Product Review: SPIbelt


I bought one of these about a year ago mainly because I couldn’t figure out the logistics of my keys and other crap when going to races.  I’ve used it in a few races and on a lot of training runs when I’m not wearing pockets with shorts.

The belt itself does a pretty good job of not bouncing around, and has minimal “riding up” problems, but this is influenced greatly by the material and finish of your running shorts.  You can really stuff a shocking amount of stuff in one of these things, as the little pocket area thingy stretches quite far, but any more than an iPod nano and a key or two, and you’re gonna start risking the “fanny pack” look from the 90’s.

I initially thought I would keep a gel in there for long runs along with an ID, keys and my iPod, but this just didn’t end up working well for me, and if I need to carry that much junk, it’s usually on a pretty long run and I’ll have a fuel belt instead.  So, after using this for a while, it’s kind of fallen out of use and I prefer my Brooks Infiniti Notch Shorts instead, because they have a key pocket in front and two “gel pockets” in the back.  I only really use the SPIbelt now if I’m out in shorts that don’t have pockets of if I’m at a race that doesn’t have drop bag capabilities, and I want to put my car keys in it.  Good idea, good product execution, just doesn’t fit my need anymore…

www.spibelt.com

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GöteborgsVarvet (Gothenburg Half Marathon) – Race Report


First off, some statistics:

  • Race Day: May 22, 2010
  • # of runners: 58,122
  • 31st running of the race
  • Race Website (English): http://www.goteborgsvarvet.com/en/Runner/
  • Elite Start time: 13:30 CET
  • My Start time: 14:00 CET
  • Winner’s finishing time: 1:01:10 (new course record)
  • My finishing time: 1:46:01
  • My placement: 4613 out of 58,122

So, as you can see, this is a big race.  This race leapfrogs a race in the UK to be the world’s largest half marathon every year.  There are pros and cons to this; it’s a huge festival in the city of Gothenburg, and it’s a great experience, but it’s also a hard race to run a PR in because of the crowd.  The course is beautiful, and tours the city nicely, starting in a large park called Slottsskogen, heading out over a large bridge, following the river, heading back into town over another bridge,  up the main avenue, back through the city and finishing at the track stadium Slottsskogsvallen.  This was my second year running the race, and I’ve already signed up again for next year.  Last year I ran a 1:48:06.

Some background: I trained heavily for this race, starting in January of 2010, and following a coached regimen (Bonkproof by Caleb Masland) of twice weekly speedwork and long runs with pickups at the end.  My training went well for the most part, and I was executing some impressive runs for me (in the low-mid 6’s/mile).  A month out, I was feeling very confident in preparation, but was suffering from Plantar Fasciitis.  Then I ran the NC Half Marathon, and bombed that one at 1:42.  My confidence was a little shaken, but I recovered.  Two weeks before the GöteborgsVarvet, I started having some problems with the 2nd metatarsal on my right foot.  The week leading up to the race, I didn’t run at all, but stayed on the elliptical at the hotel.

On to the race report:

Race day was lovely, for those watching the race.  Unfortunately for those of us running it, it was pretty hot and humid.  The temperature was in the high 70s, which for Sweden, is pretty much a tropical heat wave.  Early forecasts were predicting mid 50s, which would have been much more preferable!  My start group (#4) was scheduled to start at 2 in the afternoon Swedish time, and the gun went off perfectly on time.  The start group I was in was about 2500 runners, and we were jammed up at the beginning.  The first 2 kilometers were through the Slottsskogen park:

Slottsskogen Park

The entire park was full of spectators, as the entire city comes out.  Most people were spread out on blankets with wine and picnics making a day of it.  Through the park, the race group was pretty tight, and I was running slower than plan.  I wanted to go out at about 7:00/mile for the first 5-10k, but for the first few miles, I barely managed faster than 7:20, and that was weaving and passing people in the grass outside of the course.  Leaving the park took us through an older neighborhood that has recently gentrified and is full of kids.  This is always my favorite part of the course, as the kids provide a lot of energy and all want to give you a hand slap of encouragement!

Älvsborg Bridge

The next part of the course takes you up to the largest bridge in the region, the Älvsborg.  This is a pretty long bridge, and fun to run across.  There was a nice crosswind, and I was feeling quite strong up and over.

Coming off the Älvsborg Bridge

When coming down the bridge, the course narrows into a very small bottleneck, and thousands of runners try to cram through without killing each other.
They always have a photographer positioned here, and I always look very concerned, when in reality, I’m trying not to trip over they guy in front of me! After the bridge, the course blasts you down a long decline that switches back and forth all the way down to the old shipyards and to the Göta river, and from there, it’s pretty flat for the next 2-3 miles along the river until the next bridge.  This part of town used to be only shipyards, but since the shipbuilding industry died in Sweden, there is now a university site and student housing along the river.  There are always bands playing and people out drinking beer through this section.  About the 10k mark here, I started feeling the heat.  I had been training to get through the half without stopping for water, and had run many 14+ mile training runs without water or food, but on this day, at 10k, I realized that it wasn’t gonna go down like that…

Around 10k, I stopped at the water station, gulped some, and dumped the rest on my head and took off.  I employed that strategy for most of the water stations for the rest of the race.  Unfortunately, though, around this same time, my right foot started killing me, and I was noticeably favoring it.  I made the choice to run as hard as I could until my foot hurt too much and then walk until the pain subsided enough to run again.  This obviously had a pretty big impact on my splits, as you can see below.

All along the course, every mile or so, there were bands or musicians playing, ranging from full on rock bands (I heard two Motley Crue songs sing with thick Swedish accents) to African drum troops to traditional Swedish musicians; quite nice entertainment to divert thoughts from the heat…

Götaälvbron Bridge

The next noteworthy part of the course is the Götaälvbron bridge, which is a bit lower than the Älvsborg, but a bit longer as well.  On the downslope of this one, some guy was holding a doughnut over the crowd of runners hung from a fishing rod and line.  Smart-ass…

Coming down the bridge, we circled the exit ramp past the brand new Göthenburg Wheel, that opened for business the same day!  It’s a really nice addition to the city.

Göthenburg Wheel

Past the wheel is the long false flat up the main shopping avenue. It’s a 1.5-2 mile 1-2% grade that is in full sunlight and packed on both sides with the crowd of observers. I always feel a bit like a head of cattle running up a chute, but the crowd support is amazing here. At the top of the avenue, about 18k, I passed my hotel, my wife and youngest daughter, and some friends. My two year old started shouting “Daddy, Daddy, run faster!”. We looped around the statue, and back down the avenue, then left back toward the park.

The course started to open a bit at this point and runners started to thin out. Around here, I started to see a lot of people laid out along the course. The Swedes weren’t conditioned at all for temps in the high 70s, and hundreds of people went to the emergency room with heat exhaustion and dehydration problems. I’m not talking about poorly trained people either. There were lots of runners who had run the course in sub 1:30 in previous years that took DNFs. It was pretty scary to see. I knew we were coming up on the home stretch now and was quite honestly ready to be done and out of pain, although I knew my foot was in trouble. The final mile or so was back through the same park as in the start and then to the finish in the Slottsskogsvallen track stadium.

Here’s a couple of finishing pics:

Finishing Sprint

Stepping on the finish mat with my gimpy foot. Ready to be done!

Splits:

1-7:53
2-7:22
3-7:27
4-7:26
5-7:01
6-7:39
7-8:11
8-8:09
9-8:30
10-8:06
11-9:42
12-8:58
13-8:48
6:01 (.1 mile)

So, overall, I’ll take it considering the unexpected heat and the foot issues I’ve been having.  I’m on week 3 of no running and ART therapy after the race, so I hope to be back out soon.  My disappointment is that I know I could have gone sub 1:35 and perhaps closer to 1:30 if my foot had cooperated.  But, there’s always the next one!

Running Ambassadors – Running in Foreign Cultures


I am fortunate enough to have the experience of traveling around a good portion of the world through business.  Since I started running a couple of years ago (2 years next month!), I’ve had the opportunity to run in Brazil, China, France, Switzerland and Sweden as well as many places here in the US.  This post is focused on the cultural differences I’ve observed while out on a run.

Of course, being a native of the fine state of North Carolina, it’s practically embedded in my DNA to say “Hey”, make eye contact and give a little wave to anyone I pass on the run.  In fact, I just feel weird if I don’t do it, even if I’m trying to get a speed workout in.  This attempt at friendliness is viewed differently from culture to culture, as you’ll see below!

Brazil: This country is very supportive of physical fitness, and when I was there, I saw many runners out in the parks.  Everyone had a smile on their face and was either listening to music or would say hi in passing with a smile.  I did some treadmill running here, though, as I wasn’t to0 sure of the stability of where I was.  All the runners are beautiful people in Brazil, though.

China: Mostly I ran inside here, as the pollution was pretty bad in Bejing, plus the traffic was really pretty sketchy.  Not a whole lot of runners around the part of town I was in, but there were an incredible amount of people on cycles, mostly commuting.  Being an American, it’s always odd to see a businessman in a suit pedaling along… The few miles I put in outside taught me that outdoor runners in the middle of Beijing are not a common sight.  Pedestrians gave me a lot of odd looks and I spent most of the time trying not to get flattened by the insane Bejing traffic.

France: I was in Lyon the whole time I was in France, and my hotel was on the Presqu’île, which is a sort of peninsula between the Rhône and Saône rivers.  A block long jog brought me down to the waterfront of the Rhône, and there were incredible running and cycling paths that extended for about 10 miles (Google maps link: http://tinyurl.com/yypywx3).   There were a lot of people out in the morning before work and after work, before dinner.  Most everyone at least made eye contact, and most offered a cheery (if breathless) “Bonjour”.  Most people were fairly fit, and saw a few really fast people out.  Lots and lots of tights.  Very few people in shorts.  One thing about running in Europe is the tights.  Everybody wears them all year round…

Switzerland: To be fair here, I only had one run in Switzerland, and it was really right on the border of France.  This was at the base of the alps and was incredibly beautiful to see those giant mountains while on the run.  The town I ran through was pretty hilly, and I ran with a couple of colleagues with varying degrees of fitness.  We ran in the early morning, but already people were commuting to work in Geneva.  However, these commuters looked at us like we were aliens.  Obviously nobody runs in this little town… I did see one other runner while in Switzerland, and he was trucking up those hills hardcore-style.  Between running through the little ski village and the rural landscape just outside of town, this was a lovely, lovely place to run.

Sweden: I’ve done most of my international running in Sweden, as I work for a Swedish company, and my wife is Swedish.  I run in two cities mainly: Katrineholm (where my wife is from) and Gothenburg (where my company is located).  The two are very different in many ways, and alike in some.  Katrineholm is small and fairly rural; I have to run around the entire perimeter of the town to get in a 10 miler,  yet  there are miles and miles of compacted dirt and mulch trails through the forests for walkers and runners.  Gothenburg is a more industrial place, and is Sweden’s second largest city.  There are a lot of runners here, and there are sidewalks and running paths all over the city.  No one looks at you strangely, and all cars stop for you to cross the road.  It’s like runner’s nirvana.  However, there is one small setback for me: Swedes are a little reserved to strangers, and no one really makes eye contact with someone they don’t know.  This is obviously a detriment to me smiling, waving and saying: “Hey!”.  I get a lot of weird looks.  My mother-in-law actually sat me down and asked me to stop talking to people while out running. Katrineholm is the home to the nation’s largest forensic psychiatric hospital, and the patients/convicts are actually let out to walk around the city if their behavior is good.  They talk to strangers.  Often.  Yes, you read that right.  She was afraid that people would connect me to her and think that a patient/convict married her daughter.

She may not be far off….

Oh, and everyone in Sweden runs in tights.  It’s like Craft got together with the Swedish government and made it mandatory to run in tights. You get weird looks for running without tights…

I hope to add many more countries to this list, and continue to observe the interesting cultural differences that connect and separate us as humans on this planet!

United HealthCare North Carolina Half Marathon – Race Report


Ok, let’s start with the training:  I asked a fellow dailymiler (Caleb M) to help create a training plan that would allow me to increase speed significantly and PR big time in the GöteborgsVarvet (world’s largest half-marathon).  This plan started the second week of January, 2010, and leads through May 21, 2010.  It’s tough and fun, and I have seen big results so far.  I’ve been executing the plan consistently and while many of the workouts have been really hard, I’ve managed to complete or exceed them.  So, my outlook for this race was very positive. In fact, I became quite optimistic looking at the previous year’s results.  My frustration in the outcome of the UHC NC Half is resulting from the fact that I’ve put it all together in training, yet when race day came, I fell apart.

Race day:

The weather was in the low 50’s, a little warmer than I had hoped, but still ok.  The grounds and race setup were fantastic, plenty of porta potties and free water and lots of samples of stuff.  As we were getting ready to start, the beer truck was setting up, always a fantastic race sign!  The field was pretty small ~1600 racers, and the half-marathon and marathon racers all started together.  Words of encouragement were spoken by Joey Cheek and Charlie Engle, both fairly local dudes, and then we were off…

As you can see by the elevation chart, the course was full of rolling hills.  This chart is a lie! Don’t believe it.  There is very little truth here.  The reality is that there is not a flat section on the course, so if you’re not climbing, you’re barreling down a relatively steep hill.

Splits:

1-7:18
2-6:58
3-7:21
4-7:21
5-7:25
6-7:30
7-7:59
8-7:28
9-8:25
10-8:36
11-7:40
12-9:01
13-8:39
6:26 (.1 sprint)

Miles 1 & 2 were slightly downhill, and right on my target pace to reach 1:35.  I felt good at the end of 2, when we took a turn and started climbing.  Miles 3 & 4 were pretty much full climbs with a brief (tenth of a mile) downhill at the top of mile 3, and I managed to sustain those at 7:21 each.  This part of the course was through “Old Emerywood”, which is the oldest neighborhood in High Point, and contains a lot of mansions owned by families from the furniture industry.  At the end of mile 4, I felt pretty winded, which is when things started to feel off.  Have you ever had one of those runs where things just don’t feel right, and you can’t put your finger on why exactly, especially when you’ve done it before, and better?  Yeah, that was what I felt like then.

I had a Honey Stinger right before 4.5, where there was a water stop, and washed it down with about half a cup of water. Mile 5 was a little more downhill, and at this point, I was trying to recover and gain back some energy, as I knew there were some tough hills ahead in the course.  Mile 6 took us through the campus of High Point University, and there was a pretty big cheering squad of college students lining the course.  This mile was the first sustained downhill portion since mile 2.

Mile 7 was another roll of uphill and downhill, and here I had basically hit a mental and physical wall.  Not a bonk, but I almost felt like I was getting sick, and fully drained of energy.  Mile 8 was a full downhill, and I still managed a 7:28.  At this portion of the course, the half-marathon turned left and went back into town, and the marathon turned right and went out into the countryside.  The guy who actually had the best marathon time was registered for the half and got misdirected at this split.  He ran the full, won it, and was disqualified for being registered for the half.  Pretty big local race controversy, and created a lot of discussion in the media.  There were 8 or 10 people that got misdirected apparently.

After mile 8, I was seriously wiped, and my Plantar Fasciitis started to bother me a bit.  I had to stop and walk a bit during this mile, which surprised me, and was an indicator of what was to come in the remaining miles.  Mile 9 was a consistent rise that really put a hurt on a lot of racers, lots of people at my pace walked a bit at this point.  After mile 10, the course repeated itself for the next mile or so, and most of miles 9 and 10 were dive-bombing downhill.  I had another Honey Stinger at 10, as a last desperate attempt to get some energy from somewhere.  At this point, the race turned to face a massive uphill that you could see carried the course back into downtown.

The rest of the race was a climb until the final 400 meters or so.  The pack of 4 or 5 people I was embedded in at this point were leapfrogging each other with sad bursts of speed followed by much slower jog/shuffle/walks.  Once we got into the city itself, I mustered any last bits of energy I had and tried to sprint to the finish.  The absolutely best part of the race was this part, and the final bit was lined with little kids ticking their hands up for a high five.  It but a huge smile on my face, and carried me through.  I was happy to be done, and glad it was over.  I waited around the finish area to see fellow dailymiler Troy A and a coworker and a neighbor come through.

So, I learned a lot about the course, and know what to expect next year.  It’s likely that I’ll run this race again, given that it’s a local race.  I know I need to run a crapload of hills between now and my next race, and I think that will help immensely.  What I don’t understand, and would welcome some insight into is the following:

  • I’ve run the distance (and further, up to 16) faster and on a comparably hilly training course
  • I’ve never “died” like that midway through
  • I could never even get up to my target pace, except for the first two miles, even though I’ve run 10 miles at sub-7 pace.
  • I am super-sore from this run.  More sore than I have ever been running this or a longer distance, or tougher speed work.

Overall, I ran about a 6 minute PR, but it feels like a hollow victory, as I really believe I’m capable of 1:35 or better, and that’s what my training suggests.

Marathon Winner Story from the local paper’s website

Product Review: Strassburg Sock


As many of you know, I’ve been having a problem with Plantar Fasciitis for the past few weeks.   At the recommendation of many, I went and got the Strassburg Sock (available at pretty much all running specialty stores).  My first reaction was that it was pretty pricey at about $40, but I was fairly desperate and still wanted to run a scheduled half marathon coming up in a week.

I had been using a night split that attached with velcro straps to the top of my foot for a few nights, but this never really achieved a good stretch of the Plantar Fascia and I didn’t feel like any progress was being made.  Within an hour of putting on the Strassburg Sock, I could feel the stretch helping.

The idea with this sock is that by pulling upward on the toes and keeping the ankle in a neutral position, you gently stretch the Plantar Fascia through the period of wearing the sock, and allow healing in an elongated position, rather than healing in a shortened, relaxed position.

It’s a little tricky to get comfortable sleeping while it’s on, and if you sleep on your back, you’re gonna have a nice “tent-pole” at the foot of the bed.  If you’re a side sleeper, make sure that you are extending your leg fully while sleeping to get the maximum effect from the stretch.

I’ve worn the sock now for three nights in a row, and I believe that this is the item that has helped the most in a quick recovery.  By no means was this a silver bullet, but use of this sock combined with stretching, strengthening of the feet and calves, rolling and massage of the calves and icing of the foot can make a huge difference for other people suffering from this problem.

Anyone else have experience with this solution to Plantar Fasciitis?

www.thesock.com

My first barefoot run, by Jay, age 39.


Ok, so technically, it wasn’t really barefoot, since I had on my trusty Injini toesocks, but it was certainly shoeless.  For those of you who haven’t been following, I’ve been having some Plantar Fasciitis issues, and have been getting lots of advice and support from the barefoot community.   Today was the first run since some pretty severe pain 4 days ago, and after a 4 miler on the treadmill (in case I had to cut it short), I decided to try a barefoot run.

So…I chucked my well loved Brooks Launches off and set the treadmill to 6 MpH, figuring I’d take it slow on my first attempt.  Well, 6 MpH quickly got cranked down to 5.5, but within a tenth of a mile, something curious happened: my Plantar Fascia on my right foot just kind of stretched out and relaxed.  It was still tender, mind you, but prior to this, I was kind of limp/running barefoot.  I found my stride and just felt like I could keep going for a while.

I stopped at a half mile, as even though I’m a midfoot striker and have a fair amount of calf strength, I didn’t want to overdo it and be really sore.  I probably will be anyway, but heck with it.  Hmm, you barefoot freaks may actually be on to something here.  I mean, I’ve read Born to Run and enjoyed the book and was entertained by the theories, but never really felt motivated to try it.  I think now I’ll go a day or so, see how I feel and then seriously consider incorporating some short barefoot runs in for foot strength building purposes.

Product Review: Injinji Toesocks


I have a few product endorsements (seen on right), so I will save those reviews for later.  Today, I’m going to focus on a product I’ve found to be extremely useful.

The Injinji Toesocks admittedly are pretty silly looking, and I get lots of stares and a few questions at the gym when I put them on, but if you are prone to between-toe blisters, boy is this a solution for you.  Basically, they’re regular wicking athletic socks with individual toes knitted in, kind of like gloves for your feet.  Getting used to them takes a few runs, and putting them on certainly takes a bit of getting used to.

Once you’re there and used to them, other socks feel hot and sweaty.  By keeping the toes apart from each other, moisture is controlled, and so is contact.  Minimal contact + minimal moisture = no blisters!  Yay! I also understand that these work quite well under Vibram FiveFingers, but I haven’t personally tried using them that way.

The socks come in many colors now, and Injinji has added other products in their product range, but I’ve always stuck with black or white, mini or micro crew.   Once I was a convert, these are the only socks I ever run in.  Ever.  Plus, my daughters love to make fun of them!

There are two cons: they can be kind of hard to find, although your local running store should carry them.  Ordering online is always an option, and they are available in many places.  The second is that if you have a bunch, there’s an added layer of complexity to sock matching in folding clean laundry.  Nothing like getting to the gym with two right socks…

Highly, highly recommended!