Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spartathlon 2014: A stranger in a strange land following in the footsteps of Pheidippides.



USA Spartathlon Team! Who will be next?

Summary

I definitely was feeling a bit apprehensive as the final ten seconds were counted off by the throng of 349 fellow Spartathletes; my heart was definitely beating hard; could feel my pulse throbbing in my neck; butterflies in my stomach. After all it had only been 66 days since I finished the Badwater 135 in strong fashion. It was anybody’s guess how I’d be able to handle another 200km++ race so soon after.


However, I had no reason to worry. I had a pretty good race overall. Had some stomach issues mid way through the race that gave some scares about my ability to keep under the strict cutoff times but I rallied and finished well. Honestly had no expectations going into this race other than to survive to the finish. My final finish time was 31:46:50 (12:26 pace) and 49th place overall and a healthy 4h 13m 10s under the 36 hour cutoff. By virtue of Katalin Nagy, a dual US-Hungarian citizen who finished in 28:55:03 and 16th overall, choosing to represent Hungary I was technically the first finisher from the United States, and first from the Western hemisphere (North & South America). Not too shabby!


Read on for more detail about my race. Warning: it is quite lengthy in my traditional stream of consciousness narrative kind of way!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

2014 Badwater Ultramarathon. Everybody's a rookie this year.



Moments after my finish of the 2014 Badwater Ultramarathon. (Kathy Youngren)


Summary:
Thanks to my wonderful crew, wife Kathy Youngren and Bryce Carlson, I finished my second Badwater 135 in 28:03:35. Good enough for 7th overall and 6th master. For the Badwater event this was also a 3:10 personal best. Took the first half fairly conservatively and still struggled in the heat a bit on the stretch from Lone Pine to Keeler. Once night fell though I was ready to roll and covered the second half of the course much, much faster.  While this year’s course didn’t pass through Death Valley I strongly believe that the overall difficulty of the route is roughly time equivalent to the traditional route. In short, the huge increase of climb (17,000’ up from 12,000’) AND descent (12,700’ way up from ~4000’), the crew-less 16 mile gravel road climb/descent of Cerro Gordo and still impressive triple digit heat pretty much made up for  the lack of wicked Death Valley heat. At least that’s my take.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Long Haul to Spartathlon (Guest post by Bryce A Carlson)

 Synopsis:  After racing the Rocket City Marathon on December 14th, 2013 to a 2:57:10 finish (not bad considering conditions and not really being fully invested in making a solid effort) I'd spent the better part of the next few weeks not running hardly at all. My wife and I were on vacation in Colorado over the holidays; snow-shoeing, snow-mobiling, snow biking, etc... but no serious run training. It was a restful time. Then, the weekend after we return home I discover on the Spartathlon Facebook page that there are new qualifying standards for the 2014 event. The long and short of it was that my 2011 Badwater 135 finish was too old to use for a qualifier. Crap! What's worse, Spartathlon entry was about to open up and by all estimation the race would fill in short order. So, panic set in as my wife Kathy and I tried to figure out what to do. Very quickly we found a 100km race outside Tampa, Florida that I could use to attempt to qualify. To qualify I'd "only" have to run a sub-10:30 which is right over 10:00 min/mile pace for 62 miles! No sweat! Ha! So, only home a week from Colorado I suddenly found myself on a plane to Tampa; with decent leg speed but woefully undertrained for ultra distance! I'd have to rely on muscle memory and a wealth of experience and life time miles. In the end I was successful, though the effort certainly wasn't ever easy, finishing the Long Haul 100km in 9:51:07; more than good enough to punch my ticket to Greece! So now I've entered the Spartathlon 246km and am awaiting to hear back if my entry was accepted...

What follows is a more detailed account of my race mostly through the eyes of my friend Bryce Carlson who was in the same Spartathlon qualifying predicament as me.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Skechers GoRun Ultra: From the drawing board to the display shelf


Skechers GoRun Ultra, fresh off finishing the grueling Hardrock 100.
Skechers GoRun Ultra, midsole-outsole wear after Hardrock 100.

Background and Overview
 
For over a year and half now I've been working closely with the Skechers Performance Division to wear test, critique and now develop high quality running shoes for road and trail use.  

Disclaimer: I am a potential 2014 Skechers Team member but haven't been compensated in the past in any way by the Skechers Performance Division other than getting to keep the shoes I test. However, I did receive a small monetary compensation for the great deal of insight (time and energy) I provided for the design and function of the GoRun Ultra (far above and beyond what a typical wear-tester would provide). I will stress that as a long time runner (over 22 years) I take my training and racing seriously and if I felt that the Skechers Performance line wasn't up to the task I honestly wouldn't waste my and your time with their products. I really believe the Skechers Performance Division is very serious about creating a line of products that serious runners will like.

Over the summer of 2012, I pitched an idea for a new, high cushion, hybrid road-trail running shoe to the Skechers Performance Division and low and behold I wasn’t the only one thinking the same thoughts as some other Skechers wear testers also made similar, independent, suggestions. The Skechers Performance Division thought it was a great idea for a lot of reasons and so work began in earnest with some of the first prototypes arriving on my door step by mid December. My proposal had ulterior motives, as I wanted to have a shoe that I'd be confident wearing at the grueling Hardrock 100 this past July and at the same time a shoe that would be equally home on long, paved, road runs. Over the next year, after many trials, tribulations and prototypes the GoRun Ultra (GRU) has finally come to fruition! I'm extremely happy to report that this shoe has surpassed even my wildest expectations ( I finished 15th overall with an over 2 hour personal best at Hardrock). 

The key feature of the extremely light, 4mm heel-to-toe drop GRU is that the very slightly concave midsole/outsole is about 1.5 times thicker than a conventional running shoe and significantly softer and spongy yet still retains some "pop" (toe spring stiffness). The end result is a soft yet still springy midsole that absorbs and deflects anything you run over like a fat-tire mountain bike (my other hobby)! The midsole/outsole really smoothes out your run on irregular terrain considerably! At the same time the soft lugged outsole performs quite well in every trail condition and surface I tested it in; from slick southern limestone, roots and mud to the screen fields and slippery high alpine tundra of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado and everything in between. Trust me I really put this shoe through the wringer! I had too. I wanted a shoe that could go the distance at Hardrock without having to worry about changing out shoes. I’m the kind of ultra runner who likes to put on their socks and shoes before the race and not touch anything until after the race. I rarely change socks and almost never change shoes during a race, so I expected the GRU to be able to fit into my race routine as well.

A nice aspect of the GRU is that since it was built as a hybrid road-trail running shoe the lugs are not overly aggressive and are well distributed along the relatively soft outsole. Therefore the GRU feels right at home on the roads; it’s very smooth and natural; the slightly concave and flexible last make this a very quiet running shoe! Even if you're not an ultrarunner, the great thing about the GRU is that it also makes a great recovery shoe since it's so cushy and light. The GRU is a great choice for the day after a tough run or anytime you want a bit more protection underfoot.  

Overall, while the GRU still needs a little work here and there with respect to durability and stability it did perform flawlessly not only during my intensive multi-week elevation gain focused training but also during some pre-race peak bagging and altitude acclimatization sessions and in the race itself. At a relatively low price point compared to other high cushioned, performance oriented hybrid trail-road shoes the GRU is a true bargain and worth the investment.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Youngrens are now offering coaching services!

That's right, my wife Kathy and I are now turning the tables and offering up our over 40 years of combined running and racing experience to interested runners. No running goals too big or too small! Let us help you realize your potential!

For more information checkout: http://youngrenrunning.blogspot.com/


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Upchuck 50km: A Return To The Woods!

Photo: Reuben Watkins

After a long late Summer into early Fall of road racing and training I was so happy to get back out on the trails. I think I've signed up to do the Upchuck 50km the past three years only to not be able to go for various reasons. So finally I got to go! 

The race itself was extremely rugged, remote and difficult point to point 50km trail race outside Soddy Daisy, TN (just north of Chattanooga) that has a cumulative elevation gain of over 5,500'.  The race is small (only 75 participants accepted) and definitely considered a "post-graduate" type 50km as a prior 50km is required. The race is no joke as there are only two official aid stations (8 and 18 miles) so you must be prepared to carry what you need!

Here is some more information about the route from Stava also official Cumberland Trail Three Gorges description and maps, also an interesting comparison of Upchuck vs. Stump Jump 50ks. More of Reuben Watkin's photos.

Summary:
Anyhow, I finished 5th overall in 5:19:10. Perfect running weather but not perfect trail conditions. Route follows Cumberland Trail for most of the race. The CT is very rocky and technical with rock garden after rock garden. However, the trail builders have done a masterful job of smoothing the trail out as best they could; can't count how many stone steps we traversed or switch backs taken. What made the course even more difficult on this day was that all the leaves from the trees had very recently fallen; hiding all the dangerous rocks, roots and holes in the trail. Very hazardous trail conditions really slowed everybody down including the talented race leaders as nobody broke 5 hours! So I now don't feel so bad for being so slow! Overall felt just okay, on the plus side I had pretty good residual fitness from all the road training I'd been doing for the Army Ten Miler and some marathon training. On the negative side I still felt that deep fatigue and lack of spring in my legs. To top it all off I took a HARD fall onto my left hip (right on a rock) ~10-11 miles in. Took a steep, leaf covered switchback a bit too tight and WHAM I was down. Hurt so bad I had to walk for the next several minutes. This course is seriously difficult but also extremely scenic and beautiful! The typical pattern was a fairly long climb up a drainage, often getting very steep up in places, then a brief break of good running along the top of a plateau before plunging down into the next gorge on very steep, rock stepped trails, rinse and repeat for most of the 31 miles. Would love to come back one day with fresher legs and NO leaves down on the trail and really see what I could do; pretty sure sub-5hr is not out of the question with the right conditions.

Monday, August 12, 2013

So you want to learn to unicycle?


As many of you know my other passion outside of running is off-road unicycling. While I haven't ridden at all this year (Yikes!) I do plan on getting back to it very soon; been pursuing this fat-biking thing over the past several months but that's fodder for a future blog post...

Anyhow I do often get asked about how to start out learning to unicycle. What brand of unicycle should I buy? What wheel size? How do I learn? How long will it take? Etc...  So for those folks interested in learning I'm going to share my own experience in learning to ride and try to address the more common questions.

Why learn to unicycle?
As a runner I gravitated to learning to unicycle after a prolonged feeling of burnout. I wanted to try something new yet still stay active. I soon discovered unicycling (once I learned), complemented my running very well. Why? How?
  1. Unicycling puts you in a very similar body position as running; very upright and not hunched over like you'd be on a bike.
  2. The speed and leg turnover while unicycling is very much like running and is a great way to maintain your leg speed without the pounding of running.
  3. A unicycle is fixed gear meaning that there is no coasting, as long as your moving you're pedaling. Just like with running there is cruising!
  4. Unicycling is a highly cardiovascular activity, it takes a lot of work to crank along for miles and miles!
  5. Unicycling builds great core strength as you initiate turns from your core; you steer the unicycle with your core. To stay balanced and ride forward you must execute good upright posture with strengthens your core and lower back muscles.
  6. A runner is the perfect candidate to learn to unicycle because to be a dedicated runner takes a large measure of stubbornness and perseverance both qualities one needs to learn to ride!
Still interested in learning to ride a unicycle? Good. Read on!