27 March 2015

fear (not) the reaper

this week's shout-out is to all of my running compatriots who are tackling the iconic Around The Bay road race in hamilton, ontario this weekend!  while the course has been amended this year to remove the daunting hill climb that normally appears at km 26, the haunting figure of tim the grim (reaper) should be enough to spur everyone on to the finish line!

specific ups go to my friends and training partners jason pallen of the barrie running ninjas (check out his blog here, and on twitter) and steve 'flash' elliott of black lungs toronto (on twitter).  looking forward to seeing you sporting your "older than boston" race tees!

to everyone running ATB, have a fantastic experience out there!

23 March 2015

gear review - saucony run mitt

just when you thought that it was safe to go back out in the water winter ... 

as an all-conditions winter runner i knew back in november that i needed to acquire some new hand-gear.  i have always felt like i have particularly poor circulation to my extremities, and specifically to my hands (although it's not anything as serious as raynaud's phenomenon/syndrome/disease) so this season i decided to invest in a good pair of winter running mittens.  after scouting some reputable reviews i narrowed my choices down to the saucony run mitt and the sugoi wind mitt, both of which were available (at the time) online from my sponsoring LRS (local running shop) Running Free

why did i end up going with the saucony run mitt?  

advanced snot-wiping technology. 

seriously, here's a lowdown of my experience with these mittens after almost 4 months of winter running:
  • lightweight - normally you wouldn't factor weight into consideration for a mitten, especially since that doesn't play into its primary function.  but when you're swinging your arms back and forth over 15-20kms i don't want to have anything particularly bulky or heavy at the end of those pendulums.  the run mitt is practically not noticeable when put on.
  • reflective accents - as a pre-dawn/low-light runner, every little bit helps.  the stripe and reflective wordmark on the back of the mitt swinging back and forth into view certainly draws attention from shining car headlights.
  • fleece nose-wiping surfaces - i wasn't joking about snot management!  my nose starts to run after about the first five metres of winter running, so this was a must-have for me.  the back of the thumb and back of index finger panels are great for making sure that the face stays mucus-free.
  • extended cuff - on some of the reeeaaalllly cold days it was reassuring to know that i could go out on my runs with next-to-no skin exposure, and certainly not when it came to my wrists.  the cuffs either tuck under my jacket arms or bunch up in a way that still ensures protection and capturing of warmth.
  • tundra ready - as a wind and water resistant mitt, on its own this saucony product really did the trick for me for as low as -15°C windchill temperatures.  anything colder than that and i would simply complement the run mitt with a thin pair of cotton mitts underneath (the size that i selected would easily accommodate a second set of mitts without being too sloppy when worn on their own), and this saw me through several runs at -40°C windchill or colder.
  • durability - besides surviving regular trips through the washer and dryer (did i mention their ability to absorb sinus sludge?), i wore these mitts on a snowshoe adventure race where they had to endure several encounters with thick brambles.  aside from a small tear (which was easily repaired thanks to my nifty darning skills) they took a licking and kept on ... well, keeping on.
here's a quickie video review of the saucony run mitt, complete with nasal DNA:

if you are stubborn enough to avoid the treadmill (and ignore everyone's advice) and run outside through the harshest of winter conditions, i will happily endorse the saucony run mitt as a worthwhile investment!

19 March 2015

when in rome

just a quick shout-out of support to my friend and local running hero stan ong who will be competing in his first rome marathon this weekend.  here's to fine pizza, beautiful architecture, romantic languages and a sub-2:55 PB!

if you haven't checked out stan's blog before (9run.ca) make sure to head on over there!  it's chock-full of great insights into the science of running, plenty of tips and tricks on how to effectively train for any race, and loads of fantastic reviews.  plus right now he has a giveaway going on for tiux compression socks!

*** UPDATE:  here's a link to stan's race report from the rome marathon!  great work my friend!

16 March 2015

will the real ryan hall please stand up?

i really like ryan hall.

he could well be one of the most intriguing figures on the elite marathoning scene.  as well as one of the most polarizing.

he's truly an affable guy - watch any video interviews with him and he comes across as the kid from high school who could get along with just about anybody.  his wife sara is a gem too, good-natured to the core.  and together they have been the driving force behind the hall steps foundation which is focused on responding to the issue of global poverty.

he's a rebel, march-to-the-beat-of-my-own-drummer kind of athlete.  while he's worked with terrence mahon, renato canova and even the iconic jack daniels he seems to regularly prefer being self-coached and gauging his workouts and development by feel (or 'faith' as he would describe it).

and of course he's an outstanding talent - from posting the fastest ever debut marathon time for an american (2:08:24) to the fastest ever american marathon time at the 2011 boston marathon (2:04:58), the guy has shown that he can step up to the plate against any runner from any country or continent.

so what's his deal?

since the record setting boston marathon achievement, he's woven in a series of DNSs (did not start) and DNFs (did not finish) that have left his fans and colleagues scratching their collective heads.  the 2012 olympic marathon.  the 2012 new york city marathon.  the 2013 boston and nyc marathons.  and just yesterday, the 2015 LA marathon.  granted, there were various mitigating circumstances (most notably injuries) that contributed to this spotty record, but for anyone interested in seeing again just what ryan is capable of achieving this has been a barrage of disappointing blows.

were his accomplishments in the early part of this millennium just a bunch of flukes, as some have suggested?

is his body just too way injury-prone to produce any more world-class results?  one of the things that i did notice from the start of sunday's LA marathon was that ryan's trademark low-and-at-the-side arm carriage seems to have changed a bit to swing higher and a little more across his body.  i'm not sure if that's an attempt at compensation for other physiological stressors.

could his approach to training and racing be so off-the-wall that it's actually double-crossing him?

i don't know.  i wish i did.  i wish he did.

but after all's said and done, i still like ryan hall.

and i really hope to see him excel again. 


02 March 2015

running blind (and other mental tricks)

it's been about a little over a year since i was really motivated to try to focus on running by feel.  part of the impetus to do so was to try to re-awaken the experience of the 'pure joy' of being runner - i was beginning to find that quite elusive as i was more intent on achieving a particular time goal for the marathon, and reaching the Boston qualification standard.  

and now?

still trying to find that joy.

but i'm getting a bit better at running by feel.

aside from taking on my sensei's challenge (yes, i have a running sensei - not a coach per se, but my friend jim with whom i run and chat once a week and who leads our Barrie Running Ninjas group) of working with heart rate monitoring and zone training, i've also just recently decided to switch off the pace display options from my Garmin 305.

it may not sound like a big deal to any of you, but this for me is the equivalent of running blind (not quite blind like the inspirational rhonda-marie avery, but data-blind).  it means that while the data fields on my GPS watch are telling me how much time has elapsed for the workout, as well as for any given lap, i'm not monitoring how quickly i'm covering the ground over the course of a kilometre or mile - which (no pun intended) is a big step for me.

instead i'm operating with several mantras in my head to try to help me dial into the appropriate pace for a given training run - and they're pretty basic, including "race pace", "faster than race pace", "go Yuki go" (who has famously said "Every time I run it's with the mindset that if I die at this race it's OK" - so this is an all-out effort) and "keep it easy".  i also find it helpful to gauge effort level by paying attention to my breathing pattern - which is far from regulated, but i can sense the difference between easy, steady state and lactate threshold intensities by listening to how hard i'm huffing.

another little cue that i just discovered yesterday and was able to test out today comes from one of my new favourite gurus, jae gruenke.  jae is an instructor in the feldenkrais method and applies this to trying to cultivate more efficient running styles.  while a lot of it jives with stuff that i've heard many times over before, jae has a way of delivering this information that i find very helpful.  so from her most recent blogpost i picked up the idea of running 'face-forward' (and no, it's not about correcting the directionally-challenged) - a mnemonic that will assist in better posture and promoting the right kind of forward lean angle.  here's her video tutorial on this point:

finally, my friend dean posted this little encouragement on Facebook today:

i'll admit to feeling a bit hypocritical by including this since i have a hard time resisting the occasional Little Caesar's 'hot-n-ready' pizza, or a toppings-laden cold cut combo sub from Subway.  but more and more i'm coming to recognize that the best meals for me are going to be comprised of real food, and not so much processed and convenience-packaged stuff.

what tips and tricks have helped you the most, or that you have picked up on recently?  please share them in the comments below - i'm always eager to find out what's on other people's radars!