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.

Race Report: 2009 Westchester Half

Short report since work is nuts, I have lots of training logs to catch up on, and I have to run 90 miles this week (eek).

Like the Whale Half in South Africa two weeks ago, I came into this race with an open mind and no real expectations. But unlike that race, the conditions were near perfect, with a starting temperature of around 48 degrees and almost no wind until the last few miles. True, the course is hilly, but not as bad as what I faced in South Africa. Plus I was familiar with the course, so I could come up with something resembling a pacing strategy.

I tried three new things in this race. I know you’re never supposed to try new things in a race, but this wasn’t an important race for me, so what the hell. The three experiments were:

  • Shoes: I wore my new pair of Adidas Adizero Ace’s (with only 8 miles on them), just to see how they compare to the Saucony Fastwitch 3’s for racing. They were great racing shoes and I’ll wear them again in my next few races. I’m not sure how they’d hold up over the marathon distance, but I plan to try them on a 22 miler this Sunday in Central Park to see.
  • Warmup: I tried a new warmup routine, a modified version of what’s discussed in this online article in Running Times. While I didn’t follow it to the letter (it was for a 5K anyway), I used the principles: a solid block of very easy running, followed by some active stretching and skipping, topped off with some short intervals at close to race pace.
  • Mental approach: I dumped the data, at least during the race. Meaning I decided not to look at my watch and run completely by feel. Although I was 3.5 minutes off my PB for the half, this was a very successful race and I suspect that this data-free approach had a lot to do with that.

Why was I 3.5 minutes off my best? I chalk it up to several factors:

  • Course: My best half was run on the nearly pancake flat Long Branch Half Marathon course. The Westchester course has significant hills throughout the race.
  • Training cycle: I’m in the middle of a marathon training cycle. When I ran my best in NJ, I’d had over a month of rest after a good full marathon race.
  • Jetlag/stress: I got home on Wednesday afternoon after close to 30 hours of travel on two flights. On subsequent nights I was sleep-deprived. We also had to deal with the burglary/rental car damage in the last few days of the trip and that caused a lot of mental stress.
  • Terrible nutrition: I’d spent the past 2+ weeks eating garbage and drinking like a fish.
  • Weight: I gained about three pounds while on vacation. So I guess I was literally hauling ass during this race.
  • Lack of recovery: Thursday featured a run that was supposed to be 8 miles at 70% MHR with four 2:00 repeats at 91-92% and 2:00 rests. Instead, I ran an average effort well into the low 80% range and only did 1:00 rests between repeats. Not until I got home did I realize my error. So my legs were still somewhat tired going into Sunday.

All things considered, this was another good race. Unfortunately, as with the Whale Half late last month, lots of factors conspired to obscure the quality of my performance. But I feel good about both races.

The Westchester course featured a steady climb in the first mile, and two other notable hills in subsequent miles, but the first half is a net downhill drop. That means the way back is uphill. So I reserved energy in the first half and ran at a manageable pace.

During the first half, some people passed me and I passed other people. I was cruising along and not really worrying about what other people were doing. The pace was hard, but comfortable, a full breath every three steps. About a mile before the turnaround I spotted the leaders and was happy to see Jonathan in sixth. He held that position to the finish. Then I started counting boobs and by the time I hit the turnaround had figured out that I was in ninth. Suddenly, I cared more about this race.

So I made a deal that I would do my best to work my way up to fifth, but exercise enough control that I wouldn’t kill myself in the next few miles only to fade in the last two. I easily passed the first woman in my sights, who was fading fast anyway. The next one was tougher, although I surged by her as she slowed at a water stop and that seemed to work. I spotted the next just beyond the 9 mile mark, right before a big hill. She was holding her pace on the hill so I thought it would be foolish to try to pass her then (especially since I’ve done no hill training). As we crested the hill, a friend of hers on the sideline yelled, “Go, Mary! There’s someone right behind you.”

I wanted to ask her friend, “How old is Mary?” but I didn’t. Instead, I felt slightly annoyed that my cover had been blown. But it was a great motivator. So I followed Mary down the hill and recovered over the next few hundred yards. Then I decided to try a longer surge on the flat bit that was coming up. So I passed her “decisively” (as they say in strategy articles) and held a pace of about 20 seconds per mile faster than she was running for a good quarter mile, then picked up the pace again on subsequent downhills. She came in a minute behind me, so I guess this was the right thing to do.

After that, the only other woman I saw was blowing her Wheaties just past mile 11 (isn’t racing fun?). I thought she was the leader at the time, but now I realize she wasn’t. She may have been a quarter marathon runner (we bumped into them on the way back), but I don’t know. But for a good couple of miles I was convinced I had fifth place, and it was a good feeling to know I did everything I could to move up. [Updated: it turns out I did get fifth.]

The penultimate mile ends with a huge hill and I felt done at the time. But I managed to rally in the last mile and ran that one the fastest, a good 20+ seconds faster than the overall average pace for the race. This makes me wonder if I should have run the whole thing slightly faster if I had that much left.

I ended up with sixth fifth overall and first in the 40-49F age group, with a net time of 1:37:35. The woman I passed, Mary Fenton (2nd in our AG), came up and congratulated me, which I appreciated. The other funny thing was seeing a young woman win an age group award and go completely batshit with excitement. It was very endearing and a good reminder that I need to remember how hard it was to win awards until very recently. Jonathan won the 50-59M age group. We have matching ugly trophies, New Balance gift certificates and enough powdered Heed drink mix to poison a small cult.

Did I say this would be a short post?

Watching out for ticks and tik

Well, as suspected, my training has gone somewhat to hell since I’ve been here. I certainly am not running the miles planned, although I’ve made an effort to get the important workouts (or something resembling them) done.

On Tuesday we did a 14 miler along a dirt road called Riviersonderend, which translates roughly into “Endless River.” Since we are in such an isolated place and had to do different workouts, we spent some time beforehand planning how to ensure that we’d be within a mile or so of each other. Jonathan had to do 8 1K repeats and rests and some easy running. I had to do 5 tempo miles in a midlength effort. So we worked out a 7 mile out/7 mile back plan, where he’d eventually catch up to me and pass me coming and going, then I’d catch up to him and we’d run the last few miles together.

What we didn’t count on was another day of brutal headwinds and big hills. Worse, we were in full sun and it was warmer. So those 5 miles were tough and I was again glad to be training by effort rather than pace, since I was averaging 8:00 miles again. I have been told by the locals that a woman running alone is safe, and I have not doubted this while looping through the town, especially with my little borrowed Doberman at my side. Once out on deserted roads with only a farmhouse every few miles, I’ve not been so sure. But Tuesday was fine and the few interactions I did have were comfortable (although I did wonder why two boys who looked about 14 were driving a giant tractor).

Speaking of the Doberman, it seems the owners who were out of town are back and again properly caring for her, so I’ve not seen her wandering the neighborhood anymore. I may go ask if I can borrow her if I do another solo town run again.

The rest of the day was spent consuming recovery-friendly hot chocolate and quiche, followed by a stroll around nearby Genanendal, site of (again, this was what I was told) the oldest missionary settlement in Africa, in this case Moravians from the early 18th century. Something I really like about South Africa is that the flip side of its second-world flakiness is the flexibility that goes along with it. In Switzerland, if you turn up at a cafe at 3:58 and it’s closing at 4:00, they’ll turn you away. Here, they’ll serve you and tell you not to rush, and they really mean it. Or, another example: restaurants often run out of dishes (ask me about the pizzeria that, on a busy Saturday night, had to stop serving because they ran out of cheese!), but the ones they do serve can be out of this world, like the crackling pig I had last night.

Genanendal is also worth noting as we noted on Google Earth that it has a running track. Or, at least, it once had something resembling a running track. Now it’s a molehill-pocked, overgrown loop surrounding a slightly less ratty rugby field, populated with wild dogs. We decided not to run there, despite my being innoculated against rabies.

Next up on the itinerary was a much-anticipated group hike, a 14k from Greyton to McGregor, through the foothills of the Overbergs. I have pictures but forgot my connector cable, so they’ll have to be added later. Most impressive was the presence of Jonathan’s 78-year-old mother, Margaret, who, while not skipping up and down the trails, nonetheless performed like a trooper and made it to the end of the trail without complaint despite two minor tumbles along the way. The English are a hardy folk.

It was a great time, actually. I got to know a few Greytonites, all retirees and most of them transplants, including Paul, who shared his mishap-laden stories of travel in the States and, most shockingly, his total ignorance of Elvis Costello (despite being a huge fan tof Diana Krall, he’d never heard of the guy); Ulrich, a retired professor of German Literature and escapee from East Germany, with whom I had a detailed discussion of Caster Semenya; Claus, a retired Swiss engineer with a penchant for photographing flowers while apologizing for not knowing what any of them are. We got a ride home from Andrew, another cheerful, good-natured Brit, and his lead-footed Londoner girlfriend, Susan.

The hike itself was fantastic, taking us from cultivated wine country into semi-arid desert. Along the way were natural falls and pools, wild lilies the size of saucepans and more wildflower varieties than I could count. No baboons, snakes, spiders, leopards or Lyme-carrying ticks, though.

After quick showers the four of us youngsters, myself, Jonathan, Rob and Phil, headed out for a restorative meal in town in R&P’s rental. And then, upon our return, our adventure began. The first thing we noticed was that the entire side of our own rental car was scraped and dented. Next, upon entering our rented house, inside doors that had been closed were now opened. A survey revealed random items taken: Rob’s camera and cellphones, Phil’s iPod, Jonathan’s Adidas racing shoes and, most oddly, yogurt, tea biscuits, Nutella and biscotti. But not the wine, beer or gin. Nor the laptops, expensive running watches or my jewelry case.

With no sign of forced entry, we all sat around worrying that a key was floating out there somewhere. But we finally found a window that was unlocked, probably from prior to our check-in, although there’s always the possibility it was opened by a clever thief with a knife. Also, a deck chair in front of the window was shoved to the side, making it the obvious point of entry. I will say that the police were responsive, as was the security company when we called. The biggest nuisance was the rental car. Again, don’t ask. A day was wasted dealing with that mess. At this point, we’re out a substantial sum due to arcane car rental mores coupled with Avis’s bait and switch policies. Strongly worded letters to the Avis corporate offices and various regulating bodies will follow. Probably with no effect. Don’t rent from Avis!

The agent responsible for managing the house told us that it was probably the work of local teens looking for things to sell for “TIC” (or “tik”), the local variety of crystal meth. How horrible to know this blight has now spread to one of the countries on the planet that can least afford another big social problem. School’s out, which means the kids are idle, and the property crime is up as a result.

So, what a huge fucking drag this has been, a bruise on an otherwise lovely trip. My visits to SA are never complete without a moment when I say to myself, “I’m never doing ‘x’ here again.” The first time it was sitting alone on a beach in Cape Town. The second time it was flying South African Airways. This time it’s…well, I don’t know what exactly.

Jonathan has two friends from his university days, Brand and Ronel, arriving tomorrow evening from Johannesburg. We’ll forget about the events of the last 24 hours and focus on spending time with them. I’ve got a hard 21 miler scheduled this weekend and had hoped to do it before they come tomorrow, but we’ll play it by ear. At this point, I’m inhaling G&Ts in absence of Xanax.

Africa. A nice place to visit until something goes horribly wrong. Which it will if you give it a few days.

Today’s final note: One of the headlines in the Cape Town Times today is “Seeking solutions to baboon-related issues.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers