Feb 11

My First Barefoot Running Experience

Barefoot Running

Barefoot Running

After a long run the other day on the Silver Comet Trail, for some reason I decided to take off my shoes and run another half mile barefoot.  I’m not even sure what inspired me to do this, but I took off my shoes and socks, left them on a bench and took off.  In a strange way, it almost felt like jumping into the ocean naked.

It was January, so I could feel the cold wind between my toes and although the asphalt of the Silver Comet roughed up the skin on my feet, the cold helped numb them up.  I was skeptical at first, but as I ram further, I could definitely understand why barefoot runners are so into this.  Running on the front part of your foot forces you to turn over faster and take shorter strides.  You actually feel like you’re running faster – and according to my watch – I was!

As I got back to the parking lot, I could feel gravel and pebbles beneath my feet and you really have to watch where you step.  As a distance runner, I like to keep my head up and look forward, but it truly impossible to do barefoot – you have to keep your eyes in front of you to avoid rocks, glass, dog poop, etc.  I knew that if I wanted to run barefoot again, I would have to be on a well paved road or trail, build up the skin on my feet or get some of those “barefoot shoes”.

The next day, my legs were sore in ways they never had been before.  I had no pain in my knees but my calves were on fire!  I could tell that all of the stress of pavement pounding was absorbed by my calves and not jarring my knees anymore.  I knew I had to try it again…

Feb 09

Gold Branch

Gold Branch Trail Map

Gold Branch Trail Map

The Gold Branch trail is part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area system.  It is a nice, quiet loop of single-track trails through a heavily wooded area.  The trail curves down to Bull Sluice Lake and follows the edge of the lake for a good distance.  There are great views here and it is a great place to escape the city.

The parking lot is off Lower Roswell Rd and is easy to miss.  Once you park you will see the trail-head at the corner of the lot heading down into the woods.  There are maps posted intermittently throughout the park, but this one will give you a good idea of the layout.  There are great lake views, swamp areas, boardwalks and wooded paths.

There are a total of about 5 miles of trails here and some are more clearly marked than others.  I found it was easy to follow a nice, well groomed trail straight into a very narrow trail around rocks and trees next to the lake.  It is a great place to do some trail running, but watch out for roots and rocks.

Here are the “official” trail maps for the Gold Branch Unit:

Gold Branch Unit – Official Trail Map

 

Rank: Difficult
Length: About 5 Miles Total
Surface: Natural / Dirt
Facilities: None
Water Fountains: None
Directions: From northbound US 19 and GA 400

  • Take exit 6 – Northridge Road.
  • Stay in right lane merging onto Dunwoody Place, go 1.3 miles.
  • Turn right at Roswell Road, go 0.6 miles.
  • Turn left at Azalea Drive, go 1.7 miles.
  • Turn left at Willeo Road, go 1.4 miles.
  • Turn left at Lower Roswell Road, go 0.7 mile to park entrance on the left.

From southbound US 19 and GA 400

  • Take exit 6 – Northridge Road.
  • Continue straight onto Dunwoody Place, go 1.3 miles.
  • Turn right at Roswell Road, go 0.6 miles.
  • Turn left at Azalea Drive, go 1.7 miles.
  • Turn left at Willeo Road, go 1.4 miles.
  • Turn left at Lower Roswell Road, go 0.7 mile to park entrance on the left.

From northbound Interstate 75

  • Take exit 263 for GA120 Loop.
  • Merge right onto GA 120 Loop, E/South Marietta Parkway SE, go 1.2 miles.
  • Exit GA 120 Loop for GA 120 E/Roswell Road.
  • Turn right at GA 120 E/Roswell Road, go 6.1 miles.
  • Turn right at Timber Ridge Road, go 1.4 miles.
  • Continue straight onto Lower Roswell Road, go 0.7 miles to park entrance on the left.

From southbound Interstate 75

  • Take exit 265 for GA120 Loop.
  • Turn left at GA 120 Loop/North Marietta Parkway NE, go 1.4 miles.
  • Exit GA 120 Loop for GA 120 E/Roswell Road.
  • Turn left at GA 120 E/Roswell Road, go 6.1 miles.
  • Turn right at Timber Ridge Road, go 1.4 miles.
  • Continue straight onto Lower Roswell Road, go 0.7 miles to park entrance on the left.

From eastbound Interstate 285

  • Take exit 24 – Riverside Drive NW.
  • Turn left at Riverside Drive NW, go 2.3 miles.
  • Turn left at Johnson Ferry Road NW, go 1.8 miles.
  • Turn right at Lower Roswell Road, go 2.2 miles to the park entrance on your right.

From westbound Interstate 285

  • Take exit 24 – Riverside Drive NW.
  • Turn right at Riverside Drive NW, go 2.2 miles.
  • Turn left at Johnson Ferry Road NW, go 1.8 miles.
  • Turn right at Lower Roswell Road, go 2.2 miles to the park entrance on your right.

Feb 06

Clif Shot Bloks – Better Than Gels

Clif Shot Bloks

Clif Shot Bloks

I have been using PowerBar and GU gels for a while now on long training runs and prior to and during races. Some of them taste decent and some are just plain nasty. (Anything chocolate flavor would make me gag trying to eat and run at the same time.) These are essentially sugar and some electrolytes in a gel form which kinda reminds me of cake frosting. Not only do these gels coat your entire mouth, they are really tough to get down and run at the same time. If you are not near a water stop, don’t even take one, because you will immediately want to hydrate after the gel.

I have eaten Clif bars for about ten years now and while I do venture to other energy bars, I always come back to the Clif bars because of their flavor and the fact that they don’t melt. I was eager to try “Clif Bloks”, their gummy equivalent to the gels…

Clif Shot Bloks - Out of the Package

Clif Shot Bloks - Out of the Package

I set out on a nice long run and 15 minutes in, decided to knock out the first 3 “Bloks”. The first thing I noticed was that the package made it very easy to portion out each gummy and that I could eat them at my own pace. Just tear off the top of the package and push them through. Whatever does not get used goes back into your pocket. With a gel, you have to eat it all at once or else become a sticky mess. Next, the flavor was SO much better than the gel. On flavor, there is no comparison – the Bloks beat the gels, hands down. Update: I recently tried the margarita flavor Bloks… These are supposed to contain extra salt for cramping. I don’t reccommend these on a long run. The salty taste is over the top – it was instant dehydration for me. You may like them, but I just couldn’t handle all that salt. All of the other flavors are quite good though.

The Cons: Despite everything the Bloks have going for them, the one thing that I found is that they don’t give me the “sugar rush” boost that the gels do. It’s more of a gradual long-term energy thing. If I am hitting the wall and need that massive sugar rush – I will go for the gels. The Bloks just don’t seem to absorb the same way.

That said, I now have more “Bloks” in my gym bag than gels now. What do you use? Hit the “comment” button and weigh in!

Feb 05

The US 10k Classic is Back!

US 10k Classic

US 10k Classic

The website for the US 10k Classic states that the race will be returning in 2012.  This is my absolute favorite race in Atlanta and I was really bummed that is was skipped for 2011.  This race has some nice hills and is one of the tougher road races in the city, yet somehow I got a PR on this course.  Since I’m feeling excited about this one coming back, I’m going to give you a race report from the last one in 2010.  Better late than never!

I was very nervous about the course as I had never run this race before.  The race course starts at Cumberland Mall and ends at Whitewater Park in Marietta.  I knew there were some massive hills because I have driven up highway 41 many times before, and I wondered if I could keep a decent pace throughout the course.  The night before the race, I took the family to Scalini’s and ordered the pasta sampler to carb-up.

The next morning, I was feeling great.  I don’t know if it was the pasta the night before or the plain bagel for breakfast, but I was full of energy and ready to race.  I found my spot at the starting line and was only two people back from the start.  As I waited, I saw the absolute coolest opening of any race I had been to.  During the national anthem, three skydivers parachuted to the ground in front of me.  I pulled out my phone to take a couple pictures…

Parachuting Into The US 10k Classic

Parachuting Into The US 10k Classic

The last parachutist was carrying the American flag and touched down right at the end of the Star Spangled Banner.  What a great way to open a race!

National Anthem at the US 10k Classic

National Anthem at the US 10k Classic

With all that motivation, I blasted out of the starting line at top speed. I usually try to pace myself a bit more, but it was a great feeling, not to mention, that it is straight downhill right out of the gate. You hit your first hill right after you shout “Under the Bridge!” at the 285 overpass. It is a straight uphill climb to the Best Buy shopping center. My wife took a picture of me as I was cresting this hill. (I’m the one in the orange circle.)

Running the US 10k Classic

Running the US 10k Classic

This is the start of the first and really only nice downhill run of the race.  Once you run downhill to the clock tower / village parkway area, you get another steep incline to Windy Hill Road.  About this time the sun started coming up and beating down on that asphalt.  It was a tough climb.  Once you cross Windy Hill Rd, the course is mostly flat by Dobbins Airforce Base.  Then ANOTHER uphill to the big chicken.  Once you pass the big chicken you are home free.  A nice gradual downhill to the finish line in front of Whitewater Park.

Looking down at my watch, I couldn’t believe it – a personal best 10k time.  In fact, I still haven’t beat it – even at easier race courses.

Medal, Hat and Shirt at the US10k Classic

Medal, Hat and Shirt at the US10k Classic

I don’t know whether it was the food, the opening ceremonies or just psyching myself up, but definitely my favorite road race to date…  I can’t wait for September!!

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