Monday, September 1, 2014

Altra Olympus Shoe Review

Since my last review I stick to “specific purpose” type shoes.  The types of shoes worn for specific workouts or terrain.  I guess I am a victim of over specification, but that just means more shoes.  When training for Angeles Crest 100 I quickly realized that the trails were not as smooth as I expected and I would need a sturdier more built shoe.  

A few years ago I ran comfortably in the Hoka.  Hoka OneOne is the company known for brining the shoe revolution full circle.  Instead of joining the crowd of minimalist style companies they build foot pillows.  I used the Hoka Bondi B and the Hoka Mafate (version 1.0).  The Hoka was great for me at the time because it was forgiving and allowed me to stack up miles without the wear on my joints.

However, as my form improved I realized a few things.  

1. The lower the “drop” (Heel to Toe difference) the better my form  
2. Minimal and Maximal…no matter…its all about feel
3. Every shoe has its purpose

     I purchased Altra Instincts because they were zero drop which meant that the toe and the heel were the same height off the ground.  This allowed my foot to land mid foot without feeling out of place.  When it cant time to purchase a high mileage shoe for the trails I looked but kept coming back to the Altra brand.  Thus, I purchased the Olympus.

Shoe Specs
Stack Height: 36 mm
Weight: 11 oz
Upper: Mesh


  • The tread functional and not aggressive.  You can confidently take them on the road without noticeable change in performance.  Shoes built for the “trails” typically have such an aggressive tread that they are uncomfortable and foreign on flat surfaces, this shoe can easily go from road to trail to road without that odd sensation
  • Gaiter Tab: on the back of the shoe the gaiter tab is a clever addition taken from the Altra Lone Peak, its hidden enough that you may not have noticed it when you first picked up the shoe
  • Upper: the mesh upper drains well and is breathable.  Some of the previous Altra models ran a little hot, but this shoe stays cool even under the harshest conditions
Note the Gaiter Tab

  • Not the best on technical stuff.  The fact that the cushion is protecting you from rocks is great, but when you can’t feel subtleties its an issue.  
  • On a run in Angeles Crest I rolled my knee awkwardly because the shoes platform completely turned over a large rock.  Rather than flexing the whole shoe went in an odd direction since it does not flex at the middle as a minimalist shoe would have.
Altra Running has found the sweet spot between minimal and maximal.  They have “minimal” shoes in the sense that they are zero drop, wide toe boxed and motivate your feet to land mid foot.  However, the additional cushion shoes have the typical drawbacks of missing “feel” and feedback.  The protection caused me to take longer strides and focus less on turnover and cadence which sacrificed efficiency over longer stretches.

Would I recommend this shoe?  Absolutely.  If you need protection out not he trails but still want to keep the form you have so diligently worked on these are a great choice.  But, definitely keep another less stacked shoe option for speed days and those days you want to feel everything.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2014 Angeles Crest 100 DNF

     Angeles Crest 100 DNF is a tough pill to swallow as an DNF is.  When I first heard of the race I knew it would test my resolve but I did not expect to learn so much from the experience.  I can give a myriad of reasons and excuses why I was unable to complete the race.  Ultimately, my body was not prepared and I could not will it to continue.

     The machine through which we experience life is not invincible but it is malleable.  My smithing skills were simply not up to the task and I have accepted that fate.  But, rather than jumping at another race I am going to retire from the 100 milers until my body can perform to the standards my mind sets for it.  I have always had better luck with the 50 mile distance and will be focusing on those events for the time being.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Currency Exchange

I have been rather quiet in the last few months about my racing and training because my actions did not match intent.  I want so badly to achieve certain fitness goals that falling short is deafening.  Not hitting the splits or missing too many training sessions because of other priorities made me frustrated and still does.  My soul sought silence and when found the lack of noise itself became so loud that I could not stand that either.

I am scared.  I am scared the plans laid down months in advance will not pan out.  What if my dog does not love to run as much as I do?  What will happen if I cannot muster the gumption to finish my training before most of the world takes their first sip of coffee?  What if this period of reflecting is simply acceptance that age is catching up to me and I will not be able to be this version of myself forever?  What if law school was not the right choice?  Should I have stayed in finance?

These questions are long gazes in the rear view mirror.  The reality is looking into the rearview we become ignorant of the blessings straight ahead.  

My mother is a notorious homebody who suffers from migraine headaches triggered by heat.  She has been sensitive to temperature change ever since I can remember.  In middle school, I remember checking up on her during one of those episodes.  I walked into the dark bedroom..she was awake.  I walked over to her and asked if there was anything I could do to help her.  She took my hand placing it gently against her head.  She whispered, "grab a hammer and hit me right there."  For a split second I panicked.  Does she really expect me to follow that request?  I want to be a good son but a hammer to the head probably does not fall into the "being a good son" category.  Seeing my puzzled face she smiled said she just needed to sleep a little while longer.

At least I figured out where I get my particular blend of sarcasm.  Even in the darkest of moments a smile can always shine through.  You can imagine my surprise when out of the blue she text me letting me know she had a few days off and wanted meet up.  Usually I visit her in beautiful San Clemente and make a day of it but this time was different.  I felt that she wanted to leave her bubble and explore mine to get a glimpse of where I spend my time.

The goal was to hike into the Monrovia Canyon Waterfall, grab lunch, and head back to the OC before traffic and heat got to her.  She struggled a little bit on the uphill section but that was due to her story telling.  She filled our ears with stories of hiking with her father and playing in creeks with her siblings.  The next morning I recieved a text, thanking me for creating a great day for her.  

I could have easily chosen to forego the offer.  A full tank of gas spent driving, the missed training run, etc. were good reasons for not accepting the offer but no matter what my ambitions are or will be the thing I can never recover is time with those I love.

My racing and training has struggled because circumstances both within and outside of my control.  Priorities necessitated modifying my time.  But, I do know the answers to my questions.  I cannot take Vista onto the trail too soon because I don't want her to suffer from Hip issues later, if I miss a run because I slept in its because my body maybe letting me know I need rest, age comes for us all and I am no exception so why dwell instead of enjoying and I elected to pursue law because it makes me happy.  

I cannot fight the answers to questions simply because I do not like them.  Training and racing will be there in whatever form they are meant to.  I in turn have made currency exchange trading in my pessimism for optimism.  Sometimes making the exchange requires a moment of clarity but for me it was a text message letting me know that there was something I could do for my mom.  Even in the darkest moments the smile did shine through.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Stress and Sneaky Feelings

There is a "sneaky" feeling we all get from time to time.  As children its means taking that extra piece of candy, staying up past bedtime or the first time you're allowed to sit at the grown ups table after dinner.  In those moments it feels as if you got a 1-up on life.  As adults those occasions are rare because sneaky & good generally involves breaking a law or hurting ourselves or others.

Last thursday I tweaked something in my back while bending over to leash my Vizsla for a walk.  I rolled onto the bed and lay in a cold sweat 30 minutes before even thinking about moving.  It was as if someone was pushing a bowling pin out straight through my lower back and I could not do anything to stop them.

Vista the Vizsla
It took an hour to get my phone and a few more to figure out my limitations.  I could move myself with arm strength but any effort to sit up or put any weight on legs meant pain.  It was awful.  I called school, the insurance company, my mom, friends, etc.  The fact was although it felt like the end of the world I in fact was not dying.  An ambulance ride to the ER would be not only expensive but most likely useless.  I spoke to Robert at Southwestern Law school; he was so kind and understanding.  He shared his experience and gave me solid practical advice for which I am very thankful.

In my mind...Alex you are an freaking ultra runner!!! you ran 50 miles a few weeks ago and now you can't tie your shoe?  what happened compadre?  I knew the answer.  Law school finals are here and stress is at its lowest price of the year and dividends are paying out exponentially.  I knew I needed to go in for an adjustment after AR50 (link); but instead I read, read and read some more.  I lagged on taking care of myself and something was bound to happen.  This weekend I missed a family wedding and hanging out with my sister who was visiting front the bay area.

As frustrating as missing events is the worst was being unable to complete small tasks or move.  Heck even sneezing or coughing felt like a round with Mike Tyson.  Lucille was helpful as well.  She crewed for me at my headlands finish and knows my affinity for being an idiot at times in addition to understanding my odd pain scale.  Rather than toughing it out she suggested seeing Dr. Quy to get his opinion and going from there.

After a few phone calls and texts in ALL-CAPS I was able to reach my Chiropractor.  My girlfriend came over after work and upon arrival noticed the glaringly obvious.  There is no way on God's green earth that she could move me to the car.  Thus, I did what any man would do...go for it.

Two seconds later...I was kneeling and hugging a chair with a bear like hug not unlike the collegiate morning after hug of the john.  This "going for it" plan was useless.  I moved a few inches at a time then stopped to catch my breath and push down any yelp that sought to escape.  Christina made the executive decision to drag me.  If someone told me weeks or even years ago, the girl of your dreams will physical drag me a few dozen yards and I will love her more for it I would have laughed in their face.  But, it happened.

Last Semester, Christina reading as I studied in the Library
When I first saw Dr. Quy a few years ago he checked my shoes and immediately told me the reason why I was visiting him.  He is professional and understands athletes and I have the highest regard for his opinion.  Rather than treating my spine like an accordion he sought to release tension and that meant more time hooked up to electrodes than actual cracking.  I was wheeled inside on an office chair and eleven hours after my back seized I was able to finally take my first steps and walk.

As this weekend wore on I felt the childish sneaky feeling.  I got 1-up on life.  Christina did so much for me and throughout remained wonderful and more beautiful than ever.  She kept her cool in the car when my body went weird.  My heart rate shot up and sweat poured down my face as my limbs shook and teeth chattered from the pain and she remained.  She remained and held my hand.

She smiled even though my face grimaced telling me it was going to be ok while stretching my legs out to release some of the pressure, etc., etc.  After a mini lecture about needing to stretch more and being more careful about my health she smiled and still held my hand.

At mass she looked at me and said "I love the whole you, including everything; even if you are an old man."  The Sunday gospel reading was the famous doubting Thomas reading.  It was the reassurance I did not need.

I don't need to ask because I see, I don't need proof because I feel it.  This...we, are a good thing.

My childish grin has not waned since.  Yes, I am sneaky.  I stole this girl's heart and not giving it back.