Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ultimate Direction Signature AK Vest, v2.0 - initial thoughts

I anticipation for next month's Zumbro Midnight 50 and June's Kettle 100, I added a new race vest to the family: Ultimate Direction's Signature AK Vest, v. 2.0

Why'd I buy this specific vest for these specific races?

I do not like carrying hand bottles during races. Long training runs, even on trails, OK, but during races with the frequent eating (formerly, gels every 30 minutes, now Clif blocks every 10 minutes /w gels every 30) meant that I only had a hand-and-a-half to do so, and gels in particular require two hands. 

And my current race vest, the venerable and trail-tested Nathan #020, isn't well suited to races where aid is so close together and I may need to carry much of my own gear. Yes, I can carry plenty in the pack, but because all of the weight is on the back - and 70-plus oz of water is nothing to sneeze at weight-wise - the pack can pull on you, expending extra energy. 

Hence the AK (now 2.0) comes into play. Bottles and some storage in front, gear in back. Simple.

Here's my initial thoughts after trying it on in-store and running on a treadmill with the pack empty, but bottles in, a 6.3 mi training run on roads, and a 17-plus mile trip around Afton. 

First, the bottles are surprisingly not in my way for running. They did not interfere with my arm swings while testing, but my left arm did occasionally strike the bottom of the left bottle when running on the short test run. I did not have this same problem while running at Afton. 

Second, the vest's hex mesh is surprisingly stiff - much stiffer than the hex-type mesh that is used on my Nathan #020. 

Third, the vest is very hard to initially size by yourself because the two side ladder lock buckles are small, the loose end points backward (meaning you need to chicken-wing your arm to pull it, and even then the stiffness of the strap doesn't feed smoothly at all. This is one feature that needs to be improved on if 3.0 arrives. It could fixed if the strap set was rotated so that the loose end points forward - just as it does on hip belts for hiking backpacks. It's simple to pull forward, very difficult to pull backward. 

This feature concerns because of the item number next. 

Fourth, the pack fits better and tighter when the backpack is fully loaded. It feels snug and less likely to bounce around. Whether the side buckles will require adjustment dependent on how full the backpack is will wait to be seen. If it doesn't, the issue with the buckles becomes a non-issue - one simply dials in the size initially and rarely if necessary, and goes from there. 

As the volume of water decreases, there is less weight in the vest to help keep it firmly on your chest. I could feel the vest getting looser as I ran - maybe that is just natural slippage - which was no issue on my 17 mile test run. But the bottles carry fantastically and firmly against my chest. They held solid in the pack, something that is unlike bladders. On a 50K, 50 miler, or 100 miler, we'll see if this becomes an issue. 

Fifth, I will need to adjust how I accustomed to carrying everything I need during a race. I really missed at Afton not having a pocket large enough to hold my Body Glide. On my Nathan #020, it say in a zippered pocket on the left. There is nothing on the front of the best which is large enough -  that also doesn't obstruct the bottles - to hold the BG. I guess I'll need to carry it in my shorts, or high in my pack so I can reach it. 

I can reach things that are high in my pack, for the most part. This is a pleasant surprise, as I needed to take off the #020 if I wanted to get anything from the back. I'll still need to take off the pack to get something that slips down, but hey, I'll take it. 

I also need to figure out where I am going to put empty gels. I normally put them on the outside of a mesh pocket on the front left of the #020, and I'm not there is a comparable pocket on the AK. Perhaps a pocket in my shorts? Not sure what to do here. 


Who knows if I'll use this pack at Superior. I'm a little concerned that its 40-oz capacity is too small for the several lengthy (and traditionally hot) sections of the trail, and I have consumed all of that 70 oz capacity on a couple of occasions through some of those longer sections. Who knows - maybe I'll be fast enough this year that 40 oz to take me from Crosby to Sugarloaf is sufficient. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

On being ill.

Being sick is no fun. Going from 60-plus miles per week to ten is even less fun. Running twice in a week and then stopping because the body needs time to heal is a decision only based on experience. 

I say this because I am in, hopefully, what is the last 24 hours of this year's annual head cold. It started last Tuesday, Jan. 27 with a sore throat and congestion. The sore throat left the following Thursday/Friday following a period of daytime when my voice was a full octave lower. And then the gunk sunk to my lungs and I started a nice productive cough that is still with me, nine-or-so days later. 

I've taken seven zero days in the past 12 days, almost equal to the nine I have taken from just before I got sick back to Oct. 19, 2014. Seven-day and three-week rolling averages are paltry. And I need to once again adjust my peak weekly base mileage, dropping out the two final weeks of base period - current set for 80 miles - and replace them with 70 mile weeks. I'll still probably keep the peak at 80 for in-season training - I see no worry to cycling up to that high mileage a small handful of times throughout out the year. 

The weirdest effect of being sick is that my motivation to run has been all-but nonexistent, like my body is telling me to not go run. For the most part I have listened to it. Morning runs are basically not happening. Evening runs are affected by how I managed through the day. And weekend long runs just didn't work. 

And so it goes. Adjust training goals on the fly without changing racing goals. Just adapt to meet those racing goals. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Pronounce your goal. Plan for it. Work for it. Be accountable to it.

Every Sunday, without fail, I tweet to the world and my FB friends two things: what I did this week in runs, mileage, time, and year-to-date and season-to-date (i.e. since 10.19.14 re-start) stats. Second, I tell them what I'm going to do next week. If I didn't make last week's goal, I state why. 

At the end of every month, I tweet monthly totals: runs, running days, mileage and time - plus year-to-date stats. 

I keep elaborate spreadsheets to track my running progress (and I also use in addition to Google Sheets). Most importantly, I track rolling averages for mileage and duration for the prior seven days and three weeks. My runs and quality workouts are planned for every day from basically November 2014 to the finish line at Lutsen for the 2015 Superior 100. 


I tell the world my weekly results and next week's goals to keep myself accountable, if only to myself.  No one save myself will every get on my back for failing to meet goals. No one save myself will ever make sure I don't overtrain. But being public with a goal lets the world know you stand for something, and posting your results shows them that you're being accountable to those goals, actively working toward those goals, and achieving those goals. 

Each day, I can look to my plan and see what I need to do. In the past, I simply set a weekly total for miles, picked a day for quality workouts, and let the rest sort it out. I ended up missing a lot of quality days and skimping on the daily runs and weekly mileages totals. I still ran well, but far from my peak potential. 

Now, the process is simple. It is planned ahead, perhaps months prior, and adjusted accordingly as the season progresses. I know what I must do, and I then execute on that objective. 

Results and excuses are mutually exclusive. 

Nothing is free, everything is earned, and everything earned must be worked for. And all work toward that which you earn is hard work. Whether it is slow work - easy running must be easy enough such that it is actually recovery - or fast work - it must be fast enough such that you are achieving your training goals - it is hard work. 

State your purpose. Go do the hard work. Be accountable. Achieve your results.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book review: Hal Koerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning

Hal Hoerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning is what you would write if you had a beer with Hal, asked him to tell you everything a runner who is just getting into ultra marathons should know, and just listened and took dictation. The tone is conversational, approachable, heavy on anecdotes and substance but light on details. For example, you will find recommendations for speed work (hill repeats, tempo runs up to an hour duration, and fartleks are all recommended) and weights (light weight, lots of reps) are important, too. But you're not going to find VO2 max tables or detailed speed workouts here. This is not Lore of Running or Daniels's Running Formula - it is a casual, practical explainer of everything one would want to know before training for and toeing the line at their first ultramarathon. 

The relaxed vibe is the text's strength. Hal's matter-of-fact descriptions of topics and explainers what works and what doesn't sets out the basics with casual ease. For example, Hal himself idoes not follow any specific diet and is not burdened by any restrictions on his intake. His diet used to be burritos, bagels, and beer. He simply focuses on carbs before, during, and after runs. "If my meals aren't measuring up to my mileage, I know it from the first step, and this self-awareness helps me stay on top of deficiencies," he writes. As someone who credits his first 50 mile finish to a change in eating habits and has tried to run after eating something less-than-nutritionally optimal, I completely understand the statement. 

Should you get it? Yes. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An actual injury - imbalanced pelvis

For several weeks - three or four, perhaps - I have had a nagging ache, very dull, on the back right side of my butt, perhaps in the pelvis area. It has been sore in runs and when bad, wraps around the outside of my pelvis and starts to radiate down the front of my right thigh. 

I took that concern, and a request for a follow-up on my right ankle post-Sawtooth, to my new family physician, Dr. Bill Roberts with the University of Minnesota. He's a family physician, but is focused on runners and is the team physician for Team USA-Minnesota, is the medical director for the Twin Cities Marathon, and also works with the Minnesota State High School League for their track and field events. So yeah, he gets runners and doesn't think I'm crazy. 

When I told him of my right-sided troubles, he said when someone has issues on one side of their body, he always looks to the pelvis first. And sure enough, the top of the rear of the right side of my pelvis is higher than the left. As a result, when I lay down one of my legs (right, IIRC) is appears shorter than the left, and it switches when I sit up. The difference is about the width of a thumb, and it was a little creepy when I was sitting there with my feet extended in front of me looking at how my left foot was closer to my chest than my right. 

It's also possible that the ankle sprain, or whatever it was, that happened at Sawtooth was actually a foot drop caused or exacerbated by inflammation on or around the nerves that run on the front right of my lower leg and control sensation to the fourth and fifth toes. In testing with some monofilament, essentially stiff fishing line, the tops and bottoms of my fourth and fifth toes had less sensation (with more sensation in the fourth than the fifth) than the sensation I had in the big, second, and third toes. 

The solution? A round of physical therapy, however many session the therapist thinks I need up to my referral limit (12), and Dr. Roberts was very optimistic that once this pelvic imbalance was taken care of, my other two issues would go away. I can still keep running as planned - 60 mpw this week and each of the next two weeks.