Running on vacation

I really started running lots of races last year (not so much before that) and it seems that with that came a new desire to look for races whenever I’m on a trip. Last year I happened to be in the UK for work and pleasure for 4 weeks and managed to do a 5k ParkRun and a 10k while I was there.

This year we already had one very quick road trip and I did look but could not find a race close enough to where we were (there was a half marathon, but it was over an hour and a half away from where we were staying for a wedding, and it was on the wedding day).

Now I’m planning on another road trip and the only race I could find close to where I will be at any time during the trip is a 3k in Pittsburgh.


I’ve never done a 3k before so that should be fun.

What is even better is, before I signed up I tried to do more research on it and came across their facebook page where there was a very temporary offer for $13 off for the next 2 men who signed up, and the code still worked so I got a real bargain.

I also have a plan, possibly for next year, to take a trip to do this marathon:, and of course, to see the sights.

Who else plans to run when away on vacation? (Or is it just me?)

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Still getting faster? Apparently so.

It’s now almost exactly 3 years since I started running. Since getting a 5k PR last May of 19:29 and then hovering below that ever since (with the exception of a 19:28 PR in that same race this year) I figured I had reached a natural limit.

This year my focus has been on increasing my distances. I haven’t really done much in the way of speed work, and I really haven’t been running particularly fast in my regular runs, but somehow I’ve still been just as fast as last year and even managed a 10k PR by 16 seconds in addition to my 1 second 5k PR last month.

6 days ago I ran the President’s Cup Night race and ran a 19:44 5k on a humid night. Last night it was hot, and this happened:



A PR by 13 seconds (on the chip time)!

Now, I did run this race last year but I can’t really compare to then because at the time I had been sick and still didn’t feel great (last year my time was 20:04). This year I felt good, and even said to a friend at the start line that I may even get a PR.

What can I attribute this gain in speed to?

Could it be one of these or a combination of them?

  • Perhaps it’s the increase in my weekly mileage;
  • Perhaps it’s the core strengthening work I have been doing with BodyPump and Bodyflow classes;
  • Perhaps it’s the focus on form – during the race last night I tried to pay attention to how I was running and forced myself to lean forward more and make sure I was picking up my feet even when I was tiring;
  • Perhaps it’s my more relaxed approach to races – i.e. I’ve been worrying less about how fast I can do it even to the point where I try not to look at my watch during a race;
  • Could it be that I’m faster in the New Balance Minimus Road Zero (I raced in these a lot last year, but haven’t until now this year)?

Alternatively it could just have been the increased aerodynamics from taking the clippers to my hair on Saturday:



Here’s a great photo of me in full flight on my way to my PR:


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Barefoot running and opinion pieces

It seems that there have recently been a few “news” articles (or rather opinion pieces) that seek to dismiss the claims of those who say barefoot or minimalist running is a good thing. Sometimes they attempt this using a study to back up their ideas, but it seems like one writer, who has been particularly high profile in this, doesn’t necessarily understand the studies too well, or is just way too keen to try to make them fit her own preconceived opinion.

The most recent one was a few weeks ago:

The key paragraph in this article seemed to be this one: “In the end, this data showed that heel-striking was the more physiologically economical running form, by a considerable margin. Heel strikers used less oxygen to run at the same pace as forefoot strikers, and many of the forefoot strikers used less oxygen — meaning they were more economical — when they switched form to land first with their heels.” but I had a hard time reconciling parts of this statement with the study abstract which is linked from within the article:

This abstract explains how they took 19 runners with a rearfoot strike and 18 with a forefoot strike and in various scenarios measured their rates of oxygen consumption (VO2) and rates of carbohydrate contribution to total energy expenditure (%CHO).

Let’s start by looking at this part of the statement above: “Heel strikers used less oxygen to run at the same pace as forefoot strikers”, this seems to completely contradict the abstract where it clearly states that “No differences in VO2 or %CHO were detected between groups when running with their habitual footstrike pattern.” so where is the NY Times writer getting her conclusion?

Perhaps it’s from this part of the abstract: “The RF pattern resulted in lower VO2 and %CHO compared to the FF pattern at the slow and medium speeds in the RF group (P<0.05) but not in the FF group (P>0.05).” – this seems to say that those who regularly run with a rear foot strike don’t do as well when running with a forefoot strike. This would not necessarily seem unexpected perhaps if you stop to think about it – if you’ve not run with a forefoot strike before it’s probably not going to be easy (in fact there’s plenty of information out there about how hard making that transition is), therefore there seems to be a reasonable chance you would be less efficient. What it does say is that those who run with a forefoot strike do just as well when using a rear foot strike which makes them more adaptable – surely that’s a positive for forefoot runners.

It could also be a conclusion reached from a brief reading of the last part of the abstract – and the interesting part to me – “At the fast speed, a significant pattern main effect indicated that VO2 was greater with the FF pattern than the RF pattern (P<0.05) but %CHO was not different (P>0.05).”.

As they had already shown, the rear foot strikers had problems at the lower speeds when they tried to run with a forefoot strike, so it would make perfect sense that this carried over to the higher speeds.

However it also seems to indicate that the forefoot strike runners seemed to be even more efficient when they reverted back to the rear foot strike. Don’t forget when they were running their habitual pattern both groups were the same. Now, not having read the full study I have no idea if that’s really what it is trying to say, but from first glance it may logically follow that running with a forefoot strike strengthens your muscles in ways that a rear foot strike do not, and then perhaps forefoot strike runners have stronger legs can then run even more efficiently with a rear foot strike? Of course, it doesn’t necessarily make sense for a forefoot runner to switch to a rear foot strike because if you become an habitual rear foot runner then you may well end up back at the same efficiency.

I’ve really only focused on the article here, but there do seem to be some queries about the study too – they apparently tried to control by giving all the runners the same shoes to wear which, if you’re a runner, probably makes you wonder if that introduces more variables than it controls for (people run in different shoes for a reason). We don’t really know what types of shoes these people regularly run in and that can make a difference – just because they have a forefoot strike (and do they really mean forefoot, or do they include mid-foot in that definition?) it does not mean that they are minimalist or barefoot runners (something that the author of the article takes as an assumption in the title of the post).

Also, there is nothing that I have seen here that indicates that forefoot striking is worse for someone who does it habitually – it seems to show not much of a difference which is backed up by the line in the article “Five separate studies there found no significant benefits, in terms of economy, from switching to minimalist, barefoot-style footwear.”

It’s also worth noting that increased efficiency isn’t usually the top priority for those who make the switch – it would seem that the potential for reduced injury is one of the top reasons, which brings me to another piece by the same writer from a few months ago:

She seems to approach her writing from the same anti-barefoot stance with the title is “Barefoot Running Can Cause Injuries, Too” because near the end of the article you see this statement from the doctor who undertook the study, where some runners were given Vibram Fivefingers and told to run in them a mile the first week, 2 miles the second, 3 the third and then whatever they wanted after that:  ““But I would tell anyone who wants to try” kicking off their normal shoes, “to be extremely cautious during the transition period.” In her study, substituting a mere mile per week of normal running at the start with one in minimal shoes “was probably too much,” she says.”.

Perhaps a less biased title would have been “Transitioning Too Quickly To Barefoot Running Can Cause Injuries”.

Ultimately what matters to me is that I am very comfortable running the way I do, and it seems to have served me well, and that’s all that really matters. I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have become as fast in regular running shoes, or that I would have been injured, but I did notice that aches and pains were considerably less in my first 5k in Vibram fivefingers than my last 5k in regular shoes (and I was faster).

Just when I was most of the way through putting together this post another blogger referenced it in a very interesting and thoughtful post, so take the time to read it:

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One and a half miles barefoot



For the past month or so I have been adding a short distance of fully barefoot running to the end of some of my regular runs. At first I was maxing out at about half a mile and I would feel like my toes were possibly starting to develop blisters.

I mentioned this to a friend who runs barefoot quite a lot ( and he indicated that was a sign I was pushing off the ground too much and I needed to focus on lifting. So, the next time I went out I tried to focus on lifting and successfully completed three quarters of a mile with no issues.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and since then I haven’t been running barefoot for various reasons (races, wanting to get in distance and being short on time). Today I was working from home so had a bit more time. I ran 8 miles in the Merrell Trail Glove 2, and then took them off in the park. I ran on the roads and sidewalks at first through the park, and then up the hill out of the park towards home. I added a little loop to get the distance up to 1.5 miles, and my feet were fine the whole way. Next time – 2 miles; maybe I’ll be able to do a 5k race barefoot later this year?

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Racing in the Vibram Bikila

This year I rediscovered how much I love running in the Vibram Bikila – they are my go-to shoe when it’s wet outside (no socks necessary as they always fit just right) and when it rained in both my May races they served me well with PRs for 5k and 10k (past races).

I also wore them last week in the first race of the RVRR Summer Series after it had been raining pretty hard for a few days and the course was pretty wet in places. This is what I looked like after that race:


I suppose this was my first “real” cross country race, and I quite enjoyed it (until I stumbled on a root and the misstep brought my other foot down hard on another root half way through – my foot hurt for over a day after). My time (21:14) was slow though, probably partly from the very wet, almost boggy grass, partly as I’d spent the previous few days driving hundreds of miles.

I’ve had this pair of shoes for over 2.5 years now so they are pretty worn and I recently got hold of a new pair which seemed to fit exactly the same way (and why wouldn’t they – they’re the same size?).

Last night I ran the President’s Cup 5k in Milburn, NJ and I chose to run in the new pair. It wasn’t wet, but it was humid. Apparently something is different about this new pair because halfway through the race I could feel a blister forming on the bottom of my big toe (the right one was the one I could feel, but apparently it was also happening on the left – just not as badly). I pushed through to the end, and finished with a 19:41 chip time (I said I’d be happy if I broke 20:00. I don’t think I do as well in evening races – I’m a morning person – but I felt good, and given the humidity I am happy with this). This was the first time I have run this race, so I don’t have a point of reference on how well I did for this course.


I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the Vibrams causing the blisters – perhaps I just need to run in them more to “break them in”. I didn’t ever have problems with my old pair so it has me a little confused.

In other news, I had said I was going to update my review of the Merrell Trail Glove 2. I had returned the original pair for a size smaller and they have been working really well for me. I’m very happy with these again, and they are definitely my long run shoe, and it’s very likely these are the shoes I will wear for my first marathon later this year. I think they compare favorably with the original Trail Glove – just make sure you try them on for size as I am wearing a size smaller in the Trail Glove 2 than I wore in the original Trail Glove.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

… I am not a trail runner.

Now, having said that, I did find myself at a resort in Michigan this past weekend, and there were trails.

As we had decided to drive all 850 miles to get there (and then the same back – yes, with 2 young kids), when we arrived it had been a couple of days since my last run (I hadn’t even run on National Running Day), the first thing I did upon arrival was put on my running clothes. I was planning on a longer run this next morning, so stuck to the trail which encircled the whole resort.

Despite some sandy portions which slowed me down a little, the path was very pleasant.

photo photo_1 photo_2

However as you came around the back of the “mountain” (I put it in quotes because it’s more of a hill really, but the resort is called “Crystal Mountain” and it has skiing in the winter so I guess that counts for something), the trail changed dramatically and became much more technical and hilly (but still not as technical as the trail that made me realize I’m not a trail runner.


photo (5)

(There were harder parts than this, but these are the only photos I took for some reason).

On to the next day. I got up early and planned to do at least 14 miles. The resort trail had a link through to the Betsie River Pathway so the plan was to run through that. Somehow before leaving I had tried to research the pathway, and had come to an incorrect conclusion about it being more of a converted rail path type trail, but I have no idea where I could have seen that so plan had been to run out for a few miles, turn and head back. I initially got confused as the cut through sent me through to this:


but it also looked like I should be heading straight into the woods. I took the “road” anyway, and it eventually branched to the left (the direction I thought I ought to be going) so I followed it round to here:


When I got further down this path I spotted a “Pathway” sign leading off into the woods, so I followed it in.

photo (1)

Eventually I came to what looked like a trailhead with a map and a “1” marker, and arrows pointing to various other numbered points on the trail. I had come from the direction marked “5” and so I headed through what looked like was intended as the “main entrance” to the trail. It was very pleasant and took in a variety of scenery, including this:

photo (4)

Now, somewhere along the line I ended up at a marker that pointed back to “5”. I was getting thinking I might start heading back, so I followed it. However, when I got to the “5” marker post I had no idea where I was in relation to the resort. I did get my phone out and looked at Google maps to see, and I was close, but I could not find a path that would get me back. I believe I was almost 9 miles into my run by now so I wasn’t too worried about heading directly back to the resort anyway, but equally I knew I didn’t want to go all the way back retracing my whole route as that would have been too far. I ran on, and finally found my way back to marker “1” and I knew I could retrace my steps from there.

When I got back to the point where I had been on the roadway near the start, I started to think that I had probably been through there a few times during the run. I ended up with 14 miles which was perfect, but I still had no idea where I had really run. I didn’t have a way to upload the activity from my Garmin until I got home, and then it started to make some sense. However, without those marker points I would have been totally lost.

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Hot trails (and Zoot Icefil review)

Saturday was National Trails Day, and every year on that day RVRR puts on a non-competitive run called the “Train”ing Run along the D&R Canal. The way it works is you pick a “train” (7:30, 8:30, 9:30, 10:30 pace trains), pick a “station” (equating to the distance you want to run) and take a bus out to join the train at the appropriate time. In theory everyone arrives back at the bus departure point, the end of the line, at the same time for a BBQ and picnic.

It was my first time doing this run as I couldn’t make it last year, but as I’ve been increasing my distances I wanted to do at least 20 miles. I had originally decided to try the 8:30 pace group, but as the day approached I started to doubt whether I really wanted to push that hard, and then when the weather forecast showed how hot it was going to be I made a last minute change to join the 9:30 group. To compensate I decided to run for a mile or so in the opposite direction to meet up with the 9:30 pace group that had been running since much earlier and intended on completing 34.1 miles from Trenton (there were also a couple of people who went even further, running through most of the night to complete a total of 70 miles – we’ll call those the “really crazy ultra people”).

My pace group decision was probably the right thing given the heat, but the regular food and water stops (the stations) were invaluable. I also carried a couple of small bottles on my belt (no idea what brand mine is so no mention here – as far as I can tell they are all pretty similar anyway) along with some Shot Bloks which I’m sure both helped out greatly. Ultimately I ended up slightly faster than the 9:30 pace – I think we stayed too long at one of the stops so after that I ended up going a bit faster, and then with about a mile and a half or so left to the end I got caught by some of the 8:30 pace group (who must have been slightly ahead of schedule) and I managed to hang on with them until the end despite the fact I was worried a little earlier that my legs weren’t going to find it easy to get me to the finish. We were supposed to arrive at 11, and I believe it was 10:59 when I arrived – by this point I think the group I had started with were strung out quite a way along the path.

It was definitely a fun event, and I had no adverse effects (other than just being tired for the rest of the day but perhaps that was partly from the beer at the picnic). I’m sure the free massage at the end helped with that a bit though. Many thanks also to all the volunteers who made sure we had plenty of water etc. and kept us motivated (and the other runners for the motivation too).

Me stopped at a station rehydrating.

Me stopped at a station hydrating

One other thing from the run leads me to this mini review:

I was a little worried about sunburn during the run so I carried in my pockets some arm sleeves I had bought a couple of months ago – these Zoot Icefil Arm Coolers. I must admit to being skeptical about the “cooling” aspect, but figured they were at least good for some protection against sunburn.

I didn’t put them on until about half way in to my run, by which point my arms were really dripping in sweat. I was instantly surprised as my arms felt cooler as soon as I put them on – I’m guessing the way these work interacted with my sweaty arms as I don’t think it lasted too long, but it felt great. At various other points in the run, when there was a breeze, my arms did get cooled again (the breezes were brief though so it was short lived).

So, they did seem to do something, and at the very least they may stop me getting sunburn, so I will definitely wear them again in hot weather.

For the record, the hat I was wearing was of the same material. I wore that from the beginning so I don’t have as much of a point of reference, but I don’t recall thinking that my head was ever overly hot – hot, yes, but it would have been whatever hat I might have worn and perhaps it was cooler than it might have been.

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On form

Twice last week I had people comment on my running form. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had comments, but it was notable that it happened twice in two very different situations in the same week.

The first was at our club hill repeats workout where the comment was “I swear you were floating up the hills”. I credit the forefoot strike for this – being used to that on the flat helps with the uphill where it seems the default position for your foot strike is on the forefoot (or perhaps that’s just me, because that’s the way I run).

The second was at the gym – I don’t usually run at the gym (I run to the gym, but not at the gym), but I wanted to get there early before the Bodypump class to talk to someone about membership options for my wife. It turns out they all happened to be in a meeting so I had a spare 15 minutes and decided to head to the treadmill. I chose to concentrate on thinking about my barefoot form (I’ve been adding short barefoot runs to my regular runs lately) so took off my shoes (would have liked to take my socks off too, but I wasn’t sure how well that would go down) and set the treadmill at a leisurely 10 minute mile pace.

After 15 minutes I got off and put my shoes on, and just as I was done a girl came over and told me she happened to be on the treadmill behind me and thought I had amazing form. She told me she had read “Born to Run” (apparently that’s a requirement for the whole barefoot/minimalist running thing, but I still haven’t read it) and was really keen to change her form. I told her about my transition (very slowly, running only in my Vibrams, taking it back a step if necessary), and about how I’ve been running this way for 2.5 years and that I have successfully increased my distances, got faster, and am preparing for my first marathon.

I hope she manages to achieve what she wants. She did say she would probably go with transitional shoes rather than straight to the real minimalist shoe, but as I have no experience of that, and don’t know anyone who transitioned that way, I couldn’t really give her any advice. Does anyone reading this know of any success stories? Is there a key to success?

I do know that a 100% focus on minimalist footwear made it work for me (to the point where I felt very uncomfortable in my old work shoes), so it would be natural for me to suggest that sort of commitment, but I know that’s not necessarily the right thing for everyone. Any thoughts in case I bump into her again?


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Perfect timing

I’m not sure there would be too many people who manage to run the same time at the same race in two consecutive years, but that’s more or less what happened to me yesterday.

The Highland Park Run in the Park 5k is the run that launched me into running 3 years ago. I’d never considered being a runner before then and I’m not sure what made me decide to do it, but afterwards I decided to start running for exercise. I was fit from cycling so thought I would just give it a try and a month later I was out buying new running shoes.

My times over the years have improved, at first significantly – after all I hadn’t run at all before that first one where I did 24:29 – the second year, after actually running pretty regularly, I managed to improve to 21:40. Last year was an amazing race for me and it gave me my best 5k time ever of 19:29.1 (the .1 is important here as you’ll see in a minute) – a time that I didn’t quite get close to again for the whole of the year.

Yesterday my official time was 19:28.6 – a personal best by exactly half a second (if you count the tenths – although I think it counts as a 1 second PR).

My theory on why I can run this particular course so fast is that it starts with a more or less completely downhill first mile. It does then head back up, but I don’t seem to lose as much time going up hills as I gain from going down them, so ultimately it works out well for me (I haven’t been that fast on pretty much flat courses which I feel proves my point).

My splits this year were a little different from last year, and I think it maybe shows a difference in my training. I have been mainly focusing on distance, so my speed may have suffered (although only very slightly, if at all) but it seems I can maintain the speed for longer, so even though I wasn’t as fast in that downhill first mile, I was able to make up the time on the rest of the course.


My 2012 splits.

My 2012 splits.


My 2013 splits

My 2013 splits

So, two weekends and two personal records (again – this is exactly what happened last year in the same two races), although I can only count a single second improvement (or half a second if you want to go down to the tenths in the official time).

One annoying thing is that this race had 10 year age groups (it tends to happen at smaller races, whereas the larger races do them in 5 year increments), so, being 39, I was in the 30-39 age group and despite being 6th overall, I was only second in age group, because the 5th place person was 30 years old. Still, I shouldn’t feel bad because the 4 ahead of him were all of ages ranging from 14 to 21.

One thing I will likely post more about soon is that I’ve gone back to running in my Vibram Fivefinger Bikilas – these were my very first minimalist shoe just over 2 and a half years ago, and they’d sort of been pushed to the side when all these other options became available, but in the last month I have found them again, and I love them. My 5k and 10k PRs from the last week and a half were both in these shoes – I like them in the rain because they fit perfectly without socks and I don’t like wet socks. I’m still worried about the possibility they may cause me blisters over longer distances, but I will be testing that out sometime in the next week or so and will report back.

One extra useful thing to note – last year I always made sure I didn’t drink alcohol the day before a race (or even 2 days at times). This year I haven’t bothered with that rule and it doesn’t seem to have made a difference – with a party on Saturday afternoon and one on Saturday night, I didn’t drink excessively, but still had a total of 4 beers over about 5 or 6 hours before going to bed.

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An unexpected PR

This weekend was the Newport 10k in Jersey City, NJ. It’s not particularly far from home, but we had other plans in the area for the weekend so decided to check into a hotel for Friday and Saturday night (the race was on Saturday morning).

This was ideal because the start line of the race was literally right outside the front door of the hotel, so no early start to drive up that morning. I wonder if that helped me (I was awake early because I always am, so maybe not as much as I am thinking).

At around 7:30 I wandered down to get my number, bumped into a couple of friends and then took my number back up to the room to get changed (I just threw on jeans and a t-shirt to get the number). A short while later I came back down in time to spot a couple of friends heading out for a warm up. My watch was slow to get the satellites – must have been the tall buildings and extremely cloudy skies, so I didn’t record the first part of the warm up, but it seemed like a faster warm up than I have ever done before, and possibly even the furthest at about 2.5 miles (I wonder if that helped me).

It was around the end of the warm up when it started to rain. There were about 15 minutes to go until the start so I headed back into the hotel to use the facilities one last time (another bonus of staying in a hotel) and then ventured across the street to see the family who were eating breakfast in Cosi (I would have been jealous but I knew there were going to be squagels at the finish so I would be able to get my fix).

As it was getting close to 8:30 the rain was picking up and runners were huddled under trees to keep dry (and as warm as possible) while they towed away a car that had been left on the street in the start area.

I was definitely getting cold from the wet as the start time approached and the slight delay didn’t help, but some jumping up and down on the spot was enough to keep relatively warm.

My approach to this race was not to look at my watch and just do what felt right. There were clocks at each mile, so I would be able to see how well I was progressing. This was probably a good thing, because my GPS seemed to beep for each mile before I reached the clocks (it actually got a total of 6.41 miles by the end – last year by comparison it recorded about 6.3 so there was probably something strange going on).

I was surprised by how quickly I had reached the first mile because I haven’t been as fast in other races this year, and have been working on increasing my distances which has lead me to skip out on any speed work (except one solitary track workout with RVRR). The surprises continued as I hit each subsequent mile – I was sure that at some point I was going to fade, but somehow it just never happened. I was very slightly worried when I felt the pain in my hip (from Monday’s run) with about half a mile to go, but it didn’t seem too bad, and in the end I was able to find a bit of extra speed again for that last mile (the last mile or so is along the Jersey City waterfront overlooking lower Manhattan, so very nice – the Newport Liberty Half Marathon does the same).

These are my Garmin splits:

See what having the GPS show longer than the race distance does to the average pace!

See what happens to the average pace when the Garmin records longer than race distance!

And this is my official timing info:


Last year my clock time was 41:50 and chip time 41:44 (which was my first, and fastest 10k before this – I did 4 in total last year – well 3 really because one got messed up and we only really ran 6.0 miles, and the others were around the 42:50 mark).

After the race I grabbed some food, joined the family to cheer more people in, then quickly showered at the hotel before coming back out to hang out with RVRR friends. There was free beer, and random prizes – I won a $25 gift certificate to a restaurant right across the street from the hotel which came in handy that night (although it would have been better if we hadn’t also chosen that place to eat the night before).

It was during the prize drawing that I spotted someone in an Essex Running Club jacket that looked like fellow blogger Paige from On the lam(b) as she picked up a prize.

I approached her as everyone was leaving and she took this picture (yes, I stole it, because I didn’t take one myself); this picture is included in her race report.

Paige, I stole your picture.

Paige, I stole your picture.

A pleasant way to end a great morning. Maybe see you at the next USATF team race, or perhaps on an Essex Running Club Run (I may end up trying to sort out bringing some of our club members to join you for a run – if that’s ok with the club – just got to find a time I can do it, so it may not be for a while).

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