Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Viaduct Trail 100 Miler Info

I'm officially 1/2 way through my self-imposed month-long break from running. I know it's doing wonders for my injured leg, but it's also driving me a little crazy. All of the usual "caged runner" side effects are now present:

Waaaaay too much energy all day long? Check.
Recurring dreams about running happy and free? Check.
Waking up from those dreams, realizing they're not true, and spending the next few minutes punching my pillow? Check.
All sorts of extra time to do things like sleep and relax and not apply bags of ice to my various limbs three times a day? Check (ok, maybe this one isn't that bad).

Anyway, in an effort to fill some of this new-found time, I've done a little advanced research on my next run: The Viaduct Trail 100. Sure, it's still 2 months away, but I need to distract myself with SOMETHING productive, and since I can't run, I might as well start the "mental" preparation. As it turns out, this is a pretty cool race:

First off, one of the best things about the Viaduct Trail 100 is it's a "Fat Ass" race. For those of you who don't know what that means, it's essentially a race that has no entry fee or fancy aid stations. You are responsible for carrying your own fuel and supplies. On this particular course, the race directors are going the extra mile and putting out water at each end, and in the middle, of the 25 mile out-n-back. They're also bringing runners' drop bags to the far side of the out-n-back if needed. Since I'm a Fat Ass runner by choice (always carry tons of fuel w/ me so I don't have to stop very much), this type of race is right up my alley. Another reason I'm running this race is the terrain is essentially flat, so I can use it as early pace training for the 24 Hour Championships in Cleveland. It's never too early to focus on that goal!

Aside from the above, this race is also super cool from a historical standpoint too. It's called the Viaduct Trail 100 because it begins at the Starucca Viaduct in Lanesboro, PA. Never heard of it? Well, since it's in the middle of nowhere, I don't blame you...but check out how cool this thing is!
According to Wikipedia, this was the largest and most expensive stone arch bridge at the time it was built in the 1840s. On a trip north, President Millard Filmore asked his train to stop while traveling over it so he could marvel at its construction. He called it the greatest example of American masonry he had ever seen.
Another cool thing about the Viaduct? While using the Google Maps satellite function to try and find the race course, I zoomed in on the starting area and look at what I found - Check out that shadow!!
Needless to say, I'm very much looking forward to my trip up to the PA countryside in a couple months. I think I'm just about as excited to check this thing out in person as I am to run the race!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Saucony Xodus Review

Up to this point, Saucony's overall presence in the trail-running scene has been noticed about as much as the extra who played "Gladiator #299" in the movie 300. Not exactly noteworthy stuff. Previous "Trail" shoes from their collections have amounted to little more than heavier-soled versions of their road shoes with darker coloring. No effort had been made to start from the ground up and really key in on something (anything!) that trail runners really need. Brooks has made this effort with the Cascadia (now in its 4th version), and New Balance has tried multiple angles in this field, most recently with last year's successful (and super-light) 800 and now the new 790. Both the Cascadia and 800/790 have thoughtful and innovative elements that make a trail runner realize these running shoe companies are able to deliver competitive products along side their mountain-running counterparts like Montrail, Vasque, La Sportiva, etc.

.....and now, finally, I'm happy to announce that Saucony is legitimately stepping up to the plate to give trail runners a worthy offering. Here's my review of their shoe that very well may hit a home run with ultra-trail runners all over the country this year: the Saucony Xodus.

Let's talk details. First, don't attempt to take photos of this (or any) shoe on top of a fancy placemat after you've actually worn them outside. You'll find the cushioning in the heel to be a bit lacking while your wife is beating you over the head with it. That said, once it's on your feet, you'll notice one nice carry-over from the Saucony road shoes: a soft and cushioned ride from their Pro-Grid system. It's the availability of this type of mid-sole cushioning that puts the Xodus ahead of most models from "trail only" companies like the Montrails and Vasques of the world. "But Dan," you say, "those companies are waaaay ahead in terms of the outer sole grip and toughness, and that's what really matters on rough terrain." Well, that's an excellent point, and I'm happy to report that the good folks at Saucony completely agree with you. So much so, in fact, that they went out and formed a partnership with the kings of all outer-sole makers: Vibram. Here's what the bottom of the Xodus looks like:
Yes indeed, that's TWO Vibram logos you see...and after your first mile you'll be wondering why they didn't stick on three or four more. They're that good. Most notably because of their traction, but also because they're really really really light too! No one agrues about the quality of Vibrams soles, but the weight they add is usually a detriment to folks who want a faster/lighter trail shoe. Saucony solved this problem by limiting the Vibram portion of the sole to just the outer 1/8" to 1/4". The rest of the bottom is composed of Saucony's super-light mid-sole and Pro-Grid cushioning layers. You can see the 3 layers in the photo above (black, gray, yellow)...and again here in a rear angle:

So now that we know the bottom of the shoe is legit, how about the rest? Well, I've got even more good news on that front. Let's start with the front of the shoe. Saucony has developed their own dirt/debris-impermeable material to keep your little piggies from being covered in grit and mud - Check out the silver fabric that essentially runs around your entire foot:
You can see it continuing through the breathable holes in the black mesh on the side here too. I can't vouch for how well it breathes in the hottest of hot conditions, but early returns prove it to be better than the comparable material in the Vasque Aether Tech SS shoes I've been wearing much of this spring.

Underneath the silver shield lining, the Xodus keeps your foot firmly in place with both an inner sock-liner (which I usually hate, but this one is flat-out excellent) and a reinforced outer support system called "Arch-lock", shown here:
Not to dump on the Aether Tech SS too much, but this extra support (without adding much more weight) is exactly what keeps the Aether limited to a "50 miles or less" shoe in my mind, where the Xodus is better suited to keep your feet from falling apart during 100 milers and beyond.

With all the serious stuff out of the way, now how about some gimmicks?! Saucony stepped up with a couple semi-useful offerings for us in the Xodus...if nothing else, it proves that they really are trying to be innovative in their trail shoes, and I definitely appreciate the effort. The first thing they included was a pocket on top of the tongue for you to tuck your laces into. Sort of like how we all used to stick our milk money in the zippered pouch of our 'ROOs when we were kids, only this pocket is upside down for ease of lace-tucking. The other cool addition to the Xodus is this handy clip sewn in for your gators to latch onto. Not that I ever had a problem looping my gators directly onto the laces, but this is a nice touch...and who knows, maybe it will keep your gators from pulling on the laces and tightening up your toe-box by a centimeter or two. Either way, I applaud the thought, Saucony...well done.
So there you have it: The Saucony Xodus in a 500-word nutshell. I for one am quite impressed. It lists at $100, but you all know better than to pay retail...check out Holabird Sports to get them for $79 with no tax and free shipping. The fit is true-to-size, and the toe-box is roomy enough to fit any swollen piggies in the late stages of a 100 miler. Oh, and they weigh in at about 12oz. for my size 11.5s, and for some reason they feel even lighter than that.

In closing, I highly recommend! ...and no, Saucony doesn't pay me, sponsor me, or even return my love-letters. I just wanted to spread the word on a great shoe I think many of us can benefit from in our trail races this year!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Massanutten 100 Report

For those brave runners who came to rocky hills of the Massanutten course looking for a challenge this weekend, well, they got exactly what they were looking for. The race started off nice enough with clear weather at 5am, but mother nature took over shortly after that. First came the thick humidity, then the sunny heat (about 85 as a high), then a few powerful rain/lightning storms through the afternoon and evening. As much as 2 inches of rain fell in just a few hours during the evening, and just about every runner was slowed considerably on the sloppy technical track of the course. I say "almost" every runner because apparently nothing stops Karl Meltzer. He came through the first Aid Station (8 miles) with reigning champ Todd Walker as company, but that was the last chance for him to exchange recipies with anyone during the day. In the end, Karl won by 2 hours and 13 minutes with an incredible time of 18:29:57 on this nasty course.
Here's Karl crewing for himself at Habron Gap (mile 24.4). He ran the race in the "Stonewall Jackson" division, meaning he had no crew or pacer during the race (although his parents did drive down from New Hampshire to cheer him on!). At this point he had opened up a 2 mile lead over Todd and Glen Redpath, and the gap only widened from there.

Todd (on right) and Glen came through Habron next looking good and working together. They hung close to each other for most of the day until Todd faded late. Glen ended up in 2nd with a time of 20:42:44 (which would have won the race last year). Mike Mason (sorry, no photo) ran great all day long and finished just 20 seconds behind Glen for third place (imagine the race for the win if Karl hadn't shown up this year!).

Fourth place was claimed by Keith Knipling, who put on a great charge in the final hours and overtook a few runners ahead of him. Of course that kind of veteran move should have been expected from Keith. Sure, he's only 33, but this was his 10th finish of the Massanutten 100. TEN! Congratulations on that huge accomplishment, Keith!

The top 5 was rounded out by a hard-charging Adam Cassaday who overtook a couple runners after mile 96 to finish in a dynamite time of 22:39:28. Great perseverence, Adam!

On the ladies side, the race was over early with Amy Sproston coming out of the gate with blazing shoes. Here she is coming in to Habron Gap early in the race. She was running in 6th place overall at this point and already had a 30 minute lead on the second female runner. In the end, the weather probably kept Amy from challenging the course record, but she stil cruised in to win the ladies' race (and finished 10th overall) with a time of 24:59:55.

As for my day crewing/pacing for Nick Pedatella, well, it ended early. Nick re-aggrivated a hamstring injury early on, and he had to drop from the race at Habron Gap (hence my pictures ending from there). I had a great time crewing with his parents Yvonne and Steve who came down from Pennsylvania for the race....it's just too bad our day had to end so soon! If Nick comes back in the future, I hope all of us can finish what we started out there. We were having a great time (aside from Nick's hammy, of course)!

With a 36 hour time limit in this race, the runners have until 5pm today to finish their race. I can't imagine the condition those still out on the course must be in after the beating they took yesterday between the course and the weather. Considering only 40 runners finished under 30 hours, my hat goes off to 100+ still out on the course. That's some serious toughness, People!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Massanutten 100 This Weekend!

No, I didn't get into the race this year, and I won't be taking my revenge on the course that beat me up last year, BUT I get to do the next best thing out in Massanutten country this weekend: Pace! Lucky for me, speedy Nick Pedatella from Colorado needed a pacer, so I have the chance to use my course knowledge and experience to help a really talented runner through the night. I'll be crewing with Nick's parents during the day, and then hopping in to run at 6pm (official start for pacing) for the last 30 miles or so. I'm super excited for this!! ...and that's not just because Nick has been named by Karl Meltzer as the "dark horse" favorite to contend this weekend!

Speaking of the favorites, this race will be a blast to watch from a fan standpoint this year. Next to Western States, this has to be the most loaded group of talent for a 100 miler this year. I see about 10 guys who could realistically win the race (Karl does a good job of listing odds in his post), and I'm psyched to have a front-row seat for the first 70 miles of watching it all unfold!

The bummer news for the week is that there's a good chance this could be my last run for a while. My shin injury has flared up again, and I see no solution but to shut things down for a month or so to let it heal completely. Sure, I was able to fake it while training for and running the Bull Run 50 (running at 75% during training runs and during the race), but as soon as I tried to ramp it back up to normal speed this past week, the shin barked back. Frustrating, yes, but it's not the end of the world. I'll be fine for this weekend's 30 miles of pacing (Nick will already have 70 miles on his legs when I hop in, so "speed" shouldn't be an issue!), and then I'll see how it feels next week. If there's any pain at all, I'll pull the plug on running for a few weeks.

The big disappointment for me is I most likely won't be able to run the Mohican 100 in June. This was my focus race for the first part of 2009, and I really hoped to contend for the win out there. Oh well. That's what I get for opening my big mouth and saying I wanted to win the race. The Gods of Ultra Running are clearly sending me a message: Don't be greedy. I need to remember these races are more about enjoying nature and the company of similarly-crazy runners. Trying to hobble through miserable training runs on a bad leg for the sole purpose of trying to win a 100 miler really isn't what it's all about. How stupid of me to lose focus like this!

The good news about this shut-down period: Once I heal up, I'll be healthy and ready to train for the US 24 Nationals in October. ...and my training goal won't be to try and rack up insane miles, rather, I'll just focus on running smart and healthy during the summer. If I do that, I'll be in great shape to rack up some happy miles in Cleveland and let the chips fall where they may.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Late last night while we were all sleeping here in the States, the US Ladies 24-Hour team, led by Jamie Donaldson's 136+ miles, were running out of their shoes to earn 2nd place (Silver Medal!!) at the World 24 Hour Championships in Italy! That's the best team performance ever!Jamie Donaldson in the zone

Jamie's total was good enough to place her 4th in the world - that's one place better for her than at last year's championship in Korea...and certainly not her ceiling! She was also the top placing American runner (male or female)...In fact, the top 4 US ladies (Jamie, Annette Bednosky, Deb Horn, and Carilyn Johnson) all finished above the top US male runner. Must have been a rough day for the guys out there w/ heat issues and injuries, but the shiny SILVER MEDAL the ladies are bringing home makes it a monumental and happy day for all of Team USA - CONGRATULATIONS!!!
Silver Medal Winners: Jen Van Allen, Annette Bednosky, Deb Horn, Jamie Donaldson, Carilyn Johnson