Monday, May 28, 2012

MOTOACTV and Hoka reviews, of sorts...

Several people have been asking me about these two things so I thought I'd do a quick post about them. If you aren't one of these people or at least somewhat curious about these things, you should do yourself a favor and go find something else to read. This is going to be boring for you.

A couple of months ago I was asked by Motorola if I would like to have one of their new MOTOACTV GPS/music player things. Free sounded pretty good and I was really curious about the device since I have a Polar GPS thing that has really not worked well for me on the trails.

The only real condition of me getting this thing free from Motorola was that I say "I got it free from Motorola." And that I don't make absurd claims about it ("I wore it to work the other day and was given a $10,000 bonus because I looked so sharp!").

There are a variety of accessories, but mine came with the wrist band and these headphones. The thing really doesn't look bad and wears well. I'm not a fan of that type of over-the-ear headphone (they would be great if you were doing something that might jostle less-secure buds out of your ear though), so I've been using my iPod buds (I'm one of about two dozen people that really like the basic buds that come with an iPod).

Good Bits
I'm not much of a gadget freak. All I want to do is learn the basics and get it to do what I think it does. And it was easy to do that. The touchscreen is easy to use and works well, and the process of entering basic info was pretty easy (WAY easier than setting up that Polar thing).

The music bit had me concerned, but that was easy too - I plugged it into my MacBook's USB port and after a bit it came up with a list of music from my iTunes. I picked a few playlists and it copied the DRM-free songs to itself. Happily, in spite of it claiming to be an MP3 player, it also is OK with playing AAC files of songs I've bought through iTunes, at least those recent ones that are not protected.

The site isn't bad, and I suspect you can do a lot of customization if you are into that sort of thing.
One surprise was that, once I got home from my first time using the thing, I went to figure out how to get it to upload to the web, only to find that it had already done that (I had entered the password for our WiFi during the set up, but assumed I would have to do something to get it to upload the info).

Using the touchscreen while running or walking can be challenging, but fortunately most of the things you might want to do use buttons along the side. So it's relatively easy to use - changing songs, pausing the music, pausing the workout, checking your current status is all not much of a problem.

Having the headphones connected to your wrist is a bit odd, but I got used to it after a bit. And it is supposed to be water resistant (it survived Brazen Lagoon Valley).

Battery life has been fine for how I use it (generally, checking the mileage every 15 minutes or so).

After having it on for 4:39:06 (Quicksilver 25K) the battery was only down 60%. That was without audio playing though - a test I did with listening to music using wired headphones did use up more battery, and likely would have left it at 40% in this case. (I think it will use Bluetooth headsets, but that will drain the battery faster I believe.)

It seems to connect to GPS fairly fast (faster than that Polar) and even better, holds the connection while going through wooded trails. The distance is usually pretty close for exposed courses, and a bit short for  heavily wooded terrain (but about the same as I was getting when comparing with other runners).

The MOTOACTV lady at Brazen Wildcat. She loved seeing someone using the thing, but knew about the elevation issue and is likely tired of hearing about it.
Not So Good Bits
By far the biggest issue is that, for whatever reason, the device will not tell you your total elevation gain/loss - it tells you your lowest and highest points and the difference between your start and end. In trail running, that's pretty useless. I can't imagine why it's like this - there are some flames on their discussion boards about this ("They added calorie counts for kayaking but still haven't added this basic feature.")

The basic stats that are on the site, plus the Download button.
You can download your data to open with another app, but the data is in the .csv format, which most apps I tried will not import. I did find one website that will give me what I want, but you have to work at it a bit - It's free though.

From after a bit of customization.
The elevation is a bit higher than the race claimed, but not horribly so. It would be useful in those cases where you were doing a training run and wanted a general idea of what you had done.

And that's really the only bit that seems bad. The thing does have some nifty features that allow it to work well with your Motorola Android phone, but for some reason (HA!), not with an iPhone - I likely wouldn't use those features anyway, so that's no big deal for me.

If I had bought this, would I have kept it? Probably. I've got to believe the elevation thing will come in a software update, but until it does, that alone makes it hard to recommend this. Having said that, if it's a lot cheaper than the alternatives (and it is nice having GPS and music in the same device), maybe the elevation thing isn't such a big deal.

I've found that I really like being able to see my mileage while on the trails, and for that it does well.

Hoka Shoes (aka Clown Shoes)
No way was I going to try these things. They were WAY too expensive ($170 or so) and they didn't have my size (14). But then a couple of things happened:

I spotted Mr Brazen wearing a pair and he had nice things to say about them. As did almost everyone else I knew that had them. A guy in his mid 60s that blew past me at a 25K race said they had changed his life and eliminated most knee pain he used to get.

These shoes stand out a bit.
And then this year they added a size 14. So Mrs Notthat and I headed down to Zombie Runner and each bought a pair. We bought the Stinson EVO something or others - the new model for this year.

I'm pretty sure it's too late to take them back in "as new" condition.
Brazen's Lagoon Valley Half Marathon and Mud Slide was our first race in them. While not as grippy as my normal Brooks Cascadias, they were pretty close and did well. The one odd bit is that, since they are so soft, you sometimes had a hard time telling whether the muddy ground was slippery or not.

We've since worn them in a number of races and we are both happy with them. They make me about 3/4 inch taller than my normal Cascadias (which in turn make me 3/4 inch taller than being barefoot) - that took a bit to get used to. But the way they smooth the trails has been a blessing for my feet - it's like running on a shag carpet with a thick foam pad, no matter how rocky the trail. The downside is that you lose a feel for the trail - for me that isn't a big deal since I'm slow and constantly looking where I'm going anyway.

I read Born to Run shortly after buying these, and it made me wonder if I had done the right thing. These are WAY the opposite of minimalist shoes - everything the book tells you not to have in a shoe. But they have been great so far. My feet and knees seem perkier after races than with my previous shoes.

Were they worth the $170? I think so. Assuming they hold up for a while. But I also know others who have tried them and hated them, so they are not for everyone, making them a bit of a risk.

That's it - move along...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

ITR China Camp Half Marathon

Mrs Notthat and I ran the Half Marathon at Inside Trail Racing's China Camp race at the threatened China Camp State Park outside of San Rafael. Neither of us had been there before so we were pretty excited about seeing it. And in a move that seemed perfectly in sync with the race, we had some great, spicy Chinese food the night before.

This proved to be a bad idea, at least on my part.

The Half course was really two 10Ks - a loop with what looked like a friendly hill and a second lollipop loop with a mean looking hill. There were LOTS of great single-track trails, trees, and views as you went around the course.

There was also a little bit of Crockett-based attitude.

And some great volunteers! Arak (not her real name) was absurdly perky at her station, guiding runners through a busy intersection (us Half runners saw her three times).

This is the friendly-looking hill. And it didn't help knowing that we would have to come back down this hill near the end of the race.

One interesting thing that was new to me at intersections were the blue ribbons on trails that we shouldn't be on. Between that and flour markings, there was little chance of getting off course. (And no, I'm not going to bring up how a few runners, led by a veteran trail runner - hi Irual! - mistakenly took a wrong turn and got a bit of bonus hill climbing in.)

I was shocked to actually catch up to Mrs Notthat, although it turned out to be due to a wardrobe malfunction.

Soon she was back to being way ahead of me, although that was short lived since she ended up becoming intimate with the trail not long after this picture.

She's not that far ahead of me! I could possibly take her, but then the spicy Chinese food raised its hand and demanded some attention.

I had smugly stood by while others waited in line at the porta-potties before the race. But at about two miles from finishing the first 10K loop, I would have given a LOT for one of those porta-potties. I could have gone into the woods and found a shrub to hide behind, but I knew this was going to be messy, so I slowed down and hung on for that two miles. It was great to see the race staging area. Finally. And I sincerely apologize to whoever ended up using that porta-pottie after me.

Photo by ITR volunteer Franck.
 While I only had eyes for the porta-potties, Mrs Notthat seemed to be trying to decide whether to fill her bottle back up. She ended up doing that (thankfully) and getting her scraped arm cleaned up a little, then taking off for the lollipop 10K.

Photo by ITR volunteer Franck.
After a LOT of quality time in the porta-pottie (and a bit of wondering whether I should even risk heading out for the second half of the race), I finally made it past the aid station and headed out to catch Mrs Notthat (HA!).

It turned out that the hill on the second lap was much easier for me. The trail was not steep, although it was infested with bike riders (most of which were great - I loved seeing so many people out here taking advantage of this park and having a great time; I told this guy I was taking his picture since I never pass anyone on a bike).

Coming down from that hill, however, was challenging with frequent scary (but fun) bits of trail.

Photo by ITR volunteer Franck. Again. He took a lot of great pictures.

These three, which Mrs Notthat named the Divas of Davis, had been switching places with me all throughout the race, but just before the top of that last hill, their turbos kicked in and they took off. Meanwhile, Mrs had started dragging a bit, but was inspired when the trio passed her and joined them for a sprint to the finish.

Happy to be done. Photo by ITR volunteer Franck.

I was thrilled to see Franck (and the finish line). And they were all thrilled to see me, since I was the last runner out there. Another DLF (Dead Last Finish) on my growing list!

Franck took a picture of me taking a picture of him.

We were twins! Mrs Notthat ended up finishing a little over seven minutes ahead of me. I feel certain that if I had eaten something less exciting for dinner the night before, I might have kept up with her. (HA!)

Her scrape is not as bad as the one from last Saturday's race, but it's not a competition. Hopefully next weekend will be spent totally upright.

It was a great race with a lot of fun runners and volunteers.

The park is a blast and seems very popular - sadly it is on a list of state parks to be closed soon as the state struggles to eliminate their budget deficit. The fact that this park and the others make up a tiny percentage of the budget and closing them would do little to help things makes it obvious that the politicians are choosing to do this only for effect.

My guess is that the closures won't happen (they will magically find a way to keep them open) since it is election season. And I really hope my guess is right.

That's it - move along...

PS: You can see more pictures I took here. And more pictures Franck took here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A nice day to go for a swim

On Saturday, Mrs Notthat and I did the Brazen Wildcat Half Marathon - this is a tough race that for some reason is much harder than its 2200 feet of elevation gain gives it a right to be.

We knew a LOT of runners at this race - this photo by World Famous Etep shows just a small herd of them that we could gather quickly.

Mrs Notthat said she was going to take it easy. So naturally she beat me by half a day, even after taking a (spoiler alert) swim break.

I took up my spot at the back of the pack once the race started. Mrs Notthat is one of those specs WAY ahead of me already (this is maybe a quarter mile into the race).

At the top of the first hill, about three-quarters of a mile from the start, Weird Haired Mom and the grandkids were waiting to direct the runners. I decided to test Grandkid Second Born and headed the wrong way, which caused him to charge at me with the intent of a fierce tackle.

This is how Mrs Notthat was greeted when she reached the top of the hill. Grandkid First Born did a dance move, or maybe a complicated cheer. (Picture by WHM.)

Mrs Notthat ended up carrying both grandkids for the rest of the race (they wish!). (I love how the other runners are laughing at this.)

Weirdly, I passed my arch-nemisis Yram fairly early, so I ended up chasing Alegna for most of the race. Here she is leading me into the first aid station - the 5K turnaround at about mile 1.5.

Other than the swimming hole, this was the only real mud on the course. The hills are still a bit green, but are well on their way to golden brown for the summer since we've had no rain for a while now.

This is the second aid station, which is where the 10K runners take a left and us Half runners are on our own. (We will see this aid station again in a few minutes/hours/days.)

The Bermuda Triangle. The Half course has a mean little out-and-back that is straight ahead - when we get back we head up a hill, do a loop through the swimming hole, then arrive back here for a third time. The guy standing in front of the shrub had his work cut out for him keeping it all straight.

(Odd aside: Two years ago I tried to run the Half, but did the early start; I think it was the first time Brazen tried this kind of start. After doing the out-and-back, I, and a number of other early starters, missed this turn because a) I'm a bit map-challenged, and b) the guy that was to do the traffic directing wasn't here yet. I saw that guy heading out here later, carrying his cone. It was none other than World Famous Etep, before he was World Famous. I had no idea who he was or that I had missed the turn when I got this picture of him.)

I love how it looks like he is carrying a roll of toilet paper.
The out-and-back gave a great opportunity to see how I was doing related to some of the other runners.

Mrs Notthat and Ytsirhc were significantly ahead of me (naturally). Mrs Notthat is looking summery. Like she would like to go for a swim. (Cue spooky music...)

At the end of the out-and-back was The Brazen Rabbit! For the most part, she didn't have much to do - normal runners had no intention of going one foot more up this hill than they had to. She gave Alegna a hug.

Yikes! My arch-nemisis Yram turned out to be only about one hundred feet behind me! And instead of a hug, The Brazen Rabbit knew that Yram might need to be tackled to keep from charging up the hill.

After our second pass through the Bermuda Triangle, we had a long, hot climb up this hill. When I turned to take this picture, the guy in yellow, following the Trail Runners Creed, started running for the camera. And he kept on running and beat me by a lot. Readers with good eyesight will note that, unbelievably, I am currently ahead of Alegna!

The third aid station and the ever-perky Yrrek! This began a long stretch of pavement with rolling hills.

And cows. LOTS of cows, some of which were really close to the trail.

After the pavement we were rewarded with some nice single-track trail (although it was challenging due to deep ruts and hoof prints that were eager to tweak your ankles). The highlight of this stretch was this tiny creek that even the grandkids could easily step over. This is where, moments earlier, Mrs Notthat went for a swim, falling face-first into that little bit of water. (For those of you that were worried, her iPhone appears to have survived the dunking without harm.)

Actually, it really was tricky to cross this stream since you had to navigate slippery rocks in and out of it. And she was fortunate to have not been hurt more seriously, and ended up more embarrassed than anything. And yes, I will use this as motivation to keep up with her during these races so that I can better document these fun events.

After the swimming hole, we passed through the Bermuda Triangle for one last time, hit the second aid station again, and then headed up the last Hill That Never Ends. It was warming up (although there was a nice, cool breeze) and this stretch was very exposed, but had a lot of great views. Not that we cared about the views - by this time we all just wanted to be done, and looking ahead and seeing tiny little dots that were runners WAY ahead of us did nothing to make us perkier.

Eventually I made it back to where WHM and the grandkids were stationed. Except Grandkid First Born was no longer there, having paced Mrs Notthat to the finish line.

Grandkid Second Born paced me to the finish line, although what he mostly did was make me feel even more tired as he galloped with glee down the hill.

And taunted me for being so slow. I'm pretty sure pacers aren't supposed to taunt the runner they are pacing.

Remarkably I finally made it to the finish line in time to see Mrs Notthat getting a massage.

And trying real hard not to bleed on the massage table. Her swim left her with some impressive scrapes and bruises.

And that's about it. The race was fun and I love that I finally finished a proper Half here. The hills are tougher than they have a right to be, but the trails are good and the views are great.

I did manage to beat Yram, but was soundly trounced by just about everyone else, including Alegna.

That's it - move along...

PS: You can see more pictures I took here.