Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Feats of my Feet

I have fat feet. I have flat feet. I have voluminous feet. I have size 13/14 (depending on manufacturer), wide feet. I have fins attached to my legs. Lets look at a picture of these suckers (soda can for perspective).

With that established, it's story time.

My foot issues started in grade school.  I specifically remember a trip to Foot Locker, where a referee-jersey clad sales associate explained to me how tall I was going to be, when I grew up.  He sized me for a pair of basketball shoes and proclaimed how I was going to grow into my feet and at least be over six feet tall. I walked away ecstatic. Smile brimming from ear to ear. Would I play for the Sonics, Lakers, or Bulls?

I'm currently 5'10 at 28 years old.

Feet in Swimming 

I decided to pick up this running thing about three years ago.  Being a former high school and college swimmer, I was not used to footwear of any kind for athletic endeavors.  Swimmers utilize fins for potions of some workouts, but I didn't use them on a daily, or even consistently, on a weekly basis.  When I did use fins, I was scrounging around for the sole pair that were built for size 13-14 feet. Often times there were only a pair or two of those, and usually being occupied by the over 6 ft teammate, who had feet that were much more proportional to height.

If there was any reason I was competent in swimming, it was surely due to these babies. My feet were/are perfect for sprints. I've got big built-in flippers that generate a tremendous amount of power when asked for a swim.  Don't think so? Ask Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps also has large feet (size 14).  He's got a couple of gold medals.

By the way, you know how tall he is?  SIX FOOT FOUR.

Point: In swimming you don't worry about your feet that much.  You work with what you got, and spend more time doing things swimmers do (blog post coming on that as well).

Feet in Vibram Five-Fingers

Shaped like my foot, and comfortable.

A lot is made of 'transitioning to barefoot footwear' in the running community.  Most runners are used to these cushioned, high heeled shoes, they have been wearing for some extended period of their lifetime. I'm not used to wearing anything on my feet.  The Vibram Five-Fingers mimic what I'm used too, and are extremely comfortable. I'm used to naked feet.

The transition to running in Vibrams felt the most natural for me. Not only do they accommodate my wide, flat, fin-shaped feet, but they also promote good running form. Vibrams have absolutely no heel, therefore, I found I was forced to land on mid foot, and shorten my stride.  After a short transition into them, I'm now comfortable taking these out for training runs of up to 20 miles, but 12 is normally the limit.

Point: I wear Vibrams because they are comfortable, fit my wide feet, and promote good running form.

Vasque Mindbender (Wide)

After running the Gorge Waterfalls 50K, I knew I needed a shoe with cushion.  I managed to rack up more than $1,000 in charges between Zappos (free returns) and Running Warehouse (free returns) to try and find that ideal shoe.  After many tests to no avail, I came upon the Vasque Mindbender, size 13 wide, on Amazon.  Fit like a glove.

The shoe has a fairly roomy toe box, wide mid-foot, and fits my flat feet with a very minimal arch.  It has superb toe protection for when I boot rocks. It ate up the rock infested Yakima Skyline Rim course, and I only came out with one blister on my big toe. Probably should promote Injinji socks as well, as they are my default socks for any type of run.

Point: When you run 20 or more miles on the trails, you need cushion, and protection.  This shoe does just that.

Perfect Shoe

While these shoes both serve specific purposes, the search will always be on for the 'perfect shoe'. While both the Vibrams and the Vasques are good shoes, they don't meet every requirement to be the 'perfect shoe'.  So as request to any manufacturers out there that would like to create a shoe specifically for me...

Things I care about:
  • Anatomical Fit
  • Wide Mid foot
  • Wide Toe Box, plenty of room for toe splay
  • 'Lock-Down' Heel
  • Low arch
  • 8 ounces max
  • 6 - 10mm drop
  • Lugs that provide serious traction
  • Cushion meant for ultras
  • Quick Drying
  • Toe Protection
Things I Don't Care About
  • Color 
  • Name 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Yakima Skyline Rim 50K Race Report

Relentless climbs. Steep descents. Rocky trails. Hot weather. Beautiful vistas.

I drove down to stay in Ellensburg the night before this race, not being keen on the idea of getting up at 3:30 a.m. to drive out to the race. The race was through the Yakima River Canyon, and offered some beautiful views of the snow capped Cascades along the ridge lines. The course had somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 ft of elevation gain. This gain was comprised in four major climbs, with some portions of those climbs being extremely steep. This ended up being a 'satisfying' race, as I was able to finish an extremely tough course, and learn some physical and mental lessons. I also debuted my first non-Vibram footwear, breaking out my Vasque Mindbender's after a couple of weeks training in them. 114 started, 89 finished, and I ended up in 26th.

credit to Rainshadow Running

First 10 Miles

Kilted bagpipers should be mandated for the starts of all races. It just sets a certain tone, one that I think is perfect for tough trail races. Forget hip-hop, grunge, or GaGa. Just bagpipes. Thus began the race.

We hit the trails, and then begin with a serious climb that goes up at least a couple thousand feet, over just a couple of miles. This initial climb reminded me of taking a ski-lift for the first run of the day, the budding anticipation, the views of ridge tops becoming more clear, the realization that the day was about to begin. But I wasn't seated, I was power hiking. I wasn't going to make the mistake of even trying to run this section, except for the flats, as the race had just begun, and the climb looked like it was going to go on forever. The climb culminated with a section so steep, I almost contemplated just putting my hands out and crawling up. Probably good to note that all conversations with other runners seemed to cease at this point, until we reached the ridge-line.

The climb then flattened out for awhile, and steadily started to go downhill. We were treated to some amazing morning views of the snow-capped Cascades, and the Yakima River Canyon. Conversations with with some fellow runners were had, discussing when we hoped to finish, marveling at the views, and getting to witness some explosions on the military testing grounds (tank shelling?) in the distance. All the makings of what would end up to be an extremely challenging day.

Per the chart above, we got a steady downhill from miles two to eight. "You'll catch me later on, don't worry." I uttered, as I passed some other runners who let me go ahead. Maybe it's the shoes, maybe its lack of experience in this sport, but I can't stop myself from going fast down hills. Once I get going, it's hard to stop. I figure I'll learn over time how to evenly distribute my energy, but this time, I wanted nothing but a fast descend down the first hill. With the new shoes, I finally have the real opportunity to 'bomb' a descent, even one that is covered in rocks. I decide this is going to be fun, even if it negatively impacts me later on, and decide to start enjoying a moment of flying down some trails.

This works well, even into the second climb, as I'm able to maintain a fairly aggressive hiking pace up to about mile 10. I even find myself leading a pack of people hiking up a climb for a short while. I descend well enough to mile 12 (some people caught up to me), but I then start to slow as I have a small climb (some people pass me) before the descent into the mid-point aid station (some more people passed me).  

Miles 10-20

The invaluable encouragement from other runners is something that has really latched on to me in this sport. About half a mile from the mid-point (turnaround) aid station, one of the runners coming from out of the turnaround, stopped, stepped off the trail, and began clapping his hands and encouraging me to stay strong into the approaching aid station.

"It's right around that turn! Keep it up, stay strong."

Just awesome. The act of completely stepping off the trail, and vocal support, ended up being a welcome, and unexpected, boost into the aid station. But its not just that, its how that small show of encouragement reverberates throughout the whole race. This isn't just you, there are others on this course, some cruising, some struggling. Everyone could use some encouragement. Help someone else. Pass it on. I don't know if everyone would react positively, as I assume that there are some that would rather be left alone, but that shouldn't stop one from making an attempt.

I hit the midpoint turnaround at about three hours and five minutes (I think), and head back up onto the third climb. Words of support are exchanged by both sides. But I'm tiring. Hiking is becoming labored. Less efficient. Runners pass me. Sun is getting hotter. Runners coming down the mountain are no longer getting consistent words of encouragement from me, just an appropriate fist pump or infrequent 'good job'. The climbing is getting relentless and the thought crosses my mind - why not quit?

Screw that. I decide fairly quickly that I'm not quitting. I'm hot, yes. My legs are tired, yes. But I'm doing alright. I'm not having stomach problems. The views are fantastic. I think I'm in the middle of the pack. So I just stop, and stand on a ridge-line, and enjoy the view and think. Is this just purely a race to some? Why do people do this? For the challenge? For fun? To discover things out about ourselves, or others? Or does it blend a little of each together? I tell myself to smile, and realize I'm pretty much already doing just that. I don't need to tell myself to enjoy this, because for reasons I haven't completely identified or expressed, I'm already enjoying it. Thinking of how fortunate I am to be able to do this (I'll solve the worlds' problems tomorrow), I get back to running and realize I want some freaking food.
photo credit Takao Suzuki

Miles 20-31

I've been going hog wild on gels, water, and some Clif Shot Rocks, but I want to eat something more. I hit the 4th aid station and consume about three or four Clif Shot Blocks, and a small handful each of gummy bears, jelly beans, M&M's, and two cups of Coke. I pick up a potato, look at it, and decide that it doesn't sound good (I think I put it back - runner foul?). The chewing does it, that's what I needed. My legs are still tired. But it's a good tired, and I get the third downhill. I'm able to get some of my energy back there and progress to the final climb (it was hiked) where I only get passed by two more people. I then transition into the final two mile steep, steep, steep, descent.

The descent was steeper than I expect, and my quads were doing all they could to keep me upright and in control. I wanted to go faster, but truly couldn't, as the course had so many narrow turns, and slim trail, I really couldn't get up to speed. As well, the last thing I wanted to do was trip, tumble down some embankment, and seriously injure myself a mile from the finish line.

About a half to quarter mile from the finish, I come upon a runner that had passed me somewhere after mile 20. He's moving slow, but upon hearing me approaching he picks up his pace. I quickly decide not to push it and pass him, because I seriously don't see the point in gaining one spot. As well, he's now moving at a nice cruising finishing speed. After crossing the finish line he came up to me and said, "Thanks for coming along back there, you prevented me from slogging through the finish."

Congratulatory handshakes. Ever-present smiles. Lot's of  'Holy sh** that race was hard'.

Pre Race Meal: Pancakes w/Peanut Butter & Maple Syrup
Pre Race Music: The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Chevelle...and the bagpipes send off.
Post Race Food: Handful of Turkey, Three Bowls of Carrot Ginger Soup w/Bread, Four Cookies, Half an Apple, One Shock Top Wheat Ale, One Root Beer Soda, Four Cups Water.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Past Race Reports

In the interest of getting up to speed on past ultra race reports, all two of them, I figured I would just condense them into one post.

Sun Mountain 50K

My first ever ultra.  The race was a slight debacle. I finished. Barely.  My achilles were on fire the final 8 miles.  Walked everything but the final downhill and was waiting for them to just snap in half.  Literally, they felt like they were going to snap in half, there is no other way to describe it (probably should point out I was wearing Vibram KSO Treks).  That said, I remember finishing and realizing how I didn't train well enough, especially if I was going to wear Vibrams again, and that I needed to be able to do a 25K competently before I do another one of these.

Fun fact - when you finish in the last group of runners, most of the good beer and cookies are already gone (extra motivation for improvement).  Finished somewhere in the 6:40 range.

Fast forward through a couple of races up and around Mt. Spokane in the late summer and early fall, some other community races, a couple of races on the wet(sic) side, all in preparation for a summer of 50K's and my first 50 miler.

Gorge Waterfalls 50K

My second, and most recent ultra, near Portland, Oregon. I'd been thinking about this race for way too long. It certainly didn't consume my thoughts, but I had signed up for it in late 2011 with the intent that it would give me something to look forward too in early 2012.  As well, some people I had ran with at Sun Mountain in the summer had mentioned it as 'must do' race, due to the sheer number of waterfalls you witnessed throughout the course.

Leading up to the race, snow caused multiple course changes.  Elevation shifted, routes altered, highway exit ramps changed, flat asphalt suddenly included.  I spent the Saturday driving to Portland to stay with a buddy. Then the race was early Sunday morning covering the beautiful Columbia Gorge Scenic Area.

James, the Race Director (RD), has a penchant for pre-race speeches that crack me up.  I can't say I listened to every word, but 'pay attention' and 'steep' and 'you can die' made their way into this particular speech, and it always seems to get a good chuckle from a fair number of people.  Not to undermine his words at all, they are important...but who's really turning away now?

Right off the bat the initial pack takes a wrong turn around a pile of shrubs.  Minor mass confusion is always entertaining, as people are so hyped up, it brings about some shrieks, cursing, laughs, and ultimately numerous smiles.  From there we have a brief section of flat area, then onto our first climb past a 'Lord of the Rings' style waterfall.  The trails after that were a mix of mud and snow in parts, with some road thrown in after about 10 miles.  I ran well for the first 20 miles, then bonked for a good 5 miles.  My feet hurt and we're screaming for cushion (Vibram's - pending post on those forthcoming) from the relentless rock and root infested section of trail before the final climb, and I was not holding the pace I had for the first 20. I got passed by what seemed to be about 20-30 people during this time, and realized my goal of breaking five hours was slipping away.  I just had to finish as fast as I could.  When I got to the final aid station, I decided to stop for a couple of minutes, take off the Vibrams, and massage my feet for a couple of minutes.  This, combined with a couple cups of Coke, a gel, and a potato, gave me enough of a boost to hike the final climb, and run the final descent.  Finished somewhere in the 5:05 range.  (Apparently the course was shorter than a true 50K.  I heard anywhere from half a mile to three miles.  No matter.  It's in the books.)

Random Quote: While hiking up the final climb a midst other runners, mid-day, by a bunch of tourists "Well honey, YOU just picked the PERFECT day for our family outing? Didn't you?"
Pre-Race Dinner: Sushi.
Pre-Race Breakfast: Three pieces toast with peanut butter and honey. Tall Americano.
Pre-Race Music: Mumford and Sons, mostly.
Post-Race Eat and Drink: Two Turkey and Cheese Sandwiches, One Bowl of both Chicken Rice and Carrot Ginger Soup, Two Chocolate Chip Cookies, Two Cinnamon Sugar Cookies, Bridgeport Hop Czar, Bridgeport IPA, Root Beer Soda, and finally a Raspberry Soda for the five hour drive back.  Don't underestimate my ability to relentlessly consume provided ultra food when having to wait for my drop bag to return.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Blogs.  Everybody seems to be doing it.  Everybody has something to say.  So why not start one of my own?  I'm sure everyone will want to read what I have to say.  

Simply put, I intend for this to be 'running journal' of sorts.  I've found that the ultra-running community seems to be fairly active in the 'blogosphere', and a lot of what I have learned about this sport has been attained through reading other running blogs.  Train - blog about it.  Race - blog about it.  Try new products - blog about it.

Learning through other's experiences has been invaluable, and I believe one of the purposes of this blog is to 'give back' through sharing my own experiences.  Game on.