Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Four months of Grit

IMG_20100101_104514I want to write something about the trail shoe I’ve been running in since I started training for Leadville, but to get to those impressions I first need to give a frame of reference.  My last 3 trail running shoes have been, the New Balance Minimus MT10, Vibram Trek Sport, and Brooks Cascadia 3.  I haven’t run in the Cascadia’s in a long time.  I think that the Steamboat 50 may well have been their retirement party.  That said, I do still use the shoes for yardwork and when I feel like my feet need a rest.

On to the back story then.  When I came to the States in October I brought with me two pairs of shoes.  The VFF Bikila and my MT10s.  Unfortunately, I was forced to realize that I need more protection for races (and trail running in general) during the Blues Cruise 50k.  I also quickly realized that in order to be able to walk to the corner I would need a shoe with a bit more support.

It so happened that, while I was in the Northern Hemisphere and with great fanfare, Brooks launched their Pure line of shoes.  These are shoes with a 4 millimeter heel to toe offset and a minimal aesthetic which appealed to me, but were much more shoe than I was currently running in.  I ordered a pair online.

When I was able to resume running again, I took the Grits up to Cuevas with me and left them there.  They’re the shoes I run in when I’m in the hills.  My running here isn’t terribly technical, but the roads can get rocky – fist sized cobbles regularly pave my running routes.  It was an ill placed foot strike in my MT10s which initiated the difficulties which eventually taught me to appreciate that sometimes an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure.

Enough of that then.  Here are my impressions.  When I first tried on the shoe, I thought it about the most comfortable shoe I had ever put on.  I even tweeted that feeling to @brooksrunning.  A little later on however, I thought they may “run” a bit longer than the Cascadia 3 in the same size (14 in my case). 
More recently, I’ve come to notice that the Grit have a lot more internal structure than the MT10s too. There’s a bit of of an arch support. These days, when I first put the shoes on I find it annoying, but I don’t notice it while I’m running. There’s also a bit of heel structure, but the heel is cut nice and low - I don’t feel any pressure on the back of my foot while running at all.

One area I used to have major problems was with a tendon that bridges the angle the top of the foot makes with the lower leg.  I found that shoes which laced high up the foot (tight to the ankle) would iritate that tendon over time and I’d have real problems even just tying a shoe.  This is one thing my transition to minimal footwear cleared up very quickly. 

The Grit doesn’t seem to have brought a return of that malady (note: I mix up my footwear a lot).  The tongue of the shoe is padded in the right places and isn’t where it doesn’t need to be.  A design feature I really like.

An instant complaint about the shoe was the silly Navband or whatever they call it:
According to Brooks, it was there supposedly to give a custom fit to the upper.  In my case it’s superfluous green and silver elastic.  It did nothing to enhance the fit of the shoe at all and I feel it actually detracts from the overall look of the shoe.  Laces do a fine job of providing a custom fit, why even consider adding that thing to begin with? 

That’s really a nitpicky complaint.  I do like that the Navband provides a place to stow my laces.  The laces stay put and don’t trip me even on my hardest runs…

As far as actual running in them goes?  I’ve now got 150 miles in them and I have no complaints.  I thought that they may have been too long initially, but they seem to fit just right.  Once I got the lacing dialed, I haven’t had any problems with slipping in the shoe and I don’t have even the slightest hint of a black toenail.  Maybe they’re a half size too big, but better that than a half size too small.  Dear Brooks, please release a size 13.5. I promise:  I’d try it on.
I like the tread pattern.  It’s really open and it provides more than adequate traction.  I’ve run in a fair bit of sticky hideous mud and the mud seems to shed quite quickly. 

I’m not sure about the center pod or the “independent big toe”, but they don’t seem to hurt the shoe’s performance.  The pod is supposed to inform your foot of the shoes center position.  I guess that means it was included to improve the ground feel of the shoe.  I don’t notice that section of the sole of the shoe providing any more feedback than any other.  In all the Grit provides a whole lot more information that my Cascadias ever did, but it smoothes out the road in a way the MT10s don’t by providing extra cushioning between foot and ground.

Around Cuevas there are many, many streams.  Stream crossings are inevitable.  The upper is wide open and drains water quickly. Feet will stay dry with a couple changes of socks.
As far as durability, these shoes are wearing out just about the same as every other pair of trail shoes I’ve owned.  All of these pictures were taken at 120 miles:

The outside of my heels is worn down more than the rest of the outsole, but there’s still plenty of traction left in the rest of the shoe. I expect to get another 150-200 miles in these shoes.  I weighed in at 205 when I started running in these shoes and have dropped 10 – 15 lbs since.  I am by no means a featherweight forefoot runner.  I allow my heels to come down under me when I run…
For some reason I seem to wear the part of the upper just forward of my ankle bone out.  Every pair of shoes I own exhibits this wear pattern.  Even my Vibram Five Fingers.  Is that just in the nature of shoes or is it something that makes me special?
In all, I’ve really enjoyed my time in the Grits and am actually considering them for the start of the Leadville 100.  They are light, fit my feet well (13.5? please), provide good feedback but still offer more protection than my other options.  They are minimal without being stupid.  Had I worn these in my race in October, I’d have run top 25 for sure - perhaps even top 20.  Hindsight…

Thanks for reading and may your shoes always quickly shed mud.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Challenge of Balance

So, I’m starting to get a bit nervous about my training. 

Why? I think it very important to keep a balance at home and try to make my running “invisible” to my wife and son.  I typically head out for my run when my son is down for his afternoon nap.  When Nataly is home, she usually goes down for a nap with Deneb so my run ends up being pretty unobtrusive. 

Now though, my miles are starting to build and the training is going to stop being invisible.  One thing which is particularly troublesome is that where I live, it’s mostly flat.  Where I work, I’ve got hills, but I usually only go up there on weekends and that’s the only time Nataly has off.  There are weeks where I go up there for a couple of days without Nataly and Deneb, but I really dislike making that a regular occurrence.  I’m afraid that for me to finish Leadville, I’m going to have to do that.  The question is how do I make it as invisible as possible.

Tough one, to be continued…

In other notes, this past weekend I knocked out a run Sunday morning on the Road to Bella Vista and got some decent shots. 

I ran an 8 mile, modified out and back.  By that I mean:

  • I ran 3.25 miles away from the cabin, 
  • turned around and ran 1 mile back in the direction I came from, 
  • turned around and ran .75 miles back in the direction I was heading when I started.  
  • Finally, I turned around one last time and went back home. 

The benefit of that is that I climbed the back side (more challenging) of the first hill on the Road to Bella Vista 1.75 times.  Ended up with 1500 feet of climbing in my 8 mile jaunt. 

The pictures are in chronological order. 

Not 1 mile into the run…

Rocky road, not ideal for Vibram 5 Fingers or MT10s.  It was along here where I suffered the strain and eventual stress fracture that limited my performance in the Blues Cruise 50k.

Pretty Green Mountains…

Framed by Trees…

Awesome – pictures really don’t do justice…

Cool Fresh Water – this is the first waterfall in Cuevas.  I met Nataly and Deneb here for a swim and cool down…

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be thinking about how to change that elevation…

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Slow ramp...

As in, I'm slowly ramping up my mileage. This week, baring something unforeseen, I should hit 48+ miles in training.  My volume is growing.  Today though I am going to have to absolutely force myself out the door.  I'm very tired - both sleepy tired and physically tired. 

The sleepy tired is coming from Deneb.  For some reason, he's decided that he wants to sleep with Mom and Dad every night when we are here in La Guardia. Even if he starts the night in his own bed, eventually he comes looking for space in ours.  Mom can't say no.  He ends up kicking and pounding on me for the remainder of the night.  That leaves me with no more than 4 or 5 hours of quality sleep each night.

The physically tired part is harder to pinpoint, but yesterday I logged 30+ minutes of work in the so called "no mans land" of heart rate zone 3 (tempo).  Tempo work is good for building aerobic fitness, but it has a long recovery time.  So long that many coaches advocate against training in it - stating that the long term benefits are outweighed by the short term consequences.  

Anyway, because of my fitful sleep patterns recently, yesterday I opted to substitute long minutes in Zone 3 for mile repeats - work done in upper zone 4 to low zone 5.  I say it's hard to pinpoint why I'm physically tired since this is an unusual reaction to yesterday's effort.  I've logged many, many 30+ minute long tempo workouts and not felt like I do today.  I'm also coming off a good rest week and even though I had a very tough workout on Saturday, I followed that up with a day off on Sunday.

There's a part of me that is thinking that going out for my regularly scheduled run would be good discipline and help with the mental toughness angle of my Leadville training.  There's a part of me that is thinking to ditch my run all together and take my rest day today.  And, there' a part of me that is trying to find some middle ground.

The compromise is going to win.  This week is challenging scheduling wise, but I can move my short day to today and run my second longest run to Saturday in Cuevas.  That actually works pretty well because I haven't run any hills in over a week.  I'd get 1000+ feet of climbing in on Saturday in addition to the longer run (come to think of it - maybe I should consider moving my long run to Saturday, but will talk to Nataly about that).  Additionally I save the day off for family time.  A good thing.

Anyway, this slow ramp has allowed me to consistently get out and log my miles.  I haven't missed a workout since December.  I think that may be one of my longest streaks ever where I haven't found some excuse or other to take an unscheduled day off.  I really hope to keep that streak going.  We'll see.  I am not even half way to my big mileage weeks yet (next week that'll change).

Thanks for reading, and (got nothing)...

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