Thursday, December 29, 2011

Today's Run - Horse Shit

As I was changing my clothes after my run today, a couple pulled up and parked next to me in the lot. The cute, young lady got out of the Jeep and asked me if I had a good run. My response was "I survived. And I only fell once so yeah, I guess it was good."

But that only sets the scene through a pinhole. You see, I was covered in mud. I don't think I had any higher than my knees, but my shoes and calves were doused. In fact, my shoes were so bad that when I got home, my socks were muddy. And so were my toes. So yeah, I guess it was a good run.

As for the falling part, it was on my first lap and I missed a rock or root and took a spill. As I run more trails I'm becoming more familiar with falling. And I don't like it. I used to pride myself on staying upright. Maybe I shouldn't have made that comment to myself about never falling. Oh well. Nothing was broken, bruised, or twisted. The impressive part of the fall was that I managed to do half a roll. I tripped with my left foot and stumbled and half caught myself with my left hand. As my right hand was reaching out to catch myself, I somehow changed my reaction and landed on my forearm and rolled a bit onto my right side. As usual it happened insanely fast and incredibly slow. If you've fallen before, you know what I mean. Anyway, the half a roll helped slow my momentum and I got up, dusted myself off, and had a little laugh to myself. As I thought about moving again, I looked right next to where I fell and saw a heaping pile of horse shit. And it was fresh. Somehow I missed it. Thank God. So I snapped a picture and got back to running.

Here's the pile of horse shit I narrowly missed rolling in:

The first loop was decent but muddier than I expected. Bad enough I had to skirt many of the sections on the extreme edges of the trail. And it's apparently normal because there was a beaten path in many sections where other hikers had done the same thing. Even the horses skirted some of the worse parts, or at least tried to. But I didn't feel too bad about slipping since the horses slipped plenty too. I guess four-hoof drive can only do so much in thick mud.

My muddy Altra Lone Peaks after my run. Gnarly.

My Altra Lone Peaks worked great. I had no issues with the mud other than nearly losing a shoe once or twice. The mud only stuck to the sides of the shoe and only stuck to the bottom treads for a stride or two before coming off. I did get some mud inside my shoes but I expected that since the toe-box has a mesh-like fabric to let your toes breath. If air can come out, mud can get in. My only complaint is the lack of velcro (or a surface to adhere velcro to) on the heel of the shoes to allow my gaiters to stay put.

The second loop was just as muddy and a bit hillier. There was a section that run under a power line but that added some hills to the mix. I tried to keep my aid station stops short and managed fairly well. Refilling is easy but finding the motivation to punish yourself a little more is harder. The final loop was a repeat of the first but with a bit more added on. I somehow missed a turn on the first loop so went back to see what I missed so I wouldn't get too lost during my race. Did I mention this was a dry run for my next race? Sorry, it is. Was. Whatever.

The Lone Peaks have a "rudder" on their heel but clearly it doesn't keep the mud from spraying up your legs.

Overall, I felt good. I didn't have everything dialed in like I wanted but did a fair job. My hydration was good seeing as I peed at least twice. My electrolyte levels were okay but not as good as they should have been. I think a few electrolyte tabs at the aid station would have helped. My fueling was lower than it needed to be. I was doing okay the first two laps and had a decent amount of gel going in. But the last loop I didn't take in enough solid food so I started to lag behind on pace and energy levels.

My muddy toes. Obviously before my shower. And yes, I have hairy Hobbit feet.

Temps were around 40F when I started and 45F when I finished. Moderate cloud cover with some sun. Light breeze coming off the lake when I passed by or was out on a peninsula.

Fluids and Fuel:
Breakfast was two breakfast burritos and an iced latte. During the run I had some Hammer gel along the way (two flasks that had maybe 4 gels total), one e-Gel at the start, one bottle of water, two bottles of Hammer Fizz, and one bottle of flat soda. I also had a Honey Stinger waffle. Recovery was a chocolate Zico followed by a Joey Jr. at Moe's Southwest Grill (with chips and salsa).

Nothing special for the run. Continuing to use my new iPod. Had continued success with my Altra Lone Peaks.

Aches and Pains:
Since the trail was so muddy, I had to deal with tons of ankle twisting and wobbly strides as I adjusted to rocks, roots, and mud. Nothing really hurt as I stayed loose but after an hour or two I could feel things getting sore. Near the end I could feel my legs protesting but nothing major. Knees are a bit sore right now but again, nothing too terrible. I did step on a few stingers (sharp, pointy rocks) and managed to kick one or two rocks (which always hurt). Beyond that, things felt okay.

Codename - Horse Shit
There was tons of it out there. You couldn't go 25 feet without seeing a pile of it. It was in various stages of decomposition; fresh to stale. I only managed to kick one pile when I wasn't looking and avoided the rest as much as I could.

Lap 1 - 49:07
Aid Station 1 - 3:23
Lap 2 - 49:59
Aid Station 2 - 4:46
Lap 3 - 1:26:26
Finish - 3:13:42

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Today's Run - Homage

Finally. Some semblance of getting back into my groove. Sort of. Maybe.

Today's run almost didn't happen thanks to some bad timing. Wife and I agreed that I'd run this afternoon instead of this morning so we could spend the day shopping together while the kids stayed with my in-laws. Gotta love free babysitting, especially when the in-laws and the kids have a blast with each other. So we shopped around town, ran errands, had a nice lunch, and picked up a few groceries.

But by the time we made it home, it was nearly sundown. I hate it when winter decides that the sun goes down so early. So I scampered around, got dressed, and booked it out the door while I still had a few stray beams of sunlight. I ran one of my usual routes instead of running at the local state park since I was short on time and sunlight. And I'm glad I went when I did. The sun was just below the treeline when I got back and cars were starting to scare me when they drove by without their headlights. But I made it safely and generally enjoyed myself. I recorded another podcast, listened to some podcasts, and did my best not to kill myself with a faster pace. Since I came back alive, I guess I was successful.

Temps were about 45F, sky was clear with a few clouds, and the winds were steady around 10 or 15 mph.

Fluids and Fuel:
Breakfast was eggs, toast, and coffee. Lunch was a giant ceasar salad with grilled salmon. During the run I took a hit of Hammer gel around mile 1 and another hit around mile 2. I took one bottle of water and one bottle of watered down flat soda.

I took my new iPod and wore my Brooks windbreaker. It's bright as fuck and I'm glad I took it to cut down on the windchill. My face was pretty cold the first half mile as I ran by open farmland. On the gravel road the winds were lighter but the jacket still helped keep me warm. I also wore my new pair of Kinvara 2 that I've had stuffed in a box waiting for another pair to retire.

Aches and Pains:
Not really any to speak of except my left knee felt a little twingey around mile 4. I think this was mostly due to the new shoes.Link
Codename - Homage
I think I gave UltraDad a run for his money with my intro to the latest podcast episode. Guess we'll see how he likes it. Too bad I can't do a Canadian accent, eh?

Outbound - 30:12
Inbound - 30:12
Finish - 1:00:18

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Today's Run - Christmas Run of Shame

Today's run was ... unpleasant. I've been non-running for a week now and I hate it. It's like cabin fever creeping into your joints and exploding. It's like a bad jingle stuck in your head refusing to come out until you perform a lobotomy with a rusty spoon. It just plain sucks. And as my fellow runners have told me, I just needed to suck it up.

So I did. My meds have had time to work their magic on my sinuses (and my GI tract) and I felt well enough to run today. Actually I felt well enough yesterday but didn't want to push my luck. SO I waited until today. I tried to wait until tomorrow but it just didn't work. So I ambled out the door on a very short run today. Very. Short. But it felt like a marathon. Well, no, it didn't. But it felt longer than it actually was.

And despite all my complaining, I survived. And I feel pretty good. Not great but well enough to try another run. Hopefully tomorrow. Maybe by then my memory of today's run will have faded enough to let me enjoy it. Today was a long slog. I felt out of synch. Very rusty. Almost broken. Not like a broken bone but like I forgot how to run.

Enough negativity. The positive side of today's run was that I only took two, very short breaks. Less than 30 seconds a piece. And I got to run with my new iPod Shuffle (a Christmas present). I have yet to name it so keep an eye out for a contest or something shortly. But I made it back safe and sound and I'm ready to go again. So I guess my brain has healed. At least a little.

Roughly 51F with heavy clouds and just a hint of sun. Moderate breeze that I only felt on one little section.

Fluids and Fuel:
Breakfast was a beast. Two giant cinnamon rolls that had to be at least 500 to 750 calories a piece. Plus some coffee. Pre-run snack was a few tidbits of Chex mix and a few swigs of GU Brew. On the run I had flat soda from Wegmans. Recovery was a small bottle of Ensure and some water.

I'll be retiring this pair of Saucony Kinvaras (150 miles now). And of course my new iPod. Everything else was standard issue.

Aches and Pains:
Everything hurt. Not sure if it's because of my shoes being so worn or just my body recovering from being sick. Likely a heavy dose of both.

Codename - Christmas Run of Shame
Because I felt shame for eating such a large breakfast and for not having run for so long.

Forgot to hit my split button so don't have one.
Finish: 16:38

Friday, December 23, 2011

Old School Lumberjacks

I've long been a fan of Shorpy and the awesome pictures posted there. In fact, I respect their work well enough that I'm not even going to download and post their image. Yes, they are that awesome. So if you aren't familiar with the site, go check it out and subscribe for your daily dose of nostalgia.

Meanwhile, here's two photos of old school lumberjacks getting the job done.

A Big Load (click to view full size)

I'm a Lumberjack (click to view full size)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Podcast Hiatus

My podcast will be on hiatus for two weeks as I celebrate the holidays. I suggest you do the same.

And as an early Christmas present to you, I'm formally coming out of the closet as the voice behind this podcast.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Drymax Socks

For those in the running industry, Drymax Socks are a well known brand and often endorsed by elite athletes running some serious races. In fact, it was because of these prominent ads and frequent endorsements (you can see ultrarunning phenom Andy Jones-Wilkins in his Drymax ad here) that I bought a few pair to try out myself. I figured if they were half as good as these people say, then they may work for me.

Turns out they didn't work for me. At all.

Now before you completely dismiss my opinion as sacrilege, keep in mind that this is my opinion. And even though I'm a bit picky when it comes to socks, I did give them an honest try. In the past I've had issues with my feet. In fact, I still do to some extent. Specifically, my big toes do not bend at the knuckle. They bend at the ball joint, but not the knuckle. No idea why. They never have as far back as I can remember. Then there's the toe next to the big toe. Those are the ones that have given me issues since I've started running longer distances. And like most distance runners, those issues manifest as black toenails. Over time, I've treated my toenails with clippings, trimmings, filings, more trimmings, and even one instance of pulling the dead nail out with pliers. Yuck. While trimming has helped, the best treatment for me has been larger shoes.

In addition to the bad toenails, I've also struggled with blisters. It wasn't until months after my worst blister incident (which was also my first ultra race) that I realized that my socks were causing the blisters. I used to wear Asics socks primarily because they looked cool and my local running store had them in stock. It turns out they were probably the worst socks out there to wear. After I came to this realization, I began searching for the best sock out there. I settled on my Saucony socks just because that's what I had and they seemed to work.

Turns out, they've been the best so far. Yes, it's already been proven that I'm a Saucony snob. But really, check your running socks. Turn them inside out and look at the seams. Those seams on the Asics socks are what gave me blisters. The Saucony socks didn't have any. And the Drymax socks? Well, I ran into different issues with them.

Yep. I got a hole in them. From my big toe. On both feet. On all pairs. Over the course of a few months. Now, surely it looks like I need to trim my toenails, right? Only a toenail long enough and sharp enough could slice through a sock like that, right? Wrong. My toenails are trimmed on a regular basis. I've learned from my black toenails that if I don't trim them, I'll pay for it. Dearly. And while the nail may be sharp, they've never cut through my Saucony socks. Nor my Asics. Not even my junky Champion socks. Must be the sock.

As further proof, the heel portion of the sock is wearing thin. Already. I've had a pair of bamboo Feetures that have done the same thing but that was over a year of wearing them. But from wearing socks a few months, I'd never expect to have the fabric wear so thin.

If you're curious how much I've worn the Drymax socks, it has been as much as my other socks. They received no special treatment beyond an extra run or two in wet weather to test how they handled moisture. I've done blazing hot summer runs to cold winter runs. I've done bone dry runs to full immersion in water runs. I've worn a variety of shoes, run on a variety of surfaces, and have not modified them in any way. And despite all this, the socks failed me.

I think what bothers me the most about this is that I really, really wanted them to work. I don't know if it was the "cool" factor of wearing the same gear as the pros or just finding a sock that was super awesome. Regardless of wanting them to work, they didn't. And as much as I hate to write a bad review of a product or company that has a large following, I feel it is my duty to report the truth. No lies, just facts. So I will be ditching my Drymax socks once they wear out. Like my Feetures though, I'll find a good use for them. From sun glass storage to headlamp storage, I'll find something for them to do besides go in the trash.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sunday's Run - Suck Fest

Oh. Dear. God. What was I thinking. 20 miles? Really? And not only that, but with women? That are faster? I must have had too much to drink this weekend. Or maybe I hit my head in the shower.

Okay, enough with the whine, let's get on with the show. I'll try to keep it objective. Try.

We started our run with introductions. Kris D. brought along a friend, Julia. Bidi B showed up shortly there after whipping her car into the parking lot. Her need for speed would last the entire day.

After introductions, we were off. We met/parked at MM 4 on the trail so we headed west toward the train cars and MM 0. It was an easy run at a decent pace. We chatted, ran by some people walking their dogs, and generally had a good time. At MM 0, we walked a bit, talked more, then turned around and headed back.

Gradually Kris and Julia pushed the pace a bit but not too terribly. I was still able to keep up and didn't want to slow people down too much. I love how people always say they run slow then crack out a fast pace. It's all relative. On the way back to the cars we saw the same people walking their dogs, talked some more, and finished up the group run.

And while I often complain about how fast people run and how slow I am, I also know it helps me push myself faster. It was great to see some new faces and hear new stories. Just hope I didn't scare anybody off too much (I even managed to keep my shirt on).

After we got to the cars, Tabitha and I reloaded our gear for another run. I harassed her about taking too long in the aid station when I should have had a giant cup of STFU and filled my own hydration pack instead. More on that in a bit.

So Tab and I pushed on for another leg of the trail. This time we headed east and agreed to run to MM 8 before deciding if we'd go further or not. If we turned at MM 8, it would give us 16 miles total. More than the 14 miles on my plan but I've already determined I can't stick to the plan to save my life. So pushing to 20 miles (turning around at MM 10 instead) was fine with me. I wanted more miles and so did Tab. Little did I know how much it would cost.

On this section I felt decent. Until a half mile in. When I realized I didn't refill my hydration pack. I ran with it for the first 8 miles. I generally only last 10 miles with my pack. So even though I had sucked down some fluids at the car, I knew right off the bat that I would need to ration my water. I did have the smarts to grab one of my handhelds but it was only half full. My lack of fluids would end up being the source of my demise. I would eventually run dry with only half a mile to run but the entire 12 mile run was a constant battle to not drink as much as I wanted or needed. I felt like I was in the desert or something conserving my water. I felt like a complete idiot for going into this race without a plan. And that lack of a plan, truly the lack of respect for the distance, is really where I fucked up bad. Aside from screwing up my fluids, I didn't really factor in my fuel or electrolyte needs. I just ate what I wanted when I felt like I needed it. No nutrition plan at all. Same with electrolytes. I knew I'd run low late in the run so I grabbed some pills but they only helped so much due to the lack of water in my system. And I took no source of caffeine even though I had a giant bottle in my car.

In case you couldn't tell from my tone so far, the wheels fell off. Then the axles. Then everything else. The first 4 miles our were okay. The 2 miles after that I could feel myself slowing down but again, I felt okay. I was 6 miles out so far and doing okay. We turned around and I slowed down a bit more. With 4 miles left, I knew my tank was empty. But I dug deep and pushed on. I continued to push until my hamstring cramped up. I pushed until my calves cramped. I pushed until my gut screamed bloody murder. I pushed until my head started to hurt. I was such a zombie that I knew Tab was saying things to me here and there but I couldn't quite understand what she was saying. My mental faculties were not quite up to par. How far gone was I? Far enough that I knew if Tabitha dropped her pants and flashed her boobs I wouldn't have even noticed. My head was down and every time I stopped to walk it sucked. Not because I had to walk but because it felt so good and I knew it would really suck when I started to run again.

Yay me.

In the end, I somehow found enough in me to make it to the car. 20 miles. Well, technically it was more like 21+ with the detour. I don't know how, but I did it. Maybe it was the magic rock Tab gave me. Maybe it was some switch that I flipped. But I think what really kept me going was that I knew the faster I finished, the faster I would be able to stop. The Richmond Marathon didn't hurt this much. My last 50k didn't hurt this much. I was beyond fried and even now still a bit foggy. And no, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the half a beer I had when we finished.

Temps were 40F to 45F. The sun was out for a bit at the start but heavy clouds moved in later. Slight sign of snow at the very end. Light wind for most of the run.

Fluids and Fuel:
Breakfast was yogurt, coffee, and a small bottle of Ensure. Before the run I took an e-Gel. During the run I had my hydration pack which ran dry at about mile 19.5. During the aid station break I took in some water and some Hammer Endurolyte Fizz. I also had some bagel with salt on it. During the second leg of the run I had two Honey Stinger Waffles and some of my Hammer Gel (I think I had some during my first leg too). Recovery was half a beer courtesy of Tab (it tasted like ass but I was thirsty enough to drink some), some flat Coke, and the rest of my salty bagel.

The only gear to take note of was my Ruez booty short underwear (no chafing and no freezing of the nibbles n' bits). I'll review them when I can find some time to do so. I also tested a replacement for my whistle's necklace. It seems to work just fine.

Aches and Pains:
Feet were sore. Right hamstring start to cramp up with 6 to 8 miles to go. Calves started to cramp up with 4 to 6 miles to go. Head started to hurt with about 4 miles to go.

Mile 1 - 10:46
Mile 2 - 12:24 (includes pee break - only one of the run)
Mile 3 - 10:53
Mile 4 - 10:25
Walk Break at Turnaround - 3:52
Mile 5 - 10:25
Mile 6 - 10:45
Mile 7 - 10:41
Mile 8 - 10:39
Aid Station Break - 12:52
Mile 9 - 10:35
Mile 10 - 11:19
Mile 11 - 15:40 (gun range bypass)
Mile 12 - 12:16
Mile 13 - 11:15
Mile 14 - 11:44 (turnaround point)
Mile 15 - 14:10
Mile 16 - 10:41
Mile 17 - 14:03 (gun range bypass)
Mile 18 - 15:05
Mile 19 - 12:48
Mile 20 - 14:13
Finish - 4:17:42

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today's Run - Naked Running

Went for a naked run today. And before you jump to any conclusions, please keep in mind I ran naked, not nude. There's a difference. Check out The Naked Runners for proof (they have an awesome podcast too).

Here's the Silas and Dave at a recent TEDx event:

Anyway, it was these guys that inspired me to run naked today. Granted, I did wear shoes, but I ditched the distractions. No watch, no phone, just me and some water bottles. The wind was blowing pretty hard so I had two distinct encounters with it. First, on the outbound portion the wind was at my back and blowing pretty good. How good? Well, it was strong enough to make leaves chase me. And pass me. I know I run slow but that made me feel even slower. I got passed by a leaf. Second was on the inbound portion where the wind was blowing the little seed pods off the trees and into my hair. Looked like snow but wasn't as slippery. Or as cold.

Aside from that, it just felt nice to go for a run. I caught myself checking my wrist a few times thinking about my time and pace. But I forced the feelings down and kept my focus on the run itself. Me, Mother Nature, some heavy breathing, and a good amount of sweat. I can only hope she was as satisfied as I was.

Temps were about 55F. Sky was partly cloudy with a decent amount of sun. Wind was the biggest factor as it cooled things off and made the inbound portion difficult at times. Wind was easily 15mph to 20mph.

Took my North Face wind breaker with me and had to ditch it after a few minutes. It worked great at blocking the heavy winds but it was warmer out than I thought and I was starting to sweat. Also ditched my winter hat at the same place. Had a major failure with my Drymax socks as I put a giant hole in one of them. More on that later.

Fluids and Fuel:
Took two bottles, one with water, the other with Hammer Fizz. Finished about two-thirds of each. Recovery was an EAS drink. It was okay but tasted just like Ensure.

Aches and Pains:
None to speak of.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Anything is Possible

Just when I think life has finally broken my back, just when I think things can't get any worse, one of two things happens. Things really do get worse, thereby proving that things really aren't as bad as I thought they were. Or things get better, thereby proving anything is possible.

I don't even now how to introduce Buffy to you. I could rattle off her impressive running record. I could tell you she has an awesome drive. I could wow you with her wonderful attitude. But nothing really does justice to the fact that this little girl ran a half marathon. So when you think it can't be done, just remember anything is possible. If this little girl can run a half marathon, anything is possible. If my fat ass can run a 50k, anything is possible. The only thing holding you back is you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Today's Run - Candid Camera

Very slow run as I spent a lot of time running back and forth in front of the camera. And lugging the camera around also made things go slower too.Beyond that, pretty boring run. Saw some really neat frost and some steam rising off the little pond off the trail. Hope to edit and post the video at some point but work is more pressing.

Temps were about 25F to 30F. Even when the sun came up it wasn't that warm. Sky was clear and the sun was out (eventually). No wind.

Fluids and Fuel:
Breakfast was a glass of water. During the run I had a bottle of water and a bottle of Hammer Fizz. Recovery was a small bottle of Ensure followed by a breakfast of eggs, toast, yogurt, and coffee.

Wore my Ruez underwear and I'm quickly enjoying them, but not so much the bikini briefs. Think I'll save those for when I wear shorts. Also lugged my camera and Pod around. Awkward. I'll also be formally retiring my Saucony Exodus shoes. I loved them when they worked for me but I'm now officially a full-time minimalist runner. I swear I was running in a pair of high heels out there.

Aches and Pains:
Calves are still stiff but not really painful. Just feel like an old man when I get up to walk around. Beyond that, everything else was fine.

Codename - Candid Camera
Felt bizarre taking video of myself running. A little nervous to watch it but I'm excited to edit it. Assuming anything is usable.

Mile 1 - 16:47
Mile 2 - 18:36
Mile 3 - 14:14
Mile 4 - 15:41
Finish - 1:05:20

Monday, December 12, 2011

2011 VA Runner Blue & Gray Half Marathon

Must be Christmas time because everyone is getting PRs today. Including me.

After reviewing last year's notes and the route again, I had a decent idea of what to expect for today's race. Going into the race I also had the expectation of just going along at my own pace and not really racing. Turns out I can't do that. I can't run in a race without racing and without giving it my all. I thought I could make this a training run but it turns out I can't. Oh well, I tried.

Anyway, I didn't have a goal for this race other than to assess my time as I neared the end and push for a PR if I was close. Beyond that, it was just a question of how cold I'd be and how much I could tinker with my fluids and fuel. After an early alarm this morning, I hopped in the shower and got dressed. I headed down the road and downed a small coffee. I made a pit stop at Wal Mart, then another one at another one, then drove the course. Once I got a bead on the water tables, I decided to run with just one water bottle, something I rarely do since I drink like a horse when I run.

Once at the start, I had to park down by the 13 mile marker and hoof it to the start/finish area. I got my chip, chatted with some local runners I knew, then headed back to my car to warm up. I had dressed in shorts with calf sleeves but had pants on over top just in case. I ditched the pants but kept my extra top layer on, grabbed both bottles, grabbed my fuel, and headed back to the start. Talked to my dad (aka my personal photographer) for a bit, then meandered around a bit trying to stay warm.

With zero nerves going into the race, I lined up, stripped off a top layer and started. I ditched one of my bottles and my extra layer at my car and did my best to stay warm. The first mile made my fingers hurt. Hurt enough to make me want to look for extra layers of clothes that people may toss on the ground. Nobody really tossed any layers so I had to deal with the pain. Mile 2 was downhill and like the Lumberjack that I am, I tore off down the hill like a jack rabbit. Down the small hill on Cowan and the bigger Hospital Hill left me tired with sore feet. But I pushed through to the canal trail.

On the other end of the canal trail we head through some snaky turns before heading over to the gravel road around the ball fields at the college. I was doing okay, taking on fuel every 2 or 3 miles or so, avoiding the ice as much as I could, and drinking when I thought about it. My right hamstring would cramp up a bit but would get better after I pushed fluids for a mile or so. At the gravel loop, I peeled off to take a leak behind some sheds until I saw that the road turned enough that people in front of me could see me. Not much to see but I'm not that brave. So I went a little further until I saw a tree that worked well enough to hide behind. Slipping on the frosty grass, I got back into the race but felt off my rhythm. But I continued to push through and refilled my bottle as needed.

As I cruised through the same real estate I had already run through, I felt okay. I'd walk every mile or two for no more than a minute. I knew from previous races that a 1 mile run followed by a 1 minute walk would get me through a marathon so I used the same routine loosely today with similar success.

As I clicked off the 10th mile, I fly down a short hill and back to the canal trail doing math in my head. It took me a good mile to finally figure out that not only was a PR an option, it was easily within reach. The only question was Hospital Hill. I've run it several times before but I didn't know how much energy I would have left in the tank. So I ramped up my fuel intake before the hill hoping to power through. I walked up the steps to the bottom of the hill and ran the first little portion before crawling to a walk. I did a mental reboot of sorts and started running again. I had turned my music on around mile 8 and had found a solid groove. Shortly after doing this, I began passing people. Nothing major, but it was easier to reel people in. Back at the hill, I found this groove again and started running. And ran to the top. Passing people the whole way. I've walked that hill many times and know what it feels like. It hurts. It sucks. But it's just a hill and you'll eventually get over it.

Once to the top I walked a bit to refill my bottle and take a short break. From there, it was running to the end. Even up the more evil hill on Cowan. Hospital Hill is a mile long. But it just knocks you down. The hill on Cowan kicks you in the nuts while you're still down. But I powered through the hill continually checking my watch to see where I was on pace. I amazed myself with my time on Hospital Hill but knew I still had to finish. Past the store fronts, ditching my water bottle at my car as I ran by, then a full on sprint to the finish.

A new PR was born. Unofficially about 10 minutes. Maybe 11. I'm certainly happy with my time and I enjoyed my finish. I felt good, finished strong, and was happy.

But I wasn't done.

You see, there's a local running legend that was also running today's half. Her name is Buffy but her real name is Elizabeth. The same name as my own daughter. In fact, they're both 7 years old. That's right, a 7 year old girl ran the half marathon today. So after I finished, I stopped at my car for a drink, then headed back out onto the course to find her. She wasn't far behind me and I picked her up about a half mile or so from the finish. I ran with her to the final turn before letter her cross by herself to enjoy the moment. She had fun and enjoyed it. Her parents didn't push her into it. She was tired but not in any danger health-wise. I congratulated her and her dad after the finish.

But I still wasn't done.

I went back out on the course. I cheered people on as they passed me and headed toward the finish. Many were in their own zone but many said thanks and smiled. It was great. As I got a little over a mile from the finish, I refilled my bottle at the final water station and caught the last runner. She was walking and obviously in pain. I stayed with her to the finish. We walked. We talked. We were quiet. I never introduced myself, never pushed DailyMile or anything else on her. Never told her to train more or to give up. I tried to keep positive, encouraging, and helpful. I carried some Gatorade for her for a bit and just kept her company to the end. As she neared the finish, I stopped to let her go the last little bit by herself. She said something like "thanks for getting me this far." My response was something like "I didn't get you this far, you did it yourself. Enjoy the finish. It's yours."

So with that, I hope I gave her and Buffy a bit of an early Christmas present with my presence. Not that I'm a big deal but I've been there before. I've been last and I know how much it sucks. I hope I took just a little bit of that suckiness away for her. And I hope I distracted Buffy enough to enjoy the race just a bit more.

Temps were about 25F to start and warmed to about 40F by the time I finished. Maybe 45F by the time I finished walking in with the last runner. Winds were light but noticeable in some areas. The sun was out but you never really felt it. Ice was present in some areas, especially the water stops.

Fluids and Fuel:
Breakfast was a small can of Starbucks Double Espresso and a little GU Brew. I took one e-Gel before the start of the race. During the race I didn't start taking gels until mile 3. I had two small flasks with about 2 or 3 servings in each. I took a small swig of gel again at mile 5 I think, then again around 7 or 8. Around mile 9 I started going every mile with a small swig. My single bottle had Nathan Catalyst in it and I refilled it with more water and more Catalyst around mile 6. After that I refilled my bottle as needed, which was around mile 8 and 11 I think. Recovery after my race was chocolate flavored Zico followed by more water. Lunch after that was a sandwich and cinnamon roll and iced tea.

Aches and Pains:
My ankles hurt the first few miles from pounding my fat ass down the hills. After that, they felt okay except for the occasional cramp in my right hamstring. That appeared to be easily cleared up with more fluids. But right now my calves are stiff and sore.

Codename - Anything is possible
If my big butt can do a 50k and if a 7 year old girl can do 13.1 miles, then you can do anything you put your mind to, just like Doc Brown said.

Start - 0:23 to cross the start line
Mile 1 - 9:43 (downhill)
Mile 2 - 9:53 (downhill)
Mile 3 - 10:48
Mile 4 - 10:55
Mile 5 - 11:02
Mile 6 - 10:59
Mile 7 - 11:45 (includes bathroom break)
Mile 8 - 10:14
Mile 9 - 10:47
Mile 10 - 10:31
Mile 11 - 10:14
Mile 12 - 11:18 (Hospital Hill)
Mile 13 - 10:09
Finish - 2:19:03 (a new PR by nearly 12 minutes)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Altra Zero Drop

Back Story
I first heard about Altra Zero Drop on Twitter and DailyMile through the usual sources of fellow runners that had their hands on a pair of their shoes before the rest of us normal folks. While I envy these people for getting so many products to review, I don't envy the work that goes into reviewing them. It's taken me months just to craft this one post.

Anyway, I heard about the company and wasn't terribly impressed. After all, I've long been a Saucony snob and doubted I would ever convert to something different. I had finally boarded the minimalist bandwagon and was really enjoying my Kinvaras and Peregrines. Then I started reading more and more about the Altra toe box and how much larger it was. This caught my interest because I've had issues with my toes in the past and the prospect of eliminating those issues was oh so tempting.

So I finally broke under the weight of my own self-induced peer pressure and bought a pair of the Instincts from a friend who happened to work out a deal to become a distributor. I was hesitant to buy shoes from such a new company but that temptation of healthy toes just wouldn't go away. I'm sure anyone out there that's had a black toenail can attest to how annoying and gross they can be.

After wearing the Instincts long enough (more on them in a second), I opted to try their Lone Peak trail shoes. These were the ones I was most excited about since most of my toe issues stem from trail runs, especially the long ones. I feel that I've now worn both shoes long enough to write a respectable review of each.

The Instinct

I have the grey pair (or "gray" if you're an American like me but doesn't use the English spelling). I call them my "space shoes" or my "Spaceman Spiff Shoes" depending on how I feel. I do not like the looks of the black ones and really wish they'd get some bright orange ones. I'd even settle for lime green. Mine are size 10.5, the same size I wear in my Saucony Kinvaras. I could give you the nitty gritty on weight, length, etc. but I'm sure somebody else has done that so I'll skip it. In the box, you get two pair of insoles. I immediately went with the thinnest pair. I also opted to use the "modified" lacing they have on their site but only the top portion. I didn't do the funny stuff where you skip crossing over. These shoes also have 75 miles on them currently.

They fit like nothing I've ever worn before. But when you think about it, that's pretty obvious. How many shoes out there have an oversize toe box? None that I know of. But I will say my toes were happy. They had plenty of room to party and weren't cramped. There were no toenail issues and only one very minor blister on the end of my toe after running the Richmond Marathon. The top of the shoe is tight. The alternate lacing appears to help some of that but I've found it's more of a technique to get them laced than other shoes. It's almost like there's little to no give in the laces and the upper. So too loose and your foot slops around. Too tight and your foot falls asleep (or it feels like a giant is standing on your foot). The alternate lacing at the top appears to alleviate some of that pain.

Joint Test:
As a zero-drop shoe, there's obviously not going to be much cushion underneath them. So after longer runs, my knees and hips were hurting. But I'm notoriously a heel-striker so I'm not too surprised they hurt. I've tried to adjust my stride and cadence but when I stop thinking about it, I fall back into old habits. Generally around the 10 to 15 mile mark is when things really start to be noticeable, but that's about the same as my Kinvaras that have 150 miles on them. I'm sure if you're used to a minimalist shoe or have a proper foot strike pattern, you won't notice much difference.

Toe Box:
As I mentioned before, the toe box is the real selling point with these shoes. I started running in Saucony Rides, size 10 wide. After some black toenails, I upped it to a size 10.5 regular and have been fine since. But my longer runs, especially on trails, would see those black toenails crop up again. Not so with the wide toe box. The best analogy I can think of is the regular shoes out there are like ballet slippers while the Altras are like bedroom slippers. One is very constricting while the other is roomy. This is the make-or-break feature for me. If Altra was a conventional shoe with a conventional toe box, I wouldn't buy them.

Buy them. There are some things I don't like but they are overshadowed by the things I love. I'm not a fan of their colors. The top of the shoe fits tight. The heel is a little loose sometimes. But I love the large toe box. I love the overall feel of the shoe (lightweight and breathable). And I love how engaged the company is in their customers.

The Lone Peak

In almost every aspect the Lone Peaks are just like the Instincts. The primary differences are the lugs on the bottom, the little "rudder" on the heel, and the lack of a second pair of insoles. With that said, I opted for a size 11 in these just to give myself an extra little bit of room for my toes. I'm not sure if this was wise as my foot slides sometimes. Kind of a mixed bag right now but I'm thinking my next pair will be size 10.5 and I'll compare them to see which is best. Who knows, maybe the size 11 will work well later in my ultras when my feet are swollen. This pair has 25 miles on them.

Like the Instincts, they fit tight on the top of the foot and have plenty of party room in the toe box. I tried the alternate lacing I mentioned above but for today's run I went traditional and it felt a little better. I'll try switching my Instincts to see if it improves but overall it doesn't appear to impact performance in any way.

Shit Hits Fan:
I've thrown everything I can at this shoe except ice and snow. Mud, small rocks, large rocks, sand, water, dirt, branches, leaves, roots, and then some. Nothing has slowed these shoes down. My trail running consists of two primary types of trails; single track dirt and old railroad beds. On the single track trails the shoe offers great grip and doesn't cling to the mud. The lugs are wide enough apart to let the mud come off and the sole is large enough to give you plenty of traction. On the railroad bed I'm faced with ballast that varies from soft pine needles to large pointy rocks. The rock plate in the sole kept my feet happy through short and long runs. It easily out-performed the Saucony Peregrines in my shoe rotation. In the sand it gripped easily but didn't kick up as much sand as I expected. In the water, I was impressed. More impressed than I am with the grip of the shoe. I took a giant leap across a small creek and managed to look like an idiot by landing in the middle of said creek. Knee deep in cold water, I slogged out and was impressed by how quickly the shoes drained. Within minutes, portions of the outer were drying. In the next mile to mile and a half, a good 85% of the water had drained from inside the shoe. The only thing that felt wet was my sock. I only had a quarter mile of the lead-shoe-syndrome after taking a full soaking. After that, things drained and dried pretty fast. Faster than I expected.

Time for the bad news. The areas where this shoe could be made better. First, the "rudder" on the end of the heel. I have no idea what purpose it serves but it feels like a waste. Maybe over time I'll change my mind and since trimming it off would take more time than it's worth, I'm not going to mess with it. Second, the top of the shoe could use some padding. Again, this is a bit of a grey area. Too much padding means too much water retention or too much weight. But a tad bit more would help protect your feet (or even your toes) from those sneaky sticks that try to stab you on the trail. Third, gaiters. Most trail runners I know wear them. This shoe isn't designed for them. At least not the Dirty Girl Gaiters I use. I applied the Velcro to the heel and it lasted about 5 miles. Plus there's no d-ring loop on the toe to hook your hook. While I know I can hook my hook to the laces, it doesn't hold as well. This is the only clear advantage my Saucony Peregrines have over the Lone Peaks. Finally, color. Yes, again with the color scheme. I know this is a new company but these colors are blah and drab. And when I run in the woods, I don't want to blend into my surroundings, especially during deer season. Bright colors could save my life. Plus they look cool and have no impact on performance.

Final Analysis
Buy a pair of these. Either type or both. I'm not paid to endorse these shoes or this company. In fact, I paid them for the shoes. And I'm going to do it again. These guys pay attention to the small details other companies don't bother with. The box itself is a wealth of information and is built like a brick shit house. No flim flam here, these are solid shoes with a big toe box.

The Instincts are like the Kinvaras I'm used to but with that large toe box and less cushion. The Lone Peaks are like the Peregrines but with better traction and more toe room. So all in all, they're the best shoe I've got in my rotation right now. I'm not saying that they're perfect by any means. There is certainly room for some improvement. But this is a young company and I'm sure there will be changes down the road. But in the end, they're the best I've got right now.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Molly Roohi - Ironman Triathlete

A local running legend ran Kona this year after a very impressive Ironman finish in France earlier this year. While I've never really met her, she did teach me that I pretty much can't swim worth a shit. No, she didn't say that, but I could read between the lines. And I'm fine with sticking to running. Maybe some time later, much later, I'll attempt triathlons.

Anyway, she was invited to compete at the Ironman World Championships this year. An amazing feat in itself. What's really amazing is how well she's handling a poor performance. I was shocked at how poorly she did but then I realized, she's just as human as everybody else. And the fact that she was not only invited but also finished the race, tells me that she is a bit super-human.

Her splits were 1:10:35 (swim), 5:54:21 (bike), and 7:17:58 (run). Her swim was okay, she felt good about it. Her bike was rough with the wind and a flat about 2 miles from the end (so she just ran it in instead of changing). Her run was horrible (her words, not mine). I can't imagine walking a marathon but I'm amazed at how well she did despite the hardships she faced. Overheated, sunburned, dehydrated, under fueled, and totally exhausted. But I'm still amazed and impressed that people can do this and do it so well. While her 14+ hour finish time may not be as awesome as she had hoped for, it's pretty damn awesome in my book.