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January 30, 2012

Sanuk Donny Primo Shoe Review

"Being down in the open air -
Living life like we just don't care -
Just doing what we want to do -
Not doing what we're supposed to do -
It's gonna be a lovely day ... "

- Donavon Frankenreiter, "Lovely Day" (video after post)

Many parenting couples have a dynamic that goes something like this: one parent is the responsible one, who keeps things in line and sees that things get done when they’re supposed to. The other is more of a free spirit, equal parts playful and forgetful, who tries to keep day to day life from being mundane or predictable.

(Before you ask … yes, my own relationship is like this, and the intro quote should be all the evidence you need to guess which role I play.)

In an ideal world, the children of these couples acquire a nice combination of their parents’ personalities; they know how to mind their manners when it’s expected, but they’re able to cut loose and have a good time when the occasion presents itself.

Sanuk Donny Primo

What does any of this have to do with shoes? Think of Sanuk’s Donny Primo as the offspring of exactly the same parenting arrangement. The responsible one is Sanuk’s Boardroom, a super comfy and lightweight leather “sidewalk surfer” (to use Sanuk’s term) with a leather upper that’s stylish enough to pass muster in all but the most formal office settings. The free spirit is Sanuk’s flagship Donny, made for surfer / chill musician Donavon Frankenreiter, which has a laid-back beach vibe from top to bottom. Mama brings home the paycheck, and daddy blows it building a half-pipe in the backyard – or something like that.

Donny Primo on left, original Donny on right

Hybrid construction is most apparent in the Donny Primo uppers, which are made from stylish suede, but retain a bit of the artistic surfer flair. There’s a thin canvas lining that makes the uppers fairly comfortable against bare skin, and also adds a bit of insulation. Temperature regulation for the Donny Primo falls in the middle of the parental spectrum, as the suede uppers are less breathable and more insulating than the thin canvas Donnys, but more breathable and less insulating than the leather Boardroom.

Like all Sanuk sidewalk surfers, the midsole of the Donny Primo is a soft EVA with a standing height of approximately 15mm in the heel and 10mm in the forefoot. The bottom of your foot feels like it’s wearing a flip-flop, while the top of it is ready to go to a nice restaurant.

Elastic stretch panels on either side of the vamp (panel on top of the foot) make getting the Donny Primo on and off nearly as easy as slipping into a pair of thong sandals as well.

The midsole height is higher and has more heel-to-toe drop than I typically like in everyday shoes, but I’ve found that there’s significant settling of the midsole material after extended use, so that after a couple of months the functional position of your foot is much flatter and closer to the ground than when you first try them on.

Considering how much hype the natural footwear movement has generated over the past year, I’m actually kind of disappointed that Sanuk hasn’t become a bigger player in this category. The Donny Primo is completely flexible, very lightweight at just under 7oz, and wide enough through the forefoot to allow your toes to spread out and function almost as if they were shoeless.

Really, the only drawback I have about the Donny Primo is outsole traction, although you can’t really blame it, since neither of its parents have outstanding traction either. The Happy U grid is fine for dry conditions, but if it’s wet outside or if you’re on any sort of loose dirt or gravel, the traction can certainly be a bit lacking. I’d love to see Sanuk experiment with a slightly more grooved outsole or a grippier rubber compound, which shouldn’t detract too much from the beach sandal ground feel.

Overall, the Donny Primo is a shoe that should make its Mom and Dad proud: it maintains the mellow and fun feel of the Donny, with the class and dressiness of the Boardroom. It’s not currently available on the Sanuk website, but it retails for $60 from Amazon.com.

Finally, a song by the shoe's namesake certainly seems in order ... but if you're stuck someplace that gets real winter weather, my apologies for this song; it's one of those that makes me want to do nothing more than head to the beach and watch the waves roll in. If you don't happen to live in California or someplace similar, this might make summer seem very far away.

Donavon Frankenreiter, "Lovely Day" (click to play):

*Product provided by Sanuk
**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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January 28, 2012

Granola Bar Giveaway Winners; SKORA Pre-Ordering Now Available; Random Shots of Beauty

Before we get rolling this weekend, thanks very much to everyone who sent well-wishes for my 2012 Leadville adventure. I’m really looking forward to sharing the journey with anyone who wants to follow along, and there will probably be more than a few times along the way where I’ll rely on the support of others to get me there. So thanks for getting things off to a promising start. Now all I have to do is get ready to run 100 miles across the sky.

Getting to the orders of business: first, apologies to anyone who tried to shop at the Patagonia fall clothing sale recently; shortly after that post went live, I was notified that the online shopping cart wasn’t working properly – which makes it hard to, you know, buy stuff online. Apparently the problem is resolved now, and when I checked this evening the cart seemed to be working fine. So you’ve still got through January 30 to take advantage of the deals, and the supply is still pretty good for most items left, since nobody else could buy stuff there last week either. Click here or use the banner link below to go to the sale:

I’ve been fortunate to exchange several e-mails with David Sypniewski, CEO and founder of SKORA shoes, who has provided me a couple of pairs for testing and review. These shoes have been discussed, described, and anticipated for nearly three years, and they’re finally ready to debut on the market – but if you can’t wait long enough for some reviews to be published, they are now available for pre-ordering from the SKORA website.

SKORA BASE, available February 2012

The estimated release date is mid to late February, and they’re available in men’s sizes 8-12. Shipping is free to the lower 48 states, which is a good thing when the price tag of one of your models approaches 200 bucks (the one pictured above retails for $125).  Will SKORA justify the cost and the anticipation?   My verdict is still out, but if you want to decide for yourself, go check out the website to pre-order your own.

Now for the winners of this week’s granola bar bonanza, who need to e-mail me their shipping addresses so I can pass them along to the company reps. The winner of the CLIF CRUNCH bars is Becca, and the winners of the NOW bars are Benjammin’ and Jim Hansen. Congrats to you, and thanks again to CLIF Bar and NOW Bar for sponsoring the giveaway. Let’s all meet back here on National Granola Bar Day 2013 and do it again, shall we?

Finally, this weekend’s Random Shot of Beauty comes from a long overdue morning with my 13-year-old, whose regularly scheduled father/son bike ride has been bumped by poor weather and his dad’s crazy work schedule for the past few weeks. All the pieces fell into place today, so we took advantage of the occasion to test ourselves on one of the toughest climbs in Monterey County – and eventually we made it:

A boy and his bike, as seen from the top of Ollason Peak in Toro Park, with the Monterey Peninsula stretching into the bay far off in the distance (click photo to enlarge). Happy father not pictured … but he certainly doesn’t need to be.

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January 25, 2012

Patagonia Fall Inventory Sale; A Little Bit of Panic

Before we get to today’s post, a quick announcement to help you grab some cool-weather apparel: from now through January 30, Patagonia is discounting its fall inventory to 30% off. They currently have plenty of options available – I picked up a nifty flannel shirt – and the timing is perfect to get some cozy goodies while it’s still chilly enough to put them to good use. So get going to the sale, then come back for my own little story that's been giving me chills.

“How can you say you don’t want to know –
Don’t want to know the truth?”

- Sublime with Rome, “Panic” (video after post)

I don’t do this very often … but I’m actually going to make this post a lot shorter than I originally intended. (Usually, of course, it goes the other way.) Make no mistake, the subject is something of significance to me – but I’m just not sure I’m completely ready to talk about all the ramifications yet.

Have you ever been so excited about something that you’re hesitant to actually tell anybody about it, because doing so will trigger a whole lot of questions and discussions which make the whole thing that much more tangible, and you’re not quite sure you’re able to deal with those issues yet? If you’re a parent, think of that wonderfully head-spinning period in between the moment you found out you were expecting and the time when you finally announced the news to family and friends. It’s the time when you know the truth, but on some levels you don’t quite want to.

So I guess the best way to do this is to get straight to the point: a couple of weeks ago, I entered the Leadville Trail 100.
An old-school logo (courtesy of Wikipedia), but one of my favorites

And if you listen closely, that faint sound you hear through your computer screen would be me hyperventilating

The Race Across The Sky. The highest hundred in America.   The 100-miler that’s second in age and prestige only to Western States – and many would argue that the prestige ranking should be reversed. In other words, it’s kind of a big deal.

Hope Pass above 12,000'; photo from race website

And, um … I think that’s all I’m able to say right now. Obviously there will be a lot of discussion about Leadville around these parts – and seeing as how I’ve already made the comparison to childbirth, the analogies are likely to get even crazier from there - but honestly, my head is still kind of spinning at the prospect of what I’ll be attempting this August. I know the truth, but I’m not sure I quite want to address all of the considerations yet.

Those discussions will play out in the weeks and months to come; in the meantime, it’s time for me to do a whole lot of training. And probably a little bit of panicking as well.

Sublime with Rome, “Panic” (click to play):

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January 23, 2012

Granola Bar Bonanza! CLIF CRUNCH Bar, NOW Bar Review and Giveaway

In observance of the already-past and definitely overlooked occasion of National Granola Bar Day, today’s post is a celebration of granola bars. It also happens to be a celebration of two great companies who have each stepped up with cool giveaway offers for a few of my readers.

The first company is no stranger to this website: I’m talking about CLIF Bar, whose products are longtime family favorites and whose business principles I admire tremendously. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a partnership with them for a few years now, and every time I think they’ve run out of ways to impress me, they step up and toss another dose of healthy mojo my way.

This time, in honor of National Granola Bar Day, they’re providing four boxes of CLIF CRUNCH, the company’s crunchy granola bars that contain a full serving of organic whole grains in each bar. Their ingredient composition is 70% organic, and each bar contains 3 or 4 grams of protein depending on the flavor.

Last fall CLIF introduced two new flavors, blueberry crisp and chocolate peanut butter, making a total of six different varieties. My favorite is white chocolate macadamia, but one reader will get to sample four CRUNCH flavors and decide for him- or herself, because that’s the prize: four 10-bar boxes (there are 2 thin bars per pack) of CLIF CRUNCH, all for the cost of one lucky comment. I’ll pick the winner at random and announce the result this weekend.

Today’s second company is a newcomer to my blog, and a relative newcomer to the sports nutrition game – and they’re the brainchild of a somewhat unexpected founder.

If you watch The Amazing Race, you’re familiar with host Phil Keoghan, who is a globetrotter and adventure athlete in his own right. In addition to The Amazing Race, Keoghan hosts a show in his home country of New Zealand called No Opportunity Wasted, which gives contestants 72 hours and $3000 to fulfill a long-held dream. (Apparently one of Keoghan's own dreams is to take Oprah skydiving, but that's neither here nor there.)

NOW Bars borrow the acronym from Keoghan’s show, and they reflect his desire to have a great-tasting energy bar to sustain him for long days of filming, travel, or endurance exploits such as his bike ride across America in 2009. They come in two flavors, and feature a secret ingredient of sorts: manuka honey, a naturally occurring product of New Zealand honeybees that provides unique flavor and potent nutritional benefits, and is even thought to have some medicinal properties.

Manuka honey has increased anti-inflammatory properties and higher antibacterial potency compared to regular honey, and has even been shown to accelerate wound healing. It’s as effective as glucose for replacement of carbohydrates during endurance exercise, and can also accelerate post-workout recovery. From a taste and texture standpoint, it makes NOW bars sweet, moist and chewy, and makes them more resistant to temperature extremes (i.e., they don’t freeze or melt very easily).

NOW Bars come in two flavors: Peanut with Caramel, and Honeycomb with Chia and Raisins. I’m not a huge caramel fan, but I really love the honeycomb flavor, both because of its taste, and because it includes chia seeds, which are a nutritional powerhouse all their own. The bars are pretty good-sized – each one is 2.5-oz, compared to the 1.5-oz CLIF CRUNCH – with 11oz of protein to help keep your hunger at bay for a while. Both flavors have all-natural ingredients and are completely gluten-free.

NOW Bars are available for purchase from Amazon.com as well as other online vendors, but in conjunction with today’s review (and National Granola Bar Day!), the company will provide 2 winners with a 12-count box of each flavor. We’ll go with the same rules for this one as for the CLIF giveaway.

So in case you’re losing track, allow me to recap: I’ll randomly select a total of three winners from the comment box below. One winner will receive four 10-bar boxes of CLIF CRUNCH, and the other two will receive a box of each flavor of NOW Bars. Winners will be announced this Saturday night. Thanks very much to CLIF and NOW for sponsoring this contest, and good luck to everybody!

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January 21, 2012

National Granola Bar Day; Help Will Harlan Support the Tarahumara; Random Shots of Beauty

It’s one of those wonderfully lazy days around Running and Rambling headquarters, so I’ll keep the posting brief in order to get back to doing nothing – because those opportunities seem fewer and farther inbetween all the time. So here we go …

First, the winner of Ashish Mukharji’s barefoot running book: Jen Small, e-mail me your address – you’ve won! Thanks very much to all the ladies who entered, and remember that the book is currently available - to both men and women! – for $14 at Amazon.com.

Were you aware that today is National Granola Bar Day? It’s true. Honestly, I wasn’t aware of it until just recently, but I’m hosting a belated celebration next week with not one, but two granola-bar related contests. And yes, the page I just linked to will be involved.

In case you’re wondering why I’m in such a lazy mood, allow me to present this weekend’s Random Shot of Beauty:

The view across Carmel Valley from my deck after a morning rainfall, a harbinger of the first winter storms of the season in our area, bringing some long overdue precipitation to Monterey County. Sure, running in the rain is fun, but sleeping in and spending the day watching storms outside your window while doing puzzles, reading books, and taking catnaps is equally enticing. In fact, it’s probably the thing I like the best (from an admittedly short list) about winter.

Finally, there’s this: Probably the coolest item I came across this week was a video from Chris McDougall’s website featuring Will Harlan and his experience with the Tarahumara, the indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyons made famous by McDougall’s landmark Born to Run.

Upon watching the piece, I had had two immediate thoughts; 1) Will looks kind of odd when he runs, but 2) He is doing something absolutely inspiring.

Will clearly has a strong connection to the Tarahumara, and he has made it something of a mission to help support their way of life. In addition to being an immensely talented runner, he and his wife are certified organic farmers, and operate a nonprofit farm that provides fresh organic produce to low-income families in need. The farm also assists migrant workers in their home state of North Carolina as well as more remote areas like the Copper Canyons.

Barefoot Farm (great name, right?) is Will’s 501c3 which directly assists Tarahumara farmers by providing them with native maize seeds, basic tools, and assistance with water resources and land protection. He has spent many years with the Tarahumara, building relationships, learning their methods of farming, and assisting them with the necessities to continue their traditional subsistence.

Will is currently in Mexico dealing with what’s reportedly a significant drought situation, which is what triggered McDougall’s blog post. So watch the following video for your own dose of inspiration, then check out this link to assist Will in his remarkable humanitarian efforts.

"Copper Canyons Ultramarathon" from Being The Diablo (click to play):

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January 19, 2012

The Splitting Tree

With all the recent giveaways around here lately, it’s beginning to seem a little bit like Christmas in January. (And on that note, you ladies have one more day to enter my Run Barefoot, Run Healthy book contest.) The contest train keeps rolling next week – but in the meantime, I’ve been delinquent in writing about any actual running to go with all my rambling. The good news is that I finally have some semblance of a race calendar sketched out. It’s not super dense, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up in quality. The bad news is that I’m going to hold off just a bit longer before going into the details.

In the meantime, I want to tell you about a tree. It’s a tree that I run past fairly often in one of my favorite parks, whose appearance is very distinctive for reasons that will become obvious shortly. Whenever I run past the tree, I feel like there’s a story waiting to be told … but I’m not sure what exactly that story might be. Perhaps it might be symbolic of something, or portray some larger meaning that’s applicable to our own lives; perhaps instead of a story, it could more rightly be called a parable.

Since I never know for certain, I tend to make up the parable in my head after I pass by the tree – and the version that follows is a decent representation of what I usually come up with. Let’s call it the Tale of the Splitting Tree.

In the middle of a sunny valley there stood an oak tree. It was tall, strong, and majestic, and captured the attention of all who wandered past. The tree was so beautiful that it was a source of great pride among everything in nature that contributed to its development.

Two elements of nature, the earth and the sky, each wanted to claim the tree as its own, and often argued as to why they should be the rightful recipient of praise for the majestic oak.

“I protected this tree before it was even born,” said Earth. “I nurtured it in fertile ground, provided rich soil for its growth, and left plenty of space for its roots to anchor themselves. If not for me, this tree wouldn’t be nearly as tall, strong, or majestic as it is today.”

“I sustain this tree every day of its life,” replied Sky. “I give it fresh air to breathe, water to quench its thirst, and sunlight to remain healthy. If not for me, this tree wouldn’t be nearly as tall, strong, or majestic as it is today.”

Earth and Sky happened to be siblings, so one day when their argument turned nasty, they called upon their Mother Nature to determine who was more responsible for the tree’s beauty.

“True beauty isn’t to be possessed,” Mother Nature responded, “It is to be shared. You have each contributed to the majesty of the tree, so you should share your joy and pride with each other, along with all the other elements in nature.”

The siblings were dissatisfied with their mother’s answer, and insisted that she declare one of them more deserving of praise. “Your request is impossible,” said Mother Nature. “You have each played equal roles in the tree’s development, and with this knowledge you should be content.”

But Earth and Sky were far from content, and refused to accept the notion of sharing the tree equally. They continued to bicker and argue, and finally wore down their mother’s patience. Saddened that her children failed to see the error of their ways, Mother Nature lashed out in anger to demonstrate the folly of their greed and possessiveness:

Earth and Sky were shocked and saddened, but finally understood. From that point on, they recognized that beauty can't be possessed, and agreed to share their joy and pride for all of nature’s creations.

As for the tree, it remained beautiful - in some ways, even more so than before.

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January 17, 2012

Run Barefoot, Run Healthy: Book Review and Giveaway

One indicator that the barefoot revolution has attained some significant critical mass over the past few years is that minor factions are beginning to develop. Like any grassroots movement, as this one grows and expands, there are bound to be some differences of opinion on the nuances and complexities of a full-fledged paradigm shift. (And if you don’t believe me, look at the Occupy movement, whose most outspoken proponents can’t seem to agree on much of anything.)

Today’s review and giveaway touches on a few of those issues; more specifically, I’ll point out some examples of areas where I have a difference of opinion with author Ashish Murharji. That’s not to say his book isn't worth reading – only that you should read it for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

The book in question is Run Barefoot Run Healthy: Less Pain More Gain For Runners Over 30, and it’s essentially a question-and-answer compilation on a variety of topics related to barefoot running. Murharji – who also goes by the moniker “Unshod Ashish” – is a longtime runner who dealt with chronic injuries over a twenty-year period before finally kicking off his shoes in frustration and realizing that virtually all of the problems he had ultimately disappeared. His experience is representative of a great many runners who have found that the first step toward wellness was to ditch their traditional footwear.

Ashish now runs up to 70 barefoot miles per week, and runs marathons on a regular basis without any of the injuries that used to hamper him. His book discusses the biomechanics that explain such a transformation, and it also draws heavily upon anecdotal reports from several other barefoot runners who have found success without shoes. The book references dozens of research papers, but also makes some assertions that are based as much on anecdotes as they are on scientific analysis. For example, he points out that elite runner Haile Gebrselassie grew up running barefoot, and implies that he only wears shoes today because he’s paid endorsement money to do so, and that his shoes were the cause of injuries Geb faced later in his career.

Another point of contention I have is Ashish’s position on minimalist footwear. In response to a question about Vibrams, he notes that his cousin and next door neighbor both suffered stress fractures in them, then cites an article which points out that shoes interfere with sensory feedback of the feet. He remains fairly absolute in his assertion that barefoot is always the best option for running, which for my own purposes I’ve found completely untrue. I’ll happily trade a little bit of sensory feedback for protection from the discomfort of gravel, burrs, dried oak leaves, thorny grass, lava rock, or countless other potential hazards I find on the trail, especially since the biomechanic advantages of minimal footwear are the same as going barefoot.

One more issue is that Ashish tends to play up the inevitability and severity of running-related injuries in shod runners while minimizing the very real and often extensive problems that new barefoot runners can encounter. At one point he even states that blistered toes don’t happen to barefoot runners, but later clarifies that to say blisters can happen if you’re practicing bad form. From my own experiences, both anecdotally and as a physical therapist, I’d reply that novice barefoot runners are equally likely to get injured as novice shod runners, and that people can enjoy many long and fruitful years of running in either traditional or minimalist footwear.

As you might have guessed, my overall impression of Ashish’s book is that it tends to be a little overzealous in its defense of purely barefoot running above all else, but that’s the nice thing about where the barefoot movement is today: we don’t all have to agree on everything to learn and benefit from each other’s point of view. There’s a lot of good instructive material in Run Barefoot, Run Healthy, and it would be especially helpful if you happen to be bothered by chronic injuries from regular shoes and are just starting to consider going barefoot.

Run Barefoot, Run Healthy is available for purchase from Amazon.com, but Ashish has agreed to provide one signed copy to a reader selected randomly from the comments below.  However, I’m adding one new wrinkle to the ground rules on this contest for a couple of reasons …

1) There’s a perception in the barefoot community that females are significantly underrepresented in comparison to men (I’m not sure whether this is actually true, but the notion is out there), and …

2) I had two contests last week that featured prizes only for men.

You can see where this is headed then: I’m making this giveaway contest open only to the ladies. Obviously, the more women we get onboard this movement, the better it will be for all of us. So if you have double X-chromosomes, leave a comment below to enter, and I’ll announce the winner this Saturday, January 21.

Thanks very much to Ashish Mukharji for providing this book for review, and good luck to everybody!

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January 14, 2012

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove Winner; RUEZ Underwear Winner; Random Shots of Beauty (and Mojo)

Before getting down to business this weekend, let me say this: my readers are awesome.

Not only did you provide an overwhelmingly favorable response to Merrell’s Road Glove review and giveaway contest, but when I enlisted your help to come up with an outlandish number of male euphemisms to help me prove a ridiculous point, you managed to surpass the number I threw out there (100) and completely crack me up in the process. The RUEZ contest had so much crazy momentum that the owner of the company actually logged in a couple of times to join the festivities.  Now that's a contest.

So hey, that was fun - we should do it again sometime. Maybe one of these days we can come up with a list of nicknames for women’s breasts. Until then, let’s get to the items at hand.

First we’ll announce the winner the aforementioned RUEZ contest. 51 Feet Under, e-mail me your contact info – you’ve won a pair of boxers and briefs from RUEZ. In case you’re curious, the winning comment (randomly selected, of course) from 51 Feet Under was “tallywacker”. Have I mentioned how amusing that contest was?

Now for the grand prize for the week: a pair of Merrell Barefoot Road Gloves. Jeff Gallup – you’re the winner! E-mail me your contact info so I can pass it on to the Merrell rep. For everyone else, you’ve got another chance to win a pair of Road Gloves here on the Maple Grove Barefoot Guy’s website – but you may have to write a poem or something, so, you know … good luck with that.  I'll also post an update and sale link on this website when the shoe is officially available to the public.

Obviously, I owe a huge thanks to the companies who sponsored these contests, and another big thanks to everyone who entered. This was one of those weeks that makes it fun to be a blogger. The festivities will continue next week with more giveaways, so stay tuned. Until then, a couple more items to keep you occupied on this long weekend …

… starting, of course, with our customary Random Shot of Beauty. Like our previous installment, this one comes from the Big Sur coastline:

A view looking north from a region called Garrapata, as seen during a family geocaching outing this morning on another delightfully warm January day in Monterey County.

Also, since I’m finally starting to get a handle on my running plans for the year (separate post coming soon), here’s a bonus item I stumbled across that got my adrenaline pumping for some outdoor adventures in the weeks and months to come: a trailer for the upcoming Sheffield Adventure Film Festival.

There’s obviously no chance that I’ll make it to Sheffield to see any of these films, and I don’t even do the vast majority of the activities depicted here, but just knowing there are people out there doing things like this helps me get my own mojo cranked up an extra notch or two – which will definitely come in handy as I get into training mode again.

“Sheffield Adventure Film Festival Trailer 2012” (click to play):

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January 11, 2012

RUEZ Performance Underwear Review and Giveaway (And a Fun Little Name Game)

A couple of administrative notes before today’s post …

Thanks for the great response to the Merrell Road Glove review and giveaway. You’ve still got a couple of days to enter, so if you haven’t done so already, go over there and throw your name in the hat.

While you’re there, scroll through a few of the comments; when I mentioned that you could leave any fool comment you like, quite a few people took me literally – which is awesome. A few of the comments made me laugh - which is always a good thing – and the notion of creative commenting gives me an idea for today’s post, which also happens to be another contest.

Today’s offering is another “males only” product, which makes two giveaways in a row where the women have been left out. Fear not, ladies – I’ll make it up to you. I have a review and giveaway for Merrell’s female-specific road shoe scheduled in the next month or so, and I’ll rig another contest next week so that only females are eligible. So there – are we still friends?

As I mentioned above, today’s contest is for the boys: in the literal sense, since it’s a product designed just for men, but also in the figurative sense, because, well … it’s made to protect your boys.

RUEZ underwear ... on a model that's NOT me.  I've mentioned it's my off-season, right?

Yes, that’s a euphemism for male private parts, and if you’re wondering where I got the idea, look no further than the e-mail I received from a marketer representing RUEZ performance underwear. These are actual excerpts from her description of the product:

The company’s founder created RUEZ to address one very specific problem: package chafing.

He’s designed RUEZ with two layers on the front panel. The one closest to the skin (which is made from a wicking compression material) holds the family jewels in place.

A strategically positioned hole separates and protects your joystick.

The founder is a serious innovator with a HUGE … sense of humor.

You get the idea. And all this is without even mentioning the name of the company, which could apparently be pronounced “Are you easy?” (although according to the website it isn’t) while addressing all the benefits in store for your package.

So clearly, the company and its founder, Chris Varney, have a clever sense of humor. It was enough for me to give RUEZ a test drive and see how they compared to other performance underwear I’ve used.

RUEZ briefs feel something like a thin swimsuit instead of cottony underwear, using a neoprene-like 85% polyester fabric instead of the more cottony material of other wicking underwear. It also has 15% elastic for some slight compression that does indeed keep things in place, and both the interior and outer surfaces are silky smooth, which, um … feels nice.

The main feature of RUEZ is the performance pouch, an extra layer of wicking fabric in front of the briefs, which could potentially be used as a storage area if there’s something you wanted to stash there. While stuffing the front of my shorts might me look a little more impressive from a distance, the notion of actually carrying anything down there that I’d be touching with my fingers later was a bit more than I cared to try.

Actual size of your banana may vary

The interior layer also has a notch cut out of it, in case you want to separate your banana from your berries. This might be beneficial in the summer when the weather gets warm, but for me, the main benefit of the pouch is that there’s an additional layer of insulation and protection from cold winter air. In the summertime, I’ll just use the regular lining of my running shorts, but for cold-weather situations RUEZ definitely provides improved insulation compared to other brands I own.

RUEZ come in boxer or brief versions, both of which feature the performance pouch. They’re available for purchase on the RUEZ website – the briefs retail for $28, and the boxers are $30.

Another dude who's not me ... and I suspect he might have a stuffed pouch.

Of course, we’re doing a giveaway contest here, so one person will receive a pair of boxers and another pair of briefs for himself when this review is all said and done. However, in keeping with the creativity of the previous comment thread and the humor of the RUEZ company, I’m adding a twist to this giveaway – and before I explain it, I have to describe a conversation that took place between my wife, son, and me about a year or two ago.

We were having one of those “coming of age” talks and discussing some of the language he was starting to hear at school when the topic turned to slang terms for the male sex organ. I started rattling a dozen or so off the top of my head - some of which my wife hadn’t heard before – and when I continued on, we had the following exchange:

Wife: How many slang terms do you think there are for that?

Me: At least a hundred. Probably more.

Wife: You’ve got to be kidding.

I wasn’t kidding – and here’s your chance to prove my case. To enter the contest for two free pairs of RUEZ underwear, leave a comment below this post with a slang term for that piece of anatomy. Consider it a game of Name That Junk. Here’s the catch: you can’t use a term that’s already been used by a previous commenter – or for that matter, in this post.  If your term is already on the list, you're disqualified.  So “package” is out, as are boys, family jewels, joystick, banana, berries, junk … and come to think of it, let's take “performance pouch” off the list as well.  Obviously the earlier your enter, the easier the task is, but I can't imagine there's going to be a shortage of options out there.

Here’s your chance to crack me up, fellas. Ladies, feel free to play along as well – maybe you can win your man a nice little reward. The winner will be announced this Saturday night. Thanks very much to RUEZ for sponsoring this contest, and good luck to all the boys out there!

*Product provided by RUEZ.
**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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January 9, 2012

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove Review and Giveaway

In last month’s Gear of the Year post I mentioned that 2011 might be considered the year that Merrell caused a seismic shift in the footwear landscape with its outstanding Barefoot series of shoes.

Here was a major industry player embracing the minimalist movement, taking the lead in instruction and promotion of natural running technique, and creating several different varieties of shoes to choose from – with each one maintaining the company’s high standards of workmanship and performance. Two of their shoes ended up on my Keeper List – the Trail Glove as an all-purpose trail runner, and the Tough Glove as an everyday office / casual shoe – and their Kids Glove was a narrow second place to the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo.  (All of the previous links are my product reviews.)  All things considered, it was a pretty good rookie season.

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove

Noticeably absent from that initial lineup, however, was a dedicated road running shoe – but Merrell has now filled that void with the Road Glove. It’s not officially available for purchase yet, but one lucky reader of mine will get an opportunity to try them on very soon; that’s right, we’re doing a giveaway! You know the drill here, though: review first, then contest details. So let’s get to it.

Here are your vital specs on the Road Glove: it’s a zero-drop shoe with a 4mm midsole and a standing height of 10mm. It's completely flexible and allows full range of motion throughout the foot and ankle. Its weight hasn’t officially been verified from Merrell, but my size 11 model weighs slightly under 8oz, so I’m guessing that the official spec will be around 7.5 oz. [*UPDATED: per the Merell rep, the weight is 6.6 oz.  Perhaps I need a new scale.]  That last number is probably my biggest drawback about the shoe, as I’ll explain later.

Breathable mesh upper; rubberized toe bumper

From a design and construction standpoint, the top half of the Road Glove looks remarkably like last year’s Trail Glove. The uppers primarily consist of breatheable mesh with some synthetic overlays to aid in with lateral stability. There’s a thin rubber bumper at the front for a bit more protection from stubbed toes.

Seamless interior footbed

Like other Merrell Barefoot shoes, the Road Glove is designed to be worn without socks. Both the sockliner and the interior surface of the upper feel smooth against the skin, and the seamless footbed effectively keeps the foot in place while providing soft comfort as well.

The heel area is also similar to the Trail Glove, with a synthetic foot sling for stability and a thin collar that sits comfortably against the skin. In my testing, there is very minor “gapping” on the inside surface of the ankle, which is only a drawback if you do a lot of trail running in these (as I do – see photo further down).

Fit through the upper feels slightly wider to me than the Trail Gloves, which I found quite narrow in the midfoot region. I haven’t had any issues putting these shoes on, even on the infrequent occasions when I wore them with socks. The lacing system is also somewhat different, with a more traditional setup than the Omni-fit system on the Trail Glove. This could be bad news if you like to really customize your lacing, but not a big deal if you’re mainly a “lace ‘em up and go” person.

There appears to be a bit of confusion about the midsole of the Road Glove – specifically, whether or not it has a rock plate. The “place holder” product page on the Merrell website indicates there’s a forefoot plate, but I’ve seen other reviewers say there’s no plate.  I’ll clarify this with the rep and report back here.  [*UPDATED:  there's no plate.]  Otherwise, the 10mm standing height of the Road Glove is approximately 2mm lower than the Trail Glove, and ground feel is noticeably better than the Trail Glove, thanks also to a more streamlined outsole.

About that outsole: it may be designed for road running, but it’s more than adequate to take on the majority of trails you encounter as well. In fact, probably 75% of my mileage in testing these shoes was done on gravel fire roads and groomed trails, and I had very few problems with gripping the ground. Needless to say, there’s absolutely no problem gaining adequate traction on roads or all-weather track surfaces. The rubber compound is Vibram’s TC-1, the same material that’s used on the Trail Glove, which has proven remarkably resistant to wear after high mileage (probably 300-400 miles total) on my pair.

On the trail in Toro Park

Honestly, the outsole traction seems almost like overkill - which leads to my primary issue with the Road Glove: mainly, it’s a bit too much shoe. If my recorded weight is correct, it’s actually heavier than the Trail Glove, when road shoes are generally lighter and leaner than their off-road siblings. It’s worth noting that despite their extensive outdoor footwear credentials, Merrell has limited experience with making a dedicated road shoe. Consequently – and this could be just wild conjecture by me – they’ve made their first road running shoe by starting with a trail shoe and stripping it down, rather than making a running shoe from the ground up. In my opinion, when they stripped stuff away, they didn’t go nearly far enough: the outsole could be carved out more, the uppers could be thinner or lighter, and some of the support elements could be reduced or eliminated.

There’s a relevant comparison to be made to New Balance, another established company who has embraced minimalism over the past couple of years. Before making minimalist footwear, New Balance had a wealth of experience with racing flats and track spikes, and presumably had a good understanding of what parts of a shoe were essential and what others could be removed. Accordingly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the New Balance Minimus Zero road shoes I’m currently testing are significantly lighter than Merrell’s Road Glove – but I’ll wait until that review goes live (probably in February) to give you details on that one.  [*UPDATED:  with the corrected weight, the discrepancy between New Balance and Merrell isn't exceedingly large.  New Balance is still lighter, though.]

So I’m not wild about the Road Glove as a dedicated road shoe; however, I think it’s an outstanding hybrid for runners who spend a lot of time on both paved and dirt surfaces.  If this review had posted before the end of last year, I would have included the Road Glove on my 2011 Keeper List as my favorite hybrid.  And if you don’t happen to be a shoe reviewer and have to actually pay money for your shoes, the Road Glove just might give you the most value for your buck when it comes to a “one style does all” training shoe. Wear them on the roads, take them on the trails, go off course to visit the cows … it doesn’t really matter what you do in these; the Road Gloves can probably take it.

Road Gloves and cows ... because why not?

Merrell’s Road Glove retails for $110, but is slightly discounted at Amazon.com. And now it’s time to get your lucky commenting hat on, because we’re doing a giveaway!

In conjunction with this review, Merrell has generously offered one pair of Road Gloves to a winner selected at random from the comments below. Keep in mind that this is a men’s model, so the ladies are entering for a boyfriend, spouse, or relative here – and if a girl wins this one, that dude had darn well better appreciate it.

Since this is a fairly substantial prize, my “major” contest rules are in effect: you’ll get one entry just for commenting and saying any fool thing you like. You’ll get an extra entry for linking to this post from your blog, and a third by linking from Facebook or Twitter. When you comment below, please let me know how many entries you’ve earned – up to three total – along with a link so I can verify if necessary. The winner will be announced this Saturday evening, January 14th.

Thanks very much to Merrell for sponsoring this giveaway, and good luck to everybody!

*Product provided by Merrell
**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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Check out the Running Life book for a collection of our most popular columns.


January 6, 2012

Patagonia Capilene and Merino Wool Discount Sale; Random Shots of Beauty

Remember how I said that every now and then I have a spontaneous confluence of blog topics that I didn’t exactly plan? Another one is happening this weekend, and it’s also an opportunity for you to get some great bargains from Patagonia.

In my Gear of the Year post I raved about Patagonia’s Capilene baselayers, and described how I made it the short of choice for my Team Soft Star uniform at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler last summer. I mentioned the material again in my Kourage shirt review, which was almost-but-not-quite as silky soft as the Capilene. To borrow a theme from my gear review, Kourage was a worthy challenger, but Patagonia is still the champion.

And now this weekend you can get any one of those champion garments at half-price: through January 9, all Capilene baselayers - bottoms or tops, short sleeves or long, in various thicknesses – are on sale for 50% off at the Patagonia website. The only exclusion is the new Spring 2012 performance line – but anything from the Fall 2011 line or earlier is fair game. Use some warmer layers right now for your winter sports, and grab a couple of t-shirts for the warm days of summer. (Or as the case has been around here lately, the warm days of January. Not that I’m complaining.)

Check out the Capilene sale with this link, and while you’re there, take a look at Patagonia’s merino wool baselayers, which are also 50% off this weekend. The sale is limited to stock on hand, so get going.

The first Random Shot of Beauty in 2012 actually dates back to 2011; not terribly far back, however, as it was taken just one week ago:

A beautiful, characteristically hazy vista of the Point Sur Lighthouse, as seen during a family hike high above Big Sur on New Year’s Eve 2011.

You can have Times Square; I’ll take this kind of celebration every time.

(*One last note: be sure to check back on Monday for a killer giveaway contest. Trust me.)

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January 4, 2012

VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail First Impressions Review

Earlier this week I expressed some indecision as to what shape my ultra calendar will take over the upcoming year. I’m happy to report that some pieces are slowly falling into place … but not really enough to mention yet. More to come soon, I hope.

In the meantime, I can confirm with 100% confidence that I have a handful of sweet shoe reviews coming up over the next several weeks, from some of the biggest players in the minimalist market: Vibram, New Balance, Merrell … and today’s offering from VIVOBAREFOOT.


With many of these models, I’m prohibited from saying (or showing) too much in advance of the official product release; other times I’m allowed to offer a few perfunctory thoughts before a full-fledged review is published closer to the release date. Such is the case with the VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail, which will be released in February. I agreed to post some first impressions here just as I did with the company’s Neo Trail shoe last fall, and then follow-up later on as I’ve logged more miles in them.

After 2 runs and 27 miles

I’ve had my Breathos for all of a week, and I’ve done two trail runs in them totaling 27 miles. Like pretty much every VIVOBAREFOOT shoe I’ve tested, there’s never any issue of a breaking in period; I can pretty much lace these up and go for as far as my legs will carry me without worrying about discomfort or hot spots at my feet.

The premise of Breatho Trail is essentially to combine the off-road innovations of the Neo Trail with more lightweight construction that would appeal to runners in warmer climates (in other words, runners like me). Accordingly, the outsole is identical on both shoes, featuring 4.5mm directional lugs on a 2.5mm-thick base layer, for a total standing height of 7mm …

… unless you include the removable insole, in which case you have an additional 3mm of thickness. Both of my initial runs included the insole, but I’ll definitely experiment with removing it soon.

Ventilation on the Breatho is much improved, with mesh uppers that are thinner and more open than the Neo Trail. How open, you ask?

So open that you can practically see through them. (And how about my artsy photo skills here, huh?)

One question mark I have is with the top of the midfoot, where a conventional tongue has been replaced with a moderately thick neoprene-like sleeve. VIVOBAREFOOT uses a similar style of upper construction on its dress shoes, and I like the convenience of being able to slip the shoes on without lacing. On the Breatho, I’m not so certain; even though you can tighten the laces down to secure the fit, on both of my runs I’ve felt that the midfoot area loosens up in later miles. I checked to see if the laces were untied, but they were still securely fastened – which leads me to think their “grip” on the neoprene upper is somewhat tenuous. This will obviously be an area of closer attention with increased mileage.

My biggest issue with the Neo Trail was its relatively heavyweight 10.5 oz spec; in my book, anything over 10 oz stretches the boundary of minimalism. The Breatho marks a modest improvement, weighing in at 9.3oz, minus another half-ounce or so if you remove the insole. However, this is honestly still a source of mild frustration for me with VIVOBAREFOOT.

Here’s what I mean: VIVOBAREFOOT’s first-ever running shoe, the Evo, weighs in at 8oz. It’s a high-performance shoe that I used extensively for road running as well as trail ultramarathons. Over the next two years, the company has released no fewer than three different running models (the Neo, Neo Trail, and Breatho*) which all weigh more than the original Evo. While most other minimalist companies are striving for lighter weight – for example, all of the brands I mentioned at the top of the page are releasing lighter versions of their previous models this spring – VIVOBAREFOOT can’t seem to dip under their very first offering, at least from a weight standpoint.

(*UPDATED : I forgot about the Ultra, which is super-lightweight but billed as more of an amphibious / cross training shoe than a running shoe. With the same outsole as the Evo, it could probably be used for running, although I haven't tested it.)

I get that the trail outsole on the Breatho and Neo Trail is bigger and therefore heavier than the Evo outsole. However, I wish the company could experiment with ways to carve more weight away from the upper, or with a lighter outsole material that offers the same performance features – especially because weight is one of my most important criteria when choosing shoes for long training days. Yes, this is asking a lot … but I’m a shoe critic, after all. It’s in my job description to nitpick.

Perhaps the coolest feature of the Breatho isn’t pictured here: the proposed price tag, which is currently set at $90. VIVOBAREFOOT has a reputation for high-end pricing, but the Breatho price point is right there with Vibram, New Balance, and Soft Star in terms of affordability, and a little bit lower than Merrell. I have a feeling the Breatho will be in the same category as the best offerings from those other brands as far as top trail running options in 2012, but that’s still to be determined throughout this winter and spring.

The VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail is scheduled for release in February, and you can get first dibs on them by signing up here on the company’s wait list. Those who register on the wait list will be the first ones notified when the shoes are in stock, and there’s even a chance that you’ll get your Breathos for free. That’s right … free.

Here’s how it works: everyone on the wait list who eventually orders a pair of Breatho Trails will receive a coupon code for free shipping. On top of that, once the global release is announced to the wait list group, the first 10 approved transactions will be reimbursed for the entire cost of their order. All of the details haven’t been worked out yet, but the company will likely have some sort of announcement of who the 10 lucky winners are so that people who purchased immediately aren’t kept in too much suspense. Keep an eye on their website for contest details, and on this one for a follow-up review of the Breathos in the next couple of months.

*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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January 3, 2012

Kourage Athletics Shirt Review

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires Kourage.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well, OK … that’s not precisely the way Emerson wrote it, but that’s the way the quote reads on the website of the company in question today.

The quote itself is pretty cool, though; it certainly sounds like something an ultrarunner can identify with. However, in this context we’re not talking about ultras or epic adventures – not directly, anyway – we’re talking about a brand of clothing.

Kourage Athletics is a Kenyan company that exists for two primary purposes: to make high-quality performance apparel, and more importantly, to reduce poverty through creating jobs in Kenya. According to the company website, the name reflects “A choice to be kind and compassionate and to do the best to make the world a better place. Kourage is making the daily attempt to become a better individual. There is no better agent for improving ourselves and the world than Kourage.” So now the intro quote makes perfect sense, right?  The final word is courage, but spelled with a capital K for Kenya. See? Clever.

Kourage factory; photo from Kourage Athletics website

As for the product itself: all Kourage apparel is designed and manufactured in Kenya by Kenyans, then exported and sold to developed countries, with revenues reinvested into the Kenyan economy. The production factory is in the Rift Valley, otherwise known as home to the highest concentration of elite distance runners the world has ever seen. It currently employs over 200 Kenyans where each employee works 45 hours per week at national wage standards in a comfortable work setting. For most workers, employment at Kourage makes the difference in their families’ ability to afford school, medical care, meals, and enjoy a meaningful quality of life. You get the idea: it’s a good company to support.

Their product inventory is quite limited, with only 6 shirts in either male or female cuts. They are built as performance shirts, reportedly tested by Kenyan runners at the top of 15,000’ Mt Kenya and in the scorching plains of the African desert. However, they are also extremely comfortable and somewhat stylish, and would be perfectly passable as casual wear as well.

I’ve worn mine in both casual and athletic capacities; when I first received mine (the Stripes model here), I wore it around the house and as an everyday shirt. I also happened to wear it to Disneyland on a day in October when the temperature topped 100 degrees, and the shirt remained very comfortable even while worn underneath a backpack for most of the day.

Lately I’ve used my Kourage shirt strictly for running, and it works as effectively as any other moisture-wicking garment I have. It dries quickly and feels silky soft against my ski - in fact, it feels nearly as comfortable as Patagonia’s Capilene material, which as you’ll recall just landed on my Gear of the Year list for 2011. It’s also a nice change of pace from my standard race-or-company-logo shirts; I like the colorful print, and the slight V-neck offers more cooling than a traditional crew collar on hot days. It has also held up well after multiple trips through the washer and dryer.

The company rep explained to me that with their initial offerings, the Kourage product line was kept intentionally small, so they could focus on quality manufacturing and performance. More products will be introduced as the company grows in years to come; in the meantime, their shirts are definitely one of the most comfortable and versatile garments I’ve tested in quite a while.

Kourage shirts retail for $39 from the company website, which offers free shipping to customers in the United States. If you can’t run like a Kenyan, perhaps dressing like one while supporting their culture would be the next best thing.

*Product provided by Kourage Athletics.
**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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January 2, 2012

Shaking the Devil; A Barefoot Resolution

“I like to keep my issues drawn -
But it's always darkest before the dawn -

Shake it out, shake it out - shake it out, shake it out, oh woah …
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back –
So shake him off, oh woah.”

-Florence + the Machine, “Shake It Out”, (video after post)


The first days of the calendar year are always somewhat anxious for me, in that it’s time to shake the devil off my back and get reacquainted with the routine of training on a regular basis.

I usually give myself permission to be a complete slacker during the month of December, so there’s very little guilt about sleeping in when it’s dark, drinking wine when I want to loosen up, or eating cookies when they magically appear around Christmastime. The whole process is so predictable, it’s become almost a holiday tradition for the family to guess the date when I’ll finally pop a button on my pants. (They don’t make Hallmark cards for that, I’ve noticed.)

New Year’s Eve tends to be a symbolic rock bottom, the darkest point before I start crawling toward the glimmer of good habits and self-discipline dawning on the horizon. Once January rolls around I can usually step up and start making some tangible progress toward whatever goal I’ve set for myself further down the calendar. But this year I seem to be struggling a bit more than usual, in that I have absolutely no idea what I want to do in 2012.

I don’t know if I want to chase far-off windmills or hunker down closer to home. I don’t know if I want to do something epic and inspiring or something more mundane and manageable. I don’t even know if I want to do formal races, or have more of a “choose your own adventure” year of visiting places and trails that I’ve been longing to explore. Especially considering that the Northern California ultra scene is currently wracked in so much unfortunate drama and shocking grief, it’s hard to elevate the importance of any particular race (or for that matter, running in general) in the grand scheme of things.

So … yeah. I’ll manage to shake something out, but it might take a little bit longer than usual; the devil on my back feels especially heavy this time around. In the meantime, I was asked to author a piece in a local magazine on the subject of New Year’s resolutions; instead of doing the regular “you should start running” spiel, I decided to put a spin on it that might grab the attention of anyone who has started and eventually given up a running program in New Years past. You probably know where this one is going – and the full article follows below.


“Resolve to Start Running – Barefoot!”

In the long, storied, frequently disappointing history of New Year’s resolutions, perhaps the most common one is this: I’m going to get in shape this year. I’m going to start running.

Certainly that’s a good idea … but what are you going to do differently this time to make sure you enjoy it more, avoid injuries, and stay consistent until January 2013 and beyond? If you want to make a major change in your previously unsuccessful or long-dormant running habit, here’s a radical notion to try: ditch your running shoes.

(You may recognize these photos - they're all recycled from past blog posts.  They were also used in the magazine article last week. ) 

Barefoot running isn’t exactly a novel idea, but it’s currently the most revolutionary (and often controversial) movement the running community has witnessed in quite a while. Runners with chronic injuries often find that going barefoot solves their problems, and veteran runners experience joy in their training that they haven’t felt since running across the playground as children.

More recently, the movement has gained increasing legitimacy. Barefoot running – as well as its close cousin, minimalist running – has progressed from a weird fringe element to popular fad to the subject of research studies. There’s mounting evidence that the natural running style associated with naked feet has multiple biomechanical and health-related benefits for all runners.

Here’s the premise: Over the past 30 years, modern running shoe technology hasn’t reduced the injury rate among runners at all. No matter how many cushioning, support, or stability features are crammed into your expensive high-performance training shoes, you’re no less likely to become injured – in fact, you’re probably even more so. By contrast, when you strip away the so-called protective and corrective features, your running form changes toward a style with less impact, and a lower incidence of most running-related injuries.

The primary downside of barefooting is that to get started, you must proceed extremely slowly. As in one minute at a time slowly. 20-minutes-per-mile pace slowly. So slow that it feels like you’re not actually running. Barefoot running is a skill developed over months and years, not days and weeks. If you’re not the patient type, you’d better make a resolution about that one as well.

Start anywhere you like – and believe it or not, asphalt is an ideal surface for your first baby steps. Remove your shoes and socks, and run for a minute or two, landing softly on the front of your feet before lightly touching your heel to the ground and then repeating with the opposite foot. Take very short steps, and don’t worry about how slow you’re going.

Build up the length of time gradually over a period of many weeks – and if you have any significant pain, stop your run and try it again another day. You’ll probably get some blisters or hot spots on the bottom of your feet; they’ll eventually become callouses that aren’t nearly so bothersome, and the underside of your foot will gradually grow firm yet supple, like the leather of a well-worn baseball mitt. Your feet, ankles, and calves will get very sore when you start; remember, those muscles are being stretched and used in ways they never were when confined to clunky cross-trainers.

Look online for barefoot running resources to help you get started, or check out two outstanding books: ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer, and Barefoot Running by Michael Sandler, who also operates the website RunBare.com. The support and instruction you will find from like-minded souls online will be helpful as you progress.

Of course, it’s January, so you can’t always run outside with nothing on your feet. That’s where minimalist shoes come in. These products allow your feet to move as they would without shoes, while providing a small amount of warmth and protection for external conditions.

Minimalist shoes are built as lightweight, flat, and low to the ground as possible, without any unnecessary cushioning or support. The most popular models are Vibram’s FiveFingers – those strange “toe shoes” you’re starting to see everywhere – but there are literally dozens of options on the market to choose from. The topic of minimalist footwear is an article all its own; for now, check out my Running and Rambling website for some ideas and other good resources.

Once you’ve built up to it properly, barefoot running is simply a lot of fun. You’ll feel like a kid, and exercise starts feeling like recess. If your goal is to maintain a running program throughout the year, the ability to enjoy yourself will be one of the greatest contributors to your success. Kick off your shoes, and go have some fun!

Florence + The Machine, "Shake It Out" (click to play):

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