Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gear review Thursday!

This week for the gear review, I thought I'd venture into a world I'd previously scoffed at - running skirts.  I'm not sure why I never got into the whole skirt thing before, maybe because when I first started running it was couched in some kind of modesty terms, and I'm not someone who felt immodest in shorts or tights, so why did I need a skirt?  I did finally get a skirt when I ran the Skirt Chaser 5k, sponsored by Skirt Sports, but I was much less than impressed.  I got the skirt with my registration, and as far as I can tell, it's one of these Kick Start skirts, which, cute as it is, fit really oddly.  I had to exchange my size medium for a small on race day, and given that I probably weighed about 10lbs more than I do now, there's no way that skirt fits me.  I found the shorts didn't stay put, the waist was odd, it was just not a good fit for me.  So I swore off skirts.

However, I am in need of some warm weather bottoms, since I dropped a bit more weight and the stuff that fit me last summer isn't fitting quite as well right now (liner creep, ick), so when lululemon uploaded some SUPER cute running skirts last week, I bit the bullet and ordered two.  So this week I'm going to give you a comprehensive review of the Run: Pace Setter skirt.  Unfortunately, these sold out wicked fast from the website, but if you live near a lululemon store, you could probably still find one there.  They're pretty similar to the Run: Speed skirt, which also sold out wicked fast online, but I believe the rise is higher, and there are two tiers of ruffles in the back, rather than one.  With a warm 45 degree morning, I set out to do 5 miles of speedwork in my new snazzy skirt, and see how it performed.  To get a sense of sizing, I'm 5'7" and 135lbs.  I take a size 2 pants in most places, and I ordered this in a 4 from lululemon.  I would say this fits true to size as related to other lululemon items.

 First off, there is no denying how freaking adorable this skirt is.  I felt CUTE when I put it on, and while obviously looking cute isn't necessary in order to run, it definitely helps when you're tired and getting up in the early AM to head out there.
As you can see, it's a regular A line skirt in the front, but it's got two tiers of ruffles in the back.  This means you've got a nice full range of motion and you don't need to have any vents on the sides or anything.  I didn't find this rode up in the front at all during my run.  It's got a nice wide waistband, too, which helps to eliminate any muffin top that might potentially be an issue.  It also stayed put well and I didn't have to hitch it up at all.  There IS a drawstring if you find yourself between sizes and want to go with the larger one, but the drawstring on the black skirt is hard to undo when it's wet and sweaty (I've learned from experience from other items), so I'd try to avoid using it, or cut it to make it easier to tie and untie - it's a continuous drawstring the way it comes.
You can see that it's also a  bit longer in the back than in the front.  That's good because this baby is SHORT.  From middle top of the waistband to the hem in front, it measures 11.25", and 12.25" long in the back, again from middle top of the waistband to the hem. I didn't get a great picture of where they hit me, but I would say they're kind of a medium rise, sitting right above the hip bones, but still below the belly button. If you are not a fan of short skirts or shorts, this might not be the skirt for you.  I kind of can't picture doing a lot of running around town in this one, but it would probably be fine, since short shorts are pretty acceptable nowadays.  
 As for what's underneath, you can see that there are pretty short shorts underneath (3.25" from the middle seam to the hem, so in practice they're probably closer to 2.75" when you have them on).  Lululemon doesn't call them compression shorts, which is good because they're really not.  I actually think I'd like them a bit better if they WERE compression shorts, but they get the job done.  They've got some sticky plasticky rubber stuff along the hem to keep them in place, and I'll admit, I was pretty skeptical that it would work to keep them in place.  They seemed to him me in a really odd place, right where my thighs are widest, but they didn't really bother me at all when I ran in them.  If your thighs touch when you run, you might want to take a few laps around the store (at a real jog, not just a bouncing up and down motion) to see if they're going to make you chafe.  A little Body Glide, and perhaps hitching the shorts up or down might help.  I found they pretty much stayed put, and like I said, I was pleasantly surprised.
 For a little skirt, there are actually a fair number of pockets.  Lululemon has been putting two front pockets and one zippered back pocket on their Run: Speed shorts and Run: Energy shorts, and they've done the same here.  The front pockets are at the top of the waistband, between the layers of fabric, and though they're not zippered or secured shut, they're fairly large and I've never had a key bounce out of them or anything.  They're a nice size for a Gu or something similar, and I've even tucked my iPod Nano into one in a pinch.  The back zippered pocket is actually the perfect size for my iPod Nano (I've got one of the longer skinny ones, third generation, maybe?), but since the top I had on had a nice big zippered pocket in the back, I put my keys in the zippered pocket on the shorts today.

  Overall, I was pretty tickled with this skirt and definitely think this was a good purchase.  If the weather holds up, I'm considering wearing one for the 15 mile race I've got coming up next weekend.  I *did* find that there were a few fit differences between the two skirts that I got - one in black, one in lilac snow.  The lilac one seemed a bit higher in the rise, the fabric stiffer, and the shorts stretchier.  Overall I like the fit of the black one  better, but that's pretty typical for Lululemon - the black fabric they use for the Run: Speed shorts, etc, is pretty much perfect, the fabric they use for the colored and patterned ones, a bit less so.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New feature! Gear Review Thursday

I've wanted to start doing gear reviews for a while.  I run a fair amount, mostly outside and in a variety of weather conditions, and I definitely have opinions, so why not, right?  So this is the first in what will hopefully be a series of gear reviews based on my own experience with different running-related products.  If you've got something you'd like to see reviewed, let me know in the comments and I'll see if it's doable.

So first up in our series, Injinji Performance Series - Mini Crew Rainbow (CoolMax EcoMade).  Yup, that's right, we're tackling socks.  When I made my first trip to the running store with the hubby, he insisted that I pony up what I considered to be mega bucks for some fancy-schmancy running socks.  Newbie me thought this was stupid, but after many many miles run, he was absolutely right.  Socks are something you don't want to skimp on, just as you want to make sure you have the best shoes for your own particular feet.  When you figure that good socks will last you LONGER than your running shoes, and are all that's standing between you and the mother of all blisters, it's sort of a no-brainer that decent socks are worth the money.  At $14, the Mini Crew Rainbow socks are consistent with what I'd expect to pay for running socks.  I've been reading about Injinji for quite a while, usually with an "OMG, I would *never* wear those!" kind of reaction.  Because, if you haven't looked at the link, these are toe socks.  TOE SOCKS.  My only experience with toe socks has been receiving them as a gag gift, but after I read a couple of articles extolling the benefits of toe socks for blister prevention, I decided to take the plunge and get myself a pair.  I had a couple of bouts of blisters this summer that were so bad I'd do just about anything to avoid the again.  I bought these socks from REI and the size small is the right size for my size 8-8.5 feet (I wear a size 9 running shoe, in the interest of full disclosure).

Could they be more adorable?  When I tried them on last night, my children proclaimed them "weird" and the hubby said he couldn't believe I was going to try toe socks, and I'll admit, they felt a little weird to begin with, but I got used to them.  I decided to give them a try on my 4 mile tempo run this morning.  It was cold this morning, air temp of 5 degrees and a windchill of -4, and given that my toes were frozen, which is not a problem I usually have, I'm going to say that these are not great socks for cold temps.  Think of it like this - mittens keep your fingers warmer than gloves because your fingers can huddle together for warmth, rather than being kept separated in their own separate casings.  Same goes for socks.  I think these are probably fabulous for summer running, or at least above freezing temps, but I won't be going to them again for these super cold mornings.  I'll revisit these for another review once the weather warms up and see how they do outside of sub-arctic temps (ok, it's not really sub-arctic, but it's still a bit nippy out there!). I didn't notice the separate toes once I got going, however, and they really did fit pretty well, despite being sized for men.  I'm not sure how well these would fit someone with significantly smaller feet or shorter toes, however.  I also did find the places where the colors joined to be noticeable when I first started running, so someone with more sensitive feet might be bothered by that.  Again, I didn't notice it once I really got moving, though.

So, rounding up:
Good sizing (size small fit my size 8-8.5 feet well)
Comfy once I got going
Super cute (they come in other colors, too!)
Decent price point

Not good for cold weather
Joins where colors change might be annoying for some
Sizing might not work for those with shorter toes/smaller feet

Overall, I'd say they're worth a shot, though ideally it might be nice to be able to try them on first (just don't let how weird they feel deter you - you get used to them!).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The gym may be packed, but I've noticed fewer and fewer runners out there braving the cold.  And it really hasn't been THAT cold (though it's supposed to be freaking frigid tomorrow morning - we'll see if I wuss out and go to the gym or if I tough it out in the single digits).  I think it's the inevitable post-New Year's resolution breaking, because now I'm back to just me and the old guys who walk every morning, with the occasional sprinter blowing past me.  I didn't see anyone else out running when I did my 10 miles on Monday morning, and only a couple of the guys I usually see out walking.  Could have been that everyone was at home still crying into their pillow over the Steeler's loss in the Super Bowl.  Whatever it was, it's sometimes nice to have that much time *alone*.  A couple of years ago a friend gave me a hat that said "Marathon Mama: 26.2 miles of peace and quiet", and sometimes I think that that's a big reason that I run.  I get time alone when I can listen to whatever I want without one of my kids telling me they don't like it, or my husband turning it off as soon as I leave the room.  And it's time when I don't have to communicate with anyone beyond a "good morning" or a nod and wave as I go past.  That's not to say that I don't enjoy running with someone else on occasion - I've very much enjoyed when I've gotten to run with Speedy, and I enjoyed taking a couple of laps a few weeks back with a guy who was training for the Boston Marathon.  But overall, it's nice to just get to be quiet and to hear myself think.  Or not think.  There's something wonderful about not having to think about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Another long run done, and my highest mileage week to date!

Like the good girl that I am, I got up before dawn this morning to get my 14 mile long run done.  We had too much other stuff going on during the day to do it later, and it's so nice to have Sunday free as a full rest day.  I got up to the reservoir just as it was starting to get light, and good thing, too, since ALL the streetlights were out on one side.  It was a bit disconcerting,  but interesting to see just how much natural light there was around 6:30am.  I think the snow helped.  The run itself was uneventful, and only noteworthy because it was so pleasant.  As usual, the first three miles were pretty slow - between 10:55 and 10:40 - and after that the pace just kind of took off.  I spent at least 3-6 miles in the 10:35 range, and the last 3 miles, at least, were sub-10 minute miles for the most part.  I have no idea what this pattern means, but it seems to repeat with pretty much every long run.  Today's pace was only 1 second per mile off of last week's at 10:29.  Really, that's still a little fast according to the McMillan pace calculator, but it makes the 10:20 pace of the 4:30 full marathon group seem that much more doable.  Yes, I obviously know that there's a big difference between 14 miles and 26.2, and trust me, given how my last marathon went down, I know that for me, it's kind of up in the air what's going to happen after mile 15.  At the very least, I think I can pull out a decent pace for the 15 mile race I've got towards the end of the month.  I might try doing it at 4:20 marathon pace and see how that goes down.  If it's pretty easy, then I'll know that the 9:56 pace that a 4:20 marathon requires might be doable.  If it's wicked hard, then I'll know that a 4:20 finish isn't going to happen this time.

Today's run brings my weekly mileage total to 36.4 miles, my highest mileage week to date.  From now on out, every week that my mileage increases will be a new high.  Haakan's plan has me topping out at 50 mpw and doing not one, but TWO 22 mile runs.  One of those might get dropped if I get sick, or if the 20 milers are particularly horrendous, but we'll see.  I've been lucky so far in terms of illness, maybe my luck will hold.

I was disturbed this morning to find that my Garmin was apparently dead, even though it was fine last night as I was downloading all my runs and clearing it's full memory.  I stole Haakan's for my run, since I wasn't going to do 14 miles without anything to help me with my pace (yes, I rely too much on it, I'm sure there's something deep and existential in there), but I spend a lot of my run thinking about what I would do if I had to replace it, if I'd get something different instead or just try to get it fixed, etc.  Luckily, a friend online advised me to do a "hard reset" on it, and that worked!  So if your Garmin ever locks up or won't turn on, try a hard reset (and if you Google that, you'll find out there are a couple of ways to do that, and a "soft reset", too).

I'm thinking of doing some fit reviews of the running gear that I use all the time, is that anything that those who read this blog would be interested in seeing?  Let me know in the comments and I'll start doing a review with pictures maybe once a week.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Warm 10 miles and the never-ending pacing issues

I was supposed to do a temp run this morning, but I hate tempo runs and it was cold, so like a loser I opted to stay in bed.  I'll hope on the dreadmill after the hubby gets home this evening and maybe find a fun rerun on the DVR to watch while I try to burn up the track with my wicked tempo pace.  But I *did* get out to run 10 miles yesterday morning and it was absolutely gorgeous.  I really wasn't feeling it much when I got up, but it was like 40 degrees, and that kind of warmth in February is just too good to pass up.  With most of the rest of the country in the grips of the storm of the century, I felt a little guilty about the unexpected warm weather, but since we were up to our armpits in snow about this time last year, I didn't feel *that* bad.

The first few miles felt pretty slow to me, they were probably around 10:40 or so, but right about mile 3 I hooked up with a new running friend, we'll call her Speedy (since I don't know if she wants her identity disclosed in my blog), and did a lap or two with her.  She had a friend with her who turned around as I came up behind them, nudged Speedy, and said "Hey, it's your skinny friend with the cute clothes!"  The cute clothes comment I can get behind, as I've dropped some bucks at Lululemon on my running attire (hey, if I'm going to get up at 5am to run, I might as well look cute doing it, right?), but somehow I still can't picture myself as the skinny girl.  Too many years of being the fat girl, I guess.  I mean, I weigh 5lbs less than I did when I got pregnant with Charlie, and I wasn't exactly a large girl at the time, since that was after I'd done the big weight loss, but it's still hard to think of myself as the "skinny girl."  So I laughed and told them they'd made my day, and Speedy went on to tell me that a guy she runs with (he won't get a nom d'plume unless he appears in the blog a few times) had also commented to her that I keep a "great pace".  I immediately wondered what kind of crack he was smoking, since my blistering 10 to 10:30 pace is pretty unimpressive by many standards, but it still made me glow a little bit to get a compliment from someone who I know runs much faster than me.  We averaged between 9 and 9:30 for the laps I did with Speedy and her friend, and that little burst of speed was enough to get my speed up for the rest of my run, which I finished with an average of 10:03.

So this leaves me with a few questions about pacing.  I am running WAY too fast, according to the McMillan pace calculator, but I am consistently running at sub-10:30, and feeling good while doing it.  My last long run averaged about 10:24 (I think), which is well below what I should be averaging for a long run.  So am I running too fast, or have I gotten faster?  My next race is a 15 miler at the end of the month and I was going to try for an average pace of 10:20, but now Haakan is thinking that might be too slow and maybe I should go for something faster.  I'm oddly terrified by the idea of doing it faster, but I'm thinking around 10:00 will be my marathon pace, so why should that same pace scare me when it comes to a shorter distance?  Obviously I still have some issues.  I'm feeling pulled between the 4:20 and 4:30 pace groups, too, since I'm not sure what would be best.  I think I could probably finish somewhere between the two, but I guess I'll have to wait until I've got at least this 15 mile race out of the way to think about where I should be.  I've got a half marathon at the end of March, too, which I think will be particularly illuminating in terms of pacing.  I don't think I'll hit sub-2 hours, but I can hopefully get closer than I have been in the past!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I heart Florence + the Machine

There are those who would say that running with music is a crutch Haakan  and those who swear by it. I'm somewhere in between, I've done runs with tunes and runs without.  I did all my last marathon training with audiobooks, which was actually kind of fun.  But this morning, as it was pouring down rain and was potentially going to be icy, I ended up on the treadmill and I found that the tunes were key to keeping me going for 8 incredibly dull miles.  Haakan was a trooper and got the kids all ready to go about their various routines while I ran at home, and though we have a TV in the bedroom positioned right in front of the treadmill, I didn't use it this time since I didn't know which kids were going to come in and want to sit on the bed and talk endlessly to me while I ran (this do that a lot).  So I had NPR on for the first half of my run, and after hearing about riots in Egypt, healthcare policy in the US, and the condition of the local roads (not as bad as they'd thought they'd be, for once), I felt like I needed to change things up a bit, so into my new music I went.

I've thanked Florence + the Machine in the title of this post, but really, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Cee Lo Green, Gnarles Barkley (who is mostly Cee Lo Green), and Lady GaGa all share some of the credit here.  I've got to thank my friend Carrie for the recommendation of Florence + the Machine, what a great group.  I'm really enjoying the whole CD, but obviously "The Dog Days are Over" is a fabulous running song.  I also REALLY liked the visual of the video, with everyone popping into little puffs of confetti at the end.  I heard this at the very end of my run and I kept thinking about those little pops, like the 10ths of miles popping off as I finished them.  So, for your viewing pleasure: