Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa: First (and second) Impressions

Since I know that I can run comfortably with the Spyridons (see the note below), I thought I would introduce the FiveFingers SeeYa's into the rotation. 

VFF SeeYa's ready for take off
Initial (Pre-Run) Observations:The fit is roughly the same as the Spyridons.  They slipped on just as easily and hugged my foot with exactly the same feel.  I am a bigger fan of laces than hook and loop straps.  That being said, the strap on the Spyridons is pretty comfortable and provides a good fit.  Even with laces, the SeeYa's are noticeably less shoe than the Spyridons, however.  The outsole is much thinner and the tread is less chunky.  The upper material is also thinner, i.e. nearly transparent.  In the hot weather we have been experiencing, this is definitely a good thing.  They may even ride a little lower on the ankle.  With these shoes on, I can forget that I'm wearing shoes.

Observations On The Run
I headed out to run on the packed gravel paths near my house.  They are softer than asphalt or concrete, yet firm enough for a good push off.  They are also not perfectly smooth.  I wanted to see how much ground I felt through the shoe.  I found my answer very quickly: much more than the Spyridons. 

Hot sun and not much shade
The shoes are definitely comfortable, but the thinner outsole let me feel everything that I was running over.  With the paths I was running on, this was not a problem.  I even ran over clumps of weeds that grow on the edges of the paths and over larger stones.  Apart from bits of weeds getting stuck between my toes, there were no problems I felt really well protected.   The thinner upper material was ideal on a day like today because the shoe was cooler temperature-wise.  I did just over 30 minutes and the shoes performed marvellously. 
Post-Run Observations
When I took the shoes off at home, I noticed a couple of abrasions on the top of my left big toe and on the main part of my foot close to the big toe.  Had I run any longer, they would have evolved into full-blown blisters.  I will need to keep an eye on this.  My calves, soleus, Achilles tendons and shins felt fine -no complaints there.  All in all, the SeeYa's felt great and I'm looking forward to running in them again.

Run #2 - the Next Day
Since I did fine in the SeeYa's yesterday, I thought I would give them a tray today.  The weather conditions were almost the same: hot, humid, bright sunshine.  Because I didn't want the abraded spots to blister, I applied Body Glide to the top of my right foot and toes.  I hear that this works, and I hoped that the experiment would succeed today.

Merely a flesh wound
The run felt great.  I stuck to the shady side of the path because the sun was punishing.  As they have been for the past couple of weeks, the deer flies were horrendous.  I was constantly harassed by them today.  I even managed to swallow one and I gagged so hard that I saw my breakfast again.  Not fun.  On the upside, I was detecting no pain from the hot spots on my feet that developed yesterday.  As it turns out, pain is not always an indicator.
Yesterday's hot spots became today's blisters, which opened up and I bled through the shoes.  I will treat the blisters and give the SeeYa's another shot.  Until then, I will switch back to the Spyridons until the blisters heal.

This is how the blister issue with the Spyridons ended up being resolved:
  1. I cinched in the strap tighter on the left shoe so that the spot where the d-ring is sewed to the upper does not move around as much.  Blisters are caused by friction (from rubbing) and the best way to eliminate friction is to stop things from moving around. 
  2. The blistered area on my left instep has morphed into a small callous a little bigger than a thumb tack head.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Not-a-Minimal Collection of Minimalist Shoes

I received a few questions about the shoes that I mentioned (and had a photo of) in the previous post, specifically about how I didn't break the bank as I accumulated them.  Here are the details:

Shoes (enough to last a long, long time)
I have been stockpiling (nice word for hoarding) for a few years and this is what the stable looks like (clockwise from top left):
  1. Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon's and SeeYa LS's (all size 41): - found all on a clearance rack at Sport Chek and marked down to $49.99CDN AND I managed to hit a BOGO sale = 4 new pairs for around $100CDN
  2. Vibram FiveFingers Bikila (size 40) - bought barely used through Kijiji for $30CDN
  3. Saucony Hattori's bought barely used (perhaps twice) through Kijiji for around $20CDN or $25CD.
  4. Merrell Bare Access's which coincidentally have outsoles made by Vibram, bought cheap (around $40CDN, I think) on clearance at Sports Experts.

All in, I'm looking at an investment of something in the neighbourhood of $190CDN for 7 pairs of shoes, an average of just over $27CDN/pair.  Not too shabby.

I wanted a mix of VFF and shoes with a conventional tow box, as well as a mix of lace-ups and shoes with Velcro straps.  I may reserve the Merrell's and The Saucony's for cold weather running because they will accommodate sock better than the VFF's.

Toe socks (for running in the Winter or if the VFFs don't fit quite right)
  • Injini rainbow socks were $5CDN at Platos Closet and still in the original packaging.  They are the best toe socks I own, but would run $15CDN or more if I bought them at full retail.

  • The others were bought from the far east through Amazon and eBay for $2-$3CDN each.  they are not super high end socks, but they are comfy and will do the trick.
  • I can use regular and toe socks in the Merrell's and the Saucony's.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon: First Impressions

After a couple of runs over the weekend in my Merrell Bare Access's with no negative side effects, I though I would break out a pair of my Vibram FiveFingers to see how they feel.  Of the four pairs I own, I very scientifically selected the only pair that didn't still have the tags attached and ended up with the Spyridons (the version released in June, 2012).  This would be my first run in VFF's that was longer than 200m or so.  This would also be the first run that I have ever done (to the best of my recollection) with no socks.

I will start with the shoes, which were terrific.  I am guessing that my slow transition to 0mm permitted me to change my running style so incrementally that they didn't feel very different.  The shoes are light and I can feel the ground, but the Spyridons have this great waffle-style tread on the outsole that protected me from anything pointy on the trail.  I even ran over a few rocks deliberately.  I felt the them as I ran over them, but it wasn't like they were jabbing into my foot.  This inspired a lot of confidence in the shoe. 

Second, I was expecting them to be really warm on my feet, and I was blissfully wrong.   While the Spyridons don't look like they are as breathable as other models, they performed very well in the heat, which was really intense (next paragraph).  They mostly black with green trim, and use this shiny fabric that looks plastic-y over a stretchy Lycra-like material.   The only negative I took away from the run shoe-wise was that I developed a small, yet painful blister on the inside of my left foot where the loop for the strap is sewn to the shoe.  For my next run in them, I will put a Band Aid on the spot or try a pair of Injini socks.

As for the run, the weather was stinkin' hot again (north of 30C), intense sun and a strong wind blowing from the southwest just ahead of a severe thunderstorm that was forecasted for the evening.  The plan was to go for 30 minutes out-and-back on a nearby recreational path and I decided to knock off another Zombies, Run! mission on my phone to help pass the time.  The wind didn't affect me at all - it was actually rather nice - but the heat did.  The path has very little shade.  I just kept it steady and enjoyed my playlist and the mission.  I ended up finishing the 'back' within a few seconds of the 'out', which actually felt pretty good.  I will definitely be back in the VFF's again soon.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Inaugural Barefoot Shoe Run

I wanted to get a run in over the weekend to break out of the running funk I have been in and managed to do it.  Victory!  I also wanted to see if I could manage a run in barefoot shoes.  (Oxymoron?)  I picked my never-been-worn Merrell Bare Access's (0mm drop) and took them for their maiden voyage.  They were a treat to wear.  I have an upcoming blog post where I describe my minimalist plans.

All of the conventional wisdom I have read suggests that I shouldn't run very far when transitioning to 0mm drop shoes (like starting at a few hundred metres) and that I should gradually increase the distance/duration, but I didn't heed that wisdom.  I have been moving to progressively flatter shoes for the past couple of years and decided to take the final 4mm plunge. (Note: My last few pairs of shoes were 4mm.)  To be honest, they felt great during the run and even 9 hours later as I write this, I feel no lasting effects. 

The run itself felt great.  My goal duration for the run was 30 minutes and because of the heat I planned in keeping the peace slow.  It was definitely slow and hot, but I managed.  I did an out and back on Hilldale Road and I dawned on me how it got its name.  The road was up or down the whole way: hill, dale, hill, dale, hill, dale.  I wore my TomTom Runner, but didn't wear the HRM.  Even without it, I knew that my HR was up there, partly because of the heat and the hills, but mostly due to lost fitness. It took a while for it to come down afterward, but otherwise I recovered rather quickly.  

Saturday, June 11, 2016

My Next Experiment: Aiming for 0 (mm, that is)

Since a picture says a thousand words, this will give you an idea of my next running project:

A Bit of Backstory
I wore orthotics for years.  I have been transitioning to less and less shoe.  Despite having perfectly flat feet and pronating significantly, I never, ever felt goon in motion control shoes.  I normally opted for neutral cushioned shoes and blew them to pieces after about 500-600km.  (The outside edge of my outsoles would wear through and I would occasionally blow through the side of the upper.)  As a result, I became a clearance rack/bin shopper because I needed 2-4 pairs of shoes per year at the mileage I was doing. 

I then read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  The whole less shoe, cheap shoe approach that is described in the book made a pile of sense to me.  Through experimentation I had already stumbled into it myself, but I never had any particular scientific reasoning behind what I was doing.  I was just listening to my body and finding a way to buy 2-4 pairs of shoes per year without blowing a bunch of money.  I wondered if I would ever get to the "shod barefoot" stage.  To me, it didn't really matter if I did.  (Given the surfaces where I run and the fact that Canadian Winters are really cold, "bare barefoot" isn't a viable option.)    Less and less shoe was working fine for me.

My transition has been slower than others.  The reason is more financial than physiological.  I could have transitioned to 0mm drop shoes over a few months, but to ease my conscience, I felt that that I needed to use up the stockpile of shoes that had been accumulating.  I arranged my pile in order by heel drop and used up the highest ones first.  I always rotate among 2-3 pairs at a given time so I just inserted a lower shoe into the rotation when a pair I was using wore out.  A couple of years ago I switched to training in lower racing flats and started buying 0mm heel drop shoes (see photo above).  I have a post in the oven that describes how I came to own such a collection, and not break the bank.

Where I am right now, shoe-wise
I just retired my Adidas AdiZero Mana's, which I was using for my streak and a couple of spring races, and I am currently running in a pair of Newton Distances that someone gifted me.  He tried them a few times and decided that they weren't for him.  I gladly accepted them and found that they are pushing my Achilles tendons and calves in exactly the same way that other shoes did whenever I dropped in heel height, i.e. from 12mm to 8-9mm and then from 8-9mm to 4mm.  In my estimation, the Newtons will help me close the gap.  I will keep these around, as well as a pair of K-Swiss Blade-LightRun's, for days when my feet need a break and I need to work some different muscles.  I also have two pairs of New Balance shoes from the Minimus line that I will use for trail running.  I completed a few runs in the Merrell Bare Access's and haven't felt any of the effects that people report when they have transitioned to quickly, which I take a sign that I'm ready for 0mm.

What is going to happen over the next few months...
My plan for the next month or so is to rotate among the Newtons, the Merrell's and an old pair of Loco Banditos (I bet you've never heard of them), and perhaps a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, probably the Spyridons.  Keeping the Merrell's for the Winter may be a good idea because I will need socks for insulation against frozen toes.  There are two trail races in the Summer (early-July and mid-August) and a road 15km (mid-July) that I am targeting.  I will use the Banditos for the 15km and one of the New Balances on the rails.  The plan is to be in a barefoot shoe pretty much full time by Autumn.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Mystery Jacket

Last Summer I was at Value Village and found a black Lululemon running jacket in excellent condition in the men's section.  There were no tags anywhere inside the jacket, but it was on a hanger that said small.  Only at my fittest could I ever even imagine wearing anything on top that comes in a small.  Undaunted, I decided to try it on.  Being moderately overweight at the time and not exercising at all, I managed to get it over my shoulders, but doing it up was a challenge.  It fit more like a sausage casing than a jacket.  It was $30, so I bought it with the idea that I would use fitting into it as my goal for regaining my running form.  The good news is that I was able to wear it comfortably just after Christmas.  Here are some photos...

Photo of jacket front
Photo of jacket back

The big challenge was that I have no idea what model this is.  I am hoping it is a men's jacket, but it very well could be a women's.  It could be a running jacket, but it has a pocket in the back, and inner mesh liner and vents like cycling wear.  The cuffs fold over into little mitt-like things and there are no thumb holes.  It is definitely windproof and probably waterproof.  It holds the heat in nicely.  I have worn in a few times when the wind chill was well below -20C and it had no trouble keeping my torso warm. 

I sent the photos above and a few others to a couple of Lululemon bloggers.  As an aside, I had no idea that there is a substantial Web community that has been built up around Lululemon clothing. LululemonExpert stepped up and put a ton of time into researching different lines of clothing - well more than anyone would reasonably expect.  She was very thorough, and yet she could turn nothing up.  I also engaged Lululemon Product Support through a live chat and managed to draw someone who has been with the company for a while, and she couldn't turn anything up either.

Is there anyone out there who knows anything about this jacket?  I'm going to keep running in it.  I would just like to know what I have got here.  If you want more photos, just say the word in the comments below.

UPDATE: In case you want to take up the challenge, here are some more photos.

Close up of the logo on the back of the collar

Apparently, according to Lulumen, this must be newer than 2013 because logo is not octagonal.  This guy really knows his stuff.

Back pocket

Cuff with mitt-like thing folded out

Lining behind the right front pocket (ear bud grommet even has a Lululemon logo)

Lining around left arm hole.  Notice the remnants of a tag on the collar.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Race Report: Volunteering with the Extra Mile Crew during the Ottawa Marathon

This weekend I did something amazing that ranks very close to the top of my list of fantastic running experiences.  I had the pleasure to volunteer during the Ottawa Marathon with the Extra Mile Crew.  There have been pace bunnies in ORW for many years and they do an absolutely fantastic job, but this is the first year that ORW featured the Extra Mile Crew, a new kind of help for competitors.  The pace bunnies are indispensable in getting runners to the finish by their goal times, but runners pick up the bunny who works best for them and they run with the bunny.  The Extra Mile Crew does the reverse.  We are on the course to pick up runners who need a little company, encouragement, assistance, etc. and run with them.  By the tone of feedback all of us received during and after the event, I believe that the Extra Mile Crew is here to stay.

For me 32km-37km is the darkest part of the marathon both psychologically and physically.  I'm glad I was stationed where I was, which was on Beechwood Avenue in New Edinburgh at the 35km to go mark.  Our "zone" was roughly 35km to 37km, although I only made it back to my original starting point twice, with the agreement that we would all run in with the last finishers.  Our crew was very motivated and very capable; there were no running rookies in this gang.  All of us were experienced runners, which I found out later was by design.  Because we were the furthest from the finish line, the 35km crew had to be prepared to do the most running.  Speaking personally, I logged over 25km between 10:30AM and 2:00PM.  All but 6km of that was running back and forth in our zone, picking up runners and getting them to and through the 36km water station, where all of the volunteers happened to be wearing red dresses (both men and women). A truly amazing group, they were.

The Crew (I'm in the back with the black cap, no tutu)
There were plenty of runners who needed a little boost.  With the humidity, the temperature had a "feels like" rating of 33C-35C, and out on the course, under a cloudless sky and no shade on asphalt at the hottest part of the day, it "felt like" much, much warmer.  The organizers did the right thing chopping off 10km of the course for the folks who were finishing in over 5 hours.  I cannot imagine what is would have felt like for us and the competitors if we had to be out there for another hour and a half.

There are so many good memories that I will take away from this that I could share, but I will limit it to just a few.  I have to say, first off, that I was really nervous before I started.  I had no idea what to do or how I would be received, but I figured that I would just watch faces and hop on to the course when someone made eye contact and looked like they could use a friend.  It didn't take long, and I didn't stop moving until I reached the finish line 3.5 hours later.  The key was to your eyes out at all times, to ask lots of questions and stay really upbeat.

Michele from Montreal
I saw this fellow running and asked if he wanted some company and he said, "Sure!", so I ran with him for about 100m when a young woman looked over to me and waved me over.  I broke off with the fellow and met Michelle from Montreal.  In her face I could see that she was struggling.  She seemed to be on the verge of tears and said "Thank you for being here" every minute or so.  I chatted with her, asking her if it was her first marathon (it was) and asking her if she was starting to cramp up (her knee was sore) and talking about her training.  I asked her what she was going to do after the race.  I believe that ice cream was in the mix, but I can't remember that clearly.  I ran with her for about 500m beyond the water stop and then told her that I had to go back.  She thanked me with grateful tears in her eyes.  She finished the race and I hope she went for ice cream.  Felicitations, Michele!

Ming from Hong Kong
I could tell that Ming was having a hard time and also that he was not going to ask anyone for help.  The first clue I had that he was hurting was the fact that he was wearing black ball cap, black tights, black shorts (over the tights) and a black long-sleeved shirt.  Did I mention that it was hot?  And he was also carrying a GoPro camera on a selfie stick.  (I wonder if I will end up on YouTube.)  His English was limited, but I found out that it was his first marathon.  He was sweating profusely and I managed to convince him walk through the water stop to get a cup of Nuun down and two glasses of water.  Because of the camera, I offered to handle the cups.  About 200m after the water stop, he started to look like he was coming around and I instructed him to keep to the shady side of the street.  I checked later; he finished.  Bravo, Ming!

There were many others: the ultrarunner who dislocated her toe a week ago while training for a 50km race, the lady who was in the process of completing her 70th marathon, the group of women running together who were helping one in their group who had drank too much water that was sloshing around in her stomach (amazing teamwork), a bunch of individual francophones who politely endured me practicing my French, and the list goes on, but it ends with...

Kim from Fredericton
Lara, our crew leader, came back to me and Chris, another crew member, and pointed to the ambulance and police that were following the last runner.  Chris and I picked him up and we walked/ran together for another km or so.  I then spotted a woman running by herself just ahead of us and I let Chris know that I would go ahead to run with her.  We were now on the hottest part of the course - no shade and the temperature was hitting the daytime high.  Kim had injured her knee, but was determined to finish.  We had around 5km to go, and we alternated between running and walking, with Kim calling the shots.  We picked up Erin, another Extra Mile Crew member (sporting a tutu and magic wand), with about 3km to go and the three of us kept on chatting about Harry Potter, ComicCon, Gotham, etc. (nerds, we're everywhere) and got our photos taken together by the race photographer at 2km to go.  I could tell that she did not want to finish last.  Hats off to her, she soldiered on and started passing a few other runners. 
She finished (not last).  Way to go, Kim!

Things that went well:
  1. Carrying a frozen hydration pack.  We had to be self-sufficient, which meant monitoring and carrying our own nutrition and hydration.  I elected to carry a Reebok hydration pack with a 2l bladder.  I filled the bladder the night before and put it in the freezer.  This not only kept the water cold, but it cooled me off.  Others in my crew knew this trick, too.  It worked brilliantly, and I ended up drinking 1.5l on the course and on the way home. 
  2. Bringing the right extra stuff. I applied spray sunscreen at home before I left and then again just before we got on the course.  After that the can went in the pack.  I applied it again just ahead of our final push to the line and was able to loan the can to another crew member.  I'm glad I kept it with me, or else I (and perhaps my colleague) would have looked like a cooked lobster.  I also had a chocolate protein bar that didn't melt because of the frozen water bladder.  I ended up eating it on the way home.  My keys, wallet and phone went with me in the pack, too.  Unbeknownst to me, Google Fit on my phone tracked my activity for the day.
  3. Staying in the designated zone.  I heard that there were a couple of approaches being discussed as to how long a crew member should run with a competitor.  There were those who felt we should stay with a runner for as long at the runner wants, even if that means going all the way to the finish.  Others believed that we should stay in the zone and relay a runner who needs some prolonged company to crew members in the next zone.  We employed the latter approach and I believe it worked out very well.  I think we helped many more competitors that way.
Things I would do differently:
  1. Eat.  We met at 10:30AM and were on the course shortly after that (and a group photo).  I didn't stop until 2:00PM and then we had to return to our vehicles and head for home.  I packed a protein bar, but didn't have time to eat it because I was pretty much in constant motion, either with a competitor or running back to pick up another.   I didn't bank on running over 25km.  Next time, I will bring a couple of gels or something else that is easy to eat on the go, and re-fuel appropriately.
  2. Test the clothing on a long run.  The maxim that one doesn't use anything on race day that hasn't been tested on a long run applied here, too.  Because I underestimated how much running I would be doing, I didn't wear the shirt beforehand (I wore it right out the packaging)and I hadn't used the shorts I wore for a long run (many shorter runs, yes, but not a long one).  Because of the heat and the occasional drenching from residents' homes, I was severely chafed.  Other crew members were cutting the sleeves off  of their shirts.  At the very least I should have washed the shirt and applied some Body Glide strategically.  (Perhaps TMI, but I know that it may help someone.)