Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mini adventure

I ran home from the airport.

It's not often that you can say that, at least, not when talking about the airports that most people typically frequent. But, in San Angelo, it's possible to live the dream (assuming your dream is running home from the airport).

A few weeks ago, I flew into San Angelo earlier than usual so that I could get down in time to take Hannah out for her birthday dinner and to the rodeo. It's less than a six-mile trip from our house to the airport, so I went the fun route rather than taking a cab.

More exciting (for me anyway) is the fact that I was actually able to run. That's the first time I've gotten in more than a few minutes at a time in 12 weeks. So, after a gradual build up, I'm back on the training plan.

That's an Apache in the background. Must be the Army's. Or a really eccentric rancher's.

After taking this picture on the move, I decided to stop running for the rest of the photos.

This is the power plant (or the water treatment plant... or something like that).

No new gear

I was struck by a thought about our Grand Canyon trip on my way to work today (I think some punk kid threw it). For the first time, I actually don't need any new gear for an "event." To be fair, I'm sure I didn't need new gear for many of my "events," especially the triathlons, but there's something to be said for having a newer piece of equipment or kit for race day.

Anyway, since I have more than enough gear to outfit both my brothers and my dad for this hike (ignoring sizing issues), I don't really need anything. I have a few pairs of trail shoes (as I'm sure you've heard if you've read more than one of my posts), I have a couple of day packs (I'm going to lend RDM the one I used at the Grand Canyon last time), and I have technical clothes out the wazoo.

It's a little weird to not have to (or even really want to) buy anything new.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I'm not a swimmer

I'm not a swimmer. I used to be a swimmer. Now I'm a triathlete who is a faster swimmer than most (but a slower cyclist/runner than all). Somewhere between the two I was a rower. I'm not a rower anymore either.

There's a huge difference between being a good swimmer and being a good triathlon swimmer. In most triathlons I do, I finish easily in the top 10% of the swim, even in ironman. Masters swim races... not so much. I'm lucky if I'm seeded anywhere near the top 50% (and, assuming I wasn't overly delusional about my seed time when I submitted my entry, I'm lucky if I can finish in that top 50%).

There's an even wider disparity if you just look at age group rankings. I'm still usually top 10% in my age group in triathlon swims. But in pure swimming races? Ugh.

While some of my recent best times are good enough to qualify for Masters Nationals, they're certainly not good enough to even put me in the top 25, let alone anywhere close to the times of the top 10. The time standards are low enough so that more people can/will attend, which makes a lot of sense and is a good idea to boost participation. There's no such thing as a professional Masters swimmer, so why wouldn't they welcome all comers?

Why am I writing all this? I keep thinking I'd like to make a run at Masters Nationals one year soon. While I'm sure the trip would be fun, I really only want to go if I have a decent chance of finishing well (I don't feel like traveling far away to sit in the bleachers for hours at a time waiting for a two-minute race, just to get DFL -- I did that enough of as a youth swimmer).

But then I think about Open Water Masters Nationals. There's an event I might be able to train for and that would cater to my talents -- which is the ability to go slow for a long time. I'm still not at the level to finish in the top of the pack, but I'd be a lot more competitive than in a pool swim. That and Hannah could probably go off and have a decent time for an hour or so, and come back and watch the finish. The only thing worse than traveling far away to sit in the bleachers for hours at a time waiting for a two-minute race, is then having to sit around some more and watch that two-minute race.

Of course, she wouldn't even have to go at all. It's not like you can hear or see your supporters in a swimming race, especially open water events. I could just tell her how I did! And since Hannah doesn't check results online, I could "win" every event. Hmmm.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


If you watched any of this year's Olympic swimming, you saw tons of world and Olypmic records fall and you saw almost everyone in the newest technical swim suits -- mostly the one made by Speedo. Once the Olympics were over, you probably promptly forgot (or stopped caring) about the supersuits, or swimming in general.

Since the Olympics, a bunch of other manufacturers have developed their own suits that rival the one from Speedo. Some are from established players like TYR, but most are from triathlon wetsuit manufacturers. To be clear for the uninformed, wetsuits are illegal in most swimming events as they provide buoyancy (they are legal in most triathlons, supposedly for the insulation effect, but in practice, it's for the life-preserver effect -- some triathlons are not wetsuit-legal though, and that's where this new suit comes in).

Anyway, the "swimskins" made by the wetsuit companies are perfectly legal under the current world swimming rulebook. They're not technically wetsuits -- while they are made from neoprene, they aren't made with foamed neoprene (the material that makes wetsuits buoyant).

Where there were previously only a handful of manufacturers making technical swimsuits, the industry is poised to see a huge wave of new players, all capitalizing on the "non-wetsuit wetsuit design." Beyond the question of whether or any of these swimskins do actually create flotation, one of the problems is that these companies will all be using the same process and materials, making it virtually impossible for meet officials to be able to distinguish between an "approved, legal" suit and one that isn't. While these suits aren't buoyant as far as FINA (the sport's governing body) is concerned, if every suit basically looks the same, but is created by a different manufacturer, what's to stop someone from using a swimskin that actually does have foamed neoprene? It'd be really hard to tell.

This week (tomorrow, I think), FINA is meeting to decide the legality of not only the neoprene suits, but also Speedo's and TYR's latest suit.

For anyone that cares, my non-technical opinion is that the materials in an approved suit need to be more tightly regulated. I'm all for innovation and fewer barriers to entry within the industry, but these suits are going too far, or more specifically, going too far in a bad direction. Speedo, TYR and Nike all have other technical suits that definitely improve speed compared to a standard lycra suit, but: 1)they don't help you float, 2)they're not ridiculously expensive.

I've seen (and touched, but not worn) Blue Seventy's swimskin (the one worn by most of the Olympic open water swimmers, as well as that dude swimming breastroke in that triathlon this past summer) and Rocket Science Sports' swimskin. Interestingly, I wouldn't have really thought the Blue Seventy was based on wetsuit technology if someone hadn't told me. It just seemed like a super nice, super slick racing suit. The RSS one just seemed like a thin wetsuit. I suspect that some of the suits will be deemed legal, while others won't.

I can illustrate my biggest problem with all these suits with a quick story from this past weekend. Hannah and I were in Austin and we stopped in one of the better tri shops in town. I asked to see the RSS swimskin and the woman in the store said they only had one left, because all the high school kids had just bought them out for an upcoming meet. These are high school kids dropping $250+ on a swim suit. Suddenly, grassroots swimming has become this huge arms race. If I was a high school swimmer and all my competition had one of these suits, you can bet I'd get one if I wanted to be competitive.

I'm kind of indifferent about elite swimming and the suits. The fastest swimmers are winning anyway; they're just setting more records. But for high school and younger swimmers, there has to be a limit (some of these suits are only usable for a handful of meets at most -- the Speedo LZR is only good for about seven swims, according to the shop employee I talked to at a reputable swim shop -- I can't imagine what I'd do if my 14 year old said the only way he'd be able to compete was with a $400 body suit that we'd have to replace after one or two meets).

Masters swimming has already embraced the swimskins, as has the triathlon world. If they end up banned, it will be interesting to see what happens to the rules in these two organizations -- they both use FINA rules as a guideline, but I'm curious if they won't stray on this one -- there's a lot of money to be made selling these suits.

If you want to learn more, check out the series of articles at SwimNews.com (the first article is here).

I appreciate that was long-winded. But aren't you glad I didn't talk about running shoes?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on sustainable footwear

I came across this article about END Footwear the other day. It has some legitimate points (for example, I'm not too keen on the fact that the "green" shoes are made in China, then shipped across the world for me to buy them), but I think it's a bit harsh and unfair towards a company that genuinely seems to be trying something new and beneficial for the environment.

What END is doing seems to be on the right track, and there aren't many other manufacturers actively trying to change the marketplace, so I give them credit.

The big question about shoes (or any product for that matter) and sustainability that I don't have an answer for is, "what's ideal for sustainability?" It's great that END uses a good chunk of recycled materials, but ultimately, these shoes are still going to end up in a landfill. But is the best thing using recycled materials or creating a product that is biodegradeable like Brook's is doing? The best thing would be a product that is both made from recycled materials and is biodegradeable, but that's probably a little ways out (actually, the real best thing would be a product made from completely organic and biodegradeable materials, but I don't want to run in hemp sneakers).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

This just in: More on shoes

I'm sure you'll all be overjoyed to know that I have another (brief) post about running shoes.

It turns out REI's return policy is a lot cooler than I thought. Since the sneakers I just bought are still in great condition (I mainly wore them on indoors or on a treadmill for the few miles I put on them), I'm fine to send them back for an exchange. Yay for REI.

More exciting than REI's return policy is the latest word cloud I created for my blog on Wordle.net.

The word "shoes" have finally taken the top stop away from "much." Of course, I suspect I'm going to have a more feminine result on the GenderAnalyzer (but I'm too afraid to check). So this might be the last post for awhile about shoes. I'm sure the focus will shift to backpacks, as what's more manly than taking about a bag that I wear over my shoulders to carry all my stuff?

UPDATE: I sucked it up and decided to drop my blog back in the GenderAnalyzer to see just how non-manly my writing is now. And to my surprise, here's the result I received:

So, apparently prattling on about running shoes is manly after all. 90% manly even.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some frustration

There will come a day when I don't talk about shoes in my blog. That day is not today.

As some of my two devote readers might remember, I was super excited about END Footwear's road running line. A few weeks ago, despite still not being able to run because of my knee, I ordered a pair of the company's stability road shoes -- the OTG -- when they became available on REI.

I own a pair of their trail racers, and while really good, they're a little big (not so much that I can't run in them, but there's more toe room than I prefer). In an effort to outsmart myself, I ordered the road runners a half-size smaller. You can probably see where this is going.

The shoes are too small. The toe box has the right mount of space (so, I got that right anyway), but the sides and top of my foot are wedged in there. I can get around in them okay, but they are snug. And by snug I mean I'd probably hurt my foot if I tried to run in them for more than a few miles. I tried swapping in all different kinds of insoles that I have lying around -- strangely enough, the best fit are my custom orthotics, despite them having the most pronounced arch.

Long, uninteresting story short, these sneakers aren't for me. I've done a decent amount of walking in them, but they just don't work. I think if I kept trying to use them, I'd end up with some new injury, and I haven't even fully healed from my last injury.

Why didn't I return them for the a larger size? Well, because I'm an idiot and I was overwhelmed by their coolness factor. I was so excited about getting the shoes that I immediately tried them on and walked around. When they didn't fit quite right, I switched out the insole. Then walked around some more. Then the next day, I tried a little treadmill running. Basically, I think I used them too much for me to be allowed to return them (or to return them in good conscience). The perils of purchasing footwear online.

So, if you know anyone with size 8.5 feet who wants a barely used free pair of cool running shoes (I'm talking maybe five miles of walking and two of running), let me know. I really don't want to just toss them -- that's definitely not the environmentally-friendly thing to do.

Since these things were $90 ($30 above my "What the hell, I'll give them a try" price point), I'm a little frustrated. Maybe in the late spring I'll drop the money again for a larger size; but right now I'm thinking I'll stick with what works.

Although, with my family's Grand Canyon hike planned for April, maybe I'll pick up a new pair of trail runners. Because, clearly, I haven't learned my lesson. I mean, I only own four pairs of trail runners already.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I had my running evaluation this morning at the sports medicine center where I get physical therapy. I'm still managing some pain in my knee, but it's progressing quite well. In addition to the PT, I give a lot of credit to the Trigger Point Performance suite of products -- they're much more effective than any foam roller I've ever used.

In my first visits to the orthopedist and with Jeff, my physical therapist, I was told that my running shoes aren't supportive enough and probably are directly contributing to my problems. They asked where I got them and who told me to wear them. I explained that I talked to the owner of the company and picked the shoes that were right for me.

I also explained that, in my opinion, the Vitruvians did a lot to help my achilles troubles because they have such a low heel. It took some getting used to, but ultimately I ended with stronger calves. I also prefer to run with a mid-foot foot strike, rather than a heel-strike, which means I don't need/want the big, overbuilt heel that is common in a lot of running shoes.

Both the doctor and Jeff (who, to me, are fairly knowledgeable and objective, despite this experience) were dismissive of my $60 shoes and said that with my flat feet, I'd need something more. The underlying tone (either implied or inferred, I don't know) was that I needed something more mainstream -- not from some wacky sneaker guy in Vermont.

Longer story longer, the running eval guy said all the same things today. "You're going to need a more supportive shoe. I hope these didn't cost you too much."

So, I took the test -- Greg, the eval guy, took some video of my gait while I was on a treadmill. I walked barefoot, I ran barefoot. I walked with my sneakers on, I ran with my sneakers on. We looked that video at normal speed, then frame by frame. Greg also could measure the angle of my pronation with one of the tools in the analysis software.

- I overpronate (roll in) more with my left foot than my right
- When I run barefoot, I'm more of a fore-foot striker (I land towards the front of my foot, not my heel). There's a little overprontation when I run barefoot, that should be corrected with appropriate footwear.
- When I put my garbage-bin-destined shoes on, I have a slight bit of pronation when I walk -- within a natural range.
- When I run in my "non-supportive," non-brand-name shoes, I... wait for it... have no unnecessary pronation.

The reason I like this sports med place was summed up with Greg's next comment -- after watching the video a few times, then checking and rechecking the angles --"Your shoes are fine. I really didn't think they would be. And looking at them, I still wouldn't think they would be good. But when you run in them, you have good mechanics."

It says something about Greg's character (and professionalism) to admit he was wrong.

All that said, I still have other bio-mechanical issues: weak hip muscles (especially on my right side) and poor balance (related to the weak hips). My right hip drops when I run, because of the weak hip area, which is likely the underlying cause of my IT band/knee problems. So, more strengthening, more flexibility... and more $60 running shoes.