Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sony Walkman W-Series MP3 Player Review and Giveaway

Last week, my husband and I were sitting around the living room watching Hot Tub Time Machine. (Yes, this is the kind of high-class culture you’ll find around our house.) In one scene, John Cusack and his time-warped buddies stare around the ski lodge, mouths agape, at an array of quintessential 80’s items. Among these was a particular yellow, waterproof, “sports” version of the Sony Walkman.

“Hey,” I pointed excitedly, “I had that exact same Walkman!”

“Of course you did,” my husband agreed. “It was the 80’s.”

I nodded with a knowing smile. I bet even Lloyd Dobbler himself had one.

That yellow cassette player is exactly what comes to mind when I think of a Walkman. You can imagine my surprise then when I heard that Sony still makes the Walkman in a variety of models. Apparently I have been out of the loop in the wide world of mp3 players.

Although I primarily run without music, I still jumped at the opportunity for this product review. I mean, who wouldn’t want a new Walkman? (Yes, I can totally glorify those awkward, middle-school years simply with memories of an iconic cassette player.) And if you feel the same way, read on to find out how to enter my giveaway contest and win one for yourself.


The Sony W-Series Walkman is a sleek, water resistant music player designed specifically with the outdoor athlete in mind. Its simple design makes using it a breeze, while the features make it very competitive with other, more expensive, music players.

Features I loved:

  • Cordless and Simple – Most of the music player is actually contained within the ear pieces, and the two pieces are attached by rubber neck band that goes behind the neck. This makes it a breeze to take on and off during a run. No string of messy chords to untangle!
  • Easy Controls – The controls are located on the right ear piece. Once I read the initial instructions and spent a few minutes playing around with them, I found them to be quite intuitive and simple. I could easily start or stop the music, skip or repeat songs, scroll through my playlist, and switch to “Zappin” mode. (I’ll explain that last one later.) There’s no screen to make selections, so you simply have to ride through your playlist, skip through to preferred songs, or listen in shuffle mode. This doesn’t seem like a drawback to me because why would I have songs on my player that I didn’t like?
  • Water Resistant – In the past, I have had trouble with my iPod getting too sweaty and not working until it could dry out. So, I think water resistance in an mp3 player is a must. This one held up great in both rain and snow storms. The manufacturer also reports that you can wash the player under the faucet.
  • 11 Hour Battery Life – This was more than enough battery life, even for an ultrarunner. If I’m listening to music on a long run, I’m still probably not listening for more than a couple hours at most. I could use this player multiple times between charges, and the operation lamp flashes at different colors to indicate how much battery life is left. Fancy! It’s also extremely quick to charge.
  • Music Transfer – This was as easy as opening iTunes and taking 5 minutes to click and drag. I didn’t even read the instructions. All technology should be this obvious.

More Features:

  • Zappin – The Zappin playback mode automatically plays a clip from each successive song until the regular mode is returned. It’s kind of like “scan” on your car radio. It seems like a useful feature if you want to hear a specific song, but I never actually found myself using it.
  •  Multiple Earbud Sizes – There are small, medium or large attachments for your ear pieces. Finding the correct size for your ears will help create a more secure fit inside your ear. The pieces were fairly easy to switch out, but I wouldn’t want to do it often (if two people who wanted different sizes shared the player, for example) because I felt like the rubber might rip.

When not in use, the earbuds click together magnetically for compact storage. Also, they make a cute heart shape.


  •  Earpiece Security – The primary drawback I had with this player was that I never felt that it was secure in my ears. The earbuds are heavier than on other players because the player itself is contained within them. This slight extra weight makes them want to bounce out a bit, and the band that goes over the ears didn’t stay on well. I found a very easy fix for this problem by putting either the strap of my visor or my sunglasses over the top of the neck band, just above my ears. I suspect that if you have larger ears, this wouldn’t be an issue. (The girl in the CNET review jumped around all over the place without a problem.) I wouldn’t say my ears are particularly small, but I have read a number of reviews that did not report this issue. Regardless, I always run with sunglasses, so it worked well to just put them on over the top, thus holding the earbuds in place.

The band does not want to stay on my ear.

The under-the-visor fix.

  • All Earbuds, All the Time – On the occasions that I run with music, I am a firm believer in the “one earbud policy”. Not only is it common courtesy to be aware of those around you, but it’s a big safety issue as well. The way this player is set up, there is no option for only one earbud. I found that I simply couldn’t keep the volume low enough to still be aware of automobile and bicycle traffic on the roads, nor could I hear runners or mountain bikes on the trail. Most of the time, I simply removed the player from my ears when I was considering crossing a street. It’s definitely a situation that requires a lot of caution.

Overall, I’d say this is an excellent player for the gym or other low-impact sports. I love the water-resistant feature and the ease of just grabbing it out of my pack and throwing it on without any messy chords. It might not work as a running companion for everyone, but the sunglasses/visor fix worked well for me as far as keeping it in my ears. With the current price of $49.98, it’s an incredibly affordable player as well.

If you’re interested in trying it but not interested in throwing fifty bucks at it, you have a chance to win one for free! Sony set me up with two players to giveaway, so here’s how it will work: 

  1. Simply leave a comment with your name.
  2. Spread the word by putting a link on Facebook, Twitter, and your blog, and give yourself an extra entry for each link.
  3. Tell me in your comment if you get extra entries. (Honor system, people, honor system!)

That’s it. The contest ends midnight Pacific Time on Sunday, May 1. I’ll announce the two winners on Monday, so don’t forget to check back!

Thanks to Sony for providing a player for review and two players for the giveaway!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Goodbye Grete

This afternoon, I managed to turn down the volume on the excitement over Boston for just a moment. The ensuing silence, while sad, was filled with nostalgic respect. It was a reflection on the life and inspiration of Grete Waitz, who passed away this morning after a six year battle with cancer.

As a freshman on my high school cross country team, Grete Waitz was the source of one of my many nicknames, the only one that has followed me into adulthood. It was bestowed upon me by a senior varsity runner.

"Yeah, I think you're like Grete," she'd said, during an afternoon run through the orange groves.

I barely knew who Grete was, but you can bet I went straight home to dig through my copies of Runner's World and and read every last word about her. The nine-time NYC Marathon winner, who showed girls it was okay to be strong and fast, has been a role model ever since.

Amby Burfoot writes a beautiful tribute here.      

From his article:

"Grete had such a long, wonderful career that we all have hundreds of memories of her. When I close my eyes, I see her pigtails swishing rhythmically like a metronome as she churned up First Avenue in New York. I think I will always see those pigtails.

Grete Waitz was a pioneer, a pacesetter, a pathmaker. We cannot make too much of what she contributed to our sport. She gave and gave and gave, and asked nothing in return.
Or maybe just this: That we should treasure every mile."

And in tribute to Grete, I will try to remember to do just that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

American River 50 2011

The American River 50 starts near downtown Sacramento and follows the American River Parkway on a combination of bike path and singletrack trail. This year, approximately 800 runners gathered in the dark, 30 degree morning to make their way up to Auburn. The day was filled with friendly faces, delicious food, beautiful trails, perfect weather, awesome volunteers, and even some fast times. In short: It was everything you could want out of a 50 mile day.

Runners gather at the start.

With so many runners in the race, both the bus ride and standing around at the start had been a chance to say hello and chat with friends. As we headed off down the trail, I felt relaxed but excited to see how my day would play out. I was familiar with the course, having raced here twice before, but this would be my first time here as an experienced ultrarunner with solid training.

With Catherine, staying warm before the start.

The sun rose over the misty meadows, and even with so many runners out there, the morning felt peaceful and quiet. Wild turkeys gossiped in the grass, and the water rushed along in the river below. I chatted pleasantly with a few runners, and simply focused on being relaxed.

I wanted to run well at this race, but I am aware that I have a tendency to start too fast when I have big expectations. The challenging part about this course though, is that all the fast miles are in the first half, where the trail is flat. Thus, the runner walks a fine line between banking a little time on the easy miles, and going out too fast, trashing her legs on the pavement and having nothing left for the trails. I planned to do my best to walk that line.

At mile five I saw that I was running 9 minute pace. Perfect. At mile 10, the same. Knowing the bike path portion was nearly half over, I decided this was where I was allowed to run a bit faster. I had started with a reasonable pace, and now it was time to use these fast miles to my advantage.

Smart runners stay on the dirt shoulder!

I ran along with my friend John from Reno, and another runner, Mike. John, who would normally be ahead of me, was struggling with an injury, so I was a little concerned for him. Mike turned out to be one of those runners who has been running all the local NorCal ultras for years. I love running with these guys because they always have great stories! I could tell I was still relaxed in spite of the increased pace because I was jabbering away so constantly that I missed a turn. Mike and John had to yell at me numerous times before I realized I was going the wrong way. Whoops! Clearly, I should not be in the lead of our little group.

John and Mike keep me company down the trail.

This picture is blurry because I am talking so fast!

By the time we approached Negro Bar at mile 22 I wanted to shed my long sleeved shirt and gloves. Spotting Jamie’s family at the aid station, I gratefully handed my extra clothing off to her husband and found out that she hadn’t come through yet. I hadn’t been able to find her at the start, which isn’t too surprising given the darkness and sheer number of people. Still, it looked like I might not get to run with her at all, which was disappointing. I knew she couldn’t be far behind.

On-the-go bottle hand-off at Negro Bar, mile 22. (Photo courtesy of Nico Vera)

 My marathon split of 3:45 confirmed for me that I was still in the zone of banking time without going too fast. I tried to calculate what that might mean for my overall finishing time, but I just couldn’t estimate what kind of pace I might make once we hit the dirt for good. When I’d sent in my entry fee for this race, I had thought 8 hours would be a great accomplishment. After taking a close look at my result at Cool and my training schedule, I realized that 8 hours probably wasn’t realistic. The plan for the day was to run under 8:30, but I was still secretly hoping to get close to that 8 hour mark.

Coming into Beal's Pt. at mile 26ish.

I came into the aid station at Beals, just past the marathon point, feeling a little tight in the hips. I was definitely ready to move from pavement to dirt, and excited with the knowledge that I was about to do just that. While a gracious volunteer filled my bottle, I grabbed some food and rocked out to the blaring tones of Great White’s Once Bitten, Twice Shy coming through the loudspeakers. I am not afraid to admit that for probably an entire year in high school, this was my very favorite song. I amused onlookers by enthusiastically singing along, got my bottle back, and I was outta there!

One of the many things I greatly appreciated about this race was that the drink and gels of the day were GU. This is what I train with, so it really makes a big difference to have it available during a race. It's especially true when it comes to drinking. GU Brew is one of the only electrolyte drinks that my stomach handles very well. If a race doesn’t offer that, then I usually just drink water. On this day though, I filled up with GU at nearly every aid station. It was an easy way to get more calories, and it comprised my nutrition for the day along with the gels, numerous PBJ squares, and some salty potatoes.

Rounding Folsom Lake, I reveled in the brilliant sunshine. Leaving my house the previous evening, it had been snowing. Again. And on this very section of trail two weeks earlier, Jamie and I had nearly been blown into the lake by the crazy rain and wind. I smiled deliciously at the day's contrast of warmth and blue skies.

Folsom Lake

Now on the dirt singletrack, my muscles loosened up a bit. It was magic; I felt amazing! The technical aspects provided a fun challenge, and the scenery was gorgeous. Green grasses, purple flowers, shady oaks, rushing river. Springtime perfection!

I did a good amount of passing and fell in behind a guy and girl who were moving really well. We leaped the creeks and ran all the uphills and the day was glorious. I was hoping they might pull me along to a fast time, when they abruptly stopped and let me pass. Dangit!

These middle miles of technical trails were my favorite part of the day, and I felt strong. With less than 20 miles to go, I felt confident about letting loose and allowed myself to run as fast as I wanted to. Now I was breathing hard and running aggressively, but still grinning ear to ear.

Just outside of Rattlesnake Bar at mile 41, the trail becomes less technical. There are much fewer ups and downs, and not as many rocks to contend with. There was some mud, but everything is relatively flat. The following 6 miles or so was the only section where I had a bit of trouble staying focused. I still did some passing, but I think the mellow terrain had me zoning out, and I felt my pace fluctuate somewhat.

A little mud, here and there.

Beautiful, mellow singletrack. It just keeps going on!

When John came up behind me at mile 45, I was excited to see him.

“You’re still here!” I declared, smiling. I had worried that his injury might force him to drop.

“Yup,” he agreed. “Still here!”

I let him pass, and then did my best to keep up with him.

It's hard to see, but this meadow was covered with purple flowers, and all those black dots are butterflies.
Standard AR50 singletrack.

The namesake river.

Soon we reached the big hill at mile 47, and I immediately gained all my concentration and focus back. The previous weekend Jamie and I had run the last ten miles of the course as an out-and-back, and she had shown me just how runnable this last hill is. I gathered my last reserves and set out with determination to run the whole thing.

Three miles to go! (Behind that, "Flat!" and "Run!")

This hill is marked off with signs counting down the final miles, and I also noticed some chalked words on the pavement. When the hill leveled out briefly, the words “Flat!” and “Run!” could be seen. I laughed at this, since people probably really do need to be told that it’s flat when they’re tired and it’s mile 47.  The good views were also pointed out with chalked words, which I loved. Everything might hurt, but don’t forget to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings!

I’d passed one woman at the bottom of the hill, a few men, and now I was coming up on another woman. I was feeling pretty good about this until I saw that this woman kept pausing to throw up. That’s not such a great reason to be passing someone, and I felt bad for her. I was even more distressed when I got close enough to see that it was my friend Jenny keeping company with the puke monster. Oh no!

As I passed, I gave her sympathy and she gave me encouragement, and that is the way it goes with ultrarunners. We traded hugs shortly after finishing.

The Last Gasp aid station appeared to be staffed by a boy’s high school xc team. A few yards before the station, a shirtless boy politely took my bottle and sprinted, gazelle-like, up the hill. He had it filled and ready to go when I arrived. Wow! They would clearly be getting a workout if they were going to keep up that kind of service for the rest of the day. I was stoked!

Rounding the last corner, the chalked words read, “Cold beer ahead!” Really? I thought. I didn’t know they were going to have beer! Then a few yards later, tiny letters spelled out “not.”

Oh yeah, ha ha, really funny guys. Way to get a girl’s hopes up.

Coming into the finish area, Norm Klein was on the microphone showering me with accolades. I can’t remember what he said, but it put a big smile on my face as I crossed the line. It had been a good day, but I was definitely happy to be done. My legs hurt!

I felt good about my finish time of 8:16 but not blown away by it. It was around what I’d expected, but even though I felt good all day, I can’t say it came easily. I was more surprised to find out that I came in 9th woman, and to be handed an age group award along with my finisher’s jacket. I had certainly not expected to crack the top ten at a race this big!

At the front end of the race, Ellie Greenwood and Kami Semick had run together, with Ellie pulling ahead somewhere around the 30 mile mark. Ellie won in 6:25 with Kami second in 6:34. In the men’s race, Dave Mackey pulled out the win with a 5:55 in a tight men’s field. (Complete results.)

After finishing, I enjoyed the best part of a race with 800 people – there were a lot of friends there! I scrubbed poison oak off my legs (without complete success, unfortunately) along with John and some of the other men who had finished near us. I congratulated Rick, and met his friends with whom I had shared some trail time. I saw Jenny D. and Nico, said hi to Tim and Dave. I met Ellie, and we shared excitement about our races at Western States. I had hugs with Clare, Amy and Jamie. And I sat in the sunshine chowing greasy burgers with John, Jenny, Mariam, and Collin.

Collin, Miraim and Jenny, chillaxin!

John styles his hair, post race. Pretty boy! ;)

With Clare Abrams at the finish.

Amy and Jamie at the finish.

With Rick at the finish.

Everything at this race was top notch, and for me, it was another solid stepping-stone towards a good season. I love the excitement of racing!

Big thanks to Julie and her crew. The time and effort put into this event clearly shows in its quality. And those finisher’s jackets – wow! Very nice.

Next up: Miwok. And I’m getting pretty excited about it!