Saturday, February 26, 2011

Race Report: ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run 10k

Today was race day - as part of a corporate team (sort of), I ran the ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run 10k.  It fits into my rest week nicely, and this is arguably the premier racing event in Houston after the marathon.  Large race - between the 10k and the 5k, about 14000 runners - and it's the opening event for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which is a pretty big deal down here.

I always go into every race with three goals.  One is a "reach" goal - something it will take a fantastic effort and a good race to do.  One is a solid but difficult goal - something that will take a good effort and requires something more than a hard training run but is within reason for a normal day.  And the third is something that is not time based - maybe effort or form based.

By way of example, for the race this morning, my reach goal was to break 46:00, my solid goal was to set a PR, and my non-time goal was to keep my mental toughness over the last two miles.  More on how I did below.

But before that, I want to talk about the actual race itself - and I have a few significant criticisms.  Some elements of the logistics of this race are poor at best.  The shortage of porta-johns was nothing short of scandalous.  Runners are used to long lines to pee before races start - nerves usually have plumbing working more than usual - so it's not reasonable to expect to get right in before a race.  Lines several people deep are usual.  But not like today.  Had to have been about 20-30 people deep per porta-john.  I've run big races and small races and I've never seen it this bad.  Unacceptable.

Naturally, I took a quick warm-up jog and did my thing under an overpass.  I was not the only one.

The other complaint is not specific to this race but more for big races in general.  I'm a reasonably fast runner.  I'm not the fastest out there by any stretch, but I'm typically in the top 20-25% of any given race.  And I try to line up accordingly.  They had pace signs out at the starting line, as they typically do, and I was right where I was supposed to be.

So why in the world did I have to spend the first mile and a half weaving in and out of all kinds of runners - and walkers! - who had no business lining up in the same zip code as me.  I must have passed 1000 runners in the first mile alone.  My split looks pretty normal, but the amount of effort and energy to get that split was incredible.  I wasted a lot of energy with stops and starts and dodges and jumps.  It's pretty hard to run a 7:20 mile in a crowd of people doing 9:30.  I don't wish to stereotype, but it's most often women who do this, although there are plenty of men who do as well.  And it's never the old grizzled veterans who have run a billion races - they know better (and as often as not they're still pretty damn fast).

Slower runners, I love that you are out there running and racing.  Please continue to do so.  But it's just plain rude when you line up somewhere you don't belong.  It makes me seriously consider jumping up into places where I don't belong just to get ahead of you.  Neither of us are going to win this thing, so there's no reason why we should care if we are up near the front.

This second issue didn't necessarily cost my my reach goal, but it was a major factor.  I finished with a 46:56 (a PR by some 20 seconds) but I estimate the effort I had to expend over the first mile cost me at least 30 seconds.  There were a couple of other things that cost me as well.  The temperature the entire time was 70 degrees - about 25 degrees higher than optimal - and that definitely affected me.  And there is a nasty hill (actually an overpass/viaduct) that you have to go over at mile 2.5, and again at mile 4.5.  All told, in a smaller race with a flatter course on a cooler day - like the one I ran in last year - I think I could have made my reach goal.  But that's why it's a reach goal.

I was very proud of my effort over the last two miles, though.  The last two miles of any race are more about mental toughness than they are about anything physical.  I desperately wanted to slow up at about mile 4.5, and again at 5.5, but all the while I had a quote from Pre in my head:  "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest; I run to see who has the most guts."  Well known, sure, cliche, maybe, but definitely effective.

And two out of three for goals ain't bad.

Details of the race:

Other notes:

  • Raced in the Kinvaras, as they are the lightest shoe I own outside of the Vibram Five Fingers.  Great choice.  Light, quick, free.  No foot pain afterwards either.  At this point I could easily do a full marathon in them.
  • Calves were pretty sore afterwards - signs that there is still some strengthening of the calves that has to happen with the new stride.  Four hours later they aren't too bad.  Everything else feels fine.
  • Remember how I said I was somewhat skeptical of my latest metabolic test?  I ran 98% of this race above my anaerobic threshold, if the test is to be believed.  That's a long time to go anaerobic.
  • Felt my form break down over the last couple of miles, which is to be expected.  Still landed midfoot/forefoot, but my posture suffered a bit and my hips weren't underneath me as much as I would have liked.  I also started to let my knees and feet out of alignment with my direction of travel.
  • I didn't list this in factors weighing against my reach goal above, but I'm pretty sure this course was overly long.  Courses are measured on tangents around corners and generally have a little bit of extra distance added intentionally to ensure that they are the proper length.  So a 10k isn't exactly 10k - it's slightly longer in reality, and given that nobody runs exactly on the tangents, it's even longer still.  And I expect that.  However, my Garmin - which is wickedly accurate and consistent in measuring distance - read 6.30 miles (10k = 6.2 miles) for a difference of a tenth of a mile.  To put that in perspective, my last marathon - a race that is over four times longer - only had a difference of about .15 miles.  Even my largest run discrepancy (also during a marathon) was less than .3 miles.
  • Congratulations to my friend and former co-worker  Having never raced before, and apparently having never really run more than 5 miles at a time, he finished the 10k in a very respectable 55:09 (and he also lined up appropriately).  Good job, and hope to see you at future races.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Results of the form change so far

With my 10k tomorrow, I wanted to check my form to see how the last six weeks have treated me.  So I dragged out the video camera and tripod and did a few easy strides this morning.  Recall this was me less than two months ago:

As was this:

This is me this morning:

Forgive the horrid tan line (these are my new racing shorts, which are shorter than my usual) and the hurried and sloppy editing.  I've got a freeze-frame here as well:

I could not be much happier with the results.  You can see a number of things from the freeze-frame above.  I'm landing slightly in front of my center of gravity on my midfoot with a slightly bent knee, shin pretty much vertical.  My posture is straight, hips under me, with a very slight forward lean.  Back leg is coming off of the ground with the heel highish (it gets higher as I run faster).  And if you look at the front/back section of the video, you'll see that my side-to-side motion is greatly reduced (although still there).  Overall, a major improvement.  I look like a runner and not a zombie trying to do the rumba down the street. 

I want to emphasize that I wasn't trying anything new or special or running in a way different than I usually do.  This is my current form.  Oh, I was thinking about some of the mental cues that I have developed for running, but I do that during my normal runs.  I daresay that the form gets sloppier as I run longer too.

And there are still things to work on.  I swing my arms too much and I have my wrists at a weird angle (I didn't realize this until watching the video).  I need to work on better hip extension.  I think I reach forward with my legs and "paw" back a little too much, and on some of the strides I think I'm landing just a touch in front of where I'd like.  I'm sure an expert like my brother-in-law could pick out a hundred other things to fix.  But I'm light years ahead of where I was six weeks ago.

Now let's see how this form does in an actual race.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


After my first marathon, I took a couple of months off from running to let my aching IT band heal up.  My first race after the layoff was a small local 10k, and it was run under less than ideal conditions. The previous night I was supposed to be camping with my family so I didn't expect to get much sleep.  It got worse when, at the camp, my daughter got sick and started throwing up. 

So we headed home, but, eschewing the intelligent idea of getting some extra sleep, I stayed up playing video games with some friends.  All night.  I still get teased about my 4:30 am sign-off of, "well, I've got to go run a race now - see you next weekend!"

The race turned out okay - I ran it in 47:19, which was a race personal best (not saying much, since I'd never raced that distance before).  I'd done a training run at that distance in 47:16 the year before, so it wasn't a real PR.

This year I have an opportunity for redemption.  I'm running this race on Saturday, and I'm hopeful I can do some serious damage to my PR.  My speed training has been going well lately, and if I have a good day I think I can break 46:00.

Race days are always about managing nerves.  I have to eat bland foods - typically banana and oatmeal - and even then I spend a fair amount of time in the porta-loo.  There's all sorts of nerves and adrenaline and other things.  It's not as bad for shorter races - the build up is shorter and I don't really train for them (since I'm usually in some stage of marathon training).  And if I have a bad 5k or 10k I can always regroup and try it again in a few weeks - not so with the marathon.  

As far as the actual racing goes, the biggest deal is to try to keep the pace consistent - except for the first mile and the last half mile.  The first mile should be my slowest (this is much harder than it sounds), and the last half is when I put the hammer down.  Other than that, it's about staying in a groove, keeping a constant speed, focusing on form, ignoring my lungs feeling like they are going to burst out of my chest.  

We'll see how this Saturday goes.  I love these big races.  It's like a giant party with a bit of running in between.  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

So, I did my metabolic assessment

and the results are in.  My anaerobic threshold is at 164 - which is lower than last test - but I burn less calories and a higher percentage of fat at equivalent HR zones.  That's bad for losing weight (at least the first part) but good for people trying not to bonk during a marathon.  It's not clear to me if this is due to training or due to a more efficient stride, but I'll take it.

Also, my speed at the threshold this time was faster - I was doing an 8:30 pace with the treadmill jacked up to 8.0 incline, compared with 10:00 pace and 8.0 incline last time.  So that's also good news.

I am a bit skeptical of these numbers to tell you the truth, mostly because yesterday I ran at a HR above my threshold for 11 straight minutes.  That's a long time.  So I'm not convinced they are totally accurate.  However, as far as guidelines for HR monitoring when training, they are the best I'm going to get.  They do change over time, too, and with my increased speedwork these days I expect to have a different profile by marathon time.

In other news:
  • Found a great resource for helping kids to love running and to do it right.  The New York Road Runners have a magnificent series of videos with good form tips, activities and drills for kids of all ages (and the tips are helping me out too).  You can see them all at  I'm going to use these with my oldest daughter, who is really getting into running.
  • Runblogger linked to a great post about the crumbling pronation-based shoe classification system.  I'd be interested in reading the background research (this is really only a summary) but it matches with my experience.  Shoe store guy tells me I pronate, I get stability shoes, my IT band goes, I figure the shoes aren't supportive enough, I go to motion control shoes, I completely destroy my IT band in the marathon, I rehab and go with neutral shoes afterwards, no problems since.  You can read the summary here.  
  • This is race week - the 10k is on Saturday - so I'm taking an extra rest day.  I'm hoping to run a 46:30, and maybe even break 46 if I have a good race.  We'll see how it goes.  PR is 47:16, but that was a year and a half ago.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Metabolic and HR assessments

Just before I started my first round of marathon training back in August 2009, I had a metabolic/HR assessment done.  A company called New Leaf has some software that they market to various third parties that will give you a very accurate picture of what is happening during exercise, and my gym happens to have the software.

The test is pretty simple.  What you do is you put on this thing that looks sort of like this:

except minus the helmet and with a plastic tube sticking out.  This plastic tube is then attached to a machine  that monitors the composition of your exhaled gases.  Plus a heart rate monitor.  You then get on a treadmill and run at a reasonable pace while the tech raises the incline.  The software and tubes and machines somehow magically figure out how much fat versus how many carbs you're burning while you're running.  The tech raises the incline until you hit what is called the anaerobic threshold, where you start accumulating lactate in the blood (and at which point you're burning 100% carbs, as science would have it).  And then you stop and walk for a while to recover.

At the end, you get this nifty set of numbers that tell you what your five HR zones are.  This is important for training purposes.  Zone 1 is pretty much a nothing zone - I don't spend a lot of time here.  Zone 2 is a zone for teaching your body to fat burn - this is where I like to spend most of my time when I do long Saturday runs.  Zone 3 is a zone for endurance - most of my "junk miles" are spent here, and I also race at the very upper threshold of this zone.  Zone 4 can't be sustained for a long time - the anaerobic threshold corresponds to the boundary between Zone 3 and Zone 4 - and is where I train to get faster in interval training.  Zone 5 is flat out booking it and I might - might - get here in some of my harder interval work.

You also get a pretty accurate picture of how much fat you are burning at what HR level.  This is very helpful for controlling diet (because you get a clear picture of what your calorie needs are) and for trying not to bonk in marathons (if you can accurately estimate how much glycogen you can store, which is admittedly guesswork).

The thing is, all of these numbers change over time based on training.  So the test I took in August of 2009 was very different than the test I took in January 2010.  And that one will be far different than the one I will take tomorrow.  Which is why I bring this up in the first place.  I'll compare numbers tomorrow night, most likely, after I get my test results back.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

This is my dog Hunter.

He is happy.  I know he may not look happy in this picture, but I promise that he is.  I know he is happy because he got to come with me on a run for the first time today.  

He was really excited for the first half mile or so, but after a few tugs on the leash he fell right beside me and was a fantastic running buddy for the rest of the run.  It was only three miles and at a pretty leisurely pace (for me - he was pretty beat at the end).  I think I've found a new training buddy, at least when I'm not going long or doing speedwork.

Friday, February 11, 2011


This is what I'm trying to do with my form.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some days you have a tiring crazy workout in the morning only to find that you are chomping at the bit again in the afternoon. Today I have chewed through the bit entirely.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Running Zen

Yesterday I stumbled across a documentary about running marathons from several different perspectives called Spirit of the Marathon (website here, and it's available Netflix for streaming right now).  I think it's a pretty accurate snapshot of how I feel, for what it's worth, but that's not what prompted this post.  At one point in the movie, one of the more novice runners talks about getting addicted to times and splits and paces and new running gadgets and such - and then she somewhat skeptically mentions these weird hipster people who get their kicks out of running without a care.  Zen runners, I think she called them.

I'm as addicted to gadgets and paces and times as anybody - I almost refuse to run without my Garmin 305, for example - but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the concept of Zen Running.  That's what my Sundays are for.  On most days I have my Garmin, my iPhone (triple duty as a music device, a GPS tracker should the Garmin fail (it never has) and a panic button if I twist an ankle or something).  And a headlamp if it's early morning.  And a hydration belt if the run is over 6 miles.  And a bunch of gel packs if the run is over 10 miles.  And so on.

But one day a week I try to be different.  These days are are my Zen running days.  I still take the Garmin, but only so I can keep track of miles run for purposes of seeing how much life is left on my shoes, or making sure I don't run too many miles in a week.  After the fact, that is.  I don't pay attention to pace - I just run however I feel.  I don't try to push myself, but I don't try to slow down either.  I don't go long, but I don't cut things short either.  I let my mind wander to whatever it wants, which might be nothing.  I try to run in nature if I can - there's a very nice wooded park about a mile from my house that is a favorite.  I listen to the wind in the trees, the rhythm of my own breath, the soft (now) footfalls of my own shoes.

It's a wonderful mind clearing thing, and probably the most restful thing I do all week.  There is a certain joy in moving along in relative quiet, and a healing power in the pondering I do along the way.  It is the one moment when everything is right in the world, even though nothing is.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Bridgefest 5k and other things

I know the race countdown clock on the bottom right lists my next race as the ConocoPhillips 10k. That's only partially true. For the second year in a row, my oldest daughter (age 9) wanted to run a local 5k race sponsored the YMCA. Last year was her first time running any sort of race and she wanted to break 45 minutes. And we did, just barely.

24 degrees on a February morning is what most of the rest of the country calls a mild winter. Here in Houston it's a sign of the apocalypse. And yet there was still a good crowd. This is a very local race, so there were only about 750-1000 people running it (tops - probably less) but everybody was excited and friendly and slightly quirky - just like you expect to find in this sort of race.

My daughter wanted to beat her time from last year, so we decided to try to do it in 40 minutes or better. That's not a very fast pace for me, so I ran it with a backpack (for putting my daughter's gear in when she warmed up and for carrying keys, wallets, etc.) and a camcorder in one hand.

We started off near the back (since there's nothing I hate more than slower people lining up at the front) and set off at pretty good pace. We kept it at about 13 minute miles, and that's counting the small walk breaks we took at each mile. The entire time we chatted it up, talking about running style, and how there are all sorts of people these races, slow and fast, and about life, and about how far we had left to go, and other things. A good ol' daddy-daughter date. I took some video too (still being edited).

At about a quarter mile to go, I left her to race off to the finish line. This was prearranged, and I did it for two reasons: I wanted to see how she would do on her own, and I wanted to take some video at the end. She did great on her own - she crossed the line running at probably about 8:30 miles. The video was not so greata - although I did get some great pictures of what my feet look like when I'm running at a sub 6:00 pace. Oh well.

She finished in 36:47 (unofficially), besting her goal by better than 3 minutes. And she was beaming. She wants me to put her on a training schedule so she can get better. We also got her a new pair of shoes (hers were completely worn out) and it turns out her feet are big enough to get adult shoes now.

She's also got great form naturally - she runs like I want to run, for the most part. She does swing her arms a bit much and she needs to up her cadence, but those are easy problems to fix with time. Her legs run like they are machines - smooth strides, good midfoot strikes, nice leg lift, good posture. I'd trade my form problems for hers in a heartbeat.

And speaking of form, I took a light 4 mile jog after the race and then filmed myself running at marathon pace (about an 8:12 pace) and a sub 5k pace (about 6:15 pace). I filmed from both the side and the front. Both times I tried to run without thinking about form. I'm quite happy with the results - in slow motion, the side shot shows exactly what I am trying to get. Good midfoot strikes, bent leg landings, lifting the leg off the ground, good posture. I could stand to bend my leg just a bit more and engage my core. But the improvement after three weeks is astounding.

The front profile isn't quite as good. I still have too much hip action, but I think I've figured it out. My shoes are showing more wear on the outside of the shoes like a supinator would show, but I'm clearly not a supinator - I've been having pronation action when I strike, striking the outside of the foot and rolling in more than I'd like. Based on the video, it looks like I'm running with my legs too narrow. I'm not quite running like I'm on a balance beam or anything, but I'm not exactly in athletic position when I land. I think - and I don't have anything to back this up yet - that my feet should land farther apart horizontally (that is, ignoring the forward movement). They don't go far enough now, and as a result I'm slightly swinging my feet outside of an ideal plane of travel when I bring them forward and I am landing on the outside of my arch and then rolling inwards. My next step will be to try to fix this.

Video to come after I'm done editing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Newtons and Nikes

So I'm sitting here looking at my shoe rack (it occupies a spot of honor, right next to my bed) and it's occurred to me that I have a lot of shoes. Maybe I should seek some help for my apparent shoe fetish.

The best way to get shoes, of course, is to get them for free. This works out pretty well, if you're one of those special famous runners who gets sponsored, or maybe a well-known internet running personality who gets asked to test shoes. But since I am neither, I'm reduced to hoping one of those running testing programs finally calls my name (I'm looking at you, Asics and Brooks!). And failing that, spending actual money.

The problem with getting shoes at sports expos like the one I went to last weekend is that you are much more likely to have to spend your own money than find Brooks or Asics banging down your inbox there. And if you want to get custom shoes with your own colors and embroidery, you'll be lucky to find them at all at any price.

Those hurdles notwithstanding, I got both a new pair of Newtons (at the expo) and a custom pair of Nike LunarGlide 2s (via mail). First impressions below.

Newton Distance Racer

Newton is a company out of Boulder that has a unique take on running shoes. I've seen several people run in the model I got (which I've seen by a couple of variations of the same name; on the website they call it the "Neutral Performance Racer") in some of my longer races. I was drawn to them by their overall theory of forefoot/midfoot strikes for running. Their site has several tutorials on what they consider optimal running form (which match up neatly with what I think).

At the Chevron Houston Marathon expo this last weekend, I decided to try on a pair. They felt amazing in some cursory jogs, so I bought these:

Please ignore all of the dirt on them - that's from an earlier run. The top is a really open mesh that doesn't have a lot of structure to it (although still way more than my Kinvaras). The heel - see the yellow - actually is completely EVA and has no outsole at all. They sell a similar model they call the "trainer" that has a full outsole under the theory that most people don't run correctly in the shoe and still heelstrike after they buy it, or at least so I am told. As I can't heelstrike anymore at all unless I really think about it, I opted for the lighter (and cheaper!) version.

This picture of the bottom should really show you the special Newton feature (again, ignore the dirt and also my hand).

Do you see those four bumps right under where the ball of the foot would go? Those actually stick down about half an inch from the bottom of the shoe and retract (albeit only with a good bit of force, such as the weight of an entire human body) and then expand out again during the stride. The theory is that you get more energy return with that action, and the actuators (as they are called) help you lever onto your forefoot. They describe the action as land (on your midfoot/forefoot), lever (rolling off of the actuators), lift (lifting your foot off of the ground rather than pushing off).

I've only been on one run with them so far (another tomorrow) but they are easy to run in with my new form. I don't have an opinion yet as to whether or not I am actually seeing greater energy return but I have had these babies through a full range of paces, all the way from casual jog to faster than 5k pace, and results are favorable.

Nike LunarGlide 2

I generally hate Nike shoes. I love their clothing (my running shorts and most of my tops are Nike) and like that they've taken the lead on minimalism in some respects (see, e.g., the Nike Free line). I also respect the Bill Bowerman/Phil Knight running history. But I've never had a thing for their shoes. Always seemed just a bit off - until I got a pair of LunarGlides last year. I ran the WDW marathon in them and they were magnificent. I am changing my stride up right now and trying to scale back on shoes, but I still want to have a pair of shoes around with a bit of cushioning and support for days when I feel like I need it.

The really neat thing that you can do (if you're willing to weight a month and pay a bit more) is get your shoes totally customized with NikeID. That's what I did this time. I did this with my race jersey a couple of years ago and was very happy with the results, so I customized some sheos this time.

Pink is a major part of my race day gear, so it should not surprise anybody who knows me well that I used it as a major element in my shoes:

I also had the tongues of the shoes embroidered with my PR from the WDW marathon just because I could. I like these shoes quite a bit because they have a much more gentle heel drop than most cushioned shoes (making these much easier to midfoot strike in) and they provide just a hint of stability without going overboard. The upper has some structure to it but not so much that you feel like you are wearing a running armored assault vehicle on your food. I don't think I'll buy another pair as I'm trying to move to less cushioning and more response, but that doesn't mean I think they are a bad shoe. This is the shoe for those days on which I feel like my feet are tired from the new stride and need a break while I build up strength for the new form.

Full reviews of the feel in the Kinvara and the Newtons to come after I've logged a few more miles in them. The Nikes I already trust.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Running in the rain... usually a lot of fun. Once you're wet, it's not like you're going to get any wetter.

Running in the rain, when "rain" equals "thunderstorm with microburst winds and 25 degree temperature drop cold front" is not fun.

So I did my interval workout at the gym. The workout itself was a bit lackluster - I had to cut it short because I was running out of time - but I did get a chance to take a peek at my new form from the front and side in mirrors. So far, so good - at the very least it's a major improvement. The muscle memory has now adapted too - I can only heel strike when I think about it.

In other news, two more first impression gear reviews coming up. I bought a pair of Newton Distance Racers over the weekend, and my customized Nike LunarGlide2s came in the mail yesterday. I've had at least one run in all three. I should be good for shoes for most of the year, assuming 300 miles per pair (I actually don't think the Kinvaras will last that long).