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December 30, 2010

Black Diamond Icon Headlamp, NRG Rechargeable Battery Pack, and WRC Gift Card Giveaway

Happy Old Year! Before today's post, let's do our customary rundown of status updates on previous contests ...

* The New Balance MT101 giveaway and Ryders Eyewear VTX giveaway contests are both officially closed as of this evening, and I'll announce the winners for each of these contests on Saturday.

* There's still time to enter the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo running shoe contest, and to increase your odds of winning by spreading the word via return links. This contest will run through next week.

As for today's contest, I'm closing out the December giveaway bonanza with a couple of my most familiar companions: the Black Diamond Icon headlamp and Wilderness Running Company. If you're a regular reader of this website, my feelings about each of these entities are fairly well-established - and if you're a new reader, I'll just direct you to some links to help bring you up to speed.

Black Diamond's Icon has become my number one choice for ultrarunning; with 100 lumens, it's bright enough to light up the most technically challenging trails, and its long battery life will easily carry you through a full night of running. If you use its rechargeable NRG battery pack (sold separately), you can top off the charge to achieve full brightness relatively quickly, and you'll never have to worry about buying disposable batteries again.

In 2009 I did some extensive headlamp testing, including this in-depth review of the Icon and NRG pack. I also did a couple of head-to-head reviews: this one comparing the Icon to Petzl's equivalent MYO RXP lamp, and this one comparing the Icon to Black Diamond's equally impressive Spot and Sprinter headlamps. By the time the following summer rolled around, I had pretty much any headlamp I wanted at my disposal, and went with the Icon when it was time to pull a couple of all-nighters on the trail - and I never regretted the decision for a second.

As for Wilderness Running Company, my partnership with them is approaching two years now, and my professional respect for them grows more with each passing month. Sure, I'm probably a little biased because they hosted one of the coolest runs I did all year - but there's something about principal owner Stacy's passion for trail running, his business philosophy, and his commitment to provide first-class service that's extraordinarily impressive. And of course, they're an integral part of this giveaway.

To help you light up the New Year in style, WRC will award one winner a Black Diamond Icon headlamp as well as the NRG rechargeable battery pack - and if that weren't enough, we're throwing in a $25 gift card to spend on anything you like from their website. It's a value in excess of $100, and the only cost of entry is a comment below.

Since this post represents not only the end of the year but also the end of the Great Running and Rambling Giveaway Bonanza, we'll do this final contest in straightforward, rapid-fire fashion: one comment, one entry, with a winner announced Wednesday, January 5th. Big thanks to WRC, good luck to everybody who enters, and ... go!


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December 27, 2010

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Running Shoe Review ... And Giveaway (Maybe)

Kind of a vague announcement in the title there, huh? Don't worry, I'll explain as we go along - but for now let's get straight to the post ...

*

No one will ever accuse VIVOBAREFOOT of resting on their laurels.

It would have been fairly easy, and completely understandable, for the company to say, You know what? We nailed the minimalist performance running shoe this year – let’s just roll with this one for a while. Their outstanding Evo shoe became such a sensation among minimalist runners that the company couldn’t make them fast enough to satisfy demand – and I was so happy with the Evo that I quickly made it my first choice for ultras and super-long adventure runs through the rest of the year.


VIVOBAREFOOT Neo

Nevertheless, the company has a long-term vision to build a full collection of performance shoes with a variety of materials, designs and price points - which is very good news for anyone who has complained about the Evo's steep ($160) price tag. The first offspring of the performance line is the Neo, which retails for a much more running shoe-like $120, and which will be officially available from the Terra Plana website in March 2011.

The Neo is billed as a “new multi-terrain footwear innovation”, and was designed in conjunction with Lee Saxby, a distinguished barefoot running coach who has the endorsement of none other than a certain Born to Run author. Christopher McDougall has written glowingly about Saxby, and reports that, “Every time I run into Lee Saxby, I learn something that makes my head snap up.” While I’m not completely familiar with the expression, I’m assuming that means something good. (For an example of Saxby's exceptional teaching style, check out this video made by Terra Plana.)


Airmesh upper with fabric trim


So the Neo has the pedigree and the right profile to be worthy of the VIVOBAREFOOT line - and my first question upon learning about it was, What distinguishes this from the Evo? I’ve been running in the Neo for about a month now, and can attest that it is a very appealing option for minimalist runners. The performance dropoff between the Evo and the Neo is extremely subtle. and I anticipate that the Neo will get tagged as "the poor man's Evo", with a fundamental structure that is very similar, and a few stylistic details to set it apart. With that, we may as well get to the review.


Close-up of breathable mesh upper

Visually, the Neo presents much differently than the Evo - you could say it's a more commercial look - mainly due to its redesigned upper. Whereas the Evo has a hexagonal TPU overlay on the entire upper, the Neo has a thicker, more traditional closed mesh with fabric trim around the toebox. Keeping with Terra Plana’s spirit of eco-friendly construction, the mesh is made from 75% recycled-content polyester, with a microfiber lining that is 55% post-consumer as well. Ventilation of this mesh upper is supposedly diminished on the Neo compared to the thinner mesh/TPU combination on the Evo, but I have to say I found it very comparable.


Thin heel collar; traditional lacing system; breathable airmesh upper

The heel collar of the Neo is slightly thinner than that of the Evo, and the entire sockliner has a sweat-absorbing antibacterial lining to maintain comfort on long runs. The lacing system of the Neo uses traditional eyelets instead of the fabric loops used on the Evo, which makes lacing the Neo smoother with an improved distribution of tension across the top of the midfoot.


Close-up of heel collar


Below the upper, construction of the Neo is nearly identical to that of the Evo: it has a removable memory foam insole, and a 4mm puncture-resistant outsole with the exact same tread pattern that’s perfect for roads and more than adequate for nearly all trail conditions. Both shoes are also 100% vegan options for animal-conscious consumers.


4mm puncture-resistant outsole

If you’re keeping score at home, you’ve noted that the Neo has essentially the same framework as the Evo, with a slightly more user-friendly upper, and a retail price that's $40 cheaper. For most folks, that's probably enough to seal the deal. Nevertheless, I'm a bit hesitant to embrace it completely for a couple of reasons: its overall weight, and a possible concern about its trail-ruggedness for my specific running needs.

The first item is something of a mystery to me, in that the Neo’s upper construction seems generally less-involved than the Evo – yet the webpage specs have the Neo at 9.5oz, which is a full 1.5oz heavier than the Evo. I'm guessing the thicker mesh material is the source of the difference - otherwise, for the life of me I don’t know where this extra weight comes from. However, considering that my other favorite minimalist shoe models (Vibram and Soft Star) are roughly 6oz each, this weight gap becomes fairly significant – at 9.5oz, the Neo is a full 50% heavier - so I’d prefer to see VIVOBAREFOOT trending lighter instead of heavier. And in the absence of any compelling performance benefit to choose the Neo over the Evo, my preference will be to stick with the lighter of two comparable options.

My other drawback about the Neo is just a suspicion I can’t yet prove: that perhaps the mesh upper isn’t as durable for trail running as the TPU-reinforced Evo upper. After our winter rainy season, the brush and wild grasses grow pretty thick around Monterey County, and I run a lot of miles that are borderline bush-whacking missions that assault my shoes and socks with burrs, stickers, and assorted brambles. I haven’t tried this kind of running with the Neo yet, but rest assured I’ll be paying attention during the spring, and I’ll report back here if I have any problems.

I suspect that for many folks, the Neo will be just what they’ve waited for: a VIVOBAREFOOT running shoe with nearly all of the quality construction features and performance benefits of the Evo, at a price point that’s significantly more affordable. The drawbacks that I've identified will be the only items on the wrong side of a pros/cons list, making the Neo a very attractive purchase option. And while I can’t argue with that conclusion at all, I think when ultrarunning season rolls around in the spring again, I'll still be reaching for my Evos.

The VIVOBAREFOOT Neo is part of Terra Plana's Spring/Summer 2011 line, but will be available in a very limited release (as in, less than 100 pairs) for $120 from the company website in the near future. The original intent of this post when I coordinated it with the company several weeks ago was to give away a few pairs of Neos to celebrate the advance release - however, since quantities are extremely limited and advance sales are eagerly awaited, we need to modify the ground rules just a bit.

So here's the deal with the giveaway: thanks to the completely awesome generosity of Terra Plana, three readers will be chosen as winners of a pair of VIVOBAREFOOT performance running shoes. If the Neos happen to still be in stock (they're anticipated to sell out within just a few days after release) and are available in your size, you can grab a pair of Neos for yourself. If not - which is a much more likely scenario - you'll get your pick of either the Evo or Evo II (which I just recently reviewed.) Winners will be chosen at random from the comments section below.

Since this is a major prize offer, the weighted-entry process is in play: one entry for a comment, one for a Twitter or Facebook link to this contest page, and a third for a blog link to this page. Let me know how many contest tickets you've earned, and all entries must be received by Friday, January 7th at 5PM PST. As always, a huge thanks to VIVOBAREFOOT for sponsoring this contest, and good luck to everybody!


*Product provided by VIVOBAREFOOT
**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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December 26, 2010

Ryders Eyewear VTX Sunglasses Review and Giveaway

You didn’t think the December giveaway bonanza was ending simply because Christmas has come and gone, did you? This week brings three new giveaways, one of which includes a product review of a great new minimalist shoe that I’m totally excited to be able to debut here.

However, I will confess to being a major-league slacker this weekend, so today’s giveaway will be quick and to the point. Before we get there, however, a couple of announcements …

1) I’m still waiting for The Big E to contact me and claim his winnings for the VIVOBAREFOOT kids’ shoes contest. You’ve got until Tuesday night before I pick another winner.

2) Everyone still has a couple more days to enter the New Balance MT101 giveaway, where three pairs of awesome trail shoes will be awarded on Wednesday night, December 29th. See details on the link above to enter.

OK then – on with today’s giveaway! As I said, I’ll try to keep things brief.

This summer I learned about Ryders Eyewear, a company that produces high-performance eyewear at discount store prices - and ever since then, I’ve used their lenses for all of my mountain biking and running activities. I first reviewed their Vigor model, which I prefer for mountain biking but also use for trail running, and then the VTX, which in my opinion is a more running-specific style that’s become my all-purpose model of choice.

Trail running with the VTX this summer

The VTX comes with three interchangeable lenses, one of which is clear, so these lenses would be a great option for road cyclists as well. Other lens colors are dark gray and orange, which feature 100% UVA, UVB, and UVC protection and shatterproof polycarbonate lenses.

I could give you lot more details about the VTX – but like I said, I’m still sort of in slacker mode, so I’m saving myself some time by referring you to a review I wrote for FeedTheHabit this fall. (Or you could just take my word for it that they’re awesome.) Afterward, come back to this post, and leave a comment below for your chance to win a pair of Ryders VTX glasses for yourself. Two winners will be selected at random, and winners will be announced on Thursday night, December 30th. Good luck to everybody!


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December 23, 2010

And To Santa, A Good Night

One of our family's favorite traditions is frosting several batches of sugar cookies to give out to friends and neighbors during the holiday season.

Sometimes the proceedings get out of hand, as detailed in this post featuring the forever infamous (in our house, at least) peed-on snowman cookie. The following year we were a little more subdued, but still managed to be pretty creative, and this year was basically more of the same.

I mentioned that we give most of these cookies away ... but not all of them leave the confines of our house. Each of us pick a privileged few to go on the plate for Santa, and this year my plate of favorites looks like this:


From bottom to top: A blue Christmas tree (reminds me of being a kid - it's a a long story), a tie-dyed hippie snowman, a Drymax trail sock, and a snowman wearing Vibram FiveFingers. Plus a couple of special holiday CLIF bars in case Santa needs to pack something for the road.

I figure that should get him through the night. And I guess there's not much else to do but wait for the magic to happen. Merry Christmas to all.


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December 22, 2010

VIVOBAREFOOT Kids' Shoe Winner; Contest Updates; What It's All About

Today’s post is something of a mixed bag: updates, announcements, and since it’s just about that time of year, a little bit of Christmas cheer.

First, the updates …

* You’ve still got through the Christmas weekend to enter the New Balance MT101 giveaway contest, where the winners will be picked on December 29. THREE pairs of shoes are up for grabs, so don’t get intimidated by the number of comments – you can’t win if you don’t enter!

* I’m still looking for one winner from last week’s Holiday GU giveaway – so Katie Peterson, you’ve got until the end of December 23rd (11:59 PM – and please don’t make me wait up) to claim your prize before I choose another winner.

* Remember the guy named Fitz who interviewed me for his Strength Running website and gave away a copy of my book? (Related question: Did you even remember that I have a book?) Well, he’s released a new e-book called 52 Workouts in 52 Weeks, and best of all, it’s absolutely free. Go here to check out his site and download the book.

As for the announcements …

* The winner of the VIVOBAREFOOT kids’ shoe giveaway is ... The Big E! E-mail me your contact info so I can pass it along to my VB rep. Congratulations!

* For everybody else, remember that all VIVOBAREFOOT kids shoes are on sale for 25% off between now and December 27th with coupon code RRKIDS.

* Now for a fairly major contest note: if you saw the recent New Balance giveaway and thought “That’s cool, but the shoes aren’t quite minimalist enough for me”, or if you’ve been watching the recent VIVOBAREFOOT giveaways and thought “I wish they’d give away more running shoes sometime”, be sure to tune in here next week – you’re going to find something awesome.

And finally … since we discussed kids’ stuff this week, and since it’s already the 23rd of December, I decided it was time to downshift a bit and re-focus on the true joy of this season amidst the materialism of killer gear giveaways. Accordingly, I’ll have a brief (non-giveaway) post tomorrow, and then hunker down for a long Christmas weekend.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite clips of all time to remind us of what it’s all about. Considering that I’ve embedded this video here a couple of times before, I guess this qualifies as a holiday tradition in Running and Rambling Land.

Excerpt from A Charlie Brown Christmas (click to play):





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December 21, 2010

La Sportiva Winter Running Grand Prize Winners; La Sportiva Crossover GTX Winter Running Shoe Review

Clearly, the main event today is the awarding of grand prizes from La Sportiva to one male and one female reader – but the opening act isn’t too shabby either.

That’s because we’re leading off with a review of the Crossover GTX, which also happens to be one of the prizes (along with the Wildcat GTX and a hobnail kit) in the grand prize drawing. So I’m stealing a line from Survivor host Jeff Probst to ask, “Want to see what you’re playing for?”, and recommending that you take a look at the review – because even if you don’t win a pair, the Crossover is a pretty compelling choice to put on your shopping list after the holidays have come and gone.


La Sportiva Crossover GTX


To be perfectly simple, the Crossover is essentially La Sportiva’s award-winning Crosslite shoe with two augmentations: a Gore-Tex (usually abbreviated GTX) upper, and a breatheable integrated gaiter. As you’d expect, the additional features add a little bit of weight to the shoe – the Crossover GTX weighs in at 12.73 oz (361g) compared to 10.97 oz (311g) for the Crosslite – but you get a significant upgrade in foul-weather preparedness that makes it far easier to head for the trails even in the worst possible conditions.

I first reviewed the Crosslites a year and a half ago, and thankfully, La Sportiva had the good sense to leave a good thing alone, as that model has remained unchanged in the interim. I’ll refer you to my Crosslite review if you want more details aside from the basics that follow below, or you can save yourself a click and just take my word for it that the Crosslite shoe simply rocks.

So how do you winterize an already rugged high-performance trail runner? You start with giving the upper a waterproof Gore-Tex lining to keep your feet extra warm and dry. Most of my testing for this shoe consisted of stomping through every puddle and mud pit I could find during our recent West Coast storm surge, and I found the Crossover to be extremely effective at keeping moisture away from my feet.


Hard at work, splashing through every puddle in sight

However, I consider GTX to be something of a double-edged sword in regards to comfort: there’s nothing better when it comes to keeping moisture from rain, snow, slush, or wet mud away from your feet. (Also note that the GTX is waterPROOF, not merely water resistant – there’s a big difference.) On the other hand, if you do a full immersion of the shoes at river crossings, thereby allowing water to enter the shoe from above, the GTX significantly slows your drying time by limiting moisture transfer away from the foot. Since I tend to do a lot of stream crossings at this time of year, my own preference is to have a shoe that lets water in but also dries quickly – then again, I’m not often running through icy slush that would make my toes freeze.

The next step for winterizing is to have a protective gaiter to provide extra warmth and keep out trail debris, and this feature is probably the biggest innovation on the Crossover GTX. The gaiter does NOT have a GTX lining, so this portion of the shoe is breathable, which I found very nice from a comfort standpoint. Its zipper is slightly asymmetrical towards the outside of the ankle, and opens wide enough that getting the shoe on and off isn’t a problem.


Shoe laces over scree guard on upper

One nice deviation that La Sportiva included here is that the shoelaces are entirely outside the scree guard – on the traditional Crosslite, most of the laces are under the guard, which makes it challenging to open the shoe extremely wide. Once you have them on, the gaiters close with a cinch closure and Velcro flap that remain very stable throughout the run – but in my case, I generally chose to leave them loose.


Cinch lock and Velcro flap gaiter closure


Over the course of several years as an ultrarunner, I’ve gone back and forth on the gaiter idea: I started without thinking much of them, then went through a period where I couldn’t do without them, and now I’m back to being relatively indifferent. If you’re a gaiter user, the great news is that the Crossover’s version does a very nice job of keeping you insulated but also allowing ventilation as needed without overheating – and obviously, since it’s integrated into the upper, you don’t have to mess around with hooks, glue, or Velcro attachments anymore. If you’re in the non-gaiter camp, the Crossover doesn’t offer you any option to remove it. However, as a current non-gaiter guy, I can attest that with the cinch fastener fairly loose, the extra material on my ankles didn’t noticeably impact my comfort or performance on muddy trail runs.


Secure-fitting gaiter; protective rubberized toe cap

The integrated gaiter zips rather snugly over the upper, providing a very secure fit through the forefoot. La Sportiva is known for slightly narrow toeboxes, and it might be psychosomatic, but zipping the gaiter up seems to enhance the sensation of a tight forefoot fit – whether that’s a plus or minus is up to you. The front of the upper also features a sturdy rubberized toe cap to protect your toes from getting stubbed on rocks or roots.


FriXion AT rubber outsole with Impact Braking System lugs

The remainder of the shoe is La Sportiva’s bread and butter: the Crosslite dual-density midsole with a TrailShock molded shank and high-tensile RockGuard plate for protection from the sharpest and pointiest rocks you’ll ever encounter. Beneath that is perhaps La Sportiva’s best feature: a prominently lugged outsole made of their trademark FriXion AT sticky rubber and an impact braking system (precise angulation and directionality of the lugs) that claims to decrease impact forces by 20%. The outsole rubber maintains traction on slick rocks, and the shape and spacing of the lugs sheds mud quite easily in the course of normal running.

Midsole thicknesses are 26mm in the heel and 16mm in the toe, so the Crossover certainly isn’t a minimalist shoe – rather, it’s an aggressive neutral traditional trainer built to take on the harshest conditions you’ll encounter for winter trail running. If you’re facing a steady diet of snowy, slushy, icy trails this winter, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better-equipped shoe than this one.

The La Sportiva Crossover retails for $150 with free shipping from Wilderness Running Company, where you’ll get an additional 10% off by using coupon code R&R10. Or if you’re one of two lucky winners below, La Sportiva will mail you a pair for free.

**

So who are the lucky recipients? It’s time to announce the winners of La Sportiva’s Winter Running Grand Prize giveaway, for whom Christmas has just arrived a few days early. After the announcement, I’ll have links to buy any of these items separately, but for the time being let’s get to it …

Women’s winner: Chris Grove

Men’s winner: Richard Ferron

To Chris and Richard: Congratulations! Send me an e-mail, which I’ll forward along to La Sportiva so that you each receive one pair of Crossover GTX shoes, one pair of Wildcat GTX shoes, and one hobnail kit.

To everybody else: Thanks very much for participating in this contest, and especially for giving all of us such great inspiration with your crazy winter running photos. Here are links to the individual items that were featured in this giveaway:

La Sportiva Crossover: $150 with free shipping from Wilderness Running Company, and a 10% discount for using coupon code R&R10.

La Sportiva Crosslite: the high-performance shoe that the Crossover is built upon is also available for $90 with free shipping from WRC, with the same coupon code discount available.

La Sportiva Wildcat GTX: This shoe was something of a second banana in this giveaway, but it’s a standout shoe in its own regard. See my review of the shoe here at FeedTheHabit.com, and purchase the shoe for $125 at TravelCountry.com.

La Sportiva hobnail kit: $45 from Wilderness Running Company, minus 10% with coupon code R&R10.

Finally, I owe an enormous thank you to La Sportiva for being such generous sponsors of this giveaway. If you’re ever looking for a company that is doing all the right things to promote the sport of trail running, La Sportiva should be at the top of your list.


Happy Winter Running to everybody!


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December 19, 2010

VIVOBAREFOOT Kids' Shoes Giveaway*; VIVOBAREFOOT Kids' Shoes Coupon Code

* Or, Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes!

Presuming that most of my readers aren’t in the age 7-and-under demographic, this week’s VIVOBAREFOOT contest isn’t for you – rather, it’s a chance to pay a giveaway forward. More accurately, you’ll be paying it down, to the little feet of someone you love. That’s because the prize is a pair of VIVOBAREFOOT kids' shoes.

I first reviewed this line of shoes in September, when my then-six-year-old daughter was drafted into service for Running and Rambling Inc., to test-drive the incredibly cute Pally model for this review. She absolutely loved them, wearing them to school practically every day, even using them to smoke the other kids on laps around the track in P.E. class.


VIVOBAREFOOT Oaky, and some of my daughter's favorite chapter books

This time around, my daughter has turned seven, and the shoes she’s been testing for several weeks are the Oaky, cleverly described on Terra Plana's website as a Mimi-Me version of the Oak, which happens to be my own favorite VIVOBAREFOOT model.


Nubuck upper loosely attached to nylon mesh sockliner; a sampling of American Girl books

The upper of these shoes is made of nubuck, with a nylon mesh collar and lining that is loosely attached to the upper at a few anchor points. There is a removable memory foam insole, and the entire shoe is completely flexible in all directions to let developing feet move and bend naturally. Overall weight of the shoe is 4 oz, or 3.5oz with the insoles removed.

3.5mm puncture-resistant outsole; even more American Girl books


One difference between the Oaky and its parent shoe is that the Oak has a more all-weather tread pattern on its outsole, while the Oaky (and most of the VB kids shoes) uses a shallower tread pattern like the one used on the adult Dharma. Thickness of the puncture-resistant outsole is a bit less on the kids’ versions, 3.5 mm compared to 4 or 5mm for the adult versions.


Classic styling of uppers; assorted book favorites

Like the Oak, the Oaky has a fairly classic styling that can be used as an all-purpose shoe for just about any kids' activity – and like all VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, it’s durable enough to easily last until your child outgrows them. However in the interest of full disclosure, we did discover one durability problem: the “toggle” piece of leather that holds the ends of the laces in place came loose fairly easily on my daughter’s pair. This is a known issue at Terra Plana that was addressed for next season’s design. We fixed ours by just tying the elasticized laces in a knot; fortunately, the laces are mainly a decorative feature on the Oaky just as they are on the Oak.

I described my rationale for loving this line of children’s footwear in my original Pally review, and since that time nothing has changed to make me hesitate to recommend them to any parent concerned for his or her child’s healthy foot development. As it does with its adult lines, VIVOBAREFOOT has a large selection of children's shoes in various styles and colors, and from now until December 27th, all of those shoes are available at a 25% discount with coupon code RRKIDS. The banner ad at the top of the page will remain in place this week as a reminder.

But if you’re lucky, you won’t even need a discount: one lucky winner selected from the comments below will be awarded a free pair of children’s shoes this week, courtesy of VIVOBAREFOOT. Please note that the largest sizes in this collection are a US kids’ size 3, so if your little ones have bigger feet than that, your options are to sit this giveaway out, or try winning them for a friend or relative.

Since this is a holiday week, we’ll do this contest with a short turnaround time: enter by 5PM Wednesday, December 22 and I’ll announce the winner the next day. Let’s keep entries for this one simple as well with a “one comment, one entry” system. Big thanks to VIVOBAREFOOT for sponsoring this contest, and good luck to everybody!





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December 18, 2010

Holiday GU Giveaway Winners; Soft Star RunAmoc Giveaway Winner; Random Shots of Beauty

Who says the Internet sleeps on Saturdays? It's kind of an exciting day around these parts, as we announce winners of two giveaways: holiday-flavored GU, and the Soft Star RunAmoc.

We'll start with the GU winners: Katie Peterson, wch, and Kelly (from Baldwinsville) - e-mail me your contact info - you've each won 2 boxes of holiday GU!

And now for the big prize today, a pair of free RunAmocs: TK - contact me. You're the winner!

As usual, thanks very much to everyone who participated - in particular, with such great feedback regarding the Soft Star company, whose products should be on every natural footwear aficionado's wish list this year.

**
And now for this weekend's Random Shot of Beauty:

(click to enlarge)

Stillwater Cove in Pebble Beach, CA, on December 13, when the majority of the country was experiencing blizzards and deep freezes.

This photo wasn't taken during a run, which is probably fitting, since December is usually my biggest slacker month of the year from a training standpoint. Rather, it was taken during a lunch appointment that turned into a lazy 3-hour diversion, mainly because we couldn't think of any compelling reason to be anywhere else.


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December 16, 2010

New Balance MT101 Giveaway

Over the past couple of weeks at Running and Rambling, some of the giveaway contests have been about appreciation, others have been about mojo, and still others have been about remarkable generosity. Today’s is all about joy.

That’s because the sponsor is New Balance, a company who was plugged into the whole “joy of minimalism” vibe long before any major shoe company, and whose marketing tends to emphasize the visceral pleasure of trail running even more than it does the actual products involved. Consider, for example, this 2-minute video that’s currently on the company’s Outdoor Ambassadors page:

“The Trail”, by New Balance (click to play):



So, OK - it sounds like Brandy Erholtz actually enjoys pain more than she enjoys joy … but you get the idea. Trail running is its own reward.

New Balance has also been a leader in developing footwear that allows you to feel the path beneath you, but still meets the highest performance standards of the best ultrarunners in the world. I wrote about their efforts (and embedded another sweet video) in this post about Anton Krupicka and the forthcoming New Balance Minimus trail shoe.

And before you ask – yes, I’m currently testing the Minimus, and yes, it’s awesome. But that’s a review for another time. Today’s giveaway features the MT101, which I called the ideal off-road race shoe in my recent Gear of the Year post. It’s an impressive upgrade to New Balance’s breakthrough MT100 shoe, which was the first trail shoe developed with extensive input from Anton Krupicka and Kyle Skaggs, and in many ways ushered in the era of minimalist performance shoes among the major manufacturers. (Check out my original review of the MT100 if you’re interested.)

New Balance MT101

The MT101 maintained everything that was great about the MT100, and incorporated extensive user feedback to improve all the quirks of fit and stability in the upper. It was a rare example of a company making all the right moves – and when I reviewed the MT101 this fall, I called it an ideal combination of lightweight minimalism and protective features to help you run like a maniac.

It’s also a perfect transitional shoe if you’re looking to move gradually towards true minimalist footwear. Consider the following exchange I had with another runner – a physical therapy student who worked at a running store – as part of a long shoe-related conversation during October’s Firetrails 50M:

Other runner: The MT101 is about as little shoe as I could tolerate wearing right now.

Me: The 101 is about as much shoe as I could tolerate.

So the shoe is a great middle ground for traditional runners looking to scale down, or minimal runners looking for extra protection. And as previously mentioned, it’s simply perfect if you just want to run like a maniac for a while.

Which brings us to today’s giveaway: THREE winners will receive a gift of holiday joy from New Balance, in the form of a free pair of MT101s, in either gender and any size. Since this is a major prize, I’m going with the link-weighted entry system for this one: You get one entry for leaving a comment below, an additional one for linking to this contest page via Facebook or Twitter (remember, I make random checks), and a third by linking here from a blog post. The contest will be open through Wednesday, December 29th at 5PM PST.

Very big thanks to New Balance for sponsoring this contest, and good luck to everybody!


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December 15, 2010

VIVOBAREFOOT Waterproof Boots Winner; VIVOBAREFOOT Boots Coupon Code

A handful of administrative notes before announcing the winner of the VIVOBAREFOOT waterproof boot contest ...

1) You still have time to enter the Soft Star RunAmoc giveaway, which ends this Friday night.

2) If you haven't done so already, e-mail me your best winter running photo for entry to the La Sportiva Crossover GTX and Wildcat GTX giveaway, where one male and one female winner will be announced on December 23rd.

3) If you missed my 2010 Gear of the Year and holiday GU giveaway post, be sure to check out some of the great discounts - especially on Black Diamond headlamps and a Nathan hydration pack - from Wilderness Running Company and other vendors, and enter the GU contest by Friday night.

4) Since I reported a couple weeks ago about my unsuccessful lottery bid in the Western States 100, I figured I should mention this here: I found out today that I got into the Miwok 100K, which is one of the absolute classics. Back when this used to be a running blog, I would have had a lot more to say about this ... but for now, we'll just keep it as a bullet point and revisit it in January.

Finally, one announcement that relates to the previous VIVOBAREFOOT giveaway ...

5) Tezcatzontecatl: I announced you as the winner of the VIVOBAREFOOT work shoes giveaway last week, and still haven't heard from you - so you've got until the end of the day Friday before I pick another winner. And as a reminder to everyone else, please subscribe so you can keep up with all the contest updates.

**

So are we all clear now? It's time to announce the winner of the VIVOBAREFOOT boots!

Papafoster: e-mail me - you're the big winner!

To everyone else, thanks very much for entering, and remember that you can still get the four models of boots from that review - the Aqueous and Franklin (already discounted 30%) for men, and the Belle or Brooklyn for women - at a 30% discount by using coupon code RRWATER between now and December 20th.

And of course, stay tuned for more cool giveaways still to come!


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December 14, 2010

More Winter Running Mojo; La Sportiva Hobnail Winners

It’s time for more winter mojo! And thanks to La Sportiva and my awesome readers, I can hand over yet another post to people who are far more qualified to fire you up for winter running than I am.


Oh, yeah – I’m also giving away two more sets of La Sportiva hobnail kits, and there’s still one more week for you to enter the grand prize drawing for a pair of Crossover GTX (to be reviewed next week),Wildcat GTX, and hobnail kits from La Sportiva. One male winner and one female winner will be drawn; to enter, just e-mail me a photo of your winter running exploits.

Before we get to the real entrants, here’s a sampling of winter ruggedness from someone who didn’t enter: my friend Gretchen. Back in October, she invited me for a long run with some friends of hers in the mountains, knowing full well I wouldn’t take her up on it because it there was snow in the forecast. Sure enough, I later learned that the regularly scheduled run was changed due to heavy snowfall on the trail … but that’s not the story.

The story is this: here's a photo from the backup run they chose:

So … yeah. I wonder what the really snowy run would have looked like. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t try to join her.

Fortunately for you, there are plenty of runners out there who are less like me and more like Gretchen – and it’s time for me to hand the post over to them, with a few of my comments along the way …


From Richard: Trail running in New Zealand. This might not be hardcore but dare tell me that winter is not beautiful!

(Absolutely. Richard’s the same one who sent a photo of himself in waist-deep snow for last week’s post, so I don’t doubt his hardcore-ness for a second.)



From Turi: I'm always the one with the camera, so I have very few of myself, but this is a friend – the pic was taken during the Cold Turkey Run, a 4.4 mile trail run the weekend before Thanksgiving, and part of Carson City, NV's Winter Trail series. Most of these trails are part of the Escape From Prison Hill course, a crazy hilly spring half marathon.

(Someone who runs with a camera – a man after my own heart! I wonder if his female friends get mad at him for taking pictures of their backsides like some of mine do.)



From Krystyna: That's me running in the Winterman half-marathon back home in Canada. It was a cooold day as I recall, and of course it started to gust and snow. Just before the race start, a homeless person ran away with all the finisher's medals. It was the oddest thing I've ever known to happen in a race. We got the medals back, ran the race, then reheated ourselves with yummy food and hot showers. That run really epitomized winter running for me.

(Awesome pic – and I’d think the homeless guy would have taken the food, don’t you? Obviously, even the homeless thieves in Canada are polite.)



From Chris: My running partner, Ginseng, loves running in snow. In the Colorado Front Range, the lower trails will be dry and she'll tag along behind my heels. Once we reach the snow, she runs like a maniac. She weaves through trees and barrels through drifts. If she's enjoying the snow, it makes the worst post hole trail bearable.

Back in October, I decided to check out the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. As I turned off the highway into the access road, it was snowing. At the parking lot, my car read 30* and a few inches on snow on the ground. I almost immediately drove back and called the 4 hour drive a wash. I didn't have the clothes/gear for the 25 mile loop planned. Then I saw my puppy's face in the rear view mirror. We did about a 5 mile out and back. The photo above was taken just before we turned around. We were above tree line and the wind gusts were picking up.


(Yet another reason I’m a cat person. And did you notice that Chris is wearing shorts? Good golly.)




From Timothy: It takes a unique mindset to appreciate winter in Nebraska. There is never much snow to enjoy, yet the temperatures continually dip below zero. It took me a while, but a combination of exposed feet and great local trails really helped me to understand and see the beauty in my home state.

(Another animal-themed entry … and what the heck are all those birds doing out there in sub-zero weather? Whatever happened to flying south?)

Author’s note before the next two: the beard photos keep on coming!



From Martin: A photo of myself at the finish of the 2004 HURL Fat Ass 50K. Weather conditions for the day included icy, snow-packed roads with temps ranging from a low of -6*F to a high of -2*F. I finished in 5:45:54, third out of 3 runners.

(Martin was one of last week’s winners, for a shot from a snow-covered 50K that he later described as “an improvement over normal course conditions”. So apparently he likes this crazy cold stuff – and the race he described above has to be the most badass last-place finish I’ve ever heard of.)



From Doug: The picture was taken in Harpers Ferry, WV, December 2009 . We had record snow and low temperatures over the holiday season. I decided to head out for a short run. A couple of miles into the run, it started to snow again. Half way into the run it started coming down rather hard. The picture was taken when I made it back to my car.

(At first I wondered why he wasn’t smiling here, but then it hit me: that ice wall around his mouth probably prevents all movement. Yikes.)



From Jennifer: Winter running in Utah is my favorite. There's something about snow that silences everything else. I like that sometimes I won't see a single person while I'm out but I can still see footprints of someone who is just as crazy as I am. I like the crazy looks I get from drivers. I especially like the cold foggy days that turn your hair and eyelashes white and make for good conversation while running.

(OK, so it’s not a beard picture – but it’s frozen hair, which is still totally cool. And before I posted this photo, my wife told me that I’m not allowed to comment about how pretty these two girls are. So I won’t.)

And we’re down to our final two! Congratulations to this week’s winners of the La Sportiva hobnail kits:



From Tammy: December 2009, Whistler BC-- Mt Currie in the background. Winter running is the best! The sound of your feet hitting the frozen ground, and the stillness in the cold air is almost rejuvenating. I love the change in technique required in order to travel over the icy terrain or through the snow- an easy run quickly becomes technical. A fun challenge!

(I love, love, LOVE this photo – it’s almost enough to make me want to get out there and run with her. On the other hand … )




From Ryan: One of the craziest races takes place in my backyard: the Mt. Mitchell challenge! A marathon distance and 40 mile distance race. to the 6684’ summit of Mt. Mitchell. In 2009 the conditions were fierce - the race started at 6 in the morning and it was 40 degrees and raining. 14 miles later at the turnaround it was 28 degrees and this awful mix between snow ice and rain, and though it was a relief to hit the barrier where that pouring rain turned to snow … well, being soaked to the core, the core temp dropped pretty fast. Needless to say, I needed to run harder because that was the only way I was gonna keep warm!

I completed the marathon course in 2nd! 3000' of elevation gain and loss, in pouring rain, snow and sleet, with icy, muddy, rocky trails! Yeah! Anyways, winter trail running is medicine for me - the crisp, frigid conditions demand full attentiveness, and they remind me that I was created to run!


(And this picture was created to win this contest. Shorts and a singlet in 28 degrees and icy rain? Amazing, dude.)

Thanks very much to La Sportiva for sponsoring this contest, and special thanks to the readers who provided today’s entries. Tammy and Ryan: send me your addresses so I can pass them along to La Sportiva for your hobnail kits. To everyone else: there’s still time to enter next week’s grand prize contest by sending me your winter running photos, but get a move on, because next Wednesday will be here before you know it.

Then get out there in the cold and get running!


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December 13, 2010

Gear of the Year 2010; Surprise Holiday Giveaway

If you’re new to these parts because you’ve recently subscribed to get in on all the great giveaways, I’d like to point out a couple of things …

1) Welcome! It’s great to have you on board. It will be even greater if you decide to stick around after the contest frenzy dies down in January - but that’s a bridge to cross when we get there, I suppose. I do periodic giveaways throughout the year, but they’re just another part of the ultrarunning / minimalist / outdoor adventure / family life collage that makes up this website. Please stick around for a while, and maybe you’ll find something you like. Also …

2) I do a lot of product reviews. Most are for this website, others are for FeedTheHabit.com, and the vast majority are focused on trail running gear. Yes, it’s a great gig, and gives me opportunities to test and try products that I wouldn’t normally think of purchasing. It also gives me a point of reference to highlight some of the items that really stand out for one reason or another, and make recommendations for your own gear decisions.

Accordingly, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite gear over the past year – products that I’ve used over and over again, long after the original review was published. On the list that follows, the first links take you to my original reviews, followed by links to purchase the product from various vendors (disclosure: some of them are affiliates), along with a brief description of why I’m so crazy about each item.

I’ve divided the list into three sections - apparel, gear, and footwear – but since this is December and we’re in the middle of a contest frenzy, I’m also including a cool little giveaway at the end to make sure you make it to the bottom of the post. Sound good? OK then. Let’s get started!


Apparel:

GoLite Manitou shirt: Their Wildwood shirt got most of the press this year, but the slightly thicker, super-comfortable Manitou was my shirt of choice for foggy morning runs and day-long hikes. Retails for $29 from Amazon.com.

GoLite Mesa Trail 7” shorts: Comfortable, lightweight, durable … everything you want in a trail short. Retails for $40 from the Golite website.

The North Face Apex ClimateBlock jacket: A perfect combination of style, comfort, safety, and protection from the elements, I use this for early mornings trail runs and after-work neighborhood runs. A bit pricey at $159 from Gear.com, but this may be the only jacket you need for cold-weather running.

Mountain Hardwear Geist vest: Provides enough warmth to get you through pre-dawn chill, and is small and light enough to easily stuff into your hydration pack when the morning gets warm. Retails for $90 from Gear.com.

Drymax socks: I’ve gone on and on about these, so I won’t belabor the point here. They’re simply awesome. Try either the Lite Trail model or Regular Trail model for 9 bucks from Wilderness Running Company, and thank me later.

*Note: as with all WRC purchases, remember to use my coupon code R&R10 for an additional 10% off.


Gear:

Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp: bright LED in front for visibility, blinking red LED in back for road safety, lightweight construction for comfort, and a rechargeable battery to be eco-friendly. It’s the complete package, and it's discounted to $60 at Wilderness Running Company.

Black Diamond Icon headlamp: This is an ideal headlamp for running through the night, and with the rechargeable NRG battery pack (sold separately), it’s green as well. It's also discounted to $45 at Wilderness Running Company, which is an outstanding deal, or you can wait and try your luck with a giveaway at the end of the month.

Petzl Tikka XP2 headlamp: When I need something bright enough to run trails in the dark but small enough to fit in a waist pocket after sunrise, there’s no beating this lamp. New for this year, it’s compatible with a rechargeable battery pack, which I’m currently testing and will review in January. The headlamp is currently on sale for $44 from TravelCountry.com.

Nathan HPL 020: The ultimate victor in my extensive hydration pack reviews last year, this one has proven its worth over and over again. Amazon.com sells them for a crazy discount price of $56, and this should be any new ultrarunner’s first investment.

Ultimate Direction Uno: For any run between 1 and 2.5 hours, this is mandatory equipment. I love the upright bottle position and dual pockets that are actually big enough to keep stuff in. It's currently discounted to $23 from Wilderness Running Company.


Footwear:

Soft Star RunAmoc: My favorite everyday minimalist trainer, because it captures the essence of trail running better than anything else I’ve ever worn. $87 from Soft Star, or you can enter my giveaway drawing through December 16th.

VIVOBAREFOOT Evo: Who says minimalist shoes can’t be high-performance? For race days and epic adventures, these are my first choice. $160 from Amazon.com.

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila: Awesome ground feel and amazing comfort; for pure road running, minimalist footwear doesn’t get any better than this. They are so popular that Vibram has trouble keeping up with demand, but TravelCountry.com has a great supply of them at a retail price of $100.

New Balance MT101: If you’re not quite ready to go completely minimalist, this is the next best option: lightweight, low to the ground, comfortable and durable. This would also be an ideal off-road race shoe, and sells for $75 from Endless.com.

Sanuk Boardroom sandal: OK, it’s not a running shoe … but remember how I’ve mentioned a few times that the VIVOBAREFOOT Oak is one of my favorite work shoes? The Boardroom is the other. It’s lightweight, flat, flexible and super comfortable – and stylish enough that your boss won’t look at you funny. $85 from Amazon.com.


And now for our special surprise category …

Race nutrition: The clear favorite here is GU, which I started using as my sole fuel source in my ultras last spring. I used to have fairly frequent stomach distress during ultras, but this year it hasn’t been an issue at all. I will probably supplement this with real food during a 100-miler, but for 100K or less, all I need is a steady supply of GU – especially the Roctane formulations specifically designed for high-endurance activity – along with some fluids to keep rolling right along.


GU also shows its holiday spirit this time of year, with limited-release flavors that I described in this giveaway post from last year. They’re stepping up big for my website again this winter, and this is today’s secret giveaway prize: three winners will receive one box of each of GU’s holiday flavors, vanilla gingerbread (incredibly delicious, in my opinion) and mint chocolate. This will be a straight “one comment, one entry” system, so sign in below by 5PM PST on Friday, December 17th, and I’ll announce the winner later that night. Big thanks to GU for sponsoring this giveaway, and good luck to everyone!




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Salomon Trail III Tights Winner; Salomon Trail III Tights Discount Sale and Coupon Code

Quick post tonight to announce the Salomon Trail III tights and WRC gift card winner ...

Audrey: e-mail me - you've won the giveaway!

To everyone else: thanks very much for playing, and remember that these tights are still discounted to $64 at Wilderness Running Company, where you can save another 10% with coupon code R&R10, and you'll get free shipping since your order is over $50.

And of course, stay tuned for the next giveaway coming soon.



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December 12, 2010

VIVOBAREFOOT Functional/Waterproof Boots Review and Giveaway; VIVOBAREFOOT Boots Coupon Code

When it comes to footwear, two concepts you don’t typically associate with each other are barefoot and boots.

Minimalist shoe aficionados generally seek the lightest, lowest profile footwear that’s necessary to protect their feet while still allowing good ground feel and natural foot function. And boot wearers tend to like ‘em big, either with tall sexy heels for women, hard-stomping heels and steel toes for cowboys and construction workers, or rugged sturdy midsoles for hikers of both genders. So the two user groups wouldn’t seem to have any common footwear interests at all.

Leave it to VIVOBAREFOOT to think outside the box and combine them – and the result is a much nicer product that you might initially think. On the scale of completely unexpected but pleasantly surprising collaborations, it ranks somewhere between Aerosmith singing with Run-DMC (unimaginably cool) and Eminem singing with Elton John (pretty darn cool, but seemed a little bit forced).

(And on a completely unrelated tangent … have you noticed that I haven’t embedded any songs here for a while? I’ll take care of that today, with a holiday-themed "unlikely combination" song after the post.)


VIVOBAREFOOT Aqueous (L) and Franklin (R)

The result of this mad experimentation is four models that VIVOBAREFOOT classifies as functional/waterproof: the Franklin and Aqueous for men, and the Brooklyn and Belle for women. I’ve been wearing the men’s models for about six weeks now, and found that they provide a nice option within this untapped niche for minimalist footwear users. And at the end of this post, one reader will have a chance to win his or her choice of these models, just in time for winter.


Comfort collars and neoprene/microfiber interior linings

The Aqueous is basically a high-top version of VIVOBAREFOOT’s best-selling Aqua model. Like other VIVOBAREFOOT models, it’s made with eco-friendly construction and stylish design for everyday use. The upper is made from abrasion-resistant polyurethane and nylon, and the interior lining is a material called Airprene (breatheable neoprene) for water resistance in rainy or muddy conditions.

The Franklin is a hiking boot with extra side padding for improved comfort on day-long treks. The upper is a combination of nubuck, nylon and abrasion-resistant vegetable-tanned leather, with a microfiber and nylon mesh lining. It has a neoprene lining like the Aqueous for similar water resistance.

Latex rubber and recycled woodchip outsoles


Both of the men’s boots have a 5mm outsole that’s both functional and eco-friendly: a TPU abrasion-resistant sole made partially with latex rubber and recycled woodchips. It’s similar in structure to the outsoles for the Oak, with slightly better grip on slick surfaces. It’s certainly not as grippy as the super-knobby outsoles on traditional hiking boots, but does reasonably well in most off-road situations.

Each of these models has a thin memory foam insole that can be removed for better ground feel or decreased weight. As you’d imagine with more substantial shoes, these boots are heavier than most VIVOBAREFOOT styles, with the Franklin weighing in at 11oz, and the Aqueous at 13oz.


Great flexibility! The Franklin, all curled up

Despite their larger dimensions, both of these models are still very flexible and allow natural foot movement. Dedicated minimalist users may experience the strange sensation I felt with having a high-top collar against my ankles; I compensated for this by leaving the collar area excessively loose to ensure that I had unimpeded ankle range of motion while walking.

On the ladies’ side, VIVOBAREFOOT offers the Belle, a short waterproof nubuck boot with an adjustable elastic strap, and the Brooklyn, a waterproof knee-high leather boot made with faux-shearling lining for increased warmth during cold winter outings. They have the same 5mm outsole construction and removable insole features as the men’s styles. Weight for these is 10oz for the Belle, and 16oz for the Brooklyn.

A couple of important notes should be considered if you’re thinking about purchasing any of these boots:

1) Some of these styles have some size variance, so be sure to check the webpage of the specific items for sizing guidelines, or call VIVOBAREFOOT for further clarification.

2) The remaining online stock of the Franklin has a minor design flaw in the tongue area – that I honestly didn’t notice even though it was pointed out to me - so it is only sold through telephone orders and comes with a 30% discount. You can still use my coupon code (a very generous one, see below) associated with this post on top of that 30% discount as well.

So let’s get to the good stuff: between now and December 20, you can purchase any of the models described above at a 30% discount by using coupon code RRWATER at checkout. The banner ad at the top of this page will be in place all week long to remind you. And on Wednesday night of this week, I’ll pick one winner to receive a free pair of one of these models.

We’ll do the regular link method with this one: one entry for a comment, one for a Facebook/Twitter link, and one for a blog link to this contest page. And to throw in a little bit of fun, I'll give you one additional entry if you name any other unexpectedly pleasant musical collaboration (there's one rap/metal classic from the 1990s that I'll be totally disappointed if nobody remembers) that hasn't been mentioned yet. Let me know in the comments section how many entries you deserve, and submit your entry by 5PM PST on Wednesday December 15 so I can announce the winner later that night. Good luck to everybody!



**

As for the musical selection: it’s a decent piece of holiday music on its own, but the remarkable thing about it is the players involved. In the late 1970s, David Bowie was nearly at the height of his androgynous Ziggy Stardust glam-rock reign, and Bing Crosby was the embodiment of traditional, conservative America. Fortunately, they had enough musical respect for each other to recognize that their differences were the small stuff, and the message of the season was far more meaningful.

And yes, you have to sit through a couple minutes of scripted banter before you get to the good part, but the song that follows has become a holiday classic in its own right.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby, "The Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth" (click to play):





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