Saturday, August 25, 2012

Because I’m an Idiot

It's no longer feeling like Satan's Armpit in Southern California and I should be thrilled that it happed for Bulldog 50K weekend, except as I type this, the race is currently underway. My first damn DNS and while it was the right choice, I am really pissed that I did all that heat training and then the weather got all nice. I think I probably would have beaten my Harding Hustle time.

So, why the DNS? Well, I am like every other running asshole out there that has a good week and decides to push it too hard. Well, that was also more than 3 weeks ago, after my soapbox spiel about running easy (written in the throes of knowing what happens when I don’t). The week went something like this:

7/23, Sunday: Long 16, in hot weather but felt pretty damn good.
7/24: Monday, Recovery 2.5 with a friend
7/25: Tuesday, 8 miles, SDTC fartlek: 1000m + hill stride, in Kinvaras
7/26: Wednesday: 5 easy
7/26: Thursday: 7 mile, tempo, in Brooks Cadence
7/27: Friday: 6 easy
7/28: Saturday: rest (gee, really?)
7/29: Sunday: 5K race (22:01, PR, in Kinvaras), then proceeded to run 12.5 more easy (in DS trainer) to make it a long run. I had told myself during the race that if I broke 22 I would let myself skip the extra miles. Dumbass should have skipped it anyway. 22:01 is close enough.

This was a stupid week. Truly idiotic. I mean, I felt really good that week so I threw my better judgment to the wind. There are 4 hard workouts in there over the span of 8 days (long run, fartlek, tempo, and race PLUS long). Additionally, I ran 3 days in Kinvara or Cadence - low heel-to-toe drop shoes. I have done this kind of week before without problems but I think that was dumb luck (and not in minimalist shoes). The week after the 5K I had the tightest and sorest calves on planet Earth. What's interesting is that hard efforts in the Kinvara or Cadence are what end up messing up my calves. Speed. The faster I run in those shoes the more likely I am to have a mess on my hands.

Anyway, so, yeah. I stretched and rolled like crazy. It improved and I even got that long training run (26 miles) in without any problems. I felt like I was on the mend... then I wore the Brooks Cadence (because I had only sworn off the Kinvara at this point) to SDTC fartlek night two weeks ago. Ran less than 5 miles and none were really fast (because it was 87 degrees out at 6pm so we were sweating our asses off), but that seemed to reignite the problem. I found a painful spot (about the size of my thumb) on my outer shin that if I pressed it, hurt, so the hypochondriac in me was like "Ack!!! Stress fracture!"  But then, I can run and hop with no pain, so, seems kind of unlikely. Regardless, my left leg is messed up so running 31+ hilly miles on it seemed like a really dumb idea. I didn't want to go all the way up to Malibu, stay in a hotel, inconvenience my parents to watch the dogs, all to have a very good chance of a DNF and then further injure myself.

Having not taken more than 2 days off running since my RUN ALL THE THINGS week, I figured I should give a no-running-week a whirl. So, I haven't run since Wednesday (aside from having to dart around a bit for dodgeball playoffs at work, which, honestly, didn't help my shin). I went to a cycle class yesterday and then hit up the rower and elliptical. This morning? Zero shin pain. I can press hard on the spot and no pain. However, my achilles and soleus? Tight and cranky. I think I have discovered my problem – tight calf muscles? Can causes stressed out tibialis anterior. Stressed tibialis anterior? Shin pain. And it isn’t the first time I have an overworked shin muscle – last time it was in 2005 on my right leg when I was stuck running crazy hills in my neighborhood in Lake Elsinore (at the time, and may still be the case, there were few options in that area with proper sidewalks).

Honestly, I am (a) not running a stupid week like that again, and (b) 100% sworn off low-heel-toe drop shoes. Regular trainers with 9-12mm drop were working fine for me - I have had relatively injury free running over the last 19 years (started running sophomore year of high school). I guess I didn't see trying out the latest trend as messing with what was working (i.e. if it ain't broke, don't fix it) but that's the danger with this stuff. Sometimes you don't realize you are in fact, making a significant change by running in a certain shoe ESPECIALLY if you are a shoe rotater like myself. I have run in lots of different brands and models with little issue, so I didn't immediately realize that the heel-to-toe drop difference is non-trivial.

I am rolling, stretching, compressing, icing, and even heat compresses. I hope this week off does the trick.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Sure Way To Get Injured: Never Run Junk Miles

I have been seeing the term "junk miles” thrown around lately, clearly with the connotation of being bad because it's preceded by the word "junk". Reading into the context it's used, the writers are referring to slower, easy miles.

When did easy miles because suddenly something you must avoid? Aside, from Run Less, Run Faster, where did this shit come from?

Easy miles are the foundation and base of any distance (half/full marathon) training program. Stocking your training week with 3 to 4 fast/hard workouts only to follow them with some recovery miles and doing no easy miles is a great way to get injured. Sure, the elites might have 3+ hard workouts per week, including tempos, trackwork, fartleks, two-a-days, etc, but they have built up to that their whole lives. And they're elites! Genetically gifted runners!

Most training plans out there, do not advocate more than 1, maybe 2, tempo/speedwork days per week. The long run? Guess what… that is a hard workout. When you run 15+ miles, that is a hard run that requires a rest day or a recovery/easy run after. Long easy runs are not junk miles. Mid week easy run? Not junk miles. They are foundational/base mileage keeping you from getting injured during your hard workout days. Personally, when I do more than one speedwork day a week, I find myself riding a fine line between just barely healthy and injured. With a 50-50 chance of finding myself on either side.

Sure, I have not backed up these statements with any scientific studies or research links. They are anecdotal – my own empirical findings. However, I ran all 3 seasons of track in high school and, while I was always a middle-to-back-of-the-pack runner, our teams were consistently competing on the state and regional level (by regional, I mean all of New England). Our coaches weren't dumbasses. Our XC and middle/long distance track coach is now a head track coach at a university (and while not a huge school, it’s not a podunk super-small one, either). We ran easy miles ALL THE TIME. We had maybe two hard workouts a week. One on the track, one tempo or fartlek. If there was a meet that week, then maybe just one.

Calling easy miles "junk miles" is sending the wrong message, especially to newer runners out there. Wanna keep injuries at bay? Make easy miles the bulk of your training volume.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Stairway to Heaven 15K: Thank God I Wasn't Actually Racing

With Bulldog 50K coming up on the 25th, and the Vista Half Marathon originally scheduled for 8/11 postponed until freaking 2013 (so annoying), it opened up the weekend for a trail race I had been eyeing. Dirt Devil Racing's Stairway to Heaven 15K.

Now, when I registered, we weren't in the thick of a heat wave, so, I figured it would be hot since it's August but manageable, and that would be good Bulldog training. The past two weeks here in So Cal have been fairly miserable. It's been close to 90 and the humidity… it's like East Coast style shit. I compared Thursday, the humidity in Oceanside and the humidity where I grew up in coastal Massachusetts. Same. Exactly the same at 62%. In the morning here it is over 80%. So it's pretty uncomfortable. It's downright awful if you've been babied by Southern California for many years (going on 12 years for me). So it didn't really make for good race conditions.

This run is held at Mission Trails Park in Santee, which is a bit inland (if you’re familiar with San Diego County, it’s also known as “Santucky”). Pretty close to “The Big Box” (El Cajon). And it's generally a bit hotter there. I parked around 6:10am and it was already 75 degrees.

Within about 10 minutes, I find out there was a porta-potty snafu wherein the contracted company dropped them off at the opposite end of the park. Awesome! So there was one flushable toilet, and one extremely disgusting porta for like 400 people. I lucked out and managed to get in the line of the flushable one fairly early on. Due to the heat – the race director could not delay the start of wave 1 longer than 15 minutes (smart). So, some folks may not have made the first wave or perhaps started the race having to "go".

All the pictures, I have shamelessly lifted from the Bonita Roadrunners who were an awesome group of folks. Part of me wishes we lived down in south county, because I’d totally join their running club. The person taking the photos must have been close behind me because I am in two of the pics. The blue tank, hat, and orange shorts.

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Seeing as it was toasty, already, with not a cloud in the sky, I knew I was taking this race slow. Like a trail training run. The race directors had thrown down the gauntlet of "break two hours, qualify for entry into the 2013 Dirt Devil Invitational Marathon." Prior to the heat-wave, achieving this seemed like a non-issue. At the start line, I wasn't so sure anymore. At 7:15am we took off. Somewhere in mile 1, my asshole Garmin decided it didn't need the satellite connection anymore and just shut itself off. I looked down probably around .8 miles in and it was just showing me the current time (i.e. 7:21am or something). So I had to wait for it to find the satellite. Again (apparently, it only tracked .11 miles before losing it). Reset, and start again. So I was somewhat at a loss for most of the race as to how much I had left to run or my elapsed time.

Within a few miles, we hit the first ridiculous hill at the power lines. No one was running. No one. Seriously, it was hard walking up that hill. Some people just straight up stopped and rested. WTF. Finally we get to the top and we can actually run. I remember very little of the sequence of events during this race, other than:

1. Garmin loses signal. Cursing.
2. Power lines hill
3. Aid station where I put ice in my hat and sports bra
4. Stopping to walk for a bit and suddenly finding myself in the fetal position playing in the leaves*

*First trail running spill for me. And man, did I feel stupid. I was thinking to myself: “Let me just take a little walk here. It’s hot, I’ll take a little breather” and suddenly it was Stop-Drop-And-Roll. Luckily, I had very very minor scratches (almost none) and no one was directly behind me so I didn’t create a pile up.

5. Thousand Steps or Stairway to Heaven or Are You Seriously Telling Me We’re Climbing Up There?

Now, the race description mentioned that parts were more like a hike than a run and I remember thinking “yeah, ok, whatever.” Um, when the winning female is slower than a 10 minute mile for 15K, you know this shit was ridiculous. We hit the first rail road tie (i.e. “step”) and someone mentions they can see where we are going. One of the chicks curses. I keep looking up and around but I can’t see what they are talking about. About half way up (everyone is walking, btw), I finally see the trail of people.

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See the trail way back at the far end of the pic? We came from there. See how tiny the people are in the back?

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We finally get close to the top and in classic Dirt Devil Racing style, this crazy chick was at the top, cheering for us:

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Shortly after we meet the angel, the girl behind me loses her breakfast (it was a tough climb in 80+ degrees).

We had to climb over rocks (I had to use both hands to pull myself up and over), like we were bouldering or something. This is not running.

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With no idea how much time had elapsed and having to climb this insanity, I was thinking that the sub-2 hours might not happen. The final few miles included running down the power lines hill which was kind of scary, but I threw caution to the wind and flew down it. It felt better to just run down the hill in a barely controlled manner than waste a ton of energy trying to slow myself down. My quads weren’t happy with me the rest of the week, but whatever.

At the second-to-last aid station, they were already short on water and we were the first third of the runners. Not ideal. I took a little bit for my bottle (after I was almost told I couldn’t, so, I was really taking the bare minimum I needed) and took off. The last half mile, I sort of didn’t believe we were close to the finish based on their last race that was well over the supposed 13.1 miles. So I kind of trotted it in until I could actually see the finish line. I crossed and then asked some dude what time he had finished so I could try to figure out mine (there was no running clock displayed). It turned out I finished 1:58:52. So at least I hit that 2 hour mark. Considering the winning female was 1:37 (and these races generally attract some pretty fast runners), I didn’t push it hard, it was like 85+ degrees by the time I finished, and we climbed two insane hills, I am fine with this. And hopefully this will be good heat and terrain training for next weekend!

Even with the portajohn problem, the heat, and the water nearly running out, it was a good race. This is my second event with them, and while both had issues, there is something fun and endearing about these race organizers. They put on a fun race, it’s reasonably priced, good shwag, and just an all around good time. Definitely recommend as long as you are cool with running slow and getting your ass beat by the trails.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Saucony Kinvara 2: My Legs Don't Buy The Hype

I spent many months fighting the hype: "OMG the Kinvaras are the best shoe everrrrrr!"

I tend to be very skeptical of any product with excessive enthusiasm surrounding it. In January of this year, my second pair of Ravennas (first edition) were coming due for replacement so I hit up Road Runner Sports. They did not have the Ravenna 2 in my size but the salesperson brought out several models to try - the Asics Neo, Brooks Launch (which ended up being too big and they didn't have the smaller size), Saucony Guide, and... the Saucony Kinvara 2.

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I wanted to not like the Kinvaras. Really. I wanted my cynicism confirmed. But on the treadmill, they felt pretty good. Yet, I didn't get them. Finally about a month later, I found a good deal on them (less than $70) so I picked them up. They have a 4mm heel-to-toe drop so, they are on the "minimalist" end of shoes. And super light at 6.6 ounces. Like every internet source suggested with low heel-to-toe drop shoes, I eased into them. Starting with 3 miles, then 4, up to 6 miles, only using them once a week. Truly, I did not jump into the minimalist shoe thing so, I really cannot explain why with 123 miles on the shoe, they finally decided to screw me over.

Things started getting funny with these shoes about a month ago (I had nearly 100 miles on them at that point). I ran a 5K on the track (McMahon Masters Track Meet in San Marcos). The next day my calves were crazy tight and sore. I continued using them once a week for my one speed workout. Then two weeks ago, I ran the San Diego Blood Bank 5K in them (wherein I again narrowly missed breaking 22, coming in 22:01. No chip-timing, and Garmin says 3.14, so, yeah, I know I ran sub 22, but it isn't official). I then ran an easy 12 miles in my Asics DS Trainer around the harbor.

My calves and Achilles were so angry with me. My left shin was also pissed off because my tibialis anterior muscle was doing all kinds of extra work due to my calves being all messed up. I spent all last week, stretching, icing, rolling, sticking, stretching, icing, compressing with ace bandages (because socks weren't tight enough). Skipped a longer mid-week run. It's still not 100%. But I have only run in my standard trainers with 10mm drops.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, I officially don't buy the hype. This minimalist trend is not for everyone. Is the Kinvara a good shoe? Well, I liked it for a while. But really feel like I am not built for this shoe. And I know it isn't because I "jumped" into it - I eased into it. And I know it's not a matter of not having strong feet, because I do (I have excellent single-leg balance, and easily pass the "pick up a pencil with your toes" test. And I don't over-pronate much on either leg).

I think there are a number of things at play: (1) it seems like the shoe breaks down quickly thus why I started having issues around 100 miles, (2) it's quite a "soft" shoe so, that can aggravate muscles and tendons for certain people (which, apparently, might be me). I have read forum posts of people wearing these shoes for 500+ miles! I would venture to say these people are either very light runners and/or have a very efficient stride. I don't think the average run-of-the-mill runner fits this profile. I'd be curious to hear from any other Kinvara owners out there on what they think of the shoe.

For me? They are permanently in retirement. I am not chancing it again with them and risk an Achilles injury (or worse, tibial stress fracture from an overworked anterior tibilalis muscle).

Monday, August 6, 2012

When You REALLY Don't Want to Run 26 Miles Alone

While it was completely painful the last 6 miles of the Harding Hustle in the heat and the relentless downhill, I had a great time. Trail races, especially long ones, to  me feel like an adventure. The pressure was of a different kind - more like "will I make it" rather than "how fast will I do it and if I don't run it fast I will be all bummed out for several days." That part of road racing is getting old for me.

With few options in August/September for 50K events, it was either Endure the Bear in Big Bear Lake (i.e. at 8000+ feet elevation) or Bulldog 50K in Malibu Creek State Park. They both sound hard, but running trails and hills for 31+ miles at 8000 feet seemed more painful than running 50K in hot conditions. So Bulldog 50K on 8/25 it was.

This meant I had to get one long training run in. Long as in 24+ miles.

I really had no desire to do this alone again (I did 24 for Harding Hustle alone and, yes, I managed, but I'd rather not if I don't have to). So I started poking around the local no-frills race options (Rocket Racing and Charlie Alewine Racing). I found the Charlie was putting on two events this weekend that were both closed for registration (since it was only 5 days before). I read his FAQs and he stated if a spot opened up, someone could swap in. So I emailed him, pled my case, and he let me in his Sunday event in Lake Forest, Rock the Path Marathon and Half Marathon.

I really didn't know what to expect, but I knew it was going to be very low key and no frills. And it was. Simple countdown from 10 with the "official clock" being a chronograph watch on Charlie's wrist. Some chalk markings on the ground for the turn-arounds (marathon did 4 out and back loops) and no bibs. One aid station that you passed 8 times. The loops were up and down Aliso Creek bike path along El Toro.

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I planned to run easy as this was a training run so anywhere from 9:15 to 10:00 pace would be acceptable to me. The first two loops the weather complied. Overcast and around 70. A super-fast and super-friendly runner was the leader the whole way - apparently she has run a 3:20 before, so, even though she was "out of shape" she still was going to kick our asses out there. I was holding around 9:15-9:20 average pace on those loops. I had my hydration pack filled completely (70 ounces) which weighed a veritable ton on my back. But I didn't want to trek up to the aid station every time, so, I was glad I brought it.

Second two loops it got toasty. I am thinking it was probably 75-80 for the 3rd loop, and probably 80-85 for my 4th. When I left at 12:15pm it was 87 degrees. So I started walking the shaded sections. Seeing as it was a training run, I was not going to kill myself or get heat exhaustion. I ended up going through all 70 ounces of banana Nuun, and then another 10-12 ounces of water when I filled up before completing my last 4 miles. The course came up slightly short so I had to do a bunch of silly loops to get the full distance at the end, but I timed it perfectly, with the Garmin hitting 26.2 as I ran up to the aid station/finish area. Total time 4:16:49.

The other fun thing about these small races is that you have an excellent chance of placing. Sure, you have to also complete with the men  (it's top 3 overall) to get a trophy, but the field is much smaller. Speedy lady, Sally, took 1st and I rolled in 25 minutes or so after her. Third place was also a woman. I totally wasn't expecting to get anything, I was just in for a training run, so it was a nice surprise! I hung around for an hour or so, cooling down, and chatting with Charlie and the other runners. Such a fun group - really enjoyed it. Will have to do some more of his races in the future!

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Now it's time to taper some for Bulldog. I have one trail race, Sidewinder 15K, next weekend. It looks hard, but I'm excited to get a cool finisher's pint glass. And it'll be a good warm up for the big race in 3 weeks!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shoes: Brooks Ravenna 3

Shoes. Let's talk shoes. I have a little secret. And it's somewhat embarrassing because I like to consider myself low maintenance/no frills type of person. Except that I'm currently rotating 5 pairs of running shoes. Actively. And I have another 2 pairs waiting to swap in. All different. I feel like this is very much excessive. But (a) I love a good deal, and (b) running shoes appear to be a serious vice for me like some ladies with handbags.

The Mizuno Mezamashii Project was floating around blogland last month and while I entered a couple giveaways, I decided I would just go enter my name directly with Mizuno and if it happened, great. They only ask for name, zip code, and email, so I'm pretty certain the blog had nothing to do with it. I don't have enough notoriety for any random Mizuno employee to know who I am by name and zip code. Lo and behold, I got an invite. I sent my extra invite to a non-blog runner friend. So that's pair #6. I also have a pair of the soon-to-be-defunct Brooks Launch sitting in my closet waiting to be taken off the bench. Number 7. WTF.

I think, unless you want to be reading for the next 2 hours about all my shoes, I am going to make this a series and do a short right up on each of the pairs.

Let's start with my what was once my go-to-shoe and now is my "can't wait to hit 300 miles and retire you" shoes. Very sad.

Brooks Ravenna 3

I have run in all three versions of the Ravenna. My first pair were the original Ravennas - I picked them up on whim at the Road Runner Sports HQ clearance backroom. They felt light and hugged my foot nicely. I said, what the heck? $70 is a decent deal for new shoes and a current model. I logged 420 miles on them. Got another pair for $50 at RunningWarehouse, put 320 miles on them. Tried on 4 or 5 shoes and still picked the Ravenna 2 and put 320 miles on those. Ran two marathons in them. I liked the 2nd edition even more than the 1st! I have never been so loyal to a specific shoe in my 19 years of running. I was like a damn Ravenna Evangelist which made me a Brooks enthusiast.

Enter the Ravenna 3.

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I tried on about 6-7 different shoes at RRS. None felt "awesome" including the Ravenna 3. But with the track record I had with them, I figured it would probably live up to or come close to it's predecessors. It was a safe bet.

They are light for a stability trainer (approximately 9 ounces) and have good cushioning. They also look pretty good too - not flashy, but not boring either. They have a heel-to-toe ratio of about 9mm. Not too high, not minimalist either.

The first few runs, I was convinced I had made the right choice. No blisters or breaking in period. Nice toe-box room, etc. However, the more I wore them, the more I found myself wishing I was wearing the 2s. I wore them for 2 out of 3 of my Ragnar ltra legs and the last run, I got some gnarly blisters under the toenail of the second toe on both feet. If found myself gripping with my toes because my midfoot wasn't hugged by the shoe.

I laced them up differently so I could tighten the arch/midfoot but leave the forefoot loose. This was better - enough to keep my toes from blistering and my midfoot from feeling like it was moving around laterally. But not enough for me to love them.

Interestingly, I tried to leave a 3-star review (i.e. “average”) on the Brooks website, citing my concerns with the shoe updates from the 1st and 2nd model. It was not accepted/published. A month or so later, I went to RRS, left a 3-star review for the Ravenna 3 there and a 4-star review of the Brooks PureCadence. Not surprisingly, the 3-star review was not posted. But the 4-star was. So, take shoe reviews with a grain of salt because they seem to be mostly biased to the 4 and 5 stars (not exactly objective or a good sampling of opinions). I have to wonder who is doing the filtering – seems like it’s possible the shoe companies.

I have 200 miles on the Ravenna 3s as of today – they have some pretty good wear on the forefoot outsole, so, 300 will definitely be the max for me. Honestly, 100 more miles seems like an eternity to cover. Hopefully it goes fast. I definitely will not be buying another pair of these. When the 4 comes out, I'll certainly give them a chance for redemption. But I am actively seeking out a long run replacement shoe (interestingly, the Mizuno Elixirs I just tried this evening felt like a million bucks... but can't call them my new go-to yet...).