Saturday, October 23, 2021

Quick Strides 22: Jacob- 3 long races in 3 weeks: Wins Ultra, PR's marathon, race reports and shoes. Mike-full lab threshold and VO2 Max testing. Ryan-reviews Takumi Sen 7, finds a fine $8 neck/headlamp

Article by Jacob Brady, Mike Postaski, and Ryan Eiler

Quick Strides 22: Jacob- 3 long races in 3 weeks: Wins Ultra, PR's marathon, race reports and shoes. Mike- full lab threshold and VO2 Max testing,. Ryan-reviews Takumi Sen 7, finds a fine $8 neck/headlamp

Jacob (Maine)

Three races in three weeks: Maine Marathon (Nike VF NEXT%), Big Brad Pounder 50k (VJ Ultra), Green Mountain Marathon (Scott Speed Carbon RC). I had a blast racing long events three Sundays in a row. 

Maine Marathon

I started with the Maine Marathon, my A race, on October 3rd. This race is a home course for me and I run parts of it in training weekly. I was hoping for 2:45, which would be a 6 minute PR. Based on my recent race times, this was a reasonable goal. 

As far as shoe choice, I was between the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 2 (RTR Review) and the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% (first version). I have not done a road race over 10 miles since last fall but tried both shoes for 5k TTs this summer and was faster and felt quicker and more powerful at the finish with the VF NEXT%. It makes sense the NEXT% would be better at shorter races though, given it is lighter and lower stack. I was loving the NEXT% so I went for it for the marathon. 

Mile 25, legs tight and burning

I did not have a great race and didn’t hit my goal time, but still ran a PR of 2:49. As I usually do in long races, I ran by feel and did not look at my watch, but my legs felt overly loaded early on and I felt weird pain in my ankle. Towards the latter 10 miles, my legs were burning, and had an on-fire feeling especially on climbs and for the last three miles my calves were nearly cramping, which has never happened to me before in a race. It was cold and rainy which may have been a factor. The NEXT% was not as inspiring as I’d hoped early on but definitely allowed me to drive with my arms later in the race when my legs were dead and still maintain a decent pace and form. I certainly relied on the shoes and ran with a form to try to use them (keep my cadence up and land midfoot). I am looking forward to racing another marathon and will use the Adios Pro 2 next time.

Big Brad Pounder 50k

The next weekend was an event I had really been looking forward to, a local 50km race (officially 32.5 miles) on technical singletrack called the Big Brad Pounder. I have raced several shorter races at the venue and love the trails. I raced the Pounder two years ago (my second ever 50km), also the week after the Maine Marathon, and died early, walking every moderate incline for the last 10 miles. This year, my goal was to not go out too fast. 

I had decided on shoe choice for the Maine Marathon weeks in advance but was still undecided for Big Brad the night before. I had been wanting to wear the VJ Ultra (RTR Review) which is for technical trail the most performant distance/mountain shoe I’ve ever tested (I have tested a lot of shoes, but for what it’s worth, have very limited experience in Salomon shoes). 

I have run four successful races this season in the VJ Ultra (RTR Review) from 6 miles to 14 miles 5k vert to 27 miles technical singletrack and have felt like the shoes contributed to my success at each race. 

However, I also had 2-5 blisters on each foot every race (except the 6 mile) including massive ones on the bottom of my big toe. I think the soft and laterally flexible forefoot causes the shoe to bend around my foot and squish my toes together. Standing around the fit is perfectly precise but I would like to try a half size up (as Mike P did) which may resolve the issue. 

The last race in the VJ Ultra which gave me the worst blisters yet, I said to myself that I probably should not race it again. However, the night of Big Brad I was looking at all my shoes and decided I didn’t have anything that would best it. I think I would have been best off getting a new pair of Inov-8 Terraultra G 270 (RTR Review) as mine have over 300 miles and the forefoot lugs are quite worn/rounded, but I didn’t think about that far enough in advance. 

So I did what I’d been wanting to try for a while and put the firmer, more energetic boomerang TPU bead sock liners from the G 270 into the VJ Ultra. The VJ Ultra stock sockliner is thin and very soft/flexible. I hoped the TPU bead sockliner would decrease the flexibility and limit blisters as well and provide a bit more cushion and bounce. I tried it in the street for a few strides and it felt good. I put my old but low-mileage Hoka EVO Speedgoat (my choice for this race two years ago) in my drop bag in case I had to switch shoes. 

For the race, I planned to not care about my place and just run easy for the first 22 miles (main aid station location), then start racing from there. Going out slow was interesting as it really felt like I wasn’t racing at all. I was alone from mile 13 to the finish and some sections it was just like I was out for a jog in the quiet woods—there was no one else out there at all. I went into the final 10 miles feeling great and had a blast for the next five miles running hard especially on descents and quickly moving into first place. I was having a blast, but I went for it a bit too early and by the last three miles was suffering. I held it together and still ran strong on descents and flats but could not run the uphills any more. I had built a sizable lead and still got first, but it wasn’t a perfect race—I should have waited a bit longer before putting in the race effort or built into it more. However, it was a PR ~50k for me at 5:03 and the first ultra race I have won. 

Finishing with a short field section

The VJ Ultra with the boomerang sockliner was great. My post-race blisters were present but minor.  The shoe was smooth and cruising on the smoother parts and easy pace, had zero grip issues (as expected from VJ), and it was fun and locked-in when bombing the steep descents. 

Green Mountain Marathon

Lastly, on to the next race, the Green Mountain Marathon (GMM) in Vermont. My legs were rough after the 50km (some cumulative effects with the marathon as well). I run every day and struggled through my daily minimum two miles the following two days. I didn’t feel comfortable while running until Thursday (four days after). I was undecided on whether to race again (I hadn’t signed up yet), but my Mom was running GMM and thought it would be fun if I ran with her. She was aiming for sub-3:30 which should not require a high effort from me in most scenarios, but I had some fatigue from two long races, so it seemed like a great idea and the course seemed beautiful.

Since I was planning on a slower pace, I was between the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2  (RTR Review) and the Scott Speed Carbon RC (RTR Review). I thought it was a great chance to try the Speed Carbon as Scott intended it for 3:30-4:00 marathoners. I have liked the RC Elite v2 for slower runs compared to other plated racers as it’s more forgiving, so I thought it was a good choice as well. 

I ran the Speed Carbon two days before then the RC Elite v2 the day before and ran at about the planned race pace (7:50 min/mi). I felt like the RC Elite v2 caused me to want to run faster and felt smoother the faster I went which was not what I wanted for the event, so I was leaning towards the Speed Carbon. However I didn’t decide until the moment I went to put them on after getting out of the car at the race start. I went for the Speed Carbon despite never running double digits in it as it was always comfortable and smooth for me on every run I did in it during testing..

The  marathon was great! ! My mom hit her goal and ran 3:28. I felt very relaxed and had a great time running around 7:45 min/mi through mile 20, then decided since I had felt good making it that far and my mom was starting to slow (though still ahead of pace) I would go for it and run the final 10k hard. I ran a sub 40 min 10k to finish in 3:14. 25 minutes slower than two weeks ago, but a faster final 10k and a totally different experience. Beautiful weather and course so a great day overall.

About 0.5 miles left

The Speed Carbon RC was interesting and a good part of my race experience. Overall I liked it but would not choose it again for racing. At the start it felt great. So relaxed, and rolling along smoothly with good stability and protection. It made it easy to keep on keeping on. When I picked up the pace (going from 7:45 min/mi to 6:15 min/mi) it felt very different due to the plate stiffening. I thought it was awesome on climbs and easier and smoother than the VF NEXT% felt during the Maine Marathon. However I was definitely missing the softness and propulsive rebound of many of the plated shoes on the descents. I feel like it would have been easier to run faster with several other shoes (VF NEXT%, Adios Pro, RC Elite, Endorphin Pro) overall on the finishing stretch. I also definitely felt the more trainer weight class of the Speed Carbon. In summary, my feelings align well with my experience in testing it and with Scott noting it is best for the pace of a 3:30-4:00 hour marathon.

Overall I had a great time doing long races and getting more testing experience with some impressive modern footwear.

Mike P (Boise):

Boise State University - Human Performance Lab Testing -

Steady State Threshold / Lactate Threshold + VO2 Max kicker

[BSU HPL @bsuhumanperformancelab]

This week I went to the BSU Human Performance Lab for some testing. They offer a multitude of fitness tests, and the lab is located just 5 minutes from my house. I’ve never done any type of testing before, so I figured - being so convenient, it’s something I should take advantage of. 

My primary reason for going was that I’m quite interested in confirming/determining my aerobic threshold.  There are so many terms out there, it’s difficult to decipher what exactly they mean, but in this case I would like to determine, specifically - the upper limit (in terms of heart rate) for aerobic, i.e. easy runs. 

When I first started running 8 years ago, I got stuck in the pattern of overtraining, getting injured, rehabbing, and repeating the cycle over and over.  I was doing what most beginner runners do - running hard all the time, not training my aerobic system, while never fully recovering enough to effectively benefit from hard workout sessions. Stuck in the gray zone, as they say. 

 After years of trial and error, research, and practice, I’ve come to the point now where I have a much better handle on my training. For several years I have been focused on Zone 2 - based training, essentially ensuring that easy runs are easy, and volume-wise that type of training should take up 80% of my total training volume. It has been working out really well for me, as I have been able to train successfully for several years now, avoiding major injuries as well as burnout. 

[Aerobic threshold (before lactate starts to increase): 145 bpm, Lactate “Threshold” (as a range - where lactate begins to accumulate faster than it can be cleared): 175 - 185 bpm. Note the small dip around 160 bpm - likely a bad reading]

For my lab session, Taylor Thompson, an exercise physiologist who performed the testing - suggested a Steady State Threshold Test while collecting lactate data. The SSTT would measure fat-utilization and determine the “crossover point” where fuel consumption switches from primarily fat to primarily carbohydrate. The Lactate Threshold Test (LTT) would measure lactate buildup in the bloodstream, in order to determine effective training zones for more intense workouts. 

The protocol for the test is as such - start off at an easy pace, then slowly ramp up the pace every 3 minutes (from 5 - 10 mph), then start increasing incline (1-3-5-9%).  I was hooked up to a breathing mask to measure oxygen and CO2, and lactate measurements were taken at three minute intervals via pin pricks on my finger. One thing that I didn’t realize was that the mask measures breathing only through the mouth - your nose is clipped to restrict nasal breathing entirely.  This was strange for me as I’ve been practicing nasal breathing for some time now, and I usually only mouth-breathe during more intense running. During the test the upper part of my mouth was extremely dry, and I was drooling out of the bottom. I guess this is somewhat normal, as Taylor preemptively provided paper towels. 

Overall the test was difficult, but not extremely hard, as the Lactate Threshold is still a bit below max output. BUT - Taylor asked me beforehand if I wanted to try to get a VO2 Max value at the end if I was feeling ok, so I went for it. That involved spiking the incline from 5-7-9% (at 10 mph) until failure (after the main LT portion of the test). A true VO2 Max test would be more focused on ramping up quickly from the start, but it was still good to get a value for comparison. The VO2 Max value we got was probably a few points lower than the true value, as I had already 25-30 mins of LT testing in my legs before pushing for VO2 max.

[Upper right - crossover % from fat to carbs, Lower right - fat utilization (g/min). These charts can be tied back to HR data to determine zones where fat is effectively utilized (and carbohydrate/glycogen stores are not being burned up)]

Results & Analysis

  1. “Aerobic Threshold” - 144 bpm. This was determined primarily by the crossover point - where 50% of fuel is from carbs and 50% is from fat. Before that point, fat is the primary source and after that point, carbs start to increasingly take over. This also correlates with the point where lactate begins to increase slightly (but not to the point where it cannot be cleared).  This is essentially a HR cap for my recovery/easy/aerobic runs. On easy days, the goal is not to stress your body (evidenced by producing some amount of lactate). Also you can become more efficient by keeping your body in a primarily fat-burning zone, rather than relying on carbs for energy. 

This value more or less matches what I thought it would be  before the test. I recently experimented with a Maffetone test ( - I used the age based calculation for the test (141 bpm), and the results were very good. If I add the +5 factor from the MAF formula (for having been training effectively and injury-free for some time) that would put me at 146 - pretty much in line with my lab results. This also matches my Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) - which has been proven one of the most effective determinants of effort in exercise.  Throughout the BSU HPL test, I was asked to point out RPE values on a chart, and right at 145 bpm is when I switched from 2 to 3 (I obviously didn’t know the test results at that point). 

  1. “Max Fuel” - 160-170 bpm. This was a term Taylor came up with to define a range that was apparent in the data where effort was moderate, lactate was still clearing effectively, and fat was still the primary fuel source. He suggested this may be an effective effort level to maintain over longer/ultra races - since based on the data it is somewhat sustainable metabolically (not accounting for other factors such as muscular damage, weather, adequate fueling/hydration, psychological factors, etc.). 

  2. Tempo - 175 - 185 bpm. This is basically the lactate threshold zone, determined by blood lactate levels between 2.0 and 4.0 mmol/L.  At 2.0, lactate levels rise somewhat sharply, and at 4.0 they rise even more sharply. You can sustain an effort somewhere in the middle of that range for about 1 hour, but at 4.0 you essentially get to the point of no return. There is considerable debate as to which specific point is the actual “threshold”, but basically the goal you want to achieve in your training is to increase your speed and/or lower your effort level at the point where these levels are reached. Based on my experience, I’ve run all of my road marathons in the range of 172 up to 180 bpm. That’s essentially what makes the marathon so difficult - you’re riding that razor’s edge of sustainability.

  3. Max HR - 195 bpm. I know I’ve hit between 200-205 at different times, so this value is likely a bit low since it was not the focus of the test. Interesting to note that Max HR is largely genetic - the common (220 - age) estimate is way off for me. 

  4. VO2 Max - 65.6. Again likely a few points low due to not being the focus of the test. I do check the VO2 estimates given by my Garmin data from time to time, and Garmin’s values are a bit lower. My estimated value was 61 at the time of the test, but it was a few points higher (62-63) several weeks ago after a few weeks of interval training. I do find that Garmin’s values tend to track up/down (relative to itself) according to my training. But based on lab testing, it seems the real value is actually a bit higher. 

[Test results chart including VO2 as measured via mask, Lactate via blood samples, HR via chest strap, and RPE provided by me]

The cost of the test was $140, which I believe is a great value. Considering the amount we as runners spend on shoes, gear, nutrition, race entry fees etc., why not spend a fraction of that to learn more about your fitness and ensure your training is as effective as possible. You can use personalized, real-time data to optimize your training rather than relying on generic formulas.  A lot of universities as well as independent labs offer similar services - it would also be a great holiday gift for that special runner in your life!

Ryan (Boston)

This week, I completed testing of the adidas Adizero Takumi Sen 7, a modern day racing flat with two types of foam in the midsole, and aggressive lugs bonded to the outsole. With such phenomenal grip and lockdown, the shoe is meant to do much more than simply burn laps on a track. Full review with all of the juicy details (RTR Review)

With the daylight waning and the footpaths becoming shrouded in leaves, I’ve been on the hunt for a comfortable running headlamp. The $70+ ones from the likes of Black Diamond and Petzl are perfect for walking/hiking, but I’ve always found them too bouncy for running without over-tightening the headband. I wanted something that was lighter and more comfortable, with better weight distribution, that I could stick in my pocket or drop around my neck. And I don’t need 300 lumens for 3 hours — I just need something to keep me from rolling my ankle for an hour before sunrise.

So I bought a ‘Quokka’ headlamp from an Australian company called Knog, and so far it’s been everything that I hoped for. I have no idea why they’re so cheap, but it’s listed for $8 on Amazon right now, so it’s hard to beat on the value front. While it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of higher end headlamps (e.g., dimmability, colored lights, extended battery life), and you can’t adjust the angle of the light (which I found to be perfectly aligned), it has three light intensity settings with a max of 80 lumens for up to 3.5 hours, plus a strobe. 

The headlamp capsule easily pops out of the silicone band for quick charging, plugging directly into a standard USB port. The headband is entirely silicone, with a simple cinch mechanism at the rear. I found that I didn’t have to tighten it down much in order to get a secure fit because of the headlamp’s low mass, as well as because of the silicone’s tackiness. It’s not the most glamorous purchase, but I reckon it’ll get me through hours of training this winter!

 Some tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes others were personal purchases. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content

The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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Joe S. said...

Totally agree with Jacob about the combination of the inov8 Boomerang TPU insole/liner in the VJ Ultra. It add responsiveness and some protection, and is a big improvement over the stock insole which holds water, seems to slide inside the shoe and contribute to blisters. It's made all the difference for me and makes me happier to use the Ultra for it's intended long distances. In the UK the Boomerang insole can be purchased separately, which is handy.

Mike P said...

Joe S. - I also do the same and like it. Unfortunately the Ultra toebox is a bit pointy for me, and adding the Boomerang insole decreases the toebox volume just slightly - which reduces the range of the shoe for me. I do intend to try the Boomerang insole in the VJ Spark though - that should work well as the Spark toebox is much more accomodating.

Btw, I was able to purchase Boomerang insoles here in the US, it was a while ago though. I got two sizes and they don't seem to compress at all so I should be good for a while.