Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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On Being a Poseur

If you have read this blog for more than thirty seconds, you have probably picked up on the fact that I really love running. For better or for worse, over the past three years or so running has become a HUGE part of my life. Most of my friends think of me as “the runner,” they come to me for advice on minimalist shoes, tease me about my penchant for going barefoot, and ask me when my next big race is. I spend a lot of time writing about running on this blog, or having my thoughts published elsewhere. I love being thought of as “the runner.” I also spend a lot of time running, too (strangely enough). For the last month or two my mileage has gone down, while I dedicate more of my free time and energy toward our cross-country move. And I am starting to feel the difference down to my bones.

I need to run. It’s my exercise, my escape, my reward, my alone time and my social hour. Running is where I learn the most about myself. It’s where I feel the most accomplished, and sometimes it’s where I fall the hardest. Running has renewed my self-confidence, and it has also broken my heart.

Last Sunday I lined up at the back of a pack of runners at a local 10-mile trail race, pumped full of nervous energy. The race started off really well, and for a trail run my pace was excellent. But in an unexpected turn of events, I couldn’t finish the race. At mile 7 I started to feel some pretty bad stomach cramps and I had to listen to my body and drop out. As I jogged uncomfortably toward the end of the third loop (and the porta-johns), I passed by a running friend of mine who had finished with an impressive personal record and was so kindly waiting to see me cross the finish line. It killed me to announce that I was dropping, because I wasn’t even tired yet….and also because I had spend the last year or two talking so much shop with him and others I’ve never met on Facebook, that it doubled my shame.

In my growing love for this sport, I have spent years waxing poetic with people about running, and it turns out it’s been enough to make them all believe I’m some kind of runner.

But right then I didn’t feel much like one. Instead I felt like a bit of a poseur. And I felt even more like a poseur later on that very afternoon, when I just happened to decide to sign up for my first marathon. The two events of the day were not even related in my mind. To me, a bad ten-miler today really has no bearing on a marathon that’s happening in five months. But, I can see how it may have looked sort of weird to someone else. If I couldn’t finish a ten miler today, what would motivate me to sign up for a marathon? Am I just digging myself a hole to fill with failures?

Perhaps this dude doesn’t even think of me as a poseur, who knows. But even if he does I don’t suppose it would make much of a difference to me anyway. Despite my wordy posts on the subject, at the end of the day I don’t really care what anyone thinks about me as a runner (hence my lack of hesitation in signing up for that marathon). I’m certainly not a great or talented runner, and I’ve never tried to make others think that I am. I just like to run, and that’s all the promises I’ve ever made to anyone.

But on the other hand, is signing up for something like a marathon or a 50K a promise? Is it a promise that I’ll have trained well enough to complete the race in a decent amount of time (preferably, well before the embarrassingly long cutoff time)? Are my shoe and swag reviews my promise that I’ll consistently be running 30-mile weeks? Is my signature at the bottom of an ultra-marathon application a contract that I’ll at least keep up with the runners in the middle of the pack, rather than closer to the back where I typically end up? Or am I letting my readers and my friends down if my pace is slower than 9:30, or if I drop out of a race or, god-forbid, wind up finishing dead-fucking-last?

What kind of expectation am I setting up for myself by writing an entire blog about training and signing up for all these big races? If I’m not all that great a runner in the end, is my influence on others essentially all smoke in mirrors?

Truth is, I never meant to be influential (nor do I really believe I am). It is amazing, however, whenever I hear that I’ve inspired somebody to start running, or that they became interested in barefoot running after they read an article in my blog. I’ve got nothing but confidence about my talents for writing. But all I’ve ever wanted to do was use that writing talent of mine to share my love for running (and geek out about running shoes) with my readers…whomever they are. I’ve never meant to fool anyone into thinking I’m a great ultra marathoner. I’m not. I’m a deeply flawed runner with much more will and drive than natural talent. And I happen to get a huge kick out of setting high goals and writing about how I work toward them. I make mistakes, I fall, and I write about that too. And then I set even higher goals. This blog is a documentation of my personal journey, not a sermon on great running.

So far I haven’t figured out how to turn off that feeling of fraudulence that happens every time I meet a talented runner who also happens to read my blog. Nor the feeling of injustice that comes with being reminded of how unskilled a runner I actually am, despite how much I know and love the sport. Yet none of this comes with an expectation that others should pity me or waste any time encouraging me to continue. I don’t really need encouragement to keep on running and signing up for races, and I think that’s what perplexes people the most.

I run because I want to get better at running, sure…but mostly I run just because. And whether I suck at it or not, because is enough of a reason.

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The NEW New Goals

One thing to know about me is that while I’m really good at setting goals, I’m not always too spectacular at keeping them alive. Kind of like if you bought a really pretty bonsai plant for your house and then only watered it for a week. Some goals are just impossible for me to complete without first getting bored or otherwise distracted.

Sometimes my goals are met, though, at least partly if not fully. As planned, I completed my first 50K race this year. Also I ran a better half marathon. And in about two weeks my husband and I are moving across the country to San Diego, a goal we have had in mind since sometime around forever. Not too bad for 2012, I’d say.

And then there’s the goals I never completed: lose 30 pounds before the Pineland 50K. Finish a 20-mile training run. A 30-day running streak. 100-ups. The Paleo diet. Learn to love gardening.

All of these things were somewhat of a failure. And I think that’s because they were all things I thought I should try, rather than what I really wanted to do. They are all similar, though, in meaning: a way of working toward self-improvement, and added self-awareness.

(Well, except for the gardening stuff. I’m never going to learn to love mowing the lawn and planting flowers. Forget it. So instead we are hiring a gardener to deal with the new place.)

It is a good thing to always aim at improving yourself. No matter where you are in life, there’s always room for a challenge or a change. So I have revised my short-term list of goals, based on my own current version of self-improvement and upward change. It’s not your list of goals, or Scott Jurek’s, or Vanessa Runs’…it’s mine. It’s not a long one, either. And I think that is why it just might work.

1. More Ultras

This one is simple. I want to run more ultras. 50k’s, 50 miles, and perhaps beyond that. Or perhaps not. Thing is, I don’t have a set time goal for any new distances (beyond 50K), because that’ll just set me up for stress and ultimate failure. Also I haven’t signed up for anything at all, yet. And I still like my half marathons and 10k’s, so I’m not sure I’ll ever completely eliminate them from my repertoire like some of my ultra friends have. I just know that I have so much more to learn from the ultra marathon, and I’m finding that I very much look forward to the experience.

2. Trails + Hills

This year I fell in love with the trail, which is very awesome. But I am still really fucking bad at running up and down hills. It’s not that I can’t do it. I really just don’t do it. Not very often, anyway. There aren’t a lot of hilly trails near me, and I don’t spend much time looking for them, either. So as a result, when I do find myself at the bottom of some hills, I run out of gas pretty quickly. But I can get better, I know it. I am strong and enduring. All it will take is some practice and some dedication to the other goals I’ve got listed here.

3. More Challenges

I have a lot of very talented mountain-running trail monkeys as friends. Shelly and Jason Robillard, Jesse Scott, Mr. Shacky-Shackleford, Vanessa Runs, Pat Sweeney, et al. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t want to be them. I don’t care if I run as fast or as far as any of them, ever. But, what they’ve shared about their journeys is very helpful to me. I have learned a lot about myself by watching them, following the goals they have achieved, and even by getting to run with some of them. I want more challenges, I want to experience more of the things that running can offer me, and I want to grow as a person because of it. I want to be faster, fitter, and to enjoy longer runs. And once I get there, hey…I guess I’ll have those crazy monkeys to thank for it.

4. Healthier Eating Habits

Yeah, I say it every day. I really gotta stop eating pizza and chocolate. Start counting calories again. Get back on Paleo. Maybe try vegan. Soon. Next week. Once we move. before my next ultra. Someday. Blah, blah.

Blah.

It never works. So, to hell with diets. It really just time for me to grow the fuck up and stop eating like a twenty year old. I’m 33 now. Pasta makes my belly fat and my belly fat keeps me from running fast. With the rest of my goals shifting towards better training and ultras, this is my goal to eat for the purpose of running fuel. Chances are, if I do this right and run as often as I want to, I’ll lose weight reasonably fast. And then I’ll finally be able to run reasonably fast.

5. Cross-Training

I am notoriously bad at cross training. I tell people that I don’t run for exercise, because if I did I’d probably only run twice a year. I don’t do well with exercise for the sake of exercise. It has to be a challenge, a game, or an art form for me to even consider wanting to do it regularly.

But I really need to get stronger to become a better runner. Something has to change. So next week I am cancelling my gym membership in Boston, and I’m not getting another one in San Diego. And I’m not joining any expensively ridiculous Crossfit gyms, either. Nope. Instead I’m buying myself a mountain bike, and I’m going to ride it on off days and for simple errands to cut down on gas usage. And I’m going to make myself a slosh tube (thanks for teaching me, Jason!) and get better at things like burpees and squats. I don’t need a gym membership to cross train. I just need some fucking motivation.

And that concludes my list. My hopes are that the change in scenery, the complete overhaul of my work hours and lack of commute, and my ultra-badass friends living nearby will all be helpful motivating factors. If nothing else I’ll be totally out of excuses.

 


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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: Pearl Izumi Women’s Peak II

I was recently given the opportunity to review this shoe, but since I’m now unable to run comfortably in traditional running shoes, I was sure I wouldn’t give it the fair review that someone else would. So my good friend Killeen McGowan agreed to review the new Pearl Izumi Women’s Peak II running shoe. I must say they’re absolutely adorable and I’m a bit jealous. Thanks, Killeen!

Hello, Day-Glo!

This was my initial reaction to the Peak II Trail Running Shoe by Pearl Izumi [PI]. Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a shoe by its exterior.  But, with neon mesh and a swirling logo, it’s hard not to be drawn to – or to apprehensively draw away from – PI’s line of trail-blazing kicks. If you’re like me, fun, funky colors are a huge plus. If not, consider the vibrancy as extra protection during hunting season.

But truly, choosing a running shoe shouldn’t have anything to do with fashion. So, let’s look beyond the aesthetics and focus solely on the athletics of these attention-getting trail trainers.

While not minimalist in specification by any means, the PI website cleverly calls this model “minimalistic.” Though there’s plenty of cushioning in the heel via foam on the insole and a thick, rubber outsole, the shoe’s upper is quite minimalist in nature. The seam-free construction, coupled with a notable lacing system, allows the super-breathable material to give your foot a glove-like hug. If the minimalist movement has you intrigued, this may be a good shoe to help you cross into that new territory.

That said, I put these guys on to go for a short, assessment run. With narrow feet that suffer from moderate bunions, it is difficult for me to find a shoe that fits snuggly enough, yet doesn’t squeeze and aggravate the joints in question. The general fit of the Peak II was immediately true to its claim of “anatomically forming to the foot for a tailored fit regardless of foot shape.” There was no unwanted wiggle room, nor was there much pressure against the sensitive sides of my feet.  Regarding length: these seem to run small. I am a strict size 8 and was thus surprised to find I needed an 8.5 to keep my toes from feeling crowded.

The tire-like tread on the soles of the Peak II handled the rocky, crumbly trails I passed over without any issue. While a little overkill for a paved route, it is rather nice to have the traction when opting to run in the road’s shoulder.  I noticed that the aforementioned heel cushioning was significantly less than that of my typical running footwear, again making my new PI’s a good choice in the transition to a more minimalist style.

What I noticed most about these shoes was how little I fussed with their tightness. I often lace and re-lace before setting out for a run, especially if I’m wearing something rather new. I cinched these shoes up rather tight from the get-go, and I never had to adjust them once. The shoe’s tongue is built in such a way that it blends into the rest of the shoe, versus being this separate, bulky piece that you’d find in most classic styles. The seamlessness was also a huge factor in my comfort, and was likely the reason my trial run was 100% blister-free.

All in all, I was pleased with my experience in the Pearl Izumi Peak II’s. They’re a solid trail runner, and versatile enough for summer day-hikes. They are well aerated, comfortable, lightweight on top, and rugged underneath.

And, not that it matters, but did I mention that they’re fabulously flashy?

 


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Thoughts on Being a Loner

Credit: New York Social Diary

A few weeks back I was invited to a small 6-hour running event happening tomorrow. It’s a 3-mile looped trail course that my friend Brad put together. It was planned specifically for people in the area who are training for the Pinelands 50k, but open to all. I looked at the event description on Facebook and it seemed like a good time, and a good way to get some major mileage in. But I didn’t plan to go.

Why not? Was it because 6 hours is too long for me to run? Because I have a half marathon next weekend and I should be taking it easy? Nah…I  mean, come on, you should know by now that I don’t usually miss out on doing fun things just because they’re stupid.

No, I wasn’t going to attend the 6-hour Fatass run because I’d already planned a 15-16 mile run for today, and well…I wanted to run it alone.

Turns out, even though I’m an exceptionally social person, when it comes to running I’m a loner by nature. I realize this is a weird dichotomy, but it’s just the way I am. Normally, I will happily wax poetic with anyone on almost any topic, especially running. But the more time I actually spend running, the more I find I prefer being completely solo (except for my dog Oscar).

Running with a buddy is still fun, of course. It makes the time fly by, kills two birds with one stone (catching up with friends and exercising), and it’s good training for the slower or less fit person. Which is usually me.

But I don’t really want the time to fly by when I’m running (in fact, I’m usually sad when a run is over). I want – I need – to be mentally focused on my long run. On how my legs feel. How my form feels. How steady my breath is. How the woods sound. I want to run slowly and feel every rock under my feet, not pass the time talking about work or comparing cellphone carriers. I like to slow to a walk every once in awhile, and sometimes stop altogether. Stretch my legs out. Observe the brook rumbling along beside the trail. Refuel without having to chew while bouncing. Direct Oscar to some fresh water and watch him drink. Then start up again.

And that’s probably why it takes me so much time to be done with a long run.

Most people I run with seem to just want to run fast the whole way, and finish under a certain time. In that way, maybe the long run is different for me than it is for some others. I’m there to train, sure, but I’m also there just to be outside. And it’s hard not to feel pressured to move faster with the other person, or feel guilty because I can’t.

Perhaps that just makes me a runner (or maybe a jogger…heh), but not a racer. I suppose I’m okay with that. But, I digress.

I mean, lovely as it is, it’s the very distraction of running with someone else that screws up my whole run. It’s not so bad on a 4-5 miler where I barely have time to get tired, but it is on the long run. I get so caught up in conversation that I lose focus of my body’s movements. I never catch myself slouching, or over-striding. I talk the whole time, use up too much energy in conversation and have none left for the run. It usually results in premature fatigue, a bad race time or an injured…something.

In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, the only races that I’ve ever even kicked ass at were run alone. My first 10k, my best 5k and a stellar Thanksgiving 5-miler. My performances at those races still make me proud, and not only because they were nice PR’s, but because of how I felt throughout. Strong, calm, and most importantly: focused.

I can’t achieve those things while I’m chatting up a friend during a race, and I can’t stop chatting once I’ve started. So it stands to reason that my most important races and runs must be solo. And maybe for the most part, this also includes Pineland. Sorry, Sheree.

That said, I have decided to go to the 6-hour run tomorrow, after all. Why? Mostly because I need to train myself to be “alone” even when there are lots of people around. I need to learn how to ignore the temptation to be social every minute just because there’s someone within earshot to blather at.

I figure tomorrow’s run might somewhat mimic the social situation on race day at Pineland. So it will be a good opportunity to practice running my own race even though I am not running alone. And even if it turns out I’m by myself 90% of the time because I’m so slow, it will still be a lesson in not trying to keep up with everyone else. A lesson in letting go of my fears of being the slowest person there (which I am sure I will be). And the other 10% of the time it will be a lesson in still focusing on my form while there’s someone running beside me.

So wish me luck, folks! It’s going to be a brand new trail for me, hopefully a new distance PR, and a tough mental training challenge. Also there might not be any bathrooms – and some of you may know by my status updates how many times I’ve ended up at a Dunkin’ Donuts bathroom after 8 miles or so. Could prove interesting.

Those Central-Massachusetts squirrels better be on their watches tomorrow.


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Slacker Theory

“Hey Trish, how’s the 50k training going?”

The answer is….well, it’s…going. Going where, you ask? Who the hell knows! Not that I can figure out how to answer that question satisfactorily, anyway. Every time I try, the following obdurate facts stomp through my head:

  • My longest training run so far is 14 miles (until Saturday, hopefully)
  • I haven’t run long for the past two weekends, due to life
  • I can’t even find the training plan I printed out in February
  • My left foot has been acting like a spoiled army brat

I feel like I’m supposed to report these facts to everyone who inquires about my training, as if they are some sort of disclaimer for my slacker ways.

But I guess I wouldn’t look so much like a slacker to you if you were my next race.

The Wallis Sands half marathon is on May 6th. It’s my “Birthday Run,” and I’m going with my friend Kirby. It will be my second half marathon race ever, and I am totally confident. As long as I don’t do anything stupid like attempt to race it, the event should be a piece of cake. Naturally I’m trying to ignore the fact that it’s a road half marathon and I hate roads. More on that later.

Now I am going to take a moment to admit that it positively tickles me to call this half marathon a “training run.” Okay, moment over.

And what about the 50k itself? Am I scared, nervous, intimidated by the thought of running perhaps twice as far as I’ll ever have before then? Strangely…no. I have none of those feelings. Or, perhaps more accurately, I’ve gotten over them. My head is totally in it now, and I am experiencing nothing but excitement and anticipation. Like a 5 year-old forcing herself to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, I simply cannot wait for May 27th to arrive.

I know this race is going to be hard for me. Really hard. But with the understanding that a race like this is 90% heart and soul, I’ve built a little theory of my own about it. My theory is that no matter what sub-par training I’ll have under my belt by race day, I’ll still be somewhere on the mid-to-high end of the “Total Slacker” scale. And therefore, barring injury, I should at least be able to finish by cut off time. Even though, in pure slacker-style perfection, it is fully possible that I may even acquire my first DFL (dead-fucking-last).

And that will still be good enough for the books.

I mean, there are certain facts that I accept about my current self: I’m slow (averaging 12mm on a long run if I don’t have to walk), I’m kinda fat, and I’m not all that experienced as a distance runner. But another fact about me is I’ve always been excellent at overcoming roadblocks and adversities. So why would something like a few extra pounds stop me?

Answer is, it won’t.

And neither will all the people reading this who are shaking their heads, thinking I’m an idiot for attempting a 50k at all. You can’t stop a steam train once it’s full speed ahead. Even if it is a slacker of a steam train.

If you’ve been around long enough to read my previous posts about this race, then you’re probably wondering why I sound like a completely different person now. It’s because I am a different person.

I’ve become a slacker trail runner.

That’s right. I might be a total noob who doesn’t (yet) deserve to walk the ranks (yet) of the ultra-marathoner (yet). But I finally found my confidence for this race, and it came to me the day I uncovered my true, abiding love for the trail.

I know the exact moment it happened, too. It was the day I turned an 11-mile long run into a 13-miler, and would have kept going if it wasn’t getting dark and if I hadn’t already been out of water for two miles. It was the moment I chose the hilly trail over the one that stayed flat, and then grinned like a shithead the whole way up. My feet still didn’t hurt by mile 10, and my IT band never hurt at all. It was the very second that I finally learned how to cruise over rocks and sand as blissfully as my dog, Oscar. And yes, it made me into a different runner. A better runner. I’ve been a better runner ever since.

Even if I still am a slacker.

So, screw the obdurate facts. Screw the numbers, the mileage per week, and fuck all these ridiculous training expectations. I’m chomping at the bit, and one way or another I’m going to chew up Pineland on May 27th.

Like a prize fighter bracing for the first hit, I’m ready.

Sidenote: I got my Team SquirrelWipe shirt in the mail the other day! Who wouldn’t be excited to be part of this ridiculous team with Jason Robillard, Shelley Robillard, Brad Waterson, Sheree Dunwell, Adam Gentile and Heather Wiatrowski? Especially when you get to wear an equally ridiculous shirt designed by my friend Krista at ZapsThreads and inspired by Jason’s latest book endeavor:

Watch out, we're kinda grabby.

See you at Pineland.


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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.