Chasing 42

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T & T Chronicles: Dancing with Lady Chancellor

While we were in Trinidad, it was quite clear that Carnival was right around the corner. The steel pan drum competitions were in full swing as teams practiced for the finals, Soca artists were performing for free in the main square in Port of Spain, and every other radio announcement was advertising a Fete (think GIANT party with live music). Perhaps the most noticeable sign of the impending festivities was the plethora of activity on the Queens Park Savannah. The Savannah is a large park and open-space located in Port of Spain. During Carnival, performances and vendors set up shop and it becomes party central. Vendor space is at a premium, and although it is supposedly a democratic selection process, it sounded like knowing someone in the Ministry of Tourism certainly didn’t hurt.

All smiles before heading up the hill!

All smiles before heading up the hill!

Around the outside of the Savannah is a large walking/running path. The elaborate and revealing costumes of Carnival mean people love showing off their bodies, and subsequently become quite focused on making their bodies as attractive as possible. The fitness industry is huge in the months leading up to Carnival, but for those who don’t want to drop a nice chunk of change on equipment or classes, running around the Savannah works quite well. In the evening, once the sun has gone down, the paths get pretty darn crowded, as we learned during an evening stroll to work off a delicious dinner.

Just off of the Savannah pathway is Lady Chancellor Hill. This 2.0 (I measured it at 2.2) mile hill ascends 700 feet to a lookout point that provides absolutely stunning views of Port of Spain and the Gulf of Paria. Whereas most of other roads in Trinidad & Tobago lack sidewalks and any room to run, Lady Chancellor Hill actually provides a bit of room to move out of the way when a car is heading straight for you. This is a good thing considering the high speeds and blind curves that seemed to characterize Trini drivers and their roads! The hill is typically more quiet since it is a residential area, so it has become a focal point for Trinis looking to test their athletic ability or simply shed a few more pounds before Carnival.

Port of Spain the the Gulf of Paria

Port of Spain the the Gulf of Paria

While on the way up, I saw a few other walkers/runners, but I basically had the hill to myself. The incline was definitely intense and it never really let up. At times, I felt like I was running up a treadmill that wasn’t going to give me any sort of break. As I ascended the hill, the views to the right became more and more breathtaking, although I wasn’t fully taking them in because I was extremely cautious of drivers and trying to actually maintain a running pace.

Views on the path

Views on the path

However, when I reached the top, the view was everything I was hoping it would be and it made the killer run completely worth it. I’m sure I’ve commented before about how flat Iowa is and how I wished I had more choices for hill work. More than that though, I was just struck by the natural beauty of my surroundings. Perhaps Trinis eventually take the beauty for granted after living there for a certain amount of time, but I almost don’t know how that’s possible. There is just so much to stimulate the optic nerves and keep you engaged with your surroundings. Although the path was paved, I felt just as engaged in my surroundings as if I had been running a trail race. It was absolutely incredible!

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How can you compete with views like this?

How can you compete with views like this?

After some time at the top to take in the view, I began my descent. I knew it would be a whole lot easier going down than it was coming up, but I don’t think I was prepared for just what a difference it made. I would describe the run down as more of a controlled fall than anything else, and it felt great. I knew my quads would be screaming at the bottom, but I didn’t care. I was flying 🙂 I had averaged about 9:58/mile on the way up, and about 7:23/mile on the way down. That should tell you everything you need to know.

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When I reached the bottom, I continued around the Savannah, taking in the people, the traffic, and all the glorious sounds of a bustling urban environment. I passed by children in their school uniforms, food vendors getting ready for carnival, and folks out for an afternoon run/walk in preparation for the upcoming week. The loop took no time at all, in part because I was so enthralled by my surrounding. I simply didn’t want to stop running and I probably could have continued running around the Savannah for hours.

Still smiles at the end!

Still smiles at the end!

When I reached my starting point, the beautiful epicurean and our amazing friend turned tour guide were waiting to greet me. Now, if only I had a bottle of water or something refreshing to finish off my run. Oh wait, I just walked over to the nearest coconut vendor and bought a cold nut! He lopped off the top with his machete so I could drink the deliciously fresh water straight from the nut, and then he opened it up so I could eat the delicious coconut jelly and flesh hidden inside. Yes please! I’m pretty sure that if every run ended with fresh coconut water, I wouldn’t have a job because I’d be running all the time. Except then I couldn’t pay for the coconuts, so that would be awkward. Just sayin’.

Fresh coconut water...amazing!

Fresh coconut water…amazing!

Clocking Your Run: Morning, Noon, or Night?

Are you worthless before you have your morning coffee? Are you exhausted when you get home from work at night? Do you head out on your lunch break to squeeze in a quick run and re-energize yourself? It seems like everyone you talk to can tell you that they just feel better running at a certain time of the day. Some folks are consumate morning people and others need the stress relief that comes with running after work. Of course, sometimes we don’t have a choice as to when to run and we need to squeeze it in whenever our schedule allows. Unless you are an elite runner who logs regular two-a-days and gets paid to run, you are typically working running in around the various other commitments in your life- work, family, etc.

The best part of waking up...

The best part of waking up…

So, is there a best time to run? I’ve often wondering if running at a certain time of day provides an advantage in terms of training, endurance, speed, or efficiency. Does my body recover better from a run if I give myself a chance to wake up in the morning? I know that having my regular morning coffee before I run is a bad idea, so that’s off the table. However, my Sunday runs are typically early afternoon runs, after I’ve had my Sunday pancakes and coffee, and had time to digest. I wouldn’t say that I feel significantly better or worse than after my early Saturday AM runs, but maybe I’m just missing something.

As I see it, each time of day has something to offer:

Morning: You are starting the day off right! The air is fresh and still, there is hardly anyone out on the roads, and you’ve accomplished more than most folks before you start your day. I love beginning a work day knowing I’ve already gotten something significant done. I end up having more motivation the rest of the day, and I haven’t noticed any decline in my energy later in the day.

morning run

Noon: When I’m working from home, a noontime run can be a great way to break up the day. I like to be able to set small goals for myself throughout the day, and having a run scheduled halfway throughout the day gives me an excellent milestone. It can be a refreshing start to a productive afternoon as well, and I don’t feel as much of a post-lunch slump.

Night: Running at night or after work can be a great way to decompress after a long day. Once the days get longer, being out running as the sun as setting can be a very peaceful time of day and the evening darkness allows you to blend in and emerse yourself in your run (just make sure you are wearing reflective gear!).

As you can see, I end up finding benefits in running at all times of day. I certainly hate getting up early in the morning, but I love having the miles in early. I also have days where waiting to run at night just makes me antsy and unable to concentrate on what I’m doing. There has been some research to suggest that your best time to run is based on your circadian rhythms, combined with body temperature and lung function. These studies suggest running in the late afternoon or evening is most ideal. Ultimately, I think everyone needs to decide for themselves and I’ll no doubt continue to mix it up.

Running Up Camelback Mountain

I posted earlier about our holiday trip to Phoenix to visit family. One of the highlights of the trip for me was the opportunity to visit Camelback Mountain and “run” up! I read numerous accounts of the Echo Canyon Trail up the mountain, so I knew I was in for quite a trail run. I still wasn’t prepared 🙂

We got dropped off at the base of the mountain because parking was at a premium. Although it was a Friday, it was the holidays, so we certainly weren’t the only people who had the brilliant idea to visit Camelback. I left the beautiful epicurean to hike up with her camera in hand, and I took off at a decent pace. I was somewhat slowed by the crowds but made my way politely around people and most folks even stepped aside to let me pass, which was great. After a few minutes, I hit the first major ascent, complete with handrail, and I knew this would be no simple hill run.

Camelback-01

I pulled myself up the slick rocks and continued on up. It wasn’t long before I hit steeper and steeper portions and felt like I was on a giant angled stair-stepper at times. There were enough sections that required me to use my hands to pull myself up that I wished I had worn some cycling gloves for better grip (I’m sure they make gloves for climbing too, but there aren’t a lot of climbing opportunities in Iowa!).

Camelback-02

My heart rate stayed consistently high, but I kept my breathing in check. I spent most of the way up pushing myself and keeping my eyes on the rocks below me, so I wasn’t taking in the gorgeous views around me. I intended to take in the views at the top and then enjoy the trek down, which worked out well. After about 28 minutes, 1.1 miles, and 1300 feet of elevation, I made it to the top. The view took my breath away!

Camelback-03

This was my first trip to Arizona and my first run up anything bigger than the various hills I had encountered at home and on my travels. I’m sure that after living in a place like Phoenix for long enough, the views might lose a little of their luster, but I was in total awe. From the moment I took in all 360 degrees of beauty, all I could think about was wanting to do it again! I wanted to find every trail in Arizona and run it. I wanted to visit the Grand Canyon and run Rim to Rim (to Rim). The feeling at the top of Camelback was more energizing than any nutrition bar.

Camelback-04

Once I had taken enough pictures to satisfy my needs, I started out back down. I met the epicurean a bit below summit and we trekked down together. It was a beautiful day, a great run, and a wonderful way to cap off an enjoyable trip. As it turns out, they are going to be closing the Echo Canyon Trail later this month for upgrades, and it won’t reopen until the fall so I’m really glad we got to experience it while we were there. I can’t wait to get back!

Training Like A Hobbit!

It is with mixed emotions that I look forward to the release of The Hobbit this weekend. I have been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien pretty much my whole life, and grew up reading The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and all of his other stories. The thrill of losing myself in the fantasy landscape of Middle Earth is something I’ve never quite outgrown and really have no intention of leaving behind. When each of the LOTR films was released, it was a family holiday tradition that we went to see them together. It was somehow quite fitting, as it was my parents that encouraged me to develop a love of reading and allowed me to truly lose myself in the books I was reading. Each of those three films lived up to all of my expectations and more, and I re-watch them about as frequently as I re-read the books. Suffice it to say, I love them!

The-Hobbit

Now, The Hobbit, as a back story of sorts, was always an enjoyable tale. It doesn’t have the length or depth of the others, but is still a fun read, and when I heard they were putting it to film, I was excited for a pleasant fourth film. However, when I learned that they were stretching it into THREE films, I found myself a tad bit confused. How could they possible turn this tale into 9+ hours?! I shouldn’t be surprised that the almighty dollar is no doubt to blame for this error in judgement, but I am still a bit sad that they are trying so hard. Nonetheless, I’m still very excited to see the first movie, and will happily pay the ticket price for the experience. The beautiful epicurean shares my sentiments. Ok, so you are probably saying to yourself at this point, “Adam, this is all well and good, and I totally see where you are coming from (my apologies in advance if you really don’t have any interest in The Hobbit or J.R.R. Tolkien), but what does this have to do with running?”

That’s an excellent question as it turns out, so I’m glad you asked! I was always enamored with the meal schedule the hobbits keep, and it has become a bit of a running joke between the epicurean and me. They are basically eating every 2-3 hours, and always seem to be hungry. They take their meals very seriously, no matter the current circumstances. This of course got me to thinking about nutrition, one of my current favorite training topics, and I realized that there is actually quite a lot we can learn from these tricksy little hobbits!

secondbreakfast

Hobbit Meal Schedule

  • Breakfast – 7am
  • Second breakfast – 9 am
  • Elevenses – 11 am
  • Lunch – 1 pm
  • Afternoon tea – 3pm
  • Dinner – 6 pm
  • Supper – 9 pm

There seems to be plenty of evidence and research to suggest that eating smaller meals more frequently is better for sustained energy, nutrient absorption, and general health. I’m the first to admit that trying to squeeze even more meals, no matter how small they might be, into an already busy schedule can be a challenge. However, the benefits seem to be worth the time it takes. In addition, if you are eating more whole, natural foods, your prep time is going to be much less! It doesn’t take much work to pull out a piece of fruit or a small bag of veggies while drinking a nice big glass of water 😉 The hobbits may prefer items of a heavier nature, but the principle still holds.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ~ Thorin

The reluctant adventures of the hobbits provide us with yet another lesson to be learned. Now that winter is upon us (for some more than others, of course!), the temptation to stay inside by the (metaphorical) fire is quite high. However, anyone who has pushed themselves to head out the door for a run in the cold knows that you always find satisfaction after the fact. Once you commit your body, your mind will surely follow!

gandolf

I hope he has some neoprene on underneath that cloak!

“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

The importance and power of friendship becomes yet another training lesson to be learned from our friendly hobbits. I’ve commented plenty in the past about how much I value the friendships I have developed through running. Having training partners has the wonderful effect of getting you out the door even when you really don’t want to leave that warm fire. In all of their adventures, hobbits prove time and again just how much they value friendship and companionship.

“You can trust us to stick to you, through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.” – Merry

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So, in a not-so-fantasy sort of way, training like a Hobbit can indeed be beneficial for everyone, from the new runner to the veteran marathoner…just avoid any races in Helm’s Deep!

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Let the Preparation Begin!

When I ran my first long distance race (Dam to Dam 20K), I was exceedingly nervous. I begin thinking about the day and preparing a full week in advance. I made sure I knew what I was going to be wearing, what I would be eating, and I had my schedule all worked out. This process worked well with my sometimes OCD personality and my overly organized nature. The same thing happened with my first marathon. As the races have piled up, however, I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the process. I know what to expect, how to prepare, and I don’t give it nearly as much thought anymore. I’m comfortable with those distances and the races that accompany them. Now, a 50 mile trail race…this is all new territory for me!

I’ve certainly spent plenty of time thinking about this race, but now that it’s only a few days away, some of my original nerves and original running OCD are coming back into play. I don’t mind 🙂 I’ve gathered all of my clothes, supplies, and food for the day of the race and separated it into my suitcase and drop bag. I’ve also compiled a tentative schedule for the day so I know when everything is taking place, but also so the beautiful epicurean can track me effectively since I won’t be running over any timing pads or checking in with my phone while I’m out in the woods! I even have a folder of information complete with maps of the course (which I’ve studied), and other race-specific information. There is no packet pick-up until the morning of the race, which is a bit annoying, but I’ll work with it.

All packed up! Bring on the trails 🙂

It’s going to be a quick weekend and the schedule will be tight, but I’m ready for a whirlwind running weekend! I’m not normally a fan of getting up at 4AM for much of anything, but I have a feeling that even though I’m going to try and get to bed by 9PM, I’m probably not going to sleep much. Adrenaline can go a long ways!

My home away from home on Saturday!

Look forward to a full recap next week- I’m sure I’ll have a bit of extra time to write while my legs are recovering!

Compression Shorts: Not Just For Sprinters?

For quite some time, I’ve been a strong disciple of compression socks during long runs and races. I own several pairs, and I’ve found that they cut down on the soreness in my legs late in a run/race, and they shorten my recovery time afterwards as well. This has allowed me to transition more easily into training for ultra-marathons, which require back-to-back long training runs. I have not, however, given much thought to the use of compression shorts. I’m not entirely sure why the idea of trying them hadn’t crossed my mind sooner, considering I’ve wanted to try a pair of compression tights for winter running for quite some time. Alas, I haven’t been able to justify the cost to myself, nor have I had the disposable income to make it feasible anyway!  However, when one of my favorite discount flash-sale websites for outdoor clothing and gear, The Clymb, offered me a pair of Saucony AmpPro2 compression training shorts at a steep discount, I decided to pull the trigger.

Do you ever wonder where they hire the invisible models for these shots?

The Saucony website speaks pretty highly of them, but that is to be expected. The official information claims that the shorts increase oxygenated blood flood as much as 32% over other compression gear. They are also supposedly able to reduce muscle vibration and increase blood flow to your legs (as are all compression products).  I’m not sure why I was more skeptical of these shorts than I was when I purchased my first pair of compression socks, which I embraced almost immediately. Now, compression gear is not new by any means. The concept has been around in the medical community for over 50 years, used to treat issues such as diabetes and edema.

The research seems to be quite mixed on the matter, with some studies indicating advantages, while others questioning the claims made by the producers. For the most part, the jury still seems to be out on whether or not they offer any real added advantage your distance running. However, with the anecdotal evidence I had from my socks, I was quite hopeful. I’ve been on several runs with them now, and I’ve been pleased overall. I initially compared them to tri shorts (minus the chamois) but they ended up fitting much better. The extra compression ensured that they did not slip around on my thighs, which I was nervous about initially. They also lack any sort of gripping addition around the thighs, which I liked since most bike short irritate me there to some degree. They did an excellent job of wicking away moisture to the point where I didn’t notice any additional heat, as I had expected. The “strength” of the compression did not seem to be as tight as I had experienced with my socks, but I could certainly still notice the difference. As I noticed during my running, however, they didn’t necessarily keep my leg muscles in place any more than a normal pair of shorts. I didn’t notice a huge difference in recovery either, but my legs tend to have a fairly quick recovery time anyway, so I wasn’t expecting much of a change.

I don’t think Bolt has anything to worry about from me!

Final Verdict: They are a solid pair of running shorts with a much different fit but still very comfortable. They offered much more support, without being overly restrictive. The jury is still out on the value of compression on my legs as a whole, however. These shorts retail for around $90.00, which I don’t think I would ever pay for a pair of running shorts, but for $20.00, they were certainly worth a try!

Have other folks experimented with compression gear? Do you have an recommendations?

Final

Daily Minimalism?

There is no question that the barefoot and minimalist running trend has certainly caught fire in the running world. Shoe companies are quick to cater to the interests of the running community, who are quick to fork over the $$$ to support the latest trend. I will say from the outset that I have been skeptical of minimalist running from the beginning. The idea we were born to run this way doesn’t hold much water for me since we weren’t “born” on concrete and pavement! I am more willing to entertain the notion that minimalist running may have more benefits for trail running, but I’m on the fence there as well.

Regardless of my beliefs, one thing is for certain- any new “tool” is worthless without proper training. You wouldn’t get in the cockpit of a plane without flying lessons, so why would you lace up minimalist shoes without understanding how to run differently in them? Now, while I’m not prepared to take the plunge and buy into the trend, momentary as it may be, I am intrigued by the idea of using minimalist shoes for everyday wear. In theory, wearing these shoes has the potential to strengthen my legs by forcing me to use different muscles as I walk throughout the day.

The science is mixed about whether or not minimalist shoes decrease injury or improve running. It also seems clear that foot strike plays as much a role as choice of shoes. However, as with many “tools” of this nature, if it works well for you, then it works. Thus, I’ve been doing some research on the best minimalist shoes to purchase for everyday wear. Ideally, I’ll find a pair that blend in fairly well with my normal wardrobe so my feet don’t stand out anymore than necessary! Based on reviews, I’ve narrowed my choices down to the following shoes. If you have any thoughts or experience with them, I’d certainly love to hear from you!

Brooks Green Silence: these don’t exactly qualify as “blending in” but I’m definitely interested in the design.

Merrell Barefoot Tough Glove: these shoes definitely fit the bill for blending in, and many of the reviews suggest them as excellent shoes for any office environment.

NB Minimus Trail: With material real estate being at a premium as it is, the idea of trail shoes seems reasonable to avoid slipping and sliding on anything more than smooth, dry terrain.

NB Minimus Life: These appear to be the more general use cousin of the Minimus Trail, with similarly strong reviews for everyday use.

NB NewSky: They are made out of recycled water bottles! Need I say more?!

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on my final choice and review them following a thorough testing!

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