Friday, July 27, 2012

Endurance Running and Pheidippides

Perhaps its because a good friend of mine ran the Tahoe Rim Trail 100M, his first 100 miler, or because I am in reflective mode since this will be the first time in three years that my wife and I won't be running the SF Wipro Marathon. But, when I came across this blog on PLOS, it really made me think about endurance running  in general.
Some of the time, when I mention that my wife and I do endurance runs or mention when my buddy runs ultras, I find that I get the usual responses like "You will blow out your knees or ankles" or that "running long distances damages your  heart," Typically this is followed by an example like Micah True dieing from heart disease, or the latest runner who died at  marathon (not very many from a percentage of those who run).  The one I like the most is that Pheidippides died after running the first Marathon.  Who is Pheidippides?  You can find out in more detail here; however, he is supposedly the first person to run the 25 miles from the battle of Marathon to Athens to let the Greek Senate know that the Persians had been defeated.  Once he arrived and delivered his message he promptly died.  Now, what people miss in the story, and what is brought out in the PLOS blog, is that Pheidippides had run a combined 160 miles, over mountainous terrain, as well as fought in the battle in under 3 days BEFORE running 25 miles to his demise.
The greatest challenge faced when discussing endurance sports is that people generally judge the sport by their own context.  And lets face it, when you compare today's system of things to that of someone who lived 60 years ago, people really do not tax their bodies to the level that they were created.  For most, their time is spent sitting at work, sitting in a car coming home, and sitting relaxing in front of the TV or computer before going to bed.  Imagine, if you you exercise the recommended 30 minutes a day, you are only exercising your muscles 2%, an hour a day and you are only taxing your muscles 4% of the day.  Compare that to how people worked prior to the invention of the TV and the car and you can see that from a context standpoint why people question endurance sports.

It really comes down to conditioning. Basically we condition our bodies with the activities we do.  So, done in measured amounts, an increased level of activity over time improves the endurance of a person.  Back in the day, when people had to walk from village to village to get anywhere, or like the Kenyans who run from village to village, people had conditioned there bodies to cover those distances without any trouble. So to properly condition yourself requires measured and balanced training. A good way to do this is by downloading a running schedule, such as the one found on Hal Higdon's site or Marathon Rookie. If followed, you will condition your body to run an endurance run without over-training or under-training.

Now I am not saying that there is no limits to what our imperfect bodies can do, there are.  However, most of us set those limits, either by the choices we make with our time or nutrition we take in. If we are married or have families, there are additional limitations with our time to balance.  We want to be healthy for them but we do not want to take time away from them either. We also may have medical issues that we have to deal with and be realistic of what those are.  However, if we self-limit ourselves, we will never know what we can do.

So as I look back at my buddy's accomplishment with his first 100 miler, I look in awe at that accomplishment.  This is something I will not try because I have limited myself to no more than 50K's, but that is just me.  I also know, and am amazed at folks who you would not characteristically consider the endurance running type; however, continue tirelessly and successfully at it.

So instead of using Pheidippides as an excuse not to run an endurance run, why not set it a goal, pick a good half or full marathon training schedule, and give it a try.  See what good conditioning can do.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Shower Wipes

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I have been trying out different shower wipes since where I work doesn't have a shower.  The beauty of it is that there are a lot of different products out there to choose from.  You will find the best way to use the wipes on that post.

So far, I have tried three, two specifically being Nathan Power Shower wipes ($4.95 at Roadrunner Sports) and Fresh Bath ($4.50 at Sports Basement) . There are many others and very different price points.  In fact a very popular brand is Shower Pill; however, they seem a bit pricey at $12.50 on

What I like about the Nathan Power Shower wipes is that they really do the job, have a nice fragrance (you won't smell like baby wipes going into a meeting).  The pack comes with 10 wipes and fit in a small pack.  That said, while they are larger than a normal wipe, if you have run on a really warm day you may find you using more than one.  Also, I find that my skin may be a bit sticky after.

I really prefer Fresh Bath.  These are really intended for backpackers and definitely do the job. The pack is rather on the large size and this is because they house eight 8X10 wipes. The wipes definitely feel more like a wet paper towel than a wipe and you really only need one on the hottest of days.  The fragrance is very neutral.  Also, my skin doesn't feel sticky after. 

I would like to try the Shower Pill, just because I have heard excellent things about it; however, if I am running three to four times a week, with 10 wipes, it just isn't cost effective for me.  You can learn more about the product here. If you try them please let me know how you liked them and if they are worth the cost.

So that is my rundown of shower wipes...pretty life changing stuff isn't it?  But really, let me know if you have a suggestion on another product or if you try the Shower Pill and if it is worth the change.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Running at Lunch....Problem, No Shower!

So a couple of weeks back I blogged about how I am back torunning at work.  The greatest challenge has been, though, that while the last couple of companies I worked at had the luxury of showers my current company doesn’t.  However, I am just steps from one of the most widely used running trails in the country, the Embarcadero in San Francisco and I would have a hard time calling myself a serious runner if I didn’t take advantage of this gift.

So that lead me to explore how shower alternatives.  I mean, there are just too many runners in San Francisco running at lunch to not think there had to be alternatives.

So I did my research and came across these fun how to posts:

After reading these posts and coming I came up with this method:
    • Run no more than 40 to 45 minutes, allowing enough time to cool off after the run.  If you bring a lunch or bar to work, place it in your backpack and eat it while you are cooling off
    • If your desk is away from the entrance, see about leaving your backpack with the your change of clothes at the receptionist or security desk.
    • After cooling off for 5 or 10 minutes, go to your nearest restroom, and use the shower pad of your choice, then dry off with a towel and change.
Now I have tried several shower pads and they work pretty effectively.  Think of them as an over sized baby wipe made for runners or for backpackers.  On Friday you will find a review of the two I like the most.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Running Apps Part 3: Strava Running App

This week I conclude my series of running apps.  While there are so many more apps out there other than the five I have reviewed, these are probably the most used and most competitive of the bunch.  You can find the reviews of Map My Fitness and Runtastic here and the reviews for Endomondo and RunKeeper here.

I enjoy Strava!!  When I was in the market for a GPS watch, one of the store associates at Sports Basement tuned me into the site.  You can upload your data from any device.  The greatest thing about Strava is that it keeps track of specific segments and compares your activity (running or bicycling) against others who have done the same segment.

Strava actually began as a website used by cyclists to track their performance using their GPS and cadence equipment.  They had a cycling app out a full six months prior to their running app

 I can say their app is pretty simple to use too. The GPS is very accurate, within 1/50th of a mile.  It is very quick at triangulating your location so you can start quickly on your run.
The frequency of the audio reminders is better with Strava, it will remind you every 0.5 mile which is sufficient to so that you can keep your desired pace.

Picture Courtesy of
But what I really enjoy about this app is that as well as its site is the feature that keeps track of specific segments.  I run the Embarcadero in San Francisco and can either run north through Fisherman’s Wharf to the Marina Green or south, past the ferry building and around AT&T Park.  Along each of these routes I am measured against other runners in specific areas.   

For example, the mile between the Rocket and 3rd street has over 200 runners.  I have been ranked against these people and myself so I know when I PR or move up in rank.  There are also other fun segments, like “Dodge the Tourist” in Fisherman’s Wharf or how fast you can climb the Filbert Steps  to Coit Tower.
The site does have pretty good statistics, not as much as I like,but are sufficient for the task.  They also will keep track of the mileage you have put on your equipment (shoes and bike). It also will link to your other equipment (heart monitor, cadence, power meter, etc.) if you so choose.

 If I ever chose to sign up for the premium level this is the site I would pick.   This is definitely a fun app.

In Summary

While I just covered five of the apps I have used over the last year, there are many more to try.  The best app will be the app that is easy to use and fits your needs.  For example, for me Audio cues are important (RunKeeper), but maybe you want app to provide you with the extra motivation (Strava), or maybe you want an app that focuses on the social aspect of running (Endomondo), or an all inclusive fitness app (Map My Fitness).  What ever your reason, you will be able to find an app you need.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

When Runner Meets Raccoons

One of  the reasons I enjoy running, especially with my family, is that we typically choose areas where there is a lot of wildlife.  For example, when we run the Lafayette Reservoir we typically count how many deer, see if the white crane is fishing, try to find the turtles, and dodge the wild turkeys.

When we run Mt Diablo, we find tarantulas, unique snakes, tons of deer and turkey.  And as I mentioned last week, when run on Mt Diablo with my running buddy Ryan and mentioned we saw a bobcat.  We know there are also wild hogs and cougars on the mountain so we typically take special precaution.

In fact last week Ryan was doing a night run (getting ready for his first 100-miler) he came across tons of wildlife: owls, deer, and the shadowy figure of a Mountain Lion.

So when I came across this story which a runner encountered a wild pack of veracious raccoons. Mind you these are the legendary wild urban raccoons of Lakewood, Washington. That said, it really illustrates why you need to be aware of the wild life you may face. 

On another note,  why does stories from Washington State, more specifically the King and Pierce counties make National news more than any area in the country?  It is probably because they have deadly raccoons in their midst!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Running Apps Part 2: Endomondo and RunKeepers

This is the second in a three part series and, as stated in the preview, last week we covered Map My Fitness and Runtastic and next week we cover Strava.  So sit back with your favorite coffee, tea and danish and enjoy this weeks review of Endomondo and RunKeeper.

There is a lot to like about Endomondo.  They have structured both their app as well as there site to focus more on the social and challenge aspect of running.  There is a lot of content on their site (almost too much) including the random challenge (like how many miles can you run in a month).  Also, there is a lot of ways to analyze your running, cycling or other activities.

The app is pretty easy to use and I like that it isn’t cluttered.  While the audio cues are really good, they only are available in one mile increments and this cannot be adjusted.  To turn this off, it appears you have to upgrade to the Premium Sport Tracker Pro.  The premium level allows you to create customizable time and distance intervals, graph, low power mode, a “beat-your-self” mode, etc.  That said, many of these features are available for free in the Runkeeper app as well as Strava.

I do like the level of analysis though you get as part of the basic program.  You can compare your activities against your personal best as well as keep track of any improvement. Also, many of the pacing information missing on the app you will find on the site.

Basically though, there is nothing here to really have me change to using this app since I would still need the other tracking sites to do the level of analysis that I currently do as well as there being no incentive to pick the premium level.


So I love the RunKeeper App, when it works.  There is so much potential here – the perfect running cues, the ability to set up your intervals, wonderful tools on the site, the ability to race with other RunKeeper members at events.  You can even choose audio cues based on either time or distance. 
However, it amazes me that after months of issues with their GPS tracking in the app, they have not been able to fix what so many other apps do.  So let me elaborate.  So as I have said before, I use my HTC Sensation when running and download my apps from Android market.  Typically what happens is that for the first week or so the app works like a gem doing what it is supposed to do.  Then I get that one run in that it is telling me I am doing pretty good, a 7 minute mile.  Problem is that I am a 8:30 runner.  Then all of  a sudden I am running like I am Meb, doing a sub-5 minute mile!!  Then I am faster than a cheetah, doing a 2 minute mile!!!  

The problem here is the GPS tracking.  For example, my typical 5 mile run (based on my GPS watch and most other apps) on the Embarcadero ends up being a 7 mile run on RunKeeper.  Looking at the map that is created, you can see squiggly lines, which I am assuming are every step I make, which it is factoring in the mileage calculation.  Since the time run is a constant, the division by the mileage makes you feel like Speedy Gonzalez.
This problem is well known and there is even a discussion thread on the RunKeeper site about it.  The tech solution stated on the website is to delete then reinstall every time you have the problem.  To me, this is not a satisfying solution.  What I am finding as the real solution is to really limit what you are asking the app to do which means either run the audio cue every 5 minutes OR every half mile (minimum).  This for me seems to make the app work correctly. 

That said, I really want this app to work, with all of the capabilities!!! There is so much potential here it is a shame that so many people are having problems with this app with very little support on how to fix the problem.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nice Morning for a Mt. Diablo Run

So Sunday morning I was able to get a running buddy of mine to run Mt. Diablo with me.  He is currently training for a 100 mile run up in Tahoe on July 21st, so this weekend represented his final long run weekend before we began his taper.  The day before, he completed an Inside Trails 50K in the Marin Headlands in a respectable 6:34 time.  As he pointed out, the trail was actually 32 miles, not the 31 with a huge hill at the end; however, I still think that he did great.

So we set out for a 9.3 mile loop, heading out of Mitchell Canyon to Back Creek Trail and then back down the Mitchell Canyon Trail to the car.  This run included over 2,700 feet of elevation gain so combining that with the day before, Ryan had run a total of 41.3 miles and 9,000 feet of elevation gain in two days.

It was a nice morning for a run.  The temperature was in the 50's with the Bay Area fog pushing up against the mountain.  I really enjoyed our run, realizing that I at 43 can keep up with a 28 year-old and still not having to catch my breath and be able to hold a conversation.
Photo courtesy of:
When we got to the top of Back Creek Trail, we came across the first Bobcat I have ever seen.  One of the reasons I love trail running is the different wildlife you can see and this was truly special.  From the distance I originally assumed it was a large jackrabbit.  However, as we got closer  the recognizable shape of a big cat came into view.  It looked at us, then sauntered back into the Manzanita.  I was never able to get my camera out to take a picture; however, these are what these cats look like up on Mount Diablo.
I really enjoyed this run; however my quads are still feeling it two days after. 
submit to reddit