At the conclusion of my 2008 race season, I spent a fair amount of time pondering the sports of ultrarunning and triathlon. My plan is to distill these thoughts into a post next month comparing the relative degrees of difficulty between an ironman triathlon and a 100-mile ultra, both in terms of pre-race training and race performance.
Unfortunately, the official post is going to take me a while - so in the meantime, I’ve got a couple of somewhat related items on a similar theme:
* First, I think I’ve got myself a new hero, in the form of a guy named Graham Cooper. Ultrarunners should recognize his name as the winner of the 2006 Western States Endurance Run. He was primed to reclaim his title this past summer, until the wildfires ruined everyone’s plans. While many people (like, um … me) moped and then scrambled for a substitute 100-miler, Cooper smoothly shifted gears and entered Ironman Canada instead.
Check that – he didn’t just enter, he smoked the course and earned a slot to compete in the Ironman World Championship at Kona on October 11th. (Thanks to Scott Dunlap for the legwork on this info). There are literally thousands of extremely talented, dedicated amateur triathletes who work their whole lives to earn a slot to Kona; to think that Cooper did it as a rebound race is absolutely stunning.
I used to have this theory that somebody could participate in both ultrarunning and long-distance triathlon, but that it was next to impossible to perform well in both sports simultaneously. Now Cooper comes along and proves – as if there was any doubt left anymore – that I’m simply an idiot.
So to all of you ultrarunners who claim that you don’t know the first thing about triathlon, and can’t relate to any of the type-A obsessives who populate the triathlete ranks, now you’ve officially got someone to root for at Kona next weekend. And I’ll be cheering for Graham Cooper right along with you.
* One of the training advantages triathletes enjoy over runners is the ability to vary their training based on how their body is feeling. If your legs are fried from a hard tempo run, you spend a couple of days in the pool focused on upper body technique. When your neck and low back are sore from being in an aero position on the bike for six hours, you do an easy run the next day. You’re always building fitness, but having several different means to do so decreases the strain on any particular area of the body.
Dedicated runners, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Consequently, they’re much less willing to wait a couple of days until a problem area resolves, and more likely to train with persistent aches and soreness. Inevitably, many of those aches become injuries of varying severity – but that usually doesn’t stop a hardcore runner from doing the activity he or she loves.
That was the premise behind last week’s Monterey Herald column, which follows below:
Running Life 9/25/08 “The Running-While-Injured Life”
We typically utilize this space describing all of the benefits of running – however, sometimes it might be possible to have too much of a good thing.
Many avid runners become so hooked on the sport that it often consumes their thoughts. Sure, a hardcore runner may appear alert and attentive on the surface - but it’s a good bet that internally, that otherwise normal-appearing person is completely preoccupied with all manner of details pertaining to his or her running.
They’ll spend countless waking hours thinking about how many miles they logged today, what their average time for the run was, when and where their next run will be, how many miles they’ve run this week, how much longer it will be until they need a new pair of shoes, which running clothes they need to buy once the weather changes, how much fluid they should be consuming during the day, when their next race is going to be, and whether or not one of those nagging sore areas is going to turn into an injury.
That last point is a critical one – because when a runner develops physical problems, all other concerns get pushed to the back burner. Runners are notorious for having tunnel vision when it comes to focusing on (and worrying about) anything that prevents them from doing the activity they love. Unfortunately, injuries are an all too common occurrence among this crowd.
For example, here’s a typical conversation that might take place between any of our group of friends who cross paths in their everyday (non-running) lives. Let’s say they meet unexpectedly on Alvarado Street this week. They certainly have a wide variety of discussion topics to mull over: the economy, the presidential election, the war, career changes, or family developments.
Despite all of that, it’s a virtual certainty that the conversation would unfold something like this:
Joe: “Hi Susie, haven’t seen you for awhile. How are you doing?”
Susie: “Good to see you Joe. I’m OK but I’ve hardly been running at all. My piriformis problem just isn’t going away. I’ve been stretching, doing ice massage, and taking Advil. I’m even going to Bikram yoga a few times a week, which helps for a few hours, but by the next morning it’s bothering me again.”
Joe: “That’s too bad. I haven’t been running much either. My left shin is really painful when I run, and hurts all day long afterward. I had an x-ray and MRI last week and there’s no stress fracture right now but the doc says it looks imminent if I keep running. I don’t think its shin splints. It could be compartment syndrome. I’m seeing my physical therapist but the progress seems really slow. Occasionally I’ll try the elliptical machine but it’s just too boring.”
Susie: “Yeah. It’s really frustrating…. Oh, look, there’s Ted.”
Ted: “What a coincidence. How are you guys? I’ve been decreasing my mileage because of some Achilles tendonitis. Luckily, it’s not a complete tear, but when I run it’s extremely painful. I’m also doing some pool running, but I don’t get the same endorphin high in the water. And I feel like everyone’s laughing at me when I’m wearing my swimsuit.
Joe: “Yeah, I hate it when that happens. My wife just had a knee operation for patellofemoral syndrome and did some pool running during her rehab. She’s favoring her right side a bit now, so her left plantar fascia is becoming a problem. She does ice massage and flexion exercises using toe curls and a towel. It takes about an hour a day - really a hassle.”
Ted: “Hey Susie … how is Dave doing?”
Susie: “He hasn’t been running a lot either. His right hip hurts and he aggravated his left illiotibial band because he was running funny to protect his hip. He’s going to both the physical therapist and chiropractor but he still has problems. He’s also trying myofascial release therapy and it seems to be helping a little.
Ted: “Wow, good luck to him for sure. Did you hear about Rod? He ran a race last month and right near the end he pulled a calf muscle. He had to beat someone in his age group so he gutted it out, but now he’s injured again. He’s doing intermittent heat and ice treatments. He also sees a massage therapist twice a week for really deep muscle work. Hope he gets better soon.”
Joe: “So … are we all running at the regular place tomorrow morning? 12 miles on the Wharf starting at 5AM?
Susie: “Sounds great to me. See you then.”
Ted: “Someone should call Rod and tell him – he’ll probably show up.”
Joe: “Yeah. It will be great to talk with everyone again!”
September 29, 2008
At the conclusion of my 2008 race season, I spent a fair amount of time pondering the sports of ultrarunning and triathlon. My plan is to distill these thoughts into a post next month comparing the relative degrees of difficulty between an ironman triathlon and a 100-mile ultra, both in terms of pre-race training and race performance.
September 25, 2008
"In times like these - and times like those -
What will be will be - and so it goes -
And it always goes on and on ... on and on it goes"
- Jack Johnson, "Times Like These" (click to play)
Today’s post is a quickie, which gives me space for a few administrative notes before we proceed …
* By all appearances, my short-lived Google Ads experiment has come to an end. Apparently, they don’t take very kindly to what they call “suspicious clicking”, and they don’t hesitate to pull the plug on any questionable conduct. It was a brief, torrid affair - and once they caught me cheating, they kicked me out of the house like an angry lover, and changed the locks to ensure that I’ll never darken their doorway again.
(Seriously - I can’t even log into my account page anymore. This is one hardcore grudge. I'm totally bummed.)
The lessons here are twofold, and the first one should be obvious: namely, that I’m an idiot. Second, and more important to others who may flirt with monetizing their website someday, is this: NOBODY messes with Google.
* I’ve been waiting about a month to post a certain video on my sidebar, but the production of it keeps getting delayed – so in the meantime, you’re getting a clip from the absolute best rock band out there today: Rise Against. They're releasing a new album in October, so if you want to know what kind of stuff I’ll be rocking to throughout the fall, the sidebar video (from their previous album) gives you a small sampling.
* This item may only make sense to one person … but if you happen to be reading my blog from the UC Davis campus, would you mind dropping me a quick e-mail (see my profile) to say hi? Otherwise, you’re starting to give me the creeps.
Sorry to be vague with that last one. On with the post …
Here we go again … :
In the aftermath of this year’s cancellation, I’m guessing that every single runner on the Western States start list had the same immediate thought that I did: we can still do the race next year, right?
It took less than 48 hours for the race committee to announce that every runner on the 2008 start list would be guaranteed a spot in the 2009 event. It took quite a bit longer for me to contemplate how I might train for this race again next year without the rest of my – and my family’s – life becoming quite as chaotic as it was this spring and summer. I’m still not sure that my strategy is 100% foolproof, but I guess we’ll wait and see how it goes.
As far as this blog is concerned, there’s probably going to be a strong sense of déjà-vu every now and again, as my race schedule will look remarkably similar to the 2008 version you see on the sidebar – with the obvious hopeful exception that the Western States link will have an actual race report instead of a lamentation. I still believe the story has the ending I want it to have; it’s just taking me an extra year to get there.
"Somehow I know - it won't be the same -
Somehow I know - it will never be the same."
- Jack Johnson, "Times Like These"
September 22, 2008
Although it’s not surprising that endurance events have enjoyed soaring popularity in recent years, one development that continually baffles me is the prevalence of companies who specialize in race photography.
I’ve never understood how the math works out in favor of any of these companies turning a profit. Consider the sequence that has to occur for anyone to actually buy a race photo from a given event:
1) The photographer finds a scenic point of the course which also has optimal light conditions, then
2) Captures images of the athletes - in the middle of competition - that aren’t even a tiny bit unflattering to one of the most vain subsets of people you’ll ever encounter, then
3) Hopes that the athlete doesn’t already have a friend or family member taking race pictures, and that
4) The person loves the photo so much that he or she is willing to pay top dollar for it.
I mean … the chance of all of these things happening on a regular basis seems staggeringly low, doesn’t it? I suppose that’s why they have to charge so much per picture to try and break even. They’re certainly not making any money on me; in the past several years, I’ve purchased only one photo – and that was only because my son was in the picture with me. Otherwise, I’m a lost cause for the photo companies.
However, while I’m not one to shell out fifteen bucks for a 4”x6” race photo, I’m certainly not above doing a few screen grabs and turning it into a quick post. I may be cheap, but I’m also resourceful.
I’m also somewhat unorthodox, in that the following pictures are out of sequence. We’ll start with the run:
This is what I look like while struggling through a half-marathon after leaving my legs on the bike. I mean that almost literally – I had no legs during this run. If you don’t believe me, look at this next picture:
OK, this isn’t a race photo – it's a drawing of me, made by my 4-year-old daughter. She’s developed a fondness for sketching her family members, so I’ve got about 30 portraits of myself taped to walls and scattered on desktops and nightstands all over my house and office. This was drawn shortly after the race – and see? No legs. Of course, there are no ears or nose or arms, either – but that’s a separate issue.
Meanwhile, back to the triathlon …
I seem to have pretty decent luck with cycling pictures in triathlons, and this one is a good example. There’s nothing in particular to complain about, and I don’t look like a complete idiot. It’s a nice photo … but it’s not 15 dollars nice.
Actually, that isn’t even my favorite bike shot from the race – because I like this one better:
It’s closer up, I’m the only one in the picture, and – twice in a row! – I don’t look like an idiot. This might make a good profile pic someday, if I ever decide to update. Of course, I once declared that I’ll never change my profile pic, so that in cyberspace I can stay eternally young (just like I’m forever 25 years old on my current driver’s license photo), so I’ll have to mull that one over for a bit.
I said that the bike picture was my favorite from the race – but even that’s not the best self-photo I’ve seen over the last week. That would be this one:
That’s me, as seen by my 4-year-old. The letters say “Dad Mom”, but the picture is just me. Notice that I now have arms and legs, but as of yet, no feet. I honestly didn’t care about the lack of appendages – because you know what those little dot-looking things are? They’re hearts, because she loves me so much.
(I’ll pause for the “awwww ….”. Don’t act like you didn’t think it.)
Fortunately, I’m not the only one she loves. It occurs to me that I’ve never posted a photograph of my wife on this blog – so today, since I’m in a good mood, I’ll throw in a special treat: a picture of my beautiful bride:
Isn’t she a hottie? She’s tall, has heavenly long hair, and one eye about 10 times larger than the other. (All right … I’m kidding about the eye, but the other parts are true.) Notice all the hearts around her, as well. Needless to say, I consider myself a very lucky man.
Triathlon photos will come and go, but family portraits sketched by 4-year-olds are the things you grab onto and cherish. I’d gladly pay fifteen bucks for any one of these; thankfully, I’ve got a source who provides me with them for free.
September 18, 2008
"Sir - Professor Dumbledore? Can I ask you something?"
"What do you see when you look in the mirror?"
"I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks."
"One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore.
- J.K. Rowling, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Three months ago, if you had put me in front of the Mirror of Erised wearing nothing but shorts and a running shirt, my answer to the above question would have been very similar to Professor Dumbledore’s; namely, I was just looking for a great pair of socks.
The magic of the mirror (hint: spell it backwards) is that it reflects not what is seen, but whatever the observer longs for above all else – and for me, during the times that I was logging upwards of 100 weekly trail miles, comfortable socks were very near the top of that list.
Unfortunately, I never settled on a brand of trail running socks that I liked. During my six-month buildup to Western States, I went through Wigwam, Thorlo, Balega, Smartwool, and REI brand socks, with varying levels of satisfaction (or, in most cases, dissatisfaction) over one aspect or another. When I finally toed the line at the Headlands 100, I wasn’t fully confident in any particular socks to see me through the task.
You know how this part of the story goes: over the next 23 hours, I got a lot of blisters, and ended up losing a couple of toenails.
So even though my season was over, I was still determined to find the magical socks that could prevent something similar from happening in future races. And that’s why, when an opportunity to try Drymax socks presented itself, I jumped in with both blistered feet.
I only wish I had found them sooner.
Before we get to specifics, there’s something else worth emphasizing: in previous reviews, I’ve espoused my pet philosophy of marketing to endurance athletes – namely, that companies are much better served by a grassroots word-of-mouth campaign using several talkative “spokesbloggers” than by paying big money for high-profile professional athletes or glitzy multimedia advertising. And over the past several months, that’s exactly what the Drymax company has done.
I had already heard of Drymax – and you probably have, too – but it wasn’t from a full-page ad in a magazine. Instead, I kept seeing references to them in endurance blogs, and online recommendations from triathletes and ultrarunners. Drymax has sponsored a handful of higher-profile athletes (including the women's winner of the 2008 Badwater Run), but for the most part, they’ve built up a following through blogs (in fact, they even have their own blog) and online forums and a willingness to put their products in the hands - more accurately, the feet - of the most demanding users.
Of course, this strategy only works if you have the product to back it up – and Drymax does. This is a company that clearly did its homework before jumping into the crowded running-sock fray, and the results are clear. (In fact, they went into complete overkill mode with scientific analysis and application for these socks; my shipment came with a 105-page hardbound book detailing the specifications and indicated use for the Drymax product line, complete with charts and graphs and research study references. I know, you think I’m kidding – so let’s get to the pictures.)
This package arrived at my house last month: a dozen pairs of socks, along with a handwritten note thanking me for trying them and writing a review. (I’ve mentioned how much I like handwritten notes, right?) That object at bottom center is the hardcover user’s manual; in the back are a handful of reviews from national publications - no surprise: they’re all favorable.
One reason for having such a huge instruction book is that Drymax offers a larger variety of performance socks than any company I’ve ever seen. There are 7 different styles for runners or triathletes (this doesn’t include those made for walking, hiking or cycling), and several styles are also offered in an assortment of heights – for example, you can order your version 3 running socks in crew, quarter-crew, mini-crew, or no-show models – and colors.
Although the variety is awesome, it’s also a potential downside, in that the shopping process initially seems to approach a Starbucks (“tall half-fat double shot mocha frappucino with no whip and extra syrup”) level of complication. If you don’t know exactly what you like, you may have to try a few different styles to find the perfect pair for you. Luckily, in my case, I was mainly focused on trail running socks, so the only thing I had to select was the color - and wouldn’t you know it, they sent me both gray and black options. To their credit, Drymax seems to realize this concern, so they’ve taken an extra step to keep folks organized: they stitch the model name and size into each individual sock.
For example, these are the maximum protection running/triathlon socks that I wore in the Big Kahuna triathlon last weekend. I mentioned that only had eight toenails that day, didn’t I? During the race, I didn’t spend one second worried about foot discomfort – I just put them on in T1 (yes, I wear socks on the bike), and never gave my feet a second thought.
These are the trail running socks I had been dying to try – along with one more detail worth pointing out. See that writing on the top?
All of these socks are made in the USA, baby. Call me biased, but that has to count for something nowadays.
When you put the socks on, they feel unusual at first, and maybe even a bit tight - in the same way that compression shorts feel strange when you’re used to wearing loose shorts. The socks are designed to fit like compression garments for your feet – which, in addition to helping wick moisture, also helps keep gravel and pebbles from the trail away from your ankles. The socks also feel thinner than cushioned socks, but according to the website, they utilize a high-density padding in key areas that adds protection without extra bulk.
One minor criticism of the socks is that the sizing is somewhat unconventional. My foot is a size 11, which normally places me smack in the middle of most brands’ “large” range of 9-12. With Drymax, 11 is the beginning of the XL size, which was the first size I tried, and it felt slightly big. Although I still use XLs without problems, the L size is a better fit for me – so my suggestion is to double-check your fit, and try on a pair if possible before purchasing (or if you're buying over the Internet, buy two sizes and return one).
The bottom line here is that ever since my 100-miler, Drymax socks are all that I’ve worn, and I’ve been extremely satisfied with their performance. I could go on and on about the moisture-wicking technology onboard, how well they score in comparative studies to other brands, how durable they are, or how they’ve been tested in all sorts of extreme conditions – but all of that stuff is on the website and blog, and I’ve already rambled way too long. Suffice it to say that they are extremely comfortable, and keep your feet incredibly dry. Best of all, they don’t even irritate the beds of my missing toenails during my hilly trail runs.
Of course, my real test for these socks will come next spring and summer, when I use them for my high-mileage training weeks and tune-up races, and ultimately for the Western States Endurance Run in 2009. While I can’t guarantee that I won’t have any foot-related problems there, I can at least know that I have the best possible protection to help me make it through 100 miles again.
My introductory comparison to Professor Dumbledore was inaccurate in only one regard: I’ve never had a problem getting enough socks; rather, my desire was to find the perfect pair for my ultrarunning exploits. Now, I feel like that problem has vanished; if I stood in front of the Mirror of Erised today wearing my race-day ultra uniform, I’d undoubtedly look down to see a nice pair of Drymax trailrunners upon my feet.
* Drymax socks are available at Wilderness Running Company for $11.50, minus a 10% discount if you use coupon code R&R10.
**See other product reviews on sidebar. If you have a product to review, contact me at email@example.com
September 15, 2008
Last week, I sent a large shipment of race bibs to a fellow blogger who is using them for a school project (check out the link - she might need more). They really weren’t that hard to collect; after each race, I would simply scribble my time on the back, and tuck the number away in a drawer for some unspecified, yet highly ambitious future use. Needless to say, the years drifted along, but the grand idea never really came to me, so the bibs were simply forgotten in the mouth of a manila folder inside a file cabinet in a spare room of the house.
However, since they didn’t take up very much space, it wasn’t that big of a deal when the quantity of stored away items reached several dozen or more. The more bothersome issue with doing so many events over the years is what to do with all of those race shirts.
It’s a dilemma that nearly every runner (or cyclist or triathlete, for that matter) faces eventually, so my friend Mike and I thought it would be a good topic for a Monterey Herald column. The article that ran in last week’s newspaper appears below.
Running Life 9/11/08 “Race Shirt Blues”
If you’re a runner who enters a lot of races, sooner or later you’ll get a case of the race shirt blues.
It’s standard practice for every race to provide entrants with shirts for doing nothing more than paying the entry fee. Once you accumulate enough shirts to overflow your dresser drawers, some kind of selection hierarchy is implemented, where the oldest or least attractive shirts are cleared out and given to relatives or to Goodwill. Only the best and most memorable shirts are saved.
While we don’t hesitate to unload such unwanted clothing, the shirts from our favorite races often foster an emotional attachment for us. For many runners, they may provide an identity or sense of pride. Wearing a race shirt is often a statement declaring that we enjoy healthy activities and participating in challenging events.
The more difficult the event, the greater “prestige” factor of the shirt - for example, among locals, wearing a Big Sur Marathon shirt is something like a badge of courage and accomplishment. That’s why we sometimes feel a bit protective about who should rightfully wear shirts from certain races.
In previous articles we’ve mentioned a few rules of etiquette about wearing race shirts. You should never wear a shirt from a race you haven’t run. It’s bad juju to wear a shirt prior to the race (for instance, if you pick it up at the expo the day before), and even worse juju to wear the shirt in the actual race. These rules have all been scientifically proven to bring disaster upon the naïve runner (OK, not really – but just trust us on these).
This cardinal rule for runners - that you have to participate in an event before you wear the shirt - is why we’re somewhat discouraged and mystified by people who wear event shirts from other sports which merely advertise their attendance as spectators. This peculiarity seems especially prevalent among the golf community.
Someday, if you want to stir up some trouble, try this: the next time you’re in an elevator with someone wearing a U.S. Open golf shirt, ask them how they played. When they look at you like an idiot and answer, “Oh, I didn’t play, I watched the Open at Pebble Beach”, you can say, “Wow … that must have been a lot of work. You should be proud of yourself.” (On second thought, maybe you should wait until you’re out of the elevator to say this – then you can run away. Don’t worry – there’s no way that duffer will be able to catch you.)
Here’s another game you can play sometime: go to Target or Costco, and start looking around for race shirts. On an average day you’ll probably see several people wearing the shirt of one race or another. Your task is to guess whether the person wearing the shirt is actually the one who ran the race, or a relative of a runner, or just somebody who shops at thrift stores. This game is harder than you think; many fit-looking people may in fact be imposters, and many with “non-athletic” appearances might be the real deal. Of course, since you’ll never actually ask them (we hope), there’s no way of keeping an accurate score - but it’s a fun diversion nevertheless.
In larger cities, the misuse of race shirts has reached epidemic proportions – as we’ve each discovered while running in San Francisco during and after the city’s marathon.
The San Francisco Marathon starts at the Ferry Building and heads out the Embarcadero toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Typically, runners wear their least favorite old race shirt at the start line to keep warm in the early morning chill. They then jettison the extra top somewhere along the Embarcadero as their bodies get warmed up.
It only takes a matter of minutes before the discarded shirts are claimed by spectators – the majority of whom are the homeless population. It’s a bonanza morning for people who sleep on the streets, as shirts rain down like manna from heaven. The week after the marathon, it’s common to see vagabonds pushing shopping carts and wearing layers of Napa Marathon and Bay to Breakers shirts to keep warm.
This chain of events causes potentially confusing sights for untrained tourists walking along the Embarcadero or Fisherman’s Wharf. Someone might look around the sidewalks and storefronts and conclude that a lot of local runners have somehow fallen on very hard times. A worse scenario would be if an actual runner collapses on the ground, and no one stops to help because he seemingly fits right in with the other nearby derelicts all wearing race shirts.
Incidentally, the same wardrobe tossing ritual happens along beautiful Highway 1 during the Big Sur Marathon - but to their credit, the race organization makes sure that all the clothing is picked up by volunteers immediately afterwards. Each year, about 15 to 20 large trash bags filled with discarded shirts are brought to a warehouse, and shortly thereafter given to local charities.
As we consider this, maybe the misuse of old race shirts isn’t such a bad thing after all. Our discarded clothing provides benefit to other people, whether for basic comforts like warmth, or for bargain hunters who might feel some sense of participation by wearing someone else’s marathon shirt.
In an ideal world, some of those folks would then be motivated to start a running or exercise program of their own. Later on, they’ll enter races and receive their own shirts – and once they’ve done a lot of races and have to weed out the old ones, they’ll pay it forward by tossing those old shirts onto some new owners.
While such a scenario might be unlikely, just knowing that it’s possible helps to relieve the race shirt blues a little bit.
September 11, 2008
Before we jump into the race report, a few follow-up notes from the previous introductory post …
* First, on the “sunrise over the ocean” thing: Yes, I’m aware that the sun travels from east to west. But remember, the Monterey Bay is kidney-shaped, which – in addition to making it a pain in the butt to drive around – also screws up your sense of orientation if you’re not paying attention.
Santa Cruz sits at the northernmost point of the bay (click map at right to enlarge), and the beaches have a somewhat southeastern exposure; so while the sun doesn’t ascend directly over the water, the angle of those first rays of daybreak often paint a stunning palette of color – at least on the infrequent mornings that aren’t foggy, such as the day of the race. Consider this your Geography Channel tip of the day.
* Second, Girl 1 from that crazy porta-potty exchange reads my blog! Either that, or she got sent here by her friend who was a race spectator. In any case, how cool is that? And if you were wanting verification that I’m not just making this stuff up, go back and look at that comment box. She thought the whole thing was just as insane as I did.
Now, what would be really interesting is if Girl #2 is out there reading. Not necessarily in a “Hey, this might be cool” way - but more like a “I hope she doesn’t try something scary” way. On second thought … maybe we’re all better off not knowing.
* Lastly, and most disturbingly, is this: I feel like I should apologize for having toenail fungus ads on my sidebar yesterday. I guess that’s what you get when you let a Googlebot scroll your page content looking for keywords. I haven’t quite got the hang of this Google Ads deal – so if anyone knows how I can filter those types of things out, I’d love to hear it. And if you were inadvertently grossed out … hopefully you’ll never come across my little snot rocket tutorial from a few months ago.
So, where were we again? … Oh, that’s right – the race report!
“Fortune, fame, mirror vain – gone insane –
But the memory remains … “
- Metallica, “The Memory Remains”
Part 1: The Swim
No matter how many triathlons I do, the swim segment always seems like a huge wildcard in relation to the overall race. More specifically, I’ve never found a strong correlation between how much I’ve trained and the split time I post. Sometimes I’ll bust a fast split with minimal training, and other times I’ll do a high volume of training only to come out of the water unusually slow on race day.
This year was a good example, as I had more confidence in my swim than in any other segment, and felt very relaxed and strong in the water. I didn’t swerve too wildly, I drafted for long segments behind the folks who gradually passed me, and I overtook swimmers from previous wave starts in droves during the last half-mile or so. Then I got out of the water and saw that my split was almost three minutes slower than I thought it would be.
(For the record, this was a common topic of discussion after the race, as almost everybody complained that their times were slower than expected. The consensus at the race - and afterwards, in some blogs I’ve read - is that the course was probably too long. But as I was sprinting up the beach and peeling off my wetsuit, there was obviously no way for me to know that.)
The other illogical aspect of the triathlon swim is that even though it’s the segment of the shortest duration, it often sets the tone for the rest of the race. When I exit the water quicker or feeling stronger than anticipated, there’s definitely an adrenaline surge that carries over to the other two disciplines. In this case, when I knew I needed to gain a few minutes of cushion to make up for my lack of bike training, and then realized I was actually three minutes slower than usual … let’s just say I wasn’t whistling a happy tune on the run into T1.
Swim stats: 1.2 (?) miles in 32:39. Rank 22nd of 127 in age group.
Part 2: The Bike
Despite what I just wrote about the swim segment setting the tone, make no mistake – the bike segment is the defining portion of any triathlon. It’s also the portion I was least prepared for, which made me more than a little apprehensive as I clipped into the pedals and headed north on Highway 1.
I hadn’t taken very many pedal strokes before recalling a conversation with our running group on the Friday morning before the race:
Friend 1: Good luck this weekend! Do you feel ready for the triathlon?
Me: We’ll see. I’m not very confident about the bike segment – I don’t think my legs remember how to hammer like that.
Friend 2: I would think it’s like riding a bike …
(note: Friend 2 is extremely funny, and he's a good writer as well. I keep telling him to start a blog someday – if he ever does, I’ll let you know).
Me: That’s all the ride’s going to be: pure muscle memory.
Granted, that’s not much to depend on, but within a few miles of the bike course, I was delighted to find that the memory of hammering those pedals was still in my legs. Coincidentally, it was also around this time that the intro Metallica song started thumping through my head and stuck with me for most of the day. Before I knew it, I was cruising along at close to 20mph like I had been doing this kind of thing all summer long.
However, while I was happy that the muscle memory remained, I realized that it would only carry me so far before the reality of my limited training crashed down upon me. It was time to get strategic.
For most of the first half, I rode with a group of 5 or 6 other riders who were constantly passing and being re-passed, staying in close proximity but always swerving and staggering our positions relative to one another to avoid drafting (at least, that’s what I was doing – but I definitely saw some wheel-on-wheel situations at times. It's pretty hard not to when a group of six riders tries to share the same road shoulder.). They were riding at a faster pace than I could generate by myself, but I felt like I could maintain contact by working somewhat above my comfort zone. I think of it as “mental drafting” – the ability to ride faster just by seeing someone alongside you going equally fast - and for 20 miles or so, this plan worked great.
The Kahuna bike course is an out and back route along Highway 1 without significant elevation change from one end to the other, but the ocean winds tend to blow in your face on the way out, and behind you on the return. It was during the final eight miles to the turnaround point that I really started to feel the strain of an effort I wasn’t accustomed to, but I was doggedly determined to maintain contact with the group.
This was the decision point. The aggressive choice was to overexert myself and stay close until the turnaround, when the tailwind on the trip home would allow me to maintain my average speed - but my legs would probably be fried by the time I reached T2. If I stayed conservative and abandoned the group, I might lose more time struggling along by myself than I’d be able to make up with a stronger run.
You can guess which option I picked - and for the remainder of the bike segment, the strategy paid off pretty well. I maintained my cruising speed on the way back, even improving my average MPH over the final 20 miles after the group had essentially dissolved.
I realized, however, that the launch sequence for my legs to blow up had been activated several miles back … so it was only a matter of time before they exploded.
Bike stats: 56 miles in 2:39 – 21.0 mph average. Rank 31 in AG.
Part 3: The Run
I never told anyone, but my pre-race goal for this year was to try and sneak in under 5 hours. I knew I wouldn’t be able to PR, but going sub-5 would be pretty impressive under the circumstances. So when I rolled out of T2 with the race clock showing 3:20, a couple of thoughts crossed my mind:
1) If I run a 1:40 half-marathon, I can make it! And …
2) Why do these things always have to be so close?
Before the race, I had factored a realistic half-marathon time of 1:45, with an optimistic goal of 1:40 if I was feeling good. When I looked at my watch after T2, part of me was hoping to see an overall time that was either low enough to give a nice cushion, or high enough to give me no chance at breaking 5 hours. In either of those cases, I could have just cruised the run course without worrying about every mile split.
But since this is me we’re talking about ... there’s always reason for worry.
Since I was teetering along the line between “highest sustainable intensity” and breaking down like the Bluesmobile (it’s a long clip, but scroll forward to the 8:30 mark), I decided to take things mile by mile and reassess the situation along the way. My first two splits were in the 7:40ish range, which kept me close, but didn’t exactly build a huge sense of optimism about getting in under 5 hours.
I kept going along like this until mile 9, when I did some math, figured I had about 26 minutes to run 4.1 miles, and immediately thought … that’s just not gonna happen. It was a mild disappointment to realize the goal time was lost, but all things considered, I still felt happy with putting up one heck of a fight (especially for a guy with only eight toenails – that has to count for something, right?).
I downshifted into a more casual pace (probably 8:30s or so) to enjoy the last few miles of my last race of the year. To my surprise, I was still passing a lot of people in this stretch. I didn’t let it get to my head, though – in fact, it reminded me of the old joke where a snail gets mugged by two turtles; when the police come to interview the snail and ask him what happened, he says “Gosh, it’s hard to remember … everything happened so fast!”
In other words, everything’s relative. I was passing people, but it was only because I was further behind in the pack than I usually am, and there are a lot of slower runners back there. I was merely the turtle overtaking a lot of snails in the last 5K.
Ultimately I reached the pier and descended to the sand for the final third of a mile along the beach. It was one of those beautifully warm, unbelievably perfect late summer beach days, which drew a huge crowd of sunbathers and spectators and families (and, judging by the occasional smell of things, more than a few pot smokers – this is Santa Cruz, after all), who lined the course in growing numbers to cheer the weary runners home. I crossed the finish line, got my medal and my lei, and sat down in the shade of the Boardwalk to let the whole day soak in for a while.
Run stats: 13.1 miles in 1:45 – 8:04 average. Rank 35 in AG.
Overall stats: Finish time 5:04:46 – 96th of 850 overall, 28th of 127 in AG.
Part 4: Postmortem
As I’ve explained (too many times) before, usually when I come up just short of a time goal, I’ll mope and brood and second-guess my motivation and toughness during difficult stretches of the day. This time, to my delight, none of that really happened – primarily for a couple of reasons:
First - and most importantly – is that I really had a blast doing this race. Sometimes I forget just how fun triathlons can be. In the last post, I compared triathlon unfavorably to ultrarunning, but when it comes to adrenaline-pumping excitement, triathlons definitely rank higher than trail running. It’s like having that “descending the first major drop of a roller coaster” feeling in your chest and throat, only it lasts for (in this case) over five hours. This was really the first time all year I had felt that kind of rush, so a slower than usual performance certainly wasn’t going to dampen that feeling in any way.
(On a related note, since a few people have asked: yes, I'm going to write a post comparing ultrarunning and ironman training and racing. I hope to get to it in the next few weeks - but you know better than to expect a due date from me.)
Secondly, I know this sounds bizarre, but I was kind of glad that I wasn’t able to break five hours – because it might have diminished the accomplishment somewhat.
Think of it this way: If I had broken 5 hours here less than a month after running a 100-miler, with a grand total of three bike rides and zero speed training in the preceding six months – not to mention doing it all with just eight toenails – that wouldn’t say much for the 4:51 I did here two years ago, would it? Goals that come too easy don’t mean nearly as much as those you work your butt off to reach.
In that regard, triathlon - with the possible exception of a mismeasured swim segment here or there - is very much an honest sport: the results you reap are only those that you’ve spent the time to properly sow. The bottom line is that I didn’t deserve to go as fast as I wanted to – and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Because on another day, things will be different – and I know from experience just how awesome that day will feel. In the meantime, this one felt pretty darn good as well.
September 9, 2008
Admin note: this started out as an introduction to my Big Kahuna triathlon report, but things got a little carried away, and before I knew it, nearly 1000 words had gone by. As it developed, this segment seemed to tell a story of its own, so that’s what I’m doing for today. Look for the race report in the next couple of days – and by way of a theme preview, there’s a classic (potentially somewhat vertigo-inducing) rock video after the post.
If you detected a sense of ambivalence in my pre-race posts, that wasn’t exactly an accident.
Truth be told, I spent much of race morning questioning just what the heck I was doing at this race anyway. I hadn’t done any training (aside from developing an enormous slow-twitch aerobic base – but that’s not entirely effective for high-intensity activity), I wasn’t particularly excited about participating, and I had pulled myself away from two other weekend family activities at home to take part in it.
Furthermore, these several months of ultra training had led me to feel like I didn’t really fit in with this tri-crowd all that much. More specifically – and I’ll try to phrase this as politely as possible – a large percentage of the tri crowd seems to take this athletic stuff way too seriously. It’s a direct contrast to the laid-back, whatever-gets-you-to-the-finish mentality of most ultrarunners I met this year.
The feeling started at the expo, in brief exchanges and conversations overheard while I picked up my race number: Your clothes are last year’s models? You’re totally behind the times. Your bike still has factory wheels and components, without high-end aerodynamic upgrades? You’re giving away speed, dude. Your sports drink is from Costco, and not a scientific $5-per-bottle superpotion? You’re cheating yourself, bro.
Finally, there was this conversation I overheard in the porta-potty line on race morning, between two women immediately in front of me, after each had asked the other where they were from:
Girl 1: So have you done this race before?
Girl 2: Yeah. I’m only doing it again because I didn’t qualify for Kona this year. I took second in my age group at Ironman France, and they only gave one slot for Kona. I should have won, but some other girl beat me by a few minutes. I’ve done Kona three times, so this is my easy consolation race for the year.
I mean … are you kidding me? Who talks like this? From all appearances, this was the first time these two had ever met. And they were in the porta-potty line, for goodness sake - it’s not like there might have been Zoot or Cervelo scouts combing the area looking for athletes to sponsor. It’s hard for me to fathom just how much some people are into themselves. All of a sudden, I was feeling very out of place.
So when the Kona woman turned to make sure I was listening, I said, “Guess what? I only have eight toenails!”* - and that was enough for them to leave me out of the conversation.
(*My other big toenail fell off the night before the race, as I was getting ready for bed. My daughter was already asleep, I wouldn’t see her until the following evening, and I didn’t want to carry a toenail around with me while racing 70.3 miles. So the OFFICIAL story is that the toenail fell off in the ocean during the race – are we all clear on this? Yes, I’ll probably go back and delete this paragraph once she starts reading my blog someday. Let’s move on.)
Needless to say, I wasn’t in the greatest mood while walking from T1 to the start area, but as soon as I hit the beach, everything changed.
There’s a reason that I live in California. OK, there are several reasons - but one of them is this: there’s something absolutely magical about watching the sunrise over the ocean. And as I walked towards the start line and saw the sun coming up over the pier, with the silhouettes of hundreds of athletes standing on the shore and swimming in the water, on an unseasonably warm September morning, all the things I appreciate came back to me.
I waded into the ocean and took a short warm-up swim, then stayed about 100 yards offshore, floating in the water, looking back towards the beach. In all of my athletic experiences, it was one of the most inspiring scenes I’ve ever observed: masses of triathletes and spectators gathered on the shore, with the Santa Cruz Boardwalk in the background, and a red-orange sunrise heralding the promise of the coming day.
In that moment, there was no place else I wanted to be.
It didn’t matter that I hadn’t trained very much. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t identify with a lot of the competitors sharing the day with me. It didn’t even matter that I only had eight toenails. All that mattered was that I had a race to enjoy.
I took a few more warmup strokes towards the shore, and drifted on the waves until my knees skimmed the sand. I stood up, exited the water, and took my place in the throng of age-group men anxiously awaiting their charge into the ocean.
A few seconds later, the horn sounded, and our race was on.
Metallica, "The Memory Remains" (click to play):
September 7, 2008
“I used to rule the world - seas would rise when I gave the word -
Now in the morning I sleep alone - sweep the streets I used to own …
One minute I held the key- next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand - upon pillars of salt, and pillars of sand.”
- Coldplay, "Viva La Vida" (on sidebar – click to play)
Driving home from this race in 2006, after beating my best-case scenario time by nearly 10 minutes to finish in 4:51, I felt like the king of the world: there was no obstacle I couldn’t overcome; no limit to the possibilities that lay before me.
This year, the walls closed on me. I finished in 5:04, which isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been - but not as well as I was optimistically hoping, either. Although the outcome was fairly well expected, the feeling driving home this year was still a bit of a bummer.
So apparently all that training stuff makes a difference. More specifically – all of that NOT training makes a very noticeable difference. When it comes to tackling challenging races on minimal training, I’m obviously not Superman - and I definitely don’t rule the world.
Despite the outcome, I actually had a pretty enjoyable day at the race. I’ll have a full report posted here later this week; in the meantime, enjoy the Coldplay video and don’t feel at all badly for me. I'm living the life.
September 3, 2008
**And I’m REALLY curious to see what kind of promotions the above title triggers on my Google Ads sidebar.
So … remember when I used to call myself a triathlete? It seems like a long time ago – but trust me, that guy hasn’t gone away. He just got a little preoccupied with wanting to run 100 miles.
Despite my recent ultrarunning pursuits, I always intended to come back to triathlon for one final race of the year – which is now just a few days away. Unfortunately, due to the Western States cancellation, my summer training schedule didn’t go quite the way I had scripted it.
My original plan was to do States in June, take a week or two off, then start hitting the tri-training hard, with high bike mileage and a lot of track workouts to recapture some of the running speed I’d lost during countless multi-hour trail runs. Then I threw the Headlands 100 onto the calendar, leaving me one week to rest, and only three weeks to shift into tri-mode. I was cutting things close, to say the least.
One more factor about my recent training regimen is worth noting: namely, since the 100-miler, I’ve been an absolute lazy slob. I’ve routinely blown off scheduled workouts in favor of sleeping in, and turned my car towards home instead of the pool even on the most beautiful sunny days. Each workout I’ve managed to show up for has been a “going through the motions” exercise, instead of pushing my body towards any increased level of fitness.
Needless to say, I don’t have soaring expectations for this weekend’s half-Ironman race. I’ve already told myself that I’ll just do the race for fun, and go as fast as I feel like. You know ... have a good time, enjoy the day, yada yada yada. Over the past two weeks, I’ve repeated these thoughts to myself so often that I almost started to believe them.
There’s only one problem: I’ve done this race before. There’s a finish time out there to measure myself against. And if I don’t beat it - or come darn close - I’ll probably brood over it for most of the fall.
(On a related note … sometimes it sucks to be as inherently competitive as I am. Yes, it helps with motivation for difficult training or racing situations, but the flip side is that you can’t let anything go. I swear, a sports psychologist would make a killing on me – it’s a good thing I don’t know any.)
Predictably, I’ve analyzed each of the three disciplines to figure out how I can squeeze a few extra minutes out of my performance, which I’ve distilled into the following race preview:
Swim (1.2 miles - 2006 split 29:40): This is the only segment where I actually feel somewhat confident. I’ve mentioned several times here that I maintained regular swim workouts throughout all of my ultrarunning exploits this year – so I’m hoping that what my swim training lacks in volume will be made up in consistency. Plus, I’ve got that sexy new wetZoot now – so even if I swim slowly, at least I’ll feel good doing it.
Bike (56 miles - 2006 split 2:35): This is where I’ll probably fall hopelessly behind my previous pace. I don’t think there’s any way on Earth that I can average 21mph again – especially since I can count on one hand the number of training rides I’ve done this summer.
My only saving grace might be this: the 2006 split was accomplished on my old-school green machine bike, and this year I’m riding my vroomin' Cervelo. It’s an age-old question among cyclists: just how much can a sweet bike make up for a lack of fitness? In that regard, Sunday’s race might be an interesting experiment.
Run (13.1 miles - 2006 split 1:35): Ironically, given my running background, the run portion of the race may be where I fare the worst. Ultrarunning has a lot of positive aspects, but one major downside (for me, anyway) is the way it slowly bleeds away your leg speed after a prolonged period of time.
Think of it this way: in my most recent race, in 95 minutes I would have covered somewhere between 7 and 8 miles. And while that doesn’t represent my top speed, it’s a reflection of what gear my legs typically settle into when they’re fatigued – in conditions, for instance, such as the end of a half-Ironman. In light of this, I have to think there’s simply no possibility that I’ll throw down anything close to a 1:35 half-marathon this time around.
Of course, I’ve already touched upon one x-factor that might carry me through, which is this: I’m an idiot. I get crazy when it comes to these race situations – and if I see a steady parade of people flying past me on the bike or overtaking me on the run, I’ll be borderline psychotic. And since it’s my last race of the year, I’ll be more willing to keep the needle in the red zone if I’ve got a realistic shot at the time I’m hoping to run.
The race could be intense; it could be painful; it could be fun. More likely, it will be all three of those things – in which case it will be awesome. It also seems like a perfect way to end the season.
September 2, 2008
Lady Astor: “How dare you, sir! What kind of woman do you think I am?”
Winston Churchill: “Madam, we have already established that. Now we are merely haggling over the price.”
(I’m aware that the above exchange may very well be an urban legend … but that doesn’t make it any less funny. Or any less appropriate for this post.)
Hopefully, if there’s one thing I’ve made perfectly clear over the past several months, it’s this: I’m always available for the right price.
The cost doesn’t even have to be remarkably high; in most cases, all it takes is a few samples of something for me to try out a product, and post a review here for all the blogosphere to see. Unfortunately, when my ultra season was unexpectedly extended an additional six weeks, I fell a bit behind with the most recent review, which I’ll rectify with today’s post.
By the end of this month, I hope to have four product reviews online, which seems like enough to justify a separate heading on my sidebar at right. If I were really talented, I’d figure out a way to make the links into little picture icons – but at this point, that seems entirely too time consuming for me to bother with.
Also, if you scroll down slightly further on the same sidebar, you’ll see my recent flirtation with the devil: a sampling of Google Ads. If you happen to be feeling bored and generous, feel free to send a few clicks my way. As I said, I’ll never be one to haggle you over a price.
Back in June, I was contacted by a rep from Power Bar, asking if I’d like to review some of their new product line.
Power Bar is to sports nutrition what the Nike waffle iron is to running shoes: a revolutionary product that gave rise to an entire industry. However, if you’re old enough to remember those initial Power Bar products, your memories may be something less than nostalgic – for the concept was far more advanced than the application.
First-generation Power Bars were more of a novelty than a food item: depending on the temperature, they were either hard as a rock or soft as pudding; they often took longer to digest than most folks took to run a marathon; and the taste of any flavor left much to be desired.
And yet, the company clearly tapped into an enormous demand for performance-related nutrition products; within the next several years, countless competitors flooded the market with variations on bars - not to mention gels and blocks and tablets and other concoctions aimed at endurance athletes, or anybody who just wanted to look like one (the vanity factor was a very big one in the late 1980s). All the while, Power Bar continued to tinker with its product line, frequently introducing new goods to keep pace with its competitors.
However, no matter what new formulations they came up with, Power Bar never entirely shook that old school reputation as the bars that don’t taste very good. To steal a phrase from the auto industry: they were your father’s energy bar. And that’s the image the most recent products are attempting to dispel.
You’ve probably seen the ads already; for example, this image took up a full page of my most recent Triathlete magazine:
That guy at the bottom would be Michael Phelps; you may have heard something about him lately. He’s a pretty decent swimmer, and apparently he’s been a Power Bar user since 2000. What he lacks, however, is a blog – and that’s where folks like me come in.
(This may be an appropriate time to mention to PR people out there – what’s a more affordable marketing strategy: paying top dollar for Phelps, or spreading the wealth among a handful of overly verbose bloggers who collectively get thousands of page views per month from aspiring athletes? It’s something interesting to think about. Remember, I’m here to help.)
A couple of months ago, I received the following shipment at my house:
Included were samples of three new products: “Energize” Fruit Smoothie Bars, Gel Blasts, and electrolyte packets. According to the website, the bars and gel blasts each feature something called a C2 Max carbohydrate blend, which is supposed to speed more energy to your muscles (and this where I insert my standard disclaimer: I don’t claim to know what the heck these various nutritional concoctions are, let alone vouch for their scientific accuracy). The electrolyte packets are a low calorie way to replenish sodium and potassium (among other things) during exercise. Let’s go through all three:
1. Energize Bars. Before you even open the packet, the first thing you’ll notice about these is their texture. They’re slightly soft to the touch, but still hold their shape well.
Remember when I said that the old Power Bars were always either too hard or too mushy? Well, there was also a very narrow “sweet spot” temperature range where the bars would be the perfect consistency for chewing, but solid enough to not be messy. Whenever you were lucky enough to accidentally discover it, those old bars actually went down pretty well.
I was pleased to find that the new Energize bars broaden that temperature range by a factor of about 100 – in other words, the bar is always at the right consistency for eating. So they’ve clearly made some progress in this regard over the past 20 years.
The bars come in three flavors: Berry Blast, Tangy Tropical, and Creamy Citrus. I sampled all three, and they all tasted great. In fact, since I used them this summer as a post-exercise snack following swim workouts, I found myself having flashbacks to my childhood, where I spent an unthinkable amount of money on Tangy Taffy from the Sugar Shack at our neighborhood pool - the taste and consistency of the Energize bars is (to my grown-up brain, at least) very similar. Anything that triggers memories of long, carefree summer swimming days is always going to earn high marks in my book.
2. Gel Blasts: These are comparable to Clif Blocks, and I used them on a couple of long training runs in place of my customary Sport Beans. They come in lemon or cola flavors, and their texture reminded me of biting into a jumbo marshmallow that had been left on the counter overnight: slightly firm to break through the surface, but chewy on the inside. And they didn’t taste as good as Sport Beans.
These were my least favorite of the three product types - but I suspect some of my dissatisfaction might just be a personal thing. During triathlons, I tend to use gels instead of chewy blocks, and during ultras, I prefer “normal” food like potatoes or PB&J sandwiches to replenish my fuel supply. The block-type products are a middle ground that I’ve never really embraced – that’s why the Sport Beans were such a revelation when I discovered them last year.
3. Electrolyte mix: This isn’t marketed as an energy drink (they have a separate sport drink for that), but a means to help replace fluids and electrolytes during exercise.
They are similar to the Nuun products I reviewed this spring – but with 10 calories per packet, they can add a bit of flavor (berry or lemon) that makes these taste much better (in my opinion) than the Nuun tablets. The taste is really nice – it’s flavorful, without being too sweet. Another huge advantage is that the Power Bar electrolytes are not carbonated, which addresses my biggest pet peeve about Nuun – namely, their tendency to explode out of the bottle after bouncing around in a waist pack for a few miles.
Each packet is intended to be mixed with 17oz of water, but I typically used them in my 20oz bottle, and they still tasted great. The packets are small enough that you can stuff a few in your pocket to use at water fountains later in your run or ride, so you don’t have to worry about carrying bulkier drink mixes if you’re primarily worried about replenishing electrolytes instead of calories – which in my world is any workout less than two hours.
So here’s my quick recap of the new Power Bar products: The Energize bars and electrolyte packets are awesome; the gel blasts, not so much. Of course, your opinion may vary. I’ll definitely continue using the items I enjoyed here, and it’s certainly worth a few of your dollars to do some sampling of your own if you get the opportunity.