Thursday, May 26, 2011

13th Annual Inside-Out Sports Classic Half Marathon: 2011 Race Report

Full Disclosure

Inside-Out Sports Classic Half Marathon and 10K logoThe 13th Annual Inside-Out Sports Classic Half Marathon was not a trail race, not technically.

Sure, the majority of the course leads runners along the Reedy Creek bridle trail in Umstead State Park. But, officially, IOS Classic is not a trail race. I'm telling you this in the interest of full disclosure so that you can decided now whether you care to read further.

The Motivation

This race served as a great excuse for me to run with Brother and Brother's Wife for the first time. The three of us have been tentatively planning to run a race together since early last year. And, the IOS Classic Half Marathon managed to meet all the criteria to make those plans a reality.

The criteria were simple, really:
  • The event date needed to jive with our schedules.
  • The race site needed to be located somewhere between the Triangle and Asheville.
  • The terrain needed to be suitable for runners used to running on roads.
  • It needed to be a half marathon, or thereabouts, to warrant the lengthy drive one of us would have to make.

The IOS Classic marked the second half marathon for me as well as for Brother and Brother's Wife. Their first was at Disney World last October. And, my first, as you know, was the Canal Race in Roanoke Rapids this past March.

It's also worth mentioning that the 12th Annual IOS Classic 10K was my first race ever, which I ran on May 16 last year. So, this was sort of an anniversary race for me.

My goal for this race was to run 13.1 miles faster than I did in my first half marathon. But, given that the IOS Classic course was a bit more hilly than the Canal Trail, I had low expectations.

The Race

Race morning arrived. And, the three of us woke up extra early in order to be ready to run at the 7:00 start time. It was a humid 60-something degrees as we waited among the other half marathoners. The race director said quite a lot of stuff through a bull horn, none of which we could understand.

As the 609 half marathon runners moved crossed the starting line at 7:01 am, I realized that we were pretty much in the back of the pack. I figured this was good, because it would ensure that I wouldn't start out too quickly.

Wrong. I nodded a "see-you-at-the-finish" to Brother and headed to the side of the road.

Starting out too slowly inspires one to sprint past the crowd, which messes up one's hope of maintaining even splits. I should have known this as I raced through the weeds beside the road in order to find a more agreeable pace. But, so be it. I still have a lot to learn about racing.

As my f-lite 230s touched the packed gravel of the Reedy Creek trail, I felt more at home on the crunchy terrain. A box turtle on the side of the trail made me laugh to myself, because I remember seeing a box turtle during the 10K last year along this stretch of the course. I wondered if it was the same one, a fan of the IOS Classic.

Aid station two/six surprised me with the familiar faces of Anthony and Shannon! I've never seen a familiar face during a race before. And, their presence actually gave me a bit of an energy boost on the way back. That may be due to the fact that I knew Shannon would be taking pictures.

Photo by Shannon. See her full set of images from the Inside-Out Sports Classic Half Marathon here.

Yadda, yadda, running, running...Oh, look, there are the lead speedy people on the way back. The turnaround must be near. It's just after this incline, right? I can hear the cheering.

Yep, there went the turnaround. I took a sip of Gatorade and marveled at the burning sweetness. Ugh!

More running. Passing. Amazed that I hadn't been bombarded by the ubiquitous Umstead flies yet. I imagined they loved this sort of event, like a moving breakfast buffet.

A gap between me and the faster people grew wider as we hit the last significant hill before aid station six. I pushed harder, focusing on a dude in a red shirt, hoping to catch him. (I didn't)

A race volunteer told me I had about three more miles to go. I looked at my watch and realized that I'd be lucky to beat my previous half marathon time much less finish in my secret fantasy goal time (not telling).
Me approaching the finish
Here's me approaching the finish, clearly cursing the time I just read on my watch. Thanks to Carolina Snapshot Sports Photography for posting this online.

I left the crushed gravel behind and turned onto the paved greenway where I spied, for the third time, a young mother with her son and a cow bell. She amazed me with her ability to travel to three different points during the race just to cheer on her husband. That took planning. And, seeing her there with her son made me think of my own family, which inspired me to pretend that I had a reason to show off.

Run faster now...

Thanks to the longest last mile ever, which was punctuated by a cruel hill just before the finish, I completed the race just under a minute over my previous half marathon time (1:39:xx for those keeping score at home). That figures. But, there were hills, dammit!

After removing my timing chip, I headed back along the course to cheer on Brother and Brother's Wife. They each finished in very respectable times. And, I was incredibly proud to be there with them. Then we went to Neomonde for a proper post-race pre-lunch.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

On the Merit of Reduced Shoes

Barefoot Running University's Jason Robillard posted a compelling article describing Merrell's successful foray into minimalist shoe manufacturing and marketing. Although I am an avid shoe-wearing runner who has yet to purchase his own pair of Merrell Trail gloves, I completely agree with the ideals Jason describes in this article. Merrel is clearly approaching minimal shoe manufacturing and marketing properly.

The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy left the following comment that made me think about my own shoe philosophy:
I wish more companies were like Merrell. Seems like a lot of minimal shoe companies are making shoes with popularity instead of function in mind. I'm seeing a lot of "transition" shoes, the concept of which is completely ridiculous. A shoe that will get you from one shoe to another? Way to invent a problem and then provide a solution shoe companies.

Apart from Merrell, I see the best new minimal shoes coming from startup companies. Altra, Skora, and ZEM will have the best shoes because they don’t have significant investment in a traditional product line.
A barefoot running purist will likely point out that shoes like the New Balance Minimus Trail are merely reduced shoes, not truly minimalist.

Merrell, Inov-8, New balance
Minimal is as minimal does.
Merrel Trail Glove, Inov-8 Road-X 233, NB Minimus Trail, NB Minimus Road
That's fine. I concede that, given its lack of heel elevation relative to the toe box, the Trail Glove is more minimal than the NB MT10. I'm even happy to say that the Minimus Trail should be called a "reduced" shoe rather than a minimal one.

Call the Minimus Trail a fancy slipper if you want. It's still really comfortable for me to wear while running on roads or trails. And, it brings me a couple millimeters closer to practicing better running form.

Moreover, the Minimus Trail's outsole somehow gives me an even greater sense of the ground beneath my feet than my softer f-lite 230s. And, that proprioceptive quality encourages me to add more barefoot training to my running routine in the future.

So, if it weren't for reduced shoes like the NB Minimus Trail in my closet, would I be interested in training barefoot in order to attain better running form? I don't think so.

Just like I'd love to convert to a vegan diet or build a sustainable house, barefoot running is an ideal that's not practically achieved all at once, at least for me. I need to take many steps (pun intended) toward better running form.

I like to pretend that my NB Minimus Trail shoes were made by a different company, not the same New Balance that markets those freakish Truebalance toning shoes. But, New Balance, that behemoth of a business, had the money, ambition, and resources to develop a shoe like the Minimus on a grand scale before the other major companies did. (Yeah, whatever, Nike Free)

And, while their Minimus team certainly made some compromises relative to the minimal ideal, they created a minimal-ish shoe that garnered more attention than offerings from true minimalist shoe companies like the ones mentioned in Barefoot Guy's comment quoted above. I don't see ads for Alta on the Runner's World website. But, the Minimus line is all over the place there. And, I believe, that attention helps redefine the concept of minimal shoes for the general public, makes "minimal running" more accessible.

So, if more curious runners are open to trying something like the Minimus Trail, a shoe that cushions the whole-hog approach to barefoot running, then more runners will get a comfortable sense of barefoot running. And, just as the Minimus Trail makes me feel more confident in the concept of running without shoes, I imagine it would do the same for many other runners out there.

Thus, there is a need for reduced shoes. They're important, because, as Jason mentions in the comment area of his article, they give "people who are generally scared to go zero drop", runners who don't want to put away their $120 stability shoes forever, a taste of how fun and beneficial proper running form can be.

While there are certainly poor decisions being made by some companies jumping on the natural-slash-minimalist-shoe bandwagon (I mean, this is a far cry from the Minimus Trail, don't you think?), we have tons of shoe analysts on the web to help the discerning runner sort through the marketing hype and find the right way to achieve better running form. And, that's the goal of barefoot running, right: Better form?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 :: Shoe Preview

Update: Check out my first-impressions review of the Mizuno Wave Universe 4 here >>

The Mizuno Wave Universe 4 is, according to the the RunningWarehouse blog and other online sources, slated for release this July. Here's a nice photo of the Universe 4, because that's why you'd be looking at this post anyway. I like it.

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 preview picture

Given my penchant for the fit and wider toe box of my previous Mizuno running shoes, especially the Ronin 2, I've been intrigued by the Mizuno Wave Universe ever since I transitioned to running in reduced shoes—"minimal shoes", if you prefer.

There are a handful of stellar reviews (such as this one or this one) touting the spacious toe box, low profile, and flexibility of the Universe 3. And, I would probably be doing most of my road runs in that shoe now if it weren't for one major flaw: I don't like pink.

Mizuno Wave Universe 3
Mizuno Universe 3 blurred: Looks pink to me
Mizuno Wave Universe 3
The Mizuno Universe 3

Sure, the Universe 3 looks red and white when standing still. But, add a little motion blur to mimic what it'd look like while running, and see what you get. So, I didn't want to spend around $100 for pink shoes. Thus, I've been really interested to know what the Universe 3's successor would look like.

[Roll your eyes at me if you will. This has nothing to do with perceived notions of masculinity. I just don't care for pink on me. Now, if the clearance prices for the Universe 3 are appealing enough once the Universe 4 is released...]

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 preview picture, bottomAnyway, back to the Universe 4. Here it is from the bottom so that you can get a good look at the outsole.

In correspondence with a Mizuno representative on the forum, we are told that, aside from obvious design modifications, the Universe 4 will feature the same "guts (midsole and outsole)" that won so many people over to the Universe 3. The weight remains at 3.8 oz for a US size 9.

So, with the new rock-n-roll-comic-book (my description) look of the Universe 4, I'll definitely give this shoe some serious thought when it's released in July. My Ronin 2s will be nearing retirement by that time. So, I'll need something low, yet cushioned, for those long runs on pavement.

I'd be surprised if the Universe 4 didn't retail for $120 due to the popularity of the Universe 3. Why lower the price if people are paying it, right? So, if that's the only price for it, I'll look for something else. But, RunningWarehouse has a talent for offering shoes at really good prices, don't they?

Lastly, here's someone else's personal picture of the Universe 4. I snagged this from the shoe forum. And, the person who posted it there didn't take the photo himself. So, if this is your photo, congrats on getting these before the rest of the running public!

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 preview picture, bottom

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why Another Fn Runner?

Q: Why the implied expletive? Why


For instance, there's the fact that I wouldn't blame anyone for rolling their eyes at the thought of another running blog on the internet. Because, really, what am I going to write about running that one of the other millions of running blogs hasn't already covered? So, the redundancy of the running blog concept plays into the site name.

But, there's a back story, too:

I was contemplating a name for this site one day while running along the Sycamore Trail. It was a sunny day. And, there were lots of people making use of the park.

I spotted another runner a few meters ahead of me and slowed my pace, because I didn't want to have to play leap frog with him. So, the gap between us grew. And, at some point, I heard a shout from a woman ahead proclaiming "runner!" to someone else. It was clear from the volume of her voice that she was alerting her fellow hikers that the runner ahead of me would be passing them.

When I arrived at this pack of hikers and needed to pass, the same woman shouted the alarm to the five-or-so hikers in line ahead of her.

But, this time, the tone in her voice was a little different. I detected a hint of annoyance. She wasn't just saying, "let the nice runner pass." She wanted to say, "another runner wants to get by us!" And, she would have meant it with disdain.

Yeah, I knew what she really wanted to say. She wanted to curse the runner, that effin' runner. She wouldn't mind watching him trip over a root as he ran by. That runner. Another effin' runner ruining the flow of her hike through Umstead.

Oh, I knew how she felt about runners. Oh yes. She was one of those people, the ones who think of runners as snooty little show offs.

According to her, runners get in the way when you want to make a right turn at the intersection.

Runners surprise you during walks in the neighborhood as they pass by, all smiling and breathlessly saying, "Good morning!"

Runners force you to be considerate with regard to the aggressive terrier you're unable to restrain for more than 10 seconds, because the animal never learned that it's not okay to bark at every living thing within a 30-foot radius.

The mere sight of a runner, to her, was a rude reminder that she should be getting outside and exercising more.

Yeah, I recognized the type. My insecurities wouldn't let me ignore what that hiker might have meant when she said "runner" in that tone.

I almost hated myself after thinking about the encounter long enough. What if I really was a nuisance to the majority of the public? What if I was being rude when I wanted to pass other people on the trail? What if runners really were a blight on society?

Fortunately, my tried and true weapon against self loathing was readily available: verbal irony. So, as quickly as those negative thoughts entered my head, I immediately found humor in them. And, was born.

It seemed like a good name at the time.


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