Saturday, December 28, 2019

Dom Layfield's Running Gear of the Year 2019

Article by Dom Layfield

Trail Shoes

My trail shoe of the year , hands down, is the Hoka EVO Speedgoat (RTR Review).  
I’ve been tepid on previous iterations of the Speedgoat, finding them just too big and lacking in ground feel, not to mention a little on the narrow side.  The EVO Speedgoat takes the upper from the EVO Mafate 2 and mates it to the Speedgoat sole, producing a franken-offspring that is better than either parent.  The stretchy upper makes the shoe much more comfortable (particularly for the wide-footed) and somehow makes the Speedgoat sole feel less stiff.   All this goodness comes in at a really impressive weight (10.1 oz for US M10; under 10 oz for ‘standard’ US M9 size).  For trail races in the 50-100 mile range, this shoe is simply untouchable right now.

Honorable mention must go to the Skechers Speed TRL Hyper (RTR Review)  

This was a breath of fresh air in the trail shoe world.  Skechers are pioneering a path into new territory and produced a plated trail shoe that clocked in at 8.6 oz (245 g) for US M10.  Bold and exciting in both looks and construction, this is the lightest trail shoe on the market.

Road Shoes

II'm not much of a roadie, but in 2019 I most enjoyed running in the Altra Torin 4 (RTR Review).  
Light, roomy, well-cushioned, roomy, but still maintaining nice underfoot feel.  It has enough foot retention and grip for light trail use.  A shoe that gets just about everything right.   My only nitpick is that the laces are a little skinny.

Honorable mention goes to the Hoka Carbon X (RTR Review), which was a really exciting, carbon-plated, max-cushioned, Hoka-ized Vaporfly competitor.  A shoe that I found hard to fault, except in comparison to Nike: does it make you fly as fast as Vaporfly?  Which are you going to pick for your next marathon?  I concluded that I'd pick it for a hypothetical 50-mile road race.  Comrades, anyone?  But I saw that Mac picked this as his "daily trainer of the year" (Mac's Best of 2019 Article), which made me rethink my preconception of this shoe as a race-only specialist.  Perhaps it's niche is found as a training shoe.


COROS Apex 46 mm.
I'm a conscientious user of GPS watches, and over the last year, I've switched mostly from my trusty Garmin 935 to the Coros Apex 46 mm (RTR Review). The Coros is significantly cheaper, and has a much longer battery life.
Coros Apex display looks great at the right angle
Visibility highly dependent on viewing angle
Oherwise, the Apex does everything the Garmin does. At the start of the year, the Apex software was pretty buggy. In particular, the navigation mode (following a pre-determined route) was too flaky to use: particularly in races, where reliability is vital. But by late May, navigation was stable enough that I was able to use it consistently in the multi-day Dragon's Back race, an unmarked course that requires demanding self-navigation skills. I still encountered the odd glitch, but overall found the Apex navigation invaluable.

The long battery life of the Apex is a huge plus. For casual use, it means you only have to charge every couple of weeks. And for ultramarathons, the 35-hour battery will last through almost everything. (The Apex Pro, which I have not tried, advertises 40-hour life, and the Vertix a mind-boggling 60 hours. Although the former is slightly bigger, and the latter substantially larger.)
Teeny tiny writing on Coros Apex
Sadly, I cannot recommend the Apex unreservedly, because this watch is undermined by disappointing legibility of the display. The LCD is very fussy about viewing angle, and the software designers seem to have made the choice to prioritize looking futuristic and hip over basic legibility. This is a great shame, because everything else is very solid.

Other Gear

One happy surprise for me this year was CBD balm.   I broke my foot twelve years ago, and needed surgery to screw it back together.  On follow-up with my orthopedic surgeon, I complained to him that my foot ached if I ran more than ten miles a day.  He literally laughed in my face.  Thirty thousand miles later, my left foot is an arthritic mess.  This year, with some skepticism, I decided to try CBD ointment and found -- to my surprise -- that it seemed to help.  Now granted, I only have one bad foot.  So it’s hard to treat just one side and see if it feels better than the other.  Placebo effect or not, I’ve found that CBD provides significant relief.  I can’t say I’ve tried a lot of different types:  I tried three brands, and the one that worked best for me is the  Full Spectrum Warming Balm from Floyds of Leadville.  Not cheap, but highly recommended.

Dominick Layfield
Dom lives in Southern California after several years in Park City, UT.  He is an avid trail runner who likes to race.  He holds a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT, and has worked as a researcher in orthopedic biomechanics. So he knows the difference between a ligament and tendon :-). In 2016, he raced, among others, the Angeles Crest 100 (2nd place), Scout Mountain 80K (1st place), and Georgia Death Race 68 miler (3rd place).  His 2017 achievement include 1st place in the dead of winter 2017 108-mile Spine Challenger race in the UK, breaking the course record by an hour, 1st place in the Quicksilver 100K in California, and 14th at the Western States Endurance Run. 


Unknown said...

Great article. Always looking for gear that can handle the tough trail miles. Love the EVO Speedgoat and look forward to trying the Apex after reading this article to check out the battery life.

Dan said...

Great list, Dom. The Speed TRL really is my new favorite shoe. I was hoping the EVO Speedgoat would finally go on sale, but it looks like it'll just get discontinued without a sale. Finally, I first got an Apex earlier this year and software was super buggy, I hated the crown thing in place of buttons and eventually returned it. I gave them another chance with a Pace and for $200 it does just about everything I need and lasted without problem for a 107 mile run on the AT nearing 24hrs.

Telemarker said...

Thanks, Dan! I agree that the crown thing is controversial. It does make the watch look a little sleeker, but it's definitely finicky. The software was has initially appallingly buggy but has been getting steadily better.

I also had a Coros Pace, and thought it was decent, but battery life was not sufficient for my purposes (it died about 19 hours into UTMB) and it doesn't support navigation. The latter is important to me, as I dream of a future where race directors do not need to mark a course and everyone just follows a GPS track on their watch. We're not there yet, but getting close!

Dan said...

Oh boy, I can't imagine following a course strictly on my watch! Although I'm pretty great at getting off course during trail races; marking them even less would be a disaster. Ha!

Will said...

Dom, you totally sold me on both the MT-2 and the Altra Superior (not sure the version, though I prefer the 4 to 3.5), and what you focus on with whatever shoes you address at any given time is how I think I'd look at them... so thanks much; you make clear your own leanings such that it is easy for the reader to determine if you are a good guide for whomever is considering your opinion.

So, mostly this is just props to you. But I was also curious about what you would replace my MT-2 for my annual "A" race with, only a 50k with just 5.6 vt. feet but very hot/muggy and really, really rocky. The TOPO did leave me feeling a little beat up but not too bad... I agree with you that rock plates are overrated. And I felt the MT-3 was a no-go (both heat and because my size-13 are a little more than that, and the 3s runs short IMHO). I see you love the Speedgoat, but also gave props to the TOPO Ultraventure. This is pretty technical terrain, so having things dialed in is as much important as comfort (not long race, but pretty spikey). What say you for my next try? I should also add that I had to finally give in and get rather obnoxious custom orthotics because my capsulitis wouldn't go away, so volume in a shoe helps... and I'm a size 13, so sizing up isn't so simple.

But even if my question is to annoying to answer, just know that I love you perspective on this site.

- Will

Brian said...

Thanks for the insights! I'm gonna give the hoka speedgoats a shot.

For your achy foot have you tried a comfry salve? We use it in our massages as it's known to have great effect on connective tissue and achy joints (: