Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Vibram Five Fingers: Trail Report

Despite not having much luck with running in the last few weeks, I took the toe shoes out to the trails to give them a try. The best news is that they seemed to break my streak of miserable runs, and I had a lovely autumn run on paths through the woods. Here's my full report:

Bark running trail: These shoes are the business! I love the way I feel like I'm running totally barefoot, and yet not getting splinters. They have plenty of arch support, and I definitely can feel that my running stride is much more natural than it is in regular running shoes. It's really a joy to run in them. I did notice that while I thought I was doing a good job at holding my ChiRunning style, I don't really do it for very long at a time. These shoes will remind you any time you revert to a lazy, heel-striking or flat-footed running style. So it's almost like doing a constant drill when you start out with them. Unless your running form is excellent, I'd recommend planning on a few twenty-minute runs in them and work up from there. I did find it a bit exhausting as my muscles obviously aren't used to running like this all the time.

Gravel Running Trail: Part of the woodland trail I was on was 1/4 inch crushed gravel, and the rest of it was very finely crushed gravel. Some of it was covered in leaves and some not. On the finely crushed gravel, the shoes were fine. When I got to the 1/4 inch crushed gravel though, especially the part that was covered in leaves (so I couldn't see the pointy rocks), I kept getting poked in the bottom of the foot. The shoes do protect you to a certain extent, it's certainly not like really running on gravel would be, but any rock that is pointing upwards will definitely be felt in the bottom of your foot, and I didn't find that part of the path very pleasant to run on. On rocky paths or gravel paths where you can see the path, it's easier to avoid the pointy rocks, but it does take a lot more attention, so it's a different feeling from the kind of running where you can look around or let your mind roam. Also, I noticed on the downhill segments you can't descend heels first like I usually do. I had to adopt a completely new downhill running style, and I started to feel it in my shins. Again, I'd give these shoes a wearing-in period of shorter runs and don't do too many hills off the bat until you get used to the different foot positions that you use in them.

Terrific, I can run on the grass when it's wet, muddy, or the trees are dropping sticks and spiky seedd pods all over the place. These shoes have reasonable traction to them, so the wetter portions of the grass weren't a problem either.

Pavement: Wouldn't do it. Even the short sections of pavement between the grass and the trail were not very comfortable.

In general, these shoes are wonderfully comfortable. I'm a barefoot kind of gal anyways, and they make me wish to have a pair just for knocking around town in. When these are too worn out to run in, I'm sure that's what I'll use them for!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Swim Coach Sez.... Straighten Up!

How many times have you been in the open water, heading towards where you think the next buoy is, when you look up to sight and find you're twenty degrees off course in just seven or eight strokes? Here's a drill I had my swimmers do last night:

Pick an empty lane of the pool - this might be tough, but if you do an early or late swim you might be able to find an empty lane for just a length or two. Swim straight down the black line. Close your eyes for as many strokes as you feel brave enough to try. I had my swimmers start with four strokes. Open your eyes and see where you're at.

Many of us have subtle imbalances to our swimming strokes. We might pull harder with one hand, or cross over our center line with the hand on the side we breathe to. Our mind uses visual cues to keep re-straightening us out when we're in a pool. But get in the open water and those little imbalances can add up to a zig-zagging swim that adds hundreds of yards to your race distance. Additionally, any subtle course-correcting we do in the pool can lead to "fishtailing" where you have a wiggle to your stroke. Drag caused by eddies or vortices from these small fishtails have a large effect on your overall drag coefficient, so eliminating this effect is beneficial to speed and endurance.

When we close our eyes in the pool, we can concentrate on swimming straight, then open our eyes and see how we did. If we notice which side we're turning to, we can think about what we're doing and try to correct it. Anyone who competes in the open water could stand to do this drill as often as possible until they can successfuly swim an entire length of the pool straight without opening their eyes.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Cheesecake Effect

When I was about seven, I had a piece of cheesecake at a holiday party. I remember everyone telling me how good it was and how much I would like it, but it was way too rich for my stomach to take and several minutes later I politely asked where the bathroom was and promptly threw it up. I couldn't eat cheesecake for over a decade after that little incident and even today cheesecake is probably my least favorite dessert.

After this week's running efforts, I'm starting to wonder if The Cheesecake Effect isn't in operation with regards to my body. Ever since the Half-Ironman where I bonked so bad on the run, whenever I run I feel shaky, queasy, and develop an instant headache. If I stop running, even for a minute or two at a traffic light, it all miraculously goes away. I think my body is remembering how bad it felt during that last race and the body memory is somehow wrapped up with running. I was talking with a runner friend of mine at a party this evening and he said he has had the same thing happen to him a few years ago. He said it took awhile before he had a good run and essentially replaced the bad one in his body's memory.

Bodily memory is an interesting thing in and of itself. In working with swimmers, I've noticed that I can demonstrate a technique and some people can instantly translate that into motion with their own body, and some people simply cannot. Most folks are somewhere in between and will eventually get a technique with several repetions and demonstrations. I wonder if having a strong body memory or ability to translate vision into action can set you up for this kind of recall effect where one action triggers a set of sensations or other actions.

I know my own body remembers actions strongly, visual cues slightly less strongly, and auditory input not at all. I'm hopeless with people's names, and can rarely remember lines from movies. I have noticed that if I watch a movie with subtitles on (which I frequently do while cycling on the trainer), then I remember a lot more of the dialogue. Definitely visual. If I want to remember someone's phone number, I will dial it in mid-air on an imaginary phone keypad and the muscle-memory helps me remember it even better than writing it down.

So I know my body has a strong memory for actions, and I think right now that's to the detriment of my running. Still, if there's one thing that last year's recovery from the foot injury taught me it's that I can easily take a couple of months off from running with no harm done. I actually posted my fastest running splits this year after not running for much of last winter. So if it takes a few weeks to let the bad memory fade away and start enjoying the run again, I know I can give it that time. Let's just hope it doesn't take ten years!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Meet My New Running Toe Shoes

 I remember getting toe socks when I was about twelve. They were all the rage for a year or two, knee high and brightly striped. Well, the new Vibram Five Fingers don't come in stripes, and they only had my size in one available color so there wasn't much choice there either, but they definitely have toes! I've been doing a fair bit of barefoot running on grass this summer and have really enjoyed it and thought that it helped my running form out. But in the rainy winters here, grass turns to mud, so I was looking for something I could trail run in and these seemed to be the best option. I wanted to make sure they would work well before taking them outside, so I tried them out yesterday on the indoor track and treadmill at the gym. I ran a total of two miles, so here's my short review:

Overall: The fit is comfortable, the toes don't feel as weird as I thought they might. I fell right between two sizes and the smaller size was the only one available so I bought those. They actually fit pretty well. My only complaint so far is that the top strap has the scratchy side of the velcro facing your foot, so you have to really make sure it is matched up well or you'll rub a raw spot on the top of your foot. I'm not sure why they didn't sew the velcro the other way around, the way most sandals do. The arch support is quite nice, one thing I was worried about since I have high arches.

On the Treadmill:
Very comfortable to run in. Normally I can feel the beginnings of shin splints within five minutes on the treadmill (so I never run on treadmills), I had none of that with the FiveFingers shoes.

On the Indoor Track: Not so comfortable. Our track is concrete and I don't think I'd want to run very long on concrete in these shoes. One thing I noticed immediately is that the shoes really prevent you from heel striking, because the feedback is pretty immediate. So I was definitely forced into a more mid-foot-to-toe area for landing.

Today I'm going to try to take them to one of our local bark running trails and see how they work out there. I'll let you know!

My other posts on Vibram Five Fingers:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Few Good Reasons to Swim With the Masters

It's well into fall now and I'm back to swimming with my Saturday morning Master's group. As I was tagging along on some very fast 100's this morning (I love the turns you get to take at the back of the line, especially because you don't have to count or keep track of anything and can let your mind wander), I was thinking of all the benefits to swimming with a Master's group. Since I don't get the chance to do it all that often in the summer months, I really have come to appreciate the opportunity when I take it back up again in the fall.

So, in no particular order, here are the benefits to swimming with a Master's group that I was thinking of this morning:

- You get the opportunity to swim faster than you normally could, for longer than you normally could hold onto that pace. This morning we did a set of sixteen 100's at a faster-than-1:20 pace. None of us could've swum that fast for that long on our own, but by each leading for four of those 100's, we maintained it for the whole set. This can push you to be able to swim at that faster pace on your own.

- Camaraderie. You can't beat the opportunity to whine and moan to others about the hard workout the coach just put up. When it's just you in the pool and you're making up your own workout, you can hardly complain to yourself about it. The guys I swim with are Master Bitchers and can work up a good head of steam about a tough set. It always makes me smile.

- You have to do things you would never make yourself do. Our coach is very fond of underwater yards and breath-holders. I would never in a million years make myself do those. And he adds in a lot of drills, which I also get lazy about doing on my own.

- The yards go by fast. 4,000 yards by yourself is a chore. 4,000 yards with a group flies by a lot quicker

- You push yourself to keep up with others. We often do sprint sets and I know for a fact that I would never swim that fast if I wasn't trying to keep up with the guys.

- You get to hang out with fun, friendly people. As one guy pointed out in our hot tub post-swim yak session, swimmers are usually just a fun bunch of people. It's a thinking person's sport, and swimmers always seem to be an opinionated yet good natured bunch.

- You learn how to draft, a very useful skill for a triathlete.

I'm sure there's even more reasons, but those are the few that came to my oxygen-starved brain and managed to stick there.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Our karate dojo has a "theme of the month" that all of the senseis spend time discusssing during class. This month, the theme is "conditioning". Now my kids are groaning because their sensei took that to heart and had them do two-hundred jumping jacks, and one-hundred squats and crunches for warmups. But my sensei took the opportunity to speak about conditioning in a more wholistic way than I have heard the word used before.

Normally, when we think of conditioning we think of our lungs, our heart, our legs. We think of building a base of time and distance and getting our body used to a level of exercise that will allow us to be healthy, or perhaps allow us to pursue a specific athletic goal. I have to admit that when it comes to conditioning in karate, my goal is just to get to the point where my legs won't quiver after three minutes spent in shiko dachi (a deep squat with feet and knees turned out that is a common stance in karate). But this time, our sensei was reading a selection from Coach Wootten, a basketball legend. He talked about the importance of "moral, spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional" conditioning.

Sports can be a very self-centered thing at times. This can bring a real benefit to our lives - it can allow us time to be "self-centered" in the most positive aspect of that phrase, as in centering ourselves. The time spent in thought on a long run or ride can give us the ability to bring serenity and peace to our interactions throughout the rest of the day. It can give us time to think, to reflect, and to plan our actions instead of simply reacting to events that occur. But self-centered also can have negative connotations. A recent thread at disussed guilt and a feeling that in spending the majority of one's time and money in training for triathlons, one might be in fact disconnecting from the real world, from problems and issues that face many people. It might be a way to escape from issues that demand our attention, a way to avert our eyes inward from problems that need addressing.

When we look at our conditioning as not just physical however, we have an opportunity to address those issues. When we make it a goal to condition not only our body but our moral, mental, and spiritual selves, we can set aside time and money for activities that help others, bring spiritual enlightenment, or promote mental awareness. So this winter, I'm making it a goal to not just condition my legs, lungs, and heart, but to build a "base" of mental, moral, spiritual, and physical health. Anyone feel like joining me? What are your "conditioning" goals this year?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

When You're Going Right and God Tells You to Go Left

For this entire season I've been so excited about the Nationals being here in Oregon again next year, finding a qualifying race, and snagging a slot to go. They're usually in June, when a lot of other good races get going, so I called USAT to find out exactly which weekend in June they would be. They're not, in June that is. They'll be in September next year, mid-September. Mid-September as in right smack in the middle of a family vacation that we've been planning for six months already. Not that I'm complaining really, we're planning on taking the kids on a one-month cycling tour of Italy and that trumps the Nationals any day. But still, it's really disappointing to find out that after all that, I won't be able to go after all.

So it seemed rather serendipitous that the same day I found out about the Nationals date change, I got an email in my inbox saying that the local Team in Training chapter is looking for a triathlon coach. It's something I talked to them about doing a couple of years ago, but at the time they didn't have a local group doing triathlons, just running events. It's a reasonable time commitment, but one I might have a hard time fitting in if I was going to have a serious triathlon season on my hands, and also they're aiming to take a team to the Pacific Crest race, which would've fallen right when I thought Nationals was going to be. So it seems as if maybe I'm being shown a different path for this upcoming season. Maybe one that involves less tri-ing for me, and more tri-ing for other people. I've coached people on and off through the last fifteen years, but not in any large-group format, so this would be an interesting stretch.

To top it off, my neighbor died of cancer last night, she is probably only a decade and change older than I am. It's sobering to think of how quickly all that we take for granted here on earth can be gone. This summer she was riding her bike up our hill with a smile, and now she is somewhere else entirely. It seems like a good time to be giving back for me, so keep your fingers crossed that this opportunity works out!

Monday, October 08, 2007

White Girlz Can Jump

The best thing about the volleyball game last night was facing off across the net with this 6'+ young guy. He goes up to spike, I leap into the air. My hang time is just perfect and I block it and then tip it up and over his head. Hah! I used to have a 30" vertical leap, and it's definitely not there anymore, but for one brief second it all came back. More plyometrics are probably in order this winter, and more of it might reappear. Of course this morning, my back feels like someone stomped on it, but it was worth it.

Ah, the Off Season

One thing I like about doing a big long race late in the fall, like I've done the last few years is that by the time you're done with building, peaking, tapering, and racing all those miles, you're so ready to do something different. It almost feels like a vacation to "just" train an hour or two a day, or to put some different sports and activities back into your life. Heck, housework can feel like a vacation when you've just finished a half-Ironman.

So this fall, hubby and I are on a volleyball team. We subbed last year, but this year we're playing every week and it's a ton of fun. I played League Volleyball in my early 20's and really enjoyed it, and I'm remembering what I good time I had. Plus, it's fun to watch my hubby almost knock himself unconscious diving for balls (if you think I have a competitive streak, it's nothing compared to him when he gets into a game. The man had to quit playing raquetball before he killed himself).

Hubby, kids, and I have also added in a sparring class in karate and this week I'm going to check out the Bo staff/weapons class (though I don't think as accident-prone as I am that I will ever try out the nunchaku - can't you see me knocking myself unconscious?). So last week we had volleyball on Sunday night and then karate Monday morning, karate sparring class Monday afternoon and I swam Monday night. Wait, this is supposed to be the off season? I woke up the next morning and could hardly move. Obviously, my fast-twitch muscles have gotten lazy with all of this distance training, and all of this leaping, diving, plyometrics (that's what they consider "warmups" in sparring class), and punching have taken their toll.

And yes, I did get on my bike this week and have taken a couple of runs and swam once for oh, about 700 yards. Here's to the off season!