Monday, February 28, 2011

Gear: La Sportiva Raptor Shoe

Part of my tremendous winnings (?) at the Moab Red Hot 33k was the pair of La Sportiva running shoes of my choice. The only one I could find that was anywhere close to wide enough were the Raptor, which also happened to be the most expensive (non Gore-Tex shoe), so I was sold (so to speak).

The service was incredible - I sent the certificate on Tuesday and the shoes were in my hands on Friday. Shipping was fast because they came from Boulder. Wait a minute - isn't La Sportiva an Italian brand? Like didn't Cesare Maestre use La Sportiva boots on the Compressor route? Indeed, there is La Sportiva NA (Boulder, and La Sportiva Spa (Italy).

Why is this important? Because La Sportiva running shoes in Italy come in awesome Euro colors like florescent purple and green!!! Plus they have better models, like the Quantum, which is so ridiculously advanced that it's not even allowed to be sold in the U.S. yet (and also transcends the bounds of "regular" Newtonian running physics).

Anyway, the Raptor is a fine shoe. I divide trail running shoes into two general categories: (1) a big slab, usually wide, with a basic upper that holds the slab to my (hoof-like and flat) feet, and (2) a too-narrow (at least for me) fitted shoe with aggressive tread that would allow me to practically dance on the trail (if it actually fit). The old Montrail Leona Divide was my favorite of the former variety (plus I achieved my highest pinnacle of trail/ultra running at the Leona Divide, which was to be mistaken [briefly] for Scott Jurek - once the guy figured out who I was, he walked away), and pretty much any Adidas trail shoe fits into the latter. Of course there are other unique shoes, like the extremely interesting Hoka shoe. And the old Montrail Hardrock, which was extremely durable and yet weighed less than most road-running shoes.

Aside: Can't we all agree that something horrible happened to Montrail shoes at some point, maybe circa 2003-4? I went to the Wasatch Crest in 2002, and I won a pair of random Montrail shoes at the pre-race raffle. I immediately decided that I would run the race in them, and did so - it rained for probably 16 hours, but the shoes were perfect. Now when I try on any pair of Montrail shoes, they feel like someone's first attempt at making a trail shoe, but if that company was actually imitating version the once-great shoes made by Montrail.

End of aside.

The Raptor is in the (2) category of shoe, but it's wide enough for me, and La Sportiva does something interesting where they have an extra "plus" size between U.S. sizes. So theres and 11, an 11.5, and an 11.5+, and then a 12. None of which matters because I took a 12, but it shows that they want the shoes to fit well.

More importantly, the shoe feels incredibly durable. I pretty much assume this shoe will last 800 miles or more, which is especially nice because I won these things by beating a bunch of old men in Moab - I'm going to need to train a lot in order to beat the younger guys in the 55k.

Some of the awesome Italian styling definitely carried over to the Boulder "NA" La Sportiva company. Much of that styling consists of printing random cool English words on the shoe.

Here is the shoe:

Here is an awesome stylistic touch, which is printing that looks like carbon fiber reinforcement. It isn't real carbon fiber, because of course real carbon fiber would result in shoes that cost $500 rather than $110, but it looks super cool. Embossed in the printing that looks like carbon fiber is the word "STABILIZER." Because carbon fiber, if it were real, would be super stable:

Here is a part of the shoe that says "IMPACT BRAKE SYSTEM":

Here is a part of the shoe that says "FRIXION," which isn't a real English word, but is still cool:

Wait, there are more words. "TRAIL BITE HEEL:"

Here's the "Fit-thotic" system:

And here's another shout out to the "IMPACT BRAKE SYSTEM:"

And here are the shoes with a bottle of Bridgeport Cafe Negro Coffee Infused Porter for scale:


The Bridgeport coffee porter may be the single most disappointing beer I've ever tried. Not the worst, but the most disappointing. I like Bridgeport IPA, and I like their Hop Czar as well. And I saw the porter and thought, Coffee-infused beers are all the rage - Bridgeport IPA has been a standby since college, this will be great! And it was watery, weird, and completely covered up by overpowering instant coffee smell.

End of aside.

One interesting part about these shoes (aside from all the English words) is the super-grippy/sticky sole. This looks great for the slickrock, but will it hold up? I'll try to get out there and put in my 800 miles to find out.

Before ending the gear discussion, I'll take this opportunity to bash REI once again. I didn't know what size to request from La Sportiva, and so I thought, hey, I live mere blocks away from the big Denver REI superstore - I'll just run over there and try on a few pairs. And of course it was absolutely mobbed, as always. You can go to the wilderness area of your choice in Colorado, and maybe on the Fourth of July you might see ten people, but at REI you can hardly get in the door. And I struggled mightily to get even one pair of shoes to try on. I finally planted myself outside the exit of the shoe storage area and simply kept repeating my demands to whatever green-vested person came past. I managed to try on one 11.5+ size shoe, which was too small, indicating I most likely needed a size 12. And I retreated quickly from the store, but not before buying some patches to fix the sleeping bag I idiotically burned a hole in.

At this point, I've run/hiked 30-years, and I know pretty much exactly what I need (those wide/slabby shoes, see above). But I have no idea how the average neophyte would ever find a shoe at REI. They have so many shoes, and such a horde of people, and the sales people don't seem to be telling anyone anything useful at all. Sure, those low-profile foot shoes are cool for building up your foot muscles while running in Wash Park - my cross-country coach made us run barefoot all the time - but you can't/shouldn't really use those for racing or backpacking. Not that REI cares - all through the recession, the place has been packed to the gills with people buying foot shoes, super-expensive non-waterproof/non-breathable jackets, and lame bikes. It's somehow part of the Denver Cow Town experience. Even I go, and I don't want to go. But now I don't have to because I have my winnings - I know so because of FLEXION (and other cool English words.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Davis Wiki - good times

I became (briefly) fascinated with Davis Wiki - it essentially recreates Davis in web form. More importantly for me, it preserves my brief life in Davis circa 1998. Hey, where was that smoothie place I used to go? Of course it was Green Planet, owned by Aaron Souza, and closed 1999 - and as we all know was killed off by a conspiracy by Jamba Juice.

What about the Mustard Seed, the place where I worked briefly before cooking at Soga's? It's still there, and incredibly, the owners are still yelling at the staff 13 years later. Soga's sadly lost its way, becoming an Indian place, and then a nu-Mexican sports bar, before going bankrupt and disappearing altogether last year. I wonder what they did with/thought about my Christmas cards after Matt Soga left?

Cafe/Espresso Roma is gone, too. I made a lunch menu for this place and hung out in a back office with some resident journalist anarchists. Interestingly, despite all the staff turnover noted in the Wiki entry, when I called in 2006 to complete my bar application, they remembered me and asked when I was coming back (?). I was pretty surprised as I had only worked there a few months.

And what was that good pastry place? Oh yeah the Konditorei - it's still there.

But most importantly, they've condemned The Domes! The Domes are a bizarre set of little fiberglass huts on campus - a forgotten exercise in futuristic living that became student housing. I used to run by there all the time and ponder why anyone considered those things a good idea.

I really liked Davis - my view was that it was composed of people who got kicked out of Berkeley for being too weird. It was incredibly hot much of the year, so much so that it forced everyone to slow down a bit. Plus there was incredible local produce.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moab Red Hot 33k 2011 - even a blind pig...

The man shouted "RUN!", it was spitting cold rain, and I couldn't breathe, but a few hours later I had this:

But I also burned a hole in my (new) sleeping bag on this trip:

So maybe it was a wash.

The Moab Red Hot 33k is the first race I've ever done twice. I'm becoming a Moab fanatic. For my Midwestern sensibilities (and maybe anyone's sensibilities) it's simply stunning. You hop out of the car along pretty much any road and you get this:

Or this:

Hike for a few minutes, and you can have this:

(Corona Arch)

And it's all very easy - the view from our nice campsite, right off the road, was this:

The rest of my photos here.

Back when I was running ultras regularly, I was in a hurry to see/finish some of the big Western races, and so I did. It was interesting to go back and try the same course again. Last year, I was heading off to hike the Arizona Trail for a week or so two days after the race, so I really took it easy. But I learned the trick of the race - the only place to make big time is to go out really hard up the first hill, and pretty much gun it as well as you can until you get to the second aid station. After that, it's pleasant (but slow) slickrock ups and downs until near the end, at which point you can gun it again. But by that point, it's too late to make up much time.

And it worked - I went out with "Mr. Yellow" (who won), "Mr. Black" (who came in second), and "Mr. Green" (who ended up fourth) and busted up the first hill - and yes I was pleased to be making a tangental reference to "Reservoir Dogs." They all charged through the first aid station, while I stopped for water. Big mistake. I lost them and spent maybe 10 miles of the race by myself. I only caught up to Mr. Green about half a mile before the end when he was fading. The guy who won - Mr. Yellow - set the course record and finished about 11 minutes ahead of me. Could I have made a go at it if I stayed with him? Probably not - but I definitely wouldn't have come in so high if I hadn't seen the course before.

Who cares, right? Not like I would have come back to Western States with knowledge of the course and placed high the second time around. My quads would still have blown out halfway through - no amount of course info. can make up for the fact I'm slow. The great part of the Red Hot for me is that it's a fake ultra - not even as long as a marathon. It's the best of both worlds. On one hand, a short race I can finish in a few hours, wake up the next day and walk without a cane, and get to see an astoundingly beautiful course. On the other hand, it's grassroots, accompanies a real ultra (a 55k my brother-in-law runs), and has a nice shallow field (all the fast guys run the 55k - the two guys who beat me were 44 and 54). Perfect.


Why do a 33k and a 55k? The 33k is shorter than a marathon. The 55k is (obviously) longer than a 50k ultramarathon. Have the organizers thought about adjusting the course slightly, and doing one standard distance rather than two nonstandard distances? Or is this just an independent/slightly-crazy/alien-inspired Moab thing?

Also, this race seemed to be made up of a particularly homogeneous, yet unique, running tribe. I've never seen Hoka One One shoes (although they seem like a great idea) - a bunch of people at the race had 'em. There was also a tremendous proliferation of calf-warmer/compression socks. End of aside.

But it is worth noting that knowing the course is an advantage. And advantages help you go faster, thereby creating a tilted playing field (around Moab, pretty much everything is high-angle). In climbing, you get extra credit for climbing something without knowing too much about it - you can on-sight something, red-point it, etc. And climbers spend a lot of time (too much time) trying to figure out how much extra credit not knowing about a particular route is worth.

In "regular" running - road marathons, for example - beta/information/experience about the course is of limited help. Sure, "heartbreak hill" is a hill at mile 20 - but it's just a little hill and you're still running on a flat paved road. In ultras, you can hit some crazy game-changing terrain. For example, at Western States, the course heads several miles basically flat/downhill on good tread to the American River. I cruised along this section, relaxed in the knowledge that my time would easily put me under 24-hours (an ultrarunner's Holy Grail). But after the river, the trail yo-yo's crazily up and down for the last 20 miles, plus the tread gets much worse - none of this shows up on the course map or elevation profile, both of which make this look like the easy part, with all the huge climbs completed. I frantically tried to keep up my pace as I watched time slip away (at the river, I was thinking 22 hours - I ended up barely making it under 24). If I were to have run that race again, I would have been ready for all the little gravelly hills and ran accordingly.

And I would do the 33k again - it's completely beautiful, and changes constantly. You're either looking over at the La Sals rearing up crazily from the sandstone, looking down at the Colorado River, or observing the wild domes and needles all around - all the while popping up and down little slickrock ridges. It's ultra running (assuming you do the 55k) for people with ADD. I haven't been so transfixed by my surroundings while running except at Boston, where I couldn't believe that the entire course is lined with throngs of cheering people.

As always, we were sad to see the huge Umtra Project tailings pile outside of town. As we left, the wind was whipping red plumes of uranium-laden dust into the air. It's just terrible - and right on the Colorado River. It's hard to believe that moving all the tailings is a good idea, but what else was there to do?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borders Bankruptcy

Borders filed for bankruptcy, and I had to check if the store on Waukeegan Road in Deerfield, Illinois is closing. Yup, it's on the list. In 1996 I came back from college with my English degree, and went through a training program at Borders. At that point, Borders was about two years away from it's stock peak (about $38 - it's currently trading at $0.22). There were brash young regional managers and whatnot who were clearly into the next big thing - except that the next big thing was the internet and Borders didn't care about the internet (yes, they practically gave away their online business to Amazon). My friends Brian and Matt had worked there, and it was a good stop on the way to other places.

The thing that disturbed me about Borders was the piles and piles of books in the back - there were just these great towers of books everywhere. No one seemed to have a handle on the inventory. Employees were taking bunches of books home, and no one seemed to care. It seemed like too much waste, especially of books, which I hold as practically sacred. I didn't think it would last, but got my timing wrong by about fifteen years.

I had barely finished the training program and I was off to other things - grad school in Alaska. I felt bad because the woman who led the training program took it quite seriously - she saw herself as more of a librarian than in retail.

A week ago, we realized Catherine had a gift certificate to Borders and we rushed over there to use it before they closed all the Colorado stores - which they're largely doing. The place was hardly staffed. It seemed like they were getting ready to turn off the lights. And now they are.

Will-J practicing his turns in the living room.

But he seems to like "bike tricks" better than skiing so far (this is his favorite video currently [with the sound turned down to avoid bad words]). And he seems to like golf more than both, so there you go.

The new law school - getting the message?

One of the little perks of having attended CU law (besides getting fundraising calls all the time - I'll never be lonely again) is getting library privileges forever. This is either incredibly valuable or demonstrates the true worth of most legal publications (?). I had a project I needed some background on, so I finally visited the new law school. It comes across as highly protective, almost castle-like. Here's the forbidding stone wall preventing invaders from the south:

Here is a turret protecting against invaders from the west:

There are also battlements on the second floor, apparently outside the very nice coffee shop. Trickiest of all are the false doors - I walked right up to these and pulled, but it's just a nice corporate-rustic lounge inside:

The actual entrance is around the corner. Certainly these were deliberate (and expensive) stylistic choices. I assume that the idea was that the new building was "exposed" on the edge of campus, and therefore required some enclosing elements. However, the feel is one of defensiveness or even isolation. In this market, maybe that's a good idea.

Once inside, I climbed the staircase through the odd pastel-colored walls to the gorgeous library.

And of course I checked out the dedication bricks. When they started the new building, the school gave students the option of forfeiting the $200 deposit we all made when we started as 1L's in lieu of engraved bricks installed at the (false) entrance. Some of these are pretty funny:

I really like there being a tribute to John Blutarsky outside the very fancy new school.

Some of them were a little desperate:

And some of them were just confusing:

And of course: