Thursday, June 30, 2011

Keen A86 - Confidence for my Feet

Gear Review - Keen A86 Trail Shoes

EDIT 2/13/12 - I still love wearing these shoes.  The soles are probably a little more spongy than I made people believe, but that's ok.  The one complaint that I have it their typical life.  They only last between 135 and 150 miles.  Then the area right below the "N" in Keen shown below opens up.  I've had 3 different pairs of these shoes and they all 'blow out' in the same manner.  I talked to a Keen representative at the StumpJump 50k and he laughed when I complained saying the same thing happened to him.  Anyway, I wanted to make sure everyone knew that... Back to the existing review:

Keen, a Portland area company known for their closed toe sandals with the triangle exclamation point logo on the toe, have ventured in to the realm of trail running footwear with the A86 and in my humble opinion have offered a fantastic shoe.  The A86 is a minimalist shoe with a low heel-toe drop, light weight and firm midsole.  Trail Runner Magazine has given the A86 the "Editors Choice Award" in the May 2011 issue.  Because this shoe has been heavily reviewed and acclaimed, I'm not going to give a lot of details about what can be found on other sites, I'm only going to provide details about my experience with them, my likes and dislikes.
Sorry about the super white legs!

Initial reaction:
When I pulled the shoes out of the box, I was very pleased with the weight of the shoes.  I believe they are about 8 ounces.  In addition, I'm the kind of person that has a pretty loud personality, so the bright colors and appearance of the shoes was something that I liked.  I don't mind drawing attention to my feet, since that takes the attention away from the rest of my body...  I initially thought the lacing system wouldn't hold the shoe firmly enough on my foot.  The lacing doesn't go up very high on the foot or ankle and made me think that my heel would be slipping around.  Fortunately that wasn't the case.  The S-lacing system is really nice and keeps the shoe on my foot without pressure points.  The toe box isn't really wide like a New Balance Minimus, but my feet don't feel cramped either.  I've got pretty wide feet and really short toes, so finding shoes that fit that combination can be tough.  While the sole is firm, it is also quite flexible.  The sole will flex and contour with the foot while on the trail.

I put about 35 miles on the shoes so far in varying environments.  From the first run on a dry dirt trail to a 20 miler in the rain to a 5K trail race, the A86s have performed well.  The "lugs" on the bottom of the shoe are great for gravel and dirt, including rock hard dry trails.  The wet, rainy 20 miler had some pretty sketchy portions of trail but my feel felt comfortable and confident on both the up and down hills. During my 5K race, my heel did pop out once when running though thick, heavy, shoe sucking mud, but before my next stride it was right back in place.  Because there isn't a lot of extra sole and the shoe doesn't flair out much on the heel, my shoe didn't get trapped in the mud.  I am primarily a midfoot striker I don't land on the heel of my foot which helps me keep light fast feet on the trails.  During the long run my feet felt comfortable without that "floating" feeling some really soft shoes provide.  I was able to stay true to my running form.  However even when I was descending down the ¾ mile long downhills and had the occasional heel strike, I wasn't punished by a rock jab to my heel.

Light Weight
Bold Colors and Look
Low Drop Sole
Firm sole is protective while still providing feedback
Great Fit without being too tight
Dry Trail Traction and feel - no pressure points on the sole

Lugs might not be long lasting on abrasive trails/pavement
3mm lugs don't have great heavy mud traction
Not a great first minimalist and low drop shoe for a runner due to the firm heel

Summary -
Since I've began running heavily at the beginning of this year, I wasn't really sure what kind of shoe I wanted.  I've had a few different styles of shoes, anywhere from an Asics GT2150 to a Vibram KSOTrek.  The Keen A86 still gets the looks that I've been accustomed to by wearing fivefingers, but give me a confidence on the trail that I've never had before.  I can finally power down some of the long downhills without worrying about stepping on a rock or rolling an ankle.  The A86 is a perfect fit for my current running style and I'll be wearing them on my first trail marathon in San Francisco.  Simply put, these shoes give me confidence on the trail without blinding my feet to the experience of running off road.

Hoosiertrailrunner Rating:
5 out of 5 ears of corn

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Race Report - Run with the Foxes

Run with the Foxes (½ Marathon, 10 mile, 10K and 5K)
Date: May 21, 2011
Distance: 13.1 Miles
Time: 2:19:19
Dailymile Activity

This run was my 5th consecutive Saturday race of more than 9 miles. I signed up for just because I like the Morgan Monroe State Forest area and it was only $20 for the event. Sometime a week or so before this race I signed up for the Golden Gate Trail Run in San Francisco and I needed to get more than 13 miles in that Saturday. I told my running buddy that I was going to do a bonus three miles after the race and he was interested, at least until we finished the race. He ended up dropping out of the bonus miles, probably because of all of the previous racing we’d been doing.
Route Map

The start of the run was a big downhill on pavement and then everyone jams into some single track and up a hill. It was the definition of a bad start location for a large race, but there were only about 80 participants doing the longer distances. I was a little frustrated with people in the way, but I found a good crowd of fellow Vibram Five Finger wearers and we trotted right along up the hill and off on the course.

One of my former co-workers, Steph, noticed my name on the registration list and Facebook messaged me prior to the race. I saw her before the start and then sadly, about 1.5 miles in. She was bent over on the side of the trail after just rolling her ankle pretty badly. You can read about that disappointment here. It was already swelling up so she turned and went back to the start. Her husband owns the Indiana Running Company which sponsored Dances With Dirt the weekend prior to this race.

The rest of the run went off without a hitch. We slowed down a little bit about half way though the race and had a pretty relaxed run, but it was fun. I took a few action shots during the run and I’ve included them below.
Short Train of Trail Runners
Self Shot
Gorgeous Trail

Only 2 more miles to go!

There I go, I love that camelbak.

I'm coming for you, runner way up there.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My First Marathon - Where and Why

I’ve decided to write a little bit about why I choose the Golden Gate Trail Run for my first marathon…ever.  It started with an idea that I wanted to combine the run with a vacation.  Originally I thought about going to the Limberlost Challenge in Ontario, but I opted not to due to the pretty expensive hotels and limited other activities during the week.  I talked to my significant other about traveling for a run.  She isn’t a runner, but loves to travel.  We pulled up the race list and found one in a place we wanted to go. 

The first place we found was in Costa Rica.  The run looked awesome, really challenging but do-able.  Until I realized that the elevation map was in meters, not feet.  That pretty much immediately changed my mind.

Then we saw the Golden Gate Trail Run.  I’ve never visited San Francisco, except for a quick stop a year or so back.  In short, we booked it.  I didn’t really know what I was getting into.  I had 11 weeks to train for a trail marathon with 4,800’ of climbing.  I knew I could prepare and accomplish 26.2 miles of running.  I didn’t know how I would prepare for 4,800’ of climbing.  After all, I live in Indiana and if there is something we don’t have, it is definitely mountains.
Elevation Profile - 4,800' of Climbing
I’ve been driving down to Brown County State Park, one of the places in the state that does have some hills to climb, for long training runs.  While the total climb in that area is about half of what I’ll need for the marathon, it has been good practice and confidence building for me.

Course Map - I'll be running the pink route twice
For you flatland runners out there, any tips for a Midwesterner venturing out for a more mountainous race?  A small portion of the race is on the Miwok trail, which I read about in Gretchen’s and Donald’s blogs. Only 24 people ran the marathon this February, so it should be a really small group.  However, there are other events including a 5 mile, half marathon and 50K ultra. I’m really excited about the race, but I want to make sure I’m properly prepared.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Race Report - Potato Creek Trail Run

Potato Creek Trail Run (1/2, Full and Ultra Marathon)
Date: April 30, 2011
Distance: 13.1 Mile Loops (Choose 1, 2 or 3 -- I chose 1)
Time: 2:04:09
Place: 12 of 59 ½ marathoners
Dailymile Activity
Garmin Connect Activity   

Bo from a previous run
Since I started trail running heavily this year, I’ve been a member of the Indiana Trail Running social network. This website is basically just a forum for trail running information and events around the state of Indiana.  It is focused on central Indiana and the Indianapolis/Bloomington areas, but there are occasionally topics in other parts of the state.  One of these was from the Race Director of new trail runs in northern Indiana called the Potato Creek Trail Runs.  Named for the state park in which the runs take place.  Because I was planning on running the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon the weekend after these runs took place, I was hesitant to sign up.  When I found out that my running partner signed up for a road half marathon in Virginia, I decided to commit.

On Friday before the race, I drove up to South Bend, Indiana.  I borrowed the girlfriend’s Buick Century, put my dog Bo in the back seat, leaned my seat way back, threw on some gansta rap and headed up to Potato Creek State Park after work on Friday. I found my campsite, set up my tent and then decided to head down to the packet pick up at the expo at the park shelter.  I knew this race would be small because it was the first year, but I didn’t know how small until I told them my name for the bib.  RD Brett, says “You are from Indianapolis right?”  Wait, what?  How do you know me, this is only my fourth trail race…ever.  And I’ve never been described as fast enough to remember, or really fast at all.  Brett and I chatted a bit about running, the trails for the following day and where everyone was camping.

I returned to my campsite, hung out with Bo, went for a quick walk and then climbed into the tent.  I didn’t sleep terribly well and after I layered on about 3 shirts, leggings and my jeans, I finally fell asleep for a few minutes, until a familiar urge woke me.  I don’t know if it was the three Strongbows* or the 20 ounces of water I drank before and after each beer cider, but I had to get up and pee about 5 times that night.

The race started at 8:00 am, so I figured because I was only a 5 minute walk from the start I could sleep in until 7:00.  I got out of my tent, drove over to the start line and got my ½ cup of coffee.  This didn’t quite do the job I was hoping for, but it did wake me up a bit.  I came back to the campsite, did some business and started packing up the buick.  When I finished I looked at my watch.  It was 7:52, my water bottles were empty and I was 5 minutes from the start. Crap! I jogged sprinted to the start, filled up my bottles and then walked up to the line, which was actually just the sidewalk at the shelter. I then thought in my head how pointless chip timing is when there is only a timing mat at the finish line and not the start.

The Race:
The start was signaled by both some bagpipes and a spud gun.  That was pretty cool, since you know; we were in potato creek state park.  The group all moved at once down the course.  Now, I’m not a trail running snob, but when I hear things like “I’ve never run on trails before” or “this is my first ½ marathon” I try to pass those people as quickly as possible.  I quickly fell into a line of runners and chatted with a runner ahead of me. I told him that I wasn’t trying to be mean, but he didn’t have the legs I was hoping to follow for the next 13 miles.  He gave a little chuckle and then told me he was running the ultra.  I didn’t have any more smart remarks to say to that, so I just told him good luck.  I followed him for a couple miles, and then stopped at the aid station to switch one of my water bottles for some HEED.  He disappeared and I found some other legs to follow.

The first 6.5 miles of the course were through the mountain bike course that had been built there over the previous years.  It was really nice to run on, but quite narrow and it prevented a number of passes that I wish I could have made.  I wasn’t really trying to finish this race quickly, but I didn’t want to be stuck behind a long line of people when the technical parts caused people to slow.  The course has very few hills, but still rolls up and down about 15-30 ft from time to time.  It was nice to keep the legs working but not tire me out too much.

After the mountain bike path, we started running on crushed gravel paths that were wider and much more established.  This was nice because the group could finally spread out and find their pace.  I found ultra legs again, whose name I believe is Steve, but I’m not sure.  We chatted after the 2nd aid station and stuck together for the final 6 miles of the race.  I was wearing my Vibram KSO Trek Five Fingers and only had to do one loop, so I was splashing through all the puddles.  He was trying to keep his socks dry, so he would tip toe around the edges of those parts.  That allowed me to pass and be passed by him a number of times.  It was nice to run with someone and we kept each others spirits high.  He pulled away from me on the final mile but before he made the right turn to do another loop, he waited for me and said congrats/good job.  That was really nice of him.

I turned left, did the final couple hundred yards and finished with a 2:04:09.  I was pleased with that and I didn’t feel like I really killed myself on the run.  The RD saw me after I finished and said “Hi Ben! How did it go?” I’m always impressed by runners and race directors who remember names well.  Sorry Ultra Legs, I forget your name!

I hung around for awhile to get my personalized medal and some food and drinks.  I chatted with the RD’s family who were running the finish line and then hit the road back to Indianapolis.  It was a really fun run. There was no competitive pressure, but there were some strong athletes there.  I’ll be back to run again next year, but maybe a longer distance…

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fresh (re)Start

I'm starting over with this blog.  I did about 5 posts, wasn't really into it and stopped.  I'm going to give it another go now.  I'll use it as a place to put gear reviews, talk about places I've run and other running related things.  I won't post on any regular schedule, but one a week would be nice.  I won't post about nothing, at least, not too often.  This blog might be boring, it might be entertaining, and it might be lasting.  But who knows...

Here is some quick bio information for those interested.  My life story isn't very exciting, but people will read anything these days.

Except for college, I've always lived in Indianapolis.  Starting when I was 8 and ending when I was 15, my sister and I would host a 5k or 2.0 mile fun run in our neighborhood.  It was run between Thanksgiving and Christmas and called the "Snowman Scramble".  I've still got some of the shirts, which my sister designed every year.  Over the 8 year we did the snowman scramble we raised about $5000 for the Eagle Creek Park Foundation.  Eagle Creek is the only city park in Indianapolis not to be fully funded by the city, and it is also the 3rd or 4th largest city park in the nation.  Eagle Creek is one of my favorite places to run.

I got my bachelors at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Mechanical Engineering.  I've been working at an aircraft engine manufacturer in Indianapolis since I graduated.  I started running voluntarily in September of 2009.  My roommate and I decided we wanted to get in better shape.

In November of 2009, we went out to the bars and when we got back I was quite toasted.  Coby, the roommate, was sober because he drove.  He asked me if I wanted to run the Indy Mini Marathon.  I was quite easily persuaded in that state so we signed up.  A few months later we were competing in my first mini since I was 13 years old.

After the mini in 2010 my training dropped off and I started playing more Ultimate Frisbee.  That is my team sport of choice, and I was the captain of a club team in Indianapolis called Liquid Hustle.

Sometime during the summer of 2010, I bought my first pair of Vibram FiveFingers.  They are black KSOTreks.  I didn't do a lot of running in them, but I loved it on the trail.  The first day I had them I ran in a downpour along the short trail loop at Eagle Creek.  It changed the way I ran, both mentally and literally.  My stride was forced to improve.
In January of 2011, I started to get serious about my health.  I started running more often.  I started reading running blogs.  I've come across some really great blogs, and I've linked to them on the right of this page.  Please check them out. While I do own some new "traditional" shoes, I still wear my VFFs on shorter trail runs (less than 10 miles).

It's now June 2011.  I've lost 38 lbs since the beginning of the year.  I've increased my mileage capacity per day from 4 to about 18 (and still climbing).  I've completed 3 1/2 marathons and numerous shorter races.  I'm really excited about what is to come.