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.