Sunday, August 28, 2011

My First Pair of Hokas - The Marshmallow Shoe

They look so weird. Marshmallow shoes - that's what we called them. With their absurdly thick soles and bright neon colors, they look like great big clown shoes. And they seem to go against the current trend of minimalist running. Kind of the antithesis to that movement, really. But, they seem to work for a lot of people. Karl Meltzer is a fan. Catra Corbett is hooked. Lisa Smith-Batchen is a recent convert.

And these things are popping up everywhere. At your next trail ultra, take a look around at people's feet. Odds are, you will spot more than a few marshmallow shoes. Runners who own a pair swear by them and proclaim them to be some sort of magic shoe. "Love my Hokas," they will say. "Makes downhill running so much fun!" "I'm never going back to my old shoes."

With my 50 miler in the Tetons right around the corner, and with no other shoes to wear for it other than road racing flats (can we say "ouch!"), I decided to buy a pair and try them out for myself. See what all the fuss is about.

Turns out, they aren't so bad. They are actually minimalist in some ways. To begin, they are incredibly light, although they appear bulky. The heel-to-toe drop is pretty minimal. Where Hokas stand out, it seems, is in the cushioning. The thick sole makes roots and rocks almost nonexistant. You can glide over the trail. Downhill running becomes a breeze because all the shock is absorbed by the sole, which is made of a very soft EVA.

It's kind of weird at first to wear something so bulky-looking yet so light-feeling. You are high off the ground with them which may turn off purist runners who want to "feel" the earth beneath their feet.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Philosophies from the Tetons (Part 1)

While I've been living here in the Tetons, training with my friend Lisa Smith-Batchen, certain philosophies and ideas have come up that have really challenged the way I think about running, training, nutrition, and life in general. I've consolidated a few of these life philosophies into a list. A lot of these philosophies are Lisa's own. Others I have gathered from people I have met in the area. Still others are ones I have formulated on my own. I am conflicted on some of these ideas. I want to believe they hold true, but a part of me doesn't fully buy into them. I turn these ideas over and over in my head. I debate them. I question the truth of them. Whether they are true or not is almost beside the point, though. They are meant to challenge you and your perceptions. They have certainly challenged my own.

1) Live for the moment - I have heard this one several times from several people, and I'm not sure I buy it. Living for the moment is a wonderful concept, but it can lead to selfishness and recklessness. If you only live for the moment, you can end up neglecting so many important aspects of life. As such, I think the phrase "live for the moment" is incomplete. It should be: "live for the moment; plan for the future; and never forget your past."

2) Live a minimalistic life - At least one person here in the Tetons likes to expound on the virtues of living a minimalistic life. That is, consolidating all materialistic belongings to the bare essentials. As it was explained to me, this philosophy revolves around a denial of materialistic gratification and instead embraces nature and the primal instincts of man. Physical exertion, food, and sex are key tenants apparently. It goes even beyond that, though. The goal is to get rid of all the clutter in your life, psychological, spiritual, or otherwise. Theoretically, this is all probably a good idea, but when carried to its logical extreme, this concept rings of a kind of philosophical elitist separatism. A person cannot divorce themselves completely from all social responsibilities. We can't all retreat into the woods and live the simple life. The man who does so runs the risk of leading a very selfish life.

3) Meat and dairy are essential - A lot of people here eat meat. And dairy is huge here. Elk and bison burgers are in abundance in this part of the world. Milkshakes are big. It's very hard to be a vegan in Teton Valley (but I am managing just fine). Athletes here rely on animal products for protein, calcium, etc. Of course, the quality of the food is much better here. We are surrounded by farms. These farms treat their animals very well. Cows roam the fields happily. The farm animals lead relatively stress-free lives. As such, the milk and meat they yield is not contaminated with stress chemicals or other harmful substances. I've heard athletes say they "need" animal protein. This may be true. I've always assumed that because the essential amino acids to form protein are found in plants, humans don't "need" to eat meat to get protein. In fact, the only reason animal meat has protein in it is because they consume plants with the essential amino acids to form protein. But, maybe some people assimilate and use animal protein more efficiently than they do plant-derived protein. In any case, I don't think being vegan is an ethical or nutritional imperative. I think that as long as people are conscientious about what they eat and where their food comes from, that is big step in the right direction.

4) Run with your core, not your legs - Your core should be engaged when you run. Focus on your core when you run. Keep your core strong. If you don't have a strong core, you will tire out your legs very quickly. Say to yourself, "Core, core, core..." with each step. You shouldn't hear your feet slapping down on the ground. Silent feet are best. Focus on your breathing. Concentrate on your form.