Thursday, March 29, 2012

Running on Sand

5 weeks to go until my first 50k.  Suddenly it all seems very real.

I’ve been plugging away at my training plan and staying fairly healthy, and haven’t really given a lot of thought to the specifics of the race.  Now that it’s visible on the horizon, I’ve started contemplating the biggest factor that will be a major deviation from my training.  29 of the 31 miles are on the beach.  Total training experience running on the beach, life-to-date:  0 miles.

I’m really undecided on the whole shoe factor.  Lots of folks insist on running barefoot or in minimalist shoes on sand.  I certainly understand this, but it would be too major a departure from what I usually do when I run.  I’ve pondered the pros/cons of wearing trail-running shoes, but haven’t found any specific info either in favor of or opposed to trail shoes on sand, and I would need to buy a pair and quickly break them in before I’d try them out in a race.  Lots of information against road shoes on the beach, especially with regards to the heel digging in too well and ramping up the effort much higher than a regular run.  What to do …. What to do??

This weekend I’ll be heading to Kitty Hawk to visit my parents, specifically to try two longish runs on the beach to see what I’m up against.  My plan is to lace up an older pair of my trusty Gel Nimbus, and see how they do.  As long as I stay near the water line in the more packed sand I’m thinking this will work out fine for me.  I’m going to start Saturday morning’s run from the actual marathon start and go for 10-11 miles.  Then Sunday, depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll start from around where I stopped on Saturday and put in another 10-12 miles, making any gear adjustments I think are needed based on Saturday’s experience.  Hopefully the weather cooperates.  The weather is always a roll of the dice in the Outer Banks.

In related news, my legs have been exceptionally cooperative lately.  No significant injuries, and generally just wanting to move fast (or fast for me).  I’ve dropped several pounds since the start of February, and I’m attributing a lot of this to the weight loss.  Amazing what a difference it has made in pace and general endurance.  Yesterday morning I did 8.3 miles at an average pace of 7:39, which I’m pretty sure is the fastest 8 miles I’ve ever run.

It didn’t feel effortless, but it did feel good.  Hopefully I can keep this vibe going over the next 5 weeks.

Friday, March 23, 2012

RNR DC Half-Marathon Recap ... "Smiles everyone"

A funny thing happens when I don’t ‘race’ a race.  I smile.
Looking at the race photos that MarathonFoto is relentlessly trying to get me to buy, I notice that I’m smiling in almost every one of them.  That really sums up the whole race experience for me.  I ran with a friend of mine, stuck with the pace that worked for him, walked when we needed to walk, and basically just enjoyed the whole thing.
The weather was gorgeous.  Really a bit too warm for a marathon, and it was pretty toasty by the time the full-marathon folks were closing in on the finish line, but it was a pleasant 50-ish at the start, which beat the heck out of the 25-degree start for MCM in nearly the same spot 4 months ago.
Fan support was outstanding, race organization was great, and the water stops were well-stocked, well-manned, and seemed to stretch on forever.  Post-race was easily navigated and well-organized – even the bagels were really good.
Apparently there were a lot of issues with folks trying to get to the race on the Metro.  Fortunately we drove to the race and parked easily at RFK stadium, so we were able to avoid that headache.  I don’t know if that’s a fault of the race, but hopefully they sort that out for next year.  First off they need to start running the Metros earlier than 2 hours before the race start, especially with 24,000+ runners trying to get to the same spot.
Visual evidence of me doing a midfoot strike - rarer than a Bigfoot sighting
After the race we headed to a local Irish Pub and spent the next 7+ hours there working towards our honorary Irishman degree.  Watched Enland vs Ireland rugby, watched a full-blown Riverdance show that was actually really impressive, and drank our fair share of Guinness.

Overall a great race, and a great weekend with a great friend.  I would HIGHLY recommend this race based on my experience, and if the Metro situation gets sorted out I can’t really think of any negatives.  And as an added bonus, unbeknownst to me until I looked through the pictures, we apparently finished the race right next to Freddie Mercury.....
"Another one bites the dust .... "

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My First Half (witted) Marathon

This Friday morning I’ll be piling my assorted run stuff into the car and making the drive to DC to run the first ever RnR USA Nation’s Capital Half-Marathon.  I’ve finished marathons before, so I guess technically I’ve run a half-marathon, but never with the added bonus of intentionally stopping at the halfway point and beginning the arduous task of beer-recovery.

Since this will be my first half-marathon, I have a pretty good chance of setting a PR.  Training has been going very well this year with the addition of swimming and riding the road bike, and I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been going into a race.  My fairly simple typical mindset of ‘if I’m going to run it, I might as well run hard’ would indicate that I’d be carefully plotting my goal time, pacing, hydration, etc., but not this time.  This time I’m running just for the fun of it.  I’m running to return the favor of running with my best friend growing up who ran with me through the brutal last 8 miles of the Marine Corps Marathon in the Fall.  The guy who got me through the toughest stretch of running I’ve probably ever experienced.  The guy here smiling and encouraging me while my mind and body were plotting evil things to spring on me just a few miles later:
Not to create the impression that this is some overly sentimental experience, the race will most likely just be a break to sober up a bit, and get all that unnecessary sweat out of our systems to be properly replaced with all things Irish and Stout on St. Patrick’s Day.  We will no doubt get all crazy and party like rock-stars until at least 8:30PM.  Maybe even 9:00 if we decide to step it up a notch and take our Geritol.

We’re going to run this thing together, and have had no conversations about pace, or finish times, or any of the usual details.  None of that really matters to us this weekend.  If we run fast – great.  If not – probably even better.  As long as I’m still healthy at the finish I consider it a success.  And to the finishers go the Guinness.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Knuckle Lights Review - Retiring My Headlamps


My most dependable training partner.  My morning companion shaking out the cobwebs.  My late-night compatriot when the workout needs to be done, but just wouldn’t fit into the day.  Hello darkness my old friend.
Simon, Garfunkel, and a garfunkload of hair
The unfortunate reality of the bulk of my training, especially during Fall and Winter, is that they are done without the benefit of sunlight.  Simple paths and familiar obstacles that we take for granted during the daytime have a whole different personality in the dark.  I’ve proven my ability to get injured on a perfectly flat, straight surface at high noon.  Adding darkness to the mix is like a cruel joke … a standing invite to the orthopedist.  Now that Daylight Savings is upon us, I’m plunged even farther into the early-morning darkness.  I think all this running is slowly turning me into a vampire, but not a shiny, whiny one from Twilight.  Hopefully something closer to True Blood.  Or maybe Dracula, or Count Chocula.  Mmmmm ….. Count Chocula.
Vampires from when I was a kid .... the good old days
Although most of my training routes have the benefit of some degree of streetlight illumination, even these runs have the occasional pothole, uneven sidewalk edge, puddles and/or ice patches, or surprises left by pets or other critters.  Among my favorite places to run are the cart paths at a nearby country club.  I can’t afford to golf there, but thankfully running there is free – although it has to be very early or late to avoid a Titleist to the noggin.  Trying to run these paths in the dark is definitely a risky proposition.  The obvious solution is to bring along a light.  Finding one that I like, however, has proven elusive.

I’ve tried two different headlamps, neither of which have done the trick for me.  Too much bounce, not really directed where I want on the path in front of me, and I don’t really like wearing anything on my head when I run.  I’m not even a fan of wearing hats when I run.  If I’m going to wear a spotlight on my forehead I’d like to reserve that for spelunking, performing brain surgery, or hillbilly handfishing.
Noodling ... Navy Seal style
With training ramping up for Spring races, and a 200-mile overnight relay coming up in April where I’ll need some sort of lighting, it was time to find something that worked.  Enter the good people at Knuckle Lights with the answer to my problems.
It seems so obvious, but those are often the best inventions.  The name says it all – lights that you wear on your knuckles.  With my running tights, and calf sleeves, and Fuel (utility) belt, my dressing like a superhero is nearly complete.  Now I can add illuminated knuckles to the mix.  If only they were Brass Knuckle Lights.  That's going in the suggestion box.
These things are very bright and very comfortable.  They form nicely to your fingers, and still leave your hands free if you need to carry something.  They cast a very wide beam, and I’ve not noticed any issues with the light bouncing.  Since they’re attached to your hands there will be some side-to-side movement of the beam as your arms move, unless you run like Frankenstein or are, in fact, Frankenstein.  Because they cast such a nice wide beam, when you run with both of the lights even the side-to-side motion is barely noticeable.
I’ve gotten to where I only run with one of them since it’s plenty bright, and then I’ll slip it into my Fuel Belt when the sun finally shows up and keep right on moving.
I’ve run up to 14 miles with these on my hands, and after a few miles, aside from the obvious illumination, I really forgot they were on my hands.  The switch sits on the top of the light, and can easily be turned on/off with the thumb on the same hand where the light is being worn.  So far they seem pretty sturdy, although I haven’t dropped one … yet.  Only a matter of time based on my history.  I’ve worn them over gloves, which works fine, and I wear it over my wedding ring without any issues.  For the ladies out there with wedding rings with big stones, you will likely need to turn the stone around to wear these since they’re intentionally pretty snug to your fingers.
The Verdict:  Personally I find these to be a MUCH better alternative to a headlamp, and I would HIGHLY recommend them to anyone logging any serious activity time outside of daylight hours.  I haven’t tried them while biking since I have a headlamp for my bike that works like a champ, but I suspect these would work well while riding as well.  I’m looking forward to using these in my upcoming overnight relay.  I suspect I’ll find some new converts once they get a chance to see these in action.  Check them out for yourself at

Disclaimer – I was provided these Knucklelights free of charge to try and review.  Fortunately, I really like them and think you will too.  If I didn’t like them, however, I would have made that abundantly clear – most likely with a full helping of sarcasm, and some snark on the side.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Want vs Need

I’m fortunate enough that there really is very little that I need.

I am not, however, wise or enlightened enough to not find the occasional thing that I want.

For me to move from the ‘want’ stage to the ‘get’ stage is usually an epic progression of mental gymnastics and cost/benefit analysis.  I’m not cheap, but I vastly prefer to spend money on others (usually my kids) than to spend it on myself.  I can overthink simple purchases like an album on iTunes.  I still drive the same truck that I bought when I graduated from college …. in 1993.  You can only imagine the overthinking that went in to buying a road bike back in December to force the cross-training issue.

Training for marathons and other future possibilities (ultras, triathlons, cage-fighting, alligator wrestling, masked vigilante superhero, etc.) has blurred the lines between need and want to some extent, but most everything still seems to fall in the ‘want’ bucket in my mind.  Here’s what I’m wanting these days:

Kurt Kinetic Trainer
Right now I’m limited to only getting in any bike training on the roads, which is somewhat limiting based on my schedule and my desire to ride with at least one other person if there’s a reasonable amount of traffic for safety reasons.  I’d be getting a lot more cycling miles done, and getting a lot more use out of the non-trivial bike investment, if I had a trainer.  However, this is a non-trivial investment too.  There are less-expensive options, but I think you get what you pay for with these things.

Cycling Jersey(s)

The weather will warm up eventually, and once I lose all the layers I usually wear I’ll need something light-weight.  Do I really need a cycling jersey … no.  There are reasons for wearing them – form-fitting, longer in the back, zippered for ventilation, etc., but I could get by with my running tech shirts.  Doesn’t mean I wouldn't like one of these two (one because they brew my favorite adult beverage – Black Chocolate Stout, and one because you actually look like an adult beverage).

Just because I like it
Came across this tech shirt many months ago, and just really like the looks of it.  The price tag is a little hard to justify when I can use the same money to get 5 new tech shirts at Target.  If I make it a reward, however, it changes the game a bit.  Much like it’s bad form to stick a ’26.2’ magnet on the back of your car before you run a marathon, it would seem to be bad form to wear this shirt before actually running an ultra.  Assuming I can stay healthy for another two months, and can drag myself 31 miles through the sand to cross the finish line, I’m going to buy this guy after the OBX 50k in May.

At least my ‘want’ list is associated with healthy pursuits.  Healthy for me … my wallet, not so much.