Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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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.
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Review: Skora CORE

myfeet

I was exceptionally grateful for another chance to test some of Skora’s much-anticipated offerings this year. Last fall I tested the FORM. Overall, I liked the shoe, and I gave it a fairly good review. It was made of soft and pliable leather, which was unexpectedly comfortable, even without socks. I wore it to a few road races and I liked the extra bit of cushion in the sole, relative to my other road shoes. It was a bit narrow for my taste though, and I found it to be a little stuffy and not great at absorbing moisture. For these reasons, and admittedly because of the color (white – not my personal favorite) the Skora FORM shoe ended up hanging out in my closet a lot, while my other road shoes got more wear.

Well, this didn’t happen when it came to the CORE.

Good Looks and Inner Beauty

The CORE is just so easy to love, folks. The biggest reason why? This time around they adjusted the last so it’s on a much wider platform. Now we’re talking an exceptionally cozy, slipper-like fit, similar to what VIVOBAREFOOT is famous for, though maybe not quite as wide. The CORE is also made of the same super-soft goat’s leather as the FORM but with much larger vent holes in the upper, as well as an inner layer of absorbent mesh (i.e. no more cow skin sticking to my foot), which is enough to keep my piggies from overheating.

sideview

I love the CORE shoe because it fits exactly how you want a shoe to fit: like it belongs on your foot. The first time I put it on, the CORE felt like it had been broken in for months. No bull. (Is that a goat-leather joke? I can’t tell). And that, my friends, is the beauty of  – and quite possibly the best reason for – a running shoe upper made of leather. You just don’t get that same feeling with athletic mesh.

Skora made a few other updates to this shoe, one of them being a drastic improvement on the asymmetrical lacing system (which is found on both of the new models, CORE and PHASE). By widening the lacing significantly and then totally reversing it so the tongue “burrito” faces inward rather than out, the pinky-toe-rubbing that I experienced with the corner seams (and with all shoes that use a similar tongue design) has vanished. Dig it. They put a lot more reflective material on this shoe too, which is really a plus for night runs when you forget to wear a brightly colored outfit. The available colorways are rad, too – very wearable. I really dig the bluish-charcoal-gray, teal and purple in my pair. I didn’t get to test the PHASE, but this time around the non-leather option is looking a lot more like the leather one, with three bright and fantastic colorways, but with mesh fabric and sold for a slightly lower price.

backs

Performance

I think it’s pertinent to point out here the thing I noticed most about this shoe while running in it: and that would be nothing. Absolutely, gloriously nothing. In my personal experience, any running shoe that lets me completely forget about its presence is the best kind of running shoe there is. After all, that’s sort of the point, right? Or at least it should be. This shoe fits my foot rather perfectly, and I would be hard-pressed to think of a road shoe I’ve tried that I like better. That’s right, I said it.

bottoms

The CORE is just absolutely my favorite road shoe right now. It balances lightness, comfort and road protection exceptionally well. The shoe weighs almost the same as the old FORM, but seems  a lot lighter because of the more lightweight leather/mesh combo upper. The stack height is 2mm lower in the new CORE as well, making the sole roughly 1000x more flexible. (Sidenote: even more flexible with the insole taken out, which I always do – I found the extra cushioning unnecessary and would rather the extra foot space without them.) The more open-width design really makes this shoe great for me. I’ve loved it so much that it’s gone with me for many miles, and it’s been my choice for recent road half marathons and training.

front

I’ve even taken the CORE out to a few trail runs because…well, just because. The CORE works fine over easy packed-dirt trails and protects my feet pretty well on the rockier ones, but I find it slides too much on the steeper hills I often find myself running on. The soles are just too flat and not grippy enough. But I know this shoe is made for roads. I’m definitely looking forward to Skora coming out with something more trail-friendly for the tougher terrain.

The Goldilocks Effect

So final note on the new CORE versus the original FORM. My first thought after reveling in the happy roomy fit of the CORE was this: so the last is nice and wide, but is it too wide? The thing is, I write all my reviews from the standpoint of someone whose feet are naturally wider than average and have only gotten wider since taking up minimalist running. I’m biased. In my world, every running shoe should be made with an insanely wide last so that my toes can move around and not feel bound up by my shoe. But a lot of people have average to narrow feet and that can mean the opposite problem: a shoe that’s too wide and feels huge. Personally, I think that the CORE is the Goldilocks of minimalist shoe lasts: it’s not too narrow (think NB Minimus Road 00) and not extremely wide (think VIVO Lucy Lite).

comparison

This photo shows the 0.15″ width difference between last year’s FORM and this year’s CORE, which has made all the difference.

That said, I would probably recommend that if you normally find your feet are quite long and narrow, the FORM may be a better shoe for you. Although I’ve illustrated several differences between the two models, I believe the fundamentals are still similar enough that going with the earlier model won’t have you missing out on a whole lot.

And for the rest of you, I can’t think of any reason not to love the FORM, except maybe that you’ll find them so beautiful you’ll have a hard time wearing them somewhere dirty. No worries though, they’re actually just as machine washable as your regular mesh running shoes – and they’ll probably last even longer. Happy Running!