Saturday, April 30, 2011

What a Week!

I don't normally review my week's activity as a whole, but this was an exceptionally fun week and I really feel like it was worth spraying about. So that I don't have to mention it in each activity review I ran every run this week in my Altra Instincts. If you haven't read my shoe review, do it. They were amazing considering everything I put them through.

Monday - 8 miles, 180 vert, 1:06:08
Conscious of the lower back issues and the pain that is radiating to my hips I was determined to keep my runs this week flat. During a lunchtime run I headed out on the paved Jordan River Parkway in Sandy, UT in a light wind and warm temps. I intended to just keep it casual and only picked up the pace to an 8 min/mile for the 2nd half of the run. Nice and easy.

Tuesday - 9.15 miles, 1930 vert, 1:39:31
It took less than 24 hours to completely fail in my commitment to keep things flat. Under the extreme threat of snow and rain (isn't it the end of April?) I went out with Matt and checked out a new loop in Draper. We ran up a newish trail to the east of South Mountain and wound our way up to the top of Suncrest. At the summit we took a connector trail to the dirt road heading up to View Benchmark peak. Summiting in high winds we went back the way we came to the saddle then ran over to South Mountain. From there we went down the north ridge heading west until we had to cut down the steep hill before going into the quarry. Then it was just a half mile back to the car. This was a brutal, but awesome run on some great cruiser trails.

Wednesday - 8.22 miles, 1400 vert, 1:14:00
This time with Matt and Scott we ran the BoSho from the Red Rock trailhead in Draper into Corner Canyon. From there up the Ghost Falls trail as the Clark Trail is closed. Going up was fun, but a bit tiring.Tuesday's hill-fest took it out of me. We then cruised down Corner Canyon Rd and back on the BoSho. We all hung very close together until we had about 1.25 miles left, then I turned it on and pushed hard to the finish. Matt almost caught me with .3 left, but forgot about the final hill, something I had saved up for.  I was able to push back ahead and finished 25 seconds ahead of him and another 2 min or so ahead of Scott. Two days of solid vert. Not great on the hip, but really fun.

Thursday - rest

Friday - 30.0 miles, 3350 vert, 4:56:30
I got a message from Scott early in the week asking if I wanted to go out to Stansbury Island and run the 10 mile mountain bike trail in three loops as he needed a good long run for the month. I've been out to the island a few times to climb, but hadn't ever made it out there to do a run. I couldn't pass up the opportunity. We coerced Matt and Josh to come along. It didn't take much as both were itching to run some new trails and get in a longer run.
The trail is pretty simple; park on the west side of the island and immediately climb 800 ft in the first mile to the main saddle, then down 100 ft or so and continue on the crest trail for 3 more miles before turning down a small canyon all the way down to the valley floor and back around on dirt roads. The crest single track trail is extremely rocky and technical. Everyone caught a toe on several occasions, although Scott was the only one to actually fall to the ground. He almost lost his water bottle over a cliff.
We ran the first loop clockwise, doing the big climb first. We all stayed together this loop until we had two miles left when Scott fell back to take a couple of pictures. He stayed back until we got back to the car. Our first loop was in 1:32:00.

For loop two we went back around counter-clockwise. It was a good choice since we were able to run the flat 4.5 miles to an easy climb and then run the crest trail to the last short climb over the saddle and power down the big descent to the car. We lost Scott about 2 miles into the run and didn't see him again until we got back to the car, 15 minutes after we arrived. At mile 20 I still felt really good, but the long wait for Scott took it's toll and for the start of loop 3 I was tight.

The third loop was painful. We went back clockwise to get the big climb out of the way. It was on the climb that my hip acted up. I kept it in check on the crest trail, but it really started to hurt the last 3 miles back to the car. This was a much slower loop as the week's activities had really taken their toll. Luckily, Matt and Josh were as tired as me and were will to take it slow too. We lost Scott way back on the climb and were just hoping he wasn't too far behind this time. Three loops, 30 miles total, with a ton of good vert. The trail is incredible and really remote and rugged. I can't wait to go back.

Saturday, 3.1 miles, 40 vert, 23:13 
Salt Lake Running Co 5k
This is a free race put on each year by the Salt Lake Running Co. I signed up myself, my wife, and my son Tyler basically just to get the free shirt. My wife didn't go because she wasn't feeling well, so it was just me and Tyler. I know a 30 miler isn't a great taper run, but it would have to do. Back in my Altras and stiff in the hips Tyler and I settled into the middle of the pack at the start. He wasn't planning on running it hard, as it had just snowed and he knew I was tired, but once we passed the start line I knew it was ON. He was running so well it was hard to even keep up with my tired legs.

By the time we hit the turn-around I had caught back up and we ran together until a quarter mile left. Then I urged him to push on and drive to the finish. With 100 yards to go I yelled for him to drive with his arms and he really surged ahead, finishing in 23:10, more than 2 minutes faster than his PR. It was so awesome to watch him get a new PR and run hard. He's got real talent. My legs settled in after the first half mile and maintaining a 7:30 pace for the whole race felt pretty easy. I definitely felt like I had more miles in me, but I'm glad I didn't try. I'm pretty tired now.

Weekly Totals
58.49 Miles
6738 vert
9 hrs 20 min

What a week, huh?

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Shoe Review?

I've never done a shoe review and wager that this will be only one of two I ever attempt. However, in this case, I think it's good to jump on the bandwagon.

Let me get something out of the way before I jump into my review.
I'm not a minimalist runner. I am a solid mid-foot striker and have been for about a year and a half. I moved to a mid-foot strike after dealing with ITBS when nothing else worked. I tried the whole 'minimalist' thing after reading Born to Run, but realized it didn't work for me as a trail runner; I needed more between me and the ground. I respect those guys who hold on tight to that concept; if it works for them then that's great. But I personally don't have a place for it in my running style. That being said, I am a big advocate of a mid-foot strike and wearing shoes that promote that.

Altra Instinct

THE ALTRA INSTINCT IS NOT A MINIMALIST SHOE. You may have read other reviews from minimalist runners who will talk heavily about their minimalist style and where this shoe fits into that methodology. Like I said above, that's cool for them and if this shoes has a place in their training and racing, all the better. But I feel it's important to suppress any incorrect assumptions. This shoe is so much more than a minimalist shoe that to corral it into a single genre of running would not do it justice. Altra has a minimalist shoe, but that is forth-coming.

Here's the real scoop on the shoe and then the real deal on how it will work for any runner out there.
First,  and this is the biggie, there is no drop from heel to toe. Yep, Zero Drop. Altra owns the term and it's well deserved. This shoe is created to promote good running form, nothing more nothing less. If you want to call that 'minimalist' fine, but really they are just promoting proper running technique that will help any runner become better, reduce injury, and learn a greater love for the sport and the benefits it provides.

Second, the foot bed is actually patterned after the shape of your foot. It's weird how it actually took an innovative shoe company from Provo, UT to come up with a shoe concept that people have been speculating about for 50 years. The widened toe box will allow your toes to splay evenly as the foot rolls over the toe and kicks back. Yep, no more blisters. And the cupping heel shape will hold your foot in place, even on downhills. You don't need to oversize your shoes by a full size any more.

Third, this is a soft shoe with a non-EVA midsole, so there is less to break down over time. The cushioning is responsive and will stay that way. If at any time you feel that the cushioning is failing in this shoe it is most likely due to the insole breaking down and not the midsole. You can get many more miles out of this shoe (and any shoe for that matter) if you'll simply replace the insole every 200 miles.

Finally, this shoe is light and flexible. It will perform equally as well for a runner going after a half marathon PR as well as an ultra runner pushing 100 miles. It's been tested in every type of racing and the results are the same - Brilliant!

Matt Williams running a rocky trail in the Altra Instincts

So now down to what it will do for you.
Because the heel isn't raised up you have no choice but to push your hips forward, straighten your back, and land softer on the middle to front of your foot. Technique problems? Solved. OK, it's not that simple, but it sure does help. For a runner trying to transition they will find this makes the process easier and more comfortable. For an existing mid-foot striker it will be like running on a cloud and only enhance your existing form.

In the process of transitioning from a heel to mid-foot strike every runner goes through certain 'pains'. These commonly include calf and achilles pain. For those who push too hard too soon they may even encounter shin splints and pulled tendons. Altra is smart enough to tell you to take it slow and make the transition over time. Your body needs to get stronger, just like when you first started running.

However, making the transition in a pair of Altra Instincts is vastly different then the often tried dive right into a pair of Vibram Five Fingers or failing in an attempt to do it in a pair of regular shoes. While the move to a mid-foot strike is still adding more strain to your calves and achilles, the Instinct's10mm of cushioning between your foot and the ground significantly reduces the impact to both of those areas. As a current mid-foot striker I can say that I have had zero calf and achilles pain while wearing these shoes, but I still get it if I wear a pair of minimalist (less padding between my foot and the ground) shoes.

Like I said, this is not a minimalist shoe. It is, however, the most comfortable and form-promoting shoe I've ever put on my foot. I've worn it for dozens of miles on both the trails and roads. This shoe has seen mud, rocks, concrete, and asphalt and it has exceeded my expectations in every form of foot travel. All I can really say is, if the Instinct is this good I can't wait to see what the Lone Peaks can do in the dirt! I believe in these guys' philosophy and respect what they trying to do. I'm not a sponsored runner, I paid for my shoes like everyone else, but these guys have me sold for life. They live what they preach and I'm fairly certain they are going to change the face of running shoes.

And p.s., if you are a minimalist and want a minimalist shoe that will be everything and more try the Altra Adam. It will blow your mind.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Snow, Rain, or Shine

It's been a crazy few weeks in Utah. The weather can't seem to make up its mind. A week and a half ago I ran 15 miles in six inches of snow. Two days later I was in shorts and a t-shirt. Today I ran in what I would consider a 'normal' April rain storm, warm enough for shorts, but still needing a long-sleeve shirt. The down side is that one would think the trails would be wrecked, but timing has proved otherwise. In the last two weeks I've done every single one of my runs on one trail or another, spanning from Kaysville in Davis County all the way down to Corner Canyon in Draper. While conditions have not always been perfect, the company has been and I've enjoyed every minute out in the hills.

My main running partner is Matt. He's not only a work team member, but a good friend and amazing human being. He started running just over a year ago with nothing more than a goal to finish a sprint triathlon. When that was over I took him on one or two trail runs and he must have caught the bug because now he's a full on trail addict and ultra up-and-comer. He ran the Buffalo Run 50k a few weeks ago in 5:20, incredible for a first-timer. Together we have attacked the trails and pushed each other far harder then either of us would normally run had we been alone.

Below are some pics of the last couple of weeks and the fun we've had. I need to start bringing my camera along more often. It's getting to be that time of year where I really start exploring and getting deeper into the unknown. I can't wait for summer.

 Me cruising back along the BST in Davis Co. Matt had just made the comment that I was running sub-8 min/miles on a slight uphill. I thought that meant I was supposed to speed up. He cursed me a bit when we got back to the car.

 Cruising back down to the bridge after coming back down Chin Scraper on the Wasatch 100 course.

 Matt doing the same.

Matt making the turn onto the bridge. I love the look on his face.

 Trying to make tricky turns down the Bell Canyon trail into LCC.

 Matt topping out after 7.5 miles of constant uphill. We were not feeling it this day, but still happened to put in a good effort.

Flying down the trails. I can't wait for dry weather!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Building a Better Base

While the Buffalo Run 50 miler was a huge success for me there were also a lot of lessons I learned from that race. I had initially thought, after my mid-race mental breakdown, that I simply didn't have enough long runs (over 30 miles) on my legs before the race, but feedback I got from friends who have more experience than me have changed my mind on the matter.

While I still think it is imperative to have at least one or two long runs over 30 miles in preparation for a 50 miler, I believe those runs are more about time on the trails and dealing with the endless hours of moving forward. It has come to my attention that what is really important is simply building a better base of weekly miles. I was told by more than one person that my target goal should be trying to keep up a base of around 10 miles a day with a longer run sometime during or at the end of the week. That would bring my weekly mileage up to about 70 miles per week. Ideally, that is where I've wanted to be anyway. While I couldn't quite do that in preparation for the Buffalo Run, it is certainly my primary focus right now.

So last week I changed my focus to my new training format and I'm pressing to try and make 10 miles each day feel like 5, in other words, easy. Last week I was able to get 50 miles in five days of running with one of those days being only a 3 miler. I couldn't do a long run due to conflicts which ended up being a good thing because it was technically my first week back at training since the race. And what a week it was. Two of the days I ran in shorts and a t-shirt, the other day I ran in 6 inches of snow, long pants and 3 shirts with a beanie and gloves. This month's weather is so messed up. But not only did I still get my miles, but I also included about 5,000 feet of vertical running, something I'll desperately need as I prepare for upcoming races and adventure runs.

Here is a pic from Friday's SlurpeeFest 15 miler. This is my friend Matt running down the Bell Canyon Trail from the reservoir.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Week Later

It has now been a full week since I finished my first race of the season. I have been extremely happy with my recovery. For a race that took so much out of me I healed quicker than ever. By Monday the soreness was gone and I just had residual fatigue in several muscle groups. By Wednesday even the tiredness was gone.

I had committed to taking the entire week off, but come on, if I really did that would I be me? Of course not. On Thursday I went out in the morning with my friend Scott for a quick peak-bagging jaunt up Wire Peak, a small 'hill' nestled between Emigration Canyon and the University of Utah. It is a short 4.1 mile roundtrip hike/run with 2100 feet of vert in the first half of the trip. My legs were obviously tired going up, but by the time we were half way to the summit I had settled in and was feeling fine. And the run down was casual and easy. I was happy overall with how well it went. That being said, the fatigue from Monday and Tuesday was back in my legs and I spent the rest of the day lethargic, but content.

I had been talking with another friend, Eric, about doing a longer run in the foothills of Mt Timpanogos on Saturday. But with the weather forecasts showing the best temps and sunshine on Friday, we decided to head out then. He wanted to try a new loop starting at Battle Canyon in Pleasant Grove, then run up to a connecting trail over to trail 51 and then follow that past Dry Canyon and up and over the western saddle below Big Baldy Peak to the Pipeline Rd in Provo Canyon. We'd then run the Bonneville Shoreline Trail back to our car.

Well, the trail went as planned, but my legs did not. The tiredness stopped me from pushing the uphills as much as I would have liked. The snow depth and mud slowed down the rest of the trip on the upper trails. There were times when we were hiking across thick snow crust, just to break through and scrape our shins. Once back to the BST, with only 4 miles left, all of my energy (and gels) ran out and it was a brutal slog to get back to the car. I had to walk the uphills, but could run the flats and downhill pretty fast still. Even with all of that it was an amazing and beautiful run and I was very content with how I performed. We had more than 1800 ft of vert over the entire 12.33 mile run. My only regret was not taking a camera. It was really stunning.

Map of the run.