Sunday, April 27, 2014

Racing Recap: Valley Forge Revolutionary Run

After running two half marathons this spring, I was a bit thrown off guard running the Rev Run today at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I have been having some trouble over the past week or so with shinsplints. I have pretty much figured out that these are due to tight calf muscles, so I have been spending time with my lovely foam roller. (Yes, "lovely" was sarcastic.) Heading out for this race was tricky for me from the beginning, so I am just going to break this review down into Pros, Cons, and Racing Edition Runner's Rambles.

I got to run a race in a National Park "with" one of my friends, Mark, and his awesome wife and super adorable son cheered us on. My boss Terry did his run in the park today running in the opposite direction, so I got a little bit of on-course cheering as well. I almost stopped to stretch and walk a little more than really necessary, but seeing Terry coming toward me made me keep running. Thanks, Terry! The Fast Tracks running club had a high-energy and peppy water stop at the half way mark. There was also quite a spread at the post-race tent. And lastly, at this particular time, it was nice to just have a five miler.

Did you see what I did there with the quotation marks in the first line of the second paragraph? Mark is way faster than me.... So I need to get myself in gear and really start training and working on speed if I am going to keep up with Mark at the NYC Marathon this fall. This course was seriously hilly. Why don't I learn to check these things before I sign up for THREE hilly races in one season? It was only five miles, so I was thrown off due to getting to mile four before I realized I was almost done instead of just starting, so at that point, I realized that I should have just pushed harder. We'll come back to this point in Rambles! And the post-race was packed with stuff, but hard to navigate to find anything. I kept SEEING people with bagels, but it took me nearly ten minutes to FIND the bagels. There were lots of people, and everything was packed into some fairly small tents. 

One of my co-workers always asks me the same question every time I start whining... I whine a lot, which I think everyone has figured out by now. "Are you feeling discomfort or pain?" You see, discomfort is not the same as pain. My brother would say that pain is a good thing. Joe is one of those "No pain, no gain!" kind of people. I would say that's from being in the military, but he has been that way since we were kids. I am not that kind of person, thus the whining. 
But discomfort, that's a different story, and I didn't realize that until I was running today. And unfortunately, I didn't figure that out until mile four. You see, an oyster creates a pearl because a foreign object creates discomfort, and it begins coating the object with a substance that creates the beautiful pearl. Pain though, pain is the body's signal that something is wrong. Pain is not good, but discomfort can be. It can push us to make pearls out of problems. Did I really need to stop three times to stretch today? Eh, probably not, but better safe than sorry for now. But now I know that I need to pay closer attention to my body to figure out if it is in pain or just uncomfortable. It's time for this runner to start creating some pearls!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hoka Review

There is inevitably that day that comes in a runner’s life when the shoe they've fallen in love with is ripped away from them by the company that makes it. Either one tweak too many is made in the newest model, or the shoe is discontinued altogether. I have experienced this twice this year. I was excited for the 10th anniversary edition of the Mizuno Inspire, but I am not a fan of the new super stiff posting or the “euphoric” foam cushioning system. And Brooks, well, don’t even get me started on the Trance versus Transcend switcheroo.

So what’s a runner to do? Experiment. So I decided to go maximal or go home! That’s right! I am trying out Hoka One One. Hoka makes maximal shoes that take all the good parts of minimalism, and incorporates those qualities into a shoe with cushion to spare. Most Hoka models have a 4 mm drop, which is comparable to semi-minimals like the Saucony Kinvara or Brooks Pure Flow and Cadence. They have lots of width, depth, and flexibility in the upper like an Altra. They are surprisingly lightweight, and they don’t use traditional posting in their support shoes. Instead, the mid-sole material comes up around the foot so that the foot is guided back in line more naturally. Does that concept of the guidance into a natural neutral position sound too good to be true? Well, if it was, then Brooks probably wouldn't be copying that concept on the new Transcend. And Brooks is a running specific brand only, and just happens to be the leading running shoe manufacturer in the United States. They wouldn't spend a ton of money to copy something that doesn't work.

Let’s be real here, I hated the Hoka Stinson from the moment I saw it. It was the first Hoka I came in direct contact with, and it was U-G-L-Y, and it had no alibi, it was UGLY. I tried it on briefly like a small child that takes the tiniest bite of a vegetable, chews quickly, and swallows while simultaneously gasping like they are dying. I took maybe two steps and took them off. That was in August. A few weeks ago, those very same Stinsons made their way back to me after a friend decided that she probably wouldn't ever really wear them to run in either. I reluctantly started wearing them to work as if to spite Mizuno and Brooks for their betrayal. Then the strangest thing happened; I tried running in them.
Size comparison with ASICS GT 2000 v2

At first, I was slow and dragging on my runs, but I could immediately tell that the cushion would feel amazing at the end of a long run. My concern was that I typically wear a mid to high support shoe, but these neutral-esque shoes were actually feeling ok. I had trouble climbing hills at first, and I spoke to some veteran Hoka wearers who do group runs at the store I work in, and they were reluctant to tell me that it was probably just me and my lack of training that made my runs slow and awkward in the Hokas, and I am glad they found a polite way of telling me that because I kept trying them.

I wore the Stinson Tarmac for my half marathon at the Garden Spot Village Marathon and Half, and I had almost no problems. The cushion was great! This particular course is HILLY, but I didn't have any issues that seemed to be due to the shoe rather than the actual hills themselves. I didn't have any ankle or knee pain after the race, but I did have a few blisters on the ends of my toes. I haven’t had any blisters after switching to the wrightsock until I ran that half in the Stinsons. The plus side is that I usually have either shooting pain, tingling, or numbness in my left leg after a long run due to a pinched nerve in my back, but I didn't have any of those issues after running a half marathon in the Hoka Stinson!

UPDATE: I have been running in Hokas almost exclusively since this post. I have tried the Bondi, Conquest, Stinson Lite, and Clifton. 
The Clifton is amazingly light, yet highly cushioned. Think of this shoe as Diet Hoka. Less weight, and less cushion, but still a taste of that Hoka flavor you love! It would be a good "gateway" shoe for someone wanting to try Hokas, but unsure of the feel and price. It does not work well for me on long runs due to the softness of the shoe not holding up as well to my pronation, but it does well up to about 7 miles for me.
The Bondi was not nearly stable enough for my pronation on any level. I would say this shoe is for strictly the neutral runner. Pronators and Supinators need not apply.
The Conquest is a firmer, but still highly cushioned shoe. It is geared toward the runner who is more likely to pronate or supinate with stiffer "bumpers" that sort of wrap up around the foot. I felt this shoe didn't have a wide enough toe box for me, and there is less of a built in arch than some of the other models. I personally, and this may not be everyone's experience, had lots of plantar fascia pain during long runs in this shoe.
The Stinson Lite seems to be the sweet spot for me. I am on my second Stinson though I moved from the Tarmac to the Lite. I love this shoe. I put in the 4mm liner instead of the zero drop, and I love the slight arch built in, and the stable, yet highly cushioned ride it offers. It has a wide flat base to provide a ride stable enough for long runs without any pronation issues. My back and hips are in MUCH better shape than I was before I started wearing Hokas.

TAKE AWAY: Hokas seem to work well for people who have back issues, chronic joint pain, or people who tend to be injury prone. Not every Hoka model will work for every runner, and Hokas in general are not for everyone. Visit a running specialty store that carries Hokas and ask ahead of time if there is a particular employee who is more experienced with Hokas or anyone who has run in them that works there.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Racing Recap: Garden Spot Village Half Marathon

I am well on my way to becoming a Half Fanatic! I finished my second half marathon out of the three I need to run in 90 days to become a Half Fanatic. I had a great time at the Garden Spot Village Half Marathon in New Holland, PA. This is probably my second favorite race so far since I started running.

Thanks, Toni!
This race benefits the Benevolent Fund for Garden Spot Village, which is a retirement community in New Holland; the heart of Amish Country, PA. Make no mistake, the race was HARD!! I loved the first 5 miles or so even with all the CRAZY HILLS!! I can't even explain how crazy the hills were. I decided to just feel out the course, walk when I needed to, and take full advantage of the down hills. I really had a hard time with this challenging course, but luckily I met a wonderful woman named, Toni, who pushed me along throughout the second half of the race. She was seriously AWESOME!!!!! I probably would have walked at least the last three miles if she had not kindly stayed by my side encouraging me.

I loved the scenery of this course! It was just like being back home in Missouri with all the farmland around.
There were Amish men, women, and children cheering the runners along the way. I even saw, and I am not making this up, an Amish boy wearing a bear suit while Rusted Root was playing on my playlist! This may seem strange, yet innocuous, but all of those things remind me of my sister Grace who inspired me to start running in the first place. I could have done without the Road Apples, but the scenery was gorgeous, and they come with the territory.

The organization and amenities were the best part of this race. There was plenty of parking, and it was near the start/finish. There were tons of port-a-potties at the start/finish, and there were some along the course. The volunteers were awesome! There were plenty of water stops, and the post-race was AWESOME!! They had shakes, smoothies, omelettes, soup, sandwiches, snacks, and tons of tables and chairs to rest, relax, and regroup.

And a big thanks to my husband, Matthew, who filled up the water pitcher last night, woke up at 5:30 on a Saturday to sit around for a couple hours waiting for me to finish, and is always sweeter than I deserve. I love you so much, Handsome!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How beautifully difficult, and therefore true.

Do you want to know what I love about running? Life. Running makes me appreciate life far more than I did before I became a runner. Running has a way of subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, reminding me that I am very fortunate. My life is easy. Have I faced my share of challenges? Sure! Haven't we all? Running just reminds me that those challenges, those hardships, those feelings of despair when you've experienced something awful, are all temporary.

I can be a bit of a pessimist. I am also a bit of a whiner. When I'm running, I sometimes complain, whine, or even get angry about how difficult things seem at the time, but I try to remind myself that I should be thankful. There are so many people who cannot run. There are people living their lives in fear and defining themselves by the standards of others. There are women living in oppressive societies. There are entire countries devastated by poverty, war, and famine.

My life is easy. My life is blessed. My life is beautiful. Running is hard. Running feels hard. Running is beautiful, and running is easy. Wait? How can running be hard and easy? Well, it is a challenge. A challenge that I readily invite into my life. It's hard because it pushes me to evaluate my motivation, dedication, and confidence, which makes it easy because that helps me to become a better version of myself. The biggest key to running is that it only feels hard. Hard is relative. When I think that running feels hard, I try to think about how easy my life really is and how I can often be ungrateful for the easy, blessed, fortunate, beautiful life that I have. It really helps to put things in perspective.

That is what my new running tattoo represents to me. I got it on my wrist to see while I am running to remind me that I need to love. I need to live. I need to run. In order to put my life in perspective, in order to live fully, and in order to fully love all that I have been blessed with, I need to run.

If you really want inspiration, watch this awesome Boston Marathon tribute video.

How wonderful, how sane, how beautifully difficult, and therefore true.-- Salinger