Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cheltenham Triathlon - Race Report

Another year and another Cheltenham Triathlon, this was the 4th time i have done this and the 3rd time as part of the Leckhampton Rovers FC Tri-Team.

This is a short triathlon raced over 500m/13km/2.7km. I can normally do this without training, or rather without specifically training for it. Not like training for Olympic distance or greater where there is a more structured and dedicated approach required. That said, this year i have swam more than i did last year (i think last year i swam once just before the race to be confident i could make the distance), biked probably less and run much, much more. The increase in running relating directly to the decrease in biking.

Preparation started on the Saturday evening, trying on the tri-suit after a year in the bottom of the kit box (that never gets any better), cleaning and treating the goggles so they don't steam up (with fairy liquid) sorting out the cycle shoes, running shoes, helmet, race belt and bike. This year that meant a swap between bikes of the front wheel and also the tri-bars. A gel for tucking into the back of the tri-suit was to be carried for emergency and a power bar to eat half of just prior to the race and then finish on the bike.

Sunday morning and i woke up at 05:55:55 - i enjoyed that and smiled to myself that i was already wearing my digital watch i would wear for the race and not my normal analogue watch where the moment of symmetry would have been lost to a ticking hand. I got up straight away and was a bit distressed by my stomach behaviour. Apparently a nacho-cheese pizza the night before disagreeing with me. I was glad to be up early enough to sort this and out. I also had, unplanned, time for coffee and some breakfast. At 06:50 i headed out the door, grabbed my bike and cycled the short ride to the lido. At the lido there were a number of entrants milling about and signing in. I found my number to wear. There is also someone with a marker pen to write your number on the top of your arm and on your leg.

I was number 716. On my arm she wrote 706, then crossed out the zero and wrote a 1 above it - a mess! On my leg she wrote 726, realising her second mistake she set about turning the 2 into a 1. She confirmed that, thankfully, she was not a tattoo artist!

With transition set-up and lots of nervous pre race chatter and banter it was pool side to collect our timing chips and listen to the pre-race briefing.

Our wave started at 7:30 prompt and i was second off in a lane of 6 swimmers. There were a collection of swim hats for use that those with hair needed to put on, finally i have found a positive about being bald - no second-hand swim hats! There are other benefits too; bald is beautiful. The water at 7:30 was warmer than the outside air temperature. The first swimmer went off then me 10 seconds later. To say i struggled is a bit strong but i did not feel good on the swim. I have been training a lot for swimming 3.5 miles across a lake not for swimming 500m flat out. I tried to catch the chap in front of me and after one length was closer but then fell off the pace significantly. He pulled away from me and gained around 30 seconds or so. We did both lap everyone else in the lane though.

Out of the water and across the lawn and out to the bike. Helmet on fort then shoes and away. I went a bit wrong here and tried to leave via the entry, re-routed i ran out to the cones where you can mount the bike and set-off. The bike course is a nice route, out through town towards Bishops cleeve via Prestbury, this is where the early start time pays dividends as there's little traffic to negotiate. you can blast along the roads in relative security. Conditions were perfect, clear blue skies, the morning warming up and little or no wind. The traffic gods were also smiling on me as i never got caught by a single red light.At each junction i just sailed through on green.

The bike course was shortened with, instead of going through Southam and past the mushroom farm a left turn straight down towards the junction at the bottom of the racecourse hill. I had ridden this on Friday afternoon and was glad i had. The road is gently downhill with big sweeping turns. It was excellent, good speed and nice control. All the way to the lights that were green, so a left turn and up the hill. 

I slogged a bit up the hill, once at the top it's downhill or flat to the lido. All the way around i was not overtaken once and actually overtook around 8 or 9 other cyclists. 

Back into transition i racked the bike, helmet off and a quick change of shoes. Frustratingly i needed to put on my knee strap as i have been struggling with some tendonitis. I was most nervous about the run as at pace it has been 'going'. The strap (patella knee strap) works a treat though. I thought i'd have to be way more conservative but with the adrenaline flowing i just went for it deciding to run as fast as i could until i couldn't. It turned out that that was the right approach as i was able to run hard to the finish. I completed the run course in exactly 10 minutes a small improvement of 4 seconds from the previous year. Not bad for a bad knee!

My finish time was 46:22, around the same time as last year but with a shorter cycle route. My swim was not great and i was faffing a bit longer in T2 with the knee strap. 

As ever a great event, the atmosphere is pretty unique with a mix of full carbon tri-bunnies and first timers on bikes with baskets. Athletes of all shapes and sizes. While you race as hard as you can it's still about being part of it. The lido has improved on some of the organisational elements; the breakfast bap process was much quicker with sandwiches pre-cooked and ready, the check-in and check-out processes were also slicker. 

When i woke up in the morning i was struggling for mojo and think that if i were not part of a team i may not have bothered going. I'm not sure why i felt like that but then that's the thing with mojo i guess, if you knew how to get it back there might not even be a word for it. I'm glad i did it, i knew i would be, it was good fun, i raced as hard as i could and i was home before the kids were up!

The official results show that i was 42nd overall and 17th in my age group. 
My splits were Swim - 09:18 :: T1 - 01:21 :: Bike & T2 - 25:44 :: Run - 10:00.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The perfect shoe?

What do you look for in a running shoe? Why do you wear the ones you
currently have? Recommendation? Review? Like the design and took a
punt? Your running hero maybe wears them? You persuaded in the store?
Or maybe price?

I've had lots of favourite running shoes. In that regard I'm a bit
like a puppy. Oooh Saucony, I love them. Brooks, I love them. Salomon,
ooh like Killian, I'm very cool in these! Hoka, I really love them.


Past tense? Here's the rub. My last couple of running shoes have been
Hoka One One Stinson Tarmac. Great shoes. My running heroes wear them,
Wardian, Canaday, Meltzer.... All great runners in Hoka's. Aspiring to
ultras I bought a pair and it was love at first run. Soft, supportive
and surprisingly responsive. Pricey sure. Garish - definitely. But
really great and unlike anything I had run in before. Read the hype
around them and it's hard not to be seduced and seduced I was.

I set about banging on about them to anyone that would listen. On my
recommendation at least 11 pairs have been bought. Those
recommendations were genuine too. I have never been so passionate
about a shoe before.

You can sense there's a but coming can't you.

But........... they are not durable and once they start to break down
they cause problems, for me, in the knees. Running shoes used up be
good for in excess of 500 miles. I've seen literature lately pointing
to a number of between 300-500 miles. With me and Hoka it's around 380
miles. At that point the outer rubber has gone and I am wearing
through soft foam sole. That doesn't last long. The shoe is no longer
balanced and that puts pressure on the knee. Patella tendinitis is the
current manifestation.

I'm not heavy, I weigh around 150lbs. I'm also quite light on my feet
and mid/fore foot strike.

My latest stinsons have done 450 miles and I retired them this
weekend. I did some research online and solicited some recommendations
for alternatives. Prompted by a review of the adidas boost on the
ultrarunner podcast website. Described as being more cushioned than
they looked. I also had a couple of positive recommendations from
mates that have them.

I looked at other shoes too, the Altra Olympus caught my eye for
obvious reasons. Then there were the usual suspects of Brooks, Saucony
and the New Balance fresh foam. The thing being that I wanted to try
them and not just buy online, if I were going to do that I would have
taken a punt on some Newtons.

I popped into Up and Running Cheltenham and had a chat with the guys
that work there. The most cushioned shoe they sell is the Brooks
Glycerin 12. They also sell the Boost. I tried those first. Initial
reaction was that they are thin. Particularly in the forefoot. They
also seemed very narrow, but then most shoes would compared to Hoka's.
I tried them on the treadmill and while the fit was good and the
material very soft around the foot the sole felt too thin. I think if
I were a heel striker then they would have been great but for me the
front of the shoe was not soft enough.

I tried the Brooks Glycerins and they felt great. Interestingly
considering they are the softest shoes in the shop they really aren't
that soft! They did, however feel cushioned enough and not that alien
from someone that has run over 1000 miles this year in Hoka's. The fit
on the Brooks is slipper like, the upper really soft around the heel,
much like the Boost, the lacing system holds the foot steady without
uncomfortable pressure. The design is awesome and appeals to my sense
of shoes that attract attention! They are bright blue, almost
metallic. I looked at some alternatives by New Balance and Saucony but
opted for the Glycerins.

List price they are more expensive than my Hoka's at £130 (versus £125
for the stinsons). Some store discount brought them down to £117.

I ran in them on asphalt the following morning. My initial thought was
I had wasted my money and that they were no good. I was actually
gutted. Then after about 3/4 of a mile I started to relax and the
shoes felt good. They are a solid build and nicely cushioned. They
feel very supportive and solid. I've not weighed them but would guess
they are heavier than Hoka. But that's key here, they feel solid, they
feel like they can work. A glance at the sole and there's a good
rubber there and a decent thickness too. They feel like they will last
and be durable. Time will, of course, tell on that but I have had a
number of pairs of Brooks over the years and always been impressed.
They have never let me down.

I also noticed my run form alter slightly to smaller strides. Higher
foot turnover probably as my body compensates for the change in
cushioning. Not a massive change but part of the process. A bit like
when you first run in minimalist shoes from a traditional shoe.

I loved my Hoka's and will almost definitely go back, maybe I will
just keep a pair for racing and wear other shoes for training. It
would be great if the road shoe could be made a little more durable as
that from my perspective it is all that needs changing. Adidas use
Continental rubber on their shoes why can't Hoka?

For now I am back in Brooks, they are a great shoe, my tendonitis was
less painful after one run in them. If this experience continues in
positive vein then I may stay with them, again. That's the point
really, if it's not working you need to look elsewhere and for
alternatives. There's so much choice and so much similarity now
between shoes that there's always an alternative. They all want our
£'s for the latest and greatest technology so shop around, try them at
the local running store for an informed view and, just as importantly,
buy them there.

Sent from my iPad

The North Face - Better than Naked Shorts

I've heard a lot about these shorts, how they are the best on the
market, the most comfortable, that they are, in short, better than
being naked!

I've seen them in stores for £65-£70 which even with my love of bling
and shiny new run-tech is a lot to pay for a pair of shorts. To date I
have been wearing Nike (the ones with the zip pocket in the back) and
Brooks (to date my favourites as they have a longer leg and side
pockets). Both retail at around £20.

Over the summer I was in Blacks and they had a sale which included
their running gear and TNF Better than Naked shorts at £25. I tried a
pair on to check the fit as I like a larger short with a longer leg
and settled on a pair in size medium. To give some idea of sizing I am
a little over 5'10" and around 150 lbs.

The shorts are great. They are super light flash dry material and
branded with the familiar TNF Flight Series logos. They comprise an
inner short which is like a cycling short in that it grips low down on
the thingy he with then a looser more traditional over short. The
liner rather than being compression is comfortable with flat seams and
'room' for a gentlemans under carriage to not be rubbing on any seams.
Better than naked or at least a bit like being naked.

The waist band is made of soft material with no rough edges and no
seams to pull in to make them tight. There is a small silky tie to
secure them. But absolutely zero running. The fit is remarkable.

Where these shorts are interesting though is in the number of pockets.
The linker short has pouches on the legs suitable for stowing gels or
power bars. There is comfortably room for 3 or 4. They are held
securely so that even while you are running they do not feel like they
will fall out. The only issue here is that it does mean they are warm
when you come to eat them so it is probably best to avoid putting
anything that could melt in there.

On the outer shorts there are three pockets around the back of the
waistband. In the middle a zip pocket which I have used for an iPhone.
It fits perfectly and is held by the shorts so doesn't bounce around
back there. Either side of this pocket is a flat pocket suitable for,
again, gels and the like, these are held securely but the waistband of
the shorts with seemingly little pressure. The same issue would apply
to anything that could melt as the pockets are tight against the body.

I have run in these shorts almost exclusively since I have had them,
they feel great and are versatile enough for both short and longer
runs where you can carry adequate food. I have had zero chaffing or
rubbing with these shorts whatever the conditions or however warm and
wet it has been.

Overall these are probably the best shorts I have worn, they are
comfortable beyond compare and proven to be durable despite many
washes through the machine. At upwards of £65 they are probably
expensive and despite how good they are I would struggle to justify
that kind of expense for a pair of shorts. If you can find them on
sale though they are a brilliant bargain.

For the garment I would give it 5/5 as genuinely the best short. For
price, at the RRP, I would give it 2/5 as they are significantly more
expensive than nearly every other short!