Saturday, December 3, 2016

Hoka and UD updates.

Allow me to add to my last post regarding my experiences with Hoka One One and Altra. I have been using relatively new Hoka Bondis and old Hoka Odysseys for road and easy trail/gravel running over the past couple of years. I have used Altra Lone Peaks for more intense (read technical) trails. Interspersed throughout, I still run a bit in Salomons and every now and then an ancient pair of Mizuno trail shoes. Today I tried something different. I have a pretty good love affair going on with the two aforementioned Hoka models (there are also a couple of Hoka models that, um, don't do it for me - to be nice about it). Anyway. today I wore my old Hoka Odysseys on a 10 mile technical trail run. I wasn't expecting to like the experience much, but I did. While I'm certain that I wore some serious life out of the soles (they truly are not meant for this type of running), the Odysseys performed as good or better than any trail shoe I have worn. I normally feel a few jarring stabs from rocks and roots on this particular trail. The Hokas cushion rejected all unwelcome advances of that sort. They also remained stable and provided the right support on uneven ground - something about which I had been a bit concerned. I don't know if I will take them on too many other technical runs. But it is great to know how well they held up should I decide to use them for this type of running in the future.

The Scott Jurek UD pack with soft bottles also has performed passably. Last week I used it with a bladder (from Nathan) instead of bottles. I think I will not do that again without using a bladder designed for UD's deep back pocket. But for runs where smaller quantities of H2O are required, the soft bottles work great and the pack feels snug yet nonrestrictive.

Over the past year, I have begun to subscribe to the philosophy of 'Buy less. Buy better'. I have stopped buying clothing from companies that aren't responsible. Lately, all purchases (and there are only a few) have been Patagonia or Prana products. All are either recycled or contain organic materials - after reading about non-organic cotton, the decision to switch was easy. And for non-necessary purchases, I am still donating the equivalent of 10% of the purchase price to charities and relief agencies, or organizations that support human rights. Thinking about buying less and buying responsibly whenever possible is a bit of a change. But it is a practice that causes me to stop and think before automatically pulling the trigger on a purchase that may be much more of a want than a need.

A good book to read on the subject that I knocked out last week is Yvon Chouinard's, Let My People Go Surfing, which is an autobiography of a sort, that covers his life, his business life (with Black Diamond and Patagonia), and shares a lot of his philosophy of trying to do the right thing for the planet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Summer and Fall Report. Hoka and Altra micro reviews.

I have taken a lot of time away from this blog as I work on the sequel to RUN. It is coming along well. In order to write a novel, it requires precedence (for me, at least) over all other writings It is difficult to switch gears and get back in the swing of things in the real world of blogging after spending hours in a fictional realm. I've also been working on a website that caters to outdoor literature and poetry. It is also progressing nicely. I will post a link to that site someday soon. It has calls for submissions regularly, and does not ask for any exclusivity or rights from authors/poets/essayists who wish to submit works.

The summer and fall were both kind to me and I was able to amass easy miles in (for the most part) beautiful weather. Due to the oak mite infestation in this area (NE Kansas), I mainly stayed clear of trails, which allowed me to do a lot of speed work on the roads. Shorter, faster runs, with regular reverse splits became de rigueur. It was an enjoyable change that allowed me to really get to know my Hoka One One's.

Here's a quick breakdown of my feelings for Hoka road shoes.

Odyssey - Love them. My Favorite Hokas ever. Almost too comfortable to only wear when running.

Clifton - Dislike. While light, they have an odd pinch at the big toe joint over the ball of the foot for me. Somehow, they just don't fit me well. Though if you are looking at a pair of Bondis, this would be a good model to use for comparison.

Clayton - Fun shoe. Much firmer. I like them, but I prefer a bit more squish in my Hokas.

Bondi - This is the shoe that, for me, will replace the Odyssey (which Hoka doesn't seem to manufacture anymore). Light, comfortable, with a slightly more firm feel, the newest iteration of the Bondi seems to fit the bill.

3 Pairs of Hokas and my Altra Lone Peaks

As fall returned, I knocked out a few trail 25Ks (actually 2, with a DNF in a third after losing a skirmish with a rock). I ran all in my Altra Lone Peaks. The LPs performed well - as they had when I used them to climb Mt. Elbert earlier in the year. The shoes have massive toe boxes, so there is almost no incidence of getting black toe from smashing up against the front of the shoe on a downhill run. For super rocky running, a runner might want to consider getting a brand/model with a more serious rock plate. But on the whole, the LPs perform well, providing decent cushioning, great ground feel and grip, breathability, and comfort throughout a decently long run.

I plan to run R2R2R (if you don't know what that means, look it up;-) in April with 2 buddies. I'm slowly starting to increase mileage and add in meaningful hill work. I may pop out to Joshua Tree over the winter and do a couple of long downhill runs from the Mojave Desert through the pass into the Colorado Desert (see pvs posts re that run). Mile after mile of non-stop downhill is not something I would normally advocate doing. But when looking to do major canyon running, it might be nice to have a little bit of that training in hand.

I hope to have more here soon.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Summer Respite: The Getty Center, The Nelson, and (a bit about) Running

I haven't posted here in a while. My new blog and twitter accounts have been eating up a bit of my writing time. After a long summer, I've been taking a week off from running in order to give the legs a rest and to swim, work on the new novel, spend time with friends, and visit museums.

Speaking of museums, the Getty Center has a great show, London Calling, featuring works of Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Michael Andrews, Leon Kossof and more. Sometimes the Getty's stunning architecture and views will eclipse the art housed inside. But London Calling is able to hold its own. If you are in the LA area, check it out. You won't regret it. Here is a link:

Tip: While at the Getty, do avoid the Chinese Buddhist cave painting exhibit at all costs. You will needlessly stand in line only to be hurried through reproductions (gasp!?!) of the actual caves along the Silk Road. It was the strangest and most disappointing show I've ever seen at a major museum. Even though the exhibit is free (with gratis, timed tickets required to enter), we still felt robbed of our time.  Instead, I would suggest taking the time to explore some of the Center's fantastic permanent collection - always a treat.

I'll also give a plug to the Nelson Atkins' (in Kansas City) Roman jewelry show. If there is one type of art that interests me less than Roman jewelry, I can't think of it. But I am glad I did not let that outlook prevent me from going to the show. It was phenomenal. If you are lucky enough to be able to see it, you will be treated to a history lesson, and will gain an appreciation for just how talented the artists and craftsmen were in ancient Rome. Interestingly, not a lot has changed in the way fine jewelry is manufactured in the intervening millennia. Here is a link:

On to running: Thanks to Ad Astra for putting on a successful Defend Lawrence Run for a second year. A week ago Sunday, a whole lot of people showed up on Mass Street in Lawrence, KS at 4:30AM in order to take part in the run that commemorates the day Quantrill and his raiders attacked the city. Ad Astra put together the route, the starting time, pre and post race refreshment (with mimosas even), and giveaways. This event is turning into one of the best free runs offered in the area.  Save the date on your calendars for next year. It is well worth tossing the covers off a bit earlier than normal to start your day with this event.

And in other free run news, the Trail Hawks had their annual birthday run in early August as well. Everyone who had a birthday in 2015-2016 was invited to attend the all-day event on the Clinton North Shore trails. Food was plentiful, as were friends of two and four-legged varieties. The good vibes coming off the event buoy everyone's spirits until the annual club meeting.

Finally, a book recommendation. Check out The Emerald Mile. The book is about the fastest run through the Grand Canyon in history by boat. But while reading about running rapids in rafts and dories, you'll also learn a whole lot about water use and planning in the western US, as well as how dams work and who oversees their placement and operations. The book is available in all formats and even works well as an audio-book for long drives (I listened to it on my way to and from Leadville).

Until next time, keep putting on leg in front of the other.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Baker Wetlands

This morning I stopped by the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center. Baker University should be commended for the fantastic trails, buildings, and exhibits that they have put together to create this remarkable place. 

If you have not been, you should go. This is a remarkable example of a functional wetlands. If I had the ability to post the videos I took, it would show elevated walkways, an amazing berm building, an observatory, and more.  

Birds, reptiles, mammals, and fish are all present in good numbers.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Food, Brexit, and a New Giving Formula

I try to mainly write about running - the running I do, running I hope to do, things to do related to running, and any aspects of the whole running oeuvre that cross my mind. But on this hot morning, where the leaves in the trees are awash in refulgent splendor from the unimpeded rays of the sun, I think I'll write a short bit about other topics.

1) This first item is for readers in Lawrence, Kansas only (though others should take note and see if their cities offer similar programs). Lawrence has a summer program that offers all children up to age 18, regardless of need, a breakfast and lunch at different locations throughout the city. You may have heard that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Except in this case there is - if you are 18 or under. Here is a link to locations of the free meals.  You will note that on July 4 other plans will need to be made.

Please, if you know someone with kids who is struggling to make ends meet, let them know about this program. No ID. No reservations. No notice is required. Just have the kids show up and they will be fed.

2) On an unrelated note, I am really hoping that the UK remains in the EU. An EU with an elided Britain will certainly survive. But like a clod being washed away, Europe will be the less. And British citizens will face a future where travel, trade, jobs, and security may be put in jeopardy as the continent moves forward without them. As an erstwhile tourist, I have loved the ease of travel between each wonderful EU state. And, perhaps then to conclude with a self-interested note, I hope it remains a piece of the continent for that reason alone.

3) A few nights ago I woke up with the thought: there are people starving and hurting in the world and I don't do enough to assist them. OK, OK, I know. That is not really that much of a thought. We all probably think that from time to time. But the urgency of the nocturnal cogitation remained with me in the morning. So I looked at what I gave to charities of various sorts last year. I had given more that three times what I donated the previous year. That seemed good. but on closer examination, some of the donations weren't really to charities, but to non-profits like arts organizations, libraries, etc... And there is nothing wrong with donating to good causes like museums and libraries. But those organizations don't put food or medicine into people's bodies. They don't put a roof over people's heads. And they don't provide sanitary living conditions.

So, to address my concerns, I devised the following plan: for as long as I can do so, each time I purchase something that is not food, medicine, travel-related, or insurance, I will donate an amount equal to 10% of that cost to charities that work with issues of hunger, poverty, displacement of people, climate change/environment, and human rights.

My hope is that there will be a two-fold benefit to this scheme (British sense of the word, scheme). First, I will make more considered purchases, accumulate less stuff, and not contribute to the glut of crap that populates much of the space in our garages, attics, and basements. Second, any purchases I do make will obviously benefit charities and organizations working to solve the most pressing (in my reckoning) issues facing humanity today.

I still plan to give to arts organization and libraries. But I want to see how much more I can give if I really think about it and incorporate this formula into my purchases.

Next time I hope to write more about running.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My Current Favorite Podcasts - You'll Love Them!!!

In life, things change. What can I say? Last year I listed a bunch of podcasts that I listen to when I run, drive, or simply want to turn off the computer and spend time interacting with the world through sound waves rather than the visible spectrum of light. Currently, there are 4-5 podcasts that I listen to and never miss an episode. There are others that are less important to me, but still enjoyable. Since my last podcast post, my favorites have evolved. Many of the those to which I used to listen are no longer on my playlist. I now regularly listen to Hang Up and Listen, It's Only a Game, Waking Up With Sam Harris, The Enormocast, Henry and Heidi. The Sharp End (a podcast that would've made my favorites if there were more episodes) as well as some BBC podcasts and (the excellent) Inside Europe. But here now are the podcasts I never miss (and can't get enough of) in descending order:

Free Pizza For Life is a podcast that began with Chris Clavin, the founder of Plan-It-X records simply reading his book of the same name. Once the fantastic podcast of his flawed, touching, and oddly compelling book ended, he continued to read other stories written by friends as well as from his own journals. It's strange, I realize, to have a podcast unrelated to running topping my list, but the show is simply wonderful. I was taken with it enough to contribute through crowd-funding to another book project he was working on. Give it a listen. You will not regret it.

I don't recall how I stumbled onto the Mountain Meister podcast, but I'm glad I did. In each episode, host Ben Schenck interviews one of a wide variety of athletes, adventurers, explorers, daredevils, and outliers of humanity. His style is friendly, and his questions, while always good, sometimes verge on great, as he goes beyond the comfort zone to dig into the psyche of what drives his guests. I contribute $ to this podcast, and I look forward to each new episode.

I discovered the Dirtbag Diaries through Mountain Meister. And much like the preceding, I find that I wait with anticipation for each new episode. The Dirtbag Diaries are much more story-focused than Mountain Meister. But the oeuvre is the same. It would be hard to like one of the podcasts without liking the other. Created by Fitz Cahall, the podcast is always looking for new stories. If you have one to contribute, check out their site for information. If you just want to listen, sit back and enjoy - there is a large library of episodes from which to choose. Lose yourself listening to the life of adventure even while on an adventure of your own on the trails.

Very Bad Wizards is a podcast I've listed to for quite some time. In each episode, the hosts, Tamler Sommers, a philosopher, and David Pizarro, a psychologist have a conversation about a topic of great importance or of no importance. It almost doesn't matter. The conversations, and the guests they bring in to join them in discourse, are thoroughly enjoyable. The tone of the show is so inviting that learning happens without the listener even being aware of it.

Lexicon Valley will hold your attention and get the neurons firing. The show, which I've described in previous blogs, is oddly compelling. Where do the words and phrases we use originate? Listen to Lexicon Valley and you will find out in a funny and insightful half hour.

That's all I have to recommend right now. Happy Running. Later gator!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Heartland 50K

Muddy, yet beautiful Heartland 50 (photo by Mike Miley)

I lay in bed listening to the rain at the Holiday Inn Express in El Dorado, KS the night before the Heartland 50K and 50 Mile races. I wasn't too concerned, because I knew the forecast for the next day called for cloudy and cool conditions with less than a 10% chance of precipitation. What did not occur to me as I dozed was that the roads of the great race would (in places) turn into a sticky mass of slop.

The race began just before sunrise in Cassoday, KS - a blink-and-you-miss-it little burg just off the interstate between Emporia and El Dorado. The town's recreation building has been the nerve center of the Heartland 100 races for years. The Heartland 50s - a variation on that theme - were served just as well by the town and building. 

We raced about a 1/2 mile down an asphalt road and then turned onto dirt and gravel - which would be the running surface for the next 30 miles or 49 miles depending on which of the two races a runner had entered. I was doing the 50K along with my buddy, Paul, who I had paced on the course for 36 miles during his Heartland 100 run a couple of years ago (you can find a report on that experience in my 2014 blog posts). We thought we'd bookend the month of April with a couple of short ultra runs - the slightly-longer-than-a-marathon Rockin' K on April 2, and the Heartland 50K on April 30. 

Anyway, our pace over the first 9 miles was about a minute and a half faster than I'd planned to run. I felt good. We hit the first manned aid station and ate a bit more than we should've. We didn't linger, but we weren't setting any speed records in getting through an aid station efficiently. Paul and I had discussed simply running the race without worrying about time, and eating our heads off at the aid stations. Ultimately, that wasn't the 'plan', but we didn't skimp on the chow.

About a mile past the first station, we started to encounter mud - real mud. It was slippery, but it also clung to our shoes like grim death. Our soles became like lead weights as they collected mud, grass and rocks. To make matters worse, there was really nowhere to wipe or scrape off the slop. At one point Paul, running behind me, mentioned that it looked like I was wearing snow shoes made of mud.

The gooey roads continued for a few miles. We trudged up hills and ran down the other side, flinging pebbles forward and back ,as centrifugal force detached them from the soles of our shoes. We crossed 13.1 mi (a half marathon) in 2:28 exactly. We, and a woman we were running with at the time, commented how that seemed pretty fast considering that we were running through mud. It wasn't a speed record, but we were heartened by the time.

Paul and I hit our turnaround aid station a few tenths past 16 miles. We again chowed down - on Pringles, orange and banana slices, and some homemade protein carb ball things that tasted fantastic. We walked out of the aid station and put on 13 gallon kitchen trash bags into which we had cut head and arm holes. This might seem a little ridiculous, but it was cold, misty, and seriously windy. The bags served as ultralight impermeable windbreakers. I didn't take mine off for the next 15 miles - no matter how stupid it looked. 

As I mentioned, the wind was sustained at 18-20 mph in our faces the duration of the return trip. Initially it was really irritating. But Paul and I were able to have shouted conversation as we ran along. I had brought a couple of flexi flasks of pickle juice - a home remedy to stave off cramping. I drank one of them at mile 17 - I would drink half of the other at mile 23 and again at mile 29. The juice didn't taste too swell since it was at body temperature (warm). But I had it in my mind that I didn't want to cramp, and this would help. So I powered it down each time. 

Around mile 19, Paul started having elevated issues with a troublesome heel. We walked up a hill (and even tried running) for a bit. It seemed, after a time, that it calmed back down and he had it under control. At mile 20, we were running along slowly. There were a couple of runners in front of us that we could see, and a runner behind us way in the distance. For some reason I felt great. And not just like a second wind. It was odd, suddenly I had a ton of energy and felt kind of ecstatic. I took off after the runners ahead of us and exchanged some pleasantries as I went by. For a moment I thought about running with them (they were moving at a good rate), but I simply felt too strong. We were in the middle of the super muddy miles, but I was experiencing no difficulty running up and down the hills. 

I approached the last manned aid station with bottles in hand. I asked for water in one and sports drink in the other. I grabbed 2 Hammer Nutrition gels and a handful of Pringles, and was out of the aid station in under 30 seconds. I didn't want to squander the good feeling. I ran out of the station and into a beautiful valley that looked like something out of an old western. A herd of cattle was freely grazing on either side of me, but I was more concerned with a large mammal in the middle of the road directly in front of me. From where I was, I couldn't quite tell if it was a cow, a bull, or a steer. I clapped and yelled as I got closer and closer, but the animal remained in the road staring me down. About 30 feet away, I stopped and assessed my situation. There was no runner I could see in front or behind me. No house or car. It was literally me and the cow/bull/steer. I made a move toward it kind of suddenly, and the animal finally started to move off the road, staring at me the whole time. A few more sudden movements by me, and it stood just at the side of the gravel. I took that as a sign and started to run. It popped off the gravel, but then turned. The other cows in the herd near it all stared trotting toward the road. I yelled "NOOO!!!" and they slowed down. The incident happened at the base of one of the steepest and longest hills on the route. I made it up the incline possibly at a faster pace than I had coming down it several hours earlier. 

The last few miles were time to make up for some of the muddy trudging on the way out. While I didn't negative split the race, I was able to negative split the second half - that is, I ran the last quarter at a faster speed than I had run the third quarter. It felt great to finish strong.

Later, when the race was over and I was sitting in the recreation center talking to the 2nd - 4th place finishers (I think I was 5th). I mentioned the cow incident. All three of them said - "was it a black cow?" I said that it was. Each of them had had the same encounter with the animal. It was so strange and out of character for a cow to do what this animal had done. A couple of the finishers after me also reported the same occurrence with the rogue cow. 

As I ate a couple of veggie burgers and downed a Modelo, we compared Garmin-tracked distances for the race. We all had the 50k between 32.3 and 32.7 miles. It is always better to have a race be a little longer than advertised than shorter.

The Rockin' K and the Heartland 50 races really made April a special month. I have no other races planned for 2016. I hope to repeat both races next year.