Looking ahead

If you scroll down this page a little bit, you’ll see a box that reads “On the docket”.  It’s where I usually list my upcoming races.  For the first time in years, it’s completely empty — I don’t have a single race planned.  This is partially due to being extremely cautious as I come back from a weirdly ambiguous hip/back injury, but also because I’ve been trying to decide what my goals are for next 6-12 months.   If you had asked me 2 months ago, I would’ve said I’d really like to focus on running a fast road marathon ASAP.   I really do feel like I’m capable of a big marathon PR, I just need the right course.  Throughout July and August, as I slowly started to run again, I kept wondering if I should sign up for CIM before it sold out and if I had enough time to train.  Then I snapped out of my fantasy world and decided that I needed to be 100% healthy before I start any kind of marathon training.

My next irrational impulse was to sign up for a fall/winter trail marathon.  That was one of my major goals for 2014 as a stepping stone toward the 50K distance.  Thankfully, my logical side took over once again and and reasoned that if I can’t even run a flat road marathon, then what am I doing signing up for a trail marathon?  Ridiculous!

Then, I accepted a new job, which will require me to switch from a part-time to full-time work schedule.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I hadn’t given into any of my impulses to sign up for a big fall race.  It’ll be hard enough to juggle a new job with much longer hours, let alone worry about marathon training.  Rest assured, I’ll keep running, but I’m relieved not to have to adhere to any specific weekly mileage or workouts.  One less thing to stress about.

That said, I do like to have races on the calendar to keep the motivation train going.  This post is more or less a rambling diatribe of the races I’m considering and the goals floating around in my head for 2015.

I had a lot of fun racing a 5K in August, so I think I’d like to run another one in the fall, perhaps the LMJS 4th Sunday race on Oct. 26th.

For 2015, my goal is to run a 50K.  There, I said it (finally).  I’ve been really intrigued by ultramarathons for a long time and I think it’s time to take the plunge.  Currently, I’m eyeing the Way Too Cool 50K (Auburn, CA; March), Skyline 50K (Castro Valley, CA; August), and North Face Endurance Challenge 50K (Golden Gate Recreational Area, CA; December).  I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to train for WTC, but since there’s a lottery and it’s difficult to get in, my bet is that Skyline or NFEC will be my first 50K.

Although the motivation is there, the truth of the matter is that I haven’t been running a whole lot of trail miles in the last 4 months.  My last long trail run was in May and marked the beginning of the ambiguous traveling injury.  Until last week, I stuck to running fairly flat trails or trails with small rollers.  I’ve done a few hilly hikes in the past 3 months, but I always kept it strictly at walking pace so as to not re-injure myself.  Finally, last Friday, I decided to take a lap around good ol’ Lake Chabot.  I still walked a decent amount of the ascents to keep my heart rate low, but it was definitely faster than hiking speed.  Best of all, my hips and back still felt good at the end of the 8.8 miles.  #WINNING

A gorgeous day at Lake Chabot. #trailrunlove

A gorgeous day at Lake Chabot. #trailrunlove

Then, on Saturday morning, I went on a fairly strenuous, 3-mile hike/run in the Marin Headlands as part of our friends’ wedding festivities (how cool is that, by the way??).  Two days later, I’m happy to report zero niggles after the back-to-back trail outings, with only my quads complaining just a little due to soreness/fatigue.  With that little test in the bag, I’m ready to sign up for the Summit Rock Half Marathon in December, which several friends are running as well, so it should be a lot of fun!

Group run on KS and RL's wedding day. (photo from RL's Facebook page)

Group run on KS and RL’s wedding day. (photo from RL’s Facebook page)

In addition to all of the trail running, I’d like to pick a couple of road half marathons for 2015.  The Kaiser Half seems like a good opportunity to try to PR again, especially if I’m not running WTC.  Plus, I’d like to see how/if this MAF training pays off.  Speaking of which, I’ve got a MAF test coming up this Saturday.  These last 2 weeks were really inconsistent training-wise, mainly due to Ragnar Napa, so I’m curious to see whether I’ve improved at all since test #2.

I think that, in light of my recent injury and the upcoming new job and schedule, I need to be more focused than ever before on what my running goals are.   For now, that seems to be one “A” race in 2015, the 50K, and maybe 2 half marathons.

Random photo of noodles from my last week of work, just because it's been too long since I last posted any noodle pictures. ;)

Random photo of noodles from my last week of work, just because it’s been too long since I last posted any noodle pictures. ;)  These are hand-pulled noodles, BTW, and totally delicious.

Questions for you:

Do you only sign up for goal races, or are you a “race for fun” kind of person?

Have you run the WTC, Skyline, and/or NFEC 50K races? What did you think?

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Posted in Goals

Race Recap: Ragnar Napa Valley

How does one recap a 33.5 hour relay?  In the interest of my time and yours, I’m going to try to keep this as brief as possible.  “Try” is the operative word — y’all know that brevity is not my strong suit!

Let’s begin back in the late spring, when Cathryn started organizing a group of runners for Ragnar Napa Valley.  I officially registered in May.  Over the course of 4 months, we decided on a team name (“You’re the Wine That I Want!”), had 1 team get-together, exchanged hundreds of emails, and lost then gained runners more times than I can count.  In the end, we had 11 runners (well, technically 10 2/3 runners – I’ll explain later) and 1 intrepid driver.  Due to our ever-changing circumstances, I changed runner spots 3 times and finally settled in at the runner 9 spot on Thursday morning.  With that settled, I finally began packing.   To my surprise, I actually did a decent job packing everything I needed in a medium-sized timbuk2 messenger bag.  I didn’t forget anything and used everything I brought.  (If anyone cares about such things, here’s a link to my Ragnar packing list.)

Cast of characters:
Van 1:

  • Amanda – blogger, scientist, duathlete.
  • Matt – Amanda’s husband, probably the fastest runner on our team.
  • Sabrina – blogger, visiting all the way from Texas!  Her recap can be found here.
  • Cathryn – our fearless team leader and endless fountain of positivity.  Her recap can be found here.
  • Rich – a.k.a. Cathryn’s IronHusband.
  • The one and only MILF Runner – driver extraordinaire.  I was quite jealous that she wasn’t in our van…we should’ve made a plan to kidnap her.  I blame my lack of follow-through on the sleep deprivation.  Her recap can be found here.

Van 2: (aka Van J)

  • BT – *VIP status*: she took on the most hardcore legs in our van, if not for the entire race.  26+ miles on sketchy roads, relentless hills, and scorching sun.  She totally rocked it, by the way.  Her recap is here.
  • Jen H. – friend of BT, who flew in from a last-minute work trip out East in time for her 2nd and 3rd legs (she was our 2/3 runner).  *VIP status*: she started off with the least amount of sleep out of anyone.
  • Jim – Jen H.’s significant other and self-described “elderly statesman” of our team.  Despite being a relatively new runner, he jumped in head-first (feet first?).  *VIP status*: he crushed his predicted total run time by over 30 minutes.
  • Janet – a very courageous stranger from the internetz who stepped in last minute to help us out.  *VIP status*: she ran 5 miles at 3am in thick fog with only a handheld flashlight!
  • Jess – *VIP status*: Van J leader, sleepless driver, speedy runner, and all-around badass.
  • Jen L. – Me!

The Race:
course overview copyVan 1 started in Golden Gate Park at 9:30 a.m.  Van 2 had a leisurely morning, then headed to College of Marin-Kentfield, where the first van exchange would take place.  It was about 2pm and a hot, sunny 80 degrees when Sabrina took off for Leg 7 (Jen H.’s first leg).

Almost 2/3 of Team YTWTIW at Exchange 6, waiting for Cat to finish her first leg.  I was terrible about taking photos! #badblogger  (photo courtesy of Jess)

Almost 2/3 of Team YTWTIW at Exchange 6, waiting for Cat to finish her first leg. I was terrible about taking photos! #badblogger (photo courtesy of Jess)

After a morning of waiting and sitting the van, it was finally my turn to run.  I recapped my runs fairly succinctly on Daily Mile, so I’m just going to copy them here. #lazyblogger

Leg 9: Leg 9 copy

Janet handing off to me as I begin Leg 9.

Janet handing off to me as I begin Leg 9. (photo credit: Jess)

Hilliest leg of 3 runs – good thing my legs were fresh! The descents were fun but caused blisters to start forming on the balls of my left foot. A new pair of my trusted Merrell Pace Gloves in a 1/2 size bigger also contributed to the blister problem – too much friction.

It was a scenic run on Nicasio Valley Road but a little sketchy, as there was little to no paved shoulder in spots (about 2 feet on average) and some fast moving vehicles. It was also Friday afternoon at 3:30, so it was pretty darn hot! I was glad it was a relatively short leg.

Average pace: 9:45/mile.  Average HR: 159, max HR: 171.   Obviously, I took a break from MAF training during Ragnar.

Ticking off our completed legs on the van, and drawing in an airplane for Jen H.'s first leg.

First leg done!  Ticking off our completed legs on the van, and drawing in an airplane for Jen H.’s first leg. (photo credit: Jess)

Intense action shot at Exchange 10 between BT and Jess.  One of my favorite photos from the relay!

Intense action shot at Exchange 10 between BT and Jess. One of my favorite photos from the relay!

 

Leg 21: Leg 21 copy

A 4 a.m. jaunt around downtown Santa Rosa.  I was a little apprehensive about this leg (running around in the middle of the night in strange place, etc.), but it ended up being fine.  I found another runner who was keeping the same pace, so we kept each other company for most of the leg. The “scariest” thing was running on the uneven sidewalks — I had visions of falling flat on my face.  (Just before my leg, I found out my friend KP had done just that – she had taken a bad fall after tripping on a curb.)  I probably could’ve run at least 10 seconds faster per mile if I wasn’t staring down at the ground the whole time. ;)  I was very grateful when there was finally a bike lane so we could run in the road.

Average pace; 9:15/mile.   Average HR: 154, Max HR: 169.

 

Leg 33: Leg 33 copy

As Cathryn would say, “OH MY WORD.”  This was the toughest run I’ve done in a long time.  9.4 miles along the beautiful but totally exposed Silverado Trail.  The heat was the biggest factor – I believe it was in the mid-80’s with full-on sun.  I wish I had done some heat training.  The 2nd biggest factor was fatigue — not just in my legs, but I had hardly slept and I was exhausted. To make matters worse, I started off way too fast and by the end of 6 miles at ~10:15/mile pace, I knew I was in trouble.  I then made the mistake of taking a too-early walk break, which set the tone for longer walk breaks until I was consistently run-walking for the last 3 miles.  Even though my HR felt like it was through the roof, the HR data shows that I was in the 165-170 range, which for me is approaching 80% max — high but not crazy.  However, considering that my pace was in the 11:00-12:00/mile range, which I usually run at 120-130 bpm, it was very elevated.  At the moment, I didn’t care to push myself that hard.  I was doing Ragnar for fun, after all, and I didn’t think it would be worth it to get heat exhaustion.  Despite the run/walking and 2 water stops, I still came in 5+ minutes ahead of schedule.  FYI: Ragnar padded the 3rd leg estimate by adding 10% to your estimated pace, in addition to whatever elevation you might be running during the leg.  My one regret is that I probably should’ve stopped to take photos — there were some amazing wine country views that were a nice distraction.  I saw a professional photographer on the course around the end of the 9th mile.  Exactly what I wanted after 100 minutes of hot running.  #sarcasm

Trying my best to exude confidence and enthusiasm, only to look a little constipated.

Trying my best to exude confidence and enthusiasm, only to look more than a little constipated.

For these hot, no Van support legs, I wish that Ragnar had supplied the water stations with ice.  I saw so many runners out there struggling and many were not carrying their own water.  Luckily for me, another Ragnar team decided to break the rules and handed out paper towels that had been soaked in icy water.  It was perfection!

Average pace: 11:07/mile.  Average HR: 166, max HR: 174.

Post-run double-fisting crotch chop.

Post-run double-fisting crotch chop. (photo credit: Jess)

 

The one photo I took of the vineyards and mountains (Exchange 35).

The one photo I took of the vineyards and mountains (Exchange 35).

At about 6:18pm, our runner 12 Jim set off on his final leg.  We rushed to the finish line — thanks to Google Maps, we managed to avoid the traffic and get there with plenty of time to meet up with Van 1.  As Jim approached, we formed a tunnel for him to run through.  Then, chaos ensued as Jim continued to sprint toward the finish arch, with the rest of us trying to keep up in our flip flops.

Blurry finish line team photo.  I think we were all too tired to care.

Blurry finish line team photo. I think we were all too tired to care. (photo credit: Cat)

There was a problem with the medals — they hadn’t gotten there on-time, so we were given a consolation prize: a finisher’s belt buckle for Ragnar’s trail relay series.  HUH?  Completely random and sort of useless!  They also gave us extra beer coupons, which I appreciated but didn’t use.  While we’re on the topic of beer, I thought it was great that they served Sierra Nevada beer instead of the low-carb stuff you find at other races.  The last thing runners need to worry about after a 205 mile relay is carbs, am I right??  However, I found out later that wine was $6 for a tiny plastic cup, which considering the locale, you’d think would be FREE.  Ragnar Napa obviously needs to work on securing a wine sponsor/partner.

The original plan was to go out for a team dinner, but considering that we all had long drives ahead of us with very little sleep, we decided to part ways and hopefully celebrate at a later date.   It would’ve been nice to stay near the finish line (Calistoga), but the accommodations were sparse and expensive.

General thoughts – my running legs:

I went into the relay with a 10:00/mile estimate, knowing that 17.2 miles over 25 hours might be challenging coming back from my recent injuries.  According to the special Ragnar spreadsheet, my estimated total run time was 187 minutes (based on the difficulty of my legs).  My actual run time was ~177 minutes.  I didn’t get as many “kills” (or “roadkills”), i.e., when you pass another runner, as I would’ve liked.  I had maybe 15 kills total, almost all of them from the last leg where there were lots of people walking.  As for how my body held up, I was pleasantly surprised to not have any significant problems with my hips or back, despite the abuse I was putting it through between the constant running, sitting, and lying down on the van bench.  The only “injuries” I came away with were minor blisters on the bottom of my left foot, which have since reabsorbed/gone away.  Overall, I feel like I did well given the circumstances, though in the future I’d like to be in Van 1 just to get more normal run times.

General thoughts – my team & the relay experience:

I have nothing but good things to say about Team YTWTIW.  Despite being more or less a group of strangers, and in spite of the the lack of sleep and constant runger, there was zero drama.  I think the closest I came to being snippy was when Cat, Amanda, and MILF Runner individually texted me at 7am Saturday, about 5 minutes apart from each other, regarding the status of our runner, just as I was trying to get some rest.  I got progressively grouchier with each text, then felt badly and sent an apologetic note.  I didn’t see anyone else on the team behaving nearly as “bad” as that.  Considering the bitchiness from other teams that I overheard while waiting in a porta potty line, I think our team was #blessed.

I enjoyed the relay experience, but I can think of a few things that would’ve made it even more enjoyable:
– I hate to sound like a whiner, but I think Van 2 got the short end of the stick regarding the timing of the legs.  Most of us had 2 legs in the heat of the day and also had to run from 2-8am.  Compared to Van 1, who seemed to have more fun and inside jokes, etc. (and I’m a little jealous, to be frank), I felt like Van 2 was often too tired to focus on anything else besides staying awake and taking care of the next task at hand.
– I wish it was more evident who our “competition” was — i.e., teams who had similar estimated finish times.  We ended up randomly choosing a team to target as our “frenemies”, so that made it a little more fun, but it would’ve been nice to have several teams at each exchange to trash talk.  Otherwise, it just felt like a lot of random people in vans driving around instead of a relay RACE.
– On a related note, it would’ve been nice for Ragnar to encourage sportsmanship and inter-team comraderie. (Though, to be fair, I don’t know how they would do this… it seems more up to the participants themselves.)  I had about 10 people pass me on the first leg and as they passed me, I told them, “Good job.”  Only one person responded in kind.  That made me feel kinda crappy.  Luckily, the situation improved dramatically in my 2nd and 3rd legs.  As a team relay event, it seems like it’d be nice to have a happy running community vibe instead of individual runners in their own little cocoons.

Would I run this race again?

Probably not, mostly because I didn’t like the course.  I can’t speak for Van 1, but several of the legs for Van 2 were on very sketchy sections of road.  Also, the fact that there was not enough aid/support for Legs 33 and 34, the hottest and longest legs, was a dangerous oversight.

Would I run Ragnar again?

Mostly likely no.  I’ve never run a Rock ‘n Roll race, but in my mind Ragnar has that same corporate, for-profit feel to it.  If I do another relay, I’d prefer to run a smaller, locally organized race instead.  I know many people love Ragnar, but it just isn’t my cup of tea.

Sunset over Ragnar. (photo credit: Jess)

Sunset over Ragnar. (photo credit: Jess)

In summary: A+ for Team YTWTIW and C for Ragnar.

***

About the race:

  • Organizers: Ragnar Relay Races
  • Cost: It was ~ $179/runner  ($149 registration + $30 volunteer fee), plus van rental, gas, t-shirt, and food — totaling around $300/runner.
  • Aid stations: On the no van support legs, there were stations with water only.  On some legs, there were no volunteers and almost no cups.  At the 2nd water station for my 9.4 mile leg, they were running out of water and only let me fill my bottle halfway.  There’s no excuse for a road race to run out of water!
  • Bathrooms:  “Honey Bucket” porta potties at every exchange that were kept impressively clean the whole race.  My only minor complaint is that it was difficult to locate the porta potties at a couple of the exchanges, where they were located quite a distance away from the exchange.  Some signs would’ve been nice at those exchanges.
  • Swag: Medal(s) (official one to be mailed this coming week), short sleeve technical T-shirt, and 1 bag per van filled with snacks, shower wipes, and Ragnar tattoos.  There was one stemless wine glass per team that was the captain’s gift.
  • Post-race food/drink: Originally, we all had one beer ticket on our bibs, but due to the medal debacle, they gave us extra tickets that we didn’t end up using.  We also got 1 small pizza per van.  I thought it was a missed opportunity not to have food for sale at the major exchanges and at the finish.
  • Misc.: Despite all of my complaints, I will say that this is was a very organized event.  No one got lost – the course was extremely well-marked and our van didn’t have trouble getting to exchanges (though parking is another issue).

 

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Posted in Race Recap

Change and Adaptation

My entire existence as a “real” runner — i.e., someone who trains consistently from week to week — has been a relatively new phenomenon, dating back to the beginning of 2012.  It coincided with 2 other big changes in my life: moving to downtown Oakland and transitioning to a part-time job.   The move to Oakland gave me access to Lake Merritt and its perfect-for-beginners flat, 3-mile loop.  The part-time job provided enough flexibility to let me figure out when I like to run (mornings, to my surprise) and gave me the freedom to embark on marathon training without overwhelming my schedule.

While I really like many aspects of my job – nice location/setting, friendly coworkers, low stress, and flexibility, there are also downsides, the biggest of which is I don’t enjoy what I do.  There are a lot of reasons for that, but we won’t get into it here.  As the weeks went on, I came to dislike my job more and more, to the point where I was expending a lot of negative energy thinking about how much I hated it.  I kept thinking in the back of my mind, “It’s time to move on.”  So here’s my confession: I hung on as long as I could partially because this job doesn’t interfere with my running.  (I was also lazy, confused, and a little scared about finding a new job.)

What spun me out of my negative energy cycle was a friend’s suggestion that I apply for an opening at his company.  Visualizing that scenario empowered me to decide to actively go on the job hunt.  After a couple of months of networking and applications, I got 2 interviews and one offer — which I’ve accepted, pending contract negotiations.  I think the new job is an excellent fit for me and my future supervisor seems great.  The one thing I’m anxious about is the full-time schedule, plus the 1.5 hours of commuting I’ll be doing each day (at least it’ll be by public transit, thankfully).  This will have a huge impact on my running and, more importantly, on my weekly household routine with the Gypsy Runner.  It’s time to get serious about meal planning!

So, while I’m excited about the new job, I’m also a little anxious about how this is all going to work.  I’m confident that I will figure it out (I’ll have to!), but I know that the first couple of weeks will probably be pretty rocky and exhausting.  However, I also think I’ll be spending so much less energy hating my job that the transition will be worth it.  Here’s hoping!

Question for you: Any tips on balancing training with a full-time job and other obligations?

***

This week in training:

Mon – rest
Tues – 1 hour MAF run: 5.4 mi at 11:06 pace
Wed – 1200 yd swim
Thurs – 1 hour MAF run (trails): 5.03 mi at 11:55 pace
Fri – rest.  Bought a new pair of running shoes, which is always exciting.
Sat – hard but fun hike at Huckleberry and Sibley (great write-up and photos on Cathryn’s blog): 4.7 mi, ~1400′ elevation gain
Sun – 2 hour MAF run: 10.17 mi at 11:47 pace.  This run didn’t feel great due to a bad night’s sleep.  My legs were also probably pretty beat from Saturday’s hike, now that I think about it!  On the bright side, my average pace dropped by almost 45 seconds compared to my long run from 2 weeks ago, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. ;)

From Sunday's run

From Sunday’s run

This coming week, I’ll be resting my legs for RAGNAR(!) Napa Friday and Saturday.  We’re down 2 runners, so if you’d like to run with Team “You’re the Wine that I Want”, please email me at willblog4food [at] gmail [dot] com.

Have a great week everyone!

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Gear review: Mio Link

The Mio Link

The Mio Link

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know that I’ve been doing MAF/low heart rate (HR) training.  While this is a recent experiment, I’ve been curious about HR training for a while.  I used a HR monitor (HRM) during the first half of my training for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) last year to make sure my easy runs were truly easy.  Even though it was reassuring to see the HR data confirm my perceived effort, I despised the HRM I was using – the standard Garmin HRM that comes with many of their GPS watches, which was generously loaned to me by RC.

I had 4 major issues with the Garmin HRM.  One, it did not fit me.  Even at the tightest setting, the strap was a few inches too large.  I had to cinch it together at the back with a safety pin, resulting in 1-2 inches of fabric sticking out and creating another chafing spot (see point 4, below).  Two, I hated wetting the electrodes.  After a few sessions of wonky HR data, I asked around and found out that most people either lick or spit on the HRM electrodes.  Gross.  I did it, but I didn’t like it.  This leads into the 3rd point: unreliable data.  Maybe it was the poor fit or not-wet-enough-electrodes, but the Garmin HRM almost always reported random spikes during the first mile, despite the fact that I usually did a short, dynamic warm-up and started out with a low perceived effort.  Fourth, and the most egregious issue of all, was the chafing.  Short runs were fine, but after my 2nd 20-mile long run for MCM, I chafed so badly that I gave up using the HRM for the remainder of my training.  I know that some people get around the chafing using medical tape, but I wasn’t willing to try it.

An example of the crazy HR data from the Garmin HRM.  Don't worry - I won't show photos of the chafing.

An example of the crazy HR data from the Garmin HRM. Don’t worry – I won’t show photos of the chafing.

Traumatized, I put away the Garmin HRM and my hopes of using HR data to help with training.  Then, about 2 months ago, Kimra posted something about the Mio Link, a HRM that you wear on your wrist instead of around your chest.  My interest was immediately  piqued.  Without even trying it, I knew it would address 3 of the 4 issues I had with the Garmin chest strap.  After getting Kimra’s opinion on the Link and reading online reviews from trusted bloggers (here and here), I was even more interested in getting it.  The thing that put me over the edge was deciding to embark on MAF training, which I knew would be impossible with the Garmin HRM (though for a hot second I considered getting the soft strap).  All of those factors, plus the satisfaction guarantee from REI, sealed the deal.  Within 5 days of ordering, I had the Mio Link on my wrist and ready for action.

The back of the Mio Link, which works by light technology.

The back of the Mio Link, which works using LED technology.

Before I continue with the review, here are some of notable features according to the product website:

  • Mio Continuous Technology with EKG-accurate heart rate data at performance speeds
  • No uncomfortable chest strap, so you can train with heart in comfort
  • Customize your workout with up to 5 user-settable heart rate zones
  • Connect to your favorite fitness apps & sport devices with Bluetooth Smart (4.0) and ANT+.
  • Comes in two sizes (wrist sizes: S/M – 121-175mm / 4.8”-6.9”, L: 149-208mm / 5.9”-8.2”)
  • Water resistant up to 30m depths

I should also note that Mio also makes a stand-alone watch with a screen called the Alpha, which is twice the price of the Link.  Unfortunately, it does not appear to have GPS capabilities or memory, so you’ll still need another device or app to track that information.  And while we’re on the subject of HRM worn on the wrist/arm, Scosche also has a optical/LED HRM that’s reviewed in depth here.

After reading a lot customer reviews, it seemed like the biggest issue with the Link was irregular readings.  Pete Larsen suggested some tips in his review, including wearing the Link higher up on the wrist to avoid bony parts.  This makes sense because the LED technology requires a tight seal with the skin in order to block out other sources of light, which interfere with HR readings.  Another thing Pete suggested was wearing the Link on the same arm as your GPS watch.  Yes, this is dorky, but if you’re already wearing a gigantic GPS watch and wearing compression socks, you don’t have much room to roll your eyes at what’s dorky and what’s not, you know what I’m saying?

Looking super cool with not one, but two huge devices on my wrist.

The Link is very easy to use – just put it on very snugly, press the power bar (the set of 10 nubs under the Mio logo), and you’re ready to go!  I’ve been using the Link with my Garmin 210 and it’s worked seamlessly.  The one time that my Garmin wasn’t charged, I was forced to use the Mio app on my iPhone, which could use some serious improvement.

Screenshot from the Mio app for iPhone 5.

Screenshot from the Mio app for iPhone 5.  There are also “workouts” you can download – basically video footage of a run or bike ride, from what I’ve gathered.

The Link has an indicator light that flashes different colors, telling you which zone you’re in (zones are set using the Mio app).  I find this feature somewhat useless because it’s not constant, only flashing every 2-3 seconds.  All this to say — the Mio Link by itself is not that awesome, but when paired with a Garmin, it’s great.  As for battery life, the manufacture claims that it will last 10 hours, but I haven’t tested it for myself.  The HRM pops out of the wrist strap and clicks easily into the USB-charging dock — a much more reliable interface than the Garmin 210 charging clip.

The Mio Link HRM on the charging dock.  The USB cord tucks into the dock for a well-designed little device.

The Mio Link HRM on the charging dock. The USB cord tucks into the back of the dock for a well-designed little device.

I’ve used the Mio Link about 20 times over the last month and I’ve been extremely satisfied with it.  After using it for about 2 weeks, I went for a run with the original Garmin HRM to compare the kind of numbers I was getting.  I was happy to see that the HR/pace data was very similar to numbers I was seeing with the Link.

HR data from a recent run.

HR data from a recent run using the Mio Link.  No more weird spikes!

The only time I’ve had any issues with the Mio Link was when I didn’t have the wrist strap tight enough.  It’s a bit uncomfortable at first to have the wrist strap so tight, but I get used to it very quickly and often forget about it during the course of a run.  Also, because it’s on so tight, the strap leaves an impression on my skin, but it goes away within ~1 hour.  Plus, it’s all relative — when compared to swim goggle racoon eyes, arm marks are definitely preferable in my book!

The summary/ low-down*:

PRICE: $99.99

PROS:
– No chafing
– No need to wet electrodes
– Consistent readings when worn tightly
– Easy to put on, take off
– Easy to use
– Compatible with almost every running device and app on the market today

CONS:
– Pricier than Garmin chest strap HRMs
– Another device to wear on your wrist
– Leaves arm marks and is very sweaty after use
– Indicator light does not flash frequently enough
– No internal memory to track HR data

*in the context of using the Link with a Garmin 210

RATING: 9/10
Highly recommended, especially compared to the chest strap HRM.

Disclaimer: The above review is my personal opinion. I have not been compensated in any way to endorse this product.

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Posted in Gear

MAF Test #2

Welcome back to my adventures in MAF training!  You may or may not remember that I did my first MAF test 4 weeks ago, during which I got an idea of my baseline fitness.  It’s recommended that MAF testing be performed at regular intervals to track improvement (or lack thereof), so I decided to do my 2nd MAF test yesterday morning.  Briefly, here’s how to execute a MAF test:

  • warm-up for 2 miles, targeting 10 beats per minute (bpm) below aerobic max HR (for me, this is 128 bpm)
  • run 1-5 miles at aerobic max HR (138 bpm for me)
  • cool-down, during which I target 133 bpm

Before I get to the test, let me recap how MAF training has been going.  The basic structure of my training is as follows:

  • Mon: rest
  • Tues: 1 hour run (1 mile warm-up, MAF miles, 1 mile cool-down)
  • Wed: swim, 50-60 min
  • Thurs: 1 hour trail run in the morning, 30-60 min run in the afternoon (training for Ragnar!)
  • Fri: rest
  • Sat: 2 hour long run
  • Sun: cross-training at gym – usually 45 min bike
  • Throughout the week: foam rolling, strength exercises 2-3 times/week

The first 2 weeks were frustrating as I saw almost no improvement.  Since then, however, my hour long runs have been getting better — i.e., I’m seeing faster paces at the same or lower HRs.

Here’s a table showing the average pace and HR from my Tuesday morning runs:

A summary of my Tuesday morning runs.

You can see from the table that the average pace has decreased substantially in the last 2 weeks.

Coming off a pretty decent set of runs this past week, I was hopeful that MAF test #2 would show significant improvements.  I woke up yesterday morning to weather conditions almost identical to those 4 weeks ago – a very good sign, because the lower the number of variables between tests, the better.  To keep things even more consistent, I ran almost the same exact route as I did for the first test.  The results?

MAF tests copy

Compared to test #1, my average pace was 56 seconds faster, and my overall time was faster by 3m42s.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a drop in pace as the run progressed – usually, it’s the other way around.  Moreover, I didn’t push very hard to keep HR at 138 for the first 3 miles, which suggests that I probably could have run a bit faster.  Yesterday was also the first time I saw sub-11 minute miles during all of MAF training, which made me feel awesome. :)

After the MAF test miles, I ran 3.3 more miles for a total 9.3 for the day.  To keep my HR 133 or lower, the pace for my final mile was 12:34 — slow for me, but much faster then the penultimate mile of my previous long runs, which have been all around the 14:00/mile range.

I’m really happy with how MAF/low HR training has gone so far, and I’m excited to see how the rest of this experiment will play out.  It definitely doesn’t hurt to see significant improvements in fitness and performance in a relatively short period of time.  Most importantly, I’m continuing to build a good running base of ~25 miles/week without significant aches or pains — which is huge in my book.

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Posted in MAF training

Tiny Glimmers of Hope

I can already tell that my MAF training experiment is going to be full of highs and lows.  A little over a week ago, I was in a funk after my 2nd long run.  Then, as if the running gods were saying, “Hang in there, Jen” (cat poster and all), this week included 2 workouts that indicated my MAF training was moving in a positive direction.

First up: Tuesday’s run.  I’ve been doing workouts based on time instead of distance, and my Tues/Thurs morning runs have all been an hour long.  I usually run 1 warm-up mile (target HR: 128), 3 miles just below maximum aerobic HR (138), and the remainder of the hour for cool-down (target: 133).  I’ve seen my average pace speed up little by little over the weeks, and this Tuesday was the first time I was able to run more than 5 miles in one hour!  I know it might seem funny to be so excited about an 11:51/mile pace, but considering that I did my first hour-long MAF run at 12:11/mile 3 weeks ago, I was really happy about this run!

The other glimmer of hope was yesterday’s long run.  Again, my goal is to run for time and not mileage, and since I’m still building a base, my aim is to run for ~2 hours.  When I woke up to mostly sunny skies yesterday, I realized that Fog-ust (i.e., Foggy August, a regular thing in the Bay Area) appeared to have ended early this year, which meant hotter temps.  And hotter temps meant higher HR.  As a result, I went out very conservatively and was actually able to keep my HR way below the max target.  I was happy that I could maintain a halfway decent pace (relatively) until the last 1-1.5 miles, which is a big improvement over my last long run.  Here are the stats: MAF long runs copy

Note that both my average and maximum HRs were lower for this last long run compared to the 1st two.

The true test is coming up next weekend, literally, when I’ll undergo MAF Test #2.  I’m excited to see the results, though I’m not banking on any huge improvements.  We’ll see!

***

In non-MAF running blogger news, I’m happy to report that I attended not one, but two blogger “meet-ups” this week.  On Tuesday, Cathryn, her Dude, and I met up with Amy and Aaron, who were in town to run the Santa Rosa Marathon last weekend (her recap is already up!).  We had brunch in Emeryville, and it was delightful to finally meet them in person after being online friends for so long.

Yay for new IRL friends!  Photo courtesy of Cathryn.

Yay for former-internet-strangers-to-IRL-friends!  Photo courtesy of Cathryn.

On Saturday, I met up with Bay Area running (current and former) bloggers RoseRunner, MILF Runner, Faster Bunny, and Sesa in Oakland for some chillaxing weekend fun times.  I was reminded, yet again, that the internet has introduced me to some really great people.  However, being the bad blogger that I am, and you know, actually wanting to live in the moment and enjoy people’s company, I didn’t do a lot of picture taking.  This is the one photo I have from Saturday:

This tree is called the Family Jewels Tree.  #notajoke

This tree is called the Family Jewels Tree.  Those green balls had little hairs sticking out of them. #notajoke

So there you have it, my week in a nutshell.  Hope everyone is having a relaxing and fun Labor Day Weekend!

 

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Race Recap: 5K on the Bay

10K Logo 2014 a10K on the Bay” 5K run/walk
Aug. 24, 2014
Hayward, CA

I’ve been itching to run a 5K for a few months now, and when RC and LJ expressed some interest in running this particular race, I said, “Sign me up!”  Heading into race day, I was unsure of how things would go, considering that I hadn’t done any speed work in 4+ months, nor had I run faster than 11:00/mile in the past couple of weeks.  Would my legs even remember how to turnover faster, and how would my lungs respond to the effort?  I decided that trying for any particular time goal was an exercise in folly.  Upon seeing last year’s modest results, I thought there was a good chance that I could at least finish in the top 3 of my age group, and maybe even top 3 women if I was lucky (i.e., depending on who else showed up).  Therefore, my strategy was to run a race and not a time trial.  Following this timely article by Lauren Fleshman, I’d run the 1st mile with my brain, the 2nd mile with focus, and the last mile with heart.  In her words:

In the first mile, you can’t let any emotion or excitement in at all. Start with a pace you are confident you can maintain and then relax a little bit more. Until you see that one mile marker, all you are allowed to think about is running smart. From 1-2 miles, focus on maintaining your form and start to look around you, taking a survey of which runners around you probably went out too hard, and which ones you should make your prey in the third mile. You are taking some time to strategize for the big battle, and you aren’t allowed to draw your sword until you pass the 2mile marker! The last mile, start to pick off your victims, and allow your mind to feel gratitude for how powerful and strong your body is. As soon as you can see that finish line, pretend you are Meb running down Boylston St in front of all of America and run with passion, tall and proud!

Pre-race:
One of the best parts about a 5K? No muss, no fuss.  I didn’t have to worry about eating breakfast, how much fuel to bring and where I’d stash it, whether I’d chafe, etc.  Even the day before the race, I found myself thinking, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t do/eat/drink X, Y, or Z” and then realize that I was running a 5K, not a marathon or even a half.  I kinda went overboard a little on Saturday, though, hiking 8.5 miles with Jane, eating pizza and drinking my first Pimm’s cup with my Ragnar Napa team, and eating and drinking some more at my friend DR’s birthday party.  The two things that I did right were to hydrate properly and go to sleep early.

I woke up at a relatively normal time of 6:50 a.m. and got to the race without any complications.  After warming up with dynamic drills and about 15-20 minutes of jogging, I met up with RC and LJ and we chatted while waiting for the start.  The weather was warm — I wasn’t the least bit chilly in my tank top and shorts, but I was thankful that it was overcast at least.

This is a small, local race, with the more serious runners entered into the 10K.  Looking around and assessing my fellow runners, I felt okay lined up about 3-4 rows back from the start line, with a few faster-looking women ahead of me.  I didn’t want to be too far behind because the trails were only about 5-6 people wide and I didn’t want to get stuck behind any walkers.  At 8:29, one minute before the race was supposed to start, the Ford Timing guy came out to set up the start mat, which he did in an impressively quick fashion.  At ~8:34, the horn sounded and the runners surged forward, being careful to duck under the “5K start” sign that was set up about 5’6″ off the ground.  Just one of the many charms of a small charity race. :)

I wish I took this while people were actually standing there, so you could see how short this sign was.

I wish I took this while people were actually standing there, so you could see how low this sign was.

The Race:
I charged off with everyone else, and just as Lauren Fleshman warned against, I let my emotions and the excitement take hold of me for about 2 minutes.  I looked down at my Garmin and saw 7:xx mile pace.  Holy crap, definitely too fast!  I focused on the couple of women directly ahead of me running with good form and relaxed into their pace.  It seems that we all started out too quickly, but then we settled into a much more reasonable pace by the end of that 1st mile, which I clocked at 8:35 (avg HR 159, max 171).

For most of the 2nd mile, I slipped behind a woman wearing a pink jacket.  I’ll call her the pink jacket lady or PJL for short.  (Creative, I know.)  I had underestimated PJL due to the amount of clothing she was wearing in such mild conditions — a jacket over a running shirt up top and capris on the bottom — but she ended up being a very solid runner.  Since I was hoping to recover a little from the first mile, I settled behind her and we fell in step.  I confess, I drafted off of her tiny 5′ frame for almost a mile and didn’t return the favor.  I finished the 2nd mile in a more relaxed 9:01 (avg 169, max 172).

I purposely ran a little more conservatively in the 2nd mile so that I could turn it up in the last mile to see how many people I could pass.  PJL was my first target, whom I passed easily.  Next, I overtook a small boy who stopped at the water station.  Rookie.  Then I passed a woman who had been 20-30 feet ahead of me the whole time, followed by 2 men and another little boy (where do these speedy little boys come from??).  At that point, I asked myself whether I was satisfied with my progress — i.e., should I step off the gas or keep going?  Partially out of fear that the people I passed would over take me, I kept my foot on full throttle.  The nice thing about this course is that it’s super duper flat.  The bad thing is that you can see the finish line from more than a mile away AND you have to duck under the 5K Start sign on your way to the finish.  I kept focusing on getting closer and closer to that finish line, when I found myself catching up to 2 more people, a guy and a girl and overtook them as well.  However, the guy wouldn’t give up and I kept leap-frogging with him.  Every time I passed him, I overheard him joking around with the girl behind me (the last woman I had passed).  Even though I was definitely struggling, the threat of them overtaking me was enough to keep me going.  I finished the 3rd mile in 8:27 (avg 194, max 209) and ran the last 0.17 mile in an 8:01 pace (avg 203, max 209).

Post-race:
I deliriously ran/walked through the chute, where gracious volunteers cut the timing chip off my shoe and handed me water, fruit, and a finisher’s certificate.  I made it back to the finish line in time to take photos of RC and LJ finishing, and grabbed some more food including a yummy peach donated by a local farm.  We got our free cotton race t-shirts and I said good-bye to RC and LJ.  I thought about waiting around to see a couple of friends to finish the 10K and for the awards ceremony at 10am, since I was curious about whether I had placed in my age group.  However, that would have been another 30 minutes of hanging around by myself so I decided to jog back to the car and head home.

Way to out-kick that teenager, RC!

Way to out-kick that young whipper-snapper, RC!

Like I said, where do these speedy little boys come from??  LJ has to beat this one off with some last minute hustle.

Like I said, where do these speedy little boys come from?? LJ has to beat this kid with some last-minute hustle.

A couple of hours later, the results were posted online.  I was very happy to see that I had come in 3rd in my age group, and that the last woman I passed in the race was in my age group — meaning I beat her for 3rd.  Sweet!!  It was a very rewarding feeling, because I often ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Does this even matter?” — especially at the end of a race.  Usually, it doesn’t matter, but occasionally it does, even if it’s just a matter of pride and nothing else.  I learned that I may not be as fit as I was 9 months ago, but my racing game is definitely sharper than it used to be.  I also realized how fun a 5K can be — yes, it’s painful, but they’re short, require less preparation and planning, are much cheaper, and involve very little to no recovery.

Official results:
time: 27:23 (8:51/mile)
3/35 AG (30-39), 8/120 females, 28/198 overall

About the race:

  • Organizers: Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center
  • Cost: $30 in advance, $35 day of.
  • Course: Very flat, gravel/dirt trails.  Right by the Bay, so wind might be an issue.
  • Parking: No parking at the start/finish.  Free parking was available about 0.5 miles down the road at a business park.  They were running van/shuttles, but most people chose to walk.
  • Aid stations: 1 water stop for the 5K that we passed twice.
  • Bathrooms:  I saw about 6 porta potties but there might have been more.  I didn’t need to use them at all (yay for 5Ks!).
  • Swag:  Cotton t-shirt and finisher’s certificate with a commemorative Hayward Parks pin.
  • Post-race food and drinks: Water in compostable cups, fruit, trail mix, and chocolate milk.
  • Other notes/summary:  Since this race benefits the Hayward Shoreline and the Bay Trail, and because I run there so often, I was happy to take part of this event and make a small donation.
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Posted in Race Recap
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