Friday, January 24, 2014

My feet are quite happy these days. I took a risk and it paid off.

At 45, I am often leery to fall for buying the cheapest shoes available. Over the past couple years being thrifty has not reaped any benefits but only caused pain in my feet, legs, and lower back. Now that it is time to ramp up the training, that means more time on the treadmill and on the beach. Being it is a new year I thought it a good time to purchase new shoes. Running shoes that are put to use aren't meant to last a year. It's 2014; change your shoes.

Sure I was eyeing the Nike Free's and the Nike Air's but the price just wasn't in the budget. My last pair of shoes were Adidas but a good pair of their running shoes was also out of my desired price range. As I switched the viewing order to start with the lowest priced shoes I soon stumbled upon the New Balance MR20 Minimus Running Shoes. They were ugly and just under $50.00. I ordered them.

Two days later they arrived at the door and I tried them on. They fit true to size and felt comfortable. The next day I went for a light run on the treadmill to break them in AND ALSO, to break in my stride wearing new shoes. These minimalist shoes can alter your stride and the New Balance MR20 do seem to influence one's stride when both walking and running. If you buy these shoes start slow so your body can adjust to the minor changes in your stride. That being said, I have not tripped wearing these shoes and after one day I was able to ramp up to put these shoes to the test during some intervals. They felt great with the treadmill at 9.0.

Comfort…these are comfortable shoes but they do demand socks. Breaking in the materials of these shoes is taking some time, which is a good thing in terms of durability. I have used these shoes on a treadmill and on the beach on both long easy runs and for intervals. They did well on both terrains at all speeds. I will not use these for road runs. Just the idea of running on asphalt or concrete with these shoes doesn't sit well with me. My lower back demands I run on a surface that isn't as jarring as a hard surface so I do not plan to use these for road running.

Looks…these shoes caused a little bit of a stir at the Cold Stroke Classic. They amused a few of my friends. They do not bode well with casual wear and you may get turned away from a hot club wearing them. They glow and sit low so your foot looks like it is being swallowed by a silver and neon yellow snake. P-shaw to the naysayers. I like they way they feel so I wear them often or at least as much as this winter weather will allow. They were perfect for Wrightsville Beach weather but maybe not so much for tooling around Maryland with all this snow on the ground.

I can't wait to break them in over the winter and get them comfy for sock-less running. I love the way they feel but they do rub bare skin in spots. However, these irritations were quite minor. I am not talking about the savage blister that encompasses your whole heel after wearing new shoes; these MR20s just rub a few raw spots on top of the foot by the big toe and near the front of the inside side of the heel on the underside of the foot. These issues were so minor that a pair of socks worn the next day took away any and all irritations.

I recommend these shoes for anyone trying to expand their lung capacity with some serious cross training before the ensuing SUP race season. The New Balance MR20s feel so good they inspire and when the snow melts I am hitting my favorite hill in Virginia's wine country for a few hard-charging sessions that will force the lungs to open wide for oxygen. Anyone care to join me?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cold Stroke Classic Recap

Is there a better place to SUP than Wrightsville Beach, N.C.? I had such a good time spending the week there with my wife and mongrels that it was awfully hard to get back in the car and head north on Monday. Lots of good training sessions: caught a few good waves on the 2014 Starboard Allstar provided by K-COAST Surf Shop in Ocean City, MD, paddled in and out of the (to me) dreaded inlet with no problem, built up some mileage on the prone paddleboard, and had fun doing intervals with Eli Mongrel on the beach. And then there was a race…

The WORST weather of the week was the day of the Cold Stroke Classic! Cold and windy. It was the windiest race I had ever participated in…by far. Such conditions do not make for a bad race because it was the first time I had pushed my body to its limits in quite a long time. The Cold Stroke is a great race to participate in because you find out where you stand, physically and mentally, well before race season truly gets under way. If you look at the calendar the 12 week mark for the Carolina Cup is February 1st. The Cold Stroke is a great litmus test and guide for where your training program should focus in preparation for the Cup. I have much preparation to do in 12 weeks!!

I had a great start or so I thought! My feet went from the sand right on top of the board like I had been practicing at the Strand Beach. However, when I went to paddle my blade would not hit the water. I had no idea why until I felt some tightness around my ankle and realized my paddle was tangled up in my leash. I HATE LEASHES (but I understand and appreciate their use…at times). After a few twisting tugs of desperation my leash came free and I was able to start paddling. As I made the turn to head north I still managed to have the lead. Halfway up the first leg Dan Gavere went by on my right and Ron Gossard went by on my left. This leg was pretty much downwind so I thought I could catch up to Ron and try to draft him but I wasn't ready to use up all my energy to do so. Bad choice on my part, sort of. 

When we turned left to the dead upwind leg with gusts of 30 knots I fell back from Ron and Dan. If I had expelled all of my energy to try and get to Ron's tail I would have been dead in the water going upwind. Upwind has always been my strong point but such was not the case at the Cold Stroke. This breeze stood me straight up at times and I did not have the strength or the wind to push through as well as I would have liked! Jeremy Whitted, who ended up winning the race, and a gentleman named Steve passed me going upwind and looked too strong to catch when doing so.

Then I got passed again…I wanted to stay in the top 5 and was not in the top 5 at the end of lap one. Things needed to change. On the downwind leg heading east from the ICW toward the Blockade Runner I knew this was the time to make some changes. The lead pack of four was nowhere in sight.

Before the race I had ripped the top off a Hammer Nutrition chocolate gel (which proved to be a valuable time saver) and stuck it in the top pocket of my SUPreme jacket, in case I needed it. I definitely needed it. I took the time to suck in the gel a bit at a time without losing too much momentum. I would paddle then take a gulp while I had some glide from a small bump. I also took off my gloves. Gloves were a necessity at the start but with all the work this race demanded I soon felt overdressed. Plus, to make up time I need to feel my paddle and get the best possible purchase to get after it for a while. The gel kicked in, the hands felt good, the electrolyte tablets in my Dakine hydration pack quenched my thirst and I was ready to work harder.

On the second lap everything was coming together. Feeling much better I was able to catch up and draft for fifth place. We switched off just before rounding the turn to head back west into the wind. Here, I saw the lead four. I really shortened up my stroke and tried to speed up my cadence. Most importantly, I prayed for strength to speed up the cadence! It had been a while since I saw the lead 4. I wanted to get to them.

For a while I felt like I was catching up to the lead pack! However, as time went on that reality was short lived. I did not take a great line heading west into the wind and by the time I made the left turn to head under the bridge over the ICW the top four were out of sight again.

Turning left to head east on the downwind leg they still weren't in sight. DANG! Them beasts were fast! REAL FAST!

Heading downwind I did something I swore not EVER to do in any race. I looked back. I saw that I had a comfortable lead to keep fifth but in the 14' class there is never a comfortable lead. You never know what can happen so I always want to look ahead and stay after it. I did not want to fall too far behind, time wise, from the lead pack. Oops, I guess you can't have everything you want!! 

I was super happy to grab 5th and stay in the top 5 until I saw my time. Yikes! Luuuuuucccccyyyyyy, we got some training to do!!

All in all the Cold Stroke was a great time! Had a fun dinner Friday night with all the boys in the Orange Mafia (SUP Annapolis crew) who came down for the race. On Saturday I really enjoyed hanging out with fellow racers. Ron and I talked strategy before the race about what line to take at the start. His strategy worked well throughout the whole race and Ron grabbed 2nd place with a blistering fast time. Cousin Neil grabbed first in the 3.5 mile race and Bryan Barton took second so Maryland represented well in North Carolina. 

Other highlights from the week: I enjoyed meeting Jason from Carolina Paddleboard Company and hanging around his shop talking shop. Seeing Barry Blackburn is always uplifting because it is just always good to be around good people. His daughter Anna won the Female 3.5 mile race which is AWESOME. She won first in her age group and first overall! Anna is a young lady to watch emerge in the SUP scene! Isn't it great to see the next generation work hard and get results!!?? It was nice to see John Beausang on the water after hearing about his shoulder issues!! Paddling the 2014 Starboard Allstar is just a pleasure. That board feels great in all conditions. The only reason that board was so far behind was due to operator error. Prone! I love going prone. I want a 10-6 custom JM Paddlebaord to go race in the ocean. I had such a good time feeling the beat down of laying down to paddle! Eli Mongrel is a great training partner for doing intervals on the beach. He will make you sprint. Feel free to borrow him any time you want to go running!

Remember, the 12-Week mark for the Carolina Cup is February 1!! Time to rest up and get ready to hit it hard!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Awful Re-Entry into the Anaerobic Zone

How are your intervals going?

Last week was the first time I tried to do intervals since the end of the 2013 race season. I thought I was going to vomit. I didn't get very far either before throwing in the Ke Nalu and opting for far easier movements. I quickly found out I was not ready to leave the aerobic training of moping along for paddling fast for any extended period of time. My intervals, I mean interval (singular) were bad, scary bad. I guess that should be expected but I was not prepared for how bad I was going to feel during the training session. I assumed I would have a difficult time lifting up the dog food due to sore arms the next day but during mile 1 (after a decent warm up) I was ready to nap. I did manage to get to mile 2 but I slowed way down and decided to change up the training program for the day. I felt frustrated having to give up on the plan I had set but it was necessary, very necessary.

For the rest of the session I worked on paddle switches then headed to the Strand Beach to work on starts. I had a bottle of water with Hammer hydration tablets waiting, which made the decision to give up in the intervals easier to swallow. I had fun working on a weakness (the paddle switches) and even more fun trying to get stronger at starts. By the end of the session I had: worked out how to hold the new 14' Starboard Allstar (dang I miss a 12-6!), where to place my hand on the paddle shaft during the run, and was able to land right on my feet when jumping into the deeper water. Fun stuff indeed, but it certainly wasn't intervals. I need to do intervals.

Intervals aren't the only problem…I'm having technological issues as well.

This past Saturday I tried to get out the GPS gear and see which paddle was best for a consistent pace. I have been going back and forth between an 8.5" blade and an 8" blade and have no idea what will work best. I also wanted to find my sweet-standing-spot on the new Starboard. Well, I couldn't see the numbers on my iPhone because my X-1 Audio case kept fogging up. I couldn't tape the case to the top of the bow because it was raining. I finally tied the case to the forward leash plug but had the fogging issue again and I kept almost falling as I was looking straight down and squinting the whole time. I tried wrapping the arm band around the bottom of my foot but there was the looking down squinting thing again. Then I wrapped the case around my thigh and I don't even want to begin to describe how stupid an idea this was…needless to say tech rehearsal did not go so well and I still have no idea which paddle is best. I am leaning towards the smaller blade due to the shoulder issues but I may have cut the shaft too short...

Tech issues were just the starting point of the weekend follies…

Today I had to veer off from my intended training program as well. Now that was really frustrating. Three frustrating workouts in a row can truly test one's patience.

I had plotted a 6.5 mile course that I would time at a moderate pace. My course was going to be 6.5 miles of side chop if I had stuck to it. I couldn't even put a dent in what I wanted to do today. The sun fooled me. The wind and the temperature were much meaner to the lack of neoprene worn today than expected. At least I had a leash on my ankle...

Despite some intense frustration and serious grinding of teeth, I did manage to sneak in one new technical aspect of paddling I learned from searching Youtube for paddling videos. Thanks to Carolina Paddleboard Company's Youtube channel, I was able to learn, from a talk Brian Szymanski gave at their shop, why the Starboard bow is shaped the way it is. I did not realize that the shape is intended to have moderate quartering chop roll under the board by putting more weight on the leeward rail. When done correctly, small waves roll under instead of wrapping over the nose. I had plenty of opportunity to work on this technique, which proved to be challenging yet very beneficial. I found paddling in side chop and applying this technique made for a much smoother paddle in some gusty winds and small waves. I was able to maintain a straighter line and feel much more comfortable as most ripples did go under the bow. Szymanski was speaking about the 2013 Allstar in the video but the weight on the leeward rail technique seemed to work well for me today on the 2014 Allstar, which has a much sharper nose. I did end up paddling pretty fast after falling in once (too much weight on the leeward rail) so I maybe I can count that as doing intervals today as well…

Here is the link to the talk at Carolina Paddleboard Company if you want some good insight into SUP design:

Back to technical issues…

I am so glad I put on all my gear before the morning of the Cold Stroke Classic. It took me a half hour to figure out how to put my hydration pack on without being all twisted and tangled in the straps and tubes. What a mess! They say never try anything new the day of a race but one should also try everything old well before a race to get used to the nuances of your bodies interaction with gear.

So…what does one take away from a few frustrating sessions on the water and in the kitchen with hydration packs? The old saying holds true: a bad day on the water is still a pretty dang good day.

I hate being frustrated because it certainly is a blessing to be able to get out on the water and go for a paddle. A poor performance might stir up a bit of anger but it should be fleeting. I may need another root canal from grinding my teeth so much this last week but that would be an expensive consequence for acting like a little sh!$burger. It's a paddle! It's a beautiful thing! I have plenty of gear to keep me comfortable when paddling in colder months so to go out in winter without enough neoprene is about as stupid as strapping a GPS to your thigh to read the numbers!!

I will chalk up the quick trip from "ahh, I'm paddling" to "GRRRR, I HATE THIS" to the winter doldrums and very cold toes. I will work on getting better at maintaining an even keel. This earth of ours can be a wonderful place thanks to all the beauty we, as paddlers, can see on her waterways. We are blessed to be able to grab our SUPs and hit the water and most of you do not need to be reminded of this. I am usually the grumpiest person on the water and I love being around all the positive people I have met on the paddling journey. Your smiles and attitudes remind me of why we do this, even when it hurts. And the hurt just makes me want to work harder, train harder, and live healthier.

I hope I wasn't too grumpy once I got off the water today. My lovely wife and my lovely mongrels certainly don't need to deal with that kind of nonsense! Can't wait for race season to get under way and be back among the brothers and sisters who love this amazing sport.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Little Bits of Goodness for the Winter

It seems the neighboring boatyard has installed a new wireless system that extends all the way to our temporary housing and we finally have some internet available to us. We have gone 4+ months without WiFi after our move to Maryland. In the technology based world we live in now WiFi is a must. One in need of a job cannot even walk into Barnes and Noble to fill out an application. All hiring is done through their online system. Wireless Internet has been the second most missed element of our lives, although someone else living here might claim it to be THE most missed. I find my heart yearns for one of the 8 cutting boards we still have in storage in Chicago.

Winter should be the "offseason" for paddlers according to every article written about training, or at least these cold months should be the time to take it easy and ease up on those muscles that were put to work throughout the race season. Personally, I wasn't feeling it. I felt good this fall and wanted to keep training but then I kooked out surfing my 12-6 in October and knocked some things out of whack in my right shoulder. Time off became mandatory and I took 6 full weeks off from the water. My doctor prescribed me a 15 day stint of Celebrex in December. (Isn't that arthritis medicine for old people????) The geriatric anti-inflammatories helped but the pain still comes around at the weirdest times…like when I plug in the power chord to this laptop I am currently typing on. That hurts. Putting on a compression shirt can ignite the pain. I held my hand out to stop my dog when playing on the beach and the pain when down the back of my arm to my elbow. I did not grab Eli; I karate-chopped the air to show him where to stop. That simple motion made my whole upper arm tingle. At least Eli stopped on command and sat down, which made the pain almost worthwhile!

Rather than go to Physical Therapy the doctor let me do my own. I found a great set of exercises online that are really helping. These exercises combined with the TRX movements geared toward strengthening the rotator cuff have been helping me get back out on the water nearly pain free. Paddling doesn't seem to hurt save for the occasional switching sides but I do not like a nagging anything so training sessions have been very boring and very low impact. I do highly recommend these exercises to anyone currently dealing with a nagging shoulder issue or to anyone wishing to take preventative steps as that "12 weeks to the Carolina Cup" is just a couple short weeks away. Here is the link to the exercises: Mind you, these steps are boring and at times frustrating but who wants shoulder pain?

Now that I am getting back on the water I feel my stroke is way off. I am not sore in any of the places that I should be. Time away from the water means a need to re-focus on proper technique. Here are links to Larry Cain's blog and his YouTube channel that provide some of the best coaching I have ever come across while scouring the internet for help. These drills will get your body inclined to the movements that will make you WANT to pull yourself past where you set your paddle. I spent a few minutes doing all of these drills in order and felt a difference when I went further out on the river to put in some mileage. And, I look forward to doing drills for a few more weeks. These definitely help! All the blog posts are excellent reading but my favorite with the drills is from July 20, 2013 titled "Some Useful Technique Drills for SUP":

Now to an issue that really hits close to home…bootie stink.

Back in 2003 I did an Outward Bound excursion in order to try to get my life together. At the end of the trip I had fallen in love with my hiking boots but soon found out that I probably wouldn't be able to keep them around due to the smell that had developed after 28 days in the woods. I thought that smell was bad but then I became a year-round paddler, who had to wear booties for 6 months out of the year, and only then discovered what a truly horrible smell could come from feet. My booties smell like tooth decay, as in the tooth decay that derives from serious neglect.  This kind of tooth decay makes one apologize to Dr. Heaton after his valiant attempt to save a tooth that eventually needs to be removed from the mouth. I'm talking some serious vibrations on the stink Richter Scale. But there is hope to reverse this adverse effect on the home life, especially when said home life is in very confined quarters…

After coming out of the woods I was headed to South Carolina to go visit my friend Daniel and his family. On the drive down, my hiking boots, double wrapped in Hefty garbage bags, stunk up my car. I didn't want to throw away my beloved foot protectors but I was also worried that Daniel would move me to a hotel if I brought my shoes anywhere near his property. I pulled over in a panic and found two bars of Dove soap leftover from a package I had purchased before leaving on my excursion. My green Dove soap smelled awesome so I stuffed them in the boots. Within an hour I no longer had to drive with all the windows down. Two days later I could take the boots out of the trash bags. This trick was not a temporary fix. I was able to use the boots for another year or two before the tread ripped off of one toe and they HAD to be thrown away. The 28 day smell went away completely thanks to the stuffing of soap down inside the boot.

The same holds true for DRY booties. Gracie and I drove to the beach and my booties had stunk up the back cab of my truck. Where we are living is pretty small so wetsuits and booties really do more damage than the two of us and two river-soaked mongrels. I can keep my booties inside the condo thanks to the green Dove soap stuffed inside the cavity of booties that are COMPLETELY DRY. Now, I can even pack my booties in the same bag as other wetsuit gear instead of tying a plastic grocery bag to one of the handles. {Although I almost 100% guarantee this to work I would never put booties in with a shirt I would wear after a paddle:)} If my booties can recover from use yours can too, but it may take a winter-long application. Try this and you will never forget to carry soap on a trip ever again…at least in winter months!

Winter is really getting on my nerves this year. I look forward to the Cold Stroke Classic for a well-needed SUP vacation. This year the whole family is headed to Wrightsville Beach so be on the lookout for Gracie and I getting pulled to and fro by the mongrels. Can't wait to see everybody down there in the balmy 50 and 60 degree weather!