Friday, December 29, 2017

Breaking Boundaries in 2017 and Goals for 2018

I have been running for about 4 ½ years now and it has truly become a defining part of my life.  Much to the annoyance of my friends and wife, I tend to talk about running way more than I probably should.  I talk about my runs, race plans, and the latest running articles or race video that I’ve seen.  When I first started running, it was a struggle to run for more than a few minutes without stopping and I was incredibly slow (in my opinion). 

I spent much of my first year injured from various overuse injuries.  I tried to progress both in mileage and speed too quickly and ended up with shin splints, IT Band Syndrome, and other various injuries.  Without these complications, I would have never started to do research on running injuries, how to prevent them, and eventually starting my own blog to help others avoid the mistakes that I made.  

I ran my first half marathon in 2014 and my first full marathon in 2015.  My goal was to complete the marathon in 4:00:00 and my training was going great until I started to have some foot pain, which resulted in a 4:13ish marathon, which was still really good considering everything I had overcome.  I trained hard in 2016 doing several half marathons and trained again to try and hit the 4 hour marathon goal, only to have calf and Achilles injuries from overuse.  I tried to train faster and longer than my training plan called for.  I ended up walking about a minute of every mile after the 14 mile mark.  While my time was not as good as I would have liked, I still was able to take lessons from that race.  I made some bold challenges for myself in 2017 after that race.

I decided that 2017 was going to be the year I became an ultra runner.  I signed up for the Salmon Falls 50k outside of Auburn, California with my running partner.  I trained quite a bit and even was able to completely overcome my Achilles and calf issues.  I went into the race strong and scared, not knowing how I would be able to handle running 31 miles on the trail.  I completed my first ultra in just under 7 hours and more importantly, I discovered how amazing the trail running community is.  I love talking with people as we hike up a steep hill and end up chatting for quite a while after that.  I have become friends with some of these people and we encourage each other in our journeys.  It is just so awesome that the trail community is so quick to encourage you, no matter if they are elite runners, or out for their first few trail runs, it is truly my second home.

I signed up for another 50k (Gold Rush 50k) and unfortunately because of the storm damage in California, the trail race was converted to a 5 mile loop on mostly paved bike paths near the American River in Sacramento.  I decided that I wanted to run the first 26.2 miles as if it were a marathon.  I started out feeling awesome and was ahead of my goal pace by over 15 seconds per mile.  I felt like it was a comfortable pace and even ran with some friends for a while (at a slower pace) just to see how they were doing and to encourage them in their first ultra attempt, which they finished.  I realized with a few miles left that I would have to pick up the pace a little if I wanted to break that 4 hour goal for the 26.2 miles.  I was definitely pushing the pace and with about a mile to go, I knew I needed to kick it up even more.  With about ½ a mile to go, I knew I would have to do a full sprint to the start/finish line (which was the 26.2 mile mark) and even then I wasn’t sure if I would hit my goal.  I ran faster than I thought I was capable of.  I pulled every ounce of energy out in that sprint and crossed the line in 4:00:00 exactly.  I finally broke the 4 hour marathon goal that I set a few years back.

After I crossed the line, I stretched and ate some food at the aid station.  I stretched some more and headed back out to finish the final 5 mile loop.  I could barely run for a good mile before my legs started to loosen up.  I eventually finished the 31ish miles in just under 5 hours and again made some awesome friends in the process.  

My friend and I then signed up for the Dirty Dozen 12-Hour Race that is put on by Brazen Racing.  They put on awesome races in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and this was no exception.  I had no idea what to expect.  It was a 3.5 mile trail loop.  Each lap you came through the finish area where you could set up your own aid station.  I had an easy up, a chair, and my bag of gear.  The course had a few port-o-potties along the course and an aid station at the start/finish line and half way through the course.  

After doing tons of research about ultra running, I fully expected to feel nauseous and possibly give back some of the food I took in (I’m all about giving back, but not in that way).  I also expected to go to the “dark place” at some point in the race.  This is typically a place where a lack of nutrition or physical fatigue take you to a bad place emotionally.  You questions if you will be able to continue. 
I started out at a conservative pace and walked the two larger hills on each lap.  I had Tailwinds and Glukos gummies to take between aid stations and consumed Coke and boiled potatoes with salt at the aid stations.  I took an MP3 player with me, but only had 9 hours of battery life, so I decided I would run the first 3-4 hours without music.  That first several hours went by so slow.  I was wondering how I would ever last for another 10 hours, but I kept just chugging along.  

My first pair of shoes (Altra Olympus 2.0) were letting in too much debris and my feet were getting irritated because of small rocks and dirt in my shoes.  I decided to make a shoe change at about mile 10.5, which was earlier than I was planning on switching shoes.  I threw on my Hoka Challenger ATR3’s which I ran both of my 50k’s in and headed back out.  I discovered that the debris got into my socks so on the next lap, I took off my socks and replaced them as well.  After that switch, I started to really get into a groove.  I would grab more nutrition at my tent, threw on some sun screen, and grabbed a handful of ice to cool me down each time I came around.  It got up to about 83, which wasn’t bad since I had been training in 90+ degree temps all summer. 

Laps started passing by and I realized that I was 1st place in my age group, which lit a spark for me.  I had never done that well in a race and I felt fresh after that.  Sometime around mile 35, I was passed and remained in 2nd place in my AG. For the remainder of the race.  I completed 55.3 miles in 12 hours.  In that time, I never got sick and never went to the “dark place” although I was ready for either and knew that I just had to keep going because it would eventually pass, according to people who are much wiser and more experienced than I am.  It is by far my favorite race and reaffirmed that we can accomplish way more than we give ourselves credit for.  Looking back on the race, I spent way too much time at my tent, so there are areas where I can improve this for future ultra races.

I had been battling with plantar fasciitis for several months before the Dirty Dozen 12-Hour Race and ended getting a cortisone shot a few weeks after the race.  I continued to train and the pain never went away completely.  It actually started to get worse again as I finished my marathon training for my last race of 2017, the California International Marathon.  I ran the race only 6 days after getting my second cortisone shot and I could barely walk on it up until 3 days before the race (because of excess fluid in my foot from the shot).  I just wanted to finish the marathon healthy and decided I wasn’t going to push too hard.  I finished around 4:28 or so.  There was a lot of walking on the second half of the race because I pulled a muscle in my big toe at mile 14, but I pushed through the pain and earned my medal. 

In 2017, I learned that it is more important to train smarter than train faster.  I over trained again in 2017, which will be rectified in my 2018 training.  I also learned that I don’t need to run fast very often to complete my goals.  Many of the most established runners out there only run a few fast runs per week (tempo, fartlek or interval runs).  I will move forward with confidence in myself and will strive to be smarter in 2018.

So now my goals for 2018…    

After I finished my first 50k last year, I really wanted to get into the Way Too Cool 50k which is one of the most sought after 50k’s in the United States and always has some awesome elite runners like Max King toeing the line.  It was a lottery and I got in, which I was thrilled about.  That is on March 3rd in Cool, California.

Even though I have run 55.3 miles in my 12-hour race, it was relatively flat.  In 2018, I want to run my first 50 mile race (American River 50 Miler) on April 7th.  You get an awesome Patagonia jacket when you finish, but I have another reason for doing this race which I will explain a little later. 

I was also hoping to get into the Miwok 100k in May, but I unfortunately didn’t get picked for the lottery.  Hopefully that will be on my 2019 race calendar because it looks like an awesome race and is a Western States 100 qualifier.

So here is the big goal for 2018…  I am going to do the Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run.  It consists of the American River 50 Mile course and the Way Too Cool 50k course, so getting to run both of those races this year will be awesome.  I will know what to expect during the 100 miler as far as terrain, even though I am familiar with running in Auburn.  I know it will be incredible hard and I will be putting my family through a lot during my long training runs.  I wake up at 3:30 on the weekends to get my long runs in and trying to put as little stress on my family as possible. 

Running 100 miles may sound stupid to some people, and honestly, it probably isn’t the smartest thing I have done.  My grandfather even asked why I would want to run 100 miles and asked if it was all about ego.  My response is that is has nothing to do with ego or wanting to be better than anybody else.  I turned 40 a few months back and I have reflected on the legacy I want to leave my kids.  I am running 100 miles for two reasons.  The first reason is that I want to see if I can do it.  It would be an incredible accomplishment and I am all about pushing the limits that I think I am capable of.  The second reason is far more important though.  I want to show my kids (twins that are almost 5 and a 7 year old) that if you work hard enough, there is nothing that out can’t do.

One of my favorite film makers is Ethan Newberry (AKA The Ginger Runner).  He makes incredible films about running and really reminds me of the old Warren Miller ski movies from when I was a kid.  He has built a large following and I encourage you to check out his films on YouTube.  He has inspired me to film my journey to run 100 miles, so I picked up a GoPro Hero 6 and some accessories.  I want my kids to see all the hard work that goes into preparing and training for a 100 mile race.  I also want them to see the ups and downs during the race.  Those times when I just want to quit and those times when I feel awesome.  I want to make a film (very armature film since my film editing skills are horrible) that my kids can watch years from now when they are trying to accomplish the improbable and know that if they put in the work that they too can accomplish way more than they think they can. 

I would love to hear some of your goal for 2018.  Are you trying to eat healthier, run a new race distance, become stronger, or more injury-free?  Whatever it is, we can all support each other in our journeys and I wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mountain King vs. Black Diamond Trekking Poles

In my last post, I discussed why you should use trekking poles.  Now I am going to review two different trekking poles.  The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z is one of the most popular trekking poles for elite ultra-runners.  I will also review the lighter Mountain King Trail Blaze poles.  In this post, I will compare the two poles and what makes them so good. 

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (and FLZ)

If you have researched trekking poles or have seen videos of the elite runners, most of them tend to use Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles.    

The Distance Carbon Z also comes in a version that you can adjust (FLZ) for an additional $20.  Other than the adjustment option and some weight differences because of that option, the poles are identical. 

The Distance Carbon Z is made with 100% carbon constriction and weighs in at a mere 9 ounces per pole (10 ounces for the 120 cm version that I tested).  That is really light, especially in comparison to aluminum poles.    The poles extend very easy and lock into place with ease thanks to Black Diamond’s Z-Pole Rapid Development System (see video demonstration below).  The cord is made with Kevlar and has a blue flexible cone shaped coating that helps guide the poles into place. 

The grip is made of a lightweight, breathable EVA foam that wicks moisture.  It’s comfortable and is molded to comfortably fit your hand.  The wrist strap that is attached to the grip is comfortable and adjustable so you can have the right fit for the size of your wrist and preference.

The Distance Carbon Z comes in three sections which folds up to 16” for my sized poles of 120 cm’s.  There are four sizes; 100 cm, 110 cm, 120 cm, and 130 cm.  The poles come with interchangeable, non-scaring rubber Tech Tips as well as carbide Tech Tips and stopper baskets that don’t detach from the poles.

Most of the reviews that I have seen online are for the Distance Carbon Z.  I tested the Distance Carbon FLZ, which is almost identical with the exception of the FlickLock®.  That basically lets you adjust your pole height a little while out are out on a run.  You might prefer to have your poles shorter on uphill climbs or longer on descents.  The Distance Carbon FLZ gives you that choice at a very small price difference.

Black Diamond made an amazing set of poles in the Distance Carbon Z and the Distance Carbon FLZ.  The Z-Pole Rapid Deployment System is awesome.  My one issue is that if you break a section of the pole, which can happen, you have to send it back to Black Diamond for repair.  I also wish they came with a carrying bag.  It does come with a Velcro strap to bundle them up, but a bag would be nice.  You can pick up a pair of either the Distance Carbon Z for $159.95 or Distance Carbon FLZ for $179.95 at the Black Diamond website.  The poles are covered under warranty for one year for any defects in materials and workmanship.  That does not include pole breakage from use though.

Decent price at $159.95/179.95
Awesome grip and wrist strap
Durable and lightweight
100% Carbon Fiber construction
Z-Pole Rapid Deployment System is awesome

Mountain King Trail Blaze

The other poles I tested were the Mountain King Trail Blaze poles.  The first thing you notice is that they are thinner than the Distance Carbon Z and a bit lighter.  In fact, they weigh in at 3.74 ounces for a 120 cm pole, which is less than a third the weight of the Distance Carbon Z.  That might not seem like much, but you are talking about an extra ¼ pound of extra weight per arm for an extended amount of time while you are running.  It can add up and I could really tell in my testing.  The Trail Blaze is simply less complex, which is why it weighs less.  Therein lies the reason why many runners like these poles.  They just work well at a really light weight.

The grip is made of an airfoam with an open mesh type of a cover.  It allowed your hand to comfortably grip the poles and also allowed them to remain dry.    The wrist strap was also very comfortable and adjustable so no complaints there. 

The Trail Blaze comes in five different lengths in 5 cm increments from 110 cm’s to 130 cm’s.  They range from 3.63 ounces to 3.84 ounces depending on the length.  Unlike the Distance Carbon Z, the Trail Blaze comes in 4 sections, not three which means that it can break down into a smaller folded footprint.  The 120 cm poles fold down to 13.78” which is over 2” shorter than the Distance Carbon Z.  It helps when trying to store them in your pack.

Similar to the Distance Carbon Z, the Trail Blaze comes with a carbide wear tip and has rubber tips that you can put over the carbide wear tips.  It also comes with a mesh bag to store your poles in when not in use (which the Distance Carbon Z do not come with).  The basket on the Trail Blaze can come off, which I typically do not run with, so I just don’t put it on. 

The Trail Blaze comes a one year warranty, which excludes breakage from use, but is great to have.  Mountain King makes their poles in the UK where they can closely control production to make sure that their methods and quality is adhered to.  Most other brands make their poles in China where manufacturing quality can be somewhat questionable. 

Durable and lightweight
You can get replacement sections of the poles.
Great price at $132 plus shipping from the UK.
Comfortable wrist strap
Easy pole deployment
4-section poles are smaller when folded

It’s hard to find a US dealer

Comparison (120 cm versions tested)

10.23 oz
12.52 oz
3.74 oz
Folded Length
More stiff
More stiff
Less stiff
100% Carbon Fiber
Adjustable Poles
$132 + Int. Ship

While I love both poles, I feel that the weight savings of the Trail Blaze is a huge benefit.  With that being said, The Black Diamond poles have their Z-Pole Rapid Deployment System, which I feel is superior.  That superior deployment comes at a cost though, which is the fact that it weighs 3 times as much as the Trail Blaze.  That is not to say that the Trail Blaze is difficult to deploy, but the Distance Carbon Z is just easier in my opinion.  Both pole deployment systems work well though and should not cause any problems once you have practiced a few times (which I strongly suggest doing before race day).

Each person will gravitate toward a specific pole based on their personal preferences.  I honestly think that you would be happy with any of the poles I talked about here.  If you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask and I will do my best to answer them. 

Note:  I received this product in exchange for a review.  The review is my personal opinion of the product and I was not required to give a particular opinion of it.  I am not a doctor, so please use all of the products that I review at your own risk.