Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Will Winter Storm Niko Affect Your Running in Central Park?

There's a winter storm warning on the horizon as Niko comes for a visit to New York City and Central Park on Thursday, February 9. 

The snow may arrive in Central Park as early as 1 AM on Thursday morning and seems certain to be falling steadily by 5 or 6 AM. It will be a quick storm, but not a light one. Forecasters are predicting that anywhere from between 6 and 10 inches could fall in Central Park, but with the snow lasting for only about 10 hours from start to finish that projects for some pretty heavy snowfall at times. 

So what does that mean for your run in Central Park in the next couple of days? Well if you head out on Thursday morning, you are likely to be running in some pretty heavy snow. But it should also be a fresh new snow, which means that the reservoir path is likely to be runnable tomorrow morning before it gets iced over from too many footsteps and too deep from the snow. Presumably the park drive will be pre-salted and some form of plowing will be ongoing. Given the rate of the snowfall, however, and the timing of the storm, I'd expect to run in at least a couple of inches of snow wherever you head in Central Park tomorrow morning. So be careful of your footing!

While the snow should stop by the early afternoon, temperatures are going to drop for the rest of Thursday and even hit the teens into early Friday morning. That means that whatever has fallen on Thursday morning is likely to stick around. Presumably by late Thursday morning and into Friday, the reservoir running path will be quite deep in snow or even a bit icy and pot marked from many footsteps. 

So if you're heading out for a run on Thursday evening or Friday morning, your best bet will be to stay on the park drive. There's unlikely to be too much icy re-freeze since the temperatures are not supposed to climb above freezing at any point after the heaviest of the snowfall. There is a high likelihood, however, that the park drive will be somewhat slick and inconsistent in its snow cover since a lot of snow will have fallen in a short period of time and there won't be much melting going on. 

The possibility of slick conditions will likely persist into Saturday since the temperatures will remain in the 20s all day Friday and into Saturday morning. With a high temperature of 39 on Saturday, there might be some melting but probably not a ton. 

With overnight rain Saturday into Sunday but temperatures struggling to reach 40 degrees icy or possibly slick conditions could persist in some form until at least Monday when the high will reach 48 degrees.

In other words enjoy the park this week and weekend but be careful of your footing!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Is There Still a Place for Bike Racing in Central Park?

On March 4, the bike racing season opens again on early weekend mornings in Central Park. I truly hope it is the last. Why? Because as a runner who uses the recreation lane adjacent to these races, I find it increasingly dangerous and untenable. And there is nothing anyone can do to make the situation any safer.

So if you want to keep yourself safe as a runner this upcoming year in Central Park and you run in the mornings, here is a list of the majority of bike races this year and some times you might want to be extra cautious and find your way off the park drive and onto the bridle path or reservoir:

March 4: 6:30 AM
March 26: 6:50 AM
April 8: 6:30 AM
April 22: 6:10 AM
May 20: 5:35 AM
June 3: 5:40 AM
June 18: 5:30 AM
June 24: 5:30 AM
July 1: 5:30 AM
July 9: 5:35 AM
July 23: 5:45 AM
August 12: 6:05 AM
August 26: 6:20 AM
September 2: 6:25 AM
November 11: 6:40 AM

Before this goes any further, let me make clear that this not an anti-cyclist rant from a runner involved in some constant battle over using the park. A lot of people think that many of the competitive and fast moving cyclists in the park are oblivious jerks. I do not agree. Maybe that stereotype fits some, but as a general matter that assertion could not be farther from the truth.

The fastest moving cyclists are likely more aware of their surroundings than almost anyone else using the park drive. The reason is quite simple: self preservation. An unleashed dog running across the road, a clueless dog walker, tourist, or pedestrian stepping unannounced and cluelessly onto the roadway, runners with headphones blaring music as they reach their exit in the park and with no warning dart out of the running lane and into the bike lane, could all land a fast moving cyclist on the ground and in the hospital. Quite simply, the faster someone is biking the faster they have to react to a possible threat and the harder they will fall if they don't.

So, I just don't buy the stereotype that the cyclists in the park in their fancy jerseys are oblivious to their surroundings. And to the extent that they come off as jerks to other users of the park, it might be because we put them at such risk with our seemingly simple but oblivious actions all the time and that they have to warn us all so quickly of impending danger of which we are not aware. Slower moving tourists on Citi Bikes in the afternoon might be completely oblivious, but the men and women are out there training and pushing themselves on a daily basis and racing on the weekends are not the clueless and oblivious ones.

Still, there is no longer a place for bike racing in Central Park, if there ever was. It is not for lack of effort or kindness on the part of most cyclists (even if some are not kind) and their organizations. It is because, simply put, race organizers have done everything they can to make bike racing safer in Central Park and it is still increasingly dangerous for the ever growing number of users of Central Park.

Bike racing has existed in Central Park for years. Or if you want to go back over a century you could compare bike racing, to the informal chariot racing that used to take place on the Park Drive and infuriate Central Park's designers, who created the park back in the 1850s with a slower paced gentle mind-clearing passive recreation and relaxation in mind.

In recent years, biking in Central Park has come under greater scrutiny in the wake of a few high-profile accidents between cyclists and pedestrians, often tourists. The result has been the placement of a couple traffic signs reminding cyclists of the 20 MPH speed limit and the requirement to stop at red lights, and at times some visible NYPD and Parks Department enforcement ticketing cyclists. These high-profile incidents and subsequent enforcement have occurred in the middle of the day when the park is rife with tourists and other pedestrians crossing the Park Drive with little concern for looking both ways to cross a street closed to vehicular (car) traffic.

This scene, however, has little to do with the early morning in Central Park and certainly not the weekend bike races. Obviously speed limits and traffic lights do not apply to the races with permits. It would also seem at least tacitly that the speed limit and traffic light laws do not apply and are certainly not enforced early in the morning.

The concern here though is not whether the same rules should apply at all times of day. For Central Park to best serve all of its users needs, it is probably just as well that regulations are enforced differently at different times of day. Fast biking during the middle of the day in Central Park when it's filled with thousands more people who are not paying attention is just too dangerous and incongruous with the activities of the majority of park users at that time. Most competitive and serious cyclists want nothing to do with this time of day anyway because all of the other users make it too dangerous and disruptive to bike as they would wish. It's sort of like how I make use of the Central Park Reservoir track between 5-8 most mornings, but would never think to go there later in the day when it's filled with tourists, walkers, photographers, and school groups. I'd never be able to run properly and safely and I, as a faster runner would be the one posing a danger of sorts by using the Reservoir in an incompatible way with other uses of that space.

The early mornings, however, are another matter for both running on the Reservoir and cycling on the Park Drive, because both can find a safe place that is compatible with other uses of that space at that time of day. It doesn't mean it's always safe and that people don't cross each other's path, but as a whole there is room for cyclists, runners, walkers, birdwatchers, dog walkers, and whoever else uses the park at that time to coexist.

So what does this mean for the bike races that take place in Central Park on weekend mornings? For starters, as with running races (mostly put on by NYRR), they pose some inconvenience for other users of the park, particularly on the Park Drive. Whether it's the race setup or the race itself, organized events shut off part of the Park Drive and force detours and/or possibly slight dangers for other users of the park. This is inevitable, but it doesn't mean that bike races don't have a place in Central Park at that time.

Organizers of the weekend bike races in Central Park have already done most of what they can to make their events as compatible as possible with other park uses. That is because bike races really aren't' that compatible to begin with general park use so it takes effort and compromise to gain permits for bike races. That is why races only take place early on weekend mornings: starting earlier than 6 AM when the hours of light allow for it and almost always finishing before 9 AM. Race officials also station marshals with whistles at each crosswalk in an effort to keep other users of the park safer.

Unfortunately, as the park has become more crowded over the years, these efforts are simply not enough. The most obvious problem is how the impact of the bike races extends into the rec lane that is intended for other users of the Park Drive. While, typically this is a no bike zone or moving vehicle zone, on race days the lane is shared between its normal users (runners, pedestrians, dog walkers etc.) and cyclists who are not part of the race. In recent years, non-racing cyclists have been directed into the running lane by race officials to prevent accidents and interference with the races. Unfortunately, this just creates a more dangerous situation in the rec lane for all users of the park.

Furthermore, while it is against the race rules for a biker competing in the race to cross into the recreation lane, the race itself still spills into the rec lane because race marshals frequently use the"rec lane" as part of race setup, cleanup, and oversight by biking the opposite way against the normal flow of traffic while in the lane typically designated for pedestrians.

In other words on the morning of a bike race the rec lane typically looks like this: race marshals are biking against the flow of traffic in the designated running lane, non-racing cyclists who have been directed out of the cycling lanes to stay clear of the race are cycling with the normal flow of traffic and runners generally unaware that they are sharing their lane with cyclists are headed in both directions with the possibility of bikes coming at them or from behind them.

This situation exists because the alternative of having non-racing cyclists and race marshals somehow sharing the rest of the road with the race is unfeasible and even more dangerous. Pushing everyone not racing into the running lanes prevents a major accident in the bike lanes where the race is ongoing, but it creates an environment ready for a series of minor accidents in the running lanes.

Of course, moving all non-race activity into the rec lanes does not remove the threat of a more major accident it just makes it rare. Nonetheless, there is the constant threat that a racing cyclist might veer into the running lane to avoid a crash or because he judged his space in the peloton incorrectly, or worse that a more major crash in the pack of cyclists could domino into other users of the park in the recreation lane.

This is a worse case scenario, but also one that is increasingly likely as early morning users of Central Park seem to increase, particularly in the hottest days of summer.

I am a competitive athlete too. I respect the competitive cyclists in Central Park and their desire to race, but I also do not believe that bike racing can co-exist with other users of Central Park. Perhaps having only a couple of races a year and closing the park drive to other uses as is done for the NYC Half and NYC Marathon would allow for at least a few races year.

Yes, that would unfortunately undermine the cyclists' racing calendar and would probably prove unrealistic given the costs associated with taking over the park drive for a race with only a couple of hundred or so paying competitors/members. But, on the other hand, a bike race in Central Park by its nature can never be as low key and unobtrusive as it might want to be or its organizers envision it to be in theory.

I will never forget a couple of years ago when I was running on the park drive during a bike race (forced there for a longer stretch of my run because the reservoir and bridle path were both under construction in various forms that year) and the peloton of cyclists came rushing up behind me with no warning from the race marshals armed with whistles. I inquired as to why the whistles had not been used. The answer?

They had been discouraged by race organizers from using their whistles because of complaints from residents of Central Park West and 5th Avenue who were woken up by the whistles in the early weekend mornings, thus threatening the continued issuance of race permits for bike races in the park.

If the whistles are too much of a nuisance for nearby residents of Central Park such that they cannot be used to keep users of the park safe, perhaps it is a sign that no matter how hard the race organizers try that the races themselves are simply not compatible with how the majority of people use Central Park and the surrounding area.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Why Was the NYC Triathlon Run Shortened from a 10K to an 8K run?

I was watching the local news last night (well fine I was listening to the local news in the background because I still hadn't turned off the television from the celebrity golf tournament we were watching that had just concluded) and one of the lead stories was about the heat wave in New York City and the shortening of the New York City Triathlon as a result.

While it made for a great headline to add to the New York heat wave stories, I had to wonder a bit what exactly the purpose of shortening the run leg of the triathlon from a 10K to an 8K (about a  1.25 mile difference) would have in promoting safety. An Olympic distance triathlon is a 1.5 KM swim, followed by a 40K bike, and ending with a 10K run. In other words, cutting out just 2K of the run doesn't really make the race much shorter. Cutting the swim or the bike portion of the event surely would have posed a logistical challenge since it required reaching and returning bikes to the transition zone and also the run portion of the triathlon (aside from being latest in the day) is where an athlete is likely most exposed to heat away from the cooler water and the breeze on the bike.

So I get it if some portion of the event was going to be cut down it was the run, but by cutting down just the run portion and by a small amount, it seemed rather pointless and arbitrary from an actual safety perspective. This led me to the conclusion that cutting 2K out of the event really just served as a warning to competitors that the day was not one to try to post a fast time. Furthermore, cutting the distance of the event by trivial amount took away anyone's desire to set a PR or a time that they would stand by and remember since the time was for a completely unknown and meaningless distance.

That's really the only reason I can come up with as to how shortening yesterday's tri by 2 kilometers in the run portion only really could have helped make the event safer from the heat for anyone involved.

Do you think it was the right decision? Fair to the competitors? That the change had the seemingly intended affect of slowing the race down by just making it more of a fun run/tri? Was it a better solution than just making it an untimed event? Are running/triathlon organizations becoming too much of a nanny state and not letting athletes make their own decisions about their safety? All questions that we might consider, particularly with such a wide range of athletes of different abilities partaking in endurance events these days.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Happy Fourth of July!! Keep Running.

It’s finally here! The Fourth of July weekend, that oasis of mandatory vacation time in the middle of the summer - and this year, the Fourth so conveniently falls on a Saturday, allowing for a little extra time off to celebrate. For many, this three-day weekend means travel, near or far, to spend time at the beach, reunite with loved ones, or just get away from home. There might be traffic, or crowded planes and trains, but once you clear those transportation hurdles, all that’s left to do is relax and enjoy the blissful holiday . . . right?

For the running world, holiday weekends are rarely so simple. There are those who shift their entire running schedules to accommodate the changes such weekends make to their routines. Come the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (and even Easter and Passover, too), Central Park regularly surges with extra runners on the Wednesdays and Thursdays leading up to the big weekends. We speculate that these new faces are cramming in their runs before they leave the big city, anticipating that, however blissful their time away, there just won’t be the chance to get in those miles.

My husband and I approach the holiday weekend with a different tack: we steadfastly bring our running with us, no matter where we go. In doing so, we have met with various forms of pushback, from resort locations more or less inhospitable to running, to relatives who just don’t understand why we need to take them away from them to go out and run. Whether you flee from such challenges by getting your miles in beforehand (or not at all) or you struggle through them three or four times a year, our advice on the following scenarios just might help you think twice about leaving behind those running shoes when escaping for the holiday weekend.

The main points: Run early. Don’t let other people’s comments stop you. Seek shade and bring (or run near) water. Plan ahead to find where local runners go. Make space for those sneakers, whether on your feet or elsewhere.

Problem #1: My Mother/Brother/Aunt/Father-In-Law Makes Me Feel Like I Shouldn’t Be Running

Ah, relatives. Nothing beats showing up for a fun holiday weekend at Grandma’s like finding out she has planned away your entire weekend, from pancake breakfast right down to ice cream and fireworks-watching at night. If your relatives are not of the micromanaging kind, perhaps they tilt instead towards the passive-aggressive comment-making types. “You’re still doing that running thing,” they’ll ask, or “Oh, since you’re going out, why don’t you pick up cinnamon rolls for everyone?” Perhaps you stay with friends, not relatives, when you travel. The same hazards apply.

There are two main tactics for dealing with relatives (or friends) who refuse to play nice about your running lifestyle. First: run early. You won’t miss pancake breakfast if you run before those pancakes even hit the griddle! If you leave before anyone else gets up, moreover, you will only have to deal with half the snarky comments (that is, your relatives can only say things when you get back). The early summer sunrise can be especially useful in this regard, as there is no need to wait until it gets light to get out the door. If you’re not a morning runner, or just don’t want to wake up early on vacation, well, perhaps you should reconsider. Running in the morning is the only surefire way to prevent any other activities (including the ones you yourself want to do) from getting in the way of your run. On vacation, early running is a must.
Second: have a thick skin. You run for you, not your relatives. If they are going to make comments or try to prevent your running, you have to be strong. You can’t let other people take running away from you. It can be hard to keep in mind your own needs when you are a houseguest, and perhaps you fear being rude by taking some “me-time” when you are making use of someone else’s home. This is a fair point. At the end of the day, it comes down to your own personal balance of whether running or kowtowing to your host is more important to you. I would suggest that being a good houseguest still requires taking care of yourself - and taking care of yourself means, for a runner, running. Don’t let other people stop you from doing what you need to do for yourself.

Problem #2: The Beaches are Beautiful, But It’s Too Hot to Run Here!

If you’re traveling somewhere warm for the weekend (and aren’t beaches what the July 4th weekend are for?), the heat might offer an excuse to put your running habit on pause for a couple of days. Don’t take it. It gets hot back home, too, doesn’t it? And you keep running, don’t you? Running on vacation shouldn’t be any different.

You can beat the heat while traveling by running early in the morning. Again, since the sun rises early in the summer, there is still an hour or two of running time in the early morning that allows you to get in your miles before the sun beams down in full force. You could also call local gyms to find out if they offer three-day or week-long memberships, and use the treadmill in the glory of air conditioning. If you are staying at a hotel, use the hotel gym. If you are a houseguest and your host has a treadmill, consider asking to use it. Other thoughts include making sure to run somewhere with shade, like a bike path, or some place with water fountains like a track, or even some place near a pool (or the ocean), so you can jump in when you are done. Don’t forget the sunscreen (and hat and sunglasses, too). We prefer early, shaded running, but, whatever tactics help you get your run in, there’s one thing you must do: stay hydrated. Bring your own water or Gatorade.

Problem #3: There Aren’t Any Places to Run In the Suburbs

Depending on where you head for the holiday weekend, you can find yourself stymied by the lack of obvious running opportunities. If you’re from the city and heading the suburbs, perhaps the lack of prominent parkland has you down. (We, for example, are spoiled with Central Park our running haunt of choice.) The suburb I grew up in had a little running path around the ball fields behind the library where many people ran, but any other parks in town were too small to offer a real place to run. The suburb where my in-laws have a place have no parks (of which I know, at any rate). Open space may seem limited, as some suburban streets do not have sidewalks or shoulders in which to run. So, where to go?

We try to keep an open mind when considering running in suburban areas. The most important thing is to do as much research as you can before you leave. Some things, like sidewalks, you may not know about before you get there. Sidewalks, when push comes to shove, can offer convenient spaces close to where you are staying to get in your miles. Shoulders, though perhaps too close to cars for comfort, can also afford space to run. If, like the street where my in-laws live, there are no sidewalks and the shoulders are very narrow, consider going farther field. Even having to sit in a car before your run is better than not running at all (or perhaps that is part of your normal routine already).

If the sidewalks and shoulders fall through, that’s where the research comes in. Local high schools often have open hours in which members of the public can use the school’s track facilities. Remember to check hours before you go! Some towns will have high school or other playing fields large enough to get some sort of decent loop in (at least, the suburb where I grew up had some spaces big enough to accommodate, say, two lacrosse games side-by-side). Also, ask around for bike trails in the area. We’ve been able to enjoy long and quiet runs on bike paths in New York State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, especially since we head out early enough to avoid the bike and pedestrian traffic.

Finally, there’s always the treadmill, although this requires checking out short-term options at local gyms (or asking your host to make use of his).

Problem #4: I’ve Never Been to this City Before - Do People Even Run Here?

New cities can pose different challenges from the suburbs. While parkland may be easier to find on a map, the question of safety always looms large. This is where that idea of planning (mentioned in problem #4) is so important. You can check out the runner’s forums on Runner’s World, and even just Google your city or desired park. If some of the top hits on that park are about recent crimes, consider looking elsewhere. Try to find where local running groups go, or look for recommendations by people who have traveled there before.

Many cities have spaces beyond just open parks where you can run: often, cities have built walking and running paths along rivers (St. Paul, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, D.C., to name a few) or other waters (San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis) in the area. Depending on how your safety research goes, these can be great places to run.

There are always city sidewalks as a possibility as well, and checking out treadmill options in your hotel (or short-term memberships to local gyms) can also make a new city feel more hospitable for running. Before jumping to the treadmill option, however, keep in mind that running a city, whether on streets or in parks, can offer a great way to see and experience a new place in a unique way. For example, our favorite way to tour the monuments of D.C. is on our morning runs, offering both an efficient and crowd-free way to take in the sights.

Problem #5: My Running Sneakers Don’t Fit in My Weekend Bag

One final impediment to some runners over a holiday weekend may be the desire to pack a small bag. Running shoes, or extra outfits for running, can make space tight in a backpack, small suitcase, or duffel bag. Before letting packing space get you down, consider whether your destination has a washer/dryer (to allow for reuse of clothing), and whether you can - gasp - wear your running sneakers instead of another pair of shoes while you travel. Those of us less fashion-conscious are even willing to hang our sneakers on the outside of our travel bags, just to make sure they make the trip.

As I observed in a previous post, my foam roller has found space in and outside of my carry-ons, and inside my check baggage, on all trips I’ve made for the past five years. The extra running clothes (and sneakers) sometimes get me down, but, at the end of the day, the ability to run anywhere in the country (or the world) is worth the space issues.

Happy 4th of July and Happy Running from Central Park!

We'll be back to you tomorrow with more running advice, stories, etc., but we just wanted to take a quick break from our day to wish you a Happy 4th of July! We have many wonderful memories from the 4th of July over the years and many of them involve time spent running together. There are plenty of races that take place on Independence Day, from our country's most prestigious and possibly largest 10K race, the Peachtree in Atlanta, to many smaller local races such as the Putnam County 8 miler in upstate New York, the only 4th of July race we've ever actually run.

We did the Putnam County 8 miler several years ago and it was a charming little race finishing at the local high school track. It was a rather hilly course on local roads and made for a great holiday spent together on the roads together. The tech shirt was a relatively simple gray with a few red and blue fireworks on it but was a great breathable material and secretly one of our favorite race shirts.

But most of our favorite 4th of July running memories are from runs with just the two of us. Today being a Saturday, it meant we got to do a nice long run together to celebrate the 4th in comparatively empty Central Park (and one free of any bike races or running races) before New York City becomes noisy tonight with fireworks.

We hope you had a chance to make running a part of your day too (don't forget our tips to help make that happen wherever you might be), but also that you were able to celebrate Independence Day with someone special in a way that was special to you. Once again, Happy 4th of July from this Central Park running couple!

Several Years and Thousands of Miles Later, It's Time For a New Model of Running Shoes

I’ve been known to spend almost $1,000 on shoes at a time. Running shoes that is. They’re usually discounted too because I’m buying an old model that online warehouses are trying to clear out of inventory.

You could say that I really don’t like having to change models of shoe. When a company phases out a shoe for a new model, the new and improved one is never the same and above all I value consistency in my running footwear. Why change something that works for you?

This approach to buying running shoes, however, leads to the aforementioned $1,000 investment when I’ll buy 10-15 pairs of my shoes before they no are no longer available anywhere. It’s actually quite amazing, how long you can keep scouring the internet for your pair of shoes even after they have long been discontinued in stores. I’ve mostly stopped playing that game though and simply buy 10-15 pairs when the shoes are becoming harder and harder to find. By the time those pairs of shoes run out, my model is long gone from anywhere on the internet.

Perhaps you’ve already concluded from my shoe buying habits that I am a high mileage runner. I am. Nothing like an elite or ultrarunner who logs 140 miles per week, but I run between 75-100 miles per week every week of the year. That is a lot of miles and a lot of shoes.

There are 52 weeks in a year and if I average 80 miles per week that makes for over 4,000 miles a year. If I got 400+ miles out of every pair of shoes that means I’d go through 10 pairs of shoes in a year. 

Many years ago I read something about using shoes for 250-300 miles before changing them. It made sense at the time and maybe makes sense for a 40-50 mile per week runner, who could be training for the marathon. If I followed that math, however, I’d be using about 16 pairs of running shoes in the course of the year. If that was the only thing that kept me injury free (or fast) I'd be willing to do that, but it gets expensive enough that I find it worth it to try to prolong my shoes past those 300 miles. Frankly, it's pretty hard to come to terms with the idea that a new pair of shoes is an old pair just three weeks after starting to use it.   

As a result of this dilemma, I’ve tried to adapt a strategy based on feel rather than numbers and hope to get more mileage out of a pair of shoes. I don’t exactly know how many miles I run before I change shoes, but I don’t use more than 10 pairs of shoes in a year so that’s at least 400 miles on average that I am getting out of each pair of running shoes. Even though they have all been the same Brooks Ravenna 4 model for a number of years now and theoretically should seem to get old to me after similar amounts of mileage, I'm sure I've changed some pairs after 250-300 miles and others after 500-600. 

BROOKS RAVENNA  4s: My Old Standbys

Anyway, I write this post today because my supply of Brooks Ravenna 4s has finally run out after using that exact model of shoe for what must be about 3 years now. I bought two pairs of the Brooks Ravenna 5 model and tried them out this morning, but they didn’t feel quite the same to me, and perhaps not quite right for me. Maybe I should try the Ravenna 6s which are also out by now (that's what happens when you use the same model for long enough; running stores will be two or three model numbers down the line by the time you're ready to switch) but I generally find that the more model numbers away a shoe is from my current shoe, the greater the difference is. 

I will have to see over the next month if I try something other than the Ravenna 5s (I mostly only go with Brooks except for my racing flats so as not to make even more major changes) before I commit to another shoe model for the next several years and make my next big investment.

A Runner's Secret (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Foam Roller)

I’ve become a member of a secret society: I use a foam roller. Not only do I use a foam roller, but I’ve come to believe so strongly in the capabilities of its self-massage that I find myself proselytizing to the uninitiated about the merits of this wonder device. It makes me a little self-conscious to realize, mid-sermon, that my listener might find me a strange curiosity, or worse, a bore. Mind you, I did not intend to join the ranks of the united brotherhood of foam roller advocates. It happened almost without my realizing about four years ago.

Still new-ish to running at that time, I found myself with a persistent, though mild, pain at that knobby bone that juts out on the left side of the left calf just below the knee. Worried that this niggle would flare up into something more menacing, and too new a runner to interpret my body’s signals without help, I took myself to a doctor who promptly diagnosed me with ITBS, or iliotibial band syndrome.

The best thing that doctor did was refer me to a physical therapist. The best thing that physical therapist did was to prescribe some exercises (which I still do faithfully to this day) and one to two reps of foam rolling daily. Foam rolling, I thought innocently, what’s that?

“What’s that” turned out, at first, to be some of the worst pain I had ever encountered. My legs, in those early days, were so stiff and so gunk-ified, that my daily fight with the foam roller felt like a wrestling match with a bear cub. Plenty of howling could be heard from my bedroom when I entered the fray with this beast. I endearingly nicknamed my bright orange foam roller a medieval torture device. The name proved apt, as often, I wore the proof of its torture on my poor, agonized legs: grids of bruises that so artfully matched the grid patterns embedded into that bright orange foam covering my foam roller.

Howling and bruising, though, could not conquer my pride. I had seen the poise and dexterity with which other patrons of my physical therapist could balance themselves on their foam rollers. Fueled by an intense desire not to be shown up by these unknown gods of foam rolling, I kept at it, torture after torture, night after night. Slowly, as time wore on, those bruises stopped appearing. Slowly, my howls disappeared. Sometime in that first year, foam rolling became easy. Sometime in the third year, I found new parts of my body to foam roll.

Sometime, too, in the past four years, I started traveling everywhere I went with my foam roller. The TSA hasn’t stopped me yet, despite that strange orange tube sitting in my carry-on (it looks pretty funny on those x-ray machines, actually) or buried in my checked baggage. When I take the train, I even get brave enough to append the foam roller to my backpack as though it were a sleeping bag or some other, normal camping accouterment. I keep one at my place, one at my parents’ place, and one at my in-law’s place. My foam roller has been to California, urban and rural New York, Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, D.C., and even Hawai’i.

I have since learned that, in addition to those immortal foam rollers at my physical therapist’s office, many others are members of the foam-rolling secret society as well. I was once stopped mid foam-roll in the gym at a local university by an over-enthusiastic freshman gushing about the miracles of the foam roller. Never mind that I was 10 years her senior and a complete stranger. This girl loved her foam roller, and, as I myself revealed, I loved mine. Long after I graduated, my high school (where I, a dilettante high school runner, was a pedestrian member of the indoor track team) started mandating foam roller training for members of the running teams. Unbeknownst to me, my sister has used the foam roller for years. My father-in-law, an enthusiastic biker and former runner, owns a foam roller to help blood flow to his legs. A close family friend can also speak of the foam roller’s charms, despite the fact that she is neither a runner nor a biker (and does not, as far as I can tell, have any aspirations to being anything close to an amateur athlete). This diverse group all shares a largely unspoken bond over something I never knew existed until that niggle in my ITB: the foam roller.

So, how do you start your own love affair with this wonder device? How do you join this secret society of enthusiasts and find yourself starting to spout over its wonders in front of pure strangers? Whether you are just starting out running, have logged thousands of miles, or are merely looking for a way to soothe the aches and pains of bad shoes and desk jobs, the foam roller can - I repeat, can - help you smooth away some of those nagging feelings in your lower limbs. I’ll be posting weekly with different foam rolling insights, so check back often to learn how to tame the orange (or black or whatever color) beast and turn your medieval torture device into something that makes moving pain-free.