Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Active Spokes

I got a couple sets of Active Spokes in the mail today to test out. I realize I have been lagging on this blog and I need to keep it up. This is one item for sure I will need to post about, since I am sure many people are interested in hearing more.

These are weights placed on the spokes of a wheel, and help to generate more momentum and inertia on rolling courses, adding rolling momentum to the wheels. Interesting concepts, so we will have to see if it works as well as it sounds.

I also hope to soon update with other posts on the following products:

ISM Adamo saddle
Polar Power Meter
Look 986 mountain bike
Garmin Forerunner 305 continued
TP Massage kit

Look for some posts on these items over the course of the next few weeks.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Compression Socks

If you watched Kona online, on TV, or even saw photos, you noticed a big presence of compression socks at the event, especially among the elites. I was a little skeptical about these, but I am always one to embrace new ideas, technologies, and anything which may give me an advantage or help me go faster.

The need for compression socks became very clear to me in my Ironman Florida experiences. First, in leading up to the race my coach at the time, Peter Reid, warned me that I needed to wear shoes which would normally be a half-size too big, because I could expect my feet to swell during the race. Honestly, I never recalled my legs or feet swelling, and the pictures don't show it either, but apparently this may be an issue for some, especially if Peter Reid is suggesting it.

The other time was actually after arriving home from Ironman Florida and seeing my lower legs so swollen from the flight, I was literally SCARED! After it happened again, I ordered a pair and began wearing them on every flight for a race, or post-race. I have not had any swelling issues since during travels.

Joe Friel actually wrote a post on his blog about compression socks, and cited some research:

I was contacted during the off-season from a person associated with SLS Tri, to give their socks a "tri". They did not have any larges in stock, so he sent me a pair of mediums.

The first time I tried the socks was on a 2 hour run, in which I wasn't feeling great to begin with, (poor dinner choices the night before affecting my stomach), and the socks didn't provide any magical solution to that. Not fair to expect that of them though.

After the run, I was on the bike for 3.5 hours, and decided to continue wearing them for the ride. (They did nicely double as leg warmers!) I ran into the gentleman who sent me the socks, and he noticed the mediums were too small. The socks had started just below my knee, but during the run and ride they fell down to the top of the meaty part of my calf. I asked him if the larges would have a looser fit, and he explained no, the length is the only difference, not the width of the socks. This was good to hear.

The socks actually felt great on the ride, and I was really beginning to wonder if they were good for the bike ride too? I since learned that Popovich was wearing some last year, but was getting in trouble with the UCI for wearing them in competition. Not sure why, but the UCI is weird.

I gave the socks another try on a run, and tried to focus on the claim of the company, "Compression mechanics strengthen and stabilize muscles, tendons, joints, and help recovery." As I understood this statement, it says the socks will provide support during running. So I thought about this while I ran, and I seemed to go back and forth between thinking they support my lower leg, and that they also restrict it. Honestly, it all depended on how I was feeling at the moment. If my legs felt light and the pace was quick and easy, I felt the socks helped support me. When I felt sluggish and slow, the socks were easy to blame and think they restricted me.

Certainly, the compression seems to be a hindrance in the ankle joint movement, but really not much.

The company cites some research at their site, but the one issue is that the research they use to proclaim the benefits of their product with, is actually for compression of the forearms, not the lower legs.

It seems next to impossible to fully provide data which will say the socks make a difference in performance, if worn in the race. I even wondered how many seconds would be lost due to the time required to put them on, but with a little bit of practice I seemed to have them on fairly quickly.

I certainly believe compression socks are an invaluable recovery tool though.

With this, I will ask and answer the 4 big questions:

1. What need does this product serve?
The need it definitely serves is in recovery, be it from travels, or just for day to day training. If you work at a desk all day, or on your feet all day, and notice any swelling of the lower leg, this product certainly will help your need for better recovery and blood flow.

The need it tries to serve is in performance. The verdict is still out on this, and I will continue to experiment with the socks before I give a judgement one way or the other. I think having a pair that is the right size would help.

2. How well does the product do what it says it does?
The compression socks definitely provide excellent compression, making them great for recovery. Whether or not this product helps in race performance still requires more research, as well as more anecdotal evidence. (The main anecdotes that matter to me are coming from me!)

3. What is the cost-benefit value of this product? (For what the product does, is it worth the cost?)
The socks I tried retail at $57.95. If you're having swelling issues, either during training, or from being on your feet or at a desk all day, these will certainly be worth the cost.

4. How could this product be improved?
I am unsure about improvements, and don't feel I've made an accurate assessment on it yet, since I probably need a size L, instead of the mediums. I am pleased to see the company offers a regular sock, a cooling sock, and UV protection sock. This is a good start.

Hope this helps, and feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.

Jim Vance

Monday, January 28, 2008

More on the Garmin elevation correction and WKO+

In my last blog post, I talked about the elevation profile issues with the Garmin 305, but how it can be corrected with WKO+ software. I didn't go into how to do this exactly, because I figured the people at Peaksware would describe it well on their blog, and sure enough, THEY DID!

You can read about the procedure to fix your elevation profile for your run, step-by-step, with pictures to illustrate the process.



Sunday, January 13, 2008

Garmin 305 Continued

In my last post, I mentioned how the Garmin 305 Forerunner GPS isn't a perfect tool, but any flaws it has can be accounted for. Here is where I want to discuss them.

The biggest inaccuracies of the 305 is the altitude/elevation profile information. However, it seems to be better when your runs are not completed along the ocean. For some reason, all my runs along the coast end up with excessive errors, claiming I have climbed a few thousand feet in 10K. Clearly, I barely left sea level.

If you're using the new Training Peaks WKO+ software to monitor your running, with rTSS, NGP and IF, you are in luck! You can actually correct the elevation profile of your Garmin 305 files, to get the right data.

How does it do this? WKO+ takes the coordinates of your run, and connects to a database of your choice, (I like the USGS website), to get the exact profile of the run you completed. This becomes very important, because a profile which says you are running more up and down than you are will give you a Normalized Graded Pace which is faster than you actually did. This in turn affects all your other calculations, such as run Training Stress Score, and Intensity Factor.

Just how much of a difference does it make? Here's an example from my run, a 10K loop around the bay and on the ocean, mostly at sea level...

Duration: 45:23

Data from Garmin before correction of elevation profile:

rTSS: 83.8
IF: 1.026
NGP: 6:32
Elevation Gain: 1917 ft
Elevation Loss: 1879 ft
Grade: 0.1 %

Data after correction of elevation profile in WKO+:

rTSS: 77.7
IF: 0.967
NGP: 6:47
Elevation Gain: 255 ft
Elevation Loss: 259 ft
Grade: -0.0 % (-3 ft)

When we examine the data above with more detail, we can see a difference of nearly 1700 ft in elevation profile alone! IN ONLY 10K! This counted for a difference in my intensity factor at the time as being above threshold pace, or below it! That made a difference of 7.3% in Training Stress Score, or in other words, the measured affect of the workout on my body was 7.3% lower than what it said. That's a pretty significant difference in stress on the body!

As I said, the problem seems to be more exacerbated near the ocean, and as I go inland it seems to get better. However, I have not tested this theory, and certainly haven't seen if it is any better or worse at significant altitudes.

So this one example how the Garmin 305 as a training tool is not perfect, but it's inaccuracies can be accounted for.

Next time I will discuss the accuracy of the 305's distance measuring.


Monday, January 7, 2008

Garmin 305 Forerunner

One of the coolest products I use in my training is the Garmin 305 Forerunner. Honestly, used with the new WKO+ software, you can be more in touch with your fitness and race-preparedness than ever before! And I'm saying this as a runner of over 16 years, who has competed at the NCAA Championships, and some of the biggest races in the world.

This item will really help you to understand better what your economy is, by showing you the relationship between your pace and your heartrate, much like a cyclist uses power and heartrate. If you pay attention to my coaching blog, I will be discussing the importance of this feature, and how it works to keep your training precise and maximize your training time.

The features included in this GPS system include:
  • Current and average pace
  • Lap recording with lap pace, auto lap recording by distance, (every mile or km), or a lap point on a course
  • Distance, with alerts for every mile or km
  • Heartrate zone settings, with alerts to keep you in the zones you want to be in
  • Elevation, with total ascent and descent per lap and throughout the workout
  • For cyclists, it records speed, and will even give cadence with some additional hardware
Is the Garmin 305 a perfect tool? No, of course not. But it is the best tool out there for running, and even it's imperfections can be accounted for, and even while it isn't 100% accurate, it is very consistent!

If you're considering getting one, you can order it here for under $200! (One of the best prices I've seen!):
Garmin 305 Forerunner

In the coming weeks I will discuss the 305, and how to maximize this tool for your training.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Zoot Shoes Part 3 - Drainage

In part 3 of this review, we'll review the drainage feature of the new Zoot shoes.

Most everyone has run in shoes in wet conditions, and dealt with the feeling of bricks for feet from water weight. Certainly, the longer you have to run in these conditions, the worse it is. Some people have high enough sweat rates to deal with this issue even when the weather isn't wet! (Put me on that list, especially on long runs, made even worse in hotter conditions.)

Studies have shown the average shoe can retain more than 30% of its weight when wet! Take a racing shoe which is 9 ounces, and in wet conditions it becomes 12 ounces. This equates to every 5 steps lifting an additional pound of weight. If you are wearing cotton socks, you’re talking about a nearly 50% gain in weight due to water retention, and it’s down to 3 steps for an additional pound. Multiply this by the number of steps you have to take in a half or full Ironman, and you’re suddenly considering chopping off your feet.

Of course this may sound helpful in a rainy triathlon, but it's not very often we find ourselves in one of those. But let's just consider full and half-Ironman races. Even if it's not raining from the sky, if it's hot or hydration is a big need, you will be pouring water all over yourself. Where does all that water go if not into your mouth? That's right, it drains to your feet. If it's raining, hot or even perfect temps, your feet will get wet from water and sweat, and that means you will be dealing with heavier feet for anywhere from 5-20 miles, maybe longer!

And how many people can stand to wear a light weight racing flat in an Ironman or half-Ironman? Not many, so your shoes are probably heavier than the 9 oz example given above.

Think about XTERRA races, and how many of them end up going thru mud, or running along the beach at Maui.

Or consider an Olympic distance race in hot conditions. Even though these races are shorter, the intensity demands are much higher, and if your feet get wet, you slow down, without fail. In fact, in a recent Men’s Health online article, they state Zoot claims the shoes will make a 40 sec improvement in a 10K due to sweat and water drainage alone. (The author could not find this stated anywhere else, nor find what speed of runner could expect this size gain.)

Alright, water in the shoes sucks, we've established that. Are the Zoot shoes waterproof or something? No, not exactly. The Zoot shoes have established a smart drainage system though.

First off, the upper is a mesh, which doesn’t absorb water. It’s thin and breathable, allowing for water to pass thru it quickly and easily, as well as have sweat able to evaporate from the foot easier.

See the mesh-like upper?

The insert of the shoe has many small holes to create a vent-like passage for the water.

The inserts of the shoe aid in the drainage process.

The shoe also has a downward tilt of the sole, letting gravity pull the water toward the toe box, where it drains out thru the series of holes in the forefoot.

Notice the tilt of the shoe? This produces a gravity flow of water toward the forefoot.

Holes in the forefoot provide simple exits for the water.

Ok, so now we see what the shoe is designed to do, but how does it do in the field? Well, I never noticed weight as an issue with the shoe, and that is the point. Even at Kona, when I wore a thin ActiveFit sock from Zoot, the shoe drained plenty fine in the hot conditions, and orthotics didn’t slow the drainage process.

I am a profuse sweater, and during all my training runs, I never felt sluggish in my feet, like I’ve felt in the past with my trainers. Nor do I have the squishy, squeaking noise from the water and sweat in my shoes.

So are there any negatives? Well, if you wear the shoes regularly, you'll notice the holes in the forefoot are not one-way. By this, I mean water can go in the holes just as easy as it can go out. In a race though, it won't matter, and water exits easily still.

Zoot has done well with the drainage system, and the further your race distance, the more important this feature becomes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The new Zoot shoes - Part 2

In part 2 of this assessment of the new Zoot shoes, I am going to discuss feature #1, "Sockless Wear," and see how successful Zoot is with this feature.

The idea of sockless wear is nothing new, and is practiced by many already, but many a triathlete has experienced the negative consequences of such a choice in a race or training. Bloody, mangled feet, limping down the home stretch, a DNF or even possibly pain for weeks depending on the severity, are just some of the issues one might face if running without socks in a race.

What makes sockless wear so important? Well, speed of course! It's certainly faster to eliminate the process of putting on socks during a transition. How much faster depends on the overall dexterity of the athlete, but a fair estimation would be 20 to 30 seconds.

So how much value does 20 to 30 seconds have? This again returns to the basic premise of being relative to the dexterity and ability, but also in this case the length of the race. Obviously, if you're an athlete competing for a podium spot at the USAT Nationals, then 20 to 30 seconds can mean the difference between top of the podium and not even being on it.

This doesn't even take into consideration what a blister can do to your time, or better yet, what a lack of blisters can mean for your overall time! Certainly limping in the final mile of a 10K will be slower than turning on the jets and really getting after it, pain free.

Certainly, the more competitive you are, the more important this feature is to you. If you've ever lost a race by a few seconds, or missed a Kona slot by the same, you certainly would appreciate anything which could help give you back those precious few seconds. There are also plenty of people who just don't like to wear socks in a race, whether they need the seconds or not.

Ok, so now you've determined what the value of this "sockless wear" feature means to you, now what the heck does it mean? What makes this shoe so special that you don't need socks?

The first thing Zoot did with their new shoes is make the entire upper fit like a sock, with some elasticity and smoothness. (The upper is the part of the shoe which encases the foot, above the sole.) This upper is a single piece, unlike traditional shoes which have a tongue, and quarter panels on the sides. This single piece not only helps with the snug-fit, it offers a great side benefit of no seams. (Interior of shoe shown below.)

Normally, when we get blisters from running without socks, it comes from high friction points between our feet and the shoes. This lack of seams virtually eliminates high friction points within the shoes, as there is no single place rubbing more than any other.

Zoot added a very cool secondary support item for this feature, what they call a "friction-free coating" was added to the interior of the shoes. This is actually a small layer on the interior of the upper, which acts as a constant lubricant within the shoe. This further reduces the impact of rubbing within the shoe.

So that sounds great in theory and all, but does it really do what it claims?

When I got these shoes and heard about the features, I was excited. Then honestly, I was very skeptical of it. As a competitive triathlete, I certainly valued this feature, and have faced many of the negative consequences of sockless wear in regular shoes. I always just accepted it as something which was a necessary evil of the sport. I also have some mutations, (you could say), on my feet, which makes even a good shoe have some increased friction points which may not even happen for most people. (I will spare you the details and photos of my mutated feet!)

The first thing I did was walk around in the shoes without socks. The shoes claimed to have great breathe-ability, with the sock-like upper, and I thought maybe my shoes wouldn't smell if I didn't wear socks. I was wrong on that aspect, the shoes still smelled bad after walking around in them without socks all day. In fairness, I am a heavy, profuse sweater, and my feet are no exception. If you are not a heavy sweater, you may have different results.

However, I had no blisters. First test for blisters, and the shoes passed.

If you read Part 1, you know I mentioned the shoes run about a half-size large for me, but I wear orthotics. I decided for a more accurate test though, I would run in the shoes without my orthotics. I did this also because I did not want the orthotics to create any seams and therefore cause a blister themselves, as this would be unfair to the shoe.

The fact that the shoes were already running a half-size big would be compounded by sockless wear though, as the size of my foot would therefore be reduced without a sock.

My first runs were my typical bay loop here in San Diego, approximately 10K, about 40 mins each time. No blisters, each time. Impressive so far. It seems clear so far that if I were to use the shoes in an Olympic distance race or shorter, I would be fine without socks. The next test would be to see how things went over the longer runs.

The first long run I did was 90 mins, and no issues with any blisters, but I did begin to get a hot spot on the inside of the left Achilles, just above the heel. I believe these spots came from the fact I am a severe pronator, being a big guy, who was running without his normal orthotics, and in shoes which were about a half-size big. It seemed pretty clear that extra space within the shoe allowed for extra rubbing, along with my running style. This certainly made clear the importance of fit for a pair of shoes, much like many claim for bikes.

The other long run I did was about 1 hour and 45 mins, and included a 4 mile road race on flat roads, in the middle of the run. This run had about the same results of the previous run, with a water-filled blister in the same spot on the inside of my left foot. Later this blister popped, and became a sore spot on my foot.

I also used the shoes with runs following these, with socks and with my orthotics, and no issues. At Kona, I made the decision to run with socks and orthotics, and had no issues with my feet on the run. Afterwards, in the evening, I noticed a small spot on the lower, medial part of my heel, where it had a water-filled blister, but it was small and no pain. (It probably didn't help that I ran over 4 hours for the marathon, but the fact it didn't hurt was impressive.)

Ok, so based on these experiences, what would I suggest? Here are my thoughts:

1. If you're doing a short course race, sprint to Olympic, possibly XTERRA, you should be able to run without socks, and without issue.
2. If you're doing a half-Ironman, you should consider how long you will be on the run course. If you're looking at more than 2 hours, you may need socks still, but this can be tested in your training. If you running close to 90 mins, and you don't have mutated feet, (like I do), you should be just fine without socks.
3. If you're doing an Ironman, the need for an extra 20-30 seconds is greatly diminished, yet the need for avoiding a blister is heightened, so I would suggest wearing socks for this distance.

You can also get a better sense of if you need socks by training in the shoes for your long runs.

All in all, I would give the shoes a B+ in their ability to provide a shoe with "sockless wear", but I reserve the right to change this grade to an A- if I am able to run in shoes which fit me better.

Coach Vance