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:

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.

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!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Counter Clockwise Redemption: 2013 Hardrock 100 Race Report (Part 4 of 4)

Telluride – Silverton (Miles 72.7 – 100.5, 9609’ gain, 10169’ loss):

I must have really made good time from Ouray to Telluride because when I rolled into the aid station my crew was not there! The aid station felt this was a bigger deal than I did; I was happy to just sit and take a little break. However, an aid station volunteer was immediately dispatched to search the parking lot for our yellow Jeep! Perhaps a minute later Kathy and Fritz emerge out of the darkness; they’d come by the aid station perhaps five minutes before and checked the IN/OUT board and noticed that Darla had not come through yet so figured since I’d been trailing her by 30-40 minutes for a long while that they had time yet. Turns out the board hadn’t been updated; Darla had already come and gone! Oh well. 
Of all the sections of the Hardrock course the next one was the one I had been anticipating the most because of its notoriety and difficulty. Over the next 9.3 miles to the Chapman Gulch Aid Station (82.4) the route climbs 4500’ and drops 3090’. I knew I needed to load up on calories before I left so I devoured a bowl of potato soup and several slices of water melon (love this stuff!). I also knew the next stretch would be during the “doldrums” of the early morning; those tough hours between midnight and sunrise that often reduce even the toughest of ultrarunners to stumbling zombies! Therefore I dispensed with water in my bottles and loaded up on Coca-Cola! And with a final wave I was out of there!
I was only a handful of minutes out of Telluride, on a wide path that switch backed just above the aid station, when I heard cheers and applause from the aid station. Must be Mikio and his pacer I thought. Time to press the pace a bit. The next mile or so is on the wide Telluride Bear Creek Road that has a fairly gentle grade so I tried to run as much of it as I could as I knew there’d be very little running soon enough. A short time later I arrive at the Wasatch Trail and begin climbing in earnest; steep switchback after steep switch back; endless. The route is overrun by thick vegetation which makes seeing my way ahead a bit difficult with my headlamp but there is really nowhere else to go but up! In the less overgrown sections of trail I often pause and cut out my light and stare into the heavens; the Milky Way is a bright and foggy band across the pitch sky! Wow! I’m not just stopping to admire the Universe however; I’m trying to see if I can spot Mikio’s lights behind and below me! Ha! Fortunately I don’t spot his lights and snap mine back on and continue ever upward; the roar of Bear Creek my only companion.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Counter Clockwise Redemption: 2013 Hardrock 100 Race Report (Part 3 of 4)

Ouray – Telluride (Miles 56.6 – 72.7, 4390’ gain, 5460’ loss):

The Ouray City Park was lit up and full of milling about runners, crews, pacers and more than a few curious spectators. We’d just arrived and spotted Kathy and her mother. Kathy told me somebody was there that wanted to see me; it was none other than my old friend David Horton! David was in Colorado to race his mountain bike in the 540 mile long, self-supported, Colorado Trail Race. It was great to see him in awesome shape! He said I looked pretty good mentally and physically and had a good race going; to keep it up! Fritz was done pacing at this point but promised that he’d be good to go to join me from Chapman to the finish in the morning. I’d taken a longer break here than necessary, but it was great to see my family and I’m positive it helped recharge my mental and physical batteries!
I checked out of Ouray sans pacer, paused to see the rest of my family, my dogs Cairo and Tracks at the RV park off Oak Street, then enjoyed the crossing of Box Canyon on the steel grate bridge and erry old tunnel beyond. Next thing I knew began the long crawl up Camp Bird Mine Road which slowly climbs over 3000’ to the Governor Basin Aid Station (64.5 miles). In a word this section is quite BORING! It’s a long drag uphill that is often just too steep to run though I tried to as often as I could when the grade seem to relax a bit. Along the way I passed a runner, (Rob perhaps?) and spotted several deer in and along side the road. After what seemed like an eternity I began to see extremely bright lights up ahead. I niavely thought it was the aid station all lit up. Wrong. It was a fairly new (to me) active mine in full 24-7 operation. The sounds of heavy machinery echoed off the canyon walls and the work area was as bright as day time; the excess light bled onto the canyon walls miles away! I made my way past the mine site full of irrational fears that some beheamouth of machine was surely going to chase me down and run me over if I lingered too long!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Counter Clockwise Redemption: 2013 Hardrock 100 Race Report (Part 2 of 4)

Sherman – Ouray (Miles 28.7 – 56.6, 9943’ gain, 7983’ loss):

I took a good break at Sherman, sitting in a chair for the first time while I restocked my pack with the contents of the only drop bag I’d use at the race. I scarfed down some more water mellon (see a theme here?) and asked if they had any popsicles (they did) and eat that too. I then drank a whole bottle of water too fast and my stomach instantly cramped up. Ouch! I just sat there and took a few deep breaths and the uncomfortable knot loosened up. Phew! Then I was out of there, once again chasing to keep “the group” in sight. The group roughly consisted of me, Darla Askew, Rob Erskine and Mikio Miyazoe along with a few others from time to time; Sarah McCloskey, Jon Teisher, David Coblentz…
The next section I’m very intimately familiar with as I’d been vacationing in the Lake City area and we pass by Sherman and this section of the course to do several 14ers in the area. We began our approach to Handies Peak (14,048’), the highest point on the course, up the long Cinnamon Pass Road that is often sees heavy ATV and Jeep traffic as the road is part of the popular Alpine Loop. Luckily most of the traffic we saw were crews and they kept the dust stiring to a minimum. The uphill grade over the next four miles to the Burrows Park aid station (32.6 miles) or so is fairly slight so we all tried to run as much of the 4x4 road as we could. This is an amazing road, a single lane literally blasted into the side of the mountain to form a “shelf”; on one side is the steep rock wall on the other a 200’ drop into the upper Lake Fork river!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Counter Clockwise Redemption: 2013 Hardrock 100 Race Report (Part 1 of 4)


What is the Hardrock 100? Well, in brief, it’s a grueling 100-mile mountain run that connects the four major mining centers of the San Juan Mountains: Silverton, Lake City, Ouray and Telluride and is dedicated to the spirit of the Hardrock miners whose trails they blazed we follow! The race features 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet with an average elevation of 11,186 feet - low point 7,680 feet (Ouray) and high point 14,048 feet (Handies Peak); the circular route reverses direction each year. But that doesn’t paint quite paint the full picture because more than 73 miles of the route is on moderate to severely technical trails or completely cross-country! The remaining mileage is on 4x4 roads in various degrees of disrepair. Only a small fraction of a mile touches pavement! Now add to the picture the fact that runners can expect to “do some mild form of rock climbing (hands required), wade ice cold streams, struggle through snow which at night and in the early morning will be rock hard and slick and during the heat of the day will be so soft you can sink to your knees and above, cross cliffs where a fall could send you 300 feet straight down, use fixed ropes as handrails, and be expected to negotiate the course with or without markers.” (2013 Hardrock Runners Manual) Next include the fact that runner’s must be prepared for all types of weather thus requiring carrying of addition layers of clothing and gear to handle extreme heat, cold, rain, wind, snow, hail, etc… often over a relatively short period of time! The completed picture gives you one of the most difficult mountain 100 mile races in the world and the reason it’s considered a post-graduate 100 mile race!
So how did I do? I finished 15th overall (13 male or M13 in Western States parlance) in 31:19:30 which surpassed my previous best of 33:36:13* (2008-CW) by over two hours! Even better, I avenged myself of my poor 2005 CCW race, which was an epic “two nighter” which took me 43:43:26 to complete! A CCW personal best by well over TWELVE hours! This was also my fourth finish in seven attempts and 17th hundred mile finish (19th event of 100 miles or more).

*In 2008 I actually had an extra week of acclimatization (3 weeks total) which I really think helped. So even though I was over two hours faster this year, the course was in much better condition than it was in 2008 (less snow).  

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Dismal 50km or "How to Maximize Elevation Gain in as Few Miles as Possible"

Over seven years ago, while starting my training for the Hardrock 100 Mile, I endeavored to come up with a local training run that would exceed 10,000’ of elevation gain in as few miles as possible and be on trails. After some thought and looking at maps of Monte Sano State Park I had an “Aha!” moment. You see, I discovered probably the best possible course, super steep, a ton of climb, a “loop” course and best of all right out my back gate! Unbelievable! 

"Hall of Shame"

Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 McKay Hollow Mudness: Brief History and Race Recap

Last Saturday, the 23rd of March, was the seventh running of the McKay Hollow Madness (MHM) Trail Run which began in 2007. The event was the brainchild of Tom Possert, a renowned ultramarathoner and adventure racer who lives locally in the Huntsville area. Tom designed the McKay Hollow Madness as a trail half marathon race that incorporated some of the most difficult trails in the Monte Sano State Park trail system; including a brutal last uphill on the infamous “Death Trail” (northern leg of the McKay Hollow Trail).

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Couch to Arrowhead 135 (FAIL!)

I originally wrote the following account right after we got back to town but decided not to post it.  I really didn't want to talk a whole lot about Kathy's my failure at the Arrowhead 135 this past January but reconsidered and felt that the story needed to be told. We're not very disappointed as we knew our chances of success weren't very good to begin with (you'll read why) and we're already very motivated to take on a shorter winter event together next December; the Tuscobia Winter Ultra. My plan will be to use that event as a final tune up before I attempt the Arrowhead 135 in 2014 with Kathy as my crew! Now what follows is my account of our failed 2013 Arrowhead 135 attempt. Enjoy. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Monte Sano Contour Transect

Last weekend I successfully completed a "contour transect" of the Monte Sano Plateau where I live.  This is a complicated phrase that really just means I trekked all the way around the Monte Sano Plateau trying to stay as close to the same elevation contour as possible. So in theory I should have been able to hike around one of the many benches that ring the plateau and not gain or lose any elevation at all. 

However, the route I chose, along the 1480' contour, kept me just below the main bluff or escarpment wall which avoided most trails in both the Land Trust and Monte Sano State Park; so my route was almost entirely off trail! The only exception were in the few instances when a trail happened to fit within the +-50' vertical buffer I allowed myself to help avoid extremely tough going (with mixed results). The route I took ended up measuring at a little over 12 miles and involved over 1600' of climb which took me just less than 6 hours to complete! Yes I could only manage just a hair over 2 mph!! Checkout the pictures after the jump and you'll understand why it was so slow!