I have been a fan of the Altra line for a little while now, so I was so honored to be given a chance to review the brand new Altra Torin 2. I reviewed the 1.5 version when it first arrived, and it became my shoe of choice for long runs.
What I love about the Torin 2
One of Altra’s significant differences in the complete line of shoes is their zero heel drop and since my coaching methodology includes an emphasis on our body’s natural movement while running this is obviously one of my favorites. (I have included a explanation of what “Zero Drop” means in my previous Altra Torin 1.5 review.)
Wide Toe Box
The other difference between Altra and their competition is the wide toe box, or as Altra calls it, a “FootShape” toe box. The ability to splay the toes plays a significant role in injury prevention and the strength of the feet. This allows the runners body to support itself, rather tan relying on a shoe for support.
The upper has been improved in the 2.0. The Torin 1.5 was made with a thick upper which added unnecessary weight and reduced flexibility of the shoe. The 2.0 has been upgraded with a much thinner mesh material that breathes better and allows for more flexibility.
Here is where some of my favorite changes were made. First, they moved from the heavier EVA to their lighter proprietary “A-bound” material that for me seems to add a little more spring to the ride of the shoe. When my foot strikes the ground the material seems to not only protect from the natural impact, but reacts driving me forward.
The weight in the previous show was 10.1 ounces which was up from the original Torin which was 9.5 ounces. The Torin 2 comes in at 9.1 ounces which is one of the lightest in this category, if not the very lightest.
Altra added what they call Innerflex which are groves in the outsole and midsole that bend with your foot allowing substantially more flexibility than the previous models. This too me was the single most important change they made. The Torin has always classified as their High Cushioned shoe which most companies have traded flexibility for cushion. Altra has found a way to give runners the flexibility I love with the cushioning I want and without giving up any of proprioception.
The have now included a Foot Pod technology which maps the bones of the foot with the Innerflex so the shoes flexes where the runner needs it to, allowing a near customized fit.
Altra went ahead and removed the toe guard and heel rudder as well. In my opinion this not only allowed them to shed some weight, but also added to flexibility and comfort. In a road shoe I never really thought either added any value. These two advantages are best left for trail specific designs.
What I don’t like about the Torin 2
Obviously, not much.
The new Abound foam tends to soak in water and sweat which makes the shoe feel a little heavier during training and racing. Even with the mesh material the shoe does not seem to drain well. I would love to see a version of this shoe with drain holes, but of course that is the triathlete in me talking.
After about forty miles the new Abound material started to squeak while just walking ,and only in my left shoe This does not seem to happen when I run in them, but it is a little noisy when walking through the store. I think it may be just a problem with this pair, but nonetheless it is something I dislike. However, it did not change the performance of the shoe.
The price of $125 is a little high in my opinion. A better price point would be the $100 – $110, but of course that is very minor for shoe of this quality.
Let’s see how the Torin 2 ranked on my scale:
Quality – 4/5
Upper – 4/5
Outsole – 4/5
Flexibility – 5/5
Comfort – 5/5
Appearance – 4/5
Cost – 3/5
Overall – 4/5
The Altra Torin 2 is available in men’s whole and half sizes 7-12.5, whole sizes 13-15 and in three color patterns. It is available in women’s whole and half sizes 5-10.5, whole sizes 11-12 and in three separate color patterns.
Purchase the new Altra Torin 2.0 Now
Have you ever ran in a pair of Altra Torins (any version)? How did you like them?
Please feel free to comment on your feedback.
The quest for the best running shoe can be daunting, but the search for the best zero drop running shoes can be downright frustrating. The majority of all the Altra Zero Drop reviews I personally have read, the consensus is pretty positive, and in this instance, it will be no different, because in my opinion, it has resolved my issue of finding the best zero drop shoe on the market. The Altra Torin 1.5.
What is Zero Drop?Upper
The upper is durable but is thick throughout. I personally like this, because I feel the security of the shoe without having to pull the laces tight. In my opinion, the laces should never be tight. Once the laces are tied they should really never have to be untied unless you are using a runners lace. The laces should be tight enough to secure the heel but no more. This allows the runner to support themselves rather than the shoe supporting the runner.
The Altra 1.5 has the same wide toe box that is consistent with the whole line of zero drop running shoes. I love the wide toe box because it allows me to have splay my toes and grab the road with more surface area. My feet do not feel crowded in this shoe.
Altra changed the laces in the 1.5 from the original model. They are now flat vs the round nylon laces and they reduced the number of holes on each side from 7 to 6. It provides more space between the touch of the laces to the foot and security in the sinch of the laces.
The shoe also seemed to have less seems and the addition of a strap that cinches the tongue to the upper. It helps the security of the foot in the shoe.
The outsole has not changed from the original Torin, but that is something I personally liked. There is enough cushion in the sole for protection without losing the feel for the road or trail underneath.
Altra Torin Original
Altra Torin 1,5
The ride of this shoe is extremely comfortable. Of course, this is why I enjoy the Altra line in the first place. The ride is smooth with great responsiveness on the road.
The interesting part of the shoe is the weight. When upgrading a shoe from an original version, the thought would be that the weight could be dropped, but in the new Torin 1.5 has an extra ounce added. The shoes weigh 10.5 ounces versus the original Torins at 9.5 ounces.
The flexibility has not changed either. The Altra Torin or the Torin 1.5 are not the most flexible of shoes, but they do have enough flexibility to give a good lever and lift from the ground. I am chalking the lack of flexibility to the design of the shoe being for the road and not the trail. Trail shoes should have a little more flexibility for the technical terrain.
I do like the color of these versus the originals. The blue and orange weren’t bad, but they went a little more conservative with the grey, yellow and black. This is obviously a personal choice on the runner, but I thought I would put my two sense in.
The cost is a little more expensive at $120 dollars, but the shoes seem to last over 400 miles which most shoes will only last 250 to 300 before losing the cushion and ride comfort.
Quality – 4/5
Outsole – 4/5
Flexibility – 3/5
Comfort – 4/5
Appearance – 4/5
Cost – 3/5
Have you tried the Altra Torin or the Altra Torin 1.5? Have you run in any of the Altra lines of shoes? What do you think? Please let me know in the comments below.
Here it is again, a long time since my last post. Life happens and when it does, watch out. It can really mess up the things you want to do versus the things you must do. I am learning to prioritize what is absolutely important to me versus what is important to everyone else. I hope to soon have that under control, but I digress.
Newton was nice enough to send me both a pair of the Newton Energy and the BOCO. I am reviewing them together since I have found they are the same shoe with the only difference being the BOCO has a tread that is made for the trails and the Energy is made for the road.
To be transparent and honest, I am a certified Newton Coach, so I am a little biased towards Newton. However, I rarely train in Newtons, as running is very personal I have my favorite running shoes to train in.
I do however, love the methodology behind them. For those that do not know, Newton running shoes have 5 lugs in the front of the shoe directly under the ball of the foot. The lugs have a higher or lower profile depending on the shoe.
The lugs serve as a reminder for running form by automatically driving the foot to land on the fore or mid foot, reducing the impact dramatically.
When paired with Newton Natural Run training, the shoe will decrease the effort level of transitioning to a mid or forefoot runner.
In my experience, after the runner has developed the habit, they no longer need to be running in Newtons, but most do not only due to muscle memory, but they also last about 4 times longer than other running shoes.
Prior to the release of the Energy, the core products Newton produced were the Motion, the Isaac, the Gravity and the Distance. These models needed a transition period for the runner to get used to the way the lugs lifted the heel causing some calf soreness.
The Energy now has a lower profile of lug, and a transition plate which actually allows the athlete very tiny transition period, if any, before the comfort of the shoe settles in.
The EVA foam that makes up the sole of the shoe is extremely comfortable and highly accommodating to the road.
The only conflicts I have heard is the heel cup is a little shallow for some, causing some slippage during long runs.
Since one of the core beliefs of natural runners is that shoes should be tied just tight enough to secure the heel, this could be a problem. I have always taught, the athlete needs nothing to support but themselves.
In other words, if the shoe is tied too tight, the shoe ends up supporting the runner. By tying the shoes very light and only tight enough to secure the heel, the feet, the calves, the ankles are strengthened with every activity.
I personally have not found an issue with the heel cup even without the help of a runner’s lace, but I have heard of the issues.
I did get an eleven-mile run on the trails with the Newton BOCO and was I surprised at how well the tread grabbed the terrain.
The trails I was running were meant for Mountain Bikes and that meant steep climbs and steep downhills and there was not a moment I did not feel secure.
For new runners or for athletes transitioning to more efficient technique, I believe the Energy is the perfect shoe. They are the perfect shoe to transition with before trying one of the core Newton models.
The BOCO is a great trail shoe for anyone wishing to start or continuing a journey into trail running. They are comfortable, supportive and made me feel completely secure on the trails.
That’s my opinion and I am sticking with it. Happy Running!
There is a few races that I have neglected to report on. I decided that being most of them were smaller and very…well…uneventful, I thought I would just give the highlights.
Escape from Ft DeSoto Sprint Triathlon
Taking part in brick workouts at the North Beach at Ft DeSoto allows for familiarity of the surroundings, so when competing in a race in the same location, it is like having home field advantage, unless the course goes off the path.
The swim was 800 meters which for me is usually pretty slow, but the current was decent and I was able to stick next to the bouys so I felt like I improved on the swim, but it still wasn’t fast enough. I was able to sprint out of the water and head to transition with energy to spare.
The bike was one simple loop around Ft. DeSoto with a familiar headwind on the way out and a tail wind on the way back. I averaged over 21 mph, so I felt pretty good, but I overdid it just slightly because I felt it on the run. The run was slightly longer than a typical sprint and the second half was on the beach, so I really felt it on my legs. I still had enough to sprint into the finish line, but it was a lesson learned that even on a ten-mile bike leg, I still need to take it easy at the start and ride negative splits in the second half.
Afterward the finish line was filled with excitement sharing stories of the race with friends and watching a few of them at the award ceremony on the podium. It was a fun race and while I am not huge fan of Sprint Triathlons, I will definitely be taking part in this one again.
Tampa Corporate 5k
This race was put on by my friends Ben Mena and Beth Shaw (MenaShaw Races). It was incredibly well-organized with numerous tents for vendors and a line of food trucks preparing everything from smoothies to homemade doughnuts. Of course a beer truck was strategically placed near the finish line to provide access to exhausted runners looking to replenish their carbohydrates.
It always amazes me when Ben and Beth pull these races off. I know it was basically the two of them doing all the organizing, fundraising and negotiating with vendors and sponsors, so when I walked up to the site and saw an enormous amount of people and activity, I was overwhelmed with pride and honor just to know these two personally.
I was on Nick’s team, No Limit Marketing, so he gave me my shirt and we took a couple of photos and lined up for the race. I really wanted to just take it easy during this race, but the energy got the better of me. The course was interesting, as it led out of downtown, then off the beaten path where the terrain changed to broken pavement and then a turnaround back to the start. I was on track for a PR, but the course turned out to be 3.4 instead of 3.1 due to a last-minute logistical changed ordered by the city. Interesting enough, I only know this due to a conversation with Ben after the event was cleaned up. There was no mention of it during the event which is a credit to my friends, because it was seamless and no one really cared, because everyone was having a great time.
Our team actually came in 4th but just a couple of minutes. St. Anthony’s Triathlon was going on that weekend, so Nick decided to just coast through it, which was smart, but he kicked himself later because if he would have actually ran it we would have placed. We still had a great time.
St. Anthony’s Olympic Triathlon
It was a crazy day for St Anthony’s this year. The expo was as expected with numerous vendors all giving free swag, free trials, and providing goods for the race and future races. They all kept the excitement of the race consistent. I could not keep my heart rate down during the expo. After a quick bike, run and swim I walked over to check-in and a press conference was taking place. On the panel were a number of champion triathletes and NFL superstar. Hines Ward, former NFL player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was on the panel due to his upcoming entry into the 2013 World Championship Ironman Triathlon in Kona, October 12th. He has never competed in triathlon before so on his road to the Ironman he is competing in the different distances and St. Anthony’s was to be his first Olympic Distance Triathlon. My favorite triathlete, Mirinda Carefrae was sitting right next to him, because they are both sponsored by Chocolate Milk. That was a huge treat for me, especially since I was able to talk to her and I got a hug from her afterward. (Awww.shucks) She was on her way to a meeting, so unfortunately I didn’t get a picture, but maybe she will recognize me at a later date and at that time I will get a pic. But I digress.
The next day the expected wave of anxiety especially since the water looked a little choppy and being my confidence in the water is a little shaky, I was even more anxious. I guess my feelings were correct because after the pros started Phil LeHaye, the race director, came over the loudspeaker and stated the course would be shortened for safety sake. I really thought that I would be happy due to my limited swimming confidence, but I was amazed at how disappointed I was. To me it was no longer an Olympic Triathlon. I ended up doing this exact same course two years prior when they moved the swim but I was even worse at that point.
Truth be told that was the most unusual part of the race. I completed the swim without any real issues, the bike was uneventful with an average of 20.8 mph and I even was able to complete the 10k run with only one hitch; my bladder told me after mile 4 that I needed to empty it. I told it that we only had two more miles, but I had already held it for a while and it just wasn’t going to allow me to keep going for another two miles without relieving it. I ended up using a port-o-potty on the route which took even longer because I was wearing a one-piece tri suit that Zoot had sent me with their new technology. I usually am not a fan of one-piece tri-suits but this one even though it was black, was cool and comfortable.
I finished in 2:43 which was 37 minutes better than two years prior with the same distance. If it wasn’t for the stop it might have been up to 7-8 minutes faster. Either way I was happy with my performance and I felt really strong crossing the line.
Police Appreciation Run
My friend Rich texted me a few days before this 10k race. I had no intention of running it, but
I had not had the opportunity to hang out with Rich for a while and I wanted to catch up with him. Of course Rich is really fast genetically, so even with all the training I had been doing I still couldn’t catch him, but I enjoyed the race.
This is a Chris Lauber directed race, whom I just have the utmost respect for, not to mention the race was dedicated
to the current and fallen Policemen and women in the area. Great cause, and a great race, even with the 10k going off course for a bit. We didn’t know this until we returned to the finish line, but Chris was lucky because even thought we drifted, it was still exactly 6.2 miles, start to finish. There were plenty of vendors afterward, with food and recovery fluids. I highly recommend it to anyone.
Miles for Moffitt
I believe I have stated this in other posts, but to make money to live I contract myself out as an IT Program/Project Manager for large firms. What exactly do I do? Well, companies hire me to manage projects that usually have over million dollar budgets, like re-designing an online banking site for a well-known financial company, or the development of a government website with over 50,000 pages and applications. I identify the scope of the project, procure the resources both human and material, set the schedule, manage the budget, mitigate the risks, serve as a liaison between the business executives, IT department, internal and external vendors and worker bees, and manage the tasks in order to complete the project.
My latest contract is with Gerdau Steel and they are a major sponsor for Miles for Moffitt, which is a very popular event in the Tampa Bay Area. Gerdau was nice enough to allow me to run the 5 mile race for them. They have basically three races the 5 miler, the 5k and the 1 mile run/walk. The 5 miler and the 5k can be run either timed or untimed. This was a well-organized event with a relatively flat course on the campus of the University of South Florida. Surprisingly enough there was a couple of hills, but nothing that felt terrible. I saw a few of my clients while out there and hung out with Rich again. I averaged 7:30 miles as I did the week before during the Police Appreciation 10k, so I was content with my performance.
After the races concluded, and the thank yous are stated, they have a parade for the cancer survivors that ran the race. It was a really awesome site to see all of these people who were diagnosed with cancer now running in a race. it was inspiring and motivating to know they came back from as close to hell as one can get, and stronger than before.
The Dunedin Sprint Triathlon
I have completed this race for a couple of years now, and since my first triathlon is no longer around, the Morton Plant Mease Triathlon, I decided to make this one my annual “remember how it all started” race.
This race is held on Honeymoon Island which is a great beach with usual minimal issues, but this year we were told that the bottom was a little rocky and we should bring water shoes. I decided to wear my Vibram 5-fingers because they do not hold a lot of water and I thought they would be easy to get out of.
The swim was pretty much a water run due to the shallowness of the water. I usually incorporate some water running during my swim sessions so I know the resistance that water can put on your legs, so I dolphin dived/swam most of the way. I was going to be using my legs enough during the bike and the run, I didn’t need to be wearing them down, prior. I came out of the water in the faster 10% of the wave, but was slowed down by two things. The first being getting out of my shoes. While there was no water giving me issues, the shoes had constricted around my foot so I had to fight to get them off, and then exiting transition had a very narrow trail, so there was a line of us only able to shuffle to the start mat. Other than that the race went great I finished in 1:05 which was another PR for me by a couple of minutes.
And that brings us up to date on race reports. My next race is the NYC Triathlon which is an Olympic distance triathlon in the heart of New York City July 14th. I am really looking forward to this race due to the course being around my favorite city.
HITS is a fairly new triathlon series, with a unique concept. Their tag line is “A distance for everyone”, which really says it all. A HITS weekend consists of 70.3 (half-iron distance) and a 140.6(full-iron distance) on Saturday, and on Sunday, Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. It is a pretty cool concept, and they are really well-organized.
After having breakfast with the Team Foley after the Fight for Air Climb I headed out to Ocala with the hope of seeing at least Margie, Kari and Megan cross the finish line. I have to admit, while I have been training, it hasn’t been as focused as it should have. My “off-season” mentality didn’t quite transition into the race attitude just yet, but I thought I was at least in shape to do the Oly. In triathlon season, usually the first couple of months, is usually “Base” phase which just gets the wheels and legs rolling again, develop some strength and start gaining the endurance needed for race season. With that in mind, I figured an Olympic distance would be perfect to baseline where I am in my training. Imagine my surprise when I saw a lot of my friends out on Saturday competing in the 70.3. As I was watching competitors and friends cross the line there was a familiar itch developing in my heart. I didn’t quite notice what it was at the time.
The course for the 70.3 was pretty intense with loops that included a 1.2 mile swim in a 65 degree Lake Weir, 56 miles of rolling hills and wind of the bike, and an intense mixture of soft trails, and asphalt out-and-backs for the 13.1 mile run. I was too busy losing my lungs to catch any of the swim or bike, but I was happy to be around to see the finale of the run.
I had my first blog recognition, which was really nice. I was at the expo, grabbing a couple of Honey Stinger gels for my race the next day and I was chatting with the owner of Kickstart Endurance and she told me she followed IronGoof. I tried not to make a big deal out of it, but secretly I was really excited.
I missed Margie, but I was really happy to see Megan and Kari cross the finish. They both were finishing their first 70.3 along with some other members of the Tri Psych Club, so for them this was a huge accomplishment and deserved a celebration. That itch started to intensify at Chili’s that night as everyone’s conversation about their race surrounded me.
I really attempted to be nonchalant about this race. I kept telling myself, “Self, this is no big deal. You know you are not ready to race, this is a small race and this is going to tell you what you need to work on.” Unfortunately, waking up the next morning at 4:30a, and preparing my gear not only woke up my consciousness but the competition juices and anxiety levels as well. I showered, dressed, applied my TriTats, loaded the car and off I went.
As I mentioned before, the organization of this race was first-rate, from, staff organizing parking to the transition areas. Have I mentioned the transition area? In previous races I have barely glanced over the amenities of the transition areas, well except for the Rev3 Venice Beach. Let me put it this way, if the transition areas were cars, then every other race I have been in were Toyotas, the Rev3 was a Lexus, and the HITS series was a Bentley. Not only were there boxes that held gear and clamped a tire for easy removal of the bike, plenty of room for transition setup in-between the bikes, but each participant had their own personal stool with their number and last name on them. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it really is the little things that make an impression.
I headed down to the beach with my wet suit on halfway, goggles and swim cap in hand. The temperature outside was perfect with just a slight breeze and the sun was starting to slowly creep up over the horizon. I was incredibly grateful to see my friends down on the beach. Pete, Kari, Megan, Michael, Stan and a couple f others as it made me feel slightly less stressed. After the mandatory meeting, all of the males waded out a bit into the water for the start. My anxiety reared a little due to the fact, I was using my backup goggles because my regular goggles broke in transition and this was the coldest water I had ever swam in.
The whole beach counted off, “Three, Two, One…” and the horn blew. We all ran or dolphin dived toward the first buoy. The water was kind of shallow so I did have some time to start to get used to the water. I remembered my strategy and my stroke count and I started swimming. I started losing ground within the first 200m, which was normal for me. My new stroke technique is still relatively new, so I figured I wasn’t going to be fast immediately. When I reached the first buoy, I started feeling short of breath, even though I thought I was relatively relaxed. My chest started to feel compressed like I was being stepped on, and my arms were not moving as freely as I wanted them to. I moved to breast stoke to see if I could relax a bit, but it was to know avail, the compression would just not loosen. I have never had an issue with my wet suit. Except for getting out of it, I kinda like it. I feel more buoyant, warmer and protected from other things that may cause issues in open water. Now I just felt like it was python, strangling me. I kept going, but it was a combination of freestyle, side stroke, and breast stoke. When I reached the second buoy, my mind went into overdrive trying to get me to quit. The ideas popping in my head were asinine. I kept hearing, “You aren’t trained for this”, “You don’t belong here.”, “Just get out of the water. It is only a baseline remember?”. The thing was, I had another loop to do. I swam toward third buoy, and the water became very shallow, so we really didn’t have any choice but to run through it and start dolphin diving again. I forced myself to have the one thought that has gotten me through tough training, cold, wet and rainy workouts, and exhausting races; “The mind will quit one-hundred times before the body does.” I told myself, “Self, that is first and only time that is going to happen today.” I ran around the third buoy and headed out for my second loop.
The second loop felt a little better, but I was so happy to get out of that wet suit. I am still not quite certain why I felt that way. It wasn’t the size of the wet suit because when I bought it I was 25 pounds heavier. Either way I ran out of the water unzipping and getting out of it on my way to transition. One of the strippers told me to lay down and she yanked it off of me. I grabbed my helmet while I put on my shoes and crossed the mat in less than 3 minutes.
The bike course was actually pretty nice. Rolling hills, with well conditioned roads and plenty help by the Sheriff’s department. I wanted to make up sometime, so in my head I thought to just keep passing people. I only got passed twice during the first ten miles of the twenty-five mile course and I was happy with that. I played cat & mouse with a couple of them, and ended up passing them in during the last half of the course. Unfortunately, there was a storm on the horizon and the wind picked up quite a bit on on the second half, not to mention the hills were more abundant and steeper(at least for Florida). My speed, that I was holding quite consistent at 21 mph started to drop to 18, then 17 and at that point, I refused to go under 18 mph. I came into transition, averaging 19.1 and I was proud of that.
I racked my bike and sat on my stool to put on my socks and shoes. I got hung up a little bit, but was still out of there in less than 3 minutes, and it was off to the run. Pete yelled at me as I headed into the trees, “This is the fun part”. At first I agreed with him.
I decided to wear my Hoka One One Biondi Speed 2 running shoes with the large sole, because I wanted to test how they felt on a triathlon after being on the bike. Big mistake. At first the ground wasn’t very soft, and I was ok running about an 8:15 mile, but as I got further into the woods, the trail got softer and softer. With that big sole, not only was my foot pushing down on the sole, but then into the soft ground causing three times as much resistance as the a regular running shoe. I didn’t figure this out at first, but after one-and-a-half miles, I felt like I needed to stop, and that was not usual, not matter what kind of shape I was in. I walked at the aid station for about 200 yards and then I continued running but at a much slower pace. I had to do two loops of the run course as well, and I could feel the resistance ease off when I hit the asphalt again. All of the sudden I was lighter and faster, but I had to do a second loop into the woods again. I decided my strategy would be to walk a hundred yards at the aid station and 100 yards at the turn-around, but other than that I would let my legs do what could. It worked out well as my splits were faster on the second loop.
I ran out of the woods with Pete snapping shots and hearing cheers from Megan, Kari and a couple of others. As, I crossed the finish line it became clear to me, that I am not in the shape I was in for my last 70.3, but I would enjoy this moment as a victory. It was not a PR, but it this race let me know what I need to do over the next months in order to take on the rest of my race schedule.
After calming down a bit and chatting with Pete and a few other friends, Summer Bailey found me. She had competed in the 70.3 the day before. Summer lives in Georgia, so we really only see each other at races and occasionally chat on Facebook so it was really incredible to actually chat and catch up with her in person. She is an amazing woman and with a huge heart and ferocious determination. We both agreed that neither one of us had trained enough for our races, but it was good to have a race under our belt for the year. Chatting with her was encouraging, and I know we will be seeing each other again during the season. To be able to see and chat with her and some others that I do not get to train with allowed me to remember one of the greatest thing about triathlon and racing in general. It’s the friends and connections we make. Other than having a good race and crossing the finish line, it is the best part about it.
Besides crossing the finish line what are the best experiences you have competing?