Spoiled for Choice

I have a very good life. Sometimes I think I’ve got it all.

Right now, part of “got it all” is that I’m testing two great minimalist sandals – the Earth Runners Alpha X and the Bedrock Gabbro 2.0. I’m truly spoiled for choice.

It’s a great opportunity, because, while the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros are similar, there are enough differences between them to make it interesting.

Upper comparison

A top view of the sandals shows some of those differences. Most obviously, the strap methods are different. So are the strap materials – the Alpha X features leather straps, while those on the Gabbro are nylon. The footbeds, too, are different – the Alpha X footbed is suede leather, while the Gabbro is ballistic nylon. They weigh about the same – each Gabbro sandal comes in at 119 gm (4.2 oz), while each Alpha X weighs 141 gm (5 oz.).

Sole comparison

Underneath, it’s again a story of “like but different.” The sole thicknesses are very close – the Alpha X sole is 11mm thick, while the Gabbro sole is 10mm. Both sandals are made with Vibram soles – but those on the Alpha X are a pattern called “Birkenstock,” while the Gabbro soles have a more aggressive technical tread pattern.

No wrong answers here, obviously. I’ve run (and walked) in both of them, and can confirm that they’re both high quality, performance-oriented products. I’ll soon post full reviews of both. Separate reviews, not a comparison – each one of them deserves its own treatment, and I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by putting them mano à mano (not quite the right phrase, but you know what I mean).

So stay tuned. I’ll post the reviews after I’ve put the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros through some serious testing.

Earth Runners

Bedrock Sandals

Earth Runners Affiliate

I’m pleased to announce that I’m now an affiliate for Earth Runners minimalist sandals.

That means that, if you follow a link on this blog and then buy an Earth Runners product – such as a pair of their sandals or socks – I’ll get a small commission.

I don’t often do this sort of thing, but I want to support Earth Runners, because I believe that their products are worth it.

So have a good look at the Earth Runners site – and feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

I’m currently testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X sandals, and will post a full review soon.

Coming Up: Earth Runner Alpha X Sandals

Earth Runner Alpha X

I’ll soon be testing – and reviewing – a pair of Alpha X minimalist sandals (shown above), which are coming from the good folks at Earth Runners. The “X” stands for an “extreme” version of their existing models; you won’t see this one yet on the Earth Runners website.

Earth Runners does things a little bit differently, both with its products and in its philosophy.

The company’s website says that Earth Runners’ goal is “to create affordable USA-made earthing sandals that allow your feet to function closest to how they’re naturally designed – and that’s barefoot. We’re passionate about promoting a more grounded way of living that’s possible when we’re connect to the electrical energy of the Earth.” “Earthing” is a new concept to me, so I’ll explore that a bit in my review.

Earth Runners is also doing its bit for a larger community. For every ten sandals it sells, it donates a pair to Seva Sandals, a non-profit organization which provides protective footwear to children in India. I like that a lot.

After the AlphaX’s arrive, I’ll do some serious testing, then write and post a full review. Stay tuned!

Transcendent Reflection

Transcendence

It’s been a week since I ran the Ottawa Self Transcendence 12 Hour (see my race report in the post below). It was a remarkable experience, and one that I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Though some specific learnings come to mind (train better, walk better, be more gutsy), it’s the “softer” lessons that have more meaning. In some ways, I feel like I’m a different person since running the 12 Hour. Still not quite sure what the difference is, but I’ve begun to get a sense of it.

First, I’m surprised that it’s not a sense of accomplishment that stands out above all else. Sure, running for 12 hours and 71K is a big deal – I’ve never done either of those before. But what’s significant is that I feel more complete than I did before.

Second, I’m happier. Not that I didn’t feel happy before last Saturday. I have a very good life, with little stress and lots of joy in it. But, since running the 12 Hour, I’ve been generally more at peace, more optimistic, and more calm. Something changed because of last Saturday, that’s for sure.

Third, I feel stronger. Not only physically (I’ve been running well all week), but psychologically and emotionally. I’m facing the world differently, and am a better person for that.

The outcome? Well, you may not be surprised to hear that I’m considering running the Self Transcendent 24 Hour next year. Something’s going on here, and I want more of it.

Race Report: Self-Transcendence 12 Hour

Self Transcendence 12 Hour

Writing this report is a bit of a daunting task. Not because it was a bad race – on the contrary, it was a very good race – but because it was my very first 12 Hour and because, a few days later, I’m still processing information, emotions, and lessons learned.

It’ll take a while, I think, for me to sort everything out. In the meantime, here’s a first take. (There may be followups. Just sayin’.)


Louis Riel Dome track

Photo by me

An indoor track, 400 meters per lap. Covered by a huge white translucent bubble, with big fans going all the time. A track surface made of a thin layer of rubber laid over concrete. Warm, still air. There were 16 other people running the 12 Hour, 10 people running the 6 Hour, and 44 running the 24 Hour. And there were a whole bunch of volunteers on hand to make sure our needs were met.

It was a pretty impressive setting, a pretty impressive event, and there were some very impressive people there.

Ottawa 12 Hour runners

Photo by Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

Above is a photo of some of those people. This is the 12 Hour group. The third woman from the left in the front row, in the dark blue shirt, finished first, racking up 112.8K in 12 hours.The tall fellow in the back, in the yellow shirt, completed 102.2K. My friend Pierre D., standing to my right, completed 82.2K. I managed a paltry 75.15K. (I don’t do well with getting my picture taken, which may explain why my eyes are closed.)


Here’s a photo of me waving to my counter as I went past her, probably somewhere around the four hour mark. At the beginning of the race, every runner was assigned a counter, a real, live human being who, at the completion of every lap, made eye contact and called out the runner’s name. It was a wonderfully human way to make data collection happen. My counter was a young woman named Eugenie.

Saying hello

Photo by Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

And this is me, at somewhere around the seven or eight hour mark. Still hanging in, but differently focused, and a bit slower.

Hot, sweaty, and a bit tired

Photo by Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

It was warm inside the dome. The big fans you could always hear were there to keep the dome inflated; they did nothing to make the air move around. And, as luck would have it, this late September day in Ottawa was a hot and sunny one. So the temperature inside the dome stayed at a more or less constant 25C or so all day. I was hot, I was sweaty, and I was tired. But I was still truckin’.

It all ended well, though, and I was ready, willing, and able to receive my certificate and group photo at the awards ceremony. (Upright and smiling, right?) Each entrant got a cotton (i.e., non-tech) t-shirt, while each finisher got a certificate, photo, and medal (the medal’s coming in the mail, as the supplier didn’t get them to the organizers in time).

At the awards ceremony

Photo by Chloe Duschene

I could care less about the medal and the certificate. And I usually pitch race t-shirts straight into the recycling bin as soon as I get home. But this t-shirt is different. I really earned this one!


So, a great event, wonderful people, and an excellent race. But what worked? What didn’t? What did I learn? And where do I go from here?

What Worked

Barefoot: This race was barefoot bliss, with a track surface that was absolutely made for skin-to-ground contact. At the end of 12 hours, my feet were a little dirty, but felt great. No blisters, not even any hot spots, and no swelling. And, since running barefoot means better form and improved running economy, my legs were surprisingly fresh at the end of the race. Sure, my quads were a bit sore, and lower back was a bit tight, but a hot Epsom salts soak back at the hotel quickly dealt with those minor issues.

I really don’t understand why more people don’t run barefoot.

Fuel: Low-carb, high fat all the way. I started the race fasted (had a tin of sardines, a couple of hard-boiled eggs, and an espresso at about 7:00 the previous evening), and mostly followed my LCHF regime throughout the race.

I had a bowl of mashed avocados at about the six hour mark, munched on macadamia nuts or biltong every couple of hours, ate some chocolate (the good stuff – raw, Ecuadorian, and 89% cocoa) later on in the race, and drank some home-brew espresso at the six hour mark and again at the nine hour mark.

(I say “mostly followed” because, in the last couple of hours of the race, I got into the watermelon slices that were on offer at the aid station. “Lots of electrolytes,” said my friend Pierre, and, let’s face it, all I needed at that point was an excuse…)

Morton Stretch: I don’t stretch except during ultra races. Then, I do something called the Morton Stretch. It refreshes the legs nicely, and is which is simple, and quick. Highly recommended! In this race, I did a Morton Stretch once every couple of hours. It only took a couple of minutes, and I was soon on my way again.

People: The Self Transcendence was full of good people. Ultra runners tend to be a friendly and upbeat lot anyway, but the Self Transcendence crew were above and beyond that. I’ve never felt so welcome and so supported at any race anywhere. I want to run with them again! The volunteers were incredibly kind and helpful, and the counters did an amazing job of keeping track of us all.

What Needs Work

Guts: I’m a wussy boy. I tend to run out of steam – both physically and mentally, but especially mentally – at the end of long races. I really lost both focus and pace in the last couple of hours of this race, and simply didn’t dig deep enough to tough it up. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if this is what “self transcendence” is all about – the ability to let go of the tiredness, the pain, and the negativity, and go beyond that. I need to work a whole lot more on that aspect of my running.

Walking: I started walking too late in the race, and therefore ended up walking too much towards the end of it. I need to discipline myself to start walking earlier, to power walk when I do it, and to keep my walk breaks to a reasonable time and distance. I watched other folks doing it, and was impressed at how they integrated their walking breaks into their patterns of strong and steady running.

What Next?

I’m going to run the Kingston Self Transcendence 12 Hour next year.

Part of me wants to say I’ll give the 24 Hour event a try. But, to be honest, the thought just scares me breathless. When I walked away from the 12 Hour on Saturday night, tired but happy, I looked back over my shoulder at the people who were still running round and round that track, and would continue doing so through the night and into the morning. I’m not sure if I have the gumption for that.

But I will run the 12 Hour, and I’ll run farther next year than I did this year. Maybe I’ll even transcend myself.

Running Breakthroughs

Breakthrough

Over the past six years, I’ve experimented with and tweaked my running techniques. Most of the time, change has come incrementally. Sometimes, though, there have been significant breakthroughs.

Here are the three most important:

Barefoot

Running barefoot is the most significant thing I’ve done to change/improve my running, bar none.

My first barefoot run was in June of 2009. I’d been reading about barefoot running for a while, so decided that I’d give it a try. It felt better – much better – than I’d expected. So I just kept on going. My running changed completely because of that. I’m lighter, stronger, and quicker. Running barefoot means running with fewer injuries, so I’m able to train consistently. I feel whole and strong.

When footwear is a necessity (rough terrain, very long distances, or a combination of the two), I wear minimalist sandals. But I always get back to skin-to-ground as soon as I can.

LCHF

This comes a very close second to being barefoot.

Long story short… If you adopt a LCHF (low carb, high fat) lifestyle, and become keto-adapted, you’ve got the fuel you need (i.e., fat) in your body, and you don’t need anything else. In fact, it’s better to run this way, as it results in steady energy levels, with no insulin spikes, no bonking, and no hitting the wall.

The human body doesn’t need carbs at all. I’m much better off without them.

Cadence

Getting my cadence to the optimal turnover of 90 steps/minute (180 steps/minute if you count both feet) has made a huge difference in improving my running economy and enhancing my form. Barefoot running tends to have a higher cadence than when shod, so that’s been a help.

Once in a while, I use a metronome beat of 180 bpm on my iPod Shuffle to check my cadence and ensure that it’s where it should be.

My goal is to be able to hold a 180 bpm cadence over very long distances.

More?

There’ll doubtless be more breakthroughs. I think they’ll come in the course of doing distances over 100K and times over 12 hours.