Chasing Wolves

English: Engraving of a black wolf by J. G. Ke...
English: Engraving of a black wolf by J. G. Keulemans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a boy, my grandfather gave me a slingshot. I used it almost everyday in the open field near his house. One day I set up range with rusty tin cans and dirty old beer bottles near a giant oak tree. Perched on one of the long gnarly limbs of the tree was a dove. It was sitting so still, gazing down at me. I don’t know what got into me, but I grabbed a jagged rock, loaded it into the slingshot, pulled back as far as I could, and aimed at the bird.

The dove wasn’t like the cans, it didn’t just fall over when the rock struck it; instead its lightly feathered breast absorbed the sharp rock with a soft thump; the dove cried out with dull and painful murmur as it struggled to heave itself into the sky. With its chest crushed, it couldn’t fly, pulsing wildly in the air as it tumbled into a patch of tall grass near the base of the oak. I sprinted over, watching it beat its wings back and forth against the dirt and grass, trying to breathe into its smashed breast, its strength slowly fading from it, dark blood trickling from its beak. I remember looking into its eyes, they seemed to say to me “Why did you do this to me?” I had no answer. So I just stared at it, stunned. Slowly the stroke of the dove’s wings waned until it lay still, its outstretched wings facing heaven. The moment it died, I sensed the presence of my ancestors, watching me from above, scowling down with disapproval.

I felt heartsick. Something snapped deep inside my being, a flood of guilt and shame rushed into my soul. I felt dirty, sullied, unclean. I clutched at my chest trying to wipe the feeling away, but the stain remained.

I ran into my grandfather’s house crying. He gathered me up in his big carpenter’s arms and held me, rocking me back and forth in his burly armchair. My head against his chest with tears in my eyes, I told him what I had done. He let me cry for a while, and when I had calmed down, he told me this story:

He said inside everyone is a black wolf. And this black wolf is cruelty, fear, ignorance: everything evil. But also inside everyone is a white wolf. And this white wolf is love, courage, curiosity: everything good. At some point in everyone’s life, these two wolves start to fight. When the black wolf is winning, he said, you’ll feel the way you do now: confused, sad, unfulfilled. But when the white wolf is winning you’ll feel focused, happy, fulfilled. If you’re not careful, he warned, the black wolf can gradually take control of you, leading you down very dark paths. I knew that I didn’t want follow the black wolf; so,  I asked my grandfather what I could do to fight it. He put his hands on my shoulders and said, “To fight the black wolf, you must feed the white one, giving him more power and strength than the black one.” Then he told me to find the body of the dove, apologize to it, dig a grave for it and to bury the slingshot next to it. I did what my grandfather told me to do and I felt much better. When I patted the last scoop of dirt on the grave, I could tell that my my ancestors and the dove were pleased.

Sometimes when I’m alone on long barefoot runs on the remote trails of the  Oregon wilderness, I feel a powerful presence leading the way, guarding me from the black wolves prowling in the dark shadows.

Which wolf are you feeding?

Essential Holiday Gifts & Stocking Stuffers Every Runner Will Love

Sometimes it’s difficult to chose the right gift for the barefoot adventurer in your life. There’s a trick to buying presents that make your mom and dad smile, letting them know that you love and care for them. And then there are the essentials: the best outdoor gear that your athletic barefoot endurance brothers and sisters  just can’t go without. Here are a few choice Amazon items for the active person in your life, perfect for last-minute gifts.

Waist pack belt for SmartPhones with Waterproof, Sweat Proof Lightweight Case

Waterproof SmartPhone Case for Endurance Athletes
Waterproof Smart Phone Case for Endurance Athletes

On my long run days, when I’m miles and miles from home on slender country roads slick with icy rainwater, I always feel better knowing that I have access to my phone.

Sturdy PolyCarbonate Multi-tool Phone Case for SmartPhones

Multi Tool Case for iPhone 6/6s
Turn your smart phone into a Swiss Army Knife.

Sometimes my sandal-lace snaps, ripping the toe-strap from the sole of the shoe whenever I  kick a rock or trip over an unseen root on the trail. When I finally stop shouting curses to the empty sky, I usually have to break out my car keys to reinsert the strap into the sandal before I seal it back in place with duct tape–yes I always run with duct tape in my camel back. Car keys work, but it’s always nice to have some tools on hand when you’re all alone in deep dark forest. This tough case, made of sturdy poly-carbonate, upgrades your smartphone into a Swiss Army knife. The tools are securely ” hidden” in the case, but easily removed, and the blades are TSA compliant!

Body Glide Anti-Chafe Balm

Body Glide Ultra Running Anti Chaffe lotion
Body Glide Ultra Running Anti Chafe balm

This stuff is magic. Prevents and treats chaffing, especially on the most sensitive part of your chest: the nipple. Easier to apply than olive oil or petroleum jelly. Don’t toss the container in the bin because you can use it to hold home-made, all natural deodorant– a recipe I will cover in an upcoming post.

 Medal & Buckle Hangers for Endurance Athletes

Medal Hanger for Endurance Athletes
Medal Hanger for Endurance Athletes

This is a great gift because it highlights the achievements of the past while inspiring your runner for the goals of the future. Without my medal hanger, I don’t think I’d be running the Hagg Lake Mud 50k this February. Whenever I don’t feel like getting out of my warm cozy bed and onto the wet, icy wind, I look at my medal hanger, then put on my huaraches and hit the streets.

Reflextive Vest

Reflective Vest for RUnners
Reflective Vest for Runners

Don’t let your best friend become another Elizabeth Jaeger, the woman who was given a citation after a car slammed into her hip  during her morning run. Give them the gift if safety. Be safe. Be Seen!

Sweatproof bluetooth headphones

Bluetooth Headphones for Barefoot Runners
Bluetooth Headphones for Barefoot Runners

A study at Brunel Unversity’s School of Sports Education reveals that listening to music while running boosts endurance by 15%!!!

 

Pepper Spray

Pepper Spray for Barefoot Runners
Pepper Spray for Barefoot Runners

Not a every pit-bull is puppy at heart. Some beasts are just downright ferocious. Dogs are pack animals by nature, programmed to chase anything that runs. Most of the time they just yap at your heels, but every once in a while they bite. Pepper spray is humane way to protect yourself without causing lasting damage to the mutt.

 

 

God is good, God is …

Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo, ...
Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo, face detail of God. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a twelve mile run deep into the woods of the Upper Salmon River in Welches Oregon, I realized that I grew up Christian, learning early in my life to fear and to love God, the same God who often took the shape of my “father” who snapped his black leather belt as warning when I misbehaved and who sometimes whipped me with it, blistering my thighs and back with red welts whenever I continued to defy him, the same God who also embodied my “dad” who bought me a brand new red and blue huffy bike with spider-mag wheels just because I told him I wanted one, meaning I can never extinguish belief in the divine, I can only interpret it. 

On the drive home, while flipping through the jangle of tunes and talk on the radio, I heard a warm and intriguing voice say,

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; Acts 17:28.

I fell under the spell of that verse immediately, with its pleasant assurance that all things are divine. The flow of the scripture spun my mind to running–for in him we move. I run, not to become faster so I can win races, not to develop fitness so I can stay healthy, and not to burn calories so I can eat  pizza and guzzle Oregon’s finest beers; instead, I run as an act of worship, each springing knee bent over the wild terrain honors the cosmos, moving me forward, bringing me closer and also distancing me from my ultimate destination. I am not a Christian, but I do feel God surging in my blood, heaving in my lungs, screaming at me to stop and also to push harder whenever I’m bouncing over the landscape of this vast planet. I grew up Christian, learning early in my life to fear and to love God, who sometimes takes the form of my “dad” and “father,” and who, at other times, takes the shape of the man casting my shadow.

The World’s Oldest Propulsion

After many years of barefoot running, I’ve never used running as a transit system. My runs have been loops or out and backs. Today was different. Instead of hopping on Trimet to get from PSU to Gresham City Hall, I decided to run the 13 plus miles with my own two feet. Why not? It was a beautiful day, I got off a 5PM, and I brought my hydration pack,and my running clothes.

Pitiful Princess Strip Club
Pitiful Princess Strip Club in Southeast Portland

The run didn’t go as well as I expected. I took a wrong turn and added a mile. Most of the run was on the very busy thoroughfare that is Division St. The sun blazed over the exposed, cracked sidewalks which shimmered with heat fumes; black smoke piped out the noisy cars practically choking out my breathe; the route was exhausting and monotonous and since I ran against traffic, I constantly felt watched.

But it was also rewarding. I got see “gentlemen” entering the Pitiful Princess Strip Club, which neighbors a sketchy trailer park called “Golden Estates”.  Just before I passed the Pitiful Princess, two jumpy tweakers tried to block my path under 205. They  wanted money. But so did I, so I plowed my way through without much thought.

Aside from certifying that there are some sleazy sections of Southeast Portland, I also learned a few lessons from my run. First, running long distance from one place to another seems to be psychologically more difficult than running an out and back or laps*. When I run an out and back, I know I’m half way done when I hit the turn around, and that always lifts my spirits, especially on longer runs. But with a destination run, the half way point feels more like a punch in the guts. The long road ahead doesn’t let your brain turn around. The street just seems to go on and on. I also learned that it’s better to leave your work clothes in a locker than to stuff them into your hydration pack. My clothes bobbed up and down more than one of the Pitiful Princesses’s heads in back seat of a red Cadillac behind the strip club.  The straps chaffed my neck. Also, the  combined weight of the clothes and water felt like a jack hammer on my lower back.

I’ll probably run home from work again a few more times while the weather is nice and the sun is still up. Even though I had a challenging run this time around, it was nice to take a ride on the world oldest transit system, even if it did take me on tour of world’s oldest profession.

*Maybe that’s just because I’m not familiar with the route. Unfamiliar routes always seem longer.

Boring Marathon

Boring Marathon Oregon Barefoot
Barefoot runner Boring Oregon Marathon

It was a strenuous route and it was not designed for barefoot runners–photo shows the GOOD GROUND. In fact, I was the only one crazy enough to tackle the rugged roads in my 4mm Xero Shoes–known to everyone else as “flip flops.” My heart leapt when the first notes of the Star Spangled Banner drifted out. It was sung high school sophomore girl with braces. As soon as the song ended, the horn blasted. We started off at the Barlow High School Track, then ran on the scabrous, mountainous roads for about six miles until we reached Boring Oregon. Once we got to Boring, we ran for 7 or so miles on the lovely and thankfully mostly level and smoothly paved Spring Water Trail. We had to cross to two busy streets, luckily the volunteers were there pressing the buttons to get us safely across. Luckily, I only got caught at one light. And I wasn’t there very long.

The aid stations were great and the volunteers were all in top form handing out water or electrolytes and saying, “Looking good. Keep it up! You’ve got this!” I appreciated the encouragement immensely, especially  when facing the last set of grueling hills at mile 22. Despite the painful twitches and spasms firing through my quads and calves and sheer exhaustion, I carried on and achieved my goal of sub four hour marathon. I managed to come in 3rd for my age division, 6th for the men’s division, and 8th overall.

I will be back next year for sure (They’re adding a 50K ultra)!!!!

Boring Barefoot Marathon Fourth of July Edition (Day 6)

I didn’t expect to discover a marathon that only 14 runners have finished in the three decades that it’s been held. And I had no idea that the race resulted from the infamous James Earl Ray.

“You haven’t tested your limits until you try something you can’t do.”
–Founder of the Barkley 100 .

But today isn’t the Barkley 100. Today is the Fourth of July. Happy Independence Day America! I had a pleasant drive along the Columbia Gorge in search of majestic waterfalls. After taking the cool mists of Multnomah falls, I looked to heaven and witnessed a noble bald eagle soaring above me. How American is that? A bald eagle on the Fourth of July! After a serious bout of patriotism, I ate a burger at the Edgefield in Troutdale Oregon with my brother-in-law who visiting us from Spokane and my lovely wife.

In terms of barefoot marathon training, today is another strength/recovery day. I did Jillian Michael’s Week One of Ripped in Thirty. Tomorrow is my long run day. How far will I run? Check back to find out.

How Bigfoot Made Me Run a Boring Marathon

Awesome laser cut Huckleberry Half Marathon Bigfoot medal
Awesome laser cut Huckleberry Half Marathon Bigfoot medal

I usually don’t like organized running races. Mostly because I consider running to be a solitary sport. I always run alone. This year, however, I’m making an exception for I am entering two races. The first is the Welches Huckleberry Half in August. This looks like a super fun race because Bigfoot will be there! And every finisher gets a fancy laser-cut medal!

Boring Oregon where I'll run 26.2 miles barefoot.
Boring Oregon where I’ll run 26.2 miles barefoot.

The other race I’m running this year is the fantastically obscure Boring Marathon. Why the Boring Oregon Marathon and not the World Famous Portland Oregon Marathon? First of all, Portland is forty five minutes away from me, Boring is only fifteen minutes away. Second, Boring is a fun place to run. One racer from Boring wrote: “I was out running in the area the other day and a goat from a local farm came out and ran with me for about half a mile.” How could any barefoot runner resist that? I drive through Boring Oregon every Sunday on my way to work. It’s a cute and quirky town with lots of open space farms and fields. There’s children’s theater house that also hosts terrible local events. One time they held a “Craft Fair.” Aside from a few homemade candies that didn’t smell fresh and some handmade cards that didn’t look original, there were no crafts to speak of. At one of the booths a homeless looking woman spread out all of the junk from her shopping cart: hubcaps, filthy plates with cracks and chips, a broken blender with rusty mixer blades, torn dresses with weird stains, smelly sneakers with holes in them, and other unusable, unsalable items.

But this post isn’t about homeless women at craft fairs. It’s about joining the running community, shod and unshod alike. As I train my powerful feet for the upcoming races, I will do my best to pretend that this is actually a blog about barefoot running and will post my training updates daily.

BTW, I’m shooting for a modest 3 hour 45 min.ish finish for the marathon (as long as I break four hours, I’ll be happy). I don’t have a target time for the Hucklberry Half Marathon. I’m running that one solely for the Bigfoot medal–every finisher gets one.

One of the Days Towards the End and the Exploding Whale

The Oregon Highway Division failed to dispose ...
The Oregon Highway Division failed to dispose of this whale carcass properly when they blew it up with half a ton of dynamite. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 1970 in Florence Oregon. The mighty ocean disgorges on the shore a blubbery, dead sperm whale. Because the Oregon beach is a public right of way, the state Highway Division has to clean up the mess. But how? They can’t bury the whale because the ocean tides will simply regurgitate the disgusting carcass. They can’t burn the creature because they don’t have the firepower and the fumes would develop and spread the horrible stench on the coast. Deep in the thick skull of an city engineer, a plan hatches:  “Let’s use a half ton of dynamite blast the whale towards the sea.”

What could go wrong?  The earthshaking explosion pulverized only part of the whale, sending hunks of mortified flesh soaring — not toward the ocean, as planned, but toward people watching from the dunes.  A massive slab of flying blubber crushed a parked sedan. Remarkably, no onlookers were injured. They were, however, soaked in a misty rain of rancid whale slurry.
Some of them were so upset, they didn’t just cry, they WAILED.

 

 

 

3 Reasons to Join the Barefoot Running Revoltion

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno...
Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno. Plate I: Canto I, Opening lines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the middle of my training for a barefoot half marathon, I discovered that the old path was lost. Though I did NOT awaken in a dark wood, new thoughts splashed through the volatile chemical cocktail of my mind. The sexy electronic voice of the RunKeeper lady announced, “Time: blah blah minutes, blah blah Seconds. Distance: blah blah miles.” When she finished speaking, the adolescent voice of a blue haired, nose ringed teenage boy filled the void.

“Hey, where are your shoes guy?”

If you have read this blog at all, you will know those words bring out the Hulk in me. I created a podcast and wrote some posts about some of my kick-ass comebacks to that annoying question. (On New Years, I came close to punching a jerk who kept harassing me during my morning run.) But I ignored teenager this time. As he stood there blinking, his mouth slightly agape, I took a deep sip of the crisp Oregon air and realized that barefoot running has taught me three crucial lessons about my world.

  1. The same terrain isn’t always the same.
    The ever changing textures and temperature that the same patch of ground offers amazes me. The same route offers many varied delights that change according to the time of day, the weather, and the stride. Shod runners completely miss the world of sensations beneath their feet.
  2. Crossing Comfort Zones Can Make Some People Cross.
    When most adults see barefoot runners, they tend to assume that there is something wrong with the barefoot runner, not with their world view. Because they can’t run without shoes or or because they know nothing about barefoot running, they assume that what is true for them should be true for everyone else. That said, I have had interesting conversations with people who were genuinely interested in barefoot running. Breaking out of the comfort zone is good for your sole (Yes, I totally abuse that homophone). Every success I’ve enjoyed forced me to step outside the cozy prison of comfort.
  3. I’m much stronger than I think.
    When my gaze hits the rough concrete before it gently lands on my feet, I marvel that my body can withstand the impacts of the unforgiving concrete. But it does. My feet, in fact, thrive on the hard pavement. I find it’s easier to run on asphalt than it is to run on the graveled part of the Tickle Creek Trail. Of course, the asphalt is not as soft as mud or grass, but it’s relatively comfortable, when your soles are up for it.
If you’ve never tried running without shoes, give it a try. Here are some resources to get started safely:
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