Saturday, December 22, 2012

Run Barefoot Girl Interview #2

Caity McCardel of the Run Barefoot Girl podcast interviewed me again and you can listen to the interview here:

We actually talked around the beginning of September when I was in London and the interview was published mid-November.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Running Down a Dream

A couple of years ago, I read an article about Shaun Martin in a local Arizona paper and was deeply inspired. I would love to explore the connections between running and Navajo spirituality. Now, I just found out that the November 2012 issue of Outside magazine has an article on Shaun, accompanied by this video. It is beautiful.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Wherein, once again, Tracy gets lost on a long run

Usually on Saturday mornings (I say usually because we have done it the past two Saturdays!), Marie (my hostess) and I drive across town the Mt. Fébé to "do sport" as they say here. Everyone and their mother goes to Mt. Fébé on Saturday mornings (and maybe Sunday mornings as well). It is great fun to be amongst lots of other runners & walkers and there is virtually no traffic, which is quite a treat. At the bottom of the mountain, in the shadow of the incredibly posh Hôtel Mt. Fébé, is the Parcours Vita -- an outdoor training circuit invented by the French. Is anyone old enough to remember the installation of parcours areas in the US in the 70s or 80s? There's on in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and along the lakefront in Chicago. There's a very dilapidated one in Bamenda on a hill above a dump. Anyway, Marie and her best friend usually meet and walk to the Parcours Vita and I run the mountain. It's about a 5 mi loop up, over, down and around and so a long run is two loops. It's a good workout.

However, this week Marie was very distracted (worried about the future or potential lack thereof of her organisation) and left without me! I was dressed and ready to go well ahead of time, too (5:30am). . . it was a bit discombobulating at first, but then I realised this provided me the opportunity to go explore "la brousse" (the bush) behind our neighbourhood. I ran out there once last week -- there's a village about 5km away, but looking on Google Maps, I saw what looked like a very nice loop -- out to that village, then south along a dirt road for a ways which would eventually meet the asphalt road to the airport (or, back to town in my case). Not too many turns, seemed clear enough, let's go!

It was still early when I left and since it was Saturday, few people were heading to work. Hence, the road was nearly empty. Only a couple of motorcycle taxis running up and down. After a mile, the asphalt ended and I plunged down the hill to the bridge over the river. Hello! A couple of young men washing their clothes. Fortunately, they were still wearing their shorts. I have run past my fair share of young men in pants washing. . . I was wearing my new Luna sandals (original model with new "monkeygrip" top and ATS laces). I'm a little skittish about whether they have enough grip for going downhill, so I take it gingerly. It rained briefly yesterday evening which was enough to tamp down the dust. As I got closer to the village centre, I was trying to pay attention to landmarks because they last time I ran out here, when I turned around I took the wrong route and went 1/2 a mile before I turned around and found the right way. Of course, I'm not planning to turn and come back this way today, so I don't know why I'm checking landmarks, but there you go!

Entering the intersection crowded with shoppers and shopkeepers, another runner is coming up from the road on the right and turns down the road I'm going in front of me. I'm humming along, but (a bit unusually) he's going faster than me, so he eventually drifts away. The road turns and I think to myself he must be going around and around on the loop I saw on the map. I remember that I'm supposed to turn off and as he is turning to the right, there is a well-traveled road right on front of me and I decide that must be the one I want. 

Now I am properly out in the bush. People are friendly and fascinated by this running white woman. Those I pass on the road greet me, "bonjour," and I reply, "bonjour!" It is quite beautiful. Lots of flowers on bushes and trees. Very thick vegetation and tall trees. It feels very much like the jungle. The road is hard packed red, red dirt. My path twists and turns and I estimate in my head that I should probably meet the road around 5 miles. At one point I come to a T-junction and I think I am remembering the image of the map in my head. I ask a passing man if the main road is to the right or to the left and he points to the left road. Going down that road, a couple of motorcycles come by, indicating to me that this is the route to the main road. A bit later than my estimate, I reach asphalt at almost precisely 10km (6.2 miles). Again, imagining the map I saw in my head, I turn right because that is clearly the way back to Yaoundé, left would take me towards the airport.

I have run on this road before, but not this far out, so as I run along I am looking around for anything familiar which will give me an indication of how far I have left to go. I see a bar/restaurant which I swear I saw that early, early morning when I arrived and Marie and Boris picked me up from the airport. Great, all is good, I'm going the right way. I casually notice a cement mile marker on the side of the road which says "Mfou" on it. Every couple of kilometres (every mile or so), I think, "is this where I turned around the one time I ran out 5k? It looks a bit familiar." I do this several times. But then things are feeling decidedly more and more rural rather than, as one would expect, more and more urban. A moto taxi guy in a pink helmet stops and asks if I've been running all the way since Yaoundé, "yes" I reply. "Wow! Courage!" he says, clearly very impressed. I ask him about how much further it is this way, "about 5k to town?," "oh, probably about 4k to Mfou," he replies, but I do not really hear what he says -- that is, it didn't really compute. I run onwards. I pass a couple of young guys standing by the side of the road in front of a house. Then I see another of those cement mile markers and I decide to actually go look at it. On my side, it says "Mfou 5" which would be 5km. Then on the other side, it says "Yaoundé 20". Oooohhh. Whooooaaa. And suddenly it hits me. I am 5km FROM Mfou. I am now, somehow, 20km FROM Yaoundé. How the heck did that happen? Is that really true? I stop a child walking by and ask her which direction to Yaoundé and which to Mfou. She confirms my fears. 

I have now already run 11 miles and I don't think I'm really up for another 11 or 12. . . What the heck am I gonna do? I walk back to the cool young men trying to come up with some plan in my head. I could get a moto taxi and make them wait while I ran up to my room and got money. Yes, of course, here I am 20km from home no, I am not carrying a cellphone and no, I do not have a franc on me. Clearly I forgot where I am. I used to always carry at least 500-1,000 (of whatever currency) which is enough to get a bottle of water and a taxi ride. So, I ask the cool boys and then explain that I got somehow completely turned around. Yes, I ran from Yaoundé -- they are duly impressed and nicely respectful (age definitely has its advantages in this culture). They ask where I live. "Ekoumdoum," I tell them. "Oh, that's easy then," they explain -- you just get a taxi from here for 300 to Y Escalier and then from there it's 100 to Ekoumdoum. Well, that would be easy as pie if I had any money. . . Then one of them says, "wait, I'll go get money for transport." I'm surprised, but have no other ideas so I chat a bit with the other guy. After a few minutes, the first guy returns followed shortly by his mother and a friend or aunty (likely coming out to verify his rather unbelievable story of a sweaty white woman running from Yaoundé who needs transport money!!!). He hands me 400 francs and I'm gobsmacked. I thank him and greet the women and thank his mother profusely. Within moments, a taxi comes by that is going to Y Escalier and I'm off.

Lots of amazement in the taxi when I tell them where I've run from. One guy exclaims, "these whites do not do sport like we Cameroonians, they are very strong!" Ha! Or stupid, as the case may be. . .

As we drive along, I am still totally confounded about how I got turned around. I keep looking for familiar places and think I see them. But when we get to Y Escaliers, it is not a place I have been before. I feel like I should go to the right, but I remember the young guys telling me that for Ekoumdoum, I should go left there, so I do that. After about 200 metres or so, I suddenly see something truly familiar and realise where I am -- on a totally different road than I thought, on the opposite side of my area. How did I get here?

When I get home, I cannot wait to get my watch off and sync it to the computer so I can see the track I actually took and see where I went and where I went wrong. And voilà! Do you remember the village out in the bush not too far from me? Where there is a loop that the other runner was going around? Well, the road I took off of that was where I went wrong. I should have continued around the loop and take then *next* road off to the left. That would have led me down to the airport road. The road that I took, despite being very well travelled actually does not show up on Google maps at all. It winds around and leads me to the northern road which is the one that goes to Mfou. And so, when I came to the asphalt, I thought I was southeast of home and should turn to the right, but in reality I was northeast and should have turned left!

And so, my friends, the adventure continues!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Brief update from Cameroon

Just a quick update after a looooong period of silence to say that I will be reactivating my blogging here at RevRuns. After spending the past 8 months in England and Europe, I am now back in Africa, now in Yaoundé, Cameroon, where everyone thinks I am insane to go around barefoot! So far I've run completely barefoot, once in my NB Minimus Trail shoes and once in my new Luna ATS sandals. It's much hotter here than it was when I left the UK, so I'm still adjusting, but it feels awesome to not have to bundle up to go for a run!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Catching up from Italy

Sooo, it's been a long time since I've written a blog post. Last time I wrote, I was living and running in Dorset in south England. Now I'm visiting the lovely hill town area of Labro, Italy, just north of Italy on the border with Umbria. In the meantime, I spent a week in London in mid-May and participated in my very first Park Run, in Hampstead Heath, which was a great experience. For those of you in the UK, Australia or South Africa, if you can get to a Park Run, I highly recommend them. I ran barefoot to the race which was a nice 2 mile or so warmup on a very chilly morning, then I ran the 5k course barefoot which was challenging because I wanted to run as fast as possible and, being in a park, the course offered a wide variety of surfaces. I was pretty proud that I actually was the fastest in my age group!

From 23 May to 27 June, I was in northern Spain where I walked the Camino de Santiago, about 50% of it barefoot. I was able to get in one run when my companions took my backpack from Mansilla to Léon and I was able to run about 18km. And I spent several days in Santiago de Compostela where I had fun running through the cobblestone streets barefoot.

Now I'm spending a few weeks in Italy and getting back into the swing of running. Here's a photo from the lake in Piediluco, down below where I am staying. On the left you can see the beautifully restored medieval hilltown of Labro and on the left, the town of Morro Reatini. This is where I am running these days. It is gorgeous and hot and very hilly. I have now figured out several routes around the house ranging from 4 to 10 miles long and am having run exploring, though I've had several runs that were longer than I intended because I got lost--always the adventure in a new location! Last week I ran 27 miles and this week will likely be around the mid-30s. I'm not running fast at all because basically I run straight uphill and then straight downhill or vice versa, but I can really tell that walking 25-35km a day for a month improved my conditioning. On Sunday I ran 9 miles and then on Tuesday I went exploring and took a rather long detour, ending up running 10 miles (when I intended to do 6) and was none the worse for wear.

My current equipment: 

- a pair of New Balance MInimus Zero trail shoes which I haven't really taken seriously off-road but I absolutely love. The first shoes I've really been able to wear without socks! They are stunningly minimal. I had a pair of Minimus Trails (not zero drop) which I used for walking the Camino and I started out sockless in those, but they caused rubbing on my heels. 

- a pair of Invisible Shoes sandals (the thinnest soles). I'm still working on the lacing methodology. I'm having the same problems I've had with Luna sandals -- basically my foot slides backwards, particularly when going up hill (and after that, when flat), which makes the heel strap dig painfully into my heel and the front end flops around so much that they would be quite dangerous on uneven ground. Those were the results with the most minimal lacing (one strap all around), so my next experiment will be with a double strap on the heel to see if that makes a difference. I also have an issue with my right foot sliding sideways--to the right. The good thing about the Invisible Shoes vs. the Lunas is that the cord is quite soft and so I have no issue with the thong between my toes (although on the 10 miler I got a bit of a blister because of my foot sliding to the side). 

- a Garmin 610 watch -- the best Garmin I've had. The most comfortable and the bezel doesn't get accidentally activated as used to happen with the 405 and 410.

- an iPod Nano -- I think this will be my "go to" device. It seems to work fine for running as long as I don't stick it inside my shorts. It also has enough capacity to store most of my current podcasts plus a playlist of songs for running. (I used to use a Shuffle for running, but lost it when I moved from Namibia.) I'm thinking of selling my iPod classic which is what I've always used for listening around the house.

- Dr. Dre Beats earphones -- I love the sound and the fit of these, but mechanically they are crap. I've literally sent back 4 pairs because within a month or two of using them, the controller (that allows for volume control, skipping songs and voice over) stops working. When I was on the Camino, I used a "One Good Earbud" which I won. It worked brilliantly, but for running, I am waiting for them to make an over-the-ear model with a shortened cord.

That's it for now. I intend to get back into the rhythm of posting regularly. I'll be in Italy for another couple of weeks and then I'm going to France, so the adventures continue!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Running in Dorset

I apologize for not writing for sooo long. As I was winding down in Namibia, all my attention went to finishing up there and figuring out where to go next and, though I kept running, I didn't stop to write about it.

So I ended up in Southern England. Dorset to be precise. Hilfield, a village halfway between Yeovil and Dorchester to be even more precise. I am staying at an Anglican Franciscan Friary here which is experimenting with a broader kind of community focused on caring for the land they have, including now 4 cows, three sheep and a bunch of chickens. It's a beautiful place, but very different than Katima Mulilo!

So here are some photos taken while running:

It is very green here, despite a lack of normal rain. However, it seems that perhaps the rain was just delayed as it has started now and it rains at least a bit every day. The biggest adjustment for me has been the temperature. It is very, very cold by my standards. I can't run barefoot (though we had one nice week where I was able to run barefoot in the afternoon) and usually wear leather shoes and wool socks. Boy, it takes a lot more preparation to run in this weather! No more throwing on shorts & a top and heading out. This has definitely confirmed that I cannot live in the north. This is just not my place…

I'll be here for another month and a half or so and then I'll be heading to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. I'm packing very light (using an OMM 20L adventure pack), so I may even run a bit of it if I'm inspired. My intention is to do as much of it barefoot as possible.

Oh, I got a pair of SoftStar RunAmoc Dash shoes ( and they have saved my life! They keeps feet warm (which the Moc3s I had did not do), they fit beautifully (yeah for laces) and the ground feel is still pretty good (second only to barefeet). I've run on road and trails in them with no problems (no gnarly trails, though). I also have a pair of SoftStar Roo mocs which are my daily shoe (though they're not good in the rain). If I must wear shoes, these are the best I've found so far. I can't wait for SUMMER!

Review of New Balance Minimus Zero Trail shoes

Now that New Balance has made a true zero-drop version of their Minimus trail shoe, I am very interested. Especially after reading this great review. I'd love to win a pair as I've not got the cash to actually purchase a pair. . .

BTW, it's a great blog to read if you're into minimalist trail running.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Scenes from a run

A few weeks ago, I took my pocket camera (Canon N95) with me on my Saturday run so I could share with you what it looks like to run here in Katima Mulilo, Namibia. I hope the photos get posted in order (since I post to my blog via e-mail, sometimes I don’t always get the results I expect).




First, the view out my door which now shows the under-construction Parish Hall across the way. The temperature is nice, not too hot, with a slight breeze. You can also see that my yard is starting to get a bit green from the rain we have had.




Turn on my handy, dandy Garmin 410 GPS watch and allow it to find the satellite signals while I do my 100-Up warmup exercises.




The room where I stay is part of a larger conference center run by the Sisters here in the Mission where I live (there is a convent, a parish church with an Indian priest, primary and secondary schools and a girls’ hostel, and the Cheshire Home for Disabled Children here, in addition to this conference center.) That’s my room on the end with the open window.




The sandy road leading out. This is a nice way to start, since I’m in barefeet. It loosens up the ligaments, muscles, tendons and joints in my feet and ankles.




A sample of the road I run on. It is tarmac, but not the smooth, predictable kind of asphalt one finds in the Western world. However, there are not very many cars up here, so the road is actually in very good shape. Unfortunately, due to a high rate of alcohol consumption, and a lack of glass bottle recycling (as is common everywhere else in Africa), there is a lot of broken glass on the road. Gotta keep my eyes open.




Three guys on their way to work. We bike commuters in Katima are a small but tight fraternity.




I love this house. A beautiful example of traditional building methods. I’ve never been inside, but I bet that it is wonderfully cool in the hot season.




Boys. . . Future rap stars or auto builders? They were initially amused by my interest in their cars, but then quite proud of their handiwork. One of my favorite things about Saturday morning runs is that it’s almost the only time I see school age kids out playing.




What is this? An odd site early on a Saturday morning—a group of adults standing around. But during my entire run, there were cars stopping here and getting out to look--




At this accident. Pretty amazing that the car turned itself around so that the back end was demolished by the tree, not the front. There was a couple in the car. The woman passenger, stepped out and was essentially unhurt. The male driver had crashed his own car a few weeks before. This accident occurred around 7am this Saturday morning (it was about 8:15am or so when I got there). He was taken to the hospital, but died shortly after. Drunk driving.


I think it made an impact on at least some of the people who stopped to take a look.




The family compound just before my 4-mile turnaround point. This is how people live out here—in small extended family groupings. There may be several of these within a couple of kiliometres of each other which make up a “village” by the government’s definition. This is the only house I’ve ever seen that is raised up off the ground which is quite wise as this is on the flood plain. Last year, there were two refugee camps within 8km along this road, this year, so far we haven’t had any severe flooding.




One of the myriad of fascinating bugs we have here in Namibia. I think this is some sort of cricket or grasshopper.




A small pond filled with lily pads. The roots of the lily pad are a local sweet here (though they are not really very sweet). They taste pretty nice—not a strong flavor at all.




You can barely see these small, spider-shaped, flowers but as a bush, they give off an aroma that nearly bowled me over. So sweet and luscious! When I was running by, I had to stop and go find what was producing that smell. Incredible!




The graves of a couple, always beautifully maintained. Richard lived into his early-70s and his wife into her late 60s. Clearly they are a family of means.




Next to their graves, the family herd of cows. Since they are mostly lying down, I predict rain is coming. Just a small sampling of the lovely, grassfed beef found throughout Caprivi.




Ah, back within the town limits.





   Home again. Just a couple hundred meters to go now.