Sunday, February 28, 2010

Orange you glad these shirts are so cheap?

As often happens on Saturdays, the Emerging Runner family found themselves at the mall. It's always a tactical effort - go to a few targeted stores, locate what's needed and get out as soon as possible. Often my wife will head to the children's section to find items for the kids so I wander over to the men's area to see what they carry in terms of athletic wear. We were at Target and I was looking for pool shirts made with the type of fabric that doesn't disintegrate and bleach out from chlorine after three or so wearings. They didn't have those, only shorts, but they did have some nice shirts from their Champion G9 line. This stuff is very well priced and nicely designed. While the quality doesn't match the higher end stuff from companies like Brooks and Sugoui it's an excellent choice for daily training. I prefer to do my daily runs with lower end gear because it's cheap to replace when it gets worn out with multiple washings. I try not to wear my "premium"shirts (Zoot, Nike Sphere, Adidas adiSTAR) except to race or when heat conditions require a superior wicking shirt.

I didn't buy any of the Champion G9 shirts but on a whim I checked out Old Navy's RECTECH performance shirts that were currently on sale. I often worry that when I run in the neighborhood or on the trails that I could get mowed down by an inattentive driver or mountain biker. Most of my day to day running clothes are either black or white so when I saw short sleeved RECTECH shirts for $5 apiece I bought two, one pumpkin orange and the other mustard yellow. These wicking shirts seem nicely made and contain some stretchable material. Not bad for $5! I wore my orange shirt today over my other two layers (33 degrees at 8:30 AM) as I headed out for my morning run. The route I chose took me to neighborhood #2 which required a short segment running along a one way service road where people often speed. I was happy to have my orange shirt serving as a beacon to drivers. All the same I ran as close to the snow line as possible for the minute I was on that connecting road.

I had a decent run overall, half in neighborhood #2 and the other half in my main neighborhood, totaling 4.7 miles. I'm still feeling some of the effects from my Thursday core exercises which means I need to do them more often. Although Monday is usually a rest day I plan to do the Lolo core routine to help strengthen some key muscles. I'm going to need all the help I can get if Sunday's race turns about to be a hilly run in the snow.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A 9:00 AM start for the XTERRA hits my sweet spot

I went out for my run a little later than normal today because I had some early morning errands that I needed to get done. The effect of deviating from my normal routine can go two different ways. I've run better than average when starting later, rather than first thing in the morning. Most of the races I've run have started hours after the time that I'd normally do a weekend run. I've beaten my normal training pace during every one of those those events.  I've also performed poorly when running later in the day: after work or during my lunch hour. My best performances seem to happen during runs between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. I wish Garmin Connect had more options for analyzing historical metrics so I could easily compare my average pace across various start times. There are a few ways to do this but both are cumbersome. I'll leave that to another time.

I went out at 9:30 this morning with Friday's snow still fresh on the sides of the street. I wore my light duty Adidas trail shoes to help maintain traction. These shoes are very comfortable and they double as my weekend casual shoes but they don't provide the energy return that I get from the Brooks Adrenalines, especially my new GTS 10's. Although I'd been out earlier in the morning I'd misjudged the cold and my ears were very uncomfortable for the first third of my 3.7 mile run. The first half of the run was more of a serene plod than a hard training run. I was taking in the scene of recently fallen snow blanketing the neighborhood and was enjoying the experience fully until it occurred to me that I will be racing next weekend and I needed to train. I picked up my pace for the second half, averaging between 8:50 and 9:00 per mile. Overall I averaged around 9:30 for the full run.

Tomorrow I'll go for a little more distance and then move into taper mode prior to the March 7th event. I'm wondering what Stillwell Woods will look like after this week's snow. With another possible storm coming on Wednesday it could get tricky on race day. It doesn't really matter though. As long as they still hold the race I'll be there. It will be a new experience racing in the snow and the conditions will be the same for all the other runners. I'm fascinated to see what happens.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Will Runner's World start covering hedge funds now?

Yesterday morning my friend Sedentary Man handed me a section from the Wall Street Journal and said I'd probably want to read this article entitled "We have ways of helping you buy running shoes." I think that was supposed to be a play on the way German officers would threaten torture in old WWII movies. If that was the case the writer missed her mark because the article described four complex but helpful experiences that led to her being fit with the right running shoes. The writer referred to herself with the royal "we" throughout the article which I found odd but, that aside, I thought she did a good job researching the buying process. She visited four running stores, three in the state of Washington and one in NYC. I recently went through this experience at Jackrabbit so I was curious to see how these other stores performed their evaluations.  

Three out of the four stores performed gait analysis using video and a treadmill. A doctor who was quoted in the story said that the video process is "gimmicky" but I disagree with that. Seeing myself pronate in hi-def convinced me that I needed a moderate stability shoe. One store used a pressure sensitive mat that changed color based on weight distribution. A couple of stores had the writer run barefoot on the treadmill. I thought that was weird because most people heel strike but will never do that when running barefoot so what does it prove?

In the end it seemed like each store did a good job of identifying the right shoe for the writer. I was amused to read that she tried on a pair of "Mizunas" and I'm sure the Mizuno people loved reading that!

This morning I considered my choices for my daily workout: run, strength conditioning, another elliptical session or shoveling the newly fallen (and still falling) snow on our driveway. A look out the window confirmed the report of 3"-8" with 5 inches on the ground at 4:00 AM. I decided that my car could blast through that provided I escape before the town plows come by and deposit 20" of hard pack in front of the driveway.

I decided to stay inside and started with the Lolo core exercises that I found in Runner's World last year. I really like them because they only take 15 minutes but you feel like you've accomplished something when you've finished. I followed that with about 20 minutes of hand weights. I only used 5 and 10 pound weights because I wanted to do lots of reps and start a baseline for arm and upper body conditioning. I left for the train before the snowplows came. Standing on the snowy LIRR platform I was happy to see the train come in and I was glad that I started my day with a different but energizing workout.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I may be weak but I'm slow!

Up until yesterday I was feeling very good about my state of conditioning. I was chatting with a work colleague who I hadn't seen for a few weeks and he asked me if I'd lost weight. I didn't know how to respond to that question. Yes, I did lose weight when I restarted running back in 2008. Forty pounds in fact, all due to lower calorie consumption and more activity. More recently, after battling severe pneumonia, I lost another five pounds. My recovery is now complete and my weight is back to mid-December levels so I was puzzled by his question. The next thing he said floored me, "You look kind of...weak." Weak? I really didn't know how to respond to that. Then I thought about it and realized that it's probably true. While my running gives me stamina, I'm not doing all that much to build strength. A year ago I was mixing up my workouts and including core exercises and some upper body conditioning. In the time that I've returned to daily exercise I've been focused solely on running. Even my elliptical sessions have been more about speed than effort. I decided that it's time to stop ignoring my core and upper body.

Although my wife and I have accumulated a closet full of hand weights I'm loathe to use them. I find weight lifting to be mind numbingly boring. I've been thinking about getting one of those stretch band systems that attach to a doornob and provide a variety of ways to exercise muscle groups. It's low tech but it works, as do sit-ups and push ups. This morning I chose the elliptical but cranked up the resistance as high as I could handle. It felt good and it was good preparation for my trail race. The benefits that come from moving the unit's upper poles is questionable but it's better than doing nothing. I'm going to put some more attention to strength building and I'm hoping to gain about five pounds through upper body muscle development. I suspect that strengthening my core will also lead to better running performance.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

11 days to go before the XTERRA Trail Run

Helly Hansen Trail Lizard
I am eleven days away from my next race and I'm looking forward to the event. This upcoming race is different from any I've raced before, including my previous trail race, the Dirty Sock 10K. The March 7th XTERRA race at Stillwell Woods presents conditions that will challenge runners at every step. Unlike a road race where the streets are wide enough for bunches of runners, Stillwell has a lot of singletrack paths that barely accommodate one person. I don't know exactly how the course will be routed but there are some significant drops and climbs in those woods. On the bright side, if I am able to keep up with the other runners I may have my first experience running at Stillwell without getting lost.

I haven't been able to train on trails since my adventure at Muttontown Preserve a few weeks ago. Since then there's been too much snow and more coming this weekend if predictions for a Nor'easter are accurate. I've been relegated to the treadmill except on days off so I'm under-trained for hills. I ran 2.4 miles this morning at 9:17/mile. The guest room was warm and I wore my Atayne shirt that I love but it's slightly heavier than my other short sleeved running shirts. Together they contributed to a sweaty but pleasant run. I had the TV on so I could catch some highlights from last night's Olympic games while I ran. I'm hoping that I can get outside this weekend for some hill training or do some elliptical sessions at a high resistance level. Otherwise I'll just need to manage my way through the race with my present state of conditioning. I'm also wondering what the Stillwell course will be like if there's a ton of snow on the ground. I'll be wearing my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards, my most capable trail runners. I'm hoping they'll be enough shoe for the day's conditions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spirit, check. Strength, more work needed.

My decision to keep Monday as a rest day turned out to be a good one. Last night my legs felt incredibly tired and I tried to relate that to my day spent sitting around waiting for the jury selection process to play itself out. I thought my leg fatigue may have come from standing for long periods on the marble floors outside the courtroom. I think it's more likely that my legs are tired from all the running I did over the weekend. It's good that I have no residual breathing issues from pneumonia. Based on my recent runs I'm sure that my breathing capacity has returned to pre-illness levels. What still needs work are my quads, calf's and gluteal leg muscles that aren't yet used to five miles of pounding. To paraphrase an old cliche: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh could use some strength training."

I took it easy this morning for the first ten minutes of my run. Despite a speed south of 6 MPH I felt the challenge and it seemed faster than indicated. Once I'd loosened up I moved the control closer to a 9:20 pace for the remainder of the run. In all I averaged 9:36 per mile for 2.5 miles. If I had another ten minutes I probably could have pushed my pace enough to get closer to 9:15 overall, especially if I threw in a few speedy tempos into the mix.

I know I'm not supposed to be thinking about pace but it's a metric that tells me if I'm progressing. Besides, LSD (or even SSD*) works fine when you have distraction of the outdoors to complete the experience. But on a treadmill it's very hard not to think about speed.

* Short Slow Distance

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is more time to run worth serving jury duty?

I spent my day today at the county Supreme Court building after being summoned for jury duty. Oh well, it's the price we all pay for being a registered voter. I'm not complaining about being called to serve but I really hoped that I'd be dismissed by the judge. It's difficult to be away from the office and this trial could have gone on for two weeks. On the other hand, court starts at 9:00 AM and I'm usually in the office by 7:30 AM so were I selected for a trial I'd have had more time to run in the morning. It was a long day and after waiting hours for Voir Dire I finally had my moment in court. Happily they selected almost everyone else but me to serve so tomorrow I'm back to work on the 6:20 AM train.

I'm thrilled that I got dismissed but I really would have loved having more time to run during the week. I'm used to getting up very early and starting my workout as quickly as possible to maximize the use of my 30 minute window. All the same, the process of rushing through the experience detracts from its enjoyment. This is why I enjoy my weekend runs, when I can start at different times and run longer distances. In the summer my company allows people to leave mid-day on Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day. With no obligation to return to the office after lunch, I was able to experience some great NYC running experiences and still make it home for an early weekend. During the summer I was averaging about 20 miles per week because Fridays gave me three days a week for longer runs. I was happy to total 17 miles this past week, almost double what I've averaged since getting the okay from my doctor to resume running in mid-January.

Since I was local, I got home earlier tonight than I normally would. I was tempted to do a run while there was still a little daylight left but I held off because Mondays are my rest days and I put in 9 miles over the weekend. Back to the treadmill tomorrow morning. Our ProForm unit continues to work despite its high decibel whine that's signalling its failure is imminent. I only hope it lasts a few more weeks until the Sole F63 arrives.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The JS Bach running method

Last night, just for fun, we hosted a Chinese New Year themed dinner party for some friends. We had a great time, the decorations were festive and (of course) we served Chinese food supplied by a local restaurant. The meal was a hit and it was easy to over indulge. Adding the desserts that my wife and daughter had baked, along with those brought by our guests, it made for a high calorie evening. One friend, also a runner, said that we'll have our work cut out for us on our Sunday runs.

I couldn't sleep past 4:30 this morning so I caught the replay of last night's Olympic events and went out early after pre-hydrating with a mixture of Zico coconut water and ground Chia seeds. I've incorporated Chia into my diet at least once a day since I bought my supply. It's hard to know if it's been beneficial but I've felt great since I've started using it and I haven't had a bad run all week. I set out with the intention of running a similar distance as yesterday's and, again, the experience of running felt great in the new Brooks. I smartened up and wore one less layer and wool socks and that worked out well. After a loop around the roads that connect to my street I went south and crossed over to neighborhood #2. I had not run there since December and it was a nice change of scenery. At about 1.5 miles I noticed that I was playing Bach's Cantata 147 in my head as I ran and the 3/4 time matched my cadence very well. I've been playing my classical guitar again, after some time away from it and this is a piece that I've been practicing. When I was concentrating on front foot running and increased steps/minute in December I was mentally following 4/4 timing. Today I realized that 3/4 is a more natural tempo for me (for non-musicians, 3/4 is like the beat to a waltz).

I exited back into my neighborhood and took a long loop around as I made my way home. Along the way I passed a few other runners, one of whom I knew. He was running with a friend who was driving a car alongside him, presumably to keep him company. Not exactly the way I'd do it. I felt so good as I ran that I extended my run another .75 mile and finished with a full five miles, another post-pneumonia distance milestone. My pace was unremarkable (mid-9:00's) but I'm more focused on endurance than speed right now as I prepare for the Stillwell XTERRA race in March. Once I'm past that I'll prioritize speed so to prepare for the Marcie Mazzola 5K in April.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Road test - the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 10

Today's big decision was whether to do this morning's run inside or out. I try to do my week's longest runs on Saturdays and Sundays because I have more time and flexibility on those days. I just purchased a new pair of Brooks GTS 10's and had only run a few miles with them on the treadmill. The experience was fine but 25 minutes on a flat moving surface is far different from how I plan to use these shoes. I was curious to see how the 10's felt after a longer run. While I knew I could do that on the treadmill, I also wanted to know how they performed on the road. Mark, the salesperson at Jackrabbit who sold me the shoes, said I have 14 days to evaluate them but he asked that I do it on the treadmill in case I need to take them back. I finally decided that I couldn't properly evaluate the shoes unless I tried them under the conditions where I'll primarily use them so I went outside for my run.

It was about 33 degrees with a little wind coming from the northwest. I dressed for the a longer run, meaning less layers and enduring the chill until my body heat rose. I was able to wear the 10's tighter because the tongue does not bite into my instep (as happens on the 9's) and as I set out I appreciated way the shoes wrapped my foot and returned energy with each step. I regretted that I didn't wear wool socks and my feet were a little cold for the first mile but that can't be blamed on the shoes. I was pleased that the "high arch" was a non-issue. I stopped noticing that soon after I'd started. I stretched my route around many different streets and noticed that the 10's felt similar to the 9's when I was maintaining my normal cadence. When I accelerated for some tempo runs they really felt fast, almost like a light trainer or racing shoe. At 11.1 ounces they are definitely not racing flats but the bounce and stability are a great improvement over the 9's.

I ran a total of 4.5 miles which was more than a mile longer than my last long run. Prior to my pneumonia I typically ran five or more miles on each weekend day so I'll call that progress. By the time I reached the last part of my run I knew these shoes were keepers. They felt like they fit my feet perfectly and provided a great combination of cushioning, stability and response. The tongue and collar of the shoe is an improvement over the prior version and the subtle changes to the heel (articulated edges that move independently for a smoother transition) and multi-density materials that make up the medial post allow for less jarring correction of a pronating foot. But geek talk aside, it's a great feeling shoe that really performs on the road.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Of course I chose the Brooks!

Yesterday, before I even left for Jackrabbit,  I'd already decided to buy the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 10's. Even my wife weighed in on the decision, she wrote me a note in the morning that said "You should get the Brooks!"  I tried them on at the store and ran for a few minutes on the treadmill to confirm the fit. The arch supports in the 10 are more pronounced than in the 9's and that concerned me somewhat. I wasn't completely comfortable standing in the 10's but when  I started running they felt fine. When I got home I compared the fit between the 9's and the 10's and felt that the toe box of the 10 was narrower but not problematic. In comparison it made the 9 feel a little unstable up front, something I hadn't noticed before. The tongue placement and thickness on the 10 seems to be an improvement over the 9 as well. I was able to tighten the shoe well without feeling sharp pressure on my instep. The only concern had was with the arch support, I could really feel it, and I hoped it would not begin to hurt on longer mileage runs.

I had a late start to the morning today because my son accompanied me to work today and we caught a later train. I hopped on the treadmill at 4:45 AM and ran about 25 minutes with the new shoes. My initial impression of the 10's was very positive: good mid foot wrap, good stability at the front, excellent transition off the heel. The higher arch was noticeable but not bothersome. The only other observation was that the fit at the heel was looser than I'd have liked. There was some slight slippage but not enough to consider it unstable. I can probably control that better by experimenting with the lacing. Overall the shoes performed well through the run and I appreciated the energy return off the front. That was my initial complaint about the 9's, that they didn't provide much bounce. I've grown to appreciate the 9's but it's nice to have that zip in the 10's.

This weekend I hope to put them to the test on the road, aiming for 4 or 5 miles as I go into my last two weekends of training for my trail race. I'll be curious to see how my feet feel after 40+ minutes of running in the new shoes. I have two weeks to evaluate the GTS 10's but I'm hoping to determine quickly that they're keepers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Decision day - Mizuno versus Brooks

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 10
If all goes according to plan I'll be heading back to Jackrabbit at lunch today to get my next pair of running shoes. I've been fortunate to have had a great experience with my Brooks GTS 9's and I've carefully studied the running shoe landscape to determine what's the best shoe to replace them. I've done enough due diligence in business to know that all this analysis can reduce the risk of making a bad purchasing decision but not fully eliminate it.

Mizuno Wave Inspire 6
Consider the two candidates left in the race: the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 10 and the Mizuno Wave Inspire 6. Both are highly regarded stability shoes. The Brooks is supposed to be the best in its class and an improvement over the GTS 9 that I've really liked. The Mizuno provides a very energetic response and gets good play in the Runner's World shoe forum. It's considered a fast stability shoe, more minimal than the Brooks. I've run with the Mizunos and liked them. I've only tried on the GTS 10's but I thought they felt great. I've read that the 10's have a higher arch than the 9's which concerns me because my arches fall right between flat and normal. I don't want a shoe that feels superb in the store but creates a problem when the runs go longer.

My affinity for Brooks does give some bias toward the Adrenalines but I've been intrigued by the Mizuno's as well. This is a lot of agonizing for a $100 purchase from a store that will take them back if I'm not completely satisfied. I've spent hours pouring over reviews and trying on running shoes to get to this point, yet when I go shopping for a suit that costs five times that much I invest a fraction of that time. Why is that? Why do you think!?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What's the right pace?

With another few inches of fresh snow on the ground (that has turned mostly to ice on the road) I have had to delay my return to 4:00 AM outside running until at least next week. I was thinking about pace as I started up the treadmill this morning. With my increasing familiarity with the (unmarked) speed control slider on my treadmill I can quickly set whatever pace I wish to run. A check of the Garmin at the end usually confirms that I ran the pace that I expected. It's not ideal but I don't mind since I know my new treadmill will soon provide all that information, and more, in real time. Today I settled on a 9:20 pace because it seemed sufficiently challenging. With the warm temperature of the room it was fast enough. I had a good run and felt the workout.

I started thinking more about the metrics of running and how 5 seconds over the course of a 5 mile race can make such a big difference. In the 8K I ran last year I thought I had nailed a sub-9:00 pace but forgot that 8K is actually 4.97 miles so I missed 8:59 by mere seconds. But does that matter? I'd say yes and no. Yes because running in the 8:00's is usually more desirable than running in the 9:00's. So for racing, yes, pace can matter. But for everyday running - unless one is specifically aiming to improve speed - I think enjoyment wins out over speed. For recreational running, following the strategy of "gain, but no pain" is probably the best way to choose the right pace. That's my view these days.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nice guys finish last? Not this one.

After a great long weekend that included three good runs I'm feeling very positive about my progress. It was less than a month ago that I took a walk around the neighborhood with my wife and needed to stop before completing a mile. By most measures I have reached a state of conditioning that allows me to push as hard as I wish without concern that it will trigger a relapse. I left the office on Friday with what I thought would be a weekend-ruining cold but my immune system knocked it out like a champ. I guess after taking on pneumonia, a head cold isn't much of a challenge. I attribute my quick recovery to the running I did this weekend. I honestly believe you can sweat your way out of a cold if the sweat is accompanied by physical exertion.

While it may be true that I'm rapidly moving toward my pre-January fitness level I also recognize that I'm short of the distance benchmarks I used to meet on my weekend runs. The longest continuous run I've managed this year has been 3.4 miles, far short of my usual 5 to 8 mile weekend distances. I wouldn't be concerned except that I'll need to cover almost five miles on some rough and technical terrain in just a few weeks when I race at Stillwell Woods. It occurs to me that the profile of runners for this race skews younger and (probably) more competitive than those in my past races. It's possible that I could finish last! Although some view me as competitive it's really me competing against myself. Will it bother me to be the last runner past the finish line? Well, I can tell you I wouldn't love it but I'd still feel okay about finishing a tough race like that two months after a week in the hospital. Either way I'd win. But if it comes down to a tight finish there's no way I'll be the last one over the line.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A presidential run

Click on picture for larger view

I'm off for the President's Day holiday today so I needed to decide whether to run or rest this morning. I usually rest on Mondays because I do my week's longest and hardest runs over the weekend. I thought I'd compromise and do an elliptical session instead but, inspired by my wife's early morning run, I figured I'd do the same. I had an appointment scheduled for later in the morning so while time wasn't  extremely tight I needed to allow for gearing up, running and showering. My wife thought I could get away with a neighborhood run but I thought it would be easier to jump on the treadmill. Frankly, I didn't want to deal with the cold and puzzle through the process of selecting the right amount and type of layers to wear to ensure comfort from start to finish. I quickly selected some light clothes and got on the treadmill.

In the spirit of respecting limits I planned to run a distance similar to my regular weekday runs that average 20-25 minutes.. My first bite of the day was a Green's Plus, Chia Seed Omega 3 Natural Energy Bar that I had with my morning coffee. I found that my last couple of runs went fairly easy after having Chia earlier in the day. It may just be coincidence but I have had two good runs this weekend. Make that three, actually. I started at a moderate pace and felt strong so I gradually increased my speed, dropping from mid-9:00 miles to mid-8:00's by the 12 minute mark.  The time went by quickly, perhaps knowing I was running a third less distance than Saturday and Sunday helped that. My cadence was 82 SPM, up from my average of 80. When I finished I was soaked with sweat, part of that due to running the last couple of minutes at close to an 8:00 pace. I've run almost 9 miles over this long weekend and my pace has slid back down to pre-pneumonia levels. I need to get some distance runs in next week as I prepare for my March 5 mile trail race. I think more than ever that I'll be prepared for whatever Stillwell throws at me. Maybe this Chia stuff is working.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I heart my Valentine's Day run

This weekend has been a holiday treat with Valentines Day today, President's Day tomorrow and the start of the Olympic winter games on Friday. Well the Olympics games aren't really a holiday but they are fun. My kids are off all next week from school so they are pretty happy right now. This morning we celebrated Valentines Day with a pancake breakfast, cards and small gifts.  In the spirit of good eating I sprinkled Chia into my pancake mix. I still don't know if this stuff provides any noticeable benefits but, if nothing else, it is a great source of Omega fatty acids. My kids shared their holiday treats and I probably exceeded my daily sugar intake by 8:00 AM. I can only hope that the Chia works the way it's described by isolating simple carbohydrates in the system and delaying their conversion to sugar and fat.

The other thing that helps burn off sugar's effects is exercise and running is my workout of choice. I decided that the noisy treadmill was too much to bear today so I suited up in layers and headed outside. The temperatures have remained cold since last week's blizzard so most of the snow we got is still on the ground. That made me slightly concerned because many sidewalks - my escape route from cars - are still snow-covered. The streets themselves are completely clear and I figured that I could always jump onto a roadside snowbank if I needed to. I wore my reflective running vest over my thermal zip top (it was about 32 degrees when I went out) as an extra precaution.

My goal was to run 30 minutes through the neighborhood at whatever pace felt natural and comfortable. It may be the fact that I'm still on the tail end of my recovery that I care much less about pace than I did two months ago. All the same, when I resumed running after my illness, I was happy to see my paces go from low 11:00 minute to mid-9:00 miles. I really don't know if I'm hitting mid-foot or not and today I didn't care. My Brooks GTS-9's felt great and, like yesterday, I ran my distance with no discomfort, only the pleasant feeling of floating along. Well most of the time anyway. The wind was sharply blowing from the north and that made for some chilly times. By the end of my run I was happy to have that cold air to cool me off.

It's been a very nice Valentine's Day and there's plenty left to do. My weekly mileage is starting to build and my average distance has been increasing about 10% each week. I'm pleased with my progress and very glad I got outside today.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Chia fueled run

Yesterday's trip to Jackrabbit did not result in the purchase of a new pair of shoes as I'd expected. I was accompanied by my friend FS who was interested to see if the store carried her shoe of choice, the Brooks Addiction (unfortunately not). She is running a half marathon in late March and now would be the time to start breaking in a new pair. As soon as I saw Mark I knew I wouldn't be going home with any shoes on Friday. The snow had delayed the Brooks shipment and he was out of the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 10's that I was ready to buy.

You may recall that I tried the Brooks Ravennas a week ago but, despite their lighter weight and responsiveness, I wasn't convinced they were the shoes for me. I tried them on the treadmill on Friday and validated that doubt. While the shoes performed okay at speed the Ravenna's fairly narrow forefoot required me to move up a half size to allow for adequate room in the toe box. That was fine but the heel volume prevented the snug fit I want in an everyday training shoe. I just didn't feel like the shoe fit my foot that well. Mark had me try a pair of Mizuno Wave Inspire 6's and they felt great when I ran with them. I need to decide whether the Mizunos are the shoe for me or if I should follow my instincts and get the Brooks GTS 10's. I'll go back next week and try them both again. I asked Mark if I should be looking at higher end shoes (like the Brooks Trance 9) and he said it's absolutely unnecessary to spend more to get a top notch shoe. Honesty like that will make me a return customer.

Today I took a trip to a local mega-vitamin store in search of Chia energy bars. They had what I was looking for but they priced the product too high (I'd comparison shopped online) so I didn't buy a whole box as planned. I did buy one bar just to try it and I also bought  a bag of ground Chia so I could experiment with that. When I got home I mixed 1 1/2 teaspoons of the ground Chia with 10 oz. of coconut water and drank it down. I was pleasantly surprised by the taste and the lack of grittiness in the mix. I then headed upstairs and ran 5K on the treadmill. Although the room was warm and my choice of running shirt too heavy I had a great run. Unlike most longer runs on the treadmill that devolve into boredom and exhaustion I was almost as fresh at the end as I was when I started. I only ended at 3.14 miles because I'm still recovering from pneumonia and didn't want to push past my limits. Was it the Chia that provided the energy to get through the run so easily? Or was it the coconut water? Maybe it was neither, just a combination of good timing and decent rest. Either way I'm intrigued. More experimentation to come!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Soreness and slowess but a good run nonetheless

It's been a while since I've woken up with sore muscles but today I really felt it in my lower legs. I first thought this was related to all the shoveling I'd done between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. That didn't make much sense to me since most of that effort involved pushing snow with low resistance and occasionally lifting it up a few feet. Most of that required muscles above the waist. I now believe the soreness came from my running in the snow with the traction devices that slipped around laterally and required constant corrections to my stride. I imagine that a serious attempt to transition from heel striking to mid-foot running would probably generate similar aches at first and barefoot running would be even worse.

Despite the soreness in my legs I did my run on the treadmill this morning. There are days when running your race pace feels effortless and there are days when running a more moderate pace feels like a challenge. That was my experience today. My warm-up pace felt far faster than normal and I had to check my Garmin to verify my moderately slow speed. After a few minutes I increased my speed and, if not for the contrary evidence, I would have assumed I was moving at a record pace. I did eventually increase my speed enough to give me a mid-9:00 overall pace but it wasn't an easy run. In the end I was more than satisfied by this morning's workout and I'm hoping for decent weather this weekend so I can get some longer miles in.

My plan for today is to go to Jackrabbit and look for a new pair to replace my Brooks GTS 9's that have 500+ miles on the odometer. Despite claims that GTS 9's were a misfire compared with the 8's I have to say they have been problem free for me. It makes me wonder if my best bet is to move to the new, highly rated, 10's or try out the less plush but more energetic Ravennas. I'll try some other brands too just for comparison. You never know, I could find myself choosing something completely different. I'll know soon enough.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Working out like the ancient Greeks

Last weekend I caught a few minutes of an interesting show about the ancient Olympics. The narrator made an interesting point about athletic conditioning, then and now. Back in ancient Greece there were no Bowflex or elliptical machines for training. Those tools were unnecessary because virtually everything back then required physical work. The average citizen's body was probably far better conditioned than his or her equivalent today and the athletes, using stones instead of free weights, were likely on par with today's best athletes. I thought of this as I attacked the snow at the end of my driveway at 4:00 AM this morning. It was the fourth time since yesterday afternoon that we went through the process of shoveling the driveway and walk. The town plows had succeeded in walling us in with icy packed snow but my wife and I, with our ergonomic shovels, have this down to a science and we cleared the driveway in time to catch the 4:30 news.

Neither my wife nor I plan to do our usual workouts today. We figured that all that shoveling is a good substitute for the exercise we get on our runs. I felt a kinship with the ancient Greeks who may have helped build their fitness by clearing snow so they could get their chariots out of their garages. That is if they even had snow. Maybe it was volcanic ash. Well, you get my point.

Since this is the year 2010 I have no choice but to rely on fitness equipment for my conditioning. After about 3,000 hours of service it is becoming clear that our treadmill is nearing the end of it's useful life. On the suggestion of fellow Runner's World blogger RunningChick I looked at the Sole models which are highly rated by Consumer Reports. RC and her husband did lots of due diligence before choosing the F80 and they've been very happy with it. My wife and I decided to buy a well rated but lighter duty model, the F63, that has some really great features. I'm excited to get it and we're hoping that our old but reliable (1998!) ProForm L18 will last a few more weeks until we take delivery of the new unit. Aside from the 100+ decibel wailing of the motor it seems to be okay.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Running with traction devices is not snow good

Snow has been the story of the day. Predictions that 12-16 inches of snow would hit Long Island made me decide to work from home today. With Skype, high speed networks, VPN and cellphones I can do anything at home that I can do at the office except get coffee from the Keurig machine in the pantry. Before I started my run I decided to try the traction slip-ons that I recently bought at TJ Max. They are made of rubber and after slipping them over the front of the shoe they can be stretched tightly over the rear for a secure fit. On the bottom are steel studs across the front foot and heel that supposedly provide traction on snow and ice.

I set out for my run and quickly noticed that amount of snow was too high to let the snow treads make much of a difference. Further, while the treads were stable front to back they were very unstable from side to side. It was a lot like running on sand and after 1.3 miles of discomfort, I became concerned that I was putting too much strain on my ankles and knees. I decided to head home thinking I would have been far better off just running with trail shoes.

I wasn't ready to give up before completing my workout so I headed upstairs and fired up the treadmill. I ran about 2.4 more miles at 9:14 per mile, the fastest pace I've maintained since my recent bout with pneumonia. Although it was a busy day with conference calls and other business related matters I managed to get out and shovel the driveway a couple of times. My wife set the pace and we got through a good amount of snow fairly quickly with my daughter helping as well. I'll admit that I actually enjoy shoveling snow. That said, I am hoping that we're seeing the tail end of the storm so that tomorrow's commute will go smoothly. In terms of activity, I'm not quite done for the day. We'll be heading out around 9:00 tonight for one more round of shoveling. No complaints here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The surprising power of raw clams

Given that I rise at 3:50 AM most weekdays my interest in late night business dinners is fairly low. I made an exception last night because the situation warranted it. My hosts were in a generous mood, their business is based in New Orleans and after attending the Superbowl on Sunday they were still in a celebratory mood. Before I knew it the waiters had constructed a large three-tiered serving platter covered with every kind of fresh seafood that you could imagine. It was indulgent but great and I ate more than I normally would. Many find raw cherrystone clams unappealing but to a New Englander who spent his summers on Cape Cod, it was a rare treat. Although the wine was well selected and ample I avoided alcohol and my head and body thanked me when I stepped on the treadmill at 4:00 AM this morning.

As I've been doing throughout my recovery, I began today's run at a fairly modest pace. I'm finding that a slower start really helps me later as I pick up speed. I expected my protein-rich dinner to bog me down but the effect was fully opposite. Even as I moved the speed control faster on the treadmill I felt like I still had a lot more in reserve. When I came to the end of my running time I felt great, no pain with some real gain. I felt so good that I kept going longer than I'd planned. The energy and strength I had this morning has made me wonder whether my diet that's high in vegetables and whole grains is not balanced with enough protein. It's hard to know how much last night's dinner really affects your morning performance. If fresh shellfish, mussels and clams give me a boost like that again I'm going to rethink my strategy for pre-race meals.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Reflecting on a great weekend of running

It was a good weekend for running and I was fortunate to have two new experiences: running with my friend KWL on Saturday morning and taking on the trails at Muttontown Preserve on Sunday. Muttontown pretty much chewed me up and spit me out - the challenge was much greater than I'd anticipated. You'd think after so many rough experiences at Stillwell Woods my going-in position would be less naive. Muttontown is more than twice the size of Stillwell, a fact that surprised me when I read that the Muttontown Preserve has 550 acres of grounds.

As I inspected my badly scraped knee and the various scratches on my body that came from bushwhacking through trees and brush, I realized how lucky I am to have a choice of interesting and challenging trail areas less than ten minutes from my home. My wife looked at my knee yesterday as I changed out of my running clothes and said it looked awful. She then looked at my face and said "You really think this is great don't you? You're grinning like a big kid." My wife was correct, of course. I was thrilled by the workout (I covered about 4 miles yesterday) so I'm progressing well for my March 7th trail race. I'm looking forward to this race and I'm really excited about a delivery we'll be getting in the next few weeks. More on that later!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Great adventure on the Muttontown Mystery Trail

 Warning: Long post!

It was truly an adventure on the trails this morning. In a little more than an hour I managed to take a header into frozen rutted mud, lose the trail at least a half dozen times, get trapped multiple times in thorny brush and trees and scale a barbed wire topped fence. It was great fun except where it was no fun at all.  I'll start from the beginning.

It was 17 degrees early in the day but showed that the temperature would begin to rise by mid-morning. I decided that I'd wait until after 9:00 AM, when the Muttontown Preserve opens, and go for an easy trail run. I eagerly anticipated this run because I was zero-for-two in terms of successfully getting into the place. The first time I simply couldn't find the entrance and the second time I was there too early. Today it was easy getting in. The gates were up and the parking lot was empty.

The trail head is inviting and the trail out looked perfect for a scenic and pleasant run. I took off along this wide path and rounded a few lefts and rights. The elevation was slowly rising but I was fresh and I figured I may out-and-back the trail so I'd have some nice downhills to enjoy on my way back. Soon the track narrowed and I encountered some icy snow covered patches. I had on my NB trail shoes which can handle some technical terrain but the trail had frozen and rutted making it hard to find many flat spots to land on.

I was worrying about turning an ankle when, at around the 1 mile mark, I caught a root and flew forward, landing on my left knee and wrist. I decided to double back to a section of the trail that branched off about a quarter mile before this point. The branching trail seemed better groomed and I was looking to avoid a repeat of my fall.

As I made my way there I stopped to take a couple of pictures some fallen trees that had caught my eye.  One was covered with whorling branches that gave it a view from the front like a wheel hub and spoke.

There were two other trees that had fallen in opposite directions, their roots and trunks prominently displayed, that opened enough room for the path. I wondered if the trees were felled to allow passage along the trail (unlikely) but I'm curious what it looked like when those trees were still standing.

I eventually made my way to the southern end and though there was lots to see and very different terrain to explore I did not see the relics of old mansions that made this the "Mystery Trail." I used my iPhone compass to help reorient me north but I found so many switchbacks I didn't know what to follow. Worse than that, some trails seemed to close up until they disappeared so I needed to bushwhack my way over to new trails when I could find them. Eventually, with further help from my compass and the direction of the sun I was able to head north on a clear trail. I even passed by the remains of an old mansion but didn't stop to explore because it was getting late and I wanted to finish the run by 11:00 AM.

The north trail terminated at a point where I needed to take a perpendicular trail either east or west. I guessed west and was rewarded to see it bend north so I stayed on course. This happened two more times. I eventually reached the most northern point in the Preserve but I needed to make my way west to the exit point. Easier said than done. There were chain link fences with barbed wire tops that obstructed me from getting out in any easy way. I bushwhacked my way west until I got trapped between a fence and a shallow frozen river but at that point I could see the building that sits next to the trail head.

I tried to find my way past the fence but the tree growth was becoming more dense. There were lots of branches on the ground and thorny branches snagging my clothes as I attempted to find a break along the fence. I was standing twenty feet from my car that I could see through the chain link fence but I had no easy way to get there. I decided to make my way south instead. I figured the fence would eventually end or I'd come to an open gate (after all, how did I end up on the other side?). Before I found that I saw a section of the fence that was bent down at the top with the barbs facing frontwards instead of straight up. Helping that were some logs and branches piled along the fence and I decided to climb up and jump off to get back inside the Preserve. The drop was about four feet and I was careful to avoid landing hard on my recently bruised knee. I landed well but my running mitten got snagged on the top of the fence and came off. I was able to reach up and snag it back. I was very happy to run the last quarter mile back to my car.

It was quite an adventure and now I know some of the mysteries of the Muttontown Trails. I'd like to run it again but I think I'll do it with a more user friendly compass and perhaps a running companion to give me a boost over the fence because I know I'll eventually get us lost.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's probably a duck

Despite a relatively busy schedule on Friday I was bound and determined to make the trek to JackRabbit in Union Square at lunchtime. A friend of mine, who is looking for a new pair of shoes for an upcoming marathon, was planning to join me. He was working on a close deadline so he couldn't go. I decided to go anyway and hopped on the F train for the quick trip downtown. I was greeted by the sales staff and mentioned that the Brook's customer service people told me Brooks had sent a shipment of Green Silence shoes to the store. They said that was true but unfortunately the shipment had not yet arrived. They were as curious about the shoe as I was but they set my expectation that it wasn't likely to be a shoe that I would use as a daily trainer.

The Jackrabbit people are the real deal. They understand running and running shoes and we quickly moved to the subject of mid-foot striking. Mark, one of the managers, told me that he was working to transition to that style and he suggested that I try the Brooks Ravenna. This shoe replaces the Axiom and is lighter than the Adrenalin GTS 10. The Ravenna also lacks some of the stability controls of the GTS 10 so it's more of a light trainer. I tried on a pair and they felt good but, understandably, they were not as plush as the new Adrenalins. After that Mark had me try on a pair of neutral cushioned shoes (ASICS Cumulus) and put me on the treadmill to see if I pronated. The reason for using a neutral shoe is to negate any gait correction. Mark captured me on video and much to my surprise I saw that I'm still heel striking (though Mark said I move very quickly off to the toe) and that I pronate to the point where my gait is indistinguishable from that of the AFLAC duck. I clearly need stability shoes so I'm debating whether to just get the GTS 10s or buy the Ravennas which will be a better choice for mid-foot running. I'm coming back next Friday and Mark said he'd put me in some Mizunos and Saucony shoes to compare with the Brooks.

This morning my friend KWL stopped by to pick up some computer gear. We'd planned a run but were concerned about the foot-plus of snow that was predicted by morning. When he arrived there was no snow  whatsoever so we headed out and covered three miles in around 27 minutes. It was a faster pace than I've been running, helped along by KWL's energy. He reminded me a little of how it was to run with AG who was always a slight step ahead  - like a greyhound on a tether. It was a great run and great fun to have a buddy to talk to along the way. It certainly made the time go by fast. We're getting snow now so I'll see what conditions are like by tomorrow morning. I'm prepared to use my snow treads if I have to. That could be kinda fun.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I fear the worst for my treadmill

I started the day with an unremarkable 21 minute treadmill run. In the morning time seems elastic. The time I take to pour coffee and prepare for my run goes by very quickly. Each time I glance at the clock it seems like another minute or two has passed and I see my very short window for exercise slipping away. Once on the treadmill time seems to stand still. I have a television on in the room for distraction but it's of limited benefit because the treadmill motor drowns out the sound. I'll often run for a while while thinking about things before I steal a glance at the clock only to see that I'm on the same minute as the last time I looked. Back when I was focusing on my speed this would be very discouraging because it meant hard effort without apparent progress. At least now, as I maintain a more moderate pace for my recovery, it's more about boredom than pain.

As I stepped out of my post-run shower this morning I heard my wife on the treadmill in the guest room. Nothing unusual about that except the noise emanating from the treadmill sounded like a helicopter that was attempting to land on the house. I couldn't understand why this was happening. I had just used the machine and it behaved the same as it had over the last 12 years. That could be the problem - 12 years is a long time for a treadmill, especially one that's been used daily (often twice daily) for over a decade. But every problem is also an opportunity and I can now feel good about replacing this venerable machine with something more modern and high-tech.

We're supposed to get some measurable snow overnight tonight so I'm concerned that I'll be constrained to indoor running. If the treadmill goes down completely I'll be forced to trade my weekend running time for the elliptical. I did buy some snow treads for my running shoes so it may be an opportunity to try them out. See? Every problem has an opportunity, you just need to look for it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I'm proving that running beats pneumonia

I couldn't believe what I was hearing from my doctor. I had just gone through 30 minutes of tests with the respiratory therapist and my results were in my doctor's hand. "Your lung capacity is back in the normal range. When you came in on January 4 you were only at 50%. You're getting close to a full recovery. The running and exercise are helping. Keep doing that and steadily increase your distances as you see fit." I didn't tell him that I'd signed up for a grueling trail race that's less than a month away. I know enough to keep my mouth shut once I've made the sale.

Despite the encouraging words from my pulmonologist it wasn't all good news. Almost all traces of pneumonia are gone from my lungs but there's still some residual infection. My breathing capacity is far improved but I'm slightly below normal in terms of breathing efficiency, another metric they they use to gauge progress. I was assured that if I maintain the current recovery path the efficiency number will soon rise.

I took on the elliptical this morning thinking it would be an easier alternative to a treadmill run. From the start it felt hard. The effort required to maintain my usual pace, even at a lower level of resistance, was surprisingly high. Despite my recent respiratory problems my breathing has been rock solid since I started running again. However, this morning it took over five minutes to fall into a comfortable aerobic rhythm. I did a total of 25 minutes and stepped off the machine feeling like I'd run the equivalent time at a fast pace. My wife suggested that all the testing I did last night took more out of me than I'd realized. I'll buy that explanation. Back to the treadmill tomorrow and back to the headlamp and the road at 4AM (next week) if it feels right.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Running off the grid

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend CK. He's one of my running mentors, a terrific guy who has been at it for decades. CK asked me about my post-pneumonia running progress and I filled him in. I asked him what he thought about the big "mid-foot/barefoot/heel striking" debate that's going on now but he just gave me a bemused look and said that he doesn't pay attention to any of that. CK said, "I just run."

I've discovered that every runner has his or her own way of engaging with the sport. Some are into the performance aspects and some are completely focused on the experience of running. I'm probably somewhere in the middle. CK is a high performing runner who regularly beats all the neighborhood twenty-somethings in his town's annual Turkey Trot. He doesn't own a Garmin watch, a Nike+ device or anything else that tracks and records the various running metrics. When he bought some new running shoes I wanted to hear every detail. He couldn't even tell me which ones he bought (turns out they were NB 1225's). CK just runs fast. He sometimes carries a stopwatch but that's about it.

I have my two-week follow-up with my doctor tonight so I've kept things low key this week in terms of exercise. I decided to spend about 20 minutes or so running on the treadmill this morning since I've rested for the past two days. I really wanted to make sure that I kept to a moderate pace so, inspired by my talk with CK, I left my foot pod on the side table and ran for 22 minutes without recording distance, pace, cadence or heart rate. I felt no pressure to maintain a brisk pace and that helped me to limit how far I set the speed control on the treadmill. I started things out very easy but stepped it up after a few minutes. I stayed below the 6/7 MPH range and focused on mid-foot landing and higher cadence. I increased the speed for the last four minutes but didn't push it to the point of discomfort. It felt like a workout and without the metrics I had no regrets about whether I ran fast or far enough. This doesn't mean I'm done with recording my workouts. It just means that sometimes knowing less helps you more.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The great mid-foot debate continues

After being told by the salesperson at City Sports that the store wasn't planning to carry the Brooks Green Silence shoe I contacted Brooks to find out where I could find it in NYC. The Green Silence is supposedly in stores this week and I'm curious to try it. With its low heel-to-toe offset and lighter weight I'm curious to see if it's the shoe for me as I adapt to a mid-foot/front foot running style. Brooks told me that Jackrabbit's in Union Square got a shipment so I plan to get down there this week if I can. This new shoe may not be ideal for me, after all it's a light trainer/racer, and it may be too minimal in terms of comfort. After all the anticipation for its launch I need to see for myself.

The current issue of Trail Runner has an article that posits both sides of the heel vs. front foot argument. They offer the fact that a study of elite runners in the 2004 Sapporo Olympics showed that 75% of these athletes land first on their heels when they run. To quote from the article, "There's no [scientific] evidence that heel strikers are injured more, no evidence that mid-foot runners are faster..." The article goes on to recommend that runners should do what feels right. They suggest that if adopting a front foot style is awkward it's probably better to run on your heels. The article did recommend some shoes specifically for mid-foot running: most inov-8 models, Newtons, NB 100s and 840s (The "ChiRunning" shoe) and the La Sportiva Skylite. Remember that this magazine covers trail running which explains why trail shoes are included in this recommendation.

I didn't run this morning because I felt like rest would do more good than exercise. I'm seeing my pulmonologist tomorrow and I don't want to overdo it lest he order me to stop running. I'll get back to it on Thursday after three days rest. I miss the experience but I know rest is the right thing for me this week.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Do running supplements actually do anything?

I mentioned in Saturdays post about visiting a health fair and sampling some food made with Chia seeds. Yesterday I was at Fairway and bought three types of coconut water to use for post-run hydration because it's been highly touted for that purpose. I have tried various foods and drinks that supposedly aid recovery from workouts or provide foundational nutrients that we may lack in our daily diets. I don't experiment with herbal remedies or energy drinks that contain dangerous ingredients like taurine or kava. I want to believe that fish oil and CoQ-10 really do provide a benefit but I really don't know how to tell. The cost for a bottle of these supplements can reach $50 or more and it may be worth it. Or maybe not.

Unlike medicines - like Ibuprofen or Sudafed - that quickly and consistently demonstrate their effectiveness, I really can't tell whether the green tea I drink is actively hunting down oxidants. I take a daily multivitamin and I don't get sick too often (save for when I get so sick that I'm hospitalized). Do my daily Centrum tabs give me the tools to fend off insidious colds and viruses? After 20 years of daily use I'd say they do help. Then again, I eat much better than I did in 1990 so I might now be getting everything I need from my food and the vitamins are superfluous. I experimented with FRS, a well-reviewed energy drink that is supposedly effective against free radicals. I used it as a recovery drink and it tasted fine but I wondered if the benefits of FRS at $2.00 a can was giving me anything more than an equivalent $0.30 mixture of water and pomegranate juice.

The price of the Chia-based food products I tried at the health fair was surprisingly high. A box of energy bars was close to $40. The Chia in these products is whole-seed which apparently does not provide any Omega-3 benefits. For $40 I expect to get everything. A small bottle of Chia capsules at Fairway was $36.99. Why? Are Chia seeds so rare that the market price is that high? If I bought that bottle and took the capsules daily would I feel better or more energized? Would my LDL and Triglycerides go down and my HDL go up? Would I be able to run longer and recover faster? I wish it was as clear as the cause-and-effect of taking an Advil at the first sign of a headache. It may not be especially good for you but it's sure worth the money.

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