Monday, December 14, 2015

Ken Burton Trail restoration, etc.

I just got back from China where I ran quite  a bit on a treadmill.  Great to be back in Pasadena.

On Sunday I ran up Brown Mt  to join  the Ken Burton Trail restoration work again.  This great trail, build in the early 1990s by the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association (MWBA), links the end of the Mt. Brown fireroad with the Gabrielino trail just upstream from Oakwild.  It was an old favorite of mine, but was damaged in the 2009 Station Fire and has been closed off since.  Local mountain bikers (MWBA, CORBA) are rebuilding the trail.  Here is a CORBA status update written after the last trail work day in November:

The mountain bikers are a great group-  I had no idea they put so much into trail work in the local mountains. I met three bikers who, it turns out, also served as (bike-mounted) trail sweeps at the AC100 last year.  These are the same folks that did last minute trail clearing for the race after storms during race week brought down deadfall in certain sections of the race course.   I've been sharing the trail work dates on local trail running FB pages but so far no other trail runners have shown up.

Its been fun to work with these folks:  Load up a pack with work boots and work clothes, a bow saw and water, then run up to the KBT trailhead (7 miles, 2000 ft), trot in on the KB trail  to the worksite, change into work clothes and spend the day clearing trail and grading with a MacLeod, carted up by the bikers on a trailer.   Then change back into running shoes and run down.  Good for a 17 miler  (plus a solid upper body workout!)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Trail running in Gent, Belgium

Last Sunday I left 105F heat in Pasadena to hop on  plane to Belgium for a week of business.  It wasn't all business however;  the city of Gent has a network of rivers and canals with greenways threaded with cobblestone paths and dirt trails.  Getting up to run in the 40F rain before dawn was worth it, the runs were great:

Below is a map of the Gent Centrum area showing  one of the routes I took.  I stayed at the hotel Ibis Centrum on Nederkouter, just a half mile or so north of the St.Pieters train station and conveniently accessed from there by tram (electric street car).  From there is was easy to link into the river/canal trail system. The best trail was down the Leie towards the Blaarmeersen lake and Watersportbaan (rowing lake).   I also took a route towards the east of the hotel which ran through the old city center. This route was fine but I got turned around coming back through the city lanes.  Next time I will bring my GPS as the return-to-start function would provide quite useful in the twisty city lanes!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

2015 Angeles Crest 100 Race Report

Last month I finished my third AC100  in 7th place in a time of 23:14.   Within a minute of my 2013 time and in the same finish place,  it was nevertheless a very different race.  I  find myself reflecting on how each time I’ve entered this race I’ve had such different experiences.  

My first finish at AC100 in 1991 had been a case of the dog that caught the bus:    At 25,  I was fast  but as a new ultra runner  I had had no idea of what I was getting myself into.  After a great run through Chilao, I blew up  by Newcomb, mile 70 ish, and had struggled through a 32 mile death march to a hard earned 28:34 finish.  I lay on the couch for a couple of days  afterwords unable to climb stairs:  Evidently, speed wasn’t everything.  

In 2013 I came back to this course  after a 15 year absence from long ultras and fulfilled a lifelong goal by earning a silver buckle.   I’d finished in 7th place in a time of 23:13.  It was an ecstatic run in perfect conditions (2013 AC100 Race report).   I’d learned how to train again without getting hurt and was so jazzed about it that I had started a blog with the ill-fated title “Ultrarunning Injury Free” to record my experiences that year.

Excited to race again in 2014, the  hubris of my blog title caught up with me and I DNS’d, having fractured my pelvis in a freak fall while training (Training run gone bad).   It was a memorable walk out of Idlehour and its cellphone dark zone on a broken hip socket.  My wife took me to the Huntington ER where I grayed out.  Admitted for  surgery to screw my hip socket back together with a couple of steel plates, I’d spent seven weeks non weight bearing and wondering whether I would be able to run again. It all hinged on how well my surgeon, Dr. George  Tang, had been able to fit the  hip socket back together, what had happened to the cartilage and would it heal, and whether the head of the femur would survive given the impact it had sustained in my fall.

 I spent the AC100 race weekend that year on crutches as a UMT volunteer (2014 AC100).  Earlier that week my doctor had reviewed my X-rays and  gave the OK for  my goal of entering the 2015 race!   Thus began a year of rehab and training focussed on this year’s AC100 (

The first step had been  to rename my blog.  (No more “injury free” to tempt the Trail God).

My surgeon, Dr. Tang, had been a master, I had been incredibly fortunate.  My PT, Dr. Mac Kwon at Select PT, pushed me just hard enough, taking me from walking with a limp in early August to limited running by October.   After innumerable  step exercises, lunges, RDLs, glue bridges and clamshells, and religious attention to twice-daily stretching routine to restore lost range of motion, I was able to start a  training ramp to build my running strength back by December.  X-rays in April were clear:  I ran the Leona Divide 50 miler that month  in a reasonable time with no hip pain.

 And so I found myself in race week this year ready to run.    I had achieved my primary goal -  being able to start the race —and I felt that everything from that point was gravy.  Still,  I did have a secret  “A” goal of matching or beating my 2013 time;  I felt that an A+ day could see me in under 23 hours.

Nevertheless, I did have one red light on the dashboard going into the race; amazingly the fractured hip joint  not being a problem.  I’d developed synovitis in the second toe of my right foot- like turf toe —that had gone from uncomfortable six weeks previous  to excruciating in the two weeks before the race.  I’d addressed this first by switching to Hoka “medicine boots” (aka Challenger ATRs)  and then by adding a carbon fiber plate to splint the toes of my right foot  a week before the race.  The carbon plate effectively splinted the toes by preventing them from bending upwards.  I’d also bought a pair of Stinsons for even more protection in case I needed it.  The air quality was also a concern.  Whether due to smog or poodle dog bush or whatever, long runs in the backcountry had been leaving me with burned lungs painful to inhale more deeply than a pant and with a tight feeling in my chest.  I'd seen the doc and had gotten an asthma inhaler for this.  But my expectation was that like in 2013 while this would limit uphill speed it wouldn't compromise downhill speed, where my race would be made or broken.

 Although nervous on the days preceding the race, I had slept well on Thursday night, the key night to get sleep.  On Friday morning my friends  Dale Capewell and Tina Shamah and her son Ethan had met me and my son Zack in Pasadena to drive up to Wrightwood.  After a fretful day of registration and trying to stay chill despite uncharacteristically hot, humid weather and predictions of more tropical humidity  for race day, we had a huge pasta dinner on Friday night  and I crashed at 930pm.  Sleeping solidly I woke at  230am ahead of my alarm.  I washed down leftover linguine with an Ensure with chia and turmeric mixed in.  I felt great and refreshed, ready to race.

Dale and Tina helped me and Zack pack up and then,  collecting a still-snoozing Ethan, we all headed off to the start arriving at 4:30.  A few pics with Zack, Nick Nudell and with Dale and Tina. 
At the start with Zack-  photo: Tina Shamah 

Then the line up -a quick prayer for safety and courage— and we started!
Photo: Ulysses Chan

I ran from the start a bit faster than in 2013 to avoid the pileup on the Acorn Trail.  Soon we had hit the single track and I caught up with my training partner  Alexandre  De’ Sant-Anna.  Power hiking up the blue ridge we made good time up the hill and I felt great although my hamstrings were uncharacteristically tight.  We started the downhill which was at times unbelievably stoney and rutted from the rains the previous week.   Alex saved me from a missed turn as we transitioned  at one point from fire road back to single track.  Reaching  Inspiration Point, mile 9, at 6:53 I was right on my 2013 split.  I ran through,  handing off my pack to Dale and picking up a water and a Gubrew in hand bottles.

Inspiration Point, Dale crewing.  Photo:  Tim Hendricks
Off for the 5 mile jaunt to Vincent gap.  Uneventful, beautiful running ..until I caught a toe and hit the deck cutting my left knee:  Pay attention!  Shaking it off I ran on to Vincent Gap:   There was my son Zack smiling, "you're doing great Dad!" A quick pitstop and then I put on my belt carrying 4 bottles for the long stretch to Islip Saddle. 

 Starting up  the switchbacks leading up  Baden Powell, I made good time.  After a while  Ashley Nordell caught and passed me with a smooth walking stride, making it look very easy— just amazing.
Baden Powell switchbacks: Photo: Ulysses Chan

Topping out there was Larry  Gassan and it was great to see him.  Then on to the stunning runnable contour past Mt. Burnham, Throop Peak, and Mt. Hawkins.  It was getting warm but not nearly as hot as expected.   I felt great.  My legs had finally warmed up and I felt like I was making good time.  A couple other guys had passed me but I was moving comfortably and had caught a couple other guys so I was holding my position…not that it mattered.

At last there was Islip saddle (mile 25.9)  and I was overjoyed about reaching the quarter point of the race.  12 minutes ahead of my 2013 target pace,  I ran right through the A/S to my crew, handed them the belt and drank an Ensure and some cold soup.  
Into Islip Saddle:  Photo: Tim Hendricks

A quick touch up with a handful of Skin lube with Nick Nudell providing a blocking screen (thanks Nick!) and then Dale handed me a couple hand bottles for the 4 mile leg up and over Mt. Williamson to Eagles roost, mile 29. Donning my pack again for the hot stretch down Hwy 2 and into Cooper Canyon,  I made good time to the Burkhardt Trail and ran easy down into Cooper.  Then on to the feared switch backs climbing up to Cloudburst.  I was feeling good but as in 2013 I was feeling the air quality at this point.  I practiced a bit of pursed lip breathing as I ran the uphill section and it seemed to help.  When my GPS indicated mile 37 I expected to find the aid station but to my disappointment it was still nowhere in sight-  I’d forgotten that the course was longer with the PCT section.  I caught up with Tim and Hugo at about this point.  
Towards Cloudburst:  Photo: Ulysses Chan

Finally I reached Cloudburst and there was Geoff Cordner and Uncle Hal offering help with my bottles.  Zack showed up and guided me to where Dale and Tina had set up a chair.  I sat down for a shoe change:   The Hoka Challengers were bugging my left foot and I was developing a hot spot.   Dale, good friend that he is, gooped my  nasty foot with a handful of Skinlube without hesitation and I switched to the Stinsons with carbon fiber insoles for the easy downhill contour to Three Points.   I was now 26 minutes ahead of my 2013 goal pace.

Into Three Points:  Photo: Ulysses Chan
I ran that section drinking only water and got to Three Points (mile 42) in good time at 1:50pm;  Gubrew was starting to taste like battery acid.  Refueling for the hot desert section out to Mt. Hiller, Jean Ho got me a hot dog as I ran out of the station and hit the trail.  I love this section and ran it in 1:07.  Clearing Mt Hillyer I remember hitting the 50 mile point on my GPS in 10:03, cool!  I cruised through the bouldering area towards Horseflats a bit gingerly as my quads and my right knee were starting to go, and the Stinsons felt a bit clunky on this technical terrain.   I hit the Chilao aid station and ran through-  there was my son who ran with me to where Dale and Tina had set up.  The smile on his face was exhilarating!
Chilao with Zack: Photo:  Ethan Shamah
Chilao: It was hot!  Photo:  Ethan Shamah

Here I made a mistake.  I finished off the last of my Clip 2.  I didn't want to drink any more Gubrew so I had a V8, some cold soup  and an Ensure - it was a bad combination and more than I needed.  I'd pay for this later.  Pressing on I ran through to Charleton Flats.  
Heading out of Chilao.  Photo:  Ethan Shamah

Heading off the ridge at Charleton down the switchbacks towards  Shortcut I remember being struck by how much my quads and knee hurt,    since ordinarily I think of this section as an easy cruise.  The Hoka Stinsons felt bulky and unstable on the rocky switchbacks, like trying to run a party barge down white water rapids.  Bottoming out I passed a runner and headed up the short climb to the Shortcut A/S where my crew was waiting.  The legendary Flaco Mendoza was there and we chatted for a few minutes while I changed out the Stinsons for my Challengers:  I knew I needed the more nimble shoes for the single track coming up once I hit Newcomb Saddle.  It was 5:10pm and I was  now 38 minutes ahead of my 2013 pace.

At this point in 2013 my legs had felt gone, but the easy cruise down into the West Fork canyon had recharged my legs, so I wasn’t worried that my legs felt shot.  I kept a steady pace down on the fire road and finally reached the bottom.   For the first time in the day the air felt extremely muggy-  I was now in the front range.  Starting the uphill climb, my plan at this point was to rest the downhill legs with a solid powerhike up to Newcomb Saddle just as I had in 2013.  I reached the top I was moving reasonably well despite increasingly painful and stiff legs and a growing sense of nausea.   I was completely soaked in sweat from the humidity.  But I had arrived at Newcomb Saddle, mile 67,  in broad daylight, at 7:07 pm, 40 minutes ahead of my 2013 split.

I trotted into the A/S and walked to the table —these guys jumped to help me.  I looked at everything on the table  and an Ensure from my drop bag but ughh, nothing looked appealing.   One of the crew offered me Mountain Dew and I thought, why not?  ….It tasted OK on ice.  Filling my bottles with ice water and diluted Mountain Dew I went looking for an acetaminophen which I had stashed in my pack, but it was gone, evidently having fallen out when I loaded lights at Shortcut.  One of the crew gave me a Tums  and I was ready to go.

"Hey look up, you're on camera" the guy at the aid station was pointing over my shoulder.   Turning around I saw the quad copter hovering, and replied "Awh, you're gunna make me run out of here aren't you?" Raising my hand bottle in thanks to the great aid station crew, I headed off on the trail towards Chantry.  I found that as uncomfortable as it was,  I was still able to fake a run.  Only 34 miles to go! The quad copter followed me for about a quarter mile down the trail but thankfully peeled off -my guts were writhing with a sick slimy feeling. 

It was still light out and I was excited by the fact that I could see the twisty single track without a flashlight -  time to make tracks and get as far down the 7 mile trail towards Chantry as possible before having to break out  lights.   Periodically I doused my head with the ice water as it was hot and muggy even at 7pm.  While the Mountain Dew was the only thing at the A/S that had appealed to me I was having a trouble getting it down now.

I was making steady progress but my quads and right knee and IT band hurt like hell.  Every mile the GPS watch I'd donned at Shortcut would buzz off the mile. .69....70..., only 50k left  to run....71 ... now it was dark but I was off the hairy single track and running through the campground.   I was hurting and nauseous and found myself thinking about what excuses I could make to sell a drop to my son Zack and friend Dale waiting at Chantry... Surely the quad pain must be indicative of rhabdo.  I stopped at the outhouse  for some relief ...   straw colored - keep going.

Feeling better I headed on and hit the climb up to Chantry, mile 75.  Dale had ferried my wife and kids up to join him and my crew.  It was great to see them at long last having missed them all day.  Dale and Tina changed out my bottles and tried their best to get me squared away. 
Pit crew at Chantry, Tina and Dale, mile 75.  Photo:  Ethan Shamah

  My pacer Joe Tholt was ready to go but I was feeling quite green.  I was looking for a caffeine tab but couldn't find it and I took an acetaminophen -  after settling on carrying plain water I was finally ready to go.  Hugs for the kids and then Joe and I set off.  Right after we got to the upper parking lot and out of sight of the kids I had to stop —  I bent over and heaved; heaved again and then yet again.  Joe nimbly  danced out of the way of the great lake of vomit flowing his way;  it was clear that everything I had eaten since Chilao was now decorating the tarmac.  “Hey, should we go back and get some water for you?” he asked with real concern.”Nope, I feel better already, lets go” and off we went. I really DID feel a lot better.  I was now 34 minutes ahead of my 2013 pace.

We took it gingerly at first up the Wintercreek Trail and started to jog once it was clear that my stomach had settled.  Hitting the steep section after a couple miles I was sure that someone had steepened the trail, but we continued to move well and passed Tracey and his pacer Angela about halfway up.  It was great to see Larry Gassan again at Deadman’s bench, then on up to top out at the Toll Road.  Finally a chance to make up some lost time.

Soon after we started running down the Toll Road my stomach was gripped with cramps like it was going to split open.  I didn’t even bother mentioning it  to Joe.  Just run through it  I thought,  as the cramps spread to my back.  This isn’t real, there isn’t anything wrong with my back or stomach. Sure enough after a mile or two the pain just went away.  At last we arrived at Idlehour aid station, mile 84,  where my friend Dave Flan and the A/S crew cheered us in.  These great folks got me some dilute ginger ale and some dilute iced broth and i was able to get this down without incident.  Clearing the aid station at 11:36,  I was now still 23 minutes ahead of  my 2013 goal pace.  Joe took point as we ran the steep switchbacks into Idlehour, being as I was still feeling a bit gun shy about these trails through Idlehour— notwithstanding the fact that I have never been able to locate the spot where I fell last year- its a bit of a blank.

Crossing the stream we got a bit spun around due to lack of trail markings  and overgrowth, but we found the trail and headed up the switchbacks towards Sam Merrill.  Looking back we saw lights moving fast; We hit the 89 mile aid station just as Kenneth Ringled and his pacer rolled in after a super fast drive though Idlehour canyon.   Refueling on watermelon and water we cleared the station now just 16 minutes ahead of my goal split.   Kenneth and his pacer left shortly after we did and caught us about a mile down trail just as we were starting the drop down the upper Sam Merrill trail.

Upper Sam Merrill was badly  rutted by the recent rains and littered with loose rocks.  With my shot legs I just didn’t have the strength left to run some of these trashed sections safely so Joe and I slowed down and walked them-  better to finish a bit slower than to break a bone!  We hit the cutover trail to the Mt Lowe railway and trotted down to the Sunset trailhead where I was startled by a large African rhinoceros which fortunately transformed into a couple of large bushes.  The Sunset trail was in similarly bad shape and we took it carefully.  At one point Joe shouted out to watch out for the owl sitting in the trail.  Just as I was telling him to wake up from his dreaming,  the bird took flight!  Into the Millard Canyon A/S at 3:04 we were still 5 minutes ahead of my 2013 pace; Gregory Benson and his pacer came in with lights off and cleared the station as we were still getting water.

Reassured that we were still  on track to goal pace we set off up the fire road and then down the El Prieto trail.   Again it seemed steeper this night than I remembered it! We steadily pushed and with relief we hit the Arroyo.  Settling in to an easy trot we cruised down to the Atadena crest trail and over to Lincoln;  at last there was Loma Alta Park and we were in! 
Totally spent!  Photo:  Ulysses Chan
Hug with my wife Steph.  Photo:  Tina Shamah
Jean was everywhere on race day, Thank you Jean! Photo- Ulysses Chan

My wife and Zack were there at the finish with Dale and Tina and my pal Al, and friends Jean Ho and Nick Nudell.  I was so glad to be done, completely spent, and when they told me my time, 23:14, less than one minute off my 2013 finish time, I got a good laugh.  
Photo:  Ulysses Chan
In hindsight I realize that I had taken in too many calories relative to what I was used to in training;  I ran the last 25 miles pretty much on water after I'd been sick and I really didn't feel a calorie deficit.  The lead on my goal pace that I had built up by mile 67 had evaporated due to nausea and sore legs:
I also think next time I do one of these  I will taper less; although given the trouble I had had with my foot this year  the three week taper that I had done was probably necessary.

When I finally sat down I had trouble getting into the chair.   The guys helped me hobble over to the kitchen tent and after a couple of the world’s greatest cheese burgers I was feeling better.  With some help to get out of the chair we headed home.  
Photo:  Ulysses Chan

After an espresso and a couple diet cokes at home, I weighed myself in at 149lbs, 6 pounds down.  I lay down for a minute and when I woke up two hours later I was amazed to find that I could get out of bed and walk reasonably normally.

I am so grateful to have been able to run this year!  Grateful to my wife and family for their patience with many many hours of PT and training, Dr. Tang for a perfect job screwing me back together and Dr. Kwon for helping me with the PT;  Dale and Tina and Ethan and Zack for an absolutely superb job crewing me all day like an indy 500 pit crew;  To Ken Hamada for convincing me three years ago to try this game again and to Uncle Hal, Nick Nudell and the UMT, Dave Flan and all the many dedicated AC100 volunteers for making this great race what it is. 

I decided not to  enter  AC100  next year but look forward to being a race volunteer in 2016;  I hope to run something earlier in the season maybe with cleaner air and spend a bit more time with my family in the summer months.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

2015 Angeles Crest 100: 7th place in 23:14:50

It was a very satisfying weekend at the Angeles Crest 100.   At the end of the day, I earned the same finishing place, same time (within a minute) and same Rhino award as I did in 2013:   23:14:50, 7th place overall, 6th man, Rhino  (master's) trophy winner.

The path getting there was a bit different though as this year was hotter, more humid;  nevertheless I ran 45 minutes faster for the first 60 miles  than in 2013.  But then the heat took its toll along with blown quads, bruised  feet, severely sore lungs from smog or poodle dog pollen or whatever, and a large puddle of vomit in the Chantry parking lot, so that I ultimately lost that 45 minutes and finished with the same finishing time as 2013.

What is important to me in all this is first,  my great gratitude that  I was able to  run  despite fracturing my hip socket in a fall at Idlehour last year (, and second, my great gratitude for the joy of my son crewing me with my friends Dale and Tina.  It was fabulous:

My son running me through Chilao to my crew set up.  What a smile!

That picture, shot by Tina's son, summarizes what the day was about for me.  His smile is worth  100 silver buckles or bronze rhinos, but it was nice to get those too:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Race week!

At last we are in race week!

A final tweak:

I have been dealing with an increasingly painful toe joint problem-  on the right foot, when the toes are dorsiflexed (pulled upwards) and the foot loaded, the second toe metatarsal-phalangial joint hurts a LOT.

I had the bright idea last week to stiffen the Hokas further with a steel insole to keep the toes from flexing.  With a bit of  help from my pal Al, I soon had a dxf drawing and last Saturday Fred Nelson cut it for me at on his CNC plasma cutting machine at his shop in Azusa.  It worked!  A bit heavy, but definite improvement.

Monday I visited the doc to make sure the darned toe wasn't broken  and to find out just what was going on with it.  The diagnosis:  No hint of a fracture or Morton's neuroma, just synovitis;  the prescription:  A carbon fiber insole to keep the toes from dorsiflexing!

I pulled out the steel insole and the doc had a good laugh, telling me that was old school, how they treated this problem before carbon fiber composites!

It works great and is much lighter than my steel prototype. Here is a photo of the generations:  Hoka far left; Plastic insole first try left, steel- middle, carbon fiber, right.

And I got a care package from my training partner Alex: What a guy!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

...And the last biggish run before the AC100

I  did my usual Sunday hike up/run down 20 miler on the Mt. Wilson Toll Road this morning.  I took it easy and completed the 20 mile circuit in 4:15, capping off an 81 mile week, week # 1 of a three week taper before the Aug. 1 AC100.  This coming week I will again focus on increased rest and only run 10 milers for 2-3 days.  I plan to hit Mt. Baden Powell for a 15 miler at altitude next weekend for a 50-60 mile week;  and then take a compete rest for race week.

I feel great with the exception of my screwed up right foot.  The increased rest this week has me feeling peppy at last and I am much stronger than I was in 2013 --if a bit slower.  In 2013 I was doing the Mt Wilson circuit routinely in 4 hours, this year I am consistently about 10-15 minutes slower, mainly on the uphill leg.  I think my power-walking hasn't fully recovered since the hip socket fracture.   On the other hand, increased core strength work (pull-ups, push ups, sit-ups) has me without any abdominal soreness which was a recurring theme in 2013.  The right foot -  second and third toe pain-  capsulitis or Morton's neuroma or whatever it is--seems to be manageable with the Hokas and a metatarsal pad helps as well.  We will see how it feels in two weeks.   I am a bit nervous about it and thunderstruck that such a problem could come on so suddenly  after trying the Brooks Pure Grit, and that it could be so persistent.   If 2013 was the year of calf and achilles issues, 2014 the year of major fracture, then 2015 looks like the year of feet fun.

Unlike yesterday, when I got caught unprepared in the thunderstorms, today I brought a pack with some warm gear and a rain shell as weather predictions indicated morning T-storms.  No storms-  and the run down was  hot, muggy and tropical.

I spent the afternoon putting together a kiddie pool for the little ones which we all enjoyed in the unbelievably muggy heat.  Just as were getting out and drying off, the skies turned purple and the winds picked up for some nice afternoon showers.  My young son and I baked cookies to celebrate the stormy weather.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Taper run on Mt Wilson

This is the first week of my three week taper for the Aug. 1 AC100 race.  Coming off three consecutive 100 mile weeks with back to back 30+/20 milers on the weekends, I was ready to taper.  During the last work week I took more rest than usual and still felt pretty tired through Thursday.  Today's run therefore was designed to push fitness without being too exhausting:  Mt Wilson via the Sam Merrill trail and Eaton Saddle, for 24 miles round trip.  My pal Alex and I completed the run with a 3:58 run time running relaxed.

The weather was fantastic:  Thunderstorms rolled through and we got thoroughly soaked several times as we ran through storm cells.  Heat training it wasn't but it sure was fun.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hoka One One Challenger ATR review ....and fixes

I will begin this review of the Hoka One One Challenger ATR with the clear acknowledgment that without these shoes I would probably not be able to run right now.  Thats a big deal for me since I just completed a training push of 3 sequential 100 mile weeks in preparation for the AC100 this coming Aug. 1.

As I have posted in recent weeks,  I have a foot injury on my right foot, that makes it excruciating to weight the foot with my second and third toes in a dorsi-flexed position (i.e. toes pulled up).  I don't have a diagnosis of this injury but it may be Morton's neuroma; there is numbness on the top of the second and third toes, but the key point is that it hurts like hell unless either I am walking barefoot or running in Hokas.   I do know that the injury came on while trying out a pair of Brooks to deal with a bruise on my LEFT foot;  I provisionally attribute the onset of the right foot injury to excessive toe spring in the Brook's design.

The Challenger, like all Hokas, has an extremely thick midsole which enables the outsole to be sloped up at the front and rear while preserving a relatively flat surface for the foot inside the shoe.  The side view photo of my size 11's shows this:  The shoes have 250 miles of them at this point.
This sloping allows the foot to roll through a foot strike without loosing energy-  Hoka calls this their "meta-rocker" technology, and I think this only makes sense for heel strikers.  But I am forefoot striker.

 The reason it matters to me is that the upslope in the forefoot allows me to run up hills (and down) without flexing my toes,.  Again, at the moment, flexing my toes is excruciating.  I love this feature of the Hokas and am grateful that Hoka made these shoes, with their 5mm drop, which has saved my racing season.


There are a few things about the shoe that I really do not like and have had to modify in order to wear the shoes.

For starters, the shoe is too narrow for me, but making matters MUCH worse  is the fact that the insole surface is surrounded by a rim of firm midsole rubber, which prevent the foot from "finding extra space" by stretching out the upper shoe fabric.   The top and bottom of the rim are highlighted with red arrows in the image below:
This became extremely painful due to bruising on the lateral side of my feet  within about 150 miles of running in the Challengers.  Exacerbating this is the fact that the outsoles on the Hokas slope down laterally on both the left and right shoes, and extend appreciably beyond the outline of one's feet:  The photo below of the right shoe shoes this clearly.
Since the outsole extends several millimeters beyond the outline of one's foot, and since the shoe is designed with the slant seen in the photo above that forces the lateral side of the feet to strike the ground first, the next result is that wearing the Hoka's unmodified is a bit like trying to run down the center of a drainage ditch!  It HURTS the side of your feet after a while! And its not great for the knees either!

The problem was worse on my left foot...which makes sense in hindsight:  My left foot has a high arch and tends to have a slight roll to the lateral/outside (varus angle).  Initially when I tried on the Hokas, my left foot felt like it was being forced to rotate inwards (like it was making me  a bit knock-kneed).

No matter, there is a fix:  The photo below shows that I trimmed the midsole rim on the lateral side of my Hokas to allow my feet to splay a bit.

I also trimmed nearly a centimeter off the lateral side of my left shoe, which had the worst lateral foot pain due to the Hoka-induced "varus deformity":
If the images of the modified shoe look like the cuts were made by a madman with a hunting knife, that is because they were made by me, with a hunting knife.  I might add that it  is a rather harrowing experience to take a hunting knife to a $130 pair of fairly new running shoes and I was a bit pissed off that I had to do it... But I have done it already on a second set of Hoka Challengers (size 11.5 this time).  I took the modified shoes out for a 30 miler last weekend, and then a 20 miler the next day and they were great.

I love these Hokas because they are keeping me running but the fact is that I cannot wear them without significant modifications -  and the modifications are dangerous and time-consuming to make.

Finally, after 250 miles my right toes have begun to hurt in the Hokas.  This is due to midsole compression at the ball of the foot.  The shoes are fine if I place a pad in the depression;  nevertheless I have bought a fresh pair of Hokas, a half size larger to ameliorate the narrowness of the shoes.  The toe pain is gone again in the new shoes.   250 miles in a $130 pair of shoes amounts to a higher cost per mile than driving my car, and that is NOT a great selling point.

My wish is that Hoka would:

  • Make a wider shoe to fit people that do not wear stylish pumps all day (my feet do NOT taper to the front nor do the feet of  anyone I know) 
  • Keep the base of the shoe no wider than the foot and for Pete's sake, eliminate the midsole rim that bruises the lateral sides of my feet.
  • Use a firmer midsole material:   at 250 miles is too little for  $130 pair of shoes to last, this is NOT a great selling point.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mt Wilson 20 miler, capping off a 96 mile week

Beautiful morning on Mt Wilson for a 20 miler to cap off a 96 mile week:
I did the hike up from Eaton Canyon as usual;  My pal Alex and his friend Jose, who will be pacing Alex in the upcoming AC100, caught  me about half way up having run from Eaton Canyon about 15 or 20 minutes after I started.  We hiked the remainder to Wilson summit, watered down, and then cranked the down hill.  My round trip for the 20 miles was 4:10.  Still a bit slow on the uphill but the downhill felt like powder skiing, it was fabulous.  Jose brought a couple gallons of ice cold papaya and pineapple which he served up at the end, with mexican seasoned salt-  chile pepper, lime, and sea salt.  Out of this world fantastic!

I find myself at the end of a 96 mile week feeling like I want to run more, what a gift.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Brown Mountain on the 4th

I led an outing this morning for my son's cubscout pack to march in  the Sierra Madre July 4th parade.   The kids had a great time.

After the event I took an afternoon run up the Mt Brown firewood, 13.3 miles round trip.  I ditched the legs on my Columbia pants and wore my lightest cotton dress shirt, to see if I would fair better in the heat than yesterday.  I felt great;  I expected the run to be a hot smoggy slog, instead it was a beautiful run.  Afterwords my family joined my brother and his family for an epic cookout.  Bratwurst is outstanding recovery food!

I took out the metatarsal pad on my left shoe insert on the run.  The big toe is fine in the Hokas and I don't need the pad anymore.

Tommorrow:  20 miles on Mt Wilson.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Metatarsal pads- for big-toe joint pain

It occurs to me that it might be useful to share what I have done / what I have learned about using metatarsal pads to address my left big-toe joint injury.

As described in my post last week, this pain is on the bottom of my left foot, at the bottom side of the big toe joint.

I ordered some commercial metatarsal pads from Pro-tec:
These are constructed from felt, foam, and rubber and come with sticky tape so that they can be applied to the bottom of a shoe insole.  The way these are supposed to be installed is to place the pad BEHIND the area of pain (i.e., place proximal to the metatarsal heads, i.e., closer to the ankle), not directly under the painful metatarsal head.  The idea being to support the metatarsals and alleviate pressure on the metatarsal head.  I think these are not really designed for the big toe, rather, for metatarsal pain in the second, third .. metatarsals.

Nevertheless I tried them.  The shape of these pads is not great for big toe pain as they do not fit quite right on the edge of the insole.  I tried one on my left insole in my Hokas last week but found it uncomfortable, too big and not correctly positioned.  Mid way through a run I stopped, took out the insole, removed the pad, and applied a wedge shaped piece of neoprene foam that I cut from a Dr. Scholl's work shoe insole.  (I had bought these to try because Dr. Scholl's  athletic shoe inserts all have rather obtrusive plastic arch supports.  The insoles were however too mushy to use for trail running).  Here is what these look like after harvesting material for construction of metatarsal pads-  top side is grey fabric coated, bottom side is black, what appears to be neoprene:
And below is what my big-toe joint pad looks like -- The blue sticky tape from the Protec insert would not come off the insole so I left it in place and applied the black neoprene wedge right on the tape.  This is about right to take the load off the big toe joint:
In my Inov-8s I just cut a wedge of neoprene and used duct-tape to attach it to the insole just behind the ball of my foot:
The wedge I chose for the Inov-8s is larger:   This pair of shoes is from last year and has appreciable midsole compression, so in effect I am using the neoprene in part to fill in the dimple where the ball of my foot compressed the midsole.  I am using these shoes to walk around only, not for running.

30 miles in humidity, a new record for sweat rate

I ran a long solo run today as I had the day off but my usual running pals had to work.  So I headed up the Sam Merrill trail to the Mt Lowe railway, on up to Mt Wilson via the Mueller tunnel, and then down  the toll road until the GPS read 15 miles;  turned around and went back.  I hit Mt Wilson summit twice for water.

This route has a lot of fire-road but little single track -  running solo this season I avoid remote technical single track.  The lesson of last year, that bones can and do break in falls, has been learned.

All together this little 30 miler had 6330 ft of climb and the run time all in was 6:20, excluding stops it was a bit under 6 hours.  Altogether it was a solid run except for the last few miles where I was feeling rather blown from dehydration.

Accuweather says the temperature peaked at 84F with 48% humidity.  I was soaked in my sweat for the whole run.  I drank altogether 12 bottles of fluids of various kinds, or about 16 pounds of fluid.
When I returned from the run my weight was 144lbs versus a starting weight of 154lbs.  This indicates that I sweat 26 pounds of fluids  today (urine output was minimal).  This equates to a bit over 2 liters per hour of sweat loss.  Holy cow!

I ran in the Hoka Challenger ATRs.  My feet are feeling great.  The right foot injury appears to be gone.  The left foot tenderness on the big-toe joint is about healed.  I've been using homemade metatarsal pads on the left foot liners both in my Hokas and in my  Inov-8s which I am walking around in during the week.

In the last few miles I used my emergency garbage bag on the run down from Echo mountain to pick up other peoples' garbage (I always carry one to be able to make an emergency poncho, but they come in handy for emergency garbage!)  I had the bag filled by the bottom with discarded water and sports drink bottles, baggies of dog poop (!), snot rags, and snack wrappers.  I wish that the cockroaches that leave their litter on trails  like this would simply go hike at the LA County dump instead of "my" front range mountain trails.  I do think there should be a special place in hell for those individuals that bag up their dog's poop and then leave it on the trail for someone else to pick up.  Last week I saw one of these goodie bags at the Eaton Saddle trailhead.  A hiker there opined that it was probably left by an outbound party and that it would be picked up when they returned.  It was still there today, 1 week later.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lessons learned on foot injury management and shoe design: Capping off a 100 mile training week in Hoka Challenger; Avoiding "Toe Spring" in running shoes

This weekend I capped off a 100 mile training week, peaking up for the 2015 Angeles Crest 100, with a 33 mile run yesterday and a 20 miler this morning up Mt. Wilson.

Yesterday's 33 mile run with my pal Alex started at the Lake Avenue trailhead and ascended the Sam Merrill Trail to the Mt Lowe railway, on to the summit of  San Gabriel peak at 6100 feet, and then down through Red Box to Switzer's, returning via Red Box to Eaton Saddle and  back down.  It was a fabulous, technical run with tons of climbing (7840ft!) in a run time of 6:09.  The 20 miler today was my traditional Sunday  fast hike-up/ run-down climb-fest on the Mt Wilson Toll road.  I felt solid and the running was fabulous!

But this weekend's training almost did not happen.

All through the last week I had been playing a game of tag with two increasingly painful foot problems:

  1. A problem in my left foot --symptoms being sharpish pain in the bottom of my foot mainly at the big toe joint--  which has been building over the last couple months.  This started, I believe,  with an unfortunate stone bruise while running technical trail in very lightly armored Merrell Trail Glove-1s.  (I believe this to be a case of case of sesamoiditis/metarsalgia --self-diagnosed!-- based on readings online, not a medical diagnosis). 
  2.  A two-week old case of severe pain in my right foot at the base of the second and third toes, that is particularly exacerbated when I put my weight on my feet with my toes dorsi-flexed (i.e. pulled up).  This is of course a problem  when running uphill!   Other positions that caused pain:  squatting on my heels  with my weight on the balls of my feet (think baseball catcher's position), or standing up weighting the ball of my foot with the toes flexed and my ankle pulled up off the ground.  The pain was mostly on the top of the toe joints (the dorsal side as opposed to the plantar side).  This new problem came on after  about one week of running in a new pair of Brooks Pure Grit 3 trail shoes.

What I had found was that the left foot pain would go away if I ran in the more heavily padded Brooks, but running in the Brooks was just killing my right foot!  Switching back to Merrell Ascend Gloves, the right foot pain was substantially palliated, but the left foot pain was exacerbated!  Also, walking barefoot, the pain in the right foot went away completely -  unless I weighted the foot as described above -  weighting the ball of my foot with my ankle lifted off the ground.

I pulled out a pair of Inov-8 Trailroc 255s from last year and by the end of the week these were the only shoe I could tolerate for running:  They alleviated the right foot pain quite a bit and the left foot big-toe pain was tolerable.  I took a rest day on Friday and walked in the Trailrocs, and was contemplating the prospect of scrubbing my planned heavy mileage  training weekend, just at the point where I need to be peaking up my mileage for the AC100 race coming up in 5 weeks.

What the hell?  What was it about the Inov-8s that seemed to be working and what was it about the Brook's that was so wrong?

Researching the problem I came across a thought-provoking article on shoe design mistakes, and in particular, an analysis of a shoe characteristic called "Toe spring":  Toe spring is the characteristic of most running shoes wherein the toe box curves up from the ground (think elf shoes!), so that one's toes while wearing a shoe with a lot of toe spring wind up in a very flexed position, pulled up off the ground:
Explanation of "Toe Spring" characteristic of running shoes

The problem with toe spring is that naturally, the toes are supposed to contact the ground!  Pulling the toes up exposes the metatarsal heads, the sesamoid bones, and the ligament capsules of the toe joints to quite unnatural stresses.

Here are photos of the Inov-8s, the Brook's and the Merrells that illustrate the differences:
Inov-8 Trailroc 255s:  Virtually NO "Toe Spring" (GOOD!) - rather stiff sole is absolutely flat, with moderate midsole cushioning.
Brooks Pure Grit 3:  Crazy amount of "Toe Spring"  (BAD!) with a very stiff sole. Lots of cushioning.
Merely Trail Glove 3:  Lots of "Toe Spring", but the sole is flexible and tends to straighten out when worn;  minimal cushioning
Merrill Ascend Gloves: Moderate "Toe Spring", minimal cushioning

Looking at these photos it seems clear why the Inov-8's were working for me and the other shoes were NOT:  The Inov-8 shoe design respects the anatomy of a normal human foot while the others simply do not!  I believe that the reason the Brook's were helping the left foot problem was simply due to their soft padding and relatively heavy armoring.   This was protecting the big toe metatarsal/sesamoids, but the stiff sole combined with the excessive toe spring was wrenching my right foot's toes up and creating the new problem on the dorsal side of the right foot toe joints.

In desperation, Friday after work  I drove over to the local Pasadena running store, Run With Us, to see if I could get a new pair of Inov-8s as the old pair I have is fairly worn.  It occurred to me that the midsole was fairly compressed--  I was thinking that in a  fresh pair, my left foot problem might be OK.  No luck:  The store was out of stock in my size.

Looking over my shoulder to make sure that I knew no one in the store,  I asked to try on a pair of Hoka One Ones, the Challenger ATR trail shoes.  After a few years of extolling the virtues of minimalist shoes and mocking my ultra friends who wore what I called "Hoka clown shoes", I was desperate enough to try them.  Given the irritated state of my feet it was clear that my weekend running plans would have to be cancelled unless I found a fix fairly radically different to what I have been trying.

Here is what the Hokas look like:
Hoka Challenger ATR
At first glance it would seem that the Hokas have a lot of toe spring-  but this is not correct.  Inside the shoe, the foot sits on a very flat, horizontal surface so that effectively there is very little toe spring.  What looks like toe spring is a design feature Hoka calls "meta-rocker" technology. The outsole curves up but the inside of the shoe where the toes contact, does not.  As a result, in these shoes, one can climb uphill with minimal toe dorsiflexion.  Just what I needed to deal with the right toe problem!

The Challengers have an extremely thick midsole (29mm at the heel) but a low heel-to-toe drop of 5mm.  The low heel-to-toe drop is a parameter that I have found important to preventing knee problems.  I was concerned about the massive midsole thickness,  however, while thick, the shoes are both feather light (as light as my Merrell Ascend Gloves) and the midsole in the Hokas is quite firm, not mushy at all, allowing for secure foot-plants.

I bought the Challenger ATRs and on Saturday morning I headed out wearing them, but with my old pair of Inov-8s stuffed in my backpack as a back-up plan in case the experiment proved disastrous.  I was fully prepared to scrub the run and turn around if the Hokas didn't work out.  To my great joy, I experienced no right foot pain at all, and the heavy midsole padding did a good job of protecting my left foot big toe joint.  I had a great 33 mile run.  This morning I ran 20 miles in the Hokas again, this time experimenting with a Pro-tec metatarsal pad in my left shoe to see about improving the protection of my big toe joint.  It felt great.  My running form is unaffected in these shoes-  forefoot strike with a high cadence and a short stride.

I will continue to be careful with this problem and continue icing the feet but it does seem at this point that I have a solution that will get me through my high mileage training phase while allowing the foot problems to settle down.   I am very relieved!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Change begets change...

This week I  took it light  as I spent the  Father's day weekend at a scout camp with my son.  Taking Friday off, I hit Mt Wilson for a 20 miler in the morning before heading out for the camp.  Altogether, 62 miles this week;  I plan to ramp it up to 90-100 miles for the next three weeks prior to starting a taper for the AC100.

Last weekend I had tried a pair of Brooks Pure Grit 3s,  more heavily protected trail shoes than my usual Merrell kicks, as I had been sporting a sore left foot-  quite tender at the ball of the foot and the base of the big toe.  On my  20 miler on Mt. Wilson last Sunday in the Pure Grits, the left foot felt fine andso I was very excited about these shoes.  I ran in them every other day last week and on Thursday, after my run, I noticed that the base of my second toe on the RIGHT foot was extremely tender when bearing weight with the toes in the dorsiflexed position (toes pulled up, as occurs when  running uphill).  This seemed a fluke, a one-off problem, so I ran in the new shoes again on Friday.  By the top of Mt. Wilson my foot was bothering me; afterwords the right foot felt worse! No fluke!

The Pure Grits have removable insoles made of a soft foam that felt great initially but after 50 miles had become permanently crushed down on the balls of both feet.  In the right shoe in particular this left a depression with a bit of a hump right at the base of the second and third toes.  I think this is the reason for the irritation.   I spent the weekend at my son's camp walking around and standing all day -  I quickly found that my feet felt better in a retired pair of completely trashed Merrell Ascend Gloves.  The feet felt progressively better through the weekend.

Tonight I replaced the stock insoles in the Pure Grits with a pair of foam insole replacements-  with foam that doesn't crush.  I thought I would try this to see if getting rid of the crushed insoles would solve my problem.  On a six mile test run, the feet felt fine.  This coming week I will alternate between the Merrells and the Pure Grits to see which feels better on the feet, and decide how to proceed based on what happens.  Its a bit puzzling as I have been free of any foot troubles for the last two and a half years running in minimalist shoes.   This year is proving to be different.  I believe this is all an unintended consequence of using heel inserts to help me through some nagging achilles problems this season.  Change begets change.  The focus now is to sort this out quickly with the AC100 coming up on August 1.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Week ending June 14: 94 fabulous miles; Metatarsalgia, and Brooks Pure Grit 3

This morning I capped off a 94 mile with a fantastic workout on Mt. Wilson wherein I tested my new pair of Brooks Pure Grit 3 trail running shoes for the first time-  just fabulous!  The workout was my standard end-of-week power walk-up/run down 20 miler with close to 5000 feet of climb and descent.  It came on the heels of an epic 28 mile lollipop loop from Lake Avenue up over Mt Wilson returning through Idlehour  that I ran yesterday with my pal Alex:
Beautiful view on Saturday looking west from Markham Saddle-  photo by Alexandre  De Sant'Anna

    So I started today's workout pretty tired and indeed it took me 2:52 to hike the 9.7 miles up to the summit -  very slow.   However, the 10.3 mile  trip down (via the  Skyline Observatory gate and upper part of the Toll Road) was fast and the total run time was 4:12.

What was great about today's run is that I experienced no foot pain at all.  With the Pure Grits I was able to really push on the downhill and it felt great.

Let me back up a step to explain.

Over the last month I had  been experiencing increasingly problematic  pain in the ball of my left foot, which has become increasingly severe and had begun to affect my gait.  I believe the problem started with a stone bruise, but I can't be sure.  Certainly once the ball of my  left foot became inflamed, foot placements on stones became a big problem (I typically run in very minimalist shoes such as Merrell's trail glove), to such a degree that   about 2-3 weeks ago I started running in a pair of Skechers Gobionic trails from last year-   because this shoe has a bit thicker and much softer midsole than my standard line up of Merrells.   No joy, the problem got worse!  Next I tried using a home-made rock plate for my left shoe from ~1mm thick Polypropylene sheet (Target sells these as thin, flexible cutting boards in their kitchen department).   This helped, but the problem continued to worsen.   It seemed I had come down with a case of metatarsalgia and was coming up empty looking for a solution!

Studying my Skechers this week I  found that the liner and midsole on my left shoe had become very compressed   right in the ball of my foot, which was not the case on my right shoe:  For whatever reason on my left footfalls I tend to come down right on the ball of my foot and this was starting to wreak havoc.  I strongly suspect that there is a systematic issue with my running gait this season since coming back from my right hip-socket fracture, as this asymmetry was never a problem before.

So on Friday I went to the Monrovia running store "Snails pace" after work to look at some other trail running shoe options.

The available  trail shoes that I looked at spanned the gamut from the Altra Olympus,  to  various Hokas, to the Saucony Peregrine.  The Altra Olympus seemed about as flexible and as thick as a brick and I was not too impressed with the flexibility of the Hokas and their ginormous stack heights.  The Saucony Peregrines were nice low profile shoes, but their integrated rock plate seemed to make the shoe very stiff, similar to the Solomon Utra-SGs that I had tried unsuccessfully earlier this winter:  I'd found that the rock plate in the Solomons forced my foot to bend in  a way that hurt my foot.

Fortunately the staff there called my attention to the  Brooks Pure Grit 3.  The sales person helping me was wearing a SD100 finishers' shirt-  she was none other than the #3 female from last weekend's race:  She knew what she was doing.  While the Pure Grits fit nicely I was a little concerned over the reduced flexibility relative to what I am used to running in, but hey, I was there after all to find a shoe that would provide a bit more protection to my tender left foot!   The Pure Grit 3 has a  15mm stack height up front with  a 4 mm heel-to-toe drop; a rock plate and very aggressive lugs:  I decided to give them a try.

I bought the Pure Grits but decided NOT to try them fresh out of the box on the 28 mile run yesterday:  That is an awfully committing route if the shoes didn't work out.  I ran in my old  Skechers and at the end of the run I was limping a bit, and proceeded home to ice my foot.

 This morning I thought, what the heck, lets try the new shoes.  They felt great!  Zero foot pain and I was able to push the pace on the rocky downhill.  The lugs are also quite a bit more aggressive than the Merrell's I have been running in and I found the Pure-Grits extremely sure footed.  All in all, a great run and so far I love the Brooks.


  • Watch out for midsole compression that causes the ball of the foot to sit in a compressed cup with no protection
  • Minimalist shoes are great but armor has its place too!