Fermented beverage alternatives

I have been looking for organic wine and beer alternatives (for health reasons) to take to parties, other than sparkling cider. My friend Kira recently suggested kombucha, which I hadn’t drank in a while, and was amazed to find so many new varieties of kombucha in stores.


Has anyone tried the options above?  I would like to try these. I found these while researching on DIY kombucha — which J and I made in Austin and are trying to do again. We first started making kombucha from a SCOBY, from my anthropology professor, Dr. Stross. We tossed it into the compost pile when we moved to Siquijor island in 2004. (FYI, kombucha fans: in the SF E. bay now on sale at Whole Foods by case and by bottle. I bought some to drink and also to use as starter.)  Enjoy.

Photo credit: Home brew via the Kombucha Shop


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The logical conclusion to the love story

started in Drawing Restraint 9? (AKA Paying respects to woman-artist’s [continuing] journey)

Photo credit: Costume from the 2008 video for “Wanderlust” via NY Times. (This Shaman woman costume is one of my faves.) Now on display in her retrospective exhibit at MOMA, NY.


No restraint

It’s interesting to me when artists decide to document a love story, involving their partners. A couple of years ago friends Adele, Karl, Nicole and partner, and Wofford came over to watch the documentary No Restraint  (link to trailer) by director Alison Chernick, with John and me. It’s a compelling behind-the-scenes look at the making of the performance artist Matthew Barney’s (Björk’s partner of many years and father of her child) film “Drawing Restraint 9,” mainly filmed on a Japanese fishing vessel with an actual Japanese fishing crew, who seemed baffled, as part of the cast. (Photographer friend Norma watched in absentia.) There’s some narrative involving creativity(?), Japanese rituals and a giant petroleum jelly mold. The story is more eloquently described by SF MOMA. The parallel story line in the DR9 is a love story:

“Below deck, the two main characters participate as guests in a tea ceremony, where they are formally engaged after arriving on the ship as strangers. As the film progresses, the guests [played by Björk and Barney]  go through an emotional and physical transformation slowly transfiguring from land mammals into sea mammals, as they fall in love. ”
DR9, Wikipedia

There were definite call outs after the screening about Orientalism and heated, verbal cabbage throwing, not surprising from a group dominated by asian american creative women. For me, I felt that Björk’s performance and music gave his technically flawless film a soul, as other critics have pointed out.  (The few long films I’ve seen of his generally frighten and disgust me, speaking to the most base parts of my humanity. The main feeling I’ve had after seeing his past films and most recent trailer for River of Fundament (trailer): devolution.)


Lion Song

(and initial thoughts on Björk’s new breakup album, from a Björk *fan*)

** Please watch this on the big screen. Thank you.

Last night, John and I  watched the new moving video Lion Song from Bjork’s latest album, Vulnicura. It made me just feel like I wanted to give her a hug, actually anyone sad from a breakup, a hug. I think it was the string section that got me. What I always loved about Björk’s music, no matter how techno-influenced is: the influence of nature in her music and her describing past creative processes of singing in nature.  I’ve always found her music soulful and transcendent, even though she is labeled primarily as a pop musician who uses a lot of processing in her work. I like her music and would have wished to be at her concert (with tissue box) at Carnegie Hall last week to hear her sing live and with a live string orchestra too.

The “Invisible Woman”

Quite a few interesting articles have been written about the new album, but the most interesting one so far:
The Invisible Woman: A conversation with Björk, by Jessica Hopper in Pitchfork

“You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something.”

Surprisingly, of the insightful threads in the article is about her new album, but about Björk working in the music industry as a woman. One example of the chauvinism she reportedly experienced repeatedly:

“I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats—it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn’t do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album…

After being the only girl in bands for 10 years, I learned—the hard way—that if I was going to get my ideas through, I was going to have to pretend that they—men—had the ideas. I became really good at this and I don’t even notice it myself….”


In her work, I find an artist embodying both traditional and modern female roles. I admire how her work can transcend both with good artistry and humanism. Back to the new album: In one of the most moving songs,  she mourns the death of her family in the song “Family.”

“Is there a place
Where I can pay respects
For the death of my family
Show some respect”




The Invisible Woman: A conversation with Björk, by Jessica Hopper, Pitchfork


Sometimes Heartbreak Takes a Hostage: For Björk, a New Album, ‘Vulnicura,’ and a MoMA Show, by John Pareles, NY Times

Review: Björk at Carnegie Hall, Heartbreak and Pathos, by Nate Chinen, NY Times

Björk sings karaoke cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division

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The Unlikely pacer

I was taking a leisurely stroll through the woods minding my own business, when a shirtless man with a white beard wearing a bib that said “pacer,” popped out of nowhere. He looked like the legendary man I had only read about in books. He introduced himself and indeed, it was the father of modern-day ultra-running. How did I get here?


TRT endurance runs 50k and 50 mile start

TRT endurance runs 50k and 50 mile start



After cheering on team mates John and Henri at the start of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Endurance Run at 6 AM, I started a solo hike through quiet woods with a plan for a nap and a date with my sandwich among the singing aspen trees and shimmering Marlette Lake. The TRT race is one of the hardest (if not the hardest) area trail race — an ultramarathon mountain race at altitudes of 7000 to 9214 feet, with rocky terrain and lots of climbs.  I had just flown into CA days before, and haven’t had anytime to really chill out since taking care of my dying Mom. No friends were available that weekend, so I started on my last-minute trek to the lake alone. After all the crowds and fanfare, I thought this would be a good place to clear my head.



The crazy period started last fall, when I begged my tough elderly mother to retire from her late night shifts at her urban, private medical practice, and at a mental hospital, respectively. One night she got mugged. Another night her car was stolen from outside of her office. On yet another night she called me while driving home to say that she was being followed. I urged her to drive to the police dept.  Then, the crazy year of 2014 started with a call on New Year’s Eve that she was in the hospital. She was in a car accident — she had hit a police car while having a stroke.

My life has been turned upside down since: her illnesses lead to the discovery of her advanced stage of cancer, taking leave from my work, having a long-distance relationship, my unsuccessful fight to move Mom to a hospice among the trees, the literal loss of my voice, her death soon after diagnosis, and now the great solo task of closing down her business and her home on the opposite coast. The stress has become a part of my daily life. I had stopped running  for over a month (any free time was for a bit of sleep), and just haven’t been running much since starting this insane flying between coasts to take care of my Mom and her business in Feb.

Perhaps the endurance running prepared me for the long, overnight shifts taking care of Mom, who could not rest from her intense pain and awoke every 5-10 mins. though she was on morphine. I took shift turns with my pregnant sister (who flew in with her son from their home in Hawaii). When Mom and I did not sleep the night, I looked forward to her going for her radiation treatments so I could take a nap and she could let go of my hand. The problem was that she never wanted to let go of my hand.

I was in my reverie in the forest for about five minutes, then a shirtless guy wearing a bib that said “pacer,” popped out of nowhere. He looked like the Legend I had only read about in books. He introduced himself and indeed, it was Him. I had no choice but to get off my lazy b___.  The Living Legend insisted on running behind me for a while, so I sucked hard on thin air and nervously complied. Later, I attempted to chase him when he sped up. He stopped occasionally to point out such things as a mountain or a grouse, which allowed me to catch my breath. He regaled me with stories (about counseling addicts,  alcoholism, being a chiropractor, Cowman, horse riding, power to weight ratios, dopamine, his last WS race, etc.) as we ran. His stories reminded me that I was out there battling my family’s addiction. I thought of how that addiction lead to the destruction of my poor mother, formerly a smart and successful person.

My mother was born in the countryside, surrounded by the Cordillera mountains. Her parents, who were part of the Philippine resistance, were on the run from the Japanese military during WWII. She moved to the lowlands as an adult. She generally lead a sedentary lifestyle until her death, despite all her travels, medical missions, and raising her children near the South Mountain Reservation. (However, I imagine an alternate reality in which she became an ultra runner, perhaps trekking the Cordillera Great Traverse.) I tried in her final years to make amends, encourage her to hike, do yoga, eat healthy foods, plan an intervention for her addiction with her friends, but I was too late in her lifetime. Slowly, with time, I will erase the illness from my memory with every footfall and every ascent. Today, I took pictures  on the trail, with my Mom’s camera-phone (which I have been carrying to inform people of her death). The pictures are of some of the places I wanted to take her had she actually lived to retire in CA, and been on the road to recovery.


Marlette Lake


The Legend inspired me to run past Marlette Lake — and beyond. We parted ways on the ascent to Marlette peak (where I walked with an injured runner-racer for a while to make sure she was alright). Before he left, I asked him, what is the lesson to your story? He said simply (something like):

“Keep going.”

Two of the most unlikely trail partners to meet on this earth.

Two of the most unlikely trail partners to meet on this earth.



My plan to hike an easy flat-ish ten miles was foiled. It turned into a ~19 mile trek: from Spooner Lake — Marlette Lake — Marlette campground — Snow Valley Peak* — last aid station (to cheer on John) — Spooner finish to meet and support John, and friends Remi, and Nu.
* This is the peak where I usually suffer from lightheadedness from thin air and altitude sickness.


Marlette Lake with Lake Tahoe in background


On the way to Snow Valley Peak







I couldn’t have dreamed of a more amazing day with great friends and volunteers, awe-inspiring natural beauty, and the Ultimate trail partner. I am so blessed to have my health and the angels around me through my life’s continuing, strange, beautiful and awesome journey. Hope you had a good rest of your run, Doc and thank you for the pep talk!

PS Runners, ask me if you want to know what kind of shoes the Legend was wearing and about the mysterious red drink in his hand bottles.  🙂



to my life partner John (55k), friends Henri (50mi), Remi (100mi)! Crew and ultra pacer Nu! You all rock, bravely meeting and surpassing your goals on a tough course, through heat, higher altitude, lightning, and nightfall. John beat his goal in spite of a sprained ankle from the previous weekend. Our friend Henri was one of the runners, who was stuck at Snow Valley peak huddled with a bunch of other’s in a volunteer’s car, waiting out the loud lightning storm. I’m happy you made it down safely and so very proud of you all. Blessed to know these fine runners and see their training progress over the years. Cheers.



The Legend of Dr. Gordon Ainsleigh and how he started the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run:

(It all started 40 years ago…)


Nuggets of wisdom for ultra runners from Dr. Ainsleigh and WSER veterans panel, 2013:


About Dr. Gordon Ainsleigh

Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance trail runs


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Taking care of our seas

Dear People of the Earth,

Stop killing and eating us or most of us may die by 2050.


The Fish

– A fictional letter from the
Fictional Representative of Fish to the United Nations


Image via seafoodwatch.org

Image via seafoodwatch.org


In the article UN issues ‘final wake-up call’ on population and environment, the executive director of the UN Environment Program Achim Steiner,  “warned of a global collapse of all species being fished by 2050, if fishing around the world continued at its present pace.”

“The human population is living far beyond its means and inflicting damage on the environment that could pass points of no return.”

This is not a quote from an activist group like Greenpeace. This quote was from a major report from the United Nations. I really hope that wasn’t our final wake-up call.

Seafood watch

Whats for dinner? Let the pocket guide help you decide.

What’s for dinner? Let the pocket guide help you decide. Source: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org

I went out to dinner with friends who visited the famous  Monterey Bay Aquarium, CA, and showed me their Seafood Watch pocket guide.  Now, I carry the guide in my wallet.  The seafood guides “help make choices that are good for you and the ocean,” according to Seafood Watch.  The useful pocket guides have been helping me make sustainable seafood selections at stores or restaurants, based on scientific data on mercury toxicity, endangered species, and destructive fishing methods.

What is Seafood Watch?

“A program of Monterey Bay Aquarium designed to raise consumer awareness about the importance of buying seafood from sustainable sources. We recommend which seafood to buy or avoid, helping consumers to become advocates for environmentally friendly seafood.”

The Seafood Watch website includes searchable seafood database, downloadable pocket guides, guides for business owners, and form letters for encouraging your local restaurants and stores to offer sustainable seafood.

The guide made me conscious about humanity’s effect on fish and our consumption of fish.  Again, I am reminded of the circle of life, to which as a consumer I can often feel disconnection.  The last time I actually caught my own fish to eat was at Cape Cod, MA when I was a child.  I rarely eat fish these days, and when I do it is usually at a restaurant.

The UN report on the possible global collapse of fish was made in 2007.  I’ve been puzzled by the absence of a major US government plan to meet global warming and related urgent environmental challenges. I’ve been trying to do what I can and vote as a consumer to help.  Along with making sustainable seafood choices when I dine out and buy seafood, I also wrote to our local popular sushi restaurant Kirala and dropped off a seafood pocket guide to its take-out branch, Kirala 2 with a friendly letter.  So far, I have heard no response from them, but hope that others will be inspired to write to them too. We do have much power not only as voters but also as consumers. I do believe that awareness on smart seafood choices can be spread quickly among communities, before it is too late.  I hope to avert the possible future where my children and grandchildren grow up in a world without the fish that were once commonplace in our oceans.

What can I do to help?

Encourage your favorite restaurant to serve ocean- friendly seafood (friendly form letters)

Download a seafood watch pocket guide

Consumers make a difference

Download a sushi guide with Japanese names of fish

Note: The pocket guides are also available at the Ecology Center table at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, CA.


‘Only 50 years left’ for sea fish

“There will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century if current trends continue, according to a major scientific study.”

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A taste of States

by a beginner LD trail runner run-hiker

Weeks ago, a runner friend Loree from our Trail running group asked me if I would like to join her on one of her Western States (WS) training runs to prepare prospective and registered runners for the actual WS 100-mile race in late June. The runs took place this past Memorial day weekend “to acquaint runners with the last 70 miles of the trail.” Over three days, there were runs of 32, 20, and 20 miles over mountainous terrain, respectively. As a show of support for her upcoming race, my spouse John and I signed up for one of the shorter and “easier” training runs. We also thought it would be nice to give Loree a break from driving and run with her for part of the way. As training for this race, Loree had originally planned to commute to each day’s run and run all of them.

To give you an idea of how hard it was for Loree to gain entry into the actual 100 mile WS race: one must complete one of the listed qualifying runs under a stated finishing time of ultra distance. An example of one of the minimum requirements: “50 miles in under 11 hours.” If a runner qualifies, then there is a lottery for new runners to enter, according to the WS website and “odds work out to about one chance in ten (10%) for those with one name in the Hat.” Anyone who gained entry, as people have commented, received the golden ticket.

The day one training run was not only long, but also had the two highest climbs and started at ~9,000 feet.  The day two run, which according to the elevation chart, was a net downhill full of ascents and descents with three miles of climbing at the end. It started at a much lower elevation than the day one run. I believed we could do the day two run it because we’ve been training on hills in our local Redwood and Miller parks. Our longest local training runs in the past couple months were ~20 miles with climbs of up to 1500′ at a time, and we had run hilly trail marathon distances prior to that during the past year.

The WS training run seemed like a good peak run, prior to our upcoming 20-26 mile run in Tahoe three weeks after. They both take place in the Sierra mountains. After we signed up, I read that it was the hottest part of the course because of the reflection of the sun off the canyon wall. Then I looked at the weather forecasts and saw that it would be close to 80 degrees F. Uh oh. We had some heat training in the past month, but mostly run in the morning in the bay area when the temperature is often in the mid-50s F. It looked like John and I unwittingly signed up for the hottest run.


Despite all that, I was secretly excited. Though we would “only” run 1/5 of the WS course (as our fellow running club member Colin pointed out smilingly) and it was on a lower elevation, I was looking forward to seeing part of one of the premiere ultra courses in the world, as I had experienced it in my mind through the narrative in the best-selling book Born to Run by Chris McDougall. I had read it when I started trail running a few years ago and it kept me from quitting numerous times. The visions of the senior Tarahumara people in their 60s running ultras I think will keep the bar high for me until I pass into the next life. Deep down I knew that signing up for this run was equal to signing up for the pain cave for a relative beginner like me. Recalling the book’s nail-biting narrative of a past WS race somehow shifted the focus from my fear of the upcoming training run.

I also focused in on the minutia of prep, which is always a good thing for me to help stop worrying about upcoming run challenges. I trained with a weighted hydration pack, which was new to me, but essential for mountain running. The day before the training run, as per Jane, a runner friend and former competitive cyclist, I filled my hydration bag 3/4 full and froze the water in the freezer to help keep me cool for the upcoming run. I packed our sun hats with attached skirts (friend Nick calls them our foreign legion hats), bandanna to act as an ice collar if needed, sunscreen, food, Clif shots, Vega sport bars, salt sticks, post run food and chocolate milk. We laid out our trail running clothes and shoes. I taped the aid station cut-off times to my watch. (If a runner doesn’t make the cut off time, she is out and must catch a ride back to the start with the volunteers.)

Run day

We left the home in the darkness at 5:00 am to pick up Loree, who was amazingly energetic and regaled us with stories of her previous day’s 32 mile run in rain, snow and hail, with black bears warnings, on the 2.5 hour ride to the edge of Tahoe National Forest to a town called Foresthill. I marvelled at her capacity to stay awake the day after an ultra distance run.

When we arrived, I did the ritual: put on the gear (sun protection, pack, hat, shoes). We signed in and received our paper bracelets with our numbers on them, which the volunteers checked at each aid station. As I looked around, I observed a group of the most fit runners of all ages (~20s to 80s) I have ever seen up close in my life, with their compact, stream-lined hydration packs. It was like this episode of Star Trek: Next Generation where the Enterprise lands on a planet of fit people and everyone dresses like Greek gods and runs/jogs from place to place. The run started with a guy saying “Go” and a cow bell. The super group ran down the road to the trail head, which I was surprised to find was the entrance into a mountainous region (taller than the expected “foothills”).

There was miles and miles of descent, to the degree I had never experienced before as someone unaccustomed to mountain running. It was foggy when we approached the town, so I did not notice until we were running the soaring peaks of the pine-covered mountains until we were running. (According to the WS guide, this part of the course is considered “fairly gentle terrain.”) I did my best to keep Loree in site and had already told her a few times to drop me if needed, because I was new to the heat. (Plus, of course, she is faster and stronger than I.)  My quads were stunned and I tried, as advised to maintain light, quick foot falls, and not pound down and stress out my legs. Surprisingly, I forgot about the load on my back, which I was still fairly new to carrying and enjoyed the cool green pine forest and it’s smells, but the rocky descents lasted long for me with scant time for my legs to have a break and recover.

First aid station

I was relieved to have made it to the first aid station 8+ miles into the day’s course, 40 mins ahead of the cut-off time. There were bananas, pretzels, sports drink, and all the usual fare neatly arranged on a table with the most professional and fit volunteer staff I have ever seen at a trail event. My petite self walked up to a very tall, super fit man with a mustache, wearing a shirt and track pants. He was holding a pitcher of water. I spoke to him at chest level asking for some water please. Loree commented that the man who gave me water was five-time WS champion Tim Twietmeyer, who was volunteering at the aid station. Far out!

After the beautiful forest and pines, we ran by a canyon wall, which as expected, reflected the heat from the sun onto the runners. I slowed down, warned myself not to get too over-confident, and braced myself for the rising temperatures. I saw a group ahead and we all steadily ascended the hills as we headed to the second aid station with a roaring river with rafters down below, which I just wanted to swim in. A few groups of good runners ran by us from the opposite direction, ascending at a steady, strong pace. I wondered if they were doing today’s course twice for practice.  Loree dipped her bandanna into a stream and the rest of us followed suit, wrapping the ice-cold cloth around our necks was refreshing. After running parallel to the river among wildflowers, we hit a dirt fire road and it was amazing to be able to open up, stretch the legs, and run at a steady pace with Loree, which lasted until the next aid station.

Second aid station

Another amazing professional crew of people were ready with sports drink, aid station fuel, and ice to dump into our hydration bags which felt so absolutely amazing. This was the point at which, in the actual race, Loree and the other runners would have to branch off and cross the ice-cold river, some during the day and some at night. Instead of heading toward the river, which many checked out in preparation, we headed up the road of “White Oak Flat” for three up mountain miles to the end. I felt strangely cavalier after I read the name, then could not for the life of me understand why someone named this Flat. It was an ascent that felt like the longest three miles of my running life. Soon I asked Loree to please meet me at the top so I did not hold her back. It was one of the places for me to learn humility and grace as an 80+ year-old man encouraged me and said only 1.5 miles of the climb left as he motored by. This was after I was informed that he had started running at age 47, had surgery at some point and also ran the arduous Leadville 100.

I felt myself pushing my upper limits and approaching the crying point for my legs. I stopped and stood under the shade of a tree until my heart rate dropped a bit. I sucked air out of the hydration tube and realized I was out of water. Resigned to the heat, I shrugged and moved on. I let go of thinking that based on x number of minutes on my watch that the end was around the corner. It took me an hour to climb out of that “Flat.” Loree was at the top, looking absolutely great and relaxed. I was relieved to see her and dragged my legs up to run with her to the end, where they would clip our bracelets and check off on their lists that we made it back alive. John was already there as expected, waiting for us at the final aid station. I ran to the shade of the aid tent, drank a bunch of water, grabbed grapes and followed Loree and John to the bus stop. Runners in fine shape milled around, grazing as we all waited for the bus ride home.

Lessons learned

It was the hardest continuous 20 miles that I’ve ever run because of the continuous mountain ascents and descents, my legs did not get the breaks for which they were accustomed from “local” hill training. As soon as we arrived back at the car and changed, I forced myself to stretch gently and do my leg swings before sitting for the 2.5 hour ride home. I drank my usual recovery chocolate soy milk. It was windy outside, so we sat in the car and ate PBJ sandwiches and sweet potato chips. The temperature display said 80 F.  As we rode off, I realized that my quads were crying. It was a long time since  (at least since I just started running just over a year ago) I’ve had that sensation. I mixed some Vega Sport Accelerator with water (vegan version of Accelerade) and forced myself to drink it. I almost immediately felt better and am now convinced that recovery potions like this work.

Loree directed us toward our food stop for tasty healthy food at the Co-op in Davis. On the way back to the bay area she recommended 50 mile races — though we have not even run a 50k yet! (At present, I think I am too vain to run more than 50k. I already have toe nails that seem to be falling off.) All in all it was a good learning experience in mountain running for me. I will read the WS guide again before our next mountain training run in Tahoe next month. It was nice to have any remaining traces of romantic ideas about the WS adventure beaten out of me in only 1/5 of the course. The amazing athletes and volunteers were super, super nice and this is what makes trail running special. Great run Loree and John. She really looked steady and great out there after running an ultra in a storm the day before. Thanks Loree for being an inspiration and John for getting us to the food stop and home safely!

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Mission: Fat ass

“See you next weekend. Good luck and, As always, should you or any of your Ultrarunning Acquaintances be hurt or killed, I will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”

That was the message I received from our contact before we departed this past Saturday, Feb. 11. John (my spouse), Christian, Yoko and I carpooled to a secret location in the pine tree-covered Santa Cruz mountains. We met our enthusiastic fellow running club member Colin, who made me laugh. He said he had been telling “everyone at work that I’m running in a secret race — bought me some serious street cred.”

I pointed Christian toward last year’s fastest guy Jean and jokingly told him to follow that guy. (Later, I saw Christian sprinting and he caught up with the guy.) I had read the run report from last year’s top finisher Jean–he had been “stunned” that the first ten-mile loop, the easiest, took him two hours to complete. I knew it would be easy to get lost.

The forecast was for sun all day for the Second Saratoga Fat Ass non-event, but it was 43 degrees and raining when we arrived. The rain and low temperatures would last all day. (A rain cloud hovered over this part of the mountains, but it was sunny on the rest of the peninsula.) We put on our rain jackets, packed our maps and fuel, water belts, and we started running.

What is a Fat Ass?

A FA is basically a flash mob for trail runners. This course consisted of three loops of ten miles each. Runners were invited to do as much as they wish. I’m just a beginner runner (at long distances). I have only ran one other FA so far, but I have grown fond of them. The FA rules:

“No fees, no awards, no whining.”

My plan was to run as much as I could within six hours. I tried to keep my partner Yoko in sight, but lost her within 15 minutes in the dense forest. I ran the rest alone, but with help from other runners who pointed me in the right direction. Luckily, other runners had made arrows out of branches, which they placed on some trail intersections. Loop one was my favorite. At one point I edged around a boulder with a steep ravine below using cables to guide and hold onto. Thankfully, the valley was obscured by dense clouds or I would have been nervous about the drop below. as I crawled across slippery boulders.

Santa Cruz Mountains

Thick green moss covered the trees and signs read, “Do not eat the mushrooms.” Some boulders resembled large faces.

The First rule

“of Fight Club [Fat Ass] is you do not talk about…” When I yet again got off-course, I met David  who ran with his son, had marked courses for races and helped me get on the right track. While most wore rain gear with hats and carried water bottles and fuel, the strong, white-haired man wore minimal attire:  thin Fivefingers shoes, a t-shirt and light shorts. I tried to make small talk and asked him if he ran with a running group named BARF. He paused, pointed to a woman and said, “No I’m with her.” His eyes darted back and forth, cautiously.

“It’s a Fat Ass NOT a Fast Ass”

— John

I returned after the first loop to the parking lot, frustrated, because I was so far behind partner Yoko and friends. Judith, who I knew through a running group called BARF, was there. (BARF was started by two friends when they were in their 40s and who are now in their 60s. The youngest 20-something member was known by the founders from birth. One of the oldest is a 65 year-old woman ultra runner.)  Judith asked me if I was looking for two guys in blue vests (Colin and John). I said, “yes.” She laughed and told me that those two repeatedly went off-course. They sometimes appeared ahead, and other times behind her group. John and Colin had left on the second loop about 45 mins ago.

It was not the coordinator’s fault that navigation was difficult. His directions were fine, but some sign posts were uprooted and lying on the ground. I could not see the position of the sun because of the rain cloud that hung over the mountain. Many, including my lost buddy, did extra loops by accident. A guy who ran this course for his fourth time got lost.

I started the second loop, mistakenly thinking I could get through it faster than the first. I struggled up an endless ascent on two miles of Travertine trail. My six-hour cut off time passed. I was soaked, muddy and upset, but rallied my hazy, tired mind to focus on the way home. I had one energy gel left, and opportunities for potable water refill stops were ample. “Relentless forward motion.” I recalled Coach Will’s words.


The best part about this Fat Ass is meeting trail runners from all over the area, — and that the happening was free. There were runners in about their 20s. I was helped by ultra runners in their 60s. There was true Friendship through trail running.  Back at the parking lot, John said friends and a couple of top guys from the Quicksilver running club (who got locked out of their car) waited in the cold rain after they finished. He invited them and our friends into our car to warm up and share food.

I finished after about ~25 mi., running only two of three loops, doing a slow samba more than a run. It was my first time running that distance in my weeks-old New Balance 110 trail shoes. The lugs worked well on slippery rock and the protective plate in the sole, which I don’t have in my other shoes (the lighter, more flexible minimalists: VFF Bikila and NB Minimus trail), protected my feet well in the rocky areas.

Runner-strangers greeted me, asking me if I was ok. I had no idea why they were so nice. Then, Christian greeted me and told me the John-Yoko-san search party just left looking for me, along with the car, dry clothes, & food. A smiling Adventure Anna had offered to run the course backward to help find me. Christian took a photo of me finishing. He said I looked fresh.  I was smiling. (Strange what running does to you because I recalled being miserable and starving at that moment.)

When we regrouped, we shared onigiri rice cakes that Yoko had kindly made for us, Christian’s high calorie cookies & PB, chocolate soy milk, and electrolytes.  Then we all piled into the car and drove away from the mountain top. The weather was bright and sunny. When we looked back, we could see that the rain cloud remained over the forest. We headed over to Lyfe Kitchen for serious eating and sharing stories of our adventure.

What I like about trail running

The FA had elements of everything I like about trail running:  the physical challenge of running long distances on various terrains and elevations, forest, new adventures, discovering new flora and fauna, meeting new people, feeling humbled by the beauty and power of nature, learning from elder runners, navigating through strange places, meditation. Through trail running, I’ve met the most inspiring, gracious, and strong ordinary people running extraordinary  distances.


Post script


For runners considering becoming Fat Asses next year:

“Fat Ass runs are not running races as such, and they are not public events. It’s more like a fun day out. Some people may record times but this is not the prime objective. If you are looking for a running race then there are heaps of real ones to choose from elsewhere.” — Cool Running

Don’t get too fixated on finish times –yours or others. Some runners didn’t register or record their times on the FA website this year. Furthermore, times cannot be compared equally because many people reported getting lost. (Everyone from our group went off-course –though we carried maps, turn sheets, and text descriptions.)  Most seemed to be running easy as if training for upcoming major ultra events. Overall, it was a nice way to train, hang out with friends, and learn about the area trails.

Would I do this again?

He__ yeah!  Well, maybe I will run only the first scenic loop –plus chill-ax and prepare a mini-aid station, sustenance, and space blankets for my fellow runners next year.

Thanks: team BRC (Yoko-san, John, Colin, Christian), Yoko-san-John search party, Adventure Anna who offered to help find and rescue me, Christian (1st BRC’er to finish) who cheered me at the finish, our contact “The Secretary” for coordinating, David and Kat for helping me find my way. Shout out to BARFie Judith. Thanks for the fellowship and positive energy. See you Fat Asses in 2013!

Happy trails.


History of the Fat Ass 

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Running lightly on the earth in minimalist shoes, part II

A novice runner’s detailed review of Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes

There were many reviews on the internet about Vibram FF KSO shoes, but few reports from novices like me — and women. Non-runners, family, friends, old people, young people, and strangers have asked me many questions about my shoes when I wear them. Strangers stared at them. Furthermore, some relatives had never heard of these shoes and thought my shoes were a joke. Therefore, I decided to write this detailed review.

Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes

Side view

Side view

The experience:  Day one wearing Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes

When I finally acquired my new shoes from See Jane Run (where they were selling like hotcakes), I was glad to ditch the aqua shoes. Since the aqua shoes were made of neoprene, my feet sweated during my runs and the neoprene was not designed to wick the moisture from feet. (See the previous post A novice runner’s thoughts on barefoot running and minimalist shoes where I describe running in aqua shoes — to get a taste of running in minimalist footwear).

On day 16 of my running program, I switched to wearing Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes. (I alternate my running days with cross-training days, when I usually go barefoot for non-running activities.)  I ran 2.75 miles at Berkeley Marina, on flat surfaces to break them in.  I felt soreness on calves afterward — not uncomfortable, they just felt tighter and more worked out. As expected, the soles of the shoe were a vast improvement on my aqua shoes. They were denser, but still relatively thin. They allowed me to feel the texture of the ground, and roll on the balls of my foot comfortably.

They were breathable and felt great for running. Soon after the run, I changed to slip-on shoes to air out my sweaty feet and the KSOs. They are comfy for me for running, but not for lounging. Also, on a cool or cold day, my feet tend to get cold in them if I am not engaged in exercise.

A recent run

On Saturday, April 23 at dusk, I ran five miles slowly in hilly Tilden park with views overlooking San Francisco, the bay, and the sunset. It was run day 19, and day four running in new Vibram FiveFingers shoes. (Note: On a previous five-mile run in Tilden, the shoes started rubbing on the inner, middle sides  of my feet, halfway through the run. I got mild blisters.) On this April 23 run, I made the strap looser to compensate for foot swelling and felt no discomfort whatsoever. To prevent blisters on long runs, runner Barefoot Ted wore Injinji socks.

The spouse left me in dust as usual, to run to end of trail and back to meet the grazing cows. The slow run in nature was beautiful. The forest smelled fresh and earthy, and the rolling green hills made me feel peaceful. Large, dark birds of prey were out plucking small animals off the ground.  My new shoes felt great and helped me, my feet, legs feel stronger! The husband too ran in his new KSO shoes — but longer, eight miles and enjoyed them.



I bought these shoes for my workout and because the scientific research in the aforementioned websites and articles say that the conventional running shoes, with the thick heel and technical features do not necessarily prevent injury. Plus, the shoes are versatile and can be used for other fitness activities. I also personally don’t have a history of foot problems and prefer low shoes.

This past week, I noticed improvements in my other exercises as a result, I believe, of strengthening my feet with minimalist shoes. During “balance challenge” exercises like one leg balances with weights, and the warrior three pose in Vinyasa yoga, I am able to hold a steadier position. I noticed the grip of my foot and my arch feel stronger in these positions (versus the time prior to running in minimalist shoes). The skin on the bottom of my feet became thicker, specifically on the ball area. It has felt exhilarating to run in thin shoes, free my toes for a work out, and feel more of a connection to the ground.

Other benefits from my experience:

  • My senses open up more than with other shoes
  • My feet and arches feel stronger
  • For me, it feels like riding a bike versus an SUV
  • I feel more present when I work out barefoot or minimalist shoes because it encourages consciousness about feeling the ground, not landing in a way that hurts me, and looking out for stepping in glass, pollution, etc.

My future goals

  • I hope to enter my first run this year. Since I am a slow, novice runner, I would like to enter a 5k  for fun, and perhaps to join and support my friend, colleague, and cancer survivor Tita Loreta in a race to benefit cancer research.
  • I hope to work up to barefoot running on the grass or a track.

Shopping tips

  • If you are interested in buying the FiveFingers, look at the chart on the Vibram website to determine which model is right for you and your particular sports.
  • Click on “Size and fit” at the bottom of this webpage for instructions on measuring your feet for a good fit.
  • Be sure to find the right size for your specific model shoe.  Important: not all model shoes have the same size charts! (When I went to REI to try different models on, the staff did not inform me of this.)  Consult with each model’s size chart before trying on shoes.

New models
If you are in no hurry to buy the shoes and can afford to spend more money, you may want to wait for the new models of the shoes. According to the fan site birthdayshoes.com (see photos of the new models in different colors on this site), “Rumors put the suggested retail price at $100” for the new FiveFingers Bikila model, designed specifically for running. (When I purchased my KSOs, the retail price was $85, on sale for about $68  at the See Jane Run store, during their anniversary sale.) The new Bikila model is apparently named after the Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, who ran the 1960 Summer Olympics marathon barefoot and won.

The original Bikila. "Running without shoes, Bikila, an Imperial Guardsman in Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie's court, pulls ahead in the 1960 Rome marathon." Photo: Popperfoto/Getty Via: Time.com

Vibram CEO Tony Post reviewed the Bikila.  I found product descriptions, specs, and photos of the new Bikila and new Speed models on the New Zealand Vibram site. (The new models did not appear yet on the US site at the time this article was published.) The new models were built on a “new platform,” different from the previous models. Post said the Bikila should start “hitting the first stores in late April.” However, the New Zealand site says these new models will be released in June.

New Vibram FiveFingers Bikila shoes in gray. Via: birthdayshoes.com

New Vibram FiveFingers Bikila in blue. Via: birthdayshoes.com

How to transition to Vibram FiveFingers

There are no instructions that came with my shoes on how to transition. Prior to buying the shoes, I recommend doing as many indoor and outdoor activities with bare feet. Here are some important tips on how to transition from your old shoes to the FiveFingers on the Vibram website, and from coach Michael Sandler, author of Barefoot Running, a former professional cyclist and skater, who “has coached both cycling and professional running teams.” In his article, Sandler describes “ways in which our feet are weak” and “how to get strong for FiveFingers.” (I recognized the condition of my previously wimpy feet in his descriptions– from formerly wearing traditional sport shoes.) These important articles must be read before one’s first workout with the new shoes. Enjoy!



(as of 4/1/2012)

May 8, 2010
It was day 24 of my running program and day nine wearing KSOs. I ran five miles on the Nimitz trail in the Tilden park hills. (Like the previous Saturday, two-thirds into run, the toes on my left foot got tingly. The feeling went away before the finish.) I realized that this feeling happened every time I ran up two hills toward the end of the run, and started lazily dragging my left foot close to the ground. When I adjusted my use and lifted my left foot more when running up hills, the tingly-numb feeling went away. Since I have been wearing non-cushioned shoes, I found I have been able to feel when my form was bad immediately and correct it right away.

May 21, 2010
The new VFF Bikila model is available online for pre-order at See Jane Run and REI.

November 2010
My husband and I ran the half-marathon portion of the Bangkok marathon, Thailand in our VFF KSO shoes. We met and conversed with Thai runners on the course who were curious about our shoes, which they had never seen before!

April 2011
I bought a pair of silver-green Bikila VFFs to replace my KSOs, which now have holes in them from lots of wear! I use them for my Thursday morning runs on the paved and dirt trails at Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley and track workouts.


Articles and books

Minimal shoe reviews, Barefoot Runner

Consider Wearing this Shoe if You Want to Run Barefoot by Dr. Michael Nirenberg

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Transitioning to minimalist shoes
Transitioning to Minimalism, Running Times

Switching to Fivefingers by the Vibram Biomechanics Advisory Board

How To Transition into Vibram Five Fingers, runbare.com

How to Reap the Benefits of the Barefoot/Minimalist Running Movement without Getting Hurt by Coach Jenny Hadfield

Barefoot Ted

Vibram FiveFingers footwear

New FiveFingers Sprints Do Rocks 

Notes:  A look at Barefoot Ted’s form while running briskly on fist-sized rocks, a hill, and VFFs. In real time and slow motion. Notice the quick, small, light steps.

Running with Hiko and Edgar in KSO Treks – Slow Motion – Barefoot Ted
Notes:  A look at Barefoot Ted’s form while running on a flat in slow motion in VFFs.

2007 Vibram FiveFingers Sprint Test – Running & Balancing

VFF/City Sports All-Star Barefoot Running Clinic

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