Roads Rivers and Trails

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Tag Archives: Barefoot


Book Review: Born to Run

Secrets of The Copper Canyons
Book Review: Born To Run by Christopher McDougall
Written by: Bryan Wolf

I seldom have the time to read, but a nine hour car drive was looking me in the eyes and promising to be every bit as boring as you’d expect Pennsylvania toll roads to be.  About a month ago, I decided that the first step to reading a book was buying it: so after many recommendations I picked up my own copy of Born To Run.  Despite my obsession with minimalist running and countless conversations on the topic I had not yet read the book that turned so many people onto natural running.  So I bought the book and immediately put it on the shelf next to the others.  Glancing over my collection of half-read books I realized that step one isn’t my problem, nor is step-two where I open the book.  I needed to commit to finishing one of them, and stubbornly I chose the one that had not yet been started.

I’m somebody who enjoys short stories, and I’ll jump into one after another every day.  Born To Run captured me with just that; I read this book one story at a time. The author captured me in not just one place or one period but in stories that travel the globe and date back to our early evolution as a species. Instead of drifting off in neck-twisting sleep or playing pointless games on my smartphone, I sunk myself in what I would now call my new favorite book.  When we first stopped for a bathroom break, I was several chapters in and couldn’t stop talking about it.  I searched for a placeholder and found only some thin fast food napkins tucked in the van console.  Chapter after chapter I proudly shoved the napkin back into the book.  I’d set the book at my feet to marvel at the story I had just been told.  When I had replayed the entire story back in my head I was drawn to the book again; “What happens next?!”

So how is this a gear review? I think that this may be the best gear review yet, because we already have the needed gear: It’s your body. This book is about the very fantastic and complicated make-up of our bodies, our evolution, and our history as a running people.  I wrote an article before reading this book, already exclaiming my passion and love for running in minimalist shoes, and I’ll attach it at the bottom of the review.  The book didn’t help me discover being barefoot, nor did it help me discover running, it did, however, help me identify why and how I embraced minimalism.

The author, much renowned, travels in search of the “White Horse” or “Caballo Blanco”.  His journey takes him into the Copper Canyons of Mexico and close to peoples that have been nearly untouched by modern civilization; the Tarahumara.  His friendship with this ghost of a man, Caballo, not only opens his story but it opens his world up to one of pain-free and natural motion. Through this journey the author himself becomes twisted in a world of ultra-marathons and ultra-marathoners where he discovers what propels each of us to run both physically and mentally.  He follows leads to interview lead biologists, anthropologists, doctors, runners, coaches, corporations, and Olympians.  All signs point in one overwhelming direction: we were born to run.

If you enjoy running but suffer from injuries (like the vast majority of runners every year), or if you are looking for the passion in running and can’t seem to find it I would seriously recommend this book.  For those of you that have found the thrill of minimalist running I have formed a facebook group under the group name “Raramuri” for sharing minimalist insights, suggestions, and posting group runs.  Or on Meet-up.com under “Raramuri Minimalist Running”.  Raramuri means “the running people” and was the original name of the Tarahumara.  You can pick up your copy of “The Guide to the Outdoors” free publication or your own copy of Born To Run at Roads Rivers and Trails in downtown Milford, Ohio.

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Barefoot Running

Barefoot Running
How I Fell into Barefoot Running
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Why do I barefoot run?  There is one good answer and it is the one that is most important.   I barefoot run because I would not otherwise run.  It is the only running I’ve ever enjoyed. It can be called a trend, a fad, a dangerous endeavor, or whatever you’d like to call it but what I experience is a freedom.  Barefoot or Minimalist Running from the very beginning has enlightened me to another set of awareness and senses.  I can hardly remember what made me start minimalist running. I have no idea why I bought a pair of Vibram Fivefingers more than 5 years ago.  When I put them on though I noticed a mental difference, I had the confidence to move.  I also noticed the physical differences; I could feel the ground that I stepped on, the textures, the temperatures, they fit more like a glove, I could move with full dexterity and control. I felt good, I felt barefoot.

What barefoot enthusiasts will tell you is that they feel connected, light, balanced, natural, and healthy.  Having a sense of awareness in motion and in correspondence with the ground beneath you has benefits of both body and mind. What is the first thing you do when you come home? Chances are you take off your shoes.  Besides a housemate angry about the mud you tracked in you took your shoes off because it is the most comfortable. Despite thousands of designs and attempts at correcting a “problem” there is no modern footwear that is more comfortable than simply being barefoot nor is there footwear that has stood the test of being injury free or even preventive.  You wear a cast on your foot everyday!

Vibram Fivefinger slogan is “You are the Technology”.  It is the first and only footwear that can protect you and allow for full utilization of our human engineering. When you first switch however minimalist running requires a patience and dedication that allows for your body to prepare for its new journey.  Through exercises and a slow but purposeful integration you can experience a transformation that ready’s you for running.  We have 52 bones, 66 joints, and 40 muscles in our feet, make no mistake that each one has a purpose and a place.  As a perfect creation there is no better mechanism for movement than that which we were given; remember “You are the Technology”.

I trained and transitioned slow, working my way to the hills of Clifton; up Ravine or MLK (does anyone feel my pain there?), to the Little Miami Scenic Trail where I would increase distance and speed.  I ventured out to our public parks for trail runs in East Fork or Mt. Airy Forest to discover a whole new sense of awareness and joy carefully bouncing down the muddy banks, through soft pebble creeks, and up grassy hills. I find myself now signing up for regular 5k and 10k events and the Cincinnati Flying Pig half marathon.  I run now, and I enjoy it.

I have been injury free through Appalachia to Cincy streets.  I have to say that if you can abandon your misconceptions or fears you too can find this same joy in running.  This type of running style or footwear may not be for everybody so start with the proper education. There are lots of resources and I’ve included a few here.   Your feet are beautiful, get to know them!

Online Guides/Resources:

Vibram Education: www.vibramfivefingers.com/education/index.htm

Meetup Group: Raramuri Minimalist Running

Harvard Study:  barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu

“Born To Run” best seller: borntorun.org/

“Born To Run” best seller: Blog Review

Gear Review: Vibram Fivefingers Lontra

A True 4-Season Minimalist
Gear Review: Vibram Fivefingers Lontra
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Just this past fall Vibram Five Fingers released a new model of toe shoes called the Lontra. The Lontra was the answer I was looking for, finally an insulated Vibram so that I could enjoy my barefoot lifestyle all year long. I ordered my first pair and was not disappointed in the least. This “shoe” was hot! The concept was flying off the shelf and my feet were super toasty. I would wear them around town, everyday use, and chilly early morning runs. The Lontra was built for more though; the Lontra was built with the 4mm midsole and TC-1 rubber the same as the Treksport. I needed to take this on the trail and give this a test so it is worthy of the RRT wall.

The test subject: Ice Man. Familiar with winter trekking, I earned my trail name over my winter thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I have been wearing minimalist footwear for about 6 years. My first pair was the Vibram Classics and my Vibram collection is now at a very disturbing 9 pairs. I have enjoyed half marathons and week-long backpacking trips with them. I feel ready for the test at hand.

The test would be conducted on Mt. LeConte. LeConte stands at 6,593 feet in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The mountain has the most elevation gain in all the Smokies and is a mere 55 feet shorter than the tallest mountain in the eastern United States. LeConte will typically see 100+ inches of snow fall a year and its icy conditions are typically met with chain or diamond studded boots. How long, how cold, and how winterized is the Lontra really? We would go up Rainbow Falls trail, stay the night at the top, and go down Bulls Head trail the following morning.

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You Are The Technology
THE MAKE UP OF A 4-SEASON SHOE

With minimalist footwear “you are the technology”. That is the slogan used in Vibram advertising. No strike absorbing heel pad, no rounded arch or shifting sole, just you. So what is the Lontra? A Lontra is a North American Otter apparently, fair enough; it is also a minimalist five fingered toe shoe. The Lontra is the only insulated model with a micro fleece lined interior for both wicking perspiration and also added warmth value. It is labeled as water resistant with fully tapped seams. It has an extended neoprene cuff that comes around the ankle as well to keep out debris like snow. As earlier mention they also gave it a thicker sole than other non-trekking models at 4mm and with some more aggressive mini lugs for traction. The 4mm sole will also provide added insulation from the frozen ground you may be traversing. Like many models and activities the Lontra feels best with a wool micro weight toe sock. This will also add warmth and was used in this test.

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The Results
RESPONSIBLY WEARING YOUR VIBRAMS

The following review is based off of a prolonged trip with continued exposure to the elements.

On many levels these fury fleece finger shoes excelled. On the other hand, I would not choose them for this trip if I were to do it again. While they were plenty warm to start the journey they could not maintain it. The trip started at near 50 degrees, that temperature would drop sharply with elevation gain and we would be in temperatures just below 20 degrees up top. It was a 7 mile journey up the mountain and the top 4 miles of hiking were covered in snow and ice. My feet could not sustain their warmth despite my body burning off heat from a strenuous uphill climb. Once on the way up and once more at the top I would switch to some warm down booties while taking a break. The booties stopped the numb feeling momentarily so that I could put the Lontras back on and the hike could safely continue. On the way down we faced deeper snow and slightly heavier winds to chill the feet. Since we were moving faster down Bulls Head trail I was able to get to warmer temperatures fast enough to avoid a break. My toes I guess were comfortably numb.

Outside of the insulation value of the shoes they performed great! The neoprene cuff fit tight and kept out all debris and snow keeping my ankle and foot warm and dry. The sole of the shoe, although not modified for snow or ice versus other trek models still did well in those conditions. I did not have any issues with slipping and considering I was constantly on ice they did a fair job of blocking off winters chill as well. Given that it was snow and not rain, the shoes seemed waterproof during my test. Walking over streams of ice cold water I would have been in serious trouble if they were not. I would not trust them to be as waterproof as my boots but for these conditions they did great. Any sweat that had built up in the shoe definitely contributed to the struggle to keep warm.

Overall they were fun to backpack in and lived up to their advertised uses. I wanted to push the envelope and find their limits and I think I did that. I would recommend them for temperatures below freezing if the use is less remote and exposure is under 3 hours. I would recommend them for prolonged use at temperatures above freezing with or without winter’s ice and snow. This is a significant improvement from other Vibrams, I previously was not comfortable with prolonged exposure under 60 degrees.

Please remember that I am an experienced outdoorsman and that you need to take use of any gear, especially Vibrams, at your own pace. Vibram has a great guide to wearing your new minimalist shoes on their website. Know your limitations and please be responsible. You can find men’s and women’s Lontra proudly on the Roads Rivers and Trails shoe wall.