26 February 2014

the yeti effect

yes, neighbours often shout out their comments as i run past their driveways in the pre-dawn winter mornings, week after week.  regardless of polar vortex temperatures, 30cm+ accumulations of snow, freezing rain or black ice, i accept their incredulity as something of a commendation of honour.

but there are days when that's counterweighted by 

awkward flailing movements to retain balance

frostbitten extremities

unattainable traction for interval paces

games of chicken with the sandtrucks and snowplows

downed power lines

and the other hazards of navigating tundra-like conditions.

all of which begs the question:  do the benefits outweigh the risks?

(of course, my answer is yes!)

recognizing that there are all sorts of runners with all different needs, preferences, goals and optimal training patterns, i'm reluctant to provide a definitive answer on this - however, i'm more than happy to present a case in favour of persistent winter running and let you render a judgment for yourself.

here then are my perceived pluses for getting out there in all seasons:
  1. putting the beatin' on holiday eatin' - let's face it, we all indulge on special occasions.  plus most of us shift into 'hibernation' gear and pack on a few extra pounds for warmth and 'comfort'.  but when we begin to realize that we have to start opening the belt an extra notch or two, well that's why new gym memberships spike in the month of january.  keeping consistent with running through the colder (-est) months keep burning the calories and makes beachbody shape not such a pipe dream.
  2. varying surfaces - this is a benefit because it provides variety in terms of impact forces while running.  some days will be clear roads; other days are packed snow, which is more like trail running; at times you will hit soft/slushy snow which can be like resistance workouts in the sand (and it helps sometimes to imagine prancing along a sunny beach).  in this way you can use the winter conditions to provide some joint relief and make easy runs not just about pace but terrain type.
  3. development of stabilizer muscles - similar to trail running but with the added effect of sometimes inconsistent traction (read:  icy patches), winter miles do put your arches, ankles, hips, core and other stabilizing muscles/tendons/ligaments through their paces.  snowy conditions activate muscle co-contraction which means that your muscles tend to work in a group to keep your form intact (but you still have to focus on doing just that) and keeping you upright.
  4. sneaky speed development - this one may be all in my head (or my hopes), but several consecutive winter training seasons have given me reason to believe that while you may not always hit the training paces that you aim for in any given workout, putting in the required effort still pays dividends.  especially when you get to spring races and are able to (a) run on clear roads and (b) shed restrictive layers and extra clothing weight - you'll feel exponentially unencumbered, like someone shot you out of a cannon.
  5. mental fortitude - a fancy way of saying that when it comes to race day you'll know that you've put in some very hard work through trying conditions ... so when it comes to hitting that wall or feeling like the course is getting the better of you, you can draw on the knowledge that you've conquered the elements to breakthrough to the next level of effort.
  6. beating the winter blahs/blues - unless you're consistently a pre-dawn runner like me, winter running brings the bonus of added vitamin d from natural sunlight.  being cooped up in the winter has a naturally depressing effect on just about everyone, and a more serious biochemical effect on some.  while skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and other outdoor activities can also take advantage of fresh air and sunshine, the endorphin benefits of running can give you a real edge when it comes to boosting your mood.
hopefully that will give you enough reason to consider the merits of winter running (aka yeti mode - the undaunted outdoors version of 'beast mode').  
and if so, i'll probably see you out there.  make tracks!

24 February 2014

like a fine wine

last night as i waited to pick up my daughter from a group activity i whittled away my time at the local chapters bookstore.  thumbing through the magazine racks, i scanned the march 2014 edition of running times magazine.

since i fall into the 'masters' category (by virtue of age, not competency) i was interested to check out the article on the very best masters runners that are out there, and what kind of times they are clocking for various distances.

jaw-dropping, they are.

i'm hoping to clear 3:15 in my next marathon - and i read that 63 year-old tim freeman of port angeles, washington just about cleared 2:46 this past year.

it's enough to make you want to stop reading running magazines.

except that in that same section of the magazine there was a little dittie describing three types of masters-category runners, and the running potential of each.  i don't recall verbatim what terms they used but in essence the three broke out as:
  1. the early starter - this person was a runner in elementary and/or high school and has kept going throughout his/her adult years.
  2. the starter-and-stopper - a runner who had early training and competition through the school days, paused in early adult life but then resumed near mid-life.
  3. the late bloomer - (this would be me) someone who has discovered running later in life, perhaps through couch-to-5k programs or charity racing, and has developed a newfound passion for the activity.
as i recall it went on to say that the second and third types of masters runners also had a greater potential to improve and log better results than the 'early starter' who had been a lifelong runner.  i found this to be both interesting and encouraging.  i've been doing a bit of reading lately on the concept of a 'running age' (pete pfitzinger's got a good write-up on this) which notes that there's something to be said about cumulative years of development of your running musculature.  and because he recognizes that this can be both a plus (in terms of overall aerobic fitness and technique refinement) and a minus (effects of injury and scar-tissue build-up), those many years/decades of striding might account for why the long-term runner may not have the same development curve as someone who's introduced or reintroduced running into his/her life.

all that to say that i will take this as an open door for me to step through.  i admit that i find it difficult not to compare my goals and accomplishments to that of those around me (whatever age/gender they might be - and specifically if they do fall into my competition age bracket), i will keep telling myself that i simply have to aim to be the best runner that i can be.

if you're at all interested in reading up more on the correlation between age and running experience/performance, here are two other recommended articles:


20 February 2014

from a guy who don't know nuthin' about nuthin'

being still what i would consider a novice runner (having started into this in my late, late 30s) there's so much that i know that i still don't know.  i make all of the rookie mistakes (e.g. going out too fast in races, not recovering properly after training runs, spastic breathing patterns, a stride cadence of who-knows-what) and feel like i'm a sponge every time an article comes out in competitor magazine.  

with that in mind, from time to time i realize just how many insights and tidbits i've picked up since developing this running obsession.  one of my strengths is connectedness, which i understand to be an aptitude for understanding links between events, experiences and information.  

in one way that means that i'm a walking treasure trove of trivial knowledge.

but it also means that if you need it, i can direct transfer some of that knowledge your way.

case in point:  my friend lewis is prepping for his first ever half-marathon race this april.  this week he decided to share with me something of his homebrewed training plan with an invitation to comment on it.  to his credit it had the right mix of variable workout elements:  long runs, speed intervals, race-pace runs and recovery days.  i know that the first plan that i used for half-marathon training simply laid out distances to be covered on any given day without any real description or prescription as to intensities appropriate for that workout.

my first bit of feedback to lewis was about the fact that he was plotting hard workouts (e.g. race-pace runs and tempo days) back-to-back.  here's how i responded to that:
i think that putting a race pace workout back-to-back with a tempo workout is either (a) a recipe for injury or (b) an almost guaranteed less-than-optimal tempo workout.  i think that almost any workout plan that you can find prescribed by a coach or a training program will not put key workouts like this adjacent to one another - the idea being that your body needs an easier day between speed-focused runs to recover and build on the gains from that workout.  also keep in mind that the tempo workout should be at 10-20s/km faster than race pace - if you can pull that off after a decent race pace day, then your race pace might be too generous.
i followed up that bit of sage advice (anybody familiar with sarcasm?  anybody?) with a question about his end-of-week workout which simply denoted "Run-Intervals".  when i inquired about what distance he was using for intervals - wondering out loud whether or not he might be using 800m or 1km - he came back letting me know that he was thinking more like 80-100m.  once again my fountain-of-misinformation mouth decided to spout:
so here's my challenge - to stretch out those distances so that you get a true 'interval' session. what speed training does is to (a) improve your running form as form tends to break down when running at slower speeds; (b) develop fast-twitch muscle fibres which are important for later stages of a race; and (c) aid in mitochondria development (both in terms of volume and density) which is important because it's mitochondria which help your body convert carbs and fat into energy.

the 50 or 100m sprints are more what i would consider as 'strides' - short bursts of speed which help to loosen/stretch the leg muscles but do little in terms of grander-scheme development. i would recommend trying at least 400m but optimally 800m intervals (with 90s-120s jog/walk breaks in-between sets) to really get some benefit out of the speed training.
i'm about 85% confident that what i'm sharing is accurate from a science/exercise physiology standpoint - and 95% confident that these comments can be helpful to him as he reviews his progress and the path to the start line.  but the fact that i've no formal education in science (unlike my friend stan - now there's somebody who knows what he's talking about) and that i fumble about in my own training makes me worry that i'm just offering a load of balderdash. 

i don't purport to be a coach of any kind.  

i hope that i'm not leading my friend lewis astray.   

all i can say is that the running community (online and otherwise) as i've experienced it is incredibly generous with their sharing of information and trial-and-error stories.  i know that i've benefited from tales told on the run, and i want to be part of that pipeline rather than behaving like a bottleneck or a blocked valve.  

please feel free to correct me (especially since i can pass it along to lewis!) if my advice seems askew - and let me know how you've maybe helped to encourage/coach/inform somebody else on their own running journey!


14 February 2014

how (s)low can you go?

"i am both poles and the equator, with no temperate zones in-between."  ~ e.k. hornbeck in inherit the wind

coaches and good training plans all mark out various types of runs that you can and should complete in preparation for a race.  terms like "aerobic", "tempo", "long run", "race pace", "fartlek", "intervals", "recovery", "hill work" and others usually help to describe variations in duration, intensity and sometimes terrain that contribute to improved conditioning.  while this may all come across as elitist jargon or technical mumbo-jumbo, one of the important takeaways is that for a runner who is focused on making real gains there has to be attention given to specific types of training.

like many runners, my ego has gotten in the way of properly strategizing my training runs and for too many training cycles i believe i've fallen into the trap of running mainly in the mediocre (or medium effort) zone instead of making 75-80% of my runs easy and the remainder medium-hard to hard.  every easy run that i took i felt like i was losing ground - or at least speed - and convinced myself ever-so-subtly that i needed to push it just a bit faster.  i figured that if somehow i could increase my baseline speed for an easy run to something faster, then that would naturally make my hard runs even more impressive.

as logical as that may (or may not) sound to you, i should have paid attention to the fact that even the best runners in the world know the importance of taking it really easy on their easy runs.  i recall reading sara hall's blog entries while training in kenya about just how slow these kenyan running machines take their runs - a pace that would even seem ├╝ber-relaxed to a hack like me!

the main idea is to log your easy miles easy so that when it comes to logging the hard workouts you can really put forth a high-investment effort.  when the easy runs drift toward the faster side, your body's fatigue levels can act like a magnet and pull your hard runs toward the slower side, reducing the magnitude of super-compensation

there are all sorts of good articles out there about the 'hard-easy principle' of training, and two that i found interesting are here and here.  there's also a very good article that addresses how to fine tune the spectrum of training runs here.

so how easy do you take it on your easy runs?  for me right now it's about 5:45-6:00/km, and that's counterbalanced with race pace runs at 4:27/km and speed intervals at around 3:40-3:45/km.  would love to hear back from you!

06 February 2014

road review - merrell mix master 2

i think that i've rationalized my most recent shoe acquisitions by telling myself that (a) i need to spend more time on trails to prep for the Limberlost Challenge and therefore need trail running shoes; and that (b) winter workouts around here require additional traction - like that provided by trail running shoes.

so when my little brother provided me with a gift card for christmas, i decided that i would use it to pick up a pair of the merrell mix master 2 (which were on a nearly 50% off discount at the time).  

my appreciation of merrell running footwear began with the original road glove, which still may rank as my favourite marathoning shoe.  i'm slightly disappointed to hear that they are leaving behind the 'barefoot' line and i'm sure that i'm not alone in that - many blog reviews have revealed that the original trail glove (with it's omni-fit lacing system) is near legendary in the estimation of the trail running community.

i'd read many positives about the mix master 2 (as well as a personal recommendation from peter larson) and so far they have not disappointed.  

my thoughts:
  • fit - while trying these on i found myself feeling most comfortable in a half-size larger than i would normally take in my road-specific shoes.  with an eye to possibly using them for this summer's trail ultra i put a premium on comfort as well as adequate space for foot swelling/expansion.  so this size 10 pair fits fabulously without feeling like i'm swimming in them.  plenty of toebox space and not too snug around the arch and or heel - just enough to instill confidence.  i've tested these out on hard-packed/icy uneven sidewalks and roads and they've moved well with my foot.
  • weight - on my kitchen scale the mix master 2 weighs in an almost spot-on 8 oz., which seems lighter than other reported weighings - this may be in part due to the fact that i did swap for a different, less thick insole.  regardless, this is a great weight for a shoe with a rock protection plate.
  • drop - listed as 4mm (or 5mm if you consult with the running warehouse) it rides like it's an almost flat platform.  i've certainly had no sensation of the heel getting in the way.
  • ventilation - the airy-mesh upper was apparently an issue for the first version of this shoe - and having held a v1 in my hands i can see why it might have been prone to tearing.  the upper on the v2 is great - very breathable and even drainable (if you're into puddle-jumping) and surprisingly not so breezy as to freeze my feet during these winter runs.
  • flexibility - again keeping in mind that there is a rock plate, these bad boys surprised me by lending themselves nicely to the roll-up test.  i could tuck the toe into the heel cup with little difficulty - not the same could be said about the mix master 2 wp which felt (to me) like a wooden clog and had the flexibility of just about the same.  the day that i bought my mm2 the MM2 wp was on at the same price and i gravitated to them first because i wanted to use them for winter running - but no go after trying them on.  the MM2 is seriously an altogether different feeling shoe.
  • traction - this is probably one of the MM2s standout features.  the grip offered by the 3.5mm lugs dotting the outsole is impressive, and the fact that it is a sticky rubber compound with a lower durometer rating means that it provides just as much of an easy feeling ride on sidewalk/pavement as it does on dirt track.  again, it's done an admirable job through slushy snow and ice - can't say that i've tested it out through mud or wet woods but given my experience with them so far i'm not terribly concerned.
and just so you can see them in living colour:

overall these shoes earn high marks from me - i'd say they're worthy of a good 4-1/2 out of five:

it'll be a game-time decision when it comes down to whether or not to don the GBTs or the MM2s for the limberlost challenge.  i'm also eager to try out the new balance mt110 as well as the topo athletic mt (if the budget will allow for it), so we'll have to see what'll carry me through for the full 56k.


03 February 2014

walking wounded

i think that it may be broken.

but first, a little context.

on november 20, 2013 i embarked on my first 'group run' with the barrie roadrunners who meet up at the local running room store.  it was a decent paced first outing, but as i was a newbie i was unfamiliar with the route that we were taking so stayed in the middle of the pack.  the roads and sidewalks had a few slick spots thanks to near-freezing temperatures so as the bunch of us approached a corner the lead runner(s) slowed just a tad so as to not wipe out.  those of us just slightly behind did not anticipate the drop in pace and began to log-jam, and as a result i kicked into the heels of the runner ahead of me, almost taking the both of us down.  i thought nothing more of it at the time as we managed to carry on unphased, although i wondered whether or not that other runner might not have been grumbling in his head about the rookie.

the day after i noticed a bit of swelling on the second toe of my right foot - the same foot that gave a good boot to the guy ahead of me.  it didn't look or feel quite right.  a bit swollen, a bit discoloured, and a bit tender.

worth a trip to the doctor?  no way.  "i'm not going to clog up the medical system for something like this" i told myself.

but i did i give it a rest?  any ice, compression or elevation (the famous R-I-C-E formula)?  nope.  that's my stubbornness that borders on/is confused with determination.  

fast forward to now 10 weeks later, and here's how things look (apologies if footie pics gross you out):

in the photo you can see that 867km of running later my toe has not returned to the same normal coloured, un-swollen condition of the same toe on the opposite foot.  now, aside from being occasionally itchy (not athlete's foot, and just the top of that swollen knuckle) it has not caused me any discernible pain or impeded my running in any way.  i've googled "running with broken toe" and on numerous forums the words of advice given are that you can use the level of pain as the real determinant as to whether or not to stop running and/or seek medical attention.  that seemed like sound counsel (read:  stubborn) to me so i carry on as is with my wonky digit.

it's not much of an injury, but i can't entirely dismiss it either.  however, i certainly don't consider myself in any way shape or form as 'toughing it out'.  i'm just curious if anyone else in my readership circle has dealt with anything like this - or if you have your own 'thorn in the flesh' that you are living/running with.

as for me and my toe?  there is only one way to go - forward.