Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CLIF Bar Review

Back in September I entered a giveaway on the Running and Rambling website (see header above) for CLIF bars. Click the link for the original blog post. This was for a mix of new flavors for different products. I have long been a fan of CLIF bar. Back in my college days when I started MTB riding there was one choice, Powerbar. Now don't get me wrong, I was thankful to have something like that but they looked awful and heavens forbid trying to eat one if it was cold outside. So when CLIF bars made their debut it was quite nice. These babies featured organic ingredients, whole grains, fiber and a decent punch of protein. And as a company CLIF gives back to the sports community and supports some worthy endeavors. More recently while shopping for peanut free granola bars for my son (required at his school) I found the CLIF Z bar a perfect solution. The icing on the cake is that my son really likes them. 
In my box there were 3 different kinds of CLIF bars. Three traditional bars, three Mojo bars and two Crunch bars. I need to make full disclosure on something that undoubtedly influenced my review. I am not a fan of coconut. Hasn't always been that way. All my life I was a take it or leave it kinda guy in regards to coconut. Until a couple of years ago when I came down with a full blown case of influenza. And as luck would have it my last snack was several coconut macaroon cookies. I'll spare you the details but suffice to say that coconut bits coming out your nose is not pleasant. Ever since that I have experienced a complete aversion to coconut. And wouldn't you know it two of the new flavors were coconut something. I think I can be objective but there you go. There's not much to say about an energy bar. Either you like it or you don't. Pretty simple really. 

For the CLIF bars the flavors were Coconut Chocolate Chip, Apricot and Peanut Toffee Buzz. Let me get the bad news out of the way. The Coconut Chocolate Chip, which I ate today after an eleven mile trail run, was my least favorite. Even the chocolate chip part of it was not enough to save it in my book. Too much of a coconut taste for me. That was a tough one. Thank goodness I had a full bottle of Nuun handy. Now, if you dig coconut and chocolate chips, then I'm sure this is for you. As far as the Apricot bar I was pleasantly surprised. Apricot is another flavor I can do without but here it worked for me. I remember as a kid my mom getting those tins of dried apricots during the holidays and trying to pass them off on us kids as a candy substitute or something. Party foul. I could do this bar again however. Hands down my favorite of these was the Peanut Toffee Buzz. What is the Buzz all about? Caffeine baby. In here it comes in the form of green tea extract (a good anti-oxidant) and is equal to 50mg of caffeine. Of course you can't taste caffeine. But the taste of this bar was the best of the three in my opinion. 
Next up is the Crunch bars. This was my first go at these. Think old school granola bars. The kind that require some effort to eat and, well, go crunch. Unfortunately for me during the shipping of my prize pack the Crunch bars were apparently handled pretty rough. When I opened them it was more like a chunky cereal instead of a bar. Nonetheless, they were both pretty good. The Blueberry Crisp had a hint of blueberry flavor. Just enough to notice. Thumbs up here. I have to give the nod here though to the Chocolate Peanut Butter. I mean, come on, who doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter together? In my opinion you couldn't go wrong with any of the six flavors the Crunch bars come in. 
Last up are the Mojo bars. I have enjoyed these before as I love the whole salty/sweet thing. These bars feature whole nuts packed in with sweet goodness. A trail mix bar on the go. My selections were White Chocolate Macadamia, Chocolate Almond Coconut and Dipped S'mores. I have to say that the one with coconut flavor was actually pretty good. Not nearly as much of a coconut vibe as the one earlier. This one I could actually enjoy. In fact, the Mojo bars were by far my favorite. And the best of the best was the Dipped S'mores. It was like a little package of heaven after a long run when I want to get some carbs and a little protein in my system to kick start my recovery. CLIF has hit a homerun with these. 

I have to thank Donald over at Running and Rambling for the chance at the giveaway. His blog is one that a regularly follow and it is full of good stuff. I highly recommend you go on over and check it out. And kudos to CLIF for putting a quality product out there and for having a good corporate conscience. 

Upcoming product reviews (from more giveaways) include Health Warrior Chia Seeds and Orbana energy drink (once again from Donald). But my next entry will likely be a race report from the Turkey-n-Taturs 50k in a couple of weeks. Until then, keep it easy, light and smooth. Cheers. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

ACOI Conference Notes & Race Report

So a few weeks ago, my wife, the lovely Dr. Reeves, tells me that I am welcome to attend a medical conference with her. Here is the skinny. It is the annual meeting of the American College of Osteopathic Internists. It is in San Antonio. At the new Marriot Hill Country Resort & Spa. And it will be a kid free, four day weekend covering our 15th wedding anniversary. Bingo! To make things even better, I am given clearance from the tower to go for a daily run and participate in the Friday Fun Run Race or as I called it, the Doctor Dash. Booyah! But more on the race later. The photo above is the view from the resort as the sun rose after the race. The course wound down the hill and into the canyon where the fog is settled.

My plan was to attend some lectures, get some runs in and otherwise relax. During the welcome dinner we met Cynthia, a doc from NYC that serves the Chinatown area. Turns out her husband is an avid runner and is working on his membership in the 50 States marathon club and wants to start running ultras. They even spent their honeymoon running Antartica (marathon for him, half for her). Back to the conference. The focus this year is on obesity. A rising epidemic not only in our country but around this big blue marble we all live on and call home. At least it was a topic of interest to me and not something like arthritis. I have had an interest in obesity which was only sharpened the more I searched for ways to improve my running performance and overall health. Books I read such as The China StudyEating Well for Optimum Health and Proof Positive helped me understand the nutrition side of the equation. Now thanks to running and some personal philosophy I consider myself to be a bit smarter than the average bear when it comes to nutrition. So naturally I'm interested in the conference lectures. Following are some of the  more interesting points I jotted down from the lectures. Again, I am not a medical expert so these notes are written in a manner that made sense to me. However, I have included the speaker's info for reference.

At breakfast the first day I attended an interesting lecture. The speaker had the audience think of the known history of man as a single 24 hour period. In terms of obesity the initial 23 plus hours are remarkably unremarkable. But about 23h45m the agricultural era is born and shortly after that the industrial period. Both of these would have a significant impact on obesity. In the last 15 seconds of the day, say since about 1980, obesity has exploded. Think about it. The invention of processed and frozen foods to be mass produced. Food packed in cans, wrapped in plastic, boxed up and shipped from the factory right to your local big box, mega retail grocery outlet. Just rip it open, pop it in the microwave and eat.

I'm 40 something and grew up eating mostly home cooked meals. Fast food joints were a luxury to us. A treat for special events. Most of the food we brought home from the store had to be eaten before it spoiled. Most of it didn't have an extended shelf life. Foods are now more calorie dense than before with the processed ingredients. Even something as simple as beef, no longer holistically pasture raised, now contains more fat and cholesterol with less protein and nutrients. Not to mention the addition of growth hormones and antibiotics. And to make matters worse portion sizes have ballooned. Lumberjack sized servings are now normal. Today's kid meal was yesterday's full size adult meal. And to top it all off, study after study shows a dramatic decrease in the amount of regular physical exercise people get in our world today.

Some interesting tidbits from the same lecture. Babies breastfed longer than 12 months have a markedly reduced incidence of obesity as adults. Adequate sleep on a regular basis helps keep people at a more ideal, age appropriate weight. The magic time being the often suggested 8 hours nightly for adults. For kids the number is 10 hours per night. This last one is the most surprisingly to me. Obesity is contagious. It has been documented that individuals who have close social relationships with someone who is obese, a spouse, sibling, parent or close friend, are more likely to suffer from obesity. In my mind the opposite is true. A person who is surrounded by fit folks, maybe runners, is more likely to be a more fit and healthy person.

Mia Taormina D.O.
Has Obesity Gone Viral
Guess how many U.S. states have an obese population of less than 20 percent? Zero. That's right. An epidemic of obesity is spreading across the U.S. at an alarming rate. Is there a viral etiology? Yes, in humans there are three different adenoviruses that have been shown to increase the likelihood of obesity. These viruses can result in suppressed immune function and the accumulation of body fat without an increase in caloric intake. Both bloodborne and airborne transmission of the viruses has been observed in animal studies. Infected lab subjects experienced a rapid and significant body mass increase. Does the gut flora on these subjects differ? Yes. There are between 15k-32k different kinds of flora in your gut. Some are good to have and others not so much. Studies suggest that some flora are more efficient at processing calories (gram negative) than others (gram positive). High GI tract flora is generally better than low GI tract flora. Your gut flora composition is more or less set by the age of 1. Think about that. This is why breast feeding beyond 12 months has repeatedly been shown to have huge benefits for a child. High fat, processed foods can shift gut flora over time to a more gram negative environment. Gram negative flora is able to extract more calories from ingested food. This can be reversed over time to more gram positive that includes more pre and pro biotic friendly flora with a healthy, whole food, plant based diet. For an individual predisposed to obesity (ad+) what this means is that their calorie in/calorie out equation requires more work to be effective. In other words, that individual has to work harder to maintain a healthy weight and BMI. 

George Bray M.D.
Obesity: From Here to There
If you keep your weight in check or are working towards a healthy weight you enjoy a lower risk of death due to multiple comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, pulmonary disease, hypertension and such. Likewise, you will have less risk of conditions such as diabetes (type II), high cholesterol and sleep apnea. That all sounds good to me. In a nutshell achieving a healthy weight and maintaining it comes down to just one thing and one thing only. There is no magic pill. No surgery that will make the problem go away. Sure, there are things a doctor or surgeon can do to assist an individual. But more than one of the guest lecturers simply stated: one must burn more calories than is taken in. Period. You wanna lose weight? That's the plan. Switching to a more healthy diet (low fat, whole foods, plant based) will lower your caloric intake. On that note my main source of runner friendly food advice is Matt Frazier and company over at No Meat Athlete. Add in some exercise and you will be well on your way.

I also need to mention a keynote speaker by the name of Eric Greitens. Former Navy Seal, Rhodes Scholar, best selling author and CEO of The Mission Continues. Eric spoke about his journey from Navy Seal to Humanitarian as outlined in his book The Heart and The Fist. Through his leadership at The Mission Continues military veterans (wounded and disabled) are awarded fellowships to serve in their communities. Several life changing stories were shared. This book is at the top of my must read list.

That's me above at The Alamo. As a Texas raised boy I had to post this. Note to self, next time take the water bottle out of your pocket. Now the race report. Apparently at each convention a small fun run 4 mile race is held. I told my wife to sign me up. I also mentioned that there was a pretty good chance I might win (given the likely small field and lack of fast runners). She just rolled her eyes. The race was Friday morning. I got down to the lobby early enough prior to the 0630 start and got in some warm up time. After getting the sleep shaken off I went back into the lobby to get out of the chilly breeze. I met another participant and we got to chatting. Before I knew it 0630 rolled around and we were the only ones there. We rushed to the other end of the resort where the conference desk was located. We asked about the race and were told they had already left. We rushed outside and found a group of about 50-60 runners ready to go and getting last minute directions from the leader. All I heard was something about running down to the end of TPC Parkway and returning to the resort. That meant running about 1 mile down the hill and then turning back, twice. Then two groups were split up, those in the 2 mile and those in the 4 mile race. I slid over to the 4 mile group. Then it was 3-2-1 Go! So I did. Immediately a fella in a Mother Road Marathon shirt from last year (I ran that marathon too) shot off like a bullet across the parking lot. I quickly settled in to what I thought was as fast a pace as I could hold for 4 miles. What exactly that was I have no idea because it was too dark to see my watch. In short order the lead runner put  a decent gap on me and another guy that was right on my shoulder. I peeked back and saw it looked like a 3 person race. However, I also realized that the guy in the lead was out of my league if he maintained that pace. I'm guessing he was a 6:00 or so and I felt my max would be about 7:00 considering I had run 6 hilly miles fairly hard the day before and was still recovering from Twin Cities Marathon. As we approached the turnaround I got a good look at the leader. His pace had slowed noticeably. With a mile of uphill next I thought I had a chance if I pushed it. So I did. I caught and passed him over the next quarter mile and pulled away. As I did the guy that had been on my shoulder faded away in the darkness. Just when I thought I was in the clear I heard footsteps from behind and they were coming fast. A quick glance revealed a new face. And it was young and belonged to a guy that looked like he had legs and plenty of gas left in the tank. OK, about a half mile left, just push it a bit and see if he hangs. He did. A quarter mile left to the resort and then another lap. That last quarter is up a nice kicker and back across the parking lot. I was gassed. I knew if he made a move that I would likely not have an answer so I went all in and began a tired kick. He just stayed right on my shoulder. We got back to the start and I decided, right then and there, that 2 miles at max effort was good enough for me today and stopped. He stopped with me and I shook his hand telling him I thought he had me. As we each caught our breath over the next minute or two the original leader came around and started his second lap. Then the guy that stopped with me looks up and asks if that was 4 miles. I told him no, just 2 miles. He wanted to do the 4 and took off. In the end he passed the leader and won the 4 mile race. So why did I drop to the two? Well, my legs were dead. My time was 13:18 for the race, a 6:39 pace. That's 20 seconds faster per mile than my best 5k to date. I know I would not have been able to keep that pace up for another 2 miles. At worst I think I would have finished third and likely second. But since the last race I won was probably back in third grade, circa 1976, I decided a "W" would be nice. And as Mike Rush told me, "A win is a win. I don't care if it was only two people." So I'll take it and the shiny Italian made gold medal. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Brooks Pure Project Review

I was pretty excited about the release of the Brooks Pure Project line. If you read these two earlier posts you may have a better idea why. The first is on my transition from traditional training shoes to more minimalist whips and this one explains the why. So when Drew from Rush Running Co sent me a text a few days before the official release letting me know the shoes had arrived and I was welcome to come take a look I jumped at the chance. I arrived and started checking them out. Out of the box I really liked the look. But before I could get much more into it a few more locals showed up including a couple of other TCM runners, an AT100 entrant and a Pinhoti 100 racer (and shoe designer). So Drew and Christian lined the new arrivals out for us to begin our impromptu round table discussion. 
It was agreed that all four models look great. Words like, fast, aggressive, sleek and low were used. But where is the posting? There is none. We were informed that Brooks, for this project, has thrown out the typical categories of stability and control. Theoretically, at least, anybody can wear any of these models and be just fine. Let the debate begin... I could care less about the marketing plan so I grabbed a pair and laced up. The Pure Cadence was first up. Snug fit, great feel, lightweight, plenty of cushion. Soft but not too much. I did notice a bit extra stretch in my Achilles and calf. My premonition to allow some time to transition to these as my mainstay shoe seems spot on at first. 
I look up and see Ryan (the Pinhoti 100 entrant and shoe designer) headed for the treadmill. Not sure which model he had on. The video gait recorder was turned on and off he went. The slow-mo replay showed good results with just a slight overpronation on one foot. Mike (owner of Rush Running and former NCAA runner) was next in a pair of Pure Flow. No issues with him but he is neutral anyway. I tried the treadmill next, all signals were good, nothing seemed too weird. So now some post run (sort of) analysis. Ryan and I both had extra gap with the Nav Band that goes across the top of the foot to help with the fit. We both have skinnier than normal feet. Mine was loose, his was useless. Nonetheless, we both felt the uppers fit snugly despite this. I liked the laces, a flat snake like design. They seem like they would work well not coming untied. Next we all check out the split toe design. None of us felt it while running on the treadmill. Mike thought it was more aesthetic and less functional. That it didn't come down far enough toward the mid foot to offer any real benefit. At least it will save a little weight with the missing material. 
Next  tried on the Grit. No rock plate and a little toe guard. Otherwise the fit and feel was much like the Flow. Comfortable, cushioned, light, snug and responsive feeling. The treadmill test for this model went much like the Flow. All signs point to yes. I wondered about the tread on the outsole as it looked pretty minimal. How would it work on technical stuff or when wet? It looks somewhat similar to the tread on my Pearl Izumi Iso Seek shoes which serves me pretty well. I could just barely feel the midfoot pod on this model. Nothing too weird but just barely noticeable. I can see the Grit being a solid door to trail shoe and a good all around trail shoe short of perhaps wet and technical terrain. 
All models have a 4-5mm heel drop and sit lower to the ground than most other shoes. These are Jurek inspired designs two years in the making. Jurek says these belong somewhere in the middle of the minimalist spectrum. Somewhere between the Saucony Kinvara and New Balance 890. In the end Ryan wants to try both the Flow and Grit. Mike wants the Flow for Twin Cities opting for them over the just arrived K Swiss Kwicky Blade and I was undecided between the Flow and Cadence. 
Fast forward a week. I haven't heard from Ryan yet. Mike did wear the Flow at TCM and at the finish line he gave a thumbs up on them. He had a chance to maybe put 25 miles or so on them before the race. No complaints from him. I picked up my shoes that week. I opted for the Flow. Mainly because of the $30 price difference. Why that much I can't explain. Drew said he took home a pair of Grit and wore them for a 14 mile trail run from his door. He did wear them just walking around for a day before. He told me that about halfway through his run he did feel a twinge in his soleus. Like me he thinks a transition from regular shoes does exist with the Pure Project line. Otherwise a stamp of approval from him. Drew is the Manager at Rush, ran college x-country, is a regular on the local racing scene and can often be found on the podium collecting his hardware. So he knows a thing or two about good shoes. He said they even felt good on the pavement getting to the trail head for his run. 
As for me, I wore my Flow six days after finishing my PR in the 26.2 at TCM for a 6 mile recovery run. Again, the shoes felt great, no issues at all with the fit or feel. My impression of these somehow promoting a mid foot strike seemed accurate. I did not feel the split toe feature at all on my run. No weird feelings in my calves or Achilles either. However, I did feel a tweak in my plantar on one foot. I attribute this to the marathon (completed in racing flats for the first time) and not to the Flow. In all fairness though I felt I should mention it. These shoes seem to have enough arch support in them so time will tell on that issue. A post run inspection did show something I should mention. With the design of the heel and less material used repetitive heel strikes might wear these shoes down faster than your normal trainer. I have a bit of a whip with my stride on my right foot and my legs were still a little dead from the marathon so I think this may explain the wear I saw on my shoe after a six mile run. Apparently I was dragging my heel. Tired legs and a slower than normal pace likely resulted in less than ideal form and me shuffling more than striding as usual. 
More on the heel design. The heels compared to most shoes have a slightly angled design at the very back. Not flat like most trainers. I could just feel it when I first put them on but that sensation quickly faded. And being a more minimalist design there is less material (outsole) back there. So if you plan on using a solid heel strike or drag your heels when tired expect on replacing these more often than say a pair of Ravennas. To recap: I really like the fit and feel of the upper. The laces work well without having to double tie them or use some secret Inca knot, the Nav Band is marginally functional for skinny feet, well cushioned but not overly so, felt light and responsive, didn't feel the split toe thing and love the color scheme. So much better than the Racer ST. These will surely be a mainstay in my rotation once I transition and I look forward to building up my mileage in these.
Update 10/12/2011: Last weekend I wore my Pure Flows to my first overall win at a race taking 1st at the ACOI San Antonio 2 Mile Doctor Dash. I have a few more runs under my belt and really like these shoes. My next purchase will undoubtedly be the Pure Grit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TCM Race Report Pt II

TCM Race Report Pt II

Pt II is less about the race and more about the experience. TCM was not on the radar as summer rolled around. A number of friends were already signed up but I had my sights set instead on a couple of trail ultras for the fall. Those being the Bass Pro Dogwood Canyon 50k in Lampe, MO and the Rock Creek Lookout Mt 50 Miler in Tennessee. Things changed. I spent some time in Joplin, our former hometown, following the devastating May tornado. A humbling experience. My first day back in NWA my buddy Brian and I went for a run. He suggested TCM again for the umpteenth time. After the run we stopped at Rush Running for a visit and Mike Rush was in the house. He got on me about joining the group headed North to Minnesota. I decided to jump in with them. A couple of hours later Mike sent a message that the marathon was full and registration was closed. I thought I was off the hook. No deal. Mike suggested I contact the RD and give some sob story. I didn't need a story. I had been in Joplin cleaning up after the F5 tornado and missed my chance to register. But I did email the race admin and quickly got a reply from a staffer named Lindsey. She explained that every staff member is given a guaranteed entry for each of the events Twin Cities in Motion organizes throughout the year for personal use or to give to a family member or friend. For the marathon she wanted to give me her spot. Back on the hook I go. 
This once normal American neighborhood was wiped off the earth by the tornado but pride still pulsed through these resilient Joplin residents. 

The Boomtown Half scheduled for 6/11/11 was cancelled due to the tornado. Starting in 2012 it will be named the Joplin Memorial Run. So instead of running the race hundreds of runners and volunteers showed up for a Day of Service on race day. That's me in the area just East of the Joplin High School in front of what was once a house. The effort was harder than any two hour run but so much more rewarding. 

The impromptu duct tape job at Joplin High School still stands. Eagle Pride. 

A training plan was hatched and we began the grind of pounding the pavement in what turned out to be a record setting heat wave and drought through the summer. The long runs were not fun. Monday nights at the track for weeks working on speed and strength. Tempo runs and hill work at Crystal Bridges and Slaughter Pen. Needless to say I went through a load of nuun tablets and developed a love of S! Caps (electrolytes on the go) and Slather (to prevent blisters and chaffing). I logged my first 60 mile week (twice) and completed some pretty good back to back long runs and discovered the joy of foam rolling. I took part in some great tune up races in the area and felt confident about my conditioning as the Summer came to a close. But the best part was being able to spend plenty of time with some fantastic NWA runners out on the roads. 

As departure for Twin Cities approached my knee began to rebel and my travel partner, Jason Knight (sub 3 hour marathoner), came down with a wicked case of PF in one foot. Jason nursed it for a while but decided the best course of action for him would be to sit this one out. My knee (torn lateral meniscus) was uber swollen and stiff. I considered doing the same as Jason. With two weeks left to go I settled on just chillin' and seeing what happened with the knee. Dr. Roeder at Maximum Performance did his best to help things along and the foam roller was put into overdrive. I managed five runs and 32 miles the last 14 days and that was it. But with each day the knee felt better. But I needed a new travel partner. Robert Standridge and I ended up stuck with one another. Room, check. Vehicle, check. Map, check. 

We met out at our farm at 5 AM, packed the Mazda and set off. The plan was to meet up with Brian and his family on the road and caravan up together. Somewhere in the dark between Bella Vista and Joplin we passed Brian and never saw him again but we stayed in contact via calls and texts. We stopped every couple of hours to stretch the legs. Made it to KC pretty quickly and rolled on towards Des Moines. Stopped for lunch in West Des Moines looking for the Quizno's but couldn't find it. We decided on Fuddrucker's and paid $12 for crappy burgers (mine was a veggie burger). Next a stop a Trader Joe's across the road for snacks and back in the car. Iowa is damn boring to drive through. Lots of corn. And more corn. Long story short, we get to St. Paul and unload into the hotel about 5:30 that evening. While checking in Robert is told that the room he reserved is a king with a pull out bed. Wrong answer. The reservation was for a double. No dice. That is the only room available. I volunteer to take the pull out and we head up to the room. But not before I plead my case with the clerk. I explained how we had just driven 12 hours from Arkansas for the marathon. While I was OK with sleeping on a pull out bed tonight, it sure would be nice to sleep in a real bed the night before the race. She said she would see what she could do for us. Quickly drop our crap and head over to the expo for packet pick up. 

We get our essentials and walk through checking the booths. All the typical fare. Lots of running gear, upcoming races, training programs. I did get a cup of coffee and a Chobani yogurt. Then I saw the RockTape booth. I decided to inquire about taping for my knee. Before long I had a new, bright red tape job on. It must have looked good because next thing I know Robert is standing in line for one. Leave the expo, find supper at a local pizzeria and back to the hotel. As we are walking past the front desk we're told that we have a new room for the next night. A double. Nice. And good thing too because that pull out SUCKED! However, breakfast rocked (fresh waffle, cereal, hard boiled egg, banana, oatmeal, orange juice and a coffee). For most of the day we chilled, watching football, a nap and then changed rooms. 

That evening we met the entire group for a pre-race meal at The Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown Minneapolis. The food was good and the company better. Thanks to Mike & Ali for taking care of the arrangements. And yes, I did drive on the rail tracks and down a one way road. Back to the hotel, prep all the race day gear, watch a little baseball (Go Rangers!) and catch some sleep. Morning broke about 5:30 for the 8 AM start. Chilly, about 41 degrees. A little breakfast (banana and some nuun) and we head out to the pick up point for the bus ride over to the start at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. We arrived about 6:45 and found a spot inside along the lower level walkway to stay warm and relax. I just walked around taking in the sights and sounds of first timers and grizzled veterans as I enjoyed my Rockstar Espresso energy drink. At 7:15 I down my Vespa and at 7:45 finish off my Access shake. I found Brian and Jesse, my running partners for the start, and headed out. On the way Brian had to pee, always does. The line to the Port-o-Pots was long so he found a white truck and stood from view behind it. Looked like he urinated two quarts. Like lemmings, we followed the crowd to the line and our corral. We stand and listen to some pre-race chatter on the PA. Brian has to pee, again. He sees a dumpster next to the start and heads that way. Must be contagious because Jesse heads behind him and then I have to go. We worked our way towards the front of corral #2 and I watched in amusement as an assortment of clothing (jackets, shirts, gloves, hats...) were being pulled off and thrown to the side over the fence. I consumed a Power Gel (tangerine flavor) and nearly gagged. First time trying that flavor and the last. My gear consisted of my Rush Racing singlet, Brooks Racer ST shoes, Pearl Izumi shorts, Asics compression briefs, Balaga socks, Zensah calf sleeves, my Inca Runners hat (thank you Hugo!), shades, Garmin 305, 4 GU gels (plain), a Vespa Ultra and a few S! Caps. 

The gun sounds for corral #1 and we move forward finalizing our pace strategy. The decision was made to stick together for the first 2-3 miles, going easy to warm up. No sense in fighting the crowd and wasting energy trying to run around folks. Handshakes and words of encouragement are exchanged. The music is blaring, we toe the line and BANG! we are off. Only took maybe a minute, if that, to cross the mat and start the journey. Quickly people are losing things: gels and energy bars, here and there someone is stopped dead adjusting an iPod or fiddling with that. We pick a line and roll out. As expected there are numerous folks blasting past us but we hold our pace. Within a half mile though Brian looks froggy and begins to pull away. Jesse and I hold fast. My hands are getting cold. I hate cold hands. I search the ground and sure enough find a pair of discarded gloves in short order. Grab 'em up and pull them on. These were truly a throw away pair as they were a mismatch. No worries, they filled the bill and my hands were happy. By now we have lost sight of Brian. By the time we hit the neighborhood about mile 2 we're both warmed up and feeling pretty good. My knee seems OK and Jesse's hamstrings (which had been an issue for a few weeks) were doing fine as well. We kept a rock steady pace at 8:50 per mile through the first several miles and were making serious efforts to run the tangents on the course. Along the way we picked up Dave and Amy, both runners from NWA. I had done a number of training runs with Amy and knew she would be a good fit into our group. 

About mile 10 I need to pee so I start doing recon on the port-o-pots along the course. All of them have lines. I don't want to lose my group and time this early so I soldier on. It quickly becomes a pressing matter. So I begin to scope the trees and bushes along the route. Unfortunately this part of the course runs through a large park area and there are spectators everywhere. I consider peeing in my shorts. No big deal. However, the thought occurs to me that it would probably run down my leg and into my shoes. Then there I'd be running with squishy shoes that smelled of urine for 15 miles. Approaching the halfway point I see my chance at the aid station ahead of us. I declare my intentions and pick up the pace to get ahead of the group. Just as I approach the port-o-pot and of course it is already occupied. So I step over to the table for some water and return. The pit stop maybe cost me two minutes in total. Back on the road I drop my pace for a mile or so before I catch sight of my group ahead of me and backed off the pace a bit. It took about 2.5 miles to hook back up with Jesse, Dave and Amy. When I did I realized that the slightly faster pace I had been running felt pretty good. By now I'm beginning to wonder if I should pull away and if so how soon? It didn't take long to get my answer but not in the way I expected. 

By now I was on GU #3 (used two of mine and one from an aid station) and I had hit every aid station with one cup of Powerade and two cups of water. I normally train with nuun tablets for fluids and have sworn off commercial sports drinks due to the refined sugars so I wanted to limit my intake of the Powerade. Good thing too as it was starting to warm up fairly quickly. The forecast was was warmer than usual temps as the day progressed. I was feeling good with one exception, a wicked ache in my abdomen from a sports hernia. It happens ever since the injury and surgery. Otherwise, physically, all systems were go. Good news as I was skeptical going in about my knee and calf.  I began to sense that I was pulling away from my group despite holding a steady pace. I was right. I looked behind and saw the gap. I kept going. In a few minutes I noticed someone in front of me, it was Brian, my main running buddy. He looked, well, bad. Holding his side and just shuffling along. As I passed I asked what was going on and he said he was cramping up, all over. I gave him a slap on the butt and kept going. Which was troubling to me. I know how much work he put into the race. I consider Brian a stronger runner than myself. If he can get tweaked what about me? There was no panic but it did make me think. I wanted to do more to help him but what? Do I sacrifice my race to all but stop and help my buddy 8 miles from the finish? While I am considering this question I notice another Rush jersey in front of me. It's Robert and he looks beat down. Another slap on the backside, a word of encouragement and I keep going. Within minutes the scene is repeated with me passing Donna about mile 20. By now I realize that I keep motoring along and do my race. With 10k to go I was facing my own issue. It was obvious that breaking the 3h45m mark was out the window. I had known that for a few miles now. Really once I stopped to pee that one was gone. I felt breaking the 4h mark for the first time was in the bag short of a complete meltdown. And on that note I felt covering the final 10k was all but a done deal based on how I felt at the time. So I could cruise in easy and meet my goal of breaking 4h or I could commit to work and see how close to 3h50m I could get. I looked at the runners around me and thought of my buddies I had just passed. I knew the answer. I was willing to work harder than these strangers around me. I was willing to hurt more than anyone of them. That's what I told myself. 

At this point I was just beginning what the locals call Little Heartbreak Hill. As the final turn is made toward the finish in St. Paul and you cross the bridge between miles 19 and 20 a drawn out climb begins that lasts about 5 miles. Not a steep "Oh Hell no!" climb but more of a slow, soul sucking ascent. On this course The Wall is somewhere on that hill. I knew I would have to use my arms and let my feet loose to keep the pace. I began to notice a lot of runners slowing down. The lines at aid stations (every mile now) growing longer with more people walking. I hold a line in the center of the road still focused on running tangents as much as possible. Forms and strides breaking down around me. The grimaced faces and looks of despair. It was getting downright warm by now too. I refused to allow myself to become on of "them". My mantra became "I'm willing to work. I'm willing to hurt." Finally about mile 25 along Summit Ave the crown of the hill passes and I saw the other side. A gentle downward slope to the finish. I can hear the PA and the large crowd cheering on the runners. A quick check of the watch and I see that breaking 3h55m is possible but I gotta go. Some guy pulls up on my left at a strong pace and I decide to follow him. We are maybe a mile from the finish so I figure maybe 8 minutes of work left. It felt great to finally have something left in the tank at the end of a marathon. So much better than blowing up and hobbling in. The pair of us are passing runners right and left. About 200 yards from the finish this guy takes off sprinting and I just held my pace, even remembering to take my shades off for the photo, crossing the finish line and nearly rear ending a group of five runners that had all stopped, side by side, under the banner. 

I go through the maze of getting the finisher medal, space blankets, drinks, food, and shirts that seemed to go on for a half mile before getting my drop bag. I just wanted to sit down for a minute and drink some water. I look at the massage tent, line way too long for me. I continue on to look for the Rush group and find them. Check on everyone there, handshakes, high fives and finally sit down. I took my shoes off. My feet were sore. First time I have worn a racing flat for a race. I had maybe 20 miles on those shoes before the race. Not the smartest move but I really do like the shoes now. So, feet sore, Achilles both sore, calves OK, knee not bad, hamstrings feel good, quads a bit shaky. More than anything just tired. Duh! I got back up on my bare feet and just slowly walked around in the grass. It felt good. Walk a little, drink a little. Repeat several times for maybe 20 minutes. I checked on my official chip time: 3h54m37s. Update my Twitter and FB status with the race results via my phone. Now, my Garmin shows a time of 3h53m57s and a distance of 26.47 miles. The 40s difference has to come from the pit stop at mile 13, that's a quick pee. And only a 1/4 mile of bonus mileage is more than acceptable to me. My slowest mile was 22, fastest mile 15. 

Post race analysis... Pacing was critical for me. I know I can go faster now. 3h50 minutes for sure and with a little work 3h45m. The fueling strategy worked well for me too. It was my first race to use Vespa. I had used it on only one training run. I have to say I think there might be something to this stuff. Warning: as bad as the regular Vespa taste, the ultra concentrate is foul. Reminded me of Long John Silver's malt vinegar. No issues with my energy level. I used a gel at approximately mile 5, 11, 17, 22 and another I can't remember when, maybe mile 20. Physically the worst I felt before a race but the best during and after. It's a good course, a few pot holes to fill in but that's about it. The most scenic road race course I have been on yet. Aid stations, great. Volunteers, super. Spectators, unreal. Estimated around 300k of them along the course. I believe it. For such a large event it is well organized. I expected that, they have had 30 years to get it down pat. Nice long sleeve tech shirt and uniquely designed medal after the finish. My one complaint was about the finish area. Too congested. I felt the traffic flow of humanity could have been handled a bit better. 

As the rest of the group wandered in plans were made for post race activities. Brian was nowhere to be found. He later told me that he spent some time in the medical tent. At the finish he was picking up a cup of water and fell dizzy into the table. At least he got a ride in a wheel chair to the tent. Then he was hand fed broth, got cold drinks, some food and a massage. He only took in water for the first 18 miles and his body was not happy. Not enough electrolytes my friend. I found Robert and we headed up the hill for the buses. Just as we reached the sidewalk I turned to see Robert bent over at the waist. Then he made his way to the ground. Then he barfed. Shouldn't have had that fruit cup after the finish. Apparently he had been dehydrated during the race and then overloaded on goodies just after the race. Gastric reject. On the bus and back to our car and out to the hotel. I was starving. That White Castle we passed was calling my name but Robert wasn't interested so we just made our way to the Best Western. Back at the room I made a bottle of nuun, grabbed an apple and a banana and turned on the TV. Robert headed to the hot tub. I headed to the bath tub. Filled with cold water. I soaked for about 15 minutes and then took a warm shower.  After that I hit the foam roller. Robert came back after hitting the hot tub, cool kiddie pool and the sauna. Of course we talked about the race, analyzing every little detail. I was bummed that some of the team blew up out on the course but happy that others had strong performances. I know there were at least a few PRs and a few first time finishes. 

As dinner time rolled around we decided to meet up in downtown Minneapolis. Eight of us ended up at the 8th St. Grill. I was going to indulge. Loaded potato skins, quesadillas and a big bowl of pasta. Dave shared his pizza with me too. And of course there were a couple of local micro brews I had to taste test. I even managed to stay off the rail tracks this trip. We walked a couple of miles back and forth from the hotel to the restaurant, probably a good thing. It was kinda slow going tough. Nice to stretch the legs and get some blood flow going. Back to the room for a good nights sleep, well deserved. Woke up about 5:30 the next morning, another big breakfast and back to the Ozarks we drove. 

On the way back Brian called. He wants to do another marathon this fall. Can't waste all that training for a crappy performance. Think about it, he says...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Twin Cities Marathon Report

Here is the report for my recent race, the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. It's in two parts. Part I is the nutshell version with the basic stuff on just the race and Part II is the expanded detail oriented version covering the entire trip. If you only have a minute  hit the first but comeback for all the good stuff later...

Part I

This was my third marathon, period. And the third in the last twelve months. I knocked 61 minutes off from my first to second and at Twin Cities I shaved off another 38 minutes for a new PR and broke the 4 hour mark. So in my first year back running consistently I have managed to slice 99 minutes off of my marathon time. Suffice to say that I am pleased with my results. I do want to mention that there were some righteous performances from fellow Rush Runners. Brandon BG Gardner blazed a 2:52, Dave Kelley was on his heels at 3:05, Marilyn Caufield ran a 3:12 to place fifth in her age group. She got her name in the Pioneer Press, the St. Paul newspaper. Tony Matthews followed that up with a 3:13, Craig Adams 3:18, Ali Rush 3:26, Mike Rush got chicked by his wife at 3:28 and Shannon McFarland finished in 3:32. I was next at 3:54 and fifteen other Rush Runners finished as well. Shout outs to Steve "Doc" Kimbrough, Jimmy Randolph, Ivan, Giovanni and Eduardo for completing their first marathons. Doing a long race with such a large group was a first for me and was a great experience. Already tossing ideas around for the next one. 
The event is well organized and run, as would be expected from a 30 year old classic. Plenty of well manned and stocked aid stations, plenty of company with thousands of fellow runners at the start, great traffic control and outstanding spectator support. The course is quite scenic once you get out of the Metrodome area and into the neighborhoods about mile two. The course is PR friendly but there was a bit more uphill elevation the last 10k than I anticipated. The Twin Cities seems like a cool place to visit and I wouldn't hesitate to spend a four day weekend there with the family. 
As far as my performance I have to say that the key was being steady with my pace. That was the plan going in and I executed it pretty well. I stayed hydrated by hitting every aid station until the last 10k where I skipped a few only hitting them every second mile. My fueling was consistent every 5-6 miles with GU gels and I also used a Vespa before the start and again about 25k into the race. Besides breaking the 4 hour mark another goal was to finish strong. Mission accomplished. I ran negative splits over the final 10k from an 8:58 mile at mile 20 down to a 7:40 to cross the finish line. My knee held up better than expected and feels the best it has in quite some time today. I did visit the Rocktape booth at the expo to get a tape job from the reps. I have to say I think there may have been something to that. During the race the biggest issue was lower abdominal pain at the site of a hernia surgery that kicked in by the halfway point. My feet were barking pretty good including my achilles and my hip flexors were sore as well. Today all of those are good, the only lingering soreness is in my quads. 
I do have to pass along a word of advice to anyone considering traveling a long distance for a marathon. Sitting in a vehicle for 10+ hours the day after is maybe not such a good idea. At every gas or pit stop the soreness was more and more noticeable for both me and my wingman, Robert Standridge. The thought of driving home the day of the race was even worse. Just be prepared for your body to rebel a bit if you put it through that kind of abuse and then ignore it for a period of time. While I don't feel this was the absolute best I was capable of it's a big step in the right direction and a nice confidence booster. I have many folks to thank including my family for putting up with me spending the time I do training. For my training buddy, Brian Wilmoth, much appreciation is due. I wouldn't be the runner I am today without your support. Mike Rush, Drew Connor and the entire Rush Running staff for letting this dork hang around and ask questions and not showing me the door. There is not a better locally owned and operated running store, period. My brother in law, Martin Philip, for being a cheerleader all the way from Vermont and a great example of what a runner should be all about. And of course my Pop who shares every step with me.