Monday, October 9, 2017

Trail Running Shoe Review: Altra Timp

Trail Running Shoe Review: Altra Timp
John Fiore, PT

                             (Photo: John Fiore wearing the Altra Timp; The Rut VK 2017)

The recently release Altra Timp trail shoe is the trail shoe I have been waiting for from Altra. Named after Mount Timpanogos in Utah’s Wasatch Range, the zero drop (heel and toe are the same height) Timp combines adequate cushioning for long runs without sacrificing performance. Weighing in at 11.1 ounces for a size 10 men’s shoe, and 8.7 ounces for a size 7 women’s shoe, the Timp feels light under foot despite its roomy foot shape toe box. The Timp has 29mm of stack height for adequate cushioning on uneven terrain and long days on the trail. As a comparison, the Altra Olympus has 36mm stack height, and the Altra Lone Peak has 25mm of stack height. Altra nailed it with the Timp as I felt sharp rocks wearing the Lone Peak, and my foot felt unstable at times wearing the Olympus.


Asymmetrical lacing is utilized in the Timp which allows for a more secure foot-to-shoe feel. The upper is comfortable, has adequate ventilation for water drainage, and provides protection from blow-outs in the proper locations. The outsole is similar to that of the Altra Superior and includes 4mm lugs which are soft and grippy in mixed terrain.

Two issues raised by customers and reviewers include sizing and durability. After running about 300 miles in my Altra Timp shoes, I have noticed some lug wear due to the rocky terrain I have travelled over the past month. Traction has not been compromised by expected wear, and I appreciate the outsole lug softness when encountering rocky terrain and scrambling. Sizing is true. Adjusting the asymmetrical lacing tension, however, is necessary to prevent the foot from shifting forward on descents. I noticed this initially when the shoe was new. I simply tightened the laces at the bottom
and top lacing holes (kept the middle laces comfortably loose) and my foot felt secure on steep, sustained downhills.

In summary, the Altra Timp combines all of the elements needed in a zero drop shoe for all-day training runs and ultra races over trails ranging from rock to dust to muddy bogs and bomber downhills. While a zero drop shoe may not be for everyone, I encourage you to give them a try. Wear them around the house or at work for a couple of weeks, followed by a short run. The zero drop, foot shape concept allows for adequate foot mobility and a more natural foot-to-trail feel. Check them out at Runners Edge; your feet will thank you!

                 (Photo: John Fiore, Altra Timp with gaiters on Trapper Peak, Montana)

Monday, April 10, 2017

IMTUF 100 Race Report: 100 miles of running and more
John Fiore

Although seven months have past since race day, the scenes and experiences I left Idaho with will continue to be a part of me indefinitely. There is nothing glamorous or reasonable about running 100 miles in a single effort. The physical endurance required is surpassed only by the powerful emotions which spontaneously rise to the surface at any given moment. Hours fly by at times while minutes drag on at other times. For me, the 100-mile distance has taught me humility, patience, and the power of companionship. Below is an overdue recap of a very memorable weekend spent in the Salmon River Mountains of Idaho in the fall of 2016.

At 5:55 am on a dark, cloudy, cool fall morning, I stood on the start line of the IMTUF 100.  I recalled standing on the exact same start line in 2014; a year I did not see the finish line due to unrelenting nausea and vomiting which began at mile 64 and continued through the night until I dropped at mile 88.  The 100+ mile course route was run in a clockwise direction in 2016. I was determined to finish the job in 2016, but I would not do so alone, or would I?

The Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival (IMTUF) 100-mile race took place on September 17-18.  The race begins and ends at Burgdorf Hot Springs which is reportedly the oldest known “resort” in Idaho.  A rustic, beautiful valley setting surrounded by tall pines and peaks of the Salmon River Mountains (Payette National Forest), Burgdorf Hot Springs is located approximately twenty miles north of McCall, Idaho.  The primitive log cabins, out buildings, and pebble-floored hot springs pool seemed eerily similar to how they likely were in the late 1800s when Burgdorf Hot Springs was established.

I struggle to put into words what it felt like to stand chilled at the start line. My excitement to begin the race is dampened by the foreboding reality of the task at hand. The race boasts 23,000 feet of climbing in the remote mountains of central Idaho. An elk bugle signaled the start of the race, and approximately 100 runners headed into the pre-dawn darkness.  The mass of bouncing headlamp lights soon gave way to small groups of runners.  Some groups were full of chatter, while I tend to listen and look at the surrounding shadowed scenery without tripping. The early miles rolled by as purple-orange skies illuminated the washed granite peaks around us.  It felt good to move as my muscles slowly warmed, allowing me to settle into a comfortable rhythm I felt I could sustain for hours and hours. 

Two weeks earlier I had raced The Rut 28k, a challenging Sky Running mountain race held in Big Sky, Montana.  A tumble on the Headwaters Ridge descent left my knees scraped and a bruise on my right patella tendon.  I ran very little after The Rut in preparation for the IMTUF 100, so by mile 25 I was feeling stiffness and pain secondary to my fall.  My left patella tendon felt stiff and sore with every stride as I descended from the first major climb of the race.  By the time I reached the mile 33 aid station at Upper Payette Lake, I was felt my day might be over.  I explained my predicament to Allison (my crew member extraordinaire) who quickly handed me three Ibuprofen.  I expressed my reluctance to mask my symptoms with Ibuprofen (and potentially put my kidneys at risk), but she bluntly replied: “Well, what else are you going to do? Drop out?”  I swallowed the Ibuprofen and chased it with a gulp of water. 

Heading out of Upper Payette Lake before noon, I began running with Missoula friends Josh and Kiefer to distract me from my knee soreness and run at a conservative pace. I have a well-earned reputation of “going out too fast” during 50+ mile races. Early fatigue is a sure way not to reach to finish line. The presence of Josh and Kiefer was the first of many fortunate events I would encounter during the IMTUF 100. Josh was running his first 100 miler and he had picked a challenging race for sure.  Kiefer was determined to run with Josh the entire race, which was an incredibly selfless gesture.  A phenomenal runner himself, Kiefer provided the brains in our trio. The ensuing 50 miles I shared with Josh and Kiefer were the highlight of the race. 

By 1:00 pm the rain showers began. As a former competitive cyclist, I use to despise rain during races. As a trail runner, however, rain can be a welcome way to stay cool and settle the dust. Precipitation in the mountains of Idaho in September could mean snow and I hoped the temperatures would remain in the 50s and 60s until nightfall. As the mile ticked by, I was amazed at the multitudes of single track trails in the Salmon River Mountains. Race director Jeremy Humphreys marks the entire course solo every year which is a testament to how well he knows the area. After cresting the pass near Duck Lake, we descended to the Duck Lake aid station (mile 43). I was hungry which was a very good sign at this point in the race. I gravitated towards salty cashews and cantaloupe and left feeling energized. The next several miles were forest road running and the miles felt hard on my feet as I was accustomed to flowing single track.

The Snow Slide aid station (mile 48) was a welcome sight as my crew of Allison and Jesse were efficient and encouraging. As I filled my water bottles and supplies, the sky opened and it poured. I realized I needed to keep moving to stay warm, so I headed up towards the Snow Slide climb with Josh and Kiefer right behind me. The miles began to pass slower than before due in part to the steeper terrain and the fatigue which I stubbornly resisted. Allison would join me as my pacer at the Lake Fork aid station (mile 60). I recalled leaving Lake Fork two years earlier with Kevin as my pacer. Feeling fast and invincible was rapidly replaced by feeling nauseous and numb in 2014. Allison and I discussed a nighttime strategy of moving slow and steady. Nightfall was about an hour away.

Night running is a blast. Night running with 65 miles under your legs is surreal and ridiculously challenging. I relied on Allison for route finding, conversation, perspective, and companionship. She paced me through the night the year before at the Bighorn 100: a very long 37-mile slog through nausea and frustration. Kevin paced me from mile 85 to the finish at Bighorn and saw me snap out of my nausea and complete the final 13 miles at a manic pace. Pacing is hard work, and Allison valiantly offered to pace me through the night once again.

We moved methodically up and down the steep Crestline terrain. Allison and I moved with the terrain, discussing how to stay fueled, warm, and semi-dry through the incessant drizzle which now chilled our skin beneath wet layers of high-tech clothing. I had managed to stave off my usual nausea through the use of whole food nutrition, but I ran of of “real” food around mile 55 and downed two gels instead. My stomach was tenuous thereafter, but I was still surprised when I puked around mile 75. Regretfully, I know how to manage my body when this occurs. My two choices are to lie down and sleep for an hour, or continue to move slowly. We decided on the latter since the rain and cold was not conducive to comfortably napping off my nausea.

We continued through the night. I experienced minor vertigo as we descended the wet, rocky trail and I knew I had to ingest some form of nutrition to continue. The North Crestline aid station (mile 80) seemed like a mirage. I could see Josh and Kiefer just ahead of us, and we joined them inside a drafty wall tent. The dryness of the tent seemed foreign and I went to work popping two toe blisters and changing my socks. I overheard Josh and Kiefer discussing dropping out of the race. Both were struggling with injuries and I knew Allison and I needed to kick it into gear before we gave our options a second thought. We marched out of the wall tent and climbed the rocky road to the summit. As we slowly descended (nausea makes the jarring of downhill running possible only in .25-mile bursts, followed by walking to avoid puking), a dark Suburban slowly overtook us. The rear window peeled down and Kiefer called out to Allison: “You are the best fucking pacer!”

At the base of the long rock road descend we entered the Terrible Terrance Trail. The trail was cut into an uneven slope, and while it all seemed rather terrible at this point, I enjoyed following Allison through the bumps and holes and listened to her stories and words of encouragement. Allison’s pacing duties were complete at the Upper Payette Lake aid station (mile 88). I wanted her to continue with me but knew she had to get back to Burgdorf Hot Springs to relieve the sitter who spent the night with her three boys. The trail climbed gradually after leaving Upper Payette Lake. I heard the faint sound of an occasional vehicle passing by the paved forest road in the distance. I knew the road ended at Burgdorf Hot Springs, but my path would be longer and included 3,000 more feet of climbing. “Just keep moving and keep sipping water,” I told myself.

The solitude was peaceful, but my body ached. I continued moving because forward was the only direction to go. Running uphill was not an option at this point. I power hiked and dodged puddles and the river which was now running down the single track trail. Wet feet were now my reality, and I dissolved plain M&Ms in my mouth and ruminated over how slow the dawn was transforming me out of my nighttime funk. The climb to the Bear Pete aid station (mile 98) was taxing but I knew the topography would soon change. The grey skies were now riddled with spots of blue sky and I began to strip damp, stench-filled layers from my body. “You made it through the night and now it’s time to finish this thing,” I said out loud…to no one.

GPS technology provides us with altitude, pace, time, and distance. But barometric GPS measurements are unreliable at times and vary from GPS watch to GPS watch. The IMTUF 100 was advertised as 102-108 miles in distance. My mind perseverated on the fact I had long since passed 100 miles. I longed to lie down and close my eyes after a refreshing dip in the hot springs. Around the bend I saw Allison and her son Ben hiking up the trail towards me. I was so happy to see familiar faces! After debating the distance to the finish, I ran ahead. I finally felt like I could run at a semi-normal pace on the gradual downhill terrain. The winding gravel road to the finish felt solid, and I crossed the finish line in 29:46. Not a blistering finish, but given the steady rain, nausea, and 23,000 feet of climbing I was content with the effort and experience. The remoteness of the IMTUF 100 was refreshing and humbling.

As I reflect on my experience at the 2016 IMTUF 100, I realize that the best aspects of the race were the company and dedication of my crew. Running 100 miles would not be possible without the people behind the scenes. Race directors, volunteers, family members, crew members collectively get us to the finish line. Running 100 miles is strangely synonymous with life. Whatever strength it takes, keep moving. Whatever the conditions, persevere. Whatever the outcome, stay humble and thank those around you. -John

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Ahead and Lessons Learned

Spring is marching on and April marks the beginning of the spring trail running race season.  With the Gorge Waterfalls 100k race only a week away, I must shift gears and set my sights on the running season ahead.  With a full list of trail running races once again in 2016, I am focused this year on staying healthy and running strong.  Unlike past winters where I ran through the entirety of winter with an occasional ski day here and there, the winter of 2016 was centered around skiing.  While I still ran a few days a week (including one long run of 15-28 miles), my focus was on the newly discovered sport of skimo racing.  Originating in Europe (as most good things do), skimo is short for "ski mountaineering" and includes skinning uphill, boot packing uphill, skiing downhill, and occasionally using ropes and technical mountaineering skills to navigate a variety of winter terrain.  Thanks in large part to the local organizational efforts of a few Missoula skimo enthusiasts (Mike Foote, Alan Adams, and Josh Gimpleson) 2016 was the inaugural year of the Montana Snowbowl Rondo Radness race series.  For six weeks, the Snowbowl rondone races brought skimo racers of all ages and abilities together for some fun competition and invaluable experience.  Not only was I amazed by the turnout at these races, but I was also surprised by my post-race level of fatigue!
Half way through the Snowbowl Rondo Radness series, I traveled to sunny southern California to compete in the Sean O'Brien 50 mile trail run.  Set in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Malibu and Zuma Beach, the 80 degree temperatures and 12,000 feet of climbing seemed like a foolish idea.  What sounds like a great idea in October, often results in "registration remorse" a few months later.  I felt strong from skiing, but ran 28 miles and 25 miles five and three weeks prior to the Sean O'Brien race.  On Thursday, February 4th I raced the Rondo Radness race and two days later I stood on the start line in 31 degree darkness in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The race began at 6:00 am and I knew right away that my legs showed up to run.  I paced myself for the first third of the 50 mile course, getting a feel for the single track, fire roads, and warming temperatures.  I ran alone most of the race, but got a glimpse of the runners immediately behind me around the half way mark at the Zuma Beach aid station.  I realized I was running in third place and felt both euphoric and panic struck as I wondered how my legs would hold up.  The heat of the day accompanied me on the long 5 mile climb out of Zuma Beach to the 30 mile aid station.  Not only did I catch the runner in second place, but I also ran out of water and began seeing black spots for several minutes.  At the 30 mile aid station I tanked up on water, orange slices, and salted potatoes and soldiered on.  I would remain alone the final 20 miles of the race as the I was in second place for good.  The runner in first had 40 minutes on me so I settled into my own rhythm and picked off 50k race competitors for miles.  The long, hot descent to the finish line took a toll on my quads, but a higher running cadence and relaxed upper body lessened the impact as my speed increased.  I arrived at the finish line 27 minutes behind race winner Karl Stutleberg in a time of 9:15 with a combined feeling of satisfaction and surprise.  I had just run my fastest 50 mile time (given the 12,000 feet of vertical and 82 degree temperature) with the least number of training miles in my legs.  I credit skinning, skiing, and strength training with my moment of success.  I am convinced of the benefits of skiing (nordic, skimo) for winter cross training.  The cardiovascular efforts and power required to ascend are contrasted by the reduced joint impact of descending while skiing.  The concept of building the durability required for trail ultra running during the winter off season resonates loudly with me.  I look forward not only to a rigorous spring and summer running season, but also to a challenging skimo season next winter.  Train hard, train smart, and be safe out there!
John Fiore, PT
(Teton Pass skimo race: winter 2016)
(Sunrise on the Santa Monica Mountains: Sean O'Brien 50 mile)

(Salty finish line shot: Sean O'Brien 50 mile)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Climbing McDonald Peak: Fall in the Missions

Fall in the Missions
By:  John Fiore, PT

On an October Saturday which was arguably the most spectacular fall day in western Montana, I returned to the Mission Mountains.  I have spent many hours exploring the unique alpine terrain of this rugged range in 2015.  On each outing, the impressive bulk and majesty of McDonald Peak (9,800 feet) was evident but just out of reach.  McDonald Peak is located in the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness.  It lies within the grizzly bear closure zone which means it is off limits to humans in an effort to preserve wildlife habitat and reduce human-bear encounters.  The grizzly bear closure area allows the bears to feast on ladybugs and army cutworm moths without human disturbance from July 15th-September 30th each summer.  Mission Valley residents have described viewing the bears through telescopes glissading on snow fields and feasting on ladybugs and army cutworm moths.  With clear skies forecasted and the grizzly bear closure period passed, our window to climb the peak was now.
I met Justin Angle and Jeremy Wolf at 5:30 am at the Eastgate parking lot for the drive to the Swan Valley.  We chose the eastern approach to climb McDonald Peak due to the early runnable terrain and beauty of the Cliff Lake basin.  We arrived at the deserted Glacier Lake trailhead at before daybreak and were running by 7:20 am.  The round trip distance for the day would be 24 miles which made daylight hours precious.  The first 4 miles passed quickly beneath our feet until we reached Heart Lake.  The summit of McDonald Peak appeared framed in the notch of Sunday Pass.  From Heart Lake the trail deteriorated to a hiker’s trail followed by a game trail. 
From Sunday Pass, McDonald Peak was reflected in the waters of Cliff Lake below us.  We descended steeply to the shoreline and weaved our way up to Iceflow Lake.  From here the terrain changed.  Grassy, boggy meadows and aromatic hemlock and fir forests gave way to bus-sized glacier-strewn boulders.  When we reached 8,600 feet in elevation, both the summit ridge of McDonald Peak and the Ashley Lake drainage on the western side of the Missions were visible.  Justin, Jeremy, and I plotted our final ascent up the loose, rocky bowl and continued climbing. 

The view from the summit ridge was magnificent.  The Mission Valley was 7,000 feet below us and the ridge from West McDonald Peak to the true summit was pure as any ridge I have traveled.  Once on the summit, a light breeze kept us comfortable in shorts and T-shirts.  To the south, Glacier Peak, Mountaineer Peak, Lowary Peak, East St. Mary’s Peak, and Grey Wolf Peak formed an imposing spine.  To the north, Mount Calowahcan and multiple unnamed peaks blended into the horizon.  After imagining how spectacular it would be to descend McDonald Peak’s the south face on skis, we began our return journey.  Two aged boot prints were the only sign of human presence we encountered during our brief visit through the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness.  I have never experienced a feeling of alpine isolation and purity as strong as I did that October.  When we returned to the trailhead 8 hours later, cars were in abundance, but the experience and contentment associated with physical effort endured.  Preserving wild, uninhabited areas such as the Mission Mountains puts our role as humans in perspective.  We too are visitors on this planet.  The mountains endure and they warrant our respect.
The Mission Mountains Wilderness was officially designated as such in 1975, the boundaries for the Tribal Wilderness were set in 1979, and made official in 1982. Prior to the official designation of the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness, the tribes had fought the designation of the area as a national park, and after much discussion voted against timber harvesting in the lushly forested area. Both circumstances would have led to increased tribal profits, but it was decided such was not to be the priority.

In 1982... No legal definition for tribal wilderness existed then, but much of the language for the tribes’ definition of wilderness matches the language found in the 1964 Wilderness Act, with one significant difference: the primary purpose of the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness is the preservation of tribal culture. In contrast, in the federal wilderness on the other side of the Mission Divide, visitor use and private interests play leading roles in management objectives.
(PJ DelHomme, Forest Magazine, Fall 2006 – Summit Post)

John Fiore, PT