Skratch Labs Fruit Drops Quick Review

July 14, 2015

I recently took advantage of an offer from The Feed for a free Ride Argyle/Scratch Labs water bottle + 5 Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Individual Singles but figured I should actually purchase something from the site as well, given the roughly $20 of free stuff I was getting.  As a big fan of chewy fuel, I’d long been intrigued by the recently introduced Skratch Labs Fruit Drops so I took a chance and ordered a few packets of the raspberry flavor.

Each packet contains 10 drops, with a serving size of 5 chews.  1 serving has 20g of carbs, 14 from sugars, and 80 calories.  For the full run-down on the nutritional info, check out Skratch Labs’ site directly.

I tested out the chews on a 40 mile bike ride, taking the recommended 5 chew serving on the go.  I found the package relatively easy to tear open while riding, but it would probably be even easier to pre-open before you set out.  The drops have a kind of sugary coating, which gives them a more pleasant texture than Clif Shot Blocks (which I do like, generally speaking), and makes them easy to take out of the package without your fingers getting sticky.

Hey, you can see the bottle too!

Hey, you can see the bottle too!

It could have been a placebo effect, but I felt the energy delivery fairly quickly and liked eating something solid a lot more than downing a gel.  At my most recent triathlon I left an open package at my transition spot, taking a few drops after the swim, and then a couple more after the bike, which worked out rather well.

Of course, the proof of the tasting is in the eating of the pudding.  So, how did they taste?  In one word: AWESOME.  Of course, raspberry chews are right in my wheelhouse of flavor and fuel delivery mechanism, but I think others will really enjoy these as well.  I am definitely adding these chews to my fueling plan now, in addition to the Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix powder I already use.  Personally, I think you should too.

Mass State Olympic Triathlon Race Recap

July 13, 2015

This past weekend was, somewhat impulsively, dedicated to racing, starting with bike racing on Saturday and then the Mass State Olympic Triathlon on Sunday.  An 8 AM swim start meant an early departure to get to Lake Dennison in Winchendon, MA.  I had planned to arrive at 7 AM to give myself a fair amount of time to settle in and get ready, but of course that never happens as planned, which leads me to my one and only issue with the race – parking.  At least when I arrived, about 7:10, parking was organized as a single file line on one side of the road, meaning we all queued up and had to wait as the volunteers directed each car into the next spot in line.  It took me roughly 15 minutes to park once I got to the park.  From parking, it was a quick bike ride, albeit on a rough road, to the start area.  The parking was frustrating, but not the worst of things, just be aware of it should you be doing this race in the future.

The check-in process was a breeze from number pick-up through marking up.  I did hear some complaints about rack space in the transition area, but the people around me were quite courteous and I didn’t have any issues.

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After a quick pre-race information meeting on the beach, the race started and I waited…and waited…and waited.  For some reason I was entered as a Newbie/Beginner, which meant starting in the last group.  It was less than ideal to have to wait 20 minutes in a wetsuit on the beach for my wave, but there wasn’t much to be done about it.

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Finally, us white caps were able to get in the water for the swim start, which involved 3 turns with sighting buoys in between.  Water temp was 74 degrees, pretty perfect for me and the conditions were fairly typical New England silty water, offering very little visibility.  I could tell fairly quickly this was not going to be my best swim ever.  For whatever reason I just didn’t feel smooth in the water.  At times I even felt like there was a current going against me, which I’m fairly certain was not the case.  I suspect that part of the issue was that I did not eat much before the race, and could feel the lack of energy.  I did manage to pass some of the people in the wave ahead of me, but I took little solace in that.  I struggled with sighting (and swimming) and know I can put in a better swim.  I climbed out of the lake with an official time of 36:28, which put me in 401st place out of the water overall out of 455 racers and 25 of 30 in my division.  UGH.  I suck at swimming.

Given the debacle that was my Pilgrimman Olympic run in 2014, my strategy for the bike leg was to try to be conservative and make sure I had something left for the run.  One of the benefits of being so far back from the swim was it gave me a good amount of people ahead of me to key in on during the bike, which took my mind off the heat and hills.  I wouldn’t say that any of the hills on their own were too tough, but they did seem to come fairly frequently in the middle section of the course.  Total elevation for the 22 mile leg was 778 ft.

Bike Map

 

I have a feeling the previous day’s racing was still in my legs, but I felt good for most of the bike, passing a lot of people in the process, including 8 on one hill alone.  I can’t lie, that made me feel pretty good about the bike training I’ve been doing as I’ve always considered myself an exceptionally slow climber.  Although it was an open course, traffic never felt like an issue, with generally fairly wide bike lanes and roads in good condition.  In the end, I wound up with an 18.8 MPH average, slightly faster than Pilgrimman, though Pilgrimman’s course was 6 miles longer, but with 300 fewer feet of elevation change.  For fuel, I took a handful of Skratch Labs chews after the swim and a PowerGel at about mile 15.  I had one bottle with me filled with Skratch Labs as well.  For the bike leg, I placed 263/455 and 22/30.

Rolling into the transition I didn’t feel like I had spiked my HR or that my breathing was labored, which I took as good signs.  I didn’t exactly rush through the transition, taking the time to recover a little for the run and downing an UnTapped maple syrup packet.  Unlike the Summer Solstice Sprint, I went my New Balance Zantes for the run, wanting their slightly firmer ride over the Skechers Performance GORides.

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I hadn’t done any reconnaissance on the course, so you can imagine my surprise and dismay when I set out to find it immediately started with a climb.  After that initial climb, it continued to climb, and then climb some more with no hills ever being too steep, just long.  There was a short dip to the turnaround point before heading back to the finish.  I had the elevation total at 149 feet.

Run Leg Elevation

 

 

Given how poorly I ran/walked at Pilgrimman, I was quite nervous of a repeat performance this race.  I’m happy to report that I ran every step of the leg, even through the aid stations, a major mental victory for me.  I did my best to keep steady forward momentum, even as my pace slowed, and took water from two aid stations along the way.  I passed a good number of people on the run, and wasn’t passed by anyone in return.  Other than the challening hills, I liked the run course itself, which was nicely shaded and closed to traffic.  Moreover, there were great volunteers on course handing out ice cold water and sponges to squeeze atop baking heads.  I finished the run with an 8:03 pace, a far cry from the 9:26 pace of Pilgrimman.  I think the combination of being more mindful of effort on the bike and just better conditioning made a substantial difference.

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My placing on the run: 181/455 and 19/30.  I ended up jumping from 401 out of the water to 279th place overall, not exactly where I’d like to be, but the field did seem fairly stacked compared to your typical small sprint.  Generally speaking, this was a great, well-organized race with fantastic volunteers.  I also have to give a shout-out to their swag, which included a tech t-shirt, nice running cap, and even a race belt!  Not a bad haul!

Timberman remains on tap for August, here’s hoping for continued progress!

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Cannondale Slate Details and Pictures

July 11, 2015

Note: In my previous race recap, I included a review of the brand new Cannondale Slate.  But, it occurs to me that it might be helpful to break it out as well for better accessibility and readability.  Now, on to the review.

This bike is so new it’s not even on Cannondale’s site yet.  The Slate is a dropbar bike in the vein of the relatively new segment of “gravel racer” but what truly sets it apart is the inclusion of Cannondale’s famous Lefty fork.

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That’s right, that bike is missing half its fork.  You might think it’d be weird to ride, but it never even occurred to me once I was going.  The fork, dubbed the Lefty Oliver, has 30mm of suspension, which isn’t a lot if you’re bombing down mountain trails, but soaks up a lot more than you would think.  I hit several larger, sharp rocks during the race (sorry Cannondale) and the bike never flinched while others were getting flats and banging up their rims.  I’m 99% certain that, without the fork, I would have been on my butt many times during the race when I picked less than ideal lines or simply didn’t execute the line I had picked.  There is a lock-out button at the top of the fork that you can press “to climb,” or sprint presumably, but I did not engage this during the race.  Standing still it worked just fine.

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The wheels are 650b size, as opposed to the usual 700cc found on road bikes.  650b is the size you’d typically find on the smallest size of a road bike.  However, the Slate’s 650b Stan’s ZTR Flow EX MTB wheels have 42mm wheels, which apparently wind up producing the equivalent of a 700 x 22 wheel.  All I know is these tires did not feel small.

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It’s a pretty snazzy bike, right?  I got many comments from spectators on it, everyone intrigued by the genre-defying bike that has been, until recently, shrouded in mystery.

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My bike was set up with an Ultegra drivetrain (“Road gearing?” asked one onlooker), disc brakes, and a super-comfortable Fabric saddles.  Seriously, I became a big fan of these saddles after riding two races on them.  The frame is aluminium, but I BELIEVE the fork is carbon.  Having shouldered it through a roughly 20 yard rock garden, I can report it feels lightweight.

All in all, the only word I can use to describe my experience racing this bike is “FUN.”  I don’t know how it’ll ride on every cross course, but it handled this one magnificently, which I feel qualified to say given my lack of cross experience.  Still, I’d like to believe that I am the first person to ever race a Slate in an official cyclocross race.  Despite a lack of knobby tires, it never felt skittish, even on the gravel and bark dust.  This is a versatile bike that will turn heads when you ride it.  For an idea of some of the terrain, upon which the Slate did not falter, here I give you photographs.

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Now, tell me you don’t want to see what you can do atop this bike.

Boston Rebellion and the Barn Burner Race Recap + Ridebiker Alliance + Cannondale Slate First Ride

July 11, 2015

Alright, lots to get through in one post so, let’s start at the beginning.  Last night I attended an event at the Cannondale Sports Natick store to launch their new association with Ridebiker Alliance.  At the moment, Ridebiker has a somewhat amorphous mission, but it boils down to bringing bikers together, helping them connect with local bike shops, and providing an easy way to get club kits for the stores that are a member of the alliance.  What this means for Cannondale Sports is that, with the purchase of a team jersey you become a member of their club, which will offer discounts to members along with other rider benefits, the details of which are being hammered out by the powers that be.  I don’t know how the Ridebiker people do it, but during their presentation they told us that they do not have order minimums or ordering time restrictions, so they can relatively quickly turn around requests like custom arm warmers, or, say, a tri top.

Given my affinity for Cannondale Sports, there was never going to be any doubt I was in for the team, which is how I ended up with this sweet new kit (or at least sweet new jersey).  You too can sign up for the Cannondale Sports team by going…here.

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It’s just so…beautiful!  Now, you may be saying to yourself, “well, gee, it looks like you have put together an outfit for a ride!”  Indeed, if you’re saying that, you’re absolutely correct.  You see, over the course of the evening, I got to talking with the guys from the shop about a series of races the next day, put on by Boston Rebellion/Barn Burner as part of the Kenda Cup at Adam’s Farm in Walpole, MA.  I’ll be honest, I have zero idea what the race is actually called, or who was behind it (other than Ridebiker Alliance) but it was intriguing.  What convinced me to take the plunge was the offer from Cannondale to let me use their demo bikes for the races, very generous offer that was quite grateful for.  With the promise of an awesome steed to ride, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The race was actually a series of races over two days.  I decided that I was going to ride the Cat 3 Short Track XC and cyclocross races, separated by roughly 1.5 hours.  Now, I have never done an MTB race, nor a true dropbar cyclocross race, having done my previous CX race on a mountain bike.  Speaking of mountain bike, I got set up on a Cannondale (duh) FSi Carbon 2.  I’ve never ridden a carbon bike.  I’ve never ridden a lefty.  I’ve never ridden a 1×11 set-up.  Despite all that, I felt immediately comfortable on this bike, which proved exceptionally responsive and didn’t break my back when I shouldered it through the rock garden (more on that later).

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A closer look at the SRAM XO1 drivetrain.  It’s weird not having two shifters, but makes the whole set-up much simpler and removes one thing to think about.

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Both races were on the same course, a 0.6 mile loop with sections of grass, loose gravel, dirt trails with random rocks, a rock garden, and bark.  It was really nice terrain to ride, with the constantly changing conditions keeping me on my toes.

Map

And some course shots.

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As the race went on, I got more and more comfortable with the course features, learning which lines to pick, taking corners a little faster each time, and getting a better feel for what the bike could handle.  It turns out, the bike can handle A LOT.  It just ate up rocks and I never felt like I was being tossed around.  My major issue came with not keeping my pedals level, resulting in them bashing against rocks from time to time.  Speaking of rocks, remember how I mentioned the “rock garden” earlier?  Well, here it is.

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Maybe it’s not the worst rock garden ever.  In fact, I know there is another such garden on the pro course that is even worse.  Still, it intimidated the heck out of me so, despite every other racer riding through it, and despite a heckler/encourager telling me to give it a shot, I shouldered my bike through the garden before remounting.

This seems like a good time to transition to the cross race, given that it was essentially the same as the MTB race, just with a different bike.  At this section in the cross race, nearly everyone dismounted and ran through, save for some brave souls who rode straight on.  While I picked my way carefully through the rocks, seasoned veterans ran through like they were on freshly paved tarmac then proceeded to seamlessly hop back aboard their bikes.  It was a sight to behold (and I got yelled at by fellow racers to keep going as I beheld).  Already having some experience on the course by the time I did the CX race, I felt even more comfortable with the race, probably partially a result of the course familiarity, and partially just feeling more at home on a dropbar bike.  Still, I finished quite near the bottom, which didn’t bother me in the slightest.

It’s probably time we talk about this bike, the Cannondale Slate.  This bike is so new it’s not even on Cannondale’s site yet.  The Slate is a dropbar bike in the vein of the relatively new segment of “gravel racer” but what truly sets it apart is the inclusion of Cannondale’s famous Lefty fork.

IMG_4921

That’s right, that bike is missing half its fork.  You might think it’d be weird to ride, but it never even occurred to me once I was going.  The fork, dubbed the Lefty Oliver, has 30mm of suspension, which isn’t a lot if you’re bombing down mountain trails, but soaks up a lot more than you would think.  I hit several larger, sharp rocks during the race (sorry Cannondale) and the bike never flinched while others were getting flats and banging up their rims.  I’m 99% certain that, without the fork, I would have been on my butt many times during the race when I picked less than ideal lines or simply didn’t execute the line I had picked.  There is a lock-out button at the top of the fork that you can press “to climb,” or sprint presumably, but I did not engage this during the race.  Standing still it worked just fine.

IMG_4918

The wheels are 650b size, as opposed to the usual 700cc found on road bikes.  650b is the size you’d typically find on the smallest size of a road bike.  However, the Slate’s 650b Stan’s ZTR Flow EX MTB wheels have 42mm wheels, which apparently wind up producing the equivalent of a 700 x 22 wheel.  All I know is these tires did not feel small.

IMG_4919

It’s a pretty snazzy bike, right?  I got many comments from spectators on it, everyone intrigued by the genre-defying bike that has been, until recently, shrouded in mystery.

IMG_4914

 

My bike was set up with an Ultegra drivetrain (“Road gearing?” asked one onlooker), disc brakes, and a super-comfortable Fabric saddles.  Seriously, I became a big fan of these saddles after riding two races on them.

All in all, the only word I can use to describe my experience racing this bike is “FUN.”  I don’t know how it’ll ride on every cross course, but it handled this one magnificently, which I feel qualified to say given my lack of cross experience.  Still, I’d like to believe that I am the first person to ever race a Slate in an official cyclocross race.  Despite a lack of knobby tires, it never felt skittish, even on the gravel and bark dust.  This is a versatile bike that will turn heads when you ride it.

Here’s my Strava from the cyclocross race.

https://www.strava.com/activities/343913930/embed/74972a24ddf9952f9d5b6dc72d194ecc79e43877

And the short track race.

https://www.strava.com/activities/343830038/embed/15afc878a629092897307e659b5343ebac80b5f1

I’d like to thank Cannondale Sports Natick again for the opportunity to race today on two stellar bikes.  I’m looking forward to getting more involved with the Ridebiker Alliance and racing on trails again!

 

 

Summer Solstice Sprint Triathlon Race Recap

June 23, 2015

In my first triathlon of this new racing season, the JCC Triathlon By The Sea, I made the rookie mistake of not doing my homework on the race course, which led to mistakenly neglecting to do 2 loops of a 3 loop section of the bike course, turning a 10 mile leg into a 5.5 mile leg and a DQ in the process.  I was quite miffed with myself as it likely cost me my first Age Group placing ever.  Consequently, I was looking for redemption at the Summer Solstice Triathlon, a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision race put on by MRA Multisport in Sutton, MA.  The race is a sprint in the purest sense, with a 1/4 mile lake swim, 10 mile bike, and 5K run.

I generally like to give myself roughly an hour before a race so I can get settled in, which I find especially important when it comes to triathlons as there’s just more to get done before the race starts.  So, you can imagine the stress I was feeling as I crawled westward on the Mass Pike at a stop and go pace for 2 hours, finally arriving at the parking lot 25 minutes before the swim meeting was scheduled to start.  Thankfully, parking for the race was about as easy as I’ve ever seen, requiring just a couple minute bike ride to make it from the lot to the actual race location.  As it turned out, all my fretting was for nothing as this was a very low-key race and I was able to breeze through the check-in, taking roughly 2 minutes to check in with registration and get marked up with my number and age.

Having now had a few opportunities to practice in other races, it did not take long for me to get my transition area set-up done just how I like it.  The best addition to my set-up from last year is definitely my new transition mat.  While giving me a clean, dry spot to put my bike and running shoes, it also serves the handy purpose of giving me something bright to look for in the transition area when coming in from the swim and bike legs, cutting down on any wandering about.

IMG_3940 Also pictured is my TYR Alliance Team II Backpack, which I highly, highly, highly recommend for anyone looking for a transition bag.  It just so happens Mrs. R got me both the mat and backpack for Hannukah this year.

Heading into the race, my biggest concern was the water temperature for the lake, which the race packet had listed at a brisk 67 degrees.  Even though the swim was only a 1/4 mile, the temperature had me scared enough to want to go with my wetsuit, which I also thought was important given that this would be my first open water swim of the season and I had to get used to wetsuit swimming again.  Figuring I should be a Big Boy Triathlete, I made myself get in the water to get acclimated and warm up a little.  Lo and behold, it wasn’t so bad!  In fact, it was rather nice!

Thus mentally prepared, I lined up towards the back of the swim start, which was organized men, women, newbies, fastest to slowest in each group and with a 2 person departure on the beach every 3-4 seconds.  Now, the trouble with this configuration is that it meant the fastest women would be right on the slowest men’s heels, i.e. my heels.  Because the first turn was fairly close, this caused a fair bit of congestion in the water and made for a decent amount of grappling and swimming on top of other racers.  Though I would have prepared a clean swim for performance reasons, I looked at this as one more opportunity to work on my race condition techniques.  Things started getting hairy after the first buoy thanks to a combination of perpendicular chop, murky waters, and continued congestion.  Still, I felt relatively strong in the swim, with a final time of 8:23, 50/144 overall.

T2 was not as fast as I would have hoped, taking 3:01, largely as a result of difficulty getting my wetsuit off over the ankle timing chip.  One more thing to work on.

My goal for the bike leg was to work on keeping my heart rate fairly level without red-lining, which would kill my run.  The course was not closed to traffic, as I’ve learned is the case with many triathlons but, for the most part this was not a problem.  The only times I really noticed cars being a potential issue were when passing a racer on the left and having impatient cars then pass me on the left, creating a dangerous situation for all.  Still, no complaints, it just required some heads-up riding at times.  On the flip side, the roads themselves were in great condition and made for pleasant riding.  The course itself had a few rolling hills with one screaming downhill.

Bike Leg Map

Despite this being a non-draft race, there was definitely a lot of non-legal maneuvering during the race, myself included.  If everyone dropped back 15 feet after being passed it just would have been a complete mess.  I found myself in a group of 5-6 riders making moves and counter-moves depending on the terrain, but I didn’t think anyone was actually trying to draft off anyone else.  For nutrition during the bike, I went with Skratch Labs mix in my water bottle.  Rolling into T2, I was happy with my ride and felt like I had a decent amount left in the tank.  I finished with a time 29:17, a 20.5 MPH average, and 36th overall for the bike.

T2 went very well for me, largely thanks to my NiteIze laces, which let me just slip on my shoes like slippers without comprising the tightness of the lacing.  59 seconds after entering the transition area, I was off on the run, which meant a hill right off the bat.  Though it might not be the hardest course as a pure 5K, it felt quite challenging as the last leg in a sprint triathlon.

Run ElevationAs you can see, there wasn’t a lot of flat to the out-and-back course, which mostly involved running on a sidewalk on the way out, and road on the way back to avoid the runners coming in the opposite direction.  For the run, I tried to concentrate on even splits, knowing I’ve gone out too fast in the past (for both road races and tris) and not wanting to hit the wall halfway through.  I think I largely succeeded in that respect.

Run splits

After a nice downhill, I turned the last corner for an uphill finish, giving everything I had left to push for that elusive AG placing, finishing the run leg with a time of 22:56, a 7:24 pace and 27th overall for the run.

My final time was 1:04:34, placing 30th overall and…5th place in my age group.  In 2013 and 2014 that time would easily have put me into 2nd place but, no such luck this year.  Oh well, at least I made it into the Cool Running listings?

Run splits

The race was followed by a nice little BBQ and some spectacular lake views of the sunset.

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If you’re looking for a super low-key, friendly sprint triathlon to add to your early season schedule for 2016, I’d highly recommend the Summer Solstice Sprint.

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Review: NiteIze KnotBone Stretch Laces

June 11, 2015

As may be coming more and more apparent on the blog, I’ve really been getting into the whole “triathlete” thing.  You could even argue that I’ve made the “transition” from runner who also swims and bikes to bona fide triathlete.  From everything I understand, part of triathlon is getting stuff that is “triathlon-specific,” which unsurprisingly extends to your feet.

To that end, I was recently sent a pair of NiteIze KnotBone Stretch laces to try out.  I was particularly excited to try these as, assuming they would work, they would allow me to lace up my sneakers then easily slip them on when transitioning from the bike leg to the run leg of a race.  I mean, it says that’s what they do right on the package.

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The “installation” of the laces is pretty straightforward, especially if you have ever laced up shoes in your life.  Really, the only difficult part was cutting the tips of the laces at an angle, the better to thread the lace through the eyelets, as the material is quite resilient to cutting.  I ended up using the blade of a pair of scissors to basically rip the lace.  Not the prettiest of solutions, but it worked.  After that, it was a piece of cake to load up my kicks with their new laces, which, I must say look pretty flashy.

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I could have cut down the end of the laces, but I get paranoid that I’ll tie them differently the next time I need to and won’t have enough lace.

The next test was seeing just how well I could slip on the shoes with the laces intended to making slipping on the shoes a dream.  Behold.

So, yeah, they work exactly as advertised, making very quick work of the shoeing.  This will really help cut down on that T2 time!

Next, I took them for a run to see how they’d perform, which, arguably, is as important as how they are put on.   Well, I’m happy to report that the stretch laces performed…like regular laces.  I wish there was more to say about them, but probably the best endorsement I can give is that I did not notice them being any different from standard laces.

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These are good laces and they will make you put your shoes on faster.  If you’re looking to speed up your transition times and/or want to keep your lacing constant, you should do yourself a favor and get a pair.

Disclosure: NiteIze sent me these laces for free to review.  However, all my opinions expressed are my own.

Skechers GOrun Ride 4

May 21, 2015

It has been way, way too long since I’ve done any kind of review here but, today, that drought ends.  If you’ve visited the blog before, you know I’m a big fan of the offerings of Skechers Performance, having previously reviewed the Ride3 and Bionic.  I’ve now had a good amount of time to test out one of the newer entries in the SP lineup, the Ride4, including using it for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in Washington, DC and trying it out in a sprint triathlon.

To get the basics out of the way, the Ride4 is a neutral shoe with a 4 mm drop.  Like many other SP shoes, you can remove the stock insole to turn it into a zero-drop shoe, which I’ve done with the Bionics and have really liked.  The Ride4 also makes use of SP’s M-strike technology, which is meant to encourage a midfoot strike, and their GOimpulse sensors, which are designed to provide more sensory feedback with the ground.  Reported weight comes in at 8.4 oz.

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I’ve yet to be disappointed by an SP shoe and the Ride4 has proven no exception.  I particularly like the update in the upper from the 3 to the 4, which features a lot more mesh and improved laces.  What you cannot see, unfortunately, is the inclusion of a small thumb hole in the ankle of the shoe, which allows for the shoes to be pulled on quickly, aided by the slightly elastic upper and softer heel cup.  I rarely even untie these shoes on a day to day basis.  While many might not make much use of the pull hole, I found it very helpful when I tried them out in a sprint triathlon, allowing me to slip on the shoes quickly in transition.

On the triathlon side, though, I would note that the seem at the top of the forefoot, where gray meets black, did not agree with my bare feet…at all, giving me a pretty decent abrasion when I tried the shoes sockless.  With socks, I’ve never experienced any issues with irritation.
The sockless issue aside, I love running in these shoes.  Whether or not the M-Strike technology actually affects my stride, I don’t know, but I do know I at least FEEL like it’s easy land on my midfoot, with the ride never feeling clunky.  It’s hard to pinpoint why, but these shoes feel a lot lighter underfoot than the claimed weight might indicate.  What I particularly like is that, unlike many lighter weight shoes, the Ride4’s toe box feels generously wide, without feeling like my feet are sloshing around side to side.
So, if you’re looking for a lightweight trainer or racer for triathlons or longer races, I’d highly recommend you check out the Skechers Performance Ride 4 as an option!

 

Boston Marathon 2015 Happenings

April 1, 2015

Well, it certainly has been a while since I’ve dusted off the old blog, but nothing inspires me to write like the Boston Marathon!  There are sure to be lots of great events surrounding marathon weekend, and I aim to make this your one-stop source for all of them.  I’ll update the post as new events are posted, please let me know in the comments if I’m missing anything!

Tuesday, April 14

6:00-9:00 p.m. – Adidas Event: City Sports Back Bay.  Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon Director, will speak followed by a 2-3 mile shake out run. After the run, join us for a FREE pasta party courtesy of Adidas.

Thursday, April 16

7:00 a.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Join us at every morning at 7 sharp from April 15 through April 22 for some brisk runs along the beautiful banks of the Charles River. Runs will be led by the Tracksmith Team, including 2016 Olympic Trials marathon qualifier (and Tracksmith product-fulfillment stud), Eric Ashe, with post-run hydration provided by Nuun.

5:30 p.m. – Tracksmith Amateur Press Conference:

While sports media tend to focus on the marathon frontrunners, the real story of Boston has always been about the accomplishments of the amateur athletes. Those runners who rise to the exceptional qualifying standards of this marathon with no promise of a laurel wreath.

Come listen to Mario Fraioli of Competitor Magazine moderate this Q&A with some of the top amateur runners, including Olympian Ruben Sanca.

6:00-9:00 p.m. – Brooks Lobster Event: City Sports Back Bay.  Stop by City Sports to celebrate the launch of the new Brooks lobster shoe. Enjoy a 2-3 mile fun run followed by FREE lobster rolls, a live DJ, and raffle prizes. All attendees will receive a special gift from Brooks.

Friday, April 17

6:30 a.m. – That’s right.  A.M.  Have you ever wanted to say “I’ve done the exact same workout as Olympian Shalane Flanagan?” or “Michael Wardian and I are part of the same nationwide workout group?” or “FUCK YEAH!”?  Then you need to join November Project Boston for their Summit Ave workout in Brookline.  Don’t want to do a hill workout right before the marathon?  Go do some exercises with the Injury Deck people, or just go cheer on everyone else.  The point is: Just show up.  UPDATE: It appears Chris McDouggal has verbaled!

7:00 a.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Join us at every morning at 7 sharp from April 15 through April 22 for some brisk runs along the beautiful banks of the Charles River. Runs will be led by the Tracksmith Team, including 2016 Olympic Trials marathon qualifier (and Tracksmith product-fulfillment stud), Eric Ashe, with post-run hydration provided by Nuun.

5:00 p.m.: Bring your friends for an evening shake-out run hosted by Olympic medalist Deena Kastor and Runner’s World Chief Running Officer Bart Yasso. Evening will include:

· Fun run offered to runners of all levels
· Post –run refreshments
· Race day tips from Bart + Deena
· Chance to check out the latest Asics apparel and running shoes
· Secure bag check during run

FREE ASICS Gift Bag for the first 50 runners who attend.

Asics Store: 328 Newbury St.

6:00 p.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.):

Ever since we started Tracksmith last year, perhaps the one question we heard most often was, ‘What about women?’ Well, the time has come; we’re going co-ed.

Please join us for the launch of our women’s collection, painstakingly considered to address the needs and aesthetics of competitive women who take their running seriously.

6:00-9:00 p.m. – Converse Event: City Sports Back Bay.  Join City Sports for an awesome event sponsored by Converse. Enjoy free giveaways, a live DJ, and refreshments.

7:00 p.m. – Harvard Book Store and Runner’s World welcome Skechers Performance elite athlete MEB KEFLEZIGHI, winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, 2009 New York City Marathon, Olympic Silver Medalist, and founder of the MEB Foundation, for a discussion of his book Meb for Mortals: How to Run, Think and Eat like a Champion Marathoner. The evening will be hosted by Runner’s World Editor-in-Chief DAVID WILLEY, who will be joined on the panel by 1968 Boston Marathon champion and long-time Runner’s World editor AMBY BURFOOT, TCS New York City Marathon Race Director MARY WITTENBERG, and Meb for Mortals co-author SCOTT DOUGLAS.  http://www.harvard.com/event/meb_keflezighi/

Tickets can purchased online only at meb.eventbrite.com.

Saturday, April 18

7:00 a.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Join us at every morning at 7 sharp from April 15 through April 22 for some brisk runs along the beautiful banks of the Charles River. Runs will be led by the Tracksmith Team, including 2016 Olympic Trials marathon qualifier (and Tracksmith product-fulfillment stud), Eric Ashe, with post-run hydration provided by Nuun.

9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. – Janji Shakeout  Run: City Sports Back Bay.  Prepare for 26.2 with Janji and City Sports! Join us for a short shake out run followed by refreshments and a Coach Greg McMillan meet and greet.

10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Join Meb Keflezighi and coach Greg McMillan and learn the secrets to Boston Marathon success!  Meet and greet from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  Lenox Hotel, 61 Exeter St. at Boylston, Dome Room, 2nd floor.  All attendees receive a free UCAN sample pack and autographed photo of Meb!  Please register at: generationucan.com/bostonmeb

11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Where: City Sports Back Bay.  Customize all of your official Adidas BAA apparel at City Sports!

12:00 p.m. – Best-selling author Christopher McDougall (“Born to Run”) will be in town on marathon weekend promoting his new book, “Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.”

WalkBoston and the Somerville Road Runners are helping organize free fun runs with Chris before his book events!

Meet us on the steps of Old South Church for a pre-event fun run and Wild Fitness workout. We’ll set off toward the river, covering 5k with a mid-run workout led by Wild Fitness creator Tara Wood.

The run is free, though runners must still hold a ticket to gain admission to the 2pm and 7pm events.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1588430711443936/

Want a ticket to the event, too? More info here:
http://www.harvard.com/event/christopher_mcdougall1/

Info on the run in Cambridge later:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1593533410904258/

2:00-5:00 p.m. – New Balance Fresh Foam Event: Where: City Sports Back Bay.  Celebrate the New Balance Fresh Foam Limited Edition Boston shoe with City Sports! Stop by our back Bay location and try on a New Balance Fresh Foam and receive a free grilled cheese from Roxy’s Grilled Cheese!

4:00 p.m. – Tracksmith: Please join us on Saturday to celebrate the release of METER Magazine Issue #01.

METER is a quarterly journal of reportage and gorgeous photography that re-establishes a connection between the sporting heritage of running and its current group of participants and fans. Meet some of the contributors and enter a raffle to win limited-edition prints of some of the featured photography.

Sunday, April 19

9:00 a.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Join us at every morning at 7 sharp from April 15 through April 22 for some brisk runs along the beautiful banks of the Charles River. Runs will be led by the Tracksmith Team, including 2016 Olympic Trials marathon qualifier (and Tracksmith product-fulfillment stud), Eric Ashe, with post-run hydration provided by Nuun.

9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. – Janji Shakeout  Run: City Sports Back Bay.  Prepare for 26.2 with Janji and City Sports! Join us for a short shake out run followed by refreshments and a Coach Greg McMillan meet and greet.

11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Where: City Sports Back Bay.  Customize all of your official Adidas BAA apparel at City Sports!

Monday, April 20

Post Race – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Post-Race Party –

Technically it’s not officially a sanctioned, certified marathon party, per se. But unofficially, it sort of kind of could be considered a marathon party-type thing.

And you’re officially unofficially invited. Join us for cold beers and marathon-related socializing to kick off your Monday afternoon post-race celebration.

A Tribute To Cobb Cycling’s Customer Service

October 28, 2014

Please forgive this foray entirely into the cycling world with nary a run to be mentioned, but I wanted to share a recent experience I had with Cobb Cycling that blew me away in terms of customer service.  I was fortune enough to win a saddle from Cobb through a contest put on by Maverick Multisport whereby I was closest to guessing the time for their athlete, Amber Ferreira at the Ironman World Championships in Kona (you should really check out Amber’s blog, it’s great).  Cobb Cycling is a team sponsor for Maverick and I had my pick of 3 saddles, the Fifty-Five JOF, SHC, and V-Flow Max.  Given that I’m looking to make my Caadilac more tri-specific, I was psyched to have the opportunity to kit it out with a beautiful new saddle to replace the stock one.

My first instinct was to go with the JOF, which seemed to be a reasonable choice for both road riding and triathlons if I ended up putting aero bars on the bike for racing, as I hope to in the future.  Maverick even went the extra mile and contacted Cobb to see if they could send me the oh-so-beautiful Electric Green version, because of my need to color-coordinate wherever possible.  I mean, how could I pass this up?

JOF_green_large

Before taking the plunge though, on a whim I checked in on the Cobb Cycling Facebook page (go ahead, like them, you know you want to) and asked if they had any advice for choosing between the three options given that I use my bike for road riding and may or may not add aero bars at some point.  Instead of just giving an answer, which would have been totally fine by me, they invited me to call someone specifically the next day to talk through the options, I think his name is Steve?  Scott?  I’m going to call him Scott for these purposes, but don’t hold me, or Scott, to that name.  When I spoke to him the first thing he did was ask some baseline questions, i.e. height and weight.  He then went through some more particulars, including riding style, where I tend to ride on my current saddle, and if I was more of a runner or cyclist when it came to leg shape.  In other words, I told him I have thunder thighs.

Taking all my details into consideration, “Scott” said he was going to recommend I not go with any of the three options and instead the Plus, which would be a versatile option that would suit me well.  He then gave the OK for me to let Maverick know that Cobb was cool switching up the prize, and it was all taken care of from there.

A couple weeks later, I received this in the mail.

2014-10-23 07.50.23

Soon, it shall be mounted atop my Cannondale, and my butt is just going to be SO very happy. I really can’t say enough about what a great experience it was working with Cobb Cycling. It was clear to me that it mattered to them that I be in the right Cobb saddle despite the fact that I wasn’t paying for it. I have to give Maverick kudos as well for being an excellent partner with their sponsor. Much love to go around. Thanks Cobb Cycling and Maverick Multisport!

Pilgrimman Triathlon Race Recap: The OK, The Good, and The Ugly

September 30, 2014

It seems as if a whole summer has passed since my last blog entry, which is unsurprising I suppose given that a whole summer has passed since my last blog entry.  I’d feel bad about that, but truth be told there’s really been very little to write home about as I’ve spent the summer trying to prepare myself for this past weekend’s Pilgrimman Olympic Distance Triathlon.  The advertised distances for the race were 0.9 mile swim, 28 mile bike, and 6.6 mile run.

I’m not entirely sure why, but there seems to be a naming convention for triathlons that includes “-man,” particularly if they include a 70.3 distance or longer, see Timberman, Eagleman, Pumpkinman, etc.  Though the timing is a bit off to be associated with Thanksgiving, Pilgrimman did take place in the Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth, MA, Myles Standish being a passenger on the Mayflower and first commander of Plymouth Colony’s militia.  Check out the flow on the pilgrim.

I set Pilgrimman, in its inaugural year, as my target race for my inaugural season training for triathlons and spent the summer building up my swim and bike strength while trying to maintain a semblance of running shape.  Of course, when I signed up for the race I didn’t have a very good sense of exactly where it was, nor did I know that registration would close at 7:30 a.m.  These two factors combined led to a 4:50 a.m. alarm so I could make sure that my whole race day wouldn’t be scuttled by a failure to get through registration on time.  This leads me to my first gripe with Pilgrimman, two gripes actually.  First, registration did not close at 7:30.  This gripe has more to do with being annoyed that I lost out on maybe 30 extra minutes of sleep and less to do with an insistence that races keep their word about when they say registration will close.  Frankly, it’s a good thing if they accommodate stragglers.  Still, it was clear that the 7:30 time was unnecessarily early.  Second, they had run out of all but extra-large size t-shirts by the time I checked in, around 7:20 a.m.  This was particularly vexing given that the shirt was included in the registration fee and I doubt there were many triathletes interested in XL size t-shirts.  Big deal?  Nah.  Annoying and an issue that should be addressed next year?  Yes, absolutely.  In any event, I was glad I had everything ready to go the night before so I didn’t have to wake up any earlier than I already had to.

2014-09-27 20.51.36-1

With registration materials in hand, I headed over to the transition area and got all markered up.  I wouldn’t exactly say the transition area was especially clearly laid out, but it was good enough and I was able to snag a primo piece of real estate on the bike rack.  Unlike at the Dam Triathlon, this time I had a decent sense of how to set up my transition area with the hopes of cutting down on my T1 and T2 times from my first attempt.  I munched on a half a pack of Honey Stinger chews to go along with my breakfast of toast and butter (note I include these details mostly in anticipation of a potential coach reading them at some point and critiquing my pre-race fueling) and passed the time talking with some fellow competitors, including one older gentleman rocking a wicked sweet pair of jorts over his tri-kit.  Finally, with everything in place, it was time to head down to the beach for the swim.

Despite my instincts towards laziness and an aversion to swimming any more than absolutely necessary, I convinced myself that everyone else who was in the water warming up must have some better idea about the right way to get ready for a swim than I did.  So, ever so slowly, I made my way into what turned out to be cold, cold water, at least to my delicate sensibilities.  Though all I wanted to do was rush back to shore and get warm, I ducked under the water and embarked on a roughly 50 meter warm-up swim.  OK, it wasn’t a lot, but I think it let me get over that first chest-crushing rush of coldness and anxiety that could otherwise completely sabotage the swim leg.  Fast forward through other age group swim starts and it was finally time to start.

That's me, bending down.

That’s me, bending down.

The swim was 3 laps for the Olympic distance, laid out in rectangular fashion with a short beach run from the end of each lap to the start of the next.  I’d like to think that I maintained a fairly even pace throughout the swim, slow that pace may have been.  There were two notable exceptions to the swim going pretty smoothly, the first being when, during the third lap, I veered too far left going around the first buoy (in a counter-clockwise fashion) and had to course-correct back up to the second buoy so that I didn’t cut the course.  Next, on the home stretch I somehow found myself swimming perpendicular to the beach, which, if you are unfamiliar with how races work, is not a good idea.  This is not a good idea, at all.  Thankfully I didn’t get too far before realizing my mistake, and powered through to the beach, dragging myself out of the water and beginning the trudge uphill to the transition.  Final time for the swim was 36:22, a 2:18 pace, good enough for a solid 109th place…out of 146…dang it.  I’m a slow swimmer.  Still, the performance was about what I would have expected, which makes it fine by me.

I tried doing the whole “running” thing but mostly ended up yogging and walking to my bike.  Learning from a mistake I made at Dam, which essentially boiled down to not listening to my mentor Jocelyn’s advice, I put my calf sleeves on under my wetsuit for this race, which meant I didn’t have to spend time pulling them on in T1.  I was dismayed to see that my helmet, which contained my sunglasses and gloves, had been knocked to the ground off my handlebars, but I can’t say it really cost me any time as a result, just annoyance.  I made it out of T1 in 3:44, a big improvement from the 5:01 it took me at Dam.

On to the bike leg.  The course was an out-and-back format, 7 miles out, 7 back, therefore requiring 2 circuits for the full distance.

Bike Course

Though the elevation gain doesn’t seem to reflect it, the course felt like it was an endless series of slight hills with very few flat stretches to speak of.

Bike Elevation

After the end of lap 1, I took one Salted Watermelon Gu and also removed my cycling gloves, which were threatening to numb my hands entirely.  Both turnaround spots featured hairpin turns around a cone, which leads me to the first of my 3 gripes concerning the bike leg, the first being the hairpin turns, which I found difficult to navigate in a narrow space and a big momentum killer.  Frankly, I don’t know what could be done to avoid this, but I don’t like those kind of turns in road races, let alone on the bike.  Next, traffic issues were a major concern for me.  On the first lap I had a run-in with a car that I felt got too close to me on a turn and exchanged some pleasantries with the driver.  I know it can’t have been easy for cars to pass riders given riders going both ways on the road, but as a result I ended up stuck behind cars going up a hill because they refused to pass the rider in front of me.  I’ll give the Pilgrimman RDs some credit for course management in terms of giving directions to riders as I understand from various Facebook posts that there were major issues in the sprint race the day before.  Still, course management remains a concern for me.  Finally, though I love volunteers and am grateful they were there for the race, I found that they crowded the road when handing out water, though maybe I just don’t know how these things work in triathlons, never having been offered water on a bike before.  I’m willing to chalk that last gripe up to personal discomfort with people being too close to me on the bike.

[EDIT: Pilgrimman has announced that the course will be changed next year to a closed course, which is great news.  I really respect how quickly they have moved to address concerns from racers, it’s the mark of a good RD and they should get credit for their alacrity.]

Some shots from the bike leg!

Pilgrimman Pilgrimman DM_140928_8572

I didn’t pass as many people on the bike leg as I did at Dam, but I was still pretty happy with an average pace of 18.7 MPH.  That said, I have a feeling that I extended myself too much, sapping crucial energy for the run.  My time ended up at 1:29:39, good enough for 62nd place on the bike leg, which I can be pleased with.  I quickly racked my bike, gulped down some Gu Brew and a salt tab (thanks to Alett for the suggestion), pulled on my New Balance 890 v4s and headed out of the transition zone to begin my last leg, with a T2 time of 2:11, down from 2:42 at Dam.

I started the run feeling tightness in my quads, and that was about as good as I’d feel all run.  The run course started uphill.  The run course continued uphill.  The run course never stopped uphilling.  OK, that’s an exaggeration, still, the course just felt brutal to me, even though it probably might not have been so hard if it was just a road race.  I had to stop about a half mile in for a bio break – it would not be the last time I had to stop running.  It didn’t take too long to get the feeling that I just did not have very much left in my legs for the run and I soon became fairly demoralized by the feeling that I was running on what seemed to be a net uphill loop, which I previously did not think was possible (that’s a lie, there was a long period in high school when I argued that the Stratton Brook XC course was more uphill than downhill, despite being a loop).  I likely wasn’t in the best frame of mind, but I do have to point out my final two gripes for the course, both having to do with the water stops on the run.  The first probably has to do with me being a curmudgeon, but at the mile 1 water stop the volunteer asked if I wanted water, bottled water, or Gatorade.  I don’t blame the volunteer, and again maybe this is me not understanding the triathlon world, but at that point I just could not process or deal with trying to figure out why I was differentiating between “water” and “bottled water.”  Upon reflection, I’ll move this gripe into a personal preference clash as, maybe, triathletes like getting bottles of water they can carry with them and sip as needed.  Maybe some people put this feature of the race into their plus category.  However, I think my second gripe, now technically my first, is legitimate, namely that the Gatorade on the course was really, really gross.  I’m not sure what went wrong with the mixing process, but something did go terribly wrong, leaving it tasting really bad.  Perhaps this is all to say that maybe I should consider using a fuel belt in the future such that I can have better control over my own hydration needs, something I’ve never worried about in a road race, but, again, triathlon is a different world.

Pilgrimman Pilgrimman DM_140928_9387

As for the run course itself, other than feeling ludicrously hard, it was quite pretty running through the forest, at least during the times I could let myself appreciate the scenery.  All my fellow racers were friendly and encouraging, despite everyone around me appearing to be in some sort of pain or another.  Here are some pictures that relate to the course, and my slow, slow splits thereupon.

Run Course Run Elevation Run Splits

At long last I took the final turn onto the path leading to the finish, which, of course featured another slight incline.  I finished hot, exhausted, but proud.

IMG_4710

Oh, did I mention it was hot?  Like really hot?  Like “unseasonably warm” but hotter?  Well, it was hot.  Was I pleased with the run, which should have been my best leg?  Definitely not.  But, was I proud of the accomplishment of finishing?  You betcha.  There’s plenty to build on and I learned a lot of lessons about both training and racing, including:

  • Do.  More.  Bricks.
  • Swim more, swim faster when swimming more.
  • Run longer distances during training.
  • More bricks.
  • Think about adding a heart rate monitor to racing to not over-exert on the bike.
  • Be less fastidious in transition.
  • Swim straighter, sight more often.
  • Finally, more bricks.
  • Eat a better breakfast pre-race.

I’m sure there are more things I could have done better both in training and racing, but I’ll have to figure them out as I go along.  For now, I can be content with placing pretty darn squarely in the middle of the pack, 76th place overall and 6th in my age group.  I know I can do better.  I know I will do better, and I can’t wait until next tri season to prove it.

2014-09-28 12.49.45

p.s. I don’t want to come off overly harsh on my race experience.  This was a first time race, and it can’t be easy to stage a triathlon in its first year.  Overall it was a very good experience and all the volunteers were outgoing and helpful.  Fixing the t-shirt ordering and traffic issues would go a long way to smoothing the race experience as a whole but, on the whole, I think it was mostly a job well done by the RDs.


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