Moment of beauty III

This is a photo from the UN flickr site, showing the lake this past weekend near Geneva. It has been bitter cold and windy, and that makes the ice do weird things as it sprays up onto the shore.

More images of frozen cars, trees and benches like this one can be seen at 9gag, just type “Lake Geneva” in the search window.

I’ll take this opportunity to pass along a few more links:

Sandal spotting

I just got back from running the Morat-Fribourg race – 17.17 km over bucolic Swiss countryside from the charming walled town of Morat (Murten in Swiss German) to Fribourg. The race has historical roots; it supposedly retraces the steps of a courier who was spreading the news that Charles the Bold had been defeated in a nearby battle. This was back in 1476. The runner carried a branch from a linden tree. Like so many runners to follow him, he collapsed on arrival. They planted a linden tree to mark the event.

I’m not going to get into Swiss history here because I would definitely be out of my depth. Who the heck was Charles the Bold and what was he doing in Switzerland? I’d just reveal my ignorance. (Wait, didn’t I just do that?) The race, however, is very popular. There are people who have run Morat-Fribourg every year without fail for most of their adult lives. This was number two for me.

The defining feature of this race is its altitude profile. (If you look at the link, notice all the first-aid stations…) It can be summed up in two words: bad-ass hills. The race finishes on a brutal uphill. This year I ran it in my New Balance minimalist trail shoes that have recently become my number-one preferred footwear. I was a little nervous about this because the race is run entirely on pavement. Up to now, most of my runs in the minimalist shoes have been at least partly on trails. (They’re trail shoes).

They were fine. Perfect. My feet feel great. My left calf muscle is a little sore, but it was 17.17 km, a lot of uphill. I suppose that’s to be expected. I’m sure a couple of beers and some chocolate will take care of it.

But that’s not the news. The news is that for the last 10k of the race, I ran alongside a woman who was wearing Tarahumara-style sandals!! Universes are truly aligning here. This cannot be a coincidence.

Let’s backtrack for a minute to the pre-race milling about in the starting area and the port-a-potty lines. I spent a lot of time looking at other people’s feet. NO ONE was wearing anything other than bonafide, cushioned, stablilized, run-of-the-mill running shoes. No one but me, that is. So imagine my surprise when a pair of huarache-type sandals edged into my peripheral vision on a hill at about 6 miles. WOW! She wasn’t wearing lycra, either. All of a sudden, the race got a lot more interesting.

We had the same basic pace, that is to say, strong on the ups and lame on the downs – without all that cushioning you don’t tend to overstride and slap your feet down so much doing downhill. Even though we were both running along in our own little zones, I loved every minute – I’d found a kindred spirit. Her form, which unfortunately I got a good look at as she pulled away from me on the last hill, was impeccable. I tried to imitate it, even as I was internally empathizing with the poor courier and his linden branch, and worrying about my own imminent collapse.

I didn’t collapse after all, and as I caught up with her in the finish chute I congratulated her on her footwear. She pointed mine out, too. She said she’d tried to find shoes like mine in Switzerland, unsuccessfully. I told her I’d gotten them in the US, and she raved about all the great possibilities in footwear that could be had across the pond. We basked for a moment in our mutual admiration. She asked me if I’d read Born to Run. Does the bear shit in the woods? Is the Pope Catholic? Then we went our separate ways.

The only other person I saw wearing anything alternative was a man walking barefoot across the finish line, way at the back of the pack. But he was carrying his shoes and his feet had some really nasty-looking blisters on them, so I don’t think the barefoot part had been planned ahead of time. He didn’t look too happy.

On a brief, last barefoot note – last week I walked barefoot all the way from the nasty gnarly trail I photographed for my barefoot blog post to our house the other day (maybe 2km). I just had a sudden desire to go barefoot. It was painful, but great. I like feeling the ground without an intermediary. One of the commenters on my Running and Rambling post obviously lives near me because he recommended a path that I know well. That’s my next step, to run/walk that trail barefoot. I’ve survived Morat-Fribourg, so I’ll do it next week and keep you posted!

Barefoot journal

Well, it happened! My piece about barefoot running has been posted on Running and Rambling! Go read it now! Comment on what a great post it is, and then please come back and read this account of my very first forays into running without shoes on. (There’s a link at the end of the post to redirect you to the journal here.)

For those of you who are coming from Running and Rambling, welcome.  I hope you’ll stay around and read about stuff like  crowdsourcing, the microbiome, how to kiss acquaintances in Switzerland and why Craig Venter is in trouble for quoting Proust in a junk portion of artificial DNA. I post new stuff twice a week, on average. It’s all over the map.

To get down to business, then: This is the trail I run on along Lake Geneva, the scene of the forays into barefooting recounted below. No cars, no glass, no snakes, no problem…


Week 1:
Tuesday: I decide to follow Donald’s wise example and take things very slowly. Heading past the friendly bodyguards staked out in front of the Chechnyan’s house, I run my usual 10k along the lake. I concentrate on bending my knees, as Barefoot Ken Bob suggests. On the way back, I take off my shoes and walk a 100m section of the gravel path. Sweet Jesus! How will I ever be able to run on this? I’m relieved there is no one witnessing my wincing, egret-like perambulation. Back home, I consult Ken Bob and discover that I should have kept my head up, not down, while walking. Clearly, this is going to take some time. The soles of my feet are about as resistant as the foam on my cappuccino.

Here’s a picture of just what I’m dealing with:

Friday: This time, I go back and forth on the same brutal stretch of gravel. Ken Bob says you have to start on the gnarliest bit of gravel you can find, otherwise you won’t get the form right, and you’ll get injured. Is it my imagination or does this hurt less than it did on Tuesday? I keep my head up. Damn, these little stones are sharp. I try to visualize the ball of my foot morphing to spread my weight over the stones. I imagine making little running steps but am not able to execute them. I am positive I’m going to puncture the sole of my foot. Every few meters I have to step off onto the grass for a break. Luckily there’s nobody around but an elderly couple, and they ignore me.

Week 2
Monday: Today, I remove my shoes 100m earlier. This section is not as gnarly, and I can get a little jog going in places. A bit of mud feels delicious squelching between my toes. I swear I can feel the ball of my foot adapting to the ground as it hits, and I concentrate on lifting my foot up instead of pushing off. Pretty soon I reach the nasty section, and sure enough the running gets too painful, and I have to walk. I focus on relaxing my shoulders and keeping my head up. It is an incredibly beautiful day, but no one is around to witness this. I find that oddly comforting.

Thursday: I’ve decided that Ken Bob is a sadist. I walk a longer section of the trail, gritting my teeth the entire time. This is definitely NOT fun. Sure, it’s easy for him to say – Go pick the gnarliest section of trail you can find, one that’s full of small, killer stones. He’s been going barefoot his whole life! He is not starting with cappuccino-foam feet! I fume as I walk along. There’s no way I can ever run barefoot on this stuff. There’s no way I’m ever going to get the form right if I can’t break into a jog! This is totally ridiculous. I head over to the lake and walk into the water. This is more like it. I run along the grass a bit, enjoying the feeling of the soft ground beneath my feet. I’m going to have to Skype my brother. We need to find some kind of middle ground here.

Friday: I share my barefoot experiences to date with my writing group. Incredulous, they suggest I update my tetanus immunization. Not a bad idea. I try to explain Ken Bob’s philosophy, that a piece of glass or the occasional nail is not really that big a deal in the grand scheme of a Barefoot Life. I decide to take my mini-Swiss Army knife with me on my runs, though, just in case I need the tweezers. Maybe I’ll also go ahead and start transitioning to the New Balances, because if I continue breaking my feet in at this rate, it’ll be January before I can actually run for any appreciable distance. And no matter what Ken Bob says, frozen feet are not on my list of must-have life experiences.

Saturday: We went hiking on a beautiful trail, and I kept thinking how great it would be to run it in my New Balances.

Week 3

Tuesday: I run five miles in the New Balances. I bend my knees, gliding Zen-like across the ground, slowly. Later I return to the scene of my barefooting to take some pictures, and I make another attempt at walking along the path. It looks so smooth from a distance! But each step is a little world of torture. Makes you think twice about that expression, A walk in the park. Not obvious. Not obvious at all. It’s a function of your footwear and the surface roughness of the park.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: I’m in Holland, where I run a few kilometers every day in the New Balances. My foot is fine! I’m bending my knees like Ken Bob says, keeping weight under my body. Holland is flat. Really, seriously flat, except for the occasional slight rise to get up onto the dikes. It’s also exactly, or even slightly lower than, sea-level, so no excuses. And because it’s really cold here and the only other shoes I brought are sandals, I’ve been doing all my walking around in the New Balances as well. I really like these shoes! I may never take them off!