Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: Cheyenne Vapor Running Backpack

Last week I wrote about how I started run commuting into work as a more efficient use of my time to get some mileage in. Well, aside from dealing with missing key hallucinations, I had a few other issues to contend with. One of the big ones was logistics.

Let's say I wanted to run to work on Tuesday. On Sunday night I would have to pack a bag with Tuesday's work clothes, Tuesday's run home clothes, and both Monday's and Tuesday's lunch and massive amount of snacks I consume throughout the day. Lunch\snacks would get put in the fridge and clothes in the locker on Monday when I got to work. This was maddening to me because having to plan for a run two days in advance was just too much for my short term memory.

The solution was to find a suitable backpack to run with so I would only have to think one day in advance, which is much more suitable for my attention span. I visited several forums, read product reviews, and weighed that in finally making a decision. What I landed on was the Nike Cheyenne Vapor Running Backpack.
Normally I don't do Nike for running because I believe several other companies cater to the niche better than they do, but the product had gotten good review, the Livestrong version was 40 bucks off, and I had a gift certificate to the Nike Store. So for a little under 40 dollars I snagged this $90 retail puppy, which seemed like a steal to me.

When it finally showed up on my door step I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't too big and bulky, which I was afraid of, but had just enough space to hold a change of clothes and my bag o' food for the day. In addition, there was a separate compartment for wet storage, which was a bonus to keep my sweaty stuff away from everything else. Also there is a rainfly that comes out of another zippered pocket. I haven't had to use it yet, but its seems handy to keep clothes and a phone dry should the weather turn nasty. My favorite feature though was a small pouch on one of the arm straps to hold my work keycard and apartment key, giving me easy access without having to take off the backpack to get to it. In fact, I can hold my shoulder up to the sensor at work and it recognizes the keycard inside without me having to remove it.

The only negative I've found is that the pack chafes a little. This may just be an unavoidable side effect of having something strapped to your back. I've got the back and side straps as tight as I can comfortably tolerate, but there is still just a bit of bouncing that I can feel on the sides of my neck after 5 miles. Now, I have no idea if this is typical or not, but it was definitely noticeable to be. I'll keep playing with the fit to see if it gets better or maybe I'll just develop giant neck calluses once it gets broken in. Either way, the pack seems to be serving it's purpose. I no longer have to long term plan for a run. I can just throw all my stuff in the night before or morning of and set off on the road. And like I said last week, run commuting just makes you feel incredibly cool, much more so than bike commuting. The looks I get from coworkers when I tell them it's 5.5 miles each way, not roundtrip, is priceless.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Run commuting seemed like a good idea.....

So with my new focus this year my approach to training has had to change. If you compare my training to years past you'll see that my time spent swimming (admittedly nonexistent right now) and biking is dramatically lower than usual. I've come to realize that I'm no longer a triathlete who does marathons, but rather a runner who does triathlons. My weekly running mileage is ramping up steadily so I'm looking for new and inventive ways to get it all in, while still leaving time to do a little biking and swimming (soon, I swear).

In a moment of brilliance I realized I could traverse the 5 miles to and from work on foot. 10 mile mid-week runs are popping up on the schedule so why not do them as a commute. I eliminate 25-30 minutes of sitting in my car a day and replace it with a quality workout, effectively freeing up extra time in my day that than be put towards other workouts (or lounging in front of the TV).

I quickly worked out the logistics of it. I didn't own a backpack suitable for running with (I do now) so I had to bring work clothes, breakfast, lunch, snacks, and afternoon running clothes with me the day before I planned to run in to make sure it was all there waiting. I was sure I would forget something since it was actually a fair bit of planning, but was pleasantly surprised come commute day when the only thing I didn't have was a pair of sunglasses to run home with. No biggie.

The run to work that morning was great. It was nice and cool out at 4:45 in the morning and I made it to work without a problem. I waved hello to the morning smokers who were looking at me weird and went inside and showered and ate my ginormous breakfast. First half executed perfectly.

The run home, on the other hand was a near disaster. It started out alright. I set off on my merry way after getting more strange looks from the afternoon smokers and the gaggle of people that had congregated outside to watch emergency responders deal with a semi that had overturned while attempting to turn at a nearby intersection.

About a mile in I reach down and feel for my apartment key, which I always slip into the inside pocket of my running shorts. This is a nervous habit that I've developed over the years. While I've never had a key fall out of the pocket, it's still just a pouch with a cloth flap over it. Although the pouch of these particular pair of shorts is better constructed than others that I own. Still out of habit I feel to see if it's there every once in awhile. So I reach down and come up empty!

Crap! I stop alongside of the busy road and have a good look down my shorts to try and find it. Nothing. Well, no key that is. I assume it fell out somewhere along the way and decide to retrace my steps back to work in hope of sighting it. As I run I can think about what to do if I can't find it, something I've never really pondered before. I realize I'm actually in a better predicament than I would be if I was running a normal run. I have my phone, which I usually don't carry with me so I can call people. Not sure who that would be since I don't think locksmith's will open apartment doors without ID (I don't think my work badge counts). Also, I'm awfully close to my realtor on this side of town. I figure if I make it back to work and haven't found the key they are only another mile or so away and they may have an extra key.

I make it back to work but find nothing. As I head in the direction of the realtor (around the jackknifed semi) I start to think that the brief liner in the shorts is fairly snug and it would take some time for a key to work its way out of there and in doing so there's no way I wouldn't feel it. So I stop again (along another busy road) and shove my hand down things. Meanwhile I'm hoping the semi serves as a distraction so no one notices my digging and count myself lucky that I'm not within a hundred yards of school because I'm pretty sure what I'm doing would be construed as illegal. Lo and behold my rummaging pays off and I find the key! I'm not really sure how I didn't feel it down there while I was running along. It doesn't matter though. I breathe a sigh of relief and continue on my way back home. My five miler turned into a little over 7, but I can't really complain about the two bonus miles.

Upon arriving home, I immediately dug out a little zippered pouch that can attach to the shoe for key stowage and tested it out over the weekend. I could feel the key flopping around inside and that bugged me so I'm investigating other option for keeping the key safe. I really don't need to repeat that experience anytime soon.

Needless to say, today's run commute went much smoother than the first. I did sleep in a bit in an attempt to miss the rain, but it started in anyway during the run with about two miles to go. I got more weird looks as I arrived sopping wet, but I'm getting used to them now. At least the run home was drier.

Despite the hiccups, the run commute is going to remain a staple of my training this year. It seems to be a very efficient way to get miles in (I was home by 4:30 today with plenty of time for other workouts). My running backpack just arrived in the mail today so I'm excited to experiment with that next week in hopes of cutting out some of the planning that goes into this. My only regret is that I didn't think of this sooner (ie. last year during IM training).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Back from the Dead!

Time for a revival of sorts. Of the blog that is. I haven't posted here in over a year and frankly, let's just pretend like last year never happened.

Oh I trained and I raced, but there was nothing really to write home about (or to post online for a select group of readers to dissect). 2011 was a year of mediocrity. Plain and simple. I focused on other areas of my life and the training volume/intensity just wasn't there to replicate or improve upon my 2010 season. I did finish my second Ironman race, which is an accomplishment in and of itself, but it was a tough race and I just really wasn't satisfied with the result. There's a race report on BT somewhere if you want the gory details, but in short it was undertraining + GI issues/cramping = slow result.

I also finished my third stand alone marathon at an awesome venue running the Marine Corps Marathon in October. It was a really fun race, but being overweight and out of shape made it quite difficult to finish under 4 hours. The funny thing was I was pleased with the result. Not so much the finish time, but the fact I was able to run the entire thing and not walk at all, something I hadn't accomplished in the previous two, faster marathons. That sort of thing boded well for my next undertaking, which I will get into a bit later.

After the marathon, the off season was upon me. For most this a is a time to cut back on training and rest and recover from a long season of training. For me it was time to eat and drink and get even more out of shape than I already was. By Christmas I had ballooned up to 185 pounds, my highest weight since dropping 50 pounds 5 years ago. Things had gotten out of hand.

At the same time I was evaluating what went wrong the season prior and what I wanted to accomplish. It was clear I didn't want to race Ironman again (yet). The hours training had burnt me out. While I hadn't trained as much last year, it still takes quite a bit to just scrape by at the Ironman distance. I was sick of swimming, sick of my bike, and I really just wanted to run. At the same time, after resuming mild training after MCM my achilles of all things was acting up and I had to take a running hiatus in November and December. It was at that time that I realized I really just wanted to run. It was the only of the three disciplines that I truly missed.

I started to think about goals and things I want to accomplish. Tri-wise I still have goals out there, but with the burn-out I need to recover from maybe I needed to focus my efforts elsewhere. One of my non-tri goals is to qualify for the Boston marathon. So I started to think, if I could get healthy and really focus on running what could I do? In the past I've bookended my marathon training onto the latter part of long course tri training, more of an afterthought than anything, and still managed a 3:20 PR at the Twin Cities martahon in 2009. A 3:10 (the time I would need to hit to qualify for Boston) with proper training seems entirely possible.

I started to get excited again. I had a clear cut goal that my heart was actually into achieving. The possibility was exhilarating. So as cliche as it sounds, the first of the year brought about a change for me. A conscious effort at a diet plan, an execution of a running schedule that took care not to get me re-injured. I was a full fledged resolutioner. And it's paid off.

I'm down 18 pounds since the beginning of January. I ran 68 miles in January. I've run 75 in the first two weeks of March. I'm excited. I'm focused. And I'm ready for a fun 2012.

The blog is back from the dead in part because I'm excited to share in the journey that accompanies this new challenge. Aside from that I also took some time to examine what made 2010 so successful versus 2011. I tried to look at habits contributed to that success and I deemed that this blog was one of them. There's nothing like being held accountable to family and friends to motivate one's self. That and I just like to write.

So that said I'm happy to be back. Feel free to yell at me if I go more than a week without a post. I already have the topic of the next post in mind as I'm set to relate my trials and tribulations of run commuting to work. Till then take care.