Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “winter running”

Challenges Are the Key to Living

I headed out for a mid-week run last night, without knowing where I was heading until I started moving. That’s the joy of beginning to know your body and know your limits, I suppose. You can put on your shoes, step outside, and find that the only limits on where or how far you wander are those artificially composed by the expectations of others. The wind was blowing hard (as it always does in Iowa), and there was a distinct chill in the air (as there has been for months now), and I felt energized by the briskness and the bounce it instigated in my step. Sometimes kinetic energy is the best heat there is, and I was determined to warm myself up. The miles sailed by, and I enjoyed absorbing the energy and life around me.

runtolive

Towards the end of my run, I saw a friend drive past, and I stopped to catch up. As we were chatting, the periodic tiny snowflakes instantly transformed into a whiteout! The large snowflakes were floating down sideways and adhering to our jackets and faces while we talked and we couldn’t help but laugh. She had injured her ankle some time ago, and had recently been able to take off the boot and was rehabbing it in the pool. I’ve known her since I started running, and her energy, determination, and free spirit have been inspirational to me on many levels. Seeing her, still in great spirits, reminded me that we all face challenges in our training and in our lives. Those challenges not only motivate us but they remind us that we are in fact alive. They don’t define us when viewed as problems, but they motivate us and help us continue to live our lives when we think of them as challenges.

We hugged, said our goodbyes, and I headed off to finish my run. I put my head down as I ran directly into the wind and snow, unable to see more than a few feet ahead of me, and I simply laughed as a big smile washed over my face. My fingers were cold, my cheeks were windburn, the snow was finding its way under my best fabric defenses, and I loved every second of it. I was alive in that moment. I was running to live.

I'm going to miss the winter beauty of this campus!

I’m going to miss the winter beauty of this campus!

I often wax philosophically to myself when I’m out on a solo run, and I value these internal conversations. Whether I’m on my own moving along some beautiful single-track, or plodding along on the side of a road in an open prairie with barren farmland all around, the reminder is still there.

So, consider these thoughts a quick peek into the slow streams and fast rapids in my mind:

– Metrics are important but the minutia can cause us to lose sight of the larger meaning behind our actions…so, turn on your Garmin, but collect moments, mental pictures, smells, sounds, and emotions with as much passion as you do pace, distance, and heart-rate!

– We can’t control everything, so trying is ultimately a waste of energy. This is something I still remind myself of daily as I fight some OCD urges and give in to others. Sometimes the best runs are the ones you don’t plan!

– Embracing the unexpected and the unknown, and taking charge of an adventurous spirit forces us to live. Adventures and challenges rarely come to us if we aren’t open to them. I still get that giddy feeling in my stomach before every run because I don’t quite know what to expect!

– You won’t find meaning on a treadmill. You’ll only find what you already knew was there when you dialed in your pace and stepped onto the circulating belt. We all run for different reasons, and the desire to be healthy is incredibly important. However, if running is about more than simply race results and VO2 max, then I’m a firm believer that you won’t find what you are looking for inside on a hamster wheel.

P.S. It’s not too cold. Ever. There are ultrarunners making their way across Alaska on the 350-mile Iditarod course right now. No excuses.

The unexpected moments remind me that I’m alive. They remind me to put everything I do in perspective, and they remind me why I run. I run to live. This, I venture to guess, becomes a far more holistic approach to training than the other way around. When you assume the opposite, you run the risk of finding yourself stuck on a revolving belt, unaware and unconcerned with the world around you.

“Everything we do really is just a little marker on the long road to death. And sometimes that’s overwhelmingly depressing to me, and sometimes it makes me feel kinship and forgiveness. We’ve all got the same ending to the story. The way we make that story more elaborate, I got to respect.”
― Joss Whedon

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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!

Brooks-1

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.

Brooks-2

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.

Brooks-3

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!

A Break from the Winter Running Doldrums

There is no question that this winter has worn on me more than previous snowy seasons. The cold seems more bitter, the sky seems more overcast, the wind seems more biting, and the snow seems more relentless. I’m clearly not alone, as this seems to be a common theme both locally and nationally. I don’t remember the last time at least one part of the country wasn’t bracing for winter storm _______. When did we start naming winter storms? Are we trying to make the hurricanes and tropical storms jealous? At this point, I certainly hope we can all agree that global warming is doing a number on us at this point!

After being forced to bite the bullet and spend some time on he indoor track, I’ve actually come to enjoy the track work, as well as the strength-training that I’ve incorporated into my workout routine. However, when I noticed that the temperature gauge had the potential to creep above freezing for what seemed like the first time in ages, my heart still fluttered a bit. Sure enough, by early afternoon, the temps were heading past freezing and towards 40 degrees. In an ideal world, these would be the lowest temperatures I would ever see. Alas, that is not the world I live in, so I was going to jump on this opportunity! As I headed home from campus, the temperature read 42, and I knew it was a sign that I had to get out there and enjoy the weather 🙂

Now, I’m not sure what your threshold for shorts is, but if it’s above freezing, you are probably going to see me outside running in shorts. Today was just one of those days! I was scheduled for a strength-training session, so I drove to the Rec Center, parked, and soaked up the downright balmy temperatures during a 3-mile tempo run. Mother nature didn’t want me to enjoy myself too much, of course, so the wind picked up out of the north as I was heading back. Somehow I didn’t mind running into the nasty headwind quite as much as I looked down to see the shorts I was wearing. Take that, Mother Nature!

It had to have been a sign, right?

It had to have been a sign, right?

I headed back in and moved through my strength-training routine, making good use of the adrenaline pumping through me. Then I pulled out the bonus excitement for the day. Last week, I finally pulled the trigger and ordered a pair of Hoka One One Stinson Evo shoes. I’ve been contemplating trying them out for ages, and seeing a majority of runners at Across the Years sporting them sealed the deal for me. You can expect a more thorough discussion of my thoughts on them in the future. However, before fully committing, I wanted to take them for a spin, and since the treadmill was off-limits, the track worked perfectly. Almost immediately after putting them on, I felt like I was walking on wonderful little pillows of running goodness. They aren’t designed for speed, per say, but they felt so amazing to run in that I kept getting faster and faster and ended up pushing through the last of 3 additional miles at close to a 6 min/mile pace. I’m pretty sure these shoes are going to serve me well, and they made for the perfect end to a workout reprieve from the winter running doldrums!

I love a new shoe unboxing!

I love a new shoe unboxing!

January Run-Down

For many folks, New Years Day marks the beginning of a laundry list of New Years resolutions. I’ve never been big on establishing resolutions, mainly because I’ve failed to keep far more of them than I’ve stuck with over the years. However, I’ve definitely found that for myself, deciding to make a change of any kind is more effective if I begin immediately. Thus, I’m constantly making “resolutions” as I adjust aspects of my training, professional activity, or personal endeavors. With all that being said, January was still a solid kick-off to what I hope will be another great year!

By the numbers, my training held fairly strong. I needed quite a bit more recovery time after my adventures in Arizona. I’m not going to lie, the extended rest period was difficult after such a continuous and consistent training schedule for so long. However, my legs clearly needed it! Nonetheless, I still managed a consistent schedule and was pleased with my work this month.

Total # of runs: 24

Total miles: 226.87

Total time: 34 hours, 17 minutes

Average speed: 6.6 mph

On top of my running, several other additions to my weekly schedule have made January interesting!

1. I finally stepped up to the plate and began a consistent strength-training program. Only time will tell if it proves beneficial, but as long as I don’t injure myself, I can’t imagine it not being a positive step.

2. I took some of my runs inside to the track. I fought this decision for quite a while, but the wind broke me this winter, and running in shorts once or twice a week offers a nice break from the 42 layers of clothing I would otherwise be wearing.

3. I finally got around to setting up the bike trainer down in the basement and hopped on the saddle for a few rides. My butt is yelling at me as I type, but it’s nice to have a low-impact workout to add to my repertoire.

4. The beautiful epicurean and I began taking ballroom dance lessons! Not only is this great fun, but the coordination and agility are sure to help with my running, right? You’ll no doubt here more about this later!

Let's hope we look that good eventually!

Let’s hope we look that good eventually!

5. Winter weather means excellent bonding time with our fury family! Looper, our Vizsla, has been especially affectionate this winter. She has truly taken the “velcro dog” nickname to heart!

There aren't enough snuggles in the world for these two!

There aren’t enough snuggles in the world for these two!

That about sums up January for me, and I’d love to hear how the month treated you! Did you start off the year with any resolutions or begin any new adventures, running or otherwise? Have you discovered a wise and wonderful way to deal with the intense cold? Let’s hear it!

Gear Review: Under Armor Coldgear Infrared Hood

It’s -4 degrees outside right now, and I can hear the wind howling as I type. In my office, it’s a comfortable 72 degrees thanks to a trusty space heater. Alas, I can’t do all of my training in my office, which means dressing appropriately. I’m always on the lookout for a piece of running gear that is going to make my outdoor experience more comfortable, whether it be in extreme heat or extreme cold. The balaclava has become an integral part of my winter running apparel as I have committed to remaining outside in freezing conditions. That commitment has been arguable put to the test more this winter than in any previous winter. I will admit that I did break down and purchase a pass to the university rec facilities, not only for access to the indoor track (you didn’t think I was getting on the treadmill, did you?), but also to use the fitness equipment as I commit to more strength-training this year. That, however, is a topic for a future post.

Original Coldgear hood (left) vs. Coldgear Infrared Hood (right)

Original Coldgear hood (left) vs. Coldgear Infrared Hood (right)

Today, I wanted to share a quick review of my new favorite balaclava. I’m a big fan of UnderArmor Coldgear products as excellent base layers.  I’ve had a basic balaclava for quite some time, and pull it out whenever the temperature drops below 10 degrees, or the wind is particularly aggressive. It has served me well, but constant use means it tends to get a bit, shall we say, messy. Thus, I felt it was time to add a second into my rotation to allow for more regular washing without interrupted use. I picked up the Coldgear Infrared hood on sale before the holidays, and have no had a chance to put it through the paces repeatedly.

Multiple wearing options.

Multiple wearing options.

In general, the appearance of the Infrared is no different than my standard UnderArmor balaclava. Both hoods fit snuggly over your head, allow for full face coverage, and are adjustable. i like being able to pull it up over my nose so only my eyes are exposed, but also pull it down under my chin for more ventilation. The fabric is 87% polyester and 13% elastane, which makes for a tight fit, and allows you to wear it as a simple neck gaiter as well. What sets the Infrared apart is the “soft, thermo-conductive coating on the inner layer”. Surprisingly, this added aspect made a subtle but discernible difference.

"Soft, thermo-conductive coating"

“Soft, thermo-conductive coating”

The Infrared is a bit looser around the neck, but still easily tucks into whatever base-layer or winter running coat you may be wearing. The elasticity has held rather well, and I’ve noticed no excessive stretching of the fabric, which is common in many garments of this type. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with this new addition to my winter running arsenal. The UnderArmor Coldgear Infrared Hood promises to keep your head toasty warm whether it’s -10 or 10 degree out.

Sub-Zero Treadmill Avoidance

I’ve probably shared my dislike for the treadmill before. In the past few months, I think these feelings have only grown stronger. I certainly respect folks that can hit the treadmill at the drop of a hat, and in some ways I’m jealous. There’s definitely something convenient about being able to squeeze in a quick run no matter what the weather conditions might be. However, I just can’t bring myself to do it. No matter what I have to distract me, I always find myself bored after a mile or two. This is clearly a problem when you set out to run 20 or 30 miles. Hence, I’ve embraced cold weather running this winter.

This past week, the country was, as you are no doubt aware, engulfed in a frigid blanket courtesy of the “polar vortex”. The result was a level of cold that put this Minnesotan on notice, which is saying something. The temperatures on Sunday and Monday dipped below -10 degrees Fahrenheit, and a nice wind blowing out of the north meant it felt like -35 outside. Naturally, I suited up and headed out for a run. I suppose that in some ways, I saw this as the ultimate challenge to my avoidance of the dreadmill. I would emerge victorious…and with all ten fingers and toes too!

Sub-Zero-1

The news broadcasters were sending out dire warnings about going outside, and reporting on the immediate risk of frostbite. These were valuable warnings, and I am thankful that I am in a position in my life to have a warm place to sleep, a hot meal to eat, and no other concerns with regard to the weather. This is certainly a privilege that I am well aware of and am reminded of even more so in times like these. I also have the benefit of a variety of winter running clothing items and accessories which made it possible for me to head out for a run.

Challenge accepted...suit up!

Challenge accepted…suit up!

What you see above is the full extent of my wardrobe for this particularly chilly run. On my head I wore a UnderArmor Thermal Gear balaclava, which is perhaps my favorite piece of winter running apparel. It is thin, but keeps the heat in like nothing I’ve ever worn. However, I still put a stocking cap over the balaclava, and pulled up a wind resistant hood as well. I wore a UnderArmor heat gear base layer. On top of this I layered a heavy wind breaker, and then an insulated running jacket. I wore a pair of rubberized glove liners and an essential pair of Seirus mittens, which I’m convinced would keep my hands toasty warm in the Arctic Ocean! I pulled on a thin pair of running tights, followed by heavy-duty running pants as well. On my feet, I wore a pair of winter Smartwool socks, and my trusty Neosocks as well.

It took my feet about a mile to completely warm up. However, the rest of my body was beautifully protected from the wind and cold, and I’m pretty sure I felt warmer during my run than I did the rest of the day! Now, the downside to so many layers is the sensation of running through a swamp with all of the extra weight coupled with the snow. However, even my tryout as the Stay Puft marathoner still trumped any treadmill I may have otherwise found myself on. In the end, Mother Nature tossed me her worst, and I ran right through it!

Stay Puft

Updates to my Running Life

My taper is in full effect, the semester is winding down and I’m finishing up my teaching responsibilities for the semester, we are getting ready for the holidays, and I’m looking ahead to running in the new year, while not losing sight of my upcoming journey Across the Years! Needless to say, I’ve got a wide range of running-related thoughts on my mind, so consider this a sampling of what’s going on in my head and on my feet!

1. Montrail Fluid Flex– NEW SHOES 🙂 I think I might have a shoe problem. Hello, my name is Adam, and I own a lot of running shoes. The most recent addition to my running shoe family was the Montrail Fluid Flex. I had been looking at these earlier in the year, and even tried them on before going with the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 instead. However, these are excellent light weight trail runners and perfect for the upcoming wintry weather. I’ll be able to easily add them to the rotation with my Altra Lone Peak and Altra Provision 1.5’s. Against my better judgement, I’ll probably disclose the full extent of my running shoe addiction in a later post. However, I should point out that recent research supports the idea that rotating shoes is good for your feet! 

Montrail Fluid Flex-1

2. Reading- Once A Runner: I’m only a few chapters into this book, but already thoroughly enjoying it, and looking forward to tearing through it rather quickly. I also recently finished Relentless Forward Progress and was impressed with the practicality and wealth of information it provided. It’s definitely a must-have resource for ultrarunners!

Once A Runner

3. Planning: I’m trying to nail down my spring race schedule, and looking at some fantastic races, and distances from 13.1 to 100. Of course, I need to keep my work schedule, finances, and sanity in mind, but you can expect a calendar announcement in the upcoming weeks as well. 

4. Running with a Tire: I live in Iowa. It’s flat in Iowa. I clearly need to train with a tire this winter. That is all.

So, what running-related thoughts are on your mind? What races are you thinking about? What exciting holiday plans do you have and how will you be sneaking away for a quick run?

Stay warm and keep moving!

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