Spartan Race

Thursday, December 9, 2010

There's Nothing Like a Fall Run at the Beach

Some time ago, Mrs. RQ decided that she wanted to try her hand at an Ultramarathon. After much deliberation, I finally convinced her that it would be wise to start with a 50K, as opposed to a 40 or 50 miler, or even a timed race. We also generally like to drive to races, so we needed one close to home. Months passed, and we really couldn't find a race that matched these two criteria. Then one day, we happened upon the inaugural Mad Marsh Race in Beaufort, SC. 50K? Check! Easy driving distance? Check! Mrs. RQ immediately signed up. There was also a 22.5 mile race. I figured I might as well sign up for that one. Only a few days later did I realize that the Outer banks Half was the week before. Thus did the RQ family run a half one weekend followed by a 22.5 mile and 31.5 mile (actually 32, but more on that later) race back to back. And we're glad we did it.

OBX Half Marathon

The Outer Banks Marathon/Half Marathon is consistently one of the friendliest, best organized, and well run races that we attend. The 2010 version was no different. Both Mrs. RQ and I ran the half this year. The marathon is varied in terrain and takes you through maritime forest, quaint communities, and by the Wright Brother's Memorial. The half consists of the second half of the marathon. While it's still a nice course - flat as a pancake with the exception of the Washington-Baum Bridge- there's more to see on the first half of the course, and I found myself missing it this year. It's probably my own fault, because I spent half the race trying to figure out why my Garmin was beeping incessantly - more on that later.

The first couple of miles of the half take you by Jockey's Ridge, the largest sand dunes on the east coast. They're huge, and you're awfully glad that the road you're running down was built around them rather than running over them. I usually really enjoy this part of the race, but I spent the majority of the first 4 miles or so trying to figure out why my Garmin was beeping like a dump truck in reverse. I ultimately turned it off and then back on, but it continued to beep. Finally, around mile 3, I stopped on the side of the road for a good 3 minutes and turned off every alarm, bell, whistle, etc I could find. It still beeped. I gave up and turned the device off. That should have been the end of it, but my inability to make it work properly meant grated on my and my failure was gnawing on me like an ulcer.

Miles 4 through 9 are largely run through residential neighborhoods, with occasional views of salt marsh and the Washington-Baum Bridge. Local folks really turn out to cheer you on, and this is a fun part of the race. I did experience something I've never had to deal with at this point in a race. Somewhere around mile 4.5, I came upon about 7 women running shoulder to shoulder at a clip that was probably about a minute per mile slower than the race traffic around them. They were clearly a group - they all had their nicknames printed on duct tape they were wearing across they're shoulders. A fairly large group of disgruntled runners was massed behind them, trying to get around them on the shoulders of the road, but they rudely continued to block everyone. I was in the middle of the road and simply slipped between two of them. One yelled at me and asked me why I couldn't just go around them. I'm still shaking my head about it. Really, you didn't realize that you were rude ones? Horrible race etiquette.

About mile 7, my techie ocd need for race data took over and I turned my Garmin back on. It still alarmed. After much machination, I figured out that I'd set an interval for 4 seconds. Meaning it was alarming literally every four seconds. I turned it off, and, not surprisingly, no more alarm.

Around mile 10 one reaches the bridge. It ain't fun, and it's long. It also tires you out so much that you really can't take advantage of the downhill on the other side. The last two miles take you in to Manteo, NC - a pretty little town which puts a lot into the race finish. I cruised in about 5 minutes slower than my usual pace, but then I spent the first three miles of the race running with my face in my GPS. The post race party was great as usual - free clam chowder and Coors Light. I highly recommend this race.

Mad Marsh

The next weekend, Mrs. RQ and I made the reasonable trip down to Beaufort, SC for the Mad Marsh Ultra. Though small, this race was really well done. It consists of multiple laps of a 4.5 mile course that wraps around a now-defunct golf course with a few road crossings. You basically run the cart path - which gives you highly varied running surfaces and different terrain. Sometimes we were running on dirt, sometimes on soft sand, crushed gravel, or grass. Every once in a while there was even some asphalt thrown in for good measure.

Like most races, this one started before sun up. Everything went well for the first mile. We then hit a road. A guy up front took a left, and about 10 of us followed like good little lemming. After a little while, we realized that we didn't see any more course markings. A few seconds later, we figured out that we made a wrong turn and had to back track about a quarter of a mile. There was the cart path, marked clearly with red glow sticks. We're just all so conditioned to follow the leader in races that none of us noticed it. The rest of the first lap was really cool. There was just a little bit of hazy fog coming off the ground, which coupled with the orange-gold sunrise and the Spanish moss on the live oaks made for a surreal first time around the course.

Mrs. RQ and I ran together for about the first 3 laps, but then she got the better of me and I told her to run on without me. It turned out to be a good move. Since I didn't have a time goal, I turned off my GPS and I ran the next two laps with a number of different folks. I was really just killing time while my wife ran the longer race. After I completed my last two laps, I walked to my truck, grabbed a lawn chair and a book, and sat there watching others cross the finish line. A few minutes later, I pulled off my shoes and socks and realized that I was absolutely coated from the knee down with a layer of microscopic sand. Pursuant to that, this dirt coating started to really itch. Turns out it wasn't the sand, I was being eaten alive by sand gnats. An hour or so later, Mrs. RQ crossed the finish line - as the first female. Given that this was the inaugural event, she also set the course record for women despite having run a half mile out of the way - quite an accomplishment for her first Ultra.

I can't say enough good things about this race. The course was great, the volunteers were excellent, the atmosphere was festive. It was, like a lot of Ultras, very low key and no frills, but that really made the experience. No expo, no medal, no port-a-potties (though plenty of woods), but one small, steep hill, a dead squirrel, a physicist from Australia, a few barefoot runners, a cool race shirt, and a lot of fun. We'll definitely be back next year. With bug spray.

Monday, October 4, 2010

From Mountains to Epcot...

In the last two weeks, I've had the pleasure of running two very different, but equally challenging half marathons. One of them was all hills, the other was flat as a pancake. One of them was a very pleasant experience, the other one nearly killed me. Which one was which may be surprising.

The first of the two was the Ashville Citizen-Times Half Marathon in Asheville, NC. This one got off to a somewhat inauspicious start as they had somehow managed to run out of every size tech shirt but extra-large and 2X by the time Mrs. RQ and I picked up our packets. Normally, I see this kind of error as being indicative of an overall shoddy race. I'm pleased to say in this instance, it was not. We arrived in downtown Asheville the next morning to find a small, but enthusiastic, crowd of volunteers, adequate portapotties and other accouterments, and somewhat fewer than 1000 runners. Knowing that we had another race in two weeks, Mrs. RQ and I decided to take this one easy and use it as a training run. We figured it would give us some nice hill work, and we were right.

This race was very, very seldom flat. It was, for nearly the entire course, however, beautiful. We ran through pretty neighborhoods, past golf courses, by the fabled Grove Park Inn, past a very foggy Beaver Lake (you could barely make out rushes and the water through the early morning mist) and finally back to downtown Asheville (interestingly enough, running right past Zelda Fitzgerald's place of death - she apparently died in a hospital fire). The course was great, and was meant to be experienced rather than just run. At the end of the race, we recieved very unique green glass medals - I'm guessing they were made of recycled material, though I can't swear to it. I also ran into a friend whom I literally have known almost since birth, but haven't seen in about ten years. There was plenty of good beer from a local microbrewery and also Duncan Donuts. Overall, a thoroughly successful race.

The second of the two races was by contrast very large, very flat, and very much the worst race I've had since the Myrtle Beach Half in 2009 (in that race my calves cramped up so bad that I couldn't run more than a few feet without cramping painfully). I thought it might give me a great opportunity to PR. Boy was I wrong.

Disney has had fall races for a few years now. For a while they had a 10k called the Race for the Taste, and they also had a fairly unique, night race they called the Tower of Terror 13k - sort of a Halloween theme. Mrs. RQ ran the former, and enjoyed it. We both had a great time running the 2008 Tower of Terror 13k (and had dinner the next night at Victoria and Albert's, which is unbelievably good!) This year, Disney decided to combine elements of both into the Wine and Dine Half marathon. A night time half marathon that ends in the Food and Wine Festival? Sign me up!

I was on call Thursday night, so Mrs. RQ and I left mid-day Friday for Disney, arriving about 6 pm. We had a quick dinner and hit the sack fairly early. We made a conscious decision to not really do much Saturday, and other than a quick trip to Epcot for lunch, mostly spent the day in our room at All-Star Music watching TV (in case you are wondering, Soap Net runs a Beverly Hills 90210 marathon on Saturday afternoon, and we saw two or three episodes back to back and waxed nostalgic). We ate dinner in the food court, and then boarded the bus for the Wide World of Sports. Like all Disney Races, one had to be there ridiculously early. We got to the starting gate about 7pm for a 10pm race, and spent the next couple of hours standing around. The weather was great, though, and nobody seemed to mind. We met up with my medical partner, and a friend of Mrs. RQ's, and sat around talking for a while. About 30 minutes prior to the start, everyone made their way to their respective corrals - a short walk by Disney Race standards.

Before long, we were off. I actually felt quite good at first, and hit my goal pace quite easily. I was in Corral A, and runners settled in to their respective speeds within the first mile - I barely had to dodge and weave at all. The beginning miles took one out of the Wide World of Sports and towards Animal Kingdom. Along the way, there was the trademark Disney entertainment, but most of the folks around me seemed more enamored with maintaining their pace then taking their picture with Goofy, which was my mindset as well. I did notice a guy playing a didgeridoo right outside the parking lot for Animal Kingdom, which I thought was very cool. About mile 3.5 one entered AK. The course wove around the Tree of Life, through Africa and Asia, by Expedition Everest, and back through Dinoland USA somewhere around mile 5. At this point, I was easily maintaining my pace, and felt great.

The 5 miles or so were over Disney road way, and looked very much like miles 18 to 23 of the Disney Marathon, including the nasty little out and back that everyone loves to hate. I was still feeling good until about mile 9. At that point, in a very sudden occurrence, everything I had eaten for the last 2 days suddenly became a brick in my stomach. By the time I got to Hollywood Studios, I had slowed majorly. Not because I was tired, not because I was winded, but because my GI tract felt like it was on fire. I willed myself to keep going, I ran by bathrooms near the Tower of Terror, ditto on Hollywood and Vine, about the time I hit the Back Stage Tour, and knew I was going to have to stop, all my chances to find a restroom disappeared. I slowed to a walk out of necessity. Then, shining out of the darkness like Mount Olympus, I saw them. A bank of Porta Potties placed there for wayward souls just like me! I sprinted toward them, and leaving out the details, lets just say I felt much relieved afterward. My stomach was still upset as I ran out of Hollywood Studios, around to the Yacht Club, and finally to the finish line, but I managed to run the whole way. I was a good 9 minutes off my PR, and my stomach was still killing me.

Ordinarily, this would be basically the end of my race commentary. For this one, it isn't. I finished the race fairly quickly, but be the time I got to EPCOT, it was already packed. I don't really understand this - I'm sure I beat the vast majority of the runners there (I'll explain how I know this later). There seemed to be a 3 or 4 to one ratio of supporters to racers. I claimed my checked bag and pushed my way through the throng of people waiting around Great Britain for their racer to finish. Correctly surmising that the further I got away from the finish line, the easier a time I would have finding a bathroom, I made my way over to Morocco's bathrooms and changed into my dry clothes. At that point, despite feeling like I might have ischemic bowel, I decided to make use of the food and beverage vouchers we had been given and got a Tiger beer and a shrimp cake from the Singapore kiosk. I then wandered around for a while waiting for Mrs. RQ and our friends to finish the race.

I'll spare you the details, but the bottom line was that, with the exception of Mrs. RQ, who ran probably 45 minutes off her normal race time to keep her friend company, all of us felt awful after this race. We were all having some sort of gastrointestinal distress - my partner and my wife's friend felt worse than I did, and didn't even use their food vouchers, so it can't be blamed on exotic food or wine. On top of that, I usually have a beer after a race with no ill effects. We didn't seem to be alone either - I've never seen so many people vomiting after a race. I felt really bad for the crews cleaning the restrooms at EPCOT before the crowds showed up the next morning.

I think something weird must have gone on that night. My wife wondered if there might have been some bad poweraide (which I doubt), my brother-in-law suggested that the ozone level might have been high, I wondered if it was just hotter than we all thought it was, and we didn't realize it given the fact that it was dark. Regardless of the cause, Mrs. RQ and I both still feel awful, 2 days after this race. Our muscles and joints feel fine, but we feel terrible. Adding credence to the idea that there was some weird environmental issue going on is this fact: when I run a half well, and get what I consider a good time, I'm usually in the top 25% of finishers. I got, by my standards, a very poor time, yet I finished in the top 10% of finishers. Huh? Granted, it could be a statistical anomaly, but strange.

It's well organized, and the concept is awesome, but unlike any other Disney race I've run before, I have no desire to do this one again. I was ready to sign up for the Goofy again practically right after I finished it, this one, not so much. But it has a cool medal. And I'll probably feel different about it by Thursday. Mu.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Next Two Races...

For the record, South Carolina is hot in the summer. After spending several months running either so early in the morning that I was leaving for my AM run before some of my college age neighbors were getting home from going out the night before or starting my runs so late at night that they actually stretched over two calender dates, the temperatures have finally dropped enough that I actually feel like I can run in daylight. Southern race directors seem to have had the same idea about running in summer, and as a result there are fairly slim pickings for any road races longer than a 10k in my neck of the woods during that season(ultras and trailruns oddly being the exception). With the advent of fall, I suddenly have a lot of races to pick from, however. Mrs. RQ and I have elected to run two decidedly different races to start off this season. One of them presents a very real opportunity for a speedy race, the other I'm just hoping to get through.
The latter race is actually the first one on our plate - The Asheville Citizen-Times Half Marathon. This particular race, set in the mountains of North Carolina, should prove to be a great experience, but to be frank, I'm going to be using it as a training run and going rather slow. Why you ask? Because I pulled the elevation profile, and it truly may be the first race I have ever seen that has no flat portion at all - you're either running up hill or down. The profile looks like the blade of a tree saw. I have a feeling it will be a great experience, but I'm not looking to do anything spectacular.
The next race is the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon. This one promises to be flat and fast, like all the Disney races. Unlike the Goofy, however, I won't have to run a full the next day. It's also being run in the middle of the night (starts at 10PM). It's a different course than the Disney Half - it takes you through 3 of the parks in 13.1 miles - there should be plenty to look at. Disney knows how to throw a race, and it's during the middle of the Food and Wine Festival. It should be fun.
There was a time when two half marathons in two weeks would have scared me to death. I'm really looking forward to these two, though. Mu.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

10 people you will see at any race.

Forget malls, hotel lobbies, and airports, races are great places to people watch. You'll see folks of all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, education levels, blood types, food preferences, and political affiliations. Over the years, I've also noticed that, while the majority of runners are, well, just runners, you can also find a lot of personality types. During the few hours of a marathon or half, they can be a welcome distraction. If you look closely enough before. during, and after an event, you can find every type here. Without further ado, and with tongue firmly in cheek, here are the RunningQuack's 10 people you will see at any race (yes, it's probably been done, but I don't remember seeing a list like this). See if you can figure out if you fall into one of these categories, and keep in mind that they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

1. The Professional - This is the no nonsense, here to PR- not make any friends - race runner. These are the serious, confident looking, individuals who are mostly keep to themselves. They seem to have their emotions in check, have some sort of prerace routine, and look like they know what they are doing. They will speak when spoken to, and are generally polite. They'll answer questions when asked, and are generally friendly, but you get the picture that they're just focused on the task at hand. They offer good advice (usually only when you want it), have valuable tips about the race course, and are quite likely to offer encouragement when you need it most. Most people who win races or even their age groups fall into this category, but they permeate all levels of ability. This category has the unique distinction of being the category that most other runners on this list actually think they belong to, but don't.

2. The Techy - This is the runner who runs with every piece of conceivable equipment known to the free world - they may even have some stuff illegally smuggled from North Korea or former Soviet Republics hidden somewhere on their person. GPS? Of course, perhaps even redundant systems. MP3 Player? Yep! Heart rate monitor? Can't run without it. These folks frequently have some sort of hydration pack or belt on as well. They probably have some sort of energy formula you've never heard of that contains the next great supplement in trace, homeopathic, quantities. They have the latest in technical fabrics shorts, socks, shirts etc. They can't wait to race so that they can use their new titanium nipple guards. They're also really interested in telling you about the stuff - usually not because they want to one-up you, but because they're excited about their gear. You'll hear things like "Like my new compression neck wrap? It forces blood out of my head back into my legs - I can run 3% further, and I only lose a few brain cells each race" or "You need to try UberGel - it's from Kazakhstan. It has Cobalt 60 in it. The FDA hasn't approved it yet, but it works!" They're usually eager to share their discoveries "Here, I have an extra UberGel - try it! It's just a little radioactive, so don't break the foil before you ingest it." All in all, these folks are harmless, and, I have to admit, it's probably the category I fall in to most of the time.

3. The Messiah - This particular runner has been to more races than you have, for more years than you have, and knows more than you do. They also know exactly what you should do to have your best race. Just ask them. Some of them have lots of experience, some of them have a whole lot less experience than they think they have. Both varieties of the messiah tend to sit high on a mountain top and preach to whomever will listen. While occasionally messiahs make good points, for the most part they speak a whole lot and don't say much. They tend to name drop both races and people "I ran 45 feet away from Amby Burfoot for like 6 minutes in the 2000 Tokyo Marathon, so I've known him forever. I think he was talking about me in an article one time". They tend to have their own ideas about how you should train, and tout their own prior successes as a reason to follow their bizarre strategy - "I taper two months before the race, and then only run in the pool for the last month, and I've set PRs every race this year." Strangely enough, despite being annoying, Messiahs tend to attract followers, which brings us to the next category of folks...

4. The Newbie - Everybody has been in this category at one point or another. They're usually really easy to pick out. They're wearing this year's tech shirt from the race they happen to be presently running. They line up for the race two hours in advance. They alternate between running a few steps, stretching, and trying not to move so they can conserve energy. They are tormented by inner demons - "Where do I line up? Do I want to be up front and beat the crowd, or will people yell at me if they have to run around me? Do I need to go to the porta-potty again? Why did I do this? Can I run that far? Why did I eat a bagel this morning, it's going straight through me?" They look like they are going to vomit at any second. These folks are paradoxically the folks who can be most helped by a few words of encouragement, but also the folks who can be harmed the most if they fall prey to an unscrupulous (or really, more often, simply clueless) messiah. If you make eye contact with the Newbie, he will either spill his guts about how he trained, why he is running, what he ate for breakfast, etc or look down and quickly move away. Newbie's are also one of the most visible racers after the race. They tend to wear there medals. For days. While it sounds like I'm making fun of Newbies, I also think that it is really important to look out for them. They're usually at the point in their running career where one bad experience can turn them off forever, and that's never a good thing.

5. The Aggressive Walker - These are the individuals who line up with the first wave, elbow themselves to the front of the pack, loudly complain about other runners crowding them, and then, with the gun, walk boldly across the starting line at a 16 minute mile pace. The aggressive walker can exist as a solitary animal, but often belongs to a pack. It isn't uncommon to see lines of four, five, or even ten aggressive walkers marching in lock step down the road, particularly at bigger races. Like dolphins in a tuna net, other runners are caught behind the aggressive walkers and, like the Mongols of old, have to expend massive amounts of energy running laterally around the Great Wall of striding folks in order to get to their goal. Aggressive walkers are usually encountered early in a race, but sometimes, inexplicably, they show up many miles into a marathon. It's unclear how they get there, but navigating around them is still an issue. In this regard, they mimic another closely related group - the annoyingly close knit and cheerful pace group. I've actually dropped back in races to avoid these folks. Understand that the annoying pace group and the aggressive walker are distinctly different from the normal pace group and the usual racer who elects to walk the event - but there's one in every crowd.

6. The Noble Savage - These folks are the polar opposite of the techy. They tend to run in a pair of shorts only, if they are male, and if they are female, tend to lament that they can't really run in only a pair of shorts. Both sexes would really prefer to run in a loin cloth, or, better yet, completely naked, and they would if those damn obscenity laws allowed it. Most of them wear shoes, but this is ironically because barefoot running, minimalist shoes, and huaraches are actually the in the scientific realm of the techy. Secretly, the noble savage would prefer not to have any first aid stations, water stops, or even directional markers on the race course. They'd prefer to carry two empty milk jugs full of water lashed to their bodies with Liana and carry a frog gig with them, hunting their own race food on the course. While they tend to look wild (long hair and full beards are common among this group), the Noble savage is usually well educated and has a normal, mundane vocation (the last one I talked to was an accountant). This particular type of runner may be present at any event, but the more obscure the event, and the longer the event, the better. Show up at an Ultra in the middle of the Gobi Desert and you'll see droves of them.

7. That guy/gal who... - This is something of a catch-all category. When I was in undergrad, I distinctly remember an article in the school newspaper giving advice to freshmen. The advice? - you don't ever want to be that guy who... (fill in the blank). In races, this isn't necessarily true. It can be an amusing thing - "Did you see that guy who was wearing a Papa Smurf costume?" An inspiring thing - "Did you see that woman who was running the marathon in full military fatigues carrying a 50 pound backpack?" An unintentional thing - "Did you see that guy who was in the Papa Smurf Costume puking at mile three?" Or a really, really annoying thing. I once ran most of a marathon within hearing distance of a woman who barked like a small, yappy, dog with every single exhalation. The first thing I said to Mrs. RQ after we crossed the finish line "Did you hear that woman who..." Hopefully if you are that guy/gal, it's because you want to be.

8. The Local Legend - These tend to be folks at the extremes of age. Everybody knows them because they are 90 years old and still running, or because they are 3 years old and just finished their first half marathon. These folks tend to be great, and tend to have no idea why anybody is making a fuss over them. They go out, and do their thing, and instantly become crowd favorites. Occasionally, local celebrities can be placed into this category, too. In this situation, there tends to be an associated entourage. Sometimes this category also extends to local running shop owners or race directors. From what I can tell of these folks tend to be recognized by a lot more people then they actually know. As a result, they seem to spend a lot of their time pre and post race politely talking to people they don't think they've ever seen before, but who know intimate details about their lives. The Local Legend is usually quite pleasant to be around, but you feel a bit like you've wandered into someone else's family reunion when you spend too much time around them.

9. The Race Tim - When I was in medical school, one of the guys in my class - we'll call him "Tim" - was phenomenally skilled at remembering peoples names as well as the names of all their family members. It was a great skill to have, but it also took him forever to get anywhere. Walking down the hall in the hospital, he'd literally stop and talk to everyone he passed - and not just a casual greeting, but "Hey Bob, how are you, and how's your wife Brenda, and your mother Bertha? Did your sister have her twins yet? Didn't your son Billy graduate from college this year?" He was, and still is, a great guy, but sometimes you'd just have to laugh and shake your head when it took you 15 minutes to walk down one flight of stairs with him. I don't know if Tim runs, but their are certainly Tim-like individuals who run. Most of the time, they are a welcome distraction - they fall in with you in the boring middle stretches of a race and provide some much needed entertainment. Then you run into them out of context the next day in the grocery store and have no idea who they are. In the middle of the night you remember - that guy was a Race Tim.

10. The Bankhead - This one will require some explanation. In the mid 2000s there was a little known sitcom called "The Jake Effect" It stared Jason Bateman as a lawyer who felt like he had lost his soul and subsequently quit his law firm to become a high school teacher (incidentally, Mrs. RQ found this show on The Bravo Network's "Brilliant But Cancelled" block one night and I literally spent the next 3 hours watching all 7 episodes back to back. I can't find them anywhere now.) One of the recurring characters on the show was a guy named Bankhead, who was a phenomenally self important, pompous, tool of an attorney at Jason Bateman's former firm (One episode featured a "Bankhead Party - a series of soirees in which Bateman competed with his best friend to try to either keep Bankhead from getting to the party, or make sure he got there. Absolutely hilarious). While the Bankhead is a rare category of runner, unfortunately, they are also very vocal ones and hard to avoid. These individuals are similar to the messiah in advice and irritation factor, with the key difference being that the messiah actually has the intention of doing good and thinks that his advice is helpful. The Bankhead doesn't care whether what he says helps or not, he just wants to hear himself talk.

I've seen these types at literally almost every race I've ever run, and to some extent, I think we're all capable of being all of them to one degree or another (with the exception of the local legend). I think the majority of runners probably fit into an undescribed "normal people" category, and that's a great thing. The cool thing about this sport, though, is that there is room for all of us. Let me know who I forgot. Mu.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Quack's take on the Newton Gravitas vs. the Saucony Kinvara

About 6 months ago, I made the decision to switch from my old, lumbering, heel-strike to a more forefoot/midfoot style of running. In the process of doing that, I not only switched my gait, but switched my shoes as well. I started off with Newton Gravitas and recently also acquired a pair of Saucony Kinvara. What follows, in no particular order, is my brief, non-scientific comparison of the two based on a good number of runs and a lot of races in the Newtons and somewhat fewer in the Saucony.

Upper: One thing I have to say about both of these shoes is it takes a fair amount of what would have been referred to in the 1930s as moxie to wear either one of them. My Newtons are a bright red-orange (the new ones are a bright aqua). Mrs. RQ laughed at me the first half dozen times I put on the Newtons. That said, I now find the usual drab-white-and-some-other-random-color running shoes pedestrian (no pun intended), and as a result elected to go with bright red soled Kinvara. The Newtons have a very open mesh upper - in fact, if you look just right, you can see our friend Sir Isaac (who is printed on the insole) staring back at you. They feel like you are putting on a slipper and let all sorts of breezes blow through while your running - or slush and grime if you happen to run in such things. Personally, I think it is worth the trade off.

The Kinavara are a little different, and to describe the structure, I'll have to progress from the inside out. The inner most layer is about the same diameter mesh as the Gravitas, it, in turn, is surrounded by some sort of stability webbing. This webbing is then covered, for some reason, with a sort of light weight, open-weave cloth that feels like it's almost made out of really thin monofilament line. The shoe comes off light, but a bit more closed in. It will still breath, but it offers more protection. Both the Gravitas and the Kinvara fit well and are quite comfortable. My feet tend to run hot, so I prefer the Gravitas mesh to the more closed weave Kinvara. I've honestly been tempted to cut the monofilament mesh off of the Kinvara, but more because it seems extraneous than because it is something I really notice. Edge: Gravitas, but not by much.
Sole: This is where the shoes diverge quite a bit. The Gravitas have a full rubber outersole and incorporate Newton's famous lugs in the forefoot. In theory, these lugs return energy as you run (Newton calls this Action/Reaction Technology). In practice, they probably do, but what they also do is provide great feedback on how you are running. When you are correctly running in a midfoot manner, there's a certain feel to every step. It was invaluable to me when I first started midfoot running, and it still tells me when my gait is off. There's a learning curve associated with it, but not a huge one. I've read reviews in which folks have complained about the lugs hurting their feet. I've never experienced this - my suspicion is that either these folks are not engaging in a good midfoot/forefoot strike or are too light to fully deform the lungs. I run about 190lbs, so I haven't had an issue with the latter. The shoes seem to wear well. I've got several hundred miles on mine, and they're still in great working order. The heel is a bit of an after thought on the Gravitas, but it doesn't really matter - it won't bear the brunt of the impact. I've also read that it's been beefed up a bit recently. The Saucony, on the other hand, doesn't really claim to be a midfoot/forefoot shoe. It claims more to be a minimalist shoe - which I think most people interpret to mean something like barefoot running and therefore midfoot/forefoot running. It still has a bit thicker heel than forefoot - that said it's only a few millimeters. It really feels like a flat shoe. That said, it incorporates Saucony's Progrid into the heel - which is odd unless the company intends for people to heel strike in it. I have no trouble with a midfoot strike in it, though. The Kinvara saves weight by only placing carbon rubber in strategic places on the sole. The first run I did caused some wear in the EVA portion of the sole, but a good number of subsequent runs hasn't seemed to put more on the shoe. It provides good cushioning on asphalt and concrete. I like it, but I like the Newton better. Edge: Gravitas

Weight: Technically, the Newtons weigh 9.4 oz. The Kinvara weigh 7.7 oz. I really can't tell a difference on my feet. Edge: Kinvara (but if you can tell a difference in less than 2 oz with your feet, I'm sure that pea under your mattress was awful)

Off Road Running: The Newton's lugs don't really lend themselves to running on dirt or sand. I find myself sliding all around. That said, Newton's supposed to have a trail shoe out this fall. The Kinvara have neither the traction nor the cushioning to be successful off road. Even running briefly on the side of the road last weekend I could feel every stick and rock. Which has led to me to this conclusion- for trail stuff use another shoe. Edge: New Balance N100
Random Stuff: This is going to sound a bit odd, and it isn't a big deal, but I don't always take my shoes off immediately after a race. I've also gotten into the habit of making my old, used up, running shoes my casual shoes I use for walking around, lifting weights, ultimately mowing the lawn, etc. The Gravitas is, without question, a single use shoe. You run in them, period. They feel odd walking around after a race (my perception is that I'm leaning backward, not really sure if I am, or if this even makes sense), and I'd never consider a day in Disney in them. For lack of a better way of putting it, the Kinvara can have a life after you can't run in them anymore. If this is important to you... Edge: Kinvara

Cost: No comparison here. Kinvara $90. Gravitas $175 Edge: Kinvara
Bottom line: I like both shoes a lot. That said, I prefer the Gravitas. I think both shoes are comfortable. Both are conducive to midfoot/forefoot running. Both are well made. The Gravitas run better. That said, they're quite expensive, and for training runs, I'm not sure they run $85 dollars better. For now, I'm going to continue to use both. I put the Kinvara through the paces and they're great shoes. I'm very comfortable using them for long runs and speed work - and pruning my hedges when their no good for running anymore. But I'll be racing mostly in Newtons - be they red, teal, chartreuse, purple or fuchsia. Mu.

Monday, July 19, 2010

In praise of my partners

This is a bit of a departure for me. I'm writing this post that's partially rant and partially high praise. We're going to start with the later. I'd like to talk about a friend of mine, who just happens to be one of my Internal Medicine residents. I'm writing this because I'm proud of him, and because I think he's setting a great example for others. The story started a few years ago, when his brother had an untimely myocardial infarction at the age of 35. Luckily, his brother survived, and is doing well. At that time, though, it made this resident start thinking about his own life. He decided to get in shape, and I he's done a great job of doing it.

Several months ago, I told him that we'd run a 5k together, and he took me up on it. He started running. To date, he's lost about 30 lbs, and he tells me he feels better than he has in quite some time. I got a text from him a few weeks ago telling me that his resting heart rate was in the high 40s and that he was running 6 minute miles, but that at that pace, he had to rest for a few seconds after about a mile and a half. I immediately sent him a text back that said he had eclipsed me, I can't run six minute miles, but that I'd still run in the same 5k with him. A couple of days later, we happened to be on call together the same night. I ran in to him about 1AM, and we started talking about running. I mentioned that he was going a good bit faster than I am right now, and he said that he didn't think that 6 miles per hour was all that fast. At that point, I realized that something had gotten lost in translation...

We haven't run a 5k yet, but he can do it. We're in the process of figuring out exactly which one were going to do. He also doesn't know it yet, but he's going to run a half marathon next spring, because I'm going to badger him into doing it (and he'll be my junior partner by then, which means I'll have some influence). And my hat's off to him. By the same token, my senior partner (who's only my senior by three years) started running a few years ago. He's now got a half marathon under his belt, and he's getting ready to have a second one this fall (he's running the inaugural Disney Wine and Dine Half). I'm very proud of him, too. That means that of my five partners, 3 of us will have at least run a half marathon by the spring of 2011. And I fully realize that I'm putting a lot of pressure on my most junior partner. These two guys, who are much better doctors than I am, have recognized the importance of taking control of their lives and their health. I wouldn't call either of them health nuts, but they are real people with very busy schedules who have made time to exercise and have been very successful. They are role models. No questions asked.

Now, for the rant part of my post. I want to contrast my two partners with something I've witnessed too many times to count. Far too many people are out of shape. I'm not talking about people who have a poor body image, or people who have an increased body mass index. I'm talking about people who are unhealthy. I've run marathons with folks of all sizes and shapes. I remember vividly walking to the start of the Disney Marathon three years ago with a 50 year old man who easily weighed three hundred pounds. Prior to that Sunday event, he had run a 5k on Friday, run the half marathon on Saturday, and was back for the marathon on Sunday. It doesn't matter what anybody says, that man was an athlete. I have the utmost respect for folks who don't have the traditional size or shape of a runner, or weight lifter, or triathlete, but are out there giving it their all. They are the true heroes of any 5k, 10k, half marathon or marathon. I'm talking about the folks who are out of shape, doing nothing to change it, and expect the rest of us to adapt to it.

This point was driven home for me by my trip to the grocery store this evening. One of the unfortunate side effects of being an internist is the fact that you can make medical diagnosis in elevators, on buses, or waiting in line at the bank. The women in front of me in line was riding on a scooter. She had lower extremity edema - likely from congestive heart failure. She had a midline scar on her chest, likely a result of bypass surgery. She was complaining of her knee and back pain to the clerk. I'd estimate that she weighed 350lbs. What did she have in her cart? Twinkies, Doritos, full sugar soft drinks, and frozen pizza. And a lot of them. I know it can be very difficult to lose weight and/or get in to shape. I know it isn't easy, but you have to take some responsibility for your own health.

I see a similar phenomenon every time I go to Disney World. Disney has a very appropriate policy of allowing folks with special needs to go to the front of the line for attractions. This policy also extends to the buses to and from hotels. Of course, I have no issue with an individual who has a special need being accommodated on Disney transportation. I support it fully. Far too often, however, I have seen someone who is in a motorized scooter simply because they have too high of a body mass index to actually walk around the park. I've actually seen people misalign their scooters on a ramp, climb off of them, physically pick up a several hundred pound scooter and manipulate it onto a ramp or lift, and then climb back on, all the while smoking a cigarette. A lot of these people jump in front of dozens of others in line because they are supposedly have a special need. Really? This person needs to be moved to the front of the line because they are impaired? Their knees hurt because they weigh too much, so they get special treatment?
On the other hand, I see the 80 year old grandmother wait in line with everybody else. I see the veteran with an artificial limb stand so a young mother holding an infant can sit. I see folks who weigh more and have every bit as much osteoarthritis not get a seat on a bus because a 30 year old with an increased body mass index has decided that they deserve special treatment.

Frankly, I'm tired of it. If you are too heavy to walk around comfortably, I'm fine with you using some sort of a device with a motor to get around a park, but don't expect to be moved to the front of the line because you don't exercise and eat poorly. And by the way, I'm a physician, I understand that some folks have medical problems that prevent them from being able to control their weight. I'm also here to tell you that those folks are the exception and not the rule - and they also tend to be the folks who eat well and exercise to the best of their ability, but just can't make any head way. I'm not talking about these folks. I'm talking about the folks who have a hot pocket in one hand, and ice cream cone in the other, and are driving their Jazzy with their knees.
I'm sympathetic. I know it isn't easy. But get up off the couch. Walk. Take the stairs. Lift weights. Run. Swim. Do something active. Eat better. Sometimes, I'd rather have the Krispy Kreme too, but I conciously try to choose the apple more often than not. Switch to diet drinks. Drink more water. That said, I'm all for personal freedom. If that's the way you want to live your life, fine, but don't expect the rest of us to adapt to your self-caused disabilities. If you change your ways, you'll feel better. You'll live longer. And you'll have a better time. Mu.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Making a confession

I have to come clean. I feel like I've been hiding something for a while now. I have no motivation for fitness at the moment. For some odd reason, I seem to be in the doldrums when it comes to running or just working out in general. I had great plans about how I was going to do things this year. I was going to start off with the Goofy (done), PR the Shamrock (didn't happen, but only because I PRed the Mercedes Half a month earlier), run 6 half marathons in 6 months (done), and keep up my running over the summer so I'd be in great shape for the several races I plan to run in the fall (FAIL). I don't quite know why I've become a slug, but I have.

It really started about two months ago. The time I usually took to run, or cross train, or work out in general started to evaporate. And so did my level of fitness. It was a gradual thing. I started going slower, and slower, and shorter distances and shorter distances. I started lifting fewer weights, doing fewer sit ups, fewer push ups, even walking up fewer stairs at work. I'd love to blame it on the heat, but frankly it started long before the mercury started hovering in the high nineties like it is now. I'd love to be able to say that I over trained or injured myself. But I didn't. I'm fine.

I'm not exactly in awful shape - I ran a half marathon three weeks ago (the Charity Chase Half in Hickory, NC, which, by the way, I recommend heartily). I ran it slooowwly, but that was in no small part because Mrs. Running Quack was tapering for a marathon the next weekend, and we wanted to run together. That said, I did a night run a few days ago and, frankly, it was an embarrassment. I'm also still sore from a relatively light dumbbell circuit 48 hours ago.

So now I'm writing this post as a confession. I'm basically calling myself out. I'm hoping it will serve to get me motivated. I'm also going to apply the same tactic I tell patients to use when they're trying to stop smoking. I tell them to tell everyone they know to light in to them if they see them smoking. So if you know me, badger me mercilessly about working out. Embarrass me. Shame me. I'll thank you for it later. Any other motivational tricks are appreciated, too. Mu.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Last Hurrah for a Biltmore Race

On May 16th, Mrs. Running Quack and I had the good fortune to run the 15th Annual Biltmore/Kiwanis 15k in Asheville, NC. Unfortunately for all of us, it was also apparently the last Biltmore/Kiwanis 15k, as the two organizations are apparently parting ways after this year. It’s too bad; this was one of the prettiest races I’ve ever run.
Not exactly knowing our transit time, we arrived a good hour or so before race time. We took the time to wander about in the new Antler Hill Village. Nothing was open at 6AM, of course (with the exception of the restrooms, which were great), but we still were able to get a sense of the place. Friendly runners milled about the place in no particular hurry. As the start time approached, we made our way towards the starting line. We hung out at the back, because we figured we’d just jog and enjoy the scenery. The first mile or so was a very slight uphill run through a cool fog. With the temperature in the low 50s, it made for perfect running. The whole area smelled like the earth and moss conglomeration that I’ve come to associate with the North Carolina Mountains. Before long, we rounded a bend, and came upon a sheep barn. The flock of freshly shorn sheep was just being released to graze upon a hill. The chorus of baas and the moving, white, ovine mass lent a bucolic, idyllic flair to the race that I don’t often get to experience (luckily smell was still earth and moss, not wet wool). Not long after, a herd of cattle showed up on the left side of the road.
Then we started climbing. And went up. And up. The smell slowly changed to rhododendron blossom as we neared the top of the hill – which happened to be very near to the Deerpark Restaurant (which is excellent by the way). During this time, I realized that we were passing a lot of people. We hadn’t sped up much, but a whole lot of people slowed down. I also noted that the sepals of the spend Rhododendron blossoms tend to splay out on the ground in very cool patterns. They’re a bright orange sherbet color juxtaposed with lime sherbet green, and they’re sticky as hell. That said, they don’t provide much traction.
After a brief respite from climbing, we started on the hill to the main house. It was quite similar to the first climb – really just fairly enjoyable. After twisting and turning for a while, somewhere around mile 6.5, we made our way through two stag topped gates and ran towards the Biltmore’s famous French Chateau style main house. We still had a lot of fog, so we didn’t get the best view, but it was very cool none the less. The front lawn is set up so that we could run towards the house, cross in front of it, then run away from it so that it was in the background. Photographers were set up to take advantage of this back drop, and though I usually don’t care about race photos, I’m kind of anxious to see what this one looks like.
After leaving the house, we took a right and headed into the rose garden. Here the smell turned more like, well, roses. There were a remarkable number blooming. Coming of the garden, we crossed back to the main road. What had been a mostly uphill run rapidly turned into a downhill sprint. We passed by the bass pond, and gradually leveled out to run by the French Broad River. Here the smell became that of fresh cut hay. This last leg was fairly flat, and before too long, we rounded a bend and were back at the Biltmore Winery and the finish line. Sadly, there was no wine at the finish.

This race is best described as elegant. It wasn’t the biggest race, it didn’t have a ton of swag associated with it, hell I didn’t even have a goal time in mind, because I’ve never run a 15k before. Weird distance aside, what it did have was charm, great weather, and friendly people. I really hate that I’ll never get a chance to run it again. A half marathon incorporating elements of this course would be even better. One can only hope. Mu.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Pearl Wisdom from the Runningquack's Pen

One of my favorite things about my tenure as a student at the medical school in which I now teach was the annual spring "String of Pearls" lectures. These lectures are a series of brief speeches given by faculty members chosen by the medical students. They're supposed to impart a "pearl of wisdom" to all four classes of medical students. I've had the honor of being selected to give a "Pearl" the last four years, and last year's speech had to do with both medical school and running, so I thought it might be of interest. Here it is, with some minor modifications:

When I got asked to speak this year, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do. I thought about putting together a bunch of amusing pearls. I was going to start out with my colleague John Brice’s rules of critical care – air goes in and out, blood goes round and round, oxygen is good, always pee before you do a procedure and move on to the cardinal rules of surgery. If you're curious those are #1 never stand when you can sit. #2 never sit when you can eat. #3 never eat when you can lie down. #4 never lie down when you can sleep #5 don’t “f” with the pancreas, but after those two I really couldn’t come up with anything else. At that point, I decided to fall back on the universal rules of public speaking the first of which is supposedly “know your audience, which is a bit problematic here. Some of you are M0s who are a combination of really excited and absolutely terrified because you are about to start medical school. Some of you are first years, who are feeling pretty good at this point because you are getting ready to have a whole summer off after a year of hell. Some of you are second years who are a whole lot more similar to the M0, because right now all you can think of is that you have boards in a few weeks and then after that you are going to the wards and you are actually going to be expected to know something. There also might be a few third years who have nearly developed a permanent grin because they are getting ready to be fourth years, and a few fourth years who are starting to lose that perma-grin because the are now realizing that they have forgotten everything they learned as a third year right before they become real doctors. Since I have a fairly diverse audience, I thought I‘d rely on a really cheap tactic and talk about hobbies.

So as a lot of you who have spouses or significant other have already found out, or are getting ready to find out, they are going to have a fair amount of time at home on their hands that you aren't going to have. When I started my third year of medical school, my wife took up long distance running. She started with a marathon that she ran my fourth year of medical school, and has kept going since then (since last November, she's run three marathons plus a couple of half marathons). She talked me into finishing one (note I don't say running one) my third year of residency, and at that point, I pretty much figured my running career for anything but an occasional 5K was over. So you can imagine my surprise when about eighteen months ago I came home from work and she told me that she had signed me up for a marathon. The catch was that particular marathon also happened to be in about ten days. I hadn't run at all in the better part of a year. I was out of shape and this was her not so subtle way of telling me I needed to get back in to it. I somehow managed to finish in a really, really bad time. What I took away form it was that I really hate running, but I really like racing – those of you that do it probably know what I am talking about. It doesn’t really make any sense, but for reasons that are completely unclear to me I'll get up at 3 AM and go stand in a freezing dark drizzle for an hour and a half to run double digit miles with no hope of winning just so I can get a tech shirt and a cheap medallion. That said, the entire time, I'm actually running, I'm thinking "why the hell am I doing this". I've done several marathons and a bunch of half marathons at this point. That is going to strike all of you in different ways. Some of you have probably done more, faster and better than I have, in which case you really aren’t too impressed (and let me be clear, I'm absolutely not impressed with it, my major claim to fame in the last marathon that I ran was that I drank a Pabst Blue Ribbon a bunch of fraternity guys offered me at about mile 23 and kept running). My wife kind of thinks it is cute that I have done it, but doesn't really consider me a runner – which I think is legitimate. Worse than that, my almost 7 year old recently ran a first 5k, and I don’t think really considers me a runner either. But I have learned a lot from running, and I think some of it applies to medical school, so I thought I’d spell a couple out here.

Point number 1 – do your personal best, and don’t worry about how everybody else is doing. The first thing that I figured out is I'm not going to win. Things have to go terribly wrong for a lot of other people for me to be competitive in an athletic event. I have on a single occasion won my age group in a small 5k, but I was the only 34 year old male in it. In a race of several thousand people, most have no illusions about coming in first. So why do you race if you aren’t going to win? Most people actually end up racing themselves and going for personal records. What you are really trying to do is run the best race you can on that particular day. Hopefully that will be the fastest you have ever run that distance. The personal record approach is well applied to medicine as well. I think this is very important, particularly for those of you just starting out. All of you are used to being at the head of the class or you wouldn't be here. For some of you, you will remain at the head of the class and it will be status quo. By definition though, half of you will end up in the bottom of the class. Furthermore, all of you are coming with different backgrounds, and that will give some of you an advantage over the others. The point I am making is don't worry about what your colleagues are doing, do the best you can do. The same thing will happen when you start your clinical rotations. Some of you who excelled in the classroom will become very mediocre clinically; some of you who were middle of the road in class will become superb clinicians. What you really need to do is do your best. I would argue that you should continue down that path the rest of your career as well. If you always do your best for your patients, you shouldn't have any trouble looking at yourself in the mirror or sleeping at night.

Point number 2 – Develop a peer group you can rely on. Something else I've noticed about people who run is that they tend to really try to help each other out, largely out the goodness of their hearts. There really isn’t a whole lot in it for them. Most runners worth their salt have figured out that it doesn't take away from their run to help you out with yours. People train together, plan strategies together, and encourage each other on the course. They also get excited when their friends do well. I think this is exceedingly important for medical school and residency as well. What you are learning is difficult. Help each other out. It is in your best interest to have strong colleagues around you, so work to move everybody up to the same level. Don’t be a gunner at any point in your career. Furthermore, your peer group is going to be one of your best sources of support. Knowing that other people are going through exactly what you are going through is a very powerful and very helpful thing. I tell the interns that they are all going to have at least one bad month that year. The thing is, it isn't going to be the same month for everybody. If you talk to each other, you support each other, and you realize you are not alone. Isolation is a very bad thing in medical school, residency, and your medical career.

Point number 3 – choose a path for the right reasons. I've figured out that I am too slow to run a really good 5k or 10k, and I don't have enough time to train to run a really good marathon, but I've settled in running what I would consider solid, but not great half marathon times. How did I figure that out? I tried all of them and stuck with the ones I like. Choosing a medical specialty is much the same. Try everything and enjoy everything: for those of you sitting in the audience who are just starting your medical careers, I would bet that most of you have an idea of what you want to do. (Rural Medicine in South Carolina, right?). I would also bet that most of you will change your mind. I came in sure I was going to be an orthopod, and I'm an Internal Medicine Doctor. Make career decisions for the right reason. You are most likely going to find people that you would like to emulate in all of the specialties you rotate through. When you are in your residency, you are going to be dazzled by certain dynamic subspecialists, and think you might want to go in to that field. What I would really encourage you to do is sit back and look at the disease processes you are treating, and decide if you like treating them, or not. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is very important to model on people, but your colleagues will change over the years and your patients will change, the medicine will remain the medicine. What will keep you interested and challenged is choosing a specialty that you like, not one that is easy or pays a lot, or has a great lifestyle, because things can change very rapidly. Cardiothoracic surgeons for years were the king of the hill, then stenting came along and they cannot find enough cases to CABG these days. It’s very hard to get in to interventional cardiology, but one really good development in clot busting drugs and that could dry up as well. Make sure you like what you are doing.

Point number 4 I’ve learned from running - stretch after the race. I’ve run races an immediately gotten in to cars and traveled five or six hours. The next day I can’t move. It took a little while for me to realize that I was much better off taking some time to enjoy the post run festivities that usually accompany a race of any decent size. If I do that I usually feel pretty good the next day. This is the prototypical "stop and smell the roses", take time for you comment. While you are in medical school, while you are in residency, while you are a physician, take time to relax. Enjoy your friends and family. Have hobbies. Go out to dinner. It is important, otherwise, you are going to hurt yourself.

Before I leave you today, I’d like to tell a story that reiterates one of the most important points I have made today. Around the turn of the 19th century a man named Henry Wellcome started a company that eventually became Burroughs Wellcome and subsequently the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. One of Mr. Wellcome’s hobbies was collecting medical artifacts and literature from around the world. Much of this is now housed at the Wellcome Collection in London, where it is simply known as “The Wellcome”. On the wall near one of the water closets in the Wellcome Collection there is a plaque that bears this imperious, but wise advice from King George V of England, “Always go to the bathroom when you have a chance”, which if you think about it, sounds a whole lot like “always pee before you do a procedure.”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Palmetto Half Marathon

For the second time this spring, I decided to run a local inaugural event. This time, if they hadn't put the word "inaugural" on it, I'd never have known that this was the first time it had been done. This race was great from start to finish. I, however, was not.
Let me start out by saying that I did not run at all between the Shamrock Half and this race. Not a lick. I had basically just been a lazy slug for the last few weeks. I really don't have an excuse - for the first two weeks, I was busy, but I'm always busy. The week before the race, I was actually on vacation. My wife managed to get in a few miles while we were out of town, but me? Nada. I realized this just after I cruised into the very nice (especially for a freshman effort) expo about the time it opened. As I perused the vendors, it occurred to me just how little physical activity I had partaken in recently. At that point, it dawned on me that I actually had a race to run the next day.
By the same token, I also didn't even really think much about the logistics of the race until about 8 o'clock that night. I luckily was able to scrounge up a few Roctane and had the remnants of a jar of peanut butter left. When I started looking at the course description ("challenging but fast", which in Columbia basically means "hilly, but some of it is down hill"), I started getting a bit nervous. Though I'm usually a solo running guy, I also began to wish that I had a running partner for this one (Mrs. Running Quack elected to sit this one out). Preferably, a slower one. The motivation simply wasn't there. But hell, I paid for it, so why not.
I actually slept pretty well and remembered to wake up and eat my middle of the night sandwich. The next morning was a cool 45 degrees with a very slight breeze. After rolling out of my own bed, I got to the starting line about 6:30. Almost immediately I ran in to two guys I've known since high school. Naturally, I thought, hey maybe I can run with Alex and Tyler. Alex asked me if I had a goal time for this one. Nope. His goal time was about 1:30. So was Tyler's. Let's just say that that's comfortably faster than my PR. Not running with them, at least for long.
About that time, the runners were asked to line up, and before I knew it, I was off. This is a bit of an odd race in that it starts in the parking lot of The Village at Sandhills, a kind of combined living area/outdoor mall (which, despite the way it sounds, is actually a rather pretty spot), circles around the parking lot for the first several miles, heads up a highway overpass, and makes a turn into residential neighborhoods for an out-and-back with a short loop at its distal end. On a map, it looks a bit like a bent q-tip.
For whatever reason, this was a really fast out-of-the-gate crowd. Just running with the pack, I looked down at my watch and found myself running at a substantially faster pace than I needed to be. I had to make a conscious effort to slow down, despite the fact that people were flying by me. I slowed to my usual cruising speed about three quarters of a mile in. By mile one I was starting to pass most of the people who had flown by me earlier.
I settled into a pace that put me right at a PR time, and actually felt great, especially considering my lack of preparation. We turned out of the mall parking lot and had a brief run up an overpass, and then down a off ramp. I usually hate running off ramps, but the bank on this one wasn't so bad. After a quick run down a major thoroughfare, we made a left turn into a residential neighborhood full of rolling hills. I knew that I was going to have to come back this same way, so I kept telling myself that all the uphills would be downhills on the way back. I also tried to avoid thinking of the downhills as reverse uphills. Around mile five, the hills leveled out and we had a relatively flat run for a mile or so before turning into another hilly neighborhood for a short two mile loop. About mile eight, I realized that my lack of preparation was starting to hurt me. I also knew that in some perverse version of a bear hunt, I was going to have to run right back up all the hills I had just run down.
Miles 8 and 9 weren't too bad, because they were largely flat to slightly down hill. The sinusoidal topography of the first neighborhood showed up again around mile 10, and stayed with me until mile 12 or so. Mile 12.5 found me running up the off ramp I had run down about an hour and a half prior, albeit at a much faster speed on that go round. I could see the finish line at that point, and decided to push it. I did speed up for the last half mile or so, but simply didn't have the juice that day for a great effort. My time wasn't terrible - I was little less than 5 minutes off my PR - but I've certainly run better this year.
The post race finish was only missing one thing - beer. Otherwise, it was great. Lots of beverages and food, many local vendors, and live music. I ran in to my friend Alex, who happened to have finished second in our age group. I finished substantially later, but still managed to be in the top third. And it took me a whole 13 minutes to get home from the race.

I can't say enough good things about this race. For a race this size and a first effort, the organization was excellent, the crowd support superb, the involvement of local charities and merchants appropriate. And, importantly for superficial runners like me, the tech shirt and medal were well designed and crafted. The course was pleasant as it was, and had I actually laced up a shoe in the prior 21 days, would have been incredibly enjoyable - as it was, it wasn't bad. There wasn't a lot to see, but it had a good, almost leisurely stroll feel to it. I'll definitely run the race again. Mu.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shamrock Half Marathon 2010: What Does a Running Quack Wear Beneath His Kilt?

I have to say, with all due respect to Disney and Kill Devil Hills, Virginia Beach may be my favorite town in which to run a race. I've run the Shamrock in one form or another twice (marathon 2009, half 2010) and the RockNRoll Half there as well, and it's always done right all the way around. This year was no different.

As I've mentioned before, if I don't have a race to train for, I get, well, lazy and fat, so my spring schedule has been loaded up. After the Goofy, Mrs. Running Quack and I decided that we'd just do half marathons for a while, and we had such a good time running this race last year that it was a no-brainer to include it again this year. It's flat, fast, scenic, well run, has great community support, and has excellent swag. What's not to like?

After the Goofy, I had two goals for the late winter and early spring: transition to midfoot running and PR a half. I thought this race would be the one to in which I would most likely be successful in both endeavors, but the since I PRed the Mercedes while running midfoot, I seemed to have accomplished my goals way ahead of schedule. It took a lot of self imposed pressure off, and I decided to just have fun. Early on, I figured, with the Celtic theme of the weekend, it would be a great time to wear my Sport Kilt. So what if it doesn't really match the color scheme of my Sugoi Brand Champion Ready Shirt or my Newtons, was this a half marathon or a fashion show? Honestly, as bad as I look after some races, who cares whether my color scheme works. I did have a little bit of a concern that it might slow me down, but I had run for a while with a guy in the Disney Marathon who was wearing a kilt, and picked his brain on the effect on his running. His assessment? He didn't even know it was there. I wanted to PR in my kilt.

The Shamrock Half starts at a civilized 7 AM, but Mrs. Running Quack and I stayed a hotel right at the finish line, so we had a half mile or so walk to the starting line. Even so, we left our room around 6:30. We walked outside that morning to the first race that we've run in 2010 that didn't have a sub-freezing start temperature. Arriving at the starting line in what we perceived as plenty of time, we decided to take one last visit to the porta-potties. After waiting in line for quit some time, we emerged to the Star Spangled Banner, and then immediately after, a starting gun, which was somewhat problematic, because we should have been off with the first corral...
We dashed through the crowd of spectators , trying to get into a corral, to no avail. We finally ended up running through the landscaping of several local businesses, hurtling recently sheared pampus grass and narrowly avoiding Spanish Bayonets, but managed to slide into the shoot just as the second wave started. An inauspicious start, but we were both laughing about it.

I took off running at a good pace, and felt great. I was actually running part of the Saturday Night Live Cowbell/Blue Oyster Cult skit through my mind in the early stages for some reason, but instead of Bruce Dickenson/Christopher Walken saying "I put on my pants one leg at a time, and then I make gold records" I was going with the mantra "I put on my pants one leg at a time, and then I run PRs".
I cruised through downtown Virginia Beach towards Fort Story, and discovered a curious thing. I've never run in a kilt before, but apparently, if you do, it's instant street cred with anybody else wearing a kilt. I ran into such a guy around mile 3. He asked me if I had done any practice runs in my kilt (I hadn't). He apparently had done exactly one, but on that run had happened to intercept his son's school bus. There was much discussion on said bus as to why a lunatic was running around the neighborhood in a kilt. No word on whether his son claimed him or not. He was running a good bit slower than I was, so I bade him farewell - he told me to look out for his buddy who was somewhere up ahead of us, and also wearing a kilt.

Miles three, four, and five of this race are on a tree-lined, shady, well-maintained road called Shore Drive. While it's pleasant, there's not a lot of entrainment value. The race folks know this, and station cheering volunteers as well as local DJs and Band along this part of the route. It makes for an enjoyable part of the half. It serves a dual purpose as as miles 16 through 19 of the full marathon, and I don't remember liking it quite so much at that point during that race.
Just before mile 6, you enter Fort Story. You can do funny things with your mind if your try hard enough. Looking at the elevation profile of this race, there's a slow up slope, with peak around mile 6, followed by a long gradual down slope to the finish. The peak is pretty close to the half way point. It's frankly absurd to think of it as a peak. If actually look at the scale, you gain maybe 6 feet over six miles, and then lose those same 6 over the next 7. This ain't Grandfather Mountain. That said, I somehow managed to convince myself that I could tell I was running up hill for the first half, and that the second half was downhill and would be easier. When I reached to half way point, and the "apex" of the climb, I was still easily on pace to break my PR from the Mercedes half by a good 2 minutes. And I felt good. A crazy idea about having a negative split crept in to my mind. And why not, I was running downhill.

In Fort Story, you get the feeling you are running just inside of a cluster of sand dunes that are hiding one of the most pristine beaches in North America. You can hear waves crashing on the shore, and you can feel a sea breeze, but you can't see any water. For all I know it, the shore line could be paved right down to the water, but I envisioned it as a white billowing sand beach, strewn with large whelk shells and scavenging crabs. You even pass between two picturesque light houses. That's on your right side. On your left side is a fence with signs every few feet declaring "Danger, Laser Range". The juxtaposition always made me laugh.

Somewhere around mile 8, I caught the first kilted guy's friend. We chatted for a few minutes, but we weren't running the same pace, and I ran on ahead. About mile nine, you squirt out of Fort Story into a residential neighborhood. At this point, I was still feeling quite good. I had slowed down a few seconds per mile, but was still easily maintaining a PR pace. Things were looking good. Around mile 10, some local, unofficial good Samaritan's were offering beer. While it is usually my policy to take at least a sip of a beer offered to me during a race over 10 miles in length, if not drink it outright, I elected to forgo it on this particular race. After all, I was flying (for me). And then, it all came apart.

For reasons that are unclear to me, somewhere around mile 11.5, I bonked. I lost all my energy, and my right hip started killing me all at the same time. I slowed waaayyy down to what felt like a crawl. I somewhat angrily stumbled through the next mile, which took me out of the residential area and back into downtown Virginia Beach's main drag - Atlantic Avenue. Over this short mile, my sure thing PR seemed to just melt away. I honestly can say that I was giving it all I had at that moment, though.

Around mile 12.5, you zig zag off of Atlantic and onto the Boardwalk. I checked my Garmin against my pacetat, and realized that I still had a chance to PR. I knew I'd be mad at myself if I didn't suck it up and try to burn it on in, so I dropped back nearly to my mile 1 pace, and covered the distance. I knew that if I focused on the now visible, but distant finish line, I'd run out of oopmh before I got there, so I just elected to focus on individual boardwalk lamp posts and run to them, then I'd choose another lamp post to which to run. Doing that, I managed to maintain a pretty good pace all the way to the finish line. But it wasn't quite enough.

I didn't PR, but I was within 31 seconds of doing so. It still goes on record as my second fastest half ever, and had I not PRed the Mercedes, it would have been a minute and four second PR. I grabbed a water and leaned up against the railing to wait for Mrs. Running Quack to cross the finish line. Pretty soon, the second kilted guy showed up, and we started chatting like old buddies. Not too much after that, my wife crossed the finish line, with a 1 second, but well earned, PR.

With all that in mind, I couldn't be too upset when I received my Shamrock Medal, my Shamrock Half Marathon Hat, and my "Surprise Gift", which turned out to be a finisher's t-shirt. I was even less upset when a few minutes later I was enjoying complimentary cold beer and an Irish Stew on Virginia Beach. Mrs. Running Quack and I climbed up on a dune, and watched the waves roll in on a warm, totally beautiful, spring day. Couldn't have hoped for a better ending to a race.

So what does a Running Quack wear beneath his kilt? Sugoi Piston Compression Shorts, if he is running the Shamrock Half Marathon. Mu.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dissecting a bad run

Last weekend, I had an epiphany. I'm a running moron. I decided to do a short run on a 3.5 mile dirt loop in a local state park. And it was terrible. And I'm really glad. It made me realize that I've slowly transitioned in the way I approach my running. And the transition is good. I'm an idiot for not figuring this out earlier.

As I've explained, I'm not somebody who loves running. Runner's highs elude me, I don't use it as a social outlet, and it doesn't clear my head. I usually run because I have an objective somewhere down the line. I'm your basic medal and tech shirt junky (I swear, I can quit any time I want). I always have to have my next race scheduled so I am training for something. If I don't, it becomes all too easy to just to just tank a run and do something else.

For most of my running career, I've purposely distracted myself from what I was doing. I've day dreamed, I've listened to music, I've listened to books on tape, I've composed my own novel in my mind (it was excellent, until about mile 20, when I realized that it was the plot of several Faulkner books mashed together), I've done anything I can to entertain myself. What I haven't done is give much thought to the mechanics of what I was actually doing. But on this awful run, I actually paid attention.

About half way through the run, I realized that I was actually actively making an attempt to vivisect my dying training session. Unconsciously, I had turned off my Ipod, ceased my mental wanderings, and started taking inventory of how my body felt and what it was doing. I realized a few things. First, I've become much more of a mid-foot runner than a heel striker. My Newton Gravitas aren't conducive to dirt trail running, so i had switched back to my old Mizuno's. They may offer better traction on the dirt, but they feel awful now. The heel is waaayy too high. Second, I was over striding a lot. Third, I have a lot more control when going downhill with the above mentioned midfoot strike then with a heel strike. Fourth, there is a limit to how much fiber one should eat prior to a run. I could go on, but the important point is that rather than just bagging it, and deciding to run another day, I actually tried to figure out what was going wrong.

In retrospect, it actually began when I bought my Newtons and started running off a part of my foot other than my heel. It continued on through the Mercedes Half, and is probably why I PRed that race. I'd be willing to bet that most people figure this stuff out while they're training for their first marathon. Not being an athlete, it's taken me five marys and double digit halfs to actually monitor what I was doing. I probably just doubled my running IQ, and I'm still the equivalent of a running cro magnon. Mu.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Quack Knocks Out a Hundred

It's nice when a product does what it says it does. Some time back in December, I stumbled upon an app on my Ipod Touch called 100 push ups that promised to get you to the point where you could do just that. I find that I do a better job of exercising when I have a goal in mind - that's why I'm always signed up for at least one race past the one I'm training for at the moment. Given that, it sounded like an pretty ideal exercise program - quick, simple, underrated exercise (push up), specific, concrete objective one is trying to reach (100 reps), prescribed time period (about 7 weeks). I downloaded the app for a nominal fee, and got started (don't have an iphone/ipod touch, don't worry - it's also available online at

I started the week of Christmas. The app is fairly simple. You are first given an initial test to determine you baseline (nothing fancy, just the number of push ups you can do in a row with good form) and then you are given a set number of reps and sets to perform 3 days a week based on your initial performance. The Ipod version keeps track of these for you and even graphs them if you like. It will also let you broadcast your progress on twitter and facebook, if you are so inclined.

I did well enough on the initial exam to get placed in the highest of the three categories. I found the first couple of weeks challenging, but easily doable. Then came the Goofy. Given that I was a bit concerned about just being able to finish this race, I decided to take a hiatus from any form of cross training for a few weeks. It seems I was able to do this fairly easily, but it did end up stretching me beyond the seven week goal.

Over the next several weeks, I saw a really profound increase in the number of push ups I could do. You actually hit one hundred total push ups by week three, though that includes all the sets. I also found out around that time, that this program was the brainchild of an acquaintance, Steve Speirs, aka @britishbulldog.

The end of week 4 requires another test to exhaustion. While I was able to crank out the maximum level of reps required stay in the highest category, I did make the mistake of then trying to get my sets in after the test. At that point, I decided that it was probably better not to test and work out on the same day.

For the next month or so, I kept plugging along. Unfortunately, I didn't quite keep to the three work outs a week, more like a three every ten days, and while think I would have made better progress had I kept to the rigid schedule, I don't think it ultimately hurt me. A few days ago, I cranked out a total of 274 push ups. I woke up this morning, expecting the daily tally to be in the 300 range, and was surprised to learn that I had completed the program - I just needed to do my final test.

Somewhat nervously, I started at 100 counted down. I didn't even really feel anything until I hit 40 (after 60 push ups). About 25, things started getting hard, and I have to admit, I had to pause a few times and collect myself during the last 20, but I made it, in what I would consider one set. And tomorrow, I'm going to do 105. Mu.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

An ailing quack runs a new half.

You know, I don't think I've ever run an inaugural half marathon before. I've run a few inaugural 5K, maybe even a 10k, but never something as long as a half. That said, when the inaugural Columbia Half Marathon was announced about 6 months ago, I figured I had to run it. So what if it was sandwiched half way between Mercedes and Shamrock, I'm just running the halfs, so why should it matter? At least that's what I told myself at the time. And then Mrs. Running Quack caught some sort of upper respiratory tract plague, and I soon followed suit.

Most of the week, I felt like a medium sized sea urchin was slowly and erinaceously crawling over the back of my throat, every once in a while pulling out a miniature flame thrower and letting fly with thermite. I also had phenomenal fatigue and a something akin to fever and chills that had me curled up in bed for several hours on Wednesday afternoon. By Thursday night, though, the echinoderm had morphed into some sort of jellyfish, oozed its way up into my sinuses, and dug in like the Maginot Line (had it not been manned by the French). When I awoke Saturday morning, my throat actually felt good, but my head was completely socked in. Coupled with the fact that it was hovering around the freezing mark, I thought about tanking the race, but talked myself in to it.

I arrived at Columbia, SC's Finley Park on a beautiful and rapidly warming late winter day. The sky was blue and there was no discernible breeze. There was also no discernible starting line - just a group of runners waiting to pick up their champion chips. I retrieved mine and threaded it on to my shoe. Not long after, a loud speaker asked us all to "move to the top of the hill". A few minutes later, somebody yelled "go" and we were off. I waited a few seconds expecting to cross over a timing chip mat, but I never did. I just arbitrarily started my gps a few paces down the hill.

I have to admit, when I saw the course on the website, I wasn't really too excited about running it. In my mind, it took a strange rout through town, and about half of it wasn't even really in town. I thought it was a bad course. I was completely wrong.

The course was effectively a big lemniscate, which will become important later. The first leg took us north into an area of town in which I had never set foot. It turned out to be a very pleasant little neighborhood with lots of old trees and unique houses. We quickly looped back in to downtown proper and looped around through the historic district, passing between the Mills House and the Hampton-Preston Mansion - two of the small handful of remaining antebellum homes in South Carolina's capital. We then took a left and headed up towards the University of South Carolina's campus.

USC is always pleasant to run through, and this was no exception. It almost made me forget that I was sick. By this time in the race, I was starting to realize something about myself. Apparently, when I run, I usually breath in through my nose and out through my mouth. My nose hadn't been an option earlier in the race, but it had opened up by mile four. The only problem was, every time I took a deep breath through it, the could air caused a searing pain. I was also starting to get what felt a lot like a dehydration-type headache. I had to remind myself to breathe through my mouth, but every few minutes I forgot and took a big gulp of air through my nose. I also had to walk through water stations because the breathing mechanics were too complicated. It was fun.

As i mentioned before, the route was basically a big figure 8- not a double loop, but you did pass right by the finish right at mile 6. In all honesty, I felt so bad by that time, that I actually stopped and walked off the course. I fully intended to tank the race, head off to my car, and go home and get in bed. I looked down at my Garmin, realized I was running at a pretty good pace, and knew I'd be mad at myself if I didn't finish. At that point, having wasted a minute or two with my internal debate, I hopped back on the course and took off again at a slower pace. In the mean time, I made a small tactical error, but more on that later.

The second half of this run takes you out of the city of Columbia, over the Congaree River, through the town of West Columbia, back across the Congaree on the Gervais Street bridge, and back up a fairly nasty hill to Finley Park. It was on this loop I realized my screw up.

I usually use a gel some time around mile 5, and then again sometime around mile 9. It's probably overkill, but it works for me. I've also figured out that the first sign of glycogen depletion for me is not feeling weak or slow, but a change in attitude about the run. I start despairing. About half way across the Taylor Street bridge, running over the Congaree, I realized that I was dropping into my low glycogen funk. I had forgotten my gel at mile six due to my mental machinations. In most of the races I've run recently, this wouldn't have been a big deal. I was closing in on 7.5 miles, and with water stops every two miles or so, I could just pop the gel and grab some liquid a few minutes later at the 8 mile station. In this race, though, the water stops were spread out to about 3.5 miles, and were sporadic at best. Not so far away from each other as to cause a danger for anyone, but extremely inconvenient for my situation. I figured I needed the sugar, so I used the gel, but it left me with a few miles to run before I had anything with which to wash it down.

The West Columbia part of the race was very pleasant. I don't know what I was expecting, but we twisted through little 1950's-looking neighborhoods, full of tree lined streets and the occasional curious on lookers, who apparently weren't aware that a half marathon was going on that day. Mile 12 hit right at the Gervais Street bridge, and and also right at the base of the only substantial hill on the course. To be frank, I had been running out of gas, and far from passing people like I had at Mercedes, I had been the passee for the last several miles. My head still hurt, as did my sinuses, and my throat was starting to get into the act. I figured I only had a mile left, though, and charged up the hill, overtaking quite a few people. A left turn and a few blocks later, I hit the finishing line, six minutes slower than my last race, but still in a respectable time for me.

A volunteer placed a medal on my neck, and I headed for the post race food - which turned out to be poweraide, fruit, pastries, and oddly, a wide variety of some sort of boneless, sauce-laden chicken wings. The later looked really good to me, but another runner walked up behind me and said "Yuck, you can tell I'm not an ultrarunner, I can't eat that kind of stuff right after a race". Oddly, though Michelob Ultra was a race sponsor, there was no beer. South Carolina has some odd laws regarding alcohol, and this may have been the issue. The chicken partially made up for it, and I downed my share,though some of the sauces did burn my somewhat raw, plague-infested throat. Ah, well.

I have to say, for a first effort, I think this was a great race. The course, which I initially questioned while looking at a map, turned out to be excellent - it gave plenty to look at, took you over the river twice, and wasn't too hilly, which is a feat in Columbia. The crowd, while really small and widely dispersed along the race course, was really enthusiastic. The city of Columbia Police department did a nice job of directing traffic.

I liked this race, and I'll run it again next year. In the the spirit of constructive criticism, however, I'd like to offer some suggestions for the future. First, I may be splitting hairs, but in a race as long as a half marathon, you need timing mats at the start and finish - and for that matter, you need a discernible starting line. Second, the last half-dozen races I have run have had water stops every two miles. While, again, this may not be physiologically necessary, I think folks have come to expect it and plan on it. Third, get some local high schools bands and cheerleaders to come out. Have a contest between local charities to see who can have the best cheering section, etc. Get people involved along the route. Lastly, this is part of a series of races put on by the USRA, but neither the shirt nor the medal make any mention of it. If you are going to have a franchise of races - a la the RocknRoll Series or the 13.1 Marathon Series - flaunt it.

All in all, I was happy I ran the race. It was pleasant, even though I felt terrible, and I'll be glad to do it again next year. It was a very different route from Columbia's other two half marathons - the Governor's Cup and the Palmetto Half Marathon ( , also new this year), and I think safely avoided the same race-different name issue. At the end of the day, I may have been ailing, but I'll still finished in the top third, which makes this quack happy. Mu