No to Niagara

I’ve decided – reluctantly, but probably wisely – that I won’t attempt the Niagara 100K on June 14.

That’s a huge disappointment, of course, as I’ve really been looking forward to it. But my feet haven’t healed enough yet to do a 50K, never mind a 100. I lost almost all of the skin from the soles of my feet after running 40K of rough gravel at the Elk/Beaver 50K on May 10, and the new skin is too soft and too tender to run anything long. (Though I did manage almost 30K last Sunday, and am getting in between 6K and 18K on other days.)

Bummer, as we used to say back in the day.

I’ve learned, though, over that past few years, that it’s better to be sensible in cases like this. I’d rather DNS Niagara than try it and damage my feet any more. I’ll spend the next weeks running progressively longer distances, and I’ll pay careful attention to how things go.

Next up is Stage 3 of the ENDURrun International, a 30K trail race in Waterloo, Ontario, on August 12. Then I’ll run the Self-Transcendence 12 Hour on September 27, in Ottawa.

And no foolishness along the way. I promise.

Priorities

I’m running more than writing these days, as I prepare for the Niagara 100K, which takes place on June 14.

Not surprisingly, I’m beginning to develop major jitters for this one. For one thing, it’ll be my first attempt at the 100K distance. For another, my feet are still recovering from being completely shredded at the Elk/Beaver 50K on May 10 – and that’s meant I haven’t been able to put in the training distances I need to do for a 100K event.

Never mind. I’m still aiming for Niagara… and hoping that it’ll turn out well.

EB Update

It’s been two weeks since the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra, and my feet are finally beginning to heal.

They’re not long run-ready yet, by any means, but I’m making steady progress towards being able to do the Niagara 100K, which takes place only three weeks from today.

Right now, “healing” looks like this:

Healing

As you can see, my left foot is still a bit swollen, and I’m still wearing a band-aid to protect some tender skin. My right foot, though, is pretty much back to normal. And both are a whole better than they were two weeks ago:

Wounded

Since Elk/Beaver, I’ve managed a few road runs, a couple of treadmill runs, and a whole lot of walking. All of that’s been done in my new Bedrock Syncline sandals, which will be my footwear of choice for the Niagara ultra. This week, I’ll try to transition from the treadmill, which offers a somewhat cushioned runnng surface, to the roads, in anticipation of running Niagara.

Here’s hoping…

Review: Bedrock Syncline Sandals

Bedrock

When I got home from the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra, my new Synclines were waiting for me. They came in the mail, courtesy of the good folks at Oakland, California-based Bedrock Sandals, in the small burlap bag pictured above. (I love neo-hippie minimalist marketing!)

Presenting the Bedrock Synclines…

Bedrock Syncline

I’m a big fan of evolution. Without it, I wouldn’t have espresso, the Internet, modernist architecture – or Bedrock Syncline sandals. The Synclines represent the evolutionary peak of minimalist sandals technology for me right now. They offer a solution to some of my present trail and ultra running issues, and they promise great things for the future.

First, though, a little bit of backstory…

Shortly after I started running barefoot six years ago, I got my first pair of minimalist sandals – a pair of Barefoot Ted Macdonald’s pre-Luna sandals. Later on, I got a pair from Invisible Shoes (now called Xero Shoes). After that, two pairs of Xero Shoes – the Connect (4mm sole) and the Contact (6mm). Then I was an early reviewer for the Xero Shoes Sensori Venture.

Sandal evolution

In the image above, you can see some of the sandals I’ve worn, along with my new Synclines. (The Barefoot Ted sandals are long gone. After about a year of wear, the soles broke at the lacing side holes, and I pitched them.) The Xero Shoes Contacts are at the left, with the leather laces from the BFTs. Next are the Xero Shoes Connects, with nylon laces in a slip-on lacing pattern. Then, the Xero Shoes Sensori Ventures, with stock/out of-the-box lacing. And, finally, the Bedrock Synclines, with straps (straps at last!)

Pre-Syncline, each of the sandals has presented its own joys and sorrows. I like the openness and freedom sandals offer. But the BFT sandals’ leather laces, which I tied Tarahumara style, cut into the thin skin on my upper feet when I’d run long distances (30K+). And they eventually broke. The nylon laces on the Invisible/Xero Shoes sandals broke after about 300K of use. And all of them made a slappy sound when I ran in them, no matter how good my running form was. (And you can be sure that, after six years of running barefoot, my form is reasonably good.)

The Synclines are different in a number of ways.

First, that shape. I followed the sizing chart on the Bedrock site, and ordered the indicated sandal (size 8, which is a size smaller than I usually take). Not only do the Synclines fit my foot shape perfectly, they also follow the curve of my foot in an almost eerily precise way. Point one to Bedrock.

Next, the sole. The Synclines offer an 8mm Vibram sole, with a nubbly rather than chevroned bottom surface. This thickness choice, say the folks at Bedrock, provides wearers with more protection on trails and more durability. That makes sense to me, as long as it doesn’t inhibit groundfeel. (It doesn’t.) Point two to Bedrock.

Now, the really good stuff – the Synclines’ straps. They’re “U.S. Military Grade” (I don’t quite know what that means, but it sounds good), with a lightweight pull-tab at the heel, an elastic heel strap, and a patent-ending buckle adjustment system (very nifty, as it makes tweaking the sandals’ fit an absolute breeze).

Syncline Straps

Bedrock has also tried to solve some of the wear-and-tear issues normal to sandals with inlayed bevels on the lower sides of the soles to protect the straps from abrasion. Big point number three to Bedrock!

Bedrock side holes

The straps are available in your choice of colours – black, gray, teal, lapiz blue, sage green, yellow, olive drab, and red. I’m told by Bedrock that black and olive drab are customers’ most popular choices. That makes me feel good, as I’ve always thought that brightly-coloured straps or laces on serious sandals are a bit weird. (Then again, I don’t like the sight of brightly-coloured running shoes either.)

Colours final

One feature worth noting is the new corded toe-straps that come on the Synclines. According to Bedrock, the toe strap has always been the weak point on thong strap sandals, and so they made this change. It’s “Our way of making Bedrocks much harder to kill.” To date, they say, none of their customers have reported a broken corded toe-strap. I agree – but it’s nice to have an interchangeable feature if ever needed, so I plan to order a pair of replacement toe straps to tuck away in my race/run bag.

Corded straps

So far, I’ve run on trails, roads, and my treadmill with the Synclines. They fit perfectly, they don’t slide around, they don’t chafe, and I don’t make loud slappy noises in them. I’ve run in some mud, though it wasn’t deep mud, and am prepared for some slippage when I get to the deep stuff. I haven’t done any really long runs in them yet, as I’m still on healing journey after shredding my feet at Elk/Beaver (read my race report for all the gory details), and may try some band-aids or blister strips behind the heel straps as needed for really long distances. However, I have a feeling that the better way to resolve that will be to find the right adjustment for those straps.

“Walking wounded” doesn’t quite convey the post-Elk/Beaver picture, by the way. After EB, my feet were completely shredded, swollen, and very, very sore. However, with some bandages and my new Synclines, I was able to run – albeit slowly and tenatively – within a few days. That would have been a much slower process without the Synclines, and I’m grateful.

(It’s worth noting that Bedrock plans to add a new sandal model to their product line late this summer. It’ll have a completely new lacing system as well as a new sole, and will be market-positioned as an all-around adventurer built for hiking, fishing, kayaking, etc. Worth watching for, I think!)

My Bedrock Synclines have made me a happy man and a happy runner. I have a feeling that they’re also going to make me a better trail and ultra runner. ‘Nuff said.

Note: Product was provided by Bedrock Sandals for this review.

Race Report: Elk/Beaver 50K

Elk/Beaver 50K

Question: When does a DNF count as a success?

Answer: When it involves winning.

“DNF” and “winning” don’t usually go together – but sometimes it’s just the right thing. Consider the following quote from elite ultrarunner Kilian Jornet:

“Winning isn’t about finishing in first place. It isn’t about beating others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality.”

Last Saturday, I arrived early at the Elk/Beaver Ultras race venue so I could check things out. And got a bit of a surprise… The course, which I’d been told was primarily packed dirt/rocks/roots (eminently doable in bare feet), had been “upgraded” by the Parks Department with fresh gravel a couple of days before. I arrived at 5:00 AM, in time to look things over. The fresh gravel consisted of medium-sized, sharp, pointy stuff, and, as it turned out, covered about 2/3 of each 10K loop. Definitely not good news.

I’d started the day at 3:00 AM, and, over my first espresso of the day, had my usual nervous jitters about the race. I was a long way from home, I didn’t know the course, and I was about to try something I’d never done before. Guaranteed to bring all that existential angst to the fore. Now, seeing all that gravel, the doubts really built up. Still, I was there and I’d set myself a challenge, so what else was I to do but run it?

I had two goals for the Elk/Beaver. One was to follow my ketogenic-adapted regime, which meant running fasted (my last meal before the race was dinner the night before) and with only water as fuel during the race itself. The second was to run the entire 50K barefoot, and not worry at all about my finishing time, much less about getting a PB.

Elk/Beaver start

The Elk/Beaver started as do most of the ultras I run – a small number of participants, the edge of a grassy field, and someone calling out “One, two, three, go!” After that, we began the first loop. It’s a pretty course. Mildly undulating (though the official course description had said “very flat”), a bit of mud, with good views of the two lakes we’d circumnavigate during the morning. A total of 77 runners were involved, for five events (50K, 100K, 50 mile, marathon, and 40K walk), so the race offered good company without any crowding. Kind of ideal when you think about it.

On course

The photo above and the one below were taken at around the 30K mark. I felt really good for those first three loops. Lots of steady energy, no trouble moving across the gravel, and feeling sheer barefoot bliss on the packed dirt sections of the trail. My son and grandson were there at the 30K mark (and again at 40K), having journeyed from Vancouver to support me. Seeing them was pretty much the high point of the race and my day. I’ll always remember that.

Feeling strong at 30K

One of the fun things about this event, which is basically just a local club race, was that two of the three aid stations consisted simply of a flat of bottled water on a park bench, along with a small sign saying “Elk/Beaver Ultras.” The third station was a table at the start/finish, offering fruit, cookies, Coke, and water. Didn’t need or want any of that, though, so I just cruised by.

I started to feel the gravel during loop #4, to the extent that, by about 35K, I was running on the grass verge of the trail if there was one. By 37K, I’d slowed down from the pace I’d kept to for the first 30K (7:10 mins/km) to a really pokey 10:15 or so. I knew I’d have to make a decision the next time I went past the start/finish area, and considered my options – keep on going for what I knew would be a real Death March, or slip on my Sockwa X8s in an effort to minimize the damage and maybe improve my pace a bit. I chose the second. But getting the Sockwas on my feet was difficult, as they were starting to swell. And the bottoms of my feet were bleeding in more than one place.

I soldiered for another kilometer or so, and then found that I simply wasn’t able to go on. In fact, once I stopped and took off my race bib, I found it difficult to even stand. A kindly course marshal gave me a ride back to the start, I crawled to the car, and drove back to my hotel in Victoria.

Time to call it quits

This is what a 40K bailout moment looks like.

Wounded

And this is what my feet looked like about an hour after I finished. A little bit of blood (there was more, and it continued for a couple of days); the swelling had only just begun, would get much worse, and would last about four days.

So what did I accomplish? And what’s all this guff about “DNF and winning”?

Well, first of all, I ran 40K fasted and fueled only by water. That proved, once again, that if you’re keto-adapted, you’ve got the fuel you need (fat) in your body, and don’t need anything else. In fact, it shows, once again, that 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. And, I might add, no ravenous hunger afterwards. Immediately after the race, I ate a few pieces of biltong (for the protein) and, an hour or so later, about 500gm of full-fat yogurt (for the fat). And felt good.

Second, although I didn’t run the full 50K, I did run 40K barefoot, on rougher gravel than I’d ever run on before. I ran the first 30K at my target pace, my form was good, and my spirits were high. I made the right decision (to bail at 40K) at the right time, clearly and cleanly. I learned that I am whole and strong, and that I can accomplish extraordinary things when I try.

I won.

Thanks to my wife for her love and support, and to Simon and Malcolm for being there.

Hipaversary

X-ray, left hip

Nine years ago today, I was run over by a truck while cycling. Somebody called an ambulance, and I was taken away for emergency surgery. The result was that I had some stainless steel grafted into my femur. (Click on the above image to see it in all its detailed glory.) I think of it as my “hardware upgrade.”

The follow-up to the surgery was 14 months of intensive physiotherapy. That brought me to what my physiotherapist called “functional” movement. Getting to “dynamic” movement took a good while longer. But it was the beginning of my return – after an absence of thirty years – to running. So, in the end, it’s a happy story, because it’s brought me to where I am today.

Six days from today, I’m going to run a 50K trail race. Life is good.

Coming Up: Bedrock Synclines

Bedrock Syncline

A pair of Syncline sandals is now on its way to me, courtesy of the good folks at Bedrock Sandals.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of minimalist sandals (aka huaraches). Oakland, California-based Bedrock has taken the huarache to a new level, I think, with some innovative features. The Syncline is their latest effort, with an 8mm Vibram sole, a new corded toe-strap system, and an improved elastic heel strap. I plan to do a lot more trail ultras, so I’m looking forward to putting the Synclines to the test.

(It’s worth noting that, each year, Bedrock donates one percent of its sales to help conserve and restore the environment through an organization called 1% for the Planet. Good on ya, Bedrock!)

Stay tuned!