Go Run!

For the past couple of days I’ve been searching around the house for two small things I’d not seen in a while. I looked on shelves, in drawers, in boxes, in plastic containers of odds and ends. These items I was looking for had not seemed all that important for the nearly three decades I’d had them, but suddenly finding them seemed paramount.

I was looking for my Boston Marathon medals.

gorunmedalTo me they’d always been just another couple of trinkets among a collection of hardware won throughout the course of my running “career,” if it can be called that. As I sorted through the various medals stashed away I found some that brought back memories. “The Rawhide Marathon,” “Skyline Drive 10K Overall Winner.” “Leadville Trail 100” . . . all great memories but I wanted to find the thick gray medals, the ones with the unicorn on them.

And all this time I was looking for the darned things what I was really trying to sort out was my feelings about the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. Were my feelings any different from those who had never run the race? Did I have more empathy because of my past connection with the marathon? Maybe. Maybe not. And really, what does that matter, and who cares anyway?

Finally I did find one of the Boston medals. I held it in my hand and thought of that day when I had run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to the “Pru” in a driving rainstorm, then went with friends for fish and chips and to a RedSox game. That day so long ago when the world seemed so different than the one we live in today.

In recent days on my daily runs around the neighborhood, I’ve noticed people waving more enthusiastically than usual as they drive past. Some are neighbors. Some are people I’ve never seen before. I doubt any of them know I have a medal with a unicorn on it but somehow I think seeing someone out running means something totally different to them now.

And while splashing through the slush yesterday I suddenly realized why I felt the way I did about the Boston bombings, why I so badly wanted to find those medals, why running is important, why those people were waving. I knew now what the Tarahumara of Mexico know. And what the Maasai of Africa know. Running — this ancient form of travel, of hunting food, of spreading the news — builds tribal cohesiveness. And the lack of tribal cohesive is really what’s at the core of tragedies such as Boston.

So do this today. Go run. Run however far you can. However far you want. Run for 6 seconds or run for 60 minutes. Run 10 feet or run 10 miles. Run from your office to your car or run from your home to your office. Run because light drives out darkness. Run in place. Run around your house or run around a track or around a park. Run up your driveway or across town. Run because love beats hate every time. Run from your desk to the coffee pot or run across a mountain pass, a prairie, a desert, or on a beach. Run for the chance to wave to people you may or may not know, or to connect with someone you may have forgotten within yourself. Run for those who no longer can and for those who never will again.

Run because we’re all in this together.

Just go run.

‘Haulin’ Ass’ out on DVD

Over my years in pack-burro racing I’ve had the occasional good fortune to win a race and be the person someone with a video camera wanted to interview.

Sometimes it was local TV media, sometimes national networks like the Outdoor Life Channel, and sometimes it was independent filmmakers. No matter how dead-tired or brain-dead I was, I always did my best to make time for the person behind the camera after the race. I did so because I knew sooner or later someone would capture the spirit of pack-burro racing in a video that would appeal to a mainstream audience.

It turns out that I was right. One of these interviews with independent New York filmmaker Trevor Velin eventually led to the production of “Haulin’ Ass,” which recently was released on DVD.

The film focuses on the lives of three pack-burro racers — myself, Roger Pedretti of LaCrosse, Wisconsin and Curtis Imrie of Buena Vista. While the movie may outwardly appear to be just about pack-burro racing, it’s really about much more than that as Trevor delves into our lives and the psychology behind our participation in this sport. This film will make you laugh and it will make you cry. It’s only an hour long but you’ll feel like you’ve physically and emotionally been to the top of Mosquito Pass with each of these characters.

Haulin’ Ass can be purchased online at http://haulinass.flyingcart.com/.

To celebrate the release of the film on DVD, I’m offering a special deal on my book “Wild Burro Tales — Thirty Years of Haulin’ Ass.” For a limited time if you buy the film and are interested in buying my book send $15 and I’ll pay the shipping on the book. Just email your information to jackassontherun@gmail.com and tell me that you ordered the movie “Haulin’ Ass” online.

A quick trot and plenty of go

After a disappointing pack-burro racing season last summer, I knew if I wanted to stay with the sport I’d need to do something about my animal situation. Clearly, I’d reached the limits with Laredo, who’d been my main partner these past few years. Despite winning two World Championships Laredo has some physical limitations on the long, high-altitude courses at Fairplay and Leadville. I began to think in terms of bringing Spike out of retirement, knowing that he won four world Championships, and could probably still outrun the current winning times. This is still an option. Then Vicki Livingston suggested I give a burro out of her herd a try. This burro, whom I’m calling Cash shows a lot of promise with a quick, long trot, and plenty of go. I believe him to be a great grandson of the first burro I ever ran, Moose. Cash still needs a lot of training before I could consider him race-worthy, but check out this video I made during a recent training run with him.

Barefoot therapy

How to shuck your shoes, at least some of the time

Ok, so you’ve read all about the benefits of barefoot running, the debates in running magazines, the Tarahumara (who generally run in sandals, not barefoot) and Barefoot Ted. In your mind there’s a vision of yourself running barefoot for miles across the countryside.

But in reality outside awaits a world of concrete, ice, blistering hot pavement, angular gravel, thorns, glass and many other hazards to your feet.

So, just how does an outdoor athlete go about shucking his shoes?

Dr. Phil Maffetone, health and fitness expert and author of “In Fitness and In Health” and “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing,” advocated barefoot exercise long before the current hype. Best known as the fitness coach for six-time Hawaii Ironman Triathlon Champ Mark Allen and ultramarathon record-holder Stu Mittleman, Maffetone also pointed out years ago that scientific studies showed alarming injury rates among runners wearing the most expensive shoes.

A good place for many aspiring shoeless athletes to start, he says, might be with barefoot therapy.

“Even a short amount of barefoot time initially can bring tremendous benefits in correcting and preventing foot and ankle problems. These types of problems also can cause chronic knee, hip or back problems,” says Maffetone. “Just 10 to 15 minutes a day can help balance and strengthen foot and leg muscles, allowing the whole body to better balance on its own natural support systems.

Maffetone suggests starting by spending more time barefoot indoors for a few days both at home and at work. Once you’re comfortable with that, venture outdoors, on a safe surface such as grass, sand or the sandy edge of a dirt road. Slowly work up to being barefoot much more of the time on your feet.

Your barefoot time can be done separately as therapy, or as part of your workout as a warm-up or cool-down, though doing so after your workout may have more benefits in resetting your feet’s sensory system after spending time in shoes.

Most of us have been wearing oversupported fitness shoes for many years. Although the foot can quickly adapt to barefoot walking — and even running — muscles, tendons and ligaments in the feet, ankles, calves — and even other areas we may not consider like our jaws — may take some time to rehab.

But not as long as you may think.

“Despite being bound for years by shoes that don’t match the needs of our feet, being barefoot can quickly help restore foot function because the muscles respond beginning with your first step,” Maffetone says. “During this process, it’s very important to find the best shoe for your feet.”

Over time many athletes who have access to safe barefoot environments may be able to build up to doing entire workouts without shoes. However, for many, shoes will remain an integral part of workout life. That’s why Maffetone says it’s important to find the right shoes, those without too much support, cushioning and other gimmicks.

“Look for the flatter more flexible, less soft shoes,” says Maffetone. “The answer may end up being cheaper models, so-called racing flats, or even shoes that are not marketed for your sport. In addition, use comfort as your guide, and realize that most people wear shoes that are too small for their feet.”

‘Born to Run’ author likes ‘Wild Burro Tales’

A few years ago, Christopher McDougall came out to cover the Leadville International Pack-Burro Race for Men’s Health magazine. Since then, he’s become a New York Times best-selling author with his book “Born to Run.” When I was putting “Wild Burro Tales” together I contacted Christopher and asked him to read the galleys. He provided this kind quote, which is on the back cover of the book:

You need to read “Wild Burro Tales” to discover why Hal Walter is the poet laureate of pack burros, and why pack burros deserve their own poet. For the same reason we’re lucky that Jack London went to Alaska and Hemingway took a fancy to bullfights, we got a break when a writer of Walter’s talents decided to immerse himself in the weird and wonderful world of pro burro racing. Not only does Walter capture all the drama of “the longest, highest, roughest, toughest test of man and beast” where “a big animal gets in the way of a big ego,” he also pays as much respect to the scrappy old miners who created the sport as the blazing young newcomers who are redefining it. No one knows more about this unique partnership of complex animals and extraordinary athletes than Walter, and it’s hard to imagine a writer who could describe it better.

— Christopher McDougall

Author of New York Times Best-Seller “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen”

How to get a copy of “Wild Burro Tales”:

• Available at The Book Mine in Leadville, The Hand Hotel in Fairplay, the Book Haven in Salida, Candy’s Coffee and Westcliffe Super Market in Westcliffe, and The Bookery in Pueblo.

• Order a signed copy directly from me.

• Order from amazon.com.

• Order from Creastespace:https://www.createspace.com/3438422.

Caballo Blanco meets Burro Negro

If you’ve read Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” then Caballo Blanco, aka Micah True, needs no introduction. If you haven’t read this New York Times Best-Seller, it would be easier for you to get the book and read it than for me to try to explain who Caballo is.

Caballo Blanco, Burro Pinto and Jalapeno.

There’s a reason the book has been on the NYT Best-Seller list for months — it’s because it’s a great read. A good part of the story is devoted to tracking down and explaining the almost mythical Caballo Blanco who lives much of his time among the Tarahumara, or Raramuri, people in the Copper Canyon country of Mexico.

I had to go on no such search to find Caballo. All I had to do was drive an hour to the Bill and Julie Canterbury Ranch near Howard, and I already knew how to get there. Caballo appeared there Friday ready to try his hand at pack-burro racing. This was Caballo’s first introduction to the sport prior to running the Leadville’s Boom Days race next Sunday, though he’s seen plenty of burros in Copper Canyon, and hires them out to pack gear on tours that he guides there.

Caballo is also no stranger to long-distance running — that’s mostly what he does, and he’s competed in countless ultramarathons, including the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, which he organizes.

This venture into pack-burro racing was arranged through Roger Pedretti, brother of the late Rob Pedretti, my close friend whom I wrote about in my book, “Wild Burro Tales.” Roger took up pack-burro racing as a tribute to Rob following his death, and now travels from Wisconsin each summer to run in the races.

It seems Roger struck up a friendship with Caballo over Facebook (go figure – Caballo has nearly 2,000 Facebook “friends”), and talked him into checking out pack-burro racing. Of course Caballo needed a decent burro, and so Roger contacted me and I decided to set him up with Spike, who has actually won the Leadville race a couple times. Spike, by the way, is black.

So we met at Cantebury’s for a training run, up the Howard Creek road. Basically we just ran uphill about three miles and then back to the ranch. Caballo did well keeping Spike moving uphill, but on the way back down Spike managed to get away from him a couple times.

After the run I asked Caballo how he’s coping with the newfound fame brought about by the book. He said that he has mixed emotions about it, and that he’s “trying to keep it real” by channeling the energy into helping the Raramuri people sustain their culture.

Last year the race he organizes brought in 100,000 pounds of corn for the Tarahumara, and $14,000 in prizes. In fact every Raramuri who finishes his race is awarded 500 pounds of corn. But Caballo wants to do more. He’s traveling the country doing speaking engagements in hopes of raising more awareness about the Tarahumara. And he’s contemplating a book of his own.

Apparently Caballo and Roger have a couple more training runs scheduled next week to give him more opportunity to get acquainted with Spike. It’ll be interesting to see how they do at Boom Days next weekend.

‘Wild Burro Tales’ is out!

My little jab at the Literary Industrial Complex — Wild Burro Tales – Thirty Years of Haulin’ Ass — is now available. I released the book Sunday at the World Championship Pack-Burro Race in Fairplay.

While the race itself was a real challenge — my burro Laredo was sour on the competition — the book was well received.

This collection of stories had its origins in my adventures on the Western Pack-Burro Racing circuit. But it grew to include a fascination with equus asinus, my exploration of using these animals as backcountry packers and saddle donkeys, and as therapeutic riding animals for my son Harrison.

The book contains a few selections from my original book Pack-Burro Stories, some of which have been reworked. In addition, there are several more essays and short stories that I have written in more recent years.

I was fortunate to have local artist Lorie Merfeld-Batson provide pen-and-ink drawings to accompany some of the stories. Several photographer friends provided some great photos. I am thankful to all who helped bring the stories to life with these images.

I’m also extremely grateful for Mary Lyn Koval’s editing expertise.

I’ve written about many of my adventures with burros over the years, but producing this book has been another all-consuming experience in and of itself. For now, signed copies are available directly from me. Send $18 ($15, plus $3 shipping and handling) to Hal Walter, 307 Centennial Dr., Westcliffe, CO 81252.

‘Haulin’ Ass’: The movie trailer

I just looked this up. A trailer is a preview or movie advertisement. Last summer, Trevor Velin, a New York filmmaker who has become a good friend, came to Colorado to make a documentary film on pack-burro racing. Trevor was out last week and wired me for some additional voice-over. He showed me his rough cut of the film, and some of the scenes moved me to tears. He really found and explored some raw nerves in the three characters — myself, Curtis Imrie and Roger Pedretti. Sport meets art head-on in this documentary. The movie is due out this summer. For now, here is his trailer for the film.

The Great Running Shoe Hunt, Part 2

My great shoe hunt may be over. Saturday a pair of Inov-8 Flyroc 310s arrived in the mail from Colorado Running Company in Colorado Springs.

Now let’s back up. When I last wrote about shoes I had been having footproblems since Nike changed its Pegasus model. I went through a pair of Nike Skylons, then a pair of New Balance TR 904, which I initially liked but then began to develop pain in the top of the foot. My feet felt pretty tortured after the 30-mile World Championship Pack-Burro Race. But the final straw was the following week when the bottom forefoot of one these shoes peeled loose somewhere on the way back down Mosquito Pass during the Leadville Boom Days Pack-Burro Race

By then I was not in the mood to buy any more new shoes, and this was only reinforced after reading Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run” over the winter. Sometime last fall I bought a pair of Land’s End Trail Runners, and for $38 they actually weren’t the worst shoes I’ve ever run in. At least they were gimmick-free and fairly low-profile. Somehow throughout the winter and spring I put in my workouts rotating these shoes with a pair of Nike Lunarglide Avants, which I destroyed in short order, and an old, old pair of Nike Free Trail 5.0s.

I even put in a couple of two-hour runs in the Frees. I’ve also been doing some barefoot therapy after some workouts, and have done some running and walking in my Crocs.

All the while I’ve been researching shoes. I even spent a few hours in some shoe stores. The thing that annoys me most is the discrepancy in sizing. I had my foot measured on Brannock Devices in two different stores. Both times it was agreed that I am just under a size 11. Still, I knew better and had one shoe-store salesperson bring out a pair of Nike Free Runs in size 12. I couldn’t even get my foot into the shoe. I asked for a size 13 and they didn’t have it in that size. I tried on a pair of Nike Lunarglides and decided that I needed a 13 in this shoe as well.

Why can’t shoe companies make shoes to standardized sizing? It seems like this is even more important in the age of Internet shopping.

Figuring that I’d take advantage of my discount at Roadrunner Sports, I decided to order a pair of Lunarglides from them. My wife also wanted a pair. They arrived. We tried them on. We looked at each other and suddenly realized how tall they are. We boxed them back up. I sent them back.

That was when I contacted John O’Neill at Colorado Running Company. The store carries the Inov-8 line and after some discussion I decided to order the Flyrocs in size 12. These shoes are low profile, flexible, and so far seem to be good. I spent three hours running and hiking in them yesterday. I wish I’d ordered them in size 12.5, but for now at least I have something I can apparently run in.