Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Montrail Rogue Fly Review

I feel that I have given these shoes more than a run for the money and after a year of running and racing in them, have a pretty fair opinion on how they perform.

A Fresh Pair.

Out of the box, the Rogue Fly weighs in at 6.4 oz.  Although many websites categorize this shoe as "minimalist"  by the true definition it is not.  The stack height, or heel to to differential is 10mm, although it is built on a slightly lower platform than some of their other models.  The reason it is often called minimal is due to the material in the upper of the shoe.  There are no fancy overlays, it is essentially two mesh sides and the tongue.  Even the lace is a lighter stripped down material from their other shoes.

The shoe excels at drying fast after stream or creek crossings , and certainly keeps your feet a bit cooler on hot days.  At first I was a bit worried about the mesh stretching and causing my foot to shift around over the midfoot platform on uneven surfaces, but after going through more than four pairs, I have yet to see that as being an issue.  The midfoot and heel hug your foot very comfortably and a roomy toe box leaves plenty of breathing room.  I have had some blister issues with the tips of my toes rubbing on the front of the shoe, however, even during a 50 mile race, it never felt painful since the meshy upper is so soft.  

In all honesty though, the only shoe I have run and raced in where I didn't experience much in the way of blisters was the old Montrail Hardrock...and since that doesn't seem to ever be making a comeback, I honestly wouldn't call this a huge complaint.  More than anything, when I slip this shoe on, I feel like it was made for my foot.

The "multi directional" lug pattern is the same that Montrail uses in the Rogue Racer, a heavier revision of the Rogue Fly.   It handles loose rock, packed trail, and even mud quite well.  In really muddy conditions, as with most other shoes, it does get a slippery, so something like the Bajada, with a deeper lug would do a bit better.  I went so far as to wear this as my road shoe, as I have had some difficulty finding other shoes I like as much.  I ran a road marathon, and did all of my training miles in this shoe.  It held up wonderfully, and since then I have seen a few others racing in this shoe.

The midfoot is soft enough for the road, but handles trail surfaces well.  It has enough cushion to stand up to 50 miles of running with no issue.  I have a few pairs with more than 400 miles on them, and they do lose their spring like any other.  I am interested in trying out some of the fluid foam line that Montrail has out, as they tout a longer lasting midsole with the new material.  

One complaint that I see frequently with this shoe, is that it has the 10mm heel to toe differential.  Although it does very well with that, I think more people would take a serious look at this shoe if it went with an 8mm drop.  Enough to keep a solid base under foot for long runs and races, but a lower setting to appeal to a more minimalist crowd; an 18mm heel platform to 10mm midfoot could be a great combo.  Still leaes cushion for a longer ride, while adding just a bit under the midfoot to prevent any bruising from sharp rocks (there is no rock plate in this shoe.)

The Rogue Flyis a fast moving shoe, and has become my go to shoe for anything from 5k, 50k to 50 miler.  I have my first 100 mile race coming up this fall, and plan to ear this shoe for the first 40-60 miles and switch into a heavier shoe for the remainder.  I am a tried and true fan of this shoe, and will continue to train and race in it. 

When I first ordered the shoe, I went with my typical 7.5, and went through more than a few pairs in that size.  For the 50, I did order an 8, and was very glad I did.  On a course with a good bit of descending I would recommend doing so.

I am definitely a big fan of what Montrail is putting out, and would love to try out a few other shoes from their line.  If you are looking for a light weight, fast shoe look no further.  They've done a great job with the Rogue Fly, and it's worth taking them for a spin.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Taming the Wildcat- the best and worst race rolled into one.

  I don't even know if it's fair to say I tamed the Wildcat--yes, I was the first and only female finisher this race has had thus far--but his was the most mentally challenging race I have ever been to; to be honest, it tamed me-humbled is a better word actually.  The course is brutal and unrelenting. By lap three, your feet just feel like ground meat from all the rocks and they never seem to end. I went out to get one last long run in before Oil Creek, that's what I did; it wasn't speed that got me the win, it was perseverance.
     The course was a 10 mile loop, each with around 1,100 feet of elevation gain.  The loop was a mix of atv trails, single track, and rocks...tons of rocks.  This is the type of course where you can't afford to take your eyes off the ground because you'll trip, there are that many rocks.
     The first three miles are quite runnable, especially once the knee-high grass was trampled. There was a beautiful Hawk Watch around mile 3.5 and due to the clear weather, you could see for miles. The first aid station was at mile 4 and, unfortunately, we were directed the wrong way on that first loop and ran an extra 2 miles.  Once we realized what happened, we got back in the right direction and into the second half of the course--the technical single track. The climbs began from here along with the rocks.  There were sections where you couldn't run, you had to hike due to the amount of rocks.  The head-sized rocks were peppered through most of the single track, so bounding would be a more suitable way to describe the method of getting around them. The river crossings were rock jumping sections and as the laps accumulated, the jumping became more nerve-wracking.  There were sections that stretched 15 yards of rock jumping and the climb to the aid station at mile 7 was a 20 foot uphill rock face.  From 7 on you knew you were in for more level terrain, but it was covered in smaller rocks...the type that you just can't get away from and those that just make your feet feel like ground meat.
     There were about 17 people attempting distances between 50 miles and 100k; three for the 100k, the rest for the 50.  Rick went through the course description and made sure we knew we were following blue ribbons this year.
Photo by Otto Lam. RD Rick describing the course.

   We set off promptly at 6am, the sun just rising over the tree line.  I felt pretty good, and just settled in to a comfortable pace that would get me to the end of the day.  Since there were so few of us, we started to spread out and I realized I was lead women in the very small field. So this is what it feels like? Wouldn't it be cool to win a race? Oh crap I must be going too fast!  All the fun things going through my head, but we kept right on moving.  After the first aid station about seven of us were directed the wrong way, resulting in an extra two miles. I think the extra miles weighed heavily on some people and they just couldn't bounce back mentally from there. We got back on track and continued moving through the trails; constant rocky ups and downs.  There were boulders to scramble over and downed trees to climb over--jumping from branch to branch to branch and then having to swing from and drop back to the dirt.  The river crossing was just a series of boulder hopping, regaining your balance after each leap along the way.  There was a slight reprieve from the up and down from mile 6.5 to the aid station at 7;  rocky double track led up to the dam by splitrock reservoir and then from there it was a 20 foot uphill rock climb to the aid station.
The climb to as #7. Photo from Otto Lam
    After the aid station, the course ran across the dam, up a jeep road, and dipped back into the woods.  It was rocky, windy double track with a few board bridge crossings.  We popped back out of the woods at the first aid station and headed down the same road which we had incorrectly been down before.  I knew the rocky path and took off again, this time moving faster once I hit the road.  I followed the bright orange arrows until I saw more blue flags leading back in the woods.  From here, you could just see the school bus parking lot through the trees that meant the end of the loop was near.  Power through the last bit and a bottle refill and a snack was in store!
     With each lap my feet felt more and more battered.  My legs felt fantastic, which became frustrating since they wanted to move and my feet wouldn't let them, and my mind was going south.   I had blisters forming on the balls of my feet, and I just pictured the course and hated the idea of another lap. The water bottle in my race vest was digging into my ribs and I couldn't stop shifting the vest to relieve it--this is the first time I have had an issue with the vest.  My solution is going to be to use a Hydrapak 8oz. flask. I ran for a bit with a guy running the 100k.  Our minds were in the same low place.  The doubt crept in and neither of us thought we would ever be able to run our upcoming 100 if this is how we were feeling.  We had secretly been writing our letters to the 100 mile race directors pulling ourselves out of the events.  We parted ways with both of us anticipating a drop for the day. This course is just tough.
    While slowly running, I made a call to Heather and told her how I was feeling.  I was still leading, although probably not by much anymore, felt amazing physically, and was ready to quit.  When I hit the road section I started walking.  I thought maybe if I walked slow enough I could get my bib pulled by not making the 5pm cut off (you must start your last lap before 5pm).  Would I regret my first DNF? Would I ever get a chance to possibly win a race again?  I was nervous at the thought of being alone for another lap.
     I started running again and came in the start/finish area with about 20 minutes to decide.  I was greeted by a few folks still hanging out.  I grabbed some food and told a friend I was struggling mentally.  She asked if a beer would help and at that moment I couldn't think of anything better.  I said I may need to take her up on it, but needed a second to think.  My feet wanted to fall off and run away.  It was the most frustrated I have ever felt; my body felt good, and I knew I had it in me, but I felt frustrated with the pace I was keeping because of my feet and my mind was letting this drag me down more.
  Friend:  "Why don't you ask Rick what place you're in and decide from there?" Me:  "I'm leading...somehow I'm leading."  She picked up my water bottle, refilled it, and pushed it back into my hand. "You are under the cut off, you're winning, and Matt (my running partner) might never let you live it down, get going."  There was one more runner heading out for his last lap and we took off together.  While it was the mental game I was struggling with, he was having a hard time physically.  His legs didn't want to move and he was moving at a slow hike.  I decided since it would be getting dark soon, and we very well may be the last ones out on the course, that I wouldn't leave him.  We spent the next couple of hours chatting about family, races, work, and another else to keep our minds off whatever it was that was bothering us.
   There is nothing like the camaraderie and conversation found in an ultra.  It is the reason most of us run and race, no question.  As we made our way toward the last aid station, now two jugs of water awaiting our arrival, I said I was planning to run the last two miles.  Since we were getting close on time, I wanted to pass along my watch and make sure he too made it.  He said he was fine without it--"go get the win."  I took off moving as fast as my blistery, rock-filled, hamburger feet would go and finished with 5 minutes to spare.  It was certainly not speed that helped me cross that damn line, it was sheer determination.  I finished as first female, as well as only female to have completed the 50 mile distance in this two-year-old race. I got a half can of ginger ale at the finish, hopped in the car as we all packed up, and headed home.  I couldn't wait to eat something and see Heather!  I got home and made fried eggs, bacon, and toast with jelly--amazing!!
   I maintained my goal going into this race: just get the distance in.  The important part was getting the mileage in for Oil Creek.  I suppose the win was an added bonus.  I don't really feel like I deserve it, but I certainly like the idea of a 100% on ultra signup.
  The next morning I woke up excited for Oil Creek and I felt more confident about the 100 than I had been. The mental struggle from the day before, although frustrating, made me feel like I had overcome the tough part.  I had spent more time on feet than ever before and as frustrating as it had been during that course, it was a positive boost thinking ahead to a much longer race.
   Recovery was great.  I wasn't sore the next day and given how slow I was moving all day, I'm not shocked. I ended up with some slight bruising from the race vest, but nothing terrible. The rock in my shoe ended up turning into a half-dollar-sized blister on the ball of my left foot. Once that was drained, along with a small one on the tip of my toe, my feet felt like new. I experienced the worst chafing I could imagine.  I can only say it felt like I had a cactus in my butt cheeks.  Even that heals, and you start to forget some of the bad parts; I'm excited and hopeful looking toward Oil Creek.  I learn something new with each run, and with every finish line crossed there is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Whether a good race, a bad race or just something in between no one can take away the hard work and the outcome.

Whether hiking, running, or racing-go get some miles.

Race day wears:

Montrail Bajada
Swiftwick Performance One
Inov8 Gaiters
Ultimate Dircetion Ak Vest
Pearl Izumi Ultra Shorts

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Running vs. Racing

Running vs. Racing -- This has been something I have been struggling with for quite some time and until you figure it out, the balance is difficult to find.  I think you can't find one without the other in the end, however.

Running an ultra is totally possible for most people.  What, you say?  It's about staying well within your comfort zone, never pushing the boundary or your pain threshold.  With good training, this is a very doable feat for a good many people that are willing to put in the effort. Walk a little, run a little and you will find the finish line.

Racing an ultra--this is a different matter entirely. Although I imagine there are bouts of comfortable miles, pushing the red line and learning where the pain threshold exists and how to play on that boundary to keep you moving without blowing up is where the race really comes from.  It's a delicate balance to figure out and not something done in just one to two races.

I need to learn how to race.  I want to be more competitive and there is no other way to do it than learn to push that red line.  While this season has been about increasing my distances and learning what race lengths I really enjoy, I want to push that line next year.  I want to understand what it means to push and to race instead of just running.  The sense of accomplishment for me is no less one way or another, but I find myself walking away knowing I could have given more and that I find very frustrating.

The idea of a DNF is frustrating for me, but I think it's something that potentially goes hand in hand with learning how to push. You can't find your limit if you don't blow up at some point.  It is also very important to understand that the physical is only one part of the race.  Just like accepting a DNF in trying out boundaries, there is a HUGE mental aspect to training, running, and racing.

The hardest part of breaking the running vs. racing line is the mental aspect.  To keep telling your body to move and push hard when you're in pain in nowhere near easy.  You have to be mentally tough to keep pushing.  Many people say that running an ultra is 90% mental and the rest is in your head.  It makes sense for those racing and pushing.  You will hit a point when your body just wants to stop and you have to figure out how to keep it moving. Mental training is just as important as physical, it's just more difficult to figure out. This is a great quote from Pam Smith, the ultimate underdog going into this year's Western States--

                "I don’t know what to say about this one, because I am still uncertain how to achieve
                 that state where you absolutely believe in yourself, but for some reason I believed that
                 I could win going into this one. Whether you call it confidence, self-delusion, or arrogance,
                 I think the mental state is important... This principle applies no matter what your goal is, whether 
                      that means a particular finishing time or just finishing at all. You have to believe your goals are achievable."
                                                                                -From"How the West(ern) Was Won,

I am excited to gain a better understanding of the mental push.  I think that my run at Oil Creek 100 this year will be a great window into what my mind and body have and how they can work together.  Yes, I did call it a run and not a race.  I am testing the limits in a 100 mile event, but this is not a place to find my red line. This is the place to lay it out and find out what my body and mind have. I will come out with a deep understanding of what my body has and what my mind has. I don't think this is something necessarily learned  in the 50k or 50 mile distance.

I am going in with a strategic and well-planned-out binder.  I have goal times for aid stations and food/need lists for crew at each station.  My plan is to bank some time early on and plan for a rough night.  I don't have a pacer lined up yet--mine ended up having work booked and will be unable to make it now.   I am hoping for a sub 28 hour finish.  OC is a rough course.  I have been checking finishing times, race stats, and comparing my previous times to get an idea of where I fit in.

I would be kidding you if I said this wasn't consuming a great deal of my daily thinking.  I visualize the hurt, the pain, and the pushing myself to move.  I picture the finish line, the feeling of relief mixed in with the heaviness of my legs at night.  I just have to make sure to get it to all to come together.  In learning how to push through the voices telling me to stop and my legs just wanting to give up--understanding my body and mind better--I believe that I will be able to go into next season prepared to race. I will have an understanding and awareness of my physical and mental strengths and weaknesses.

It is through running the miles, running the races, and challenging what we think is possible that we will ultimately learn how to race.  Bring it on.

Go get some miles--and throw a few extra on.  It may surprise you to know you can do it.