Saturday, March 31, 2012

A cold and soggy 10 on the Bethpage bike trail

Rainy day run on the Bethpage bike trail
Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 10.1 miles

It's been a cold, dark, overcast and rainy Saturday. Not exactly ideal conditions for a long training run. I could have waited until later in the day, when it's supposed to clear up, but I just wanted to get it done. I've experienced some tiredness and a scratchy throat over the last couple of days but I refused to give into a cold. I figured that if I was going to ignore my symptoms, I'd might as well ignore the weather.

 My plan was to go out for ten miles and I accomplished that. It was raining when I arrived at Bethpage and fairly cold (38°). I dressed in a long sleeved jersey, but decided to forgo a rain jacket to minimize the chance of overheating. That was a good decision even though it was chilly at the start. Admission to the park starts again this weekend, so I opted to buy an Empire Passport rather than pay $8 every time I go to Bethpage. Plus I can use it at any other NY State park.

I filled my bottle with a Nuun electrolyte tab and brought along a GU gel to take at the halfway point when I sometimes start to fade. I wore the Spira Stinger XLT's and they felt good, but I noticed some irritation on the bottom of my left foot. I had blamed this pain on the new Kinvaras but now I'm convinced it's a problem with my foot.

My base training must be working because I felt good throughout most of my run. Taking the gel at 5 miles certainly helped, and it wasn't until I reached the end when I began to tire. A pack of young women from my town's high school were also on the trail and they passed me like I was standing still. Of course they hadn't covered the distance I'd run at that point. As if I could have kept up with them under any circumstance!

The last two big hills were tough and I was really glad to get past them. I covered my 10 miles as planned and I'm happy with my training progress. The rain left me soaked and my socks were soggy but I didn't let it interfere with today's goal. Tomorrow is a recovery day and I'm taking Monday off so I may skip my rest day and get in another workout. With two weeks until my next race, I guess I should start thinking about speed as well as distance.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The lessons that taught me commitment

Back in 2008, when I returned to running, I needed to view it with absolute commitment. 15 years prior to then, I was running regularly with a friend who was very passionate about the sport. At that time, my running was a novelty. I didn't really embrace it as a lifestyle. When my friend left NYC for a few weeks on business, I found every reason not to go out for my daily run. When she returned, I told her I was no longer a runner.

Like anything that's beneficial (but hard) full commitment is the key. But commitment is a slippery slope and my earlier efforts as a runner failed because I did not commit to the required discipline. I carried the lessons I learned from that earlier experience through my first weeks as a re-engaged runner:
  • Run at your own pace, not other's
  • Run only on clear roads or trails, it's far better than dodging pedestrians or traffic
  • Cover only the distances you can handle
  • Use the right gear, wear the right shoes
  • Benchmark your progress
  • In for a penny, in for a pound
It took me months to finally take one rest day every week, because I feared the slippery slope. After three and a half years of serious commitment, I know that every day I rest is merely a temporary respite from the work I'll be doing the next day. I'm currently experiencing some symptoms of a cold that has dragged me down a little. I chose to rest today instead of doing my morning run. Tomorrow I'll go out for 10 miles. Why? Because I'm committed.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The elliptical is damaged and the treadmill is down

Crack(ed) pipe on the X1 elliptical
Today's workout (elliptical): 25 minutes
I had great expectations for years of problem-free workouts when we took delivery of our Sole F63 treadmill two years ago. Our Pro-Form L18 treadmill had served us well for 13 years despite the daily pounding it received. The Sole is good unit, with a powerful motor, generous tread area, and some nice features. We did have some problems with belt slip, early on, and we needed to replace the console, but those issues got resolved under warranty.

With the impressive long term performance of the Pro-Form machine, I expected the Sole to do just as well. However, a few weeks ago, my wife and I noticed that the sound from the motor had become especially loud. A visit from the repairman revealed a number of problems with the unit, and he ordered replacement parts. The parts are still covered under warrenty, but not the labor. You can't have everything.

As we wait for the repair person to return next week, our only indoor option is to use the elliptical machine. This machine, a BH Fitness X1, has been a solid performer, despite some initial problems at the beginning. It was expensive, relative to other units in its class, but its build quality is better than what you might find at Dick's Sporting Goods.

As it happened, the elliptical machine has also joined the disabled list, having cracked one of the struts that connects the pedal assembly to the dynamic arm assembly. I've been able to restore functionality by tightly wrapping the pipe-end with duct tape, but the torque from the crack has cantered the foot bed a couple of degrees to the left. It's not that bad and the unit is still usable. We worried that the slight shift would lead to leg or knee issues, but neither my wife nor I have experienced anything like that.

Our treadmill repair person is an independent contractor and I'm hoping that he might be able to replace the elliptical's pedal assembly after repairing the treadmill. I guess these units wear out, I'm just surprised how little time it takes before that happens.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hitting the streets with my Road ID

Sample Road ID wristband
 Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

Earlier this week I received my Road ID, a light wrist strap with a faceplate engraved with my name, address, contacts, blood type and other information. I had mentioned to my colleague, FS, that I run with an ID card tucked into my SPIbelt, but she strongly suggested that I wear something on my wrist or on my shoe. Her point was that EMT's will look for ID in those places first in an emergency. I thought that made great sense and finally ordered the bracelet. It took a discount offered through to get the process started, but  I did it!

The Road ID works well because it doesn't violate one of the the most important Emerging Runner commandments for gear, "Thou shalt not distract or irritate me on my run." It's an inexpensive item and should be standard gear for anyone who runs outside of their home.

Speaking of irritants and distractions, I gave the Kinvara 3's another chance this morning and the feel underfoot was better, but not perfect. As I ran along, it felt better, and this makes me think it's my foot, not the shoe. I'm still dealing with soreness from the long runs that I've been doing on weekends.

 I didn't have a lot of energy today and so I wasn't surprised to see that the Gamin had clocked me at 25 minutes for my 2.53 mile loop. I tried to move along but I just couldn't generate much speed. I did finish with an overall pace in the high 9:00's, so it wasn't all that bad. Tomorrow I'll go out again in the Spiras as a point of comparison with the Kinvaras for both speed and comfort.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kinvara 3 discomfort - is it me or the shoe?

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

Quit pokin' my plantar!
Winter returned to the New York area overnight and I stepped outside this morning into 30° temperatures. I wore the new Kinvara 3's to see how they'd feel after my feet had an opportunity to recover from a weekend of long running. I expected the new shoes to perform in a similar way to my original Kinvaras, and they did, but I also experienced some discomfort underfoot. Much to my chagrin, the mid-sole was poking noticeably against the sock liner on the lateral plantar fascia (top left side) of my foot.

I've had a similar issue with my second pair of Hattori's that cut in on the medial side, prompting me to retire them after only 70 miles. My other pair of Hattori's fits me perfectly after 300 miles of running. The problem with the Kinvaras could be more related to me than the shoes, and I'm hoping it isn't a design or fit problem. I went up 1/2 size on the Kinvaras because the Mirages feel slightly too snug in the toe-box, and I expected the same from the K3's.

Perhaps that sizing up created a vertical alignment issue that resulted in this issue. I'll run with the Kinvara 3's again tomorrow and, if the problem continues, I'll switch back to the Spiras for a few days. I really do like the Kinvara's design and by the end they did feel more comfortable. I just know that if the issue continues I'll probably end up passing them over for other, more comfortable, options.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Seeking out a wrap and a baffle

Clammy and sloshy hydration
I went over to City Sports at lunch today because my CS Insider dollars expire at the end of the week I didn't want to lose them. I had hoped to find a new hand bottle to use on my long runs, because my Amphipod Hydroform unit is falling short in too many ways. Although it has a hand strap, there's no insulation between this bottle and my hand. The heat from my hand quickly transfers to the bottle and melts the ice inside. Soon after that, my hand heats up the remaining liquid.

Besides this heat issue, I don't really like the feeling of the cold bottle against the palm of my hand when I run. It's uncomfortable, and the condensation makes the bottle feel clammy. As the bottle empties, the water sloshes around inside. This becomes annoying over a long run.

City Sports didn't have a large selection of handheld bottles today, so I pretty much struck out. If a bottle exists that has an insulating wrapper and a baffle inside (that prevents sloshing) I'm ready to buy. I ended up spending my Insider dollars on Nuun electrolyte tabs along with some GU Roctane gels. I have the necessary contents, I just need a better bottle to put them in.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

First run: Saucony Kinvara 3's - a great update to a favorite shoe

Today's run (street): 4.5 miles

After yesterday's long run, I was prepared for an easy workout this morning. I'd wanted to try the new Kinvara 3's for the first time on the treadmill, but the machine is currently down, waiting for parts. Plan B was to run outside, but the weather report wasn't encouraging. I determined that an early run would allow me to dodge the rain that was predicted to fall by mid-morning.

The temperature was 49 degrees when I hit the road in the new Sauconys  at 7:30 AM. The fit was superb and these shoes reminded me of the feel of the original Kinvaras. I've been having trouble with soreness at the bottom of my feet as a result of stepping up my long runs in recent weeks. This is not plantar fasciitis, just old fashioned pavement-pounding swelling.

Compared to the Spiras, the Kinvara 3's feel more agile. I suppose this has to do with the lower platform and flatter (4mm) drop. Like the Kinvara 1's, the 3's move well with the foot, and they do help facilitate a mid-foot landing. The Kinvaras felt so good that I changed my run plan from slow and easy, to comfortably peppy.

I fully enjoyed the run, following a different route than usual, and appreciating the cool, cloudy conditions. At one point I crossed paths with another runner and ran behind him for a few minutes. I was concerned that I would overtake him at his current pace. I didn't want him to feel uncomfortable, so I ducked into a side road that looped back around and opened up more room behind him. 

I finished the run feeling pretty good considering the distance I'd covered on Saturday. The Kinvaras performed well and it's going to be interesting to compare them to the Spiras in the coming weeks. Still, my feet were feeling mighty sore, so I indulged in a foot soak using my wife's foot spa unit. This device provides inferred heat, water jets and vibration. I added Dr. Bronner's Magic Castile Peppermint soap to the water, and it has kept my feet feeling great, long after my soak was over.

I'm pleased to have covered over 13 miles this weekend. I'm hoping that the weather will clear by Tuesday morning when I go out once again. I'm expecting the treadmill to be operational by the end of the week. Fingers crossed for good conditions until then.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Building character on the Bethpage trail

Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 9.1 miles

Today is supposed to be the better weather day this weekend, so I headed to Bethpage this morning for my long base run. It was tough week in the office, and I addressed my sleep debt by getting eight full hours last night. I hoped the extra rest would carry me through what would be my longest run (so far) this year.

Although I have a brand new pair of Saucony Kinvara 3's sitting in a box, I decided to do today's run with the Spiras. I didn't want to discover any fit problems with the Kinvaras that I'd need to endure throughout the bulk of my run. Still, I was concerned that I'd have a recurrence of chafing at the back, along the Achilles, that I'd experienced last weekend.

Bethpage's lot had many more cars than usual, probably because it was the first weekend of Spring. I also arrived an hour later than I usually do, owing to my later wake-up time this morning. As I made my way through the initial hills, I saw numerous runners along the way, most of them heading north to the start of the bike trail. The Syosset Cross Country boys team were running hill repeats on the big hill and it reminded me of when I did that last year to prepare for the town of Oyster Bay Supervisor's 5K.

There must have been forty high school age runners on the path today, I kept seeing them coming from the other direction at different points in my run. They all looked strong and fast and I was glad they weren't going my way because it would have been humiliating to be passed dozens of times. Surprisingly, I was only passed a couple of times today.

I knew I was in for a better experience than last Saturday's because I still felt plenty strong at the Southern State crossover that led into the Massapequa Preserve. I came up behind a couple of runners that I hoped would pace me a little, but I ended up passing them because they were running a little too slow. I U-turned after covering four and a half miles and prepared for the second half of my run.

I had no issues with the back of my heel today but I did have some chafing problems with my small toe on my right foot. It got fairly uncomfortable, but I didn't stop because I knew there wasn't any quick fix for it. As much as I like the Spira's I'm noticing some small fit issues that come out on longer runs.

Despite the foot issue, I felt very strong throughout the run. It seemed to take little time to get to the seven mile mark today. I didn't take any anything for an energy boost and only sipped on a little water late in the run. At Bethpage, the last two miles is what I call the "character-building" phase of the run. There are some smaller rises and some steep short sections, with a few downhills to balance it out. But, inevitably, the last hill awaits. There's no escape.

Despite arriving at the 8.5 mile point, I still had good energy as I made my way uphill and I even passed another runner on that section. The best part of the bike trail is the short, steep downhill that leads to the parking lot. I embraced it fully today and carried my run an additional tenth mile back to my car.

So despite missing a couple of morning runs this week, I feel on track for my Half Marathon training. Next weekend I may need to do my long run on Sunday so I can get in some speed work on Saturday. Before the LI Half is the Marcie Mazzola 5K. I'm hoping that a good base and some fast twitch activation will yield a decent time for that race.

Friday, March 23, 2012

My mystery running shoes have arrived

Fresh out of the box
A long day and late night on Thursday translated into another ad hoc rest day this morning. I had the best of intentions but, after getting less than 4 hours sleep, I felt I needed more rest. I intended to elliptical but the advantages of skipping that workout outweighed the disadvantages. It's been a pretty poor week for running, but with this week's schedule, I knew I'd miss a few days.

On the plus side, my mystery shoes arrived last night. I was too tired to even try them on when I got home but I will tonight. They're the new Kinvara 3's that I've been anticipating for a very long time. I loved the original Kinvaras but didn't really like the 2's. I'm hoping the third time's the charm. My one minute assessment is that the K3 seems to be built more like the Mirage than the original Kinvara model. That may be okay. I went up 1/2 size and hopefully that will provide enough room in the toe-box to make for a perfect fit.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hard work and quick shoes yield a fast 4 AM run

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

I'm in off-site meetings all day today and tomorrow. It's been a long day that will continue through the evening. It starts again early on Friday, and I'm trying to figure out whether I'll have the energy to work out tomorrow morning after getting (at best) four hour's sleep. In my college days I'd attend classes all day, stay out past 1:00 AM and be fully alert for class at 8:00 AM the next morning. I sure don't bounce back the same anymore.

I was glad that I went for my run this morning. I followed my plan to run hard and it yielded very good results. In fact, it was my first 4:00 AM run this year where I averaged under 9:00 a mile. Conditions were ideal, cool but not cold. I wore running shorts and a long sleeved top and that worked really well. I had good energy from my first steps off my driveway until I returned, less than 23 minutes later.

If not for yesterday's mid-9:00 pace, I would have given full credit to the Spira XLT's. I pushed a lot harder than I did on Wednesday, and that probably explained my much improved performance. But getting under 9:00 was a big improvement so I'll say it was the combination of hard work and fast shoes. I'm pretty sure I'll be running in the Spira's for April's Marcie Mazzola 5k.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Speed takes effort, it's that simple

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

The UPS truck mocked me as I drove into my driveway last night. The UPS driver usually does his deliveries in my neighborhood around the same time that I get home from work. I watched as he carried what looked like a shoebox-sized container, but he dropped it at a neighbor's house. Saucony is supposedly looking into what's happened to my pre-launch Kinvara 3's. I'm thinking I may never get them.

As much as I've anticipated the Saucony's, I'm still appreciating the Spira Stinger XLT's. I skipped yesterday's run, but went out this morning. Again I found the XLT's to be comfortable and responsive. I moved well during my run and, while my PE was relatively low, I felt like my pace was brisk. When I came to the end of my run I looked at my Garmin, only to see that I'd covered my route more than a minute slower than expected. So much for getting that bonus 15 seconds per mile from the XLT's.

I think the lesson I reinforced today is that, at my level, speed should feel hard. If I don't push it, I shouldn't expect to put up good numbers. Due to some scheduling issues this week, I'm swapping my Thursday elliptical session with a run tomorrow morning. I'll put in more effort and see whether that makes a difference. Perhaps the 15 second bonus only happens on harder runs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Work comes before workout

I had to speak at an industry event this morning and the pressure to get ready caused me to skip today's run. I always feel guilty about missing a workout, but I felt the need to postpone it this morning. I'll abide by what I tell others when they take a second day away from exercise, that a little more rest actually builds fitness. With my base runs now in the 8+ mile range, I will definitely benefit from the extra recovery time. Yes, that's it. No guilt.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Racing glory is relative to ability

Well Monday has rolled around again, and I'm pleased with my weekend's running. The progress I'm making to prepare for the LI Half Marathon is fully on track. I've been getting some interesting perspective from reading the blog of an elite runner named Jesse Armijo, from Albuquerque, NM. This runner, who competes at the top level, faces similar concerns about preparedness and training as a mid-packer like me. But for Jesse, the stakes are higher. He's a humble guy and I'm rooting for him.

Sometimes I wonder why I compete. It certainly isn't for the glory of victory. I often finish at the top of the bell curve, coming in just before the last 50% of runners in a given race. My performance really couldn't be  more average. But against my age group, I sometimes land in the top third, and that makes me happy.

Saturday's 8+ mile run was much harder than staying home and watching the news on TV. But I had to do it, because I have to be ready to run 13.1 miles on May 6. I'm not likely to finish at the front of the curve, but I sure don't want to end up in the back of the pack.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ambivelent about today's coverage of the NY Half

Today's run (street): 4.5 miles

I was pleasantly surprised to when I turned on the news this morning to see that our local ABC channel  was actually covering today's New York Road Runner's Half Marathon. Running of this type is rarely televised (besides the ING NY Marathon), so it's always exciting when these events are broadcast.

The good news is that ABC stepped up and featured the race. The bad news is the way they covered it. Besides some very short features and interviews with a few US runners who were competing, very little information was given about the other elites who were also competing. My biggest frustration came for the race broadcast itself, both the men's and women's races were early breakaways between two runners. ABC chose to stay with those four, virtually ignoring the other elites who were grouped 30 seconds behind.

ABC also put up very little information about paces and splits, and when they did, they confused the women's numbers with the men's. After an hour of watching Peter Kirui battle it out with Deriba Merga and Kim Smith run shoulder to shoulder with Firehiwot Dado, I learned virtually nothing about them as people. They failed to give viewers a reason to care about the competitors. That may be a reason why running is so invisible as a broadcast sport.

Inspired by the watching the NY Half, I got outside for four and a half easy miles. The temperature was a cool 40 degrees when I started, but the weather got warmer throughout my run. I regretted wearing pants instead of running shorts and I was sweating hard by the time I finished. The run itself was extremely easy, my pace was a full minute slower than yesterday's run at Bethpage.

Tomorrow I'll rest and then I'll need to figure out my workweek running. I have a lot going on next week and I may need to skip one or two runs. No matter if I do, I plan to do some speed work next weekend and another long base run. Watching the half marathon this morning reminded me how long 13.1 miles will be.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Top of the mornin' run at Bethpage State Park

Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 8.2 miles

Green Day
Happy St. Patty's Day. I'm not Irish, but in honor of the holiday I wore my kelly green quarter-zip on today's run. This was to be my weekend base building run and, after a later than usual start,  I headed over to Bethpage State Park.

When I arrived I saw a few dozen runners dressed in green circling the parking lot in what looked to be an informal race or a fun run. Many wore leprechaun hats or green St. Patty's themed headgear. There were no signs saying what the event was for, but people seemed to be having a good time.

I wore the new Spira Stinger XLT's because I was curious to see how they would do on a long and hilly run. After getting past the first short hill and making my way down the long hill that followed, I was into the wooded section of the bike trail where the first mile seems to come quickly. I felt a little stronger than last Saturday, when I ran the trail for 7.4 miles. I hoped that I'd feel even better as I went along today.

The XLT's provided a responsive platform and felt comfortable underfoot throughout the entire run. It wasn't until I was into my third mile that I detected a hot spot above my left heel. I hoped it would go away but it grew worse, and when I reached 3.75 miles I needed to stop for a minute to adjust my sock and re-tie my lace. That did the trick and I continued south, passing over the Southern State and turning around at Linden St. after passing the 4 mile mark.

There were many runners, walkers and cyclists on the trail today. I recognized a lot of the runners that I see almost every time I run at Bethpage. At one point on my return leg, I was behind three women who were trotting alongside a man who was race-walking. They were all dressed in St. Patty's attire. This group took up the entire path and I had to run in the dirt on the left side to get by. They acted annoyed that I didn't greet them when I passed them. One woman yelled an unfriendly-sounding, "Top of the mornin' to ye!"

This was the third consecutive weekend since I started my half marathon training and I was pleased with the way I felt throughout the first six miles. Like last week, it was the last two miles that really challenged me. It's as much mental as physical. The last mile and a half have the biggest hills, and I always dread the final long climb.

I made it through the second-worst hill that comes a mile before the start (and finish). I was hurting but still managed to pass a few slower runners as I made my approach to the last hill. I gritted my teeth and went for it, slogging my way along the longest half mile of the run before finishing with a short downhill run to the parking lot.

It was a hard workout but I improved on my pace from last Saturday's 7.4 mile run. I don't think I'd do too well if the half marathon was next weekend, but there are still six weekends to train before the race. Tomorrow's run will be for recovery. I'm looking forward to that.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Saucony's secret news is leaking out!

Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

The cat seems to be out of the bag in terms of the "top secret" news that Saucony plans to share. Via re-tweets on Saucony's Twitter feed and through blogs I follow, it seems like the running shoe stork is dropping off boxes of the pre-market Kinvara 3 to bloggers and reviewers like me. This is a shoe I've been anxiously anticipating.

After reading people's first impressions, I'm even more excited to receive my pair. I'm also worried that something got botched up and my shoes won't ever reach me. In the meantime, I continue to appreciate the feel and responsiveness of my new Spira Stinger XLT's that I wore on today's run. It was my third workout with the XLT's and the second on the treadmill (raining this morning). I hope to take them out on a long base run tomorrow.

So as I wait for the Kinvaras to arrive, I'll be happy to run with the XLT's. I'm really curious to see if the Wavespring technology delivers any extra support when I face that last big hill at the end of mile 8.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Running shorts weather is great, except for one thing...

Avert your eyes!
Today's workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

We're seeing unseasonably warm weather this month, not that anyone is complaining. I'm sure we'll pay for it in spades next year when we're clearing snow off our driveways in April. This morning I wore running shorts during my elliptical session and it occured to me that the world may not be ready to look at the scars that remain from my big fall last October. I considered showing an uncensored picture, but it's just too ugly to look at.

With running shorts, there's no hiding this disturbing sight. I wouldn't care so much if the damage looked rugged and cool. In my case, I have six splotches, ranging in size between a nickel and a quarter, that together, look like a bad case of leprosy. I had similarly ugly scarring on my other knee from a prior accident and it took years for the discoloring to fade.

It's likely that I'll run in shorts this weekend. I'm seriously considering wrapping that area with a light bandage when I'm out in public. My daughter winkingly proposed that I replace my running shorts with below-the-knee board shorts. Depending on how people react, I may consider that suggestion.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

First outdoor run in the XLT's: interesting results

Today's run: 2.5 miles

I'm not quite sure what to make of this morning's run. My expectations were set to high for a performance boost that I hoped to get from the new Spira XLT's. I hoped the claim of a 15 sec/mile improvement was more than marketing hype. I've learned over the years that it's really not the shoe, but the person in the shoe, that determines outcome. Still, I was hopeful.

I was excited to try the new shoes on the road and I took off on a somewhat faster pace than normal, once my Garmin was ready. The XLT's felt good, not super-cushioned, but comfortable. I noticed the ride was high, compared to my Hattori's and Mirages, but I still felt like I was landing mid-foot. The slight uphill of the first road on my route was a good basis for judging the benefit of the Wavespring technology. I moved along well, but it wasn't a transforming experience.

Once I leveled out, I let the shoes do their thing. I probably pushed a little harder than usual, perhaps because I anticipated a dramatic improvement of my pace. I had no issues with the feel of the shoes but I wouldn't say they provided noticeable energy return. I knew I could have run faster, but I didn't want to add too many variables to the mix. My goal was to see if, during a normal run, I'd really see measurable improvement.

Regardless of the shoes, I felt good on this run. Like Sunday and Tuesday's workouts, my stamina has improved since I began my weekend base training. I crossed the threshold of my driveway, hit "Stop" on the Garmin and saw that I finished my run 43 seconds faster than the last run along that route. But that day it was windy and I may not have pushed as hard as I did today. Then again, it could have been the shoes. A few more runs will show whether I'm gaining speed, or if today was simply a fluke.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

First impression: Spira Stinger XLT's

Float like a bee?
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

Yesterday I posted about two pairs of mystery shoes and last night I got to try on the first pair. They are lightweight running shoes from a company called Spira, based in El Paso, TX. Spira shoes contain something called "Wavespring Technology" where specially designed springs are embedded within the mid-sole to enable better energy return to runners and walkers.

The shoes I received are Spira's performance model, called Stinger XLT. I think they are called Stingers because (with their bright yellow and black highlights) the shoes resemble a bumble bee. I don't judge shoes on the way they look, but people who like their running shoes to be noticeable will not be disappointed.

I took the XLT's out of the box and had two reactions. First was, "That looks like a lot of shoe, I'll bet they're heavy." After picking them up I thought, "How can a shoe containing metal springs be this light?" I put one on my foot and was pleased with the comfortable foot bed. It's a well cushioned shoe and while I usually prefer the other end of the spectrum (Saucony Hattori's), I appreciated the comfortable fit.

I'd asked for size 11's, 1/2 size up from what I usually wear, because lately I've had issues with tight toe-boxes. The XLT's fit me well and the toe-box was fine. A quick run around the house reinforced that, lots of room, but no slippage. I checked the morning's weather and it said rain, so I decided to try my first run on the treadmill.

After two relatively long runs over the weekend, my feet were a little sore and the XLT's provided a nice cushioned base. The Wavesprings do not create a "moon-bounce" effect. In fact, it would not be obvious to someone that this shoe contained any special technology. The XLT's do provide a decent response though, not unlike my Brooks GTS 10's in their early days.

The shoes performed very well on the treadmill. They moved naturally with my foot, felt stable and returned good energy. I couldn't test the predicted 15 sec/mile improvement communicated to me by Andrew B. Krafsur, Spira's founder, but I found it surprisingly easy to maintain a sub 9:00/mile pace once I got going.

I'm planning to try the shoes on the road tomorrow morning. If they perform well I'll use them for at least one of my long runs this weekend. My most popular post is titled "Tubes, zig-zags, bounces, shocks and resistors" which is about gimmicky running shoes that fall short of expectations. So far (and surprisingly), the Stinger XLT's appear to be the real deal.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What's in the box will make me 15 seconds faster

Mysteries a-foot
There's a box waiting for me at home that contains a pair of running shoes. These shoes are different from any others that I own. The manufacturer claims that I'll see a 15 second per mile improvement over my regular trainers. Unless it's raining, I will be testing that theory tomorrow morning. I plan to do a full writeup on Runner's Tech Review once I've had a chance to evaluate them fully.

I'm also waiting for a pair of mystery running shoes that have not yet arrived. I don't know when to expect them. All I know is that one of my favorite shoe companies (Saucony) recently sent me a note saying they had "top secret" news and asked for my size. What could be better than having some brand new performance tech-y shoes waiting at home? How about knowing that a secret pair of running shoes are also coming? Stay tuned, all will be revealed...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Did I really experience fat-to-energy alchemy?

Botero's Man on Horseback
WCB Preserve's Trails
Today's run (treadmill): 6.1 miles

Daylight savings time took away an hour of our morning, so I decided to save a little time and run indoors. My wife was doing her workout on the elliptical machine, so I accompanied her on the treadmill for the last 35 minutes of her session. My plan was to run for an hour or for 5.7 miles, whichever came first.

I started off at a very easy pace, because I'd run long on Saturday and didn't want to push my already tired legs. I moved along feeling great, but after 25 minutes I began to noticeably weaken. I realized that it would be a struggle to complete my full hour and I started to reevaluate when I would stop. After my wife finished her workout, I thought I would continue, but only for another ten minutes.

I'd wished that I'd had a gel to give me a boost at that point, but as it happened, I didn't need it. When I reached 43 minutes, I started feeling stronger. My urgency to stop had completely gone away. It suddenly felt easy, for no reason that I could explain. The only thing I could think of was that my body had depleted my glycogen stores and had started using stored fat as an energy source.

Everything I've read tells me that this transition doesn't happen until you have run for an hour or more. Before you feel good, you're supposed to feel very bad. I hadn't been comfortable for a good amount of time, so perhaps that explanation is plausible. All I knew was that, suddenly, the run became as easy after 45 minutes as it was after 5 minutes.

I decided not to stop and took advantage of my rebound by bumping up the speed and focusing on my form. I reached my goal (originally 5.7 miles so that I would surpass 13 miles this weekend) but kept going until I passed 6 miles. It was a tiring run but, hours later, I still feel energized.

Later in the morning we went to the Nassau County Museum of Art and walked the grounds before we went in. The museum has 39 large sculptures located within its grounds (AKA, the William Cullen Bryant Preserve). There are many trails to follow and we plan to return just to do that.

I'm pleased that I met my goal of covering 13 miles this weekend. That will help me push my base as I train for the LI Half Marathon. Best of all, I get to rest tomorrow. But it all starts again on Tuesday.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Test at Bethpage: Gatorade G Series FIT Perform 02

Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 7.35 miles

Nice bottle, but no thanks
I had a mid morning appointment today and that forced me to get out for my run before 7:00 AM. My plan was to get to Bethpage and run the bike trail, covering at least seven miles. I'd rested on Friday because I wasn't feeling great, and I hoped that would give me a performance boost today.

I brought along a bottle of sport drink with a very long name: Gatorade G Series FIT Perform 02. It's an electrolyte mix that's meant to be consumed during a workout. I was testing this mix to see if it's something I should carry during my half marathon. I've learned that satisfaction with performance supplements, like gels and drinks, varies greatly from person to person.

Almost from the start, I could tell that I wouldn't be burning up the trail today. I had none of the energy I usually expect for these long, early morning runs. I thought it would be a good test of the G Series mix, and a good gauge of my ability to cover 7+ miles when starting with an energy deficit. As I started my Garmin, it chirped and showed "Low Battery." Like my watch, I hoped I had enough power to get through today's run.

Considering my low energy, the first couple of miles went by fairly quickly. The temperature was hovering around 30 degrees, but the winds were strong, especially on the way back. I reached the point where I expected to hear a chirp signaling three miles and when I looked at the Garmin the screen was blank. Later, when I recharged the watch, I saw that the battery had given out after 2.61 miles.

Along the way I sipped from the G2 mix, hoping that it would restore my depleted energy levels. The "melon-pear" flavor tasted neither like melon nor pear. In fact it didn't taste like much of anything. Since I didn't have an easy way of knowing how far I'd run or how much time I'd been running, I decided to turn back at a place I could locate on Gmaps so I could measure total distance later.

There were many runners on the trail this morning, mostly running in pairs or in groups. I would have felt lonely except that they were all running faster than me. I wouldn't have been able to keep up with any of them today. I suspect it was the early hour, when competitive club runners go out for long distances before they start their day.

I wasn't hurting, exactly, but I never felt strong as ran along. I started taking sips of the G2 more frequently as I got closer to the end. The last 1.5 miles of the Bethpage bike trail has the most pronounced hills and I needed a boost, even if it turned out to be more psychological than real. As I approached the final long hill, I decided I'd just pace it fast enough so that I could call it running. At that moment, a group of sleek, fit, compression-clad men and women ran by on my left, chatting away as if this hill was a bump. How humiliating.

After I finished my run, I saw that the G2 mix contained nothing to help my energy stores. The whole 16 oz. bottle contained only 5g of carbs  and 4g of sugar. I'd consumed about half the bottle, so all I got was 110mg of sodium and 30mg of potassium. And it also made me a little queasy. So this mix will not be accompanying me on my half marathon in May.

I accomplished a good part of my weekend distance goal this morning. I need to cover almost 6 miles tomorrow to make my "weekend 13". It's not an unreasonable target, but I hope to feel more energized on Sunday.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Today's guilt will power tomorrow's run

I wasn't feeling well yesterday and thought I may have caught a cold. Thursday's elliptical session wore me out much more than I would have expected. I bounced back last night and planned to do a run for this morning. When I woke up, I felt a little dizzy. After being at this for almost four years, I am able to tell the difference between being "morning tired" and actually feeling weak. I quickly decided to skip today's workout.

The main reason I opted for a rest day is that I hope to do a long run tomorrow at Bethpage. I didn't want to wear myself out on a maintenance run, and I thought some additional rest might be beneficial. I think resting was the right thing to do, but I'll admit to having some guilty feelings about it. I'm planning to use that guilt tomorrow to motivate me through what I hope will be my longest run (so far) this year.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Learned my lesson, but can I handle the mileage?

Today's workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

As I come closer to the anniversary of my first half marathon, I'm thinking about both the training and my increased risk of injury. Most training programs recommend a careful approach to adding to weekly mileage, usually no more than a 10% increase per week. The idea behind this is to prevent overuse injuries that come from running longer distances than your body is ready to handle.

Last year I played my half marathon training by ear, occasionally stepping up distance without regard to the consequences. In my case it wasn't the aggregate mileage that hurt me, but the fact that I arbitrarily threw in long runs without building up to them. A nine mile run on the trails at Belmont Lake a week before the half marathon created a knee problem that plagued me throughout the race.

This year I'm taking a practical approach to my training and, hopefully, I'll be better prepared on race day. Since I can't really increase my mileage between Monday and Friday, I'll need to step up my long running on the weekends. This weekend I'll need to total 13 miles, by April 7 weekend I'll target 18 and, before my taper, I'll need to cover 21. Easier said than done, but it looks like I'm going to become very familiar with the Bethpage bike trail.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The five paces I run

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

Yesterday morning the NBC weatherman announced that Monday would be the last cold day of winter. Just like that. I'm not sure why he was so confident, but he didn't appear to be kidding. Never one to believe such things, I watched the local station last night as I readied my clothes for this morning. They were predicting 29 degrees around 4:00 AM. So much for warmer weather.

About half of today's route was in the direction of a steady wind that made it feel very chilly. I moved at a steady pace and, every once in a while, I stepped it up. I averaged a mid-9:00 pace which was disappointing because it felt like it should have been faster. I started thinking about my pacing.

Based on my 800+ runs logged in Garmin Connect, I see that I generally have five pace ranges: LSD (> 10:30), easy/trail (9:50-10:30), normal (9:20-9:50), tempo (8:55-9:20) and road race (< 8:55). I would really like to make my tempo range my normal pace range amd I think it's as much a matter of pushing myself mentally as increasing my physical capabilities. After all, If I can do one training run at 9:00 a mile, why can't I do them all?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Night or day, inside or out?

Worth a read
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

In her new book, "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?", Mindy Kaling writes, "There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.” I thought that was a very funny line (it's a great book) but I have to disagree a little. As I stood at the train this morning I saw the sun coming up and the first thought I had was, "Finally, I can now go out on my long weekend runs before 6:30 AM without needing a headlamp."

There's a big difference, psychologically, when I run in the dark versus running in daylight. My 4:00 AM runs serve a purpose, but that purpose is primarily fitness maintenance. My weekend runs provide a far wider benefit to both mind and body. A run on the trails is visually fascinating, the terrain is challenging and the lack of concern for traffic (except for mountain bikers) allows for deep thinking.

This morning I was at the complete other end of the spectrum, running my 25 tedious minutes on the treadmill. A friend of mine just bought a True treadmill that is very feature-rich. One capability is heart rate cruise control -- the machine will automatically speed up, slow down or change elevation to keep the runner at a specific heart rate. It also has a 14" LCD screen that takes input from a smartphone, PC, iPad, etc. That would be amazing compared to my humble Sole. But in the end, I'd far prefer to be running outside, just after sunrise.

Monday, March 5, 2012

One-line running shoe reviews

It's been a while since I've updated Runner's Tech Review but I may be testing a new pair of running shoes soon. These shoes are different and the manufacturer promises to deliver measurable gains in performance. That's always an intriguing notion, but I've rarely seen these claims pay off. We'll see.

In the meantime, I'm more than ready to find a replacement for my Hattori's that I've used both as a trainer and race shoe over the last year. I'm impressed that they've held up as well as they have after 300+ miles of pounding, but they are showing signs of wear. I have a second pair of Hattori's that were sent to me by Saucony but something about the fit is different. I find them unwearable after 60 miles of running.

Yesterday I had a little time in the middle of the day and went over to Dick's where I tried on a few pairs of running shoes. I didn't find my next pair but I was glad to reinforce what I expected. Here are my quick impressions:
  • Adidas adizero® Rush: Light, surprisingly comfortable, smooth roll, stiff fore-foot, high platform (too much heel).
  • Brooks Pure Cadence: Light, cushioned, tight arch/mid foot, awkward roll, expensive.
  • Brooks Adrenaline 12: Extremely comfortable, natural roll, moved well with foot, high platform (too much heel).
  • New Balance MT20: Tight forefoot (even 1/2 size up), light, uneven roll.
  • Merrell Road Glove:  Light, unstructured, wide toe box, lack of fore-foot response.
The New Balance experience concerned me because I've been waiting for the similar NB MR00 zero-drop road shoe that should be in stores soon. I've been hoping that will be a worthy successor to my Hattori's. If I don't like the way that shoe feels when I try it, I might need to wait until Saucony launches the Kinvara 3 in early summer. Even then, there's no guarantee that I'll like that new design. All I want is the perfect shoe. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

When a run goes according to plan

How I spent my morning
Today's run (street): 6.2 miles

My morning running plan was happily free of debate. No decisions to make about my route, gear or distance. I'd prepared to run 6 miles on the roads around my neighborhood and the cloudy and dry weather looked perfect.

I started by running the loop I use every morning to benchmark my first mile. After that I diverted my course by running towards the middle school. Once I got there, I ran across the field to a path that took me to the nearby business park. I continued in that direction and ran the hilly loop before exiting into neighborhood #3 at the three mile point.

I felt good as I moved along these neighborhood streets that led me out to Woodbury Road, a heavily trafficked street. Running along Woodbury Road's sidewalk is always interesting. In the fall there's often a thick covering of leaves that cushion each step. Today the sidewalk was bare and covered with packed dirt.  Except for the cars whizzing by on the street, I felt like I was doing a mini trail run.

I reached the easternmost point of my run and then switched directions back toward my house. I was on track to cover my intended six miles and ended up making it with a little distance to spare. I didn't run this route particularly fast but I was satisfied with the effort and pleased to have run a dozen miles over this weekend.

The best part of finishing a couple of good weekend runs is knowing that Monday is my rest day. Another 20+ mile week is in the books. So far, so good for my half marathon training plan.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Going a sustainable 60

Today's run (treadmill): 60 minutes

The overnight rain extended into morning drizzle, so I debated whether to wait for it to stop or head to the track in hopes that it would let up. I chose the latter, but needed to run a last minute errand on the way. That turned out to be a fortuitous delay, because the skies opened up before I got to my workout. I didn't want to wait around for the rain to stop, so I headed home.

Since I couldn't run outside, I thought I'd spend an hour on the treadmill. Sixty minutes on the treadmill is far different than an hour on the road. Not just from the tedium of an unchanging view, but also due to the increased effort from running at a higher cadence (necessary to make up for a shorter stride).

I maintained my pace for 50 minutes and then stepped up my speed every minute until I finished my planned time. In a way, it's like a 10K, where you stay on pace then push past your comfort zone for the last mile. I was glad to find plenty of fuel to get me through the fast finish and I stepped off the treadmill as soaked as if I'd already showered.

I was happy with my compromised workout, and though I wanted to do speed work today, I'm pleased with what I did. Tomorrow's weather should be clear, so I will have my choice off outside options. I think I'll pass on the speed work though. Another six mile run may be exactly what I need.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Teaching your body to go fast

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

"The idea is to teach your body to go faster than it wants to." That was a comment from Emerging Runner friend Paul regarding interval training. I reread that sentence three times because I thought it was a perfect way to describe the concept of speed work. It sounds simple, but it's not. Making your body go faster than it wants to go is hard. But when you do, it (almost) always pays off.

I thought about Paul's comment during my run this morning. Usually at 4:00 AM I feel heroic, simply because I've dragged myself out of bed and hit the road in the darkness and the cold. Performance is secondary and my expectations are low, because I'm usually half asleep through the first mile. Today I played a little with my speed once I felt fully alert. I'd pick a spot a few hundred feet ahead and increase my pace until I reached my target. I was curious to see if these fartleks would translate into a performance improvement.

It turned out they did. Today's run finished 1: 10 sooner than Tuesday's although I followed the same route at the exact same time in the morning. It was a difference of 26 seconds per mile. I'll take half minute per mile improvements any day, but my overall pace was still in the low 9:00's. That sleepy first mile always throws me off. I guess that's as fast as my body was willing to go this morning.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Upping my game to reach an elusive PR

Today's workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

Tabata training and intervals have got me thinking about my current racing performance. The good news is that, since last June, I've been on a streak where I've set new PR's for 4 miles, 8K and 10K. In addition, I've achieved best ever times on five races that I do every year. The bad news is that I'm about to come around again to those races and the challenge of meeting or beating my best times will be much harder.

I believe that my improved performance is attributable to three things: more racing experience, smarter preparation methods and better weather conditions. I can't count on the weather and there's not much more I can do in terms of race day prep. The key for continued achievement in 2012 will be better training. I have a few ideas about that.

My next race is six weeks away. It's a 5K and I generally run those races as a controlled sprint. 5K is the only distance where I didn't PR in 2011, even though I ran three of them. My 5K PR is 25:50 (8:19 pace) from a race I ran in 2009. I came within 16 seconds of that time last December, but almost doesn't count.

The key to my training for the Marcie Mazzola 5K will be a much greater focus on intensity. This, coupled with increased core and strength workouts, may help me move the time needle from 25:50 towards 24:52 (8:00 pace). I have no expectation that I'll get there in April, but I may yet beat my 8:19 PR.

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