Monthly Archives: January 2014

Feeling Gravity’s Pull

I ran my first Half-marathon last year (The ODDyssey in Philadelphia) in 2:15. I ran my second Half-marathon last November (The Rock-n-Roll Half in Las Vegas) in 2:12. I had an unrealistic goal for that second race, of finishing Sub-2 hours. My last training run where I did the whole 13.1, I ran in 2:09, so I really thought I could shave those last 9 minutes off and slide in to the finish. Long story short, I was disappointed.

So what did I do? I came home, figured out my next Half-marathon, and got into training. My next race is in April, so my 16-week training plan actually started the week of Christmas. I’m using the free, Sub-2 hour Half-Marathon training program in RunKeeper.  At the time I signed up, I was really focused on the goal. I reviewed the training plan and said to myself, “Sure I can fit in runs 5 days a week.” I had been training 4 days a week, so the extra day didn’t seem like too much more.

I think I was wrong. Here I am 6 weeks in, and I find myself beginning to struggle. The runs are getting long, which in and of themselves is not unreasonable, but trying to fit a 9 or 10 mile run in on a weekday is getting harder and harder. The schedule has me running Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, then Saturday and Sunday. Tuesday is usually some sort of strides (sprints), Wednesday is a steady, medium paced longish run, Thursday is Intervals, Saturday is short and slow, Sunday is race-paced long runs. The weekend stuff is fine, it is the weekend. It’s the weekday stuff that is starting to crush my soul. Mornings are hard, because it takes so long. It is very cold and dark outside, and really risky to try and get in a run right now. Lunch time is better, but again, it takes over an hour to get the plan run in, then shower and get back to work. Evenings are tough, but not impossible.

So now that I’ve over-shared my frustrations, I guess my questions out to the world of runners are:

  • How do you fit your training into a busy workday?
  • How do you stay committed to a goal when the training starts getting tough?
  • How do you become an accomplished runner and still hold down a demanding career?

I’m sure all of this can be done, and part of me knows I can do this. It gets hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes.

I’m really interested to hear what others have to say. What do you think?

Tech Review: @Jaybirdsport Bluebuds Review

I’ve been eyeing up a set of Bluetooth headphones for a while. My wired headphones are light and comfortable, but the darned cable is consistently a pain while I’m running. It gets caught on my FuelBelt, or I snag it with my hands as they are swinging. I was looking at several different sets, but kept coming back to Jaybird and their Bluebuds X. Honestly, the only think that kept me hesitating was the price tag. Retailing at $169.95, it seemed a steep bet if I ended up not liking them. Plus add the fact that I have a headphone problem. I seriously have about 15 pairs of earphones. I have different sets I’ve bought, the sets that have come with devices… it is a tad silly.

That changed for me in November 2013, when I flew out to Las Vegas to run the Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon. While at the Pre-race Expo, I stopped by the Jaybird booth, and was able to try them out. I was really pleased at how they sounded and how they felt. I got to the Expo late in the day, and by then Jaybird was all sold out of their Bluebuds (which were nicely discounted), but to make up for it, they gave me a coupon code for the same discount so I could buy online. Hesitation over.

Product Overview:

I ordered my Bluebuds almost first thing when I arrived home from Vegas. I didn’t want to miss out on the discount. They were shipped pretty quickly, and I soon had them in my grubby hands. The first thing I had to do was open up the accessory pack and find the insert and ear “wing” that fit me best.

Accessory Pack

 

Inside the Accessory Pack

Inside the Accessory Pack

I had to pick the biggest ones, because, let’s face it, I have big ears. 🙂 Once assembled, here is what they look like:

Bluebuds out of the box

 

And here is how they look in my big ear

IMG_2912

 

That little wide box on the line you see there is the controller. Here is a closeup of it.

IMG_2909

 

The controller has three buttons on it. The top and bottom (or left and right as I have it pictured) are for skipping music tracks. The center button is for powering on and off, for answering a phone call, or activating Siri if you have an iPhone.

The headphones charge via USB. The right earbud has a little cap on the back you pop off and insert the USB plug.

IMG_2906

 

You can sort of see the red LED hidden in there, showing that the unit is charging. The LED light turns green when your Bluebuds have a full charge.

And lastly, they come with a nice hard clam-shell carrying case.

Carrying Case

 

I like the case quite a bit. It is easy to find in my running gear bag, and keeps my headphones safe from getting tangled up with all of the other junk I carry in there.

Okay, so that is what they are. Here is the lowdown on how I feel about them.

What I like:

  • They were really easy to pair with my iPhone. I turn them on, they connect instantly.
  • The sound is really good. I didn’t realize how little I could hear with my old pair. These sound amazing.
  • I can take a phone call with them. If I forget to turn on Do not Disturb mode while I’m running, I can talk easily with these. The sound quality is really good.
  • They are super-sweat-proof and guaranteed for life. If your Bluebuds bust because you got too sweaty, they’ll replace them.
  • They have “Jenna” inside of them. Yes, the headphones have their own voice, and she talks to me. Pretty cool.
  • The battery lasts a nice, long time. The site touts 8 hours. I haven’t tried them that long yet, but my Bluebuds have hung in for 13.1 with me so far.
  • There is NO CORD to plug into my iPhone while I run. I feel so free not having that tether in the way all of the time.

What I don’t like:

  • The “Signal Plus” feature touts that the headphones won’t lose signal with your device based on location. As long as your device is on your body, you’ll get a good signal. I haven’t found this to be true. I often get a choppy signal when I turn my head to look for traffic, or if I found my phone has slid around in my arm band and is closer to my body. Granted I have been running in very cold temperatures lately, so I’m open to give this some more time.
  • Again with the cold temps, these are sort of hard to put under your hat or headband. For me, my hats or headbands tend to push these into my ears a little too much, and after an hour or so of running my ears get sore from them.
  • When I don’t have my hat or sweatband pushing these into my ears, they tend to slip out once I get really sweaty. I have been wearing them under-ear and am going to try them over-ear and see if that makes it better.
  • They sound REALLY good. Part of that means, when I’m outside running, these really block a lot of the outside sounds I need to hear, like cars coming up behind me, or other runners telling me they’re going to pass. I find I have to keep the volume really low on these so it isn’t dangerous for me to run around outside.
  • They are still expensive. I got them at a discount (20% off from the race Expo), but these are not cheap headphones.

The Verdict

Despite their drawbacks, I really like these headphones. I’m willing to keep working with them to make them work perfectly for me. They sound great, they are guaranteed for life against sweat (and I certainly sweat a LOT while I’m running), and there is NO CORD holding me back. Did I mention that there was NO CORD? 🙂

You could do a lot worse than Jaybird Bluebuds X if you’re looking for a great pair of sports headphones.

Do you run with headphones? If so, which are your favorite? And why?

Tech Review: Virtual Trainer Bodyweight on the iPad

Every amateur runner eventually faces the fact that “just running” isn’t enough. If you want to improve your times and/or lengthen your distances, you must must must (must) cross-train. Cross-training strengthens your body in ways just running cannot, and helps you run better, stronger, and with less of a chance of injury.

But if you are like me, and have a demanding job during the day, it can often be a challenge to find the time to get a run in, let alone try to squeeze something else into the mix. Believe me, I get this.

I used to be strictly a morning runner. I’d get up, walk the dogs, then head out to clock my miles. I was easily able to get everything in, shower, and get to work on time. That was last year. This year, I’m training harder for a Spring Half-Marathon and eyes on my first full Marathon in the fall, so my training runs have become much longer, and I can not fit my runs in during that morning gap any longer. I’d either have to get up earlier and go run in the dark and freezing outside (I already get up at 5:45am on weekdays), or be late to work every day (not really an option). So I started moving my runs to later in the day, either during my lunch break (easier to justify a long lunch than being late in the morning) or after work. Which left me with a gap of time in the mornings that I could utilize for something else.

Here’s where I found the Virutal Trainer: Bodyweight for my iPad. I was searching for something I could do with little or no gym equipment at home, but would not take too much time and still be a good workout. This app delivers on that, and then some.

The app costs $5 in the Apple App Store, but is well worth the small investment. The main screen opens up to a large array of exercises demonstrated by human beings in HD.

VT Main Screen

 

You can tap any one of the exercises and the demonstration video begins immediately. There are a couple of pre-built workout routines on the right, and you have the ability to make your own.  I started with the Tabata Workouts. There are two inside there, a Full Body routine, and an “Ass & Abs” routine as well. If you aren’t familiar with Tabata, it is similar to CrossFit. You do an array of exercises for 20 seconds each, with 10 seconds rest in between. You run through your list of exercises multiple times (you choose when you start, the default is 3 rounds).

Before you start your workout, you can touch any one of the exercises, and the demonstration video pops right up and you get to watch a real human demonstrate for you.

"Prisoner Squat" demonstration

 

Once you are ready to start, you select the routine you want to use, how many cycles of the routine you want to do, and hit the “Workout” button. Another really nice feature is that you can Air Play the videos to your Apple TV or Mac computer, so you can watch the demonstration videos on a larger screen if you want to. I have 2 Apple TV’s in the house, so I use this.

Next Exercise Prep

You get a preparatory command for the next exercise you’re about to do. They show the name and a demo video while the timer counts your 10 second rest period, then it is time to GO!

Go Go Go!

 

You do the exercise at your own pace as much or as little as you can during those 20 seconds, then you get a very short 10 seconds to rest and get into position for the next exercise.

IMG_0421

 

I was amazed at how torched I was after the first time I ran through this routine. Doing 3 run-throughs of the Full Body Tabata workout took just 12 minutes, but I was drenched with sweat and muscles quivering. How efficient is that? Who can’t spare 12 minutes in the morning? I love it!

There are tons of other apps in their library. I like this one because it doesn’t require any gym equipment. I have a little at home, but not much. Here’s a list of their app library. None are free, but most are only $5.

VT App Library

 

I’ve been using VT: Bodyweight for 3 weeks now, and I can really tell a difference. The scale is creeping down again, my BMI is also creeping down. I’m definitely feeling stronger during my runs. I’ll probably stick with the built-in workouts for a while longer, then start to build a few of my own. There are some exercises in there I’d like to include, and one unfortunate app oversight is that you cannot edit the existing workouts, or even copy them to a new list to edit. Oh well. Small deal for me.

Are there any great apps you use to help you cross-train?

Gear Review: Nathan Transwarmer Convertible Mitt

The Problem

I live on the East Coast of the US, and it is Winter. If you live in this area, you know that this year has been exceptionally cold. I’ve been having a hard time this year with gloves and keeping my hands the right temperature during runs. I have thin gloves that breathe, but my hands can’t seem to stay warm enough in those, even after running a few miles and the rest of me is nice and warm. I have thick gloves, but those don’t breathe, and my hands sweat in them and get too hot, then I end up taking them off and my hands freeze even more.

The Solution

Last week I saw what I thought might be a solution for me. I’ve been reading that mittens are best when running in temperatures below freezing, because they let your fingers stay together and huddle for warmth. I found the Nathan Transwarmer Convertible Mitt on sale, and thought, for $12, why not give it a try.

Nathan Transwarmer Convertible Mitt

The gloves look great. Best of both worlds, I thought. Gloves when you wan them (with touch-screen fingers) and mittens when you need them. My box arrived with my mittens yesterday, and I gave them a try this morning.

The Verdict

It was 20 degrees Farenheit (about -7 Celsius) when I went out to start my 12-mile run this morning. I started up RunKeeper and slipped on the Nathan Transwarmers in Mitten Mode right off the bat. Brrr it was cold! My thumbs started getting cold right away, so I tucked them into my fist to keep them warm. All was well until about 2 miles in.

Just after my 2nd mile, I noticed that my hands were getting sweaty. And while the glove part of the Nathan mittens is “moisture wicking” the mitten shell is not. So my fingers were getting progressively wetter under the mitten shell, and getting progressively colder. I decided to take the mitten shell off for a while an see if the gloves would dry. The air is very dry and I hoped that the moisture would wick off and I’d be okay. I was wrong. The moisture on my gloves instantly started to freeze. My hands were not warm enough to stave off the freezing with temperatures so low. So I popped the mitten shell back on my partly wet, partly icy fingers and kept trudging on. I started putting my hands, gloves and all, into my pants pockets to try and glean some of the ample warmth coming off of my quads. That helped, but my gloves still wouldn’t dry.

This was bad. I had a lot more running to do, but there was no way I could keep going with wet gloves on such a cold day. My fingers were starting to get numb. Thankfully I was running near home today. I changed course and made a loop back to my house, and reached it about halfway through my run (6 miles, 1 hour). I popped in and changed out my gloves for my really warm, thick gloves. I don’t even know what brand these are. I bought them from a small, local vendor at a race expo last year. They are the ones that usually make my hands too hot, but this time they were perfect. My hands were so cold, my fingernails were blue, so when I got them into my warm, thick gloves, they were finally happy.

I’m happy to report that I was able to finish the rest of my run with very comfortable hands.

As for the Nathan Transwarmer Mittens, from me, they get a FAIL. I’ll be getting a refund on those for sure.