Friday, July 25, 2014

Steamboat Sprint Triathlon

I needed a race to do prior to Nationals. Looking at the calendar in the spring, zeroing in on the weekend that would be perfectly spaced from one of my key races of the season, I stumbled upon the Steamboat Sprint. "Perfect", I thought. short little race. Cool, local vibe... and I clicked to sign up.

Here was one minor fact I overlooked; the race is at 8100 ft. Did you know that the amount of oxygen available at 8100 ft is about 25% less than at sea level? Granted, I live and train at about 6000 ft (about 20% less than sea level), but that extra 5% makes a difference. Brilliant. Let's go do what is essentially a VO2 max workout at a place where there is actually *less* O2. Awesome.

You're not in Kansas anymore Dorothy. In fact, you're like two frickin' miles ABOVE Kansas.
Ok - I'm really just kidding around. Although it's true I didn't really think it through when signing up, everyone is in the same 'boat' (pun intended), and what doesn't kill you.... well... it can make the lights go out... but luckily, it didn't. It just *hurt*.

My hurt was at least cushioned by the beauty of being in the 'boat. I really, really, really love that place and have great memories through the years of it. Besides skiing with some buddies, Paige and I went up there while we were first dating and went to a 'Strings in the Mountains' concert there. That trip was also the place I learned that my wife to be is NOT a gonzo mountain biker chick. That's ok. She's a fast swimmer, cyclist and triathlete - so I guess I'll keep her ;-)

I drove up the afternoon before the race. Just solo'd it given other commitments that Paige had back home. That's cool - I'm not very exciting before a race. It's a perfect evening for me just to stroll around town a bit, early dinner and then back to the room to read and prep for the race.

While I was up there solo, I wasn't alone. Plenty of friends / teammates up there to chat with. It's pretty cool to drive 3 hours by yourself, head to the race site and then see a bunch of people you know setting up in transition - not to mention hanging with after the race.

Hanging with Tony and Lisa Piscopo after the race. Friends really make the race.
When I rolled up to the race site, the car-mometer read 41 degrees... thaaaahts right. Didn't really worry because I had some intel from Evie (another team-mate and friend) that had done a swim the day before and reported that the water was a great temp. Also knew it would warm up quickly once the sun was fully awake.

Transition set-up went quick. Easy for a sprint.

It's 16 1/2 miles to the finish banner, we got a full bottle of UCAN, half a bonk breaker bar,
it's 41 degrees, and we're wearing wet-suits.
Hit it.
The caption for the photo was the quote I thought of looking at my transition set-up. You have to put it in context of the movie quote I patterned it after in my head:

For some reason, movie quotes / scenes kept popping into my head all morning. I don't know what made me think that way. Maybe it was the solitude. Maybe my brain just retains useless stuff. Either way - it's entertaining (for me at least).

Once I got transition set up, I went out for a 2 mile run just to loosen and warm up. Then I stood around just chatting with the rest of the crew. Wrapped that up and headed out to do a little warm-up swim and wait for the horn.

Water temp was awesome - about 68 degrees; I was actually hoping for a couple degrees cooler. Lately it's been so, so warm in the local ponds with a wetsuit on. I find myself digging a deep paddle on my stroke, just to feel some colder water.

Did a quick lap out the first buoy and back. Then back to stand around listening to the pre-race meeting.

Ok, remember when I said movie scenes kept popping into my head? So we're all standing around, feet in the water wearing our wetsuits. And we ALL know what's really going on while we pretend to intently listen to the race announcer detail out the course. Immediately I thought of this clip from Elf - except you have to make the following word substitutions:

Replace 'singing' with 'peeing'
Replace 'the north pole' with 'a triathlon'
Replace 'make toys' with 'listen to the pre-race instructions'

If you're a triathlete, you immediately understand. If you're not... well.. know that we all.. errr... "sing in the store"

And if you're now never able to watch your favorite Will Ferrell movie without transposing the words as above - your welcome.

Anywhooo...swim went great - I continue to love my Roka Maverick Pro wetsuit, and I got to use a pair of the Roka prototype open water goggles - which rock; Will be interesting to see what the production line ends up looking like in the fall.

One funny thing to note was that around the first two buoys, it was pretty shallow. During the pre-race instructions (I can *sing* and listen at the same time), the director mentioned that if you had any trouble in the water, the first thing you should try is to just stand up.

A number of folks did and it was strange to be swimming full out while passing these folks just standing up - most likely just getting their wind or wits back about them. Hopefully they weren't *singing* some more... <gag>.

T1 was relatively quick. Had a little wobble trying to fit my first foot into my cycling shoe - call it running up the the hill a bit too fast, leaning over and being at altitude. Deep breath, try again - and out we roll onto the course.

Yeah, that's the one that almost got me.
The course was described as a 12.4mi out and back with *rolling* hills. True, they were rolling at one point; but the climb out for the first mile was a grind. Match burned - check.

Scariest part of the day was the sweeping left hand turn, descending from that first hill. I rounded the corner, in aero, pulling 39.2 mph (I looked it up on my Garmin file); and there crossing the road is about 4-5 deer. One in particular was on the side with that, "do I stay or do I bolt" look in her eye.

Bambi's recollection of the encounter
Now your average mule deer weighs between 130 and 200 lbs (I looked it up). I'd estimate that looked about right as I whizzed past them. Luckily, Mr. Indecisive continued continued to ponder whether he should dart out in front of me as I passed safely. Good thing, otherwise I might have had to pull what this guy did; after I picked myself up out of the ditch and reset my collarbone.

Uhmmm.... I wish I had the back story on how this deer came to be demised.
I mean, why call the weekend a total waste when you can make venison nachos.

When you grow up in Michigan.... every party in the fall has a plate of these bad boys out.

Anyway. Rest of the bike was big fun. Some butt-head being cheered on by his buddy from the side of the road decided to pull out the stops to re-pass me on the final hill; upon which he blew up and rolled wheezing on the last 1/2 mile park road into transition, where I couldn't easily pass him without endangering others. Brilliant there Einstein - you're man-bit ego cost me probably 20-30 seconds on my bike split waiting for your sorry bum to recover.

T2 was a blaze. I went minimalist. No sunglasses, no visor / hat, no watch. Just racked the bike, slipped on my running shoes and grabbed my race number belt and out on the run I went.

My strategy for a sprint (which I've tested) is to not hold anything back on the bike. I think too many people do that. Honestly, I've personally found that if I go really hard on the bike, I can still run just about as fast as if I held back a bit. I just *feel* crappier on the run. It makes the run something you don't look forward to, but if you know it's coming, then you just deal with it.

The run started out with that climb for the first mile. Oh man, did I feel like garbage. Passed the 3rd place guy in the first 1/2 mile. Tried to look smooth and strong so he wouldn't chase. Felt like someone had injected my legs with meat tenderizer, but I held my head high like I *meant* to look like someone that had been jolted out of a Valium induced sleep by yelling, "Oh, my god - wild boars are chasing you!" - I looked really stupid.

But then the legs came on the first descent and I felt like a runner again. Got a quick glance back at the top of that first hill and nobody was chasing - cool.

At the time I thought I was in first. Turns out, the first place guy had come out of the water 2 minutes ahead of me and I would only chase back a minute of that. Damn.

The only thing the altitude affected was my run. I just could not turn my legs over as fast as I wanted without going into O2 debt (that point where you're running next to Elvis and trying to share the same straw to suck air through).

The other kicker was that is was a 3.5 mi run rather than the typical 5K. I knew that going into it, but forgot until I was most of the way through the run. You might think there is little difference between a 3.1mi and 3.5mi run; but let me tell you. I know how to run 10K pace and 5K pace - it's like a digital switch. So here I am just running at 5K pace... which is cool until you get to 5K. Then it really, really hurts.

Luckily, one of our coaches (Susan) was out on the paddle board to cheer us on while we ran on the trail next to the lake. Game me somebody to wave at and a few moments to not think about how my lungs were searing - or how bad of an idea it was to finish the re-fried beans with dinner the night before. When will I ever, ever learn?

Post Race:
Crossed the finish line and fought off the usual dry heaves. Felt better within about 30 seconds (such is sprint distance). Checked results and found I was 2nd in my division. Oh well - at least I can use the excuse that the winner was a local resident.... ahhhh... maybe not. He was just faster.

Got to hang with the peeps and stand on the box. Then headed back to the reality of a 4 1/2 hour drive home (freakin' I-70 construction / summer traffic). Still, was big fun.

Now on to Nationals!

Friday, May 30, 2014

HITS Opening Race of the Season - Race Report

"Uhhhmmm... how cold did you say the water is?"
A little bit of a tardy race report.

Two weekends back I raced my first race of the season: The HITS Series in Grand Junction, CO.

There were a variety of events / distances that you could compete in. I raced the Olympic distance (for those that don't speak 'tri' that read this, that's a 1500m swim / 40km bike / 10km run.

I'll spill the results early in case you want to stop reading here ;-) Overall I had a good solid race. I took first in my division and 15th overall (all ages / divisions) although it was a tough race I had to reel back in during the bike and especially on the run (more on that below).

If you haven't been keeping track. We've had a bit of a slow start to our summer weather here in Colorado. Just a couple weeks before the race, we had about 8 inches of snow dumped on us down here in the city. Driving up to the race venue, we passed through a bit of snow falling in the mountains. Although we knew that the weather had been a bit warmer on the western slope (where the race was held), it's still a little unnerving to be driving through snow falling on your way to a race!
I gotta fever, and the only cure

We arrived Friday night and got to dip our toes in the lake while picking up registration packets. Brrrr... yeah - it is, what it is. Just deal with it. Paige was racing the Aquabike (1.2 mi swim / 56 mi bike) on Saturday and I was racing on Sunday - so at least I'd get a report on how the water felt during the swim (we both have about the same tolerance of being cold).

There were also a number of teammates from the Kompetitive Edge Team and Elite MultiSport racing as well as the Teens that Tri team (which Paige coaches), so it made for a fun weekend to cheer and be cheered. We brought our extra large race cowbell - just right for the occasion!

The Saturday races went off well with the KE and EMC team-mates all putting up some strong podiums. Paige took 2nd overall in the women's aquabike (bested only by her coach (and former 2004 Olympic Bronze medalist in Triathlon; Susan Williams).

While everyone looked happy to be coming out of the water, nobody looked happy from having been 'in' the water. There were some blue faces and a lot of stumbling to get the wet-suits off - especially by our brave team-mate, Sharon - who did the full distance (2.4mi) swim. I stuck around while Paige was out on her bike to cheer in the last few folks that were really struggling with the full distance swim. There was a lot of wobbly knees trying to stand up and get re-oriented to a vertical and much warmer world. The race organizers did a great job with safety though and everyone made it out of the water safe and sound - just a bit worse for wear.

Sunday - RACE DAY (for me)

Got up and went through my usual routine. I've had my feet solidly planted in an ME (low'er' carb) diet in the past weeks (more on that in a future post), and have been having good results from that. So I stuck to my usual 1:1 (CHO to Protein), higher fat breakfast. Then did 1 1/2 scoops of UCAN about 30 mins before hitting the water. From there on out it was just 1 1/2 scoops of UCAN on the bike and a few sips of water off the course on the run. Felt fully energized for the whole 2 hours of racing. Good test of the nutrition.

While setting up transition, we were hearing the water was 62 degrees. I have since come to believe that was a white lie, to keep anyone from freaking out. Past experiences and some recent swims in Chatfield at 60 degrees substantiates that the water at HITS was probably more like 55 degrees.

It was a wave start and even with the bit of warm up I did, the first 500m just totally sucked. Judging by the number of bobbing heads 100m out, I wasn't the only one struggling to catch a decent breath. This also kept the pack from spreading out and so there was a lot of body contact for the first 750m or so and it was really tough to find 'clear' water (a clean line). I'll say this. It was more annoying than anything because I'd get going and someone would sink my legs, which caused you to come to a complete stop, having to regroup.

My hands and feet were completely numb. All I could feel was my index fingers. I just trusted that they were out there somewhere and focused on pulling with my forearms.

After 500m, I started to feel better and got into a decent rhythm. I was able to start finding clean water, although I never could find anyone swimming straight enough to draft off of so I was on my own. It's a two lap course, so you get out of the water on the beach, run around a cone and then dive back in for a second lap. By the time I started that second lap I was feeling great and almost wished I could have had yet another lap to redeem my swim time. Ah well, good experience learned (do a better warm up when the water is that cold).

I came out of the water in 46th place overall... gack... Ok, time to get to work on the bike....

T1 went without a hitch. I actually was happy to be vertical and running up the long stretch to transition. I delayed getting my wet suit off until I hit the transition rack, just to have a bit more functional hands as they warmed up.

Got on the bike and instantly felt 'home' as I always do when I settle in for the ride.

The course is relatively flat, although there are a few hills here and there. Also a bit of a headwind on the way back. I rode a solid bike, but more like tempo effort than blowing it out. Just wanted to make sure the run part would come together for this first race. In retrospect and based on past power numbers / threshold tests, I could have rode the bike 4-5 minutes faster and would have only given up about a minute (max) on the run. But again - solid bike with a split (17th) that lined up pretty well with my overall place.

Coming out of T2 I started to really get to work. Normally at this point in the race I'm generally pretty good about my position overall and just have to focus on keeping the pressure on and making up a bit of time. In this case, I assumed that the podium was in all front of me and I needed to work hard to run people down.

Run course was warm (edging up to hot) and hilly with no shade. While I don't necessarily 'like' running in those conditions, I'm generally better than most at running in those conditions, especially hills. So being it's a race, I welcomed it and it jazzed me up to hear in the pre-race meeting that the course was hilly.

Bit by bit I chased people down. No age group leg markings, so I just assumed anybody in front of me was in my division and went to work reeling them in if I could.

With less than a mile to go, there was a guy about 100m in front that I had been working on for the last 1/2 mile or so. I noticed he was really struggling on the downhills (kind of clomping down them). Running downhill is something I've spent a lot of time working on, so I decided to pass him on the next steep downhill where the course makes a sharp turn to head up another hill. I made sure to pass strong; upright, good form, control the breath sounds. Right on cue, as I passed him and made the corner, my team-mate Lisa, standing on the side of the road cheered out, "Way to go Kevin! Looking Strong!" - I smiled and waved and thought, "Thank you Lisa - both for the cheering, but also the timing to let this guy I was passing hear it" ;-)

The guy called out, "Tell me you're not in your 50's" - to which I replied without turning around, "Sorry dude - I wish I could, I wish I could" - and thought, "Ok, there is a 50% chance then he's in my specific age group" - and I ran harder as I headed up the last climb.

By the time I turned the final corner, I snuck a peripheral glance over the last 200m of the course I had just crossed (earthen dam), and it was empty. Cool, he didn't or couldn't chase. Free-wheeled the legs to the finish with one final kick and the first race of the season was on the books with an overall 9th place run split. When I need it, the run always seems to come through for me.
Sportin' the KE Brand :-)

I felt good at the finish, although man, the chip-nazi's were all over you to get that timing chip back. I barely breathed out, "Just give me a second" and when she replied, "It's ok, I can do this really quickly" - I laughed and said, "You don't understand. I just don't want to throw up on your head". She laughed and stood back - 'Fair enough'. Five seconds or so and I had my dry heaves under control.

Post Race:
Some of the team: Lisa, Evie, (me), The Lovely and
Talented Mrs Sheen, Diane, Jean and Sharon
Again - really great to have such a big crew out there on race day. Really terrific venue - good sized race, but easy to find everyone and get around. Also a beautiful location and course and the organization was top drawer. Highly recommend it!!

After awards we went back to the hotel and packed up the car. It's not ideal to drive 3+ hours back right after a race, but it ended up being ok. Luke dozed in the car and Paige and I got to chat about the race and spend some alone time together - which is always nice.

I've also adjusted some training and racing strategies based on the race feedback. One thing was getting out there a couple times in the cold open water and experimenting with some strategies to keep that shock fest from making me have to chase down the podium so hard on the run next time.

Next up - Boulder 70.3 on June 15th! (where I fully expect to get my butt handed to me a bit... 'cuz... it's freakin' Boulder)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Proposed Solution to Age Grouper Doping (detection and prevention)

It's back, another collection of random thoughts - none substantive enough to be an entire blog post in themselves... none very useful in practical life. But informative and compressed into bite sized, twitter-esque chunks of wisdom and parody.

Ok, well let me back gracefully away from the wisdom and parody stuff. They are random though.

I claim the usual excuse for my absence. Lot's of family and work commitments, travel and lots of good quality training and sleeping. Certainly more noble than the 'shiny object' excuse I was going on about a few posts back.

First off; when relaying the latest random (and in my lone opinion - 'newsworthy') item of the day, I generally get asked (mostly by my wife who is perpetually concerned that I'm losing it), "WHERE DO YOU FIND THIS STUFF?"

The answer of course lies in the miracle of modern day organizer of worthless chaos, the aggregated news feed and twitter. From there it's just a few short clicks while tipping back my morning coffee and you get items like this.....

With about 5 seconds of research, I found this article regarding Mr. Extraterrestrial's first offense:

Robertson, 49, tested positive for a banned oxygen-enhancing peptide hormone as the result of a sample collected as part of USADA’s Out of Competition Testing Program on February 11, 2011.  Oxygen-Enhancing Peptide Hormones are prohibited under the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing and the International Cycling Union (UCI) Anti-Doping Rules, both of which have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code.

So, let me get this straight. Less than a year off his 15 month suspension for doping, he's popped again? Sorry, this guy is a '1st Degree Doper' (Tim O'Donnel's term). In my opinion, it's a lifetime ban for him, here's why:

Why am I so steamed about this? Because as torqued off as I get about pros doping, I'm unlikely to toe the line next to LA or Levi. They don't really take anything away from the work us clean age groupers do to get faster. We can be mad about the lost integrity, LA's attack on people that initially called him out, and the bad example it sets for our kids; But they aren't taking a podium spot away from a hard working age grouper.

This guy is in my frickin' age group. I've never raced against him, but it gets you thinking about just how many age groupers might be using; either as a 1st Degree Doper or rationalizing away 'Daddy's Little Helper' (LowT treatments) as 'just trying to be normal'. Sorry - do like the rest of us; play the cards you're dealt. If you feel like you need some T treatment for lifestyle related ails, then don't race or get a valid TUE (Therapeutic Use Exception). If they won't grant you one, too bad so sad.

Ever look through a KOM on Strava or your local race and think, "WTF?" I mean there are a few guys that are wayyyy ahead of the pack. You look them up on Athlinks and you can see the spike. One year they are mid-packers, a couple out they are crushing. Now lot's of those guys are legit I'm sure. Hard work, great genetics that were previously untapped; It's the wondering that grinds on me.

And the fact that the testing in age groupers is nearly non-existant (cost) - and we are STILL seeing guys getting popped? The statistical extrapolation can be a bit unnerving.

Anyway - my reason for writing this wasn't just to whine. It's to propose a practical solution to the problem... wait for it.....

In any sanctioned race, ANY athlete may challenge ANY other athlete to an in competition test. The only catch is that the challenger has to pay for the test (generally around $300 - but I'm sure we could get it down to $100 bucks or so). The price would keep this from turning into a logistical frenzy, but it opens the door for those a couple steps off the podium to attain peace of mind and also would provide a better statistical sampling than we have today on just how bad (or not-so-bad) the problem is.

I think it would also cause some athletes to start thinking twice about glowing like some alien spacecraft or a ball of illuminated swamp gas if they have to worry about a much more statistical reality of a random whiz quiz between stepping off the podium and tweeting about their middle-aged accolades to all their buddies.

What do you think?

To those athletes that still think nothing of shoving this stuff into their bloodstream, and wreaking havoc on their man-bits; I offer this public service appearance from Senhor Testiculo to burn into your wee brains...

No, we still don't know why he has teeth nor why he wears high boots.

Peace, Love and Clean Racing....

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Metabolically Efficient 'Rice' (alternative) and an Easy & Quick Thai dish recipe

I love Basmati rice. But - it's not very metabolically efficient and in general a bulky way to load up on carbs. What to do?

I've found that cauliflower makes a great alternative for the Thai dishes I like to prepare.

Creating the 'rice'

Step 1: Steam some cauliflower (I use a rice / vegetable steamer) and let it cool so it's warm to the touch. Don't overcook it.

Step 2: Toss it into your food processor using a 'ricing' blade. Like this one.

The rest of the dish:

We always try to have some pre-grilled chicken ready to go for salads, sandwiches, quesadillas, snacks etc.. We'll grill up 6-8 breasts and put it in the fridge for a few days worth of meals.

  1. Slice up a breast and a half of the pre-grilled chicken into thin strips.
  2. Using the same ricing blade on the food processor, rice up 2 medium raw carrots
  3. Toss the carrots and about 3-5 cloves of minced garlic into a pan with some olive oil and sauté a bit.
  4. Toss in the chicken strips. Add a bit more olive oil.
  5. Toss in an large handful of baby spinach and saute until the spinach starts to wilt in the pan.
  6. Mix (in a bowl) a small jar of this curry paste and 1 can of coconut milk. Turn down the heat and let simmer.

Spoon your cauliflower 'rice' into a bowl and spoon the above over it. Viola!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Avoid the Recovery Run Trap

If you're looking for the Newton III shoe review, you can find in here.

Whoah, I can hear the objections already. But before you go getting your compression socks in a twist, or head out the door and hammer your easy day, let me explain a bit.

Most weekly run schedules are composed of several 'quality' runs and 'recovery' runs. 'Quality' runs are generally categorized as the meat and potatoes of the schedule with the 'recovery' runs thrown in to boost volume and allow for active recovery.

Let's look at these intentions one at a time:

Volume certainly can help improve running economy. The more you run (or do anything), the more your body will adapt to performing that movement pattern in the most economic way possible. However, for this to happen, the repetition must be coupled with a mindfulness towards proper form and improvement.

Unfortunately, many people simply go out and crank out a few mindless miles as their 'recovery' run. Couple with with the fatigue from the preceding quality session and all you're doing in this case in honing your ability to run with poor form.

The body recovers much better when it's active. Moving around increases blood flow and ups the chemistry in your body that speeds recovery. But many people try to turn their recovery runs into workouts. They end up running them too hard and/or too fast.

In addition - while it's true that many experienced and elite runners can see a recovery benefit from an easy run, many folks just don't have the years and miles on their legs to run with an easy, efficient stride that promotes healing instead of breaking down. Take that noisy stride and couple it with a few extra pounds, and you're most likely doing more harm than good in your recovery run.

So should you ditch the day in favor of lying around on the couch, flipping channels? Not at all. But the next time you want to drop a 'recovery' run on your schedule, take a second look into how to get the most bang for your buck out of that day. In short - every run should be a 'quality' run. Every run should have a purpose. If you see a run that simply says "Easy 5mi" or "Recovery 3mi", then re-think the run. Otherwise, you're just logging junk miles that are probably slowing your fitness gains rather than adding to it.

Here are ways to re-calibrate that ambiguous 'recovery run' on your schedule:

1. Turn it into a skills workout. Here's an example of a run that is easy on your body, but will reap benefits in your form. Do muscle activation exercises, prehab movements, fast feet, grapevines, butt kickers, uphill bounding strides. Run very, very slowly, but with perfect, tall form. Break up the session to focus on where your feet are landing and pushing off. Try to adjust your paw back. Run to some 90 cadence (per foot) music - higher if you have a high cadence already. Check arm position. Run backwards, sidesteps. Run (easily) around cones. Run barefoot on grass. Bound the workout by time, not by miles. If you need help with running skills / drills, do some searching out there. McMillan Running actually has a whole DVD series just on drills (Drills for Distance Runners), or hire a coach.

2. Do an easy bike workout instead. The bike is much easier on your body. Go out for what is known as a 'walk on the bike', where you just roll along without any intensity. This is a great ride to do with your young kids. You should never feel any 'burn' on this ride. Keep it short and remember that the goal of this ride isn't to add fitness, it's to help the body absorb the work you've already done.

3. Do an easy fun run with friends or people that won't push you. We all have folks in our lives that we'd like to run with, that aren't daily runners. Schedule easy runs with them and do a rolling trail run - and keep it easy. If you aren't able to carry on a conversation the whole time, you are running WAY too hard. Make sure you stay mindful of your form. Don't get sloppy.

4. Hit the treadmill with 0% incline and a very easy pace. Try at least 2 minutes (per mile) slower than your Marathon pace.The treadmill can be a great way to keep you honest at a constant slower pace. And it's generally easier on your body. Some people develop niggles and injuries on the treadmill - if that's you, then skip this one.

One last point. If you are a runner that has consistently held 50-60+ miles per week through many years, then the recovery run may work for you - or you are probably already doing one or more of the above in lieu of just cranking out a few more easy miles to boost your weekly totals. Just check to make sure you are creating enough separation between your hard and easy days. When I first started working with a coach years ago, the first thing she had me do was to run my hard runs harder and my easier runs easier. I was running my easier runs too hard and they were compromising the quality of my harder runs.

Let me sum things up again by saying, 'All runs should have a purpose' - so, when I say 'avoid the recovery run' - what I really mean is; 'make all your runs *quality* runs'.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Newton Distance III Shoe Review

They are actually orange btw, not pink. Camera lighting.
I picked up a pair of the new Newton Distance III series shoes from my sponsor Kompetitive Edge the other day.

I wasn't planning on getting a new pair of running shoes. I'm kind of a creature of habit and have been racing in the same Brooks Racer ST 5s for eons now. In fact, I recently switched over to using them as my training shoe as well and have been really happy with them.

I've always liked the Newton concept; looking at how you build a running shoe from the ground up (or foot down) that promotes and supports a more efficient and healthier running style. So while I was at KE picking up some other things for my bike, I noticed the new Newtons had just arrived, stacked up on the floor and was curious about what I'd heard about the new design. Ryan (Stedeford) explained the layout of the new line and what had changed in the design. It peaked my interest to throw a pair on and hit the treadmill, and that experience got me thinking that it was time to give the Newton brand another try out in the wild. So out the door I went with my new shoes.

I have an older pair of Newtons that I bought from someone that got them new, ran a few miles and decided they weren't for him. He also threw in a pair of Saucony Kinevara's (same story) and sold both pair to me for a song. I liked the old Newtons, but still felt they had some work to do before they'd become my 'go-to' shoe. I'm happy to say that the new Distance series seems to have really gotten it right and refined an already solid concept into something pretty fun to head out the door in.

In following the 'minimalist' trends and experimenting with a number of shoes that fit that category through the years, I've distilled two key things that people generally are referring to when they talk about minimalism.
  • More pronounced heel drop (the heel is generally lower and sometimes the same, or in extreme cases lower, than the mid-foot contact point)
  • Less cushioning
I've over-simplifying here because this isn't a discussion about minimalism, natural running, etc. If you want a more detailed two part series I wrote about 3 years ago on minimalist running taken to an extreme you can find it here and here

In short, the Newtons are more about the pronounced heel drop than lessening the cushioning. But they take it further in the design of the sole itself in a way that puts them in a very special category. You can read about the science behind their shoes on their site. How is a techno-geek engineer like me not going to be drawn in by phrases like, "Bio-Mechanical Sensor Plate" and "Knight Mechanical Testing? Seriously though, they have quite a bit of interesting information there including testing, choosing a shoe and an overall commitment to improving running form and education. They really are so much more than just a shoe company - they are a fundamentally different concept in running.

Right away I could see the differences Newton had made in the shoe. The most obvious are the addition of an additional mid-foot 'lug'. Ryan explained that this was to promote better side to side stability, which I could feel on the side by side compare run I did (more on that later). Older model on top, lower on the bottom.

You can also see the mid-foot overall has a wider platform while the heel looks a bit narrower. I actually measured them to make sure it wasn't an optical illusion and sure enough, they are as they appear.

The other thing you'll notice is that the new shoe's arch to heel looks more integrated as opposed the older model that has several components to it; a 'yellow' base layer layered with a grey foundation and several black 'crash pads'. I've seen a trend lately around this and like the idea of a molded one piece design. As for the specifics including the 'angled channel' in the heel - well, I have some educated guesses, but that's probably a better question for the folks at KE or the Newton shoe engineers; who wouldn't be just guessing like me.

The Distance doesn't have much lateral or torsional stability, and that's both by design and what I'm looking for in a shoe. It's not as slipper-like as a racing flat (I have a pair of Saucony A5s that are basically socks with a sole), but this model is definitely a neutral shoe that will give you immediate feedback if you come down a bit off center of neutral. If you're looking for a bit more stability, then the Gravity and Motion offer increasing levels of stabilization. There are also more specialized models for things like trail running and even an 'Ironman' branded model. With 18 different models you want to spend a bit of time talking to someone that can work with you to find the best shoe for your needs and stride. This is only a review of one particular model.

The next was the scale test. I compared my current shoes (Brooks Racer ST 5), the older Newtons and the new Distance Newton. All are the same size and come with the factory laces. I was surprised by the weight differences. The Newton distance was nearly 40g lighter than my Racer ST 5s - and that's with the ribbon like laces of the ST (which often come untied). A small feature, but I like the laces of the Newton Distance - although for racing I opt for Nathan or other quick entry laces (as most triathletes do) to get out of T2 faster.

Brooks Racer ST 5 - 280g

Older model Newton - 291g

New Newton Distance - 242g
So will you feel 40g difference while running? Probably not, but maybe once fatigued it would become more apparent in being able to maintain a better stride.

Just to be fair - the Newton Distance and the Brooks Racer ST 5 are VERY different shoes. But, if I'm trying to figure out a shoe to wear that works for training and racing, then saving weight is a bonus, even if it's not a deciding factor.

I picked a 2mi course that included a mixture of asphalt, concrete, hard dirt trail, uneven trail, looser dirt and both easy and steeper uphills and downhills. I ran a warm-up and then the shoes in the following order:

Brooks Racer ST 5 / Newton Distance / Older Newtons

I was only looking to evaluate the Newton Distance, using the other two to compare impressions - so I won't get into what I like about the Brooks Racer ST 5's - which is a lot obviously since I've been narrowing down to that for quite a number of years.

First off, the Distance has that Newton 'feel' to it. If you've never run in Newtons, you should. It's fundamentally different than any other shoe you've ever run in - I defy anyone to deny that. Now, whether you like that 'feel' or not is personal. I happen to admire it because it's obvious the engineers at Newton have gone out of their way to put that feel into the shoe.

What you notice right away is more emphasis on the mid-foot and a decreased emphasis on the heel. Laugh as you will about the term "Bio-Mechanical Sensor Plate" but I can tell you it's there and it works. Right away I noticed that there was far better sensitivity programmed into that construction than in the older Newtons. There were more sensations and feedback coming back up through my foot, and I think that's kind of the point. You are instantly aware of not only the moment of impact, but all the way through when you paw off in your stride.

The other thing I noticed (that surprised me) was that the shoe instantly got me in a better position (hips projected more to where they should be). Normally I have to think about that projection, but the Newtons seemed to promote that. I was really surprised by that because I would have bet that given the amount of time and work I've put into my stride, that the shoe would simply be along for the ride. It caused me to start thinking about how it was doing that. Specifically, what feedback was it sending my body that caused me to close that little gap and put my hips into the 'slot'.

What I'm speculating is this. The Newtons get the heel 'out of the way' of your stride by the simple nature of 'retreating' it up into the shoe (less heel means the forefoot part of your strike is more pronounced). Further, the sensor plate in the forefoot creates more feedback there to process and adds more emphasis still to the forefoot. What that does is create a 'feedback trigger' that I'm further along in my stride than I think (closer to the paw-back portion) and I engage those muscles to push off a bit sooner. That cascades into my hips moving forward and (probably - I didn't measure it), a quicker turn-over.

Two thoughts - the above is my own speculation and based on a few hundred foot strikes - is the theory going to hold up after a few hundred miles? Second, would my body get used to the feedback (numb) and the additional stimuli would then evaporate? Unknown on both. But it was intriguing and I was pretty excited that ANY shoe would actually automatically cause a slight shift in my stride like that.

The less engaged heel has the usual Newton (same as in the old ones) heel 'washout' when taking a tight corner at speed on a hard surface. Don't get the impression that I think this is a fault of the shoe. I imagine that with some experimentation and time in the shoe, I'll stop relying on digging the heel pad in to make a tight corner. In other words, it's more about me adapting the way I currently take a tight corner based on running in shoes that allow me to dig that heel in. Anyway, most races results (for me) aren't made on sharp changes in direction.

Where I also noticed the benefit of the heel being out of the way was on a steeper descent on a hard surface. I felt like I could turn over more smoothly and really liked how these shoes descended. Felt like I could turn-over faster and keep my toes out of the front of the toe box. That's good, because when your foot is making little slams into the front of the toe box, those are the brakes my friend and you're decelerating every time you do it.

It's not often I get excited about a pair of shoes. Ho-hum is my usual response. I've run in a bunch of shoes that were going to 'change my experience' and they didn't. The Newtons though, do deliver some unique feedback that I definitely want to explore and play around with a bit more. They really are fundamentally different and offer some 'feelings' you wont' get with other shoes. 

No shoe by itself will make you run with a better stride, but the Newton Distance do come through with lighting up the right neural pathways to aid you in running better - if you are paying attention and spend the time so your body knows what to do with that feedback.

For someone interested in experiencing this, I'd recommend the following:

1. Get fitted with the right Newton model by someone like the folks at Kompetitive Edge that knows what they are doing. I think this goes for any shoe, and this definitely applies here. Take your time, try on different models and really pay attention to what you're feeling and how the shoe feels. Keep an eye out for demo days to run outside on a variety of surfaces. The treadmill is OK, but outside is always better.

2. Think of Newtons not just as a shoe, but as a training device. I know this sounds corny, but after spending a bit of time reading things on the Newton site and really thinking about what I was feeling - it hit me what they were getting at. Newton is about running more efficiently and in a healthy way. The shoes are just part of that equation.

3. Ideally couple your Newtons with a running coach. Now is a great time to get some quality instruction and work on improving your stride outside the stress of being 'in season'. When I did this a few years ago I invested about 4 months before a new stride really took hold. And I am constantly tweaking and 're-feeling' things to make adjustments back to good form. Expect that initially you will actually slow down and feel fatigued more quickly. But if you are working with a good coach and being diligent, it will pay off in years of injury free (and faster) running. I'd suggest some great coaches from Team EMC (Elite Multi-Sport Coaching) who offer some great run clinics from time to time.

Happy running.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Brain Freeze....

Yes, that's the excuse I came up with for not posting in nearly 2 months.

Sure - I could have used the standard holiday season excuse; and while there would have been some truth to that, every single blog I follow has already exhausted that one. So, being late to the game, it was 'Brain Freeze'.

Specifically, every time I hovered my hands over the keyboard, I locked up. Actually that's not entirely true, I generally just got distracted by another shiny object and wandered away. Objects such as this one:

If you want to search out the video on YouTube, you can hear he's playing the theme to Star Wars on his bag pipes. If you have to ask me for the link, then you don't know how to use YouTube (or the Internet). I mean really, how many other videos do you think you'll turn up searching for Darth Vader + Unicycle + Kilt?

My obvious response to the logo "Keep Portland Weird" banner - mission accomplished.

While you're on YouTube, you can also search out the trailer for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Better, yet - I will give you this one.

Judging by the comments, lots of people love this trailer. My response was 'meh'. It just didn't get me fired up. Maybe it's because I've just become numb to the over the top marketing in this country. Maybe it's that I don't really understand the need to create a sense of excitement and drama around bobsledding and skeleton. I mean, really? Have you watched that stuff? It's darn exciting in itself. Certainly more so that a bunch of athletes CGI'd to make the Olympics look like a winter version of  "The 300" (This is Sparta). Ho hum. Don't get me wrong, I'm outlandishly excited about the Olympics - but for me, the Olympic theme does it for me. I get goose bumps just listening to it.

Some interesting trivia I found on this theme (sorry, not fully weened off the shiny object distractions just yet):

Opening with what might be the most familiar drum beat of the last half century, “Bugler’s Dream” was composed by Léo Arnaud for a 1958 album called Charge!. It would have likely been consigned to the milk crate of history had not ABC Sports decided to use the track for its telecast of the 1968 winter games in Grenoble. Now often heard in a medley paired with Williams’ “Fanfare,” Arnaud’s music evokes a sense of pageantry and spectacle as great as the Games themselves.

Then of course are the countless political statements that everyone keeps making on fb. Yes, I get it. We are divided. We are resolute in our belief systems, and many of the more intellectually minded can even articulate valid reasons and factual data for their stances. I'll have a conversation about the dangers of fiat currency run amok any day of the week. But do we really need an unflattering picture of some political figure plastered with comments like "<insert name here> voted to impale kittens and set puppies on fire"? Is that really productive? Has someone.... anyone really ever, in the history of time, ever seen one of those zinger posts on fb on had their opinion changed? I don't think Mark Z. tracks that sort of thing (although the NSA might) - but I'll venture to guess a big fat 'no'. Anyway - I wish I had a 'stupid political one sided post' filter for my fb news stream. It's taking valuable time that I could be using perusing photos and videos of my friend's dinner, or their cat sleeping.

Do I sound like I'm in a bad mood? Well, you'd be wrong. I'm actually in an AWESOME mood and I'll tell you why.

Colorado has had a fabulous winter so far. It's snowing in the mountains and we've had some beautiful days in the city. And you know what that means - I can ride my bike and run outside. And as anyone that knows me would attest, I'm an outdoor cat.

I've also set my A races and officially started my training plan. That's fodder for another post (see how this works - its' like watching LOST - keeps drawing you to the next episode.

I will share this though. My key race this year will be Olympic Distance Age Group Nationals (which I qualified for last season). I've been crunching the numbers, and I have a shot at making Worlds and racing for Team USA. I have work to do to get there, but it's definitely within reach if I put in the time (and drop about 5 or 7 lbs). btw: How do you know you're at proper race weight? It's when you're mom worries about you, until she sees how much you eat :-)

Seriously though. I get goose bumps and choked up thinking about the possibility of wearing the Stars and Stripes and racing for my country. I love my country (and I'm not just saying that for the NSA trolls). But in a healthy way. In a way that I'm proud of the people I share this land with, regardless of our differences and I love the opportunities that I've been afforded growing up here. Yeah, we're not perfect - no country is... well... except for Sweden I think... but if countries saw themselves more as teams in competition to create the best lives possible for their citizens and a set of ideals and processes that could be shared openly for others to adopt in the world, well then I think nationalism has a place. Crowd source the good life.

Anywhooo.... that's my dream. That would be something. And I'm giving it a go in the next couple years - the World Championships part, not the fixing the world thing.

And now back to our regularly schedule program of sardonic wit, useless observations and intellectual porn.

Settle down. Not *Internet* porn, but *intellectual* porn, as in things that are entertaining but lacking in any practical value. Like this:

This is a teammates husband, posing with a lioness...
with some Indian bowls and a wood bathtub in the background.
I could call her up and ask what the story is - but I actually like not knowing.
I think the picture says it all.
Anyway, this is a multi-sport blog and I realize I haven't done that much chatting about sports, training and the like - but consider this a commercial break. I've got a ton of ideas queued up for near future posts, but for now - just sit back and enjoy the ride. I'm almost done being nonsensical.

Now, the New Year has passed (here in the US, soon in China). And although I don't do New Year's resolutions (life is short - don't wait for the start of the year), the time off from work and spending time with family allows me a bit of introspection bandwidth.

The following are things that I've been working on over the past year and are things I want to continue doing in the coming year:

1. Allow all frustration to live only within the intellectual domain, not the emotional domain. Because the emotional response to frustration doesn't really ever help.

2. Continue to move towards a metabolically efficient diet and training.

3. Schedule time to learn stuff.

4. Finish off all the Bond (Ian Fleming) and Sherlock Holmes novels.

5. Watch even less TV than last year. I think in the last 2 weeks I've watched a total of like an hour of TV.

6. Snowboard more.

7. Ignore idiots completely. This falls perfectly in line with my 'best practice' of what I like to call "DB Free Friday" - simply put, one of the perks of my job is that barring an emergency, I have the ability to simply avoid accepting meeting invites or answering phone calls from anyone I personally consider to be a feminine hygiene product on the last day of the work week. It's remarkably liberating and sets me up for a happy weekend. The other thing I worked on was engaging on any conversation that started with a moronic socio-political statement or premise. I've just realized the futility in it and that the catch phrase, "start the conversation" is really code for "dog pile on to my side of the argument or go get buggered"

That's it for tonight. And with that, I'll leave you with a picture that's worth a thousand words - re-posted by a good friend and caused me to espouse my massive parental wisdom on the fb community:

My response?

To spot the landing for him of course.

Go big or go home.