One of the first e-mails I sent after signing up for Leadville was to Soft Star. I had a favor to ask … and I thought I knew what the answer would be, but for reasons I’ll explain shortly, I wasn’t 100% certain.
Last year, I hemmed and hawed and postponed making a decision about what footwear to use for my 100-mile trail run until virtually the last possible moment. This year, it’s one of the easiest decisions I’ve made; I want to run Leadville in Soft Star RunAmocs.
It’s only fitting to do the Race Across the Sky in a pair of minimalist shoes; after all, in many ways Leadville can be considered Ground Zero for the whole minimalist revolution. As chronicled in Born to Run, the Tarahumara dominated the race in the early 1990s wearing nothing more than old-school huarache sandals. An executive named Tony Post was at the 1994 race representing Rockport shoes, attempting an ill-fated sponsorship deal with the Tarahumara. That project fell through, but Post’s experience would ultimately lead to his joining a little company called Vibram, and eventually becoming its United States CEO.
|Barefoot Ted at Leadville 2010; photo from Ted's website|
Fast forward to the modern era, where Barefoot Ted McDonald – who figured prominently in the Born to Run story – debuted Vibram’s FiveFingers KSO Trek at the Leadville 100 in 2009. The following year he ran large portions of the course completely barefoot, and when he used footwear, it was his homemade Luna sandals. (He now markets Luna sandals to the public, and I have a pair I’m testing for review this spring.) One of his pacers was none other than Born to Run author Christopher McDougall, who wore his own pair of Lunas for his entire 4-hour night shift on the trails. Last summer Barefoot Ted and his pacers all completed the race again in Lunas.
Leadville is also the favorite proving ground of one Anton Krupicka, an ultrarunner of distinction who is known for his blazing speed and his minimalist lifestyle. He also has a longstanding habit of carving and slicing his running shoes until the platform is flattened and every ounce of unnecessary material is eliminated. Krupicka (as well as a roster of ultra studs) recently joined forces with New Balance, resulting in the most impressive lineup of reduced and minimalist high-performance trail shoes on the market today. (Before you ask: yes, I have the Minimus Trail Zero, and a review is coming soon.)
|Leadville champion Anton Krupicka: minimalist style, maximal performance; photo from Leadville race website|
The point of all this is to say that unlike some other ultras, showing up at Leadville in minimalist footwear isn’t going to strike anyone as particularly unusual. But it’s one thing for Anton Krupicka, Barefoot Ted, and the legendary Tarahumara to demonstrate that less is more … and completely another for some idiot from California to try doing the same. I have a few 100-milers under my belt, but I’m by no means an expert at this distance. I don’t have any experience at high altitude, and my prospects of getting any before race day are exceedingly slim. In other words, there’s a very real possibility that the whole thing could end badly.
That’s why I decided to e-mail Soft Star and run the sponsorship idea by them again. I figured that if I somehow ended up battered, broken, and passed out on a mountain trail somewhere, it wouldn’t exactly be a soaring endorsement of the company whose gear and logo I was wearing at the time of my demise.
But as I said at the top, I had a feeling about what their answer would be. Part of the Chief Elf’s reply to me went something like this: Leadville?!! That is a really exciting goal – it sounds just … well … COOL. And CRAZY. And if you want to run in RunAmocs, we would be honored to sponsor you.
|Tahoe Rim Trail, summer 2011|
So with that, Team Soft Star rides again in 2012! And if I manage to make it to the finish line in Leadville this August, it will be a privilege to add one more footnote to the ongoing saga of minimalist runners at one of the most challenging courses in the world. Between now and then, I’ve got a lot of training miles ahead of me – so if you happen to encounter a crazy-looking dude running down some remote trail in moccasins and a Soft Star shirt this spring or summer, feel free to say hi.
One more note on Soft Star: effective tonight, they have a brand new website for your shopping enjoyment. It has a cleaner, more modern look to it, and is supposed to be faster to navigate. There are also some cool features like shoe comparisons (especially with their collection of RunAmocs), an easier Design Your Own interface (many Soft Star customers get pretty creative with colors), and lots of product details for every model.
The only bad news was that I had to re-do all of my links to their product pages – so please make it worth my while by heading over to the new Soft Star website to take a look around.
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