Tag Archives: running

Relentless Forward Motion

The second her feet hit the track, she felt like a movie star. She became conscious of human noises –cheering, clapping, other feet falling into step beside her. After thirty-six hours, she had done it: Carolyn Hennessey had completed her first one-hundred-mile Western States Ultramarathon run.

She had spent half the night in the dark woods, the only sounds the owls, her footsteps, and her steady breath. She stopped occasionally to vomit–her body’s reaction to her attempts to consume food along the trail. The time pacers faded in and out, providing her with enough strength and encouragement to continue on. Relentless forward motion, she reminded herself.

The competition was solely internal: a personal commitment to accomplishment. However for Hennessey, finishing also meant overcoming mental and physical obstacles and fighting to keep control of her body while pushing it to the extreme. Despite the pain, discovering and defining her personal limits thrills her.

“I’m always curious about how far I can go and how long,” she says.

Meet the Runners

The category of ultrarunning encompasses a variety of races of different terrains and lengths. Technically, the distance is “anything over a marathon, which is 26.2 miles” according to Hennessey. Typically races range between fifty kilometers and fifty-miles races to one hundred kilometers and one-hundred-mile races. However, the longest ultrarun in the world is the 3,100-mile Self-Transcendence race in Queens, New York. Runners make 5,649 laps around the same city block, taking about a month to complete the race.

Although the concept of running for hours on end does not at first seem like a form of relaxation, individual runners learn to love logging these continuous miles. Hennessey started this practice young, beginning to add mileage to her high school softball team’s required two-mile warm-up before practice.

“I think I just liked that running made me feel free and got my heart beating,” she explains.

Growing up in the Mojave Desert, Hennessey appreciated the sagebrush and other parts of the breathtaking landscape she could see while on long runs. Running became an addictive form of self-competition, and she continued to add more miles to test her endurance.

“You find something in yourself that makes you keep going,” she says.

Carolyn Hennessey runs with her dogs for companionship and safety.

Carolyn Hennessey runs with her dogs for companionship and safety.

Hennessey ran her first hundred-mile ultramarathon in 2010, but it didn’t go exactly as planned when she began experiencing stomach issues at mile thirty-seven, vomiting for the next forty miles.

“I was so determined to finish the hundred-miler that it never crossed my mind that I would stop,” she says.

Although racing is often a personal journey, Hennessey values the time she trains with others. She and Kristin Zosel, whom she describes as a “kindred spirit,” met haphazardly on a trail when Zosel mistook Hennessey for someone else. The connection was instantaneous and they began running together.

This type of friendship is common in the ultrarunning community, According to Zosel. The sport brings together people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, ages and experiences that build unique friendships.

“You go through a lot of different emotions on the trail, you see each other when you are having some tantrums . . . maybe you’re working through some things in life with that run,” she explains. “And it seems like the bond that you form with those people is just stronger.”

Much like Hennessey, Zosel explains her relationship with running as a “slow love affair” that developed after playing sports all her life. Zosel never thought about running until she was in college and, looking for a way to stay in shape, she realized that running might be the best match for her.

“I did the Stairmaster every day and after a year of that I decided I was not going to be sticking with that for a lifetime.”

Running, on the other hand, she could.

Small laps on the road turned into large loops on mountain trails. “There was more a moment with trails where I discovered that, oh my gosh, why would I ever run on roads when I can run on trails?”

Zosel ran her first ultramarathon in Alaska–a fifty-mile long trek with no road access for miles. “That was the race where I discovered just how badly you could hurt but how incredibly euphoric you can be at the same time.”

She parked her car at the start, committing herself to a run of at least thirty-eight miles to the nearest road. Since then, Zosel has run a total of thirty ultramarathons, having most success with hilly fifty-kilometer and fifty-mile distances.

A Note to the Avid Runner

While Zosel and Hennessey continually run fifty-plus-mile distances, the journey they experience along the trail is not for the feint of heart. Longer races can take over a day to complete, and runners tend to encounter an unavoidable point of misery somewhere in what Zosel refers to as the “middle miles.” According to Hennessey, to achieve that coveted runner’s high, you have to first hit a “runner’s low.”

Zosel and Hennessey run hill repeats at 5am on the trails around Mt. Pisgah. Running early in the morning allows them time for family and work later in the day.

Zosel and Hennessey run hill repeats at 5am on the trails around Mt. Pisgah. Running early in the morning allows them time for family and work later in the day.

“You really have to test your limits,” she says.

On the trail, runners remember three common phrases to help them through the roughest miles:

One: Beware the chair. As runners approach aid stations along the trail, their mind welcomes the food, warmth, and people as a sort of salvation. But this can also be dangerous. Runners must not give in to the welcoming comfort of taking a seat because it can cost them valuable race time.

“The chair becomes this all-encompassing thing that’s pulling you in and you don’t want to leave,” Zosel describes.

Two: It never always gets worse. As the night drags on, fatigue–both mental and physical–sets in. One way to combat this is with the phrase “it never always gets worse.” In this way, runners find motivation knowing that the pain will not last forever, but for Zosel, it is also important to remember that the good feelings will not last, either.

“If you’re feeling terrible, you usually drink a little bit, take in a few calories, adjust your electrolyte intake, and within fifteen minutes, you’re back on top of the world,” she says, noting that it’s all about taking care of your body to maintain the runner’s high of feeling “on top of the world.”

Three: Relentless forward motion. The pit of despair, the deepest, darkest part of the journey where Zosel says she feels like giving up and stopping the race. At this moment, she says it is best to remember the phrase “Put your head down and go.”

“It may not be glamorous, it may not be fast, but as long as you’re taking steps forward you’re getting closer to the finish line,” she adds.

Zosel sees a strong metaphor between her everyday life and this fundamental aspect of racing. If life is moving forward, it is going somewhere progressive. The middle miles, or the part of the race where adrenaline has worn off and the runner begins to realize just how far he or she has to run, are the toughest to work through. The struggle becomes more mental, and the motivation to push oneself decreases.

Not Only a Runner

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. In running, Zosel and Hennessey embrace the trail one mile at a time. “I never think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to run fifty miles today.’ It’s always, ‘Okay, the first-aid station is in six miles so I’m going to run six miles.” In their own lives, the same concept applies.

Zosel works as a physical therapist, in addition to raising a 4-year-old son. The answer? Get up early. “Sometimes the alarm clock has a four on the front, sometimes it has a five on the front, but that way I get my time in,” Zosel says.

At first, Zosel worried about how becoming a mother may affect her running. “From the time you become pregnant, you start worrying about whether you’re running too much or if you’re not running enough . . . or if it’s safe or if it’s not safe.”

Sensitive to her body’s needs, she continued to maintain her fitness during her pregnancy. “There’s no manual anyone can give you about how to treat your body,” she realizes. She enjoys time with her son, Jacob, who likes to bike with her and chase geese in the park.

In addition to running, Kristin Zosel values spending time with her son, Jacob, and encouraging him to pursue his passions.

In addition to running, Kristin Zosel values spending time with her son, Jacob, and encouraging him to pursue his passions.

Hennessey, a stepmother of three children, manages to incorporate family time into her work and running schedules. The time she spends on the trail running gives her time for personal reflection and balances her time with family.

“Running is a way–on a daily basis–just to clear my mind and process things. It’s a way to get closer to myself,” she explains.

While running may seem extremely separate to this part of her life, the individual benefits actually help connect her to the people around her. Her family members function as her pit crew for races, pacing her and providing encouragement along the trail.

Working in human resources and licensed as a family and marriage therapist, she makes time to travel with her husband and stepchildren in their Volkswagen Eurovan. On weekends, she sometimes rises early to fit in a run, then returns around 10 a.m. to join her family for brunch.

“The things that happen when you’re a runner only make you a better mom, I believe.”

Pretty Little SOLDIERS

[deck]Two women in different stages of their Army careers tell their personal stories about surviving in a male dominated field of violence.[/deck]

She’s young, she’s a woman, it’s a challenge, but it’s what she asked for.

She’s young, she’s a woman, it’s a challenge, but it’s what she asked for.

[cap]T[/cap]wo pairs of hands pull blonde locks back into tight, perfect buns. Polish-free nails smooth the creases on the jackets that bear their names and ranks. Fingers quickly pass over the laces of the large combat boots weighing down their smaller frames. While one woman prepares for a field exercise during her first year training in Oregon, the other dons a uniform in Iraq—an outfit as familiar as her own skin.

These two women are among the thousands who proudly serve the United States Army. However, men make up 86 percent of the active-duty army and it is their faces and stories displayed in the media during times of war. But, in the last few centuries, women have taken on a larger role in battle, other than laundering soldiers’ uniforms and cooking meals, typically their military roles in past wars.

Flash-forward to the War on Terror declared in 2001. Women serve in 93 percent of all army occupations, although they are still held to different standards than their male counterparts with only 70 percent of army positions open to them. Although their role has slowly increased over the years, they still face very different and very real challenges because of their gender.

“You have to be a strong woman to be in the military,” says eighteen-year-old University of Oregon freshman Juliana Hoffman. “There’s going to be a lot of criticism.”

Hoffman is a first-year Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) student with a military background. Her father was a colonel in the Vietnam War and her mother was a lieutenant colonel in Desert Storm. Since both of her parents served in the military for over twenty years, she received plenty of support to enlist.

“I grew up around the military, around the base, and was always influenced by military people,” Hoffman says.

In each new town, Hoffman lived on the army base and the soldiers in their Army Combat Uniforms (ACUs) were her only constant childhood memory. Her parents’ jobs moved her around the globe. Her peers’ faces started to blur together with each move—from her home state of Washington to Italy to California. She bounced through five different schools during her childhood leaving any friends she had made behind.

“I never had a close childhood friend because of the moving,” she says. “It was lonely and it was hard.”

Before Hoffman was old enough to truly understand what her parents did for a living, bitterness aggravated her when she witnessed the difference between her life and the lives of her schoolmates.

“Growing up, I was proud of my parents, but I never really understood what they did. I was resentful because I didn’t get to spend as much time with my parents as I’d like to,” she says. “Now that I’m older, I appreciate them so much more. I think it’s amazing what they did.”

Although her father retired once Hoffman’s mother discovered she was pregnant, her mom remained on active duty. Until Hoffman was six, she and her brother spent the majority of their time with a nanny.

With support from her parents, who were both part of the military, Hoffman is determined to succeed in this emotionally and physically straining lifestyle.

With support from her parents, who were both part of the military, Hoffman is determined to succeed in this emotionally and physically straining lifestyle.

“My mom would go on business trips for weeks at a time—she was so consumed,” Hoffman says.

Her dad took over as a stay-at-home dad after the nanny left, but Hoffman still felt different.

“It was a little awkward having my dad take me to Brownies when everyone else had their mom there,” she says.

Now, Hoffman spends the majority of her time with ROTC, an uncanny resemblance to the time her mother dedicated to the service. She works her muscles three days a week during morning training sessions until they ache with pain.

With a head full of blonde hair, a tall, lean frame, and eyes decorated with different hues of make-up, Hoffman says that she may not look like the stereotypical army girl, but she joined for the challenge—and that’s exactly what she got.

She and the other cadets start their Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays promptly at six thirty in the morning, working on abs and arms.

“They’ll just work us and work us until there is pain involved,” she says.

Dark, dreary mornings await them, along with the occasional rainstorm during their runs. The campus is deserted and the crisp air freezes their sweat-stained army t-shirts.

“But it feels so good,” Hoffman says. “I’m sore and I’m exhausted, but I’m the type of person who loves to workout,” she says.

Along with the grueling morning workouts, the cadets embark on a field training once a term, starting at five thirty in the morning and continuing until eight o’clock at night. Their leaders simulate a mission typically performed in war zones and the cadets must treat it as such, carrying upward of fifty pounds. Hoffman completed one arduous field training earlier this fall.

“We were hiking up mountains and we were in the woods. We couldn’t stop until we found the point we needed to find. It was exhausting being in such heavy gear and boots, climbing over obstacles and logs,” she says.

Besides the physical aspect, the ROTC is an inimitable learning experience because participants in the program are training to be army officers by graduation. Hoffman hasn’t given much thought to the four years she must serve in the army after graduation, but she knows that it will be difficult. She credits growing up in the army for preparing her for what’s to come.

Although the different standards set for men and women frustrate her, she tries not to doubt herself, but instead, push beyond what’s expected from her as a woman.

“My mom has always taught me that girls are equal to boys,” she says. But the army doesn’t allow women on the front lines. “If there was something I really wanted to do, but couldn’t because of my gender, then that would upset me,” she says.

“I’m not going to go out there and be treated like a guy, but I like to be the best at what I do,” Hoffman adds.

Military Sexual Trauma Social Worker Sonja Fry of the Veterans Association in Eugene, Oregon, served eight years as a military police woman and uses her experience to counsel women with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and those who endured sexual abuse while serving in the forces.

“To be a female soldier in the military is already a mark against a female,” she says. “There’s already a feeling of being separate from the rest of the soldiers.”

According to Fry, this feeling of separation can lead to isolation, depression, and anxiety.

“It’s a tough life for anybody,” she says.

Hoffman, too, recognizes certain qualities that all women need to exude through the identity-stripping uniforms to make it successfully through the army.

“She has to be able to push herself and be willing to put up with criticism,” Hoffman says.

“And she has to be okay with not being number one. Emotionally, she has to be able to be judged and not let it affect her; not let the failure take over her,” she says, remembering the first training session where she didn’t finish first.

But her determination to disprove the stereotype of women as the weaker sex is another value that she believes an army woman must have.

“A strong army woman has to know what she wants and not stop until she gets it,” she says.

Kelly Calway is an army intelligence officer and also the 2008 army-athlete-of-the-year who has already experienced some of the struggles of being a woman in the military that Hoffman has just recently started to encounter. Photo courtesy of Kelly Calway

Kelly Calway is an army intelligence officer and also the 2008 army-athlete-of-the-year who has already experienced some of the struggles of being a woman in the military that Hoffman has just recently started to encounter. Photo courtesy of Kelly Calway

Fry adds that no matter how hard a woman works in the army, it usually won’t matter to the males because they see it as “[women] aren’t equal to men.”

One such strong woman is Army Intelligence Officer Captain Kelly Calway, currently serving her ninth year in the force, including her time in ROTC. The twenty-six-year-old 2008 Army Female Athlete of the Year, born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, started in the ROTC with a push from her father. As a commanding general at the Maneuver Center of Excellence in Fort Benning, Georgia, he hoped that his daughter would join the army just as he had.

Calway is currently based in Fort Carson, Colorado with her husband, who is currently deployed in Afghanistan, and their three-year-old daughter. The petite woman, with long blonde hair and brown eyes is strong in ways that would make most men envious. She packs more muscle and strength in her short legs than some of the weapons she totes. Calway is a dedicated runner—she’s training for the 2012 Summer Olympics—and she consistently beats her male competition during physical tests.

“I could fight as well as some of the guys out there,” she says.

The army currently pays Calway to run under their name with a typical training session consisting of twenty miles. She uses this physical strength as a way to break barriers with her male counterparts.

“I have to earn respect in a different way. I work harder to be the very best and study up a little bit more beforehand. But I’ve got a lot out of being good at the physical-type stuff,” she says.

Because Calway consistently beats her male competitors, she struggles with the rule that female soldiers can’t hold certain positions.

“When I was a gung-ho cadet, I wanted to go to ranger school, which isn’t open to us. I was really bent out of shape about not being able to go,” she says.

“I know I can do just as much as any guy out there can do, and if you’re able to meet the same standards as a guy, then you should be able to.”

Fry agrees that equality is lacking in the army.

“You can do your job as well as any other male soldier, but it’s never good enough,” she says. “Even if you give 150 percent in comparison to your peers, it’s still never good enough because you’re always going to be a woman. You’re doing a man’s job, and a lot of men feel threatened by that.”

Female soldiers are still deployed and sent to dangerous situations, even if they don’t hold the same positions as males. Calway was deployed to Iraq in May 2009 for six months, three years after she graduated from ROTC. As an intelligence officer, Calway surveyed the war zones for the infantry soldiers stationed on the ground who were in constant danger from the enemies. She created comprehensive briefs of the area to keep her team in control of the situation.

“Before a unit goes in, we know where the hot spots are going to be,” she says. “We’re responsible for figuring out where the bad guys live.” And her work helped keep their unit safe and prepared.

There is no "You run like a girl," with Calway who ran races while deployed in Iraq. She's planning on using running in another way to represent her country; by training for the 2012 Olympics. Photo Courtesy of Kelly Calway

There is no "You run like a girl," with Calway who ran races while deployed in Iraq. She's planning on using running in another way to represent her country; by training for the 2012 Olympics. Photo Courtesy of Kelly Calway

“When we save lives doing what we do, it’s like high fives all around,” she says. “You take so much pride in that. If you can stop one soldier from being killed or injured, your entire day is worth it.”

Calway felt the pressure of being in charge of hundreds of lives while working eighteen hours straight in horrid heat. “It was like having a hair dryer constantly blowing on your face,” she says. “It was just dust and dust and dust, with all kinds of sand and fires.”

Transitioning from the green, mountainous scenery that she experienced in her various homes growing up, Calway was trapped in a desert of monotony. So many factors contributed to making Iraq the ultimate test of endurance. “Everybody burns their trash there and it’s a really disgusting smell. It’s not a beautiful place,” she says with a laugh.

But something that Calway remembers most from her time in Iraq is losing her sense of self.

“It got boring wearing [the ACUs] every single day. Then you see someone wearing earrings and you get kind of jealous. It’s so much more girly!” she says. She could never free herself from the uniform like she would when she was in the States. Instead, it became her new identity, and she felt less like a woman.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I could totally go for a skirt, or a pair of heels!’” she laughs.

She was forced to adjust to life in the desert without the simple luxuries such as hair dye, certain clothing, and even feminine hygiene products.

But the most challenging aspect of life in a desert war zone was the loneliness from being separated from her family. Calway longed to see her daughter and missed her second birthday.

“As a mom, you really miss your kid,” she says.

She found slight solace in the other mothers there, knowing their feelings differed from the father soldiers’. “I’d like to say it’s the exact same, but it isn’t. You feel a little bit more guilty as a mom,” Calway says.

Fry stresses that male counterparts see these types of situations as weaknesses.

“It’s tough to be a woman in the army and have a problem, emotional or otherwise,” she says. “[Men see it as] you trying to use your gender to get ahead or not do the same duties as everyone else. Like you’re trying to ride the system.”

But Calway talked to other mothers and put thoughts of her daughter and husband aside while she was working. She was in a war zone. Enemy fire boomed through their army base, indirect fire shook the ground, and thunderous helicopters constantly hovered, providing a shield of noise.

“You hear about all of the horrible things that the terrorists are doing, and when you get in direct fire on your base and you feel it, you realize how evil our enemies are,” she says. The deafening noise became such a common companion among the troops that a joke emerged out of the situation.

“You hear so many explosions that you just get used to it. It became a joke that if you jump, then you’re a newbie,” she says.

After her shift ended and her mind was still filled with the sounds of explosions and the detailed maps of enemy locations, she focused on what kept her happy at home.

“There were frustrating times and situations that would get really stressful, so at three in the morning, I would jump on the treadmill and get that stress and anger out,” she says. The rhythm of her feet hitting the belt and her steady breathing was so familiar and grounding, she credits her running for not having PTSD when she returned home.

Calway plans to continue her career in the military and hopes that her daughter will one day attend West Point and become an officer herself.

“I would love for her to consider Military Intelligence and I am sure my husband would attempt to sway her toward Engineers,” says Calway. “But we will just be proud that she decided to serve her country.”

As for Calway’s time devoted to the forces, “I’m just glad to give back to the country that has given me so much,” she says.

Although military counselor Fry has no disrespect for those who choose to serve, her experience, and that of the victims, influences her outlook. If a woman asked her if she should enlist, Fry would respond by telling her not to join.

“Until [the military] becomes more proactive about sexual trauma and actually makes some changes, then I don’t think it’s a healthy place for a woman to be.”

Running Goes Bare

[deck]An increasing amount of runners are leaving their athletic shoes behind as the barefoot running movement gains momentum. [/deck]

After reading the book Born to Run, Bruce was inspired to try barefoot running. When he runs he alternates between traditional running shoes and his RunAmoc

After reading the book Born to Run, Bruce was inspired to try barefoot running. When he runs he alternates between traditional running shoes and his RunAmocs.

[caps]O[/caps]n a chilly morning in early May, runners litter the trails of the waterfront path in downtown Corvallis. Ted McDonald enters the path and with every step he takes, his feet silently and gently touch the pavement. Ted’s bare feet draw attention on a path with runners wearing athletic shoes. There is no wonder why he is known as Barefoot Ted.

The idea of barefoot running came into Ted’s life eight years ago when he planned to run a marathon for his 40th birthday. As he was training in preparation for the marathon, Barefoot Ted experienced pain while wearing cushioned running shoes. He wondered if less cushioning with a minimal shoe sole was the solution to his pain. Shortly after this experience, he tried barefoot running.

“It was instantly obvious that I found the beginning of a solution,” Barefoot Ted says of his first time experience. Now, Barefoot Ted is one of the many supporters of the barefoot running movement. He travels across America teaching seminars and conferences on how to run barefoot and avoid injuries to people who have similar painful experiences while running in athletic shoes.

The barefoot running movement encompasses not just running without shoes, but also thin-soled shoes that provide protection while allowing the foot to hit the ground in its naturally intended form with less force. While barefoot running may appear to be an emerging trend, barefoot runners like Barefoot Ted show that it’s a lifestyle choice. Barefoot running is about listening to what your body is telling you without interferences from athletic shoes.

Experienced barefoot runners who have been running without shoes for at least a few years usually have the title “Barefoot” before their first name.

All barefoot runners have to earn their “Barefoot” title.

“’Barefoot’” was given to us by others who saw us run…” says Barefoot Todd, who has completed 86 marathons barefoot.

Some barefoot runners have a lot of experience running without shoes, like Barefoot Ken, who has been running barefoot for the past 20 years and who later introduced Barefoot Todd to it in 2001.

But thanks to the 2009 book, Born to Run, a new generation of barefoot runners is emerging. The book Born to Run introduced many longtime runners, including Bruce Austin, to barefoot running. “We don’t need the ultra modern protective running shoes,” Austin says.

Written by Christopher McDougall, Born to Run discusses a tribe in Mexico called the Tarahumara who are able to run barefoot for hundreds of miles without breaks. The book also explains why humans do not need the support from cushioned shoes in order to run. Born to Run has stayed on the New York Times Bestseller List every week since its release.

However, Barefoot Todd is concerned about the influence Born to Run could have on its readers, who may think barefoot running is effortless and immediately go out and try it without learning the technique.

In order to run barefoot effectively, one must first get used to the feeling of walking barefoot on a hard surface. The foot has been conditioned from years of wearing shoes and may need time to adjust to being barefoot. The foot must have a softer impact with the ground that finds its natural landing spot related to the body’s center of gravity. “A lot of times people tried it and it didn’t work,” says Barefoot Todd. “It just takes a little bit of reconditioning in order to get used to running without shoes.” Despite his concerns, Barefoot Todd appreciates what the book has done for barefoot running. “Born to Run has opened people’s minds to the thought of running without shoes,” he says.

The book has shaped the barefoot running movement by attracting people to the activity. Even though Born to Run informs the audience about the benefits that come with barefoot running, Barefoot Ted, one of the book’s characters, has been saying this for years.

Barefoot Ted and other supporters of running barefoot, including Barefoot Ken and Barefoot Todd, argue that the human foot is naturally conditioned for running. Modern running shoes provide unnatural padding and change the impact running has on an individual’s body.

Bruce started running when he was a student at the University of Oregon. He has tattoos from his numerous marathons and ultra-marathons, one of which he ran in Antarctica.

Bruce started running when he was a student at the University of Oregon. He has tattoos from his numerous marathons and ultra-marathons, one of which he ran in Antarctica.

The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation journal published a study in December 2009 that compared running barefoot to running in athletic shoes. Researchers observed a group of healthy men and women running barefoot and again in standard running shoes.Their observations showed that running shoes increase the stress on three hip and knee extremity joints. The study recommended that footwear should try to be as similar to being barefoot as possible in order to reduce injury.

In January 2010 the British science journal Nature published findings from Harvard Professor Daniel Lieberman’s study that showed experienced barefoot runners’ forefoot or mid-foot hit the pavement first, but when runners wear athletic shoes with cushions they land on their heel first, which can cause stress to the heel, knee or leg.

Lieberman’s analysis provides a strong case for barefoot running; however, the study was partially funded by Vibram, a company that developed and sells a barefoot running shoe called Five Fingers. The study also says that “Barefoot runners can run easily on the hardest surfaces in the world without discomfort from landing.”

“It’s so sad” Barefoot Ted says of the people who run in athletic shoes. “There are people just pounding the friggin’ hell out of themselves.”

Despite research in support of barefoot running and a growing fan base, there are outspoken critics of the movement. The web site Barefoot Running is Bad, whose motto is “Exposing barefoot runners for the nutters that they are,” compares barefoot runners to being “As bad as the loony left of politics and the radical religious fanatics.” The web site, which says that it is not linked to the shoe athletic industry, offers rants against the trend’s research. “Can someone point me to one piece of evidence that shows high impacts actually cause any injury?” the webmaster wrote in a posting on the web site.

But this doesn’t discourage people from coming to Barefoot Ted for barefoot running advice. Barefoot Ted says he has been approached by celebrities, including singer Kimya Dawson’s husband, musician Angelo Spencer.

Some barefoot runners are nervous about the idea of having zero protection on their feet and are turning to shoes specially designed to be as close to the barefoot experience as possible.The leading barefoot running shoe on the market is Vibram’s Five Fingers, but it’s not the only shoe aimed at barefoot runners.

In early May 2010, shoe company Soft Star Shoes started selling a barefoot running moccasin. “Our customers were running in our shoes,” says co-owner of Soft Star Shoes, Larkin Holavarri

“We thought maybe we could find a better shoe for them.” The first week that the company’s barefoot running shoe, called RunAmoc, was on the market, Soft Star Shoes sold 105 pairs, which is extremely high sale for the small business.

Nike got involved in the barefoot running shoe movement with Nike Free, which according to Nike, “Provides just enough support while still allowing the foot to move in a natural, dynamic and barefoot-like manner.”

Barefoot Ted also sells a shoe kit that comes with all the material to assemble a barefoot running sandal, which he explains is “for a really minimalist person.”

But the experienced barefoot runners including Barefoot Ted, Barefoot Todd and Barefoot Ken avoid wearing shoes as much as possible. “If we take the time from the beginning to listen to, and respond by changing the way we are running, to eliminate the cause of the problems rather than just trying to muffle the messages, our feet will meet us part way,” Barefoot Ken says.

As barefoot running continues to grow as a business and trend, some experienced runners are concerned that the movement is losing its original message- barefoot running is about reconnecting with the body, listening and responding to the feedback your body gives you while running. “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of listening to the unprotected bare soles,” said Barefoot Ken.

A Couple Hundred Miles, But Who’s Really Counting?

[caps]T[/caps]he distance between Portland and Eugene is about 100 miles. Imagine running it—in only 24 hours. Nathan Blair would happily take on that challenge, but he might need some recovery time first.

He’s fresh off his first ultramarathon, the Hundred in the Hood 100 Mile endurance run. Its trail stretches from Oregon’s Timothy Lake to Frog Lake to Breitenbush Lake and back. It’s total elevation climb is 12,448 feet. Only a week after completing the course in 27 hours and 58 seconds, Blair already went out for another run, despite painful pink blisters lingering on his feet.

“I could only run three miles,” he says. “My body was uncoordinated, disconnected. I felt like a pre-adolescent.”

Wobbly legs, in lieu of the potential health risks long distance running presents, are practically embraced in the ultra community. It seems as if weakening themselves to childish clumsiness is standard for ultrarunners, who complete distances of 30, 50 and 100 miles each race. Men’s Health contributor and author of Born to Run Christopher McDougall describes the sport as “the fitness version of drunk driving.”

“You could get away with it for a while, you might even have some fun, but catastrophe [is] waiting right around the corner,” McDougall says.

At the very least, these athletes subject themselves to dehydration, nausea, vomiting, blistering, ankle sprains, abrasions from falling, and altitude sickness during races. When they push themselves even harder to the finish, they put their hearts at risk.
In 2009, Men’s Health reported that the combination of muscle injury and inflammation during intense prolonged activity significantly increases one’s risk of heart attack.

Before he began training for ultrarunning, Blair completed a full physical and stress test to ensure his heart’s endurance. Confident that blisters are his only major concern, he’s already planning to run his next ultra, with wider shoes this time.

“I’ve got the bug,” he says calmly with a grin. “And I’ve got a bigger purpose.”

Blair’s motivation to run surpasses reaching personal athletic goals; he’s got a lot of people riding on his miles. Since his first marathon in 2007, he’s logged 243 miles to raise $2,537 for EDURelief, a nonprofit development organization supporting education in rural Mongolia. Despite the existence of schools, EDURelief founders noticed that they lacked many of the materials they need, and their remote locations prevent access to radio and television programming, so the organization recently started raising funds to build new libraries in these secluded areas. It only takes $2,000 to sponsor a new library, which Blair believes is pivotal to these communities. “The books are reaching broader audiences than just the students themselves. They go beyond school to families and friends.”

Blair’s international conscience might be the outcome of his diverse upbringing. Growing up with missionaries as parents, he lived wherever there was church work to be done. He was born in Uganda and then moved to Hawaii. Blair spent his high school years in Kazakhstan, learning Russian with his graduating class of eight international students.

Blair’s classmates barely made up an entire sports team, so athletics fell on the academic backburner. It wasn’t until he began his second major at the University of Oregon, where he met professor Craig Thornley, that Blair discovered his passion for ultrarunning. Thornley sits at the center of the ultrarunning niche in Eugene. He’s been running ultras since 1997, and he co-founded Oregon’s Where’s Waldo 100km event. It’s hard to determine what’s most inspiring about him: the fact that he has run eleven 100-milers in the past 12 years, or just that he’s so modest about it. He says his ultra count is somewhere around 75, but he’s not quite sure.
“I love running, whether it is a mile or 10K or 10 mile or 50K or 100 mile,” he says. “I would refer to myself as a runner first and an ultrarunner second.”

No matter the distance they run, Thornley and Blair train each week with their running group. At only 26, Blair is the youngest member of the crew, his age just about infantile compared to the average ultrarunner. Cindy Billhartz Gregorian of the St. Louis Post profiles ultrarunners in her 2007 article to report that the typical participant is about 45 years old. She quotes ultrarunning veteran Jan Ryerse, who’s run twelve 100-mile races in his 61 years. He says, “older runners have an advantage over younger ones because they’re more patient, which is crucial for pacing.”

Blair sits calmly against a coffee shop wall with his hands folded over his stomach. His latté is likely freezing as he’s neglecting it to field questions. He certainly seems patient. And he seems to fit the rest of Gregorian’s profile of an ultrarunner. She says they are often well educated. Blair received his first degree in Russian studies and now he’s back participating in the product design graduate program. He even tried journalism for a while, which is what he says makes him such a good researcher.

Gregorian states the obvious when she characterizes ultrarunners as highly motivated, a quality that allows Blair to compensate for his youth and novice to the sport. He finds inspiration from his running team, whose members are all at least a decade older than he.

“When someone is 20 years older than you and kicking your butt, that’s awesome!” he exclaims as he leans into the table. “These guys are gung-ho about running. They’ve helped me along and taught me the ropes. I will, down the road, get to the point when I can do the same for others. It’s all about sharing what you love to do.”

But imparting the running culture upon others doesn’t fit the typical ultrarunning model, or at least the traditional one anyway. Some of the original ultrarunners, the 400-year-old Tarahumara tribe of Copper Canyon in Mexico, prefer to live isolated, making no spectacle of their running feats. They wouldn’t even go so far as to call themselves runners. For these cliff dwellers, fast-paced striding isn’t sport, it’s simply a part of their day. In Born to Run, McDougall reports that this tribe faces off in running races, and each competitor often completes more than 300 miles in 2-day periods. He even cites Mexican historian Francisco Almada, who says a Tarahumara once ran 435 miles in one stretch.

Despite their epic accomplishments, the tribe remains extremely private, almost mythical, hidden away in the depths of the cliffs. “The Tarahumara are so mysterious, in fact, they even go by an alias,” says McDougall. “Their real name is Rarámuri—The Running People.”

These running people do not undergo intensive training like Blair and Thornley, and their primitive lifestyle doesn’t exactly include treadmills for endurance testing. They build stamina trekking up and down steep trails in the canyons that have been formed by the feet of their own ancestors. While most racers guzzle water the day before, the Tarahumara hydrate with a different liquid: lechuguila, their homemade tequila. McDougal calls the Tarahumara’s preparation for running “The Mardi Gras Approach.” They do not train, rebuild between workouts, or even eat much protein at all. Instead of water and Gatorade, they choose tequila and corn beer. Come race day, “they just stroll to the starting line, laughing and bantering… then go like hell for the next forty-eight hours.”

Two days of running is cake for the Tarahumara, a stretch for modern-day ultrarunners and seemingly outlandish for the 5K racer. For the subjects in the Running the Sahara documentary film, it was only the beginning. In November of 2006, Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab and Kevin Lin began running in St. Louis, Senegal, with a camera crew at their heels. They were headed east to the end of the continent.

Physically speaking, Engle and Lin were more prepared for the run than Zahab. Engle has been running for 30 years, and Lin just won the first 150-mile race across the Atacama Desert in Chilé. Conversely, Zahab’s running philosophy aligns more with that of the Tarahumara—just wing it. A chronic smoker and beer-drinker until 2004, Zahab believes that running abilities exist more so in the brain than in the body.

“Training 30 to 40 kilometers per day does not really prepare you for that kind of mileage,” he recalls in the documentary’s blog. “We got there and hoped and prayed our bodies would hold up.”

And their bodies did. One hundred eleven days, six countries and 4,300 miles later, the three ran through the sand in Egypt to feel the calm waters of the Red Sea between their toes. The run not only represents personal, athletic journey, but also a triumph in solving the water crisis throughout Africa. Running the Sahara filmmakers founded H20 Africa, a clean water initiative to complement the feature film. The campaign continues to raise funds to build clean drinking wells along the runners’ path.

It’s this runners’ path that Sahara runners, the Tarahumara, Thornley, Blair and all ultrarunners can find commonplace. No matter the location, destination, distance traveled, training, preparation, or even publicity gained during the run, it seems to be that ultrarunners alike find their zen when their minds conquer their bodies, propelling them further along their journey, in whatever wild environment they may find themselves in.

Safely tucked in the pro-running environment that Eugene fosters, Blair is tamer than most ultrarunners. His sport has yet to take him to a barren desert or hunting for myths in cliffs. For now he runs in Amazon Park and practices speed work at South Eugene High School. In between workouts, he’s designing furniture for his product design degree.

“I think running and design complement each other,” he claims. “If you have a deadline for a project, it’s similar to a race. It’s all about the buildup, working through it, and finishing strong.”

Blair has proven to himself that he can finish the 100 miles strong. He went into it with no expectations, which he believes helped him to conquer the distance, a huge percentage of which he says is mainly a psychological challenge. With a love of running and the mental stamina to keep one foot in front of the other, Blair will continue his route, unconcerned with technicalities along the way. “If you look into the future it’s easy to get stressed out about the details. I’m from Hawaii, so no worries.”