Friday, July 31, 2009

The great experiment

One reason I enjoy running is that the sport allows me to indulge my interest in technology. From my first few months using the Nike+ Sportsband to my switch to the Garmin 50 I have tracked my performance and progress and studied the results. Technology isn't limited to sports watches, I started a site within called Runner's Tech Review to provide feedback on every type of fitness technology I use. To be sure, some of this technology is battery powered but much of it isn't. Sports drinks, running shoes and energy bars are all technologies in their own right.

I've just replaced my Blackberry with an iPhone and I'm learning to deal with it. In many ways it's a step down from its replacement but it offers some capabilities to runners that the Blackberry cannot match. For one thing I can finally look at comments posted on my Runner's World Loop blog without being tethered to a PC. I thought I would have better tools for mobile posting using Safari but Blogger doesn't really work right. There may be issues with Flash or Java. I can post simply by sending an email to a special address so I've found a good solution for that. The big exciting technology opportunity is leveraging the GPS capability of the iPhone. I mentioned MotionX yesterday and put it to the test walking a few places in the city. The system had a difficult time acquiring a signal but that could be related to the many tall buildings in mid town NYC. Today I will try a run with the iPhone using MotionX to track my speed, distance, elevation and route. I'm hoping that it works better than the Qstarz Sports Recorder.

To hedge my bets, I'll have my trusty Garmin as backup and it will be interesting to compare results between the two. The only concern I have is the weather. Storms are expected and I don't want to soak the iPhone.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

MotionX looks cool but I'm going to miss my Blackberry

I received my iPhone 3GS a couple of days ago and it was DOA. I got a 3G loaner unit in the meantime and installed MotionX, an application that uses the location aware capability of the iPhone to capture data via GPS. I have not been able to use it yet but perhaps at lunch I'll test it out. This app creates a KMZ file like the Qstarz 1300S that can be overlayed on Google Earth to show path, speed and elevation data.

I'll admit to some frustrations with the iPhone. The text input is a few steps down from my Blackberry. There are many things that are simple on the Blackberry (like posting to my blogs) that are going to be difficult with the Apple. I'm actually using my Blackberry to do this post because, despite the iPhone's full browser capability with Safari, the Blogger interface doesn't work.

I know I'll eventually get it sorted out and I'm really excited to have a resource that can use GPS to capture running data and display it in real time (sorry Qstarz). I'll need to get a sleeve holder at City Sports for the iPhone so that I can run with it. Perhaps I'll use MotionX today to track my way and back to the store..

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hot slog

No matter how hot a summer day can get, running conditions at 4:00 AM are usually fairly comfortable. I've experienced mornings when it was downright chilly even though the day's high would reach the mid 80's. Yesterday morning was cool and humid but today was hot and very humid. As I stepped out for my warmup I could feel the moisture in the air and I wondered how this might affect the quality of my run.

I took off and randomly chose a street to follow. I like to choose my path through the neighborhood in real time rather than map it out ahead of time safety purposes. I don't want anyone noticing that I run past here or there every day at 4:15. Despite the oppressive conditions I pushed somewhat at the beginning to help accelerate my transition from anaerobic to aerobic breathing. I've been thinking a lot about cadence lately and wondering if I could increase my running speed by increasing my steps per minute. Soon I started feeling the heat and hoped the run would go by quickly. When I checked the Garmin I saw that I had only been outside for seven minutes. It seemed longer than that and I could tell that the next 2/3rds of the run would be a slog.

I ran with my Brooks this morning and they were fine so this was a good test of their performance compared with the NB 460's that seem to enable my best paces. There was a lot more activity than yesterday including the first time I saw another person, not a runner, but someone coming home very late. There were three or four cars which is also unusual. One was tossing the NY Times onto people's driveways and the other was tossing Newsday. On my short ride to the train station this morning I counted five runners along the way. I wondered how they were dealing with the heat, humidity and sun. No one was smiling. I ended up running about 22 minutes at 9:19, certainly unworthy of a contribution to the Garmin fund. All the same I was happy to have toughed it out on a brutally warm morning. Every bit helps.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Morning Glory

Time to add another $20 to the Garmin fund for todays' early run. I was hoping to beat 9:05 and continue my steady improvement in pace during these morning excursions. I went out fast from the start encouraged by the fact that, right now, I am not suffering any injuries that would mitigate my efforts. I knew I was moving well and I thought about how running with others can help improve speed so I imagined I was trying to keep up with a fast paced crowd. In truth it was just me and lots of rabbits. I decided to run hard for as long as I could and throttle back if I got tired. I knew I could run one mile fairly fast (compared to my average pace) so I was curious to see how far I could go before I started to feel depleted.

It was cool but already humid and those conditions worked for me. I felt like I had a fair amount of glycogen on reserve as I passed the 12 minute mark. I didn't look at my pace or distance and I was very curious to know if I was really doing well or if I was experiencing a 4:00 AM delusion. I returned home after covering 2.5 miles in about 22 minutes and was very pleased to see I'd averaged a pace of 8:40/mile.

I think today's $20 was well earned but lately I'm wondering whether I want the 405 or if my new 3GS iPhone will provide adequate utility for GPS and elevation mapping. But that's a subject for another post!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Emerging Runner, Jr.

I ended up covering over 12 miles this weekend after all with a pre-dinner run on Sunday with my daughter. She really wants to run and lately, when we've been out for walks, she's taken off sprinting a few blocks ahead, always raring to go further and faster. She's a great athlete and I'd love it if she took an interest in distance running.

Our plan was to go up, over and back along some adjacent streets and cover a distance that I knew to be .65 miles. I thought she'd tire half way around but she moved right along, happily talking while maintaining a credible pace. We finished the .65 mile loop and she asked to stop for a minute before resuming through the middle school grounds and up a longer road before heading back home. When we finished I noted that we'd covered 1.2 miles. We were both hot and wet, some of it due to running past homes that were watering their lawns near the sidewalk. I wore a cotton jersey and was amazed how soaked I'd become on such a short run. The humidity was brutal and I once again appreciated the benefits of wicking technical jerseys.

I'm hoping to run with my son next weekend and to continue running on weekends with my daughter. It was pure joy to see her by my side, knowing that in a few years I may not even be able to keep up with her. In the meantime I'm still the fastest runner on my block!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Short and sweet

I had hoped that today's run would be the longest of the weekend and I was aiming to cover 5 miles. I was happy with my weekend runs with AG at Stillwell and around the neighborhood and looked to cap things off with a slightly longer Sunday run. The weather was not looking good and there was thunder but no rain. I was anxious to get out to run before the storm and I hit the street anticipating a fast return at the first sign of lightning. I pushed the pace and went west on Jericho Turnpike so I could make a loop around the neighborhood and cut in towards home if necessary. I decided to run with my NB 460's today to compare them to the Helly Hansen Trail Lizards and I was once again impressed with the versatility of the New Balance shoes.  About ten minutes into the run the sun came out along with the heat and humidity. It quickly became clear that I wouldn't be covering five miles under those conditions so I made my way back having run a total of 3.7 miles at 8:46/mile.

I finished the three day period with 11 miles, a little short of what I'd done on recent weekends. All the same I felt that Friday's trail run and today's brisk pace were worthy of contribution to the Garmin fund. I'm up to $100, a third of the way there. My next goal is to break 9:05 on a 4:00 AM run next week. I may help myself out by running again with the New Balance 460's. They may be made for trails but they do darn well on the road.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Our natural resource

Nature was the theme of the day on Friday as the whole family headed out to the trails at Stillwell for a forestry tour conducted by none other than Adventure Girl herself. My wife and kids often visit the nearby trails for hikes but they wanted to know more about the forest, plants and trees. It was a different way of viewing Stillwell which I have previously seen only while bounding over trails, roots, puddles and rocks. We had a great time and learned a lot along the way.

After the tour my family returned home to look up the samples they collected. AG and I remained at the Preserve to do some serious trail running. I'm planning to run the Dirty Sock 10K in August so I'm trying to log some trail time. AG may join me in the race although she'll be back at grad school by then so it may be hard for her to get there. We brought along the Qstarz 1300S Sports Recorder so we could record our run and later view the area we covered on a map. Stillwell has lots of trails, some with fairly challenging sections and the layout of the trails can be confusing when you're viewing them from the ground rather than from Google Earth. I had my compass and that helped a lot. AG has a much better sense of place and direction and was able to identify some trails that we'd previously covered. The last time I ran that course I'd suspected that I was circling back over old ground a few times and now I'm sure I had. We wore our Helly Hansen Trail Lizards for a true field test and liked the result. The full report is being written for Runner's Tech Review but, in short, we felt they were capable trail shoes for shorter length runs like the 4 miles we covered yesterday.

AG stayed with us until this morning and we did a 5K+ neighborhood run cutting into neighborhood #2 along the way. Today's run was at a fairly easy pace and served as a good recovery from the rigor of Stillwell. AG wore her Helly's and pronounced them less than ideal for the street. That was the conclusion I'd also reached the first time I tried them on pavement. Before AG left us for more weekend adventures she engaged in some competitive Wii play with my son and daughter. I don't remember who won but any of them can beat me. It was a great, educational and fun filled running weekend. The best part is that there's much more to come!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Into the woods

I'm beginning to think about my 10K trail race in August. The course looks interesting, it starts at the southern end of a park and the runners move north to the top, double back along the same route and return. Along the way there's a lake to get around. I really love trail running and I enjoy racing but I'm wondering how well the two will mix. The races I've run have all been road runs with even terrain and enough room for everyone to find their own lane. Trail running, I've discovered, often involves narrow paths with obstacles to avoid. What is the protocol for this? How do faster runners get by slower runners when the trail is less than a foot wide? Who has the right of way and what happens in the out and back section when traffic doubles? I don't know why I'm worrying about this now but it comes from what I've learned in the races I have run:

1. Know the course ahead of time. Even if you can't run it beforehand, familiarize yourself with the layout using Gmaps. This provides context for how far is left to go.

2. Use tools like Google Earth to detect marked elevation changes. My April race provided a few unwanted surprises that worked against my race strategy. My end of race sprint reserve was eaten up by a final steep hill 1/4 mile from the finish.

3. Despite the adrenalin rush at the beginning that prompts you to go out fast, be thoughtful about energy conservation for the first couple of miles. A speedy start can work for you on a 5K but a 10K, especially on variable surfaces, will require every ounce of reserve.

Despite my questions about the trail race experience I am very excited to participate in this event. Later today AG will be taking me, my wife and the kids on a nature walk in Stillwell Woods and we'll follow that with a trail run. We'll be putting the Helly Hansens to the test for that and report back on how they perform on Stillwell's more challenging trails.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The one after 9:09?

You might recognize the subject of this post as an old Beatle's song. For me it's a question of how I'll do the next time I go out for a run at 4:00 AM compared to the last two days. This early morning outdoor running has been a great enhancement to my overall workout program. I cannot remember the last time I got up at 4:00 knowing that I would need to endure the tedious and percussively loud whine of the treadmill. I appreciate the machine and respect that after more than a decade it still does the job. I built my running fitness with this treadmill over many months. However, respect and affection can be very different things.

Moving from a seven-day-a-week (five on the treadmill) routine to five days running outdoors, one day of elliptical and one rest day schedule has been a big improvement. I've never been much of an outdoors person (ask my wife) but running has changed that. Give me the road and the trails (or, worst case, the track) and I'm happy. I get up excited at 4:00 AM knowing cool conditions and quiet streets await me. The only downside has been that my pace seems to suffer early in the morning, especially compared with my past treadmill experience. Where I was running 8:50 miles on the treadmill I was running 9:30 or slower outdoors. I guess it has to do with the machine providing more help than I thought.

This morning I went out fast and tried to maintain a fluid pace. I knew from experience that feeling like I was moving along quickly can be deceiving at that hour. I ended up covering almost the same distance as yesterday, 2.4 miles, but my pace had improved to 9:09. This is definitely the direction I want and I'm wondering if I can maintain this progress going forward. In the meantime it's another $20 into the Garmin fund for breaking 9:10 before the birds are up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Banking on a Garmin 405

I've decided to target $300 for my Garmin 405 fund. As I'd mentioned previously, I'm going to contribute $20 to the fund every time I achieve a goal or perform a notable run. The goals are quantifiable but the other criteria are objective so I'll serve as both the banker and the judge. As long as I think I've earned the contribution I'll award the cash. Last Friday's 4.7 mile Central Park run was on the bubble because I didn't break 9:00/mile. On the other hand it was almost five miles, somewhat hilly with 90+ percent humidity and temperatures in the high 80's. So 9:04 overall for that distance earns the first $20. Sunday was 3.7 miles under 9:00/mi so that gets the prize as well. $40 banked.

This morning I was questioning whether to attempt my early morning run. The rain was coming down hard moments before I dressed to run. With the 4:00 AM darkness, despite my headlamp, I had concerns about visibility. I opened the garage and saw that the rain was very light, barely there in fact, so I took off hoping for the best. It really turned out to be the best, the cool breeze and the light moisture in the air felt great. It wasn't too dark and I felt limited only by the amount of time I had to run.

I ended up covering 2.4 miles at 9:16/mile. It was the fastest I've done at 4:00 AM but the judge is not awarding any prize money for that. Considering that it's tougher to go fast minutes after awakening from a sound sleep I'll concede to a goal of 9:10 for an early morning pace. Once I reach that I'll bank the money and revise the goal closer to 9:00/mile.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Erase the Bethpage 5K, bring on the Dirty Socks 10K

Last night I went online to see if registration had opened up for the Bethpage 5K. This race, held at Bethpage State Park on 7/27, is one of a series of summer races held at state parks on Long Island. I know that participation in this series is high and that people who signed up for the entire series are given priority. The race planners expect so many runners that they've asked that people carpool to the event to minimize the amount of cars and traffic. They also said that single race registration for Bethpage would only open up the week before the race. When I got on the website to get information it said "No single race registration." So, unless that was a placeholder that will be taken down today it looks like I may be out of luck for next Monday. If I am unable to participate in the 5K it will be the first month since March where I won't be racing. I suppose I could count last week's Fun Run as my July event.
While I would love to do this 5K it would have required me to rush home early from the office and battle the crowds to make the 7:00 PM start. I think I have found a better challenge: the Babylon Dirty Socks 10K on August 23rd. This event was suggested by one of my co-bloggers on the Runner's World Loop and it looks very interesting. Most of the course is on trails and the topography is fairly flat so it could be a fast race. I have not yet competed in a 10K event so it's an opportunity to do that distance plus a trail race, both for the first time.
This also gives me about a month to prepare and train. What better excuse for me to hit the trails next weekend?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

In praise of the NB 505

At the time that I resumed running almost a year ago I only owned a single pair of athletic shoes. Those shoes were New Balance 505's; cushioned cross training/walking shoes that I'd had for years. I started my return to running by walking, covering two or three miles on the treadmill or in the neighborhood a few times a week. Up until then the 505's had served me well as the shoes I wore every weekend for almost any activity except for formal occasions.

Even with four of five years of use they still looked brand new and felt great whenever I wore them. They were perfect walking shoes and despite my assessment that I've put more than 600 miles onto these shoes they still serve me well since I don't use my many pairs of running shoes for anything but running. If my wife says we're going to Target or to the market I still reach for my 505's. 

It wasn't until I began adding some runs within my walks last August that I realized that the cushioning and stiffness of the NB's worked against me. I soon bought my first pair of running shoes (Nike Turbulence 13's) and moved to full time running. The rest, as they say, is history. Funny that when I've tried on NB street running shoes a few times since then I haven't loved the fit. However, my NB 460's are still a great choice for the trails.

I had hoped to hit the trails at least once this weekend but since my weekend schedule was tight I needed to stick close to home both days. Yesterday I covered 3.5 easy miles and this morning I went out early and was ready to move a little faster. It was about 65 degrees with moderate humidity and light winds so I worked a little on my speed and looked for routes with hills or long inclines.

After spending some time within the neighborhood I moved over to the western edge road and then went east to attack the lengthy hill on Jericho Turnpike before I re-entered the neighborhood. I ended up covering 3.7 miles at an 8:54 pace. I thought that was great considering the tougher than normal course. A brisk and challenging Friday run in Central Park and a rigorous run on Sunday book-ended three miles of CFMs on Saturday.  I covered a little less than 12 miles on those three days, a bit shorter than what I've been doing over that span but I'm definitely running harder these days.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


LFD = Long Fast Distance
CFM = Comfort Food Miles

My hope for yesterday's run in Central Park was to cover four to six miles at a leisurely pace, accompanied by friends CK and AG. CK has been recovering from a stress fracture in his foot and the heat and humidity both provided a good case for an easy pace. We met at the statue of the Maine in Columbus Circle at the southwest edge of the Park and started off with this plan (suggested by CK):"Let's just run." Although it was hot and humid I felt energized and we covered the first mile at around an 8:30 pace. Pace is a relative thing and while 8:30 is a 5K race pace for me it wasn't much of a challenge for my companions. While I thought about the difficulty of maintaining a mid-8 pace for another four miles, AG and CK were happily chatting away without breaking a sweat. I finally managed to croak out the words "Can we slow this down a little?" and they immediately backed down the pace to about 9:20.

I appreciated the respite and we moved off of the paved course and onto the bridal path and followed it along the reservoir for a while. Our pace picked up and I tried to slow it down but in the interest of keeping up it didn't get much slower. I lost track of where we were and at one point I was concerned that we had miles to go and were still traveling north. I asked AG in an almost pleading way when we were going to cross over and go south and she laughed and said we already did that. That made me very happy. Around the 3 1/2 mile mark the odometer in my body reliably signaled the distance with some discomfort from my groin pull. I said that I couldn't do a faster pace from that point on although we were tracking well below 9:00 on the downhills. We finished near the southern end of the Park after covering 4.7 miles with an overall pace of 9:04. Considering the conditions and the length of the run it was long and fast and I welcomed the break. It took me almost ten minutes to feel recovered with the help of a cold bottle of water. When we got back to the office we conducted a taste test of Fruit2O water that will appear soon in Runner's Tech Review.

I had some good rest overnight but didn't want to push myself so I decided to do a slow recovery run, not more than 3 miles or so. I didn't care about pace and I didn't want to go out much more than 30 minutes. The run felt great and I thought about how sometimes it's hard (see above) and sometimes it's the equivalent of comfort food - satisfying, effortless and fully enjoyable. I had to rein myself in and though I slipped passed my 5K goal I finished 3.5 miles at around 9:20, surprisingly fast considering I meant to go slow. I want to do a trail run tomorrow if I can but our schedule for Sunday starts fairly early so I don't know if that's realistic. Perhaps I'll do it in the afternoon instead. A great thing about the trails is that most of the running is in tree provided shade. It may allow me to combine LFD with some CFM.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sublimating my competitive nature

I was pleased to see that the Emerging Runner captured the #5 spot for the top 100 blogs on Runner's World for April, May and June. My competitive side wants me to rank higher but I'm in good company and the top four blogs deserve their positions. I let my competitive nature get the better of me earlier in the week when I took off ahead of everyone in Wednesday's Fun Run. I had given clear direction that the event was about fun not competition yet I could not resist the combination of short distance, low humidity and a downhill stretch. This morning I thought about competition and how running is mostly about competing with one's self. After a race I do check the results but I never think twice about who finished before me. I monitor my pace and distance when I train because it's fun to know what you accomplish when you work so hard.

In terms of monitoring performance, I've wanted a Garmin 405 GPS watch for a long time. I do have the Garmin 50 with foot pod and HRM and it works great so why change? For one thing it would be great to track speed and distance with maximum accuracy. It would also allow me to capture elevation through the run. It has a built-in compass which would help with trails. The 405 also has export capabilities for overlaying runs on mapping applications. I thought that I might challenge myself and hold off buying the Garmin 405 a little longer until I've met certain goals. When a goal is met I'll put a certain amount of money into a fund. When I reach the amount it will cost to buy the watch I will. A goal could be reaching 25 miles on a non-vacation week, maintaining a specific pace or reaching a distance goal. No matter what, by the time I'm done I'll feel that I have justified buying it.

This afternoon AG and I are doing our end-of-the-work week run with one of my two running advisors, CK. CK is a master runner who's competed in marathons and many distance races. He's a few years older than me but much faster. CK runs in the low sevens and regularly beats the neighborhood 20-somethings in his town's annual Turkey Trot. It will be humid and near 90 degrees when we go out to Central Park. Today my competitive nature will have to take a back seat to just keeping up with two fast and experienced runners.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Good things in small packages

Tuesday afternoon I was delighted to receive a pair of AKG K321 In-Canal Bud Headphones from the manufacturer. In the past I have written about running with a music player and my position on that has been quite negative. For one thing I'm reluctant to carry anything at all when I run so the thought of bringing along a device that weighs a third of a pound is unappealing. I've run with the Qstarz 1300S unit a few times, carrying the device in a holder that straps to my upper arm, so I've become a bit more tolerant about the idea. I've also had bad experiences with ear buds in general, their shape and my ear never seem to be compatible. I also have some hearing loss in one ear and that has taken away some of the pleasure of the headphone experience.

This is not my review of these headphones, only an initial impression. I will be posting a full review in Runner's Tech Review after I've had a chance to take them out on a few runs. I don't have my company-provided 3GS yet (I'm going to miss my Blackberry but I need the iPhone for research) so I borrowed my daughter's iTouch to try out the K321's. My first impression was "Hey, how come this doesn't hurt?" The ear buds conformed to the shape of my ear and felt fine. This was a good sign. I began playing a song and noticed that the balance was better than the outside-of-the-ear headphones that I usually use. Despite my asymmetrical hearing it sounded very natural. I haven't run with the headphones so I don't know how the fit will be when I'm bouncing down the street or following trails. Honestly, I don't think it's something I'd use for trail running anyway - I don't need any distractions when I'm doing that. More to come on those.

The other surprise I received in the mail this week was a nice plaque from the Long Island Marathon for my 2nd place finish in my age category in the 5K. I can't remember the last time I earned an award like that other than something related to business. I will display it proudly in my guest room next to my plastic Fun Run medallion.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A run most fun

Today was so busy that I haven't had a chance to post. Part of this is due to our summer outing, a picnic in Central Park that tied me up a good part of the day. The picnic itself was nice but the best part was being "race director" for our division's Fun Run/Walk.

Race director implies it was a race and I was very clear that it was strictly non-competitive (although I ended up breaking my own rule by starting out at a virtual sprint). We had a large field of participants at our starting point at the south end of the Mall in Central Park. Our course was 1.5 miles around most of the park's lower loop.

Our starter organized us well and I had the walkers leave five minutes before the runners to help everyone finish a little more closely together. With the call of the start we were off with three of us pulling out ahead. I took off very fast but AG caught up with me quickly. The rumor was that AG and I would battle for the finish and though we did end up leading the pack most of the way we were challenged by a colleague, MK, who came up fast from behind. MK stayed with us for the rest of the run and at the one mile mark the volunteer at the water/timing station announced that our split time was in the high 7:00's.

We brought it in at close to an 8:00 pace overall and the three leads finished together so there was no winner. In truth AG and MK could have finished ahead of me but they were courteous and didn't leave me behind at the end. My ego thanked them. We had some good showings with a few non-runner's who ran and finished impressively. Afterward we joined the larger group at the picnic where we handed out finisher medallions and trophies to people for "best form", best outfit, etc.

It was a great experience putting this together and the participants seemed to enjoy it a lot. Perhaps the Emerging Runner 5K isn't such a bad idea after all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Does form follow function?

Last night, on my way down to Penn Station, I observed a runner making his way through the crowded mid-town streets. I wondered, with all the great places to run in NYC, why he picked Time Square at rush hour. What I noticed about this runner was how inefficient he looked as he ran. His stride reminded me of Elaine's dancing on Seinfeld with both feet splaying left and right and his elbows were swinging like a race walker. It made me wonder whether this was an extreme example of pronation or supination or just poor technique.

I began thinking about my own form and as I came into Penn I began watching my feet to see if they did anything strange when I walked. They looked fairly straight and I questioned whether that was due to my conscious observation. Walking with my head down was not smart because I almost ran into some people so I stopped the experiment without reaching a conclusion. I tried to look again during this morning's 4:00 AM run but quickly (and smartly) chose keep my eyes focused on the road.

There are a number of running stores in NYC that have treadmills and video cameras that allow sales people to capture a person's stride so they can recommend a specific shoe or shoe type. A ten second walk across the floor was all the analysis done to put me in my Brooks so I really don't know if I'm an efficient runner. I'm thinking about my next pair and whether I want to price shop for what I think I want or if it's worth paying more to find out what I really need.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thanks for your opinion but I love running

Our neighbors hosted a party yesterday to celebrate their son's graduation. I was talking with a few people when my neighbor walked over and mentioned that he hadn't seen me running in the neighborhood on Saturday. I told him that I'd done a run on the trails at Stillwell instead. I said that he should join me there some time but he smiled and said he'll stick with walking on the treadmill. This exchange prompted a few people to ask me about my running. One person (predictably) reacted as if I'd said that I'd spent the morning killing baby dolphins. "The only time you'll catch me running is when the beer truck is leaving." Hey, thanks for your opinion. Others were more gracious about it but still implied some negativity with statements like: "You're going to ruin your knees" and "Walking is just as good." I told one person that running shoes have evolved to the point that knee problems are unlikely as long as you replace your shoes after four or five hundred miles. He said that he had better things to spend his money on. You just can't help some people.

I've learned long ago that these negative reactions are mostly a projection of people's insecurities. Their negativism likely comes from guilt that they aren't able, or willing, to do the work. I remember when I was very active with karate some people would either poke fun of it verbally or do dumb things like pretend to shoot me with their finger to show that even the best martial artist is powerless against a gun. My point back to them was while they could pretend their finger was a weapon, mine actually was. After a while I'd just agree with them because it wasn't worth discussing.

In truth, I'm pleased that so many people find running to be a distasteful activity. Although I like seeing other runners on the road or on the trails I also like that most of the time it's a peaceful solitary experience. So when people drive by and look at me running with a miserable expression on my face, they can feel good about why they don't subscribe to this crazy sport. For me, I may look unhappy but I love it nonetheless. So in a way we all win!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sometimes it's just about getting out

My 5+ mile rough trail run on Saturday took a real toll on my energy level for the rest of that day. I wanted to nap at some point but I never had a chance. Before I knew it, it was time to go out for dinner with other activities following. I slept like a rock overnight but still felt a little tired this morning. I suspect I'm fighting off a bug or something but it may just be a case of too much activity and not enough rest.

My plan today was simply to get out and run in the neighborhood. I had no planned route, distance or pace and I considered going out without my Garmin to reinforce that today's run was about running and not performance. I knew I just couldn't leave my watch behind but I decided to use it only for monitoring elapsed time. My starting pace was slow and I was fine with that. I thought I might go for a high mileage run so conserving energy would be important. I crossed into neighborhood #2 because I hadn't gone through there in few weeks. There were lots of people on the street, mostly walkers, but a few were running. It was cool and the sun was low so I was fairly comfortable for the first 20 minutes. Soon after that I began to feel fatigued and thought about whether I really wanted to do a long run after all. I decided to head back to my neighborhood, targeting 5K as my total distance.

My curiosity got the best of me so I peeked at the distance on the Garmin and saw that I was approaching 3 miles at around the 27 minute mark. I changed course and headed back home, completing 3.4 miles at a mid-9 minute pace. I was actually surprised that my pace was as good as it was considering that I wasn't moving that well and hadn't tried to step it up along the way. Overall it was an unremarkable run but I was glad to have done it. The rest of today is taken up with a party and some family activities. I'm hoping to take my bike out later if time allows. Or maybe I'll go for that nap.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

First impression - Helly Hansen Trail Lizards

I've patiently waited all week for the opportunity to try my new Helly Hansen Trail Lizard running/hiking shoes so I put them to the test this morning. We will be posting a full review in the coming weeks on Runner's Tech Review but I'll give some first impressions here.

Today's run was at Stillwell Woods Preserve that has many different trail conditions and surfaces. I started with a run across grass from where I parked my car to the trail head and noted that although I'd requested size 10.5 shoes they seemed very roomy in the toe box and at the heel compared with my Brooks, New Balance and Asics shoes that are also in that size. The generous toe box didn't concern me. I'd rather error on the side of it being too large versus being too tight. The heel was a concern because of stability and slippage that could lead to blisters. It wasn't pronounced and I had good socks so that didn't prove to be a problem.

I followed the paths I knew but quickly found myself in unfamiliar territory. I skirted some big muddy sections then came upon some steep inclines with large rocks and I put the shoes to the test. The challenge was well met, no issues with traction. I would have liked more support and snugness around the back but the shoes themselves felt more stable than I'd expected. I can also see using these shoes for straight trail hiking. I dodged a number of bikers along the way and encountered some very rough terrain with pronounced inclines and declines, the surface often consisting of rough sand and rock. I had no trouble with that but the shoes really felt good when I found a trail of hard packed dirt. The running there was a pleasure and I think these shoes compared favorably to the New Balance 460's in that respect.

I had a very small compass (the face was smaller than a dime) so I needed to stop a few times to get a read. I spent some time getting lost and with the hills I got very tired and took a couple of short rest breaks. At one point I crossed paths with a mountain biker who was also a bit lost so I looked at the compass and sent him toward the difficult trails that he wanted and headed off to complete my run. As I exited the trails I ran on grass but then cut over to the pavement to get a feel for running on the street. Here I saw a big difference between these shoes and the NB's as the Helly Hansens are clearly made for softer surfaces. I ended up running 5.2 miles, much of it up steep trails, and the Trail Lizards handled it all competently. The big test was how I felt after the run and I was happy to note there was no foot or leg pain and my biggest current concern, a slight groin pull, felt much better at mile 5 than it did at mile zero. Trail running is clearly kinder to my body than street running but I love them both. I'll be writing more about the Trail Lizards, my next test will be to face them off against the NB 460's over similarly rough terrain.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Run like a girl - I wish!

I went for my second run in Central Park this week, this time accompanied by Adventure Girl. She was due to fly out later so we decided to do our usual work week ending run a day early. As we made our way into the park we talked about our run plan. AG noted that I'm constantly mentioning my need to improve my speed. She suggested that we proceed at a faster than normal pace and either incorporate some tempo changes or finish the workout with some intervals. I decided that the tempo method was better because I knew that I'd spend the whole run worrying that I'd have the energy to do speed drills later.

We started with a brisk pace and with the temperature in the low 70's it felt just right. Shortly into the run AG pointed to a sign and said "We'll sprint from that sign until we reach the lamp post, slow down for recovery for three more lamp posts, and repeat." When we reached the sign we both took off, I ran hard but AG was a blur, gaining about three feet per second on me until she reached the marker. I've always been a good sprinter so it was interesting to be the slow one. AG has clearly honed that quickness on the soccer field where your ability to burst is key. It was a little humbling but I wasn't humiliated because I felt good and I knew I was running well.

We ran four sets and then resumed a good steady pace, faster than what we usually run. We continued north past the lower loop and cut west across the Great Lawn before turning south toward our designated end point. We encountered some hills but they didn't slow us down much and near the end AG took off for the finish and I sped up but did not nearly match her pace. I actually lost sight of her and passed her while she waited at the end. If I didn't hear her call out to me I would probably have kept on going for a while.

It was a great run and I felt good about my speed progress. My daughter mentioned the other night that the expression "Run like a girl" is offensive. She's right, it can be. But to me it's an aspiration.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I may be old but I'm slow

During my Tuesday morning run in Central Park I spent time observing other runners that shared the path along the lower loop. There is no typical runner but there certainly are types: 20 something women running in pairs, weight challenged runners (joggers?) doing their best to move along, hampered by poorly chosen clothing (long sleeves, cotton jerseys) plus a mix of single runners, young and old, purposefully working their way around the path. That's me.

I mostly held my position during this run and overtook a number of slower runners. At one point I heard footsteps coming up quickly from behind and before I knew it I was passed by two younger guys who were chatting away as they ran by. I tried to keep pace with them but they were tracking at least a minute per mile faster than me. I watched them disappear into the distance, their gait effortless, their nonchalance annoying. I soon forgot them and went back to my normal pace scoping out the other runners, hoping to find someone older and slower than me to pass. Minutes later a distinguished looking gentleman (he looked like one of those guys who plays the president on TV) flew by me going faster than the two young guys before him. Instead of being mad I was pleased. That guy clearly had some years on me and he was moving. There's hope for me yet!

So the question is how do I do that? If I stay on the same path I'm on (approximately 20 miles/week - average pace around 9:00) will I ever improve? Or worse, will my speed decline as I get older? I know that Tempo runs and intervals can help my speed but I just want my running to be fun and enjoyable.

I was talking to a colleague before a meeting yesterday and he told me he was running in an NYRR corporate run that evening. I said that I ran and that maybe we should run together sometime. He said sure. He then told me he's training for a marathon and runs 40-50 miles a week in the 7:00 range. I said I usually run between 8:50 and 9:20 so we probably shouldn't run together after all. He looked at me, smiled and "Yes, probably not."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Trading pace for pleasure

I was woken up around 1:30 this morning and noticed that the rain was coming down hard. I went back to sleep hoping that whatever storm was passing through would be long gone by 4:00 AM. When my alarm clock went off my first thought was a concern that the rain was still there. If so, I'd have little choice but to remain indoors and run on the treadmill. Happily things were clear and I made way outside to run in the cool misty air.

It's been a long time since I've done an indoor run. Between my early outdoor runs in the dark, weekly rest days and elliptical workouts I've managed to avoid the dreaded tread. The last time I ran on it I had a fairly pleasant experience but most of the other times it was near torture. Now that I'm doing all my runs on trails and pavement I've noticed my average pace has suffered compared with where it was months before. I'll blame that on the treadmill too. Even though I disliked the experience the actual performance metrics were more impressive with most of my indoor runs clocking well below a 9:00 pace.

Still, I'll take the tradeoff of loving the run versus loving the pace. I've always felt that treadmill paces were artificially low because the motion of the tread does some of the work for you. This morning I hit the streets at 4:09 and ran a little over 22 minutes covering 2.43 miles. Although I tried to push it and really felt that I did I only averaged 9:12/mile for the run. When I compare this focused effort on a relatively flat route to yesterday's 8:49/mi Central Park run with lots of hills I'm a bit puzzled. No matter, 9:12 at is the fastest time I've done for a very early morning outdoor run. I'll call that progress.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Helly and Moji

In the last couple of days I've received some cool stuff to test. Yesterday I got the Moji-To-Go that, according to the site, is "a thermally insulated stainless steel canister that keeps the Moji Cold Cell at its optimal cooling state for 4 - 6 hours." This solves a basic problem with the Moji Knee: how do you keep it frozen for hours while you are running in a remote area? AG is putting it to the test between soccer games and trail running and we'll be reporting on that on Runner's Tech Review soon.

Today we received our Helly Hansen Trail Lizard running/hiking shoes to test on the trails. They certainly look great and I couldn't resist trying them on between meetings. They feel very responsive off the heel and I can't wait to introduce them to dirt this weekend!
This morning I did a Central Park run around the lower loop and a couple of paths inside. Covered 2.15 miles at an 8:49 pace. Not a bad way to start a busy Tuesday!

Monday, July 6, 2009

An all encompassing problem

I like running trails because they provide a constant source of challenge and mystery. What's around the next bend of this twisty path? What exactly is the source of that rustling sound that follows me along the way? Once I get over this steep hill will the terrain get better? Exciting. The other part of the challenge is navigation. Where exactly am I? Am I heading toward or away from my intended destination? Why did I just come out onto the street? It's fun to be lost when you know the bounds of your trail area but there are times when I really wished I'd brought a compass.

Yesterday I made a trip to Dick's to try and find one that I could wear on my wrist or clip to my shorts. I didn't have too much luck, the ones that they did have were either too big or limited in other ways. I went online later to see if I could find something suitable. Nothing has jumped out at me. My requirements are simple. The unit must be small enough to be unnoticeable when not needed and large enough to be useful when it is needed. It needs to be easily accessed while running in clothes that have no accessible pockets. It can't dangle on a lanyard because that will be annoying. I don't want to spend a lot for a digital compass or a 5-in-1 device that has capabilities I don't need for recreational trail running.

All I really want is to be able to find my way back to my starting point when the midday sun is directly overhead and it can't help me navigate. Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I guess horribly wonderful describes it

There's a great Adidas ad in the July issue of Runner's World: a background of pavement with two running shoes, the back of one and the top of the other. The image evokes two runners in line. The tag line is "Because I'm loving every wonderful horrible minute of this." So true. I'm probably the 50 millionth runner to conclude that running is fun because it's hard but it's also fun to see that sentiment recognized by others. Even if it's in an ad.

Last week I came across a book in the library by a British author named Russell Taylor. The title of the book is "The Looniness of the Long Distance Runner." This title is obviously homage to
"The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" by Ian Sillitoe but the book is actually a diary of writer as he prepares to run the New York Marathon. The format of the book reminds me of my own blog with its daily (or, in his case, not daily) accounting of workouts and progress. He's a lot funnier than me and his one year plan to go from being an out of shape late 30's aged guy to a marathon runner is more ambitious than my modest goals. Reading the book does remind me of the obligation one takes to remain fit and to keep progressing. But we do it because - to borrow from the Adidas copywriter -
we love every wonderful horrible minute.

This morning I rounded out my holiday weekend running with a 4.7 mile run that (not counting when I take a car) took me farther outside my neighborhood than ever before. I intended to explore neighborhood #4 and then make my way over to neighborhood #2 but I reached a point where I could run along the sidewalk of a relatively busy road that would lead to a new series of neighborhoods in Woodbury. The sidewalk on this main road was covered with dead leaves that had a cushioning effect not unlike cinders. I enjoyed the respite from the pavement when I could. I turned into one neighborhood and realized that we had looked at houses on the street before we bought the one that we're in. I ran by the house and decided we'd made the right decision because the neighborhood we chose is much better for running.

Yesterday I took our bikes out of the shed for the first time this millennium and after pumping up the tires, fixing the chains and washing them off they were ride ready. I took my bike out a couple of times, the second time I followed one of my running routes. It was amazing to cover that distance in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the effort. Fun but not the horribly wonderful experience I get from running.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hitting the trail - literally

It's a beautiful 4th of July Saturday and I'm doing today's post from the back yard. Before our big cookout, my wife and kids have set up a tarp on the lawn and are doing an art project with pasta. Something to do with creating stamps that look like fireworks. It looks like fun.
I've been busy over the last two days. Yesterday afternoon I did a short run through the neighborhood, covering 3.18 miles at a moderate pace (9:18). I did about half this run along the outside roads that frame my neighborhood. One road (the sidewalk really) has so many patches of dirt that it's almost a trail. The other outside road cuts east along the north side and has a hill that looks difficult to the eye but is fairly modest when you run it. I wanted to keep this run short because the previous day's OCA trail was a fairly hard effort. I came home from my Saturday run and immediately changed into swim shorts and jumped in the pool. I was so hot that it took about a minute in the cold water before I actually felt cooled off.
I wanted to run Stillwell this weekend. The Bethpage trail run last weekend and Thursday's OCA run have really got me excited about that aspect of the sport. I cannot wait until I get my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards to test. Until then my New Balance 460's continue to impress, a great value for the money.
I headed over to Stillwell Woods Preserve this morning and set off on the trails with the intention of expanding beyond the primary loop that I had previously run. I had looked at the area on Google Earth to try to understand the trail layout and I traveled south off the main trail until I started encountering some large muddy patches that were somewhere between the size of a puddle and a pool. I edged along the side of those until I reached a fork where, in one direction, the trail seemed to drop off the face of the earth. I suspected that trail was favored by extreme mountain bikers so I chose the other way and traveled along a series of narrow but interesting paths until I found myself facing a hill that made the ones in Brooklyn and Washington Heights look modest. No matter, I attacked it and did fairly well but with the tree cover I was somewhat disoriented in terms of direction. I picked another trail and ran for about 10 minutes in perfect conditions where I saw and heard a number of animals.
At one point I began encountering bikers which made me nervous due to the width of the trails. I was hoping that I was going in the right direction, based upon the sun I knew I was traveling west. I crossed paths with another runner and immediately came upon some mountain bikers who yelled a cheerful hello. I was feeling good about this run, taking in the cool air, the sun and the interesting sites when I suddenly found myself face down in the dirt. I had tripped on a root that ran across the path and I landed on my forearms which took most of the impact. I stood up and established that I was bleeding and scraped up but nothing seemed broken. I continued for another mile and left the trail, making a loop around the soccer fields before returning to my car. I ended up running 3.61 miles at a mid 9:00 pace. Surprisingly good considering the hills and the falling incident.
When I got home my kid's faces said it all. My daughter immediately grabbed the first aid spray and my wife took a picture of my damaged body. After a shower I saw that it was all superficial cuts and scrapes so I started thinking about a Bethpage run tomorrow. Stillwell is an interesting and different experience from Bethpage but both are awesome. This trail running is great fun and it seems to be a good way to run without generating leg pain.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Awesome day on the OCA

From a running perspective, NYC provides many resources either within the city or close by. Between the subways and the commuter train lines a number of great running paths, parks and bridges are just minutes away. While Central Park is a fantastic place to run it's sometimes a great change to explore other places. Through the spring AG and I have run in some interesting places in and around NYC. We were combining our weekly business updates with our runs but once summer Fridays started we've ended that shortened day with more recreational runs. I mentioned in a previous post that AG will be heading to grad school at Yale in August (but happily remaining an integral part of my team in a part time capacity) so we will soon have fewer opportunities to run together.

We decided to have at least one more running adventure before her new schedule takes over and we jumped on the Metro North commuter train to Irvington, NY with a plan to run 5 miles along the Old Croton Aqueduct. The trip from Grand Central Station was quick and we got off the train and walked a few blocks to the entry point of this trail that runs 26.2 miles (interesting that it's the same length as a marathon) from Van Cortlandt Park at the Bronx County/City of Yonkers border to the Croton Dam in Cortlandt. The trail is mostly hard packed dirt and fortunately the hard rain held off and that kept it from becoming too muddy. We both brought our trail shoes and they came in handy through some wet patches that we did encounter. In less than 5 minutes we had our first wildlife sighting, deer that were scattered on both sides as we ran by.

We saw many birds and at least one rabbit. The trail is basically flat which makes sense because the original use of this trail was to convey water to NYC. There were some uphill stretches and we wondered how they transported the water along those areas. Our plan was to run the trail south from our starting point to the Greystone train station and hop on the train back to NYC. We thought we'd built enough time into our run but near the end we found ourselves racing the clock and we covered the last segment at a faster pace before heading off to the street to run to the station. We made it with less than 5 minutes to spare and it was a bit of a shock to go from our hot, soggy, humid state to the refrigerated train car. Felt pretty good though.

I had forgotten to transfer the Garmin foot pod to my trail shoes so I had no way of judging distance or pace except to estimate that 50 minutes would approximate to five miles. AG wore the QStarz device and hopefully that will provide more data for us. It was a great start to the long weekend, a tough but exhilarating run that was exactly what we'd hoped for. I'm not ready to hit the street yet this morning but hopefully I'll be up for nice recovery run this afternoon. I might hit the trails at Stillwell or Bethpage some time this weekend. I definitely have less leg pain after running trails compared to running on pavement. Maybe it is the shoes.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

DIY fun run

In years past my company has funded some extravagant summer outings that included cruises, expensive restaurants and visits to NYC landmarks. In recent years the budget for this type of celebration has been significantly reduced and our events have become a lot simpler.

Last year, instead of a big catered event, my division gathered in Central Park for a simple picnic. Activities were centered around throwing Frisbees and kicking around soccer balls. It was a lot of fun and we're doing that again this year. Since then I've returned to running so I thought I'd introduce another aspect to the day: a Fun Run. It will actually be a 1.5 mile (2.4K) Run/Walk. I'm hoping the relatively short distance will be bearable in the mid-July, mid-day heat. So far the response has been good. I'm expecting a fair number to participate and though it's structured to be non-competitive there will be a few race awards. Plus I'm expecting that some people will still strive for first finisher bragging rights.

AG is helping with the planning and others have volunteered to hand out water, direct runners and keep the time. I'm even thinking of printing out race numbers. It's been fun getting this event together. If this goes well I could expand to more public racing. Perhaps, someday, I'll be hosting the 1st Annual Emerging Runner Race Series.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In the dark about pace

I went back to my 4:00 AM run routine this morning. It was the first time in almost two weeks that I did this early morning outdoor workout. The stage was set for a good run as I was coming off a non-running day. The air was relatively cool and I'd had a good night's sleep although I did feel a bit tired as I made my way outside. I knew once I hit the street I'd be fine.

When I started my run I felt some initial leg tightness but not too much pain. I was conscious of my speed and I tried to maintain a brisk pace. I was slightly more alert than I'd been in previous runs in the dark and I hoped that this, plus top-of-mind awareness of my speed and form, would land me below 9:00/mile. I was at the 20 minute mark when I turned onto the road that would lead me home and I decided to put even more energy into my pace. Based upon how I'd run I expected to finish with about an 8:50 overall pace. When I arrived home I checked my Garmin: 2.44 miles in 22:55. 9:24 per mile. Huh?

I don't get it. I did everything I could to maintain a good pace. I lifted my knees, kept my head up and concentrated on staying upright and practically sprinted the last half mile. I'll Gmap my run later today as a check against the accuracy of the Garmin but I know that it will match closely. There's either something about the dark or a flawed expectation that I can run efficiently at such an early hour. No matter, it was still a good run and a good workout and I enjoyed being back on the street at 4:00 AM.

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