Motivation Monday: Listing One’s Strengths

Apparently in Crossfit, there’s a saying: write down a list of your strengths and your weaknesses, then throw out the list of strengths, and work on your weaknesses.  This is certainly wise, and in reading various fitness blogs, the phrase I probably run across the most, is: “I really need to work on my…”.

What about doing the opposite?  What about acknowledging the parts of your training where you’re a total Rock Star?  Self-doubt and criticism will come unbidden anyway, we should be making room to pat ourselves on the back from time to time.  Without further ado, here are my top 5 strengths:

  1. I start slow.  That sounds like a negative, but hear me out.  I can remember my first (only) marathon.  I had put myself in a corral based on the time I thought I could achieve and then I looked around.  Old men, runners with no shoes, runners a lot heavier than me.  I began to get down… was I underestimating myself?  No,  I thought, I had spent a lot of time training, and a big part of that was getting to know my body, and what it was and wasn’t capable of.  I had trained for my race, now I needed to race my training, I told myself.  I could easily have gotten psyched out and adopted an aggressive pace early to try and get ahead of those I thought I “should” have been beating, but that would have ruined me for the latter parts of the race.  Sure enough, I did pass some of those people who had probably made that exact mistake.   Being able to be conservative has helped me not only in endurance sports, but in grappling tournaments for jiu-jitsu.  In Crossfit and workouts inspired by that philosophy, I like doing RFT (Rounds for Time) better than AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible [within a time limit]), since I find I can estimate how I’m going to be able to get the exercises done.  I’ll take very small breaks as needed and be able to keep a fairly even level of activity and intensity, rather than having an awesome first round then being close to dying thereafter.
  2. I finish fast.  I may not have the fastest time, or even the best time for what my physical abilities are, but when I cross the finish line, it looks like I’m in a race.  I was raised with the German concept of “Endspurt” which is a burst of speed for the end that you are either a) given (like a ‘second wind’) or b) make happen or c) both. 
  3. Hills.  When I see a hill, I attack it like it insulted my mother then stole my bike.  I treat it as an obstacle to be overcome – no moaning and complaining, just get it behind you.  I’ll pass people going up hills in a race; hills still affect me, and take a lot out of me, I just find the best time to recover is shortly after you’ve crested it.  Some people will re-pass me on  the flats or whatever, I just don’t like prolonging the pain of going uphill by going slowly.  That goes for running or biking.
  4. Flexibility.  I’ll run with a slower partner.  I’ll ride with a faster group.  I’ll push a baby-jogger.  I’ll go out in the freezing cold, snow, dark, whatever.  I love trying new ways to train and/or exercise.  I don’t train in the evenings usually, just because I have to be so protective of my sleep, but mornings would be fine by me (if the kids would stay asleep and in bed).  I’m definitely able to work out while tired and sleep deprived.
  5. Humility.  That one is going to look strange in a post that’s pretty much tailor made to show off, but I am aware of my own short-comings.  More importantly, I don’t compare myself to others much.  This is my hobby, and while there are those that are better and faster than me (some even while having the same or more commitments to work and family etc.), beating myself up over why I can’t do the same simply takes the fun out of my hobby and pass-time.  I do what I can, when I can, and I want to have fun doing it… that has to be good enough.
Enough about me… what are your strengths?  What makes you a Rock Star? Listing one strength is good, listing 5 is better!

Gear Corner – Running Shoe Review: Saucony Virratas

I was sent a pair of Saucony Virratas by Saucony (via Fitfluential) for review purposes free of charge.  I was not compensated in any other way, or asked to give a positive review; all opinions are honest and my own.


The idea behind  barefoot/minimalist running is that the stride we’ve developed through having running shoes with all their cushioning and stabilizing technology has given us an unnatural stride that is actually what is behind most running injuries.  Running more like our evolutionary ancestors would enable us to run more efficiently and safely, and the way to promote that kind of running is to wear as little as possible on your feet.  I can remember seeing people do marathons and half-marathons completely barefoot (except occasionally a little duct-tape) as far back as 2005, but the movement (and subsequent product development and marketing machine) really grew over the last few years.

I did like the theory, and I was willing to give the practice a bit of a try, though I didn’t want to send my entire running technique back to square one.  A few years ago I bought a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves to play around with a little; I took them on a soft trail that I thought would be ideal for the experience – I wouldn’t need the extra cushioning I’d come to expect from my road running shoes.   Unfortunately that trail was also very hilly – I ended up really aggravating my Achilles tendons (both of them!) and I got blisters to boot.  Since then, I only used those shoes under controlled circumstances on the treadmill, or for other activities (playground with the kids, weights, spinning).  I understand and like the theory of minimalist running, but I have severe reservations about its practicality when it comes to my goals and lifestyle.

The Virrata is “remains is a feather-light, ultra flexible shoe with advanced cushioning that promotes a powerful stride and allows your foot to move the way it was meant to.”* (quoted from the Saucony website).  It’s what the call a zero drop shoe, but with cushioning.  The zero drop means there’s no modification to your foot’s natural profile – your heel isn’t any higher off the ground than the ball of your foot.  And for people like me, the cushioning could help deal with the realities of hitting the hard ground.

Image courtesy of

Initial Impressions

When I took the Virratas out of the box, I didn’t notice anything terribly different about them… because they were still stuffed with paper.  Once I took that out I nearly threw them in the air because they were so much lighter than I expected.  Obviously they wanted as little weight as possible for that natural feel – they’ve chosen lightweight materials, but also created a very open mesh for the top of the shoe; they’re highly breathable and intended to dry quickly.  I noticed the sole right away also.  It was thick enough to be noticed, and make me believe it would provide some cushioning, but I could also tell the flexibility would give it a very responsive feel.  I couldn’t wait to run in them!

Image courtesy of

Let’s go to the video! (This was made using Coach’s Eye for the iPad and WeVideo)

Virrata Outdoor Run

Due to the *Chilly Half Marathon*, and the taper that preceded it, I hadn’t taken the Virratas out on a run; running a race in brand new shoes is no-no, especially if it’s a long distance (for you), though apparently *Fitness Cheerleader* did it.  Once I had a few days to recover, I decided to take them out for a quick run on the sidewalks (Kovas, of Midwest Multisport Life says the Virratas are *not so good on the snow*, so I skipped the trails).

I hadn’t noticed any more soreness in my larger, more major leg muscle groups, but upon starting my run, I did feel it in my ankles.  While the Virratas have great cushioning for a zero-drop/minimalist shoe, that’s still not as much as I might be used to.  The good news is that they are also very responsive, I found myself making the slightest adjustment and the ankles didn’t hurt as much (they joints may have simply needed to get warmed up).

Running in them felt very natural; there was no ‘whoa this is new/different’ sensation in them, and what I love is that my pace was in keeping with with my race pace from the weekend: 5:48, 5:42, etc.  At first I took that to be a good indicator of how natural the shoe and I fit together, but upon further reflection, I think I would have been slower in my old shoes, since I was still in recovery and trying to take it easy.  I think the light weight of the Virratas might have turned what should have been a slow, easy (and short) run into one with a more respectable pace!

Still when I think of the lightweight materials, I have doubts as to how they’ll stand up to my average runs, which typically include gravelly trails and mud, roots, rocks in addition to pavement and the cement of sidewalks.  The Virratas will probably occupy more of a novelty slot in my shoe rotation, but I’ll certainly enjoy running in them more than I thought I could considering they’re a minimalist shoe.  If I can integrate them into my training, it will help my running technique and strength in my feet and some of the other, smaller stabilizing muscles needed for running.  Like they say: Find Your Strong.

Race Recap: Chilly Half-Marathon in Burlington

Done!  I finished the Chilly Half Marathon in 2:02:14!  While I was hoping for a finish time less than 2 hours, I think I can say I left it all out there on the course, and there wasn’t going to be a faster finish for me no matter what I did.  Let’s get into some details…

My wife dropped me off in downtown Burlington sometime after 9:30 and took the kids on a play-date rather than try to keep them happy in the sub-zero (Celsius, in case you’re reading this in the U.S.A!) temperatures.  City Hall was open and available to stay warm and take bathroom breaks, but I found it so crowded I wouldn’t have been able to guess where the back of the line was, so I opted to use a local Subway restaurant instead (I later bought cookies from them to make up for mooching).

As the start time approached people started lining up in the corrals according to what their estimated finish time would be.  I saw some pace bunnies struggling to get to the right position (hint: 1:55 is faster than 2:00), but I’ve never used them much myself (I’ll try to keep my eyes open for them but I use my Garmin instead).  Having the crowd fill in help stave off the cold a little bit, but just about everybody had to jog on the spot a little to stay warm, whether or not that was their usual pre-race habit.

There seemed to be a false start where the crowd started to advance, then stopped, but finally (about 10:10 or so) we were off.  I had plenty of time to start my music playing and start both Endomondo and my Garmin before crossing the start line chip sensor (the chips are disposable ones attached to the race bib – very convenient).

Straight down Brant street toward the lakeshore and then a right (west) we went.  Once I start running, I usually warm up right away, but this time I think it was at least 2 km before my fingertips stopped hurting.  I hadn’t taken as detailed a look at the race course as I should have: I knew we were heading toward the Burlington Skyway bridge, but would we actually be running on it?  That would be a unique experience but also very cold… the western turn-around point was at the base of the bridge.

I was feeling good, and though there was temptation, I kept myself from running too fast so that there would be plenty left in the tank (both fuel/energy wise, and from a muscle fatigue perspective). I was nearing the start point (about 5 km) when I noticed my phone was playing from the intended running playlist, but rather shuffling between the whole collection (neat Endomondo feature: if you go to the link and click ‘Playlist’ on the left, you’ll see what I was listening to!); the Scherzo from Beethoven’s 9th was not what I had in mind! I took a walk break at the top of a hill and made the change.

My Garmin did something weird and I have yet to figure out why: it gave me lap alerts for every kilometer about 330m early, even by it’s own measurement. For example, it called lap 10 complete at 9.67 km and lap 11 complete at 10.67 km. I got used to that, and actually found it handy to show how that particular kilometre was ‘trending’. At the actual kilometre markings, I still had the Endomondo app calling out my pace times.

One thing I did better than usual on this race was not over-hydrate, but I still found myself needing to take a pit stop around the 13 km mark. I had increased my pace in anticipation of the rest and lost time, so I don’t feel like this actually cost me anything in terms of my average pace.

With the course having two out and backs, there were plenty of opportunities to see other racers going the other way and maybe even a few high fives. There weren’t as many of these as I would have expected, but I’m one of the worst people for that sort of thing – I was fairly focused on running my race. In fact, I later realized that I hadn’t enjoyed the view of the lake at all, I think the flat light of the overcast day made me forget about the water.

I found that my heart rate was occasionally getting too high even when my pace was lower than I wanted it. The trick I found was to take my hat off; as I cooled off, my heart rate seemed to get lower for faster running.

My Achilles tendons were flaring up increasingly as the kilometres ticked off, but I was keeping the kind of pace I wanted: mostly around 5:40 to 5:45 km. I thought that was the pace I wanted for a 2 hour time, and according to my original plan 5:42 should have been it, but as I neared 16 km I began to realize the math was wrong – upon review I see there were a few 6 minute kilometres. I think I knew it was too late to make changes, but I couldn’t give up either. I started increasing my pace, and after the 18 km mark I really started hauling it (there is no tomorrow!)

At the 20 km mark, I got a call from my wife. I tried to ignore it, but ultimately took the call; thanks to the Jaybirds, I didn’t have to stop or slow down to fiddle with the phone. She was having trouble finding parking and ultimately she and the boys wouldn’t be at the finish line in time to see me cross, but I couldn’t hear a word of that at the time. Nor would she have been able to make out my guttural grunts and gasps as I was giving it my all on the last kilometre.

As I crossed the finish line, I stopped the Garmin and saw 2:02. I was a little disappointed, but not too much, as I didn’t really feel like I had made any real mistakes on the course or done a poor job of training for the race. One of the volunteers handed me a bottle of water, and I think he was checking my level of consciousness the way they do for Ironman finishers… I got my breath back and a hold of myself and thanked him properly. There were good post-race snacks, including PowerBar protein bars, bananas, and juice boxes.

Once I had reunited with my family, we looked for one of the restaurants that would be serving chilli and beer without being to crowded for a family with two small kids.  We found Melodia, and though they didn’t have seating in their main floor area, they were nice enough to open their second floor for us (they would later fill up to the point where they needed that space too).  We added to our meal of chilli (and a Carlsberg that went down soooo nicely) a Mediterranean inspired cheeseburger and grilled cheese (on a pita!).  I tried hard to keep our kids from ruining their nice tablecloths, but it ended up being me who spilled a whole bowl of chilli on the floor… I hope my tip made up for the inconvenience!

I had a Epsom salt bath when I got home and I’ve been taking it easy ever since – I think the last of my muscle soreness will be gone by the time you read this. I’d really recommend this event – I think I might do it again next year. At any rate, I want to make a March/Mid-winter race a tradition; training for it has kept me more focused and disciplined, and the outdoor runs have done a lot to keep my winter mood up.