The shoes that didn’t work

img_3448When I put on my shoes to go pace my friend at the Superior 100 trail race, I noticed something a bit more “air conditioned” about them. After 275 miles of hard trail work they had developed some blow-out holes on the upper. Those 13 miles at Superior were the final journey for those old Brooks Cascadias, but thankfully I had recently returned from TC Running company with something new.

Although the Brooks Cascadias have worked for me, I wanted to branch out. I was disappointed in their traction on wet surfaces, and they’re a bit of a bulkier/heavier shoe. After about 45 minutes of sampling different shoes I settled on the New Balance Hierro v3. They felt really comfortable running around the store, and I loved the bootie like construction that acts like you always have a gaiter. My wife has these shoes and they work well for her, so I took the plunge.

I took them out for a short 3 miler last week and things seemed OK, but I was immediately struck with how HOT the shoes are. The rubberized upper means that the shoe holds in a lot of heat, which I see as a benefit in the winter, but during the summer it was very noticeable. I decided to give them another shot with a 14 mile run this past weekend on my regular Elm Creek horse trail loop. This is where things took a turn for the worse.

img_3351On my first 7 mile loop I started to notice how much my foot was sliding off the footbed. I had heard that this could happen with this shoe from time to time, but my wife found it to not be a big deal (she has wider feet that are more snug in the shoe). However, I was finding myself feeling like I was sliding around a lot, despite being the proper size for my foot. Every downhill or piece of slanted trail gave me the sensation that my foot was leaving the shoe and entirely sliding off the footbed. I felt the edge of the midsole on multiple occasions, and I knew this wasn’t going to work for me. I adjusted the lacing three different times in that first loop, which helped somewhat, but not enough to get rid of the sliding sensation.

A little bit in to my second loop I started to really notice that something wasn’t right. I’m not sure if the unsteady feel of the shoes was causing me to tense my foot, but about 2 miles in to my second loop I was starting to feel a great deal of pain. When I finished the loop and arrived back at my car I was in tremendous discomfort, specifically along the outside-bottom of my right foot. I crawled in to the car and let my wife drive me home. I took off the shoe and immediately felt some relief, although not as much as I hoped for.

Once I was home and cleaned up, I took some pain killers, and laid down to get pressure off my foot. The pain had become very intense and I didn’t want to put any more weight on it than I had to. After an hour or so of lying around things seemed to settle down, and I was able to move more normally. I still felt like I had a large lump under my skin on that portion of my foot, but the pain had ebbed enough to get on with my day.

I was scheduled to sweep the O’Brien 10 Mile Trail Race on Sunday morning, and I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to do much more than stand at the finish line in my condition. I messaged the RD, and he said to show up and we’ll play it by ear, depending on how my foot was feeling. I went to bed that night feeling OK, and by morning things had seemed to return to about 85% of normal. I headed to the race, this time wearing my regular road shoes, and decided to give sweeping a go.

Myself, and two other sweepers (John and Rick) headed out and I was immediately convinced that the issue had been the New Balance shoes. I was able to power hike, and occasionally jog, the entirety of the 10 mile course with none of the discomfort I had experienced just the day before. After three hours on my feet I wasn’t any worse for wear than I would expect after 6 hours of total trail movement over two days. I’m still a bit stiff and sore today, but the acute issue is no more.

I’m not totally sure what the issue with these shoes are, but it’s obvious that they don’t work for me. Last night I went online and ordered some Cascadias and Peregrines, in models that I know both work for me. I’m sad that the New Balance experiment didn’t work, but when push comes to shove, I need my feet to feel good. Hours and hours of trail time requires feet that are functional, and despite all the other cool features of the Hierro, I can’t risk doing damage to myself.

That’s my shoe story for today. I know that the Hierro’s work great for other people, so perhaps this whole blog entry is a long-winded For Sale advertisement for a pair of 9.5 mens NB Hierro’s. However, for myself, it’s back to things that I know are tried and true.

 

Fall Superior Trail Races 2018

Coming back to reality after a big trail race is a struggle. My social media feeds are filled with people talking about their post-Superior hangover. As I sit here typing this, I too am feeling sad, longing to be back among the hills, woods, and trail family that I adore. I’ve long since learned that when I return from weekends such as this, I need to take Monday off of work, if at all possible. This year I also went down to the truck unloading party at the race director’s house on Monday for a couple of hours, and that also helped to ease the transition.

It seems that every year at Superior is special, but this year was different for me. As usual I was captaining the aid station at County Road 6. This is a job that I enjoy, and am good at, so I love coming back to do it year after year. I’ve also ended up finding myself on the photography and social media team, therefore much of my free time was spent taking photos up and down the race course. What made this year different for me was what happened on Saturday.

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Mike getting advice from Jim

This year I had the honor of being able to pace my friend and trail mentor, Mike B. to his first 100 mile finish. I offered to pick him up at mile 90 (of 103) and pace him into the end. I’ve paced this exact same stretch before with another runner, and it’s an area of the course that I know well and love. Based on how I’ve been performing this year I probably could have paced even more, but it’s always good to be conservative when your weekend schedule is already packed, and you don’t want to get dropped by a runner with a second wind at mile 95.

I got a chance to see Mike the day prior at County Road 6 and he was looking well. The section before my aid station is one that is frustrating for many people. It’s a long 9 mile section that ends with a beautiful view of the aid station from on top of a ridge line. The problem is that the aid station is still a good mile and a half away, down a rocky descent. Many people come in to my station feeling frustrated and annoyed. I could tell Mike was a little bit of both (though not too bad).

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That beautiful blue

County Road 6 is also the station that sends you off into the long night. Almost everyone, except for the leaders, has to bring a headlamp with them when leaving my station. Once you pass through us, you know that you’re entering into the darkest stretch of the race. It’s also the spot where pacers can first be picked up (after 6pm), and so we sent Mike into the night with his first pacer Shannon.

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Radek being tended to at Sugarloaf

Eventually Friday night ended and we broke down the aid station. I managed to head back to the house for a few hours of sleep, and then drove to another aid station to see how Mike made it through the night. He arrived at Sugarloaf smiling and happy, despite being solidly behind his “A” goal pace time. He was nowhere near hitting cutoffs, so there wasn’t much to worry about. It was also here that I got to see a couple other friends who were also putting down strong performances, and were recovering from a long dark night.

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Mike and Shannon after Sugarloaf

After checking on Mike, I headed to the Sawbill aid station to work for the day until my pacing duties started. Sometimes it’s nice to be the one in charge, and other times it’s nice to just do work and let someone else deal with being in charge. At Sawbill I got to just do work, helping runners, filling water, etc.,. Soon I got a message the Mike was leaving the previous aid station so I took some time to get myself ready and waited. He arrived right at 4pm, with his second pacer Heather, and my evening of fun began.

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Tim was ready to MOVE

Mike was in great spirits. He was moving well, eating well, and power hiking with purpose. We left with just under two hours before cutoffs at Sawbill, and 3 hours and 10 minutes to get to the final Oberg aid station. The rule in the Superior 100 is that as long as you can get out of the final aid station before the station cut-off time, you’ll get an official finish (even if you’re slightly above the 38 hour time limit). However, I didn’t need to worry. The section from Sawbill to Oberg is only 5.5 miles long, and it’s mostly flat. There’s only one big hill, and one other climb that’s noteworthy. Otherwise, you can power through it without much issue.

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Getting ready. PC: Gwen K.

We also didn’t need to worry because Mike was on fire. He kept a solid 18-19 minute hiking pace through the entire section, and any little hill we came across wasn’t even an issue. Part way through the section I asked Mike, “So how do you feel about running?” He said he felt fine, and so we decided that we would try and run through the final half mile in to the aid station. This section is flat, buffed out trail, and goes through a beautiful pine forest copse. As soon as we hit it we started picking up the pace and before we knew it we were rocking a 10 min/mile jog into the final aid station. We arrived at 5:45pm, LONG before the final Oberg cutoff at 7:10pm.

Despite being well ahead of cutoff, I was also aware of Mike’s “B” goal, which was to come in around 8pm, or slightly after, during the award ceremony. It’s an awesome time to finish the race as the finish line is packed with people, and every time a runner headlamp appears from around the building the award ceremony stops and everyone goes bananas. I did some quick math in my head and knew that if we could keep moving strong, and maybe get in a bit more running, this goal was completely attainable.

IMG_3416Mike’s crew took care of a couple of his quick needs. Due to the massive energy boost we got from the crowds, we RAN out of the aid station. Mike is chugging along the road out of the station (uphill) and I turned to him and said, “You know we don’t have to run this, we can start hiking again.” He wasn’t hearing it though and kept moving. The road into the station is only 100-150 yards, so soon we were back on real trail, which forced us to move back down to a solid hike. The energy boost coming in to Oberg was intense and we were still talking about it the next day.

The final segment of the trail is 7 miles, and it is one of the tougher parts of the course. It includes climbs up Moose Mountain and Mystery Mountain, before dumping on to the final road sprint to the finish. Some of the trail in this area is very, very technical, and so we moved as fast as possible, considering Mike in his very depleted state. However, something that kept Mike fresh was coming across other 100 milers on the trail. He seemed to feed off of their energy, and as we approached each one he got a burst of speed. In this final 13 miles I think we passed over a dozen people on the trail, not counting folks that were taking longer to leave at the Oberg aid station.

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The traditional selfie on top of Moose Mountain

Finally, the long climb up Moose Mountain was upon us, and we powered up with as much determination that Mike could muster. In the end, we managed to climb faster than I did when I did the marathon a couple years ago. We arrived at the top, in pretty good shape. It was here that we took the requisite selfie over the big lake before tackling the mile long spine of the mountain. We had talked previously about this section, and decided that we would run it as much as Mike was able. We got in some solid jogging time before reaching the other side and the technical descent.

At this point in the race downhills were much, much tougher for Mike than uphill or flat. It took a little bit of work to surmount some of the large steps down the mountain, but soon we reached the valley below. Due to the perfect weather conditions there was virtually no mud anywhere on the course. This meant that the boardwalks in the valley were dry and not caked with slippery slime from hundreds of runners walking over them all day. It made for a quick passage before coming up to the switchbacks of Mystery Mountain.

By this point it was starting to get dark and somewhere on the mountain we had to turn on headlamps. Every 100 miler hopes to get in before darkness sets a second time, but I don’t think it phased us much at all. Mike was feeling great, and had managed his race well. The previous time I had paced someone on this section they came in before dark, but they also were pretty trashed and couldn’t move nearly as fast as we were going this year. These events are about being smart about your endurance.

Although we had held a conversation during much of these sections, the final pull to the finish was done quietly. The night was dark, and the air was filled with the sound of the Poplar River, and the cheers from the lodge in the distance (2 miles away). The Poplar is the final marker that denotes that you’re done. From there, it’s a quick climb up off the trail and a run down a road to the finish. We hit the start of the road and Mike started running. We were actually hitting a sub-10 min/mile pace at times and I could tell that his energy and adrenaline was spiking. I cranked my headlamp up and ran along side Mike to give him more light on the road, as this was a very unfamiliar surface for him after 36 hours. We rounded the final path to the lodge and I fell back behind to make sure Mike got a great finish line picture.

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The finish. PC: Gwen K

We crossed the finish line at 8:23:02pm… right in the middle of the award ceremony. Mike briefly sat in a chair before the overwhelming desire for the coveted Superior sweatshirt made him walk a few more steps to the tent to receive his prize. The rest of the evening is a blur of people congratulating him on his finish and stories of hardship and struggle on the trail. We stuck around to the end, and got to see other friends cross, many of them finishing their first 100. Soon though the finish line was being broken down and it was time to get Mike to bed. Though, not before a quick stop off at a local hotel bar that was still serving food so that we weren’t going to bed hungry.

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Done

The next day we began our journey back to civilization. We opt’d for a quiet breakfast at a local bakery and hitting the road sooner rather than later. A nice meal at OMC Smokehouse in Duluth capped off the adventure of the weekend. Mike had done something incredible, and I was humbled to have gotten to be a part of it. He’s been a key part of my trail running journey, and I feel like I maybe was able to pay him back, just a little bit, in this last 13 miles.

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The Superior sweatshirt

Now we’ve arrived back at reality and the cold harsh world of work and responsibilities. I’m still having some type of allergy or cold issues bugging me, most likely from depleting my immune system over the weekend. I’m anxious to get out and run more, but can’t really manage more than 3 miles right now with my head stuffed. I know that there are still more races this fall, and that I’ll be a part of many of them. But, there’s something special about Superior. People talk about how amazing Western States 100 is, or Badwater 135. Yet, much of what makes them special is the community that surrounds them. Superior is like that. It’s a community that comes together to experience the best “Minnesota mountains” we can muster.

In the end, it’s not the height of the mountains that makes for a memorable trail race. It’s not the insufferable mud, the ankle bruising roots, or toe-stubbing rocks. It’s the act of being present with those roots and rocks, surrounded by nature and those that love it as much as you do. We learn about ourselves, and how to accept ourselves in success or defeat. We learn what we’re capable of and how much we can overcome. Being a part of the Superior tribe isn’t about just finishing a race. It’s about being the best that we can be, both on and off the trail. Discovering the beauty of our world, and of humanity, one small mountain at a time.

 

Trail family reunion time

Today I head out for a long weekend on the North Shore. It’s Fall Superior 100 time, and around mid-day my friend Mike B. and I start our journey. For Mike, this is his first 100 mile race attempt, and I have the honor of pacing him for his final 13 miles of the run. For me, it’s a long working weekend doing photography, social media, captaining an aid station, and working at another, as well as chauffeuring people around to where they need to be. Despite all of this, more than anything else, this weekend is trail family reunion time.

Certain events have become the markers of the start and end of the race season here in the Minnesota. In the spring it’s the Zumbro trail race, kicking off the year in style with unpredictable weather. In the fall it all wraps up with the Fall Superior races, capping off long months of summer training as people try to achieve new goals, or simply repeat past success. It’s some of the times where we all leave behind the craziness of life, and come back together as a trail family for one big hurrah.

Fall Superior is also the kick-off to the autumn race season, which is a wonderful time of crisp air, falling leaves, and anticipation of finishing another year of great running fun. It’s a time where we gather, reminisce on what we’ve done, and look forward. We come together as a people of shared purpose, with a love of the outdoors. We do hard things because we love it, but we love being together in community even more. We’re a tribe of crazy people and no matter our differences, this is a time for us to be a people of the trail.

Quick Review: PATH Project

A friend Mike B. mentioned PATH Project shorts to me a couple of months ago when we were out for a run. He really enjoyed them, and loved the pockets, so I finally decided to pull the trigger and pick up a pair of their Sykes shorts and take them for a spin. Initially I bought the wrong size. However, when I contacted PATH, they went out of their way to make sure I got the right size in time for an upcoming trip I was doing. I can’t stress enough how awesome their customer service was for to me on this occasion.

I’ve had the shorts for about a month now and feel like I’m ready to comment on how they’ve worked for me. First, one of the unique things about PATH Project shorts is the pockets. The model I picked out is more akin to a biking jersey style, with three pockets on the back. I really like this style, as it allows you to secure valuable things, like your ID and keys, without items banging against your leg in a loose pocket. The zippered pockets feel secure and hold everything tight against my hip.

img_3338My only issue with the pockets is for regular day-to-day wear. Lacking pockets on the side of the shorts means that it’s not as comfortable and convenient for me when I’m driving to/from the trailhead. Sitting in my car with my bulky phone up against my back works, but it’s not the most comfortable. Thankfully, this is only one of the styles that PATH has, and I’m thinking the next pair I pick up will be the Graves model which has one large zippered phone pocket in the back, but also has the traditional open side pockets. Despite this, the Skyes model works great for running, and it’s been very handy for when I’m running at lunch at work. No more worrying about forgetting my waist pack.

In terms of fit, the PATH Project shorts are great. They are cut just right for running and at no point have I ever felt like they’re shifting when I’m running in them. Some other shorts I’ve worn will bunch up between the thighs when I’m running. That’s not an issue I’ve encountered with these. The leg length also works well for me, and the fit around the glutes is comfortable. Overall, I have no complaints about fit, and once I got the right size for me (large) they’ve been nothing but a joy to wear.

Although I’ve only had the shorts for a month, I’ve put them through their paces at some local parks, as well as the Porcupine Mountains. The build and material quality feels top notch, and I haven’t had any issues with any seams splitting or fabric tears. The waistband elastic seems fine, and the cinch ties are pretty standard. The zippers feel pretty solid and not flimsy, which is a nice perk. This is one area that could easily have been skimped on, but I’m glad that they didn’t. It’s hard to predict how the shorts will wear over the long term, but after 30 days, things seem good. I’ve still got shorts I’m wearing from 7 years ago, so I’m hopeful these PATH Project shorts will be able to go the same distance.

img_3335Something that I really like about PATH Projects is that their shorts do not come with a liner. I’m one of those people who hate how many running shorts come with a liner built-in. I prefer to run with running underwear that goes down my legs a bit. Many of the running shorts you find have a simple liner that doesn’t mimic a boxer brief at all. In fact they feel more like a simple hammock for your goodies, than anything that would give real support or protection. I end up avoiding shorts that have liners for this very reason.

PATH has decided to separate the liner from the short, and let you pick what you want for either. They sell liners, but if you already have your base layers that you like, then you can just go with them and not worry about it. This allows me the freedom to chose what type of underwear I want to use, and even tailor it for the type of running conditions I’m in. Colder weather? I can use something a bit thicker. Hot and muggy? Pull out something thinner with a smaller inseam. I like being able to choose.

Overall, I really like the PATH Project shorts. They’re comfortable, appear durable, and have lots of great features when it comes to pockets. They are $40-50, but if they last me for many years, I’m OK paying that price. They’re tailored to the sport that I do, and for me that’s worth paying a bit of a premium. If you’ve never tried these before, I’d encourage you to give them a shot. I think you’ll like the result.

 

Bring back Facebook Groups!

Facebook and I have a love/hate relationship. On one hand, I love the ability to interact with folks, digitally, from all over the world. I’m able to see what’s going on with friends and family, and in general it helps me stay connected. Yet, on the other hand… I hate the general newsfeed. It’s often filled with people sharing things I don’t want to engage with (such and political memes) or controversial topics that just serve to heighten my blood pressure.

One area of Facebook that I actually like a lot is Groups. Facebook groups are small communities of people who post about a shared love of a given topic. Many of the communities I’m a part of have Facebook groups, and it’s a great way to talk about items of shared interest. It’s also a wonderful way to coordinate real world events. Many of my running friends are a part of different Facebook Groups, and without them, I would never know what’s going on with running meet-ups, or other adventures. The problem is, you can’t get a nice simple interface to just your Groups posts.

A while ago, Facebook had an app dedicated to Groups. It was an decent app lacking in a bit of functionality, but I loved it since it allowed me to see what people were posting in these communities, without needing to wade through a Newsfeed. I felt like it helped me engage better with the things I wanted to use Facebook for, without having to deal with divisive arguments that permeate the Newsfeed. Facebook decided to can the app, deciding to focus more energy on the main Facebook app. Needless to say I was disappointed.

Thankfully, Facebook has recently brought back a part of that interface to the main Facebook app. There is now a button on the bottom of the main app that brings you to a Groups interface. You can scroll through a feed of all the most recent posts to your various communities, and drill down into a single community with just a click. It’s a lot closer to what I want my Facebook experience to be.

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I really wish that Facebook would continue to expand the ability to work with Groups. Google+ actually did a great job with this years and years ago, but with that platform’s transition to obsolesce, there’s a real opportunity for Facebook to lead. For now, I need to suffer through the pain of the Newsfeed, but I’m hopeful that this won’t always be the case.