Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Running Favorites and Year in Review: Shoes, Gear, Runs, and Races

I had a wonderful year on the roads and trails. Thankfully, injury free, I ran a few miles under 2000 total for the year with: 2 marathons, a 20 mile race 25K road race, 25K trail race, 6 half marathons, and a fast 10K. I was pleased that after some "slowdown" the last 5 years, that my racing pace got back on track with all my halves under 1:40 except one on a hilly dirt course, with my 10K under 7 min/mile pace, a pace this old guy (57)  never thought he'd see again.

My 2 marathons were "challenging", with significant slowdowns after 20 miles. I have to incorporate more longer runs and more work on hip strength and flexibilty. Mt Desert Island Marathon was particularly special as my daughter completed her first marathon in just over 4 hours, negative splitting a very hilly and beautiful course. I am very proud of her.

Hannah finishes strong in her first marathon
Of course there were many shoes and much gear tested and used along the way. In addition to the laureates below, I wear tested and provided input on many fine future shoes for Skechers. They will undoubtedly be shoes of the year in 2015.

To provide some perspective to this list I took a look at my Strava mileage for the shoes I ran in during 2014. If you reach for them more frequently they work for you. While some miles on these were in 2013, here are my 4 top mileage shoes
  1. adidas Energy Boost (2 pairs) : 365 miles
  2. adidas Adios Boost (2 pairs):    345 miles
  3. Hoka One One Huaka          :    205 miles
  4. Hoka One One Clifton         :    125 miles
So here goes, and these are my preferences. We all run differently and have different needs.

Innovation, Apparel and Gear of the Year
Salomon S-LAB Sense
I  could have easily given adidas Boost the win for the 2nd year in a row as it is truly a fantastic innovation but thought I would go a bit further afield into design as applied to technology.

Triple win here for Salomon's S-Lab, a skunk works you can buy pricey stuff from.  While their shoes haven't done much for me to date, they hit it out of the park with Kilian Jornet inspired S-Lab apparel and gear.  There is more to Kilian than a big motor who conquers mountains and races all over the globe with stunning ease. This guy also fine tunes his gear in the S-Lab!

S-LAB Sense while not a shoe, or a specific material, is a philosophy of minimalism and functionality applied and executed brilliantly.   Salomon's design and use of fabrics for jackets, shorts and race vests is outstanding. They call the result SensiFit.  Durable, highly functional, super breathable, and incredibly minimal designs which also never forget than on the road and on the trail we often carry "stuff",  and that carrying it shouldn't get in the way of running comfortably and fast. incredible attention to detail and outstanding craftsmanship in every item.

The items that really were exceptional for me in the Sense line:

  • the S-Lab Sense Shorts (review) with their super comfortable, minimal construction combined with 4 no bounce pockets.
  • S-Lab Sense Set vest (review) with a snug clothing like fit and plenty(6) of stretch pocket carrying capacity plus 32 oz of water in easy to sip on the go SoftFlasks. 
  • Also the recent and hard to find S-Lab Motion Fit Nordic jacket with incredible breathability in the back and windproof comfort up front, and of course multiple pockets. 

S-Lab Sense Set
S-Lab Sense Short
S-Lab Motion Fit Jacket

Honorable mention: adidas Climachill (review). By combining the principles of conduction via aluminum dots on the shoulders and a titanium infused fabric, and evaporation via fabric knitted from flat fibers to increase evaporation rates, I truly felt Climachill shirts kept me cooler this summer. A  runner who is sensitive to heat and sweats a lot, I never felt overheated wearing Climachill and was often actually comfortable, especially in dry heat while wearing Climachill.

Road Trainer of the Year
adidas Energy Boost: simply outstanding for their long wearing materials and smooth Boosted running.

Honorable Mentions:
Hoka Huaka: really a super cushioned and low drop (3mm)  road/trail hybrid this firmer Hoka with oh so smooth ride and responsive RMAT midsole was my do anything shoe.  While I had considerable miles in the Clifton as well I found them overly soft in the heel. (comparison review of Huaka and Clifton)

Saucony ISOFit Triumph: the innovative ISOFit upper conforms to the foot magnificently . The firm outsole over cushion makes the Triumph an intriguing blend of snappy firm and decently cushioned (review here)

Road Racer Light Trainer of the Year

 adidas Adios Boost

I ran almost all races in the adios Boost (review here), except my marathons which were in Energy Boost . Snappy, supportive, and very well cushioned this shoe is always a pleasure to run fast in. Did it have something to do with me turning back the clock on my race paces?  I think so. I even ran a wet trail race in the Adios and came out smiling.

Max Cushion Shoe of the Year
The maxi cushion category was all the rage in 2014. Day to day I backed off from super cushioned but still used them for recovery runs.

Tie: Altra Paradigm and  Hoka Clifton

The Paradigm is a supremely refined shoe. The foot shaped toe box and smooth combination of midsoles made this the Lexus of my 2014 running shoes.  I just wish it had some drop built in. Zero Drop just doesn't agree with me as the miles go by (review here).
The Clifton while "popular" was harder for me to run slow. The soft heel and its bevel were a bit unstable for me but as speed picked up I enjoyed the soft ride and response.

Update of the Year
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante

I am calling the Zante, an update, even though it is a brand new shoe because it is the first road shoe in the Fresh Foam line that evolves from the original 980 which  was quite harsh and stiff, really not much fun. The Zante has been a fast smooth tempo shoe. (review here). Far less harsh, firm and stiff than the Fresh Foam 980  due to an effective updated hexagon geometry to distribute forces as well as a different outsole configuration, to reduce stiffness and better cushion. The snug fitting upper is just right for a fast tempo/race shoe, comfortable yet supportive and superbly crafted

Honorable mention: Pearl Izumi N2 Road v2. Much like the Fresh Foam the N2 in its first version was stiff and firm. Version 2 solves these issues mainly via a subtly segmented outsole. Still a firmer shoe than I like day in day out but vastly improved.  The smoothness of transition from heel to toe is second to none in the N2 due to its dynamic offset, moving the takeoff point further back than customary.  Make it a bit softer and it would for sure be in the running for shoe of year. The already outstanding totally seamless upper, one of the most comfortable if not the most comfortable of any shoe I ran in this year,  is slightly wider in the forefoot and slightly longer.

Trail Shoe of the Year
Hoka One One Challenger ATR

A late December entry to these sweepstakes the Challenger ATR provides great grip, stability, and Hoka cushion at an almost impossible to imagine 8.6 oz. In limited release now,  it will be on many 2015 lists so why not give it early kudos, (review here)
Honorable Mention: Hoka Huaka and New Balance Fresh Foam Trail

The Huaka took me on smoother Utah trails with aplomb and no compromises. The Fresh Foam Trail  (review here) was my heavier duty terrain trail shoe and one that also was just fine on the road as well

Road Trail Hybrid of the Year
Hoka One One Huaka
This do anything shoe took me from smoother trails to roads at any speed, with equal aplomb at a very light weight. The firmer RMAT midsole provided stability and good response on all surfaces. The upper could use some work but the positives of the ride outweighed the negatives.

Honorable Mention: Skechers GoRun Ultra

This very flexible softy at a value price was a great road recovery shoe and smooth trail cruiser (review here). As a wear tester for Skechers I know newer versions will improve on a great concept in 2015.

Technology of the Year
What would crazies like me do without Strava. Wait ...just a few years ago it did not even exist and we still ran. Yet, Strava is a most useful tool. I pay close attention to a reasonable weekly mileage goal, the mileage on all my shoes, my splits compared to how I actually felt, discovery of neat routes and new friends. At the link a neat compilation of my year in running my 2014 Strava Story.

Shoe of the Year
adidas adizero Adios Boost
No contest!  Not only the shoe worn by winners and record holders at most major marathons in 2014, but a shoe the average person can enjoy, run fast in, and come out with legs that aren't battered. Snappy toe spring combined with a well cushioned yet stable heel and a great supportive upper with plenty of forefoot room.  This is the one shoe that makes me smile every time I pick up the pace.

2nd Place: Hoka One One Huaka. A most versatile, no compromises road or trail shoe.
3d Place: While many great shoes, no obvious 3d place.

Runs of the Year
The Mount Desert Island Marathon was incredibly scenic and also the toughest marathon course I have ever run. The scenery, organization, and support was amazing. Mt Desert's awards as most scenic and runner up for best overall marathon are well earned.  I actually remember almost every sight along the way, rare for me. Extra special run as it was also my daughter's first marathon.

Late in December I ran 25K with a friend on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. An amazing wild and desolate place with grand vistas of the lake and mountains and very smooth, see forever ahead trails.

Race of the Year
Lone Gull 10K (MA): A New England Grand Prix race this spectacular ocean side race featured great age group competition on a windy, cold day. I ran just under 7 minute miles for the first time in a 5 miler or 10K in about 5 years.

Here's to 2015!  Many more miles, friendships, races, shoes and gear, and of course great places to explore on the run.

Thanks for reading my blog.
What were your favorites of 2014?
Please Comment.

Review: 2015 Salomon S-Lab Sense Set Run Vest. Supremely Functional Minimalism

Saved maybe the best of 2014 for last. The Salomon Sense Set  and Sense Ultra run vests are now in wider release for 2015. The Salomon Sense vests are form fitting water and gear carry vests that really are more clothing than pack.  The Sense Set and Ultra Sense with its added drop in rear mesh pocket at the hip and kangaroo mesh pocket between the shoulder blades immediately caught my eye at Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015 as one of the key innovations on display (preview here)

Supremely functional Sense Set carries 2 x 500ml of water in supplied soft flasks and has 6 other stretch pockets that adapt to loads. The Sense Ultra adds a drop in rear mesh pocket at the hip for a jacket or a couple more soft flasks   as well as a kangaroo mesh pocket between the shoulder blades. You can carry as little or as much as you wish with zero bounce and an adjustable snug stretch fit.  For the first time I have finallyfound a carrying solution that I truly forget I have on.  I have now run about 25 miles with the Sense Set on trails.

The picture below illustrates a "heavy" but by no means full load:

  • 2 full 500ml (16 oz) flasks (flasks are supplied with vest)
  • an iPhone 6 securely placed in one front drop in pocket, nordic gloves in the other
  • a rescue blanket and blocks and gels in one zip pocket, a North Face Better than Naked jacket in the other zip pocket
  • rescue whistle (supplied and attached to vest) 
  • small drop in shoulder pocket for trash, zip pocket for key.

Salomon S-LAB Sense Set

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Review Hoka One One Challenger ATR: What a Union! Super Light Meets Burly.

Not one to rest on its laurels after the launch of the Clifton a super light road runner with plenty of Hoka maxi cushion and the Huaka a versatile road trail hybrid (compared here) , Hoka launches the Challenger ATR a burly lugged 8.6 oz, 24mm forefoot/ 29 mm heel, $130 trail shoe. I now have over 150 miles of dirt, snow, and road on mine.  They were a personal purchase at retail. Challenger was my  " 2014 Trail Shoe of the Year".
Hoka One One Challenger ATR

Because of the similar midsole appearance, some including me, called this a Clifton for the trail yet this is no softy, the ride is firmer and stiffer than Clifton and even Huaka, particularly in the heel, yet by no means harsh or jarring, so still a Hoka.  A truly outstanding protective and versatile trail shoe at an incredibly light weight.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Round Valley, Park City UT Trail Running Magic

Wendy, Larry and I had a fabulous 10 mile run in the now extended Round Valley open space. Larry took us on a side trail to an old quarry with hanging truck and with an incredible vista of the Synderville Basin, the Canyons, and the Wasatch Range.

The Park City area has 400 miles of immaculate trails all suitable for running. Running paradise with even over 40 miles of trails groomed for running and nordic skiing in winter as well as 2 indoor tracks.  Mo Farah, Shalane Flanagan, and Galen Rupp train here regularly. Info and trail maps here

View from Round Valley across Synderville Basin towards Canyons Ski Resort and Wasatch Range

Monday, December 01, 2014

Review: Saucony Triumph ISO-Firm Under Cushion. Outstanding Any Foot Upper

The Saucony ISOFIT Series Triumph is a 10 oz M, 8.7 oz W very well cushioned yet quite firm at road contact trainer.  Fit me true to size.  Saucony lists the stack height as 29 mm heel/ 21 mm forefoot so this is at the edge of what one might call a maximalist shoe as generally I like to say anything over 22mm of forefoot stack height is maximalist so shoes such as Hokas and Altra Paradigm. 

My first runs in the Triumph have been outstanding. "Whoa" as Saucony marketing claims!  Quite a contrast to the "softer" shoes such as Hoka Clifton and Altra Paradigm I have been running in lately. It has a very firm podded and segmented outsole  yet with plenty of cushioning, decent flex and no harsh stiff feeling. Not a seamlessly smooth feeling as say Pearl Izumi but a kind of purposeful forward motion,  with  a sense of getting off the heel fast towards a somewhat less firm yet cushioned toe off. ISOFIT Triumph
Saucony IOSFIT Triumph