Gear matters

5.1 miles at Eisenhower Park

Today’s run (Eisenhower Park): 5.1 miles @ 9:23 per mile

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: gear matters. I’m beginning to understand that a person’s running pace is related to both their physical abilities as well as the unique conditions and variables that make up a run. Hills and heat can slow down a runner while the right weather can make a run feel effortless. A shirt that fails to wick moisture can contribute to overheating and ill fitting socks or uncomfortable running shorts can distract from a runner’s focus. Every variable can yield a positive or negative influence on performance. What is a quick drying shirt worth to you on a hot, humid day? I’d say plenty. What about running shoes?

If you asked me a month ago what I averaged for pace I would have said that I run between 9:05-9:25 per mile. In a race I’d usually beat the low end of that by 20-30 seconds. Again, it’s the conditions that make the difference with all those other runners helping to sweep you along. Recently I’ve been alternating between my mainstay Brooks Adrenalin GTS 10’s and two pairs of lightweight Saucony running shoes. When I run in the Brooks I’m a solid low-9:00 miler. If I’d needed heavy motion control shoes I might be working hard to regularly break 10 minute miles. When I run in the Saucony Kinvaras I often attain paces below 9:00 per mile. If I’d always run in the Kinvaras I’d have considered myself a sub-9 minute mile runner all along.

The Saucony Grid Tangent 4’s provide an even greater boost. I regularly run 8:40 minute miles with the Tangents which I consider to be a decent 5K race pace. I haven’t yet raced in these shoes but I’m hoping the combination of speed boost from the shoes plus a faster pace through competition will help me beat my racing PR of 8:19 per mile. My next race is an 8K that pushed my limits last year so it will be interesting to see how the variables work on that day.

This morning I returned to Eisenhower Park to run the paths, some of which I’d traveled on a Red Cross walkathon with my family earlier in the month. I locked onto a course defined by arrows painted on the ground and followed that all around until I found myself back near where I’d started. I took a more free range route from there, circumnavigating the big pond where people sail three foot remote controlled sailboats and then passed through the Veteran’s Memorial gardens. At that point I began to hear the sound of a marching band blasting out patriotic music as was fitting on this Memorial Day weekend. I finished after completing five miles and while my speed wasn’t impressive it was definitely a good workout. So perhaps I may have covered more distance at a faster speed were I wearing my Sauconys. Gear definitely matters but between the GTS 10’s and the Tangent 4’s, it’s all good.

Test new running shoes? Yes, please

The new Saucony Kinvara

Today’s run: Central Park (planned)

I was recently contacted by a PR person from Saucony about an opportunity to try their new Kinvara lightweight trainer. This shoe is more neutral than what I’d normally wear but I’m interested in its low profile with a heel-to-forefoot ratio of 18/14 mm. I haven’t forgotten about mid foot running but my Brooks GTS-10’s are so great I would be reluctant to give them up. Given their unique nature, and their low profile the Kinvaras may make a great addition to the Emerging Runner’s collection of running shoes. Besides the Brooks GTS-10’s I also have pairs of GTS-9’s and ASICS GEL-1130’s. On the trail side I have Helly Hansen Trail Lizards for the toughest technical terrain, Adidas Response 15’s for multi-surfaced trail and street running and some NB 460’s that fit and perform really well despite being a “value priced” shoe.

Left out of this collection are any lightweight trainers or racing shoes. I was very interested in the Brooks Green Silence when it was announced but when the time came I opted for the 10’s to replace my 600+ mile 9’s. I signed up for (and was accepted to) Brook’s test program but I have not been contacted to try anything. Even if I do I won’t be able to talk about the shoes or mention them on this blog, per the terms of the program. No problem there, the chance to try Brooks experimental shoes is worth the silence, green or otherwise. I’m happy to try any running shoes or gear that companies want to send to me to review. I’d even try Nikes but not those silly ones with the shock absorbers on the heel.

I’m planning another Central Park run today and I’m hoping to cover some new ground north of the reservoir. I keep hearing about the hills up there and I’ll see how well my training has paid off.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck

Despite a relatively busy schedule on Friday I was bound and determined to make the trek to JackRabbit in Union Square at lunchtime. A friend of mine, who is looking for a new pair of shoes for an upcoming marathon, was planning to join me. He was working on a close deadline so he couldn’t go. I decided to go anyway and hopped on the F train for the quick trip downtown. I was greeted by the sales staff and mentioned that the Brook’s customer service people told me Brooks had sent a shipment of Green Silence shoes to the store. They said that was true but unfortunately the shipment had not yet arrived. They were as curious about the shoe as I was but they set my expectation that it wasn’t likely to be a shoe that I would use as a daily trainer.

The Jackrabbit people are the real deal. They understand running and running shoes and we quickly moved to the subject of mid-foot striking. Mark, one of the managers, told me that he was working to transition to that style and he suggested that I try the Brooks Ravenna. This shoe replaces the Axiom and is lighter than the Adrenalin GTS 10. The Ravenna also lacks some of the stability controls of the GTS 10 so it’s more of a light trainer. I tried on a pair and they felt good but, understandably, they were not as plush as the new Adrenalins. After that Mark had me try on a pair of neutral cushioned shoes (ASICS Cumulus) and put me on the treadmill to see if I pronated. The reason for using a neutral shoe is to negate any gait correction. Mark captured me on video and much to my surprise I saw that I’m still heel striking (though Mark said I move very quickly off to the toe) and that I pronate to the point where my gait is indistinguishable from that of the AFLAC duck. I clearly need stability shoes so I’m debating whether to just get the GTS 10s or buy the Ravennas which will be a better choice for mid-foot running. I’m coming back next Friday and Mark said he’d put me in some Mizunos and Saucony shoes to compare with the Brooks.

This morning my friend KWL stopped by to pick up some computer gear. We’d planned a run but were concerned about the foot-plus of snow that was predicted by morning. When he arrived there was no snow  whatsoever so we headed out and covered three miles in around 27 minutes. It was a faster pace than I’ve been running, helped along by KWL’s energy. He reminded me a little of how it was to run with AG who was always a slight step ahead  – like a greyhound on a tether. It was a great run and great fun to have a buddy to talk to along the way. It certainly made the time go by fast. We’re getting snow now so I’ll see what conditions are like by tomorrow morning. I’m prepared to use my snow treads if I have to. That could be kinda fun.

What Christmas means to me

Today is Christmas day and for me that meant something very special: I could run in my neighborhood on a Friday morning without a single car on the road. While I love the energy of the holiday season where everywhere you go there are fun decorations, happy shoppers, and holiday music I also love the fact that for one day of the year (Christmas) most businesses shut down and the world becomes a very quiet place. I’m enjoying this quiet for the most part today, although I did have to sit through a two hour Alvin and the Chipmunks movie this morning.

I decided to continue my experimentation with a more upright form, shorter strides and striking with the front of my feet. I ended up running 5.6 miles at 8:59 per mile overall on this morning’s run. Like yesterday, I was taking more steps per minute (averaged 85 today) but it seemed an easier effort than when I was running at 80 SPM. Although I was pleased to have broken 9:00 per mile on a 5+ mile run without working up much of a sweat I saw in my Garmin reports that I’d slowed down at around the 20 minute mark. It may be that I just need to build up my calf muscles to make it easier to increase my stride frequency. I finished my run with a final push, covering the last third of a mile at around 8:00 per mile. It felt good and again I was surprised to achieve a decent pace while feeling so relaxed.

Yesterday I spent an hour trying some shoes and I had a chance to try out the ASICS 2150s. I thought they felt much better than the 2140s that I’d considered prior to choosing the Brooks GTS 9s. I also tried both the ASICS Kayano 16s (new) and the 15s. They felt the same to me – fantastic. I’m going to give the new Brooks GTS 10s a try but unless they feel significantly better than the GTS 9s I might just pick up a pair of the Kayanos. The 15s were selling for $99, the same price as the new 2150s and GTS 10s. Of course, now that I’m running differently I may want to consider a different type of shoe. Perhaps it’s time to give the Newtons a try!

Trail running as painkiller

As I prepared for this morning’s elliptical workout I thought about all the mileage I’d put in over my vacation. I also thought about how it may have contributed to my nagging leg pain that started earlier this year. I’m still unsure of the cause of this pain, it may be a hamstring pull or something else entirely. I’ve thought numerous times about making an appointment with an orthopedist to figure it out. In the mean time it’s probably a good idea to do more cross training to rest whatever gets aggravated when I run.

I checked my workout list before I stepped up on the elliptical machine and saw that I hadn’t logged a session on it since June 11. I’ve taken every opportunity to run outdoors over the last few weeks and my early morning headlamp runs have contributed to that. I thought that an elliptical session this morning would be a nice way to use different muscles that could help strengthen my leg and lessen the pain. I then realized, for the first time in memory, that I had no pain. I was understandably happy but that made no sense to me. I ran a tough 4+ miles yesterday on the trails to top off a record mileage week. I should be hurting more, not less.

Perhaps it was the trails that made a difference. The softer surface absorbs the impact differently than running on pavement. If that’s the case I wonder if I should be considering an even more cushioned shoe than the Brooks. The Asics are comfortable and it’s my understanding that they represent the high end of the cushioning scale. Hard to know if it’s a coincidence but I will plan more weekend runs at Bethpage and Stillwell if that’s the case. Reminder to self: buy a compass.

A weekend of joyful running

I’ve really enjoyed running this weekend and I’ll give much of the credit to my new shoes. The pleasure of running pain-free combined with the feeling of moving efficiently has often eluded me over the last couple of months. I am appreciating the Brooks although I do wish that the tongue extended higher past the throat to provide more padding when the laces are tightened. Other than that they are really great and they have quickly dispatched my leg soreness issues. I thought I might redeploy my Nikes as my office running shoes so I tried them again with the after market insoles I had recently purchased. Wearing the Brooks over the last seven days gave me an opportunity to compare the two pairs and the new insoles in the Nikes exaggerated the pronation and made me realize why I needed a stability shoe. I went back to the original insoles and that stabilized the Nikes enough to use them for another activity: a Mothers Day soccer game with my wife and kids.

As for running, I did more miles over a (two day) weekend than ever before. On top of yesterday’s near six I ran 4.6 miles this morning. Like yesterday, I did this distance feeling very strong and I wasn’t especially tired by the end. As I ran I worked on my form and stride and played with my pace a bit. I did the first quarter mile along a measured distance and noticed that the Garmin was tracking about 6% short. I knew I would need to Gmap my route against my total time to get my true pace but at least I knew that whatever the Garmin was reporting I had run faster and farther. I mixed up my route and covered some streets I haven’t taken in a while. The whole run felt great and, for the second time this weekend, I reached the “zone” that I had heard of and read about but had never personally experienced. Where was the noble suffering that I had come to expect? Was this some great breakthrough that has propelled me from the status of beginner to something more? Had the Emerging Runner finally emerged?

Well, not exactly.

I do think that I’ve made progress and I’m a far better runner than I was nine months ago but much of this weekend’s experience had to do with using the right gear and focusing more on duration and less on speed. My pace for today’s run was 9:17 which surprised me because I thought I was moving along at a better clip. But I now know through experience that I can integrate speed into my distance runs every few minutes and gain 20 or more seconds per mile. In the meantime I’ll be happy to have run 10.5 miles over two days and loved every minute of it.

Members Only

I originally assumed I would sign up for my 8K race online since the application says that you can. When I went to the New Hyde Park Runner’s Club website I saw that the registration links were still set up for last year’s race. I’m sure they’ll sort that out somehow and, worse case, I can mail in the application. What struck me about the website were the photos of the happy club members posed in groups or running in events. I’ve seen similar collections on local club websites like GLIRC and LIRRC. I’ve seen many club members at both my recent races and was impressed by their community and by the way they clearly supported each other. I then started thinking about whether I should join a running club.

Years ago I used to run with one or two people and I didn’t love the experience. Part of that was due to a mismatch in conditioning between me and them (I was constantly challenged to keep up) and part of it was environmental as I found running the streets of NYC to be stressful and dangerous. More recently I’ve run with AG and it’s better because I’m in much better shape than I was those years ago and she is willing to stay at my pace. It’s also time well spent since we are able to cover the same business discussions while running that would normally occur in my office. Some weeks back I ran with a group in Central Park and that was fun. I didn’t do much talking because that’s still a challenge for me when running. That’s still true when I run with AG but it works fine because the focus of our weekly meeting is an update and I listen more than I talk. During the week I run alone on the treadmill and on the weekends I usually do a solitary run around my neighborhood. I find these runs to be very fulfilling and they serve as an opportunity to focus on things without distraction. When I encounter others on the road, more often than not, my counterparts are also running alone.

On the weekends I sometimes drive to the track to do my runs and I usually see groups of runners heading along the road. I’ve thought about being one of them rather than being just one of the people sharing the track at the High School. I ask myself which scenario fits me better and every time I conclude that I’m better off by myself. I’ll admit that running with others can help you keep a faster pace. In both my races I found that having faster runners in proximity helped me run faster. With that exception I think I’m better off being a lonely runner. Much as I enjoy a community I’m not very good at groups. I enjoyed the Lululemon run and I like the runs I’ve done in Central Park (and elsewhere – see below) but mostly because they are discreet events: assemble, run, depart. No barbeques, fund raisers, meetings, bylaws or committees. I’m not saying these things aren’t great, they’re just not for me.

Last night I did my first street run with my new Brooks Adrenaline 9’s. AG and I did our weekly meeting while running both directions on the George Washington Bridge which was an intimidating concept to me (fear of heights, bridges, speeding cars) but it was very different than I’d expected. The bridge itself is fairly flat with a gradual rise to the center and than a decline to the endpoints. On each end are areas where you encounter stairs and a couple of places had jogs in the path where you had to be careful not to run into a cyclist coming from the other direction. The cars were far enough away that they didn’t factor in the experience and the view of the Hudson on either side was more serene than scary. We only covered about 2.3 miles but I was happy with the run and very happy that the Brooks performed well and felt good. This morning it was back to the treadmill where I ran about two miles at 8:45/mile. I’m looking forward to my Saturday run where I’m hoping to cover at least 5 miles. The Brooks are already helping my leg problem and that soreness was a wake up call for replacement that I didn’t answer. Next time I’ll be ready.

The shoe debate has ended

Yesterday afternoon I stopped by the Super Runner’s Shop in midtown which is located a block from my office. I mentioned that I bought the Brooks Adrenaline 9’s the previous day and was unhappy to later discover that they were a stability model. The man at SRS asked to look at my foot, said I had a low arch and told me that I needed a shoe that managed pronation like the GTS-9 or the Asics 2140. All the same he said he’d be happy to take back the Brooks if I was unhappy with them. I discussed all this later with AG and she said I shouldn’t get hung up on whether a shoe is neutral or made for stability. The important thing was fit. I decided that I’d go back today and try on more shoes.

A funny thing happened when I got home and started packing up the Brooks for return. I’d thought about what the salesperson said about pronation and I looked at my Nikes to see if I could find evidence of that. I was very surprised to see that the outside edges of both soles (at the back) were worn quite a bit. I compared the back view of the Nikes with the back of the Brooks and saw how the Brooks were built to counteract that wear. Instead of boxing up the Brooks I tried them on again and then tried the Nikes. The fit of the Brooks was actually much better and my only issue was the tightness at the tongue. AG had told me that sometimes changing the lacing helps the fit of a shoe and I noticed that, unlike the Brooks, the Nikes did not have laces in the top holes. I took the laces out of the top holes of the Brooks, re-tied them and decided that they felt good enough for me to give them another chance.

This morning I gave the Brooks a true test on the treadmill. I changed the battery on the Garmin foot pod last night and was happy to see the 50 was once again recording distance so that wasn’t going to distract me like it did on Sunday. I started at a comfortable pace and increased speed as I went. The Brooks felt very good, no complaints. I ended up running a couple of miles at an 8:39 pace. I didn’t really push my speed during the run, if I had I’m sure I could have taken down the pace by ten seconds/mile.

So after all that I’ve decided to keep the Brooks. I told my wife this morning and she smiled and shook her head but supported me completely. I think I drove her a little crazy over the last couple of days obsessing about this purchase. I want to take the GTS 9’s on a long run outdoors to really understand how they fully perform. Right now my feet and my leg feel pretty good. Brooks Adrenaline GTS 9’s, I’m sorry what I said about you before. You’re more than okay.

Give me the old soft shoe

My Nikes served me well for Saturday’s race and it was almost with regret that I set out on Sunday to find their replacements. On the advice of experienced runners I decided to visit a local running store in Huntington where I could get some informed opinions on the right shoes to buy. The woman who helped me certainly had the right attitude and she looked at the way I walked and confirmed that I have a neutral stride. I told her I wanted a neutral cushioned shoe with a good response for a front foot runner.

I was given a number of shoes to try from Saucony, Asics, Brooks and New Balance. They all felt okay although I found one pair a bit unbalanced. After some trying and re-trying it came down to the Asics 2140’s versus the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 9’s. After some debate I chose the Brooks and took them home.

When I got home I looked up the shoes online and confirmed that the Brooks are more of a stability shoe for pronators (AG had warned of this) and the Asics 2140 had similar characteristics. I was deeply disappointed that I was steered toward this type of shoe despite my request for neutral cushioning. I spent the rest of the day deciding whether the Brooks, which felt okay, would be worth keeping. I ran with them on the treadmill and they felt fine but their responsiveness was not what I was hoping for. A big issue is the way they fit at the tongue, too tight against the front of my ankles. I felt like I couldn’t have the laces any looser without feeling some slippage. I also think I’ve diagnosed the problem with my Garmin, a low battery in the foot pod. I’m hoping to find a replacement for that today.

I tried the Adrenaline GTS 9’s again this morning and decided that I should be 100% happy with a pair of running shoes that cost twice what I paid for my trail shoes. Super Runners has a number of stores in NYC and their policy is to take back or exchange shoes if you’re not happy. I’m going to take back the Brooks and try on true neutral shoes until I find a pair that feels as good as the Nikes did when I first brought them home.