Saturday, March 30, 2013

Shoe Review: Mizuno Wave Universe 4

So here is kind of my problem with doing shoe reviews.

1) I am lazy.

2) I am easily distracted by other shiny blog posts.

3) I tend to buy my shoes on the cheap when they are being liquidated because a new model is about to be released or they are about to be discontinued, which makes reviewing them kind of a pointless exercise.

Knowing these things to be true, I am proceeding with this review anyway. If nothing else, maybe it will help me remember what I thought of this shoe in the future when I'm trying out a newer model or looking for a replacement. It looks like there will be a Universe 5 released in July, but technically, this shoe is still current. (Also the color schemes I have seen for that one are absolutely hideous. Seek them out if you want, but I can't bring myself to link to them here.)

I learned about this shoe from Becki's review at The Middle Miles (which, if you're into highly technical, very thorough reviews of LOTS of different shoes from the perspective of a very fast, very serious, very high mileage runner who knows a TON about running and shoes, you should check out). Over the past few years I have been ever-so-gradually trying to work my way into lighter, more flexible shoes, and made a lot of progress. For long, slow runs, I've gone from the super-cushy, super-stiff ASICS Kayano stability shoe at 11.2 ounces... the neutral, solid-yet-semi-flexy Brooks Launch at 7.8.

(This is the shoe I wore for CIM '12 & for most of my long runs training for it.)

It was not until 2011 that I decided to get a lighter, flatter shoe for track speed work & shorter races, & when I did, I went with this one:

Mizuno Wave Musha 3

At the time, this was a CRAZY light, hard, thin-soled shoe for me & running a road 10K in it made my feet ache for days, but when I was running fast, it made me feel like I was flying. These days, I am loving this shoe for easy runs up to 8 miles or so and even longer tempo runs or racing half marathons, and it's still my first choice for racing a road 10K. It still makes me feel like I'm flying, but without the achey feet afterwards.

So you can kind of see where this progression is going. As I get more efficient & my feet get stronger, my long/easy run shoes get lighter, & shoes that I was once only comfortable in for short runs or on the track gradually become my mid-distance / road racing shoes.

So earlier this year I started looking for something even lighter and more flexy to wear on the track (and maybe, if I get really brave, for a road 5K). I read a lot of different reviews & came across lots of appealing candidates, including the Saucony Grid Type A5, the Brooks T7 Racer, the Brooks Mach 13, & the New Balance RC 5000, but it was Becki's review of the Universe that convinced me to give it a try. (The fact that I got them on clearance for less than half price didn't hurt either.)


Becki has done such a thorough job with the technical aspects of the shoe that I'll refer you to that for most of the details rather than re-hash them here. Mostly what I have to offer is my personal take on the shoe & how it compares to others I've run in.

To call the Universe a racing flat maybe overstating matters a bit. Yes, it is super light, totally flat, basically without any cushioning to speak of, and the upper is just soft fabric (you can see how it wrinkles in the picture), but most flats I've run in have had a harder sole and at least some measure of stability in terms of rocking left-to-right. There is none of that here.

"Whaaaaat??? Did she *seriously* just wad that shoe up into a freaking BALL???"

Yeah; that's right. I went there.

The heel is equally squishy, so don't look for stability there either:

You can see that it does have an actual sole on it a few millimeters thick. What it does not have is the Mizuno "Wave" (TM) cushion structure that their more traditional shoes have. There is also a real tread on the bottom, though the rubber is softer and more flexible than on traditional trainers (which might suggest wearing them on concrete regularly would shorten the lifespan? Totally speculating here).

One of my favorite features of this shoe is how the tongue is more vestigial than an actual, functional tongue, which makes it easier to go barefoot in. (And to be honest, the Universe really feels like it wants you to go barefoot in it. Wearing socks with this shoe feels a little like wearing underwear with tights or lined running shorts.)


I've never run in Five Fingers or anything comparable, but besides the sole on the Universe it is hard to imagine anything closer to actually running barefoot. If you're not used to it, the "skin-to-skin" -like contact you get with the track / ground is at once exhilarating and a little unnerving (imagine running on hard ground in, say, bedroom slippers). If you are more accustomed to running with your feet an inch or so removed from whatever surface you're running on & never given much thought to how far off the ground you actually are, this one will get you thinking about it. (Seriously -- in my last two track workouts where I was running 4 x 1200m, I only wore the Universes for the first three just because that's what my feet & legs can handle in them right now, and switching back into Kinvaras or Musha 3's for the last intervals felt SOOO weird and wrong. Like my legs just completely forgot how to run fast, or running fast got significantly harder, as soon as I couldn't feel the track through the soles anymore.)

Before the Universe, the next most minimalist shoe I'd run in was the Brooks Pure Connect, but for me there were two big issues with that shoe that I just could not work around. 1) they are *extremely* narrow, & 2) the sole is kind of over-engineered in my opinion & you can't feel the ground through them at all, which makes it not all that responsive for fast running. (Though I do still like them for easy or tempo runs on the roads up to 8-10 miles, & they'd probably be fine for racing a half as well.) The sole on the Universe, on the other hand, is clearly designed to protect your foot from sharp things and that is about it -- you can feel just about everything else in minute detail. What this means is that if you like a lot of cushioning or run on a lot of gravel or uneven ground, this is probably not the shoe for you, but if you like a more responsive one that gives you a good solid feel for the ground, it might be right up your alley. (Not that these two things are necessarily mutually exclusive.)

One of my biggest complaints with many so-called "minimalist" or "natural" running shoes is the narrowness of the toe box (coughcough*PureConnect*coughcough). If you're selling your shoe as "minimalist," it seems logical to me that there should be space in said shoe for toes to splay out. (I look for this even in ordinary trainers because I think it helps with my PF/shin splints issues.) Happily, the toe box in the Universe is wide and roomy. (I kind of wonder if this is because it comes in men's sizes only. Maybe I should be trying on men's versions of my other favorite shoes too for a wider toe box? There's a thought...) On the other hand, if you are looking for an authentic, glove-like racing flat fit and have narrower feet, you may not find it here.

You might like this shoe if....

  • You have strong feet & an efficient stride & want a SUPER stripped down shoe for track work or short road racing.
  • You are looking for something for smooth, predictable surfaces.
  • You are all up into minimalism & want something of that ilk for basically all of your running. (To quote Becki, "This is as close as you get to huaraches without looking like a caveman.")

You will probably not like this shoe if...

  • You like a pretty traditional shoe.
  • You need / want some extra stability.
  • You like a bit of cushioning.
  • You are looking for a shoe for rocky / muddy / uneven / unpredictable surfaces.
  • You have unresolved foot / lower leg issues. (In very, very small amounts, it might ultimately help build foot / lower leg strength, but otherwise because of the lack of support & cushioning I have a hunch they're just going to magnify any form / strength / biomechanical issues you're already dealing with & make them worse.)

Things I intend to use this shoe for:

  • Speed work
  • Small numbers of easy miles on the track (for the purposes of strengthening my feet)
  • *Maybe* a road 5K if I get really comfy in them

Things I will not be using this shoe for:

  • Marathons
  • Trail running
  • Slow / easy runs on concrete
  • Fast runs on concrete over ~5K


Like most flats this is a unisex shoe sold using men's sizes. For women that means ordering usually 1.5 sizes down from your usual size. Becki noted that the Universe ran just a touch smaller than other Mizunos, and I would agree with that. Typically I can wear a 7.5 or 8 comfortably but have been doing really well in 7.5's all around lately, so I ordered a 6. (Also because they were sold out of 6.5's.) In my left foot I think it's maybe just a smidge short, but because the upper is just soft fabric rather than stiff plastic or leather, I think it will probably be alright given that we're talking about pretty small amounts of miles in them at a time. If I end up ordering another pair at any point, though, I will probably go with a 6.5.

  • Do you / have you ever run in flats?
  • Do you have a strong opinion re: minimalist / stripped down / "natural" running shoes & the marketing thereof?
  • Have you begun obsessively stalking ultra-light shoes & photographing them on a digital scale yet?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Running & Social Media Angst...

So does anyone else think dailymile gets just a little over excited sometimes?

Um, no. Try again. There is no planet on which 28 miles during a marathon cycle counts as ":D Epic!!1!"

Seriously, dm. Chill.

Also filed under "things that bug me on the internet," today I read yet another angst-ridden article on What it Means to Be a Runner. In it, the author reassures runners everywhere that their R-card is not about to be revoked because they didn't help crash the internet sometime in the last few weeks by attempting to sign up for a fall marathon.

"You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you," he wrote earnestly (*not a direct quote), "even if you AREN'T signed up for a fall marathon. You are a perfect little snowflake, just the way you are."

The article concluded with bold, rebellious-sounding quotes from Internet People expounding on how they don't care WHAT their Facebook friends/Twitter feed/blogosphere thinks about that the fact that they're not running a marathon next month, next year, or EVER, they are still RUNNERS, *REAL* runners, goddammit, so everybody can just STFU about marathons. BITCHES.

I finished it kind of blinking into space going, "oh....kay."

This article came on the heels of another one where the author earnestly reassures us that we're still *real* runners even if we don't run like 80 miles a week ("and don't you dare let all the a-holes out there tell you any different!!!"), another a few weeks before that promising me that I'm a *real* runner even if I don't obsessively track my mileage, pace, VO2 max, & resting heart rate using a high-end statistics package ("You have nothing to be ashamed of!!"), and another a few months before that about how I am TOTES a real runner even if all I do is jog a couple miles around my block a few times a week in sweat pants.

Jesus Christ. There is apparently more angst & self-image ish in the internet running world than at a parochial high school. I'm getting anxious just reading about it.

First thing: Breathe, sunshine. It's all gonna be okay.

Second thing: Stop labeling yourself. Get over the phrase "real runner" & accept that, like all the best labels, the only power it has over you is the power you give it. You get to opt out of "real/serious runner vs not a real/serious runner" the same way you get to opt out of any other dichotomy you don't find useful. You probably run for certain reasons that are valuable and meaningful for you, & that's all that actually matters.

Third thing: The runners doth protest too much. People who feel just fine about being a *real* runner & are honestly not concerned with what other people think don't go around broadcasting it to everyone all the time. Run a marathon. Don't run a marathon. Run a billion miles a week. Don't run a billion miles a week. Whatever. You don't owe anyone an explanation, & the overwhelming majority of us don't want to hear it anyway.

Fourth thing: How much do you want to bet there are people out there who were feeling just fine about their choice not to run marathons / x number of miles / track mileage / whatever until they read an article that was all like, "No, really, you are *totally* a real runner, even if you NEVER do x. Really. Really. It's juuuuust fine, pumpkin. It's fine." (I can't remember what it's called right now, but this is a real thing from psychology or sociology or something. Talking about a social expectation, even to condemn it, tends to cause people to go "Oh geez, I better do x...")

Fifth thing: If all your facebook friends & all your blogger friends & all your twitter friends are making you feel anxious or guilty or inadequate or making you question whether you run enough races / miles / marathons / whatever, STEP AWAY FROM THE INTERNET and handle your shit. That's about you, not them. You are a grown-up and this is a solvable problem.

So can we maybe just stop it with all the pontificating & hand-wringing? Geez.


Grand Total: 28.3 miles

    * 15 easy
    * 13.3 race

Monday 3/18: Karate.

Tuesday 3/19: 9.5 easy. Technically this was supposed to be a big-ass 10-12 mile track workout (!?!), but given that I hadn't run at all since my 4 hilly miles in Colorado the week before, I figured a medium-length easy run was probably a better choice. The bad news was that towards the end of this run my left calf got a nasty charlie horse out of nowhere, which was the beginning of my downward spiral of fretting & worrying about Oakland.

Wednesday 3/20:

  • Lunch time - I went to yoga instead of Pilates because I thought my sore calf would handle it better, but it still wasn't what I would call comfortable. You know something is sore when *yoga* is almost too much for it. If you've never done one-legged yoga, it's kind of an experience.
  • Evening - Karate + easy strength work. Had to sit part of it out because of the calf.

Thursday 3/21:

  • Lunch time - Strength work. In retrospect, this was probably a bad choice. I woke up with my legs feeling worn out & tired, & my left calf still dubious as far as putting weight on it. I cut several sets short because I could tell my legs were exhausted (???), and still paid for it on Friday.
  • Evening - 7 easy 4 easy. Whiney legs were whiney & grumpy calf was grumpy. They were basically like, "Look, you can run 7 miles tonight or you can race Sunday but you can't do both."

Friday 3/22: Rest, as scheduled. I woke up feeling like I'd run a marathon last weekend. I haven't been that sore since CIM. What the hell was in that strength work???

Saturday 3/23: 2 miles easy Nope. Not risking it. Rest, rest, rest. (And also go to stupid annoying expo. Phhhbbbbbtttt.)

Sunday 3/24: 1.5 warm up + 13.3 race. After which (of course) I felt amazing, and all was forgiven & forgotten. :)

  • Are you a "real" / "serious" runner? Be honest. I will know if you lie.
  • What are the qualifications for being a "real" runner? Triple-digit weeks, seven marathons a year, & posting pithy inspirational quotes weekly, obvs, but other than that?
  • What on the internet makes you want to punch someone in the neck? It can be running-related or not. And you can't say "this blog post."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Race Report: Oakland Half Marathon 2013

The bottom line is, I don't know exactly what happened out there, how far I ran, or how long it took. So here are a few different possible interpretations:

    ORF Official: 13.1 miles / 1:39:30 / 7:35 pace
    Garmin @ finish: 13.3 miles / 1:39:30 / 7:28 pace
    Garmin @ 13.1: 13.1 miles / 1:38:15 / 7:30 pace

    Overall: 185/3258
    Women: 40/1982
    A/G: 10/422

Regardless of what you go with, though, there was just really no way for me to be anything but elated with how this race went, considering that I spent the week prior (yet again) wringing my hands over various aches, pains, & pseudo-injuries. After the race I told Cathryn I was going to just stop writing posts about feeling crappy the week before a race because at this point I feel like everyone is just rolling their eyes at me. (Which, fair.)

The 24 hours before the race passed for me in kind of a haze. I have not had the surge of adrenaline that normally comes with last-minute race prep & went to bed Saturday night early, but otherwise feeling as if it were any other lazy weekend & had no special plans for the following day. Apparently I managed to get up, dressed, & out the door because around 8 I found myself in Oakland, driving around half-heartedly looking for a Safeway where I could get some Gatorade & a throwaway sports bottle. After being foiled twice by race street closures I gave up & just parked where I was once I realized I was a reasonable walking distance from the start.

This dude is hella serious about running.

I jogged ~1.5 easy miles around the staging area & was happy to find that my legs actually felt alright, by which I mean they felt like they could run 13 miles in a row at some non-walking pace, not that they felt like they were up for running particularly fast. At some point I remember hearing the national anthem & thinking, "Huh...I should probably go line up, I guess..." A minute or so before the gun the announcer yelled out "OAKLAND LET'S DOOOOOOO THIIIIIIIS!!!!"

I wish I could tell you that that was when the surge of adrenaline hit me, that I went HELL YEAH BITCHES I'M ABOUT TO RUN THE FUCK OUT OF THIS!!! But mentally I was very, very, very far from that place. In my mind, it was more like, "Um...Let' this, I guess? As long as we're all here?"

My goals were simple. First & foremost, I just wanted to run comfortably for a while & see how my body felt. If that seemed okay, I figured I'd try to run a sub-eight pace for as long as I could without pushing, & if I was able to hit a few miles faster than that, great. But I made a very firm decision up-front that I was not going to push myself to speed up if I didn't feel like it, ever, even if that meant running slower than 8:00 miles.

Because I know that people tend to go out fast & it's easy to get caught up in that & run the early miles too hard, I made a conscious effort to keep it reined in while I listened to my legs & tried to get a sense of how they were feeling. I was surprised to see that I was hovering in the 7:30s without working too hard at all, and my legs felt tired but not painful, so I tried to just settle into that pace and not let the numbers drop any lower than 7:30.

Mile 1 - 7:30

Mile 2 - 7:40

Honestly, though, I did not expect that pace at that level of effort to last. I just tried to stay comfortable, not push, & prepare myself to start seeing the numbers climb upward when my already-worn out legs realized this wasn't a tempo run. We had full sun and it was quickly warming up, and I was thankful I'd resisted the urge to put on arm warmers and/or gloves when I was shivering in Snow Park at 8:30. (Also, OMG. There were these two guys close behind me who were like a chatty comedy duo, except not funny. It was like running in front of Beavis & Butthead. Part of me kind of wanted to speed up just so I could get away from them.)

Mile 3 - 7:50

Mile 4 - 7:14

Thanks Beth!
I think there were some Garmin hijinks on those two miles. It did a lot of fluctuating wildly between 5:30 & 8:30, so I really had no clue what my pace was except that I felt like my effort level was staying fairly steady. When I first saw the 7:50, I kind of went, "Sigh...And here we go...." But then I saw the 7:14 (and I can guarantee you I did NOT run a 7:14 that early) and figured it was just Garmin error spread over two miles. So whatever.

I think it was around mile 5, when I was still hitting 7:3x's at a very comfortable effort level that I thought, "This...actually feels pretty easy..." For the first time I started to entertain the notion that I had a strong race in me today & I might be able to hold close to PR pace the whole time. That was also when the notorious runner brain piped up & was like, "Look, I've totally got this if you'll stop worrying about it, stay out of the way, and just and LET ME DO THIS."

Fair enough, runner brain, I thought. Have at it.

And that is when I stopped looking at my Garmin (except at mile splits) & ran completely by feel.

Mile 8 & still smiling!
Mile 5 -- 7:39

Mile 6 - 7:32

Mile 7 - 7:38

(It was also around then that I managed to lose Beavis & Butthead, thankfully.)

For me, in a half, I think that "by feel" essentially means "run as fast as you can without breathing hard for the first 7-8 miles." I hit mile 7 & while I didn't feel great, I had to admit that I was surprised at how good I did feel. I just kept reminding myself of how I felt when I averaged a 7:30 pace at Healdsburg & kept trying to channel that feeling.

A year or so ago there is no way I would've hit the gas at mile 8, but for reasons I don't completely understand, the runner brain knew that that was the time. Even though my legs felt tired & had felt tired for the whole race, I was still holding a strong pace, and somehow five miles just didn't feel like that much farther to go; the faster I ran them, the sooner they'd be over.

Mile 8 - 7:26

Mile 9 - 7:38

Mile 10 - 7:21

Mile 9 was where The Raider Zone was, which was my favorite community group last year. I was so excited about how well my race was going that I actually clapped for them & high fived them all as I ran past. Normally crowd energy & music doesn't do much for me but these guys gave me a surge of energy. "Four miles? Pshhhhh. Nothing. Nothing!"

Around mile 10 was where I saw Beth & the Lululemon cheer station, which is always a treat. As you can see, Beth is also a fantastic photographer. :)

Mile 10-11 was where I decided that, as good as I felt and as strong as my splits had been, I was going to make a race of these last miles. In Healdsburg I averaged 7:30 by running mostly 7:45-50 for the first part of the race & then running the last part like a 10K. Having already been averaging in the 7:30s, I wasn't sure I'd have much left for a kick like that with this race, but I was absolutely going to give it everything I had left. The bear climbed on my back as we reached Lake Merritt, but I stubbornly dragged it right along with me & did everything I could manage to keep from slowing down.

("Listen, do me a favor & just don't look at the Garmin for these last miles," said the runner brain around then.

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Because it'll just freak you out," it whispered back.)

So I didn't. I just ran as hard as I could, using the rolling hills as an opportunity to pass people (I seriously think I passed like 10 women in the last two miles). My chest ached & I felt sick to my stomach, but I'd come this far, goddammit, and I wanted to see what 100% could get me today, two days after barely being able to put weight on my right leg.

Mile 11 - 7:31

Mile 12 - 7:27

Mile 13 - 7:01

Home Stretch
I remembered part-way through the race (when I started passing mile markers ~.15 *after* my Garmin beeped) that this was a long course by nearly a quarter mile & had decided to hit 'lap' at 13.1 just to see what that split was, but keep my watch running until the finish. I'm not sure how, but apparently I did some of my fastest running of the race up that last little hill before the finish (unless it's just Garmin error. Which is entirely possible).

Mile 13.0-13.1 - 0:43 (7:16 / mile)

Mile 13.1-13.3 - 1:19 (6:35 / mile)

While I wasn't running at Windsor Green levels of intensity (read: throwing up a little at the finish), this was still harder than I've raced a half marathon in a pretty long time, and I was definitely in the dizzy-stumbling-nauseous place for a minute or two. I grabbed my medal, some water, & a granola bar, posed for a finisher picture (for the first time ever in my life, which should tell you something about how elated I was), then hurried to grab my bag & see if I could catch Cathryn & Jen coming in.

We all agreed that it had been MUCH warmer than any of us had been prepared for, and that was probably why we'd all struggled a little more in the later miles than usual. Still, I think all three of us had solid races we can be proud of under the circumstances.

Wine has *totally* been earned.

...and beer!

Post-Game Analysis:

Um, my body is weird. And sometimes it does amazing things that I can't understand or explain. And I am so incredibly grateful for that. In terms of big life lessons, that's probably the biggest one that road racing has taught me -- most of the time you're capable of way, WAY more than you think, physically and mentally, if you can figure out how to access it.

I trained pretty solidly up until the last two weeks, so in some ways this race shouldn't really have surprised me. It also tells me that with another month of consistent training (and assuming I have a good race & nothing weird happens), I should be able to do even better at Napa Silverado in April, which will be my last tune-up before Ojai Mountains 2 Beach Mountains 2 Ocean whatever the hell marathon I'm running at the end of May.

So what about the time?? Generally, I just go with the official numbers regardless of what my Garmin says, but everyone knows the Oakland course is significantly over 13.1 -- both this year and last, I don't know anyone who clocked less than 13.25 for the full distance, and I've heard as high as 13.41. Sure, you almost always have to give a few hundredths here & there for imperfect tangents / weaving & short course prevention, but not 2-3 TENTHS. I think I've basically decided to call my race time 1:39:30, & 1:38:15 an unofficial PR (hoping that I'll bust through it with an official one sometime this year).

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Oakland, CA

Date: Late March (March 24, 2013 this year)

Price: The Oakland Running Festival includes several different events:

  • Marathon - $90.00 before 11/1, $100.00 before 1/1, $110 before 3/15, $130.00 at expo
  • Marathon Relay - $200.00 before 11/1, $225.00 before 1/1, $250 before 3/15, $270.00 at expo
  • Half Marathon - $70.00 before 11/1, $80.00 before 1/1, $90 before 3/15, $110.00 at expo
  • 5K - $35.00 before 1/1, $40 before 3/15, $50.00 at expo
  • Kids' Fun Run - $15

(For what it's worth, the prices are the same as last year.)

If you want to run this race for cheap, follow Oakland Running Festival & SF Marathon on Facebook and/or Twitter & keep your eyes open for a discount code around August. I used it this year & paid I think $35 or $40. (The trick, of course, being that you're committing 7-8 months out.)

Deadlines/sellout factor: Like last year, you could sign up for all distances at the expo the day before, but not the morning of. I believe there was still space in all the events on the day of the expo. Not sure if any of them ended up selling out. Last year I remember that the 5K sold out at the expo, but there was still space in the half, full, relay, & kids run.

Field Size: Again, not sure about the caps, but the results page lists the following numbers of finishers:

  • Marathon - 852 (down from last year)
  • Marathon Relay - 213 teams (up from last year)
  • Half Marathon - 3258 (slightly down from last year)
  • 5K - 1830 (WAY up from last year)

Sort of a medium-sized race, or what I think of as "small for a big race."

The Expo:

If I'm honest, I have to say that I have not been super-impressed by this expo. It's pretty small, and feels kind of claustrophobic the way they set up the barriers to funnel people through a very specific path. But otherwise, there are pretty much the type of things you'd expect -- a few running clothes / gear purveyors, a few health / fitness booths, sign-up booths for other local races, & a few community groups. I did pick up a few coupons for local running / sporting goods stores, so that was cool.

To get your race bib & shirt, you must print out your e-registration card from the link ORF sent you, then bring it to the expo the day before (or show it to them on your smart phone) AND show your ID (in theory; clearly enforcement of this rule was random & capricious). This is not difficult, but I find it a little bizarre & slightly annoying because it's just one more thing to remember & deal with on race weekend. I have never in my life been to a race where you had to do anything but tell a volunteer your name to get your stuff. My objections to having to come to the expo the day before to get my stuff are well-documented elsewhere so I will not repeat them here.

The Course:

There were a few changes from last year, but most of both long courses seemed to be the same. One big hill in the marathon (~475 ft upwards from miles 6-9 & back down from about 11-15) & basically flat the rest of the way. Like last year, the half course was reasonably flat, with just a few spots with short rolling hills or just-noticeable grade (the worst of it being--where else??--the last .1 miles or so to the finish line).

Aid stations are in general I think more frequent than most half marathons I've run (every mile & a half or so?) so that I was just fine liquid-wise without carrying a bottle, even with the warm weather. Both courses wind through all different parts of Oakland. There is lots of great crowd support from residents & local community groups, which is fun. (Also, not too many bands. I hate the band races.)

I have only two quibbles with this course.

1) LOTS of turns. Like, thirty or something. You *can* run tangents, but you've got to reallllly want it.

2) The distance. I don't know for a fact that it isn't USATF certified, but it doesn't say on the site that it is, and with the amount that people were clocking over 13.1, frankly I don't see how it could be. This is the one thing that might potentially keep me from running this course again. It's just so disheartening (I know, wah wah wah) to run a PR pace & then not officially get one.


The Snow Park staging area is super-convenient to the 19th Street BART (although marathoners should note that trains aren't running early enough on Sunday to get you to the race by the 7:30 start).

As long as you're not running too late, it's pretty easy to park for free on the street within a few blocks of the start, or there are a few closer lots that were doing event parking for ~$10 or so. If you're arriving after the earlier races are started, just be sure that you know where the street closures are so that you don't count on trying to get somewhere you can't actually get.

Gear check is basically right by the start & BYO bag which I think is great. It tends to get crowded immediately before the start of each race, but also moved pretty quickly. For the most part the volunteers there were awesome & helpful, but there was one woman who was just having a hysterical fit over people not putting their bag tags on correctly who was outright screaming at runners who were trying their best to follow the instructions. That was kind of unfortunate.


A nice long-sleeved tech shirt & hefty medal (though to be honest, I liked last year's designs a little better. This years strike me as a bit, um, overly corporate). Continuing with the eco-friendly theme, instead of a giant bag full of samples & coupons you won't use and fliers for races you won't run, you can log into your "e-goody bag" online & see if there are any fliers or coupons you're interested in.

How very...sponsor-ey.


  • Add an option for having the bib mailed a week or so before the race. I would GLADLY pay an extra $5 or whatever if it means I don't have to make the trip the day before AND the morning of.
  • For picking up bibs, drop the whole e-registration / ID requirement. First, because let's be real -- no one's checking the IDs, and second because there is just no reason why bibs can't be organized by last name instead of bib number like every other major road race in the country. If people want to cheat the system, none of this is going to stop them anyway.
  • Maybe add some tables or something in the staging area? There were several times where it really would've been nice to be able to set my stuff down somewhere besides on the ground.
  • FIX THE COURSE. Please. I understand there are a lot of challenges involved in creating a "perfect" course, particularly when you want it to be a loop, particularly when you're trying to match it up with another distance that isn't just two loops of the same. But there are so many USATF certified races in the world that I just can't believe there's not a way to do it in Oakland. Again, I think this is a great race, but this issue may be enough to keep me from running it again.

Overall Assessment:

If the weird distance thing doesn't bug you too much, this really is a great, well-organized race with awesome crowd support & great volunteers, and a fantastic value if you get the super early bird discount. (I think it's also probably helped make more people less terrified of OMG big scary Oakland.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Oakland Half, & The "Subclinical" Blues

First, let me say that if you live in the SF Bay Area and you've been thinking about having an evaluation done by these folks over here on the left but have been waffling about it since they doubled the price, consider holding off for just a bit longer. I have it on good authority that there will likely be a significant price drop in the next month or two.

Second - I don't know what's going on with my right leg & lower back but there is very clearly still *something*. There's a whole constellation of symptoms, none of which are that big of a deal on their own (sore, crampy calf; Jello-like quad; sore TFL; achey hip & lower back), but which all add up to making it really hard to run consistently & well.

In the interest of being proactive rather than just waiting for things to get worse, I called UCSF before I left for Colorado & booked the first available appointment with my gem of a sports medicine doctor. In a world where doctors only want to talk to you about the area they specialize in, aim to get you in & out of the office as soon as possible, & meet every running issue with "Stop running & take some Advil," he looks at the big picture, listens to everything I have to say, and is genuinely interested in root causes & what can be done to keep runners running.

After we chatted for a while, he did all the usual strength / mobility / alignment checks & declared the problem "subclinical," which is basically doctor short-hand for "I believe you that something's wrong, but there are no signs or symptoms detectable by physical examination to support a diagnosis." My mobility is good, my core / pelvis muscles are wicked strong, and (thanks to the recent chiro visit, probably) all my bones & joints were in the right places. Which is good news, he reminded me, because it means no red flags.

He did also remind me that being hypermobile (ie, my tendons & ligaments are kind of loosey-goosey & don't do much) means I will always be more prone to soft tissue overuse injuries and have to be extra-diligent about muscle strength, since in addition to just being muscles mine also have to do most of the stability work that my connective tissue sucks at. (At one point I asked him if he thought maybe I was overdoing all the strength work, and his response was "Not a chance. Do more if you can.")

Finally, he pointed out something that I've never heard a doctor say before but that makes a lot of sense. When something is painful or not working right, there is always a cause, but sometimes it involves so many different variables interacting in so many ways that it's hard to see the pattern without keeping careful track of tons of information -- ie, it could be that if you overdo the stretching one day, don't sleep enough the next night, & go on a long run two days after that, *that's* what causes pain x or issue y. He also pointed out the ludicrousness of the fact that doctors, even sports medicine doctors, even ones who specialize in running, are in the habit of diagnosing runners without ever seeing them run. That, he explained, was the whole point behind the creation of the above-mentioned comprehensive evaluation program for runners.

(And here's another top tip -- apparently, though it says otherwise on the website, sometimes you *can* get insurance to pay for all or part of it, so it's worth checking.)

The bottom line:

  • Three weeks of discomfort is long enough to notice and pay attention to, but not to worry about.
  • There's no evidence of bone, cartilage, or neurological issues anywhere.
  • Keep up all the strength work, maybe even do a little more, & don't push the mileage for a couple of weeks.
  • Track everything & come back in a month.
  • Really, really strongly consider doing the comprehensive evaluation (once the price drops).


Now on to cheerier stuff:

I know I'm a little late to the party in terms of promoting this race, but I will say that I had TONS of fun at it in 2012 and think it's a great value and a wonderful medium-size local race. The full marathon I think has a couple of significant hills in it, but the half is pretty much flat, & although I'm not crazy about the million bajillion turns, it is a fun race to run with all the local groups out to cheer for & entertain you. Keep it on your radar for 2014.

I also hear there are some smokin' hot ladies there. And Dennis.

I'm trying to keep my expectations for this race pretty low, because 1) I haven't run a half in over 5 months, 2) I've been having pretty nasty cramping in my right calf all week that's made it hard to even put weight on it at times, and 3) my muscles feel SUPER sore and generally worn out, as if my race was last weekend instead of this coming one. Which is okay, really, because I think I paid like $35 or something for it. It is a flat, fun course (in spite of the million billion turns), and if I'm going to make an easy long-ish run out of it or potentially end up unable to finish, I'd MUCH rather it be an urban race with lots of people around than say one of those wine country ones that are all lonely back roads and cow pastures. (Don't get me wrong -- I love those races, as long as I am healthy & in shape to run fast and focused & am not worried about having to stop.)

    Best case: I rest for the next two days, race day magic happens, & I PR. Not likely, but not impossible either.

    Pretty good case: I rest for the next two days, feel pretty good but not great, & run low 1:40's like last year.

    Meh case: I feel very far from great, it's another Santa Rosa, & I just do what I can & finish somewhere in the 1:45 range.

    Worst case: The calf just can't hack it & I walk a bunch or DNF.

Basically I am saying I have no effing clue what is going to happen Sunday. I'm just going to show up & do the best I can.

On a positive note, the weather is looking good, and there will be lots of friends to see & hang out with (Karin, Beth, Jessica, RoseRunner, Audrey, Cathryn, Jen....who else????).

If you are there, come say hi! I will be wearing this:

If you're thinking, "Who the hell taught this girl to take a selfie?!?,"
I think the answer is very clearly "No one, anywhere, ever."

I figured I'd bring back the socks for old times' sake, and also because they match the Kinvaras, as (by complete coincidence) does this tank I got on clearance at Sports Basement. As long as my running is questionable, I might as well make myself easy to spot.

Have a GREAT weekend, and good luck with any racing you may be doing!!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Air Up There

I have that thing where I haven't blogged for so long that I'm completely overwhelmed at the thought of trying to blog about anything. So please excuse in advance what is likely to be kind of a rambling, semi-coherent post at best.

Because I am an incredibly disciplined, soooooper serious-like runner, I spent the last week doing some very serious altitude training in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Just kidding, I was skiing, drinking, hot tubbing, and eating all manner of things not nailed down in the fine fine mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado. (For some reason ski trips bring out my inner raging comfort/junk food beast, and I find myself inhaling things that I otherwise wouldn't touch. Goldfish and peanut M&Ms, I'm looking at you.)

(Oh, and cheese sauce. Definitely cheese sauce on everything.)

On our last group ski trip, I was super hardcore and ran almost every day between skiing & hot tub & actually managed to get in a solid 20+ miles for the week. Pretty respectable for vacation mileage, no?

This trip? Ehhhh, not so much, thanks to a few unforseen (and/or un-fully-appreciated) complications.

1) Altitude. I mean yes, in my head I knew that I live at sea level & Breck is at 10,000+ feet. In theory, I understood about partial oxygen & altitude sickness and acclimatization & all of that. But I didn't really get it until walking up the mildly steep driveway to our cabin carrying all my gear left me dizzy & panting & my heart pounding like I'd just sprinted a 400. Ditto going up the stairs to our 3rd story room. Kind of different from the ~1,600 ft base at Whistler where we had our last trip.

(The 30 second story: Altitude majorly suuuuuuuuuucks. And makes a chapped, bloody mess of your skin & lips.)

2) Absurd geography. Of course, we would end up with a cabin at the absolute tippy-top of a mile of roughly 10% grade. After my first day of skiing I defied the doubts of my friends by going on a short little jog to loosen up my feet. The ground was still pretty clear & dry then, so I had no trouble skipping down the hill, jogging another mile through town, then heading back.

This is where we stayed:

The balcony view:

As you can tell, our lives really sucked for a week.

This was all fine & dandy until I got back to the hill. Oy. All I have to say is that mile-long hill + 10% grade + ~10,000 ft of altitude = something I only ever need to do once in my life. A woman I passed who was walking downhill actually did call me crazy.

When I got back I promptly sank into the hot tub with a glass of rye & a box of Goldfish & didn't move until dinner.

Apr├Ęs ski hot tubbing. Cuz. Y'know. Hot tubbing.

3) Apparently I ski harder than I used to? There were a couple of days (one of which included a pretty yucky fall) that my body felt so trashed that I'm not sure I could'v gotten myself out the door even without the Hill of Epic Sadness. That didn't used to happen. Maybe I'm just getting old.

So yeah. One four-mile run (average 10:50 pace) is all I managed. Plus a bunch of skiing. Which is not nothing.

I also got to practice French braiding my own hair, an incredibly important life skill that skiing has forced encouraged me to learn.

I mean I know I'm not winning any cosmetology
awards or anything, but not too shabby, right?

While I did not do much that could seriously be called altitude "training," I am sort of intrigued by the whole acclimatization process (particularly since I'll be running the Oakland Half less than a week after returning), and spent some time reading about it while I was there. To summarize a bunch of stuff, it seems like

  • as little as 4-5 days is long enough for some sort of acclimatization to occur (more red blood cells, more capillaries, more myoglobin for transporting oxygen), although to what extent can vary dramatically from person to person, and
  • adaptations from being at altitude can last up to two weeks, but again, there's a lot of individual variation.

Running on flat stuff in Colorado, on just the second day, I can't say it really felt any harder than running at home (although I was going by effort, not trying to hit a specific pace, and my average pace did turn out to be slightly slower than what it normally is on easy runs). The place I really noticed the difference was in any form of going UP -- running up the giant hill back to the cabin, walking up stairs, hiking / climbing / poling during skiing, etc.

Did I get any "fitter"? Hard to say. Karate on Monday didn't feel any easier. I went for a 9.5 mile run this last Tuesday evening & felt like it was maybe a little easier to run just a little faster than my normal easy pace, but it wasn't dramatically different than what I normally feel like after a few rest days, so who knows. The biggest difference was going up hills -- I felt like I was able to keep my pace up with what felt like less effort, which sort of fits with what I experienced in Breckenridge re: going UP vs going straight / downhill.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what happens in Oakland on Sunday. I don't actually expect that I will have a) gotten or b) kept enough altitude gains to make any kind of significant difference in my performance, but it will still be interesting to see if it feels different or easier than I expect in any noticeable way.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Return of the Long Runs

Or, what I tend to think of as long runs. "Long" is of course completely relative, something I'm reminded of every time I talk to or read posts from some of the very studly ultra-runners I happen to know. (Congrats, all of you, on killing it at Way Too Cool!)

But for me, for whatever reason, 14 is the number where I start to feel like I'm officially "Going Long," where a bit of advance planning & thought is required as opposed to just throwing on some running clothes, grabbing my Garmin, & heading out the door.

It's been, like, two weeks since we had a fancy wine event to attend, so obviously it was important to start the day off right by driving down to Ridge in Mountain View for the Montebello cab first assemblage tasting.

True story. I've seen them.

The minimalist shoe movement is alive & well in the Bay Area
fancy pants wine scene. I included the boots for contrast.

Although I've been doing a lot of running around the east end of Golden Gate Park lately, I haven't gone all the way down to the coast in a while, so I thought that might be nice since I had a good number of miles to cover anyway and I miss the scenery. It had been a while since I'd seen this...

...or this,

...which both made me very happy.

With this being my longest run and highest mileage week so far this year and coming on the heels of another not-so-high mileage but weirdly exhausting week as well as a race, I was fully prepared for this run to be a tough one.

Which it was. Most of the time I feel like long run miles just kind of roll by once I get warmed up, and the whole thing is over before I know it. Not so with this one. I felt every single mile, every step, and the rolling hills of GG Park that I normally don't mind all that much made me dig pretty deep at times. So, while it was very good to get all the way to the coast & pound some pavement I haven't seen in a while, I was very very VERY glad when I returned to my neighborhood & my watch ticked off that last mile.

So yeah, longest run AND highest mileage week of 2013 so far! :)

Grand Total: 43 miles

    * 20.3 easy
    * 4 threshold / tempo
    * 4.7 speed / intervals
    * 14 long

Monday 3/4:

  • Lunch time - Yoga.
  • Evening - Karate. Karate. And more karate.

Tuesday 3/5:

  • Lunch time - Strength work. I took it very slightly easier in the name of recovery (look at me being such a good runner) but still a solid 40:00 of stuff.
  • Evening - 6.5 speed / intervals. 1.5 warm up; 1600m @ 10K pace / 1:30 rec; 2 x 800m @ 5K pace / 1:00 rec; 1600m @ 10K pace; 1.5 cool down.

    Some day I will learn my lesson and write my freaking track assignments down. After the 800m's & recovery jogs, I was like, "WOW, this seems a little harder than it should be." Well, yes. That's what happens when you recovery jog for 1:00 instead of 2:00 like the plan said. Oops. Whatever.

    Some day I will also maybe possibly get over my bitterness towards children's sportsball.*

    *Not actually likely.

Wednesday 3/6: Just karate this Wednesday, which felt kind of weird after my past few weeks of triple days. I had an all-day work meeting that didn't give me a long enough lunch break to get away for Pilates, and I had enough mileage scheduled already this week without needing to add extra miles on karate days.

Thursday 3/7:

  • Lunch time - Strength work.
  • Evening - 7 easy. Legs were definitely not 100% yet and felt kind of tired all around, but I was able to keep up a good pace all the same, which is I think the whole idea behind marathon training.

Friday 3/8: 8.5 tempo / other stuff. 1.5 warm up; 4 @ 7:25; 10 x (100m @ 5:50 / 100m jog); 1.8 cool down. It's been a long time since I really, truly felt like I might not be able to complete a workout, but ultimately I just keep doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and by some miracle (and a couple of extra rest breaks), I got it done. Seriously, though. This one was a BITCH and a half.

Saturday 3/9: 7 easy. So this was a pretty good run in lovely weather -- I'd just gotten a bunch of tank tops on sale at the local Sports Authority but was worried it was a little too cool out by 5:30 to wear them so went with a T-shirt instead, & ended up feeling a little regretful because I *totally* could've worn a tank top. Things were going pretty well until around maybe mile 5 when I thought to myself, "What's that wet, sticky feeling in my shoe?"

I noticed a faint discoloration on said shoe, though it was getting dark out at that point, and the shoes in question were kind of neon-iridescent pink and orange, so I couldn't really tell what was going on. When I got home & into proper light, though....

This is now the third time this has happened to me.

Today's PSA is keep your toenails trimmed. Maybe a little more than you think you need to. Because on the run, you probably won't feel it, and blood stains are (not unlike combination tempo / interval runs) kind of a bitch.

Sunday 3/10: 14 long.

So tonight I'm sitting couch, tired but pleased with how the week went, and also eating coconut cream pie because. You know. Coconut cream pie.

Next week we'll be here:

Doing a bunch of this:

And some of this:

In addition to the skiing & hot tubbing, my plan is to make sure I get in a bunch of karate practice (because otherwise I will be in big trouble when I get back), a not-insignificant amount of strength work (abs, hip stuff, squats, lunges, etc. etc. etc.), & however much running is feasible (which will totally depend on weather & road / sidewalk conditions). Because I'm not assuming I'll have access to anything other than roads & sidewalks, I'm only planning on easy miles, and while I have a vague idea of how much I'd like to get in on which days, the only real pressure I'm putting on myself is to run whenever I can, however much I can. Basically, the goal is just not to backslide. (Skiing should also help with the cardio part of that.)

Have a great week, everyone!!