Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I/O Merino Wool Apparel Review

A few months ago I had heard of merino wool as a clothing option for runners, but that was the extent of my knowledge of the fabric. Now, in a perfect rendition of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, I can't stop hearing about it. I have tried out a few different products with the merino wool, such as the PEP I reviewed here, but I was really impressed with the I/O Merino.

Portland this winter has not, well, had a winter. It has been downright warm, sunny, and pretty much bereft of any cold conditions. While the folks at I/O Merino insisted I could wear their product during warmer temperatures, they obviously do not know the superhuman power that the yellow sun of your galaxy gives me in the sweat department. However, since there appeared to be no cold weather in my near future forecast, I thought I would give it a go in the warmer climes.

I tested a short sleeve version of the I/O Altitude Base Layer Tank on a couple of runs to see what it would do for me on normal trots around the neighborhood. First and foremost, I was impressed with how well it kept me warm. I didn't need the extra heat per se but even a hardy soul wearing no sleeves in chillier temps might notice some cold nipping at their flesh.  I noticed none.

What I did notice was how effectively it wicks sweat away from my body.  Many mistakenly think that a wet shirt is a bad thing.  In fact, it is a wet body which performs poorly and the I/O did a fantastic job of removing the sweat from my torso to allow it to cool. It also allows me to marvel at how I can possibly sweat this freaking much in 40 degree weather

Next up, I decided I would brave the potential meltdown and wear the long sleeve half-zip on a less than cold day.  Granted, it was still cold for some (in the 40s) but for a Pennsylvania boy, February means it should be of the "Why does the air hurt my face?" temperatures with negative signs in front of them. However, on the day I decided to wear the Altitude Zip Base Layer, the sunny outdoors belied how chilly it was because of a biting wind. As such, I had actually been what I thought might be a tad unprepared as I was wearing nothing under the Base Layer.  Yes, I know it is called a "base layer" but I still planned to have something on under it every now and then. I march to the beat of a different accordion.

Not only did the shirt provide me with the excellent wicking I found in the short sleeve version, it left me completely unharmed from the wind blowing through the trees. The long sleeve with the thumblocks to keep the sleeves in place, as well as provide a little extra warmth on the wrists, was excellent.I actually needed to unhitch the old thumbs and roll the sleeves up a notch because of how toasty it kept me.

I always seem to have a problem with the zipper portion half-zips. If they are zipped all the way up they are choking me. If they are zipped down the open zipper's teeth tend to cut into my neck. As I pondered why any running shirt has a half-zip I realized I was having neither of the problems with this shirt. I don't know if it was just luck of the draw or purposeful design but I loved how it fit.

Wanting to continue to try out the shirts in differing patterns, I did indeed take on a half-marathon with the sleeveless base layer. Running the Heart Breaker Half Marathon, I had the combination of hills and chills to test how the shirt ran in race conditions. I feel it passed the race test with flying colors.

My only complaint was that the shirt might have been a little too long for a race situation but that might be simply because I ordered the wrong size. Its length is definitely something one would want to have in normal conditions, though.  The extra material keeps one from having their flesh exposed if they had to bend to tie a shoe or something of that ilk. Given I have a long torso, this is something I have to deal with often, even just in a normal run. So I am  not complaining about the extra length. Also, I didn't actually notice it was long during the race.  It never bothered  or hindered my stride. I only saw later in race pictures that it looked like I might be going to a teenage slumber party with no shorts on. That also has to do with the fact that I wear 1970s RollerGirl short shorts in my races as well.  I have nice quads. You'd do it, too.

The final tests for the product would come a few weeks later when I was in Salt Lake City for the Endurance Expo Show. While it had been 60 degrees the day I arrived one of the early morning runs I went on had the temperatures in the 20s with one hellacious wind.  As I circled my beloved Liberty Park, the wind was inexplicably in my face on three of the four directions I was running. I felt the cold sting of the dry Utah air on my face and legs (yes, I was wearing my Skins compressions shorts- I told you about my quads) but the I/O fought back this wind as well.

On a later, less intense (and therefore susceptible to running a little cooler than normal) run with my buddy Vanilla Bear, I had the final test of the long-sleeved base layer. We went out for a hour long run along the city streets and backwoods trails of Salt Lake. Within a mile, in spite of the cold temps, I was, of course, sweating. Also, the I/O was wicking away the sweat as Vanilla noted the crystallizing dampness on the back of my shirt. Nothng stops me from sweating so I need something which combats that while also keeping me warm. I can say the I/ O does just that.

To say I am impressed would be an understatement. I am greatly looking forward to trying out more of the products of I/O. Also, as I know it matters to some people, not only does the running apparel and regular day-to-day clothing perform well, it also looks really snazzy as well. I wore a Vital Longsleeve all day at the aforementioned expo and had more than a few people mention how nice it looked.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention how this doesn't itch one single bit. It was such a non-factor I almost forgot to say it didn't exist. My only memory of wool before wearing Merino was that how anyone could possibly stand it touching any square millimeter of their skin without needing to scratch at it like a methhead.   But with this product - absolutely no itching, even when it was directly on skin (as it was in all the testing I did.)

All in all, let's simply say I/O seems to know what they are doing down there down under (they are based in Australia) and I look forward to trying out more of their stuff.

(Just as a side note, I was not compensated for this review, lest you feel that is something which actually happens in the world. If it does, please put me on the list of people who get that.  It sounds like a sweet deal.)

Addendum: I was able to score a sweet deal for my readers. Use DANE20 to get yourself 20% off any full priced item!  Who loves ya, baby?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Heart Breaker Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 2nd Edition 
18.1 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Hearth Breaker Half Marathon
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 16
Weather: 40s; humid; mostly sunny

Having run the Heart Breaker Half last year, I knew what was in store for me this year.  Basically, if you don't want to click on that link, let me simplify: I knew I was going to be running my fair share of hills. Fortunately, my body was in much better shape this year.

Note I don't think I am in much better running shape this year. Rather, this time last year I was developing a problem with my calf that would leave me hobbled for half of March and occasionally for other portions of the year. In 2015, however, I knew I wasn't dealing with that problem and my goal was significantly different.  Instead of just surviving, I wanted to give the course a solid go. With the Phoenix Marathon in two weeks, this would be a barometer run.  Not an all out effort, mind you, but rather one where I see where I am on this exact day and how that points toward the future. But I did want to take myself under 1:30 - something I hadn't done since my PR of 1:20 a little over a year ago.

One of the things I love about not traveling to races is sleeping in my own bed. Even if I have to get up and drive a few miles or more, my own bed with my own clothes in my own drawers is just a marvelous thing. This race was no exception as from the minute I left my door until I parked in the school parking lot which served as the start and finish of this race, was 20 minutes exactly.  Couple that with a nice warm gymnasium/lunch room to sit in with plenty of bathrooms and this is the ideal setting for a race. Five minutes before the race started, I walked out the door, hustled across the track we would be ending on in just a bit and lined up for the start. That is perfection.  Just like gum. Gum would be perfection. (Google that if you don't get it, you damn millenials.  Or here.)

To to the top of the Heart Breaker
Mile splits: 6:29, 6:37, 6:58, 7:21

Since I do not even warm up in any race until 6 miles in (which makes 10Ks a bad race option for me), and I don't exactly like starting a run by going uphills, this race presented a little bit of a problem. The undulating hills were bad enough but the namesake of the race (which was actually a combo of three hills separated by two different right angle turns) awaited from miles 3-4. The race has a special timing mat to show who gets to be the King/Queen of the Hill, as you were. I knew the crowned royalty wouldn't remotely be me and last thing I wanted to do was kill myself 23% through a race. Even more so, I wanted to get up the hill without dying before I even got to it. So I took off at the start in what I felt was a conservative pace.

Normally, I say that I felt conservative, look at my watch after one mile and see I have ripped off something 30 seconds too fast. This time, however, it was right what I thought it would be:,which of course, worried me to no end. If it felt good and it wasn't fast, does that mean the rest of the day was going to be too slow? Fortunately, the next two miles played right into my plan. Now time to tackle the beast.

Surprisingly, the beast felt much easier this year than last.  Knowledge is power and knowing it was there, and wasn't going to require a Sherpa and an oxygen mask, made it much easier. In fact, I think I hit the mile in a little over 7:10.  Not too shabby.  And only one person had passed me during its ascent.  Not too Shabby 2: Electric Boogaloo.

To the Start of Loop Two: 
Mile Splits: 6:23, 6:44, 6:40, 6:47 

My favorite part of this race is cresting the big hill, coming down a nice steep downhill and running under this ridiculously high railroad trestle. It really comes out of nowhere and seems completely out of place. It always picks up my spirits.

After that is a quick up and down and then you join the 10k runners on what will be your first of two loops of a 4.5 mile section.  This part I do not particularly care for (either loop) because of how you have to bob and weave through the masses.  One of the reason I want to continue to run as fast as I can is so I don't have to run with the crowds. I don't like people around me when I am racing. I want oodles of elbow room. Not sure why that is but I think the contact sport portion of my brain doesn't want people that close. Don't get me wrong. This section is hardly NYC-subway crowded but it is more than ideal for me.  The long slow gradual climb followed by another quick downhill takes you to a good mile flat straightaway with just an elbow of a curve. Here you have a chance t open your legs a bit and get into a groove.  Up head you can see the turn you have to make and the runners in front of you.

Up this quarter mile gradual climb, you then punctuate this loop with a steep down and back up.  That is your 4.5 mile loop.  If you are running the 10k you turn to go home.  If you are running the half, you get to do the second and third miles of the course again and then the remainder of the loop you just did.  I like knowing what is coming. I just wish what was coming was less hilly.

Heading Home:
Mile Splits: 7:00, 6:56, 6:38, 6:52, 6:37 

Starting the second loop I had not really done any math with regards to my splits. I had run a 1:33:14 and change here last year and l knew I was much faster than that here. How much faster I couldn't tell for sure.  When I hit the 9th mile, I got a better picture. It was going to take some slacking for me to not go under 90 minutes. Also, if I picked up the pace I was looking at something in 1:28. Hardly smoking fast but better than I had done in quite some time. The first 7:00 minute mile of the day other than the hill didn't make me feel good but I had eased off the throttle a bit getting ready for the last four miles.

I had been running in a bit of a vacuum for most  as the last person who passed me had done so at mile 5 and I only passed one person at mile 8.  Even with all the other runners I was passing who were a lap behind or in the 10k, it gave me no idea of my actual speed. I saw the women's leader up ahead but as she dodged  runners with headphones in who were not really paying attention, I could not mentally lasso her to use her to pull me in.  I was basically stuck not moving too slow but not moving fast enough. I was pleased that more than a few people did have just one headphone in or the volume low enough to hear approaching footprints. Unfortunate, in the midst of a race you forget those nice people an concentrate on those lost in la-la land an walking four abreast. Slowly.  If looks could kill.

When I hit the 11th mile, I knew I could run two 6:51s and that would get me under 1:29. Running a 6:52 for the 12th mile didn't dampen my spirits because of the huge hill in that mile. Accordingly, I knew I had the time in the bag. I just had to execute. It is when I know what I need to do I can reflect, even when I am in the middle of a race.  I thought back to relatively excellent race organization.  I don't know why the one aid station on the downhill around mile 2 (and 9) was on the far outside of a turn, and on a steep downhill but it was. Other than that, the volunteers were friendly and helpful. (When going back onto the course to cheer on my friend Shannon, I was able to garner a few extra seconds less in Runner Purgatory by stopping two runners from running off course less than a quarter of a mile from the finish and then moving a sign to make it more prominent to other runners as well.)

While I was doing the thinking, I realized this last mile felt good. Not thrilling but nice.  I stretched my legs out. I felt the road beneath my Karhu Flow Light shoes. The beautiful sunny sky beat down on my face and as always I was happy to be wearing my Julbo sunglasses. Even though it was only 45 degrees the I/O Merino wool shirt I was testing out kept me amply warm. In fact, I was more than covered in sweat. I don't remember being this sweaty as an athlete growing up by by golly I sweat a lot now.  How I ran with just two sips of water on the course is a testament to how I camel-train myself on a daily basis.

There was a much tougher field this year than last. I could hear a runner catching up to me in the final stretch but I had too much left in the tank and they did not have enough real estate to make a surge. As I crossed the finish in 1:28:51 in 18th place, I know this would have netted me a top ten last year. This bothers me none as place finishes are far more a by-product of who happens to show up. Instead, the time pleased me greatly as it showed I was much further along at this point this year than last. (As a side note: the runner right behind was a 16 year old girl.  She basically ran the same time as me. That's an impressive run, young lady.)

Times are basically irrelevant.  No one really cares whether I run another sub-3 in Phoenix in two weeks but me. Those who like me will support me if I don't. Those who don't like me will find excuses if I do.  The only person that matters is me. We have to look at ourselves for most of our pleasure and satisfaction. I know that each run is a crapshoot.  Did you not feel sick that day? Were you able to keep your ankles twist-free?  How did last night's dinner sit in your stomach?  These are questions we can only find the answers to when we put our shoes on and hit the road.

Today's answer to the many questions was I was quite pleased with how everything went.  Time to get ready for the next race. Thanks to the AA Sports people for always putting on such great events. Looking forward as always to running more.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Weight Watching - January Edition

I have been known to be a little hard on the obesity problem in America.  I do so because I understand how hard it is to stay in shape. Usually statements like this from from athletes get eye rolls and "Yeah, right"s. However, I am constantly battling not only my desire to get faster but also the numbers on the scale. I truly
get it.

Let me be clear that the numbers in and of themselves matter very little to me. What the numbers represent, however, mean the world. Be them fat or muscle, weight for a runner means you have to move weight through space in order to get to the finish. Mass times acceleration equals force and the more mass you have the more force you will have - if you can accelerate it. Therein lies the problem.

As I pointed out in another article, ten pounds is akin to an extra nine minutes of time over a marathon distance. I wrote that article on January 12th. The next day, after an 8.65 mile run, I weighed myself. This is nothing new. I weigh myself constantly. I had a friend issue a challenge to me to stop weighing myself in order to feel better. I replied that weighing myself and seeing the numbers did not upset.  Not being able to figure out how I couldn't get them to go down (or stay down) did.

I ran on 30 separate occasions in January. My goal was to weigh myself as often as possible after these runs. While I might be a bit dehydrated or at my lightest of the day, at least weighing myself at the same time would be a constant from which I could draw data. I was able to get measurements on 18 of those 30 runs. Circumstances or forgetfulness sometimes kept me from using my scale before I ate or drank (which would skew results.) My first weigh-in of the year had me at 191.4 lbs. I was not surprised. I have been in the 185-195 range for about two year. (For the sake of comparisons I ran my marathon PR right at 180.) It is not where I want to be or what I race best at but it is not too high. .

Over the course of this past month, my weight would yo-yo with seemingly no rhyme or reason.  Down to 188.  Up to 193. It was baffling. A week ago I ran two good solid long runs in a row (13.3 and 15.9). My weight was at 185.8 after the second run. I thought I might have finally had a break-through and was finally getting down to around 180 or maybe a few pounds less. The next day I went to the gym and swam with no running. The day after that I ran a 7.25 miler but forgot to weigh myself. The next day I ran a very hard 8.2 miler- and promptly weighed 191 lbs. Over a 5 lb gain. Three more days of runs (5.4 miles of sprints; 8.25 of hard intervals and then 10.3 of tempo) and I went up one pound before coming back down another.I finished at 191 lbs.

In other words, I ran 247.25 miles and only lost .4 of a pound. When you are a big guy and can lose 5 lbs on a hard treadmill workout, this is seemingly criminal.  There is definitely something else going on other than exercise.

This leads to thoughts of eating and how what you put in your mouth means a great deal. I did not keep a strict food diary but I know I averaged about 2500 calories a day. Not a minor amount but hardly a gluttonous sized helping of food, either. In addition, the food I eat is very healthy. I do have a salty tooth (I like me my potato chips) and that might be the thing I need to have less of. I am no longer 17 and can burn though 400 calories a day with ease.

I don't have a conclusion as of yet. Drawing one from such a small sample size would be folly. I have a small amount of data from the first month where I have felt strong as an athlete in well over two years. (Bike crashes, staph infections, etc tend to weight you down.) I do know on February 1st I ran a solid 20 miler (which felt fantastic and gives me hope for running fast this year) and weighed in at 188 lbs. But with just a small run on Groundhog Day in the evening (where I didn't weigh myself because it came after meals) I'd bet I weighed over 190 again.

I am doing all of this for a number of reasons:
1. I love data and numbers.
2. I want to be able to see how much running and how much eating affects strength, weight, and performance.
3. I know many have false ideas not only about their own performances but those of others as well (I had one guy say he would never be my speed because I was one of those "fast, skinny guys" - then it turned out I weigh more than him.)

More or less, I am experimenting and make notes to be able to hopefully provide all of you with information you can use for your own purposes. I also know that I will be soon be getting periodic blood work done to not only monitor these changes but also to check on my Gilbert's Syndrome and how it affects my running. So, check back every month and I will be giving you updates on how I am progressing and what perhaps these numbers mean. Maybe we can find an answer together.