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

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review of the La Sportiva Helios

Review of the Helios and a comparison to the Vertical K

I was a huge fan of the La Sportiva Vertical K, I was excited when I saw that the Helios was a similar shoe, but built with longer distances in mind.  Unfortunately, I don't wear my Vertical K's much anymore, as they either shrunk, or my feet grew, and all of a sudden they're too small.  I made sure to size up when ordering the Helios.

Usually I wear between an 11 and 11.5.  I have a pair of Vertical K's that are 45.0 - they're too small.  So I went with a 45.5 when I ordered the Helios, and they are just right, although if I wanted to wear big socks (Drymax Maxpro or Trail) I might find myself a little constricted.  I hope that helps anyone trying to figure out what size Helios to buy.

Helios foreground, Vertical K background

First Impressions
The Helios is heavier than the Vertical K.  I noticed it as soon as I took them out of the box.  I assume this is mostly due to the 2mm rockplate/eva layer that was added to the shoe in order to provide a little bit more protection.  La Sportiva also made some modifications to the upper.  Gone is the one-piece upper with built in scree guard.  Instead, La Sportiva has used a new "air mesh" upper, which I have to say is incredibly comfortable, although it doesn't look as sturdy as the scree guard upper.  

I've run about 100 miles in the Helios in the last 3 weeks, so I feel comfortable reviewing them.  I haven't noticed any hotspots or problems, which is a great start.  The local trails have oscillated between frozen mud and mucky mud, and the Helios handle both well.  

Speaking of the upper; the lacing system is much more traditional than most other La Sportiva shoes. Relatively thick laces with normal anchors provides a more customizable fit than can be achieved with laces that are hidden under a scree guard.  Also, a big bonus is the extra eyelet that can be used to tie the shoes in an ankle-lock down fashion, something I thought the Vertical K really would have benefited from.  While the Helios does not have a scree guard style upper, the tongue is gusseted, and I haven't noticed any problems when running through sand, so I'd say it works well.  The shoe also breathes very well with the air mesh that is used for the top of the upper.  I'm not big on sockless running, but even if I was, I don't think the Helios is built for it, there are exposed seems in several places.

The last difference in the upper between the Vertical K and the Helios is the overall stability provided by the upper.  The Helios has a substantial heel counter that probably adds a little weight, as well as thermoplastic overlays that are used to help secure the midfoot.  There has also been the addition of a pulltab on the heel of the Helios, which helps get them on and off quickly.

Gusseted Tongue

Thermoplastic overlays to secure the midfoot

Morphodynamic.  Pretty sweet.  Light and cushioned.  Actually, the Helios feels a little firmer than the Vertical K does.  I am not sure if this is due to the rockplate or whether it is because they used a midsole foam with a higher density.  Along with the slighter firmer ride is perhaps a lesser degree of flexibility.  Don't get me wrong, the wave pattern still allows for good flexibility, but it is not quite as slipper-like as the Vertical K.  I also feel like the back heel of the helios is not quite as cut-out as the Vertical K.  This might be why runningwarehouse spec's the Helios as a 5mm drop and the Vertical K as a 4mm drop.  I agree, the Helios feels not quite as minimal in general as the Vertical K.  This could be good or bad, depends on your preferences and the type of race you're running.  I should also mention that both shoes use a sticky Sportiva (FriXion AT) rubber that seems to wear pretty well.

Pretty similar outsole?

Morphodynamic in both

Conclusions/overall feeling
I think the Helios is very much what I expected.  A more robust version of the Vertical K.  The protection on gravel roads and local trails seems pretty good, although its hard to test them fully without making a trip to somewhere rockier.  The overall fit is excellent, the Helios feels wider in the toe-box than the Vertical K, and less pointed up towards the toes.  At first I was a tad disappointed by the fact that the Helios felt firmer than the Vertical K, but I adjusted pretty quickly, and now enjoy the energy transfer that a slightly firmer midsole allows.  Overall, I rate this shoe very highly.  Excellent fit, good traction, adequate protection and cushion, low drop, and fairly lightweight (8.5oz size 9 men's).  I think anyone who likes the Vertical K, but wants a little bit more for longer runs would find the Helios to be a nice compromise.  Also I think someone looking to step down from more traditional shoes would find this is a nice intermediate shoe that combines lightweight with moderate drop, and makes for an aggressive and comfortable ride.  I don't mind a little extra weight on my shoes when I feel it is put used for practical purposes, and I think that the extra 1.5-2oz on the Helios serves a purpose, making them a well-rounded trail shoe.

Are they built for Ultras?  Yes, I think so, but to be honest I haven't run more than 15 miles in them yet.  Its winter, give me some time and I'll try to get a few longer runs in.  The roomy toe box and extra protection really make them a nice shoe, def my favorite La Sportiva offering in a long time.


With insoles removed

My friend Mark just ran the 2013 Rocky Raccoon in his Helios, here is what he had to say about them:  " I wore these for 100 miles at Rocky Raccoon over the weekend. It was a drier year than last, and then the challenge is the dust and sand that often gets into the shoes and grinds away at your feet. The Vertical K's have the gaiter built in, but the Helios does it a little different. The real question to me was, does the Helios work. In a word, yes. I changed socks at about mile 72, due to a blister forming on the outside of my little toe. There was no sand or anything else to be removed from my shoes the, and the same was true at the end. I wore them for the full 100 miles, and I never regretted the choice. I kicked a number of roots, but none of them bothered my toes a bit-- though there was a little loss of blood involved. The Helios fine mesh must be an adequate virtual gaiter, and they seem to give me more support than the Vertical K for the long run."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Train, Race, Repeat

Yankee Springs 50k Race Report

My vision was starting to get a little bit blurry.  My legs feel real slow.  "Rocks in a blender" I believe is the scientific term.  Hmmm I think I might be bonking...  Mile 28 of Yankee Springs 50k.  

Then, I thought, recruit your hip flexors, and psoas muscles, engage your glutes, access those generally poorly-used muscles.  My cadence came back, and I went from a slow jog to a slow run.  Finally I was moving at a decent clip again. 

Flash Back to 10 days prior, when I was running in 12-15 inches of snow in and around Brown County and Bloomington with Scott Breeden.  5 hours a day. 4 days in a row, in fresh, deep, snow.  Oh crap my hip flexors, psaos muscles and glutes aren't used to this kind of running.  Holy crap my feet are cold.  This is awful and great at the same time.  Scott and I both approached the week with super positive attitudes, and this helped us have fun (although occasionally I found myself in the pain cave).  We averaged 4 miles per hour, day in and day out.  That's saying something if you know Scott Breeden.  

European shoes were the theme of the week

It was a tough training weekend.  Bloomington had been hit with a megastorm and we were too stubborn to change our plans.  But, this was what I call "character building".  Will Snyder met us and shot some film, making us look way cooler than we are.  Tim joined us for a run and we skied/ran part of the tecumseh trail system.  But the theme of the week; run until your legs are paralyzed from lactic acid, never changed.  I honestly have no idea what aerobic system or particular type of training we were doing.  It was partly awesome, because with all the fresh powder there was no pounding on your joints, but it was terrible because working at max capacity I might have been hitting 12 minute miles.  And then, sometimes I felt like I was skiing downhill, with varying levels of control.  Anyways, I came back stronger from this trip than I was before making the drive.  So when I started bonking at mile 28 of Yankee Springs, I told myself, yeah this sucks, but I know what to do. 

SB and JC near BC

Making tracks

Yankee Springs 50k
After a great night of sleep, aided by a nice warm cabin and a few Lagunitas brews, I found a spot up near the front of the pack for the start of the 50k, motioned Ryan Case to get up near me, and then the gun went off and it was on.
Luxury epitomized

After nearly missing the first turn, Ryan and I found ourselves in the lead, scurrying down a semi-slick snow covered dirt road .  After surveying the trails that crisscrossed the road for flags, we finally saw some marking and jumped onto the single track.  I was a step or two ahead of Ryan, and was like oh crap I'm in the lead, what the heck do I do now?  Well logically, go really hard, like blow up pace, and then try to hang on. 

Then as if wearing jet-packs, a runner came up behind me and stayed there.  We chatted for a while about races we had done and were thinking about doing, he seemed like a nice guy, albeit, seriously fast.  We ran past Ben Vanhoose who shouted out some encouragement and took a photo or two and gave me a hard time about my pre race statement of "taking it easy at this race" which had totally gone out the window when I found myself in the lead.  I let Jordan know that if he wanted to pass me, just say the word and I'd let him by.  We ran together for a few more miles then Jordan smoked on by and I didn't see him again until the end of the race.
Me with Jordan right behind (photo Ben Vanhoose)

Deciding I would defend second and try to save face by running under the course record (3:50), I pushed the pace as hard as I dared.  I was totally overdressed and sweating a lot by the time I got through 10 miles.  Fumbling around with my had and extra coat, I eventually shoved everything into the back of my tights.  So if my butt looks big in some pictures, I have a legit excuse, OK?

I finished the first 15.5 mile loop in 1:51, which was pretty quick for icy trails I thought, but made no progress on reining in Jordan.  I quickly threw my extra layers by the drop bags (which I had not even bothered packing i.e. stupid move), desperately wishing I had a fresh bottle and a couple extra gels to grab.
Pain cave (Photo Mark Robillard)

The second loop was flying by, until I came to the hillier back half.  It seemed like someone made the hills a little taller on the second loop...  hmm strange.  And the trail was starting to get chewed up as 200+ people had now run through.  And the gatoraide I got at the aid station was too sweet.  And I had to pee.  And I only had one gel left.  And my toe had a blister.  See lots of excuses!

I slowed down quite a bit. 

At mile 28 I thought I was bonking, so I took my last gel and stopped for a quick pee.  I heard cheers not far behind me and knew someone was closing in.  I started running again. 

My vision was starting to get a little bit blurry.  My legs feel real slow.  "Rocks in a blender" I believe is the scientific term.  Hmmm I think I might be bonking...  Mile 28 of Yankee Springs 50k.  

Then, I thought, recruit your hip flexors, and psoas muscles, engage your glutes, access those generally poorly-used muscles.  My cadence came back, and I went from a slow jog to a slow run.  Finally I was moving at a decent clip again. 

I focused on accessing and recruiting these muscles for the last three miles and thought about how much easier this was than running in a foot of snow.  I crossed the line happy to have recovered and feeling good, thinking I was in 2nd, but at least under the old course record.  Then I found out I was 1st.  Apparently Jordan had taken a wrong turn (bummer) on the first loop and never caught back up.  So now,  I win, I guess, I still feel like I didn't totally deserve it.  And then Ryan Case came flying across the finish line only 50 second behind me, taking 2nd!  

Glad to be done

Ryan's wife Alaina came in soon after that, earning second female.  So they were 2nd male and 2nd female, too cute guys.  I know you planned it that way.  Our other cabin-mate Tim came running in soon too, and then we celebrated another Ultra well-run with a nice bonfire, some adult beverages and refueled with whatever was close-by.  The next morning we went for a nice shakeout run, staying in tight formation, herded along by Ryan and Alaina's sheep dog.
Get herded by Cody

Take home message
Train hard, recruit unused muscles, remember to use them when you race.  Never give up, you never know what might happen.   Running in snow is fun.  Always have fun.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Limiting GI Distress - Low FODMAP diets

Low FODMAP diets
Basic Application and Thoughts on Race Circumstances

Huh?  Fogmaps?  Frogmats?  Whaaa???

Up until recently, I had never heard of FODMAPs.  Then I went Paleo, and lots of new nutrition theory started sprouting up.  Honestly some is garbage and/or poorly interpreted research, but I actually think there is a lot of good scientific thought being put out there as well.  One of the term's I became most interested in, was the term FODMAP and how it was suggested to help people with digestive problems, specifically Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (1).  Then, I had the opportunity to attend an excellent seminar in our department on the topic.

I contacted the speaker afterwords, and she sent along a binder full of articles and links to another dozen studies focused on gastrointestinal health and the low-FODMAP diet (thanks Lexi!). 

So, with no further time wasting!


Stands for:   Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.
These are an otherwise unrelated group of carbohydrates that have a short chain length and can be fermented in the small intestine or colon and are thought to contribute to IBS in many individuals.

Examples of problematic short chain carbohydrates (2):

Oligosaccharides:  Fructo-oligosacchardies aka Fructans (found in wheat, rye, onions, artichokes) and galacto-oligosaccharides aka Galactans (found in legumes)
Disaccharides:  Lactose, maltose, sucrose (rare)
Monosaccharides:  Fructose
Polyols:  Sorbitol, mannitol, other –ol molecules

Short chain length is important to mention, as this is what makes these carbohydrates so readily fermented by the microbiome living within our gut.  What happens when we have fermentation in the gut?  Well, mostly gas, so you might start farting up a storm, but other, less amusing things happen too…

What I would suggest is that FODMAPs are mostly a component in foods that lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, whether it be diarrhea or bloating, both; these are totally not good for an ultrarunner (or anyone with a sensitive stomach).

Gastrointestinal discomfort
So what causes GI issues?  Well if you subscribe to the theories presented by researchers using low-FODMAP diets to treat patients, the etiology behind many of these GI issues is related the nervous system within the gut, known as the enteric nervous system (2,3).  Yeah, your intestines have a mind of their own.  The nerves that innervate the small and large intestine sense a variety of chemical signals as well as function as pressure sensors.  Persons with GI issues such as IBS are thought to suffer from over excessive activation of this nervous system (visceral hypersensitivity) which in turn communicates with the brain as well as activates smooth muscle within the intestine itself resulting in diarrhea and/or motility issues. 

Yet, in order for the gut to be hypersensitive, we must have some initial insult.  This is where FODMAPs and food chemicals are thought to play a role.  It is thought that the initial insult in many cases is something known as luminal distension.  This can lead to the feeling of pain and bloating, visible swelling of the abdomen, and also motility changes (3).  Based on this hypothesis, a dietary intervention has been recently implemented (mostly in Australia it seems) in order to minimize luminal distension. 

Luminal distension is though to be the result of mostly gas and fluid build up in the large intestine.  Gas is mostly a product of excessive fermentation in the colon and possibly the distal small intestine if the person has overgrowth of colonic bacteria (3).  The majority of fluids are normally absorbed  in the small intestine so that the feces is not too watery.  However, an excessive concentration of these small molecules results in poor absorption during transit through the small intestine; then they will pull water with them into the colon, resulting in luminal distension, even in normally healthy persons without hypersensitivity (3, 4). 

How to FODMAPs play into this all?  Well, diets high in FODMAPs provide large amounts of fermentable molecules to hungry bacteria in the colon and/or result in excessive fluid being pulled into the colon due to the osmotic influence of unabsorbed molecules such as polyols (3, 5).  In order to describe diets that are high or low in FODMAPs, foods have been analyzed and categorized for the various FODMAPs they contain (Table 1).    

Table 1:  Foods high in FODMAPs and alternative food choices.  Adapted from (5)

How does one approach this intervention if they feel it might be beneficial for them?  Well, I’m not an expert in this field, nor a dietitian, but what I have read suggests removing all FODMAPs from the diet and slowly reintroducing specific groups or foods and seeing if you are hypersensitive to these foods.  While some may find that they are sensitive to a wide range of FODMAPs others are only sensitive to a few select molecules.  Interestingly, this concept is already in practice and many do not realize it!  Hypolactasia (aka lactose intolerance) results in gastrointestinal discomfort including bloating, gas and diarrhea, thus people who suspect they suffer from this condition avoid consuming foods high in lactose.  Lactose is an excellent example because it highlights a very important issue concerning regulation of FODMAPs in ones diet:  individual sensitivity. 

Another case in which this is evident is the absorption pattern of fructose.  There seems to be a large range in peoples ability to absorb fructose, probably regulated by a genetic component (6).  Furthermore, the concentration of free fructose is the major contributor to fructose malabsorption as its absorption rate is determined by the ratio of glucose:fructose.  If fructose is consumed in concert with glucose, for example as  sucrose (a disaccharide containing both a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose), it is unlikely to cause GI symptoms, however, if one was to consume the same caloric quantity of pure free fructose, they would be more likely to develop GI symptoms.  

Are low FODMAP diets effective?

The short answer:  YES.  In people with IBS, low FODMAP diets have been shown to be extremely effective in reducing symptoms and discomfort, while re-introduction of FODMAPs usually results in the onset of new symptoms (3).  So if you’re a person with IBS this may be a dietary change that you want to consider.

FODMAPs and Running
I could have titled this section “Low FODMAP diets for the runs” but that would have been too obvious.  

How can a low FODMAP diet be beneficial for you as a runner?  Well if you have IBS, the application is pretty clear.  Those suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms are found to have changes in mood and fatigue levels after removing FODMAPs from their diets not to mention the fact that IBS induced diarrhea and gastrointestinal inflammation results in poor nutrient absorption and dehydration.  

Beyond treating IBS with a low FODMAP diet, to me, the application seems that this dietary pattern may be useful on a day to day basis when thinking about what to have for a snack before a run.  I’ve often heard it recommended avoiding foods containing too much fiber before going for a run, while lactose containing products are also often avoided.  
You know what I mean

While a low FODMAPs diet does not necessarily eliminate fiber from the pre-run snack, there is considerable benefit to limiting the amount of fermentable carbohydrates from the pre-run snack, both for you and your running partner.  Furthermore, foods containing polyols and other osmotically active FODMAPs likely contribute to increased gastric motility, a problem to which runners are particularly susceptible (7).   

In my opinion, the most important application of a low FODMAP diet is using this dietary pattern to make food choices the day before and even during a big race.  No one likes to deal with gastrointestinal issues while running 50 or 100 miles or a marathon.  Racing in particular stands out; people who normally do not have sensitive stomachs may notice an increase in gastrointestinal issues at higher effort levels (8).  Furthermore, dehydration due to diarrhea could put ones chances at finishing a race in severe jepordy.  I also think most race day (or week) nutrition strategies are also good strategies to implement when preparing for long runs and trying a low FODMAP diet several days before and up to a long run or race has the potential to be very beneficial to runners.  I should point out that the typical (although often innappriate) carbohydrate loading process involves eating a massive amount of pasta the night before a race.  If you look at table 1 you will notice that consumption of wheat products, especially large amounts, results in a large intake of fructans, thus many runners maybe be giving themselves a large dose of FODMAPs the night before an important race.  By avoiding these foods, keeping portion size in mind, and experimenting to find what works for them, some people might find some success with this dietary approach.  

Lastly, I should point out that many of the foods described above contain not only FODMAPs but other potentially irritating food components and chemicals such as gluten, salicylates, and allergens such as wheat, soy, milk proteins, amines and glutamates, as well as food additives such as benzoates, sulfites, and nitrates.  But seriously, that is an entire new can of worms.  Furthermore, gastrointestinal motility is under the control of multiple physiological systems, and can also be stimulated by caffeine and nicotine, something to keep in mind when trying to figure out why you spent 30 minutes hiding behind a tree at your last race.

Low FODMAP diets are rather restrictive and may influence dietary quality depending on an individuals sensitivity.  Furthermore, many FODMAPs actually serve as prebiotics, thus by restricting these food components over the long term, one might change their micobiome.  If there is a reduction in fiber consumption due to the low FODMAP diet, this may influence ones risk of colorectal cancer and this should be taken into consideration.  While this dietary pattern has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for those suffering from IBS, it may not be appropriate for everyone.  It should be kept in mind that this type of diet has application for runners, but that it might not be the overall healthiest way of eating, merely a tool.  I think you will start to hear more about this type of diet (if you haven't already) as it makes its way into the USA from Australia and abroad.  

Works Cited

1.         Ong DK, Mitchell SB, Barrett JS, Shepherd SJ, Irving PM, Biesiekierski JR, Smith S, Gibson PR, Muir JG. Manipulation of dietary short chain carbohydrates alters the pattern of gas production and genesis of symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome. J Gastroenterol Hepatol.  Aug;25:1366-73.
2.         Barrett JS, Gibson PR. Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) and nonallergic food intolerance: FODMAPs or food chemicals? Therap Adv Gastroenterol.  Jul;5:261-8.
3.         Gibson PR, Shepherd SJ. Food choice as a key management strategy for functional gastrointestinal symptoms. Am J Gastroenterol.  May;107:657-66; quiz 67.
4.         Clausen MR, Jorgensen J, Mortensen PB. Comparison of diarrhea induced by ingestion of fructooligosaccharide Idolax and disaccharide lactulose: role of osmolarity versus fermentation of malabsorbed carbohydrate. Dig Dis Sci. 1998 Dec;43:2696-707.
5.         Gibson PR, Shepherd SJ. Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach. J Gastroenterol Hepatol.  Feb;25:252-8.
6.         Barrett JS, Irving PM, Shepherd SJ, Muir JG, Gibson PR. Comparison of the prevalence of fructose and lactose malabsorption across chronic intestinal disorders. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Jul 1;30:165-74.
7.         Rehrer NJ, Brouns F, Beckers EJ, Frey WO, Villiger B, Riddoch CJ, Menheere PP, Saris WH. Physiological changes and gastro-intestinal symptoms as a result of ultra-endurance running. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1992;64:1-8.
8.         de Oliveira EP, Burini RC. The impact of physical exercise on the gastrointestinal tract. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009 Sep;12:533-8.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 in Review

What a fantastic year.  Looking back at 2012 I realize how lucky I am to have had so many amazing experiences and the ability to connect with nature in such a profound fashion.

The total mileage for the year was 4975.1 miles, only 25 shy of 5000!  Had I realized I was going to be so close several weeks ago I might have tried to get in a few more miles to even it out, but in the end this is just an arbitrary number.  I also noticed that I ran top 10 in all my races this year, which is an encouraging sign.  However, what is most important, I think, is that I am just as energized and enthusiastic about ultrarunning as I have ever been.  A new found ability to push myself further and faster than ever before has me seeking new running experiences and wondering what the limit of performance might be.  I will be looking to explore this avenue in 2013.

With no further philosophical rambling I now will present my "best of" list from 2012 and think back on some of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my entire life.

Top 5 runs of 2012.

1.  Great Smoky Mountain National Park - I was lucky enough to visit this park twice in 2012 and the trails there are truly something special.  There is one run in particular that really stands out in my mind. Jason and I were out for almost 6 hours navigating to the top of Mt. LeConte via the Boulvevard trail and then bombing hard down Alum Caves trail.  It was our very first run of our trip and we took full advantage of it.

2.  Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore - I'm not sure if I can remember a run that was quite so pleasurable as this one.  Ben and I had beautiful weather and the trails almost entirely to ourselves.  Day after day we explored the national lakeshore and everytime we ran to the lake I just wanted to stop and stare.

3.  Mohican 100 mile - Hard to explain why this is one of my favorite runs of 2012.  It was probably the hardest, mentally and physically.  I came into the race overtrained and did not have the mental focus required to have fun while running 100 miles.  Somewhere in there though, at about mile 55-60 I realized I had a shot at finishing, and found some serious energy and turned on the boosters and finished strong.  I learned a lot at this race; including being patient with your body.

4.  Tecumseh Trail Double Marathon - It'd be hard not to put the TTDM in here.  This was just good fun with friends.  If you've never run b2b marathons with a bunch of like minded dummies, you should think about trying it.  And the highlight of running a marathon is that you aren't totally destroyed afterwards and still feel pretty enthusiastic.

5.  Potawatomi Double - Not sure how many times I've run this trail since I first attempted it in 2009.  Maybe 50, maybe more.  Its technical in areas, rocky in areas, steep in areas, and very runnable in other areas.  Some days it totally beats me down leaving my legs feeling like lead, some days I fly up and down the hills and float over the roots.  So when I was getting ready for the spring racing season, I headed to the Poto and ran a solo 36 mile training run in the woods.  Strange that all my other "top runs" of 2012 were with friends, but this one was solo.  It was an awesome experience - running the 18 mile loop 1x usually leaves me feeling satisfied with my effort - but just this one time I decided to push and do it twice.  I'll aim to do this again in 2013 as it was an experience in self discipline and determination.