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: 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 end 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.)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Race Report: MEC Ottawa 2016 series: Race #1 - The Spring Fling

I want to start off by stating that I had no business doing this race.  My training has been completely sporadic and inconsistent since my 100-day streak ended in February.  I have been concentrating more on step counting and getting out my desk chair than running.  That being sais, the runs I did over the past month or so, albeit few, have felt great.  I had no idea how much fitness I kept and how much I have lost, but I thought I'd give 10 miles a shot, and only barely.  I questioned the logic of sticking with the 10 miler and seriously considered dropping to the 10km, even at the point of receiving my bib from the race organizer the day before.  If I was going to do 10 miles, I was not going for anything close to a PR.  I decided to use the event to benchmark where I am at.

My Race Strategy:
Since the course was very flat, I didn't need a plan that was very sophisticated.  I somewhat arbitrarily chose 90 minutes as a goal time, which works out to approximately 5:35/km.  I keyed that in to the Virtual Partner applet on my Forerunner 610.  This would be the first time I would try this in training or a race.  I decided that I would lock on to a pace that was comfortable, ignore everyone around me and keep it steady for as long as I can.  I would bring one gel and just take water (no electrolyte drink) along the route.

Race "Preparations":
There are countless articles floating around the Web that give all kinds of advice on  how to prepare for race day.  I pretty much ignored every piece of advice and conventional wisdom offered therein.  The start time was 8:30AM and I figured that it would be prudent to be there by 7:45AM.  I woke up at 6:00AM, checked the forecast on the TV (5C and sunny by time the gun goes off)  and immediately got sucked into yesterday's sports highlights and then a show I PVR'd the night before.  By now, it's 7:00 and I run to grab a cap, Oakleys, long sleeve shirt, shorts and socks, plus my electronics (phone, earbuds, arm band, Forerunner and chest strap).  I then dug my number out of my bag and quickly pinned it on, not wanting a repeat of the previous race in the series.  Once I'm dressed it's already past the time when I need to leave.  Breakfast was a half empty water bottle I found in the car and a PowerBar Performance Energy Bar (Peanut Butter with an expiry date of sometime in late 2015) that I had shoved in my pocket on the way out the door.

Getting started:
I got to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum parking lot around 8:00 and had to line up to pay for parking, which thankfully did not take long.  I went back to the car to put the parking slip in the windshield and get wired up.  The temperature may have been 4-5C, but the wind was cold, and all I brought was what I planned to wear in the race.  I didn't stand still for long until the gun went off.  Fortunately, the line-up for the bathroom was blissfully short when I got there.  Two minutes later, the line-up was huge.  Great timing on my part.  I selected the latest Zombies, Run! episode and set the episode duration for 90 minutes.  I also decided to try playing songs I had downloaded to my Google Play library.  I normally use Doubletwist for music, but Zombies, Run! doesn't work especially well with it.  I had a nice chat with friends Molly and Fred who were running the 10km and then headed to the start line.

The Race:
I seeded myself close to the rear of the pack.  The plan was to start slow and settle into my pace once I had some elbow room.  There are a lot of speedy folks who do the races in this series and I wouldn't want to get in their way.  The wind was still cold, so I tried to nestle myself in the crowd, using them as shelter.  This actually worked.

The gun went off and I hit start on every device I was wearing, shuffling along for the first few hundred metres until the crowd started to thin.  Google Play was giving me a hard time; the bright sun meant I could see the screen and I hadn't yet figured out how to shuffle my entire library of songs.  I ended up listening to them in alphabetical order starting in the B's - peculiar, but not a big deal.

I settled into a 5:50/km pace.  It was a little slower than planned, but it felt right.  I felt kinks in my quads, claves and feet sporadically for a few kilometres, but it didn't slow me down.  I felt that my body was working stuff out, which turned out to be true.  Water stops were positioned along the course every 3km or so (starting at 1.5km) and I planned to take a cup of water (only) at every stop and walk while drinking it.  I took water at every one except for the last one because I was starting to slosh by then.  I ate (drank?) the PowerGel® Energy Gel (Double Latte with an expiry date of sometime in late 2015) about 100m ahead of the 9km water stop so that I would have a glass of water to wash down.  (My supply of last year's gels and bars are nearly done.  I need to buy some stock for this year.  Sponsors welcome.)

After 4km I was starting to pass folks who went out too hard and a bunch of folks passed me.  I made a conscious effort to not get caught up with this, lose focus and speed up.  I managed to do just that.  The wind had dies down by now and I was starting to warm up (on the exterior).  I don't know if it has to do my age or what, but I don't feel truly warmed up (on the inside) until after 30-40 minutes.  True to form, at just over 30 minutes (over 5km by now) I started to lose that "Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz" feeling.

I then started wondering if I should pick up the pace a bit.  Virtual Partner says that I am going to finish in over 95 minutes.  I picked it up a little (probably 0:10/km) and kept going, checking in with myself every once in a while to see how things are going.  I put in a couple of kilometers under 5:40/km and then for some reason I slowed down in the kilometer leading up to and after the turn around.  This was the only "hill" in the race, so maybe that was it.  In any case, I picked up the pace again at around 12km and averaged around 5:34/km right to the finish.  Virtual Partner was telling me that my finishing time was coming down  I think only one person passed me after the 7km mark, but I passed a bunch.

The Finish:
I got to the finish in 92:56 and I felt great.  I wasn't wrecked, I was still hydrated, and I came away with no injuries.  I managed to negative split a 10 miler that, as I said earlier, I felt I had no business doing.  Frankly, I still had gas in the tank at the finish.  Maybe I could have gone a couple of minutes faster, but I like how I came away from this feeling like I hadn't lost as much fitness as I had imagined.  It is better to finish like this than finishing feeling like you barely avoided disaster.  I especially like how the race plan worked and how I could listen to my body and make adjustments.  Perhaps my laissez-faire attitude before the race kept me from over-thinking everything and getting stressed out.  There were many good lessons learned from this race.  I'm glad there are 5 more races in this series.

A note about MEC races:  These races are no frills, but they have what is truly needed and they are extremely well organized.  I don't need another race shirt or finishing medal.  A chip timed event that runs smoothly with regular water stops and enough bananas at the finish line is perfect, and that is want these races offer.  The unpretentious, non-corporate and friendly atmosphere remind me of road races I did in the 1980's and local club races.  I would much rather run one of these with a few hundred fellow runners than a huge corporate event with thousands.