Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Balance--Harrisburg; Part One

ORN:(Saturday)    11.6 miles, 2:04:45, R2/W1, 10:46/mile
An ongoing professional and personal interest of mine for the past decade is understanding the fundamental shift in business communication as a result of the Web.  This prompted me to start a blog in 2002, read a lot on the subject and to attempt to see the impact on my company. 
Central to this whole matter is a concept called "permission marketing".  Traditional marketing is called "interruption marketing."  You watch a TV program, a commercial interrupts the program, you watch the commercial, and then go back to the program.  It is so "normal" we've quit noticing the interruptions.  Permission marketing, on the other hand, asks you if you are interested in a good or service and asks "permission" to connect with you.  The Internet has enabled this in a whole new way; if you've ever done a Google search and noticed ads that seem to relate to your search on the sidebar, you've seen this.  If you've ever "opted in" for email updates from a company, you've participated. Blogs are a key part of this strategy, in the thinking that if regular folks talk about a product, it has more relevance than if marketers do.  Seth Godin is a prominent writer on the subject and has helped me understand it better.
I explain this to describe my interest when a digital marketing representative of New Balance of Harrisburg, PA emailed me a month ago.  Her offer was fascinating; if I'd post a link on my blog to their store, she'd send me a free pair of NB shoes to evaluate.  We corresponded a bit on the offer.  I explained I was a committed Brooks shoe guy and I have a high standard of running shoe stores, due to my excellent experience at Naperville Running Company.  I'd write just what I thought about the NB shoes, good or bad.  She said that was OK, so I agreed on the deal.  I posted the link on April 7, to her specs (thus the typo...they wanted it to say "mens" not "men's" ...all to do with search engine optimization ).  And I started my observation and evaluation.
The first problem was which shoes to request.  I know virtually nothing about NB shoes...the last pair of NB running shoes I wore was in South Africa in1980 for my first ever marathon.  My calves ached for 3 weeks after that race and I assume NBs are a lot better now.  So, I asked the rep to put me in contact with someone at their store who could recommend the best NB running shoe for me.  I gave her the data on my current Brooks Beast size, my age, height, mileage, overproation issues.  You tell me, I asked, which of your shoes would be best?
That was two weeks ago.
She tried to get someone from the shoe side of the store to respond.  No one did.  She asked me to email their sales folks with the same question.  I did.  No response.  Finally, she sent me the link to some NB USA shoe analysis pages for overpronators.  Figuring I was pretty much on my own, I set out to find the best shoe myself yesterday, with no real knowledge base.  It was a bit circuitous.  NB has lots of shoe models.  Lots of places sell NB shoes.  Reviews existed but not on all models.  I found a couple of pairs that seemed to mimic the Brooks Beast well.  But the Harrisburg store didn't have those models.  Round and round I went late Saturday afternoon, spending over an hour trying to settle on the right model, by myself.  My wife told me we had about 3 minutes until supper, and I decided I had spent enough time already.  
I ordered a pair of size 12 New Balance 1123 shoes and then sat down to delicious beef enchiladas. 
Their web site worked perfectly.  The coupon code the rep gave me worked perfectly.  I have a free pair of shoes coming my way this week, with a UPS tracking number arriving today.
Those you who know me will accurately predict "this all got me thinking".  Just what is important for a company selling running shoes?  Is it the shoe?  Or is it the contact, the advice, the service? 
Seth Godin makes the point, repeatedly, that the Web has made "commodities" out of almost anything we want to buy now.  I can do a Google Shopping search and find 20+ sources for the identical shoe.  If I am only shopping on the web, why would I choose one store over the other if not based on price?  To make yourself remarkable, to rise above mere "commodity", you have to do something the Web can't do...which is listen, respond and make a solution truly delightful for the end user.  
I entered into this agreement to see if this store could do this.  So far, no dice.  I have a pair of shoes coming my way I think ought to be OK, but I really don't know.  
Contrast this with a question I posed in this blog post last November...check out the very first comment.  The owner of Naperville Running Company somehow read my post, popped in, answered my question about shoes and offered to help me find a pair of discontinued Brooks Beasts.  He did, I ordered, I paid, I promote their store here.  I actually wore the pair he found in my long run yesterday.
Godin also points out with the ubiquity of the Web anyone can comment on customer service.  Very little happens in private.  
Like this post. 
Thanks for listening.  I'll keep you posted as the story continues.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Analysis of Illinois Marathon

Abraham Maslow was quite the original thinker when he began studying healthy rather than ill people to understand human psychology.  Why not look at things that are going right to learn? 
Runners are no different...we tend to beat ourselves up when races go badly or injuries strike.  I sure did here and here.  While such analysis is necessary, it is not sufficient to fully understand running well.
I've been thinking a lot about last weekend's Illinois Marathon report.  Those were the facts; but the bigger question to me is just why the race went well, easily the best of the 11 marathons I've finished so far.  What did I learn??  What do I repeat??  Might that be helpful to others??  Hang goes. 
Several things are clear to me and one fact perplexes me.   
Hydration is something I've been trying to get a handle on ever since bonking at Rocket City 18 months ago.  Best practice seemed to be to try to take in 20 oz of water per hour but I'd never really pulled that off.  This time, I came much closer. 
I started the day hydrated.  At my wife's birthday dinner out the night before the race, Gretchen looked oddly at me for a while, as I only drank ice water rather than my usual ice tea.  "Oh yeah, you're running tomorrow...I should have known," she smiled.  Driving to the race, I drank another 30 oz of water and felt properly hydrated at the start.  I carried with me two 10 oz bottles of water and, having practiced this (really), I focused on taking 2-3 swigs during every walk break.  While on the course, I simply refilled both bottles at water stops.
By so measuring, I drank 70 oz of water during the race.  Not quite the target, which would have been around 90 oz, but much closer than I've ever come.  This is in-flow...some of you are wondering about out-flow, I know.  I made pit stops at miles 6, 12 and 20.  Of more interest, though, was on the 2 hour drive home immediately following the race, I had 6 bananas, one apple, one chicken sandwich, 5 small chocolate chip cookies and 90 oz of water...and didn't need another pit stop until I got home. 
My conclusion?  Even on a cool, dry day, I was perspiring heavily, as I usually do.  With tech fabrics and a cool breeze, all the sweat evaporated, so I wasn't soaking wet.  But the crusty, salty residue was still noticeable on my face and legs.  So, the fluids were crucial, even on a cool day in April.
Less objectively, I clearly noticed how much better I felt along the way when I was drinking what seemed to be a LOT of water.  At one point around mile 17, I missed a shot to refill my bottles and had to wait a mile to the next water stop.  I felt dryer, I could tell the difference.  When I was regularly hydrating, though, I almost felt better "lubricated".  Hard to describe...but it was very real.
Calories.  Water is just part of the formula.  I also had one pack of Gu at bottom of each hour on the course.  This worked out to four Gu's during the race, as I skipped the one at 4:30.  On at least two occasions, I truly noticed the impact of the sugars about 10 minutes after slurping down the gel.  
Electrolytes.  The third leg on the milk-stool of this plan is replacing the minerals I was sweating out.  I took one Salt Stick at top of each hour, consuming four during the race.  This is designed to avoid the severe cramping I felt at Air Force marathon last year.  I had no hint of a cramp at all this time.  Most significantly, I've never had a marathon in which my feet didn't cramp up when I pulled off my shoes and socks after the race.  Never.  This time, I braced myself a bit when I changed to clean socks 30 minutes after finishing.  To my pleasure, it was just a changing of socks.  Not a single foot cramp at all.   
The other reason I like these three things together is that I can control them.  I'm not dependant on the particular Gatorade on the course or the presence or absence of Gel on the course.  I know I can count on clean water and that's all I need to make it work. 
So much for food and about training factors??  Three that seemed to work well.
Run 2 minutes/Walk 1 minute.  This ratio of run/walk seemed extreme to me, even after using it for over two years now.  I've never run a race at such a low ratio and hardly any training runs.   Yeesh, what a wimp, I say to myself, that seems really balky.  And no rhythm.  Dude, what are you up to?  
I tried it anyway.  To my utter amazement, it was a huge help.   I only skipped two walk breaks before the Mile 25 marker; the first break when the pack was still big and another one in mile 5 when I was in a fascinating conversation with another runner.  I started just feeling like I was on a series of off and on ramps on the freeway.  My watch sounded, I pulled off to the side to walk and swig some water.  The pack would move by me, I fell behind.  Then the timer would ring again and I was instantly folded back into the pack, gently passing folks who just passed me.  Each break was a refreshment.  Though mile 22 or so, I found that I had to work to slow my pace to my targeted 9:30..often I was at 9:00 or below.  
I suspect one other reason this felt so comfortable was that I had shifted all my training runs to 6/1 and 7/1 ratios in the four weeks ahead of the race, holding the run segments at 9:20 or so.  
Did it seem slow?  In a way, yes.  Was it worth missing the wall?  Yep.  And my overall time was only 5 minutes worse than the 3/1 ratio I ran in Memphis.  I have new respect for all that Jeff Galloway has promoted for so long. 
Making the world flat.  Well, the course anyway.  At Memphis, the severe camber of the course took a toll.  In this race, I consciously sought camber-less portions of the streets all the way. It helped.   
Dressing for Success.  The temp was about 37F at the start.  A lot of folks were overdressed, in tights, multiple layers and more.  Having run outdoors all winter, 37 felt balmy to me.  One throw-away sweatshirt jettisoned at mile 2 was all the extra I needed.  I pulled my long sleeve tech shirt off at mile 20 and finished in short sleeves (with the temp at 48F). temps).   
OK, all that stuff helped.  Here's one that perplexes me.
Lack of a long run.  As I mentioned in the race report, all this happened with a single 16 mile run, two weeks earlier as my longest run since Memphis Marathon in early December.  This confounds all conventional wisdom.   How did I enjoy a 26 mile run with no slow down with one long run 10 miles short of a marathon??  I don't recommend this, to myself or anyone else.  But why did it work?? 
Wow, this has gone on long.  And, as I've said before, this blog is often simply a vehicle for me to think out loud.  I hope it is helpful to some others as well. 
I welcome your reactions, questions, disagreements or other perplexings.  And, whatever else you do, do persevere. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Race Report: Illinois Marathon

ORN:  26.2 miles, 4:42:18, R2/W1, 10:53/mile
Quick Summary
How could a marathon have gone any better than this one??  The Illinois Marathon was it for me.  Close to home.  Perfect weather for running.  A big but not too big field.  Enthusiastic crowds.  Beat my target time by over six minutes.  No "wall." No injuries, blisters, twinges or pains.  The best experience ever in my 11 completed marathons.  If I could put this in a bottle and keep it, I sure would. 
The Details
Up at 4:30am and out the door by 5, I made the familiar drive to Campaign/Urbana enjoying the quiet and solitude after a too-hectic week at work, surrounded constantly by people.  The new wind farms I drove by under the nearly-full moon were a silent reminder of progress on the prairie.  My blogging pal Miranda had picked up my packet the night before...I met up with her on schedule and offered her encouragement in her quest to Boston-Qualify in the race (which she did!).  I then headed for a spot around mile 13 on the course, which I knew we would pass twice and stashed a small bag with some extras underneath a juniper bush in someone's yard.  Then, I headed back to the U of Illinois football stadium where the race finished and scored a sweet parking spot.  And it was still 90 minutes before the gun. 
I walked into the stadium and saw the finish line getting set up.  I ended up helping the timing chip guys by dragging a couple of heavy mats the full length of the football field so they could announce people before they came across the finish line at the 50.  Back in my car, I changed into my carefully selected shirts, donning my Marathon Maniac singlet for the first time.  The temperature, according to my trusty digital thermometer which goes to all races with me was 37F.  Great weather to run in.  I headed for the starting line and got in the grid with about 30 minutes to go.  9,000 people there, with 7,000 running the HM and 2,000 going for the marathon.
Since I had done no run longer than 16 miles since the Memphis Marathon in December and I was concerned as to just how this would go, I dialed back to a run walk ratio of running 2 minutes and walking 1.  I planned to do the run segments at a 9:34 pace, which would translate to a 10:53 pace overall, through mile 18.  Then, I planned to allow a slowing to a 10:06 run pace in the 2/1, which would yield a 4:49 marathon. 
The Race
The gun went off on time and we eased out for a 1.5 mile straightaway.  The crowd sorted itself out predictably and we were underway.  I managed to find a rhythm more quickly than normal and fell into a comfortable pace on the sunny and cool morning.  I tossed the throw-away sweatshirt I wore around mile 2 and, for the first time, was a Marathon Maniac actually running a marathon. 
The course was as flat as advertised and so we just ran and enjoyed the residential scenery.  I was really surprised by the number of local residents out to cheer.  By mile 5, I was 2+ minutes ahead of pace, so I just settled into cruise control   I was focusing on hydration, hoping to drink 20 oz of water per hour.  I was pretty close to that early on, creating some internal stress requiring me to find a porta-potty without a line.  Eventually, a city park provided some additional facilities and on we went.  By mile 10, I was 3 minutes ahead of my projected pace and felt fine. 
My 2/1 system created the expected "tag team" approach with other runners.  Most significantly was the rather large 4:45 pace group, numbering in the 40s early on.  Quite a phalanx of runners with a lot of chatter heading down the street, attracting a lot of cheers from the fans. 
The half-marathoners split off at mile 11 and we were down to the long-haulers.  I was still feeling fine and was surprised when I heard spectators saying "You're almost over the top of the hill!"  What hill??  Oh,yes, this is central Illinois.  There was a slight rise and we crested it at mile 13.  I declined the oxygen mask offered to me and kept moving.  By mile 15 I was still 3 minutes ahead of pace.  Around that time a young lady asked me what I was doing with the walking.  I explained and she asked if she could do the run/walk for a while.  We had a nice chat; her first marathon attempt, she was getting into new territory and her hip and quad was really giving her fits.  The walk breaks seemed to help.  Unfortunately, around mile 19, she faded at a water stop and I didn't see her again nor do I know if she finished. 
At mile 20, I was still 3 minutes ahead of pace and trying to pay attention to hydration, a Gu on the half hour and an electrolyte tablet at the top of the hour.  It seemed to be in balance.  I was getting warm as well, so I pulled the long sleeve tech shirt and left the short sleeve tech shirt plus singlet the rest of the way.  Amazingly, the miles just kept ticking off.  By mile 22 we were back near campus, preparing for a final loop to the stadium.  I still felt good and was keeping the same pace I started with.  The miles were still catching the 10:20 to 10:40 range.  Nothing hurt, I felt good and was still cracking jokes with spectators and fellow runners.  Wow, could this continue?? 
After passing the musicians from the International Music Center playing some percussive piece I could not categorize nor recognize, we got the Mile 25 marker.  The day was so nice, I felt so good, I decided to run the rest of the way.  And so I did.  The final direct approach to the stadium was in front of me.  I focused on form and kept moving smoothly, turning in my fastest mile of the day at 9:42. 
With lots of people lining the final 100 yards to the stadium, it was a rush to make the turn, go down the ramp, and onto the U of I football turf.  We ran the entire length of the field along the sideline and then turned under the opposite goalpost and came back to the finish line in the center of the field.  It was a cool ending. 
Post Race
My first clue on the goodness of the day came as I walked up the long flight of stairs
from the field to the concourse level to pick up my drop bag and get some food.  I was pretty pumped and walking normally up the steps.  All the other runners were in the usual post-marathon hobble, struggling with the steps.  I picked up some fruit and water and headed back to the car and realized I was walking normally, whistling, cracking jokes (still) with volunteers, high-fiving other runners.  Thinking back on other marathons and looking around me a little more closely made me realize this was unusual. 
I hopped in the car, called Gretchen, and headed home.  Dry clothes felt good, as did some hot food.  I got home in time for dinner with our three grandkids.  Amazingly, I was able to flop on the floor and build Duplo towers with them, just a few hours after a marathon. 
So, it was a wonderful day.  But why was it so good?  Why this race?  On such little mileage?  I've thought a lot about that and will offer some observations in my next post.  This is enough for now.  Thanks for listening and thanks for all I learn from each of you.
Happy Easter.  And persevere.  On the good days and the bad. 

Monday, April 06, 2009

Illinois Marathon this Saturday

ORN:  5.3 miles, R7/W1, 51:59, 9:49/mile, icy, pelting, snowy mix
Perhaps it will quit being exciting at some point in time, but, shoot, I sure enjoy race weeks.  This Saturday, it's the Illinois Marathon in Champaign/Urbana, two hours from home.  I enjoy the buildup, the contacts from the organizers, the planning, the packing, the anticipating.  I got my gear half-packed tonight, as a busy week at work is at hand (but hey, since when is a week at work NOT busy?). 
This will be my first 26.2 as a Marathon Maniac.  Looking forward to wearing my singlet for the first time.  I've had email contact with a couple of other MMs from the Chicago area who will be there.  There is a bit of pride that goes along with the shirt; hope I can do all the heavy-duty marathoners proud as well. 
One very funny thing arose when I looked closely at the course map.  For those of you who have never driven through central Illiniois, I must tell you the most striking feature of the area is the lack of striking features.  It is flat, flat, flat.  Great place to raise corn; one county just north of Champaign calls itself "The Buckle of the Corn Belt".  But flat.  Anyway, just below the course map is the usual elevation chart.  And, as usual, it had the expected sharp ups and downs, which surprised me.  Until I looked closely at the scale.  The maximum climb will be 85 feet between miles 9 and 13.  Yes, 85 vertigo-inducing, lung-busting, death-defying vertical feet spread evenly over four full miles.  My calves ache just thinking about it!  Yep, this is the midwest. 
Bloggers are also so helpful.  I could not get to Champaign on Friday night for packet pick up. Friday is both my wife's birthday and we have Good Friday services I want to be here for. So I emailed blogging buddy Miranda who happily agreed to pick up my stuff and get it to me early Saturday morning.  What a huge help...thanks, Mir!
The goal here is to see how I can do in a marathon with out a real long training run for a while.  I had more miles in March than I've had since August 2008, but no 20+ mile runs.  So, I plan to take it easy.  I'll do a 2/1 run/walk and hope to get home under 4:50, feeling good.  Focus on hydration and electrolytes, using the same plan I used in Memphis.  Will it work??  We'll find out. I'll post my quick results on Twitter/FB Saturday afternoon and perhaps more that night.  It'll be fun. 
And, to top it all off, I'm sitting here listening to the Cubs and is back.  All good.