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

Friday, May 31, 2013

Summer on the horizon? Random stuff.

Can you believe May is almost over? June is on the horizon.

Ah, June... Kids out of school, released to enjoy an all-too-brief respite from classroom lock-down into the "summer" months...

The way the weather keeps going, I wonder if we need to make another calendar shift, like when the idea of leap year was introduced. Winter seems to be hanging on longer (all you Midwest types will agree, I'm sure), summer temps and reliably sunny weather doesn't come until mid-July, and September has been the best month of the year for the last several years. Maybe a shift of a month or so is in order.
Tomorrow morning is the first race for the Rock Steady youth tri team at the Issaquah Triathlon. I'll be going out there to cheer them on and lend whatever moral support and advice is needed. My personal feeling is that this race is too damn early in the year... Tri season around here used to start at the END of June. Now there are races in April. Brr...

I went out for the team's open water swim workout last week at Five Mile Lake in Federal Way, WA. Wetsuits required... I had mine, plus some dive boots and a neoprene cap, and I STILL froze my jewels off. The kids were swimming and in and out of the water for half-again as long as I lasted. The brats. Yes, youth is indeed wasted on the young.
My weekend plan is to do a long ride at some point, which will include some long sections of gravel road. I've got a couple choices, but likely will only get to do one of them before the Leavenworth Grand Fondo. And either one of them may still not be completely passable due to snow.

One goes up toward Mowich Lake in the Mt Rainier National Forest. That is an out-and-back up some good climbs on gravel.

The other is a two-loop between Eatonville and Elbe, taking in parts of Pack Forest and gravel backroads north of Elbe.

Problem is, the gravel starts at 24 and 27 miles from my house, respectively.

Depending on whether Inspired Ride needs me to work Saturday will determine whether I do the ride tomorrow or Sunday.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Seeds planted in good soil

I'm reminded a bit of the post I made some time back about how information is best received when one is ready to take it in.

But there are also things that are done and said that lay dormant for some time, and only later do you realize that something was a catalyst for a future love.

My high school biology teacher is responsible for one of those seeds that was planted deep, and brought forth a bumper crop.

Rod Sivertsen, in 1976, took a trip from Burien, Washington, to Anaheim, California, with one of his former students along the Pacific Coast Highway. By bicycle. Forty days in the saddle, with lots of stops along the way. In 1979, I saw a slide show of this trip. It was the first time I'd really thought of a bicycle as a means of such long-distance movement, more than something to ride from A to B until I could drive. He claims it was a life-changing experience. I agree. Not just HIS life.

It was a spark that ignited into a great love for two-wheeled movement. Riding for me has been a lot of things -- a way to get to some places, a competitive outlet, a means of stress relief, a way to make some money, and a way to pass along some life lessons to those who might be ready to hear.

I always remembered that slide show. Not so much the pictures themselves, but the enjoyment, the life-affirming action, the adventure, and the love of riding.

And it wasn't until recently that I made the connection -- that one-hour as a 16 year old made a big difference in my life.

In my work with the Rock Steady youth triathlon team, I hope that I can pass along to some of them the joy of sport, of physical work, and two-wheeled movement in particular, as Rod did for me.

Rod is still alive and well, riding regularly, playing pickleball, living life with his wife Patty, and splitting his time between Arizona and Washington. And looks the same as he did all those years ago, plus a few more grey hairs.

Kind of like the salute given by Hawkeye and Honeycut in the final episode of M.A.S.H., it's a small gesture, but it's from the heart:

Rod -- thank you!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bike to Work Day

Today is the official National Bike to Work Day. Woohoo.

I've always wondered about the intelligence of making May the national emphasis on bicycle riding. And THIS particular day the bike-media chooses to encourage every one to ride a bike to work rather than drive.

I'm about 50% for the year on riding my bike to work. I've ridden when it's 25 degrees out.

Today is the first time I've ever biked to work on Bike to Work Day. And if it had been ANY other day, I would have driven my car.
The weather map just after I got to work. Note the arrow...
Yup, smack in the middle of the rain. Lovely.

EVERY STINKIN' YEAR the weather is absolute crap on Bike to Work Day.

Sure, this is the Pacific Northwest, and rain is what we do. There is no such thing as reliable nice weather until July 15th. WHY do we choose to do this in May? Aren't we supposed to be ENCOURAGING people to ride their bikes?

I can just see the people who don't normally ride who might just take up 2 wheels today... Look at the forecast. "I don't THINK so!" And we lose about 40% of them. Waking up in the morning and hearing the little pitter-patter on the roof -- another 30%. Another 20% are lost on the way to getting ready to hit the road. The bike is right next to the car in the garage, and the siren song of a dry commute is just to strong.

And then there's the hardy 10% that will go ahead and brave the weather, and realize somewhere between their driveway and maybe half-way to work that this sucks BIG TIME and never want to touch their bike again. Maybe one will continue to ride. Not 1%... One.

Okay, maybe I'm being generous.

I rode today. It was raining. And if it had been colder, I probably would have ditched it myself. The ride wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't that bad either. fenders make all the difference. Road spray enema isn't fun at any time.

Maybe Seattle should succeed from the May Bike to Work Day movement, put it on hold until July.

Hopefully things will dry up at least a LITTLE for the afternoon ride home.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Racing, the mental switch

I see a lot of threads on the BeginnerTriathlete and SlowTwitch forums discussing the minute differences in drag between various bikes and wheels, helmets, which wetsuit is the most slippery in the water... Discussions will go on and on about what's the "best" frame, wheel, handlebar, or whatever doodad and who-haw.

I race on a round-tubed titanium standard diamond frame with a Renn disk in back and a Hed H3 in front, Wolf TT fork, older Profile aero bars with bar-end shifters in friction mode changing over an 8-speed cassette. I have a Rudy Project Syton Open helmet. My wetsuit is a Nineteen that's about 4 years old, sleeveless. And I do just fine, still finishing at the pointy end of the AG field.

My point? Well, I'll start with what my point is NOT: I'm not trying to say that there isn't benefit to gram counting when it comes to drag; I'm not saying that being a retro-grouch is the be-all end-all of the spirit of triathlon. But I think that a lot of attention gets paid to this, and it gets relied upon for race performance.

I believe that race day is when it all comes together (or not, sometimes), that there are things that happen mentally and emotionally because it IS a race that bring out the best physical performance that you can put out on any given day. Far more than just a hard workout. The mental switch that, when flipped, allows you to transcend yourself.

I race on the things I do NOT because they're the best things I can afford (yeah, I could "upgrade" to a carbon wunder-bike through the bike shop where I work part time), but because it helps me to flip that mental switch -- it helps put me in race mode mentally, and I go faster.

In the movie "Over the Top" (a movie about a truck driver who enters arm-wrestling competitions), Sylvester Stallone delivers a line during an interview where he talks about turning his baseball cap around, and it being a switch that turns him into "a machine". Race day equipment should do that. 

All the extraneous stuff dies away when that happens. Everything focuses on the physical motion of getting to the finish line as fast as you possibly can. Putting on the race wheels, strapping on the race helmet, slipping on the wetsuit with the race-supplied cap, putting on the Body Glide, setting up the transition zone, ALL do that -- put me into race mode, and I become a machine.

You see it as "race face". I'm in the zone then. I may break out of it enough to say something funny, laugh a little, but I'll be back in it within a few seconds.

I don't laugh at the uber-wind-cheating bikes and wheels as I pass them. In fact, during the race, I don't even notice what the other people are riding.

My point: The mental switch has been flipped. And I believe that is FAR more important for race performance than the few grams of drag saved by tucking the brake cables into the frame.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Awesome shoes! Skechers Go Bionic Trail

I've been testing running shoes for Skechers for a a little over a year now. It all started with a review I posted about the Go Run, a shoe that I purchased after hearing some buzz about them from a couple blogs -- I tried them on at a Skechers store and was very impressed. After responding to a posting on Runblogger about being a wear tester, I was contacted by a representative from the company. I've worn several different models, seen them go through a metamorphosis, and have seen several of my suggestions incorporated in follow-on iterations. It's been a very interesting process, and the feel I've gotten with it is like working with a small, nimble company, but with big corporate backing.

Up-front disclaimer: I got these pre-rpoduction shoes free of charge from Skechers, and I am not in any way paid to write positive reviews of their products. I run in the shoes and provide feedback to the design team. I am constrained by non-disclosure agreements to not write about or release information on any of the models I test until I am given the green light to do so by Skechers. With that said...

The first group of shoes I received included the Go Bionic, a lightweight trainer/racing flat with excellent flexibility, zero drop from heel to forefoot, and lots of interior forefoot room. Of the shoes that were sent that day, it was my favorite. My only regret was that I was recovering from a running injury at the time and had to wait to run in them!

I don't remember the exact date I received the Skechers Go Bionic Trail (some time around the end of October or first of November last fall), but my first reaction was, "Don't change anything!" They were that good. They instantly became the favorite shoes in my rotation, and so far I have about 140 miles on them, a mix of about 70% gravel roads, 10% dirt/grass, and 20% pavement, based on my weekday runs at lunchtime.

I'll admit that I was initially skeptical about the idea of a Go Bionic Trail -- the Go Bionic midsole/outsole material is quite soft and flexible, and the tread pattern tends to pick up rocks when worn off-road. The softness of the material means good cushion, but also not much in the way of protection from terrain. The Trail version of the Go Bionic addresses all of these concerns and then some.

The midsole is a solid piece, without the "pods" of the Go Bionic, so picking up rocks is a non-issue. The tread pattern is a medium shallow block array, providing very good grip on muddy surfaces. In the forefoot, there is a buried rock plate which provides protection from stones and debris. Even with this plate, the shoe keeps good ground feel and flexibility. I expected to feel some extra stiffness in the forefoot that might affect my stride, but the shoe feels about as flexible at the Go Run on the road or trail. And I found myself in rocky areas in which I would normally slow down and pick my way through, just blasting through with almost-wreckless abandon.

There's a slight wrap of the sole material around the front of the shoe to act as a bumper for toe strikes. Also zero drop (though the insole is reported to make it a 4mm drop, I don't feel a difference), the entire midsole and outsole make a very good platform for a natural stride. The rocker of the Go Run is nearly absent, and is slightly less than the Go Bionic.

The Trail version is built on the same last as the original Go Bionic, with a nicely snug heel and instep, and plentiful space in the forefoot. No toe squeezing going on here.

The upper of the Go Bionic Trail is a flexible neoprene-like material which is textured for a rugged look. As flexible as the material is, I expected it to allow my foot to wallow around. This is not the case, however; it simply moves with my foot. The tongue is of the same material, with a stiffer piece at the top (initial versions had a very stiff material there, and was my one suggested change; the second iteration of the shoe went with a softer material at the top of the tongue -- a good move making a great shoe even better), and is sewn in throughout the lacing area, protecting against debris entering the shoe.

Like the Go Run and the Go Bionic, there is nothing in the way of a heel counter in this shoe -- a feature I heartily support. Nothing is making your foot do something it shouldn't. The collar is flexible and soft.

With all this going for it, it remains light -- almost as light as the Go Bionic.

Pete Larson from Runblogger had written a passing comment about this shoe (though he was constrained by the same non-disclosure agreements as I) that it had become his favorite shoe, and unlike any other he'd worn, he found himself looking for excuses to go run in them. While I haven't been looking for e
xcuses to run in them (I've found myself somewhat fragile for mileage, and so have stayed with a schedule that keeps me healthy) I find that I keep coming back to them after trying one of the others in my rotation.

In the miles that I've put on these shoes, they've worn very well -- the uppers look perfect still, and there's only one place on the sole that shows any appreciable wear -- right under the base of my little toe (head of the 5th metatarsal), where my foot makes initial contact with the ground.

The market release is set for mid June, so look for them at your local Skechers store and online.

[Note -- Photos are of the pre-production samples I received in 2012, and taken on 5/6/2013, with 140 miles on them, and right after a 4.6 mile run.]

Monday, May 6, 2013

I've got a fever, and the only prescription is...


(I wonder if the SNL guys had ANY clue how that skit would take on a life of its own.) I'd love to post up the video of that skit, but NBC is all over the copyright infringement, so I'll leave it up to you to search it out if you don't know what I'm talking about.

There was a post back in August of last year on the forum by a user of the moniker GreyhoundGuy titled A Cowbell Revolution. In that post, he talked of how he now carries a cowbell in his car, and when he is approaching a cyclist or runner on the road, he rolls down the window and rings the cowbell for encouragement.


An update thread started just a month ago has shown the response to be fairly universally positive. Others have started to do the same thing.

Any one who watches European bike racing, especially that maniacal combination of steeplechase and cycling called cyclocross (psycho-cross, in many circles -- the muddier the better) has heard the cowbells tolling at the toughest parts of the race course. It's started to catch on in the US of A in cyclocross as well, and in some of the larger road races. Saves the lungs and vocal chords, and makes for some loud encouragement. And smiles.

Who wouldn't rather hear a cowbell on a ride or run, rather than a honking horn where you're trying to figure out if it's encouragement or another couch rider wanting you to get out of their $#&*%Q*%$ way? 

So I'm going to get a cowbell and put it in my car. It'd be worth it just to lift the spirits of ONE person.

How about you?