Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Altra Olympus Review

I've been running for close to 10 years -- 5 or so of them quite seriously -- and I have worn dozens of shoes. I am a bit of a shoe junkie and often give up on a pair after only a few hundred miles simply because I want to try something else. In that time, I can only think of four shoes I can say that I have truly loved: early Nike Free (from about 2009?), original Kinvara, New Balance MT101, and now the Altra Olympus. There have been many shoes that I though were pretty good, some that server a purpose in my "rotation", and lots that have good days and bad. But, shoes that I literally want to wear every time I head out are rare. Since I have delayed writing this post for about three weeks too long, I have accumulated nearly 175 miles and close to 30K of vertical on my Olympus -- enough that I think I have fully formulated my opinion on these shoes.

A couple of quite notes to start: first, I bought the Olympus hoping for a cross over shoe that allowed me to do the occasional road run in max cushion. I didn't want a shoe dedicated to this purpose because I rarely do a run with that requirement. The tread on the Olympus seems to me to be designed for this purpose. And, Altra's own website promotes this. Of course, now that Altra has released the Paradigm, I may look at them too! Second, I never really thought I'd love the Olympus this much, mostly because my experience with Hokas left me unsold on max cushion. With a 100 mile race pending in September, I fully expected either the Lone Peak 1.5 or even the Lone Peak 2.0 to my summer racing shoe. And finally, I own only one pair of Hokas (the Mafate 3) and so any comparisons to the Hokas are based SOLELY on my experience with that one shoe. The Mafate are cheap(er) and allegedly have the widest toe box in their line up. I tried on a pair of Stinson once and immediately returned them because of the narrow forefoot.

The Positives:
  • Everything about this shoe feels right to me -- the toe box, the rocker technology, the support, etc..
  • The weight is incredible for a max cushion shoe, barely more than my typical daily training shoe
  • Considering the category they are in (max cushion), the $130 price tag is quite affordable
  • The perfect amount of cushion for big vertical trail runs
  • No rock plate (that I can tell), but I never feel an object that poses a threat to my feet
  • The rocker technology takes a few runs to get used to, but I find it very natural and find my stride feels very efficient when I am using it to land and toe off.
  • This last (SD5-M) from Altra is my favorite. I find the heel width and midfoot width are better for me than the other last used in the Torin and Superior.
  • At 175 miles I cannot say I have durability questions about them
The Room for Improvement
  • I have only gotten them wet once or twice, but I am skeptical about how fast they'll dry
  • The sizing feels slightly off to me and I am stuck between a 12 and a 12.5
  • The material used in the midsole makes the shoe look a little cheap, particularly the paint peeling off
  • The tread can be a slick when combined with sand and exposed rock.  
The Blue Aster is a good combination of tame and stylish

Paint peeling on the midsole material
I don't write real technical shoe reviews. I leave that to other guys. But, I could go on and on about how I love this shoe. The most important criteria for me is always how much I enjoy wearing the shoe and this shoe compares to very few in that way. To me, they are a Hoka killer because of the weight and wide toe box. I don't feel like I am wearing a clunky, over built-up shoe when running fast. And I do feel the cushion and support when running long and pounding downhill. Those traits are an ideal ultramarathon shoe. There is a very good chance that I will buy at least one more pair of these shoes before they are gone. One thing I have learned with my previous shoe loves, buy them while you can!

Weekly Training Wrap - 5/19 - 5/25

Eh, this was a so-so week. I wasn't sure what to say and I almost didn't post a training blog. Basically, I have been in this pattern of racing the past three weeks and I needed to cutback a little. Due to a weekend soccer tournament for my son, I did my long run on Friday. That resulted in me doing three long runs in 7 days for an aggregate of 87 miles and 11k in 7 days. Oops. I was feeling pretty tired on Saturday and Sunday and then again Monday from the long days at soccer fields.

As a result of the big miles and races, I haven't really done much "training" recently. However, the weekend races are all training runs of sorts with enough effort (not just long, slow distance) to sever a purpose. The midweek runs have become more maintenance runs and I've been using them to try and get some heat exposure as I expect that to be the one factor I am unprepared for on June 28th. With two weeks to go before cutback and taper begins, I am going to try and hit at least one key workout each week, not including my long runs. These runs will likely be more of the tempo and hill interval variety as I feel those are more specific to ultra running than track work.

Day Miles Notes
Monday OffRest
Tuesday 5 Easy
Tuesday4 Easy
Wednesday8 Hill Repeats
Strength Training
Thursday8The Bluffs
Friday18 Deer Creek
Saturday OffRest
Sunday 7North Table Mountain
Total 51About 7800 feet of vert

Monday, May 19, 2014

Weekly Training Wrap - 5/12 - 5/18

Phew, I've had races in each of the past 3 weeks. Of course, I am not sure I have truly raced any of them other than maybe the Quad Rock 25. How much of a true race effort can you put in on tired/training legs with no taper and minimal recovery? I guess that varies from athlete to athlete. Anyway, I spent the first half of this week recovering from Quad Rock and trying to save up some mojo for the weekend. I never intended to run the Colfax Marathon, but I got a free entry from work and decided I would use it as a long training run. My buddy Jon is transitioning over to the trails in preparation to run the North Fork 50 with me and asked if I would want to run Deer Creek on Saturday. Not wanting to lose momentum on the trails, I agreed to run with him and just do both. Honestly, this is the kind of test I need once in a while, but maybe not one week after Quad Rock.

Here is what I wrote as my run description (a mini race report) for yesterday's marathon:
Brings my 2 day total to 43 miles and 6.5 hours of running and my week to 68 miles. Not too shabby. I knew I couldn't afford another race effort -- 3 weeks in a row and I am running out of matches to burn -- so I decided to make it a mostly Zone 1 and 2 affair with some progression. I tried to keep the first 8 miles entirely in Zone 1, but I think I started losing that around mile 7. Then I wanted to keep the next 8 miles somewhere between 145 and 150, which was a struggle because it is mostly uphill. My average HR at the halfway mark was 141. Next, I wanted to stay in Zone 2 (under 155) until mile 20. I had to really keep myself in check in miles 17-20 because it is easy to fly down Colfax there. I felt super strong and was easily picking off runners. Then I just sort of went with it for the final few miles. I got a little bonky (only 200-300 kcals all race) between miles 22 and 23 and nearly threw in the towel. But I found some Gatorade at mile 23 and guzzled a few cups to give me enough energy to finish. The last few miles up 17th in the heat were BRUTAL, but I just set my sights on picking off runners, mostly 10 milers. All in all this pretty much turned out exactly as I thought/hoped. I cannot argue with that. I wore my Altra Instinct 2.0 without socks. About mile 16, I regretted not having socks.
The short version is that I never intended to race. I set up a structure that allowed me to run progressively faster (both pace and effort), but still make it a predominantly aerobic affair. And, I intentionally made it low in calories to both test and push myself there. But, I won't lie, I was pretty upset with myself for not packing a few extra "just in case" gels. The last 5 miles were a real struggle with almost no calories coming in. In hindsight, I sort of wish I had packed a multi-hour bottle of Ucan to try nursing that. I figured if I ran the race like I intended, I could run 3:35 or 3:45 and achieve my objectives without blowing myself up. 3:37 was on the faster side of that range and I feel like I should be able to return to normal training this week. Mission accomplished, I guess!

One last thing, I finally got my gym membership back and plan to get back into cross training again this week. Though, I was predictably sore and could only go once last week.

Day Miles Notes
Monday OffRest
Tuesday 5 Easy
Strength Training
Wednesday9 Easy
Wednesday6 Easy
Friday5 Easy
Saturday 17Deer Creek
Sunday 26Colfax Marathon
Total 68About 5800 feet of vert

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Quad Rock 25 Race Report

Wow, it feels good to be running a race report again! I sort of signed up for Quad Rock at the last moment -- literally the last runner allowed to enter the 25 online -- after deciding I didn't think I'd be ready for the Colorado Marathon while recovering from surgery. (In hindsight, I could have been ready for CM.) I didn't really think of it as a "goal race" or do much specific to prepare for it until the last 3-4 weeks when it was clear I was fully fit and healthy and training at a high level. I made a conscious effort to get in some vertical the past few weeks and prepare for the pounding of this brutal race. And it paid off. As I created my strategy for the race, I did some race comparisons -- and runner comparisons -- and realized that a 4:45 finish would be a solid time for me. But, I knew the weather was going to be ideal and that I wanted more than a "solid" finish. I set my sights on 4:30 and was going to work my butt off to get it.

It is always fun to experience the camaraderie of race week with someone. Even though we were running in the separate QR races, Chuck and I spent the whole week leading up to the race going through the typical race week emotions, thoughts, and plans. We had decided to camp at Horsetooth Reservoir and drove up Friday afternoon to "prepare". I think it was really more just to slip into the moment and get away from the distraction of real life. By the time I arrived, Chuck had already set up camp and we proceeded drive around and scope out the area: both the start area and the 10/40 mile aid station, where I hoped to see Chuck on race day. Then we circled around Fort Collins lost for half an hour looking for Runner's Roost and bib pick up. Finally, we headed down to Longmont and my favorite restaurant (Oskar Blues) for dinner. In a flash, we were asleep with a 4 am wake up call.

After waking, we didn't waste much time. We ate, put on our already laid out gear, made some coffee and headed to the start. Due to the relatively high volume of people pouring into Lory State Park, everything felt rushed until we finally had our bibs and got behind the start line with only about 10 minutes to go. We made a small mistake here by lining up somewhere between half and two-thirds of the way back. This may not have been as bad for Chuck, but I was running the shorter race and probably wasted a bit of energy and time climbing up from that far back.

Towers Road Aid - Mile 7

The race started with a "ready, set, go" from Nick and we were off. I soon realized how many people we were going to have to pass. They changed the course so that the first few miles are along dirt road so that runners can space out, but we were pretty far back. What was enjoyable was that I got to run a few miles with Chuck as a result. And, it set me up to be the hunter all day. There were one or two times during the entire race that I got passed by a better technical downhill runner. Other than that, I was the pursuer all day. Of course, the reverse of that is that it is tough to pass on technical single track. Some people sense that you are running stronger at that moment and move over. Others make you ask, and even then may or may not get out of the way. To be honest, I usually get out of the way downhill since I have only average abilities there. But uphill, I usually use other runners behind me to push me.

Before long, Chuck unceremoniously ran off into the distance and I was alone. He later "apologized" for not saying bye, but I refused to accept that. Today was his day and he had bigger things on his mind. I never expected we'd be together for more than 10 feet of the race. The race prohibits the use of iPods and I wasn't sure if that was a "wink-wink" thing or a hardcore "you will be DQ'd" thing. While I had a playlist picked, I decided to honor the race rules and just stayed in the moment with no music. I would have expected that to make for a long day, but it actually went by pretty fast even just staying inside my own head. I am not real chatty with strangers, so I didn't speak that much other than a few mile stretch I ran with Jeremy Ebel.

The initial climb was mostly runnable for me. In a longer race, I would have hiked much of this. Today, I was hungry for a good finish. When it got steep, I'd hike for 30 seconds and then run. The hiking never got my heart rate back down, but it stopped some of the burning in my legs. I was blown away with how pretty the course is -- tons of technical single track and nature all around you. This was a huge surprise to me. When we ran the Headless Horsetooth FA event in February, I walked away unimpressed with the Devil's Backbone and Blue Sky trails. The trails inside Lory State Park are awesome. The final bit up to the Towers aid station was on Towers Road. This section of road is relentless and I was definitely mixing and matching running and hiking. I just kept grinding until I got to the top. I didn't stop at aid all day. The race volunteers filled my bottle and I was off with barely 15 seconds time lost.

My only photos from the course. I felt good here and it showed. Probably the least technical part of the course, but pretty!

Not sure about the expression on my face there. Maybe I was going to spit? But I still like this photo for some reason.

Horsetooth Aid - Mile 10

The cold reality of technical downhill was soon upon me. I am a coward running downhill and my legs take a real pounding from all the braking. You work hard as a trail runner uphill so you can be rewarded with downhill. However, the trails in Lory State Park are so steep that they sometimes have to build stairs! After about 15 minutes of technical downhill, I found myself wanting to either go uphill or on something a bit more flat. While I remained focused on the trail, I was also lost in the beauty. I was running mostly alone in these miles and really enjoyed it. The trail finally evened out a bit and I was running strong. However, I was getting the urge to use the bathroom. I finally decided I could wait until mile 10 and use a real restroom. As I pulled into Horsetooth Aid, I went straight into a restroom, taking less than two minutes, and I was off.

With the weather being so perfect (40 degrees at the start and probably the low 50's at the finish), I decided to carry one water bottle only. This is unusual for me as I drink a ton. I just made sure my water bottle was topped off all day and it worked out perfectly. My plan was gels and water only for the entire race. I was running too hard to really digest fat and I didn't want to risk a "sugary beverage" leaving me with cotton mouth and and only one bottle of fluid. This plan worked to perfection. Every 45 minutes I would take a mouthful of Vi Gel. After mile 17, I was taking a gel every 2.5 miles. My stomach was solid and my energy was great.

Towers Road Aid - Mile 14

I left Horsetooth Aid still alone with my thoughts. And we were once again climbing. Within a mile or so, I caught up with Jeremy and announced my presence by insulting him. He's a good guy and took it well. We started chatting and catching up as we passed the miles. Jeremy and I ran with Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim together in 2012. He is coming off bronchitis, causing him to skip the Colorado Marathon, and was running the 50 plus doing a 24-hours of Bear Peak Fat Ass in the same day. He likes some insane challenges! There were a few 14-ish minute miles in here and I started feeling like my 4:30 goal (10:45 pace) could slip away. One thing that running at Deer Creek and Mt Falcon has taught me is that a patient, grinding style up hill usually pays off in the end. So I didn't worry too much about it. We arrived at Towers Aid again and I topped off my water and left. I was definitely making up time on other runners by not stopping.

Arthur's Trailhead - Mile 17.5

Jeremy and I got separated near the top of the climb to Towers Aid, but we were back together running after leaving the aid station. This time we got to run downhill. It was once again a steep, technical descent and I was pretty cautious. Honestly, these miles of the race just passed quickly without much memory, I guess because it was downhill and we were chatting. This section was somewhat exposed and it was the only time all day that I was concerned about the heat. As we pulled into aid, I began fiddling with my water bottle to chug all that remained so the volunteers could refill it. Of course, I found the only rock and tripped in front an aid station full of people! I managed a pretty graceful recovery -- without ever fully going down -- got my water and moved on. I never saw Jeremy again, though I did see that he finished.


I wish I could bottle what happened next. For some reason, perhaps the onslaught of gels or the adrenaline from nearly falling in front of dozens of people, I just started pushing up the next climb. I ran most of the third climb and was passing people the whole way, probably eight runners along the way. I felt STRONG and in control and began thinking of a time lower than 4:30. The 20th mile was a bugger, but I just kept grinding away and was never worried about losing my time. I knew there were downhill miles remaining. Once going downhill, I began picking off more runners, passing three of them just before the "unmanned" aid station, which I skipped. Then I passed a few more runners on some technical downhill between miles 21 and 22. I saw the leader of the race coming back somewhere in this section. Then I saw second place -- an 18 year old kid -- not long after. I would later witness that same kid drop at Horsetooth Aid as I awaited Chuck. (He had a good 30 minute lead on 3rd place and was only a few minutes behind the leader but still dropped.)

The race finishes much like the Deer Creek hiker trail where there is a brief bit of uphill as you bend around the mountain before pounding down. I think something about this visual just hit home with me and I felt totally confident in what I was doing. During the brief uphill, I slowed but continued to run. I passed a few more runners. Then we rounded the corner and I could see the finish line a few miles and a few switchbacks below. I could also see that the trail was the most runnable downhill of the day -- a gentle grade and not much technical elements. I found myself right up on a runner in Hokas. Despite my persistently breathing down his neck, he never offered to move. I glanced up to look in front of him and plan a move. Boom, I did full superman as a loud "ooooffff" came out. Taking my eye off the trail resulted in the inevitable fall, some scrapes, and a bruised elbow. Now I was pissed and determined to pass this guy. I once again got RIGHT UP ON him. He refused to move aside. I finally told him I was passing and he acknowledged, but didn't move aside, forcing me to go off the trail to pass him.

The other complication this final stretch was yielding to the leaders of the fifty mile race coming back at us. The course instructions very clearly stated that we should yield to the faster runner in two way traffic. I tried to move off to the side while still running my own race and keeping track of the runners coming back;  Chuck was about mile 27 and in 14th place when I saw him. We had an awkward exchange as he tried to fist bump and I came in with a high-five. We cheered each other as I went by and that was it. I dropped into a sub-8 pace and just ran as hard as I could to the finish. There were were a few emotional thoughts as I came into the finish. I finished in 4:26, good for 25th male and 27th overall out of nearly 230 finishers.

I hung around the finish area long enough to get some BBQ and text home to let everyone know my status and Chuck's. There weren't any people I recognized hanging around the finish area and I soon departed to get my stuff from the camper and go see Chuck at mile 40. The wait at Horsetooth Aid was a good 45 minutes and I tried to nap as I watched the runners come through. I recognized Chuck running down the switchbacks and got up to greet him. He looked pretty strong and seemed in control of his race. There were some goodbyes and a little advice and then he was off to glory!

Final Thoughts

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the Baz Luhrmann Everybody's Free Song/Speech: "The race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself". I think that pretty much sums up racing for me. I set my own expectations. I have to live with the results. Congratulations from others are fun for a few days, but then the world moves onto something else. We talk about placement, age group awards, rankings, qualifying for select events, etc... But, sooner or later it just comes down to you. In any given race, there is only one winner. Everyone else has to find satisfaction with something else. I set my mind on 4:30 and beat it. Could I have run faster? Maybe. Probably. It doesn't matter really. I am totally happy with how the day played out. The whole race was a near perfect realization of how I visualized it. It just doesn't get better than that.... I ran my first road marathon in 4:18 and I just ran this beast in 4:26, that is some pretty impressive growth.

I walked away from this race feeling very happy about how strong I felt. indicates that this was my best race to date. I never thought of myself as much of climber, but felt like I did a great job climbing in this race. A slender mountain goat of an elite I am not. But, I will grind away with the best of them. Most of the races that I have done with significant climbing have all been at altitude. That probably has a lot to do with why it feels like a struggle. I climbed really well at Old Pueblo 50 last March too.

I was also very happy with my gut. After all the experimentation with low carb diets, things feel somewhat stable now. My gut felt good all day, including post-race. Sure I was eating sugar, but that was only to match the intensity and relatively short nature of the race. I plan to push "real food" on longer races. Nonetheless, I was happy with the fact that I ate less than 800 Kcals all morning (between breakfast and in race nutrition) in a race where I burned about 3700 and felt energized and strong the whole way.

And one final thought to anyone considering this race in the future, I highly recommend it. This ranks very highly among the races that I have done in the past. I liked the fact that it was relatively small and run by experienced runners. It was also very cool to see elite runners that I follow as volunteers at the race. The trails in Lory State Park are top notch. The course was tough, but I thought fair and worth the suffering.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Weekly Training Wrap - 4/28 - 5/4

Whew, tough week of training this week. I have been doing speedwork the past two weeks and decided to mostly easy/maintenance running during the week and I am sure glad I did because I went hard on the weekend. Saturday I went vert hunting at Mt Falcon, including two trips up the Turkey Trot trail. My first trip was my 2nd fastest time ever up that hill. Of course, I paid for that later as it heated up and I ran shy of fluids. After a long day of family activities, I did not get to sleep until almost 11 pm on Saturday night. Then I was up early for an AM trail race on Sunday. I didn't feel super fresh but managed to push reasonably hard and run a sub-8 pace for that (almost) half marathon.

Today, I am totally wiped out. The good news is that I know I trained hard, but also that I should go easy the next few days as I gear up for another race this weekend (Quad Rock 25). Quadrock isn't a goal race by any means. But I'd sure like to give it a good effort. We'll see how my body feels as the early miles of the race unfold.

A photo of me on the podium after my 2nd place finish at Battle of the Bear on Sunday.

Day Miles Notes
Monday OffRest
Tuesday 8 Bluffs
Wednesday9 Progressive Length Fartleks
Body Weight Training
Friday4 Easy
Saturday 21Mt Falcon
Sunday 13Battle of the Bear Half Marathon
Total 63About 8500 feet of vert