At some point late this past summer I got it in my head that I wanted to run my first 50K.  The longest events I'd ever taken part in were 10 milers though I had run slighter longer distances without the fanfare of an offical start/finish line.  Years of ankle injuries and poor rehabbing of said injuries have led to some odd issues when I push road mileage.  So, even though the jump past half marathon and marathon distances seemed a bit daunting, being able to do it on a less demanding surface seemed possible.  Plus, in recent years I've also discovered how much more joyful trail running can be in comparison to road work.  I'd never manage to go quite as fast, but I don't ever have to worry about vehicular threats (save the occassional mountain bike) and the quiet and beauty of the surroundings trump most any road run I'm likely to find locally.

Maybe I can't match road pace because I'm not in as much of a hurry to be done!

After scouring race calendars for a target event, I settled on the 2nd annual New River Trail 50K (http://www.ncnr.org/nrt50k.html), hosted/directed by Montrail UltraRunning team member Annette Bednosky in tiny Fries, Virginia.  The race date of October 10th was far enough away to allow me to train but close enough to feel relevant each day I woke up and considered whether to run or not run.  Even Annette's event description was written as on open invitation for first-timers.  As a newbie, I happily accepted.

As I began increasing mileage and slowly developing an understanding of just how far 50 kilometers actually is, I realized I needed footwear that was up to the challenge.  I'm sure there are barefooters out there who'd scoff at that claim, but I invite them to wear my feet and ankles for their next run.

To be fair, convincing myself that I needed new shoes was hardly a challenge.  While I'm not much of a hoarder (am I?), I do love shoes.  Sneakers, that is.  I love sneakers and, specifically, I love rail running shoes.  I already owned several pairs, but they'd been purchased or received as gifts because I believed they looked good not because I actually expected to log serious running miles while wearing them.  A few long runs definitely revealed that the shoes in my possession fell into the fashion-over-function category.

The obstacle in my need for new shoes was my father-of-two/homeowner wallet.  Thankfully, working in the outdoor industry does have its advantages and I didn't end up needing to spend the dollars I might have if I was in another line of work.

Once I had obtained a few likely candidates, I needed to test them and do so in a manner that fairly pitted one pair against the other so I could make an informed decision on which would serve me best.  To get right to the point, I never developed the required methodology.  I just ran in one and then moved on to the next.  Anyone who runs with any regularity knows that energy levels and strength can vary drastically from one day to the next and I knew I was passing false judgment based on tired legs that had little if anything to do with the shoes I was wearing.

Still, as time rolled along I found myself reaching for certain shoes more frequently while others began collecting dust or wordlessly made the conversion to everyday wear.

In the last weeks before race day, I narrowed it down to two finalists, Vasque Celerators and Montrail Mountain Masochists, and did a better job of putting them through similar paces.  The Masochists won out and did everything that was asked of them on October 10th.

Of course, shoes are still just shoes and they didn't make up for my usual lack of discipline in setting too fast an early pace. They weren't any protection against the aching shoulder that stems from continuing to hold my hands too high--as though I'm Carl Lewis instead of Plodder Lutz.  And, the Masochists brought no relief from the eventual spasming of my inherited bad back that came on shortly after mile 21 and accompanied me, off and on, for the remaining 10.1 miles.

Regardless of my other shortcomings, the Masochists provided the support and cushioning that I needed to get close enough to the finish to hear Lily cheering and see her "Go!!! Daddy,  Go!!!" sign.  At that point, flip flops would've been sufficient to deliver me across the line with an exhausted (but satisfied) smile.

Shoes, you gotta love 'em.

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