Monday, August 29, 2016

Rabbit Apparel Review

I met some runners at the Santa Barbara Marathon a few years ago. When I saw they were starting an apparel company on Kickstarter, I was interested and chipped in a few bucks. When they got their gear up and running, I said I would be happy to product test it for them. So that is what I did.

The company is called Rabbit and was created by Monica and Jill. You can read their creation story here. Well, not their creation story. (I don't think that is on the website but boy that would be interesting!) Rather, the above links to where the apparel called Rabbit had its start.

For the purposes of this review, I said I was most interested in their singlet top and their shorty-shorts.  I have nice quads and I want to show them off. Sue me. Actually, I just prefer to be wearing as little as possible when I run.  I sweat like it is my job and if I can air this hunkahunk of burning love out, it is best for all involved, including my own finishing time.

First off was the sleeveless shirt appropriately named "Welcome to The Gun Show."  From their website: "Made with our rabbitMESH fabric. rabbitMESH is a perforated tight-mesh fabric that evokes the spirit of our patronus: the rabbit. This rabbit-perforated mesh is lightweight, breathable, cling free, sag resistant, and scratch and chafe-free."  I will definitely be the judge of "breathable."

With Portland experiencing a resurgent summer of hotness after a nice break, it would be a great time to test out all the apparel. The singlet preformed rather admirably, doing a good job of wicking away the sweat. I noticed the little holes in the shirt were actually in the shape of the company's logo, a rabbit. That was pretty neat. It also did its job. There is really not much one can say about a sleeveless running top.  Basically, if you aren't thinking about it, that means it is working. It was not meant to carry a gel, it is not fancy, it is, I feel, made to be raced in. So I gave it a go in a half-marathon and found it worked just fine. Kudos all the way around as I never thought about it once during the runs or the race.

More important, at least to me, were the shorts. I am always looking for some good shorts, given the whole aforementioned sweat thing. I have had more chafing problems than I need to go into, even with proper lubing and other precautions. As such, the "Daisy Dukes" of the Rabbit brand were going to be put to the test.

I tested them out on a couple of runs, varying both the length of the run and the type (e.g, sprints, hill work, etc, in order to see how they performed when the legs were doing different ranges of motion.)  The short version is I like them. Plus they look snazzy. Appearance is not something I normally care about but if two pairs of shorts perform the same and one is ugly as sin, of course I will go with the one which looks a tad better. The best way to see if something works is not just in training runs but in  race. So, off to the testing grounds I went with the shorts in tow.

Taking on the trail 15k that is the River Valley Run, I knew with the complete changes in terrain, river crossings, and out and out sprints on pavement, I would see how these shorts really worked when not in a controlled environment. At the end of the race, I can say I have nothing but good things to talk about when it comes to the shorts. While I normally like the shorter legs and open cut on the sides, sometimes shorts do not provide enough coverage or support for manparts. As good ole Sweet Brown says, ain't nobody got time for that.

However fortunately for all in viewing distance, these shorts effectively hid my thunder. Moreover, they kept everything in place, provide a strong, sturdy fabric that survived getting hit by a branch or two with no tears. An ample zipped pocket on the pack was a nice surprise as well, especially since, like the singlet, these shorts feel like they are made for racing, not jogging. An internal front pouch pocket felt neither like it would bunch nor was it in the way.

Given my sweat glands, it is hard for me to tell how well they worked with wicking, really. Plus, the real test of race day was so disgustingly hot and humid (broke records for that day in Maryland) that nothing was going to not be drenched. But, on the flipside, zero chafing from that day or any of my previous runs. That, my friends, is a real winner in Dane's book.

I did not get a chance to try out any of the other apparel but if I do, I will be sure to let you know how it works.  But given the top notch quality of these two samples, I am sure it would receive high marks as well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

River Valley Run 15k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 12th Edition 
141.5 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: River Valley Run 15k Recap
Place: Manchester, MD
Miles from home: 2797
Weather: 80s; humid; sunny

As we live through month after month of "This is the hottest April, May, June, July ever!", as a runner it is starting to get a little old. As one who does decidedly poorly in races where it is sunny, or humid, it is downright dangerous. So when the temperature for the day of the River Valley Run 15k called for the highest temperature ever in recorded history for that date in the area, I knew I was not going to have a good day.

Much to the directors of this race's credit, they went above and beyond to be as prepared as possible. First, they moved the start of the race up 45 minutes. Then, I received an email, a text and then an automated phone call telling me of the changes. That, my friends, is how you run a race!

I knew the race itself would be very challenging, regardless of the weather. With large hills to climb, sometimes over treacherous footing, with switchbacks and river crossings, this race would be tough for even a seasoned trail runner. It was also a cupless race which is often done to be more environmentally-friendly.  However, in my own personal preference, if I am paying for a race, I don't want to carry my own liquids. Having said that, in a race such as this, even if cups were provided, you probably should have a handheld with you at least, especially if the weather gets nasty.

Race Morning:

As I mentioned, the race was moved up a bit to accommodate the weather. Then a downed powerline made entrance in to the secluded campground tougher for most. I had arrived much earlier than normal in order to set up my book signing at the post-race festivities and to talk to runners about ASEA. As such, I missed all of that crowdedness and was able, for the most part, to stay cool.  I knew that would not last.

First 3 Miles:

I had once entertained some designs on a top-5 finish in this race. While trail running is hardly my forte, I thought I had a decent shot. When the weather changed, so did my entire outlook for the race. I decided I would be happy with a top 20 finish. With my "A" race of the year coming up next month where I attempt a new half-marathon PR, I wasn't going to jeopardize that with a fall and broken bones (or dehydration and kidney failure) here. As such, when the race started, I was content to simply see how it all unfolded.

That said, the first half of a mile was run out of the starting gates and down the road through
camp. I might not want to run too hard but on what might be the only portion of the race where it suits my strengths, I wasn't going to lollygag. I shot out and was in 5th place. Then we turned, climbed a rocky road, turning again to run in a field up a hill and I said enough of that. Less than four minutes into the race and the first two drops of sweat had already made their way down my head and plopped right onto my Julbo sunglasses. Today was going to get messy.

After the first mile of climb, we dropped through some trail section with some slight difficulty in footing issues. Then we scrambled our way through what appeared to be a campsite, replete with teepees and wigwams. I had ceded a few spots overall in the climb, but as I am wont to do, gained them back on the downhills. I will never cease to be amazed how good some runners are at downhills (me) and how poorly they are at uphills (me.)

A half mile of flat lead us to the second mile and another scalable hill. I was as drenched in sweat at this point as if I had taken part in the ice bucket challenge. Here I decided that I was definitely going to be walking the uphill portions. Fortunately, the course was shaded for the vast majority of the time, otherwise I might have actually died. Here, as I walked up this hill, I could feel the pulsating heat ripping out of my chest, even though I was wearing a white singlet and in the shade. Oy.

A series of small hills, cut through a cornfield gave all a feeling of a solitude, as twists and turns often kept runners just a few feet ahead of you out if sight briefly.  As we approached the third mile, an aid station beckoned. I had already drank well over half of my 20 ounce Camelbak handheld. Double oy.

To Mile 6:

As we did a small loop to head back to the aid station I could see some runners were already way further ahead of me than I would have liked. When we would hit a downhill, I would carefully pick my way through the roots and rocks, all while giving a wide berth to the runners I was passing. Simultaneously, I would be keep an eye open for my footing, lest I become part of the trail.

At the aid station, I found I had screwed the top of my water bottle too tightly to open and wasted precious seconds fumbling with it using my drenched hands. A volunteer offered to allow me to use the tail end of her shirt and I gladly accepted. Bottle open, I filled it with a nice cool drink of some nature and took of again. As more than a few people had passed me during this section I was anxious to make up the distance. With a nice downhill in front of me, I did just that.

A little after 4 miles we had our first stream crossing. This also marked the second time in the race runners could choose between an easier but longer course or a shorter but harder section.  Ever since I chose the easier portion of the Dipsea Race last year, I have decided to always go for harder. I don't think the time saved on the easier sections makes up for how much longer they are. Plus, sweet fancy Mfoses did I need to run through some hopefully cool water.

For the next mile we ran, alongside Gunpowder Falls or the "crick" as people in this area (and my hometown in Pennsylvania) would call it. The footing was wonderful and the terrain flat. However, I knew a hill was coming. We passed underneath a car dealership-sized US flag and I knew that meant we were close to the starting point. That also meant it would be time to climb. Up the switchbacks I mentioned above we went and my heart began pounded with the heat of a thousand suns. As we neared the top, I took off my shirt and wrung it out like a dishcloth. I knew it would become saturated once again but hoped the action would cause for some semblance of cooling.

Down a field we went, with the finish line off in the distance mocking us. A fresh swatch of path had been mowed for runners but on a very steep path, gave us little chance of running fast. A downpour the night before, and the 8000% humidity, had made everything slick. I wasn't going to test my luck as I slowed even on the downhill section. We crossed the road we passed in the beginning (about a tenth of a mile south) and approached what I thought was the last big hill.

Ha!

Bringing it Home:


As I employed my hill walking strategy, I could hear one or two runners behind me. I stepped to the side on one of the wider sections waiting for them to pass me, but none took the chance. I guess their run wasn't much faster than my walk. 

Over the next mile I had a female on my heels named Maria who was not slow with an encouraging word. She would pass me as I walked on the undulating hills and then I would pass her on the downside. Each time she would say "come on!" as she passed me and I would stay silent as I passed her. Mostly because I assumed she had her race dialed in, somewhat because I didn't have much energy to spare for words.

I saw fellow runner and Facebook friend Matthew Burdette coming back at me on one steep section of downhill and I knew there must be a turnaround up somewhere close. Matthew had introduced himself to me at the start of the race which I appreciated. As most people on race day look a bit different, with sunglasses and hats and facial hair or whatever, it is always nice for them to notice me. I've been the same for years: tallish, ears that stick out, and usually trying to sleep in a few more minutes before the race. We exchanged pleasantries here at mile seven and I steadied myself for the climb up this monster on the way back.

As I powerwalked, Maria passed me again. Half a mile later I passed her. Another dip in the refreshingly cool Gunpowder Falls cleaned off my Karhu Flow 6s which performed admirably on a course for which they were definitely not designed (review of those soon.)

Hopping up the other side, I passed another runner who I had not even seen in front of me. I was feeling good. Another mile to go and this would be all over. Wait. Why are we climbing again? Drat.

Determined to run this hill I took off up the mossy covered stones. A brief respite was given as we passed over what appeared to be the cement foundation of a home but climbing after that is what we did. And again Maria passed me. Good thing I enjoyed looking at her behind as I didn't have a choice. We passed an aid station which, if it had been closer to the path I would have taken part in.  But to go ten yards out of my way at this juncture was not something I wanted to do. When they shouted encouragement of "Just a mile to go!" I almost corrected them. Then I remembered that this was a nine point THREE mile race. Crap.

Fortunately, the last and final downhill appeared. I loped down it like a person very happy to be done and passed Maria. We hit the pavement and I was so excited to be able to run again.  I picked up the pace running the fastest pace in over an hour. Almost immediately my body surged with heat. I felt like I had been tossed into a slow roaster. Maria appeared at my side and said "Let's sprint!" I did a millisecond assessment and realized that any acceleration on my part would not go over well with my whole plan of "Not Dying Today." I said "Go ahead, it's all yours!"  Maria eased ahead of me by five seconds as I dodged some of the other runners in the other distances coming home in 25th place in a time of 1:26:00 on the nose - a full 10-15 minutes slower than I thought it would take.

I headed to pick up my neat fisher's medal and then sat down in the shade at a medical tent. I was
given (as were all) an ice cold soaking wet towel and few things have felt better in my life. A medical staff person asked me if I was OK to which I replied in the affirmative. She handed me a plastic cup with the logo on the race on it filled with ice cold water. That even topped the towel.Walking through the finish, I saw Maria and congratulated her on her awesome finish. I told her I would love to talk more but I had to head over to my table.

I toweled off with the provisions I had brought and sat down to cool down and get ready to sign books. Over the next hour or so I met a dozen or so people and shared some great stories with them as we all expressed amazement at how tough the course was and how hot the day had turned out.  Maria did show up and said "I didn't know I was running with the guy who ran 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends!" I told her, "Actually, you beat the guy who ran 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends!" I think that made her day.

The race was put together, from top to bottom, like a well-oiled machine. It was assuredly difficult even in the best of weather but from the perspective of doing all the things right with regards to design and execution, the race organizers barely missed a step. Without a doubt, you should put this race on your schedule in 2017.

Pray to whomever you pray to that the weather is cooler.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Emotion Over Logic in Rio

This is not going to be a very popular article, I am assuming.

Abbey D’Agostino shouldn't be allowed to compete in the 5000m final.

Caster Semenya shouldn't be allowed to compete at all.


(N.B. I am open to any new information with regards to any of the points I have stated and totally reserve the right to change my mind when presented with it.  Presently, however, I have heard nothing that would make me change my stance.)

Seven years ago I first wrote about Caster Semenya. My feelings remain the same with regards to her plight as a human being dealing with the complexities of her genetic make-up. I cannot imagine going through that in anonymity, let alone on the world stage. However, with a testosterone level three times higher than what is allowed by Olympic standards for female competitors, there is simply no way she should be allowed to compete. (I would like to nip in the bud any further "But some basketball players are taller!" or "Michael Phelps has longer arms than anyone not a squid!" arguments. These, and multitude of other arguments of the like, fall short in so much that none of their traits have been ruled outside the bounds of fair play. A line must be drawn somewhere in determining the difference between the genders with regards to sport and it was drawn here using a extremely wide margin of testosterone which can be allowed. What margin? Women could compete only if their testosterone levels were below 10 nanomoles per liter — a cutoff devised by sampling woman athletes with polycystic ovary syndrome (a condition associated with elevated testosterone levels) and adding five standard deviations to it. )

One of the feel good moments of this finals was the aftermath of the collision between Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin in the 5000m women's semi-final. After a relatively innocuous collision turned into a fall, which turned into something much worse, D’Agostino turned to help Hamblin up.  After getting Hamblin going, she herself collapsed, in obvious agony. Watching the race, I told my friend there was no doubt D’Agostino tore her ACL. (Ends up, she did just that. Drats.)  Somehow, perhaps not very intelligently, she finished the last bit of the race, hobbling along. Eventually needing a wheelchair to even leave the track, D'Agostino was an inspiration and her touching moment with Hamblin with live on forever.

But like the buzzkill that has to point out there was definitely room for Jack on the floating door with Rose in Titanic, I have to dampen this happiness by saying there is zero reason why D’Agostino and Hamblin should be allowed to run in the 5000m final. A protest was filed shortly after the race and both were granted entry. I have yet to see a single reason why that protest was granted.

Earlier in the Olympics, a swimmer false-started in a semifinal which is an automatic disqualification. However, judges apparently decided that the swimming pool area had been too noisy and gave the swimmer a reprieve. Now, we can argue whether that was a little too lenient or not, but the fact remains they gave a reason for their decision. With D’Agostino, Hamblin and Semenya, it seems to be without reason. It appears to be just about not wanting to cause problems or alternatively to make a good story even better. So much has gone wrong in Rio with jello water and Ryan Lochte maybe faking a robbery and cyclists nearly dying (not to mention Zika) that it feels like this is all a diversion. "Look over here! This is good! We are the good people letting good stuff happen!"

Anyone who knows me is aware I have fought for LGBTQ rights for a long time. Any assertion I would be against Semenya for that reason would be without merit.  However, I was recently talking with a former Olympian swimmer about doping when these issues with all three of the above cases came up. We both feel that it is in no way mutually exclusive to grant Semenya any and all rights as a woman and also say, given what is in her blood and DNA, she simply cannot compete as a female in the Olympics. There are standards that are strictly adhered to with regards to what can be allowed in your blood and Semenya is not just a teensy bit over, but three times the allowable limit. But in a climate where many (rightfully so) are trying to make up for the past injustices to LGBTQ people, allowing Semenya to compete is not the right way.

With D’Agostino and Hamblin, nothing tore at my heart strings more than watching D’Agostino fall, and rather than get up and continue running, stopping and trying to get Hamblin to join her. Time and time again the sport of running and its competitors show heart and compassion even on this the biggest of high stakes stages, often lacking in every day life. As a runner and a track and field fan, I obviously want the US to do well in their events. However, the closest I have seen for why D'Agostino was allowed to continue was "for her efforts and under the circumstances." Well, unfortunately, that's not even close to being specific enough.

Of course, now it is moo point (like a cow's opinion) as D'Agostino cannot run. Hamblin still can however. It will be very interesting to see how she fares and I undoubtedly wish her the best. But, in these sports of time (running and swimming, especially) where there are strict rules we must follow, some times we just have to live with the fact that not everything is going to go as scripted. What makes these games so excited, what makes race so fun to watch, is that even if you are 99% sure something is going to happen, it still has to actually happen. If the most talented and best athletes always won, there would be very little reason to watch. There is drama. There is uncertainty.

And there are rules. Which should be followed.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hood to Coast Homeless Problem

The vaunted and venerable Hood To Coast Relay (which I was lucky to be part of in 2014) has itself a bit of a homeless problem. No, the race itself is not worried about losing its housing but rather Portland's homeless problem is spilling over onto the race course causing a bit of consternation.

A section of town in Portland called the Springwater Corridor Trail will be detoured around to avoid
dealing with an enormous homeless encampment in an area not far from where I live. Given the fact that many people will be running through this section alone at night, this is a wise decision on the HTC's part. This decision is byproduct of the unfortunate homeless problem that Portland finds itself in. Some have stated that it is an insult to the homeless here as they haven't posed any real threat to anyone in Portland. Personally, I couldn't disagree more.


For clarity's sake, I am not saying that the homeless in and of themselves are a problem.  I have given various speeches and interacted with homeless in a variety of ways, including a run and talk with a few Back on My Feet organizational chapters in the U.S.Often people fall on tough times, slip between the cracks, and need a helping hand. In fact, the 2008 economic crash showed how much of America is about two paychecks away from being homeless.

Unfortunately, however, I have firsthand knowledge of some of the homeless here in Portland. Once, while running in broad daylight around Portland's waterfront, I was attacked by a homeless person. Without going into much detail, let me attest I was able to fend off the attacker, but I was also relatively unsurprised it happened. I love Portland and its liberal ways but its legalization of marijuana, extremely lax drug enforcement (have seen many homeless lighting up crack pipes in broad daylight) and almost a brazen attitude from encampments of homeless have given almost a "try and move me" attitude amongst many of the homeless here. They crowd public areas, befoul public restrooms and, as is the main problem, set up the most elaborate shanty-towns in highly-trafficked areas.  I am a fairly self-assured, large-than-average fella and even I get my hackles raised.  I can't imagine what, say, a slighter female must feel like in some of the areas.


A few years ago I went to cheer on runners around 1 a.m. along that trail because, well, I am a nightowl and I like to support runners. On numerous occasions, in spite of the fact I sat with a flashlight on, I surprised more than a few runners who were too lost in their own thoughts (some with headphones on.) Given this lack of general unawareness, it is definitely best that all runners avoid this section. Locals have reported habitual drug use, trash left everywhere and in some cases, people who refuse to leave areas where generosity has been shown to them.

There is a systemic problem in Portland that my wee little website is hardly going to fix.  But since my first day of living here, I have always been confounded by the laissez-faire attitude to those who habitually are breaking the law. When I get a ticket for running a yellow light at 1 a.m. five blocks from my home yet squatters and homeless by choice (what I call those who seem homeless but are charging their iPhones at plugs around town) seem to skate by with no repercussions, it is a tad maddening. My normally wonderful view from my own window often is interrupted by some vagrant taking a pee in a parking lot, smoking substances, and generally not caring about not being belligerent. When I move from Portland in a little more than two weeks, that will not be one of the fond memories I take with me.

The Portland police have a planned sweep just a few days after the race. Why, with 12,000 runners coming through the area, for one of the most iconic races in North America, they can't do that sweep beforehand is beyond me. Furthermore, actions taken by politicians have seemed to do little to help the problem and are often head-scratching. Moreover, the fact it has gotten so bad in the first place in a blight on an otherwise stellar city.

One can only hope that this inconvenience to a high profile event will help solve this unsettling problem. Runners, the general public, and the homeless in need of help all deserve better.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Running Around the World

As of Monday August 1, 2016, I have run 24,854.79 miles since I started keeping track on January 1st, 2006. I know I have run a few thousand more miles in my life before I began meticulously marking down the data on that first day of the year when I ran 52 Marathons in one year. However, the number above is a certainty given the ridiculousness of my overly-detailed spreadsheet. But why is that total of any note? Because, sometime in the next week, I will surpass 24,901 miles which is how many miles it is around the Earth's circumference.  I will have run around the world.

Many have run much, much further. A guy who lives a few miles away has already run 2700 miles this year. I will be lucky to run that many miles for the entirety of 2016. But few have gotten more out of their miles than I have. Or, perhaps less sanctimoniously, my miles have gotten me to where I am and I am quite happy with that.

I have run in all 50 states. I have run a marathon distance around a cruise ship. I have run on Easter Island. I have run on the ocean floor. But most importantly, none of those were runs done solely to
cross an item off of a list. For example, I still haven't run a marathon in North Carolina (and won't for the foreseeable future as I boycott the state for its horrible human rights actions and lack of democracy). I haven't run a single foot in Africa. In fact, I've hardly raced in my own hometown. Running hasn't been a means to an end for me. It hasn't been about collecting as many medals as possible. It has always been about the journey. Cliche as it sounds, I often get as much enjoyment from a simple hard-run workout on a random Tuesday in October than I do a new personal best in a race. This doesn't mean I don't cherish those PRs. It also doesn't mean I don't care about racing hard. I most assuredly do. What it means is that I know how fleeting a good day in running can be and how lucky one must be to get it. So, however it comes, in whatever form, is something I cherish.

I have learned so much from running but nothing more poignant than the fact that there is so much I don't know. I am not just talking about the sport. I am talking about the world. Its people. Languages. Customs. Viewpoints. Running has opened my eyes to so much. Only when I realized how much it has allowed me to see and experience have I yearned maybe see it in a more hurried fashion. But I know I will never see it all and hurrying through in order to somehow experience "more" will just mean I will miss things in the present. So, I temper my desire to see it all with the knowledge of what I am seeing can be awesome as it is.

Milestones are nice, however.  Even if you sometimes force them like running 40 km on your 40th birthday when you should have stopped 5km before that. That said, I am sure that 24,901st mile will come in some random nondescript place on the corner of Whatever Ave and Who Cares Street while I
wait for some moron playing Pokemon to look up from his phone and get out of the way. In fact, if it weren't for some random article about the Earth I read recently, I might have even forgotten that this mileage total was rapidly approaching. It would have passed, unbeknownst to me. But the miles would still have been run. And, as I mentioned before, I have already run past that magical barrier anyway, probably about three or four years ago.

Which simply goes to show you how even when you aren't paying attention, you can still be having a great deal of fun and experiencing even more than you ever thought possible.

Here's to another trip around the globe.  Hope to see you somewhere on the trip.