Sunday, January 27, 2013

Running at OR Winter 2013: Salomon, Inov-8, Altra, Pearl Izumi, Hoka One One, Topo Athletic, Adidas, Helly Hansen, Ice Trekkers

HH Warm Freeze
With thousands of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of products it would be pretty hard to create a "best of" without a crew of about a dozen and several days. Nonetheless I had a bit of a plan and companies I wanted to focus on. The fun discoveries are the ones you didn't have a clue about and this OR I found 2 useful products which really stood out, Helly Hansen Warm baselayer and IceTrekkers Diamond Grip.


 Helly Hansen Warm Freeze
Helly Hansen gave me a sample at the All Mountain Demo in exchange for my old base layer which they donated to the homeless. Clever marketing: strip off old base layer and they gave you the $80  HH Warm Freeze or pay $20.

The Warm is a middleweight base layer, 57% merino wool, 43% polypro. An inside layer is Lifa polypropylene similar in feel to a mesh tech tee. The outside is merino wool. The inside layer wicks moisture. The wool provides insulation and helps evaporate the moisture.

I have countless base layers and in the 2 runs and 1 nordic ski since I got the top I can say the performance is outstanding. I was out in temperatures from low 20's to high 30's and totally comfortable at all times, never overheated my usual problem, or chilled. Got caught in a snow squall at the end of my ski and while wet was never chilled. I have steered clear of polypro for many years as the early stuff stank to high heaven. With about 5 hours of intense exercise the Warm still smells quite fresh. I was told it is hollow fiber. Fits very snug and a bit short in front.

Ice Trekkers Diamond Grip
I have been running on snow exclusively the last month and a half. It has been cold and has not snowed a great deal so the trails are firm. A recent thaw freeze has made the single tracks icy. I have been very pleased with my Salomon Spikecross but a sore toe from a too  tight nordic boot had me looking for a traction device to put over my wide toe box Inov-8 255. I have had Yak Traks and they are fine but I find the coils often rotate on the rubber core and they are hard to put on. Enter Ice Trekkers, a company Yak Traks just bought ,which should say something...

They gave me a pair of the Diamond Grips $41.95 at the Demo days and I have had 3 runs in them to date including on hard ice, hard snow, and a bit of pavement.

Diamond Grips rotate on a steel cable

Conclusion a far superior traction solution to Yak Traks. Why?

  • Easy and simple to put on. Stayed on the whole run.
  • The Diamond Grips rotate on the cable. Less of a sensation of having traction on the feet.
  • Grip is outstanding and doesn't impede your stride.
  • While I have not run much with them on pavement they felt good, A crunchy sensation. Not unpleasant or to noisy.

Salomon

Salomon Hydro Sense Glove Se
I think Salomon's Soft Flash concept, essentially taking hydration bladder material and turning it into bottles of varying sizes, is truly an innovative way to make hydration far more flexible. I have been using the 5, 8, and 16 oz soft flasks and glove extensively. Sometimes I tuck the bottles into my Ultraspire race vest, sometimes I use the Hydro Sense glove.
Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Sets

Enter the new Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 5 and 12. The 5 corresponds to a 5 liter capacity,  the 12 to a 12 liter capacity.
 Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 12
Two 16 oz, 500ml bottles fit snuggly in the front pockets. I am unclear if the vest is supplied with the 2 16 oz flasks, I think it is. You can bend down and suck on the valves without removing the bottles from the vest.


Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 12

Unlike the earlier S-Lab packs the 2 side zip pockets (to the right of the white labeling) are vertical. The horizontal zippers on earlier models were very hard to reach. Just behind the zippers are 2 mesh drop in pockets. Easy to reach. Great place for more of those soft flasks, gloves, gels, etc..
Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 12 
In addition to the drop in pockets both the 5 and 12 vests have an insulated sleeve for a 1.5 liter hydration bladder(not supplied). On the 12 there is also a large zippered pocket just to the right of the S on the pack above. The only other difference is that the drop in back pockets on the 12 are deeper than on the 5.

Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 5: $160
Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 12: $185
Both available Fall 2013

Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 2 Belt
 Missed this one at OR.  It is now (2/10/13) available at www.irunfar.com, $70   A belt ideal and designed for the 5 and 8oz soft flasks, 2 will fit in the front holster pockets for sure, will see if the 16oz fit in these when I get the belt.  The front pockets are intended to hold flasks, less bounce. 2 more smaller holster pockets on the back for gels, snacks, 5 oz flasks potentially:  in front of 2 zippered pockets for phone, keys, wallet, etc..
Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 2 Belt, back view. www.irunfar.com

Salomon Fell Raiser
Salomon Fell Raiser

The Fell Raiser is a 9.5 oz, 7mm heel toe drop "soft ground" shoe. Retail $110. Available Fall 20012
It has 19mm midsole at the heel, 12mm at the toe. Add considerable 7mm lugs to get to a 26mm heel, 19mm toe shoe.
The midsole foam is softer than the Crossmax or Sense Mantra, in my view a good thing, as both of those other shoes have overly firm ride. I tried on a pair and found they are far less constrictive  under the arch than the Crossmax and Sense Mantra, likely due to a different last and fewer sewed overlays. Fits more like the Spikecross and S-Lab 5 in the mid foot. A great snow and mud shoe for next winter.

Inov-8
Road Extreme Line
 I did not get pictures but Inov-8 is taking their already quite minimal Road X line to a more minimal, lighter level with the Road Extreme line. Very similar with 3 models: 6, 3, 0  heel toe drops and lighter weights as the drop decreases. Noticed that that there is less outsole rubber but still the nice wide forefoot landing platform I like so much in the Road X 255. Softer midsole foam than Road X which in its update is also getting a softer midsole. In my view this corrects the only issue I have with Road X. Superb anatomical toe box. Very minimal heel cup, soft heel.
Considerable drops in weight for the Extreme line. The model equivalent to the  current Road X 255 drops from 255 grams to 208 grams: from 9 oz to 7.33 oz. The very minimal Road X 150 drops to 138 grams: 5.3 oz to 4.86 oz.

Altra Zero Drop
Altra Superior
Altra is a UT company which has really differentiated itself with zero drop road and trail shoes with a highly anatomical, truly foot shaped forefoot and outsole.

I saw the Altra Superior last summer at OR and the folks at Altra gave me a pair to try at this OR. Superior ($95)  is an 8 oz performance trail shoe. It has a relatively shallow lug pattern of alternating large "Checkers" so it may also feel pretty good on the road when combined with its soft midsole foam.
Altra Superior

Altra Superior

There is a minimal soft heel counter.  The tongue is not padded but so far no issues with that. The rock plate, a flexible plastic which slips under in the insole, is removable. Out of the box I ran an 11 miler with them on snow. No issues even with the zero drop as far as sore calves.  Advise caution if you are not used to lower drop shoes. Increase your miles gradually.

Apart from running once in them I have worn them continuously for 3 days now and the wide toe box is incredibly  comfortable. The  front wrap around toe bumper is a bit low but not a big issue so far.

Pearl Izumi
Finally a story of doing the right thing if the product that is about to go to stores is not right. At OR this past summer I was very excited to see and try on the new Pearl Izumi E:Motion line. The upper was outstandingly comfortable and seam free, the concept of a varying heel toe drop at various points of the stride was valid and felt right.
E:Motion Road N2

Pearl Izumi was kind enough to send me a sample in September. I took them out for a 10 mile run right away. The upper was great. I could feel the dynamic heel toe drop differences. Yet, something was very wrong with the cushioning. The 9.3 oz N2 road shoe literally felt like a brick. Very, very firm. Overly firm for a 9.3 oz shoe. I wrote Pearl Izumi and did not post a review. I knew something was very wrong.

At OR this past week I talked to Pearl Izumi and it turns out those first several thousand pairs were to firm. I have heard that the contract manufacturers who actually make the shoes sometimes "cut corners" in mixing the midsole compounds. Not sure this was the case here.

Pearl Izumi told me that they have destroyed the first several thousand pairs and delayed deliveries on the E:Motion shoes for a few months to get it right. Kudos to them for doing the right thing. I can't wait to try the new versions. I am convinced they will be great.

Hoka One One
I have been intrigued by Hoka One One since their first model and have written several posts about this intriguing "maximalist" yet natural (5mm heel toe drop). There is no question they keep your legs fresher day in day out and are a godsend for runners with chronic injuries where the Hoka cushioning can make the difference between being able to run or not at all. I am currently running longer and slower runs in the Hoka One One Tarmac, a road shoe and have written about them.

Hoka One One Evo Tarmac
I am able to run up to 13 or so miles at tempo pace but have issues as I get tired getting to far back on my heels with all that soft cushioning.

Intriguing news on the web has hinted at a less maximalist racing Hoka for road and trail. In turns out that due to manufacturing challenges this new less maximalist Hoka will first launch with women's models only this spring as the road Kailua Comp.
Hoka One One Women's Kailua Comp
Kailua will have stack height of 22mm forefoot/ 27mm heel vs. 33.5mm/39 for traditional Hokas. Lucky ladies! The guys will have to wait. I think these less maximalist Hokas will be ideal cushioned performance shoes.

Topo Athletic
Topo is a new company based out of the Boston area started by the former CEO of Vibram USA, of Five Fingers fame.
Topo Athletic shoes will be available in June with 3 models: a trainer the RT, a racer the RR, and a cross trainer the RT. Men's and Women's versions for each model.
All models have a very distinctive split toe based on the Japanese Tabi shoe style and have zero heel to toe drop. A Tabi shoe was actually worn by a Boston Marathon winner from Japan decades ago. All the models are exceptionally light.  I tried on a pair of RT and they were a comfortable snug fit. Ran down the aisle and felt the split toe was functional, let my foot splay but felt aligned. Topo also had the best after show beverages: Park City's High West Distillery whiskey!

  • RR Racer: Boa cable closure, 5.3 oz (men's 9) , zero drop, stack height 9mm plus 3mm insole
  • RT Trainer: Laces, 6.0oz, zero drop,  stack height 12mm plus 3mm insole
  • RX Cross Trainer: 6.7oz Laces plus mid foot strap, stack height 10mm plus 3mm insole.
Topo Athletic RT Trainer

Topo Athletic RT Trainer


Adidas Energy Boost
Didn't see these at OR as Adidas strangely only brings outdoor hiking shoes and gear to OR. No road or trail shoes. It is an OR find as I picked up the latest Runner's World ( March 2013) and saw a review of an new Adidas shoe the Energy Boost, 9.8 oz, 10.5mm heel toe drop, $150.
What is unique about this shoe is its midsole. Instead of foam EVA it is made up of thousands of thermoplastic beads which are fused into a midsole. Runner's World testing showed it had the best energy rebound of the 800 shoes they tested and is also resistant to changes in cushioning at temperature extremes. Foam hardens in the cold, softens in the heat. An ad in the same issue says "Boost your Run 2-27/13"  so I assume we will see them then.

Comments and questions always welcome!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Winter Run Fun and Gear: Ibex, Salomon, Swix



I have been on an extended stay in Utah and the running conditions have been fantastic this year. Hard packed, groomed and single track trails in Park City's Round Valley have been mint for runs and nordic skis for weeks now. I have run and skied a total or 120 miles, entirely on snow since Christmas with my Hatu Harrier friends.

NoWhere Elks Trail-Park City: view of Park City, Deer Valley, Canyons with Round Valley directly below


Gareth, Fasteddie, Wendy, and Larry in the middle of an 11 miler 

Smiling and Striding

It's been cold 10-20 F. every day so gear selection has been important. I have an extensive collection of gear but have gravitated to a few items day in day out.

Outerwear
Ibex Breakaway pants and jacket. Breakaway has a nylon front on both the pants and jacket, lined with a thin layer of wool.  They call the fabric Climawool. The back of both has a mid weight wool. Fantastic temperature range from 40's down to well below zero. The tights are a bit heavier and looser than the usual slick nylons but super comfortable.

Hat
I am a hat nut and sweat a lot so finding a winter hat which is not too hot yet warm is always a challenge. Picked up a Swix race hat with a wool poly blend and a mesh top, sort of a wide head capped head band and it has been perfect for even multi hour runs.

Shoes
All my miles on the snow have been in the Salomon Spikecross 3. About 11 oz, size 9 these water resistant beasts have deep lugs and 9 small carbide spikes. Surefooted on all flavors of mud, snow and ice. A last resort road shoe if you are facing an icy snowy mess.
Salomon Spikecross 3

Hydration
At summer OR last year I saw the Salomon soft flasks (5 and 8 oz) and companion Hydro Sense glove kit ( right and left gloves plus one 8oz flask) . Managed to find them at REI and have been delighted with both. Update: Running Warehouse now has Hyrdo Sense kit . Salomon video here  The flasks have not frozen up hard even down below 15 F when tucked into the front outside pocket of my Ultraspire Spry vest.  I have also tested the glove flask combination. While the 8 oz flask which comes with the glove is smallish,  a new larger 16 oz flask is available from Running Warehouse. Unlike bottle holders, there is absolutely no sensation that you are carrying water. As a bonus when empty or full the full flasks or harder top rim of the flask serves as a perfect finger rest to prevent fist clinching. 
Salomon Hyrdo Sense glove and 8 oz soft flask

I have used the 5 oz flask for nutrition mixing 2 gels with water. Note that the valve is not really for gels so a more viscous gel such as Power Bar Energy Gel is the way to go, especially in winter.

Phone Case
What's a phone case have to do with running? Well as trail runners know we often crash and when it's cold batteries fade especially when running with GPS run apps such as the incredible Strava Run app, my new favorite for tracking my runs and performance.  Protective cases/sleeves are often bulky and do little to protect the screen. I have the Tech21 "Impactology" flip case for my iPhone 4S. This handsome leather case is lined with D30 material, a polymer which harden on impact to absorb shocks. Only one port is exposed, headphone so there is also moderate moisture protection. A flip case is also available for the iPhone 5 that opens along the long edge instead of end to end as my iPhone 4S case does. 
Tech21 iPhone 5 flip case (Tech21) 

Bonus the D30 material and leather seems to insulate the phone enough to prevent short battery life on cold days.


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]

Wednesday, August 01, 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.