Monday, January 3, 2011

Winter Running with O'Neill Reactor Reef Boots

 Birthday asked me to share my thoughts about a minimalist shoe alternative for winter running conditions.  If you’re like me and live in a colder climate you’ve discovered the Vibram Five shoe we all love is not exactly the best in cold weather.  The Vibram five finger Flow is suppose to be the shoe of choice in cold weather but here in northern Minnesota where the daytime temps can hover in the double digits below zero for a week or more, you really need more protection than a five finger shoe can offer. By late November my feet were just not feelin the five finger love they had during the warmer months so I began to cobble together a multi-layered system that might seem kinda kooky so bare with me as I explain.

I start with a traditional running sock, perhaps a smart wool ankle high. From there it gets kind of weird.  Over the wool sock I throw a Speedo neoprene aqua fin sock. That’s right a neoprene bootie that I usually wear with flippers in the pool for swimming. I am a triathlete and swim about 6000 yards a week so the bootie was something I already had lying around the house. The last layer is the piece I had to search for. I slip on something called an O’Neill Reactor Beef boot. The O’Neill reef boot is the brainchild of Jack O’Neill a coastal California surfin Kat who started his company back in 1952 and is credited with inventing the modern day wetsuit.

The neoprene boot is designed to protect surfer’s bare feet from sharp, rocky coral.  Jack was determined to beat Mother Nature at her game by designing gear that would allow surfers to ride the waves in the bone chilling cold waters off the coast of San Francisco. The boot design really works well as a minimalist winter running shoe. It slips on like an old man’s galoshes over just about anything you put on your feet first. The reef boot sole is actually thinner that the Vibram five finger, which I did not expect.  It greatest attribute is its super sticky sole complete with an aggressive tread pattern that does amazingly well over ice and snow.

 The thin sole flexes so well that from my experience it seems to allow me even greater control.  I’ve run many winters in traditional rigid sole running shoe and on snow its like dropping a rock into a pale of water, because it displaces everything under foot, causing a great deal of instability.  The Five-finger and the reef boot flexibility allow you to tip toe, even creep up snow and ice greatly reducing the likelihood of slippage. My new layering system with its multiple neoprene layers creates a nearly waterproof barrier between my feet and the cold snow. This amounts to two separate temperature zones, which is something you’ll appreciate on extremely cold days.  The only down size is my toasty warm feet have no place to send their moisture so guess what, I come home with warm sweaty feet, nothing a little soap and water can’t fix.  All in all it is the best solution I have found for running in extreme cold.  Did I mention the shoes are less than $25.00 at many online retailers like Swim The Speedo aqua fin socks cost about $12.00 and are also available online.  Your needs may vary depending on your climate and you may find that the reef boot and a pair of socks is all you need. With winter weather conditions gripping nearly every corner of the U.S in this La NiƱa year the O’Neill Reactor Reef Boot might be the solution to your minimalist footwear running needs this winter.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Racing in Vibram Five Fingers on Turkey Day

Racer's begin the Duluth, Mn 5th Annual Gobble Gallop
Author and his wife

I ran my first official race in Vibram Five fingers Thanksgiving day. The Duluth, Minnesota Gobble gallop 5K takes place every year the morning of turkey day.  Interestingly enough it’s also where I made my racing debut some 5 years ago.

 This summer I set out to break myself of the bad habit of being a heal striker. I started out using traditional shoes before picking up a pair of KSO’s.  Like most people I started out too much, too soon and injured myself.  I went back to square one by doing nothing but running barefoot on soccer fields for a few months and fixed that problem for good.  From a comfort standpoint I now actually prefer running totally barefoot.

Couldn’t do that though for the gobble gallop. I raced in my KSO treks and a pair of heavier injinji socks. My wife also raced wearing a pair of Bikilas.  The weather was anything but five finger friendly.  The forecast that morning called for 1-3 inches of new snow on top of the 3 inches already on the ground with early morning temperatures in the single digits. City crews cleaned the course early enough to make conditions slightly better.  By race time the temperature was 14 degrees above zero with a moderate to strong west (head wind) gusting about 30 mph.  Needless to say my feet were not very happy about it all.  Spent as much time as I could indoors at the running store and coffee shop that sponsored the event.  With 4 minutes till gun time I said okay…okay already and stepped out into the frigid air. I got a lot of pop eyed stares from other racers follow by “oh my gosh your feet must be freezing!” I tell them they’ll warm up once we get moving. A guy gets on the microphone and says “GALLOP YOU FOOLS!” and we are off.

 Everyone pushes the start buttons on their watches and the mass of humanity surges forward. I always start out near the middle or front of the pack and break out once my blood is full of oxygen. Dodging runners and slush filled potholes left by street crews I broke free of the main body of runners. I did eventually step in some slush giving my toes a nice ice bath. The KSO’s treks don’t hold liquid for long, most of the time the next step just squeezes the water right back out.  Just the same at 14 degrees my wet toes were numb for the first mile or so.
five fingers in slush race day

As I picked up speed I noticed how well the shoe gripped to slippery cobblestone streets.  People around me were slipping and sliding as I passed them by. I felt pretty good so I picked up the pace again just after the turn around and sprinted forward to catch my friend James. He says:  “man I am so glad you came up I was really feeling it and needed some motivation” then he asks how the shoes are doing and I say better now. So we paced each other for the next mile.  We crossed the finish line in 23 minutes and some change.  I really did not expect to break 30 minutes to be honest.  I’d put so much into learning to forefoot strike all summer that I never squeezed in any speed work.  I guess you can always count on a bit of extra adrenaline on race day to get you through.  The KSO trek’s worked better than I thought in terms traction but not so well on warmth.  For what they are, Vibram Fiver fingers provide better traction and balance than any traditional shoe I have ever worn.  I would race in them again. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

left to right: Drew Lanham,Dave Mapgiong, Roy Rodriguez,Douglas Gray, Jeremiah Alexander, Me
Had the pleasure last week of being invited to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in southern Texas. Had no idea that I would have so much fun. I was flown in to accompany attendees to designated birding location and help them identify and find birds. With over 20 years of birding and bird photography to my credit it seemed like an enjoyable and easy task.

 With the help of local tour leader, Roy Rodriguez we took bus loads of birders out to pad their life list with new birds. Highlights included: Red –crowned parrot, Rudy ground dove, Crimson collared grosbeak, Least grebe and Aplomado Falcon.

 Roy is one of the most amazing human vessels of knowledge I have ever met. He was never at a loss for information on the history of south Texas, its people or its birds. Many of the participants including myself were truly mesmerized by Roy’s extensive knowledge.
Mary Gustafson

 Perhaps the most amazing things about the festival that may have gone unnoticed by many in attendance was that it was perhaps the most culturally diverse birding festival ever held in the United States. Granted the numbers were not that high but of the 400-500 folks in attendance there were perhaps 8-10 people of color present as trip guides, attendees and vendors. None of this would have been possible without the forward thinking of Festival coordinator and longtime friend Mary Gustafson. Mary is no dummy she is fully aware of the fact that without young birders and more people of color birding simply has no future. So this year she stacked the deck by bringing in the most knowledgeable young birders she could find and then contacting me to help with ethnic diversity. In turn I brought in friends Dr. Drew Lanham, Associate Professor of Forestry and Natural Resources at Clemson University and Douglas Wayne Gray avid birder and member of the Indiana Audubon Society. Together with local Roy Rodriguez we made up the most noticeable diversity at the conference, as designated trip leaders.

 This is just the latest of many efforts within the birding community to bring about a shift in who in America sees themselves as birders. Also in attendance at the Conference were Dave Mapgiong and Paul Baicich co-founders of the Fledging Birder’s Institute who’s main objective is to engage younger and more ethnically diverse birdwatchers. They’ve planned a conference on the subject for the fall of 2011 with a huge emphasize on ethnic diversity in birding.

 Perhaps the most lasting effect of the festival will be the newfound friends in Roy, Dave, Paul and Jeremiah Alexander. All the folks mentioned have bonded and are already planning our next big adventure. We also realize now how many of us are out there are pushing change in the outdoors and plan to work together on this issue at every opportunity.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Fall Hike in Northern Minnesota

Fall is an excellent time of year to be outdoors.  The aroma and crunch of freshly fallen leaves under foot is always a joy.  Fall is also a great time of year to see change in nature.  During the long warm days of summer animals’ chief duty is to feed a rear their young but other than that not much else goes on.  In the fall the cool days and frosty nights signal to animals winter is not far off.  As a result the woods and skies are filled with migratory songbirds and hawks.  The land mammals also move with a sense of urgency, as some know they too will be affected by the changing weather.  Squirrels and chipmunks scurry across the forest floor gather nuts and other materials for winter, while bears eat nearly every fatty food source they can find preparing their bodies for their long winter hibernation. 

Today I set out on a photo hike in the woods in my new vibram five finger treks not far from home.  As expected I found animal activity everywhere.   I was reminded of how much more there is to our world if we just slow down to the rhythms and pace of the natural world.  I typically hike very,very slowly and purposefully.  I turn my sensory perception up to the max and try to see, hear and feel everything I can as I hike.  I make it a habit to stop immediately whenever I hear a sudden sound.  Today I was barely 10 minutes into my hike when I heard a rushed scurrying noise in the woods close by.  I just froze in my tracks as always and slowly scanned the woods with eyes only and no body movement of any kind.  Not twenty or so feet away I locked eyes with a creature I had not seen in the wild for some time.  With most of the leaves on the ground this animal was unable to conceal itself and stood out on a naked tree trunk perhaps 15 feet off the ground.  I was looking right into the eyes of a pine marten.  A smile immediately bloomed on my face as the weary animal stared me down. I just moved my eyes and kept the rest of my body perfectly still.  That apparently confused him, as he seemed to ponder whether or not to jump through the branches towards me or run away.  Maybe it was my bright smile that fooled him. First he started in my direction then down the tree towards the ground and scampered along the back of a downed log and disappeared into the forest.  I always count myself lucky when I see such wild, stunningly beautiful animals in their natural habitat.  As a seasoned nature photographer I’ve seen many gorgeous, wild creatures including wolves, bears,lynx, moose and many others.  It never gets old.  The first thought that comes to mind as soon as they are out of sight is “did I really see what I think I just saw.”  It’s been that way with me for decades now.  The almost magical, elusiveness of wild things captivates my very soul.  In the woods I feel connected to every life force around me and even though I can not see the animal anymore I feel it there just beyond the trees out of sight looking back at me.    
I think I put the pieces together afterwards.  Based on what I know about pine martens I must have interrupted a hunting foray.  There were several grey squirrels shouting alarms calls throughout the woods with the loudest being the one he’d pinned near the top of a tree just as I arrived.  I kind of felt bad about it for a minute but I know pine martens like most predatory mammals are persistent and he’ll get his meal before sun down.

After about 2 hours of hiking my feet were tired so I walked down to the creek and walked right into the rushing, knee-deep water. That’s one of the many great things about Vibram five finger shoes, you never worry about getting them wet or dirty because they are design to take just about anything nature throws your way.  The water was just as you might expect it to be in northern Minnesota this time of year.  The, frigid, icy waters took all the soreness in my feet and legs downstream and out into Lake Superior a quarter mile away from where I stood.

If you get an opportunity get out into the woods near where you live by all means do so and experience the natural world at its pace and prepare to be changed by the experience.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mr. KSO and Mrs. Bikila go on vacation

I've just returned from one of the most memorable vacation ever. Actually it was more of a Stay-cation but no less enjoyable. My wife and I took two mountain bikes, two wet suits and four pairs of Vibram five finger shoes on a camping adventure. Living in northern Minnesota you really don't have to drive far to have fun in the outdoors. We drove just a little over two hours from our home in Duluth to our selected campsite. By mid afternoon we were putting up the tent and planning our first fun adventure. We had put a great deal of emphasis on seeing how many things we could do in our different pairs of five finger shoes. Our first fun activity however was in bike shoes for 16 miles of mountain bike joy.

We both own a pair of KSO and a pair of Bikilas. I recenty bought a pair of KSO TREK but as you all know many styles are on backorder so I must wait patiently for them to arrive. That did not stop me however from putting the two pair I have to the test.

I went for a trail run in the Bikilas not far, maybe 3-4 miles? What I've noticed about any pair of Vibram shoes is your feet generally stay right where they land as move along regardless of the surface you are on. Just last week I started weight training in them and noticed when I do weighted barbell squats in my KSO's my feet feel like they are suction cupped to the floor. Same goes for running in the woods either in the KSO or the Bikilas my feet stayed where I put them, even on slanted surfaces. In trail running shoes you put your foot down in that situation and you might turn an ankle. Traditional shoes put so much rubber between you and the ground its like trying to run in platform shoes like the ones the rock band KIZZ used to wear!
All five fingers are so light weight your feet just lightly touch the ground and are off again before you know it. I always feel like I am floating when I run in five fingers.

Back to the camping trip.. On the worse possible weather day we said lets go swim in that lake. Our campground by the way was completely deserted. 24 sites and just my wife and I for 5 full days!!. We put on our wets suits in camp and biked over to the lake. We stood on the shore and watched the lake roll and toss in front of us against a brooding,cloudy sky. I said to my wife just do it! Armed with our KSO's we just walked in and started swimming out toward deeper water. The further from shore we swam the colder and deeper the water got. fighting the waves we kept going until we couldn't stand the cold any longer and turned back to shore. not sure what the water temps were but the air temps must have been in the upper 40's. without the KSO I think our feet would have turn into blue Popsicles!

So the grand total of things you can do on a camping trip with Five fingers is SWIM, TRAIL RUN, DANCE the boogaloo to some ipod tunes around camp, lay on your back and stretch because your lower back is killing you from sleeping on the cold, hard ground and lets see what else, oh yeah have a ice cold beer or glass of wine from the comfort of your camp chair and watch the fire burn as you listen to loons and wolves call through the night

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mr. KSO and Mrs. Bikila go on Vacation

My wife and I are heading out this weekend for a week of wilderness fun. we are loading up the wet suits, Mountain bikes and Five Fingers for our last blast of summer fun here in Northern Minnesota. will submit a full report with pictures when I return

Dudley Edmondson

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This blog will become the ramblings of one African American man and his passion for nature the outdoors. My intent is to get African Americans and other people of color to join me in making the outdoors a place for everyone.