25 April 2014

road review - skechers GOrun ultra

i'm not an ultrarunner.  at least not yet.

as such, i've not gone the way of extensively (or even intentionally) testing out 'ultra' category shoes - not hoka one-one, not salomon, not la sportiva, not montrail, to name a few.

and even when i had the opportunity to try on the skechers GOrun ultra at a local skechers outlet retail store, i gave them a quick slip-on the feet but then just as quickly dismissed them as 'too cushy' and 'too much shoe'.

fast forward to a couple of months later, when as a Skechers brand ambassador i was shipped a pair of the GOrun ultra to try out.  long story short, you'll pretty much have to pry these shoes off of my cold, dead feet.

here's the rundown:
  • fit - when i first donned these shoes i wasn't crazy about the fit around the forefoot.  the toebox itself feels great, with a super-forgiving 'tech spring mesh' on the upper surrounded by mono-mesh quarter panels.  but even though i took a size 10 (the same size that i take in the GOrun 2, and a half-size up from the GObionic and GObionic trail) but it still felt just a wee bit funny.  upon walking around in the living room i figured it out just as i vaguely recollect reading someone else's comments (was it on facebook ...?) - it's the stitched overlays near the forefoot intended to offer some added stability.  they felt overly rigid to me, almost like they would begin to dig in after a little while of running (keep in mind that this was all during the initial fitting stage).  so my solution was to employ an alternate lacing method - essentially bypassing the first two sets of lacing eyelets to create additional flex right at the point of the forefoot overlays:

    and voilà! - they feel absolutely amazing while running.  it could be that i just needed to give them a bit of a work-in period, but either way i've got a pair of shoes that are super-comfy on my feet.

  • weight - even though they appear 'clunky' compared to my other collection of lightweight trainers, minimalist and racing shoes, plus factoring in the stiff heel counter, they only weigh in at a shade over 9 oz. - and to be honest, they feel even lighter than that.  i've put these shoes through some speed pacework and they have not been cumbersome in the least.

  • outsole - when i was first introduced to these shoes at a Skechers retail outlet the salesperson found out that i was planning to tackle a trail ultra race this summer and immediately tried to sell the GRU to me.  i figured that that was just the promotional 'push' for the season, regardless of what i'd told him my next competition would be ... as it turns out, the tread seems to be sufficiently 'luggy' or aggressive to tackle anything short of fell running.  plus given it's 27mm-to-23mm stack height comprised of an enhanced Resalyte midsole and Resagrip outsole it's a very comfortable (not mushy like my first instincts reported to me) ride.  i'd previously was convinced that the GBT would be my weapon of choice for the trail ultra - but now the balance of opinion has shifted to the GRU.

  • drop - i wear it as a 4mm heel-to-toe drop shoe without the provided insole (which itself provides an extra 4mm wedge) - however for fit purposes i do have an insole in these shoes which i transferred from an old pair of nike ACG hiking shoes.  what's remarkable about the drop in the GRU is that more than any other pair of shoes - Skechers or other brand - the GRU will simply not let me heelstrike.  it's a wonderful feeling of planting my foot down and almost immediately landing/rolling to my forefoot.  maybe that's what makes these shoes feel faster than expected.

  • flexibility - for a shoe with much more substance to it that i've been accustomed to as of late, the GRU move nicely with my foot.  it could be the deep flex grooves that are incorporated into the outsole design, but these shoes (for all intents and purposes) pass the 'roll up like a ball' test.

  • price - are you kidding me?  $90 USD for the GRU?  that's a steal by anybody's standards ... and that's not even on sale.
here's the video version of my review, with some additional comments:

all told, i wish i could give these shoes a better than five-footprint rating, but that would be gushing just a bit too much.

all that's left to say is that i honestly can hardly wait to see what the Skechers Performance Division will come up with next.  #GOlikeneverbefore!

*** disclaimer:  i was provided with the GORun Ultra by Skechers Performance Division (Canada) but was not obligated to provide a positive review.  all opinions - however poorly expressed - are my own.


19 April 2014

why not skechers ...?

this week i had an unexpected encounter with a footwear buyer for a running specialty retailer. while in conversation he noticed that i was wearing a pair of skechers GOrun ultra and he commented that he’d heard from some other runners that they were impressed by the footwear being produced by skechers performance division.  

but then he said that he wasn’t interested in buying from them for the store that he represented. 

as a skechers brand ambassador this naturally piqued my curiosity – and as he went on to explain his position, he described how he had issues with the fact that ‘you can buy skechers in just about any department store.’  the implication was that his store was focused on running-specific product that should in some sense only be available through a running-specific retailer.  i admit to probably having a bit of a dumbfounded look on my face at that point.   i didn’t offer a particularly intelligent rebuttal, but in my head i was thinking “but you probably carry nike, saucony, new balance – all brands that i can find in the sears catalogue.”

it's a head-scratcher to me that a retailer who is expressly about providing the running public with the best products possible would consciously choose not to stock brands that are consistently delivering positive reviews by recreational and elite athletes alike.  on top of that many running retailers carry items that receive mixed reviews at best because such brands might limit their market to running-specific products.

this isn't really a rant - it's more of a positional post asking the question that's in the title:  why not skechers?  
  • you can't lean on the argument that skechers markets too broadly because other powerhouse manufacturers like nike and adidas have their share of skateboarding and non-technical casual shoes
  • you say they have no history of technical footwear design?  how about kurt stockbridge's 18 years with nike working in materials innovation and as Senior Product Developer in their performance division.  or david raysse, who designed shoes for NBA players grant hill and jerry stackhouse with fila, and then moved on to be director of basketball design with adidas?
  • have they priced themselves out of the specialty market?  just because their best shoe lines are around $80 USD does in no way mean that they have skimped on quality or features.
  • still hung-up on the shape-ups?  i get it.  outrageous promises, lawsuits.  but it's history now ... and just in case you think that one wonky design mars an entire brand, let's just showcase a few others for our viewing pleasure ...
i feel that it's high time that the running-specific community recognize that skechers is a serious player in the field.  they have a proven product at every level of training and competition.  it disappoints me that three of my favourite retailers with whom i have running connections - running free, running room and mountain equipment co-op - carry no stock in skechers performance footwear.

maybe there's a reason that i'm a skechers performance brand ambassador.  maybe that reason is that i was wearing and recommending skechers long before i was approached about the ambassador program.

like skechers, i believe in getting the best products to the people.  whether or not that's through running-specific retailers is not the critical issue - we have enough of an exercise-deficient epidemic in north america that there's no room for exclusivity and/or elitism.

if you're a runner who's never tried skechers - or never even thought of trying skechers - please accept this as your invitation to explore the world of the skechers performance division.

and #GOlikeneverbefore!

14 April 2014

race report - barrie Spring Thaw 10k

last fall i decided to tackle a 10k (my first ever race in that distance) as a bit of a time trial in advance of the road2hope hamilton marathon.  this year, when the organizers of the barrie spring thaw races sent a request out to the barrie roadrunners to support their event, i thought that the timing was right to once again test my mettle and gauge my conditioning - this time in advance of the mississauga marathon.  

i had a mental goal of running sub-40min., but knew that it would depend on the conditions and the pace of the other runners around me.  with this being a small-field event (maybe 130 competitors total participating in a 1k run, 5k walk, 5k run and 10k run) and having reviewed previous years' results i gathered that it could be hit-or-miss as to whether or not i'd place in my age-group, and how fast the finishing times might be.  but having my newly acquired Skechers GOMeb Speed 2 on my feet, i felt like something really good was ready to happen.

i couldn't pick up my kit the day before the race, so i arrived early on race morning, got a few kms of easy warm-up in, ran several strides and then did some lunges/stretching before picking up my bib and ankle-strap chip.  the registration space was well organized (even if the volunteers were reading their what-to-do instructions straight off of a sheet) and i got set up with relative ease.

as the 10k race was the second last event to go in the staggered-start arrangement, i spent some time chatting it up with my friends tom and brandy who were running the 5k.  tom is an 18-min. 5k runner who is built like a tank - he's got the physique of a pro-wrestler in a small 5'6" package, and he runs like the wind.  i'd had hoped that perhaps we might overlap on the course so that i could try to keep pace with him, but the logistics just wouldn't work out that way.

the race
the line-up at the start had a fair number of high-school aged students - the Spring Thaw is an event organized in support of Unity Christian High School so i gathered that many of the families enrolled in the school showed up for it.  there was also a bike pacer right at the start planning to lead the group for the first 2k or so until we would hit a limestone trail at which he would bail out - i think mostly because the trail was still a bit mushy with snow/ice spots that could make pacing (even with aggressive knobby tires) a hazard for runners trying to follow.

1st km - 3:44

i started right at the front of the pack and kept up with the bike pacer/marshal and it felt like a great way to go.  after about 400m i settled into a nice rhythm and followed the hum of the tires just ahead of me, thinking that if i could keep this going that i would be golden.  at about 650m i was passed by a teenager who seemed to be moving very strong, and i was ok with that - i did want to stick to an even-splits kind of race strategy, so i let him go but managed to keep no more than about 20m behind him.

kms 2, 3, 4 - 4:07, 4:11, 4:03

i felt decent with the pace, and nearing the 2k mark we lost our bike pacer, leaving just my teenage friend and i to keep the pace.  i found him to be fairly steady, and i didn't mind creeping into the 4:xx/km territory hoping to have something strong left in the tank for the final third, especially if i had to race this kid to the finish line.

km 5, 6, 7, 8 - 4:04, 4:07, 4:06, 4:11

at about 4.5k we had a hairpin turnaround and just after that i found myself closing the gap on the leader.  i wondered at first if i was picking up the pace, but sure enough i was staying steady.  when i caught up to the leader he quickly tucked in behind me - so my immediate thought was that he was going to take advantage of a bit of drafting, save himself for the final couple of kilometres, and then take me and whomever else down.  but about 600m after making the pass i realized that i wasn't hearing his footsteps anymore - i didn't look back, but instead told myself to stick to my race and try to feel good through to 8k.

since the 5k race started 15 min. after the 10k race and shared part of the same course, i caught up to the 5k runners at about the 7k mark.  up to that point i'd found it challenging to push myself, as it was like being out on a tempo run on my own.  with no one to try to keep up to or with, i found it easy to let a few seconds slip here and there, making it up with the occasional surge.  

i want to also mention at this point that there were two aid stations available along the 10k route - i didn't make use of any of them, but it's worth noting that this event was well-staffed, including various course marshals.  at no point did i have any questions as to the route, and they were all very encouraging as i was plugging away.

km 9, 10 - 4:09, 3:55

coming down the home stretch i was able to begin to 'pick people off' as numerous 5k runners were now in my sights.  this was a psychological boost and gave me focus on both accelerating smoothly and looking good/relaxing in my stride.  however, the 9th kilometre also produced several momentary vomiting sensations - and this was new to me.  i must have been pushing myself harder than i thought i was ... and with each perceived wretching instinct i had to concentrate on relaxing my upper body and taking deep easy breaths.  i don't know whether or not this slowed me down at all, but the result was that i managed to keep going without having to hurl.

with the finish line in sight i managed a decent push knowing that there were cameras catching the finishing straight.  the organizers said that they would be sending a complimentary finish-line photo to each participant, and i wanted mine to look half-decent, especially if i was going to place in my AG.    

official race gun time: 40:59 / garmin GPS 10k time: 40:37

my friend tom was there at the finish line ready to congratulate me on a strong performance, as well as to graciously fetch me a bottled water and a half-banana from the refreshments table while i paced around trying to regulate my breathing again.  i spent a bit of time 'unpacking' the race with he and his wife brandy when i finally noticed the second place 10k finisher - the teenager whom i'd followed through to 4.5k - coming in at about six minutes after i'd crossed the line.  i went over to him to thank him for letting me follow his lead, and he commented on how he thought i must have been a good runner, and that he'd come into this race without really having trained.  ah, to be young again ...

i stayed through waiting for the medal presentation, and in so doing was able to cheer on another friend (marc) who raced 10k on this day just as he had done one week prior - almost posting a new PB this time around again!

it was fun watching the medals being handed out, as they were awarded to the top three finishers in every AG division (by gender).  tom, brandy, marc and i all received medals, which was a real bonus!  and as it often is with smaller races, there were age categories where medals were awarded by default because of the number of entrants - some groupings not even having the full complement of three finishers.

having been recognized for the fruits of my labour, i went on to finish my morning run with an easy 15k, completing a 28k morning.  

not bad - a new 10k race PB, a 1st place AG finish, and 1st place overall.  as far as lessons learned goes, i discovered that being a frontrunner (literally) requires a different kind of discipline if you're going to try to take down any records - even just your own.  i feel as if i might well have had a better chance of going sub-40 if there were other faster runners to keep up with or even just a few of us in the end going toe-to-toe as we duelled for podium places.  

so maybe i exchanged a fast time for a first-place finish.

still, i'll take it - and will continue to #GOlikeneverbefore!


10 April 2014

on the run ... with kyle kranz

welcome to another interview in the on the run series ...

he's not one to necessarily tout his 'before' and 'after' photos, but kyle kranz has a story to tell.  in his own words he's said:
"9 years ago I was a 230 pound high school student.  Someone finds out I run marathons or 140 mile triathlons and they say 'oh I could never do that'.  Well I'm proof that whatever your origin is and whatever your goal may be, it's possible!  9 years ago you would never have even considered this size 42 waist would cross the finish line of a 100 mile ultra marathon." 
kyle's story doesn't end there - he's continued to develop himself as an athlete, becoming a professional runner, coach, and social media coordinator for the oregon-based running company Skora.  

. . . . .

1.  Having transitioned from the 230-lb. "Big Kyle" in high school to full-time professional runner, I've discovered that:

(a) Nothing is impossible
(b) Being in poor physical health is about more than too much gaming and fast food
(c) I was my own worst enemy and greatest ally
(d) I could not have gotten here without the help of some key people
(e) This version of me was always there waiting to be unleashed

KK:   "D" (with a little of "E") is the answer that stuck out to me most, because it was honestly one single person that opened my eyes to where I was in my life and where I could go.  In all truth, I think many people who are unhealthy lack a true idea of what their current status actually is.

2.   Working both as a coach and with Skora it seems your personal running philosophy is to 'run real'. The biggest mistake that you find runners making is:

(a) Heel striking
(b) Low stride cadence
(c) Poor breathing control
(d) Overstriding
(e) Bad posture/upper body form

KK:   Actually, none of the above. I actually just started working with an athlete who has only been running for two months, and he wanted to do a half marathon in 3.5 months.  Now, I explained to him that he could get there, but that half would be both very slow and possibly quite painful. It would also probably include a great deal of walking, going from zero to 13.1 in six months is a leap.  We decided that the best course would be to instead target the 5k on that day, instead of the half marathon.  With the 5k he can work on improving his speed, run safer because he does not have to increase his weekly volume as much, and hopefully finish the event feeling good and happy with doing more than "just covering a distance".

It's on a much longer scale, but I feel I moved into ultra distance races too quickly.  Ironically, I'm now 1.5 years into my training back at the 5k-13.1 distance races, and it will likely be 5 more years until I do another ultra.

If I had to choose from the above options, it would probably be a combo of "D" & "B", however they all tie closely in with each other.

3.   Nutrition is a huge part of athletics and most certainly critical to endurance sport training. What are the key factors that determine your current plant-based diet regime?

(a) It's all about ethical choices, baby
(b) I'm still convinced that it's the ideal human diet (yeah, you heard me paleo people)
(c) I'm just not a crazy fruitarian like Michael Arnstein
(d) Until I find a diet that serves as better fuel for my running performance I'm sticking with it
(e) None of the above / Other

KK:  Definitely "A".  Ethics is my reasoning behind my plant based diet.  I don't particularly think there is anything wrong with eating meat, just the way 99.9% of meat is raised and harvested is where my issues lie.  I can see myself fishing and hunting at some point in the future.  I think the only "ideal human diet" is one made primarily of whole foods.  Other than that, we have cultures thriving off of anything from the extremely high fat diet of the Native Alaskans to the very high carb diet of the Blue Zone populations.  The one constant is they all eat minimally processed food.

4.   Being a social media coordinator a lot of my life is out there for all to see. Something that you may not know about me is:

(a) I'm trying to collect a coin from every country in the world, and right now I could really use one from ________!
(b) I may have run a 100-miler, but I'd love to focus on being a super-fast 1-miler
(c) Tucked in among my closet of Skora Cores, Forms and Phases is a pair of Brooks T7s
(d) Exercising make me feel energized - blogging make me feel tired
(e) As disciplined as I am, I still have control issues around Oreos

KK:  Haha, you know me and my Oreo issues all to well.  A couple months ago I walked around the grocery store with a container of the (new to me) cookie dough Oreos, before finally putting them away prior to checking out.

*** for more on kyle's coaching work and running endeavours, visit his website at http://kylekranz.com/


07 April 2014

race report - 2014 MEC Barrie Race Series One

if you've read through The Rendezvoo Point to a certain degree you'll have picked up on the name yuki kawauchi appearing time and time again.  yuki is the 'everyman runner' from japan - a civil servant with a full-time day job and a race schedule that would put almost every other elite distance runner on the planet to shame.  he is a hero to many, and in so many ways i aspire to emulate what he is accomplishing in the sport.

which is why i've added a number of races to my 2014 schedule.

in previous years i'd only target two, perhaps three races and gear my training plan towards peaking for those events.  last year i had five races (four and half since the beaches jazz fest run is really a tune-up) - and this year i have nine races on the calendar, with room for some other smaller ones in-between.  while it's far from going at it every weekend, it represents a significant step up in competitive focus for me.

this weekend's MEC Barrie Race Series One event marks my second race for the year, and my first as a Skechers Performance Canada brand ambassador.

as i'd noted in the one other MEC Race Series event that i'd entered, these races are put together as a grassroots, no-muss no-fuss low-cost opportunity to get the local community out and running.  in a way it has a bit of a parkrun feel (although that breed of event is even more grassroots and no-cost) and is very easy for anyone to access.  i registered in-store for $15.00 and after signing the appropriate waiver sheet was provided with a decent race kit including my bib, a free iRun magazine, a CLIF bar and the option for various promotional materials about other races.  

boom.  in and out in 10 min. flat.  in fact, the process would have been even faster except that i ran into my friend rick whom i'd planned to pace to his 5k PB of 21 min. - and so we chatted it up a bit.

given that i would be running a 5k race on a day that i would normally have put in about 33k, and would be doing so at a pace that is slower than my personal 5k PB (19:57), i wasn't stressing myself out at all over being ready for race morning.  except that all through the night before i could hear the wind howling like mad outside the bedroom window, and that got my mind going about ways that i would have to try to accommodate for the adverse conditions if i was going to help him cross the line in time.

race day
i parked right near the start line to get in a pre-race warm-up of about 5k.  after a quick chat with my pal jim willett (who was the official timer for the race) i headed out - into a brutal headwind that dropped the temperature from about -3°C down to -11°C.  my fears were confirmed that this would be less-than-ideal conditions for rick to hit up his PB ... but given that the run was around kempenfelt bay, we would have portions where the wind was going to hit us from about every side.  still no bargain - but at least the footing was solid enough.

rick arrived a bit afterwards and we got in a couple of kms in warmup plus some strides.  we then posed for the requisite pre-race photo:

we were freezing our buns off ...!

the 10k racers started off first, and then 10 minutes later the 5k racers.  rick and i positioned ourselves near the front of the pack, hoping to take advantage of some group drafting as the first 800m or so was dead into the wind. 

1st km - 3:56

we shot out of the gate.  it was clear that rick was primed and eager to run a fast 5k - however i was concerned that we might fall victim to the 'start fast and blow-up later' syndrome.  as his pacer i definitely let him know that we should dial back from the 3:32 pace that we were hitting, and we did - a bit.  gotta admit that it's hard when you're feeling fresh and fueled.

2nd km - 4:10

this was a much more manageable pace, and close to the target time to get in under 21:00.  at this point we'd turned a corner and were running a stretch where the wind was coming at us from the side, so it felt much less daunting.

3rd km - 4:15

a slight incline on this patch of bayside trail and the hairpin turnaround point.  just after the 2.5km mark we were back into the wind, and following a runner pushing a buggy with his kid in it.  it must have been like running with a parachute on ... and while we admired his effort, he was taking up a good lane-and-a-half of a two lane bike path, so we had to work on timing our pass appropriately as other runners were coming at us the other way.

4th km - 4:25

with the headwind again rick started to feel the effects of the fast start.  he had to take two short (5-7 sec.) walk intervals, and i slowed to a jogging pace to keep moving ahead but not allow the 'elastic' to break.

5th km - 4:12

rick put in a final push - and if it weren't for his dummkopf pacer taking him down the wrong stretch of path in the last 150m (!) we might have saved ourselves a second or two.

official race gun time:  21:04 / garmin GPS 5k time:  20:59

i know that there are always variances in both the accuracy of any GPS-enabled device and the measured distance of a race course, so i'm not going to claim that either result was definitive.  but all things considered, this was a great race for rick, and i had a fantastic time taking it on with him.

if rick's bent-over pose was any indication, he'd given just about everything that he had for that day - which is exactly how you'd want to finish up with a PB.  there was a tent with hot apple cider, bananas and CLIF bars available which was a nice touch for a budget-conscious event.

i stayed for a bit to watch some more runners cross the line - including my friend lewis who hit his targeted time of 25:00 for 5k:

now that's a finish line expression!

i also saw one other 5k runner sporting the Skechers GORun 2 - and he was maybe 7 years old!  i high-fived him as he crossed the finish line, but he was spent and his dad went off with him having to help brace him up ... otherwise i would have snapped a photo with him!

as i intended to log another 15k or so afterwards, i decided to carry on along the course route again to wrap-up my morning.  about 1500m from the finish line i came across another friend named marc who was running the 10k race, and so i turned around and helped pace him (allowing him to draft a bit behind me) through to the end and a PB for him of 56:06.  not bad - my first go at pacer and i help two guys hit their PBs for different distances!

i've got to say that at the end of it all i felt really good - about my first pacing experience, my first MEC Barrie race, and even getting in a solid 5k tempo run.  hopefully this will set me up nicely for an attempt next week at my own PB at the Spring Thaw 10k.  i hope to #GOLIKENEVERBEFORE!

04 April 2014

ten people i would like to run with ... a blog bounce

yesterday i found brian burk's post entitled "Ten People I Would Like To Run With ....." and was intrigued.  i usually hate list-type posts (especially on twitter where people try to lure you into reading something by teasing out "top five things that" or "the number one thing that"), but for whatever reason this caught my attention.   

so here's my list (also posted as a comment on brian's page):
  1. my wife - she's an occasional treadmill runner, but it would be great to get her out onto the roads and be able to share some of the time that i spend out there with her.
  2. emil zátopek - in his army boots, no less!
  3. haile gebrselassie - the great one.  'nuff said.
  4. chrissie wellington - is there a more positive person on the planet?
  5. dick and rick hoyt - i'm sure that i would be different forever after running with them.
  6. steve prefontaine - after one run i'd know what putting it all out there is truly like.
  7. yuki kawauchi - at the conclusion of which i'm sure that i would pass out and feel like i was dying while being attended to by the medics.
  8. my grandfather - the dude had one leg and served as an admiral (on loan to the British) who helped save over fifty men from an invading japanese force.
  9. forrest gump (!) - the patron saint of runners.  and table tennis players.  and shrimp boaters.
  10. eric liddell - so we could both feel God's pleasure when we ran.
who makes your list?


01 April 2014

keeping vs. pushing the pace

this weekend i've got a run planned that i've not ever undertaken before.

i'm helping to pace someone in a race.

any of you who have ever done something like this can appreciate that there's a difference between being confident about completing a particular distance in a certain time and being about to help guide another runner to complete that same distance in that given time.

pacing (as i understand it) is about more than providing a guarantee of crossing the finishing line in a certain number of hours/minutes/seconds.  it's about doing so in a fashion that calls forth an effort that can reasonably be expected of someone who may have the same athletic capacity as you.

does that make sense?

it's not as if i can just sandbag it for 80% of the race and then turn on the afterburners for the remaining 20% - the person for whom i'm serving as pacer may be running on fumes at the 80% mark.  

and it's not as if i'm just 'along for the ride' with my fellow runner - if i neglect on my responsibility to push him/her appropriately, then we both wind up missing the mark.

on top of all of that, a pacer is an encourager.  i've got to be comfortable enough running at a speed that i can be doling out words that will inspire, uplift and challenge the other person in a way that will bring out his/her best.

put that all together, and there's more at stake in this race than in any other race that i've run to this point.

and i love it.

here's to a great day.  here's to my friend crossing the finish line in the time that he hopes for.  and here's to the opportunity to have my legs make a difference in someone else's life.