Thursday, March 24, 2016


The 10th annual Slowtwitch 100 runs in 100 days challenge ended last night in a freakin' dump of freezing rain and ice pellets.


My final tally was 85 runs and 707.4km / 439.5mi between December 15th and March 24th, which should set me up for a half decent base of fitness going into spring races. Not really a streak, though - while it included 3 double run days, there were also a few days off here and there due to Fridays off being non-negotiable (it's date night with Tanker the Wonder Sherpa), illness, exhaustion or recovering from stinkin' frostbite.

Speaking of which - after a little more than a month, I finally got the feeling back completely in my left big toe and right thumb this week! Just in time, of course, for that wallop of winter last night.

It is now, however, supposed to last. While it's currently pulling some nasty crap out there as I write, this weekend should herald a return to spring. Since it's a long weekend for us, I'm hoping to get out and enjoy!

Wishing you all a very happy Easter - hope some bunny spoils you!


Friday, March 18, 2016

Tested: Fitsok Isolwool Trail Cuff socks

I'm kind of a sock junkie. I have a ridiculous number of socks for both athletic stuff and regular wear - like an entire dresser drawer overflowing with nothing but socks. Unfortunately, some of my original pairs of running socks have started to show their age (after more than 7 years - seriously, Smartwool socks used to be bombproof), and so I found myself looking for some new ones a couple of months ago.

It being winter, I wanted some that would keep me warm but would also be useful when the weather gets warmer, and to me that says wool. I also wanted some with a taller cuff, because I have a 32" inseam and most of my tights make me look like I'm waiting for the flood. I strongly believe that wearing socks that left a gap between the top of their cuff and the bottom of my wool longjohns at Oracle Trail last month was a contributing factor in the frostbite to my left big and 2nd toes, as the veins in my ankle were more exposed to cold air (despite my winter tights and gaiters overtop to seal out as much as I could), resulting in a cooling effect I've discussed before.

Being most chagrined to find that neither Smartwool nor Icebreaker was currently making socks that fit the bill - all either too short or too thin to provide real winter warmth - I decided to gamble on a 3-pack of socks I'd never heard of before: Fitsok Isolwool.

Product image from their website

What it is: Cushy crew-height socks in a 39% merino wool / 39% polypropylene / 20% nylon / 2% spandex blend.

Why you want them: Because merino wool is amazing for thermoregulation - it keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the heat - and polypropylene has excellent sweat wicking capabilities.

Duration used: About 2 months

My phone's camera dulls the VERY VIVID fluorescent green details

Inside of foot showing how nicely they hug my arch.

Price paid/purchased from: I paid $24.99 + tax for the pack of 3 pairs at the Running Room in Kitchener.

Manufacturer's description: "Reinforced Trail Cuff? Check.

The new ISW is a power-packed running sock built for the trail and beyond. Constructed with Isolwool®, the ISW utilizes merino wool and polypropylene to deliver superior moisture movement. A light cushion prevents blistering and enables prolonged performance in the harshest conditions. Wool naturally fights bacteria allowing the sock to remain clean and fresh. The ISW is designed to perform in hot or cold environments - and to excel on the trail."

Top of the sock laying flat. They are not specific to left or right foot.

Not a "seamless" toe, but I've had no issues with friction from the nicely finished seam.

What rawks: My biggest two criteria for buying socks was that they have a large wool content (eeh, we'll call 39% "large") and have a cuff that I figured would keep my ankles warm. I've also worn polypropylene liner socks for backpacking and know that they're very good at transporting moisture away from the skin, because in cold weather the biggest factor that will lead to hypothermia or frostbite is being wet. The nylon content should help with durability, as merino wool on its own can be a bit fragile, and the spandex helps them fit just right so they don't move around and cause blisters. I've seen absolutely no evidence of wear and tear on my 3 pairs yet, and they've been in regular rotation - I'd say each one has been used at least half a dozen times. I wear either a size 9 or 9.5 (sometimes 10) women's shoe - European size 41 is pretty reliable for me - and went with the size Medium in Fitsoks. With running socks, I find it's always better to have a fit that's on the snug size rather than have too much material to bunch up and raise blisters or hotspots, and in this particular case I feel I got a perfect fit. They're snug, but not too tight, and I haven't experienced any shifting when running - they even make a pair of shoes I'm a bit iffy about fit more comfortably. The cushion is of medium thickness, which is enough to fill a bit of space if your shoes are a tad too large but not enough to require that you go up a half size, and runs throughout the whole foot of the sock save for the top of the arch. The sole seems to have some extra stretchiness to it in the form of some white stripes that really hug my foot nicely. I am most impressed, though, by the cuffs - they're a double layer of material that not only bridges the gap to the bottom of my shortest set of tights (with at least 3/4" of overlap), but feels very warm and even protects my skin from my occasional tendency to catch the sole of my shoe on the inside of my ankle during my stride. Yeah, I'm clumsy.

Very snug, stretchy sole.

Good cuff height for those who find their tights a bit on the short side.

Double layer of material shown by turning the sock partially inside-out.

What sucks: I really would prefer that these socks have a higher wool content (>50%), as I find it better for keeping me warm and I already have plenty of thinner merino wool socks for summer running. That said, I have run in these down to -13c/9f and my feet stayed warm. I haven't had much opportunity to test them in slushy conditions, which is where I've found that my old Smartwool socks really save my bacon (or rather, my toes), but what I've seen so far makes me reluctant to rely on them as much as I do my older, higher-wool-content pairs. It would be a little more fun if the 3-pack were different colours (which don't seem to exist in this model - if you don't like charcoal grey and eye-searing green, you're SOL), but I will admit it sure makes mating them up after doing laundry very easy. If you're in the middle or at the lower end of the range for a particular size, you may experience some bunching - I essentially went a half-size down to achieve what I consider a perfect fit.

A nice, snug fit even if your feet are a bit mis-shapen

What I'd like to see: Higher wool content and different colours.

What I'm saying: While they're not perfect, at $25 for 3 pairs these socks are a steal compared with other brands for which I've paid $20 for a single pair. If you're in need of some ankle protection, they're well worth the gamble for the price, even if you may want to stick with something with a higher wool content for long runs in cold or wet conditions.

For further edification: These were reviewed by Run Oregon and on, or you can check out Amazon reviews.

Friday, March 11, 2016


March certainly came in like a lion this year.

On the very first day, we got slammed by the worst snowstorm we'd had all winter. Winds gusting over 50kph/30mph drove thick flurries of snow sideways through the streets, causing whiteouts and slippery roads throughout Ontario and Quebec. Tanker and I agreed that any attempt to try to make it to the pool would be foolhardy, so we hunkered in for the night like sensible folks.

After I went for a run, that is.

You expected something different?

The streets had a bit of a dusting of snow when I set out. Forty five minutes later it was 2"/5cm deep and I was worn the hell out. I didn't know if I'd make it in to work the next day since that was only a quarter of the minimum amount of total snow they'd predicted would fall through the night.

Fast forward precisely one week.

Subtle differences.

Same spot, at almost the same time of day. That's my longsleeve shirt from Sulphur Springs last year - not a jacket. And yes, those are shorts. After dark. FOR REALZ.

I haven't worn a jacket all week to run, and have had at least some portion of my legs bare every evening (I did wear knicks on Monday & Thursday as it was below 10c/50f and after sunset). The snow that covered the streets so thickly last week has been reduced to tiny, furtive heaps where it had been piled extra deep by plows or people shoveling. 

The grass may still be brown and the calendar may not say so, but Spring has - in fact - sprung.


It even hit 20c/68f on Wednesday afternoon, when I had the good fortune to have my bike at work. The wind may have been gusting up over 40kph/25mph in exactly the wrong direction, but I was riding around in knickers and a t-shirt. A damn t-shirt!

Even on the way to my Mum's as the sun was setting!

So I'm slightly in a tizzy right at the moment, because even if it wasn't the hardest of winters it's still incredibly exciting to be able to ditch the layers and feel the sun on my skin again. 

I'll have even more opportunity to do so next week - don't forget to set your clocks ahead this weekend, folks!

What a difference a week makes.

Friday, March 4, 2016


I sit all day at work in my office, and continue to sit through my 2+hrs daily of commuting. I don't spend much time on my butt at home (because I'm out training, or standing while I'm cooking, or out running errands or something), but I am nonetheless seated for several hours most days of the week.

I'm like the poster girl for tight hamstrings. If your life is anything like mine - more chair time than active time for most of the week - you probably are, too.

Well, not necessarily poster girl. I'm not here to prognosticate about your gender or preferred appellations. Nonetheless, I'm willing to bet you've got some tension in those hammies.

I know I've been posting a lot lately about mobility exercises and stretching, and I'll ask you to bear with me while I show you one more thing that really got my attention the first time I tried it. I'd always done the traditional hamstring stretch, which involves putting your foot up on something and then reaching toward your toes.

I'm actually flexible enough to wrap a hand around my foot, but crayon art is not a precise science.

It's a good stretch, and one I advocate doing in the correct circumstances. Being able to bend down and touch your toes (which is another way to accomplish the same stretch, if you don't have anything to put your foot up on or aren't strong or flexible enough to do so) is a good thing, but it doesn't do the whole job when it comes to hamstring mobility.

Something about my personal biomechanics results in tightness near the top of my hamstrings, where they attach to the tendons just below my butt. As a runner and cyclist, I also tend to put the greatest load on my hamstrings with my knees bent rather than straight, which results in some tension that isn't alleviated through the standard stretch shown above.

Some while ago - maybe a year or two, for all I know - I read an article online (which I would totally reference here if I could remember where I found it) that was entitled something like "the best hamstring stretch you're not doing". As a curious human interested in keeping my body moving as well as possible, I took a look and discovered it was right: I wasn't doing it, and the stretch is freakin' awesome. It hit the problem areas in my hamstrings perfectly, and was something I could easily do during my post-swim hot tub stretching sessions.

So, my dear friends, I give to you: The Best Hamstring Stretch You (probably) Aren't Doing.

Step 1: Put one foot up on a stair or a chair - something that forms a right-angle.

Step 2: Push your foot forward so your toes are against the upright portion of the right angle, with your ankle in a neutral dorsiflexed position.

Step 3: Lean forward, keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position. Don't round your back as this will put stress on it.

Step 4: Feel the stretch in your upper hamstrings and glutes. Hold this position for 15-20 seconds but do not bounce.

Step 5: Stand straight up again and have a go with the other leg.

Having trouble picturing all this? Here's a slightly-more-detailed-than-usual image to help you out.

Simple as that.

If you can't find something to put your foot up on to do this, you can generally achieve the same thing by bending one knee from a standing position and putting the opposite foot out in front of your with your heel dug into the ground and your toes in the air (dorsiflex your foot by pulling your toes back toward your shin). You can also put the ball of your foot up against a wall to brace it. Lean forward, keeping your spine neutral, and put your hands on the thigh of the bent leg you're standing on. It's more of a challenge to keep your back from rounding this way and I don't feel I get as good of a stretch since I'm not using as much range of motion in my hip, but beggars can't be choosers if there's really nothing around.

If you don't suffer from the same hamstring tightness I do, this may not have much effect. I'm not a doctor, don't play one on television, and have no clue about your personal physiology or limitations. If it feels really painful, DON'T DO IT. Void where prohibited by law - no cash value - your mileage may vary.

But worth a shot just to see if it helps, no?

Oh, and just on the off chance you think I might be mis-representing Lane Swim K in crayon form:

Truth is stranger than fiction, folks.