Sunday, October 28, 2012

You call that Failure? Lessons Learned in m.c.'s path to the Iron Maiden Attempt

What can one say about "almost" making a goal? Is a miss as good as a mile? Or is success still simply in just "showing up" as dan john says, and valuing the PR?

Of course the line is easier to draw under a goal as something "complete" when the objective is achieved: the accolades that attend are lovely. But that may just be selling oneself and one's practice short. As i said during the olympics - so few athletes get prizes but what does it take just to be part of that field? What of that story?

Stepping Up

This past weekend (saturday Oct 27, 2012 to be precise) i "showed up" for something called the Iron Maiden Challnege. This is part of the RKC kettlebell scene, and i've written about the challenge before, quite a bit in fact - i'll list a few articles at the end of this one for reference.

Iron Maiden Quick review.
There are three lifts: the pistol (a single leg squat) with the 24kg kettlebell, a pull up with a 24 kg kb hung from the waist, and a single overhead press with a 24kg kb.

My concern about a month out was that i had to big a hurdle to make for one move - the press - to get to the challenge - that i'd really need another two months to be solid, just based on progress to that point. As the time approached it seemed close enough however to give it a go: who knows what adrenilin might do?

Down at the First Hurdle? Ironically, both my attempts on the pistol - my strong event - ha! were disqualified, so i couldn't officially test the remaining two. It seems i'd practiced an incorrect form. Great time to find out, eh?

For example: here is K.C. Reiter's successful pistol - please note bell position relative to hips on coming up and any movement with the arms.

Now here's mine. Please note the same details:

So you can see where a person may be a wee bit forgiven for being surprised.

Now - a lesson learned here may have been to go up to the judges prior to the actual event and to say - does this look right - in fact i did that with my dead hang position for the pull up because that was the only place i had a doubt about form! Never ever did i think my pistol was wrong.

Here are the rules that i had from the 2010 RKC manual (which is a fluke that i had as i certed before then and they ain't in my manual):
The competitor must perform one (1) rock bottom Pistol holding the 48kg
(106lbs.) kettlebell.
‐ The competitor can choose which leg to use for the attempt.
‐ The competitor is granted two (2) attempts and can rest for as long as
necessary between attempts.
‐ The referee must give a clear “Go” signal before any attempt can be made.
‐ Chalk is allowed.
‐ The non-working leg must be extended to the front of the body.
‐ The non-working leg must be kept off the ground during the entire
‐ The knee of the non-working leg does NOT have to be straight.
‐ The hamstring and calf of the working leg must touch in the bottom
position of the pistol. (personally i was most happy at getting this hamstring/calf touch)
‐ The kettlebell may be held by its horns with two (2) hands in front of the
body or it may be cleaned and held in the racked position of either side of
the body.
‐ The foot of the working leg must NOT move during the attempt.
‐ The referee must approve the competitor’s attempt with a clear “Yes” or
“No” signal before the competitor may put the kettlebell down. If the
competitor fails to do this and does not wait for the signal the attempt will
be invalid.
‐ The competitor does NOT have to pause at the bottom of the pistol.
What disqualifies an attempt?‐ The competitor fails any of the above-mentioned standards.
‐ The competitor tries to stand up “around the kettlebell”. Notice the
subtlety of extending the working leg from the bottom position but
keeping the hip in a flexed position thus keeping the kettlebell in the
same vertical distance from the ground until the knee is extended and
then doing a “One-Legged Goodmorning” to stand erect. The increase in knee angle when standing up should correspond to a similar verticalelevation of the kettlebell.
THere doesn't seem to be anything in this version of the rules about arm movement disqualifying an attempt or that the arms have to do anything - which is what i was called on as "doing a curl" with the bell. In the rules that i have, however, it seems that as long as the knee doesn't come up before the bell, you're good. I don't think i'm doing a "good morning" around a bell and then pulling up the bell?

So perhaps - again - the rules got changed between 2010 and today and i should have thought to ask dragon door months ago when i started prepping for a copy of the latest version just to make sure there were no changes. It's just not something i anticipated!  If you're an RKC with a more recent version of the manual and can check for any other bits, please let me know if the rules have changed, and perhaps send me the changed bit...thank you. EDIT - have now seen this is the same wording in the 2011 RKC manual. Have just been told, however, that there is a change in the August 2012 manual that reads "The pelvis may not raise faster than the kettlebell."   Hmm.

The best solution i suppose is just to be prettier so there's absolutely no ambiguity about form, eh, so that judgement doesn't have to enter into it. How long to get a 24 pistol, with the bell in the rack?

Take away:  where and when possible - check with judges to ensure what you're doing is what they call right; get the version of the rules that will be used at the event well in advance.

Another irony? i was obsessive about getting the rules for recertification well in advance and making sure i had everything agreed on weigh ins and movements - but the challenge rules? Why did i miss that? JEEZE.

But at this point - you fail on one event, you're done! that's it for the rest of the event.

We Perform what we Repeat - who SAID that?

"What?" - m.c. learning her second
pistol attempt was also a form dud.
While the other competitors were recovering for their next lift, i did volunteer to try the press which has been my bete noir, and i did get it on the second attempt - but for my knees apparetly being "soft" - that means there was a bit of bend  in them (i didn't feel it) so that the press becomes a mini push press. Oh dear.

But - what is being repeated here? How i tend to learn a new load.  A first time load up when it's heavier than what i'm used to is usually with a wee push press - ever so slight - at first - and then gradually work out the knees. Apparently two reps (the first one being four days previous) with what i suspected was some knee (as i'd posted on FB) is not a sufficient number to work out the literal kinks.

As for the the pull up? I did a SINGLE attempt on that, too, and came within an inch of it. I'm not sure if asking to take the space to do a second attempt would have done it. At that point i own my heart was not as fired up as it might otherwise have been, so perhaps that factored into a less that glorious rep?

A Few (More) Lessons Learned 

Out on my "strong" event before the game had really begun, and on the other moves, "nothing neither way" to quote Hamlet. Four months of near obsessive focus - wasted?

That's a toughie: did i get what i came for? No. Was i surprised by the result? Really, no. Do i feel like the desired result is beyond me? No.

People of course tend not to ask folks who don't win how they did what they did - since End Results count for a lot. But sometimes learning from gaps can help inform improvements for the next soul.

Humbly offered, therefore, a few Personal Reflections (a new definition of PR?) that may be useful to your strength practice planning .

Where I began with the lifts: from about July 1, 
  • Pistols: i went from single body weight pistols to a pistol with a 24kg kb.
  • Pull ups: i went from zero pull ups in March due to a rehabbing shoulder to getting back a single pull up in July to clearing the 24 off site, and coming within an inch on the day. 
  • Press: went from a few trepidatious 12kg presses in July due to shoulder rebuilding from rehab to pressing the 24 on the day - and that solid press, no knees, was the THIRD press of the day with the dam thing, off to the side.
Related Wins-
  •  HLR i can do hanging leg raises, and have the negatives of the dragon flag. Not things i ever imagined doing, but boy what a good "hollow position." 
  • Lean. That i am as lean as i am right now is really cool for exploring bodyweight work - and it feels nice! i don't want to lose this, well, loss - but dam it it takes discipline to get here, never mind stay here. How's that gonna work? Leave that one for tomorrow...
  • Workout Fuel Tuning Learned how to optimise pre and post and during (peri-workout) nutrition for practice.
  • on the day 24 press
    Paul Simister, photo.
  • Relaxation as Astronaut Training. Learned how to relax before the event by practicing exactly what i do now before focuesed practice - and that i enjoy (that green tea ritual, ref below, works in many places - and that as a tip from Ken Froese)
Little pr's 
  • at the event i got my first ever free standing - no wall in sight - head stands - right out there in the middle of the floor.  
  •  i can consistently bottoms up press the 16 pretty easily now which last year at this time was unimaginable 
  • i have a handstand push up (against the wall) with head to the floor for reps
  • i can press a 20 on my left for reps now
  • i go the 24 on the day - if not quite at the right time.  

Beyond Strength (as one might say)

Beyond the particular personal records, there were related discoveries in getting to those places. Here's just a couple of finds that i would never ever have discovered without this attempt, and that are going to carry me forward in whatever i practice next.

Leanness and Strength. Most of us have heard that it's hard to gain mass or get stronger while also getting leaner. In fact one of the suggestions i was given when trying to get the last 1.5kg on my press was "eat." But it seemed i kept getting stronger while getting leaner.  Indeed, i have been doing the modified velocity diet (links below) since the start of august and peeled off ten pounds in 12 weeks, and am at about 13-14% bf if the harpendon caliper readings are correct. At no point did i lose strength while getting leaner. So it does seem to be quite possible - at least for me - to get a lot stronger while getting leaner. Which leads me to feel pretty deeply that strength is not always about more muscle fiber.

from first weekend in aug to third weekend in oct. 2012.
Pressing, pistoling and pulling up the 24 sopping wet at 5'6" and 122lbs
Motor Learning IS skills Learning; Strength is a Skill.
My sense from getting stronger despite getting leaner is that one might only worry about not being able to get stronger while getting leaner if one were a really advanced/experienced lifter. I would never claim to be any such thing. Hence, a lot of room to improve strength with technique, and with reps to coordinate the tissue already there.  That i did get stronger suggests a heck of a lot of skills training aka motor learning during the hours i put into my practice for this. I do feel that both my body has been learning how to make connections within itself, and i have been learning to make skills connexions.

Practice (i.e. high volume days in particular) is Exploration - of Skills
I have been fortunate to have been able to engage with several great folks in the course of this process. I'll introduce them in a moment. One of the things they each have had in common is to say that Volume Rules for owning a lift.

We know as well that in learning a skill so that it is automatic we have to perform thousands of reps. Even in four months, i have only performed hundreds.

Within this volume there is not only motor learning - the body learning how to groove an action. There is also the opportunity for deliberate practice: to think about what is happening and having the opportunity to explore these movements and what lets one advance and what may hold one back.

A worked example: the pistol as skill At the end of a  heavy day pistol practice - i decided to take some more time just to explore getting the 24 under control in the descent. All i wanted/expected was how to go down in control; not get back up. The first few times i came down under control but landed on my butt - and then i started to get the hang of how to stay balanced. 
Common wisdom would suggest that at the end of a workout when now just doing skills practice it's not time to go for a pr. But each time i used my other foot to help me get back up, i noticed i was getting a little higher up without help. So, i kept exploring this up-ness part, too. What it felt like to shift position, what was happening in my leg. And then, there is was. The first what i called "ugly" pistol with the 24. 
That success would not have happened without the willingness to explore one part of the movement - to play around - with intent - to discover how to do one part of the skill. It happened in that case that that particular practice lead to insight about another part of the practice.

Loads of examples of this - of just looking out a little further to find new connexions within a movement.

Time isn't After Us: 
Another part of volume that i had not considered previously was time: allowing for longer workouts - to keep exploring a lift especially on a heavier day so there's time for recovery. That i found absolutley revelatory. A greater VOLUME of TIME for training - not just volume of reps. At least at my skill level.

Everyone needs a coach - the right coach at the right time.
That i got as far as i did, as safely as i did i attribute to having a great coach. I have been fortunate to have great support through this process as well as great ideas at key moments.

The Kindness of Experts

Ken Froese:  For the past four months, via email, vids and the occaisional skype, Ken's been there to explore ideas to improve my practice sessions to tune them to move them along as best as possible towards the goal. It's been great to have another soul to say "what about this?" or "where next"?

We explored what i was doing, where i was at, reviewed and tested options.  Ken was never "this is the thing to do." We did not program this beyond we need to figure out the right combination of volume and load across these three lifts to make good and consistent progress.  What worked we kept; what didn't we analysed and might discard or revise and retest. Collaborative exploration - where i also trust the expedition lead. Knowing that i could send off an email to reality check what i was doing, and have empathy and guidance has been huge.

I only wish we'd have had more live session times - and i'd encourage anyone training with a remote coach to do whatever it takes to make it possible to work live every other week or so if training for an event. That's just a general lesson. More opportunities for more tweaking - so as not to fall afoul of technicalities....just saying.

A few other folks kindly offered feedback when i had specific questions about approach, and their feedback made a huge and immediate difference.

Dan John - when i asked if i could do this challenge, he said "yes of course" at the right time.

Pavel Tsatsouline - kindly offered exceptional feedback and training suggestions for my weighted pull up that i put into immediate practice and that had immediate effect.

Kenneth Jay - Kenneth Jay and i had some wonderful conversations about the role of volume in strength training and applying it. I think jumping between planes - or perhaps airports - he offered some awesome advice for getting the last couple KG's on my press in a short period of time. Excellent ideas again that had immediate effect

Eric Cobb - likewise while on the run, took time to provide council on accelerating the press. Likewise applicable, useful and usable - and big differnce.

My goodness. These guys are good.  And not only that, they're gracious. They are busy and expensive people and they made time to respond attentively, personally to what they saw when they quite easily and reasonably could have said nothing or that they were too busy or "gee i dunno."

Family Planning: the sine qua non

It is a pain in the ass for one's kin to go through this kind of training - especially when they don't know what they're about to go through cuz you haven't been through it before and you can't quite brace them for it - but now they're part of your "learning experieince" too.

TO have saturday workouts that used to take an hour suddenly take all morning. To change the dietary practices of the household. To find out that one really may well be obsessive compulsive in this regard - and how that must be to live with. To have the compass always pointing Due Practice.

All i can say is that it's a really good idea if ya think your plans MAY become disruptive to engage on these points in advance.  Know what i'm saying? People first, as Suze Orman says.

And So...Making Lemonade rather than Crushing Sour Grapes?

There's other stuff to be sure - this is a first wave unpacking of a rather intense four months of very single focus of what dan john calls "quadrant four" practice.

Am i dissapointed with the end result? of course.

But as said, i'm not surprised - and in a way i think that in and of itself is a learning too - that even a month out i could tell where things would likely need more time - and if my shoulder had been ready i'd have started earlier to get that time - but there it is. And  my family is likely delighted - given what eating (or more usually not eating) with me has been like over the past three months - that i didn't focus on this for longer.

So while i can't really bring myself to say (yet) that "it's all good" - it's not ALL good - i can say that more than 90% of it has been extraordinary, revelatory, and that's more than enough of an outcome to keep moving forward - and to know beyond a doubt that it seems, despite the seeming lateness of the hour, my path to better resilience, strength, self-understanding around strength practice, has just taken its first mature step.

Thank you again
Thank you to the kind folks who stood up during the Challenge and cheered - thank you to James Breese of Kettlebell fever for having a beautiful space for the event.

Thanks again to those Great Guys who offered such effective, generous council at key moments
Big hug to Ken Froese - Ken, thank you thank you thank you.

And to my family for so much support despite thinking me a bit crazy for putting so much into this odd moment.

Whither voyager? 
Like how to stay this lean? What to do next? more pressing? something else? That's tomorrow. Today, it's the first whole food breakie i've had in four months, more tea with milk than i've had in ages and tonight it's Cockneys vs Zombies.

Hope in the interim these thoughts may help your practice, too.

Related Links

Monday, October 15, 2012

Workouts Begin in the Kitchen: the Tea Ceremony

When does our training practice start each day? I workout in the mornings. I get up early just to get in my workout before work. Usually i've thought of that practice as starting when my physical practice starts: with the first rep of the first set. 

But of late, i think my physical practice actually starts before i get to the mat: it starts with making tea. 

Ritual One: Japanese Green Tea - Genmaicha.

gyroku genmaicha. yum. reusable.
Among it's many benefits, green tea is a fat mobilizer. It is the darling of the fasted cardio crowd for this reason. It is also, intriguingly for something that includes caffeine, a soother. Personally, i dig the taste - i dig the taste of one version in particular: the builder's tea of japanese green teas, genmaicha aka "popcorn tea" - the green tea has bits of popped brown rice in it that gives the tea a nutty flavour. Many genmaichas also include some green matcha powder - whole tea leaves that have been crushed. This is the stuff used in tea ceremonies, and makes it clear that green tea is green. The good thing about good leaves: can get 5-6 uses from one infuser of leaves. That's good value.

Over the course of the morning drink prep, i will make 2-3 liters of the stuff. Here's why:
Traveling US matcha by DO; UK fave matcha, Teapigs
the first litre is for me, right away. I make the tea in a 1L pyrex glass measuring jug with a milk frothing thermometer clipped inside. I'll pour in water off the boil, and let it sit till it hits 79 degrees (actually it's by Anchor - it's taller than the Pyrex and i like that [usa | uk]). Then in goes an infuser with the genmaicha (i like the Large Finum tea baskets [usa | uk]). I'll pour out a bit into another cup, add some teapigs (UK) or DO (US) organic matcha powder, froth up, and pour that back into the litre jug, whisk that , and then part goes into a mug for me right now, and the rest goes into a thermos.

I'll repeat this process of making the tea again, but this time after it's all made, and sometimes without  adding the matcha, i'll ice this tea as it will be the base of my workout drink. 

Morning Tea Kit: themos, tea, matcha,
glass jug, thermometer, china tea cup and
(not shown, durn) whisk
And yup, the kettle is on for the third Litre of the morning. Why? as i'm prepping my workout drink in Ritual three, i'm also chugging back my green tea from the thermos. I actually have TWO drinks for my workout: a protein concoction, described below, and a thermos of green tea. It seems i've gotten into the habit of alternately sipping green tea and protein drink for the long workouts. For these single movement focused training sessions, that seems to be just fine. It reminds me perhaps to stay relaxed while focused between sets. It feels somehow a little decadent or luxurious as well. 

Ken Froese, who's been coaching me, and has been doing a lot of systema training of late keeps telling me strength is easy; relaxation is hard. Going for the sip of tea reminds me that i'm relaxing and recovering in this moment as i plan for the next set. I have found that i have not hit fatigue yet as far as i know in the 3.5 months i've been working on this cycle. Maybe the sipping makes the sessions a bit longer - maybe it lets them be longer so i get more done without the fatigue. Anwyay, i enjoy it.

Ritual Two:  Once the Kettle's On: Essential Amino Acids 

Once the kettle is on, i'll grab a shaker cup and some EAA's, stir em up, and chug 'em back. Starting these (along with a greens sup) over a year ago now have had a profound and tested effect on my mood, sleep quality and body comp strategies. I take these on waking up because they are zero cal. and start to replenish the amino acid pool  in my body before i start to hit it with a stick in my workout. Depending on how i feel about the coming workout, i may also take a caffeine pill right about now. I have been experimenting with these, and, when taken irregularly, i find they can make a difference to my morning heavy day performance. 

Ritual Three:  Prep of The Beverage  (Protein, etc)

For the workouts themselves, i have 1L camelbak eddy bottle - i like this bottle as it, too, via the bite valve, inspires sipping rather than chugging. 

With the iced tea, i'll add about a scoop of either rice protein or pepto pro as the foundation. Then it's creatine for all the goodness of creatine, beta alanine, citruline malate to help with my cell to cell communication - that nitric oxide performance can be readily tested so that with or without citruline malate can be checked. I get test kits from bioletics. It works for me. It's also possible to improve NO by upping beets and greens like spinach. That's also testable. 

Additionally, i'll add about 15g of some kind of sugar/carb stuff. I like cytomax, but am also happy with the much cheaper TrueNutrition mix of malto/dextro with electrolytes and enzymes. I do this much carb-ing because there's enough research to suggest that carbs seem to help both protein and creatine uptake. Based on some work Mike T Nelson's been exploring i'm also going to up those carbs every week or so, just to see if i notice a difference in performance / recovery, keeping everything else constant. 

I will also add some BCAA's to this mix which may well be gilding the lily as likely the pepto pro in particular gets to my body with the same speed as the bcaa's but i'm a belt and suspenders kinda person. 

Filled to the brim of the bottle, i'll have an eigth about ten minutes before the workout starts, sip throughout, and then usually there's about a quarter to a third left that i polish off after the workout. 

Finisher Semi-RItual: Post Workout

Possibly really gilding the lily, i'll have another scoop of EAA's, a vitamin C and some l-glutamine if i'm not going to be eating for awhile. e.g., it's 9AM and i don't want anything else till lunch time. Otherwise, of late, i'll have a breakfast shake - and that's described over here.

Tea Ceremony Coda: Why Bother?

For the most part, i workout in the morning, first thing.
There is something warmly satisfying about getting up to do a workout - to practice a skill - and yet, not jumping out of bed and racing racing racing to go do it. Not to rush. To get up early enough that i can set up the space for the training session of the day, and prep for it, staying relaxed but focused. Relaxed. But focused. 

My own tea (plus additional beverage ) ceremony seems to help me manage that Relax but Focused space. 

These wee pre-practice rituals are not things i developed deliberately to serve this relax/focus end; they've evolved over the past four months - rather quickly - but i've only lately started enjoying them more deliberately, if that's a way to frame it. Rather than being "i need time to make this drink for my workout" - or "i'm doing these EAA's now for prep for 20mins from now" - i'm starting to get that focusing on what i'm doing, enjoying that - has its own rewards, too. 

breathing, thinking, doing,
in the tea zone

Ritual High? You know that runners talk about runners high. Usually it's associated with running for awhile and then getting an endorphin rush. My understanding from more recent work is that just formulating a happy thought before running brings on a high. I'm finding that delighting in this moment's pause before the Big Lift happens. i *really* *enjoy* my green tea - it happens to be *really* *nice* genmaicha (as with anything there are all kinds of qualities). I also *really* *like* putting together a drink combo that no company happens to produce, and working to get the supplement and flavour profiles a little better each day (yes, i think i said "flavour profiles" - too much "top chef"). It's joyful. 

And besides the chemicals i ingest from the polyphenols of the green tea and the aminos and and and that being in a more joyful if not happy place before i start my workout, i'm in a better mental place to face a challenging 85-98% 1RM workout. A lot of this game is mental, isn't it? And well that sip sip of tea during the workout is a pretty good reminder of focus/relax. 

My new plan? Rather than seeing it as a means to an end (the workout) get more into this ritual and see what happens to the workout ahead

Old Skool? I bet the Ritual is something that experienced lifters know all about, and again, i'm just late to the party. Better late than never. WHo knows - this Relax/focus Strength thing may just help me get the Press. 


Addendum: the b2d youtube progress channel

As part of keeping it real, i've started the b2d youtube channel. Dan John talks about success being wrought by Just Showing Up. Maybe these progress moments of the Keep Showing Up Practice may be useful fodder for others pursuing a strength goal. For example: this first ugly but real getting of at 24kg pistol:

Personally, some youtube records that have inspired me? There's a convict conditioning series that shows one person's progress from the start of practice to success with full range of motion.  Wow. 

And thank you to that person for that record. 


Related Links

begin2dig related
YouTube Channel: where we mean "in progress" all the time
Facebook Page: daily b2d chit chat
twitter: @begin2dig

Monday, October 8, 2012

Steven Sashen of Invisible Shoes/Xero Shoes - sometimes success runs away with you.

Invisible Shoes/Xero shoes are 21st Century huaraches: elegant 4mm or 6mm textured, fitted soles, tied to the foot by any imaginable lacing pattern. One can do self-sizing or have the shoe custom fit. And they're cheap. Try to get any other minimalist shoe for under 20 bucks. The b2d review of the invisible shoes experience is here, from Sept 30, 2012.  In the next two articles, we're going inside Invisible Shoes with its founder, Steven Sashen.


But before we continue the fun from that review, first, a Sale!
Xero Shoes - the new logo
 May 10, 2013: 50% off till May 15 on color

And Now, the interview, part 1, the foot, the business, the journey...

Setting up a business is no small thing; setting up a still-niche business like minimalist footwear is no even smaller thing. The costs and commitments alone can make a person's head spin. So how does one even begin to think about well, putting a toe in the water of such a space?  Is one mad or insanely brilliant?

The following interview (part 1 of 2) shows how blending a personal passion with entrepreneurial spunk can lead to a rolling boil success. In part 2, we'll step back from the founder and the footwear a bit to look at some of the philiosophies that inform this increasingly successful footwear founder.
Invisible Shoes (Xero Shoes) founder, Steve Sashen,
modelling the Xero Shoe custom sole
But here, in part 1, let's take a look at the shoe, the foot, and how a company began, best foot forward.

Steven Sashen of Xero Shoes, Part 1: starting a company, and creating a new Sole

Thanks for taking the time, Steven. The first question i'd like to explore is - has invisible shoes become a full time occupation for you?
Within 3 months of starting the company (On November 23, 2009), this became a full-time job for my wife and me. 
wow, that's fast. 
Tell me about it! And things are accelerating now in a way that makes those 3 months seem glacial. 
We'll touch more on that speed in part two of this interview. But first, how did you come to decide this is something you wanted to do? It's a big deal - usually - to switch from something we're doing to a completely new venture in at the time a very new market - especially where we're talking physical goods. that's an investment.

 I'm not sure "decide" is the right word. I started the business with just a website, and without a lot of thought. Once it became clear, though, that we had stumbled onto something good (both from a business standpoint and from the perspective of how we were helping our customers), we jumped in with both feet (bare, of course).
Bien sur. Could you talk a little bit about that process? what inspired you to take the leap? how you made that as safe as possible for yourself?
Let me back up. I started making huarache-style barefoot sandals for myself and some other local barefoot runners once I knew I didn't want to be stuck in shoes ever again.
When did this happen? what made the connection for you between this type of footware and you wanting to get your hands on or your feet onto this kind of platform? Running in sandles for distance is not an obvious connexion for most of us. 
I knew about the Tarahumara and the tire-sandals they wore when they won the Leadville 100. And in the barefoot community (small as it was 3 years ago) there was some experimenting with this idea.
 People loved what I was making and the last person I made a pair for (with the materials I'd purchased) was Michael Sandler. He said, "I'm writing a book; if you had a website and sold these, I'll mention you in the book."
What is this with Colorado and runners? is there something in the water? 
Something in the air... namely, BLUE SKY with a big yellow ball, 300+ days /year! Shhhh... don't tell anyone or they'll all move here. [Anyway...]I raced home and told this to my wife, who totally shot down the idea. I agreed with her that it probably wasn't a good idea, that it wouldn't make money, and that it was a distraction from our other businesses.  
And then, when she went to bed, I built a website.
Of course! Were there words about this the next morning??
I think she just growled. But then I convinced her it would be a good case study for our Search Engine marketing business -- I could show how we could build our ranking and Search Engine placement, starting from scratch. I've said before that the most important psychological trait for an entrepreneur is blind naivety.
Great Council. 
Sorry, "blind, optimistic, naivety"
If you don't mind - could we circle back to this for a sec?  when you say "other businesses" - sounds like you're of the self-employed cloth. is that fair? and that your life partner is a co-partner in these enterprises? 
Yeah, I've never had an actual job. I was a street performer, a stand-up comic, an actor, a software inventor (while getting a Masters in film -- which I did while doing stand-up and acting
(examples of Steven's ranging satirical talents)
-- I developed the industry-standard word processing software for film and TV writers, Scriptware, and built a company around that), an internet marketing consultant, a real estate investor, a day trader, a meditation teacher... I know I'm leaving some things out.
I know nothing about writing software... which makes me a great "programmer" because I figure out, conceptually, how things could work... and I can communicate that with programmers. What I developed with Scriptware still hasn't been duplicated 20 years later.
Lena and I have been together for 13 years... her job is to (try to) keep me organized. We were starting a Search Engine marketing business when the idea for Invisible Shoes landed in our lap. 
We didn't think much about this business. We just started it.
With good intuition, informed by some great feedback from your early adopters?
I don't know about intuition. Luck. Recognizing that we were onto something. Seeing the wave of interest in barefoot running growing. And, yes, the feedback was GREAT, which inspired us.  And then, once it got going, we hopped on board for the ride. In other words, it became a real business before we had time to think about whether we wanted to start a business.
What a great problem to have: success!
There are worse ones, for sure!
And then, once you got into this in the first couple months...
 Then, when the former lead designers and developers from Nike and Reebok sat at our dining room table, helping us design our products and craft our business plan (this was 6 months after we launched), we knew we were officially in the footwear biz.
Nike and Rebook and Xero? Ok, this one is really a mind-puzzler for me:  for those of us outside the shoe industry, we would see first of all Nike and Reebok as competitors between themselves. And they'd also be competitors with you, no? SO what were they doing at all sitting peacefully at your table (at different times) trying to help you rather than burn your house down?
These were guys who had worked at those companies at different times in the past (and other companies as well). Now they were working together in their own company as consultants and sourcing experts. 
 The first thing one of these guys said to me when we met was, "Don't worry about the big shoe companies; they'll never do anything like this." 
 They sat at our table because they loved the idea of what we were doing, knew that it could be big, and wanted to help. They gave us many, many thousands of dollars of work at no cost... and continue to as members of our board of advisors. 

Personal Passion and Business - Two great tastes?

Many folks are passionate about their running - even barefoot running - but they don't start shoe companies.  What drew you to saying i want to make this sandal? esp. in light of other folks in the market
Well, when I started the only other sandal was a kit being sold by Barefoot Ted. The only other minimalist product was the Fivefinger shoe (which didn't fit me). I wanted the sandals because I wanted to spend as much time barefoot as I could... but with some protection, and with the ability to get into restaurants ;-) Plus, they look cool.
 Again, I didn't give this nearly as much consideration as you think I might have, or maybe even should have.
Again, who can argue with success or happiness? Where do these shoes fit into your life? Are you particularly passionate about running, or is there another idea or sense of direction motivating invisible shoes? 
I'm a Masters All-American sprinter, which means I'm one of the fastest 50+ guys in the country (I run the 100m in 12 seconds, and hope to be at 11.8 by next season). 
That's very cool to look at improvement over time/age. Way to go. If you improve year on year, how fast do you think you can get? What would be your target?
Well, usually you get slower over time/age. But since I'm still really learning how to sprint, I hope I have a few years of getting faster before I start slowing down. And then I hope my "slow" speed is still among the fastest in the country. I'm not thinking past my 11.8-11.89 goal at the moment. One step at a time (or 49 of them in 11.89 seconds). And, as far as we can tell, I may be the fastest Jew over 50 in the world! ;-)
Sounds like you're the fastest Jew in Sandals, period, sport! that's awesome. 
That and $9.95 will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks 
 Sheesh. Do you run these speeds in flats or in your sandals? 
But to your question: yes, running is a big part of my life. 
Running fast. Wow, so what are a couple of the attractions to running for you? when did this start for you and did it become a passion early on? 
I was always the fastest kid in school (until I was 16). I always enjoyed running fast. I put it aside and focused on gymnastics during high school (I became an All-American). And then didn't know there was a competitive circuit for old farts until 5 years ago.
It also sounds from the invisible shoes forum that you coach people as well in how to run with sandals - have you been a running coach for awhile?
No, I've coached a lot of physical activities though and am very good at understanding biomechanics. I've taught Tai Chi, gymnastics, Zen archery, body-centered psychotherapy... again, I know I'm forgetting a bunch.
Goodness, well let's shift back to xero or invisible shoes as they began. Could you talk a little about where the name came from? 
"Invisible" came from the fact that when you wear these, it feels like you have nothing on your feet...
hmm - i'm not quite there yet. right now i feel something in particular between my toes. 
Okay, then ALMOST nothing ... and in that nothing, someone put a thin layer of rubber over the whole world. And, if you cut the soles to really match your foot shape, and wear laces that are not too bold, it looks like you're not wearing anything. Our new name is Xero Shoes.
What? you're letting go of an i? as in iShoes?? did Apple get to you??
I looked into "iShoes", but it's too hard to protect. I've been trying to get for 2 years... no luck.
What inspired the X rather than a Z?
It looks very good on the sole of the shoe.  X is cooler!
So the name change was motivated by what? 
We're changing for a few reasons:  The sandals aren't actually invisible (believe it or not, some people thought they would be) 

demo'ing the uninvisbleness of Xero shoes multi-tying styles

Ok, that's a surprise, but, come to think of it, i have seen things that purport to be transparent plastic.
Well, we could use transparent plastic, but it doesn't wear as well (rather, it wears out faster), and isn't as comfy. We're working on it, though. Another reason for the name change is that people started making their shoes much LESS invisible, with funky tying styles, bead and charms, and now we have colored soles. 
Also, we think Xero is a cooler name that still communicates the same thing.
I'm looking forward to the shirts - xero sounds very stealthy. you'll be able to sell to the tactical crowd, for sure. I say that in a good way. 
You can order shirts at

Material Sole

Ok, let's talk a bit about the materials of these shoes: you've made a bunch of really deliberate decisions here. For instance, you've recently changed the sole over to new material from new company. what drove that transition? 
 We started with a Vibram outsole material that was made for repairing shoes and boots. It worked well for sandals, but wasn't designed for that purpose. It had some problems, too... the 4mm got a bit too floppy in the largest sizes, and the 6mm (which we didn't sell) was stiff as a board. The top surface wasn't as comfy as I would like. With the help of our Nike/Reebok advisors and their manufacturers, we developed our FeelTrue™ rubber otusoles, the only product made specifically for barefoot-style sandals. 
Personally, the sense that this is a SOLE for these kind of shoes feels really cool - it's like it really IS made for a foot - or in this case - my foot. Is that why you moved away from the Vibram outsole? better sense of fit?
They're a vast improvement over the Vibram in a number of ways:
  • An sized product rather than a simple sheet of rubber (some people can use the soles, as is, but for those that trim them to fit, there's less trimming)
  •   Contoured shape that stays with your foot better
  • Simultaneously, more flexible yet holds its shape better
  • 2-way chevron tread design gives you great traction
  • Textured top surface is grippy yet comfortable  
  • Reinforced, pre-punched ankle holes
  • Better abrasion resistance (which is why we have a 5,000 mile warranty)
Have you explored thinner than 4mm? or is that as low as one can go and still have something there? 
We've played with other thicknesses and this gives a good combination of stiffness, flexibility, strength and wear. The tread is 1.2mm, and you need to put the tread ON something, so the thinnest you could go is about 3mm, but it doesn't seem to be worth it. 

Next Time: Footwear for Barefooting? Oxymoron on Zen Koan: discuss

Cool. This gives us a sense of how spontaneous eureka moments may actually launch themselves into great (ad)ventures.  And from this we have a wee bit of a sense of the personality behind the venture. Let's continue next time with a look at the philosophy informing Xero Shoes by poking the stick in the oxymoron that is "footwear for barefoot running" and where Steven's views of health engage with some related wellbeing practices like - will that be Paleo or Pastries with that Sprint?
Remember, till the Ides of October, you can use b2d's special Invisible Shoes coupon code "themind10" - without quotes - and receive 10% off your Xero Shoes order, too. Thank you Steven.
con't in: Part 2: death to flip flops


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