Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ultra Smiley

[Plenipotentiary note:  Okay, I am going apologise to Liz in advance.  This mail got caught up in my Spam filter after I rebuilt my machine.  I am so sorry it's a couple of weeks late.  I have spanked my spam filter thoroughly and have sent her an author invite for being so patient.  Sorry! The original post can be found on her blog: http://runwhatmay.com/2011/11/16/ultra-smiley/ ]

Original post by Liz Bondar @ RunWhatMay.com
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Ultra Smiley! (© 2011 Lynn Ballard)

Running an ultra is demanding - even if your goal is simply to finish. (And - let's face it - for us hobby joggers, at distances of 50-100+ miles, we're mostly in it to just finish or perhaps beat some personal time goal.)
Ups and downs, terrific highs and despairing lows... you need all the smiley you can get. And so does everyone else out there with you - runners, crews, volunteers, and other hapless trail users.
So, with a tip o' the nib to other Run Smiley authors who've gone before, here are my ideas on running Ultra Smiley.
  1. Thank the volunteers - all of them, whether you take aid or not. These folks put in longer hours with less traffic/activity than conventional road races; they're as lonely as you are (and probably even hotter or colder than you are, too). In many cases, they've gone well beyond to stock and run an aid station in The Middle of Nowhere.
  2. Help other runners - be generous with your gear, supplies, and self...on the course and at the aid stations. The best-laid plans are all subject to change during the course of an ultra - at any moment, it could well be you in need.
  3. Run with gratitude - that you are able to run in such a beautiful place on a day like this. There will come a day when you won't be able to run... today is not that day.
  4. Go solo - no crew, no pacer, no traveling companions. Open yourself up and you'll make many new friends along the way.
  5. Make others laugh - brighten their day and yours at the same time. Maintain your sense of humor as you do the impossible
  6. Skip and gallop - change your stride as well as your outlook. (Go on - I dare you to not smile while skipping!)
  7. Leave your expectations behind - the day (and night) will be long, anything can happen. Take each thing as it comes - one step at a time - and make the most of it.
  8. Dance - do the hokey-pokey at the turn-yourself-about point on an out-and-back, show off your funky chicken coming into an aid station.
  9. Revel in nature's playground - swing from a branch, kick through the fallen leaves, enjoy the water crossings... immerse yourself to cool off, splash around, take the wettest way across.
  10. Lie through your teeth - tell the other runners how marvelous they look (especially in the dead of the night and in their most desparate moments), you'll feel more marvelous too.
It often seems like it "takes a village" to complete an ultra. Be part of the community and run smiley.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Play Smiley: Response 1

Like Kate, I've been pretty silent on this site for a while. I've been running a lot, but it hasn't been terribly "smiley" -- training for an ultra-marathon isn't the most smiley of affairs. Oh, I've been enjoying it, but the sheer amount of running I'm doing and the fact I'm squeezing in runs before and after work in the dark and during drizzly snow-storms makes most of my runs more utilitarian than smiley. While "learning to find the joy in monotony and misery" is certainly part of the art and philosophy of Run Smiley, I feel I've written that to death. There's also the fact that two kids plus teaching a new curriculum at a new high school on top of all that running leaves little time for keeping up my own blog, let alone contributing here, and again, my posts on "When I talk About Running" haven't been my smiliest. If you want to read about my limping through the Brooklyn Marathon, you can, but I certainly wasn't smiling towards the end.

Anyway, the point is that I'm taking up Kate on her challenge to post some smiley play in the place of smiley running. Okay, I'm just taking advantage of a chance to force videos of my kids on the general populace, but what else are parents good for? For added bonus points, I was playing BAREFOOT, which I think has to count for something around these parts : )

Playing Smiley

My "Running Smiley" situation hasn't been happening much lately.  My long-standing knee injury with occasional relapses has meant that I am lucky to run more than a couple of miles a week.  However, I am not a girl to be taken down by the misfortunes of life.  I will not give up the "smiley" part of my life.

So this post is just to say, that in all things make sure you do them "smiley".  "Running Smiley" shouldn't be tied to just running.  If you can't run, then ensure you do something else that makes you smile.

Here in Vancouver, we have had a series of early winter storms and this has created a new passion in my life.  To me, snow means playtime, and so I have spent the last few weekends regressing decades and letting my inner kid out to play.  It's been fantastic!  This has been my "Running Smiley"; hiking in the snow, jumping in the drifts, making snow-balls and snow-angels with my family.  Just to show how much fun we are having, find the photo's below.  I dare you not to smile when you see them.

So here is my Challenge:  Go and find an activity - doesn't have to be running.  Release your inner child and take a photo.  Post it here.  Let's make Running Smiley, more universal.  Let's make our lives "Playing Smiley"

Now Go, Take up my Challenge and Play Smiley.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Flint's Reviews : VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail

Before transitioning to minimalist (or “barefoot”) footwear, make sure you understand what the whole concept entails.
Here’s an intro text if you need it.

  • Type : Barefoot / Minimal
  • Use : Trail Running
  • Price : About $140 (unverified)

There have been so many new products in the minimal / barefoot market recently, I find it hard to even keep track. It’s a blessing, on one side; because a wider choice is often a good thing (provided the offered products are well-conceived). On the other hand, there seems to be many crappy, confusing, nonsensical products which have hit the shelves, and they are not bringing anything of interest to the table (The Fila Skeletoe is just one example of the latter).

So when I opened the box to check out the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail, I did it with a healthy dose of scepticism. I had been searching for a viable shoe fit for serious trail running for some time now, and aside from the Merrell Trail glove (reviewed here), which is a sound choice but doesn’t offer enough grip for single-trail conditions and harsh terrain, I had found nothing.

First impression
I usually don’t analyze packaging or marketing, for obvious reasons, but I have to make an exception here. First of all, VIVOBAREFOOT uses recycled materials for some of the shoe’s parts, like the inner lining. Second, the shoes are guaranteed not to be produced in sweatshops, something commendable, which every apparel maker out there should be doing. Finally, your shoes come wrapped not in throw-away plastic or paper, but in individual, washable, reusable bags that work wonders when you have to carry your mud-stained shoes in a backpack.

The shoe
At 8,25 oz, the Neo trail is light but not a featherweight. This didn’t bug me, as the shoe feels tough and ready for action. It is built with a very wide toe box and a fairly flat end, something I think is now the proven way to go for any minimalist shoe. With that said,
Linkhowever, the sizing is a little tricky, as it relies on the European charts and the shoes run about one size short. (For example, I’m typically a size 7.5 and was advised to get a size 42, which was too big and had to be replaced with a size 41).

The lacing on the pair I got was done from the outside in, which I changed for a more straightforward, pull-to-tighten approach. The shoe doesn’t slim down at the arch section like other barefoot shoes do and leaves ample room for up to 7 diagonal rubber lugs on the outsole and a rock plate under the arch. This is where the Neo Trail really expresses itself: it screams trail.

Trail test
I wore the Neo Trails for a full day at the office before trying them out for a run (I’ve learned that trick from blistering experience). Turns out they didn’t need a break-in. Then I wore the shoes for an outside walk, then a light trail run, then a single-trail cross-fit run, and finally a full-fledge mountain trail run.

The Neo Trail delivered beyond my expectations. At first, I thought the aggressive sole pattern would take away some ground feel for sure, but somehow it doesn’t. You will feel as much terrain as you do in a pair of VFF Komodos, but with the proper protection against protruding rocks and other trail hazards. I was amazed to step in deep mud and feel every inch of the experience, while in the meantime being able to run hard in very rocky downhills relying on the excellent protection of the rockplate and rubber studs.

The grip of this shoe is amazing. I was lucky to run one of my tests with a Training Mobs group wearing regular running shoes and trail shoes and my Neo Trails outperformed the former and were definitely on par with the latter, if not better. The low-to-the-ground, zero-drop 6.5mm sole clearly puts you at an advantage while it not only lets your foot twist and turn like it should, but offers aggressive traction even on wet surfaces.

The upper fabric seems to be truly 100% waterproof, as I stepped in puddles of water, mud patches and ran on trails thickly covered in damp leaves and never got my feet wet. This is fantastic for Canadian runners, as we have to face harsh snowy winters and slushy paths. The combined water resistance and traction of the Neo Trail makes it a serious choice for multiple running conditions throughout the seasons, something not a lot of minimal shoes can pretend to offer.

This is one solid trail running shoe, and thus far my choice when it comes to serious single-trail running. With the excellent proprioception of a true minimal shoe and the traction / protection of a standard trail runner, The Neo Trail offers the best of both worlds. I am very impressed with it and will keep using it for many more happy trail miles in the future.

High points

  • One of very few serious minimal trail runners
  • Sturdy, yet flexible outsole with excellent traction
  • Offers plenty of protection on harsh single trails
  • Roomy toe box for free movement
  • Zero-drop construction with removable insole
  • Waterproof

Low points

  • Sizing's a little tricky

The equipment for this personal review was supplied by VIVOBAREFOOT, free of charge, without any conditions.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Running is medicine and thoughts on intimate fluids

Running is medicine. There's the cardio, long term health, weight loss piece that's really important but the thing I'm talking about is another kind of medicine. Life is full of challenges. There are always these moments that push you toward breaking, or at least questioning whether you know what you're doing, and whether or not what you're doing is right. Any big decision or long commitment, long term challenge or set of obstacles while seeking a worthy goal will bring you into confrontation with yourself. How we deal with those obstacles shows us the level of our commitment, reveals to us who and what we are and of course helps us see the true value of the goals or commitments themselves.

The running medicine is the perspective and the cure for the acute stress of these moments. I like to imagine this when I'm running: My blood is coursing through my heart picking up oxygen to deliver to muscles, it's picking up waste from all of my body's tissues, from my brain and running it through its processing and waste disposal systems. My mind, my body via the blood, and my spirit are cleansed. Picturing this when I'm running keeps me focused on why I do it. For me it's a self improvement project, and perspective and spiritual house keeping are part of that. It happens in a gushing fluid rhythmic flow.

I was sitting in class today trying to listen to a lecture on cheese fermentation starter cultures and all I could think about was the fact that the room was filling up with air that had come out of the peoples' lungs around me. The CO2 that came from their exhalations had literally moments before been pushed out of cells deep inside their tissues. The moisture and gasses in that room were part of them and their metabolic processes.  It's not just inhaling air that other have exhaled, it's inhaling byproducts of their cellular gas exchange systems. That is a pretty intimate exchange of fluids that is rarely noticed.

Running medicine helps me process my blood, my thoughts and my stresses. The familiarity of the activity is reassuring, the way my body drops into its rhythm and settles in to the task feels to me the way my mom used to talk about going to church. She wasn't a believer but she went for a sense of familiarity. Establishing the routine and trusting your body to do its job has a primal quality to it. It reaches back into the distant evolutionary memory of the biological organism and lets the body process and flow, trumping the mind's capacity to unleash the chemical responses to stress. They are all swept away in the tidal current of blood flow and cleansed completely.

There are days where reestablishing flow is just a really important thing to do and I'm glad I am able to get there by running it out. I'll bet you can too.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Fall Morning Haiku

November morning
Starry sky seduces me
Ran Smiley today

Ok, so I never claimed to be a poet =P

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gettin' Dirty - Zapmamak

Merrell Down & Dirty out at Folsom Lake
Original post by Zapmamak @ Running Naked on Sharp Pointy Stuff
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I don't know why I love dirt. And I have a very sensual relationship with mud. Maybe that's the reason I prefer to run trails and not the road. Yeah. The road feels like torture these days. I would suspect that smearing tar and gravel all over my body just wouldn't give me the same euphoric feeling as the mud pit does. But, then again, I've never smeared myself with tar so I'm not one to judge.

It could be that the mud just makes me happy. And there's scientific evidence to back up my theory. But whatever it is, the lure of mud and dirt grabbed hold of me this past weekend at the Merrell Down and Dirty Mud Run.
Me and my friend Caryn

I ran a whopping 5k as part of the barefoot division mostly in my huaraches and then the last mile or so completely barefoot.

I tried to run the levy a week ago barefoot just to see if I could do it, but it was WAY too gnarly for my feet. I ran about half-way on the smoothest section I could find and finally had to put my huaraches on. My soles just aren't as conditioned as they were about a year ago when I was running up to five miles barefoot on asphalt three times a week. As part of a very calculated plan to maintain uninjured status I just don't run anything longer than maybe one or two miles in sprinting intervals. My longer, slower runs are few and far between at maybe six or seven miles of trail running.

I'll take the shorter runs and less conditioning of my soles if it means I can free myself from my ITB crap. So far so good. I'm still nervously holding my breath and wondering if my latest achievement of pain-free marathon distance was just a fluke or the real deal.

So I dressed up as usual for this race, but instead of being a Dirty MILFF this year (with a very inappropriate mud pun on the back of my shirt) I decided to be a skeleton. I know. BORING. But I found some cute skeleton socks, painted a rib cage on my shirt and completed the look with a Halloween feather boa around my waist. I wasn't spooky, but I was festive!

My husband and some friends joined us this year for a fun-filled group event. My husband and his friend Mark are not runners so we knew this would be a slow, but fun event for all of us. My husband dressed up in his usual Nascar drag. A business-in-the-front-and-party-in-the-back wig and some VERY tight jeans which we were sure would split while climbing the first wall. Lucky for him they didn't.
Post mud beer

We were about a mile and a half in when Mark decided to do his motivational clapping. Think Michael Scott from the Office in the fun run for rabies episode. Yeah. It was hard not to laugh at our crew as you passed, which was happening a lot. Lots of people were passing us. Which was totally good. We were having a blast. Then the clapping turned into a sorta cheer and we all added our own part to it. I laughed so hard on that run that I nearly peed my pants. It was cold. There was lots of water and I had to pee. Ha!

So we all finished together, no man was left behind! And we did it in a record time of what? Like an hour or more? I still have no idea. I didn't even check the stats.

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This post is part of the  Run:) collective.

Kourage : Running Gear That Changes Lives in Kenya

I learned about Kourage Running a couple weeks ago, by stumbling on a fellow runner’s tweet. A couple clicks later, I was discovering a beautiful company with a noble goal: changing lives in Kenya. How? Simply put; “By playing by the rules”.

I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a pang of anxiety when buying mainstream running gear, wondering where and how it was produced. In this day and age, we can’t just go around shopping, oblivious to the impact we have on our fellow humans and our home. We can’t blindly support a commercial system of exploitation, on one side, and pretend to care for the people in underprivileged countries, on the other one. Our actions and our values must be consistent.

Kourage Running is a new technical clothing company that aims at making commercial sense by helping local Kenyan people improve their lives through sound, safe and fair work. It is not a charity, it’s a business. Because that’s how you can truly make a difference in a developing country; by giving everyday people access to proper work and conditions.

After purchasing shirts in an enthusiastic show of support, I wanted to learn more about Kourage and got into an e-mail conversation with Chris, the creator of the company. He further explained Kourage’s vision and goals.

FL - How and when was the company created?

CH - Kourage was founded in 2008. I started it as a response to what I saw as an inadequacy of the fair trade movement. Fair trade is focused entirely on manufacturing. But there is much more that goes in to creating garments then actual production. I feel that to have a large impact in a developing country one must concentrate as many operations as possible within that country. I'm a runner thus the fact there was no Kenyan running apparel brand felt like a great fit.

FL – Who’s behind the company?

Chris – Founder and Chief of American Operations
Laal – Production Manager
Joseph – Fashion Designer

Makumi – Photography

Fady – Photography

Hus – Graphics, Kenyan Operations

FL - What is your mission? Your objective?

CH - Our mission is to inject as much money possible into Kenya. Economic growth is creating through goods flowing out of a country and revenue flowing in and remaining within the country. Our objectives are simple, create jobs, inject foreign revenue and investment, and show the world that developing countries have brilliant entrepreneurs!

FL - How does Kourage benefit Kenyans?

CH - We are a very small organization and we embody what it means to be a small business. Right now our impact is extremely limited. But we have the potential to inject millions of dollars into kenya and create many high end jobs.

Kourage isn't a handout. We aren't 'aid'. Giving money has a role as many individuals in Kenya are unable to feed themselves or find healthcare. But aid isn't the only solution. Instead if we want to truly develop Africa we must do business there! This is what Kourage does, we seek to hire as many Kenyan businesses possible to increase their wealth. Through hiring them these firms will create beautiful products that we will sell throughout the world and return revenues back into Kenya.

What we do isn’t as dramatic as feeding a hungry child, but if we look at the major cities throughout the world New York and Tokyo they were build through commerce, not through aid.

FL - You have operations both in the USA and Kenya. What is the role of each?
CH - Our mission is to turn Kenya into the global hub for running apparel. We would love to ship directly from Kenya to consumers throughout the world but because of customs issues, this isn’t feasible. Thus we need operations outside of Kenya to facilitate international trade. I handle press outside of Kenya, ship shirts etc., but again we always want to concentrate more and more operations within Kenya.

FL - In what way(s) are your products fair and ethical?

CH - Our clothes are produced in a factory that plays by the rules. 45-hour work week, pays at least minimum wage, offers an hour lunch break, in a well light safe non-oppressive facility. As a result of these fantastic conditions a worker rarely quits her job.

FL - Where do you see Kourage in the next 5, 10 years?

CH - Kenyan athletes will be wearing Kourage gear at the olympics, we will have a headquarters and factory in downtown Nairobi, selling everything from shoes to tracksuits. We want to turn Kenya into the running apparel capital of the world.

FL - Do you currently sponsor athletes? Is it part of your plans?
CH - Nike and others pay Kenyan runners millions of dollars. We want to focus on sponsoring Kenyan workers.


is the home of running legends. Let’s hope it also becomes the home of a new, improved way of sharing the wealth. Kourage is working hard to show us the way. So next time you buy a technical running shirt, get one that looks awesome and does something which will truly help other humans.

Be consistent. Buy Kourage.