Monday, February 01, 2010

Barefootin' It

Many thanks to David Biersmith, for loaning me the book "Born to Run." I found the book to be an interesting read, although it wandered and switched-back like a Wyco trail, at times. It was fairly complimentary to trailrunning and ultrarunning in general, while not embellishing upon the characters (too much). And, it brought some names out of the woodwork that aren't normally mentioned in running circles, because they shun the talk show circuit and aren't self-PR whores.

On to the subject at hand: Barefoot Running.

Barefoot running can be used as a tool for gaining better running form, I'll give it that. But barefooting it in the "real world," whether on roads or trails, has it's hazards.

Even the Tarahumara tribesmen in the book, "Born to Run" wear hand-made Huaraches, constructed of car tire treads. While not "cushy," they still offer a large (1/2" thick rubber) degree of protection from rocks and "sharps" to the bottoms of the feet. Barefoot Ted, a character in the book, sustained somewhat "shredded" feet after 50-miles (on desert trails), while wearing his Vibram FiveFingers. And we've had local runners' break their little toes while wearing Vibram 5Fs on our rocky trails.

Local runner, Barefoot Rick Roeber has run in a few of our Trail Nerd races, with varying degrees of success (and injury), as evidenced by this photo after a 10-miler at Wyco. He admits that he has difficulty (running unshod) with some types of surfaces, like ordinary dirt & gravel roads.
Barefoot Rick's Feet
And then there's one of the main characters in the "Born to Run" book...Scott Jurek, arguably one of the best ultrarunners in the world...and he's a heel striker! Scott excels at both trail AND pavement ultramarathons. He helped with the design of his shoe of choice (the Cascadia), which is a "substantial," and fairly heavy and cushy shoe, by any means of measurement.

Can a person run on rocky trails, while unshod?
There is one local runner that (I think) has the form, speed, and relative lightness to run barefoot on rocky trails fairly successfully...and that is "Barefoot" Josh Snellink. While I've seen him injure and bloody himself a time or two, he has a "realistic view" of what is possible with barefoot running (IMHO), and when it makes sense to wear shoes, to prevent injury or frostbite. For Josh to run absolutely barefoot on our local rocky trails, he needs to be obsessively observant of trail conditions, but he also needs to slow down on the downhills. This guy is no slouch...if he were wearing some type shoes and could run at his normal and (beautiful to watch) fluid pace - even on the descents, I think he would cruise to victory in quite a few races.

Where am I leading with all of this? Barefoot running can be a means to an end to improve your running form. It can also make you more aware of your body in relation to its surroundings. But, in the long run (pun intended), you will probably still need to have your feet shod, at some time or in some capacity. This is especially true for snowy/icy weather conditions, and rocks and "sharps" protection on the trails and roads. And, if you want to go faster in a race, you should probably be shod. Find out what's right for you, whether it's a pair of super-light 3.8 oz Universe, or a pair tire tread huaraches. And if you're not having issues while still wearing your "normal" running shoes, then don't fix what ain't broke.

Happy trails,
Bad Ben
Barefoot runners have ALWAYS gotten a free entry into Trail Nerd events.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Killing Me Softly

It's not funny. A fantastic little piece of area running is in a hurt locker, right now: Great Plains Running Company. What's really sad: A lot of the folks who decry this tragedy have let it happen. How? by buying their shoes online, instead of seeking them out at one of their closest area running specialty stores.

Buy local. Keep local jobs and families sound.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Screwin' Shoes

Winter running doesn't have to be like "life on a slip and slide." Whether you are a pavement pounder or Trail Nerd, screwed shoes are an inexpensive answer to your traction problems. If you like to run outdoors year-round and want Velcro-like traction on ice, slush, and on.

I started my running life in Spokane, Washington, where the Winter weather can be colder and much more snowy than here in Kansas City. And the snow would stick around and stack-up, too. It was not unheard of to see our first snow in October, and not have the snow and ice not melt until late March. After a few major snowfalls, the City would run out of budgeted funds to plow the snow. From that point on, the city would just plow the main streets, (but not the side streets), for the rest of the Winter. The side streets and sidewalks would become a "life & death" dangerous place to run.

Cars got around okay on the unplowed side streets (for the most part), due to the use of studded tires. So, it was only natural for us to adapt our shoes (and bicycle tires) to "studding," through various ingenious means. I don't know who or where the idea originated, but it had been around for quite a few years prior to my first attempt at it.

The first pair of shoes that I studded was in 1985. Remember Avia brand shoes? I used hex-head screws on a pair of Avia's with about 200 miles on them. I was awe-struck by the sudden increase in traction. I felt completely confident and secure on the packed snow and ice, from that point on. Nothing, (other than windchill) would stop me from running through the winter again, from that point on.

How is it done? The screws are screwed into the bottom of the shoe and it is the head of the screw that is visible, and it is the head of the screw that provides the traction. Hex-head sheet metal screws are used, because they have many "cutting surfaces" that grip the ice. After some initial misadventures with using screws that were a "tad" too long, I found out what many others had realized. By using #6 or #8 screws that are 3/8 to 1/2 inch long, you strike a balance of having screws that would not only stay in place, but they are not be felt by your feet. Usually, ten to sixteen (or so) screws per shoe, does the trick. Matt Carpenter has a great "how to" description of the procedure on his site. There is also a direct link to his site at

Kelley Johnson gets screwed. Photo by Dick Ross,

Will it "hurt" your beloved running shoes? No, not really. But why not grab a used pair of shoes and try it out, and keep that pair "screwed" for the rest of their useful life? Sometimes, I will use the same pair of screwed shoes for two years, depending upon how many icy days we get.

Photo by Casey Yunger

At the Trail Nerds' annual February race, the "Psycho Wyco Run Toto Run," we have actually employed the use of NASCAR-style pit stops with "shoe-screwing" stations for the uninitiated or non-believer. Non-believers may run the first loop of the race without shoe screws, but after watching their "screwed competition" literally fly by them on the course, they are more than willing to "get screwed" before going out for another loop.

So, forget hitting the "dreadmill" this Winter. Get your running totally screwed-up, for some real fun this season.

Happy trails,
Ben Holmes

Saturday, January 02, 2010

T-Shirt Etiquette

Time to lighten-up.

I haven't posted this for a while:

In the running and triathlete community the wearing of race T-Shirts has become a sign of accomplishment and fashion. Choosing just the right T-Shirt for that special occasion can be a daunting and difficult task. The following guidelines have been compiled (in fun), to help the responsible T-shirt wearer avoid potential embarrassment and/or elevate their perceived status in their athletic community.

This list was formed from using various tri and runners' submissions, and then acquired, edited, exfoliated, and added to by me. You can send any suggestions of yours to me. If they are semi-coherent and not too offensive, I might add them. But then again, I might not.

Note: This is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek review of the sometimes superstitious regard runners and triathletes have for their finisher shirts. My personal view: I don't care if you wear your shirts wrapped around your head in an ever-expanding please, no nasty-grams back to me on back-channel e-mail. Have fun.

T-Shirt Etiquette Guidelines:
1. A shirt cannot be worn unless the wearer has participated in the event. There is an exception, though: "significant others" and volunteers are exempt.

2. Any race tee, less than a marathon distance, shouldn’t be worn to an ultramarathon event. This goes double for the wearing of sprint-tri shirts to Ironman and Half-Ironman events. It simply doesn’t represent a high enough "cool factor " and sends a red flag regarding your rookiness. It's like taking a knife to a gunfight. It's probably best just to wear a generic name-brand athletic shirt, and go hide in a corner until race time.

3. When you are returning to a race in which you have previously finished, then wear the shirt from the first year you completed the race. Don’t short-change yourself by wearing the shirt from the year before. It doesn’t adequately display the feat of accomplishment or the consummate veteran status that you are due.

4. Never wear a race event shirt for the (same) race you are about to do. Only rookies do this. It displays a total lack of integrity and might put the bad-heebee-jeebee-mojo on you for the race. Wearing a T-shirt of the race, while currently running said race, is discouraged. It’s like being at work and constantly announcing "I’m at work". Besides, you wont have the correct post-race shirt then...unless you like to wear sweaty, pitted-out clothes on a regular basis. If you do, then go back to the swamp, Gomer.

5. Never wear a shirt from a run that you did not finish. To wear a race shirt is to say "I finished it". Exceptions: see guideline #1.

6. A DNF’er may wear a race shirt if... the letters DNF are boldly written on the shirt in question (using a fat Sharpie or a Marks-A-Lot).

7. During a race, the wearing of shirt from a previously completed year is acceptable. Wear the oldest T-shirt you have from that race (see guideline #3). This is probably a good practice because you now have no excuse to drop out since you’ve done it before.

8. If possible, runners should buy significant others T-shirts which can be worn without regard to running the race. (see guide #1). Keep in mind, they support your "running Jones" more than you think. They also have ways of punishing you that you can't even imagine. Or maybe you can.

9. Volunteers have full T-shirt rights and all privileges pertaining thereto. So there. Remember, you can always volunteer for a race and get a shirt. I encourage this as your civil duty to be a member of the running community. Races don't happen without volunteers, folks.

10. No souvenir shirts: therefore, friends or anyone else not associated with the race may not wear a race shirt. If your mom thinks that your Boston shirt is lovely, tell her to QUALIFY for Boston herself, & send in her application early for next year, so she can earn her own shirt. A downside to this: she still has plenty of time to write you out of her will between her training runs for the big race. Note that your mom CAN wear your finisher's shirt under one of these 4 conditions- 1) you still live with your mother; 2) she funded your trip to the race; 3) she recently bailed you out of the slammer; or 4) All of the above. There is an exception to this guideline: (refer to # 1...If you are a "non-traditional family," and your mom actually is your Significant Other).

11. Always wear the race shirt of your last race at the current race’s pre-race briefing. The more recent the race, the better. This is a good conversation starter. However, avoid the tendency to explain how that it was a training run for this, and this is just a training run for the next, etc. It just sounds like your rationalizing mediocre performances. Sometimes it’s best to live in the here and now.

12. Your t-shirt should be kept clean, but dried blood stains are okay, especially if it is a trail race or a particularly tough event. If you're an ultrarunner, you can even leave in mud and grass stains, (and porcupine quills). Not washing-out the skunk scent is pushing the macho thing a bit too far, though.

13. Never wear a T-shirt that vastly out-classes the event you're running. It’s like taking a gun to a knife fight. Or like unleashing an atomic bomb among aboriginal natives. You get the idea.

14. Also: never wear a blatantly prestigious T-shirt downtown or at the mall among non-running ilk. People will just think you have a big head, which you do. You'll also get stupid questions, like, "how long was that marathon?" If it's a shirt to a 50 or 100-miler, they'll think it's a shirt for a cycling event or just think you're totally nuts, which (of course), you probably are.

15. Never, ever, borrow a race finisher's shirt from another runner to wear to an event that you didn't run. If you do, remember that in Dante's Inferno, he wrote about a special Hell for characters such as you; right between Tax Collectors and Lawyers.

16. The Bad Ben Guideline: All children or grandchildren of mine can wear hand-me-down race finisher's shirts for races that I've run in. When they are asked, "did you run in that 100-mile trail race?" They can proudly respond, "no, but my daddy (or grandad) did." If your progeny has put-up with you being an ultrarunner, they have said rights too. If you have completed an Ironman, your kids also have the same rights. They've put up with a lot of crap (or outright neglect) over the years, and deserve to wear them.
17. The Bryner Guideline: Never wear a shirt that has more sponsors listed on it than people that ran in the event. (Are you listening, race directors?) A shirt with too many sponsorship logos on it is just plain ugly. If you're a race director, and have scored that many sponsors, how about sharing the wealth? Just give me a call at 555-6565, and ask for "Bad Ben." By the way, you can let ANYONE wear this ugly shirt; non-finishers and distant relatives, alike. If you respect your friends, kids, spouse or mother, though, you won't let any of them wear it. It would serve well as bedding in your kid's gerbil cage.

18. Never wear a shirt that has any sponsors on it that you don't agree with. For instance, if you're a Vegan, you shouldn't wear a shirt that proudly advertises "Omaha Steaks" on it. If you wear this shirt, the "Karma Gremlins" will catch-up with you . I swear that's why I fell and broke my nose in my last 50-mile trail run, or why I had plantar fascitis for most of '99. I never should have ran in the 1998 "Fantastic 4-Miler." Why would they enlist a sponsor from an North Korean land-mine manufacturer, anyway?

19. The Spencer Guideline: If an event is cancelled at the last minute, but the event shirts were already given out, you can't wear the shirt unless you actually ran the race on that day. This means you will have to run your own unsupported event, through snow storms, hurricanes, or whatever lame excuse the Race Organizers came up with for cancelling said event. If you still want to wear the shirt, you have to mark it with a sharpie, "I didn't run this lousy event, and I'm all the better for it, thank you," across the front of it.

20. This next one is a big one, and has something to do with the need for more good taste and asthetics in this sometimes ugly world. Never wear a shirt that is so old, thin, and threadbare that you can see the color of your nipples or chest hair through it. This seems to be just a "guy thing," especially and old-codger-runner-guy thing. Here's the test guys: if you're too scared to machine-wash your 1978 Tab Ten-Miler shirt for fear of it wafting down the drain as meer subatomic particles, then it's probably too transparent to wear in public. If you can (still) remember your great performance at that particular day and you want to save it for posterity, PLEASE have it framed so that you can keep it on the wall of your den or your "I love me" room, and (at least) out of public view. Better yet, have it sewn into a quilt. You can then sit on your couch and read back-copies of Runner's World, cuddled up with your "runner's binky," with a glass of warm milk.

21. By the way, if you don't know what terms like DNF, volunteer, or Significant Other are, then you shouldn't wear any race shirt until you know what they mean, and you shouldn’t have any meaningful relationships, either. You should probably become a hermit and/or New Age "Tantric" runner, sitting at home in the lotus position performing virtual marathons in your mind, while sniffing used GU packets, incense, and patchouli.

T-shirts must be used sensitively. Worn responsibly, they can help expand one's consciousness and immerse you in a great conversation with your running brethren. Worn stupidly, they can cause fright, horror, vacant stares, sprained ankles, and general social unrest. Don't be a "T-shirt Terrorist." Follow proper T-shirt etiquette to do your part for world peace.
Happy trails,

Bad Ben