Archive for the ‘Fitness and running’ Category

Running through the pandemic

April 19, 2020

It was just a few weeks ago that I was finally able to rake up the dead skunk that had been frozen all winter to the ground in the first curve of our humble, wind-swept dirt track at 7,888 feet altitude. At that point I was excited for the upcoming season and the prospects for my athletes. I hadn’t the first clue what was about to happen. Since then, The Blur and I have gone there weekly, running some 400s, 800s and 1600s with warm-up, recovery and cool-down laps. I’ve seen that tracks are closed in larger communities, and actually wondered if we might be questioned by the authorities, but there was nobody else there. Just the clouds, the breeze and one conspicuous whirlwind. Our county is sparsely populated and crowds are virtually non-existent. I am thankful that we are able to do this and remain “socially distanced” and all that, but I sure miss track, coaching and all my other kids. One Saturday passed and we noted we would have been going to Mosca, where Harrison ran in his first meet in middle school five years ago. Each week we cross another canceled meet off the calendar. I’ve endeavored to keep him, and my other runners, motivated and running despite the fact that we may not have a season at all. In the final analysis, we are all just competing with ourselves, striving to be better than the person we were the day before.

Review: Running with Sherman — blended fiction

February 9, 2020

Curtis Imrie and I (center/right, near bottom) getting our burros ready to poolshark/barnstorm for major money on the pack-burro racing circuit in Silver Cliff in the early 1990s. Also pictured, Patrick ‘Mad Dog’ O’Grady. Photo courtesy of Wet Mountain Valley Historical Society.

Never have I seen an author so artfully blend genres of fiction and non-fiction as Christopher McDougall does in his new book, Running with Sherman.

I am a recurring character in Chris’ shaggy tale, appearing throughout the book. Though there is a thread of truth in many of the stories he weaves, when it comes to my role much has been considerably embellished or outright fictionalized. As a professional journalist myself, I’ve found this bending of the truth in a non-fiction format disturbing and discouraging. I opened my doors to Christopher as a guest to my house, my ranch, my burros, and my Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run. He also kindly provided back-cover quotes for my books, Wild Burro Tales and Endurance. I thought we were friends. I attempted to discuss this matter with him over the phone after reading Running with Sherman but got nowhere.

Christopher McDougall (left) on his 2015 research trip to the Walter Ranch for Running with Sherman.

For the record, I have competed in the sport of pack-burro racing for decades. I just finished my 40th consecutive Leadville Boom Days race this past summer. Along the way I’ve also won the 29-mile World Championship Pack Burro Race in Fairplay seven times, and the Leadville race four times. Not bragging, just framing some background for why I might appear in the book as this is never fully explained in Sherman. To my knowledge, Christopher has never finished a long-course burro race.

In one of my early appearances in the book, I am absurdly depicted as making “a living” by “barnstorming” on the pro pack-burro racing circuit. This scene goes on to describe me in a conversation with Ken Chlouber mockingly referring to my longtime friend Tom Sobal as “Snowball” (I don’t get it — I guess rhymes with “Sobal?”). To set the record straight Tom was not only a fellow competitor when he was racing but remains a close friend to this day. I introduced him when he was inducted into the Colorado Running Hall of Fame, and placed the medal around his neck when he was inducted into the Leadville-Lake County Sports Hall of Fame a couple years ago. There is no way I ever referred to Tom as “Snowball” and I am not aware of anyone else ever using this moniker either. What Chris should have been written about Tom is that he is the winningest burro racer of all time with 11 world championships and holds most of the course records among a ton of other athletic achievements. To insinuate I ever referred to Tom with disrespect and sarcasm is insulting to us both.

In another scene, Chris describes me winning a race in Georgetown a few years ago, saying that I was sick and had decided to not run but drove there under questionable road conditions and only decided to run when another racer bailed. About the only thing he got right is my age and that I drove there and won the race. Other than that, the story is largely a case of “When in doubt, print the legend,” with no fewer than a dozen fictional anecdotes within about two-thirds of a page. This appears to be not a matter of merely getting things wrong. It’s more a case of Chris making things up to suit his story, the most laughable being that I was in last place at the course turn-around and still won — a physical impossibility.

In another scene Chris describes me looking for a way to cheat prior to a burro race by asking if the race organizers are measuring lead ropes. (Because this is how a seven-time world champ rolls, right? Not!) Sometimes when registering for these events organizers measure ropes and sometimes they don’t. If I asked if they were measuring ropes it was simply because I wanted to know if I needed to carry my darned lead rope over to registration and get it measured! Period. To imply that I was looking for some way to defy the rules paints a poor picture of my character.

Furthermore in this same vignette he describes my burro Teddy “going for blood and taking a chunk out of my shoulder.” Teddy never bit me on the shoulder or went “for blood” or took “a chunk” out of me. He did once clamp down on my wrist at a water crossing and drew blood. Like I mentioned, there’s often a thread of truth that gets twisted and embellished in Chris’ blended masterpiece.

For the record, I never quit journalism to “pool-shark” from town to town across the Southwest on the “professional” pack-burro racing circuit with my mentor, the late Curtis Imrie. We never did any such thing — and in fact there is no such thing. There are only a handful of races and almost all of them are in Colorado. (There have on and off been a very few races in New Mexico and Arizona.) The prize money hardly covers gas and entry fees, much less feed and care for a burro. I did take a leave of absence one summer from my newspaper job. I won a race in Chama, New Mexico, that summer — I think the prize was $600. As always we were in it more for the fun than the money.

Probably most disturbing is Chris’ fictionalized account of my good friend Rob Pedretti’s suicide. Rob died in 2004. His brothers Rick and Roger took up pack-burro racing as a tribute to Rob following his death. According to Rick and Roger many of the events and circumstances as presented in the book leading up to Rob’s death are inaccurate (Roger has a list which he has sent to Christopher as well as to me). As a final insult there is a fabricated description of Rick hearing the gunshot and carrying Rob’s body out of the woods in his arms. To drag an entire family, including a forever-grieving mother, back through such a traumatic event by way of a dramatized account is deplorable.

Also during this discussion about Rob in the book there is material presented as quotes from me. I do not recall ever discussing Rob with Christopher. Instead, this material appears to have been borrowed from my own book, Wild Burro Tales — reworked slightly then used as direct quotes. 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Chris also writes about the concept of my adapting the experiences of pack-burro racing to the challenge of raising my autistic son Harrison, who I also coach as a cross-country and track runner. I first explored this in my book Full Tilt Boogie and then the follow-up Endurance.

In his story-telling Chris does get a few things right. Near the end of the book I am quoted about my son’s classmate Kyleigh saying if anyone ever bullied Harrison she would “stomp their ass.” One minor correction: Kyleigh is not a senior — she is a sophomore in Harrison’s class and they have grown up together since they were about 3 years old. I also coach Kyleigh and they both recently ran in the Colorado State Cross-Country Championships. The quote is not exactly how I said it, but I recently ran it past Kyleigh she confirms that in essence it is true.

Too bad Christopher didn’t work a little more authenticity into Running with Sherman. He had the recipe for a great story without even having to make things up — for when it comes to pack-burro racing, the truth might be more bad-ass than the legend.

Hal Walter is the author of Wild Burro Tales, Full Tilt Boogie and Endurance, all of which are available from amazon.com. He also can be found on Facebook where he regularly posts to his Wild Burro Tales page.

The true meaning of ‘competition’

May 2, 2018

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I’ve been asked if running is “competition” for Harrison. This only fueled a deeper personal examination already under way in my own process. If we look at the root meaning of the word “competition,” we find its basis in the classical Latin, “competere,” which means to ”strive in common,” or “strive together.”

In these past few weeks we’ve traveled literally more than 1,000 miles to track meets in small towns all over our region, and I’ve had plenty of time and fuel for thought to ponder this question of what competition really means.

As he crossed the finish line in his first very successful run in the 1600-meters (aka “the mile”) at Mosca, Harrison loudly blurted out, “I beat Joey!” I quickly pointed out that this was not a cool or sportsmanlike way to note your own success, especially in relation to your own teammate and friend. But it did speak to a recognition of competition in what has warped into our society’s conventional sensibility.

This initial run led the way into a more meaningful season of challenges as Harrison experienced the true spirit of what it means to compete. He also runs the 400-meter and the 800-meter. The fact is I never know what’s going to happen coaching him in these things. 

As the season went on I’ve watched him freak out at starting lines. I’ve seen him run the first lap of the 1600 faster than he’s ever run a 400, then fade to last place. I’ve seen him finish strong and I’ve seen him completely lose his mind in a race.

I’ve seen the support of his teammates and fellow competitors, some of whom he’s been running against for three years. I’ve also seen the puzzled looks from people who don’t know the real challenges he’s facing down when he toes a starting line. The real race for him is not so much physical as it is mental.

In this lifetime I’ve had the good fortune myself to win some races, and I’m here to tell you that the feeling is great but it vanishes just like the proverbial lightning caught in a bottle. The competitions you really remember are those in which you learned something about yourself. The true athlete is competing with him/herself. And this is really what Harrison is doing.

This week we traveled to a track meet in the tiny town of Elbert in the rolling Ponderosa-topped hills northeast of Colorado Springs. This is a new meet on our school’s circuit, with teams from several schools we’ve never competed with previously. Harrison got a great start in the 1600 but rounding the second curve in the first lap he suddenly snapped under the pressure of hanging with the pack. He faded back, stomped and screamed. He yelled at the spectators who were encouraging him, many of them teammates and others who had no idea of his challenges. During all this I ran back and forth across the field, encouraging him onward.

Despite putting more energy into his tantrum than actual forward movement, he finished the race. Following this he threw an amazing fit, flailing about, yelling he was a terrible runner and saying wanted to go home. But then when I said “let’s go” he didn’t really want to leave.

After he calmed down a little we watched the girls’ 1600. In this race there was a blind athlete. She was running tethered wrist-to-wrist with a guide/coach. She was bringing up the rear but a true competitor through and through. We watched her run past the bleachers and the spectators shouted out encouragement just as they had wth Harrison. I could not help but draw parallels — in some ways Harrison is running “blind” even though he can see just fine.

He rallied to run solidly in the 400 and the 800. Then we watched the blind girl run again in the 800. It was an amazing Deep Sport experience and it gave us both a fresh perspective on what “competition” truly means.

‘Tis the season for running

December 16, 2017

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Recently I’ve found some much-needed recharge time running alone in the Sangre de Cristo Range. This would be unremarkable except in all my years living here I’ve never run there in December. Skied? Yes. Snowshoed? Yes. Run? No.

The lack of snow this season had me curious. So one morning I drove over to the Gibson Creek Trailhead. It was 17 degrees when I left the car and headed south on the Rainbow Trail, which I found to be almost completely dry.

Gibson Creek had spilled over the trail, and then frozen into a small glacier. After crossing this little ice flow I continued south, crossing Verde Creek, then catching the trail’s short jog on the North Taylor Road. I crossed the bridge over North Taylor, then traversed the next ridge before reaching Hermit Pass Road. All the way I encountered only light snow in the shadows, but wonderfully icy streams and a strange and beautiful quiet. Very few animal and bird sounds, and no people.

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I headed up Hermit Road, marveling at the sculpted ice of the rushing Middle Taylor Creek, and reaching the meadow where the Rainbow once again leaves the road and heads south. Here I turned around and retraced my steps. When I got back to the car it was still 17 degrees.

We had a very light snowfall this past week, but today I decided to make a run up North Taylor Road. I did encounter a small amount of snow and some ice but it was still quite passable. At some point after the road turned to a trail the snow became deeper and the run degenerated into a slippery version of wilderness parkour in which I was literally climbing over and under fallen logs. When the trail reached the creek crossing and entered some north-facing timber I regrettably turned back.

I know any day now a snowstorm will close these trails for the rest of the winter. But for now I’m grateful to have experienced this country during this quietest time of the year.

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Reset at the track

December 10, 2017

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It was one of those mornings when the whole world, at least the one we live in, needed a reset. The only remedy I could think of was to head to the track.

For the past two seasons Harrison has run the 400 and the 800. Now he’s interested in the 1600 — a sort of a double-edged sword. We know from cross-country that he does better at longer distances, but in track there’s the monotony of going around in circles four times and the opportunity for distraction is greater.

With the spring track season just around the corner we’ve started to mix some practice track sessions with his off-season training program, which also includes trail runs, hikes and cycling.

Neurodiversity is more than just autism. It also includes things like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory integration disorder and Tourette Syndrome. In Harrison’s case he is diagnosed with autism and ADHD, but he also has some sensory issues and blurts out random thoughts often unrelated to the task at hand.

The track at Custer County school, at about 8,000 feet elevation, is surfaced with uneven sand and gravel, and overgrown with grass and weeds. It’s also a quarter-mile track rather than the metric standard 400-meters.

We’re obviously not going to run any world records here, but it’s good-enough practice for the meets which are held on some pretty nice tracks around the region.

I typically draw a line in the gravel to illustrate the “waterfall”-style start that the longer track events have. Then we do a mock start just like it’s real thing. I typically run along to encourage and help him develop a sense of pacing.

We ran a warmup loop, then some strides.

After getting a really good start, he started scratching his legs on the first curve, and then freaking out over this. It’s sensory issue he developed back during cross-country season.

Due to this sensory problem he lost his focus. He weaved back and forth, on and off the track, jogging with a discombobulated gait. I swear anyone could have walked that lap backward faster.

Then it was OCD time, as he started obsessing over what time it was, and particularly in relation to lunchtime.  We had to check the watch several times as I assured him there was plenty of time to run a 1600 and still get lunch by noon.

It took him a whopping 5 minutes to do that first lap, then he veered over to the car. I told him we should just go home and forget it. That’s when autism tantrum time kicked in. He started acting out, yelling, swinging and grabbing at me, pulling on my shirt.

Somehow in all this he decided to give it another try. So we returned to our line in the sand and started all over. This time he still had problems with the sensory stuff (itching) and focus, and blurting out random thoughts about electronic devices and phone numbers. But he did it. It was his slowest 1600 ever, but afterward he seemed like a different person, almost like we’d pushed the reset button.

I was not thrilled with his 11-minute mile. I think he’s quite capable of running under 7 minutes even on this track at this altitude. But instead of focusing on this I realized everything he’d pushed through — the mental-emotional equivalent to a Spartan obstacle course.

So I praised him for his Herculean effort. We jogged another quarter for a cool-down and then headed for lunch.

He promised to do better next time.

A perfect season

December 2, 2017

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It was one of those awkward encounters. A casual acquaintance threw out a random statement and it made me think.

In this case it was in a grocery store and the statement was essentially that there’s such a gap in this country, everything from homeless people “doing nothing” begging in the streets and living under bridges, all the way up to Bill Gates.

This seemed interesting to me because it is believed that a high percentage of homeless people may be autistic, and it’s also been speculated that Bill Gates may be on the spectrum.

My answer to this was that yes, we sure do have a gap and I’m not sure people at one end are doing more than people at the other. This brought a look of total surprise, and the response that “I think Bill Gates does a lot” and that he does so much philanthropy.

I said Bill Gates probably does appear to do a lot because he is wealthy enough to have people do a lot of things for him. In fact a close friend received her Masters in Library Science from Denver University through a scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, though I‘m fairly certain the benefactors did not personally sign the check.

But homeless people do a lot, too – they have to scrounge for food, and yes, often alcohol and drugs, find places to sleep, worry about their safety and try to stay warm in the winter.

This exchange stuck with me for some time. Does anyone really do a great deal more or less than anyone else? Or is there a value system we place on certain activities? Especially those things we call “work.”

What is work, anyway? We typically equate it to generating income. The implication is that with an income we can contribute to the “economy.” We suck on the jugular and the blood keeps flowing. While this is actually the same ideology as a tick or a leech, we somehow buy into the myth that, in my case editing, or for other such things as pushing papers around a desk at an insurance agency or real estate office is somehow more honorable than standing by the roadside with fiction written on a sign and holding out your hand.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I do a lot. Aside from writing this column, I edit a website and also caretake a small ranch. Compensation for the former is so much less than the latter that it actually costs me to write. I do it anyway because I feel that I have something worthwhile to say. Yet, somehow it does not make me feel exactly like Bill Gates.

Aside from the work for hire, I am the primary caregiver for my autistic son Harrison, another job that comes with certain costs. For when the school calls, or even when I help out with his cross-country team, the time is not billable. It has, however, given me a greater appreciation for the plight of panhandlers and those who live under bridges, as it has completely changed my perspective on everything.

A health-care professional I see recently told me, “War changes people. You are in a war.” I’d never really thought of it that way until then.

I wonder what wars some of these homeless people have fought, and I wonder what wars Bill Gates has fought too. We’re all fighting some war.

For about the past year I’ve been working toward getting Harrison designated as “disabled” and qualified for Medicaid through a Children’s Extensive Support waiver. This would allow us to pursue some much-needed behavioral therapies. Private insurance of course does not pay for such things. And we can’t afford it out-of-pocket. Just an assessment, for example, can run upwards of $1,500.

After being denied once based on an IQ test, we recently resubmitted our application and were granted the disability designation. Now we are in the process of applying for the actual Medicaid waiver. It feels a little like they’ve only opened the door to the maze.

Meanwhile, some work is play. Perhaps the best therapy – both mental and physical – we can afford has been Harrison’s participation on the middle school cross-country team. I have often joked that we could not have gotten away with such an likely scenario anywhere but here in Custer County.

This season was his third and final before entering high school next year. Over the past two years I can’t describe in this space the roller coaster of outright failure, challenges, disappointments and breakthroughs that we’ve experienced through his participation in sports. All the while, he’s wanted to run. We’ve not given up even when other people thought we were nuts because I’ve always believed in his capabilities. I also believe that sports are a metaphor for life, and that “winning” often means something quite different than first place. Perhaps Harrison’s experiences on the cross-country team will set the stage for success in other areas of life down the road.

As part of the deal with the school and athletics staff, I attend all practices and meets as a volunteer parent coach. And this has been the real gift for me. For not only have I had the opportunity to be a co-creator and witness to my own son’s progress, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with the other kids and to see Harrison’s success through the eyes of his teammates and coaches. He’s literally worked his way past the “Will he finish?” question to running third man on his team.

Thus in his final year I watched as he ran well in one meet after another in Avon, Westcliffe, Gunnison . . . and I began to wonder if a perfect season was possible. We went on to Pueblo, Salida and finally the last meet of the year in Monte Vista, tackling what some would have said impossible and what was at the very least improbable, often running with a smile on his face.

As I looked back on this amazing three-year project, I found myself grateful for all those who supported us along the way, and equally as well to those who thought we were crazy. Because what more important lesson is there for all of us than that of overcoming adversity?

The bittersweet finish to his middle-school cross-country career also brought another jolt to my system as suddenly the workouts and meets were over. I decided we should stay as active as possible after school, running, biking, hiking or whatever, until track season starts in spring.

We had already done a lot but we could still do more.

On one such workout, we turned our bikes around in the fading evening light. I asked Harrison to be still and listen. Against the background of quiet there were ravens croaking and nutcrackers calling out as they flew to their roosts. I asked if he heard them and he said he did. I asked if he could hear the creek trickling faintly in the background and he said he could. Then he simply asked, “Why?” I said because it is important to listen to Nature. He said okay. Then we pointed the wheels downhill toward home.

There is no end to the perfect season and the work has only just begun.

Endurance

June 16, 2016

Last fall when my neurodiverse son Harrison was running on his middle school cross-country team I began writing essays about our roller coaster of experiences and emotions. Some of these became columns for Colorado Central magazine and others I stashed away, or were parts of emails and other correspondences to family and friends.endurancecover

At some point I began to see a common thread of community, compassion and inclusion, and began to think in terms of combining these essays into a longer story. This long essay eventually became a short book I called Endurance — A season in cross-country with my autistic son.

At first I viewed the short book as an interesting experiment in an age of shrinking attention spans. It seemed hardly worthy of paper and ink, and so I initially published it as a kindle ebook. However, I immediately began to get requests for hard copies, so decided to publish a limited-edition run, and released it recently during an opening at The Brookwood Gallery in Westcliffe.

As an indie publisher I’ve been debating how to best distribute this short book. Because of its size, price point and sales margins, I’ve decided for now to offer it direct to my readers rather than through Amazon and other mass outlets. If you’d like a copy please send $10 to:

Hal Walter, 307 Centennial Dr., Westcliffe, CO 81252

You also can pay by paypal (which accepts credit cards) using “send money” to jackassontherun@gmail.com.

Price includes shipping, and of course be sure to include your address.

The book is also available, along with my other book Full Tilt Boogie — A journey into autism, fatherhood and an epic test of man and beast, in two regional retail outlets — The Book Haven in Salida, and The Village Shop in Westcliffe.

Thank you for supporting my writing and indie publishing.

Grounding for the Hardscrabble Runs

May 4, 2016

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Grounding, or earthing is a controversial practice that in its truest sense involves direct physical contact with the ground. Some people claim health benefits and I don’t doubt they may be true. I just know grounding feels good.

Lately I’ve been grounding out on the Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run course. The races are coming up June 5 and already the entries are flowing in. I won’t be laying around in the dirt that day for sure.

This is my fourth year as Trail Boss for the event, which raises awareness and funding for vital land and water conservation projects in Southern Colorado. The Hardscrabble Run is hosted by the San Isabel Land Protection Trust,  which  in partnership with landowners, has protected more than 40,000 acres of land, 174 water rights, and 61 miles of stream frontage in Southern Colorado.

Runners and walkers can meet the challenge of the 5K or 10K courses on Bear Basin Ranch, a 2,400-acre protected ranch located in the Wet Mountains 11 miles east of Westcliffe.

It’s work it just for the lunch — after the race, entrants will be treated to a post-race fiesta that includes a gourmet lunch by Kalamata Pit Catering. There’ll also be live music by Bruce Hayes, awards and prize drawing for fantastic gifts, including awesome items from Patagonia.

Youth 17 and under will run free thanks to the generosity of Ranchers Roost Café/Cliff Lanes Entertainment, and other individuals. The goal is for 100 young runners from Custer County and surrounding areas participate. Young runners must register online by using discount code youth.

The races start at 10 a. m. on June 5. The start and finish are at 8,913 feet elevation. The courses feature 475 feet of vertical gain on the 5K and 1,083 feet of gain on the 10K, with the 10K topping out at 9039 feet. Both routes have short but steep sustained climbs that may require many participants to hike or walk. There is one aid station for the 5K course and two for the 10K.

Entry is $40 if received by May 30.

For more information or to register visit: www.hardscrabblerun.com or contact San Isabel at 719.783.3018.

Anyone wishing to sponsor the event with cash donations or prizes for our drawing should contact me at jackassontherun@gmail.com.

So come on out for the trail run. Ramble around Bear Basin. Each some lunch and listen to the music. Maybe win a prize. Do a little grounding yourself, if you want.

Two laps to awareness

May 3, 2016

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T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month,” but then he was not referring to a calendar for autism awareness.

Each year I greet the proclamation of Autism Awareness Month as a source of amusement and with a sense of duty. The fact is, every day is about autism awareness around here.

Actually, I have been doing my best to avoid using the term “autism,” though this is nearly impossible when writing about it. Instead, I prefer “neurodiversity.” It is more accurate for one thing, less of a label and more inclusive. Read the rest of the essay.

Minimal shoes vs. performance-enhancing devices

March 31, 2015

I believe in minimal footwear and if I were to live on a beach somewhere and run only recreationally, I’d probably only have two pairs of running shoes for those times when I might choose to wear any shoes at all. One would be a pair of New Balance Minimus and the other would be Luna Sandals.

But I don’t live on a beach. I live in the Rocky Mountains. And to further complicate matters, my chosen sport is pack-burro racing, which involves running long distances over rugged mountainous terrain alongside a large animal not always known for its cooperative nature.barefoot2

A few years ago in one of these races — the 28-mile World Championship up and down 13,187-foot Mosquito Pass — I watched as the first-place racer smoothly eased away from me on the descent. This eventual winner was wearing a pair of Hoka One Ones, thickly padded maximalist shoes that looked more like Moon Boots or clown shoes than running gear.

That same summer I’d also managed to bruise my forefoot badly when a rock jabbed through the soles of a pair of minimal shoes. The pain was terrible, and it seemed like I could not get in a run without finding a rock or two with that sore spot and re-injuring it. I started to look at different options. At some point out of desperation and at the suggestion of several friends I decided to try on a pair of Hokas.

At once I realized why these shoes were so popular among trail and ultra runners. They smoothed over the roughest terrain. No rocks could poke through to my feet. I likened them to the difference between a mountain bike and a road bike for off-road use.

I also quickly realized that these shoes were clearly performance-enhancing devices, allowing a person to run beyond natural capabilities and enter the danger zone where injuries happen. Were they healthy footwear? No. There are many health risks associated with wearing thick shoes like this long-term — including loss of proprioception, muscle imbalance and weakness throughout the body, increased shock (from reverberation, or bounce), and others.

In a sense these shoes were much like performance-enhancing drugs. But, unlike drugs, they were legal and other competitors were wearing them. If I wanted an equal footing I thought I should at least give them a chance. As competitive athletes many of us often make choices that improve our chances but are not necessarily healthy. Just deciding to compete in the first place is one of these choices. Training beyond requirements for health is another. Besides, my forefoot was killing me, and the increased inflammation from this injury was actually showing up in blood tests for C-reactive protein.

What would Lance do?

I now had racing fats instead of racing flats. And, in fact, the first race I ever wore them in, I won.

Another thing I quickly realized was that as soon as I was done training or racing in these shoes I wanted them off my feet — like right now.

barefootIn defense of my maximalist shoes, they did not have a huge heel-forefoot drop. They were fairly flexible, explaining why they did not tip and twist my ankles on rugged terrain. And they were so soft that they actually allowed my feet to do their own thing. In some ways it was like running in sand. They had transformed the Rocky Mountains into a beach. My forefoot even healed up without the constant strikes from rocks, and my inflammation markers returned to normal. But I remained very conflicted about using them.

So how was I to resolve this inner conflict between my natural minimalist sensibilities and my maximist racing fats?

Part of the answer was what my body had already told me — wear the fat shoes as little as possible. Run in them, then get them off my feet ASAP. And the other part of the answer was to continue doing what I had been doing — going barefoot as much as possible (see my article on barefoot therapy), choosing my workouts wearing the big shoes carefully, wearing minimal footwear to warm up and cool down, and for most of my other everyday activities like walking. By maintaining strong feet, ankles and balanced muscles through barefoot therapy and minimal footwear, my body was better able to adapt to those times I chose to wear the performance-enhancing shoes.

Along the way I also transitioned to another brand and style of maximal shoes, finding the Altra Olympus to be somewhat lower to the ground, with a zero-drop and much larger toebox.

In this manner I have adjusted to being able to wear both styles of footwear successfully, enjoying the advantages of performance-enhancing footwear for racing while also maintaining and building natural foot strength and health the rest of the time.