confession and plea.

Last Saturday, January 7th, I ran the PHUNT 25K, a Fat Ass (that pretty much just means it's free...and casual) put on by the Trail Dawgs at the Fair Hill Natural Resource Area in Elkton, Maryland.

Who are the Trail Dawgs?  Glad you asked.  Go here and find out more about these fine fellows and what they're scheming up next:  http://traildawgs.org/

Now where was I?

Ah, yes, I ran the PHUNT 25K and did it in a pretty pleasing 2:30, especially considering the continuous roll of the course and the muddy footing.  Problem is I was intending to do the PHUNT 50K and here's photographic evidence of how that turned out.

No, it didn't take me an hour to run another 3 miles, but it did take me that long to get back out on the loop a second time, fear what my non-responding arches (especially my left) had to tell me and then walk back to the start/finish/mid-way point.

Even after more than a decade of running and several years of trail/ultra-running, I still don't know my body well enough to be certain when I'm being alerted simply to pain or receiving an emergency cry to bail out before real, lasting damage befalls me.  Wish I did know the difference.

The Trail Dawgs were kind enough and the event low-key enough, that I was encouraged to log my 25K time which I eventually did.  The unbelievably beautiful January weather and fine company made for a wonderful day in spite of the abrupt end to actual running, but, a week later, I feel like a cheater and know that, regardless of how the results might read, I actually logged my second ever DNF.

The short term good news, sort of, is that my arch has proven touchy all week long and I feel quite certain that I made the right decision by calling it a day.  The longer term good news is that a few days of not-running (as I like to call it) and working out on the bosu ball (miracle invention...do your research) has me feeling vastly improved if not all the way back to normal.

Which brings me to a quick mention of the highlights on my upcoming race calendar.  I'm signed up for the HAT Run 50K in March, the sure-to-be epic Hyner View Trail Challenge 50K (my first DNF was at the 25K version of this race at a time when I already knew I was nursing and injury and I couldn't resist the chance to take part in the inaugural 50K this year) and the Laurel Highlands Ultra 70-miler in June.  With all of that on the docket, all of which is meant as a build toward the Slickrock 100 in October, remaining healthy is as important as logging miles.

So, that takes care of my DNF confession and its back story.  Here is the plea.  I'm not sure it's a plea so much as a call for opinions and I know you've got 'em.

Yes, you.

Years of destruction from basketball (believe it or not, I was a pretty decent...or at least quick/pesky...point guard back in (sigh) the day) have laid waste to my ankles, especially my left one.

Every now and then I pull out the x-ray taken back 2004-ish that shows floating fragments and two bones grinding against one another in a manner that still makes me question why I bother moving at all.  I didn't have the time or money to justify surgery then and less so now.

I steered clear of trail running for far longer than I wish I had because of fear of falling, twisting, breaking, etc.  It was also only a couple of years ago that my left foot was still going completely numb after about 10 miles or so of running, leaving me feeling as though I was actually landing with each step on a stub located a few inches up my leg.

Not good.

And, trust me, I tried every shoe under the sun to try and correct the problem.  No dice.

Not good.

Eventually (obviously) I made my way to the trail, endured the early predicted falls and twists but managed to avoid any breaks.  Slowly, surely unengaged muscles and new types of flexion gained endurance and strengthened.  Bulky shoes went out the window as my feet sent word that they were better up to the task than was rumored.  Even on the road, I eschewed the gimmicky corrective structures I'd come to believe I needed and turned toward lower profile shoes that stayed out of the way of my feet and let them attend to their prescribed purpose.

And then, in time, I started covering longer and longer distances.  Pain and discomfort, except among the most anatomically blessed, is inevitable when you start pushing out beyond marathon distance.  It's part of the fun or, at the very least, an acceptable side effect of the fun to be had when going long.

Still, I kept seeking out the perfect shoe.

Lest you're still holding out hope for that very same thing, I'm here to tell you that that shoe does NOT exist.  Perhaps if you are gifted enough athlete in the first place to be lured into the laboratory by a shoe company that lends you its scientists and molds a shoe to your very specifications, perfection may be obtainable.  Perhaps, but, even then, unlikely.

I do, however, enjoy daydreams and "what ifs", so I'm giving you and anyone you know the forum to tell me that I'm wrong.  To hold up THE shoe (cue the beam of light shining down upon it from the heavens) that is sure to solve all my problems, keep me pain and distraction free and deliver me to the finish line in personal-record establishing time.

I'm not looking to replace the MT101 (unless the 110 stays true to the design AND improves on durability) as my everyday shoe for up to 15+ miles, but I am seeking a reliable go-to for extended races and/or gnarlier terrain.

To improve the chances of success, I'm lowering my expectations to finding a low-to-medium profile shoe, preferably with little or no medial support, with traction enough to not be utterly useless in mud but not so burly as to be pointless in anything but mud.  That still sounds like a tall order, but I'm all ears.

All ears and bone fragments.


  1. Reading about the extent of the ankle injury and your glory days on the court, I couldn't help think that you were the one person in the world who might want the high-top Saucony ProGrid Outlaw. They even look a bit like the Air Jordans that were out back in the day (I think your "back in the day" and mine are about the same). Despite being built on the Peregrine last, the Outlaw must look to Anton Krupicka like a combat boot and may not be suited to your minimalist preferences.

    I'm no shoe expert. For lots of years, I ran in the NB 764 (the mass market basic trainer) and got along fine. I haven't had any injuries since high school cross country. So I have not been forced to examine shoes as orthopedic aids or corrective devices.

    I wonder whether the shoe that "cures" an injured runner must be good for those who have not yet experienced an injury on the theory that they are mechanically aligned with what the body needs. More likely, the best shoe for one runner may look very different than the best shoe for someone else, given the injuries we bring to the courses and natural differences in foot widths.

    So, I can't help you with the main question posed by your post. But I can identify with the question of whether pain is simply a normal physical response to a challenge and that it should be overcome with mental toughness, or whether it's a serious warning sign to be heeded. It sounds like you chose wisely at the PHUNT 50K. If you decide that question incorrectly, you would either be in fine physical shape with only a bruised ego, or else you would be sidelined from running for an indefinite period. I'd rather have the former than the latter.

    Outstanding, by the way, that you're ramping up from the Hyner 50K (I'll be there too) to the Laurel Highlands to Slickrock 100. I so want to accept the challenge of LH, but I just don't think I have it in me yet. Best wishes for improvement with your nagging injury.

  2. Sorry, cant help you with the shoe situation! But nice to see you at Phunt! You have have a crazy 2012 schedule so I hope you can get your shoe/arch issues taken care of! Good Luck!!


  3. Hey Leon, I'm in a similar boat in searching for new shoes. Currently running full-time in Inov8 f-lite 230s and debating finding something with a little more structure. I ran everything last year in falling-apart Brooks Adrenaline 8s that were previously retired and reanimated to be my "step-down" shoe to minimal. Had issues with the toe box being a little small though (luckily did not lose any toenails) and spent the last part of the year supergluing the soles back to the shoe before each race.

    I had some issues with the Inov8s this summer on the track which could also be due to still getting used to them, but sometimes I feel like they fatigue my legs a bit more than necessary. I might try some of the new Brooks PureProject shoes; I like Brooks as a company and think they make a great shoe.

    Honestly I have never felt that any shoe gives good traction in mud—the only thing to do is increase your foot turnover. And on the ankles, I have a tricky one that gives me trouble from time to time due to an old sprain, and trail running was what helped strengthen it to the point that it really doesn’t bother me anymore. So you really could be doing yourself a favor by running—not doing anything only makes things weaker.

    Good luck and see you at Hyner! (Or maybe before on some training runs!)

  4. Thanks everyone for the great input. I've been wanting to respond for days and blogspot has been non-cooperative.

    In the meantime, I've been out in Salt Lake for the big Winter Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show and managed to sneak down into "shoe land", a place I should never venture into, as my consumerist streak flares up something fierce. And that much more so when I'm on a shoe hunt to begin with. Anyway...

    ...I've pondered that Saucony Grid Outlaw before but am pretty sure it is way more shoe than I want. I also think that's a GORE-Tex shoe which isn't something I'm interested in. Wouldn't mind give 'em a try though, just to see. I suspect it would make a great snowshoeing shoe which means it would still be welcome in my closet.

    Lots of buzz around those Inov-8's, Cassie. I've only had one pair and it blistered me something wicked. Have a bad feeling that the last they use is just not for me. I've had the same issue with Asics on the road.

    Got some further feedback at OR from a bunch of folks and it sounds like the NB 110's might be worth a shot...sounds like the updates might be the appropriate tweaks to the 101's without messing with the fit.

    Still thinking I might need a bit more shoe, though, so the search goes on. Keep those suggestions coming.

  5. Thanks! On sight, the Hokas were a turn off but, better understanding the story behind them, I'm intrigued. Any input on why I should go that route or how they worked for you? Just curious.

  6. Been back to logging some serious miles in the Montrail Mountain Masochists, including 15 wet, muddy, rocky miles today and am pain and (relatively) fatigue free...were it not for hill repeats just yesterday, I think I'd be feeling far more fresh. My old pair was a size 10 and this newer pair is a 10.5...not sure if that has any significance, but I'm pretty pleased. Still doing "dry" days in 110's and like the contrast between them and the Masochists.