"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Asics Gel Fuji Racer - First Impressions

Purple shoes eh?
**  This review seems to be getting a lot of traffic so I will continue to update it, based on my experiences with the Gel Fuji Racers.  These will be marked with asterisks  **

You can read my review of the Gel Fuji Trainer 2 here: trainer 2 review

I must admit, the shoe I was most looking forward to in 2012 was the New Balance MT110.  I dont think that I was alone in anticipation, however, there are quite a few new light-weight shoes to be excited about that are being released this spring.  Included in this is the first lightweight trail racer from Asics, the Gel Fuji Racer.

After running quite a bit in the 110, I was curious as to what other shoes this spring had to offer, perhaps after realizing there is no way I could run 100 miles in the 110s.  This led me to look for shoes with a little more substance underfoot, and sported a 4-8mm drop.  Fitting directly into this category was the Fuji Racer.  Weighing in at about 9 ounces and sporting a 6mm heel to toe offset, this shoe reminds me a lot of a road shoe that is close to my heart, the Asics Gel Hyperspeed (Ryan Hall's preferred racing shoe).  It has a wide forefoot, and a stable feel underfoot.  One of the things I noticed right away was that this shoe was light and surprisingly flexible for a trail shoe with a rock plate.

Multi-directional lugs and drainage holes
The light weight is achieved through several modifications.  While the Fuji's sport a fairly well built heel counter, the rest of the upper is soft and contains minimal materials and overlays.  The second way the light weight is achieved is through several cut-out vents or drains placed in the bottom of the shoe.  This styling can be found in several other Asics models, and its main purpose is the provide weight savings.  However, for me, this also serves as a drain so that the shoes can drain quickly after a water crossing.  That being said, I always noticed rocks stabbing my feet through the holes in my gel hyperspeeds.  Asics solved this problem but reinforcing the drains with plastic to help support and strengthen them.  I have yet to get stabbed with a rock through the holes, so I figure it works.

Pretty flexible in the forefoot
Traction on this shoe is modest, the multidirectional lugs stand out from the outsole enough that they get good grip in light mud, but not enough that they can compare to a fell shoe or true mud specific shoe.   On hardpack trail these shoes excel, and I havent had the chance to try them on anything super rocky yet, but I dont expect them to be as sticky as the rubber on the MT110. 

Probably the strongest assets the Fuji Racer has to offer is that 1) they have plenty of cushion in a light weight package 2) they seem very flexible in the forefoot and 3) they transition nicely onto road surface.  In fact they work so nicely on roads, that I have been running my road runs and occasional treadmill runs in them.  The Solyte eva compound used in the midsole is plenty forgiving.  They also seem to have a very durable rubber on the outsole, as I don't see any substantial wear despite taking these shoes off-trail.  I plan on getting in some real longs run wearing the Fuji Racers in the next couple weeks, so I will update this review with a more substantial review of how the function on long trail runs, but I have high hopes.  They are incredibly comfortable, have a gussetted tongue, a small lace garage, and can be tied down tightly without bruising my feet on downhills which really helps the agile feel of the shoe.

The only downside of the shoe so far is that the heel feels a little chunky, sometimes getting in the way of a clean midfoot strike.  The wide heel does provide a nice stable ride though.
Wide heel and two more vents/drains in the midfoot

Check back later for more thoughts.

****  So I have had these shoes for a couple weeks now, and have had the chance to log some miles.  Overall I think the Fuji Racers have great potential to be a durable every day trainer type trail shoe.  They dont really excell well at any particular type of terrain, but rather are proficient on most types of trail I have run.  The negatives of these shoes include the strange drains in the bottoms of each shoe.  The ones in the forefoot become palpable with your feet due to the plastic supporting them.  2)  The vents in the bottom of the shoes let in cold mud/slush from trails and dirt roads which is unpleasant.  Hopefully the drains are helpful in the summer when the feet heat up otherwise they are pretty useless.  They are plenty comfortable and protective to be a very usable shoe, but dont really inspire me to run fast or push hard for some reason (this might be a good thing!).****

****  Ran the entire Winona Lake 50 mile wearing the Gel Fuji's.  Never had to change socks or shoes.  A little more debris came in through the bottom vents than I would have preferred, but the cushioning, protection and flexibility was excellent.  Any small niggles from the shoe did not get magnified over the course of the race.  ****

Has anyone else tried these out?  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Louisvilles Lovin' the Hills 50ish-k

To start off I will be frank.  What a great challenge.  Sometimes as an ultrarunner I look down on 50k with the idea that its a short race without enough true suffering.  This race is the brain child of Montrail runner Eric Grossman and you can tell this was designed by someone who likes a challenging course.

I have to give credit to Scott Breeden, who suggested I sign up for LLTH back in late december (?).  I saw that the race was a great deal (50$)! and I went ahead and registered without looking at much else.  In my usual procrastinating fashion, I finally started looking at the race statistics and reports the week before.  I read several blogs suggesting there was upwards of 7000 feet of climbing with an equal amount of descent.  Well ok, maybe thats why its called lovin the hills.  Then I noticed the fastest times were getting slower over the years...  Ok, so they added a few more climbs and a few extra miles to the course, sounds good to me.  Even then, some very good trail runners were posting 50k times in the upper 4 hour, low 5 hour range.  To me this says everything.  Its a hard race.  Well thats good, I like a challenge.

Friday morning I hit the road to bloomington to pick up LLTH vet Scott Breeden, and from there we made it to packet pickup with plenty of time to spare.  The race swag was nothing too fancy, but we did receive very nice sweatshirts and a new copy of the latest trail runner magazine.  The drive into Louisville had been scenic until we hit rush hour traffic, and then I had paid little attention to our surroundings, yet I was surprised by the lack of hills in the immediate Louisville area.  Scott assured me that they were there, I took his word for it, and we headed to the pasta dinner where Scott's buddy Beau Hollis met us.  We stayed at his place before the race, and he gave us the low down on what the course was going to be like and what we should expect for trail conditions.

After sleeping in a bed (maybe the 2-3rd time I've ever slept in a bed before an ultra), I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go.  I opted to wear the NB MT110s instead of a newly acquired pair of Asics Gel Fuji Racers, as I had only ran 7 miles in the Asics.  Beau lived very close to the race start and after a short drive I saw some nasty looking hills jutting out of the horizon.  Yup, this is going to be fun as I drove up a 2 mile long uphill to the race start, passing a trail crossing near the bottom of the climb.  We got to the race start with plenty of time to spare, stayed warm in the car, and before I knew it, it was time to boogie.

The start was a little confusing as the 15 mile and 50k runners all start at the same time.  I ran quite a bit harder than I knew was wise for the first 2-3 miles, but I really wanted to get out in front of anyone who may run slower on the technical long downhills.  Pushing some of this section I noticed my heart rate edging near 180 bpm.  This would be a constant theme throughout the day.  After about 5 miles I rolled up to the first aid station, Beau had been meeting Scott (who was battling with the leaders all day) at each aid station, and was still at this one.  He suggested I was 4-5 minutes behind them, which surprised me a little bit.  Later I found out they didnt really start pushing the pace until mile 13 or 14.

I had begun picking off a couple 50k and15 mile runners who had started out too hard and were hurting pretty badly.  At the second aid station (~13 miles) I noticed that one runner was gaining on me.  I found that surprising and decided to run a couple climbs hard and see if I could dismay his attack.  He was having none of it though and soon caught up to me, and suggested we run together for a little bit.  I chatted with him for a few, found out his name was Harvey Lewis, and after running with him for a while, I could tell he was a strong and smart runner.   Later I found out from Scott, he is an animal with several low 17 hour 100's to his credit as well as a Badwater finish.

Anyways, I ran with Harvey for probably 3 hours, and it was great having someone to talk to, he was a super nice guy and had a great hill strategy.  One thing that I noticed was that he was easily running away from me on the technical steep downhills.  That was a little surprising to me, as in the past very few people have been able to out downhill me.  I found that the MT110s are not the perfect shoe as the upper seemed to stretch out a little bit and the thin firm midsole did not allow for serious downhill bombing.  At one point I overfueled or underhydrated and found myself with a slight stomach cramp.  I was running in the high 160s low 170s all day long and this likely was too high of  a HR for one point when I ate a cookie, drank a swig of coke and then tried to eat a gel. 

On the return trip from the final 15 mile out and back section I started to feel the implications of running at a high HR for 4 hours.  I tripped, caught myself before I fell, took another 10 steps and tripped again and went down.  Nothing serious, and I popped back up and continued running.  Then maybe 5 minutes later, I tripped again.  I decided it was time to slow down a little bit and collect myself for the remaining run.  After slowing down for a little bit, my stomach crap disappeared and I felt reinvigorated.  I started running the climbs again, slow and steady and passed a couple runners on two steep inclines and even caught back up to Harvey, even if only for a moment.

After passing the Bearcamp aid station, the last portion of the race is essentially a very long climb until you reach the finish. However, it was not super steep and I surprised myself by running almost the entire way.   My GPS read almost 31 miles and the finish was not yet in site, after cursing once or twice, I remembered everyone was probably feeling the same way, and pushed on.  I ran the last climb, saw the finish line and ran across in 5:23, good for 6th place and a free Montrail hat.  Everyone's GPS had come in at a little over 33 miles, suggesting the course was a good deal longer than advertised.  Scott had finished in an incredible 4:53, and he also reported that he had trouble keeping up on downhills in the MT110s.  After getting some homeade soup, Beau and his friend Patrick took us to a fantastic BBQ hidden away in the countryside and then we went back to Beau's for showers before Scott and I headed back to Bloomington.

My overall thoughts about this race:  1)  It is the hardest 50k I have ran (by far).  2)  It is well organized and well planned.  3)  There was a battle for places 1-3, but also places 4-9 were only about 10 minutes apart, suggesting that there were a lot of strong runners with a ton of guts. 4)  The people were all very friendly, and it seemed like a family reunion for many runners.
From L to R.  Me, Beau, Scott.  Post race (photo Beau Hollis)

Final stats:
Avg HR:  171 (woah)
Fuel:  1 Peanut butter Gu, 1 Turbo Chocolate Cherry Clif shot, 1 Roctaine Gu, 1 package Margarita shot blocks, 1/2 package of lemon-lime shot blocks.  1 S!Cap and 3 bottles of water.
My GPS deleted the data I which I was very excited to look at :( but the elevation profile below is from last years race, which was a touch shorter, with apparently 1 less climb.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

January 2012

With the start of the new year, I have decided to make an effort to record my training in a little more detail.  To motivate myself I think I will wrap up each month by posting here.

Coffee and ice cream fueled my high mileage January
January has been...  very strange by Michigan standards.  Last year I remember logging (or slogging) miles through shin deep snow and loving the burn and challenge of new terrain.  This year, its been warm, relatively snow-free, and more icy than I remember.  That being said, conditions have been supported of higher mileage, albeit lower intensity running.  One of my absolutely favorite things about the winter is that I can run for 2-3 hours without having to carry water, although this usually results in me not taking a gel and having to fight through those low spots.

nice view at Bear Mtn.

I haven't raced since the HUFF 50k (I should probably publish my race recap sometime), which has left me feeling fresh enough to continue to put in solid mileage.  I started the new year off with a bang, and really decided to build upon the great start to 2012.  Also with advent of the new year comes NEW SHOES!  spring shoe season is upon us.  The shoe I was most excited for was the MT110, and it has not disappointed.  most of the miles I have logged in January have been in the MT110, Asics Gel Hyperspeed 4, or Montrail Rogue Racers.

January  1 14
January  2 16
January  3 19
January  4 18
January  5 14
January  6 18
January  7 20
January  8 18
January  9 10
January  10 17.5
January  11 15
January  12 0
January  13 20
January  14 11
January  15 9
January  16 11.5
January  17 13.5
January  18 13
January  19 11
January  20 0
January  21 35
January  22 18.5
January  23 16
January  24 15
January  25 11
January  26 15.5
January  27 16.5
January  28 21
January  29 26
January  30 0
January  31 19

Total miles for the month was 462, which was 98 miles more than I ran in Jan 2011, this is a good thing I think.  Long runs were not too evident as I only had one day with over 30 miles, but B2B weekend efforts have me hoping my endurance remains constant.  Slightly deceiving is that I have no idea how much vert I put in, at one point I was making an honest effort to practicing climbing on the deadmill, as well as hitting up the Poto, and my new trail system in Ann Arbor, linking some pretty steep trails together.  Also with Bear Mountain, I felt like I was working my climbing.  Alas, I have no idea if I am a stronger climber, but at least I have more confidence on the climbs.  I think I will be put to the test at the Louisville Lovin the Hills 50k (7000 feet of climbing???), which is rapidly approaching.