I’m reaching for what I cannot. #runreal #Boston2014

I have been running with renewed joy since discovering Skora shoes halfway through 2013 and becoming an ambassador. I’ve been a minimalist and barefoot runner for several years, but bounced from shoe to shoe – always knowing what I wanted but never quite finding that ideal realization of a shoe that allows my body to run efficiently and naturally as it was designed. My first four marathons were run in 3 different shoes. My last two have been in Skoras, and my only choice will be which Skora model to run Boston in. I ran my two fall marathons in the Base and Phase, and loved both. But, I hadn’t yet tried the Form, which effortlessly carried me through my trail Ultra pacing experience. Despite obliterating my previous annual mileage high of just over 900 miles by running almost 1400 miles this past year, I have been injury-free.

While I was on vacation a few days ago, I received my first e-newsletter from the BAA. I had already started training, but somehow that email put the spurs to me. It also coalesced a thought that has been taking form in my head ever since I found out that I’d be running Boston.

I am just an amateur runner. Very few people will take notice when I cross the line. However, I feel a unique responsibility to this great race. I want to give it my best. Yes, I will be both a participant and a spectator. I will marvel at what promises to be the greatest celebration of running I have ever taken part in.

I will not chase the elites – a group of professional runners whose combination of genetic gifts and will to succeed make them the best in the world. They will be running at a pace for just over two hours that most of us cannot keep up for more than a few minutes.

I will chase the clock. I will chase my personal goal to be my best. My goal setting has always been unconventional. Recently I realized that the modern Greek philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis has expressed my method: “Reach for what you cannot.” I always seem to set my goals just a bit further out than I can achieve. However, by reaching for what I cannot, I achieve what I otherwise would not. If I had conceived that qualifying for Boston was a bridge too far, it would have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, I set my goal at a BQ – 5:00. I haven’t achieved that goal yet, but I have BQ’d twice.

My new goal is an ambitious one: to run a sub-3:00 marathon. I believe that I can achieve it with the right physical and mental training. I’ve set my training program up with that goal pace in mind: 6:51. It is a furious pace.

The point at which “the wall” (or the central governor, if you prefer) kicks in and seduces you to slow down comes at a cruel place in the marathon – but that’s why your mind is doing it – it senses the end. You are close to the finish – 6 miles or less. In the six marathons I have run, this has always come at a point in the race when no one else is looking. No competitors are near me – we are strung out along the race course. The crowds are thin or nonexistent. This will not be the case in April. Although the physical challenges of the Newton Hills begin at mile 17.5, followed by Heartbreak Hill at mile 20.5, I intend to draw on the power of the cheering crowds and my fellow runners. The crowds won’t be cheering for me in particular, but they will be cheering for me and the men and women running with me.

If I don’t achieve a sub-3:00 in Boston, I will have already signed up for the Chicago marathon in October. Flat. Fast. Cool. No excuses. I have also heard the siren song of the Ozark Trail Ultramarathon in November – 35 miles of pacing last year have me believing I can do it.

I’m reaching for what I cannot.

Skrewed Skoras: A winter tutorial

I hadn’t run a trail race in icy/snowy conditions before this Saturday’s “Alternate Chili 10 Mile Run” (actually, 10.35 miles!). With a wintry mix in the forecast, I made some preparations to screw my shoes, as recommended by the Trail Nerds, the race sponsor. Hexagonal, slotted sheet metal screws are a great way to add traction if you are going to encounter snow and ice on a trail. I haven’t tried this on paved roads/trails. I’ve always found I get sufficient traction from my Skoras on the road. You’re not making track spikes here – you can’t or wouldn’t want to put the screws in from the top of the shoe. The many faces of the head of the screw are what provides the added bite.

Since the screw lengths recommended by the Trail Nerds aren’t compatible with minimalist shoes, some modification was necessary. So, with apologies and this rather vague attribution to their fine tutorial, here’s the Skora version. Please note: I did this with my Forms. It should also work with the Base, since they share the same R01 outsole. I’m not sure this would work with the R02 outsole on the Phase and Core.

Step 1: Take off your shoes (obscure Swants reference – worth a Google if you don’t get it).

Actually, this isn’t strictly necessary. If you’re rushing to do this right before a race or run, or doing it for a friend who’s already got them on, you’re not going to poke them/yourself in the foot so long as you are using the right screw length. I do think it’s a lot easier if you’ve got the time to do this before.

Step 2: Find some screws, and something to screw them with.

Ok, here’s where it gets technical. Joking. If you own any tools at all, odds are you’re going to be able to handle this.

Selecting/finding the right screw is really the hardest part. You don’t want the end of the screw poking up through your sole into your foot. I did NOT think that 3/8″ length would work, so I used #4 – 1/4″ length screws. The #4 refers to the head size. The 1/4″ is the length of the shaft of the screw.

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Only $4.99 for 100! You’re not going to find these at your big-box hardware store. I tried, I failed. 3/8″ is as short as they go. Try a specialty mom & pop store. Something with hardware in the title.

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Small but mighty.

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These two tools aren’t necessary, but they will make it go faster if you have them. The bottom pic is a socket for the hex head of the screw. The size is 3/8″ (matches #4, don’t ask). If you can find a magnetic one, so much the better. Once you pick up the screw you’ve dropped for the tenth time, you’ll thank me. But like I said, if you don’t have the power tools, the hex head screws are slotted, so a regular screwdriver will work too.

Step 3: Pick a pattern and start screwing the screws in.

I’m a first-timer, so you aren’t getting the benefit of a lot of experience here. My advice would be: don’t go overboard; put them in contact/takeoff areas (look for wear); put a few at the back (I’m not a heel striker, but if you start sliding, you’re going to use parts of the shoe you wouldn’t ordinarily use); do it symmetrically; and start the screw at a high point on the sole (i.e., don’t start the screw into one of the holes or slots in the pattern – you want as much rubber as possible gripping the screw). I just ran them in to flush. Don’t overscrew them or they might poke through. Here’s the pattern I came up with:

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Pretty symmetrical. I think the only one you can’t see is one I put up in the big toe area on each shoe.

So, how did they work? Great! 10.35 miles over some extremely hilly, rocky, slippery terrain. ZERO FALLS! I fall all the time on this trail in good weather. The day before the race we had some freezing rain followed by rain into the evening, which switched over to a light dusting of snow (less than an inch) but just enough to cover everything and hide the bad spots.

You’re going to lose a few screws. It’s a tradeoff – you don’t want the screw poking through into your foot. I think (but haven’t actually verified) that 1/4″ is as long as you can go without doing that. My lost screw count was 3/10 on each shoe. The lost screws were symmetrical too:

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Happy winter running!

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My stats: 20th overall out of 150; 3rd male 40-49; 1:37:07; 9:43 pace.

A few more miscellaneous tips (not related to screwing your shoes):

I smashed the palm of my right hand pretty good while pacing the OT100 in November. Fearing a reinjury (I still have a twinge now and then) I decided a little protection was in order. Luckily, being a Gen-Xer, I had some dusty rollerblade wrist guards in my closet. I busted them out and wore just the right wrist guard.

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Since this was a last minute thing, I forgot that gloves wouldn’t fit over this. With a 15mph wind and sub-freezing temps, I wished I had some mittens, but left them at home. If only I had a sequined glove for my left hand… I did have my Alba un-petroleum jelly with me though for my nose and cheeks, so I slathered some all over the exposed skin on my right hand. It was as good as a glove!

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20 THEODORE KARDIS 328 OLATHE KS M 43 M 40-49 3 18 1:37:07 9:43

Pacing at the OT100 in Skora Form: Intro to Ultramarathoning #RUNREAL

I paced the last 35.2 miles of the Ozark Trail 100 Ultramarathon this weekend. Darin Schneidewind, the guy I paced, came in 3rd! I take absolutely zero credit for his podium, but I had a great time coming along for the ride.

The RD credited me with my first Ultra. Technically, he’s correct. The definition of an Ultra is any race distance longer than a marathon. It doesn’t count if you keep running to get to the chocolate milk at a marathon though, since it’s not part of the race course. A 50K (31 miles) would count, although 50 mile and 100 mile events are what really qualify in my book. Side note: I just saw an announcement for the Tahoe 200 next fall. Yep, that’s 200 miles. 100 hour time limit. For those who feel like they’ve got a little left in the tank after 100 miles.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of my impressions of the race and what I learned:

  1. Running for over 7 hours in the dark was really fun!
  2. Make sure you have lots of batteries and decent gear. See #1.
  3. The Ozark Trail is really pretty, but less so in the dark.
  4. It’s rare to see other runners on the course after 70 miles. Less than 50 runners were left at that point in the race. Amazingly, 4 runners finished within 10 minutes of each other – that was the spread from 2nd to 5th.
  5. Counterintuitively, it’s easier to follow the trail at night.
  6. You’re going to fall down. It hurts. Get used to it.
  7. Your pace is slower than a road marathon, but it’s no walk in the park. The vast majority is running, but there is some walking – if you can call a brisk hike up a steep hill walking.
  8. It helps mentally to break the run down into the smaller manageable increments between aid stations. Those “manageable increments” are still over an hour each.
  9. I’ll have to multiply what I did by 3 to run a true 100 mile Ultra.
  10. The people at the aid stations are truly excellent folks. Not a lot of spectators out there. No cheering crowds at the finish either, if that’s your thing.
  11. Ultras aren’t really a photo event. Nobody’s hiding in the bushes at mile 83. Or at the finish for that matter that I could tell.
  12. Cool fact: you can’t sleep after an Ultra since your heart rate stays up after being up for so long (didn’t affect me, but I didn’t run all of it).

For mind-numbing detail about Ultra-outfitting and my race report, read on!

Gear: I give myself an “D-” on this one. I was a victim of my own cheapness. I had two cheap headlamps and a serviceable handheld flashlight. The cheap headlamps were too bouncy to wear. I knew this ahead of time – I was going to use them as backup handhelds. I stuffed one in my pocket and left the other with Julie in case I needed to swap out. I had one set of batteries in the flashlight and a spare set with me. The first set ran out part of the way through a segment and I had to switch to my backup headlamp. The flashlight threw great light on the trail when it was working. The headlamp did not – way too dim. I got my spare batteries in the handheld at the next aid station and was good to go again. However, in the next segment disaster struck. I fell and crushed my flashlight AND my headlamp. Not to mention deeply bruising my palm. The flashlight was working intermittently, so it wasn’t the bulb. The headlamp came apart, and a battery flew out. I couldn’t find it and didn’t want to spend any more time looking. Darin had a spare battery, but I couldn’t get the thing going again. Fortunately he had a working headlamp and flashlight, so he gave me his headlamp for the duration. I’m very lucky both of our lights worked to the end, since I was out of options. I did put some new batteries in my flashlight at the penultimate aid station, but I didn’t want to distract Darin by trying to give him his headlamp back and then have to ask for it again if the flashlight wasn’t really working. The only thing I got right with my gear was my Garmin(s). I wore my 2-year-old refurbished (under warranty) Forerunner 405. I was fairly certain it wouldn’t make it to the finish. As it was, it didn’t start chirping low battery until the last segment. Fortunately, I had my wife’s Garmin Forerunner 10 with me too, and I had it rolling before my primary shut down. Hers isn’t as accurate as mine – thanks to my recent addition of a foot pod, but at least it was good enough to give us some idea of elapsed mileage. I reset my Garmin at each aid station so I could let Darin know how much mileage was left in each segment. He was wearing one of those humongous O.G. Garmins – the GPS equivalent of a bag phone, but favored by many for its long battery life. His lasted for 90 miles, which would have been around 16+ hours. Mine only went for about 33 miles and 7 hours. Lessons learned: buy decent gear; have a backup; bring plenty of batteries.

Clothes: My grade is A- on this. I know running gear pretty well now, as well as what works for me at different temperatures. I wore a L/S Compression Nike Pro Combat Cold Gear up top, with some Merino Wool tights on the bottom. Thin wicking socks. Liner gloves. I tied a L/S fleece around my waist in case I got cold, and had a fleece headband in the pocket just in case. I never needed either. The top was running a little hot, but not by much. I started right at dark, about 7:45pm, so falling temps, not to mention colder in the hollows. I think the air temp was probably upper 30s to very low 40s at the start. It was below freezing by the time we wrapped it up 7 1/2 hours later. I changed my shirt once. Wow, did that dry shirt feel fantastically warm and cozy after a few hours in the first one! I also changed socks once after a dunking at a water crossing. I didn’t have any problems per se with socks, although in hindsight I would have thrown a pair in a pocket so I could have changed at an earlier aid station before the crew access point where Julie gave me the dry ones. I also had a huge variety of other things to change into in my gear bag so I could have switched to a lighter L/S shirt, added a vest, gone with a S/S shirt under a fleece, etc. However, I never needed any of that. A combination of Body Glide and petroleum jelly in various strategic places prevented any chafing/bleeding nipple issues. Lesson learned: if you’re running the whole thing, take advantage of drop bags, even if it’s just socks and batteries.

Shoes: A on the shoes. My Skora Forms worked great. I had taken them for a 20 mile spin on the trails at Clinton before this, so I knew they’d do well. I had ZERO foot problems after 7 1/2 hours and 35 trail miles. I attribute that to the anatomical design of the Form, coupled with my trick of coating my feet with a thin layer of petroleum jelly before socking up. I reapplied once during the race. No blisters. No lost toenails. I have never lost a toenail in minimal shoes. Do you hear me, heel strikers? Also, there’s nothing that’s significantly absorbent on the shoe, so I didn’t pick up weight after getting them wet. They drain well and the leather upper handled the moisture well. I knew they’d be fine though, since my trial trail run in them was in the rain. I brought a spare pair of shoes (Base) just in case there was some train wreck issue with water or shoe failure, but I didn’t need them. Lesson learned: punish your shoes before a race to make sure they work they way you need them to in a worst case scenario.

Since I don’t have any race pics, here’s my Forms the day after:

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Fueling/hydration: I give myself an A here too, by virtue of having no issues whatsoever with this. I really can’t recommend one of my pre-race meals (a breakfast of Krispy Kreme donuts). However, I ate a hearty late lunch, including some delicious lobster and shrimp bisque, a salad with beets and goat cheese, some pan-fried tilapia, and steamed veggies. Oh, and some ice cream for dessert. Props to “Sybil’s” in St. James – a welcome surprise on the way to the race. It sat well and I had plenty of time for digestion before the race started. When Darin came into the tent, I pounded through a roll of Sweet Tarts. I had been pushing fluids all day until my urine was clear. I gulped down 2 cups of HEED before we started. I hate carrying fluids with me. I did fine with 2 cups of HEED at each of the next 4 stops before the finish. I wasn’t ever truly thirsty, but I may have to reconsider this strategy of aid station-only fluids if I run a full Ultra. I refueled mostly with candy bars and HEED gels. I never felt nauseous or had any other GI issues. Lessons learned: drink when you’re thirsty. Make sure you’re okay with what’s being offered at aid stations.

It’s going to be hard to reconstruct a description of the course and race from memory, especially since it was dark, but here goes.

I started at Hazel Creek – 68.4. This was a crewed aid station, so lots of people were there. Darin came in a little past 7:30pm or so in 4th place and this was a major stop for him – changing into night clothes, eating, shoe change. I was chomping at the bit to get going! I admit to being a little disconcerted when Darin mentioned that he had gotten off course by about a mile earlier in the day and had to retrace his steps. I tried not to show it. Later, I realized it is much easier to follow the trail at night. First, it’s packed, so if you get off it, you can feel the softer ground underfoot. Second, the trail markers have a reflective square on them that can be seen from afar. It’s really helpful. Darin and I left the aid station with the 5th place runner and his pacer close on our heels. We eventually put some distance on them and they never passed us. This stretch had some really marshy spots in it – I soaked my shoes pretty early on. We came up on the 3rd place runner in this stretch. Darin knew him by name. I appreciated the friendly exchange between the two. He asked if we wanted to come around, but Darin said not yet. He meant it too, as we took a breather and let him go out ahead again. He led us into the first (for me) aid station at Pigeon Roost (75.9). There was a gravel road – pretty much the only part of the run that wasn’t on single-track trail – for a half mile leading in. It was mostly downhill – it felt like we were flying! I worried I was pushing Darin too hard – but he knew his own mind already and told me he was going to back it off a bit as we cruised toward the aid station. I seem to remember an inflatable snowman – it was too early for hallucinations so I’m pretty sure it was really there.

The next stretch was a relatively short 5.4 miles to Berryman campground. We did it in just over an hour. This is the segment where Darin moved into 3rd place for good. It sounds stupid, but since it was dark, my favorite part was a touch of civilization – a huge swath cleared out for high power lines. It was strange to suddenly to have the sense that there was nothing around or above us. The stars were brilliant as well, made brighter by a new moon. Berryman is a crew access point, so Julie was there, along with a bunch of other people and a lot of Christmas lights! I got to switch out my socks and shirt, but Darin was quicker through here than I expected! I was still pulling my shirt on and grabbing candy bars as we headed out.

Berryman to Billy’s Branch was a long haul – 8.8 miles that took us almost 2 hours. We met another runner coming out of Berryman – it’s the only part of the race that’s an out and back. There is a short spur in and out of the campground before the trail took off to the right again. Seeing the other runner motivated Darin to push really hard during some nice flat stretches of trail. Billy’s Branch was a welcome sight – especially for Darin, he knew the folks manning it pretty well. Unfortunately for me, there’s a really tricky narrow and steep section coming into it, and I stepped off the trail onto a slope and sprained my ankle. Ironically, just a few minutes before this Darin had taken a wrong step as well and remarked about NOT spraining an ankle. If only I had been so lucky! I ran through the pain, including 3 or 4 re-tweaks on roots. Eventually it loosened up (or swelled up, or whatever your body does to keep moving if it thinks it has to) and I was running well again, albeit not totally pain-free. There was a cowbell coming into Billy’s Branch – which we used to our advantage after leaving to learn that we had about 2/3 of a mile lead on the next runner behind us. More cowbell!

Because of my ankle, the worst stretch for me was the 7 miles to Henpeck Hollow. However, we ran it at a really good pace, about a minute per mile faster than the previous segment. Darin was killer on the downhills, despite having some pain in his quads (understandable at the 90 mile mark). With my ankle, I had to push to keep up. At this point in the race, we never saw lights behind us, maintaining our lead on #4. However, we never saw #2 either. As we came into Henpeck, Darin made it clear it would be a grab and go to keep our lead to the finish. I think he might have taken on some bacon. While bacon is probably one of my top 10 favorite foods, I’m not sure if I would feel that way about it after 97 miles.

The last segment has 3 significant hills. Darin ran really strong to the first hill, which didn’t appear until a couple of miles into the last 6.5. Ironically, the only time we went off course was right before the finish. As we came into the campground we were seeing a lot of glow sticks, however, we missed a turnoff that was marked by a reflective sign above eye level on a tree – not more than half a mile from the finish. No glow sticks there… Fortunately for Darin, he had run the course before and knew something was off when we found ourselves on a paved road in the campground. I ran back to retrace, but he figured it out first and we brought it home after finding the turn.

After getting into the tent, we learned that second place hadn’t been in the barn for long – and we saw the fourth and fifth place runners come in together about 5 minutes after we did. Thank goodness we didn’t wander around the campground too much!

I came out of this race amazed at how clearheaded Darin was and how strongly he was able to run during those last 35 miles. If I venture out onto this course myself next year I hope I can keep it together that well.  I don’t know if doing the whole thing would change how I feel about it, but I had a lot of fun running in this race!

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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Minimalist trail running in the @Skorarunning Form

I went on a 20 mile trail run in my new Skora Forms this weekend. Until Saturday, this was the only shoe in the Skora lineup I hadn’t tried. I was eager to check it out after I realized it was probably the shoe best suited to the type of trail running I was planning.

The trails in my “neck of the woods” include some extremely rocky sections, mixed with dirt single track. According to my personal subjective definition, a light trail is predominantly dirt, maybe some small gravel. I could run a dirt trail barefoot, but when you mix in some rocks, you need some degree of protection.

The Skora Form is the sturdiest, most durable shoe in the minimalist Skora lineup. With a 13mm stack height (zero drop), a rubber/EVA Foam outsole/midsole, and a goat leather/perforated sheepskin upper, the Form can take whatever your trail dishes out.

To my way of thinking, the Form has just enough minimal cushioning to handle a rocky trail without being too much. I was able to take it through some really uneven ground without feeling like I was beating my feet up.

My 20 mile run at Clinton Lake got off to a great start, in the dark at 6am in a fairly heavy rain – I’d call it just shy of a downpour. Thankfully temps were still in the 60s. Heading into the woods helped calm things down, and while my clothing was pretty wet, my shoes weren’t soaked, although they were wet. I never had the feeling that the Forms increased significantly in weight due to water during the run, which had rain on and off most of the 3 hours I was out there. I stopped for a re-tie at the 1 hour mark – I had tied dry, plus it was my first run in the shoe. I didn’t have to mess around with them any more for the final 2 hours – fit was great for the rest of the run. Anticipating the rain, I rubbed in a light application of petroleum jelly on my feet before putting on socks, then the shoes. That, combined with good fit, meant no blisters as a result of this run. I’m very pleased with that, given that my feet were wet the entire run.

The Clinton Lake course is full of rolling ups and downs, but on balance I’d say it doesn’t have the really steep killers like Wyco Lake Park. Despite terrible conditions, the Form had enough traction to keep me vertical even on wet rocks and through the mud. Yes, there was mud:

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They are a lot prettier when clean…

I’m primarily a forefoot/midfoot striker. I like that the Form has enough structure in the heel that if I want to take a break and heel strike a downhill, I’m not paying a price for it. It’s shaped like your heel – curved, not flat.

Something I keep coming back to with Skora’s line of minimalist offerings is that the shoe just gets out of your way and lets you run. The Form was no exception. Other than thinking about the fact that I was evaluating the shoe while running in it for the first time, my attention wasn’t drawn to the shoe. To me, that’s ideal. No slipping, no hot spots. I was simply able to concentrate on negotiating the best path on the trail.

I’ve done a slightly shorter trail run in the Core on a different course (Wyco). I felt a bit beat up by that trail. I think Core is excellent on a light trail, but for the hard rocky stuff I’d go with Form. It’s worth mentioning that the Core is probably one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever put on my feet. For a light trail, or running in grass (e.g. one of my suburban just-off-the-sidewalk courses) the Core can’t be beat. However, from now on, when I run one of our typical exposed-rock mixed surface trails, I’ll be lacing up my Forms. Can’t wait to hit the trails again in them.

Partial objectivity disclosure – I spent my own money on these shoes, but at a Skora Ambassador discount.

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.