Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Altra Lone Peak shoe review

Altra Lone Peak
When the Altra Instinct came out I was psyched.  Finally there was a cushioned zero drop shoe with a fantastic toe box.  You can read my review of the shoe here.  When I first discovered Altra, the shoe I was really looking forward to was the Lone Peak.  After reaching out to Altra and telling them about my PPS they emailed and said that they would like to sponsor my attempt.  They sent me a pair of the Instincts for free and gave me a discount on 2 additional pairs.  I wore them for the Western States 100, the Vermont 100 and part of the Leadville 100. 

As the summer wore on the release for the Lone Peaks kept getting delayed.  I couldn't wait for the additional traction and protection that the shoe promised.  When they finally came out my summer of racing was over.  Altra Co-Owner Brian Beckstead reached out to me recently and told me that Altra would love my feedback on the shoe now that it was out.  Originally they had promised to send me a pair for free when they were available.  For some reason, perhaps because my race schedule for the year was complete, Brian said that I could buy a pair at a discount.  At this point I have been using several other shoes as my go-to trail shoes, most notably the New Balance MT110's and Brooks Pure Grits.  I really did not need to buy another pair of shoes, but I had been waiting for these shoes to come out for almost 6 months and I do love the Instincts.  So I decide to take Brian up on his offer and bought a pair.
Notice how hard I'm pushing on the heel.  The sole feels like it's made out of steel.  It doesn't flex.
For comparisson, my Instincts with similar (if not less) pressure applied at the same point.

When they arrived I was super surprised at how stiff they were.  The addition of a rock plate and the additional stack height had turned the familiar shoe into a very rigid one.  I ordered the shoes a 1/2 size smaller on Brian's recommendation and I'm glad I did, as they fit well.  Once again, the toe box is excellent.  Nice and wide with plenty room to splay my toes.   But wearing them around the house the felt noticeably stiffer than the Instincts.  I put them in the closet where they stayed for a while. 

Much better traction than the Instinct
Finally I decided to give them a whirl and took them out for a 16 mile jaunt.  Within the first 100 feet I knew that they were a different animal than the Instincts.  My foot felt like it was trapped in a container, rather than being part of an instrument meant to enhance running.  My heel was rubbing up and down against the rear of the shoe with every step because the sole was so stiff that the shoe wasn't flexing with my steps.

Great Toebox
As the run continued onto the trails the shoe felt better, but still too stiff.  My foot had no ground feel whatsoever and the lack of lateral flexibility was frustrating.  The increased traction (over the Instincts) was a noticeable improvement.  One thing I noticed right away was that the rudder type thing on the back of the shoe was rubbing my opposite calf a lot and became rather irritating.  If I use these shoes again I am going to cut it off first.  I can't see that it serves any purpose. 

Calf hair remover....
Eventually I ran through a stream and discovered another issue.  The shoe doesn't drain.  More specifically, the insole is made of a squishy rubber that seems to absorb water like a diaper and then holds it against the bottom of your foot for the rest of the run.  It never dries out.  My feet were wet for the entire run, even though I ran through the water within the first few miles.  This would be a fatal flaw for me if I was going to run 100 miles in them.  I can't imagine how bad my blisters would be.

Honestly, I'm disappointed.  I love my Instincts and had such high hopes for this shoe.  It is so over built for my needs and feels just like the shoes I've been so happy to get away from since moving towards more minimal shoes.  Here's how it ends up for me:

Pros -
Excellent shaped last
Tons of toe room
Zero drop
Huge amount of protection from rocks, etc.

Con's -
Stiff sole
Stiff upper
Doesn't drain
Doesn't move with my foot

If you are looking for a Sherman Tank off road shoe with a zero drop this is your shoe.  For me, it's just to much shoe and lacks the elegance that I'm looking for in an off road shoe.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Give it to me one more time! - Bartram 100 Race Report

Welcome to middle Georgia!
 On November 30th I posted on Facebook  "I really would like to run 100 miles...soon."   As much as I didn't want to admit it, I was kind of depressed about how my season had ended. Even though I had successfully completed three difficult 100's the last DNF's we what stuck most in my mind. 

I hadn't planned on doing any more races and I had backed way off my training.  As a matter of fact, I wasn't "training" at all.  What I was doing was simply running for the love of running.   For the first time in years, I wasn't following a training plan, and I was falling in love with running again.  Which lead to me posting that I wanted to race again.   I certainly hadn't planned on doing another one, but I wanted a chance to redeem myself.   I was a little bit afraid that I might be biting off more than I can chew, and the possibility of having to endure another DNF would crush me.  But at the same time, I've never been afraid to challenge myself and doing one more race might give me the chance to end the year on a more positive note.

One of my Facebook friends recommended that I check out the Bartram 100 in Georgia, only two weeks away.  Only in it's second year, Bartram is a loop course with the competitors running a 6.25 mile loop 16 times.  The few pictures I could dig up on Google showed nice single track and woods running with only about 300 ft of elevation gain/loss per loop.  After talking with Amy and getting her blessing I decided to go for it.

Hometown feel, its like the Anti-Leadville

I checked in and picked up my race number Friday night and was pleased to meet a bunch of very friendly nice people.  The start/finish line was right next to a covered area with picnic benches and a great place to put my bag of supplies for the race.   I went back into the town of Milledgeville and checked into the hotel.  After seeing that it had a microwave and fridge I went to the Piggly Wiggly and bought dinner and breakfast for the next morning.  After a nice dinner of rice and avocado I retired early in hopes of getting a good nights sleep.

You'd think I'd be able to take a clear picture with an automatic camera.

I arrived at 6:30 the next morning just in time to set up my support bag and be ready for the 7am start.  Since they had an aid station set up about 1/2 way through the loop it meant that all I had to carry was a handheld bottle.  My strategy was to eat a gel at each aid station or every 30 to 45 minutes.  For fluids I would drink the Gatorade that was provided at both stations.  I filled up my bottle, ate a gel, put another in my bottle pocket and was ready to go.

Start/Finish Line on left

Without any fanfare or pretense the RD sent us off and just as the sun was rising we were on our way.  Let me do my best to give a course description.  Since I was so focused on doing my best here I didn't take any pictures, so this is from memory.  After 16 laps of the course, I know it like the back of my hand.

Starting line reservoir

The course starts off around a tiny resevoiur and then bears left onto a hardpacked singletrack.  Shortly the single track goes uphill for the steepest climb in the 6.25 miles.  It is easily run and does not go that far.  At the top it goes left through a field then bears right, all at a slight uphill, through a small cultivated forest.  Next is a junction where you head left for the short out and back section.  This is the place on the course where you can check out how far ahead or behind your competitors are.  After you go into the woods it comes to a dead end where you go around three cones and then head back where you came from.  At the junction you bear left where you follow some powerlines.

Halfway up this hardpacked dirt road it becomes a little hill that goes for about 1/4 mile.  At the top you bear right onto some grassy trails that goes downhill.  This part is a little tricky because what looks like nice soft grass has 2-3" sharp railroad type rocks scattered about.  After it goes down hill for a ways it goes back up.  Again, this incline is easily run.  The trail turns left for a short ways through another cultivated forest where the trees are in perfect rows, like the tombstones at Arlington.  At the end of this section you take a left.  At this point you can actually see the start line strait ahead, but it is still a couple miles away if you follow the course.  This is where the midway aid station is located.  There is a table with gels, heed, gatorade and water.  Throughout the day new surprises showed up on the table, like bowls of Mike and Ike candies.  There is also a porta potty, which I never had to use.

After a left through the woods and a short uphill, the trail turns right and goes downhill thorugh a nice grass trail into the woods.  A short woods section complete with man made bridges eventually puts you out to the last climb of the trail, again, easily run when you are fresh.  At the top of the hill you bear right and go down a long open exposed road where there are more stones to watch for.  Then you take a right back into nice single track trails for a while until you get back to the start/finish.

For the first 3 or 4 laps I was finishing each lap in about an hour.  I knew that there was no way that I could keep up a 16 hour pace, but I didn't see the point in purposely slowing down any since I was running easy and very comfortable.  My fueling strategy was working very well and I was feeling excellent.  I had a feeling early that it was going to be one of those days where I was strong.  I spent quite a bit of time in the early laps talking to Tony Portera.  Tony is from NY and it turns out we have a lot of mutual friends.  He was running very strong and looks poised and relaxed.  He was great company and we frequently reminded each other that we were going out way to fast.  But we both still kept running all the hills...For most of the morning we were running in 4th and 5th place and we couldn't believe the pace of the two front runners.  The leader was putting at least 5 minutes on us per lap!

Eventually Tony said that he just had to purposely slow down his pace so he dropped back a bit.  I started to walk in 4 places, but never for very long.  Just long enough to change up the muscles that I was using.  I decided that my strategy would be to try to not walk any more than I was doing on those laps and see if I could just keep up the pace.

New Balance MT110s

I was wearing my New Balance MT110 shoes with my favorite Wright socks.  This is the exact same combo that I used for the first 70 miles of Leadville.  Again I was perfectly blister free and happy to be so!  I hit the 50 mile point in 8 hours and 33 minutes feeling good, but the shoes were starting to get thin under my feet and my hips were getting very tight.  I decided to do a quick sock and shoe change.  I changed into my Brooks True Grits and took off.  I might have spent 5 minutes at that stop.

Brooks Pure Grit

The sole of the shoe felt much better and offered way more cushioning and protection from the rocks, but it wasn't more than another couple of miles that I knew that I was going to have a problem with the toes on my right foot.  Two of them were rubbing on the top and front of the shoes and I realized that my feet were probably larger than normal due to swelling.  I hadn't anticipated that!  I made a vow to myself at that point that I wasn't going to change for the rest of the race and I would simply stick it out no matter what type of shape my feet were in.  I was super focused on moving forward at all times and and not wasting any time.  I even continued to walk when I had to pee.  It sounds stupid, but looking back at what happened at the finish line (eventually I'll get to that) it was a smart decision.

With my music blasting and the sun setting I continued to put in the laps.  The hardest part was running a 2 mile stretch where there was no place to walk.  Every lap I continued to push myself to not walk in this area even though I was getting more and more tired.

Somewhere around the 10th-12th lap I started to feel very sick to my stomach.  I was completely repulsed by the gels I was eating and by the Gatorade I was drinking.  I knew that I had to eat at all cost but even the though of eating a gel grossed me out.  As I was starting one of the climbs I was completely overwhelmed by a need to throw up.  Damn, I hate throwing up.  My attitude was still good though.  I actually laughed as I stopped and started to dry heave.  I have never puked during a race before and I felt like it was a right of passage.  After three hard heaves the feeling went away.  I didn't throw up.  I have no idea why not, but I kept moving and ate a gel as soon as I could.

As I got to the midway aid station I decided to try a cup of heed.  Most runners I know stay away from the stuff as they say that it bloats them and makes them sick.  At this point I had to try anything other than what I was doing.  I drank a cup and instantly felt better.  It wasn't sweet and it settled my stomach.  I was psyched.  Major problem solved, at least for now.  I dumped the Gatorade out of my bottle, filled it with heed and took off to finish another lap.

When I got the start finish I asked if they had any turkey.  They did and I took off for my next lap with 4 or 5 slices.  My new secret weapon.  Turkey and Heed.  Hey, it worked!  I started to feel very good and was moving well.  I kept putting in the laps and with about 4 to go I asked how far the leader was in front of me.  He was 55 minutes ahead and I was in second place.  I put my head down and just kept hammering.  With two laps to go I asked again how far behind I was and I was told about 35 minutes, but the leader was slowing down.  I told them I was going to make a race of it and took off.

I was feeling good and just doing my best to keep my pace up.  I had the bit between my teeth, but honestly was more concerned about breaking 20 hours than winning.  I could be pretty happy with second place!!  On the last lap I was still feeling good so I decided that I should give it everything that I had.  I ran every single step and all the hills.  About 2 miles from the finish I came upon a runner who was stopped and holding his legs.  I asked if he was ok as I passed by and he said yes.

He didn't look familiar to me.  Could that be the leader that I just passed?  Holy crap, was I in the lead?  I became really motivated to not let him catch me if he was.  I was running scared and flying.  Shortly after I passed a slower runner and his pacer, a person that I recognized as one of the race directors.  They asked me if I had seen a guy earlier with a white jacket.  I said that I had, he was just a little ways back.  I asked if he was the leader and they said no.

I was pretty bummed, but there was no reason to slow down.  Since I was flying, why not finish strong and get the best time possible.  The pull of the finish line was in full effect and as the finish line came into sight I passed another runner who was moving pretty slowly.  As I blew by him I quickly realized that he was sprinting to catch me.  It was the leader!!!  I ran as hard as I could and crossed the finish line before him with a time of 19:19:43.  His time was 19:19:45.  I won by 2 seconds and set a course record.  I still can't believe that after 100 miles only two seconds separated us!!!

I felt terrible for him, but at the same time I had just won my first race!  I tried to keep the tears from coming but I did get pretty misty eyed after.  I was in shock.  I had a very tough time getting to the car when I tried to pack up an hour later.  My left hip flexor was so tight that I couldn't lift my leg to walk!  The next day at the airport I looked like a penguin walking.  My feet were bruised up from smashing on the rocks.

Earlier this year when I DNF'd at the Bear, I learned my most important lesson from all these races.  If you don't want it bad enough then you won't do your best.  I wanted to do well at this race so badly that it was worth the risk of another failure. All week before the race I spent time imagining doing well and erasing all doubt from my mind.  I was focused and driven. When things got tough I was able to push through.

This was a great race with nice people and a real home town feeling.  For my win I got....nothing.  No buckle, no finishers award, no medal.  And that is perfectly alright with me.  The feeling of satisfaction that I got out of it is better than anything anybody could have given me.