Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's a macho thing....

Well, I guess I should have known! After some internet discussions and a bit of web browsing it suddenly became apparent that there are plenty of velcro shoes for women and children. There are even running shoes for women -but not men- with velcro closures.

Real men don't wear velcro!

That is my conclusion after reading several threads of internet discussions. Velcros are for whimps. They come loose and provide a "sloppy" fit. Never mind those cyclists, who as I said before, put a whole lot more stress on the uppers of their shoes, wearing velcro! Cyclists shave their legs so they are sissies ("girlie-men") in any case.

Well let it be said. Velcros are superior to laces. They are faster. They are easier to adjust and they never, ever come loose, but laces do!!

They are so much better than "speed-laces" or other lace-like contraptions that have limited durability and shelf life.

Three of my four pairs of Nike Air Kukini's are worn through, some quite badly so, but the velcro closures are intact and function as nicely and as easily as the day I bought the shoes. The uppers on the other hand are torn, the soles are eroded away, and the rubber is gone in many places. But the velcro's are pristine. So pristine that I have considered removing them and stitching them onto a new pair of running shoes.

If you manufacture shoes, listen to us velcro-lovers. There are many of us out there. We are not afraid to be called sissies. We know velcro is better, faster, easier. Let's do away with the bonds that bind and replace them with 21st century technology. VELCRO.

8.25 miles in the hills today. Slight pain in right calf. Injured on the treadmill a few days ago.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When good ideas fail to catch on

I have four pairs of Nike Air Kukini running shoes. It is the best running shoe I have ever had, period. It is light weight, has excellent cushioning, and great ventilation. It also has velcro closures. I vowed to never buy a running shoe again until I found one with velcro closures. It is the greatest idea in running shoes ever. It is fast, it is easy to adjust and best of all, it never, ever comes loose. I have run thousands of miles in Kukini's and I have never had to stop to adjust my "laces."

The original Air Kukini, before Nike messed with it and then dropped it

When I found out Nike discontinued the shoe, I bought every single one I could find on eBay and other web stores. I only wish I had known earlier so I could have bought more.

I have talked to every shoe manufacturer I met about velcros and none of them seem to get it. I would have bought Newton shoes at Ironman Arizona, but they did not have velcro. I would have bought Spira Stingers in Boston but no velcro. So I continue to run in my Kukini's. I will run in those Kukini's until they fall off my feet.

Perhaps the manufacturers are not the culprits. It may well be that runners are so old-fashioned they can't see the benefit. You can get all kinds of laces but no velcro. Cyclists wear velcro and they put a lot more stress on the uppers of their shoes than runners do. I have ridden with velcro cycling shoes for the last 20 years.

As for training it has been a while since I posted. Here is a summary:
4/20 Boston marathon
4/21 travel to Berkeley
4/22 3K swim in pool
4/23 20 miles mtn bike in redwood park
4/24 8.5 mile tempo run on treadmill
4/25 3K swim in pool
4/26 30 miles mtn bike in redwood and chabot
4/27 8.5 mile tempo run (8.3 mph for one hour)
4/28 20 miles mtn bike in redwood park
4/29 3K swim in pool

Friday, April 24, 2009


Here is my pace chart from Boston. The bars show my speed in every 5k/3.1mi segment. The last segment is only 2.2k/1.3 mi long. The differences are accentuated because the X axis starts at 6.8mph. The yellow graph shows the moving average. 8mph translates to 3:16:30. I did 3:22:21. I dropped below 8 at 16 miles (2 hours).

As you can see my speed first increased and then dropped as the race progressed. The much lower speeds in bins 6 and 7 are due to the infamous Newton hills. Without those hills I probably would gone smoothly from 7.81 to 7.53, without a dip. Still, the decline is real. I attribute it to the fact that I did not include any long runs in my training. The longest run I did this year, prior to Boston, was at 13.4 miles.

Ideally speaking one would need a flat graph. Some people that ended up running a 3:16 ran even with me in the beginning, but they kept their pace to the end.

I do remind the reader that my objective is not to run marathons. I use marathons to train for ironman races. If I really trained for the marathon I would probably be able to hold my speed better. That is why I think I could run a 3:15. But it would take a whole lot more training -especially long runs- to do that. Right now, this is training for Lake Placid in July.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Things I learned: shoes

Here is another thing I learned. When selecting shoes, buy a light "neutral" shoe and run in it. Even if you or anyone else thinks your alignment is off. Unless you wear orthotics every day, and you have a well-established problem that needs correction, buy a neutral shoe. I know because my alignment is off. It is way off. It is so far off that several runners told me I would never become a distance runner.

Want some more proof? Here is a picture of two running shoes. The one on the left is one of my first shoes. I ran in it for about 300 miles. You don't need to be an expert to see that the shoe is worn in a bizarre way. My earlier shoes were even worse. I strike with the side of my heel and it shows. I had plenty of problems too. My first marathon I had a pretty bad psoas (groin muscle) problem and I had to walk 5 miles to finish. I have had knee and hip pain on and off. I usually get blisters on my feet. All these things have improved but they are still there. Especially when I don't train enough.
But I learned one thing: most matters are self-correcting. Not totally so, as you can see from the other shoe, a more recent one, and one I ran almost 1,000 miles in (I ran Boston with that shoe and had no problems). You have to look closer to see the wear pattern on that one, although it is still obvious. But the first shoe would never have lasted for a 1,000+ miles.

What you can't see very well is the left shoe is worn asymmetrically in front as well, whereas the right one is not.

I can tell you that my gait has improved significantly as well. And it all happened automatically because I kept running. No magic here!

So, forget about what the store people tell you. Forget about "types" of shoes. The best "type" of shoe is a light shoe. The lighter the better, because nothing matters more in running than weight. You need over 40,000 strides to run a marathon, and so you have to lift that shoe for over 40,000 times. Think about that before you buy.

Never buy a special shoe unless you have run for at least six months and problems develop that steadily get worse. Problems in this case are objective problems such as swelling, inflammation, etc. Pain is normal and some amount of pain should not deter you. Especially if you are late to the party like I was. If you have been running since childhood and develop pain, that is another matter. But if you start out late in life, you will suffer. There is no way around it. Even Lance Amstrong had to deal with shin splints.

There is a tendency for people to run to the doctor as soon as something hurts. Or to try to fix things quickly. And not surprisingly a whole army of "experts" stands at the ready to help. Ignore them! They don't know what they are talking about. Chances are they will make your problem worse.

Supporting a weak link will prevent adaptation. It may make the problem worse or shift it elsewhere. Your first response to minor issues should be to RUN MORE. Not right then and there of course, but after some relative rest. The cure for most problems is, more miles.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Things I learned: food and drink

Here are some of the things I learned about marathons. I have now completed 5 races (3 marathons and 2 ironman marathons) and these prescriptions hold up very well. I do better than before and the difference is significant. For a regular marathon my gain is 15 minutes or more, and for the ironman 20 or more. These are well-tested observations.

1. The more normal your diet is the better. I eat normal food, I use no supplements of any kind, no vitamins, no minerals, no protein powders, nothing, nada. 

1b. You don't need a high carb diet to run, and a high carb diet will only make you feel hungry or cause you to over-eat. Fat is great, you heard it here!

1c. The most important thing about diet is quantity. Don't overeat!

2. Carbo-loading (the traditional way) works very well for ironman but less so for marathons. This time I did not stick to my carbo-load and it made no difference.

2b. You cannot carbo-load the night before. These so-called carbo-loading pasta dinners are to be avoided at all costs.

3. Avoid fruit and vegetables and anything with added fiber (you should not eat that stuff in any case) for about 2 days before the race. It will greatly reduce your need to find porta-potties beforehand, to stop during the race, or to suffer from abdominal cramps or stomach upsets.

4. Eat a small breakfast and drink little before the race. It will avoid stomach upsets and potty breaks. You can even skip breakfast if the race is early. Always eat less than you are used to.

5. Don't drink too much. I don't drink before mile 8 and very little afterwards. Yes you will dehydrate, but so will everyone else; even those that drink. The cure for dehydration is to stay clothed in hot weather and to train in race conditions. Your body will adapt. You will lose less fluid, less salt, and you will tolerate the losses better. The cure and prevention is to RUN MORE.

6. A gel (or two) at mile 17-18 is a great placebo. Pick one with caffeine because it will help. The other ingredients are useless, although the taste matters. The sugar can be helpful but, if trained well you should be able to complete a marathon on your stored sugars (glycogen).

6b. Don't drink too much coffee beforehand. Not because it is a diuretic -that effect is minimal- but because you will feel wired and you will be tempted to run too hard in the beginning. If you are easily excitable, be especially careful, because the setting can be very conducive to running too fast.

7. The key to marathons is pacing. Run an even pace. An even pace will always trump the alternatives. Avoid stopping or walking, keep going at all times (this is especially true in ironman). If you feel exceptionally good at mile 23, then you can run a bit harder and shoot for a better time.

8. All gadgets are useless. They weigh extra, they distract you, and they prevent you from listening to your body. Unless you learn to listen to your body, you will never run well. If you run well, the data you collect will contain no information (i.e. it won't be any different from any other run so the information content is zero), although they make for great facebook postings.

9. Wear light shoes and light clothing. Don't lug stuff around. Lighter is better. Remove all excess weight. Certainly don't carry water in a race. You are just making it harder on yourself.

More to come..

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Boston PR or is it PB?

I set a new PR in Boston: 3:22:21. According to the locals I should call it a Personal Best or PB since PR refers to public relations. My previous PR/PB was 3:24:50, set last year in Boston. I love Boston.

I can now say with some confidence that I have my marathon racing dialed in. It took a long time, but I finally did it. I know how to prepare for and race a marathon. I also think I can do better than 3:22:21 and 3:15 is in the cards. However, I am not sure I will as it would require more running and running is not exactly my thing.

I did well this time, no injuries other than some minor cramping near the end (i.e. I need more preparation to hold 8 mph), and a new blood blister on my toe. My shoes have pretty much had it. I am not sure how many miles I have run in them, but certainly a lot more than manufacturers recommend. But then again, manufacturers are in the business of selling new shoes and you don't sell new shoes unless people retire their old shoes.

I will spend some time to write some posts that go into detail about what I learned but I can start by saying that the learning was mostly of the "unlearning" type. I.e. whatever people recommend, don't listen to it. It was only when I stopped listening that I started to do better. 15-20 minutes better, no small potatoes either! And it holds up the way it should, i.e. I can repeat it. It is not a one-time fluke. 

I can now routinely run a 3:25 plus or minus, instead of a 3:40 plus or minus. I am faster and I feel better. I made an even bigger gain in my Ironman marathons. There the gains are well in excess of 20 minutes.

Another thing that makes it real is that I am getting older. I am past 50 and apparently past 50 you can't improve anymore. Whoever said that is full of s..t too, although it is certainly harder to improve past age 50 than it is for say a 20 year old.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A second fitness test

I repeated my 30 minute fitness test today and did better. I ran 4.5 miles in 30 minutes, like I did last year. There was nobody in the exercise room today so I could open the door. That made it much cooler and the lower temperature may have helped. Yesterday was warm and crowded (i.e. people on both treadmills next to mine). I am not sure all the variability is in the cooling, but some surely is.

Tomorrow I fly to Boston. I will rest until Monday, marathon day. We'll see how it goes. I will also cut my carbo-loading one day short because I was invited to lunch on Friday. Normally I would go low carb until Friday night and then eat all carbs Saturday and Sunday.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Carbo-loading and fit test

Yesterday I swam 2,880 yds (144 laps). I was pretty tired and it did not go so well. 

I also started my carbo-loading regime. When it comes to carbo-loading I am a traditionalist and I prefer the old method of not eating carbs (or very little) for a week and then eating two days of almost nothing but carbs.

I have used this method four or five times now and it always works for me. It has several other advantages too. One is that I lose weight. Even though I exercise less, I can eat as much as I want and I never feel hungry either. That is the best part. It seems likely that much of the weight loss is water and much of that is probably due to glycogen depletion. The weight loss is not my aim, but weight control is. I don't want to gain weight now.

The trouble with high carb diets is that you tend to feel hungry all the time. It is not a big problem when you work out a lot because you need the calories. But when you taper it can be really hard and I know quite a few people who gained several pounds during their taper. I tend to lose weight. Usually several pounds.

There are two bad effects: 1. I develop a slight nausea by day two -which may be what keeps me from over-eating, and 2. I do feel sluggish after about two days.

There is one so-so effect: I develop a real craving for carb rich food. After several days, bread, pasta, and other items start looking really good. But that is OK, by Friday I will be able to eat all the bread I want.

In addition to the carbo-loading, I also cut back on all fruit and veggies two days before the race. That too is quite beneficial in my experience. It makes it so you don't need potty breaks and it tends to avoid stomach upsets too.

I did a simple 30' fit test today. 
First I ran 2 mi. to warm up and then I tried to hold 9 mph for 30 minutes (4.5 miles). It is what I did last year before the marathon. Unfortunately, this year I was only able to hold 9 for 4 miles or 26.66 minutes.

It is possible that the heat in the exercise room got to me. The club remodeled the room last week and put the treadmills much closer together to enable TV viewing. They also removed all the fans. Both effects combine to induce more heat stress.

The heat could explain some performance loss, but most likely is that I am not in as good a shape as last year. I finished off with another mile to make it 7 total.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tommeke threepeat

An impressive third victory for Tom Boonen in Paris-Roubaix today. He devastated the field, rode everyone off his wheel. Spectacular racing if I ever saw some. You can see parts on under wielrennen (cycling).

I ran 14 miles today, a long loop out to Montclair to Joaquin Miller. Up JM to Skyline and then back home. A lot of climbing to be sure. Took 2:11 approximately. Boston, I am ready.

Yesterday I rode 35.5 miles on the Specialized after we came home from Copperopolis, where Alistair got 4th place. It was also the first time I beat someone down Wildcat--and a good rider too! 
On Friday I rode 42 to Castro Valley and back. I hit 269NP watts on my ergomo. (The NP is proprietary algorithm to account for intensity. I find it works well to predict how much effort I put in. 269 is one of the highest readings I ever scored for the distance).

Thursday I ran 7 miles in the rain. Not fun, but good prep for Boston I guess. And on Wednesday I swam 160 laps fast (approx. 3,000 meters). Tuesday 1:15 minutes on rollers, burning approximately 1,155 calories (It rained).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Five hour energy

Have you seen those new ads, proclaiming five hour energy with only four calories? Let's see, four calories is about 3 minutes worth of energy. That means you, the buyer are four hours and fifty seven minutes short. 

I guess now you will tell me you do get a boost from that little bottle? That may well be true. There is about as much caffeine in the bottle as in a regular cup of coffee. As for the decaf version of five hour energy? Well, now you are on your own, this is as placebo as they come. 

What about the other ingredients you ask? Well, a bit of vitamin B and some amino acids isn't going to make a difference one way or another.

If you need five hours worth energy, how about a serious meal?

Some updates:
Thursday an 8.5 mile run up Broadway Terrace
Friday, an Ironman distance swim
Saturday, a 42 mile ride to Castro Valley
Sunday, I went to the Napa Valley Dirt Classic with Alistair. I didn't race but I rode a little bit. Afterwards I swam 1.25 miles.
Today I ran 8.7 miles on the backside trail.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April fool

Yesterday I rode out to Danville for a total of 52 miles. It took me three hours and I burned 2,460 calories. My normalized power for the ride was 247. Overall it was a very fun ride, somewhat chilly in the morning, but better as the day progressed.

Today I ran the Shepherd loop. I am now entering my data on the plus3 network, something I signed up for at the Ronde van Brisbeen on Sunday. To my surprise -this is April 1 after all- the course maxed out at 10.1 miles. Earlier I had "measured" it on Google Earth as 10.5. I ran under 1.5 hrs so that was pretty good.

The problem with most mapping sites is that it they are hard to use. I wish they would solve some rather "trivial problems" that would make life a lot easier.

1. Always follow the road (when checked) --that way I don't have to put in hundreds of way points to catch the various twists and turns. It should be possible to put in two way points and have the software connect them following the road. 

2. Have a button that will backtrack to complete the loop. When I ride out to Danville and then return home the same way, it should possible to let the software complete the second half.

3. Allow for off-road activity. I don't understand why  Google -all these site use Google- cannot add bike trials, fire trails, and other paths?  The regional parks have maps, why doesn't Google include them? Why have maps of the ocean floor but not Tilden park? I never swim, ride, or run the ocean floor.

4. Make it easier to store intermediate results. Sometimes I want to take a break. I want to save what I have and come back later to finish it. I also do make mistakes. Putting up warnings saying, "are you sure this is it?" or "please verify before saving" is not what I need. I need an ability to correct mistakes. Sometimes I don't find the mistake until several days later when someone points it out to me.

5. Correct obvious GPS errors. The same "follow the road/trail/path" can apply here. While Garmin and other units can be quite good in the central valley and other flatlands, in the Oakland hills -or any other interesting course for that matter-, corrections are a must. I don't use the Garmin anymore, but when I did, I noticed that about half the time, it put me in the scenery instead of on the road.

6. Automatically calculate elevation. That too is easy to do.

7. Provide access to all my data and allow me to download what I want. That is another key reason why I stopped using the Garmin. If motionbased wants to play $$ games with me, they should find another fool to rip off. It is not that important to me, really.