Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Altra Olympus Shoe Review

Altra Olympus

At the end of my last post I listed a few shoes that I need to review and asked if anybody had a preference for which I should do first.  It was a tie between the Altra Olympus and the New Balance MT110V2.  So here is the first of the two.

When I first heard about the Olympus I was very excited.  Way back at the beginning of Altras incredible ride to popularity (3 or so years ago) I fell in love with the Altra Instinct.  I wore it for road and trail ultras, including 3 different 100 milers.  As much as I loved it, I wished that it had more cushioning and better traction.  So much so that I even cut the sole of a pair of Hoka Mafates and bonded it to a Instinct upper. 

My original Altrokas

When I heard that Altra was coming out with a Zero drop, maximum cushioning shoe I was psyched.  What I was hoping for was a Hoka type ride with an upper that had the typical Altra features of a large toe box and comfy upper.  Speaking of Hoka, there is no way to do this review (in my eyes) without having some sort of comparison between the two.  Most trail runners I know have at least one pair of Hokas, even if they primarily run in minimal or traditional shoes. 

When I slipped them on for the first time I was really pleased with the fit of the upper.  Then when I took my first steps I was immediately struck by the odd gait I had walking on our wood floors.  It was as if I was standing on a flat sole that canted forward when I walked. I have worn many rockered shoes but they have always felt as if they exaggerated the natural running stride.  These felt like they impeded it.

See the short steep angle of the toe spring?  Feels more radical than it looks.

My first run was on the pavement.  I hated them.  It felt like the radical ramp angle had my toes hanging off the edge of a diving board and the stride was just clunky.  The level of cushioning was great.  Not Hoka Bondi soft, but similar to the Stinson Evo.  Also similar to the Hoka Rapa Nuis, but with more height.

The best toe-box in the biz

I was pretty bummed and put them in the closet.  I wrote Golden (the founder of Altra) asking if I was the only one who was fixated on the ramp angle.  I asked because I had already read many reviews and people seemed to love the shoe and was starting to see it on peoples feet at races.  He said that no, I wasn't the only one, but many folks were saying that it was much minimized when running off road.  He also said that for the next version they will be working on a more natural transition to toe off.

Cool built in Gaiter Trap

Since I loved the fit, I wore them a few times casually.  My heel bruise does better wearing maximal cushioning shoes.  I didn't run again in them for a while.  Then I tried them on a short 8 mile run on the trails and though that he was right.  The ramp angle wasn't nearly as noticeable.   But with many shoes to test they sort of fell out of my rotation.  With it being the top pick for a review, I decided I better run some more miles in them.

Lacing system allows snug fit

So Thursday I took them out for a 12 mile run all trails.  I swear they seem like they are breaking in.  The run felt really good and I enjoyed wearing them.  Then on Sunday I took them to the White Mountains. 

Slippery when wet!

Since they fit just a tad tight on my right foot, I was worried about using them on the steep descents, but it turns out that wasn't a problem.  As a matter of fact, they were excellent.  I ran 21 miles of very steep, rocky, wet, muddy, mossy, rooty....ok you get it.  With 8000 ft of elevation gain/loss it was a great test. 

Going back up Mt. Tecumseh

The level of cushioning is so appreciated when running/hiking on trails like these. As is the super comfortable fit and wide toe box.  But the upper can be laced very snugly and they keep your foot in place.  Which prevents your toes from being smashed against the front, which is something I hate.  What's not as appreciated is the traction.  It has somewhat grippy rubber, but not awesome.  And the road based tread doesn't work in mud at all.  The good news is the fit and comfort.  I got zero hot spots or blisters and I just love how comfy they are.  Although I haven't submerged them, they seemed to dry out pretty quickly from the water/mud I did get on them.

It should be noted that I saw these shoes on the feet of several competitors at the Peak 200 race 3 weeks ago.  And two of them wearing them finished!  Also it's worth noting that my friend Larisa Dannis ran a 2:44 Boston Marathon in them, finishing first non-elite US woman!

The foam seems to be getting a bit softer and breaking down a bit.  This is a really good thing.  The stiff rigid feel I encountered at first seems to be going away.  Sometimes you actually do get another chance to make a first impression.  I still will be excited to see Altra fix the abrupt ramp angle, but in the meantime I am going to put a lot more mountain miles on these puppies.

Oh yeah...If you really want to know the stats...
Weight (size 10.5) - 12.75oz - actual weight on my food scale
Fit - True to size, perhaps a tiny tiny bit on the small side
Delta - Zero Drop
Cool stuff - built in Gator velcro
Stack Height - 36mm (!!!!)
Price - $130
Construction/materials/etc. - Check out Altra for more info.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Trans-Zion and Peak 200 race report. A recap of May's activities.

Well, May has come and gone and I've just realized that I didn't post even once!  Rather than write individual posts about everything, I thought it might be nice just to do a little recap.  First, the stats.

Total miles ran - 365.3
Hours running - 71:58 (no wonder I haven't had time to write)
Calories consumed - 1 billion

Finishing the Lake Waramaug 50k
After running a fast 50k at the end of April at Lake Waramaug, May was the time to start putting in more miles and more specific training.   Going into this year, committed to running 200 miles in Sept, I knew that I had to change the way I trained.  I've always put a lot of miles in, but this year I need to put in more long (really long) days.  Time on my feet is the most important thing, not the speed at which I do my training.  I've added in walking at a fast pace, and I'm trying to get more cross training in.

Sherpa John

Knowing that I need to get some Journey runs in, I made the decision to join my old friend Sherpa John for a Trans-Zion run on the 17th.  I flew out a few days ahead of time to catch up and do some runs in his stomping grounds (Colorado).  We had a great time running, eating and catching up.  Friday we drove the 500 mile trek to Utah.  The drive was beautiful.  The campground we stayed at was even more beautiful!  Since it was a group fun run, I got to meet everybody at the campground as we hung out around the fire and got to know each other.

The group running Trans-Zion together.  This is the view from behind our campground!

The run itself was a blast!  It ended up being 51.5 miles with about 10k of elevation.  We also ended up going up Angels Landing as a side trip.

Angels Landing.  We went right up that ridge to the top.  Scary!

It was almost 100 degrees for most of the afternoon and it really ended up affecting most in the group.  It didn't seem to bother John or I much, and despite almost everybody taking the 36 mile bail out, we soldiered on to finish in 14.5 hours.  The great part was that there was no rush.  It was just an awesome day covering lots of miles with friends.  These type of adventures are more memorable than most of my races.  I finished the day feeling good.  It was a confidence builder for what I was about to do 10 days later.

Starting the Pittsfield Peak 200

On Thursday the 29th at 6am I toed the line at the Pittsfield Peaks 200 mile race.  I had been planning on doing this race as a practice for the Tahoe 200.  Leading up to the race I had told Amy that I was just going to see how far I could get and what I could learn about doing a multi-day race.  The longest I've ever been on course was 24:34 (Leadville 2011) and I've never had to sleep during a race. 

Board where we record our laps - Old School Cool!!

Of course, in the few days leading up to the race I forgot about all that and was determined to just finish at all costs.  I wanted to learn to be patient, which I am terrible at.  I even decided to not wear a watch, which for me is a big deal.  As we headed out on the first of what should have been 20 loops of the 10 mile course I felt great.  I was in the lead and running and climbing at what I thought was a very easy pace.  I knew I needed to slow down when I come in from the first loop in 1:44.  Way...too...fast.  So I backed it down, or so I thought, to an even easier pace.

Stone Shack.  My favorite place on the loop.

By then end of the fourth loop, which I finished exactly at 8 hours, I already had over 10 miles on almost the entire field.  I was still moving well, but even with slowing down I still think I was going to fast.  My thought process was that if I could run with no discomfort, why shouldn't I?  I knew that I would slow down later and the buffer I had build would really take the pressure off to finish in under the 82 hours that the course was open.

Singletrack with waterfall.

On the 6th loop I decided that I would hike the entire loop just to see how long it took me.  Of course that went out the window when I came to my favorite part of the course, the 4 or so miles of downhill single-track after the Stone shack at the crest of the mountain.  I remember thinking that not only was I going to finish, but I was going to win this thing.  I felt awesome and ripped off a 2:20 or so lap (my total time was 2:40ish, but that included a 15 minute stop at the start/finish and a 5 minute break at the top of the hill).  Oops. 

The start/finish line.

The 7th loop was tough.  The 8th was even tougher.  I finished mile 80 at 19:03 into the race and decided that I needed a break.  I was tired.  My feet had been wet for hours and some blisters were starting to form.  I figured that I could take a nap and dry out my feet.  I went to sleep around 1:45 and woke up a little past 5.  

Deluxe accommodations.
When I got up I couldn't believe how well I felt.  The pace was much slower than what I'm used to in a 100 and my legs didn't feel beat up.  I put on new shoes and socks and headed out for my 9th loop in really good spirits.  By the time I got to the top of the hill, about 3.5 miles into that loop, I was really tired again.  I was moving a lot slower and the downhills were killing me!

These little messages were all over the course. 

On my 10th loop the tendonitis in my right shin was flaring up really badly, especially on the downhills.  I decided that 100 miles was a pretty good training run and called it quits after finishing 100 miles.

I don't feel like it was a total failure.  I learned a bunch of things about what I'm going to need to do to finish one of these monsters.  In one sense, I'm even more scared than before.  100 miles is a really long distance to run, 200 miles is like...double that!!  What the hell am I thinking?????

One final note.  I am way behind on my shoe reviews.  Here is what I have in the works.
- New Balance Fresh Foam Trail
- New Balance MT110V2
- Altra Paradigm
- Altra Olympus
- Merrell Bare Access Trail

Please help me prioritize.  Are there any of the above shoes that you want to hear about first?  I appreciate the feedback!