July 31, 2013

Brooks Cascadia 8 review (spoiler: they rock!)

Ever since my bad luck with trail shoes at Rockin' Choccolocco 50K, I decided that I had to try something new. So this pair of Brooks Cascadia 8 ($119.95) from OnlineShoes.com could not have come fast enough. I was originally going to go with the Brooks Pure Grit 2, but based on my new obsession with these Cascadias, I'm feeling super happy that I made the last-minute switch to Cascadias. 

So here's what I loved about them right out of the box:

1. The actual box. Brooks running shoes have this whole let's-make-people-happy vibe going on that I really love. 

Oh, you don't care about the box at all? Well, I do because it's now storing my running snacks, and since marathon training has started, that means I'll be seeing it every five minutes. 

2. Room for my toes. On my very first run date with them, my toenails were in horrible shape. Half of them were still throbbing from the previous weekend's ultra race, so I was really expecting to cringe with every step. But I didn't. The shoes left plenty of room for my toes to stretch out and get comfortable. I think it was the extra toe box height as much as it was the width that helped my toes.

3. Felt soft immediately. These didn't feel like they needed a break-in phase. I just took them out and started running, and the shoe felt flexible and comfortable from the start. Basically it felt like I had already broken them in, and we were friends.

4. The lacing. Interestingly, with these shoes, I didn't have to adjust the laces from what they had going on in the box. I just threw them on, tugged the laces slightly to tighten up any looseness (really not any at all), and they were good to go. Usually I have to mess around with laces to get them adjusted like I like them. These Brooks use a combination of traditional punched eyelets and floating eyelets that worked really well for me from the onset.

Here's where I insert a few shoe stats for my fellow nerds.

Category: Trail/Neutral

Weight: 9.8 oz. for women's, 11.9 oz. for men's 

Drop: 10mm 

And now for some info straight from the creators at Brooks: 
The Cascadia 8 was designed from the gritty, wet, and uneven ground up. Engineered to adapt to the surface and your foot, this versatile piece of equipment runs an ultramarathon and then asks for more. We swapped out the midsole for BioMoGo DNA to create a super cohesive transition and deluxe-ified the Caterpillar Crash Pad on the lateral side to smooth that heel-to-toe even more. The suede geometric pattern on the upper is a shout-out to past Cascadia designs but also serves the function of wrapping the foot for a close fit. Don’t just take our word for it: Runner’s World® named the Cascadia 8 its "Editor's Choice" in the Trail Shoe Guide in the April 2013 issue and wrote, "The Cascadia has that rare combination of road-shoe comfort and trail-shoe ruggedness." In short, the Cascadia 8 offers "A well-cushioned and smooth ride on any surface." 

So I put these to the test, taking them from dry 4-mile runs all the way up to my 27-mile excursion this weekend, which included a couple of splashes through Peavine Falls. 

After some wear, here's what else I like about them: 

1. Great drainage. If you take a dip in these shoes, you will be able to keep running without feeling like you are running on sponges. I noticed no drainage issues at all this weekend, and unfortunately, I spent more time in water than I was planning. Plus the weave on the upper is tight enough to keep out debris but dries out quickly after taking an unintentional bath along the trails. 

2. They feel light. When I read that they weigh 9.8 oz., I expect them to make me feel sluggish on the trails, but they don't at all. Maybe it's how they balance the weight on the shoe, but as I'm running, these shoes don't add dead weight to my legs. 

3. The extra heel height helps my Achilles. I've been running consistently on 4mm drop trail shoes, and my Achilles was giving me some troubles for a few months. After my longer distance in these this weekend, my Achilles felt better than it has in a long time after a 20+-mile trail run. I'm looking forward to testing these more on long trail runs, but for now I feel optimistic about how the 10mm drop in these will cooperate with my Achilles. 

4. They stand up to rocks. The cushioning on these is superb for the rocky patches that I often hit on our local trails. The rock plate in the forefoot of the shoe obviously helps with that, plus I love the rock guard at the front of the shoe. While I didn't feel pain going over rocks, the traction underfoot also allowed me to navigate through rock gardens without any slippage. Going up and down gravely and muddy hills, these gripped solidly as well. The only spot that I had trouble with slippage at all was on some slimy rocks. 

Overall: These shoes are great for you if you are looking for a little more cushion underfoot to protect you on rocky trails. They are light enough to easily navigate through technical terrain but tough enough to protect your toes and feet from any sticks or sharp rocks that are in your path. The drainage after water crossings is excellent, and the uppers offer a great balance of keeping out debris and providing air flow for your feet and toes. Plus they feel soft and comfortable from the first lace-up. Personally, I'm straight up in love with these shoes.

You can find the whole line of Women's Brooks at OnlineShoes.com, where they offer free shipping, free exchanges, and 110% price guarantee (they give you back the difference plus 10% if you find a lower price within 10 days of purchase). 

OnlineShoes.com provided the shoes for this review, and I was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

July 29, 2013

Welcoming home the hurt

Right now I have one leg propped up and am contemplating moving to get ready to go to work, and just thinking about the prospect feels painful. This weekend I wore myself completely out. Ever since my return home, and to running, my legs have felt fresh and happy with all running. Until this weekend. I really went all out at an 18-mile trail race this weekend, and it felt great and horrible at the same time.

The race was two 9-mile loops, and it took many minutes of walking at the start of the second loop to decide that I was actually going to finish it. Mentally, I had to restart the race several times over on that second loop. It sort of worked, but the mental jump-starts did nothing for my cramping calves and quads. I'm used to having calf cramps, but this was the first time I've ever experienced quad cramps. I blame it on the fact that I just haven't run that much recently, and my quads weren't ready for the challenge. And guess what is the most sore today. Surprise(!), my quads. It feels almost impossible to make a normal human walking stride.

Full race report to come later, but because my family went out of town this weekend and I had no pressing appointments, I thought it would be a good idea (or just because my running friend asked nicely for help) to sweep the 9-mile course. So after running the first 18 miles, I hiked nine more.

The course-sweeping crew, Michael and Jeremy.

Other than the obvious joy (and quad pain) of being home and back to running, there was also the joy of opening up packages that were waiting for me when I got home from vacation.

This was an Under Armour Fly-By Stretch Mesh Tank that I ordered from Planet Gear, which is another discount gear site that's specifically for ladies (sorry, dudes). After shipping, the cost was around $21, but I had a small credit that made it worth it for me. The fit is slightly loose, and it is definitely see-through-ish. I knew that going into it, so I wasn't surprised. I'm looking for the step just above wearing only a sports bra, so this was a good middle ground. It was pretty comfortable, but for styling and comfort, I still like this Oiselle mesh tank better.

This rain jacket, Zoot Flex-Wind, was waiting for me in a box too from The Clymb, and I liked it better than I thought I would. In the pics online, it looked more lemon yellow, but in person, it is neon yellow, which I loved even more for visibility on the city skreets. My mom would definitely disapprove of this color on me, but since she isn't on the interwebs, I can pull this off for now without her breaking out her color drapes to prove to me that it should be illegal for me to wear this. Also, you may be wondering why I'm buying a cold-weather rain jacket right now. A. It was a pretty good deal -- $40 (Amazon said retail was $150, but I found it for $85 on zoot.com.), and I like to buy stuff when it's cheaper in the off season. B. I have other Zoot gear that I've really liked. C. This spring, I froze for hours and hours after my rain runs were over, and I really want to prevent that in the fall. 

Also, if you're in the market for socks, there are some great deals online right now. Especially this Injinji deal on Groupon. Here is what they would cost you on Amazon. The Groupon deal gets them to your door (free shipping) for about $3.30 a pair. Pretty darn cheap.

And one more if you're a Swiftwick fan, which I also am. If you don't mind a little USA pride on your sock, you can get these Vision Ones for $5. But shipping is $7 (or free over $57), so you have to weigh that. But they cost twice as much for the plain version on Amazon, so depending on how many USA socks you want, it might be a good deal for you.

Moving on from the good deals, we've settled back into home and are now focused on getting the kids out of the house as much as possible and touring our home state.

Snakes and all.

In case you missed it, the sign says, "WATCH FOR SNAKES." And I say, "HOLY CRAP!"

Church parties with owl props (which I loved) and all. 

Check Bella's hands for the owl.

Science museum and bubbles.

And simulated tornadoes. 

And tree-framed sunsets. Sigh, I really love the land in Alabama. My road trip and the millions (rounding up) of hours of driving in the desert and Kansas helped me remember that. 

I'm also really happy to finally be returning to strength training. This move with the bar put the for-real hurt on me! Although Diane (the blond) thought it was easy. She's also doing a 104-mile bike ride this weekend with her husband, so her definition of easy doesn't count anymore.

Along with strength training, I attended my coach's injury prevention seminar last week. My marathon spree in February got used as the do-not-do example during class. Nice to be known for something, even if it's just your high level of ridiculosity (yes, I made that word up). He probably also could have used my Saturday run+course sweeping as another don't-try-this-at-home example. This week's seminar is on sport's psychology, and I'm really looking forward to it. Maybe I can learn how to stop rationalizing crazy behavior. Or maybe I will just learn how to Jedi mind trick the rest of the world into making ridiculosity the new normal. 

Have you ever attended any running seminars or classes? Mostly I just read books about running, but I'm really looking forward to more of these classes.

Looking back, what was your most irresponsible running mistake? I think my biggest mistake with running so far was buying stability running shoes (per the running store's recommendation) without researching what that meant first. Turns out that I needed the opposite of a stability shoe (I underpronate) and had injuries because of wearing them for so long. Rookie mistake. Moral of the story: do your homework before you make a purchase.

How often do you strength train? My goal is twice a week, but I actually average about once a week.

July 25, 2013

Inaugural Turkey Creek 8K: newbie friendly with a splashy finale

It finally happened. After months and months of trying to talk my gym running buddies into hitting the trails with me, one of them finally took me up on the offer. Maybe she was excited to get outside and back to her wilderness roots, or, more likely, she was ready to silence my jibber jabber. Either way, we skipped over the step of a leisurely, peaceful trail run and opted for the inaugural Turkey Creek "Float Your Boat" Festival 8K Trail Race. Could someone come up with a longer name for that race, please?

Why a race for my friend's first trail run? The nice thing about trail racing is that even though trail runners are competitive they're also super friendly, so you don't have to worry about getting knocked down and hurdled if you get in some speedster's way at the start. Not that that's ever happened to me at a road race either, but there is usually a hippy, peace-and-rainbows vibe at trail races that makes it a great place to feel comfortable as a newbie.

Lisa and Lara, ready to hit the trails.

Because we had an 11-mile long run on the books, we woke up early to fit in the first six miles before the race, and then made a bathroom and shoe swapping pit stop before hopping into the car to head out to Turkey Creek. For those of you, like us, who've never been there before, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is located in Pinson, northeast of Birmingham. The preserve was established through a partnership of the Freshwater Land Trust and Alabama's Forever Wild Program and is co-managed by the Southern Environmental Center (the other, less-worshiped-in-Alabama SEC), and you have the option of exploring the creek and trails on your own or taking advantage of their hands-on programming at the environmental education center at the preserve's entrance.

Drew, Kathleen, Lisa, Lara, and Bob. Photo by Kathleen @ Motion Potion (thanks!).

I had heard through the trail-running grapevine that the trails at Turkey Creek were pretty mild, but the trails for the 8K were brand new to the public. While they weren't too crazy technical, there were definitely some challenging hills that took a bite out of our speed. The piece of trail we used for the race was around around 2 miles long. We ran a double loop, and the race directors added a piece of road that follows along the creek at the start to round us up to 8K.

At the start line.

My gym buddy and I stuck together throughout the race, hiking the hills when we needed to and flying down the other side when we could. Even though the trails weren't the most technical, my first-timer friend still had sore ankles the next day from navigating the course. I sometimes forget what it's like to be running trails for the first time, but there are a lot of little muscles that you find out you have after a trail race because they scream at you when you try to move the next day.

Kind of like we were screaming in this picture at the finish line. Help us! For serious, we need help.

Lisa and Lara (trail first-timer who ran like a pro)

The best, best, best (should I add a fourth?) part of this race was that the finish line shoots you out right beside the falls. The creek water was refreshingly cool for the steamy summer day, and it doubled as an ice bath for our tired race legs. Pretty much this was the best finish for a trail race that I've ever had. Combine this with the Chipotle burritos they brought in after Run for Kids Challenge 50K, and I would be in post-race heaven.

Post-race ice bath in the creek. Photo by Kathleen @ Motion Potion

My first thought when I saw the creek was, I absolutely have to bring my four kids back here. The falls are big enough to stir up some white water and look exciting, but small enough to safely slide down on your own or with an inner tube. Also, the water is shallow enough in most parts that you can let the littlest ones explore without too much worry.

When we returned later that day, Ezra gave the thumbs up to playing in the waterfalls.

Another fun part of this race series is the frying pan rewards for the winners. Not frying pan trophies or medals, actual frying pans. That's my kind of prize. Run your race and then head home to fry up some eggs and bacon.

Greg from Alabama Outdoors inspecting the race prizes.

For those who might be interested in checking out this race or more trails, Turkey Creek 8K is part of the Sizzlin' Summer Trail series, and the final race of the series is the upcoming Ruffner Mountain Adios Summer 5K/10K/15K Trail Race on August 10. Ruffner will definitely provide a challenge for every level of trail runner with its technical and hilly terrain. And guess who'll be there with me to check them out -- my gym buddy. Turns out that a set of sore ankles and a few tree hurdles didn't scare her off. 

July 23, 2013

Wedding for under $500? Yes, you can.

While Los Angeles is the land of Hollywood stars, freeways instead of interstates, Inglewood being up to no good, and sunny-all-day-every-day weather, the biggest reason to drive over 2,000 miles to get there was to see my sister get married. 

This was a low-key wedding with only a few guests, who pretty much all participated in the wedding, so it was easier to keep costs in check. But I was still super impressed with just how inexpensively she pulled off this wedding. For less than $500, she had a refreshingly simple and beautiful wedding ceremony that is etched into the forever part of my memory (unless I get pregnant, then I forget everything). 

Want to get some ideas on how you can pull this off today? Keep reading!

Dress: zero dollars. Found in a plastic bin in the garage. We think that it's possibly a vintage ballet costume. 

Belt: zero dollars. It's also a vintage belt that has been hanging in my sister's closet for years. This was actually her first time ever wearing it. You can see the detail in the beading a little better in these pictures from the afterparty. 

Ribs, what you should probably not be eating while wearing a white dress.

Featuring "One Man Crime Wave" (you have to be someone in this picture to get this joke).

Veil: zero dollars. Handmade for her daughter's Cinderella bride Halloween costume three years ago.

Just before walking out with the bridesmaids.

Lisa and Rebecca, silent screams united.

Flowers: $70. The morning of the wedding we biked over to Trader Joe's, where we purchased flowers for the bride bouquet, bridesmaid bouquets, boutonnieres, and for wedding decorations. We used some ribbon found around the house to tie the flowers together for the bouquets.

Bridesmaid bouquets.

Bride bouquet.

Some of the decorative flowers in the top left of this pic.

More flowers.


Other decorations: zero dollars. We used paper flowers leftover from a Mexican Halloween offrenda (here's a paper flower tutorial). The stage used during the ceremony was an already-owned flatfoot dance board. The black iron music lyre was a birthday gift from fifteen years ago, and the gazebo that housed the ceremony was free from someone's garage clean-out. The chairs were found on the side of the road last year.

Colored-tissue flowers hanging on the gazebo supports.

Venue: zero dollars. They used their front yard, which was perfect because it already housed a gazebo and provided for some drop-in guests from the neighborhood and even a drop-in bridesmaid.

My daughter, drop-in neighbor bridesmaid, my sister, and her daughter.

Bridesmaids get cray.

Refreshments: $7.99 plus some donated. This total includes $2.99 for the saltwater taffy purchased for the twins to throw on the aisle. So instead of flower girls, we had taffy boys. They also spent $5 on peanut crackers to tame the waiting children pre-wedding. The peach komubucha for the toast during the ceremony was homemade by my sister-in-law, and the tiramisu was homemade by her Italian husband. Note: it was the best tiramisu of my life.

Taffy baskets for the taffy boys.

I could have eaten this all by myself.

Charm bracelets (instead of rings): $15. They purchased matching charm bracelets for the whole family, including their seven-year-old daughter.

The bracelet bearer, instead of a ring bearer.

Presents from the bride: $38. My sister purchased change purses for the kids and included a little cash inside. This total includes the cost of the purses and the cash, and it includes the cost of happiness -- those kids were so excited about cash money.

Can I invest this in stocks?

Lunch: $200. After the wedding, we paraded the whole wedding party over to the City Tavern in Culver City for lunch. By "paraded," I mean that we took all the leftover taffy and threw it, or handed it, to everyone who did (or didn't) make eye contact with us. For lunch, we had eight adults (one who was juice fasting -- that's so California) and five children eating. The worst part: no kid menu for the five kids. But that was canceled out by the restaurant bringing out a gratuitous birthday-style dessert for the new couple to share. Then we sang, "Happy Wedding Day to You."

Musical entertainment: zero dollars. Bella and Enoch both played pre-wedding piano pieces, and Mary played a pre-wedding pianica solo. June, my new brother-in-law, played the upright bass while my sister walked down the aisle, and he played it while she flatfooted after the ceremony. Instead of "you may now kiss the bride," they got the "you may now mutually drop a beat" version.

Mary and the pianica.

June on bass, while Rebecca walks up the aisle.

June and Rebecca mutually dropping a beat after the ceremony.

Photos: zero dollars. Courtesy of yo momma and yo sister-in-law.

My sister and my sister-in-law (Amory's sister), who were friends way before I ever met my husband.

When not taking pictures, I'm forcing hugs on everyone.

Minister: zero dollars. My husband got ordained to marry them by www.churchofweddings.com (I made that up, but it was some type of dot com). You can also pay a small fee and get a one-day certificate to marry people in California.

The kombucha toast during the ceremony. May your love ferment and get more vinegary like this kombucha.

Marriage license: $85. 

Groom's clothes: zero dollars. Picked from the closet that morning.

Post-wedding block party: $65. The block party was a July 4th party hosted by a friend in West Adams. The $65 was for a bounce house that my sister rented for the kids. There were several bounce houses along the block, pretty much every kids dream come true. Also at the block party: music (we brought a collection of instruments to share), flatfoot dancing, street dancing, fireworks, lots of friends, and the mother load of food.

Flatfooting on the dance board.

Group dance in the streets.

Super rockstar June and Rebecca.

Impromptu meeting about block fireworks.

Rebecca rockin' the trombone kazoo.

The party continues after dark.

Creed: the first person to pass out.

Other highlights: During the ceremony, Bella got up and read this poem by Walt Whitman.
This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

And in case those pics weren't enough, here are a few more of my favorites. 

Total spent: $475.99 

You may not be able to find your wedding dress in a bin in the garage like my sister, but there are so many ways to make the day cost less without losing any of the love that's there between friends and family.

And to wrap this post up, I want to send all my love out to my sister through the Interwebs. She is an amazingly talented mother, musician, dancer, friend, and now wife, and I'm constantly inspired to strive for more because of her example. Words just aren't enough to tell her how much it means to me to have her as my sister. I love you, Becky Boo!