If you’re going to print up t-shirts… Edmonton Marathon race report #runreal

My neighbor, John, and I  both ran the Boston Marathon this spring. He surprised me with some cool t-shirts for me and my family. Of course, I had nothing for him. Sigh. So, when we decided to take one last shot at a BQ before the window closed (with registration opening September 8th) by heading up to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for their marathon, I thought I would return the favor:

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Yep. “Kohler-Kardis International BQ Project.” If you’re going to print up t-shirts, you’d better deliver. It’s not going to make a top ten list of victory guarantees … but for comparison, here’s a few famous ones, both successful and unsuccessful.

  • “We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it.” – Joe Namath (FTW)
  • “One hundred-percent, sterling silver victory. The Lombardi Trophy” – Ryan Kalil (FAIL)
  • “We want the ball, and we’re going to score!” – Matt Hasselbeck (FAIL)
  •  “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round.” – Muhammad Ali (FTW)

So, I wore my shirt on the plane to remind myself what I was going there for. My training had been going well and I felt like I had been progressing as Coach Kyle helped me to push harder during my hard workouts. Knowing someone is looking over your shoulder at your stats after you’re done with a workout is very motivating. Also, props to John and Nelson for doing several of my hard workouts with me – it’s easier to go fast when you have someone else pushing you. It was great having the RHSW along for support (all kinds!) and photography. When we got off the plane in Edmonton and made it through customs (I declared my foodstuffs – energy gel) there were two baggage carousels in the international part of the terminal – one decorated with life-size Edmonton Oilers (NHL, duh) mannequins, the other with an Edmonton Eskimos theme (CFL, a bit more obscure – fun fact, their uniforms are pretty much the same as the Green Bay Packers).

I went for a nice shakeout run through downtown as soon as we got to our hotel, since I’d been up since 4am. Four easy miles, with occasional nice views of the Saskatchewan River. Edmonton reminded both me and the RHSW of Kansas City a bit – river town, similar population and geography. Mosquitos.

We ate at a great restaurant that evening with John & his wife, Katie. “Woodwork.” John and I have similar “tastes” and we had both picked it out independently before travelling up there after reading reviews of Edmonton restaurants. Ok, it was also RIGHT across the street from our hotel. Unfortunately, we neglected to get a shot of us walking out the front door so I could caption it “coming out of the Woodwork.” Use your imagination. Perhaps I was harboring some latent resentment for a little GI distress that I was attributing to my meal there. It happens. Signs point to whatever John and I both ate and the ladies didn’t.

The day before the race I did my carb-loading workout and started loading right after. I felt great on the run. Slight modification to the magic elixir – I purchased sucrose in Edmonton (table sugar) because I didn’t want to put dextrose in my checked bag (it’s more powdery than sucrose, if you know what I mean). I also mixed it with grape juice instead of lime juice. The result was extremely sweet. I felt pretty blah most of the day thanks to the GI distress the night before.

We did have a wonderful breakfast at De Dutch. I was almost tempted to try the Pannekoeken but stuck to my Paleo guns. There was a GF version, but sometimes that stuff bothers me almost as much as wheat. I had a nice omelette with Edam (think swiss) and DeBakon (Dutch bacon, a pork product). Then we took a bus to the West Edmonton Mall – which really gives the Mall of the America a run for its money – if not surpassing it.

Here’s a description from their website:

The Mall’s stores, attractions, and services combine to form the most comprehensive retail, hospitality and entertainment complex on Earth. … West Edmonton Mall’s concept is inspired by the traditional urban bazaars of Persia, where shopping and entertainment were plentiful and operated in tandem, fulfilling a variety of consumer needs all in one place.

Man, I wish I could write copy like that.

A quick snapshot for comparison:

Stores:

  • WEM 800
  • MOA 400

Attractions (all indoor, of course):

  • WEM (amusement park “world’s largest”; water park with wave pool “world’s largest”; bowling; aquarium with amphitheater for sea-lion and penguin performances; full size hockey ice rink (duh, Canada); two 18 hole miniature golf courses; life-size replica of the Santa Maria)
  • MOA (nickelodeon-themed amusement park; aquarium; American Girl; Lego store; flight simulator; miniature golf; mirror maze; Barbie Dreamhouse; Star Trek and Beatles exhibits)

You be the judge. So of course, with all that set out before us, all we actually went there for was the Roots store. Seriously. The only store we walked into. Mission accomplished. From WEM, we decided to check out the “Fringe Festival,” billed as “an 11-day event … showcasing a variety of independent theatre performances from more than 1,200 local, national and international artists.” It was a bit underwhelming. I did see some jugglers, and we didn’t stay long enough for our bus transfer to expire, so there was that.

I was still a bit green and watched everyone else eat dinner. After we got back to the hotel I got my courage up and headed downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant for an omelette and some ice cream. I tolerated it. Our friendly British (!) waiter chatted us up about my race. Like several other people we had talked to around town, when I told them I was in town for the marathon, they all assumed I was in town for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, since teams had started to arrive for that. Apparently several were staying at our hotel – there were posters. It’s a good thing I wasn’t full of hubris. “No, I’m just doing the marathon.” I’ve never been a “just a half” or “just a 5K” guy, and it’s a good thing because I would have been put in my place several times! There are people who excel at some distance or event but not others.

On race morning I awoke feeling MUCH better. Whew. Do I look relieved? New blue/silver Skora FITs are ready to roll!

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The race setup was really convenient. Huge conference center right at the start/finish line, so I ditched my sweats and we waited inside before the start. Here’s John and I right before we headed out:

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At the start line, they asked us to raise our hands if there was anyone from outside of Canada. That’s us! (and 10 more from the US – mostly Texas, for some reason)

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Then they asked, is there anybody that came farther than Bangalore, Indonesia?

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Nope, can’t top that.

 

This was my first race where “O, Canada” was played before the start:

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That lady is not honoring Canada like I am.

 

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Do I look nervous?

 

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And we’re off! Perfect conditions for most of the race. Temp at start was 52F and was supposed to drop before heading up. Nice and cool, overcast skies (good!) for most of the race with only a peek of sun for a few minutes. Virtually no wind at the start, a bit of a breeze by the end.

The course is an out and back and out and back. First we headed northeast out of downtown past some apartment high rises, then into a residential neighborhood with kind of a Brookside feel. I knew I wasn’t going to be keeping pace with John (running about 25s a mile faster than me) so I settled in with several runners who seemed like they were competent enough to keep a steady pace. Mind you, there were no pace groups, and I wasn’t pacing off them in the truest sense of the word. However, after you get several miles into the race you’ve weeded out anyone who has absolutely no idea what they’ve gotten into. Actually, there were two of those guys – one of which I have my doubts as to whether he was a legitimate finisher. *cough* Rosie Ruiz *cough*

The course is marked in kilometers, of course. It was funny hearing everyone’s watches beeping off the kms. Hardly any milers out there. I was tempted to switch my Garmin over, but resisted since I think in miles and it’s important to me to know how far above or below mile pace I am. I could have easily figured my km pace, but since a km is shorter than a mile, I was concerned I’d deviate too much by thinking I was closer to on pace than I really was. My Garmin had the last laugh – when I pulled up my data at home, all my lap and pace data was in km. Weird. It’s back to normal now.

The course was nice and flat. The first half featured a dip (barely noticeable) and an actual hill down into and then coming back out of the residential area. There was a checkpoint and a turnaround at the 1/4 mark (halfway through the out and back half). That was the last time I saw John until he was waiting for me at the finish! Flat is really nice for hitting a pace. This is by far the flattest course I’ve ever run. My splits for the first half were all within a few seconds of goal pace, 7:15. I went out a little hot, but not sub-7 or anything. I was 44 seconds ahead of pace at the halfway mark (well, not exactly – at the 13 mile mark). I still felt great at this point coming through the start/finish line headed west for another out and back:

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I love educated race fans, and Edmonton had them! Not that I don’t enjoy “yay” and “way to go” or “you can do it” but it’s nice to hear something a bit more specific. Now I didn’t for a minute think that these compliments were carefully crafted just for me, but they are the kind of thing a runner loves to hear:

  • “You look strong!”
  • “Great pace!”
  • “Here comes a marathoner!” and “Way to go marathoner!” (as you are passing the slower pace half-marathoners at the end)
  • “Nice form!”
  • “He makes it look easy!”
  • “Your flow is awesome!” (not exactly sure what that mean, but I enjoyed it.

There was definitely a mental hurdle to jump coming through that start/finish line at the halfway point. It was momentarily thrilling to see the RHSW and hear the crowd, but the course definitely had a “back to work” feel after getting through the downtown area. It was cool to see some blazing 5K or 10K elites come at me through this section.

I waited until halfway to start hitting my extra calories. If I had it to do over again, I think I’d start that sooner, maybe at mile 6. I have done this differently at different races. It’s hard to say what works best for me. I didn’t feel nauseous at the start like I have sometimes.  I don’t think I even made it halfway through my 400 calorie flask. I like the stuff and had tried it out before a couple of times, but it’s really hard to put anything in my gut at that point in the race.

There was a nice crowd gathered at a pinch point about 3 miles after halfway – I think it was at a college campus – we were ever so briefly on kind of a trail/sidewalk before coming back out onto the road. Not quite Wellesley but pretty good volume! The first 3 miles after halfway were pretty good, but I noticed I was starting to slow a bit around mile 17. I was about 5-10 second off pace until mile 23 – and that’s where the suffering began. I don’t want to overstate it, but it’s something you go through at the end of a race. Thanks to the cool weather, I had done pretty well, but I did have a pretty good sweat going. I didn’t really feel like I was taking in enough fluid. I wouldn’t say there weren’t enough aid stations, but the cups were tiny – and I don’t take time to stop and take several. As a result I was probably only getting a swallow of fluid every other mile. I was running for a while with a guy who had a CamelBak – maybe that was a clue. I can’t say this is a legitimate criticism as opposed to personal preference. Not everything on course is going to be tailored to your needs.

Back to the suffering. I had a really painful stitch in my side for the last 3 miles – easing up a little in the final half mile. I gritted my teeth and just tried not to let the wheels fall off. I’m not great at running math, but I know that I had enough of a buffer against 3:15 that I’d be ok for a secure BQ as long as I didn’t start letting it creep up over 8. I was 30s slow on miles 23 and 24, then my worst split was mile 25 at a 7:56. I got a boost from the mile 25 completed beep on my Garmin, and an even bigger one from 26. I then found I had a kick for the last several hundred yards. There is nothing like seeing that clock and knowing you’re going to bring it in on time! Here’s the joyful expression on John’s face as he meets his goal:

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I didn’t put up his “angry face” picture. It’s pure adrenaline. I’ll show you mine in a minute. Here’s the kick, such as it is:

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…and the finish:

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I acted a little goofy at the finish, but the lady handing out medals was the catalyst. I run through the finish line, not to the finish line. She was only a few steps beyond trying to put a medal round my neck, and I certainly wasn’t going to put the engines in full reverse to stop for her so I ducked my head and ran into it. We both had a laugh about that, but I hope she backed up a bit after me.

It was great to have the RHSW as well as John and Katie at the finish line. I’m still in the moment here:

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But then I started to get (1) cold; (2) nauseous. I thought I was going to barf, but managed to keep it in.

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I’m not holding up two fingers for “two” or “peace out” – I was about to put them up to my mouth to feign the puffed cheeks of someone about to blow. I guess the worst was past. Then we went inside the convention center for a full breakfast. I was shivering at this point and got my sweats back on and drank two cups of herbal tea, which got me back to normal. Then some fruit, ham, juice, coffee and I was back to normal. We stayed for the awards after seeing that John placed second in his age group!

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John’s in the ORFB hoodie. “Indiana Football” guy is not from Indiana – John and I were the second and third Americans, and this is his age group podium, all faster than me. The race winner hailed from Chicago, although he’s Latvian. Does anything about this quote make you want to root for him? Not me:

“(Sunday) was sort of a training run for me, I’m getting ready for the Frankfurt marathon,” [he] said. “It was a good effort to practice and run close to – about five minutes off – of what I’m trying to do in Frankfurt, so it was OK. I think it was right about 22K. We were all running together, and then I felt like the pace was slowing down a little bit, so I picked it up a little and I just kind of cruised the whole way. I was in full control. If somebody was to come up, I could respond if I had to, but there was no need, I just wanted to enjoy the training run.”

Humility is a way better PR move.

Here are my final stats and splits. I don’t see a 21.1 (km) split, which is the one I would have liked to see the most. That was the start/finish line – maybe they didn’t have it set up because of the other races coming back from the other direction. Who knows.

My average pace was 7:20.5 min/mile (or 4:33.7 min/km to continue the metric theme). Just another 5.5s per mile and I’m at 3:10! I was thrilled with the time – a pretty safe BQ-2:39. Not as much buffer as I had for last year, but well above the BQ-1:38 last year that was the toughest cutoff in Boston history.

If you’re going to print up t-shirts… that talk about a BQ you’d better hit it! So glad John and I both did.

A final note on gear before the numbers. I can’t say enough good things about the Skora FIT. Just my favorite road distance shoe. Light, zero drop, and just enough cushioning to take the edge off of the crummy uneven pavement that’s inevitable on any road course.

Thanks Edmonton! On to Chicago!

Place Name Residence Bib # Time Chip Pace Category Cat. Place Gender Place 10 km 21.1 km 35 km
36
Theodore Kardis Olathe, KA, USA
323
3:12:24
3:12:21
4:34
Male 40-49
7/66
34/322
44:23 2:37:49

Running away from home

I love a good double entendre. I spent much of the last few weeks running (away from home), not running away (from home). Running (away from home) is the subject of this post, and it presents both challenges and opportunities for a runner on a marathon training schedule.

The first departure from my usual stomping grounds came in the form of a family trip out west. Over a week and a half, we tent-camped (mostly) our way through the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, to Seattle and back. While I would have loved to do some trail running while on this trip, there were two factors that kept me pounding the pavement: (1) elevation; (2) bears. Elevation was the primary issue – in two ways. First, I was above 5000 feet most of our trip, and I live at 1000 feet, so I was working harder even if I picked level routes. Second, finding a trail without much elevation gain on my trip would have been difficult although not impossible. For instance, one fantastic hike we did as a family (Beaver Pond trail at Mammoth, Yellowstone) involved about 1 mile up a mountainside to get to a 5 mile loop. I love hills, but footing was tricky even at a walking pace. Conversely, another hike (Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons) lakeside loop led to a hike up a rocky cliff. It was a “don’t look down” trail.

rocky trail

At the time of that trip, I was 7-8 weeks out from the Edmonton Marathon. My quads thanked me for staying on the level. Also, because bears.

I’m not really an over-cautious person when it comes to hiking or running (although I am when it comes to amusement parks, long story). I trail run and day hike solo. Sometimes in places without cell service! Sometimes without a cell phone! Standard advice for bear country is hike in groups of 3 or more, carry bear spray, and make lots of noise. We had bear spray with us, and I can make a lot of noise, but I didn’t have 2 friends of similar fitness level and training goals along with me. You don’t want to be gliding along the trail solo and find this guy taking his afternoon nap:

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So I stuck to the roads. Still with a bear bell. In the Tetons and Yellowstone, the roads still meant a pretty good degree of solitude. When you’re out there in the early morning, there’s not a lot of competition. Just me and a bald eagle one time. In fact, the only time I saw other runners was coming in and out of our campsite at the Tetons. At Yellowstone, I got some friendly honks and waves from folks in cars (at least I am pretty sure the gestures were friendly).

So that’s the where. Another challenge is the when: finding the time to run in the midst of all the other activities you’ve got planned for the day – and the energy to do all of it! My solution for this was the same as at home: get up so early that no one protests the fact that you’re going on a run. I’m only kidding – I am really fortunate to have a wife and family that support me in this! On one day, I got up and did a short 3 mile regen run at Mammoth – up the big hill from the campsite to the lodge. The morning activity was horseback riding:

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(note the off-label use of my Skora Forms, which, as long as we’re talking about off-label use, make an excellent hiking shoe. No boots for me!)

Then, in the afternoon, it was down the Yellowstone:

rafting

(No Skoras here. Neoprene booties. Snowmelt = cold!)

I couldn’t have planned that better. I was glad I didn’t have a “hard” day on my training schedule, and for the most part my runs fit well into the day. I got lucky for a Saturday long run in Spokane – although my luck was at the expense of my wife and daughter, who had gotten a virus along the way and were sleeping it off while I ran a beautiful rail-to-trail route south of downtown.

After we got back from our trip west, I had a few days home, and then it was off again to back-to-back camps. Webelos with my son Cole – which was local. Fortunately the Cub Scouts don’t set too aggressive of a schedule and with lights out at 10, I was able to get up and get my miles in well before breakfast. Then it was straight to a summer camp my wife and I volunteered at as counselors. That was a little more grueling – but only because we were staying up late with as bunch of energetic and enthusiastic kids. I found a nice core of brave souls who also wanted to get up early and run at camp. As always, the accountability of group runs is one of the best ways to get out of bed when you might have hit the snooze.

I’m now less than 4 weeks out from Edmonton and starting to get excited. My training schedule is peaking with higher miles and more speed. I hit the track yesterday with an old friend – the Skora PHASE. I’ve been running in FIT so much I’d almost forgotten what the lighter and more responsive PHASE has to offer. Just a great track or race shoe, although some prefer it for general training. For me, that’s the FIT – click through the banner to the right of this post to learn more about the FIT and the rest of the lineup, or read my reviews on this blog!

 

Run. Hill. Repeat. @HospitalHillRun #RunReal

I ran the Hospital Hill Run Re-Run this past weekend. I raced a 5K on Friday night, then did the Half Marathon as a progression run on Saturday morning.

My current goal race is a marathon in late August. Coach Kyle (http://kylekranz.com/coaching/) suggested I use this 5K to assess fitness at this point in my training, but not race the half the next day. It was really hard to not race a race!

I warmed up for the 5K with a full lunge matrix and two miles of easy running. That was a first for me as well – I haven’t raced a lot of 5Ks, but for my first one I didn’t warm up much at all; for the second one I did do about a mile of easy running. I thought the extended warmup was pretty valuable, and it certainly didn’t wear me out.

I ran a 21:13, pretty far off my PR of 19:59, but that came on a much flatter course. There are calculators you can use to figure out what you would have run on a flat course, if that makes you feel better, or you’re trying to compare apples to apples with a prior race. I used this one:( http://www.runworks.com/calculator.php) which yielded an adjusted time of 20:42. Credit to Tim Noakes, whose book “Lore of Running” is the basis of these calculations. You can also use these calculators to predict your time at other distances using your established fitness level from a recent race. Another fascinating adjustment is altitude – I train at 1000 ft. here in Kansas City. My August marathon is at 2000 ft., so it looks like I’ll give up about 2 minutes for that. However, I’m excited to be running a virtually flat race course, which I’ve never really done before.

You can go crazy with these calculators. I considered the elevation change the most significant factor. If you adjust for temperature (anything over 60F pushes your time up) my already adjusted time goes down to 20:12. If you further adjust that 20:12 down to sea level, it drops to 20:07. My advice: don’t talk yourself into a PR with these calculators! Most of us train and race in the same geographic area.

Here’s some photos from the 5K (not all of them (edit: none?) flattering…)

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As a forefoot/midfoot striker, I’m happiest running uphill, flat, or very gradual downhill. Even at this short distance, I was doing tortoise and the hare with some heel strikers – I’d motor past them on the uphills, then they’d come pounding past me on the downhills. I didn’t get caught on any flats – including the finish stretch. I won my age group!

The next day, I ran the half as a progression run. Or swim. The skies opened about 4:20 am, and it rained all through the race, even delaying the start a half hour due to concerns about heavy rain and lightning. It was a good call by the race director, and we still got to run. The rain backed off for the race start, poured about a half hour in, then came down pretty steady the rest of the time I was out there. Hard rain but no lightning. I tried to run the first 7 at an easy pace – my target was 9:00, but pride, excitement, or just feeling good that morning had me pushing down into the 8’s before long. I ran miles 8-10 in the 7:30 range. The last three were supposed to be at a FAST effort – but it was hard to gauge if I was achieving that based on numbers only. The Broadway hill starts around mile 10, and it’s a long up. That pushed my pace down a bit until the final short but steep Trinity Hill just past mile 12. I cranked it down to close to around 7:00 for the final mile, with a 6:00 pace sprint for the final 0.2.

I suppose I’d prefer rain to sun and heat, but to tell the truth I don’t look all that happy in these race photos:

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As you can see, I wore my Skora FIT for both races. It’s just such a great all-purpose shoe it’s hard to take it off! If the course had been flatter I might have gone with the lighter CORE or PHASE, which I’ve raced in before, but this wasn’t a goal race so I went with the increased cushioning of the FIT.

Final thought: the air temp was 70F and I was passing people running in disposable ponchos virtually the whole race. Maybe they were on their way to a weigh-in. If not, I hope they were hydrating! I’m sure they weren’t that much drier than I was at the finish!

 

Does anyone love runners more than Boston? #runreal

It’s practically a rhetorical question. This year’s Boston Marathon was my first – but I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get any better than this for the amateur runner. I ran on the same course on the same day, at the same time (and in the same “wave”!) as the world’s best marathoners. I wore bib 8362, which meant that roughly 100 elite males and females, as well as bibs 100-8361 were all in front of me. Despite the fact that 8000 runners had already gone by before me, I was still treated to the same cheering crowds that urged on Meb, Ryan, Rita, and Shalane. Scores of people – race volunteers, spectators, and people about town personally thanked me for coming to the marathon. Patriots’ Day is a holiday in Massachusetts, commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War. It’s also Marathon Monday in Boston and the surrounding communities. Some estimates predicted that a million people would line the race course for this year’s race. I wouldn’t disagree. Boston loves this race. Boston loves the people who run it. You feel it! The best way I can describe it was a purely physical response I had three times during the race. I found myself getting so excited and pumped up by the crowd that I realized I was about to hyperventilate. It wasn’t my pace – I was just forgetting to breathe properly. All I had to do was move over into the middle of the road and take some deep breaths to recover.

I felt great the whole race. I can’t ever remember finishing so strong and feeling so good. You can see it:

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The RHSW accompanied me to Boston. It was great having her there. I can get a bit wiggy before a race, and far beyond her bib-pinning skills she is a calming influence. We decided to leave our kids behind with Grandma and Grandpa, rather than trying to keep track of all four of them in the crowds. My neighbor and friend, John, brought his family along. He had a very personal reason for doing so, as he, his wife, 2 children, and his in-laws were all gathered in the Forum Restaurant last year post-race when the second bomb went off right in front, blowing out the glass windows in the restaurant, and wreaking havoc on the innocent crowd gathered along the route.

We arrived in Boston late Friday night. We had already picked up a few marathoners on the flight from Kansas City – a couple from Topeka running together. Since I was wearing my fluorescent orange Boston jacket, I got my first of many “good lucks” from a Bostonian within moments of getting off the plane.

The RHSW and I slept in a Saturday, then went on a nice shakedown run together along the Harborwalk. That afternoon, we walked down to Boston Common, the finish line, and various other marathon-related sights with John as our tour guide. I wore my Blue Camo Skora Forms around town – the color scheme was perfect this year – blue and orange. They got lots of admiration and questions, which I happily answered. That evening, we feasted at Mooo with my childhood friend Dan and his girlfriend. I didn’t have the chicken.

Sunday was a pretty busy day. I do the Western Australian carb load method, so I did my speed workout early, then started in on the sugar. I do allow myself eggs and yogurt, but no fiber. Breakfast with John & his entourage, followed by a worship service with a wonderful group that met downtown in a nearby hotel. After that, we headed over the race expo. I’ve never been impressed by a race expo. This one was bigger, but no more impressive. I did see Bart Yasso.

After that it was on to the Red Sox game. Much to my dismay, my friend Dan informed me as we arrived just in time for the first pitch that there had been a moving tribute to the marathon victims, with on-field appearances prior to the game. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t turn on the television for a few days. We hung around for about 5 innings, before the cold and my need to get in bed drove us out. Fortunately, everyone else was more than happy to oblige. Mandatory Green Monster shot:

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Finally, Marathon Monday was here! I got up at 5:30 for the 10:00 start. I had a simple omelette, more carbs, and dressed for the walk to Boston Common. Just outside my hotel, I made fast friends with Max, an entrepreneur from London. We walked together and rode the bus to Hopkinton. I might have convinced him to give my Skora FITs a try. As it turns out, we were about the same age and had qualified with roughly the same time (ok, he was 2 minutes faster). He injured his Achilles over the winter doing speedwork for a sub 3:00 attempt. As a result, I passed him on the race course – and amazingly I spotted him and encouraged him. We exchanged emails after the race and I’m happy to report he finished quite well under the circumstances.

After you get off the bus in Hopkinton, you’re herded into Athlete’s Village (did somebody say “athlete”?) where a cornucopia of carbs, caffeine and plenty of porta-potties await. I had several Gatorade carb energy drinks – 100+ calories each, minimal fluid; plus some coffee. The morning started off chilly, so it’s a good idea to bring some sweats to wear until you’re called to load into the corrals. Here’s my ensemble:

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My orange Illinois sweatpants fit the year’s colors, but were simply too awful to display publicly. Also, high-waters. You have to show your bib to the photog if you want to see the pic later. My Cub Scout sweatshirt with “Olathe, KS” on it got me noticed by a guy who had emigrated to the East Coast from Olathe. His adult children were going to be there to cheer him on in the race. We also talked about my Skora FITs – he had on the Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris – a shoe I liked quite a bit as a trainer before discovering Skoras. They are discontinued – and also a bit too much shoe for a race, in my opinion.

There was a moment of silence for the victims of last year’s bombing while we were in the village. About 9:15, they called us out of the village and into the parking lot where we were sorted into our corrals for the first wave. I made another friend in Bob, a runner from the U.P. of Michigan. When you’re in your corral, everybody’s compatible pace-wise, so we decided to run together at the beginning for a while. Once in order, we walked up to the start line (well, the 1/4 mile behind the start line). You’re practically bursting at this point. It’s like horses in the starting gate. Before the gun, there was the National Anthem, introduction of the elites, and a fly-over by 4 air ambulance helicopters that assisted in the emergency response.

My friend John (who has a much faster PR than I) was running on a charity bib, so he decided to linger at the very end of the last wave before beginning his race. A photojournalist (Stephan Savoia/AP) documented this moment, as he knelt to kiss the start line at his return to this great race:

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What a great picture! Better than any of mine!

Once the gun goes off, first you stand, then you walk, then you shuffle, and finally a couple hundred feet from the start line you break into a full run. Actually quite a nice warmup, although when you’re doing it you’re thinking “I hope I don’t need those hundred feet back at the end….” Because you’re all so well-sorted by qualifying pace, there’s not a lot a weaving in and out at first, since in theory everyone in front of you is faster. Of course, since you could have qualified as much as 18 months before, a lot can happen in that time – injury, a lower level of conditioning, etc. Bob and I warmed up for the first couple of miles on the long downhill – everyone says don’t waste energy going out too fast. I think I hit it about right – about 10-15 seconds above my goal pace. Then I started cranking it up and ran the next several miles through mile 13 mostly below goal pace (7:15). I lost Bob to a porta-potty, and after seeing Max fairly early on, the rest of the race was on my own – just a few familiar strangers passing me back and forth. I passed more people than I was passed by during the race – my overall finish of 5577 (lower than my bib number of 8362) bears this out. Even in the early miles, the crowd support is still better than anything I have seen in my previous 6 marathons. There was a very enthusiastic pocket at Ashland, and larger crowds at Framingham and Natick. Every once in a while you’ve got to head over to the side of the road and gently high-five one of the little kids that are out there cheering for you.

Wellesley lives up to its reputation. Around mile 13 or so, first comes a tunnel of evergreens, followed by a tunnel of screaming college girls. It’s deafening. Seriously. I moved to the middle of the road – although I heard one guy around me remark that he could go for another 13 miles of that.

The Newton Hills begin just before mile 16. My pace had slowed a bit in mile 14, but I was still within 10s of goal pace miles 14-16. Miles 16-21 are most certainly the 4-5 (depending on who’s counting) Newton Hills. I ran these strong, about 30s under goal pace. I love hills! There were a lot of walkers. By this point in the race it was getting pretty close to noon – a 10:00 start is something I knew would be difficult – and the temperature was really starting to rise. Not a cloud in the sky, and I’m sure it was upper 60s by my race end.

The second of the Newton Hills is marked by the Newton Fire Station at the bottom. For some reason I look a bit pensive here:

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The final Newton Hill has a name, as you probably realize. Heartbreak Hill. Ain’t so bad. A few walkers around me as I wave to the crowd – not the camera (there was a camera?):

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Once you get to the top (and there is a false top) soon after is a downhill followed by another unnamed hill. I can’t remember if that’s before BC, but here’s St. Ignatius on campus:

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I am clearly in the middle of one of several emotional moments here. Right around this point in the race, I saw Juli Windsor, the dwarf featured in last month’s Runner’s World. She was stopped by the bombs last year in her bid to finish Boston (although not her first marathon). She was looking strong – I’m sure she must have finished.

Mile 23 was one of my favorites. Thanks to a long downhill before a left turn, I cranked it back up to 7:23. I felt like I was flying downhill. I had to move to the far left to overtake, and there was a huge crowd along the barriers here. One guy saw me, made eye contact, pointed right at me and let out a huge yell followed by a high-five. It was exhilarating.

After that, some tough work began. I fell off my pace again – although I didn’t run a single mile out of the 7’s. The last “hill” is a man-made one; the Mass Pike overpass:

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I’m chuggin’ – but I’m not walkin’.

There was a lot of attrition in those final miles. I saw several collapsed runners – which is kind of new to me, although probably because most of the races I have been in are so small compared to Boston. As you can see from these pictures, there is ALWAYS someone around you. You never have a clear path. The only thing I can compare it to are some 5Ks where I didn’t get up close enough to the start line and had to pick my way through.

Mile 26 was the toughest of course. My partial split from the last 0.4 miles (you always run a little bit farther than 26.2 – it’s harder to take the perfect race line at Boston than anywhere else) was my fastest of the day though: 7:08. I could smell it. Here I am on Boylston, working for the finish:

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At the finish line, it’s all sunshine and bunnies. I’m pretty sure the broader photo-op line is before the actual finish line – otherwise who would keep running at this point:

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That last one’s my favorite. Unless I’m mistaken, the “real” finish line is the last race pic:

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After that, it’s on to the finish chute – which is so long it feels like a marathon in itself. First: the medal. I’m not sure what possessed me to see if it was gold or not. It wasn’t:

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You can see the evaporated salts on my shirt. After that, it’s water, a space blanket, Gatorade, protein shakes, bananas and a bag of assorted other foodstuffs. Yes, please. I think I put down at least 50 oz. of fluids in the 5-10 minutes post race – and that’s with trying to take a couple gulps of the Gatorade Endurance formula they had at each aid station every mile (I did skip the first few as I was VERY topped off pre-race).

Here’s my final stats from the BAA:

Net Time 3:16:28
Overall 5577/31931
In Gender 4902/17575 (Male)
In Division 966/2628 (M40-44 Age Group)

And my splits from my Garmin:

1 7:25.7 1.00 7:26
2 7:20.4 1.00 7:20
3 7:18.0 1.00 7:18
4 7:11.6 1.00 7:12
5 7:10.5 1.00 7:10
6 7:11.6 1.00 7:12
7 7:05.3 1.00 7:05
8 7:17.8 1.00 7:18
9 7:16.0 1.00 7:16
10 7:17.0 1.00 7:17
11 7:16.0 1.00 7:16
12 7:19.8 1.00 7:20
13 7:16.4 1.00 7:16
14 7:22.8 1.00 7:23
15 7:25.0 1.00 7:25
16 7:20.8 1.00 7:21
17 7:42.9 1.00 7:43
18 7:44.5 1.00 7:44
19 7:42.3 1.00 7:42
20 7:47.9 1.00 7:48
21 7:56.8 1.00 7:57
22 7:29.9 1.00 7:30
23 7:22.7 1.00 7:23
24 7:41.9 1.00 7:42
25 7:46.5 1.00 7:47
26 7:52.0 1.00 7:52
27 2:50.2 0.40 7:08

I want to explicitly thank Skora for the pre-release FITs they provided me with. See my full review in a previous post. I don’t rave about shoes I don’t love because they’re free. I rave about great shoes. Despite warmer than ideal conditions and a punishing net downhill course I once again had zero shoe/foot issues during the race. The FITs just stayed out of the way and let me run joyfully. I paired the FITs with some Icebreaker Run Ultra Light Micro socks and a light coating of Alba Unpetroleum jelly. No blisters or hot spots.

Here I am relaxing in Boston Common before meeting up with the RHSW et al.:

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I relaxed (briefly) at a restaurant one street off Boylston before heading to the curb to watch John finish:

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RHSW to my right, John’s entourage including his adorable kids fill out the frame.

Here’s John and me after meeting up with him at Boston Common:

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And a celebratory kiss with the RHSW:

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Not only did I feel great after the race in the FIT, I decided to sign up for my hometown marathon that Saturday: the “Garmin Marathon in the Land of OZ, Olathe, KS.” (Kind of a mouthful). I ran it just under 2:00 slower than Boston. A less comprehensive race report on that one, coming soon! Spoiler alert – love those FITs – couldn’t have done 2 in 6 days without them. Spoiler alert #2: flying monkeys.

@Skorarunning FIT shoe review: Between minimalism and maximalism is just-rightism #FITfriday

It seems to me that running shoes are like a lot of other things we put on our bodies: they’re subject to trends. For instance, I recently discovered that men’s ties have drastically reduced in width this last season. I now have a few in the new “right” size, but a closet full of “too wide” ties – including a few purchased just last year.

It’s true that I discovered “minimalism” in running shoes after reading the 2009 book “Born to Run.” Initially a niche, minimalism widened to a chasm filled by the major shoe companies. Conversely, I’m not sure when maximalism crept into my consciousness – some time early last year I’d say. The max-cushion movement has gone mainstream in the last few months – with the major shoe companies looking to cash in on the latest trend (with some offerings better described as max-marketing than as max-cushioned, I’d say).

Through all this, a few shoe companies have stayed trend-proof and true to their mission. Skora running shoes are one of this small group – as they say, designed by runners, for runners. As a runner, I appreciate that! I didn’t seek out minimal shoes as an end – they were a means to an end: allowing me to run the way my body was designed. To my way of thinking, the new Skora FIT is the best expression of that I’ve run across so far (can’t. resist. pun.).

What do I look for in a shoe?

  1. Zero-drop. Allows for a natural foot strike.
  2. Anatomical. An object that goes on your foot should be foot-shaped.
  3. Roomy toe-box. Your toes should splay as you run. When they can’t move, or worse are pinched together, pain ensues.
  4. A locked-in midfoot and heel. If your foot is moving around in this part of the shoe, hello blisters.
  5. Laces. This is really 4a. I have found a few shoes that worked for me that relied on elasticity and/or Velcro closures (“Aww, he got the Velcros…”), but nothing compares to laces when it comes to customizing your fit.
  6. Goldilocks cushioning. On pavement, I need something. Too little can be torture at 20+ miles. Too much means my foot can’t tell my brain what’s going on down there. Oh, and weight. Light = fast.
  7. Value. There’s a happy medium here. I’ve tried poorly made shoes from other companies that checked some of these boxes that didn’t make it to 100 miles. I’m willing to pay for quality design, materials, and construction when it means I’m going to get more wear out of a shoe.
  8. It should cover your foot. Duh, right? Well, “I don’t always wear shoes, but when I do, ….” Sandals? No, thanks.
  9. It should look cool. I consider myself a function-over-form guy, but I love it when I don’t have to choose. I’ve owned a few pairs of shoes that I would prefer to only run in at night, if you know what I mean.
  10. Gestalt. The whole should be more than the sum of its parts. A shoe that is there, but not there. Om.

If I scored the shoes I’ve run in over the last 5 years in these categories, I’m sure the FIT would have the highest score. Zero-drop? Check. Roomy toe box? Check. The light, stretchy upper really contributes to that:

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That’s my hand. My toes aren’t that flexible. However, they are quite long…

Locked-in midfoot/heel/laces? Check. I love asymmetric lacing. Traditional lacing bugs some folks on the top of their foot – but when you sweep it off to the side it takes pressure off that area. Just lacing these shoes up is a joy. The combination of the stretchy upper and the asymmetric lacing makes it super easy to get a “Goldilocks” fit. If you’ve ever taken off on a run and felt like you laced up too tight or too loose, you know what I’m talking about. That is not going to happen with the FIT:

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Goldilocks cushioning? Check. I think the FIT is “just right.”  The FIT borrows some of my favorite things from Skora’s other models – one of these being the R01 “platform” (or last, if you prefer) which is like Skora’s BASE and FORM. It combines a rubber outsole with compression molded EVA foam midsole. An extra bit of cushioning is found in the Ortholite insoles. This insole is slightly thicker than those found in Skora’s other offerings. The insole from FORM is on the left in the picture, FIT on the right.

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That FORM insole has roughly the same number of miles on the shoe it lives in – perhaps even less.

Also, the reverse dimpling on the insole is a little more pronounced than other models – I like it – it’s stimulating in a good way when you put the shoe on but not at all intrusive:

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You can actually make them out in the above photo. This next photo, for comparison, is an insole from FORM:

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The reverse dimpling is there – but smaller.

Value? Check. The FIT is probably the best value in Skora’s lineup. My pair have 200+ miles on the odometer already and there are zero durability issues despite virtually all of those miles being on the pavement. As you can see, the high-abrasion rubber on the outsole is holding up really well:

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I can’t find anything wrong with the material on the upper or any of the seams. I would be shocked if this shoe didn’t push past 1000 miles. Mille Miglia! They should make it in Ferrari red and yellow! The FIT’s price point stays out of the 3 figure range as well.

Cool? Check. If you don’t think the FIT is a cool-looking shoe, I can’t help you. The black 3D-printing on the upper is functional (more support where it’s darker, more flexibility where it’s lighter) and gives the shoe a really unique look:

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Gestalt? Ja! My perfect shoe is a shoe I’m not thinking about while I’m running in it. It should disappear. Even when I’m on pavement I want to be able to close my eyes and feel like I’m running barefoot. No shoe is that good, but the FIT is just a great combination of all of the qualities I look for in a shoe. I’ve done speedwork in the FIT on a small track without blistering. I’ve taken it on multiple pavement long runs. I went back and looked at my mileage log today. (Umm, I might track mileage on each shoe on a spreadsheet with weekly, monthly and annual mileage totals – message me if you share my sickness and want my excel file). Since receiving the FIT, I’ve run in it 19 times, with just 3 runs in all other shoes. I like it so well I’m planning on running the Boston Marathon in it. It doesn’t hurt that “Orange is the new yellow” at Boston this year! I would probably prefer the lighter PHASE or CORE for a shorter distance like a 5k or 10k, but I think it’s FIT for half and full marathons.

Here’s a few action photos of me and my friend John (not wearing the orange FITs – yet…) running a 10+ mile segment of the One Run For Boston cross-country relay last week:

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I’m a fan of the FIT. If you’re thinking about trying a pair of Skora shoes, this is the model I’d try first.

 

Check out the FIT – follow the link by clicking on the banner to the right, or:

http://www.Facebook.com/skorarunning

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http://www.Instagram.com/SkoraRunning

Skora FIT – first look @skoraRunning

The new Skora FIT arrived on my doorstep recently and after a few runs in them I just had to share my enthusiasm for this shoe before posting a full review later.

Since discovering Skoras in the second half of 2013, I’ve been fortunate to run in nearly every model they offer. I feel a bit like a dog when I talk about their shoes – “ooh, CORE! My favorite! – ooh! FORM! My favorite!…” Well, the first 50+ miles in the FIT have me reaching for a more superlatives. The FIT borrows some of my favorite things from their other models – the “last” (platform, sole, pick your term) is like BASE and FORM. The asymmetric lacing is present as well. The two game-changers in the FIT are 1) more cushioning (although you’re not going to mistake them for HOKAs); and 2) a wonderful light, stretchy upper.

Just lacing these shoes up is a joy. The combination of the stretchy upper and the asymmetric lacing makes it super easy to get a “Goldilocks” fit. If you’ve ever taken off on a run and felt like you laced up too tight or too loose, you know what I’m talking about. That is not going to happen with the FIT.

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Also, the reverse dimpling in the removable insole is a little more pronounced than other models – I like it – it’s stimulating in a good way when you put the shoe on but not at all intrusive.

It was just a perfect day today – 70s when I got home from work, so I stretched and headed out for 8 miles. I don’t stretch much – just active stretching – a few squats…

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a few lunges…

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oh, and you can’t forget the “useless shoulder stretch before running:” for KK 🙂

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I might not be doing that right, but does it matter?

Before I could take off, a friend wanted to say “take me with you!” I had to substitute a treat. I keep my “me” runs and “Ellie” runs separate. Messes with my gait too much.

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Ooh, FIT, my favorite!

The FIT has been a boon to some indoor speedwork I’ve done recently. The constant curves on an 1/8 mile indoor track can lead to friction, but I had zero problems in the FIT in a great 6×300 8 mile session. They felt great – heels locked in, room in the toebox but not slippy. I’ve had them out on 17 and a 20 mile long runs on pavement the last two Saturdays and they’ve pretty much convinced me they’re going to be my Boston Marathon shoe. Just a perfect balance of cushioning and weight.

Check out the FIT:

www.skorarunning.com

www.Facebook.com/skorarunning

www.Twitter.com/skoraRunning

www.Instagram.com/SkoraRunning