Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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The Runner I Am

It’s Thanksgiving night. As I sit in a quiet house, belly still full from pounds of comfort food lovingly prepared by family, head still spinning from those hours of catch-up conversation and several glasses of wine…I’m remembering how just before this day last year, I decided to train for my first half marathon.

I think last winter, the project of training for such a long distance (for me) was the most memorable and fulfilling thing I accomplished all year. And I have decided that I am going to do it again, and I am going to start training tomorrow. Now, when I say I’m training for “the half marathon”, I don’t mean that I have signed up for any races yet (I have one or two in mind, sure, but that’s beside the point). Nor do I mean that I have printed out any sort of training program with the ridiculous intention of starting it four months before spring race season (though I do find training programs mildly helpful as a guide for safely ramping up mileage). What I mean is I want to get myself mentally and physically back there again — to the place of running in the cold winter days and loving it, piling on the mileage and being thrilled about my ability to complete it. But this year, naturally, I want to improve my outcome. I want to have a better race. I want to pay closer attention to my eating habits and be lighter come race season. I want to improve my form. And most importantly, I want to enjoy it even more than last year. This year my resolution will be to quit all my whining and run smiley, even if it kills me. Okay…that was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Because, someday, I want to be an ultra-marathoner, and hopefully by then I will have become the runner I want to be.

And what is that?…the runner I want to be. What kind of runner am I now? Do I even qualify as a runner? These questions have been spinning through my mind for a very long time now. Then just the other day I read an article* by Kate Kift (the creator of the Run Smiley Collective) called “What is a Runner?” And it had a bit of an effect on me. Not too much of what she said surprised me, she and I are on the same page about most running-related topics – many barefoot and minimalist runners are. But she concentrated quite a lot on how others label us, and to me she seemed to paint the “runner” label as sort of trite and one-dimensional. But that’s probably because she has so many other hats, occupations that fill out her life, that she’d much rather be associated with them instead. And that’s totally cool.

But lots of people think of Kate Kift as a runner, myself included. Doesn’t she think of me as one? What about all these other runner people that we consort with?

Perhaps some of these amazing barefoot runner personalities don’t think of me as much of a runner. I can’t run fast – my fastest mile ever is barely under 9 minutes (and that was just a one mile run, no hills, on a really good day). I’m neither a Vegan nor a Paleo dieter. I’ve never run farther than 13 miles, nor have I run more than 21 miles in a week. I don’t have a slim runner’s body. Up-and-coming minimalist shoe companies aren’t tossing any free trial pairs into my mailbox. I don’t write books about running, and my blog doesn’t usually generate more than 50-60 hits a day. Being the fence-gazing, super-ambitious chick that I am, I think I’ve been stuck on all of this a little too much lately. I’ve got all this useless anxiety about my place in the world of barefoot and minimalist running. I can’t stop wondering: should I even be calling myself a runner, counting myself amongst these crazy badass barefooters, writing articles on the subject as if I’m some kind of authority? What do I even have to contribute, that one of these guys can’t bring a hundred times better?

But many of my friends, coworkers and my loving husband (i.e. people who don’t run) call me a runner. Some are even generous enough to say I’m a good one. I relish in the label. Know why? It gives me an identity. A place to exist in the world of my peers. And their role for me doesn’t include parameters like speed, distance or miles per week. They just see that I do something I enjoy, and they applaud and appreciate me. When they hear I ran 8 miles on Saturday their eyes get big and it makes me feel like a rockstar. It brings me back to the first days of my long training runs last winter, and how big my eyes got when I saw the mileage on my Garmin. “Yes, I really did it, and I am awesome!” I would gush at myself. I was proud. It was enough then. Why shouldn’t it be enough today?

So when it comes to whether I’m a runner or not, whether you are a runner or not, it really is just about perspective. A runner isn’t a person who gets endorsed by shoe companies, or who is an authority on the subject of good form. It isn’t the woman who ran the longest ultra marathon, or the dude with the fastest 10k time. A runner is simply a person who runs. But I’d like to add: a runner is a person who loves to run. This is the runner I am. I shouldn’t forget that this year.

*Also read Kate’s follow up article on Jason Robillard’s site: “Definition of a Perfect Runner

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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.