Monday, March 28, 2011

Review:Salomon EXO SLAB II M Light Compression Short

The "scientific" jury seems to still be out on the performance and recovery benefits of compression apparel. I recently read a study somewhere that indicated that lighter compression was as effective as tight compression.

I have tried Zoot compression shorts, too restrictive, hot and tight in later stages of a run or race for me when I head into a shuffle stride. I do use Zoot and Zanesh compression calf sleeves for air travel and recovery and find them effective.

I have a pair of light compression Salomon EXO Calf Sleeves which I run most days in including for my St George Marathon and have also extensively used and like the Swiftwick 12" merino wool light compression socks which I reviewed last year. I also have an older pair of 3/4 length light compression Pearl Izumi tights. I have found that the light compression reduces road shock muscle vibration and keeps my goofy stride more aligned, particularly when tired.

I have had my eyes on trying the very hard to find Salomon EXO SLAB II M adventure racing shorts. My idea is to combine them with my Hoka One One Bondi B as my Boston Marathon kit. I put the two together on an up tempo 10 miler yesterday which sealed the deal, negative splitting every mile on the way with  no road shock or hamstring or other muscle tightness during or after. They felt like a regular running short with just the right amount of muscle support in the right places. On a cooler or rainy Boston day they will be invaluable. The thin overall mesh should make them comfortable on warm days.

Front View-Yellow trim is a mesh pocket

Much as with the incredibly well engineered Salomon Advanced Skin Pack I reviewed earlier this year Salomon has solved the dilemma of providing both compression function and comfort. The light compression is where it belongs on the quads and hamstrings as well as lightly around the belly and lower back.  The rest of the short is, well, like a running short complete with brief and does not chafe as most single material compression shorts do. Salomon uses an alphabet soup of marketing terms to describe the technologies in play. It's really impossible from the terms and pictures to fully understand them. While I got the black, the white version makes it easier to describe.
Salomon calls the construction Smart Skin to describe the fact that fabrics are chosen and construction is designed for different functions in different areas of the short. EXO Sensifit is the concept that the whole will better align and support your body to run easier on uneven terrain and hills. Acti Lite means the fabrics wick and dry quickly, they absolutely do.


<< Mesh material around waist. mesh pocket below yellow band. 3 small mesh pockets on back (sadly to shallow for anything other than gel packs)
<<< hips are mesh with imprinted hexagons on inside for support. White areas are all highly breathable thin mesh.
<<<<; inner thighs and rear are built like a regular running short of non mesh stretch material. Non compressive. Includes brief. No chafing.

<<< Same mesh as sides and belly. Hexagons imprinted on outside. Outer hexagons appear to be thinner overlay than inner ones but stretch in both places appears the same. As all the mesh is far lighter and breathable than the more conventional compression shorts which use the thickness of weaving to achieve variable support cooler on hot days.

Note: given the running short middle construction they do not look or feel like one is wearing bike shorts.  I likely will wear regular running shorts over them for Boston.
Rear: Note  Hexagon Support pattern is dfferent on rear

All and all an outstanding piece of gear. Highly recommended for road and trail running, all distances. Retail/MSRP: $100
Update: Running Warehouse has a limited supply at $79.95

Monday, March 21, 2011

Men's Journal May 2011 issue to feature our Tour du Mont Blanc hike

Men's Journal reached out to see if I would help them with an article: Real Guys, Great Adventures, with our Tour du Mont Blanc trek of this past summer selected as one of the adventures. They found me through the this blog's 2005 and 2010  posts about our adventures on the Tour du Mont Blanc. I said sure. Multiple phone conversations, emails, and fact checks later the one page article will be in the May issue of Men's Journal, on newsstands  April 15.

Need info and tips on the Tour? Have your own experiences on the Tour? Feel free to comment here

Climbing past Refuge Bertone- Courmayeur Italy

Long Day Ahead: Val D'Aprette, Switzerland

Col des Fours- Above Ville des Glaciers, France

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Running Debate: Article from SlowTwitch- Shoe Height and Ramp Angle

Excellent article from SlowTwitch  which asks questions beyond the usual barefoot and  minimal orthodoxy vs. not debate.

One of the central tenants here is a discussion of what I have found to be the key benefit of the natural or barefoot running shoes and technique revolution for most of us: a lower ramp angle, heel to toe drop is a good thing as it is a more natural running position and it can more evenly distributes the foot strike impact between fore foot and heel.

Next comes the question of shoe height or cushion to go with that low ramp angle or Ramp Delta as the author Dan Empfield calls it. Once a more natural foot landing is achieved, helped by lower drop, many other factors can come into play including the distance to be covered, the runner's weight and fitness, the course, etc... The race may be between an efficient form with minimal cushioning and the accumulated damage from pounding which eventually shuts down performance.

A quote from the article:

One of these is a shoe I've recently run about a hundred miles in, the Hoka One One Mafate (pictured above). As regards overall height, this is the anti-Newton. Still, this shoe shares in common with Newton a very low ramp delta. I have another Hoka One One on the way to me, the slimmer, lighter Bondi B, pictured below. (I have a sneaking suspicion this might be my triathlon racing flat. We'll see, and I'll report back.)
Hoka One One's designer/owner, Nicolas Mermoud has his own biomechanical rationale: Intramuscular capillaries shut down (says Mermoud) after sustaining a critical mass of pounding-related damage during an event. Therefore, a shoe with increased cushioning lessens the damage, which protects the muscles and lengthens the utility of a muscle during an event.

Is one narrative necessarily wrong? I don't know (they each sound good, don't they?!). I rather think Danny Abshire is right as far as it goes, but, Mermoud's shoe is the new darling of the ultra-runner, because, at a certain point, damage trumps proprioception. Which narrative is operative is probably dependent on runner speed, runner weight, technique, mileage base, and race distance.

I believe there is no wrong narrative but this really about a selection of the appropriate shoes for the particular runner and run at hand. I agree, and have experienced over many miles, that low ramp angle combined with cushion as in the Hokas certainly has its place. I am convinced less "damage" is done per mile with low drop and more cushion. In a race or training situation each runner must balance their fitness, failure point of responsiveness and efficiency gained through proprioception in  lightly cushioned minimal shoes against the benefits of potentially pushing the back that failure point through cushioning.

What do you think? Where do you stand?  Pun intended!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hoka One One Mafate Trail Running Shoes by the Numbers

My Hoka One One Mafate at End of Tour du Mont Blanc. Ran another 200 miles of roads and trails on them.
I found this video from Hoka One One on You Tube. As the narrator is a little hard to understand  I have tried to summarize some of the statistics he presented. The shoe described is the Hoka One One Mafate, their trail runner.

The new Hoka One One Bondi-B is similar except not as high off the ground, lighter, "firmer", and with a road sole. I have run in both models and find them truly amazing for long runs and recovery. Recently I have been able to run faster tempo in my Bondi-B and will most likely  "absorb" the hills and miles of April's Boston Marathon in them.

Mafate Trail Runner. Here is what Hoka One One claims:

  1. 40 mm midsole height. Elsewhere I have seen approximately 4mm heel to forefoot drop so this is a natural foot position shoe.
  2. 50% of the sole length is rocker shaped leading to a fluid stride claiming to lessen knee movement 20%. They climb well if differently than conventional shoes. The wide outer sole grips well.
  3. 15% lighter than reference trail running shoes at a bit less than 11 oz. 
  4. EVA midsole is 50%? softer than reference allowing 20mm of deflection on downhills absorbing 80% of shock. Very true in my experience. Wide outer sole and cradle for foot into midsole allow great stability. They are incredible on downhills.

Bondi-B Road Runner: 
  1. 20% lighter than Mafates at 8.8oz. 

See my other posts about Hoka One One on the blog.

Boulder Running Company has both models available for online sales.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Update Review-Correct Toes Spacers for Runners and Others with Foot Problems

Nicole who is running the Boston Marathon in April has had problems with bunions and toe pain for a number of years. She lands her stride far forward on her forefoot.  The folks at Altra Running were kind enough to give me a pair of the Correct Toes spacers which when worn at night and in decently wide every day shoes help return the toes to a more natural alignment and spread, a spread similar to a bare foot which has not been constrained and compressed by shoes, running or otherwise.

Nicole previously provided me an initial review of Correct Toes which is here 
Below her very positive update:

It's been over a month since I began using Correct Toes. I was
hoping to get minor relief for my foot problems, but what I've seen are
much bigger differences than I expected.  As soon as I get home in the
evening, I put them on and don't take them off again until I leave for
work in the morning.  I've gotten so used to them, I forget I have them
on.  The biggest change I've seen is in the flexibility and strength of
my toes.  It used to take quite a bit of effort to do my toe exercises.
Now, I can easily bend my toes, even my badly damaged second toe.  The
swelling in this toe has subsided tremendously and the toe next to it is
no longer atrophied.  I've also had significant improvement in my bunion
pain.  I attribute this to landing and pushing off my foot correctly,
something I was not able to do before I started using Correct Toes.  One
thing I have NOT experienced is a plantar fasciitis flare up in my right
foot.  It's very common for it to flare up this time of year because I'm
running a lot of miles on the track.  I haven't had any symptoms of its
return during this training cycle.

Before I began using Correct Toes, I thought foot surgery was an
inevitability.  While it will always be a possibility in my future, I
don't see it being a necessity anytime soon.  My training is going far
better than I anticipated and it's a great feeling to be able to do my
intervals and tempos without my foot pain holding me back. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Update Review: Got my Hoka One One Bondi-B up to speed today

Wasn't sure I could run the Hoka Hoka Bondi-B at tempo pace.  I can and they are still on my list for Boston with the New Balance 890.

2 reasons I haven't been able to tempo the Bondi: the weather has been miserable here in NH the last couple of weeks, and it takes about 40 miles to break the forefoot in and get good flex.

Well, they now flex and they fly. I ran 4 x 6 minute tempo/speed intervals in a total 53 minute workout and they felt great. Mostly sub 7 minute pace which for me is what I expect for such intervals in light performance trainers and racers such as my Kinvaras, New Balance 890 or adidas adizero Rockets. Not the snappy responsive feel of these 3 but the incredible shock absorption of the Hokas is a big plus as I think of the hills at Boston. Next big test a longer run (10-13 miles)  at near marathon pace to see if I can hold a 8:15 pace comfortably.

Link here to my other posts about the Bondi-B and Hoka One One

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Interesting Statistics about this Blog's Audience-Many of you are Apple "Romantics"

Approximately 23% of this blog's audience use Macs. I use a Mac.The worldwide penetration for Mac OS is around 10%.  Add to that another 6-7% of viewers on iPad and iPhone. What does this say about runners and the content of this blog?

A quote from Steve Jobs at today's introduction of the iPad 2 from Cnet in an article entitled "Apple's Jobs to rivals: You're nerds, we're not"

 "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts, humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing. And nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices. "

And I thought  runners were nerds. I guess not. 

Another quote from the article:

"Apple, though, believes, and with some justification, that it simply isn't in the gadget business. It sees its competitors precisely as the nerds, the geeks, but not the romantics. It sees them as more prepared to play with their gadgets for the gadgets' sake, rather than to enhance their experience of life somewhere out there. 

Shouldn't our latest running shoes and gear really be about enhancing our experience of life on the trail, in nature and on the road. And yes, maybe some of them will help or make us think we will run faster. I'll keep being a romantic and an optimist. I hope you will to. 

Thank you for reading!

Analysis of my Boston Marathon Shoe Options-Review New Balance 890 & Initial Impressions.

As the Boston Marathon approaches I have been mulling my shoe choices.  I run in neutral shoes and have a short slide without much knee lift. My half marathon times at age 52-53 have been between 1;35 and 1:39. I qualified for Boston at the St. George Marathon with a 3:29 at the St. George Marathon in 2009.

In 2010 I ran St. George in Saucony Kinvaras and found them to have adequate cushioning for the mostly downhill final 13 miles. Most of my shorter 2010 races were run in Nike Zooms, Kinvaras, adizero Rockets, and Newtons. In recent months I have been running in Hoka One One Bondi B and Mafates,  Adidas adizero Rockets, and Saucony Kinvaras,

For the hills of Boston and a planned pace of 8:00-8:10 I need a responsive shoe with adequate heel cushioning. While I have been improving my mid foot stride I will not be able to hold form all the way to the end. I also want a light shoe, less than 10 oz. Below an analysis of my current shoe quiver.

What I am finding is that a low forefoot height is key to a responsive feel but I also need good heel cushion for the later miles when form starts to fall apart. Both the adizero Rockets and my brand new New Balance 890 have about 10 mm of forefoot height. The Kinvaras at 14mm feel high are somewhat unstable, feel high, at speed. They also flex gradually ie not  pronounced at the flex point in the forefoot and are somewhat stiff. The Hokas with a low heel to forefoot  drop at 4mm with incredible cushion and light weight 8.8 oz are so far ( and they do require break in given the high stiff midsole) are somewhat harder to maintain paces below 8:30 per mile. The Kinvaras while adequately cushioned in forefoot and heel but are narrow in upper toe box and forefoot midsole strike platform.

Yesterday at my local running store Runner's Alley in Portsmouth NH I tried a pair of the brand new New Balance 890.

New Balance 890  Source: New Balance
Very light at 9.5 oz the 890's feature  REVlite midsole foam, the white foam in the picture below is 30% lighter than conventional midsole foams according to NB.

The white REVLite extends  to the front of the shoe all the way to the toe box with all REVLite on the inner part of the foot and partial REVLite on the outside of the foot. No motion control features on the inner side. The yellow foam is firmer and extends on the outside of the foot up to just before the flex point in the forefoot. The softer REVLite forward across the whole shoe forward allows a good flex. The thin layer of yellow foam is the outer sole material up front.

Likely REVLite is more or less the same material as the Kinvaras and Hokas but to me it felt more responsive on the run: firmer yet also cushioned. Part of the responsiveness is of course the low forefoot height and it seems a wide forefoot strike platform, and a well designed easy flex at the forefoot flex point. The upper is not over reinforced. The toe box is wide without excess material or stiff overlays. I sized up half a size to 9 for a little extra room as feet swell in the marathon.

My first run in the 890's, a 6.39 mile jaunt around New Castle in blustery weather was excellent. 8:00 pace. I liked the 23mm of heel cushion on the rolling downhills. The forefoot is responsive and flexible. They climb well. My only concern so far is the greater than usual, for me, heel toe ramp of 12 mm. Most of my current shoes are 4-6mm and I do feel something today I have not felt in months, some calf tightness something I never feel in the Hokas.   I will continue to focus on the 890's and Hoka One One Bondi B as potential Boston shoes in the coming weeks.

Hoka One One Bondi B