Stuff! (product roundup)

I’ve acquired some new stuff. Let me tell you about it.

First, some shoes.

Right before I got injured a month ago I ordered a pair of the Saucony Type A5 (because I’m a Type A kind of person). My inherited racers, the Asics Hyperspeed 3s, aside from being man shoes, were going on three years old. So the Sauconys, which are ultra light and are not man shoes, are meant to replace those. Even though I raced today, I opted not to wear them because I have yet to have done more than a 4 mile easy run in them. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my horrible running lessons, it’s that you should never try out a brand new model in a race. I’ll give you the lowdown on those after my next couple of speed workouts. I sized up a half size from my usual running shoe size, incidentally.

Today, instead, I wore my other new pair of shoes, the Brooks PureConnect. I wore these for my semi-fast 10 miler in Central Park last weekend, so I figured it was safe to wear them in a 10K over the same course. I am not brand loyal at all. I will try any model of shoe by any maker if it looks like it will fit my foot shape and is light. The lighter the better, in fact. When I first looked at the PureConnect I worried that it would be too narrow in the toebox and that it might break down quickly. They look narrow on my feet, but they fit very well nevertheless (I had to go a half size up in these as well). They are very comfortable, light (though not as light as the new Sauconys) and they suit my midfoot strike. The purple color paired with raspberry-colored laces is way rad. I don’t know how long they’ll last, but I typically replace my shoes after about 300 miles anyway. They have been good for easy runs and they were outstanding in a race situation today. I’ll bet they would make a good marathon shoe. Not that I’m ever going to run one of those again.

Next, outergarments. Or an outergarment.

I couple of months ago I realized that my two midweight fleeces (Mountain Hardwear) were looking very shabby indeed. I have been racing and training in them since 2007. It was time to replace them. So I bought the Nike Dri-Fit Wool Half Zip and let me tell you, this shirt is the bomb. It’s a mix of wool and (inner lining) polyester fleece. It’s not too heavy, and it breathes very well, so it’s versatile. I wore it over a thermal base layer on 25F days this winter and it was fine. But it’s also worked well over a tech tee in 45 degree weather. It has thumbholes and, for when I forget my gloves (which is frequently), these handy little retractable finger-covering flaps. Nothing up your sleeve? I don’t think so! Top it off with a zip side pocket, reflective highlights and a zip neck that’s actually comfortable and we have a winner. It’s on sale now too, so I’ll probably pick up another one. Also, the colors are not the usual garish, barfworthy shades that seem to be all the rage.

Finally, undergarments.

This is not my ass, nor is it my (possibly Hebrew?) tramp stamp.

For my birthday I received Oiselle’s Rundies from a runner friend who knows how important and gratifying it is to wear your love of running even in places where no one except your significant other (or, depending on how drunk you get on the weekend, a few strangers standing on the sidewalk as your cab speeds by) can see it. You can wear your heart on your sleeve. Or you can wear your workout on your ass. It’s your choice. With Rundies, you’ll have underpants to cover all seven days of running and underpantsing. I like the retro look of some of them (I’m wearing the very 70′s yellow-with-blue-piping model today, the one that says “race” on the ass). Rundies are comfortable and well made. They are 100% cotton, so they’ll shrink a little bit in the first wash. But the colors don’t run, even if the panties do. I am happy in my Rundies.

Race Report: 1st Day 5K

2012 began with a race in balmy temperatures. It was 49F at the start of the 1st Day 5K, a little race in Fair Lawn, NJ that’s part of that state’s USATF Grand Prix series. With that distinction, I figured it would be a good race to use as a final tuneup for Houston since it was likely to be accurately measured and well organized. I was not disappointed in either regard. But what I didn’t expect were the hills. And the wind. Both colluded to rob me of my goal to get close to 20:30 today. I ended up with a 21:11. Meh. But, boy, did I have to work for it.

I decided (on Ewen‘s advice) to look at my watch in the first 1K to ensure that I wasn’t going out too fast. My goal was to run between 4:00-4:06 per kilometer (that’s 6:25-6:36 mile pace). Ha ha. Not today. My average was 4:12 per. But when I look at my kilometer splits and consider the course conditions for each, the data is actually pretty encouraging.

The course was a little turny — probably around eight or nine right angle turns, and a few gentler ones. But the turns weren’t the problem. At the start, I noted the flapping American flag. Wind was coming from east/southeast. Most of the first 3+ K headed either east or south. The race also started with a gradual uphill, and one steeper hop up a side street. I decided to run the first kilometer “conservatively” by trying to stick with 4:06. I managed a 4:08. Running into wind, my pace quickly cratered to 4:21, then 4:18. As we approached the start of the last mile I was struggling mentally. I knew there’d be no bettering my PR of 20:50 a few weeks ago, let alone hitting 20:30ish. I knew I probably wouldn’t even break 21:00 today.

I was so tempted to stop and walk at that point. But I decided to use it as a mental training session instead. I would try to get familiar with this feeling — this tiredness at the 2 mile mark — and make friends with it, make her my running partner. Didn’t Jaymee recommend that recently? I set new, impromptu goals — pass that guy in front of me; don’t let the guy running with the veteran’s flag get too much farther ahead; run the whole race without water and see if it makes any difference.

Once we turned out of the wind, things looked up. My pace dropped to 4:15 for the fourth K. There were two men running ahead of me, although I swear to God I thought one of them was a woman. A sturdy woman. This runner held fat in very womanly locations, so I just thought it was a short-haired woman who was built like a brick shithouse. Like me! “She” also had short hair, and had the mildly compromised skin elasticity that suggested a period on the planet of around 40 years. I had no idea how many women were in front of me but I wasn’t going to not pass this masters female.

I passed her, taking a surreptitious peek in the process. And she turned out to be a he. Oh, well. It was the motivation I needed at the time. I managed a 4:00 last kilometer, kicking it in at 3:24/k pace for the .04 extra that I managed to run. I’m glad I wore a Garmin today because otherwise I would have failed to see proof that I can run at 4:00 or faster at the end of a race. That alone was worth the trip and effort.

There were some familiar faces there, too, which I didn’t expect. First, I ran into Ansky and his daughter (AKA L’il Ansky) in the registration line. The last time I saw Ari he was on his way to PR in the Long Island Half as I was having a mile 9 meltdown. It was good to see him under happier, more relaxed circumstances. Then at the start I spied fellow Harrier (and 2nd F overall at the Ho Ho Ho Holiday 5K last month) Shari Klarfeld. Shari won the women’s race, and as a bonus hung out in the home stretch and cheered me on to second place.

The highlights were, as they so often are in smaller races, at the finish. First, when I came in, the guy who was tearing off bib tags was talking to me and I guess I didn’t look so good because he stepped back a foot or two and mumbled, “Uh, oh.” I think he thought I might throw up all over him. My choked laughing at this realization probably didn’t help to correct that misconception.

After getting some water I sat down on the curb to watch other runners coming in. There was the usual mix of people you see in local races. But there was one man whom I was not expecting, a guy with a style all his own. I called him Ali Baba. He was fortyish, with a full beard and mustache.

He was frantically trying to break 29:00. But it wasn’t his finishing speed that I noticed. It was his choice of clothing. On the bottom he wore black MC Hammer pants. I don’t even know where you buy those anymore. On the top he wore a peasant shirt of some sort of semi-transparent material. It was bright yellow. It was also open to the bellybutton, revealing a square foot of chest hair that rivaled Karastan for its luxurious mat. But the crowning sartorial achievement was found on his feet. He was shod in what I think was some kind of bullshit barefoot running shoes. All I know is that he shouldn’t have worn socks because they caused one Vibram ballet flat to go flying off right at the finish.

So. Now you know. I am a terrible person. I laugh at people at race finish lines. (But only people who deserve to be laughed at.)

Training: Nov 13 – 19

This week featured two workouts (planned) and two days off (one of them unplanned). I had to cut back on the first workout since my back was still iffy. I had planned to do 4×10 mins at tempo pace on Sunday, but it took me about 5 miles to feel good on the run. But by that time it was too late to start doing that much tempo work. So I slashed it in half. Doing some work is always better than doing no work.

I should note that last week’s back issues put the kibosh on doing any major weight work. Then an out of town guest (nephew Joe!) put paid to any plans to do gym visits while here’s here. So, with Thanksgiving and a race, I probably won’t get back to weights until after 11/26. But I will get back to it.

The next day, on Monday, I still had speed in my legs and ran a very zippy recovery run. Then I took Tuesday off, my planned rest day for the week. On Wednesday I was zippier still, ripping through a 7 mile recovery effort in 8:18 — a pace that was moderate effort run pace a mere 9 months ago or so. That felt great.

On Thursday I headed back up to Edgemont track, which I had mostly to myself for the first half of the workout, then just a few walkers who stayed out of my way. It was a tough day for a workout. Cold and quite windy. I had a bracing 20 mph wind that was a total to near-total headwind for about 150m of each 400m lap. The workout was a “ladder” session, with lots of 200s, some 400s, a single 800, then back down to the 400s and 200s. All repeats were at mile race pace (or, as was the case today, mile race effort).

I love running 200s, and this time around I arranged those so I had either a side- or tailwind. I had to adjust target times give the wind, but I didn’t do too badly. And things were very consistent. Splits:
40, 45, 42, 44, 90, 94, 3:15, 92, 91, 42, 44, 45, 41

Then I got a 90 minute massage, which revealed major problems in my neck, shoulders, calves and — no surprise here — lower back. I need to go back, but not until after a race on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Naturally, I have Thanksgiving and, possibly, day after Thanksgiving social plans. It will take a steely discipline and extreme fortitude not to eat and drink myself silly. I do want to perform well on Saturday since it’s a flat 5K course. I have no clue how much speed endurance I have right now, but I’d be delighted if I could hold anything around a 6:40 pace, conditions permitting.

On Friday I was back doing slower recovery miles, 5 miles at a 9:45 crawl. Very tired.

Then on Friday evening I had my second experience with post-French cuisine gastrointestinal distress. Got home at 1 am, having felt not quite right driving home. By 2 am my bowels were rebelling. By 3 am the puking had begun. And so the tag teaming continued early into Saturday morning, finally easing off around 5:30, when I fell into a dead sleep for 3 hours. There was to be no running that day.

I suspect I’m allergic (or “food intolerant”) to either duck or escargot (“snails”). Both of these foods figured into my last expulsionfest in March as well as Friday’s technicolor extravaganza. I will, with some sadness, probably never eat either of these two foods again.

With the post-foodpocalypse day of rest, the week was a light one in terms of mileage. That’s fine. Despite a stomach feeling like it had been spindled, I went out and ran a fastish 9 miler, followed by an outstanding tempo session this morning. I’m feeling very good about my training these days. But we’ll truly see its value (or not) on Saturday, when I go out and run a race of the distance for which I’m training. If it doesn’t work where the rubber hits the road, then it’s back to the drawing board.

Just one gear note: I needed a new mid-layer, since my old Mountain Hardware zip-ups (which I love) are getting so faded and frayed. On a lark I bought this one, a wool/synthetic mix from Nike for $80. This shirt is fantastic. So many nice details. For one, it has a little zip pocket, which is useful. It also has robust hand warmers — little concealed finger-covering flaps that are hidden in the sleeves. Very effective for keeping hands warm a the start of a run. The neck closes and is comfortable. Plus the cut is just right; it’s formfitting without feeling tight or binding. You just feel snug. It also means it’s a great shirt to wear walking about, under a coat. You do have to hand wash it because it’s wool. And hand dry it. Totally worth it. I like the blue. May need to try one of the other colors…

Training: Aug 14-20

Lots of variety this week. The highlights included a speed session Tuesday that went eerily well. Like “10-15 seconds per mile faster than the previous try at this workout” well. Then on Thursday I ripped through a 7 mile recovery run at 8:30 pace. Hey, Lady. Watch it!

The next day, I screwed up my second speed session of the week by running too fast. I was supposed to be doing 1200 repeats at tempo effort (around 7:10-7:15 these days), then shorter stuff at faster speeds. I got to the track and promptly ran 1200 at 6:40 pace. Oops. Then, 600m into the next one I was going at 5:58 (!). WTF.

Perhaps the slight twisting motion I used to look at my watch in that moment with a mixture of pride and alarm is what caused me to then pull my left hamstring. I slowed for the last 200, then tried a slower 400 and 200, but the run was over.

I spent the next 24 hours icing and anti-inflaming. It was okay enough to run on the next day. Since I’m getting sick of the running path I asked Jonathan if he wanted to go do an 8 mile run with me along the upper Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA) trail. He was up for it, so off we went.

I have not done a run with Jonathan since I don’t know when. He usually runs too fast for me (at all speeds), so it’s impractical. Today we were in sync, though. My recovery pace has picked up from 10:00+ to between 8:50-9:20 lately. We trundled along at an average 9:00 (with frequent stops for me to pick the tiny stones out of my Trail Minimi — don’t wear these on a gravel trail, kids).

It. Was. Fun.

I took yesterday off from running (although I did weights and core work), then did another quick 7 mile recovery effort this morning. The hamstring issue is still there, so I’ll baby it this week and skip speedwork rather than tempting fate. I want it ready for Harlem on Saturday.

In which bloggers sing “Kumbaya” on the Upper West Side

For years, social scientists have pondered the question: Can Americans and Australians ever have brunch together? The answer is yes. Yes, we can.

Today Jonathan and I met up with a load of people, most of whom we’d never met. At least not in the flesh. With the exception of our friend (and my fellow podcast host) Joe of RunWestchester. But I’ve been following the exploits of Ewen (of About a Ewen) and Flo (of Girl in Motion) for several years. Ewen is here with his friends Joy and Mal on an epic tour of the U.S. (can’t imagine why they’d want to come to this 2,600 mile wide dump) and, fortunately for us, it includes an extended swing through New York City. Flo drove her ass all the way up from Philadelphia just to have lunch with us! But it gets better: also there was Flo’s friend, Heather, a newly minted masters runner who lives in New York and who had not seen Flo in sixteen years!! But, wait. There’s more: Heather had a stress fracture in her pelvis earlier this year in almost the exact same place I did!!!

It doesn’t get any weirder than that. Especially when this crew is involved.

In a symbol of the historically peaceful relations between our two nations, we exchanged cultural gifts. Ewen gave us Australia-themed drink coolers and fragrant soaps. We gave Ewen race t-shirts (he made out like a “bandit,” scoring shirts for the New York Marathon, Healthy Kidney, Scotland Run and yesterday’s Run for Central Park). Mimosas were consumed. Checks were split. Hugs were freely given.

Mal and Joy, who are non-runners, were extremely tolerant of all the running talk. Which is good, since we’re meeting up again on Friday evening for drinks and there will be even more runners there!!!! Joe and I will also see Ewen in Van Cortlandt for a 5K on Thursday evening, his first international race (not counting Tasmania)!!!!!

Ewen, Joy and Mal

Heather, Flo and Ewen

Me, Joe, Heather, Flo and Ewen

Jonathan threatens to usurp actual stuff from another continent

Road Tested: Yurbuds

The nice people at Yurbuds.com offered to send me free Yurbuds in exchange for a review. In fact, they offered to send me two. I gave the freebie code to a friend who spends enormous amounts of time with earbuds jammed into her ears. She says she’s using them, so I’m guessing they’ve worked out. She’s also a runner, although I don’t know if she’s tried running with them or not.

What are Yurbuds? They are in-ear headphones (“earbuds”) which include rubberized covers that are designed to hold the earbuds in place. The Yurbuds people send you earbuds to go with the rubberized covers, but you can remove those and slip them over your favorite earbuds easily enough.

I’ve worn them twice so far. First for my epic bike workout and then again today on a run. In both cases, they did the job — they stayed in place despite jostling. You have to put them in a certain way, though. You sort of jam them into your ear canals, then twist the headphones so the cords are at a 45 degree angle, pointing toward your chin. Maybe they’d get slippery when very wet, but I doubt it. I like to think they might offer some measure of water resistance if I got caught out in the rain.

I would describe these as “semi-customized.” While they are not molded to your particular ears, the company does make an attempt to send you the appropriate size. They do this by having you take a picture of your own ear (just one will do), send it to them, and they pick your size and send you a pair. I am a 5, the smallest size. I guess I have tiny ears.

I can’t see these things wearing out and I figure that when my current earbuds eventually die, I can just move the Yurbuds to the next set. After the Pearl Izumi XC shoes, the Yurbuds are the best blogger freebie I’ve received yet.

“Balls!” said the Queen. “If I had two I’d be King.”

You want balls? I'll show you balls.

I’d be satisfied with having just two (although, actually, I’m totally okay with not having any of my own). But now I have six!

As it turns out, round objects are essential for any runner’s development — and this is even more the case when that runner happens to be struggling with an injury.

To recap, here’s my problem: I have at least three (I started out with five) really fucking amazing muscle knots in my right hip, buttock and hamstring. I wish they were like trees because then I could count their rings to see how old they are. But some have been there for quite awhile, probably going back to last year when I started having hamstring issues — perhaps even much earlier.

My knots lay dormant, like an inactive volcano, occasionally burping up complaints. But those didn’t stop the training equivalent of clueless real estate developers from putting up a fancy condo development right in their path (this development taking the form of training and racing and a total lack of stretching). Wow, what a tortured analogy! It’s Friday. I’m tired.

On August 7 I ran in the NYRR Club Championships and that race was my personal Krakatoa (or Vesuvius or St. Helens or Eyjafjallajokull — when it comes to volcano disasters, I’m dealing with an embarrassment of riches). Since then I’ve been focused solely on trying to get rid of these knots so that I can walk (and, eventually, run) normally again.

All of these balls have a use, although I’ve “graduated” from one ball type to another in some cases:

  1. This is a golf ball. It is the only thing I have in common with Tiger Woods. It is useful for rolling along the bottom of your foot to work on loosening up tendons. I initially used it to try to help me break up my knots, but it was too small.
  2. This is a cue ball. This is the most valuable ball I own. It is the perfect size for rolling around on, and it’s about as hard a ball as you’ll find. I experience exquisite (but very productive) pain using this ball for an average of an hour a day right now.
  3. This is a tennis ball. It belongs to our cat, but I borrowed it from her for awhile. It’s too soft to be of use to me, so she’s back to using it herself as a useful tool for practicing disembowelments of animals smaller than herself.
  4. This is a miniature basketball. It’s called the “Baller” (snicker). I bought this to work with while awaiting the arrival of the next ball…
  5. This is my second-most-useful ball for therapy. It’s a 10 lb. medicine ball (which makes me think of Jack LaLanne for some reason — a “medicine ball” seems so 1950s) and it has so, so many uses. I used it to “warm up” the knots. I roll around on it for about 10-15 minutes to relax and loosen the top layer of muscles. This is the only way I can then get down into the muscle layers, where the actual knots are, with the cue ball. The medicine ball is also useful for hamstring rolling (it’s harder than a foam roller, not shown in this post because I forgot to photograph it). Finally, it’s a great tool for general strengthening and for expressing rage. My favorite thing to do is to take it outside and bounce it onto our back porch (these are called, appropriately, “slams”) — I throw the thing as hard as I can and catch it when it bounces back up.
  6. Finally, there’s the Swiss ball, which is great for strengthening. There are too many exercises to mention for this one. Do a search if you’re interested.

So there’s your guided tour of my balls.

No, these aren't from Abu Ghraib. They're for helping you!

We have other implements. Would you like to hear about them? Of course you would:

  1. Resistance bands in three tensions. These are great for stretching hamstrings (lie on your back, raise your leg at a 90 degree angle to your body, lock your knee, and pull on the ball of your foot with the band. It hurts like a mother, but it’s effective.)
  2. A more complicated resistance band. I always feel vaguely like a back-alley abortionist when I handle this. You can stick this one in a door and do rows, woodchops and other things. You can also use them for “walking” exercises that strengthen the muscles on the sides of your body and your adductors (tiny muscles in your groin).
  3. Tiger Balm. This stuff is great for applying before and after you torture yourself. It also smells a bit like turpentine and I get transported back to my studio classes in art school every time I open the jar.
  4. Arnica oil. This (supposedly) helps heal bruises faster. I have lots of bruises.
  5. This is a weird massage device that our regular massage therapist gave us. It’s good for digging into muscles and trigger points.
  6. Handheld massager with mysterious attachments. Jonathan uses this more than I do. It also gives off heat if you want it to.
  7. Cubies reusable ice cubes. We have six bags of them. I bought these because walking was difficult enough without also hauling around 8 lb. bags of ice from the grocery store for ice baths.
  8. 10 lb. weight plates. I use these as a poor man’s kettlebell. Among my 4,000 prescribed exercises are various things using kettlebells, but I didn’t want to have to buy those as well. Anything you can do with a kettlebell, you can do with these. I also use them for anything requiring dumbbells (squats, presses, etc.) — I have plates and rods for those too, but I can’t be bothered to assemble them. We have enough crap lying around in the living room as it is.

So here is what a typical day of therapy looks like:

AM session:

  • 10-15 mins of warming up the area with a hot water bottle (heating water to 160F is ideal in the Goldilocksian sense)
  • 30-40 mins working on it with the medicine and cue balls
  • 15-20 mins icing via a pack or ice bath

PM session:

  • 45 mins of manual massage (Jonathan is turning into an expert masseuse and seems quite willing to hurt me since I beg for it now)
  • Repeat the AM routine

In addition, 2-3 times a week I do a 90-120 minute session of stretching and strengthening exercises. I am going to introduce biking again today (just 20-30 mins). I hope to be using an elliptical starting in the next few days. I’m not even thinking about when I can run because that’s not under my control. It’s too depressing to focus on that anyway.

So on a heavy day, we’re talking 4-5 hours of this stuff. This is a lot more time than I ever put into training, where I maxed out at 3 hours on a long run day. It’s unbelievably time consuming and often tedious.

But it is helping. Yesterday I managed 30 minutes of walking before pain kicked in. That’s compared to 5 minutes on Tuesday. This morning I got up and actually forgot for at least the first 10 minutes of consciousness that I had any sort of problem.

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