Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shoe Review - New Balance MT110

This winter New Balance posted on Facebook that they were looking for Ultra runners to participate in a focus group.  I emailed back with my running resume and was invited to participate in the group.  A few weeks later I gathered up 4 pairs of running shoes, including one pair of NB's that I modified to drop the heel and headed to Boston for an evening meeting.  

Custom "Zero Dropped" NB's that I made

I didn't know what to expect, but was greeted by a team of NB designers, marketers and executives to discuss what hardcore Ultrarunners wanted from their shoes.  I felt like a dork bringing 4 different shoes, but was pleasantly surprised to see that every other runner brought a minimum of 2 pairs.  Most brought at least 4 like I did.

The folks from NB asked us a ton of questions about what type of running we did, what type of races we did, what types of shoes we wore for what type of races and why.  They asked us about our needs and wants and were genuinely interested in what we had to say.  The Minimus line was just about to be released and many of us wanted desperately to get a pair of the shoes that were unavailable.

I was seated next to Bryan Gothie who is an Outdoor Product manager.  When it was my turn to describe my ultimate shoe I said that I wanted a shoe that was flexible, lightweight, drained well, less than 4mm heel drop and had enough protection to run 100 miles.  Bryan smiled and said, "Wait until you see what we are building for Anton, I think your going to like it". 

It turns out that they were talking about the NB MT110, the next generation of the MT101.  Recently Bryan sent me a pair of the early production MT110s.  I am blown away by what they have produced.  As much as I enjoy my beloved Altra Instincts, these might be the best shoes I've ever worn. 

New Sole with better traction than MT101

I received them the week before Leadville and ran every daily run in them.  The longest run I did in them before the race was only 7 miles but I decided to start Leadville in them and then simply change out of them when they became to "thin" or if I had problems.

Here is the short story...  I ran the first 70 miles of Leadville in them.  I had zero blisters.  That's right, zero.  Long time readers of my blog will know that my biggest problem with running 100 mile races is that I suffer terrible blisters.   I have always said that if I could just find a way to avoid getting blisters I would enjoy these races soooo much more.

Me leaving Twin Lakes outbound (mile 60) having a moment with Amy in my MT110's

The best description I can give for these shoes is that they simply disappear on my feet when running.  I feel like I'm running barefoot, but don't have any of the issues I normally have with "barefoot" running shoes.  I love the way the NB minimus feels on my feet, but the Vibram sole is simply to firm for me to run longer than 15 miles.  I get numbness in my toes and wish I had more protection when running rocky trails.  I know some barefoot guys get all uppity about "feel" with their barefoot shoes, but frankly I think that rocks hurt.  Call me a sissy, I don't care.  I never had to pussy foot over rocks with these shoes.

I have been searching for a perfect balance of barefoot feel and all day protection.  The MT110s have it.  Here are some of the technical specs of the shoes.

Weight - Mens size 9 - 7.7 oz
Stack Height - 19mm Heel/15mm toe
Heel drop - 4mm (duh...)
Rockplate - full (I found the rockplate to be more flexible than that MT101, but still very adequate)
Removable Footbed - no
Traction - 1 million times better than the MT101.
Heelcup - perfect.  Long gone is the semi rigid foam Achilles cutter.
Last - same as the Minimus
Toe box - room to fully splay
Availability - January 2012
Multiple widths - yes!

Minimal Upper, real cushioning and protection!

Nice soft heel cup that dissapears when on your foot.

My only complaint with the shoe was that a fair amount of grit and dirt got into the shoe.  It would be awesome if it had a lasted tongue to keep the grit out.  I found the shoes a tad bit thin for the full 100 mile distance, but that might also be my feet not being used to them.  I would never even consider wearing a traditional barefoot shoe like the Merrill or Five Fingers for a 100, so don't think I'm one of "those guys".

I would call my first long distance (70 miles) run in these shoes to be nothing less than a miracle.  No blisters, perfect comfort, enough protection to go flying down the rocky backside of Hope MT at full pace and incredible fit.   I saw a ton of people wearing MT101's at Leadville.  I felt bad for them.  These shoes are so much better. 

No shoe is perfect, these are pretty damn close.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reaching our Potential

View from top of Hope Pass

First of all, I'd like to say thanks to everybody who has been so supportive of the Potentially Painful Summer.  This weekend I ran my third 100 in as many months, the Leadville Trail 100.  This was the toughest 100 for me ever.  I ended up walking for the last 20 miles but still ended up finishing in 74th place out of 650 starters.  My finishing time was 24 hours and 34 minutes.  I kept my "A-Goal" of buckling at all of my races so far, but it wasn't easy.  I will be writing a full race report shortly.

Until then, there is a subject that is so near and dear to my heart that I feel it is one of the core things that defines me as a human. I have not written too much about it on my blog because of something that happened years ago with my friend, "Sherpa" John Lacroix. I now realize that not writing about something that is so important to me is silly. This is my blog, I can write about anything that I want.

On one of our first runs together, when we were just getting to know each other, I shared with John how the one thing that really frustrates me is when somebody doesn't see the same potential in themselves that I see in them. I told him how I thought that my life would have so much more meaning if I could inspire somebody to realize that those dreams they have are actually attainable. If I could do that, I would be able to leave this life feeling that I had contributed something really substantial.

Not very long after that conversation, John changed the name of his blog to "Sherpa John: Human Potential". I was pretty upset, but I also understood that I certainly wasn't the first to feel this way about our potential to accomplish big goals. In fact, I bet that almost anybody who has run 100 miles probably feels the same way. John's blog gets a lot more traffic than mine and I felt like I couldn't write about this passion of mine without people thinking that I was plagiarizing him. Whenever I wrote about it I was very careful to phrase it a different way.

I felt like this robbed me of one of my deepest beliefs. Not long ago I finally told John how I felt. It was good to get it off my chest, but I still felt like he took one of the most important things away from me. During our conversation John told me that of course our conversation had influenced him. He said something to the extent of  "Isn't that what happens all the time with deep conversations like those?  Aren't we all just taking the things that strike us as important and incorporating them into who we are?"  I realized that rather than being upset, I should be flattered that I was able to speak with enough passion to influence somebody close to me. Isn't that exactly what I was trying to do? I think my real problem is that I was jealous that he ran with the idea and wrote about it more eloquently than I did.

As I was thinking about writing this, something struck me. The word "potential" is almost patronizing. If you really believe that you can do anything you decide to do, do you ever reach your potential? Once you accomplish that big goal, isn't there always the next step or goal? By saying that you haven't reached your potential aren't you really saying that your not good enough as you are? I realized that it is more about your mindset as far as what you decide to accomplish than what your potential is. Every single one of us has the potential to get more out of this life than we currently have, no matter what you have or what you have accomplished so far.

I really think that we have unlimited potential. I am a big believer that once we decide to accomplish something and attack it with a relentless burning passion, nothing can stand in our way. I hope that in some small way I might provide the tipping point for somebody to go after their dream. That would be realizing MY potential.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Two Weeks 'till Leadville

The Trail towards Hope Pass
 Its hard to believe that it's been almost three weeks since I've written anything.  It is even harder to believe that in only 2 weeks I'll be toeing the line for another 100 mile race.  Last year Leadville was my only 100 and I absolutely loved it.  The town is cool, the people were nice and the course wasn't nearly as tough as all the hype had me believing.  I feel much less stressed about doing the race than last year, even though my body has been through a lot more.  Last year I was well rested and trained and I finished in a little over 23 hours.  This year, who knows?  It would be nice to get a sub-hour buckle again, but I'll settle for anything that is an official finish (under 30 hours). 

I recovered really well from the VT100.  It was actually strange.  I had almost no soreness and was able to show up bright and early Monday for work without the usual "crab walk" that usually happens.  The week after VT I ran 29 miles, the next week 54 miles and this week was a hair under 60.  The running streak is still alive too.  As of today I have run 223 days in a row for a total of 2379 miles.  I think that if I get to one year I'll take a day off and kill the streak.  It is becoming a "thing" and I don't want it to turn into something that I "have" to do.

Last Sunday I ran the "Mansfield Loop" with an incredible group from Vt.  It is a 26 mile loop that has everything from trails to fire roads to rocky trails on "the chin" at Mount Mansfield.  Along with my coach, Jack Pilla, there was Aliza Lapierre,  Nick Yardley, Todd Archambault, Serena Wilcox, Scott and Joyce Holsten and Bob Ayers, Jr.   I was actually nervous to run with this group, even though they are all friends of mine.  They are a speedy group and I haven't been feeling so speedy lately, just tired.

Speedy group, taking a break.
After 12 miles we were at the base of the Mt. Mansfield access road.  It is a steep 4.5 mile auto road with no breaks.  I got about 1/2 a mile up it and just blew up.  I was completely wiped out. My legs wouldn't move and I just couldn't run. 

Much steeper than it looks
I felt terrible and was worried about being "that guy" who everybody had to wait for.  I realized that we were at about 3 hours into the run, which was exactly the same time I blew up at the VT100.  About halfway up Nick saw that I was struggling and hung back and walked with me.  This was the first time I've really had the chance to talk with him and it really helped.  He offered to run with me back to the parking lot when we got to the top, as I had absolutely no idea how to get back. 

When we got to the top the entire group was hanging around chatting and there was no pressure to hurry up and continue.  Jack gently refused to let me leave and after eating and taking a rest I decided to continue.  As we started the more rocky trail and we switched to a faster hike/occasional run I felt better.  The rest of the run was a blast and the views from the top of Mansfield were incredible.  After making it back to the parking lot we took a quick dip and all met at the local store for sandwiches and ice creams.  The total trip took 6.5 hours and was a blast. 

View from the top of Mt. Mansfield
Todd coming down one of the ladders
This last week we spent at the beach in Ogunquit Maine.  Since I'm not much of a beach goer I spent most of the early part of the days riding my bike and going for short runs.  I discovered some great roads right outside of town and really enjoyed riding.  Right now I'm having a little bit of a hard time finding the motivation to run.  The biking really helps break it up a bit.  In the evenings we had a blast goofing around, going to nice restaurants and partaking in a drink or two.



Today for my long run Jack had instructed me to run 30 miles of "Big Hills".  He wanted me to do some mountain hiking/running to help prepare me for the upcoming race.  I couldn't find anybody who wanted to join me for a Pemi-loop of in the presi's so I decided to go to Pats Peak. 

I've posted here before about running there.  The Mountain Bike course is 5.15 miles and each loop has about 1000 ft of elevation.  Not as tough as the White Mountains, but I figured it would do.  The plan was to do 6 loops.  I have never done more than 4 so I knew it would be a big undertaking.  I started off well, running the entire first loop, but I quickly knew that it wasn't in me to do the full pull.  I ended up doing 3.5 loops plus a power hike up the steep access road.  It came to a little more than 20 miles and took me almost 4 hours.  I called it a day and for the first time in a long time I actually listened to my body and didn't push it.

So its time to taper, rest my tired body and get ready to take on the altitude in Colorado.  Part three of the Potentially Painful Summer, here I come!