The next Fivefingers: After zero-drop, zero A.D.

by Christopher on July 16, 2012

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction. — Einstein

By this time next year, I’m betting the newest footwear sensation will be the oldest: huaraches, the one shoe that has been in action since the beginning of time.

Lash-on sandals were worn by ancient Greek messengers, Roman Centurions, Tibetan monks, and Hopi braves, and they’re still the go-to shoe for Tarahumara Indians. Even when they were given new running shoes at the Leadville Trail 100 in 1994, the Tarahumara slipped right back into their homemade huaraches as soon as they got the chance — and won.
Barefoot Ted learned the art of huarache-making from Manuel Luna, a Tarahumara elder who took Ted under his wing while we were down in the canyons. When Ted got home, he remained true to traditional design but began tinkering with materials. Instead of the leather straps and discarded tires the Tarahumara use, Ted found rubber compounds that were just as tough but dramatically thinner. He also unearthed an out-of-production elasticized cord that vastly improved lacing. For some models, he also layered on a leather insole that softens like a baseball glove. As a finishing touch, he named them after his mentor: Luna sandals.

Inspired by Ted’s experiments, other backroom inventors have added their own twists to the ancient design, launching the greatest burst of innovation the huarache has seen in 3,000 years. Branca Barefoot created a clever pair of side-loops that allow you to simply tie your sandals like regular shoes. Unshoes got rid of tying altogether by deploying the same cinching strap you find on a bike helmet. Over at Invisible Shoe, they’ve created a sole that’s thick enough for jagged stones yet pliable enough to roll up and stick in your pocket. Ozark Sandals dealt head-on with three huarache drawbacks—the toe strap, rubber feel, and dull appearance—by coming up with a durable rope sole in Popsicle colors held on by soft cord webbing (my wife has lived in hers all summer and only changes them to rotate colors).

Right before Barefoot Ted ran Leadville last summer, he presented me with a pair of Lunas which I threw under my bed as soon as he wasn’t looking. I was supposed to pace Ted for the last stretch at two in the morning, and no way was I running rocky trails in the dark in those things. But just to be polite, I decided I’d strap them on for a few yards and then swap them out for some real shoes. When we crossed the finish line four hours later, they were still on my feet. I didn’t have a single blister, bruise or stubbed toe.

Questions? All answered by Barefoot in Az

Caballo’s legacy is in great hands: Caballo’s wonderful girlfriend, Maria, and Josue Stephens — a seasoned race director, ultra runner, and longtime Mas Loco — are heading down to the Copper Canyons this month to lock in logistics with the Presidencia of the host town, Urique. Choosing Josue Stephens as co-director of the race was inspired; he’s smart, tireless, fluently bilingual, and canyon savvy. You couldn’t build a better pick in a lab.
Maria tells me: “The 2013 CBUM (Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon) is progressing beautifully, or as Micah would say organically.” It should be a truly epic event, considering how many veteran Mas Locos will return to the race to wish their friend vaya con dios. Registration is now open on Ultrasignup.
No doubt, Barefoot Ted and his Lunar Monkeys will be there in force.

If the drug war can start involving the Tarahumara, then no one is immune.
—Don Morrison, a borderlands attorney with a Tarahumara client in prison.

When I returned to the Copper Canyons in 2006 for Caballo’s race, I was heartsick to discover that Manuel Luna’s son — a kind and wonderfully talented young man who was barely a teenager — had been beaten to death by drug cartel thugs. Since then, according to this remarkable story by Newsweek‘s Aram Rostom, the situation has become even more dire. The drought, plus the loss of farmland to the cartels and strip-loggers and very little knowledge of the outside world, makes the Tarahumara easy prey for cartel recruiters. As Rostom reports:

According to defense lawyers, law-enforcement sources, and some Tarahumara Indians, drug traffickers are now exploiting the very Tarahumara trait—endurance—that has been crucial to their survival.

In Dec. 2008, Runner’s World slipped this footnote into its shoe review:

We’ve reported in the past that a more stable shoe will help relieve the pain you feel just ahead of the heel. But recent research has shown that stability shoes are unlikely to relieve plantar fasciitis and may even exacerbate the symptoms.

Translation: “Those $100 shoes we’ve been telling you to buy for years? Turns out they’re worse than worthless.”
RW’s excuse is the same one Citigroup and Countrywide and Fannie Mae deployed as it tried to scuttle away from the subprime mortgage crisis: “No one could have seen this coming. We acted as soon as we got the information.”

That’s not an alibi, of course; it’s an indictment. They pretended they were experts — and cashed in on that authority of expertise — when in truth, they didn’t know what they were talking about.

Now, Runner’s World is slipping in another correction. In the March, 2012 issue, it began slinking away from the once hugely-profitable, and now discredited, “motion-control” shoe. They did it so quietly I missed it, even though I’d been shocked to hear RW’s shoe reviewer, Warren Greene, hint as much at a seminar more than a year ago.

Barefoot in Arizona has the story, including this bullseye analysis:

why do so many people believe they need pronation-controlling posts to run but no one believes they need Reebok Pumps to play basketball? It isn’t because the runners were convinced by studies showing the benefits of motion-control shoes, because they aren’t any. It’s because two generations of runners have been told they need them by the only major source of independent shoe reviews.

Incidentally, this major source of “independent” shoe reviews has NEVER published a negative review — not, at least, since Nike temporarily pulled its advertising back in the ’80s. As Runner’s World’s founder laments, the shoe review he’d created as a form of consumer protection is now “a grading system where you can only get an A.”

“Most influential runner in America”

by Christopher on June 12, 2012

Somewhere, a White Horse is reading this and rolling his eyes. Or saying, “De nada, McOso.”

Meanwhile, Scott Jurek is still on the road and killing it with his “Eat & Run” tour. The reception has been insane: I joined him for four events in three days in New York, Boston, and Chicago, and every one was standing room only. Boston was especially fun: we started the run right outside my old college dorm, and shared it with the great and super-cool Dr. Daniel Lieberman (who, incidentally, is not only a barefoot runner, but frighteningly fast).

El Venado & McOso, with Harvard on the Move

Eat & Run: The Road Tour **UP-UPDATES**

by Christopher on May 30, 2012

Tickets are going fast. As of Thursday, May 31:
**Boston, June 6, is sold out.But the group run through Harvard is open to all-comers: 4:30 pm. Scroll down here for details.
**New York, June 5, is nearly full for the evening event. On Tuesday morning, Scott is leading a street party/group run all the way around Manhattan (with nearly 50 runners already signed up!), finishing at Bryant Park for an open-air lunchtime event in “The Reading Room.”
**Chicago, June 7, sold half of all tickets in the first two days.
So please, get them while you can. These are the only events I’ll be doing for the rest of the year.

I’ll be sharing the stage and the road with Scott Jurek next week in three cities: New York, Boston, and Chicago. Scott and I agree on some things, disagree on others (I’m so not vegan, for instance, that if Scott died in a plane crash in the Andes, I’d eat him at once. Even if I wasn’t on the plane. Lean, organically-grown, free-range… Jurek tenderloin is probably the healthiest food on earth). So the on-stage conversations should be spicy, and the pre-talk runs should be a blast. The kick-off will be Scott’s run all the way around Manhattan on Tuesday morning (which you’re welcome to join at any stage, by the way). Details for the other events are here.

“They rambled and ran, calling Caballo…”
The New York Times re-creates the final days and rollercoaster last years of Micah True, in both print and audio forms. Among the story’s other virtues, it’s the best-reported and most emotionally-moving account of the search — not a surprise, since it comes from narrative master Barry Bearak. This was a difficult story to get right, particularly since Caballo was such a storm cloud of conflicting emotions, and Bearak handles it with extraordinary skill.

Scott Jurek has some kind of wild fiesta planned for Tuesday, June 5, when he launches his new book, “Eat and Run.” We’ll be uncorking an epic run around Manhattan in the morning and speaking in Bryant Park at noon, but the showstopper will be this event on Tuesday night. I’ve only heard about half of what Scott has in store, and I already need more coffee.

On Wednesday, June 6, we’ll be in Cambridge, MA for a run through Harvard Square and along the Charles River, then an event that evening at Brattle Theatre. All you need to know, right here.

Thursday, June 7, it’s on to Chicago for a FleetFeet-sponsored extravaganza. Details and tickets, here.

**Update: Ok, details are up for the 1st event in NYC at Bryant Park. not ALL the details, though; we’re still brainstorming our plan to arrive on foot after an epic run. more on that once we nail it down.


On June 5, Scott Jurek is launching his great new book, “Eat and Run,” and to celebrate, I’ll be hitting the road with him for a few one-of-a-kind events. Some of the ideas we’re putting together are truly epic (like, if you’ve got an iPhone and you’re in New York, this could be your best fake sick-day of the year).
Scott will unveil the full agenda soon, but until then, save the dates and practice your really-can’t-make-it-coughcough-to-work-today phone voice.
Utica will be a solo operation; I’ll be there while Scott is in DC.
Expect runs, beers, tattoos, arrests.

Seattle’s “The Stranger” pulls back the curtain on Barefoot Ted, Inc. You heard it here first (well, assuming you’re not in touch with Roman Centurions and Biblical prophets):
Huaraches are about to become the next footwear sensation. In a year, Lunas could push aside Vibrams as the next less thing.

Sandal Factory
As Ballard makes mattresses, on the other side of town, in the quiet part of Capitol Hill (19th and Prospect), the people at Luna Sandals are drilling holes in the soles of minimalist running shoes. This factory is not your typical factory. It’s above a beauty salon and is surrounded by big trees, expensive houses, and private schools. It has four or so heavy machines (standard drill presses), shelves containing materials (fabric, straps, leather, vegan leather, rubber, buckles), a main desk (at which the founder, Barefoot Ted, sits and receives orders or makes deals), and a central table where the sandals are assembled.

During my visit, nine casually dressed women and men are at work at this table. On an internet radio station, Paul Banks revives Ian Curtis’s ghost: “Surprise, sometimes, will come around/Surprise, sometimes, will come around/I will surprise you sometime/I’ll come around when you’re down.” Sunlight fills the small space. One of the employees, Dylan Romero, guides me through the process of making a Luna sandal. (On the company’s website, Romero is pictured eating the leg of an animal that looks wild, recently killed, barely cooked. This image prepared me to meet the wrong person; instead of a lusty, loud, loquacious type, I met a very mellow and affable human being.)

We begin with the shelves by the factory’s entry, then proceed to the drills along the walls, then come upon a tree stump that’s used for hammering and banging things. The Luna sandal, he explains to me, is a part of the minimalist movement. What this movement wants more than anything else is to reduce the running shoe to the brink of nothingness. Purists, of course, want nothing but nothing. Barefoot Ted, a runner who is featured in the popular book Born to Run and heads a school of sorts for those who want to master the art of running with what god gave you, is not in this camp. Though committed to barefoot running, he believes there are exceptions: There are places (rocky hills or city streets) that require something to protect the human foot from the world. He discovered that something in Northern Mexico, where a rugged people (Tarahumara Indians) make the sandals out of old tires. These most rude/rudimentary of shoes are used for work and sport.

Barefoot Ted returned to Seattle with the idea of these sandals impressed on his mind. A little thought and a few experiments led him to replace the old tire with materials from Vibram, the makers of FiveFingers barefoot shoes. A company was eventually born and named after the Mexican runner Manuel Luna. All of this happened in 2006. Six years later, Barefoot Ted’s small-scale operation exports a variety of these sandals to any part of the world that the global mailing system can access.

“We are doing very well and growing,” explains Romero. He is a big fan of the sandals because they conform to his feet and don’t stress his joints the way regular running sneakers do. “But yesterday morning, Don Imus mentioned us on his radio show, so we are very busy today. We usually have three people working at a time, but today we had to call in friends to help us meet these orders. It’s pretty weird that a small hippie company got great publicity from Imus.” One of the factory workers, a tallish young man assembling sandals at the table, takes a break and hugs the woman working next to him. She hugs him back. They have a moment. CalPortland is about massive machines; Canvas Supplies, families; Luna Sandals, friends.