Monday, June 27, 2011

Downtime is over

After my stellar half-marathon performance, I figured I deserved a week off. Then the next week, when I knew I need to get back into my training plan, the warm coziness of my blankets in contrast to the cold morning air, sucked me back into bed too many mornings. But finally this week, I got back on the plan. This is quite critical because I didn’t run the Safaricom Marathon in Kenya this weekend. That was dependent on me getting to Kenya for other reasons, which didn’t pan out, but in addition, I kind of gave up on the idea a couple of months ago when I figured out that it would have cost me at least $450 US, even with someone else paying for the ticket to Kenya. Woo wee, too rich for this volunteer’s blood. So that one stays on the bucket list. I intend to be living in Kenya in the near future, so I’m sure I’ll have another chance.


And I totally lucked out. The Victoria Falls Marathon is happening at the end of August. There is a Peace Corps volunteer here in Katima who also runs (she’s really a triathlete) who told me about it. So we’re both going, and maybe some other Peace Corps and VSO vols if we can get them inspired. There will be a full marathon, which I am planning to do, a half-marathon which she is doing, and a 5k. I’m trying to get Peter, the Nigerian volunteer who lives here at Cheshire Home also to think about the 5k. He doesn’t run, but he does long walks and plays football, so he’s thinking about it. I think it will be fun if there are a whole bunch of us.


But the marathon is now only 9 weeks away, so that scared me into getting my butt out the door this week, even though it was coooold. I’m also working (virtually) with a personal trainer in the UK who is giving me two workouts a week that work all the rest of my body – core, arms, back, etc. It’s great because he’s done MovNat and the workouts he gives me are very much like MovNat and get me moving in different ways and using different muscles. And they are pretty short – 30 minutes or so – and intense, and somehow knowing it will be short makes it easier for me to both fit them in and actually do them. That’s good because they are mostly way out of my comfort zone – a lot of movements and stuff that I am not used to doing.


Today’s long run was 12 miles, but now I’ll be building up again in preparation for the marathon. I ran in my New Balance Minimus shoes which did keep my feet warm (for the first time in weeks), so that was nice. But I noticed after the run that my feet really hurt. First of all, my calves are super tight (leftover from doing my tempo run on Friday in VFFs, I think), but it is more than that. The outside near my toes is achy. I think it is because the shoes have some sort of ridge there. I have felt it before, but either it didn’t bother me as much or I zoned out and didn’t realize it. Hmmph. It could also be that my feet are starting to spread some from walking and running barefoot and in really minimal shoes (like the VFFs or my Luna sandals).


Brooks, whose shoes have always worked really, really well for me, is designing new shoes with Scott Jurek (who advised them on the Green Silence shoes, which I have and like a lot). Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen, they will NOT be zero-drop shoes, but will continue to have at least a 4mm differential between the toes and heel. This is very frustrating for me. I wish I could just run totally barefoot, but so far my feet aren’t tough enough to do that all the time. I love the Luna sandals, but they still give me blisters between the toes if I go too far in them (like 8 miles the last time. . .). And the biggest problem is that my feet get cold. Really cold. Like they go numb.


In fact, if anyone has any ideas how to remedy that problem, I would love to hear them.


It seems a bit crazy to me that I’m so cold. I mean, the temps in the morning are probably between 45-50 Farenheit, which doesn’t seem all that cold (intellectually). But to me it’s freezing.


My hands get cold, too, but I can just wear gloves or socks or pull them into my jacket or shirt. Honestly, even the Green Silence don’t warm my feet up because the tops are so meshy, though I haven’t broken down and worn wool socks yet. I may have to do that. I have at least another month of cold weather – maybe even colder than it has been because the wind has just started. I was talking with Dickson, the Cheshire Home handyman who is helping get my bike working, and he told me that July is the coldest month because that’s when the wind comes. The very next day after that conversation the wind came! It comes off the river and is chilling. The biggest difference is that it does not warm up in the middle of the day the way it did in June (when it was cold in the morning, but as the sun came, it warmed things up – usually causing a 40 degree difference between the temperature at 6am and noon).


Since Brooks doesn’t look like they are going to deliver for me, I’m now on the hunt for some zero-drop road shoes that aren’t squishy cushioned (that’s the thing I really like about Brooks – they tend to be “hard” which feels better to me) and are warm enough to keep my feet warm. I am getting a pair of the new Merrell Lithe Gloves which I am looking forward to trying out. They are zero drop trail shoes. I had a pair of the Pace Gloves, which have this funny elastic heel counter which tore my ankle so bad it cut into my Achilles tendon. After wearing them twice, I gave up. But a big shout out to Merrell Customer Service – I posted my bad experience in the Huaraches Google group and one of their reps saw it and told me who to contact, which I did, and they offered to send me a pair of the Lithe Gloves, which are similar, but have a softer, more normal heel counter like the men’s model. I have great hopes because otherwise, the Merrells fit my feet very nicely and they soles have great grip without having lugs which would make them hard to use on the roads. Since I have a mile or so on asphalt before I get to dirt/sand roads, that makes a difference. Given how long the mail takes, I’ll probably get those around the beginning of August. I’ll let you know how they work out.


So, three runs this week which is one short, but I’m back in the routine now. Next week calls for four runs including a long run of 14 miles.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review of Luna sandals and a contest!


Here’s  a chance to read the most in-depth review I’ve ever seen of Luna sandals (my favorite footwear, when I must wear something) and a chance to win a free custom pair.



Friday, June 03, 2011

R4TW Half-marathon Race Report

Last Sunday I ran my solo version of the CUSO-VSO ( Run for the World/Courir pour le Monde Half-marathon here in good old Katima Mulilo, Namibia. Here’s my race report.


The morning was cold (in the low 50s F) but I knew it would be hot within an hour, so I didn’t want to dress too warmly. What to wear? I finally decided on a short-sleeve Gore shirt which has a zippered neck and windstopper fabric. Then I went back and forth and back and forth about which shorts because I thought I should take a gel with me, just in case my energy dipped, but I didn’t need to wear my Camelback for just a 2 hour run. That meant the shorts had to have an appropriate pocket for a gel. Conveniently, the shirt had a pocket on the sleeve which was perfect for my iPod, and a hole for the headphone wire, so I chose a pair of North Face shorts I have which have these stretchy pockets on the hips perfectly designed to hold gels. They also happened to match the shirt color, so I was much more fashionably dressed than usual for a run J


I had only run twice during the week, and not for two days, so I was raring to go when I stepped out. Besides, it was far too cold to stand still. I started out slowly (or what felt like slowly) and I was thinking about how the run would go. I had a vague, perhaps vain, hope that perhaps I could run close to 2 hours which was my half-marathon race time a few years ago. My best time ever was 1:55 in San Jose in 2005, that was 6 years and an entire age group ago.


The weather was cool enough that I was happy every time I was in the sun and looked forward to the sun coming up high enough to be above the trees. Yet, I also knew that this was probably “perfect” running weather.


Being a Sunday morning, there were few cars on the road and even few people because I was running at the time of most church services. I thought of perhaps getting off the main road, but I wanted to run for time, so I didn’t want to get down into the sand which, though easier on the joints, would have slowed me down to some extent. Not having cars to deal with made this an easy choice. The long stretch from Cheshire Home to the Ministries district went by much faster than usual and then the next thing I knew, I was approaching the Total petrol station after which came the University of Namibia campus. Shortly before UNam, I heard my watch beep and realized I had already covered 3 miles (5 km) and I was feeling very good. My time, at 25 minutes, was also surprisingly fast.


After UNam and the Vocational Training school, there is another long, rather empty, stretch to the border. On a bad day this stretch, particularly on the return, can seem boring and endless. But this day I was just there, just present and the road rolled by. I waved to the border guards on the Namibian side and enjoyed the one sort of descent in this very flat region. Now I could tell I was running pretty fast, but I felt good, smooth and filled with energy. At the bottom of the hill, there was a closed gate before the truck stop area which I’d never seen before (I suppose the gate has always been there, but it has been open every time I’ve come through, so I hadn’t noticed it). The guard there saw me, ran to the gate and opened it with perfect timing so that I didn’t even need to slow down – with a big grin on his face (oh, I fear I may be the most exciting thing in his day). I ran through the trucks and then up to the bridge which crosses the Zambezi and links Katima Mulilo to Sheseke, Namibia to Zambia.


It is interesting that when I run at this pace, most of my attention is on my body, my breathing, my pace, how I am feeling. I see what is around me as it goes by, but I do not retain much. I am looking for obstacles. There is a bit of descent on the far side of the bridge and I am very aware of the series of speedbumps there – they are the kind where there are a group of 10 small humps together, sort of like a cattle guard – and I need to be careful about how I place my feet. There is a corresponding uphill after the descent and where the road levels off, I see that I’ve gone a bit more than halfway and it is time to turn around.


Now I am astounded by my time and realize that if I can keep this up, I will not only reach 2 hours, but come in significantly below that. I am still feeling very good. I think about taking the gel, but I don’t really need it and since I didn’t carry water with me, that would mean hunting around for someone with water. I’m feeling so good, I really don’t want to stop.


After passing over the bridge again, I get some hoots and comments from the truckers, but I have my earphones in, so I don’t really hear them or pay any attention. My friend the gate guard whips open the gate for me again and I thank him with a smile and a wave. As I round the corner and start up the hill to the Namibian border there seems to be commotion ahead of me. Are those dogs? And what? Yes, a couple of dogs and. . . monkeys! Big, huge monkeys. Actually, they were baboons, and they are huge. At least one of them was the size of me. Whoa. Fortunately, by the time I reach them, they are off the road and running back into the bush. I wonder if I am putting myself at risk by running through them (there are a couple on the left, and most on the right – probably 8 or 10 in all), but I get up to the border gate with no incident.


I run through the border, waving to the guards (it’s always good to be friendly to officials in uniforms, especially when they are not making me stop and show papers!) and pass the taxi rank on the other side. Then I am on the long stretch toward UNam and checking my watch. I’ve slowed down a bit, but I’m still clearly on track to beat 2 hours. The road curves a bit and I think I am at UNam, but no. I am looking at my watch too often, gotta stop that and be with my surroundings. Finally, there is UNam and the Total station soon after. Less than 3 miles to go and now all I can really think about is my time. I’m still feeling pretty good and even if I slowed down to 10 minute miles, I’d hit 2 hours. Wow. I can hardly believe it. I didn’t think I was in this kind of shape. Maybe those tempo runs I was doing actually made a difference?


I pass all the Ministry buildings and come to the final long stretch before home. Now I am getting anxious to see just how fast I am going to be. It feels like a real race now. The last mile or two are rather excruciatingly long because I keep checking my watch every couple of minutes, even though I know exactly the landmarks along this stretch of road, I keep hoping I am closer than I am. And right as I reach the turn off to home, I’m at 13.12 miles. In 1:51:43! Woo hoo!


After uploading my watch info to my computer, I check my records and realize this is my Personal Best! My previous PR was 1:55:58 in the Silicon Valley Half-Marathon in 2005. Excellent.