Wednesday, December 23, 2009

RJ Review: A Quick Shot on Clif Roks

Protein is often overplayed in sport. From the time of Charles Atlas and leather head football, a lot of athletes have been told they should consume much more protein on a daily basis than they really need for optimal performance, and even for good health.

So, it was with some trepidation that I started testing out a (full disclosure: complimentary) sampling of Clif Shot Roks (Clif site), bite-sized protein "balls" geared toward athletes looking for a protein boost either after a big endurance effort or in the midst of one. And despite my slightly jaded eye going into things, I realize protein has an important place in one's diet, and I have some positive things to say about the Roks.

First, they taste quite good. My sampling included chocolate and peanut butter flavors, and with their hard(ish) outer shell and chewy insides, they taste how I envision a healthy malt ball might taste. In fact, as I write this I'm noshing on some.

Second, they offer a lot of control over intake. With ten pieces to a pack, each ball has 2 grams of protein - a little over what Succeed's Clip 2 has per bottle (1.6 grams). So during a race you can throw a couple in each drop bag as you need them, and post-event you can dose them out as your stomach and appetite dictate.

Finally, they're made up of largely healthy protein. While burgers and steak and bacon can taste really good after a long race, they're not the healthiest option for regular protein replenishment. The Roks, on the other hand, are made up of milk-based protein, which makes them pretty healthy (save some cholesterol). Via Twitter, I know of one ubiquitous and esteemed ultrarunner, blogger, and vegetarian who really enjoys the Roks as a healthy source of his needed protein.

Of course, there are many other sources of protein for ultrarunners to choose from both during and after a run. A lot of sports drinks have one or two grams per bottle. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich has about 15 grams of healthy protein. And a Burger King Whopper has about 29 grams of unhealthy, though at times very tasty, protein.

Still, it's never bad to have another arrow in the quiver. It's hard to tell sometimes what's going to work when, so throwing some Clif Shot Roks into your pack, mile 38 drop bag, or glove box could be the ticket to getting the protein you need right when you need it.

Clif Shot Roks

Total Calories 270
Total Fat 4.5g
Sat Fat 1.5g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 40mg
Sodium 340mg
Total Carb 38g
Protein 20g

Saturday, December 12, 2009

RJ Review: La Sportiva Wildcat Shoe

Update (1-25-10): Review of Wildcat GTX (Gore-Tex version)

The shoe the Brooks Cascadia yearns to be

If there was one positive thing about the left foot neuroma that struck me four weeks ahead of this year's Wasatch Front 100, it was that I discovered the La Sportiva Wildcat (retail $100). I was looking for a new shoe that didn't anger the nerve in my foot, and while I would have settled for a pair of Tarahumara sandals if they offered some relief, I was very lucky that the first shoe that seemed to do the trick was also one with standout trail running qualities as well.

This past year alone, I put a lot of miles in a number of different shoes: Roclite 320, Gel-Trail Sensor, Gel-Trail Attack, Cascadia 4, and even Hyperspeed 2 (on the track). And while I've really liked some of these shoes, the Wildcats seem to have taken all the good qualities of each, plus a couple extra of its own, and rolled them into one.

First, they're extremely responsive and handle really well in tough conditions. They can tackle buffed out, fast descents as well as any Inov-8, and when things turn really technical with lose rocks or boulders, they do even better, owing to their really grippy soles born right out of La Sportiva's mountaineering heritage. And while they may not have quite as much ballistic rock protection on the sole as a shoe like the Gel-Trail Sensor, they still work well in craggy situations. Plus, they have a great toe bump that will save your toes late in a long race when you can't help but stub a rock here and there.

But, these shoes aren't just technical workhorses, they also feel really good on, have very good cushioning that's just made for monster distances, and great ventilation that will keep your feet cool and blisters at bay on even the hottest of days.

Of course, the shoe isn't perfect. Which shoe is? And some of the qualities that make the Wildcat so good can also cause some problems. The mesh upper that's responsible for the great ventilation also lets in a great deal of dust and dirt from an arid trail. And you won't want to make the standard Wildcat your winter running shoe. Slush, snow, and near-freezing water find their way through the mesh outer even easier than dust and dirt, which can turn what should have been a quick 8 mile run in a storm into a painful and slow slog. Luckily, La Sportiva thought of this and offers a Gore-Tex version, the Wildcat GTX (retail $125).

Aside from this, the shoe has a couple other peccadilloes: the toe box is a little bit narrow for those with a wide forefoot, and the small lugs on the sole begin to flake off after about 200 miles. But, these are minor.

In a previous review of the Brooks Cascadia 4, I said that the shoe was a let down because, while it did well on a number of points, it was a standout on none. After running in the Wildcats in a range of conditions, and over a range of distances, I've returned to these words and flipped them: While the Wildcats have a couple drawbacks, they're a standout on nearly all the points that really matter.

More shoe reviews on Run Junkie (shoe reviews).

The Lead View: TNF Endurance Challenge Championship - Smith, Steidl, and Roes

It's a select few that get to see what it looks like at the head of a race like this month's The North Face Endurance Challenge 50m. Film maker JB Benna felt more of us should have the privilege, so he toted his camera up amongst the ferns of those buffed out Marin trails and got some fabulous footage of women's winner Caitlin Smith and the men's winner and runner up, Uli Steidl and Geoff Roes. Textbook lessons in tapping out a steady, and very fast, rhythm.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

After the Lottery - 100 Mile Experience in Western States 100 Lottery Winners

To be sure, confetti was tossed by many of those glued to their computers and smart phones yesterday, but it was set up to be a disappointing day for most. The odds simply foretold it. Less than 20 percent would make it out of the Western States 100 lottery and get a golden ticket to the Big Dance in June 2010. The probability was just large enough to spark great hope but small enough to ensure a big wave of disappointment as the last few winners were pulled and eager would-be runners found their names left in the netherworld GU2O bucket of the UltraSignup server. I could go more in to the ups and downs of the day, but Craig Thornley captured it very well in his post last night.

As folks recover from the lottery hangover, surely the debate will continue about the size of the lottery and the possible need to revise qualification standards to make Western States a more selective race - akin to the Boston Marathon. As an adjunct to this discussion, I thought I'd follow up my previous post on the number of applicants with 100 mile race histories in the lottery, with one on the number of those who actually made it out of the lottery who actually had 100 mile history.

I followed the same general method as in the previous analysis (see post for details), and as such it has some of the same frailties. Overall it's a slightly blurred snapshot but one that should capture the general trend.

Not surprisingly, the results are quite parallel between the applicants' histories and the winners' histories. Where about 61 percent of the 1519 applicants had ever completed a 100 miler (as found in Ultra Signup results) and 54 percent had completed one in 2008 or 2009; 64 percent of the 270 lottery winners had ever done a 100 miler, with 56 percent of winners notching at least one in 2008/2009.

Clearly, these numbers are not groundbreaking news, and they seem to provide fodder for those on either side of the debate. For some, they'll show that the current liberal qualifying standards still allow a fairly 100-experienced field to toe the line. For others, it'll show that a good percentage of folks who have demonstrated their ability to complete a 100 mile race will be left out of the Grande Dame of 100's, their spots going to some folks whose hardest race may have been a flat 50 miler.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

At Least 60 Percent of Applicants in Western States 100 Lottery Have 100 Mile History

Update: (12-6-09) Post-lottery report on number of lottery winners with 100 mile history (update).

Yes, The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship is this Saturday, and despite astounding battles setting up at the head of the 50 mile race in both the men's and women's fields, a good number of us will be shackled to our computers and smart phones not to see if Uli can run down Geoff Roes in the closing kilometers but to see if we drew the golden ticket in the lottery for the 2010 Western States 100 (site).

Amidst all the anticipation, there's been a great deal of thoughtful and often fervent discussion about qualification standards for Western. Craig Thornley's most recent post on the the current lottery has drawn over 100 comments alone (post), and for a full immersion in the niceties of the myriad views on the topic, I suggest you read Craig's post and comments. But, one of the perennial issues is whether Western States - the quintessential 100 on the calendar many would argue - should require a 100 mile qualifier rather than the more liberal qualifying standards currently in place.

Flipping through the applicant pool last month on Ultra Signup, it seemed to me that a good portion would already meet a 100 mile qualifying standard. So, with too much time on my hands as I work through an off-season injury, I decided to click through the site with Madame Defarge-like tenacity to get a more accurate sense of what proportion of the current applicant pool has completed a 100 mile race in 2008/2009 or at any other time, as found in the Ultra Signup database.

A few caveats. This is a slightly blurry snapshot. Applicants were being culled as I was going through, so it was a bit of a moving target. Some applicants clearly showed results for people with the same name. Foreign applicants often listed no results. I assume many of these runners had 100 mile equivalents, but I didn't count them, unless their profile photo showed them finishing UTMB (a very small number). Finally, crashed browsers or fighting kids may have resulted in a few errant clicks on my part.

So, what did the numbers show? Out of a current pool of 1519 approved and pending applicants, a little over 60 percent (923) have at some point completed a 100 mile race registered in the Ultra Signup database. Just under 54 percent (818) have completed a 100 mile race recently - in either 2008 or 2009.

Exactly what these results would mean for the size of a lottery requiring a 100 mile qualifier is unclear. Yes, the pool would be smaller, but it certainly wouldn't be an easy in. These numbers here are likely an underestimate, and still, over 900 applicants have completed a 100 miler in the past, over 800 of them fairly recently. If a 100 mile qualifier were put into place in a year like this one, it's likely that lottery numbers would still crest over 1,000, possibly well over.

The implications this would have on the quality and character of the race, I'll leave for others to discuss.