Friday, April 29, 2011

Gear: Moving Comfort "Alexis" Sports Bra

Moving Comfort Alexis Sports BraUpdate: Totally not discontinued! I don't know what happened; maybe they just wanted to give it a little break before re-launching with some new patterns. I can't even tell you how relieved I am that this bra is still freely available.

This review maybe a moot one, given how difficult this bra has been to find in recent weeks. I haven't been able to find any official word on it being discontinued, but most places seem to be closing it out, and sizes and colors have been very limited. Still, it's my favorite sports bra of all time, so I figure I kind of owe it.

The thing about running is that, if you are even remotely close to well-endowed, it can be tough to keep things in place. (One study I read found that boobs can cover a whopping eight inches of vertical distance with each step. Ouch.) There was a time in my life when I was not terribly picky about sports bras and just grabbed whichever one was on sale at the sporting goods chain near my house. For some reason it took me much, much longer than it should have to make the connection between the quality of a sports bra / the time you invest in finding a good one and how comfortable said bra is after ten miles or so. Since then, I've been on the hunt for the perfect support system, and while I've found plenty of reasonably fine candidates, it wasn't until Alexis from Moving Comfort that I felt my runner girl boobs had finally come home.

I've worn a lot of "high impact" sports bras in my life, but this is the first one I've worn where, no matter what I do, nothing moves, which I attribute to a) exceptionally sturdy materials, b) individual cups, and c) compression like nobody's business. Plenty of sports bras I've worn have one or two of these going on; all three is the reason I own five of these, though.

The website describes Alexis as "designed for smaller-cupped women" in the A/B range, but even as a 36C, I've been quite happy in a medium. It does fit a bit snugly, but as a runner that's exactly what I want. The materials are synthetic and breathable, keeping skin (relatively) dry and comfortable, and shoulder straps are adjustable. It does not come cheap (I've mostly seen it in the $34-36 range), but when I find something that's well-made from sturdy materials that WORKS, I'm willing to spend a little extra.

So, I really do hope Moving Comfort continues making this design. Highly, highly recommend!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shoe Review: Mizuno Wave Musha 3

Mizuno Wave Musha 3

Brand: Mizuno
Style: racing flat
Pronation: performance stability
Weight: 7-8 oz (per shoe), depending on size
Heel-Toe Drop: mild

I've been toying with the idea of getting a pair of racing flats for a while now. Initially, I was just curious about how much cutting down on the weight of my shoes might improve my times in shorter races; armed with some information and guidance from articles like this one from Running Times, I took some birthday money over to Road Runner Sports and spent some time running barefoot on a treadmill and talking to their guys about what I wanted out of a flat.

The trouble for me when it comes to more minimalist shoes is over-pronation. I have extremely flexible ankles and high arches, which is why I generally run in a stability shoe. Real racing flats, the super-super-light ones, are almost always neutral shoes -- there's just not enough to them to add in much support. Or, rather, adding the extra support structures starts to defeat the point of a super-light shoe. RRS did had several examples of slightly heavier flats designed for mild over-pronators ("performance stability" shoes), but I have yet to see a pair of flats analogous to motion control shoes (designed for more severe over-pronators).
I can't remember all the models now, but I tried on shoes from Puma and Saucony first. Next was a shoe from Brooks called the Green Silence, which intrigued me because of its environmental friendliness (made from recycled plastic, and with a biodegradable midsole; in case you weren't aware, traditionally made running shoes are NOT particularly environmentally friendly and you should be sure to recycle them through programs like Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe & Nike Grind instead of sending them to the landfill. They often have a booth at bigger races, so look for them, & bring your old pairs along).

In the end, though, it was the Mizuno Wave Musha 3's that fit the best, were the most comfortable on my feet, and provided the best support for my pronation issues. (We did end up adding a molded insert for a little more stability, but they were still the closest of any of the pairs I tried without them.) Also, the added stability support didn't end up adding all that much weight. While there are performance neutral flats out there that get down into the 4-5 oz range like the Merrell Pace Glove (4.7 oz) and the Nike LunaRacer (4.5 oz.), most of them still run in the 6-7 oz range. At 6.8 oz., the Mizunos are right in there (not the weight RRS lists on the site, but what I got when I weighed one at home).

In the last couple of months, I've been gradually getting used to running in them. (If you're used to traditional running shoes, you'll definitely want to spend some time transitioning into flats.) At this point I can run up to four or five miles in them without too much trouble, though my calves are still usually sore. I'd like to get to the point where I feel comfortable racing 10Ks in them this summer, but that's still a ways off. I definitely still wear the Kayanos for anything over 5-6 miles and only run in the Mizunos maybe 3-4 days per week. Can't wait to race in them this summer. :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shoe Review: Asics Kayano Gel 16

Asics Kayano Gel 16

Brand: Asics
Style: trainer
Pronation: stability/support
Weight: 11.2 oz (per shoe)
Heel-Toe Drop: significant

So, I've decided to start adding gear reviews, sprinkled in among the rest of the posts. It seems to make sense to start off reviewing my own stuff, since, y'know, it's what I've got. And where better to start than with shoes? :)

Over the course of my running life, I've worn a few different brands, usually for several years at a time, and when I've made a switch it's been for good reasons. I first started wearing Kayanos about three years ago. My last fitting had been four years before and I'd begun having some strange foot pain as I got closer to wearing out my current pair.

Instead of just buying another pair of the same, I went in for a fitting at See Jane Run & then jogged around in several different pairs, including the new version of my old shoe, the Kayanos, and a few others. That's the part where I tend to have a hard time choosing shoes sometimes because it can be hard to tell a real difference between pairs. As soon as I'd slipped my feet into the Kayanos, though, my eyebrows went up and I think I might have uttered a quiet "Oh..." of pleasant surprise. None of the other shoes had felt uncomfortable, but wearing these shoes felt like running with thick, luxurious, firm-yet-squishy pillows wrapped around your feet.

My previous pair had had a firmer upper, which sometimes rubbed uncomfortably against the tops of my feet (I have some bones that stick out at funny angles); the Kayanos are definitely softer and more flexible there. If you like a stiffer foot bed, this is probably not your shoe; there's a good bit of cushioning and a lot of give. The downside is that the relatively large heel-toe drop can make it a little tougher to consistently strike fore- or midfoot; between that and all the cushioning, you can fall back into striking heel-first without the unpleasant feedback that would ordinarily make you stop.

Currently, I wear the Kayanos for anything over a 10K. I did add molded inserts for a little extra stability, but other than that, I've been super-happy with this shoe. In fact, they're so comfortable on my feet that I actually got a second pair, just for general walking-around in. Highly recommend. :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Audacity of Positive Self-Talk

Lately I’ve been reading Tim Noakes’ classic, The Lore of Running. In his section about the physiology of running and just what it is genetically that makes elite runners so much better than the rest of us, Noakes discusses an idea called the Central Governor theory. In it, he posits that our brains can (and do) subconsciously calculate how much physical exertion our bodies can safely endure, taking into account earlier experience with strenuous exercise, the planned duration of the activity, and the body's present metabolic state. What we feel as fatigue is supposedly the Central Governor limiting neural recruitment of muscle fiber in order to protect the heart from anoxia damage. According to Noakes, towards the end of a hard race when we’re exhausted and pushing ourselves as hard as we can and doing everything in our power to persuade ourselves to keep going and not to slow down or stop, it’s the Central Governor that we’re trying to persuade.;

While the CG’s control over our exertion levels is supposedly subconscious and not something we can consciously override, Noakes also suggests that we can get better at persuading it to let us work a little bit harder than it really wants to let us. This, he says, is what we really mean by mental training or developing “mental toughness.” If you’re not used to pushing through the discomfort of exercising hard when you’re tired, the Central Governor probably won’t have too difficult of a time convincing you to back off a little, take a walking break, or cut your run short. The more we train ourselves mentally, the better we get at resisting the Central Governor’s attempts to slow us down.;

Later on, Noakes also discusses a well-known concept in sports (and a number of other areas): the idea of self-talk. You can think of self-talk as your involuntary internal monologue—the spontaneous thoughts that run through your head about what you’re experiencing. When you’re doing something relatively low-stakes (washing dishes, eating lunch, watching TV), your self-talk is likely to be fairly quiet and more or less dispassionate. In higher stakes pursuits (a job interview, an exciting first date, or important competition), our self-talk gets louder and more emotionally charged. In particular, self-talk plays a crucial role in determining how we respond to challenging situations because it is based on what we believe about ourselves, our circumstances, and our ability to influence events.;

For example, right before a race, my self-talk tends to include thoughts like, “I wish this race would just start,” “I’m so ready to run this,” “I hope everything goes well and nothing catastrophic happens,” etc. At the beginning of the race, when I’m still fresh and running comfortably, it tends to be along the lines of, “I feel great. I could keep this pace all day,” “Careful, not too fast yet,” etc.;

The last 25% of the race, though, is another story completely. As Noakes puts it, “If the self-talk I experienced was the same as that heard by others, its simple message was always the same: ‘Stop running this race, now.’” (530) What I find interesting is the connection that Noakes makes between self-talk and the Central Governor. The way he sees it, at that point in the race, if you are truly racing, it is the Central Governor that is in charge of the self-talk, and it has one goal: to get you to stop running as soon as possible.

If I have trained properly, planned well, and executed well, the first half of any race is relatively easy. The third quarter is tougher but manageable. It’s in that last killer quarter that things get rough. My legs burn. My mouth goes dry. My diaphragm struggles to move air in and out of my lungs. I fight the urge to compulsively check my Garmin; the seconds between each tenth of a mile it ticks off seem interminable.

I have often had the experience in that last quarter of feeling like two people with vastly different and very strongly held beliefs about what my physical body should be doing. On one shoulder is the part of me that desperately wants to set a PR or get on the podium or meet some qualifying standard or other; on the other is (you guessed it) my Central Governor. Whereas Noakes’ CG seems to be rather blunt and straightforward, mine is more insidious and manipulative. She knows better than to issue cut-and-dried edicts like, “Stop running now.” Instead, she whispers dark, semi-empathetic lines like, “You know…this race isn’t THAT important. You could stop now and no one would ever know if you didn’t tell them. They wouldn’t even think less of you if you did tell them. It’s not like this is the Olympics or anything. Or just slow down a bit. Jog for a minute or two. You can always pick up the pace again later. Why would you want to put yourself through this anyway?” Oh, she’s a wily and conniving bitch, my Central Governor, and she knows all the right buttons to push. When it comes to running, she is by far my most formidable opponent. I can accept getting beaten by other humans; I can’t accept getting beaten by her.

For me, the last quarter and what you face there lies at the very heart of competitive running. "In each race," says Noakes, "a point is reached at which it becomes necessary to face the mental challenges posed by self-talk and to develop mental strategies to cope, regardless of whether you are finishing first or last in the race." (530) This is that point. In my first few distance races, it took me by surprise; this was one aspect of my training that my earliest coaches had sorely neglected. I was unprepared for that barrage of negative self-talk and could do nothing but flail helplessly through it like a non-swimmer in the open ocean, grasping desperately at any shred of hope that happened to float my way.

To quote Jacqueline Gareau (1980 Boston Marathon champ), "The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy." Since those early races, I've developed several strategies of my own for stroking through the turbulence. One the most effective ones involves creating a loop of positive talk in my mind ahead of time. The loop is a combination of quotes and phrases that tend toward the aggressive and audacious (probably because that's where I see my strength as a runner; I will likely never be the most genetically gifted runner on a starting line but there is some chance I can be the most aggressive and willing to suffer). I see it sitting there in my mind like a little tape recorder, right by the CG, standing by and ready to go at the first sign of distress and dark thoughts. Over time I've continually added to it, and after twenty-some-odd years, I've got quite the collection going. Sometimes I like to read over them the night before a race, just to keep the loop fresh. I thought I'd share it here, in case it rings true for someone, as a runner or in some other aspect of life. Some of it is a bit cliché, but that doesn't make it any less true; in that dark, desperate last killer quarter, things have to be a little over the top in order to drown out that bitch of a Central Governor with her moaning and excuses.;

Without further ado, the Loop of Audacity:

  • "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts." ~Steve Prefontaine
  • Fatigue makes cowards of us all." ~Vince Lombardi
  • "The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It's your mind you have to convince." ~Vince Lombardi
  • "Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up." ~George S. Patton
  • "Effort is only effort when it begins to hurt." ~José Ortega y Gassett
  • "No one is ever hurt. Hurt is in your mind." ~Vince Lombardi
  • "I must become a lion-hearted girl, ready for a fight." ~Florence Welch
  • "I came here for a fight, and I will fight to the end." ~Carlos Sastre (Or, alternatively, "I came here for a fight, and this is the fight.")
  • "The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." ~Vince Lombardi
  • "Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit." ~Vince Lombardi
  • "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." ~Aristotle
  • "What counts is what you do when the pain sets in." ~John Short (similarly, "Anyone can run hard when s/he's fresh. The measure of a runner is how hard s/he can run when s/he's exhausted beyond all reason.")
  • "Pain is nothing compared to what it feels like to quit." (unknown) (similarly, "This is nothing compared to how you'll feel if you finish knowing you could've run harder, that you traded your best effort for a little temporary comfort.")
  • "Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?" ~Peter Maher (along the same lines - "How bad do you want it? How bad are you willing to hurt?")

And to be honest, I think this is one of the ways I deal with not having won the genetic lottery and not having the luxury of triple-digit weeks. Like I mentioned before, I won't be the fastest or physically strongest runner out there, but what I do have a shot at is winning the mental battle, at beating my whiny, conniving bitch of a Central Governor into submission with sheer audacity. That, at least, is something I can say I've gotten really, really good at. :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Race Report: Santa Cruz Half Marathon & 10K

Santa Cruz Half Marathon & 10KI've been avoiding the 10K for a long, long time. Like 10 years.

Psychologically, I'm cool with the half marathon because, for all that it's a long race, you spend most of it running relatively slowly, and when you do finally push the pace near the end, you're physically limited in how fast you can actually make yourself run. Likewise, I don't worry too much about the 5K because, for all that it's a punishing pace the whole time, it's over in 20 minutes. The 10K, on the other hand, seemed to embody the worst of both worlds: though the pace is slower than a 5K, it's not all THAT much slower, and you have to keep it up for more than twice as long. After 10 years, I don't actually remember previous 10K's all that well, but my amygdala has done a pretty good job since then of convincing me that I don't really need to. And while you're at it, no new memories either, please.

The original plan for this year was to spend January and February in physical therapy getting healthy again and then set my sites back on breaking 1:40 in the half marathon this summer or fall. I was excited about this plan. I was less excited about the advice I got from a long-time running mentor: "If you want to improve your half marathon, spend a few months working on your 10K."

No. I was definitely not excited about this advice. At all. But I respected it enough to believe it. Besides, I figured, it's been 10 years; it's really time to find out what I can do at that distance.

So I registered for Santa Cruz in February. I was in physical therapy at the time but felt sure I'd be done and cleared for serious training again by March; that would leave me plenty of time to get in good enough shape for at least setting some kind of reasonable benchmark. Within a few weeks, though, my hip informed me that alternate plans had been made. Unfortunately, it was too late to change mine.

My physical therapists were displeased but tried to be good sports, which I appreciated. All-out training was out of the question, so I decided that ~60% of the mileage I would've planned otherwise was probably a good compromise. Basically, I replaced all the short, easy maintenance runs in my schedule with PT work and did 3-4 high-quality runs (a speed workout, a race-pace run, a long run, and a tempo run if I could manage it) each week. Better than nothing, I reasoned. Then, to top it all off, I was down with a back spasm pretty much all day Saturday the day before the race.

But damned if I didn't finish 9th in the women's division, 5th in my age / gender group, and beat my projected time by over two minutes. :)

Location: Santa Cruz, CA, near the Boardwalk

Date: Mid-April (Apr. 10, 2011 this year)

Price: Half - $45 by 10/25, $50 by 1/1, $65 by 4/3, $70 after. 10K - $35 by 10/25, $40 by 2/28, $55 by 4/3, $60 after.

Deadline: 4/9, assuming there are spots; there is no race day registration.

Sellout Factor: Not sure. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it sold out, but I never actually heard.

The Expo: No expo, which is just fine with me. Logistics SC Starting LineVery few complaints here. As long as you arrive early, parking is easy and potentially free. The big Boardwalk lot is maybe 100 yards from the start and you can park there for $10. If you're running the 10K or are speedy enough to finish the half marathon before 10 am (gun for the half is at 8 & the 10K is at 8:15), then you can park by an equally close meter for a lot less (just be sure to drop in coins by 10 am for however much longer you plan to stay). Once more: Parking is easy, as long as you arrive early. I was earlier than usual due to the fact that I was staying in Carmel and had to make close to an hour-long drive that morning to a place I'd never been, so I hit the road early. Since I had no trouble with directions or traffic, I ended up arriving at the Boardwalk around 6:30 in the morning. At that point, the entire lot and most meters were completely empty, and people were just starting to arrive. Basically, I had my pick of anywhere I wanted to park and had plenty of time to grab my bib and have a nice, leisurely warm up. By 7:30, though, the line to park was around two blocks. There was still plenty of space as far as I could tell; there were just so many people trying to get in and park that it was taking a long time. So I definitely heard from runners who had to leap out of the car and book it to the start (and one who did so 11 minutes after the half marathon gun). So yes; I definitely advise arriving on the early side, especially if you don't have a driver with you.

Race day pickup was free (awesome), port-o-johns were plentiful, and the post-race spread was varied and generous. The reasonably small size of the fields (about 2500 in the half & 1500 in the 10K) meant pre- & post-race wasn't an absolute mad house. No sweat check, but since it's an out-and-back course and parking was so close to the start, this wasn't really a problem. My only real complaint is the posting of results. At many races I've run, preliminary results have been physically posted as soon as there's a top three in each category, then reposted completed once everyone has finished. In Santa Cruz, I think they waited until every single, solitary runner had finished before they posted anything. I can't say I really enjoyed waiting twice as long to see my official time as it took me to run the race; otherwise I would've been on the road back to Carmel by 9:30.

The Course

SC Finish LineI can't speak for the half marathon course other than the first & last 1.55 miles it shared with the 10K. Other than one reasonably sized hill right at the beginning, my impression of the 10K course was that it was very close to flat most of the time. I think there was a very, very slight uphill grade on the way out and a comparable downhill grade on the way back, with a few very mild rolling hills on the coastal trail, but certainly nothing overly taxing. Most of the race is on paved road and trail, except for the last 20 yards or so to reach the finish line on the beach. (Initially, I was worried about this, but it really was a very, very short distance and the sand was packed down quite well.) And speaking of the beach & coastal trail, it really doesn't get much more scenic.


Front of ShirtDefinitely for the half marathon, this is one of the better deals I've seen out there if you're all about the schwag (and are planning far enough ahead that you get signed up early enough to take advantage of the lower prices). $45 for a gorgeous half, a hefty medal (free engraving if you want), and a pretty nice shirt (albeit cotton) is hard to beat! At that price, you can even afford to pay the $15 to upgrade to a technical shirt if you want. 10K finishers receive a shirt, which for this price is pretty much par for the course. As I've said before, Back of Shirtit's tough to get all THAT excited about a cotton race shirt, but this one was actually pretty nice & tasteful (read: not covered in ads). Also, although I wasn't quite speedy enough to get one, the overall & age/gender awards looked quite attractive. There's always next year, I suppose. ;)

Overall, this was just a really fun race and a beautiful course. The 10K was great, and I would LOVE to run the half marathon sometime. For the next few weeks, at least, it's time for me to throw my poor PTs a bone, put my feet up for a while, and let my hips and tibia really, truly heal. I am still determined to get my half marathon back under 1:40 this year, which means I need to be solid and healthy and ready for a long, hard summer of 10K work.