October 24, 2014

Review : Inov-8 Race Ultra

  • Type : Standard
  • Use : Trail running
  • Price : $130

I tried my first pair of inov-8 shoes in the Arizona desert and was immediately impressed. I loved the underfoot protection and the grip, while the shoe, overall, felt light and fast. I wore it only two or three times, because when I got to Urique, I realized my Raramuri friend Javier had torn through his last pair of shoes. “Try these ones”, I said, handing out my Trailroc 235’s. He keeps the shoes that he likes; needless to say, I never got to wear them again :)

When my Race Ultra came in the mail, I was a little surprised to see how much thicker it was, and the 8-mm drop worried me a little bit. The shoe itself felt awesome in my feet and reminded me of the La Sportiva Cross Lite, one of the staples in my shoe cabinet. I had a race coming up, so I thought “Let’s try something new!”

Trail Test
I took the inov-8’s to the gorgeous Pandora 24 course, out here in Quebec. It’s one of the most technical terrains we have available, with ever-changing ground that swings from muddy mess to rocky pitches, and everything in-between.

I immediately felt that this shoe is built for the long run. What it loses in ground feel, it gains in overall comfort. This is way more cushiony than what you might expect of an inov-8, yet the added height doesn’t get in the way. Typically, and that’s what I usually dislike about thicker shoes, a bulkier outsole elevates my foot too much away from the ground and I end up twisting an ankle.

The grip is as good as it gets; whether I jumped down on shaky rocks or quickstepped through slippery mud, my feet never slid. I felt secure and in control. This is a key element for me, as it allows me to build enough confidence to increase or maintain speed over trickier segments in the trail.

My mudcaked Race Ultras, after a go on the Pandora course
I have yet to run an ultra in these shoes, so I can’t say for sure whether the added cushioning proves relevant in the long run. After two hours in the woods, and on a fairly wet day, I was happy with the grip and the stability of the Race Ultras, although I did miss a little bit of the fast and nimble feeling I experienced with the slimmer, meaner Trailroc.

The lacing is precise and the upper material allows for enough extension that you don’t need to re-lace in the middle of your run. This is a true trail shoe, no doubt about it. Plus, with fall in full effect and winter at the door, I get the feeling the Race Ultra will be my shoe of choice for winter running, with its great combination of grip, thicker sole and a beefier upper.

If you like to have a wide choice of shoes to choose from, I think the inov-8 Race Ultra could definitely find a spot in the thicker, souped-up end of your range. It is definitely built for long outings, while still offering outstanding grip and stability, something not a lot of shoes in this segment can gloat about. Moreover, if you have to deal with winter running, the Race Ultra has everything you need to keep warm, standing upright and smiling… through your frozen beard ;)

High points
  • Excellent grip
  • Upper material is flexible and comfy
  • Behaves admirably on varying terrain
  • Very likely to become my winter running shoe of choice
  • “Ethical approach” to manufacturing which respects both workers and the environment

Low points
  • Bulkier than what I usually wear
  • I would’ve liked a 4-mm drop option

The equipment for this personal review was supplied by inov-8, free of charge, without any conditions.

October 20, 2014

Running With Purpose : Interview With Wendy Drake

Wendy and I at the legendary
Canyon de Chelley Ultra, 2013
I met my friend Wendy Drake under the best possible circumstances: we were both running the first-ever Canyon de Chelley Ultra in the heart of Navajo Scared Land, marveling at the luck we had to be out there, exploring, sharing and being very much alive. We immediately struck a conversation and became friends. We talked about the value of taking time off, finding meaning to one's existence and dedicating efforts to what really matters in life.

We stayed in contact ever since.

Some weeks ago, amid the turmoil of my house renovation project (I know, will it ever end), I got news from Wendy, and discovered that our first conversation that day, in the Canyon, was not just the ramblings of two elated ultra runners. Wendy truly follows her heart, and I admire and respect her for that. I think the story of her past year, as a person and as a runner, will surely strike a chord with FlintLand dwellers.

Q1 - Wendy, you’re awesome. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, tell me more about your adventure, Destination Epic? 

W - Thank you Flint. I founded Destination Epic to promote inspiring stories of adventure in beautiful places all over the world. I’ve been influenced by many experiences in the ultra community of small gestures that make a difference. Until July, I had been working on it in between work at a startup and my ultra running.

Q2 – You run for pancreatic cancer. I’m guessing there’s a reason you chose that cause? 

W - Yes. In January my best friend and ultra running partner, Marcy Servita, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Stage 4 means the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. Surgery was not an option and chemo didn't work. I was her primary caregiver for sixty days and, like many, was disappointed in the few options available to both treat this disease and detect it before it progressed. I wanted to make a contribution to change this. My project, Elevating a Cure, seeks to raise $1/ foot of elevation gain at the Bear 100 Endurance Run.

Q3 – September 26-27 was a big day for you. How did it go? 

At 6 A.M., 267 other runners and I departed from Logan, Utah’s Hyrum Gibbons Park to gain 21,986 feet of elevation over the course of 12 major climbs and descents. For the first time in a long time, I had that nervous, edgy feeling. Although I was prepared, I wasn’t sure I could finish. Anything can happen.

I chose not to have a crew or pacers, which I don’t regret. I met so many helpful volunteers and fellow racers that I wouldn’t have had I had a crew. It also resulted in deepening existing friendships. Two friends who were pacing and crewing other friends stepped in to help me at a critical moment. I'd miscalculated my time into the 52-mile aid station where I would pick up my headlamp for the night. Rob Howard and Eric Lee conspired to get me a lamp at mile 48. It was a gesture among many that exemplifies community in our sport.

It was a long night and day Saturday. My Sleep Monster was the 6-limbed purple reptile, Randall, from Monster’s Inc. My mind changed him to a woman as she coaxed me to consider quitting. “Night is for sleeping,” she’d purr as I found myself stumbling along the trail. I stopped once, but I was too afraid of the dark to keep my headlamp off. Thunderstorms started about 1 A.M., turning the course into the reason for signs that state: “In a flood, climb to safety." The early morning hours from about 3 A.M. - 6 A.M. were the worst. I was miserable, lonely and tired. Unfortunately for my Sleep Monster, I LOVE running in mud. When we hit a downhill, I started playing and got filthy. By 8 A.M. I left the Mile 78 Aid Station in better spirits and dropped her.

I finally finished in 34:02. It meant a lot to me to finish in the same month, a year ago, that Marcy finished her first 100 in 26:24 at Marin Headlands in California. I’m proud of the finish and grateful for the donations given so far. Elevating a Cure still has room for your contribution!

You can read Wendy's full race report on her blog, right here.

Q4 – Is this adventure also a way for you to cope with the loss of your friend? 

Marcy Servita
W - Yes, no question. I’ve been wandering off on forested adventures since I was four years old. Being an adventurer is who I am, so it functions well as a coping structure. As an example, I bargained bodily stress at the Bear for hallucinatory conversations with Marcy. I desperately wanted one more chance to talk with her. None of my imagined conversations materialized into hallucinations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve had my moments of depression. After I quit my job in July, I slept a lot and watched the light on Boulder’s Flatirons change for hours. Instead of doing hard workouts, I’d take our dog Scout out on long walks on the trails. And, I know it’s normal, but I’m still embarrassed to admit a lot of anger that most of the time I took out on the trails. Instead, that’s when I’d embrace crushing a workout. It was good awareness training. Thankfully most of Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief are giving way to accepting Marcy’s loss, remembering the good and finding things to cherish in her absence. Everyone said it takes time, just like training for an ultra.

Q5 – What’s next in line for you? Will you keep raising funds for pancreatic research cancer? 

I continue to seek donations for my $1/foot at The Bear goal. $1, $10 or $100. It all adds up to a difference at Elevating a Cure. We need a cure and short of that an early diagnostic. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has advocated for increased government funding for pancreatic cancer research since its inception in 1999 when the NCI was only funding $17.3 million in pancreatic cancer research. That number has grown to $105 million in 2012, but it is still not nearly enough.

On the adventure side, I’m organizing with my partner, Jorge, for polar training in February in preparation for longer, slower winter distances. On Thursday, I learn whether I’m on the starting roster at the White Mountains 100-mile race in Alaska (March 2015). Then December 6th is a big day for our sport. Entries into both Hardrock and Western States 100s are based on lotteries similar to White Mountains. If neither materialize, I’d like to get back to Sweden in 2015. By December 7th, my 2015 will be scheduled.

Q6 – You are also the published author of a beautiful and intimate book called Running to Thousand Letters. It was an absolutely lovely read. Do you have new writings coming up?

Thank you again.

Yes. I've been in writing intensely since leaving my position at Simple Energy in July. I finished a short excerpt of my 2nd memoir just after the Bear. In the words of Tim Hewitt, 8-time finisher of the Iditarod Trail Invitational Alaska (1,000 miles Anchorage to Nome), “It’ll take as long as it takes.” I write everyday and am targeting my 2nd draft completion by the end of 2014.

Q7 – How can we help support your projects? 

Thanks for asking!

1. Follow @DestinationEpic and Like the Destination Epic Facebook page.

2. If it's within your budget to do so, please make a contribution to Elevating a Cure and share my story with a friend. There is no cure for this disease. No early detection and the diagnoses continue to grow. Thank you.


I love Wendy for her running and adventurous spirit, and love her even more for the beautiful human person that she is. She is an inspiration to me and I always follow her adventures with a deep interest, no matter where they take her.

May you run light and free, my friend.

FlintLand is a proud contributor to Wendy's Elevating a Cure campaign.

October 2, 2014

Interview - Sodium Intake in Endurance Sports

Some weeks ago, I had a discussion with my friend and running brother Augusto Gamero about our mutual habits of salt and electrolyte intake while ultra running. This turned into a detailed interview he conducted with Jonathan Toker, inventor of Saltstick caps, that I am happy to relay to you today.


An article by Augusto Gamero

Augusto and I at the Limberlost Challenge Ultra, 2012
Sports nutrition is a very delicate subject. What you eat can be just as personal as your preference for boxers or briefs. And nutritional needs differ from individual to individual. What works for me may not work for you; what works for the elite athlete may not work for the average runner and so on.

Nutrition research has flooded sports magazines and social media over the past few years, spurring the manufacturing of sports nutrition products on the market and making it increasingly difficult to dissociate what we are told “we need” versus our bodies’ actual demands and needs. As I evolved from fun run enthusiast to ultra-marathoner, coaching advice, personal experience, and nutritional information in sports magazines and social media have collectively raised my self-awareness about proper nutrition and its critical role in achieving peak athletic performance. While I am careful with what I put into my body, there is still much to be learned about the interesting, evolving and well debated topic of sports nutrition.

Take salt intake as an example. Up until fairly recently, I was liberally dumping the good stuff on my eggs and enjoyed the satisfactory crunch of the salty snack – chips, pretzles, crackers, you name it! After all, haven’t you earned the right to snack after a grueling morning on the trails? And if you’re simultaneously replenishing low salt levels, aren’t you killing two birds with one stone? The answer to this question is no. Turns out foods like chips only replenish low iodine levels and are poor sources of other necessary salts like magnesium, potassium and electrolytes and athletes need to replenish these as well. I found this out the hard way this past July.

For those of you who have run in the 56k Limberlost Challenge, you know how hot and humid this race can be. After crossing the finish line, I spent almost an hour in the medical tent being treated for severe cramping and although I was in pain, I was happily eating Pretzels. I needed salt – so I was told by the medical team. I knew I had not managed to drink enough fluids and electrolytes. Yet even the pretzels didn’t work their magic and recovery took longer than anticipated.

I also knew that this experience could not be repeated during my next (and bigger) challenge: The TransRockies Run. A 6-day solo run through the Rockies in Colorado, 120 miles with 20,000 ft of elevation gain. Thus, I packed enough electrolytes for 6 days. I used none. Luckily, our race kits included a bottle of saltstick caps. After taking a quick look at its ingredients (very simple, I thought), I decided to give them a try and to take one per hour during the race. Even through brutally hot and dry conditions and demanding terrain, I had no sign of cramping during the 6-day run.

Jonathan Toker, founder of Saltstick caps
Jonathan Toker, the developer of those salt capsules, was also racing at the TransRockies. In fact, he was the overall winner of the 6-day run. Jonathan received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from The Scripps Research Institute in 2001, worked in the biotech industry for 5 years, and raced in the professional ranks as a triathlete and runner for 5 years. Following a short presentation Jonathan provided on salt intake and SaltStick products, I approached him to ask him a couple of simple questions including his interest to participate in an interview to respond to questions related to salt intake. I reached out to a few people, ranging from experienced runners and triathletes to people that, although not engaged in “extreme” physical activities, pursue an active lifestyle and expressed an interest in the topic.

Q1) When people refer to “salt” intake, does it comprise a mix of different “salts”, such as potassium and magnesium, or is it only limited to sodium chloride (table salt)?

[Jonathan] - That's really two questions. First, in general, when people refer to salt, they are usually talking about sodium chloride (table salt), the most common source of sodium in our diets. However, for athletes, it's critical not to overlook the importance of other crucial electrolytes (salts) that are involved with proper muscle and body function, in particular potassium, magnesium and calcium. The second part of the question is really the difference between sodium chloride and sodium, in terms of target intake measurement, it's important to clarify with your coach or doctor if the suggested amount (usually in mg) refers to elemental sodium or a casual reference to table salt. Table salt is comprised about 40% by weight sodium. All product labels are supposed to indicate elemental sodium content.

Q2) When would you recommend to start taking salt capsules in an endurance event? Is there any correlation with distance, effort, time and level of training?

[Jonathan] - As a general guideline, athletes should consume 200-600 mg sodium each hour during any land-based activity (bike/run) for the duration of the activity. In hot conditions, extreme humidity, or for larger athletes, a higher intake may be appropriate. It is strongly recommended to test your planned electrolyte protocol in training several times before race day. It should be stressed that every athlete sweats differently, reacts to heat and humidity differently, and reacts to the stress of a race or training differently. What this means to the athlete in particular is the importance of testing one's electrolyte replacement strategy in training, prior to race day. Listening to your body prior to and during an event is also key, so you can adapt your electrolyte plan accordingly. Being flexible and keeping your plan simple will give you the best chance of success.

Q3) Is age, weight and sex a factor in the frequency and amount of salt intake in endurance sports?

[Jonathan] - Studies have shown, including PlosOne – Age-Related Decrements in Heat Dissipation during Physical Activity Occur as Early as the Age of 40 that older individuals tend to sweat less and have a more difficult time to release body heat. The general suggestion is to increase fluid consumption and reduce the amount of time spent in hot or sunny conditions. Addition of electrolytes to fluid consumption will ensure that your body is provided with sufficient electrolyte replenishment under those conditions. Decrements in whole-body heat loss capacity were apparent as early as the age of 40 and declined with advancing age. The study concludes that not only should older adults be cautious of the risks associated with performing physical activity when ambient air temperature rises, but middle-aged adults should also be aware that they could be more prone to heat-related illness compared to young individuals.

Women tend to be lighter than men and lose electrolytes as a reduced rate, and so it may be appropriate for women to strive for a lower intake of electrolytes. Similarity, heavier individuals are likely to lose a greater amount of electrolytes. However, as mentioned already, every athlete sweats differently, reacts to heat and humidity differently, and reacts to the stress of a race or training differently, regardless of gender, fitness and age.

Q4) Is there a simple approach to estimate adequate salt intake in an endurance event, based on weight, age and sex?

[Jonathan] - To determine your sweat rate, there are various methods listed online that basically have you measure your weight loss during an activity that will then equal your sweat loss. (For example, Runners World – Know thy sweat rate) Determination of electrolyte loss in sweat requires more scientific testing since the concentration of electrolytes in sweat varies between people. Heavy sweaters tend to find themselves covered in white salt if they wear darker clothing, and the sweat will taste very salty, stinging eyes, etc… Lighter sweaters tend not to notice any salt loss and overall sweat rates tend to be low, keeping clothing dry. . It is strongly recommended to test your planned electrolyte protocol in training several times before race day, such that you will have your loss and intake parameters dialed in experimentally.

Q5) Would you recommend salt intake after engaging in a demanding physical activity such as 2 hours or more of trail running,? If so, why is it important to take salt capsules after a demanding training or race?

[Jonathan] - Maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte balance during hard training or racing can be nearly impossible, and proper post-workout recovery is facilitated by ingesting fluid with electrolytes. This can take the form of a balanced electrolyte supplement along with carbohydrates and protein. A simple strategy to ensure adequate electrolyte replenishment is to take 200-400 mg sodium (1-2 SaltStick Caps) after a hard workout or race. Excess electrolyte ingestion will simply be excreted in the urine.

Q6) Would you recommend salt intake before starting an endurance event?
[Jonathan] - During the days leading up to your event, maintain your weight with adequate hydration with sufficient electrolyte content. The water bottle that follows athletes around to the race expo, etc... should be filled with fluid and electrolytes. This can take the form of a sports drink or water and 1 SaltStick Cap per 1-2 water bottles, either as a capsule or dissolved in water. A word of caution goes to consuming unnecessary and empty calories in the form of sugars. When in doubt, read the nutrition information on the product in question. For races or training over about 4 hours, take 200-400 mg sodium (1-2 SaltStick Caps) the night before your event, and about 200 mg (one capsule) with breakfast before your event. The goal is to start your day with your electrolyte levels at 100% of normal.

Q7) How does a supplement measure compare to eating anything salty during an endurance event?

[Jonathan] - Sodium is sodium, and our bodies don't know the difference as to where it comes from. One challenge of eating salty foods is the strong taste, especially that can accompany the higher levels of sodium necessary for proper replenishment. A more significant consideration is that salty foods usually contain only sodium in significant amounts, meaning that other electrolytes (potassium, magnesium and calcium) will decrease and not be replenished. Using a well-balanced electrolyte source is your best bet for regular intake, and this can be supplemented by foods you enjoy or crave during an event. The longer the event, the more the lack of other electrolytes can interfere with performance.

Q8) Is it a good idea to throw a “salt bomb” in our tummies every hour or so instead of trying to spread the intake evenly through normal food?

[Jonathan] - Based on personal experience and that of other athletes, it is strongly suggested to spread out the intake of electrolytes regularly over time. Especially during racing when our digestive system is already under stress, it is generally not a good idea to consume more than about 400 mg of sodium in one bolus. That being said, it is not necessary to micro-dose salt into our stomachs like an intravenous drip, unless that strategy appears to work for you personally.

Q9) In your knowledge, is there any correlation between gastro-intestinal (GI) issues and salt/electrolyte intake?

[Jonathan] - GI issues can be caused by many issues. Electrolyte intake and balance is one aspect that can either disrupt or soothe a stomach. Personal experience and variability means that your own experimentation is going to be your best guide to success. In an effort to maintain homeostasis, our gut will either facilitate the absorption of water and electrolytes into the bloodstream or prevent absorption, leaving the stomach full. For example, in the case of low blood sodium, excess water in the stomach will likely be prevented from being absorbed as it would further dilute the blood. Excess water in the gut can cause GI distress. In order to resolve such an issue, consumption of a solid electrolyte capsule can be effective at increasing the electrolyte content of the fluid in the stomach without increasing the volume of the fluid, thereby inducing absorption of the fluid and emptying the stomach. A sodium source such as sodium citrate (as found in SaltStick Caps Plus) can further help soothe the stomach. Sodium citrate is the active ingredient formed when drinking Alka-Seltzer.

Q10) A recent (2014) article published in irunfar summarizes the results of research presented at the Medicine & Science in Ultra-Endurance Sports Conference earlier this year. One of the topics discussed at the conference and presented by the director of research at Western States Endurance Run, Dr. Marty Hoffman, called Sodium Supplementation, Drinking Strategies, and Weight concluded that if you are “craving salt, eat something salty” . The article further raises the issue of whether ultrarunners need to take salt tabs during a 100-mile race and to which it notes that “the short answer is no” and that, according to a study by Winger (2013), “sodium supplementation during an ultra has no significant effect on the blood level of sodium at the end of the race”. In your opinion, are there other factors that need to be considered in reading and supporting such conclusions?

[Jonathan] - One of the reasons that electrolyte studies remain so controversial and the matter of electrolyte supplementation still open to study is that studies have shown both an effect and no effect on various populations, depending on the study conditions and parameters. Blood (plasma) levels represent but one marker of sodium content in the body. It is so far not easy to determine the sodium content within the cells, which as any biologist will tell you, is where sodium exchange occurs (along with potassium). As such, it's quite likely that plasma sodium levels can be maintained at the expense of cellular sodium content. The body, by definition, has a limited sodium content. Analysis of the elemental content of the human body lists sodium at about 90g (per 70kg body weight), much of which is bound and unavailable. As such, it's pretty easy to see mathematically that loss of sodium by sweating over time, will have a dramatic impact on the sodium content in the body.

Another consideration is the difference between survival and performance: while you may survive without sodium supplementation, are you likely to perform your best?

As well, many of these researchers state something like “craving salt, eat something salty” while dismissing salt tablets or capsules. This is an inconsistent message. Bottom line is that athletes have found that consumption of electrolytes in some form, along with energy (calories) and water are fundamental to their success.

Q11) Is there any robust science around the significance of proper salt intake in endurance sports? And, could you provide readers with useful resources on the topic?


· Quantitative article about sodium and fluid intake and loss over time, and how the concentration of electrolytes can increase and decrease depending on fluid intake. It's simple math how people can drink too much to dilute plasma sodium, but equally easy to become dehydrated over time with reduced fluid intake. An apparent happy medium lies somewhere between. The article can be found here: http://www.slowtwitch.com/Training/General_Physiology/The_Math_of_salt_loss_1093.html

· J Athl Train. 2009 Mar-Apr; 44(2): 117–123. Sodium Replacement and Plasma Sodium Drop During Exercise in the Heat When Fluid Intake Matches Fluid Loss. Costas A Anastasiou, Stavros A Kavouras, Giannis Arnaoutis, Aristea Gioxari, Maria Kollia, Efthimia Botoula, and Labros S Sidossis, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2657026/

"Conclusions: The data suggest that sodium intake during prolonged exercise in the heat plays a significant role in preventing sodium losses that may lead to hyponatremia when fluid intake matches sweat losses."

· Sports Med. 2001;31(10):701-15. Fluid and electrolyte balance in ultra-endurance sport. Rehrer NJ.

· ASCM Guidelines "http://www.acsm.org/docs/publications/Roundtable%20on%20Hydration%20and%20Physical%20Activity.pdf "

· Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia http://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/2/1/151.full

· Exercise associated hyponatraemia: quantitative analysis to understand the aetiology http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2492017/

My confession: I still love chips!

Happy Trails!