Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lightning Fast x-talons!

Last weekend I put together a brief write up on the new inov-8 x-talon 190's but really put them to the test this weekend. Earlier today at the Xterra Monte Sano 15km/5km race in Huntsville, Alabama I wore these for the 5km race. While co-race directing the entire event, I chose to run the shorter distance, which did not have much climb, but still had technical footing and was actually about 3.25 miles long.  I wore the new 190's and felt like my feet never touched the ground once!  They were just the right amount of shoe to battle against the rocks and light enough that I could run at top speed without being bothered with excess weight on my feet.  The aggressive tread provided superb traction and with my foot so low to the ground, I felt stable even on the short road section.  I managed to hold 5:48 pace and take the overall win, made possible by these sweet shoes.  If you are not running in them by next weekend, you are making a mistake.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: inov-8 x-talon 190

I have never seen so much hype over the release of a running shoe that has lived up to its billing as the “Worlds Lightest XC/Mountain Racer” as the inov-8 x-talon 190 has. I have been reading about this shoe since January of 2010 when Jeff Browning initially wrote about them, followed by some online reviews out of Europe, so I had been looking forward to the US release of this shoe in August like it was Christmas. When they arrived in the mail I couldn’t wait to put them on and hit the trails.

The design of this shoe is best described a hybrid of the slightly heavier x-talon 212 and the F-Lite series from the inov-8 line, taking the best of each shoe and resulting in the most comfortable trail running shoe I have ever put on my feet. I love flashy colors in footwear, so the candy-apple red color of these shoes was right up my alley. From the minute I took them out of the box, I was amazed at how light they were at less than 7 ounces for my size 12.

This shoe has a 1-arrow cushion (Shoc-Zone), which ranks as the as the lowest on the 1 to 4 scale that inov-8 produces for trail shoes. I have been wearing the 2-arrow x-talon’s for most of my running at distances under a marathon, so this was an easy switch to the 190. When I put them on, I could tell how low my foot was to the ground, yet in a stable position. These shoes have a 9mm heel and a 6mm forefoot height, resulting in only a 3mm differential drop.  My test run was on the ultra-rocky and technical trails of Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville Alabama, at the foot of the Appalachian Mountain Plateau. Just like it’s big brother the 212, I was able to feel the rocks and roots as my foot would flex over them. That has always been my favorite attribute of these shoes; the fact that they are so flexible, allowing my foot to roll over trail obstacles naturally, as opposed to a plastic plate in the forefoot, that makes competitor shoes rigid and stiff.

I tried different paces and different inclines on the test run to simulate all facets of the footsktrike from the heel to midfoot to forefoot on the climbs. Each time I was amazed at how light I felt on my feet, yet having enough protection on my foot where I was never concerned about what I was stepping on. The aggressive lugs on the bottom seem to perfectly positioned as to not produce any hotspots while allowing you to evenly distribute your weight over the entire shoe. I also tested the sticky rubber compound on the lugs by running over some wet rocks and each time they stuck solidly with zero slippage. I was able to step on any surface including slanted rocks coated in moss with confidence that not only would I not slide, but I was also able to push off without any slip.

I really like that the tongue and heel collar are padded, providing some support for the foot in these areas. Some racing flats eliminate this padding to reduce weight but inov-8 has found a way to maintain it, while keeping the weight low.

I was a little concerned that I would have some trouble fitting into this narrow-looking shoe with my wide forefoot, but after wearing them, I found the material on the lateral seemed to expand slightly with my foot and did not put any uncomfortable constriction on my occasionally painful 5th metatarsal. I ordered the same size as I had been wearing for the x-talon 212’s and Roclite 295’s. I found that they were a little long and I probably could have gone down a half size. I probably would not wear these for a technical ultra marathon where I would worry about my feet swelling and I certainly am not going to replace the footbed with an insert, so the 11.5's might have been a better choice. The only issue with the sizing is that I had to cinch down the laces to where the uppers almost meet in the middle but this wasn't a problem.

Over the years I have gradually worked my way down through the inov-8 line from the highest cushioned shoes now down to one of the lightest. This has been a change for me that required a few years to transition my body and get my feet used to less and less. I would recommend these shoes to anyone who has been wearing the Roclite 295’s or similar and looking to make the transition to a lighter weight trail or cross country racing shoe. While I went through the 212 first, since they are somewhat similar, you probably could make the jump right to the 190’s. I plan to use this shoe at for high intensity, short distance trail racing across all types of terrain.

Now that I have the 190’s at my disposal, I feel like I have a full arsenal of inov-8’s for any distance and any terrain.  Ever since I opened the box, it has been Christmas evert day for my feet!

2010 Liz Hurley 5km

With the trials and tribulations of life lately, I normally would not blog about a 5km race; that is the old me from years past. That said, yesterday was a very special race for me and it is worthy of sharing a few thoughts so here we go.

Leading into this race I had a very good week of training, coming off of a colossal disaster at the Fleet Feet Monte Sano 15km where I walked off the course just before the 5 mile mark, having averaged just under 5:45 pace to that point. I have been battling some personal issues and they got the better of me that day. This week I was able to put together a good VO2max session on Tuesday, totaling 5.8km of speed at 5:16 pace. After a trail/hill workout on Wednesday, I rolled through a great tempo run on Thursday on the Panorama loop. Instead of the normal 10 miler, I dropped further down closed Bankhead, making it a full mile climb to the top. I averaged 6:24 pace for 11 miles, after an easy 7:15 first warm up mile. All in all I was feeling confident again.

After running two loops of the course on race morning for 10km of warm up, I went through some pre-race strides, high knees and butt kicks to loosen up. The weather was perfect with temperatures in the lower 50's and despite this course having some difficult climbs and 15 turns, I was feeling that today was my day. Standing at the starting line talking to Nike Fleet Feet Racing Team mate Donald Bowman, he said that after the race last week, I was probably ready to have a very good run; that would yet to be seen. The competition was stout as always with dozens of top runners across the line.

The first mile of this race is a mix of a fast start across 5 lanes of Lowe Avenue before making right-left-right-left set of turns, climbing to the city square and dropping back down from the square. I wanted to be around 5:20 for the first mile, hoping to put some time in the bank before the hills of the final mile. After the pack thinned out, I found myself running in the top 10 aside Brandon York and Brad Schroeder; Brad typically starts slow and picks up the pace as the race goes on and that was Brandon's strategy as well. Together we split the first mile in about 5:20 and I was feeling very good. The speedwork I have been doing at just faster than this pace with minimal recovery made this pace not as strenuous as it has been in the past.

Brandon and Brad began to pull away as we turned onto Holmes, but I knew that I was not competing against them anyway, so I honestly lost track mentally of where they were and just tried to focus on my form, including my arm swing and stride rate. The second mile is climbing the entire mile along Holmes, Walker and White Streets, gaining about 30' in elevation; while this is not the hardest climb, when you are running at this pace it can be difficult. My second mile split was about 5:25 as the clock at the 2-mile mark was showing 10:45. I knew that in order to break 17 minutes, my splits needed to be 5:28, 10:56 and 16:24, so I was ahead of schedule with the difficult hills of the course ahead.

I got a slight mental lift coming down Randolph as I ran past my Boss, who today was blowing a vuvuzuela as part of his crazy race antics. I was also slightly closing in on the two runners ahead of me which was an amazing feeling. We made the turn onto Greene, which is about a 25' steep climb before it flattens out. Normally I would be gasping for air trying to run race pace up this hill, but based on my conditioning I was able to hold strong and close even more on 6th place. The final climb along Williams was another short climb of 30' and it was a mirror image of Greene Street as I was able to close even more and feeling the rush of adrenaline. I knew that if I had a chance to move up, it had to be on the hills, as the final stretch would be tough as most top notch runners would be able to hold it coming home.

Making the final turn onto Adams begins the best finishing stretch of any race in this area. The road drops about 55' over a quarter mile before a flat finish atop fresh blacktop which makes for spring-like surface. I took about a half dozen strides to catch my breath from the hill climb and now was running wide open. I glanced at my watch several times enroute to the finish and each time the instantaneous pace was under 5 minute miles each time. I didn't have time to think about it which was probably a good thing as I was just running by feel. Brandon Mader was proving his fitness level by running faster than that and slowly pulling away from me. I was trying to stay with him, but now realized that it was about the clock and trying to post a personal best time.

There was not a split at the 3-mile mark, but I could start to see the clock as we crossed Lowe Ave and it was in the low 16's. The side of the streets were lined with hundreds of people cheering and screaming and I let them carry me through the finish line. The final 1.1 miles was run in 5:50, meaning my final mile split was probably about 5:15. I normally save the fist pump for very special races or performances, like the Boston Marathon, but on this day it was totally justified as I finished in 16:36. Looking back just a few months ago I thought that I would never see the under side of 17 minutes for a 5km, let alone anything below my previous best of 16:42, set in December of 2008 but I would be proved wrong on this day. I would manage a 7th place overall finish and 1st in my age group of M30-34 of 677 runners. I love a race where the top 8 are under 17 minutes and the top 2 are under 16 minutes for the sake of pure competition.

After another of the course with friends, I then jumped into the women's race and paced along friend and team mate Lisa Rawlings. I knew that she had the potential to post a fast time, but was always afraid to push through the pain. She tried to look at a her watch a few times and I told her that she should just run how she felt; something that I had just proved to be valid. She ran a great race and cut 40 seconds off of her personal best to run 20:51 for 5th overall.

In the hours before the race, I was looking for some motivation and I turned to my favorite quote by Steve Prefontaine.

"A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. Nobody is going to win a 5,000 meter race after running an easy 2 miles. Not with me. If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself." - Steve Prefontaine

It was my goal today to push the pace, and when I didn't think that I had any more, to push even harder and that is what I did. Thanks Steve, I think you would be proud today.