Spring in your step March 22 2016, 0 Comments

It's that time of year when some of us wonder when we are going to have to do the spring wardrobe switch. The weather, of course, does not go out of its way to make the decision easy, and temperatures swing wildly over a twenty-degree range making any fixed decision in either direction incorrect for at least part of the time.

For the ZEMgear barefoot shoe runner, an equally weighty decision has to be made in respect of footwear - when to switch from those warm winter Heroes and Apexes so as to avoid reproachfully steaming feet at the end of the run? I wait for them to be too warm, rather than switch early and suffer from cold feet - at least warm feet are flexible and don't hurt. This decision was reinforced by the experience of setting out on a balmy spring day last year wearing a pair of summer shoes and climbing above the snowline on the surrounding hills, hobbling back a half hour later with painfully cold feet.

So the decision has been made. The Terras are in waiting for a warm, sunny day, unless I plan to climb high. Meanwhile the Heroes will be used until the snow is completely gone. My 360s are used indoors where conditions are controlled, and for flying where swollen feet make having elasticated shoes a huge boon. All of them have that wonderful feet-on-the-floor feel that simply doesn't come with standard shoes.

Check them out!


What are the relative values of running and walking? March 12 2016, 0 Comments

You know that running is more intense than walking, and believe in your heart of hearts that it is doing you good. But what does the evidence say? The benefits of different durations and intensities (walking and running) of exercise is discussed by Wen et. al. in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2014, 64:5).

It seems that, even in very small doses, walking and running are beneficial in reducing cardiovascular disease and lowering the risks of diabetes and hypertension. The benefits are on a sliding scale that increases as the amount of exercise goes up, but the biggest increase in benefit is at the beginning of the curve, where the amount of exercise is small (figure 1, after Wen et al.).

Figure 1: Relative benefit in reduced mortality for average daily running or walking time.

The implications from this are that benefits can come from relatively small changes - good news for those who have difficulty finding the time to do long work-outs. It also means that beneficial exercise can be built into your day by, for instance, getting off the bus a couple of stops earlier and walking the last part of the journey into work.

For those of you who want to ease yourself into spring with running or hiking, and would like to do so with less shoe and more you, ZEMgear Hero and Apex shoes are warmer for the still cold weather, but you should graduate fairly quickly to Terras as it warms into summer.

Good running and walking all!

Do your running shoes look like this? August 27 2015, 0 Comments

After a season and a half, my faithful Terras are feeling their age. You can see that the tread on the tough undersole that protects you from sharp and hard objects has worn smooth, and in places the light grey and orange mid-sole is peeping through. I'm a little more careful on stony ground now, but still able to cope with all but the very worst of surfaces. The picture above means that the combined thickness of 6mm for the inner-, mid- and outer-sole is down to an average of about 3-4mm, and less than this where the flexible and relatively soft mid-sole is showing.

It's nearly time to switch to the winter Heroes and Apexes, and these will be new, and with the full protective thickness that will allow me to run comfortably on pretty well anything.

So if you're feeling the stones more than you would like to, check your soles out. It might be time for a change.

Where to run? May 26 2015, 0 Comments

When running, I tend to either have a set route, or to simply wander until I feel like coming home.  For those who want to break their routine, but don't trust themselves not to be too far from home when they finally decide to head back, there are designated runs where the route and distance are clearly defined.

Interestingly, when I searched for these in the Zürich area, I found them listed under the Tiefbau- und Entsorgungsdepartement, the department which regulates civil (literally, 'underground') building and waste disposal, and there was a plethora of offerings.

Finnenbahn are tracks, often through the forest with a sawdust/wood bark suface which is spongy to run on.  Excellent for peace and quiet and offering the possibility of running completely barefoot without the risk of sharp stones or shards of glass.  Many of these are lit at night when the time of year requires it.

Waldlaufstrecke provide longer distances on standard tracks, again through the forests which are so readily accessible from towns and cities in Switzerland.

Vitaparcours trails have exercise stations along their length at which you can work on strength or flexibility training.  They are generally shorter, but you can do them more than once if you want to prolong the experience.

Most of the above options offer access to free showering and changing facilities, and you can find them for the Zürich area here.  For other parts of Switzerland, a google search will find them pretty quickly.

If you want more complete immersion in your running, a friend drew my attention to the growing trend for running camps in the USA, where participants can go away for a weekend or a week of running coaching and practice - details here.  Of course, you can also do this in Switzerland where we have unparalleled nature and terrains for running, details of one of these here.

What sort of barefoot shoe would we recommend for these?  For summer, the Terra offers good contact with the ground, and a sole which curls up to protect the toes and heels against knocks and scuffs.  If you're going really high up where it can be chilly, an Apex or Hero might be better for the additional warmth brought by a thermoprene upper.  Wherever you go, and whatever you wear, we wish you a good summer of running!

ZEMgear Heroes at home in the snow February 11 2015, 0 Comments

Last weekend I went away with a running group for a Winterfest.  One of us lays a trail using blobs of coloured flour - you can see from the picture that on Saturday it was blue.  When the trail is laid, the rest of us follow it, navigating such deliberate obstacles as places where the trail disappears so that we have to fan out and find it, and others where it doubles back on itself.

You can also see that we ran on a lot of snow and ice, which makes for hard work when it is either broken up or deep.  I was wearing Apexes on Friday evening and Sunday morning, and Heroes on Saturday.  My feet were toasty warm through all three runs, and, even in deep snow, I never had the discomfort of snow getting into the ZEMs.


The reason for this harks back to the orignial ZEMgear designs which were for playing beach volleyball.   They are fully elasticated, fitting snugly to the feet and ankles (I can testify that on beaches no sand gets in).  Likewise, the winter versions don't let in the snow and the Thermoprene material ensures that feet stay warm while running.

They were all good runs, Saturday's longer than expected as we got lost, eventually clocking over 20km and instilling even more confidence in me that snow and ice are no obstacles for a good pair of barefoot shoes!

The sock conundrum January 22 2015, 0 Comments

Despite a gradual improvement in fitness from running, by the end of last year I was having a nagging recurrence of slight inflammation in my Achilles tendons - not enough to stop running, but enough to make them uncomfortable for a couple of days.  I run with a group, and we stand around and socialise after the run, and I felt that the cold around my ankles aggravated the inflammation.

A two-week break at Christmas gave them time to recover, and I took a couple of other measures.  To quiet down my immune system and inflammatory response, I changed my diet to increase my intake of antioxidants and omega-3 oils with more fruit, vegetables and fish.  This was less an issue when I wore Heroes, because they reach higher up the ankles, but more so when I wore Apexes as there was a gap between them and my running pants.

I browsed toe-socks to address this, but then Claudia pointed out that we had a solution in our own inventory in the form of the HG ankle supports, and this proved to be very successful.  They are elasticated, offering some support, and more importantly in this case, keeping the ankles and tendons warm.  They work really well with the ZEMgear shoes, as they are effectively toeless socks.

It worked.  The achilles tendons are now quiet, and I am running freely and enjoyably through the winter chill.

Of bleak and sunny running days... March 18 2014, 0 Comments

Why do we wait until we break?

In the last couple of years I have come across three people, including myself, who are selling or distributing barefoot running shoes, all with almost identical stories.  We all suffered from spinal disc prolapses, resulting in long periods (2 years in my case...) of rehabilitation from pain, cramps and partial paralysis of the leg on the side of the injury.  We all have discovered that by running barefoot style, we were able to get back to a near normal lifestyle again, and continue to indulge in our love of running.

In separate conversations with the other two, we have wondered at people who hear our stories, but maintain that they will continue with their current running shoes until something happens.  Now, I understand the philosophy of not fixing something unless it's broken, but if I ever had a chance to go back and avoid that two year stretch of desolation with the prospect of giving up any sport except swimming, I would take it.  I guess it is this experience that makes us the zealots that we are for the front-foot running style outlined by the barefoot professor, Daniel Lieberman, at Harvard.  I also guess that it often takes a fairly radical event to change the habits of a lifetime.

Nevertheless, I don't get it...

Temperatures have climbed from near zero into the mid-teens centigrade now, and it's time to change from my toasty Apexes and Heros to the spring and summer options of the Terras.  It's still a bit early for swimming in the lakes and rivers, unless you have the constitution of an otter,  the O2 Oxygen shoes for water sports will later come in to play to protect our feet from stony underwater floors. 

In the meantime, it's running in the spring forests, with the trees coming into bud - fantastic!  Have a great spring!

Forest running in winter March 16 2013, 0 Comments

Sometimes it's a little tougher to summon up the gumption to go out when the weather is wet or cold, one of the reasons that I run with a group, as there is support in numbers.  In the last two weeks I've been out running at night on a few occasions, but two in particular are of note.

The first was a weekend run where I was looking to extend my distance (race coming up...), and I came across a forest trail to Uetliberg, a high hill/small mountain overlooking Zürich and its lake.  I've meant to run up there for a year, now, so took it on the spur of the moment.  Brother, how steep...  At the top was a stunning view over the lights of the city and around the lake, which made all the huffing and puffing on the way up good value.  This run was a test for my Apexes - first time worn in anger as the Heros were in the wash - and they acquitted themselves well with 16km under foot and no discomfort.

The second was another night run in the forest, this time with a light dusting of snow on the trees and the ground, like a Christmas card. Back to my trusty Heros for this, as the temperature tracked steadily below zero celsius.