Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shoe Review: Mizuno Wave Sayonara

Anyone who runs with me knows that I keep a large collection of running shoes in rotation.  However, after acquiring a pair of Mizuno 's relatively new performance shoe, the Wave Sayonara, I spent a lot of dedicated time in that shoe, including a wide variety of workouts and one race-like scenario.
I should say that I've never been a fan of the Wave Precision or the Wave Elixir--the shoes the Sayonara is intended to replace.  However, there was a lot of hype and some promising features that led me to give the Sayonara an honest shot.  Let's get to it.
Like most Mizunos, the Sayonara fits large on me (I sized down 1/2 size), and the heel cup is a bit spacious.  However, unlike other Mizunos, I found the toe box to have ample width.  With some experimental lacing, I found that a semi-boxed lacing pattern with a loop-lace on the extra eye locked my foot perfectly into the footbed without too much pressure on my often-sensitive metatarsals.  Observe my lacing in the picture.
My semi-boxed and eye-looped lacing if the Wave Sayonara

Here's the fun part.  I've taken this shoe on long runs in the 12-20 mile range, easy recovery runs, tempo runs, hill repeats, road speed intervals, and a heavy half marathon at near race pace.  It has seen over 90% asphalt and 10% non-technical dirt trail. Mizuno markets the Sayonara as an "Everyday Fast" shoe.  This is a good description.  As most if my shoes are lighter than the Sayonara's already light 8.1 ounce (men's size 9) weight, and it's 10mm heel/toe drop was a little high for my midfoot running style, I figured the Sayonara would be just a distance trainer.  However, after running with the shoe, all those numbers mean little and less.  The response is firm, almost to the point of stiffness when on the stationary or walking foot, but in a running stride, the shoe's flexibility and just-right give (from Mizuno's new U4ic midsole material) become evident.  Unlike many trainers which start out soft and firm up during the run, the Sayonara starts out firm and softens up just enough.  The underside (pictured below), made of a combination of solid blown rubber in high abrasion zones, rubber treads under the forefoot, and exposed EVA under the midfoot, provides so-far reliable traction.

The Sayonara does show signs of wear after about 120 miles.  Some of the exposed EVA is "tagged" on the side of the midfoot, and the blown rubber at my midfoot point of impact is showing some beveled wear, with the micro tread faded away.  Much of this wear is expected, and I have been putting some hard workouts on these shoes.  However, the shoe's responsiveness has not changed so far.  I hypothesize that it will have more longevity than a dedicated racing flat, but maybe not so much an average high-mileage trainer.

My conclusions:
The Mizuno Wave Sayonara is not for everyone.  Those that crave a soft, mat-like ride will find it a bit firm, and pure minimalists may think there's a bit too much shoe (which I was afraid of initially).  However, for me, the Sayonara is a top candidate to replace the endangered Brooks Green Silence as a trustworthy marathon shoe.  The GS and the Sayonara are apples and oranges, so I won't even begin to compare the two, but they each serve well as marathon racers in their own way.  Next Spring, I will qualify for Boston again, and it may just be in the Wave Sayonara.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thunder Road 2013: a Pacer's Recap

I had wanted to be part of Thunder Road for several months.  Ever since fellow Reckless Running brand ambassador Bobby Aswell, Jr. declared that Thunder Road was going to be his 200th marathon, I decided I needed to be there.  However, I was in money-saving mode, and I wasn't sure how competitive I wanted to be.  I thought of opting for the lesser-known 5k and then providing some crowd support, but I think that would have left me with a big case of mileage envy.
[Cue spotlight, stage left]
Enter the pacing opportunity...
The Endurance Magazine Thunder Road Pacing Team.  I'm front row, far right.  Photo courtesy of DC Lucchesi.
The Endurance Magazine Official Thunder Road Pacing Team had yet to acquire pacers for the 3 hour group.  I couldn't run a 3:00 marathon; my very best was a 3:04.  However, they were accepting paired tag teams with runners each doing a 90-minute Half.  I could pull of a 1:30 Half.  Luckily, Claire Naisby was willing to do the other Half.  Boom.  Call us a 3:00 pace team!
There were a lot of pros to this plan: free entry into the race, including the usual swag, and a pacer tech tee to boot, and a chance to cheer on all my running buddies.  However, there were some caveats: I couldn't really "race," or hold an individualized strategy.  I was going to be accountable for other people's paces.  I could make or break someone's PR.  With that in mind, I had to stay healthy and in shape for this effort.
Fast forward to race day.  Claire and I agreed that she would run the first half, and I'd join them at mile marker 12, shortly before the Full/Half split.  I actually started the race with everyone and peeled off after about 3/4 miles to slowly jog over to my rendezvous point.  Spectating friends Dave Munger and Stephanie Mishler came by after a while to cheer on the field from my location.  We watched the scattered leaders of the Half and the Full zip by, with fierce competition evident in both races.
I did a few strides to keep loose for my 14.2 mile heavy half at 6:52 pace.  Soon enough, I saw the telltale orange pacer shirts of Claire and Jason Philbin (another 3:00 pacer, first half only).  There was a good size group around them.  Rather then wait for them to get to the top of the hill (Morehead...bleh), I got excited and ran down about 100 meters to meet them.  Everyone looked to be working pretty steadily, but still have plenty of gas in the tank.  In short order, we passed through the Half split-off, bidding adieu to Jason as he turned to complete the 13.1 mile race.  Claire stuck with the Full group with the intention of dropping out of the pace group and continuing at her own pace for a potential, impromptu debut marathon.  I settled in to a solid 6:52 pace, peeking at the Garmin occasionally, and recording splits on my reliable Timex stopwatch, which had the gun time from the start of the race.
The 3:00 pace group about 100 meters after I joined.  The three orange-clad pacers (left to right) are Claire, Jason, and me.  Photo courtesy of Stephanie Mishler.
Running through Southend is a great stretch for the Full Marathoners to regain their focus.  The course was far less crowded, and much of the "racing" vibe that surrounded the Halfers was all behind us.  Now, everyone seemed to be focused on working together.  Running acquaintance Clayton Venhuizen was sticking with my group, as I expected he would be.  I knew sub-3 was a goal of his, considering his PR had been 3:00 and change.  He and I both talked up the other runners and kept the attitude positive. Clayton asked to draft me, and I was happy to oblige.  After all, I had the freshest legs in the group.
Before we knew it, we were at mile 16 and headed back into Uptown.  After passing by the stadium and running a brief out-and-back (temporary course change for 2013), we were among the skyscrapers and crowds.  We rattled off some fast splits in the mid-high 6:40s, but my group and I were content with that since there were some tougher miles ahead.
At mile 19, we were headed away from town on Caldwell, towards NoDa: my old stomping grounds from when I played music more regularly.  The 6:50s splits came with some effort, but they set Clayton up for a faster mile 22 and 23 (part of his race plan).  For the past few miles, my group had disintegrated.  All that were left were Clayton, and Sean, a young man we had caught who had decided to hang on with us.  Whenever Clayton would fade back to me, I would ease in front of him to allow him to draft.  He took advantage of it whenever I did.  After zigging and zagging in and out of the residential parts of Plaza Midwood, we climbed the last real hill of the course onto Central, which would lead us back into Uptown.  It was great to see a lot of familiar CRC faces at the mile 25 cheering zone.  We ran through the lane of spectators with arms outstretched, catching as many high 5's as we could.
"Autopilot, boys!"  Clayton (white) and Sean (green) looking great at mile 25 as I pace from behind.
Arms outstretched to catch some high-five love from CRC just past mile 25.  Photo courtesy of Sommer Baucom.
When we reached mile marker 25, the gun clock read 2:51:05.  We had nearly nine minutes to run 1.2 miles.  "Alright gents," I said, "it's all autopilot from here!"  Clayton felt invigorated and pulled ahead to seal the deal for the last mile.  Sean did the same but quickly faded back to me.  We crossed over I-277 and bore left on McDowell for the final, flat stretch.  Although there was only half a mile left, it looked a lot longer when staring down cleared city blocks.  Spectators cheered the racers, and some cheered me as pacer, recognizing my conspicuous, orange shirt.  Come to think of it, I was the first of the pace team to come in for the finish of the Full.  We turned right for the final .2, and I knew Clayton would come in well under his 3 hour goal. Seeing the official gun clock at the finish line, I neglected my usual sprinting finish and maintained the same, steady pace through the finish line.  I crossed at 2:59:46.  Clayton PR'd at 2:59:29, and Sean faded back for a 3:00:20.  A few minutes later, he told me that I had pulled him to a 10 minute PR!
Me crossing the finish line with a clock time of 2:59:46.  Now if only I'd run a full marathon in that time...  Photo courtesy of Stephanie Mishler.
I had barely gotten out of the finish chute and met Dave, Steph, and Bryan Massingale, when up came Claire, cruising in for her first marathon finish and smiling wide with a 3:08!  Not only did she finish her first marathon without training specifically for the race, but she snagged second place overall female!
I ran back onto the last mile of the course to see who I could pace in.  Fellow DARTer Matt Williams turned the corner for the final .2 as I passed by him; he scored a solid BQ with a 3:12.  Moments later, I congratulated Bobby Aswell as he was on the homestretch to his 200th marathon finish.  I chatted with Dustin Branham (who ran the half and was awaiting his wife Ashley's finish for the Full) at around mile 25.5 when I saw Sam Mishler cruising up.  I ran alongside him for the rest of his race, providing what I hope was some welcome company for a warm and muggy marathon finish.  Sam finished with a 3:22, beating his previous Thunder Road time.  I peeled off 100 meters before, having decisively aggravated my dodgy achilles tendon.  Unfortunately, the achilles injury sidelined me for a while, but I'm at least content that it happened at an event where my running helped other runners, rather than some random training run.
One thing is for sure, I really loved pacing!  I surely will pace Thunder Road next year, and I will continue to seek out pacing opportunities in the future to give back to my running community.  Until then, I'm on recovery duty.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Big South 5k: Back To My Old Self

Last weekend, I raced the Big South 5k in Pineville, which is one of the fastest certified 5k courses in the the Charlotte area.  Ever since Umstead, the fastest I had run for 5k had been 19:26, well off of my previous PR of 18:36.  I wanted to race this fast course to find out if I finally had gotten my sub-19 fitness back after months of training adjustments, building strength, and hard work.  If I set a new PR, so much the better.

Big South is a huge local race.  Over 1100 runners showed up, including a cadre of the fastest runners in the Charlotte area.  Chief among the racehorses was Fam, who had set a state record at this same race the previous year.  Other fellow Reckless Running ambassadors were Bobby Aswell and his daughter Nicole.

The course was tailor-made for fast times.  The first 2k or so was a gradual uphill, followed by another 2k of refreshing downhill, and then a flat kilometer within proverbial scent of the finish line.  The final 150 meters or so also was downhill.  My goal was to hit 6 minutes flat for the first mile and then see what happened from there.

Usually, I find a spot in the front row of anything from 5k-half marathon, for this relatively high-profile race, I decided to sneak in about three or four rows back.  As I moved forward to secure a spot, a young teen stiff-armed me and glared at me as he stepped in front of me.  Seriously, kid?!  Whatever.  I made sure those I knew who were faster than me were in front of me, and waited for the start.  The start itself was more of a stampede.  I struggled with elbows and cut-offs and all manners of discombobulated foot traffic.  It was all I could do to thread the needle between runners, hit the tangents, and try and find some breathing room where I could establish my pace.  Once I finally got in a groove, I zeroed in on Bobby, who was hovering a dozen meters ahead of me.  I worked fairly hard on that first mile and crossed the marker at 6:04.  Not quite 6 flat, but still just under a sub-19 pace.

The first couple hundred meters of mile two were a continuation of the uphill trend.  I kept the pressure on, passing a few people here and there, but Bobby maintained his lead.  No worries, I wasn't here to race Bobby, I was here to race my own fitness.  Once we crested the last of the uphill, it was "off to the races."  I opened up and let myself sail down the rewarding hill, concentrating on keeping my turnover fluid and trying to goad some faster (but sustainable) paces out of my stride.  I hit the mile two marker at 12:04: a perfect 6-minute-mile.  I reminded myself that the second mile started uphill, and my current pace was well under 6 minutes/mile.

I felt like I had run a hard two miles, but I knew I had some gas left for the gently descending Rea Road and the flat Blakeney Shopping Center, so I visualized a mile repeat workout and imagined I was running my last rep.  Without having to save anything, I could open up and embrace the pain of an all-out mile.  The field was strung out, and Bobby was 10-15 seconds ahead of me with some interlopers between us.  I was not likely to catch him, but I still could benefit from chasing him.  I felt the heavy lungs of the hard pace, but my legs weren't getting heavy yet, so I gutted it out.  I checked my watch at the third mile marker.  It read 17:50; I ran the third mile in 5:46!  With 0.1 miles the question wasn't if I was going to PR, but by how much I was going to PR.  I poured it on for the last stretch and ran the 0.1 miles in 30 seconds (a 5:00 m/m pace).  Official time: 18:20, a massive PR for a 5k!  As icing on the cake, I won my age group, which surprised me given the competitiveness of the field!

Bobby finished with a pretty smoking 18:06, and Nicole ran her second fastest road 5k ever.  Fam came in under 14 minutes with a 13:57 and had the overall win by nearly two minutes.  After this confidence-building race, I finally feel like my old (faster) self again!

Pics to be posted later (as of 10/25)

Monday, September 30, 2013

"Best Laid Plans..." 2013 Lungstrong 15k Recap

            Lungstrong 15k is one of my favorite local races.  It’s within five minutes of my house, the residential backdrop is nice, and the 15k distance is such a great mix of strategy and speed.  Originally, my goal was to run well and shoot for a PR.  My last 15k PR was at the same race the year before.  However, when my running friend and training buddy Dave Munger messaged me asking if we wanted to team up and pace each other to a sub-60 minute finish, I couldn’t refuse. 
            Sub-60 for 15k was a very ambitious goal.  I’d only twice gone sub-40 for 10k, and the latter of those was 18 months ago.  A sub-60 effort would be a 96+ second PR for me, but I was hoping for a lucky break in the weather and to reproduce previous success Dave and I have had as co-pacers.
            The race as a whole was bittersweet.  For 6 miles, Dave and I stuck to a carefully organized plan of steady pacing on or around 6:20 min/mile pace.  We cut the tangents, communicated splits, and tried to ignore other runners, although it was nice to be greeted by many friends offering support as course volunteers.  We were maintaining my established 10k pace, and the last couple miles of Lungstrong make you pay a hefty vig for whatever pace you try to coax out of them.  Dave ran very methodically, monitoring and targeting the pace on each respective climb and descent.  I’m used to letting the pace come to me on the given terrain, but I found myself locking onto Dave and trying to stay literally within arm’s reach of him.  After 6 miles, I was a liability.  Dave was 10 meters ahead of me.  I remember him shouting something numerical and unintelligible back to me, but I just responded with “break off.”  He was looking so strong, and I had no chance of running his race. 
Here I am chasing Dave before I lost him altogether.

            Shortly after I dropped from Dave’s contact, the course took a turn on what was a new section for the 2013 race.  This half-loop added another significant drop and climb that really caused me to hemorrhage time.  The last two miles of Jetton Road were rolling, and I found it hard to get back into the mid-6s.  The biggest hill didn’t seem to bother me as much because I knew it was coming.  Turning onto Charles Towne with ¾ mile left, I caught my breath (if not my pace) on the last real downhill.  Another running acquaintance, Clayton Venhuizen, passed me here.  We turned left for one more partial loop that trended mainly uphill.  At this point, I passed a masters gentleman in a hoodie and leggings who had been 10 meters ahead of me for the past 9 miles.  Sub-60 had been out of the question ever since I lost contact with Dave, but I still had half a shot at a PR.  As I turned the last corner leading to the finish, I saw 1:01:20-something on the gun clock.  I got my PR, but I had to sprint to get it.  Official time: 61:31.1; a whopping 5 seconds faster than last year. 
            The Bitter: It’s tough to set a goal and miss it by what seemed to be a large margin, even when the goal is a lofty one.  The last 3+ miles were utter crap.  Also, I really felt I could keep up with Dave for at least 8 miles, when we originally planned to break apart and start racing.  He’s just been so damn strong lately!  It seems he’s always peaking when I’m plateauing, and vice versa. 

            The Sweet:  Even though it wasn’t pretty, I did get a PR, and that’s the first PR I’ve gotten in over 7 months, unless you count newly raced distances.  Also, my time was virtually the same as last year, so I’m starting to believe I’m getting my pre-Umstead speed back.  In addition, I ran the first 10k in under 39:40 (even taking into account Garmin/course marking discrepancies), so I think I’ve still got my sub-40 fitness.  To boot, I won 2nd place in my age group, so there’s that.   And sweetest of all, thanks to my loving wife, I had a gluten-free chocolate waffle waiting for me at home after the race!

            In comparing last year’s Lungstrong to this year, I’ve learned a couple of things.  First, I do better when I intentionally plan a negative split.  When I did this last year, I ended up with virtually the same time, but I felt so much stronger at the end of the race.  Similarly, most of my more memorable PRs beyond the 10k distance were slow starts with negative splits built in.  Also, Dave and I concluded in retrospect that distances 15k and up (excluding ultras) really diminish the value of co-pacing.  At longer distances, one has to run one’s own race.  If I had taken the hills in my own stride early on and played to my strengths a little bit more, I might have been able to keep contact with Dave for a little longer. 

            So far, that’s 3 consecutive Lungstrongs for me, which is the longest streak I have of any race.  This might just have to be my annual local must-do.  I’m not setting goals for next year yet, but when I do, this race will be very fresh in my mind!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Run For Green 10K Recap (Thank You Patrick Johnson)

Every year in mid September, the Davidson Lands Conservancy hosts a local 5k, 10k, and Half Marathon that over the years has grown into a quite popular small town race.  This year, there were around 1,000 runners, with 400+ of them doing the Half Marathon.  Like last year, I chose to run the 10K because it presented enough of a challenge while not being a 90-minutes-of-race-effort commitment.  Also, I figured I could be very competitive in the 10k field.

I was hoping for a little bit more runner-friendly weather on race day.  While the temperature was in the high 60s, the humidity was 100%, and most of us never really felt that cool crispness in the air that keeps you charged for a race.  Dozens of running friends were spread among the three race distances: Fam Famiglietti and Stacy Hensley were running the 5K; Smiley Joe Rao, Ron Walters (whom I had only run with once or twice), Gabi Craig, Judy McCarter, Val Wrenholt, Lauren Taylor, Jyl Deering, Dan Keller (along with a bunch of other Omega Nation runners), and I were running the 10K; Chris Lamperski, Claire Naisby, Jessica Delgehaussen, Martin Harrison, Mike Vance, Hope Childress, Dexter Cherry, and a whole bunch of other familiar faces were running the Half.

The Half’ers started 10 minutes before the combined 5K/10K start, so I toed the line right up front next to Smiley Joe, Fam, Ron, and a couple of unknowns who looked pretty fast.  We’ll just refer to them as Mr. Green and Mr. Orange, in reference to their singlets.  With less than two minutes before the start, I darted into the nearest bushes to relieve my bladder, and so I was a little more amped up than usual when I made it back to the start.  I struggled to slow my heart rate, but the adrenaline was kicking in.  Uh oh…

At the start, Fam, Smiley, Mr. Green, and Mr. Orange shot out ahead of me.  Fam opened up a quick lead of Olympic proportions, and Mr. Orange (also running the 5K) settled in for a spaciously comfortable 2nd position.  Ahead of Mr. Orange were Smiley Joe and Mr. Green, respectively, both of whom were racing the 10K.  Not even a quarter mile into the race, I was seeding myself at a distant 3rd in the 10K at best.  The first mile to all the Run For Green races is insanely fast.  There’s a fine line between milking the long downhill on South Street for some banked time, and squeezing a little too hard, leading to an eventually blow-up on the back-loaded course.  My goal for the first mile was 6 minutes flat, and I clocked a 5:58.  So far, so good, but the humidity already had me saturated and breathing more heavily than was desired.

The second mile contained a significant hill on Avinger.  Before this, Ron had caught up to me with long, confident strides.  He continued to open up space between us on the hill, so I made no efforts to retaliate.  After a right turn on Pine, I saw Fam charging back our way, inbound from the 5K turnaround.  He had a lead of minutes over Mr. Orange, but I could tell by his red-faced complexion that he was feeling the humidity as much as all of us.  My goal for mile two was 6:40, and I hit the mile marker with a 6:33 split.  So far, so good.  Now, if only I could get into a comfortable groove…

After turning left on Patrick Johnson, I scampered my way down the steep hill that would make a later appearance, and I slung myself around the pair of sharp turns guiding me onto the greenway.  My running buddies Sam and Stephanie Mishler were there to cheer me on with noisemakers.  Checking my watch on the greenway, I saw a sub-6 pace, which must have come from the momentum left over from the downhill (thank you Patrick Johnson).  As soon as I felt like I was finding a groove, footfalls loomed behind me.  Great.  Sure enough, the first place female—Meg Chieffe, as I later found out her name was—steadily overtook me and settled in a few strides ahead of me.  I wasn’t too worried about being beaten by a girl, but as soon as she suspended her lead within proverbial arm’s reach, I decided I would make a race out of this with her.  Mile three was a 6:21, nearly spot on my goal of 6:20.

By this point, we had passed most of the back-of-the-pack Half’ers, and the last section of greenway out-and-back would be populated solely by 10K’ers.  I kept Meg within reach, and I expected to see Smiley Joe on his inbound leg any moment.  To my surprise, Mr. Green emerged in 1st position with a sizeable lead on Joe.  Joe still cheered me on and proffered a low-5 as we passed by one another.  I hit the turnaround digging into the 180 degree turn so as not to lose any more of an already dropping speed.  Val came towards the turnaround soon after with about a minute of space between her and 1st place Meg.  I figured we likely were out of Val’s reach, but she’s an extremely strong runner who tackles hills like a mountain goat, so I had some incentive to keep charging in order to keep space between us.  It was several moments before I saw the next male runner, so I knew I at least had fourth place locked up.  Now, I just had to contend with this Meg.  I ran mile four in 6:31, falling behind my 6:20 goal for that split.

Mile five is the toughest mile of this course.  While I love running on the South Prong Rocky River Greenway, it starts to get old when you do the entire out-and-back at 10K pace.  Also, the last quarter mile of the greenway trends slightly uphill, which is just an appetizer for what’s to come.  I looked for Sam and Steph at the mouth of the greenway, but they had moved on.  I slung around the two turns shoulder-to-shoulder with Meg until we got to the bottom of Patrick Johnson, the Great Equalizer.  Meg charged ahead up the infamous, short-but-steep hill.  I settled into a trot and let her go, trying to set up a potential rope-a-dope for the back end of the race.  Sure enough, Sam and Steph had moved to the hill in order to watch me suffer up it.  “Embrace the suck,” Sam said, which is my personal mantra for this hill.  I crested the damn thing and tried to make turns for race pace once I turned on Pine for another, longer, more gradual climb.  Mile five clocked in at an abysmal 7:01; my goal was 6:40. 

Each of my mile goals were based on an overall goal time of 40 minutes.  I was behind now, and feeling awfully zapped, but Meg was right there and fading (Thank you Patrick Johnson), and I was still close enough to give sub-40 a shot.  I gritted my teeth up Pine Street, eventually finding my mid-6’s pace.  I caught up to Meg and passed her with some trepidation just before turning left on Lorimer for the last stretch.  Now, I just had to maintain.  I dare not look behind me for fear of seeing Meg close in.  My sixth mile was an undesirable 6:39 (in place of a goal 6:20), but I didn’t even see the split at the time.  Smiley Joe was on the side of the road 200 meters from the finish, shouting and cheering.  I poured on everything I had left, watching 40 minutes come and go before I could make it up the last little hill to the finish.  Final time: 40:18.  I had run the last 0.22 miles in 1:25 for a 5:47 pace in the final kick. 

I nearly lost my meager breakfast, and I fell just short of my two goals of sub-40 minutes and a top 3 finish, but I finished strong and held off Meg, running a very similar time to last year’s race.  I’ll call that a positive since I had been having doubts about my fitness and speed endurance as of late.

Here I am on the Town Green, moments after the race.

Mr. Green finished in a smoking fast 34:02, and Joe took second place with just over 36 minutes.  Ron finished in 39:24, which means he lost some of the quarter-mile lead he had on me before Patrick Johnson.  Val claimed second overall female, but I later learned that she arrived late to the start line.  Her actual running time was closer to 40-and-a-half minutes.  Had she toed the line with us, things might have looked very different for her, Meg, and me. 

In other DART news, Fam won the 5k with a 14:40, Lamperski won the Half with a 1:18 and change, Martin gained second in the Half with 1:21:xx, and Claire took second female in the Half with 1:30:40.  All of these were impressive times given the perpetually rolling course and the 100% humidity, but perhaps the most inspiring finish was Margaret Hagerty, who ran 4:07 for the Half, setting a record for 90-year-old finishers in the process.  Way to go Margaret!  That’s just beautiful!

Margaret Hagerty, the fastest 90-year-old woman I know.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Some Time in the Valley...

Yeah, so I've been spending a lot of time in a valley lately,  Not Death Valley.  Not the San Fernando Valley.  In fact, it's not a geographical valley at all.  I mean a training valley, as in the opposite of a training peak.
It's times like this when we runners start waxing philosophical about why we run, and whether we're losing some of what we had and are doomed to never get it back.  Well, at least I think that way, and it may be because I'm overly competitive for a recreational runner.  When I notice a slump coming on, my first inclination is to work harder, to set lofty goals, and to claw at them like a ravenous dog trying to pilfer an unattended pork chop.  This leads to more frustration--the inescapable feeling like I'm ice-skating uphill.  The vicious cycle continues until I exhaust myself and feel worse for wear.  When I'm in a hole, if I keep digging, I'm only going to end up in a deeper hole.
Then, always too late, I remember: peaks are nothing without valleys.  Professional athletes know this better than anyone, and they design their training such that they peak for focus races.  In retrospect, my best performances have been when I inadvertently did the same thing.  One might think that my sub-24 hour finish at Umstead 100 was my magnum opus, but I beg to differ.  Really, when it comes to setting a specific goal at the very edge of my ability, training specifically for that goal, and following through on race day, I'd say the 2012 Ridge To Bridge Marathon was my masterpiece.  Without a doubt, I was in the best shape of my life last October.  And book-ending that peak Marathon race were several other prideful accomplishments, including still standing decisive personal bests for 5k, 15k, Half Marathon, and 50k.
Are those fast days behind me?  Hell no!  I'll get'm back, but I have to contend with the clock first.  Like many runners, I'm obsessed with time.  I check my watch repeatedly during training runs.  I count down weeks, days, and sometimes hours to a focus race.  I use numbers denoting seconds and minutes to denote effort for given intervals of speed training.  When I approach the finish line of a race, my eyes laser-lock on the gun clock.  When friends race, I always ask "how'd you do," but that's really a tactful way of saying "what was your time?"  Time is my enemy, and it's bullying me.  Therefore, instead of fighting time, I'm going to do what I tell my third grade students to do to bullies: walk away.  That doesn't mean I'm going to stop wearing a watch or stop training, but as far as reaching for those lofty goals like before, I'm just going to say "what's the hurry?"
So naturally, I can't look ahead and say THIS or THAT is going to be my next focus race.  It's summer time.  It's hot.  I ENJOY running, so when it feels too much like fighting, I know I'm grasping at straws.  I'm going to enjoy my time with my wife and my dogs, and I'm going to have some fun running with friends, training with them to make us all mutually better runners, and letting my fitness come back to me on its own terms.  So I may not post as many recaps, but that doesn't mean I won't be out there Running Reckless in sockless shoes!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Two Races Enter, One Recap Leaves.

This past weekend, I decided to pull a Bobby Aswell and race multiple races on one weekend.  Friday evening was Charlotte's Largest Office Party 5k downtown, and Saturday morning was the Saving Little Hearts of Nicaragua 5k in Davidson.  These races were separated by 13.5 hours.  Oh, and it's early June in the beginning of what is shaping up to be a very hot summer.  I'm a genius.  And yes, it's difficult to denote sarcasm in print.
Charlotte's Largest Office Party 5k, Friday 6:30pm
Friday night's race starting alongside Buffalo Wild Wings, which adjoined the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Brevard Street in downtown (uptown?) Charlotte.  The course was not designed to be easy or fast.  The first km was largely downhill, but then it turned onto the sustained climb of Morehead and led to a fly-by of the BOA Stadium, much as last year's Blue 5k had done.  Turning right on Stonewall once again, there was some sustained downhill once again, but the last 600 meters or so on McDowell and MLK were a steady climb to the finish line.  The temperature had reached the mid-80s with high humidity.  Given the heat/humidity, the challenging course, and the tough day at work leading up to the evening hours, I had no realistic aspirations of nearing my usual goal of <19 minutes.  In fact, I would consider my self lucky if I could get near 20.
Instead of running the course as a warm up as per my usual pre-5k routine, I just plodded along for a couple of miles, not even bothering to add in some pick-ups at race pace.  What's race pace for tonight, anyway?  There was a large crowd (as was to be expected since this was part of the RFYL Signature Series) that included many of the fleetest runners from CRC.  I wasn't looking for hardware today; I just wanted a good showing.
At the start, no fewer than four dozen runners shot out ahead of me.  Some, like the out-of-my-league racers like Paul Mainwaring and Billy Shue, would be gone forever.  I knew many more would fade back to me.  My strategy for this evening was to maintain a conservative, even effort, and push a little on the Stonewall section of the third mile if I had some gas left.  On Morehead, the flies started dropping.  A giraffe-ish runner in my age group thought it was a good time to pass me at the bottom of the climb.  50 meters later, he was behind me again.  In fact, from this point on, I didn't have to worry about anyone catching up to me.  I just focused on the handfuls of fading runners on the hill ahead.
After a few races on this road, I've made my peace with Morehead.  As long as I treat the climb with respect, it reciprocates by not zapping me to death.  A few minutes later, I was over the hump at the 277 overpass, and I had some time to recover as I made for the right turns onto Mint and then Stonewall.  Once I hit Stonewall, the sun was at my back instead of in my face, but I did have a modest headwind with which to contend.  I turned on the gas--not so much to increase my pace by much, but enough to gobble up a dozen more runners who were dying more than me in the heat.  After the last two left turns, I saw two more runners--both in my age group--ahead of me.  Only one looked to be in reach.  Sure enough, all he could do was gasp and wave me on as I passed him.  One down.  The other started fading more than I expected, and I had a surge left in me, so I poured it on and passed him with 100 meters left.  As soon as I crossed the finish and stopped running, I immediately felt the damp heat of the air.  Yuck.  I was well off my PR, and I didn't even come close to my realistic goal of sub-20.  With a 20:32, this was my slowest 5k in 18 months, and that includes trail 5k's.  However, despite the unimpressive finishing time, my strategy paid off enough to earn me 2nd in my age group, which I'm perfectly happy with given the highly competitive field.
This AG medal is bigger and heavier than some marathon medals I've gotten!

Saving Little Hearts of Nicaragua 5k.  Saturday, 8am
Fast forward.  After a shower, a light meal, and a decent night's sleep, I was up and in Davidson for Saving Little Hearts.  There's nothing new or exciting about this course--it's the Run For Green 5k course used by about half a dozen other events in Davidson.  Last Spring, I ran 18:51 on this course at Pawz Too Run, but this day was hotter and more humid, and I was doubtful I had a sub-19 in me...but I was going to try anyway!
My strategy for SLH was opposite from the previous evening's race.  In order to play to the terrain, I was going to milk as much speed as I could out of the downhill first mile, then let the uphill middle mile do its own thing, and finally try to hang on for the last mile.  Everything started according to plan.  I shot out ahead of the entire field with two fifteen-sixteen year-old cross country athletes on my heels.  They overtook me at the bottom of the hill on South Street as we turned onto the greenway.  My first mile was a 5:52.  Not bad.  Thing 1 and Thing 2 pulled ahead and opened up a fifteen second lead on me, but I knew there was plenty of room in a 5k to make things happen--for better or worse.  I gasped up the hill on Avinger and maintained my fifteen second shadow.  I was in third place, and the fourth place runner was nearly a minute behind me, so whatever battle that remained would be among the overall top three.
I made my move in the last quarter mile--a stretch of Lorimer on which I had passed many runners in past races.  I overtook Thing 2, but I knew Thing 1 as out of reach.  I pushed to maintain my pace through the finish, but I heard Thing 2's footfalls closing in rapidly.  If I could hear him, he was too close.  In the end, I could not surge strongly enough to out-kick his sixteen-year-old speed.  He passed me within the flags leading to the finishing arch.  The winner finished with 19:31, his friend took second from me with 19:35, and I settled for third with 19:36.
And I would have won too, if it weren't for those medaling teenagers!  (Pun intended)

I shouldn't say I "settled" for third.  That kid outraced me, pure and simple.  And 19:36 is a perfectly respectable time given the sweaty race conditions.  I'm still frustrated though, because I've once again been stymied in my efforts to get under 19 minutes since the end of winter.  Four times now in the past few weeks, I've been hovering in the 19:30s.  None of the races have been in ideal conditions, but hey, that's racing.  I think it's just going to take a while for me to get my speed back after Umstead.  The weather's only getting hotter now, so the plan is to settle into maintenance mode for the summer and shoot for some fast times in the fall.  Until then, I may have one or two other outside-the-box goals to pursues, but that's a different blog post altogether.

Monday, April 22, 2013

State of the Sockless Runner

I've been very introspective as of late.  In light of the recent events in Boston, all the runners I know have been vowing to lace up and run more in honor of those affected by the marathon bombings.  Yeah, I'm in that boat too I guess.  As Americans, we take it personally; and as American runners, we take it very personally.  Had those terrible explosions happened at next year's Boston Marathon, it very likely could have been my wife or me in harm's way.

But there's more to my introspection than that.  Yes, we will keep running.  However, rather than running more, I will be running less.  In 2013 so far, I've set PR's at four different ultra distances, and I completed my first 100 mile race less than 18 months after my first marathon.  I've logged thousands of training miles leading up to these various events and maintained a single-minded focus on some pretty lofty goals.  Do I feel the sense of accomplishment?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Then my friends ask: "What's next?"  There, I start to get a little shaky.  Next?  Seriously?!

Let me tell you what else I've done while training at such a high volume and intensity.  I've brought my body to a tipping point.  I've spent months letting my training sap away my energy and my time.  I got fit for my  goals, but I did at the expense of...well, everything else.  Working a full-time job, a part-time job, and logging an average of 70 miles per week left very little energy to spend quality time with my wife, my dogs, and my friends.  Over-training led to constant fatigue and chronic nagging injuries, much to the ire of my chiropractor.  My lack of sleep has been just plain unhealthy.  I nearly broke the bank just trying to keep enough food in the house to satiate my constant hunger.

Right now, I'm at a precipice, and I am going to take action before I burn up or burn out.  Yes, now is the time to run, and I still resolve to be a Reckless Runner, but I'm going to be smart about it so that I can live safely and healthfully, but continue to race with reckless abandon.  Boston 2014, you are in my cross-hairs  but until that point, I am going to have to set aside ultra-running...and perhaps marathoning.  Instead, I plan to slash my weekly mileage base and focus on quality of runs, not so much quantity of miles.  I plan on using some of that extra time to reinstate my strength training regimen and get back some of the muscle I've cannibalized through ultra-distance running.  Most importantly, I plan on making time for my family and for my rest.  If I have that in my pocket, I can only achieve more.

So look for me to be at the occasional 5k-Haf-Marathon.  Don't expect me to be be doing 25-milers on weekend training runs.  The ultras will be there when I return, but I plan to take my time and return stronger, smarter, and healthier.  Now is the time for us to run, but if I'm going to run, I'm going to make it a good run.

See you on the roads and trails.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Song for Boston, 2013

This morning, while waiting for my school children to arrive at class, I did something I haven't done in a couple of years.  I wrote a song.  It's a shame the inspiration had to be something so tragic, but something urged me to put some words on paper.  At the time of this post, I have not put music to the words yet, but the sentiment is there I believe.

"A Song for Boston, 2013"
words by C.A. Willimon

In a crisp New England Spring, like so many days before,
The city of Boston lay in wait for what's in store.
In the town of Hopkinton, over twenty-six miles away,
Nearly thirty thousand athletes prepared to start their day.

It was a day of celebration, of patriots, of pride,
Of runners chasing dreams with half a million on their side.
Just over four hours later, at the Boylston celebration.
Tragedy struck Boston at the height of their elation.

Boston, oh Boston,
May you see no more harm.
For those who had fallen,
You opened up your arms
Boston, oh Boston,
May you see no more harm. 

Amid the chaos at the finish, no one knew just what to think.
As a frightened, worried nation, we watched as our hearts sank.
The scene was hard to take but no one could look away.
Our prayers went to Boston; we were New Englanders that day.

One could not help but notice, despite the dangers there,
There were many risking their own lives just to give aid and care.
Some of us have fallen; many lives are changed forever,
But Boston's care for all our friends is what we will remember.

Boston, oh Boston,
May you see no more harm.
For those who had fallen,
You opened up your arms
Boston, oh Boston,
May you see no more harm. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pride and Pain: Umstead 100

Pain is a gift.

Ambitious, stubborn, crazy...these are all things I've been called in the past few months.  And, they are all necessary qualities of a successful ultra runner.  I needed all of them this past weekend at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run.  I was crazy to sign up for Umstead, stubborn to follow through with the training, and ambitious to set a lofty first-time goal of completing the distance in 24 hours (and earning a coveted silver "One Day" finisher's belt buckle).  However, as race director Blake Norwood stated at the Friday evening pre-race briefing, the long months of training and hard work would get me to the starting line, but will would get me to the finish.
Ambitions, stubborn, and crazy.

The Course:
The Umstead Endurance Run course consists of a certified 12.5 mile lollipop loop with an out-and-back thrown in after the first half mile of rocky gravel road.  The Airport Spur out-and-back section (comprising about 2 total miles) is the flattest and least exciting part of the course, and late in the race, it is a deceivingly mentally difficult stretch.  After passing by the gate that lead to and from the start/finish, one begins the loop proper.  On the Reedy Creek bridle trail, there are 3 miles of long, rolling hills--including an especially long uphill after passing a scenic lake overlook.  Following a left turn, there are a couple miles of shorter rollers before a couple of sharp drops leading into Aid Station 2, where the bridle trail parallels Ebeneezer Church Rd.  After AS2, one gets a flat quarter mile to eat some food or send a text message before cutting left into the infamous "Sawtooth 79" section.  "Sawthooth," because the elevation profile goes up and down like, well, sawteeth; and "79" because it goes from mile marker 7 to a bit past mile marker 9.  So after those steep climbs and jarring downhills, one climbs to a left turn onto Graylyn bridle trail, and the longest sustained downhill of the course (my favorite).  It's referred to as the "Power Line" section because the hill S-curves around a large power line in a clearing.  Then it's a half-mile climb before a right turn on Reedy Creek, which takes one back from whence he or she came, sans Airport Spur.  On that last 1.5 miles, there are a couple of stinky climbs, including Cemetery Hill, which is well known by veterans of Umstead 100 and Umstead Marathon alike.  Right turn at the gate, charge into start/finish/AS1, and repeat 7 more times.  Got it?  Good.
The excitement of Camp Lapihio just before the start.

The Race:
We started at 6am, about an hour before dawn.  I settled in with what I though were the front-of-the-middle-packers.  The pace, while slow for any other foot race, seemed a bit quick to me for the start of a 100 miler, so I let folks pass me by and kept pace with the majority of those around me.  I settled in with DARTer Jeff McGonnell (who has run 5 Umsteads and dozens of 100s) and his close friends, Daniel and Steven Pieroni. We shared several miles together during the first lap, even though I had to drop and catch up with them a few times while I was dealing with some early GI and over-hydration issues.  We had gone 4 or 5 miles before Jeff realized exactly how fast we were going, which was too fast.  Eventually, we backed off and settled into a groove before hitting AS2.  I dropped off my cotton gloves and head lamp and filled a plastic bag with a 1/4 PBJ sandwich, some pretzel sticks, and a small boiled potato.  I had been eating gels, but I was determined to mix in real food early on. This particular combination would serve me well for 50+ miles to come.  The Sawtooth was a bit cool, but the varied terrain was not unwelcome.  I rocked the power line hill and hiked up the last few hills before heading into HQ/AS1 and finishing my first lap in 2:04:xx.  Considering my initial stomach issues, I was happy with this initial pace.

Lap 2 was a thing of beauty.  I had a pace dialed in, and my GI issues were under control, so I just focused on sticking to the plan and enjoying the run.  It was still early on, so there was no fatigue or discomfort yet.  I ate according to my pre-ordained schedule, walked according to the terrain and perceived effort, and relished the company of my fellow runners.  I even ran a few more miles with Steven Pieroni, who was not running as fast as me, but would make up for it by out-walking me.  At AS2, I spent a total of 15 seconds.  Without stopping, I just scooped the food I wanted into my zip-lock bag as I walked by.  I waited until the first real uphill on the Sawtooth to eat most of it.  While I continued to play to the terrain, I saw many runners stubbornly running every hill.  I would catch up to them or leave them behind on the next flat or downhill, so I let them do their thing.  Many of them I would not see again after lap 3 or 4.  After climbing Graylyn and turning inbound on Reedy Creek, I really enjoyed the multitude of runners going each direction.  There certainly was a big sense of camaraderie in this race.  Lap 2 was a 2:06, almost an even split with lap 1.  To boot, my wife Heidi was waiting at HQ to greet me and snap a photo or two.
Coming in strong and feeling good at 25 miles.

Lap 3 was a bit of a lull.  I knew I was planning on a progressively slower pace from here on out, but the warming temperatures of the late morning and mid day were starting to make their presence known.  Many of the non-walkers from before were walking now.  I was glad I had started walking early.  I ate okay, but I was going through water a lot more quickly and voiding it not nearly as often.  Lap 3 was 2:21:xx, and it felt a lot harder than it should have.  Heidi was there and told me I still looked good, so I took her word for it.  I wasn't looking forward to lap 4, but I tried to keep a positive mental outlook.  "12.5 more miles, and I will at least be allowed a pacer," was my reasoning.  I originally intended on finishing the first 50 miles in 9 hours (by 3pm), but to do that, I would need to run a 2:29 lap 4.  There was no need to push it, as my quads already were starting to hurt.  So, I ran lap 4 very similarly to lap 3, but I took a couple more walk breaks and relaxed my pace a little.  I finished 50 miles in 9:10:58, which was a 50 mile PR by over two hours!  Heidi was there, but so was the rest of my crew: Phyllis Tsang and Chad Randolph.  At least I would have company for the rest of the race.
Halfway there!  It was pretty hot out by this time.

I told Phyllis and Chad that I was still able to run the downhills hard, run/walk the flats, and walk all of the uphills, but from here on out, I was going to walk when I felt like it, run while I could, and let the chips fall as they may.  Phyllis joined me for lap 5, and the terminally dull Airport Spur seemed to go by rather quickly thanks to her conversation.  I walked a lot more on this lap, but I still threw in some running spells on the flats in order to keep the cumulative pace respectable.  Phyllis was surprised at how hard I was willing to run the downhills this far in the race.  "No wonder your quads hurt," she told me after the first few bomber descents. Much of the field had taken a more conservative approach to the downhills, and they often would part like the Red Sea to the edge of the trail when they heard us charging downward from above like Stuka dive-bombers.  My lap with Phyllis was just under 3 hours--a pace with which I was very content.  Qualitatively, other than the aches and pains of 62.5 cumulative miles, lap 5 was almost as enjoyable as lap 2.  The total race time by the end of the lap was just under 12 hours and 11 minutes, and since I had never raced a 100K before, I decided to take it as my 100K PR.  Two PR's so far this race, and I wasn't even finished!
Phyllis and me after completing lap 5.  100K down!

At HQ/AS1, I finally retired my sweat-soaked Reckless Running singlet and put on a dry shirt.  The sun was getting low in the sky, and my pace would continue to slow, so I didn't want to get caught with wet clothes when the temperature dropped.  Phyllis decided to stay at HQ to volunteer and hang out for the rest of the race, but Chad had agreed to run (er...walk) the final three laps with me.  Lap 6 was a slow and steady walk, with very little level-terrain running of which to speak.  We still ran the downhills, and they continued to hurt, but I found that if I opened up and ran a bit faster, my stride would reach a sweet spot where everything hurt less.  I could maintain it for a long descent, but only if I knew there was a nice, walkable uphill afterwards for recovery.  That's the beauty of the Umstead course.  By the end of the 6th lap, it was fully dark outside and I was wearing three layers.  75 miles down, a little less than a marathon to go...
Chad and me on the dreaded Airport Spur.

From here on out, I was content to walk every section of the course that was not downhill.  I also was not worried about lingering in the aid stations.  Both of these things brought my overall pace to a crawl.  I had been experiencing emotional and physical ups and downs for most of the day, but around mile 77 was the first time I truly had doubts about finishing. I had been hurting--really hurting--for many hours, and I was starting to feel not only physically tired, but sleepy as well.  This is where the flat monotany of the Airport Spur really began to take its toll on me.  I voiced my doubts to Chad and implied that I seriously was considering dropping out.  His response was almost nonchalant:

"Nah, you're doing great.  It's an ebb and flow.  You feel like s***, then you feel great, then you feel like s***.  You're still moving forward.  You'll finish in one day...or you won't; who cares?  I know you'll finish, just like Jeff will finish.  Heck, we got until noon."

That's pretty much all I needed to hear.  I don't remember much of that part of the evening, but those few sentences of casually comforting words stuck with me.  I picked up the walking pace a little.  A couple miles later, we came upon an unmanned water station that had a veritable myriad of cookies from which to choose.  I gobbled down three or four and felt better almost instantly.  In retrospect, low blood sugar probably had a lot to do with my earlier bout of despair.  I packed some cookies in my plastic to-go baggie and we were on our way.

The rest of lap 7 and most of lap 8 passed by in much the same order over the long, dark hours of Saturday night and Sunday morning.  Even my walking pace had slowed down, but I still ran the downhills, gritting my teeth and exhaling loudly.  Chad kept the conversation going, and while I wasn't my usually chipper self, my relative outlook was rather positive.  There were no more instances where I doubted I would finish.  As the miles and the hours ticked by, Chad and I repeatedly calculated what pace I would need to maintain in order to achieve a sub-24 hour finish.  Very gradually, we were banking time.  The realization began to sink in that not only would I be a finisher, but I would be a single-day finisher.  After bidding a final adieu to the Sawtooth, we took off down the Power Line hill for the last bit of sustained running.  Hike up Graylyn, turn right, one last climb up Cemetery, walk it in, Chas, walk it in.  I even walked down the last little downhill just so I could muster up the energy to run up the last 20 meter hill to the finish line.  Boom.  23 hours, 36 minutes, and 5 seconds.  One-day finisher, silver buckle, and three PR's in one race.  I nearly cried as I was handed my buckle, but I think I was too tired.
The picture may be blurry, but so was I.

Done.  In every sense of the word, I was done.  My body, somehow knowing the race was over, decided to shut down directly.  Chad and Phyllis guided me back into the HQ at Camp Lapihio where Jonathan Savage gave me a congratulatory embrace, and he lead me to a warm spot by the hearth before hypothermia set in.  I very deliberately stripped off my wet layers and replaced them with dry sweats, marveling at the swollen clubs that once had been my feet.  I had a protein shake in my hand, but for some reason, I had no idea what to do with it.  Phyllis ran me some hot soup and a couple slices of pizza, and that hit the spot.  As I ate, I took in the grim scene around me.  Runners were strewn about on cots and benches in various states of slumber.  Others had bandages covering both feet.  Still others were hunched over with head in hands, looking very unhappy.  As much as I was hurting, I thought I was a little better for wear than many of these folks.  Then I tried to stand.  Bad idea.  It was hard to believe that not 15 minutes earlier, I had been running.  There was no horizontal space left to lie down and nap, so I sat up and leaned.  5 minutes...30 minutes...I still don't know how long I was sitting there zoning out.  I was in a lot of pain, but as a sign three miles from the finish said, "Pain is temporary.  Pride is Forever."
Well said.

The Gear:
Shoes:  Hoka Stinson Tarmacs.  For me, these shoes have one purpose: long, hilly ultras.  They did not disappoint.  Naturally, my feet hurt anyway, but I don't think any amount of cushioning is going to prevent that after 100 miles.  I did get one nasty blister on my left pinky toe, but I'm not sure if it's from the shoes, my socks, or just Umstead.  Also, I had been developing a hot spot on my right first metatarsal over the past couple of months, and I began to feel it the morning of the race, so ten minutes before the gun, I borrowed Blake Norwood's pocket knife and cut open a slot in the upper to relieve the pressure.  Problem solved.
Socks: Injinji Original weight with Balega Hidden comfort on top.  Inov-8 Debris Gaiters.
Shorts:  RaceReady Compression.  Pockets and comfort.  Period.
Singlet:  Reckless Running Cyan Swarm.  Lightweight and comfortable, perfect for when the day warmed up.
Hydration:  I switched back and forth between a Nathan Minimist Hydration backpack with a Hydropak bladder and a 20oz Ultimate Direction handheld.
Nutrition:  No fewer than 20 gels, no fewer than a dozen 1/4 PBJs, several boiled potatoes with salt, dozens of pretzel sticks, 4-5 cups of soup, 2 cups of coffee, about 20 cookies, and no ginger.  I was able to eat without getting nauseated for the duration.
AS1 at mile 25.  Eating was not much of a problem.

Many thanks go to my wife for supporting me throughout the long months of training, and to my pacers: Chad and Phyllis.  Anyone wanting to attempt the 100 mile distance, Umstead is the place to do it.  The people there do it right!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shoe Reviews: Racing Flats

Okay, so since I have been racing so much, most of my blogging has been about racing or training for races.  However, in an effort to make this running blog about more than just competition (and since I will be racing less between now and Umstead), I plan on doing some reviews and comparisons of the large selection of running shoes that have made it onto my feet.  Since I have a rather large shoe closet, these reviews will come in installments by category, beginning with racing flats.  I have used all of the shoes in this post (with the exception of the Adios) in multiple races, and I intend to provide objective, anecdotal responses based on my own personal running style.  Therefore, my cheers or jeers need not be taken as factual testaments to the quality (or lack thereof) of any of these products...unless you and I are very like-minded.  Further disclosure: In no way do I officially endorse any of these models or the manufacturers that produce them.  I purchased these shoes myself, except in one or two cases where the shoes were a gift from family or friends; none of these shoes were comped by their respective manufacturers.  Point of order: while all of these shoes are intended as racing shoes, I use most of them for more than just racing, and one or two may in fact fit the role of daily trainer for me in particular.  Okay, my disclaimer is finished.  Now, off to the road-burners!

Adidas Adizero Adios 2
The Adios is the heaviest, most built-up underfoot shoe in this list.  That being said, at under 8 ounces for my size 9.5, it's still much lighter than most daily trainers.  I originally intended this shoe to be a marathon racer, and I considered donning it for the recent Charlotte 50k, but I opted for the trusted Green Silence, which I will describe below.  The Adios is very firm considering the amount of EVA foam and the 9mm heel-toe drop, but firmness is a trait of many Adidas shoes.  While a firm response is a desirable trait in a racing flat, I think the Adios is a bit too for racing long distances.  I have a feeling my feet would be pretty beat up after 26.2 or 31.1 miles in these babies.  The outsole is very durable and and tracks well on roads and non-technical trails.  The upper is a bit constrictive around the lateral edge of the toe-box, and the hard heel cup gives the Adios a slightly back-heavy feel in my opinion.  The shoe is a good trainer, and it has performed well on long intervals and intermediate steady-state workouts, but I'm not so sure it will move into that marathon racing niche for which it is intended.

Adidas Adizero Hagio
Like its big brother, the Adios, the Hagio is a firm racing flat with excellent traction on roads and non-technical trails, but the similarities end there.  At just over 6 ounces for a size 9.5, the Hagio is racer light but still has just enough material to be durable.  The toe-box is ample, and the 6mm offset in the heel is very conducive to an efficient foot strike with some added protection of medium-long races run at near maximal effort.  I have PR'd a 15k in these shoes, but I think they would perform well at a Half Marathon or 30k length race while still being lithe enough to be a solid 5k racer.  They are among the most versatile racing flats in this list.  My only gripe with the Hagio is the short laces' tendency towards coming untied.  After a 6 mile training run where I re-tied (and double knotted) my laces three times, I replaced them with elastic speed laces and have since ran with impunity in these shoes.  The Hagio is a common choice for my track work as well.

Brooks Green Silence
The Green Silence (which is slated for discontinuation by Brooks this year) will always have a special place in my heart.  This is the marathon racer in which I qualified for Boston for the first (and hopefully not the only) time.  Looking at the shoe in the box or on a display wall, one first notices the burrito-like one-piece upper that folds over itself, and the substantial midsole made from Brooks' BioMogo EVA foam.  The shoe is surprisingly light for its appearance (just over 7 ounces for my size 9.5), and has more heel drop that I usually care for.  The Green Silence is the most comfortable shoe on this list, with the soft mesh hugging the foot due to the fold-over tongue construction.  Walking around in the GS, the cushion feels very soft and mushy for a racing flat, but at marathon paces and above, the shoe responds well to a well-planted mid foot strike.  This shoe can go the distance without slowing me down or being too firm to beat up my feet.  After marauding down the mountain at Ridge To Bridge in the GS, my legs were trashed, but my feet felt great.  I will continue to use the GS for marathons and Road 50k's until I wear it out and fail to find anymore size 9.5's left in the world.  As a bonus, the GS is completely biodegradable when tossed in an active landfill.  Karma points.

Inov-8 Bare-X Lite 150
While I do a lot of training in zero-drop shoes, the Bare-X Lite 150 is the only zero-drop flat I race in regularly.  I have several pairs of Inov-8 shoes, and they all seem to fit their own specific niche.  The 150 (which stands for 150 grams/US size 9, which is my Inov-8 size) is pretty much a race-day only shoe.  In order to save weight, the 150 uses a one-piece, tongue-less upper with minimal overlays, an integrated speed-lacing system, and no rubber outsole.  The thin midsole is blended with denser foam to make up for the lack of blown rubber, but the result is still a low-mileage lifespan.  I have put maybe 50 miles on my 150s and they shoe considerable wear, with barely any outsole detail remaining on the lateral side of the mid foot.  The optimal race distance for the 150 is 5k, although I did set my current 8k PR in this shoe at the Leprechaun Loop 8k.  I also used these for my only (as of yet) 1-mile time trial, in which I ran an uncertified 5:27.  Also, because of its slipper-like fit and quick on/off, this would be a great go-to for triathletes at Sprint and possibly Olympic-length events.

Inov-8 Road-X Lite 155
The 155 is a road racing demon in bright yellow.  It's weight and materials are similar to its zero-drop cousin, but it has a more conventional tongue and lace design, a slight 3mm heel lift, and a flatter outsole surface that seems to provide more longevity for the light fusion outsole material.  The shoe is very light (5.5 ounces), extremely flexible, and has a very comfortable toe-box.  All in all, it is a very fun shoe in which to run or race.  I have set a few fast 10k times in this shoe, including my current PR, but it also served me well at the hilly Charity Chase Half Marathon.  I would not feel comfortable racing with this shoe in anything other than dry or nearly dry asphalt,  but that clearly is its intended role.

New Balance MRC1600
The 1600 is one of New Balances new racing flats, and it is advertised at a lightweight choice that is suitable for racing up to marathon distance.  For its sub-6 ounce weight, the 1600 has a decent amount of RevLite EVA foam in the midsole, and the grip pattern on the outsole gives it a fair amount of traction.  The upper, which consists of soft, thin mesh with many strategic overlays, is comfortable for a racing flat, although the toe-box is a little pointy.  My 9.5 is very comfy, but it leaves room up front so as not to fit totally snug like my flats do.  If I were to size down to 9.0, I would achieve snugginess, but then I would be crowding my 4rth and 5th toes like I would with the Adios.  Also, after racing Richmond Marathon in this shoe, I find its marathon worthiness dubious.  For me, the optimal distance for this shoe is 13.1.  In fact, I raced my current Half Marathon PR in the 1600 this past New Year's Eve at Freedom Park.  Aside from racing, I do many mile-repeats and other road intervals in the 1600.

New Balance MRC5000
This not only is my lightest racing flat, but it is the lightest shoe I have ever worn, and that includes sandals!  At 3.1 ounces for my size 9, the 5000 is considerably lighter than the box in which it comes.  It uses the same RevLite material as the 1600, but much less of it, and the thin mesh upper lacks the overlays of its marathon-touting sibling.  The nothing-but-mesh upper hugs my foot nicely, and the cushion and traction are surprisingly smooth and reassuring for a shoe that's too light to even serve as a paperweight.  One cannot help but run fast in these flats.  My third run in them was the Huntersville Holiday 5k, which was a decisive PR.  The 5000, as its designation may imply, is a go-to speed racer for 5k's, but I believe it would hold its own at a 10k, and it certainly would be good weapon for 1-mile races, 3ks, or anything in the "shorter" road race category.

There are many varieties of racing flat on the market now, and I would welcome any readers' thoughts and/or reviews of the models listed or any other road flats that I have not had a chance to sample.  Among the list I would like to hear about are the ASICS Gel-Hyperspeed, the new ASICS Blazingfast, Brooks T7, Mizuno Wave Universe 4 (or upcoming 5), Newton MV2, and Saucony A5.  Of course, I have read several praising reviews of these go-fast shoes from various sponsored sources, but any private and objective remarks are welcome comments to this blog.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Do you Run Reckless?

I'm very excited to announce that I now am an official brand ambassador for Reckless Running!  If you have seen me at a race in the last 8 months or so, odds are you have seen me in a Reckless Running singlet.  I'm pumped to represent the homegrown company and share how awesome their athletic apparel line is AND how much they do to better the sport of running.  To those who are reading this, you get to take advantage of this opportunity.  Go to the Reckless Running online store and enter the discount code "CHAS" (case sensitive) in the appropriate field during the checkout process in order to receive 15% off of your order (not counting sale items or shipping).  You can use this code whenever you visit the store.  Now get out there, support our local brand and what they do, and Run Reckless!
Me with Bobby Aswell at NYE Half.
I'm wearing the Coat of Arms singlet.

Sporting the Gray Fray singlet at the
Charlotte Ultra Run.
Me with fellow DARTer Jeremy Alsop,
both wearing the Royal Blue RR racing singlet

Hoodie and tapered warm-up pants (with ankle zippers) by RR.

From the About Us section of the RR homepage:

Anthony Famiglietti, a 2-time Olympian and 6-time US Champion, co-founded Reckless Running with the hopes of changing his sport for the better. Our dream for this brand is to set an example of self reliance and set the stage for many young and older runners alike to follow their dreams.

Our brand is all about runners supporting other runners.  Our clothes help you perform and your dollars help us live out our dreams.  And hopefully we will inspire you to greatness along the way. 
The Reckless Running logo was created to encapsulate and symbolize the philosophy of the brand. The name relates to the logo since we embrace the concept of running with pure reckless abandon. The idea is to abandon fear, trepidation, self doubt, fatigue, lack of focus or anything else that limits individuals from reaching their full potential. The goal is to run free of any pre-disposed limitations set upon us in life either metaphorical or tangible and overcome all barriers we may face with ease.
RR stands out among the sea of sameness in running. We hope you do the same and stand with us to change the sport for the better in the 21st century.