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2010 Charlotte Thunder Road Half-Marathon Recap

Two weekends ago, the annual Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon & Amica Insurance Half-Marathon were held, despite the below-freezing temperatures.  This was my second time participating in the event in some capacity, however in 2007 I only ran the anchor leg (10 miles) of the Marathon Relay.  That year, I specifically remember the starting temperature being 16 degrees, however this year I believe we may have crept up to a warm 20-22 degrees when the opening gun went off.   


I finished in 2:15:49, which isn't going to send me up to the Boston Marathon any time soon, however it was fairly consistent with the 10:00-per-mile pace I used during my training sessions.  I've got close to eight weeks to train and prep for the Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon in February, so here are a few of the key learnings and experiences I took from the Thunder Road event - hopefully you can either take advantage of my mistakes, or simply use them for comedic value.

 1. Don't Over-value Cold Temperatures

Dating back to high school football, I always over-dressed for competing in outdoor cold weather.  My philosophy is that I'd rather be so warm that I am nearly sweating underneath, than risk cold muscles.  My eight (yes, 8) shirt layers mostly took care of upper body warmth, however there did come a point when it was too restrictive and I felt as if I was running in a bulletproof vest.  I learned why some runners value shedding layers after a few miles in, your body will eventually acclimate (to some degree).

As for lower body, I am not one of those runners who can wear shorts in cold weather.  This is important to know about yourself, since years ago I got talked out of wearing pants for a cold weather race by a friend at the starting line, and my legs never warmed up until I got back in the car for the drive home.

2. Periodic Outdoor Training Is Valuable

I badly underestimated the value of getting in a few outdoor training runs in the cold.  Most of my training was done indoors on upstairs tracks or treadmills - and while pure practice miles are the ultimate goal, there is something to be said for knowing how to navigate a long run outside when the air is cold and sharp to breathe, and the concrete is cold and unforgiving.  I only got one outdoor 7-miler in two weeks prior, and that was not enough.

3. Allow for Life's Interruptions

This one is nearly common knowledge but bears repeating, life and work will ALWAYS interrupt your training.  I also lost a week to knee soreness and chose rest/recovery over additional mileage. But when sharing stories with others, it seems as though no one enters a race feeling like they had a flawless, trouble-free training schedule.

4. The Correct Shoes are Key

I bought a pair of Asics Gel Kayano 15's with the intention of them being my training and race shoes, but chose incorrectly.  They're a great stability shoe, however I over-thought the shopping process and needed to get a pair with more of a cushioning focus (since I'm still about 10-20 pounds heavier than i'd like to be).  The Asics began to hurt my feet during training, but it was too late to go for a new pair.  I chose to stick with the "nothing new on race day" strategy and went with my trusted Under Armour runners, since they had carried me through my longest training run (10 miles) weeks earlier.  They held up fine, but this was definitely the retirement performance for these awesome shoes, as they will now be relegated to cameo appearances during fitness classes.  Thanks to some gift money from Santa - I'll probably go after a pair of Nike Zoom Vomero 5's for the Myrtle Beach race, since I got great runs out of a pair four years ago.

 5. Peer Support Can Make All The Difference

I have never been a big fan of running in groups.  I'm not necessarily against it, I'm just not in-shape enough to run with others without fearing I'm the "Slow Guy" in the group.  Plus I need the freedom to be able to stop intermittently for water breaks (or possibly the occaisional dry heave in the bushes when no one is watching).  However my group during the race was a major key to me finishing with a somewhat respectable time.

As you know from reading my site - Philip Ciccarello is one of Charlotte's more elite runners.  Philip (and one of his friends, Dana) motivated me to meet them before the race and start together at the opening gun.  Dana's goal was a 1:50 finish, and though Philip could have probably run that time while carrying a sack of charcoal over his shoulder - he pledged to run with us as to set the pace.  It did not take long into the first two miles for me to drift back into the slower pack, but this was to be expected.  However true to his word, Philip helped Dana power through a sore hip muscle to finish in 1:49:28 - her new personal record. 

Then, when most normal humans would have found a Gatorade and a warm place to sit down, Philip ran back to the Mile 12 marker to pace me through the finish line.  His timing was perfect since I was  definitely contemplating another walk break along with the others around me.  It goes to show that there is definitely something to be said for having a pace group and encouragers along the way.

To the right is a photo of Philip (orange) and myself (blue) with about 800 meters left until the tape, and you can read Philip's excellent race recap here.

Another friend actually Tweeted live during the race (a great concept I wish I had thought of).

As I mentioned, I've got about eight weeks to get ready for the Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon in February.  After that, the goals shift back to a combination of reducing my mile time significantly, CrossFit-style metabolic workouts, and hopefully a few 5K races once the weather warms up again.


Product Review: Under Armour running shoes

I've been asked/accused of being an Under Armour-sponsored athlete a couple different times at the YMCA, sadly this is not the actual case.  I'm just a guy who likes most of their products and spends a lot of his paycheck on their gear. 

Before their line of footwear gained acceptance on a broad level, I often got questions about my Under Armour running shoes when they were first released.  UA released their running shoes fairly close to my birthday in late January 2009, so I treated myself to a present by purchasing a pair (mostly because I liked how they looked).

Fortunately for me, the feel and performance of the shoe exceeded the fashion statement.  I have "complicated" feet (low arches, lingering scar tissue from bone break in college) so I have high standards for a running shoe.  The UA shoe has a wide toe box, which is great for me since my feet are also wide.  Also, the toe box features mesh material which gives a nice sense of ventilation.

The foot cage and tounge feel like one singular peice, which wraps the foot well like a glove, as opposed to a separate tounge in most athletic shoes.  I also felt like the shoe provided great cushioning, yet was "flat" enough to still wear during agility drills in my classes.  I've worn some cushioned shoes that fit high like driving curves in a tall SUV whenever trying to plant or make cuts during an activity.

I gave these shoes perhaps my best evaluation, since I liked them so much I had to get a second pair in a different color (seen below).

 I met US National Team soccer star (and Under Armour model) Heather Mitts last year at one of my classes, and she confirmed everything I was saying about the UA runners.  She called them the "best" shoe she had ever worn.  I gave her the benefit of the doubt since I was already wearing a pair, she had no reason to give me a sales pitch.   Here's a look at one of her national commercials:

Everyone has personal specifications as to what they want and need out of their performance shoes.  For me, I would definitely recommend Under Armour running shoes, particularly if you are a multi-purpose athlete whose training regimen expands beyond the treadmill or laps around the block.


Nike vs Under Armour

After group fitness class one day, someone asked me if I had a contract with Under Armour.  Much of my workout gear is from Under Armour, so I assume this is what sparked the question.  My answer was "No, unfortunately" since I am no where close to a fitness model or famous enough to get paid for wearing a specific brand of athletic apparel.  The question sparked a longer conversation between us that eventually landed on the debate of "are you a Nike person or an Under Armour person?"  I thought I would follow up that debate with some informal analysis here.



 As most know, Nike became famous for being a basketball brand thanks in large part to Air Jordan, and continued today thanks to LeBron and Kobe.  Not many are aware though that Nike originated as a running shoe brand, which is part of the reason they are still prevalent in the track & field market.

  Under Armour basically originated the "dry fit"-style football undershirt, but has clearly branched out into so much more these days thanks to the launch of their running shoe line, and continued branch out into nearly all forms of athletic apparel.

Nike holds a solid presence in football, featured by their Pro Combat line.  I was actually a Nike-guy my entire football life, I never wore anything other than Nike cleats, and that is despite playing for a school with a two-year contract with Reebok until I was a junior.

Under Armour has not yet penetrated the football cleat market as deeply as Nike, but their apparel is closing fast.  They have also been smart to go after the youth/high-school market with their name-sponsored high school football All-American game being one example.  Nike has attempted to counter this with their SPARQ training brand.  

Moving strictly to observations (and admittedly this sample size is limited to what I see at my gym each day or runners I notice while driving down the street) it seems as though Nike is somewhat more popular in the female demographic as it relates to runners.  I've been told their running/fitness apparel is "cute" by lots of women, whereas the options are somewhat more limited for men.  Both genders have great shoe options, however as it relates to apparel, Nike seems to put more of its efforts behind the basketball market (another comparison would be how Adidas directs most of its apparel towards the soccer market).

 While I played football (and high school basketball) in nothing but Nikes, I'm strictly an Under Armour shoe person for running and workouts.  Saucony is an outlier since I do have a couple pairs of their running shoes, but I don't want to stray from the main two focuses of this debate.  When Under Armour launched their running shoe line in January of 2009, I picked up a pair and was blown away with how good they were.  It seems as though the general public consensus is that they are solid shoes, which goes to show that as important as fashion may be, quality always wins when it comes to athletic footwear.

I should also say that I had the chance to meet and workout with Team USA Women's Soccer Olympian (and Under Armour endorser) Heather Mitts recently, who told me Under Armour running shoes were "by far" the best shoe she has ever worn for serious runners and athletes.  I was already wearing UA shoes at the time, so I don't think she was trying to "sell" me. 

I'm not sure what degree of market-share UA may have claimed from Nike since they dove into the footwear and overall athletic apparel battle.  You'd probably have to check with people like CNBC's Darren Rovell (Twitter: @darrenrovell1) or Brian Gainor of www.PartnershipActivation.com (Twitter: @briangainor). 

My .02 cents: Nike is still the king of sports apparel and footwear since Under Armour truly only goes head-to-head in football, lacrosse, softball, and a few other olympic sports contested on the high school level.  Nike largely runs unopposed in basketball, golf, track & field, and a few others.

With that said, it is a testament to Under Armour's tremendous products, sharp marketing, and well-thought-out business plan that they have been able to make up so much ground in a relatively small amount of time.

*Hopefully this is the first installment of these, I welcome comments and feedback on your own Nike/UA product experiences.


Fitness Spotlight: Georges St. Pierre


For our "Fitness Spotlight" segment, every so often I'm going to highlight an athlete, entertainer, model, or just a regular everyday person and what they've been doing to reach peak levels of fitness. 

We all need targets to aspire to and examples to emulate, so hopefully the men and women I highlig ht in these posts give you some valuable information, and a few tools you can borrow into your own everyday workout and diet routines. 


Georges St. Pierre (GSP) is as of this writing, the champion of UFC's welterweight division.  He's widely regarded as one of the top 3-4 MMA fighters in the business. 

He recently signed an endorsement deal as the first mixed martial artist to represent a major sports apparel line - Under Armour.


Anyways, odds are you already know a little about GSP but I want to delve into his training (besides the actual fight-based training).  GSP is trained by Jonathan Chaimberg and Firas Zahabi, and their focus is on brief, quick bursts of energy as opposed to longer endurance workouts.

"If you train for two to three hours, the intensity level can’t be the same as somebody who trains for one hour," Firas says. "So, the first 20 minutes of the training is warm up. We’re not really working out; we’re just stretching and getting the body warm. Then, we do only 40 minutes of work, but at as high a quality as possible, and by high quality I mean very intense."

"Let’s say I trained Georges St-Pierre on the mats for two hours," continues Firas. "He obviously couldn’t kick as hard and as often as if he was doing it for 40 minutes; if you tell someone 'I want you to sprint 100 meters,' he’s not going to hold anything back -- he’s going to go as hard as he can because he knows it’s only 100 meters. But tell someone 'I want you to sprint for 800 meters' and he’s going to start slowly, but he’s going to pace himself. He’s going to do 800 meters as fast as he can, but he’s obviously not going to run as fast as if you’re telling him to do 100 meters. So, our first objective is to raise the intensity -- how hard and fast can you go."

Here's a video of GSP doing an interval-style circuit using multiple peices of equipment.  Don't focus on the specific exercises he is doing (like the weighted pull-ups) but instead focus on the overall theme, structure, and philosophy of his workout:

Key Takeaway:  Whether you're training to defend the UFC Welterweight Championship, or just trying to burn off some calories after sitting behind a desk all week, there's a place for brief, high-intensity workouts in your overall plan.

I structure my fitness classes the same way for this reason. Not everyone wants to pound their knees on the pavement for 5 miles or spend 60 minutes on the treadmill because it bores them.  If interval-based circuit workouts get things done for high-level athletes like GSP, they'll work for the average person trying to get their heart rate going and break a sweat to work off last night's desert also.