Friday, August 22, 2008

Space-age ludditism and the 'Hidden Half'

Running technology revisited

Thanks to Barefoot Ted, who is now selling a new range of running sandal materials on his website, I've now graduated from rubber doormats to the world of high-tech huaraches.

There is something very appealing in bringing together the best of modern materials with the simple practicality of traditional design. Choosing not to wear bulky, expensive, brightly coloured, nylon spaceships on the ends of your legs doesn't have to mean that you've turned your back on technology, even though the spaceship wearers around you generally assume that you must have. In fact it's just the opposite. It's about using modern materials in more subtle ways to make running more pleasurable and more natural.

This is the tread pattern of Vibram 'Cherry' soling. It's a light, flexible material - only 4mm thick. The tread, which resembles a shallow egg-carton pattern overlaid with fine lines, provides amazing grip on smooth surfaces.

The upper surface is very slightly felty, rather than being smooth or tacky like the doormat rubber that I've used previously. It's quite comfy for the foot to sit on directly, so for my first pair of sandals made from this material I chose not to glue the thin foam footbed on to the upper surface as I have previously. This means that making a pair of sandals is a breeze - trace your feet, cut out the shapes, punch three holes in each sandal for the lacing and voila ! Who says high-tech has to be hard ?

The result is a sandal that follows the movements of your own sole without inhibiting them. It gives a very 'close to the ground' feeling - very similar to the sensation of running barefoot, while still providing some protection against sharp objects and abrasive surfaces.

Even on my first little run around the block with these sandals I found them to be seriously nice ! The excellent grip of the Cherry soles seems to make my foot strikes feel more definite and secure. I wondered if the hemp laces, as supplied by Barefoot Ted, might be scratchy compared to the soft bootlaces that I've used to date, but they turned out to be quite comfy.

Bankstown 'Hidden Half'

This annual half-marathon is organized by the Western Districts Joggers and Harriers aka the 'Westies'. It was held last Sunday (17th August) in cold conditions - especially with the 7:30am start. Actually that starting time proved to be too much of a challenge for me and I arrived just in time to see everybody else set off while I was still trying to pin my number on and lace up the new sandals !

Once I finally got going I managed to catch up with the back of the pack after a few minutes and settled into what turned out to be a very enjoyable, albeit fairly testing, run. The tests came in the form of some quite sharp hills, several of which had me walking up them.

The course followed bike paths and shorter sections of gravelly trail around a Lake Gillarwina and through the surrounding park land. The Westies did a great job of marshalling us all through the many loops and turns of the course with plenty of encouragement and banter. It was lovely to see Runbare who had come along to cheer us on despite still trying to get over a bout of the flu. All in all, a terrifically friendly and well organised event.

The new huarache sandals were great, especially on the bike paths. On the trail sections the thinness of the soles meant that I felt every rock and managed to pick up a decent bruise in the arch, but there was nothing that could spoil the enjoyment of running with such a close to barefoot feeling.

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