Saturday, December 01, 2012

Top Running Shoes of All Time: Another Golden Age?

Sneaker Report's Best 100 Running Sneakers of All Time  got me thinking about the last 40 years of running kicks, that's how long I have been a competitive runner and shoe junky. In an earlier post I concluded that the 1970's running boom produced a wave of innovation and great shoes.

The 1980's through about 2000 was really a dark age as shoes became heavier, more gimmicky, larded up with all kinds of control mechanisms. Just contrast what Sneaker Report considered the top shoe of all time, the 1995 Nike Air Max 95 with some of my early favorites the 1973 Nike Boston, the  1981 Terra T/C and today's Vibram Spyridon,  Saucony Kinvara, and Hoka One One Tarmac. We are lucky to have so many quite different but in many ways related choices!

1970's and early 1980's
1973 Nike Boston (Sneakerreport.com) 

 1981 Nike Terra T/C (sneakerreport.com)


1980's- 2005
 1995 Nike Air Max 95 (sneakerreport.com)

2005- Present

2012 Saucony Kinvara (sneakerreport.com)
                             
2012 Hoka One One Tarmac (hokaoneone.com)


Friday, November 30, 2012

Top Running Shoes of All Time: 1970's-1980's

Sneaker Report has an incredible "museum "of their picks of the top 100 running sneakers of all time. Runblogger one of my favorite sites made his picks: Nike Free 3.0 V1, Brooks Launch, and Saucony Kinvara, all fine, very recent shoes.

I am now in my 40th year of competitive running and depending on decades have worn many of Sneaker Reports picks especially those from the 1970's and early 1980's and those from the last ten years. Quite frankly, I did not run as much from the mid 80's through about 2000 and even when I did looking at the shoes from that period they are not exactly memorable: heavy, over built with lots of "control.

The 1970's : Light, Low Drop and Fast. Sound Familiar?
Before the early 1970's running boom running shoes were leather, heavy and clunky. I was lucky that my hometown had not the only East Coast sales guy for the iconic Onituska Tiger Marathon and trainers but the same fellow, Jeff Johnson along with Phil Knight both went from being Tiger distributors to starting Nike. Jeff Johnson located original Nike R&D facility in my hometown of Exeter NH.
Tiger Marathon (runningpast.com)
#1 Most Important Running Shoe of the 1970's: Tiger and Nike Marathon.  The earlier minimal Tiger Marathon and the almost identical 1972 Nike Marathon #70 were the shoes I and just about everybody else raced  track and cross country in and even trained in. The key innovations were nylon uppers instead of leather and a very minimal one piece midsole outsole combination.  The #6 Nike Waffle Trainer and #15 Cortez were also key early light weight dedicated distance shoes and deserve their rankings.
Nike Boston circa 1973 www.sneakerreport.com
My #1 All Time Best Racer: With Nike innovating in town I tested versions of the  Nike Boston, # 31 on Sneaker Report's all time list. Mine were blue and as I recall had somewhat more midsole than the yellow model above from 1973.

This shoe while still light was a big improvement over the Marathon as it had some cushioning. I suggested to Nike they waffle my Bostons, and they did, and this is to this day it is my favorite all time racing shoe, great from short muddy cross country races to marathons. Not really much different than today's minimal Brooks Pure Project, Saucony A4, Inov-8's, etc...Note the low drop and roomy seam free toe box.

Most Timeless Running Shoe: Brutting Lydiard Marathon and Road Runner How about a running shoe that remains totally unchanged since about 1970 and is still on sale? Arthur Lydriard, the famous New Zealand coach designed a shoe in collaboration with a small German shoe maker Brutting sometime in the late 1960's. Very lightweight, made of natural materials with a supple suede (kangaroo then ouch!) leather and gum rubber outsole they are still handmade on a crescent shaped anatomical last.  I had several pairs of these in the 1970's and they were fantastic trainers and racers, stylish then and now to boot. They can be purchased from Manufactum in the UK
EB Lydiard Marathon (Manufactum)
EB Lydiard Road Runner (Manufactum)

The 1980's: New Materials and Technologies
1979-1981 were big years for running shoe innovation. Nike's Exeter labs came up with 2 shoes that should be on anybody's top 10 list of greatest running shoes. Both shoes addressed the issue of compacting of the midsole and cushioning, yet in different ways. Early midsole materials compacted very quickly. Hard to imagine this today with the various EVA's, gels, plastic plates etc... allowing shoes to appear almost new after hundreds of miles.

The Nike Tailwind (not on Sneaker Report list) , with a retro reintroduction in 2012,  was the first shoe to incorporate Nike Air. I had several pairs and they made big miles day after day far less painful.
Nike Tailwind (Nike Inc.)
Nike Terra T/C (sneakerreport)
The 1981 Nike Terra T/C # 36 on the Sneaker Report List was also a revolution as it introduced Phylon a midsole material which did not compact as readily as previous foam and the midsole was I believe made of a single material instead of being of glued wedges. I had several pairs of these versatile trainer racers. While I don't have the weight (light) and they were not "low drop" these kicks were really no different than the #2 all time pick, the Saucony Kinvara which came out...30 years later. One might call this one of the first "modern" running shoes.

The Late 1980's, 1990's, early 2000's
I ran less in these years and looking at Sneaker Reports many top shoes from this period I quite frankly don't remember any of these increasingly heavy and clunky shoes as memorable. Mostly cartoonish design statements. And while Sneaker Report has done an admirable job in creating this running shoe  top 100 list it feels their choices are heavily influenced by the retro collectible fashion market and not performance innovations as many many top shoes are from this "dark" period of overbuilt shoes. Witness their #1 overall pick the 1995 Nike Air Max 95
Nike Air Max 95 (sneakerreport.com)

In my next post I am going to roll forward to the last 5 years or so. After a good 20 years or so of stagnation the wonderful increasing popularity of running, coupled with recent innovations and changes in running shoe design and running philosophies have us in a new golden age of running shoe choice, much like I saw in the earlier 1970's running boom.

Update: Here is my post about the top trends and shoes of what I am calling a new Golden Age of Running and... shoes.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hoka One One Stinson Tarmac: Review

I now have more than 100 miles on the Stinson Tarmacs Hoka One One sent me. An earlier review is here

This 11.8 oz, 5.5 mm heel to toe drop road specific ( smoother mud free trails fine too) is a wonderfully comfortable ride. It fits true to size for me.
I have run in Hoka Mafate (trail) , Bondi (road), and an earlier trail/road Stinson EVO. Hoka continues to evolve staying true to their oversized yet light philosophy. The Tarmac is a big step forward in the evolution of Hoka philosophy:

  • The outsole is narrower in forefoot than the Bondi with a landing pad at the first metatarsal.  I used to get cramping in forefoot at the first metatarsal, especially road running, due to the width.
  • The shoe is somewhat more flexible in the forefoot than any previous Hoka. Hokas by their nature are not flexible relying on the geometry of the midsole to roll you along. Trust me it really works.
  • The upper is outstanding, made of a densely woven mesh. The  issue of tying in the toe area and making it flexible enough is solved by reducing the seams to one over the middle of the toes. 
  • Instead of using vertical supporting overlays as most shoes do the Tarmac uses horizontal overlays, the white lines in the pictures above. These horizontal overlays  help forefoot flex.
  • Given that the foot is embedded 20-30 mm down into the midsole foam using Hoka's patented "bucket seat", the shoe is plenty stable.
  • The outsole doesn't have any lugs and is smooth on the road. Much smoother lay down than the Bondi. Nice decoupled heel. With the exception of mud or snow the Tarmac is fine on moderate trails. All the blue areas as well as the top and bottom of the mid foot outsole are long wearing outsole. The only softer EVA midsole material is the triangle just behind the heel. 
  • The quick pull lace system is effective. Dial in fit and forget about it. 
So why in an age where "minimal" running is all the rage ( or passing rage in my view) wear Hokas, the most extreme of oversized, cushioned shoes? I like to say they feel very natural, like running on grass...on the road or the rocky trail. On the trail, no rock punch through and total confidence on the downhills due to the wide stance.  Despite their super cushion they are not mushy and unresponsive. The rolling gait required by the stiffer outsole, once easily mastered, is very natural and smooth. This could  be a wonderful shoe for runners and walkers with chronic hip or knee pain due to the shock attenuation and stability. A great shoe to do big or recovery miles in as no matter the distance the next day my legs are considerably fresher than in other shoes.  For me the shoe for slower and longer miles.

Next up speedy Hokas.  Ian Corless blog reports a 2013 model the Rapa Nui Comp trail runner which will come in at around 9.7 oz as well as the Kailua Comp road runner, likely a bit lighter. While maintaining Hokas oversized approach, tuning it down a bit as in my 2012 favorite trail runner the Tecnica X-Lite,  these new models will likely be shoes that bridge the gap between oversized comfort and protection, and speed.  Can't wait. 

If you want a pro's thoughts on Hokas check out Karl Meltzer's video here. Karl is an old pro winner of dozens of 100 mile ultras including 4 this year alone.

Nike+ Sports Watch GPS: synching issue solved by new watch

Back in August my Nike+ Sports Watch GPS stopped synching. I wrote about the issues here. It turned out that a combination of my update to Mac OS X Lion and the Nike Connect software prevented synching. Online posts told me this affected early watches. I bought mine the very first day it was available.

I contacted Nike and even though my watch was long out of warranty and without acknowledging the issue they sent me a new watch. Works like a charm. Only differences in hardware I can see is that the buttons are firmer and less likely to be mistakingly tripped by errant fingers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Nike+Sports Watch GPS: No Longer Synching & I am not alone

At some point a few days after I installed Mac OS X Mountain Lion and the new Nike Connect software my Nike+Sports Watch GPS no longer wants to synch my runs. Watch works and charges fine.

This Facebook page tells me many others are having the same issue. I am hearing early models such as mine may be more susceptible to this issue.

I called Nike and after verifying there were no cracks around the USB connector and that trying to synch via another computer also didn't work they are sending me a new one.

Note that if you are on Mac OS X Mountain Lion and try to install the Nike Connect software you will need to go into your Security and Privacy Settings and chose General then unlock and chose "Anywhere" at Applications Download From as it seems Nike is not an "identified developer" according to Apple security.

The watch has been fantastic with software and features much improved from an initial very shaky start back in 2011 but it seems Nike didn't do their homework in upgrading Connect and making sure it worked with latest versions of Mac OS X.


Monday, August 06, 2012

Outdoor Retailer Summer 12: Altra Superior Zero Drop Trail Runner

Altra Running a Utah running company exclusively sells zero drop (heel to toe differential) running shoes. Their success has in my view been due to developing zero drop shoes


  • that are not all "minimal" or near barefoot, many models are decently cushioned. 
  • Altra shoes have a "foot shaped" design. The picture below tells that story better than words.

Altra Superior Trail Runner
I usually run in 4-10mm road and trail runners. I tested and reviewed the earliest zero drop shoe the GoLite Flash Lite trail shoe back in 2010.  As a "shuffler" I found the ride quite firm and slappy due to overly firm midsole foam and low stack height. Since then  I have steered clear of zero drop shoes.

The Altra Superior caught my eye at Outdoor Retailer.
Altra Superior: the light gray rock plate fits under the insole and is removable

Altra Superior: CheckerTrail Outsole & Foot Shaped Design

The Altra Superior has a removable rock plate which sits under the insole. I have never seen this approach in a trail shoe. Most "rock plates" are not really hard plates but a dense foam similar to latex which prevents rocks from pushing through to the foot.

Weight is outstanding for such a substantial shoe: 8.9 oz with the rock plate in, 7.9 oz with rock plate removed.

The black cords help synch the mid foot to the laces.  I might worry a bit about durability of  the cords on the trail. The outsole looks well designed and durable.

Stack height is 19mm at forefoot and heel, not minimal. My Montrail Bajada's are 18mm in the forefoot and 28mm in the heel. The question will be, as with all low and zero drop shoes, what happens when non natural forefoot runners such as myself get tired and tend to get back on the heels..

If you are new to zero or low drop shoes start slowly with low mileage as there is a period of adapting to the lower drops. I have found lower drop shoes (4-10mm) have completely resolved my chronic hamstring and tight calf problems, with no stretching in the mix. What would zero do? Not sure but I would like to add a shoe such as the Superior to my mix for at first occasional runs.

Retail Price: $95
Availability:  October 2012

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Outdoor Retailer Summer 12: Running Hydration, Nutrition, and Packs

Salomon Soft Flask and Glove
Another very clever Salomon creation in collaboration with Killian Jornet, the great Spanish mountain runner. Killian suffered mightily in the heat at the 2010 Western States 100. He doesn't like to carry a pack or bottles and says he isn't a great hot weather runner. The answer, prototyped at the Western States in 2011, which he won, a soft flask glove combination. The glove flask combination feels fantastic. The flask is made of a soft hydration bladder material from Hydrapak. Bite on the valve and water flows.

The 5oz soft flasks can be purchased at Running Warenhouse now. I was told the glove flask combination will be on sale at REI in September for $45. Right and left gloves and one 8 oz flask. The 500 ml (17oz) flask shown here will be available about the same time. Use one 5 oz flask for water diluted gel ( the valve is liquid specific but a wider gel nozzle is planned). Use the 10 oz for liquids.

Sip N'Go Foldable Water Bottle
Nothing fancy but an effective way to tote 500ml 17 oz of water on the run or on the go. The Sip N'Go collapses, snapping into a compact package. We tested on a couple of runs since OR and it does the job. Price: $7.99.

Ultimate Direction Signature Series Running Vests
At every Outdoor Retailer there are products, in smaller booths, amid all the clutter and marketing of the big guys, that stop me in my tracks. The Ultimate Direction Signature Series AK Race Vest and SJ Ultra Vest were such products.
Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest

Ultimate Direction AJ Ultra Vest

Ultimate Direction has been around a long time, one of the original hydration carry companies. Slimmed down and newly refocused with trail running legend Buzz Burrell as Brand Director they launched some fantastic trail running vests at OR.

Until I opened the marketing materials away from the show I did not realize the AK was designed by Anton Krupicka and the AJ by Scott Jurek. So, Killian Jornet is not the only top ultra and trail runner with a lab cooking up personalized innovations we can all also use and enjoy.

Both vests are incredibly light, 9.5 oz for the AK and 11.0 oz for the AJ, including two 20 oz bottles!  My Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin vest weighs 22 oz including the 1.5 liter/53 oz bladder.
Unlike the padded mesh of my $180  and very functional Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin running vest,  the Signature Series have a tightly woven single layer of very light mesh. This mesh provides some structure to the otherwise whisper light vests.

Plenty of pockets in all the right places. The AK has a very stretchy open back compartment, the AJ a zipper compartment. I might chose the AJ with 9.2 liters of volume vs. the 4.5 liters of the AK for the extra carrying capacity with no additional weight to speak of.

The vests are supplied with two of the great 20 oz Ultimate Direction bottles with Kicker Valve, a soft nipple you pull up with your teeth to open and push sideways with your mouth or hand to close. No real need to close on the run as the valve is self sealing unless squeezed. Both can also accomodate a hydration bladder.

$90 for the AK, available January 2013
$125 for the AJ, available November 2013

Nathan Sports New Bottle Design
Not sure of the name and price of this Spring 13 Nathan  Sports 20 and 10 oz hand carry bottles. The narrow neck and gray trigger grip made these very easy and comfortable to grip.
Nathan Sports 2013 trigger grip water bottle

Nathan Sports 2013 trigger grip water bottle
Nunn Hydration Tablets
Nunn was the first company to introduce a Alka Seltzer size tablet which when dropped into 16oz of water creates an electrolyte drink. Tasted a sample of the tea flavor. Not sugary, subtle easy to swallow flavor. Will be in my bottles and packs in the future. 

Power Bar Energy Gel
Used samples of Power Bar Energy gel  from the show for my Jupiter Peak Steeplechase race this past Saturday. 

Warm day with many getting cramps on the 3000 foot downhill run after the climb to Jupiter Peak. Not me and plenty of energy to the finish. Much more viscous than other gels  "PowerBar Energy Gel is the first gel to provide the carbs and electrolytes of a high end sports drink, and contains 4 times the sodium of leading competitors."  Power Bar Energy has 200 mg of sodium and 20 mg of potassium. Priced at about $1.35-$1.50 at retail. The only gel with similar sodium is Gu's Roctane with 135 mg of sodium and 35 mg of Potassium but priced at about $2.50 per gel.



Friday, August 03, 2012

Outdoor Retailer Summer 12: Salomon Sense Family grows for Spring 13

No shoe has had as much recent buzz as the Salomon S-Lab Sense. Designed in collaboration with Killian Jornet,  the Spanish mountain running phenomenon and specifically for his needs, this 6.5 oz wonderfully fitting trail racer that can potentially be run sock less. This racing machine's mid and out sole are not engineered for durability and long life.  While incredibly well cushioned for such a light shoe all the goodness doesn't last long, nature of the beast.  Might get a few hundred miles out of them before they are shot. If you are tempted Bryon Powell's store at irunfar has them as does Running Warehouse.

Salomon Sense http://www.irunfar.com/store/salomon-s-lab-sense
For Spring 2013 Salomon is extending the Sense line to 3 models: the S-Lab Sense ($200), the S-Lab Sense Ultra ($180), and the Sense Mantra ($120) . I tried both new models the Ultra and Mantra.

The Mantra is an  8.4 oz, 6mm heel to toe drop , introductory model to Sense minimalism. Where this model falls down for me is the upper, at least on first trying it on. Like the Salomon Crossmax it is narrow under the instep, a European cut which creates pressure on my foot down where the midsole meets the upper.  No other shoe brand does this to me in that area. The upper is not nearly the stretchy yet supportive "2nd Skin Seamless Construction" of both of the other Senses.  The ride will be firm. Of course it is also $60-$80 cheaper than those racing machines.

The 7.4 oz, 4mm heel to toe drop  S-Lab Sense Ultra is the one for me. I might even see it as a great road racer.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra

The midsole is a more durable foam than the Sense: namely, firmer and thus designed to last longer than the few hundred miles of the Sense. The outsole has slightly deeper lugs and more of them than on the Sense.  The carbon fiber based fabric rock protection in the  mid foot of the Sense is substituted for a  membrane embedded in the ProFeel midsole, the gray seen through the outer sole above  which I was told is akin  to a dense latex paint designed to prevent rock and other obstacle punch through. The Sense Ultra felt great on.


Outdoor Retailer 12: Skechers GOrun ride test drive

Skechers Gorun ride

Skechers is not exactly a "traditional' athletic shoe company but they have made a serious, well funded, no holds or innovation bared splash with their initial shoes. Meb Keflezighi at age 36 has not only set PR's but was the winner of the Olympic Marathon Trials in Skechers GO Runs again with a PR. So what is different about the Skechers?

skechers GORun ride
I was able to run a few hundred yards in the Skechers GORun ride. Incredibly flexible, except at the landing pods. Very light at 7.8 oz.  4mm heel toe drop The smoothest, most seam free upper I have ever tried. No heel counter. Priced right at $80 but have some concerns how long a pair will last as all the white foam  on the outsole is soft midsole material, the blue circles being harder carbon rubber.
http://www.skechers.com/info/gorunride

The key feature for me is are the GoImpulse pillars, the blue harder rubber pads on the outsole.  Even though I only ran a few hundred yards I was able to adjust my stride ever so slightly to hit the large rear mid foot bridged pillars for a mid foot stride. Back on the heels you felt it right away, cushioned but not where you wanted to be. Ecco has a similar approach with their Biom line but there is not as much sensory feedback to the feet, not as much difference between the strike point and the heel.

How would I use them? Probably not as an every day trainer but as a mid foot strike tuner.



Outdoor Retailer 12 Running Shoes: Pearl Izumi E:Motion Road, Trail, and Tri

Pearl Izumi
PI introduced a brand new line of Road, Trail, and Tri shoes they are calling Project E:Motion with the tag line: Inspired by Efficiency, Designed for Motion (EM).  They will be available Spring 2013.
The midsole design claims to make the heel toe offset dynamic Depending on models: 1-4 mm at heel landing, 4-7.5 mm at transition to toe off, and 1-4 mm depending on model at toe off (translate this last to somewhat of a rocker sole ).  The line includes multiple models for each running discipline generally based on a lighter racing oriented neutral N1 model, a training N2 model, and a motion control model for each category.

I tried on N1 and N2 models for both road and trail at the booth. Pearl Izumi pioneered seamless uppers several years ago and the upper fit of these new shoes is fantastic. I recently borrowed a pair of Peak II trail racers for a trail 10K and found them to be comfortable and supportive.

After trying on the various models I selected the  EM N1 trail and EM N2 road, as at least on my foot, they were the the best fitting uppers.

EM N1 Trail is a 9.6 oz neutral trail runner, race oriented. The heel toe drop offset is 1mm at initial contact, 4.5 mm at mid stance  Includes a forefoot rock plate. Similar weight and design to Montrail Bajada and Brooks Pure Grit. The N2 is 9.9 oz with 4.5mm heel toe offset at initial contact and 7.5 mm at mid stance. There is a 10 oz M2 Trail motion control model with the same offset as the N2 Trail and a slightly different midsole and upper reinforcements.
Pearl Izumi EM N1 Trail Runner

Pearl Izumi EM N1 Trail Runner
EM N2 Road
The EM N2 Road has a fantastically roomy and seam free toe box. Strangely the N1 racer had more overlays than the N2 which is designated as a trainer.  I might compare EM N2 as low drop light and cushioned trainers  to  the Brooks PureFlow  and to the more minimal Kinvara 3. The N2 is 9.3 oz with 4.0mm heel toe offset at initial contact and 7.5 mm at mid stance.  There are 1:1 foam crash pads embedded in the midsole at the heel and forefoot.. The outsole while appearing to be all of the same material is a combination of harder carbon rubber sections and softer EVA.  The lighter N1 is 8.2 oz with 1 mm initial contact offset and 4.5 mm at mid stance.

There is also an M3 model with similar offsets to the N2 but with a wider mid foot for pronation control and a H3 with again a slightly different midsole width and geometry for rear foot pronation control. Both weighing in the 9.7 to 9.9 oz range, low weight for motion control.

The Tri EM shoes have N1 and N2 models very similar to the Road. They have the same offsets as the Roads, are slightly lighter, and feature quick pull cord laces and tongue and heel pull loops.

Pearl Izumi EM N2 Road

Pearl Izumi EM N2 Road
I look forward to road and trail testing the E:Motion line soon.

Update: Stack Heights of the Pearl Izumi E:Motion line. My understanding is that the dynamic offset is the heel toe drop when the forefoot is under load during a stride.

S13 Midsole Measures (mm): (Includes midsole and outsole)

STYLE NAME
Heel
 Ball of  Foot
Drop
Dynamic Offset
MEASURES IN MM






EM ROAD N 1, EM TRI N 1
19
18
1
4.5
effective drop [3.5mm off ground]






EM ROAD N 2, EM TRI N 2
23
19
4
7.5
effective drop [3.5mm off ground]






EM ROAD M 3, EM ROAD H 3
25
21
4
7.5
effective drop [3.5mm off ground]






EM TRAIL N 1
19.7
18.7
1
4.5
effective drop [3.5mm off ground]






EM TRAIL N 2, EM TRIAL M 2
24.5
20.5
4
7.5
effective drop [3.5mm off ground]

Thursday, August 02, 2012

First Review: Hoka One One Stinson Evo TARMAC

I have long been intrigued by Hoka One One's contrarian response to the "minimal" running shoe trend. While all Hokas have a low 4-6" drop and are relatively low weight at 10-11 oz, they all feature massive fairly stiff midsoles relying on a rocker geometry to propel the stride. They have been called clown shoes. Some may laugh but the smooth shock and rock pain free trail and road feel of Hokas is something else. Their motto "Time to Fly" is not an exaggeration.

I have purchased and run in the Hoka Mafates, Bondi B, and Stinson B and all have one thing in common- downhill obstacles are run over without really realizing they are there and there is much less leg soreness after any run than with any other shoe I have ever used. Anecdotes on the web tell of many former runners with chronic pain being able to resume running in Hokas.

The question for me has been can you fly...fast and does that softness and rocker geometry cause problems when tired and off your mid foot . My experience at the 2011 Boston Marathon with the Hoka Bondi B road shoe taught me a lesson: when you get back on your heels when tired the softness is a problem as the foam can compress 20mm sending you back on your heels never to return if the legs can't lift anymore!   I was told  later that year by Hoka that the geometry of the rocker sole favored a consistent mid foot strike and that the geometry would be changed.

Enter the Hoka One One Evo Tarmac.

Hoka lent me a pair of this new shoe last weekend at the SpeedGoat 50K. I have run three times in them: twice on the road and once on relatively smooth single track.

How is the Tarmac different from the other road model in the line the Bondi B or the Stinson EVO the hybrid road trail sibling to the Tarmac?

  • While the upper is exactly the same as the Stinson EVO the outer sole of stiffer harder rubber covers almost the entire outsole, all the blue areas and all the larger white areas except  the triangle under medial side (bottom of sole above on the railing). There are no lugs as on the Stinson EVO and far less softer exposed midsole acting as outer sole than on the Bondi. The result a far snappier ride, a firm foot lay down without shock and then a smooth push off. 
  • Road runs in the Tamrac feel like running on grass.  Quite natural and pleasant, unusually comfortable and shock free. I usually run roads in somewhat minimal shoes such as Kinvara 3, Brooks PureFlow and Connect, and Asics HyperSpeed. As with other Hokas I have run in, their use as a recovery and big miles shoe is certainly to be considered as there is very little leg soreness after any run in Hokas 
  • The EVO Tamrac has more forefoot flex than other Hokas I have tried, flexing just behind the blue colored outsole above. I think the flex is assisted by a slightly thinner foam stack overall.  The heel toe drop is slightly increased to 5.5 mm, a good thing given the foam softness and thickness in the heel, my Bondi issue at Boston. The Hoka rep said a heel lift can be used to increase the ramp angle.
  • The upper is outstanding, especially in the forefoot. Previous Hoka designs seemed to struggle with vertical overlays in the forefoot given the stiffness of the midsole causing hot spots for me. The Tarmac has only horizontal overlays and the forefoot area is soft mesh.
  • This is a road specific shoe but... I found it outstanding in my single trail run on smooth single track. Given the massive surface touching the ground, up to 80% more than most shoes, and the fact the foot is seated down into the midsole foam using a patented bucket seat I see no surface expect snow,  slick mud or small gravel where the Tarmac wouldn't perform well. 
  • The lacing system is a quick pull Kevlar cord very similar to the Tecnica Inferno X Lite recently reviewed, effective and simple. 
  • The Tamrac is supplied with 2 insoles of different thicknesses. They can be stacked for small volume feet or used individually to customize the volume. Drill guide holes on the midsole at the forefoot and heel can be punched through to give more flex.
  • True to size unlike my previous Hokas which were at least a size off. My usual 8.5 was a 9 or even 9.5 in previous generation Hoka models.
  • Weight 10.4 oz. Outstanding for so much shoe.
  • Price $170
Time and miles will tell if Hoka has solved the code, balanced their trademark smooth ride with snappier less "risky" road performance.  Not easy to go a different way and blaze a new trail against the minimal tide.  I wish them luck and tip my hat to Hoka  for being different and maybe more effective for many workouts and terrains  than the usual or trendy. I will update this review as I run more miles in the Tamrac.



Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: Montrail Bajada Trail Runner

The Montrail Bajada ($110)  is a 10.2 oz, 10 mm heel/toe drop neutral trail runner. I have about 150 miles of UT trails on my pair.

The strengths of this shoe are in the outsole and midsole construction. The minor weaknesses in the upper.

Outsole and Midsole
The hard carbon rubber Gryptonitetm outsole not only grips extremely well on hard or loose terrain but the close spacing of the lugs gives a very smooth ride on pavement. I have not run any mud to see if it would accumulate. The shoe is very flexible. The  Trail Shieldtm  rock protection in the forefoot when combined with the midsole is effective in protecting from smaller rocks.
Bajada feels protective, nimble and quick on even rocky trails. I might not want to go a marathon trail distance in them but up to 18 or so miles a perfect balance of weight, agility, and protection.
Bajada is also a very capable performer on the road. Quite frankly hard to tell this is a trail shoe on the road I think due to the small lugged continuous outsole. Wear has been great. As illustrated above almost no wear is visible after 150 miles. There is always a trade off when including a durable full length carbon rubber outsole, a bit of additional weight.

Upper



While the upper itself is plenty supportive the overlays are a bit stiff making cinching down around the mid foot difficult without over tightening. The provided laces were not only to short but "slippery" and  tend to stretch during runs requiring fairly frequent re tightening. I replaced them with laces from an old pair of shoes and vastly improved the situation. The thick tongue has a tendency to rotate sideways. Not really a problem but an annoyance. It seems shorter than it should be and might benefit from being either a bit wider or be attached further down towards to the toe. Finally, the upper while breathable lets quite a bit of trail dust in, particularly around the tongue and toes. Kind of puzzling that such a good design would have these relatively simple to see and correct defects.

Pros: Light weight, nimble. Great outsole. Hybrid: also fantastic on the road.
Cons: Laces to short and also ineffective. Tongue rotates. 

Summer Run Apparel Roundup: Patagonia, Rab, Dynafit, North Face

My mileage is up, the UT trails have been calling, and the heat is on. I tend to run hot so I am constantly looking for cool and comfortable. Sadly for my wallet the stuff keeps on getting better and better.

TOPS

Patagonia Gamut Tee ($49) 
Patagonia Gamut Tee


I have long been a fan of Patagonia Silkweight tees and long sleeves. Super comfortable, UV protection, and quick drying. Last year they were one of my favorites.  This year Patagonia has launched a more run specific tee and sleeveless line called Gamut.  What's the difference? While the Silkweight is densely woven, the Gamut is variably knit and almost completely seamless. While the Silkweight is smooth to the touch the Gamut has a slight vertical texture which likely helps with moisture transfer.
Pros: Outstandingly comfortable in the heat.
Cons: the Gamut is not exactly as fashionable as Silkweight off the trail. it really looks like an old school undershirt in the off white I got. With a size medium  the sleeves are to tight to roll up into a sleeveless when it is really hot.

Rab Aeon Tee ($30)


Rab is a British mountaineering company which keeps their products simple, reasonably priced, streamlined and highly functional.  Their motto is " For the most extreme conditions in the world." They use outstanding technical fabrics.
Rab Aeon Tee

The Aeon Tee is made of fabric very similar to the Patagonia Silkweight but appears even lighter and with a tiny bit more texture for moisture transfer. I find it even more comfortable than the Patagonia Silkweight. Unlike the Gamut, the Rab's short sleeves fit loose and can be rolled up when the heat is on. You can wear it anywhere anytime on the trail or around town.

Pros: Smooth. Fashionable. Outstanding in the heat.  Roll up the sleeves. Priced right at $30.
Cons: None

Salomon EXO S-Lab Tank ($79.95)
EXO S-Lab Tank


Ok the Salomon EXO S-Lab Tank , also available in a tee, is far out there in design look but it sure does work. Unlike the Rab and Gamut this tank is designed to fit tight. Unlike most form fitting tri style tanks the EXO S-Lab has minimal stretch.
There are 3 weights of mesh. The mesh is 3D creates a tremendous amount of surface area for moisture evaporation:  

  • red mesh on shoulders is densest, has the least stretch, and protects from sun and pack straps, 
  • white mesh in mid body has a tiny bit more stretch but fits snug. 
  • gray laminated overlays in the mid body front and back do not stretch and are EXO Sensifit technology claimed to "help postural support chest and upper body muscles, improving oxygen intake while running." I find a bit of a boost to my slumping overall posture but not sure on the claim on oxygen intake yet
  • gray mesh on the sides is the lightest and stretchiest.
The tight fit and mesh combine to create a really comfortable micro climate over a wide range of temperatures. I have run in the heat and then hit a windy cool ridge and neither felt overheated or chilled. 

Pros: Suitable for a wide range of temperatures even during a single run. Some postural help
Cons: Cost and some may find design a bit much. 

SHORTS

I have run in two new shorts this summer the North Face's Better than Naked 5' and a fantastic new short  the Varial Loose from Dynafit a company well known for its ski mountaineering and ski running gear now entering the running market. Both shorts are made of a similar very light soft material. Both are extremely comfortable in the heat. I like to have pockets in my shorts and these 2  have differing but useful approaches to carrying a phone, gels, small water bottle.

Northface Better than Naked 5" Short
Northface Better than Naked Short ($55)

A bit longer than I prefer at 5" inseam the Better than Naked Short has a long side split making them in no way restrictive. The fabric is cool in heat. I particularly like the two side mesh pockets. They are not baggy but easily stretch to hold a smartphone, multiple gels, or a small water bottle (empty). There is also a small zippered pocket in back for a car key.  Can't exactly load up all the pockets and not expect the shorts to start to sag but all and all a great pocket set up.

Pros: Comfortable very light fabric. Pockets
Cons: Split is not for everyone

Dynafit Varial Loose Short ($59)
Dynafit Varial Loose Short



This is by far the most comfortable running short I have ever worn. Haven't tried Dynafit's other running clothes but this an outstanding first product.  Estimate the inseam at 3-4". A similar even lighter softer fabric than the Better than Naked short. A very slight split and wide leg openings, I guess the "loose" part of the name. One small zippered pocket good for a key and a gel. Anti odor treated.  

The key cool feature of this short which I had not seen before is the use of a shock cord, similar to what one might see on a parka for the waist band tighten. Unlike the usual flat fabric the shock cord will not stretch or loosen on the run.  I have run with a smartphone and gels tucked into the waist band and they will not move much at all. An empty or half full small water bottle could also be tucked in. I got mine at Black Diamond's retail store  in Salt Lake. Appears to be pretty much sold out everywhere else.

Pros: Super comfortable fit. Great waistband tighten system. Anti odor.  Style if you like a bit of a Euro look.
Cons: Price. Availability


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tecnica Diablo Max and Inferno X-Lite Trail Runner Reviews


The folks at Tecnica were kind enough to send me a pair of their Diablo Max ($130)  "multi-function" oversized trail runners earlier this year. Tecnica and Hoka One One, the other prominently oversized running shoe have shared technology resources in the past. Both companies use a wide stable platform on the ground, 30mm or more of cushioning and a stiff midsole engineered to create a rolling effect. Tecnica calls this Tecnica Rolling System (TRS) and it does definitely do what it claims to: you roll forward through your stride particularly on the flats.  The rolling effect seems to be created by sandwiching a slightly firmer white foam layer between softer foam above and below. See pictures of both the Diablo Max and X-Lite Inferno below.


I was very impressed with the Diablo Max:  Superb burly protection on the trail, of course bomb proof, feel no pain cruising over rocks down hill running, and due to the oversize midsole never any next day leg soreness.  A big surprise, they were great on the road. I ran up to 12 miles smoothly "rolling" along, no speedster paces due to the weight but also completely fresh legs the next day.
The issue, weight. At 12.3 oz the Diablo is 2 oz heavier than my heaviest trail runner or road runner.  Even the oversized Hoka cousins weigh less. 

Further the lack of flex can be an impediment on very steep slopes when the angle of the rolling effect  is exceeded forcing a more vertical stride and body carriage. The Diablo Max has a 12 mm heel to toe drop, more than I run in these days. I find a 4-5mm drop for road shoes and 5-10mm for trail shoes just right for me. 
All of this said the Diablo is a great shoe if your travels and activities-backpacking, trail running, and yes even road running call for just one pair.

Enter the Tecnica Inferno X-Lite ($110)
I bought a pair of Inferno X-Lite recently. 
  • the weight is brought down to 10.4 oz, comparable to my Montrail Badaja's at 10.2 oz.  
  • the forefoot is far more flexible than the Diablo and when some flexibility is combined with a somewhat less pronounced Tecnica Rolling System even very steep slopes are easily tackled. 
  • the heel toe drop is brought down to 10mm, just about ideal in my view for a trail runner
Yesterday I ran and power hiked extremely steep jeep roads and trails at Snowbird while spectating and shooting some pictures of the SpeedGoat 50K  and X-Lite felt great both ascending and descending. The midsole is lower than the Diablo's for a somewhat firmer trail feel yet  the shoe is still semi oversized for great trail stability and protection. Instead of laces the shoe has an effective Kevlar single pull system similar to Salomon's. The upper is breathable yet keeps out the fine UT trail dust effectively. The outer sole has adequate but not overly pronounced lugs. As a result the X Lite also has a relatively smooth feel on the road.   Not as dense as a full carbon rubber outsole I worry a bit about the outsole's long term durability but so far no signs of wear with 50 miles on them. 

While the Diablo is a "hiker" you can easily run in,  the X-Lite is a light and superbly protective trail and road runner you can hike with. They fit true to size.

Update 11/14/12
The X-Lite was my favorite trail runner this past summer. Sure footed, nimble and comfortable it took me through the Jupiter Peak Steeple Chase's 16 miles of steep uphill and screaming downhills, the Mid Mountain Trail Marathon, and the Hidden Peak Challenge's unrelenting climb to the top of Snowbird as well as countless training runs.


2012 SpeedGoat 50K Mountain Race Photos and Videos


This past Saturday Snowbird UT saw ultra legend Karl Meltzer's SpeedGoat 50K. Part of the  SkyRunning World Series this 12,000 vertical foot pain fest attracted top international mountain running stars such as Killian Jornet of Spain and Anna Frost of New Zealand to the Wasatch. Never much one for spectating I decided that I would climb up onto the course to catch the action. I got quite a workout in climbing the 3200 vertical feet to Hidden Peak and back down. The racers, well, they did far more vertical on a beautiful, warm day. Complete race coverage at irunfar.com.

Rickey Gates tops Hidden Peak in 1st place at mile 8 or so and wins $1000 prime for the climb

Killian Jornet tops out Hidden Peak not far behind Rickey Gates 

Jason Louttit comes over Hidden Peak in 3d. He would finish 9th.


Max King, World Mountain Running champ, Olympic track and marathon Trials qualifier  comes over Hidden Peak in 4th. He would finish 3d.

Anton Krupicka power walks over Hidden Peak about 5th. He would come in 4th. Of the top finishers he was the only one to power walk this section.
Anna Frost NZ (Salomon) comes over Hidden Peak 1st Woman. She combined power walking and running on this steep stretch to the peak.
 Video Anna Frost tops Hidden Peak
Waiting near the Tunnel aid station mile 23.
After Hidden Peak runners descended into Mineral Basin and towards American Fork Canyon, way way down  and then back up.

Always nattily attired and totally wired (multiple iPhones, tripod, race radios)   Bryon Powell (right)  of iRun Far was all over the mountain reporting. Here he is coming down to the tunnel aid station at Mile 23.
Killain Jornet approaches the Tunnel aid station at mile 23. I think he is reaching for a Salomon SoftFlask water bottle to refill. Photographer sprinted down with him from the Baldy saddle taking pictures all the way. 
Killian enters the ski tunnel at about mile 24. After the tunnel a 1200 foot drop, then a 1600 foot climb back up to Hidden Peak. Then 3200 feet of downhill to the finish.  All of this after many miles in Mineral Basin.

Max King in 3d climbing back to Hidden Peak

Anton Krupicka in the meadows before the turn around back to Hidden Peak about  mile  25
Killian Jornet (Spain) wins the Speedgoat. Stops before the finish to hi five some future runners.

Killian Jornet 1st and Rick Gates 2nd at the finish. Both Salomon runners.

Anna Frost New Zealand, 1st Woman. Her time was 17th overall and this running with some serious lower leg injuries.

Anna Frost and race organizer Karl Meltzer discuss the watch. Karl probably ran twice as far as the racers. He enlisted me at one point to help remark the course.