Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What I Wear: Shoe Guide

New Balance 840 (11.6 oz) $85- These may have been my favorite trail shoe yet. Though listed at 11.6 ounces, they sure felt like they were closer to 10. These shoes had wonderful traction thanks to the cleat like design, and the low riding feel made me very confident running fast over rocky/uneven trails. I wore these when I wanted to bust out a fast 50k, or take on a challenging rock covered course. The range on this shoe had me PRing on the rocks of the Big Schloss 50k, to the roads and flat towpaths of the JFK 50. However, after 50 miles on the jagged Massanutten rocks, this shoe didn't quite provide enough protection (after 13 hours),and my feet started to hurt.The only other con is that the shoe started to lose its cushioning after "only" 7 ultramarathons and approx. 700 miles of training. Note: the 840 is no longer in production, otherwise I would keep wearing them.

New Balance MT100(7.8 oz) $75- Sorry,the picture wouldn't download. These shoes have been made famous by ultra stud/minimalists Kyle Skaggs and Tony Krupicka (crew-pitch-kuh). The shoe felt more cushioned, and more road friendly,than the previous NB 790. However, the shoe has retained a relatively agressive tread and a low to the ground feel. The lack of much of a tongue and racing flat design are intended to for efficient runners who want to go fast. Keep in mind that lack of weight means less rock protection. There are fewer overlays, and some people will find lateral transitions a bit sloshy. I wore this during a run on the rocky Massanutten mountain, and it did not grip well on the rocks. It was a bit sloppy for quick stride changes due to trail conditions. This will likely be a shoe people work up to running long in. For the right people, you could run 100 miles in it. I will personally be expecting this to function like a lighter shoe that performs like the 840 w/out the bulk. I hope to make this my go to 50k racer. Good for non rocky trails.

Brooks ASR 6(12.2 oz) $95- I had the priviledge of testing these for Brooks last spring. These are the trail version of the well like Adrenaline road shoe. Aside from more agressive treads, this still feels like a road shoe. I felt the heel was a bit clunky, and the shoe soaked up water way too much. It also felt a half size too big, and was not a good fit for narrow feet like mine. I would not recommend for very rocky trails. This would be an appropriate shoe for light trails and roads, but because of that why wouldn't I just opt to wear a lighter road shoe? For runners new to trails, these might just work.

Mizuno Wave Ascend 2 (12 ounces) $90- I put about 500 miles on these, including 21 straight hours during my run of the 71 mile Massanutten Trail Ring. This is a trail only shoe that does not feel good on roads, but is solid on everything else. The rock protection was great, and I only had one bad case of blisters during a 58+ mile run on a 90 degree day. Overall it drains well, can take a lot of rocky miles, but leave it at home for the street runs. This version has since been replaced the Ascend 3.

Montrail Mountain Masochist(10.8 oz) $90: This shoe is designed to take on conditions similar to the famed race. It's great for road to trail transitions, and will tackle some of the rougher stuff too. I actually dislike the design of the shoe. The tongue is too chunky, and the heel is far too high for a trail shoe. Although the heel cup was excellent at stabilizing, the thick heel made running on rocks very sketchy. This layout promotes a heel strike and off balance/ankle rolling feel. After cutting about a half inch off the heel, and pulling out the tongue padding(yes that sounds weird) the shoe was perfect. Note: too much stuffing in the tongue holds in water,thus making the shoe heavier. Cutting the heel and removing the padding allows for a more natural forefoot strike, and cuts several ounces off the weight. The gussetted tongue successfully kept debris out for the entirety of my last 50k trail run. During the same mountain 50k, the shoe felt solid all day. The only remainining issue was the heel cup cut up my heels on some of the steeper climbs. I had some pretty raw heels after the race that took a few days to heal (no pun intended).

Brooks Launch (9.3 oz) $90- haven't worn yet, but these will be my fast road shoes. I will use these for quick 10k tempo runs all the way to marathon, or even a non technical 50k/50 mile.

Nike MayFly (4.8 oz) $45- These feather weight shoes are designed for only 100k of use, but I have managed to go well beyond that. Like the Vibram 5 Fingers, people should build up the distance in these. Heavier runners will not do well with the non existent cushioning and zero support. At 155lbs, I can get away with it. I use this for indoor/outdoor track speed work, treadmills, and no more than 10 miles at a time on roads.

Brooks Racer ST4(8.6 oz) $85- This was my "go to" shoe for all things road. These are perfect for the marathon and shorter distances, but they were also just cushioned enough for me to run two 50 milers and one 50k trail run in them. Keep in mind that the 50 milers had very little rocky trail in them. I've put about 500 miles on these as well. Good for running fast, and running long.

Brooks Cascadia 5 (12oz) $90- a nice "green" upgrade of the award winning Scott Jurek designed trail shoe . This version has wider laces, and drains water more efficiently than other models. The liner also has a touch more cushion. The universal platform agian suites most feet and arch types. I put roughly 1,000 miles(and counting) on my Cascadia 3's. These shoes have run hundreds of miles through ice cold water, snow, sleet, mudd, rain, rocks, and whatever else you could throw at them. The Cascadia's are my shoe of choice for rocky 50k-100 mile events. Heck, they'll even feel good for a few hours on the roads if you like.

Brooks Ghost 2 (10.8 oz) $100- Good for very long road runs of marathon distance, or more. I would probably use these for non technical/road 50-100 milers, and 24 hour runs. They worked well for some track work outs, however they did feel a bit spungy, like there was too much cushion. A nice shoe for light and heavy framed runners with various arch types.

Friday, March 19, 2010


On November 20th, 2004 I finished my first race ever. It was not a 5k, or 10k, but an ultramarathon. After the race, I told myself I was never going to run another event like that again.

On March 27th, 2010 I will be attempting to finish my 50th running event of marathon distance, or longer. So much for never running another ultra.

I've been reflecting on what I enjoy most about running. In recent years I've only taken one major leave of absence (June 2009-November 2009) from competitive events, and this was due to a non running related injury. However, this period of time did not mark an absence from running since I still completed several organized club 50k trail runs, albeit at a much more relaxed effort.

This spring I have once again kept my efforts pretty low key, and non "competitive". I frustrated myself in 2009 by trying to unrealistically PR every event (even on back to back weekends), and wound up with mediocre results and not enjoying the events like I should. After 50 events, I realized that having fun has made my pursuit of long distance running far more enjoyable than merely running to finish in a particular place. Another reality after five years of running and testing different training methods is that I probably will not get much faster. Small "fat ass" events aside, I am usually a consistent top 25% finisher at most big events.

Beyond 50 endurance events I don't really have any major objectives. I have already achieved most of my ultrarunning goals.

Finish an ultramarathon- complete
Finish a 100 miler under 24 hours- complete
Finish a 50 miler under 8 hours- complete
Win an event (non Fat Ass)-complete

As one who still enjoys a good challenge, ironically, I don't necessarily think making new goals is in my plans. For the time being, I am enjoying the view of running from a purely hobby standpoint. Up next...spring time in the Shenandoah and snow free trails!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Blood and Sweat: The Mike Bailey blood donation distance project

By Mike Bailey
36 Virginia blood drives were cancelled in January due to record winter snow storms. Virginia Blood Services is in great need of blood, and distance runners are ideal candidates given their healthy blood supply. One pint of blood can save three lives.

The question is simple. How does donating 1 pint of blood (not plasma) effect long distance runners? Numerous reports and Q&A’s are available for shorter distance athletes, but there is a lack of information available for marathon and longer runners. I decided to see for myself, and made myself the guinea pig for my little experiment.

Prior to donating blood I knew a couple key facts.

1. No strenuous activity for 24 hours after giving blood
2. It takes 56 days to fully replenish your red blood cell count
3. It takes 72 hours to rehydrate
4. Donating blood has had crippling, and dangerous effects on runners (including being hospitalized)

With that knowledge, I gave the standard 1 pint of blood. This would equal having 10% less red blood cells available to carry oxygen to my body. In order to compare and contrast the effects, I recorded training stats and personal vitals for two full weeks after donating. I chose a two week period of time because this was the average length of time shorter distance runners (ie 5k-10k) said it took to feel somewhat normal again. I did everything I was advised to do, which included extra fluid intake, not missing meals(not really an issue for me), extra sleep, taking iron supplements, and eating iron rich foods.

Key stats prior to donating:

Age: 28
Body Weight: 155 lbs
Miles per week running: 60-70 (mpw post donating stayed the same, or increased)
Weekly long run: 15-22 miles. Best long run was 16 miles at 7:30 pace (Treadmill)
Weekly tempo run: 5-7 miles at 6:55- 7:00 pace, or 8-10 miles at 7:05-7:10 pace (Treadmill)

My primary objective was to attempt to keep my post donating training as similar as possible to my pre donation training. I completely understood that my endurance and speed would decrease, but I really wanted to learn a few important things. How much would my initial performance drop? How long would it take to regain my fitness? Simple science suggests that 56 days would be needed for full recovery.

Here’s my breakdown of the two weeks after donating.

Day 1. My body felt fatigued from the start. It was like running at 10,000 ft. I plodded along at an 8:30 minute mile, and struggled to maintain anything faster than 8:00 per mile. I could not maintain anything faster than a 7:30 for more than a few minutes. My cardio was gone, and my legs felt a bit shaky. I required walking breaks about every mile. My total run was 9 miles at roughly a 9 minute mile average, which factored in the walking breaks.

Day 2. Ran 7.5 miles at an overall 8:00 minute pace. 3 miles were at 7:20 pace. Drastic improvement, but still a long way from normal.

Day 3. Third day was a hard mixed workout. Ran 5 miles, including two miles at a surprising 6:46 pace.

Day 4. Felt tired and worn out

Day 5. Ran 13 miles total. 10 miles were at 7:27 pace

Day 6. Long run of 20 miles. Felt good and relaxed, but I kept the pace pretty easy

Day 8. Horrible tempo run. 5 miles at 7:21 pace

Day 9. Better tempo run. 6.4 miles at 7:09 pace

Day 10. Long run, easy paced 21 miles. Felt comfortable, but again I was not going hard.

Day 13. The Big Two week test: Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k. Short race report at the bottom.

The initial effects of donating were drastic. I felt like a shell of my normal self, but within the first week I felt continued improvement. With each new day I could run a little farther, and a little faster. I also noticed that I was feeling soreness in my legs after workouts that would not normally leave me feeling sore. Some of the little aches lingered for a few days, but would subside after about 48 hours.
Two weeks after donating I could say that I was at about 90% of my pre donating capacity. I believe the reason why shorter distance runners feel 100% recovered after only two weeks is because they compete at shorter distances. In other words, it doesn’t take as long for the body to renew itself for a 6 mile race as it does for a 30-50 mile race. I think ultra runners tap into muscular and cardiovascular reserves that require the most amount of time to repair and prep for the next big effort. This would leave us at a longer lasting disadvantage when giving blood. I would expect no less than 6-7 weeks for ultramarathoner to fully recover from donating. If you plan to race prior to this window of time, I highly suggest you use it only as a training run. I would not donate within 2 months of a focus race.

2010 Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k
Short and sweet version

I knew my body wasn’t 100% recovered going into this event. After all, I was only two weeks out from donating blood. My plan was to run as hard as my body would allow for as long as it would allow. With half of the course covered in snow, and the rest of it covered in mud, it was a little tough to tell how my time would reflect my fitness. Honestly, I don’t think the trail conditions slowed the times down much. At most it caused the 50k to run 10-15 minutes slower than last year. In 2009 I ran the 50k in 5:18 on a day I thought I bonked a bit.
This year for 20 miles I was running with a group of 50k runners who all finished around 5 hours. 5 hours is a pretty solid time on this course, moreso given the trail conditions, and typically anything under 4:30 is considered an elite time. Needless to say it only took a few minutes for my body to go from feeling awesome to complete shut down mode. By mile 22 my legs felt like they had run 50 miles already, and I still had 10 miles to go. My heart rate was elevated, the lungs felt winded, and once again I felt like I was running at 10,000 feet. I think this crash was a combination of two factors. The first being the lack of any run over 22 miles since Dec 4th, and the second being the effects of donating blood. Last year the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k was my 6th ultra of the year, and in 2010 it was my first ultra of the year. Either way I felt like I was hit by a Mack truck.
At the mile 25 aid station I was almost ready to drop from the event. I had walked two chilly miles into the aid station, lost my glove, and had 7 miles to go. I forced myself to leave the aid station, but about a quarter mile later a runner asked me if I lost my glove. He said he found it and left it at the aid station I just left. Ugh! I walked 3 minutes back to the aid station to get my lost glove, and at that point I was 90% certain my day was over. After some mental wrestling, I slowly walked away from the aid station, having tacked a half mile to the already long 32.5 mile course.
The slow drag to the finish was alleviated by tagging along with other runners and allowing fun conversation to disrupt my negative mindset. It was at that time I realized my run wasn’t going as bad as expected. The lady I was running with (and she was running strong) turned out to be running the marathon, not the 50k. It also turned out that she started an hour earlier than me. That meant I was actually four miles ahead, and an hour faster. Not nearly the disastrous 6:30 to 7:00 hour finish time I played through my head. I thank my new friend Rebecca for keeping my mind occupied, and my legs running for the last 4 miles. It was a pleasure finishing the run with you.

Moral of the story. Donating blood is a wonderful cause, but it will wreak havoc on athletic capacity in ultra runners for a few months (not just weeks). But, also know that your running is probably a selfish act in itself, and donating blood saves lives every day. Find a 3 month period of time you don’t have any key races planned, and then donate. It takes 30 minutes for the entire process, and just 5 minutes for the donation itself.

Best Wishes,
Your guinea pig ultra donor,
Mike Bailey