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Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Barefoot Running Book Giveaway and T-shirts for the World Record Run

Life has kept me busy lately.  I haven't had an opportunity to write much, and I desperately miss it!  I have a ton of ideas floating around  in my head, but no time to write.  At any rate, I do have some news to share regarding "The Barefoot Running Book."

The book is now available on; it can be found here:

It is continually out of stock right now; I assume it takes some time for Amazon to estimate appropriate inventory.  Check back periodically.

I will be giving away one copy of the book to one random fan of the page.  To qualify, all you have to do is go to this address and "like" it.  I will choose the winner Sunday evening (May 2nd.)  In the very near future, Angie Bee, a fellow barefoot runner, blogger, and friend will also be giving away a copy of the book.  Check out her blog!

On the Guinness World Record front, planning is going well.  I'm finding that race planning is not my gig, but I am getting a lot of help and support from Shelly, Andy G., Scott H., and Adam F. The t-shirts for the event are designed and can be ordered here:  The caveat- they have to be ordered by tomorrow (Friday April 30th) at noon EST.  We need an accurate count to give to the shirt printer.  All proceeds will go towards supporting students at my school.  Here's a pic:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

First Look: Kigo Shel Minimalist Shoes and "Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touvch with the Earth" by Michael Sandler

The last few weeks have been absolutely crazy due to the Guinness World Record Run planning (and my non-running life.)  I haven't had an opportunity to write a full review of the Kigo Shel minimalist shoe.  I am hoping to have a full review by the end of the week.  This is a very good option for barefoot runners searching for an inexpensive yet effective alternative to Vibrams.  

Also, I just received Michael Sandler's "Barefoot Running" book.  For those that do not know Michael, he is the co-founder of runBARE, a group based in Boulder, Colorado that promote and teach barefoot running.  Michael, along with Jessica Lee, have been doing some amazing things.  After a brief skimming of Michael's book, I can confidently say this book should be a mandatory addition to every barefoot runners' libraries.  I will give a detailed review in the coming weeks.  

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ultramarathons for the Lazy Runner: Chapter Eight - Race Strategy

How do you plan for a race measured in hours?  I will sometimes overhear runners discussing 5K strategy.  It usually involves running at a specified intensity for various intervals with the goal of finishing as quickly as possible.  Personally, I've always used a "run as fast as you can" strategy... which may explain why I suck at 5Ks.  Anyway, I digress.

Needless to say, ultramarathons require a different strategy than the faster, shorter races.  Even a typical marathon strategy won't necessarily be effective.  Important note- I'm assuming you are not planning on winning the ultra you're planning; your goal is to finish.  Lazy runners don't plan to win.  :-)

Before we delve into detail, there are a few universal differences between ultras and sub-ultras.  The longer the ultra, the greater this difference. 
  1. Walking is acceptable.  Only the elites will run the entire time.
  2. Eating during the run is more or less required.
  3. Ultras are about surviving... you always have to assess the cumulative effects of your decisions.  A bad decision early in a race will haunt you throughout.
Okay, now we tackle strategy.   

The first thing to consider: the distance.  Generally speaking, longer races require more walking.  In a 50 mile race, you may walk a total of 10 miles.  In a 100 mile race, you may walk 40-50 miles.

The second consideration: cutoff times.  Most races will set an absolute time before everyone packs up and goes home.  Most races will require you to meet certain time checkpoints.  If you fall behind these checkpoint, you will be removed from the race.

The third consideration: terrain.  A flat course will require a much different strategy than a mountainous course.  When assessing terrain, it is also useful to note the different obstacles you will encounter.  Will the course consist of asphalt?  Dirt trails?  Sand?  Lots of rocks and/or roots (technical trail?)  Stairs?  Steep hills?  It is easier to run faster on certain surfaces; this will play a role in planning.

The fourth major consideration: fitness. The greater your fitness level, the faster and longer you will be able to run.  Personally, I usually overestimate my fitness level.  I am slowly learning how my body will react to long distances, which results in a better plan. 

The fifth consideration is aid stations.  The time does not stop while you're gorging yourself on M&Ms and salted potatoes.  The time spent in aid stations will affect your overall finish time.  As such, it is necessary to factor this into planning.  I like to plan on a five minute stop at each aid station.  I tell my crew to keep the stops under one minute.  Depending on how much primping I need, my time usually falls between those two times.

The sixth consideration- slowing as the race progresses.  Remember, you're a lazy runner.  You won't be running negative splits in an ultra.  Assume your second half pace will be significantly slower than the first half pace.

The last major consideration: weather.  Some conditions, such as heavy rain (and subsequent mud), snow, high heat, oppressive humidity, or strong winds can slow you down.  It is important to estimate the climate and local weather before developing a race strategy.

Now that you have done the requisite research, you will be prepared to map out a strategy.  How exactly you devise that plan will depend on your organizational habits.  I like to estimate a variety of finish times with the elapsed time I would expect to reach each aid station.  It takes some work, but it gives me an easy-to-follow spreadsheet that I can use during the race to determine if I am going too slow or too fast.  

Warning- make sure your crew understands your chart.  Luckily, my 100 mile finish was helped significantly by Michael Helton's ability to interpret my laminated posterboard filled with mileage numbers and times.  Michael deciphered this between rushing from one aid station to the next.  It would have been wise to explain my system before the race started. 

I found it is easier if I don't plan walk breaks.  In my first 100 mile attempt, had planned every single walk break throughout the race.  Not only was it incredibly time-consuming, it was impossible to follow once the race started.  It served as a major distraction.   Some runners will use a specific time ratio to determine walking breaks. I have experimented with this idea extensively and was never able to find a good solution that worked well.  Now I use more of a Zen-like approach and walk when I feel like it.

The race strategy you map out will go a long way towards preventing the unexpected.  Still, the more potential problems you can anticipate, the greater the likelihood of finishing.  

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ultramarathons and Barefoot Running... the Contradictions

I'm torn. I exist in two very different worlds.  Those worlds are crashing together this morning.

I'm preparing to head out for the second of my back-to-back long runs.  I ran 21 miles yesterday.  I'm planning another 20+ mile run today.  So far this year, I've only managed on other 20 mile run.  The next longest run was about 12 miles. 

As a barefoot runner, I am constantly preaching about the need to exercise patience and restraint.  The best way to avoid injury is to be aware of the signals your body sends.  At the slightest twinge, tweak, or strain, you should stop.  Take a day or two off.  Assess the problem.  Be smart.

As an ultrarunner, I am conditioned to push through pain.  I practice the finely-honed skills of dissociation and acceptance.  Pain becomes a reliable friend that hitches a ride towards the end of the long runs.  It's part of the game.  It is what makes the game fun.  

Therein lies the incongruity.  Yesterday's run wasn't bad, but I did have a few issues.  There was a sharp pain in my left lower leg.  There were a few early signs of mild "top of the foot pain" in my right foot.  My soles are still sensitive.  I'm tired.  I'm physically fatigued.  My barefoot runner persona tells me to rest; you need to exercise some restraint.  My ultrarunner persona tells me to run; you're finally pushing the envelope.  This is how you prepare.

Of course the ultrarunner persona always wins.  Luckily I have enough experience to know when the pain is serious.  I also know what it takes to train your body for the long races.  I know bitter taste of regret and longing when you're sidelined with injury.  I also know the painfully humbling emotions that come from failing to reach your goals because you are under-trained.

Knowing what type of pain is adaptive and what pain is injurious is critical.  Every training run has two possible outcomes: you will become a better runner OR get hurt and be sidelined for a period of time.  Creeping as close to that line as possible is the key to reaching your goals.

This morning I'll be taking my first steps toward those goals.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Pre-run Meal... Why Ultramarathon Training Rocks

Sometimes people ask why I run ultras.  I'm planning a 20 mile training run today.  This is the pre-run meal.


Thursday, April 8, 2010 Huarache Review: Simple... Cheap... Effective.

Huaraches... so simple but yet so complex.  For some barefoot runners, they are the perfect shoe.  For others, they are a source of endless frustration.  I've tried making my own pair, which put me in the latter category.  I had given up on huaraches... until I met Steven Sashen of  After testing his custom-made huaraches, I'm firmly ensconced in the former category.

Steven's huaraches, like all huaraches, are very simple.  They consist of a piece of flat 4mm Vibram "Cherry" rubber attached to the foot with polypropylene and nylon lace.  I was somewhat skeptical of the use of non-leather cord for the lacing, but it turned out to be a great idea.  It's softer than leather and doesn't change when it gets wet.  As a result, Steven's huaraches work better than leather-laced huaraches in wet weather.

Steven provides a video on his site instructing customers on methods used to tie huaraches.  He uses two methods- the traditional "toga" method I was familiar with, and a "slip-on" method I was not familiar with.  Steven sells kits along with custom-made huaraches; I opted for the custom-made variety.  He pre-ties them in the slip-on method.  Upon receiving them, the method looked pretty complex.  After watching the video and actually doing the method, I found it to be deceptively simple.

I've put these huaraches through my normal battery of tests.  I've worn them for long runs at slow speeds and short runs at high speeds.  I've worn them on asphalt roads, gravel roads, technical trails, grass, and sand.  I've run through water and mud.  The result- this huaraches work.

The advantage of huaraches is inherent in the design.  The sole material "floats" under your sole.  The sandal allows your foot to work as if barefoot but still offers some protection.  Every other minimalist shoe will somehow encase your foot which leads to some degree of interference.  The very design of huaraches is different.  It is as if someone is perpetually throwing a thin mat in your path.  There's a reason this shoe is used by the Tarahumara... the design is simple, cheap, and effective.

Huaraches have some very distinct advantages.  The cost is great.  Steven sells do-it-yourself kits for $19.95 or $24.95 depending on foot size, or he will make a pair for $49.95.  He does great work if you choose to have him make a pair, but anyone would be able to make their own using the kit.  They are marginally more expensive than aqua socks, but have the potential to last for thousands of miles (aqua socks will usually last about 100-300 miles under normal use.)

Huaraches are feather-light.  I don't have a scale handy, but they seem to weigh about 3-4 ounces each.  The lack of weight adds to the feeling of being barefoot.

Huaraches do not interfere with foot function.  If tied properly, the shoe will float on the sole of your foot.  There is nothing to interfere with toes splaying, the arch functioning as it should, or any other sort of motion control.

Huaraches are ultra-portable.  When rolled, they can easily fit anywhere.  As a result, these shoes are going with me on my very long barefoot runs.  If I encounter problems and need shoes, these will be perfect as they will not take up valuable space in my hydration pack.  I'm also planning on carrying these with me for all my barefoot ultras for the same reason.

Huaraches do have some disadvantages.  The greatest disadvantage- tying.  It is very easy to tie huaraches.  It is more difficult to learn to tie them so they work well for you.  The biggest problem tends to be the cord between the first and second toe.  When many people first use huaraches, they tie them too tight and the cord cuts into the skin.  Once you do some experimenting with fit, tying becomes second-nature.  There is a learning curve, though.

Huaraches are not good winter shoes.  The basic design is best used without socks.  The addition of socks (I tried Injinjis) really interfered with the function of the huaraches.  I suspect this occurred as a function of improper tying.  Still, i would not recommend these shoes for winter running.

Lastly, huaraches require pretty good form.  If running on trails or gravel, huaraches requires the foot to land vertically without any forward shearing force.  Otherwise, gravel or other debris may be scooped up between the rubber and your foot.  I like to think of this as a great training tool, but many would consider it to be a disadvantage.

My recommendation- If you are a barefoot runner or plan on running barefoot, you need a pair of huaraches!  I think the vast majority of people that try them will love them.  In the event you are in that minority that just doesn't dig the huarache feel, it will only have set you back $20.  If you do fall in love with them, you'll have found a dirt-cheap shoe solution that will last for years.  I would place Steven's huaraches behind Terra Plana's EVO and Vibram's KSO as far as my favorites, but the cost makes this a must-have tool to keep in everyone's stable of minimalist shoes.

What are your experiences with huaraches?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

News from the Minimalist Shoe Front

We all know companies like Vibram and Terra Plana as firmly ensconced in the minimalist shoe movement.  It appears as though the big companies are making some tentative attempts at producing minimalist shoes.  I'd consider most of these attempts to be "reduced' running shoes, not true minimalist shoes.  Still, it's a shift in the right direction.  Here's a partial list:
  • Nike- improving on the "Free" line with new models to be released in May.
  • Saucony- rumor is they're producing a shoe with a zero heel-to-toe differential.
  • Brooks- no details... but they have some stuff in the works (contrary to their CEO's comments.)
  • K-Swiss- Making a VERY interesting reduced shoe akin to the Free.
  • Adidas- Refining the Adizero
  • Inov-8- Also making a shoe with minimal heel-to-toe differential, maybe a trail shoe.
  • Newton- producing a lightweight shoe with zero heel-to-toe differntial.
  • Avia- AVI Bolt II (to be reviewed soon)- lightweight reduced shoe
And the up-starts:
  • Kigo- Shel (to be reviewed soon)- looks like a good VFF alternative.
  • Sockwa- looks good, I'll be glad to get my hands on a pair.
  • Softstar- producing a moccasin-like running shoe... should be a winner.
  • huaraches- (testing now)- classic huaraches... very good.
  • Terra Plana- We all know about the EVO... it's the Ferrari of minimalist shoes.
Of course there are more... but the potential options are expanding.  I'd like to see the major companies produce true minimalist shoes, but I'm happy with baby steps for now.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 A pretty cool idea!

Dean Karnazes made headlines by running a marathon in all 50 states in 50 days.  The idea inspired a lot of people.  Unfortunately, running in all 50 states is a bit of a challenge from a logistical standpoint, especially if done in 50 days.

Enter (  It's a running club set up to track the progress of people running a half marathon in half of the states... something entirely possible for most runners.  It would add a bit of motivation to not only run, but to also travel to other areas of the country. 

The club is being organized by Tracey Cohen of RunningFit (, a local running store here in Michigan.  They're best known for the awesome races they direct, including the famous Dances With Dirt Series ( and the Woodstock Running Festival, the site of my first 100 mile finish.)

Right now, they're having a contest to design a shirt for the club.  The prize... a lifetime membership in the club, a free tech shirt, and other great 'swag."  If you love running and travel, check them out!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Free Barefoot Running Workshop- April 15th

On Thursday April 15th I will be holding a free barefoot running workshop at Johnson Park (map here) in Grand Rapids, MI.  The workshop will start at approximately 5:00pm and last for two hours.  We will be discussing basic barefoot running technique, going through a few drills, and running on a variety of different terrain.  There will also be the opportunity to ask questions. 

Fox 17 will be there to report on the workshop as a promo for our World Record Race on May 7th.

Spread the word and bring your friends, all are welcome!

Saturday, April 3, 2010 Huaraches First Impressions and Kickoff to 100 Miler Training

I received my huaraches yesyerday.  I have been communicating with Steven Sashen for a few months as I love supporting anyone that is contributing to the barefoot/minimalist shoe movement.  Steven started to produce custom made huaraches and do-it-yourself huarache kits.  I'll give more details about him in my full review in a few days.

The huaraches I received are made of 4mm Vibram Cherry rubber and polypropylene and nylon lace.  I chose neon pink for the lacing.  Why?  I thought it would be fun.  Based on the looks I got while on my run today, "fun" may be the wrong word. :-)

My run today was a 10 miler on gravel roads... my most difficult test of a minimalist shoe.  The huaraches performed well.  I was surprised they worked as well as they did.  I will give much more detail in my full review, but Stevens huaraches have vaulted themselves to the upper echelon of my growing stable of minimalist shoes.

The run itself was the second of a 20 mile/10 mile back-to-back.  Yesterday's 20 miler was at about ultra pace and went well.  Today's run was more of a near-tempo run.  I managed to finish the 10 miles with a 7:42 pace (1:17 total time.)  Fitness for this early in the year is very good.  If I can maintain steady improvement, I should be in an excellnt position to finish well at Burning River at the end of July.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run... Hello, old friend.

Yetserday I made the plunge... I registered for the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run held on July 31st-August 1st in NE Ohio.  I have a history with this race.  It was my first attempt at a 100 miler.  It was also my first and only DNF.
In 2008, I thought I was ready to make the jump from 50 milers to a 100.  I read everything I could find.  I obsessively planned every possible detail.  I knew I was ready.  I even think I may have been a bit cocky.  Then the hills, trails, and roads of Northeast Ohio chewed me up and spit me out.
If failure is the best teacher, I learned a lot of lessons in the twenty hours I spent slogging through the suburban Cleveland Metro Parks.  The single most important lesson I learned- respect the distance. 
Burning River was the single most humbling experience of my life.  It was the first time I was confronted with the fact that I could not simply will myself to do something.  There was a point where I would give up.  I found my breaking point, and it was somewhere in the darkness around Boston Store.  I was physically exhausted.  Every part of my body screamed in agony.  I blogged about it prior to my second 100 mile attempt.  The only thing that kept me moving was the realization that I was the last person on the course, and I had no idea if I were even on the course.  My thoughts went from "I can do this!" to "What will I have to do to get out of this race?"  I seriously considered diving on some rocks to guarantee the aid station volunteers would pull me from the course. 
I made a lot of mistakes that day.  Luckily, I was able to learn and evolve.  I finished my next 100 mile race about a year later.
Now I get to return.  I will get an opportunity at redemption.  Other runners have told me you never forget the DNF point.  It's akin to the classically-conditioned response of driving past the scene of a car accident you were involved in.  Every time you pass that exact point, you are filled with dread.  That fact alone scares me.
I am giddy with the anticipation of revisiting this race.  I am also filled with apprehension.  The last time we met, I went home on the losing end.  This is the race that stripped me of the innocence of ignorance that leads us to believe we can accomplish anything.  This is the race that beat me into submission.  With better training and preparation mixed with a humble respect for this course, I'll begin preparing to reclaim a little bit of what I lost out there in the darkness.  
I have a score to settle, old friend.