Monday, October 28, 2013

Contentment and how to get it

It's Fall: that time of year when the sun wakes up later and goes to bed earlier. I tend to do what my friend the sun does, so when he's a little depressed I get bummed out too. I try to use it to my advantage, though, and you can read all about that here. Sometimes it's hard and being happy is a choice. I think about contentment a lot on long runs... usually because I am the most content while I am running and I get sad when I realize that the feeling won't last.

During my last long run, I was thinking about a phenomenon that has become part of my life. When I didn't live by any mountains, I thought I would find happiness just by living close to them - that everything would be right in the world if I could wake up in the morning and gaze at jagged peaks on the horizon. After a year of living in the city of Denver I enjoyed riding my bike to work on the Cherry Creek bike path and catching glimpses of mountains, but I soon felt like it wasn't enough.

We decided to move to the base of Green Mountain in Lakewood and for a few weeks I was euphoric about having a backyard mountain. I would feel compelled to do two-a-days just because I couldn't get enough of it. But slowly, this creeping feeling has come back that if only I was further in the mountains, I would find happiness. I've started to think that maybe we should move to Evergreen or Conifer and then we would be surrounded by mountains but not too far from the city. The thing is, if we moved there, I would soon find myself feeling like we needed to move farther in to find happiness.

Fortunately, I'm married to a guy who doesn't really like to change. He hates moving and thinks it's important to stay rooted to a community. He loves the city and doesn't want to get too far from it. Without him I would be some hermit on a mountain. And then the next year I would be a hermit on another mountain. I would end up like the host of other 20-somethings who live their lives based on feeling instead of the knowledge that they have to endure times of unhappiness to really understand contentment. We are pretty much the song "Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple. This is me: "I still only travel by foot and by foot it's a slow climb, but I'm good at being uncomfortable so I can't stop changing all of the time." And this is him: "He's no good at being uncomfortable so he can't stop staying exactly the same."

So I have a war within myself. Is it wrong to constantly want to be closer and closer to those majestic mountains that call to me? Surely I would never quite feel content, even if I lived in the heart of the San Juans (and there would certainly be costs like joblessness and loneliness). It made me think about the only part of the the Chronicles of Narnia that I really remember. At the end of The Last Battle, after Aslan has made all things right, he beckons the characters toward the mountains saying "Come further up, come further in." And as they move higher up into the mountains, there are more mountains to explore.

I think my longing is only natural. We, as humans, long for the place where all things are right. Life is a constant struggle and though that struggle refines us, we want the struggle to be over. By day, we dream of things that might be. We construct a future for ourselves and we yearn for the moment when we can say that we've arrived at the place of happiness. But when you get there, will you really be happy? I think that as long as we pretend that we can happen upon contentedness, it will never be found. The thing is, it is something you can choose for yourself in this moment. Yes, right now.

I've been reading Killian's book, Run or Die, and I love how vulnerable it is. Killian struggles with this phenomenon, too! People like me don't win races, but we may dream of winning races and we idolize the people who do. After Killian achieved the success he dreamed of, he says, "The moment you surpass the people you idolize and become your own idol, the magic of sport is lost. Idols are reference points that act to mark out a path, to help you know what you have to work at and fight for so that you can emulate what they have done. And when you have succeeded, when there is only one person you can surpass, and that person is yourself, it means you have understood nothing." He goes on to say basically the whole point I've been trying to make. "The winner isn't the strongest, but rather the one who truly enjoys what he is doing."

Wow, after that I don't really know what else to say. Obviously we enjoy doing some things more than others and obviously there are some circumstances that are too hard to be content over. But I have to keep telling myself the answer isn't to just pick up and start over. If I start over, I will just end up in the same place, as if I had learned nothing.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pearl Izumi Trail N2 and M2... the wonder shoe

What am I to do now that I no longer have any races to write about for a while? Gear reviews. After Brooks changed my beloved Cascadias I realized it was time for a switch. I wandered around happily in the Salomon Speedcross 3s for a bit before settling on my new love, the Pearl Izumi Trail N2s and M2s.

Here's the thing about footwear reviews, unless your foot is similar to the reviewer's it doesn't really matter what the reviewer thinks of the shoe because you will probably have a very different experience. So what is my foot like? It's not narrow and it's not wide, but it's a little flat. I over-pronate a little but not a lot. My toes are all pretty short and my 2nd toe is longer than my big toe, but even my pinky toe is only marginally smaller. This means that I normally like a rounded foot-shaped shoe over a pointy toe shoe.
Yes, I kept all of my toenails this season.

Though I am a footwear nerd, I have yet to write a shoe review because shoes are such a personal thing and what works for me night not work for you. At the end of the day, people care little about the technical details of the shoe and more about what the overall feel is like. Well, my friends, we'll get through the boring stuff (my favorite stuff) fast and I will tell you why these shoes are so magical.

 M2 top and bottom view

N2 top and bottom view

First off, what is the difference between the N2 and the M2? Not much. In the words of PI the difference is that the M2 has "Bi-lateral stability support is trail tuned to keep your foot on top of the midsole platform in technical terrain." What does this mean? The M2s will help control over-pronation. This feature is pretty minimal compared to the typical "stability" shoe and the pronation control is accomplished through placing mid-sole foams of different densities in areas that stabilize your foot's side-to-side rocking movement. Really this just helps keep your foot strike from getting sloppy as your form degrades throughout a race.

Other than that here are the deets that both shoes share. They have a dynamically off-set midsole which will naturally encourage more of a midfoot strike. The lugs are multi-directional so that you will have good grip going both uphill and downhill. A seamless upper provides amazing comfort and it is nearly impossible to get blisters from the shoe itself. The shoe is not physically capable of absorbing moisture, so unless you are wearing a really crappy sock, water drains very quickly. The laces are wavy which makes it pretty much impossible for them to come untied. The drop from forefoot to heel is 9mm so it's not minimal but it's also not a monster.

Alright, now that all of that is out of the way, what do I actually think about the shoe? First off, from the minute you put them on you will be in foot heaven. No rubbing on my pinky toe, no squishing my toes together, no sloppy heel fit, no weird arch support. Just simple goodness. The seamless upper let my toes stretch out as needed and didn't cause any hot spots.

On my first I run took the N2s to some very technical trails in Golden Gate Canyon State park. They felt sublime and let my foot do their thing without any pinching, squishing, or rubbing. The one tricky thing was that the sole platform was much wider than I was used to with my narrow Speedcrosses. This feature definitely made me feel more stable, but I kept nicking my toe on rocks and narrowly avoided some face plants. After two runs, my body got used to this and it hasn't been an issue since. I had a few awkwardly placed footfalls and the rockplate gave adequate protection and the toe bumper, though minimal in appearance, was placed well in the spot where my toes actually hit things.

Now that I've been running in them for a few months across a variety of terrain and in a couple of races, I can honestly say this is the best all-purpose shoe I've ever owned. The cushioning is soft enough that I can wear the shoes on pavement and the lugs don't grind down too fast. The grip is good on the rocks out here and the platform keeps you stable on scree and pebbly stuff. Because the upper is so breathable, very fine silt and sand does get in. It performs extraordinarily well on hardpack and did better than I expected on ice. In muddy conditions it does gunk up pretty fast and I would probably still choose a luggier shoe if I was running in sloppy mud or snow.

I would have to say that these are my ideal ultramarathon shoes because my foot expands a good bit during races and I feel that there is adequate room in the forefoot to accommodate that swelling. That said, when I take them out for shorter distances there is a little bit of sliding in the forefoot but not enough to say that it has a "sloppy" fit. I'm glad I own both the N2s and M2s because they serve different purposes. I tend to use the N2s for quicker faster efforts and I use the M2s on longer training runs and longer races because they noticeably help me keep good form longer.

A lot of local running stores are carrying these shoes now, but for friends who don't have a retailer nearby I recommend going to this site where you can type in your current shoe model and see how the fit compares.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Redemption: Blue Sky Marathon Race Report

Last year, the Blue Sky Marathon was the first marathon I ever completed. I made some silly decisions, like camping the night before in a snow storm and eating some spicy noodles for dinner, which resulted in me never quite being able to warm up and also having to take two off trail excursions into the bushes. At the end of the day I was proud to have finished, but I gutted out the last 6 miles, walking almost all of the uphills, and finishing in just under 6 hours. I'm not the biggest fan of the course because I would much prefer to run loops in the Horsetooth Mountain part of the course instead of the rolling Blue Sky Trail out to Devil's Backbone, but I decided that I needed to do the race again to get a little trail redemption.

Ever since the end of August I've just been feeling burned out and my body was just telling me to quit for the season. I had put in some good miles with lots of runs in the 10-16 mile range, but since Mt. Werner I had only done one 20-miler. Also, after watching Cory complete such an epic adventure at UROC last weekend, I mentally couldn't get into the idea of running a marathon on a course that I had already experienced. Warning: If you are a guy the next sentence is about women stuff. The other unfortunate thing that happened is that the day before the race I was visited by my "monthly friend." I know why women don't really talk about it, because no one wants to hear about it, but I would rather run a race with a stress fracture than face race day with woman pains. There is a reason why Native-American women were sent to their own tent on the periphery of camp to suffer it out.

So race day came, and even though I wasn't so jazzed about the idea of running a marathon, at least I wasn't as anxious as I normally get before a race. It looked like the weather was going to be ideal and Nick Clark made some changes to the course due to the recent flooding. I was excited for a bit of new trail and it was going to add 350 feet of elevation gain in the Horsetooth section. Perfect... my cup of tea. 30 minutes before the race I took the good ol' I&I combination (Ibuprofen and Imodium) and I thought I was good to go.

The race started off comfortably. I know that I usually start out too fast, but I like to maximize my strengths so I thought it would be silly to take the Horsetooth section slower than my body wanted. I ran all of the uphills (it was more like a slow plod) and even though I started in a large group of women, I found myself overtaking most of them without really trying. I didn't feel like I was really pushing it, but when I got back to the Blue Sky aid station at mile 9, I was 15 minutes ahead of goal pace and in 6th place for women. I knew some fast ladies would overtake me on the flats, but what I didn't know was that my body was going to rebel. I hit the port-a-potty for the first of 5 times during the race. Not exaggerating.

The next ten miles were a blur. I think my mind is repressing the memory of how uncomfortable I was. Even though the race was really hard for me because of this discomfort, the most maddening part was that my legs felt so good. As soon as I started to speed up, I felt like I needed to find another hiding spot. I decided to just give up the competitive drive and run my own race. It was a beautiful day with some beautiful scenery and there was no reason to dwell on anything else besides the good stuff. There was a lot of self talk (yes, out loud) during this section.

Near mile 18... my nemesis mile

Finally about 4 miles from the finish, I started to feel a little bit better. It was at this point last year that I was feeling my worst. I remember coming in and when the volunteers told me I had only 4 more miles to go, I wanted to punch someone in the face. This year I was just so happy that they had a port-a-potty that I wanted to kiss them all. After that I kicked it into high gear and passed 2 women and 3 men. I sprinted it in to the finish and almost took over one more women before realizing that that would be really mean.

Season is finally finished

One of many frustrating things about having to hit the bushes, is that you have no idea how many people have passed you during that time. After the initial time, Cory told me that no one passed me, but during the ensuing 4 more times in which I had to wander to some distant willow, 14 other women passed me! A girl that I was running and chatting with at mile 13 ended up in 6th place in a time of 4:43. I'm fairly certain that I could have sustained that pace had I not taken all of my off trail excursions. She joked that I should get an award for running an extra mile. Unfortunately for me in the time window of 4:59 to my time of 5:06, 12 people finished and 10 of them were women. Yeah, it's frustrating that if I had finished 6-8 minutes faster I could have been top 10. At the end of the day, place is pretty arbitrary and anything other than 1st place is technically not winning.

All things considered, I'm pretty proud of how I did. I got to meet some fantastic people. I enjoyed a beautiful day. I had a great crew cheering me on. And I was only 3 minutes off my trail marathon PR. Next time, I'm definitely breaking 5 hours. I'm finally getting to the point where those last 6 miles of a marathon are my favorite part. Most of all, I'm really sorry that most of this post was about bodily functions.

And congrats to Brandon McCarthy who managed to complete his first trail marathon after staying up until midnight the night before at a wedding. Pretty BA.