May 31, 2011

Thank You. Hoka One One

It wasn’t long ago that I was having serious doubts about finishing my ultra racing season. Routine long runs, something I look forward to, were becoming nearly unbearable from the pain in my foot caused by a neuroma. I went to a podiatrist who did to me what western medical professionals do so well – he gave me drugs by shooting me up with cortisone. But the pain didn’t subside. Instead it lingered and seemed to get worse on the tough, rocky trails that I’ve been training and racing on. 

I experimented with several types of shoes, hoping the pain would just go away.  Trail shoes, road shoes, racing flats, anything I could get my hands on.  But nothing seemed to help.  Some shoes made it worse, while others fought off the pain for an hour or two. But inevitably the pain kicked in as soon as I started climbing hills or running on rocky terrain. All I could do was shrug my shoulders in frustration.

Then I tried Hoka One Ones.  A rather unconventionally designed shoe, Hoka midsoles are as much as 2.5 times thicker and 30% softer than the typical trail shoe. With the additional thickness, Hoka’s were designed with a significant rockering (curve) in the soles, help
ing runners to produce a quick turnover. The shoes have a very wide birth with 50% more surface area than other shoes.  Even with the thickness and wide surface these shoes are surprisingly light. My size 11’s weighed in a little over 12 ounces.  

 Just as soon as I started running in Hoka’s the pain from the neuroma simply stopped. I’ve been running and racing in them since April.  With a couple of hundred miles logged in them, including a 50 mile and a 100k race with some significant technical terrain, I’m pretty sure my neuroma is no longer a factor for me. Other than some customary blisters, I walked away from both races without feeling any pain in my foot. I even switched back to a conventional trail shoe to be sure and the neuroma flared up again.

Hokas come in two models with a third to be released very soon. The Mafete, which is designed for trails, is the bulkier and widest of the two. The Bondi, for roads, is a little lighter and has a slightly smaller profile. I’ve been using both on and off the trail with much success. One caution is that I don’t recommend the Bondi for trails.  I took them out on trail one day and rolled my ankle in the first several steps. A final note for Hoka neophytes—be sure to order at least a half size larger than you typical shoe size.

A third model, the Stetson, is due to be released in a matter of weeks and shares the Bondi light upper section and the Mafate wider footprint. My order has been in for a few weeks and my feet are getting anxious.

Thank you Hoka One One.  I don’t think I would be running and racing ultras without you.

May 23, 2011

Bishop High Sierra 100k - Having Trust

When Rob M and I arrived Friday evening in Bishop for the pre race dinner I quickly made a beeline to the beer garden that was serving up free local brew for runners. The restaurant was buzzing with runners chomping on pasta and garlic bread.  But when I lifted the clear plastic cup and pulled on the silvery spout,  a loud, hissing sound nearly knocked me off my feet.  The keg was already dead!

The Bishop High Sierra 100k is the first 100k I’ve ever run. Aside from its connection to So Cal Ultra Series, I chose this race because of its difficulty and reputation for old school charm. With two kegs killed before our arrival, the charm had warn off and the difficulty had begun!

We started Saturday morning under clear skies with the prospect of thunderstorms arriving in the afternoon.  I’ve never seen lightning during a race, and I was looking forward to some fireworks to keep my adrenalin flowing.  Even though lightening didn’t appear, the course didn’t disappoint. We climbed along a sandy and rock strewn trail for 15 miles and over several snow drifts until we reached the Overlook turnaround at 9’400’.  Here runners were required to grab a hole punch dangling from a post to mark their race number as proof they made the distance.

Surrounded by the majestic peaks of the eastern Sierra, we continued along mostly fire roads for another 18 miles at an elevation between 7’500’ and 8’500’.  At this altitude I chose to ratchet things down a little and save some energy for the miles ahead. Even though my watch was set to ring every 45 minutes to remind me to eat, I wasn’t getting enough calories, probably due to the extra effort needed to run at altitude. I devoured some chicken burritos at the Intake 2 aid station at mile 26.5, and washed it all down with Gingerale.  Man that tasted good.

Then I remember being passed by another runner on a climb around mile 29. I reminded him we weren’t even half way.  His double take said it all.  As the miles ticked away, my confidence continued to grow. I decided to hold back until mile 35 when we began the long 15 mile descent back down to Bishop. Again, I said to myself knowledge is patience, and patience pays dividends in this sport.

It dawned on me during the race that getting through the last portion of an ultra is more about trust than your god given talent. It's about the trust you have that the pain will eventually fade, and better moments are sometimes just around the corner. It's also knowing that this trust is constantly being tested, because sometimes even greater difficulties are around the corner.  But you keep moving forward, despite the challenges, and eventually you get through them.

When I reached Sage Summit aid station at mile 52, my trust was redeemed.  From here I could see the turnaround some 1,000 feet below. I knew I had to run down and back up 1,000’ of switchbacks, but I also knew that once I made the final climb, it was just over 5 miles to the finish and all down hill.  So after several more shots of Gingerale, I descended into the valley below and turned to make my way back up this stairway to the sky.  The Sierras were gleaming by this time, and the sun’s rays  were piercing through the clouds and highlighting the valley below.  Before I knew it I was making my final steps to the finish line.  My final time was 11 hours and 38 minutes, 4th overall and 2nd age group.

Another day at the office as Rob M would say.

May 14, 2011

150 Miles Down, 262 Miles To Go

Three races are now in the book. Avalon 50 mile, Old Goats 50 Mile and Leona Divide 50 mile.  All behind me.  So now comes the fun stuff. Bishop High Sierra 100k (10,000 feet elevation gain) next weekend, San Diego 100 mile (12,300‘ elevation gain) three weeks after that, then the grand daddy Angeles Crest 100 mile (with some 21,600 feet of elevation gain) in July.  To be honest I haven’t really been thinking about the road ahead as much as I’ve taken things day to day.  I think my body is ready for the challenge, now I just need to get my mind ready.

I’ll be heading up to Bishop next weekend with two training buddies Bino M and Rob M.  This will my first time running Bishop and I’m looking forward to getting on the trail up there.  The course ascends to over 8’500 feet with most of it at 7,000’ elevation or higher. It will be interesting to see how my body handles things up there.  Whatever is to come, I’m excited about running a low-key, old school ultra event which this race is known for.  

Below is a profile of the elevation of the course.  Note the arrow which is the elevation of Denver just to put things in perspective! 

Bishop High Sierra 100k Profile

May 4, 2011

Can A Runner Learn From A Boxer?

Today I was on my elliptical machine churning out a few miles before going to work and I happened upon an article on Manny Pacquiao in the Wall Street Journal.  What caught my attention was the article’s focus – which is on Pacquiao’s conditioning methods.  Pacuiao’s has won world titles in eight weight classes – from 112 to 154 lbs.  This is incredible to say the least.  His record going into this weekend’s fight is 52-3-2 with 38 knockouts.  He is favored to win against Sugar Shane Mosley who is 46-6-1 with 39 knockouts.  Of course anything can happen.

So what is so special about Pacquiao’s conditioning methods?  His abdominal work.  The guy is grinding out 2000 reps daily of core work that is, well, inspiring.  My routine of 100 reps daily has just been ratcheted up.  He’s also incorporating a lot of running including hill, interval and obstacle work.  With an ability to take his heart rate north of 200 bpm and hold it there for a “long period”, I can see how he simply wears down his competition.

Any lessons here for us ultra runners?  If you want to maintain good running form for the long run while minimizing injuries in multiple areas, core work is critical.  How many sit ups or crunches have you done today?

Image: xedos4 /

May 1, 2011

2011 Leona Divide 50 Mile Race Report

I don't normally post from my Iphone but since I'm at my kid's swim meet today with no Sunday paper, I'll indulge.

The 2011 Leona Divide 50 mile race was held yesterday with a record attendance of runners, good weather and great race support.  In her second year as race director, Keira Henninger has moved this once salty ultra classic into a made-for-all trail run replete with a 30k, 50k and (original) 50 mile distances.  Over 400 registered for the events, far overshadowing the 150ish that historically ran the 50 mile.

One of the best things about Leona Divide is the trail, which is  uniquely varied in terrain, elevation and temperature.  A blend of truck trail and single track (nearly all on the Pacific Crest Trail) moves like a snake through a constant mix of climbs, descents and rolling flats.  Temperatures started in the high 30s/low 40s and rose to the mid 70s.

My only gripe about the "new" Leona coarse is the added PCT section from miles 25 to 28 and 32 to 35.  Here runners must share a very narrow foot-wide trail along the side of a very steep slope while running in both directions (sometimes quite fast).  Don't get me wrong here.  I'm a big fan of single track trail, but not on a narrow two way section of a race the has ballooned in size and will probably continue to grow.  Slower runners are asked to stand aside for the faster runners which, given the very narrow and steep terrain, means stopping and leaning against a  grade some 20, 30 100? times for some of the back of the packers!  The old coarse had a similar problem but seemed manageable with fewer runners.

I went into Leona hoping to break 8 hours and if not then at least break my previous time of 8:15.  Just before the 6 am start we runners were entertained by the Jimmy Dean show to loosen us up.  Once underway I was feeling excitement and found my rhythm in the first 20 miles. But this was the first time for me running the new coarse.  Not a problem until I tried to gauge how far I had run.  When I hit Jimmy D's aid station around mile 25, the old turn around point, and found out I had another 5 miles to run to the new turn around, my excitement quickly turned to frustration.  Miles 25 to 35 was the new section and for me the most difficult. After the narrow single track, the course descends a long truck trail.

At one point after running alone for a good 10 mins and not seeing any trail markers I thought I was lost.  It was only seconds after I shouted several loud expletives that a runner rounded the corner.  Frustration turned, at least momentarily, to embarrassed relief. But as I continued down the long descent and then turned to make the long climb, I lost my sense of rhythm and doubt started to creep in. I reminded myself that these miles, 25 to 35, were usually the hardest for me in a 50. Too far from the start to feel good, and not far enough to feel the pull and adrenaline of the finish.  Knowledge is patience I reminded myself.

Once I made the climb I knew most of the remaining miles were rolling flats and a long descent. I got my rhythm and confidence back through most of this section and managed to pass several other runners.  I could feel the finish line by now which helped me stay on pace.  I rounded the last turn knowing my first goal was out of reach and not sure about my second goal. When I saw the clock I felt satisfied with a 5 minute PR for the course.  8 hours 10 minutes.

From excitement, frustration, relief, doubt, confidence all the way to satisfaction, Leona brought them all to me.  Just like a slice of life.  Another reason I like running ultras.

Keep it real runners!