Thursday, December 29, 2011

Altra Lone Peak Shoe Review

I first heard about this shoe over two years ago from my friend Brian Beckstead who couldn't contain his excitement over his revolutionary new shoe design. While I did not immediately dismiss him, I definitely had my doubts about his description of a "Zero Drop" shoe. I'm happy to report my doubts have been erased.

First a couple of housekeeping issues before the review.

Definition of Zero Drop: The amount of drop found in the sole of the shoe from heel to toe. Most mainstream shoes are in the 10 to 12 mm range. All of the Altra shoes have a zero drop from heel to toe, meaning the sole is even along the length of the sole. Another important distinction; zero drop does not mean minimal. Hoka's don't have a very big drop and have a ton of protection.
Montrail Masochist heel

Montrail Masochist toe

Altra Lone Peak heel

Altra Lone Peak toe

Why Zero Drop? That's a very good question. There is no science behind the fact that zero drop could be better (or worse) for your running form, yet. I trust there will be plenty of studies done over the next year to discover the advantages or disadvantages. Many shoe companies are already cutting the drop in order to keep up with market demand. My own personal opinion; it simply makes it easier to strike on my mid to forefoot area. For me, that translates into happy knees and joints. The landing is softer and much of the shock is taken up by my muscles and supporting tendons. I discovered this by accident shortly before my knee surgery nearly two years ago. At that time I had made the switch to Inov-8 shoes looking for something with some grip to use at the HURT 100. Little did I realize the Inov-8 310's and 295's had less drop than my normal shoes (8mm), but I did notice I could strike mid to forefoot much easier.

The Review:
Right out of the box the Lone Peaks come with an instruction manual, explaining zero drop and why it is important to make a slow transition into using them daily. I ignored the advice and just started running with them every day thinking my legs and feet were already prepped. I was wrong and ended up with a small strain on the outside of my foot, opposite of the arch. Ever since then I have been working them in a few times per week with great success.
The Lone Peaks run a bit large, so you may consider dropping a 1/2 size. Most of my shoes are 8.5's, like the Inov-8's, Montrails and Brooks and I went with an 8.5 in the Lone Peaks but I think I will try an 8 for my next pair.
Priced at the $100 mark and weighing in at 10.2 oz/295 grams they are competitive with other shoes in this range

The Upper: Comfortable is the word. The toebox has more room than I have ever experienced in a shoe. My big toe frequently gets a callous and irritated ingrown toenail but with these shoes I have seen both disappear. I did catch my forefoot on a few rocks when I first started wearing them because of the extra width but I adapted quickly and haven't found it to be a problem since. The extra room plus the toe protection meant that when I did kick a rock I couldn't feel it.
While the forefoot is loose the midfoot upper is super supportive and keeps the foot from moving around inside the shoe. My arch is quite normal and I felt like I had ample support, however the outside arch could probably use just a little more.
The heelcup feels loose but supportive. I thought for sure my heel would lift, based on how it felt when I put them on but it does not. This also means I have not experienced any heel rub whatsoever.
The mesh upper is very breathable and the protection on the sides are all mountain profiles. While I haven't truly waterlogged them yet I believe they will drain just fine.
Big toe box

Heel with throwback trail rudder

Inside of the Lone Peak, note the cool mountain profile

Outside of the Lone Peak, note the cool mountain profile

The Midsole: The Lone Peaks ride 11mm off the ground and have a rockplate that runs the entire length of the shoe. The protection is on par with the Brooks Cascadia's and Montrail Masochist's. I like it because I can still feel the trail but my feet don't take a beating like they did in the Inov-8 295's and 310's. The cushioning is adequate for mid to forefoot striking but not enough to handle heel striking all the time. The midsole is also pretty stiff and I notice it more on the pavement than I do on the trail.
The other striking feature of the midsole is the wide platform. Initially I thought they would feel sloppy but really they are extremely stable and a larger surface area potentially equals better grip...

The Outsole: Aggressive gripping power with style. First, the lugs are similar in design to the Cascadia 5's but the size and arrangement seems more effective to me. I've tested them on hard packed trails, dry loose dirt, mud, and snow with great success. The rubber compound grips almost as well as my favorite sticky shoes and sheds mud quite easily. So far I've put about 100 miles on them and they seem to be holding up well. I'll post an update in the future about their durability.
Lone Peak on the left, Cascadia 5 on the right

The trail rudder seemed a little odd to me at first but that's because I spent the 90's era cycling and not running. Many of the original trail shoes from that era had a rudder and I suppose Altra decided to give them a graceful nod for their innovative style. The rudder is supposed to help grip on the super steep descents and while I can't tell if it's the sole reason I'm not slipping, I haven't ended up on backside yet. I'm also anxious to try them out for some glissading action if we ever get some snow this winter.
The last little feature I would like to point out is something to distract your friends running behind you. I've received many comments on the yellow foot imprint that is quite visible from behind. I'm still not sure if there is a functional purpose as the rubber feels like the same compound but I'll find out put it in the update.

Conclusion: Possibly my favorite trail shoe so far. I say "so far" because I really need to do some longer 3 or 4 hour runs to get a real idea if they will keep my feet happy. I also want to test their durability, but like I said earlier, after 100 miles there are no signs of wear. Priced at the $100 mark, I suspect they will hold up quite well through at least 300 miles, we shall see.
I would highly advise making a transition into the shoes slowly. Work them in a couple times a week at first. Zero Drop means the the heel drops more and the achilles is doing more work than it's used to. Take it slow.

Anyone else out there running in the Lone Peaks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Parley's North Ridge to Little Mountain

Christmas day I was busy putting together a ping pong table (who knew there would be so much assembly) when I received the following email from Erik:
"Monday morning I'm thinking of exploring the ridge north of Parley's.  Starting just above the Parley's Pedestrian walkway where it enters Foothill Boulevard, and then following the ridge east until it comes out at Little Mountain.  I have no idea how long it is, or how long it will take, but I'm thinking 4-5 hours?. I'm sure there's some sort of a trail, whether it be human or linking up some game trails. Has anyone done this before, or have any knowledge of it, and more important, would anyone care to join me?"

Following this email was pretty much radio silence except from those that were going to be "out of town". I was in need of toughening up the shins and some outdoor time, so I replied with "I'm in, give me a time".

View Parley's North Ridge Run in a larger map
The route from the mouth of Parley's Canyon to Little Mountain a the top of Emigration Canyon.

At 7am Erik and I headed up the trail to attempt to link the entire ridge. The early going was pretty straightforward and straight up, gaining a couple thousand feet within a few miles. 
Finally gaining the ridge
After gaining the ridge we came to the first drainage/bowl and the trail virtually disappeared. Down below us, near interstate 80 we could see the gravel pit and in front us a hillside full of scrub oak with a few junipers mixed in.
Looking back west through some of the easy bushwack

Looking south, the gravel pit below and the Millcreek ridge straight across 

Looking east toward some of the bushwack
We tried to pick a route that would be friendly to our shins using various rock outcroppings and the junipers, but there was no way we were going to get through the next 2 miles cleanly. Shortly after realizing one of my shins was bleeding I heard Erik yell out that he saw something exciting. We were in the nastiest part of the whole bushwhack when he found an elk antler. He was so stoked that he sounded like a kid on Christmas morning.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, Erik carried it another 4 miles or so
Another 1/2 mile or so and we were done with the Class III bushwhack and began the small ups and downs along the rest of the ridge.

Looking back west along the ridge and our tracks

My bloody shins

Not really a "run" so much as it was an adventure and a good one at that. We stuck to the true ridge for 90% of the route but there is a mile or so where it's just not possible. When we deviated from the ridge the south side provided the "easiest" travel path.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and call this an FKT, but it's a soft one. Someone is bound to do it faster (or has already done it) and I can't wait to hear about it.
Here are the stats...
Distance: 9.1 miles
Vertical Ascent: 3,750' (measured by a Suunto altimeter)
Vertical Descent: 2,360'
Time: 3 hours 20 minutes.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Desert Solstice - 100 Mile World Age Record

Several weeks after running the Javalina Jundred 100 in November I received an email from RD Nick Coury asking if I would be interested in participating in the Desert Solstice 24 hour run on December 17th in Phoenix. Nick billed the run as an “elite level event for record setting.” I’d never thought about records in ultra-running beyond course records for respective events. In fact, I’d never really heard of there being ultra-running records.

I was intrigued to learn that organizations exist that actually keep track of this stuff. The American Ultrarunning Association (AUA) maintains the track and road records for a variety of distances, and the International Association of Ultrarunning (IAU) maintains the world records. In perusing their websites I realized, that I could possibly break an age record or two.

I shot Nick a reply, “I’m in!” And I asked, “Anything I should know?” Nick suggested some long runs on the track to get used to the flat and the turns. That seemed like good advice so I went to the track that night. The plan was to run a moderate 20 to get a sense for pace – and practice on the flat. The next morning I could hardly walk my hamstrings were so tight. How could 20 miles have left me so wrecked? I questioned if this was a good idea. My rational brain told me it was a bad idea and to leave the running shoes in the garage until spring. It has been a good year and running another hundred was inviting burnout and perhaps injury. Yet, my emotional brain told me it would be fun to try something new (a track run) and shooting for a record would be kind of cool. My emotional brain generally prevails.

I had three weeks to get ready…

I called Scott Dickey at Salt Lake Running and told him I needed some fast shoes well suited for the track. He said, “come on down and we’ll get you taken care of.” We decided that the shoe for me was the Nike Luna-Racer. I needed to figure out a way to both get used to the track – and to taper simultaneously. I decided to only run every other day – alternating the running days between 15-20 miles at a moderate tempo (7:15 – 7:45 min miles) and between 8 – 12 miles at a faster tempo (6:30 – 7:00 min miles). For three weeks I only ran on the track until the Wednesday before the race when I treated myself to an easy six miles on the Pipeline Trail.

In reviewing the various records I felt confident that I could break the 100-mile world record (13:55) for ages 50-54 set by Denis Weir of Great Britain in 1988. And, I felt confident that along the way I could break the US age record for 50 miles (6:39), 100K (8:26), and 12 hours (85.3 miles). I just needed to have a good day.

As I’ve become a bit more experienced runner, I’ve learned that there are a few things that contribute to “better days.” The first is a pedicure. Friday afternoon I had my toes done. It was touch-n-go for a bit when the pedicurist tried to remove the superglue that keeps my right toenail from falling off. I was unable to explain in Vietnamese that the superglue was all that kept the nail on and that if she knocked it off I would expect a 10% discount. That evening I enjoyed a sushi dinner (my preferred pre-race dinner) followed by a toffee Dairy Queen Blizzard. Yes, the stars seemed aligned for a good day.

A few minutes before 8:00 am Nick Coury provided a pre-race briefing and instructions for record verification. I felt honored to toe the line with Dave James (who I was sure was shooting for Scott Jurek’s 24 hour record), Suzanna Bon, Debra Horn, Carilyn Johnson, Nick Pedatella, Michael Arnstein, Tatsunori Suzuki, and Dan Rose – some of the most accomplished ultra-distance track runners. The weather was in the mid fifties with a light breeze. Ideal conditions for a track meet!

My original plan was to go out at a 7:45 pace. While I felt the 50-mile US record was soft (6:39), I knew I needed to hold myself back for the 50 miles on the backside. Yet, I suddenly found myself running a 7:30 pace and feeling quite comfortable. I decided to stay at that pace for the first couple of hours knowing that a few extra minutes in the “time bank” may be useful later in the day. It wasn’t too long thereafter that I took my first withdrawal.

I’ve never really paid attention to how long it takes to pee. Most of the time I just wait until a hill to do some multi-tasking – walking, peeing, drinking, eating. I noticed that my split after my first stop at the Porta-Poty was 52 seconds longer. Really?? Fifty-two seconds to pee! Now I understood why these age records get slower with the extra years – it takes us old people a long time to pee! I hadn’t built 52 second pee stops into my plans. This was bad. My next discovery was that on the laps where I carried a water bottle that I was almost exactly one second slower. My mental math indicated that the water bottle would ultimately cost me between one and two minutes of time. Then the completely unanticipated happened, at about 25 miles the Nike Luna-Racers were starting to rub the top of my left pinky-toe. I never have problems with shoes. I had a decision to make, take some preventative action or just go for it. Completely out of character for me I took preventative action and stopped, wrapping a piece of duct tape over my little toe – 70 seconds. Five miles later a shoe change to the trusty Montrail Rouge Racers was required to avoid blistering – 47 seconds.

Time became fascinating, amusing and stressful for me. I run with an analog Timex watch that is always a minute or two off race time. I never really know quite where I am in a race. Sometimes I won’t allow myself to look at my watch until late into a race. No splits. No pace. No distance remaining. I like it that way. Yet on the track, every lap I would see my split on the TV screen and I became obsessed with time. It became a game to guess my split before I crossed the mat each lap. I couldn’t exploit my real talent of daydreaming away the miles because I became so obsessed with the splits. I tried closing my eyes as I went over the mat to avoid seeing the split – but the compulsion would overtake me on the next lap and I would look.

I passed through 50 miles at 6:33:58 taking a bit more than 5 minutes off the previous record. I was right on plan. The next milestone was the US 100 km record of 8:26:32. At about 60 miles good friends Gregory and Julie Castle from Kanab stopped by to say hello. Smiling faces and encouraging words had resulted in sustained splits of a couple of seconds faster – manifestations of the power of friends! I passed through the 100 km mark at 8:16:51 shaving 10 minutes off the old record. Next on the list was the 12-hour record of 85.3 miles. I was feeling good and was consistently hitting 2:00 minute splits (8 min miles). Could I maintain this pace through to a 100?

At about 78 miles I felt a tightening in my left calf. I reflected back on when I had leg cramps in the Pony Express Trail 100 because of dehydration. Could I be dehydrated and low on salt? I had been deliberately very conservative on fluid intake during the day given my obsession over the extra second required to carry a bottle for a lap and the 50 or so seconds required to pee. But, this felt different. It felt like at any moment the calf would seize and no longer work.

I guessed right. At mile 80 it cramped. I couldn’t run. When it seized I was just yards from the Porta-Poty so I hopped in to evaluate the situation and pee. During the 50 or so seconds of peeing and thinking I decided that I might be able to walk, hop, and shuffle 5 more miles for the 12-hour record. I came out of the Porta-Poty and walked the 100 yards to the aid tent trying to loosen the calf and asked Nick if there was anyone who might be able to work on the leg. I walked the next lap while Nick went to find someone. When I returned James Bonnet put me in a chair and began working on my leg. He was grinding his thumbs into my calf. I thought I was going to pass out (both from the pain and being lightheaded from sitting). He proudly reported that he was getting some good pops. He asked if it felt better. I reported that it felt worse. After what seemed like forever and the leg feeling no better I climbed out of the chair began limping around the track on a countdown to 85.3 miles, where I had decided I would then quit. Three US records in a day would be enough.

First a crawling 2:23 split. Then a 2:17. Next a 2:15. Followed by a 2:12. Then back-to-back 2:10’s. The leg hurt. It felt like I was just one step away from having it seize again. But, I was moving!

At 12 hours I reached 87.24 miles bettering the previous US 12 hour mark by almost 2 miles. I was feeling better and knew that I could still break the US 100-mile record of 14:56:19, but I was bummed that the world record of 13:55:48 was probably out of reach. On my next lap I asked Nick what the splits were for the world record. I was surprised when he said 2:13. If I wanted it bad enough - I knew the record was mine.

I was tired. I was close to bonking from getting behind on my nutrition and hydration during the last 5 miles when I thought I would be quitting at 12 hours. The leg hurt. I felt as if it would cramp again every time I tried to push the pace much faster than 2:05 per 400 meters. But I had a plan. I would run each lap 5-10 seconds faster than the required 2:13 split. And, to get me around the track in the allotted time, I would think about someone who would be proud of me for digging deep. I knew the MRC boys were watching the webcast. Not delivering for them was unacceptable. I reflected on conversations with my past work colleague and University of New Mexico track star Ed Lloyd about pushing through the wall of pain. I thanked John Straley for introducing me to the joy of speed work and track running. While my kids don’t get the running thing – I knew they would be proud to say their old man had a world record. I knew Darcie Gorman would give me endless sh*t (as a gastroenterologist is prone to do) if I didn't get the job done. And, I wanted it for Adrienne who has sacrificed so many things so that I can run. For each of the final 40 laps I thought about someone important to me and thanked them!

I crossed the 100-mile mark at 13:52:29. While it was only three minutes faster than the previous world mark, I was proud of myself for having stayed with it and pushed hard the last 20 miles when things had unraveled. It turned out to be a good day!

I came back to the track at 8:00 the next morning to watch the 24 hour runners finish, and to take a drug test as part of the record certification. This was all new to me. A “Doping Control Officer” (yes – that’s for real and I’m not making it up) from the United States Anti-Doping Agency had come in from San Diego to administer a drug test. Fortunately my split for this observed urination was less than 52 seconds! The "Doping Control Officer" didn't find my comment about a negative urination split very funny. The drug test was a comprehensive and detailed process that was interesting to undertake.

Other U.S. records broken that day include:
Women's 50 Mile Age 45-49 - Suzanna Bon - 7:39:14
Women's 100 KM Age 45-49 - Suzanna Bon - 9:34:47
Women's 12 Hour Age 45-49 - Suzanna Bon - 77.25 miles
Women's 50 KM Age 50-54 - Debra Horn - 4:51:30
Women's 100 Mile Age 50-54 - Debra Horn - 17:13:21

Other notable times:
Carilyn Johnson - 130.92 miles (24 hours)
Tatsunori Susuki - 124.83 miles (24 hours)
Nick Pedatella - 113.59 miles
Michael Arnstein - 13:46 (100 miles)

Several important shout-outs include - the Coury family and all the volunteers for hosting a great event, James Bonnet for getting me back on my legs and moving again, the fellow runners and their encouragement, and Adrienne for crewing me and patiently putting up with all the "change orders" and endlessly asking the question "what are the splits now?"

Thanks to Manoj Nagalla and Aravaipa Running for the photos

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Breaking News: Jay sets the 50+ 100 mile World Record

Last night (Dec. 17th, 2011) in Phoenix Arizona at the Desert Solstice, Jay Aldous finished running 100 miles around a track in 13:52:29! That's an average of 8:19 per mile. In doing so he set a new World (and American) record for the 50 to 54 age group. As fast as Jay was he was 2nd in the 100 mile event to Michael Arnstein who finished in 13:46:18!

The previous 50-54 age group American record was held by Gard Leighton of California with a time of 14:56:19, set back in '85.
The previous 50-54 age group World record was held by Denis Weir of Great Britain with a time of 13:55:48, set back in '88.

Watch for a full report in the next couple days from Jay, until then Congratulations Jay!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wasatch Foothills

The foothills between City Creek Canyon and Immigration Canyon its were I spend most of my time running and when I do run it is usually later in the evening or early morning. The light at this time of day is almost always amazing and its rare that I don't come back from a run without images of golden colored hills and canyon filling shadows or a amazing sunset or sunrise playing back through my memory. The trails are generally smooth fast and flowing but with plenty of options for steep technical climbs and descents if chosen. Even with all this it is easy for me to take these trails for granted or think of them as ordinary and boring because I run them 8 months out of the year and I am surrounded by many other great trail running options. Some years in the spring I complain along with other local trails runners about how I can't wait to get off these trails and move up to the higher more challenging more dramatic trails of the Wasatch. But every year as the summer heat leaves the valley and the high mountain trails fill with snow and I return to these local understated trails I am reminded how they should never be taken for granted, they have their own simple beauty if you just take time to look.

I plan to shoot photos of this area for the next 6 months. The photos attached are from the first three outings. Most of the photos were taken from Dry Creek to Morris Meadows.