Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Saying Good-Bye To SKORA

So....anyone who has been friends with me, or has followed my blog for the past few years, knows that I have been with SKORA running as an ambassador. In the nearly two years I have been with them, I have set personal records in various distances. I have promoted strongly and have turned a good many people onto SKORA. I feel good about that because as an ambassador, well, that's what we are signed on for.

With that said, as of December, 31, 2014, I will be stepping down as an ambassador with SKORA. This is something I have been thinking hard on over the past few months. And after many long talks with my wife on this subject, this is something I have to do.

The reason? Morton's neuroma! What is that? It's an injury to the nerve between the toes, which causes thickening and pain. It commonly affects the nerve that travels between the third and fourth toes. I seriously cannot explain how bad the pain is at times. I literally thought my running days were done. I threw in two insoles to protect my left foot from rock and debris and it still didn't help. I was forced to quit running within a mile. That alone is the main reason I am stepping down. I simply cannot back a shoe that I can no longer run in.

Quite frankly, I need a shoe, or a brand, that will have a little more cushioning and a rock-plate to prevent jagged rocks from spearing my forefoot when running trails. Last month I was sent a pair of shoes to see if they would help when running trails. They did. And because they did, I was able to log double digit miles on the very rocky Appalachian Trail without an ounce of pain in my foot. Personally, that is a shoe that I want to promote because I want people with Morton's neuroma to know that they can run without pain.

In closing, I would like to thank Brian Fisher for being so awesome behind the scenes. At any time, even his birthday, he will take the time to chat with an ambassador to see if he can help. He goes above and beyond, and for that I am grateful! I would also like to thank those who I have helped get on the team. You all have been super supportive!

Thanks for the opportunity and all the love you have given me over the past year and a half. I am walking away with mixed feelings, but stoked that I was there to see SKORA grow.

Thank You!
Ray Jackson Jr.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Altra Lone Peak 2.0: My Personal Review

I have been wanting to do a review for the Lone Peak 2.0 from Altra Running ever since slipping them on for the first time. However, I stayed the course and put in some really technical and quality runs first.

As a person that suffers from Morton's Neuroma in my left foot, running on super technical trails like the Appalachian Trail can really hurt. A hurt so bad that it makes me want to scream out in pain. It has literally shut my running down to almost nothing. So when a super cool friend who is a part of the Expo Team at Altra told me about the Lone Peak 2.0, I was all for it. I then stalked review after review until the day they arrived at my front door. When I slipped them on, I was instantly satisfied. Next stop...the Appalachian Trail.

One of the many things I was stoked about on the Lone Peak 2.0 was the insane amount of grip and traction underneath. I normally run in a zero drop minimalist road style shoe that has minimal traction underneath. While this is just fine for roads, running on very rocky and technical terrain is sketchy at best. I loved the carbon rubber TrailClaw outsole on the LP2, which has a unique uphill and downhill lug traction for every trail condition. Therefore, I did not have to worry about any slipping at all. While reading past reviews, I was worried because people kept saying they slipped when planting their feet on rocks. I, for one, did not slip on wet or dry surfaces at all.

Another great feature is their patented Sandwiched StoneGuard that protects your feet from rocks and debris. And when you run on terrain like I do, that is a life saver! Add in the FootShape toe box that Altra is known for and you have a shoe that you can run miles and miles in without worry. Your toes have room to spread out naturally. Your feet, if prone to swelling, have plenty of room without feeling constricted.

Something else that the Lone Peak 2.0 offers is their GaiterTrap Technology. This is something avid trail runners will appreciate. That nice little velcro piece right on the heel keeps your gaiters in tact so you don't have to worry about debris sliding in mid run. Thank you Altra for this! I appreciate the fact that I can run in ankle deep leaves and not worry about anything other than running.

At the time of this review, I have put 102 miles on the Lone Peak 2.0. I absolutely love this shoe for trails, dirt, and packed tow path. I have found the weight to not be as bad as some would say. Maybe it would be for lighter runners, but at 6'2 and 192, this is not a problem for me. To sacrifice some added weight for a more plush ride, 25mm stack height, and lateral rockplate is worth it. The heel fit is a problem for some because of the thickness associated with it. Again, something I personally like because it pads the ankles when hitting rocks the wrong way.

The only problem I have noticed with the LP2, and this is minor, would be the toe bumper/guard that leads up form the bottom of the shoe. I have noticed some peeling away due to scraping some rocks. Not that this is a major problem, but something to look into.

I have yet to see any fraying or anything wrong with the upper so far, which is a good thing. I have put 90% of my miles on the AT and these shoes have lived up to their potential. My longest run has been a little over 27 miles. I felt no hot spots, irritation, or discomfort. This is huge because of my Morton's Neuroma in my left foot. I felt as if I could easily run 50 miles at one time without any worry at all. I truly believe these shoes have saved my running as far as trails go. I can now go to the mountains and run pain free, and for that, another big thank you to Altra Running shoes.

I look forward to many more miles in the Lone Peak 2.0 and hope you see the benefits that I do. By far, this is the best trail shoe that I have ever worn. Thanks for reading!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Ailment: "C Diff"

I have been in pretty good health my whole life. Like everyone, I have had my share of sickness, but nothing like what I have been dealing with as of late. It all started just a touch over three weeks ago. At first I though it was just a stomach virus because everyone around our area was sick with some sort of flu like symptom. A few days turned into a week, and then a week turned into two. I then began to have stomach/bowel issues. The cramping and pain started to get worse. The smell was unbearable. I pushed it off and kept working and acting like it was nothing. My wife, Jerri, kept telling me to go see my doctor. She said it was not just a basic illness. Going to the bathroom anywhere from 15 to 30 plus times a day is not normal. And after a really severely painful night last Wednesday, I broke down and made the appointment.

And after seeing my doctor the following day, I ended up in the hospital. After being poked, prodded, and stuck with needles, I was then put through a CT scan. Because I had not been able to produce a stool sample, and because I hadn't eaten in a few days, I had lost 16 pounds. Later on that night my results came back...not good. My entire colon had thickening in the wall and was infected. Underneath my colon (trying to walk a thin line as to not be too gross) was infected as well. And since I wasn't able to produce a sample, I was diagnosed with Colitis, and also Ulcerative Colitis. I was also told I was at risk of having colon cancer.

I cried. I cried a lot. I kept thinking of my wife and two young girls. I felt as if I was letting them down. Those three girls are my entire world...and I didn't want to lose that. I had posted to Facebook about what was going on and the love and support just started flowing in. Emails and phone calls from longtime friends to cheer me up. It worked until I was alone. When you are alone and worried, many many bad thoughts can creep in...and they did. In the early hours of Saturday I cried like never before.

On Saturday morning I produced enough to send to the lab to be checked for cultures and infections. By mid day I knew what was going on. While taking Clindamycin for a severe sinus infection in late January, that caused me to be infected with Colostridium Dificile Colitis. Better known as "C Diff."

C Diff is a potentially deadly intestinal bacteria if not treated correctly. On average, it kills 14,000 people per year. It is painful and can last weeks even with treatment. Let me just say this is again, it is painful, very painful. It will take a while to feel 100 percent again, but that's OK. At least I am on the road to recovery, and that is great news. The nights have been long, the pain is intense, and sleeping is coming in large amounts. I am getting better. That is my personal mantra while awake.

I can't thank you all enough for the well wishes, prayers, and love that you have shown. The outpouring has been tremendous and I am forever grateful for that.

And to you, Jerri Jackson. I love you more than words can say. If I didn't have your support through this, your help, YOU. I wouldn't have been able to deal with this.

(This is the short version. I was in and out of the hospital and right now I still don't have a lot of energy. Hope this helps for everyone who had questions)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Back Injury- My Personal Setback

Here I sit, February 8th, thinking of all that I wanted to do in 2014. This was supposed to be the year I proved my worth on the local scene in running. I had put in the miles, did the training, and was mentally prepared to really go all out. And then January 30th rolled around and ended my running for the next six weeks. While I don't know how this exactly happened, here is what I do know.

After working a hard shift at work, I came home and went for a descent run in the snow and ice. When I woke up to get ready for work, the pain was there. I didn't feel any pain at all while working, nor did I feel any pain while running. This is why I cannot answer how or what happened when people ask. I simply do not know. I didn't think much of it and went ahead like this was a normal night. I figured it was tight muscles due to a heavy night at work, or possibly from sliding and slipping on the ice while running. But as the next few days came and went, the pain worsened.

On February 5th, my wife convinced me to go to the ER at the hospital. I was in a lot of pain at this point and didn't hesitate to go. After running some tests, as well as x-rays, they concluded that I had a herniated disc in my lower back. The medicine they gave me worked somewhat, yet the pain was still very noticeable. I was told to take it easy and set up an appointment with my doctor as soon as possible. On Friday the 7th, I found out the real news. None of which is good.

Not only do I have a herniated disc, there is a mild convex and left curvature to the lumbar spine, which could mean a possible slight case of Scoliosis. There is also some mild degenerative disc disease present at T12 - L1 and L1-L2. As well as mild degenerative changes of the lumbar spine and lower thoracic spine. In layman's terms: my back is a train wreck from the middle to the bottom of my tail bone, or the coccyx region. More medicine was given to help with the pain and more instructions were given. And this time I will listen and follow.

The main instruction was to take it easy so the pain will subside. So NO running at all for the next 6 weeks. I am to follow up with them in 1 to 2 weeks to let them know how I feel. If I am still in pain the next level will be taken....whatever that means. Quite honestly, I am afraid to ask. That's it in a nutshell. No running for a runner. The death sentence, if you will. I just hope when this is all done I can still log long miles. Thank you to all who have wished me well and mentioned me with kind words. Have a great day......

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Orange Mud HydraQuiver: My Review

Have you ever noticed that there are, or seem to be, a hundred new running products coming out with each passing year? New shorts that will make you run more efficiently, shirts that will cause less chafing. Shoes that will make you run like a gazelle, etc etc. We all buy into this hype because we want to believe the hype is real. Everyone has their favorite, and everyone's favorite is the best. Especially when it comes to hydration packs. Go to Twitter, Facebook, or any running site and this topic can get heated. Thus is why I sit back and scour reviews, products, and companies before I buy into anything.

Over the years I have bought a fair share of hydration packs and liked none of them. I could never get use to the taste that the bladder left behind. Plus I never liked carrying a heavy sloshing bag on my back for hours at a time. To me, they are a pain to clean and maintain. BUT that's just me. And even though I prefer to drink from bottles, I like my hands to be free. Runners can be so demanding.

All of the above mentioned led me to a promising "new" company based out of Corona, California. Orange Mud was envisioned by Josh Sprague after a few glasses of wine and years of dealing with waist belts and hydration packs. I was intrigued by the concept of taking the bottle of of your hand and putting it on your back. Add in a plush and comfy shoulder/back harness and some space to carry your essentials, and that's it. No overkill at all. After reading their website and looking at reviews, I instantly ordered their HydraQuiver hydration pack.

For the record, until I actually try the product itself, I am always skeptical when reading reviews. So for a few days (until the pack arrived) I kept wondering about a few things. A) How does it NOT move around if there is no chest strap to secure it? B) How will the bottle feel on my back when running?

As soon as it arrived, it was out of the package and on my back. My first question was answered as I found out that my upper body is what keeps it from moving around. I could see that Josh had done his homework when designing this pack. I absolutely loved the feel of it. It didn't feel like a standard hydration pack at all. It actually felt...natural. Again, well played Josh. I then hopped into my running gear and tested the HydraQuiver out.

I tested it on the road first, then moved to the hard packed C&O Canal in Williamsport, Maryland. On the way down I would intentionally reach back and pull the bottle out, then put it back in. I did this while keeping a brisk pace to see how it will fare when racing. I was amazed at how easy it was. And even with a camera, phone, keys, and tin of ENERGYbits, the fit stayed the same. Did I mention NO movement? You read that right. None...nothing at all. For five miles it was a smooth ride on my back. My thoughts? Happy!! Yet I wanted to see how it would hold up running on uneven terrain. I then picked some hills and bombed them to see if the pack would move or if the bottle would fall out.

Again...perfection! The pack just did not move on me. Like I mentioned before, running products come and they go. Great products stand the test of time, and great minds come up with even better products for us to love. Josh and his team at Orange Mud have created a product for those of us that dislike packs, belts, and running with bottles in our hands. Such a simple idea that goes beyond simple. While out running or racing I will no longer waist time wondering about my pack. And when running in the woods, no matter what time of day, I will have my hands free in case of a fall. No more lost time at aid stations trying to fill, seal, and fix a pack. Just fill my bottle and go. And if one bottle won't do, the new Double Barrel certainly will.

So here goes. Pros and Cons.

Double stitching on almost all of the seams.
Maximum breath-ability - Super cushy foam padding.
Weighs in at 3/4 of a pound.
Sits perfectly in the middle/upper part of your back.
Easy to loosen and tighten while running.
Ample room for accessories.
Made in the U.S.A.
Top of the line Specialized water bottle.
A great return policy

I honestly really have none. Wait...I do have one thing. My only Con is that I don't have the Double Barrel.

I am loving my HydraQuiver and believe in Orange Mud so much that I am now a running ambassador for Josh and his team. I am excited for the future and can't wait to see what is in store for 2014. So whether you run trails, roads, ride bikes, or even SUP, Orange Mud has your back covered...literally. They really are worth it! Thanks for taking time to read my review. You really can't go wrong with Orange Mud.

~Enjoying Some Trail Time~

~Kid Tested .... Daddy Approved~

~Check Them Out At Here: Orange Mud~

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Orange Mud Equals Awesome!

If you are a runner, hiker, walker, biker...please remember this name: Orange Mud Hydration Packs. This great "new" company from Corona, California is making waves in the running/biking industry. Why? Because they have a concept that REALLY works! (more on that later when I do my formal review next week).

What I really wanted to do today (with this blog) is to tell you how great they are. Not the brand itself, which it is, but the team working to get your products to you as fast as possible. Social media sites like Twitter handcuff you to quick responses so it's hard to get the point across. On Facebook, one has to be your friend to see what you write. With a blog, the world can see it. That's my goal...to have anyone and everyone know how awesome this company is.

I went to their website yesterday (Jan-10th) to order the HydraQuiver hydration pack. I also ordered their really cool Running Hat. As an online shopper, I figured I would get an email within 24 hours saying it would ship next business day. Pretty standard business practice. Well OrangeMud isn't pretty standard. Less than 30 minutes later I had an email in my inbox saying my order had been processed and was being shipped!

I was stoked! Heck, as I type this a day later, I still am. This isn't some big corporation that sees us as a number or a dollar sign. They see us as what we are, a real life consumer. Some of you may think I am stretching the truth with this, yet I am not. How many times have you ordered something and it didn't ship for days? Maybe because there was a high demand or because some other reason slowed them down.

With Orange Mud, I don't see that happening. They're a small company that is growing quickly because of word of mouth and great products. Products and gear that are made in the U.S.A. and that carry one heck of a lifetime warranty. So before you think about that big company that charges a two days pay for a hydration pack, remember Orange Mud and buy from people that really want our business.