Monday, September 24, 2012

Review : Skechers GoRun

  • Type : Transition shoe
  • Use : Road running
  • Price : About $90

Before I met one of their reps at a race, I didn’t know Skechers had hopped on the minimalist bandwagon. As a matter of fact, I knew little about the company, except for the Shape-Ups models that left me dubious, to say the least. The rep explained that the GoRun was a shoe intended to help runners transition from a heel strike to a more natural, mid-foot strike pattern and suggested I try them for myself. I took a couple steps in them and was unconvinced, but curious. So I decided I would give them a real try.

First impression
This shoe has a unique design with the outsole curving upwards at the heel and 9 “pods” at the mid-foot, which elevate and curve it downwards. The idea here is that if you try to heel strike, the GoRun will correct your posture by “rolling forward” to your mid-foot, thus theoretically helping you adopt a more natural stride.

Road test
I ran two times with the GoRun. The first, a 5k commute, left me feeling very strange because of the elevated arch and the presence of the “pods”, which I felt impeded my forefoot strike. On the second run, the way back home from work, I had to take the shoes off at 3K and finish barefoot, because my arches hurt and my stride was totally off.

After discussing with the Skechers rep again, it became quite clear that this shoe is not made for runners who have a forefoot strike, which means it is not a minimal or barefoot shoe, nor is it fit for anyone running with a barefoot form. That left me with the problem of properly reviewing the GoRun, until I had the idea of asking heel strikers to give it a go at the running track, and see how they felt about it.

Track test
Without telling them my intent, I asked a range of runners to run a 400M lap with their standard shoes, than one barefoot, than one wearing the GoRuns. I wasn’t overly surprised with the results; the shoe only seemed to work well with heel strikers. They reported they could feel the shoe “roll” forward which, in turn, made them shorten their stride. They weren’t bothered with the arch section, probably because they are used to such “supports” in their conventional footwear. They were delighted with the shoe’s feather weight and with the sole material, which is very soft and flexible.

Shod runners with a natural form (mid-foot to forefoot strike patterns), on the other hand, were left dubious and reported they felt the arch section was “weird” at best, “impeding” in the worst cases. Aside from the sole, they liked the GoRun’s design and often compared it to the original Nike Free model.

I didn’t notice a big change in the heel strikers’ postures, aside from the shorter stride. I was shocked, however, to review pictures from my natural runners, whose form was negatively altered in all cases. It seems the thickness of the outsole and its design had a negative impact on the natural runners’ form; it lengthens their stride and brings back a heel strike-like pattern, with the “roll forward” effect happening on the outside of the shoe, causing an under pronation. The example below illustrates the differences in form in a natural runner :

First, running in her usual Saucony Kinvara :

Second, barefoot :

Third, in the GoRun :

It became quite clear, during this test, that the GoRun is not recommendable to natural runners who have already learned to land on their mid-foot or forefoot. The elevated arch section, rounded heel and “sensor pods” will only impede proprioception and change their landing patterns.

Heel strikers, on the other hand, seemed to be “pushed” toward a shorter stride, which makes them land closer to their center of gravity, certainly not a bad thing. However, this made me wonder: shouldn’t runners learn better form themselves, instead of relying on the design of their shoes? Isn’t that exactly the same issue as with orthotics?

When all is said and done, learning good form is not only about where you land; it’s also about understanding biomechanics and making the conscious effort to kick off your shoes, re-learn proprioception and develop an improved muscular structure. But if all it takes to point you in that direction is a pair of GoRun to start your discovery of natural running, Skechers might have succeeded in creating a “transition” shoe.

High points
  • Comfortable “Resalyte” outsole material
  • Lightweight
  • Roomy toe box
  • Might help the transition of heel strikers who don’t want to learn barefoot

Low points
  • A mechanical solution, similar in principle to the use of orthotics
  • Elevated arch and “pods” impede a forefoot strike
  • Definitely not for barefoot / minimal runners

The equipment for this personal review was supplied by Skechers, free of charge, without any conditions.

Friday, August 24, 2012

FlintLand Interview: Natural Running Coach Tina Dubois

In this first article of the series, we introduce you to Tina Dubois, first Canadian coach for Lee Saxby's Natural Running method. I had the opportunity to meet her recently, while on her first national tour to promote the "mastery of the barefoot running skill".

Before we go into a detailed description of the method and an analysis of my running posture (anything for the sake of science!), let's get to meet the woman, a Western-Canada runner and blogger who decided to leave her old running ways - and injuries - behind and focus on technique.

FL - What brought you to natural running? What’s your running background?
TD - I started running in 2000 and was a perpetually injured runner. In my first 8 years of running, I suffered from occasional shin splints, patellar-femoral pain (AKA runner's knee), IT-band strain, as well as sore hips and SI joints. I chronically suffered from low back pain and plantar fasciitis. I always ran through the pain and ran several trail races including the Canadian Death Race relay and 5 Peaks Trail Running Series, as well as a few road races and a couple sprint-distance triathlons.

In 2008, I read "You Walk Wrong" by Adam Sternbergh where I was introduced to the idea of wearing minimal shoes as a way to strengthen your feet and improve your posture and walking gait. I bought my first pair of minimal shoes in May and the chronic pain in my low back that I endured with every step was gone and I was a minimal shoe convert. From a full-time orthotic wearer, I slowly transitioned to walking, and eventually running, solely in minimal shoes. I started reviewing minimal footwear in 2009.

In 2011, VIVOBAREFOOT offered the Certified Coaching Program and I was lucky enough to attend the first Training Clinic in New York City. I learned how to run naturally from Lee Saxby at the Coaching Program and how to teach it to others. Now I run injury-free and hope to teach this form of running to as many runners as possible.

FL - Why choose Lee Saxby’s method? How did you find out about it?
TD - I found out about the Coaching Program from my friend, Barefoot Angie Bee's website, as she was invited to the same Training Clinic.

Lee Saxby's method identifies three forms of running: heel-striking overstriding (or jogging), forefoot-striking overstriding (or unskilled barefoot form), and what I call Natural Running (what he calls skilled barefoot form). As a coach, we are taught how to identify the three forms in our clients and how to change their form into natural running using specific exercises and functional coaching cues. Although there are many running coaching methods available (POSE, ChiRunning, Good Form Running, etc.), Lee's method breaks down the skill of running into microskills (posture, rhythm, and relaxation) that the runner can focus on individually and uses coaching cues that improve these skills, by feeling what good form is rather than thinking about what good form is, making the transformation to natural runner extremely quick and maintained through practice.

FL - Did your running form need a lot of improvement?
TD - Before the Coaching Program, I ran with unskilled barefoot form or a forefoot-striking overstriding form. This form is extremely common in runners who ran with a heel-strike and switched to running in minimal shoes or barefoot. When your body receives sufficient proprioceptive feedback (ie, sensory information about how you're hitting the ground), people will usually switch from landing on their heel to landing on their forefoot but all other aspects of your form remain the same. I learned to run with a faster cadence and land under my centre of gravity (rather than ahead of it) with a medial forefoot landing (between the first and second toe on the ball of the foot).

Tina Dubois
FL - How long – and how smooth – was your transition to the natural running form?
TD - It took half a day to relearn how to run (in a group of 10 people). If you're wondering how long it took me to regain my mileage using the new form compared to the old form, I'd say about 4 weeks. How long a person takes to transition and reach their previous mileage depends on A LOT of factors including what their previous form was, what their mileage was, what level of strength a person has in their legs, what their injury history is, etc.

FL - Did you benefit from your transition? How so?
TD - Absolutely! Before the transition to natural running, I ran extremely slowly and found running to be a lot of work, even after I switched to running in minimal shoes. If I ran any faster than my somewhat-faster-than-walking pace, some part of my body would hurt, so I never ran fast and was content with my level of pain-free running. Now I can run MUCH faster with MUCH less energy and have no pain.

FL - In your opinion, what’s the strongest point(s) in Lee Saxby’s method?
TD - Lee's Coaching Program teaches what injuries are caused by which forms of running and why based on human physiology and biomechanics. His method teaches the most biomechanically efficient and safe form of running that humans can achieve in a way that achieves this form in around an hour. Then all you have to do as a runner is practice a few exercises and remember certain aspects of those exercises while running. The strongest points of Lee's method are its biomechanical basis, ease of learning, and simplicity in practice.

FL - What are your goals as a natural running coach?
TD - I want to share the benefits of Natural Running to all runners so that they can experience the most efficient and safest form of running we can achieve. Basically, I want to help all runners learn to run pain-free.

FL - Do you think there’s a single right way to run, or are there natural variations between individuals?
TD - The principles of Natural Running are based in basic human anatomy and biomechanics. I think there is an 'optimum' way to run that maximizes efficiency and minimizes injury based on these principles. Variation between individuals is caused by different levels of skill.

FL - Do you consider yourself a barefoot advocate? What’s your take on the whole shoe debate?
TD - I advocate being barefoot as a tool to gain strength in your feet and use barefoot running as a tool to increase proprioceptive feedback (ie, awareness of how your feet hit the ground) while learning the skills of running. When I run, I wear a minimal shoe that is appropriate for the terrain I'm running on and type of running that I am doing. My position on shoes is that I choose to wear footwear that allows my feet to move naturally with as much proprioceptive feedback as possible for the terrain and temperature conditions whether I'm walking or running.

Our next article will present the Natural Running method and include a hands-on example using my own, self-taught running barefoot running form. Tina has recorded a video of my posture on the treadmill, then advised on a series of exercises and body awareness. We recorded a second video to try to see if the exercises and advice had any impact on my posture.

I invite you to participate to this series by sending feedback and asking questions to Tina, who is following the conversation on my blog (in case you're reading this from somewhere else). Make this your chance to have a conversation directly with a certified coach :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dance, Dance : The Green Mountains

I discovered the Green Mountains, a remote forest reserve in Quebec's Eastern Townships region, a while back... Last Saturday, I went down there and brought my GoPro along.

Wanna dance?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Luna Leadville Review

  • Type: Barefoot/Minimal
  • Use: Trail running
  • Price: 85$

Among the amazing moments I experienced in the Copper Canyons, seeing the Raramuri run in their homemade huaraches (sandals) is definitely one of the most memorable. As I watched them fly up and down rugged trails in this simplistic footwear, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some sort of hidden secret to the running sandal, so I went to Señor Ventura and asked him to cut and fit me a pair. I had to try it for myself.


There is really no way I could walk, let alone run, in a pair of heavy rubber soles clinging to my feet only with a thin leather lace. This would require weeks (and many layers of blistered skin) to get used to, and there was simply no perceivable incentive for me to do so.

So when I saw the “Luna-tics” crew come to town in their modernized huaraches, I really didn’t think they would be able to run the Copper Canyon Ultra with their super-thin, lightweight sandals. To my astonishment, they all did, and with a fair share of success.

I ran the last 8 miles or so with Scott Smuin, one of the founders of the Luna Sandals Company, and told him how impressed I was to see them all run on such rugged terrain with such little protection. “I could never do this”, I told him. “You should try”, is what he answered.

So I did.

First impression
He sent me a pair of the Leadville model, which I understand is their thickest sandal. It is designed for trail running and takes its name from the famous Leadville 100 ultra, where it was originally tested. At first, I couldn’t believe I would actually be able to run with a 10mm piece of neoprene rubber tied to my feet by only 3 points of contact.

So I went for a conservative, step-by-step approach. I started by wearing the Leadville for walking around, to break them in and get over my worries that I would stub the soles and tear them off my feet. I also had to be convinced that the strap between my big and second toes wouldn’t chew through my skin or provoke severe blisters. None of that happened.

I brought my Leadville on a recent backpacking trip to Portugal and ended up wearing them every day. I started really liking the soft cushioning they provide while still allowing terrific proprioception (ground feel). I wore them on day trips, long walks on cobblestone streets and small treks, and my feet never got bruised or tired. I thought that was pretty good.

The only thing that bugged me was the ribbon/plug system that holds the front strap in place. The plug moves inside the sole and eventually twists the lace in between your toes, significantly affecting your comfort. I plan on gluing the plugs in place to solve this issue.

Field test
When I got to Lagos and learned that the town was surrounded with cliff-top trails, I thought it was time to see if my Luna Sandals were meant for running after all. I had gotten used to the ATS laces, a mix of soft ribbon and elasticized straps that hold the sandal in place while allowing natural foot movement, so I felt secure enough to take them for a spin.

The trails atop Lagos resemble the ones in the Copper Canyons, although they are less rocky. I started running along the hard-packed, sandy trail and quickly felt at ease. The Leadville didn’t feel too loose or too tight, and reacted very well to whatever my feet did. I picked up the pace. The soft sole absorbs the sharp features of the terrain really well, so I wasn’t afraid to get hurt on pointy rocks or thorny roots.

On steep uphills, I was impressed with the Leadville’s firm grip. It behaved equally well on grainy descents, even though I wasn’t as brash in my running as I would’ve been if I wore regular trail shoes.

I ran several miles of rough trail that included some very sharp drops requiring light rock-climbing, and my Leadville never failed me. Although I didn’t feel ultra secure, I was able to run as free and as hard as I wanted, which greatly impressed me.

On my way back, I reflected on why, as a trail enthusiast, I would choose to run in sandals. Since I can’t use them year-round (there’s a real winter up here in Canada), I concluded that they could only complement my footwear options. However, they are fantastic to bring in backpacking trips (they are so light and thin) and I would seriously consider wearing them when running in high heat, as my feet never got sweaty. Needless to say, as a regular sandal, the Leadville is downright awesome.

High points
  • Qualifies as ultra-minimalist footwear
  • Surprisingly good traction
  • Sticks very close to your foot
  • Adapts to your every move
  • Enforces good running form
  • Very comfortable

Low points
  • Strap adjustment is a little finicky
  • Ribbon/plug system twists the inter-toe lace

The equipment for this personal review was supplied by Luna Sandals, free of charge, without any conditions.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hey, Fat Girl.

Yes, you. The one feigning to not see me when we cross paths on the running track. The one not even wearing sports gear, breathing heavy. You’re slow, you breathe hard and your efforts at moving forward make you cringe.

You cling shyly to the furthest corridor, sometimes making larger loops on the gravel ring by the track just so you’re not on it. You sweat so much that your hair is all wet. You rarely stay for more than 20 minutes at a time, and you look exhausted when you leave to go back home.  You never talk to anyone. I’ve got something I’d like to say to you.

You are awesome.

If you’d look me in the eye only for an instant, you would notice the reverence and respect I have for you. The adventure you have started is tremendous; it leads to a better health, to renewed confidence and to a brand new kind of freedom. The gifts you will receive from running will far exceed the gigantic effort it takes you to show up here, to face your fears and to bravely set yourself in motion, in front of others.

You have already begun your transformation. You no longer accept this physical state of numbness and passivity. You have taken a difficult decision, but one that holds so much promise. Every hard breath you take is actually a tad easier than the one before, and every step is ever so slightly lighter. Each push forward leaves the former person you were in your wake, creating room for an improved version, one that is stronger, healthier and forward-looking, one who knows that anything is possible.

You’re a hero to me. And, if you’d take off the blaring headphones and put your head up for more than a second or two, you would notice that the other runners you cross, the ones that probably make you feel so inadequate, stare in awe at your determination. They, of all people, know best where you are coming from. They heard the resolutions of so many others, who vowed to pick up running and improve their health, “starting next week”. Yet, it is YOU who runs alongside, who digs from deep inside to find the strength to come here, and to come back again.

You are a runner, and no one can take that away from you. You are relentlessly moving forward. You are stronger than even you think, and you are about to be amazed by what you can do. One day, very soon, maybe tomorrow, you’ll step outside and marvel at your capabilities. You will not believe your own body, you will realize that you can do this. And a new horizon will open up for you. You are a true inspiration.

I bow to you.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My First Run Smiley 100k - Born To Run Ultra Marathon

Posted by Zapmamak @ Running Naked On Sharp Pointy Stuff
Photography by Larry Gassan - Mile 50 Heading out on my last loop.
I'm surprised he caught me with half a smile on my face
The DNF Banner at the Born To Run Ultramarathon had all sorts of excuses. My favorite was "I'm just a Grade-A Pussy." And... "Puke. Puke. Puke." There were some hardcore runners out there. Some barely hanging by a thread in the middle of the night to finish 100 miles. 

My post race restless sleep was interrupted by either the throbbing in my legs or the occasional runner being assisted by friends and family on their way in from their last loop. Salsa music blared late into the night while runners were still being announced by Luis Escobar himself as they finished their loops or headed back out. It was the music and party at the finish line that lured me in from those last miles. And the way that the cheering and music glided over the hills through the dense dark was seriously seductive, pushing me on to run the last four miles to the finish without stopping. That was my most vivid memory of my first 100k ultra marathon.

I had an eery confidence about this race. I wasn't nervous. I wasn't worried. Yeah. Sixty-two miles seemed like a long way to go, but for some insane reason I wasn't really all that messed up in my head about it. Since the course consisted of two ten-mile loops I looked at it like a regular workover - in terms of sets rather than the mileage as a whole. At any ten mile point I could just bail and drink beer. I just had to complete six sets of ten. Surely, I could do three sets and then I was half-way there, right?

Me with my ultra-running buds
Patrick Sweeney &
Alex (my not-so-serial-killer new friend)
So I packed up my running and camping gear and headed out early Friday morning to head down to Los Olivos, CA. I had to make a pitstop in the Bay Area at the Walnut Creek BART station to pick up an unknown fellow runner who, for all I knew, might be using the "no transportation" excuse as a means to chop my body up into little bits. Ok. So that's a little dramatic. If there's one thing I learned about this community of ultra-runners its that we are all a big family. This kid from San Francisco had the same motivations as I did: he was looking for an adventure and to challenge himself. He just didn't have a car and was, lucky for me, sans sharp objects. It was all good.

Picking up my race packet
and welcome necklace
The drive down was relatively uneventful. Once at the ranch we handed our waivers over to the "greeter" at the front gate and drove on in. I spotted Patrick Sweeney (Bourbon Feet) setting up camp along with his buddies from the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, Caleb Wilson, François "Flint" Bourdeau and Mike Miller. Later, some of the guys from Luna Sandals joined us along with Caity McCardell (Run Barefoot Girl), Maria Walton (Micah True's girlfriend) and the sweet Guadajuko, (Micah's loyal pooch). Eventually I spotted Shacky and Vanessa and enticed them to set up camp with our crew. We snacked and then headed over to the registration table to pick up our bib numbers.
Tarahumara ball races.

Shortly after picking up my race packet and grabbing a cold beer, race director Luis Escobar briefed us on the course loops, ribbons, and signage. He made it perfectly clear to everyone that there would be no whiners at this race. I loved his tough love attitude. "If you get hurt, lost or die its your own damn fault" our host announced over the loudspeaker. We would be repeating the Caballo Blanko oath again the next morning as part of our pre-race ritual. And I loved it when Luis said... "This is not Wildflower. We are not pretty people. We are dirty, gritty, ultra runners." (or something like that) I loved this guy. He was honest and genuine. And a hard ass. I can appreciate that.

Hanging out by the campfire.
Caleb looks happy to see fire. Ha!
(Photo credit: Anthony Sanders)
While I was eating dinner the Rarajipari (a Tarahumara ball race) began. People's names were drawn to compete against one another in a running/ball "flicking" race to cross the line. Then after a couple more beers, and a little visiting with friends... I was asleep in my van. Well, sorta. I didn't sleep all that well, but who does the night before a race?

Someone was carb loading
the night before.
It was a chilly, foggy morning come race day. Mexican music bellowed through camp at 5:15am. I made the decision to run with two handhelds (one water and the other full of Nuun) and a single flask of my homemade gel iskiate (which I planned to refill back at camp every 10 miles). I filled my hydration pack and left it back at the car just in case I decided to switch. I lubed my toes with body glide, put on my Merrells and a muffin and a banana later I was on the starting line ready to roll. I forgot to brush my teeth. Ewww.

Me and Caity McCardell
(Photo credit: Patrick Sweeney)
I have never seen so many men in skirts in my life! Apparently, this is THE race to well... just let it all hang out! According to Patrick, if you're sans the underwear its technically a kilt, if you're wearing underwear its a skirt. Either way it was totally hot. I could already tell this race was going to be a good one.

The gunshot cracked the crisp air and we were off.

Heading out on the first pink loop.
(Photo credit: Anthony Sanders)

Initially my goal for this 100k was just to finish regardless of time. But, after I had completed the first lap of the yellow loop my goal had evolved. I really wanted to make it to the finish line before dark. There was a very short but pretty steep section of single-track just after the last ridgeline that was dubious in daylight with strong legs let alone the depth deprived darkness after fifty-five miles. The last thing I wanted was to end up on my head at the bottom of the hill at mile fifty-eight. Ugggh.

I was lucky enough to have somehow caught up with Anthony Sanders (one of the Luna guys and a United States Marine) who was also running the 100k. My pace locked in with his and he was my metronome for 30 miles until his knee laid down the smackdown and he was forced to DNF somewhere around the 40 mile mark. 

Its not often that I get to run with people. Running with Anthony was really nice. There's something oddly calming and meditative when your pace matches up with a fellow runner's. It was also nice having someone to chat with and keep me on trail when I missed the turn. Yeah. I did that. Glad someone was there to keep me on track.

Jacobus Degroot
wearing a
Zaps Threads Shirt!
Coming into camp (the center of both loops) after each lap was always a treat. By the time I had completed two loops Patrick (uber ultra runner/Guiness Book record holder for longest distance sand running) was already back at camp and finished with his 50k - taking first place. That wasn't a surprise. Coming in from each loop more and more people appeared back at camp, raising their beer to cheer me on. Is was a big motivation to see people as the day got longer and longer.
Stuffing my face and coming out
of the Barbie Aid Station.

Photo credit: Anthony Sanders

Funny how it took me until about mile 20 to realize that I had no knee pain, no hip pain and the tight hamstring I was worried about had loosened up and was a total non-issue. I had my fiyah! 

Admittedly though, my right foot was feeling pretty beat up by mile twenty-five. This, I kind of expected and has been pretty much par for the course for most of my races. The ground was hard-pack and gravelly with smaller sections of grassy, holey, uneven bits. My brand spankin' new, barely worn Merrell Pace Gloves worked like a champ, but the thinner sole of the minimal shoes still felt every sharp and jabby rock. My left foot was good. My right foot... not so much. The pain in my foot came and went. Apparently, that foot still pronates slightly which is probably why I ended up with an inconsequential blister on the bottom midfoot below my big toe. The small bunion on that foot gives me trouble from time to time when I run. By mile 25 the bones felt like they were separating when I landed and I would get a few sharp pains every now and then. I also had weird sensations like bleeding between my toes and tingling. As long as the pain wasn't consistent I was going to keep running. So I did.

The guys back at camp.
Flint, Alex, Caleb and Patrick
By noon the mist had burned off and the temps were heating up. I was lucky enough to get the iced-soaked denim treatment at Wild Bill's aid station close to mile 30. They sat me down and draped heavy-weight ice-soaked denim over my shoulders. Then they soaked my visor and strapped it back on my head. It felt amazing! Coming through that aid station after the next loop the volunteers told me I looked much better. I had no idea I looked so bad.   

Besides the ice cold denim drape, the shoulder and neck massage I got at the Barbie aid station was fabulous! They even made Vanessa and Caity mimosas to take with them while they literally inched their way barefoot back to the start line. It was a brutal course for 100% barefoot. I have total respect for both Caity and Vanessa. With the way my feet felt IN SHOES I can only imagine the pain that would ensue barefoot. Those girls were TOUGH!

The aid station volunteers were an amazing, caring, motivating and an observant crew. They were truly watching out for each and every runner out there. Words can't describe how thankful and grateful I was to each and every one of those people. My heart was filled with gratitude each and every time I left an aid station.

Coming in to mile 50.
Photo credit: Patrick Sweeney
So the fiyah happened for me around mile 30. In fact miles 30-50 were absolutely magical. I did more running in those miles than I did in the first 20. Instead of feeling tired I felt like I was getting stronger. The hills were a bit harder (I had to use Pablo's trick of walking up some backwards on the last ten miles to alleviate the burn), but I fell into my mojo easier on the longer stretches and felt more relaxed than I did in the beginning. I was surprised that my legs never felt wobbly or weak, which I expected.

Speaking of expectations... my hope was to not only complete this 100k, but to also have some kind of transcending experience. I wanted to dig deep with this race. I wanted to suffer and push through. I wanted that experience. I've never hit a wall. I haven't even really had to struggle too much mentally with the longer distances and was, in a strange sadistic way, hoping to find my limit somewhere within 62 miles.

So did I find my limit?

Not really. 

Well... it was hard heading out on that last yellow loop and walking away from camp (the top black and white picture was taken as I was heading out on my last loop and was shot by Larry Gassan ( a professional fine art photojournalist who photographs endurance athletes) All my buddies were hanging out at the finish line getting dinner and beers and cheering people on. The salsa music had started and people were getting their party on. Not only was I hungry for a big ol' fat burger, but my eyes had started getting droopy and I was feeling a very large nap coming on. It was hard not knowing what the last 12 miles would be like especially knowing that I was on my own, in my own head and would be solo in the dark at some point (I was hoping I wouldn't need my headlamp until after I got down from that last ridgeline). But, never for a moment did I doubt that I could finish. In fact, during the last 15 miles that was all that I could think about. That I was going to do this. And I did.

Start/Finish Line and the funky manequin
And even though I didn't make it to the finish line before dark I achieved my "Plan B" goal which was to make it off that little steep bit before dark. It was twilight when I pulled into what was to be my last aid station on the yellow loop. I sat down for a few minutes and chatted with Bill, the volunteer, and another guy running the 100 miler. I grabbed a handful of red vines (I have no freakin clue why those looked so delicious to me) turned on my headlamp and trotted slowly out of the aid station and onto the dark road.

My 100k finish!
(Photo credit: Patrick Sweeney)
With only 4 miles to go my feet were on auto-pilot and I was being summoned to the finish line. It actually hurt more to walk at that point because the road was hard packed and gravelly. Running with a headlamp in pitch black darkness is like running in a box. There's not much to look at except maybe 10-15 feet in front of you and a small peripheral area. With nothing to look at I was bored and in my head a little more than I wanted to be at that point. That's when my other senses took over and I found myself being seduced by sounds and smells. It was a pretty cool experience.

Coming in to the finish line I had only a small two-mile out and back to the funky lingerie manequin to do. I was re-energized by the cheering and the music which made those last two miles tolerable. Everybody was salsa dancing and partying. It looked like a fun place to be.

My Kukini finisher's amulet
And upon final completion of 62 miles in order to receive the official kukini finisher's amulet, I had to... hula hoop. 

Wha??? You say.

Oh yes. Hula hoop. With a big, ginormous hula hoop. 

So I did. I had no idea I could hula hoop after 62 miles. Then the hot shirtless guy with the pink skirt (I think his name was Jacob) tied the amulet around my neck, picked me up and spun me around until I was sufficiently dizzy. Honestly, dude could'a just put a beer in my hand and called it good. After setting me down, he had to hold on to me for a few seconds to keep me from falling on my ass.

I wish I had party in me left to stay at the finish line and join the cheering crowd as the other 100k finishers and 100 mile runners were coming through, but honestly, there was good beer waiting in my cooler back at camp and once I sat down to enjoy my Torpedo IPA it was all over. That's OK, though, because I'll be back again next year.

Who knew I could hula hoop after 62 miles!
I did it. And not only did I run 62 miles, but I completed it in 15:38 which I honestly don't know if that's a good time or not, but it was enough to make me a top overall women's finisher in 3rd place (there were 12 women who finished the 100k). I didn't figure that out until a day later when my coach Seth facebooked me and congratulated me on my finish. That's when it all sunk in and I thought to myself "HOLY FUCK I JUST DID THAT!!" Not only that, but my longest training run to date has never been anything over 4-5 miles. And I did it all in my minimal shoes.

The video above is Caity McCardell's video of the weekend shenanigans. She also captured me finishing my 100k and hula hooping. (Fast forward to 3:30) She also got video of Maria's tattoo, ball racing, and the salsa dancing party at the finish line.

I can wholeheartedly say now that my training is working for me. I'm staying uninjured. I'm strong. I'm well prepared and in shape for these long miles (though, I have some strengthening in my right foot to do) and I've got serious fiyah. I'm able to achieve distances I never thought were even possible. It amazes me just how far I've come (literally) just within the last six months. Words can't even describe how thankful I am to my coach, Seth, for putting up with me and all my doubts. Lets just see where this takes me from here.
My ultra running family. (Anthony, Me, Vanessa, Shacky, Alex, Flint, Patrick, Maria, Caleb, Mike, Caity and her children, with sweet pooches Guadajuko and Nigel). Someone I really wanted to meet was not in this picture. Funny how we left a spot for Micah. I'm sure he was there in spirit running the trails with Maria, Guadajuko and the rest of us.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Check out more of Larry Gassan's photography from the Born To Run Ultra Marathons.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review : Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Vest

  • Gear type : Hydration
  • Use : Endurance running
  • Price : 120$

Nathan’s line of hydration vests are a frequent sight in ultra running events. Their clever design, lightweight build and versatility have made many adepts over the years. All vests use the same bladder type and patented bite-valve that is highly functional and, an important matter for its durability, easy to clean and maintain.

The HPL#020 is Nathan’s original vest. Now with a broader offering of hydration solutions, it sits between the Minimist, an ultralight stripped-down model, and the Endurance, a full-featured vest with plenty of additional storage.

Field test
I have been using an Endurance model for a number of seasons now and I’m very pleased with it. This is a very well-conceived piece of equipment, obviously made by runners. No matter what size you are, it will adjust to your torso and sit lightly on your shoulders, won’t swing around and offer minimal slushing (the effect seems to be more obvious when the bladder is really full).

The HPL #020 is similar in almost every point to the Endurance, save for an extra couple shoulder strap pockets that count for an ounce of added overall weight and the positioning of the back storage compartment, that sits on top of the vest rather than at the bottom.

Like its bigger brother, the HPL #020 offers a rubbery gizmo that might not look like much at first, but that is very useful to stash a lightweight extra layer you were wearing in the morning (say, a vest). Just squeeze it in between the gizmo and the bag, pull the shock cord and you’re done. I have used it several times while running in the Copper Canyons, as can be seen in this video (at 1:05, 2:26, 2:48) and it never failed me. 

Another noteworthy test, although involuntary, is a pretty bad spill I took while running the trails above Creel one morning, crashing on rocks and rolling over. My vest, its bladder and even the tube came out of it unscathed, which for me speaks volumes about their toughness. The bladder itself is surprisingly sturdy; you can flip it inside out to dry and the material stays floppy like new.

The HPL #020 is a very good hydration vest. Personally, I have to say that I prefer the Endurance model because it has more front pockets, but I’m known as a runner who brings a lot of “stuff” on the trails. Like all the other models, the HPL #020 offers very good balance, sturdiness, breathable fabric and ease of maintenance. Nathan vests are widespread among ultra runners, both on trail and road.

High points
  • Lightweight and breathable material
  • Very adjustable
  • Front pockets on the shoulder straps
  • Extra storage in the back compartment + shock cord
  • Sturdy bladder system
  • Easy cleaning and maintenance

Low points
  • Not as many front compartments
  • Higher back pocket raises the center of gravity
  • Kinda sits in-between the Minimist and Endurance

The equipment for this personal review was supplied by Nathan Performance Gear, free of charge, without any conditions.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Experiencing the pacing smiles

As we seem to be sharing photo's of Running Smiles (just see Chris's grin at the end of his Bear Mountain Ultra), I thought I would share some photo's too.

These photo's aren't of me, but of friends that I know.

The first is my friend Tracey who ran her first 10K in over 3 years due to injury.  She just entered and went for it.  As you can see at the post-race drinks, she was jubilant and she had every right to be.  It was a fantastic performance -- on occasion I had a hard time keeping up with her.

The second photo is of my friend Ellie, who ran her first ever race on Sunday.  She has only been running  for a few months and this is a real achievement for her.  This race proved to her what she can accomplish.

My job at these races was as Tracey's and Ellie's pacer.  At both races I ran behind them just giving encouragement and making them laugh.  I was like annoying running fairy;  Just out of reach and making them giggle.

I was very honoured to be part of their races -- to share their joy and achievements.  I don't think I have ever had so much fun at a  race in a long time.  Seeing these wonderful, determined and frankly in my opinion awesome people push themselves and run with enthusiasm made me remember what running is all about.

It reminded me how it felt to reach that first running goal -- to realise that you can do this.  To have that feeling in your stomach, as if you are on top of the world; that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

There is nothing more powerful than that feeling and I can't help but smile when I thank them for allowing me the pleasure of being a part of that.

Sometimes running at someone else's pace is all you need to Run :).

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I've talked about my mom in previous posts and about how she told me running was like flying to her. She used to go out into our ghetto Chicago neighborhood and run all winter long while Chicanos hollered at her out of their hooptie windows. The only women on the street at 5am were selling something or other, and it made her jogs a bit of a toll to be grouped in with them. Despite this she always came home talking about flying. She always got back from those outings better off than when she left. One of the last things I said to her before she died was that when I came back from working out or running, the smell on me reminded me of those days.

Today when I went out to barefoot it, the first thought I had was that I was out to fly with the memory of mom, to do a little service to the memory of a person who spent much of her life fighting for rare moments of relief which should have been moments of pleasure. She was a tough broad my mom. She was sick most of my life but in the words of one of her friends: "She always had time to make others feel like they were the most important part of her day". Everyone felt like the most important part of her day.

While I was out running with another barefooter today (thanks for being out there Tom), we were witness to a pretty bad bike accident. A 12 or 13 year old kid went over the handle bars and got a face full of chip and seal, broke a wrist, went into shock and got carted off to the hospital after 20min of us sitting and talking him and his family through it while he screamed and bled. I've seen my fare share of such accidents but today it really made me feel grateful for my time with my family, my friends, and the soundness of my body and mind.

As we end this Mother's Day 2012, let's not forget that the flowers you're supposed to buy and the dinners you think you should cook are not the point. Mothers, you are the water and the soil on which we all grow and thrive. Thank you for your love, your patience, your inspiration, and your mighty examples.

Love you Moms!
Thank you for everything.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ultra Smiley (Bear Mountain 50K)

I just posted a report of my first every ultra-marathon over at my blog, and I know some of the smileys might be interested.  It was long, it was hard, but I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The runner in a 19th century factory

I've been thinking a lot about the training season, injuries and the conversations I have with my running buddies about training. My thoughts on the subject are as follows and this is essentially the lecture I would give my clients when I was a personal trainer. 

Running is a repetitive motion. Think about your image of a 19th century factory, or a modern cell phone factory for that matter, lots of people doing the same thing over and over until they get over-use injuries, carpal tunnel, broken down joints, or just get injured because they become so robotized that they stop paying attention and forget not to put their hand in the steel press.

The idea behind cross-training in a running program is to add stress to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, skeletal system etc. that you aren’t getting by just running. Your body is amazingly efficient at streamlining activity, reducing the amount of energy expended to complete a repetitive motion and building infrastructure to support it that basically restricts any motions your aren’t using. That is to say, if all you do is run in a straight line your body will tighten up to support that and become brittle to any other movements. Like a factory worker, your body will become very prone to injury the second you move in an unexpected direction.

The solutions to this are simple: cross-train, trail run. Trail running is less repetitive because you have to adapt to an unstable environment. When I’ve been road running (meep meep) for a while and I get out on a trail, I get pops and cracks in my knees for a bit but I start to loosen up quickly. Step on a root and almost sprain your ankle once or twice and you’ll quickly develop laser focus. More than that the terrain builds supporting and core musculature because you have to be more nimble in an unpredictable environment, your tendons and ligaments have to be loose enough to keep strains from happening when they must unexpectedly stretch, but tight enough to prevent over extension injuries. All of this is really good news for you.

The example I like to give is this: professional/competitive road cyclists are well known for having very low bone density and high risk for osteoporosis. How can this be, they’re athletes? The answer is Wolff’s Law. “Bonein a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads it is placed under. If loading on a particular bone increases, the bone willremodel itself over time to become stronger to resist that sort of loading.” I add to this that the same is true of muscle, ligament and tendon (it’s why weight lifting makes muscles bigger). The same is true in reverse as your body will reduce infrastructure on any structure that isn’t under load. Cycling is a very low impact sport, unlike running where there is always impact with the ground. Their bodies demineralize bones just like astronauts'.

Workers at the Maker’s Mark distillery are required to switch jobs every 30min to keep them alert and injury free. If all you do is run in a straight line you’re setting yourself up for an overuse failure. Cross training adds additional stresses and helps your body stay supple and trail running does the same.

Meep meep!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Oh, Go Fly A Kite!

We've been pounded with heavy winds for the past several days. Thankfully, we didn't have any tornadoes even though the potential was there.

Ironically, a month ago, one of our Cub Scout leaders had planned to fly kites on our regular meeting night this week. I was glued to the weather channel worried the winds would carry the boys off with the kites. All day the winds were 24 mph with gusts as high as 36 mph. The wind advisory was scheduled to end a half hour before the meeting.

More ironically, as soon as the advisory was over, the wind was so dead it could barely be considered a breeze. We had to run the whole length of the field to get the kites to fly at all.
"Hey, are you supposed to be running in that boot?" I was asked.
"No, but the doc didn't say anything about flying kites," I called back.

We sprinted up and down that field for an hour having a complete blast. Two hours earlier, I had to scream at the soccer team just to get them to jog. Now, I was looking at a field full of boys begging for me to untangle their lines so they could run some more. The kites soaring higher and, really, not high at all.

Need a little variety in your runs? Need to run speed intervals? Try flying kites on a no breeze day. Putting play back into running. A super smiley way to run.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Messenger

He’s been pictured as The Lone Wanderer, The Ghost of The Sierra Madre. A man of legend, an obscure mystic who dropped out of a former life to become some kind of a gatekeeper to a hidden culture of super humans.

The real story, however, is much better than this.

Micah True is a simple man, in all the best meanings of the term. Much like the Raramuri, he comes across as soft-spoken, calm and radiating with a humble pride. But that’s where the comparison ends.

Before meeting him, I was somewhat apprehensive that he might be a “convert”, trying to be more Raramuri than the Raramuri themselves, or some sort of overwhelmed preacher trapped in a one-way logic. It took the best part of a minute for these thoughts to vanish when he shook my hand for the first time.

“Hey, Francois”.

Within minutes, we were simply sitting together, sharing stories, planning to meet up later in the week, down in the canyons. Simple as that. Sure enough, a couple days after, we met again. It was even better this time; he’d found a new friend up in Creel and brought him along. It was Olaf, another aspiring Mas Loco soon to become “The Badass”. But that’s an entirely other story.

Since our first run, what struck me the most was how Caballo isn’t trying to be anyone else than himself, an impression that still holds after spending a couple weeks traveling and running together. Micah True doesn’t try to be a Raramuri, and that’s partly why I think the Running People appreciate him so much.

There’s a reason this man is welcome anywhere in the Copper Canyons, and it has nothing to do with fame or legend. People recognize him as a kindred spirit, a person of peace and a fellow runner. And he, in return, simply treats them the same way.

I consider it a privilege to have shared some of his travels, not only by running the ultra marathon but by taking part in the background work that leads to it, which is a story I feel needs to be told.

Months before the actual event, the cameras and the buzz, the White Horse is hard at work, making sure the extensive logistics will be in place, in time and ensuring the word spreads around in the canyons. Runners near and afar have to be invited, trails need to be maintained and marked, aid stations must be stocked, corn vouchers purchased. “It’s colossal work”, I once told him while running on the trails. “We are messengers”, he answered, “expressing hope, love and respect”.

I didn’t grasp the full extent of Caballo’s words before quite some time. But after having seen him work, travel, run, live, laugh, struggle, overcome and persevere, I got it.

  • He brings hope by making sure everyone who participates in the race, whether by running or by helping out, wins something. Tens of tons of corn, as well as thousands of dollars in money, are awarded every time. This is not a handout; it’s a genuine community event for all to look forward to.

  • He brings love by organizing a footrace that celebrates the center of the Raramuri culture and where the focus is set on Korima, The Circle of Sharing, expressed by the warm welcome given to everyone and by the distribution of everything won by international runners back into the community.

  • He brings respect by inviting avid, passionate endurance athletes from all over the world, who hold in the highest esteem this humble, proud tribe of Running People and who’ve traveled from far away just to get the chance to run alongside them for a day of peace and celebration.

However, it’s only after the race was over, after the elation, after I had left even my new brother Olaf to slowly make my way back home that I realized the key part of Micah’s phrase, that day. It’s a simple, two-letter word that holds all the power of Caballo Blanco’s actions inside and out of the Copper Canyons and that best sums up all the love and respect I have for him.

He said “We”.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rodeo 50k Race Report GOOD TIMES!

A peek of the Golden Gate at
Rodeo Valley 50k
(WARNING: This post exceeds 3,000 words and contains innappropriate humor. Read at your own risk.)
I haven't laughed this much since the New York City Barefoot Run last October. I'm amazed at how the universe has somehow brought together (and subsequently subjected the "serious" running community to) this quirky group of like-minded, crazy-witted, life-embracing, and often times very immature characters of the barefoot/minimalist running community. We are not serious folk by any means. Take the picture below for example: 

Meet the Robillards.
Super Beer Man and Wine Woman.

A perfect representation of our general attitude toward our group race event we completed this past weekend.

We were all ready to run the Rodeo Valley 50k. An ultra-marathon located along the coastal bluffs of the Marin Headlands just outside of San Francisco. This event was a great excuse for all of us to get together, have a few laughs, enjoy the beauty of the Northern California coastline and apparently dress up as superheros.

It was a road trip kind of race. We were all convening at the house of Pablo Päster in the Bay Area to spend a couple days. I carpooled down with the Shelly and Jason Robillard on Saturday. Later that night we all piled into their vehicle to pick up "Team San Diego" (Shacky and Vanessa) at SFO International airport.

The Rodeo Valley 50k was supposed to be part of a double challenge for Shacky & Vanessa who were scheduled to run the Oriflamme 50k in San Diego on Saturday morning. Jason and Shelly were also planning on participating in this "double challenge" by participating in a 50k run along the AR50 course in Sacramento on Saturday as well. Pablo and I were the only two of the crew who decided not to take the bait of a double challenge. I was happy to hear the seasoned ultra-runners were planning on handicapping themselves. It would clearly put them at a slight disadvantage and maybe my inexperienced ultra butt could keep up.

Shelly, Pablo and I checking out the course from
near Mt. Tam
(photo credit Jason Robillard).
As it turns out I unintentionally happened to handicap myself the Tuesday before the race by doing six sets of sixty squats. (Hey. I never said I was smart.) And as fate had it the "double challenge" was off for the two couples when Oriflamme got canceled (due to California's recent freaky weather) and when Jason found out the AR50 course wasn't hilly enough. Damn. I was to be the only cripple at the starting line of Rodeo Valley.

Speaking of the weather. The Rodeo Valley course was pretty swampy and saturated in parts. A few of the steep hills were covered in mud. We all decided to blame Jason for the horrible storm preceding this race. The entire state of California saw El Niño equivalent downpours for nearly seven days prior to this race. Right about the time the Robillard's arrived in Auburn, California. I also seem to remember New York City being in the midst of a downpour and crazy weather patterns when I was there last October. The common denominator? Jason Robillard. Our theory was later proven when Jason claimed that he and Jon Sanregret (one of the sales reps from Merrell and a friend of the Robillards) were caught in a random shower on the course the day of the event. A rain shower that Shelly and I never experienced. Hmmm. How is it that we were all running this Rodeo Valley race and only Jason and Jon experienced this rain phenomenon? Coincidence? I think not. Clearly, Jason has some sort of weather superpower he hasn't told us about. His costume may have had a beer glass on it but I'd bet a tasty beer that he was probably hiding a lightening bolt. I think I'm close to revealing his true identity.

Shelly and Jason goofing
around near Mt. Tam
The Robillards and I got to the Bay Area a bit earlier than expected on Saturday so our tour guide, Pablo, drove us up to the top of Mt. Tamalpais for a view of the coastline and a sneek peek of the course from the top. It was cold. Damn cold. We started strategizing running gear options for the race on Sunday. Little did we know that Jason and Shelly already had their superhero costumes picked out.

Its fascinating to learn about everyone's pre-ace strategies, rituals and preferences. We all had our own little idiosyncratic traditions. For instance, I brought my lacrosse ball and wooden rolling pin to roll out my sore and stinging post-squat quads and Shelly brought her jug. Yeah. Her jug. I nearly peed myself (a common theme that seems to happen whenever I'm around Shelly) when I saw her hard-core hydration strategy. 

Shelly's hardcore
hydration strategy

Its not your whimpy 16 ounce or even 32 ounce water bottle. No. This chick chugs from a gallon milk jug to make sure she is ultra-ready. I doubled-over with laughter when she started chugging in the backseat on our way up to Mt. Tam. We laughed about trying to chug water on winding roads. Laughing + hydrating = more kegel training!

My pre-race burrit
More laughter ensued (at my expense) when I ordered the mucho grande burrito at the local taqueria on our way back to the house. (What can I say? Us chicks don't mess around with wimpy pre-race diets or hydration) OK. Maybe mine was a mistake. I don't order burritos because most of the time I don't eat tortillas so I didn't pay attention to the size discrepancies between burritos (Pablo insisted he warned me. Have I ever mentioned I don't listen well when hungry?) Suffice to say that my burrito could have fed a starving family of ten from Mexico. It was the size of a small child. What can I say? I was carb loading. There were jokes about me stuffing my burrito into my pack the next day for the run. I don't need no stinking aid stations! I got my BUR-RITO!

Our trip to the airport to pick up Shacky and Vanessa was just as entertaining. Shelly and I decided to check out how fast we could go if we sprinted on the moving walkway. I think there were elbows and pushing involved. Yeah, bitches! Don't think for a second you can beat me cuz I'll show you!!

Our plan to meet Shacky and Vanessa in baggage claim got derailed when both Shelly and I had to use the loo. (Pre-race hydration has its drawbacks especially if you drink from a milk jug.) The timing couldn't have been more perfect though because just as we were stepping out of the bathroom Shacky and Vanessa were coming down the stairs. We did our formal greetings, hugged each other like old friends and headed back to the house. We had an early start the next day.

Just before going to bed talk of our pre-race rituals were brought up again. Shelly, Jason and I were nearly paralyzed when we found out that Pablo doesn't drink coffee nor was he going to make any in the morning. HOLY CRAP! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This was valuable information that I had already known about Pablo and realized that I must have blocked it out. How were we going to get our pre-race caffeine fix let alone release the first deuce so we don't have to risk being caught off-trail performing our "morning doodies"?? Yeah. I actually said that. I believe I used the word "shit" instead of deuce. Its nice to be around people you can be totally open and honest with. We were all runners. Runners all have the same issues. Its nothing to be ashamed of.

Don't get caught on the trail
doing your morning "doodies!"
The three of us agreed that morning coffee was a pre-race morning ritual we were not prepared to compromise. Jason agreed to get up early and make a Starbucks run. He was officially living up to his superhero status.

Sleeping arrangements were made with couples in the guest bedrooms and I in the living room next to the kitchen. Shelly came over to help me set up my bed and we joked about how I didn't mind sleeping in public. I don't remember how the whole joke started because I had been "carb loading" with some beer and things were a bit fuzzy but the conversation may have gone something like this...
Me: "I guess I'll set up my bed in the living room. I'm OK with sleeping in public."
Shelly: "Don't you know we have the live Krista Cam set up over your bed so everyone can watch Krista online while she sleeps?"
Me: "That's good. How much do you charge for people to see me drool and scratch myself while I'm sleeping. Is it free or Pay-Per-View?
Shelly: "Well, scratching yourself could be a little erotic. I think it should definitely be Pay-Per-View."
Our humor tends to be borderline lowest common denominator. OK. It IS lowest common denominator. Enough said.

In the morning, everyone was amazingly ready to go with time to spare so we piled into Jason's vehicle again and made our way to the race start for packet pickup.

Shacky & Vanessa
We spent most of the time in the truck staying warm. At the starting line many pictures were snapped, mostly of the Robillard superheros. It was like paparazzi. They were even demanding Jason do certain poses for the camera. Jason obliged like a superhero. It was awesome.

Race start parking lot - Rodeo Valley 50k

Pablo, Me, Vanessa, Jason, Jon (photo credit Shacky)
Jon, Shacky, Vanessa, Me (photo credit Shacky)
Rodeo Beach
Jason and Shelly Robillard (photo credit Jason)

Wine woman descending mud steps.

The race started down at the bottom of the valley at Rodeo beach. When the race started it was all hills. Hills, mud, steps, bridges, mud, wind, downed trees, mud, rocks, scree, mud. This race had a little of everything. Mostly mud, though. The course was gorgeous and definitely one of the most beautiful I've ever ran on.
Nothing but mud for miles.

Did I mention the mud?
But, despite all the crappy weather we had the preceding days the skies were blue and the clouds were harmless. Except for the one just over Jason's head. Ha! 

Pablo, Jason, Shacky and Vanessa all took off ahead of Shelly and I. We decided to take it easy on the first hill. I was having trouble breathing out of my nose. My body doesn't sweat much when I run, but it finds other ways to excrete lots of bodily fluids. Shelly seemed to be a snot rocket expert so I asked her to give me some tips. I had never blown a snot rocket before. Aside from peeing standing up, this seemed like it would be a very handy technique to have at my disposal. Shelly's tip: Don't hesitate. Blow it like you mean it. So I covered one nostril and blew as hard as I could. It seems I had perfected the art of snot rocketing on the first try. Later, though, I learned the NOT-to-turn-into-the-wind lesson really fast. That got a little messy.

No sign of rain here!
Shelly and I passed ONE guy on the trail. An older gentleman wearing a pair of tight, cut-off jean shorts. I wasn't sure if that was a costume or not. He seemed to be enjoying the run. After that we pretty much didn't see anybody for a while.

I was impressed with Shelly's stamina despite the fact that she wasn't able to get some decent food until we looped back around to race start around what I'm thinking was about mile 23 or so. We saw Shacky and Vanessa at the aid station and chatted a bit while Shelly was finally able to pick up her sandwiches from the car (she has a gluten intolerance that doesn't allow her to eat many of the typical race snacks laid out for us at the aid stations). Once we peed and gorged ourselves at the buffet (this aid station finally had chips for Shelly) we were ready to tackle the first brutal hill once again and circle back to finish the race off.

The video above was the windiest part of the trail. I almost blew off the ridge!

I used the railings to stretch my legs.
The last few hills seemed a little daunting since we knew what to expect this time around. As Shacky and Vanessa moved full steam ahead Shelly and I were a bit slower. My feet were starting to feel a bit beat up from the drier, rockier fire road trails and I was starting to feel some pulling in my front hip flexor. Most of all my glutes were in need of a serious massage. In fact, we joked that the guy at the last aid station may have given me one if only I had asked, but I felt a little naughty asking some random guy to massage my ass. Not to mention since I'm married it may have been a little misleading and shallow. All I needed was a good butt massage. No strings attached.

Shelly and I made it up the hill from Rodeo Beach (it was so easy it was like buttah - at least that's what I was telling myself) which t-boned into a color ribbon conundrum. Do we go left or right? Yellow or pink ribbon? Had we gone this way before? If we took the yellow ribbon direction wouldn't we just be putting ourselves back on the 50k course? Was the pink ribbon marking the last loop of the 50k? Both of us were thinking we should go with the pink since we hadn't seen pink yet and were figuring that was marking the shortcut for the 50k loop. I felt like a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire when I decided to "phone a friend" and call Pablo since he studied the map vigorously prior to race day. He was also fairly familiar with the area. Turns out that was a good decision. He had all the right answers. So we went the way of the yellow and headed towards the last aid station in Tenessee Valley. Why we didn't think to ask what ribbons to follow at the last aid station I don't know.
Jason showing off his
superhero thong at the
first aid station.

At mile 25 I hear this shuffling behind me like someone's being mugged. And since we hadn't seen anyone else on the trail it perplexed me a bit. I turn around to see Shelly in mid-fall like she's just realized she's about to bite it. Hard. She drops her water bottle, tucks her shoulders and rolls into the fall with full-on superhero style. This chick knows how to tuck and roll!! I was super impressed. Turns out she was fine. We both laughed and I almost peed myself. Again.

Jason finishes superhero style.

View from the trail

Coming down into the last aid station we saw Shacky and Vanessa. I took a salt pill, grabbed a handful of peanut m&ms and some pretzels, shoved them in my pocket and we all headed up the hill. The very long now-I-REALLY-need-my-ass-massaged-hill hill.

It was nice to get to hang out with Shacky and Vanessa on this last stretch of the race.
I regret not getting to know these people better. They seem like such great people. Both Shacky and Vanessa are strong runners, but Shacky was admittedly struggling and wanted Vanessa to run ahead. Vanessa decided to chill with us back-of-the-packers. We were all hurting a bit and wondering if we were going to make it in time for the cut-off which was eight and a half hours. Once we were turned on to the green ribbon part of the course (we remembered to ask how to get back this time) Shacky took off. It was like there was a fire under his butt. We caught up to him within a mile and Shelly and I decided to keep moving. It was less painful to run than to walk at that point.

Shelly and I had pre-planned a little practical joke, but didn't have the energy nor the physical means to carry it out. We thought it would be hilarious if we faked as though we had been doing burpees for the last 10 miles. Then we'd have a perfectly badass excuse why we DFL'd. As soon as we saw Jason we were going to jump up and start doing burpees into the finish line all the while counting "Five-thousand ten, " " Five-thousand eleven," "Five-thousand twelve." Ahhhhhh. The best laid plans... It would have been a great idea had we not just run a crazy-ass, muddy, hilly 50k.

So the four of us, Shacky, Vanessa, Shelly and I all DFL'd but still made the cut-off so we picked up our ultra-marathon pint glasses and our shirts and headed back to Pablo's by way of the BevMo.

Pablo and his wife had made a delicious dinner and Jon Sanregret joined us for a little post race celebration. It was his first 50k, but he looked like an experienced ultra-runner to me.

Me & Pablo
Post Race mobility.
Where is my lacrosse ball?
(Photo credit Jason Robillard)
Talk of left-handedness, future races, upcoming schedules and random facts (I had no idea that tri-tip was just a California thing) and again... my burrito, circled around the table. My Racer 5 took affect pretty quickly and soon we were all on the floor in Pablo's living room demonstrating different styles of push-ups and I was getting friendly with the ball and the roller again. Apparently, this was after dinner entertainment. Jon even hooked me up with a new pair of Merrell Pace Gloves since my old ones were clearly worn in the midfoot and were half a size too small. I originally bought the only size they had available at my local REI store out of desperation for a good minimal shoe, but I really should have bought a half size bigger. Even with the cramped, wet and muddy conditions my feet had to endure for 32 miles they faired really well with only one tiny blister on the top of my right foot's second toe. Getting the mud out of my toenails proved to be a challenge, though.

Kristina's "Good Luck" note.
Then in true New York City BFR style, Jason puts a full open beer right in front of me towards the wee hours of the night. And since I didn't have to run in the morning I drank it. We had stepped off the hydration train hours ago. Our job was done. But it would be another early start for us in the morning to head back to the Sacramento Valley. So I stayed up to finish my beer and chat with Jason before heading off to bed.
Pablo and his wife, Kristina were superb hosts. I can't thank them enough. Kristina was extra patient with our slightly muddy post race spirited-ness and over-indulging hot water usage. She even wrote us a cool note that we found the morning we left for the race. She's a really cool chick.

Overall the messy trail conditions and long hill climbs were won out by clear blue skies, beautiful views, and incredible people that we shared the trail and a weekend of fun with. I feel so lucky to have found a group of people who share the same passion and have such fun personalities. I just wish they all didn't live so far away. Perhaps we'll have to make these "road trip races" a tradition.
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posted by zapmamak @ Running Naked On Sharp Pointy Stuff