What (Not) To Eat Before A Marathon

I’m running the Edmonton Marathon this weekend. As the day approaches, I find myself going to the usual multiple locations to review my pre-race regimen. Then I thought to myself, “Self, you have a blog! Why not post it all in one place?” Unsurprisingly, I think that’s a great idea, so here it is.

I’ve used the so-called “Western Australian” carb-loading regimen for all but one of my eight marathons (the lone exception was my ketogenic marathon – check out my blog posts from last fall if you’re curious). Having never tried the traditional pasta-binge method, I don’t have a baseline, but I believe it accomplishes the two purposes which I consider the whole point of doing something different: (1) feeling fueled for the race; and (2) zero porta-potty stops during the race.

So first, what is it? It’s a method of carb-loading that aims to max out your glycogen stores in the minimum amount of time. Why? Well, when you’re tapering, if you up your carb intake for several days, your body is just going to turn those unburned carbs into fat. How do you do it? Basically, you do a short, near-max effort workout 24 hours before your race. This primes your body to start producing glycogen when you feed it carbs. So, then you cram down a bunch of carbs beginning right after you finish the workout. Here’s a link to an abstract of the study:

Fairchild et al.

I’m not a cyclist (that’s not out of context if you clicked the link) but many have applied this to marathon carb-loading. So here’s what I do:

The workout:

Ideally, 24 hours pre-race. Start with a brief warmup (I usually do about a ½ mile); then 2 ½ minutes at hard effort (roughly your 1-mile pace); then a 30 second all out sprint. That’s it. Commence carb loading. Coach Kyle  suggested a slightly longer warmup of 1-2 easy miles; and a 1-2 mile cooldown. I’ll probably look to stay on the 1 mile side of both of those.

The carbs:

The general formula for how many carbs you need for your body weight is “Consume 12 grams of carbs for every kilo of lean body mass spread over the next 24 hours.” That’s actually more complicated than it sounds. “Lean body mass” isn’t just your mass (what most of us call “weight”) it’s your mass  that isn’t fat. So… what you need to do is figure out your percent body fat and subtract that percentage from your total mass to get your lean body mass. For example, if you have 10% body fat, your lean body mass is 90% of your total body mass. Figuring out your body fat % is beyond the scope of this blog post, but there are ways to estimate it (pinching yourself, calipers, electrical currents) as well as accurately measure it (submersion in water is involved). Using myself as a simple example, if I weigh 165 pounds with 10% body fat, I weigh 75 kilos, of which 67.5 kilos is lean body mass. So, I need 810 g of carbs in the 24 hours before the race. It’s actually pretty hard to cram that many carbs down. Here’s how I do it.

Marathon carb-loading drink recipe

This recipe is based on Gatorade G Series Pro 01 Prime Carb Energy Drink; 82g carbs, 330 cal. per 12 oz.   However, the G doesn’t supply potassium. I added that. Their newer Endurance formula does, but it’s an on course formulation, not a pre-load. I have my own recipe for that in a previous post (here: MEFF72) but in order to achieve the higher concentration of sugar, you’d have to use the powdered formula and add more scoops than it calls for. Sounds salty, which you don’t really need when you’re pre-loading. Anyhow, for the same level of carbs/calories as the Carb Energy Drink, you need 20.5 tsp of dextrose or sucrose for each 12 oz. serving. Feel free to check my math. I’m not a chemistry teacher but my dad is. No, we never had a meth lab in the basement.

Example for 8 servings (96 total oz. of fluid) – supplies 672 carbs

  • 3 ½ cups dextrose (aka corn sugar)
  • 2 cups lime juice
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 tsp. sea salt (sodium chloride)
  • 1/2 tsp. NuSalt or NoSalt (potassium chloride)

Tip: Sugar goes into solution easier if you use hot water from the tap. Then chill. Unless you like things that are warm and sickly sweet.

Dextrose (sold as corn sugar) and sucrose are very similar chemically. Dextrose is as simple as it gets. One sugar molecule, it’s the same as glucose – blood sugar. Don’t let that gross you out though, it’s plant-based, usually made from corn. However, it’s not simply extracted, it has to be produced from a starch, usually corn – by an enzymatic process. Sucrose (what you get when you buy table sugar at the store) is a glucose molecule connected to a fructose molecule, but still considered a simple sugar. It’s also plant-based, usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets, via a more natural process.

I’ve still got some dextrose left over from the last time I did this:

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As you can see, homebrew folks are the main consumers for this. I bought it at a local homebrew store. Of course you can easily find it on the interwebs as well, but typically you’re not going to find it in your local grocery store.

It takes the body a bit longer to metabolize sucrose, which I suppose is why I settled on dextrose. However, this time around I think I am going to experiment with sucrose, to try to slightly even out the blood sugar spikes. I’m also going to try to drink smaller amounts more frequently instead of pounding 12 oz. every hour or hour and a half or so. For future reference though, I think the use of dextrose on course is probably the way to go. By the way, Smarties candies are almost 100% dextrose, ok, a little food coloring and citric acid. Probably the fastest sugar hit you can get.

As to salt, as I said I toss in some potassium chloride. You can buy this stuff anywhere – it’s marketed as a salt substitute for people on a low or no sodium diet.

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Bananas sold separately. I think “No Salt” is a stupid name, since potassium chloride is “a” salt. It’s just not “the” salt – sodium chloride.

Finally, there’s really no performance reason to throw in lime juice, I just do it for taste. It makes it taste a little better. You could use lemon juice. If you decide to leave it out, just remember to replace the fluid with water, or your solution will be even more concentrated. You could add in some of those water flavoring packets I suppose, but that stuff is nasty. I prefer the more natural taste of lime juice, specifically key lime juice – this is the best:

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Photobomb courtesy of my son, Cole.

I know this recipe isn’t going to be featured on the Food Network any time soon, but it gets the job done. As you know realize, this is 8 servings worth and it still doesn’t get me all the way to my target of 810 grams of carbs, so you’re drinking a lot during the day.

What else do I eat during the 24 hours prior?

I follow a low-residue aka low-fiber diet during the last 24 hours. The purpose of that is to make sure my GI tract is as empty as possible when the gun goes off. If you haven’t run across the pictures of people who don’t do this, I don’t recommend you go looking for them. Eww. I think this is the way to go. Don’t even think about an enema, I don’t speak from personal experience but I’ve read they are dehydrating, which is not really the direction you want to go a couple of hours before your race.

My typical race day diet is 3 eggs at each meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner. Usually with cheese, for a little fat. Meat is pretty low-residue but not totally devoid of fiber, so I stay away. Full fat Greek yogurt if available, with honey. Some ice cream for dessert at dinner, topped with maple syrup. Certainly no fruits, vegetables, grains.

The morning of a race I will eat three more eggs just to have something on my stomach. Then I’ll put down one more serving of the carb-loading drink, about 300 calories worth, two hours before the gun, if possible, to avoid the blood sugar spike. If you can’t do that, just really nurse it. Once you get into the ten minute window before the gun, you can do a gel if you can stomach it. I’m going to use a product Coach Kyle recommended for my on course fueling – again, I’m going to nurse it instead of trying to gag it all down at once. I practiced this on a long run recently and it’s pretty tasty as far as I’m concerned. going slow is also a good reason because the really high sugar concentration in gels and the like is a little hard to get down without coughing unless you take it easy.

Here’s the magic potion for this race, in a nice little bottle that fits your palm pretty well:

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Mmm! Kona Coffee!

Here goes! Off to the Great White North in less than 24 hours!

 

 

 

 

Running away from home

I love a good double entendre. I spent much of the last few weeks running (away from home), not running away (from home). Running (away from home) is the subject of this post, and it presents both challenges and opportunities for a runner on a marathon training schedule.

The first departure from my usual stomping grounds came in the form of a family trip out west. Over a week and a half, we tent-camped (mostly) our way through the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, to Seattle and back. While I would have loved to do some trail running while on this trip, there were two factors that kept me pounding the pavement: (1) elevation; (2) bears. Elevation was the primary issue – in two ways. First, I was above 5000 feet most of our trip, and I live at 1000 feet, so I was working harder even if I picked level routes. Second, finding a trail without much elevation gain on my trip would have been difficult although not impossible. For instance, one fantastic hike we did as a family (Beaver Pond trail at Mammoth, Yellowstone) involved about 1 mile up a mountainside to get to a 5 mile loop. I love hills, but footing was tricky even at a walking pace. Conversely, another hike (Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons) lakeside loop led to a hike up a rocky cliff. It was a “don’t look down” trail.

rocky trail

At the time of that trip, I was 7-8 weeks out from the Edmonton Marathon. My quads thanked me for staying on the level. Also, because bears.

I’m not really an over-cautious person when it comes to hiking or running (although I am when it comes to amusement parks, long story). I trail run and day hike solo. Sometimes in places without cell service! Sometimes without a cell phone! Standard advice for bear country is hike in groups of 3 or more, carry bear spray, and make lots of noise. We had bear spray with us, and I can make a lot of noise, but I didn’t have 2 friends of similar fitness level and training goals along with me. You don’t want to be gliding along the trail solo and find this guy taking his afternoon nap:

bear

So I stuck to the roads. Still with a bear bell. In the Tetons and Yellowstone, the roads still meant a pretty good degree of solitude. When you’re out there in the early morning, there’s not a lot of competition. Just me and a bald eagle one time. In fact, the only time I saw other runners was coming in and out of our campsite at the Tetons. At Yellowstone, I got some friendly honks and waves from folks in cars (at least I am pretty sure the gestures were friendly).

So that’s the where. Another challenge is the when: finding the time to run in the midst of all the other activities you’ve got planned for the day – and the energy to do all of it! My solution for this was the same as at home: get up so early that no one protests the fact that you’re going on a run. I’m only kidding – I am really fortunate to have a wife and family that support me in this! On one day, I got up and did a short 3 mile regen run at Mammoth – up the big hill from the campsite to the lodge. The morning activity was horseback riding:

horseback

(note the off-label use of my Skora Forms, which, as long as we’re talking about off-label use, make an excellent hiking shoe. No boots for me!)

Then, in the afternoon, it was down the Yellowstone:

rafting

(No Skoras here. Neoprene booties. Snowmelt = cold!)

I couldn’t have planned that better. I was glad I didn’t have a “hard” day on my training schedule, and for the most part my runs fit well into the day. I got lucky for a Saturday long run in Spokane – although my luck was at the expense of my wife and daughter, who had gotten a virus along the way and were sleeping it off while I ran a beautiful rail-to-trail route south of downtown.

After we got back from our trip west, I had a few days home, and then it was off again to back-to-back camps. Webelos with my son Cole – which was local. Fortunately the Cub Scouts don’t set too aggressive of a schedule and with lights out at 10, I was able to get up and get my miles in well before breakfast. Then it was straight to a summer camp my wife and I volunteered at as counselors. That was a little more grueling – but only because we were staying up late with as bunch of energetic and enthusiastic kids. I found a nice core of brave souls who also wanted to get up early and run at camp. As always, the accountability of group runs is one of the best ways to get out of bed when you might have hit the snooze.

I’m now less than 4 weeks out from Edmonton and starting to get excited. My training schedule is peaking with higher miles and more speed. I hit the track yesterday with an old friend – the Skora PHASE. I’ve been running in FIT so much I’d almost forgotten what the lighter and more responsive PHASE has to offer. Just a great track or race shoe, although some prefer it for general training. For me, that’s the FIT – click through the banner to the right of this post to learn more about the FIT and the rest of the lineup, or read my reviews on this blog!

 

Run. Hill. Repeat. @HospitalHillRun #RunReal

I ran the Hospital Hill Run Re-Run this past weekend. I raced a 5K on Friday night, then did the Half Marathon as a progression run on Saturday morning.

My current goal race is a marathon in late August. Coach Kyle (http://kylekranz.com/coaching/) suggested I use this 5K to assess fitness at this point in my training, but not race the half the next day. It was really hard to not race a race!

I warmed up for the 5K with a full lunge matrix and two miles of easy running. That was a first for me as well – I haven’t raced a lot of 5Ks, but for my first one I didn’t warm up much at all; for the second one I did do about a mile of easy running. I thought the extended warmup was pretty valuable, and it certainly didn’t wear me out.

I ran a 21:13, pretty far off my PR of 19:59, but that came on a much flatter course. There are calculators you can use to figure out what you would have run on a flat course, if that makes you feel better, or you’re trying to compare apples to apples with a prior race. I used this one:( http://www.runworks.com/calculator.php) which yielded an adjusted time of 20:42. Credit to Tim Noakes, whose book “Lore of Running” is the basis of these calculations. You can also use these calculators to predict your time at other distances using your established fitness level from a recent race. Another fascinating adjustment is altitude – I train at 1000 ft. here in Kansas City. My August marathon is at 2000 ft., so it looks like I’ll give up about 2 minutes for that. However, I’m excited to be running a virtually flat race course, which I’ve never really done before.

You can go crazy with these calculators. I considered the elevation change the most significant factor. If you adjust for temperature (anything over 60F pushes your time up) my already adjusted time goes down to 20:12. If you further adjust that 20:12 down to sea level, it drops to 20:07. My advice: don’t talk yourself into a PR with these calculators! Most of us train and race in the same geographic area.

Here’s some photos from the 5K (not all of them (edit: none?) flattering…)

race_0.4840576640295149 race_0.2905805843757938 race_0.01913102413119938 race_0.87568097043379 race_0.27316335498027733 race_0.18247102165559637 race_0.15426024736673916 race_0.9356280750818401 race_0.08260291949352239 race_0.8134790365424225 race_0.07752350852548417 race_0.7731134774497626

 

As a forefoot/midfoot striker, I’m happiest running uphill, flat, or very gradual downhill. Even at this short distance, I was doing tortoise and the hare with some heel strikers – I’d motor past them on the uphills, then they’d come pounding past me on the downhills. I didn’t get caught on any flats – including the finish stretch. I won my age group!

The next day, I ran the half as a progression run. Or swim. The skies opened about 4:20 am, and it rained all through the race, even delaying the start a half hour due to concerns about heavy rain and lightning. It was a good call by the race director, and we still got to run. The rain backed off for the race start, poured about a half hour in, then came down pretty steady the rest of the time I was out there. Hard rain but no lightning. I tried to run the first 7 at an easy pace – my target was 9:00, but pride, excitement, or just feeling good that morning had me pushing down into the 8’s before long. I ran miles 8-10 in the 7:30 range. The last three were supposed to be at a FAST effort – but it was hard to gauge if I was achieving that based on numbers only. The Broadway hill starts around mile 10, and it’s a long up. That pushed my pace down a bit until the final short but steep Trinity Hill just past mile 12. I cranked it down to close to around 7:00 for the final mile, with a 6:00 pace sprint for the final 0.2.

I suppose I’d prefer rain to sun and heat, but to tell the truth I don’t look all that happy in these race photos:

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As you can see, I wore my Skora FIT for both races. It’s just such a great all-purpose shoe it’s hard to take it off! If the course had been flatter I might have gone with the lighter CORE or PHASE, which I’ve raced in before, but this wasn’t a goal race so I went with the increased cushioning of the FIT.

Final thought: the air temp was 70F and I was passing people running in disposable ponchos virtually the whole race. Maybe they were on their way to a weigh-in. If not, I hope they were hydrating! I’m sure they weren’t that much drier than I was at the finish!

 

Why are you running? @HospitalHillRun

What’s your motivation? What is going to get you moving and keep you moving through the finish line at Hospital Hill? I recently finalized a decision about my purpose in running Hospital Hill. You may have made yours a long time ago! A movie I watched recently (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – from the 60s, but now a Broadway play) made me think how running needs a purpose, and you need to internalize that purpose, even if it didn’t originate in you. It doesn’t have to be specific, or even terribly significant. However, if you aren’t running with a purpose, you might not keep moving!

Here’s a brainstormed list of 10 reasons why you might be running – add yours!

  1. To share the experience with my friends or family (or family who are friends, etc.).
  2. I’m in it to win it.
  3. In memory of a loved one who loved running.
  4. I want to PR.
  5. For a charitable cause.
  6. I have a time goal I want to break.
  7. Just for fun – I love to run with others.
  8. To reward myself for the training miles I’ve put in with some nice swag.
  9. As a tune-up for another race.
  10. To jump-start a commitment to fitness.

I’m going to do the new “Re-Run,” and I have a different purpose for each race. I’m going to use the 5k as a time trial to see where I’m at right now with my fitness level. The next day, I’m not going to “race” the half; instead I am going to run it as a progression run – cranking up the pace as I go. I’m going to have fun too – see you out there!

Goal setting before, during and after your race. @HospitalHillRun

Only a runner would understand the response “well, I have three” in response to the question, “what’s your goal for this race?”

I always have three pace goals for a race: 1) the “reach for what you cannot,” pie-in-the-sky goal – what I train towards. I’ll be ecstatic if I ever hit this one; 2) the more realistic goal – what I think I should be able to achieve on that day; 3) the fall-back goal – the “it’s not my day, but I’m going to take something away from this race” goal.

For instance, during last Saturday’s Garmin Marathon, these were my three goals: #1 BQ minus 1:30 (probably sufficient to get into 2015). #2 BQ at under 3 hours, 15 minutes. #3 just finish (given that I had just run the Boston Marathon on Monday, I had a fairly forgiving fall-back goal).

I realize that two marathons in six days is probably not a recipe for success for marathon #2. However, I felt really great at Boston, recovered quickly, and decided to go for it at the last minute. I went out ahead of the 3:15 pace group and stayed on my pace for 8-9 miles. However, due to some GI distress Friday and race morning, I was feeling pretty lousy by the time I saw the RHSW and one of my sons and College and Woodland. I said “I’m thinking about bailing out.” At this point, my pace was slowing by about 30s. I was shifting gears pretty quickly from goal #1, to #2, and then #3.

I hung on to my lead on the 3:15 pace group until about mile 17 or so. By group, I mean the solo pacer who was staying on pace, and everyone who started with him well behind. I made him a pace group again and ran with him for a few miles. We talked about Boston and I expressed how I just wasn’t feeling that great, it wasn’t my day, but I had resolved to finish today. The way he put it is, “sometimes you just have to make it a mental race.” I appreciated that. I was already in that place – with my numbers goals a fading memory, at least I knew that I had fought through the tough miles where I had to convince myself to keep going despite the urge to stop. Anyhow, I was fading and he was staying on pace so I let him go.

Sometimes you get to set new goals during your race. Around mile 21, I found a new goal. Or I should say, the goal found me. I had been hearing some footsteps, fairly close to matching my cadence. So I guessed, it’s either a minimalist runner or a female (i.e., shorter stride length from height, not foot strike). It was the latter. It was her first marathon, and she was doing great but wanted someone to run with those final 5 miles. I was more than happy to try to help pick her pace back up (thereby picking myself up). We ran together to the finish, with me babbling encouragement and being a course tour guide the whole way. She finished 2nd overall female. Nice debut! I came in at 3:18:19 – which was 1:51 slower than my Boston time earlier that week. I’m glad I ran it though – because it reinforced the lesson that if you have several goals, you are bound to meet one or two of them and take away something positive from the day!

If you can smile at the finish line of Hospital Hill, you’ve accomplished two goals!

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After your race, it’s time to re-evaluate and set new goals. Always have a new goal!

 

Does anyone love runners more than Boston? #runreal

It’s practically a rhetorical question. This year’s Boston Marathon was my first – but I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get any better than this for the amateur runner. I ran on the same course on the same day, at the same time (and in the same “wave”!) as the world’s best marathoners. I wore bib 8362, which meant that roughly 100 elite males and females, as well as bibs 100-8361 were all in front of me. Despite the fact that 8000 runners had already gone by before me, I was still treated to the same cheering crowds that urged on Meb, Ryan, Rita, and Shalane. Scores of people – race volunteers, spectators, and people about town personally thanked me for coming to the marathon. Patriots’ Day is a holiday in Massachusetts, commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War. It’s also Marathon Monday in Boston and the surrounding communities. Some estimates predicted that a million people would line the race course for this year’s race. I wouldn’t disagree. Boston loves this race. Boston loves the people who run it. You feel it! The best way I can describe it was a purely physical response I had three times during the race. I found myself getting so excited and pumped up by the crowd that I realized I was about to hyperventilate. It wasn’t my pace – I was just forgetting to breathe properly. All I had to do was move over into the middle of the road and take some deep breaths to recover.

I felt great the whole race. I can’t ever remember finishing so strong and feeling so good. You can see it:

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The RHSW accompanied me to Boston. It was great having her there. I can get a bit wiggy before a race, and far beyond her bib-pinning skills she is a calming influence. We decided to leave our kids behind with Grandma and Grandpa, rather than trying to keep track of all four of them in the crowds. My neighbor and friend, John, brought his family along. He had a very personal reason for doing so, as he, his wife, 2 children, and his in-laws were all gathered in the Forum Restaurant last year post-race when the second bomb went off right in front, blowing out the glass windows in the restaurant, and wreaking havoc on the innocent crowd gathered along the route.

We arrived in Boston late Friday night. We had already picked up a few marathoners on the flight from Kansas City – a couple from Topeka running together. Since I was wearing my fluorescent orange Boston jacket, I got my first of many “good lucks” from a Bostonian within moments of getting off the plane.

The RHSW and I slept in a Saturday, then went on a nice shakedown run together along the Harborwalk. That afternoon, we walked down to Boston Common, the finish line, and various other marathon-related sights with John as our tour guide. I wore my Blue Camo Skora Forms around town – the color scheme was perfect this year – blue and orange. They got lots of admiration and questions, which I happily answered. That evening, we feasted at Mooo with my childhood friend Dan and his girlfriend. I didn’t have the chicken.

Sunday was a pretty busy day. I do the Western Australian carb load method, so I did my speed workout early, then started in on the sugar. I do allow myself eggs and yogurt, but no fiber. Breakfast with John & his entourage, followed by a worship service with a wonderful group that met downtown in a nearby hotel. After that, we headed over the race expo. I’ve never been impressed by a race expo. This one was bigger, but no more impressive. I did see Bart Yasso.

After that it was on to the Red Sox game. Much to my dismay, my friend Dan informed me as we arrived just in time for the first pitch that there had been a moving tribute to the marathon victims, with on-field appearances prior to the game. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t turn on the television for a few days. We hung around for about 5 innings, before the cold and my need to get in bed drove us out. Fortunately, everyone else was more than happy to oblige. Mandatory Green Monster shot:

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Finally, Marathon Monday was here! I got up at 5:30 for the 10:00 start. I had a simple omelette, more carbs, and dressed for the walk to Boston Common. Just outside my hotel, I made fast friends with Max, an entrepreneur from London. We walked together and rode the bus to Hopkinton. I might have convinced him to give my Skora FITs a try. As it turns out, we were about the same age and had qualified with roughly the same time (ok, he was 2 minutes faster). He injured his Achilles over the winter doing speedwork for a sub 3:00 attempt. As a result, I passed him on the race course – and amazingly I spotted him and encouraged him. We exchanged emails after the race and I’m happy to report he finished quite well under the circumstances.

After you get off the bus in Hopkinton, you’re herded into Athlete’s Village (did somebody say “athlete”?) where a cornucopia of carbs, caffeine and plenty of porta-potties await. I had several Gatorade carb energy drinks – 100+ calories each, minimal fluid; plus some coffee. The morning started off chilly, so it’s a good idea to bring some sweats to wear until you’re called to load into the corrals. Here’s my ensemble:

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My orange Illinois sweatpants fit the year’s colors, but were simply too awful to display publicly. Also, high-waters. You have to show your bib to the photog if you want to see the pic later. My Cub Scout sweatshirt with “Olathe, KS” on it got me noticed by a guy who had emigrated to the East Coast from Olathe. His adult children were going to be there to cheer him on in the race. We also talked about my Skora FITs – he had on the Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris – a shoe I liked quite a bit as a trainer before discovering Skoras. They are discontinued – and also a bit too much shoe for a race, in my opinion.

There was a moment of silence for the victims of last year’s bombing while we were in the village. About 9:15, they called us out of the village and into the parking lot where we were sorted into our corrals for the first wave. I made another friend in Bob, a runner from the U.P. of Michigan. When you’re in your corral, everybody’s compatible pace-wise, so we decided to run together at the beginning for a while. Once in order, we walked up to the start line (well, the 1/4 mile behind the start line). You’re practically bursting at this point. It’s like horses in the starting gate. Before the gun, there was the National Anthem, introduction of the elites, and a fly-over by 4 air ambulance helicopters that assisted in the emergency response.

My friend John (who has a much faster PR than I) was running on a charity bib, so he decided to linger at the very end of the last wave before beginning his race. A photojournalist (Stephan Savoia/AP) documented this moment, as he knelt to kiss the start line at his return to this great race:

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What a great picture! Better than any of mine!

Once the gun goes off, first you stand, then you walk, then you shuffle, and finally a couple hundred feet from the start line you break into a full run. Actually quite a nice warmup, although when you’re doing it you’re thinking “I hope I don’t need those hundred feet back at the end….” Because you’re all so well-sorted by qualifying pace, there’s not a lot a weaving in and out at first, since in theory everyone in front of you is faster. Of course, since you could have qualified as much as 18 months before, a lot can happen in that time – injury, a lower level of conditioning, etc. Bob and I warmed up for the first couple of miles on the long downhill – everyone says don’t waste energy going out too fast. I think I hit it about right – about 10-15 seconds above my goal pace. Then I started cranking it up and ran the next several miles through mile 13 mostly below goal pace (7:15). I lost Bob to a porta-potty, and after seeing Max fairly early on, the rest of the race was on my own – just a few familiar strangers passing me back and forth. I passed more people than I was passed by during the race – my overall finish of 5577 (lower than my bib number of 8362) bears this out. Even in the early miles, the crowd support is still better than anything I have seen in my previous 6 marathons. There was a very enthusiastic pocket at Ashland, and larger crowds at Framingham and Natick. Every once in a while you’ve got to head over to the side of the road and gently high-five one of the little kids that are out there cheering for you.

Wellesley lives up to its reputation. Around mile 13 or so, first comes a tunnel of evergreens, followed by a tunnel of screaming college girls. It’s deafening. Seriously. I moved to the middle of the road – although I heard one guy around me remark that he could go for another 13 miles of that.

The Newton Hills begin just before mile 16. My pace had slowed a bit in mile 14, but I was still within 10s of goal pace miles 14-16. Miles 16-21 are most certainly the 4-5 (depending on who’s counting) Newton Hills. I ran these strong, about 30s under goal pace. I love hills! There were a lot of walkers. By this point in the race it was getting pretty close to noon – a 10:00 start is something I knew would be difficult – and the temperature was really starting to rise. Not a cloud in the sky, and I’m sure it was upper 60s by my race end.

The second of the Newton Hills is marked by the Newton Fire Station at the bottom. For some reason I look a bit pensive here:

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The final Newton Hill has a name, as you probably realize. Heartbreak Hill. Ain’t so bad. A few walkers around me as I wave to the crowd – not the camera (there was a camera?):

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Once you get to the top (and there is a false top) soon after is a downhill followed by another unnamed hill. I can’t remember if that’s before BC, but here’s St. Ignatius on campus:

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I am clearly in the middle of one of several emotional moments here. Right around this point in the race, I saw Juli Windsor, the dwarf featured in last month’s Runner’s World. She was stopped by the bombs last year in her bid to finish Boston (although not her first marathon). She was looking strong – I’m sure she must have finished.

Mile 23 was one of my favorites. Thanks to a long downhill before a left turn, I cranked it back up to 7:23. I felt like I was flying downhill. I had to move to the far left to overtake, and there was a huge crowd along the barriers here. One guy saw me, made eye contact, pointed right at me and let out a huge yell followed by a high-five. It was exhilarating.

After that, some tough work began. I fell off my pace again – although I didn’t run a single mile out of the 7’s. The last “hill” is a man-made one; the Mass Pike overpass:

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I’m chuggin’ – but I’m not walkin’.

There was a lot of attrition in those final miles. I saw several collapsed runners – which is kind of new to me, although probably because most of the races I have been in are so small compared to Boston. As you can see from these pictures, there is ALWAYS someone around you. You never have a clear path. The only thing I can compare it to are some 5Ks where I didn’t get up close enough to the start line and had to pick my way through.

Mile 26 was the toughest of course. My partial split from the last 0.4 miles (you always run a little bit farther than 26.2 – it’s harder to take the perfect race line at Boston than anywhere else) was my fastest of the day though: 7:08. I could smell it. Here I am on Boylston, working for the finish:

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At the finish line, it’s all sunshine and bunnies. I’m pretty sure the broader photo-op line is before the actual finish line – otherwise who would keep running at this point:

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That last one’s my favorite. Unless I’m mistaken, the “real” finish line is the last race pic:

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After that, it’s on to the finish chute – which is so long it feels like a marathon in itself. First: the medal. I’m not sure what possessed me to see if it was gold or not. It wasn’t:

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You can see the evaporated salts on my shirt. After that, it’s water, a space blanket, Gatorade, protein shakes, bananas and a bag of assorted other foodstuffs. Yes, please. I think I put down at least 50 oz. of fluids in the 5-10 minutes post race – and that’s with trying to take a couple gulps of the Gatorade Endurance formula they had at each aid station every mile (I did skip the first few as I was VERY topped off pre-race).

Here’s my final stats from the BAA:

Net Time 3:16:28
Overall 5577/31931
In Gender 4902/17575 (Male)
In Division 966/2628 (M40-44 Age Group)

And my splits from my Garmin:

1 7:25.7 1.00 7:26
2 7:20.4 1.00 7:20
3 7:18.0 1.00 7:18
4 7:11.6 1.00 7:12
5 7:10.5 1.00 7:10
6 7:11.6 1.00 7:12
7 7:05.3 1.00 7:05
8 7:17.8 1.00 7:18
9 7:16.0 1.00 7:16
10 7:17.0 1.00 7:17
11 7:16.0 1.00 7:16
12 7:19.8 1.00 7:20
13 7:16.4 1.00 7:16
14 7:22.8 1.00 7:23
15 7:25.0 1.00 7:25
16 7:20.8 1.00 7:21
17 7:42.9 1.00 7:43
18 7:44.5 1.00 7:44
19 7:42.3 1.00 7:42
20 7:47.9 1.00 7:48
21 7:56.8 1.00 7:57
22 7:29.9 1.00 7:30
23 7:22.7 1.00 7:23
24 7:41.9 1.00 7:42
25 7:46.5 1.00 7:47
26 7:52.0 1.00 7:52
27 2:50.2 0.40 7:08

I want to explicitly thank Skora for the pre-release FITs they provided me with. See my full review in a previous post. I don’t rave about shoes I don’t love because they’re free. I rave about great shoes. Despite warmer than ideal conditions and a punishing net downhill course I once again had zero shoe/foot issues during the race. The FITs just stayed out of the way and let me run joyfully. I paired the FITs with some Icebreaker Run Ultra Light Micro socks and a light coating of Alba Unpetroleum jelly. No blisters or hot spots.

Here I am relaxing in Boston Common before meeting up with the RHSW et al.:

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I relaxed (briefly) at a restaurant one street off Boylston before heading to the curb to watch John finish:

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RHSW to my right, John’s entourage including his adorable kids fill out the frame.

Here’s John and me after meeting up with him at Boston Common:

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And a celebratory kiss with the RHSW:

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Not only did I feel great after the race in the FIT, I decided to sign up for my hometown marathon that Saturday: the “Garmin Marathon in the Land of OZ, Olathe, KS.” (Kind of a mouthful). I ran it just under 2:00 slower than Boston. A less comprehensive race report on that one, coming soon! Spoiler alert – love those FITs – couldn’t have done 2 in 6 days without them. Spoiler alert #2: flying monkeys.

@Skorarunning FIT shoe review: Between minimalism and maximalism is just-rightism #FITfriday

It seems to me that running shoes are like a lot of other things we put on our bodies: they’re subject to trends. For instance, I recently discovered that men’s ties have drastically reduced in width this last season. I now have a few in the new “right” size, but a closet full of “too wide” ties – including a few purchased just last year.

It’s true that I discovered “minimalism” in running shoes after reading the 2009 book “Born to Run.” Initially a niche, minimalism widened to a chasm filled by the major shoe companies. Conversely, I’m not sure when maximalism crept into my consciousness – some time early last year I’d say. The max-cushion movement has gone mainstream in the last few months – with the major shoe companies looking to cash in on the latest trend (with some offerings better described as max-marketing than as max-cushioned, I’d say).

Through all this, a few shoe companies have stayed trend-proof and true to their mission. Skora running shoes are one of this small group – as they say, designed by runners, for runners. As a runner, I appreciate that! I didn’t seek out minimal shoes as an end – they were a means to an end: allowing me to run the way my body was designed. To my way of thinking, the new Skora FIT is the best expression of that I’ve run across so far (can’t. resist. pun.).

What do I look for in a shoe?

  1. Zero-drop. Allows for a natural foot strike.
  2. Anatomical. An object that goes on your foot should be foot-shaped.
  3. Roomy toe-box. Your toes should splay as you run. When they can’t move, or worse are pinched together, pain ensues.
  4. A locked-in midfoot and heel. If your foot is moving around in this part of the shoe, hello blisters.
  5. Laces. This is really 4a. I have found a few shoes that worked for me that relied on elasticity and/or Velcro closures (“Aww, he got the Velcros…”), but nothing compares to laces when it comes to customizing your fit.
  6. Goldilocks cushioning. On pavement, I need something. Too little can be torture at 20+ miles. Too much means my foot can’t tell my brain what’s going on down there. Oh, and weight. Light = fast.
  7. Value. There’s a happy medium here. I’ve tried poorly made shoes from other companies that checked some of these boxes that didn’t make it to 100 miles. I’m willing to pay for quality design, materials, and construction when it means I’m going to get more wear out of a shoe.
  8. It should cover your foot. Duh, right? Well, “I don’t always wear shoes, but when I do, ….” Sandals? No, thanks.
  9. It should look cool. I consider myself a function-over-form guy, but I love it when I don’t have to choose. I’ve owned a few pairs of shoes that I would prefer to only run in at night, if you know what I mean.
  10. Gestalt. The whole should be more than the sum of its parts. A shoe that is there, but not there. Om.

If I scored the shoes I’ve run in over the last 5 years in these categories, I’m sure the FIT would have the highest score. Zero-drop? Check. Roomy toe box? Check. The light, stretchy upper really contributes to that:

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That’s my hand. My toes aren’t that flexible. However, they are quite long…

Locked-in midfoot/heel/laces? Check. I love asymmetric lacing. Traditional lacing bugs some folks on the top of their foot – but when you sweep it off to the side it takes pressure off that area. Just lacing these shoes up is a joy. The combination of the stretchy upper and the asymmetric lacing makes it super easy to get a “Goldilocks” fit. If you’ve ever taken off on a run and felt like you laced up too tight or too loose, you know what I’m talking about. That is not going to happen with the FIT:

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Goldilocks cushioning? Check. I think the FIT is “just right.”  The FIT borrows some of my favorite things from Skora’s other models – one of these being the R01 “platform” (or last, if you prefer) which is like Skora’s BASE and FORM. It combines a rubber outsole with compression molded EVA foam midsole. An extra bit of cushioning is found in the Ortholite insoles. This insole is slightly thicker than those found in Skora’s other offerings. The insole from FORM is on the left in the picture, FIT on the right.

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That FORM insole has roughly the same number of miles on the shoe it lives in – perhaps even less.

Also, the reverse dimpling on the insole is a little more pronounced than other models – I like it – it’s stimulating in a good way when you put the shoe on but not at all intrusive:

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You can actually make them out in the above photo. This next photo, for comparison, is an insole from FORM:

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The reverse dimpling is there – but smaller.

Value? Check. The FIT is probably the best value in Skora’s lineup. My pair have 200+ miles on the odometer already and there are zero durability issues despite virtually all of those miles being on the pavement. As you can see, the high-abrasion rubber on the outsole is holding up really well:

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I can’t find anything wrong with the material on the upper or any of the seams. I would be shocked if this shoe didn’t push past 1000 miles. Mille Miglia! They should make it in Ferrari red and yellow! The FIT’s price point stays out of the 3 figure range as well.

Cool? Check. If you don’t think the FIT is a cool-looking shoe, I can’t help you. The black 3D-printing on the upper is functional (more support where it’s darker, more flexibility where it’s lighter) and gives the shoe a really unique look:

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Gestalt? Ja! My perfect shoe is a shoe I’m not thinking about while I’m running in it. It should disappear. Even when I’m on pavement I want to be able to close my eyes and feel like I’m running barefoot. No shoe is that good, but the FIT is just a great combination of all of the qualities I look for in a shoe. I’ve done speedwork in the FIT on a small track without blistering. I’ve taken it on multiple pavement long runs. I went back and looked at my mileage log today. (Umm, I might track mileage on each shoe on a spreadsheet with weekly, monthly and annual mileage totals – message me if you share my sickness and want my excel file). Since receiving the FIT, I’ve run in it 19 times, with just 3 runs in all other shoes. I like it so well I’m planning on running the Boston Marathon in it. It doesn’t hurt that “Orange is the new yellow” at Boston this year! I would probably prefer the lighter PHASE or CORE for a shorter distance like a 5k or 10k, but I think it’s FIT for half and full marathons.

Here’s a few action photos of me and my friend John (not wearing the orange FITs – yet…) running a 10+ mile segment of the One Run For Boston cross-country relay last week:

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I’m a fan of the FIT. If you’re thinking about trying a pair of Skora shoes, this is the model I’d try first.

 

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