Category Archives: Running

Skora Core Shoe Initial Review

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I was pleasantly surprised to receive a pair of Skoras from my sister and brother in law for my birthday. Before we praise them for their generosity, they quickly told me they bought them for me so I don’t have to wear “those ugly shoes with the toes”. Point taken. Vibram Five Fingers are a little ugly. I think we all agree that the new breed of minimalist shoe with a wide toe box surpasses the Five Finger in looks and comfort, while giving little if any ground away in functionality without the individual toe boxes.

I didn’t really know much about the company. I haven’t been in the market for a new pair of shoes in quite a while. I have two pair of Merrells that fill me work and casual needs, and I have gravitated to New Balance for my running needs. My first impressions were the asymmetric lacing, quality shiny leather upper, bright colors, and slick sole obviously biased to the road.

I wear 10.5 pretty much across the board. When I slipped the shoe on,
I felt as though it may be a little on the larger side for the size. If you are ordering online, I would recommend ordering down a half size. It also looked as though the heel was raised, which to any minimalist stalwart is a concern. Upon slipping the shoe on, it felt like a zero drop shoe. Reading the company website supports my suspicion of zero drop. I think the visual illusion of a raised heel is caused by the shaped heel of the shoe. I think the shaped heel is a defining part of the shoe and separates it from the square heels of other popular minimalist offerings.

Slipping on the Cores and Taking a walk in the sleepy New England town my sister lives near was a pleasant experience. My toes have plenty of room, and there were no hot spots. Compared to the NB MT line and Merrell True line, the shoe seems to have more padding both in the sole and the insole. However, the shoe still disappeared on my foot as any minimalist shoe should. Walking through wet grass, the upper seemed fairly water repellent and dried quickly, as the company website claimed (goat leather).

I have not yet run in the shoe, and it is likely I may keep this shoe in reserve for Casual Friday work days while relying on my beater NBs for running. Most of my running this year has been off pavement, and it would be a shame to dirty these zero drop lookers. Whether or not it is a good running shoe likely depends on your outlook on barefoot style running–do you see no harm in a little padding, or do you feel anything that inhibits complete foot feel of the surface is evil?

One thing is certain, my old ugly Vibram Five Fingers can’t compete with Skora in style, and the function of the Skora Core is more than satisfying for those of us who can’t understand why a shoe company thought it would be a good idea to mess with natural movement mechanics.

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Romans 5:3-5

We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.

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A Warning To Those Running the XTerra Earth Conservancy 2013 Trail Run

I just came back from running the Brown Loop Trail in Mocanaqua. The Brown Loop shares much of the same
Route as the XTerra course.

The land is nothing new to me. In fact, I grew up a stones throw from “the woods” as I called them as a little boy. I fondly remember picnics and walks in the woods (now part of the Earth Conservancy) growing up. As a young man, there is barely a ridge or a hollow I haven’t mountain biked, hunted, rock climbed, rappelled, hiked, drove my CJ-5 Jeep, or explored. In fact, you may say this is hallowed ground as a great-grandfather of mine suffocated underground somewhere beneath our feet escaping a mine collapse with his friend and neighbor back in October of ’32.

Even given this familiarity, I am always struck by the brutality of the first 2 miles of the trail. Of course, the first gain in elevation is a kicker, but this is only the beginning. The worst parts come when the trail runs along the steep ridge overlooking the river and Route 11 North of Shickshinny. The best way I could describe the trail is effing stupid. I am not sure why the trail was even built; most of the double track was established for mining operations and ‘maintained’ by ATV traffic. However, this section appears far from any former mining activity, and it seems too rough for an ATV trail. Pictures do no justice to the steepness and looseness of the trail. Suffice it to say, many of the sections are difficult to walk up for large stretches. Most trail runs I have done have short sections where climbing/walking is necessary. This race has repeated prolonged sections that redline your heart rate walking up them. I would guess there are about 10 kickers that are steep, loose, and long within a mile or two. One can barely recover before the next kicker arises before your disbelieving eyes.
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There is quite a rewarding view at the top.

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Unfortunately, the downhill sections are so rocky, they offer no respite, but rather a potpourri of large, medium, and gravel sized rock ready to twist an ankle (or hide a prolific black rat snake).
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Also, your lungs will either be choked with hot coal dust from some of the roads, or your feet will have jungle rot if there was a recent rain from a putrid puddle (also prolific in the area).
restaurant.

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As mentioned above, black rat snakes are common, as are black bears. In fact, within the last decade (as with all legends, the exact year is unimportant), the largest black bear of the year was taken over the mountain from the trails, probably with 3 miles of the trails. As anyone that knows bears knows, this is well with a bears range. This big bears off spring surely still wander the former coal lands. I wonder if the bear skirting the puddle before me is a relative of the legend bear?

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So how to prepare? First, if you train solely on roads, be able to run near 20 road miles to be equivalent to 13 Mocanaqua miles. Be prepared for heat reflecting off the dark waste coal that makes up many roads (but enjoy the cold breezes you feel coming up from unseen mines or vent holes along trail). Wear shoes that are flexible to grip the rocks and do not have a high sole. I think it’s best to keep the foot low to the ground minimizing the torque from the jagged rocks. Have a hydration plan. I would recommend some sort of system such as hydration pack, or hydration belt. Lastly, bring your ability to suffer. Just as the miners suffered long days with a pick in hand underground in the dark, you will be suffering above the ground in the scorching sun come June 15.

On a historical note, if you look straight up the slope from the parking lot (above the blue DPW building), you may see the old foundation of the West End Colliery breaker building. This is where young boys and disabled men would usually hand pick the “culm”, or waste coal that now makes up the various “culm banks” in the area. The first breaker burnt down, and a new one was built near the same site. At one time, there was a covered bridge spanning between Shickshinny and Mocanaqua. The previous concrete bridge to the current was located a few hundred yards upstream, between the last house and the parking lot.

If you look across the river, you will see waste culm from the Stackhouse Colliery operation. It is now State Game Lands and offers a beautiful 3.5ish mile totally unmarked running loop that goes past several open mine shaft and runs along an old railroad bed in many parts. The loop offers great views of the river valley and Mocanaqua. It also climbs a powerline, offering other great views. The Stackhouse Colliery foundation can be seen at the end if the bridge on the other side of the river. This breaker is known for shooting it’s anthracite over what is now Route 11 and into car on the canal and railroad. The canal bed can still be seen along Route 11 in several spots.

Lastly, the towns have both been hit hard by flooding of the Susquehanna. There used to be a telephone pole in Mocanqua on Lincoln Street that had flood levels from the last few decades. I am not certain it’s still there.
If interested in the flooding, check out the back room of the Wagon Wheel Restaraunt in Shickshinny (at the red light). There, you can find a plethora of photographs, and you can see the water level on the building.

If you want to reward yourself with a great cheesesteak that rivals anything in Philly, check out Mil and Jim’s Parkwayon your way back to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. Simply continue straight through Mocanaqua, through Glen Lyon, and into Alden.
Mil and Jim’s will be on your left. Interstate 81 isn’t too far from the

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DIESEL FUEL RECIPE: Car Brewed Tea

Everyone has likely heard of sun tea, if not sampled the drink. The idea is to put a few tea bags out on a hot sunny day to brew. How many have heard of car tea? Likely none because I think I just invented it today.

Brewing your iced tea in a car can make sense in many circumstances. For example, if one lives in a city and doesn’t have private space, or if one lives in a colder clime and wishes to take advantage of the warming greenhouse effect of car windows.

What does this have to do with endurance sports? I propose iced tea is a wonderful drink to take with you on a ride or run for the following unscientific reasons:

  • it’s mostly water and will hydrate you
  • add honey for simple carbs and quick energy
  • the caffeine can give you energy (and is known to decrease perceived exertion)
  • antioxidants in many teas can help reduce free radicals from training and sun exposure
  • it doesn’t leave that crappy taste in your mouth like some sports drinks (especially if you add something extra refreshing like mint
  • much cheaper than sports drinks
  • So what do you need to make some car tea?

  • glass container that seals (try TJ Max where I got mine for
    $5)
  • water
  • a few tea bags (I prefer green tea)
  • raw local honey, or other sweetener
  • Simply add the tea bags to the water jug and sit in your car for a few hours. You can adjust the temperature by placement of the jug, or rolling down windows. After it’s sufficiently brewed, remove tea bags, stir in honey, and serve over ice cubes in your water bottle.

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    DIESEL FUEL RECIPE: Baked Oatmeal

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    Lance, if you are reading this, you can stop now. Baked oatmeal is not some code word used to describe a pharmaceutical concoction that is injected intravenously. Rather, it is a delicious recipe that can be used as a pre-workout meal, post-workout meal, or delicious snack or dessert. Like shrimp and grits, the baked oatmeal is greater than the sum of it’s parts, and also has a surprising and unique texture. Ground zero for baked oatmeal is the Lancaster, PA area as it’s a popular Pennsylvania Dutch recipe.

    Nutritionally, baked oatmeal offers a good mix of complex carbs, simple carbs, and some protein. By adding fruits and nuts to the mix, you can add additional vitamins, antioxidants, healthy fats, etc. For the base recipe, you can also substitute apple sauce for butter, cut down on the brown sugar, or substitute xylitol or splenda. Below is the basic recipe followed by some ideas for variations.

    Recipe

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    3 cups instant oats
    1/2 cup melted butter
    1 cup milk
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 cup brown sugar
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon salt
    1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
    Splash of vanilla extract

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    Combine all dry ingredients. In another bowl, combine all other ingredients (don’t forget to take the eggs out of their shell!). After wet and dry ingredients are combined separately, combine all the ingredients together. Place in a greased vessel, approximately 9×9 in a preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until it looks done. Your guess is as good as mine.

    Once baked, serve warm in a bowl, with some milk poured over (see picture below). Once eating is commenced, the cake-like structure will fall apart like a Schleck brothers’ season and will become a delicious porridge. The leftovers can be eaten for days, just remember to warm up the cake, before you pour on the milk.

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    Variations

      Cherry Garcia Baked Oatmeal: add cherries and dark chocolate chips. If you just ran a half marathon or greater, you have earned a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
      Mother-in-Law Baked Oatmeal: add chopped walnuts and sliced almonds for some excellent Omega 6 fatty acids and a truly nutty experience
      Orchard Baked Oatmeal: Add diced apples, pears, and peaches and you will almost be able to smell the Spring blossoms and pesticides on the trees
      Obama Baked Oatmeal: add nothing because you can’t afford it with higher taxes. In fact, with this variation, you must give half of the recipe output to the guy who was too lazy to make his own.

    Lance, I was just kidding. Call me, we will go for a ride.

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    5 Must Do Racing Events in Northeastern/Central PA

    Northeast PA has a rich schedule of endurance racing events. Here is a list of 5 of the best. Some of these I have done, some I have not.

    5. A Trail Run
    Running on the road is one thing, running on a trail is another. No smooth black top roads here! Need to find your “rhythm” when you run? Care about your splits? Think that hill you run through your neighborhood is steep? The trail will laugh at you!

    Trail running is a different beast than road running, including a different vibe in the participation circle. Definitely more relaxed folks seem to take up off road running. My own observations show you are 5.6 times more likely to see a bearded runner at a trail race than a road race (I should apply for a government grant to actually study this phenomenon).

    Honestly, trail running is a great ying to road runnings yang. It’s way more mentally challenging as you must pick your lines wisely for optimum efficiency. It’s also a great workout to build core strength and gain hill climbing proficiency. Where better to trail run than our beautiful ridge and valley Appalachians?

    Check out the Humdinger or the Pocono XTerra Series. The Pocono XTerra Series features some shorter distances if you are a newbie.

    4. Cyclocross
    Like trail running, Cyclocross is more laid back and relaxed when compared to its asphalt brethren. You are 200 times more likely to fall in the mud in a ‘cross race than a road race.

    Don’t be afraid to run what ya brung at a ‘cross race! The course is pretty dry? Ride your regular roadie. Only have a full suser? Bring it on and just have fun. These events will make you feel like a kid again!

    Check out any of the races in the Central PA Cyclocross Series. I would tell you to surely check out the Fire and Ice race, but my legal counsel advised me against it considering it’s at night in the dead of winter (complete insanity).

    3. Giant’s Dispair
    1.1 miles long, 650 ft of elevation gain, and up to 22% grades, you can choose between your running sneakers or bike to take on the challenge.

    Giants Dispair

    Some interesting trivia: Course is also used for an auto race. With names such as Chevrolet, Penske, and Shelby, the course is oozing with history.

    2. Steamtown Marathon
    The Steamtown Marathon is consistently mentioned in national publications as a great event. It’s good for beginners and relatively fast.

    1. Run for the Diamonds
    Although the Run for the Diamonds is overshadowed by the Steamtown Marathon in national prominence, nothing can top the history, tradition, and crowds at the Run for the Diamonds. It has been run 102 times (always Thanksgiving morning), and is the 4th oldest race in America. Made famous for Summerhill at mile 2, the cool thing about this race is it can be sunny and 70 degrees, or 10 degrees and spitting sleet. As mentioned above, the crowds are amazing. No better way to earn that extra helping of pumpkin pie than this 9 mile race. If you win, yes, you actually get a diamond.

    As you can see, there is no limit to the type of event available to compete in NEPA/CPA. From a nationally recognized marathon to a ‘cross race at night, there is no excuse not to get out and train for one of these events.

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    River Towns Half Marathon Race Report

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    Equipment: New Balance Minimus
    Weather: Slightly overcast, around 60-70 degrees

    What this race is:

    • Great laid-back, Spring race
    • Low Pressure
    • Rural
    • Out and back
    • Extremely well supported with aid stations spaced out about every 2 miles
    • Fun!!!!!!
    • Great race to run with a friend
    • Place to get a Technical t-shirt that is amongst the most comfortable I have worn
    • Part of series of races in which points can be earned towards overall standing
    • Last mile or so is in a grass levee with uneven surface
    • Kick off to town-wide street festival (think steak sandwich, fresh fries, homemade ice cream….and arts & crafts)
    • Great race to bring the kids and whole family because of later start time and street festival

    What this race is not

    • A race for type A wanna be pro racers
    • For the type of people who know their splits to qualify for Boston
    • For those who refuse to run on a surface other than asphalt
    • Part of the Rock ‘N Roll series with a route through the city and bands every mile
    • Expensive
    • Fancy timing systems (another ankle bracelet to wear….haha…..no splits on course)
    • Flat–I would classify as slowly rolling course
    • Epically scenic–most of the course is a rural road along the Susquehanna River

     

    A huge thanks to the race organizer, volunteers, vendors, and fire/police personnel.

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    Endurance Training, Starvation, and Primitive Survival Cognition

    Lately my appetite has been ferocious. I have heard of a method of skipping a few meals to let your body get a chance to clean out any toxin build up and to allow your hypothalamus to recalibrate hormone levels. I thought I would give it a try to test the validity of the process.

    Most of the results were pretty expected. I felt hungry and a little tired; not atypical enough to elaborate much more. What was of more interest to me was the mental state achieved during my short fast. I would best describe it as feeling eerily distant to what is going on around me, but at the same time also feeling more alert. I had trouble focusing on some of the menial tasks I perform at work, yet I was inclined to get into deep discussion about strategies of the department.

    This paradox reminded me of a recent post I read from Anton Krupicka, the elite Ultramarathoner. When trying to describe what he thinks about on his long runs, he said “I think of nothing and everything. Usually at the same time. Which is just another way of saying that I’m not really thinking. Rather, I’m listening. To myself, in an as unintentional manner as possible.”

    Apparently, hunger and endurance training may place us in a similar state in which we think about nothing and everything at the same time? Might this be a subconscious method of perpetuating survival amongst our primitive ancestors that is still programmed deep within our brains? But hunger is not a pleasurable experience, and endurance training places us on a similar mental state, so why do we do knowingly subject ourselves to long runs and difficult rides? Perhaps our body is perversely programmed to enjoy starvation, pain, and boredom. After all, if our ancestors could not psychologically cope with such downers, would I be here writing this today? My Darwinian assertion is masochism was evolutionarily selected for, millennia ago. My theory is that some caveman was walking around without a meal, or chased a deer over a mountain in an anaerobic, glycogen depleted state, and may have some how enjoyed a mental state where he thought about everything and nothing at the same time. Instead of laying down and dying in a depressed state, he instead soldiered on, almost feeling good about feeling badly. He kept on keeping on.

    Next Saturday during my half marathon, at some point, my mind will drift away to a paradoxal state. I too will keep on keeping on.

    Humdinger 2012 Trail Run Report

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    Details:
    Date: March 3, 2012
    Location: Pig Barn, Danville PA
    Weather: Around 40 degrees, windy, sunny to overcast
    Gear: Nike Windbreaker, Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek

    Two words, awe some.

    Let’s start with a back ground to this race to put this in perspective. For the last few years, the home of the race was the Pine Barn Inn and Geisinger Stewardship Forest. From what I understand, Geisinger wouldn’t let the race run on their land, and the Pine Barn Inn couldn’t handle the increasing size of the race. The race organizers scrambled to find a venue to handle the event. I want to be sure to qualify any criticism with mucho love for the organizers. Unfortunately, its human nature to always compare things instead of savor them for what they are. Hence I will try to relegate comparisons to the legacy course to a mere cameo role. Let me get my criticism out of the way before I talk about the great-ness of this race-ness.

    First, I think the previous course had more room for packet pickup. It was very crowded to pick up your bib number, t shirt, and timing chip in the Danville school. Maybe next year, combine them into one stop and have better organized lines? Second, there were sections of the new course that backed up worse than any areas in the previous course. All the runners know where I am talking about….that first creek crossing where everyone was going over the log gave everyone a 3 minute break as we waited in line to use the narrow trail. Maybe next year, have alternative routes in such areas where folks can choose a longer, easier route or a shorter more difficult route? Maybe multiple parallel trails would reduce congestion in bottlenecks. My last comment is just to point out it “felt” like there were less climbs on the new course. This may be a good or bad thing depending on your fitness level.

    Now for the good stuff. I think the pig barn was a more appropriate venue to start the race in comparison to the PBI. It always felt odd to be walking through in running garb with the Buick crowd dressed for their brunch. The pig barn was an old concrete structure that was nicely cleaned out, with some tables and chairs inside. That was the first floor. We will get to the second floor later.

    The course was great. I enjoyed the broad mix of terrain, including corn field, gravel road, fresh side hill single track, old dump, and creek bed. Monotony did not exists on this course! The course was also safe, challenging, and well marked. According to the organizers web site, a private land owner pulled permission to use a tract at the very last minute. Kudos to David Decoteau and his team for pulling a miracle out of there lower gastro-intestinal tract and saving the race!

    Here are some highlights:
    -The cross fire start. Evens on one side, odds on the other. Make an X by crossing paths in the start shoot. Craziness ensues.
    -Running through a cornfield. Don’t get to do this often.
    -Mud. Courtesy of a night of rain before the race. I don’t know how many people got shoes pulled off in the mud. I do know at least one bloke literally lost a shoe in a marshy section. As in lost. I don’t think it mattered what kind of shoe used, I think a 6 inch cleat would have been necessary to dig down to find solid ground in many sections.
    -Running through the creek bed. As in through the creek bed.
    -The finish consisted of climbing into the second story of the pig barn (as in climbing into the second story of the pig barn) and sliding down a slip-n-slide before running through the finish. Choices included cargo net, ladder and rope, climbing wall, and hay pile. I love the fact that the organizers throw caution into the wind in the current over litigious society.

    Personally, my goal was only to finish with dignity, to which I succeeded (as in succeeded). Even though I didn’t dog it, I still had a few gallons left in the fuel tank. With just a little more training. I should be able to do the River Town half marathon in May without too much difficulty.

    My gear performed well. The KSOs shined in creek crossings as they don’t become anchors when wet like a normal sneaker that holds the water. I also enjoyed the more secure and tight fit when trudging through the sneaker stealing mud. The new venue is decidedly less rocky. It was difficult (painful) to run the previous course downhills because of all the sharp rocks lurking under the leaves. This course had a decidedly softer terrain for minimal shoe sole.

    Overall this is a fun fun fun race. Great venue, great course, great laid back and fun-loving vibe. Looks like the race is on for next year since there is already a link for registration on the organizer website.

    Humdinger Movie Trailer

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