear is of no importance.

The only thing that is important to me is to run. Run free, run happy, run smiley.