Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Timex Ironman Review

Feels a little weird to be reviewing a watch, but honestly there are a lot of features that go into a decent training watch and I think this one hits pretty close to the mark. The watch is the Timex Ironman 50-Lap Sleek and it has a lot of features that cater to training.

First off comfort. The term "sleek" is maybe marketing a little bit, but it certainly has a low profile and it does not look too big. The band is also an appropriate size for my "runner's wrist" and includes a little catch on the band restraint to keep it at the end of the band. This means that it does not move as I run which has been an annoyance with other watches I have worn. As for timekeeping, I do not really wear a watch outside of running, but the display is easy to read and it displays the date along with the time. There are also options for two time-zones and three alarms. The watch features "Indiglo" as well for all of the functions, which is useful if you like to run your track workouts at 4am when it is pitch black. The light is no substitute for a headlamp though and it will not help you if someone happens to leave a hurdle on the track the night before (I'm not saying that I know this from experience).

From a training perspective is where this watch really gets going. The chronograph is easy to read and will continue running even as you access the watch's other features. The start/split button is located on the watch face, which is essential in making it easy to push and find when you are timing splits in a race. When you hit the split button during a workout it displays the split and the lap time for a few seconds before changing the display to show the split and the next lap time. Having the current lap time displayed is great as I can check on my pace before the interval is finished (i.e. I can check the 400 split on an 800 repeat without having to push the split button). After you are done running your session you can store the time and splits, for up to 50 lap times. The watch will record the time and date for the workout as well for you to log later, which is probably the most useful feature given that I often do not get a chance to log runs for a couple of days.

Another feature that I anticipate making more use of in the next few months is a dual interval timer. You can set two interval times (i.e. an interval time and a recovery time) to repeat indefinitely during a workout. So you can start the chronograph, warm up and then start the interval timer. It will then beep when you need to either start or end an interval, recording the number of repetitions as it goes. Once you are done with intervals, you can stop the timer, and cool down with your total workout time still recorded by the chronograph. This will help with my speedwork this winter as I find it tough to get to the track, so I can run timed intervals on whatever route I choose. This feature can be set in seconds, minutes or hours so it can also be used to remind you when to take gels or electrolytes on longer runs.

These features easily make this the best training watch I have owned, the only feature lacking in this model is heart-rate sensing, but I believe there is a higher-end model that includes this feature. In my case the lack of heart-rate monitor is actually a plus as I find this interferes with the treadmill sensor. I can now wear my HR strap on the treadmill and monitor my HR there while timing the workout with the watch.

A well balanced review always includes some cons, so here are the minor annoyances I can think of. As I mentioned above the watch has no GPS/foot pod/HR capabilities, but I think these features are unnecessary anyway. Another minor inconvenience is the fact that the watch band is stuck in a "round" position and is quite rigid. This makes it easy to put on, but it will not fold flat for easy storage in a gym bag pocket.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Shoes

I know I'm breaking out of my box here. It used to be I was a one-shoe guy, the Brooks Adrenaline. But lately I've been branching out more, wanting to try shoes that are closer to racing flats, transitioning with the Launch (Review here). Those shoes felt so good that I wanted an everyday trainer that approached that model. So I am trying out the Ravenna, which is filed in the "guidance" category and designed to offer a little less stability than the Adrenaline or the Trance. I have not yet had a chance to do a full evaluation, but I got them out for a run today and am very pleased so far. The shoes fit just as well as my Adrenalines (although under advise I ordered a half size up) and they feel great. Noticeably more stability than my Lanches, feeling pretty hefty underfoot, but definitely lighter than the Adrenalines. They stood up well to almost 14 miles of pavement with no hot-spots and I was glad to have the extra firmness as I was pushing the joggy stroller today.

It's nice to have something new to put into the rotation and I think switching up shoe types will only help strengthen the foot and ankle (as long as the shoes aren't doing damage). Ideally I'd like to get to the point where a good portion of my weekly miles are done on shoes that have very little support at all. As my running stride adapts I hope this brings about an improvement in my running economy, which can only help with strength and stamina. As it is I am glad to have such a wide array of shoes to choose from in my preferred brand!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Return to Training

Last week I tried to ease back into training, but was slowed down a little by a tight hamstring. I decided to not push it and opted for some cycling instead for a good workout. But by Sunday I was ready to try a long run again, so I went out for 11 with no expectations. The run turned out okay, but I definitely felt fatigued much earlier than I thought I would. It was pain free, however, so I think I'll be back to ramping up my mileage.

One of the big reasons I feel I have made such advances in my speed this year is due to continual training. Even though I have taken brief periods to recover from races and illnesses I have been able to keep up with speedwork and long runs pretty consistently. I hope to keep this style of training up over the winter (especially through the holiday season) so that I will be ready to race well next season. This may be easier said than done as it is always tougher to get out when the weather sucks and there is so much good food to eat, but I think if I stay flexible I'll be able to keep focused even if I'm not training everyday. I'd like to try to fit in a winter 5k or 10k as well to keep the motivation for speedwork.

With such a successful race to end this year's season I'm feeling good about what is yet to come. I also have a new toy to play with thanks to Boulder Running Company. I went by there today to pick up my age group award and it was a Timex Ironman watch! I will post a review once I've had a chance to use it a few times, but the biggest advantage I can see for it so far is that it can store splits for multiple workouts in a day. Even my Polar HR monitor can't do that!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Indian Summer Half Race Report

Well it's been a while since I did a race report as I haven't raced since the Bolder Boulder. The summer training has been weird what with being burnt out, fired up, burnt out, and fired up again, but more often than not, consistent. At the end of all of it I can take away two amazing results: one, a new half-marathon PR bettering my April time by almost 2 minutes, and two an age-group podium finish (2nd)!

This was the inaugural running of the Indian Summer Half Marathon put on by the Boulder Running Company and other great sponsors (of particular interest to me Brooks and Avery). In this case the collective experience of the organizers really made this a well run event even though it was the first running. Saturday I drove up to Boulder to pick up my race packet and was already impressed by the sweet pint glass and restaurant gift card included in the race goodies. My race number was "9" and the lady who gave me the number remarked "no pressure"...nice. In reality even with all of my assertions to others that I was running for fun, I was holding myself to a higher standard. My improvements in my speedwork have been steady through the summer and the leg speed has translated well to faster long runs, I felt I would be able to break my April PR. I definitely had pre-race jitters throughout Saturday night and into Sunday morning but they melted away by the time I hit the starting line.

Not knowing what kind of course support to expect I had studied the course map that morning to keep the turns fresh in my mind. As it turns out the only confusion was when everyone lined up facing the wrong direction at the starting line, but the race director quickly had that straightened out. Unfortunately some runners walked around the starting line, and others just crossed over so it ended up that by the time everyone was facing the right direction I was further back in the pack than I would have liked. The first part of the course is a loop around the parking area, which is kind of tight so it was challenging maneuvering through slower runners for the first few hundred yards. It had taken me longer than expected to pick up my chip and get situated before the race, so I was not warmed up at the start. As a result the first mile felt tough, but I stayed with Todd as planned and he pulled out the first split in 6:44, perfect! At that point it was evident to me that keeping to Todd's pace was not going to happen so I let him go off on his own, resigning myself just to keep him in my sights as long as I could. By the time a few miles had ticked by the field was pretty strung out, but there were a few people around me running similar paces so I was able to keep myself running decent splits, between 6:40 and 6:50. When 7 miles had gone by I could tell that there was very little fatigue in my legs (unlike last week's tune-up) and I knew that I would be able to maintain a strong pace for the rest of the race, the question was how much I could ramp it up. At 8 miles I knew it was time to start my push. I dropped the pace down to the 6:30 range, and started reeling people in. While the first part of the course traverses paved and dirt roads at this point it transitions onto the gravel path that runs around the backside of the reservoir. This makes it a little more challenging as the path snakes around quite a bit and it is not really clear where you are heading next. Throw a few little hills into the mix and the pacing really started to be become difficult. I thought for sure I was slowing down as I was passed by a couple of runners who I had passed before, but my final splits were still consistent so it was likely the cumulative damage of this red-zone effort that made the mental game tough. I was pretty much cooked when I finally entered the finish area, but I caught sight of the race clock as I came in and it read 1:26:52. I decided I was not going to let it get past 1:27 on me and poured it on to get through right at 1:27. The 9 seconds that I had spent getting to the starting mat got me a chip time of 1:26:51.

Apart from the PR and unexpected age group finish (2nd age group, 29th overall, so there were a ton of faster runners but only one in the 30-34 age range) this was a fantastic race. The course is really pretty, running through the farmland of the foothills with views of the Flatirons. The volunteers were great and did an awesome job of directing traffic and manning the aid stations. Post race activities were outstanding with lots of recovery food variety (everything from orange wedges to croissant sandwiches) and of course the essential Avery beer garden! With 392 finishers this year and the stellar Boulder running community (winning time was 1:15:56!!) I think this was a great start for what I am sure will be an awesome race in years to come.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Not wanting the grass to grow under my feet this past long weekend I convinced myself to head out the door on Saturday for one last long run before the half. Seeing how I only planned to run 11 miles I figured I would take the opportunity to do a little race tune-up. I decided to start out a little faster than easy pace and try to keep the pace low for as long as I could hold on. I had just done tempo on Thursday, but only for 7 miles, so my goal was comfortably hard for the full 11.

After a half-mile warm-up the first mile ticked off in 7:30, second went by in 7:15, third 7:08 and still comfortable. At this point the trail mile markers end and I have to run based on feel, always a challenge given that the path climbs up the backside of a dam. I still felt strong though, so was able to push up the hill and reach the turnaround point in 40:37. This pace was perfect as I was just starting to feel fatigue in my legs and knew that it would be a challenge to keep everything together for the return split. By the time I hit the mile markers again I was moving fast, but feeling the cumulative effort. I continued to push the pace and managed to hit close to 7:00 for the final 3 miles, finishing the cool down with a slightly positive split, 1:21:35.

I believe that one of my greatest strengths in running is pacing and this workout plays right into that. Being able to relax at the start and come out hitting my pace right off the bat gives me the chance to finish strong. This means that I have to have an idea of what I can realistically run for a race. Running the tune-up gives me a chance to train both at once, first, gauge how race pace feels off the line and, second, what kind of effort I need to summon in order to finish at that pace.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Uber-taper

I am in the midst of an "extended taper" for my half-marathon coming up on September 13. After feeling ill last week, this week has not provided much more in the realm of motivation and mostly I have been deciding to bag any run that does not provide a specific training benefit. This means that I have been good about my long run, speedwork and tempo efforts, but the "junk miles" are out the window. As a result I am feeling well rested, nothing is hurting and I'm running fast. The race is still a week away, however, so there's no guarantee that I won't seize up due to lack of activity at mile 10.

I'm not too worried though as:

  1. I already have a good half-marathon PR for this year

  2. There is no pressure to hit some magical qualification time

  3. All of my long runs are longer than the race distance

  4. Being rested on race day will offer more benefit than any training I can squeeze in now

  5. I am really just looking to recapture the joy of running and kick off a great off-season

With nothing to lose and so much to gain and enjoy I may be poised to pull out a breakthrough performance! That or I'll just crash and burn, regardless there will be beer at the end. My current race plan is to try to keep up with Todd, who will be feeling hungry after his Leadville experience. If I can roll with him for 11 or 12 miles I will have a good chance to crank a fast time.