Monday, January 27, 2014

Shoe Review! Brooks Ravenna 4

Cindylocks has been at it again.  Yep, I’ve been trying new shoes.  Plural.  Two kinds of shoes.  Want to know how they worked out?  Read on!

Here’s the thing: I really did need a different shoe this time.  Not just a different looking shoe, but a shoe with different mechanics.  See, while I deal with my ITBS-that’s-not-ITBS thing, I’m doing a whole lotta walking in place of running.  If you’ve ever swapped walking for running over long distances, you know that, while the two activities look awfully similar, they are mechanically quite different.  In my case, it’s a huge difference: when I run, I land solidly on my forefoot, nearly toe-ball-heeling my landings, but I walk like a normal person, landing heel first.  Because I’m a forefoot runner, I don’t need the pronation control found in stability shoes and have, in fact, found that even a little of it screws me up.  So I swear by my neutral BrooksPureFlow shoes for running.  But when I walk, my left foot does something screwy in a trickle-down effect from the scoliosis in my back, causing me to overpronate at toe-off.  And that, in turn, messes with my knee.  So a shoe with late-stage pronation control was my goal, but one that wouldn’t make me over-suppinate, either.  Not an easy search, let me tell ya.

Enter trial shoe #1: BrooksRavenna 4.

I chose this model based on several online reviews declaring it to be ideal for late-stage pronation issues without sacrificing flexibility and cushion.  Bonus – it was on clearance at Sports Authority for less than half-price.  Score!

Kinda clunky, but pretty purple and green! Sort of like Barney.

Compared to my PureFlows, the Ravenna is one big, clunky shoe.  Check out that gigantic heel!  I’m used to an undercut heel that doesn’t get in the way of my forefoot landings, so that giant mound of green plastic sacred me.  However, I was surprised by how light the Ravenna felt; it looks much heavier than it actually is (9ish ounces, compared to almost 8 in the PureFlow).  The Ravenna has a roomy toe box, coupled with a narrow, huggy heel cup, which felt perfect for me and my freakishly small heels.  I love that the laces are plenty long, and neon green is just plain fun.  The arch support was good, with just enough in just the right spot.  I bought these in a size 7 (I wear a 6 in street shoes) and they’re roomy enough for my thick SmartWool socks – perfect for winter running, but I’d want to size down a half-size to accommodate my lighter socks in summer.

The Big Green Heel, in all its glory.

My first try with the Ravennas was an easy 2-mile walk on the treadmill.  How’d they do?  Fan-flipping-tastic!  This is a great walking shoe.  Despite looking enormous, I found that the heel didn’t get in my way at all, and I landed mid-heel as usual with no problem.   No over-suppinating, either; I never felt like my feet were being forced outward, as I have in almost every other stability shoe I’ve tried.  But I immediately felt the late-stage control.  As my weight rolled over my toes, I could feel the shoe engage against my left big toe and metatarsal, redirecting my toe-off toward the center of my foot instead of the far inside of my big toe.  It felt odd at first, like a little bubble under my forefoot, but not in a bad way.  Most amazingly, I had NO initial cramping in my outer left foot – a feat no other athletic shoe has managed while walking since a circa-2001 New Balance model that I adored.

After such a good test, I decided to give the Ravennas a try outdoors and wore them for three miles of trail run/walking with Leo.  They covered a variety of surfaces – asphalt, concrete, crushed shell, gravel, dirt, sand, boardwalk – and performed beautifully!  The treads felt equally responsive and grippy on all surfaces and I found that the energy return on the run was superb.  The one thing I missed was ground feel; it’s a fair amount of shoe and I definitely felt less underfoot than I’m used to in my PureFlows.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but it took some adjustment; instead of my feet naturally reacting to bumps, lumps, rocks and roots underfoot, I had to pay attention with my eyes to avoid rolling an ankle. 

Nice tread!

Okay, after two good short-distance tests, I decided to take a chance and try the Ravennas on a long walk/run.  10 miles, to be exact.  My first double-digit distance effort since being struck down at mile 10 of the WDWHalf-Marathon two weeks prior.  I started with lots and lots of walking; almost all of the first mile and a fair amount of the next few, too.  As expected, the Ravennas felt great!  As I added more running into the mix, I was quite surprised to find that the shoes performed really well there, too.  With a much higher heel-to-toe drop than my PureFlows (10mm and 4mm, respectively), I was worried that they’d be a poor match for my forefoot landing.  Nope.  The Ravenna allowed me to avoid a heel strike, and I could land on my toes if I tried… but I quickly found that they encouraged me to land closer to mid-foot, which is a very good thing!  My forefoot landing can sometimes overwork my bum Achilles over longer distances, so the more midfoot landing felt very nice without requiring any extra thought or effort on my part to maintain it; it just seemed to happen naturally when I stopped paying attention and ran by feel.  I’m also used to my feet feeling rather abused by the end of a 10+ mile run, and they were definitely feeling the effort at the end of this one – but nowhere near as much as I’m used to.  Which is odd, really, because the Ravenna feels more springy than cushiony to me.  But maybe that’s just it; maybe the extra spring results in less pounding on my feet?  I don’t know, but I knew I had another 3.1 miles in me at the end, so… yay!

So, is the Ravenna 4 a keeper?  YES!  It’s not the speediest shoe and I think I’ll still prefer the PureFlow for shorter, faster distances (which is good, since I currently have FOUR pairs of ‘em), and there may come a day when I’m all healed and healthy and don’t want/need the Ravenna’s extra support, but today is not that day.  I fully intend to run in the Ravennas for my next half-marathon.  Conveniently, they do not clash with my planned outfit, so that’s that.

Okay, that was pretty long.  And the next shoe review will likely be just as long.  So I'll cap it here and review the Mizuno Wave Sayonara in a second post. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2014 WDW Half-Marathon Race Recap!

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly… and the Fantastic!

My second half-marathon is now in the books and I’m happy to say I not only finished – I really, really enjoyed it!  

Even if I did proclaim  for about two hours post-race that I’d nevereverever do another half again.  (Uh, yeah – I will be doing another.  In, oh, four-ish weeks…) 

The Good…

  • Corrals - I think the changes runDisney made in regard to smaller, more plentiful corrals helped course congestion a lot.  Don’t get me wrong; the course was still full of people, but I felt like I was in the right place for my pace and always had room to maneuver if I wanted to pass slower runners/walkers.
  • The weather – high-60s/low-70s and almost 100% humidity, but no appreciable rain… perfect for this Floridian!
  • Our hotel – we stayed at Disney’sYacht Club Resort and it was a great choice.  Turns out Yacht is the first stop for the race buses servicing the Epcot resorts, so I had no problem quickly getting on buses to the expo and race.  When we pulled into the Beach Club Resort, there was a looooong line of folks waiting to board, but only room on the bus for a small number of them.  Glad I wasn’t there.
  • My performance over the first five miles – my goal was to stay under a 14:00/mile average pace for the first three miles to allow for some serious slow-down later; I wanted to take pics!
    Made it to the Castle!
    Mission mostly accomplished: 13:45 mile 1, 13:32 mile 2, 14:43 mile 3 (when I stopped for a pic at the Magic Kingdom tollbooths), 13:25 mile 4, 13:53 mile 5.

The Bad…
  • Confusing directions - from the staging area to the corrals.  Signs indicated we needed to turn left when, in fact, we needed to bear right.  It wasn’t a big deal; we figured it out and course-corrected, but things could have been made clearer.
  • The expo – note, though, that I did not place this in the Ugly category… that’s improvement! There really wasn’t anything wrong with the expo*, other than the fact that it was big, and loud, and crowded.  I easily found the items I needed and wanted, but I just plain hate race expos and this was no exception.

The Ugly…

  • IT Band Syndrome** – yes, again.  I went into this race concerned about my hip, but it was fine.  After rocking through the first five miles, taking time for some pics, then trying to speed back up, ITBS ripped into my other knee around mile 10. 
    Don't let the smiley fishies fool you - my knee HURT!

    Out of nowhere.  Given that I’m plenty flexible, pass all strength tests with flying colors, and foam roll like a boss daily, my guess is that the lack of hill training, (thanks to the hip issues), did me in.  I probably would have been fine had I walked the overpasses, especially the descents, but I didn’t.  So I paid for it by having to walk the last three miles.  But all was not lost… (see The Fantastic)

    **UPDATE: A visit to my chiropractor (AKA Dr. Miracle), shows that it's likely not ITBS - my IT Band is plenty limber and not creating tension at all.  My knee, however, was out of alignment, as was my ankle, leading to a similar issue with friction at the outside of my knee.  In any case, it's a Rx for rest, stretching and massage for me.
  • My race photos – I think I’m a reasonably photogenic gal; I’m never one to shy away from having my picture taken.  But 90% of my race photos are atrocious! 
    It doesn’t matter, since I refuse to pay the exorbitant prices charged by MarathonFoto, anyway, but they definitely fall under the heading of “ugly.”

  • Spending time with a terrific team of fellow runners -  It was so nice to finally meet a whole bunch of folks in person after chatting with them online for many months.  I’m something of a loner and tend to avoid group activities because I get very overwhelmed, but it was a real joy to hang out and chat with such a diverse, interesting, encouraging and supportive group.
  • Quality time with my son, Leo -  Leo is incredibly understanding of my need to flee the house to run regularly, but I know he sometimes wishes I’d skip a Saturday run and snuggle with him on the couch.  He was a real trooper as I dragged him to the expo, ran my race, asked him to get my ice, and parked myself in one spot to cheer for the Marathon for several hours: he more than earned some time with me riding rides and just plain being silly.  Not to mention $20 I gave him to shop the Japan pavilion gift shop in Epcot.

  • Cheering at the Marathon – it’s possible I had more fun doing that then I did running my own race!  I was there mostly to cheer for my team, but I quickly realized that my endless commentary of “Looking good!”, “Good job!”, “You’re almost done!” and “Finish strong!” made an impact on total strangers, too.  I can’t begin to express the feeling when a runner who looked worn out, in pain and really just over the whole experience broke into a smile because of a few words from little ol’ me.  There were many times when I felt tears well up in response and I found myself feeling really thankful for the opportunity to connect in that way.
  • Finding the Magic in Disney racing – If you’ve read my previous runDisney race recaps, you know that I’ve not been one to stop and enjoy the very things that make a Disney race “Disney.”  And I’ve often been disappointed in my performance.  Well, not so this time.  I made a big effort to stop and smell the Disney this time.  I stopped to take pics.  I even posed with a character!  

    I pulled out my headphones and listened to what was going on around me.  I engaged in conversations with other runners.  I forgot all about my time and just enjoyed myself when knee pain forced me to walk. 

And I figured something out…  My body might not be made to go fast and long.  And that’s okay.  There’s no need to compete with anyone, including myself, and it’s perfectly okay to run and/or walk long distances because I enjoy the distance, regardless of pace.  Coming around to that realization brought with it a profound sense of peace; I can be the runner I want to be, that I’m comfortable being, without feeling like a failure for not meeting some kind of time goal.  That’s a big, big jump in thinking for me.

The neat thing about Disney races is that they practically cater to runners who don’t give a rat’s ass about time goals.  Which is why, despite my currently injured state, I’m super excited about my next runDisney adventure, the Glass Slipper Challenge: the Enchanted 10K on Saturday, followed by the Princess Half-Marathon on Sunday. Oh, and there’s also the Cinderella Royal Family 5K on Friday… which I just added to my schedule.  That’s a total of 22.4 miles over three days.  A Triple Crown, if you will.  Four weeks from now.  And I’m ready to go slow and enjoy every Magical Mile. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Breaking the Running Rules #2: Getting Race Ready!

A month or so ago, I was sure I wouldn’t be running this weekend.  I was certain I’d be listed on the eternal list of shame as a DNS (Did Not Start) for the 2014 Walt Disney World Half-Marathon.  I was sad, but accepting of that dismal fact.

But, guess what?  I am running the 2014 WDW Half!  In less than three days.

How in heck did I do it?!  Well, for starters, I rested.  You know, like, not running.  I got ready to run far by not running at all.  Sounds counterintuitive, but folks – it really is the only way to heal most injuries.  I’m happy to say that, while I’m still having some minor issues with my piriformis, my strained hip flexor is, indeed, healed.

That time to heal was crucial for what came next: a pretty fast ramp-up in mileage.  Yep, I’ve been breaking the running rules.  Again.  Most coaches and training plans advocate no more than a 10% increase in mileage per week, and many also promote cut-back weeks of lower mileage every other week…

For real – I did NOT have time for cut-backs and a slow build-up.  I had time for this:

That would be 3 weeks straight of longer distance runs.  I wasn’t at all sure about that final 11-miler and was fully prepared to bail halfway if I felt worn down, figuring the previous week’s 9+ would be okay as my longest pre-race run, but I actually felt really good that day and went for the full 11.  In fact, I felt better that day than I did on the 7+ mile run two weeks prior.  How weird is that?!

Even weirder is that I feel pretty damned good right now.  I’d hazard to say I feel stronger and in better physical shape than I have before any other race.  I’ll wait until after the race to proclaim any kind of statement about my body preferring a short, fast mileage build, but… yeah, I’m leaning that way, for sure.

So now, I try hard not to eat every item in my house and rein in the activity for a few days, even as the adrenaline and excitement builds exponentially by the hour.  I still haven’t decided how to treat this race – as a slow, fun training run, or as a see-what-I-can-do race, or as a little of both – and probably won’t make that determination until race-day morning. 

I wish the best of luck to all who are running the 5K, 10K, Half-Marathon and Marathon races* this weekend – may we all stay safe, swift and sane as we smile our ways through Walt Disney World!

Photo credit:

*You can find more about the WDW Marathon Weekend events at