Barefoot Running UK

Barefoot Running UK April 2014

The latest issue of Barefoot Running UK is available online here.

I can’t recommend this publication highly enough. If you’re at all interested in barefoot and/or minimalist running, movement and sports therapy, product reviews, this is a must read. If you’re still struggling along in foot coffins, well, this just might be the nudge you need.

Poster Boy!

TMTR poster

Last year, I ran the Tom Marchese Trail Run at the Cold Creek Conservation Area in Nobleton, Ontario. It was my first barefoot trail run, and an event I enjoyed immensely. I can’t make to this year’s TMTR, as I’ll be doing the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra on the day it happens. I’ll be there in spirit, though, and am planning to run the TMTR again in 2015.

I’m honoured to be pictured in the poster for this year’s event. (Click on the image at the top of this post to see it in all its glory.)

If you’re local to the GTA, I urge you to run the TMTR. It’s a great race and a great event. I promise you’ll have a wonderful time!

Vision Quest?

A vision quest? Or just an enjoyable long run?

I’m being facetious, of course. I’m not into vision quests, and I won’t be attempting one anytime soon. I am, though, very much into good runs – and I’m pretty sure the Elk/Beaver 50K Ultra on May 10 will be one of those. That said, I plan to follow two strategies at the Elk/Beaver which will push the limits a bit. The first is about fueling, and the second is about gear (or lack of it).


First, I plan to follow the low carb/high fat nutrition regime I’ve been on for the past ten months, and run the Elk/Beaver 50 fueling only with water and a bit of biltong. Second, I plan to run the full 50K trail race barefoot.

The fueling strategy isn’t as outrageous as it sounds. The LCHF thing has worked well for me, with nothing but good to show for it. I now weigh less than I did in high school forty-odd years ago, my energy levels are strong and consistent, and my health is excellent (except for the ongoing prostate cancer thing, but that’s for another post). And there’s a significant amount of evidence, both clinical and anecdotal, suggesting that LCHF can work well for endurance athletes.

Keep Calm

The running barefoot thing is a little more complex. It’s not the distance that I’m worried about. After all, I ran the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon barefoot a couple of years ago. And last summer, I ran a short trail race barefoot. It’s the Elk/Beaver’s trail surfaces, combined with the race distance, that are going to be the challenge. According to Carlos Castillo, the Elk/Beaver’s race director, each of the 10K loops of the race consists mostly of packed dirt and leaf litter, with about 200 meters of asphalt, and 2K of packed gravel. It’s the latter that worries me. I’m not looking for a PB at this one, so will be happy to roll along at a comfortable pace. There’s a cutoff time of 14 hours for all runners, so no worries, I’ll do it. But a total of 10K of gravel? Hmm…

However, based on the following short video, which Carlos Castillo very kindly shared with me, it certainly looks doable.


OK, so a real, honest-to-goodness vision quest it’s probably not going to be. But it will certainly be an exploration of new territory, both physically and psychologically. And it’s only fair to note that, during my very first marathon (the 1980 Labatt’s Toronto Marathon), I did see Elvis a couple of times. So who knows? At Elk/Beaver, I might just go places I’ve not been to before…

Vision quest


Running Horse

Towards the end of every winter-into-spring training program, I always run out of steam. I think it’s mostly because I get tired of the pattern. Yes, I know it’s all very scientific and outcome-oriented, but the rhythm of a 16 or 18 week program eventually just gets tiresome. The result is turmoil, kerfufle, and frustration.

I’ve discovered that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once I break through the slump/readjustment part of it – and discover a pattern that actually works – I’m better off. Over the years, I’ve become better able to let go of what doesn’t work, and allow something new (and more appropriate) to emerge.

And so it’s been this month.

At the beginnng of the month, I felt fine, but I couldn’t/wouldn’t run. It was a combination of four months training on the treadmill, really dreadful late-winter weather, and just plain grumpiness. At first, I thought that letting a day or two go by would break the slump, but there was no joy there. So I let another day or two go by. And then did that again. After ten days or so, I was getting desperate. So, I just plugged away. I ran the 1.5K lap around my suburban block. I ran short barefoot runs when it was far too cold to do so sensibly. I ran multiple laps of that 1.5 circuit. I went out the door, ran about 200 meters, and turned back. I ran my favourite 6K lap around my neighbourhood ring road, and hated it. I grumped, and moaned, and became less than pleasant company.

And then… breakthough. The weather changed (slightly) for the better. The 6K laps became fun again. My body came back to looseness and strength and fitness. I’d come back. And I found a new pattern.

  • Now, I run on alternate days. Well, not quite. I run on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. That means back-to-back long runs on Sundays and Mondays, which is perfectly OK when you’re training for ultras.
  • I do two runs a day, except for Sunday, when I do one longish run. That’s partly to accomodate my daily non-running life (I do have one, you know), partly about not working so hard at running that I get fatigued, and partly because it feels right.
  • On days when I don’t run, I usually go to the YMCA and have a whirlpool and a sauna. Sometimes I run to the Y on those days (it’s only a 6K round trip), and sometimes I don’t. When I do, I run very slowly.
  • I build up my distances each week. Not by any prescribed amount, just by what feels right.

It’s working very well. I’m getting my distances, I’m getting the recovery times I need, and I’m back to being a happy runner again.

And you know what? I’ve become very fond of running laps.

Slump End


Well, the slump I mentioned in my last post is over.

Kaput. Finis. Done like the proverbial toast.

As expected, all it took was a few barefoot outdoor runs. On Friday and Saturday I did a couple of short ones. They were short because the temperature was -5C, and, because I ran early in the day, the pavement was very cold. I didn’t run yesterday, when the temp went down to -19C. But today the high temp was +5C (1C with the windchill factored in), a mix of sun and cloud, and a light, 17 km/h wind. Now that’s the sort of thing I can deal with. (I am, after all, Canadian. This is mild spring weather for us.)

I just came in from a delightful run around the neighbourhood. 7.02K in 44:34, with no goal in mind except to run. Bare feet, shorts, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and shades. No hat and no gloves. The pavement didn’t feel very cold, though there were lots of icy puddles on the sidewalks. It wasn’t a long run, and it wasn’t a fast run. But it was a good run.

And it took me out of the slump. And that, believe me, is a good thing.

Self Transcendence 12 Hour

Self Transcendence 12 Hour

Today I sent off my registration for the Self-Transcendence 12 Hour Ultra, which will happen on September 27. It’ll be my second track ultra (the first was the Run4RKids 6 Hour I did in early January), and my first attempt at a 12 hour track event. I liked doing the 6 Hour ultra very much, and am hoping the 12 Hour will be equally enjoyable.

The 12 Hour will take place at the Louis Riel Dome, reputedly one of the best tracks in North America. It’s also the biggest air-supported dome in North America, and the second biggest air-supported dome in the world.

Louis Riel Dome

The Ottawa Self-Transcendence is a big event. It’s the longest-running 24 hour race and the oldest timed ultra worldwide. And it’s a place where big things happen. Since its debut in 1981, it’s hosted the National 24 Hour Championship a number of times. The men’s course record for the 24 Hour is 242.919K, set by Peter Holubar in 1990, and the women’s is 214.487K, set by Jamie Donaldson in 2009. In 2013, American ultra runner Jon Olsen ran 100 miles in 11:59.28 (see his race report here), setting a new American 100-mile track record and a new North American record.

OK, I’m not going to do the 24 Hour (not this year, anyway). I’m just going to run for 12 hours. By the time I get to the Self-Transcendence, I will – hopefully – have run for a longer time than that. On June 27, I’ll do the Niagara 100K, and hope to complete it within the 14 hour cutoff. But the Self-Transcendence will be different – an indoor, timed event on a 400m Tartan track. By late September, the soles of my feet should be nicely conditioned, so I may be able to the whole race barefoot. Or I’ll do most of it barefoot, and wear my Xero Shoes Sensori sandals as needed.

I can hear you saying, “That’s all very nice. But why would you want to run in circles for 12 hours? And why do it barefoot?”

Because I want to find out what happens when I run a long way. Running barefoot is the most comfortable, most natural way to do it. When I run very long distances, I almost always reach a place where I feel whole and complete, where everything fits together and I’m at peace. And that’s really what it’s all about.

A runner's feet

Treadmill Love

NordicTrack A2550

It’s February. The snow in my front yard is thigh-deep and there are shoulder-high drifts at the end of my driveway. The temperature right now, with the windchill factored in, is -26C (-15F). A couple of weeks ago, the temperature got down to -38C (-34.5C). Just before that, we had a huge ice storm, which basically shut down life as we know it for a few days.

That means it’s treadmill time again!

At the top of my post is an image of my trusty ‘mill. It’s a four-year old NordicTrack A2550. There’s a nice review of it here. I bought it for about C$800, via an online sale at Sears. It’s a basic/mid-range ‘mill, and good value for what I paid for it.

I do a lot of running on the ‘mill between November and March. Five or six days a week, in fact. I’m not a cold-weather runner, and I usually have a race coming up in the early spring. So I start building my late season base on the ‘mill, and transition in late December or early January to serious training runs. Right now, I’m running about 60K a week (and ramping up steadily) for the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra in May.

To do that kind of thing, you’ve got to like running on the ‘mill. Many runners don’t, which I find puzzling. Here are some tips on how to get happy about running on a treadmill.

It’s different from running outside. Wishing it otherwise will only bring you grief. So accept it.

Find your groove. I run without music and without TV. I wear earplugs to muffle the sounds of the ‘mill and my big floor fan. I have two training plans (for my upcoming 50K and 100K races) on the wall in front of me, along with a print of palm trees against a tropical sky. Do whatever works best for you.

Change your pace as you go through your week. Fast, slow, hills, long, short. It’ll be better for your training, and it’ll keep you from going stir-crazy. Don’t be dreary.

Run minimalist. Barefoot if you can. If not, in as little shoe as you can. You’ll be a better runner if you do.

Use a fan – a big floor fan. You’ll be sweaty enough on the ‘mill, so you might as well make yourself as comfortable as you can. Embrace the sweat.

Setting your incline at 1% or 2% doesn’t offer any benefits, according scientific studies. Leave it at 0%. (Unless, of course, you’re doing hills. Then, do whatever is needed – hill repeats, playful hills, hard grinds. Go nuts in whatever way appeals to you.)

Do all of the above, and you may very well find that you enjoy running on a treadmill. At least while the snow, ice, and cold winds prevail. Later on, you can go outside.

Until then… more treadmill!

Making Sense of Barefoot Running

Making Sense of Barefoot Running

The above link will take you to an excellent overview of the case for barefoot running. It comes from barefoot/minimalist running guru Lee Saxby via the good folks at Vivobarefoot, and includes forwards by Prof. Daniel Lieberman (Harvard University Human Evolutionary Biology Lab) and Chris McDougall (author of Born to Run).

Highly recommended!

Coming Up: Elk/Beaver 50K

ElkBeaverLogo A few days ago, I registered for the Elk/Beaver 50K, which will take place at Elk Lake Regional Park, just north of Victoria, B.C., on May 10, 2014. That’s a long time away and a long way away. But it’s a race I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. And the Elk/Beaver Ultras (100K, 50 Mile, and 50K ultras, a 26.2 mile “first-timers’ marathon,” and a 40K ultra walk) have a participant limit of 200, so I wanted to get my name on the list early.

Presented by the Prairie Inn Harriers running club, this 27th annual edition of the Elk/Beaver ultras is described on the event website as a “fast and flat 10 kilometre trail circuit around Elk and Beaver Lakes… Runners complete 10 laps for the 100K division, 8+ laps for 50 Miles and 5 laps for 50K, while walkers complete 4 laps for 40 km… The venue is all trails, very flat, has good footing, and is in excellent condition. Definitely a runner-friendly, P.R. type course!”

“Runner friendly” is good. “Barefoot friendly” would be even better. I’ve been assured by Carlos Castillo, the event’s race director, that it’s barefoot-doable, but he also adds that, if I do it barefoot, I’ll be the first runner to have done so. It’s going to be a challenge, particularly as it’ll happen early in the running season, when I won’t have had a whole bunch of time to condition my soles after a long Ontario winter. (Gravel bucket time! ) A new PR? I don’t know about that. At this stage of my planning, all I can think of as a goal is to finish inside the event’s 7 hour cutoff.

As for the Elk/Beaver being on the other side of this vast country, well, that’s going to present the usual issues involved in a destination race – travel, hotels, unfamiliar beds, different food, and logistics. But there’s an upside to this – both my wife and I have family in Vancouver (a ferry ride or short flight away from Victoria), so I’ll have time with them as well as some personal vacation time on beautiful Vancouver Island. Left Coast, here I come!

Vancouver Island

Race Report: Tom Marchese Trail Run 6.6K

Tom Marchese Trail Run

Well, my first barefoot trail race went even better than I’d expected. For one thing, I finished in 43:17, which was good enough for a third place finish (out of 25 total entrants). Better still, though, the TMTR turned out to be a perfect little jewel of a race.

Going into it, I had a feeling that the course would be a good one. It was at the Cold Creek Conservation Area, a small conservation area that’s tucked away in the hills of King Township, Ontario. It’s located on the Oak Ridges Moraine, a spectacular area of rolling hills and river valleys that was formed 12,000 years ago by advancing and retreating glaciers.

What that meant for the race was that its trails consisted of hard packed dirt, with lots of roots, a few wooden footbridges, and some stretches of grass. Lots of climbs and descents, some short, some long, but all of them steep. And mud – lots and lots of mud.

To say that it rained on the day of the race would be like saying that Pacific Ocean is kind of big. The rain started about midnight the night before, continued in the early morning, and then intensified as race start time drew near. It didn’t matter – once you accept the fact that you’re going to race in the rain, you stop worrying about it.

The race benefited the King Township Food Bank. There was no medal and no t-shirt, which suited me just fine, as I long ago got tired of that sort of thing. What it did feature was good organization, a great bunch of volunteers, and enthusiastic participants. The race organizer was Tom Marchese, a local realtor and Food Bank supporter.

Tom Marchese and I

Pre-race – Tom Marchese, the race organizer, and I

Look at this course map, note the names of various trails, and you’ll get a sense of what kind of stuff we were running through. “Pine Plantation,” “Wetlands,” “Mixed Forest,” “Cedar Grove,” “Century Forest” – it was amazing how much variety was packed into a relatively small area. Hardly any straight stretches on the course and little or no flat land at all. Up, down, up, down, over and over again. Wet grass, wet leaves, and mud, mud, mud. There was one section about 100 meters long towards the end of the end where the ground was littered with ping pong-sized windfall apples. Try running through that in your bare feet!

TMTR course map

Yes, I slid and slipped a lot. But I only fell once – on a very short, very steep downhill slope going to one of the little footbridges. (I’ve been told that you aren’t a trail runner unless you fall once in a while, so I now consider myself baptised.) I’ll confess, too, that I power-walked one or two of the very steep climbs, and skittered down more than a few of the muddy descents. Overall, I was amazed at how pleasant it was to run the race in my bare feet. I’ve learned, I guess, how to dance my way through, around, and sometimes over the obstacles that come up.

As I said, a 43:17 finish. That was only three minutes slower than the first-place finisher, and only two minutes behind the second-place finisher. I’m very happy with that. But I’m happier still to have been part of this particular race. It was so good, in so many ways, that I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year – especially if there’s a double loop 12K option!

Trail race feet

Post-race – wet feet, muddy feet, happy feet.