Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hoka One One Clifton First Impression

At the Skydive Ultra, my biggest difficulty was pain in the soles of me feet. I think this is to be expected to some degree, particularly for a larger and heavier runner. But running the first 29 miles in fairly minimalist Merrell Bare Access Ultra's certainly didn't help. And, while the Altra Olympus shoes I switched to were much better in terms of cushioning, I'm just not totally in love with them. They're a bit heavy at 11 ounces and don't quite feel right on my feet no matter how much I adjust them. That's led me to search for a new, highly cushioned shoe for long runs.

Hoka One One's have been getting tremendous press and I've read innumerable positive reviews about this brand from so many knowledgeable sources. Two models in particular seem to draw the most accolades, the Bondi (except for the Bondi 3) and the Clifton. In my reading, I felt the Clifton was the most likely to work well for me, although I was willing to accept recommendations from the local running store, Delray Beach Running Company. After lots of testing and trying, I did end up with the Clifton despite liking the Hoka One One Conquest quite a bit.

First Run Impressions

This morning I was able to get out for my first run in the Cliftons, a 14 miler on easy and non-technical trail along an Everglades levee. It's also only my second long run (and first comfortable long run) since the Skydive Ultra, so my impressions may be somewhat colored by lack of training.

Overall, this shoe feels wonderful to put on. It's exactly as soft and cushioned as described, and so wonderfully light. At 7.7 ounces per shoe, they feel almost weightless on foot. Odd that a difference of just over 3 ounces compared to my Altras can feel so different, but it does. The feel on foot is just great.

The cushioning while running is everything I expected and read about. Tons of cushioning, but it never felt like the thick sole would cause me to twist an ankle or tip over. I felt nicely connected to the ground and was able to move along easily despite them being an entirely new shoe for me.

I do have one gripe, and it's the same one you'll read in many reviews. The toe box is really cramped. I didn't notice it for several miles, but by mile 10 my small toes were definitely developing hot spots from being squeezed between neighboring toes and the edge of the shoe. No blisters developed over today's 14 miles. I'm not sure that would remain the case over 50 miles, however. I'm going to try running in the Clifton wearing Injinji socks to see if that relieves some of the rubbing. My Clifton's also come with a second insole which I understand is a bit thinner and softer. I'm going to try those in the shoes to see if they offer a touch more space in the toe box.

But I'm worried about the toe box issue. I want to wear these shoes for really long runs given how great they feel otherwise. That won't be possible if the small toe issue continues.

The Other Big Gripe

I have one other issue with the Hoka One One Clifton's. They're expensive. They retail for US$130 which was far more than I've ever paid for a pair of running shoes. That's not a price really out of line with other running shoes, but it's just more than I'm comfortable spending. I generally watch for previous year models of shoes to go on sale, then buy them on the cheap. That wasn't possible with the Cliftons. And I would not have bought them had I not gotten a little money for my birthday last week. But I am willing to spend a bit more now that my running distances are really increasing, if the shoes help with pain and injury prevention. I was also happy to discover my membership with the Boca Raton Triathletes got me a nice discount.

Given the cost, I'm concerned about durability. The shoes are super light, the soles made of fairly soft materials. I'm a heavier guy. I'm not sure I'll be able to run in a pair for 400 miles, or even if they'll make it to 300 miles. Combine that with their high cost, and they may simply not be a realistic shoe for me.

Would I Buy Them Again?

I think the big question on any piece of gear is, would I buy it again? Even if I love something, but cost would prevent me from buying it again, it doesn't feel like a good value. However, if I just like something, but cost allows me to buy it again, that's value. Or I might love something so much that cost becomes less relevant; then again, that's value.

It's too early for me to say that I'd buy the Clifton's again. I wish one run would have been enough to make that decision. I do really love the feel and ride of the shoes. But the toe box is concerning. The cost is tough for me to swallow, particularly if durability is below par. These shoes are so close to perfect, but just not there. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Am I Having a Mid-Life Fitness Crisis?

I'm 37 years old today. I don't generally make a big deal about my birthday. My father's funeral was held on my birthday many years ago, and it's just a bittersweet date ever since then. However, 37 feels old. In fact, I told my wife I'm officially middle age now. And along with that feeling comes what I suppose is a bit of a mid-life crisis.

That crisis has manifested itself in the form of a pretty crazy fitness goal I'm setting for myself. This weekend I learned about the Ultraman Florida race, a sort of crazy combination of ultramarathoning and triathloning. This is a three day stage race consisting of a total of 6.2 miles of swimming, 261.4 miles of biking and 52.4 miles of running. Crazy, totally crazy. And I desperately want to do it! Or at least try to do it.

I'm 37 years old today. The race is held in mid February, so just before my birthday. That gives me three opportunities to take a shot at the race before my 40th birthday. And that's the goal, to complete the Ultraman Florida before (or on, if the dates worked out that way) my 40th birthday.

Now this is no normal race. You don't simply pay an entry fee and show up. You have to put together a resume of significant endurance accomplishments and then apply for entry into one of only 40 spots. So this goal offers no guarantees. There's no sure-fire way to make sure I achieve it. Just doing the training may not be enough. I might not even get the opportunity to try. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of reason I may not complete this goal. Yet, I'm making it a serious goal anyway.

I'm working on that resume. I have a 50 mile ultramarathon under my belt. I'll add an iron distance triathlon in October this year at the Great Floridian Triathlon. I'm also planning to run a 50k ultramarathon in April this year. And I'm planning on taking a shot at the 100 mile ultramarathon distance next year. Should all this go according to plan, perhaps I'll be able to apply for the 2017 race. And that leaves 2018 as a back-up year in case things don't go according to plan or I simply don't get accepted.

I also have to admit, this goal doesn't really fit with the "Cheaply Seeking Fitness" theme. Simply put, it ain't cheap. The entry fee is steep, hotels are needed for myself and race crew for several nights, time off of work comes with costs, and on and on. And the cost may ultimately be the factor that prevents me from completing this goal. But I'll cross that bridge once I'm ready to apply.

In the mean time, it's time to start training. It's time to get serious about endurance work. It's time to bike more. And it's time to really learn how to swim.

I'm 37 years old today. I'm getting old. It's time to get busy.

This is crazy.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Stunning Strava Skydive

So, I got my wife (and her brother and father) out for a skydive this weekend. Following the Skydive Ultra, I knew I had to get her to jump out of a plane once. After that, I'd be happy to be done with skydiving, or happy to do more if she wanted to.

Anyway, we went jumping this past weekend and had a blast. My second jump was even better than the first. It was still a tandem jump, but I got to take control. I started the initial jump out of the plane. I controlled the free fall turns and dives. I pulled the cord to deploy the canopy. And I took control of the steering toggles until just before landing. So cool.

But I also discovered something else cool. A new use for my Garmin 910XT GPS watch with heart rate monitor! The graphs below pulled from Strava show the elevation data on top (a clear rise into the sky in the plane and then the sudden drop) and a speed and heart rate graph on the bottom. Look at the heart rate explosion as we step out of the airplane!


I don't think this offers any value whatsoever from a fitness perspective, but it is a tremendous visual to have from my skydive. And I'm always happy to have another fun use for the Garmin watch. Even though I bought it used at a very good price (shortly after the 920XT was released and eBay was flooded with the old model,) it was still a very expensive piece of gear and not entirely compulsory.

If I have one spending weakness, it's technology. Whether it's a new phone (Android, of course), an interesting tablet or something to improve exercise; I'm drawn to it. Staying up on technology makes me feel younger. It's a weakness in my pursuit of fitness on the cheap. I've been mostly winning this battle, but the 910XT was a definite luxury. However, I continue to find new and interesting uses for the watch; each which makes the purchase feel a little less guilt-laden. And it truly is a marvelous device for dissecting my workouts; whether in the pool or ocean, on the bike, on the run, or even doing CrossFit.

So, I wasn't cheap when I bought the watch. But at least it offered one really cool visual when I hopped out of a perfectly good airplane!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ouch! That run sucked.

15 days after the Skydive Ultra, and I finally decided to get out for a moderately long run again. 12 miles, not a big deal. I've run dozens of 12 mile or longer runs over the past several months.  At least that's what I thought. And, boy, was I wrong.

I thought I had recovered well. Week one after Skydive, I did very little exercise. Swam a few hundred yards, ran a mile very slowly with my kids, took a short bike ride. Nothing intense and nothing long and tried to stay away from impact on the legs as much as possible. Week two I did add more exercise by returning to my regular swimming plan - about 5000 yards during the week - plus a few CrossFit WODs at low weight and controlled intensity and one nice and easy five mile trail run.

Saturday, two weeks after Skydive, I added added a little more intensity. A spirited bike ride to the gym, a CrossFIT WOD, and then a gentle ride home from the gym. It was hard work, but everything felt good, nothing broken. I thought I was mostly recovered.

12 Miles, But Really Only 11

So I decided it was time to go test out the running legs on Sunday. I've been itching to get out for a good run, and had been excited about it all week. But even the night before the run, things weren't right. Generally, I prepare the night before a long run to get out the door early. Clothes laid out, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich waiting in the fridge, running pack set up with water and any other needs I might have for the run. I prepared none of this, just didn't feel compelled to because, hey, it was just a 12 mile run. (Maybe completing my first ultra has left me a bit cocky about my running prowess?)

I wasn't inspired, but I got myself out the door in the morning. I expected some soreness still and was hoping that soreness would work itself loose over the miles. Well, the soreness was there, but it never let up. In fact, it only got worse throughout the run. The legs were dead - perhaps an effect of the bike-WOD-bike the day before - and the soreness was uncomfortable and then the pain began. Two spots, my left ankle and right knee. The ankle has been a recurring thing for a long time. Never really significant, but always present and uncomfortable after half a dozen miles or so. The knee discomfort had been coming off an on for some time, and wasn't a total surprise either. But both were intense on this day.

And then the glute pain kicked in...literally a pain in the butt. This pain had come on a few times in training for Skydive and about 30 miles into the race. It felt a lot like the soreness following a day of heavy squats. Pain from the outside of the hip joint along the outer buttock. Again, not horrible, but very uncomfortable.

And I struggled through the dead legs, the soreness and the pain until I got home 11 miles later having skipped out on a one mile extension for the run. I was much slower than expected and in far more pain, but it was done.

Not Recovered?

Now I sit here with a very sore bum and a knee that's unhappy when I walk. The run left me with a very nasty taste in my mouth. And I wonder if I came back too fast. Or perhaps the other exercises I've been doing, while low impact on the legs, were too intense too soon? Maybe I wasn't as recovered as I thought I was. Or possibly it was just a bad day and a bad run.

It could be any of those things, or some combination of them. And now I'm left wondering if I need to take more time off of running or do I push through and hope it was mostly just a bad day?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Impact of Weight

I've been pretty lucky so far. Over the past 12 months, while rapidly ramping up my triathlon and ultramarathon training, I've managed to stay injury free. This despite increasing my running volume from around 25 miles per week in late October to a high of nearly 70 miles per week in early January, far too fast by most conventional wisdom. But I've often wondered how close I've been to an injury, and how much my relatively high running weight increases the risk of injury.

When I started training for my first sprint triathlon last July, my weight was around 205 pounds at six feet tall, well above the ideal triathlete and runner weight. I figured I'd lose quite a bit of weight moving from exclusively CrossFit and strength training and eating lots of calories to much more endurance work. And I did lose weight...for a little while. I dropped to about 195 within a few weeks, but have since stuck there despite increasing endurance volume training for a half iron distance triathlon and then ultramarathon. It's been a bit perplexing that the weight loss didn't continue.

That being said, I don't have any strong desire to lose weight. I'm happy with my current body composition and am carrying more muscle than I ever have in my life, aesthetically a nice thing and helpful when I have to pick up a heavy box. Yet, I do wonder how much less stress I'd put on my body at a lower weight. And at the Skydive Ultra, my biggest limiter was incredibly sore feet. The soles of my feet were in agony by mile 28, when I switched from fairly minimalist shoes to high cushion Altra Olympus. That helped some, but I still dealt with tremendous discomfort the rest of the day. This seems like it's almost certainly a function of weight.

I Have A Problem

Umm...yeah. That's a nutella bacon sandwich.
The thing is, I love to eat and I love some decadent foods. Yes, food is fuel, but food is also a joy in life. I'll forgo some of that joy, but not all of it. In fact, much of the reason I exercise regularly is to be able to enjoy some of those decadent foods with less worry. Simply put, I'm not giving up some food luxuries just to get to an ideal running and triathlon weight.

But I am willing to improve my eating. I don't need to eat decadent foods with every meal. I can certainly eat less or eat better. I've already started this by moving my breakfast to a calorie-packed, but very nutritious, smoothly instead of any old junk I can find before heading out the door.

Will It Make Me Faster?

Another thought I have when I consider weight is would losing 10-15 pounds make me faster? I'm not delusional. I'm not a competitive triathlete and runner, and I never will be. I do these things for fun and to see how far I can push myself and as an example of healthy living for my children and always with the specter of my father's far too early death after living a life free of exercise. But being faster is fun and it is pushing myself a little farther. So I would like to be a bit faster. And I'm pretty sure some weight loss would definitely help my speed both in biking and running. It seems like a worthwhile goal, particularly if I am able to control the weight loss to be mostly fat loss and minimized muscle loss.

180 Pounds, Perhaps

So, I'm thinking the target is about 180 pounds. That's still well in excess of ideal racing weight, and I'm fine with that. Just those 10-15 pounds less being carried around for the thousands of miles I'll run and bike is almost certain to reduce my risk of injury, possibly significantly. Hopefully, that lower weight will allow my feet to be a little happier during ultra distance running. I will appreciate any small speed gains that weight loss brings. And I'll accept the bit of muscle and strength loss that comes with the reduced weight. Hopefully, those will be minimal if I keep up strength training and properly balance my nutrition.

Doing It On The Cheap

And this post really wouldn't be a Cheaply Seeking Fitness post if I didn't bring up the cost concern. Eating healthy can be expensive! For several months, my wife and I participated in a meal delivery service in order to try to eat healthier, but the cost was too much to swallow (and the food wasn't very good, either.) Since then, I do believe we've been eating relatively healthy, excluding a few indulgences such as Yasso Sea Salt Carmel bars and nutella bacon sandwiches and ordering sushi and thai food a bit too often. So, it seems just by cutting portion sizes slightly without any major changes to my diet otherwise will lead to both a bit of weight loss and saving a little money.

And it's time to get started. Nothing major, though. Just a little less on the plate at every meal. Perhaps drop a snack here or there. The tricky part is overcoming constant hunger. I'm always hungry when training. Even when I'm clearly eating at equilibrium, I feel hungry. I can only imagine how much hungrier I'll feel when at a small calorie deficit. It's time to find out.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Choosing a Fitness Regime - The Struggle Is Real!

So, one of my biggest struggles (other than trying to not spend too much money) in my pursuit of fitness is deciding between various different fitness regimes and sports. The problem isn't trying to find one that works well and I enjoy. No. The problem is I enjoy too many and am constantly struggling with determining which I would most like to pursue. And while cost is wildly different among the fitness pursuits I enjoy, cost is only one factor.

My current struggle is really a battle between three different regimes/sports: CrossFit, triathlon and ultramarathon running. Yeah, triathlon and running have a lot in common and I think I could do (and am doing) both at the same time. And yes, the strength and high intensity interval training of CrossFit almost certainly provides benefits to both other sports. In fact, I credit that strength training with my luck so far remaining injury free even while ramping up running distances at a much faster pace than the convention 10% rule suggests. But despite some of the overlap, time and money prevent me from pursuing all three at once.

Triathlon

The most expensive and most time consuming seems to be triathlon. The equipment list, especially now that I'm moving to long-course triathlon, feels almost endless: a bike that can cost many thousand dollars plus all the maintenance costs, wetsuit, goggles, trisuit, biking shoes, running shoes, swim coach, pool membership, running clothes, GPS watch and on and on and on. Plus race fees! Ironman branded races are absurdly expensive and why you're likely never to find me competing in one. Alright, you might find me at Ironman Wisconsin someday. Heading back to my alma mater in Madison to ride up Observatory Drive and run down State Street tweaks a heart string that may just call me there one day. And the time commitment is just as huge. Swimming endless laps in the pool, plus time to practice in open water. Running at least decent mileage. And biking and biking and biking. It's a massive commitment.

CrossFit

CrossFit comes in a close second on the cost scale. The monthly fee is nothing to sneeze at. And there's also a large equipment list here, although much less expensive than triathlon. But CrossFit offers two benefits that neither triathlon nor ultramarathon running can match. 1) It's pretty nice getting stronger and the aesthetics that go along with that. Growing up as the skinny kid, this is a huge draw to me. And 2) CrossFit has by far the smallest time commitment. Even if I attended daily, the time in the gym is dwarfed by triathlon training time and even ultramarathon training time.

Ultramarathon

Ultramarathoning is by far the cheapest of the three. Some shoes, a good pair of shorts and socks and a few other pieces of gear that last forever is really all that's needed. Yeah, the shoes need to be replaced often (I think I bought three pairs in a one month period during my highest training volume.) But good deals can always be found on shoes. The time commitment is still pretty huge. Long weekend runs can take hours. But the commitment is less than triathlon. The running, however, comes with one major drawback...injuries. I suspect with the running volume needed, injuries are almost a foregone conclusion at some point ranging from minor to very severe.

The problem for me is that I love all three. I'd love to be able to do all three at once. That's simply not a reality, though. The cost alone would drive me crazy, much less my wife. And I don't have the time. I do have a quite busy and stressful job...perhaps the reason exercise is so important to me. And spending time with my wife and children is of paramount importance in my life. That means the fitness pursuits must be compromised.

My plan

My plan is to use 2015 to try to decide what really captures me and where I want to focus. I have my first ultra under my belt for the year. And I think I'll run a 50K at the DTR Endurance Challenge in April to round out that experience. And for the next couple months, I'm going to be attending a CrossFit box regularly as long as possible. At some point, likely in April or May, that will come to an end when I turn my training to the Great Floridian Triathlon in October.

That should give me almost a full year of experiences to make some tough choices. And, perhaps, the real solution is just to keep doing what I'm doing and try to fit all three in. Or perhaps it's to focus on one until the interest in that one wanes and be happy I have to others to fall back on.

I think I'll also use this blog to explore these issues, and make it a series of blog posts. I'll explore cost difference in one post, culture difference in another and so on and so forth.

While the struggle is real, its a great problem to have.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New Bike Day!

Well, new bike day was actually a few weeks ago, but I've finally gotten out for a decent ride on my new (to me) bike. In proper Cheaply Seeking Fitness fashion, this was not a new bike nor even particularly newish. However, it was a massive upgrade over what I had been riding previously and still cost far more money than I wanted to spend.

The new bike: a 2005 Litespeed Saber size 55 with full Durace group set and loaded with other little upgrades that I purchased from a fellow Boca Raton Triathletes member.



Frankly, the biggest hesitation to my decision to race a full iron distance triathlon was the need to upgrade my bike. While my old 1980s Cannondale had been sufficient to get me through the MiamiMan Half Iron Triathlon, there was no way I was going to be able to ride that old steed for the 112 mile hilly course at the Great Floridian Triathlon in Clermont. But in November, I decided to suck it up and register for the race while it was at a super-discounted $250 entry fee and start looking for a great deal on a bike.
The old Cannondale

I researched and learned quite a bit about bikes. One of the first things I decided was that I didn't want a full carbon frame. It seems that, while these frames are all the vogue and super aerodynamic, their lifetimes can be a bit short. I wanted a frame that could last me as long as I wanted to race triathlons. That left either aluminum or titanium, and I was going to be fine with either. I'm not competitive and don't need bleeding edge technology. I just needed a comfortable, well-priced, efficient and long-lasting bike.

And with this Litespeed I think I've found it. At $700, it was still a great deal of money. But it checked all the boxes and was on the low end of even the used triathlon bike market. I'm very happy with my purchase.

Riding the Litespeed is a dream. The carbon fork dampens road bumps so well. It seems to fit me extremely well even before a professional fitting. But I do have a little more money to drop on the bike. First, I'll need to purchase shoes and pedals. I'll be looking for used, of course. Likely a set of Speedplay pedals. I also do need to bring the bike in for a fitting (not a cheap thing) and a full tune up. And before race day, I'll have to get a new set of tires and am thinking I might splurge with a used behind-the-seat water bottle set-up.

But this should be my single biggest outlay for anything fitness related. It's done and paid for, and now I can focus on being cheap again. Now it's time to train.