Friday, November 19, 2010

Winter snow and a barefooting meetup

(A picture from my snowy trail run this weekend. It was meant to be a 3 mile road run, but then ended up being a 5 mile, road/trail mix. You can see why!)

So even in this comparatively tropical part of Canada, (well tropical compared to the rest of the country), we have had our first snow. A little earlythis year and it looks like the forecast that this year will be one of the snowiest on record will be true. This idea had filled me with dread. Winter running, in snow.. yuck. But as the snow starts to come down there is that little kid part of me that can't wait. Instead of my expected reaction, I want to run in the snow. I want to create barefoot snowy footprints and see how far I can go before my toes protest. It may only be 10 steps, but I so desperately want to try. Last year we didn't get snow and the year before I was only 6 months into minimalist running and I didn't want to try. This year I have decided to embrace the cold. I also have the incentive that other members of the Canadian chapter of BRS have a spreadsheet going on how long we can run in sub-zero (metric) temperatures. I am not a competitive person as such, but when the game is as wacky as thatone, I can't help but try!

This is a change-around from my previous post where I was lamenting my cold toes, but there is a reason for that. I have found a temporary solution to the winter running issue. Whilst in our local Outdoor equipment store, MEC, I found a cheap pair of aqua shoes. Aqua shoes/boots have been a stand-by for winter minimalist and barefoot runners for a long time. So a couple of days ago I gave them a go. Heaven. Cold, torrential, winter rain you have nothing on me now. HAHA, I laugh at your attempt to send me to the Emergency Room with Frostbite! Obviously there was alack of feel because.. well a pair of wool socks and aqua shoes aren't thin - but my feet were toasty. I rejoiced. I even tried them on a bit of easy trail. Great. I still have to be careful on roads/trail as there is NO grip on them what-so-ever in the wet, but that just makes road running more engaging. Try running 4 miles when you aren't sure ifthe next step is the one where you are going to go "arse-over-tit" as my Dad would say.

Let's just say I am excited.. Can you imagine the comic episodes arising from an unco-ordinated runner, running with soft shoes with NO grip in ice and snow? Get your popcorn ready, it's going to be one hell of a show!

In other news, I actually met up with a fellow Minimalist Runner for a race this weekend. An organised meet-up. One where the parties know each other!! When I say organised, Ireally mean, "We only decided two days ago to register". When I mean "The parties know each other", I really mean, "we know each other virtually, but have never actually met". Welcome to the world of Barefoot Running. We are so randomly dispersed that it's actually very rare if we know each other in real life. Of my 84 friends, probably half of them are barefoot runners. Of those Barefoot runners I haven't met a single one. Yet we know each other so well that we send Birthday Greetings and continual messages and jibes. I would like to think that we have a common bond binding us all together, however, we all accept, that the only ones we know who are as secretly Kooky as us are each other!

So today, I picked up Simon, a newish Minimalist Runner, for a 10K race. The Fall Classic. (The Half-Marathon at this event last year, was my first ever race in Minimalist shoes). His longest run"sans-shoes" was about 5K, so he was effectively doubling his mileage. Saying that, he has been running in his Vibrams for about 2months, so a little "caution to the wind" was allowed. I was his pacer and running coach today. Trying to give him handy hints and comment on his form. He was awesome and I was so proud of him. I could tell he was aching towards the end, but after a couple of friendly reminders his form picked up. I would say the only thing he needed to work on; which all new MR/BF runners have difficulty with, is his cadence. I always think, if you get your cadence right then a lot of the other form issues disappear. As soon as he increased his cadence from about 150ish to about 180, his posture straightened, his stride shortened, his landing became below his centre of gravity. It's amazing what a little tweak can do. He ran a pretty good pace too; especially as this was his longest minimalist run yet. We both finished (of course), at 1:04ish. Pretty good I thought, although I think he will feel it tomorrow. Good work Simon - you did an awesome job. Keep it up!

The snow hadn't vanished today. In fact the snow had thawed and frozen. The Race directors had laid rock-salt to melt the course. Unfortunately, the temperature had dropped about an hour before the race and rendered their best efforts redundant. The frozen snow, ice, rock-salt and wet road, along withtemperatures in the mid 20 degrees (about -3ish for those in metric), meant my plan for running the 10K barefoot was not possible. I ran in my wonderful aqua-shoes, (which it appears wereseriously trashed by the conditions) for the first 9K. At 9K, I decided to go ahead and run the last kilometre barefoot. If for no other reason, it was hilarious to see the stunned looks on the spectators. In fact the announcer at the finish just stared at me in shock as I crossed the line. I don't think he even managed to call my name. Fantastic. I probably could have managed another kilometre barefoot, but not much more. The combination of rock-salt, wet and cold really made my feet sting.

Simon was kind enough to take some photo's of me running barefoot. I have checked my photo album and there are very few photo's of me running Barefoot. Iknow why. I generally tend to run alone and it's pretty hard taking photo's of yourself whilst you are actually running. So here are the best ones. The smile isn't a smile; I think it's me silently cursing my stupidity for allowing my hobbit feet to hit the freezing pavement! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cold Toes and running woes....

So first running woe... Let me shake my first and curse, "back to school colds". My son started Kindergarten this year and within a month the dreaded lurgi hit. Admittedly a cold would just hit and maybe derail you for say a few days. Not this bugger! A month, YES A MONTH, later and I think I have just about managed to get rid of the coughing part of the cold. So I have had a month of reduced running; just because I couldn't seem to go further than about a mile before I had to walk, cough like a 70 year old man and regurgitate something that would be classified top secret and placed in AREA51. I mean what have they been giving viruses these days? It's almost as if they have been drugged up, placed in an intensive training program and then given huge gunk guns for good measure!

Yep, it's also THAT time of year. The clocks have moved back and any hope of a warm, sunny day has pretty much left the building. It is also this time of year where most minimalist or barefoot runners (anywhere North of the tropics) start the whole dilemma.. "how I am going to keep running?"

I have been running with little or nothing on my feet for about 18 months now, and somehow I have managed to avoid this whole situation. Last year we had the freakiest warm winter weather. It broke records! There is a logical explanation as to why this happened. Why didn't we get the usually sleet/cold rain/frost? Forget about "Global warming", the explanation is a lot more sinister.... Our little corner of Canada was hosting the Winter Olympics. I mean come on. There is a whole sky full of deities and they have to have a laugh too. What a laugh; what a joke! Seeing the little humans ship in snow on trucks and trailers, so they could ski down a mountain on little sticks. If I had eternity to live in, then I would want to play the odd practical joke too.

So last year, I was running in Mid-February and there was cherry blossom on the trees. Not really a "frozen toe" crisis.

This year, the situation is completely different. In an effort to get the most of the practical joke, (It was a good one), they are prediciting the worst winter in 55 years for the North-west Pacific region. i.e. my little part of Canada! So what the heck am I going to do!!

I have poor circulation in my feet and already I am suffering from the cold-toes situation due to my funky toes. My toes already host one of those freaky horror side-shows that you get at the circus. "Roll up, Roll up... come and see them. Kate's toes. See how they stick out at odd angles, see how they seem to look at you regardless of where you are in the room. If you are pregnant, have a weak heart or you are under the age of 10, we advise you stay away!"

We aren't even at the end of Novemeber. The lack of sensitivity in my feet has meant that running trails is proving interesting. I am landing heavier because I can't "feel" my landing as well. Normally wouldn't be much of an issue on the roads as you can use the sound of the landing to help determine how you are landing. On trails, you can be landing like a 10 tonne Elephant and would still scare the squirrels. The trails here are ALL gravel... So there have been a few moments when I have had sworn enough to earn an Adult rating if I had passed by any local film classification employees!

What happens when the snows hit? I know, road running. I can hear you say it. Let me introduce you to the Vancouver city authorities. We had bad snow a couple of years back and that's when we found out how few snow-ploughs and salt-trucks there were. Only a few roads were cleared and then they were fairly slippy. As for the sidewalks? Where did you think all of the snow went? At one point I remember going to the local store in snow-shoes and pulling D in a sledge. I am not in the rural outskirts... we are talking mid-city here!

So I need another plan? I have already "informally" asked the local recreation center about running on their indoor track and I have been told that for "safety" reasons, everyone needs to wear "proper" athletic shoes. Yep, let's not even go there! I am going to challenge them on that point, but that may take a while. I have even considered asking the local indoor shopping malls, if I can run there before the stores open in the morning? Here the stores open at 10AM, so I could run about 40 mins before the mall get's busy. Anyone else have any other ideas?

Of course there is my trusted elliptical machine, the local aquafit classes and perhaps even some aerobic classes. Not quite the same as bearing my freaky toes, but....

Hey, I am wondering, do you think if I look up in the sky and tell the multitude of deities that I PROMISE to dress as a chicken whilst running, they will get a big enough laugh from that and give up on the whole winter snow idea?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hello Canada!!! We're open for Business!

Yep, BRS has hit Canada. To those who think BRS may stand for "British Royal Sausages", or "Batty Retired Socks", BRS actually stands for the "Barefoot Runners Society".

It has been active in the US for a year now and their membership is growing. Now they are branching out globally with Chapters of BRS in Australia, Germany and Norway. The Canadian Chapter opened this week and I was very proud to be asked to help run it.

If you are a Barefoot or Minimalist runner based in Canada, there is now a place where you can find like-minded people. So if you haven't already, head over to The Barefoot Runners Society and check out the site.

Then check out the Canadian chapter; we are always open, always ready for a beer and we definitely want to party with you!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The (Ex) Network Engineers project development guide for project "Halloween Costume"

Firstly, although unknown to most, a lot of project development ideas come from some "tinkering" previously done with no real goals. In this case it was a half-hearted attempt at a ladybug costume made on a rainy afternoon which was unfinished and left in the corner for months. The project was largely ignored and dismissed by well.. everyone.

Then out of the blue, came an unexpected "customer" request for a "special" Halloween costume. The project is hence-called "Dwarf Spotted Bulborb costume", or the "costume" for short. It's left-field, completely whacky and definitely unfeasible. This particular "customer" is an internal customer already known to the development team. "Five year old boy" (from here we will call him, "internal customer D") already has a reputation for asking the impossible and then immediately becoming bored with the idea once work has started. It was felt at this time, the request would be logged, but pretty much ignored. The likelihood that the project is ever going to amount to anything is small. There are better things to do. Best not to mention it again.

The unlikely happened. "Internal customerD" had not forgotten his previous project request and demands that it is followed through. After much re-iteration that the project is pretty much impossible, "Internal Customer D" blusters that it is essential to the working of the "family company". Without the"costume" the company will collapse after an extensive period of moaning, screaming and in the worst case scenario, throwing of toys. This was highly unlikely and the request was still refused. "Internal customer D" threatened to tell the current CEO of the company, "Granddad", about our unwillingness to consider the project. At this point the "Dwarf spotted Bulborb costume" project was the highest priority.

Negotiation immediately started on how to fund the project. Financing had to come internally and this meant cutting of other budgets. It was suggested that the "halloween party" budget was scaled down for this financial year to accommodate the new project. "Internal customer D" reminded the development team that this budget had already been agreed upon and cannot be cut for legal reasons. After much analysis it was determined that the project would be funded with the minimum that can could be scrapped from budgets, "Food", "bills" and "transport".

Now came the hiring of resources. "Dwarf Spotted Bulborb" is a legacy off-shoot from an old Nintendo game called "Pikmin". The game and consequently anything relating to the "costume" could not be sourced as a pre-existing product from the usual Halloween costume vendors; e.g. "toys'r'us", Zellers and "London Drugs". Therefore the whole project had to be developed in-house. Due to the legacy nature of "Pikmin", there were only two engineers in the "family company" that had any knowledge of "Dwarf Spotted Bulborb" and of those engineers, there was only one that had any crafting skills enabling project "costume" to go ahead. The engineer was currently working on projects, "Cooking", "cleaning", "Taxiing" and "bum wiping". The engineer was over-worked, underpaid and stressed. However, once it's confirmed that the project should take a day maybe two at the most, she agrees.

On examining the previous prototype it was felt that it would be unusable with the updated customer expectations. If the costume had to withstand maybe one party, then the previous project could be adapted. However, the new loading was now 3 perhaps 4 parties, one halloween skate and 2 hours of "trick and treating". The "costume" would also be needed throughout the year as well as being potentially used next year. Paper, string and glue were not up to the job. The job was serious and would require the finest materials. All that was available was left-over material from previous projects, thread found randomly in a cupboard and an old pillow. It was felt that there was justification to buy a sewing machine, however, the cheapest and consequently underpowered model was signed off from financing.

The engineer assigned had NO sewing machine skills, and there was no time or financial resources to send her on a training course. She could manage with the manual and some "on-hands experience".

As the project started it was clear that the engineers sewing skills were not to scratch, but as the initial work was going to be covered up with the fancy craft paintand glitter at the end, this wasn't much of a problem. As long as the product worked, how the seams looked, or how well the stitching held were not essential. As long as it looked pretty, then "Internal customer D" would be happy.

When the project progressed, the initial timeframe for completion was increased from 2 days to at least 5. The man-hours required per day were also increased, so in total the project was clearly under-resourced. The equipment budget also escalated as "internal customer D" kept making development requests and changes. Other budgets had to be cut, in fact to the point where the "family company" maybe required to downgrade the "food budget" to tinned beans and toast in the foreseeable future. The project clearly did not increase the companies stock-worth or create any new avenues of income. However it was a HUGE hit in the playground!

On completion of the project, it became apparent that the ONLY person who would understand the finished product would be "internal customer D" and as such a complex schematic of the what the product SHOULD look like had to be tagged to the "costume" as documentation, in case anyone asked the inevitable question; "What are you dressed as?"

Despite the haphazard development process, the "costume" held up well during the "3 parties, 1 halloween tea and the trick-or treating" load testing. There were a few issues with broken equipment, but these were easily solved with sticky tape and safety pins. After a little maintenance, it is clear, depsite the wishes of the development team, (who would like to see their work buried, never to see the light), that the "costume" will be around forever. In fact it is inevitable,that the project willbecome one of those legacy services that willstill be workingeven though, "Internal customer D" has outgrown the "costume" and attending parties holding beer!

As to whether a similar project will be allowed to proceed in the future. I think that depends on the forcefulness of the "internal customer D"'s arguments, and whether the development team is drunk enough to consider the future project.

For your reference, please see an attached photo of "costume" as project documentation.

and what it should have looked like!