An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ink Day

I got inked last night. Marked for life. Buzzed by the needle. Had my skin pounded. Got carved.

I got a tattoo on my back. It's something I've always been intrigued by, but had never made it a priority. Maybe it's a mid-life thing, but it was just time. Of course, the fact that my wife has three (though the one I got is larger than all hers combined) had a little to do with it. Much like when I started motorcycle riding -- being in the supportive environment made all the difference. That and having an influx of cash from a work bonus...

I'd read a bunch from people who have tattoos, their designs, tips about when to get one (as in making your OWN design, and WAITING to make sure you still LIKE the design a year later), and about who are the good artists in the area. And to never get any one's name put on you unless it is your child's name.

I visited a bunch of studios and settled on one that I felt good about -- the Tattoo Machine in South Hill (Puyallup). They weren't the lowest price, but I felt that their studio was the cleanest and brightest looking place. I felt like it wasn't trying to hide in the dark...

Last Saturday I made the appointment, put down the deposit, dropped off the design... My daughter was there with me, and she had "inked" me on my arms earlier that day with designs of her own, using markers (thankfully not Sharpies -- not that she didn't try).

And yesterday was the day.
I didn't sleep very well... Probably just the anticipation. It's a day that had been a year in the building.

My design is a combination of two symbols that speak to various aspects of my life, beliefs, etc. The main part is a Thor's Hammer design, but inverted to a T-shape (most Thor's Hammers are shown with the cap of the T at the bottom). My last name starts with a T. And I'm Norwegian (3/4 anyway). Inside that, at the junction of the cap and post, is a blade triskele. Why this? It's a Celtic design symbolic of the trinity. Three phases of life, three forms of matter (liquid, solid, and gas), three sports as one in triathlon, and the three aspects of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Three is a common motif in Celtic knot work, but the blade triskele denotes the aggressive expression -- a warrior for the trinity. So my design pays homage to my family, my heritage, my sport, and my beliefs.

I made this design over a year ago, had it printed out full size, and have kept it out since. I still like it. It still means as much to me today as when I first made it. So now it's part of me.

Mike Horton at The Tattoo Machine did a great job. After getting the initial outline on, we talked a little bit about how I wanted it to look, and though it took longer than initally bid, the end result is better than the piece of paper I handed him. Did it hurt? Sure. But it was bearable. And this morning it feels mostly like I just got a bad sunburn there.

My wife has said tattoos are very addicting. She's kicked around ideas to add to the ones she has now. I have no plans for more at this point. I'll at least wait until the pain is forgotten and this one heals completely. I've had ideas for others, but nothing has really stuck.

I'm just waiting for the day my mother sees it for the first time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jake vs the Halti head collar -- no, it's not an S&M device

We have a dog named Jake. Or more like a small horse. Okay, he's a mix of greyhound and golden lab. Heavy on the golden lab. He's got the height and lankiness of a greyhound, the speed of a greyhound, but the energy, coat, tail, and nose of a lab. That lab tail can clear off the coffee table with a single swipe. He can set his head on the back of the couch without stretching, all 4 paws on the floor.

And at that, he's only about 68 lbs. It's funny seeing him curl up in the cat bed. Yep, that tall dog can curl up and fit completely within a medium sized cat bed.

Grey's are sight hounds, which means they'll chase anything that moves. Labs are scent hounds, which means they'll chase anything they smell. Jake, having the best of both worlds, will chase anything he sees OR smells. Control can be an issue.

I'm not the type of person who lets my dog run around unchecked. With a part-grey, you just can't.I had him in obedience classes last year, and he did okay. He really shined on the last day of class for his diploma. And like any one who can take a test well, he proceeded to do a mental core-dump of everything we learned over the previous 6 weeks. So Jake is often my run companion. When we walk or run together, he's always a step ahead, or trying to be. If you've ever read Maynard Hershon's Half-Wheel Hell, you know what I mean -- he's constantly trying to get in front. Just a little bit. He needs a lot of reminding.

Even with a Martidale collar, a regular leash has no effect on him. None. That darn lab in him...

We tried the Illusion collar (the one marketed by The Dog Whisperer) -- nada.

It wasn't until we tried a "head collar" that we got him somewhat under control on walks and runs. By a semi-gentle tug on the leash, we got his attention and he'd heel in... for a few seconds. But he still had a tendency to pull. Constantly.

As that collar wore, we recently replaced it with a Halti head collar ( see photo at right from the Halti site). I was actually amazed at the difference, even from the previous head collar. The nose strap is thicker, which is usually a detriment with a sight hound (anything in their eyes REALLY bothers them), but the way it cinches is much more attention-getting (and not painful), and when the collar is loose, it's much freer, allowing the dog to drink and breathe normally. It's sized for various breeds, and with Jake we got the size 3. It seems to be a prefect fit, with easy adjustment of the strap which goes behind his head.

I've taken Jake out with the Halti twice now, most recently for an 8 mile jaunt around (and around) the neighborhood trails and roads. He was perfectly behaved, even when there were other loose dogs nearby. I was impressed with both him and the collar.

It ran a little more than the head collar I'd gotten last year (by maybe $5), but with the way this one is working, I wish I'd spent the money the first time around.

Either that or Jake is just faking me out again...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Writing for the writing-impaired

I've never really been "good" at writing. Being as I'm 3/4 Norwegian (the other 1/4 is a mix of Scot and English) and an engineer, my writing tends to be very dry, factual. It didn't help that I took technical writing in college. Sure, I took creative writing as well, but the technical stuff just came a lot more naturally to me. Humor? Go back to that second sentence and you'll see how I'm almost genetically humor impaired. Maybe I just try too hard.

One of the big things that's always had trouble with (and my daughter has seemed to inherit, bless her) is the whole "what shall I write about?" question. Obviously, I'd want to write about things to which I'm fairly acquainted. Or at least could fake it well enough to not embarrass myself (or not deep enough so as to attract the attention of those who really DO know). Okay, lest that last part not come across as I'd hoped, it was a joke. Back to the question... Writer's block and that question have stymied many a would-be writer. How to battle this? Just start writing. The intimidation of the blank page (or screen) is huge. Getting something on it, ANYTHING on it, makes it no longer blank, and thus less intimidating.

Now, mind you, the drivel that starts at the top of the page (or screen) may not be anything remotely related to the final product, it's just a start. A way to get the mental juices flowing, so to speak. I've started many a writing project with the top of the page saying, "I really have no idea what to write, I just need to get started with something, so here it goes." I've done a lot of "stream of consciousness" stuff just to see where it goes and what my thoughts tend toward.

I'm still not a "good" writer, but I'm a lot better than I was, and I'm getting more practice.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Snake ride to a DNF

So today I did a mountain bike race. Sort of.

This race was put on by my friends at BuDu Racing ( The weather was cold but clear. My wife was working at the race (as an employee of BuDu Racing), and it only took a little encouragement for me to decide to toe the start line.

My mountain bike is low tech. REALLY low tech. The frame is a non-badged Nishiki Alien that I got on eBay for $2.25 plus $30 shipping, and a rigid fork for another $6. The rest was pieced together from parts I had on hand from past bikes, and a few new parts I got on steep discounts. No suspension, Cantilever V-brakes (the rear brakes are nearly worthless). A handlebar made from a straight piece of frame tube plus a shim. Oh, and no derailleurs. It's a single speed with a Performance brand chain tensioner.

I entered the single speed class, which ran the same race as the Expert class. Meaning 3 laps. 18 miles. And to top it off, the single speeders went off 1 minute AHEAD of the Experts. So when the gun sounded, I waited a little and then took the following position. Oh, did I mention that I hadn't pre-ridden the course, and I'd never been there before? I had NO idea what the course was like. My friend thought that my gearing was fine, and it was described as "no steep hills, and a few roots here and there".

So within a half mile, we hit the single track. And the roots. And the mud. And the turns. I don't think there was 10 yards that didn't have some combination of mud, roots, 12-inch wide log bridges, or a 90-degree turn (or more).

Then the experts came up behind us. I jumped off the track to let groups by. I ran off the trail from missing a turn more than once. I hugged a tree. I bit it because I could unclip fast enough on the steep pitches.

And then the big hit came. A corner, wet roots at an angle to the trail... I tried to loft the front wheel, but no dice. The bike went sideways, and down I went hard onto my right elbow. Only fear of being run over got me up quickly. But it took me a bit to get going again. Aside from the elbow that felt like it was broken, my handlebars were sideways. I got that straightened out, started riding, and knew my race was over. No way I was going to last through another 15 miles of that. I rode easy to the finish area and called it a day.

If I'd ridden the course before hand, I don't think I would have even started. No way was I prepared for that. In fact, about 2 miles in I was thinking that it would be a great area to run... I may go back with the Trail Gloves instead of the MTB...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Merrell Trail Glove -- maiden voyage

I ran in the Trail Gloves today for the first time. I kind of overdressed, as the weather was cold and I'd planned to take the pace easy this first time out.

I ran a normal weekday lunchtime route (for me), with a mix of pavement, gravel, dirt, and grass.

Immediately I noticed the lack of heel drop, almost with a feeling like the balls of my feet were on top of some thicker material. Not uncomfortable, but took some getting used to. Also, that same feeling of total toe freedom was there throughout the whole run.

I did notice that the shoes felt like they were slipping some on the wet pavement. The sole material is harder than most, and especially moreso than the Kinvara's I've gotten used to. I felt like my calves were worked, which is really just a byproduct of no heel drop. I'm not sore at all now, but we'll see how things feel in the morning. The ground feel (which is an important thing for barefoot runners, not so much for me) was slightly less than my old Nike Waffle Racers, so not bad. The overall feel was much the same, but with MUCH better room and fit.

All through the run, I thought I was going slow. The final pace, though, was right in there with my normal training runs.

Was this maiden voyage a success? I'd have to say it was. Glad I bought them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I like simple things -- Nathan Traingle Hydration Pack

I like simple things. My tri bike is an old standard double-diamond frame (though it's titanium), I time my runs with the regular old start/stop functions on a digital watch (and then I'll map it on the Route Tracker on if I want to know how far I went), only my most recent cell phone has a camera, and I finally entered the 21st century with texting in 2008... My shoes are getting simpler as well.

So I've had this Nathan Triangle Hydration pack water bottle carrier ( for some 3 years now. At the time it was branded for Road Runner Sports by Nathan, but now RRS carries it under the Nathan name. I use it on my long runs, hikes, and sometimes when walking the dog if it's going to be long. I tend to not carry water or Gu unless I'm going to be out for an hour or more. As I get older, I'm seeing the benefits of carrying these things on shorter runs as well. You never know...

I like the Nathan pack for several reasons -- it's stable, puts the bottle at an angle so there's less sloshing, and it's easy to grab the bottle and slide it out. Strategically placed elastic cords can be strapped onto the top of the bottle to keep it in place, but I've never, ever had a problem with the bottle creeping out. Also, I can use any standard bike water bottle -- the bottle that it came with used a soft rubber stopper, which was nice on the teeth but had a tendency to tear (thank the kids for that one). The sleeve that holds the bottle is foam insulated, so a cold bottle won't cause your back to cramp up, and a hot back won't make your favorite drink into a tepid immitation of chicken broth.Refilling is as simple as refilling the bottle, no need to pull out a big bladder or risk getting the whole pack wet.

The reflective stripe on the back, with two reflective "strap keepers" in front will help alert drivers for those who run on the roads in the dark.

The triangular pocket is just big enough for a Gu and a key. Minimalism at its utilitarian best.

Since I got mine, they've added an ID pocket with a waterproof ID card. Always a good idea to have ID of some kind with you.

I've got a little fanny pack for carrying my cell phone and house key when I'm running shorter distances. My wife insists it a fashion throw-back to the 80's... She refuses to let me wear it when she's with me. She's never said anything like that about the Nathan water pack.

I picked this one as an opportunistic purchase at the local Road Runner Sports store (Kent, WA) some 3 years ago, and I've been glad I did. It looks as good now as the day I bought it.

Simple things that do the job with aplomb. The Nathan Triangle Hydration Pack fits that category to a tee.
(Photo at left from RRS website.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove -- initial impressions

Yeah, I got the shoes. How could I not? Well, I suppose if they were hideous instruments of self-flagellation, I could pass. But... well, read on.

We drove to Portland for a fun day, and the first stop happened to be Track 'n Trail at the Washington Square Mall. Actually, my wife insisted it be our first stop. I think she was anticipating this more than I was...

Got into the store, looked at the models available (the Trail Glove in 4 color schemes, the Pace Glove in another 4 colors or so, and the Pure Glove in a few more colors), and then plunked myself into a chair to try on the Trail Glove in "my size". Well, I've been in Nike 10.5 for several years, and my last pair of shoes (the Saucony Kinvara) is an 11, so I figured the 10.5 would be the ticket. But the 10.5 wasn't in my prefered color, I could have lived with it. Anyway, I slipped on the 10.5 and walked around a bit. And immediately I had this feeling like my toes were FREE! Free from encumberances. Free from being squished together like sardines. It was quite refreshing. But one little thing bugged me -- the arch. It was pressing against the back side of the ball of my foot. Just a little bit. So... I tried on the size 10 (which also happened to be in my preferred color scheme) on my "long" foot, and did a little comparison jog. It felt much better. I did some more jogging around (feeling very conspicuous on the mall), and while the lack of any heel drop was noticable, it wasn't painful at all.

So the dicision was made. My wife bought my Valentine's Day gift two days early. She asked if I was going to wear them out of the store...

Huh? I haven't done that since I was probably 10 years old. When I told her that, she insisted. So I wore them out of the store to the car, then driving to our next destination (the Grotto, for any one interested), and put my old shoes back on. Don't want to sully them with too much walking before I take them on a run, you know...

But as we were driving, she asked me if they really felt different. I said, yeah, they do. Kind of like Sandals, really. Like there's nothing over my toes.

That's good.

She asked me if I was feeling everything through the bottom of the shoe. Nope, actually it feels pretty normal in that regard (we had walked on some pretty large-exposed aggregate concrete). It would take something pretty sizeable. I think these are going to work very well for dirt trails, and for gravel roads.

As you can see, I got the Black and Molton Lava color scheme. My wife liked the blue, but my second choice would have been black with yellow.

I've got them on right now, just around the house a bit. I don't know if I'll run in them tomorrow or not. Some of it depends on the weather, some on how far I want to run. But I've found something really comfy. I guess I'll be picking up another pair via mail order soon...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Shoe Lust

I've got it.

They say there's a "buying mood" that car salesmen can smell, and when they smell it, they KNOW they've got a buyer on their hands. Running shoe store workers probably know the same thing, even if they're not aware of it. The look in the eyes, how the person kind of barely hears what the salesman says, he just nods in that far-off way... The work of the sale is already done. All that's left is the exchange of credit card numbers.

It's not an uncommon thing with runners. The "contact points" are the feet, and shoes are the intermediary to the earth (or concrete). For cyclists, it's the bike itself (and more closely the shoes and pedals, saddle, gloves, handlebars, and even bar tape). Swimmers, the suit and goggles (okay, maybe not -- I've never really considered myself much of a swimmer, so I'm kinda guessing). Triathletes, all of the above, plus some.

I just threw out about 10 pairs of shoes. Some of them were in pretty good shape. Okay, pretty good condition. Not "shape". In fact "shape" was the reason I threw some of them out. There was a "vintage" pair of Nike Free Trail shoes, some dress shoes, some Keen "running" shoes, a mid-top pair of motorcycle boots, my ancient Danner low-top hikers... Gone now. I think I still have some 8-10 pair of shoes (not including my biking shoes -- that would add another 3 pair). I'm not some Imelda Marcos wannabe. Yet. I don't have any desire to sport stiletto heels. In public.

Anyway, I threw out these shoes because they became "shoes which shall never more encumber my feet." In the case of the Nike Free's, the last time I had them on my feet, by the time I finished the walk, I had lost feeling in half my toes. Others were similar, but to a lesser extent -- toe boxes just weren't bearable for any length of time. The dress shoes were some that I've had for some time, and while passably workable for short periods of time, didn't pass my wife's "I could be seen with you in public wearing that" test. As a male engineer, I obviously have none of this instinct. As a female engineer, apparently that gene didn't get passed on to her.

I've been eagerly awaiting the introduction of the Merrel Barefoot line, the New Balance Minimus line, and the Altra Instinct and Lone Peak (not so much the Adam -- a little TOO minimalist for me), ever since I first heard of them back in October. The availability date of the Merrells is... now. They were shipping on February 1st. That was over a week ago, and still no store near me has them. The Born to Run Store in Bellevue's shipment was delayed, and I just saw on their website that they're saying they'll have them available on Tuesday. The New Balance Minimus Trail is supposed to hit the market March 1st, and the Altra on April 1st.

My wife (bless her, and oh, did I mention we got married on New Year's Eve?) has unwittingly chosen to support my shoe habit by making a pair of the Merrell Trail Gloves a Valentine's Day gift. We're going to Portland, OR, tomorrow, and Track 'n Trail JUST got them in... So part of the trip to Portland will include stopping in there to try them on, and likely buy them if they're comfy. I suppose it's forgivable (as in she can forgive herself) that my wife would do this -- we're in the first two months of married life. And she still has more shoes than I do. Anyway...

Sure, I could order them online at a few shipping-only places. I've seen a discount code for But I want to try them on before I buy. Call it another part of the compulsion, the hands-on part. The anticipation of ownership by tactile input. Kinda like a test drive in that sporty convertible... Well, not quite. But the only time I've bought shoes online without first trying them on... didn't turn out so well. Those were one of the pair of shoes I tossed last week. And so I prefer to "try before I buy" when it comes to shoes. Follow-on pair could definitely be bought online, though. All I need to do is make sure they FIT first.

And of course I'll post a review of my initial impressions. And a later one of a full report.

So even if the Merrells DO fit, will I try on the New Balance and the Altra when they hit the market? Of course. Will I buy them if they fit? Most likely. Will I keep the Kinvaras in my shoe rotation? I'm sure I will, at least for as long as it takes to get the other shoes (which ever ones they are) fully adapted. Or more appropriately, *I* get fully adapted to the shoes. And it also depends on how much better the new shoes fit.

Why is it so important that I get these shoes now? That "buying mood", and a whole lotta lust.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"It makes a HUGE difference."

That's a quote from a co-worker of mine, a "new" triathlete (who has a great story to tell, losing some 60 lbs in a year, doing a few triathlons, and now having a "light" training day meaning almost 2 hours at the local YMCA) after a run in his new shoes.

He'd asked me a couple questions about running shoes last week, and had made his purchase late in the week. Choosing New Balance (a brand he's had decent luck with), he went with 2E width instead of the normal D so that he'd have more toe room.

"It makes a HUGE difference," he said.

"You've been reading my blog."

"Yup," he replied.

It's always nice to know when you've helped some one.

Hey Eric, I hope the rest of the miles in those shoes are as nice as the first.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The white belt, soul running, and the perpetual beginner

I've posted about this on occasion on, and it's how I try to live my sporting life these days. It harkens back to some things I learned early on in my running "career", which were forgotten, or at least not thought about much, in many of the intervening years... Childlike wonder of sport.

I had a foray into Amway for a while. Don't worry, I'm past it, and I'm not about to try to sell any SA-8 or NutriLite vitamins to any one. But there were a lot of seminars that went along with it. In one of them, a lady told a story about one day when she was cleaning. The point of her telling the story isn't really the one I took away from it (her point was mostly about how her husband reacted - or more appropriatley DIDN'T react) to what she did, but what really struck me about it was the symbolism.

Her husband was a long-time practitioner of karate (no, I don't know the real "karate" term for such a person, in yoga he would be called a "yogi"), and had a many-degrees black belt. As she was cleaning the house, she saw his gi hanging in the closet with his belts -- several ceremonial black belts with ornate embroidery, commemorative belts from various tournaments, etc. Among these was an old, ratty, frayed and faded belt off to the side. It had obviously seen better days.

So in her frenzy of de-clutter, she plucked it off the rack and threw it out with the skinny ties and butterfly collars.

A couple days later her husband asked if she'd seen the belt. Oops...

Yeah, those of you who know karate can see this coming. Turns out, the belt she threw out was his original black belt that was awarded to him when he achieved that level. As is the custom, he always used it, and the symbolism of the fact that it frayed and faded was that eventually it would come full circle to white again. Real symbolism? The more you know, the more you find out there is so much MORE to know. And one should never think they know everything, because to think that is to truly not know anything.

Yes, she committed a major no-no, but the thing that really stuck with me was the full-circle thing. To maintain that child-like wonder of beginning, of discovering. Doing things for the joy of it, and learning along the way. In many ways, these are things I delved into when I was a "young" runner, adding distance, going out for hours and just running. Later adding longer bike rides, re-vamping my swim stroke, discovering speed that I never thought could exist in me.

A couple months ago I entered a contest with New Balance -- "this year I will..." My entry was "This year I will reconnect with my soul runner." Two years ago, I thought I wouldn't be able to run again. Foot surgery in 2008 led to many attempts to start running again, and every time I had stabbing pains that stopped me within a quarter mile. It's taken a year, with slow build-ups, but I'm running again. Sure, I'm not as fast as I was, and I may never get there again. But I don't care, really. I want to have that reckless abandon of running on a trail in the middle of nowhere, as I did when I was in my "beginner" years of distance running.

And the same thing applies to my triathlon participation. Sure, on race day I give everything I have, and I show up at the awards, but if I don't win anything, if I'm not part of the top 3 of the old-guys division, I don't take it as any kind of sign of diminished worth. Because I'm a beginner, after all.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

If I were a shoe designer... Part 4 (and final)

I've been trying to come up with something profoundly different, but I'm just not getting there, so I present what I have up to now.The main functions of the shoe upper are to (1) keep debris out, and (2) keep the footbed/midsole/sole on your foot. Along with that, how that upper fits is key, which is tied in with the last on which the shoe is made (which is part of the shape I referred to in an earlier post).

Important to me is a lacing system that allows tension to be adjustable by areas. Maybe this is tied in (haha) with the wide forefoot, but I've been lately tying the laces of my shoes so that there's zero tension in the laces in the lowest two eyelets, and all the tension goes through the instep area. It allows my foot to splay more in the metatarsals and toes. And it may also be tied in with the toe box curving inward -- not enough room at the little toe because the shape of the last is curved. Leaving no tension there lets the upper material move with my foot, instead of mushing my little toe inward. I also do like traditional laces over things like velcro straps, wires, buckles, etc.
The last pair of Nike shoes that "worked" for me had a very flexible upper, mesh only. There was a slight toe "bumper" area of fake leather, which didn't extend over the toes, and the rest was mesh. The upper of the Kinvara is comfortable (at least in it's flexibility), but it's wearing through already. That won't do at all. So the material needs to be soft and very pliable, but durable.

A heel counter is optional. Maybe something semi-soft, but not as soft as the Nike Free. I'll have to wait and see what the Merrel Barefoot is like (rumor is that the Born to Run store in Bellevue should have them this week).

And as with any good shoe, seams should be minimal so that wearing them sockless isn't an exercise in callus development.

That pretty well covers it.

It's been suggested that I should become a shoe designer. I don't know that I'd want to give up my day job to switch over to full-time kicks designer, but I'd be open to becoming a consultant...