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July 31, 2010

Another Saturday at the Sea

"We've got to get right down to the sea -
We've got to get to the sea ... "
- Jack Johnson, "To the Sea" (song after post)

Given that last weekend’s post was a bit of a downer, I figured it was only fitting for me to report on a much happier Saturday at the sea, courtesy of a few bikes, two little girls, and a beautiful summer day along the ocean.


We saddled up the bikes and set out from Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, which is always a beehive of activity on weekends, and also holds a special spot in my daughters’ heart for another reason, which I’ll explain shortly.


For the time being, though, we left the crowds behind for a while on the coastal recreation trail that stretches through historic Cannery Row and along the waterfront …


… including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is another favorite stop for our kids, but today was just a landmark on the way to a different destination.


Continuing past the Aquarium, the tourist crowds thin out a bit again, and from here to the town of Pacific Grove it’s pretty much smooth sailing …


… just ask this smooth sailboat.


Beyond Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, the rec trail ends and the road opens up into a wide, smooth, gently rolling boulevard that hugs the coastline, unless you make a sharp left turn about a mile up the road …


… and head for the Point Pinos lighthouse, which is ironically one of the best-hidden little destinations on this tourist-crazy peninsula. It was built in 1855, and is the oldest continuously working lighthouse in the state.


If you’ve got a couple of curious little girls and a bit of free time on your hands, you can walk inside and explore the whole thing – which, of course, we did. We went upstairs and downstairs, looked at old beacon lights and touched the foghorn, and spoke with a woman who was a resident of the lighthouse for three years while her Coast Guard husband was stationed there. When you can throw a bit of education in with your exercise, it’s always a nice bonus.


The girls didn’t want to dally too long, though, because they were a bit anxious to return to Monterey …


… and visit my friend’s ice cream parlor on Fisherman's Wharf. Remember when I said how cool it was to have a friend who’s an orthopedic surgeon? As far as my daughters are concerned, the fact that another friend of mine has an ice cream parlor is at least 100 times cooler. Especially when said friend likes to give free ice cream away to charming little daughters of training partners. This is pretty much an automatic stop for us now on our rec trail outings.


There might be better ways to finish a bike ride than sitting on a wharf on a beautiful sunny day eating rainbow sherbet and watching the sea lions commandeer the shoreline … but if so, I’m not aware of them.


All that was left was to say goodbye to the wharf and roll back to the car, with a fresh reminder of all the wonderful things this area - not to mention this life of ours - has to offer.

It’s amazing how therapeutic a nice bike ride can be, and how restorative it is whenever I get to the sea.

**
And since last weekend's post included a pretty mellow Jack song, this time around is more upbeat; it's the title track - and one of my favorite songs - from his new album.

Jack Johnson, "To the Sea" (click to play):

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July 29, 2010

Special Agent Minimus

When I was a kid, I sometimes imagined what life would be like as a spy - charged with keeping confidential secrets, only able to disclose carefully selected bits of information to certain people at predetermined times, knowing that one false move could result in disaster for me or the agency I’ve committed to serve.

About 30 years later, I’m finally getting a sense of it, from a handful of shoe manufacturers who protect their secrets as if lives depended upon it – the latest of which comes from a mainstream company who has been making strides towards minimalist footwear for quite some time now.

On that note, think of this post as a high-level intelligence briefing, where I’m authorized to divulge information solely on a need to know basis, and keeping some other details under lock and key until another day. The occasion for our meeting is to partially unmask a running shoe whose appearance has thus far remained strictly classified: the New Balance Minimus, scheduled for release in March 2011.

Actually, the cover of this shoe is about to be blown wide open in the very near future anyway, as it will be presented at the upcoming Outdoor Retailer trade show next week. New Balance will offer a whole collection of “barefoot inspired” footwear – including something called “wellness” models, which seem to directly target the everyday minimalist market currently occupied by VivoBarefoot and Soft Star, among others - and my NB contact was nice enough to pass along a bit of background information, and even a few dossier photos of the running model.

There’s a much more thorough portfolio of information available about the Minimus shoes, including some insight to the development of the collection, and what makes it different from existing minimalist footwear, here on the New Balance website. Otherwise, the company is intentionally telling the story slowly, and is officially only releasing snippets of images, which follow below:

A positive ID: That's our man - Special Agent Minimus


Along with his partner in crime, who goes by the code name Vibram


A thin mesh heel, and suspiciously FiveFingers-looking strap

And if you think I’m exaggerating this secrecy thing, it’s worth noting the e-mail exchange I had with the rep shortly after receiving the pictures:

Me: Those look cool – do you have any pictures of the whole shoe?

Her: For now we aren’t releasing full shoe shots … as soon as I have permission to release them, I’ll send them along.

In other words, once her agency lifts the security clearance, she’ll forward that intel to my agency, and we’ll have full disclosure on this elusive target. Until then, it’s still a bit of a cloak and dagger game – but I think I’ve learned enough about Special Agent Minimus to know that I’m very anxious to meet him in the flesh sometime.

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July 28, 2010

You Are the Technology (You're Also Pretty Hot, and Buck Naked Except for Your Vibrams)

Every now and then something comes through my inbox that makes me wish I had a completely different life. Truth be told, it’s been happening more and more frequently lately … but that’s a separate story.

Anyway, the latest event to trigger such a reaction was the launch of a new microsite for the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila. It’s an intentionally provocative campaign called You Are the Technology, and it’s the kind of thing that makes me wish I had gone into computer programming or website design – because I’m 100% certain that the people who made this site had an absolute blast while building it.

Basically, the site features a fairly good-looking man and woman - Adam and Eve, presumably? - as naked as they were in the Garden of Eden … except, that is, for the pair of Bikilas on their feet. (My snap judgment is that the dude is a much hotter dude than the woman is a hot woman – but maybe I shouldn’t be saying that out loud.) They cleverly conceal their naughty parts - although trust me, the site is still fairly NSFW – and have writing scrawled over strategic parts of their bodies.

Adam?

Here’s where it gets fun: from the main splash page, you click on the male or female to zoom in and read the writing. Once zoomed in, you can scroll up or down, and there are several spots on the body where the arrow will turn into a hyperlink finger. Click those, and the models rotate and/or zoom in further so reveal a narrative about natural running. Click again to zoom back out, then pick another spot to zoom in again and repeat. And so on and so on.

Eve?

The narrative is told in a head-to-toe direction, and is generally the same on each model, but it’s worth clicking around both models just for the “wow” factor of it all. Here’s the thing, though – once you get started, the site is kind of a time magnet, so make sure you give yourself enough time and space to check it out from top to, er … bottom. I’ve already mentioned that it’s probably NSFW - and I can also attest from personal experience that if your six-year-old daughter happens to be looking over your shoulder just as you’re looking at a close-up hi-res shot of somebody’s butt, it will most likely send her into hysterics. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Sound interesting yet? If so, go check out YouAreTheTechnology.com for a while, then feel free to weigh in below to let me know what you think. Is it crazy? Cool? Maybe a little creepy? Is the dude hotter than the girl? Discuss.

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GU Mandarin Orange Winners; CLIF Winner APB

A quick post to announce winners here, and another post to follow shortly ...

Michael Helton and CK: send your address to me at info@runnningandrambling.com - you've won the GU mandarin orange giveaways!

Also, following up on a previous giveaway - Snowshoe Hare, you have 48 hours (until midnight Friday) to contact me with your address, or I'm giving your winning CLIF bar entry away to someone else. Get going, girl!

As always, thanks to everyone who participated. Look for another giveaway drawing (a pretty cool one, if I do say) coming up next week.

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July 26, 2010

Mandarin Orange GU Giveaway

Holy cow … July is practically over already! This probably won’t be remembered as the best summer ever at Running and Rambling, but it just might go down as one of the fastest-moving. I had a post in mind that described how quickly summer was passing me by, but I haven’t actually gotten around to writing it yet, because, um … time sort of passed me by.

In the spirit of quickness and brevity, I’ll keep this giveaway post short – but I’m still throwing in a little anecdote to show you that I really do pay attention to these product situations.

When I paced Gretchen at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 this month, I noticed that a lot of runners (including Gretchen) had their own stashes of energy gels in drop bags. It initially seemed strange to me, since I knew that there would be gels handed out on the course.

I started asking around, and discovered that some people had tried the course gels (the brand of which I’ll keep anonymous) in years past and didn’t like them, or found the pouches too big to stash conveniently in a pocket. Then I began checking to see what kind of gels people were voluntarily carrying in their place – at their own expense, in most cases - and almost unanimously, they were carrying GU.

I know my observations were just a few snippets from a very long day with many more people than I directly observed, but I think it says a lot about how dedicated GU users are to sticking with a brand that works for them. I also know that if I run the TRT next year, and if the same gel sponsor is on the course, I’ll do the exact same thing with my own private GU stashes. Keep my Roctanes and Jet Blackberries coming, and I’ll run until the sun goes down, and keep running until it comes up again.


So you get the idea: GU rocks. This spring I announced that a new mandarin orange flavor was being developed, and I was lucky enough to get some prototype packs in advance of their release. Well, the new flavor is now available in stores, but I’ve still got a lot of the pre-release packs – and if you’re one of the two winners I pick from the comments section below, I’ll mail you a healthy supply, plus a couple other flavors thrown in for good measure.

See? I can be quick sometimes – and unlike a fleeting summer, in this case quickness isn’t such a bad thing. Log in below, and I’ll pick winners on Wednesday night. Good luck!

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July 24, 2010

All at Once

“All at once, the world can overwhelm me -
There's almost nothing that you could tell me –
That could ease my mind -

Which way will you run, when it's always all around you –
And the feeling lost and found you again -
A feeling that we have no control.”

- Jack Johnson, “All at Once” (video after post)

These are kind of interesting times around Running and Rambling headquarters lately.

It’s a period of transition for our family in many ways – most of them good, but all of them with a degree of uncertainty that cumulatively seem overwhelming at times. At the same time, there are some bigger projects I’m trying to work on as well, creating one of those situations where I’ve got about 10 different things I’d love to pour myself into, but barely enough time to do any one of them effectively.

The weight of it all was enough to compel me to spend several hours on a beautiful Saturday getting lost in my work – but fortunately, this was my office:

A nice little bench above Carmel Beach where I stole some time for myself to sort through some thoughts and give focused attention to one particular project that’s been weighing on me for longer than I would have liked.

The day ended pretty well: the satisfaction of finally making some progress combined with the serenity of a perfect beach day were enough to ease my mind for the time being. However, it’s probably only a matter of time before I’m trying to decide which way to run next.


This post isn’t intended to be cryptic, or indicative that life has taken a bad turn; on the contrary, I’m very grateful for the situation I’m in, and faithfully optimistic that I’m following the path for which I’m intended. I guess the main point is to say that things might be unpredictable around here for the near future, but I think some of the end results will be worth all the trouble.

And in hopes of starting the week on a less melancholy note, I’ll kick off another giveaway drawing with my next post. Until then, let’s just enjoy the music.


Jack Johnson, "All at Once", live at Kokua 2008 (click to play):

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July 22, 2010

Got a Bad Obsession?

"It's a bad obsession, it's always messin' -
Always messin' my mind."
- Guns 'n' Roses, "Bad Obsession" (video after post)

*
It seems to happen at some point in the development of every runner: a tipping point of sorts when an activity that started simply as a healthy habit becomes something more. Our identity becomes intertwined with the lifestyle, and we try to absorb as much information as we can about the sport.

When that time comes, some of us might call ourselves obsessed.

Of course, there are different levels of obsession. My friend Mike and I are both pretty knowledgeable about most aspects of running, but we know some people who would put us to shame with their passion for everything related to this pastime we share. And that’s not something we necessarily strive to emulate.

I guess what we’re saying is that it’s possible to become too focused on running - and we used that thought as the premise for last week’s Monterey Herald column which follows below. It’s a goofy little self-assessment to determine if your individual running obsession is a good one or bad one.

*
Running Life 07/15/10 “Running Obsession”

So you call yourself a runner? Think you’re obsessed with your running life? Let’s find out.

We had some fun a few months ago when we created a test to rate your running partners – so we’re doing it again, but this time you’re rating yourself! Get yourself a piece of paper, and let’s see how dedicated a runner you really are.

MILES: Give yourself 1 point for each mile that you run in the average week. If you don’t keep track of your miles then give yourself 5 points for each day of the week that you run 30 minutes or more.

RUNNING SHOES: How many types of shoes do you have? If you own regular running shoes, add 5 points for each pair. Add 7 points for each pair of trail shoes. Add 10 for each pair of racing flats, 15 for each pair of running spikes or Vibram FiveFingers, and 20 if you’re brave enough to go barefoot!

PERIODICALS: Award 5 points if you subscribe to Runner’s World magazine, 10 points for Running Times, and 15 points for Marathon and Beyond. Score 20 points if you regularly get Running Research News.

BOOKS: Add 10 points for the number of times you have read each of these books: Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr., Running & Being by Dr. George Sheehan, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Galloway's Book on Running by Jeff Galloway, and Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear.

(*Web bonus: if your favorite running book isn't mentioned here, feel free to let me know in the comments)

WORKOUTS: Give yourself 5 points for each type of workout you’ve done in the last 3 months. Fartlek. Hill repeats. Form drills including butt kicks, high knees, and karaoke. Tempo. Planned marathon pace. Yasso 800’s.

RUNNING HEROES: If your role model is Dean Karnazes give yourself 1 point. If you are motivated by Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall give yourself 5 points. If you admire Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi, score 10. Likewise with Bill Rogers or Frank Shorter (for you older folks) – still 10. If you are inspired by Terry Fox or Sarah Reinertsen, score 15. If Scott Jurek or Anton Krupicka are more your style give yourself 20. If no one impresses you but Quenton Cassidy, score 25. If you don’t recognize any of these names, minus 50.

TRAVEL TO RACES: Score 25 points for each trip you’ve made to a race in the last six months that required a passport. Score 20 for each race that required air travel. Give yourself 15 for races that required at least one night in a hotel. Add 5 for each race you did that you slept at home.

THURSDAY MORNINGS: If your first thought on Thursday morning is about reading The Running Life, give yourself 20 points.

Yes, that last category was self serving … but we’re just trying to fluff up your score a bit. And now it’s time for the results! Check your total score and place it in one of the following groups:

OVER 300: Dude … wow. You’re totally obsessed. Have you seen your spouse or kids lately?

200 to 299: You’ve always got running on the brain … and your friends probably consider you absent-minded.

100 to 199: This seems about average – we’ll call this “running balanced”.

60 to 99: So you have a running life … but not very much of one.

Under 60: You want to learn about this strange lifestyle, but haven’t quite jumped in yet; we’ll call you “run-curious.”

Now feel free to test your training partners, and compare your scores!

*
As for the song: Guns ‘n’ Roses will forever be known for their phenomenal debut album, but their follow-up discs demonstrated flashes – such as the song that follows - of just how talented and versatile they could truly be. They undoubtedly had the ability to be one of the greatest rock bands of all time, which is why it was so agonizing for fans like me to see them implode in a drug-and-alcohol fueled fury so quickly in the 1990s. Of course, with those guys, such an ending was probably inevitable - so maybe the real surprise is that they kept their acts together for long enough to crank out three full-length albums without any of them suffering a fatal overdose.

Guns 'n' Roses, "Bad Obsession" (click to play - and since it's GnR, it should be considered unsuitable for little ears):

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July 21, 2010

My Kind of Doctor

A couple of administrative notes prior to today's post ...

1) Before you settle into this one, take a detour to Gretchen's blog, because she just posted her race report from the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Go read it, congratulate her on her awesome accomplishment, and tell her what a good pacer she had, so I might get invited back sometime.

2) Apologies in advance for the amount of type I’ve devoted to one small injury; bear with me for one more post, and I promise I’ll stop kvetching about my pinky toe. At least I'll try to.

*
When I first reported on my toe injury, I mentioned that I was too lazy and too cheap to hunt down a doctor in the middle of the Sierras who would take an x-ray, tell me it was broken, and that there was nothing I could do about it but to rest. There just didn’t seem like much point to it.

On the other hand, I didn’t mention that one of my friends at home is an orthopedic surgeon who also happens to be a runner, and who gets a kick out of throwing body parts under an x-ray machine just to see what they look like. So earlier this week, I stopped by his office, and this is what we saw:



In medical terms, they are nondisplaced fractures. On the picture, they're the skinny little white lines that the arrows point to. In practicality, they're the reason I’m still having a fair amount of pain.

My friend and I also had this exchange …

Me: Is there anything I can do for it?

Him: Not really. It will eventually heal on its own.

Me: How long does it usually take?

Him: About 3 to 4 weeks – but since you’re going to keep running on it, more like 6 to 8 weeks.

It’s probably worth emphasizing here just how completely cool this doctor is: there was no lecture about being more careful, no criticism about running mountain trails in Vibrams, and no questioning whether or not I’d keep running – it was just a “here’s the deal” explanation, and a standing offer to come on back the next time I manage to bust myself up.

Because we both figure it’s bound to happen again. Some things you just know.

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July 20, 2010

GoLite Manitou and Wildwood Shirt Reviews

Summer comes a bit late to the Monterey Peninsula, and even later to runners like me who do the majority of their workouts in the early morning. So it took a little longer than I expected to try a couple of warm-weather tech shirts, but I can happily say that GoLite’s stuff was worth the wait.

Speaking of weight (I know that’s a different word, but homophones count), one of the shirts I got to test was most remarkable for its weight – or rather, its lack thereof. The other shirt is just a great all-around trail runner, and since it’s the one I’ve got the most mileage out of, that’s the one I’m starting with.

If you’re a mountain running aficionado, the name Manitou conjures one thing: the town of Manitou Springs at the base of Pikes Peak, and the start line of the infamous Pikes Peak Marathon. Having fallen in love with Pikes Peak several years ago, GoLite’s Manitou shirt not only triggered a nice memory, but declared itself a hardcore trail accessory.

Thankfully, its performance lived up to the name. It has a semi-fitted silhouette that slightly contours to the body without feeling tight, and has strategically placed seams to avoid any underarm or trunk chafing. The shirt is listed under GoLite’s hiking category, and the seam placement is ideal for backpack wearers as well as runners. Long sleeve and ¼ zip versions are also available from the GoLite website.

The Manitou is constructed of GoLite’s fast-wicking Cocona Minerale fabric, which utilizes microporous particles from coconut fibers that provide moisture transfer and odor resistance. It feels very comfortable against your skin, even on several hour runs ...

Cooling my feet in the Stanislaus River about 30 minutes after breaking my toe. Oh, yeah ... I'm also wearing a GoLite shirt


... and especially in comparison to breaking your toe, which I did while wearing the Manitou. Despite this, I really like the shirt and have no reason to believe it’s cursed.

GoLite’s Manitou comes in five different colors, and weighs 5.0 oz (136g). I’d consider it a midweight short sleeve tech shirt, especially in comparison to the next shirt I tested.


GoLite Wildwood


Keeping the “let’s name our clothes after cool trail running locations” theme going, the GoLite Wildwood – a shout out to the famous Pacific Northwest trail - is a super-lightweight, super-comfortable shirt that’s ideal for hot temperatures when you don’t feel like going sleeveless. Since I really don’t like running in tank tops (too many reasons to explain here, but trust me), I love shirts like this when the weather heats up.

The Wildwood weighs a mere 3 oz (80g), and has the same breathable and moisture-wicking fabric construction as the Manitou. It has a fitted cut, meaning it is closer to the body than the Manitou, but not skin tight. Side seams are traditionally aligned, but they’re not noticeable on long runs – except for the interior tag at mid-torso level on one side, which can sometimes be a minor annoyance. As with the Manitou, the Wildwood is also available in five different colors.

My personal preference between these two is the Manitou, because 1) I like my shirts slightly loose, 2) midweight shirts are better for me on our relatively cool summer mornings, and 3) the huge GoLite logo on the Wildwood makes me feel like a billboard. However, the Wildwood would be preferred for consistently hot climates, and it also has a cool little stash pocket on its hemline that's lacking on the Manitou. Either of these tech shirts would make a great high-performance addition to your summer trail running wardrobe.

GoLite’s Manitou and Wildwood are both available from Amazon.com, which has nice discounts on some sizes and colors, and retail for $45 each from the company website – links are here:

GoLite Manitou (Amazon.com)
GoLite Manitou (company website)

GoLite Wildwood (Amazon.com)
GoLite Wildwood (company website)


*Products provided by GoLite
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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July 18, 2010

We Did It!

"We did it, we did it, we did it - hooray!"
- from Dora the Explorer


Gretchen and me, shortly after her 100-mile finish this morning


Well, more accurately, SHE did it - I was pretty much just along for the ride. But the ride was nearly incredible; Gretchen was a complete studette in posting her second Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile finish, and I was honored to be able to witness it.

I may publish a brief post about my pacer experience later this week, but I really don't want to take too much attention away from the real star - so head over to Gretchen's blog and tell her congrats. I'm guessing she'll have a full race report in the near future, but for now, I can only hope she's catching up on some sleep.

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CLIF Giveaway Drawing Winners

Keeping this very brief because I'm publishing another short post tonight as well ...

Snowshoe Hare, Golden Trails Dave, and Russ138: send your address to me at info@runningandrambling.com - you've won the CLIF C and CRUNCH drawings. Congrats!

Thanks to everyone else who participated; stay tuned for another drawing in the near future.

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July 16, 2010

To the Mountains!

A quick admin note: if you missed the previous post, there's still time to enter the CLIF bar giveaway drawing before the winners are picked on Sunday evening. Thanks to everyone who has entered so far; the response has been fantastic.

*

“Walking along in this haze of confusion-
Sometimes I can laugh but sometimes it takes all of my strength-
Just to find enough reason to take the next step-
But I will, but I will, till I do.”

- Dave Matthews Band, “Eh Hee” (video after post)

I don’t know why my mind tends to gravitate towards Dave Matthews songs before an ultra … but I also know that it probably wouldn’t do much good for me to question it. Consequently, my road trips to races almost invariably feature a DMB concert disc to occupy my thoughts before the big event.

What’s different in this case is that the race isn’t even mine – although I’d argue that covering 50 miles of trails with 12,000’ of climbing still qualifies as an “ultra-ish” effort, even if it’s merely as a pacer. Nevertheless, the above song has been on a continuous mental loop for the past couple of days – and since it’s been a while since the last music post, that’s what you’re getting today.

Unfortunately, the official video is restricted and unembeddable, but the following clip is nearly as cool: it gives you a good feel for the song - including the verse in the above into, which is one of many lyrics that make me swear Dave Matthews must have been an ultrarunner in another life – as well as an interesting story of its origin.

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, “Eh Hee,” excerpted (click to play):




And if you’d like a full sampling of the song, you can follow this link to see Dave and Tim crank it out (parental and/or work warning: there's one F-bomb).

That’s all for this morning; the mountains are calling, and I must go. Eh Hee!

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July 14, 2010

New CLIF Bar Giveaway!

Since the primary point of this post is to giveaway some great-tasting swag, I’ll try to keep the preliminary info somewhat restrained – however, it should be clear by now that when I’m talking about CLIF, I sometimes tend to get a little carried away.

I mentioned that my headquarters visit in April featured a lot of new product sampling, some of which I had to keep secret at the time. And in my review of CLIF founder Gary Erickson’s book, I explained how one of CLIF’s aspirations is to sustain the brand name by providing a diversity of product offerings based on consumer demand. Today, both of those thoughts converge, as the giveaway prizes consist of two new product offerings I taste-tested, one of which I wasn’t allowed to discuss in the spring.

The first product is one I’ve previously described: the new CLIF C bar, which is a double layered fruit and nut bar made with all natural and 70% organic ingredients. It also embraces what’s known as the “simple food” philosophy of using a limited number of overall ingredients; every C bar features just 9 items, primarily a combination of fruit and nuts, with a dash of salt for taste.

(Even more interesting – to me, at least – is that an offshoot of this simple food philosophy is the primitive food movement, part of an overall minimalist “back to basics” mindset that also includes – you guessed it! - barefoot running. So if you like the C bar, you’re implicitly endorsing the barefoot movement as well – at least that’s the way I prefer to see it.)


CLIF C bars in four flavors: cherry pomegranate, raspberry, apple, and blueberry

C bars come in four different flavors, which vary by the type of fruit on the top layer. Each flavor has a nut crust on the bottom with a blend of almonds, macadamias and dates, and a sprinkling of toasted almonds. One bar contains a full serving of fruit, and has 130 calories. Winners of the giveaway will get to try each variety.

The second giveaway item is CLIF’s formerly-secret entry in the rapidly expanding granola bar market. CLIF CRUNCH (yes, it’s written in all caps … don’t ask me why) are all all-natural and 70% organic, and have a noticeably lighter texture than other bars I’ve tasted.


CLIF CRUNCH, 10-pack boxes in four flavors

All CRUNCH bars are made from organic oats, barley, rye, and rice crisps, and like the C bar are available in four flavors. There are whole chips baked into the chocolate chip and white chocolate macadamia flavors, although to this point my favorite flavor is the traditional honey oat (the fourth flavor is peanut butter). Each two-bar packet delivers a full serving of organic whole grains and 4 to 5 grams of protein, as well as a good source of fiber in 180 calories.

CRUNCH bars should now be available in natural food stores as well as some grocery stores, but if you win the giveaway, CLIF will make it easy for you and send some samples directly to your house.

So let’s follow the regular routine here: place a comment below, and I’ll pick three winners to receive a sample package. Since I’m out of town this weekend, the contest will be open until Sunday at 5PM, and I’ll announce winners shortly afterward. Good luck!

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GoLite Summer Fun Giveaways

Today’s post was originally penciled in as a CLIF giveaway, but I received an interesting e-mail to my inbox recently, and it’s one of those “the sooner you hear about it the better” announcements, so I’m interrupting the schedule just a bit to pass along the details.

If you haven't heard about GoLite’s summer-long GoLite Up Your Day giveaways happening right now, you need to jump over to their website right away to get in on the action.

Basically, GoLite is giving away one piece of gear per day all summer long. The contest will be 93 days long, and they’re currently on day 24. You might win anything from a $700 tent to a $300 jacket, running gear, hydration systems, apparel, and other items from their diverse outdoor product line.

GoLite has made it easy to participate as well: all you do is enter your e-mail address one time on their website, and you’re signed up for the entire contest. So head over there and enter, then start checking the daily results on GoLite’s Facebook page.

That’s all for today; quick and painless, huh? Check back next time for the CLIF giveaway.

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July 12, 2010

Book Review: Raising the Bar

“I ride my bike because I love to be on my bike. I don’t ride just to get to the finish line; what happens on the bike makes the experience. I love white road journeys. I thrill at the high mountain peaks, the feel of the pedals and gears, the picturesque villages, the shared loaves of bread, the physical challenges, the being in a space where I can think clearly and listen to my heart.”
- Gary Erickson, from Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business: The Story of Clif Bar & Co.

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Shortly after I described my behind-the-scenes tour of the CLIF Bar headquarters this spring, which detailed the many ways that company founder Gary Erickson provides amazing perks for his employees, and highlighted some of the company’s multiple socially responsible initiatives, several people responded with a similar comment: that guy should write a book.

What I didn’t realize at the time, but was pleased to find out soon afterward, is that Erickson has already written a book; not only that, but it’s a pretty darn good one. It’s also a point of introduction for a couple days of CLIF-related posts that will conclude with a giveaway drawing of some new products later this week.


For today, however, it’s all about the book: Raising the Bar is one part autobiographical, one part instructional, and one part philosophical – a combination which adds up to an extremely interesting read all the way around. It’s truly an inspiration to know that there are people like Erickson and companies like CLIF out there – and aside from the inevitable fact that reading this story will probably make you feel woefully inadequate in your own life’s adventures, Raising the Bar will forever make you think differently about the way businesses can and should be run.

Instead of recapping the whole book, I’ll just highlight a few items that grabbed my attention, especially in light of the visit I enjoyed this spring …

* The entire CLIF enterprise is built around the “Five Aspirations” business model, where the company commits itself to

1) Sustaining their brands: by creating a diversity of nutritious, high-quality products based on customer demand rather than contrived marketing campaigns.

2) Sustaining their business: by remaining a privately owned company that provides a good standard of living for its employees, and positions itself to thrive for future generations.

3) Sustaining their people: by providing a place where people can contribute, learn and grow while living the life they want to live.

4) Sustaining their community: by using a portion of funding and manpower to support local social and cultural needs, and being a conscientious neighbor with all those they directly impact.

5) Sustaining their planet: by minimizing their global footprint as much as possible through a wide variety of ecological initiatives ...

... and it only takes you about 1 minute of walking around company headquarters to realize that the Five Aspirations aren't lip service; ample evidence of these commitments in action are all around you.

* A central theme to the book is taking “white road” journeys, which denote small rural routes on the European maps of Erickson’s adventure travels, instead of the red roads which indicate major thoroughfares. This is a lengthy analogy, but the main idea is that our purpose in life shouldn’t be to simply reach our destinations as quickly as possible; we should take time to enjoy the scenic, unpredictable route, and appreciate the entire journey, wherever it may end up leading us.

* Finally – remember how cool I said it was for me to meet Gary Erickson and his wife/co-owner Kit Crawford on my visit? It turns out that probably wasn’t a happy accident; Erickson explains how CLIF intentionally minimizes traditional advertising methods in favor of connecting directly with its customers on a grassroots level as much as possible. He takes every opportunity to talk to customers face to face, and looks for ways to make meaningful personal connections. I’m guessing one of those ways is stepping out of his office to say hello when a certain idiot blogger happens to be in town.

Suffice it to say that Erickson has successfully made a connection with me – and I’d absolutely recommend taking any opportunity you can to learn more about the CLIF company and support its various endeavors. I’ve got two suggestions for how to get started: first, you can purchase Raising the Bar from Amazon.com, or check it out from your local library. Trust me, you’ll be dazzled.

The second way to get to know the company a little better is to win the giveaway that’s coming up later this week … but for that, you’ll have to wait until the next post.

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July 11, 2010

Vamanos a Tahoe!

Last summer, 22-year-old Kilian Jornet announced his intention to break the fastest known time for a complete circumnavigation of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Over the next several weeks, he assembled crew members and a team of pacers, and successfully took down the record in late September.

By the end of the year, Salomon Running, Jornet’s primary sponsor, had produced a video series on the record-setting run, and I used those videos for a post in January. In the post, I mentioned that one of Jornet’s pacers was Bryon Powell, who in addition to being a tremendous blogger, also happens to be a badass ultrarunner – as in top-10 at Leadville badass.

Around that same time, I was considering entering the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-Miler which takes place this coming weekend – but with a very short entry window, and a lot of uncertainty as to what my day to day life would look like this summer (a situation that still exists, come to think of it), I decided against entering the race. However, I had several reasons for wanting to be in Tahoe and get a taste of the event, so I volunteered my services as a pacer to someone I knew would be an ideal companion for fifty miles of Tahoe trail running: my soul sister Gretchen, who practically nursed me back from the dead at Western States last year. I figured the least I could do was repay the favor, while also doing some reconnaissance on a course that’s very high on my 100-mile wish list.

After that January post featuring Kilian’s Tahoe record, Gretchen left this comment: I’ll be your Kilian Jornet if you’ll be my Bryon Powell.

To which I replied, I was thinking more along the lines of Boots and Dora.

And while that was admittedly a knee-jerk reaction from someone who lives with two grade-school-aged daughters, it actually makes a fair amount of sense. Dora’s a chick who goes on one adventure after another, and is more than capable of getting herself through any problems she encounters whenever she goes exploring. Boots is basically there for companionship and some occasional comic relief, and ends up learning from Dora’s expertise along the way.

I could even take the analogy a little further: just like the main characters on Dora the Explorer, I’ll be equipped with my very own Backpack, full of the supplies we need to make it to our destination. I should also carry a Map of some sort, to prevent us from getting lost along the way (because it’s happened to me lately – more than once, in fact).

When it comes to these ultras, Gretchen’s no joke; she’s steadily climbed the ladder in race standings over the past couple of years, and has been dutifully logging the kind of hours and mileage on the trails this spring and summer that I can only dream of. She’s made this her goal race for the year, and she’s as familiar with the Tahoe trails as anybody – in other words, she has the potential to have a very good showing next weekend.

So I’ve been taking my role as Boots quite seriously, mainly because I don’t want to screw things up for her. I’m trying to identify with the character, and even hunted down an unsuspecting Dora one day last month to pick her brain for some advice on how to get through the super-exciting adventure we have coming up next week.

Me and Dora, shortly after talking race strategy

And that’s the main reason that getting sidelined in the Sierras last week was such a bummer for me: I had already been something of a slacker in my own training over the past few weeks, and I had penciled in this vacation as an ideal time to turbo-charge my running for one last fitness boost before assuming my role as Gretchen’s pacer. Then I went and nearly wrenched one of my toes off, and ended up not doing anything for several days afterward. Needless to say, I'm not exactly arriving at the top of my game.

It’s one thing for me to be an idiot; I’ve come to live with it. What concerns me is the possibility of any of that idiocy rubbing off on Gretchen during her race. She’s ready to roll, and deserves a good pacer to make her adventure a success, instead of some goofy out-of-shape monkey with a broken toe who’s just along for the ride.

For the time being, I'm remaining optimistic that things will work out just fine - and by this time next week, we’ll know for sure how the story ends.

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July 8, 2010

Things Fall Apart

Since my previous post demonstrated – quite forcefully, as it happened – one of the drawbacks of minimalist footwear, this seems like a good time to throw together a collection of photos that address some other shortcomings of my most heavily-used trail runners over the past several weeks.

Mainly, the issue is one of durability, and each of my favorite brands – VivoBarefoot, Soft Star, and Vibram – have demonstrated some limitations in this regard. Before we get to the specifics, a few general observations are worth mentioning:

1) Durability seems to be an issue of high importance for minimalist runners, although I tend to think it’s a little bit overemphasized. The thinking goes like this: since true minimalist footwear doesn’t have a midsole, the conventional recommendation of changing shoes every 400-500 miles – a guideline perpetuated by traditional shoe manufacturers, and ostensibly based on midsole life – doesn’t apply to minimalist footwear. Therefore, the only things that prevent you from running 1000 or 2000 miles on your minimalist shoes are the outsole durability and structural integrity of the upper.

However, even though this is a post about problems with shoe durability, keep in mind that I’ve put a minimum of 400 miles on each of these pairs, which represents a typical running shoe lifespan, and would ordinarily justify the purchase price. But for whatever reason, for better or worse, the yardstick for minimalist stuff is different.

2) I think it’s fair to say that I’m pretty brutal on my shoes, and put them through some extremes that a lot of other runners might not encounter. I test everything on trails, whether they’re intended for trails or not. I go through river crossings, dense brush, bushwhacking off trail (sometimes intentionally, other times not) and routinely do very steep climbs and descents on virtually all kinds of terrain. And with increasing frequency, I’m using these minimalist models for my ultra training and racing. So in medical parlance, I do a lot of “off-label” use that might not be a factor if you’re merely looking for something to run around the neighborhood in.

The secondary benefit – besides all the fun of the actual testing, that is – is that weaknesses in the construction of these shoes become apparent a little earlier in the lifespan with hardcore use – and that brings us to the photos:

Exhibit A: VivoBarefoot Evo

These are my VivoBarefoot Evos with approximately 425 miles on them:

Of all my minimalist shoes, these have the best overall fit, they’re extremely comfortable, and they’ve performed much better than expected on rugged trails even though they’re not intended as an off-road shoe. I wore them for my (unfortunately, ill-fated) 100K last month, and the only performance issue I’ve ever had with them is diminished traction on loosely packed downslopes. The structural problem here is with the uppers:

As you can see, the mesh and TPU upper have begun to split apart - and this wasn’t due to a fall or unusual trauma, as both the left and right shoes show the exact same wear in the exact same location.

My VB contact person informed me that a similar problem had been reported by a couple other high-mileage runners. Apparently with a narrower than usual (by VB standards) last shape, the impact and flex points cause too much pressure on that particular region of the upper, causing it to split. These incidents all occurred with the very first production run, and VivoBarefoot’s technicians and design team have already addressed the problem for the 2nd production run which is currently sold in stores and on the website.

To give you a sense of scale, the mesh on the first production was tested to 20,000 "flexes", and the newer production runs are tested to 300,000 - in other words, you'd have to log 15 times more mileage to reproduce this same failure on the current version. What's more, the rep told me that VivoBarefoot is currently testing an even more durable material for the Evo models that will be launched in the fall; needless to say, I’ll be very eager to put them through the paces.


Exhibit B: Soft Star RunAmoc

These are my Soft Star RunAmocs with about 550 miles on them:

My love affair with the RunAmoc is well documented; from contributing to the design process to campaigning for the name selection to wearing them for my first 50-miler of the year this spring, they’ve been nothing short of a delight to wear from the moment the sizing and material selections were dialed in.

The fit of these is much looser in the rearfoot than the Evo, and since I tend to land on the inside of my heels – especially on the right – the wear pattern on the outsole is abnormally heavy on the inner section:

Traction on the outsole has worn down enough that I have some minor slipping on loose terrain, but that’s not the point of breakdown here. Rather, since my heel impact area drifts so far inward, I actually land upon the inner portion of the perforated leather upper – and I’ve done this so much that I’ve worn a hole in the leather:

My Soft Star contact said she is pretty sure they will be switching to exclusively suede backs instead of perforated leather on the next version of the RunAmoc, because it is a more durable material, and it also "stands up" and holds its shape better to keep the foot more centered. Since my pair was a hybrid (one perforated leather heel, one suede heel), I can attest that the suede heel style does indeed hold up much better; my only concern will be how well it dries after getting soaked in wet grass or stream crossings.

If the heel is switched to suede, I’d like to see the forefoot upper remain perforated, both for the ventilation benefit and for faster drying. In the meantime, I’m still logging mileage in my current pair, because I truly love using them, and because I’m curious as to just how far I can run in them before they completely fall apart.


Exhibit C: Vibram FiveFingers KSO

Here is one of my FiveFingers KSOs after nearly 750 miles:

The KSOs were one of my first pairs of minimalist footwear, and this pair has more mileage on them than any shoes I’ve ever owned. The outsole is holding up fantastically, but as you can see I have a little “situation” with the heel strap – namely, it tore in half about 4 weeks ago. Normally the end of the strap threads through the horizontal eyelet, and the top portion folds through it before doubling back on itself with a Velcro attachment.

I’ve still been running in these, with a makeshift adaptation:

Now I thread the top strap directly through the eyelet, and there’s barely enough length to fold it back to fasten on top. The heel isn’t quite as secure as it was before, but it still manages to stay on my foot fairly well. I also make one more adjustment:

Since I haven’t brought myself to officially cut the torn strap off yet, I just wrap it around its remaining portion and go on my way.

As far as the upper is concerned, I’ve experienced another structural issue that’s not unusual with FiveFingers users:

Separation along the seam of the big toe, which is more likely to happen if you pull directly on the toe when removing the shoe. I quickly learned to take off my FiveFingers by grasping the underside and pushing it forward off my foot, but by that time the damage was already done.

Obviously, neither of these problems has prevented me from racking up mileage on the KSOs, and I haven’t experienced either of these issues with the KSO Trek. However, I’m definitely more attentive to the Treks, making sure to rinse the uppers after every few runs – I suspect that salt buildup might have contributed to brittleness of the KSO strap – and removing them properly each time.

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Even with all of the above developments, I’m very satisfied with the performance of each of these minimalist options, and none of the issues I’ve described is enough for me to stop using those particular brands. Rather, I believe that as these products become more prevalent and more rigorously tested by various users, the companies will identify points of weakness so they can tweak future models for improved performance. Vibram is famous for incorporating user feedback into new models, and it appears that VivoBarefoot and Soft Star are proving themselves to be just as responsive.

Each of these companies has demonstrated a commitment to developing high-performance minimalist footwear, and I look forward to seeing what changes and improvements they have in store in the future.

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July 5, 2010

Ouch!

(Warning: pictures of feet attached.)

Say ... does one of these toes look strange to anyone?:


So much for all those epic runs I had planned. I used to consider the pinky toe a generally useless appendage – but all it takes is a minor fracture (or hopefully just a deep bruise; I'm too cheap - and too much of a slacker - to hunt down a mountain doctor to find out for sure) and a decent amount of swelling to make you realize just how many small movements and muscle contractions that little thing does during the course of everyday activity.

And right now, every one of those little movements is killing me.



What you see here is a result of me playing around with my downhill speed in my FiveFingers on a rocky trail in Big Trees State Park. Apparently I wasn’t paying close enough attention when the trail got a little narrow, and the rocks got a little rockier, and … bam.


It happened about 45 minutes into a 2.5 hour run; needless to say, the rest of the run wasn’t exactly what you’d call comfortable.

So now I’m icing and splinting and taking meds in hopes that the pain dies down sooner rather than later so I can head back out to some of the killer trails right outside my door. Meanwhile, my wife is Googling all of the possible complications that might possibly befall someone who suffers a broken toe, and worrying that I’ll develop a chronic pain syndrome, traumatic arthritis, or some horrible infection that eventually necessitates amputation.

Painkillers and paranoia – I can’t say it’s my favorite way to start a vacation, but I guess things could be a lot worse.

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July 4, 2010

4th of July, Big Trees CA

This is the view from my cabin window this morning:


Honestly, our family’s annual summer escape to the Sierra Nevadas couldn’t come at a better time; thus far, 2010 has been almost completely chaotic, with the craziness reaching a crescendo over the past couple of weeks. In light of that, this vacation is an opportune chance to catch our breath and reconnect with each other, while appreciating all the blessings our family enjoys.

I’ve got some plans in mind for what the week may bring, and a couple of epic-ish runs that I might report on a bit later … but then again, maybe I won’t. Above all else, our Sierra vacation gives us the freedom to do whatever we want to do – or more importantly, to not do whatever we don’t feel like doing. At this point, I have no idea which way things will go.

So the posts could be a bit sporadic around here for a while, and life looks to be approaching some transition points in the weeks to come. (Don’t worry – it’s nothing terrible. Just very different.) In the meantime, I’ll be relaxing with the family in the mountains, giving thanks for where life has brought us so far, and remaining optimistic for all that’s yet to come.

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July 1, 2010

SCAPE Sunblock Review

Today’s review starts with a confession: I almost never wear sunblock.

I know that violates a cardinal sin of outdoor athletes – not to mention dermatologists – but it’s always seemed like more hassle than it’s worth. I also benefit from having a relatively dark complexion (my Italian mother is beaming with pride right now) that makes me slightly less susceptible to sunburn during long days outdoors. I know that my genetic good fortune doesn’t protect me from risk of skin cancer, but that’s one of those medical dice rolls I feel comfortable making, at least for the time being.

On the other hand, in a classic example of “Do as I say and not as I do” parenting, I make my kids wear sunblock whenever they’re at the pool, beach, or long outdoor activities. So when I received an offer to test some new sunblock products, I knew exactly who my guinea pigs would be.


SCAPE – it stands for Skin Cancer Awareness Protection & Education – was developed by Dr. Nic Martens, a biochemistry PhD and accomplished endurance athlete who also happens to be one of the inventors of Neutrogena’s well-respected skin care products. This particular product line is a collaboration between Martens and Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander, and has been field tested by professional triathletes, surfers, runners, cyclists, and winter sports athletes at various stages of development prior to its launch in April 2010.

I’m not much of a biochemistry expert, but SCAPE claims to have an innovative polymer technology in their products that makes them unique in comparison to your everyday drug store sunblock. More specifically, SCAPE is reportedly five times more waterproof than any other product on the market, but still allows the skin to breathe for temperature regulation. It has an SPF of 50 with the highest UVA protection available, and is enriched with vitamin E and antioxidants to protect and nourish your skin. Best of all, it won’t clog your pores or rub off into your eyes.

Sounds pretty impressive, huh? You can see why I was so eager to try it – on my kids, that is.


I received three different products for testing: sunblock lotion, lip balm, and face stick. The sunblock has almost no aroma to it, and feels a bit less greasy to the touch than our usual Coppertone or Banana Boat stuff. Its water resistance seems pretty strong, but my kids did get a little bit pink after a long pool party recently, so I’d still recommend reapplying after a few hours of use.

SCAPE lip balm also has SPF 50, and has a pretty neutral scent and taste – not the overwhelming menthols or fruit tastes that most other brands force upon you. The only problem is that at the rate my girls go through lip balm, this could become a pretty expensive habit for them to pick up. But if you’re a grown up and can use it judiciously, it’s a very solid option.

I was probably most impressed by the face stick, primarily for it’s convenience of use. Normally when I apply sunscreen to the kids, I tell them to close and scrunch their eyes while I rub lotion from my palm onto all the little curves and bumps of their faces. The sun stick has a deodorant-style container, and glides smoothly (it reminds me a lot of BodyGlide, in fact) on the skin, giving the same UVA protection and SPF as the other products in this line.

Based on my lab sample of three kids, I’d say that each of these products is a strong option for outdoor athletes, with the lone caveat that the advertised water resistance doesn’t prevent you from having to reapply from time to time. They're a little more expensive than your average sunblock, but if you're smarter enough than me to take skin care seriously, they're definitely worth a try.

Aside from that, the hardest thing about using SCAPE might be finding it to purchase, as availability is still somewhat limited. The products are sold in a handful of specialty running and cycling shops, and the best online outlet is TriSports.com, where the 4-oz sunblock retails for $14.99, the lip balm for $3.50, and the face stick for $11.99.


*product provided by SCAPElabs
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at
info@runningandrambling.com.

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