Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More than 3 Years and 5,000+ Miles

I started to think it would never have to come to this day.  Thoughts crept into the back of my head each time, but I never once told anyone for fear of bad bike karma.  Well on Friday, that day finally came.  After 3 years and nearly 5,000 miles, I got my 1st flat tire on my bike...yes, you read the right - FIRST. FLAT. TIRE!

It appears to be due to a little rock that managed to find itself a nice little crawl space inside my tire.  I knew I was going to have to replace my tires soon, because (as you can see) they were really starting to wear down, so I figure any flat would result from the tire tread and not from the tube inside.

But the best part?  I didn't notice any signs of the flat until I was transporting my bike from my car to the bike rack inside my house, which was after a great 35 mile ride on Friday.  Funny how those things happen.  Sometimes things just work out a certain way.  Other times they don't.  Fortunately the cycling folks up in the sky were smiling down upon me this time.

I'm sure another time it may be a little bit of a different story...

Now as for the changing of the tire...that didn't work out so easily.  My older tubes had become a bit less stretchy and seemed to tear pretty easily when I was trying to instal the new tire.  So after multiple attempts that included buying a few new tubes (and a little assistance from Rebecca), we're all up and running again ;)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Observation at a Big Box Athletic Store

Alternatively titled "How average people get running injuries really easily".

Let me set the scene for you: Guy and his girlfriend are sitting on a bench, while he tries on running shoes.

Guy (while he tries on a pair of neutral ASICS): These feel good.
Girlfriend: They are ugly, you're not getting those.  Try on those (pointing to the Nike Frees).
Guy (after putting on ONE shoe, while wearing non athletic shoes on the other and doing a quick jog): These are comfy and light.
Girlfriend: Good, they look much better than those other ones.

Notice something missing?  ....aside from the fact that the guy just bought a pair of shoes without trying both of them on.  There was no communication or advice from the person working at the store.  Based on the observation I made of A) trying only 1 shoe on and B) buying shoes strictly based on appearance, I'm pretty sure this guy has no clue what running in Nike Frees can do if you are not structurally sound or aware of the difference between running in a shoe with a lot more flexibility versus a standard shoe that is quite a bit more rigid.

Like all other "natural" running style shoes, most people can't just pick them up and run.  Some people do with great success, but many people develop top of foot pain (TOFP) or stress fractures in the metatarsals due to not knowing how to properly transition to these shoes.  You have to gradually work them in AND ensure you lower leg muscles are able to support the new stresses that come from the newfound freedom these kinds of shoes give your foot.  While you'll be running more naturally without the restriction of a stiff shoe, you're also using muscles you haven't been using and those muscles that were used to running a certain way (for years in most cases!) will now be stressed differently.  Average people don't understand this.  And it frustrates me to see this happen.  So what can be done?

Well for one thing, most specialty running stores can at least tell you about some good strategies for adapting to new shoes...even ones that don't provide as drastic of a change as the example above.  Sometimes changing models of the same shoe can create problems if not done properly.  In general, you just need to give yourself time to gradually adapt, little by little. This starts with wearing them around the house and walking, before gradually incorporating them into your running routine.  It doesn't always mean taking them home and running 15 miles in them to see if they feel as good as your past pair.  Doing so is a recipe for disaster.

Additionally, some companies include guidance either in the packaging or online to help you learn how to adapt to your new shoes.  It seems so simple, yet some companies either don't know enough about the products they are selling to provide the guidance or they just don't care about anything other than selling shoes.  To me, it seems like the ones that care, are the ones that are forthright with guidance and information.  And those are the companies we should support - the ones that are obviously in the business to sell shoes, but to also educate their users about how best to utilize their products as tools.

With the increased popularity of minimalistic/barefoot running, it is critically important that you understand the differences between the shoes and prepare your body for the new adaptations, should you choose to go that route.  But with more and more companies throwing "minimal" shoes out into the market without much consideration for the runners who will be wearing them, it seems like it is sometimes up to us to be the responsible one.  Do yourself a favor and be responsible, but also support the companies that show an equal respect to you, since you are relying on them....they should show the same respect to you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tour de Clifton

Now that I am restricted to riding my bike, I figured it was time to head out to an old standby route that still remains one of my most absolute favorites.  It also happens to be within 4 miles of my house and includes pretty much relentless work throughout the ride.  If I can get out there early, I tend to see more animals than cars, which certainly makes for a relaxing ride.

The general route is made up of 2 loops that can be repeated as many times as necessary to make up the total distance wanted for any particular ride, but there are also so many other roads that one could use to add distance without looping back too many times if that ain't your sort of thing.  But the best part about the ride, is that it is pretty much all hills all the time.  Nothing super long (the longest is probably a 3.5 mile climb up Clifton Rd), but lots of changes in pitch (of up to 20%+ grade) that keep you on your shifters and always working.  Which means, you can't get lazy by dozing off spinning in the same gear for hours on end.

Since I haven't been riding my bike much, I knew 1 lap of the whole route would be more than enough.  In total, it made up about 30 miles door to door, but the route itself within the immediate Clifton area is probably closer to 20 miles.  Again, there are endless ways to extend this, but I enjoy the sights so much of my go-to route that looping the course never really got me bored during a ride...just tired!


The route starts with a series of rollers, but mostly downhill throughout the area as you head south on Colchester Rd.  After turning on Fairfax Station Rd to head toward Clifton, you nearly pass by the "historic" (and urban legend) Bunnyman Bridge (At one time, I continued down to it, but after reading the story, I try not to go over there....it gives me the creeps!).   After a quick climb and then a nice winding downhill, before you know it, you find yourself passing through the historic Main St of Clifton, home to the delicious Trummer's on Main (in white on left) and the Clifton General Store (in green with Texaco sign out front), which is a nice reminder of the quaintness of the Main St of Clifton, which dates back to as long ago as the 1700s, but primarily known as a stopping point via the railroad for dignitaries (including US Presidents) on their way to Washington DC throughout the 1800 and 1900s.  But enough about the history, let's get back to the cycling!

Clifton sits in the valley of pretty much every road around it, so the only way out is to go up!  Here is where you can pick your poison - you can take the long, but not too steep climb up Clifton Rd to the north loop, or you can put yourself to the test with the challenging hills of the surrounding roads.  At this point, I typically head out via Chapel Rd.  Not too long after riding on some more rolling hills, you are faced with one of the short, but toughest sections.

Don't let this innocent view fool you, once you start around that turn, it gets STEEP...20+% grade steep!
But the good news is that the climb is only about 1 mile long in total.  Once at the top, you get more rollers and ride along some very large estates, before making a turn down Yates Ford Rd.  This section begins with a long decent, though it requires some breaking to pass a few large speed bumps, placed obviously to slow down passing cars, but which you'll hate later too when you have to go uphill on an already steep and grinding climb that takes you up and over some similarly large speedbumps...it just adds to the fun and challenge of the climb though.
Once you crest the hill, you have a few more smaller climbs until you turn right onto Clifton Rd, which eventually leads you back to....Clifton!  Now typically, I'd continue on Clifton Rd, but I decided to take a little short (but hilly) detour to visit one of my (and Rebecca's) favorite places - Paradise Springs Winery.  For those that aren't hip to the VA wine scene yet, there are now nearly 200 VA wineries, but Paradise Springs is not only the closest, but the only one located in Fairfax County (and conveniently a short bike or car ride away from us!)....and if I do say so myself, it also produces some of the best wines!  So to add an extra 5 miles roundtrip to my route, I headed over just to stop by and turnaround (it was still too early to taste any, but I will certainly stop by one of these days during a ride).

The old cabin in the background is an original house from the property, dating back to the early 1800s and used to host their tastings, which are new held in their new tasting room that just opened this last month
After leaving Paradise, I found my way back to Main St in Clifton, where I began the long climb up Clifton Rd.  This climb isn't challenging by itself, since it isn't nearly as steep as any of the other major climbs.  However, it is by far the longest, lasting about 3.5 miles with a few short breaks thrown in there.  Sometimes, I use this hill as an opportunity for an uphill time trial, where I just push as hard as I can while attempting to put out equal effort for the entire duration of the climb.

Once at the top, you get to make a decision - do you loop back to enjoy more of the course or head back home and call it a day?  The best part is that I still haven't scratched the surface on all of the route options.  I'm always on the lookout for a biggest and baddest climbs and with my trusty friend Googlemaps, I'm sure to identify some new ones to try out next time to add to my repertoire.

After 1 loop on this weekend's ride though, I called it a day - I was spent!

Friday, May 20, 2011

On Facing Roadblocks

It seems like every time you find yourself in a "happy" place, something comes along and knocks you back down a few pegs.  This happens in life and in sport to people all the time.  Typically, we just call them "bad days" and move on.  But the kind of roadblock I am now faced with isn't as much of a quick, move on type.

After a really solid return to training, my workouts were going perfectly, with each one bringing me more confidence about the remainder of this year's season and what that may mean.  But something felt a bit "off" in the last 5 days.  Typically, some extra attention in the form of massage or stretching gets these things to go away in a matter of a day or two, but when it didn't, I started to get a little concerned.  In this case, it was some pretty severe pain and a loss of mobility in my big toe.  As a result, I immediately made an appointment to see a podiatrist.

A brief side note here - if your insurance has good coverage, I think it is always in your best interest to have a professional take a look at things EVEN if they start to get better.  Self treatment is always the first line of defense, but seeing a professional as soon as possible can nip something in the bud before it gets worse (and give you a second opinion) and can also prevent you from doing too many stupid things that could lengthen any potential recovery time needed.

So I went to the podiatrist to have a look and see what might have been going on down there.  I had a few ideas in mind, but I want the professional to diagnose me first before I start telling them what I think is wrong.  At least for me, I find it a learning process to either confirm my knowledge or an opportunity to gain further insight into injuries.  Afterall, the more you know, the larger your toolkit.


After a series of X-rays and taking a detailed look, the likely issue is a chip fracture.  Based on my X-rays, the chip fracture occurred off of a bone spur in my 1st metatarsal.  Chip fractures can occur for any number of reasons - typically though, it is associated with a traumatic event, like slamming your foot into the door.  In my case though, there was nothing traumatic.  Notice that this is NOT a stress fracture, which can occur due to over-use, bone strength deficiency, and a weak support system among other things.  It just happened by chance, which is part of the frustration of it all.  As diligent as I am about my mobility and strengthening exercises, I am forced to accept that - This. Just. Happened.  And it is what it is and there wasn't really anything I could have done to prevent it.

My initial thoughts before going to the doctor were that I either had some severe tendinitis down there, or something was broken, so I pretty much got it right on with the diagnosis.  Of course, I was hoping for a tendinitis diagnosis.

So what does this mean?  Much like the healing process from a stress fracture, it means I'll be taking the next 4-6 weeks off from running, while my foot tries to heal in one of these babies - Das Boot!  The funny thing is that it resembles the Reebok Pumps from the early 90s with that big air pump on the top to add some compression to keep my foot stable.

However, there is some slightly positive news - because of the location where the fracture occurred, I can still ride a bicycle as long as I am clipped in and not using toe straps.  So while the running fitness may slide a bit, my overall fitness hopefully won't slip much at all.  In fact, I went for a pain free ride yesterday afternoon for about an hour just to see how things would feel.  I was a bit worried that my toe would move a lot, but it didn't at all.

So that's the latest roadblock.  As always, I use these situations as further motivation to continue living an endurance lifestyle.  In the grand scheme of things, this is only a minor bump along the road.  I have learned quite a bit already about myself as a result of this latest visit to the doctor, but this post is getting long enough already, so I'll save that for a future one and spare you the time ;)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sony W-Series Walkman Winner - Last Chance to Claim Your Prize

This is a message for Andrew, the 2nd winner of the Sony W-Series Walkman Giveaway - you have until Friday to claim your prize.  Otherwise, the entries go back in the pot and I'll pick another winner. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hitting the Track Just Before Sunset

I had planned on getting my interval workout done a bit earlier, but a nasty line of storms rolled through in the afternoon, which forced a slight rain delay.  The weather was simply amazing for running (low 70s) and I was all ready to go, when I took one glance outside and saw the dark clouds approaching.  A quick check of the radar and....uh oh...rain delay!  So I did a few more things to try and pass the time and before I knew it, the rain had stopped.  Which meant that I'd have to high tail it to the track to get everything done in time before it got dark.

The track workout for the day was a straightforward one - 8 x 800 with 2:00 recoveries.  On paper,  these workouts never seem to be all too difficult.  But once you get around 5-6 reps into the workout, you start dreaming of life without another 800 repeat in it.  Sure enough, before I knew it, they were over.  And the sun...well it was just starting to set, so I managed to get everything in with some time to spare. 


There's always something more meaningful when you finish a workout when the sun is either rising or setting.  Not sure what it is about those situations, but no matter what kind of workout it is, if it finishes up on either end of those 2 situations, it just brings a little more joy to the day.  Not too shabby a way to end my day if I say so myself.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Baseline Testing Followup

Alternatively titled: "Springtime is a terrible season to find an open track to run on" or "Track Finding Fail"

In a previous post, I referenced the 5k baselines that are a staple of the MN way of testing one's fitness throughout the year.  I also indicated where I thought I'd be fitness-wise based on my workouts so far.  So I went to find out...only there was one problem - it seemed like every track was unavailable!  Springtime in this area is full of high school sports, which means the surplus of tracks available within a short drive are limited during typical use hours.  In this case, it took sheer determination to keep driving from one to another, only to find out that it was in use.

Let's just review each place I was denied:
  • Centreville HS (track team)
  • George Mason University (track team)
  • Fairfax HS (soccer team)
  • Oakton HS (soccer team)
But one place was available FINALLY - South Lakes HS!  Phew...so at least I found a place.  Little did I know that finding a track would potentially be the hardest part of my day!

So let's get to the running part, shall we?

Based on where my fitness is, I was thinking anything around 19:30 would be consistent with how I felt.  My all time high 5k last year was 19:05, so this would be a little bit off from where I had been, but still pretty solid, considering I couldn't break 20:00 for nearly 8 years of trying before joining MN last year.  With that knowledge, I set out some goal paces to shoot for and play it by ear. 

- The goal was: 6:20, 6:15, 6:10, which would work out to 19:22. 
- Here is how it played out: 6:13, 6:09, 6:11, :37, which works out to 19:10.

I think this all shows how little fitness you actually lose if you take the recovery seriously following a key race like a marathon, but keep up with the other aerobic cross training elements that keep your fitness from slipping too far.  Rebecca and I have also been hitting some really hard core strength work with an awesome 1 hr Functional Strength class that I think has really made a difference.  With this 5k time, I am only 5s off my all time PR without much training at anywhere near those paces (or even tempo paces).

To say I'm excited would be an understatement!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Awesome Group Mountain Biking Video

Its been a long time since I've hit the dirt trails, but this video makes want to go back.  I don't know how long it took these guys to set up this course, or how the camera set up was done (I assume on a zipline), but both the riding and the camera shots are pretty sweet in this video:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sony Walkman W-Series Giveaway Contest Winner

Thanks to everyone who participated in the giveaway and especially to those who provided their "go to" songs - I have a few more to add to my collection!

With all the submissions, we ended up with a total of 22 potential entries and I entered them all in random.org to select two winners....and the winners were lucky #7 and #17, which was It's All About Pace and Andrew.  
 
Please shoot me an email, so I can get your address and shipping info to send it out.

More great news: Now, if you didn't win, there is still a chance for you to get yourself a unit at a discounted rate.  Sony Electronics has created an exclusive section within their SonyStyle.com online store where you can receive a special discount on the Walkman W-Series. All you have to do is click on the link and you will have an opportunity to purchase the W-Series for $48.99 (originally $60).

Discount link: www.sony.com/runningmate

Monday, May 9, 2011

Feeling Aerobically Strong

This is a FINAL reminder about the Sony W-Series Walkman giveaway.  The contest closes at midnight EST, so enter for your chance to win one of two music players!

This weekend's long run was mean to be a test of sorts to determine where I am in terms of fitness.  There are many ways to test yourself, but the key is keeping the conditions (course, temps, time, etc) as close to the same as possible.  Some tests, like the one we do inside MN, are a simple 5k (which, coincidentally is not so simple to execute if you have ever run a hard 5k solo).  You can do them elsewhere, but consistency in testing is the best way to determine progress.  Otherwise, you just start getting into too many variables making it impossible to accurately compare one test from the other. 

In the case of this week's, I was conducting a Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) test, which means running at a steady effort (HR) and keeping track of each split at that effort.  This was more of a personal test more so than part of any training plan, but it is a good method of determining my aerobic fitness.  I won't go into the details of it, but you can read more about it here.  Typically, it is done over a matter of 3-5 miles where each successive mile gets slower, as your body progressively works harder to maintain the same pace.  Since you're running by HR, your pace naturally slows.  However, an aerobically strong person can keep that same effort over a longer period of time.  Since I was trying to get my long run in, I set out to run 10 miles and just see where my MAF HR would take me.

For me, my MAF HR is right around 150 bpm and I sat on that level of effort over the course of 10 miles at just about 8:00/mile pace the whole time, without any fluctuation.  Typically, you'd want to continue MAF type workouts until you no longer show progress in your testing (done every 4 weeks).  And once you peak out, you can begin incorporating tempo and interval type training.  However, because this is the same pace/effort combo I had been able to maintain prior to the marathon, it tells me a few things:

1)  I am at the same aerobic level fitness as I was pre-marathon
2)  I am aerobically strong and likely ready to incorporate other stressors (ie intervals, tempos, etc)

Further, if I compare myself on this run (8:00/mile avg) versus the last one (8:18/mile avg), I can see that my aerobic strength has progressed.  It could be possible that I might be able to lower it further, but since it is right where I was while training for the marathon, I know it is close to where it should be.  And at this point, the only way to get faster...is to run faster!

The other interesting note is the correlation between MAF speed and 5k performance, which has been gathered from data of hundreds of runners.  Based on my MAF avg, my 5k performance should be right around 20:00.  It's pretty close to how I feel I am capable of right now.  I expect to be a bit closer to the 19:30 range, but I won't know that until I conduct a 5k baseline test (which is how each of our MN plans begin).

So with that said, it is time to start working toward adding in the good stuff...and doing one of those 5k tests.  Stay tuned for how close my MAF speed compares with my 5k test...

Friday, May 6, 2011

How To Find Race Courses Not Posted on Race Websites

You may remember a recent post I made ranting about race websites not providing race courses on their sites.  Well don't worry - I still share the same angst against race websites that refuse to publish any semblance of a course.  When it comes to this, there are no excuses why you wouldn't include that.  But I've already said that so you don't need to hear that again.

What I am here to tell you about is a solution to our little problem, should you find yourself in a similar predicament.  You see, pretty much every race is USATF certified - meaning they've officially measured the course per USATF regulations and had it approved.  And once a race organization has received certification, it falls into a database of certified courses

A ha!  We've found the motherload! 

In this database, you can find all of your courses either by searching by name, state, distance, etc.  It's actually kind of interesting to scroll through all the courses and take a look at the ones you've considered racing, but haven't yet. 

Of course, things are never super simple and you'll find that this database contains those crazy hand drawn race course maps, so unless you really know the area where the race is, it may take another step to go to a place like mapmyrun and map it out based on the certified course map to get a better look at critical elements like elevation details. 

It's not a perfect solution, but at least it gives you a starting point and a clue as to what the course is like.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

More on Why Flip Flops Are Bad

A recent article in the Washington Post cites the podiatric dangers of flip flops.  Specifically mentioned are injuries such as:
  • Stress fractures of the metatarsals
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Cuts
  • Bruises
  • Sunburn
Within the article, a 2008 study is referenced that analyzed college students walking patterns.  Now obviously some of these injuries are minor issues (cuts, bruises, sunburn), but the researchers are speculating that the altered gait from wearing flip flops could result in pain from the foot all the way up to the lower back.

Bottom line is that the basic model of flip flops create many downstream problems in your lower body.  There are alternative types of shoes available, ranging from minimalist shoes, to sandals that don't require you to alter your gait and foot movement.  But if you must wear flip flops, slowly transition into wearing them as the weather warms up, because going from zero to lots of time on your feet in them could have disastrous effects.  As athletes, I like to think that we try to ensure we take all precautions to stay away from injuries.  This is a perfect example of one such way.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Don't Lose Your Shorts

Just a reminder about the Sony W-Series Walkman giveaway.  Enter for your chance to win one of two music players!

Not sure if you've heard this story yet, but I heard it on NPR this morning and thought it was important enough of a lessons learned to share.  A man was running the Flying Pig Marathon when he decided to lose his borrowed shorts, because they were bothering him and slipping down, so he ran the remainder of the race naked:

Police charged Brett S. Henderson, 35, of St. Paris, Ohio with public indecency and obstructing official business.
Police say Henderson was told to exit the race and get in a police car but he refused, running around an officer and continuing to run in the race. Eventually, Henderson was instructed to get in a car or he would be Tased. Henderson kept on running and an officer Tased him.
Ouch!  Lessons learned: keep the shorts on!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sony Walkman W-Series Giveaway and Review

Sony 2 GB Digital Music Player (Black)Back in March, I was contacted by public relations folks for Sony to review their latest product - the Walkman W-Series Music Player and give away two  to YOU!  The Walkman W-Series is cord-free and designed to be lightweight and wearable, with a water-resistant frame that fits comfortably behind the neck. 



Given my somewhat new exposure to running with music, I thought it would be helpful to provide an unbiased review of their product.  I consider this a very relevant product to anyone involved in endurance sports.

So let's get started with the basics. 

The packaging is pretty straightforward.  Inside you'll find:
- the actual Walkman unit
- a USB cable to transfer music from your computer to the unit and charge the battery
- three sets of ear buds to ensure a secure fit for your ear size
- a compact carrying case

Now, Rebecca will be the first to tell you that I'm not always the best at  figuring things out right away (which is why she's the one who puts Ikea furniture together!).  But here's the nice part: she wasn't home when the Walkman arrived, so I had the chance to make it work all on my own. 

Well, I am proud to say that I had the Walkman loaded with music in no time!  The unit is essentially plug and play - plug the USB adapter into the Walkman at one end and into the computer at the other.  Once the computer recognizes the unit, the Content Transfer software pops up and you can literally drag and drop music into the player.  Super simple - just the way I like it!

Additional features include:
- 2 GB capacity - plenty of space for tons of music for those long runs
- it's light! the total weight: 1.5 oz
- 11 hrs of battery life on a full charge, but if you forget to charge it in advance 3 minutes will give you a 90 minute quick battery charge
- No wires to mess with
- Water resistant design ensures all you super sweaty people won't mess up the player.


Ok, so now that you know the specs, you're probably wondering how it held up when put to the test. 
I'll explain that through a few criteria I felt important:

Fit

Most sports headphones come in one of three methods of fitting in your ear: 1) Loop with a clip behind each ear 2) Placed directly into the ear 3) Some type of connecting piece between the left and right side.  The Walkman W-Series uses the connecting pieces method.  This has the distinct advantage of staying in your ear (versus those other methods which I've experienced mixed results).

Initially, I had a bit of an issue getting the ear piece sizing to work.  I tried all 3 sizes on the ear plugs and no matter which size I used, my right ear piece never wanted to stay put and would bounce a bit.  However, the workaround I discovered for this is to flip the unit, so the left side goes in the right ear and right side goes in the left ear.  Note: Rebecca didn't have any issues with the fit, so she wore it as intended. 
 Just like a Bluetooth - Note that I am wearing it opposite as it is intended per my workaround

After making this change, I haven't had a single issue on ANY of my runs.  I've put it through a few runs in the past week when it was high humidity in the upper 80s (read: very sweaty) and everything stayed put.  I've also run intervals down in the low 6:00 to sub-6:00 pace range and everything has worked perfectly.


Feel
Typically, I don't bother with music while running because I want to be able to focus on the running and not be distracted by the millions of potential issues (and resulting frustrations) that wearing headphones can cause.  But, with the Walkman W-Series weighing in at a mere 1.5 ounces, you barely feel it in your ear.  Once I got the fit correct, I found myself in the middle of runs forgetting that I had anything there (except for the fact that I still heard music playing).  I'm not exactly a fan of how I look when running with them in, but given that they are small enough and light enough to barely notice that they are there, I can deal with the look in favor of the feel without having to worry about wires banging around or ear pieces popping out.  .


Running with music also brings up the issue of safety.  I've never been a very big fan of running with music simply because you are tuned out from yourself and those around you.  I've had a lot of run-ins (literally) with people out on the trails who were playing music so loud that they were not aware I was there.  While wearing the W-Series, I was able to hear regular street noise even when the music was turned up.  I've played with various volume settings and was always able to hear myself and my surroundings.  Last week when I went for a run, Rebecca rode along side on her hybrid bike and I was able to carry on a conversation with her and still listen to my music at a reasonable volume setting. 
Side note: it was fun to be out there running hard tempo paced intervals and still have someone to talk to (even if I was barely talking due to the whole tempo running thing). 


Form
The various buttons on the unit are of reasonable size and can be found on the ear pieces (see picture). 
The toggle button controls both the on/off setting (push down), while that same button can be triggered forward or backward to advance or replay a song.  Similarly, another set of buttons on the same ear control the volume.  On the other ear piece is a small button that allows you to change the playback mode from playing songs in order as a playlist to shuffle mode.  Once you figure out where the buttons are, there isn't much thought needed.  It is pretty simple to use.


Function
Even while running fast, I found it easy to select songs I wanted to hear and change the volume setting.  Both the operation of the unit while running and the setup process proved to be fool proof -- as evidenced by my ability to be up and running within 5 minutes of opening the box.  I consider that a major bonus!
 
Plus, if you've ever been in the situation where you were about to head out the door and discovered a dead battery (this happens all the time with my other music player),  just plug the W-Series into the computer and by the time you finish doing some dynamic stretches or waiting for your GPS to locate its satellite, your music player is ready to go for that run.  How is that possible?  Within 3 minutes of charging it will give you 90 minutes of use so you'll be out the door in no time.  I'm happy to say that the claimed battery life of 11 hours from a full charging session holds up extremely well between runs. 


Conclusion
I think the W-Series is a great option for all runners interested in listening to music while working out, whether you're headed outside or to the gym.  The hassle-free nature of the Walkman lets you  focus simply on running without the risk of downtime to fix common issues associated with those other music players ( those irksome tangled wires, ear pieces falling out, etc.) When I go for long runs, I already need hydration and gels, which take up valuable real estate in my pockets.  Since the whole device is strictly a headset, there is no need for anything else.  Just put them on and run!


Giveaway Time!
If you've made it this far, congrats!  As a reward, Sony has provided  two units to give away.  I'm not trying to make things tricky with the contest rules, so a simple comment will get you 1 entry.  However, I would also like to give you a few other ways to get additional entries.

- For 1 Entry:  Leave a comment below.

- For 2 Entries: Leave a comment AND follow my blog using the RSS feature in the upper right sidebar


- For 3 Entries: Do both of the above AND tell me your favorite "go to"song. 

That's it! - So post a comment, follow my blog, and tell me your favorite song for the best chance to winMake sure to write the number of entries in your comment. 


Note: 
- This contest only open to US and Canada residents
- You may provide comments through midnight EST Monday May 9
- The winner will be chosen at random using the number generator at random.org
- I'll post the results in a separate post shortly after the winner is selected

Giveaway Rests here


More great news: Now, if you didn't win, there is still a chance for you to get yourself a unit at a discounted rate.  Sony Electronics has created an exclusive section within their SonyStyle.com online store where you can receive a special discount on the Walkman W-Series. All you have to do is click on the link and you will have an opportunity to purchase the W-Series for $48.99 (originally $60).

Discount link: www.sony.com/runningmate



If any other companies would like their products reviewed, please send me an email
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