27 December 2013

gear review - illumiNITE running jacket

you just never know what you'll find at the second-hand store.

rifling through the women's (yes, i'm a gender bender when it comes to clothing!) 'spring jacket' section in the local goodwill thrift store i found a nylon shell jacket from a manufacturer that i'd never heard of before.  the collar tag had the URL "www.illumiNITE.com" on it, and i figured that if they had a website they had to be at least somewhat legit.  the name immediately led me to believe that this jacket had some kind of reflectivity technology incorporated into it, and upon closer inspection it certainly looked like there was some kind of daisy-flower pattern woven into the fabric that might provide some added visibility when running in low-light conditions (reminiscent of the features of the skora phase x) ... which is exactly what i was looking for on that particular visit.

i didn't pick up the jacket then and there because i figured that if the company was obscure to me, it would probably be obscure enough to anyone else who might randomly be thumbing through the hangers in that section.  it also gave me a chance to do a bit of internet research, which provided me with enough feedback to want to return to specifically pick it up.  
after returning home and comparing it to my uber-basic nike running shell (with it's wide reflective strips), i was prepared for disappointment.  maybe this 'illumiNITE' stuff had been promoted on late-night infomercials alongside the hulk hogan thunder mixer.

undaunted, i took to the roads with it - and found that in practice the illumiNITE jacket told a different story.  watch my review below for the 'enlightening' details!

all in all, a worthy and helpful addition to my running gear repertoire - i would recommend illumiNITE technology and products to anyone who (a) runs in the dark and (b) braves the 'facing traffic' side of the road!


24 December 2013

dashing through the snow

wishing you and yours a very merry christmas and 'personal best' 2014!

13 December 2013

road review: nike shox turbo oz

i bet that emil zatopek never tried to run in high heels.

given my love for second-hand shopping, and the fact that i believe only one or two pairs of shoes currently part of my training rotation are winter-worthy (remember, i'll be facing 10-20cm of snow quite regularly and -15°C to -25°C over the next few months), i found a pair of nike shox turbo oz at the local goodwill store on 50% off footwear day.
(left side, top to bottom:  adidas trainers of some sort, skora phase, skechers gorun 2, inov-8 bare-x 180
right side, top to bottom:  asics gel galaxy 4, merrell road glove, new balance 1400v2)

while feeling like a bit of a traitor to the cause of minimalist runners everywhere, i decided to add these shoes to my repertoire.  as a bit of a spoiler, i've run once in the nike shox and decided to retire them to my local running free shoe re-use program drop-off box.  i recognize that this may feel like pronouncing a premature judgment on these shoes (after only about 10k) but allow me to still flesh out the pros and cons leading to this short and torrid relationship.
  • fit - having previously worked several years with nike, i've almost always had to go to a size 10.5 for a proper fit.  these shox turbo oz were a size 10, and to my surprise they fit fantastically, both in terms of length and toebox width.  it may have been that their previous owner(s) had stretched the synthetic leather out a bit, but it didn't appear as if there were significant stress marks on them.
  • upper construction - it appears that they have a fairly resilient synthetic leather upper that while not being weatherproof will provide a better-than-average barrier against the cold and snow/slush.  they also have enough protection to not get immediately beat-up by the copious amounts of road salt that the city lays down around here.
  • outsole design and traction - the semi-knobby look of the forefoot (reading:  landing) pad on the shox turbo oz leads me to believe that they would provide sufficient grip on the wintery roads.

  • weight - ok, here's where things start to go south.  these bad boys tip the kitchen scale at a whopping 13 oz.  by comparison my next heaviest pair of shoes (the asics gel galaxy 4) are a mere 11 oz.  add to that the collection of snow/slush/ice that can sneak into the shox plate area, and now i'm definitely giving zatopek a run for his money.
  • heel-to-toe drop - you probably don't have guess very hard at where i'm going with this comment.  dominic grossman at irunfar.com says in a passing comment that the nike shox turbo exceeds a drop differential of 15mm.  jinkies!  this totally made for an almost debilitating experience for me - with every forefoot strike it felt like my foot was prevented from actually dynamically compressing the way that it should on impact because of the ramp effect.  it could have been that as more forefoot was landing and sinking somewhat into the snow that the heel/shox plate was not depressing into the snow to an equal extent, exaggerating the degree of incline.  afterwards my calves were killing in a way that they hadn't since i first transitioned to forefoot striking ... honestly, it was like running in a combination of high-heeled platforms and jump-training shoes.

  • shox technology - even when i deliberately tried landing on my heel to alleviate some of the excess (and static) pressure on my forefoot, the shox absorption unit provided me with the sensation that it was encouraging/forcing my feet to pronate excessively.  it was a nasty feeling.
all told, i have to chalk this up as being perhaps the worst $6.00 that i've spent on running gear.  i have no problem mixing up the styles of my running shoes, but this turned out to be just a bit too extreme.  as much as i still feel some allegiances to my former employer, i have to give these shoes a measly two footprints out of five.


11 December 2013

pack mentality

off-season is a great time to make some changes ... or so i've heard. 

i'm trying to maintain a base until mid-january of about 50-60km per week, with a view to ramping up my next marathon training schedule to peak in and around 110-120km. in some conversation with my pal stan i've come to believe that i'm one of those runners who is better suited to more mileage in preparation for races.  i've managed to run injury-free for about 3-1/2 years now, topping out at about 3700km (projected) this calendar year.  hopefully the winter conditions in south-central ontario this season won't be too daunting as i press on through the holidays.

one of the things that i've started doing in the last few weeks is running with a group.  as a noted introvert, i've mostly enjoyed solo runs - and when i run with a partner it's usually been as a deliberate means of keeping my pace easy (often with mike) or up (often with trevor) - i've written about this already in a post earlier this spring.  but the barrie roadrunners are the local running club and their outings coincide with the running room's free training runs, so i thought that it would be a good opportunity to connect with others in the local running community and try to unlock the secret that the east african runners have known for a long time.    

it's only been a couple of runs with the group so far, but i've already got a few observations to share:
  1. it's providing me with the experience of running at a different time of the day.  normally i wake up around 5:30am to go out for my run (no matter the time of the year), but this group sets out at 6:30pm - so my biorhythms are completely different, my energy level is different, and i have to be a little more aware of how i'm fuelling throughout the day.  i can't say that i'll convert to nighttime running, but it's a welcome variation in the schedule.
  2. in-run conversations have offered some interesting personalities and running tips.  while i've already been identified as the 'chatty-cathy' new guy, it's been great how personable and generous the other runners have been with their stories and advice.  already i've met someone from my hometown who's migrated here to barrie, as well as a veteran ultramarathoner who has shared insights and training tips as i plan for my first trail ultra next summer.
  3. there's no way that i would be working this hard right now without them.  the last two runs have been tempo runs with the group, and while i probably fall smack dab in the middle of the bunch in terms of age, they're hoofing it at a really solid pace.  it's been a great way to maintain decent stride form during this off-season while reminding myself that i'm not losing too much of an edge from my racing speed.
are you a pack runner?  what recommendations do you have for me to help me get the most out of (and contribute the most back into) this running group?


06 December 2013

this sad day

you'll have heard by now that nelson mandela died yesterday.

some people are larger than life, and have that ability to transcend race, culture, creed, religion, time and space.  they are reference points for the greatest ideals and purposes of humanity.  among them i would include (from my frame of reference) jesus of nazareth, mahatma gandhi, martin luther king jr., mother teresa, and certainly mandela.

i'm thankful that my children are all able to remember this day, and recognize what impact madiba's life had on the course of modern history.

while condolences and accolades pour in from around the globe, and flags fly at half-staff to mourn his passing, the greater sadness is perhaps that many of these prominent figures are who they are because of the degrees of oppression, violence, corruption and marginalization that they've engaged.

thank goodness that there are these icons who have intervened on behalf of a broken world.

thank goodness that they have shown us that there is a different way.  a better way.

thank goodness that we now have the opportunity to follow suit.


03 December 2013

taking it too far

december is the perfect time to talk about excess.

aside from being the season for holiday (tr)eating, shopping sprees and the occasional beverage, this is the point in the year that many runners begin to map out their next series of races on the calendar.

having completed a couple of smaller races and three marathons this year, i've already announced (to my running partners at least) my intention to register for my first ultra.  in runner's parlance an "ultra" is any race which exceeds the marathon distance of 42.195km - and in my case, the contest that i'm eyeing is the limberlost challenge which offers 14k, 28k, 42k and 56k options.  the plan is to tackle the four-loop 56k distance, which will make it not only the longest footrace that i will have run to date, but also my first attempt at a trail race.

there's all sorts of talk that is alive and well within running circles as to why certain runners feel the desire/need to press on to longer and longer race distances.  just today i read an article that indicated that registration in ultras has increased as of late perhaps because marathoning doesn't offer the same kind of challenge that it once did. i'm not so sure about that - i still have some marathon distance goals (looming large is the BQ, but also to eventually try to cross the 3-hour barrier) as well as bucket-list races (e.g. Chicago, London, New York, Big Sur).  and it's not that i feel more accomplished if i become an ultramarathoner, either.  kyle kranz, an acquaintance and social media director for skora, posted this on facebook not too long ago:

one of things that i do want to do in 2014 is focus more on speed by running some 5ks and 10ks - maybe even a half marathon or two.  there can be a kind of running snobbery that comes into effect when people progress in distances, where they feel like running a shorter race is somehow 'beneath' them.  make no mistake, an all-out 5k can be even more grueling and taxing than a marathon.  gotta respect athletes at every level.

no, for me the lure of the ultra next year is about something else.  or somethings else.

first off, i feel like taking on the limberlost challenge will help transform my running for me.  i'm still in search of that elusive 'love of running' ... i would identify myself as someone who loves to race.  and so in order to race, i must train, and do so diligently.  with continued envy i read those facebook and twitter posts and books from people who simply find joy in getting out there and propelling themselves by their own two feet.  there's been no runner's high for me, and few moments of transcendence through many miles logged.  perhaps that's been because my focus has been securely on attaining that 3:15 boston qualifying time.  my hope is that by taking on a distance that requires you to think more about endurance than speed, and on a terrain that forces you to be more nimble and adaptive than robotically repetitious i might connect with a purer form of running than i have to date.

secondly, crossing into ultra territory has opened up a whole new sector of the running community.  this has been very cool - once i started following various ultra-running related twitter feeds and blogs, and adding the occasional #ultra or #ultrachat hashtag, i found a brand new tribe reaching out to me.  far from being exclusive, hyper-disciplined elite level runners, what i've experienced so far in the ultra community are people who are not only more connected to running than i am but who are also more connected to their bodies, to beauty, to the environment, and to a sense of harmony.  i'm envious - and excited about this.

thirdly and finally, i have an outstanding commitment to my friend hermann in johannesburg to visit him and run the comrades marathon.  billed as the world's oldest and largest ultramarathon, it is a point-to-point 89km road race that alternates starting and finishing at the cities of pietermaritzburg and durban.  one year it's a net uphill race, the next a net downhill.  when i first met hermann at a conference in detroit in 2010 i was just becoming a runner, but we shared stories of his completions of the comrades and what amazing experiences he had each time.  while we haven't spoken of it much, i feel a bit like red promising andy to come down to zihuatanejo.  it may take time, but what a great thing it will be.

what are your goals?  what do you hope to accomplish in 2014 ... running or otherwise?  and how would you (or i) know if, with respect to running, enough is enough?