Monday, October 31, 2011

The Perfect Trail Shoe?

Is there such a thing as the perfect trail running shoe? Few companies have attempted to lay claim to the auspicious honor. Fewer still have even remotely lived up to the relative title of possibly being the best. I won't make the claim right now that the Altra Lone Peak is the greatest trail shoe ever built, I don't think I have the expertise to do that. But upon initial review of the shoe I'm ready and willing to put it up there with the best.

I've worn pretty much all of the top rated trail shoes on the market, at one time or another. I can speak to fit, footbed, pronation, traction, durability, etc. However, when it comes down to it only two things really matter - trail performance and comfort. There is hype flying all over the internet and in magazines about the need for the lightest shoe, the most durable shoe, minimalist shoes or the opposite. What we really want is the most shoe for our money. I'm no different.

In April of this year I gladly changed over to running in the Altra Instinct for both roads and trails. I'm several hundred miles into my 2nd pair (my first pair are still running strong at 650+ miles too) and can say in all honesty that I'll never wear another brand of shoe. I've worn my Instincts in two 100 mile races and in both I never changed my shoes and even wore them home after. I've worn them in road half marathons and on forever long trail training runs, always without a single complaint. To this day I'll vouch for them as the best shoe I've ever worn. Well, except maybe until now. We'll see.

Seth Wold flying in the Altra Lone Peaks at the Pony Express Trail 50 (photo - Frank Bott)

The Lone Peak is a shoe constructed on the same wonderful footbed as the Instinct. Like all their shoes, they are shaped to fit your feet, allowing for your toes to spread while keeping the heel locked down through the full motion of your cadence. Yet, the Lone Peak is more like an Instinct on steriods. They've added a rock plate to the sole. But pay attention, unlike every other shoe companies (that I am aware of), instead of putting the rock plate between the outsole and the midsole, they have put it between the two layers of midsole. This allows for more flexibility on the outside of the shoe, without the internal breakdown. It's literally genius. Additionally, like a real trail shoe they have added just enough additional traction to make the shoe grippy on loose dirt and in the mud. I just ran in them again today in some very loose dirt and felt like I had much better traction - especially uphill - than in the Instinct (obviously). Because of the rock plate and the lugs there is obviously some trail sensitivity lost. But, unless you are an ultra minimalist that shouldn't really matter. I want protection and these certainly offer it. Finally, Altra has added a stronger toe protection on the front and the sides. What seem like meaningless fluff by having a mountain range on the outside and inside of the shoe actually contribute to structural stability and lateral protection from rocks.

Golden Harper, Altra founder, high in the Wasatch (photo - Altra)

From a performance standpoint I found the Lone Peaks to be extremely nimble and movable. I had no problem moving around rocks. The biggest addition I saw over some of my more recent shoes - Inov-8 and La Sportiva - was that there is now more lateral stability due to the wider footbed and rock plate. So it's a couple of ounces heavier per shoe than the lightest ones on the market? Who cares if I'm getting added protection and comfort. The reality is that I can run faster for longer, which translates to better training and race results.

The biggest problem I have with the shoe is that I didn't have them on hand for my Pony Express Trail 100 race just over a week ago. 100 miles on very rocky dirt road would have been much more enjoyable in a shoe with lugs and a rock plate. Don't get me wrong, my Instincts were plenty comfy, but those little pebbles just start to eek through once you are 70+ miles in.

Thanks again Altra, you've outdone yourself.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pony Express Trail 100 - Race Report

It's always difficult to know where to begin when trying to put into words the lifetime of experiences you go through during a 100 mile endurance event. However, I'll do my best.

The Pony Express Trail 100 is held in the west desert of Utah. It follows the old Pony Express route that ran from Sacramento, CA to Missouri. The race is 100% roads, is very flat and very straight. It is also unique in that each runner has their own crew, no aid stations. My plan was to have my crew drive ahead every 4 miles and then stop and wait. If I started struggling I could have them reduce that distance, if needed.

I had the wonderful pleasure of having my brother, Brent, crew and pace me in this race. Joining him in these duties would be our mutual friend Ty Hansen, a solid runner and great climber. Brent and I pulled into the starting line at Lookout Pass camp ground on Thursday evening only to find out that Ty wouldn't be joining us until later in the day on Friday due to some work conflicts that came up last minute. I wasn't too worried as I didn't need a pacer until after the 50 mile mark (or further). My real concern was that Brent was really wanting to get out and pace earlier then that, just to get the good miles in.

After a horrible nights sleep in Brent's minivan we rolled out to a pretty uneventful race morning. Like many ultras there was little fanfare. We all lined up, a few jovial comments were shared, and the countdown began. We were off. As expected Jay Aldous (the eventual winner and new crushing course record holder) and Davy Crockett went out like a flash of lightning. I think someone forgot to tell them this wasn't a 10k.

Waiting to start

There really isn't much that can be said about the first 30 miles of this race. I felt really great, I ran a sub-4 hours for the first 26.2 miles, I passed Davy at mile 8 (I've never passed Davy, ever) and expected him to pass me at any moment during the next 20+ miles. I ran a lot of those first 30 miles with Kendall Wimmer, the eventual 2nd place finisher. He is a really great guy and I really enjoyed these miles with him. Together we were constantly amazed by how well we were running and the pace we were keeping. It was really cool.

 Probably somewhere around mile 8

 Kendall looking strong in the early morning

 A beautiful PET 100 sunrise

About mile 20, past Simpson Springs

Around mile 30 is when it started to get really hot. I had hit the 50k mark in a new best time for me at around 4:40. My legs were starting to hurt as they always do at this distance and the black shirt I was wearing (thanks Altra!!!) was soaking up the sun. The temps were only in the low to mid 70s, but out on those dusty dirt roads it felt like 85. I slowed my pace as I made my way up Dugway Pass, took off my shirt, and watched Kendall start to really put some distance ahead of me. The chances of catching him were dwindling. Still ahead of me was Jay and Phil Lowry also, both amazing runners. I was sitting in a solid 4th position, but I knew I had a couple of really good runners behind me - Davy and Tim Long, both who could pass me in an instant if I didn't keep moving well. 

On my way up Dugway Pass I met up with Mark Capone who recognized me as a fellow climber. Running/hiking with him really took my mind off my legs and it made the next couple of miles really fly by. At the top of the pass he kept going while I took a short aid stop. I flew down the other side of Dugway Pass (mile 37.5) and just cruised the next 5 miles down past the geode beds, finally passing Mark again at about mile 43. He was looking really good and would go on to finish his first 50 miler in 9:38. Congrats to him. I cruised into and past Black Rock Aid station (and the 50 mile finish), mile 48.5 (the 50 milers have to do a short out and back), without much else going on. I don't really even remember much of that section. I hit the 50 mile mark in 8:14:49. I was hoping to get there at the 8 hr mark, but that 15 min wasn't too much to add on.

Yep, that's tape on my nipple

It was now 3pm and Ty still hadn't shown up. Brent and I were getting worried that he wouldn't show or got lost. At mile 54 I finally passed Jay as he was cruising back from Fish Springs, now 10+ miles ahead of me. He gave me a high-5 and just cruised on past, looking like he wasn't even tired. Amazing. A couple of miles later Brent was trying to get me to eat anything he could get down me and talked me into a bit of yogurt. BAD IDEA. The dairy didn't take long to completely wreck my stomach and I would spend the next 10 miles trying to get over a yucky stomach. 

Fish Springs is the turn-around of the race at mile 58. As we were coming up to the aid at mile 56 we turned around and here came Ty waving and screaming out the window. I had been a little down in the dumps and while Brent was driving along side for a short stretch to chat, I really needed a proper pacer and was just praying Ty would show up. His appearance was just the lift I needed. 

The great part about this little section is that you get to see who is in front of you and how far they are ahead. We passed Kendall, who had passed Phil; he was about 2 miles ahead of us. Then, just before entering Fish Springs we passed a very down-trodden Phil who looked like he was hurting. It was at that exact moment that I knew I'd eventually catch up and possibly pass him. My stop at mile 58 was short and I turned around and started cruising with my ailing stomach. Once back at Ty's car I told the boys to go drive it to Black Rock and see if someone would take it back to the finish line (which Matt Williams did, thanks Matt), so I had the next four miles or so to myself. At mile 62-ish I finally passed Davy. He had been dealing with the heat, race organization problems, and other things I can't even imagine, but was pushing forward. He told me I wasn't far behind Phil and had a good chance of catching him.

Brent and Ty showed up a short while later and we were back at our new pacing process - aid stops were every two miles where they would switch off pacing duties. It worked very well. We finally passed Phil at mile 67 and cruised into Black Rock aid at mile 68. My stop here was longer than planned, only because I saw so many friends I wanted to congratulate from the 50 mile race. Over the next 10+ miles we kept leap-frogging with Phil, to the point that I was tired of it and just let him go on ahead. I didn't want to have to 'race' for 3rd place, I just wanted my sub-20 hour time. But as we were hiking back up to Dugway Pass there was Phil, sitting in a chair, not a half mile from the top. I had no choice but to pass him. I decided this time I would hit the other side of the pass and try and put some distance between us, hopefully for good.

I think this is coming up to Dugway Pass

Once back to the 'road from hell' and the long 18 miles straight stretch back to the finish line I could keep a relatively good eye on who was behind and guess at how far they were. I was pretty certain I had a decent lead on Phil, but I wasn't sure where Tim Long was as his crew was still passing us every now and again. That could mean he was 2 miles back or 5, we had no idea how to tell. By this point, mile 80+, all I wanted was to have it over. I was still having fun, but my legs were wrecked and I wanted to get out of the dark cold. I was able to maintain an OK shuffle with periodic walking spurts put in. Our 2 mile aid stops were very helpful and I was able to keep them super short. Other than Black Rock I never had an aid stop over 5 min, and I only had two even that long (Black Rock was 9 min). Brent and Ty were awesome at keeping me going.

Hiking out of River Bottom I could see a headlamp not a half mile behind us. Since it didn't stop at Tim's crew car I assumed it was Phil, and he was gaining. With only 8 miles left we were now back to a race for third. I continued to stick with my game-plan and just hope it paid off. With 4 miles left we had a long 3.5 miles of uphill and a half mile of downhill to the finish. Someone passed me and told me Phil was less than a half mile back and running 'like he wanted it'. Something clicked in my head and I just took off. I was now running a 9 min/mile pace uphill, 96+ miles into a race. Brent was pacing me and struggling to keep up. When Ty took over for the last two miles I didn't even stop at the car and just kept running. Ty did his best to keep up, but said that I even dropped him near the top. His positive words of encouragement were incredible as I ran up to the car at the turn-off to the finish where he hopped in to drive down with Brent to take photos and video. I knew I had 3rd in the bag and was looking at a time well below 20 hours.

I crossed the finish line with my boys and only a few race staff in attendance. It was weird to not have Davy there to welcome me in, but he still had work to do. I finished my third 100 mile endurance race in 19:18:05, good enough for 3rd place overall.

 The finish line at Simpson Springs

 Me crossing the finish 

 It was freezing, but I needed a pic wearing my Altra shirt. 

Brent, me, and Ty. What a crew!!!

First and foremost I want to thank my crew - they were absolutely amazing. I don't know what would have happened without their positive words and encouragement.

Altra Zero Drop shoes make the best shoes on the planet. I ran 100 miles and never changed my socks or shoes. At the finish line I dumped out a little dirt and put them right back on for the drive home. They are the best.

And this will sound weird, but Brent, your chia seed energy gel is amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Refuse to Quit

'Refuse to Quit'; it's more than just the title of my blog, it's something I feel defines who I am. For me it applies to more than just running, climbing, or peak bagging. It applies to my life, my family, my work, and relationships. It's something I teach my kids, have instilled in my scouts, and try and exemplify in my attitude and character. I hope I've represented the philosophy well.

This week 'refusing to quit' will be about more than just not DNFing in my race. On Friday it will be about refusing to sit and rest, to walk when I should run, and refusing to give in to pain and fatigue. On Friday I am going to toe the line of the Pony Express Trail 100 to race, not just run and finish. Do I really have a chance at winning? I doubt it. But I refuse to believe that I can't try anyway.

You can track my progress at

Before even starting let me express my gratitude to those who are supporting me in this race . . . . I'll do it with pictures:

My brother; crew and pacer -

My friend Ty; crew and pacer -

Altra Zero Drop Shoes -

Dad, this one is for you!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Race Week

I came into this week not feeling overly awesome. The last few weeks haven't been the best training either. But all of that said I woke up this morning and actually feel amazing. I'll stretch my legs today and Wednesday, but other than that I won't do any additional running and nothing with elevation.

My race strategy is as follows; run as hard and as fast as I can until I collapse. At that point my crew is allowed to let me wallow in the dirt for 10 minutes, force me to get up, and start the process all over again. It's a solid strategy. I'm getting really excited!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Training Window Begins to Close

The Pony Express 100 lingers less than three weeks away. Like my other 100 milers I find that even this far before the race it seems to occupy my mind more than just about anything else. I've set a lofty goal for myself and will do everything in my power to achieve it. I believe that my crew and pacers this year (brother Brent and friend Ty) will be a massive help in getting me to that goal. Not only are they strong runners and understand me well, but they are complete goof-balls which is vital in running a 100 mile race.

Training has been quite good. Other than dealing with an on-off lingering Plantar Fasciitis issue I've felt quite well and put in some really good build-up miles. Obviously, my 47 miles 30+ hours of staying awake while helping Scott run Wasatch was a great asset, but I've also done a few other larger runs that have really helped. Last week I ran the Lake Mountain Poop Loop with good friend Matt (who will be running the 50 miler at PET). It was a bit of a slog due to both of us having tummy issues, but we got in 32+ miles only three weeks before our race. Perfect timing. I've also been putting in solid 10 mile+ days, often at a much faster pace then I plan to run at PET100. My vert has continued to stay above 5000 ft/week, which is like doing speed workouts. And most importantly, I feel like my personal life and mental state are better than they have been all year. We are settled into our house, my kids are all healthy, my wife is working a normal schedule at the hospital, and I feel like I have a stronger mental base going into a 100 miler than ever before. I now know I can run 100 miles, and I firmly believe I can do it faster than I ever have before. So that being said, unless I have a fun adventure to post I'm hoping that my next post will be to announce my massive personal success (I'm quite certain I still have no chance to win this thing).

Matt, around mile 28 of the Lake Mountain Poop Loop