Monday, June 22, 2015

XTERRA Gator Bait 5k

Legendary Coach Dr. Joe Vigil once stated along the lines that the most important asset a distance runner can have is "ongoing commitment to improvement". When I heard this at a seminar last year, I really liked it and find it is a refreshing perspective for me to apply to my running.

Yesterday I raced XTERRA Series' Gator Bait 5k at Hunstville State Park;  my second race for the month of June and I must say, the type of race and surface was only a minor differentiating factor. 6/6's Heights 5k and yesterday's race could not have felt any different, and that is because even though they were just separated by 2 weeks or so, I felt like two different runners in each. Even though today's conditions were comparable or even worse than before (think 80 + degrees at the start and humidity you could actually see), I was better prepared and able to meet the demands of the day and I was able to both have some fun in a painful sense and tap into that sense of toughness that I take pride in as an athlete.

Besides having a plan to just run hard and shoot for Top 3, a big reason I had a better experience today vs. earlier on a much easier course is obvious to me but not to the audience because I was hiding and fighting a case of greater troncanteric bursitis in my right hip. No wonder it had been sore and I had limited mobility for the greater part of a month! Of course I raced Heights with it, because I could, but was far from being able to really jump in and get after it-hip health and strength is really important, and it makes running easier and often more enjoyable!

Shortly after that race, I got tired of thinking about my hip and workouts taking much more energy than necessary and I finally went to Dr. Keith Johnson at Sterling Ridge Sports Medicine. Within 15 minutes of my appt, I was able to have a diagnosis of the problem and my very first cortisone shot. Believe it or not it was not nearly as painful or scary as I thought-and I am not a fan of needles.

Please note that while getting an injection can patch you up, the root cause of the issue needs to be addressed as well. I am also getting some PT sessions in because bursa inflammation there is usually related to IT band tightness, which is related to weak hip girdle and core muscles. Two days later I hit up the golf course nearby and was utterly shocked at how fast my turnover and mechanics came back and running 6;30 pace no longer felt like a monumental task.

So several daily exercises and form drills and another chiro session with Athletic Republic's Derrick Raymer later we're back to the current race....

Gear-wise, I am happy to say no shoes came off in this race! I wore my Nike Zoom Wildhorse 2's and they performed fantastically on Huntsville State park's hard packed dirt, roots, and 1000 or so turns on the course. I decided to not wear the Oiselle Singlet and instead sported a Tracktion sports bra and my Distance/"Feather" shorts on the trail because of the oppressive conditions. There was also a 15k this morning as well, seriously, those folks are tough!

The combination of a light trail shoe with a nice little adrenaline surge and my rediscovered mobility made for a probably too-fast first mile that I don't really regret, however. I always like to race the familiar trails at HSP aggressively and today was no different. The 5k and 15k split off approx. a mile down the course which included some obnoxiously long (although not terribly steep) hill. Ugh. Whatever. According to my watch, I hit the turnoff at 6:32....I don't know if it was exactly one mile, but the front group I went with was going awfully fast...whoops:)

This is where it became less of a straight shot and much more challenging. With one girl a few seconds ahead, we headed out on a nature trail with countless turns and throw in some dirt stairs, aka tree roots on an incline and I did my best to just stay focused on staying above the ground and keeping pressure on the leader. I had no idea of pacing at this point and didn't really care. As taxing as the course was in SE Texas summertime, I was enjoying the experience of running pain-free and being back up front-even if the race wasn't a very big one. I did look back a few times to do some "chick checks" to make sure I could maintain the rhythm I was on and there was nobody in sight. Nice! Keep pushing.

The last few minutes of the race the course and my effort caught up to me and breathing was not an easy thing. Fortunately, the finishing stretch came basically out of nowhere after some more hairpin-like turns in the woods and then it was just about two mini-hills and a straight shot to the now-visible finish chute that I was more than happy to see. What I like to do to manage the fatigue is to lock my eyes upon the word 'Finish' as I make the final push. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough to run down the winner, but came in a convincing second overall female and 1st AG.

After it taking me a minute or two to gather myself again, the gassed feeling was met with satisfaction and a little relief that I had ran tough and fairly aggressively for the first time in a while; largely because I was physically capable of doing so. Sport Psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr once wrote that in order to be able to tap into your mental toughness, you need to have a sound body (i.e. no injuries, hydration, fuel, rest, etc.) and I think he is absolutely right.

I ran probably the slowest 20-minute cool down ever and was able to visit with some people I haven't seen in a while before awards. For a small race, there were a few really strong runners out there yesterday! XTERRA and Terra Firma Racing put on a pretty good race. I have done a number of trail events and this one had by far the best marked course of them all-bright arrows were placed at every turn and it was near-impossible to get lost. The race staff was also very friendly and laid-back. Depending on timing and location, I'd be likely to run another race put on by them.

In closing, I feel I ran a good effort and achieved what I went out to do on a well-marked, fairly well-organized race. . I may just have gained a little more confidence from this event as well as well as having some hot, tiring fun running through nature. As the opening quote reads, what I really want from racing is improvement from where I am/was, and I definitely saw some For the rest of the summer, I plan on stepping back on the racing and continuing laying down a solid base for when the Fall and Winter season hits. I am starting to form some longer term goals that will be more fully articulated as the months progress.

I would also like to thank Sterling Ridge Sports Medicine and Dr. Derrick for getting me back physically where I belong and my lovely sponsors Oiselle and Honey Stinger.

Stay the course.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Heights 5k Race Report: "Control What You Can Control"

The athletes I consult with in my practice probably get annoyed with how many times I give them the title statement. But I don't care-because it is one of the most universal truths in sport performance. It's a tenet that we need to regularly practice in order to be successful in sports and in life (and sometimes just make it through the day). Yesterday morning I ran the Heights 5k in one of Houston's classiest and well-preserved neighborhoods that is very runner-friendly. The race itself was an interesting one, to say the least....

I signed up last month knowing what I was getting myself into: the course is fantastic-flat and fast with a slight downhill going out on tree-lined Heights Boulevard. Given the nature of the course and long-running history of the race, it brings out some of the fastest runners in Houston. I also knew it was going to be likely very hot and humid-cue Uncontrollable #1. My main goals were to just get out there in my Oiselle Kit and re-establish some comfort with the race environment and push through some hurt; I think I succeeded on both.

Another thing I think I did well on was not fixate on any outcomes, because I have been having difficulty with the humidity and the fastest I've run in workouts has been tempo pace (which I am developing a good relationship with, but I'll save that for another post!).  This served me very well because if this was a few years ago, I would have had a relative meltdown afterward, and here is why:


I think I did a good job getting fluids in and had my usual bagel with almond butter and sports drink breakfast. For some reason this summer my appetite hasn't been as big as years previous, but I made sure I got some fuel in two hours prior, then some Honey Stinger chews beforehand to stabilize the blood sugars. Then it was a quick gear check and off to the Heights. I had some of the usual pre-race nerves, but they weren't as intense as usual.
Thanks to Oiselle, my uniform game is on point! To the L, you'll see the culprit.

At the race site I met Coach Doug and he was kind enough to run with me for the first mile of my warm up. Silly as it sounds, I really appreciated having him jog alongside me for a bit as we talked shop. Strategy wasn't much of a thing for this one, so I just loosened up in my pre-race two miles. It was a good day too to test out my new pair of Nike Lunaracer flats that I picked up recently.

It was about 20 minutes when the anxiety set in; but it was different. It was more somatic/physical than a head full of doubts and fear (I do this for a living, so I should know what to fill my head with pre-race LOL). One thing that was an aberration-even for me-is how much I was sweating before the race. I am a heavy sweater.

Ok make that I "sweat like a 300 pound offensive lineman who hasn't worked out all summer and did nothing but eat fried chicken and drink grape soda at his first practice". And there is not much I can do about it.

Unfortunately for me, I think nerves exacerbated the 85% humidity sweat-fest well before the race, this had me a little concerned, but I just went with the flow anyway. Grossed out yet??! Anyway I took some quick 4-7-8 breaths to settle my body down and then it was go time.

The start was really fast, but I expected it and simply got on my goal pace of 6:35-just under my current tempo pace that I have been able to hit fairly successfully lately. First mile I was right on the money. Boom-except my legs didn't have much snap in them...ummm.....crap. I was hot before I started afterward and soon after the turnaround I heated up some more. "Just relax, focus down the course...." I told myself and shook it off. I know 5ks are uncomfortable, but this one took the gloves off and smacked me around a bit!

While Houston and its nasty-a$$ humidity were trying to abuse me and my muscular non-runner body self, I felt something happening down around my right ankle.....NO it wasn't an injury, and it started with me feeling something repeatedly hitting my left shin. It was my right shoe coming untied. I worked on staying focused and grinding it out through the sauna-it's good to adapt to little challenges along the way, right? . Then I felt my right shoe start loosening even more and my ankle and heel started sliding out with each foot strike. 

"Great, I feel like death and my shoe is flapping around..." 

At about mile 2.25 I had had enough, I was far from winning the race and that thing was going to fly off, so I made the difficult move and moved off the course to re-position my foot and strap that thing back down. Instead of being upset, I found myself amused by the whole thing as this was definitely a first and its something I couldn't control. Note: if I was in a better position that day or it was closer to the finish, I totally would have taken off with just a left shoe!

Granted I lost anywhere from 20-45 seconds (overheated race brain doesn't tell time very well) I gave it one last push with what I had left. Thankfully, I think I only lost one spot in female positioning even after the shoe incident. I had abandoned any pace plan and was just running with what I had left. I finished in not a personal-worst in a 5k but nothing to brag about 21 and change. Minus the shoe change and the time loss, my average per-mile pacing was in line with my threshold training at a high 6:00 mile average.

I was lightheaded at the finish and downed a bottle of water before cooling down. surprisingly, my legs came back very quickly. In fact, besides not having good turnover in the race (according to Doug but I agree) I don't remember my legs burning at all, it was all lungs that kept my pace governed. I cooled down with Kirsten, another Bayou City Elite runner who was second master in a fast field. It was nice to have a low key "team" feel to this race and I enjoyed meeting her and her company at the start and finish of the race.

Takeaways and Reflections

Besides the shoe incident (_insert Nike joke here_), I did my best with what I had. Maybe it's getting older, but I am slowly changing my mindset as a runner. I care a lot about how I do, but "bad" performances are not defining or indicative of what I can do.

Also, the uncontrollable factors, especially climate, are real. It doesn't mean I'm not a mentally tough athlete. I did some quick research and talked to Doug about how runners with more muscle generate more heat, and also have trouble dissipating it, while I'm not a big girl by any stretch, I have no trouble maintaining muscle mass-basically I'm just a big furnace!. The more I learn from those who know, the less I feel like I'm making excuses. So that means two things for summer racing: slow it down or just don't do it at all. Knowing it's something I can't change is kind of comforting and makes me optimistic for the Fall-Spring season, when my 5k times reflect more accurately where I'm at.

I walked away feeling pretty neutral about the race-I came, I ran, I learned. I ended up 5th in the AG, missing a spot or two with the wardrobe malfunction. Heights is competitive, so finishing up top for 30-34 on a rough day is ok with me.  Being someone notoriously hard on herself, I'm improving in seeing races just for what they are. This one could have sucked a lot more but it didn't.

There are some things I can adjust to and do differently. Coach was able to see my running form and it was confirmed why I was running so flat-my turnover has slowed down considerably and I am landing far on the forefoot. A lot of this may be compensation to a sore hip I've been battling over the past month or so, but time to tune it up again. So re-incorporating drills to re-train the muscles and stepping up the core work is in order. Plyometric training really helped me last year, and I will start a program back up again in upcoming weeks.

Next up is a totally different type of 5k: the Xterra Gator Bait race on 6/21. After this last one, I'm wanting a little payback before probably shutting the summer racing down some and focusing on my #summerofstrength further. I've always felt in control on trails and felt confident with the twists and turns vs. drag-race style racing.

So there are many things that I couldn't influence yesterday, but I walk away motivated to make the best of what I got and my training for this summer.

The Event Itself

It's obvious they have been holding this event for a long time: the race seemed well-organized and had a lot of nice things post-race, including trendy food trucks and coffee and everyone was very friendly. As I mentioned earlier-the course is great, PR-worthy if you have it in you that day. If you are a swag-hound, however, this may not be the race for you-there were no finisher medals or anything, just the pride of pounding the Houston summer street! I will be back again, and it will hurt, but I'm going to drop some next year-with two functional shoes!

Bottom Line

This will be a race I look back on and laugh at from here on. I had a great time and enjoyed the gift of running-everything including the race, the community, the experience of getting stronger by pushing yourself. That's what keeps me in it. Even in community 5ks, we can learn a lot about ourselves, what we're strong in, how to do with/accept what you have as an athlete and how to make the best out of it.

Anyone else race over the weekend? What are some of your best "race-day fails"?

Stay the course.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Shoe Review: Nike Zoom Vomero 10

Let's begin with the fact that I used to hate Nike, Ok, I said it, and it was mostly personal and arbitrary reasons that I will keep off of this blog for now....or probably forever. Anyhow, I digress.... I have a review to write and it's been a while since I've done one of these.

I'll begin with a little background on how I decided to take these kicks on- I went into the Nike Factory Outlet a couple months ago out of boredom and tried a few different pairs on. I had been running mostly in the Adidas Boost line and enjoying them, however, a creeping hip pain  and my latest gait analysis in the Energy Boost 2 indicated my stride had changed, and I looked sloppier wearing Adidas' daily trainer compared to a more traditionally soled shoe. Perhaps the rebound from the TPU midsole became a bit much?  For a Type-A person like me, this left me puzzled and call it vanity, but I've always liked my running form and don't like to see it start falling apart. Although no hard feelings are harbored toward Adidas-what works for one may not work for another.

So back to the Nike experiment: I found a pair of Zoom Elite 7's and thought "these are kinda weird, I think I'll try them on". Long story short, I left the store with them, and really enjoyed the Zoom cushion in the forefoot. That's right, the forefoot, not the heel. When I'm running my best, I tend to be a mid to forefoot striker and I developed a hypothesis after my infamous string of stress injuries that the cushioning may be in the wrong spot for me to be really effective; what I really may benefit from is more up front, since I spend most of my time there anyway. I may be proven wrong, but whatever. While the snappy Elite is a fine shoe, I was looking for a little something that may be more suitable for longer stuff (the Elite is mostly promoted as a tempo trainer vs a mileage soaker) so cue the Vomero 10. *Note that these shoes were a personal purchase. Now, let's begin with some stats and stuff-

The Objective:

Weight: 8.8 oz
Heel to Toe drop: 12mm.
Upper: FlyMesh, an adaptive and fairly attractive lightweight material recently introduced in Nike's lineup along with Nike's FlyWire technology reducing weight and creating some midfoot structure and stability to the shoe and ride.
Midsole: This is where it gets interesting, it uses both Lunarlon and Cushlon materials-with the former in the forefoot and the latter more towards the back of the shoe.
Cushioning:  Nike's Zoom Air Units- What makes the Vomero unique from the Pegasus and the Elite is that it uses the best of both worlds: the Air Peg's have a Zoom unit in the heel, and the Zoom Elite has a Zoom Unit in the forefoot. The Vomero has both (which probably explains the higher price tag compared to the others). Zoom Air is nothing new, but designed to reduce vibration and give the athlete a responsive ride and cushion impact, especially on asphalt or concrete.
Sole: Duralon rubber with a lateral "crash rail" that is supposed to enable a smoother heel to toe transition. Translated: for neutral runners, this enables us to transfer our supinated strides through the gait cycle with a little more cushion and control. The 10 has no sign of any plastic shanks underneath, like in the 9th edition, and continues the trend of full ground contact.
Sticker Price: $140

The Subjective: 

Feel: I've put close to 50 miles so far with distances varying from 4-11ish miles in them. The first day I wore them I was taken aback with how comfortable they are just to stand around in. Day one I wore them to the gym to get used to them, and the next day I had a 5-miler that I ran on asphalt. I'll be honest, It took a few miles to get used to having Zoom units up front and in back, but after a couple miles, my stride smoothed out nicely and I was able to stand up straight and just run naturally. I did notice shoe felt a little tamer underneath after a little bit of a break-in period. Oddly enough, with all the cushion underfoot, I found the ride to not be too terribly marshmallowy as I thought they'd be, but that's not a bad thing, as minimal time contacting the ground is what is ideal anyhow.

Upper & Fit: I love is the Flymesh/Flywire upper combo in terms of fit. I have a fairly weird foot shape-shallow and kinda bony and narrow. What I love about the Flywire is that it immediately wraps around my foot and doesnt let go. Versus the Adidas; midfoot cage, the flywire is barely noticeable but seems to do the job well. People describe a "glove like fit" and for me this model is no exception. These shoes do run a bit narrow in the midfoot, but has a wide toebox; making toe splay a snap and great for those with "diamond shaped feet" (narrow heel and midfoot, longer middle toes and wider forefoot). The shoe is not necessarily low-volume, and it can probably accommodate a number of neutral types and stride patterns.

Cushioning:  I run on soft surfaces most days per week, but would like a shoe where I don't have to think twice about hitting the pavement. Nike did a great job with putting a LOT of cushion in a shoe that is fairly lightweight for it's class. The combination of Lunarlon and Zoom Air creates a responsive, fairly energetic ride; not overly mushy. I like to feel "on top" of the shoe when I run instead of feeling like I'm sinking into every footstrike and this shoe nails it.  While it is far from being a "fast shoe" in my opinion, it has a nice little pop from the toe off which is kinda fun. So far I have taken these out on granite trails, concrete paths, and asphalt. Given that where I live there is a ton of concrete paths I am often hesitant to run on, I have so far experienced little to no grief after running across them in the Vomero.

Sole & Stuff: The sole of the Vomero is interesting. The forefoot has a fair amount or blown rubber with flex grooves around the toes and midfoot area, while cushion is great, it's almost pointless without flexibility. The crash rail extends all around the rear foot and I am assuming it's to match a number or gait patterns-or for marketing purposes. Traction feels pretty decent in them, even on damp roads. I am not sure about long-term durability, but so far the only wear I see is right in the middle of the forefoot (see below).  One thing I would chance in these if I could would be lowering the heel-toe drop a millimeter or two. While not a deal-breaker, these shoes could feel more magical if it encouraged a more natural stride in its cushioned and custom-feeling package.
Wear (and debris) after about 50 miles of use.

Arch support? For a neutral trainer, it's pretty good. I've had no shin pain so far running in the Vomero. I imagine that runners with medium to high arches will enjoy this shoe the most. I also haven't run into any blisters or hotspot issues, even running sockless in them-which is fairly comfortable in these.

Negatives: This is an attractive shoe-the Flymesh is on point when it comes to style, however, the drainage factor is pretty low. For being a relatively small female, I pump out sweat like the best of em, and at the end of a 10-miler you can hear the sweat collect in the shoe with every step, Embarrassing? Nah, but they do get heavy. I live in Southeast Texas where the humidity is off the charts, so those in other regions or with different swear rates will probably not have this issue.

While expected since the shoe is so cushioned, there is little to no ground feel and while the ride is super-smooth, there's not much road feel at all.
As far as flexibility is concerned, the midfoot groove works magnificently with my stride, but it seems to lose some up front. It's not necessarily bothersome, just noticeable and probably related to the forefoot zoom unit. I don't notice me having to adjust my stride or anything for it and I like a little stiffness in my shoes.

The Bottom Line: The Zoom Vomero 10 is a very nice-looking, responsive, and well-cushioned shoe that does well what is was made to do. It uses some fancy technologies without being over-the-top and likely would suit many a neutral runner looking for a good long and easy run shoe. This shoe shines on long runs-I normally have that "trashed" feeling in my legs of varying degrees after longer sessions, but have barely noticed anything wearing these. I have enjoyed running in these so far and hope to put a good few hundred miles on them before replacing, likely with another pair of these.

I'd recommend this shoe to a number of different runners, it seems to be forgiving and adaptive enough to handle a number of body types, competitive levels, and even paces. This is a great option for those like myself who require a little more cushion but don't want to feel like they're running on pudding. And the occasional compliment about how cool they look is always nice too:)

Nike, I was wrong about you on a couple levels and I'm sorry-you do make a nice shoe that I seem to get along with easily.

Stay the course.