Heading to Copper Canyon: Interview with Tom Norwood from Luna Sandals
Tom Norwood at the Orcas Island Ultra 50kThe Caballo run gained fame after the publication of Christopher McDougall's bestselling book Born to Run, in which McDougall chronicles his experiences in the canyons with Micah True (a.k.a. Caballo Blanco) and the Tarahumara Indians. Originally named the Copper Canyon Run, the race was renamed this year in memory of True, who passed away in 2012. True used his fame from Born to Run to raise funding for the race and encourage running.
Tricia was curious to hear Norwood's thoughts on running, minimalism and the upcoming race and asked if we could interview him for this blog. Norwood happily agreed and spoke with Elf Martin shorty before flying to Mexico.
In case you're wondering why we're interviewing someone from a competitive shoe company, we'd like to point out that we're very excited about the work done by Luna Sandals; they handcraft high quality barefoot running sandals in the USA and have helped many people embrace minimalist running and reconnect with the earth. Running sandals are not Soft Star's specialty, so when our customers ask if we sell huaraches we often refer them to the websites for Luna Sandals and Xero Shoes—both awesome companies!
Tom Norwood at the Orcas Island Ultra 50k
EM: How did you get into running?
TN: Until 4 years ago I never believed I could run—my back would kill me whenever I tried. But I was in shape. I was an active cyclist and would do 200k bike races. When my wife became pregnant with our second child, I didn't have time for cycling anymore. Running seemed ideal then. I kept coming across reviews of Born to Run and thought it sounded too good to be true. I finally read it, took a running clinic with Barefoot Ted, did a Movnat workshop and built up slowly. I ran a 50k with Barefoot Ted one year after I starting running. The last ten miles were a real challenge. That was 3 years ago.
Tom Norwood at the Orcas Island Ultra 50k
EM: How old are you now, if you don't mind my asking?
TN: Oh, let's see… maybe 46? 47? Probably 46. I'm not quite sure, but I was born in 1967 and my birthday is in March. You can do the math if you like.
EM: So when you started running, it was in barefoot shoes?
TN: Yeah, I jumped right into minimalist. In the past when I tried running there was no other option than those stinking padded shoes and my back always hurt. I went full minimal.
EM: How many ultras have you done since you began running three years ago?
TN: Not a lot with the family. I've done 6 or 7 races between 25–50k. I've never been into shorter races, but I did one 5k last summer—the Naked Foot Run in Seattle. They encourage you to run barefoot and everyone at Luna did it together.
EM: So when you started running, you just jumped into ultras right away?
TN: I did. The allure of trail running is where it's at. For whatever reason, marathons just aren't appealing to me, but running in the forest is great. It's like randonneuring, which I enjoy. Do you know about randonneuring? It's a type of scavenger hunt done on a bike. It's not competitive at all, just fun.
EM: What's the best or worst thing that happened to you during an ultra?
TN: Once, halfway through a 50k, I met a woman who had blood all over her arm and she asked me for help. It turns out she fell and dislocated her shoulder. I tried to help her get it back in, then ran ahead to the next aid station. They already had an ambulance, so I told them to get warmed up for her and made sure she got to them. The last thing she said to me before I ran off was, "No way I'm going to DNF this." I saw her afterwards and she finished the race. That just goes to show the toughness of ultra runners. Thinking about what was hurting me at the time, knowing what she was going through... I didn't seem so bad anymore. That's the thing about trail running, we step up and help each other. I've made some great friends because we connected and talked during races. That may happen a little in marathons and triathlons, but I don't think it happens as much.
EM: How do you keep yourself motivated during a long race?
TN: I just keep telling myself to have fun, be in the moment, to enjoy that amazing tree or how the sand looks in the water—things I'll never see again. That's what I shoot for. I just tell myself to relax.
EM: What's your training schedule like?
TN: I'm not a super-disciplined-follow-program kind of person. I tend to do a 7-mile run with a friend every Wednesday, maybe a hill sprint every week. With a big race coming up, I do a longer run on weekends. Usually I squeeze in an hour of running at lunch, often product testing for Luna.
EM: Speaking of Luna, which sandals are you wearing for the Caballo ultra?
TN: I'll be wearing our new Oso, coming out this spring. It's our first 3-layer sandal and has good "nubbiness" for mud and great rock protection. [Note: El Oso translates as "The Bear" and was the totem nickname Micah True assigned to Christopher McDougall in Born to Run]
EM: There's a lot of controversy about barefoot running and minimalist shoes these days. It seems like every week a new study comes out for or against it. What's your take on that?
TN: (laughs) So much has been said about it. I'll tell you this: it works for me. It's been like a miracle drug. I worked at the Born to Run store for a while and I talked to people every day with the exact same story. Real-world facts are overwhelming. A lot of people who don't believe they can run haven't tried minimal shoes. I put everything into it and it really worked. I believe McDougall was right: we wouldn't have survived as a species if we weren't built to run.
EM: Barefoot runners talk a lot about the connection between their feet and the earth, and it's a strong theme on the Luna website. What does that connection mean to you?
TN: Can I tell you a story? I had a job interview a few years back and I was really nervous about it. I needed to calm down and be present in my body. This was in spring, so it was a cold and rainy Seattle morning. I decided to take a walk around the block barefoot, and as soon as I started out I felt calm and centered. Halfway around the block, I saw a police car drive by. Of course he pulled over, asked for my ID and put me through a bunch of questions just because I was barefoot. How do you explain to a cop that you're nervous about a job interview and trying to connect with your body by walking around barefoot in the cold and rain? I do believe we feel grounded and centered when we connect to the Earth. Staying isolated may not seem bad in short intervals, but it has long-term negative effects.
EM: What are your expectations for the upcoming 50-mile Caballo Ultra?
TN: I'm not used to running in heat, so that will be a major challenge for me. It's my first time running this race and I don't have a time goal, I just want to finish and be able to walk out the next day. It's all about the experience, about being down there in Los Mochis. It's a special community that McDougall really captures in those scenes in Born to Run.
The Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco will take place on March 3, 2013. Norwood agreed to give us a post-race interview when he returns to the US, so stay tuned for updates.
Good luck Tom!