My Experience with Minimalist Running Shoes

Here’s my experience over the past three years with so-called ‘barefoot’ running.

I bought a pair of Vibram Fivefingers Komodo Sport shoes last week, mostly for running. They’re the shoes on my feet in the photo, and they’re working out perfectly. I expect years of use out of them. Here’s why.

In 2010 I purchased a pair of KSOs to try a different style of running. I’ve been running those KSOs ever since and only noticed that the soles are about to wear through last week. As you can see in the photo, the soles wore out long before the uppers would have. The KSOs are the only pair of running shoes I’ve ever gotten more than about six months’ use out of. There’s no foam padding to wear out, only an extremely tough Vibram sole, a 3mm insole, and my own feet. That’s it. I had a little heartburn paying around $100 for them in 2010, but that seems now to have worked out to half what I’ve paid in the past for traditional running shoes that I have to replace twice a year.

I should say that I didn’t wear the KSOs to Army physical training because they aren’t allowed with the P.T. uniform. However, I’ve always done most of my running on my own, before or after work. I’d estimate the KSOs would have lasted me at least two years if I had worn them as my only running shoes the entire time. Since I’m leaving the Army this summer, I can now relegate my foam-padded shoes to lawn mowing footwear.

After running on traditional shoes for seventeen years, pain in my knees and hips was about to force me to stop running. As a professional soldier, running is not only a way of life, but a part of my job. As of 2010, I was good for about four miles, then the pain set in. Looking for a way to alter my running technique to squeeze a few more miles out of my body, I read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run and got the idea that if I discarded the artificial foot support I’d been taught to wear, perhaps my body could do its thing more naturally. That turned out to be true. Running has become one of my life’s joys rather than a chore to be endured.

It’s important to say that back in 2010 it took at least three weeks in the KSOs to work back up to a regular four-mile run. I started with two miles and wished for the next few extremely sore days I had kept it to one. ‘Barefoot’ shoes force one to run on the balls of the feet, striking mid-foot rather than on a cushioned heel. This takes some breaking in. It’s like learning to run all over again, and it’s not for everyone. My wife gave it a try, got shinsplints, and had to go back to traditional running shoes. For me, barefoot running is the most natural way to go. Maybe it has something to do with growing up in Florida and spending a lot of time barefoot as a kid. My brother and I used to challenge each other to run across a cow pasture full of sand spurs to see who could run lightly enough not to have feet full of the painful, thorny seeds on the far side. We got pretty good at it.

So, the Komodos appear to be of the same lightweight, quality construction as my old KSOs, but have a bit more protection for my feet without sacrificing road feedback. One thing I love about these shoes is being able to feel the textures of whatever I’m running over without worrying about things like broken glass. If you’re planning to go minimalist on rocky trails, I suggest trying the KSO Trek or another Fivefingers shoe with the similar thicker, lugged sole.

I took a close look at Vibram’s Bikila model as well, but it seems too specialized for road running. The Komodos are a bit more versatile.

As for Cons or drawbacks, the only things I can think of are that if you’re going to run in these, you have to look where you put your feet. If you step on a rock, you’ll feel it and possibly bruise your foot. They’re basically a foot glove. Also, and this is kind of negligible, you may get dandelions stuck between your toes when running through a meadow. Just laugh and pull ’em out.

A Successful MFA Personal Statement

I recently received great news, that I’ve been admitted to the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Tampa. I spent a lot of time scouring the web for examples of successful personal statements, those all-important pieces of the application process. After a full day of agonizing over what to say in my personal statement, I finally gave up in exhaustion and submitted the following statement.

I’m posting this for anyone who may be on the lookout for samples that have worked for others. This one helped get me into the program I wanted, and is very much targeted for that specific program, which I think is key. Do some research. Find out what they’re looking for. I hope this is helpful to someone, and if you’re applying to MFA programs next year, I wish you the best.

(Holy Masochistic Manatees, Batman. Now I have to prove myself worthy of this thing.)

My grandmother rolled cigars in the HAV-A-TAMPA factory during World War II. She
tells a story I’ve heard hundreds of times about a young lady working beside her who
became so distracted by the smooth baritone of the lector’s reading that she lopped off
the end of a finger with her cigar trimmer. Blood flowed, tobacco was ruined, and the
woman lost her job. “But the worst thing,” Granny says, “is the poor girl never got to
hear the end of that story.”

I am applying to the University of Tampa MFA in Creative Writing program to acquire
the skills to produce consistently successful fiction. My goal is to publish novels and
short stories for the rest of my life. I hope to find mentors in the program to lead me
toward mastery of the craft of writing fiction. I seek to become a strong addition to a
mutually supportive community of writers. During the next two years I intend to find my
literary voice and establish myself as a serious writer. I am encouraged by having
recently sold a short story for the first time.

The U.S. Army has a way of writing a soldier’s life story chapter by chapter. The
constant uncertainty is exhilarating, but thankfully doesn’t last forever. Now that military retirement is upon me, I have new creative license to write my own next chapter. This MFA program is the logical next step toward achieving my long-term goals. It’s the right fit for my needs as an emerging writer, and I believe I will be an asset to the program.

This is a program with deep roots in the multicultural community I call home. As I return
to Tampa for good, I find no writing program better suited to facilitate my transition from soldier to professional writer. Adding value in any way I could to the creative writing program at UT would be a tremendous enhancement to my sense of homecoming and assimilating back into the community and civilian life.

Writing fiction is my calling, and anything else I do is a means to that end. However,
while working toward an MFA, I plan to teach. I am pursuing a high-school teaching
position in the Tampa Bay Area through Troops to Teachers, a U.S. Department of
Defense program that helps eligible military personnel begin new careers as public
school teachers. Regardless of the position I find, UT’s low-residency program allows
the flexibility to live anywhere and structure an effective writing schedule around daily
work requirements.

I am eager to get to work participating in all the UT program has to offer graduate
writing students. I am particularly interested in the Tampa Review Online. The possibility of gaining editing experience while learning what is involved in running a great online journal appeals to me. I look forward to UT’s Lectores public readings of MFA students’ work. I’m excited at the prospect of hearing my own work read there. Gathering together to tell stories is such a fundamental social activity. It fills a hard-wired need we all have as human beings.

My ability to perform independently has been tested and proven in the classroom, the
boardroom, and on the battlefield. Each and every one of my performance evaluations
attest to it. Hand picked to represent the Army at the U.S. Naval War College, I earned
a fully accredited MA in National Security and Strategic Studies during a grueling one-year residence.

Certain aspects of my education and experience do not appear on a transcript. I left
home at the age of nineteen with no financial support from my then single mother. The
first member of my family to attend university, I lacked money, direction, and maturity.
I worked multiple jobs, tutored beginning Spanish, and coached international students
preparing for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Despite my full work
schedule, only the desperate measure of enlisting in the National Guard allowed me to
continue funding my education. Military life suited me, so I earned an R.O.T.C.
commission. Having found direction in life and solved the financial challenges, I soon
paid off my student loan and embarked on a military career. Maturity came later.
I started writing at the age of twenty-eight, while on my first deployment at Guantanamo
Bay Naval Base during the Cuban/Haitian refugee crisis of 1994. I witnessed people
reduced to their core natures, many whose loved ones had been taken by sharks,
drowned, or simply disappeared. Those stories and others must be told, and only fiction
will serve to convey the kind of truth worth a fingertip in the cigar trimmer.

Personal Goal Achieved: I sold a story!

News Flash: I recently sold my first piece of fiction for money–big news from my point of view. It wasn’t much money, but it’s a start. The piece is called “Look Away,” a 5300-word Civil War story I’ve posted chunks of in draft form here on the blog. It placed at an historical fiction audio podcast called Tales of Old. Because ToO purchased non-exclusive rights, I was able to offer it to a second audio fiction podcast, the fantastic Tales to Terrify. That one, strangely enough, is a horror fiction podcast. The editor thought the realistic events in the story were terrifying enough to qualify as “horror.” It will be interesting to see how two different narrators interpret my story. I’ll let you know when it’s available for listening, and after it airs, I’ll probably post the story here for your reading pleasure.

This is a major milesone for me, as I’m just about to retire from active service in the U.S. Army since 1991. A personal goal of mine was to publish at least one story before I become a civilian. Checked that one off–now I’m motivated to try for another before I hang up the uniform for good.

Kinda Busy

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Today is day thirty of my deployment in Kuwait. I’m sorry I haven’t been writing to you all very much. I’ve been kind of busy over here doing, you know, some stuff for these people doing this thing for somebody else. It’s complicated.

Anyway, it’s my last deployment before I retire from the Army. I console myself with that thought every day.

Every. Day. (Everyday.)

Once this gritty sojourn is finished, it’ll be time to start chucking dead weight overboard from my cluttered life and focus on writing. Every day.

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll bear with me.

Occurrence at the Zone 6 Dining Facility, in which No Apples Are Eaten

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I’m sure this government apple is totally safe to eat.

Scene: Christmas Eve, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Zone 6 Dining Facility at Lunchtime

Dramatis Personae: 

Major Steve Howell (in civilian clothes, having the day off)

The Mess Sergeant

*     *     *

“Sergeant, there are some apples back there covered with–”

“White film.”

“–a distinctly un-apple-like substance.”

“Yeah, the Vet inspectors have checked it and say it’s safe.”

“What is that stuff?”

“It’s a white film.”

“A white film.”

“That’s right.”

“You realize nobody’s going to touch that stuff right?”

“Yeah, but we have to serve it.”

“OK. Just thought I’d…mention it.”

The inspector says it’s safe to eat.”

“Thanks, Sergeant.”

Cat Rambo’s “Events at Fort Plenitude”

Krampus

Cat Rambo’s “Events at Fort Plenitude”

This Friday, December 7th, (a day that lives in infamy) Tales to Terrify will air my narration of Cat Rambo’s story, “Events at Fort Plenitude.” I love Ms. Rambo’s writing, and I hope she’ll approve of my interpretation of her story.

If you’re looking for some creepy fantasy-horror to listen to while your eyes and/or hands are busy, check it out. Let me know what you think. More importantly, leave a comment on the Tales to Terrify site. If you really like what you find there, consider buying their first anthology to help support the ‘cast.

I started listening to Starship Sofa way back in its infancy, and remain a loyal fan of Tony C. Smith’s Hugo Award-winning work there. If you’re a science fiction fan and you’re not listening, you’re seriously missing out. There’s more nerdy goodness there than you can shake a gaffi stick at.