A New Start on an Old Problem

So, here we ere again.  I’m not going to post some simple update full of hope and false promises.  I really did believe that I was going to start writing more and more when I posted the last few times.  I thought that I was finally over the hump of being busy and distracted and pulled in a million directions.  I finished my master’s degree.  I left a job that didn’t fit to return to a much better role for me.  I had time and, I thought at the time, motivation.  I was ready to go back to writing about cycling, life, weight management, and what was happening in the world.  I thought I was ready to get back to writing the blog.  Maybe not.

All of these distractions masked the real problem.  Or problems.  I had fallen off the weight management wagon.  Fallen off the wagon is not the way to explain what had happened.  I lied to myself about why I wasn’t exercising.  I had told myself that I was too busy with school.  I had blamed it on not being able to run due to a foot injury.  I told myself that I wasn’t riding because there just wasn’t enough time in the day to get a good ride in.  A lot of this was true.  A lot of it stopped being true but I didn’t get back to work.  I didn’t just fall off the wagon.  I took the wagon apart and built a house to live in like an old settler traveling to the western frontier.  Not only had I stopped moving forward, I seemed to take away any chance of resuming.  I have gained forty pounds since I stopped working on weight management.

I stopped running.  Sure, I had a foot injury that put a stop to the running for a little while, but that eventually healed.  I still didn’t run.  The more weight I gained, the more I didn’t run.  I would love to say that I had a reason, but I didn’t.  I traveled this summer but managed to not exercise despite having great trails to explore.  I had plenty of down time, and plenty of help around the house but still couldn’t force myself to run.

I didn’t do much better on the bike.  A new multi surface bike didn’t motivate me to get out there.  I did manage to do a few big rides.  Katie, Ed, and I returned to the 5 Boro Tour in New York City.  It was a great ride, made even more fun by some of our Brake the Cycle teammate joining us for the ride.  We had a great time representing the organization and answering questions about our group.  I managed to ride for a day on the Brake the Cycle ride as well.  I switched to support when the first 45-mile day wore me out.  I used the excuse that the group needed support more than another rider.  I guess lying to myself was a skill that I was developing along the whole summer, all the better to stay off the wagon.

So, things weren’t going well.  I also didn’t write because I didn’t know what to say.  How do you talk to people about staying positive and working toward a goal when you are running away from that message every day?  I was struggling with a few other issues as well.  Like most people, I was wrapped up with what was happening in the news.  How do you talk about cycling and personal motivation with everything that is happening in the world?

So, what changed?  Why am I writing now?  What answers do I have to any of these questions?  First, the last question.  There is nothing I need to say here about any of that.  Why?  Because cycling.  The best part of cycling is that we are all in this together.  We don’t need politics.  We have the bike to talk about.  We have the hills to fight, not each other.  So, no politics here, unless we are talking about bike lanes.

So, what about the rest of it?  I try again.  Katie and I joined the YMCA today.  We start running again tomorrow.  Small steps, but it is time.  I have been riding again, little by little, on a trainer.  I have set up my trainer and started using Rouvy, the training program for Cycle Ops.  I am going to detail my trainer set up and Rouvy in next week’s blog.  See you then.

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Where Did That Year Go?!?

It’s been a while. It’s been a long while filled with surgery, backsliding, and loss of focus and drive. That’s okay. These things happen. It has also been a long while filled with struggling through some really fun races. See the previous sentence for the cause of the struggle. Here are the highlights to get you up to speed with how the year went.

My last post in February was full of positivity and renewed focus. I think it lasted until the end of the post. Between work and home I never really trained for what was coming next, The TD Five Boro Bike Tour. This is not the most difficult ride of the year as long as the weather cooperates. I was excited because my wife was going to ride with us on Team SomeNerve for her first Tour. We woke up the morning of the ride to head to the starting area at 5:00 and it started to rain. It never stopped. Many riders couldn’t finish as the early May chill added to the misery of the falling rain. All we could do was put our heads down and ride through the wet and cold for 40 miles until we got back to the ferry. Despite it all, Katie agreed to try it again this year.

One of our next races was going to be the Down and Dirty Race in Hartford. Katie has run this obstacle course race with me before and we both were looking forward to it again this year. Something happened and it was cancelled at the last minute. This has been an ongoing issue in the obstacle course race community. Race series that seem to be stable suddenly fold. It is extremely disappointing to all involved. Fortunately one local race that is always a great time has been flourishing. The Gaylord Gauntlet race benefits a local rehabilitation hospital in Connecticut. The race organizers build the course on the hospital campus and the staff and patients cheer the racers through the course. Each year the race gets bigger and better and it was a highlight of the summer.

On the other hand multiple fun run 5K races have been shrinking and suffering under poor management. Any race that we attended at Rentschler Field in East Hartford fit this bill. Each race was more expensive than previous years, but less well run at the same time. Color runs, bubble runs, and inflatable races were almost painful to attend. Each race started charging for parking, but I was stuck in traffic for 45 minutes trying to leave one race. The bad experiences actually changed some of my goals for the upcoming year.

Katie and I had a great experience running the 5K at the Hartford Marathon. This race was the exact opposite to the many bad runs this year. The race was extremely well organized and attended. The course was fast and fun and we can’t wait to run again next year. More on that in the goals section!

The whole Big Joe’s Soapbox team ran two memorable obstacle course races this fall, the Rugged Maniac and the Terrain Race. Both had a ton of fun obstacles and were worth every penny. My son even ran his first kids race at the Terrain race. I think we will have a new member of the team in a few years!

Finally we all ran the 80th Manchester Road Race. Five miles with 14,000 other runners on Thanksgiving morning is something everyone should try once or twice! It is a difficult course with a good third of it spent on a large, long, and steep hill. The party atmosphere and costumes of both the runners and the spectators makes up for it! It is one of the few races I know of that the spectators provide the water stations, and one of the few I know where some of the water stations hand out beer!

So, where do we go from here? Well, back on the wagon I guess. There is one more 5K and then it is time for winter training. I am heading into the off season in better shape than I started this year full of races and rides. I have been back at the gym and trying to stay motivated. Katie and I are working on nutrition and attempting to motivate each other to get in 30 minutes of some exercise a day. The bikes are on the trainers in the basement and the treadmill is ready to go so there should be no excuses. We have also set some new goals to help push each other for the upcoming year.

First we want to ride a century. That is 100 miles in one day. There are organized rides that have century courses but we might also work with Team in Training. We are researching this and I will post more soon. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to share. The second goal is to complete a half marathon. This is mostly due to the great experience at the Hartford Marathon. We ran the 5K and want to go bigger next year. Running is a great way to cross train for cycling and the two big goals should complement each other. Finally, we want to keep running more obstacle course races and finish them in better shape that we have. So, something has to give for us to focus on these goals. First, we are boycotting runs at Rentschler Field. It’s nothing against a specific run, it’s just not worth the time and money to run a color run when we can be out training or running a cheaper and better organized race. Second, by starting an off season with concrete goals it will help us train all winter with purpose. That should give us a great springboard into the season.

Part of all of this will be staying accountable to me. To do that, I am going to re-commit myself to the blog. Starting in December I will be writing at least twice a month. I want to commit to weekly updates, but with attending graduate school and working and my family there just isn’t time. Twice a month I can handle. That is still 26 updates for the next year! Not too shabby. Let me know if there are any topics you want me to cover!

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Gall Bladders Suck

As soon as I posted that I was back I disappeared again.  So what the heck happened?  The last time I was here I was talking about how I was going to get back into the game and we were going to be talking a lot more.  Well, that didn’t go as planned.  I guess that happens sometimes, life’s plans get interrupted and we have to do the best we can to cope.


I had two health issues late last year.  The first was a questionable chest x-ray.  As part of what I do for a living I have to undergo medical surveillance.  I went for a routine physical and x-ray and the clinic thought they saw a shadow on one of my lungs.  They were very careful to tell me that it was probably nothing but I should get it checked by my primary care physician.  That caused a fair amount of sleepless nights but thankfully turned out to be operator error on the part of the clinic that performed the x-ray.  Two more x-rays later and there is nothing there.


The second health issue was much more real.  My gall bladder had to come out.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was very sick.  It had started back in the previous winter.  I was tired and my metabolism was very slow.  No matter how often I worked out I could never feel right.  I went for a checkup and the doctor did an ultrasound.  She told me that it would probably have to come out at some point, but not to be overly worried about it.  She could see stones, but they might not be an issue.  By November I was feeling worse and worse and went back for my final x-ray for my chest.  I had changed doctors and my new doctor sent me for another ultrasound.  She sent me to a surgeon who scheduled me for surgery a week later.  My gall bladder came out two days before Thanksgiving.


The surgery went slightly less than perfectly and I can’t thank my wife and family enough for taking time away from their holiday to help me recover.  I had to go back to the doctor over the long weekend because I was having trouble healing.  There were a few complications in surgery and after but I am happy to report that by Christmas I was almost feeling back to normal.


The largest change was in my energy levels.  I finally felt like I could function again.  I hadn’t realized how sick I was before the surgery because I had become used to how I was feeling.  I had been sick for so long that it became my new normal.  Once I started feeling better I realized just how bad it had been.  I started to count down to the day I could go back to training.  The surgeon had told me to wait six weeks and at first I couldn’t imagine getting back on the trainer or treadmill.  Once I started to feel better I couldn’t wait.


This ambition caused me to sign up for a new gym that was opening near my house.  I can’t wait to talk about that next week!


I also learned a few lessons through all of this.  The first and biggest is that if something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out.  You know your body better than anyone else; if a doctor tells you that nothing is wrong or to wait but you still feel that something is wrong, get a new doctor or second opinion.  If a doctor tells you to take care of something, do it.  You might not realize how bad you really feel.  Take care of yourself, you are the only one who can.


Finally, it’s really great to feel pretty good again.  While nothing is perfect, I sure feel better now than I have in a long time.  I am back to training and back to planning the next season of runs, rides, and OCRs!  It’s also great to finally feel like I have something positive to share with everyone and to get back to writing.  See you soon!

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Rugged Maniac 2015

We made it!

We made it!

So how do you battle not feeling like writing or working out?  I guess you “accidently” schedule two super fun events back to back to end the summer!  The first was Rugged Maniac New England and the second was Cycle Martha’s Vineyard.  More on the bike ride next time; this update is about all things Rugged!

The blog's new team shirts! Designed by a wonderful friend, Katie.

The blog’s new team shirts! Designed by a wonderful friend, Katie.

First things first, new team shirts! Designed by a wonderful friend, Katie.irst, I need to thank my great friend Katie who designed the teams awesome shirts!  We always name the team after the blog but we never had a great shirt to go with it.  Thanks to Katie we were looking very stylish in our shirts.  I also want to thank everyone who came out to run this race.  My best friend Norm ran his second race with us and my sister in law Beth flew all the way from Florida to run.  Best of all, my wife made her Rugged Maniac debut after a huge assist from the race organizers.  Also in the list of “thank yous” is one for my father in law who took a ton of great race photos, all images here were taken by him.

Beth jumping onto the floating steps!

Beth jumping onto the floating steps!

I cannot say enough about how helpful and friendly they were in helping Katie find a last minute spot due to cancellation as well as keeping the entire team on the same start waive.  Every year Rugged Maniac puts on a great race and the staff does whatever they can to make each person’s experience a positive one.  I emailed the staff a week prior to see if there was a way to get Katie in because of a cancellation on the team and they came through.  Then there was an issue with start times where we somehow were split up and they were able to help again.  Even the volunteers out on course were on another level from other races, cheering for the team and encouraging everyone.  Again, I can’t say enough good things about this race staff and volunteer group.

Norm has been my best friend since we were kids, and now I have him racing OCRs with me!

Norm has been my best friend since we were kids, and now I have him racing OCRs with me!

Along those same lines I need to say a few things about the venue.  Running an obstacle race on a motorcross track is a stroke of brilliance.  Most other local races seem to struggle with creating obstacles on a flat course; Rugged Maniac had the great idea to make the entire course an extra obstacle!  The jumps and landing zones made great hills and the low spots between gave the organizers a great starting place for many water obstacles.  On top of that the series has really benefitted from the infusion of funds from the Shark Tank investors.  The manufactured obstacles were better than ever.  The pacing was spot on as well.  I never felt like I was running to far between each obstacle and they were varied enough where I never felt like I was crawling through another barbed wire crawl just because the race needed one more obstacle and it was the easiest thing to do.

Did I mention the giant slide?

Did I mention the giant slide?

Lastly, before I get around to writing about my race I should mention the after party.  This is one of the rare races that actually spends time and effort on getting the party right.  There is a hosted competition of games, from pull ups to holding a beer at arm’s length there is a game for everyone.  There is a mechanical bull and live music.  There is food.  Sooooo much good food.  Oh, and a free beer if you are old enough and interested.

The giant slide was a lot of fun!

The giant slide was a lot of fun!

In addition to all of our guests the usual suspects ran the race as well.  Angie recovered nicely from her injury in the Gaylord Gauntlet and ran well.  Ronna, Steve, and Joe also ran well.  Clint ran away from us and then ran back.  He even did some of the obstacles twice while he waited for us.  The biggest surprise to me is that I ran well too.  Really well.  I was able to run well enough that I could almost see where I was before I kept hurting myself all summer.  I wasn’t as fast or as strong as I was, but I could almost feel it as I went through the obstacles.  I held onto the ring cross longer than I thought, and came thisclose from getting up the warped wall.  It was just enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I can get back, and this is the race I could almost see being there.  It is huge for me.

The warped wall was the hardest obstacle there this year, but a great way to close out the race!

The warped wall was the hardest obstacle there this year, but a great way to close out the race!

The best thing about running obstacle course races is the messy fun that breaks up the monotony of a normal race.  I run to train for cycling and to train for OCRs.  I run 5Ks and other races for charity or for the experience but I never really enjoy running.  It is very different running an OCR!  You run until your team hits an obstacle and then you all work together to clear it.  Sometimes it’s fairly easy, you jump a small wall and then cheer on your team.  Other times you hit a 15 foot high wall and you have to help your teammates over that are scared of heights.  Or talk the claustrophobic ones through the sewer pipe crawl.  Or untangle a teammate’s hair from the barbed wire.  No matter what the race is always challenging your limits in every way which keeps things extremely fun.  Races like this quickly turn from intimidating to addicting.  My wife started the summer deathly afraid of OCRs and now she is looking for the next challenge.

Over the flames and into the ice cold water! Great obstacle!

Over the flames and into the ice cold water! Great obstacle!

I said a lot of positive things about Rugged Maniac New England in the beginning of the story, but in any review or recap the real result is would you run the race again?  Would you recommend the race to friends and even put your hard earned money down?  The answer is this, my entire team has already signed up again.  There was a booth in the finish fest for pre-registration for 2016 and no one even hesitated.  Once again I will put out the call to anyone wanting to join us.  Team Big Joe’s Soap Box will run again next fall in Southwick Massachusetts, who wants to join in?

water wire

The team climbing out of the ice water.

The team climbing out of the ice water.

There was a lot of barbed wire. I mean a lot.

There was a lot of barbed wire. I mean a lot.

The frog jump was difficult but fun.

The frog jump was difficult but fun.


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Starting All Over….Again

I received the auto renew on the site and realized how long it had been since I had posted here.  Why?  I’ve been struggling to answer that for a while now.  I wish there was an easy answer, but like most things in life it’s just not that easy.  There are a lot of reasons.  My job got a little hectic.  My family takes up more of my free time, and happily so.  I have been trying to solve a few computer issues.  Life gets in the way.

All of that is true, except none of that is really true.  What is really true?  I got hurt.  Not severely, but almost constantly.  I have a bad back.  It seems like I was in constant pain for almost the last year.  I have also had issues with my foot causing me to not be able to run.  Again, nothing huge but always there for the last year.  It would cost me a week here or there.  Not enough to be a real problem, but enough to stop forward progress.

So why did life interrupting plus injuries cause me to stop writing?  It was because I stopped riding.  And running.  And training.  Again, not always.  Most people would look at my event calendar and say that I was out of my mind, I hadn’t missed anything.  You would be completely correct.  I did manage to hit every event, but sometimes that was all I was able to accomplish that month.  Just as important, I did as poorly as you would imagine someone would do without training for an event.

All of this weighs in on why I haven’t written.  You see, I started this blog to be a positive voice.  I’m a big guy trying to get fit.  There are a lot of us in the world and we don’t often hear positive voices.  We hear people (including ourselves) tell us we are fat.  We get intimidated at the gym.  We know we don’t fit in, and worse, we know we stand out.  I wrote to be a small voice saying yes, that is true, but it doesn’t diminish our effort.  It doesn’t make us worth less, it just makes us different.

The issue is I had very little positive to say.  It is hard to be positive when you feel like you are failing.  Every time I got hurt or missed a workout for some other reason I felt less like writing and more like hiding.  I would have less to say because I couldn’t get over the idea that I sounded like I was complaining.  I don’t like to hear myself complain so I didn’t want to put it here either.

What I missed is that I think everyone ends up where I am sometimes.  People get hurt.  People get busy with life.  People lose track of what they are working on and lose ground on goals.  Not everyone is blessed with a great body and no one is perfect.  So we stumble and struggle and try.  No one can be positive all of the time, but we can support each other.  We can share stories and laugh at some shortcomings as well.  We can pick each other up.

So here I am, back again.  Resetting the blog and trying again.  Getting back up and writing, telling stories about what is happening, the good, the bad, and the sweaty.

This week starts a new commitment by me to write every week.  To blow off the cobwebs and get back to work.  First up, I am heading back to Rugged Maniac this weekend.  Look for a full report next week!

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Rugged Maniac 2014

Anniversaries. Some are huge, like the one marking the day you were married. Some are smaller, like the one marking the day your smartphone contract is finally complete and you can upgrade your phone. Last weekend I had one that falls somewhere in between those two events, though I am really looking forward to my next smartphone contract and the upgrade. Last weekend was one year from my first obstacle course race, the Rugged Maniac 2013. How did I celebrate, by running the 2014 edition of course.


One of the best things about any anniversary is the chance to take stock of where you were then and where you are now. One year ago I was getting ready to run a race that scared the heck out of me. I had signed up and drafted a couple of friends to run with me, but I was still scared. I hadn’t trained enough. I could barely run a mile, let alone three. I hadn’t tried climbing walls or crawling under barbed wire. I almost fell jumping over the wall into the starting pen. I was out of my depth and not ready for what was to come. I ran, I walked, I trudged. I jumped fire, climbed walls, and fell into mud pits. I crawled under wire and through pipes. With the support of my friends I finished.

I also vowed to do better. To be better. And then I spent most of the winter hurt and not training. I slid backwards. I struggled through the 5 Boro Tour and started to heal. I trained and ran other races. Somehow I managed to run a Spartan Race. That almost killed me, but it also showed me where I could go if I tried hard enough. I ran more 5Ks. I actually ran 5Ks without stopping. I still managed to occasionally injure myself, but I was so far past where I was a year ago when the time came to run again. I hurt my hand, but everything else was mostly healed. It would be the first obstacle race of the summer where my back or my feet wouldn’t be a challenge to overcome, both felt great. My hand injury was only a severe strain to one finger in my right hand, so it wasn’t something that would seriously hamper my efforts. I was more ready for this race than anything I had attempted all summer.

So what did the organizers do? They made the course much more difficult. Excellent! To be honest, the year before was not that difficult. I completed the obstacles when I wasn’t in that great of shape. The running is what I failed at the year before. This year the obstacles were much more challenging, and a lot more fun. My only complaint this year was the amount of time crawling under barbed wire seemed crazy. There were four or five sections but all were a little different. There was crawling under wire through deep water, through mud, up hill, and one memorable section had racers crawl through a pipe, into water, under wire, then pull themselves up a rope through another pipe.

There were a lot of new or improved obstacles this year. There was a warped wall, a section of hanging rings to be crossed like moving monkey bars, and a balance beam with huge punching bags blocking racer’s progress. There were many walls and cargo nets to climb as well. The organizers added a sand bag carry and an unstable pontoon bridge as well. There was also the huge waterslide and the fire jump, always crowd favorites. There was the added challenge of frigid water. The cold temperatures the night before the race had the water extremely cold. Most racers look forward to the water obstacles during a race as a way to cool down, but this time it was a real penalty to fall into the water.

All in all the race organizers did a great job. There was a great balance of running and obstacles and there was almost never a real wait to attempt a challenge. The course was in great muddy shape and the 15 minute split between waves gave each group enough space to feel like we weren’t part of a huge crowd. This race was nowhere near as physically or mentally punishing as the Spartan Race, but I don’t want it to be. This race is the most fun I have had this season because it split the difference between something as purely fun as the Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge and the Spartan Race. Rugged Maniac also had the best finishing festival of the races I ran this season. Live bands, a free beer, and great food were just the start. There was a mechanical bull, merchandize tents and an indoor bar. They also had the best viewing station as the race is run on a motocross track. In a brilliant move, the organizers also offered instant registration for next year’s race at a huge discount. I know many racers immediately signed up for 2015 on price and convenience alone. After all of the on course improvements it was a very easy sell. More on 2015 at the end of the post.

How did this year’s team do? Amazing, if I do say so myself. We covered the new obstacles, struggling but overcoming most of them. We all fell at one point or another. The ring traverse was hard on my hand, and I never got up the warped wall. I was sure of failure but I ended up attempting it anyway. Yes, I failed, but not as bad as I thought I would. If it were earlier in the course instead of the last obstacle I might have made it. While the team didn’t fail the fire jump, Angie viciously assaulted my injured hand while jumping the last section.



One year later I could also gauge my progress, and that might be the sweetest way to celebrate this anniversary. I ran far more of the course than I thought possible the year before. We ran between obstacles and covered most of the running sections by actually running. Yes, we walked up the one killer hill, but we were still vastly improved. Yes, I struggled in places, but the added level of difficulty made the course more fun and let me push myself much harder than last year’s edition. I finished, not as spent as after the Spartan Race, but more satisfied. This was the first race I had something to compare myself too, and I was pleased with the result.

So, back to the preregistration for the 2015 edition. Big Joe’s Soap Box had already registered as a team and we are running the race. I want you to join us if you can. I want to get as many people to experience this race, and the feeling you get when you finish, as I possibly can. I have recruited friends, friends of friends, and some readers already. I want to get the biggest, most inclusive, most diverse team to take on the course. Come run with us next fall. I can promise that you will have fun, make new friends, and feel amazing as you jump the fire and cross the finish line. The Soap Box team only has two rules, we ask that you have fun and we will never leave anyone behind. Here is the link to sign up:

Run with Big Joe in 2015

When you register, click “Join a Team”, choose bigjoessoapbox.com and add the team captain name of “Johnson”. That’s it, you’re on the team! Feel free to message me with any questions, but yes, you are ALL invited to run! I really hope that as many of you as possible sign up and run with us!


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New Balance Review Part 2

Back in March I wrote a review of my experience at New Balance South Windsor and how I struggled to find the correct shoe and fit. I had tagged the brand and store is some of my tweets promoting the piece so they could see what had happened and perhaps reach out to discuss the post with me. I didn’t really expect a response, I think I tagged them as a way to gain some customer feedback if nothing else. I hated writing the review as I dislike posting anything negative, but the result was negative and I felt like I had to tell the whole story including the negative outcome. I didn’t hold anything against the store; I was outside of my 30 day warranty and didn’t feel like the store owed me anything.

I was completely surprised when Michael Disibio, the owner of the both the South Windsor and the Avon locations, reached out to me recently. Michael was concerned that I had not been able to find a product that fit my feet and my needs. He offered to refit me and give me a refund for the original products.  I was surprised to hear from the owner, let alone the offer to exchange the merchandise three months after any warranty would have expired.

Last Friday I was finally able to get back to the store. Michael wasn’t able to be there, but he put me in touch with Steve Bosse. Steve is a certified pedorthist and an expert fitter. Steve patiently listened to what was bothering my feet with the original shoes. He was able to tell by my story and by examining my shoes what some of the problem might have been. He remeasured my feet and again had me step onto the pressure pads to be able to see where my feet carried the pressure when I stood. Once he did that he also checked my ankle alignment. With all of that information he was able to explain what might have gone wrong.

In short, I have strange feet. My arch is low and normally that would require both the shoe that was recommended as well as the original insert. Once I tried the insert and came back, the next normal step would be to recommend the memory foam insert that I was given. Steve had to double and triple check my pressure readings and ankle alignment to see that my body was, in a broad sense, self-correcting for the lower arch. The first pair of shoes was designed to help someone correct for a low arch, but for me it was overcorrecting. Steve was able to recommend a pair of more neutral shoes that instantly felt better. He was also able to show me haw changing the size can affect the width of the shoe more than you might imagine. I actually ended up in a narrower shoe than I would normally wear. I am completely satisfied, and I learned a few things.

  1. Try to have a good idea of what you are looking for when you shop for equipment. It’s easy for a customer to go into a store, especially when you are new to a sport, and ask for recommendations. It can be very difficult for a staff member to properly help you out without some direction. The first time I went to the New Balance store, I had no idea what I wanted or what I might prefer. I just said something along the lines of “Hi, I am going to start running, find me some shoes.” The salesman did his best, but that was a pretty wide net to cast. This time I was able to tell Steve how many times a week I run, where I run, what my goals are, and what type of shoe I was looking for. There was a big difference in starting point when I was able to say I was running two to four times a week, mostly three to four miles a time, mostly inside but more and more outside, and that I was looking for something light but not minimalistic. I wanted something to take me through the cooler months to my last race of the year in December. That gave Steve a great place to start pulling shoes to see what I liked.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You might not know what type of shoe you are looking for, or what minimalistic shoes are. I didn’t before I went into the store. I told Steve I wanted them light, and used a pair of shoes I owned as a comparison point. I asked what the difference was between the minimalistic shoes were compared to what I was looking at. I asked the difference between models in the group he suggested. I even asked about the different types of foam in the soles. All of it helped Steve and I decide on the right shoe.
  3. Have a realistic budget and stick to it. The New Balance store has a lot of options in all price ranges. If you don’t let the staff know what you can spend you might end up looking at some shoes that are out of your budget.
  4. Don’t be afraid to go back and talk to the shop if you didn’t get what you wanted or what you expected. A second return trip in March might have solved my problem instead of leaving me with expensive paperweights. If the shop doesn’t know you are unsatisfied or if you are having a fit issue they can’t help you.

There is nothing better than getting to write a follow up to a negative post with a “happily ever after” update. It’s even better to see a merchant go out of their way to correct a problem that were not under an obligation to address. My warranty was expired but Michael cared enough about his customers to reach out to me and try to address my fit issue.  Michael and Steve worked hard to get me into a pair of shoes that fit much better and they were genuinely concerned with both my satisfaction and understanding what happened to cause the fit issue in the first place. Once Steve was able to see what happened he was able to correct the problem. No one could ask for a fairer and more customer friendly experience than that. I can’t wait to get out running in my new shoes.

New Shoes

My awesome new shoes!

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Pearl Izumi

What matters more, words or actions?  Should a company be held to a standard based on their advertisements or their products?  What do you do when they contradict each other?

I found a great blog the other day because of a link about a series of offensive advertisements. Short, Round, and Fast (www.shortroundandfast.com) is a great running blog written by Nick Bernard. Nick writes about all sorts of topics, but most center around running and his thoughts on training, nutrition, or whatever else inspires him for that particular post. I stumbled on to him and his post about a series of advertisements by Pearl Izumi. The blog can be found here. http://shortroundandfast.com/pearl-izumi-post/#more-1839 A good amount of the ads are shown on Nick’s blog so I won’t repost them here, but this is a pretty good example.

Pearl Izumi

I was stunned when I read his blog and the advertisements. This is mostly because the advertisements are elitist and imply that if you aren’t fast you aren’t trying. As a new and overweight runner I often refer to myself as a jogger because I don’t want to imply that I am comparing myself to marathon racers, but I feel like what I am doing is still work. I know I walked in my last Spartan Race, but I finished. That isn’t what really surprised me though.

What really was shocking is that Pearl Izumi is a cycling apparel company as well, and they are known for something in that community. They are known to be a good choice for heavy and overweight cyclists. Pearl Izumi has to know about this, even if it is just from internal market research. Pearl Izumi has to know that their extra-large sizes are larger than other brands. When I first started riding I bought Pearl Izumi exclusively as they were the only clothing that I could find that would fit. It carried over to gloves and shoes as well. I am nothing if not a loyal customer that way. Once I find a brand that makes quality goods at an affordable price I tend to shop within that brand. I buy Trek bicycles, Chevrolet trucks, and Wrangler jeans. Looking at the ads, I felt a disconnect between my cycling brand and this projection of the brand’s philosophy on running.

The comment thread of Nick’s post was also interesting. There did seem to be a pretty serious schism between runners who thought that some people were not trying and others that respected every runner’s effort. It also came to light that the ads were about seven years old. Some thought that the statute of limitations should be up at that point, others were still vowing to not shop Pearl Izumi anymore.

I am still conflicted. I have a background in communications and I first saw the ads as slightly offensive as a struggling runner and obstacle course racer, but mostly that was because I am insecure. I know I am slow, and I know what others might think as they pass me. That’s okay, I try to remind myself that I am doing far better than old me, the guy on the couch. My next thought was that I could see what Pearl Izumi might have been intending.

The marketing staff at Pearl Izumi were trying to appeal to the runner’s sense of pride in what they do. Pearl Izumi wanted runners to think “Yes! I am out there deep in my pain cave, giving it my all. I am not doing this to be trendy. I am not doing this as a fad. I am doing this because this is who I am!” I get it, but they missed the mark slightly. Just by a little bit. Even those of us who are slow and jogging feel that same inner war cry as we get ready to run a race. There is something there, so pull we can’t ignore. Something that speaks to us, telling us that we have to try and give this our all. I think that is what Pearl Izumi was going for. They wanted to speak to that part of the runner. Instead they got the other part.

There is a culture of mutual respect and support in racing that has surprised me. I have spoken about it before, and it is strong. Every race I attend there are people encouraging each other. Random strangers cheer you on and it’s your job to do the same. In the middle of an obstacle course race people will stop and make sure that the racer behind them has cleared the obstacle. Strangers have helped me over walls, and I have done the same. I have paced a woman with a shirt reading “I want to break 45:00” for a while until another stranger fell inline beside us and took over. She needed to hear friendly voices telling her how close she was and how well she was doing. I have nothing but respect for someone who wears their goal on their sleeve like that. I have nothing but respect for those who willed her on to break that goal. Pearl Izumi accidently spoke to that part of the running community and that part spoke back with indignity.

My last thought is that a company with less than one percent of the market share has to take some chances. Nike had a slogan that worked for them. “Just Do It” has been a king maker of an idea. “Run like an animal” was Pearl Izumi’s shot. In some ways it was a failure, they still don’t have much claim on the market, but in others it might have been a slight success. Here it is seven years later and we are still talking about it.

Personally it did offend me, but only slightly. I’m a fat cyclist, a fat obstacle course racer, and a fat runner. I am slow, and that is okay. Being offended at a series of advertisements isn’t going to make me any less overweight or faster, trying will. I am faster than I was two months ago, six months ago, and a year ago. That is important. Pearl Izumi may advertise their desire for us all to run like an animal and to not jog, but they also make comfortable clothing for fat cyclists. That’s important too.

What do you guys think about their ads? Would they make you shop, or more importantly would they stop you from buying their clothing?

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Spartan Race

Sparta. Wow. This one is difficult to write about. It is difficult to describe the challenge of the event. It’s difficult to describe the emotions. It’s difficult to convey everything that went on the day of the race without slipping into hyperbole and over-dramatization. There are signs everywhere that simply read “Spartan Race – You’ll know at the finish”.

It might be able to frame the challenge by putting it in context with other events I have completed. It took less time to run than it did to ride the 5 Boro Bike Tour, but just barely at 4 hours. It was similar to the Rugged Maniac, but the race was a mile longer and the obstacles were far more difficult to complete. Plus, there was a punishment if you failed an obstacle that didn’t exist at the Rugged Maniac. If was far more physically challenging than the metric century ride on Martha’s Vineyard, or even the Hilly 40 mile ride that caused my legs to cramp so severely that I fell off of my bike multiple times. It was far more mentally draining than any of those events as well.

Angie and I decided to run the Spartan Race on a whim. There was a deal on the entry fee that saved us 15% and when we committed the race was months away. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Plus, it was at the Mohegan Sun casino, so we knew that we could always have a good time if the race didn’t go well. At least that was the plan. We had a midday start so we could already see the racers running as we drove to the casino. They seemed impossibly far from the building, and everyone was walking or barely jogging. And they were all in phenomenal shape. We began to worry right at that point. Once we pulled into the parking garage we parked on the top level and we were able to see across the campus to the staging area where the Start/Finish line was located. We could also see the complex of finishing obstacles. There was a fire pit to run through, the Hercules Hoist, a three story high pallet ladder attached to a cargo net bridge that spanned the main access road to the lower casino, a water obstacle that led to an inclined wall that you use a rope to climb over, and a wall that you traverse by clinging to small blocks. That was all in the last 200 yards. I went from worried to completely intimidated. If those were the only obstacles I would have been worried, but we also had to run 4.5 miles and tackle 20 other challenges. We quickly gathered our gear from the car and headed down to the staging area.

That's a sobering statement!

That’s a sobering statement!

Once we stepped into the registration and staging areas we knew we were in over our heads. Even the envelope the timing chip came in stated “There is a real possibility that you may die or be catastrophically injured”. This took away my obstacle race logic that always saw me through every race. Sure, it looks dangerous, and if you fell exactly wrong you could get hurt, but they wouldn’t let everyone do it if it weren’t safe. Ummm, yes, at Spartan they would. It all became very, very real to us. Something else happened though, something unexpected. Every single racer we met offered support and encouragement. Angie and I had resorted to gallows humor to try to stay calm and focused. Anyone who heard us worry would interrupt and say “You can do it, even if you think you can’t right now. You WILL finish”. You will finish. Every Spartan Racer had that attitude. Not I will finish, but you will finish. We will finish.
Ready to go!  I think...

Ready to go! I think…

The race is a blur. We climbed over a wall into the start pen with the rest of our wave just like the Rugged Maniac, except a foot higher. Racers were already helping each other just get to the start line. The starter had everyone chanting a response to the question “Who am I?” “Spartan!” The gun went off and we ran. The first obstacle wasn’t really one at all but it caused the first injury. The course ran through levels of the parking garage and over guardrails. Angie fell. She got back up and would later complain that her biggest bruise was from that guardrail. We ran up hills and through drainage ditches until we came to the first real obstacle, an eight foot wall. Up and over, followed by more running. I briefly thought that things were looking better until we ran out of the forest we were in and smacked into the first of the obstacle complexes. Much like the finishing complex there were a group of challenges one after the other designed to wear you down. First was a crawl under barbed wire. This is found in every race, but the wire was hung much lower and it was real. It was sharp. People were bleeding on the other side, and that was over 50 yards away. Not 50 feet, 50 yards. Once through that you had to go up the inverted wall. It was only 6 feet high, but it was tipped back toward you so there was little purchase to help you over. Once over the wall there was a water station marking the first mile and a downhill jog of about 200 yards. That was to allow you to grab your sandbag and run back up the same hill, traverse the ridge for 100 yards, then run back down. Your 80 pound sandbag. It felt more like 100 by the top of the hill, and 150 pounds by the time you were allowed to drop it. Once we finished that we found the nicest family in the world.

Angie was struggling in the first half of the race. She had injured herself early and was suffering from a lack of water. If you are running a Spartan, bring water. Bring a hydration pack. It’s worth the extra weight. She downed water at the first water station but it wasn’t enough. She lost it all on the sandbag carry. As we jogged up a road after the carry she was already overheating when we met them. There was a family that had decided to cheer on the racers as they passed their house. The kids were giving high fives and cheering as we passed and the dad had a water hose that he would spray at racers if they were overheating. I thought Angie was going to cry with relief as he spayed us. The ambient temperature was in the mid-90s and I can’t imagine anything feeling better at that moment than the ice cold spray from that water hose.

We quickly were back into the woods when I failed my first obstacle of the day. A 30 foot high cargo net that you had to climb up and over to succeed in the challenge. I climbed up and froze. I am ashamed that I didn’t get over, but I couldn’t force myself over the shaking net. I backed down and suffered my first punishment, 30 burpees. Burpees are a painful crossfit exercise that starts in a standing position and has you drop into a crouch, kick out your legs into a push up position, do a push up, bring your legs but into a crouch, then explode into a jump. That’s one. Each failed obstacle results in 30. I had never done one before that day. They sound easy. Go ahead, try one, I’ll wait. Hard wasn’t it? Try 30. After failing an obstacle you have already spent a fair amount of energy so the punishment is always worse. I can honestly say that if I knew what 30 burpees were going to cost me I would have gotten over that net. Here again I was stunned by the community of the Spartan Racers. Everyone cheered me as I finished my burpees and clapped. They knew the pain and wanted to encourage me.

Once we cleared the woods it was time for the second obstacle group. First we had a 10 foot wall, followed by a spear throw, a 20 foot rope climb, and then three more walls called “Over, Under, Through” were you did exactly what the title said. Over the first, under the second, and through the middle of the third wall before continuing on to the next run. I failed two out of the four obstacles and did another 60 burpees. At this point I was sitting on a concrete wall and drinking water from the 2 mile marker water stop. I still had the Over, Under, Through obstacle. I was shaking and starting to think about quitting. I was doing more than thinking. I was sweating and cramping and ready to call over to the paramedic to give up. They had asked me twice if I were okay and I said yes, I just needed to drink some water. Angie brought me another cup and asked how I was. I told her and she exploded on me. I hadn’t let her stop when she was injured, I got her into this with the discount, and she wasn’t about to let me quit now. She got me up and pointed toward the next wall. I made it through and kept going. Everything gets much hazier after that, but I kept going.

We had more obstacles to conquer, but thankfully they were much more in line with my strengths. We had to carry Atlas Stones, 100 pound round boulders. We had to flip tractor tires across the parking lot. There were a couple of lower walls. We had to traverse rocky drainage ditches and climb culverts. Angie and I were humbled and happy to pass the three and four mile markers. We were both blown away by the people who were still running at this point. We had long ago resorted to walking. One vivid memory is when the course went behind the casino area where most of the restaurants are located. People were out on the deck cheering for us and promising to save beers for anyone who made it there after the race. I wanted to hug every one of those strangers as they cheered us on, wanting us to finish.

We finally made it back to the finishing complex and only had those final obstacles ahead of us. The first obstacle was the three story pallet ladder to the bridge over the road. It was surreal to look through the cargo net at giant busses passing below you. After that it was the cliff hanger wall. I mounted the wall, got halfway across and fell. I wanted to cry. I lay on the hot asphalt and tried to get up, knowing I had 30 more burpees to go. The heat from the blacktop was the only thing that finally got me moving. I could feel it starting to burn my shoulders. I had to go face the music. Almost thankfully Angie had fallen as well. We did our burpees together, encouraging each other to finish knowing the rest was something we could accomplish. We could see the finish line. The Hercules Hoist was a pulley system that had a 100 pound sandbag attached to a rope, you pulled it up and lowered it down. The only problem most guys had is the weight would pull them off of the ground or out of position so that they never had leverage. Racers took turns holding each other to the ground so they could lift the bags. After that it was through the water, over the wall, jump the fire and cross the line.

I crossed the line, received my finishers medal and collapsed. A volunteer helped me up and hugged me, telling me how proud they were. I was a finisher. A random stranger crossed the line and grabbed me, hugging me because we both made it. He was already crying. I found Angie and hugged her, starting to cry. I was beaten and broken. I was cramping and dehydrated. It took me over 4 hours to finish, but I did finish. Just like the sign promised, I knew at the finish. I knew that there was a part of me that would never be the same. I took on something bigger than I thought I could and I beat it. I survived what I thought would cause me to quit. I did it with friends and stranger’s support, and there is no way to ever thank them other than to do it again and help more people feel that same feeling.

Spartan Race Finisher!

Spartan Race Finisher!

That is the other surprise I had that day. Knowing, as beaten and broken as I was, that I would be back. Me, the fat guy that rides bicycles that has turned into the fat guy that runs 5Ks and obstacle races. The guy that probably shouldn’t have tried a Spartan Race yet, and probably should have quit before he really got hurt. I will be back. I can train harder and run the course faster. Once I do that, there are other Spartan Races to run, longer and harder ones. Once you finish a Sprint you can race a Super. That’s 9 miles and more challenges. Once you finish that you are qualified for the Beast, 15 miles and 40 obstacles. Maybe I can accomplish it, maybe I can’t, but I will be back to run the Sprint again. This time I’ll be faster. This time there will be less burpees.

There is only one other question. Who’s coming with me? It’s a year from now, plenty of time to train, are you in?

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Versatile Blogger Award

One of the many things that I put to the side while on hiatus was my nomination for a Versatile Blogger Award. First things first I would like to thank Julie Stock for nominating me. She is a great writer, blogger, and a member of Monday Blogs on Twitter. She is one of many bloggers that welcome new voices to Monday Blogs and helps promote them as they find their audience and a consistent voice.

The Versatile Blogger Award is unique because once you have been nominated for the award, you win it. If a blogger who has won the award feels you deserve to be nominated you automatically win and you then must follow some version of the rules and nominate other deserving bloggers. It’s a great promotion device, but it is more than that. It is a way to feel validated, and in turn validate other bloggers.

Every starting blogger feels like they are speaking into the void. None of us speak about it much, but most of us obsess over it. We feel like we are shouting into the abyss. When we start blogging we write, sometimes using our best ideas, and we post to our site knowing that no one will read our work. We do it because we are writers and we have to start somewhere. We do it because we hope that this will be the week that someone notices. We do it because we hope that one day we will have a following and that people will go back into the archives. We promote our sites and we hope someone notices, but for the most part we don’t know if they do. We check our statistics on how many page views and visitors we receive and we promote until we see results in our numbers. The internet is a crowded place full of content creators, but devoid of an easy way to find an audience. You have to compete with uncountable sources of bloggers, Youtubers, Tweeters, and everyone else to get someone to come to your site to check out your blog. You scream and shout and plead and cajole in any way you can, feeling all the while like a carnival barker selling what is in the tent. You beg people to check out the site and you hope that they like your work.

Even after we get some people that come to the site regularly we bloggers still don’t know what we want to know. Does anyone care? Is there anyone out there that reads what we write and thinks “Wow, that was good!”? A reader comment goes a long way, as does people who take the time to share on social media, but most bloggers will still wonder how many people just click the link or share without reading. Well-meaning people that want to help promote you but do not have the time to read. In short, every blogger just wants a pat on the head and a compliment from a complete stranger. This award is so much more than that.

The Versatile Blogger Award is a tip of the cap from an established blogger that thinks what you are doing is not only good work, but worthwhile. It says that they are recommending your work to everyone who reads their blog, and they are doing it without reservation. It, at least to me, was instant validation from a complete stranger. A stranger who was an established writer and who wanted to let me know that she was willing to endorse my efforts in public on her blog. So, thank you Julie, that is what being nominated meant to me.

I mentioned that there are rules once you are nominated that you should follow, or at least follow as much as you care to follow them. The whole process has grown a little vague in the time that the award has existed and getting writers to follow rules is difficult enough, it gets worse when there is no one enforcing them. The most important rule is once you accept your nomination you have to nominate some number of other bloggers. The original rule seems to be fifteen, but other writers have done fewer. I like that idea because it makes being nominated a little more special.

First I would like to nominate Julia for her work on ILoveYouMoreThanIceCream. Julia writes about everything, running the emotional gamut from Legos to depression. She does it with such heart that each post is independent from the last and each touches you in a different way. She is rare in the blogosphere in that she truly crafts each post as carefully as one of her handmade cards.

My second nomination is Patty Chang Anker who blogs at Facing Forty Upside Down. Patty and I met through the 5 Boro Bike Tour and I have been in awe ever since. Patty is a force of nature, pulling amazing people into her circle and introducing them to the world. She assembled a completely diverse group of people to ride the 5 Boro Tour and I learned something from each and every one of them. She uses her blog to tell the stories of people she meets as well as her own amazing story of turning her life around by facing her fears. Patty goes big in each adventure, conquering a fear of riding a bike on the road by completing the 5 Boro Tour, learning to surf to best a fear of moving water, or taking the stage in New York to beat a fear of public speaking. Her blog is inspirational to say the least.

My third and final nomination is Brian who blogs at IWearSpandex. Brian found my blog and left a generous comment so I checked out his space. I was blown away. Brian is a talented writer that has been promoted by BikeNewYork for his ability to write exactly what it feel like to ride a bike. It seems simple, but isn’t. He also has built a professional quality web site that shares nutritional and training advice as well as reports from various rides he has participated in as a charity rider. He supplements all of that with some great links and a great presence on social media. I Wear Spandex has become a standard from what a single author website can accomplish.

So there you go, my three varied nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award. Go and check out their sites and enjoy the Labor Day Holiday if you are in the United States. Thanks to Julie for nominating me. It was great fun deciding who to nominate. Julia, Patty, and Brian have fun and go get your shiny new blog button and have fun deciding who to nominate!

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