Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gear Review - The Running Shoe Rotation

I am taking a break from racing and focusing on building miles and this is the gear I will be using.  Here is post on the shoes in the rotation.

Altra Paradigm
The Paradigm has taken the place of my old Hoka Mafate as my road recovery shoe.  It feels light enough and comfortable enough but I do feel like I loose some energy to the ground because of its cushion.  That being said my splits are still fast whenever I wear it so its definitely a “feel” thing.  
The shoe has an odd pattern on the top which I don’t really understand but it seems to give the shoe structure but without adding more weight.  (obviously the guys at Altra know things).  The shoe allows me to shuffle if I need to and sprint when I want to.  I have had to re-do the laces and wear this shoe loose because its so cushioned whenever i tighten it it feels like a racing flat and I push way too hard and my form goes to trash…thus self regulation but thats a me thing rather than a shoe thing.

Altra Olympus
The olympus is my long trail run shoe, exploratory trail run shoe and whenever I am unsure my road shoe.  Altra Running hit it out of the park with this shoe because it can fill so many roles in a runners arsenal.  The shoe itself has a great tread pattern that feels secure on the trails, not the best for technical trails but it will not let you down.  It is also cushioned and zero drop so you can maintain form while checking out new areas or going long.  I think of it like the running back or running shoes…you can use them for their stated purpose but with some vision you can use them in a lot of different scenarios.

Newton Gravity (4 lug)
The first time I saw a pair of newtons I thought that a 3 year old holding crayons had been given cart blanche.  They colors are loud, but since they have grown on me.  I saw Craig Alexander wearing them during an ironman championship as he ran down elite athletes one after another.  I thought to myself…I want that.  He swan over 2 miles, rode over 100 and choose that shoe; so there must be a reason.  There is…speed.  These shoes promote a forefoot strike and proper form…if you don’t get it right the shoe will correct you.  The 4 lug version will roll out slightly if you are not careful so i generally use these shoes for longer tempo or fartlek runs where I want to have some protection against the pavement but still want to push the speed.  Definitely they stay parked when my calves are tight because going uphill they will make you run right and not cheat.

Skora Phase
Skora Core
Skora Form
I am really excited about this company and even asked if I could be an ambassador for them.  The shoes feel like putting on your first pair of nice dress shoes but you can throw down marathon in said shoes.  I first wore the phase for a night run because they are bright green and have plenty of reflective I figured it would be a good minimal shoe for night runs.  They would force me to run with good form and raise the probability of being seen by drivers.
The first thing I noticed was that my ankle felt supported and snug.  The lacing system (slide slant) allows the shoe to tighten but not restrict the mid and forefoot.  My toes can fully splay and the tread, though not “aggressive”, has plenty of grip on the roads and after 30 miles the shoes still look new.  Doing some research I found that many Skora runners were putting 1000 plus miles on a pair and loving every minute of it while reducing their propensity for injury.
My goal is to run an ultra marathon and marathon in SKORA and hopefully become an ambassador for the brand because I feel that their focus on quality and user feedback is second to none.  I am going to work up my miles in these shoes and hopefully make my body bulletproof come AR50 next year.

New Balance MT1010 (discontinued model) 
I am so glad I stocked up on this shoe when it went on sale and if I had known that it was no longer going to be made I would have probably purchased a few more pairs.  NB seems to be going to HOKA maximalist route an offering more cushioned shoes.  They are going for a broader market and I understand that but this is the shoe that Anton built and I Iove it.
The MT1010 have a “plastic-ish” exterior that despite its construction material breaths well and drains well.  I have never had a concern running in this shoe in the rain or in the heat.  For a fast trail run (13.1 or less…maybe up to a 50km) this is what I grab.  The tread pattern is aggressive so this shoe stays on the trails, but whenever I wear it the tread, which feels awkward on pavement, disappears and I can run as hard as I want while maintaining form since they have a 4mm drop and are very light.  Really hope NB brings back this pattern…if not this maybe the last NB shoe I buy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

2014 PCTR Headlands 50: The Best Finish

Sorry, but this is going to be a longerish post so fee free to skip.

     I met Christina through my cousin Frank.  Originally I was supposed to meet her at a NYE party, but that meeting never materialized and our lives took a few detours.  After a few months, an initial meet up was coordinated around April about a week after American River 50.  It was a casual pool/ BBQ event and Christina arrived fashionably late.  It had been a few months since I was supposed to meet her and I really did not think anything much would come of our meeting, but my cousin thought that we would really get along.  Upon arrival she shared her frustration about traffic and engaged mostly to let us know that her time was short because she had another commitment.  I said hi and thought to myself...this girl is odd.  
     After she settled in, she seemed way too happy and excited about everything.  How can anyone maintain such a high level of enthusiasm about everything?  She seemed to ooze energy and get really happy about the smallest details.  I thought that the "real Christina" had to be a totally different person once she came off that red bull high or whatever she had going on.   At the pool, I stayed relatively quiet- still feeling pretty lethargic from the race.  
     During that BBQ, being the idiot I am...I chatted with another gal.  Christina seemed more interested in catching up with her girlfriends and getting ready for the prior commitment.  The other gal and shared an affinity for film and chatted about her involvement with a film festival while everyone else was in the pool.  The party moved to the inside of the house and I ended up getting the other gal's number rather than Christina's.  As pen left paper out of the corner of my eye I saw Christina look in my direction.  She was sorting out her attire for a party.  I walked over as she did her make up and told her that she did not need any make up...all I got was a cold smirk.  My attempt at complimenting her was futile because she saw me get the other girl’s number.  Alex =  toast.
     A few weeks passed and I found myself thinking about this bubbly little Mexican girl.  There had to be something else; something unseen that the excited happy personality hid.  Determined to know what it was I went for a Hail Mary and asked my cousin if I could have her number.  After sorting out if it was ok to hand it over I was given her cell phone number.
     Our first date felt like a sitcom.  We agreed to meet up in North Hollywood at a coffee shop after she got out of work.  I arrived late because I could not find parking and found her sipping a cup of black coffee.  Gentleman fail right there.  She paid for her own drink on the first date.
     She has since told me that she straightened her hair and made an effort to plan out her outfit for after work.  In contrast I assumed she was coming after work so I just headed out "as is." I wore a hoodie, shorts, Rainbow Sandals and looked like something out of Michael Jackson's “Thriller.”  I had been up for 3 nights cramming for a final the day after our date and reeked of coffee tainted library musk.  Despite the shock she was amenable and we chatted for over 4 hours that night ...

     Fifteen months later her excitement has not waned nor has her enthusiasm for life faltered.  I found out that she really is that happy...all the time.  She smiles and tries to see the positive in everyone and everything and I love her for it…Especially since that characteristic is what got me subsequent dates.  We have cemented our relationship, grown in our religious faith and maintained an open and honest communication throughout.  Until now.  Mea Culpa..I lied and I am sorry.

     We chatted about marriage very early and very honestly.  We both did not want to be in a layover style relationship until the "one" came along.  Both of us were tired of dating for the sake of dating and really wanted to find that person to grow old with.  We both had long relationships in the past and were determined not to make the same mistake wasting time.  Within the first month of dating we both knew where we both stood.  But, come on you can't have her know when you are planning to propose right?  Thus, a few little well timed lies.
     About 4 months or so into dating we went out for a hike with a couple of friends in Griffith Park, the same friends that introduced us.  After the hike we strolled into Los Feliz for a Juicy Burger.  But, upon arrival Christina noticed a jewelry store she had been wanting to visit.  Steph and Christina went in as I stood outside with my cousin Frank hoping they did not find anything of interest because we were both just wanted to eat burgers.
     The two ladies came out giddy-ish.  They would not stop talking about how wonderful this jeweler was and how pretty a particular ring was.  Over lunch both of them spoke about engagement rings and it to be honest it got a bit uncomfortable.  The "you-need-to-see-that-ring-but-I-don't-want-to-tell-you" feeling was in the air.  So, we all went over the little shop to take a look.
     They had seen a natural sapphire in a rose gold halo setting and loved it.  The jeweler was a very smooth guy who knew how to sell and sell well.  He's a charmer and my heart sank.  Dam.  I used to work in the jewelry wholesaling business and now I am going to have to pay serious retail for this thing because this guy knows she loves it…oh her enthusiasm. 

     We left the store and Christina still glowing said that she did not want a diamond.  She would rather have something unique and made especially for her.  I reminded her that the expectation is a diamond and especially nowadays anything outside of the norm would be seen as odd and maybe even bring on some critique.  She did not care...she said...if its real and you give it to me it will be perfect and I will love it.  So immediately I emailed the jeweler.  
     A few months went buy and I finally felt ready to go forth with proposing.  I made sure to tell Christina that the jeweler had sold the stone and that we should plan another visit to see if we could find an alternate.  I love her and she knew the proposal was coming but when I would propose was the question.  If I dressed up and asked her to get ready for a night out, I think she would have smelt it a mile away.  If I created an emergency scenario I would have unnecessarily risked her rushing and maybe caused an accident.... so how to surprise her?
    I thought about different ideas and one kept coming back to mind.  What about the end of an Ultramarathon?  Its perfect.  It would not be strange to invite others to come out and crew, she will be exhausted and not have her womanly senses in tip top shape.  She would be caught off guard and she would see the prep as only one more race.  It would be my race, my training, my "thing" blind side.
     Which race?  There are so many to choose from and so many great destinations in trail running, but PCTR Headlands stood out from the crowd.  I have had mixed success and failure in the "Marin Mounds."  The place has such a special meaning; even named my dog "Vista" after Vista Point aid station because it is the best and worst aid station.  A beautiful single track down gives the most breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay, the city, and the Golden Gate; but the zig-zag on the way up feels eternal.  At the start of the decent you can look over the Golden Gate and beginning the ascent you look up from its base...a fortitude tester for sure.
     Also, it’s the same race during which I knew I never wanted another crew chief.  I was coming into Tennessee Valley Aid Station for the first time and she stood there shivering in the San Francisco morning holding two bottles of Tailwind for the quick swap.  I threw her into the lions den of crewing, sleep deprived, alone (her sister was there but slept most of the time *we did not know she was pregnant) and with only a GPS to guide her from station to station not knowing what condition she would see me in the next time I passed through.... So during that race the voice in my head only repeated, "that's my future wife."  
     The stage is set.  I let her best friend in on my plan.  So when Christina asked her to go to the race to help crew she was more than willing to go.  My parents asked for the days off saying it would be a great chance to visit my sister who lives in the Bay Area and Christina has no clue that I planned (God willing) to get on one knee and ask her to be my crew chief forever...

     August 2014.
     After the Spring Semester of law school my motivation for training was at an all time low.  Most of my energy was spent studying and attempting to recover from sleepless nights.  I needed to improve my 1L grades and despite my love of trails Law School is the #1 priority.  August 2, I took on Angeles Crest 100.  Needless to say I was under-prepared and DNF'd.  I made it to mile 56.  I rolled my knee out on Baden-Powell (mile 16ish) and my back was spasming by Chilao (56).  Rather than risk being immobile out on the AC I dropped out.  My pacer, Hieu, tried to get me going but whenever my heart rate shot up my lower back yelled out and that was the end of my day.  Were it not for Felix, Tetsuko, Christina and Roberto I would not have made it past the 26.2 mark because after that point it really was their will running the race and not my legs.
     I had some solace that Headlands was coming, but knowing my legs could not handle the 100 mile distance...I wrote to the RD requesting to drop down to the 50 mile instead of the 100.  It would be nice to get a buckle and a fiancee on the same day, but I could not let my foolish desire overrule the fact that my base building was weak and the conservative choice is the right one.
     So the stage and the ring are the lies.  My informant, her best friend, sent me a text letting me know that Christina thought I was saving up for a ring.  I kept a stash in a coffee mug and she found it.  I tried to play it off but I don't think she was convinced.  So I went to plan B...deception.
     I planned to purchase a GoPro for the Headlands to document the trail and the proposal.  Originally I was going to buy it closer to the race, but her knowledge of my stash hurried my plans.  I bought the goPro...and then random things.  I was on a mission to have Christina think I was blowing the savings left and right.  So I ordered Gum, soap, socks, typewriter ribbon and whatever random nicknack I needed via Amazon Prime.  She started noticing boxes appearing at my door.  She started calling me Santa Claus and we even got into that uncomfortable..."you can't be buying toys all the time if we ever get married" chat.  Of course, I was good about not opening the boxes in front of her, but I made sure that she noted my stash was significantly dwindled.
     So, this is the point in the story where I say “kids don't procrastinate.”  But, the one time I decide not to procrastinate I am forced to scramble like a crazy person.  I get an email from the jeweler that the ring is all done and that the certification is back, but that it was a little off.  
     We chat and I am informed that (1) the stone is not a natural sapphire, but a heat treated one (2) the ct weight is smaller that was sold, (3) the price paid is substantially different than the appraisal price so if its ever lost I am up a creek.  We meet and he lets me know that he purchased the stone as a natural sapphire and explained why he thought it in fact was natural.  We looked at it under the microscope and I understand his conclusion.  (I am a nerd so I literally read everything I could about gems, sapphires and common methods of proper identification).  The independent certification person thought that it was heat treated with a unique process not generally taught to GIA certified jewelers.  It appeared that only a part of it was treated so it’s color was on 1/3 and when turned the whole stone appeared its peach color.  I asked about beryllium and according to the report it did not appear to be treated.
     Beryllium, yup, why is that a scary word in sapphire speak?  Because when it's treated prolonged exposure to the sun could fade or even eliminate the color after a few years!  After this conversation, I noticed a few other details and became very uncomfortable with the deal.  So, I asked if he would meet me at the appraisal price and he couldn't so I had to pull the plug.  He was accommodating and gave me a full refund because the process by which the stone was treated was completely unfamiliar to him and it in fact was not what we had agreed on.  It also helped that I had a detailed email chain that went on for weeks that clearly stated it was a natural untreated stone.  So two weeks out from the day the main piece of the puzzle vanishes.
     So why not just pay a premium and get the ring she liked?  The principle.  Yes, she loved the ring and that particular stone, but it was not natural.  Ever since day one, Christina has emphasized one word over all others, "real."  She did not want fake words or fake feelings and I knew she would not be happy knowing that the stone was treated and changed to be something it did not start out as.  
     As we grow older, all of us learn the time true fact that people don't change unless they elected to do so. If you want to make changes in your life, you make the choices that will cause change, but no one else will change you but you.  This stone was that person, that love that changed to fit a desired condition instead of being true.  I could not give her that.  The real ultra started...the hunt was on for an engagement ring and only 14 days to do it...
     I reached out to contacts to attempt to source the stone to no avail.  The type of gem, color, size, etc., were not easy to find.  Every jeweler I spoke too wanted to sell me on a diamond.  I even thought of just busting out a ring pop and explaining the circumstances, but luck came my way.  An old colleague from law school, Aaron, who makes custom engagement rings was able to source the colored gem and Amaury who I worked with a few years back was able to create a custom setting from scratch in 4 days….
     The race itself was rough.  My average milage per week over the last month was 14 and admittedly my body was woefully unprepared.  But, I had some extra motivation and the mental determination to get it done.  
     Mile 12 the cramps started and never left my side.  Fortunately I had a wonderful crew: Christina, Stephanie, Julie, Mom and Dad and the whole PCTR volunteer crew and directors.  I consumed only Tailwind Nutrition and my mood and energy levels stayed consistent and my stomach never turned which was a lifesaver.
     The last 4.3 miles were brutal.  At Tennessee Valley Aid Station I changed to a pack and put on my GoPro.  I asked Christina for my sunglasses so she would go to the car and I could confirm the ring was safely tucked in the pack.  I decided not to take a headlamp hoping beating the sun would be the extra push I needed.   But, after climbing the sun slept over the horizon and the darkness began to set in.
     Despite my legs being overworked I managed the “ultra shuffle” down towards Rodeo.  Luckily I arrived as a night race started so I was able to guide myself safely down using their headlamps as a guide.  
     At Rodeo I hear her voice…”Alex is that you?” ….”yeah its me.”
     At the finish line I take the camera from her hands and ask her to take a  finish line picture.  As she gets set to pose I get on one knee and ask her to make the happiest man alive… “will you marry me?” ….she said yes.

     I want to thank my family and friends for helping keep the secret for months and even for engaging in my deceptive tactics with me.  The race directors and volunteers at PCTR who helped me keep the secret and were encouraging me despite my body falling apart (and thank you for the champagne for us at the finish) and to all the other runners and crew who found out about my plans and were cheering and helping make this the happiest moment of my life.

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.