An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A conversation on the road

My Kinvaras are close to giving up the ghost, at a documented 282 miles. Sunday's run kind of confirmed it. Not that there were problems, but they just didn't feel "right". I think the forefoot has compressed enough that the effective heel drop is well above the advertised 4mm (not to mention the additional 2.5mm from the insole, which they don't).

I could feel my heel wanting to hit too early, and the angle my foot wanted to take because of the compression was giving my metatarsals small fits. And I could feel the outer edge of the shoe pressing against my little toes...

On Saturday I was having a discussion with my wife (while we were doing a long walk) about my shoes. You know I have a "problem" when we're discussing "my" shoes... Well, it came about because I'd chosen to wear my hiking boots for the long walk (on a paved multi-use trail). I chose them because they would be the most comfortable for the distance -- 8.5 miles -- and not running. We did a little bit of running, and yeah they weren't the most comfy for that, but I made it just fine....


We were discussing my shoes, and why I chose the boots, and what I was going to wear for the half marathon in June (which she's planning on walking). I said that I would want different shoes than what I have. She asked why not my Kinvaras? Again, you know I have a problem when my wife knows the model name of my shoes... So I talked about the Saucony Peregrine (which addresses some of the issues I have with the Kinvara), the Altra Instinct, and some other potentials. It wasn't until WELL into the conversation that she realized I'd been thinking about these because the Kinvaras are about done. She thought I was plying for just another pair of shoes.

I'd never do that... :^)

Though she did mention that her latest pair of shoes cost about 1-1/2 times what mine do. To be completely fair, that included some Superfeet insoles.

And good news from Altra -- they've got their Instinct/Intuition model in their warehouse, and are in the process of getting them shipped out to the retailers. Which means that the Born to Run store in Bellevue should have them in a week or two. I'm betting two.

I see a road trip coming soon. Though it might have to be after the race we're timing at Green Lake in Seattle on April 9th. Hopefully they'll have the shoes then...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Old Friends

I'm in the process of re-acquainting myself with my road bikes. I've got three. Okay, really two and a half. Or two and three quarters.

I documented my stable a little bit in a previous post (N+1). The two road bikes are the Paul Barkley and TiCycles Softrides, and the half (or three quarters) is the Scott Waimea. Of these three, I think I've ridden the Paul Barkley the most over the last few years. It's a little cobbled together right now. The original first-generation Ultegra STI 8-speed "brifters" (brake/shift levers) froze up long ago, and nothing would revive them. It now has standard brake levers, with a SunTour Cyclone down tube front derailleur shifter (serious vintage part), and a SunTour bar-end shifter for the rear (it's actually a front shifter, but has enough throw so that it works for the rear).

Fortunately, the shifters on the TiCycles still work. I used this bike most when I was bike racing pretty much full time. It's been hanging in my garage for a few years now. Why? Can't really say. Part of it was that the tires were flat, and when I swapped out the front tube, it went immediately flat again. I recently replaced the rim strip, tube and tire, and it seems to be holding up fine now. It's ready to ride again, and I've had it on the trainer.

The Scott is actually an old tri bike that I set up as a roadie (drop bars and "brifters") and added Profile T2+ clip-ons. It was bought as a way to use some PowerCranks in a year-long trial that never really worked for me. At the end of that year, I shipped the PC's back but kept the bike. I kept it at work last summer for lunch time road rides. It also has a down-tube front shifter because the left brifter is a triple, while the cranks are double. I sold the clip-ons last fall, so it's a full-time roadie now.

There are still some accommodations to make with the TiCycles and the Scott. I have a compact crank on the Paul Barkley, but standards on both the TiCycles and the Scott. Since the Scott has 650 wheels, it essentially makes the crank a compact, but with the standard on the TiCycles and 700 wheels, it needs a wider range rear cluster rather than the 11-23 8-speed that's on there now. And the Scott needs a set-back seatpost to make the position a little more road-worthy, taking some weight off my hands, and maybe a wider range of gears in the back as well.

So why am I re-acquainting myself with these bikes? Because next year's RAMROD isn't all that far off. It's only 15 months away.

Never too early to prepare. And I like working on the bikes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

When I die...

When I die, I don't want to become a piece of rock bearing my name and a few numbers, laid out in formation like soldiers marching to war on a field of green. A place where those left behind come to shed a tear, or lay down some flowers, or cheer, depending on who they are. A place where some anonymous caretaker runs a lawn mower over my face weekly to keep the area tidy. A place where some distant progeny of progeny may come to view a final resting place of great-great-great-grandpa who they never knew, where I become to them a stone in a field.

Don't get me wrong. Like most every one, I want to be remembered. I want to be remembered for how I lived, how I may have contributed to the world's betterment, not where my corpse is planted into the ground, in a fiberglass-and-resin box to keep the worms out. Maybe part of me writing all these things is to give some record of me that will last.

I've said many times, "part me out, burn the rest". I still feel that way. Take what will help other people live their lives in better health or free of some disability. Then the rest of my earthly shell can be made to ash and scattered to the four winds in a meaningful place. Not the ocean -- I don't want to be fish food. A mountain trail, maybe. Or mix it into some asphalt and make a multi-use trail.

Don't spend the money on a big funeral. I've seen the numbers. It sickens me, really. Even the simplicity of burying some ashes at a site is near highway robbery, and don't get me started on burying a full body. I don't know how much it costs just for cremation... And I know it's against all kinds of laws to have a funeral pyre these days. Too bad. There's just something poetic about pushing a wooden boat out on the water and sending a flaming arrow to light it. No more noble kings, I guess. Warriors that were burned on the beach, the armies given the time to properly care for their dead, a coin on each eye for the ferryman...

I hope it's still a long time from now. I have a long list of things I want to do first. And that's not just a bucket list.

When I die... Clink a couple glasses together and toast the ways I may have touched your life -- hopefully for the better. And go out there and make the world a better place.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Bike Shop Owner...

If what happened Wednesday is any indication of the health of the local bike shop industry, I can see why it's on death's door.

My wife was in need of a road bike that fit her. She'd bought a used Bianchi Eros last year which was too big for her, and it's no surprise that riding it was uncomfortable. We sold that bike just a week ago, and with some other money kicked in, had enough to head out to get another one. She'd had a fit done at another shop (Sammamish Valley Cycle -- great shop) by an as-yet uncertified fitter, so the fit was free. Unfortunately that shop didn't have anything in stock that fit my wife. She's not really short, at 5'3", but she's leggy. The proportions made it difficult to find something that fit.

So after much Craigslist searching, she found a couple bikes that were close at a local shop -- a Specialized Dolce Elite in 48cm, and a Felt ZW100 in 43cm. Sounds like a big disparity in sizing, right? Well, the Specialized is sized by the top tube (which is the more critical dimension for my wife), but at 48cm was actually smaller than the Felt. The Felt has 650 sized wheels...

While she was in there testing the bikes Wednesday afternoon, and I was at work, I didn't hear the conversation... But as it was related to me, apparently the shop owner isn't too keen on 650s. He told her that when she was riding with others, she wouldn't be able to keep up. Huh?!?! Four of my eight bikes use 650s, and I have no trouble "keeping up". I figured he was trying to steer her to the more expensive bike...

So she decided to wait until I could go to the shop with her. We hopped on the motorcycle and rode down there as soon as I got home from work.

Now I really can't say for sure that no one else came in to test them, but neither one was close to adjusted for her to test. She had just ridden on them not 3 hours earlier. I had to ASK to have them adjusted. I'd brought her fit numbers with me so I could get them at least close to the right mark. After asking for a level and measuring tape, checking some things, all the while the owner is standing there watching me, I had to then ASK to actually have the adjustments made. He fiddled with one of the bikes, and I had to make the adjustments to the other one. And then I had to ASK to have a stationary trainer set up to put the bikes on so she could get on and ride them to check out. All the while this guy seemed clueless. And this is the shop owner.

Granted, these weren't exactly high-dollar models, and I should give them props for having bikes in my wife's size in stock, but still.

I'm not going to name the place, as I don't believe in trial by internet. But I was just shocked at this. Fortunately he didn't go into the 650 wheel size drivel with me.

She ended up buying the Felt, as it was spot on with her fit numbers, and she thought it felt (haha!) better. She just picked it up yesterday, as we couldn't exactly carry it home on the motorcycle.

I guess I need to get the bike rack on the motorcycle...

Monday, March 21, 2011

The other voices in my head

I've always had this going joke whenever I have one of those sanity-doubting moments -- I was just listening to the other voices in my head.

So I was kind of wondering about something today thinking about a couple things. My wife was doing her long day on Saturday, and she had texted me to say that without her iPod, she would have turned around out of boredom. And today I was talking with a friend at work, and he was talking about getting into a groove listening to Rush on his long runs, pretending he's Neil Peart wailing away on air drums.

I haven't listened to music when running or riding since I tried it once in college coming back from an injury. I don't like it. I don't feel a need dissociate from the activity. And it would seem that's pretty... not normal. At least not the majority.

During yesterday's long run out on the trails (REAL trails!), I revelled in the silence. Not traffic noise, no sounds of construction, none of the average undustrial background chatter, not even the sound of my footfalls on the soft dirt. And no music other than what was going on in my body.

What is it that divides us into the two groups of plugged-in vs. electronics-less? What makes some want or need to block out the sensations of a run or ride, and others tune in completely to the moment?

I remember when I started doing yoga some years ago, how "in the moment" I felt. I remember years before that, when bike racing, talking with team mates before a race, saying "embrace the pain, it tells you you're alive". So maybe I've always had this tendency. Being in the moment, Tuning in to what was going on in my body. Kind of like a running full-physical diagnostic.

So I guess in some ways you could say I'm plugged in to myself. To the voices in my head. And the other voices in my head.

I do carry my cell phone on some runs, mostly the ones I do from home, just in case. That's as outside-plugged-in as I want to be.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dream running

Today was something I've been awaiting for some time. I just didn't know it.

I've doing the majority of my running off road, But it's been more "off pavement" than real trails. Gravel roads more than trail. I'd love to cut some new trails in the land where I work.

Today my wife and I were helping with a mountain bike race at
Soaring Eagle Park in Sammamish, WA. Miles of trails with markers and maps at each point. After the first race went off, I did my run. Within a mile I was trotting along on a winding path of firm dirt, loam, occasional logs and mud. I ventured off the race course, taking in more of the park. At about the 3 mile point, I was just grinning as I flew along, amazed at how much I missed this kind of running from my long-ago days in high school cross country. True trails. Constantly compensating for the terrain. The term that popped into me head was "dream running".

I wore the Trail Gloves, and they performed perfectly.

There's a trail race there in a couple months. If I weren't already timing another race that day, I'd love to do it. It's definitely someplace I want to go back to, maybe when it dries up a little more. I can't wait. Now I know what I've been missing.

On another note, on the way back home we stopped at The Balanced Athlete, where I tried on the New Balance Minimus Road. I tried on two sizes, but it just didn't feel right. Maybe it because I'd been wearing the Trail Gloves all day, but I felt a LOT of pressure against my 5th metatarsal. Along with that, I could feel my toes being forced inward (little toe pushed toward the others). Yes, there's a lot of room in that forefoot, but it's all towards the inside. The last is too curved. And if I went up a half size to get that out of the way, the ball of my foot would have been off the midsole. So the Minimus line is a bust for me. Too bad. On to the Altra. Whenever they get to the store shelves (they're saying it'll only be a couple weeks).

Friday, March 18, 2011

A couple random things...

Today's run was an oddity.

This past Tuesday I'd forgotten to bring bike shorts and tights, so it would have been a cold ride...

Today, I brought bike shorts... for a run. I've run in bike shorts before. Maybe twice. I've heard of people doing it all the time. I guess they like to get in touch with their inner child and feel like they're wearing a diaper. Or, as Eric said, like they've dropped a load in their shorts. Same thing, I guess.

Then I also didn't wear knee warmers. It was barely warm enough for that, in my book. I like my knees. I want them to stay healthy as long as I can. So I try to keep them warm while running and biking.

Lastly, I wore some shoes I haven't worn in months. The old Nike Zoom... whatever they are. Truly, I don't remember the model name, which is kind of strange for me. Especially considering I bought two pair of them. Anyway, they're light, the sole reminds me a bit of the Free line (though much more open in construction), and the uppers are almost completely mesh.

So with all that going on, I pretty much felt strange from the waist down.

The shoes have more heel drop than I've grown used to, and the forefoot cushioning is... somewhat lacking. My feet were feeling it almost immediately, and the shins a little bit later, then the calves started in at about 4 miles or so. Still averaged under 8 minute per mile pace. I retired the shoes after today's run. They were THAT uncomfortable.

I may get a chance to check out the New Balance Minimus line in person this weekend. And I might just end up with another pair of shoes...

On another note, we've had good luck with classified ads this week. I listed a motorcycle (the one I got for my wife last year) on Thursday, and had interested buyers on Friday, and they picked it up on Sunday. My wife listed her road bike on Tuesday, and it was sold last night. Now the quest begins in earnest for a bike that really fits her. She's got her eye on one listed in Craig's List, and another possible at a local bike shop.

She's excited about it. Almost to the N+1 point...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

N + 1

I'm a bike addict.
There, I said it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to getting cured, right?

I have eight bicycles, though not all of them are in a state of complete build, being un-ride-able in their current state.

* Two Softride road bikes, one a custom Paul Barkley in steel, one a custom TiCycles in titanium.
I got the Paul Barkley after test riding a Softride at Kulshan Cycles in Bellingham after a tri there. It was an eye opening experience, to say the least. Within just a few minutes, I was LOOKING for things to ride over. The TiCycles Softride was an attempt to up the cool factor and lighten the bike... and use a good chunk of disposable income. I road raced on these bikes for many years.

* One Softride track/single speed bike.

This is also a custom TiCycles, in steel.After one season on a Torelli track bike, I decided to get the Softride (Marymoor Velodrome isn't the smoothest thing out there). Had it made with 650 wheels (my first 650-wheeled bike) to help with acceleration, and had it drilled for brakes front and rear so I could ride it on the road.

* One tri bike of unknown brand, in titanium.

I bought this one used on the Slowtwitch classifieds, and, rumor has it, it was made for Scott Tinley by Quintana Roo back in the early 90's. I did a LOT of research on bike geometry, my position, fore/aft balance on the bike, and came to the conclusion that there were no production bikes that fit me with my preferred level of stability. I was about to go with another custom frame when this one appeared on the classifieds... It was (and is) a perfect fit.

* One Scott Waimea, set up for road riding.
A few years ago, I tried PowerCranks on my Softride. It was miserable. I sold them within a month. When Frank Day (the brains and shill behind PowerCranks) made a put-up-or-shut-up proposition to 12 ST forum contributors, I threw my hat in the ring and was selected. The idea was that we got the cranks free for a year, to ride exclusively, and report our progress, etc. I was coming off my foot surgery at the time, so I thought they would help me keep some run fitness while I was recovering. I got the Scott as a cheap bike to have the PC's on, avoiding the misery of the Softride/PC experience. When I tried to run again, and couldn't, I kind of lost my incentive to train, and didn't use the PowerCranks. I sent the PC's back, but kept the bike. This one uses 650's also.

* One Javelin X-frame, a project bike that needs some frame work to be road-worthy.

I bought this one as a nod to nostalgia. It's a pretty exotic frame, with a single boom tube from the head tube to the HUGE aero seat tube. It needs some work, though -- the front derailleur hanger is too high, causing me to either need a 58/50 chainring set-up, or have it re-welded. Or maybe a single chainring. Anyway, I've had it on one ride. It's kinda short front-to-back... I may off-load this one.

* One single speed mountain bike.
Picked up a cheap frame off eBay ($3.25 for the frame, $30 shipping). It looks like an old Nishiki Alien, but has no stickers. I'm sure it's a Chinese off-brand, but so far it's doing great kicking around the trails for my lunchtime rides.

* One custom made (though not for me) funny bike.

This one I also got from the SlowTwitch classifieds, made by a contributor that goes by the handle "Bunnyman". I've ridden it a time or two, tested some configurations with it... The fact that it uses two wheel sizes, and has more of a road bike back end makes it not as comfy.

ANYway... I say all this to show how I've accumulated the bikes over the years. I don't have any fancy carbon framed spacey-looking molded pieces of high-tech in my garage. And I really don't want any. I'm fine with what I have.

That N+1 thing? It's the formula for the proper number of bikes to own, where "N" is the number bikes currently owned. "Just one more". That's the sickness of the bike addict. The formula is a joke, really. I have no plans to buy any more bikes (except a road bike for my wife). And I think to justify getting any new bikes I'd have to sell at LEAST one of the bikes I have now. I know I'd take a soaking doing so, and that's probably a big part of the reluctance to follow through with the idea of selling.

I know there are bike addicts out there that put me to shame. Robin Williams is known to walk into a bike shop and buy a bike just because he likes how it looks. Even if the bike doesn't fit. It's art to him. Awesome. I don't have the kind of couch change to do that. And maybe THAT is a good thing. My house is only so big...

So I mentioned I ride a motorcycle? I just sold one (which I bought for my wife to ride). And yes, I've looked at other motorcycles. So far, nothing really calls to me. Good thing, I guess.

Geez, if I though N+1 was expensive with bicycles...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Recovery -- the art of doing... less to not much

Something that's gotten a fair amount of buzz recently is recovery. Do we need it? How much? Is it really good?

When I started long distance running out of high school (I ran cross country, but right out of HS I decided to run a marathon, and spent the whole summer training for it), I read everything I could get my hands on about running, training, the best runners in history... This was in 1982. I read every issue of Runner's World that the local library had, cover to cover, which dated back into the mid 1970's. Every book they had. I devoured it. And every training plan I saw varied the distance and speed every day. Rest days were 3 milers. By the end of the summer, I was averaging over 70 miles a week, my long runs were approaching 22 miles, and short days were 6 miles. I didn't know why those days were so important, I just copied the plans, proportioned out the distances, and ran them like clockwork.

And because my background in high school was running the 800 meters, and dabbling in longer distances, my training pace for medium distance runs was 6:30-7:00 per mile. Yeah, I broke down after a while. Youth and ignorance and all that.

It wasn't unitl many years later that I understood the the "why's" of recovery. More than just the reloading of energy stores that was fairly well-understood from the carb deplete-and-load days of running, it's a muscular and systemic need. I came to understand this very well when I spent a few years weight training (and almost no aerobic work at all) in an attempt to gain as much muscle mass as I could (I did get up to 200 lbs -- I'm at about 165 now), thinking that once I got back to aerobic training, what fat I gained would come off rapidly. Yes, it's true that increased muscle mass will burn fat faster, but that's not my point.

In weight training, the term "hard-gainer" applies to classic ectomorphs, those for whom putting on muscle mass is difficult at best. Most competitive distance runners would fall into that category.

So what happens is this -- your body adapts to the stresses applied to it. Training is the stress. It isn't until you rest that your body actually adapts. If all you did was train and not rest, you'd very quickly find yourself deep into a hole of fatigue and injury. But without the stresses, the body doesn't adapt (and when the stresses are removed, the body adapts to the LACK of stresses -- detraining). Training allows you to run longer because your body adapts to it. If you don't allow yourself the rest, your body can't fully adapt. You ONLY get stronger when you rest, BECAUSE of the training.

For hard-gainers in weight training, the problem becomes training at a high enough intensity that it stimulates the fast-twitch muscle fibers to expand, and then allowing enough time for the adaptation to take place. In running, it's the other way around -- NOT training so intensely or progressing so quickly that you break down, and not recovering too much.

Cyclists can get away with a lot less recovery because of the nature of the movement -- concentric muscle contractions vs. eccentric. Meaning the muscle contracts while it is shortening (concentric) instead of trying to contract while it's lengthening (as the quads do in running). There is MAGNITUDES less microscopic muscular damage in concentric contractions. Recovery comes much faster. When you mix the sports up as a triathlete, not only are you needing recovery in each sport, you also need it systemically -- you can't just substitute a hard swim day as recovery from a hard run day. Eventually things like Epstien-Barr or chronic fatigue can set in. I've seen it happen, and it can end careers.

Do you need rest? Yes. That doesn't mean sitting on the couch doing nothing (though that can have its benefits as well). A yoga day, or light swimming, or a walk... Something that doesn't tax the system, apply new stresses on you.

And one other thing: stress takes many forms. And it all adds up. You could follow the same weekly training plan for years, but something like a new job, losing a job, buying a house, or losing a friend might be all the additional stress it takes to push you over the edge to overtraining, even if it's the same distances you've always done. Monitor your body closely, it'll tell you what you need to know. Listen.

Happy recovering!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Merrell Trail Glove - If I could improve upon a great shoe...

I'll start out by saying I REALLY like the Merrell Trail Glove. It is the only shoe I've ever put on where my feet say "I'm home". The toe room is second to none (so far). I liked these shoes so much that after just a couple runs in them I bought a second pair (the ones in the pics below). I've been adapting very well to the zero-drop aspect, and even the lack of cushioning (to me, barefoot purists think they have too much) hasn't been a bother. I prefer to run in them off-road, but that's the nature of the shoe itself -- it is the TRAIL Glove, after all. I've got about 50 miles on the two pair combined now, and I really like them.

That said, if I were in charge of the design, there are still a few things I'd want to change to take this shoe from "great" to "as perfect as it can get", and they're all in the sole and midsole. Hopefully Merrell is listening.

When I first saw the shoe in pictures, I had some concerns about the cutaway underneath the 5th metatarsal (see the white area in the first photo). When you walk barefoot, does this part of your foot not contact the floor? Mine does, for sure, and I'd bet the same is true for most people. The 5th metatarsal is a weight-bearing bone along its entire length, not just at the forward head. Merrell needs to add a little more material here to come to more of a straight line between the base of the little toe and the heel. The shoe upper does a wonderful job of hugging the foot in this area, there just needs to be some added sole to this area as well.

Second, when you place the shoe on a flat surface, you can see an arced gap from the heel to the forefoot (see the second photo).
This goes in concert with my point above, in that the shoe essentially has two contact areas -- the heel and the forefoot. They've done a very good job with having a zero-drop shoe, no differential between the heel and forefoot. But this gap... How about keeping the same thickness along the entire outer edge (under the 5th metatarsal)? A bare foot makes this contact, and I believe the shoe should as well.

Lastly, I have long toes. I'm sure I'm not the only one. It's a reason that Adidas shoes do NOT work for me. The ball of my foot falls farther back than average. The Trail Glove sole and
midsole start to taper off just behind an average ball-of-foot location. Which means that the ball of my foot is on this taper. If that sole and full-thickness midsole were extended just a quarter inch aft in this area (see white area in the third photo), it would be perfect. Some might say I should have gotten a half size smaller... but if I'd done that, my toes would have made contact with the end of the shoe. Not good.

I realize that Merrell carved every iota of material it deemed unnecessary. The result is a very good, very lightweight shoe. It IS very comfortable. I just think that, with the addition of a little bit of material, it would become, at least for me, as close to a perfect shoe as possible, would add very little weight, and would not become uncomfortable to those that find it comfortable today.

Merrell, are you listening?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bike Fit

I'm one of those people, probably very irritating, that has a rote answer when people ask which bike they should buy.

"The one that fits."

Standing and straddling the bike's top tube may have worked when you were 5 years old, but there's a whole lot more to "fit" than that. And I cringe every time I see some one in a bike shop standing over a bike and saying, "See, it fits." What if you have longer legs than average for your height? Or shorter? What if you have shoulder or neck issues that prevent you from contorting into a racing position? What about your natural level of flexibility?

Different brands, and even different models within that brand, will fit differently. Some are made specifically to deal with the long- or short-of-leg people. Women's models may have even more accommodations to smaller proportions (brake levers, handlebars, etc).

Sure, you can most often make any road bike support you at your preferred contact points (meaning the saddle, handlebars, and pedals). But that doesn't mean the bike fits. A super long stem may put the handlebars at the right place for your hands to fall on them naturally and with little effort, but that may also put much more of your weight on the front wheel, leading to handling issues and loss of traction at the rear wheel.

With tri bikes, it becomes even more important. I was around tri before tri bikes even existed. All our road bikes were tri bikes. Because it's all we had. And we did some pretty messed-up things with those bikes, all in the name of decreasing aerodynamic drag. Never mind that the bikes then grew minds of their own when it came to handling them in windy conditions, or technical courses. Again, I cringe when I hear people say they can convert their road bike into a tri bike by adding a long stem and a forward-facing seatpost. I remember those days, and no way do I want to go back.

Now I'm not saying that you need to go out and spend $350 on a professional bike fit (though often the shop that does this will apply a certain amount to the purchase of a bike), especially if you've been riding a long time and already know what's comfortable for you. I've bought several bikes that I'd overlaid onto my current position (using CAD software in 2D mode) to know whether it would fit. Likewise, I've eliminated many from consideration by doing the same thing.

But what if you're new to riding and don't already have a dialed-in position? Then, at the very least, have a knowledgeable person help you set up the bike. Or go to and use their fit calculator (uses a lot of body measurements). It will only be an approximation, and the position will evolve over time. This is what I did over a 10 year span (because there WERE no professional bike fitters then) -- I used the standard ball-park "fit" that the bike shop gave me, did a bunch of reading, made adjustments (different handlebars, different stems, different saddles), evaluated, adjusted... It was a long and, if I were to add it up over the years, faily expensive process. But once I settle on my position, it's been comfy ever since.

And one more VERY important point -- if you're new to riding, don't expect the bike to be Barc-o-Lounger comfy! Your body needs to adapt as well. Give it time. Make small adjustments, and you'll settle in on a comfortable position.

While on a lunch time ride with a co-worker the other day, we got to talking about "riding season" and saddle soreness. He said that he knew he hadn't been riding as much because he was getting a little sore. I said maybe I've just been doing this so long that I have permanent calluses on my ass, but I haven't had saddle sores in probably 15 years. He quipped, "Maybe it's just nerve damage."

But that speaks to something -- if you do something infrequently, you put your body into "new" mode every time you do it. Meaning if you ride infrequently, you're probably going to have saddle sores after almost every ride. Your body is a constantly adapting unit. And if you eliminate the stimulus that your body adapts to (meaning the riding), your body will "un-adapt" to those stresses. The use-it-or-lose-it principle.

So until you've figured out which bikes will fit you, don't ask me which one you should buy, because now you know what you'll get in reply.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I am not a role model

Charles Barkley said that many years ago in a deodorant ad. For those who may not know, he was a known "bad boy" in basketball, a rough player, but made the famous "dream team" of pros that went to (and pretty much dominated) the Olympic games.

And it was a very, though unintentional, profound thing for him to say. He played basketball, and did it very well. That didn't mean that all the kids with hoop dreams should emulate his every word, thought, and deed.

I'm not some pro runner, nor am I some kind of running bad-boy. But... I am not a barefoot running purist. I'm not even a "minimalist running" purist.

I like shoes, though I walk around the house mostly barefoot these days (and in socks around work when I can get away with it). I guess I've just come to a place in my life where I want my shoes to fit, and enhance what I do rather than dictate it. I don't quite adhere to Jason Robillard's thoughts that shoes are tools to only be taken out when running barefoot isn't possible (due to cold or terrain). My feet are pretty tender, so "impossible terrain" is probably a lot softer to me than for him.

But there's a new term coming to use in the running community that I think is a far better descriptor of what's going on -- barefoot-form (or bareform) running. It speaks to how one runs, whether shoes are involved or not.

I see a lot of talk on the boards about forefoot and midfoot strike running, where people are trying to achieve that as a goal in and of itself. The problem is, they're missing the big picture.

Forefoot and midfoot landing (I hesitate to use the term "striking", as it sounds too much like impact) are only one category of many aspects of bareform running. And in fact, the point on your foot that makes first contact with the ground is more a result of the running form than a goal toward achieving it. You can still overstride while landing on your forefoot.

Arthur Lydiard was quoted once, when asked about running form, what his philosophy was:

Do what comes naturally, as long as it's biomechanically sound. Otherwise, do what's biomechanically sound until it becomes natural
That's why I've been harping on "more minimalist" shoes. I'm not trying to head towards things like the RunAmoc, or Luna sandals (nothing against those, I just have no desire to reduce my shoes to the thinnest possible protective layer between me and the ground). But I see the Merrel Barefoot line, the New Balance Minimus line, the Altra offerings, and a few others coming, as steps in the right direction.

What to do for that bareform running?
* Take shorter, quicker strides. Meaning your feet will hit the ground more often and spend less time on the ground on each step. The "180 steps per minute" mantra gets thrown around a lot, and quite frankly I have no idea whether I'm close to that or not. It's a cue, for those who want to run with a metronome or iPod filled with music at that cadence.
* Relax the lower legs. The stiff ankle causes much of the lower leg stress that is the bane of moving to "less is more" shoes.
* Keep your foot contact under your center of gravity. This means don't overstride. Much of the heel strike talked about so vigorously in the barefoot running community is a direct result of reaching out with your leg to meet the ground too soon, lengthening the stride by reaching forward instead of pushing behind.
* Use your hips and hamstrings for propulsion instead of the calves.

These four things will go a long way to getting any one on the path of bareform running. If you do these, chances are you're going to be making first contact with the ground at the forefoot or midfoot without even trying.

But when I did these things, I noticed something -- the heel of my shoe started getting in the way. And it was causing other issues with my feet (see my discourse on Frieberg's Infraction) because of the angle it put my metatarsals throughout my gait.

So when one tries to adjust the stride without addressing the footwear as well, problems can arise.

Likewise, problems can arise when one adjusts all these things and merrily goes about their training mileage as they always have. You have to make these changes almost as if you're starting running all over again. Many people aren't willing to do that. I believe this is why you see so many people saying things like "Vibram Five Fingers saved my running and cured all my injuries". Well, I think it's just that their injuries forced them to start over, and making the changes in their form forced them to ramp up slowly enough that they didn't get injured.

Anyway, I'm getting off track a bit.

I'm not some zealot trying to preach the evils of the running shoe industry. I think their intentions were noble at the time. They made what sold. And I'm seeing some changes in the industry. Some slow changes in mindset of at least a subset of the running community as well.

If I'm a part of that, so be it. I'm not a role model. At least not for any one other than my daughter.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Random musings

It's been an interesting journey... I realized today that I'm making kind of a circle. From just learning, to being a competetor, to being an "ex" competetor, to volunteering, to having a very active role in putting on races, to now being co-race director.

My wife is going on a mission trip with Corner of Love to Nicaragua, and to help raise money for the trip, we're putting on a 5K -- The Love-Able 5K. It'll be in my old home town, about 4 miles from what was my parents' house, so I know the area very well. Though my wife is doing 99% of the foot work, she's been asking me to chime in on a lot of things, and I'll be there on race day to help with logistics, set-up, tear-down, and everything else. It's fun and interesting (though maybe not so much if you ask her) to see all that really goes into putting on a race, even a small benefit event like this. And with it scheduled for April 23rd, there's not a lot of time to get things together. I'm glad we have BuDu as a brain-trust to help out as well.

I went on a mountain bike ride today, the first since my DNF. My tires were still packed with mud from that day when I pulled it out of the back of my this morning. I'm sure I left a path of dirt blobs for the first 50 yards or so. But with the rain today, it didn't last long. I don't know what the temps were, but I was getting cold the last couple miles of the ride, and my legs never did get in the groove. I kept thinking my brakes were rubbing or something.

We went to a tri clinic last Saturday in Eatonville, put on by the local Luna Chix team. It was fun, but as it was geared towards beginners (and those who've never done a race before), I felt a little out of my element. But... One of our friends is on the team, and was helping give the clinic. So today she announced that she's doing RAMROD this year. Well, my wife threw out this idea that she wants to do that next year. I've done it a couple times (1988 and 1991), and it's a TOUGH ride, especially if you want to do it fast. But registration is all by lottery, and to guarantee your place the following year, you can volunteer. Well, looks like we'll be volunteering this year! My wife said that this is her run year, and next year is her biking year. Oh, and out of the tri clinic we found a good bike fitter for her to go to so that she can get her bike dialed in. Actually, she needs a new bike, as the Bianchi Eros that she bought used a year ago is too big for her. We'll see what comes out of that fit...

And I guess I need to get some riding as well...