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.

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?

In praise of the training diary

I reported a few weeks back that I’d been diagnosed as having either a cyst or “thickening of the sheath” of a major ligament on the top of my left foot. I got a cortisone shot and the problem went away. Until the other day, when it cropped up again after a fast 16 miler.

Enter the training diary. I looked back over my notes concerning when the problem first appeared (10 miles into another fast mid-length run), and when it had flared up over subsequent runs. The common factor turned out to be a certain model of shoe: the Asics Speedstar. I have two pairs of these that I don’t wear all that often, as they are just “okay” shoes. I have other lightweight models that I prefer (the current favorite being the Pearl Izumi Streak) for faster running, so the Speedstar tends to be the neglected stepsister who only grudgingly gets taken out every few weeks.

I hadn’t worn them since the cortisone shot until the other day, after which — wouldn’t you know it — my top of foot pain was back. So I’m going to stop wearing them until after the marathon, and even then I may retire them if they aren’t suitable for shorter recovery runs either (I hate to throw away perfectly good shoes before their time).

I track everything: resting HR, running HR, distance, speed, weather, calories, weight, sleep hours (and quality of sleep), mood, shoes worn (and mileage on each pair), pains/niggles, and the quality of every run. Some may say this is overkill but it truly pays off at times like this.

Spring Race Training: Week 5

09spr-training-051

I originally wrote a beautifully worded and utterly fascinating post for this week. But then WordPress failed to autosave it and it’s gone forever. So the clumsy, awkward presentation that follows will have to suffice.

I ran a shade under 90 miles this week and it feels quite natural to do so. To be fair, this was my average mileage over the summer, so it’s not a new experience. However, what is different this time around is that I’m not completely flat-on-my-back exhausted all the time. I’m doing three days of doubles per week now (and that’s set to go up to four days soon). Over the summer, I was doubling at least six days a week, sometimes seven, and I think that was way too much. I also didn’t have as much variation in the mileage from day to day as I do now, which I believe also contributed to an inability to truly recover.

Previous posts already talked about the bad run on Tuesday followed by the good one on Friday. I was thinking about these two runs and what made one bad and the other good and remembered a subject I’ve meant to write about but haven’t gotten around to. So I may as well do so now. The topic is hormonal fluctuations and how they can affect athletic performance in some women.

As I’ve tracked my training over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a distinct pattern of performance degradation or enhancement depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle. To put it in simple terms, I run with all the speed and grace of an arthritic platypus in the days before and during my period (luteal phase), after which I gradually, but quite dramatically, evolve into a gazelle hopped up on speedballs in the four days or so before ovulation (follicular phase). If you find that you mysteriously run better or worse at certain times in the month, you might try tracking where you are in your cycle to see if there’s a predictable relationship. On a related note, some studies have shown that women taking oral contraceptives may also experience lower VO2 max during the luteal phase and/or elevated body temperatures (which can affect hot weather running), so there’s a double or triple whammy for some of us.

So you know all about Tuesday and Friday already. To bring this full circle: If you look at the four days that are outlined in red, that’s my period. Tuesday fell on the first day, which is often my nadir in terms of running performance. After that, things start to look up. I hope this means that I’ll be at my apex come the weekend.

Apologies if this is way too much information, and more than you wanted to know. It took me awhile to figure out that there was a connection between cycles and performance. I wish I’d read something similar much earlier so I could have cleared up some mysteries (and timed my races a bit better).

What’s left is a few recovery days during which I was pretty tired. But that’s what they’re there for. Today’s long run was a blast, actually. I woke up after 9.5 hours of sleep feeling great. The predicted inch of snow didn’t materialize overnight and we instead had a day of light rain, but never heavy enough to soak me through. I felt so good on my run that I threw in an extra mile, and picked up the pace in the second half, running several at 7:50 or well under. I’d like to be doing my garden variety long runs at a slightly faster pace than I’ve been doing them thus far (a flatter course on a clear path with no wind certainly helped today), so I’m going to be trying to get my average down closer to the 8:00 and below range over the coming weeks.

Week 6 bumps things up to 95 but removes the tempo running on Tuesday, adds a speed session of 300m repeats (for which I may break out the shiny new spikes), and ends with a 25K race/training run on Sunday.

Spring Race Training: Week 4

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This was a good week.

I’m going to try to make this short because:

  • I’m enjoying some red wine and it’s apt to take a toll on my writing and typing ability shortly
  • I’m roasting a chicken, which requires frequent attention, and — when combined with the wine — one major responsibility is about all I can handle
  • I’m waiting to watch my DVR’d Tyson Invitational (no relation to the chicken) and this post is the only thing holding me up

So here’s the Morse Code version, taken straight from the training diary:

Mon
Feel quite fatigued today, almost fluish.

Tue
Felt right again this morning. Did the run on the road and all the strides on the track. Did two extra since I felt so good. Leg issue is very mild, almost gone.

Wed
RHR back down to 45. Good run. Legs felt fresh and groin issue is very minor, almost gone. 1.5 fast miles were hard but not awful.

Thu
Leg sore at 5:30AM, but okay after some ibuprofen. Windy, cool run outside AM — very relaxed pace. Nice afternoon run, still very windy.

Fri
“Leg is still bugging me, so put off run until the afternoon. Used heat and Nabumetone in AM, which seems to be helping.

V. windy with headwinds of 17mph. Avg windspeed was 11mph. Felt like I had dead legs for the first one, then loosened up and the others felt better. I didn’t try to hold to the pace since the wind was ridiculous for half of each lap.”

Sat
Tired today and pace shows it. Fell down and bashed my hand and knee. Taking ibuprofen for the leg, which was back with a vengeance this morning.

Sun
Good run — had lots of energy and running the fast bit at the end wasn’t too hard. Windy in spots, mostly on the way out. Stomach a bit screwed up afterwards. Leg okay during run.

People, if you’re not keeping even a basic training diary, it’s high time you started. I can’t tell you how many times having even this sort of shorthand record has helped me pinpoint an issue, whether it be exhaustion, impending injury or run-of-the-mill training “staleness.”

This week was a real confidence booster because, I nailed all of my key workouts. The highlight was this morning’s 17 miler with the last two at 7:00 pace. At this point, running this fast tends to frighten other people on the running path. While I don’t do this deliberately, there is something satisfying about watching people do a double take and then leap out of the way as I pass. Jonathan’s passing them at 6:00 pace, and he says the effect is even more dramatic at that speed.

It was also a great week because I ran all but one session outside. At last! The snow is gone. Good riddance.

I’m playing it by ear with the groin thing. It doesn’t hurt a bit while running, and heat/ice/anti-inflammatories seems to keep it at bay. I’ve got a 90 mile week coming up with lots of faster running. I’ll see if it gets worse as a result and, if it does, go get it looked at. If it doesn’t get worse, though, I’ll live with it. I’ve trained with worse problems.

Also — this is totally unrelated — I want to sing the praises of an excellent shoe: Pearl Izumi’s Streak. I started wearing this for races and have been interested to see if it can hold up for the full marathon distance. I wore it for the 17 miler this morning and it was great for that. I’ll wear it for next week’s 20 miler. It’s probably the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn — it’s almost like running in a pair of slippers. I still love the Fastwitch 3 from Saucony, but it’s not quite enough shoe for 26 miles. This one may be the ticket. If you decide to try it, though, be forewarned: it runs very small. I have to wear a full size larger.

Week 5 features a longer tempo run, an 800m intervals session and a 20 miler, all totaling up to 90 quality miles.

I will not catch this cold. I will not catch this cold. I will not…

Jonathan has come down with a wickedly awful cold. We think he must have touched the wrong door handle at NYRR’s offices when he dashed in to get our bibs and chips on Saturday.

I’ve done more vigorous washing and disinfecting than Meryl Streep in “Silkwood,” but I nevertheless have that vaguely crappy “uh oh” feeling. Fortunately, I have several bottles of the mysterious Gan Mao Ling tablets my sister turned me on to.

Did I mention our entire neighborhood is now covered in a thick sheet of ice? I bought these, which get me down the steps to our ice mobile car without breaking my neck. But I don’t dare attempt to run outside.

This has been the Worst Winter Ever.

Saucony Fastwitch 3: my perfect marathon shoe

I wanted to put in a good word for the shoes I wore on Sunday: the Saucony Fastwitch 3. I love these shoes for shorter races (half marathon on down), but had some misgivings about wearing them for a full marathon. Though I’d worn them on my longest training runs (up to 24 miles), my experience was that they’d feel okay until about mile 20, and then it felt like I was running on pieces of cardboard.

Jonathan convinced me to try out the Asics Speedstar. I started running with those a few weeks ago. They felt good on some mid-length runs and were definitely more substantial, yet still light. I’d decided to wear them for Steamtown, but at the last minute had misgivings. First, I noticed that the left foot was ever-so-slightly bothered by the shoe. Second, I have always regreted it when I haven’t I heeded the old adage “don’t try anything new before the marathon.” So while packing on Saturday, I went with the Sauconys.

My last few marathons have left me with varying degrees of mauled and/or blistered feet. As terrible as this last race was, however, the shoes did not make a bad race worse. Yes, my feet were tired after 20 miles, but when I took the shoes off after the race there were no problems anywhere; not even the hint of a blister. I’m sold on the Fastwitch. Now I need to start hoarding them again, since I’ve fast running through the three pairs I have now.

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