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.