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:

bear

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:

horseback

(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!

 

Skora Phase shoe review & Kansas City Marathon race report #runreal

This past weekend’s Kansas City Marathon was my first race in the Skora Phase. I didn’t have the Phase in time for Heart of America in September, or I would have worn it then. It’s lighter, and I prefer the laces.

This was my sixth marathon. I’ve run all of them in minimal shoes. This is the first shoe I have run in that did not produce any blisters whatsoever over the marathon distance. I rarely have blistering problems during training runs, but it was not unusual to have a blister or two at this distance and pace. But no blisters is way better. I had worn the Phase on a 16 mile long run, and couldn’t wait to put them on for the marathon.

The Phase is so light I’d say it’s nearly in the realm of a racing flat. 7.2 oz. to be exact. It’s similar to the Core, but with a synthetic mesh upper. The sole is injection blown rubber. Zero drop. Also, mine have an awesome color scheme – red, black, yellow, white. My son Cole calls them my “Chiefs” shoes. I might have worn them to a game.

A snug heel, asymmetric lacing, and an ample toe box combine for a fit that allows your foot to be itself. You never feel like you are moving around in the shoe in a way you don’t want to. The Phase disappears – my definition of the ideal shoe.

Here’s a shot of the Phase (with me in them) on the course:

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I have to admit I wasn’t peaking for this race. Some diet experimentation in August and September, coupled with a week of gluttony at Disney World the week before race week didn’t make for ideal preparation. I did not have a hard time goal for this race because of these factors. In my experience, going into a race without a specific goal you are striving to achieve is a recipe for mediocrity. I always perform better when I am reaching.

My plan was to go out with Nelson and try to encourage him to a BQ. We started with the 3:15 pace group, but he took off and ran his own race from about mile 2 on. I had him in sight for a while, but then settled into the 3:15 pace group. Pace groups can be a double-edged sword. At times, it’s great to tuck in and just follow the herd without having to think too much. However, there are lots of factors that might draw you off from the group. For me, there always seems to be some point where the pacer is pushing too hard to make up a particular time goal on a stretch. That might be just my imagination though!

I stuck with the 3:15 pace group through the halfway point and most of the way down Ward Parkway. They picked up a second pacer, and the first one dropped back to try to bring me up with the group. Very cool. I could feel that it just wasn’t my day though, and I cut him loose. After a mile or two, I noticed I had my friend John in sight. It took me a while to catch him – since I didn’t want him to feel like he had to drop back to me I didn’t call out. His family was waiting for him just before the turn onto 75th street. I caught him just as he stopped with them, then he caught back up to me. We ran together for several miles, then he made a “pit stop.” I was amazed that he caught back up to me and then told me he was going to try to go out and catch up to the 3:15 group. Not only did he do that, he passed them, caught and encouraged Nelson, and beat both of us to the finish! Way to go John!

I ran a good portion of the race by myself. However, when I got to the top of the hill at the Armour/Paseo turn, I felt a surge of energy. I had slowed in the past few miles, but I didn’t feel like I had hit “the wall” as I have in some past marathons. From mile 23 on, I really picked up the pace. There was a guy that I had been passing back and forth with the whole race, and he was flagging. I tried to pay it forward and encourage him to come with him. We ran together for about two miles, until the final mile. Then I dropped him with a kick since I was feeling so good. The kick made me think I had left some minutes on the table.

There were some changes to the course this year, and my favorite was a straightening out of the last 1/3 – 1/2 mile of the race on Grand. It used to make a couple of turns from 18th to the finish. Now it blazes on over to Grand, and you can see your target off in the distance as you head down a nice downhill stretch before the final “bump” (overpass) leading into the flat finish. The new course really helped me crank it up a notch in the last mile. I even passed a couple of runners on my way to a respectable but not great time – pretty far off my PR but not my slowest effort either.

Nelson held on to his lead on the pace group for a time of 3:14:21. A BQ! Way to go!

The Phase will be my go-to racing shoe from now on. It checks all the boxes – great fit, light, zero drop, enough cushioning to cut down on the road noise but not so much to drown it out, and it doesn’t hurt that it looks cool. Never underestimate that psychological boost!

By the numbers:

3:18:52

78th overall

5th in M40-44

overall pace 7:34

Here’s a few more pictures:

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