Friday, May 8, 2009

Race Report: Promise Land 50k

Promise Land 50k
Race #3 of 6 in the Beast Series
April 25, 2009

Wow am I late to post this race report. Mea culpa. After dealing with an ego-crushing performance at Promise Land, I had to face the facts and make the (smart) decision to drop from MMT, thus pushing back my hopes and dreams of running my first 100. I was so caught up in this decision and worried about getting my ITB better that I totally forgot to write a recap.

I have since forgotten most of the little details from that day, so instead here are some pictures with random commentary.

Some speedy mofos - Amy Sproston, Bethany Patterson and Keith Knipling

Why do Horton's races always start so early?

A few days before the race I was out on an easy 8 mile run when my ITB started to act up again. I thought it had been fully healed since I was able to run Terrpain Mountain a few weeks back with no problems. I guess I was adding on the weekly mileage a bit too fast. Knowing that the ITB was being problematic, I knew that today was going to be a tough one, but I also knew that if I wanted to stay in the Beast Series, I had to at least finish under the cutoffs.

My two goals for the year were to 1) finish MMT as my first 100 and 2) complete all 6 Beast Series races. Running Promise Land was going to possibly exacerbate my injury, but if I didn't run it then I was definitely out of the Beast and there was no guarantee that I'd be healed for MMT just three weeks away. I decided on running Promise Land to at least stay in the Series, and if all went well then I could still do MMT.

I forced myself to start towards the back of the pack so as to not be tempted to run fast. It also was a nice chance to run with folks whom I normally don't see until post-race activities. So off I went, slowly making my way in hopes that the pace would please the knee.

Heading into Aid Station #1 after climbing for ~4 miles right from the start

The first few miles weren't that bad. It was dark but all the runners were pretty close together. I found myself running/walking with Martha Wright and Q. They both promised to crack the whip and keep me running at a conservative pace. Taking it slow seemed to be working and I wasn't losing too much ground because it was all climbing and everyone was walking. After a few more miles though, despite my best efforts the ITB started to ache with every step. Crap.

I have to give it Promise Land, it was a nice looking course.

Me. Smiling despite the pain.

The ITB pain would come and go a few times during the first 15 or so miles, and during the times when I was able to run it was actually pretty enjoyable. There was a very scenic section of rolling jeep roads that I recall being gorgeous, but somewhere around this point I noticed an unusually high amount of moisture on my back? "Why am I sweating so much? Wait, why is my sweat cold??" Apparently the bladder in my Nathan pack had sprung a leak and was slowly draining itself down my lower back and soaking my shorts. Awesome!

I did my best at the next aid station to make an impromptu repair with the ever-useful duct tape. Unfortunately duct tape doesn't hold up well in wet conditions so I was stuck wearing a useless pack (ok ok, it did a graet job of holding my gels). Luckily my good friend and fellow Brooks athlete Alisa Springman came to the rescue and lent me one of her handhelds. I was saved!

From this point on I did a mixture of running (with pain) and walking (when the pain was just too much). This was quite frustrating because I felt fine in terms of cardiovascular and muscular endurance, but the acute ITB pain had become so intolerable at times that I wasn't able to bend my leg, so I looked like a peg-leg pirate with a totally straight leg that had to be swung around. I'm sure it was fun to watch, but it definitely was not fun to endure.

Again with the nice views

I ran with Q and Alisa for a good while. Q is someone I don't normally get to run with, so that was nice, and Alisa is normally a speedy one but she had just run 100 miles at McNaughton 2 weeks prior and then 50 miles at Bull Run the weekend before this race. Alisa and I discussed plans for Badwater (I'll be pacing her there this summer) and Q and I discussed... who the hell knows, probably making fun of people and talking about bourbon (he's quite a fan). We actually did talk some serious stuff though, and when discussing my injury and race plans, this is where I made the decision to drop from MMT. Q agreed that this was a smart move, and from that point on I felt like I had lifted a huge weight from my shoulders because now there was no pressure to perform in the coming weeks. All would be well and I would be recovered soon enough.

Me and Q resting at the waterfall.

Waterfall commentary

These bastards came after the waterfall... and with my pegleg it seemed like they went on forever.

A few miles after the waterfall and the steps, we made our way back to the wide open aid station on top of the mountain pictured below. We had been there earlier in the day as well (sorry I don't know names or mileages at these points, I'm more of an MMT guy myself).

Alisa and some others refueling after a long climb, getting ready to start running again.

After topping the mountain we headed back down for the last quarter or so of the race. Most were relieved to be given the opportunity to run once again. I was not so lucky, and proceeded to walk down.

After passing the final aid station, the pain in my ITB magically disappeared and I was able to run for the first time in what seemed like ages. It was roughly 4 miles to the finish, all downhill, and I ran every step of the way. This is probably the only time during the day when I felt the horrible heat that I was expecting so much from. It wasn't all the bad, but after conferring with others afterwards, I think my experience was the exception.

Crossing the field and approaching the finish line

As I approached the finish line, I could hear Horton on the microphone announcing "Here comes Bobby Gill - living up to his #9 seed". Not really the greatest of things to hear when I was enjoying a rare brief moment of satisfaction just for being finished with the damn race under the cutoffs. I clearly was nowhere near #9, probably more like 109, but whatever, I was still in the Beast Series (although with some pretty slow times) and the only pressing goal I had was to rest and heal up.

My finishing time was 7:30:05. This is actually faster than I had thought I would run. I was anticipating more of a death march and coming in right under the cutoff. I guess my walking pace is quite fast, so that helps.

So there you have it, my Promise Land race report. Very anticlimactic and it was only a month late!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Gear Review: Sole Ultra Insoles is currently premiering a series of gear reviews that are tested and written by the loyal readers. As part of this series, I received a pair of SOLE Ultra Softec Heat Moldable Custom Footbeds (insoles).

The insoles are constructed with a moldable EVA base, open-cell polyurethane cushioning and a perforated polyester weave topsheet for moisture wicking. Of the seven available SOLE insoles, the Ultra Softec's are the thickest with 3.2mm of cushioning.

Testing supplies - Brooks Cascadia 3s and SOLE Ultra Softecs

While these insoles could be slid into your shoes straight out of the packaging, for optimal results you should first heat-mold them. To do this, you pre-heat the oven to 200 F and pop them in for 2 minutes. On the bottom of the insole is a box that changes color when they are soft enough for molding. When I removed mine from the oven the box hadn't changed color so I put them back in for another 2. Still nothing. Either the indicator was malfunctioning or my oven was. It is entirely possible it was my oven, but I really don't know. I decided 4 minutes had to be plenty of time and they had to be ready so I removed them from the oven and inserted them into my Cascadias. I laced the shoes up and stood in them perfectly still with a neutral stance shoulder-width apart for two minutes, just as the instructions say. Molding process complete.

Before I get into the performance of the insoles, I should give some background on my particular biomechanics and typical footwear choices since both of these factors influence my assessment. I have a fairly neutral gait and wide (ok ok... fat) feet. Because of my wide feet I prefer the wide toebox of Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes. I normally run with blue Superfeet insoles per the recommendation of my physical therapist to give my arches some added support during foot-strike and hopefully prevent injury. Below is a visual comparison of the Brooks Cascadia factory insoles, my used blue Superfeet, and the SOLE Ultra Softecs that were tested.

Various Insoles top view (L-R) - Cascadia 3s, Superfeet and Ultra Softecs

Various insoles bottom view (L-R) - Cascadias, Superfeet and Ultra Softecs

Various insoles side view (L-R) - Cascadias, Superfeet and Ultra Softecs

I tested the Ultra Softecs for two weeks on multiple trail runs ranging from 4 miles to 16 miles. On my first run with them my intial impression was that they were relatively comfortable, but after putting a few miles in my metatarsals started to get noticeably cramped. Thinking this may be due to the switch from Superfeet to SOLEs, I kept wearing them but the cramping never ceased. This produced serious discomfort on my runs that I definitely would not be able to tolerate in an ultra.

I believe the cramping of my metatarsals was due to the increased thickness of the Ultra Softecs compared to my Superfeet. They are approximately three times thicker and I apparently need all the space I can get to keep my dogs from barking. Because of this metatarsal cramping I was unable to get a good feel for how the molded footbed performs supporting the foot. SOLEs are popular insoles so I imagine I might have better luck with one of the thinner insoles in the SOLE product line such as the Softec Regulars or the Slim Sports.

Overall, I would not recommend the SOLE Softec Ultras to someone who has wide/fat feet and needs space in their shoe, but I wouldn't not recommend them to someone with normal sized feet since it is possible the molded footbed could provide valuable arch support.