Stop Scouting; Try Skout

Skout TrailbarsI always used to ‘try to eat healthy,’ after all, I think most people do. I don’t ever recall anyone saying “I try not to eat healthy. I really want to get morbidly obeese.” Of course, when the kids were born, the questionably healthy foods started being left out of the shopping cart. No more granola bars. Nutri grain bars – not tasty, but easy – were left on the shelf. It’s actually been a bit of a struggle to find pre-packaged snacks that the kids would eat, I would eat, and didn’t contain all the fake sugars and preservatives.

My wife and I dabbled in making our own crackers and cereal bars. We dried out own fruit for a while, and while they were usually pretty tasty, it was time consuming, expensive, and the results with the kids were always hit or miss.

Cue Skout Organic Trailbars. I had heard about them online a few times, but never really looked into them. Finally, I took the plunge. Turns out, it was a pretty good idea. They’re based out in Oregon and make organic trail snacks aimed at the adventurous, outdorsy types. Not only are they organic, but they are verified non-GMO (to me this is almost more important than being organic), and for all you gluten sensitive folks, they’re gluten free, too. They’re also vegan, dairy free, and kosher. So unless you’re a real odd duck, there should be one for you…

The main ingredient for the Trailbars is Dates. which for my liking gives them a bit too much sugar. Though it doesn’t taste sweet. Dates are also pretty dense when blended up and smashed into a shape. However, with the dates being dense, half a bar is pretty filling, a whole bar is certainly a snack that will suffice. All the bars come in between 170-200 calories. When I give them to the kids, I give them less than half a bar each and they’re set. While the dates and the bars are a little high in sugar for me, it is natural sugar with the fiber of the date so it’s not absorbed massively fast by the body only to turn your metabolism into a mess.

Chunks of apple.

Chunks of apple.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have any Cherry Vanilla in stock, so I was only able to try four of their five flavors: Chocolate Coconut, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Apple Cinnamon and Blueberry Almond. I think I liked them in that order. The two chocolate bars were quite tasty, with the PB bar only having subtle hints of PB flavor. The Apple Cinnamon bar was next. The were some chunks of dried apple in the bar which gave it more of a springy, light, chewy texture. It was good but not my favorite. My kids, however, did really like it. The same was true of the Blueberry Almond bar. I thought I was going to love it based on name. I was miserably wrong. Not sure what it was, but it was the worst of the bunch, and I won’t be trying it again.

In the end, I was really pleased with the Skout Organic Trailbars. They tasted good (for the most part), were very filling, and are made with wholesome ingredients I don’t hesitate to give to my children. I won’t be taking these on the run with me – they’re just too dense for anything quicker than a 50 miler – but will be taking them when I go hiking and foraging for sure.

Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2 Review

Some months ago, before it was warm enough to wear shorts, I purchased the Orange Mud HydraQuiver. I had tried it before, so I was ready for all the love. As time went on, and I thought about doing longer runs in the warm weather, I realized I might need to carry more water with me for those runs that didn’t go by semi-potable water. For a while, I contemplated buying the Double Barrel (a HydraQuiver with two bottles), but around that same time, there was talk about the new Orange Mud Vest Pack 2. I decided to wait, and I’m glad I did.

The chest strap, pocket, and shoulder pocket.

The chest strap, pocket, and shoulder pocket.

Essentially, the Vest Pack is a Double Barrel with chest straps that come down the front of your chest with straps to connect running parellel to the ground. The two shoulder pockets from the HQ are still in tact, but the chest straps also allow for two large pockets that sit lower on your chest. The VP is also designed so
Chest pocket.

Chest pocket.

that a third water bottle can be stored between the two existing water bottles, or an extra storage bag can be purchased from Orange Mud.

Like the HydraQuiver, the VP carries the water high on your shoulders, almost

Because three is better than two.

Because three is better than two.

between the shoulder blades. At first it may seem like it sits rather high and might be a bit awkward, but as far as packs go, this is by far the easiest place I’ve found to carry water. There’s no bouncing, even with the VP fully loaded with 72 ounces of liquid, there’s no smashing into your back. Instead it seems to stay glued to your back/shoulders. This also leaves your lower back open, which for me, is preferable when running in the heat.

The shoulder pockets are made of an elastic material that expands quite well. I used just the two shoulder pockets for a 50 miler, and had no problems with space. At Vermont 100, I used the shoulder pockets to stash my flashlight, keys, cell phone, and other non-essentials that might have proven to be useful. This left the chest pockets to be used for food. The shoulder pockets have an elastic band to synch the front of the pocket and then a velcro strap that covers the opening. Things falling out is of little concern. The shoulder pockets sit on top of the pack so there is no digging in; it’s hard to tell they’re even there.

Huge chest pocket.

Huge chest pocket.

The chest pockets are quite large. Large enough to stash a whole cheeseburger, or my fist. (I’ve tried both.) I also kept drink powder, and sandwich bags of sweet potato. I was never once concerned about filling the pack up. At one point, I put a cup of ice in one of the pockets, synched it off, and had ice for a couple of miles which was pretty nice. Towards the end, I also stuffed a bunch of tater tots in there which proved to be difficult when it came time to get them out – I don’t recommend it, maybe if you put them in a cup but… One of the chest pockets also holds a key clip if you’re worried that the shoulder pocket is inadequate.

The pack itself is incredibly light weight and made of a high grade medical quality mesh. It’s breathable, lets sweat wick away, and can ride on bare skin without any problems. There are three adjustable straps that run paralel to the ground that connect the chest straps/pockets to the back of the pack and also in front. The two side straps do the major adjustment for size, while the front strap makes the minor adjustments.

I’m not sure I’d use this pack for a 50 miler, or even a heavily aided 100 miler like Vermont – for those I think the Double Barrel would be adequate – but for events that aren’t buffets, this is certainly the pack to have. You can check them online at Orangemud.com.

Delivering: VT100 Part II

This is part II in my attempt to tell of my first one-hundred mile run. Part III will eventually follow. Part I can be found here. I didn’t want it to be so long, but a lot happens over the course of a hundred miles.

The Gun

As the announcer’s voice began to cut through the din, tired faces slowly turned towards the start. Unlike your typical road race, there was no jostling of elbows, no subtle body positing to eek in-front of another runner while avoiding eye contact, scanning the horizon pretending to look for someone you know. No, if you wanted to stand at the front of the line, no one would stop you. People would move out of your way and allow you to pass, but a hundred mile race is a little different. While the winner isn’t predetermined, chances are very good it won’t be a neck-and-neck finish, a race that could have been won with better starting position. We stand where we are and go when told, in the beginning, a few more steps isn’t worth the hassle of moving up; of course at the end, those few more steps can seem an eternity.

The announcer stopped talking and started counting backward from ten with the help of the crowd, like a New Year’s celebration without the nip of winter. Soon enough, we got to ‘one’ and we were off. There were a few cheers and shouts, but we had been advised to keep our shouts and excitement to a minimum – at least for about a mile until we hit the woods (again, thank you cranky neighbours…) – so there were little dramatics at the start. The handful of spectators lining the side of the road waiting to see loved ones pass by was brief. This race became very real long before the start, but once I passed from field to dirt road, it had begun. The nerves were gone. It became less of an obstacle and just something that had to be done. A task I had set for myself, a chore to be done with no real overseer.

At 4:00 AM it’s dark. The sun will be coming up soon, but the world still has some travelling through darkness to be done before the faint rays of our star will announce it’s arrival for the day. The headlamps and flash-lights that had seemed to light the whole area of the corral soon distanced themselves from one another as we strung out along the road, careening down the hill and snaking around the curve, surely confusing any nocturnal beasts about and giving any early waking children nightmares of the M. Knight Shyamalan variety. I opted to not take a headlamp along with me, and instead brought a couple of handheld flash lights. While I had it in my hand, lanyard wrapped around my fingers, I only turned it on a handful of times when we got out to the trails. Between the moonlight and the plethora of headlamps around, it really wasn’t necessary. In hindsight, I wonder if I broke some universal rule, a code of conduct among ultra runners to share the burden of breaking darkness.

Pacing

I

Directions.

Directions.

came into the race planning on running around 10:00 minute miles. Unfortunately, I’m not a real good judge of 10:00 minute mile pace. If I was pushing a stroller, I could tell you, but considering that most of my runs take place between the 7:00 and 8:00 minute range, 10:00 was something of a guess. In an attempt to give myself some help, I made a sort of table of different aid stations and what the running time would be depending on an 8:30 and 10:00 pace – as the distance grew longer, I also included 11:00 and 12:00 pace.

As I rolled into the first aid station seven miles in, I looked down at my watch, expecting to see a time under 60:00. I knew I was trying to go slow, but between the adrenalin and the effort the pace felt like, I figured I was somewhere just over 8:00 minute miles. I was wrong. I went through at 66:00 and some change. Despite being closer to my goal pace than I had anticipated, the fact that things certainly didn’t feel like 9:30 miles gave me some pause. With the new pacing information and awareness, I tried to slow down a bit and continued on my way.

Error #1

I was already running on my own, and figured I’d run much of the race on my own as I approached the next aid station – an unmanned table with some cola, ginger ale and a port-a-potty – and who should step out but one of the characters I met at the beginning – and knew from previous races. We had briefly talked pacing at the beginning and his strategy was a bit different than mine. I had made a point of it in the start to let him go so I wouldn’t be tempted to run with him, and here I was, a mere 11 miles in and we were running side by side chewing the fat. Apparently his drink wasn’t sitting well and he was gearing up for a long race. At the same time, he was a little disheartened by the time he had lost hitting the loo, and was looking to make it back on this long stretch of downhill.

Like the do-dah man.

Like the do-dah man.

Everything in my brain told me to let him go, and I think I even tried physically; I ran a step behind him and tried to make it two, but there was a conversation going on, and being the socially awkward guy I am, couldn’t figure out how to exit. I felt like I was going to be rude if I just dipped off, so instead I ran with him. I let him push the pace, and I just kind of held on despite my best effort to drop off.

We crossed the bridge and rounded a turn onto a dirt road I was familiar with from a local half marathon – it’s amazing how many places you’ll unknowingly recognize when you run 100 miles in your home town. As we neared the aid station, his watch beeped as we crossed the fifteen mile mark. Knowing that we had been going too fast – or at least I had been – I asked what kind of pace we had just been running. To which the reply was 7:40s.

I imagine it wasn’t good for the quads to go ‘bombing’ down hills so early in the race. Even if the short duration didn’t hurt me, in the end it would nag in the back of my head for the rest of the race, silently gnawing away at the little confidence I had.

New Friends, Old Friends, and Beef Cows

Last April I hosted a Fat Ass in town. I’m usually pretty good with names and faces – a tool I’ve honed teaching – but when sixty people show up and they’re not wearing name tags and email is the only form of communication you’ve previously had, remembering names can be a trick to say the least.

Shortly before we lolled into Pomfret, I fell in with a guy and started chatting. As it would turn out he showed up to the Fat Ass I put on, but had to drop due to a bruised foot – he ended up tweaking his hamstring on this day, but would go on to a strong finish. As we chatted, and started the long climb, I started to recognize some of the trees and mailboxes, and despite going up a monster hill, I started to feel a bit of energy as I realized where we were. For some reason, knowing where I was gave me a bit of mental energy.

I exclaimed to Tim that last year I had bought a cow at this farm. He shot me a semi-confused sideways glance. He knew I lived in town and had no space for a cow. Quickly I assuaged his confusion telling him that it was just half a cow, that I split. He caught my drift, and didn’t seem as amped as I was. I continued to tell him how good the cow was and how the tongue is still in my freezer waiting to make tacos, when we arrived at the sign for Cloudland Farm.

My eyes are loosing their ability to see far away. Signs are blurry, faces are a mystery until awkwardly close inspection renders them recognizable. As we approached the Cloudland Farm driveway, there was a couple standing there, cheering us on. Strange place to cheer. As we grew closer, I recognized an old face from college. One I hadn’t seen in 10 years. While I didn’t stop to chat, it was another of those little things that gave me a little more push forward.

The Family

Having already taken a fair bit of time away from my family by training over the past eight months, and not really knowing where to tell them to meet me, I told them to stay home. There were a couple of places designated for spectators, but that would mean my wife packing the kids in the car, driving 40 minutes to see me for a minute, then packing the kids back up and driving some more. It wasn’t fair.

Of course, my wife, had a problem listening and so as I came down a hill around mile 39, I started to hear shouts of “Yay, Daddy!” It took me by surprise, and while 39 miles isn’t that far, I had been awake since 2:45 in the morning and emotions were starting to run raw. I ran down the hill, gave my wife a kiss, bent down and kissed my son, and picked my daughter up and gave her a kiss, too. Seeing them in that moment made me appreciate them more than I usually do. I always tend to appreciate them more on a personal level after a long run, and this was one of the longest runs I’ve been on so far.

As I waved good-bye and told them I loved them, I started to get bleary eyed and choked up. A tear actually welled up before I wiped it away. Apparently running long distances makes me feel all sappy.

Time to Pee

I had managed to pee shortly after the race started, and my pee was clear. It probably had to do with the coffee and water I had for breakfast. I felt good and continued my slow march forward. That was around 4:30 AM. By the time I got to mile 40 or so and noticed the guy in front of me dip off to the side to take a leak, it dawned on me that I hadn’t peed in the last five or six hours. That was not so cool. I had been drinking what I thought was enough fluids, but was apparently not. As I ran I thought about it, checking internally to see if I had to pee, and there wasn’t an inkling of urination. I started to be a bit more conscious about drinking and really tried to force the fluids. I was still sweating pretty good, so that was positive.

Shortly after I noticed I wasn’t peeing and tried to drink more, I had the urge, so I stopped off behind a tree, and did my thing. Expecting to see a dark yellow I was much surprised to see something come out of me that looked similar to radiator fluid. For a moment I kind of panicked. Not because of my health and what my kidneys were doing, but because Camp 10 Bear was coming up and there was a medic check at that point. I would be weighed-in and I was worried about loosing too much weight and being forced to take a seat. I kept running and pounding HoneyMaxx when about a mile out from the medic check I started to wonder if I was drinking too much HoneyMaxx, and not enough water. Was I overloading my body with salts and electrolytes? If I put weight on, I was really screwed. There’s no taking a break from that; it’s game over.

I wanted to consult with my brother at 10 Bear, but the whole time I was there, the medics were in ear shot and I couldn’t let them hear of my dilemma. I continued to drink water and the occasional HoneyMaxx. I had lost a pound or so at the medic station so at least I wasn’t putting weight on. When I eventually found time to tell my brother of my issues he called me a few choice words and threatened my health a bit more. Always positive. In the end, I would pee twice more, and twice more it would be a red, radiator fluid color.

Camp 10 Bear

The Vermont 100 is essentially a big loop with one lollipop loop built-in, that lollipop starts and ends at Camp 10 Bear; it’s also where you pick up your pacer (I think) the second time around. Coming into 10 Bear I met my brother, grabbed some water, weighed myself in and continued on my way. It was a slight incline out, but the path would soon lend itself to some very runnable parts, especially for 50+ miles in. I managed to pass a few people on the flats and really felt like I was moving. It was comfortable, but flat. The only flat part of the race, and it was good. I passed the 50 mile mark at some point – there’s a sign that says 50.2 miles – and despite only being half way done, I felt accomplished. It was the furthest I’ve run in my life and only the second time I’d surpassed 50 miles. It also gave me a bit of hesitation as everything from that point forward was totally new.

Coming back into 10 Bear I would have to be weighed in again and figured the pause would be a good point to change my shirt. I had been wearing the same shirt for nearly 70 miles (I didn’t realize it was that far at the time), and it was pretty salty and gross to say the least. I pulled into the aid station, took off my pack and looked around for my brother. I didn’t see him. I hopped on the scale. My weight was still okay, so I put my pack back on, wandered over to the food table and filled up with water hoping to find my brother. I didn’t see him and after a short minute I decided that waiting was not the right answer, and so continued on my journey.

Free Miles

Every aid station was marked with the miles in, and the miles to the next aid stop. I didn’t typically pay them attention. All I was worried about was getting to the finish at this point. The little goals didn’t help a whole lot. I’m not sure why, but in my head I had figured that 10 Bear was at 64 miles in. I headed out with over 30 miles to go. I was starting to really get tired, mentally and physically at this point, but I figured I had made it this far, forward was the only way to go. I think I passed an unmanned aid station somewhere along the line, but the next time I got to an aid station, feeling exhausted and dragging, and looking for the 70 mile aid stop, where the pacers were, I saw no pacers. I cursed and couldn’t believe I still had 30+ miles to go. I started to doubt whether I’d make it.

I handed the volunteer my water bottle and asked how far I had made it. His reply shocked me and gave me the boost I needed. Apparently 10 Bear was 70 miles, and I had made it to mile 74+. I had made it nearly three-quarters of the way. Soon I would be on roads I was familiar with. As someone said, I could smell the barn at that point. I expressed my disbelief and gratitude and hurried onto the next aid stop.

A New Crew

As I approached the Spirit of ’76 aid station, I wondered if my brother

Me and my boy!

Me and my boy!

would be there, or if something had happened to him. It was a short hike up a little hill to ’76 and at the top of the hill I saw my family, again. Apparently, they had gone back to the house with my brother and all piled in the Man-Van to help daddy out. My son came trucking down the hill on hard pack gravel, barefoot, making me proud, and grabbed my hand. We hiked up the rest of the hill together and stopped at the aid station.

My brother came to meet me and I finally switched shirts. I had managed to pick up some nasty chaffage under my armpit, and I needed help switching shirts. I gobbled some food. I took off my shoes and dumped out the dirt. In hindsight, I think this was the longest I had stopped at any aid station. The path leading out of the aid station was downhill, and it was miserable. My legs felt tired and sore. They were heavy and didn’t want to move. I knew it was going to be a long 24 miles to go, but it was less than a marathon, I could do this.

Fungal Gold

I like mushrooms. It’s something of a hobby of mine, and when it comes time to run in the late summer and fall, I have a hard time focusing and find myself stopping every 200 yards to kick over some ‘shroom and see what it is. Over the last few years I’ve learned a good handful of them.

At some point during this race – I’ve no real recollection how far it was maybe 60-80 miles – I found myself stopping mid-stride. Previously the only time I actually stopped was to go the bathroom and to take my shoe off at an aid station to dump it out. I only stopped for a second and reached down to pluck up a gorgeous chanterelle. There were a number of them, all nice size and solid looking, just starting to unfurl their semi-rolled caps; in my head I could smell their faint earthy apricot smell. By the time I was almost halfway over, I realized the ridiculousness of what I was doing. There was room in my pack, but no way they’d survive the sweaty, bouncy remainder of the race. By no means was this a take my shoes off and play in the mud at the Barkley’s event, but all the same, I think I started to get a taste of that situational lostness that can occur in a hundred mile event.

As I ran away from my little trove of ‘shrooms, I tried to remember where I was so I could go back and pick them later. This would happen again later in the race, as I stopped to pick a Painted Suillius before again I got halfway bent over before I realized what I was doing.

The Great Mistake

Sometime after ’76, I started to recognize where I was. We passed by the start and we were onto roads that I had run numerous times. To some degree, it gave me a mental boost. I knew where the turns would be, where the big climbs were; I had an idea how far it was to the finish. At the same time, I think it made my brain more hurried and less aware.

As I approached the Cow Shed Trail aid station, I made a mistake. I knew Bill’s was at mile 89 and I knew from there it was essentially “over.” The home stretch so to speak. Planning my finish in less than spectacular fashion, I forgot to think about the here-and-now. I grabbed some water, a quarter of a grilled cheese and some gummy bears and was on my way.

As I left the aid station, I started to think about the next aid station and realized I had little to no food with me. It was going to be a long haul. I could turn around and back track for a tenth of a mile, but that far into a hundred miles, the last thing I wanted to do was retrace my steps. I should have.

I’m not sure that my failure to really eat anything made the end of my race the nightmare that it would be, or if it was a gradual buildup of everything that just came crashing down in the last eleven miles. But halfway between Bill’s and Cow Shed Trail, I knew the gig was up. It was going to be a battle.

The Man From Jersey

As I approached Bill’s I saw my wife and kids again sitting at the driveway in. My son, of course marching up and down the side of the road, barefoot, stick in hand, growling “dun-da-dun,” in his best attempt to be a solider. It made me chuckle and I felt okay, but I could tell by the look on my wife’s face, and the way she asked how I was feeling, that I was not okay.

I arrived to the garage and said hello to some of the local volunteers I recognized. I stepped up onto the scale doing my best to look collected. I had lost two pounds so far. The medic asked me some questions and voiced some concern as to my well-being. I assured her I was okay. I don’t recall a whole lot, but I remember telling her I was local and had run these last eleven miles a number of time. I also told her more-or-less, that I was finishing this race and that was that. She agreed and said I hadn’t lost enough weight to keep me there, and I seemed with-it enough. She just wanted to make sure I ate something. I perused the table and grabbed some more gummy bears and a handful of potatoes. I threw a couple Chia bars in my pack along with another handful of potatoes. (I should have learned from Napoleon Dynamite that potatoes in pockets don’t work, but I tried) and tried to leave.

As I went to leave, the medic kind of got in my way and put a gentle hand to my back asking where my pacer was. I told her I had none, and I could see a flash of concern on her face. She quickly rounded up a pacer for me, and told my brother to go with me as well. It took them sometime to get their stuff together, but I told the medic they could catch up, and away I went. In the end, having my brother and the guy from Jersey with me meant I finished sub-20 hours, as opposed to sub-24 or even sub-30.

Eighteen Minute Miles

Going into this, I knew there would be ups and downs. I knew that the wheels would fall off, and I would be sorry heap of scrap doing whatever it took to get where I needed. My goal was to push that demise off for as long as I could. I haven’t gone through all my splits, but I know that going from Cow Shed to Bill’s things really started to slip. My pace started slowing as the walking increased, but to say that the wheels wholly fell off would be a lie (I think…).

Rather, the explosion that left me wasted from which there was no recovery, occurred somewhere after leaving Bill’s. As I entered the woods, and came back to trails, the waning rays of sunlight disappeared and made me slow even further. We had lights, but my legs were tired, and mentally I was spent. My thoughts were no longer of running, but of avoiding rocks so as to not fall.

Even on the roads, I did more walking than running. My pacers ensured me that my walk was brisk, and when I did run, I obviously had something left in the tank. I kind of believed them at the time. In the end, it would take me almost three hours to ‘run’ the last 11 miles – a stunning 17:52 per mile.

The House Party in the Trees

Due to cranky neighbors and noise restrictions, the finish had been moved into the woods, and we had all been reminded numerous times to keep our volume down after 10:00 PM. As it stood, I wasn’t expecting much of a welcoming committee at the end of the race, especially at 11:30 at night, but as I approached what I imagined to be the finish, I grew surprised.

As we ventured through the woods on horse mangled trails for the last two miles, I started to hear some chatter. It grew louder as we continued forward, but as trails do, we looped around with the noise refusing to come closer. Part of me knew it wasn’t the finish. After all, we were told to be quiet, and the voices and music I was hearing certainly wasn’t quiet. But none of it made sense, why would there be an emcee, and 90’s hip hop banging through the woods? Why would there be a 90’s hip hop party in rural Vermont? Parties in Vermont consist of four-wheelers and bonfires. As irrational as it was, part of me believed they were there to welcome runners to the finish of the Vermont 100.

In the end, the music finally grew quieter and eventually drifted off to nothingness. I asked some local friends afterwards if they had heard of any shindig happening that evening. No one could give me any answers.

The End

As the neon glow of the ‘Finish Line’ sign got brighter, I continued to walk. It wasn’t until my pacers peeled away and told me to run across the line that I started to do my best impression of some sort of trot. I saw my wife sitting on the ground with two passed out children in her lap. There was an immense sense of gratitude and guilt at the same time. There was some disappointment that it took me almost 20 hours to finish, that I fell apart as much as I did toward the end. There was also a huge sense of relief that it was over. Accomplishment that I had done what I set out to do. I had just run more miles in one day than I have in an entire week.

As I crossed the finish line, I paused and let the volunteer place the finisher’s medal around my neck. Perhaps as I do more of these things, the finisher’s medal will lose it’s importance and will join the half-marathon and marathon medals as clutter and children’s toys, but for now, it is important.

I took my pack off as I walked back to my wife. I gave her my thanks, and my brother picked up my son as we started the journey back to the car. I had just covered 100 miles in less than a day. I thought I was done. I had no idea the next 24 hours would be more arduous than the last 20.

Not Vermont

Get'em while you can!

Get’em while you can!

But it might suit your fancy. While I’m still working on my VT Part II post, I figured I’d fill in the time by mentiong that SKORA is having a massive sale. By massive I mean 40-70% off almost everything. It’s a clearance sale, so sizes might be limited, but there’s a lot of shoes there with a good number of sizes. Also, I bet you didn’t know this, because SKORA uses the same platform for their shoes, they’re essentially unisex. The fit is the same from men’s to women’s, the only difference is the size which is offset by 1.5 sizes. So if you’re a dude in a 9, you could also wear a women’s 10.5. Or if you’re a lady with a size 12 you could jump down to men’s 10.5. There are some gender neutral colorways, so give it a shot.

Reviews:

SKORA Fit

SKORA Core
SKORA Phase

The Forethought: VT100 Part I

This is Part I. Part II can be found here. Part III will come, eventually. Too much for one post…

In The Beginning

A few months ago I decided to sign up for the VT100. At the time, I hadn’t yet run my first 50 miler but with some running background, I thought it would be a good idea. April came and I ran my first 50. My legs hurt and recovery took a little longer than anticipated, but part of me was still excited for my first go at 100 miles. Soon enough, July 19th came and my first attempt at a 100 was underway.

Of the many things I remember from racing – be it true or not – is that the sleep you get two nights before a race is more important than the night before. I tried, and I think I did a fairly decent job getting in bed early and racking up a decent eight hours or so of sleep. The night before the race was a totally different story for a number of reasons.

Leading In

On Wednesday my father came out to help me put siding on our house. Over the last year we have connected two shed dormers and raised the roof line on our house; the siding was the final step. Consequently, the three days prior to the race were predominately devoted to finishing the house and not preparing for Saturday. All my final packing, planning, making food, got put on hold until Friday night. Friday itself was spent trying to register and finish the siding.

I showed up to registration, got my packet and weighed in – 156.6 pounds and a blood

The tents on Silver Hill.

The tents on Silver Hill.

pressure of 137/78 (whatever that means) – I moseyed over to register my vehicle on foot and was told that I actually needed the vehicle to register it. Oops. I figured knowing the license plate would be good enough. Wrong. Not a big deal, it just meant that I’d get home, and come back to register the car before the 4:00 PM meeting. Unfortunately, what is normally a 10 minute drive was more like 20 with all the local road closures to VT100 traffic – thank you cranky neighbors… So instead of having a few minutes before the meeting and after the siding was completed to get my stuff together, it meant I was going to do it after the meeting, which meant after dinner, which meant after my wife got home, and more than likely meant after the kids got to bed around 8:00PM.

The Strategy

To say that I had no strategy for this race would be a lie, but to say I had any realistic idea about strategy would also be a lie. The previous 50 miler I ran was on similar roads – though no trails – and I managed to run that just under seven hours. I knew that to try and run an equally fast opening 50 would be stupid and that I should go out conservatively, but as to what conservative was, I had little idea. I knew I could run ten-minute miles for the first 50 fairly easily and probably roll through the 100k at the same pace. It sounded manageable; I was sure I would blow up, so the idea in my head was to push that out as close to the end as I could. The problem was that ten-minute miles means an 8:20 50 mile, or a 16:40 100 mile, or in other words, way too fast. Regardless, anything faster than 10:00 was not on my agenda.

One of the big dilemmas I was having concerning building a strategy was the idea of a DNF. I’ve had a couple of DNS’es thanks to over zealous race choices and a bit of a drinking problem, but I’ve never DNF’ed. Dabbling in the ultra world, I’ve come to grips that a DNF will eventually occur, but I’m not ready yet. Running my first 50 I knew I would finish. I was confident in my conditioning and ability to push through, sure 50 miles is far, but it’s not that far, even if I had to walk it in for a 15 hour finish. A hundred miles was a whole different beast. The idea of not finishing was an actual reality, especially if I went out too fast.

In the end, I ended up writing down a number of aid stations on a piece of paper with different arrival times based on pace. Ideally, I would go through the first 50 no faster than 8:20 and just hang on for as long as I could and hope that could get me back to Silver Hill of my own volition.

The Crew

Yes, I affixed a deer skull to the grill of my Man-Van. Just for the race, mind you.

Yes, I affixed a deer skull to the grill of my Man-Van. Just for the race, mind you.

For me, one of the most stressful things about this whole thing was organizing my one person crew. I managed to rope my brother into driving around all day and helping me out. I first planned to meet him at the Stage Road station about 30 miles in. I could estimate a ball park as to when he should plan on being there, and even estimate times for the next two or three handler stations, but after that, I had no clue. It would be a waiting game on his part. A time to kill some forced boredom. Even when I could tell him where to be and when, I had no idea what to tell him to be ready to do. I gave him a laundry basket stocked with things I might need: extra shirt, shoes, sun hat, band-aids, food, drink, even a camera if he should decide to capture a sliver of what I was attempting on some sort of digital film. In the end, I think a couple of drop bags could have replaced my crew as I didn’t use him much at all. And I’m willing to guess drop bags are probably cheaper and come with less guilt.

So It Begins

All my stuff: SKORA Fit, Orange Mud Vest Pack, Generic white shirt, camo bandana, and of course, the mandatory 'poop' bag just in-case (these were provided by the race due to previous participants unrully poo habits...).

All my stuff: SKORA Fit, Orange Mud Vest Pack, Generic white shirt, camo bandana, and of course, the mandatory ‘poop’ bag just in-case (these were provided by the race due to previous participants unrully poo habits…).

I set the alarm on my phone for 2:45AM, enough time to perk a cup of coffee, grab a quick shower and get to West Windsor by 3:30AM. Between the hourly, startled wake-ups searching for the cell phone to reinsure me I hadn’t slept past the 4:00AM start, and the cranky toddler who kept waking up proclaiming to all that she was apparently dieing of thirst, my potential 6 hours of sleep turned into something less.

The drive to the start was less than memorable and I ended up parking in the far lot and walking down Silver Hill in a strung out crowd of strangers, all moving towards the din emanating from the giant white tent below. There were like minded runners, with tired faces, emotions still asleep, chipper crew members  in their street clothes downing their coffee and laughing at inside jokes, and sleeping babies resting on mother’s shoulders, completely unaware of what their parent was about to embark upon.

Despite the headlamp induced, shadowed faces surrounding me, I recognized a few people I knew, and as we congregated 30 yards behind the starting line, the conversation turned to everything but what we were about to do. Eventually the starter began talking and everyone’s focus began to shift.

The FITs

FitA couple days before the Fourth of July, I got a nice little package in the mail, sent by the kind folks over at SKORA Running. I knew they were sending me a new pair of kicks, but I didn’t have a tracking number and it came rather quickly, so it was a bit of a surprise to say the least. I also had no idea of the colour.

What I did know was that it was a pair of their newest offering the FIT. I have to admit, the FIT scared me a little bit at first. All the talk around the internet and their website tout it’s padding and cushy ride, a sort of “Introduction to Zero Drop” type shoe. Being used to running barefoot or in the CORE or PHASE with an 8mm stack, the double 16mm stack of the FIT also gave me some fright. To top off my fears the FIT is also a tad bit narrower than the CORE or PHASE and I wasn’t sure how that would fit my flipper like feet.

Padded heel.

Padded heel.

As soon as I get shoes out of the box, I do a full inspection. Sure pictures online are nice, but once you get a shoe in your hand you notice things you’d otherwise miss. The first thing I noticed is the cushion. Not the cushion of the sole, but the cushion in the heel. I wouldn’t really describe it as cushion so much as padding. The padding is what you would find in something of a traditional shoe and it seems to envelop your heel. Your heel is still free to move about, but the padding keeps things sort of loose feeling but tight at the same time. Almost like it doesn’t exist, if that makes any sense. I actually prefer this to the heel of the PHASE and the CORE, a fact that totally caught me off guard. (I was planning on disliking this shoe…).

The next thing I noticed upon inspection was the insole. The insole is huge, a full 6mm, bigger than anything I’ve run in in sometime. To be honest, I haven’t noticed a difference between it and my other shoes, so it gets a pass.

FIT insole on the top, CORE on the bottom.

FIT insole on the top, CORE on the bottom.

As with all my shoes, I took them out of the box, put them on, and wore them around the house for the first couple of days. I do this so I can send shoes back if they don’t fit, but it also allows me to tweak lacing systems to better fit my feet. I always start with the laces super loose and then tighten them down; surprisingly with the FIT, I ended up tightening the laces back to their ‘factory preset’. I’m fairly sure it has to do with the 3d-dot printing being super stretchy and flexible. While the forefoot of the shoe does fit somewhat tight, it stretches and doesn’t cause any problems like a traditional canvas/mesh shoe that doesn’t stretch.

I don't think I really run like that...

I don’t think I really run like that…

At first, I started out planning on just using them for low mileage days pushing the stroller, or just taking it easy. However, that plan has quickly changed and the FIT has become my new go to shoe. Depending on the day I will take the 6mm insole out which leaves the shoe with a 10mm stack, but more often than not, I’m running with the full 16mm. I have yet to notice any significant difference in ground feel or handling when running on roads, track or trails.

When I got my CORE, I fell in love and thought nothing would replace it. Sadly, it’s been pushed to the back of my closet and the FIT is now my go to shoe. I was planning on running the VT100 in the CORE, but  now I’m planning on wearing the FIT. We’ll see if any problems arise, but I kind of doubt it. I doubt the 3d dot will last as long as the leather of the CORE, but that just means I might have to give the FORM a try…

As an addendum, I should mention that while I normally wear a size 10, I wear a 10.5 in the FIT. I could probably get away with a 10, but it would be tight.

You can connect with SKORA on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram, or on their website. They have a plethora of running related information, and a crackpot customer service team that is beyond helpful.

More Reviews:
SKORA Core
SKORA Phase

Taper, Pacing, and A Crew

With VT100 in just about a week, my taper is in full swing. Typically, I’m not much of  a taperer. My miles aren’t really high enough to warrant a taper for a 5k. Even a 50 mile race, I might take it easy the week before – drop my miles a bit and not do any real long run or speed work – but it wouldn’t be a three week process. I’m not sure if it’s a proper fear of what’s in store, or all the training plans out there that have a taper at the end, but either way, I’ve decided to do a bit of a taper.

I’ve dropped my mileage, cancelled long runs, and opted out of any speedwork. Where as I was putting in a minimum of 50 miles a week before hand, this week will be around 40, and Sunday-Friday the week before will be two mile days.

Because I don’t really implement tapers, I’m not sure how I should be feeling, but I’ve been feeling great. Physically, my legs are starting to feel fresher. The little niggles are dissipating, the sore Achilles isn’t so sore (though this could be due to some other extraneous factors), even my mental outlook is improving. I’m still terrified of what’s to come in a little over a week, but the excitement is brimming.

With the reduced mileage I’ve also been able to think more about the race. Perhaps I should have been doing this long before two weeks out, but I’m learning, I think… Being that this is my first 100, and not having any idea how my legs will handle on the back half, it makes planning anything a bit difficult.

First, there is the pacing. In April I did a 50 miler on much the same terrain as VT100. I went out too fast with some 7:30s and managed to finish with an 8:22 pace. Things slowed down, a lot. I guess that’s to be expected, but I don’t want to drop off too hard. Consequently, I want to go out conservative, but what is that? 10:00 miles sounds pretty damn conservative, but that’s an 8:20 50 and a 16:40 100. That would almost certainly be top-10 and probably top-5. That assumes no slow down, but all the same even sub-17 seems a bit over zealous to say the least. I suppose it’s something that I will figure out n race day, but I will start knowing that I need to keep my miles in the double digits and hopefully, it won’t bite me in the ass too hard.

The other thing I’ve had time to sort of think about is my crew. Initially, I had a crew of three. Two newbies and one veteran who was going to pace me. As things would have it, my veteran had things come up and will be doing his own race the same day as VT. One of my crew will be working in Burlington during the day but will be able to make it back by evening. That leaves my brother as the only crew person I will have. At this point I’m playing with the idea of having a crew. One of the nice things about the VT100 – depending on who you ask – is that there is a plethora of aid stations and places for drop bags. Really the only thing I’d need my crew to do is carry some things I might need, and possibly give me some motivation when I’m wavering. So yes a crew would be nice in that sense, but it also means I need to plan things out for them – things I don’t even know – like when and where to meet them. In the end, it might just be easier to look after myself.

This is essentially a ‘home’ course, if you will. I live two miles from the course and know the last 30 miles quite well. I’m hoping this gives me a bit of a boost should I actually make it to the last 70 miles. But no matter the outcome, I’m really looking forward to the adventure in store.

If you’re in the area and want to volunteer there are a number of opportunities before, during and after the race. Let me know and I can put you in touch with the appropriate people (or you can just go to the VT100 website…).

A Little Self Doubt

I remember as a kid trying to build up the courage to ask a particular girl on a date. It took some time, and when I finally did gather the courage to ask, the nerves were a mess – the dry mouth, the queasy stomach, the heat. The lead up sucked, but the end result was quite pleasant. It ended quite miserably, but did lend to some decent memories. Back in January, when I signed up for the VT100, the nerves were in much the same place. I was varnishing a floor with my alarm set and the sign-up page pulled up on the lap top – no way I’d miss out on registration. It was January so needless to say, the windows were closed; perhaps some of the dizzy, hot flash, giddiness, that I was feeling had more to do with the varnish than actually signing up, but I attribute them to VT.

I already had a training plan in place and knew pretty well how every week or so should look. There were a couple of races, some long runs, and a good handful of recovery days. June was supposed to be my big month. I was looking forward to hitting my first 300 mile month and my first 100 mile week along the way. Unfortunately, as life goes, a small handful of things have come up that are looking to make June just another sub-par month.
This past Tuesday I went out for a long run just over 17 miles – it shouldn’t really be a long run at this point, but it’s the most mileage I’ve done in sometime… It was an early morning run, and it started out quite slow, as normal, but the pace never really picked up. I trudged along, cursing the hills between me and my home. I’ve run these hills countless times before, but they seemed steeper and longer as I puffed up them slowing to something slightly more than a walk as I neared their crests.  It was miserable. These runs happen. We all have off days. Having never run 100 miles before, I assume that by the last 25 miles I will be feeling worse than I do on an ‘off’ day. And it is this that gives me pause. These hills causing such problems are the same hills I would be attempting to climb nearly 90 miles into the VT100 – if I could hardly get over them 15 miles into a run, how can I possibly get over them with 90 miles on the legs (that’s assuming I actually get there)?

The butterflies and excitement of anticipation that I had in January are still there. I’m still looking forward to seeing what I can muster – how far I can push myself, but a new element of fear has been introduced. I am not taking this distance casually; I know it deserves respect and a bit of caution, but the self doubt that was once non-existent has become a fixture when thinking about July 19th.  I know I’ll toe the line, but beyond that it’s something of a mystery. I haven no idea how far I can make it, how long I can hold out and keep moving forward. There will be an end, I just hope it’s a pleasant one.

Checking In With My CORE

Peek-a-Boo

Peek-a-Boo

So, a few weeks ago I got a pair of SKORA Core in the mail and was super excited. Running in the PHASE for a while, I was a little apprehensive to try a new shoe, after all, the PHASE worked, so why change it up? My feet are rather wide – and I think I like wider shoes anyway – so I’m always leery trying a new shoe, that said, the PHASE and the CORE are built on the same platform, and being made of leather the CORE is supposedly ends up being about a half size wider.

The mailman delivered them a day early which was a wonderful surprise – he neglected to come Friday and Saturday before Mother’s Day so my cards were late, again. As I opened the box I was slapped with that wonderful leather smell of a high end boutique. That, too, was quite pleasant. I put them on and walked around the house as any runner with a new pair of shoes who can’t get a run in right away will do. They were comfy. Comfy and roomy.

Typically the first thing I do with a pair of shoes is to unlace the bottom one or two eyelets to let my forefoot expand, with the CORE, I didn’t need to. It held my foot nicely and there wasn’t a lot of tension in the forefoot area.

Not quite animal print, but still sexy.

Not quite animal print, but still sexy.

Usually, I also like to wear a shoe for 200 miles or so before I decided to make any decisions, and while I haven’t hit 200 just yet, I have worn them in the rain, on the track, trails, and asphalt, as well as raced in them, so I feel fairly confident I’ve put in enough diverse miles to make a judgement call.

One of the big things with this shoe is that it is made of leather, which means that it is more durable than the mesh upper of the PHASE, but it also means it retains water a bit better, which is not a good thing. Before I got any chance to run in a real rain storm, I took them across some fields just after it rained. There weren’t big puddles, but there was definitely a fair bit of residual water still in the grass. My feet did get wet, and the remained moist a bit longer than they would in the PHASE, but not nearly as long as I expected. It also didn’t seem to add as much weight as I expected. The leather did stay damp through the evening and into the morning while the PHASE would have dried, the moisture didn’t seem to wet the feet at all. Though, the first time, the dye ran and turned my toes a mottled blue color.

The next big thing was getting these guys out on the trail. I’m not a big trail guy – I prefer dirt roads – but I do venture into the woods occasionally. Being that these two shoes are built essentially on the same platform – there is a slightly stiffer piece of rubber under the metatarsals on the CORE – I wasn’t expecting much of a difference on the trails. And, as it would turn out, there wasn’t much of a difference. The leather of the CORE feels (and probably is) a bit more durable than the PHASE and feels a little more protective on the trails, but I assume this is just perceived.

To this point I had fallen in love with my CORE. They are an awesome everyday running shoe, and I’m even contemplating getting a pair for non-running (I never wear shoes…). Then came the real test – a race (or some speed work on the track). On the track they felt good, but maybe a little loose. I worked on tightening them down and it seemed to help some. I then wore them for the Covered Bridges Half Marathon. Again, they felt awesome, but they felt a bit loose. It wasn’t an uncomfortable, unwearable loose, but for quicker events I think I like my shoes to fit a bit snugger – i.e. the PHASE.

Super comfort.

Super comfort.

At first, I thought the PHASE and the CORE wouldn’t have much difference. They’re built on the same platform. I was wrong, the leather upper of the CORE makes for a very comfy and somewhat roomy feel. The CORE also has a stiffer piece of rubber on the sole – I assume this adds some durability as well as protection. Some people mention that the ankle collar on the PHASE can be less than comfortable when new, this is not the case for the CORE. The CORE has a comfy piece of sheep skin around the heel that works well with socks, I can only imagine how comfy it feels sockless.

These shoes have quickly become a favorite for me, and I’m looking forward to getting more in the future. The only problem I’ve found is the tightening aspect. I think because they are made of leather, the last will stretch a little and in the beginning, the stretching is more, meaning you need to tighten the laces from time to time. I’m not sure I would wear them for races shorter than a marathon as the PHASE has those distances covered.

If you have further questions, or want to know more, connect with Skora on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram, or on their website. They have a plethora of running related information, and a crackpot customer service team that is beyond helpful.

More Reviews:
SKORA Fit
SKORA Phase