Monday, December 27, 2010

Straight kickin'

What better place to take time off and recover than Hawaii?

Sure, I've been slaving over my graduate school application essays and micromanaging my letter writers, but the weather swings from the mid seventies at night to the low eighties during the day. In other words, absolutely perfect. Plenty of light cloud cover to take the bite off the sunshine, sea breezes in the warm afternoon, pink and orange I making you jealous yet?

I saw a podiatrist in Kailua-Kona after unsuccessfully trying to run the day I arrived, talked to an ultra-extended/psuedo-removed uncle over Skype (he works with professional athletes), and was examined by a family friend who is also a physical therapist.


1. Tenosynovitis in the extensor digitorum longus, the tendon that extends down the anterior of the lower leg and attaches to the toes; it flexes the toes with the foot. The tendon runs through a sheath that spans the ankle and the top of the foot. Tight shoes likely compressed the sheath and irritated the tendon, causing the creaky feeling. That has been resolved with full rest, a prescription anti-inflammatory, and alternating ice and heat massages. Diagnosed by the podiatrist.

2. Minor strains to the peroneus brevis and possibly extensor hallucis longus. The former aids in plantar flexion, the latter is a sort of utility player that attaches to the big toe. Using shoes I've never run in, especially ones with a higher heel to toe drop than I'm used to (zero in the Vibrams!), changes the angles and ranges of motion in the foot - certainly enough to manifest as a strain after 25 miles. These have subsided as far as I can tell, thanks to some self massage, a tennis ball, and hot packs. Diagnosed by the "uncle".

3. High ankle sprain. Diagnosed by all three, this is most surprising, but in hindsight this makes a lot of sense. I couldn't put any weight on my right leg for days without evoking serious ankle pain, and when I did, it felt extremely weak - very obvious signs of a ligament problem. Further, the family friend manipulated both ankles, and found that the tibia and fibula were very mobile in the right ankle. I'm currently in a hard compression brace to allow this time to heal. I may try running around the 1st of January, given that the healing time has been about a month.

Now, pardon me while I work on this Pipeline Porter and fresh passion fruit...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Recent absence

 Wall cloud of a mesocyclone; I think this sums up the last 3 months quite well.

My life over the past three months has become progressively busier, to the point that my short-term memory and sense of time is warped. It's been a combination of several things:

An 18 credit quarter: these are difficult classes, from fluid dynamics to complex analysis, and one of them is a graduate course. It shouldn't be surprising that the amount of work has escalated all the way up to finals week. Now that classwork is done, I've got some time back.

Graduate admissions: I'm applying to five universities; anyone who has had to suffer graduate admissions understands. There is a lot to do, and many schools have very different procedures. Procuring my letters of recommendation took some time and attention, as well.

Research: preparing data and visuals for publication with one professor, while just starting to develop a topic of research with another. Research comes in bursts, unfortunately both of these projects flared right when everything else did.

Running: preparations for the North Face Endurance Challenge, and taking care of myself afterward, is precipitously close to being the last straw to break the camel's back.

There was a mishap in the race that has resulted in some lower-leg pain, specifically in my peroneal and extensor tendons, and their associated muscles. My Treks fell apart midrace (I had ordered a replacement but they never arrived...) and, due to the rain, I couldn't duct tape them back together, so I was forced to run in my f-lite 230's - which I haven't run over 2 hours in. Further, the last ~4 hours of the race was run on often slick, slippery trail, aggravating the problem even more.

I went to my go-to massage clinic and had some deep tissue and cross-friction work done - my calves and lateral leg muscles, especially in the injured leg, were tight and knotted.

With respect to the actual injury, the therapist I saw was certain that the tendons had a mild form of tendinosis. Unlike tendinitis, which is due to an inflammation of the tendon and/or its sheath, tendinosis is a degeneration of the tendon structure. The crepitus (creakiness) disappeared after the massage, so it appears that most of the scar tissue has been broken up. Interestingly, the best treatment for this condition is the application of heat, stretching, and eccentric loading. This is in contrast to tendinitis, where icing and NSAIDs to reduce inflammation is the best route.

My course of action over the next week is to return to running this weekend, very slowly and every-other-day. I will probably go barefoot just to make sure I don't push it.

Race report for TNF50 coming very soon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dawg Dash and Looking Ahead

Saturday was a good day. I did two loops of the classic West Tiger Mountain/Poo Poo Point loop plus an additional loop down to the railroad grade. All together it's a thirteen mile mountain run that climbs all three West Tiger peaks, does an out and back on the East Tiger Trail, takes the Poo Poo Point trail down from West Tiger #1, and loops through Tradition Lake Plateau. For those looking to get a good amount of elevation gain while still having access to a car for supplies, it's a great deal as it's so close to the Seattle metro. It doesn't require a hydration pack like the Twelve Summits run does (by the way, the reason I'm referring to trail run names is that they are all mapped out in 50 Trail Runs in Washington). In sum, 8000 feet of gain in just 26 miles makes for an incredibly vicious but exhilarating romp through the woods.

The run bypasses the traditional trail up to West Tiger #3, instead choosing to scramble up the Section Line trail. I've done by best to describe this brutal ascent, but I think all I need to mention is that its average grade is over 25%. I treat this like a threshold primer for my run and challenge myself not to walk.

 "Do you expect me to run up this trail?"
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

Poo Top Trail snakes its way down a ridge, filled with steep root-laden slides and plenty of hair-raising twists and turns. In other words, it's great fun! Poo Poo Point trail was much more subdued, more like the West Tiger #3 trail except without the switchbacks. I did enjoy crossing the bridge over the stream, although my feet could have done without the cobblestones and boulders peppering the trail over the last couple of miles. The Tradition Plateau loop is a nice, soft cool-down after the downhill.

As an atmospheric sciences major at the University of Washington, I of course read Cliff Mass's Weather Blog every chance I get. After the run I saw that he was gearing up to be the official starter and race forecaster for the Dawg Dash on Sunday.

So of course I high-tailed it over to Super Jock 'n' Jill for my last-minute registration. I did this race two years ago and finished fifth, and I must say that the course is just as I remembered it: pretty difficult.

Looping down around the back of the UW stadium, it spends the first half of the race in a gradual ascent - up the bridge to the Burke-Gilman, up the greenway to Drumheller Fountain, around Suzzalo, through the Quad, and finally up Denny Hill. It really wears on you, but you're treated to an extended downhill all the way back to the stadium. Unforunately, it's peppered with sharp turns and stairs, so it isn't all tea and crumpets.

One of my former coaches at Seattle Prep (now head coach) had entered the 5K, too, as well as a former teammate looking to get back into running, so I was glad I showed up on such a rainy, dreary day. There were, literally, thousands of people lining up at the start for both the 5K and 10K. It's always comforting to know that you won't have to deal with the pack, though! 

As usual, there was some shuffling in the first mile, but positions remained rather fixed for the rest of the race. I was in tenth as we ascended the steps to the first bridge and managed to work up to fifth by the time we passed Drumheller for the second time on the descent. I have to admit I was thankful when we hit the gravel because the bricks and asphalt were slick from the torrential rains in the hours before the race. I latched on behind my former coach and made up some ground, but I just couldn't eke out anything else from my already lactated-out legs. I have to say that doing pure base-type work for ultras leaves you with little capacity for these shorter distances. I finished fifth, again. Hey, at least I'm consistent, and it's even more encouraging given that the last time I raced this, I was training specifically for 5K's.

Actually, we're on a quarter system here, so it's 50% more fun!

I've decided not to do the Pinhoti 100. My injury, as you can probably tell, is quite well-healed at this point, but the trip is going to cost more money than I'm willing to spend, and it's occurring on a weekend with several midterms on Thursday and Monday (yeah, Monday after a 100, that's a great time for a test). The North Face Endurance Challenge? The entrance fee and plane tickets are far cheaper and I have family in the area, so it's certainly on my radar. It's too early for me to be certain, but my IT-band performed well after a back-to-back strenuous 26-mile mountain run and a 5K.

You can see a video of the start here. I'm the guy in the blue top with long hair and Moeben sleeves around ~12th place. The Treks? They did well over the slick parts of the course. I feel sorry for the guy I saw at the staring line wearing Sprints, without lugs and grips they were probably sliding all over the place.

Friday, September 24, 2010


One week after the IT band pain train and I'm feeling noticeably better. I went to see a sports doctor on Monday who set me up with a referral to the physical therapist that helped me overcome my inflamed synovium in my left knee last year. He's very focused on proper form, stretching, and strengthening, which is exactly what I need (he actually coached me on sitting and standing posture, too).

The sports doctor gave me a few pages of things to do, so I've been doing standing thera-band exercises, exercises like the classic IT band scissor technique, a number of different stretches for the IT band and related muscles. I've also been doing the foam roller throughout the day and, oh dear, has the IT band softened up. It was incredibly tense just a few days ago, full of scar tissue, and the muscles surrounding it were fulls of knots. I've started doing it on the right IT band too, and it isn't much better.

I'll be taking a stroll out either this afternoon or tomorrow morning to test it out and see how it's feeling. I think this is going to be resolved by the end of October.

My tentative schedule of races I want to run is below. I will not make it to all of them, but I'd rather have a nice spread of options than try to focus too much on a few races.

 Pinhoti 100
November 6-7 in Sylacauga, Alabama

North Face Endurance Challenge 50
December 4 in San Francisco, California

Bridle Trails Winter 50K
January 1 in Kirkland, Washington

Rocky Raccoon 100
February 5 in Huntsville, Texas
Chuckanut Mountain 50k
March 19 in Bellingham, Washington

Capitol Peak 50
April 25 in Olympia, Washington

Sunflower Relay and Iron
May 7 in Twisp/Mazama, Washington

Western States 100
June 25 in Auburn, California

WS has a lottery entry with a ~20% chance of getting in, so I need an alternate race, which would be...

Making a return would be a nice consolation for not getting into Western States
Mountains to Sound 100
June 26 in North Bend/Seattle 

White River 50
July 31 in Crystal Mountain, Washington

Leadville 100
August 20 in Leadville, Colorado

Doubtful I can sneak in to this, like WS it is very difficult to get in.

Pine to Palm 100
September 18 in Ashland, Oregon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Maturing at Pine to Palm

It took a lot of courage for me to approach the Seattle Bar aid station captain and say, "I'm calling it, I need to DNF, please cut my wristband." I had done everything right, I was on pace for a sub-24 hour finish, I was in 33rd and feeling fresh...with the exception of a left IT band that, 15 miles before, had blown up.

Drifting around a corner at Pine to Palm.

The day before we had arrived at our hotel in scenic Grants Pass overlooking the Rogue River. The Siskiyous are a sight to behold: rugged peaks carpeted by dense evergreens with golden field grass meadows and rock-strewn valleys. We drove to the Williams Grange for our pre-race briefing, registration, and dinner. There were a few hiccups (only two medical check-ins for all the runners), but as always it was a great opportunity to survey the field and meet a few new people.

I woke up at 4:00 to empty my system and get in a couple of Clif Bars and a banana. Arriving at the starting line at dark, most of the runners, myself included, slipped on a headlamp in case we arrived at the trails before sunrise (first six miles were run on paved and gravel roads). Like most of the other runners, I chose not to use my lamp and instead spent the first hour of the run in darkness. Within a mile, the pack had thinned out. I was behind a group that included the women's race winner-to-be Amy Sproston and ahead of a few individuals. Running relatively alone in the serene darkness across rolling hills through misty farmland was serene and relaxing. Fog hugged the ground while low stratus settled along the hillsides, the early-morning sky obscured by decks of high clouds. Smoke rose out of a few chimneys and some farmers were already beginning their day. I can't imagine a better first hour in an ultra. However, I felt my IT band pulling on my knee and hoped it would loosen up before the trail.

At the first aid station I topped off my bottle with water and descended two hundred feet into a meadow before reaching thicker trees and the first climb, a staggering scramble up to 7,500 ft with no aid station for over 11 miles. Right on schedule it started to drizzle at 7:00, though the trees protected us for the most part. I hitched onto the back of a train of relatively experienced runners, passing several folks who were already breathing heavily early into the climb. As we climbed above 3,000 ft, the leaves covering the trail thinned as we entered evergreen territory. By about 6,000 ft the underbrush had disappeared, with sparse poison oak and a few other ground-dwellers blanketing the mossy dirt between tall pines. The wind howled through the trunks, and at this point on the windward side of the mountain, we were above the clouds. Gazing over mammoth boulders and blown-down trees to the cloud and fog-shrouded valleys below was breathtaking. My breaths lost some strength from the subtle effects of the altitude. Suddenly the trees disappeared and a rocky crag came into view - the top of the first climb.

 I use rocket boosters on the downhill to eke out some extra speed.

Another runner and I were buffeted by strong winds and driving rain as we slid down a muddy and rocky scree to to the mountaintop meadow. As we reentered the forest we caught up to another pack of runners and slipped past them on the switchbacks. The ride down to the bottom was exhilarating with multiple stream crossings and twisty switchbacks. There were a few hair-raising moments as we skirted the steep slopes and rock screes on the single-track trail, which appeared to have given way at a few locations during stronger rainstorms and contributed to the piles of debris down slope. We kept expecting the aid station, but were instead greeted with trails peppered with fist-sized rocks, roots, and 20%+ inclines, the latter of which resulted in a lot of sliding on heels and more or less ricocheting off of tree trunks. I could feel my IT band pulling below my knee, but I figured that I could tighten the compression strap at the aid station and manage it for the rest of the race.

We caught up to another pack of runners, choosing to cruise with them into the station rather than try to overtake them. We were less than a mile out as we ran down stream gullies loaded with boulders and rocks. Without warning, a runner in front of me ground to a near stop and I piled into him, tumbling over his back and slamming my knee - my bad knee - into the broadside of a boulder, hitting the sore spot on the outside where the IT band attaches. I hobbled into the aid station with the other runners and we all hit the dirt and gravel road for a long 13 mile slog to Seattle Bar in the refreshing light rain.

 This illustration details the pain train that hit my IT band.

I quickly realized several things: my IT band below my knee was burning, it had started to feel stiff at my hip, and I could no longer kick my left leg back and had to adjust my stride to more of a shuffle. The latter was what worried me the most. I have a mid-foot strike and tend to pull my leg up and back with my hamstring, rather than bound and stretch it forward which would result in a heel-strike. That backward-pulling action very quickly became intensely painful, so I was no longer moving forward with the same strength as I normally would.

By the third aid station, I was not feeling good. I considered dropping, but the aid station folks said that it was fairly flat for the next seven miles to Seattle Bar and my IT band may loosen up and feel better. Four miles later, I my hip stiffness had turned into a mild pain and I could feel the tendon popping over both my hip and knee joints. The race took a turn onto a trail with two miles to the aid station. It was riddled with short but intensely steep hills, and I could barely get down the 50 foot descents without wincing. I pulled into Seattle Bar at just after noon, right on target for a 19:45 finish - that included the limping and the futile attempts to adjust my compression strap. While I talked with some people at the aid station, I realized that this was my race, and only I could make a decision about whether to drop or continue. I had spent the last three hours coming to grips with this reality, but it was still difficult.

Aid station volunteers are there to help you refill your bottles, but they are also there for psychological support. It just lifts your spirits to round a corner to cheers and happy folks doing everything they can to get you to the finish. But when the medical volunteers and other runners listen to you weigh your options and tell you, "it's better to cut your losses and have a two-week, rather than two-month recovery", you realize that it just isn't worth ruining your body. If this had occurred at mile 83, I would have had no problem saying "screw it" and just slugging it out for another several hours. However, I was not even a third of the way to the finish, had three nasty hills left, and already could barely stand running on the flats. If I managed to make it to the finish I would incur degeneration in my tendons and damage my bursae so much that recovery would take many months. Not only that, but the race would be miserable. Sure, you can say that ultras are all about misery and overcoming the pain, but the sore muscles and the psychological battles are transient and a different sort of suffering than a musculoskeletal injury. This was an expensive DNF, but in hindsight now, I recognize that my health is worth more than the entry fee.

Minus the injury, I had been doing everything right up until the moment I dropped out. Unlike the nutrition fiasco at White River, where I had only managed to consume 800 calories by mile 26, I packed in a whopping 2000 calories by mile 31, more than doubling my calories per mile and leaving only a minor calorie deficit. That worked out to an average intake between 300-350 calories per hour, certainly the upper limit for someone of my size - anymore and it would not be digested.

I ate early and ate regularly, throwing down Gu packets, Oreos slathered in peanut butter, fig newtons, and pretzels, along with a Clif bar at mile 14. All without stomach issues. Hammer Perpetuem, even at full strength, is much easier to down and less-cloying than CLIP2, despite supplying twice the calories and much more fat. I attribute my nutrition success to the Perpetuem, as I imagine the fats really helped to calm my stomach from the start and prime it for the 24-hour eating contest that would have been. It has no aftertaste and washes out the sweet aftertaste of the standard ultra faire. While I had dropped some weight, I am unconcerned, as the water weight tied up with carbo-loading can equate to 3+ pounds of weight loss. Minor weight loss is easily remedied with extra fluids and salt.

I'll also add that beer at the pasta dinner is the way to go. Hear me out, because I have heard a lot of people complain about dehydration from the alcohol. Yes, it is a much stronger diuretic than caffeine, but drinking adequate water between the dinner and the race can more than make up for it. It's a great way to get in zero-residue carbohydrates and it relaxes pre-race nerves. I mean, listen, the Tarahumara get smashed on corn liquor before their big races, this is only a pint of porter.

Further, despite climbing the longest and highest peak in my running career and passing a swathe of runners on the downhill, my quads were not trashed at the bottom like they were at White River. And this was all in Vibrams over technical trails much worse than I've trained on. The Five Fingers are by no means a handicap and I feel as though I'm starting to master the art of downhill running with minimal protection - 4mm of midsole and 4mm of compressive outsole with no support of any kind. No, my arches are not sore. I'm at the point where I am subconsciously adapting weight distribution on my foot during foot-strike - I can hit some pretty rough rocks and debris without pain, instead letting my foot relax and conform to the obstacles. I still need to get comfortable with putting my hips forward and need to engage my core a bit more - "controlled falling" versus leaning back and breaking.

I will rebuild myself. I am taking a week off of all exercise, at least, and will work with the awesome folks at my university to speed up my IT-band's recovery and strengthen the deficient muscles responsible for this injury. My sports physician and therapist believe that if I have the dedication, I may well get over this well within a month. As the pain has all but subsided now, they are fairly certain that there is no serious damage.

I think the North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco would be a good avenue back into racing. The 50 miler is less strenuous than these recent races, with short and numerous climbs rather than staggering mountain ascents. I will make my 100 return at Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville, Texas this February. The 5-loop course had 6,000 ft of gain over the entire distance and is one of the more famous ultras. Plus, I've never been in Texas outside of the airports and I would love to race in some snow, which I hear is common that time of year. However, if my recovery speeds along, there is the Pinhoti 100 down in Alabama and the Ozark 100 in Missouri, both early in November.

With the exception of my IT band, I finished feeling good. That I was racing so well made it all the harder to approach the aid station captain and take the DNF. Now, however, it feels reassuring, because I had handled my nutrition so well and I was having a good time, savoring the scenery and the camaraderie much more than at White River. That tells me that, barring injury, I am prepared for a 100.

Bring it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In which I am twice my age

" is probably written by a male somewhere between 36-50 years old. The writing style is personal and happy most of the time." 

Well it's good to know I'm happy, I suppose.


Pie chart that shows the Age, 13-17 3%, 18-25 8%, 26-35 11%, 36-50 30%, 51-65 26%, 66-100 21%


Pie chart that shows the Tonality, academic 9%, personal 91% 

Monday, September 6, 2010

"No, no, no!"

That's the response of my left it-band after my last trail run. I believe I jumped back into training too fast after my 50 mile race by doing a 40-mile long run on the Pacific Crest Trail just a week afterward (hey, it was the weekend with free parking and wilderness permits!) My brain was itching for another adventure and a hefty dose of endorphins, so I wasn't quite thinking straight.

Things took a bad turn several days later as I went to Cougar Mountain for the 14-mile "grand tour" loop. On the way up to Wilderness Peak, I felt some odd twinges in my left glute. Within a minute, I was unable to lift my left leg. Literally, I couldn't do it. My sciatic nerve was getting pinched and was letting me know it. I turned back and gingerly made my way back down the mountain. I took the next week off running and spent a couple of hours per day stretching, rolling my hip on a foam roller and my butt over a tennis ball, and doing some self-massage. On my first day back I was happy to be rid of that pinched nerve, but a new and much more insidious issue started to crop up after a few runs - the dreaded it-band syndrome.

My hip joint was sore to the touch. Okay, I thought, this is an upper it-band issue. I just need to work on stretching the psoas, glutes, and tensor fascia, strengthening my hip adductors, and icing my hip, and this will resolve. I set up a sports massage with my go-to massage clinic, as well. Fast forward another week or so, and as I expected, the hip problems are on their way out (and completely gone right now). That's good news, so let's go back to Cougar!

I had no problems going uphill, in fact all of the extra stretching really loosened me up and it felt like the climb took less effort. Midway through my descent on the steep switchbacks down to Wilderness Creek, I started to feel a tightness in an odd spot: the outside of my left knee. By the bottom that tightness had evolved into a dull pain. Within a few hours after the run, the pain disappeared, but I know it's going to be there the next time I go down a big hill.

I have two weeks to get this issue wrapped up as well as I can. I am grateful that the hip and upper it-band issues have been resolved. They caused me pain during the day that flared up during runs and made it impossible to maintain good form. This outside knee pain, which is clearly at the insertion point of the it-band, is much more mild and more of a dull ache than anything, but it's still worrisome. Because in two weeks I'm running the Pine to Palm 100 which has 20,000+ ft of gain. That's a lot of downhill to cover, and as anyone who runs ultras knows, small issues can blow up in a hurry after a few hours on the trails.

So what's my plan? Go to war with this thing. Redouble my self-guided therapy, which now consists of five different it-band stretches, three strengthening exercises to target both hip adductors and abductors, icing, massage, and myofascial release with my tennis ball and roller. I have a deep history with chronic injuries, and if I've learned anything, it's that persistance and attention from the onset of pain is critical to avoid as much degeneration as possible and return to full mileage.

If I still have the pain, will I slug it through the 100? Probably. I'm young and can get away with a lot right now.

And Now, for Something Completely Different...

It's been a good year since I've done a speed workout or raced anything shorter than 50 miles. That's unfortunate though, because while I live for long distances, a race that doesn't require the good part of a day and continuous refueling is a welcome respite. And a little nostalgic. Running cross country in high school was probably the most fun and rewarding experience in my life and shaped who I am today.

 The Stanford Invite was the first big meet outside of Washington that we went to - and it was humbling, running with the best teams on the West Coast (I'm 2180, by the way).

So it was with excitement that I went over on Saturday to Lower Woodland for the Seattle Prep Fr. Sullivan Alumni Run. It's a labor day tradition where the cross country team runs their first time trial of the season with any able and willing alumni on the 2-mile Lower Woodland course. I got to catch up with my former coaches and some former teammates, though I was sadly the only one from my class in attendance (lame, because a lot of friends I ran cross country with still live in the area).

And holy crap, the size of the cross country team. There were about 150 kids on the team, almost as large as my graduating class. That's got to be about one-fifth of the school. As I toed the starting line, the other alumni and I were swallowed up by a mass of freshmen, though I can't be sure because to me they all look like kids. The race starts wide on a soccer field and narrows within 100m to a gravel path. If I was going to have a good race, I needed to get through the gap early (this was my strategy in high school, as well).

About to pass someone (Andrew Walker's brother?) on the way up the first hill.

The gun went off and I jolted up to the gap in eighth place. The pace through the first 400m as we rounded the dirt track was spot on given the fast start. By the bottom of the first hill, a pack of front runners had developed, with about 10 or 11 guys within ten seconds of the leader. I passed a Prep runner on the way up to the top of the hill and latched onto the heels of another on way down. I was getting some ridiculous speed down the path and almost lost it at the corner at the bottom, skidding around a tree on some loose gravel.

Cruising down the straightaway. Seriously, I hate this part. It's like running down a long hallway.

I believe that the worst part of both the two mile and 5K Lower Woodland course is the long, flat, gravel straightaway. People always looked at me sideways when I mention that, especially since the 5K course includes "widowmaker", a short but agonizingly steep scramble up to the start of the camel humps, three undulating hills that progressively whittle weaker runners down. But I loved hills in cross country, because I knew that other runners feared them. I liked to turn terrain into a psychological weapon, powering up each hill. While other runners would slow down and limp over the crest, I would continue to push the pace so that I was already running at top speed only a few strides into the downhill. Imagine how crushing it feels to watch as someone blazes past you, seemingly oblivious to the hill both of you just climbed.

On the straightaway, the name of the game is steady pacing. There is no variation of terrain, no curves to cut through or hills to master - just you and the other runners. The repetitive strides turn into monotony and it's easy to lose your focus. Not only that, but the unrelenting pace starts to take its toll, and you realize, shit, it's still another mile, and I have to pass through this thing again.

As we passed through the grass field and the skate park a second time, I started to make my move with a little over half a mile to go. I caught up to another runner on the way up the hill and blew past him just after the crest, catching up to an alumnus who had previously been leading the race. The front runners had put some distance on us, but we were still a coherent train. The second straightaway was over in a flash as everyone shifted into fifth, settling into their positions before the final sprint. I am positive that we were all just a tick under redlining at this point.

The sprint was not eventful, as we all kicked on the afterburners on the final turn and held our respective positions. Moments after crossing the finish line I was getting my breath back and...6th place, 3rd for the alumni. Hey, not bad for an ultra runner in a 2 miler.

 Six years ago at Lower Woodland in the 2 mile time trial. My desire to keep running short races is not to relive high school, but to experience that same rush that only a short race can bring.

I think that next season I'll be incorporating shorter races - 5K's and such - into my schedule between ultramarathons to break the regularity of my pace in training and include some fast running to keep my running form in check and my mind fresh. There's the nostalgia, too, but also the race strategy and experience of it all. There is time to make a mistake in your execution. Positioning becomes important, as does your path through the course, because taking the turns and the terrain efficiently can make all the difference in the world, but it's really about going balls to the wall for 3 miles. But even with all of that, I find that my mind is surprisingly calm and free during these races, as if the body is shunting calories from the brain into the muscles. It's unlike the end of an ultra, where it becomes a psychological battle with your brain as it does all it can to convince you to stop.

There's a moment of zen in a 5K, right around 2-2.4 miles. The middle mile, always the worst, was a struggle to remain focused, but suddenly, everything becomes crystal clear. Your mind empties, thoughts and ideas drift away, and all that remains is instinct. At that moment, I lose my sense of self as I am enveloped in the fabric of the race, and I awaken two steps after the finish. Waking up from a dream, it's difficult to remember what happened, but if you leave all of yourself on the course, it will become ingrained in your memory forever.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Inov-8 F-Lite 230 Initial Review

I've been interested in seeing how a mountain racing flat compares to the KSO Treks on highly technical trails. In the case of basic dirt and gravel trails with a moderate density of rocks and roots, I would choose the Treks without a second thought. However, the prospect of moving to Boulder or Fort Collins has prompted me to consider some minimal trail shoes. The trails through the Flatirons and the Rockies beyond are rugged.

A number of trail runners that prefer neutral shoes with little cushioning have recommended to me the Inov-8 F-Lite 230. The company's manifesto:

"We’re committed to providing you with functional, lightweight products that will enhance your performance and enjoyment. If we cannot innovate we don’t do it. All of our products are extensively tested by enthusiasts and elite international athletes to guarantee they perform."

The 230 contains some interesting components - a "fascia band" that mimics the function of the plantar fascia, sticky rubber which aids in traction, and a "two arrow" midsole, which has a minimal level of cushioning and a small heel-to-toe drop. Personally, I would have loved it if Inov-8 went the extra step and just eliminated the heel-to-toe drop (seriously, can these companies make even one shoe without this nonsense?) 

Tech Summary:

Weight: 230g (~8 ounces)
Heel-to-toe drop: 12mm 
Upper: breathable mesh with structural webbing, fabric heel cup
Sole: sticky rubber outsole (no lugs)
Arch support: essentially none

 I remember shoe store salespeople back in the day telling me to test shoes and make sure they weren't this flexible. El-oh-el.

That said, the shoe is very flexible in the toe box and twists quite well. The foot compartment as a whole is large relative to other shoes out there, but due to the muscle mass my foot has gained since switching to the Vibrams, it's still pretty snug. The fit is true to size, for those that care. 

As you can see, there is no cushioning - just the hard rubber outsole. The heel counter is rigid but doesn't ride too high on the Achilles. The upper is thin and breathable, and unlike other trail shoes, flexible.
I took the pair for a test drive on Tiger Mountain.

Nook/Section Line Trail: this section of trail brings you to your knees, whether you are going up or coming down. The average grade is ~28%, climbing just over 1500 feet in one mile. The ascent is slow and draining, the descent jarring and mentally exhausting. I find myself pin-balling off of tree trunks and grabbing at roots to keep from falling. In addition to the switchbacks, sheer drops, and narrow ledges, there are large boulders and roots crisscrossing the trail. No matter what you wear through trail like this, you are going to be going slow. I felt much less in control with the F-Lite's - I think shoes are at a major disadvantage on such terrain. Despite that, their flexibility granted better traction over obstacles than I would have thought.

NIER Bypass/Bootleg Trail: this dark section of trail skirts the high energy radio towers on West Tiger #1, sharply snaking its way through the densely-packed trees. The ~15% grade downhill on Bootleg is peppered with large rocks and muddy patches. Again, I feel much less in control over roots and around the sharp turns, however I was able to pick up considerable speed on the way down compared to when I wear my Treks. Not having to worry about stone bruises is certainly helpful, but I almost twisted my ankle a number of times.

 You do not want to hit any of these on the way down.

West Tiger Trail: The lower portion of this trail has sections of natural cobblestone which are a pain to navigate in Vibrams when going downhill. The F-Lite's made this section a bit easier and thanks to their flexibility, their traction over the uneven surface didn't suffer as much as I expected.

These have their advantages and disadvantages. For someone used to running in Treks, they feel much less stable, despite the relatively thin sole. They were worse than the Treks over steep and technical terrain, but seemed to do a as well or a bit better on medium slopes. Anything less than a 10% grade and I'd call it dead even between them. While I had no problem keeping a high cadence, I had to fight the raised heel to preserve my midfoot strike. 

Whose feet are you designing these for? I'm a human, my toes are the widest part of my foot. These are not human shoes, they are elf shoes.

My biggest complaint as far as design is the toe box geometry. When going downhill, your feet slide forward a bit and your toes get squished into the tapered toe box. Seriously guys, make your toe boxes wider and less tapered, like Terra Plana's. 

I won't be wearing these shoes for most of my runs, which I will continue to run barefoot or in Vibrams. I'm working these into one or two trails runs per week with the idea that they can serve as a backup or alternative on nasty terrain. For those used to "true" minimalist footwear (Vibram, Feelmax, et al.) these will feel bulky at first, but they really aren't. They are comparable in weight to a cross country flat.

The good:
-Low heel-to-toe drop
-Flexible sole (for a shoe)
-Fits true-to-size, spacious arch/heel compartment
-Sticky rubber grips rocks and wet surfaces
-Flashy blue and white color scheme

The bad:
-Low heel-to-toe drop
-Toe-box is way too tapered
-No rock plate so you still need to exercise some level of caution

The ugly:
-Low heel-to-toe drop
-Hard to find at brick-and-mortar stores

Why do you shoe companies have a heel-to-toe drop in all of your shoes?! 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Kicks

I've been running exclusively in Vibrams for over a year. They've helped me overcome the shin splints and recurring knee injuries that used to plagued me.

  Rolling around the hairpin at the state championships.

When I first joined the cross country team in high school, I showed up to practice with some beat up K-Swiss shoes. Of course, these were unacceptable because they had no cushioning or control, so I was sent to a local shoe store where they threw me on a treadmill, concluded that I had a severe case of over-pronation, and put me in the most beefy motion control shoes they could find - Mizuno Wave Renegades. They were heavy, the cushioning was thick, and the medial post was humongous. My feet felt like they were enclosed in tanks.

Soon, the problems started. Shin splints flared up after every run to the point that merely tapping them elicited excruciating pain. Solution? Custom-made $500 orthotics. Then came patellar tendinitis. And illiotibial band tendinitis. Solution? Adjust the orthotics to give more extreme motion control. When that didn't work? Go to another shoe, the Brooks Trance, which afforded more cushioning.

Keep in mind that throughout this I was visiting a physical therapy clinic that treated professional sports athletes. These people were the cream of the crop but they could not solve my problems. At this point, I was often spending more time cross training than actually running. My coach and I joked about it, that I was one of the few people who managed to improve their 5K times through almost pure cross training. I iced, I wrapped, I wore braces, I even had cold laser therapy done, all to no avail.

 These tie-dyed flats struck fear into the hearts of my competitors.

I didn't wear those beefy shoes during races. I had a pair of cross country flats that I still own to this day, though my feet are now too wide to fit in them comfortably. They had no motion-control or cushioning, and I couldn't fit orthotics in them, so I raced in minimalist shoes. It always seemed odd to me that my legs didn't hurt much during a race, but I chalked that up to the adrenaline and the excitement.

Fast-forward to just over a year ago. It's the start of summer after my junior year in college and I still have these chronic pains. By chance, I stumble upon an article about some goofy-looking toed shoes and how runners all over the country are shedding their old tanks for minimalist footwear - and finding relief from their running injuries. I was desperate so I ordered a pair of Vibram KSO's. When they arrived I decided to take them out for a test run around the block. It turned into an 8 miler. I dumped the shoes for good and immediately started wearing the Vibrams for all of my runs at my then weekly mileage of 60 miles per week.

For the first month, I was greeted with growing pains as my feet adapted to their new environment. The thin fat pads that had lived a life of luxury in thick shoes were now protected by less than 4mm of rubber. Metatarsal heads became sore after every run until those pads had thickened. My nerves were jolted by pain as I ran over once innocuous gravel (though now my brain has retrained itself to recognize those signals as ground information, not 'pain'). Ligaments and tendons in my foot spasmed after runs. And my legs...after living in shoes with huge heel-to-toe drops, my calf muscles and Achilles' tendons had to lengthen. It was painful for a month, but it was worth it. My feet are now quite muscular and durable.

I finished the White River 50 in KSO Treks just one year after making the transition. I sustained no injuries aside from the anticipated soft tissue fatigue. It is a testament to how ass backwards the shoe industry and many physical therapists and podiatrists are when they have us spend literally thousands upon thousands of dollars trying to fix my feet with all sorts of implements, when the best solution was to stick me in the most minimal shoes possible. I should have kept wearing that pair of K-Swiss shoes.

My legs and feet were not defective. They didn't need cushioning, motion control, orthotics, braces, or laser therapy. They needed to be allowed the opportunity to strengthen rather than be allowed to atrophy inside of a brick encasement. The foot evolved to run without any of those things. The arch is a marvel of shock absorption, the fat pads are excellent cushions, and strong foot and lateral stabilizing muscles prevent chronic injuries caused by poor foot strike and gait common to shod runners. And the human foot is not supposed to heel strike while running - period. Take your shoes off and try heel striking on concrete at a good clip.

 I'm diggin' the electric blue. My feet barely fit into the over-sized compartment.

Which brings me to the Inov8 Flite 230's. These are the first running "shoes" I will be wearing since my transition. Many ultramarathons and most of my long runs are not run on nice, single-track dirt trails with minimal rock debris. If I want to make it down a hill with a lot of rock and other debris as fast as I possibly can, I do feel that I need more than a pair of Vibrams. However, I still want shoes with minimal heel-to-toe drop (ideally none), no cushioning, no motion control, etc. The Flite's are perfect. A lot of runners who wear Vibrams swear by these for running on especially nasty terrain.

Let me make it clear that I will continue to train in the Vibrams, and as I do so I'm sure my fat pads will continue to thicken and my ability to maneuver around rocks and other debris will continue to improve. However, at this point I know that my feet in a pair of Vibrams aren't in the condition to get me through a 100 miler as fast as the rest of my body is able to.

 After a long run at cross country camp on Whidbey Island. This is too rich not to post. Everyone is trying to look studly, flexing their abs and giving their best Blue Steel pose - except Max. Max didn't need to prove anything to the camera because he won almost every 5K race by well over thirty seconds, sometimes by minutes.

I have fond memories of growing up in Chanhassen, Minnesota in a neighborhood filled with other elementary school-age kids. During the long, hot summers we would run around and play barefoot - shoes got in the way most of the time. Remember when you were a kid? You ran everywhere, all the time, and when you ran you didn't plod along and stomp the ground, you effortlessly bounded and glided over it. You didn't over think it, you didn't even think about why you did it, you just did it.

And it was fun.

Running should be fun.

So don't force yourself to run. Don't over think your foot strike or your gait. Be fluid, not tense. Don't just run on city streets or paved walks. Find a trail and escape into nature. Don't fight the switchbacks, the rocks, and the roots, let them guide you.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

White River 50 - Race Report

After soloing the multi-sport Mountains to Sound Relay, I was looking to dip my feet into ultrarunning with a "pure" trail race. My favorite runs are on trails, but only the mountain bike leg of MTS was on one. The running leg was 20 miles on the Burke-Gilman - flat and urban, running 2 blocks away from my apartment by the university!

The White River 50 caught my eye - a local 50 miler in the foothills of Crystal Mountain and Mount Rainier, with two big climbs totaling 9,000ft of gain over single-track trail. Since 2001, it has hosted the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championship, attracting a swathe of high-profile runners like Scott Jurek and Anton Krupicka.

Elevation profile with aid stations.

Arriving on Friday afternoon, I checked in and headed to the pasta dinner. I tend to do my carbo-loading leading up to the day before - it's no good to be greeted in the middle of a run by last night's big meal - so I ate a modest portion and used the dinner as an opportunity to talk some other runners. I met a few veterans, most of them twice my age, who kept passing on the same pattern of advice: take it easy on the first hill or the second one will destroy you, don't be afraid to powerwalk the steep uphills, and Sun Top gets hot.

I awoke at 5:00 after a solid night of sleep and ate my tried-and-true pre-race breakfast: an artisan flour tortilla with peanut butter and honey, calorie-dense and quick to digest.

 Chilling at the start with my mom; I think my parents were more worried than I was!

Start to Camp Sheppard (0 - 3.9 mi)

Unlike in previous races, I felt surprisingly calm as we all toed the line. The gun went off and the mass of humanity rumbled down the airstrip. As the pack thinned out over the first several hundred meters, the famous Barefoot Ted McDonald rolled up alongside me and struck up a conversation. Last year he had been testing a prototype of the Treks and this year he was testing a pair of his Luna huaraches with a new lace. Born to Run was accurate in its portrayal of Ted: he likes to talk! We had a good conversation over the first 4 miles and kept our pace conservative. Just before the first aid station, Ted stopped to kick off his sandals for the climb up the first hill, and with that I started to move up through the pack.

Camp Sheppard to Ranger Creek (3.9 - 11.7mi)

Not long after Camp Sheppard, the trail turned from soft dirt to hard-pack and climbed steeply up switchbacks, imparting views of a waterfall and the competition below. At the top of the switchbacks I ratcheted up my speed and kept the pace to Ranger Creek. The trail would occasionally break from the trees and scurry along a rock precipice, giving a breathtaking view down to the valley below.

 Coasting down a short hill on the ridge to Corral Pass.

Ranger Creek to Corral Pass (11.7 - 16.9mi)

Due to its remoteness, the Ranger Creek aid station had limited amounts of pure water and gel packets. I let a volunteer refill my half-empty bottle of CLIP2, grabbed a Carb-boom! gel, and rolled out for the second half of the climb. Over the next 3 miles of switchbacks, the forest broke into meadows and rock screes as we crested the ridge to Corral Pass. The rolling hills and gentle turns of the double-track were a welcome respite from the climb, though there were numerous rocks that I had to be mindful of. By now, I was periodically stepping off the trail for Anton, Dakota, and the other top runners making their way back down. At the aid station, I had my bottle refilled with Ultra and grabbed a peanut butter sandwich and some M&M's for the road.

Corral Pass to Ranger Creek (16.9 - 22.1mi)

Now it was time for runners to yield to me! I tucked in behind the two runners I had followed up to Corral Pass and we cruised back over the rolling hills along the ridge. We attacked the first set of switchbacks fairly hard, skating around the corners and bounding over rocks and logs. The second set of switchbacks were mild - perhaps 200 meters between turns rather than 50 - and not particularly steep. I topped off my bottle at the aid station, grabbed another gel, and headed out faster than the others. The aid station captain warned me that "the next five miles are all downhill."

Ranger Creek to Buck Creek (22.1 - 27.2mi)

He wasn't lying. On the way out, it took 8 miles to climb up to Ranger Creek - the descent was squeezed into nearly half of that distance. The trail jumped into short, steep switchbacks alongside another waterfall, with some turns ending in a sheer drop. I enjoyed splashing through the stream that crossed the trail several times, cooling and soothing my feet. After running alone for several miles, I caught up to and passed a number of other runners, including one of the veterans I met the night before. "Remember, the race starts at the second climb!" I was feeding off of the excitement that I got bombing down the hill and passing these folks and used that to coast into Buck Creek. My average pace over this section was 6:30 and the Treks held up beautifully. I was able to nimbly bound over boulders and root-ridden sections with ease.

Rolling into Buck Creek.

Buck Creek to Fawn Ridge (27.2 - 31.7mi)

After the long, wicked downhill, my eyes were still darting back-and-forth as if I was still on the switchbacks. My parents passed me a fresh bottle of CLIP2 and within a minute or two I was off. We cruised through the moss-laden forest to the start of the second climb and began our ascent. At this point, I decided that I couldn't keep pace with the other two guys, so I let them go and hitched onto the back of another pack. This part of the hill sucked, there's really nothing else to say. It was steep, and while the wooded sections were cool, all of the switchbacks left us exposed to the intensifying sun, although on the positive side there were some great views. By mile 29, our pack had lost two younger runners and gained two veterans (both 50+), and we all shared the misery.

Fawn Ridge to Sun Top (31.7 - 37.4mi)

We rounded a corner and were greeted with a luau! The volunteers at Fawn Ridge had island music playing and were festively dressed, which gave all of us a good laugh and lifted our spirits. We dove out of the aid station, headfirst into the last 2/3's of the hill. This part of the race was mentally and physically brutal. The climb up to Sun Top was filled with false peaks - we'd ascend, and think we were making vertical progress, only to go down another hill. Jason, the leader of our train, was orchestrating the pace, powerwalking up the steep sections, jogging on the flats, and romping down the hills. There was a lot of bantering - "these uphills aren't bad" while going downhill, "it's only another half marathon after Sun Top". After a while, I stopped giving myself false hope, gritted my teeth, and said, "I'll get there when I get there."

My ears popped as we descended a particularly long hill - at this point, I was pretty sure we had reached the false peak. Sure enough, we erupted onto a meadow bathed with sunlight, crossed the fire road, and made our final ascent. While I could feel the hot earth baking beneath my feet, a cool breeze kissed my face and gave me the final bit of energy needed to make it to the aid station.

 Making the last push to Sun Top.

Sun Top to Skookum Flats (37.4 - 43.4mi)

The volunteers at Sun Top were awesome. They filled my bottle with Ultra and ice, misted me with water, gave me a shot of Mountain Dew, fetched my drop bag and handed me my burrito, and hustled me out as fast as they could. I was treated to a panorama view as I curled around the backside of the craggy peak. Jason and the others had left the aid station, and I wouldn't see them again until the bottom. The section was run on a gravel fire road, which descended at a steady 10% grade for five miles before flattening slightly for another mile. It sounds like a break, but it wasn't. My quads were pretty fried at this point, so forward motion was severely limited. As a consequence, the first several miles were jarring on my knees until I was able to adapt my stride. I was thankful that the trees shaded the road from the now blistering sun. I passed a good number of people on the way down and ran with Nicolas, a runner from France, from mile 41 to the aid station. As we reached the bottom of the hill we picked up the pace and tore it up.

Skookum Flats to Finish (43.4mi - finish)

Everything except crackers and potatoes tasted too sweet at this point. It's amazing what you start craving late into one of these runs. I could have done with a turkey sandwich or grilled cheese - anything with some fat and protein. I think my body's gag reaction to simple carbohydrates was giving me a few hints!

This section of the course was riddled with short, steep hills and hairpin turns. My training on Cougar Mountain prepared me well for handling this type of trail, especially on tired legs. I met up with Jason again, and after a few miles we happened upon another runner who looked like he was heading off the trail. When we asked what he was doing, he pointed to the orange ribbons leading to a makeshift trail along a hill. We waited for two more runners, but neither of them had run this course before, either. At this point in the race, we were tired and not quite thinking straight, so we followed the markers for a while, climbing over logs and balancing on dangerous slopes, until we saw runners on a trail below. Uh-oh. We rounded the next curve and saw freshly cut trees with ribbons. Those weren't race markers, they were markers for the forest service to cut down trees! We had to backtrack and lost a good ten minutes on that diversion.

Jason needed a break from the bushwhacking, so I ran on ahead. The next section took an eternity, and soon Jason caught back up to me. I latched onto him and we powered through what was to be the last half mile in the woods. We broke onto the gravel road with only another half mile to go, and he waved me up alongside him. We spent the worst of the race together, so why not make it a team finish?

 At this point I'm swimming in adrenaline and endorphins.

With the finish line in sight, I felt a rush of energy. As a former teammate in high school cross country said, it was like "angels massaging your legs". The pain disappeared as I cruised into the finish chute and crossed the line. 9:22:30, 48th out of 226 starters, 194 finishers. Not bad for my first 50 miler, especially for such a hard course.



I would've done well to take the first downhill less aggressively and keep up with my nutrition better during the first half of the race. Those were mistakes that I'm sure all runners have made in their first ultra, and while they didn't result in serious pain, they might have granted me a faster time. I admit that I don't have many long long runs under my belt (nothing over 30 miles), so my fat-burning capacity is probably not much better than that of a marathoner.

I used one hand-held bottle for the entire race, and that was enough to keep me hydrated. Also, I think I'm a Carb-boom! convert - they go down easier than a Gu late in a race, and hey, they're made with real fruit. As far as my next ultra, I will probably use CLIP2 or Perpetuem and not rely on aid station mixes. I like to get protein, fat, and a lot of calories out of my sports drink.

 Yes, I am floating. Also, look at those biceps - I bet I could beat a fourth grader in arm-wrestling.

The Treks were pretty damn good. I hit a few rocks late in the race as a result of sloppy footing but the pain was fleeting (just like hitting stones while barefoot). I was pleasantly surprised that I had no blisters or hot spots, too. The wicking inner and kangaroo leather upper dried out quickly after getting soaked in a few of the stream crossings and they kept all rocks and dirt out, as well. They were indispensable over roots and logs, granting much more control and stability than a shoe would. The trail was primarily dirt, and while the second downhill was gravel, I have doubts as to whether Vibrams would be fit to handle trail ultras over very rocky trails (think Leadville or, worse, Hardrock). I may pick up a pair of Inov8 F-Lite 230's - they've been getting rave reviews from folks who wear minimalist shoes.

All soreness disappeared by the third day after the run. The only thing still sticking with me is a bit of pressure near the tuberosity of the 5th metatarsal on my right foot. It seems to be subsiding, and an easy 4 mile barefoot run today loosened it up.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Introduction and Some Tidbits

I'm not big on introduction posts - I think it's better to hit the ground running (bad pun).

 Looking out over Squak and Cougar Mountain from West Tiger #1

I'm in training for the White River 50 on July 31, and the Pine to Palm 100 on September 18. I'm really excited for the Pine to Palm, because this is the inaugural year for the race. Normally, that might raise suspicions about how well it will be run, but Rogue Valley Runners is putting it on; they've done a great job of laying out detailed topographic maps and elevation profiles for each section, and it sounds like the aid stations will be well stocked with SUCCEED! products.

I always like to have an idea of how long a race or long run will take, and since transitioning into trail running over the past year, I've learned quite a bit. My previous long runs were on wide, soft dirt trails with under a few hundred feet of elevation gain. I ran most often at the Redmond Watershed, occasionally heading to Discovery Park. These trails are well-maintained, well-traveled, and mostly free from trail debris. When I decided to take the plunge and start running in the Issaquah Alps, I assumed I would be able to keep up my 8 mph pace, maybe slowing a teensy bit for hilly stretches.

 Near the base of West Tiger #3

Oh, how naive I was. My first foray into "real" trail running was West Tiger Mountain, specifically up the Section Line Trail. I was brought to my knees at the summit, having traversed a 20% grade for well over a mile. On subsequent return trips I continued to extend my runs, first crossing the three West Tiger peaks, then journeying past those to East Tiger, then to Middle Tiger, etc. Through this all, I've learned a few rules of thumb with regard to pace:

-Every 1,000ft of elevation gain adds approximately 12 minutes to the run. This reduces my actual pace considerably on trails with huge gains, like the "twelve summits" Tiger Mountain run, which has a gain of 11,000ft over 34 miles*.
-On trails with downhill sections with under a ~10% grade, I can make up some of the time lost on the ascent. Steep downhills, on the other hand, are a different beast. Heading down the Section Line trail on Tiger, at a 20%+ grade, is very slow, mostly because it's incredibly easy to turn a simple footing mistake into a disaster
-Fatigue from running hills isn't so bad. Fatigue from navigating nasty trails with rocks, roots, and generally poor footing, is worse.

*The White River 50 has a gain of 9,000ft over 50 miles, and the Pine to Palm, 20,000ft over 100. I like to think that training on trails with much more elevation gain per mile is going to make the hills at the end of these ultras less soul-crushing.

Rocky substrate halfway up West Tiger #3

My first few extended runs on steep trails resulted in blown-out quads, but those are far behind me. What really gets to me after about 20 miles is the footing. Some of the trails on these runs are really nasty: rocks of all sizes all over the trails, single-track switchbacks with mounds of tree roots every 20 paces, and lots of fallen trees and debris. This puts a strain on the ankles, knees, and core muscles. As far as form:

-Short, quick steps are absolutely critical. The longer your stride, the harder it is to adjust your footing and avoid obstacles.
-Pick up your feet! I've face-planted more than once late in a run because I didn't pick up my feet and caught a root.
-Use your arms and core to twist into and out of sharp turns and navigate difficult sections. However, it's important not to tense up and remain loose. The more relaxed you are, the more you are able to make emergency adjustments.

Just past the hiker's hut on West Tiger #1, NIER Bypass trail

I should add: I run in Vibram Fivefingers, specifically the Trek model. I found that I have much more control on difficult trails in minimalist shoes than in other conventional shoes, including cross country racing flats. The flexible nature of the sole allows my foot to conform to uneven footing and 'grip' stones and roots. This runs counter to the paradigm that trail shoes need to be more rugged than normal running shoes. I have yet to experience an ankle roll or some similar injury so common to runners with rigid-soled shoes. True, on downhills I have to navigate much more mindfully, but that isn't necessarily a drawback.

 There is a trail that extends through this picture - try to find it!

I've toughened the ligaments and joints in my feet enough that a direct impact on a stone or poor foot placement will not lead to an acute injury. When I used to wear shoes, my foot was bony and all of my tendons were visible. Now that's all covered in a thick layer of muscle and the pad beneath my metatarsophalangeal joints is much thicker.

Scrambling out of the pine forest to the clearing above.