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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

We are alone, running on an enormous beach, falling into a rhythm and quickly covering ground.  But then its time to slam on the brakes, breathe in the scenery, and take a couple photos; one can't help but be slightly overwhelmed with the magnificence of this lakeshore.  Repeat this series of events over and over again.

Vanhoose cruising along the lakeshore
 The North Country Trail is an enormously long trail that runs from New York all the way to North Dakota, covering over 4600 miles.  This includes a section through a part of Michigan that is less traveled, to say the least.

More or less on a whim, Ben Vanhoose and I decided to head way Up North and run trail for 5 days.  We found a campsite at Little Beaver Lake (luckily) and were good to go.  This particular campsite/trailhead allowed for excellent access to nearby trails and Lake Superior.  From here we launched most of our daily runs.  I'll write about our destination runs, as some of our shorter trips were just to wake up in the morning without the aid of coffee and loosen up the legs a little. 

Run 1:  An exploratory jaunt to get an idea of where we were in relation to the lake, other trails, and to shake out the legs.  The section from the campground out to the lake is fairly technical, but once we made it to the lakeshore the trails were moderately packed sand.  We continued East on the North Country Trail (NCT), until we saw signs for Trappers Lake Campground and turned South.  After some guesswork, we found the trail that took us along the side of Beaver Lake.  All in all a very cool run, with a crossing of Beaver Creek on a super wooden bridge.  Total of about 9 miles.  The trails other than the NCT were hardly traveled, and quite overgrown.
Run map

Vanhoose Crossing Beaver Creek
  Run 2:  We drove to the Hurricane Ridge Campground parking lot and ran towards the Au Sable lighthouse, then continued on to the Log slide, a part of the dunes where loggers used to slide felled trees into the lake for shipping.  This section was different.  The trail from the parking lot to the Lighthouse was essentially a dirt road, so we threw down some fast miles.  Finding where the NCT continues on past the lighthouse was only moderately challenging, and soon we headed up towards the Logslide.  There were a couple nice climbs, and the trail was not as technical as the West end of the park.  We chose to run to the logslide because there was (potable) water at the parking lot.  Just for the hell of it, we explored a couple other trails nearby and found a really fantastic overlook of the Grand Sable Dunes. Then we ran back to Hurricane Ridge and cooled off in Hurricane River.  The round trip ended up being just shy of 10 miles.

You can just see where the dunes begin at the point where we turned around
Atop a dune
More dunes

Run 3:  This was our biggest day.  And the most spectacular.  The park ranger we spoke to described this section of the park as the Gem of the Lakeshore.  Needless to say, we stopped for a lot of photos.  Even cooler, we were able to launch this trip right from our campsite.  Starting at Little Beaver Lake trailhead, we ran to the NCT, then turned West and proceeded to run along the sandy/grassy shoreline that slowly climbed to the tops of magnificent cliffs.  We were also reworded with a great view of Spray Falls (I think this was my single most favorite visual), a waterfall that cascades off the top of a clif and into Lake Superior.  Continuing Westward, we reached Chapel Beach (again we were the only two souls on the beach) and took some pictures, checked out Chapel Rock and then continued down the NCT towards Mosquito campground.  On the way to the campground, we passed Grand Portal Point, an exposed area on top of the Pictured Rocks that offered some stunning views.  Upon reaching Mosquito River, we found a bridge across, and luckily chose the right trail to take us to Mosquito Falls, then to Chapel parking lot (no water) and then headed past Chapel Falls down to Chapel Beach again and back to our campsite via the NCT, essentially making a lollipop-style loop.  Total Distance, just shy of 23 miles.  Terrain went from technical with roots, to flat out fast buffed out trail.

Just an awesome route
Spray Falls behind me

Vanhoose thinking about going for a swim

View from Chapel Beach

Pictured Rocks
At Grand Portal Point

Pictured Rocks namesake
Run 4:  Started at the Munising Falls Visitors Center, which provides immediate access to the NCT.  From a purely running standpoint, this was the most fun section of trail we ran all week.  Incredibly technical in some areas.  Rotted 2x4 bridges over swampy ground, incredibly rooty, and plenty of up and down, and some small stream crossings.  Interestingly, there were quite a few streams that just seemed to go off the sides of the cliffs into Lake Superior, but were unnammed and unmarked.  There were also some ski trails near Munising which intersected with the NCT, it was not too difficult to choose the correct trail, but it also made me want to explore more of the trail system.  We ran to the Miners Castle Overlook, where there was drinking water, then turned around and hammered the miles back.  I didn't bring my camera, which was OK, as this didn't have the views that we experienced on our earlier run, just amazing terrain. Total distance was 13.5 miles.ish.
Along the Lakeshore with Grand Island just off the coast
Miner's Castle (photo Ben Vanhoose)

Overall, the experience was tremendous.  It was somewhat surreal that there were so few people on the trails.  That being said, it was peak season!  I can't wait to go back, hopefully show some more people some of these amazing views, its so spectacular you just want to share it with people.  Much credit to Ben Vanhoose for dreaming up this trip.
A few roots (photo Ben Vanhoose)

There are a few more runs that I still want  to do.  I am curious what the NCT is like from Mosquito River to Miners Castle - the cliffs and trails in this area occasionally fall into the lake, so who knows what the trail is like.  I also would love to explore Beaver Basin Wilderness area more.  Lastly, being so close to Grand Island, its tempting to take the Ferry to the island and explore some of the trails that are used by the Grand Island Marathon (Great Lakes Endurance).  I think another trip is in order!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Saucony Kinvara TR Review

The original Kinvara was somewhat of a break through shoe.  The first cushioned model to sport a 4mm heel to toe drop, the stack height and soft midsole allowed for a dramatic number of people to begin a foray into minimalistic shoes.

Me, personally, I went through a pair of Kinvara 1 and Kinvara 2's, and found them to be a good shoe when doing casual running, but experienced a little trouble getting them up to top speed.
Kinvara TR (left) vs. Peregrine 2 (right)

Looking for a trail version of the Kinvara, I tried out the Peregrine 1 and Peregrine 2.  While the Peregrines fit my feet nearly perfectly, something about the lack of flexibility, combined with a thick midsole, really left me feeling like there was NO energy return in the Peregrine.  I still run in them occasionally, but never fell in love with them.

So when the Kinvara TR was announced, I was very excited, could this be a great semi-minimalistic option for those of us who like lightweight shoes with a low-profile midsole?

The stats:  Stack height 18 mm (heel) down to 15 mm (forefoot).  My size 11 weigh just under 10oz (9.96oz), which is comparable to a pair of Rogue Racers.
Flat and simple midsole with plenty of flex (Kinvara TR left and Peregrine 2 right)

When I first put it on my foot, I was surprised by a couple feelings.  First, they felt a touch firmer than I expected, which I attribute to a lower stack height than the actual Kinvara, as well as a fairly substantial outsole/rockplate.  Overall, I liked the feeling, it makes them feel very racey, and you want to run fast.  Second, they are a touch more narrow in the toe box than the Peregrine or Kinvara, in fact, they are almost pointy, more similar to my Adios 2s or Speedcross 3s.  The tongue is gusseted, but only towards the bottom, and they use a different lacing design/system than the Peregrine 2.  I bought a size 11, which is the same size I wear in the Peregrine 2 as well as the Kinvara 2.  They use Saucony's flex film technology in the upper, which works, I guess, to me, it was nothing too unique or special.

Kinvara TR (left) more narrow than Peregrine 2 (right)

Running in them, I really notice the minimal heel to toe drop.  More than I have noticed in other 4mm drop shoes like the Peregrine, MT110 and MT10s.  Turns out the Kinvara TR are a 3mm drop, but does 1mm really make a big difference?  Either way, it has taken a little bit of re-adjusting to let my calves and achilles stretch out.

Now that I am more or less used to them, I have really enjoyed running in the Kinvara TR.  Total, since they arrived on July 23rd, I have a little over 200 miles on them (wow really?).  I guess I must like them, as they have been my go to shoe for several 5 hour long runs, on the Mohican 100 mile course, and in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (more to come on that epic trip).  They fit (and feel) more like a racing flat than the road Kinvara or Peregrines. 

The lugging on the outsole is somewhat unique with multidirectional lugs facing both forwards and backwards.  While the lugs look like something found on the Speedcross, they are very shallow, maybe 3mm in height at the most.  Secondly, although they are described as "soft lugs" I found them to be a fairly hard rubber.  So much so, that they make a clicking sound on wood bridges, rocks, and pavement.  I do wish they were a touch softer, and it would make the ride of the shoe a little more forgiving, but with such shallow lugs, they would wear out very quickly.  Maybe there will be a Kinvara Mud with a more aggressive outsole??  (Wishful thinking I suspect).

The outsole also has a few black numbs, that I assume are supposed to function as traction devices, although I doubt they provide much in the way of grip.  Compared to the Peregrines outsole, it is a much lower profile, and does a great job shedding mud.  Similar to the Peregrine, Saucony advertises a bedrock outsole on the Kinvara TR, which does a great job in providing protection, from what I have experienced thus far.  To me, it also appears that there is an exposed rock plate in the forefoot, viewable as the red/yellow sections towards the middle of the above picture.  Overall, the outsole provides decent traction and decent protection, perfectly acceptable for this catagory of shoe.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the Kinvara TR is the responsiveness and flexibility.  To me, they feel very race ready.  Wearing them, my cadence picks up, and I don't notice a bulky heel at all.  They have a tightly fitting upper, which may bother some people with high volume feet.  While my feet are wide, they are not very tall, so I am accommodated nicely in the Kinvara TR.   Compared to the Peregrine, they are lighter, more flexible, and almost feel softer once broken in (I have always found the Peregrine to feel very firm underfoot), but are not quite as protective.

 Despite the fact that I have read several less than stellar reviews of the Kinvara TR, I personally am a huge fan.  I think I do like the upper from the Peregrine better than the Kinvara, but the midsole + ride easily won me over.  Maybe Saucony can mate the upper/last from the Peregrine to this midsole/outsole and have a truely outstanding shoe. 

I hope this review was helpful.  I will keep updating as I continue to run in these.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Altra Superior

I just caught wind of the new performance trail shoe by Altra.  This looks like an awesome shoe.  I was interested in the Lone Peak, but the weight really turned me off.  This on the other hand comes in around 8-9 oz!
I first saw these on the Altra website, but wondered if they were just the new colorway for the Lone Peak

Very cool, love the ability to add and subtract from a shoe to make it adaptable to different types of terrain.

They seem to have a more aggressive "non-flat" shaped sole, but are zero drop of course.


Here is a nice link with some more info.  I will try to find out more as well.  Expect to see this shoe featured in many of the "new trail shoes" from Summer OR 2012 that just took place.

Sounds like the Superior is due out in early October or perhaps even September.  This would be great as it would allow for people to use them for the numerous late fall races that will be taking place.

Monday, August 6, 2012

2Toms Sportshield Review

 Adios Body Glide!

                In running (ultrarunning?) circles, it seems that Body Glide is the quintessential anti-chafe product, and with good reason, the stuff works pretty well.  At least, that’s what I thought until I tried out a product in a similar market niche’ made by 2Toms:  Sportshield.  Now I wonder if I will ever use up my extra stock of Glide. 
                Last year, several of my running buddies succumbed to horrendous chaffing at Mohican, and I was sufficiently notified that I should make sure to avoid chaffing as much as possible as I made my attempt at the race.  Being given a stick of Sportshield to test out, 2 weeks before Mohican, must have been the running gods telling me to use this product.  And so I did, pretty much without having the opportunity to test it on a long run before the big one.  

                My usual chaffing areas are between my thighs, aka chub rub.  I applied a decent amount of Sportshield to the inside of my legs, and then also decided to put some on my ummm, nipples.  Friends know I can frequently be caught with duct tape covering my nipples to avoid chaffing/bleeding, but it’s kind of a strange thing to do, so I am always looking for alternatives.  Sportshield is a very viscous lube, unlike the slightly-firmer-than-peteroleum-jelly feeling that Body Glide has, Sportshield feels like a liquid.  Once applied, there is little evidence of its presence, except for the exceptionally slick feeling.  Apparently and uniquely, silicone is used in Sportshield and this makes it waterproof and very friction resistant.  Another thing I noticed was that it doesn’t seem to have that initial sticky feeling that I associate with having Body Glide between my thighs. 
                I survived Mohican, with absolutely no chaffing and I never had to reapply Sportshield, even after peeing on myself a little bit, on accident (TMI?).  I really liked the fact that I pretty much forgot it was there, and then never had to worry about it again all race.  It smells much better than Body Glide, in my opinion.  I also really like the roll-on application, reducing messiness.  I think the only downsides to Sportshield is that it can be difficult to tell how much you have left in your bottle, which I think could be remedied with the addition of a clear viewing port along the side of the product. It is also slightly more expensive than Body Glide, but I have been using my 1.5oz bottle for almost 2 months and it still sounds like there is liquid inside.  

 I have since tried it on my feet, and it also seems to help prevent hotspots.  2Toms makes another product, specifically for blister prevention, but I usually don’t run into blister problems, making it difficult for me to evaluate this product. 

**  I was given a free sample of Sportshield to test and evaluate**