Judgment day for hybrid running machines

Left to right: $2,000, $3,300, $9,300

Today’s run (street): 3.2 miles

Wednesday afternoon I participated in a debriefing session with fellow testers of the hybrid elliptical running machines. The machines had been removed from the testing lab a couple of weeks ago and I missed them. I was happy to see they were all back in place so we could refer to them in the discussion. It was interesting to hear what my my co-panelists thought about them since we were unable to share experiences during the test period. While we didn’t share the same opinions on everything, most of us agreed on the machine we liked the least.

A few young and very fit people complained that they couldn’t generate enough intensity on the machines to get a good workout. I rolled my eyes remembering my own experience unfolding myself from the units like a wet noodle after most of my testing sessions. I made the point to the group that I didn’t think any of the machines actually duplicated a real running experience. Most people seemed to agree. That isn’t to say that machines won’t provide a great workout. I personally couldn’t justify the exceedingly high cost of a fitness machine that isn’t much different from my rickety Pro Form CE 6.0.

I was so inspired by Wednesday’s discussion that I did an elliptical workout when I got home. I like ellipticals because I control them dynamically, unlike treadmills that have a mind of their own. After 30 minutes, with an outside temperature of 92°, I felt like I had all the intensity I could manage. Better still, the mild sciatica that I’d had through mid week seemed to be gone after I finished.

This morning I got out fairly early so I would beat the heat. I worked from home and needed to be back in time for a meeting that was being held using a Google Hangout. That meant I needed to look presentable even though I participated from the comfort of my home office-slash-fitness center. Early was a good call, because the heat really intensified over the short time that I ran.

I usually see other runners in the neighborhood on Fridays and weekends and today was no different. Besides the one young guy I always see no matter what day or time I run, the other runners were older (note to SIOR – even older than me. It’s possible). I reached a road at the same time as another man and we headed in the same direction. Unlike that time in November when I “won” the race and triggered six months of disc related pain, I didn’t take the bait. Instead I tucked in behind him until I reached my turnoff.

I’d like to think it was a relief for this guy not to have this hot shot runner on his tail, but he may not have even noticed. Owing to both the increasing heat and my limited time, I kept my distance to 3+ miles. I was almost home when I heard the familiar sound of my cell’s ring tone. I chose to ignore it, but when I finished my run I saw that I’d missed an important call.

Rather than take the time to shower or even towel off, I returned the call from my garage. It was amusing to have a deep business conversation while standing in my sweat soaked running clothes. But that’s what’s great about working from home. You can alternate between business and non-business activities when you have to – and wear running shorts while you’re at it.

The hybrid versus elliptical question

$9,300 and no cup holder!

Today’s workout (elliptical): 45 minutes

This morning was a washout so I decided to do today’s workout indoors. I could have used the treadmill, but I decided to elliptical. I was mostly curious about how a plain old elliptical trainer would feel compared to the three “alternative” cardio machines I’ve been testing.

“Been testing” is the operative phrase here. We’ve all finished our formal workout sessions and documented our experiences. That feedback, plus the data generated by the machines, will help the organization determine the value of these models. The test team, who have been asked not share their opinions up to this point, will be brought together to compare perspectives. I’m curious to hear which machines people liked and why they liked them.

The average cost of the machines I tested is about $5,000. Our Pro Form CE 6.0 elliptical cost less than a tenth of that. There’s no debating that a $5K unit would be better constructed than a entry level elliptical machine. But do you really need something like that? After a few minutes on my elliptical, I started to appreciate both sides of the argument.

Although my Pro Form machine feels about as stable as a seesaw, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It has various levels of resistance and, after 45 minutes, I felt properly worked out. On the other hand, the hybrid running machines (2 out of the three especially) felt rock solid and the dynamically variable stride length provided another dimension to the experience.

It’s not clear to me that it’s worth spending an extra $1,600 to $8,900 (not a typo) to attain that dimension. If I did most of my workouts on fitness machines I would want to have a rock solid unit with the flexibility to change my stride. Since I use my elliptical as an occasional cross training tool, buying a big expensive machine would not be wise or practical. However, if these hybrid machines provided a true run-like experience, I’d view and value them in a much different way.

The five dumbest things I’ve done running

This week’s workouts (Hybrid running machines): 60 minutes total

I’m running smarter these days, carefully easing into runs on my local roads and doing a majority of my workouts using non-impact fitness machines. I haven’t always exercised good judgment when running and that has led to some bad outcomes. Here are the five dumbest things I’ve ever done while running.

5. No warm-up full-on sprint at the track. I had only been running a few months and I decided to see how fast I could run 100 meters. I don’t remember my speed, but I do remember waiting over a month to get over a groin pull.

4. Tripping on the edge of my driveway at 4:30 AM. I had finished my morning run and came off the road where my toe caught a slight rise and I hit the ground hard. Lots of cuts and scrapes, a possible hairline fracture of one finger and scars on my knee that didn’t fade for three years. As bad as that was, I was running again the next day.

3. Getting completely lost on a trail run. I was running at Muttontown Preserve when I found myself caught behind a large fence that separated me from the trail leading to the exit. It was freezing and snowy and I had to bushwhack between thorny bushes to get to a barbed wired fence that I was able to climb over and then jump down six feet to the ground.

2. Running a half marathon with a knee injury. I’d hurt my knee the week before the LI Half and decided to run it anyway. My knee was sore at the start and getting sorer every mile. I considered dropping out at the four mile mark but chose to continue. I had a bad race and spent months running on that injured knee. If I’d DNS’d I would have avoided a long, frustrating recovery period.

1. Continually re-aggravating my current disc injury. I’m not sure if I caused my original problem by “racing” a neighbor who was also doing a neighborhood run. I have no other explanation but every time I was close to recovery, I managed to do something to make the injury worse. Usually that involved turning a good run into a bad one by pushing my speed too far. I’m hoping that cycle has finally been broken.

I’ve had two decent workouts this week. Today’s session (on a hybrid machine) came the closest to running that I’ve ever done on a piece of gym equipment (not counting a treadmill). Tomorrow I plan to do another outside run. My hope is that my form will continue to improve and the residual discomfort will lessen.

A ruptured disc is an Annular event

Workouts this week (hybrid fitness machines): 3 sessions, 8 miles total

Well I’m back to weekday workouts and I feel better than I have in months. I suspect one reason for that is because I’ve added three more workouts to my weekly schedule. I’ve been testing fitness equipment and those sessions are providing me a lot of of additional energy. Committing to this testing forced a level of discipline that I really need right now.

Another reason I’m feeling good relates to the recovery progress I’m having with my disc problem. I finally had a conversation with my orthopedist who read my MRI and confirmed both a ruptured disc and torn annular ligament. The rupture may not completely heal, but the inflammation seems to have abated. The soreness is almost gone and I have no ill effects when or after using these alternative running machines.

I’ve done workouts (treadmill, elliptical, test units) almost every day for the past two weeks. Last weekend I had success running on pavement and on the track. Not quite where I want to be, but it was a big gain over the previous weekend. I’m planning to do a neighborhood run tomorrow morning and hoping to see even more improvement. I won’t say much about the testing I’m doing except to note that the experience of running is very hard to duplicate on a machine.

Hybrid run through the Bethpage trails

Helpful and tasty

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 6.2 miles

I had been doing well earlier in the week, knocking off a couple of intense treadmill runs followed by a good effort on the road. By Thursday afternoon I had a sore throat and a lack of energy. I treated the symptoms using a couple of packets of Emergen-C (handed out at the Cow Harbor race festival) and that seemed to help. Still, I decided on Friday morning to forgo my workout.

After getting to bed early, and sleeping a rare eight hours, I was ready to go out for a longer run. I was still feeling a little tired and took an Accel Gel 2nd Surge to give me a boost. I’d taken 2nd Surge before the Cow Harbor race and liked that it provided good energy. Better still, it didn’t leave me feeling sluggish later in the run and the chocolate flavor is surprisingly good.

My plan was to run at Bethpage and do a “hybrid” run that would cover about 5 miles over both the wooded trails and the newly paved bike path extension. I ended up getting out late and didn’t start my run until 10:00 AM. I ran south on the old bike trail until I reached the cut-in to the woods and headed north along the path that changed between dirt, gravel, soil and sand.

I mostly got it right, but I over-thought my direction and took a trail that went west, forcing a turnaround at Plainview Rd. I corrected my mistake and guessed correctly from there. I followed the path out to the new paved trail that intersected just below South Park Drive. The transition to pavement was jarring and the sun and heat were suddenly factors.

The intersection with Haypath Road came quickly, and I continued north, first past Old Bethpage Road and then to Old Country Road where the paved trail ends (for now). I turned around after noting the location of the dirt trail that continued across the street. I’m hoping that they eventually put some stop signs at the locations where the bike path intersects with the road. 

I was past the three mile point by the time I reached Old Country Road and I knew by then that my 5 mile run would be extended to six. I was feeling the effort, so I picked up my speed in an attempt to re-energize my stride. It helped a little, and I maintained a decent pace as I made my way south towards my finish point.

Before I could enjoy the relatively flat last mile of the run I needed to get past a couple of hills that rise 100 feet in 3/10ths of a mile. Once I cleared that point, I picked up the pace again and finished my run after covering 6.2 miles. After missing my run on Friday, I was happy with the additional unplanned mile.

I’m still not 100% but this run didn’t seem to do me any harm. I’m going to try for another longer run tomorrow, but I may stay local to do that. My next race is a 5K so I’m going to need to work on my speed at some point. That race starts with a long hill so I’ll need to start training for that as well.