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running shoes

How to choose your next pair of running shoes

by Larry Carroll

For ultra-runners, selecting a pair of shoes is like Han Solo bonding with his spaceship or John Wick picking out a certain weapon of choice. You’re about to head into battle together, the two of you are about to share a special bond — and when showtime hits, you want to make sure you won’t be let down.

Another unfortunate reality of endurance running, however, is that you need to replace your kicks with frequency, and innovation is constantly changing your options. With that in mind, below is a simple breakdown of some questions you should be asking yourself when the time comes to select your footwear.

running shoes

Trail-runner or road-runner? – Although you’d be hard-pressed to find a lengthy run that doesn’t combine the two to some extent, the first choice you must make is which kind of shoe your needs require. For this discussion we’ll assume trail runner shoes, which are generally designed to prevent foot rotation injuries over control of pronation (the degree to which the arch of your foot collapses upon impact). 

Is my store up to the task? – It sounds obvious, but far too many runners put more thought into shoe brand and style than they do fit. Even if you think you know your shoe size, don’t take it for granted. Make sure that your selected shoe seller has the measuring abilities, staff, and selection to properly fit your feet — then take the time to do so before you do anything else. You’d be surprised at how much impact a half-size difference can have when you’re out on the trail.

Light, rugged or off? – Trail running shoes can largely be divided into 3 categories. If you tend to run on well-groomed trails, then you want something close to traditional running shoes, weight-wise, because a brisk pace is most important to you. Rocks and roots aren’t as much of a concern, so you want to go with a light trail shoe. Rugged trail shoes, meanwhile, will generally give you additional underfoot protection, toe guards and lug patterns to keep you upright and protected — and can range widely based on how crazy you plan on getting out there. Speaking of which, the last category is Off Trail shoes, which offer the most resilient materials and actively guard against twisted ankles while simultaneously satisfying all your weatherproofing needs – but remember, the more weatherproofing you take on, the less your feet will breathe out there.

Be realistic – While some people might think it could be inspiring to buy shoes for a 100-mile race when your training level is only around 5 miles, it’s really just overkill. Be honest with yourself about where your training currently stands, and shop for the races/training in your immediate future. Don’t worry — when you’re ready to run Badwater, you can always come back and get another pair.

What’s your stack height? – Some runners swear that thick, protective shoes will make your runs more comfortable and less likely to result in injury. Others desire less cushioning, wanting a feel so natural that it’s almost like running barefoot. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice — but if you lean towards minimal footwear, just be sure that you build up gradually.

Give yourself a wide berth – For some, a wide forefoot is best. If you’re running very long distances, for instance, or if you happen to have wider feet and need a bit more wiggle room. Shoe width is an important decision, however, because losing fit precision could lead to clumsiness on the course.

What’s the off-set? – It seems like a minor decision, but when you plan to spend mile after mile with a pair of shoes it’s one worth asking: How much lower do you want your toes in relation to your heel? With each stride, shoes with less of a drop encourage you to land on your fore-foot or mid-foot; a bigger drop is ideal for striking with your heel.

Once you’ve considered all this and made your purchase, you get to enjoy the best part: Busting some new shoes out of their box, strapping them on and taking them out for a maiden voyage. Is it weird to bond with a pair of sneakers? Remember, what happens on the trail stays on the trail.

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Is it a good idea to ultra-marathon on a Keto diet?

by Larry Carroll

If there’s one thing that has been around as long as the concept of running for health, it’s dieting for health. Much like running itself, dieting has witnessed the rise and fall of many fads, vast quantities of products touting the ultimate solution, and many programs that prove difficult to stick with. Nowadays, the hot word in dieting is “keto,” and as more long-distance runners are looking to it for an edge, one has to wonder: Is it a good idea to ultra-marathon on a keto diet?

For decades, the image of a long-distance runner in the days before a marathon was relatively clear-cut: Huddled over huge plates of pasta, shoving a banana in the mouth at the starting line, treating themselves to chocolate milk in an attempt to get sugar back to the muscles post workout. Of course, all these images run contrary to the rise of the ketogenic diet, which promotes a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate lifestyle that forces the body to burn fats rather than carbs.

According to a recent article by CNN (https://money.cnn.com/2018/09/17/news/companies/keto-diet-trend/index.html), “With the help of social media and word of mouth, demand for keto-friendly products have gone through the roof … Interest in keto has far outpaced interest in other fad diets. A Google Trends chart over the past year show searches for ‘keto’ have dwarfed searches for ‘paleo,’ ‘Whole 30’ and ‘intermittent fasting.'”

Naturally, when something the media describes as a “fad diet” hits such pervasive proportions, it is going to bleed over into the world of athletics and fitness. It’s no surprise, then, that someone like Zach Bitter is giving interviews talking about his recent setting of the record for fastest 100 mile trail run while crediting a diet with virtually no carbs.

Remembering his high school and college days, Bitter tells Men’s Journal (https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/zach-bitter-100-mile-american-record-holder-he-also-eats-almost-no-carbs/): “My diet was clean, but probably 60% carbs. Then, in 2010, I started participating in ultra-endurance events and noticed that things weren’t ideal — not being able to sleep consistently through the night, having big energy swings during the day, chronic inflammation in my ankles, things like that.”

After meeting with Jeff Volek, an Ohio State University professor/expert in low carbohydrate research, Bitter changed to a diet that now has carbs accounting for as little as 5% of his diet. “The inflammation went away really quickly, and within a month I was sleeping way better, like getting through the night,” Bitter explains. “And I noticed that my energy levels were consistent throughout the day.”

Whenever any athlete decides to go Keto, the primary question seems to be the same: How can you fuel yourself during an endurance race?

According to Kristin, a blogger at Madcity Eats, it was just a matter of time before her body got accustomed to burning fat, not carbs. “I started training for a 50k after being on the keto diet for about four months At that point, I was fully fat-adapted, meaning my body had shifted into a metabolic state where it was using fat as its primary fuel source.,” she writes (https://madcityeats.com/my-first-ultra-marathon-on-a-keto-diet-eb6e66840cce), observing that the fat in her diet made her less hungry than in past training, allowed her to skip breakfasts and rely on fuel from the previous night’s dinner, and like Bitter led to her recovering from workouts faster. “I know the ketogenic diet is working for me  —  not only in my day-to-day life, but also in my endurance pursuits.”

Much like Atkins and other low-carb diets, keto puts your body in a metabolic state called ketosis. Your body becomes efficient at burning fat for energy, and supplies energy for the brain by creating ketones in the liver. Reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels are common, which can result in health benefits. However, health experts have voiced concerns over ketoacidosis — a dangerous condition that occurs when the body stores too many ketones — which could lead to liver, kidney or even brain damage, particularly in diabetics. Even if you closely monitor your transition into the keto diet, the so-called “keto flu” should have you expecting to feel tired and in some sort of gastrointestinal distress for several days.

Then there’s the matter of a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness where Edward Weiss, PhD, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, found with some colleagues that participants actually performed worse on cycling and running tasks after 4 days on a ketogenic diet than that same window on a high-carb diet.

“Just losing a few pounds is enough to give you a huge advantage on the bike, but I’m very concerned that people are attributing the benefits of weight loss to something specific in the ketogenic diet,” Weiss tells Health magazine (https://www.health.com/weight-loss/keto-diet-side-effects). “In reality, the benefits of weight loss could be at least partially canceled out by reductions in performance.”

Not exactly music to the ears of an ultra-runner hoping to improve their time on the trail.

Ultimately, Kristin at Madcity Eats may sum it up best: “What I learned is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to training and racing while in ketosis. Everyone is different and has different fueling needs based on factors like body composition, how long you’ve been fat adapted and the duration of your race. Some athletes can train and race in a fasted state; others need to eat before and during a race. Still others opt to break from ketosis in the days leading up to an event and consume more carbohydrates for optimal performance.”

As the TV commercials say: Consult your doctor. Together, perhaps you’ll decide that keto offers the right path to reach your training goals. But until then, you might not want to throw away all those boxes of spaghetti just yet.

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get your dog fit

How to get your dog fit for long distance running

by Larry Carroll

Ultra-runners can be divided into two categories: Those who prefer a running partner, and those who prefer silence. Throughout centuries of undying companionship, dogs have earned the term “Man’s Best Friend.” It would make perfect sense, then, that the ideal state of training for many runners is alongside a 4-legged friend.

Running with a dog, however comes with so many questions. Which breeds are best equipped? How can you get them accustomed to running long distances? How much equipment will you need to add to your own? And, perhaps most importantly: How do you get them to stop chasing every darn squirrel they see along the route?

Cushla Lamen is a fitness instructor, Canicross racer and canine myotherapist — and she says the key to getting your dog out on the trail with you is simply treating them like anyone else. “Dogs need to build up to long distances slowly and steadily, just like their human companions,” she recently told Trail Running magazine ( HOW DO I TRAIN FOR A MUD RUN? ). “By taking your dog with you on training runs and building distances together, you’ll ensure you’re both race fit. Start with 5km to 10km, then add an additional 3km per week up to 20km. Overall, it’s down to the dog; if they stop, so do you.”

As much as you and your dog may come to feel like a team, it’s unfortunately impossible to sit Fido down and explain that you’re about to do a 5K, a marathon or a simple run to the corner market. Some dogs, however, may come to recognize something like a backpack you wear as an indication that it’s time for a lengthy run.

They are also likely to recognize the harness/bungee line/waist belt combos preferred by those who have embraced Canicross — a cross country sport that views the human as a driver and the canine as a sort of engine, responding to voice commands while embracing a team aesthetic that engages both the dog’s body and its mind. In the Canicross world, runners go hands-free and often use mushers terms to drive their dog, brief commands like “Go Gee” (go right) or “On by” (ignore, keep going) — but ultimately, you can use any terms you like in training your dog out on the trail, as long as they are consistent and easily understood.

If you don’t yet have a tail-wagging trail buddy in your life yet, there are certain breeds better suited to the task than others. Consider such breeds as Weimaraners (muscular, love to be alongside their masters), Vizslas (long gait, enjoys exercise), German Shorthaired Pointers (built for mileage) and Golden/Labrador Retrievers for unrivaled companionship. If you’d prefer a smaller dog — after all, at some point you need to stop running and bring the dog home, and a one-bedroom apartment might not work for a Rhodesian Ridgeback — Jack Russell Terriers are very active and eager to learn commands, Fox Terriers are great for running in heat, and although their prissy reputation may not call it to mind, poodles were bred for long, slow runs. If you’re more inclined to rescue than adopt from a breeder, dogs with any combination of the above breeds are likely to satisfy your needs.

As for equipment, if you’re not looking to go the full Canicross route you could crib some notes from record-setting trail runner Alicia Vargo. As she told Outside Magazine ( The Best Gear for Running with Your Dog ), her dog runs through Arizona’s pine forests wearing a pack that carries its own water in two 0.6-liter collapsible hydration bladders — and attaches to a quick-draw, two-foot-long leash that can be stashed for off-leash runs. “It gives him a sense of purpose or makes him feel like he is working,” she says. “He is a border collie, after all, and needs to work to be happy.”

Other products worth researching include Musher’s Secret (HDP Invisible Dog Boots Wax-Based Cream Mushers Secret )– a balm for rubbing on dog feet before they run on particularly hot or cold surfaces; Zuka Bowls (ZUKA TRAVEL DOG BOWLS) — easy to fold, holds 10 or 16 ounces of water and comes with a carabiner; and of course, you can’t run without treats to reward good behavior such as Zuke’s Mini Naturals (Zuke’s Mini Naturals Healthy Moist Dog Treats Variety Pack – 6 Flavors (Roasted Pork, Wild Rabbit, Roasted Chicken, Delicious Duck, Savory Salmon, & Fresh Peanut Butter) — small, yummy and perfect for bringing on a run. Also, you may want to consider bringing dog booties and a first aid kit in your supplies.

Much of running with a dog is simple common sense. Before becoming an ultra-runner, it’s wise to speak with your doctor; similarly, consult a veterinarian before asking your dog to become one. Just as it’s wise for us to avoid warmer temperatures, you’ll want to consider the same for your companion. Finally, don’t feed the dog just before or after a long run — just as you wouldn’t do that to yourself.

Ultimately, running with a dog is about the two of you operating as one. So be sure to take time and listen to how the dog is breathing during your run, keep an eye on their gait and make sure they aren’t showing signs of injury or exhaustion, and be prepared for some days which may go better than others — just as they would if you were running solo. The best part about running with a dog may just be at the end, when it’s time to kneel down and give out a treat and a well-deserved pat on the head — knowing that together, the two of you have just accomplished a shared goal.

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Badwater Salton Sea shifting focus back to 3-person teams for 2019

by Larry Carroll

Appropriately enough for a race that stands out with its two and three person team style, last year’s Badwater Salton Sea 81-Mile Ultramarathon was marked by its camaraderie and sportsmanship. As teams amiably fist-bumped passing competitors, team Too Legit to Quit proved worthy of their moniker while taking first place.

Of course, part of the fun for this particular race is watching the athletes adjust their strategies to embrace a format that demands each member of the team stay within 25 meters of each other, essentially running the entire 81 mile race in single file. The other fun part is watching these eccentric teams coalesce under such names as “Huey, Dewey and Louie,” “That Married Couple,” “Funky Pickles,” or for the follicly-challenged among us, the inspiring “Bald and the Beautiful.”

It’s no surprise, then, that as AdventureCorps counts down to the next run, they are keeping the focus on teamwork.

“We worked well together,” runners Walker Higgins and Dan McHugh of Too Legit to Quit, seen hugging after crossing the finish line first, said after their first place finish last year. “We were very opposite in many ways. When he was strong for the first half, he pulled and cut the wind for a good 30 miles. Then I started feeling strong on the trail. We talked and communicated and respected each other, and it worked.”

Of the 36 teams that started the 2018 race, 35 crossed the finish line. Without a doubt, AdventureCorps is hoping for similar results with the 2019 race, scheduled for April 28th. From Salton City (elevation: 234 feet below sea level) to Palomar Mountain (the tallest mountain in San Diego County, competitors will once again run on a challenging mix of road and trail, with a total elevation gain of more than 9000 feet.

This year’s Badwater Salton Sea has been capped with a limit of approximately 115 runners, consisting of twenty 2-runner teams and twenty-five 3-runner teams. The race will feature runners from 23 American states, as well as countries including Australia, Poland, Russia, Moldova, Japan and the Cayman Islands.

There are many things that make this race stand out from the pack, most notable being the “Team Ultra Racing” format. Long before the first step has been taken, a runner must consider who his teammate(s) will be — and select those with a similar running style and pace. Beyond that, you can determine whether you’d like to run with a same-gender partner or a mixed race (teams of two men and one women, or 1 man and two women, are considered equal). If you choose well, the result could be a once-in-a-lifetime bonding experience alongside someone else who similarly enjoys talking to pass the time or staying quiet to concentrate; if you choose poorly, it could yield 81 miles of staying within 25 meters of someone who is like a pebble in your shoe.

The Badwater Salton Sea website recommends several intriguing methods for selecting a teammate. Among those: “Why not pick teammates with whom you actually compete directly? You’re likely the same speed, so why not work together instead of against each other, for a change? Why not ‘bury the hatchet,’ so to speak?”

Such a Kumbaya moment is undoubtedly inspiring, as is another nugget of guidance the site offers for team selection: “What about fellow runners that you are mentoring, whether ‘formally’ or just in a friendly way? Why not help another runner have an amazing experience in your company, with you playing the role of ‘grizzled old veteran’ or Jedi of ultra-running? There is no Luke Skywalker without Obi-Wan Kenobi, after all.”

It would be easy to get distracted talking about the Badwater Salton Sea as one of the most demanding and extreme races in the world — after all, its centerpiece is an 8-mile, 3500 foot single-track trail ascent — but ultimately, what the folks at AdventureCorps want to focus on is the life-changing opportunity to bond with other runners. Which is why the company is pushing harder for 3x teams to compete.

“With no offense intended towards any 2x teams – past, present, or future – we want more 3x teams to compete because that’s the original spirit of the event and because it’s harder to enter – and finish – as an intact 3x team,” the company explains on its site, alongside an entrance fee which is actually cheaper if you have more runners, and guaranteed slots in the Badwater 135 for 3x teams who win their division. 

For the first two years of the race, only 3x teams were allowed. Now, in hopes for “a transcendent and meaningful [experience that] will resonate far and beyond after the race is over,” the Badwater Salton Sea is embracing its roots and reminding runners that while there is no “I” in team, there are three of them in sociability.

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Lake Sonoma 50 features women’s field ready to topple a record pace

by Larry Carroll

As David Bowie once famously sang: “Changes are taking the pace I’m going through.” This year, participants in the Lake Sonoma 50 can be forgiven if that song is stuck in their heads as they set their own pace.

An iconic endurance race for more than a decade, the highly competitive Sonoma 50 has made a name for itself circumnavigating the gorgeous hiking trails on the Warm Springs arm of Lake Sonoma. This year, however, the race begins its second decade with a new race director — and a headlining cast of female athletes certain to put on a great show.

“It’s a great run — hard, but not stupid-hard — scenic, rugged, remote, and almost all single-track that with its continual ups, downs, twists, and turns wears you down,” outgoing director John Medinger recently told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat ( Lottery opens for insanely difficult Lake Sonoma 50 race ) upon stepping down to make way for Skip Brand to take over the position. “You give it your all for a really long time, and then you celebrate your finish with your friends.”

Brand, an ultrarunner and the owner of Healdsburg Running Company, is taking over the Sonoma 50 because the 67-year-old Medinger — the founder of Ultrarunning magazine who estimates he has run more than 110,000 miles in his life — is dialing back his commitments following 37 years devoted to the endurance running community.

Those who closely follow the Sonoma 50 are accustomed to a registration of only 400 runners, in a competitive race that rewards the top two men and women racers with guaranteed entry into the Western States Endurance run. They are also used to a race that embraces the spirit of giving — indeed, more than $200,000 have been given to charity by the race since it began. What they may not be prepared for, however, is the amount of drama heading into this year’s installment on April 13.

In 2018, the 10th installment of the race saw Jim Walmsley not only breaking his own course record, but doing it by so much that he was the first participant to ever finish in less than 6 hours. Walmsley took off and ran solo for much of the race, gaining incremental time on his previous course record from miles 12 through 38. Over on the women’s side, Keely Henninger similarly dominated from the beginning, nearly also setting the record but instead settling for the 2nd fastest women’s finish ever.

With that backstory in place, the 2019 Sonoma 50 takes center stage with a women’s field that is particularly stacked. In addition to Henninger’s returning attempt to break that record, registrants include such top names as Taylor Nowlin (winner of the Under Armour Copper Mountain 50k), Camelia Mayfield (winner of the Peterson Ridge Rumble 20 mile, Under Armour Mt. Bachelor 50k and Waldo 100k) and Abby Mitchell (winner of the Silverton Alpine 50k and the Austin Rattler 66k). As if those names aren’t enough, the Sonoma 50 will also feature such formidable athletes as Nicole Buurma, Kami Semick, Kelly Wolf and Julia Stamps.

Much like past installments, the 2019 Sonoma 50 will consist of 25 miles running into the hillside surrounding Lake Sonoma, then 25 back over the mostly single-track terrain. Views should be stunning, the wildflowers are already in abundance, and the race will once again pride itself on the unusual tradition of starting all the runners together.

If there are any changes to be made by Brand in his first year at the helm, he’s keeping them close to the vest. One goal he has already revealed, however, is to open future installments of the Sonoma 50 to include more local runners.

“We have our fair share of endurance athletes here in Sonoma County,” he recently told the Press Democrat. “There’s no reason why we can’t have a larger number of local people give it a go.”

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Energy Gels

Energy Gels and Goo — What’s Really in the Pouch?

By Larry Carroll

In 2018, the athletic footwear business was a $16 billion industry. In the United States alone, more than 60 million people consider themselves runners, joggers or trail runners — a number that climbs to more than 110 million who walk for fitness. As you can imagine, all these people need something to supplement their efforts, nourishment that they hope will improve both performance and overall health.

If you are one of these millions of people — or have been around one — there’s a good chance that you’ve tasted the gels that often adorn their fuel belts. Housed in small, brightly-colored pouches, the substances typically come in all kinds of Pinkberry-sounding flavors like Salted Caramel, Chocolate Outrage and Gingerade — and taste a bit like cake frosting squirted directly into your mouth. In a billion-dollar industry, gels and goos (the words are often interchangeable) have grown exponentially since research scientist Dr. Bill Vaughan formulated the first GU energy gel in 1993 in a Berkeley kitchen — launching GU Energy Labs, one of the biggest players in the market.

“Drinks are good in that they empty the stomach quickly,” his son and the company’s current president, Brian Vaughan, explains in an interview on the product’s site ( 25years of GU: The Invention of the energy ‘Gel‘ ) “Bars and solid foods are good in that they provide nutrients, but they both have limits to them. As a research scientist [my father] began to play around with formulations. And so, through a series of reductions of that bar concept, he came up with simpler complex carbohydrates, amino acids, muscle buffers, electrolytes … you don’t have to destroy your muscles, providing you can supply the right nutrients at the right time.”

As is the case with any successful business model, there are many different companies now elbowing each other for market share. In addition to GU, runners have a choice between gels from Honey Stinger, Clif, Huma, PowerBar and others. What they have in common is a desire to top off glycogen as it gets depleted by offering simple sugar — after that, it’s up to the athlete to seek out brands with carbohydrates (glucose, fructose), electrolytes (for running in warmer weather) sodium (for those with salty sweat), or whatever else their personal needs may dictate.

But when all is said and done, are goos and gels worth the hype? A 2016 analysis from radio station WBUR interviewed dietitians and Sports Medicine experts and concluded that in some ways, energy gels are the exercise version of Santa Claus.

“They’re a wonderful thing to believe in on the starting line, and during training. Just as believing in Santa gets us in the spirit of giving around the holidays, maybe GU gets us in the spirit of competing,” the article concludes (As Olympians Suck Down Energy Gels, A Believer In ‘GU’ Gel Seeks Reality Check ). “The magic of GU maybe not in the specialized chemical formula, but more in the convenient packaging. It is certainly easier to slip a small gel-pack into your pocket during a long run than it is to carry a cup of coffee and a slice of bread.”

In short, many of the benefits of these gels can be consumed just as effectively via traditional pre-exercise meals, or such grab-and-go foods as bananas or bagels, but that little packet on your fuel belt gives you a smaller amount in a form that takes effect much faster. So, to goo or not to goo? At the end of the day, such questions are all about what it takes to get you across your own personal finish line.

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