Topo Athletic Shoe Review

I will start by saying this review and opinions are of my own. I bought the shoes myself and Topo doesn’t know I am reviewing them.  Full disclosure I do run for Carson Footwear, but they only make trail shoes so there is no conflict of interest since they do not have road shoes.

In a quest to find a road shoe I like I am trying out many in the next few weeks.  I have predominantly been running trails since 2010 and haven’t really owned a road shoe since then either.  If I run on roads, I usually run in old trail shoes.

This June I signed up for a 50 on the roads.  What was I thinking? I’m not sure, but it was the only 50 I could find relatively nearby and during the last week of June… so I guess that’s my excuse.  And, because..why not?  Its something totally new for me.  Last marathon I ran on the roads was in 2006, so I guess every 10 years I run a long road race.

Anyway, I need to find a road shoe I like.  I have a particular fondness of lower drop/minimum shoes, even when running roads.  I don’t think we are meant to toddle around in high heels, nor do I think a 12mm drop road shoe is appropriate.  For me it puts pressure on the front of my feet and lower back.  So many “traditional/popular” road shoes are out.

That leaves companies like Altra, Topo Athletic, New balance minimus, and some others for me to try out.  Added to the fact that I do barefoot strides and foot strengthening exercises so my toes splay widly across my forefoot and I like ground feel, with some padding..it makes my options limited, and makes me worry about my race coming up.

SO anyway, this is about the Topo’s FlyLyte.  Here are the specs according to their website:

  • 4mm rubber outsole
  • 3mm drop
  • 22mm stack height
  • Wide toe box for toe splay and natural foot shape
  • Weight 6.7 oz

I wore them straight out of the box for a 30 mile road run.  That may seem weird to some, but for me a shoe should be comfortable out of the box, there is no such thing as breaking them in. Since then I have worn them for both walking around running some shorter distances.  I have about 400 miles on them.

Overlay and Upper

For the most part I liked them.  They were more shoe than I am used to.  What do I mean by that?  The overlay over the toe was hard; I was aware of it, not necessarily in a bad way, just aware of it.  The heel cup is quite firm and gave me blisters around my ankles.  I’m use to pretty soft uppers and never worry about them rubbing skin off of my feet.  Another thing I would comment on is that the tongue seemed a bit short.  Didn’t make a difference one way or the other to my run, but I felt like most tongues I am used to are higher.

Picture taken from Gearist

 

Under foot: Midsole and Responsiveness

They were firm ride with medium responsiveness.  Aside from the heel blister they were quite comfortable, I’m betting if I wore a higher sock they wouldn’t have rubbed me at all.  However, if I had a perfect shoe I would change a few things.  Softer heel cup, more flexible sole.  I’m not a heavy runner and have a light foot strike so I felt like the toe off was a bit less springy than some of my more flexible shoes.  As I stated above they are very natural feeling, good foot shape, firm, low drop.

This is weird, but I like to take the sock liners out of my shoes and play around with different ones, and the Topo Athletic shoes had their sock liners glued in, so they were hard to take out.

Outsole

I guess for road shoes all you can test is wet or dry.   They worked well for both wet and dry and I have minimal wear on them after a few hundred miles.

Parting thoughts,  these will stay in my road shoe rotation.  I think its important to use a variety of shoes to challenge different muscles, however, maybe not the perfect 50 mile shoes for me.  Anyone have any other ideas of shoes I should try?

Next review: Altra One2.5

Leatherwood Ultras; My first 50k, and First race after MAF HR Training.

Leatherwood Ultra 50k

A happy finisher

Leatherwood would be my first “real”50k. ( I have run a 50k fatass in my backyard for years, and this fatass is anywhere from 30-35 miles depending on who markets the course each year, and is right after Christmas so its usually a post overindulgent waddle-food and friend fest.) So I really had no idea what to expect, how to pace myself or exactly what my race goal would be. Coupled with the new HR training I have been doing I really just didn’t know what kind of performance to expect.  So I looked online at the course, and made an outrageous pace plan; A goal; course record.  The previous CR was 6:19, so I set my goal at 6:15…you know, sometimes you need a crazy outlandish “A” goal.

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Course profile

My “B” goal was what I thought was more realistic was 6:30.  With 9k feet of gain over some short but steep UPS and downs (as seen from the elevation chart above) I wasn’t sure if my few weeks of hill training thrown into lots of slow flat mileage would wreck my quads or not.  My “C” plan was just to finish and have a good time.

 

With my husband signed up for the 10 mile we, plus our friend Nathan, set off for rainy Leatherwood.  This race is notorious for super greasy, slick, NC clay and lots of rain.  Spring here is wet wet wet!  We were fortunate to have a dry week leading up to the race, but arrived at a rainy packet pickup.  As I got into the race I found that my shoes were really great in the slippery mud and rocks.  I was super impressed that I didn’t slip on anything.

We grabbed our bibs and headed up to the house to settle in.  Other friends trickled in later in the evening as they got off work and could head to the race start.

I’m not going to lie, what had me the most worried was that since this race is held on private land, a mix of horse trails, hiking trails, and mtb trails, it folded back onto itself a lot, and loop directions had me a bit concerned that I would take a wrong turn.   We started off on a road and went by a cabin, that we would pass in different directions at least 3 more times… so the turn flagging could have been confusing.  Fortunately it wasn’t.  The RD had said he’d put something like 700 flags out on the course, which sounded extreme, but in the end was well worth it since we were running different loops that had contestant intersections, some were other trails, others were paths to private residences.

Garmin data

The course was really beautiful, it popped in and out of the woods, allowing for some pretty views.  Even one of Grandfather mountain in nearby Boone.

View from our cabin rental

 

SO back to the race, the course begins with a 4 mile climb up (there was a little dip down, but basically up for 4 miles uphill.)  On the way up I was listening to all the chatter around, we began with the 50 milers, so it was hard to tell who was running what.  Different colored bibs, but who has time to look at those when there is steep uphill climbing. I think at one point my Garmin data says 30+% grade!  I heard someone say ” let them go ahead, so many people don’t pace themselves at the start of an ultra,” which stuck in my head.  I began to assess how I was feeling and realized I was probably not running fast enough.  I am so used to pacing for 50+ miles.  I was thankful for the comment and picked up the pace, even though I know the opposite was meant, it helped me think about what I was running and what my goal was.

I would say a majority of this race was on single track, with a 1 mile paved start, and a 2 mile paved connection between trails later in the race.  So it was green, lush, and curvy.  If you look at the Garmin map all those squiggles were really steep and tight up or downhill switchbacks.  In the first 10 miles I think I thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into, this is more like the trails at Cruel Jewel than anything I was expecting.  It was hard to get into a rhythm in the first 8 miles because there was no break..either uphill hiking hard, or practically free falling downhill trying to avoid breaking your ankle on the rocks…. it was kinda thrilling though.  Fortunately I got into a rhythm by mile 12, only falling once on one of the rocky-leaf covered sections of trail.

At mile 16 we circled back through the start/finish, which is oh so tempting for many people to stop.  Unfortunately one friend did, though she was running only because her husband was, and she was happy that she saw the 16 miles and was done.

We runners were sent back out for the second loop, which was easier than the first.  I had written my splits on my arm, and sometimes would hit right on for my “B” goal, and sometimes be behind in the first 16 miles, which was a little disheartening.  Little did I realize that the second half was so much more runnable and downhill that I made up a lot of time.   This is where things got a bit confusing.  Because the trails were so winding my Garmin dropped a lot of mileage, so when I got back to that last 1 mile stretch of road and only had 27 miles on my watch I started to panic.  I walked back up the hill to an intersection that was basically a 4 way intersection of where the race went in and out of… I re-read all the signs, and then started to get down on myself.  I slowed, I asked a woman on horseback if she knew if I missed a turn, I asked a few 50 milers if they had done a little loop… and then my brain said “oh man, all that work and you just lost first place and the CR because you missed a little 3 mile loop…” the minute that thought entered my head I had to counter it and replied to it, “you know what, I’ve had a good day, I am really enjoying this race, if I missed a turn I’ll just grab Nathan and finish it out with him after I come though the start/finish.”

I picked my pace back up and headed to the finish.  Because my friends had seen that I was behind my “A” goal after the first (harder) loop they didn’t expect me for another 30 minutes… so I surprised them as well!  After figuring out that my Garmin, and everyone else’s watches weren’t catching all the mileage, I finally relaxed and allowed myself to celebrate.  50k pr, 50k first place, and a new CR for Leatherwood 50k at 6:05!

Even though this race went so well, I still think I learned from this race.  I think its important to me not to just celebrate a well executed race, but to also take something away from it.

My take away;

  • HR training does work, at least for a hilly 50k!
  • It was my first time EVER eating gels/gu’s and not having them revolt at the end. I think, even though I was racing, I was still keeping somewhat of an even HR the whole time, only spiking in the first mile or so as my HR settled into running.
  • One honey stinger an hour keeps the effort level and this girl happy and even.
  • Always swish the honey stinger plus water around in my mouth, it helps it settle into my stomach, and doesn’t hit like a sugar bomb when I just eat it straight.
  • Use the people ahead as motivation
  • trust yourself!  Man this is a hard one for me to do, especially as fatigue sets in later in a race… self doubt does too.
  • Strength training is just as important as any other part of training.   I had slightly sore quads after, everything else felt good.  I didn’t have much of a chance to practice downhill running, but I did lift (squat etc)

 

Friend and superstar Alana who won 3rd!

 

Food;

  • 3 honey stingers, 3 strawberry banana gels (by the way why are so many gels full of caffeine?! I don’t need to poop during a race..hehe)
  • 3 pieces of watermelon
  • Bunch of pickles
  • 1 vespa pre race

Gear;

  • My Orange Mud VP1 of course!  Made it easy to carry all my gels-wispfriends for a discount on all their products
  • Carson Footwear Blue Tigers with their sticky traction kept me from slipping on many of the steep inclines, fyi these are as minimal (also 0 drop)as I would wear on any rocky ultra, but they worked well for this race, and I have been wearing them all winter for training to get my feet and lower legs strong- discount code: wisp

I gotta send out a thanks to both Orange Mud and Carson Footwear for making great gear and supporting my running.  And a special thanks to my knowledgeable friends at Balanced Movement Studio, where I take most of my yoga classes, get body work, and help tweak my strength and mobility!  Of course to my husband and training friends who help me stay accountable, motivated, and keep me balanced, sane and on an even keel.  Especially Nathan this training cycle!  Thanks for being a great early morning-long distance partner!

 

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I realize, this is what its all about.

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Nearing the End of my MAF Only Block; Thoughts and Prelim Results

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Yes, this is how I log my runs.

In my past few posts, LCHF MAF and 2016 Goals, I talk about taking time off and starting to rebuild.  It seems people take two approaches to starting their next race season.  The first, by building speed at shorter distances.  Many ultra runners will begin their year with an early spring marathon and build distance into their speed for their summer ultras.  The second is a slower, higher mileage approach.  I took the latter, having sort of done the former in the past with shorter winter/spring races like the Mt. Mitchell 40 mile race and Uwharrie 40 both in very early spring, but usually burning out by late fall.

My A race this year isn’t until September, so I’ve been slow and steady all winter.  I have owned a heart race monitor for years, but this is the first time I have really ever used it.

So by the end of today, I will have hit somewhere around 140 miles this week.  The last time I did this was summer of 2013, and I ran two weeks of 150.  Because the weather and temperature was very different from then to now I can’t make an exact comparison (Av temp this winter has been in the upper 30s-40s, the summer is usually 70s in the morning and 90s in the afternoon.)

I don’t have exact strava data for 2013 because it was before I used that application, so I have to look back on my trusty hand written guide.  I ran all of my runs by feel, which back then was probably too fast at the start and hitting the wall and having to run the second run slow slow slow…

The week went something like this;

  • Day 1; 30, AM 21 road, PM 8.9 trail
  • Day 2; 23, AM 15, PM 8 road
  • Day 3: 26, AM 4(tired) PM 22
  • Day 4: 15 road
  • Day 5: 5
  • Day 6: 36, AM 30 all single track trail, PM 6 road slog
  • Day 7: 15, AM to road, PM 5

I remember just being tired and hungry and brain foggy and stressed that whole week, and afterwards.  It was supposed to be my peak week for a 100 3 weeks away and I would taper after it… the 100 was cancelled, which was a blessing in disguise because I was TOAST.  Mentally, physically, emotionally.  I signed up for a race a month later, recovered all the next month and had a great race..sub 23 hours at Pinhoti 100.  Had I run Grindstone the three weeks after that 150 mile week no doubt I would have done horribly.  Post Pinhoti my body was still fried though.  I had hives, I couldn’t sleep through the night, I was cranky, and tearful, and wasn’t my usual social self.

This week looks something like strava data (I started the week on Saturday).

  • Day 1; 20 miles trail, faster the last 10 miles
  • Day 2; 30 miles road
  • Day 3; 10 miles of a recovery run (this run I use my HRM specifically and run each mile according to HR.  ie first mile HR is near 100, second mile 110, third 130, etc until a few at 150, and then back down. Seems to loosen my legs up after a long road run.
  • Day 4; 30, AM 20 trail, PM 9 Treadmill, 1 barefoot around indoor track + leg day
  • Day 5; 10 easy miles 1:40hour
  • Day 6; 30,  All in a row with no break=20 road miles, 5 treadmill miles, 4+ easy with the dog
  • Day 7; that’s today… I have 10 planned trail miles after I finish cleaning the house and writing this.

The big difference is how I feel physically and mentally. I’m not starving constantly, I don’t wake up hungry and can’t get back to sleep.  I am present, no brain fog, at night I can go out to dinner with friends and hold a conversation.  I am not sore and stiff and always on the cusp of worrying if that niggle is an oncoming injury, and I am in great spirits.  I ran all of the miles under my MAF HR which is just under 150, which means that I’m certainly not at my fastest, but not far off and feel better. I think on Day 4 the first 20 I ran I hit 18 miles on the trail at 3 hours, and in the past I have hit 20 in 3 hours on the same route, but the different is I felt good enough to do 10 more in the afternoon and lift legs, whereas after the 20 miles in 3 hours before I would have to sit on the couch or nap after.

In general I would say its hard to compare my actual pace because looking back over the data this winter there was a lot of muddy days, snowy and icy days that skewed the pace results, so I have been looking at mileage and how I feel and can function rather than the actual pace. Back in December a 17 mile trail run used to feel like a hard effort, while now its a normal Tuesday morning.

I realize for those of you that are seeking actual data and numbers this is loose and not really conclusive enough, but for me its a really great improvement.  I have been striving to get the big mileage with out the drawback of feeling wasted every day afterwards.  I am hopeful that this base will serve me well as I add in some quality workouts in the upcoming weeks/months.

Next week is the beginning of some actual speed work, so no more MAF only running.  One day a week I will drop off the 30 mile and switch it out for a hilly run aiming for a pace and feel, and ignoring my HR.  The rest of the week will remain mostly HR based.

I’m both excited and apprehensive to be switching up my running.  I am one of those people who tend to fall prey to “hard is good, harder is better,” and tend to dig myself into over training holes.  This is the year of training smarter not harder.  I’ll be curious to see if I can stick to that.

Thanks for reading!!

*also, with all this mileage I have been able to add muscle (finally, typically I get all gawky and lose muscle at higher mileage) and have lost just 1-2 lbs of fat.

 

Better Energy, and Recovery Means I Can do More things!

Like this: climbing! This is so much fun..my arms are core were so wonderfully sore after!

And this:

Painting! I have had the energy to paint again!  You can buy my art here, coming soon.

 

Even more hiking!

Winter Base; more slow MAF and LCHF

Winter Miles on the Road

Choosing an “A” race so late in the year (Run Rabbit Run is in Sept.) is a long way off for making a training schedule.  This helped me decide that this winter I would start-over building base miles, slow and steady. No racing till spring.  I took the month of November off, started running for fun in December, added in very different (to me) weight training (heavy weight, low reps) and slow MAF miles.  I have kept up the changes to my diet; higher fat, lower carbohydrates, no processed foods, lots of veggies, some fruits..but not nearly as many as I have eaten in the past.

Goofing off while base training, who says running isn’t fun?!

It all began a little more than frustrating, but was kind of a nice change as well.  My MAF HR is 145, but I added a few BPM because I haven’t been injured and have been running a long time.  Going out on the trails and keeping my HR between 143-147 was SLOW!  Like painfully-mindlessly-walking up everything slow.  Most of my friends stopped running with me, fortunately one friend, Nate, decided he was into trying this out as well, so we have been keeping each other company on the long, cold, dark mornings.

Early cold morning miles with Nate

So putting trust into these slow miles was easy at first.  I was tired and a bit burned out from last year.  My first race was in March 2015 and wrapped up the year with the final race in Nov 2015…I was tired.  I hadn’t really given myself any time to rest, it was race, recover, build, build, race, build, build race, race…  I was ready to give myself over to something different.

December was long and slow, but finishing each run felt good.  I had energy, didn’t have that insatiable hunger post run, I have been sleeping well, no GI issues..and slowly, but surely, my pace has been getting faster at the same HR/effort.  I also don’t need more than water to run 3+ hours.

Another side effect of this slower running in the winter is that when the trails become super saturated from heavy rain or frozen over I have been varying my training on the Treadmill and roads again.   I had almost forgotten what great running tools these two things are.  The road to practice faster turnover, treadmill to really pay attention to my gait.  Its been sort of wonderful.

Its now been 2 months and some change and I have felt stronger, and fitter than in the last few years.  Last week I ran 115 miles, plus 3 sessions of weight lifting, and if I hadn’t run out of time my body would have happily gone up to 120mpw, which is something I haven’t done in two years.

From what I have read, and it makes perfect sense,(childbirth, and our hormones) make us, women perfect for fat burning.  Peter Defty podcast about this.  However, I do have to be aware that too low carbohydrate isn’t always a good thing.  Sweet potatoes, fruits, and starchy veggies and nuts are still a part of my diet.  I did try a week super low carb test and while I felt much better doing it, by the end of it I found that adding in some low sugar fruits helped me sleep better at night (plus I don’t think 115mpw is recommended while doing this carb intolerance test.). Which also leads me to wonder, 6 years ago I eliminated wheat gluten and felt better, I have since been eliminating sugars and feel much better.  I did have may of the symptoms described at the beginning of the article, but over this winter I think I have figured out that its not quite a gluten intolerance but a carbohydrate intolerance. It has helped my HDL come way up and triglycerides level off actually.  I have a family history of it, its always a surprise to every new doc I go to when I have a fasting blood test and I have high LDL with all the running I do.

Anyway, this update is as much for you as it is a reminder for me for the future when I fall off the wagon on a crazy sugar binge and forget that my GI, sleep, and skin problems are linked to my carb intolerance.

As for last week’s 115mpw it went something like this;

  • Monday; easy/yoga
  • Tuesday; AM 18.5m in the woods. PM 11 on the TM+lifting=29.5
  • Wednesday; 10 easy
  • Thursday; AM road run 20m, PM 11 TM+lifting=31
  • Friday; 11 trail miles
  • Saturday: 21 (really cold morning!)+lifting
  • Sunday; 13

Links to more LCHF

Race Calendar? Maybe?

I am not a very patient person, I am trying my best to learn it, though.  I already started thinking about my 2016 race calendar this past September, but told myself I had to wait at least until the Hardrock and Western States drawings.  No big surprise, I didn’t get into either… so that at least made those race decisions easy.

It now comes down to waiting until April to run any races.  If I base build only, no speed work, no raising my HR above 150ish bpm until I hit 120mpw that will take me until the second week of March, then I can either decide to base build more, or begin specific race training.  We’ll see what happens, hopefully with my change in diet, strength training, and sleep habits I’ll hit 120mpw happy, healthy and strong!

So this is what I have so far;

April 2016;

  • Either Leatherwood Ultra in NC, or Promise Land 50k in VA
  • argument for Leatherwood is there is a 10 mile option and Drew can do that, there are sweet cabins on the property, its run on private property so there is no way it can be cancelled.
  • Promise Land, well because I haven’t run a Horton race yet (or a 50k!) and I keep meaning to… and because those VA trail runners always put on a fantastic race!

June;

  • Ugh, another lottery, this time for San Juan Solstice 50..won’t know about this until late January.
  • I’ll need a backup in case I don’t get in… Laurel Highlands 100k? What else?

August;

  • Jarman’s Invitational of course!

September;

  • RUN RABBIT RUN (the second time around)

November;

  • Mountain Masochist 50 mile
  • I think this race fills up fast so I’ll have to be on the ball to sign up.

December;

  • Hellgate 100k!
  • If I don’t injure myself (knock on wood,) or burn myself out, (knock on wood again,) I have been wanting to do this race since I first heard about it a few years ago, but it never works into my schedule!