Embrace Your Conditions!

While studying at Oxford in the early 80’s I wanted to absorb a “full” experience during this English sojourn. So in addition to saturating into the academic life among the colleges, I sought out new athletic opportunities as well. After being “consoled out” of my college’s intramural rugby team by the coach (he feared for the life of a scrawny, 122 lb, American oblivious to the reality of rugby as a sport), I took to a lightweight crew and stumbled into an active Fell running community. The crew experience was great and provided much insight into the truly team nature of this sport (both on and off the water) and the rather elaborate traditions, but the Fell running proved to be much more of an experience for me.

My memories of the Fells were sparked when I saw the recently released African Attachment/Salomon video with Rickey Gates and a number of Fell running greats on Fell running in the Lake District:

The robust group of runners that I had the pleasure to run with for a couple of seasons made a significant impact not only on my running but also (and in a much greater way) on my perspective as it relates to truly experiencing a place.

The mantra of the group was: “Embrace your conditions!”. Independent of how raw and unwelcoming the conditions were (and “raw” and “unwelcoming” are mild versions of what one might regularly encounter in the Fells) we celebrated the visceral and intimate experience that would naturally materialize when one did not let the conditions become a barrier. It was new territory for me as previously I would typically limit a run or not run at all unless the conditions were at least palatable. But with the encouragement and peer pressure from the group I came to actually prefer the difficult conditions that were not infrequent in the Oxford area, the Cotswolds, the Peak District, and the Lake District where we ran.

This mindset and mantra has ever since informed how I try to approach life’s experiences- whatever the endeavor be it athletic, professional, or what have you. Rather than attempting to alter or otherwise modify the conditions that face one, this approach embraces what exists and challenges one to figure out how to make a way through, cover the ground, and finish- whether a run, a race, a project, or a relationship. This is not easy to do as we often fall into the mindset of “what could or should be” rather than making keen observations of “what is” and figuring out a way to go forward. Also, the forces at work can seem insurmountable- and many times they are. But this should not deter one from maintaining the mindset and moving forward, constantly re-evaluating what is the best path given the current circumstance. For me, it took many years before this approach became the default, but once in place what had previously appeared as insurmountable barriers became opportunities for optimization, challenges rather than burdens, and, in the end very valuable experiences.

So the next time you face a training run with a mix of rain and snow, deep muddy conditions, a driving wind, and low visibility think about “embracing your conditions”- you just might have a valuable experience upon which to draw in your next race when the inevitable unexpected happens.

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Salomon SpikeCross Sense

With a low snow winter, lots of sunshine, warm temperatures, and an injured shoulder, running has materialized quite early this year. But this running comes with a significant challenge- icy conditions. Overnight lows in the teens and low 20’s F followed by 30-50 degree F sunny days produces glare ice conditions throughout our otherwise packed powder winter running trail system. This situation, in my experience, requires the use of metal spikes in or on running shoes.

As outlined previously with the Salomon SnowCross shoes, I have taken a pair of the Salomon SpikeCross shoes and turned them into a SpikeCross “Sense” by removing all of the heel lugs but leaving the 4 spikes in this area. The result is a lower drop version of the SpikeCross that, for those who prefer and use lower drop running shoes, really hits the mark for winter running on trails in icy conditions.

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Salomon SpikeCross 3 before modification. These shoes were just sitting on a shelf not being used because the higher drop aggravates my Achilles tendon.

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Salomon SpikeCross “Sense”: removal of the rear lugs drops the heel about 8-10 mm (the spikes just cut into the snow or dirt) making the overall drop about 5-7 mm. Note: the black rubber used on the SpikeCross proved to be a more formidable challenge for removal than the white rubber used on the SnowCross. Beyond a few choice words, removal is doable but difficult.

I now have in excess of 300 kms on these modified SpikeCross shoes and can report excellent results. No issues with the Achilles, exceptional grip on crusted snow and ice, and good performance on dirt.

Now, if only Salomon could see fit to bring out a Sense winter running shoe with spikes and an integrated gaiter…. in meantime these are working fine.

Salomon S Lab X-Series – Review – a nice addition to the S Lab group

I recently received a pair of Salomon S Lab X-Series a “new for 2015″ road shoe. As far back as I can remember, Salomon have never offered a road running shoe. And if they have offered a road shoe in the past, they certainly have not considered such shoes as a core part of the brand. So it was with a bit of apprehension that I slipped on the Salomon S Lab X-Series for some mixed miles of road and buffed trail. This apprehension soon evaporated into the unseasonably warm air here in the central Idaho mountains and was replaced by pure confidence in Salomon’s ability to enter the road shoe market.

Salomon X series overall

The Salomon S Lab X-Series- a road shoe from the trail experts.

The S Lab X-Series shoe is basically a road version of the Sense trail running shoe. What this means is that all of the fit technologies that make the Sense such a great trail shoe have been incorporated into the X-series along with a much cushier midsole and less aggressive outsole. The end result is outstanding.

Upper

The upper is constructed of materials and design that is expected for a road shoe that will not see much, if any, technical trail conditions. As such, the front portion of the upper is made of lycra with some side mesh panels on the outer side for ventilation. The rear portion of the upper and the inner side is made from a much beefier nylon as expected and needed for proper heel structure and protection from opposite shoe heel scuffing. The design includes no toe protection other than a small front bumper- you do not want to stub your toe on a rock in these shoes.

Salomon X Series side veiw

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Th interior of the shoe incorporates the Endofit construction as is utilized in the S Lab Sense line of trail running shoes. This feature has received uniform rave reviews and general acceptance as a superior design element in current running shoes. The Endofit approach produces a secure yet very comfortable fit via an inner “sock”. This fit is often described as “slipper-like” and I concur.

Another feature to note is that the ankle cup topology is symmetric, meaning that the curved cup is the same on both the inner and outer sides. This is not the case for the Sense where the inner cup is taller than the outer cup as will be shown below.

Salomon x series ankle cup

Symmetric ankle cup in the Salomon S Lab X-Series.

The polymer overlay reinforcements take the familiar zig-zag shape but also wrap around the toe area for some minimal protection. The toe box is substantially wider than that in the Sense trail shoe line as will also be shown later.

Salomon X series viewed from above

View from above of the Salomon S Lab X-Series showing a toebox and forefoot that is wider than that in the Sense 4 Ultra.

Midsole

Perhaps one of the most differentiated features of this shoe to the Sense line is the EVA cushioning. On Salomon’s 1-5 scale of “cushion” in their technical literature, the Sense 4 Ultra ranks at “1” whereas the X-Series is rated “5” where a larger number indicates more cushioning. This difference can be seen in the reported midsole thicknesses where the X-Series has a 19 mm heel and 11 mm forefoot EVA thickness whilst the Sense 4 Ultra has 13 mm heel and 9 mm forefoot thicknesses. So 6 mm more EVA at the heel and 2 mm more in the forefoot. Both models use the cushier “dual density” EVA construction (where a cushier EVA is strategically placed in a matrix of a less cushy formulation).

The X-Series also uses the ProFeel film technology developed for the Sense series shoes so there is good protection from rocks if one uses this shoe on trails.

Outsole

The outsole of the X-Series is a hybrid trail/road configuration that combines some deep lugs asymmetrically with smoother areas of a design similar to other lightweight road shoes. Salomon claims that this design allows for both good grip on flat paved surfaces (wet or dry) as well as non-technical trails. There is also a deep cutout extending from the midsole into the heel region, which is likely a weight saving feature but may also provide additional longitudinal rigidity.

Salomon X series outsole

Outsole of the Salomon S Lab X-Series showing asymmetric tread pattern and deep lugs toward the outer portion of the forefoot. The wear layer is glued in numerous pieces to the EVA midsole, something which has proven to be problematic in the past- time will tell.

The outsole utilizes Salomon’s proprietary “Contragrip” polymer compound that has been in use on many Salomon models over the past few years. The wear layer is glued to the EVA midsole in segments much like the original Sense model of 2012. This gluing proved troublesome as the individual segments had a tendency to peel off and thereby limited the life of an otherwise sound shoe. Salomon seemed to fix this problem in the Sense 2 but went to a single molded piece in the Sense 3 (and 4). The single piece construction limits the linear area of exposed glue lines and seems to be a better choice for durability. Perhaps Salomon have figured out how to reliably use the segmented design but I will be casting a wary eye as I put miles on the X-Series.

Salomon S lab Sense 4 outsole

Salomon S lab Sense 4 Ultra outsole showing the single piece wear layer construction.

Running Geometry

The overall construction of the shoe has a significant “rocker” geometry similar to that found on many other trail and road shoes, and particularly on the Hoka line. The rocker geometry is said to better enable a forefoot strike when combined with a low drop. Many have noted favorably how well this has been executed on some of the Hoka models.

Salomon X seies side view

Side view of the Salomon S Lab X-Series showing the significant “rocker” element in the forefoot.

The drop of the X-Series is quoted as 8 mm with total stck heights of 23 mm heel and 15 mm forefoot. This drop is something of a hybrid between a “traditional” high heeled road shoe and a low drop trail shoe. I would prefer a lower drop but will defer judgement until I accumulate a significant volume of miles on the shoe.

Weight

The S Lab X-Series shoe is quoted as weighing in at 218 gms (7.7 oz) for a size 9 (US). My size 7.5 (US) (40 2/3 (EU)) tipped the scales at 215 gms (a little less than 7.6 oz). That is lighter than the quoted 238 gm for a size 9 (US) in the Sense 4 and the actual measurement of my Sense 4 Ultras in size 7.5 (US) at 227 gms, so a light shoe indeed. This is a good thing as weight matters- a lot, particularly for lighter weight (sub 125 lbs) runners like me.

Comparisons with S Lab Sense 4 Ultra

Since many of those who currently use the S Lab Sense shoe are likely to consider this shoe for road (and buffed trail) use, a comparison of the significant differences with the current Sense 4 Ultra model are presented below. The first comparison shows the larger toebox and forefoot area.

Salomon X series comparison forefoot

Comparison of the forefoot area of the Salomon S Lab Sense 4 Ultra (left) and the Salomon S Lab X-Series (right). Both the toebox and the forefoot width are larger.

A second comparison shows the substantial “rocker” geometry compared to the Sense 4 Ultra.

Salomon X series compared to Sense 4

Salomon S Lab X-Series (upper) and Salomon S Lab Sense 4 Ultra (lower) showing the substantial “rocker” geometry incorporated in the X-Series when compared to the Sense 4 Ultra.

A third comparison shows how similar the heel cup support structure is on both shoes.

Salomon S Lab X-series back comparison

Rear view of the Salomon S Lab Sense 4 Ultra (left) and the Salomon S Lab X-Series (right) showing similar heel support structure but very different ankle cup configurations.

However the ankle cup area is quite different with the X-Series having an symmetric cutout design whereas the Sense 4 Ultra has an asymmetric design and more rear roll-over in the padding.

Salomon X Series ankle cup comparison

Ankle cup comparison showing Salomon S lab Sense 4 Ultra (top) and Salomon S Lab X-Series bottom. The Sense 4 has an asymmetrical cup whereas the X-Series is symmetric. The Sense 4 also has much more rear roll-over of the padding.

Initial Running Impressions

I have had the X-Series shoe out for about 50 km of mixed use- about 30 km of road and 20 km of buffed trails. If you are a S Lab Sense user, you will note that the fit is very much like the very comfortable “slipper”-like feel of the Sense 3 and 4. The X-series is comfortable from the outset and I have noted no change in these first 50 kms. Also, if you are a Sense user you will immediately notice the “rocker” geometry and the way the shoe subtly prods your posture forward and on to the forefoot. I found this to be a nice feature of the Hoka Stinson trail shoe particularly given the maximal cushioning of that shoe. With the highly cushioned shoes there is the reality that when the cushion is deformed and your foot forms deep into this deformation one must overcome the not insignificant physical barrier thus created. The “rocker” geometry does a good job of dealing with this. And so it is also with the X-Series which has a much more padded midsole when compared to the Sense 4 Ultra.

Continuing with this, the second thing one will notice is the substantially greater cushion when compared to the Sense 3 and 4. On road surfaces this added cushioning is very apparent and quite welcome. It almost makes one want to actually consider running on roads from time to time (heresy!). On the trail the difference is not really noticeable although I have not taken the shoes on any technical and rocky stretches yet. Stay tuned.

I really like the feel of these shoes while running. The combination of fit, cushioning, geometry, traction, and weight seem to provide a near optimum balance between comfort and efficiency on roads. As far as trails, I will be giving these shoes a full workout once the snow recedes in the next few weeks. Based on these initial impressions, I think that this shoe will be a nice option to have available in ultra races where there is a lot of dirt road and/or buffed trail. I am likely to put these into a drop bag at an aid station in a 100 km race this year where the last 13 miles are a downhill charge into town on graded dirt roads. The cushioning and rocker geometry will be just the ticket!

Price

$160 US. Steep but if these shoes last as long as the other S Lab shoes I have used then the “cents per mile metric” will be more than palatable. Only time will tell.

Bottom Line

A very nice entry by Salomon into the road shoe arena with all expectations that this shoe will be an outstanding performer- stay tuned.

“Miracle on Snow” – Falun Diary: Women’s 10 km FS World Championship – luck of the draw and hard efforts

The unexpected silver and bronze medals for US cross country skiers Diggins and Gregg, respectively, in the 10 km freestyle race at the recent Cross Country Skiing World Championships in Falun Sweden has raised eyebrows and fueled much discussion both in the US and among others in the global cross country skiing community. Much of the discourse has centered on the effects of dramatically changing weather conditions on the ski speed of the later starters in this interval start race.

Background

The (relative) poor performance of favorites Bjoergen (bib 65) and Johaug (bib 63) (both of Norway) who started in the last group of seeded skiers has been put forth by some as evidence that the deteriorating conditions played a dominating role in the final results. Others point to the winner, Kalla (bib 49) (of Sweden), who started just seven minutes before Johaug and and eight minutes before Bjoergen as support that start time was not deterministic for performance. Presented here are a few observations on and analysis of various available data types for the race as it played out.

Analysis

Diggins (bib 37) started 13 minutes before and Gregg (bib 3, in the first group of unseeded skiers) started 30 minutes before Johaug (bib 63). Review of the video of the race and other on-the ground reports reveals that at the start the conditions were 1.1 C air temperature, -0.4 C snow temperature, 86% humidity, and overcast with no actively falling snow. At about 5 minutes after the start of the first skier, light snow was falling (starting at about bib 10), at 10 minutes a rain-snow mix was coming down (about bib 20), and by 20 minutes into the start it was snowing heavily with very wet (free water) conditions (starting at about bib 40 onward). A significant layer of heavy wet snow had accumulated on course by about 30 minutes into the start order (bib 62).

The winning time was 25:08.8. A simple calculation of percentage of skiing time spent with an accumulated heavy, wet snow layer on course shows that Weng (of Norway, another favorite), Johaug, and Bjoergen all spent about 100% of their skiing time in these conditions whereas Kalla spent about 85% of her skiing time, Diggins about 50% of her skiing time, and Gregg about 0% of her skiing time battling the adverse ski track conditions.

All who ski regularly and/or in circumstances where the conditions are changing to heavy, wet snow accumulations know how drastically ski speed is depleted from an otherwise optimized ski flex/grind/structure/wax for non-actively snowing, high humidity conditions. I have personally measured diminished ski speed well in excess of 10% in tests after such accumulating wet snow conditions prevailed. Although wax will play a relatively minor role, ski flex and grind are particularly critical to attaining ski speed in the conditions facing the late starters in this race. So if the late skiers had selected their skis based on conditions at the start of the race, they likely had skis with less aggressive grinds and stiffer forward flex. Such a selection would lead to ski speeds many percentage points slower than skis optimized for skiing through heavy, wet accumulations. That Norway made an errant selection for skis is supported by remarks of their skiers in the race who have been quoted as saying that “our skis were ass”- which is apparently Norwegian-speak for “our skis sucked”.

It is not difficult to anecdotally explain the unexpected results from this race based on the analysis above. Johaug and Bjoergen both finished about 9-10% back from the winning time. Given that Kalla had about 15% of her skiing time with less challenging conditions, one can staightforwardly account for about 1.5-3% of the 9%-10% deficit in finishing time using a linear function for decline in speed with conditions*. That still leaves a hefty 6% or so of deficit to account for. Using prior performance as a guide, it is clear that both Johaug and Bjoergen should have been much closer to Kalla and it is possible that after being given increasingly positive splits off Kalla (not to mention off of Diggins and Gregg as well) there may well have been a “limit losses” posture taken by the athletes to ensure their performances under better conditions later in the week. Kalla also likely had a very good day.

In the case of Diggins, she finished about 3% back of Kalla and about 6% in front of Johaug and Bjoergen. Once again using a linear approximation, just about all of that 6% could be accounted for based on the difference in skiing time in the difficult conditions (50% for Diggins and 100% for Johaug and Bjoergen). Obviously one can account for all of the difference (and more) between Gregg and the Norwegians with the same reasoning.

Next let’s take a look at the splits at 1.5 km into the race, at a point where the wet snow accumulations for the late starters were still manageable. At this checkpoint the following are the splits:

1. Kalla 3:51.0

2. Johaug 3:59.

3. Niskanen 4:02.4

4. Jacobsen 4:02.8

5. Bjoergen 4:03.0

15. Diggins 4:08.7

20. Gregg 4:09.2

This sequence looks “normal”, i.e. it is what would be expected (except that Bjoergen and Johaug would not be so far behind so early). Things unraveled from here as the wet snow accumulated. Johaug dropped from 2nd at 1.5 km to 26th at 5 km, similarly Bjoergen dropped from 5th to 32nd. Unheard of, but let’s also take a look at some more analytical data and at how astonishingly different this race is when compared to other, similar races held in more constant conditions.

One of the basic expected functionalities in timed event athletic endeavor is that history is a very good guide for expectations of performance in individual events. This holds true for cross country skiing just as it does in track and road running, cycling, and numerous other sports. The basic premise: past performance is highly correlated with performance for a given event.

Presented below is a plot of the FIS Distance Points (as of the race start) versus percentage back from the winning time. Only those competitors who have finishing times within about 10% of the winning time are included in the cohort as these athletes represent the “elite” population in the race. FIS Distance Points are an acceptable surrogate for an historic performance metric for the current season. It is expected that such a plot would yield a high positive slope as past performance (FIS Distance Points) is a good predictor for individual race performance. Application of a simple linear model to the data shows that there is essentially no correlation whatsoever of finishing time to FIS Distance Points for the Women’s 10 km FS World Championship race. A highly unexpected result- an ink splatter, a sneeze!Slide1

Now let’s take a look at the same type of data for another, typical, interval start race from the 2014-2015 season. In this case we use the Davos Women’s 10 km CL interval start race from December. Presented below is the same plot as above but with the data from the Davos race also plotted (in green). The equations for the fitted linear models are shown on the graph. Note the high positive slope of the fitted line and high (greater than 40%) correlation between FIS Distance Points and finishing time for this race (note: Bjoergen won this race with Fessel (GER) 2nd and 1.3% back, Weng 3rd, Haga (NOR) 4th, Nystad (GER) 5th, and Johaug 6th- Diggins was 27th and 6% back and Gregg finished this race in second to last place, over 16% back (and therefore is not a part of the analyzed elite population)).

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The Davos race is exemplary of what is normally seen with such cross country races. In fact, of the 20 or so races that I have analyzed from the past couple of seasons, the correlation was positive in all cases and had R^2 values from about 0.38 to 0.60. For instance presented below is the data for the Women’s World Championship Skiathlon a couple of days before the 10 km CL race showing a similarly positive slope and high correlation.

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Bottom Line

The lack of any correlation with FIS Distance Points as seen in the Women’s 10 km CL World Championship race sets this race apart as not “normal” nor even fathomable from a performance perspective. Clearly the conditions played a primary, controlling role in the outcome. Ski flex and grind/structure choices (not wax) were dynamic during the race and the Norwegians likely screwed this up. At the same time Kalla likely made a good ski choice and also had an outstanding day. Diggins and Gregg benefited greatly from start time and this combined with hard efforts lead to their surprising results.

In the end a race is a race (even if it is interval start and the weather goes wacky) and a World Championship medal stands as a significant achievement. Congratulations are well placed with Kalla and the US skiers. However this race will forever have an asterisk and will not be a good source for prediction of future performances.

 

 

*From a physics perspective it is not difficult to argue that ski speed is actually non-linearly affected, i.e. the faster the speed the higher the percentage declination in speed. So in a sport where winning times are often only tenths of a percentages faster than other skiers, the increased percentage speed declines for faster skiers is even more impactful than for the slower skiers.

Pikes Peak Marathon – a race of two dominant performers

The Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent race has a long history having been first run in 1936 and then continuously since 1956 to the present. The race is an iconic “mountain” event and has been run by many high-level competitors over the years. It is also a “bucket list” race for many. I had focused training on the 1979 edition when I was living in New Mexico but a road cycling team invite scuttled those plans as I would be only cycling and traveling for the entire summer. As a climbing specialist then, and now, I still have plans to do the race, perhaps even this year.

The 7815 foot (2382 m) 13.1 mile Ascent followed by a return route down the same trail makes the Marathon an “ultramarathon” as the fastest finishing times are about the same as that for some of the faster 50 km trail races. The race regularly draws top talent from the mountain and ultramarathon running world as well some washed-up elite and sub-elite road marathoners looking for a new challenge. In 2014 the Ascent race (run the day before the Marathon) was the designated World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship of the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA). Since 1976 the race has been run on the same course. This allows for performances in this time period to be directly compared and aggregated for analysis.

Even though the race has a long history and has been run by thousands including a fair share of international elite runners, the best results are dominated by two performers- Matt Carpenter and Ricardo Mejia. Carpenter has completed the race 14 times and won it 12 times and Mejia has run 6 times and won it 5 times (I could not find any data on possible DNFs). These two competitors also account for 6 of the 11 performances that are within 10% of the record time as well as the record time (by Carpenter). Carpenter has played a central role in the race for many years and has taken it upon himself to provide a resource for all things “Pikes” at his website Pikes Peak Central. The website provides a comprehensive collection of data, history, and advice on running the race- either the Ascent, the Marathon, both, or both in the same year (known as a “double”) as Carpenter has done a couple of times. A “double” is possible since the Ascent is run on Saturday and the Marathon on Sunday. After Carpenter’s 6 in a row winning streak from 2006-20011, the winners have been international since (Jornet 2012, Miahara 2013, Lauenstein 2014).

The record for the Marathon is held by Carpenter- set in 1993 with a super-human time of 3:16:39. No one has come within 2.5% of this time and this result stands as one of the greatest fixed course mountain running performances ever. There are only four other performances that are within 5% of the record and 11 that are within 10%, an impressive record given the thousands of national and international elite mountain runners that have competed in the race over the years.

Competitiveness

In a previous post, the Pikes Peak Marathon was compared to a number of other (mostly ultramarathon) races to gain an understanding of competitiveness in such long trail running races. The results indicate that Pikes exhibits a very wide range of competitiveness including both exponential and linear finishing time distributions. The “linear” years have competitiveness indices similar to other very competitive races. The “exponential” years have competitiveness indices ranging from values as high as some of the most competitive road marathons to as low as some of the least competitive ultramarathons. The competitiveness calculations utilize the 125% cohort from each year of the event. The 125% cohort is chosen because it allows for comparison of events ranging from 10 km road races to 100 mile trail ultramarathon races. Although a “true” elite population would be best described as those competitors within about 10% of the winning (or record) time, the 125% cohort allows for inclusion of enough ultramarathon results to allow for statistical significance in comparisons. In addition, because of the magnitude of multiplicative pace differentials, the finishing times are naturally more spread out in ultramarathons than for similar pace differentials in shorter races such as marathons and other shorter road races.

Examples of typical “exponential” and “linear” competitiveness plots for the Pikes Peak Marathon are presented below for the 2009 and 2010 Men’s events. Carpenter won both of these races, in 3:37:02 and 3:51:54, respectively. The 2010 event had a much deeper field (20 competitors in the 125% cohort) than the 2009 event (14 competitors in the 125% cohort) something that is partly due to the slower winning time in 2010, although there are likely other contributing factors (e.g. weather).

 

Slide3

Presented below are the competitive indices (CI), coefficients of determination, sizes of the 125% cohort, winning times, winners, and winners age for the Men’s Pikes Peak Marathon from 1976-2014. As noted above, this event period is chosen because the race has been on the same course for the entire time and allows for direct comparisons of finishing times and other, derived, metrics.

 

Pikes Peak Parametrics Summary all years cropped

Competitiveness index (CI), coefficient of determination, size of the 125% cohort, winning time, winner, and winner age for the Men’s Pikes Peak Marathon 1976-2014. The red CI values are for the highly competitive “linear” years.

Within this dataset of 39 competitions, we see 5 highly competitive “linear” years, 6 very competitive “exponential” years (CI>0.130), and quite a number of years (16) with low competitiveness (CI<0.110). Clearly the competitive fields at Pikes are highly variable but can be very competitive. This is not unexpected from a niche event which draws from a relatively small population of competitive runners.

Pikes Peak Marathon and Age

In long events like marathons and ultramarathons the optimal age for top competitors tends to favor an older runner than for the shorter events such as the mile. In another post, an analysis of the optimal age for competition in the road Marathon was presented. What is found is that there exists evidence that the top road Marathon competitors are getting younger, particularly since the 2008 Olympics where 21 year old Samuel Wanjiru won the gold medal. It is hypothesized that Wanjiru’s result has spurred on many more younger athletes to pursue the marathon at a younger age than has typically been observed. A plot of the competitor age on race day versus the percentage back from the record Marathon time for the top 2500 Marathon times is presented below and shows the current optimal age to be about 30 years. There is a “bulge” in the data on the young side of the “whorl” centered on about 30 years, indicating that there is something of additional interest in the dataset.

Slide3

Pursuant to understanding this “bulge” in the data, a more granular look dividing the data into two time periods (1967-2008 and 2009-2014) presented below, shows that as of about 2009, the best results in the marathon are getting faster and that the average competitor age of these fast results is tending to a younger age. This supports the “Wanjiru” effect but does not confirm it.

Slide9

Looking at the same type of data for Pikes Peak Marathon shows a similar optimal age of about 30 years, but with a diffuse indication of increased performance for older competitors. In this graph the red points are Carpenter’s results, the green points are Mejia’s results, and the yellow points are Waquie’s results. Guidelines are included to help the eye detect the lack of symmetry in the data (similar to those provided in the Marathon graph above). Even removing the outlier results of Carpenter in his winning streak as he entered his 40’s, there is still a trend toward older competitors having superior times to younger competitors.

Slide2

Age on race day versus percentage back from the record time for the Pikes Peak Marathon 1976-2014 for the 125% cohort of performances. The red points are Matt Carpenter’s performances, the green points are Ricard Mejia’s performances, and the orange points are Al Waquie’s performances. Even with removal of the outlier results of Carpenter in his 40’s, there is a tendency for older competitors to perform better than younger competitors.

 

So the Pikes Peak Marathon may be a race for the older competitor, at least when compared to the road Marathon. It is not unusual that an event that involves such a high level of endurance along with a high reliance on slow twitch muscle fibers (type I and to some extent type IIa) would favor the older athlete. What is interesting with Pikes however, is that the downhill is run at a very high speed where utilization of fast twitch (type IIb) muscle fibers is important. It may be that the uphill part of the race dominates the skillset needed to be competitive, although it is usually the case that a fast descent is required for a win- something that reinforces the subtitle of this blog- “the race is made on the ups and won on the downs”….. and also something to consider if one should be attempting to put up a good time at this event.

Summary

Analysis of finishing time data for the Pikes Peak Marathon over the period 1976-2014 reveals the following:

  1. The best performances have been dominated by two individuals- Matt Carpenter and Ricardo Mejia.
  2. The competitiveness of the race is highly variable- the competitiveness indices can be as high as some of the most competitive road marathons to as low as some of the least competitive ultramarathons.
  3. Analysis of the age distribution within the 125% cohort for all time performance indicates that the race favors an older competitor when compared to the road Marathon.
  4. It is pointed out that even though the ascent portion of the race likely dominates the skillset needed for high performance, a fast decent is required for a good time. This appears to necessitate that top competitors have an unusual mix of slow and fast twitch muscle fiber development.

Salomon S Lab Motion Fit Jacket, Tights, and Pants – Review

For F/W 2014 -2015 Salomon introduced a new line of S Lab garments specifically for cross country skiing. They are called “Motion Fit” and incorporate design features and materials that allow for high-output training on skis in just about any weather.

S Lab Motion Fit Jacket front

Salomon S Lab Motion Fit Jacket, in “Equipe” colorway. Note the slim fit and WindStopper fabric front.

 

I started using the jacket, tights, and pants at the beginning of the ski season in mid-November 2014 and I haven’t really used anything else (for skiing) since. With a total of about 1000 km (600 miles) of skiing with these garments, I can say without hesitation or qualification that each piece is outstanding and the performance is superior to anything I have ever used.

In the past I have used a system that consists of two sets of training clothing set-ups, one for ‘typical’ sunny days  (in the -12C/+10F to -0C/+32F range) and one for cold days (<-18C/0F) and found this to be sufficient to handle the spectrum of weather conditions we see here in the central Idaho mountains.

Last year I used the Salomon Elite Jacket and found it to be quite comfortable, well ventilated, and near optimal for training in the warmer winter conditions here. I would switch from the Elite Jacket and Momentum Warm tights to a warmer, less ventilated jacket (e.g. Momentum Warm Jacket) and full-zip Momentum Warm pants over the Momentum Warm tights. This system has worked well.

I expected that the S Lab Motion Fit Jacket would replace the Elite Jacket in the set-up, that the S Lab Motion Fit tights would replace the Momentum Warm tights that I have been using for the past four years, and that I would switch to the cold weather elements as described above for the cold days. As it turns out I have not used the cold weather pieces at all as I find the S Lab Motion Fit system to be sufficiently warm with the addition of a vest. More on this later.

S Lab Motion Fit Jacket

The jacket has a few different materials in the design. First, the front is made from WindStopper fabric and this ends up being a critical part of why this garment is so useful across the temperature range that I have experienced (40F to -10F). Second, the shoulders, sides, and back are made from a stretch fabric that gives plenty of stretch for even the highest intensity training sessions. Third, Salomon have applied their laser cut ventilation technology on the back panel along the spine. This ventilation is what makes this jacket so comfortable during interval and tempo workouts as well as long skis in warmer weather. Although many manufactures (including Salomon) have used stretch mesh fabrics in this area for ventilation, there is no better vent than a hole and I can attest to the great performance of this venting in controlling body temperature in hard workouts.

S Lab Motion Fit Jacket back vents

Laser cut ventilation holes along the back spine of the S Lab Motion Fit Jacket. There is no better vent than a hole.

As is clear in the image of the front of the jacket above, the fit is quite snug, however the articulation of the design and the stretch fabrics lead to no binding and free movement. There is a natural feeling of “just right” when wearing this jacket much like what has been achieved with the Sense line of running clothing from Salomon. Obviously there is a good bit of cross fertilization in the running and Nordic clothing lines.

The jacket has all of the other expected features such as a cinching waist, an upper torso clasp to allow opening the zipper without flopping of the jacket, and a nicely placed sizable rear pocket.

S Lab Motion Fit Jacket back pocket

The rear pocket of the S Lab Motion Fit Jacket is nicely places and easy to get things in and out of.

Although I expected that this jacket would not be sufficiently warm on very cold days, I have instead found that I can use this jacket right down to -10F by just adding a Momentum Warm Vest. The sleeves of the jacket are sufficiently warm as to not lead to excessive heat loss and still perform very well on warmer days. As a result I have not worn any other jacket this season, even on the coldest of days. With the laser cut ventilation the jacket is perfect right up to 32F. Salomon have found a very nice balance between performance for high output and comfort in cold.

Note: I have also used this jacket for winter running and found it to be a nice option. The ventilation is very effective for running where one tends to accumulate more sweat due to the lower speeds. As a result of a shoulder injury and reduced skiing, I have about 250 km of running in this jacket this winter.

S Lab Motion Fit Tights

The Salomon Momentum Warm Tights have been a fundamental workhorse in my Nordic clothing set-up since they were introduced four years ago. I have worn out a few pairs and still have a few more around. The only negatives that I experienced with these tights is that they eventually loose elasticity and begin to “bag” out and they are not the greatest in wind.

Enter the S Lab Motion Fit Tight and we have a refined, updated version of the Momentum Warm Tight. Salomon have added WindStopper fabric to the front, articulated the knees, and utilized a stretch fabric that, so far, holds it’s elasticity.

S Lab Motion Fit tight front

S Lab Motion Fit tight back

S Lab Motion Fit Tight front (top) and back (bottom).

The knees are particularly comfortable as they do not bind or limit motion at all.

S Lab Motion Fit tight knees

S Lab Motion Fit Tights knees showing articulation in design, a separate stretch fabric over the knees, and WindStopper fabric elsewhere on the front section.

The tights perform well right down to 0F and in any sort of windy condition- no need for another or different layer. Below 0F I add the S Lab Motion Fit Pant over these and find the combination to be very comfortably warm. The tights also perform well in high intensity sessions.

Note: I also use these tights for winter running- something that I have been doing more of this year as noted above. They are just as functional in winter running as they are in skiing.

S Lab Motion Fit Pant

For the coldest days I have been using a full zip Momentum Warm over pant over the Momentum Warm Tights. Although warm, it is sometimes too warm and the combination is quite bulky and would bind from time to time. I was glad to see that Salomon offered a warmer, slimmer fit pant with all of the articulation and wind protection in the S Lab Motion Fit Tight.

S lab Motion Fit Pant front

S Lab Motion Fit Pant with WindStopper front, articulated knees, and a slim fit.

I have used these pants alone on warmer days and in combination with the S Lab Motion Fit Tights on colder days. As mentioned above the combination performs very well in the cold and because of the slim fit the combination is not bulky. I have also had these out on some very windy days and they were very comfortable even when the temperature shot down to 5F. The knees, in addition to being articulated in the design also have a unique, totally separate section that eliminates binding.

S Lab Motion Fit pant knees

Pricing

The jacket is $230.00 (US), the tights are $140.00 (US) and the pants are $175.00 (US). Pricey as usual for Salomon but, if my experience holds, these pieces will wear well and can be used for numerous seasons. Competitive products are all in a similar pricing range but many do not have the fit, articulated design, and carefully chosen materials that this system offers.

Bottom Line

Salomon have come up with a high performance clothing set-up for Nordic skiing that allows for comfortable skiing across the board from high intensity interval workouts to cold weather slogs. The articulating design and fabric choices are outstanding when compared to other offerings on the market. Highly recommended.

Review of “Fast After 50″ by Joe Friel

Fast after 50

Joe Friel is a well-known author of training books for triathletes, cyclists, and runners. He has also authored books on methodologies for using heart rate monitors for training. His training methods are loosely based on Lydiard-style progression and periodization but incorporate much new sports science-supported approaches and work-outs. I have read and regularly utilize much of the information presented in his book “Total Heart Rate Training” and have found it to be a great resource for both guidelines and specific work-outs (in fact in our household of two very competitive “old” athletes, we speak in “Friel-ese” when referring to various interval workouts, e.g. we might discuss whether a P2A workout or a A1A workout is best for the day’s work). So when this book was announced by Friel on his blog this past summer, and as a 58 year old competitor, I pre-ordered it on Amazon. The book arrived the day before Christmas. I started reading it right away but it was soon appropriated by my wife and I got the volume back about a week ago. I have now been through it twice and looked at a number of the critical references to ensure that I was comfortable with conclusive statements in the text (I am with those that I checked). The following is a review of the book, but suffice it to say that I can highly recommend this book as a resource for all ageing athletes regardless of sport. Note: I already subscribe to the type of training that Friel espouses so my comfort with those portions of the book are significant. Others may not be so comfortable with his approaches and one should keep this in mind when reading this review.

Review

Ageing and the impact of ageing on the competitive athlete beyond age 50 is something that has not been written about in book form before. Friel has undertaken a substantial task and done a very good job with the subject matter. The physiologic changes that negatively affect athletic performance beyond age 50 (and to a lesser extent beyond age 40) are fairly drastic as any committed senior athlete can tell you. Friel develops a detailed framework to allow one to understand these changes and the ramifications on performance and then offers a training approach to slow down or possibly even delay the rate of decline. The current state of understanding is nicely summarized in a quote from page 108 of the book:

“This brings us back to the big three- the primary determiners of performance decline with age according to sport science. To refresh your memory, these are declining aerobic capacity, increasing body fat, and loss of muscle mass.”

Friel’s recipe for combating age-related performance decline therefore involves a primary focus on high-intensity workouts, methods for reduction of body fat, and heavy load strength workouts. It is proposed that these three areas are the keys to high performance as a senior athlete.

The book is structured in two parts where Part I (about 1/3 of the book) reviews the literature and describes Friel’s own experience with physiologic changes going on in the human body. This establishes a base-line of what we are up against. Part II describes the various ways that the changes discussed in Part I can be addressed from the perspective of a competitive athlete. Part II includes a substantial amount of guidance on training plans and suggested workouts (along with good appendices that elaborate on work outs in greater detail) as well as discussions of diet and recovery. It is quite comprehensive, if you subscribe to this style of training.

Friel has done a good job of dancing around the whole “diet” morass that is extant. Although he lauds a so-called Paleo diet (and has co-authored a book on the subject with one of the Paleo cult’s pseudo-scientific leaders) he is quick to point out that there is no one diet that works for everyone and that the task is to to determine what works for you. This is essentially what Matt Fitzgerald has covered in his book “Diet Cults“, a book that I recommend along with another of his books- “Racing Weight“.

As it happens, over the past year I have transformed my training structure to include increased volume of high-intensity workouts and max strength weight training, two of the primary messages in this book. Having had this past year to monitor progress, I can report that inclusion of these elements into my training program has been very successful and resulted in significant power development and associated performance increases. What Friel proposes works, at least for me.

Bottom Line

Friel has written a comprehensive and detailed guide to development of athletic excellence for the senior endurance athlete. Highly recommended.