Sansa Clip+: The Shuffle Killer

Sometime in 2007 I purchased an MP3 player and started subscribing to Rhapsody’s subscription music service, Rhapsody To Go. The player was a Clix from iRiver and while it’s been fine, I’ve never been thrilled with it. It has a tendency to freeze, it’s clunky and recently its battery life seems to have grown shorter and shorter between recharges. Its most recent woe is a battery life indicator that always cheerfully says “full!” When you’re halfway through a three hour long run and the music dies, that’s a long 90 minutes running with useless earphones in your ears.

It was time to replace the Clix. Naturally, I figured I’d first check out what iRiver was making these days. But unfortunately the iRiver web site has gone from bad to worse. I wonder if they actually want people to buy their products. Since I couldn’t make sense of their product line I next took a look at Sansa’s players, which had always had a reputation for playing nicely with Rhapsody. I settled on the Clip+ player. For $64 I got:

  • 8 gigs of storage (that’s 6 gigs more than the Clix has)
  • Room for up to 32 gigs more thanks to the MicroSD card slot
  • 15 hours of battery life
  • An FM radio with more presets than I’ll ever use
  • A sturdy, built-in clip
  • Excellent sound quality
  • An easy-to-navigate menu system
  • On-the-fly playlist creation and removal of tracks
  • Seamless integration with Rhapsody, including its radio-like, musically themed “channels” (which never worked with the Clix)
  • No software drivers needed; it’s plug and play!

All this in a package that weighs about an ounce and is smaller than a matchbox.

This is not my hand. My fingers are not chubby.

This is not my hand. My fingers are not chubby.

Despite being a Mac user since 1988 (I still remember being awed by the computing power of the Mac Plus), and still using one for my personal machine, I’ve never owned an iPod. Maybe I’m mentally challenged, but I couldn’t figure out the clickwheel the one time I tried to use one. Plus, who wants to pay for every song? For $15 a month I can download and take with me any of around 2,000,000 songs. If I want to buy something, I can download the MP3s, oftentimes for less than what Apple is charging for them on iTunes.

I’d looked at the previous generation of the Clip, but the actual clip looked flimsy, as did the materials overall. But with the “+” edition, Sansa seems to have gotten things right. I wore it on a faster run on the track this morning and, unlike the Clix, which bounced around like a small brick, I often had trouble locating the player on my shorts.

If people are willing to wrest themselves from the Apple hegemony of iTunes, the Clip+ and Rhapsody To Go are an attractive prospect. Observe:

  • The Clip+ is cheaper than the 4GB Shuffle by about $10
  • It has a radio, a voice recorder, twice the storage (and up to 10x the storage if you spring for a MicroSD card)
  • It has a display screen; shouldn’t this be a basic feature?
  • No stupid white headphones

Be a rebel. Dump the iPod.

Fall Training: Week 6

09fall-training-06Here we are at the halfway point already. I’ve got just six weeks of serious training left before going into a two week taper. Last week I hit 90 miles again after three weeks of running mileage much lower than that.

The first surprise was getting up on Monday morning and feeling surprisingly nimble considering the hard half marathon on Sunday. Then my legs seemed to get stiffer and stiffer as the day wore on. A warm bath helped, as well as some time with the foam roller.

I ran Tuesday’s “recovereasy” run at a very light effort, not even at 70%. I knew this was going to be a huge week in terms of challenging runs, plus I was going in with a recovery deficit from the race. So I decided to be conservative even though my legs still felt pretty good.

I took my tempo miles to the track and had another good session. I had no problem sustaining 89-90% for five miles and in fact could have run another mile had I wanted to. But I didn’t. I will note that the moment I stopped running, my legs started stiffening up again. The 1.75 run home was actually sort of painful. Was that still Sunday’s race lingering in my legs?

Thursday was a tough day, as it usually is. By this stage of the week I’m worn down from one or two harder workouts plus I have to run fairly big mileage this day. Since the weather was going to force me inside for the evening run I decide to do the strides in the morning. I’ve had a bad habit of skipping strides, but I felt just good enough to do them on Thursday. I did seven rather than the planned eight (miscounted).

Friday was another of my Frankenworkouts: a long run at recovery pace plus some faster intervals and short rests. I had issues with my HRM acting oddly again, and as a result I probably ran these a might too fast. Looking on the bright side, though, I’ve definitely got my speed back. I ran one repeat at 6:07 pace, which is quick for me. I couldn’t even get below 6:30 pace for a stride a few months ago when I was starting on the iron and D supps.

Saturday were two blah runs. Just getting in the miles. I crawled along at very low heart rates in order to get ready for…

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! This was the run I’d been saving myself for all week. A big 22 mile run with some elbow grease applied. The weather was atrocious, as we had the first Noreaster of the season moving through NY. But it didn’t seemed quite bad enough to take things inside on the treadmill. Some part of me believes that training in less than ideal conditions is a good mental exercise anyway. You never know what you’ll get on race day and if you’ve done some hard runs in wind and rain that offers some psychological innoculation against at least that aspect of pre-race freakouts.

I decided to do this run in Central Park. I like running the hills (I know; I’m weird that way). And since it’s a multiple loop course, if the weather turns truly foul I can always cut it short and come home. I can’t do that if I’m 10 miles away from home in Valhalla when the downpour starts.

The assignment was to run the first 12 at 75% MHR, then step up to 80% for the final 10. When I started my run the rain was steady but not terrible. I ran the first 6 in a t-shirt, long sleeve and “water resistant” jacket, plus gloves and a waterproof hat. I was soon boiling, so had to run back to the car on Columbus Ave. for a costume change. I took off my hat and my hair was soaked not from rain but from sweat.

I swapped the outer layers and ended up with the t-shirt and a very light fleece with zip up collar. Dumped the gloves and hat. Kept the tights as I was not about to pull my pants down in the middle of Manhattan (those days are long over!). Now I was ready to roll. The rain remained steady, but there were a few windows of 20 minutes or so when it turned to a mere drizzle. It was actually nearly perfect running weather, but for the wind.

While I was there I discovered a large walk for breast cancer — about 5,000 people according to the news accounts. I’m glad the park can play host to such events but I wish the marshalls would clue participants in to the fact that there are other people using the park. The walkers took up the entire roadway in some sections, so I had to hop up on curbs or take the pedestrian path (to the annoyance of regular park patrons) to get around them. Fortunately, they were done by around 11:15 and I just had 45 minutes or so of faster running by then.

The run was not easy, but it wasn’t particularly difficult either. If anything, I had trouble keeping the effort low for the first twelve. I was more in the 77-78% range for a lot of those miles, probably due to the hills and wind. I was up near 80% a mile early and drifted into the 81% range for a lot of the later miles. I only started really feeling the effort in the last three miles and in some ways the challenge was as much in the mental realm as it was in the physical one. I finished up with a faster last half mile in the 85% range and was done! Total time: just over 3:10 for 22.14 miles. I like to do a 22 miler in the 3:00-3:10 range, so I was happy with this time considering the awful conditions and tough course.

I’m a little shocked that I could do this run after a Sunday race followed by a big mileage week, but there you have it. This has me feeling pretty good about what I can accomplish in the coming weeks. I’ll hit 95 this week, which includes four days of doubles and a “sandwich run” on Sunday, again in Central Park with the Marathon Kickoff 5 miler.

Sometimes you can’t trust your heart (rate monitor)

Yesterday I went to the track in the morning to do some fast repeats. The scheduled called for 5 x 2:30 at 92% MHR with 1 minute rests. I ran a faster half mile to get my legs ready and proceeded to launch into the first repeat. I was running hard, breathing hard, but my HR was dawdling along at 86%. So I ran faster and harder, cutting the first repeat short at 1:44 when my lungs gave out. The HRM said I was at 88%.

Mystified, I ran my 1 minute jog and then tried again. Same thing. I jogged some more and thought about it. What was going on? Were my legs too tired to get myself going fast enough to get my HR up into the low 90%s? Was I glycogen depleted? Was the dreaded iron deficiency issue back? Why were my lungs giving out before my heart and legs?

I tried another and the same thing happened again. This was getting silly. Finally, on the fourth lap it occurred to me to look at my pace. I was running 6:18 pace. Aha. The HRM was bullshitting me again. Now I figured I’d been running these in the mid-90%s (which would explain why I was getting breathless before the 2+ minute mark). So I ran a few more quick ones and learned another lesson: don’t over rely on technology. I knew I was working hard and running fast. I should have trusted those perceptions over what the watch was telling me.

Review: Nike Lunar Trainer

Short review: I hate these shoes! I have never actually hated a running shoe until these showed up on my doorstep.

They feel mushy and cheaply made. Also, the outsole flares out in such as way that it actually makes running feel awkward. And there are no extra eyelets to lock the laces in place. I’m sure there’s a lot of other things wrong with these, but I haven’t run in them enough to discover them.

Jonathan, however, loves the Lunar Trainer. Go figure.

Review: Pearl Izumi Peak XC

A few months back, on a lark, I sent a note to Pearl Izumi and told them how much I loved the Streak, their road racing shoe. In the process, I asked if they’d be willing to send me any other shoes to try, with the promise that I’d do a review on this blog. To my delight, they responded with an offer to send me the Peak XC, which is basically their trail running version of the Streak.

I did a few long runs in the Peak XC, but didn’t feel comfortable doing a review until I’d put it through its paces in a wider range of running environments. My recent trip to South Africa provided the perfect opportunity to evaluate this shoe.

I only wanted to bring two pairs of running shoes (I know — this is one pair more than most people would pack!): the Saucony Fastwitch 3 for racing a half and something else for everyday training. Where I was going, the only paved roads were the major highways. Everything else consisted of dirt, clay (or mud on some days) or gravel. Perfect conditions for a trail running shoe.

From what I can tell, the Peak XC is nearly identical to the Streak in construction and fit, with a few differences. While it weighs the same as the Streak (very light, at just over 7 oz. in women’s size 7), the midsole seems slightly thicker, the better to protect your soles from rocks, roots and other potentially painful foes. The outsole is also slightly more robust, with more pronounced treads for better traction; I’d swear that the outsole also feels “grippier” on slick pavement, but that may just be my imagination, as I don’t know how they’d do that. By comparison, the Streak has nearly no tread — it’s literally a “flat” in that regard.

I did a lot of running in rough conditions: roads that consisted of packed mud, very gravelly roads and in extreme heat. The shoes were perfect for all three. On mud, they were reasonably stable despite some very slippery spots. On gravel, they made my feet impervious to the surface, even when running hard. I could run on 1-2″ rocks and not really feel them. And in the heat, my feet stayed cool thanks to the perforated upper throughout. I should also add that they performed like champs on hills. I had enough traction to climb, and the shoes were roomy enough in the toebox to save my toenails on the downhills.

Speaking of the upper, this is the aspect of the Streak that made me fall in love with the shoe. Pearl Izumi touts its “seamless upper” on the Streak and Peak shoes. These shoes fit like a glove with no seams to rub anywhere. They are sold as a neutral shoe, although I’m neutral with some slight pronation and they are suitable for me. They feel responsive when running at all speeds: good ground contact, lots of flexibility, bouncy toe off. They are also durable. I’m on my fourth pair of Streaks and all have lasted 300 miles before feeling dull. That’s pretty good for such a lightweight shoe. I typically need to retire shoes in the sub-8 oz. range around the 250 mile mark.

I should note that I’ve done 22 mile runs in these on pavement and I did an 18 miler on dirt/gravel. In both cases, they held up well and didn’t cause the kind of fatigue you might risk experiencing by doing a long training run in what’s billed as a racing shoe.

One important tip on the Streaks and the Peaks: These run exceptionally small. I normally wear a size 8 in running shoes, with some exceptions (Saucony Grid Tangent 3 and Adidas Adizero Ace) in which I have to size down to my regular 7.5 shoe size. In the Pearl Izumis I need an 8.5.

Finally, I’ll add that these shoes are versatile. I went on a 9 mile hike in them over rocky/sandy trail. True, they can’t replace hiking boots for seriously “technical” hiking due to the lack of ankle protection, but the same can be said of my “dayhike” shoes. Those are waterproof, so I’d still use them for rainy day hikes. But for sunny days I’ll wear the Peak XCs. They’re lightweight, sturdy, have adequate toe protection and as such are perfect for mixing walking with running on the trail.

Since I’m mentioning Pearl Izumi, I’ll also put in a good word for a model of shorts they make, the 42K short. [Edited: Tracy has astutely pointed out that the 42K shorts are made by Sugoi, not Pearl Izumi. Either way, they're damned good shorts.] These are split shorts for racing, but they are so comfortable that I’ve started running in them exclusively. Although they’re splits they have enough material to be reasonably modest. The exception is when it’s very windy, in which case I may as well be wearing bun huggers, as the leg material blows up a la Marilyn Monroe and nothing is left to the imagination. They have a low waist with a drawstring that’s long enough not to get lost.

The best aspect of these shorts are the velcro-tabbed side pockets, which can hold gels. I modified my pockets by sewing up the bottom part of the pocket, just below the velcro tab. I found that gels could fall out otherwise. Now I can carry four gels easily, which is usually what I use in a full marathon.

As always happens, Pearl Izumi Sugoi has discontinued the 42k short. So I’m now hoarding them.

Fall Training: Week 5

09fall-training-05Having recovered from the difficult previous week, I decided to have another go at running some miles at marathon effort before leaving South Africa. This run went much better than Friday’s semi-disaster, as it was again in the low 60s and the sun was behind the clouds.

Despite a weekend of drinking, staying up late and stuffing myself, I felt pretty good for this run. Although I have to admit that I was looking forward to getting home and swearing off shortbread biscuits, chocolate and buckets of wine and beer. At least until after I run CIM in December.

Tuesday and Wednesday were consumed with getting home and getting ready for my reentry into work and serious training again.

I guess I managed to kill a few brain cells with all that fabulous local wine and beer because on Thursday I went out and hammered a workout that was supposed to be on the easy side. My Thursday speed session should have been run at recovery pace, with the exception of the 8:00 at speedy effort. Instead, I ran the whole thing at moderate-to-hard effort. My legs felt great and I just forgot that I wasn’t supposed to run this hard for these workouts.

Not surprisingly, I was tired on the subsequent recovery runs. I cut the Saturday run short by a mile and ran it at a slow jog pace to try to save my legs for Sunday’s race.

I went into the Westchester Half on Sunday expecting…well, not really expecting anything. I didn’t know if I’d do badly, well, or somewhere inbetween. As it turns out, I did very well under the circumstances. Maybe those lighter mileage weeks gave me the rest I needed to race well. Or maybe it was the wine, chocolate and beer.

Between this and the Whale half, I’m feeling good about my current level of fitness. The next few weeks of training — under what I hope will be healthier, more amenable conditions — should yield more clues as to where I am.

Fall Training: Weeks 3 and 4

09fall-training-03The next couple of training logs are more for the record than for extensive analysis. I knew my training would be compromised  on the trip to South Africa. Doesn’t that make me sound humorless and obsessed? I know!

If anything, I’m amazed that I managed to run as much as I did, considering that I was drinking to excess nearly every night and part of coordinated holiday movements of six people. Although my mileage was roughly half of the planned mileage for these weeks, I did prioritize the harder miles and dumped recovery miles.

The conditions in South Africa were tough. For one, it was windy to extremely windy most days. I did some of my harder runs into a 15-30mph headwind and the paces reflect that invisible resistance.

Also, as they’re between winter and spring at the moment, the temperatures and humidity swung wildly every few days. One day it would be in the 60s and two days later it was in the 80s. And the sun there is hot. I’m sure that sounds silly, but the proximity to the equator really makes you feel like you’re baking, and I tanned three shades darker in just a week.

Finally, the place has huge hills. If you want to train for Boston or Steamtown, this is the place to go. The hills are up to a mile long and, while the grades aren’t extreme, they are steady.

Week 3 was broken up with travel. Prior to flying there on Wednesday, I did a 15 mile progression run. This went very well. As usual, I wasn’t thrilled with the paces, but I realized I had weeks of training to improve.

Later in the week I focused on trying to recover from 36 hours of travel and some upheaval as we had to suddenly change rental cottages, as the first was next to a grocery store with loud refrigeration units running all night; in the second cottage we would be burgled as the next week’s excitement. Anyway, on Friday we drove 45 minutes to Hermanus on the coast and ran the last three-odd miles of the half marathon course, then had an early dinner out among the Whale Festival revelers.

Saturday was the race, the Whale Half Marathon. A joke race, as Jonathan called it. Despite insane wind and huge hills, we both did well.

On Sunday I went for a little recovery run on my own, during which I met the second love of my life, a female dog named Harvey.

09fall-training-04Week 4 featured some harder efforts, the first of which was an 11 mile tempo run, with the harder miles run straight into a stiff headwind. The next day we went on a 9 mile hike, which was tiring not so much because of the distance or terrain but because of the speed at which we were going. We were hiking very slowly, probably at about half the pace that we could have managed on our own, and by the end of the day I had what felt like “museum legs” — that unique sort of fatigue that sets in after hours of strolling around on marble floors.

We took the next day off to deal with the aftermath of having been burgled and getting our car stolen the evening after the hike. We also needed to get ready for the arrival of two friends of Jonathan’s from his days living here 30 years ago who’d be staying with us for two nights.

The morning before their arrival we went out to do one of my more important workouts — a 21 miler with the last 10 at marathon effort. This was one of the few workouts I’ve actually had to abandon. It was a hot day and we had no way of carrying or obtaining drinkable water, plus we got a late start. By midway through the run the sun was at its strongest and it was about 85 degrees. There was no shade. I did okay for most of the hard miles, but by mile 16 my HR was soaring and my paces were dropping off. Then I started exhibiting the early stages of heat illness with just three miles to go.

I ended up lying under a tree while Jonathan ran back to the cottage (he’d been running an easy pace to my very hard pace) for the car and water. It was the smart thing to do, but a little scary. I was mad at myself because my instincts had told me that we should take the extra half hour to drive to the midway point with some water, but I ignored them.

I was totally fried by this workout for the next couple days, so took the weekend off. We still had several days of holiday making left and I wanted to enjoy the time with family and friends. I had one last hard workout planned before leaving the following week.

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