The Monkey vs The Mountain vs The Mafate

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A (somewhat serious) review of three shoes I wear/have worn: The Luna Mono, The Altra Olympus and the Hoka Mafate 2

So, I used to run in the Hoka Mafate’s, I’ve been running in the Luna Mono’s for about 6 months and just got my pair of Altra Olympus’ and I thought to myself: Has anyone reviewed/compared the 3?  A quick search showed a scattering of reviews, but none that compared all three, so I decided to take on the task for others, like me, that are looking for guidance in a sea of choices.  Arguably, all three are different in their own way, but there are a lot of similarities that make the comparisons less than ridiculous.

My conclusion is at the end of this brief review, so if you’re the impatient type, you can scroll down. ☺

First: The look

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The first thing you’ll notice when wearing any of these three shoes is that other people will tend to stare.  Both the Hokas and the Altras put you on a platform a few inches above the normal running rabble and the sheer volume of the shoes causes looks.  The Luna’s, while garnering a slightly different response, still score high on the gaping stare spectrum, especially when worn when it’s cold outside.

Next: The feel

For me, this is one of the key differentiators and the reason why I’d choose one over the others.  The Hokas have great cushioning, but my foot sits deep in the shoe.  The result is a rubbing on the side of my ankle that caused me to cut a notch out of the shoe (noticeable in the picture above).  Also, for me the shoes are a bit too narrow and for longer distances, as my foot swells, it rubs.  This is the hurdle, for me, where these shoes fall.  Raw skin and blisters should not be a part of any activity you love to do.  I will speak of them no more

The Lunas have their own special rubbing points, but I’ve found if I wear toe socks for really long runs, I have no issues at all.  The contact of the strap between the toes can be alleviated either that way or with a lubricant like Body Glide (NFI) and the buckle on the top of the foot can be dealt with the same way.  The heel strap rubbing is eliminated (in my opinion) with the addition of a tech strap, or additional straps as shown in the picture.  Once that is sorted, they are a lot of fun to run in.  Sockful or sockless, running on the road or on trail is comfortable and oddly freeing.  No worries about running through water or mud, it all just runs through.  I do get the occasional rock, but no more than wearing shoes without gaiters, and it is considerably easier to get rid of them than completely untying the shoes. Also, after a couple of runs, they mold to the shape of your foot, which makes them feel great.

The Altras, in my opinion, fixed a lot of issues I had with the Hokas.  Just as padded (in my opinion) on the bottom, MUCH wider toebox (although I haven’t run an ultra in them yet, so no idea on rubbing) and the collar around the ankle is a lot lower, so there shouldn’t be any rubbing there.  The few runs I’ve taken them on have been a lot of fun and the zen-like tread pattern works well on loose dirt/gravel.

Next: Form

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I run using the Chi method, hitting on the balls/mid foot unless my form gets sloppy.  Both the Lunas and the Altras can accommodate this style as they are zero drop (no difference between the heel height and the toe height).  As you can see from the pictures above, there is a slight difference in the amount of cushioning between the two :) , and that leads me to:

Finally: The conclusion

To recap, I wanted to love the Hokas, but they weren’t made for my spread out, swelling feet.  If you remember, I ran Death Valley in a pair of Hokas, but switched out between them and a different model of Altras.  I ended up having to cut relief holes in the Hokas to avoid re-aggravating the blisters.

The new Altra Olympus appears, at first run, to be all that was missing in the Hokas, I like the cushioning, the depth and the width.  I have two races coming up in the next few months and will run at least one of them in the Altras.  For me, if it’s too cold, or the course is ridiculously technical or long, I think they’ll be my go-to shoe.  I like minimalist, but I’m not a masochist.

The Lunas, however, are my go-to for everything else.  I love the idea of strengthening my foot muscles and running more naturally and I love how the sandals pretty quickly molded to my feet.  I have over 200 miles on my current pair, and they’re still going strong.

Basically, I run because I enjoy it.  I’m usually nowhere near a podium or a course record and I like to be able to walk and talk after a race, not collapse in a quivering heap.  I will pick one of these shoes over the other based on the type of experience I want to have (with the exception of the Hokas, did I mention that?).  If I want to bound around like a deer (or a monkey), I’ll take the Lunas, If I want to plow through a mountain, I’ll reach for Olympus.  I may have found the perfect pairs of shoes for me, at opposite ends of the spectrum, but covering it all.  I’m running in the swamps in Florida next week at the DWD Green Swamp 50k, so I’ll probably be monkey-ing around down there!

I have no financial interest in anything I mentioned here, but I do have friends that work for/sell both the Lunas and the Altras.  If that, in your mind, constitutes a conflict of interest, I’m really sorry I wasted your time.  My recommendation would be to go out and see what works for you. ;)

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1 Inspired Idiot

Here we go!

Ok, posting from the road today. Just completed two days of 5-6 mile runs as I start to get ready for the next challenge- 50 miles at the DWD Green Swamp race in March. Yesterday was on some nice farm roads in rural Texas and today was nearly 7 miles with my lovely wife on a technical, but fun trail.

My goal is to do 20-40 miles per week, with one long weekend (back to back 20s) a month. I’m also going to incorporate strength training based on something called CrossFit Endurance. Never tried, but I’ll see how it goes, and let you know my progress. The race is going to be flat, so my hill work would be minimal. However, you know I’m not stopping at one race in March, so, if I’m lucky, I’ll be running the Double Chubb (50k) a month later. That means, strength training, hill training, all fun and games. I’ll be testing out some equipment along the way, so I’ll intersperse training with reviews. So, there’s the “idiot” part.

For the inspired part, I was sent this story back in August, and was remiss in not posting it. It’s a great story about a cyclist named George Swain who had a serious accident in 2010 and has recovered and is back full force. The story is here. Enjoy!

The idiot

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I’m Baaaack! Dogwood Canyon 50k Race Report

Yes, it’s been a while, and for that I apologize. I’ve been recovering and trying to figure out what to do next. Thanks to all of you, we’re now only $420,000 from realizing our goal of raising $3.5 million! Stay Inspired!

Anyway, ran my first race since Badwater, and it woke me up. In the future, I expect to continue to find inspiring stories, but will also give my reviews of gear I’m using. Enjoy!

Dogwood Canyon

The day started off well, and then went downhill from there.  Actually, it went uphill, then downhill, then uphill about 16 times.With 5400 feet of elevation gain in a 50k, this wasn’t a walk in the park, and definitely not one that you should try to run without first doing a lot of hill training (he says with perfect clarity of hindsight).

Having run it last year (and DNFing on a lame excuse of being “tight” after 19 miles), you’d think I’d be better prepared, but either because I’d already come through “harder” ultras during the year, or because I was lazy, I wasn’t.  The first climb happens at about mile 1.5 and you hit a 20% incline that goes for the next 2/10 of a mile (put that on your treadmill).  A bit of rest at the top, then back down to the riverbed (which you’ve already waded through two or three times and will be given the opportunity to wash your shoes and socks in a further 10 times before the day is over.

Next comes the “relatively” flat bit, which meanders along the riverbed, and through the river a few more times until you hit the second “fun” climb at about 3 ½ miles.  This one is only a 12-15% climb for the next ½ a mile or so.  This continues on for a bit, up and down, until you’ve climbed about 16 hills (I think I mentioned that already) and you are (or at least I was) making it a few steps, resting, going a few more and resting like an old wind-up toy with a broken  spring. I think the biggest difference between these hills and others I’ve run is that they were jeep tracks, so straight up and down as opposed to the switchbacks I’ve run on before.  Not really runnable (the down hills were definitely “fallable”, a technique I tried by bombing down a few early on) and they really took their toll.

So, to the enjoyable parts: Volunteers and fellow racers were great!  Every aid station (about 4-6 miles apart) was fully stocked and staffed by helpful, friendly people.  The weather turned warmer as the day went on (I was out there a long time), and I was even able to get a nice cold water down the back treatment that kept me going!  I was near the end of the group of 55 that finished the race (I don’t like peer pressure) but was still greeted by a great cheer that went up from the volunteers that were roused out of their slumber to cheer me on (OK it wasn’t that long, but I can’t imagine the stamina required to sit there and wait as long as they did).  Weather and scenery were also high points.  You can see some of the natural beauty from the pictures, and while it did get into the high 70’s, running in shade most of the time and a breeze part of the time really made it comfortable.  Oh, and about mile 16, I had to wander through some horses (I’m pretty sure they were there).

We drove back to St. Louis straight away (my wife shaming me by crushing the 25k and then having enough time to read 3 books, catch up on 3 years worth of neglected letter writing and compose a sonnet), and my quads are still singing.  If you want a challenge, this one will test you.

I ran in Hoka Mafate 2’s (review coming) and had ZERO issues (no blisters even though my feet were wet about 75% of the time).  Slight rubbing on the heel, but that was it.

More Inspiration- People I met on the road

Marcia Rasmussen

I first knew of Marcia when she sent me a message through the blog: “Nervous yet?” she asked me on June 29.  I confess, I had been so wrapped up in my preparation, that I’d done little research on the different forums and sites run about Badwater.  She found out about my solo attempt and had contacted me out of the blue.  After a few trade messages, she mentioned that she might come out to see me on my run. I thought it a bit strange, but was quickly learning how supportive the ultra community is, so I was looking forward to meeting her.

We were starting on a Monday, and she had mentioned that she would be driving to Lone Pine (at the base of Mt Whitney and at about mile 122) and would come out to see me on Tuesday. She and her husband, John, meet us at about noon. She’s dressed to run, and offers to pace me “for a while”. Her hand is in a cast due to a recent surgery (“it throws me off when I run and frustrates me” she tells me), but she then proceeds to pace me for the next 12 hours!  This allows my crew to rest for the push up the mountain, and I get to meet an incredible woman.

Marcia and I on the road

She’s completed what I was attempting three times and runs basically every day. She and her husband (who’s also completed Badwater with a record time of 1,088 hours) drove 6 hours to Lone Pine, are camping overnight, and will also pace me up the Portal Road to the 135 mile ‘finish’ line. After that, they’re driving home. On top of that, on finishing the 135, she presents me with a finishers belt buckle she’s had made. It’s unbelievably humbling.

I learned a lot about looking out for others and sacrifice, as well as a few interesting stories that Marcia told me from her experience. On that desolate road in the desert, she kept me engaged and moving forward on one of the more mentally challenging parts of the course.

One story she didn’t tell me, though, was about her escape from death the year before. Below is a link to the story that ran at the time, and if you subscribe to the ultralist, she’s published her story there as well. I can’t do it justice, but suffice to say, if you are at all inspired by what I had to go through, you’ll be floored by her courage and determination.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2011/06/sequoia-rescue-hiker-hiking-trails-national-park-snow-franklin-creek-snow-bridge.html?cid=6a00d8341c630a53ef01538f565d56970b

I’m honored to say I know and spent time with her, and more importantly, that she thought enough to spend time with me.

Marcia and I at the finish

First Love Lost, but not Forgotten

You know that feeling.  The relationship was exciting from the start, awakening new possibilities and it only gets better over time.  You feel reborn, renewed every time you’re together.  Hopping and skipping along like you are two years old again and the world opens up before you.  Friends and family members don’t understand your passion.  You get odd looks whenever you’re out together, but you don’t care. You know the feeling is not going to last forever, but you convince yourself that it will.

Then you start to take things for granted.  It’s little things at first. Just because they enjoy the open road more than the trails, you start to wonder if maybe, on those trips, you’re better off bringing others instead.  You always come back to them, you know they’ll be there, but the newness has worn off.  You don’t take care of them as much as you used to, and they only get washed when they really start to offend.  Then, on a routine run, you stub your toe and they rip, and you realize how much they changed you, and while you can’t ever get them back, they’re actually fairly easy to replace (They’re sold in a lot more places now than two years ago)…

Yes, my Vibram FiveFingers, after over 500 miles, decided that enough was enough.  I started running in them in August 2010 as I prepared for what was, at the time, only my second half marathon.  I had issues with shoes (and age) before them to the point that if I ran more than 3 miles, I wore two knee braces and enough support to make me wonder if I was doing any actual running, or if it was just the equipment.  I had read some articles about barefoot running and the potential benefits and decided I couldn’t look any sillier than I already did, so I bought a pair.

They shortened my stride and made me land on the balls of my feet, almost immediately eliminating the knee pain, but also causing my calf muscles to seriously consider whether or not they wanted to stay attached to my legs.  Once my calves got over their initial shock, however, it was unbelievably fun.  Running in them makes me feel like I’m getting away with something, like when I was a kid. That barefoot feeling made running enjoyable and I completed the half marathon, my wife and I alternating pushing our 10 month old son in a jogging stroller, in almost the same time it took me to gasp my way through my first half marathon back in 2003 (the only record I set was for inhaling a snickers bar at the end of the race- more on that on another day).  It was so much fun that I decided to push through my barriers, run my first marathon in April 2011, and begin the journey that is taking me to Death Valley in July.

I won’t be taking them or their replacements with me (it’s too hot and for my old feet, they’re really only good for shorter distances), but I use them on my training runs, and that feeling always comes back.  Gone but not forgotten…

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