Friday, June 21, 2013

I'll Take Rain Over Train Any Day

I'm racing on tomorrow (Saturday June 22) on the trails of William O'Brien State Park, a 10-ish mile trail race on rolling terrain right next to the Mississippi River. Last year, my come-from-behind racing strategy was pummeled by a freight train crossing the course, holding me up for over 2 minutes. I'm hoping that this year will be different, and putting faith in the words of several fellow runners, paraphrased as "I run there all the time, and I've NEVER seen a train!"

The forecast is for a stormy night and 50% chance of rain tomorrow, so it could be a mud-wallow. Still, I would definitely take pouring rain over a charging train any day of the week.

It's stop number 7 on the UMTR Trail Run Series Grand Prix circuit for 2013. I've managed to run all but one of the races so far this year. They have not updated the standings for awhile, so I'm not 100% sure of this but I think I'm leading the Grand Prix overall at this point. If my old legs will hold up for a few more months, maybe I'll have a shot at finishing at or near the top.

Good luck to everyone racing wherever you may be this weekend, or just living your running life.

We Have a Winner!

Congrats to Nicole B., who just won a free pair of TevaSphere trail running shoes by entering here on Notes on a Running Life.

Thanks everyone for playing, and stay tuned as I keep hunting for more opportunities like this one to share with you. In the meantime, I'm betting that you are still interested in the TevaSphere shoes, so I have a special deal for you. Readers of this blog can purchase TevaSphere shoes at a 15% discount by using this code at the point of checkout:


This offer is good until July 31, 2013, and is valid for 15% off the cost of one pair of shoes. If you'd like to buy more than one pair with the discount, you will need to purchase each in a separate transaction.

Happy Running to All!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Discount for Local Mud Race - Women Only

I've been contacted by the nice folks at Lozilu to help spread the word about their upcoming Women’s Mud Run in the Twin Cities on June 22nd, 2013. Read all about it below, and see the end of this post for a discount code that will save you 12 bucks on registration!

About LoziLu

Dirty has never been so fabulous! LoziLu is a filthy 5k festival bursting with obstacles, music, laughing, and mud! It’s the perfect girls’ day adventure for all fitness levels. A portion of the proceeds go to help young patients with cancer live happier lives.

This is not your typical 5k. Check your bag with the Valet, warm-up with our professional trainers, and browse the Fitness Farmer’s Market. Three on-course Party Oases keep you moving with fervor past 14 spectacular obstacles. After finishing, indulge at the Snack Drawer and strut the Red Carpet where our paparazzi capture dirty pictures you'll actually share! Cleanup at the Salon and be ready for an epic after-party. Whether you’re a first-timer, seasoned athlete, or casual gym-goer, you’ll love this day filled with friends, smiles, and a whole lot of filthy fun!

For more info or to register, please visit

Notes on a Running Life readers can save $12 on registration with this exclusive coupon code: TVFUJTE4H

Monday, June 10, 2013

Race Report: Sour Grapes Trail Half-marathon

I was back in the Brainerd, MN area over this past weekend to take part in the Sour Grapes Half-marathon Trail Race.
I ran this race last year, and enjoyed it despite the hot and humid conditions.

It was the first race in 2013 I'd be doing that I'd also completed in 2012, so a chance to measure the actual change in my fitness year-over-year. The results were about what I expected.

The weather conditions this year were much, much nicer: partly cloudy, temperatures rising from the high 50s to the mid-60s F, with a slight breeze. Because this spring - and I use that term loosely - has been wet, the sandy parts of the trail offered more weeds and more traction, so the course was in better shape. I ran similarly to last year, and had a couple of deja vu experiences, such as passing the exact same guy that I passed last year about about mile 4 - I swear.

There were some magical moments too. I remember running alone along a moist double-track trail in the deep woods, with streams of sunlight coming from above, punctuated by fluffy tufts of cottonwood trees floating down slowly - if I didn't look closely, I would have imagined it was snowing (AGAIN!).

I ran alone for a large portion of the race, from about 5.5 miles until almost mile 11 (except for passing several walkers from the concurrent 10.55k event). I finally caught and passed the lead female at that point. She was running strong, but one of her ankles was strapped into a rather heavy looking brace. She ran a strong race, I think she just ran out of steam. I know the feeling!

I was pleased that my Garmin 110 showed that my last mile was my fastest, with a pace in the 6:40s (not bad for a trail race). In the final results, I ended up finishing 2nd overall, and first in the 50-59 age group.

Last year: in heat and humidity I finished 3rd and ran 1:32:26.
This year: better conditions, I finished 2nd and ran 1:32:19.
Pretty close on first inspection, but honestly if the weather had been as good in 2012 as 2013, I would have run at least a minute faster. Still, that puts me only about 5-10 seconds per mile slower than last year, so maybe I'm not in such poor shape after all. Time will tell.

This was race number six in the UMTR Grand Prix, and I think I'm sitting in first place overall at this point. We'll see for certain when the series points standings are updated (hopefully soon).

One final note: I decided to build a bridge from this blog over to Twitter this week, so look for a short twitter fall to the right and feel free to follow if you are so inclined. Many times there are little tidbits of running information and wisdom that I'd like to share, but don't have the time to compose a blog entry. Let's see if a few tweets can help that. Onward and upward.

Found some photos posted on Facebook:

End of first lap, staying relaxed

End of lap two, bringing it home

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Gear Review: TevaSphere Speed (including a free giveaway)

It looks like Teva is making a push back into the running shoe game. As such, they’ve brought out the Shoe Geek in me and inspired me to write a review.

I owned a pair of Teva trail running sandals years ago. I think they were called “Wraptors”, and they were very comfortable and had great traction. They looked like this:

Running in them was great, that is until you got some tiny bit of flotsam or jetsam stuck between your foot and the insole - ouch! And then it was very hard to get those bits cleared away. I wore the sandals for camping and canoeing, but didn’t do a lot of running in them for that very reason. Still, it was a cool idea. Now Teva is back with more cool ideas, and a new line of trail shoes grouped under the name Tevasphere. Teva’s press release states “With a first-of-its-kind spherical heel and pod-arch system, the TevaSphere technology delivers a more natural point of impact, efficient transition and superior stability on varied terrain”.  

I had a chance to test-drive one of the new models recently (note: my shoes, and a few other cool goodies, were provided to me free of charge for the purpose of testing and sharing my thoughts. Other than that, I was not compensated or otherwise engaged by or for any company, and I have no affiliation with Teva or any other shoe company for that matter. This review represents my own viewpoint, period. Your results may vary, of course).

Company: Teva

Model: Tevasphere Speed

Conditions: I ran several miles in the shoes, mostly on narrow, packed dirt single-track but also across uneven, grassy fields. Some of the trails were pretty technical, with tight turns, sharp-angled ups and downs, rocks and roots. The trails varied between muddy and “Spring moist”, with a few juicy puddles. I also covered a couple sections of rough gravel, a number of wet boardwalks, and a handful of pavement crossings (including a half-mile-long section of pavement to connect trails).

What I really liked about these shoes:
  • The innovative “spherical heel” is great, especially on technical downhills. It’s rounded shape and relatively narrow profile made transitions smooth and natural, not unlike a minimalist shoe. And it never got wedged into a narrow space or bounced off the edge of some obstacle suddenly. I would say this was the best feature of the shoe.
  • Torsional rigidity - bear with me here, I know it sounds technical, and this might be a plus only for some of us. I’ve had problems with my plantar fascia when I’ve run in shoes that offer little resistance to twisting. If you take a shoe in your hands and try to twist it like you were wringing out a wet towel, some models will readily give (think minimalist shoes) while others won’t at all (think wooden plank). I’ve had best success with shoes that don’t twist in the midfoot area, and these fit that bill.
  • Lightweight and agile: the shoes feel fast even though they don’t necessarily look it out of the box.
  • The midsole and outsole are not too wide; that is, they are about the same width as the upper, so the shoe fits nicely between and among roots and rocks without causing stumbling - unlike many trail shoes that are all-too-often simply modifications of road models (with added traction and usually a really ugly upper). In my opinion, nimble trail runners almost never need the kind of “stable base” that many road shoes feature.
  • The toe box fit is roomy without feeling long or clumsy, nice on your sore toenails!
  • Traction was excellent on the surfaces I ran.
  • Firm arch support (this may not be considered a plus by everyone, but for those who like a firm feeling of support under the arch, they’ll get it here).
A few things that I liked a bit less:
  • The “throat” of the shoe is cut high and tight (this is the part that you put your foot into, and where the laces are tied). In addition, the tongue is short and tapered to become more narrow at the top end. On my first run, the shoes dug into the top of my foot on both sides, leading to blisters which burst and bled. Ugh. Hint: Don’t  lace ‘em all the way up and/or wear high-cut socks. When I did that, no more problems at all.
  • The shoes are a bit stiff - admittedly, some runners prefer shoes that are a bit on the stiff side. See my comments below about the benefits of stiffer trail shoes. The shoes may break in a bit over time, but I don't think they will ever be super-flexible.
  • There is a sizable hollowed out area under the mid-foot, between the “pod-arch” sections. This had a tendency to cake up with dirt, especially if I ran from a wet surface onto a dry one. At times, I was carrying a few extra ounces along with me. This was probably limited to the conditions on the surfaces I ran, and probably wouldn’t happen at all in dry conditions.
  • The pod-arch supports: I didn’t really notice them much when running (which is good, frankly), but then again I don’t need much help from my shoes with pronation or supination, so I’m not the best reviewer of that feature. To me, it was simply a non-issue.
  • The fit is fairly narrow and slightly long. I am testing a men’s size 11, which is my standard size, but I might have been able to get into a 10.5 … however, that extra length can be a toenail saver on courses with a lot of downhill, and (unlike a few other models I’ve tried over the years) that extra bit of length did not cause the shoe to seem clumsy or make me trip and fall on my face.
  • In terms of fit, the Tevasphere Speed most-closely resembles the old INOV-8 Flyroc 310, but the Speed is lighter and has a much less-clumsy feeling toe box.
Best for:

  • Low-volume feet 
  • Narrow and technical trails 
  • Rocks, sharp rocks, sticks, roots 
  • Tight turns  
  • Climbing - stiffer midsoles always perform better on steep uphills 
  • Technical downhills

  • Maybe not so great for:
    Mixing in some road running - the Tevasphere Speed feels a bit hard for the roads and sidewalks.It also sort of “clop-clops” along on pavement, like rubberized horseshoes (probably due to the support pods on the sides).

    Here’s the FREE SHOES Deal:
    Teva has generously provided an opportunity for my blog readers to win a free pair of TevaSphere Shoes. You can enter below, and by tweeting about this deal (which you can do once per day to increase your odds of winning). The giveaway contest begins now and ends June 21, 2013, so don't waste time - get your name into the hat now (you must enter via the Rafflecopter box directly below). One winner will be chosen at random from all entries. USA only, please.

    Monday, June 3, 2013

    Race Report: Chester Woods Trail Race

    I traveled south to the Rochester, MN area this past weekend to run the fifth race in the UMTR Trail Series, the Chester Woods 10 mile. It had been a stormy night, but only a few stray showers sprinkled the car on the way down, and by the time the race started the sun was shining. What a (non)spring we've been having here!

    The race director was an enthusiastic blur of motion, jumping around trying to keep three concurrent races organized (a 50k that had started earlier in the morning, a 5k, and our 10 mile race, all sharing some of the same trails and roads). For some inexplicable reason, the 5k started prior to the 10 mile, despite a published schedule indicating the opposite. This caused the 10 mile to begin about 25 minutes later than advertised (with no explanation or apology, which was a little weird, but then again trail racing is always a little weird). So much for timing my warm-up! Ah, but flexibility of attitude is hallmark of trail runners, right? The temperatures were climbing, the humidity was up, uh oh.

    Thankfully a little breeze kicked up and soon were off. The initial half-mile or so was on a pavement, and downhill. I was stumbling along in my usual slow-footed fashion, basically losing ground with every step to the fleet-footed youngsters (and frankly the fleet-footed oldsters too). I glanced at my GPS watch, and I was running 6:00 mile pace - way too fast for me, and I was still being dropped and left behind. Sigh.

    We got into a grassy, open field trail section, soaked by the overnight rains. Ah, that's better. But those faster runners ahead were still pulling away, and I was huffing and puffing along, hoping for some technical trails and that at least some of them would come back later.

    I tried to count heads, and I think I was sitting about 15th more or less when we hit the two mile mark - each mile was denoted with Burma-Shave styled signs (cute idea, but the signs were so tiny that I couldn't read them, ah well). We were back on pavement, and I wasn't so happy about that. But soon we hit a gravel road, and then finally at about 3.5 miles we entered the woods on a softer double-track trail. I finally started thinking I might catch somebody up ahead!

    The wet trails probably slowed our pace, but they were a blessing to me. I'm a tractor, as you know, not a speedster. With difficult terrain and poor footing, I start to have an advantage. This race had almost no technical sections at all, but it did have some wet rocky downhills, two or three small rivulet crossings, and a couple of Achilles-stretchingly-steep uphills. I used them to my advantage whenever I could, and by 5 miles I'd passed two runners. Looking ahead, there was a short line of 4 more guys struggling up a hill. I felt like I could catch them, so started to push the pace. In retrospect, it was a little too early to do so, but that's racing isn't it? Live and learn.

    It took me about 2 miles to get past all but one of them, and together we'd passed another runner, so I thought I was sitting in about 8th place at that point. Up and down a few more hills and I'd moved ahead one spot - but then mile 9 came up and my left calf started to cramp. Shoot.

    I slowed down and concentrated on good foot plant and ankle flexion. That kept the cramping to a minimum, but I kept feeling the twitches. A quick glance over my shoulder showed the runner behind me closing in, and he looked pretty young and eager. I was in trouble.

    Perhaps comically, I tried my best to lift my arms and really kick it in. I imagine I accelerated maybe 1% - or perhaps not even half of that. With my arms flailing around and my gulping for air, I must have been quite a sight. But I take solace in the words of George Sheehan, "If you want to win anything - a race, yourself, your life - you have to go a little berserk".

    Somehow, I held him off (he must have been tired too) and finished 7th on the day, winning the 50-59 age group (and if I can be allowed to crow a little bit, I beat all the guys in their 40s too). Happy day!

    The venue had nice restrooms and even warm showers. Great to get rinsed off completely after a very muddy and sandy race. I was pretty spent, and downed plenty of fluids and snacks at the finish.

    A very nice race at a great park. Kudos to the Race Director and everyone else who helped make it happen.  They clearly took pride in their work, and it showed.

    On to the next one in Brainerd next weekend: the Sour Grapes Half-Marathon. I don't think I'll run as well there as I did last year, but I'll do my best.