Friday, August 26, 2011

How the Altras Handled a Half

Too close to my most recent half marathon, I bought my first pair of zero-drop shoes made by Altra -- the Intuition. In theory, I knew they would be light and flexible enough for racewalking. (The brochure says they are designed for "toe off.") I wasn't sure they would have enough support for me to make it through an entire half marathon without killing my feet. (I've tried other lightweight shoes before and around mile 10 my feet were killing me!)

Zero drop means that the sole of the shoe is flat -- the heel and toes are the same distance off the ground. This pair is extremely flexible and is intended to encourage a natural foot motion. To learn more specifics about the shoe, read my July 31 blog post.

I was a little bit worried about blisters. The back of the shoe rubs a little along the top. In training walks, I felt a hot spot on the left foot and ended up with a small blister on my right foot. To be proactive, I applied Body Glide on my right foot and a Blister Blocker patch on my left. The Blister Blocker was pretty old, and didn't adhere quite right, but I didn't know for sure until after the race.

For the most part, these shoes performed great! It is difficult to walk in them if I am not attempting to racewalk. I could tell almost immediately if I wasn't using proper form and I was able to make adjustments before going too far "plodding" as opposed to "floating." (As if I ever really float!) I was especially amazed at how they performed on hills. They are so flexible, my feet seemed to roll with every step uphill. It felt like a very natural motion.

Going downhill was a little bit different. My feet seemed to slap the ground more than I would have liked. But that could have been more my fault than the shoes.

At about the eight-mile mark, I picked up the pace. As I approached the 10-mile mark, I started to get nervous. I could "feel" my feet a little bit, but there was no pain. As I continued, pushing when not going uphill, I felt OK.

But the test is often how you feel AFTER the race. I did not have blisters on either foot. I could still feel my feet, but I did not have pain or an overwhelming need to rip my shoes off. I would not have wanted to go much farther, though. More mileage would have started to get rough. My feet did feel much better when I finally put on my Croc sandals, but they always do. The next morning, my feet were sore when I first got out of bed, but that is pretty typical for me, too.

The main reason I need a little support is that my right ankle can be wobbly, causing my ankle bones to rub in a bad way. (I discovered this at mile 19 of my first marathon.) I did not feel any of that rubbing pain, though my ankle has been popping more than usual since finishing the half. 

So, in conclusion, the Altra Intuition is great for short-distance racewalking and is also pretty good for distances as long as a half marathon. Because I was proactive, I didn't get blisters. Because they are light, I felt the need to work harder to use racewalking form and did not plod as much as typical for me. It is possible that my feet hurt less because I was plodding less. Either way, it is a good thing. As long as there are no major negative changes to these shoes, I will most likely buy another pair.

NOTE: The Altra Intuition comes with two different insoles: Strengthen and Support. For obvious reasons, I have been using the Support insoles. They have a little bit of arch support and are a little bit stiffer. I am currently doing ankle-strengthening exercises. If my right ankle ends up no longer needing support, I will try the lighter strengthening insoles.

I had a pair of lightweight trainers I wore in the Country Music Half Marathon a few years back. By mile 10 my feet hurt so bad, I was miserable. I picked up the pace to finish as fast as possible just to get off my feet. Even walking back to the hotel was miserable. Since then, I have been a little more cautious about buying light shoes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Parkersburg Half Marathon Review

I love the color!
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon is one of my favorite races! Not only are the race fees very reasonable, but the entire town gets behind the race. The volunteers and the people in the town are friendly and welcoming.

For the $45 registration fee you get: pre-race pasta dinner, post-race pizza lunch, technical shirt, finisher medal, ice-cold wet towel at the finish line and awards for walkers. There was more than one water stop per mile (closer together near the finish line), Gatorade at many water stops and ice at many water stops! There were even wet sponges at two or three stops. The finish line offered cold bottles of water, soft drinks, fruit, Panera bagels and free massages.

Along the course, there were monitors to verify that the more than 140 walkers all walked the entire race. The walker bibs were a different color and we wore two bibs -- one on both the front and the back for easy identification. That makes the fact that awards are given to walkers much more meaningful.

Most of this course is very scenic. Walking through historic neighborhoods, or along the river, looking out over the hills of West Virginia, crossing bridges -- you almost forget that it is very hilly and sometimes pretty darn hot.

The flag was lowered as trumpets played the
National Anthem.
At the start of this year's race, a giant U.S. flag was lowered from the roof of a downtown building as trumpeters from the high school band played the National Anthem. It was beautiful!

The temps were in the high 60s and the day was expected to be sunny and a little bit warm.

Deb and I did a pretty good job of walking at a quick pace, averaging 14:20 to 14:30 per mile for the first eight miles. Around mile eight, Deb was slowing a little bit and I was ready to pick up the pace, so I went on ahead. Mile nine was 13:41 for me! From there I slowed with mile 10 14:07, 11 was 14:11 and mile 12 (with the huge hill) was 14:46. The last 1.1 miles I really tried to push, passing people left and right. It took 15:13, which ends up being a 13:49 pace. I love it when I have enough left at the end to really push!

I felt good the vast majority of the race until the hill between 11 and 12. It took me a couple of minutes to recover and catch my breath.

The temps got into the mid-80s, which is pretty hot for a hilly race. The ice was a wonderful addition to the water stops! Though I chewed a few pieces, most of it ended up in my hat. (How do you explain to your doctor that you got frostbite on the top of your head in the middle of August?)

One of my favorite parts of this race is, as you approach the finish line, there are people lining the streets cheering. It is great hearing the announcer say, "From Columbus, OH, one of our racewalkers, Cindi Leeman!" And the crowd goes wild! It makes you feel like an Olympic athlete! (I am sure they didn't quite go "wild," but there was cheering.)

Though the people on the street are really waiting for the parade that starts after the race, they are familiar with racewalking and do a great job of encouraging us back-of-the-packers to finish strong. It is a lot of fun!

There were just a couple of places where traffic could be an issue. The local police did a great job of stopping the cars for us. On two roads cars drove past us in the other lane, but because of the bike patrols and the traffic cops, I felt totally safe.

The only thing I would change about this race is the shirt. The shirts are offered in men's sizes only and even the smalls are too big for small women. In the overall scheme of things, that is not such a big deal.

So, if you are tired of the over-the-top costs of destination races that do not even acknowledge walkers, I would highly recommend trying this race. I can almost guarantee that you will come back.

For this race, I paid $45 for the entry fee, half the hotel room rate of $75 and $14 for gas. We bought no food until we stopped to pick up drinks on our way back home.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Great Idea! Saving Food for the Final Race Finishers

At the end of a long race, I want my bagel!
It happens to us walkers all of the time. We get to the finish line of a runner-dominated race, and there is nothing left -- no bagels, no water, not a banana to be found.

Though not having food by itself is frustrating, the attitude of the early finishers and the race directors is what is most frustrating. Often, complaining does nothing. It doesn't stop me from complaining, but it usually does no good.

Rather than re-hash a bad situation, I'm going to fast forward to 2011 to recognize a race doing something I think will be great!

In this month's email newsletter, the Columbus Marathon announced that new this year, "More, easier-to-carry finish line food  – we will have it packed in a bag for you!"

I'm sure many people read that and didn't think a thing about it. My first reaction was, "Wow! They listened!" If you are one of those you do not get the significance, let me explain. When there are just open tables of food, early finishers grab all of the good stuff, more than enough for one person sharing it with their non-racing friends and family, meaning the people at the back of the pack who actually paid to be in the race and need food get nothing. (I'm sorry. I am not going to re-hash.)

When finishers can go through the food line and just be handed a bag of food -- one of each item, enough for one person -- then there is plenty of food for everyone, and the people at the end of the race (who paid to be in the race) get food too!

My friends and I saw the success of this type of finish line food distribution at the Detroit FreePress Marathon. (Back when I was boycotting the Columbus Marathon.) We finished the race, entered the food line and each of us was handed a bag with a bagel and other goodies, we grabbed a bottle of  water, and then we moved to an area to rest. Somewhere along the food line, a volunteer put a mark on your race bib indicating you had received food and you could not get back in line. It worked great!

To some this will seem a little severe. What if you don't want a bagel, but you would rather have two bags of chips instead? And I hate to think about the number of volunteer hours that will be needed to make this work.

But measures like this ARE necessary if we want to have large races with people taking as long as 7 or 8 hours to finish. As long as you have 4-hour marathon finishers who see the TONS of food and think it won't matter if they take a couple of extra things for their friends, we need strict regulation of finish-line food.

I thank the Columbus Marathon for listening to those of us who take a little longer to finish! I really appreciate your trying to make a tough situation work for everyone. And I especially appreciate your putting such a positive spin on this new program. Thank you!

First you offer shirts in women's sizes and now you are working to make sure everyone gets food! It just keeps getting better and better!

PS: To the guy at last year's race who walked off with a BOX of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and ignored me when I said, "Someone behind you might like a doughnut, too" -- plans like this are because of you!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Week Before the Half

You gotta love a taper week!

Yesterday we stepped down our training miles to only 8. (I just LOVE saying I walked ONLY 8 miles.) Yep, this is the official taper week before the Parkersburg Half Marathon!

At 7 a.m. we started walking along the Alum Creek trail 4 miles out and back. We couldn't find enough mile markers to be accurate, and not one of the three of us has GPS, so we decided to walk straight out for 1 hour then turn around. We tend to be faster than a 15-min mile on most days, so it should work out that we walked a little farther than 8 miles.

The temps were perfect for a long-distance day! It was warm enough that we could wear shorts and a T-shirt, but chilly enough to keep us from getting over-heated. The skies were overcast and we even had some pretty light sprinkles that didn't last long.

At one point I asked Deb and Elaine if I was going too slow. (For some reason I was setting the pace that morning.) They both said no, I was going too fast. Though I had forgotten to wear my heart rate monitor, I wasn't breathing hard at all and I felt I was not working hard enough. What a nice switch for me!

With about 2 miles left to go, we joined up with the Buckeye Striders who started after us, and Elaine and I did pick up the pace a little bit. We ended up finishing the walk in about 58 min. Though I'm sure our faster pace did add to our faster than 2-hour finish time, I think the amount of time we spent waiting for one traffic light to turn green also had an impact. We crossed the road easier on our way back than we did on our way out.

It was a nice, early Saturday morning walk. We've trained harder than we typically do for a half marathon, and it will be very interesting to see how it affects next week's race.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Best Hill Workout!

Yesterday, I decided to do a more intense hill workout than typical. The hills at Sharon Woods are my closest option, plus the park is pretty.

The hills are within the first 2 miles of my usual starting point, but the rest of the loop is pretty flat. My plan was to walk 2 miles out, turn around and walk the 2 miles back for 4 miles of hills. However, when I got to the top of the last hill, I estimated I had walked only about 1.5 miles. Because my goal was to walk hills,  I just wasn't interested in walking an extra half mile with no hills. Here's where I made an easy decision, but it is a little bit hard to explain.

At the top of that last hill, I decided to turn around, repeat the last half mile of hills then go back to the 1.5-mile point. I turned around and went back to my starting point for a total of 4 miles. (I know it is confusing, but I can't figure out a clear way to explain this.)

The workout was great! The hills were challenging and today I even felt a little bit sore. A "you did a good workout the day before" sore. I thought I was ready for the Parkerburg Half Marathon before this, but after this hill workout, I feel even better.

NOTE: Sharon Woods doesn't have half-mile markers, just mile markers. When I got to the top of that last hill, I had walked 7:36 min past the mile marker. Though I walked the first mile in 14:30 and the last mile in 14:00, I decided to estimate that 7:36 was a half mile just to make my life easier. I'm sure I walked a little farther that 4 miles.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Tapering to "Only" 10 Miles

This weekend's 10-mile training walk was moved from Saturday to Sunday. Though Deb did 8 miles Saturday, she agreed to do 10 more with me on Sunday at Sharon Woods! Now that is a good training partner! (And part of the reason we do so many races together.)

It was humid and the air felt thick, but it was not as hot as it has been for the past few weeks. It was overcast and we thought that it might rain.

We started out at our goal pace of 14:30-mile and tried to maintain that the entire time. The pace was easy for us to maintain and we did a good job of it until the last mile or so. (On long slow days, we have no problem going slow.)

Less than a mile from our starting point, we saw a flock of wild turkeys! Unfortunately, I did not have a camera with me. There were 10 turkeys and it looked as if four of them were adults -- I think two were adult Toms. I had never seen turkeys at this park before -- in fact I have never seen wild turkeys before -- but Deb saw the flock on the other end of the park at least once prior to this. (For the record, each time we saw the turkeys, we slowed a little bit.)

After about 7-miles Deb ended up with a stitch in her side, and we slowed a little. We were not out to beat a speed record, and besides, she walked 8 miles the day before, so I had no problem slowing until the pain subsided.

Toward the end of our last lap at Sharon Woods, we had to decide which direction we would go to complete the last 2 miles -- toward the hills or toward the flat section we just finished. (Sharon Woods has a 3.8-mile loop.) Because we are preparing for Parkersburg, we decided to head toward the hills. In this direction, you go down a fairly steep hill, then at the 1-mile mark, you turn around and go back up that same steep hill. We felt great climbing back up! It was not nearly as difficult as these same hills earlier in the workout!

It didn't rain, but in those last two miles the sun came out. Though that would normally be a good thing, this day it just made the air thicker, muggier and the temps hotter. Thank goodness we were nearly done.

It was a good walk at a good pace! It was nice cutting back to "only" 10 miles. Next weekend we cut back to just 8. I am feeling very ready for Parkersburg!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Hills Again

Until after the Parkersburg Half Marathon, I have replaced speed workouts with hill workouts. Usually when I do hills with my walking friends, we do four repeats -- up one hill, down the other side, then turnaround to go back up the hill and down to the starting point.

The temps were a little milder today, making it much easier to do hills. In fact, I felt so good after the usual four repeats, I did an extra one!

After 12 miles Saturday and hills today, I know I am ready for Parkersburg! (Now if only I can figure out which shoes I'll wear.)