Brandon's (and his family's)Big Adventures

We, as a family, press on towards the goal

Mercy Run – 8 Miles in Run Branca Sandals

Posted on September 25th, 2011 by Brandon

Mercy Run – 8 Miles in Run Branca Sandals

Run number 6 of 7 races with the wired jaw was the Mercy Run in Greenville, Michigan.  As a fund raiser for the homeless and hungry of Montcalm County I couldn’t resist to run this race.  It was also the inaugural race on the newly complete Fred Meijer Flat River trail that encircles the city of Greenville.  Everything about this race felt right going into it.  A hometown advantage of sorts since this is a community I have served as a Paramedic for over 8 years.  My wife and her friend Sara decided to run this as well the week leading up to the race.  Going into the race I figured there would be a lot of local runners, because I saw the entries at the Lowell Pink Quiver run and had heard about it for at least 2 months.  I was surprised at the small turnout.

Mercy Run - Greenville, MI

Mercy Run - Greenville, MI

We arrived 45 minutes early and walked into the Have Mercy center and was greeted personally by the Race Director and many of his awesome volunteers.  Do to the local papers article about raising food by running 50 miles they treated me like a celebirty including a photo with the race director and Bib #1 which was saved for me.  The attention was overwhelming, but appreciated.  I was also asked to sign my first autograph on a copy of the article that they had saved out as inspiration.  Their ministry relates to the food drive and they understand and live the need.  I appreciate them and what they do everyday to impact Montcalm County.

First Autograph

The race participants gathered at the end of the drive way and there were maybe 30 people starting the 8 mile race with a smaller group in the 5K fun run, and one relay team.  Being its first year the Race Director did a great job marking the course, timing the event, and having very cheerful volunteers.

Mercy Run Start - Greenville, MI

Mercy Run Start - Greenville, MI

Paved bike trail for 7 miles with a lap around Baldwin lake was the make up of the entire course.  One hill greeted us about 2 miles into the course and it was a welcome sight as it looked out over a beautiful field where some of the runners saw deer and other wild life.

Fred Meijer Flat River Trail - Open Field

Fred Meijer Flat River Trail - Open Field

Choosing a pair of shoes for this race was tough.  I wanted to run the race barefoot, but with so many unknowns and the fear of blisters from running too fast with bad form I choose to test out new foot coverings.  Run Branca running sandals are my second pair of running sandals this summer.  I found the sandals on another site where they were part of a giveaway.  I didn’t win the giveaway, but was interested in them to run in so I purchased a pair to try out.  I recieved the Run Branca Sandals on Friday and customized them to my feet just 8 hours before the race.  They come pre-laced and just need to be cut to the correct length based on a marker outline of your feet.  I donned them and tied them a little differently than advertized and toed the line.  The tread on the sandals makes them great for trail, but also great for asphalt.  After the intiall “Are you going to run in those?” people just saw the bottoms as I ran.  The feeling of running in sandals went away after about 1/2 mile.  It feels different in a good way.  The fresh air keeps the feet cooled and free.  There wasn’t the flopping noise that I so despised with the other sandals I tried this summer.

Run Branca Sandals- How not to tie them

Run Branca Sandals- How not to tie them

The thickness of the Branca’s is what makes them different.  They are made of 5mm Vibram Newflex sole which is the newest sole from makers of the five finger shoes.  The harder less flexable sole makes it perfect for sandals because it doesn’t take trade ground feel for protection, but also doesn’t flop under your feet.  It also wasn’t designed as a “rock guard” like the sole of the Five Fingers.  It just works.  As I ran the strap across the ankle worked well to hold the foot in place on the sandal.  Its flexibility does allow for some movement of the foot on top of the rubber sole.  This was the only area I had issues.  I tied the shoes behind the ankle leaving the top of my foot to move and that in turn allowed for too much movement.  My toes blistered the end of the sandals as they rubbed back and forth.  I will take responsibility for these do to not following directions for tying across the top of the foot which limits the amount of forward movement.

Run Branca Sandals - Traction

Run Branca Sandals - Traction

Run Branca- Back of Sandal

Run Branca- Strap across Back of Sandal

Run Branca Sandals- Minimalist Running shoe

Run Branca Sandals

Running 8 miles in the sandals seamed effortless.  Weighing only 3.8 oz’s is like running in socks and the sole protects your feet from the ground.  I would recommend them for running trail, roads, or beach.  They allow the feet to breath,  allow for more ground feel than many of the other minimalist shoes on the market, and will last a runner a long time.   They look better for the beach and other casual wearing as well.  The professional look and logo on the back make them look more like a commonly acceptable sandal and less like a cut piece of tire strapped to your foot by leather.

Finishing the 8 mile in 1 hour 1 minute was incredible.  Running hard for over an hour with my jaw wired shut is getting easier and with only one race to go it makes me ponder on how much faster I could be without the wires.  I didn’t win an age group medal or anything, but was very happy with the time and the experience of running for such a great cause.

For more information on Run Branca Sandals check out their website at

Sarah edging out Emily at the Finish

Sarah edging out Emily at the Finish

Congratulations to Sarah for getting 3rd place in her age group!  It was her first 8 mile race.

Worn Out Zensah Sleeves – Review

Posted on August 17th, 2011 by Brandon

Worn Out Zensah Sleeves – Review

Over the course of a thousand miles products just wear out.  That is what has happened to my to my poor Zensah leg sleeves.  They were originally purchased at Gazelle Sports last year to combat my shin splints.  They worked okay for shin splints, but they didn’t cure me.  I continued to use them throughout all my races and most of my training.  They became a must have running tool.  Any run over 20 miles they protected my calf muscles.  Sometimes they protected me more against pickers and bugs then they did anything else.  At least that is what I thought. 

The Three Amigo's coming into Station Road Bridge Aid Station - Burning River 100

The Three Amigo's coming into Station Road Bridge Aid Station

The idea behind any type of compression product is the increase in blood flow and decrease in swelling.  This happens by not allowing space for fluid to build up, thus allowing for less swelling which allows more blood to flow.  After my first 50K last August the sleeves were okay, but became just simply another product to wear while running.  I didn’t notice anything special about them because I always wore them.  My shins hurt and my calf muscles were sore, but never as sore as my quads or hamstrings. 

I decided one day this summer to run a long run without them.  I didn’t notice too much of a difference until the next day when my calf muscles were sore.  Something I hadn’t experienced.  Now having experienced this discomfort I do my best to make sure my black Zensah sleeves are with me on every race. 

Nothing can test a product like 100 miles.  While packing for the race my Zensah sleeves were packed right with my running shorts, and tech shirt so I wouldn’t forget.  I am glad I didn’t.  As I raced I looked around and noticed not that many runners wearing compression socks or sleeves.  I noticed a good number, but in Ultra running a good number might be 20 out of the 300 runners.  I proudly wore my worn out sleeves and hoped they would keep my legs fresh for the long haul.   Over the course of a day I never felt my calf muscles or shins.  On hills I had strength and on flats I had kick.  I didn’t expect to have anything left after 70 miles, but I had a burst of nitrous yet to be released.  The fresh legs were the only reason I ran nine minute miles in the last 20 miles.  They were the only reason I was able to pass over 150 people. 

I call them worn out not because I need a new pair, but because they have spent a lot of time on my legs.  They have spent more time on my body then any other piece of running appearal.  They have been with me for all of my ultras.  From 50K to 100 miles they have compressed my lower legs. 

Relaxing after Burning River 100 2011

Zensah sleeves on my legs

Recovery with Zensah compression shorts.  My first impression of my shorts were they were way too hot, but this was for running in 80+ degrees.  They are perfect for recovery.  Its really hard to find someone who will massage my hip flexors, so the shorts work great at keeping the blood flowing to these hard to reach muscles.  After 100 miles I wore the shorts the 5 hours home.  It amazed me how great my hips moved the next day.  I didn’t have “Doll Hips” like I expected.  What a great recovery product.  So now after running I will become a walking bill board for Zensah with logos on all of my clothing.  This isn’t because they pay me, but because I should be paying them for the products that make recovery so much better. 

Do you wear compression clothing?  Have you ever tried it?  What clothing have you tried and why did you like/not like it?


RunAmoc Dash- Minimalist Trail Shoes for Ultra Marathons

Posted on August 9th, 2011 by Brandon

RunAmoc Dash- Minimalist Trail Shoes for Ultra Marathons


Ultra Marathon Shoes- RunAmoc Dash

After 100 miles- Field Tested Runner Approved -RunAmoc Dash

Deciding which pair of shoes to run 100 miles in is probably worse for a runner than a bride trying to pick out that perfect pair of shoes to get married in.  The main reason its worse is the fact if the bride doesn’t like the feel of her shoes she is just going to kick them off and dance the night away.  I wasn’t going to have the option of running barefoot for the remainder of 100 miles.

My choice of the RunAmoc Dash from Soft Star shoes was probably the single best decision I made for first ultra race.  I tested the shoes out on a 40 mile training run with socks and no socks.  I learned a valuable lesson during that training run. Brandon is always a sock guy.  The Dash doesn’t have a sock liner or really any fancy smooth cloth lining it.  It is straight up leather with a lot of holes punched in it to make it breathe.  It uses two different colors of leather to make it look a little stylish, but to me it looked more like a golf shoe than a running shoe, all the more reason why I liked this shoe.


RunAmoc Dash's in Water - Burning River 2011

RunAmoc Dash's in Water - Burning River 2011

The idea of running trail in minimalist shoes is repulsive to many in ultra community.  They make it seem it is all about the rock plate, the cushion, the tread, and the ankle support.  The Dash proves them all wrong.  It ain’t got no rock plate, ain’t go no cushion, its got as much tread as a spatula, and ankle support isn’t something they even dreamed of adding.  So why would any common sense runner want to wear this shoe for 100 miles?

No rock plate, the idea behind minimalist is to be as close to barefoot as possible.  By adding a solid membrane to the bottom of your foot is like adding another bone or hard object that is unbendable or prevents your foot from bending normally.  The rock plate also decreases ground feel so your brain doesn’t get accurate information.  No rock plate equals great ground feel, less weight, and realistic barefoot movement.

No Cushion, well sort of.  With 5mm of Vibram Rubber under your foot it does give you some cushion, but compared to the 1 inch heals on most trail shoes it is not comparable.  Sure those fancy trail shoes feel like you are running on pillows, but the cushion actually takes up energy in each stride, thus making it harder to run.  When you plant your heel into the dirt the shock absorber does just that, not allowing the full release of energy.  The cushion also causes me to be a major heel striker, again causing me to lose energy like pressing the break pedal down with every stride.  With 5mm of protection it is just enough protection against the lime stone, gravel, shale, and other hard unforgiving surfaces I endured to protect my feet, but not over cushion them.  My stride was normal and I didn’t heel strike “as much”.  I used a lot less energy with every stride because the shoe didn’t take most of it.

No 4×4 all terrain tread.  Who needs 4×4 tread on the bottom of your shoes?  Oh that’s right, the trail shoe people, because the cushion makes it hard for them to land soft enough to maintain traction.  The flat bottoms of the RunAmoc did incredible.  One hundred miles tested it on asphalt, river crossings over shale rock (times 6 or 8), wet dew covered grass, and loose gravel.  No slips even on tired legs.  The amazing ground feel left my brain without questions.  I relied on my sense of balance rather on a man made shoe to keep my footing.

No ankle support.  Well if I worried about my ankles I wouldn’t add to the stress by adding trail shoes.  The rigid edges of shoes act like a fulcrum for your ankle.  The rest of the bones, muscles, tendons, and joints in your foot have no way of moving or flexing when they are secured by the rigid shoes.  When you start putting pressure on the ankle something has to give, and that usually the weakest part.  Also when more traction is added to the outside of the shoe the foot isn’t used a wider foot strike so again the ankle will have to compensate resulting in injury.  The outer parts of the RunAmoc are designed to keep your foot in place on top of the rubber sole, not to give your body anymore support.

It doesn’t look like a “traditional shoe”, but doesn’t draw as much attention as those five fingered shoes.  While I ran no one asked me about my shoes.  This isn’t the case with the Five Finger Shoe runners.  I overheard more than once them getting asked “Are your running the whole way in those?”  I only got asked that after I finished 100 miles, and I could respond yes.  Its hard to tell someone “Yes I am going to run 100 miles in these shoes when you haven’t done it”.  It is easy to tell them “Yes I ran all 100 miles in these shoes”, and then field all their questions.

RunAmoc Dash Shoes at Burning River 100 - 2011

RunAmoc Dash Shoes - Incredible Minimalist Shoes

Questions I got asked after running 100 miles:

Did your feet get wet?  – Yes my feet got wet, but they dried off much quicker than any other shoe I have ever gotten my feet wet in.  On average my shoes were dry within 20 minutes of running, and my socks were dry in about 30-40, but with dew covered grass in places it made it tough to tell when it was perfectly dry.

Did you wear socks? – Yes I wore socks, three different pairs of Injinji toe socks to just make me feel clean.  Over a period of time little bits of dirt get into your shoes and socks making it rough.  After each pair of socks I felt fresher!

Did you get blisters? – Yes I got blisters, but only because I got lazy adjusting my socks.

Over 100 miles my socks would move and I didn’t feel I needed to fix them.  It is my fault I got three blisters, one on the inside of each ankle and one on the bottom of my left foot.

Did your feet hurt? – Yes my feet hurt, but not any more than when I ran 63 miles on asphalt wearing Vibram Five Fingers, but a ton less than when I ran a 31 miles in traditional running shoes.  A week later my left foot is swollen, but it could be from when I jumped off a log and landed a little funny.  I can still run so it is not really a big deal.

Post 100 Mile Foot report - RunAmoc Dash

Just a couple of hot spots I should have fixed

Did you lose any toe nails?- None!  I had my big toe nails removed 15 years ago.  I also didn’t stub my toes on anything, because my RunAmoc are a little longer than my other shoes.  I only tripped once, but that was my fault when I didn’t see a root.

Did your shoes hold up?  They don’t look like the day I got them, but they look a lot better than any of my old heel strikers.  The heel of my right shoe is worn a little bit more than the left from running on asphalt, but all my minimalist shoes look that way.

Would you wear them again?  Yes, without a doubt I would wear them again in 100 miles, or shorter distance.  I plan on running two more 50 mile runs this fall, and will wear them if nothing else comes in the mail for me to try out.

Overall I am thrilled to have found RunAmoc Dash shoes.  My first impression was “feel as good as a pair of slippers”, and my continued opinion “A shoe that will last 100 miles on some pretty rough terrain”.


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