Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Gear Review: Brooks Silver Bullet Jacket II

It’s no secret that I will choose outdoor running over the treadmill no matter the weather conditions. I’ve run in blizzards, wind and rain storms, and temperatures in the negative digits. I’ve come home with a nice layer of sweaty ice covering much of my body, and plenty of chilly but survivable digits. At the heart of my survival is a solid winter running coat or outer layer. For the past few years, I’ve put an old race-earned running jacket to good use and it has served me well as one of many layers. However, the zipper finally broke and I found myself in need of a new cold-weather running jacket.

Running in the unpredictable Iowa winter has given me plenty of food for thought as I searched for the ideal jacket to meet my year-round outdoor needs. Not only did I need something relatively lightweight, but also windproof and water-resistant. Ideally, I would also find a jacket I could utilize into the mid-30s as well, until I made the quick transition to long sleeves and shorts :) I ended up doing far more research and reading than was probably necessary, but I’m nothing if not thorough. This overabundance of research left me with a good sense of my options. Ultimately, I opted for a running-specific jacket as opposed to a more general use soft-shell with good running cred. I pulled the trigger on the Brooks Silver Bullet II jacket, and I couldn’t be more happy with my choice!


Fit & Appearance: The jacket has a semi-fitted structure. It’s by no means baggy, and hugs my body quite well, while also being loose-fitting enough to accommodate a variety of layers underneath. It sits below the hips, and has a nice elastic strip at the bottom to keep it from riding up while running. This update to the original Silver Bullet jacket includes an articulated hood that stows in the collar for quick deployment via a zippered-pocket. It cinches easily in the back, has a small brim, and offers a nice snug, athletic fit that stays put, even in 30 mph headwinds! This is not a cheap after-thought hood. The added detail of a fabric overlay at the top of the zipper is a nice touch for added comfort, and the collar comes up high enough for nice neck protection and has a soft feel for comfort. The jacket also has extended thumb holes for added coverage on your hands, and added “flip-mits” that work as emergency mittens. These are more of a gimmick than an effective addition to the jacket, but I applaud Brooks for trying something new. The arms extend a bit longer on top of the hands as well, which is a small, but nice detail.

I decided on the Kelly green color, with black accents, and plenty of reflective stripping. Although this wasn’t my first color choice, I’m not really happy with the choice. It’s bright enough to add some additional visibility without being obnoxious. Although it’s a running-specific jacket, I’d definitely grab it for a more active hike or colder outdoor ride. For those of you that like to carry your phone or other media player with you, a water-proof internal pocket is nicely positioned lower on the abdomen to prevent jiggling. This serves as a nice secondary pocket, complimenting the two side pockets, for nutrition storage as well. The medium fits my 5’11″ 165 lb. frame extremely well, to the point that it could have been tailored for me.


Breathability: I sweat A LOT, so I’m always concerned with the breathability of running apparel. Various products that claim to be breathable have left me drenched in the past. However, the lightweight material (nylon and polyester) breathes very well, while retaining heat (more on that to come). The inside of the jacket was almost completely dry, even after 30 miles in single digit temps.

Warmth: This is where the jacket really shines…or should I say reflects! The internal aluminum membrane reflects your body heat back towards you “for powered warmth without the weight”. It looks really cool, but sounded a bit gimmicky when I bought it. However, after running in it for a few months, I’m sold. This jacket claims to be built for 40 degrees and below, and it absolutely fits that bill. I was quite comfortable in nothing more than a short-sleeve tech shirt at 20 degrees, and a long-sleeve tech shirt in 10 degree weather. Below 10 degrees, I busted out a heavier Under Armor heat gear shirt, and it kept me toasty warm, even when the wind chill dipped below -20! The lightweight nature of this jacket would have left me skeptical, but the proof was in the pudding. This jacket does the job.


All-Weather Protection: The Silver Bullet is billed as windproof and water-resistant. The harsh Iowa winds have given me plenty of opportunities to test the windproof-ness of the jacket, and it has held up quite well. The semi-fitted nature of the jacket also means the wind isn’t sneaking in and creating the parachute effect we are all familiar with in other jackets. As with many products that claim to be water-resistant, this was true to a point with the Silver Bullet. It definitely beads up water and will keep you try during short showers, or a light rain. However, harder rains/snows or more driving rains/snows will accelerate the saturation of the jacket. In those heavier precipitation moments, I averaged about 30 minutes before the moisture started to soak through. However, the jacket kept me toasty warm even once the moisture began to seep in. This is always the trade-off when you go with water-resistant vs. water-proof. The increased breathability makes this a more than acceptable trade-off for my running needs.

Overall, I’m extremely happy with the Silver Bullet II running jacket. Brooks has produced a well-designed, and versatile running jacket for folks who don’t retire to the treadmill when the temps dip below freezing. I may be recommending this to a few friends to increase my winter running company!

Philadelphia Training: Rocky Style

It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen the Rocky movies, and I may get some flack for not finding them all good in the first place. However, they are certainly iconic, and Rocky’s training run up the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum is perhaps one of the most iconic images in our sport. The magic of the moment was amplified by Sly’s donation of the bronze statue to the City of Philadelphia, where it is now on display outside of the museum. This past week, I traveled to the city of Brotherly and Sisterly Love for a professional conference. Hotel rates were rather ridiculous for my meager professional development budget, but airbnb came through with a great apartment at a great price. As an added bonus, I was less than a mile from the Schuylkill River Trail!

Plenty of bridges along the trail!

Plenty of bridges along the trail!

I arrived on Wednesday, and managed to squeeze in five runs while I was there, which I was quite pleased with overall. I was determined not to let my training slip in preparation for the Flatrock 101K, and I also just love running in new cities. As I’ve indicated before, running can be the best way to explore a new environment. Since I was previously in Philly for another work-related trip, I had already explored much of the downtown area. This mean I was free to run along the river trail and focus on tempo, pacing, and enjoying some more scenic views. It also meant that I passed by the Philadelphia Art Museum on every run, so naturally I had to take my turn running up those iconic stairs.

Sculptures everywhere!

Sculptures everywhere!

Each day provided me with new observations about the trail I was on, and it was fascinating to see how the route became so comfortable after such a short amount of time. I’ve always been good at quickly adapting to a new environment, and I felt as though this happened even more quickly as a result of my many miles on foot! I began to notice the people more, the insane number of dogs (if my route was any indication, then everyone in Philadelphia must own two dogs:) ), and the little details that make this particular trail such an attraction for area runners and walkers.

At the top of the museum stairs!

At the top of the museum stairs!

The trail also passes by several historic rowing houses, and there was a high school crew competition taking place on Sunday. It was fun to watch everyone out on the water, plying their craft, while fans stood on the shore cheering them on. I had no idea that rowing was such a popular high school sport in the area!

The view from the top of the stirs is mighty impressive!

The view from the top of the stirs is mighty impressive!

Overall, the trip afforded me a nice balance of intellectual and physical engagement, and as always, running proved to be a great way to decompress after a long day of work (or in this case, attending educational paper presentations, and presenting myself). Philadelphia may not be high on my list of enjoyable cities, but the 70+ miles I logged while I was there were a nice complement to the academically rewarding trip!

You didn't think I forgot, did you?

You didn’t think I forgot, did you?


Sex and Running: Endurance Activities Collide

“Sex makes you happy. Happy people do not run a 3:47 mile.” – American Running Legend Marty Liquori

The debate is as old as the Olympics themselves. What impact does sex have on athletic performance? The supposed answers are about as contradictory as any debate out there, which is in part why the subject is just so darn interesting. Plato urged athletes to abstain before competition as early as 444 BC, whereas Pliny the Elder famously proclaimed in 77 AD that “athletes when sluggish are revitalized by lovemaking”. Mohamed Ali would famously abstain from sex in the weeks leading up to a fight, whereas Ronaldo has claimed that sex before a match makes him better. I won’t even bother talking about the supposed sexual exploits of the likes of Joe Namath and Wilt Chamberlain. The opposing strategies seem to both end up working pretty well, but these stories leave us no closer to answering the question.

For years, coaches in all sports have urged their athletes to abstain from sex before competition. If you’ve ever been on an organized team, you’ve no doubt heard the recommendation (or mandate), and perhaps even broken it! It turns out that this bedroom tapering isn’t quite so cut and dry. In truth, this discussion is part psychological and part physiological. Luckily for us, there are always intrepid researchers out there exploring these burning questions (pun intended!).

Physiological Considerations

The endurance-related effects of sex on men and women are quite fascinating. Generally, research has found that having sex the night before a race has no noticeable impact on fitness measures, such as VO2 max, heart rate, or oxygen pulse. A study of 2,000 London marathoners found that those who “stretched” more vigorously the night before the race performed better than those that abstained. Additional research has uncovered increases in longevity, increased levels of immunoglobulin A (essential for the immune system), and decreases in heart-disease.

In women, researchers have discovered that two of the areas of the brain that are active during orgasm are the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula, both of which are associated with pain. This may suggest an analgesic effect. Perhaps the take-away message here is that the best recovery technique is a good orgasm. I’ll leave the method up to you, but will add that only 1/3 of women are capable of orgasm via penile-vaginal penetration. Other than that, I’ll refrain from pointing you in the right direction. In men, the impact on maximum workload has been shown to be minimal.  There has also been plenty of discussion about testosterone as a performance-enhancing drug. Just ask Floyd Landis. Researchers have found significant increases in testosterone levels following sexual intercourse. Interestingly enough, the study also found increases in testosterone resulting from watching others engage in sexual intercourse. Did I mention that the researchers collected their data at a swingers club in Las Vegas? I can only imagine how that IRB meeting went down!

Psychological Considerations

Running is clearly a mental game, as we all know. Mental training is sometimes the hardest aspect of endurance sports to master. For years, much of the conversation around abstaining from sex related to the perceived distraction it may cause for the athlete. The other “bonus” associated with abstaining prior to competition was added frustration and aggression, which could be released during the event. However, research has shown no impact on mental concentration. The same study also showed a decrease in attention two hours after sex, however, so plan accordingly! Other researchers have found limited self-reported negative impact among long distance runners who engaged in sexual activity prior to an event. Ultimately, everyone’s brain responds to sex differently but it only really has the potential to have a negative psychological impact on your performance if doing so is out of the ordinary, and stresses you out in some way. These are decisions I’ll leave up to you.

You may have noticed that I left out perhaps the most glaring physical concern- fatigue. Well, I hate to break it to everyone (ok, mainly men), but this isn’t really something to be worried about. The average sexual encounter lasts about 5 minutes, and burns about 50 calories.  A 2013 study did, however, indicate that sex may burn as many calories as 30 minutes on the treadmill, so don’t abandon hope just yet. Not surprisingly, 98% of those studied also felt that sex was more pleasant than their time on the treadmill. I’m shocked!


Internal Shout-Outs

I’ve been making some small (i.e. probably more noticeable to me than anyone else) changes to the blog lately, and I thought I’d take a moment to call your attention to them, in the off-chance that might want to take a peek. I’m always on the lookout for better ways to communicate and organize information, despite the restrictions that come with having a blog. My programming knowledge isn’t quite at a level that warrants springing for my own domain, although it would be cool to own “”.

Prior to maintaining a blog myself, I didn’t have much of an idea of the work that went into the various aspects of appearance and content. Over the years, I continue to gain more and more respect for fellow bloggers, and am in awe/jealous of some of my favorite blogs, not just for their content, but also for their layout.

With that being said, let’s take a bit of a closer look at a few areas you may have missed :)

1. ‘What’s On My Feet”- Now that I’ve laid my shoe soul bare, I’ll try to keep this page as up-to-date as possible with brief reviews of the shoes I currently have in the rotation, and those I’ve sent down to the minors.

2. 50 States Quest- I’ve been meaning to create a more detailed map of my race history for some time, and have finally gotten around to doing so. Although I haven’t officially joined the 50 States Marathon Club, I am actively working to run a marathon or longer in all 50 states. If you click on the map, it will take you to a more detailed Google Map that I’ll be able to keep updated and add information on races as I tick the various states off my list.

Click for interactive Google Map.

3. Blogroll- This list is always evolving as I find more and more interesting running-related reading.

So, do you have any suggestions? Any resources that might add even more exciting content and access? I’m always on the lookout for new technology of any kind, whether it be running, blogging, or otherwise-related, so please feel free to share!

Running Research to Consider

I’ve been in school for 26 of the 34 years I’ve been alive. In many ways, who I am has been defined by my presence in the classroom for as long as I can remember. I have three degrees, two certificates, and a nice balance of general and specialized knowledge to show for my troubles. I’ve made a career out of the classroom and enjoy my time there, whether as a student or a teacher. Either way, I’m always learning. Heck, if I could find a wealthy benefactor to support me, I’d probably spend the rest of my life in school. As it stands, I’ll have to “settle” for the joy of constant learning. I always happen to be juggling a dozen different topics in my mind, and my “great” reading list would make Robert Maynard Hutchins proud.

All of this is a long way of letting you know that my thirst for knowledge clearly spills over into my passion for running and endurance sports. This means I end up doing what I can to stay as up-to-date on current running-related research, and pouring over journal articles I’m not technically qualified to interpret. Nonetheless, I pick my way through them, look up what I don’t know, and add it to my bank of training knowledge as I constantly shape and reshape my training decisions. Luckily for me, I live in a university community with a wide range of like-minded academic runners, and we have access to a ridiculous amount of research due to our university affiliation. So, I thought I would share a few articles you may find interesting, and that may (or may not) have an impact on your future choices, or the sport as a whole.


As a mainly qualitative researcher, I’m comfortable with small sample sizes and different notions of reliability and validity. In many quantitatively focused fields, of which I would include exercise science and related disciplines, samples garner a great deal more scrutiny. For this reason, I’ve found it interesting that much of the seemingly relevant literature on running related topics typically involve relatively small sample sizes. There is of course no single definitions of credibility, validity, and reliability. However, I offer this observation as you consider any research you come across.

I’ve also noticed that running research seems to focus on three main areas:

1. The impact of running on health/mortality (generally speaking): this may include specific questions about potential correlations between running and various diseases or physical ailments, or may more generally explore links between running (physical activity) and life expectancy. It may also look at the impact of such variables as heat, cold, and distance on the body or more specific portions of the body.

2. Running Nutrition & Hydration: What products offer the best fuel during a run? How do our bodies process energy while running? Is there a benefit to carb loading the day before a race (probably not)? Is there a perfect fat/carb/protein balance for endurance runners? Should you cut gluten from your diet (not necessarily)? Does the paleo diet benefit runners (not generally)? What is the proper electrolyte balance? How much sodium should you take in during a race?

3. Shoes, Shoes, and more Shoes (and maybe some other gear thrown in for good measure): The debate over the perfect running shoe has been raging for decades and shows no sign of letting up. Companies continue to try and stay ahead of the “next big thing” in running, as they offer minimal, and now maximal products to meet the needs (really, just the interests) of as many runners as possible. Much of this research is (gasp!) sponsored by the shoe companies themselves as they seek the scientific proof that their new, proprietary toe box/sole compound/upper weave, etc. best aids runners in as wide a group as possible.

Photo Credit: Runners Connect

Photo Credit: Runners Connect

Shockingly (ok, not really), the most important thing that all of the reading I’ve done and continue to do has taught me is that running is a personal, individual experience. I can say that it’s clear we’ve lost touch with our bodies over the years as we become more dependent on external products, and less dependent on the ability to listen to what our bodies have to tell us. The only silver bullet that will always universally benefit EVERY runner is training. If you put in the miles, you’ll see results, no matter what your goals might be along the way. Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t see value in the wide variety of running-related research being done. Obviously I do, or I wouldn’t be reading it. I think much of the research being done, regardless of the results, can help us learn how to listen to our bodies, understand our bodies, and become more in touch with our running.

With that being said, here are a few recently published articles that may surprise you (or not, if you already knew this about yourself because you are listening to your body).

1. Researchers found that the level of cushion in the mid-sole of the  shoe had no impact on running-related injury rates. This certainly calls into question various shoes trends, eh?

2. The role of increased carbohydrates on endurance performance is being studied as well. Researchers stated  “We conclude that altering total daily carbohydrate intake by providing or withholding carbohydrate during daily training in trained athletes results in differences in selected metabolic adaptations to exercise, including the oxidation of exogenous carbohydrate. However, these metabolic changes do not alter the training-induced magnitude of increase in exercise performance.” In other words, carb-loading doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on performance.

3. Remember the tales about the impact of running hurting your bones? It turns out that impact may have the opposite effect and encourage bone strength and growth, especially as we age. Run on! On a side note, the title of this article is “Physical Activity and Bone: May the Force be With You”. How can you not love a group of researchers that produce titles like that?!

I’ll try to pull in more research as I come across articles that I find interesting, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you pay much attention to the research? Have you made different running choices? Is there amazing research happening out there that you’d like to share?

Running to the Podiatrist

Ok, so I didn’t actually RUN to my podiatry appointment, but I could have. The clinic is close enough but I decided they probably wouldn’t appreciate my sweaty, smelly presence in the exam room. You may be curious as to why this appointment was necessary in the first place. In all reality, “necessary” is a strong work. However, this is something I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while, and finally got around to acting on.

My left knee and foot have been spaces of discomfort and irritation off and on since I started running. I was diagnosed with patellar tendonitis very early on in my running journey. Several months of physical therapy, along with changes to my stride, better shoes, and much more involvement in my own well-being eventually took care of the knee pain. However, I would still sporadically feel random pain in the lower half of my leg and in arch of my foot, as well as on the top of my foot. It was never consistent or so overwhelming that I felt that I needed to rush to the doctor. At first, I chalked it up to the distances I was running. Arguably, I was piling on more and more miles as my addiction increased, so I assumed some aches and pains came with the territory. The pains would come and go throughout my run, and they typically dissipate during my recovery as my legs deal with the 20 or 30 miles I just put on them. However, the one mystery I was never able to account for was the fact that the pain only ever arrived in my left foot. I could finish a 50k or 50-mile run and my right leg/foot would feel fresh, but my left leg/foot would be killing me. This left me curious enough that I felt like a visit to the podiatrist was in order.

I was pleasantly surprised by the demeanor and openness of the doctor I visited. I explained that I was an endurance athlete, and that seemed to be enough information for him to understand that rest and limiting my mileage wasn’t really an option I would be considering. I knew the tendonitis was gone, and he screened me for plantar fasciitis, which was luckily a no-go. After watching me walk, examining my feet, and testing for sore spots, he left the room for a moment. He came back and handed me a sheet of paper, and indicated that he reasoned he had identified my issue. A quick look at my x-rays confirmed his suspicions. Apparently, my left foot was host to an extra bone!

I bet you're jealous, aren't you?

I bet you’re jealous, aren’t you?

The accessory navicular is an extra bone or piece of cartilage located on the inner side of the foot, just above the arch. It is incorporated within the posterior tibial tendon, which runs down the leg and attaches in this area. Although you are born with this congenital condition, many folks never realize it exists. However, it can become painful when you are more active, especially since that tendon is getting more use than it normally would. The intense pain from the light pressure it placed on the area made it quite clear that a diagnosis of accessory navicular syndrome was spot on.


We talked about options for treating the issue, and he recommended I begin with a pair of orthodics. Much of the pain when I run is the result of slight supination that causes the tendon to rub over the accessory navicular and cause irritation. I no doubt change my stride a bit to compensate for this irritation, which then leads to the random pain in other locations that end up disappearing after a while. I’m not necessarily keen on orthodics because of the potential they have for causing back issues when I’m not wearing them. However, he suggested trying “superfeet” inserts before spending money on custom inserts. I’ll probably give them a try, and only use them for my running shoes. Perhaps this will limit the potential for back pain.

I think I'll go with green :)

I think I’ll go with green :)

So, in the grand scheme of things, I’m ok with this issue. I’m always reading about other runners dealing with stress fractures and other much more serious issues, and I was thankful not to be in that category. I’m certainly not a fan of the extra bone in my foot, but it could certainly be worse! Have others dealt with ANS before? Do you use after-market inserts and have recommendations? I’m definitely all ears (and toes) for suggestions :)

February Run Down

By the time this past month came to a close, I was pretty sure I lived in a frozen wasteland. It was only two years ago that I was running in shorts and a t-shirt on Valentine’s Day. Alas, my skin very rarely saw the light of day this year, and the halogen lamps of the indoor track weren’t exactly sending any vitamin D my way. However, I was still pleased with my training during the snowy, windy, icy month that wouldn’t let up. I stuck to my training plan, and I’m feeling really good about my upcoming races, including the Hawkeye 50K in just a week. I managed to get some bike trainer time in once again, and my strength-training remained consistent.

Feb 2014

I have been surprised at how much I’ve recently enjoyed listening to podcasts while running around the track as well. I’ve never quite found a pair of headphones that fit my ears and didn’t feel like they were either ready to fall out, or enter my brain like an alien parasite. It’s a fine line, right? However, I’ve been making due and enjoying the variety it adds to my runs. I still won’t run with headphones in while I’m outdoors, but I’m a tad safer running in circles indoors, so I call it a win-win(-win).

Tuesday morning runs begin with my weekly dose of Ira Glass and This American LifeI’m a bit of an NPR junkie as it is, so this one was a no brainer, but the tone of the show also has a very calm, even tempo to it, which is great for pacing. By the time the episode is over, I’m usually about 6 miles in to my run, so I’m ready to feed my running addiction further.

Ultrarunnerpodcast is a fantastic addition to my weekly routine. The guys over there do a fantastic job of not only providing daily running and ultrarunning updates on their website, but they bring in some fantastic athletes for very down-to-earth and enjoyable interviews. I love hearing from other runners about the races they’ve run, their tips and tricks, and learning about the history of the sport, and this podcast is compiling a fantastic audio history of our sport. If you haven’t already checked it out, I highly recommend you do!



From there, the rest of my podcast week is a mix between NPR Education reports, Dan Savage’s Savage LovecastUT-Austin’s “15-Minute History” series, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” (yes, I’m incredibly saddened by the news that Carl Kasell is retiring!), and any other recommendations that happen to come my way. I’m a very goal-oriented individual and enjoy feeling like I’m accomplishing something, and this new podcast trend ultimately leaves me feeling like I’m learning something while completing a quality workout. I’d certainly call that a win :) 

Photo Credit: NPR

Photo Credit: NPR

Do you enjoy any similar additions to your workout routine, especially during the winter months when we find ourselves indoors more often? Do you have any podcast recommendations for me? I hope everyone had a fantastic February and is getting excited for the spring thaw, and the upcoming race season!

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