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November 30, 2010

Winter Running, La Sportiva Style: Winter Running Advice, Crossover GTX, Wildcat GTX, and Hobnail Kit Giveaways

Before we get to today’s big giveaway announcement, I should offer a disclaimer: I’m not really an expert in most of the stuff I’ll be talking about.

When I approached La Sportiva about sponsoring a giveaway this month, I received something of a good news/bad news response. The good news was, they loved the idea – in fact, they expanded it far beyond what I had initially asked for. The bad news: they wanted the contest to have a “winter running” theme that would coincide with their ongoing promotion of cold-weather running gear.

If that doesn’t sound like bad news, allow me to remind you: I’m a California beach boy. All things considered, I’m not exactly the most credible person to make winter recommendations; taking advice from me about running in ice and snow would be like taking surfing tips from an Eskimo. When I explained this to La Sportiva, their response impressed me even further: we’re doing the contest anyway, and just as big as they envisioned the first time.

So the contest will be spread out in a few different stages over the next three weeks, with two grand prize winners announced on Wednesday, December 22nd. Here’s one of the prizes up for grabs:

The new La Sportiva Crossover GTX, a super-winterized version of the company’s wildly popular Crosslite, which was one of my favorite trail runners for the better part of a year. (And if you’ll forgive me a minimalist tangent: Before there was such a thing as transitional footwear, the Crosslite was my transitional shoe between the trail SUVs I once depended on, and the minimalist stuff I’m addicted to now. Its sleek construction and barely-there feel opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities, which is why I consider the Crosslite my gateway drug to minimalism.)

I’ve been testing a pair of Crossovers, and will have a formal review posted here in the next week or two. As you’d imagine, my testing involves more river crossings and sloppy mud than blizzards and frozen slush, but I’m getting a good feel for how the shoe handles harsh conditions. But that’s for another post … and I haven’t finished describing the grand prize yet. On December 22nd, the same winner of the Crossover will also receive a pair of La Sportiva’s Wildcat GTX (which I reviewed for Feed the Habit last winter), so you’ve got two rugged new shoes for your winter rotation. And to make sure you’re completely stocked for hardcore winter adventures, they’re throwing in a set of hobnails for each pair.

Men's Wildcat GTX, in new colors for winter 2010/11

We’re not quite done yet: since the Crossover is a unisex shoe but the Wildcat is gender-specific, La Sportiva is offering TWO grand prize winners – one male and one female. If you’re losing track, I'll summarize: one male reader wins the Crossover, Wildcat GTX, and two hobnail kits, and one female winner receives the same. In between now and then, I’m running three smaller contests, giving away two hobnail kits each week. To find out how to enter the small drawings and the grand prize contest, read on.


As I mentioned, the theme of this contest is Winter Running – and before I explained my “soft beach boy” situation to La Sportiva, one of their suggestions was for me to post a Winter Running Advice column. Fortunately for my sake, I recalled seeing several great posts written recently about that very subject – so instead of acting like an expert and making stuff up, I’m just going to refer you to some of the best resources I’ve seen lately:

1) The first one comes directly from La Sportiva, with winter training tips from Derrick Spafford, one of their sponsored athletes.

2) Blogger extraordinaire Bryon Powell just moved to Park City, Utah, where he’ll have ample opportunity to employ this list of winter running resources he put together. And finally …

3) My soul sister Gretchen – who also happens to be a Californian, but unlike me, is the tough kind - put together a great list of winter footwear options, including a cool shot of La Sportiva’s Wildcat GTX.

Of course, the secret to winter running is one part preparation, and one part motivation. Since I delegated that first part, the blog contest here will hopefully serve the second part and give you a healthy dose of motivation for heading out into the snow. It’s a photo contest; to enter, send me your best winter running picture – preferably with you in it. Maybe it’s a scene from a snow-covered trail, or a shot of someone tiptoeing across a frosty stream, or a close-up of your reddened legs or ice-riddled beard after a long run. Use your imagination, and be creative, because the judging for Part 1 is completely subjective: each week, the best two entries will be picked by me, or possibly by a reader vote if I can’t make up my mind.

(And before you point it out to me, yes - by having you send me the entries, I’m technically delegating the motivation part of the equation mentioned earlier as well. When you boil it down, my role in this whole contest is rather incidental.)

Those two weekly winners will each receive a hobnail kit from La Sportiva, and they’re still eligible to win the grand prize drawing at the end. I’ll accept multiple photo entries for the hobnail giveaways, but photos earn just one entry in the grand prize drawing no matter how many you send in. If you want additional entries, here's what you can do:

1) Include a short paragraph (3-4 sentences) describing the picture, or why you love winter running.

2) Link to this contest page from Twitter or Facebook. I'm only giving one entry for this, even if you do both, because I'm discovering it's pretty much impossible to verify when someone says "I linked you on Facebook!" So feel free to do both ... but it still only counts as one additional entry.

3) Link here from your personal blog. Blogs, I can verify. I like blogs.

Just to clarify: the ONLY way to get your name in the in the drawing for the grand prize is to submit a picture – but once you’re in the hat, you can multiply your chances by writing a few sentences or linking here a couple of times. Some other ground rules before we open this baby up:

* Send your photos to me at info@runningandrambling.com, with the subject line “La Sportiva contest”.

* Indicate either in your e-mail or the comments section below this post the total number of grand prize entries you have – and please make sure I can somehow match your e-mail address to your profile name.

* If it’s not obvious from your name (for example: girls named Alex, guys named Stacy, or anyone named Pat) which gender you are, please specify so I can separate the grand prize drawing entrants into male and female.

* By sending pictures to me, you’re also giving me permission to reproduce them on this website – so think twice about sending those naked New Year’s Eve 5K shots in.

Whew … that’s a lot of rules, huh? But the prizes are definitely worth it, and I think it will be a lot of fun to see some crazy pictures and get a nice dose of winter mojo courtesy of my readers. And with that, I turn the contest over to you: send me your photos, and check back each week (or, you know … subscribe) to see if you’ve won!

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November 28, 2010

VivoBarefoot Evo II Review and Giveaway; VivoBarefoot Evo Coupon Code

Sometimes I feel like I know how a review is going to go, almost before I take the shoes out of the box.

Case in point is VivoBarefoot’s Evo II, which I was given the opportunity to test in conjunction with this week’s giveaway, the first of several VivoBarefoot prize contests in December. Before receiving them, one of the first things I asked the rep was, “Are there a lot of significant differences compared to the first Evo?” – and after she described the relatively minor updates, I knew the shoe was one I could take out of the box and put straight to work.

VivoBarefoot Evo II

So that’s exactly what I did: my Evo IIs arrived in time for only a couple of short trail runs before I headed off for my awesome traverse of Zion National Park. And when I packed my bags, I carried only one pair of shoes with me – that’s how confident I was that they were up to the task.

No worries on the trail at Zion

Considering that I get to try a lot of minimalist shoes, I’ve spent some time thinking about what exactly distinguishes the Evo (see my original review here) from the rest of the pack. There are other minimalist styles that I enjoy wearing for everyday training, and another that I prefer for pure road or track running, but when it comes to wanting something super versatile and dependable for epic off-road adventures, with increasing frequency I choose the Evo. I’ve come to think of them as high-performance minimalist shoes – and the new Evo II comes from that exact same mold.

Rear view: no difference aside from the colors

I mean that almost literally, because to be quite honest, there aren’t a lot of modifications from the Evo to the Evo II. A slightly different mesh, a little more interior lining, and a couple of different colors to choose from … other than that, it’s the same shoe I know and loved from the summer.

Dense water-resistant mesh with TPU overlays

As part of the fall/winter collection, you can think of the Evo II as a more winterized version of its predecessor, with features to make it more suitable for harsher climates. The nylon mesh that sits below the hexagonal TPU of the upper is denser and water resistant, and the microfiber lining from the Evo’s sockliner area is extended throughout the entire shoe on the Evo II to provide increased warmth.

Super flexibility: one shoe curled inside the other

Aside from that, the entire design and all of the performance features are the same on the Evo II as they are on the Evo. A 4mm puncture-resistant and completely flexible outsole provides reliable traction on the most challenging trails (if you need convincing, go back and look at that Zion report again). Removable insoles allow you to customize ground feel versus comfort to a slight degree. Overall weight is 8oz per shoe, and the materials are 100% vegan.

Sockliner fabric extended throughout shoe interior

I did notice a difference in the warmth of the Evo II compared to the Evo, and with the right pair of socks, this would definitely be one of your best options for minimalist running in extreme cold climates. Water resistance was decent in the rain – they’re not 100% impermeable like Gore-Tex, but they also shed water a lot more quickly after river crossings than GTX-lined uppers typically do.

Puncture-resistant 4mm performance outsole

The only area that’s lacking to make this a true winter shoe is the outsole traction on wet, hard surfaces. The Evo II uses the same performance sole as the Evo, which does experience minor slipping on slick rocks, and may have a similar issue on ice (although to be fair, I never tested these in ice). A more aggressive outsole is rumored to be in the works at VivoBarefoot, and as a trail runner I’d love to see this applied to the Evo.

In my original Evo review, I described them as the best all-purpose minimalist shoe available, suitable for a wide variety of conditions – and the Evo II now further expands those conditions to include the cold and snowy extremes of winter. I also commented about how their retail price of $160 was somewhat cost-prohibitive, and at that time, the company wasn’t offering any discounts on the Evo at all.

But now, just in time for the holidays, that situation has changed. For ONE WEEK ONLY, today through December 6th, VivoBarefoot is offering 20% off both the Evo and Evo II. The men's Evo II is available here, and this link will take you to the men’s Evo. (And since I’m an equal-opportunity linker, the women’s Evo II is here, and the women’s Evo is here.) When you’re ready to check out, enter coupon code RREVO and the discount will be applied.

Of course, if you’re really lucky, you’ll win a pair of Evo IIs for free – because that’s the first prize of my December giveaway spree. I’m picking one winner from the comments section below who will then be allowed to select the Evo II gender and size (and maybe even the color) of their choosing directly from VivoBarefoot. And if you’re willing to spread the word about this contest with return linking, I’ll even give you a few extra entry chances.

Here’s how it will work: you get one entry for leaving a comment below this post. You’ll get additional entries for linking to this contest page from your Twitter feed or Facebook page (one entry for each). Finally, since I’m partial to bloggers, if you have a blog in addition to Facebook/Twitter and link here in a current blog post, I’ll give you a fourth entry. When you’re entering below, tell me how many entries you've earned, and I’ll keep a running tally. If you tell me you’ve linked here, I’ll pretty much take your word for it, but I might make random, periodic checks just to keep things honest.

I’ll announce the winner on Saturday morning, December 4th, so that if you’re waiting to redeem the coupon code in hopes of winning the contest, you’ll still have a couple of days to shop if you don’t win (which – sorry – will be most of you). There's a new banner ad above the Running and Rambling homepage that clicks to a landing page for the Evo II, so you can jump directly over there at any time this week. Be sure to tune in Saturday - or better yet, subscribe to the blog - to see if you won, and good luck to everyone!

*Product provided by VivoBarefoot.
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you'd like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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November 26, 2010

Contest Notes; Random Shots of Beauty

A few odds and ends before this weekend's regularly scheduled programming ...

1) There's still time to enter the Strength Running contest for a copy of my Running Life book. Leave a comment here, and good luck!

2) The Running and Rambling giveaway madness starts in earnest on Monday with a trifecta from VivoBarefoot: product review, giveaway contest, and coupon code. Trust me - it's gonna be awesome. And I may as well go ahead and keep bugging you with this: if you haven't subscribed to the blog yet, this would be an excellent time to do so. Also, speaking of the contests ...

3) On more than one occasion this year, I've had contest winners disappear into cyberspace without collecting their prizes, mainly because they either commented without a profile e-mail, or didn't leave any contact information for me to track them down. So if you enter one of the contests next month and really want to win, please do us both a favor and make sure there's some sort of contact info attached to your entry.

Thanks for everyone's cooperation - this is going to be fun! In fact, I'm in such a good mood that you're getting three random shots of beauty this weekend.


Majestic landscapes to the east of us:

A breathtaking seascape to the west:

All just part of the scenery during a pre-Thanksgiving "calorie deficit" 20-miler on the Old Coast Road along the Big Sur coastline. Have I mentioned before that I'm thankful to live in California?

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November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks, and Giving Back

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
- John Wesley, 1703-1791

It’s no exaggeration to say that a lot of good has come my way because of this blog.

There have been countless times over the past six years when I had no idea what direction this website was going: just as my athletic interests and areas of athletic focus have developed in a meandering fashion, the subject matter of my writing has been absolutely all over the map. At various points in my tenure here I’ve been a pop culture fiend (with a borderline disturbing fixation on musical starlets), hardcore triathlete, muckraking journalist, neurotically befuddled family man, wide-eyed adventurer and ultrarunner, extemporaneous music critic, amateur gear reviewer, and two-bit storyteller. And that’s just off the top of my head.

Occasionally I think such variety might be a good thing – something for everybody, and all that – but more often I sense that it could be a challenge for any particular reader to follow on a long-term basis. Conventional wisdom regarding web development says your readers should know exactly what they’re going to get when clicking to your page … which sounds like a good strategy, if only I had some idea of what was going to come out of my head when I sit down to type.

Through it all, the overriding motivation for me to keep this site rolling has been the rewards I get from doing so. I truly enjoy the writing process, and I love getting feedback from readers who have benefitted from any part of it in some small way. And of course, with increasing frequency, I’ve been the beneficiary of partnerships with some great outdoor gear companies who have been generous supporters of Running and Rambling.

I’m extremely thankful to all of them, and I’m especially grateful for all the readers who have come along for the ride (and in some cases, contributed to the cause). And since this is Thanksgiving week and the holiday season is upon us, I’m expressing my thanks by sharing my good fortune with as many other people as possible over the next few weeks. Best of all, I’ve recruited several of those aforementioned companies to help me out.

Starting Monday, November 29th, and continuing through the end of the year, nearly every post around here is going to feature some sort of giveaway. And without revealing too many details yet, I can say that some of the prizes are going to be big. As in La Sportiva big (very big). Soft Star big. New Balance big. VivoBarefoot big. Check that – VivoBarefoot is stepping up HUGE, the details of which will be announced next Monday. There will be some others as well, mostly involving products that I’ve used and loved over the past year. Think of it as the Running and Rambling equivalent of Oprah’s Favorite Things, only with about 0.0005% of the budget.

Once we get rolling, it might become difficult (both for the reader and the author) to keep track of which contests are ending when, so you’ll want to check back often – or better yet, just subscribe to Running and Rambling so you have announcements and updates as soon as they’re posted. There may be more than one post per day, or posts on weekends or at odd hours – I’m not really sure exactly how it’s going to look yet. But that shouldn’t surprise you.

The only thing that’s certain is how extremely indebted I am to all of the companies for helping me spread some holiday cheer, and how much I appreciate all of the people who’ve been following this blog, whether for the past few weeks or the past few years. It’s been a great ride for me, and I’m looking forward to sharing that goodwill by all the means, all the ways, and in all the places I can.

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November 22, 2010

Newton Terra Momentus Trail Running Shoe Review

One administrative note before today's review: Jason over at Strength Running has been kind enough to host a giveaway contest for one of my Running Life books. Head over to this post to enter the contest. Thanks very much to Jason, and good luck to everyone who enters!

“If I have done the public any service, it is due to my patient thought.”
- Sir Isaac Newton, 1643-1727

There was brief deliberation in my house regarding which opening quote to use for this review; I liked the one that ultimately prevailed, but I must confess that I was very tempted to use my 7-year-old daughter’s first remark after I opened Newton’s Terra Momentus trail runners: Hey – they’re Elphaba shoes!

Newton Terra Momentus

Yes, they’re green … very green, in fact. However, coming from Newton, the company who uses neon yellows and fire engine reds like other brands use grays and creams, that shouldn’t really surprise anyone. And I’ve learned to not be such a stickler when it comes to the way a shoe looks – after all, I’m the same guy who runs in gorilla feet or elf shoes most of the time, so wearing gear that makes me look like a cast member from Wicked isn’t that big of a deal.

Which brings us back to the intro quote: Isaac Newton used it to distill how the foundation of scientific innovation is the long periods of observation and consideration that must be done beforehand in order to accurately understand a situation or environment. In the case of Newton shoes, it reflects how surprisingly patient the company was in introducing a pure trail-running model – especially when you consider that one of the founders is a hardcore ultrarunner. They clearly took their time getting into this market; presumably, the resulting product would be revolutionary.

The delay in marketing Newtons to trail runners seemed especially strange to me, since I’ve already been using their shoes on the trails for well over a year now. Their outstanding Sir Isaac wasn’t designed as a dedicated trail runner, but I’ve worn them in all manner of off-road conditions, and they’ve performed wonderfully while proving to be very durable. (I also reviewed them for FeedTheHabit if you want to check it out.) So I was interested to test the Terra Momentus, not because I had trail withdrawal with Newtons, but mainly out of curiosity to see what distinguished this model from the one that I’ve already been very satisfied with. On that note, I feel like I should throw in a disclaimer: if I sound a bit lukewarm about the Terra Momentus, it’s only because the bar was set so high by the Sir Isaac.

Truthfully, it’s been difficult for me to find a major distinction between the Terra Momentus and the Sir Isaac from a performance standpoint. They’re slightly heavier (11.2 oz compared to 10.9), slightly stiffer (due to a new metatarsal plate), and as mentioned previously, a whole lot greener. Other than that, even if you look closely it might be tough to spot any differences.

Closed mesh, debris-resistant upper with toebox reinforcement

The most obvious changes are to the upper, which has a more tightly-closed mesh to keep out debris, a 360-degree protective synthetic overlay, and a reinforced toe cap for added protection from stubbing your toes on rocks or roots. These features work quite well, and the upper remains fairly breathable despite the closed mesh, but I never really felt any debris or impact limitations with the Sir Isaac, either.

Other specs of the Terra Momentus upper include a more stable, stretch-resistant webbing to improve foot stability, and features such as slip-proof laces and a gusseted tongue that stays nicely in place - but again, these aren’t hugely noticeable improvements from the Sir Isaac. In fact, I found the fit of the Terra Momentus upper to be somewhat tighter through the toebox, with a slightly constricting feel by comparison.

Midsole actuator lugs

The midsole of the Terra Momentus is generally identical to the Sir Isaac, and this is where most of Newton’s remarkable technology features are packed. I’ll assume that you’re familiar with the tech aspects – and if you’re not, check out my original Gravity review – and they’re all here on the Terra Momentus: high-rebound EVA, midfoot and rearfoot support chassis, and half-inch actuator lugs that extend beyond the outsole and create the action/reaction biomechanics that Newton users have come to love.

My trail-running experience with the Sir Isaac has been that the actuator lugs are highly effective at reproducing barefoot biomechanics on fire-roads or well-groomed trails, but their protrusion can be a potential liability on highly technical trails. The Terra Momentus has a similar feel, although I’d say there’s a bit less flexibility, likely due to a protective metatarsal plate that was added to the midsole. As a result, the actuators sometimes have a tough time conforming to irregularities in the trail, which can be tricky if you’re not paying attention to foot placement.

Midsole heights for the Terra Momentus are quite similar to the Sir Isaac, with a 28mm heel and 23mm forefoot, leaving a 5mm heel-to-toe drop. Perhaps it’s my minimalist bias at play here, but I was hopeful that Newton could somehow figure out a way to make the entire midsole and actuator lugs ride closer to the ground for improved ground feel and stability with its dedicated trail shoe. I know that’s asking a lot, but I feel like I give up a bit of agility when switching to the Terra Momentus from my VivoBarefoot Evos or similar flat, flexible shoes.

High-durability runner outsole with traction grip

The underside of the Terra Momentus is – are you sensing a theme here? – very similar to the Sir Isaac as well. It features a super durable, high traction rubber that grips the trail very nicely in all conditions. The overall durability issue may be the primary improvement in this model over the Sir Isaac, because from top to bottom, the Terra Momentus seems like a shoe that can take a beating for hundreds of miles and still keep you running comfortably.

I suppose that’s probably my best recommendation for who should buy these shoes. If you’re a Newton user who enjoys the Gravity or Sir Isaac, and are looking for a highly durable version to beat up on the trails, the Terra Momentus is your shoe. If you’re just starting with Newtons, or looking for a good transitional shoe from traditional trail runners to minimalist footwear, you’ll do just as well with the Sir Isaac.

(Of course, it's entirely possible that I'm missing something major here. If there are Newton users out there who note more significant differences between the Terra Momentus and Sir Isaac, please drop me a comment below.)

(**UPDATE: See comment section for insight from Ian Adamson, Director of Research and Education at Newton, regarding some of the structural differences between the shoes.)

Newton’s Terra Momentus retails for $139 from the company website as well as other online vendors.

*Product provided by Newton Running
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com

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Check out the Running Life book for a collection of our most popular columns.


November 21, 2010

The Minimalist Speed Project

More than a year and a half into this process, it’s fair to say that I love minimalist running. I love the biomechanical advantages it offers. I love how it strengthens my feet and allows them to function naturally. I love how it makes me feel more connected to the ground beneath my feet. Best of all, I love the spirit of freedom and simplicity it gives me every time I run.

I just wish I could do it a little bit faster.

One of the major criticisms of barefoot and minimalist running is that it prohibits you from running at top speed without the protection and cushioning of traditional shoes. The question has been debated and discussed in several running circles, and conventional wisdom seems to say that shod running is for racing, while minimalist running is merely for enjoyment.

But what if you want to be a fast minimalist runner? What if you’d like the ability to run casually on some days, and speedy on others? Those are questions I’ve been addressing with myself over the past couple of months.

There was a time in my life – a period of several years, in fact – where the only aspect of training that mattered to me on a daily basis was how fast I could run. I recorded lap splits during track workouts, mile splits during tempo runs, and 5K splits during long runs. A tempo run that took 5 seconds longer than the previous week was cause for concern, and workout times that were faster than the year before reassured me that I was race ready. From day to day, I lived and died by the numbers that showed up on my watch each morning.

However, for the past several years the tide has turned, to the point where I very seldom care about how fast I run anymore. The primary driver of this is my immersion in the world of ultrarunning, where mile splits aren’t nearly as important as the long-term resiliency to continually put one foot in front of the other. The second factor was my transition to barefoot running, where you have to quite literally start one step at a time, and slow down to practically a snail’s pace to get the technique correct.

Consequently, the twice-weekly speed workouts I did during marathon training have gradually declined – first to once per week, then once or twice per month, and ultimately to an every-now-and-then occurrence just to keep things interesting. In a related story, I’m a much slower runner than I used to be.

Now that I’m doing nearly 100% of my mileage in minimal footwear, I’m curious as to whether I can start building some of that speed back. For the past couple of months, I’ve done brief track workouts and short-distance tempo runs, trying to get my legs used to moving quickly again when there’s nothing underfoot to support them. The answers I’ve found have been kind of depressing.

Compared to my marathon racing days, I’m pretty much a turtle nowadays. The tricky part is that I’m not sure exactly how much of this is attributable to my current choice of footwear. I find running fast in minimalist shoes to be quite difficult: I’ve always derived my speed from having a long, powerful stride, but in Vibrams or Evos I have to remind myself to keep my steps short and my cadence quick. Even when I’m focused on it, my form tends to fall apart as I get fatigued, and I start to fall back into my old habits. The result is that I have a hard time just opening the throttle and running like a maniac, which used to be my hallmark during tough track workouts.

On the other hand, even if I had perfect form, I’d have a hard time matching workout times I did a few years ago anymore. After attributing a few consecutive slow tempo run times to my footwear, the following week I did the same course in Newton Gravitys, which I’ve called my traditional footwear of choice for running fast. To my dismay, my time on a 4-mile course was only about 30 seconds faster. So clearly I can’t blame it all on the shoes.

Every now and then I long for the times when I could lower the hammer and outrun my training partners to the car in the last 2 miles of a 90-minute run, or burn a workout of 8 x 1600m at 5:30 pace in the midst of a long training week. I honestly have no idea (but truthfully, I’m somewhat skeptical) that I can ever match those days, but without any ultras on the calendar until next spring, I’m making it a point during this winter to try and build some of my old speed back – only this time, I’m doing it with minimalist shoes.

I’m not looking to jump back into road racing or set a marathon PR anytime soon - I just figure that as long as I’m committed to this minimalist thing, it would be nice if someday I could do it a little more impressively.

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November 20, 2010

Random Shots of Beauty

My son and I have to cut our weekly bike rides short nowadays because darkness sets in so quickly - but on our return trip along the beach, we're treated to views like this:

Carmel Beach in mid-November. It's nice to live in California.

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November 18, 2010

Saucony ProGrid Kinvara Shoe Review

This review began a little bit awkwardly.

When a Saucony rep contacted me to propose a review of the ProGrid Kinvara, I knew one thing right off the bat: She must not read my blog. But I was curious to see where things might lead, so I sent her the following reply:

Thanks for contacting me. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I kind of ripped Saucony in a recent post.

And then I included the link to this post where I ridiculed Saucony’s marketing campaign for the Kinvara.

To her credit, the rep took the criticism in stride, offered an apology, and said she’d like to try changing my mind by having me test the shoes. Two other factors helped tipped the scales in her favor: 1) The Kinvara has some very noteworthy features that could signal a sea change in conventional wisdom about traditional running shoes, and 2) My primary objections to the marketing were just that – objections to the marketing.

Saucony ProGrid Kinvara

So let’s address that point right away: the Kinvara is not a minimalist shoe. Actually, let me say that once more, with caps lock this time, just so we’re all clear: THE KINVARA IS NOT A MINIMALIST SHOE. Rather, it takes many design elements of minimalism and applies them to a traditional neutral trainer, resulting in a shoe that has definite transitional appeal to runners who want to move gradually towards more natural biomechanics.

The Kinvara impressed me right out of the box with how light it is; at 7.7 oz, it’s lighter than VivoBarefoot’s Evo, slightly lighter than New Balance’s superb MT 101 trail shoe, and only 0.8 oz heavier than Brooks's revolutionary Green Silence. The lightness is attributable to design and material innovations in all quarters: the upper, midsole, and outsole.

Porous mesh upper with clear thin fabric covering

The upper is extremely well-ventilated, employing a highly porous mesh that is covered by a super-thin breathable fabric that prevents debris from entering through the large holes. Curiously, the fabric doesn’t cover the tongue area, so there is pretty good potential of dust infiltration on trails or fire roads. The upper has seamless construction for improved comfort, and synthetic underlays that help hold the foot securely against the platform. Thin cushioning and a soft sockliner in the heel collar area complete a very comfortable overall feel of the shoe against the foot, even without socks.

Stability underlays visible through fabric

To decrease weight in the midsole, Saucony uses a material called EVA+ which is lighter than traditional EVA, and also has more of a spongy feeling with impact. This provides the “maximal cushioning” that Saucony proclaims about the shoe, but the ride seems almost bouncy at times, especially on soft surfaces like a track. The cushiness seems to settle a bit after 50-60 miles, but is still awkward if you’re accustomed to either a firm platform or the hard ground directly below your feet. Midsole height is 18mm in the heel and 14mm at the toes, for a very respectable 4mm drop; by comparison, New Balance’s MT 101 has a 10 mm drop (18mm/8mm), and the Green Silence has 8 (18mm/10mm). This almost-flat platform makes it easier for transitional runners to experiment shifting from heelstriking to midfoot striking.

Sparse outsole rubber with throwback styling

Below the midsole, Saucony takes a page from ECCO’s BIOM and Vibram’s FiveFingers Bikila designs by placing durable rubber only in direct impact areas to minimize weight and improve flexibility. The pattern underfoot is total old-school Saucony, with triangles aligned like the distinctive Jazz model that was immensely popular for the better part of two decades. The traction is sufficient for fire roads and decently-groomed trails, but might have some trouble on slick irregular terrain - but since it’s primarily intended as a road trainer, that’s not surprising.

While I generally love the idea of sparse outsole reinforcement, the Kinvara may have an Achilles heel of sorts on the medial and lateral edges of the outsole through the forefoot, where the softer EVA is essentially unprotected. Neutral runners won’t find this a problem, but if you roll excessively on the inside or outside of your forefoot, I suspect you’ll wear this region down fairly quickly.

Another construction issue I found problematic was the shape of the toebox, which feels slightly narrow to me – but to be fair, my points of comparison are moccasins or pure minimalist shoes that allow full toe splay. I experienced a minor amount of chafing on the outside edges of my toes, and to a lesser extent the front tips of my second toe whenever I tried higher-mileage (>10-mile) runs or with speed work on the road or track.

Despite my objections to the way this shoe was promoted, I have to say that I’m glad to see a shoe like the Kinvara on the market. As a transitional shoe, it has a lot of features that can help traditional footwear users move towards something lighter and flatter, and its weight would even make it an attractive race shoe for some road runners. It’s also nice to have a major manufacturer embrace the “less is more” philosophy of shoe construction, and to see that effort rewarded favorably by gear reviewers (awards from Outside Magazine, Runner’s World) and the general public (evidenced by sales). If Saucony’s goal was to create a mainstream transitional shoe, the ProGrid Kinvara places them very close to the mark.

The Saucony ProGrid Kinvara retails for $90 from Endless.com and other online vendors.

*Product provided by Saucony
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com

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November 17, 2010

CLIF SHOT Gel Winners (and Questions Answered)

It’s time to announce the CLIF giveaway winners! Before doing so, I figured this was the best way to answer some questions that came into the comments section or e-mail over the past couple of days, so …

1) Yes, the new SHOT gels are available now in most stores, but flavor selection may vary by location.

2) I’ve tried GU’s chomps (their equivalent of CLIF BLOKs) a few times, and have to say that I like CLIF’s better. I find them easier to chew and better-tasting, with a larger variety of flavors. If you missed it previously, see my full BLOK review here.

3) I honestly can’t say how CLIF’s double expresso (yes, that's how it's spelled) flavor compares to GU’s espresso love (who comes up with these names?), because I really dislike the taste of coffee. The only time I’ve ever had an espresso gel was at 2AM during my first 100-miler, and it worked like a charm to keep me awake – but I distinctly remember having to choke it down because I couldn’t stand the flavor.

4) For the oddballs out there who preferred the old CLIF SHOT formulation, it’s still available from various online vendors (such as here at Amazon.com), presumably until supplies run out – so this would probably be an opportune time to stock up.

But that’s enough rambling for now; I know you mainly just want to know who won. So let’s do it: Mannie, Joe Maller, and Rather Be Swimming (really?), e-mail me with your address – you’ve won the drawing! Thanks very much to everyone who participated, and be sure to subscribe to get in on more upcoming giveaways.

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November 15, 2010

The Running Life: What's It All About?

A few administrative notes before today’s post …

1) You’ve got a little more time left – until 5PM PST on Wednesday, precisely – to sign up for the CLIF SHOT gel contest, so leave a comment here if you haven’t already done so.

2) Without revealing too much too soon, let me say that this giveaway stuff is going to continue in upcoming weeks, and it would be a great idea for you to stay tuned by subscribing to my website so you don’t miss anything. I’ll just leave it at that for now. And speaking of subscribers …

3) It recently came to my attention that my mother now subscribes to the blog. So, you know … best behavior, everyone. And clean up after yourselves – I don’t want to get in trouble for this mess.

“What's it all about? They scream and then they shout -
Don't ask me, ‘cause I don't know.”

- Public Image Limited, “Don’t Ask Me” (video after post)

Sitting inside a race expo all day gives a guy some time to think – and one of the questions I pondered most frequently last weekend also happened to be the one that Mike and I were most commonly asked: So what’s this book about?

You’d think that after six years of writing columns, and endless hours of revision and editing that took place in order to bring our Running Life book to life, I should have a pretty quick answer to that one. If so, you’d be wrong. In fact, it was this very question that practically paralyzed me throughout the process of pulling everything together.

Mike and me at our book signing booth at the Big Sur Half Marathon expo. Not pictured: the huge throngs of people lined up eagerly awaiting our signatures and words of wisdom. Or maybe I just imagined that part.

While we sat at the Big Sur Half Marathon expo on Saturday, a handful of people asked pointed questions about the book. Is it a training guide? Well, kind of. Is it a biography? Not really … but we talk about ourselves a lot. Is it one of those inspirational stories? Um … parts of it are. Does it use running as a metaphor for something? In some cases, perhaps. Is it funny? I guess that depends on your sense of humor.

The truth is, there’s really no unifying theme to the book; it’s simply a compilation of the best stuff we’ve written over the past six years. It’s very similar to the writing style I employ here – and if you’re familiar with this website, you know that virtually any topic is fair game. And if anyone out there can discern some kind of common thread through all that I’ve written, please fill me in, because I’d love to know.

Ultimately, the book’s basically a reflection of the people who wrote it: two lifetime runners who have found more reward and joy and adventure from this activity than we ever imagined. It’s a glimpse of the world from the perspective of a runner, and demonstrates how nearly anything – family life, social issues, popular culture – can have a connection to running if you’re passionate enough about it.

Yes, it’s also packed with training advice we’ve learned through the years, but I wouldn’t say that our primary goal is to coach someone through running a marathon, or an ultra, or anything else. Rather, we encourage people to have the mindset of a runner, whether it’s to finish a 100-miler, set a marathon PR, get out of bed for a training run when it’s dark and cold outside, or simply to drag your butt off the couch and begin an exercise program. That mindset – optimism combined with determination – is common to every one of those runners; the level of accomplishment from that point forward is merely a matter of scale.

There’s really a lot to be said for the running life … and hopefully many of those benefits come across in The Running Life. That’s not the most specific answer I’ve ever given, but I suspect that’s probably the best I’ll come up with.


As for the song: this one reaches way back into the cognitive archives. I was a little too young to fully appreciate Johnny Rotten when the Sex Pistols were in their prime, but his follow-up band was second only to The Clash when it came to post-punk bands that fueled my rebellious teenage spirit. By the time this song was written, P.I.L. had mellowed out a bit, but it’s a tune that somehow managed to stick in my brain on the long strange trip to adulthood.

Public Image Limited, “Don’t Ask Me” (click to play):

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November 14, 2010

CLIF SHOT Energy Gel Review and Giveaway

The back story for this review takes place in April, during the product tasting session my friends and I had with Chris Randall, Brand Manager of CLIF SHOT products. He’s the one who gave us samples of upcoming products, and discussed plans that were in the works for new releases later in the year. That conversation included the following exchange:

Chris: We’re also reformulating our SHOT energy gel.

Me: Oh, good, because … um, nevermind.

Chris: No, it’s OK – go ahead and say it.

Me: That stuff was terrible.

Chris: Yeah … you’re not the only one who thinks that.

Needless to say, CLIF had dug itself a bit of a hole in having its gel product embraced by endurance athletes, but Chris welcomed the challenge. I was reminded of this when I visited the new headquarters last month, and received a handful of the new gels in my goody bag. I also happened to see Chris again there, and he was excited for me to test them out. He impressed me quite a bit with his response to one final caveat I offered:

Me: I should tell you that I’m a huge GU fan.

Him: That’s actually good to hear – we want feedback from loyal GU users. That’s what we’re aiming for.

Reformulated CLIF SHOT gel flavors and packages

And that’s how I ended up with a whole bag of the new CLIF SHOT gel flavors, which I’ve been using for the past few weeks now. I brought the bag to Utah with me this month, and unbeknownst to me, Stacy from Wilderness Running Company had also bought two boxes for us to use – so between our two stashes, CLIF SHOT ended up being the official on-course support for our epic Zion National Park run. The feedback was generally pretty positive – but first, it’s worth mentioning what’s so different about these new gels.

The main ingredient of the new formula is organic maltodextrin, which replaces the brown rice syrup that gave previous CLIF SHOTs a fairly harsh aftertaste. The resulting gel has a mildly sweet taste and a thinner consistency than the previous version, and it's also noticeably thinner and sweeter than GU. All of the new flavors contain at least 85% organic ingredients, and are packed with 50% more electrolytes than the previous formulation.

You’ll need to pay attention to the ingredient list, however, because the amounts of sodium, potassium, and caffeine vary with each of the eight flavors. For example, two flavors - chocolate cherry and double espresso - have 100mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of two shots of coffee, while the vanilla and fruit flavors have less caffeine, but 50% more sodium than the chocolate or mocha flavors. To be fair, GU has variability in its electrolyte and caffeine amounts as well, and in some cases, the potassium levels of CLIF SHOT are even higher than GU’s high-endurance Roctane flavors.

CLIF even thought to improve the packaging of their new gels. The innovative litter-leash opening that was introduced with the first version is maintained, and seemed to us to be slightly shorter and thicker to improve its attachment to the main package (the old ones used to tear off the package quite easily). It has a narrower opening for cleaner consumption, and rounded corners for more comfortable transport in a thin pocket.

All of those things are secondary to the primary question, however: how do they taste? During our lab testing at Zion, our group of ultrarunners was pleasantly surprised. The vanilla and fruit flavors scored very high with a taste that was sweet but not too strong or tart, and we all thought the new citrus flavor was amazing.

From the testing I’ve done so far, I’d say that CLIF has made a remarkable improvement with its SHOT gel, and while they’re not quite the equivalent of GU, they’ve narrowed the gap considerably. I’d still prefer GU during an ultra, because I like the fact that they have ginger to calm my stomach (sure, it might be a placebo effect, but don’t tell me that - it’s working well for me), which CLIF lacks. And even with the electrolyte boost, they don’t have a similar offering to the amino acid blend of GU’s Roctane, which is supposed to help slow the rate of muscle damage during activity (same placebo disclaimer here).

What I’ve settled on for now is to stick with GU as my first choice for runs of 50K or more, mainly because they’ve worked great for me and there really isn’t any reason for me to change. However, during long training days I’ll definitely combine my favorite SHOT flavors (vanilla and citrus) with my favorite GU flavors (vanilla, jet blackberry, and vanilla orange Roctane) for a wider variety of options to keep me fueled with steady energy throughout the workout.

If you’re one of the winners of the giveaway, you can figure out your own balance between the two. Leave a comment below this post by 5PM PST on Wednesday, November 17, and I’ll pick three winners to receive a sampler pack of the new CLIF SHOT gels. Good luck to everyone, and big thanks to CLIF for sponsoring this contest.

*Product provided by CLIF Bar and Company
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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Check out the Running Life book for a collection of our most popular columns.


November 13, 2010

Random Shots of Beauty

A pretty easy choice this week ...

Sunset at Zion National Park, from last weekend.

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November 11, 2010

GoLite Micro Lite Women's Running Shoe Review

A quick announcement before today’s post: you’ve got two more days to pick up my Running Life book at a 20% discount. Of course, you’re still more than welcome to buy it after November 14th – it will just cost you a few bucks more. Visit the book website here and click the PayPal button at top right to grab your copy.

As a product tester, one of the things I appreciate about GoLite Footwear is that they’re an equal opportunity supplier. More specifically, as I researched their BareTech shoe line earlier this fall on behalf of my wife, and discovered that the Amp Lite shoes I reviewed were mainly geared toward men, they were happy to provide the women’s equivalent for my wife to test.

GoLite Micro Lite

That shoe is the Micro Lite, a fairly lightweight (9.0 oz) trail runner with all the technology features of the Amp Lite, as well as some inherent design modifications that are more suitable for female runners. In other words, the Micro is just as well-built as the Amp, but a little more svelte and eloquently designed – which, come to think of it, is a fair metaphor for the comparison of women to men in general, right?

Like the Amp, the Micro is geared towards runners in one of two categories: 1) those who are transitioning from traditional running shoes towards minimalist footwear, or 2) those who like to combine some benefits of natural running with the comfort and/or security of a traditional shoe. Its most distinguishing performance features are in the midsole: a zero-drop design that provides a flat platform to promote midfoot striking, and Soft Against the Ground technology that puts the firmer EVA close to the foot and the softer stuff underneath (see more details in my Amp review). Midsole height of the Micro is 16mm, compared to 20mm for the Amp.

Leather and mesh upper with easy, stable lacing system

Other technologies are carried over from the Amp, such as the PreciseFit footbed system that allows users to customize the roominess of the toebox, a synthetic leather and closed-mesh upper with abrasion-resistant toe and heel reinforcement, and an internal lacing system with a TPE cage that surrounds your midfoot area to keep the foot secure on all types of terrain. The lacing system is actually an improvement over the Amp, which uses a strange crossover pattern that is somewhat cumbersome at times; by comparison, the Micro’s traditional lace pattern is a breeze to secure.

Paw Pad outsole with GripStick rubber

Although my wife has used them as a hybrid for both on- or off-road running, the Micro is designed as a trail shoe, with outsole technologies like “Paw Pad” wedge-shaped construction for enhanced traction, and GripStick rubber for increased overall durability and improved stability on slick surfaces.

Most of the gender-specific distinctions of the Micro are built into in the last, which is contoured with a narrower heel and a slightly tighter instep than the Amp. Many footwear companies just downsize their men’s last to build the women’s model upon, but GoLite uses an entirely different shape to ensure optimum fit. The last is also posted 3mm on the medial side, which is 1mm greater than the Amp, and allows for improved alignment of the hips, knees, and ankles. (Biomechanically speaking, the angles between pelvis, knees, and feet are different for women than for men – but that’s a whole different discussion.)

My wife has logged well over 100 miles on her Micros, and has generally been very pleased with them on both roads and trails. She confirms that the ankle fit is noticeably more snug than other running shoes she’s used, but is very comfortable and keeps debris out quite effectively. She says the uppers and lacing system keep her feet securely in place on all but the steepest downhills. One drawback of the upper is that the ratio of leather to mesh is very high, which is helpful to keep trail dust and debris out, but doesn’t ventilate nearly as well as her traditional road trainers.

Most critically, considering the category of this shoe, is that she reports it’s very easy to run flat-footed in the Micro, and that it’s been a great transitional shoe as she's moving towards more minimal footwear. Perhaps by the time GoLite’s purely minimal Tara Lite (see preview here) comes out in the spring, she’ll be ready for it.

I concluded my Amp Lite review by saying it was a compelling shoe for the particular population niche it serves – and considering that the gender specific modifications of the Micro are all improvements, this female version is an even more attractive option for women venturing towards natural running. It's also 10 dollars cheaper: GoLite’s Micro Lite retails for $100 with free overnight shipping from Endless.com as well as other online vendors.

*Product provided by GoLite Footwear
** See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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November 9, 2010

Zion Rim to Rim Run Report

“I can't believe that we would lie in our graves wondering if we had spent our living days well –
I can't believe that we would lie in our graves dreaming of things that we might have been.”
- Dave Matthews Band, “Lie in Our Graves” (video after post)

This really isn’t the kind of thing I normally do.

I mean … OK, yes – going on a long, crazy run somewhere and taking a bunch of pictures for a ridiculously lengthy report actually is something I’ve done with increasing frequency, but this particular case still managed to bend a lot of the rules. When it comes to traveling across three states, or leaving my family behind for a weekend just so I can have a childlike faraway adventure, that’s not something I typically (or for that matter, want to) make a habit of doing.

But this particular adventure was different. It was in Zion National Park, which I’ve heard about for years but never visited. All of the logistics, including transportation and course support, were arranged by Stacy at Wilderness Running Company, meaning I’d never have an easier opportunity to enjoy such an epic run; basically, all I had to do was get my butt to Southern Utah with a pair of running shoes, and he took care of everything else.

Finally – and this may be a symptom of my getting older – I’ve had this increasing notion recently that I shouldn’t let great opportunities like this pass me by. I don’t want to look back someday and wonder if I spent my living days appreciating the world around me, the blessings I’ve been given, or the people who shared the journey – and I don’t want to wistfully dream of things that might have been.

So that’s how I found myself in a rented van with five other people, driving in the dark to a remote trailhead on the western side of Zion National Park last Saturday morning. It’s also a good launching point for our photo report.

(And as usual, click to enlarge any of these pics - they're much better that way.)

The plan for four of us (two others were doing a shorter option) was to do a 32-mile “mini-traverse” of the park: climb to the West Rim, plunge down 3000’ to the valley floor, then drag ourselves up and over the East Rim to the park’s opposite boundary. It had the makings of a long day, which is why we started at first light. And when I mentioned all of the arrangements that Stacy made beforehand, I forgot to mention the killer sunrise he ordered for us. I thought that was a nice touch.

We set out from an area called Wildcat Canyon, which had a nice variety of rolling terrain …

… before starting a long steady climb toward the West Rim. The average elevation along this stretch was more than 7000’, which might have explained why I was getting a little bit short of breath …

… or maybe it was simply the breathtaking views we started seeing off to our right.

The geologic diversity of Zion is evident right off the bat: some landmarks are flattened, some are eroded into cones, others are jagged and irregular. Some are deep red, others are light brown or stark white. And whatever the variety, they’re all quite mesmerizing.

The landmarks also rise up quite steeply from the valley floor, as our occasional glimpses of the canyon below demonstrated clearly.

Our “Fab Four” group for the day consisted of me, Gretchen, Stacy, and Jamie. The girls are both outstanding ultrarunners, but thankfully this was a “no egos” run from the very first step, so they were happy to slow down to hang with the guys. In fact, calling our pace “casual” is something of an understatement; is there a term for “moving at a comfortable pace for everyone, taking walking breaks whenever the conversation gets really good, and stopping at every scenic spot for extended gawking and photo sessions”? If so … that’s the word to describe our group’s mentality on the run.

Continuing along the rim, we enjoyed some great views of Phantom Valley …

… before starting a very long descent down to Zion's floor.

This canyon is an almost acoustically perfect echo chamber; we probably spent more time than we needed to bouncing our “Woo-Hoo!”s off the rock walls on three sides of us, but it was a very cool effect. And, as I mentioned, it’s not like we were in a hurry or anything.

Much of the footing in Zion is significantly more challenging than what I’ve experienced in California; at various points we encountered sharply jagged lava rock, steeply sloped granite faces, or large, loosely packed rocks like the ones pictured here. It was a significant challenge with the minimalist footwear I wore (revealed shortly) – but aside from paying closer attention than usual to the irregularities underfoot, I didn’t have any shoe-related problems all day long …

… especially when the trail opened up to an exposed rock face that predictably turned into another goofing-around photo spot.

We still had a lot of downhill to cover, however, and it became harder and harder to keep our eyes on the trail …

… when we started getting glimpses of the Zion Valley floor in the distance below.

This is Angels Landing, a half-mile detour off the main trail, and one of the most ominous yet popular tourist destinations in Zion. You reach the top by climbing across the narrow spine of the rock …

… which, as this sign will inform you, has resulted in more than a few people falling to their deaths. The death sign didn’t seem to faze anybody, however, as this rock was literally crawling with hikers – by this point including Gretchen and me.

Your route up to the landing consists mainly of a length of chain set into the rock …

… and it’s up to you to make your way around the lollygaggers as you work your way up the narrow spine. The two-way traffic that shares a single chain along this stretch has the potential to get fairly congested …

… but the views at the top are definitely worth it, whether you’re sharing them with a good friend …

… or just contemplating the world while your feet dangle over the edge. Two other points are worth mentioning about this picture:

1) Those are my shoes, the VivoBarefoot Evo II, which I’ll be formally reviewing here in a few weeks. It’s a high compliment to say I had absolutely no hesitation in using them on what I knew would be a highly technical, extremely challenging, potentially dangerous outing like this – and a high endorsement to report that they performed wonderfully. Also …

2) Remember “Lie in Our Graves”, the DMB song that introduced this post? Another verse from it asks “Would you not like to be/ Sitting on top of the world with your legs hanging free?” So it’s not much of a surprise that it got stuck in my head for the rest of the run.

We still had many miles to cover, however, so we made our way back down the steep slope of Angel’s Landing …

… and Walter’s Wiggles, perhaps the most famous set of switchbacks in America …

… and all the way down the serpentine plunge that looked more like a water park slide than a trail sometimes. This was probably the most enjoyable part of the run, because we were cruising smoothly downhill …

… into beautiful Zion Canyon, where the fall colors were just starting to pop …

… and directly to an enormous lunch spread that Stacy and his wife had set up for us. Since the day was all about being mellow, we didn't treat this as a typical ultra aid station stop; we made full sandwiches, had chips and drinks and other snacks, and sat around for at least a half-hour talking about all the sights we had seen thus far. It was one of those moments you wish could last forever, but we knew it couldn’t …

… because we still had to climb back up and over this thing before our run was finished.

So eventually we shuffled away from the lunch table and headed about 1 mile up the road …

… and began the long trek up the East Rim trail, which started with a solid five miles of steep uphill.

The colors in this area of the park were brilliant, which was a nice distraction …

… from the fact that this trail was pretty much kicking all of our butts.

About halfway up the climb, you take your last look into Zion Canyon …

… before entering a seriously narrow section of trail carved by a very thin but extremely determined creek in the depths below.

Once we exited the canyon, I was glad Gretchen and Stacy were in front of me, because I had no idea where the trail went from here. Long stretches were essentially a random scramble across the sandstone …

… which served a s brief reprieve from the lung-burning steepness of the top portion of the climb.

The final uphill miles took their toll on me, and by the time I reached the 3-mile downhill stretch towards the East Rim trailhead, my legs were feeling fairly beat up. I ran these miles alongside Gretchen, who earlier in the day had explained how she intentionally slows down in the final miles of long runs like this, just to make the experience last a little bit longer. She was running slow to stretch out the moment; I was running slow because I didn’t have any choice. We made a good team that way.

I have to say that I understood what Gretchen meant, though …

… because once I saw the trailhead marking the end of the run, I had this brief flash of disappointment – Wait - it’s over? – followed by a sudden urge to remember as many details of the last 10 hours as I could.

So of course, I kept taking pictures – such as this one of the happy group at trail’s end …

… or this gaggle of like-minded shutterbugs gathered at a bridge on the main road out of the park. They weren’t ultrarunners – just photography geeks setting up to capture the sights around them …

… such as the Virgin River bending through the valley below …

… or the rock called The Watchman soaking up the last beams of the sunset high above. Darkness eventually settled on him, as it did on us, and we had to be on our way.

The Watchman would wake up to another day in Zion tomorrow; the rest of us had to be content with the one that we just finished. Fortunately, it was a day spent as well as I could have possibly hoped from every standpoint: beautiful autumn weather, an amazing run in an incredible park, and a wonderful experience with people who could appreciate it all just as much as I did.

Whether it all happens again remains to be seen, but I’m more than happy that I grabbed this opportunity, so I don’t have to wonder anymore what might have been.

Dave Matthews Band, "Lie in Our Graves", live in Chicago (click to play):

*See other photo tours under tab at top of page.

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