Thursday, April 25, 2013

Yakima 50k and Montrail Fluid flex review

     I want to find out who is responsible for designing the new Montrail Fluid flex shoe because they are getting a valentine's card from me next February 14th. Brian Morrison at Fleet Feet Seattle gave me a pair of these beauties to try out and review. I take a shoe review seriously. I believe a good shoe can change over time and what was once a sweet ride can become an injury machine if it breaks down too fast. I decided to beat the Fluid Flex into the ground and find out what they were made of.
     I had been using the Montrail Rogue Fly as my training and race shoe for trails this last year. The Fly is a great shoe only it is so minimal my feet were taking a pounding. What I loved about the Fly was exactly what they transferred to the Fluid Flex. This shoe is light, 7oz for Men's 8.5 with a slipper like upper which hugs the mid foot and yet leaves enough room in the toe box for piggy spreading. What the Flex has which the Fly lacked is a layer of cushy cushy Evo foam to absorb the abuse one doles out on rough trails or hard cement.
The added cush combined with a lug pattern built to be a hybrid for trail and road, as there are lugs only on the forefoot and heel, keep the weight in check. The shoe has a 4mm drop and a flat bed which leaves the running to the runner not the shoe designer. My only gripe so far is the offset tongue which follows the curve of the foot makes for some openings in the upper along the tongue allowing debris to get in. The Ultimate test: Yakima 50k
     The Yakima 50k has some seriously gnarly trail sections. From crumbly rock to baked jeep road to sandy switchbacks this race is a killer on the feet. With the same average elevation gain and loss as Hardrock per mile (almost 10,000 ft for 50k) if you can get past your burning quads to even feel your feet at the finish you probably didn't run hard enough. Add in beautiful views of sweeping sage covered valleys backed by snowy mountains, a bodacious hit of sunshine and the perks of a James Varner Rainshadow Running event (Beer and bluegrass at the finish), and you've got a picture perfect race day.
     I van de camped at the start and awoke to find blue skies and friendly faces. I got my bib and it was number 1. I was a marked man. I was also really proud to pin numero uno on as it was validation of my past two wins at this race. I was hoping to land top three as this year the field was fast with speedsters coming in from Montana, Oregon, Utah and the Great White North.
     We hit the trail and I climbed, descended, climbed, repeat. Up, down almost never flat except one long sagey valley midway between aid stations 1&2 and 4&5. The course is an out and back. My plan was to run the first half and race the second. I rolled into the half way aid station #3 in 6th place feeling great in 2:38. I relied on only PBJ, water and S-caps. My feet felt great. I found by sipping water more often and never gulping, my stomach did not get overloaded or queazy. There was a nice breeze this year which kept the temp down and made for faster running. I started racing and slowly picked off the first two guys in front of me. By the time I got to the last (never ending) climb I passed the kid who was in third place and tried to put some distance between us but he stuck with me for a long time. I was finally able to pull away on the 9th false summit of the climb. By kid, I mean he is 17 years old and a hell of a runner.
The final plunge down the mountain is so steep and perilous it should be named either the Toebang Express or maybe The Bungee Jump. I plummeted down and almost wiped out 6.5 times. Yes I kept count. I sprinted back across the Yakima river's rickety bridge and on to the finish in 5:15:14 taking four minutes off my Course Record time of last year, running a negative split and good enough for 3rd place this year. Maxwell Ferguson destroyed the CR in 4:55 and Matt Hart captured second in 5:00:30. Smiles, handshakes, beer, pizza, cramping, laughing, watermelon, and a long drive home capped a great weekend.
     You never really know what damage you've done until you take a shower. As I washed off my toes I still had all my toenails! The combination of the Montrail Fluid Flex and Drymax socks kept my feet in great shape for such a brutal course. I had a nice round blister on my heel from the rock I refused to stop and eject but that is a combination of my dumb tenacity and the gap in the shoe tongue.
     In all I have run the Montrail Fluid Flex on roads, on soft PNW singletrack and on cruddy desert trails at race pace. My conclusion: Amazing shoe! Right now I feel I may have found my shoe for Hardrock 100. I might have to wear gators though and I think I ripped out some of the stitching while kicking rocks or rubbing up against sage brush. Still, someone at Montrail is getting a Valentine.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Coyote Backbone

      When the Race Director says to do something, you do it. When the race director is dressed in a full cow suit complete with udders, you don't question, you do. Chris, the RD for the Coyote Backbone 68 miler was very clear: Racing is bad form and you will be penalized with minutes added to your final time. Entertaining aid station volunteers, visiting interesting sites along the trail, bringing frivolity to the event will be met with minutes taken off your final time. I packed a pair of Glasses with nose and mustache in my running pack and hit the Backbone Trail at it's start in Santa Monica, California. It was Noon and hot. I was sweating like crazy before I had a chance to warm up. I watched as a few young guys took off fast up the trail, I hung for a while then fell in with Evan Hone and we chatted until I lost a piece of a pin from my pack, I stopped to search, he went on. That was the last I saw of the fast young contingent.
     Site number one on the sites not to be missed list was Eagle Rock, a big formation with Hollywoodesque views of L.A. I hopped off the trail and scrambled up to find a great view and some volunteers from the next aid station who said I was the first person from the 12 O clock starters to visit. We took pictures, had some laughs and they said I'd earned a bunch of bonus minutes (negative minutes subtracted rather than Boner minutes which are added at the race end.) By climbing Eagle rock I had managed to pass the fast young guys in front of me. This is the game of Coyote runs. It is about fun. I fell in with a group of four guys who skipped Eagle rock and we came into the first aid station together greeted by Wendy Wheeler Jacobs in a full bunny suit. She was the shepherd for the noon start group. We ate, they ran off, I stayed and made jokes then looked around and found the hidden easter egg at the aid station which netted more minus minutes. Back on the trail I caught the group, passed them and went on to the next aid station. It was still really warm for my Northwest blood and I knew I was on the cusp of trouble with an overheated stomach. I tried my best to drink enough, keep up with the electrolytes and motor on. I rolled into an aid station at mile 23ish and started feeling lethargic and like not eating, I lingered (why not) and talked to some runners I'd met at dinner the night before. I ate a bit, reloaded my waters and hit the trail at the same time as a tall guy who was in good spirits. I used his enthusiasm to pull me up the trail and soon I felt better too. His name was Jay Smithburger from Ohio. I knew his name from results. He was about my age and we soon were chatting away. The aid station at mile 32 had a Poquito Tiajuana theme and was sponsored by Patagonia and manned by my host for the weekend George Plomarity. It was great to see George and to get a quesodilla. The rest of the run turned from evening to night. Jay and I ran together both going through waves of feeling good and bad. It was like having a pacer, a trail buddy. We had an unspoken pact to stay together. Our pace seemed to fit each other and really, this wasn't a race even though we were moving at a good clip and never did get passed. By mile 52 my stomach overruled my decision to put chicken noodle soup in it. When I returned from yodeling to the bushes I decided to try a Ginger chew and a huge strawberry. They stayed down. From there it was a balancing act of night running, selective eating at aid stations and bad milage math. Eventually we squeezed through Buttcrack Rock, passed by Sandstone Peak and caught the scent of the Pacific Ocean. The last 2.5 miles of sweet single track we could see the finish line party in full swing about a quarter of a mile down the canyon only it takes 2.5 miles of switchbacks to get there. We did. Our time on the trail was around 13:35. It was 1:35 in the morning. Jay had to catch a 9 O'clock flight back to Ohio. We said our congratulations and goodbyes then I crawled into my rental car and slept for four hours before waking hungry knowing there were pancakes and Spam at the finish party.
     Coyote Cohorts are everything right with trail running. Community over competition. Fun rules the day and a sense of mischief imbues the weekend. The cast of characters who ran the race or volunteered were a list of ultra running celebrities having a blast. These are the people I want to be around. I will definitely be back for more and more and more. Thanks George for inviting me in.
     Later in the week I found out I finished 5th! 41 minutes ahead of Jay even though we hit the finish line at the same time.