HOA #marathon in @skorarunning Base #ketogenic race report

I ran the Heart of America Marathon on Labor Day in Columbia, MO. The HOA is considered “one of the most difficult nonmountain marathon courses in the nation,” going from downtown Columbia down to the Missouri River and back up. I placed 3rd in my age group and ran the course almost 3 minutes faster than last year. The field had a ton of talent up at the top – despite running faster I came in 23rd – I was 11th last year! Sometimes, whether or not you pick up any hardware depends on who else shows up – even if you have a great day. I ran a 3:19:51.8 – a 7:37 pace. Lucky for me, only two faster guys my age showed up, so I got this:

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I wore the Skora Base shoe. I put over 100 miles on this shoe pre-race and was very comfortable with it going in. I’m really happy with how it functioned during the race. I used an Iniji toe sock which kept me from having any blistering or rubbing between the toes. The Base held up great on what is primarily a pavement course. There is a three-mile section of gravel just before midway – although this is actually my favorite surface to run on in the Base. I love how this shoe just disappears – if I’m not thinking about my shoes during a marathon, that’s ideal. You need something on this course with the gravel section and a significantly long newly paved section that is rough, not smooth (I’m sure there is a highway construction term for this). Some guy ran it barefoot last year, but I didn’t hear about anyone trying this year. You would have to go in the ditch on that new section – nobody’s callouses could hold up to it. The Base was just enough without being too much.

Here’s a shot of the shoes at the finish line:

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This was my first race on the ketogenic diet. I switched over on 8/15, so I may not even be fully keto-adapted. I cut out fiber the day before, eating primarily fat with some protein. Unfortunately, I either went to bed too soon after eating the night before the race, or had some food poisoning. I woke up just over an hour before my alarm was going to go off, and seriously thought I was not going to be able to toe the starting line. Either way, I don’t believe this had anything to do with my dietary switch. I haven’t had any such issues before long runs. Fortunately, when the alarm went off at 4:45, I felt better, so I decided to give it a go. I had two cups of coffee with heavy whipping cream for a bit of fat. I was slightly concerned that I might be low on potassium after eating zero veggies the day before, so I added a 1/4 tsp of No Salt (potassium chloride) to my second cup of coffee. It was one of those spur of the moment decisions. I need to research this more to see how long potassium stays in the system. Too much or too little can be dangerous, so don’t try this at home. I liberally salted food the day before, so no worries on the sodium front – I also had a 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds the day before for some magnesium. I drank about a liter of water – half when I got up, the other half right before the gun. I ran the whole race on nothing but water. No Gatorade, no gels, etc. Just the fat in my body. The proof is in the pudding – I was a little distracted after the race – lots of friends and family around – but I checked my ketone levels 40 minutes after I stopped running, and they were 5.4 mmol. Definitely “in the zone” and then some, without getting too high.

So, on to the race itself. My plan was to go out at a 3:10 pace and see what developed. I didn’t have any trouble whatsoever keeping that up on the first half of the course, easily hitting my target pace of 7:14 with the exception of mile 2 (a 7:25 thanks to the Providence hill) and mile 8 (a 7:53 on a tough uphill stretch on Old Plank road). I cruised down through the gravel stretch to mile 12.5, an aid station just before Easley Hill. At this point I was on target, but knowing a negative split was unlikely. I jokingly asked the high school kids manning the aid station at Easley if it was all downhill from there, and they corrected me with some horror before I let them know I was joking. I got a good laugh out of them. Easley Hill, just ahead, is the worst of the hills – there is a stretch of about 1/3 mile that is over an 11% grade. Beat that, Heartbreak Hill!

My HOA “mentor” – the amazing Tom May (just a few years my senior, he ran a personal course PR just over 3:01 this year) advises running Easley Hill until you reach the guard rail and your heart rate redlines, then walk briskly while your HR goes down until you can start running again. I did this, and looked back to see some runners catching up to me as I walked. However, when I hit the top and started running again, after a few minutes I had opened up a sizeable gap on everyone who gassed themselves running the 11% grade. Thanks Tom!

Once you top Easley Hill, there’s a feeling that the worst is over – for a while. I had several great miles in this middle section – buoyed my awesome race-chasing cheering section! I was overtaken by one guy I never saw again, and also passed back and forth with the women’s winner and another guy through Rock Bridge State Park.

Mile 20 is completed at the top of another big hill – I again alternated some brisk walking and running near the top of this one, and was rewarded with overtaking another runner shortly after. I never felt a “bonk” per se thanks to the fat-burning – and my next couple miles were back down in the sevens. However, this course has one last trick up its sleeve – the long uphill on Providence to Faurot Field ending at the 24 mile mark. I slowed a bit on this hill and took a quick walk break – my third – about 10 seconds – to get my pulse back. I was the passer and passee on this tough final stretch. There were only a few people in view at this point in the race, but there is nothing that motivates you to keep moving like hearing footsteps. Again, no bonk, although I did notice some generalized tightness developing in my leg muscles in mile 25. Thankfully, no calf cramps, as I have occasionally experienced in the final 6 miles. I managed to kick it back up to target pace for the final 0.6 as I came onto Broadway. I love how you can see the finishing chute from a fairly long way off at HOA. Simon Rose – a local media personality – was announcing finishers. I played soccer against him when I was in law school – I should say football though as he’s from Manchester! The crowd was really loud and enthusiastic at the finish – what a great reward, topped off by having my immediate and extended family there for hugs and photos. I also reconnected with Tom May and Andy Emerson, another local runner (tops in my age group – I believe he had run Leadville 2 weeks prior!).

The sense of community at this race is capped off by the pizza party and awards ceremony at Shakespeare’s after the race. I abstained from the carbs – barely…

HOA – I’ll be back!

“Dress Rehearsal” for #HOA in @skorarunning Base; #ketogenic testing; #BostonMarathon

I had a great “dress rehearsal” run in my Skora Bases this morning (brain cramp – just bought my wife the Cores). I did 7 miles with Jeremy and John, 2 at race pace. Pre-dawn makes for some interesting proprioception training! I am ready to roll for the Heart of America Marathon in Columbia, MO, Labor Day.

My ketogenic experiment is going well. I seem to feel a bit sluggish starting out on runs, but once I get going, I am not having any problems. I am experiencing a little more thirst than usual upon waking. The 2 week mark is today, and I am going to test my fasting ketone levels tomorrow morning. I am going to be encouraged if I break 0.5. That is the threshold for nutritional ketosis.

Boston Marathon registration procedures were announced today. The big news is that the field will be significantly expanded, as expected. I hope this means that the secret unpublished qualifying standard (allegedly roughly 1:30 faster than BQ last year) won’t move all that much as a function of both increased supply and increased demand. I hope I will be ok – I’m 3:57 faster than the standard.

@skoraRunning BASE Shoe Review

Since receiving the SKORA BASE to try out (gratis – thanks!/objectivity disclaimer) just under a month ago I’ve run in them 8 times and put about 90 miles on them. It’s an instant favorite – so much so that I’m considering running my 5th marathon in them, my return to the Heart of America Marathon on Labor Day in Columbia, MO. Quick tangent: the HOA has some great history as the 4th oldest marathon in the country. Hal Higdon won it in 1968 just after dropping out of the Olympic Trials. Easley Hill climbs 240 feet in less than a mile. By such objective measures – including elevation change and mean temperature – it might be one of the toughest road course marathons out there.

To me, the ultimate test of a shoe is its overall function during a long run – anything 16 miles or more. Does the shoe interfere or stay out of the way? If I’m not thinking about my shoes while running, that’s ideal. If I come out of a long run (especially with some goal pace miles in it) without having to stop to adjust the shoe, without any blisters, and without unusual aches or pains in recovery, that’s my definition of a shoe that functions properly. The BASE functions the way I want a shoe to function.

Because of my current racing goals I race on pavement. If I could race 26.2 miles through a lush field of grass, I wouldn’t wear any shoes. I haven’t found a marathon yet that’s billed as fast, flat, and well-irrigated. Thus, I think every minimalist runner is looking for the ideal level of cushioning. I do run barefoot fairly often – but (mostly) not on pavement. Concrete doesn’t really occur in nature – so I think you need some cushioning. On the other hand, you don’t want so much cushioning that you’re disconnected. I think the BASE strikes that balance effectively, especially for race tempo. In a recent training long run which included both pavement and a limestone gravel trail, I think the sweet spot surface for the BASE is gravel – but given the choice who would prefer pavement to gravel? I haven’t done a true trail run but I did try them on a surface generously described as grass (non-irrigated scrub over hard-packed clay) and loved their feel on that.

Personally, I’m a function over form guy when it comes to running shoes – but I still appreciate good design and execution. The level of material quality and design in the BASE is simply outstanding. The shoe is seriously cool in a purposeful way – there is nothing extraneous. I also like how the name is only found on the heel of the shoe. Where else would anyone need to look while you’re running in them? 🙂

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My personal preference on a shoe is laces. I will say that the BASE is the best-executed version of a bootie/Velcro closure/strap upper I have come across.

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Fit is an important component in any shoe – the manufacturer has some limited control here and SKORA uses it to its advantage. A better way of putting it would be flexibility of fit. The criss-cross Velcro closures on the BASE combined with its snug but stretchy upper allow you to adjust the fit to your preference. It even has an adjustable band at the heel, although I haven’t had to futz with it since I haven’t experienced any heel slippage or tightness. The toe box is roomy enough without feeling like you’re in a cave. I really love how the BASE allows my toes to flex and spread while keeping the rest of my foot in the shoe.

As to the functionality of the BASE’s design, there are several elements I consider to be objectively superior to the design of some other minimalist shoes I’ve tried. The first is that the toe is slightly turned up. When running barefoot, no one is going to drive their toes straight into the ground – they’re slightly turned up so that the forefoot can make contact. I’ve run in some flat-footed minimalist shoes that I catch pavement heaves with – not a problem with the BASE. The BASE isn’t flat from side to side – and neither is your foot. The fancy term is that it allows for proprioception. In this context it means the shoe is letting your body do what it needs to do whilst running without interfering. If you’re thinking about it you’re not doing it – it’s unconscious.

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No one wants a shoe that’s going to fall apart in under 100 miles. I’ve had a few in my early minimalist days. The BASE is built to last. No discernible wear or construction issues at this point.

Believe it or not, I have several minimalist shoes that have zero reflective material on them. That’s just unacceptable. The BASE lights up like a Christmas tree at night.

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A good subjective test for a shoe is: given your available shoes in current rotation, do you find yourself gravitating to it? With the BASE, I do – it’s easily the best multi-purpose shoe in my closet right now. I’m as likely to put it on for a tempo run as a long run. I even wore it non-stop at Webelos Camp for 3 days where it proved to be an excellent trail hiking shoe. I know this is a purpose-built running shoe, but an added bonus is that it’s one of the most comfortable casual shoes I’ve had on my foot in recent memory.

Bottom line: if you are looking for a minimally-cushioned shoe that disappears on your foot – look no further.