Friday, January 22, 2016

New Balance Vazee Summit Review

I was, and still am, a HUGE fan of the NB MT101, but haven't been super stoked with any subsequent updates made to the line until recently when New Balance rolled the MT into the Vazee Line. I tested the proto this summer in the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges where I was able to give them a decent thrashing and was fortunate enough to be able to provide a little feedback and experience first hand the innovation and commitment to excellence that New Balance strives for in their footwear.

The New Balance Vazee Summit weighs in at roughly 9 oz for a Mens 9.5 and will go on sale Spring 2016 with an MSRP of $100 * Note: This is a sample; this colorway will not go into production.


New Balance originally used the Zante VL-6 last when developing the Vazee Summit but their outdoor athletes wanted less toe spring and more ground contact through the entire gait cycle and especially during toe off on the trail, so they went witht the 1400 comp last, which is no surprise as I’ve seen a number of trail and ultra athletes training and racing in the RC1400.
I personally have never tried the RC1400, but the Vazee Summit makes me want to as they ride like a dream on the trails. The fit is fairly snug and performance oriented, but not constricting; it just feels like an extension of my foot.  With the mix of mesh and PU skin in the upper they seem to have achieved a near perfect balance of support and breathability. My feet did get a little warm in 80+ degree this summer on Mt. Si, but it hasn’t been that warm here since and I’m told the issue has been resolved.
Another great feature of the Vazee summit is “Internal Toe Protect”. New Balance wanted to keep a clean upper, so instead of adding external protection, they've added a toe bumper of sorts internally. This material is molded to the upper from the inside.


The midsole is comprised of REVlite; a light and responsive, yet durable foam compound. The great thing about this midsole material (coupled with the outsole material) is that it’s springy enough to make clicking off fast road miles comfortable, which can be few and far between in a trail shoe, but it’s just firm and responsive enough to give the runner trail feel and solid footing on varied terrain. The Vazee Summit also features a RockStop forefoot plate. It's made of a thin, flexible, protective TPU layer to keep you safe from push throughs and rock bruising. It did it’s job on all technical terrain I encountered.
The midsole has a more “traditional” 10mm stack height with 8mm in the forefoot and 18mm in the heel. Now, a lot of runners give me grief when I recommend a shoe that isn't 4mm to zero drop because that's all the rage right now, but let's not forget how small a millimeter is! We're talking a pencil tip of differential spanning the length of the shoe for every millimeter! I haven't tried to change my form to a midfoot/forefoot strike and I haven't converted to zero drop because it's not comfortable for my body; heel striking feels good to me and so does a 4-12mm drop shoe. That being said, the vazee summit doesn't feel like a high drop shoe, so I think even low drop devotees will appreciate the ride.


The outsole is made of a new Hydro Hesion rubber blend. Hydro Hesion was developed by New Balance six or so years ago for a water shoe to provide extra grip, but the compound sacrificed durability to make the rubber optimal in wet conditions. It was later tweaked to a higher durometer version for increased abrasion resistance, but that proved to be less sticky, which isn't ideal on slick, rocky terrain. What New Balance has done with this new version of Hydro Hesion is strike a good balance between stickiness and durability, not only improving grip, but providing a softer feel underfoot when running on hard surfaces without sacrificing too much longevity in the rubber.
The Hydro Hesion is molded into fairly deep lugs that were designed with both ascending and descending in mind to give you security on steep terrain. These lugs are deep enough for muddy hills, sticky enough for rocky ridges and just soft enough to make road sections manageable .


To fully appreciate this shoe you have to take into account what kind of testing went into it’s development and what New Balance wanted to achieve in the final product. “We wanted something fast that had a snug/performance fit, had great traction, and would be a shoe our ambassadors could feel confident racing in.” Said Michael Buzon, Trail Tech Lead at New Balance. “They’re all behind it.”
With athletes like Anton Krupicka, Dominic Grossman, Brandie Erholtz and Katie DeSplinter testing these shoes in the mountains and on world stages like UTMB and Trans Alpine, you have to expect honest and critical feedback. New Balance took that feedback and made something excellent.
The Vazee Summit fit like a marathon racer made for the mountains while giving you the security you need on technical, mountainous terrain. The fit, the ride and the aesthetics blend together perfectly to create a masterpiece of a trail shoe; my favorite to date. Get yourself a pair, summit something and let me know what you think.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Monday, June 22, 2015

Beacon Rock 50K Race Report 2015

I really wanted to break Connor Meakin's course record from last year and I definitely thought I had the fitness to do it. On race day I went out hard figuring #1 that no one could beat me and #2 that if anyone did have the fitness to beat me, they would be intimidated enough by my fast start to think that they couldn't.
The course consists of two 15 mile loops. Some people don't like loop courses, but I do! I think it's great to know exactly what's in store for the second half of the race and what to be prepared for. And even though it's a loop course, the views are stunning and the elevation gain and loss are substantial. 
You start the race with a half mile downhill road section followed by almost 2,000 feet of vertical gain in just 4 miles. It's a tough way to start a race and believe me, it feels much harder on the second loop. After the initial climb, the course drops about 1,300 feet in under 4 miles on beautiful single track through picturesque North West forest. Without any warning, as you're hammering downhill being hypnotized by nature, BOOM! You immediately start another climb of over 1,100 vertical feet in just 1.5 miles. Once you are on the ridge though, you are rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery you will ever see in any race: expansive views of the Columbia Gorge and the surrounding mountain ranges. From that ridge you drop about 1,700ft in roughly 6 miles back to the camp/start/finish before you head out on your second trip to do it all over again for a total of 30+ Miles and 7,500ft+ of Elevation Gain and Loss.

Ascending the second/fourth climb. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama 

I came through the first loop in under 02:10 and was fairly confident the course record would be mine, but I slowed considerably on the climbs during the second loop finishing in 04:32:06.

Coming through the finish in 04:32:06 for 1st place

If I had to pin point a weakness in my running right now, I would say it's my ability to maintain speed on long climbs. I live in a town with no hills long enough to mention, let alone train on, and I think that has been slightly to my disadvantage. But I've done the best I can with what I have and I do have to say that all of my tempo and speed work from Spring marathon training definitely paid off in all aspects of the race.

Happy with my race

I love Rainshadow Running! They put on the best events with the best scenery and the best after parties. Beacon Rock 50K is no exception.  If you've run one of their events, then you don't need me to explain how amazing they are and if you haven't? Well do yourself a favor a sign up for one! It might just change your life.
You know what I did after the race? Mingled with a bunch of like minded runners, ate fresh wood fired pizza, listened to the Pine Hearts and napped in the shade with the love of my life. Seriously, why run anywhere else?

Thank you James, Matt and Kerri and all of the volunteers for all of the work you do to make these events possible. I know how hard you work and I can't thank you all enough.

Thank you Alicia for waking up at 2AM and coming out to crazy races  in the middle of nowhere with me :)

And thank you Seven Hills Running Shop, Clifbar, Feetures and BOA for all of your support.

7 questions with 7 Hills
Feel free to follow me on twitter & instagram @koreykonga

Friday, May 22, 2015

Capital City Marathon Race Report

The Capital City Half Marathon was my first official race back in 2010 and at the time it was the longest distance I had ever run:13.1 miles. And it was painful. In fact that was the most painful race of my life as I had a horrible case of ITB syndrome and I was terribly under trained.

There I am. Looking wobbly. Ready to cry. Running a 7:31 pace for 13.1 miles.
Anyways, I've been racing trail and ultra races for the last 4 years and started to feel slow and stale, so I decided to try my hand at the marathon. Since I recently moved back home to Yelm, where there are no trails or hills, I thought "Why not hit the roads and go back to Cap City?" So I put in the work: Long runs. Tempo runs. Track work. Intervals. All of it. And I felt ready. I thought "I can run 02:35. I know it."

Fast forward to race morning. 5...4...3...2...1 Boom! Jesse Stevick (8, now 9, time winner) took off out of the gate and a guy I didn't know at the time (Corey Nunlist) stuck by his side. I thought "You've gotta try to hang with them." We ran the first 5K in 17:49.

The start. Photo by South Sound Running

I have since met Corey Nunlist and I like the guy a lot, but when he stopped running and started walking around mile five I was thinking "WHAT!? What were you doing pushing it with Jesse? And why was I trying to keep up with you guys!?" He had no business running up there and I had no business getting caught up in that. I realized then and there that I had made a big mistake going out too fast. I was a little irritated, but just kept telling myself to relax. 
I saw Phil Jasperson (5 time Capital City Marathon winner) out on the course around mile 7 and he said to me "You look good, but be patient. This course loves patience." He was right, but that wasn't something I had thought about from the start. I tell you what! It's amazing how much time you can lose at the end of a marathon by going 10-15 seconds per mile over your goal pace in the beginning.

Realizing I was running a minute slower than my GP. Photo by South Sound Running.

By mile 20 I knew I had blown it. Every water station I came to I would stop and drink water and walk. I saw my fiance' around mile 22 and gave her a kiss and said "I blew it! I'm going to finish, but I messed up!" It was a mental boost to see her. She said "It's ok! I think you're doing great." and I kept going.

Mile 26. Photo by South Sound Running

I finished 6 minutes slower than my goal time and over 7 minutes behind Jesse in second place in 02:41

The finish. Photo by South Sound Running

A big thank you to my sponsors and teams: Seven Hills Running Shop. Clifbar. Feetures! & Guerilla Running

Gear used:

3 Clifbar Clifshots
Team Clifbar Cap
Feetures! Compression Socks
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante
Garmin FR 220
Pearl Izumi Team 7 Hills Singlet
Pearl Izumi Ultra Split Shorts


Monday, April 13, 2015

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Review

These kicks got Run Competitor's "2015 road shoe of the year" award with a subsequent in depth review posted to the website, but I love them just as much as everyone else, so I'm doing my own review! With a weight of 7.6 oz, an offset of 6mm (23mm/17mm) and a reasonable MSRP of $100, we have the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante.


The Zante has the fit of a racing flat from the heel throughout the midfoot, but the toebox opens up a little wider than a traditional flat giving runners a little more room. The upper is no-sew mesh with the tongue and vamp being one piece "bootie" construction to prevent any sliding, which is very effective from both a functionality and comfortability stand point. They fit true to size, though I went 1/2 size down for a performance/racing fit.


New Balance designed the one piece midsole to provide structure and support in specific areas throughout the platform by testing various pressure and contact points of efficient runners and using that compilation of footstrike data to "customize" the support and flexibility. The cushion is soft and forgiving, but not overly so, making it both responsive and comfortable. You can also feel a bit of medial support which you might find useful, say, in the later stages of a marathon when your form starts to break down a bit. The toe is also sprung which gives the Zante a nice peppy feel during toe off.


Not much to say about the outsole. It's simple: one piece of blown rubber with higher durability rubber in the heel for people like me who heel strike. So far it's been both smooth and durable.


I feel like this is one of my shorter reviews, which is fitting because two words come to mind when I think about the Fresh Foam Zante: Simple and Fast. I just love running in these bad boys! I took them out for 18 @ 05:53 AVG today. They ride like a dream on a run like that and anything other kind of run for that matter. They seem to be nothing more than exactly what I need, which make them one of my favorite pair of road shoes I've run in to date. I plan on getting my hands on at least a few more pair and I will be racing the Capital City Marathon in them as well. Let's just hope New Balance doesn't change the design too much when they decide to update!


I ran Capital City Marathon in them and I felt they handled the distance very well. I did end up with a large blister on one of my toes, so next time I think I will buy them in my usual size instead of 1/2 size down, but they were light enough with just the right amount of cushion for racing 26.2

Mile 26 Photo by South Sound Running

Feel free to follow me on Twitter & Instagram @koreykonga

Week ending 04/12/2015

Monday - AM - 9.8 miles - 01:15 - Easy road and trails.
                PM - 4 miles - 00:35 - Easy road.

Tuesday - AM - 11 miles - 01:07 - Warm up, then 9 miles @ 05:51 AVG, cool down.

                PM - 3.25 miles - 00:25 - Easy road.

Wednesday - 8.75 miles - 01:15 - Easy trail. Exploring trails in Yelm.

Thursday - 15 miles - 3,200 feet EG - 02:45 - Long trail. I've been making it a point to go out and explore the wilderness areas near my home. There are so many beautiful trails and mountains within 1-2 hours of our house and I've just been loving it. This week I ran up to Flapjack Lakes in Olympic National Forest. There are pictures below if you're interested.
I'm still having trouble with that right ankle on the trails. I get shooting pain that subsides but remains dull even if I just step on a small rock wrong. It's been happening ever since I rolled it back in Ashland. The good news is it doesn't hurt on the roads.

Friday - 10 miles - 01:15 - Easy road.

Saturday - 8.25 miles - 01:15 - Track. W/u then 12X400M in 01:15, 01:13, 01:15, 01:13, 01:13, 01:12, 01:13, 01:14, 01:13, 01:14, 01:13, 01:14 with 60 to 90 second recovery jogs. C/d.

Sunday - 4 miles - 00:31 - Easy road.

Total:  74 miles/10 hours 22 minutes

Gear used:

ClifBar ClifShots and Recovery Drink
Feetures! Elite merino + ultra light socks
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante, New Balance Boracay v2 (testing) New Balance Leadville v3 (testing)
Random old smelly shorts
Random old smelly shirts

Most of the gear I use (besides the smelly old shorts and shirts) plus much more can be found at Seven Hills Running Shop in Seattle. They're pretty cool about shipping to you as well if you just call the shop at (206)-941-5866. And remember that anyone can be a part of Team 7 Hills. Just purchase some gear from the shop, sport the logo and shoot an e-mail HERE with subject line "team7hills" and BOOM! Welcome to the 7 Hills Family!

Photos from the week

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hoka One One Huaka Review

In the back of my mind I always thought Hokas were a goofy looking shoe, but I also wanted to see what they were all about and since Phil over at Seven Hills Running Shop in Seattle had been raving about the Huaka I decided to give them a shot.
With weight of 9.3 oz for a men's size 9,  a 2mm drop and an MSRP of $150 we have the HOKA ONE ONE Huaka.


I don't mean to start this review on the wrong foot, but to me the upper is a mess. It is too constricting around the widest part of my foot (the 5th met head) yet somehow feels sloppy throughout the rest. The tongue is long and made of sharp material which jabs into the top of my foot/ankle when wearing low cut socks and only gets remedied when it slides down the side of my foot during a run, which isn't really comfortable either. There is also a plastic eyelet above my first metatarsal head that protrudes on the inside of the shoe causing irritation which left me with a blister on a few runs. And they have speed laces, which I dislike; they are uncomfortable and I don't trust them.
When I put this shoe on for my first run I almost turned around immediately to take them off. Everyone raved about the wide upper, but I have an average foot (D Width) and felt a very tight and almost painful feeling on both feet. The Huaka comes with 2 insoles, one is very thin and the other is slightly thicker and a little more supportive. So when I got home I tried switching to the thinner insole to alleviate the the pressure, but that caused my foot to sink too low causing pressure and irritation around my ankle bone (don't know the medical term for that bone). So I removed the speed laces and put in the regular laces with the thicker insoles, which was the best out of all of the options/combinations. After about 40 miles, the shoes broke in and felt a bit more comfortable and the constricting feeling went away, but I almost gave up on them before that.
My biggest problem with the upper is that I don't think you should have to choose combinations of insoles and laces to get a decent fit; a good shoe should fit well right out of the box.  I really wish I had better things to say about the upper, but keep reading because this shoe does shine in certain areas.


Ah the midsole!!! The ride is phenomenal! They have a stack height of 27mm/25mm for a 2mm offset with Hoka's "Meta Rocker Design". The slight curvature of the midsole, paired with the cushy ride, feels like nothing else I've ever ran in. They make the road feel like trails and the trails feel like pillows. And because of the Meta Rocker design, the transition from foot strike to toe off is flawless.
I was pleasantly surprised with how they performed on technical trails as well. Hoka designs their shoes to let your foot sit low in the platform giving you a stable ride. That, coupled with a wide contact area on the outsole, provides a truly secure feeling on mixed terrain. They also feel like they have tremendous energy return, especially on ascents, which is something I really enjoyed.


The outsole has "high abrasion rubber" contact points on the heel and forefoot where most runners would get the most wear. As mentioned above, it also has a very wide contact area which provides a stable ride. For the trails they feature super shallow multi directional lugs, but they're no different than any other road shoe I would trail run in, so I wouldn't really consider them trail worthy. I also have some concerns about durability. After 120 miles the "high abrasion rubber" in the heel was showing excessive wear.

Outsole after roughly 120 miles


I have mixed feelings about this shoe. On one hand, I e-mailed Phil after a couple of runs and said "The Huaka is a game changer!" because of the ride which is by far the best aspect of the shoe. Cush and Springiness are blended together perfectly in the midsole material which feels especially great on easy days and recovery runs when my legs are feeling a bit tired and beat up. On the other hand, the upper didn't mesh well with my foot, causing some problems and durability is a concern.
There are plenty of rave reviews online and almost all of Team 7 Hills seem to love them, so it's probably just a personal thing, but they just didn't feel right. The other qualm I have is the price. I think $150 for an average shoe is a bit high, but you're probably rich, so go buy a pair and tell me what you think!

Feel free to follow me on Twitter & Instagram @koreykonga

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Week ending 02/22/15

Monday - 01:00 - 8 miles - Easy/medium Chehalis western trail. Legs felt a bit heavy.

Tuesday - AM - 00:58 - 7.75 miles - Warm. Then 12 X 1/4 Mile in 01:17 each with equal recovery jogs.

               PM - 01:20 - 9.25 miles - 1,800ft EG - North Rim/ Rock Candy Loop.

Wednesday - 01:10 - 9 miles easy.

Thursday - 02:55 - 20 miles - 4,000ft + EG - Long and steady. 11 miles out and back on the Mountain Marathon course and then Rock Candy summit from the TH via North Rim/Rock Candy return. Wet, cold and muddy, but had a solid run with a fast finish.

Friday - AM - 00:30 - 4 miles -  with "pickups".

             PM - 01:01 - 8.5 miles "easy" ran recovery pace too fast.

Saturday - 01:08 - 9 miles easy.

Sunday - 00:40 - 5 miles easy.

Total: 80.5 Miles - 10 hours 39 minutes

I'm feeling pretty fit even though I'm getting a lot less vertical than last year. My turn over feels like it's getting quicker and I feel healthy. One thing I really need to work on is my easy mileage. I always start out with the intention of running 8:30 - 9:00 pace on my easy days, but I end up running faster. I'm hoping to get that in check.

North Rim Trail

Heading up Rock Candy Mtn

Rock Candy Mountain Summit

On the Mountain Marathon course

North Divide Trail

Ellis Cove

The important stuff :)