Friday, April 15, 2016

2016 Zumbro Midnight 50: in a race without expectations, complete satisfaction obtained

This is not a report about suffering. Or injury. Or haste. My Zumbro was none of those things. 

My Zumbro was not a race. It was a run. A run without expectations other than to finish. 

My thoughts on pacing were low going in Zumbro. I had less than 400 miles on the legs year-to-date, and only about 700 miles season-to-date since I started running again around Halloween 2015 post-ankle sprain. I hadn't done many long runs - no trail runs over 20 miles or four-ish hours, and I did a single ~25ish mile pavement run with a friend a few weeks before the race. That run was about her, at her pace, and for me the benefit besides the company was the sheer time on the feet. Normally, I would have liked to have done a 50K trail run as prep for a 50 mile race. That didn't happen this year.

By comparison, when I started 2015's Zumbro Midnight 50, I had ~1,030 miles on the legs, my miles and number of runs/running days was much more consistent. Last year, I considered myself in the best ultrarunning shape of my life when I ran my first sub-five-hour 50K at Afton during a training run three weeks prior to Zumbro. I thought a finish between nine and 10 hours was doable last year, this year I was shooting for something between 10 and 11 hours. 

I got to Zumbro late Friday morning and helped out at the start/finish aid station and as-needed throughout the day. The temps floated around freezing, and it had been snowy, windy, and cold. I walked around camp with long underwear on under my pants and four layers on top: long sleeve top; sweater; puffy vest; puffy hooded jacket. The evening drew near, temps dropped another five or so degrees and I threw on my softshell jacket on top of my jacket - to hell with compressing the insulation, I thought. I was also thankful I had my mukluks in the trunk of my car. The inside of my old inov8 Gore-Tex-lined boots were wet with sweat and they're really too narrow promote good circulation and foot warmth. So I put on my mukluks (still stored in the car from winter) and my feet were pleased. Several others were walking around in winter boots, too. 

After the sun went down, I was glad I was not running the 100 miler. As I worked the aid station Friday night, several of the runners that came in finishing their third loops started to look haggard and broken. They were cold and exhausted, their minds - and therefore bodies - beaten by the course, wind, and temperature. I told the race director that I expected carnage from the 100 milers at about 1:30/2 AM due to the cold temps. 

The carnage started earlier than I expected. Once it was dark, three or four 100 milers walked in and immediately turned in their bibs. They could not be convinced. They could walk straight, talk coherently, and ingest food and fluids, but they refused to continue and offered up their numbers and bibs to someone, anyone, who would take them. I happened to be there.

My pre-race jitters started at about 11 PM. I paced around the dirt roads of the horse camp full of food, a warm-up of sorts. 

Once the race started, it was uneventful. With a couple exceptions, I spent less than 15 seconds in each aid station. That time was spent deciding what to eat (answer: real, (solid) hot food of quesadillas, grilled cheese, noodle soup and non-hot food of lots and lots of PB&J's), deciding what to drink (answer: soup broth; Coke; coffee; and a single ginger ale, each as necessary), and walking out of the aid station food and cup of some liquid in hand. I drank less than a bottle of water on the first loop, but wasn't concerned about dehydration due to the cold temps. 

Lap one was done in 3:20ish; I was out in less than two minutes after re-loading my pack with Clif blocks. The effort on this loop was consistent. I was constantly thinking about the small inclines throughout the course: Can you run this on the third lap, I asked myself? If the answer was "no," I wouldn't run it now. Occasionally I lead a train of runners, but mostly I ran alone. I passed numerous people as they loitered in aids. 

Lap two was significantly colder - we were getting to the heart of the morning, and the loop took four full hours, despite feeling that I was traveling at a consistent effort. I wore my hat, a buff around my neck, and gloves plus mittens for most of the entire lap. Temps hit the mid-to-high teens, I estimated, and I only occasionally felt cold in my forearms (where I had a single long sleeve covering; my core temp was never an issue).  In reality, the pace was so much slower in the first three quarters of the lap, as I started to see the light of the sun under the horizon as I ascended to the overlook after aid three. The pace started to pick up when I hit the road. It was full-on daylight now and there was just four miles between me and the final lap. By now, the necks and tops of both of my bottles had long-since frozen, and I was forced to get my fluids only at aid stations. I was not concerned about this; it just is, I told myself. You can run for a long time without fluids, and you'll make it to an aid eventually and be able to fill up. 

I came into the start/finish at around 7:20 AM. I contemplated jettisoning my frozen bottles, but decided to melt the ice and go from there. I was glad I did, as the last four miles from the road to aid four to the finish was done under a warm sun. I swapped to two dry shirts (again, one short sleeve and one long sleeve, but the long sleeve was thinner here) and turned my wet fleece skull cap inside out. I still had the mitts, but the hat and mitts were soon bundled up and permanently placed in my vest. It was still cool, just above freezing for a long time, and I rotated with my gloves on and then off, and my buff on and then off, each as temps dictated. 

I pushed hard on the that last lap, going as hard as I could, and not wanting to succumb to the distance or to any sufferfest. So I ran the flats and downs and as much of the gentle ups as I could, knowing that I needed to leave it all on the course. I passed Mark Smith and the 100 miler he was pacing as I ran down into aid two, and for the most part ran every runnable step of the race, and especially the last lap. Due to running hard, the elements of the course - I have now done 12 laps there - came quickly and without my constant gazing into the distance wondering when, for example, Carlton Peak would show up - something that I often look for when running the 50 or 100 at the Fall Superior races. I knew I had the race in the bag when I hit the road, and I pushed the pace to the pace where I was breathing hard.

I was passed by only a single person on that last lap -  the winner of the 17 mile race - and finished in 11:02:31. I had done the last lap in approximately 3:40. I took 26th. 

I was most pleased with the effort my body was able to put into the event itself. I was, from my perspective, undertrained. But I used my now-eight years of experience running ultras to run a smart, conservative race and push hard for an extended period of time (really, the last 20 miles). These things don't get easy, but they do get easier once one clears the learning curve that is running for hours and hours on end and dealing with sleep deprivation. 

Stray observations

Starting a race on a looped course in the dark and running about one-and-a-half loops before sunrise does weird things to the mind. When I hit the pine tree tunnel on the third loop between the start/finish and aid one, I realized that while I had run through the area twice before (because I remembered what the dirt looked like), I had no idea on laps one or two that I had gone through the tunnel. Headlamp-induced tunnel vision. 

My iPod gave out at the last aid station, and I didn't start it until about 10 minutes into the race. I listened to podcasts from NPR (Fresh Aid; Dinner Party Download; Radiolab; Embedded) and one decidedly not (Dan Savage), and the intellectual nature of them was a nice way to keep my brain focused on something else other than the running.  Last year, the iPod was filled with rock and thrash metal and it gave out when I hit the road on the third lap (with about four miles/one hour to go).

I have now done 12 laps of the 16.7 mile Zumbro course. 

The Ant Hill did not suck on any loop, and I did not break a toe going down it this year. 

Five of my toenails have evidence of trail running. Five do not. 

The toenail on my right big toe was not injured, a rarity for races of 50 miles or more. The toenail on my left big toe did have blister underneath it, and it may have partially separated from the bed. I pulled it off today. 

I was going to use Atra's removable rockplates in my Superior 2.0's, but decided not to about an hour before the run started. Nothing new on race day, I thought. I'm glad I didn't. The course is not rocky, save the Ant Hill, and the plates, however thin (<1mm) take up valuable vertical space in the shoe. 

I ate a lot of cheese during the run via quesadillas and grilled cheese. I don't think I've ever eaten dairy during a race (maybe once on a hamburger?) prior to this. 

My stomach was mostly solid, save one time coming into aid 3 on loop 2. I had been putting lots of acidic things into it - Clif Blocks, mostly, plus Coke and the jelly on PB&Js - and needed to eat something that wasn't acidic. Ended up grabbing some M&M's and a quesadilla and walking out. 

Bacon, eggs, and sausage at the finish line hot off the stove was the most amazing immediate post-race meal I've ever had. Kuddos. 

  • thin fleece skull cap -> put in pack during loop 3
  • RSR buff (x2 or x3?) (used one as neck gaiter loops 1 and 2; used dry one as primary headgear loop 3)
  • Patagonia Capilene 1 short-sleeve shirt (loops 1 and 2)
  • Patagonia Capilene 2 Quarter zip long sleeve short (loops 1 and 2)
  • Patagonia Forerunner short-sleeve shirt (loop 3)
  • Patagonia Capilene 1 long sleeve shirt (loop 3)
  • Patagonia Houdini windshirt (in pack not used, but glad I had it)
  • Timex Ironman watch
  • iPod shuffle
  • Craft winter running boxer briefs /w strategically placed windproof panels from TCRC 
  • Patagonia running tights
  • Fitsox Isowool Trail Cuff socks x3 (wore one pair throughout; had two more in drop bag)
  • Altra Superior 2.0 (2016 model)
  • Back Diamond lightweight fleece gloves
  • Scott winter running mitts, size L/XL (for over gloves)
  • Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 vest /w UD bottles
  • ~8 sleeves of Clif Blocks
  • Tic Tac container /w Endurolytes (only had one)
  • Black Diamond Spot headlamp (original model) /w extra (4x) AAA batteries
  • Body Glide
  • In drop bag at start/finish and not used (and not already mentioned above): Altra The One's; Montbell synthetic insulated hooded jacket; Patagonia Strider Pro running shorts; Patagonia Capilene 1 stretch long sleeve. 

Matthew D. Lutz

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2016 Plans

My tentative race plans will be:
  • Zumbro Midnight 50, April 8, 2016
  • Spring Superior 50K
  • Kettle 100
  • Fall Superior 50
Context is important. My little guy will be a big brother some time in late July. This means running will be effectively shut down once kiddo no. 2 shows up. A couple notes on each race and my plains for them.

Zumbro is there for the overnight training, and the potential to run in adverse conditions. I've raced there twice (2012 and 2015) and dodged the 2013 and 2014 years of nasty weather. We'll see what the weather brings in 2016. 

I also ran this race poorly early on and got hurt half way through last year. This year, the run will be smart and even. I have score to settle with the course, if you will. With ideal conditions and smart running, I think sub-ten hours is doable.

1/31/16 EDIT: I will also be running be running that New Prague Half-Marathon (I know! A race shorter than 50K.) on May 7. It's part of the Kettle-specific training to run fast on dense terrain (asphalt), see below.

Spring Superior 50K, if the lottery gods favor me, will be a final training run for Kettle. I have a long-term goal of running this (and Afton, for that matter) sub-five-hours, but again this race needs to be run smooth and even. My PR here is a 5:19 or so, and I am confident I can best that. EDIT: 1/31/16: The lottery smile upon me, and I will be running this race. 

I have a score to settle with the Kettle 100 as well. This will be my "A" race this year, and I need it to qualify for another round of the lottery for Western States (for the 2017 race). I'm going to train as specifically for this as I can, identifying two portions of the course that kicked my butt last years: the heat; and the hard-and-flat first section that you go over four times. I'll do what heat training that I can, and do some quality workouts on the road to best simulate the conditions of that concrete-stiff surface. The grass running and dirt sections can be trained at Afton and Lebanon, and the single track can be trained at Afton and on the SHT. Goals: 1) Finish; 1.5) Finish with consistent effort and nothing left in the tank; 2) Sub-24; 3) sub-22; 3) Sub-Matt Patten's 2009 6th place 19:35:16. 

Fall Superior 50 miler will be run with whatever is left in the tank. I don't expect a good time, but I do expect a finish. I'm running this and not the 100 because the new kiddo is more important, and if I'm going to run a 100 miler - particularly this one - I need to put everything I have into it. And I can't run do that with a newborn taking priority over everything: sleep, training, etc. Running the 50 also means that my time away from the new one and my wife will be ~30 hours (Friday afternoon to late Saturday evening at the least) instead of something close to double that (Thursday afternoon to Sunday AM). This race will be run on my residual remaining fitness from earlier in the year, and so I don't expect something hard or fast, just a finish please. 

What comes after this 50 miler will likely depend on whether I finished Kettle. If not, I may need to look to Western States qualifiers in October and November. I'd rather avoid that, but I also don't want to miss a year of qualifying. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Altra Superiors 2.0, 2016 model year - initial impressions and comparison

Apparently I missed that Altra was tweaking the Superior 2.0 for model year 2016 to fix the exact problem that plagued both of my original 2.0 pairs. 

Here's the update, per 
  • Altra has made an incremental upper update with height added to the toe box as well as a lengthening of the men's shoes by about a half size. The midfoot and forefoot uppers receive some internal reinforcement to lessen mesh blowouts.
The new versions, model 2.1(?) it could be called, hit my local running store today and I tried on a pair. Photo comparison below. Old are black/green, new is green/blue. 

My 2.0's are size 8.5, my 2.1's are 8.0. The new 8.5's were simply too long and my foot badly slid forward. The width at the balls of my feet was a little tight, but it's very similar to my New Balance MT10v3's that I now run in and have in their prior iterations. I imagine this will relax a bit as I run in them. 

The toe box is indeed slightly higher. This was an issue in version 2.0 with the reinforced toe protector on the upper pushing down and putting pressure on the toenails. 

The upper is indeed reinforced. The upper is stiffer throughout, but particularly in the forefoot. There is a large grid-like middle layer (shown in a pale blue in the upper, most noticeable around the heel) to the main parts of the upper, in what appears to be a three-layer construction. The padding around the heel appears to have lessened, something that was annoying and unnecessary in the 2.0s - it made it harder to tighten the shoe down to get a solid heel lock. 

The lacing is also different, as you can see the 2.0's have six eyelets, all in line with the tongue, where as the 2.1's have five eyelets adjacent to the tongue and one angled down and away (that one you never ever use but is useful when you need to lock your heel down). The laces are too short to effectively use the sixth eyelet on the 2.1's, so if you need those plan on getting some different laces. 

The shape of the heel appears to be narrower, and I am pleased on first impression of my ability to lock my heel in. 

The outsoles are the same, and appears to be the same material. If so, this shoe will be great on everything but hard, even ground and wet rocks. 

More later after I've put in some quality runs with them. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Confident training week

"Don't get cocky, kid."

---Han, to Luke, Episode IV: A New Hope

'scuse the reference, but Star Wars is on the brain. I spent part of Saturday afternoon taking in Episode VII and was extremely satisfied. I'll see it again, if only to look for more, for lack of a better term, Easter eggs, that I didn't pick up on second viewing. 

I ran a solid 60 miles over eight runs this week and had a good long run at an actual 25 percent of total mileage for the week. The runs were generally slow(er) than normal, as they tend to be in the winter's cold and darkness (floating from 8:30 to 9:00 min/mi, or slower, vs my usual 8:15 +/- 15-or-so seconds. 

Other good parts about this week's mileage. It occurred during a holiday week and I avoided the usual gluttony (I did eat (more?) than my fare share of cookies, etc. I was well rested, for the most part, and the body was not sore at any point. I was tired at the end of the days, but that is usual. Getting up at 5 AM tends to beget going to bed, or wanting to go to bed, around 9 PM. Two more weeks of this volume and then I jump into doing some faster quality workouts, instead of just a long run with strides on my easy days. I just can't get cocky and need to trust in the plan.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Altra, you're fired

I fired the Altra Superior 2.0 as my trail shoe last week. 

And until they get their problems with the upper's durability fixed, I'm not going back. 

This was my second pair of Superior 2.0's. The first pair failed two weeks before Superior 100 at my 30K birthday run. Both shoes were torn on the inside and outside next to the balls of my feet. The fabric when shredded looked like a flimsy woven tarp with its crinkled threads. No biggy, I thought. Those shoes ended with just under 220 miles on them. They'd had a good go, but the outsole was still in wonderful condition. But for the tears, they had lots of good life still in them. 

I was frustrated and wanted to look elsewhere, but the proximity to Superior 100 and minimal miles between that Saturday and the race in 13 days meant I couldn't adequately ensure that a never-before-raced-in shoe would cut it. Cardinal Rule #1: nothing new on race day. And so I dutifully got a second pair, this time a half-size smaller (to my usual 8.5) with the thought it would minimize side-to-side movement in the toe box and eliminate one potential for lateral stress on the fabric. 

The shoes performed admirably at Superior 100 - no (new) blackened toenails and the soles looked great considering how rugged that course is and how much I walked. But there was a similar hole on the inside of my left shoe, just behind the ball - right in the same spot. It looked like there is stiff backing to the upper just behind where the hold was, like the stiffness is contributing to the tearing of the softer, more pliable fabric that comprises that portion of the toebox. 

I wore pair number two one more time, at the Afton Fat-Ass race last week, and only because we were instructed to wear clothing that could sacrificed to the deer-trail god of the single track. I did as instructed, and made the hole bigger. The shoes were retired with 143 miles on them, ~103 of which was Superior 100 and eight were from the Afton FatAss.

I'm not the first person who has complained about durability that I'm aware of; those that I run with have anecdotes, either of themselves or personally, from these issues. The durability is a major issue, as a failure in-race could mean a DNF for lack of footwear. Runners have been forced to drop because of a shoe failure, and I don't want it to happen to me. 

I'm not broken up about this right now either. The Superior 2.0 had some other non-major issues, mostly related to fit, and so I'm OK looking for something better. The padding around the heel and ankle was the biggest issue, as it was cushy and made it difficult, if not impossible, to really get a good lock on the heel. Ginger Runner had a great review of the shoe, and I agree with his praise and criticisms. Hopefully these issues get fixed if and when they issue version 3.0. 

It's also the off season, and so I'll have plenty of time to test another trail shoe or three in time for the 2016 season. I also usually do plenty of running in dedicated trail shoes in the winter because of the snow conditions here in MN. The City may plow the paved public trail behind my house, but it doesn't - and can't - get everything. 

What will I look for in a new pair of trail kicks? Lots of the same stuff that I did when I first went searching after New Balance discontinued the 1010's.

What that is, I'm not sure right now.