Not a Laurel Valley Race Report

It’s hard to believe I’ve run this race four (4) times now

In 2007, it took me 12:14 (as a sweep, but I still couldn’t have run it any faster).

In 2008, 8:42 and 21st place overall.

In 2009, 8:11 and 13th place overall.

And this year 2010, 7:40 and 5th place overall.

Interestingly, in both 2009 and 2010, I shaved exactly 31 minutes off the previous year’s time.

If I can keep this up, by 2012 I can go sub-7 at this beast.

As hard as Laurel Valley is, I can’t even imagine that…

On a quest to become a better, faster, stronger running athlete

I say “running athlete” because I’m not “just a runner.”

I feel like I came to the ultra world sorta back-ass-wards.

Because I was exposed to ultramarathons via Dean Karnazes’ book, UltramarathonMan, I started running with the ultimate goal of running a really long way. It just came at a time in my life when I could identify with the same frustrations that ultimately brought the author back to running, and I wanted to change my life in many of the same ways he changed his.

But Dean had been a runner before, and was returning to the sport – I think I forgot that I was just a fat ass behind a computer who had never been a runner to begin with.

Smelling the roses

When I first started running, and eventually participating in ultramarathons, I accepted the fact that I was fat and slow, AND not exactly getting younger. I fell into the mindset of running ultras for the camaraderie and the “day in the woods.”

At first, I didn’t care about times, I was just in a total honeymoon phase with distance running and all the cool new people I was meeting.

I ran my first marathon in way over 5.5 hours. By the time I got there, the race officials were tearing down the scaffolding and my wife and step’fella were the only people left still milling around.

Dead last in my age group.

But I was happy.

I then ran the SweetH20 50K, a challenging 31-mile race in west Georgia, six months after the marathon and it took me well over eight (8) hours to do that, as well.

I was slow, but I was happy.

“Plenty of people run ultras with a purpose” — Gary Cantrell

Then today, I read the above statement on an ultrarunning email list and it’s an attitude that has resonated with me for some time now.

Somewhere in the middle of all this running, something changed.

I started to lose weight.

I started to become stronger, healthier, and fitter.

By 2008, a full year as a runner had passed, and I found myself attempting the same races for a second time; but this time, I really wanted to do better than before. In races under 100-miles, it was no longer acceptable to me to say, “my goal is to finish.”

And if I did, it was a lie, because in my heart I really wanted to do better than the last time I ran the same course.

All brawn, no brains

Problem was (and still is, really) I had all these goals of improving, but no plan. I wanted to get faster and move up from the back of the pack, but I had absolutely no idea how.

I wasn’t really a runner. At least, not a knowledgeable nor experienced one.

It wasn’t (isn’t) for lack of information, advice or experienced guidance. I had that all around me then, …and especially now.

It’s simply a lack of being mature enough to listen and to put the good advice to practice.

I once scored a phenomenal score on some kind of Coast Guard military entrance exam when I lived in Hawaii. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had just graduated from college, moved out there to surf, and admired the Hell out of an older surfing buddy in Waikiki that was in the Coast Guard and got to surf every morning, go to the Coast Guard base for the work day, and then surf all night. He even got to travel to Somoa a bunch – and surf there, too!

Sounded perfect.

But, when I told my grandfather, who knows me better than anyone else on the planet, that I killed the test and would be accepted in the Coast Guard as some kind of officer dude, he didn’t say anything at first. I thought he’d be so stoked since he was this kick-ass fighter pilot flying P-51 Mustangs all over Asia in WWII, but instead he just cautioned me over and over to reconsider… …saying that I was “not good at being told what to do” and that “bucking people in the service is no joke” and “I would need to learn to listen more and talk less.”

It scared me away from the gig, and I took the job as a fine dining waiter at the Prince Kuhio Hotel instead, walking around Waikiki with sandy feet, ass-cracked baggy shorts, still immature and still just surfing all day.

My grandad was right.

For better or worse, I’m a “do it my way” kinda dude.

Back to basics

Then, one day it just sort of dawned on me.

To be a better runner, …I need to be better at running.

My first move was to gain a better understanding of running mechanics and what kind of running was most efficient for me. I took POSE classes, CrossFit Endurance training (which teaches POSE), and migrated to a more minimalist shoe.

Right or wrong, it just makes sense to me that minimalism makes a stronger foot, with stronger support muscles, equating to better performance and less injury overall.

I then began to strengthen my core and continue to focus on not-so-much just general weight loss, but weight “redistribution.” And I continue to work on this today, …and will most likely continue into the future for a very long time. Body weight is an issue for me.

All the while, I continued participating in events, and started to improve, but still felt like something was still missing…

Then along comes speed work

And boy do I love me some speed work.

Remember the whole “back-ass-wards” thing above? Well, It was becoming clear to me that I should have probably started running 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons before diving right into marathons and ultramarathons.

I had trained myself to go long, but not without significant suffering and a serious lack of speed.

So I set some goals to become a stronger runner at shorter distances. I believe that if I can get faster at 5Ks and 10Ks, and half-marathons and marathons, this increase in speed will produce a stronger runner, capable of further improving in ultramarathons (or any other athletic endeavor)

Since 2009, I’ve brought my 10K down from 51 minutes, to 47 …then 47 to 45 …then 45-43, before finally hitting a 41:47 at the end of the year and qualifying for a sub-seeded spot in the Peachtree Road Race.

In the 5K, I brought my times down from 27 minutes to 19:44, also, all in one year.

For long-time runners, 41:47 and 19:44 is most likely pretty slow; but for a dude who put in the work and transformed himself from a sloth, to a sub-seeded athlete, it was truly a feeling of real honest to goodness accomplishment.

I now have goals of becoming a top-seed in the Peachtree Road Race. It requires shaving another 3:47 off the 10K (sub-38) and another 1:24 (sub-18:20) off the 5K, but I am 100% convinced that I will get there because I believe it, want it, will train for it, and most of all love every second of the intense training.

Good boy, but what does this have to do with Laurel Valley?

Oh snap, I went on a crazy tangent and forgot I was writing an LV report.

Naw, the reason for all that rah-rah above is to illustrate my belief that the best thing I could have ever done for my running was to go back to basics and work from the bottom up. Build a better foundation. Try to become a stronger, more knowledgeable and aware runner.

Because when I hit that humid, root-covered trail at Rocky Bottom at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, I felt ready.

I don’t think I have ever been as focused for an ultra as I was for Laurel Valley. I didn’t fear the distance, nor the lack of support, and I hit that trail with a new found sense of who I was as a runner.

I suppose I should have gone on about the beauty of the course, the awesome RD, the great time I had running with some of my ultra heroes and friends; but, that’s not how it came out today.

Sorry.

Still have a lot to learn

I know I’m not the most humble man, but I speak how I think and how I feel and what consumes my focus at the time. I’m ADHD, so it might be different by the time I hit ‘send’, but I’m really really happy right now.

I’m happy with the sport.

I’m happy running faster …both short and long.

I’m happy with my training and my progress and freedom to run events whenever I want to.

I’m happy with the people who I have around me and who support me and who push me …and who also tell me when I’m going a little crazy.

‘cuz I am a little crazy.

Rock on runners …and otherwise. That’s my LV report this year.

New Balance MT101 Review | It Keeps Getting Better

New Balance MT101 trail shoe

MT101 picks up where the MT100 left off

The MT101s are the follow-up to the MT100 trail shoe. As a huge fan of new Balance minimalist trail shoes, I was very excited to learn more about the newest release from the company, and better yet, put them to test on some good ol’ rugged trail.

Thanks to a really cool dude at New Balance, I got my hands on a pair of pre-release MT101s just in time for the Laurel Valley Whitewater Run in the Foothills of South Carolina. Laurel Valley is a self-supported, 35-ish mile trail race and is known as one of the most rugged, toughest trail races in the Southeast – the perfect venue for putting the kicks to a serious test.

What’s different in the MT101?

In an email from New Balance product manager Bryan Gothie, he offered a summary of the shoe modifications:

The 101 is an upper only update that incorporates a ton of Anton’s [Anton Krupicka] feedback.  He was looking for more stability in the upper, especially on the downhills, and some added lateral support as well.  We also added a little more protection to the tongue and found a way to manufacture the heel EVA collar so that it finishes with a cleaner lip.  Those are the big functional updates, cosmetically we decided to step it up a little.  There is a little more pep to the materials on this version and the color choice, as well as the amount of, is also enhanced.

And once my pair arrived, I found all of this to be true, …along with a few other surprises.

The MT101 seems to be a wider shoe

MT101 front view

The pair of MT101s that I received are exactly the same size as all of my MT100s (10.5) but the 101s are noticeably wider and roomier, and especially in the toe box area. Check out the comparison below between a pair of MT100s and MT101s, both size 10.5 — by the way, {click} any of the images in this review for a larger, 900px screen-filling view.

MT100 and MT101 side by side

The MT101s are green, and the MT100s are the gray shoes. It’s tough to really see the width difference, but notice the different positioning of some of the support pieces, including the additional upper support at the bottom of the laces. The toe tip has also been changed to a tougher material that softens the blow when kicking a nasty root or rock. I welcomed this improvement often during the Laurel Valley race.

More side upper support doesn’t mean heavier

mt100 mt101 inside compare

Notice a complete restructuring of the side support, and especially the upper. The material used for the lateral support feels like a tougher, more rugged plastic, as opposed to the cloth-like support materials in the MT100s; however, that new “fanned-out” support piece does utilize a sort of firm cloth and feels really snug around the top of the foot.

mt100 mt101 outside compare

Here on the outside of the New Balance shoe you can see stronger attention to support in the upper. Again, {click} for a larger view on any of the shoe images.

Who doesn’t like a little more tongue?

Ok, that was bad, but I bet it got your attention. {wink}

The 101 has a slightly thicker tongue. Why? I really don’t know. The change is so slight, so I really can’t tell whether it matters or not. Still, the tongue is very lean and as minimalist as I’ve ever seen in any other shoe, and is still one of my favorite features of both models.

mt101 tongue

What about the achilles issue of the shoe back?

mt101 back

For one, I’ve never experienced the “digging” issues that others have reported. I believe this has a lot to do with heel striking, but regardless what I think, it’s a popular complaint in the comments of my MT100 review. New Balance has lowered the back a little (as you can see in the side comparisons a couple of images above). I thought the rubber might have come back a little softer this time, but it seems to be the exact same material.

Still smells bad. Hey New Balance – why the stinky rubber?

Putting the MT101s to the test at Laurel Valley

Let me just say right now that I am sold. I love the shoe.

Because of the new width, I probably could have tightened them down a bit more for the race as I found my feet jamming into the toe box during steep descents and I slid around in the shoe when negotiating some gnarly rocky sections. I didn’t get any blisters, though, so it must not have been too bad.

I ran Laural Valley hard, chasing some time goals, and the shoes  performed perfectly, carrying me to a PR on the course.

The good:

  • So very, very light. Under 7 oz.
  • Good grip on the climbs. We got caught in a couple downpours and the shoes handled muddy climbs beautifully.
  • Quick-dry. There are lots of water crossings at LV and the shoes excrete water very quickly.

The bad:

  • Like the 100s, the shoes let in more dirt and debris than others. I found myself having to stop and pull crap out of them from time to time.
  • Those lame laces. I’m just not buying into the New Balance sure lace™ concept. The laces come untied more frequently than, say, my road racing flats which are just simple, thin light laces.

The bottom line – the MT101 is an excellent minimalist trail shoe.

Period.

It’s light, rugged, grippy and fits like a glove. The new upper support feels nice and snug, and the increased attention to rock and root protection is noticeable and makes a real difference out on the trail.

I’m proud to report that I had one of my best days ever at Laurel Valley, scoring a 31 minute PR and 5th place overall, and I attribute much of this success to the MT101.

Would love to hear other’s experiences, so comment away!