Challenge Roth Race Report – Pre-Race

July 17, 2018

Obligatory: It’s been too long since I’ve posted intro! It’s now been 10 days since I completed Challenge Roth, but because I only got back to the USA yesterday, I’m considering this a very early attempt at getting a race report up. That said, I make no representations that I actually finished this post on 7/11, only that I started it on that date. I’m going to do this one a little differently than others in an attempt to not have one epic post about the whole race, while providing some hopefully helpful information about what it’s like doing a tour package as part of the race experience. I’m going to try to stick to talking about the official tour events, rather than having this be a total travel diary.

I suppose I should start by saying exactly what Challenge Roth is. Roth is an Ironman distance race that used to be part of WTC (Ironman) but split at some point. It’s now in its 35th total year. Roth has to be one of the hardest races, or at least triathlons, to sign up for, selling out within a minute in 2015 and I think even faster since then. As a result, one of the only really good ways to get into the race is to go through a group that offers a tour package that includes the opportunity. After looking at a couple options, I ended up going with RaceQuest Travel (hereafter “RQT”) and, overall, I’d say I was very happy with the experience. They worked with us to do a package for R and me and it wound up being a very good choice to have R be able to take all the bus trips the athletes did, making transportation much easier.

We arrived in Munich, Germany on June 26 after flights from Boston to London, then on from there. One thing I learned, you have to pay for soft drinks on British Airways flights from Heathrow to Munich! Weird. After gathering our bags, all of which thankfully arrived without incident, we went to go meet our RQT contacts. Along the way, we wound up meeting a lovely couple also doing the race from Couer D’Alene, Keith and Brenda, that would become our “vacation friends” for the rest of our time in Germany. When we’d all arrived, RQT loaded up our luggage onto a bus and we began the roughly 90 minute trip to our base hotel in Nuremberg.

We stayed at the Ramada Parkhotel in Nuremberg, which I would describe as “absolutely fine.” When we arrived, I quickly unpacked the clothes and race fuel I’d packed in my bike bag then brought the bike to the pop-up bike mechanic room that RQT had set up. Because I have no clue how to put my bike together, at least I never attempted it, I signed up through RQT to have their mechanic take care of it, which eliminated at least one source of stress for me. This is one great aspect of RQT and I have nothing but good things to say about how my bike was handled. They also had space for the bike bag itself, which meant I didn’t have to take up hotel room space with it.

We kicked off the first full day of the tour with a 30 minute shakeout run lead by a former pro triathlete. There is a large system of bike/running paths in Nuremberg and we wound up using the run as part training/part sightseeing opportunity. On this run, we stopped at Soldier’s Field, which is where Hitler would give speeches to huge crowds of Nazis. It was a very powerful monument, which did not shy away from horror wrought by the Third Reich.

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Even if you don’t get to Nazi ruins, I’d highly recommend avoiding the urge to sleep in the first morning you arrive in a new country for a race and instead getting up and going for a run, which I found helped with the jet lag.

First Shakeout

In the afternoon, we took a walk through town to get to a local pool. It felt good to get the chance to put in a couple workouts, however short, in the same day and get in the mood of being an athlete. I couldn’t help but laugh at the German word for “pool,” as it seemed a direct message to me about my own technique in the water.

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The pool itself was absolutely fantastic. 25 meter lanes of slightly cool, but comfortable, water. It was a bit of confidence boost to see that I wasn’t the slowest swimmer in our group and I felt nice and comfortable with my stroke, even with a bit of a layoff. I think this swim set me up very well for my eventual race swim.

Swimming Pool

That night, we boarded a bus to take our first trip into Roth itself for a welcome dinner hosted by Roth’s Vice-Mayor and the CEO of Challenge Roth, who took over the position from his father. This was our first taste of what the race atmosphere would be like, and it definitely whet my appetite for race day. The VM was an absolutely adorable man who didn’t speak any English, but still managed to convey how excited he was for race weekend, and how much it meant to the people of Roth to put on a good day of spectating.

Roth Vice Mayor

The dinner itself was somewhat of a bust. We were told there would be “German food,” which I interpreted as sausages and potatoes, based on what we’d eaten and seen in Nuremberg, but it was instead three different types of pasta with red sauce, with no protein in any of them. It wasn’t bad, it was just “meh” for what was billed as a buffet dinner.

Despite knowing it would be good for me, I really didn’t want to drag myself out of bed for the next morning’s shakeout run, but I was really happy I did in the end as we were able to see the memorial to German soldiers killed in WWI and WWII as well as the victims of the Third Reich. Again, it was very moving to see how Germany approaches its past.

Memorial Run

After a quick breakfast, I tagged along with Keith and Brenda as they went out for a quick bike ride to take pictures of Brenda’s new fancy schmancy custom-made tri suit. I know nothing more about it other than it looked rad and it gave me the chance to test out the bike build without getting lost. We went back to Soldier’s Field, which now has a Formula 1 race track in front of it, which was great for just doing very short laps back and forth on an empty road with a perfect surface.

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Next on the agenda was packet pick-up and race expo visit, which meant another bus trip to Roth, and another bump up in the feeling of the race being more and more real.

Pre Expo

Packet  pick-up went a lot better than it did for IMMT, when I nearly had a full-on panic attack. It also brought home the whole…German-ness, of the race, with many of the volunteers in traditional German garb. The registration process itself was smooth and easy, handled with trademark German efficiency, then it was on to the expo! You could have gone to the Roth Expo without a single piece of tri gear, bike included, and walked out completely kitted up. It was particularly cool getting see some European brands I’d never heard of and ogle lots of pretty carbon wheels. Once again, R was a trooper, hunkering down in the beer garden area where there were tents to escape the pouring rain as I wandered around drooling. I also did have the opportunity to try out the on-course fuel by a brand called “Squeezy.” While I’d been able to order a sample box of the chews and gel, I didn’t get to try the hydration. Turns out it was pretty tasty and easy to drink, if not light on electrolytes.

Next up? Swim practice two days before the race!

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Here was our first opportunity to get on the actual course, so to speak, while getting in a “quick” workout. Why do I have “quick” in “air quotes?” I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you why. First, I should explain that the swim area is a canal, which is a type of body of water that I’d never swam in before. On race day they close off the locks to make it a giant bathtub, which takes away any current and apparently helps contribute to it being a fast course.

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Now, back to the “quick” swim. My aim for the day was to swim out 15 minutes or so, cross to the other side of the canal, then head back in. All went to plan on the out, unsurprisingly. The only struggle I had was with the water temperature. My face has never felt so cold during a swim before. I really wondered how I was going to manage it on race day, but hoped that the recent rain and lack of sunshine had made it just on the fricking cold side of cold. I knew that I was swimming back to a bridge on the way back, but made a big mistake in not remembering that the bridge I wanted to swim towards had a big green banner on it. The bridge I was ACTUALLY swimming towards had no banner. After swimming for some time. I looked around me and realized there was no one there. No other swimmers. No people on the shore. No finish area, where I should have been. What there was, however, was a safety boat speeding my way and telling me to turn around. Long story short, I SOMEHOW managed to do a complete 180 in the water on the way back and swim back out the way I’d come. All this turned a planned 30 minute swim into a 60 minute swim. That said, it was actually a great swim and gave me a lot of confidence heading into race day. Below is proof of my brain boner.

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Who. Does. That. Seriously. Only I could manage this kind of nonsense.

And, finally, we make it to the day before the race. Yes, 1700 words later, we’re only up to the day before the race. Normally, and I say “normally” as if I’d done this more than once, I’d want to spend the day in my hotel room and not move beyond the bare minimum necessary. That was not meant to be. The Saturday before the Sunday race was bike check-in day, which wound up taking the better part of the afternoon, all told. We loaded all our bikes into vans organized by RaceQuest and then headed off in the bus again to where T1 was.

Once we got to our destination, we picked up our bikes from the busses and began the longish, very slow procession to check them in along with our run bags. One quick note on the bags. THERE ARE NO SPECIAL NEEDS BAGS on the course. That means you’d better be sure to pack what you want in your bag when you pack it in the first place!

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Racecation friends Brenda and Keith. Brenda is sporting the race backpack.

This was one more example of solid logistics from RaceQuest. Everything went off without a hitch. Along the way, I happened to meet a great group of triathletes from the Boston suburbs, who wound up joining us for pre-race Italian in Nuremberg later that night.

We’d been warned several times over that they would be diligently checking bike helmets during check in for cracks. They also checked the bike straps and made us tighten them to ensure that the strip would not go over the chin. This is just to say, make sure if you are doing a race like that that your helmet doesn’t have any tiny cracks in it otherwise you’ll be forced to buy a new one on the spot. One other note: we were told not to bring our own bike pumps (not that I’d packed one anyway) because there would be plenty in transition in the morning. This advice was accurate.

As it turned out, my new buddy Frank and I were two race numbers away from each other and so we found our spot the massive transition zone to rack up the bikes.

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Walking back to the busses, we had a beautiful view of the course before us, and it filled me with excitement and all kinds of nervousness for what lay ahead, all of which will be detailed in Part 2!

 

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Mizuno Wave Rider 21 Review

December 12, 2017

2018 is almost upon us, and, with it, another shoe review! Once again, I’ve been fortunate to test out the new Mizuno Wave Rider, this time the 21st iteration, hence the Wave Rider 21. The Wave Rider is a classic neutral, cushioned daily trainer, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring! The review pair I received is a pretty sweet looking blue color.

If you’re new to Mizuno, the first thing you may notice is the black wavy part separating the midsole, which is Mizuno’s wave plate, acting as cushioning. New to the Wave Rider 21 is the updated CloudWave Plate, designed to produce a somewhat springy sensation. Underfoot, the shoe produces a soft, but not squishy ride, that does feel like it adds to your forward momentum. It’s been my experience that the Rider has been trending towards softer, from its earlier days as a fairly firm shoe, which is somewhat in keeping with how the industry in general is moving.

I found the fit of the Rider to be similar to the Wave Sky, with a narrower heel, and slightly wider forefoot. Even though my forefoot is on the wider side, I still had to cinch the laces pretty tight. If you have a particularly narrow forefoot, this may not be the shoe for you. If you sometimes need an EE width, you may want to try these in a D (for men).

If you’ve been a fan of previous versions of the Wave Rider, this version if going to please you. It is definitely going into my rotation!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Mizuno. The opinions and text are all mine.

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Mizuno Wave Sky Review

June 14, 2017

Ever since adidas introduced their Boost cushioning system, there has seemingly been a wave of new shoes from companies looking to have their own version of a highly cushioned, but responsive/springy shoe. It’s not often that Mizuno releases an entirely new model, but the Wave Sky seems to be their entry into this new category.

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The Wave Sky features Mizuno’s new Cloudwave cushioning system “paired with an articulated U4icX midsole and Strobel lining.” No, I’ve got no idea what any of this means, or how it works, but what it amounts to is the softest, plushest Mizuno you’ll ever lace up, especially compared to the typical firm Mizuno ride.

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According to Running Warehouse, the Wave Sky comes in at 11.1 oz. for a men’s size 9, which is definitely on the heavy side for me, but it runs lighter than its weight, like a heavyweight boxer dancing around the ring. That may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s not often I get to wax poetic in a shoe review. The drop is 10 mm.

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Now, how about the actual running part of the shoe? I honestly didn’t expect to like this shoe all that much. Highly cushioned shoes aren’t really my jam, as a rule. I generally lean more towards lighter weight shoes with good road feel. That said, I am a fan of the Wave Sky through my early runs in them. While not quite as bouncy as an adidas Boost shoe, the Wave Sky did have a surprising amount of noticeable rebound without feeling squishy or sacrificing responsiveness.

I’d note that the forefoot seems to be fairly roomy, even for someone like me who has a wider forefoot. So, if you have a particularly narrow one, this may not be your shoe. Take note of the right lacing I had to do to get cinched in.

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I think this is going to be a winning entry in the Mizuno lineup, offering an option to those who prefer a softer rider than Mizuno is known for. I will keep updating this entry as I put more miles in the Wave Sky!

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Disclaimer: I received these shoes free of charge for my review. As always, all opinions expressed are my own and are without influence.

 

 

 

 

 

Martha’s Vineyard Half Marathon: Race Recap

June 8, 2017

In theory, many months ago, the title of this post was supposed to be “Martha’s Vineyard Marathon,” but theories don’t always pan out. I had it in my head that I wanted to use this race to make an attempt at a BQ. The brutally honest truth is that I lost my fire somewhere in the early stages of training, which, coupled with an injury, left me at a pretty low point in my running morale. After a string of good results, which prompted the BQ thoughts in the first place, this turn in the opposite direction felt particularly brutal and there were times when I really just hated running. Nothing felt right, not even the simple act of one foot in front of the other. I eventually came to realize two things: 1. I was not enjoying this process and did not find it fulfilling, as I thought I would. 2. I missed being a triathlete. I missed the biking and, yes, even the swimming workouts. So, I made the decision to drop down to the half marathon distance for this race and put my focus back on tri training. This seems as good a time as any to give a shout-out to my longtime friend, Jason L., who DID accomplish his goal of BQ’ing at the Eugene Marathon. Jason put in an inspiring amount of hard work and miles, and it was pretty awesome to see him crush his goal. Good work, buddy. Now, on to the race.

This was the inaugural running of the Martha’s Vineyard Marathon/Half Marathon. Unlike, as far as I know, all the other races run on the island, this was put on by a national race company, USA Endurance Events, as opposed to locals (see MV 20 Miler and Vineyard Triathlon). While the race did benefit two Vineyard non-profits, it’s my understanding that they did not do much, if anything, to reach out to the local running scene. This lack of coordination revealed itself most readily in volunteer situation, which I’ll address later. Should anyone from USA Endurance Events happen to be reading this, that would be my first note for you. The locals will help, but you need to work with them to ask for it!

We arrived on island Saturday afternoon and headed to the race “expo” in Oak Bluffs. As it turned out, the expo consisted of bib and t-shirt pickup plus a few branded pieces of apparel and some Gu products for sale. What stood out for me was the complete lack of race information readily available. For example, no one seemed to know how to determine which of the three waves you were supposed to run in nor how the pacer situation was being managed. These turned out to be minor complaints in the end, but it also seems like information that would be easy enough to put on the race website.

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The race swag included a mesh drawstring bag, t-shirt, and running cap.

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After lunch at one our go-to spots, Slice of Life cafe, we headed to our home for the weekend at the Winnetu Resort. Because R had to do work, I passed the time reading my new graphic novel, Lucifer, and I may have also enjoyed a two Bloody Mary’s.

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Something something, calming the nerves makes me race better, something something.

Dinner was my now preferred go-to fish piccata (sole piccata to be exact) at Chesca’s in Edgartown. Of course, before turning in I laid out my race kit, which I’d like to think was suitably matchy-matchy.

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Brooks Launch 3 for race day.

As it usually does, race morning came way too quickly. After a stop at Espresso Love for an English muffin with butter, we headed to the start location, which was different from the finish location, at Martha’s Vineyard High School. From what I understand, there were also buses that took racers from several locations to the start, but I can’t say how well that system worked. Two things stood out about the start setup. First, there were FAR too few porta-potties for a race of around 1600 people. Second, the guy MC’ing the race (who knew races had MCs?) really straddled the line between fun and encouraging, and simply intolerable. A barefoot white dude with dreads, this guy punctuated every statement with a Little John-esque “YEAH!” If it helps you get an idea of this gentleman, bear in mind that the pre-race music was almost exclusively Rusted Root. I’m serious.

It turned out that Wave 1 meant racers anticipating a sub-8 pace for both the marathon and half. I found the 1:40 pacer, a nice bearded guy named Brian from Beast Pacing, and we set off down the bike path on our way to Oak Bluffs. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the path was not as crowded as I thought it might be, given the number of racers. It helped that it was still pre-season for tourists so there were not many bikers out. As for the race itself, the course mostly wound through woods in the middle of the island. There was one stretch of dirt road that lasted about a 1/4 mile, which is not called out by the race. I did hear that the marathon had a roughly 2 mile stretch. Both of these were somewhat sandy, not hard-packed dirt, and the race simply has to make a point of noting these in future course descriptions.

3rd place in my AG. Run Strava

There are no real steep climbs, but several long inclines that seem to go for a while. In fact, the course is net downhill.

3rd place in my AG. Run Strava (1)

The most mentally draining part of this race is a stretch that I have done many, many times, which is essentially the part on the map above from “Ocean Heights” to Oak Bluffs, where the finish was. While it’s a very pretty stretch, often with water on both sides of you, it’s a long, straight shot, and I was really struggling at that point. I did my best to focus on the scenery and maintain as much forward progress as I could muster.

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Finally, I made it to Waban Park. The finish was somewhat of a tease, as you had to run up a road parallel to it, then make a sharp turn for a final stretch of about 100 yards on grass to the line itself. Though I’ve finished the Vineyard Triathlon on this stretch, and it didn’t feel too bad, this part of the park felt tremendously awkward running on. Maybe it was just the fatigue, but I couldn’t find a comfortable stride and kind of stumbled to the finish.

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Of course, I messed up my finish line pictures by worrying about my watch, but heaven forbid I have an incorrect Strava record!

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As you can see from the pace chart below, I was right on target for a 1:40 finish…until I wasn’t.

3rd place in my AG. Run Strava (2)

Still, I learned after the race that I had finished third in my age group, which was my first time placing in my AG in a “real” road race. Though I was a bit disappointed with my time in general, this picked me up a bit, and made me look at the race in the context of my current training and focus, which was not on PR’ing for that half marathon. In fact I’d only run one 10 mile run leading up to it. So, all things considered? I wound up feeling pretty good about the race in general.

Now, for a list of things I hope the race changes for next year:

  • More expansive “expo” featuring MV businesses and races.
  • Many more porta-potties at the start.
  • More water stops.
  • Better staffed water stops.
  • Better trained staff at water stops.
  • I’ve heard the signage needed to be better for the lead runners.
  • No dirt sections on the course.
  • Better stocked post-race provisions.

All in all, a good race with some definite room to improve. I have a feeling I’ll be back again for it next year!

Reebok? Reebok. Time to Floatride.

March 30, 2017

Listen, I won’t beat around the bush, I’ve long used Reebok as the butt of many a running shoe joke. Yes, I make a lot of running shoe jokes. Yes, that is not a particularly compelling source of comedy for the greater population, but I stick to what I know for my humor. Mostly, I’ve focused on the brand’s constant reversion to gimmicks to sell sneakers, rather than just making a good pair of running shoes, think DMX cushioning. I say all this not to rag on Reebok, but to say to you that I came to the Reebok Floatride as an extreme skeptic, prepared to add it to the heap of previous efforts, notably the “all-terrain” shoe.

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So, with that introduction, we come to the new Reebok Floatride shoe. The shoe is built around Reebok’s new Floatride cushioning. According to Reebok, the cell structure of the midsole foam, which delivers “the optimal mix of cushioning and responsiveness so you can float through your run.” It is supposed to be lighter than traditional EVA foam as well. This foam took Reebok 6 years to develop and, based on my experience so far, it was time well spent.

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Here you can see some of the other features that set the Floatride apart from the competition, in particular the lace cage (the black plastic diamonds), the stretchy knit upper, and the heel cup. According to Reebok, the heel cup is made in a bra factory, which seems to be a trend in the shoe industry these days. I don’t have a weight to report, but I can say that this shoe feels light. I’d put it in the same category as the Brooks Launch. Drop is 8 mm.

The combination of the heel cup and knit upper that extends fairly far up the foot can make putting on this shoe a little bit of a challenge, particularly because the upper can get bunched if you aren’t careful. For this reason, I can’t recommend it as a triathlon option, even though I do think it would be comfortable barefoot. That said, once you get it on, the “socklike” fit is comfortable, with the heel cup feeling soft but supportive enough, and seamless knit upper wrapping your foot.

When it comes to the lacing, I was worried about how the cage system would work, particularly with only three eyelets.

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As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry. You can’t tie the shoes up like you normally would with your other shoes, but it is definitely possible to tie them up to the point where you feel like your foot is locked in. Personally, I leave the top knot a little looser on these shoes than I might with a different shoe, otherwise I get a painful spot on the top of my foot.

Traction comes via a sort of conveyor belt/waffle looking tread that seems to get the job done.

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Once you get the shoe on, you immediately can feel the difference in the Floatride cushioning, much the same way you can feel the bounce in a pair of adidas Boosts. It’s the kind of bounce that makes you go “ooooh, I want to run in these.” Sure, it sounds hyperbolic, but put a pair on and you’ll see what I mean.

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I’ve now put in two treadmill runs with these shoes, and can comfortably say that I really do like this shoe a lot. There is most definitely a springiness to the ride that doesn’t veer off into the bouncy softness of early Hokas. It’s just there enough to provide a unique run experience that makes a run fun, and this is from a guy who generally likes a fairly firm shoe. As a “Barney Rubble” footed individuals (narrow heel, wide forefoot) I can report no blister issues.

Now, during my first run I had some pain along the outside of my feet where the lace cage met the midsole. That pain disappeared after about 20 minutes and I didn’t have it the second run.

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A second caveat is that if you believe you need a shoe to prevent overpronation, this is not the shoe for you. I overpronate. I used to wear motion control shoes to prevent overpronation, but no longer do and have been much happier in neutral shoes. But, again if you are looking for a shoe you will not overpronate in, this is not that shoe.

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So, my final verdict? The Reebok Floatride should absolutely be on your list to consider if you are looking for a lightweight, neutral, “responsive” cushioned trainer. I consider myself a convert to the Reebok brand and look forward to what they come out with featuring their Floatride cushioning in the future.

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Disclaimer: I received these shoes free of charge from Reebok as part of their Reebok Elite program, but all opinions expressed are mine, and mine alone.

It’s Not About A Medal: USATF New England Open Championship Race Report

November 10, 2016

Man, just the title of this report makes it sounds kind of bad ass, doesn’t it? THE NEW ENGLAND CHAMPIONSHIP! Feels like the sort of thing you should qualify for, right? Well, thankfully, all you have to do is be a USATF member and pay the entry fee. The harder part of getting into this race was actually making myself sign up to race. I’d been meaning for a couple years to run a cross country race as part of my quest to challenge myself with new athletic experiences. Now, XC, as we like to say, has always been near and dear to my heart, but I haven’t run a cross race since 1999, which puts it outside of my “adult runner life.”

There were two factors keeping me from just leaping in feet first into this race at historic Franklin Park, which happens to be my new neighborhood. First, the race was 10K, quite the jump up from my memories of 5K races in high school. Second, there was a very real possibility that I’d come in last place. In 2015, last place was somewhere around 44:05, slower than my new PR, but not out of the realm of possibility given that it isn’t a road race. I wasn’t so much concerned about finishing in last as I was about the course shutting down, etc., which fears were likely unfounded, but there you go. I turned to my fellow Heartbreakers for advice, with every last one of them strongly encouraging me to just do it and have fun. Without singling any out, there were a few that were particularly encouraging and motivating, so I say thank you to them.

Part of the appeal of the race was that there would be a cheering section of non-running Heartbreakers at the race. Coach Dan arranged for a bus to take us from SEAC to Franklin Park, which I decided to take, rather than simply drive the 2 miles there, to fully maximize the high school nostalgia. It did not disappoint.

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After a bumpy trip down memory lane, we arrived at Franklin Park, which was decked out in its finest autumnal livery, and endeavored to find all the fast, young people who were smarter than us and came in actual cars.

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Things started to feel real when I saw this sign.

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Two of the Heartbreaker women who were in a similar boat as I was, at least in the sense that they were running the race but did not expect to be scoring, and I broke off to find the rest of the racers, who had encamped at a corner of the park.

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We met up with Captain Louis, who had our bibs, and tried to keep each other from being too nervous about the upcoming endeavor. I’ll admit, it felt pretty cool pinning this bib on.

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After getting situated, I met up with the cheer squad to watch the start of the women’s race, which was crazy deep and featured some really top-notch runners for the 6K course.

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After cheering a few loops of the course, I figured I should do a little warm-up thingy. So, as is customary, I jogged for roughly 3 minutes before joining the boys for some drills, which mostly meant me doing carioca, skipping and high knees in some haphazard fashion. I lied, “haphazard” is  way too generous a description of the level of planning I put into that warm-up. With a couple minutes to go before the race was set to go off, Captain  Lou called the team together for a last second pep talk, the details of which shall remain in the circle, but suffice to say it was motivating.

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Photo Credit: Some Heartbreaker (Maybe Coach Dan?)

And so, pepped up, I took my spot on the line. Unlike a traditional road race, which would have a relatively narrow starting area, with everyone lined up rows deep, a cross country race like this has boxes for each team spread across a long line, which leads to a mad dash start, particularly in a race like this where the the course narrows fairly early on. I knew the field was going to be very fast, so I set myself at the back of our corral and did my best to start the race at my own pace, not trying to maintain contact, even early on.

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Here you can see just how spread the field is.

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I knew from Coach  Lou that the first mile of the race would be quick, so I tried to stay within myself, get a feel for the terrain, and find a pace I could settle into. The opening mile was fairly flat, with a few small bumps, and a mix of grass and dirt trail. I had some visual contact with the field, which wouldn’t last long, but didn’t make any effort to latch on to to the guys at the back of the pack. I was surprised to see a 6:26 pace for the first split, and knew I wouldn’t be hanging on to that.

The race basically consisted of a set of loops in different orders.

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After mile 1, the race ventured into the zoo, and the infamous Bear Cage Hill. Bear Cage Hill, at least according to the Strava Segment, is 0.3 miles, with 52 ft. of elevation.

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Bear Cage Hill is the bump at miles 1.5 and 4.5.

It certainly wouldn’t be a particularly onerous hill in a road race, but it sure felt difficult in this one. It’s made harder by the fact that it is looser terrain than most of the rest of the course, with some uneven, rutted out, footing.

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Headed towards Bear Cage Hill. Photo Credit: Josh Campbell Photography

So, there was the “basic loop” done for the first mile, the Bear Cage loop, and then The Wilderness loop. As the name implies, The Wilderness was the most “trail-ish” portion of the race, but also probably the fastest. At this point, I basically had the course to myself, at least in the sense that I couldn’t see any racers, so I did my best to just maintain my pace solo. Thankfully, running on your own means you have a chance to get shots like this.

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Photo Credit: Josh Campbell

Really the only negative aspect of this race came after I exited The Wilderness the first time. As I ran up the path, there was a fork in the trail, with no one from the race telling me where to go. I saw a group of women cooling down from their race as I came up to it and asked “which way do I go ?!” to which they thankfully all said “LEFT!” I really didn’t have to break stride and got myself going in the right direction. At this point, the lead bike came rolling past me, so I moved myself to the left side of the path, letting the rest of the field fly by and cheering on the Heartbreakers with what little breath I had left.

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Headed into The Wilderness…I think?

The second half of the race included another trip up Bear Cage Hill, which I felt like I was walking up the second time around, and more Wilderness time. Each mile split got slower and slower from mile 1, 7:02, 7:06, 7:09, 7:10, until I hit mile 5 going into the final Wilderness loop. At this point I knew the terrain well, knew there were no hills left, and it was time to give whatever else it was I had to give until the finish.

I rounded the final corner and encountered a fairly non-stop cheering section of Heartbreaker teammates cheering me on towards the finish line, giving me the boost I needed to dig deep and produce whatever semblance of a kick I had left.

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Photo Credit: JCP

It hurt.

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Photo Credit: JCP

With cowbells clanging, and Heartbreakers cheering, I crossed the line, utterly exhausted, in 43:10, my second fastest 10K ever. Immediately after the race, our team photographer for the day, Josh Campbell, did a quick portrait session, as he did with everyone else, to capture the spirit of cross country racing.

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I think this shot perfectly captures the pride I felt in my performance at this race, and the pride I felt in simply deciding to toe the line in the first place. There were so many  positives to take from this race, so many amazing experiences. I have to share the note Coach Dan included in the weekly Heartbreakers email to really convey just why I feel the pride I do wearing the ❤ on my chest and repping this club and HHRC in general:

“First, let’s review the USATF-NE XC Championships. There were many noteworthy things about it but many of those were by design and expected. We’ll get to those too. But, first, the unexpected – our whole cheer squad happened to have gathered near the finish when Michael Robertson made the final turn into the home stretch. Michael was in 110th place of 112 runners and our squad cheered their guts out. I could see that Michael was touched and the squad was so proud. It’s not easy to put yourself out there. I, for one, had no idea the race would be that fast at the back (Michael is not slow). Running is always relative: to ourselves, to the field, to our expectations, to our youth. You can ask Matt S and Emily about that. Both are BQ runners in the well over 20 min category and both found themselves in the back 1/3 of this one. It was a shock. That is championship cross country though. It’s fast. It’s rugged. There are few fans. There are no medals. There are teams. There are personal victories. There is great pride.”

To make a long story short, couldn’t have said it any better myself.

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Wave Rider 20 Review

November 1, 2016

Fact: Getting new shoes is always fun. Double Fact: Getting new is especially fun when they come in shiny boxes.

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It even came with a note!

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The shoes inside the shiny box did not disappoint in terms of commensurate shininess.

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All about the platinum.

 

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And the outsole.

Some basic facts about the Rider, according to Running Warehouse at least, the heel stack height is 30 mm, and the forefront is 18 mm, resulting in a 12 mm drop. RW lists the weight at 10.4 oz., but Mizuno’s own site says 9.6 oz. soooooo, who knows. But you get the general idea. This is a traditional, neutral running shoe.

Like most Mizunos I’ve run in, the Rider 20 offers a firm, responsive ride well-suited to both tempo runs and longer training runs. I haven’t yet tried them for pure speed work, as I prefer a more low-slung, lighter shoe, for that purpose, but I do think that they would be firm enough for the track. The uppers of the Rider feel like they will be great in warm weather, but I do have my concerns about the airy mesh as the temperature dips. But, hey, nothing a thicker pair of socks can’t fix.

If you’ve never run in Mizunos before, you’re probably wondering where the cushioning comes from. While other brands, rely on air, blown foam, or gel, Mizuno uses a Wave plate, which you can see as the wavy black thing in the heel. The Rider uses Mizuno’s Parallel Wave, which is for their neutral shoes. The Wave works by dispersing force through the plate, rather than absorbing it vertically like other cushioning systems.

So far my only concern to report is a hot spot on my forefoot about 8 miles into an uptempo treadmill run. I’ll report back on whether that continues as well as durability of the outsole and upper as I put in more miles. Until then, I’m happy to have another shoe in the rotation!

 

Knuckle Lights Review

October 26, 2016

Let’s face it, seeing in the dark is hard. At this point in my life, I’m man enough to admit that, absent some sort of aid, I’m not really good at seeing things that are not illuminated. As we creep towards November, the availability of natural illumination, i.e. sunlight, on my preferred running paths has disappeared earlier and earlier, which makes it that much harder to run comfortably without fear of tripping. This is especially problematic on some sections of the path on the Charles River that are both dark and rooty, which roots are difficult to distinguish in the dark, leading to many a misplaced footfall. Enter, Knuckle Lights.

I previously reviewed the original Knuckle Lights way back in 2013 and, now, thanks to the gracious folks at Knuckle Lights, I can tell you all about their brand new version, which maintain the basic concept of lights on your hands while adding in new features, notably among them rechargability (please note, “rechargability” is not actually a word, but it should be). Here, you can see the dock used to recharge your lights.

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As the name implies, Knuckle Lights go on your knuckles, as opposed to a headlamp, which goes on your head.

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The lights are held on by an adjustable rubber strap, which I found a bit difficult to adjust at first, but had no problems with once I got it locked in.

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The lights have 3 settings, which you can rotate through using the rubberized buttons at the top, high, low and blinking. For my purposes, the low has sufficed, even on darker sections of paths, but I suspect that there is still some ambient light helping out there, which wouldn’t exist on, say, a forest trail at night. According to Knuckle Lights, the high power produces 140 lumens per light, for 280 total for the pair.

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And this is on low!

Here’s a demonstration of the lights on a dark section of the Jamaica Pond path on the low setting.

As you can see, these are not weak lights. During my test run, I found that I could run at full speed without ever having to worry about my footfall, which is really all that you can ask for out of a light. What I love about Knuckle Lights is the ability to shine the light where you need it while keeping your head in a natural position. This makes it easier to scope out the whole path while having the additional advantage over a headlamp of not blinding a running mate every time you look over to chat. While running, the lights stayed comfortably secure on my hands without having to pay attention to gripping them. I would guess that they might become a bit sweaty during hot weather running, but I also don’t foresee running at times that I would actually need them in hot weather.

One neat extra feature of the new version of Knuckle Lights? They have magnets that keep the pair together as a set, making it that much harder for people like me to misplace one.

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Also, according to Knuckle Lights, they are IPX-6 waterproof. Other specs include battery life of 4 hours on high, 8 on low, 14 on blinking, and each light weighs 3 ounces.

So, if you’re looking to stay safe on the roads and paths as the sun sets every more depressingly early, I would suggest you get yourself a pair of Knuckle Lights.

Disclaimer: For the avoidance of doubt, I was sent these lights by Knuckle Lights to review. However, as always, all opinions expressed are mine, and mine alone.

Gay Head 10K Race Report: An Unexpected PR!

October 3, 2016

It’s always fun to do a race on Martha’s Vineyard given their low key vibe and generally beautiful views on the course, but the 2016 Gay Head 10K promised to be extra-fun because it was the first attempt at a destination race by The Heartbreakers Running Club. We headed two with a full car with R, two Heartbreakers, a fiance, and a dog on Saturday morning. It was tight, but cozy, and Lucy apparently made new friends along the way.

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Of course, Hem and I took an obligatory selfie during the slightly rough crossing.

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We even did some goofing around in Oak Bluffs.

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Saturday night we invaded The Black Dog Tavern with almost the entire crew, which I’m sure they did not expect for an off-season Saturday night, but hopefully, despite our large presence overtaking the dining room floor, we helped make it a better-than-expected night. It was nice getting to chat with teammates in a non-run setting and to introduce R to the team. I also got to meet THE Om Gal!

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Race Day kit.

Headed into the actual race I knew that my recent track workouts were suggesting that I had carried some fitness from IMMT through into the fall season and that I might be in better running shape than I let myself believe. Still, I hadn’t done a run longer than 6 miles since that race, not including cumulative mileage for a track workout, and I really wasn’t sure what the result would be for a 10K on a challenging course. In 2014, the last time I did this race, I ran 46:09, with a 44:04 at the 2014 BAA 10K (my previous PR), and 44:59 at the 2015 BAA 10K following thereafter as my only 10K attempts. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to be closer to 44 or 46, or beyond if my endurance gave out. I gave myself about 6 minutes of warm-up before getting to the start, which was packed with Heartbreakers.

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“Oh, I love your hearts!” – The volunteer exclaimed.

The race started with a laugh as the started got us going with “Runners on your marks, get set! 10, 9, [racers laugh], 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!”

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Source: Vineyard Gazette

Knowing my tendency to start races far too quickly, and the fact that we’d be hitting hills early in the race, I did my best to start conservatively and not redline immediately. A pack of about 4 teammates set off more or less around each other, everyone seeming to feel out the course before putting the pedal down. As you can see below, the race definitely calls for pacing, with fairly unrelenting hills throughout. Of course, looking at the elevation now, miles 3.5-5.5 don’t seem so bad.

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My goal for the first 3 miles, which I knew had the bulk of the hills, was to try to run a pace that I could maintain on the uphills while giving a little more on the downhills. I didn’t want to either push uphill and over-exert or take it extra easy on them to try to save energy, I just wanted steady running. As it turns out, I ran 6:37, 6:40, 6:38 for those 3 miles.

Making the only turn on the course at Moshup Trail, I saw that I was gaining on a teammate, which helped me focus on maintaining my pace and not letting up, despite some unexpected inclines along the way. As I passed him, we exchanged a few words of encouragement, but sadly his ankle was hurting too much to stick with me and I forged ahead, trying to track down the next Heartbreaker.

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Miles 4-5.5 were reasonably enjoyable, trying to stay steady while using the oceanscape immediately to the left of me as a distraction when needed. I did my best to try to catch the eventual female winner, and a Heartbreaker, but she had legs on the last hill that I could not muster. The race really gets tough right about mile 5.5 when the course begins its final climb up to the Gay Head lighthouse, with gradients in between 3-5.8% at times. I did my best to push as hard as I could, but I could really feel myself dying and got passed by a couple high school kids along the way. Where miles 4 and 5 were 6:37 and 6:52, mile 6 was 7:22. But after the final climb, you hit a brief, steep downhill to the finish for maybe 0.1 miles to the finish.

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Final Time: 42:19, which made for a 1:45 PR and my first time averaging under 7 minute pace on the road for anything over 5K. I’m not even sure I’ve run this fast on a flat treadmill, come to think of it. In any event, I was really happy with the result, and it’s made me start to wonder just what I’d really be capable of right now in running, especially at the 5K distance.

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PR happiness.

Maybe it’s time to take another crack at breaking 20 sometime soon? Until then, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, maybe fewer doughnuts mixed in, but continuing the track workouts that seem to be paying such great dividends!

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Source: Vineyard Gazette

 

Salomon Trail 20 Review

September 29, 2016

It’s been a long while since I’ve done a review of any sorts, and that’s probably some combination of laziness and wanting to do in-depth reviews with lots of pretty pictures and whatnot. But I figure there may be some useful value to just sharing thoughts on products I use on a regular basis, not worrying too much about getting into nitty gritty tech specs, but just with the hopes of making your next purchase a little bit more informed.

Since moving from the suburbs to roughly 5 miles bikeable distance to Boston, I’ve been biking to work almost daily on my GT Grade. In fact, as of the time I started drafting this post, I think I took the subway 3 times into work as opposed to riding. It’s been a really wonderful change to my daily commute, certainly coming from upwards of 75 minutes by car from our suburban home, and I look forward to it on a daily basis.

Of course, one challenge when bike commuting is how to transport your clothes needed for work. Luckily, I work in an office with a pretty casual dress code, i.e. no dress code, when we don’t have clients, so my daily officewear is jeans, a button down, and sneakers. Since I started riding into work, I’ve left a pair of sneakers in the office, cutting down on the things I need to transport. I also am able to leave my U-Lock and cable locked to the bike rack in our office building. For the rest of what I need, I use the Salomon Trail 20 backpack.

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In this bag, I can comfortably fit a pair of jeans, shirt, and foundation garments (socks too!). Although I generally don’t take my lock with me, I can also fit the U-lock and cable when needed. I would not say it’s appropriate for a suit, but it’s fine otherwise. I think it’d also be tight if you bring shoes with you on a daily basis, but, again, not a concern of mine. For what it’s worth, Salomon states the pack’s volume is 20 l. and 1220 ci.

To keep the pack secure as you bomb through urban streets, the pack has both a chest and waist strap, both of which I find keep the pack exactly where I want it to be. I don’t experience any kind of slipping around, whether when “sprinting” or climbing. The waist strap has two pockets, a zipped one on the left, and a mesh open pocket on the right side. The zip pocket comfortably fits my wallet and keys. Each side of the pack also has deep mesh pockets, which I often use to hold my phone in case I need to access it quickly for, you know, directions. Definitely not for selfies. I never take selfies when riding.

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OK, this ONE time I stopped and took a selfie, but that was purely to illustrate the backpack for this post. Except that I took it a couple weeks before starting this post. And before I decided to write this post. Also, I take a lot of selfies while riding.

So, there you have it, if you’re looking for a streamlined pack for bike commuting, I’d recommend checking out the Salomon Trail 20!