Friday, January 29, 2010

Going Minimal or Not

I have a confession to make, I'm a data geek, especially when it comes to physiology.  That's how I came to the conclusion that simple excess was the reason for my recent injury, or was it?  Earlier this week I ran across this Running Barefoot or In Minimal Footwear site, based on research published in the journal Nature.  The title of the paper is "Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners".  Disclosure, the research was partially funded by Vibram, makers of the popular Five Fingers minimal foot covers.

Cool I thought, an actual scientific study and data on the differences between habitually barefoot runners and those that run with cushion in their heels.  As we all know many running injuries are caused by impact, or too much of it.  My knee is one such injury.  I'll skip some of the gory details and give you one guess which runner lands with less impact.  Yep, the barefooters.  Hmmm, now instead of reading about how the Tarahumara can do it and I can too, there's actual data to back it up.  I read through the site, watched some of the videos and by the end I was convinced I needed to go minimal or at least work it in to my routine a few times a week.  Then I read this post on the Science of Sport blog.  Definitely worth a read if you're considering going minimal.

The Science of Sport PhD's don't refute the findings of the research but simply point out that the barefoot runners used in the study have always run barefoot.  Therefore they can handle the additional stress of landing on the forefoot and reducing impact.  They also point out that in a study done where shod runners (shoe wearers) started running barefoot they experienced less impact after two weeks.  Another two weeks down the road and 19 out 20 were out with ankle, calf, and achilles injuries.

My conclusion is this; working in some barefoot running slowly could help lessen impact in the long run.  If I can become a more consistent mid to forefoot striker then my knee and I might live happily ever after.  Anyone out there experience success with this?  If so, did you have a persistent injury before you started?

Edit: Peter sent me an email along with the following:
I was going to post a comment about the "Going Minimal or Not", but had trouble hyper-linking in the comment page.  In any case,  I stumbled across an interesting post:  Do Running Shoes Cause Running Injuries? A Few Insights on a Dismal Science, which was a really nice discussion on the fact that we don't know much.  Personally, I think the minimalist/barefoot running fad has some merit, but as a cross training aid.  I also suspect that injuries are more likely to occur at high mileage because the biomechanical form breaks down as we fatigue.  Do shoes allow us to have bad form when we are tired?  Perhaps.  Does learning different form (gait) through running in a minimalist shoe or barefoot help protect from injury?  Maybe.

Also, Jared sent the following link:
An NPR article on the research paper noted above.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

HURT 100 Pacer Perspective

The overall impression I was left with was this is a well organized, low key race on some of the most technical trails I've ever seen.  There are factors, other than the gnarly trails that make this a tough 100 miler and one would the time of year.  It's tough to get in proper shape for a race that takes place in early January, especially if you happen to live in a northern climate.  Which really speaks volumes about the current and last 3 record holders all being from cold winter climates (both men and women).  Also the heat and humidity factor is tough on northern dwellers.  80 degrees isn't exactly blistering, but it is if your body is used to sub 30 degree temps.  
The mental energy required to complete a repeating loop course is also hard, especially a loop with roughly 5,000' vertical gain each.  And finally, if this course were wet it would be more like running the gauntlet than running a trail.  This year it was dry and had been for a few weeks leading up to the race (thanks to the El Nino - take note and in the future schedule accordingly).  There were a few sections that were slightly damp from the humidity or nearby running water and they were flat out treacherous.  I don't believe there is a rubber compound on this planet that could get a grip on the slick clay and rock I encountered in those small sections.  If the whole course was wet it would no doubt test anyone's mental and physical limits.

-Soapbox alert-
As I said before anyone completing 100 miles on this course deserves respect, which is also why I believe they should do away with the 100k.  I mean no disrespect to those that have finished the 100k, but in my opinion it somehow cheapens the 100 miler. I can't think of another 100 miler that allows you to drop at some point and record a finish.  It would be different if you could sign up for the 100k, but that is not an option.  On that note I would like to make a plea to race organizers running multiple events on the same day; please plan for separate starts.  For example, if you are running a 50k and 25k start them separately.  Even though many ultra runners will claim their placing doesn't matter to them, to most it does, and not knowing who your competition is can be extremely frustrating.  Before you go thinking that I don't understand how difficult it can be to organize a race, I do.  Each year I organize a cycling race with no fewer than 12 categories based on ability and age.  Every competitor knows his or her competition straight from the start, it's only fair.  I'm curious, does anyone feel strongly one way or another?
-End Soapbox-

If you would like the long version of my experience with the race keep reading.

As I had previously written, it was my intention to go to Oahu and run 5 loops of the HURT 100 course but my knee had other ideas.  Instead I had a much easier task in pacing Greg around a single 20 mile loop.

When I arrived at the Nature Center (Start/Finish) in the morning the lead runners were just finishing the first loop.  Gary Robbins was leading the way with Nathan Yanko close behind.  I took a quick trip up the trail to get an idea of what it looked like and only made it a little over a mile before Greg came flying down the descent.  

He was looking good and got in and out the aid station very quickly.  Marge and I drove around to the next aid station where I did the same thing heading up the trail to check the terrain and my knee.  This section in and out of Paradise is very rocky and technical. In general very difficult to find a rhythm on, as is much of the course.  I stopped at the trickle of a waterfall and chatted with a local photographer for a bit before Greg appeared charging down the rocky, day hiker, infested trail.  Once again he was quickly in and out of the aid station and keeping a great pace. By this time it was reaching the hottest part of the day and it was hard not to break a sweat just standing there let alone running.

I left the race to spend time with the family but kept track of Greg throughout the day by checking in with Marge occasionally.  I was happy to hear he was continuing to turn steady splits even in the heat of the day.  Earlier in that day Erik and I had decided that I would pace the final loop while Erik would take the 4th.  Since we were staying in such close proximity to the Nature Center I went up to check on Greg before the start of his 4th loop and chat with Erik for a couple of minutes.  When I saw Greg come in to the aid station I could see the toll of 60 technical miles in his eyes.  Not a look of despair, or loss, but a look known as the hundred mile stare.  The look that indicates "I'm finishing this damn thing, time is the only variable".  He took maybe a minute or two longer in the aid station than he did earlier in the day, then he left with Erik to tackle another loop.  That's when I left to get a few hours of guilty sleep.

A couple of hours passed before I was back at the Nature Center waiting for Greg as the clock read 3am.  I didn't have to hang around too long as Greg appeared at around 3:30am.  Again we had a fairly quick exchange as Erik passed Greg off to me.  Erik came up with a brilliant plan to meet us at the next aid station in order to assess how my knee was holding up and guarantee Greg some company to the finish in case I couldn't go on.  The climb leaving the Nature Center is long and steady.  Greg mentioned to me that he thought this was the hardest climb on the course so we just kept a consistent pace the whole way up.  This was my first time pacing Greg or even seeing him at this point in a 100 miler so I didn't really know what to expect from him.  I was happy to find that he was still fighting and keeping a strong pace, so I continued to push.  That is until we reached the ridge.

How anyone runs through the labyrinth of roots on the top of the ridge during the day or night is beyond me.  It's like a giant venus flytrap built to eat ankles.  Really it was the most twisted sections of trail I have ever navigated.  Right up there with Virginius Pass except it was flat.  At any rate I joked with Greg that while my 100 mile race resume isn't growing at the rate I expected, my pacing resume is quite impressive at this point and that's when it dawned on me to turn my light around.  At night I run with two headlamps, one on my head and one around my waist, nothing new there.  But what I did was point my waist light behind me so that it lit up my feet and Greg could see where I was stepping.  Not really an earth shattering discovery, but at 4am in the jungle it felt significant, plus Greg told me it helped (probably to make me feel like I accomplished something).

I wish I had more to tell about motivating Greg to such a fast finish, but really he was doing it all on his own and I was just along for the ride.  Among other things, I was super jealous of his ability to keep eating gels throughout, even at mile 97.  Even though I was a little down about not being able to run the race myself, pacing my good friend certainly helped in making up for it.  Thanks Greg and congratulations on an outstanding performance.  Another notch in the belt...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

HURT 100 Race Report

Photo Peter Daspit

I usually thank my my pacers and crew at the end but they did such a great job and I am so thankful for there help I think they deserve to be ahead of my race report. Erik and Christian were both invaluable to my finish time and overall making the run way more enjoyable than it would have been with out them. Erik helped me reach my goal of running a 6 hour fourth loop and Christian got my through the last loop that seemed so slow. A big thanks to both, I am sure they were worth 1-2 hours on my finish time. My wife Marge did a great job crewing for me again. I wanted for nothing and was completely taken care of. She even drove to a aid station that she was not scheduled to because she thought she had shorted me some gels. She literally went the extra mile to make sure I had the best possible race. I can't thank her enough.

Loop 1

I was nervous at the start, I was not fully trained for a 100 mile race let alone a race like the HURT. I was hoping that I had enough fitness left over from the summer that I could at least finish the race and hopefully go under 30 hours. I knew to get a finish and a decent time I couldn't make mistakes. I was determined to stay on course, stay hydrated, fueled and not go out too fast.

Just before the start the R.D said something about having a nice little climb to start. He wasn't kidding, about 5 min. later we were headed up a fairly steep climb, nothing to bad but it did seemed to go on and on and it was overrun with roots and rocks. I noticed allot of people already seemed to be working way to hard so early in the race. I am always tempted to tell these people to slow down, but I know it would come across wrong and people should run their own race anyway. After climbing a total of 40 min from the start you cross over a guardrail and you get to run a nice road for 100 yards and then its back to the trails, though at least now it was a really nice trail, very runnable for a mile or so. The weather was nice, a bit muggy for me but there was nice breeze on the ridges. This would be the pattern for the rest of the race. Muggy in and around the aid stations a nice breeze on the ridges. Completely different than Wasatch where the aid stations always seem cold.

As I descended toward the first aid station called Paradise I saw the first place runner, it was a women which I thought was cool and unique to see, turns out it was Tracy Garneau the eventual winner of the women's race. I was around 20 min behind the first place runners and figured I was somewhere in the top fifteen plus I knew some of these people were running the 100k. I had no crew at the first aid because they don't allow it which is fine as your only 7 miles into the race. I had a quick turn around and headed back up. I really enjoyed the bamboo forest section at the top of the climb, when the wind blew all the bamboo stalks whack into each other and makes a really loud sounds, I kept looking up expecting to get clubbed by a bamboo stalk.

I made it to the second aid station no problem. I was finding the course to be very well marked and I followed the advice of the race pamphlet that you just follow the color your on to the next aid station, I was now on green so I just kept repeating stay on green stay, on green. It sounds easy but more than one person in the past have blown it at this race by going to the wrong aid station. I met Marge at the 2nd aid station Jackass Ginger and headed back toward the start finish line. You cross a really nice river just before and after this aid station, they had a rope set up to help you cross it and you could make it with out getting your feet wet. The climb out of the second aid station is very hard and there are even ropes in certain sections to help you get up or down and it has a real kicker write at the very top just to rub it in. There is a bench at the very top and it was very tempting to stop and take a quick rest. Soon after you go through a nasty root section in the middle of the course and then its really nice trails all the way back to the start finish. I ran into a racer that had taken a wrong turn and had to tell him he probably lost at least two hours going the wrong direction. I felt so bad for him he was obviously a back of the pack runner and now he had just made a huge mistake. I made it back to the start finish in 4:30 right on target. Christian and Marge were both there and had me in and out within 3-4 minutes. I told them my plan was to slow down a bit,it was getting warm so I was aiming for a 5 hour loop.

Lap 2

Nice and easy was the theme for this loop, my legs still felt great and I knew I could do a 5 hour loop with out pushing hard at all. Turns out I was right, the miles passed quickly and I had a chance to really get to know the course. I tried to get time markers on the climbs so later I could judge my pace. There was only one section I had problems on, somebody had stripped a short section of the course of all the ribbons so I waited for another runner, luckily he had run the race before and helped keep me on course through a few critical intersections. Other than that I chatted with a few people but mostly just ran to some good tunes and just tried to make decent pace. Marge and Christian met me at the Paradise aid station took care of me and sent me on my way. Marge ended up driving over to the next aid station Jackass Ginger to give me some extra gu, because she had shorted me a few at the previous aid station. I thought to myself how lucky I was to have such a dedicated wife. I finished up this lap in close to 5 hours so at 40 miles I was on pace.

Photo Peter Daspit

Lap 3

I knew this was going to be a hard loop, the legs were just starting to feel the miles, I was getting sick of the humidity and heat and I was finding one of the mentally tough parts about this race is after you leave every aid stations you get to climb one of the three major climbs. I was also starting to feel a little nausea, nothing terrible, just enough to remind me to not push the climbs too hard. Part of this loop was also going to be in the dark so I expected a slower time. My goal was to just get through the loop to the safety of my pacers and hopefully slightly cooler temperatures of the night. When I made it to the first aid station after talking to Marge a bit I could tell she didn't think I looked very good, she asked me if I had been peeing and that I needed to drink more and take in more gels. I made it through the rest of the loop with no drama, I was still climbing well but noticed my downhill speed was getting slower and I was really looking forward to the company of a pacer.

Lap 4

Erik was going to be my pacer for the 4th loop. I explained the ribbons to him so he could help me stay on course in case I got nutty later in the race, I also told him I wanted to do a 6 hour loop. It had been a goal of mine to stay under six hours for any of the five loops. We climbed strong out of the start finish area and soon after we were on the shallow climb up to the road and Erik started his first request that I try to run, I remember thinking perfect this is what I need someone who can read the trail well enough to know when I should be running and when I should be walking. He was also throwing in some really bad jokes. They did help pass the time and the were so bad I couldn't help laugh a little. We made decent time and Erik kept prodding me to run the easy part of the climbs when needed and most of the time I could oblige at least for a little while. Between Erik, Marge and the volunteers I didn't need to do anything in the aid stations but sip some broth or coke, they would get my Nathan packed filled and off we would go. Erik got me back to the start finish line in just 2 min over my goal in 6:02.

Lap 5

I have to admit at this point I was getting pretty tired of going over the same terrain, not only do you do five loops but there is two out and back sections per loop so some sections I had already covered eight times. I was ready to say good bye to this course. Christian was my pacer for my last loop. Before I left the start finish line Erik was trying to convince me I could do a 5.5 hour loop but I was just hoping to stay under 6 hours. I didn't trust my legs on the descent anymore. I was getting really paranoid about pitching over in the dark and falling on rocks. This is one of my weak points in a hundred, but it was just worse than normal because I just didn't have the good miles in my legs like I do in the summer. I was climbing okay but just really crawled on the descents. I also didn't realize that my headlamp had been slowly dimming and I found myself struggling to see the trail. Christian did a great job of helping light the way and keeping my spirits up, every time I tried to wallow into some low point Christian would snap my out of it tell me I was doing fine and to just keep moving. I got fresh batteries at the first aid station which helped allot. Erik had stuck around to make sure Christian's knee was good so he helped out to get me out of the aid station. This was one stop were it really took allot of will power to get my tired butt out of the chair. I was even getting tired of the climbs. I was a little better descending into the next aid station, the light was coming up I could smell the end and I really like the last part of the loop. Made it in out of the last aid station and just kept on moving though slowly. It was already warming up as Christian and I hit the last big climb, Christian asked if I had anything say to this last hill. I did but I kept it to myself and certainly can't repeat it here. I did a slow ultra shuffle on the long descent back to the finish line only checking over my shoulder in the last half mile to make sure no one would pass me. I finished in 27:48 good enough for 8th place.

Just after touching the sign for a finish

Christian and I at the finish

I have been thinking over the race and comparing it to Wasatch. I think it is as hard especially if the course is wet which lucky for me it wasn't. What makes it so hard? The footing is truly terrible though there is some sections of really nice runnable terrain. The relentless climbs wear you down, Wasatch has a little more gain but it comes in longer more sustained climbs, most the climbs at the HURT felt like going up a longer version of the Grunt just past Ant knolls aid station over and over again. The race is in January when most of us are not as well trained as in September and you are doing freaking loops! I liked the race and would recommend it to anyone but I don't see me ever going back for another go, too many other great point to point races out there on the list to do. I believe Christian is going to do a post on the 100k option at the race which should be good for some discussion. One last comment, Gary Robbins tore this course up with a course record of 20:12, I don't care if the course was dry or not I am sure he will be nominated for performance of the year. It was a fun to cheer him on out on the course as he blew past me. You can see full results here

Sunday, January 17, 2010

HURT Finish

As you probably know by now Greg finished just under 28 hours and took 8th at the HURT 100. Erik had pacing honors on the 4th loop, while I had the honor of running with him to the finish.
Gnarly trail period. Anyone finishing 100 miles on that deserves respect.
Full report to follow.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

HURT update

I saw Greg at the end of his first loop and again at the following aid, Paradise. I'm happy to report that he looked great both times despite the heat and humidity. Both times I hiked up the trail a couple of miles and ran down with him, he was flying over the technical terrain with ease.
I'm very excited for my pacing duties that I'll share with Erik. We have yet to decide who's doing which lap, either 4 or 5, but either way it will be good time running through the jungle at night.
Next post I'll try including a picture or two (I'm posting from the phone).

Thursday, January 14, 2010


There are many great things about running, but the characters and the scenery are the top of my list. Though lately the scenery has been muted by despicable air, and most of the characters are off to Hawaii for a change of scenery. Greg is pictured above on top of Grandeur Peak, after pulling my tired sorry ass to the top.

Greg, Best of luck at the HURT!

Christian, may you have a quick recovery with your knee, and a great vacation.

Erik, have a great all-nighter pacing Greg, and a great vacation.

May you all enjoy some fresh air!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Big Cottonwood to Millcreek

I woke up this morning with an itch to run from Big Cottonwood Canyon to Millcreek Canyon. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was because my right hamstring is feeling better. Maybe it was the forecast for sunny and warm. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that there has been no significant snow in weeks and the skiing sucks. I Knew I needed some alone time. And I had a desire to test my new winter running shoes – Montrail Hardrocks + sheet metal screws.

First, a bit about the shoes… I consider myself fortunate to be friends with Christian Johnson. You see, Christian is the uber-expert and authority on all things ultra running related. Gear, nutrition, training, routes. If I have a question, Christian has done the research and has an answer. So when I asked Christian what kind of shoes he recommended for running on snow-packed trails, he told me to take one of my old pairs of heavy trail shoes and screw 3/8” sheet metal screws into the bottom. He advised me as to where the screws should be placed for maximum traction and comfort.

I figured the perfect test run would be up the Mill D luge run to Dog Lake, down to Big Water, follow Millcreek Canyon to Elbow Fork and take the Pipeline Trail to Rattlesnake Gulch. My test route was 14-15 miles – all snow covered.

For those of you in a winter slump, experiencing doubts and concerns about your level of fitness and conditioning, needing a little confidence boost and some steroids for your ego, then you MUST run the Mill D luge run on a weekend morning. From the get go, I was passing skiers in tele and AT gear chugging up the trail. On multiple occasions I almost read-ended snowshoeers that seemed like they were not even moving. I moved like a sports car on the autobahn. I felt fast! This was fun!

But the autobahn came to an end at Dog Lake. Within several hundred yards of the lake the tracks of backcountry skiers dispersed upward, in search of powder covered slopes, and I found the trail down to Big Water to have only been traveled by what seemed to be two, inexperienced skiers on very skinny skis. I began dropping through the snow, up to my knees and sometimes my thighs. What so far had been a most pleasant run, quickly turned into a trudge. Each plunge was a small defeat. After several thousand defeats - I was feeling pity for moose – slogging for months through deeps snows. I cursed the inexperienced skiers who created these lame tracks. I hoped to hell I didn’t come back in a future life as a moose. This sucked!

Finally I reached the road at Big Water. The groomed surface was frozen hard and made for a great running surface. I made good time down to Elbow Fork where I connected to the Pipeline Trail for the final dash down to Rattlesnake Gulch. The Pipeline is my favorite winter running trail. It is almost always well compacted due to the heavy traffic of snowshoers, runners and hikers. The southern exposure makes it feel a good 10-20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. And, it is a quick and easy escape from winter inversions – just 6 minutes from my home in the City.

Report Card. Definitely an “A” for the shoes. They provided excellent traction up the Mill D luge run as well as down Rattlesnake Gulch, which was very icy. I’ve now got a fabulous pair of winter shoes for just a buck-fifty in screws. Thanks Christian! “C-“ for the hamstring. Plunging through the snow seemed to do a number on it. I’m icing it while I type. Fingers crossed it will feel better come morning. “A” for being in the sun. If by chance you are one of the people who saw me running in my underwear (with my shirts and tights tied around my waist) along Pipeline – my apologies, I know it wasn’t pretty. And lastly, an “F” for being a moose.

Stay tuned for a HURT report from Hawaii next week from Greg and Christian. Good luck Greg. And Christian, get better soon – we miss running with you!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

First off, I want to say that this last year was truly amazing and I'm thankful to have shared the trail with great friends.  I'm not going to recap every race and epic run from the past year but I will say that by the end of November I started to feel as though I may have cashed in all of my good running karma.

During the Zion Traverse with Jared and Jay I felt a dull ache develop in my left knee.  After the run it wasn't terribly painful so I just applied some R.I.C.E. therapy for a few days and got back to training for the HURT 100 coming up in January.  Well, the pain didn't go away and in fact got worse, so after a few visits to the Dr. and an MRI (thanks Betsy!) we had it pretty well figured out.  A small tear in the meniscus, a cyst behind the patella, severe tendinitis and a little frayed cartilage just for good measure.  The Dr. believes it is the tendinitis and cartilage that is causing the pain and the tear is just minor, which is why I've decided to try resting it instead letting a surgeon "take a look around" in there.  I withdrew from HURT, which was extremely disappointing, but we're still going to have a great vacation and cheer on Greg (I may even try some pacing duties).  

What caused it?  At this point I believe it is an overuse injury.  I ended up with nearly 1,000 miles more than last year and 40% more vertical, perhaps a little more than the recommended increase.  So, as far as running goes there's a big question mark hanging over 2010, but I'm trying to remain optimistic as I signed up for the Pocatello 50 and sent off my Wasatch 100 application. More than likely I'm going to have to be flexible this year by incorporating some different activities like cycling and mountain biking to help things heal, which probably isn't a bad thing since I tend to get too focused sometimes.  For now I wait and heal...