Friday, September 30, 2011

Join the team for an exercise in pure hilarity!

I've got a marathon to think about in a week. 

I'm sending good vibes to my good friend running the Rock Creek Stump Jump tomorrow morning. 

If all goes well with his race and my marathon we'll be doing the Badapple ultra at the end of Oct.

I've got a solid 6 man team for another mudder in November.

Doesn't this look like fun? Care to join?

We want you on team Knuckledraggers! I would love to have a 40 person team. We are not looking to finish in record time, we're not even planning on moving particularly fast. It's just plain fun and we'd love to have you along.

Post here or find me somewhere for the registry info.

Run Smiley Virtual Map

Did you run smiley last weekend but don't see your town on the map? You don't have to write a report. Just leave a comment below and I'll add your location.

Another Year, Another Miracle At The Montreal Marathon

For two years now, the Montreal Marathon has been the setting for a little miracle.

It started out in 2009, when a group of runners inspired by the Students Run L.A. program launched a project in Montreal, Canada, to help at-risk youngsters get a new outlook on life by getting off their couches and taking on the challenge of running a full marathon.

They called the project Etudiants Dans La Course, or Students On The Run. They recruited 20 kids from various high schools and about 25 grown-ups from all walks of life to be their mentors. I joined the program about half-way through the year, after discovering its existence through an article in a local paper.

We trained 3 times a week in every conceivable weather, completed races starting from 5K up to half marathons and cultivated the dream. Then, on a crisp September morning, we all gathered on the starting line of the Montreal Marathon and the magic happened : every single kid gave their all and finished the course. And all of them changed forever.

It's an amazing thing to witness.

This year, I started the program from day 1. We had over 30 students at the beginning, many of them angry, confused and out of shape. The first training consisted of 10 minutes of a slow jog, and not everyone was able to run it continuously. There was a lot of huffing and puffing and not so much conversation. Many dubious looks.

Then, weeks passed. Some improvement occurred. We learned each other's names, played some fun games and started getting to know everyone a little bit better. Without even noticing, we went from a couple minutes to a couple kilometers of running, and some of the scoffing and rolling eyes was replaced with smiles and cheers.

It wasn't always easy. You need some serious motivation and dedication to follow through the program. As the year unfolded, we went from 32 kids to about 20. It's all right, the marathon isn't for everyone. The ones who remained formed an ever closer pack, bonding with their mentors and among themselves.

On September 25th, 20 students toed the line, jittery, excited. We'd shared the bus ride with superathlete Pierre Lavoie and were welcome to the course by none other than Canadian running legend Bruny Surin. We wore face paint and hair tattoos, pocketed lucky charms and shared mp3 playlists. We were ready.

The run was long and some stretches were hard, but about 6 hours later, we screamed our last student in; every single kid had made it across the finish line, becoming not only a marathon runner, but a positive, healthy young person ready for the challenges of life ahead of them. And that, my friends, is nothing short of a miracle.

Achaymaa, Jessica, Sarah, Karlenne, Melissandre, Soukaina, Hadi, Carl-Alexandre, Carlos, Nicolas, Keven, Ndembi, Mouamadou, Francois, Francis, Massimo, Akim, Pascal, Zaher, Juan Pablo, you are heroes to me. You hold a place in my heart forever.

Godspeed, my young friends.


A picture album of the event can be viewed here

2nd Annual NYC BFR - The Movie

Hi Smileys! I put together a video of the goings-on at the NYC BFR. Click the image below or here to get a glimpse. Some of you might even see yourselves. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My take on the NYBFR

I just put up my own style of "run report," if you will, on the New York City Barefoot Run, and I'd like to share it here:

I had a fantastic time meeting everyone, and I look forward to many more gatherings.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A NYC Barefoot Report

Since there is some talk of an "Official" Run Smiley Collective Group Report, and because we don't need 8 different individual reports of the weekend here, I'm just going to post a link to my write up of the weekend here.

In the mean time, I am loving all the reports from the Virtual Runs that our pouring in -- makes me feel part of something bigger, and I'm quite blown away!

Virtual (Spirit) Run 2011: Gold Coast, Australia

This weekend saw the launch of the first ever Naked Running Workshop. 
A group of 13 enthusiastic runners took part within the stunning surrounds of the Currumbin Valley Ecovillage (on the Gold Coast). 
Sorry, no nudity, only naked feet!
After spending time running, talking, running, eating then talking some more, the announcement was made to the group that we would be taking part in an Official Run Smiley event - a Virtual Run to be held in conjunction with the NYC Barefoot Run.

I found out this type of run is also called a 'Spirit Run'. After attaching the official event bibs, we were on our way, running 'in spirit' with our barefoot brothers and sisters in New York. Such a great concept, and one I have subscribed to for years but never had a name for it.

For many of the group this was a breakthrough barefoot running experience, making it all the more special. We were blessed with new, smooth roads and paths along with wide open grassy spaces to hang out with the resident kangaroos.

It was great to feel connected to the rest of the Run Smiley tribe, and also to those lucky enough to run in NYC. Would love to get over there next year and test out the Barefoot Ted rickshaw service!

A big thanks for organising the Virtual Run and lots of smiles and high-fives to you all from down here in Oz! :)

Visions of moving bodies and forces of nature

I've had a number of creative habits like playing music and creating art in my life. None of these ever came to me as visions where I could see finished products in my head and went about making them real. For me it's always been about thirsts that needed to be satisfied. I get a longing and I start looking for something to satisfy it. Or there's a pressure inside me that I have to let out or I'll fall apart.

That was my creative life (not much time for it now) but is also the way I live my life. At some point I figure out that what I'm doing day to day has left me with a hole I need to fill. I do some internal work and either end up with a new hobby or obsession, or end up making major life changes. I used to get it with music and I used to get it with self destructive behavior. I can't live with the longing and I'm not able suppress myself very well. Nor do I want to. 

Running is one of those thirsts. When I'm out there I feel like something is gushing into me, filling me up. With running it has to do with walking out the door and feeling like I could stick with the training program for the one hour I did today, or take a turn that would make it into a 3 or 7 hour and my body will take it. There are days where I come back at 9am after running 15 or 20 miles and I'm full of the power of that, just roaring inside my head like crashing waves. I've already run 20 miles and it's 9am, CRASH! What else can I do today? ROAR!

Somehow barefoot or minimal really adds to that. The term minimal is coming to be associated with a certain kind of shoes but for me it's more than that. It means just me. There are no springs in my heals to add to my effort. Don't get me wrong I love gear and there are days where I've got my phone on my arm, sunglasses, running hat, compression gators, etc, but I think my best days are just shorts and nothing else. Those days there's no help. It's just what I'm able to do. I think if I had a loin cloth and no neighbors that's what I'd be wearing. That's what running is, something you can do with just your body moving in space and your breath flowing. 

There are all of these organizations out there like Movnat, and Crossfit that are about a different kind of fitness that involve a body with heavy stuff to move, and trees to climb. More than that there are the ever proliferating DIY sites for people who want to simplify by fixing stuff instead of tossing it. There's Slowfood for people who want to know about where their food comes from and what it doesn't have in it. All of these things resonate with me because they're about simplicity, but they're also about the integrity of the self.

Minimalist running is about acknowledging where technology has served us wrong and going back to what worked for millions of years. It's about taking another look at what has become the accepted best practice with all of the associated dogma and testing whether starting from scratch might not be our best bet at the moment. I work in a lab and scratch is where you end up over and over until the line of inquiry you're following turns out to be a fruitful one. 

To bring it back to the personal running is just about me moving for as long as I can, figuring out I can always do more, and then doing more. I don't know where it's going. I don't have any visions although I have some plans. I never have believed in long term planning, too many things in my life have shown me how easily those plans can slip away. All I know is that right now running is the flood that fills my soul and the fuel in my tank. It helps me center myself so I can be a good dad, it helps me show my kids what determination can do and how determination can be about enjoyment, and it just feels damn good to have gotten myself in shape for a marathon in two weeks and more to follow this year.

Thanks to all of you who are reading these posts and giving me feedback. It means a lot and I love you guys.
Good running and good living!

Honorary Posthumous Collective Membership

"This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms tothe everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and every motion and joint of your body."

--Walt Whittman

Tell me this man was not a barefoot runner!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Virtual Run - NYC

OK, time to report in that I completed my assigned virtual run on Sunday morning. It was probably around 10K total but there were a lot of stops and starts. I kept running into people that I only previously knew in cyberspace and stopping to chat. I was at the 2nd Annual NYC BR, along with a number of other Collective people. And everyone that wasn't in the Collective was smiling too so it was really fun. There was just something about being among hundreds of people that all "get it" about barefoot and minimalist running. You HAD to smile.

Unfortunately I don't have a photo of me so I guess you'll have to trust me that I was there and ran or maybe one of the other Smileys will vouch for me. But I do have some photos of some of the other Collective members that I thought I'd share. See below.

In addition, I'm putting together a video/slideshow with a lot more content from the NYC event, including some rare footage of Barefoot Ken Bob and Barefoot Ted doing the hula. It will be on my blog in a day or two.

Finally, for any of you that were interested in the t-shirt I was wearing on Sunday I put it up on CafePress here.

Ninja running in Fall

I didn't have a chance to do a run on Sat but it's really neat to see the posts about NY and the virtuals. I wish I could have made it but here are some thoughts on fall running. It's my first post on RSC. Thanks so much for the invite, it put a big smile on my face:).

Ok, I give up, it's fall. It was an early start this year and I kept the Indian Summer thing in the back of my head, but today I was rooting around for warmer clothing and put all of my shorts away. I went for a barefoot run last week after a frost and the cold pavement was just too uncomfortable. I couldn't loosen up and the cold ground combined with my tightness just felt like it would be too easy to injure, so I put on my Merrills and continued.

I haven't been running barefoot lately, but I have been running. That's a change for me as the cold usually sends me into a pattern of staying up late watching movies and "not feeling up to (fill in anything active) today". My mom used to say that running in winter felt like flying to her. I remember waking up in fall and winter and she'd just be coming home, sweaty and glowing, full of energy. I grew up in a neighborhood where the white lady running around at 5am in the dark, was hooted at by guys in hoopties who thought she was a hooker. She had some fire in her and would holler at them until they took off. No one tries to pick me up at 5am and it took me a long time to figure out that glow she came back with.

Now I get it. I'm cold at first but within a few minutes of starting my body is doing the furnace, I warm up, find my pace and after that I'm cruising. It's hard to get in the habit of waking up in the dark and going outside in the cold, but it is so totally rewarding. The trick for me is to get up the first time my eyes open. If I start the snooze routine it's over.

The best thing about the fall run is being up during the sun rise. I get to come back to a warm cozy house with my babies waking up. They are full of energy and smiles. They hop out of bed and commence to buzzing about in their happy lively way. There's no delay while they wake up, they just go.

I'm trying to channel that energy. It's funny that my kids and their total aliveness remind me of my mom and hers. Here are some of the tricks I use to get me going.

1. Like I said, get out of bed the first time you open your eyes. Any snoozing leads to more snoozing people, and you know it. You know it when you do it and it feels so good. You'll savor it all the more on the days you get to do it.

2. Have some good running gear for the weather. Not only is it fun to have the gear, it really pays off at the beginning of your run. Some running tights and a neck sleeve not only make you look like a ninja, but start you off warm rather than waiting to warm up.

2.5 Did I mention you get to look like a ninja?

3. Be as excited as my kids are. I have a lot of tips in my writings that are about managing your mindstate. I am totally committed to the idea that if you mimic the physical cues associated with a feeling, you will feel that feeling. Act like you are excited, smile, breathe quickly, open your eyes wide, bounce around a bit.  You will get excited, whether or not you started out that way. I like to think in terms of chronology. Ordinarily something stimulating happens then you smile, you start to breathe faster, etc. If you switch up the order the effect is the same in reverse. This works and is really important!

So to summarize, get out of bed right away, dress up like a ninja, and act like a 4 year old.
Just a great way to start any day!

Good running and good living!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Putting Wilmington On the Run Smiley Map

The Mission

My mission was clear. My plenipotentiary was counting on me. I must be one with the Collective. I. Must. Run. Smiley.

I knew if I looked deep into my soul I had the makings, the desire, the blood and sweat and tears to make her proud. All I needed to do was take the first step, literally. Victory would be mine, ours.

Knowing the importance of my mission gave me strength I needed to overcome the obstacles that reared up in front of me. Quickly, I reverted to survival skills taught to me since I was a child. I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and a black permanent pen and drew a run smiley bib by hand. I effectively dismissed that defunct computer printer.

I noticed almost everything around me being so focused on my mission. I heard the cool air wafting by me. I saw the bright sun bending around the trees. I felt the cold pavement sucking the heat out of my feet. (It's not as pleasant as it sounds)

I found a smile before I reached the first left turn. I snatched it up and protected it as if it were my own child. It was special. This was no Mona Lisa. This was borderline Clown. Just as my plenipotentiary had requested, I sustained that smile for two delightful miles. I even paused to greet Darla and the customers at the coffee shop.

No doubt about it, I delivered for my plenipotentiary. My town was one more star on the Run Smiley Map.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Virtual Run 2011: Katima Mulilo, Namibia

Rev. Tracy here from the RevRuns blog
Lucky for me, this weekend was the Run Smiley virtual run. I don’t know if the Run Smiley Collective is at all hooked into the Running Podcasts community, which hosts the Worldwide Festival of Races (now for the 6th year I think), but the Run Smiley virtual run is the same idea—we all (hopefully all!) ran Smiley and barefoot this weekend. This was lucky for me because I had been feeling a bit under the weather this week and had not been out for a run since Tuesday. But I’d decided that I was going to get out and Run Smiley, even if I only got out to the road (about 200 meters)! But it seems that taking my Yin Chiao “at the first sign of a cold” pills all day Friday did the trick and I woke Saturday feeling just fine, though perhaps a bit lazy.

After listening to an episode of NPR’s “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and “This American Life” while drinking my coffee, I finally got dressed and got out at 10am. My pace was a bit slow (in order to keep my heartrate in the right range), which makes sense since I’ve been fighting something off, but this just gave me more time to look around and say hello to people and smile. There aren’t that many people around my area (honestly, there aren’t that many people in all of Namibia), but it being a Saturday morning, and a bit later than I usually go out, there were quite a few people scattered here and there who were heading to town or to fetch water. I had one boy run with me for a few meters, but though I invited him to continue, he went back to doing his chores. By the halfway point, I was quite aware of the heat of the pavement underfoot and decided to return on the sandy path off the road. For the most part that was a bit cooler, though there were a few spots that were quite hot. So, I’m going to have to get out earlier now that we are heading into summer. Everyone tells me that October is the hottest month. Then the rains start in November. I’m not sure what to expect then, since I arrived here at the end of the rainy season and it only rained a few times, and always in the afternoon.

Of course, the most difficult part, as ever, is having someone take my picture. I’m usually the one behind the camera! But my friend John, who takes care of the building where I am living, gladly obliged me. So here I am – shoeless, braless, and smiley (just imagine two dots for eyes above my head – see? My arms are a smile ;-) )

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tramps Like Us

The NYC Barefoot Weekend was a blast -- as the posts before show, some people ran the Run Smiley Virtual Run, and a large group of us were in New York for the craziness on Governor's Island. I'm sure each of us who made it will be posting our personal write-ups on our own blogs, but since a dozen reports on this site would get a tad repetitive, we're going to work on one joint collective "race" report. Not sure how that will work exactly (poorly, I assume), but
stay tuned for a messy, cobbled together summary of a messy, cobbled together weekend.

In the mean time, here's a photo to whet your appetite:

Virtual Run 2011: Vadslund 6.6K

As I was at my mother's cottage in the deep woods of Sweden and not, as it were, in NYC, I had limited spectators on my run. But hey! The sheep looked interested (and interesting, I was getting a bit peckish) and the birds fled as I flew, so I'm not complaining. It was a brilliant mid-autumn afternoon, with the sun hanging low in the sky and all leafs just barely starting to change colours.

And of course I documented it for you! Here we go:

All pinned up and rearing to go!
The start/finish line spectators.
Autumn is coming.
The road goes ever on.
Race marker?
Oh no! An obstacle!
"Oooh! Perhaps a bit of speed here..."
Yours truly. Bare chest free of charge.
Stonehedge ala Farmville
Home! Finished!
The race shower area...
... but I tell you though, the water was damn cold! It's a ground water lake with no inlet and as the nights get cooler (plunging down towards 0 degrees C soon) bathing gets harder. But it remains the best place in the world to sit and relax after a run, with nothing disturbing the silence except the wind in the trees and perhaps the occasional splashing fish.

Run Smiley Virtual Run: Baker's Dozen Beer Run, Marshall, MI

This September 24th was the inaugural Baker's Dozen Beer Run, a half marathon fun run in Marshall, Michigan.  The organizers said they wanted to incorporate their favorite Marshall businesses, Louie's Bakery and Dark Horse Brewery.  The "race" started at the Bakery and the finish line was at the Brewery, so it was a very cool concept.  As luck would have it, all my brethren in the Run Smiley Collective were in New York for the New York Barefoot Run and had designated this weekend as our first official "Virtual Run" so I rolled in with my "Run Smiley Participant" bib pinned to my shorts.

I had suggested the event as a low cost ($15 entry) meet-up for the Michigan Chapter of the Barefoot Runners Society, but registration closed pretty early and Colleen and I were the only ones who were able to sign up.  This would prove to be a good thing, which I'll get to in a minute.  I did get to see a few friends from last winter's Beyond Group (Sarah and Lori) though, and found out they would be acting as pacers for a couple of the half marathon pace groups this coming winter.  Turns out Sarah is going to be my half marathon distance partner in the 11:30-12:00 group, so that was pretty cool!

Anyway, at the start I was a little sad none of my barefoot buddies were there, but I got some consolation in the form of a delicious custard filled donut from Louie's.  Everyone thought I was completely nuts for eating the thing minutes before the start of the race, and maybe I was, but I'm a sucker for the things and I have a tendency to use bizarre fuel before long runs.  My breakfast had been a fried egg sandwich with mayo and some chili on a slice of toast, shit on a shingle style, and everyone thought that was nuts too!

Breakfast of Champions!
The run started at 8:00AM and we positioned ourselves near the back of the group.  This would keep me out of the way of the faster folks but force me to pass a lot of people early, and the streets near the starting line were fairly narrow (think single lane boulevard-style roads).  About a half mile in I would meet up with Nikki, who I'd met at the Kalamazoo Marathon back in may where she had been working the Kalamazoo Area Runners tent.  We had to reintroduce ourselves, as we'd both long since forgotten each others names (if we'd actually told each other at the time).  Turns out we were aiming for more or less similar paces and we hung out chit-chatting for a few miles.

The course wound through the neighborhoods on the north side of Marshall before heading out into the country.  As soon as we left city limits we were on chip seal roads, which was something I had assumed would happen but was determined to handle as best I could (and also why I had my bedrocks in my belt, just in case it got too rough).  From mile 2 to 4 the chip seal was manageable and appeared to be relatively old.  If this was the worst I had to deal with I would have no problems.

The marker for mile 3 had the "kick you in the nuts" message of "Almost Done!"  I know it was supposed to be a joke, but the last thing someone with another 10 miles to run wants to see is an "Almost Done!" at mile 3.  I took it for what it was though and jokingly said "What kind of jerk says that?!" and had a big laugh.

At about 3.75 miles in things got a bit ugly for me.  I had been eating some Honey Stingers and dropped the package on the ground, so I took a minute to stop and take a couple pictures, and in doing so lost Nikki and the other couple people we had been pacing with.  Getting back running again it dawned on me that I was about to enter some freshly chip sealed road.  Yeah that sound you heard was the dramatic "dun dun duuuunnnnn"!  I was terrified, but decided to give it a shot and see how bad it was.  It was too early to put the sandals on (it would feel like failure) so I soldiered on wondering what Colleen would think when she reached this area.  I figured something like "I bet Troy didn't like that!" or "I wonder if he put his sandals on?"  I would later find out it was more like "Uh Oh, I bet he just ran through that tearing his feet to shreds."  Fortunately for me it would only last about a quarter mile before we turned onto a smoother road, so I did soldier on through it knowing it would soon be over and hoping there wasn't much more of it over the rest of the course.  I would be disappointed.

Fresh chip seal road!  Egad!

Nikki and the group remained in my sights the whole time, despite slowing my pace somewhat over the chip seal, and when I got the chance, either on grass or once I got back on smooth road, I did my best to persistence-hunt her group and see if I could catch up without burning myself out (I had just finished mile 5 when the chip seal ended).  I finally caught up shortly after the chip seal ended on what would be the first real downhill of the course (up to this point it had all been more or less flat or gently uphill).  I've mentioned before that I've been working on the "No Brakes!" method of running downhills, and apparently I was on my game today.  I caught up to Nikki and the group and went flying past yelling "Heads up! No brakes!"  They'd never catch up with me again, but I spent the rest of the race assuming they would.

I spent the next mile cheering for the crowds and chit-chatting the people I passed.  Conversations were usually short, along the lines of "How're you doing?  Having fun?" and one or two chatted about barefoot running and its potential benefits.  I crossed I-94 around the 6.5 mile mark and made a point to hoot and holler at the cars going by, getting a couple cars to honk and wave, which felt great!  Shortly after clearing the freeway I met up with my friends Sarah and Lori again, who were actually running as part of a relay team.  They gave me some cheers and said one of their team members was right behind me and they'd catch up with me later.  They had 4 members, so every 5k they were handing off and Sarah would be handling their last leg at about 10 miles.

I spent the next mile or so pretty much alone and got passed by the first of the cyclists, who had started at 8:45, somewhere around mile 7.  This section of the course wound through some more country neighborhoods, and there was a really big crowd at the mile 8 aid station.  They were very nice and topped off my water bottle for me.  There were lots of cyclists coming through by now, and the serious ones were long gone and we started seeing the casuals who were there for fun along with some people who had started out running and had stashed their bikes along the course.

It was about this point in the race I realized that I'd had a smile on my face pretty much the whole time.  The crowds had been great and I think I had only passed one person who wasn't out there having a good time (some grumpy old man who didn't even respond when I said Hi! How's it going?").  I had been thanking just about everyone on the sidelines for coming out and cheering at kids who were playing in the yards i passed and was feeling great.  On top of it we had expected cold and cloudy weather with a chance of rain, and the skies were cloudless and the weather was fantastic!  No wonder i couldn't wipe the smile off my face!

I passed Sarah near the 10 mile mark and wandered into the final 5k of the course.  The next mile would be almost as tough as the other fresh chip seal areas, testing my smile a little bit, but I got a lot of kudos from the cyclists through this area, some cheers from an aid station and another round of waves and honks from the cars on I-94 as I crossed back to the south and it kept me going strong.  I would finish the section with a nice long "No Brakes!" downhill section before hitting the city limits and settling into the final mile and a half through town.

There were few runners around me at this point but still a fair number of cyclists.  I spent my time chatting with the police and fire department personnel who were out doing traffic control and after a few twists and turns through some neighborhood streets I found myself hitting the final few hundred feet.  I had to cross some tricky railroad tracks that made me (cynically) wonder if I would pick up some splinters this close to the finish line.  The crowd at the finish line was great and there was a lot of cheering as I crossed the line at 2:18:15.  I was expecting to finish around 2:36, so beating that by 18 minutes was huge!

Nikki and Sarah would finish within a few minutes of me and I spent a couple minutes cooling down and chatting with other finishers.  One woman asked me if I'd run the whole thing barefoot and I said "yeah" and she followed that up with "How are your feet?"  I replied with (thanks to John Yohe, from whom I stole this reply) "Great!  How are yours!" with a big smile on my face.  We had a big laugh and she said she was on a bike so hers were just fine.  After hanging out for a few minutes I remembered Colleen had wanted me to come out and pace her to the finish, so I strapped on my sandals (my feet were a little tired at this point and I was ready to give them a rest) and started walking.

I was expecting her to be running around a 15 minute mile, so I checked the time and guesstimated about where I would meet up with her.  While walking back a lady on a bike stopped me to take my picture, as her daughter runs (or had run) in FiveFingers and she wanted to show her that some one had (been foolish enough) run the race totally barefoot.  I obliged and we chatted for a minute before heading our separate ways.  I stopped to talk to the police officers on the way back and stopped at the last aid station to talk to the volunteers too.  They must have had something to do with the course planning and gave me an interesting bit of trivia: when they finalized the course none of the freshly chip sealed roads had been treated yet.  Those roads were done within the last week!  Inwardly I congratulated myself on handling as much as I did, considering how fresh the treatment had been.

I met up with Colleen at about the mile 12 marker, right on time.  I was impressed that she looked as good as she did.  Having run a 10 miler with her a few weeks ago I expected her to be a little tired and ready to be done, but she was trucking along and still had a positive attitude so I was really glad she was doing so well.  We headed back the way I came, and I talked and talked in an effort to make sure to distract her from the mile she had to go.  Apparently the police had gone home in the last 10 minutes or so, because when I looked for the guys I had used to mark the turns they were gone and I led Colleen down the wrong road.  This proved to be a huge mistake, as the road we had to take to get back on course led to a bunch of tents and whatnot that was setup for some other event (Hispanic Festival, I think), and Colleen thought it was the finish line.  When she learned it wasn't she kind of hit the floor a little bit with a simple "I'm done."

She got going after a minute though, with some semi-gentle prodding from me about how we were only a turn or so away from the finish line.  The damage had been done though and her mood wouldn't really improve until we finished.  The tracks gave her some problems, as the footing wasn't great, but she crossed the line at 3:18:42 and immediately broke into tears.  I totally understood, having gone through the same thing in May when I finished the Kalamazoo Marathon, so I didn't say anything and just attended to my hugging duties (because that's what everyone needs when they finish something like this the first time).

In lieu of medals, we got free pints of beer from Dark Horse, which was excellent beer!  We hung out, drank beer, stretched, took pictures and chatted with other runners for a while.  It was a lot of fun and our only regret was that there weren't donuts at the end because we could have really used one at that point!  It was a great event with great people and I'm hoping to make it back next year!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Some light Saturday night etymology anyone?

The first time I encountered the word fartlek I was amused that something would turn up in English that is so close to Swedish. Not that the word exists in Swedish, but the composite "fart" and "lek" does mean "speed" and "play", which I found rather funny. Well, the jokes on me obviously since it is a Swedish idea from the 40's by Gösta Holmér when he was training cross country teams.

There's a quite a few words the Swedish and English has in common although the meaning has shifted over the years. Some of them comes from old Norse and was imported to England via the Vikings, some comes from our common Indo-European background and then of course, Sweden has adopted quite a few words in the modern era.

And by this rather cumbersome introduction, the word for tonight is: "spring". This is one of the Indo-European ones, and it is closely related not only in Swedish and English but also to German ("springen"). However, whereas in English the verb usually means to start, or to leap, in Swedish it means something else which is familiar to us all: "to run". So "to run" is "att springa", and "I run smiley" will be (approximately) "jag springer leende".

I like the connection: Leaping into a run, legs pumping like springs, springing along the path, and uncoiling to action. Not to mention the various spring-like mechanisms of our legs is what keeps us moving, hopefully injury free, mile after mile during those wonderful runs. Am I easily amused? Sure, and hence I'll end this little musing with a word-wrangling I kind of like: 

Keep on springing Smiley!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Paradigms (and other Big Words)

(Originally posted on my blog, ...when i talk about running.)

After being very active here at the Run:) Collective, I've been pretty quiet lately -- I teach high school, and the start of the school year has really put the brakes on my blogging. But with a significant number of the Collective winging into my home city for the weekend, I've been inspired to muse a little. . .

Tomorrow is the kick-off to the second annual NYC Barefoot Run, a two day event that Christopher McDougal bills as, "The Woodstock of wild human animal mayhem," though I suspect might be overselling it a bit. If the bloggers I know who are coming are any indication, it will be more like, "The SanDiego Comic Con of slightly flamboyant weirdos who don't like to wear shoes." Let's just say that I agreed to be the local recipient for a shipment of yellow and orange tutus, and that one of my colleagues is flying out in a spartan costume, complete with a crimson cape -- you be the judge of which description sounds more apt.

I thought of going to the run last year, but the weekend didn't work for some reason or other, and I was toying with the idea of going this year when I found out that most of the members of my blogging group, The Run Smiley Collective, were flying out for the weekend. That pushed me into committing. As someone who is vaguely suspicious of on-line communication and social-networking, I continue to heavily emphasize the air-quotes whenever I mention one of my blogging "friends." I feel a bit weird referring to people I have never met in person, spoken to on the phone, or even exchanged text-messages with as friends, but over the last 8 months or so I've really enjoyed getting to know this somewhat sprawling, ill-defined, and eclectic group of runners and writers. I'm really looking forward to finally meeting many of them face-to-face.

So in anticipation of this weekend, I've been thinking a lot about barefoot running. Most of my fellow Run Smiley bloggers coming in are serious bare-footers. Jason Robillard is one of the keynote speakers, finished the Western States 100 in just a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves, and recently quit his job to travel around the country with his wife and kids in an RV to teach and promote barefoot running. Kate, Christopher, and Jesse are being flown in by Merrell to speak on a panel discussion of barefoot runners. These people run barefoot all the time, in all kinds of weather, on all kinds of terrain.

Then there's me. I've run barefoot a few times, and honestly at this point don't have any real desire to become a full-time "barefoot runner." I don't have any lingering injuries that running barefoot might cure, and I am very happy with my minimalist shoes. So why am I going to this thing, other than its in my back-yard?


That's what I've been musing about, and I realize its all about paradigm shifts. If you've ever been within 50 miles of a liberal-arts campus, you know the bumper-sticker: "Subvert the Dominant Paradigm." Meaning: question the way things are normally done, don't accept the world uncritically, work to change assumptions and underlying values when they are harmful or even just baseless. And in a small sense, thinking about barefoot running and minimalist footwear has reinforced that for me.

I've been running to and from work in my Softstar Dash's (review coming soon!), and if you haven't seen them, they are are essentially a simple rubber sole with a thin leather upper -- think a somewhat unattractive, very flexible bowling shoe. When I tell my coworkers that, "Yes, I did just run to work in these," they look at me like I'm insane, like something like that is impossible. Paradigm Assumption: you need 30 millimeters of rubber and gel pockets and a wedge of EVA foam to run? Question: why?

Ah, that dangerous, empowering, revolutionary word: "why?" And in something so simple -- why do we all wear running shoes? While reading about and following the minimalist foot discussion, there was one "why" that always bothered me: if heel striking is so detrimental, why did shoe companies ever add built-up heels in the first place? And the most telling answer is: no one knows. Not the critics, not the companies. They just did, then it became an assumption, and assumptions become quote-unquote-fact.

Rather than demanding, "Justify to me why I need a supportive shoe," for nearly all runners the shoe is the assumption, the paradigm, and instead they ask why one would want to run without a supportive shoe? As if the shoe is the base-line, not the addition. And it really is the dominant paradigm, despite the "barefoot revolution." Since getting into minimal running 10 months ago, of the hundreds (if not thousands) of runners I've passed, I've noticed maybe a dozen runners in Vibrams, half a dozen in Minimus and Trail Gloves, and one in a pair of Inov8's. Not a single haurache, not a single Softstar, not a single barefoot runner.


Like I said, I'm not fully barefoot, but just to ask the questions seems important. As a society, we assume you must wear shoes at all times in public, but why do we wear shoes? Really, they are like gloves for our feet. Like gloves, they can be worn just for fashion, and like gloves, they can be worn to protect us from the weather and dangerous work-conditions. But no one today wears gloves every day -- but no one leaves the house barefoot. Walk down the sidewalk without shoes, walk into a department store barefoot, and you'll get stares, if not asked to leave If you seriously try to imagine doing that, I guarantee that most of you will feel uncomfortable, transgressive just thinking about it, right? But again: why? Most store floors are clean. Our feet are really no less dirty than our hands, no less likely to contract or spread germs or diseases, but there is something forbidden about them, as if they need to be hidden away from polite society. But walk into a store and tell that to the other customers, and you'd look like a lunatic.


I realize this is rising to the intellectual level of a sophomore in high-school discovering philosophy for the first time, but while running home the other day I had one of those blindingly-obvious epiphanies, like in Calvino's brilliant story "The Flash." One of those realizations where you realize that so many of the things we as a society do are just mindless reactions to "the way things are." We all wear shoes, without thinking about it. Now, I'm not actually going to go full-blown barefoot hippie-nut-job, but I think that just asking the question, realizing that it is a choice and not a given, is valuable. To be open to possibilities, and the non-objective nature of reality. To ask "why?"

Because why is an important question, and allowing oneself to ask that about anything, to question the anecdotes and conventional wisdom that most people accept as reality can lead to some very powerful places. From the industrial complexes that generate tons of nutrition-less food to a legal system that recently committed a murder in the state of Georgia, we are surrounded by powerless forces that are empowered merely by our willingness to accept them without question. I don't think that by wearing minimalist footwear I'm changing the world, or doing anything important or meaningful, but it's reminded me to question things. Skepticism, like all skills, takes practice, and heading out the door each morning is both a question and an answer to a question, asked of me and of the world. "Why?"

And running smiley does the same thing. It questions the way things are normally done: running is hard, running is difficult, running is work. Running involves shoes and Garmins and VO2-Max negative-split repeats. Instead, we say: "Shoes? No shoes? Who the hell cares?" How long did I run? No, the question is, "How happy did I run?" Wine? Dr. Who? Capes and toddlers, one-hundred miles or once around the block, its all running, and it all can make you smile. More things should make you smile. Jason urges you to quit your job -- or at least question why you haven't. Wear a kilt when you run. Ignore everything the nice man at the running shop tells you about pronation and motion control shoes. Climb a tree. Run in the rain. This Collective is an encyclopedia of bad advice that turns out to be really good for you.

Why run smiley? Why WOULDN'T you?