Spoiled for Choice

I have a very good life. Sometimes I think I’ve got it all.

Right now, part of “got it all” is that I’m testing two great minimalist sandals – the Earth Runners Alpha X and the Bedrock Gabbro 2.0. I’m truly spoiled for choice.

It’s a great opportunity, because, while the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros are similar, there are enough differences between them to make it interesting.

Upper comparison

A top view of the sandals shows some of those differences. Most obviously, the strap methods are different. So are the strap materials – the Alpha X features leather straps, while those on the Gabbro are nylon. The footbeds, too, are different – the Alpha X footbed is suede leather, while the Gabbro is ballistic nylon. They weigh about the same – each Gabbro sandal comes in at 119 gm (4.2 oz), while each Alpha X weighs 141 gm (5 oz.).

Sole comparison

Underneath, it’s again a story of “like but different.” The sole thicknesses are very close – the Alpha X sole is 11mm thick, while the Gabbro sole is 10mm. Both sandals are made with Vibram soles – but those on the Alpha X are a pattern called “Birkenstock,” while the Gabbro soles have a more aggressive technical tread pattern.

No wrong answers here, obviously. I’ve run (and walked) in both of them, and can confirm that they’re both high quality, performance-oriented products. I’ll soon post full reviews of both. Separate reviews, not a comparison – each one of them deserves its own treatment, and I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by putting them mano √†¬†mano (not quite the right phrase, but you know what I mean).

So stay tuned. I’ll post the reviews after I’ve put the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros through some serious testing.

Earth Runners

Bedrock Sandals

Earth Runners Affiliate

I’m pleased to announce that I’m now an affiliate for Earth Runners minimalist sandals.

That means that, if you follow a link on this blog and then buy an Earth Runners product – such as a pair of their sandals or socks – I’ll get a small commission.

I don’t often do this sort of thing, but I want to support Earth Runners, because I believe that their products are worth it.

So have a good look at the Earth Runners site – and feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

I’m currently testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X sandals, and will post a full review soon.

Coming Up: ENDURrun 30K

ENDURrun 2014

Yes, you read the above dates correctly. The ENDURrun International is a 160K, 8-day, 7-stage event that takes place in Waterloo, Ontario.

Distances range from 10 km to the marathon, on both roads and trails. Runners can participate in the Ultimate category (all seven stages), the Sport category (the last three stages, comprising a 25.6K trail run, a 10K time trial, and a marathon), and the Guest category (any one of the stages). Seven-person relays are also an option.

This year, I’ve chosen to enter as a Guest (though I can see a future attempt in either the Sport or Ultimate categories). On August 12, I’ll run Stage 3 of the ENDURrun, which is a multi-loop 30K cross-country course. According to the event website, it comprises mostly grass and wood chip paths, mostly through forest trails. It sounds interesting and fun, and will give me a chance to suss out the organization and locale a bit.

ENDURrun Stage 3

Looks like I’ll be putting in some trail and hill training in the next few weeks!

Race Report: Elk/Beaver 50K

Elk/Beaver 50K

Question: When does a DNF count as a success?

Answer: When it involves winning.

“DNF” and “winning” don’t usually go together – but sometimes it’s just the right thing. Consider the following quote from elite ultrarunner Kilian Jornet:

“Winning isn’t about finishing in first place. It isn’t about beating others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality.”

Last Saturday, I arrived early at the Elk/Beaver Ultras race venue so I could check things out. And got a bit of a surprise… The course, which I’d been told was primarily packed dirt/rocks/roots (eminently doable in bare feet), had been “upgraded” by the Parks Department with fresh gravel a couple of days before. I arrived at 5:00 AM, in time to look things over. The fresh gravel consisted of medium-sized, sharp, pointy stuff, and, as it turned out, covered about 2/3 of each 10K loop. Definitely not good news.

I’d started the day at 3:00 AM, and, over my first espresso of the day, had my usual nervous jitters about the race. I was a long way from home, I didn’t know the course, and I was about to try something I’d never done before. Guaranteed to bring all that existential angst to the fore. Now, seeing all that gravel, the doubts really built up. Still, I was there and I’d set myself a challenge, so what else was I to do but run it?

I had two goals for the Elk/Beaver. One was to follow my ketogenic-adapted regime, which meant running fasted (my last meal before the race was dinner the night before) and with only water as fuel during the race itself. The second was to run the entire 50K barefoot, and not worry at all about my finishing time, much less about getting a PB.

Elk/Beaver start

The Elk/Beaver started as do most of the ultras I run – a small number of participants, the edge of a grassy field, and someone calling out “One, two, three, go!” After that, we began the first loop. It’s a pretty course. Mildly undulating (though the official course description had said “very flat”), a bit of mud, with good views of the two lakes we’d circumnavigate during the morning. A total of 77 runners were involved, for five events (50K, 100K, 50 mile, marathon, and 40K walk), so the race offered good company without any crowding. Kind of ideal when you think about it.

On course

The photo above and the one below were taken at around the 30K mark. I felt really good for those first three loops. Lots of steady energy, no trouble moving across the gravel, and feeling sheer barefoot bliss on the packed dirt sections of the trail. My son and grandson were there at the 30K mark (and again at 40K), having journeyed from Vancouver to support me. Seeing them was pretty much the high point of the race and my day. I’ll always remember that.

Feeling strong at 30K

One of the fun things about this event, which is basically just a local club race, was that two of the three aid stations consisted simply of a flat of bottled water on a park bench, along with a small sign saying “Elk/Beaver Ultras.” The third station was a table at the start/finish, offering fruit, cookies, Coke, and water. Didn’t need or want any of that, though, so I just cruised by.

I started to feel the gravel during loop #4, to the extent that, by about 35K, I was running on the grass verge of the trail if there was one. By 37K, I’d slowed down from the pace I’d kept to for the first 30K (7:10 mins/km) to a really pokey 10:15 or so. I knew I’d have to make a decision the next time I went past the start/finish area, and considered my options – keep on going for what I knew would be a real Death March, or slip on my Sockwa X8s in an effort to minimize the damage and maybe improve my pace a bit. I chose the second. But getting the Sockwas on my feet was difficult, as they were starting to swell. And the bottoms of my feet were bleeding in more than one place.

I soldiered for another kilometer or so, and then found that I simply wasn’t able to go on. In fact, once I stopped and took off my race bib, I found it difficult to even stand. A kindly course marshal gave me a ride back to the start, I crawled to the car, and drove back to my hotel in Victoria.

Time to call it quits

This is what a 40K bailout moment looks like.


And this is what my feet looked like about an hour after I finished. A little bit of blood (there was more, and it continued for a couple of days); the swelling had only just begun, would get much worse, and would last about four days.

So what did I accomplish? And what’s all this guff about “DNF and winning”?

Well, first of all, I ran 40K fasted and fueled only by water. That proved, once again, that if you’re keto-adapted, you’ve got the fuel you need (fat) in your body, and don’t need anything else. In fact, it shows, once again, that it’s better to run this way, as it results in steady energy levels, with no insulin spikes, no bonking, and no hitting the wall. And, I might add, no ravenous hunger afterwards. Immediately after the race, I ate a few pieces of biltong (for the protein) and, an hour or so later, about 500gm of full-fat yogurt (for the fat). And felt good.

Second, although I didn’t run the full 50K, I did run 40K barefoot, on rougher gravel than I’d ever run on before. I ran the first 30K at my target pace, my form was good, and my spirits were high. I made the right decision (to bail at 40K) at the right time, clearly and cleanly. I learned that I am whole and strong, and that I can accomplish extraordinary things when I try.

I won.

Thanks to my wife for her love and support, and to Simon and Malcolm for being there.

Poster Boy!

TMTR poster

Last year, I ran the Tom Marchese Trail Run at the Cold Creek Conservation Area in Nobleton, Ontario. It was my first barefoot trail run, and an event I enjoyed immensely. I can’t make to this year’s TMTR, as I’ll be doing the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra on the day it happens. I’ll be there in spirit, though, and am planning to run the TMTR again in 2015.

I’m honoured to be pictured in the poster for this year’s event. (Click on the image at the top of this post to see it in all its glory.)

If you’re local to the GTA, I urge you to run the TMTR. It’s a great race and a great event. I promise you’ll have a wonderful time!

Vision Quest?

A vision quest? Or just an enjoyable long run?

I’m being facetious, of course. I’m not into vision quests, and I won’t be attempting one anytime soon. I am, though, very much into good runs – and I’m pretty sure the Elk/Beaver 50K Ultra on May 10 will be one of those. That said, I plan to follow two strategies at the Elk/Beaver which will push the limits a bit. The first is about fueling, and the second is about gear (or lack of it).


First, I plan to follow the low carb/high fat nutrition regime I’ve been on for the past ten months, and run the Elk/Beaver 50 fueling only with water and a bit of biltong. Second, I plan to run the full 50K trail race barefoot.

The fueling strategy isn’t as outrageous as it sounds. The LCHF thing has worked well for me, with nothing but good to show for it. I now weigh less than I did in high school forty-odd years ago, my energy levels are strong and consistent, and my health is excellent (except for the ongoing prostate cancer thing, but that’s for another post). And there’s a significant amount of evidence, both clinical and anecdotal, suggesting that LCHF can work well for endurance athletes.

Keep Calm

The running barefoot thing is a little more complex. It’s not the distance that I’m worried about. After all, I ran the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon barefoot a couple of years ago. And last summer, I ran a short trail race barefoot. It’s the Elk/Beaver’s trail surfaces, combined with the race distance, that are going to be the challenge. According to Carlos Castillo, the Elk/Beaver’s race director, each of the 10K loops of the race consists mostly of packed dirt and leaf litter, with about 200 meters of asphalt, and 2K of packed gravel. It’s the latter that worries me. I’m not looking for a PB at this one, so will be happy to roll along at a comfortable pace. There’s a cutoff time of 14 hours for all runners, so no worries, I’ll do it. But a total of 10K of gravel? Hmm…

However, based on the following short video, which Carlos Castillo very kindly shared with me, it certainly looks doable.


OK, so a real, honest-to-goodness vision quest it’s probably not going to be. But it will certainly be an exploration of new territory, both physically and psychologically. And it’s only fair to note that, during my very first marathon (the 1980 Labatt’s Toronto Marathon), I did see Elvis a couple of times. So who knows? At Elk/Beaver, I might just go places I’ve not been to before…

Vision quest



One of the really cool things about running is that there’s always something more to discover. I grow as a runner and as a person with each event. And then look further again, to yet another new horizon.

I recently received an email from fellow ultra runner Wilf Goron, who told me about the ENDURrun International. It’s a multi-stage ultra which happens in my neck of the woods, but which, oddly enough, I’d never heard of. It looks really interesting, to say the least.

I’ve already got a solid race calendar lined up for this year (see my 2014 Races page), but will, I think, have a go at doing Stage 3 of the ENDURrun. It’s a 30K trail run, which I can do barefoot. It’ll make a nice break between the Niagara 100K on June 14 and the Self-Transcendence 12 Hour on September 27. Then maybe do more of the ENDURrun next year.

As I said, there are always new discoveries – and new challenges.