Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On Attempting to Find a Voice

            About six years ago, I made a point to write on a daily basis, and with this fixation came a voice. I had one, it was obvious, honest, a bit jaded and sardonic, but it existed. I could send people a piece of fiction blindly and they would know it was mine—not by the content, but the stylized voice I had developed. But back then I was a mid-twenties, searching for purpose and meaning, lost in the cliché of my own existence type guy. Movies such as Almost Famous and Garden State captivated me (in many ways they still do).  Then poof, life intruded, the dream of being a writer danced into the back of my brain, hid, and took a long time to return.
            Today, as I have renewed my focus on writing and pursuing my dreams, I have been going back through my material. I want to know if there is something there worth working with, or if I should dump it and start anew. The unpublished stories are laced with the same ideas as the two movies mentioned above, the same conquests of self-discovery, the constant the dead end to said quest, and the overplayed personal melodrama such moments bring. Perhaps why they remain unpublished? At 25, working full-time, newly married, one always wondered and considered the purpose of it all. The mortgage could not be the life dream. The vacation could not be the goal. The odd moments spent walking, running, or perusing social networks, the moments where one felt alone, isolated, and unwanted, could not be what defined life. Yet, as I read the work of a man in that age group, that apparently was life.
            I remember when I consulted some of college professors about the prospect of applying for an MFA in Creative Writing. They all had the same message: get out there, live life, have experiences, and then, once you are a real person start writing again. Let that person, a person who has something legitimate to both say and share, decide if they need an MFA and if they want to be a writer. Now, looking back, I find that this advice was spot on. While I like some of my old stories, they scream of the MFA story. No one wants to read them. No one wants to wander through the halls of lost existence, especially those that are lost.
            Today, after nine years of a professional career, eight of marriage, and three of parenthood, life seems different. I have things to say and I am not sure I need an MFA to do it. Thus, as I look for a literary voice, a new one not divorced from the past but evolved from it, I am trying to find the honesty in humanity, the sense of who and what I am, and how I see the world. This post exists as the first of many on the subject. What this voice is and where it will lead is the question.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Skora Core Shoe Review

Skora Family.

As a Skora Ambassador, I have been looking at photos of their new line for quite some time and salivating at their two new models: The Core and The Phase. Expanding the Skora line to four models (adding to The Form and The Base), the shoes, both extremely light weight and highly flexible, create a more natural, evolved experience that their predecessors. I’m quickly falling in love with The Core (if planning to buy the shoe, click the link to for a 10% price break).

Out of the box.
First off, the shoes look awesome. They have a great leather build, a futuristic look, and they hold up to their web appearance. When people see this shoe I get questions, lots of them, and interest. The curb appeal is high and I couldn’t wait to put them on and my wife couldn’t wait to play with them. Once I pried them from her hands, I went for a walk in them barefoot, and the ground spoke to me. My other Skora models have ground feel, but The Core, with a stack height of 11mm, hugs the earth. The insole, a meager 3mm fit, provides comfort without masking your foot’s sensations. You feel pebbles, bumps, and cracks in the concrete. Plus, when a headlight or flash hits the shoe, the outline of the shoe glows, a feature that provides a nice touch of safety for a mostly nighttime runner.

That said, I’ve used the shoes for both speed work and recovery. My first workout, a series of 300m intervals leading my middle school girls, felt fast and fleet of foot. The shoes grasped the ground and I felt more secure driving my legs off of them than in the Forms. Most of this sensation came from the flexibility of the shoe—it moved where I wanted it to at all times and grabbed the track with ease. Yet, I did notice the lack of padding in comparison with my everyday shoe, the Form. After about five miles, I detected some tenderness in my forefoot, something that will abate with time as I acclimate to the new ride.
Since then, I’ve taken the Cores off the track, hitting the road and the grass. On the grass, they outperform any trail model I’ve ever touched. They still feel fast, and at times I thought I was barefoot and actually was shocked when I noticed I was wearing shoes. Such thoughts only made the workout more fun, pushing me through my intervals. On the road, you miss the thickness of the insoles found in Skora’s other models, but in terms of an easy or recovery run on the road, they are perfect—you are forced to confront and work on form while stepping lightly.

Beyond running, the shoe is great for casual wear. I’ve already found myself wearing them in place of my Vivobarefoot Dharma when outside of work. My first such go around came at our regional track meet, where I sported the cores for over twelve hours without the calf and leg pain I had wearing old Nikes the week before. I felt great standing around and had no problem running across campus to deal with issues as they came up. After such a day, the Cores were nominated to walk across Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Winding through fantasy craziness, I never once thought about what was on my foot, instead enjoying the day with my daughter (minus the afternoon rain).

  • The toe box is amazing—wide, open, and perfect to allow your toes to spread out. You will not get blisters in this shoe, because your toes will not rub together.
  • You feel everything, with or without the insole. You can walk and run the way you are intended to walk, with full sensation. 
  •  Flexibility. These shoes bend every which way, and they do so with little to no effort.
  • This shoe is sexy. Foot candy and I cannot say it any better. The leather looks and feels awesome. 
  •  The heel is fixed. On the Form, it tended to sag at times, now it is a bit more rigid and hangs where it should.
A wide toe box versus a narrow.
  • You feel everything. I love this fact, but many people may not. Understand that Skora’s motto is run real. You will run real in this shoe. 
  • Padding. This is an elaboration of con one. If you want to run on a pillow, don’t buy this shoe. If you want to run real, it has sufficient padding for speed workouts, trail runs, and road runs around the 5-7 mile range. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Coaching Nostalgia

First off I consider myself lucky. I coach on the track I ran on in high school. I report to the man who coached me in high school. Not many people can say they have these rights. That said, today was a special day. It was not that I was able to run, I do that nearly every day, but I was able to run with my runners today who normally leaves me in the dust. He is a junior and I have redacted his name, but he is the last of our distance boys. Our girls team is well represented, but our boys fell apart at the district level. On Saturday, April 27, he will run the 3200m in the state meet, he is seeded 11th based on season bests, but recent results put him in the running for a podium finish in a tactical race.

He was not always this good. I remember him as the awkward freshman that could barely finish a race, much less break 20:00 in a 5k (he runs in the low 16:00’s now). Pain was not his friend, pain was his crutch, his reason not to run. But he grew. The first time he broke 20:00 came on the beach, in a 5k I dragged him to in order to help pace me on a Mother’s Day morning. All he decided to do was win the thing, barefoot. So, we used to run together with little problem. Today, we only do so when he needs to go slow and I want to pick the pace up a bit, meeting in the middle on days where it meets our goals. Today was one of those days, a day where he wanted to recovery from his last speed session of the year and needed some company.

Before I go farther, I didn’t make this runner, in fact I’m not sure any runner is ever made—he made himself. Sweat, determination, and a growing immunity to pain have crafted him into the man he is. But for the last three years, I have been his sounding board. We discussed minimalist running together, barefoot training, and he now runs exclusively in the style, wearing Vivobarefoot Evo, New Balance Minimus, and Skora Form (often he will run workouts sans shoes regardless of the surface). He throws nutritional plans at me, personal training regimens for the offseason (he is famous for going outside our training plans), strength work, and seeks out inspiration. His questions keep me moving, digging, and searching for answers. Over the past few years, I’ve watched him change and grow, and even though we speak daily, the running part has become a distant past.

Today I was able to learn where he is, what he plans to do in his race Saturday—we literally discussed every lap, situation, scenario, and goal. More importantly, he has committed to guts. He wants to run on guts and determination, not just Saturday, but every day for the next 365 days, until his senior season comes to halt at next year’s state competition. Lofty summer mileage goals (700+), time commitments, team goals, and well a lifetime of running mark his mind. He wants to instill the idea in his teammates, to create a program based on want and power as much as natural talent. In his mind, the sky is the limit. Thus the nostalgia—I’ve had the pleasure of watching him grow. I have the pleasure of running on the same track I ran on high school, working for the same man that coached me. Hopefully, it doesn’t change, hopefully this runner reaches his goals, just as I aim to reach mine.

Current Goals:
Guana last year via Speedy Banana
  • Break 20:00 again in a 5k. Last time I did this was high school. My recent PR was a 20:06 in February. 
  • Drop my marathon time in two stages:
  • Run my first Ultra, a 50k, on December 1, 2013. The Guana 50K Trail race.
Skora Cores

Current Shoe Rotation:
  • Skora Form for recovery and length 
  •  Altra One for recovery and length
  • Skora Core for speed and shorter distances 

Skora Phase, a mesh version of the Core.

Fiction Archive: Roadkill

This piece was published in the UK by Thirteen Magazine, a short lived quarterly horror publication.

by Steven Stam

Each time I cross University Avenue I envision a car bursting through my body, destroying my bones, spewing my blood, and rendering me broken.  Each time I cross the street I think about what would happen if I stopped walking and left myself to traffic.
When I stand on a street corner, I contemplate the appearance of a pusher, feeling my skin pucker and tremor.  My casual, unsuspecting posture marks me an easy victim for a man with a shoving fetish.  A car would crush my skull, my life, my existence. 
I find my worries odd, perplexing, but view them as real.  I am a man.  I am fragile and mortal. My bones will break, have broken before, and the discerning moment when the structural support of one’s body shatters, never leaves a man.  Watery eyes, the souring of my stomach – conditions burrowed away as a hidden, grinding alarm.
When I cross the street adrenaline infuses my limbs.  Pebbles slip and grind beneath rubber soles.  Burgeoning thoughts of slipping, thoughts of becoming roadkill consume.  Mistaken death is the problem—I want the choice. 
Roadkill is simple – lifeless bodies, chunks of fur with eyes and feet and paws and gore.  A lame, inert raccoon scars the gutter at my feet.  Perhaps the raccoon scurried across the road in search of garbage, a mate, or to duck into a sewer home, but instead it met the end of worldly animation.  The raccoon represents a single animation cell, a passive scene in need of being flipped with others.  The exact thing I desire to do.
As a child, death fascinated me.  I couldn’t comprehend how an opossum, one I’d witnessed forage for food in the night, could be reduced to a trash covered corpse for collecting ants; how my grandfather could be reduced from a man to a static doll of waxy flesh. 
The one thing man seems centered around is death.  Proof is found in religion, on television, in music, on the Internet.  Most of what humans encounter in some way deals with mortality.  Even deities succumb to the constraints of flesh, melt to worldly trauma.  I believe that if man understood death beyond the bounds of the physical life, then I might be able to take the next evolutionary step.
I step away from the corner, over the raccoon and its outstretched paw.  The paw prays for help, for mercy, for acceptance.  Entering the road, I feel a few stones, discern sturdy footing, and turn to face mortality.  A white sedan bears down.  A female driver, sunglass shielded eyes, cell phone to the ear.  She observes my presence in front of her, I think.  She maybe even takes her foot off the gas, but her mind expects me to move.  Today though, I pursue the ultimate mystery, I give chase.  Closing my eyes, I think of holding the lifeless body of an opossum.  Ants nip my hands.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Vivobarefoot Dharma: A Minimalist Office Shoe

Plantars Fasciitis—many a person has been there and I’ve seen them run the gamut for therapy. Run less, stop running altogether. Buy orthotics, roll your arch with a frozen water bottle, stretch your Achilles tendon, do towel stretches, and I’ve even seen some people get surgery, multiple times. No one ever seems to have relief. The feel that knife like stab in their arch, they don’t know why, and it wears on them.

Three years ago, as I was making my minimalist shift and undergoing my running resurgence, I was mired in the midst of this very predicament. The condition did not appear in conjunction, but before,
Photo from Altra showing the difference of a wide toe box.
a beacon of a problem. I had a steady feel, a ripping of sorts that followed my steps, running or walking. I am not here to debate the effectiveness of any or all of the above therapies, but I addressed the issue with a multipronged approach, first tackling therapy and then shoes. I had been wearing traditional office shoes, the closed toe, rigid type available everywhere. My toes were locked in, my heels raised, my arches shoved up with support. Sometimes stylish, sometimes not, I always found pain, not comfort. These shoes were designed as if people did not trust or understand the human foot, as if they thought our foot to be inadequate. Thus I began my search for something better. Finally, just as switched my running shoes, I found a work place solution: Vivobarefoot’s Dharma.

I first found the Dharma at Black Creek Outfitters, a local active lifestyle store, the camping, kayaking type that was the first to embrace the minimalist movement in my area. They had Vibrams before Vibrams had palpable demand. They had Vivo as well, and thankfully they stocked this shoe, sporting a wide toe box, one where your toes spread out, stretching and moving the natural barefoot way while meeting work place demands. A leather shoe is the standard, and the Dharma doesn’t disappoint. Coming in either a sleek black or coffee brown, they are sharp, but built to last (each pair has given me over a year and a half of daily, all day wear). The shoe is zero drop with a stack height that is virtually non-existent on a thin, puncture proof sole. It is the pinnacle of flexibility, bending in half with nary an effort,
giving the shoe the ability to move anyway your foot desires. Each shoe comes in a separate shoe bag, a nice gray one that can easily hold both and is composed from recycled materials. I love these bags and use them for travel, packing food and watches in one, running shoes in the other,thus isolating my materials and keeping my packed clothing clean.
A pair over a year old.

When I started wearing the shoe, my students always commented on comfort. The shoe looks comfortable, and it is, but not because of padding, but because you can feel every step, feel the ground, and become one with your movements again. My feet didn’t hurt because of these shoes; they seemed to feel relived, relaxed, and ready to work on more active endeavors. My balance muscles developed, my arch became active, rejuvenated. Two weeks later, two weeks after starting to wear them and dumping the arch support and toe pinching of other models, my arches felt relief. Like a ghost in the night, Plantars Fasciitis vanished with out a trace. Thus, I wear the Dharma everywhere I’m not running but the beach (I do sometimes trade them for Skoras on the everyday circuit now, the Core has similar properties in flex, feel,and toe box).

These shoes are pricey: $110 if you can’t find them on sale, but as stated above, I wear them eight hours a day, five days a week at a minimum. Most of these hours are on my feet, and they last minus a scuff here or there, as can be seen in the above picture.

1. Light, flexible sole and leather. Full ground feel, as if you are barely wearing the shoe.
2. Toe Box: wide and properly shaped. Your toes will spread, your balance will grow.
3. Slip on style makes for and easy, quick on and off experience

1. The black riming of the sole rubs off quickly. When this happens the shoe can have a less clean appearance.
2. Like most leather products, the shoe can stretch. Plan accordingly with your size. My first pair, a 45, was perfect until the stretching. My second pair, a 44, was much better after it stretched. Perfect fit.