“Yes, I am a freak. Be glad your husband isn’t.”

We just did a 3.5 mile run around Capitol Park, which our hotel is on the corner of. Along the way, we talked shop with a friendly woman from Philly (45-49 AG, by my sly extraction of information regarding qualifying for Boston). She’s trying for a qualifier tomorrow and I think she’ll make it, at least if her recent times are any indication.

I was happy to note that my heart rate (both while resting and running) seems back to its normal self. So no red flags are waving (or, like in the spring, actually whacking me) in my face.

On the way back up to our room we shared the elevator with four women about my age. One of them exclaimed, “Oh! You have the watch I just gave my husband. How do you like it?”

*Elevator bleat!*

“I do like it,” I replied. “But they removed some key features from the previous model.”

*Elevator bleat!*

She looked disappointed. “Really? Like what?”

*Elevator bleat!*

“Well,” I replied, slipping into full freak mode, despite my best efforts. “You can’t review your run during a session like you could before.”

*Elevator bleat!*

“You mean you can’t review the run afterwards?”

*Elevator bleat!*

“No. I mean, like, if you want to check your splits…” I noticed all four women looked confused. “You know,” I blundered onward, “Like while doing intervals on the track.” Awkward pause. “You, um, can’t do that anymore.”

*Elevator bleat!*

All heads nodded, yet still obviously perplexed. Jonathan sighed. I examined the elevator floor.

*Bleat! … Bleat! … Bleat!*

Ah. Freedom.

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.

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.

And the winner is…

Mojo!

That was among my favorites anyway, not the least of which is because it’s good timing: I got the watch just as I’m getting my running mojo back.

Thanks to all who voted and offered other naming ideas.

Hello, my name is…

My shiny new Garmin 310xt arrived yesterday evening. I’ve taken it out for a spin and, dang, I’m in love. This is my third training watch (previous models include a Polar RS300 and a Garmin 305, both of which bit the dust).

It seems a tradition among runners to name their watches. So I’ll jump on the bandwagon, but with your help.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers