Friday, December 30, 2011

Altra Instinct Review

Initial Impressions
This shoe looks goofy. Why do I look down at my feet and think of Frodo? Did I get suckered? Holding the shoe; I am concerned that the foam will breakdown too quickly and I will have expensive gardening shoe. The eva foam seems too simple, almost too straight forward. The eva foam seems to be sturdy but there are no real bells and whistles, I assume that is as it should be. I guess my eye is just used to seeing "stability this" or "super lunar rover foam" that; feels strange to look at a truly simple design. I am not too sure about the treads on the bottom. They are deeper than a “road” shoe from a big brand, but there is not as much design to them with regards to arches or shinny things in the middle like most big brand shoes, again, just functional. The mesh seems breathable but layered enough to keep debris away from my socks so that’s a plus.

Construction/ Specs
Weight: 9.1 oz.
Drop: 0 mm (16mm – 16mm)

Per Altra Website:
Asymmetrical Lacing, Heel Claw, and A-Wrap for superior fir
Strengthen and Support Insoles.
Drilex Liner to manage moisture and keep feet dry
Designed to be worn without insoles for Minimalist Runners who prefer less cushion or more room.

I have logged over 150 miles on this shoe. I stopped reviewing shoes because I generally stick to what works for me. I am a gear junkie therefore my shoe budget is pretty strict. Some of my friends will argue otherwise. 
I prefer niche brands, those that sell themselves. I first heard of Altra Running through Coach Jeff with PRS Fit, Competitor Magazine and the Ultra Server. The shoes were getting a lot of attention because they are zero drop and according to the rumors could take a lot of miles. What I look for in a shoe…
(1) what does the manufacture say about their product
(2) does the product do what they say it will.
You can run in high heels or Rainbows Sandals if you want; but as a runner and consumer I demand, yeah I said it DEMAND, honest advertising and clear intent. There are no magic bullets and if a company tries to sell me one that company can immediately go fly a kite, because nothing comes without work.
Altra Running is marketing the old fashioned way; making a great product and letting users do the marketing for them. I can attest to the durability of this shoe.  I have ran it on smoother trails and a lot of road. The pictures I include in this blog were taken today at about 150-160 miles on this pair. 

Testing / Experience
I purchased the Altra’s after a 50 miler I ran in October. The shoes I was running with had reached their end and it I had to retire a few pairs within a week. Coach Jeff from PRS Fit has been my coach for a while now and when it comes to shoes when he says its gold then it is. He puts quality miles on his equipment and has never recommended anything gimmicky or that he or coach Diane have has not tried themselves. So I ordered a pair of them and I have not been disappointed.
I have ran in these shoes at night, in rain, through wind, over/under mud and sand and they have performed admirably. On the road they are champs. However, they do struggle a little on technical trails. The eva foam is not that flexible. Most runners I know want a little bit of feedback when running on technical trails. It helps you to stay light footed and get a sense of grip, trail condition (if in the dark), etc. I think the firmness is a strength for this shoe. I use these primarily on the road or groomed trails where footing is generally stable. When I bought the shoe I knew that it would not be a technical trail shoe, and neither Altra themselves nor the Natural Running Store lied about that fact (honest advertisement – thank you Patton).
I was told that it was a solid shoe, helped you find your form and run naturally. Many runners have experienced success with it so I figured why not give it a shot?

*Note: I will be running in the Altra Lone Pine soon, so we’ll see how that works the trails (I am sure it will hold up).

The first few test runs were amazing almost addicting. I was running faster splits on my standard runs. I was breezing throught workouts and kept feeling stronger and stronger. I was like Muhammad Ali in his prime until the sore calf muscles set in a few weeks after transitioning. All my shoes are minimal drop shoes (4mm or less) and do shorter training jogs and hikes in zero drop shoes. I am no stranger to the “adjustment” period, but these really made me hurt a few days. The reason they hurt is that they worked as stated. They helped my form making me more efficient and helped reduce wasted energy therefore letting me crank out the miles. My muscles were not prepared for the change and it took a few weeks to really feel the benefits of a high mileage zero drop shoe.

The instincts allowed me to keep my form and take short steps all the while allowing my feet to splay in the shoe. These shoes easily have the widest toe box of any shoe I have owned. I think that is probably one of their best features. The shoe is designed for feet and not feet conforming to shoe design. Often times we forget that over time civilizations have held different ideas as their standard of beauty...sometimes we try to fit to a mold instead of making the mold. That is where Altra really hit it out of the park, they took the foot and made the mold around it, it’s a beautiful thing.  

If you want a minimalist shoe that can serve for long runs this is it. It is not a trail shoe, it is not a magic bullet. It will help you help yourself into better running form. It holds up to the elements and even has two insoles (support and strengthen) so you can transition to absolute zero drop without having to buy a different pair of kicks. There are other manufactures out there making amazing products and definitely give all the ones you can a try we are all an experiment of one after all.
Why I decided to purchase a goofy looking shoe (that I now really like) was the following I want a shoe that promotes the way my feet are meant to be or a shoe that promotes a fiction of what my feet should be….and in case you are wondering yes, there is a black pair of instincts in a box waiting until this pair is retired, its going to be a while.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2012 Resolutions

2012 - No More Complaining !!!
There are people busier than you getting it done.

Here is some motivation to stay strong during the winter and get out there and own 2012

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sharing the Road

I read a  story in the OC Register about a cyclist passing away after being struck by a car in Santiago Canyon. As an avid endurance athlete and cyclist it makes me depressed every time I hear it because it could be someone I know or even me. When I rode my bike more aggressively in college I remember zig zag attacks on hills, speedy blind corners and daring cars by swerving into their lanes. It was youthful exuberance and adrenaline fueled stupidity. 

A few years removed I realize that I could have very well been one of those dead cyclist; I believe 8 thus far in OC this year. In a way my behavior allowed me to be seen and the erratic riding made drivers especially cautious because most people are not trying to hit a bike rider. However, those “good” riders also get struck, but why? Most follow the rules....BUT I do not know any cyclist who has not done a few illegal u-turns, or merged into the wrong lane or even taken a yellow light just so their cadence doesn’t get ruined. It is not worth it.

Now that I have been running lot I have become a better cyclist, I follow the rules. I try and wait at every light and cross the street only when it is all clear and the little white man tells me it is good to go. I hit stop on the Garmin and wait. No workout or gain I get out of running or riding 30 yards is good enough to risk it. Cars don’t want to hit you but the fact is we all get lazy and sometimes our eyes gloss over and we simply do not see runners or riders. So be safe out there, be seen and remember we are all on both sides, drivers and athletes, share the road.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Xterra Topanga Turkey Trot 2011 - Race Report

NorthFace Better than Naked Shorts + jacket
New Balance Tech Tee
Saucony ProGrid Peregrine (video review)
Amphipod Hydraform Handheld 12oz  (review)
Garmin 310XT – GARMIN DATA

XTERRA puts on a gem with this race and it is definitely a challenging one. If you want a race that will give you the feeling of a being alone on a trail but also have the support of a few hundred of your closest friends this is the run. Last year I was pretty excited to finish this race and just get it done, but this year I had plans. In the last few weeks my mile splits have been getting faster. The two biggest changes I have made have been really focusing on good form when running and eating better (paleo), that’s it. The problem is that I have not learned how to deal with this new found burst of speed very well and I have tended to make every run for the last two weeks a breakthrough run. 

It is exciting to see your training start to magically show up unexpectedly during training runs. Any athlete knows you cannot sustain break through performances every time out the gate you’ll kill yourself if you try.  So naturally I was trying to kill myself every time.

This thanksgiving turkey trot was pretty special because I got to meet a lot of DailyMile friends that I only knew through their training logs. It was pretty cool to finally put a face to someone you technically only know digitally. I met Pete, Kevin, Stu, DJ and Claus; I felt like I knew all of them right away. We all seemed to just have naturally flowing conversation and just like they are on DM, they were super supportive and we all just love to be outside. I felt sort of like the the American Legion or something, we all just were super excited to be there and talking about running and training. It was cool to feel everyone's positive vibes and its always nice to know someone; I always like cheering on people especially those I know because I understand how much effort they put forth to be there.

Race day was pretty cold just like last year. I arrived early and ran a few laps around the parking lot to stay loose.  My calf was tender to the touch and the day prior to the race I actually skipped a workout because it had been flaring up. I was hoping that a warm up would loosen it and allow me to charge uphill, but it was not to be. My plan was to complete the 10k in 1 hour +/- 3 min. My plan changed in the first .25 miles. I headed out at a brisk pace to try and keep up with Pete.  Pete was also trying to be right around an hour so I figured if I stuck with him for the uphill section I could set myself well for the +/- 3 minute goal. In his highlighter yellow shirt he floated along, I caught my last glimpse of him near the first false summit. I did not see him after that point. He actually had an awesome race and came in right at the hour and was 28th overall which is freaking awesome for his second time at this race. I also met Kevin before the run. He passed me on this uphill section. For not having trained he looked really strong going uphill.

From the get go I decided that this was not my day and I was going to just enjoy the trail and try and beat last year’s time of 1:15:46 ish. I know it was pretty ambitious of me to try and shave 15 minutes but…go big or go home right?

I stopped twice because my foot started turning inward due to the calf pulling. So I loosened my shoe laces to try and let my foot have a little more blood flow and kept power hiking uphill’s, running flats and downhill sections….a’la ultra.  I got to the top near Eagle Rock and my miles/minute were about the same as the year before so I was going to have to hustle to get some time back.

On the downhill section I almost cut my mile in half.  I went from a 12:35 min/mile to a 6:47 min/mile.  I was not going to be able to sustain it but I knew that it would give me a few seconds in the bank to get under last year. I passed a lot of people on that section of trail. A few tried to keep pace and we would zigzag between other runners. There was one guy with Cal gear who really pushed a hard pace downhill, I tried to stick with him but he dashed off…I caught him a few hundred yards before the Musch Trail section and did not see him again.

Right before this section I also caught up to Kevin who was having some quad issues. I briefly chatted with him and then took off down the trail. I love the Musch Trail. Its single track with gnarly steps and rocks but very run-able. I dove right in and got behind a pack of 4 or five. Last year I allowed the pack to lead me out and it helped me keep on pace. But this year I knew that if I wanted to beat last year I would have to get aggressive. I asked for permission and they let me go. I then hooked up with a pack of three runners who were doing about 9:15 – 9:30 pace so I stayed there till I felt recharged.

Our pack passed a few runners but one runner came barreling down like he was Kilian Jornet. I mean this guy must have been doing 7 min/miles and going all out. So when he passed me I quickly jumped on his wheel. The three runner pack I was with was doing really well, but that instinct to chase took over. I asked to pass with the intention of running that guy down. He was cruising and I wanted to have someone else lead out until I felt I could really give it a good push till the end. While tailing the barreling guy, he cleared the way for me to pass a pack of 6-8 runners who were being led out buy a runner wearing a pink jacket. I had seen her earlier on the uphill section and knew she had great mechanics and was quick but that pack was not taking the trail as aggressively. Knowing my shoes had the tread to handle a faster pace so I opted to keep on chasing the barreling guy.

I passed the barreling guy when the terrain started rolling.  He held the pace for a few minutes but when the Musch threw in some up and down he let up and I took the lead. Once you pass a runner, even on a training run you get a boost of energy. So I pushed up a few rollers and looked back and he was gone. At that point I was running in a pocket by myself which was nice. I would pick off a runner and then one or two runners would pick me off but my concern was holding off that pack of 8 or so.

I caught two runners who kept jockeying for position and I stayed content to be the third man on this one. We passed a few 5k runners who were still out on course and a couple other 10k runners who ran out of steam. At the finishing stretch that is a pavement I really tried to beat one of them but he stayed ahead of me by less than a second.

Overall I am content with the race. I am not happy because my plan did not work as I wanted but I think it was a blessing in disguise. Often times we need these types of struggles to keep the ego in check and remember that we are out there to do our best on that day, but regardless of how it goes there are still more chances.

Finishing Info:
Splits: 12:51, 13:01, 12:35, 6:47, 8:50, 9:32
Place: 77 of 245
Age Group: 5th Place
Time: 1:09:10

Monday, November 14, 2011

100 Miler Plans - Reflections

So I have been working on some planning for Ultras lately. The plan for 2012 is to try and knock out a 100 miler. I am not certain if its going to be possible but there is really no way of finding out other than giving it a good try. In the last couple of months 

I have noticed that my running has really tended to define me in a lot of ways, similarly to how philosophy did a few years back. I am okay with being known as "the runner" or the "weirdo with the headlamp" but I miss being known for the other things I am into like music, philosophy, golf, reading, cars, history, astronomy, etc. I am a nerd so I am interested in most subjects to be quite honest. I don't blame anyone for seeing me as a runner because over the last year and half that really has been a big part of my life; some roll with retail therapy I roll with a little suffering with a hint of endorphins, hold the shin splints.
But regardless of what someone does or is known as... we all run.  We all run away or towards something, whether it be a goal we want to achieve or a memory we want to forget.  I have felt a lot better doing it out in the open.  Running has become like therapy for me and many times I will be on a long run and get really sad or really happy. I have even teared up remembering those people who are no longer here, who can no longer see the awesome landscapes I so often take for granted. We are all just have to decide if you are running because you want to, or because you think you have to.

100 Milers. Well I signed up for one in February 18-19 of this year (accidentally, I thought it was for 2013). I am really torn on this one because there are a few facts:

(1) I will probably not be strong enough to finish 100 well.
(2) My running coach, Jeff, thinks that doing the 50 miler would be the smarter choice than 100
(3) It is the only 100 miler that my parents can realistically go too, ever. (urban setting - 25 min away from home)
(4) I have lost some weight so that big finishers buckle would help out with the pantalones (just sayin)

Most likely I will drop down to the 50 mile distance. Being honest, there is still that little part of me that wants to give the 100 miles a good go. I know its too soon and running 24-32 hours is an ambitious goal.  The plan is for a July 100 miler, but I am scared. In the next few months my life may completely relocate and I really want to share the experience with my family. I want them to see why I do these things, why I think it has made me a more positive person, and hopefully infect them with the fitness virus. I want them to all live 100 years, maybe running 100 miles is just my way of telling them I love them and that anything is possible with a little patience, a little luck and a lot of heart.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Paleo Diet - Training Update

I have been feeling different while doing the Paleo Diet. In a nutshell it means no dairy, no grains, no processed foods, no sugar, ok to honey on occasion and lean meat, lot of veggies and fresh stuff. Honestly, it is just treating your body better and not throwing so much crap into it. In the short period of time that I have been on this program I have felt cleaner. I am not sure of a different way to say it. Before I was eating anything in front of me that tasted good and now that I am paying attention to what I put in my body I can feel when something simply does not work for me or makes me feel weak or sluggish. Performance speaking I am not sure if it is better or not because I have not experienced it during a heavy training cycle yet. I can tell that I am leaning out a bit and a touch more defined in the major muscle groups, not cut, just more defined. 

Training wise I think that I am mentally feeling better. I want to attempt a 100 miler next year. I know that it is double my longest distance and that it will require an almost monk-like training to complete but I think I have it in me to push to that edge. Who knows, I may finally get that “ahhh ha” moment of enlightenment all these ultra runners get. If there is a time to go for something different why not now, why not today ?


Monday, October 24, 2011

Rock’n River 50 Race Report

Equipment Used
Patagonia Long Hauler Shorts: ever since racing with them at Bulldog 50k I have preferred them, especially when I know there is a lot of smooth trail or road.
Brooks Tech Tee (running warehouse) + InknBurn Tech Tee (roadID snagged it…DANG IT!!!) – I changed shirts at the 27 mile mark.  The salt loss on the shirt was starting to chafe.
Sox: Injinji + Nike – the extra miles at start got sand in my shoe and it was game over for clean feet after that
Pack: talked to coach Jeff of PRS Fit and decided to change to a 1 liter pack, used the Hydrapak E-Lite Vest. (Review coming soon)
Headgear: Hammer Headsweats Visor (1 st half), then Buff and Oakley Sunglasses (buff helps me keep cooler in the later part of the afternoon)
Arms: Perl Izumi Arm Coolers (soaked at later aid stations)
Shoes: Newton Terra Momentus (green goblins) – the whole way through

Hammer Heed: half heed/water mix – half straight water
Hammer Gel: 30 min intervals
Hammer Endurolytes
Coke/ Pepsi (just tasted dam good at the aid stations)

China Bar – 2.5 mile
I was one of the lucky runners who ran took the scenic 2 extra mile route. Runners had to loop around the parking lot head down the street first left then right onto the trails. Unfortunately, many of us missed that quick right and kept going “to the end” and then hit the river. Normally you would just call it experience. What was frustrating was that many of us inexperienced runners “ran-scared” the first section of trail trying to make up time. Many of us were running up and down hoping one of the runners coming down would point us in the right direction, which never happened. I turned off my GPS and reset it thinking that the whole field would re-start…no such luck.

During this tour of the banks I met a man from WA State. He told me about regaining his health, being off of a lot of the meds he was previously on and he had driven all the way down to earn that fleece jacket (12 hour).  I am not sure if he passed me at some point but no one from WA State came in after I did.  I really hope he passed me because that sucks to have your goal blown up because of inefficient course markings. We hiked around the banks of the American River walking over rocks (not able to run) and then up a huge hill to the aid station.  The aid station volunteers told all of us that everyone had extra distance on their Garmin GPS did little to help, we were pissed. For this section of the race through Granite Bay I was mentally in panic mode. 

Rattlesnake Bar - 9.1 miles
Up until this aid station I ran scared.  It was me and my chart versus the Garmin. I needed to get to Rattlesnake Bar in the window I had set regardless of the extra distance covered.  The adrenaline made me run harder and put out effort that I would not have otherwise expended. I was charging up single track rollers and just felt super strong. Looking back on it; I ran the trail section way too fast and did not hydrate enough. My water pack was maybe 1/3 empty and I had run 6.6 miles as if this was trail 10k. It was stupid and I would pay for it later. These reckless charges are always a double edge swords; on one hand you could blow up your legs, but on the other you bank time that you may otherwise not have. I met with my crew/pacer Berto at this point. He was trying to get me to calm down but I was still in the panic mode. This was a quick stop and back to the trails, water a few gels and I was out.

Horseshoe Bar 11.9 / Granite Bay – 18.4 miles
During this stretch my vigor started to fail me and the sand from the banks of the AR started to rub me the wrong way. My right forefoot puffed up and I was certain of some blister action. I started with the Injinji sox, but because sand got inside of them when we trekked by the river I had to change. My mistake at this point was not taking a minute to clean my feet well then put on the new socks. I just shook off the sand, quick sock change and got going. I really should have taken a few minutes to fix my feet on this one.  Later in the race taking out phantasm pebbles caused full leg lock cramps. I also took off my visor and went to my mid-day set up which is a Buff and sunglasses. I like this set up because the buff holds water longer and still protects against the sun and the sunglasses for glare and to keep my head up.  When the sweat hits the lens I know that I am slouching and it is just an external reminder to keep strong.

Beal’s Point – 23.3 miles
Up to this point I looked pretty good at the aid stations, not going to lie. My time was slowing but the panic was also subsiding.  I felt that I was settling into the splits I intended to run the whole day. Nothing hurt (yet) and I was still very much enjoying the trails and running with packs of people. No offense but I hate this aid station, sorry Beal’s. This is where I DNF during the American River 50 ultra a few months ago. I definitely was fueling with that memory to get me here. Once that fuels burned off the wheels came off.

Negro Bar – 27.7 miles
Sunrise - 35.1 miles
William Pond – 41.9 miles
I am going to lump these aid stations together because they are the cut off stations. During ultra-events the cut offs are meant to motivate runners and keep volunteers from staying out there all day. As a runner you definitely want to respect their time and make sure that you are giving yourself some room and not cutting it too close. It really comes down to being on time… or you are pulled from the race; simple as that. I hit an emotional and physical wall after Beal’s Point. You would think I would turn on the Billy Badass at this point because I know the course, but the long stretches of bike path just wore on me. I no longer had the distraction of beautiful single-track along a river. The course turned into a grind. My legs shut down and would cramp if I tried to get anything out of them. I was paying for the initial energy expenditure and not cleaning my feet at Granite Bay.  I kept feeling pebbles and rocks in my shoes only to discover there was nothing there. It was especially frustrating when I could feel the skin between my left foot toes swell up and not being able to do anything about it. I would bend or stop to check my shoes and my foot would contort.  All the toes would bend inward making the calf tight, pulling the IT band and immediate crippling cramps would ensue from the hip on down.  After a few of these any ankle side to side movement was out of the question.

I was very fortunate to have a pacer for this race. It is unusual to have a pacer during this particular race because it is considered an “easier” 50 miler.  For me, I was scared of the cut offs from the moment I signed up.  My previous 50 finish was 15+ hours and shaving 3 hours in 5 months seemed impossible.  My pacer was my old college roommate berto. We both happened to get into the ultra-scene around the same time; he has a really calm demeanor and also is consistent as heck.  We were actually talking about nutrition…he remembers to eat based on where he is not the time on the clock…yeah I thought the same thing! 

He helped me get out of the first slump (and the later ones too); Negro Bar was one of the worst when my buffer started to shrink. We had a 45 min padding against cut offs, then 30 min, until the last aid station where we beat the cut by 13-15 min. I think every ultra-event you have peaks and valleys but a pacer helps so much. When I asked him what he was doing on Oct 15, his immediate answer was, well I am pacing you are the 50, right?

He travelled 23 miles with me...Survivors “Eye of the Tiger” blasting my ears off....we got from one spot to the next.  At one point we resorted to running the sunny parts until we got to the shade of a tree.  It was also really helpful to have him because he set a pace I could keep for longer than 10 seconds.  A few times I wanted to go quicker and really gain some ground but he would reel me in.  That really helped because had I done what I wanted I may have finished and also the cramps would have made driving 8 hours Sunday to be at work on Monday impossible.

At aid stations he would take my pack and fill it up quickly. All I had to do was stuff my face with whatever I could get down, soak my Buff and sleeves and get going. Having quick transition times at the aid stations was key to this race. As the day drags on you want to stay and soak in the positive vibes from the volunteers. But every minute there is not only a minute lost on course but it also makes it harder to find the will to keep on trucking.

There was a couple I remember distinctly. I was trading spots with her husband (guy with white desert hat and black Camelbak). I would see them at the aid stations when I would arrive since we were both roughly running the same time. I got cramps right at the station after I changed socks and she really kindly offered salt tabs. I thanked her for the offer and declined since I had some. Later in the race I saw her running back onto the course wishing me well and telling me her husband was cramping up. Another aid station (closer to the end) a young kid, no more than 12 or 13 was running backwards as well looking or his dad. All along the route I was connecting with fellow runners, 2 that DNF with me at the AR50, another guy who told me to keep my head up, and even one guy I recognized from his finishing picture from UltraRunner Magazine just to mention a few.

I think I have just been spoiled with cool experiences but ultra runners seem to genuinely care about other runners. We all know what it takes to finish and that some days its better to bag it and fight another day then to go blaze of glory status, since that would most likely be very detrimental to your health.

Finish – 50 miles
After Negro Bar my legs were cramping the whole time. I became very comfortable with the fact my legs would twitch in funny ways. One time I had to stop and Berto had to massage my calf until it loosened up. Not ashamed to say my eyes were tearing more than once. 

The last push to the end was the sweetest though. We were running and another runner and her pacer caught up to us. Berto says, relax you have enough time to cover the distance. Her pacer said to would too if you were cranking out certain miles/min and you're not.  That sort of lit a fire in me. He was right, if we were going to beat the 12 hour cut off we had to make a move and make it fast before the temps dropped and the little motivation you have goes down with the sun. Berto and I set a pace and cranked out what in hindsight were dead slow miles, but at the time I felt like Billy the Kid running away from a bank I just robbed. Before the sun set I crossed the line, exhausted at 11:37:53 and earned my fleece but more importantly I I did not let my friend/pacer Berto down, nor all the friends and family back home who never doubted *cough**cough* that I could finish.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rockin River 50 Pre-Race Write-Up

What can I say, the race is 5 days away and I am nervous. Since my last 50 miler, my consistency has vastly improved and I have even slimmed down a touch. I have been eating a lot healthier and transitioning slowly to the Paleo Diet. I feel that I can mentally get to the end, but physically I am having doubts. And when the brain and body are not in sync there are problems. I am not comfortable with the shape I am in; the lightness is foreign to me. I remember other runners dealing with weight loss in different ways. For me it is bittersweet. I remember being fit and then loosing it to laziness and circumstance. But at my peak fitness I was a cyclist who flew up hills and I was all about feeling powerful and bold. But now that I am getting closer to being “fit” I question the way I am supposed to feel. I feel light but not strong, efficient but not powerful.  I am not sure that my quads will be able to take the downhill and that my upper back will not lock up.  I have the tendency to raise my shoulders and after a few miles the energy spent being tense takes its toll. I am hoping that I can get my brain and body in sync and just feel like smooth….fat free, non artery clogging, good for the planet butter.

The equipment I am going to be using is a 1.5 liter Salomon XT Skin Advanced pack. I was going to go with one or two handhelds and the Nathan #28 vest but I have not trained with them enough to feel confident about that decision and there are stretches that I could go as over an hour between aid stations and i don't want to risk something untested.  I had some issues with my trusty Salomon Skin Pack…the pockets tore b/c of gels moving around so I cut water bottles, taped the edges and slipped them in as protectors.  Now it feels like they will hold, it is weird with the crunchy plastic noises but I like the pack so much I would probably sow new side pockets if they ripped.  The thing just works for me and a little Spaniard named Killian (just saying).

Here is my time chart.  The cut-off for the race is 12 hours…3 hours and change better than I did at Bishop :

(Blue: Amazing!!, Green: Ideal, Red: Cut-off racing)

My friend Berto is going to pace me. He is also an accomplished ultra-runner. He shaved off a ton of time on his Bulldog 50k run and is consistent and strong as they come. I will def be looking to him for some guidance and “alternative” fueling...just kidding. He was my roommate in college and saved me from starving both on and off campus and even helped pull me up from under a truck (don’t ask); so I definitely have a lot of faith in him.

Equipment will be as follows (top to bottom):
Headsweats Visor
Oakley Sunglasses (because I like em)
iPod Shuffle
Salomon Advanced Skin Pack (review) (1.5 liter)
Salt Stick dispenser (3 pills)
Endurolytes (3 in dispenser 12 in pack)
Hammer Gel (go down easy)
Hydrapak Soft Flask 5oz (I always start with this one in the beginning save the environment hommie)
Buff (in pack)
Northface Shell Jacket (fact: I have worn it to a concert..folded it up and placed it in my back pocket no problems)
Advil/ TUMS/ band-Aids (in Altoids box in pack)
inkBurn Tech Tee -it is comfortable and it looks cool as hell.
Pearl Izumi Arm Coolers (white) they match better with the gear and I have used them on long runs
Patagonia Long Hauler Shorts (used during 50k, they are 80s styling, roadie type shorts but they have been good on long runs)
Shoes: Newton Terra Momentus (green goblins…maybe retirement after this run)
DirtyGirl Gaiters (them pebbles will get-cha)
Newton or Nike Sox (they are what I train with)

Drop Bag Contents
Hoka OneOne Mafate Shoes (I may need the extra cushion 2nd half b/c there is more road)
Newton Sir Issac (again depends on how I am feeling…if I need to make up time…rollin newton)
NorthFace Cardiac Shorts (just in case)
Tech Tee
Moeben Sleeves (black)
Extra sox
Ultimate Direction UNO waist pack (if my back goes its plan B and it saved me at Bishop)
Ultimate Direction Handheld (again..Plan B in case the pack messes with me)
Northface Better than Naked Jacked (if I leave the pack I will do this and the UD stuff)
GU, Cliff Gells, Ginger Candy

And there it is…prep complete now just need to run 50 miles.  No problema.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Over the last few weeks I have had a lot of doubts; about my running, fitness, diet and even my long term goals. The last two months have given me not only lots of freedom, but also a lot of time to reflect. How far can I go? How much can I learn? What am I really made of? Can I achieve what I think I can? What do I ultimately want?

A few years back I faced very different circumstances. I thought I was ready to get married, have kids and start a family; a few pairs of shoes and a few lbs later that sounds like the worst idea ever. I understand now that although I was “ready” it was not the “ready” I expected for myself. There are certain variables that no one can control, but there are others that with a little planning and some hard work will exponentially better your life.  Among those was my health.  Mentally I was a lifelong athlete, but physically I was an unfit mid 20s former athlete. Today, I am still working on making that mental picture match the physical one. But I cannot help but wonder if this path is “right”.  Does it really matter?

I do not have all the answers but I have never been afraid of seeking them either. My path has led me to this endurance lifestyle. This lifestyle has introduced me to great people and wonderful sources of information. I have read blogs and books on what it takes to really go the distance and achieve. Every account says that it takes heart and mental fortitude to keep going. I think the source of our desire to push to the limit is human curiosity. Curiosity is defined as the “desire to know something” and what better thing to know than the self.

So I will continue to seek the limit and push just that little bit further, not to another limit, but instead to satisfy my curiosity…the desire to know something…something about myself that I did not previously know.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Favorite Endurance Quotes.

Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope
Romans 5: 3-4

All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming
Helen Keller

The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain
Karl Marx

Suffering is the substance of life and the root of personality, for it is only suffering that makes us persons
Miguel de Unamuno

It’s at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys
Emil Zatopek

If the word quit is part of your vocabulary, then the word finish is likely not
B.G. Jett

It hurts to a point and then it doesn’t get any worse
Ann Trason

Tough times don’t last but tough people do
A.C. Green

We will go to the moon.  We will go to the moon and do other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard
John F. Kennedy Jr.

The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit.  The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.
Marcus Aurelius

What matters is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog
Dwight D. Eisenhower

As you think, you shall become
Bruce Lee

A will finds a way
Orison Swett Marden

Have courage to act instead of react.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.

Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man.  Sooner or later the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.
-Vince Lombardi

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reflection / Training Update (golf and running)

During the last 60 days I have learned a few things. I realized how (1) how truly unhappy I was and (2) that I can't hide it very well. I was on was a path that led nowhere and regardless of what I told myself that's the way it was. I was stuck in a position where all I did was babysit adults who acted like 3 year old's (not all but quite a few) and obeyed instructions from individuals who led out of fear and not out of a sense of duty. It was the difference between – “do this because it is right” and “do this because anything other may be wrong.” The distinction seems small but it was a group who was only concerned with coddling the loudest child and praying they did not end up changing the dirty diaper. This burned me up inside and I guess I was unable to hide my lack of appreciation for the status-quot. I really did learn from it and many aspects of it were great. I had the chance to meet and talk to great people...not going to lie it was tough to "see what they say" when you knew you were being asked to short change someone's request, but its business I guess... just not my style to shaft the good ones and take care of the complainers, just saying. More importantly I have re-focused on whats important to me. It is hard to re-focus on doing what makes you happy when you have spent so many years adjusting to mild misery. But lesson learned and work in progress.  

My golf game is improving. I am putting by feel and that has been working out for me. I have a consistent routine with my shots. My routine includes a small checklist; lie, environment, aim, decide...lead. I “lead” my game where I want it to go so I just check all those things off in my head before even picking the club. Most people aim after they have decided what club they are going to use for the distance. But I find it more beneficial to aim prior to club selection because I want to have a clear head about what I expect the ball to do after contact, no sense in deciding where the ball is going to go after you choose how its going to get there. I think the key for me is to come down steep on the ball. The moment I feel that I am not going at a steep angle I start hitting very low trap shots. These are like angry punch shots with no height and lackluster distance. When I feel like I am going steep on the shot I get soaring powerful shots. I am still working on getting the draw to be more subtle than it currently is, but I will take those over the low punchers; dead aim baby. I feel confident that if I can connect the dots for a full round I may have a shot at breaking 90 in the next few months.

My running is better mileage-wise; cranking them out in bigger numbers. I still feel weak sometimes but I think it is a little fatigue and a little recklessness since I do go big sometimes I am not supposed too. I know I can be better about following Coach Jeff and Coach Diane's schedule for me but sometimes I just don't have it in me to run. I think I am a sucker for cold and rain. The worse the conditions outside are the more badly I want to go and run. If its 70 and breezy I would rather sit and read a good book than go for a trail run my logic being that it is just too nice to go run, I know I am strange. I am also noticing that my back tenses up since i try to find balance with my arms.  Its a constant struggle to remember to relax.  Get the form and the miles will come.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

UTMB 2011

If I could do a race and retire after finishing it, it would be the UTMB.  Its just electric.
Video #1: Salomon Running
Video #2: The North Face (title sponsor)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bulldog 50k Race Report - GPS Data

First of all let me just say that the volunteers and other runners made this a really special race.  But, the fact that my parents were able to go to this one meant the world to me. I would have preferred their first race be a 5k where I did not look like a train wreck after, but they came out and that was really cool.

This race is a 50k, 2 loop course in Malibu Creek State Park. I am a mid to back of the pack runner so I knew that it was going to be a longer day. So here goes:

GPS Data -  LINK

at the start

Patagonia Long Hauler Shorts - shorter than my reg shorts, more roadie style but they felt good on long runs so why mess with a good thing.
Brooks Tech Tee - it was red. I was hoping to be one of the few runners to be in that color, but my buddy Berto rocked the same colors, I guess we were both going to Tiger Woods this run.
Salomon XT Advanced Skin 5Pack (Review) - done my long runs with this pack and it distributed the weight well, no complaints except that I lost my salt. But the pack kept water cool for hours, as advertised, and that was a blessing. 
Moeben Sleeves - in the morning kept me warm, with the sun they blocked the rays, helped me cool down because they held moisture well 
PRS FIT Visor (red) - Loop 1 
Buff - Loop 2 
Hoka OneOne Bondi B - went with these instead of my Newtons because my hip had been off for about a week and I knew I maybe heel striking a little so I wanted a little more cushion.   
Newton Low Cut Sox - standard, been with me and feel good.
Hammer Gels - Can take without water and can still eat even in the heat. 
Hydrapak 5 oz Softflask - saving the planet by creating less trash, but after the first loop chocolate just did not taste good to me so I switched to alternating flavors. 

First Loop
There was a nervousness in the air. You could just feel that everyone was getting ready to embark on a unique experience. I took off a touch faster than I wanted. The first hills were coming and runners were charging. My thoughts were (1) hold back (2) why is there no marine layer today? (3) I have to pee.

So, I stopped for a bathroom break before we got to the first climb. My calves started complaining right from the get go. It was a little hill but I stopped for two reasons. The first being obviously that I had to go, but the second was that I knew if i stayed in the same place in the pack I would not run my own race. I wanted to dictate my efforts for the day so I let that group go off and joined the back 30% where I expected would run much more conservatively.

I had done a training run with my friend Berto and we made it to the top of bulldog and could see the mist barely rolling out.  This was not going to be that kind of day. On that first hill my race plan changed. Originally I wanted to roughly even split. I had chatted with Coach Jeff (link) and would go extremely conservative on the first loop and then charge downhill on the second loop. But the temperatures were not at all what I expected. After the first hour I could really feel the heat and the day would reach triple digits before the day was done. So plan was to endure and if I could pick people off in the last 5 miles that is where I would give it a go, if it was safe.

I stuck to the plan of listening to my iPod for the first few miles while the race spread out. It throws me off when people are breathing at a different rhythm than I am and honestly I was not in the chatting mood. My plan had been turned on a dime and I just wanted to buckle down and crank out the first loop and have it in the tank for the second.

After the first little hill we passed the MASH section of the trail and then a single track. It was awesome running and I held back a little. Then the climb. It started steep and would flatten out at times. If the flat or down was longer than 70 yards I would jog it, if not I was hiking it.  There was no sense in spending the energy to simply be halted immediately. I focused on hiking strong. I passed quite a few people on the way up.

I also felt my hands getting puffy. This was really strange for me because that never happens. I began to worry that maybe I was over hydrating so I changed to taking a salt cap every 1.5 hours instead of every 50 minutes. After some time my hands felt better and we were back in business.

At the top of bulldog I hit the downhills and tried to run the whole back section. Immediately after the Bulldog rocks there is a downhill then two more uphills to conquer before the longer downhill section. I took these deliberately holding back. I knew I would need my quads for the second loop. We then headed to the backbone trail section of the race.

Loved this because I could feel a breeze and the single track is always my preference.  Made it out. By this point I was still feeling pretty good. I had not used the first aid station and was not wasting much time at the stations at all, just a refill and go. After the backbone trail there is a section of single track that leads near a small detention/jail area.  This was a furnace. The air was stale and it was truly miserable. I tried to stay on the tail of a runner with a Camelbak but every time I got close enough to draft they picked up the pace. I did not catch them until the turn around.

The end of the first loop was pretty solid. I still felt strong and mentally having held back gave me an edge. I saw my parents and Sam at the turn. That was a huge mental boost for me not only to keep going but to run smart. On the first loop there had already been a few people taken away by ambulances. Sam told me my mom started crying when the first ambulance passed by because it was the approx time I estimated for my first loop. I promised I would be careful. So I lost the visor and changed to a buff and sunglasses set up. I had heat trained with the buff and knew that it could hold water and keep my head cool much longer than the visor. The sunglasses because I know my form goes to trash when I get tired. I start hunching over too much and the glasses would have sweat drip on them if I leaned to far forward and that would be my indicator to straighten up and rest my shoulders. I refilled and off for the second loop.
At the turn taking off the pack

Second Loop
I had an energy boost seeing everyone at the turn so I sprinted off into the distance. My GPS was getting close to the 4 hour mark so I knew I would need to take a salt pill soon. I look in the pack and my salt cap dispenser is gone. Oh crap.

I panicked and was ready to call it a day right there. I knew that my legs would not take the beating and the thermostat kept going up. A couple who were running together caught up to me as I attempted to look back hoping to see my salt. I asked if they had any extra and they said no. I made the decision to again change the plan. I would not be charging the second loop. I would conserve energy and try and keep my heart rate as low as possible. I figured if I could do that I would be able to process more fluids than if my body was fighting to keep cool. So I drenched the buff and picked up the pace through the MASH site and the single track. Then the uphill started.

This part was pretty depressing.  There was no pack to follow because everyone was pretty spread out.  I was trying to power hike it just like the first loop but when I did I felt my pulse shoot up, and it was barely .25 miles into the uphill.  I kept making status checks on my body to remind myself to keep sipping water and to stay on the gel every 30 minutes.

Got the the first aid station. Volunteer was so nice. He said he was not John the Baptist but that I would feel reborn. That was the truth. He poured icy water on my head and back and it was heavenly. Filled my pack up with ice water, drenched the buff and arm sleeves, grabbed a few gels and kept going. I knew that if I stayed to long at any station my day was done.

I kept asking every runner I passed if they were okay. Many of them just nodded unable to speak or said yes and thanked me for asking.  My follow up question was to ask for salt caps, no one had any extras.  This part of the race was very sad.  Leaving that aid station I saw 4 people start heading down the hill saying their day was done about every half mile.  These runners were ahead of me and were now turning around and calling it a day.  They were doing the smart thing, I began to question if I was.

I started thinking about my parents and Sam... I really wanted to finish this race because it was the first time they had ever come out to one of my events. I knew that finishing with an IV stuck to my arm would definitely not inspire them to ever come back. So as I said sorry to the last runner coming down the hill. I swore that if it was too much I would sit and wait for the sweeper to take me in, no shame in DNF, doing nothing foolish.

I reached the second false summit of bulldog and I saw a pack of 4 runners together. They were sitting under the shade of a small tree helping another runner who looked like he was in real bad shape. He said he was feeling the heat and could not go on.  The other runners helped him get back on his feet and we all continued together up the hill.  At this point I removed my iPod. The music beat was not matching my crawling pace and was just making me feel anxious about my conservative race gone ultra conservative. Still no salt.

As the group of four is walking up we see 2 volunteers tending to a runner grabbing his leg. I hear a helicopter circling above. His day was done and the rangers were on the way to bring him down to the start line. I did not stick around for very long because the temptation to jump in the back of the approaching truck and bag it was getting stronger by the minute. I knew that we had a little downhill but that the steep ascent to Bulldog was still a few miles away. So I began running.

I managed a trot down hill and then I would speed up for a few seconds then stop. My calfs tightened and began to tremble. You know that trembling that comes right before the cramp, yeah that one. Got to the bottom of that downhill and began the ascent to the rocks. At this point I asked another guy for salt, he said he barely had enough for himself, that he was sorry. Finally on the uphill after the rock top I asked another runner for salt. He said he ran out and just got some from another runner but offered me the 1 salt cap she had given him.  That was legit, that is the ultra community I know, he was runner #284. I said no, it was fine and thanked him for the gesture. The runner who gave him salt overheard I needed some and offered me some. I quickly accepted and thanked her generosity. She was bib #142.

I stayed with her for most of the up and downhill after the bulldog rocks at the top. She was really nice and we chatted about ultras, the running community and the joy of being out on the trail. Her feet started to hurt and would tell me to go ahead. I waited for her to catch up a few times. But toward the bottom of the hill I started to feel a little ill and she started walking downhill. At this point I was hurting pretty bad and just wanted to be done. I knew that it was easier to finish than to wait for the sweeper so I ran/walked. Got to the backbone trail again. A good section, passed a few runners. Towards then end of this section I came up to a runner who graciously moved aside so I could pass.  I asked him how he was doing. He said fine, but that he had run out of water then added that the next aid station was coming up. I started to leave him behind then...

I checked my pack. I felt that I had maybe 10-15 oz of water. So I stopped and offered him some of my water. He asked if it was ok. I told him we were all friends here and that I would feel bad if he died. He smiled took two sips from my pack and thanked me. We shook hands told me his name was Kam and I said my name is Alex. He said he owed me one. I told him that he would have done the same for me and headed off down the trail.

A little further I caught two ladies on that section who were very frustrated. They kept saying that the aid station was supposed to be there. Just as they were speaking a volunteer was walking up the trail with a gallon of water, winning! They took some water. I asked him how far it was and he said about .5 miles. I let him know a runner behind me with a pack was totally out and took off. I got to the aid station took of my pack and asked for a full refill. It was only 2.2 miles to the end but that furnace section near the jail/prison thing was up and I expected a suck-fest.

I then took off my arm sleeves and my buff and asked the aid station volunteer to please soak them in water. He was like, man I was going to ask you why you were wearing black sleeves today. I told him the sleeves held water like champs and helped keep me cool. I drank a few cups, made sure not to sit down, to close to the end for a break. I grabbed my pack and sleeves (heavenly) and headed out. Another runner came with. I cannot remember his bib but he was super cool. He was an EMT from Wyoming who was struggling on the second loop.  He was training for a 100 miler and this was supposed to be a training run/speed work but the heat got him, yup heard that story all day. He set the pace to help me get out of the furnace. A few times he asked if I wanted to go ahead but I knew I was not in shape to lead it out so I def owe him for the help. He dropped me in the last .25 miles of trail before the parking lot and stretch home.
Final yards to the end

Final Push
This final section I passed a guy I had been trying to run down the whole time off the rocks at the top of bulldog. He had a long pony tail and was going super consistent. I passed him on the long dirt stretch home. I asked him if he was okay and said yes so I stepped on it. My stepping on it at this point was an aggressive shuffle. I got to the point where the second loop started and my parents and Sam were there. They kept encouraging me and I tried to surge but my calf cramped.  Less than a freaking half mile and my legs were wanting to tap out. A guy my parents had been chatting with, who was crewing for Jorge Pacheco (yeah the amazing runner who won Badwater and a bunch of other stuff), drenched me with water and a sponge.  It felt perfect and gave me some pep. Pedro, Coyote Running, came over to help me run it in.  I had seen him twice on the course...they were volunteering and were really helpful and encouraging to all the runners.  I managed a shuffle.  But suddenly seeing the line I was able to surge at to end for about 60/70 yards.  I had finished and my family and Sam were there to see it, it was a good day.   A special thanks to my buddy Berto for inviting/tricking me to sign up for this, and to Pedro for the help at the end.  Also to all the runners and volunteers...they really saved all of us out there in the heat.
Not sure what I am doing, but I have a finishers medal