Thursday, January 27, 2011

How to Screw Your Shoes

This post has two meanings. I'll be starting with the homemade ice spikes first before getting to the retirement of the shoes.

Homemade Ice Spikes

Not to be confused with the official Icespikes or Yaktrax or even Microspikes. No, these are spike that you do yourself. But before we get to that, let's back up a bit.

Some of those products above look quite lovely. And I'm sure if I lived in an area that got enough snow to warrant their purchase, I'd have a fair collection of them (along with some snow shoes). But seeing as I live in the south and snow is rare enough that an inch will close schools, I don't see the point in spending that much money on a product that I'll use once or twice a year.

So once I got a feel for what I was looking for and how little I wanted to spend, I stumbled across a great site that gave some steps on how to make your own spiked shoes for running in the snow. I won't post the link because I can't remember where I found it. And because it's enough to do on your own.

The steps are pretty simple. Get an awl (or ice pick), some small screws, and something to put the screws in with. Mark where you want the screws to go. Poke a hole in the sole. Put the screws in. Go run.

Yes, it's that simple. But there are some words of caution. Like, don't get a three inch long screw to put in the bottom of your shoe. I mean, seriously, use some brains. Mine are short and have a hex head on them so I didn't have to fiddle with a screw driver. They're about half an inch in length (total) and are machine screws I believe. Check the pictures and you'll see what kind I got.

Anyway, you prime the spot with the awl (like pre-drilling a hole) and screw them in. I put them on the higher spots so they'd give me the best traction and kept them evenly placed so I wouldn't have too many in one spot. I also kept them as symmetrical as possible on both feet to avoid any lopsided running. All in all, it went smoothly.

Now, for the running on snow part. I've worn them twice on what artists like to call "mixed media" for a total of about 17 miles. Not quite enough to be a definitive answer on how they work, but certainly enough to form a solid opinion. I'll break down each surface below and give you a run down (pun intended) of how the spike worked.

Asphalt - It felt like and sounded like I was running in track shoes. No, those have spikes in the toes. More like golf cleats. Click clack click clack. No loss of traction, but the feeling of the road was off a bit. It felt just like you would think, like you're running on spikes. The upside was the people in front of me heard me coming and moved out of my way.

Slush - Very hard to run in slush. I think this is mostly because you don't know if the slush is soft, hard, or somewhere in between. The slush itself is a challenging surface and the spikes help. But I did notice this was one of the few surfaces that I would lose a lot of traction on. Not enough to slip, stumble, or fall, but enough to move my arms to balance myself.

Ice - You notice the grip the most on ice. You know the ice is slick and you know you should be falling. Instead your foot slips just a little as you push off with each stride. I think this is mostly because you have less weight over your toes as you push off the ice. Combined with fewer spikes to grip and you have a bit of a slip.

Snow (loose) - Piece of cake. The hardest part was lifting your feet over the top of the snow, but with 4 to 6 inches of loose powder, it was easy enough to run through. No slipping at all.

Snow (packed) - This is where it got a little tricky. Packed snow that's smooth was no problem. It felt and acted very much like ice. However when the snow was packed by a tire, it could result in some slipping. This was especially true with tractor tires that have a very wide and open tread. Smaller car tires (and even truck tires) would pack the snow enough to make for a smooth foot plant. But tractor tires left tracks that would make for a foot plant that had to deal with a high and low every 2 inches. The end result was some slipping, but mostly due to the odd angle on which your foot could land and push off from.

Dirt - Just like snow, very easy to run on. No slipping and no noticeable clogging of the spikes.

Gravel - Just like the dirt, easy to run on but your hear a click or clack every now and then from the spikes hitting a rock.

Mud - Light mud was no issue. There was no slipping and very little build-up on the spikes. Thick mud though was another problem. Not only would I slip worse than the slush, it would cake up your spikes like mad and take several strides before it came off. Assuming you could get out of the thick mud to begin with.

Water - I didn't run in a river, but ran through plenty of puddles and such from the melting snow. The biggest thing I noticed was how the water would freeze or stick to the strides in the snow and ice. In other words, getting your shoes wet may result in them freezing. Having been around snow long enough, I should have expected the reaction, but it was still odd to feel it as I ran. Some strides felt like having Velcro on the bottom of my feet, but the spikes didn't seem to add to or take away from this reaction. If anything, they helped get a better grip on the next stride in the snow and ice.

Overall, this was a cheap and easy solution (about $2 and a couple of minutes work) to running in the snow and ice. I can see no short term impact on my shoes from having them spiked and they run almost like a normal shoe would. I would recommend using a cordless drill for installation and removal since it'll save some time and muscle power. Beyond that, they worked great and I'll certainly be using them again.

Retirement of the Shoes
I have long been a Saucony fan. In fact, I often refer to myself as a Saucony Snob. Their gear is great and I've been running in their shoes for years without complaint.

Until now.

Back in August of 2010 I ran a 50k and totally trashed my feet. I used BodyGlide, changed socks, and even changed shoes. It took some time to finally realize that the shoes were too small. Instead of a size 10 Wide, I should have been in a 10.5 Wide. That extra half a size makes a difference. Since it took so long to realize the source of my foot issues, I still have some size 10s that I run in. Namely my Ride 2s (two pair) for the road and my Exodus 2.0s for the trail.

But my pair of TR 4 that I used as guinea pigs for my spikes just don't cut it anymore and I'm sad to see them go. I ran nearly 20 miles of my 50k in them before switching to my Brooks Cascadias (my only non-Saucony shoe). But after several longish runs in my TR 4s, I have to say that the toe box is just too small. I know the shoe is a half-size too small and that's a large contributing factor. But compared to the Rides or the Exodus or even the Kinvara, the toe box is even smaller than I'd expect. This leads to some toe pains (and sometimes blisters) on the middle toe of each foot. I've experimented with these shoes since the 50k and socks, terrain, speed, etc. don't matter. It's the shoe. And aside form the toe box, the soles just aren't thick enough or sturdy enough for me on the trail. Thankfully the Exodus fills my needs for trail running (and I'm hoping the Peregrine will when it's released).

Which means I now need to decide if my TR 4s will end up as my casual shoes or if they'll end up in the trash. I hate to give up on a shoe, especially from my favorite company, but my toes just can't take it anymore.

You can see my measurements in this gallery if you'd like.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Forrest Gump Run

This past summer, Yvonne and I visited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. She did a wonderful job picking our cabins through Asheville Cottages. So wonderful, we wanted to go back again.

The Biltmore House in the snow:

With Martin Luther King weekend looking like the best bet for everyone, we booked our cabin and made our plans. The weather was a bit scary leading up to the trip, but we dodged a few major storms and ended up with cold but sunny days. There was snow on the ground just about everywhere you looked, but the roads were clear enough to be easily passable.

The kids had a great time (so did we) and we enjoyed walking through the house, around the estate, and around the barns in Antler Hill Village (formerly the Winery). I was recovering form a sinus infection that kept me away from running for the week, so I was itching to get out there and get a few miles in. But being on vacation, sleeping in, herding kids, and enjoying the hot tub meant I didn't have much motivation to get out the door in the freezing temps to go run.

Fortunately Yvonne found a way to occupy the kids on a tour, giving me a couple of hours to run around the estate. So I took what I could get and ran with it. Literally.

My run started in the B-1 Parking Lot where I headed up to the Statue of Diana. From there I ran down the open area to the Ramp Douce, across the end of the front yard, and into the gardens. I ran through the gardens, but stuck to the icy trails as much as I could. So I avoided pavement and ended up missing my target trail twice. Oh well. The spring garden had a fun switchback that was fast and slick and I got to run under and across the exit road a few times.

Me at the Statue of Diana looking towards the house:

The garden trails lead to a Bass Pond below the house and I was hoping to take the upper trail that sits on the opposite side of the road from the Pond, but I missed that trail too and ended up running down the paths next to the Pond and nearly took a swim as the path got super-muddy and super-slippery near the edge a few times.

At the end of the Pond is a very pretty water fall that I ran across (on a bridge, not the falls itself) and ended up stuck on the road for a bit. I did my best to avoid the roads since I wasn't really allowed to run on the roads, but it was all I had to run on. I tromped across the cattle guard (actually a deer guard) and made it into an open field where I ran through about four to six inches of fresh and slightly melted snow.

I continued next to the road in the grass (and near a ditch that made me cautious) to the trail that I missed near the Bass Pond before. Along the way I stuck to the game trail that was there and did my best to avoid the acorns and hazelnuts on the ground. No sense rolling an ankle this early into my trek.

Once I made it onto the trail, I got a chance to see the open field where Forrest Gump ran in the movie. It's just a couple of seconds, but if you watch the movie close enough you'll see young Forrest going through that same field. Although his didn't have snow in it. Or a snowman. So as I slogged through the gravel, mud, and slush, I did my best to have fun. But being under a strict time limit, it was hard to unwind enough to enjoy myself as much as I had hoped.

Run Forrest! Run!

I made it to the Lagoon in decent time and enjoyed seeing the bamboo stand there. I don't know why, but I love the stands of bamboo on the estate. Something about them just strikes me as peaceful and beautiful. Once past the Lagoon, I was on a stretch of uncleared but packed snow. Which made for a great test section for my spiked shoes. They held up great on every surface except the slush and the mud. Fresh snow, packed snow, ice, pavement, gravel, water, puddles, and everything else I through at it wasn't an issue. The slush was an issue because it's hard to see if it's slush (and thus soft) or ice (and thus hard) so you're not really sure how you're foot will land. So there's some slop there in your stride as you go through. The mud though, that was just plain slick in some spots. Felt like I was wearing socks on a freshly Pledged hardwood floor.

The trail between the Lagoon and the Outdoor Center in Antler Hill was clear and heavily traveled. The temps were nearing 50 so a lot of people were enjoying the sun and the snow while they could. Fortunately my spikes made enough noise that people heard me coming and moved out of my way.

The clear path near Antler Hill:

The Outdoor Center was my half-way point and an adventure in itself. I ate a banana and took an e-Gel right before I started so it had expended itself once I got to the halfway point. It took me 56 minutes to get from Parking Lot B-1 to Antler Hill with only one bathroom break. I know I went out way fast but it was mostly downhill. Next time I'll run it the other way so my second half is downhill.

The adventure of Antler Hill was two fold. One, I was taking way too long to get going on my return route and two, I had no source of additional fuel. I had to ask directions for the Deer Park Trail (the one I missed back by the Bass Pond and Garden area). I got solid directions and then I asked about Gatorade. None was to be found so I had to add sugar (both raw and refined) to my water (which I had to fill in the bathroom sink - so it was warm). That's right, I ran the second half of this with just two bottles of sugar water. It worked, but wasn't ideal for damn sure.

Once I killed about 13 minutes getting my sugar water, making water, and getting directions, I headed back. At the Lagoon again I saw the wonderful view of the House in the distance and tried to focus on the route directions. I crossed the road and passed two old ladies walking a dog (mind you this was a gravel/snow/ice/slush covered single-track trail). I was impressed with their skill and speed.

At the Lagoon headed back to that big house in the distance:

Once I made it onto the Deer Park Trail (and passed the old ladies) I hit some tough trails. The uphill was hard, the larger rocks made it hard, and the mud made it extremely hard. After a couple switchbacks, I made it to the top of the hill and noticed the little old ladies moving right along on the trail below me. Very impressive.

On I went through a deer gate, across some fields, and to a trail head where I realized my error. In avoiding the Meadow Trail that makes a loop near the Bass Pond, I missed the Deer Park Trail, the one I wanted so I could avoid the roads. Anyway, I nearly skipped across the Meadow Trail and down to the Bass Pond to hit the trail on the other side of the road from the Gardens but realized I would likely miss my time cut-off so I stuck to the Deer Park Trail.

From that trail head, it was a pretty straight shot to the house. Through another deer gate, another clearing, more odd looks from people walking, and I was at the end of the South Terrace. From there it was a short jaunt in front of the house and back to the parking lot where I wiped down with baby wipes and sprayed myself not once, not twice, but thrice with some body spray. You see, my time cutoff was to be back in time to clean up for lunch with the family when they got back from their tour.

Safe, sound, and smelling like Old Spice, I waited a few minutes for them to return and away we went to lunch at Cedric's in Antler Hill where I seriously thought about ordering two courses because I was running on fumes. Literally.

Fluids and Fuel:
I had one banana and one e-Gel right before my run. I also took two bottles of plain water with me. At the halfway point I refilled my bottles with water and added plain, refined sugar as well as raw sugar to them (I used those Sugar in the Raw packs and plain sugar from the coffee condiment area).

Clear and sunny. Little to no wind. Most of the wind was confined to the areas around the open fields and near the river. Temps ranged between 30F and 50F.

Outbound - 56:00 (approximate time - includes one bathroom break)
Aid Station - 13:00 (approximate time - includes bathroom break, water refill, sugar water mixing, and direction getting)
Inbound - 47:59 (approximate time)
Finish - 1:53:59 (about a 15:00 pace with my break and about 2:00 faster without it)

The Route:
Length - 7.62 miles (approximate)
Elevation - about 2,000 feet above sea level (compared to my home turf of about 200 feet)
Route Gain/Loss - about 350 foot drop going out and 350 foot incline coming back

At the end of our trip, this is the beautiful sunrise I got to see coming over the mountains in the distance:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Product Review - Socks

Socks, even for minimalist runners, can make or break your run. Even bad everyday socks can ruin your day at work. For me, it took months to find the right running sock, and even when I found them, it was by accident.

You see, when I started running back in 2008, I was still under the spell of my high school running days when I'd pick shoes based solely on their "cool" factor. Thankfully when I visited my local running store VA Runner, they picked the best shoe for me. But that left me itching to pick something "cool" to wear. And man did those "elite" socks look cool. I mean, they're designed specifically for each foot, so it must be good right?

Wrong. Just because the sock has an L for the left foot and an R for the right foot doesn't mean it's the best sock out there for your feet. Granted, those anatomical socks worked well for me until last year. I rarely had issues with them, but I was also running slower and running shorter distances. As my mileage crept up and my speed crept up, I ran into issues. The big blowout was my first 50k race in August of 2010 when I wound up with blisters galore despite using all the BodyGlide I could stand. My problem? The socks. Read on to see why.

Asics (various styles)

Marking for the anatomical fit (L and R) and a ton of colors to choose from. There are also several variations to choose from as well.

They fit great. Tight fitting and anatomical, they fit your foot like a glove. Some of the models have a higher cuff while some have a more sculpted cuff.

I washed these like normal socks. Warm water and the dryer. The only thing special I did was I turned them inside out. After they got stuck on some Velcro during their initial wash, I opted to save the outer surfaces in an attempt to keep them intact.

These were great socks to run in. Unfortunately the key word here is "were." It took me nearly two years to finally figure out the main source of my blisters during my first ultra (DRHT 50k in August 2010). First I thought it was just plain old friction. I had lubed the crap out of my feet with BodyGlide and I felt like I was betrayed for the first time by such a wonderful product. Then I started to wonder if it was my shoes. The trail surface was flat but very rocky (it's an old railroad bed). Maybe my Saucony TR 4s didn't protect my feet as much as I expected them too. Then I began to wonder if it was my stride that was off. After all, I was really hurting when I finished and my knee and hip nagged me for many months after.

Turns out it wasn't the BodyGlide, it wasn't the shoes, and it wasn't my stride. It was my socks. And it was my fault for buying them. You see, I fell for the age-old trap of buying running gear because it "looked cool." And let me tell you, these Asics socks look cool. Cooler than cool.

But alas, it's the construction and design that did me in. Made of basic wicking material, the socks did great at keeping my feet dry. But the stitching and pattern inside created many raised surfaces. So imagine running on braille instead of a smooth sheet of paper. After 20+ miles it's going to eat your feet.

So in the end, they're great socks for a short run. Anything beyond an hour and you may run into some issues. After four hours, be prepared to suffer. After eight hours, you'll be in Hell.

ThorLo Experia

Super-plush heal and toe. Very cushiony, like the inside of a sweatshirt. There's also a bit of arch support.

These fit a little looser than the Asics, but they are not anatomically designed. They are super-comfortable and have a ton of cushion on the heal and toe.

Like the Asics, I wash them inside out with my regular laundry (warm water) and use the dryer on them.

I never thought I'd say this, but these socks have a little too much cushion in them. I think they'd be great if they had a higher top, allowing you to wear them as hiking socks, but in a running shoe is masks a lot of the feedback you get from the road. Maybe if you need to mask the pain or something it would be okay. They also slide a bit when you wear them, so any long distance runs in them could result in some bunching or chafing (or both). Otherwise, these are great everyday socks.


Thinner than the Experia but thicker than the Asics.

They fit tighter than the Experia but not as glove-like as the Asics. This is likely due to the fact that they are not anatomically designed (although Saucony does have socks like that available). The cuff is a bit higher than both as well, leading to less bunching and slipping (and less debris when on the trails).

Just like normal socks, wash in warm water and dry in the dryer.

So far, these are the best socks I've found. If you look at the photos, you'll see how they have a smoother and less complicated inner-surface compared to the Asics socks and less cushion than the Experia socks. Yes, I am a Saucony snob and I'll freely admit I have some bias towards their products. But I'm not saying these are perfect socks. These are just the best I've found to far. They still slip now and then, especially when I do cross-training that requires me to use some extreme foot positions. So doing work on the BOSU or something may make my foot slip. But I haven't had any issues so far running in them. I've done over 9 miles on a trail and have not gotten a blister yet.

You can see my measurements in this gallery if you'd like.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Medical Update

My life is an open book. But like Alan Alda said, "In all things moderation. Including moderation."

So I'll give you enough details to see how far I've progressed in the past year. And yes, it will sound like I'm tooting my own horn. Because I am.

Last year I saw my doctor for yet another regular physical. Nothing major, but I always dread going to hear the same litany of "eat less, exercise more" along with the "high blood pressure, blah blah, blah." Well, last year it hit home a little harder than I expected. A combination of my running more the year or so prior and what I thought was a diet change resulted in the same lab results. High cholesterol. I just couldn't figure out how I could still have such high numbers when I was working my butt off out there on the roads running myself into the pavement.

Turns out I was an idiot for not seeing the obvious. And a genius for fooling myself into not seeing it. And perfectly normal for not wanting to face my fears. Sure, I'm afraid of bugs and snakes and beavers and what-not, but more than anything, I'm afraid of death. We all are to some degree, but it really spooks me when I think about my own end. So when the doctor gave me the bad news that my exercising wasn't cutting it and that I may need to go on medication for my cholesterol if I didn't make some changes, well, you can imagine the nightmares I had thinking about how I was going to keel over eating a greasy burger from the drive-thru.

And there's a ton of other factors too that went into me making changes. Kids, marriage, family, friends, and more. They all went into that proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Or in this case, my habit of eating shitty food day in and day out. Now that's not to say my wife cooks crappy food. She doesn't. In fact, she's a wonderful cook. Sometimes she's too good of a cook because I want to eat all the yummy treats she makes. But I will admit she is a bit lopsided in her meals. Vegetables are rarely seen. I know she doesn't like them and would rather have fruit. And that's fine. But it wasn't helping my poor choices for my other meals.

So my labs were in the crapper, my eating habits were right there next to them, and the only shining light was my exercising. I finally realized what I already knew. The key to weight loss and good health is diet AND exercise. Gah! So I started to change how I ate. Nothing major. Just skipping that extra breakfast burrito. Or skipping the fast food this week. Or eating that granola bar instead of that bar of chips. Or reading the labels to check fat content as well as calories. Or trying to eat more veggies for lunch and dinner. It was a hard process. It still is a hard process. But those baby steps helped. I still eat shitty foods. Just not as much as I used to. And when I do eat that crap, I try to minimize the damage by eating the healthiest crap I can.

What does this all boil down to? My lab results from this year. They're much better. So much better, I'm happy to crow them from the rooftops. So if you're out there wondering if you can make that diet change, if you can lower your cholesterol, if you can actually lose weight, keep reading. I'm just an average guy living an average life. The only thing helping me is the support of my friends and family and my own drive to live a better life. I've been where you are now. I know how hard and how daunting it can be. You see all those people out there that lost 25 pounds. Or 100 pounds. Or 300 pounds. Well I didn't. I lost just 5 pounds this year. Five pounds. Sounds easy, right? Well, it might be easy for you but for me it was hard. Every pound and every inch I lost this year fought me tooth and nail.

But don't focus on the weight. Don't focus on the diet. Don't focus on the exercise. Focus on a goal. Set a finish line for yourself. You can see here where I've been and where I want to go. So sit down and set a goal. Run a 5k faster. Eat an all vegetarian meal once a week. Lose 5 pounds. Swim 2 laps in the pool without stopping. Put it on paper. Tell your friends and family. Let them hold you accountable. My wife told me her resolutions for this year and I plan on helping her meet as many of them as I can. Will it take time away from my goals? Sure. But you know what, if I have to sacrifice one of my own goals so she can meet one of hers, that sounds like a great deal to me.

Okay, motivational speech is over. On with the number crunching.

Bilirubin = 1.6 (normal is 0.2 - 1.2)
Cholesterol = 217 (normal is 125 - 200)
Triglycerides = 199 (normal is <150)
HDL Cholesterol = 33 (normal is > or = to 40)
LDL Cholesterol = 144 (normal is 0 - 100)
Cholesterol/HDL Ratio = 6.6 (normal is 0 - 5.0)

Bilirubin = 1.2 (normal is 0.2 - 1.2)
Cholesterol = 191 (normal is 125 - 200)
Triglycerides = 114 (normal is <150)
HDL Cholesterol = 41 (normal is > or = to 40)
LDL Cholesterol = 127 (normal is 0 - 100)
Cholesterol/HDL Ratio = 4.7 (normal is 0 - 5.0)

Net Change
Bilirubin = dropped 0.4 (now in normal range)
Cholesterol = dropped 26 (now in normal range)
Triglycerides = dropped 85 (now in normal range)
HDL Cholesterol = increased 8 (now in normal range)
LDL Cholesterol = dropped 17 (still outside of normal range)
Cholesterol/HDL Ratio = dropped 1.9 (now in normal range)

How did I do this? By running. By trying to eat better (but not always succeeding). I was on and off various dietary supplements but nothing that seemed to really help. However, I am currently taking Mega Red in an attempt to drop my numbers even more!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

My 2011 Running Goals

As I type this early to make sure I get everything down while I can, I realize how fortunate I am that I am not only able to run, but I am also able to find the time to run. So take a moment and think about how fortunate we can be and how unfortunate others are.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. It can always be worse.

So, my running/fitness/life goals for 2011 include the follow (in no particular order):
  • run 1 marathon (already registered for Richmond in November)
  • run 2 half marathons (already registered for DRHT half in February, MCHH in May, and Williamsburg half in May)
  • run 1 sprint triathlon (this will likely be in February)
  • run 1 50k ultra marathon (this will be the DRHT 50k in August)
  • run 35 miles by my 35th birthday (October 3rd) (this is my #run35 and #tregløper project)
  • raise money for the Friends of the DRHT (Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail)
  • run on the DRHT (or any trail) once a week
  • set a half marathon PR (2:35:06 set on 12/12/2010)
  • set a 50k PR (8:42:52 set on 8/8/2010)
  • lose 5 pounds (231 pounds on 12/22/2010)
Other goals for this year that aren't really easy to quantify and thus aren't written down include:
  • improve core strength
  • run more on trails and uneven surfaces
  • avoid the treadmill at all costs
  • shop for and maybe buy a road bike (assuming triathlons are in the mix for 2012)
  • do more stability/balance work
  • adhere to the cross-training in my training plan instead of sleeping in
I have other goals that bleed into 2012 as well. They include (maybe):
  • lose 25 pounds
  • teach a running class at the YMCA
  • coach cross country at the High School
  • begin running in triathlons
  • learn to swim well