Friday, June 21, 2013

The best watch for ultra trail running may not be a GPS

When new GPS watches with 50-hour potential battery life came out in 2012, ultra trail runners were fooled into thinking those would be ideal for their races.

However Suunto or Garmin owners eventually realized that in challenging mountain trail conditions, their GPS measurements were inaccurate and/or the battery life was limited to under 20 hours.

My typical races will last over 20 hours. While it might be possible to recharge GPS batteries on the run, it would add a lot of hassle to the race experience.

Finally it occurred to me that in races that I'm usually interested in participating the courses are well-marked. There is no real need for a GPS. A simple printout of the course information should be sufficient in most cases.

You still need some sort of a watch to make sure you're on planned schedule. While I occasionally use Ambit when training in previously unmeasured routes, I don't use it for long mountain races anymore.

Ambit has been mostly replaced by Suunto Core, a GPS-free watch lasting months instead of hours on a single standard 3-volt CR2032 battery. You can change the battery yourself.
Suunto Core Green Crush, one of the new 2013 Core models. A GPS killer?
Suunto Core provides an impressive list of useful features:
  • altimeter
  • barometer
  • compass
  • temperature
  • storm alarm
  • sunrise/sunset
  • depth meter for snorkeling
  • dual time
  • snooze alarm
  • stopwatch
  • countdown timer
  • total ascent/descent
  • light.
Core is 49.1mm wide and 14.5mm thick. The weight is 64-79g depending on model. It's only slightly smaller than Ambit.

Timex IRONMAN Traditional 30-Lap.

Sometimes I choose my trusty old Timex IRONMAN Traditional 30-lap. It is smaller than Core and thus more convenient to wear. It's the best option for flat courses where an altimeter would be unnecessary.

The final option is to run without a watch. In most of my races a mobile phone is required anyway, so it's possible to rely on it for basic timing. Back to basics!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hoka Stinson Evo trail running shoe review

I got a new pair of Hoka One One Stinson Evo - my favorite oversized trail running shoe. This seems to be the same model as my 2012 SE's, only with a new black/white/red color scheme. I've logged 1,320 miles on my old pair, including a marathon, a triathlon and several Alpine ultra trail races.

New Hoka One One Stinson Evos in the shoe box.
As before, you get an extra pair of OrthoLite 'Time To Fly' insoles (about a half thinner than the 2mm ones installed in the shoes) and normal laces in case you need/want to replace the 'QuickFit' speed laces. The thinner insoles don't seem to work for me, I get blisters right away with them. In races the normal laces might perform better than the speed laces, which may have to be retightened every now and then. Anyway thoughtful details like this help separate Hoka from other brands.

Extra insoles and laces.
The outsole provides decent traction as long as it lasts. After 500 miles or so, they might get quite slippery on special wet surfaces like mud or ice. Poles and/or crampons might be very helpful on slippery slopes, especially this year with record snow situation in the Alps. I've taken a couple of scary falls in my old Hokas and wouldn't wish the trend to continue.

The outsole looks the same as the old one, except new colors.

Despite the 2.2x oversized EVA midsole, these shoes are surprisingly light: about 360 grams for size US10.5. For some mysterious reason the right shoe weighs about 15g more.  Although I would never have noticed this 4 per cent additional weight without scales, I'd like my shoes to be the same weight. I'm not an expert on quality control problems in China, but a factory audit might be in order for Hoka.

The cushioning is 26mm thick under forefoot and 32mm under heel (6mm drop). When running this high off the ground you may really feel like flying. Luckily Hokas are relatively stable and I've never twisted an ankle with them (knock on wood).

2.2X oversized EVA midsoles are massive but lightweight.
The wide Stinson Evo toebox is very comfy for me, no matter what sort of socks I decide to wear. I've never noticed any major issues with my toes. Every foot is different of course and your mileage might vary.

As always make sure to choose a big enough size. Ultra running shoes should be one full size larger than your street (walking) shoes. For example my normal shoe size is US9.5, and my running shoe size is US10.5. After hours of running, it's not uncommon to discover that your poor feet have swollen to fill all that extra space.

Hoka Stinson Evo is still my favorite trail running shoe.
In my opinion Stinson Evo remains the best shoe for ultra trail running. Hoka has some competitors, but they fail to produce the special 'flying' experience. The new Rapa Nui model is a little lighter (315g size US10.5), but it's not quite as comfortable with its narrow toebox and 'only' 1.5x oversized EVA.

In summary, the main benefits of Stinson Evo are smoother ride over rocky terrain and especially in downhills as well as quicker recovery for your legs. They also possibly help prevent/cure foot issues like plantar fasciitis, but that's mostly based on my personal experience only. Around 170€ they aren't cheap, but I think they're worth it because they will last long, and make your feet last long too.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Santalahti nature trail

Santalahti is always a great holiday resort to visit. It's the only 5-star camping site in Southern Finland. The beach is excellent for a nice open water swim in the sea. We've enjoyed a warm sunny summer so far, so the water was suitable for a 1500-meter swim without a wetsuit.

This time I also wanted to tour the nature trail. The views were really fantastic. This 2.5-5 km trail would be suitable for tourist family hikers. It's clearly marked with white painted stripes and signs. There is a natural spring providing excellent drinking water.

Hard rocks smoothened by the Ice Age.

The trail is marked with white painted stripes and signs. You can't get lost.

Thirsty? You can drink crystal clear cold water from this spring.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A long trail run on a long summer day

It's June 1st already. The weather has been sunny and warm lately. Let's go out and run!

We've got 18.5 hours of daily sunshine right now. Sunrise at 4am and sunset around 10:30pm.

The trail by the river is one of my favorites.

It's incredible how quickly all the green stuff grows along the trails after a cold winter.

There are some open fields with tractor tracks. These are very runnable when dry.

Past storms have caused big trees to fall on the trail. The trails have been cleared now.

My route went through a nature reserve with some really old forests.

The traditional Finnish legal concept of Everyman's Right allows free access to the land.

We have some hills, but they don't seem to be high enough when training for Alpine trail runs. For 1,000 meters of cumulative ascent and descent, I have to run the big hill 33 times up and down.

I knew there was a local low-key marathon race going on in the nearby forest of Paloheinä.

This is one of Kalevi's marathon friends finishing. He had dressed up for the occasion. 
I went looking for my old running buddy Kalevi (70) there, who was going to finish his 1,600th marathon race today. We once travelled to Stockholm by boat just to participate in some nutty winter marathon. It wasn't a particularly easy race. That's when I began to understand the magnitude of what Kalevi is continuously accomplishing. He often runs several marathons in a week and also does ultras on the side.

Kalevi (left) celebrates with some cake after finishing his 1600th marathon today. RD on the right.
I congratulated Kalevi on his amazing achievement. He was very modest about it. Then we ate some delicious cake to celebrate.

What an amazing summer day with great runners!