Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Etiquette for Walkers in Races

We walkers have sometimes received a bad name in racing circles. Now, I'm a walker and even I get rather irked by some walker behaviour, so here is:

..and his guide to proper etiquette for walkers.

1. Be sure to line up appropriately at the start, according to pace. Try not to overestimate your pace, causing faster runners and walkers behind you to have to have to maneuver around you at the start when they should be finding their own pace. Also, don't underestimate your pace or you will find yourself doing the intitial frantic maneuvering.

2. Don't walk several abreast unless you are in an empty field! Even a few walkers makes for a great barricade to those behind you. If there is just a small space left as a passing lane, this can get quite congested and leads to frazzled nerves on the part of those attempting to get through and sometimes to inventive and unusual language.

3. Stay to the right side when possible unless passing. This rule in particular applies to runner/walkers out there. Those behind you can't predict when you're suddenly going to put on the brakes.
 If you're keeping a steady pace and attempting to cut the corners to decrease distance, this pointer doesn't apply.

4. Please don't suddenly cut across the lanes to get to a water station, then stop dead. A multi-racer pileup is sure to occur!

5. Don't run AT ALL if you've entered in the walking division. This will draw the ire of both walkers and runners.

6. DO encourage everyone that you pass. Thank all volunteers, marshalls and law enforcement officers for being out there for you. Cheer the bands. Make friends. Have fun. Don't whine.

For those who have difficulty following rules 1-4, Mr. Manners has developed the following racing garb:

Now get out there and have fun racing!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Detroit River Days 5K

Beautiful Day, beautiful event! Part of the Detroit River Days Festival.


The setting couldn't have been nicer (along the wonderfully renovated Detroit riverfront) and a better organised race I've yet to see. The proceeds go to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy which has done an amazing job so far making the river accessible to people. The race was to start at 8:30, so we arrived about 7:55 or so. The organisers had sent out free parking passes for one of the huge parking garages right at the site!!!! Normally $10, this was a huge bonus as we didn't have to worry about finding parking (the registration fee was only $20 which included a nice T-shirt and the parking). Down to get my bib, etc.: really easy. And get this: not only real washrooms, but CLEAN portapotties! No problem at all taking care of the necessities before a race. Warmup, drills, then on to the start line, fueled by pumping Motown tunes (this is Detroit, after all!). Canada (specifically, Windsor), my "home and native land" (words from our national anthem, for those non-Canucks) was actually quite pretty across the river:

The course was gorgeous, following historic Atwater Street past the Renaissance Center (RenCen to us locals):

and through the Atwater tunnel to Hart Plaza. After turning around at the fountain, we were right next to the water and got to pass a visiting Tall Ship,

the River Princess (a dinner cruise ship; actually a paddle-wheel riverboat!),

and other docked local cruise ships (the one on the left, the Yorktown, will embark on a 7-day cruise between Detroit and Chicago this evening with a limit of 80 passengers):

There was one water/Gatorade station on the course and one at the end as well as food at the end. There was also a bank of Porta-potties about halfway into the race and lots of course marshalls and police. At the end, we swung around a lovely little wetland, part of the William G. Milliken State Park , the first urban state park in Michigan. I was cheered on by a bullfrog gallumphing in the city!

I believe the field was about 555 strong (up from about 325 last year), and solely a 5K, so a smaller race for this area (there's to be a larger one tomorrow, the Heart of Detroit, which has a 5K and 10K, ending up at home plate in Tiger Stadium! Will try that one next year perhaps, as I found out about it too late for this year). There was no separate walking division, so my time was lumped in with the runners. Still, I did pretty well, I think, as I came 333/555 solely racewalking, and 4/17 in my age division (all included runners).

Here I am in a great shot because I love the sign by me!!! I should be a poster child!

...and one more shot for good measure (Mike took all the pics):

My Garmin says I did 5K in 30:43 which gives me an average pace of 9:55 min/mi. I'm sure this can't be right, GPS-creep and all that (that sounds way too fast). My Garmin distance ran out before the actual distance, I studied the map beforehand and cut all the corners, so I don't know what to think about this. My Garmin says the actual distance of the race was 3.6 not 3.1 miles?????  Just the usual discrepancy, I guess. My official time was 35:00 for a pace of 11:18, which is probably more likely. Surely they couldn't have mis-measured the distance.
No aches or pains or any blisters or anything (one wouldn't expect any for this distance, anyway). I used the new New Balance W730 flats (not the Re/shod versions - they're set aside for longer distances).

Again, a great, very well-organised race and one I will definitely consider again for next year - so should you!!!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Great Free Video Analysis Program for Athletes

There are a lot of excellent vid analysis programs out there for use by coaches and athletes, but they are usually quite expensive. Here is an excellent open source program that works great in a lot of applications - Kinovea . I have just done a few preliminary explorations into this, and am very pleased. I used a short clip of me, loaded it into Kinovea and played around a bit:

[Please pay no attention to my bad walking form on these videos - that's what they were all about, pinpointing parts of technique needing work!]

This one shows how you can track various body parts as they move through space. If you want to really use this properly, use a bright or fluorescent sticker on the part you wish to track as it will pick it up easier. I also added the stopwatch.

The next example shows how you can pause the video to present some analysis midstream (watch the whole video for the analysis at about 4 seconds in):

You can compare two videos (this obviously works better if you have the same sequence from two different camera angles, which I didn't have):

 [You can also superimpose two attempts at a task with the same background. I'll try it later this week once I've shot some more video]

Capturing single frames from the videos is easy:

I can't wait to try out all the other features of this program! I`ll report back when I`ve explored it further!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

And now back to our favourite topic - shoes!

"....these shoes were made for walkin', and that's just what they'll do...."

 I was getting to the point as I attempted faster speeds in racewalking that I needed lighter, faster shoes. As everyone who has ever tried racewalking knows, this is THE quest, the Holy Grail - shoes that are flat enough, fast enough, light enough, comfortable enough and sturdy enough to take the abuse of a long race....and they will be different for each individual person, as different as their fingerprint or their foot structure. So, while we can take recommendations from others, we can only try them oursleves and work through trial and error. This can, understandably, get very expensive.
Now I still stand by my trusty old Rykas (see previous "shoe" entries), and they were just what I needed at that time due to severe foot problems. However, I have now started looking for lighter, flatter shoes. This has become a lot easier with the "minimalist" movement in running; lots of lightweight styles! You do, however, sacrifice durability and relative comfort for weight and road feel.
Poke around on the web long enough and you get a lot of recommendations. I diligently wrote these down, then searched out what shoes I could so I could actually try them on in person; for me this is essential. I settled on the new New Balance 730s (be careful! In their infinite wisdom, NB has given two VERY DIFFERENT models the same number. I'm talking about the new, minimalist style) because they fit well, come in different widths (the wider D width was perfect for me), are very light, have only 3 mm drop, mesh uppers, have a good foot feel and can accommodate my rather extensive prescription orthotics. Be warned, however; they do not have removeable insoles as the entire interior is a sock liner (so they can supposedly be worn without socks). This makes them very, very close to the road, so to speak.
I bought a pair (they have very funky colours, but not my size in all of those) and they felt perfect from the get-go (Laces have to be tied quite tightly as they have a tendency to come undone, though). I did realize, however, that they did not have enough mid- and fore-foot cushioning for longer races like half marathons, at least not for me. Even with my orthotics, I have major left forefoot issues (which also contributes negatively to my toe-off). No sense in aggravating that, so I bought another pair and had Carmen Jackinsky of Re/shod ( work her magic yet again for me. First, I asked her if she thought the uppers could support the re/shod soles. Turns out she had done a pair of NB Minimus for herself to train in and they worked great. The results on mine are beautiful, and again, exactly what I need at this point. I'll likely use the non-re/shod 730s for training and shorter races, like 5K and the new re/shod version for my longer races. Here's a comparison of them all, with weight:

Quite a difference in weight, no? The mesh upper is considerably more comfortable as well.

Here is a comparison of relative heel height of the four styles:

Flexibility in the toe of the shoe is essential once you get to tweaking your RW technique. The Rykas had little (almost none), but the new NBs have quite a bit, even the Re/shod version:

They even look good, even with my super-skinny ankles:

Time to hit the road!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Walk clinic in London, ON

I'm very isolated down here in the Deep South of Ontario: there don't seem to be any race walk groups or coaches around (and believe me, I've scoured and asked everyone in the know). Then, my long-distance coach/friend/cobbler Carmen Jackinsky from Oregon told me about a friend of hers who lives in London (about a two-hour drive from here). I googled Sherry Watts, found out she is a level 4 coach with the London Pacers AND that she was going to do a day-long race walk clinic in London in a week (June 3rd)!!!! From poverty to riches just like that! I immediately signed up.

Originally, I was going to get up super early and drive there for the 9 am start. Instead, Mike booked a hotel room in London and we drove up on Saturday night through torrential rain. Ironically, there was a convention of Amphicars staying there! (Remember those amphibian cars from the 60s that you could drive from the road right into the water? Looked like they would be able to use them based on the downpour).  After a solid sleep, we left for the clinic the next morning (a ten minute drive).

 Mike dropped me off and went to hike in nearby Komoka Park for the day. The RW group was very welcoming, consisting of about 14 attendees of varying experience, and we settled in at the condo of two London Pacer members for intros and initial presentations. Sherry had a great Powerpoint production ready to go, as well as some of Jeff Salvage's video primers. We discussed the basics of RW and some of the more advanced features of the sport. Shoes were discussed and two large bags of footgear were shown and offered for loan if anyone didn't have proper RW shoes. I had brought my New Balance 730s, so I was good to go. The rain held off, so we then went outside to the park across the street, and divided into two groups: beginners and those with some experience, with a coach for each group. There were two moderately-sized parking lots which were empty, it being Sunday, so we each appropriated one, after going through a warmup walk and drill work together. Many of these preliminary drills I do already, but after breaking up into groups, Sherry led us in some more advanced ones, which I found very good. The ones that helped me particularly with toe-off (especially that "popping" off the toe) were a form of 1-2-pop and "putting out a match". Tougher drills (for me, because of the fused vertebrae in my back) were the "flower-picking" and "lost quarter" ones, but they really did help loosen me up. We did some work with cones (weaving around them), on lines, etc. etc. Since judged RW events generally go around a fixed course, cornering can be where technique really falls apart, so we were shown a great little technique bit which REALLY helped with that: tuck your inner arm (i.e. the one closest to the cone) tight against your body and work your outer arm a bit more aggressively as you corner. It really works for tight cornering! As luck (or maybe foresight) would have it, we had a ramp between the two lots to use, so we did a lot of hill work. Although hills are absent from judged RW events (thank goodness, because they are very difficult to maintain perfect technique on), they are usually VERY present in road races. Going up, push with toes, keep steps smaller, keep arms bent tighter  (with hands almost at shoulder level) and try to stay upright. Going down hills is more difficult without running, but keep arms less bent (hands down at thigh level) and really loosen the hips. Let 'er rip! We were flying down the hill without running! Kind of thrilling, actually. Sherry then went and got the video camera and had us pass her individually so she could get us from both sides and then coming towards her and going away. By now it was time for lunch and as we went up to get the beginners from their lot we could see that they really had come a long way that morning! We all trooped up to the condo where a lovely lunch awaited us (and some of the best coffee I have had...and I am a coffee aficionado if I do say so myself). Sherry uploaded the videos to her laptop while we ate, talked and thumbed through a pile of books.

After lunch, we watched the videos of ourselves (oh, agony!) using a really amazing piece of software called Dartfish. With this, Sherry was able to slow us down, stop us, zoom in, work out angles and ratios (like the amount of step before and behind your centre line), etc., etc. It was really informative, not only seeing our own vids but those of others. My ratio was really good, as was my toe-off (only because of those drills we did in the parking lot - usually my toe off is awful) and my posture. Not so good (as in: terrible!!!!) my bent knee and arm work (range of motion in one shoulder quite bad right now). Ways of remedying these were given, and everyone was helpful rather than critical. Seeing the beginners was quite informative as many of then seemed to catch on quite quickly.
Next, a powerpoint show on training (everything from lactate threshold to good training outlines), and a very informative presentation on what to expect at a judged event, broken down into exactly what happens with DQs, etc. Then some vids of past Olympic events. Sherry then had handouts for us on all of the drills we did, some good websites and an article on Heart Rate Training. Then, a very pleasant surprise - each of us got a CD chock full of articles on all aspects of training and technique. Really, there's about two months of reading on that! The whole day for $25!!! Sherry is also going to go through the vids of us and send us pertinent bits with more suggestions.

This was a really awesome experience, and Sherry was a wonderful coach and presenter. It was well-organised, well-presented and very, very informative, and our hosts for the day were truly welcoming and attentive. When I got home, I joined the London Pacers and hope to have further coaching from Sherry. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get to where I can do a judged event!....but don't hold your breath.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Vegan camping food

I'm not one to cook gourmet foods out on a backpacking trip - it just seems counterintuitive to pack all of that stuff (both ingredients and utensils) and then end up cooking (yet again) some big meal. It is, however, difficult to find anything better than noodle cups when it comes to vegan food. Until now, that is. Here are some really cool finds - mind you, I haven't tried any of them yet, but will in August when I shall report back to y'all! If anyone out there has tried them, please tell me!
If you are a vegan (or anyone concerned with what you put into your body) I'm sure you read all ingredients lists and labels scrupulously anyway, so these will give you a place to start. These folks have a unique cook-in-the-pouch design that uses no foil, so it can be burned afterwards. Only some of the meals are vegan, so check the ingredients first, but I believe most if not all are organic. Only a few vegan choices here, like the oatmeal and some of their "Two-person serving items; vegetarian"; again, check ingredients. You have to check the ingredients again, but many of these meals are vegan, EXCEPT that they use a lot of TVP as a "meaty" ingredient and personally my system doesn't like TVP much (read between the lines: intestinal upset; not great on a backpacking trip, LOL!).
Happy backpacking!