Friday, November 21, 2014

PowerBar Product Review

I have been eating Powerbar products for as long as I have been running. Back in 2006 when I was doing 52 Marathons I also got braces on my teeth.  I remember for a few months I couldn't eat their signature bars and got so frustrated.  When I finally could, I was so relieved.

I have been a part of Powerbar's Team Elite since 2010 and have made full use of my time on that team, enjoying and promoting their products. I have written before about much I love the gels Powerbar offers, but I felt it was time to update that and offer a few more product reviews.


First, the gels. Not all gels are created equal and people definitely have different tastes. Obviously people are going to enjoy one flavor over another. But when it comes to both flavor and consistency, I think nothing beats the Strawberry-Banana gels. Unlike other brands which can almost be chewy in their consistency, these flavored gels are almost liquid. I love how easy they are to consume and how good they taste. I always have a stash with me on my trips and when I can't prepare food I want in the morning before a run, I know I can always rely on the old standby I have been eating for like a decade. Even more important is during a race, you don't have to fumble around trying to figure out how to swallow some sticky mess. While it is always nice to have water to help wash down a gel, I have always been surprised how easily these go down without it.  That's essential if you need some energy and are not near an aid station.

The second product that stick out to me are the PowerBars gel blasts. I first remember reading about these many years ago when someone who absolutely adored their cola-flavored blasts absolutely lost their mind when they learned they were being discontinued.  Fortunately for the sanity of this poor girl (I have to find her rant) they were brought back. I tried the cola ones and they were fine but once again my tastes go toward the Strawberry-Banana.  But before you think these taste or even chew like other block products, let me say that once again the consistency of the gel blast is a huge selling point. In addition, there is this thin coating on the top of the gel blasts which makes it taste even better. When you bite into it, there is small amount of of yumminess in each center which is reminiscent of a jelly-filled doughnut.

I recently introduced a fan at an expo to a pack of these delicious snacks and they were hooked.  They do not stick to your teeth like other similar blocks, are easy to chewy and are delicious. I have had them on hand for virtually every ultra run I have done in my career.  They are quick, easy and I always know what they are going to give me. You truly owe it to yourself to try these. You will be very surprised.  (The raspberry are quite good as well. Just not my favorite.)

A final product which I was just introduced to this year at Hood to Coast event in August are the Energy Wafers.  Remember those Sugar Wafers we ate as kids (re: like two weeks ago) and how you were always excited to see them. Then you had like one and instantly you remembered how much they tasted like cardboard. Why did we never remember that? We always got suckered in to trying them afresh each time. Well, think about those but think about them actually tasting good. Voila! PowerBar Energy Wafers.

I had a box of these for my team at the end of HTC and while I am handing them out, I had someone from another team try to come and snake some. Never met the guy but he apparently had tasted them previously and went all Mad Max savager  on me. I gave him some to try and get him to scamper back to Master Blaster. But I digress. These wafers rock. Get some.

I will review a few more of my favorites soon but I think this should keep you satiated for now. Time for me to go grab some gel blast and head out for a run.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Camelbak Rogue Review

I have been reviewing some Camelbak products for the past few months. (See here, here, here and somewhat here in my Lake of Death Relay recap.) As one of the newest athletes to the Camelbak stable I am trying to review as many different Camelbak products as possible.  I am wearing some of the products in non-tradtional ways, such as the Camelbak Powderbak vest, normally meant for winter running, in the summer to try them out in every possible venue (I will be reviewing that soon after I give it some proper cold weather testing). Today, I will give you my thoughts on the Rogue.

The Rogue is traditionally a mountain bikers pack. I don't much mountain bike (as in I think I have done it once at the X-Trifecta Winter Triathlon) so I wanted to see how well-suited it would be on some traditional runs. I took it on three separate and varied runs to watch how it performed.  The first was a nice 9 miler taking me about an hour. This run is pretty straightforward and doesn't include a great deal of turning or jostling.  The second run was an up and down run of Mt. Tabor in Portland.  Given the nature of the climb and descent it puts the pack in different positions. Finally, I took it on a quick run in Laurelhurst Park, meant to jostle the pack by having me pumping my arms and changing my stride. The Rogue completely surprised me.

Virtually every pack I wear seems to irritate my neck on the left a little bit. This has to do with everything I have ever worn.  Undoubtedly my left arm does something a tad different and off-kilter. I have just come to expect it a little bit and adjust my shirt or whatnot accordingly.  However, with the Rogue, there wasn't a hint of irritation. On all three runs it left nothing but skin that was dolphin smooth (like Abraham in Walking Dead).  Big thumbs up here.

The two-liter pack has just about enough reserves for a two hour bike ride, give or take (according to its description and other reviews I have read.) It is definitely a slimmed down pack with no a large amount of storage space. Again, this should be no surprise to anyone as that is what it is touted for: sleek and light. (From the website: DESIGNED TO CARRY: Multi-tool, pump, spare tube, phone, wallet, keys.)

The zippered space is somewhat limited but there are two large mesh pockets on either side. Obviously on a run the need for pockets is greatly diminished but this seems to be more than adequate storage for a short ride.  If you need more, than maybe your ride is too long and a different pack would suit you better.I think it was overall well-designed for what its intended use was and think you will as well.

Here are some products specs for you:
* Hydration Capacity: 70 oz / 2 L
* Total Capacity: 183 cu in/ 3L+ 2L Reservoir
* Total Weight: 9.17 oz / 0.26 kg (pack only)
* Dimensions: 15.5 X 10 X 5.875 in / 39.5 x 25.5 x 15 cm
* Torso Length: 13 in / 33 cm
* Materials: Air Mesh



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Asphalt vs Concrete

I thought about writing a post to dispute the ever-persistent "Concrete is harder on your legs than asphalt" debate. Then when doing research I saw an extremely well-thought-out, scientific assertion (which encapsulated many similar findings) showing they are essentially equal. Following it were comments such as:

"Very interesting stats, but I know my brain tells me that asphalt is softer."

"I'm not buying this. Physics aside I once read concrete is as much harder on the legs than asphalt as asphalt is harder than dirt or grass, and I believe it."

I then realized this was a fruitless endeavor. (Physics aside?!) It is like when someone denies climate change, adds "Look, I am no scientist" and then goes on to refute the scientists who universally agree it is happening. If you believe concrete is worse for you than asphalt, I am not going to change your mind.  Like a political debate, no one has ever changed from Republican to Democrat (or vice versa) when showed the other's stance.

So, rather than waste my time on a blog, let me sum this up thusly. While there are some things which make asphalt better (less dog crap, less uprooting by neighboring trees), if you actually are not so set in you ways that you will allow physics and facts to overcome "Well, I just know my knees hurt more" suffice it to say there is no difference between the two when it comes to hardness and impact on your knees, legs, muscles, etc.

The same goes for trail and dirt which, actually, given their often uneven nature, roots, rocks, etc are more prone to injure you in other ways like ankle turning. I know this goes against all those who think trail running is the one true Lord, but don't argue with me. I am not physics. I am just a guy who has run countless miles in the past decade on concrete with not one running injury to show for it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Santa Barbara Veteran's Day Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 19th Edition 
266.1 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Santa Barbara Veteran's Day Half Marathon
Place: Santa Barbara Half Marathon
Miles from home: 943 miles
Weather: 70s; Sunny and warm

This marks the 5th time I have run a race at Santa Barbara International Veterans Marathon weekend. It is only because of a scheduling matter and my dunderheadedness (100% a real word) that I missed running this race in 2011. The race is not an easy one.  In addition, Santa Barbara itself should just change its name to It’s Always Sunny In Santa Barbara as it is perfect for all activities outside of running a long-distance race. As such, obviously there are reasons why I return again and again to a race where I have never run fast.

As a side note, let me point out it is entirely possible to run fast here.  My friend Sarah Hallas set a marathon PR here two years ago in the low 2:50s.  I don’t know how she did it but she did. But one main thing which brings me to the starting line every year is the involvement of the organizers Rusty and June Snow. Year after year, they simply put together a fine race. Even when problems arise (unfortunately, this year due to a customs hold in the dock in L.A., the medals would not be ready for those who finished) they solve them (by mailing thousands of them out individually to runners.)

The course has changed a few times during the time I have run it. Nothing major but you can tell they are always tinkering to make it better. This year, with a finishing line right at Leadbetter Beach, I think they have had the best race yet.

I addition, the past few years the race has been tied in with Veteran’s Day. This connection is something I very much applaud and is another one of the main reasons I run this race. To show my thanks for all the veterans, I have, for the past three years, ran the entire race carrying a large American flag.  It is tiring and cumbersome but just a fraction of the pain and suffering those guarding our country go through each day.

My running in the race this year was actually a last minute decision.  I have been dealing with an Achilles/calf issue all year and until about two weeks ago I hadn’t decided if I would do any races at all in November and December.  I love running but I don’t like running while injured or out of shape.  I see nothing brave or studly about stumbling across the finish line in a far from stellar time just to collect facebook applause or a shiny bauble. When I realized it appeared I would be able to run this race without causing further damage, I sign up immediately.

Unfortunately, even the normal sunny weather would be warmer and sunnier than usual this year.  As I signed books at the expo, I told runner after runner the same advice: Tomorrow is not the day to try and set a PR. Realize this race is going to test you because of the heat and simply dial it back.  Runner after runner agreed with me. I can only wonder how many actually followed the advice they asked for.

I wished to shoot for right around 1:30 even though I knew that would be a stretch, all things considered. However, when the gun went off I found myself comfortably running right at that pace. I had quickly moved to the side to avoid having my flag in anyone’s face. More than a few runners were confounded as they had to navigate around a tight opening stretch where a group running for some organization had staked out the left third of the starting line. I heard someone lament that it was great they were raising money or awareness or whatever but it was also necessary to not endanger runners by being out of place.

At my pace, even taking it slightly easy, I felt a stab or two of pain in my calf in the first mile.  I hoped they would quickly subside, which they did.  Even running conservatively here, the 1:30 pace group stayed just in front of me. Over the next few miles it would pull a tad in front of me, although I was running the same pace.  Given the fact that the last six miles of the course contain a series of uphill and downhills, the pacer, Craig, had intended to bank some time here on the mostly flat portion in order to make up for the inevitable slowing later. I simply wanted to run a good pace and stay out of everyone’s way.

The flag is fantastic to run with in regards to the lift it gives you. Everything else about it is difficult.  It is
unwieldy. It blocks your peripheral vision. It sure does make grabbing a cup of water hard. The first 2.5-3 miles of the course have you running mostly on wide open roads which are closed to traffic.  In spite of this, and me making an effort to stay far to the left or the right (out of every one’s way) I noticed a few people who seemed to always be close to me. I felt bad if the flag flapped near their face until I realized there was only so much I could do to stay out of the way.  I looked when and where I could behind me to not cut anyone off (as I had done last year as shown by this photo.)

The next three miles or so are spent running on a narrow bicycle path with all of its obligatory twists and turns. One main reason I had not continued to run with the 1:30 group was because it was a very large pack. The last thing I wanted to do was negotiate tangents with twenty people in a tight-knit group.  However, as cautious and courteous as I was to others, I still deserved to run my own race. I assumed runner etiquette would kick in later on in the race, since one or two runners near me didn’t seem to be showing it right now.

On more than one occasion, I had one female runner pass me, only to fall into place right in front of me where she promptly slowed. I would pass her, switch the flag to the other hand so that it would flap against me and not into her face, get a reasonable distance in front of her, switch hands and then maintain the exact pace. I didn’t understand the logic in her racing plan but so be it.

When I hit the 7th mile, I was pleased to be right on pace for a 1:30.  I knew, however, this would not continue as the sun was baking me.  More importantly, trying to tackle hills effectively where you cannot use your arms is a difficult task. I knew the hill ending at mile seven was the nice long gradual one but not too steep. The hill around mile nine was a double hill with a nice downhill prior to going up again. But both of these paled in comparison to the one going up Cliff Drive at mile 10ish.

Each time I went up an uphill I had to make a wide pass around the same female runner from before. She did not seem too strong on these uphills.  Now that we were on the wider road this was not a problem.  I would veer to the side and stay out of her way.  However, I still found her in my hip pocket.  As we crested the hill at mile nine, we made a right hand turn. With the flag in my right hand, I could see nothing to my right. As such, I nearly collided with her as she tried to sneak into the curve on my inside. I almost came to a complete stop out of shock but continued on.  As we went down the long 1.5 mile downhill, she started to pull away from me.  Good, I thought. I would rather not have to deal with her anymore.

This section was the first in quite some time where runners were afforded a reasonable amount of shade from the surrounding mountains. Santa Barbara is rather oddly positioned on the coast. Given that it slopes diagonally back east, the sun actually rises over the Pacific Ocean in places.  If you know anything about geography, this is quite unsettling. Fortunately, because of this oddity, these mountains shield you from the sun at this point in the course. When there was no shade, I am not ashamed to admit I would try to use the flag to provide me some shade.  I was drenched in sweat from mile one on but knew I would still sweat even more.

As we hit the next aid station (which were very plentiful and well-stocked) I noticed the female runner in front of me had stopped to grab a drink. I slide right through the aid station, reaching across my body to grab a cup of water.  I drank my water in stride and motored on running on the far left curve. A few spectators had made their way out to this portion of the course and were cheering us on.  Given it was barely 8:30 in the morning, I was very flattered.  In fact, while not necessarily six deep, there were plenty of places where spectators had lined the course. In addition, multiple volunteers where on-hand to direct traffic and runners.  Top notch all the way around.

As I continued down the hill, I could hear the footsteps of the female runner, but given the position of my flag, I could not see here. As we neared the end of the downhill and were about to make a left handed turn onto the brutal Cliff Drive Hill. I could see what was going to happen.

Sure enough, as we made the turn, this runner thought the turn was sharper than it actually was and turned directly in front of me.  Only after seeing we could run to the other side of the road, and after I did a full stop to avoid the collision did she change course.  To her credit she twice apologized to me over her shoulder. This was appreciated but it didn’t make the situation any better.  I have often said to friends that all apologies do not have to be accepted.  Many people will say “That’s OK” to someone when it is in fact, not OK.  If this had been just a simple mistake, hey no problem.  It happens to us all.  But repeated repeated behavior had me thinking “Man, I am going to talk about what an ass you are in my recap.”

Since she had headphones on I didn’t even think of saying anything to her.  Instead, as soon as we began the run up Cliff Drive, I passed her again. Near the merciful top, my calf twinged sharply and I pulled over to the side. I walked for about five steps before I realized it was fine.  If I had not been dealing with calf issues all year I doubt I would have even noticed.  I expected the runner behind me to pass me but she never did. I continued on.

At this point I began to reel in runner after runner who probably wanted to run a 1:30 but chose the wrong day and course best suited for their chances to do so. We did a quick couple turns through a neighborhood, with one small surprise uphill left before the 1.5 mile downhill toward the finish.  At the final mile two separate servicemen, who appeared to be highly ranking were handing out small US flags for every runner to carry.  This entire last mile is lined with flags every ten yards or so on both sides. It is extremely moving even when you are sucking wind. When I passed the high-ranking solider with the flags he looked at the 3x5 footer in my hands and said “This man needs no other flag.”  I felt honored.

As we entered the last quarter mile, I saw the finish had two sharp turns before a straight 50 yard finish.  I looked to my sides in order to make sure no one was sneaking up on me and might get hit by the flag.  Then I heard someone say something to a runner who was obviously not too far behind me “You go, girl!”  Oh, for the love of all that is holy, she’s not going to run into me again, right?

With the two turns out of the way and no one around me I raised the flag high as the announcer called my name and made specific notice of the flag.  I brought it down again about ten yards from the finish because I didn’t want to poke and deflate the inflatable arch at the finish. Suddenly, as if from under my arm, I’ll be damned if that female runner didn’t scoot by and in front of me. Again, I had to pull back as to not trip over her.

I finished in 1:32:34 which was actually faster than last year (1:32:57) when I ran in slightly cooler temps with a better leg. I was 49th overall with this time as opposed to 77th last year.  I was very happy with my performance - later.  At the finish, all that would stick in my craw is the chutzpah of the woman.  Running for some charity, I was surprised she would be so brazen with her bad etiquette. A few steps passed the finish line, she turned around and smiled at me sheepishly as if to once again say “sorry.” I held my tongue. People think I have an acerbic wit and a sharp tongue, both which are true.  But if people knew how much I do not say which comes into my mind, I think I would receive some sort of trophy. (The other odd things is how the last time I was carrying the flag I had another runner actually sprint past me at the line and almost clip me. I don't get that.  It almost seems disrespectful to the flag. What does one gain by getting one more step at the finish in the middle of the pack?)

I thought when writing this recap I might call this runner and the organization out publicly in order to make sure this sort of things doesn’t happen again. Then I realized that will change next to nothing. In addition, I will be the bad guy who criticized a charity runner. If you care, it wouldn’t be hard to look at the results and times to get a name of the runner and the organization. I am sure this runner is a fine person who does good deeds. But they were basically a jerk on this day. All in all, the only thing I want all runners to do is have fun, be competitive, and be courteous.

As I have always said, except for one infinitesimally small accident the entirety of the complete universe is comprised of everything but you. Try to remember that when you do anything. Do you best to avoid unnecessarily inconveniencing others. If anything, the Veterans for whom this race honors have done that exact thing.  The sacrifices we make in order to show we appreciate their actions are very small.

Having stated all of that, you should definitely put this race in your to-do list. Then, I would suggest staying around for a day or two. The weather might be a bit warm for running, but once you are done, it is darn nice for everything else.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Long Hair; Don't Care: High School Runners Help Fallen Competitor In Spite of DQ

Tierney Winter and Kailee Kiminski helped freshman Jessica Christoffer over the finish line in the Minnesota State Girls Cross Country meet. Then they were all subsequently disqualified

High school cross country rules state you are not allowed to assist another runner. Looking at the situation makes one wonder, should Winter and Kiminski be disaqualified for their heartfelt gesture?  Absolutely. It is against the rules. Should this rule be applied liberally at best? Absolutely.

I have been pondering this rule ever since I heard about this result which took place last weekend. Rather than go with the knee-jerk reaction and say the ruling is ridiculous (which it is) and these lovely lasses should just be allowed to run, I tried to figure out the reasoning behind the rule. This reminded me of an event a few years ago where runners were disqualified at the Lakefront Marathon for a litany of silly reasons. I don't blame the officials who applied the rules or the directors of the races who abided by those rulings. I don't exonerate the runners for not following or knowing the rules. I do, however, have to wonder why they even exist.


If you are assisting another runner in a race, there seems to be no way in which this can benefit you. The only thing you could possibly be doing is harming your result, your team's result, and the overall score. Perhaps it is that last thing where we find our answer. The rationale behind the rule may be that by helping the runner, this is affecting the outcome of all the runners coming in behind you. I guess that sort of makes sense. Or maybe it is so officials can ascertain the severity of the injury in the downed runner. Unfortunately, that is all my brain can muster as a reason.

Regardless of the end result of these rulings , you have probably heard of similar helpful gestures in other sports.The one with the girls carrying the softball player around the bases gets me every time.(Apparently in softball you can not only assist but literally carry your opponent the entire way to home plate.) This one might hit really close to home since I too only hit one home run in my entire baseball playing career. I can actually take you to the exact spot where it landed on the Babe Ruth playing fields near  the rusted hull of the Cytemp Steel manufacturing building in Titusvillle, PA.

But what surprised me in doing some research for this post was that these girls weren't even the only girls on the same weekend who got disqualified. In neighboring Wisconsin, another runner helped carry an opponent over the finish. There is an epidemic of selflessness! Let's quash that with more rules which make no sense.  (By the way, looking for the link about the softball players I posted above, I found that the same action happened again in another game just this year. Let's just say this has been an eye-opening night of link searching for me.)

Look, I am not saying these runners should break the rules. However, many rules simply seem to have no real reason for existing, at least on a non-elite, non-professional level. But if it takes a few girls with the cojones to not care about a result in order to get light shone upon some archaic rules, then I say kudos to them indeed. Fortunately, their solid people-being has not gone unnoticed.

When asked why Winter and Kiminski helped the downed Christoffer, Winter replied "Just to be a friend.  A friend of a runner, I guess."

The world is probably a much better place because these girls are in it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pettet Endurance Project Apparel Review

I was surfing the web the other day (that is what people who remember the beginning of the internet
occasionally still call it because we are old) and happened across Pettet Endurance Project's page.  I was interested in trying the product out so I contacted PEP about doing a review.

Specially, I wanted to try out their Gresham shirt and their Shevlin. I have no idea what Shevlin is but Gresham is the name of the town neighboring Portland to the East so I figured I had to have that one. I am kidding about the names being a factor.  Like colors of clothing and shoes, outward appearance should be about last on why you want to wear something. Sure it counts but come on.  What really made me want to try these products was I have never really heard of merino wool before. Plus, I love helping companies which are obviously being started by just a few people. Being a bit of an entrepreneur myself, I always root for these type of underdogs. Even cooler, the Pettet name itself comes from the hill in the Bloomsday 12k which the founder of PEP, Greg Poffenroth, grew up near in Spokane, WA. Pretty neat to give your hometown a shout-out in your apparel brand.

First some quick facts about Pettet. It is a small company based out of Seattle that is roughly two years old, having officially launched just this year The big thing which makes their clothing different from others is both what is made of and how it is made. You can read more about their clothing in their own words here. However, basically, they wanted to make their clothing out of merino wool and they wanted to make it in the good ole U.S. of A. Those are all great things but the only thing that really matters is how it works.

According to Poffenroth, the merino wool the clothing is made out of is stench resistant, very warm, and soft to the touch. Also, while most merino wool is expensive, PEP keeps their prices low because it uses only a direct-to-customer sales model.  This means you will have to try the stuff on once it has been shipped which some find a drawback. I found the clothing fit rather true to form but I have a long torso. Decide for yourself.

After a couple of runs in each shirt I can attest to a couple of things for absolute certain.

First, this shirt is extremely soft and stylish.  The Gresham could easily become my go to favorite shirt for expos.  Just nice. Second, they are not kidding about the warmth.  I went for my usual 8.65 mile Bridge Run in Portland on a 50-something degree day and could have wrung the shirt out about four miles in.  Granted, I am a heavy sweater, but I could tell this would not be a shirt I personally would want to wear in the summer too often. Again, that is me being the ever-present furnace. For others, it might be wonderful in warmer weather.

That said, even with the warmth, it was a pretty fantastic article of clothing. The weight ratio to how much warmth it provides was rather astonishing. I am looking forward to wearing both shirt again here when the temperatures get into the 30s this winter.

Furthermore, the price is rather nice.  Just $60 for a long sleeve shirt with the wrist extenders to cover your hands?  That's pretty hard to beat.  In addition, PEP participates in  1% For The Planet, an organization that helps them donate 1% of all company revenues to an environmentally-friendly non-profit. How extremely Pacific Northwest of them.

As I have not had them long enough to know if they stay stink-free longer than other materials, I can say they didn't smell like my usual manly musk when I was done and forgot to put them in the laundry basket, as per the usual. So they have that going for them.

All and all, this is a fine garment at a great price. Their selection is still somewhat limited right now but Poffenroth mentions some of the products in the works are a men’s and women’s half-zip top, a few pairs of merino shorts, and some other super-secret items that they are prototyping. I personally think you will be rather pleased with these if you grab yourself a few items.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Downhill Running Tips



More and more races are incorporating downhill sections into their events.  In fact, if you live in Utah, which I did for four years, good luck finding a marathon or half that doesn’t have some quad busting long stretches in it. I learned a long time ago that if I am good at one thing in running, it is running downhill.  As with most running gifts, some of it is genetics.  But you can also work on ways to take what you have and use it to your advantage.  

First, some science:  Muscles contract in two ways—concentrically (muscle shortens: think about picking something up) and eccentrically (muscle lengthens while contracting: think about putting that something back down).  From an energy and wear and tear perspective, eccentric contractions are much more costly.  Running downhill requires a great deal of eccentric contraction, especially in the quadriceps.  Hence super sore quads after your local Parachute 10k.  Now, here are some secrets to lessen the stress on your legs and can help you make up time in your next race.

* You want to go with gravity and lean with the hill.  But make sure you do some from the hips, not your head and shoulders.  You don’t want to tip over on the way down the hill.  Many try to lean back to fight the feeling of toppling over.  However keeping your body perpendicular to the ground is the best thing you can do. 

* Splay out your arms.  Downhill running does not require a runner to use their arms like on a flat section or in uphill running. Picture yourself on a tightrope and imagine how you would keep your arms out for balance.  Now, don’t go that far but somewhere between there and what you are currently doing is ideal. The arms out will give you balance and control which you will need since you will be going much faster than normal.

*It might be tiring but you also want to really think about engaging your core. The reason many runners have great abs and a nice ass is not because they spend time in the gym working on those muscles. It is because they are flexing them in runs all the time and making them part of their exercise.  Get a strong core, be a better runner, especially in the downhill.

* One of the most important things to remember when running downhill is to shorten your stride.  In race after race I will see someone beating the heck out of their legs by over-striding. When the course flattens (or even if it continues downhill) after a while their legs are shot. Doesn’t matter how strong your engine is if you have flat tires. Long loping strides not only are slower because of physics (more time with both feet off the ground means wind resistance and gravity are both working against you) it is also going to wreak havoc on your quads with each pounding stride. Lessen that impact by taking shorter steps. This will also help keep your body in that perfect perpendicular lean mentioned above.  

* With this quicker stride you will need to spend less time with each foot on the ground. Almost like walking over hot coals you will have a faster turnover in your legs which will help your speed even more. I always think of my feet making a pitter-patter type sound. At first it feels like you are using more energy but when all I said and done the energy saved from the pounding is far greater.

* Keep your head up. This works well in uphill running as well. When you look down you bring your body down.  You induce neck flexion and actually facilitate your flexor muscles, which turn off the hip extensor muscles (glutes, hamstrings, back muscles).  Those muscles are the ones which help keep you upright and neutral.  By looking at the ground you actually are increasing your chances of kissing it when you pitch forward.

If you follow these steps, you will make me regret having told you my secrets when you fly down me on the downhill.  That’s when I trip you.


Monday, October 27, 2014

A Very Poplar Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 18th Edition 
253 miles run in 2014 races
Race: A Very Poplar Run
Place: Boardman Tree Farm, OR
Miles from home: 180 miles
Weather: 50s; Partly cloudy

A few months ago I was on my way to run the Windermere Marathon in Spokane.  Having traveled this particular stretch of Route 84 through Eastern Oregon numerous times, I finally decided to take a picture of this exceedingly large tree farm I passed each time.

 I posted it on my Facebook and mentioned running through the trees would be akin to the GET OVER HERE! scene from the atrocious Mortal Kombat movie. No sooner had I posted this picture then someone said "They actually do run a race there." I felt like Sheila Broflovski. I knew I had to run in this place.

Fast forward the rest of this maddening year of odd pains and aches in my calf muscles/achilles tendon and you have me earlier this week. On a Tuesday I ran one of my best feeling workouts in months upon months. Taking on my Bridge Run in Portland, I breezed through a workout, covering the distance in the third fastest I ever had. I had forgotten what it was like to run pain free.  Then the next day, I cut short and slowed an already planned shorter and slower run as I felt a twinge in my calf again. To paraphrase John Wayne, this whole leg business was getting Ri-god-damn-diculous. So I slowed down my runs the rest of the week and realized that merely experiencing the race was the main point of this weekend. Getting to the finish of the awesomely punnily named A Very Poplar Run was the only thing which was important.

The Boardman Tree Farm where the race takes place (races, actually, as there was a 1 mile kids run, a 5k, a 10k and the 15k I ran) comprises nearly 30,000 acres of space. In this farm, there are roughly twelve million Pacific Albus poplars. Twelve million. Symmetrically planted close together, these trees create an almost optical illusion of sorts with rows and rows of identically shaped and sizes trees roughly 8 feet apart.

Even with my less than stellar preparation, given the niche nature of the race, the fine people both staffing ad volunteering it, and the fact that the race benefited the Agape House, an outreach program whose mission is to provide basic services to those in need in the surrounding areas, I was extremely excited to take part.

The race itself had a rather later starting time of 10:30 a.m.  For this night owl, there are few things better than a completely respectable race time.  Given the weather is almost always cool this time of year here, finishing close to noon is not much of a problem. In addition, we had a special treat from the weather gods.  While it did not rain the day of the race, there had been a fair amount of rain coming into the race weekend.  This water, badly needed in Eastern Oregon also wet down a lot of the sand and dirt we would be running on.  Not only did it keep the dust from flying it made the sand itself much easier to run on (picture a beach at low tide.)

The course footing definitely falls into the cross-country variety.  I was not aware of exactly what running on this would be like as I had never actually done a cross-country race.  I know without a doubt it it totally different than running on road. As I had not had a chance to check out the course prior too racing, I knew I would find out once we started.

The 15k had the lowest number of participants of the 500 or so registered for the races. We milled around in front of plentiful portapotties and a few fires lit to keep people warm.  It was a nice cool morning and I am sure those who were cold greatly appreciated it.  I actually positioned my friend Shannon between me and the fire. She was chilly and I would have burst into sweat rivulets if the fire got to close. I joked that the fires near so many trees were sorta of a threat to the trees to grow well. Sort of like the seafood concession stand at Sea World.

We ambled to the start which we could see was a well-packed dirt road sloping slightly upward. This wasn't the ridiculous uphill start of the Bix 7 mile race but it would be upward nonetheless. I chatted with a few of the people who were in charge with putting on the race and they thanked me for taking part and promoting it.  I thanked them for letting us take part in such an wonderful event on private property.

The proverbial gun was fired and away we went.

First 5k:
A quick look around and I guessed even with a gimpy leg I should break the top ten. How far up that ladder I went depended on how well my legs cooperated. We climbed the first hill and made a sharp left-hand turn, the first of 26 turns on the course. One chap sprinted out to the lead. I knew he was going to do one of two things: completely crush me or blow up. Neither of them required any response from me so I was happy to let him go. Another guy fell in behind him and started chase. Then a cluster of four of us were a few meters behind.

One guy next to me was listening to music (I guess) on an iPhone attached to his arm. He passed me on my right. He and another thin fella with grey hair and some super long shorts moved in step, tied for third. I fell back and just tested the leg the best I could. We continued on this well-packed road making another turn which took us to the edge of this packet of of trees.  This would be the last time where we did not have trees on all four sides of us.

There were a few puddles here and there from the rain but for the most part the footing was solid.  Up ahead I could see first place quickly becoming a ghost. God speed, Senor Speedy!

Another turn had us back into the trees and I could hear breathing behind me. A woman who I had seen earlier and correctly guessed would be quite fast, caught and passed me. At roughly the same time, I passed the iPhone guy. They say you can't judge a book by its cover but I correctly judged his burst of speed would last about 1.5 miles. Up ahead, I saw runners turning into a tree thicket and leaving the road for the first time.  Here was where the real tough running would begin.

We made our turn north and I quickly learned this would be my first ever cross-country race.  In between the trees, the ground was relatively flat but uneven and unpredictable at the same time.  The race crew had painstakingly raked the areas we would run through and it was easy to see their effort.  In the other rows where the course did not go, I could see how much more difficult it would have been to traverse the ground.  their efforts to keep it clear did not go unappreciated. I had wondered if the rain would make the ground muddy or treacherous but then realized that the ground surrounding the trees is actually mostly sand.  The rain actually made it a little more dense and runnable!

I heard breathing behind me again but there wasn't much room for anyone to pass me in here.  After roughly a quarter of a mile introduction to this style of running, we were spit back out onto a harder packed service road between the rows of trees. Up ahead I could see the second place runner just turning into another set of trees like we had just plodded through.  Just two plus miles into the race I was not only winded but frustrated. My calf muscle had protested furiously on the uneven ground and I was very worried.  I have basically one race left this year and then I am packing it in for a while. The last thing I needed was to injure myself here. So, I reeled in the speed and fell back. The runner who had been on my tail easily passed me and fell in step behind the lone female in front of us. As we entered the trees, I dutifully made sure to run smart and easy.

To the 10k:

Fortunately, the next mile was run on the packed roads again.  Here, I could worry less about  in my calf and
just try to catch some wind. I knew it would take me a good four miles until I felt like a runner as per the usual. I could see I was in seventh place and it appeared nothing about that was going to change. No one was catching me from behind as the gap between us and the rest o the pack was already widening. I watched the guy in front of me sit in the hip pocket of the female and for some reason it just bothered me. She would switch sides of the path and he would tail along. There was no wind for him to try and use her as a break. Almost out of curiosity, I picked up the pace to see what his motive was. Also, for the first time, my legs felt pretty fine. Maybe I would have a chance to actually race.

As we wound down through another tree-lined section I noticed I could see every competitor but first place. He was so far ahead that even the out and backs revealed nothing about his overall position. In spite of the overall runner putting distance on me, I had staved off the bleeding from falling further behind the runners. In fact, it appeared I was gaining ground.

During a race it is amazing what you can learn about your competitors in such a short period of time. I could tell one of the men who was in front of me was not really adept at the off-road portions. Whenever we hit the more groomed road he would surge ahead and pass the other runner who was fighting him for third place. I laughed thinking that one of them was going to be very happy and the other really ticked at getting the worst place in sports: fourth.

Suddenly, I found myself right on the heels of the woman who had been in front of me.  She looked like she was flagging a bit and slowing even more. Or maybe I was speeding up. My engine was warm and my wheels were not hurting so perhaps it was a combination of both. Now in sixth place I knew there was approximately four miles left. (The race did not have mile markers but instead had small kilometer markers put into the ground.  It took me until the fourth of these to realize they were there specifically for the race and not markings for the tree farm.) Maybe I could crawl into the top five if I caught the mustachioed gentleman who had been running in the girl's wake previously.

Onward to the Finish:

There is something about "racing" which is truly wonderful.  We often say we are only running against the clock, and most of the time that is true. But sometimes you get locked into an event and it doesn't matter what place you will get or what your time is. You simply have to beat that girl in the red shirt. Or the kid wearing the Vibrams or the Whoever doing the Whatever. They have become the thing you despise most and must destroy. That is, of course, until you finish and then they are like your best friend. Animosity gone, you are now brethren.

We entered the last 5k and I knew this was going to be the hardest section.  We had two big hills, another combo hill and then a sloping upward run until the slight downhill finish where we started.  Moreover, for me, I was rapidly catching fifth place who was rapidly catching fourth place. The course was going to be tough but now I had some racing decisions to make.

Right as we hit the bottom of the first big hill, I found myself right on the heels of both men. I did not wish to pass them on this hill just yet but I also did not wish to slow my momentum. Up the hill I go!

As they hugged the more worn parts of the path leaving me with the mushy middle, I had no choice put to pass them here. I joked "Who put this here?" and got a chuckle out of both. I was employing a racing tactic to get them to laugh which would in turn get them out of their focused zone and possibly let their guard down. I slipped by mustachioed man but grey haired gentleman gave me a little bit of a fight.  So I pushed harder to the top.  Once there, I pushed even harder.

Here's a racing tip for you: If you want to crush the spirit of someone you are passing on a hill, do NOT let up at the top. Keep going and put even more distance between you. I cannot even begin to tell you how many people I have left behind me using this tactic. You are welcome.

Now, I just had three miles left to hold off these guys and stay in the place I was: ever-crappy fourth.  But wait. Was I gaining on third? Son of a gun, I was. I can't sit back in fourth place when I know third place might be mine for the taking. Great. Now I have to run even harder. Fortunately, the guy in front of me was the one who was not too skilled at running off-road. Perhaps I had a chance.

Looking at my watch I felt for sure the course had to be long. I had close to 2 miles left but should be finishing in about the time it takes to run one mile. I only later learned that the course itself was so challenging it took nearly a minute per mile longer to run its length. Without a doubt, cross-country racing and road racing are two different beasts.

Right here was also where we joined all of the 10k and 5k runners.  I don't think they were expecting anyone to be coming up behind them and it was maddeningly to try and track down this gentleman in front of me while also dipping and dodging fellow competitors. It is, always, the runner from behind's responsibility to be careful when passing.  But it is also every runner's responsibility to not block the road. If there is anythign I wish all runners would learn, it is to be mindful of those around you.  Take out the headphones, be aware and enjoy the experience without listening to Pitbull.

Even as I closed the gap, I knew I probably was running out of real estate. The legs were feeling better but I wasn't going to risk tearing anything trying to secure third place. If it came to me, great.  If not, I was enjoying one of the most unique and beautiful races I have run in ever.

The trees were awash in colors, but done so in different swatches depending on the age of the tree being harvested.  The sun was filtering in here and there, bathing the forest in shards of light. It was, quite simply, one of those wonderful days to be alive and running ,even if you are sucking wind trying to chase someone down.

As we neared the finish , it was clear I did not have it in me to catch the guy in front of me. I later learned  he was a 2:36 marathoner in his day and a coach of cross-country as well.  I crossed the finish a handful of seconds behind him, taking fourth place overall in a time of 1:07:15.  I had a little kick at the end and was pushed by a couple of guys who thought I was in their 5k or 10k race. I wanted to telpathaically tell them to relax as I wasn't racing them but I figured the short sprint would do them good.  Given my finisher's "medal" I was found by the race director and asked my thoughts of the course. I could not stop gushing about how wonderful it all was.  I then ran out a little ways to cheer on Shannon.  Just a little over a month from having some surgery performed, her running is just coming back. Nevertheless, even on this tough course, she set a huge PR.  The echo chamber nature of the trees made me sound like I had a megaphone when I cheered for her on the way in.

I had the chance to chat with quite a few runners post-race as we stayed to applaud all the age group award winners. On top of the very neat slice of tree each and every runner received for finishing the age group awards were similar but even more top-notch.

The main reason I ran this race was to see if it lived up to my imagination. I wanted to find out if the image in my head of running through thousands of acres of tress would be as enjoyable as it was, even when a run turned into a race. I could not have been more pleased with the experience. If you don't add this race to your list of "musts", you are absolutely missing out.




Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Des Moines Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 17th Edition 
243.7 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Des Moines Half Marathon
Place: Des Moines, IA
Miles from home: 1786 miles
Weather: 40s; Bright sun

I returned to the Des Moines Marathon as a speaker and a runner for the fourth time since 2008 for a multitude of reasons. Having one the marathon once, the half marathon three times and paced runners as part of their pacing team three times as well, I have yet to experience a race which didn't live up to its ever-burgeoning standards.

On all four occasions the weather, which can rarely be counted upon in the Midwest at any point of the year, has been stellar. The race organization is top-notch. The overall experience has always been enjoyable. This year was no different.

I stayed on the east side of town knowing that it would allow easy access in and out to the starting line on race morning. Doing so put me in an area that might not have been the nicest section of Des Moines but also allowed me to see something new.  For the three days I was in town, I would begin my day with a run in a local cemetery named Laurel Hill.  Oddly, Des Moines has two cemeteries with that name separated by
roughly 9 miles.  I don't know why, they just do.

Having written previously about running in cemeteries and wondering if it is kosher, I was again reaffirmed by my decision to do so by three very pleasant runs around a rather hilly loop. I was also treated to a little humor when I saw a headstone with the name of "Worms".  Now, that is just rubbing it in, I thought.

My participation as a speaker at the expo also included me pacing the 1:40 half marathon group.  running this time actually presented a challenge.  I have run 78 half marathons and only four have been slower than 1:40.  Two were pacing efforts, one was a fun run I did and the last was an extra 3/4 of a mile long run I did in my fastest 70.3 triathlon ever. running that speed (note, I did not say "that slow") would be something I would find a little out of my normal running. As such, it would keep me on my toes.

I agreed to run this time mostly because of this challenge and for the chance to bring in more than usual the number of people I do when I pace. More often or not, regardless of how big the group starts off with, when I get toward the end, I may only have one or two people with me. Sure, many more will be not far behind but just as many take off near the end and even many more set PRs nonetheless.

Chill temperatures (hovering around 40 degrees) with just a touch of wind and bright sunshine greeted us runners as we milled around near the start.  I was actually co-pacing this run with a chap named Brian who has done multiple pacing efforts himself.  A tall fella of around 6'4'' Brian joked our pacees were lucky to have such large windblocks to be leading them.

As the race started,  it was exceedingly difficult to not run way faster than the planned 7:38 pace but the thick crowds in the beginning kept me in check.  Brian was a bit of a cheerleader, rousing both spectators and runners.  I chose to play the quieter foil, mainly there as his guest and the pied piper of others.  More than a few runners were taking part of the I-35 challenge.  this feat had runners competing in either the marathon or half in Kansas City down the road the day before and then duplicating that feat here in Des Moines. M y goal for the day was to help as many of these tired legs to get through the course as possible.

The Des Moines Marathon has a few hills in it that I recall from running it in 2006 as part of my 52 Marathon journey.  The half marathon, however, is about as flat as one can get running a city marathon that branches ut into a couple of different park areas. When we split from the marathoners right before the third mile, I told the runners to not smile too broadly as we watched them climb a big hill we did not have to mount.

After winding along an underpass we headed into Waterworks Park. This section had a 1.5 mile loop that split runners before allowing each other to pass within inches of one another on the way in/out.  It is the only "tight" portion of the course and at this pace definitely had more than a few people coming and going.  On our way out we marveled at the speed of the leaders (who would take it home in 1:08) and then were happy to see so many people behind us as we followed suit.

Not necessarily an easy place to get to for spectators, many were out here to cheer runners on, something which is always appreciated.  It was also a section where I could feel our large group of 30 or more might be beginning t fall off the pace.  With about half the race to go I was hoping we would keep as many as possible just a few miles longer.

Our exit from Waterworks Park spit us out across Fleur Drive and then around a loop of Grays Lake Park. One of my favorite part of any race is the walking bridge you cross here.  With colors glass reflecting the sunlight (or if it is at night, using the lights of the bridge) a rainbow effect is thrown at your feet. I like to use this portion to remind me that I have just about three miles left in the race. I told the runners the same thing and then told them a slightly off-color joke.  The laugh told me they forgot about their run if only for a few seconds.

The rest of the race is quite simple with a shot down a city street with a view of the capitol building's dome you saw at mile two in the background in front of you.  This also contains a short out and back that I have always disliked as it comes right before the 12th mile.  It is not horrible but it seems like it could easily be removed by adding distance elsewhere.

When we hit that 12th mile we saw we were just a few seconds ahead of the pace for the group.  However, the pack of about ten runners we still had right on our heels was itching to be done.  We told them that we were going to let them take off so we could maintain our projected pace. Having paced on numerous occasions. I know this happens often. Runners will get so excited t be done that they wish to d so as quickly as possible. There is no longer any pacing or holding back. The barn can be smelled and they want to eat its hay.

Brian and I kept the course, hoping to both pick up some last minute runners who might be flagging a bit and also to stay just ahead of those who were using us as a homing beacon.  They might not get under 1:40 but we knew they would be getting times they were shooting for nonetheless.
Thanks to MarathonFoto for the great shot!

When I crossed the line in 1:39:43, I was a few seconds ahead of where I would be ideally but was happy to have helped so many get their finish time. More than a few came up to Brian and I and thanked us. I turned to them and thanked them for allowing us to share this moment with them. I handed my 1:40 pacing sign to Justin, one of the I-35 challenge runners. I do hope he puts it in special place to signify his effort well-earned.

I packed up my bags and headed to the airport. Time to get home and watch The Walking Dead and get ready for a very interesting race in Oregon just a few days later.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review of Camelbak Cloud Walker 18 and Fourteener 24

When I partially tore my Achilles tendon in August it put more than a few things on hold. One was my review of two separate Camelbak products. I had used them both on a couple of occasions but hadn't fully had a chance to test them further.  Fortunately, I have healed up, taken both packs out on some runs/hikes and am happy to share my thoughts on both.

Cloud Walker 18

The Cloudwalker has served me very well for its intended use: to be a no-frills backpack without the extra bulk. I used it as pack when I recently took part in Hood to Coast with some buddies. I found myself during and after the race being a bit of a sherpa for a few of them and it worked very well.  Spacious yet slender,, what I really liked about the Cloudwalker was the Air Channel in the back.  Along with the comfy shoulder straps, this air channel added an extra layer of breathe-ability helping to kept moisture and heat off of your back.

There are not extrenal zippered bpokctes which might be a little bit of a drawback bu there is a mesh sidepocket on either side of the pack for a bottle or camera or things which need to be more accessible. But since the pack is not necesarily made to be one where you are grabbing and replacing while moving at a high-speed, this is not much of a problem.

It comes with a 2 liter Antidote® Reservoir which is ample for any type of adventure you might with to take it on.  It is sturdy and hardy without feeling too heavy or starchy.  There is no waist belt on this pack which I found to be actually better for hiking. I plan on doing a little more vertical climbing when I am hiking versus running and as such would be bent over more.  Not having a waist belt freed up my big gut.  This is one solid product, especially for just $80.

Fourteener 24

This is a big boy and I loved it. Coming standard with 3 liter Antidote®  Reservoir The Fourteener is ready to do more than I have put it through. With multiple lash points for ice axes, trekking poles or other gear this is a pack meant to go hard.

Even better than the Air Channel back of the Cloud Walker above is NV™ Back Panel which actually separates the entire back from your pack with elevated or raised panels. There is a waist belt on this pack as it is obvious it is meant to carry more than just a few items.  The belt helps distribute the weight of the entire pack evenly.  I used it when doing some light hiking at a recent race where I went to spectate up around Mount St. Helens where I deftly was able to scamper along some trail and rocks wit ha litany of items in my pack.  I didn't have any poles so I am not sure how they work with this pack but I have no doubt to believe they would work well too.

Because it comes with a separate zippered opening, the reservoir can be easily refilled without removing it from the pack. Again, like with the Cloud Walker this is not necessairly a pack you will be using for speed running through the Grand Canyon but not having to shuffle everything around to get to your bladder is a ncie touch.

The side compression straps helped keep the entire load stabilized which was extremely appreciated even though I wasn't ever packing it to full capacity. Also there are a coupe of external zippered pockets to allow you to throw items in which you might need to take in and out more often.

As it comes wit ha few more bells and whistles than the Cloud Walker it has a higher price tag at $145 but I think anyone who uses the pack would say that is well within its worth.