Sunday, September 28, 2014

Training Mask 2.0 Review

First off, this is more of an unboxing than a review.  It's footnote to help me remember where I was in my training before I started using the mask.  So, without any further ado, lets find out about the Training Mask 2.0.

Everyone knows that training at altitude can improve your performance on race day. It's no wonder why elite cyclists, and I'm sure elite runners as well, choose to live in the Boulder and Aspen areas of Colorado. Boulder sits at an elevation of 5,430 feet (1,655 m) and Aspen is even higher at just below 8,000 feet (2,400 m). There a lot of distance between those lofty heights and my usual training altitude of about 800 feet (244 m) around Atlanta. Coupled with the fact that I've been traveling and training at close to sea level recently, I thought I needed to add an extra edge to my training. So, last week I ordered a Training Mask.

I weigh 140 lbs, give or take, but ordered the medium size mask for persons 150 to 240 lbs.  It seems to fit well.  It was $79.99 through Amazon.  I also ordered the pack of resistance valves for $19.99.   The mask itself comes with a few resistance valves and a Velcro strap to secure the mask to one's head without putting pressure on the wearer's ears.

The mask arrived while I was out of town.  It wasn't until Sunday that I had the opportunity to take it out of the box and give it a test.  That's just 6 weeks shy of my big race for the year.  As I said previously, this is a rebuilding year.  I'm trying to improve my run because everybody knows that it's the runners that win at Ironman.

The mask itself has two parts, an outer neoprene harness and an inner rubber mask with 3 valves.

Resistance valves and Training Mask
Under the box flap
Resistance valves, mask and Velcro strap
Inside the mask
Inside the valves
The rubber mask
Inside the rubber mask
A closer look at the rubber mask and the valves
The Velcro comes with a piece of fabric attached to prevent errant clinging
The white valves that came with the mask and the extra black valves I ordered 
The bloodshot eyes  are the result of a 5:30 a.m. run followed by several hours of computer work.

Wearing the Training Mask around the house
A side view - glasses don't fit
30 minutes of computer work to test it out.
The Training Mask website has two videos. The first in an instructional video with a warmup. The second video is a coaching session.

The instructional video shows you how to set up your mask for the various altitudes and how to adjust  to wearing the mask.  For myself, I wore the mask as it was configured out of the box at 9,000 feet, and wore the mask for a total of 30 minutes while I configured a new laptop computer.  Next time I'll try to wear it for 60 minutes.  It won't be until I'm completely comfortable that I'll wear the mask on a training run.  I'll probably have to wait until the temperature drops a bit too.

I'm hopeful that the mask will improve my lung capacity without having to move to Colorado.  Only time will tell.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 26, 2014

ATL to DCA via BWI

Before anyone even starts to read this blog I feel compelled to warn you that it's a bit of a rant.  It's also a note to my future self.  I want to make sure that I never forget what a pain in the ass traveling can be if I allow myself to get distracted again.  As to not bore you I've marked the point below where the rant ends and, while still boring, the rest of my blog continues.

On Monday, September 21st I was supposed to board a flight from Atlanta Hartfield-Jackson Int'l Airport (ATL) to Reagan National Airport (DCA) at 8:40 a.m. for a 9:20 a.m. departure from gate T5.  However, the Delta ticket agent marked my boarding pass as departing from gate T3 so that where I setup camp.  I realized I was at the wrong gate at 9:10 a.m., only 10 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart.  As I raced to gate T5 I could hear the door to the gangway close shut.  I was too late and I would not be departing ATL as planned, but I would be getting to Washington DC, my final destination, somehow.

My day started simply.  I woke up at 5 a.m., took a shower, got dressed, and put my suitcase in my truck.  I had some coffee with my wife Susan and I ate a blueberry muffin with my dog Max.  Susan heated up two muffins for me knowing full well that Max would get the lion's share of a single muffin.  I was on the road headed toward the Atlanta airport at 6:05 a.m.  That gave me over three hours to do all I needed to do before my flight was scheduled to depart at 9:20 a.m..  I parked my truck at the airport Park and Ride lot.  I hopped on the shuffle and, when prompted, I called out my airline - "Delta".  The shuttle was packed full with business travelers.  That's to be expected on a Monday morning.  No worries though, I had plenty of time.  The airport is only about a 30 minute drive from my house.  I checked-in, printed my boarding pass and dropped-off one piece of luggage with the Delta ticket agent.  He checked my ID and boarding pass marking the terminal and gate number on my boarding pass before sending me on my way.  I was then off to the TSA security check.  My laptop, jacket, belt, shoes, wallet, pocket change, and anything else in my pockets was removed and put in its appropriate bin.  I was well versed in the process and the lines were surprisingly short so I was through and the check point in a few minutes.  Re-dressed I got to gate T3 and checked the monitor.  At the time it displayed the earlier flight to Washington DC, DAL2538 which had not yet boarded.  The DAL2538 flight was scheduled to depart exactly 1 hour before my flight.  That flight boarded and the gate clears out.  Now it was my turn.  I checked the boarding pass once more not looking at the monitor a second time.  As far as I knew I just had to wait for DAL2438 to board.  I sent a few texts to my friends and coworkers while I waited.  I read a magazine.  I was using my time wisely, being productive.

Before I knew it it was 9:10 a.m. and no one at the gate is moving.  My flight is supposed to depart at 9:20 a.m.  I glanced up at the monitor and to my surprise it read - Raleigh, NC departing at 10:20 a.m.  I'm going to DC not Raleigh!

Needless to say I ran over to the T3 gate agent before running to gate T5, my correct gate.  As I neared the gate I could hear the door slam shut.  I was too late.

That's okay I thought, I'll just wait for the next flight.  The gate agent put my name on the standby list.  The next flight came, filled, and departed, leaving me and a dozen other souls behind.  It was overbooked.  In fact, all the flights to DC for the foreseeable future were all overbooked.  I thought to myself, that's the perfect way to run a business.  1) Get politicians to approve a bunch of tax breaks for your company in the hope that you won't go bankrupt, 2) go bankrupt anyway, 3) keep your tax breaks, 4) get rid of your liabilities, and 5) buy up your competition so you can charge what you want and provide the worst service possible.

Delta had years ago convinced the Georgia legislature to "cap" the taxes they pay to purchase fuel.   At the time I believe it was only Delta that qualified for the tax break.  More recently, as Delta contemplated bankruptcy they convinced legislators that paying any additional funds into their employee retirement funds was a waste of money so they were allowed to forgo the payments.  The airline eventually went into bankruptcy protection and gave its retirement liabilities to the government.  After coming out of bankruptcy the airline purchased Northwest Airlines.  Don't get me wrong, I like Delta.  I can fly almost anywhere non-stop from Atlanta and it's difficult to put a price on that little convenience.  What I don't like is people or companies that want to change the rules.  It just seems like everyone wants some sort of unfair advantage.

Now, back to my flight situation.  You might be thinking "what the heck are you crying about?  It was your fault that you missed your flight."  Yes, you are probably right.  It was partly my fault but for one big exception.  The agent that took my luggage and checked my ID marked gate T3 on my boarding pass.  He's the expert, he's supposed to know what gate I'm supposed to go to.  I suspect that I arrived at the airport so early that he thought I was there for the earlier flight.  The only differences between my flight and the earlier flight were time 9:20 instead of 8:20, the flight number DAL2438 instead of DAL2538, and the gate T5 instead of T3.  Just three numbers, 8, 5, and 3.

The flight the airline agent thought I was taking
The flight I was suppose to take
The flight I took
So now I'm still in Atlanta and all the flights to DC are overbooked.  The gate agent recommended that I fly to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) instead of DCA.  It's only 40 or 50 miles away she said.  From Baltimore I could take the bus to the Amtrak-Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) rail station.  From the Amtrak-MARC station I could take the train to Union Station (Red line).  From Union Station I could take the DC Metro rail to Reagan National Airport (DCA) to get my luggage, of course.  And finally, from Reagan National Airport I could get back on the DC Metro rail (Yellow line) to finally get to my hotel in Alexandria, VA.  And that's what I did!

I turned what should have been a 6 hour travel day door to door into an 11 hour adventure.  I kept a positive attitude.  I asked a lot of people for help.  A few people asked me for help.  As my day progressed I kept chipping away at the task at hand.  Each segment was a new adventure, a multi-stage travel adventure.

As I bumped along I thought to myself, there must be a formula to calculate the percentage of travelers that actually know where they're going and how to get there.  I can't imagine the percentage being greater than 50%.

BWI Marshall Amtrak-MARC rail station
Southbound to Washington
The MARC train from BWI Marshal Rail Station to Union Station 
Regional MARC rail map 
I thought it odd that of the 22 windows depicted only 4 of them are not emergency exits
My DC Metro card
DC Metro map
DC Metro rail station
The lessons here are; check your documents, stay alert, and make sure that you are where you need to be well before you need to be there.  But don't be there too early or you might screw things up worse.

(End of rant!)

Fortunately, I arrived in Alexandria with plenty of time for a short run.  My running buddy Scott and I took off on a 4 mile run from our hotel east toward the Potomac River.  Along the river we wound our way from one tiny park to the next, onto the street, and on and off a smattering of trails.  Scott was recovering from the Napa Valley Ragnar Relay run two days earlier and I had run 15 miles the day before.  We were lucky to get in 4 miles.  We both found our first outing in the area to be less than perfect.  The danger of running in and around heavy traffic was only outdone by the hazards of the uneven sidewalks.
Scott taking a picture of the Capitol across the Potomac River 
I thought I'd include a few images of my hotel room, the Residence Inn on Duke Street in Old Town Alexandria, VA and the view from my window.  The rear of the hotel overlooks a cemetery.  Many of the graves are those of Civil War soldiers and date to the 1860s.  My room is adequate seeming more durable than plush.  It's clean, quiet and the bed is comfortable.

The kitchen area

The living room area
The bedroom
The bathroom
Looking South - the cemetery view from room 746
Looking East - the view from room 728
So ends my first day in or near Washington DC.  The rest of my trip consisted of far more walking than I'm used to.   Unlike the "A Saturday in Manhattan", known affectionately as the Gopher Tour, I walked so much that an evening run was considered out of the question.   The Gopher Tour was named after our small group's propensity to use the New York subway as a means to criss-cross the city only to stop, exit the subways to the street above, and look around a few minutes before retreating back into the dark underground.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Amphipod AirFlow Waistpack Review

I had the opportunity to go by a local running store this weekend and decided to pick up a new AirFlow Waistpack by Amphipod for $26.99 USD.  I'll be doing some running in the Washington DC area soon and I wanted to be able to bring my cellphone with me without it being a nuisance (or dropping it).

I chose the Airflow because I felt that it should work well as I run through the streets of DC stopping at various points of interest to take pictures.  In the meantime, I've included some pictures of my new acquisition below.  But first, here is the list of features indicated on the product tag.

Fully-breathable, Ultra-light, ergonomically engineered
  • Patented AirFlow Technology - Efficiently holds all you need
  • 2 large internal compartments for fuel, bars and electronics with sweat/weather protective main compartment
  • 3 divided internal pockets for cash, keys, cards, phone & dual quick access external pockets
  • Exclusive no-bounce comfort stretch wait straps
  • Fully cushioned and non-chafing
I'd say that all the features listed above are true.  The pack is large, vented, and comfortable.  The pack fit snugly against my back and didn't bounce at all.  It's worth noting that the belt is a one-size fits all configuration.  It fit me right off the rack.

The waistpack mesh cargo compartment
The backside of the cargo compartment, elastic band and snap 
Inside the cargo compartment
One of two small mesh compartments
The waistpack with my cellphone inside
I completed a 15 mile run with it this morning and found that at some points I forgot I was wearing it.  This was my first run with Atlanta Southside Runners.  Many of them are training for the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, Georgia on November 8th.  I might have been a bit distracted by the other stuff I had on like my headlamp and my Nathan Speeddraw Plus water bottle.

Overall, I'm happy with the AirFlow Waistpack.  It's large enough to accommodate my Samsung Galaxy s5 cellphone with an Otter Box with plenty additional room for keys and gel packs.  Since I refuse to wear two belts my hydration will have to come via the hand bottle.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Atlantic City Triathlon

The Atlantic City Sprint and International Triathlons took place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as the name implies, on Sunday, September 14th.  I just happened to be in the area for work so I thought I'd check it out.  I thought about signing up for the 1-mile swim but decided against it since I still had thoughts of Shark Week in my head.  The fact that I hadn't swam a meter since May also might have affected my decision.

I found the course maps on the event website.  In addition to the triathlons, the event also includes a 5K and 1-mile Stand Up Paddle (SUP) and prone paddle competitions and 1-mile swim.

Swim Course
Sprint Bike Course
International Bike Course
Run Course
I woke up early on Sunday morning.  Not early enough to see the start of the race but early enough to see some of the competitors still in the water.  The weather for the race was perfect.  The skies were blue and the thermometer on my car showed that the air temperature was 56-degrees at around 8:00 a.m.  There was a brisk wind from the north, but isn't there always!

Participants on the swim course make the first of two turns 
More swimmers
After I took the above pictures of the swimmers I walked around to the swim start where I was able to see some participants walking 150' or so beyond the start.  It must have been low tide... or they were very tall.
Participants exit Bader Field onto the bike course
More participants exit Bader Field onto the bike course
Participants exiting T-1 at the mounting line
After only twenty minutes or so of walking around by myself I decided that I'd had enough so I left.   Clearly these races are far more fun for the participants than they are for the spectators.  This is especially true for wave start races where the folks on the sidelines have no idea of knowing who is in the lead.  I promptly called my wife and informed her of my epiphany.  She was glad that I finally came around to her way of thinking or at least acknowledged her misery.  Of course, I didn't know anyone that was competing.  I'm sure that I would have been more captivated if I was there supporting someone or if I had raced.  I'll often walk up the course from the finish line of a race I've just completed to cheer for the folks finishing behind me.  I'll also congratulate those racers that finished before me, if I have the opportunity.

Did I mention it was 56-degrees... and windy?  I think I did!

Find out more about the race here at Delmo Sports and see the results here.

Thanks for reading.

Two Urban Licks

Susan and I celebrated our anniversary with a dinner at Two Urban Licks in Atlanta recently.  Susan made our reservations for 6:30 p.m.  We wanted to get there early because I had a busy work schedule planned for the next day.  Since the restaurant is located on the Atlanta Beltline, the new path system in Atlanta, we wanted to also be able to enjoy the scenery.  We wanted to people watch!   We had just dined at Rathbun's two week earlier and had a great experience with our good friends Jim and Mary Ann.   We were hoping for a similar experience.

We arrived right on time for our reservation.  As requested we were seated outside on the patio along the beltline.  The patio seating can be separated into two distinct styles.  The tables and seats nearest the windows are harsh, uncomfortable, and compacted.  The seating nearest the patio railing is plush and spacious, albeit, stained in some cases.  A young lady showed us to our table jammed up next to the window.  We were the first table to be seated outside.  The table was less than desirable, in our opinion, so we requested that we be moved to a more comfortable table, one of those along the railing.  The window table was also situated where we would block the view of the party which was already dining inside the restaurant.  The young lady returned shortly and we were moved.   Subsequently, our server was also changed.
Susan and me
The Eastside Beltline Trail looking toward Ralph McGill Blvd.
The beltline looking toward North Avenue NE
As our food was served we noticed that the flies were aggressive beyond belief.  Oddly, we hadn't noticed any flies during the 2 or 3 hours on the patio at Rathbun's but on this night we would be tortured.  I would fan the food with the menu as Susan ate and she would fan my food as I ate.  That was until the server took our menus away.  We were then sitting ducks.  A smorgasbord awaited our tormentors and we were defenseless.  We gobbled down our food as fast as we could, sickened as I periodically counted and called out the number of flies waiting to attack.  "There are six of them, 1, 2, 3..."  Fortunately, our server returned our menus after our plea.

We were interested to see that more patio diners arrived and were sure that they would also soon be visited as we departed post haste.  Of course, when dining outside one takes a chance.  It could have rained but it didn't and the weather was beautiful on that day.  I can only assume that there is some sort of fly manufacturing plant nearby.  I'm also sure that those diners who elected to forgo the patio had a much better experience.

How about the food?  Our server brought us some bread and a dipping sauce.  The bread was fine but the dipping sauce lacked flavor.  However, what it lacked in flavor it made up for in fly "catch-ability".  I'll just say that the stuff was like quicksand and I'll leave it at that.

We had an appetizer of calamari.  Online reviews that Susan read before she made our reservation were very positive about the calamari.  They were right, it was good.

For our entrees, Susan had the grilled flat iron steak and I had the smoked brisket.  Susan liked her onion rings.  I found my steak plentiful but salty.  The corn was fine.

A dipping sauce for bread
Grilled flat iron steak
Smoked brisket
Probably the best part about Two Urban Licks is the beer.  I enjoyed mine!

Black & Tan (Guinness and Sweetwater 420)
We'll probably be planning an anniversary dinner do-over at The Oceanaire Seafood Room.  We ate there a few years ago for our anniversary and they did everything right!

Thanks for reading.