Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day

Since doing some long runs in the cold and snow it was time to have some FUN! Thank goodness for the annual Heart of Heart's 5K race sponsored by the Wineglass Running Club. This is always a super fun event and the word "race" is, well, optional. The race offers a couple's division where couples must complete the 5K run and cross the finish line together. So it was a nice day to run with Joe - and in our usual holiday fashion, we fully accessorized! This race was always one of Diane's favorites, as the Wineglass group was truly family to her. So Joe and I donned our "Diane's Team" shirts in her honor and, OK, so maybe our taste in the rest of our accessories has gone downhill a little, but we knew that Diane would totally appreciate the effort!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Deep Snow Running Gear Test

With only 16 days left until The Beast of Burden 24-hour race there is not much more I can do to prepare as far as my fitness goes. As for that, I'm either ready or I'm not. I think I am ready. But the one thing I can't control, Mother Nature, still has the ability to make or break the run for me. So every run is still a gear-test run for me. I want to be as prepared as I can be. I have been running in some pretty extreme cold and windy conditions, so I think I am ready for that. The one thing that I haven't had much of a chance to do is run in deep snow. In December we did have some pretty excellent snow that I could have run in, but I was remiss and opted for skiing and snowshoeing at that time. And then we had our mid-winter thaw which brought some pretty good rain, which melted the snow. FINALLY, yesterday we got a good wallop of the white stuff and I got my chance. So I headed out for one of my favorite loops, a 7.5-miler on seasonal roads which are not plowed in the winter. It was 28 degrees F and there was a good 5-6" base of snow. Well, first of all, it was harder than I had anticipated - even more tiring than snowshoeing. So the "run" turned into more of a "hike-run", which was OK, since I still got in the time on my feet.

So here is my gear-test report card:

1. SNEAKERS: A+. I wore the INOV-8 X-talon 212s and they worked fabulously. The grippy lugs on the soles gave excellent traction even in the deep snow.

2. GAITERS: A. I wore a pair of ankle-high gaiters from Eastern Mountain Sports which kept my ankles dry and kept the snow out of the shoes, but they were a bit warm and my pant-legs around my ankles were noticeably wet from the sweat.

3. SOCKS: A+. I wore the Seirus StormSocks which kept my feet dry and warm from the snow. Again, with the 28 degree temps, my feet did get a little sweaty, but not bad.

4. CLOTHING: A. I was quite comfortable with a pair of spandex shorts, lined wind-pants, coolmax shirts, and my new Red Ledge shell for a windbreaker (which also did not absorb the falling snow!). Even though I was sweating I really didn't notice it much while out and was never cold or uncomfortable. However, I was surprised when I got home and found out how wet my shirts were! Something to think about if the temps were colder, although the sweat-factor when running on the flat Erie Canal towpath should be less than it was running on my hilly home course.

I also wore just my waistpack with a water bottle, since I didn't fear there would be any bottle-freezing going on. This worked fine and I will bring this with me to the race in the event that it isn't freezing out. My final conclusion: bring everything to the race.

"Big occasions and races which have been eagerly anticipated almost to the point of dread, are where great deeds can be accomplished." Jack Lovelock

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Product Test #9587

OK, so who really knows how many running-related products I have tested over the years - everything from shoes to clothing to foods to hydration systems. I can't say that I've lost count because I never really kept count. All I know is that with this upcoming Beast of Burden 24-hour race, I have been in perpetual test-pilot mode. This event is something totally new to me; I have never done a 24-hour event and I have never done any extremely long stuff in the middle of winter. So in the planning process I am trying to be completely prepared. My biggest concern, as with any ultra, is my feet. If you don't take care of your feet, you're cooked. So I have to say that this area has been my biggest focus in preparing for The Beast.

I already have a pair of Seirus Stormsocks that I absolutely love. They keep your feet toasty and dry and fit like a second skin. But I recently learned about another cold-and-wet proof sock that I thought beared some investigation. SealSkinz sounded like they may provide a bit more protection if the conditions turn out to be either very wet or extremely cold. So, wanting to be prepared for anything, I bought a pair.

Yesterday it was a sunny and 18 degrees F outside. Not brutally cold, I thought, but I thought I would take this chance to test-drive the SealSkinz. Once I got out the door I realized that it wasn't the balmy 18 degrees that it appeared to be looking out the window. The wind was kicking-up pretty good and the windchill was certainly in the single digits, if not below zero. Excellent opportunity for the SealSkinz. I ran 8.8 miles and my feet stayed toasty warm the whole time. The one thing that I did notice is that the SealSkinz are a bit bulkier than the StormSocks. And toward the end of the run (probably about 1 1/4 miles left) I found that my feet were actually too warm. My conclusion is that the SealSkinz, unless the daytime conditions are brutally cold (near or below zero) will likely be reserved for the night-time running of The Beast when I am likely to be moving slower and the temps dropping down even colder.

The one thing that I discovered about the SealSkinz, which I found pretty cool, is that they really are a very weatherproof sock. When I finished my run I took my sneakers off on the porch and walked around in the snow for about 5 minutes in just the SealSkinz and my feet stayed just as warm and dry (dry meaning no sock leakage from the outside, but my toes were already somewhat sweaty from the run). Pretty cool.

So my conclusion is that the SealSkinz socks should be reserved for either the very wet or the very very very cold. I really like them but I can see that it may take me a couple of runs in them to adjust to the bulk, since I am used to a thin sock. And I think that no matter how wet and disgusting your sneakers may get, the SealSkinz will keep your feet warm and dry.

Some (Joe) may think that I have gone a bit over the deep end with my weather-proof socks, but I think that for conquering The Beast successfully, foot care is priority 1.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Preparing To Brave The Beast

Winter training continues. I feel like I am in product test mode. First of all I have been working myself into more "minimalist" running shoes - less shoe bulk, closer to a barefoot feel with the protection of a sneaker. So I checked in with Oregon ultrarunning ace Jeff Browning for his advice. He has been doing some real excellent testing in this department (and offering some great advice on how to transition into running in more minimalist shoes). He suggested trying the INOV-8 X-Talon 212. Sounded good to me, so straight to the Zombierunner website I went and ordered-up my first pair of INOV-8s. They not only look cool but they are nice and narrow and fit my foot great and they are extremely comfortable!

This past Saturday Karen F. and I did a "test-run" on a path along the Chenango River at the Chenanago Valley State Park. It was below zero degrees when I left my house and only slightly warmer at the park (still sub-10 degrees), very little sun, and a bit of wind. This would prove to be an excellent test for the upcoming Beast of Burden race that I am preparing for. We ran a 2.8-mile out and back along the river, utilizing the warm restrooms and our cars as refuelling stations. The highlight of the day was that we were watched for two out-and-backs by a pair of bald eagles that Karen tells me nest nearby. How amazing it was to see these awesome birds up close - I had never seen one in real life before. I was absolutely stunned by their size and beauty!

So here are some reviews/findings that I discovered in our 5 1/2 hour, 23.2-mile run. This test run on this brutally cold day proved to be probably the most important thing in preparation for The Beast . . . had we not done this, I think I could have made some potentially bad choices that could ruin my race.

1. Hydration I wore a waist pack carrying two CamelBak insulated drink bottles. The water in the bottle did not freeze, however, water that splashed above the insulted bottle portion into the cap and mouthpiece did!

2. Fuel I carried a flask of Hammer Perpetueum (in concentrated paste form), which my stomach tolerated very well. However, I carried the flask in the chest pocket of my Nathan vest and this did not provide insulation and the paste froze in the mouthpiece - fortunately I was able to remove the cap and get some of the frozen slush out to keep me fuelled. Hammer Endurolytes - at the rate of about 2 caps per hour (since I was not noticeably sweating) worked well to keep the electrolyte balance.

3. Clothing I wore my Seirus Stormsocks and my feet stayed dry and toasty-warm for the entire run! These things are a dream; I have been utilizing the same pair for 3 winters now and after multiple washings/dryings they still keep my tootsies warm and dry. Love 'em. Sweating did not seem to be an issue at all - I stayed dry and only changed my shirts & jacket once (and only then because I needed a jacket that would go over my hydration pack to see if this would help keep the bottle caps from freezing). I didn't even have to change into dry clothing for the drive home. And I did try the face mask out - that didn't last long. I am not a fan of having my face and mouth covered, no matter what the temp. I prefer slathering Vaseline on my skin and have found this to be a very effective skin protectant (although a bit messy). And my hands stayed dry and warm with just glove liners on - hands pulled inside my jacket sleeves when necessary.

On the drive home (1 hour, 20 minutes) I refuelled with 16 ounces of chocolate milk, some salt & vinegar potatoe chips, root beer, and a fish sandwich. And then I treated myself to some excellent black olive and feta cheese pizza, chicken wings (OK, not healthy but I earned them!) and an Arrogant Bastard Ale. Awoke on Sunday feeling great and ready to run again.

This trial run was exactly what I needed. Yesterday I pulled out my old CamelBak Flashflo and attached the insulated drinking hose and gave that a trial on a 7-mile run in 6 degree weather with winds a bit higher than Saturday's run. A bit of ice build-up was noted in the cap over the mouthpiece, which I think could have been avoided by blowing the water back out of the mouthpiece and into the hose after taking a drink. I will have to test-drive this unit on a longer run, but I think this is going to be the most effective method of carrying fluids.

So that's where I'm at with winter training. This is really fun! I only hope that we don't incur something awful like a warm spell for the race! I am totally looking forward to the challenge of some brutal conditions. So . . . Cowgirl Up! and let the games begin!!