Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the category “Gear”

An Unqualified Review: Merrell Road Gloves & Other Shoe Thoughts

Over the years, not only has my running form and endurance changed and evolved, but so have my shoe choices. Thus far, I’ve avoided providing any detailed shoe reviews, despite them being perhaps the single most important aspect of anyone’s running experience. The amount of literature on running shoes is extensive to say the least, most of it happening within the last 30 years as the modern running shoe has taken hold. Shoes are reviewed extensively, put through their paces, and feedback on them is offered from every corner of the running world. As such, shoe reviews have never seemed like something I felt a need to comment on, other than to perhaps share the shoes I happen to be running in at any given moment. There are plenty of other folks commenting on any pair of shoes I happen to pick up, and ultimately, everyone experiences them differently. Consider this post my brief exception before I retreat back into the other varied minutia of my running life.

When I truly began running (the first time), I started running in a pair of Nike running shoes (I can’t even recall the style at this point). I bought them not because they were the perfect shoe for my running style, but because they were compatible with my Nike Plus foot pod, I liked the way they looked, and they were on sale. What did I know? Those seemed to be the most pressing distinctions at the time. I ran in them as I went through my couch-to-5k program, and they seemed to be working fine. Truth-be-told, I wouldn’t have known any better because I didn’t really know what “good” running felt like anyway. Then I took a hiatus from running- clearly it wasn’t just the shoes that weren’t prepared to fully commit to the activity.

Jumping, er, walking into the minimalist shoe world!

When I began running again (and for good) a few years later, I knew I needed a new pair of shoes. I started with a pair of generic Adidas shoes, which felt fine. However, I began to learn more about running, and discover various resources. At this junction, I realized that shoes did seem to matter much more than I thought, and I needed to get a pair that were “right” for me. I headed to a local running store, and discovered the Pearl Izumi Syncrofloat III. They fit better than any shoe I had tried on, and the seamless upper felt great compared to other shoes I had worn in the past. I went through three pairs of these shoes and thoroughly enjoyed them. My distances were increasing, my endurance was improving, and my patellar tendonitis was emerging. After about a year of PT, I knew I needed to change something about my running but nothing seemed to work.

I decided to switch up my shoes, despite enjoying the Pearl Izumi pair. I spent some time reading reviews and settled on the Brooks Ghost 3. Every review I read was stellar, and they received various accolades from Runner’s World and other running authorities. Sure enough, they felt great, seemed to fit well, and I finished several marathons in them. However, my knee pains weren’t subsiding. I assumed the Ghosts just weren’t the shoe for me and I went back to Pearl Izumi. They had transitioned from the Syncrofloat 3 to the 4 by this point, so I ordered a pair. I’m not entirely sure how they changed the shoe, but I knew within about 20 miles that they weren’t going to work for me. They were hitting my heel wrong, and my arch was not syncing well with the sole of the shoes.

Now, in addition to my addiction to running, I’m also very passionate about paying as little as possible for things I need. I end up finding a lot of great deals, and GroupOn has been very good to me in that regard. I happened to see an offer for a discount at a local cycling and running store I had yet to visit, so I picked it up. I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone- I’d pick up a new pair of shoes and check out a new shop in the process. When I got there, I was surprised to find out that they offered free videotaped gait analysis. So, I climbed up on the treadmill had my gait analyzed. As it turned out, I was pronating a decent amount. Neither of the shoes I had previously tried offered any form to counteract that awkward impact, which was very likely causing at least a large part of my knee issues. I tried on a pair of Mizuno Elixir 6/7‘s and they fit beautifully. Not only that, but my gait shift enough that I could actually see the difference in the video. They are a neutral shoe with just enough adjustment to make all the difference for me as a mild over-pronator. I’m now on my third pair, and I couldn’t be happier.

This is all my round-about-way of letting you know that after some deliberation on purchasing a pair of minimalist shoes for everyday wear, I decided on the Merrell Road Glove. Of all the minimalist shoes I tried on, they felt the most natural on my feet. I’ve had them for about two weeks now and I couldn’t be happier. The transition to walking in minimalist shoes has not been nearly as extreme as I expected it to be. Despite being a “zero drop” shoe, they are incredibly comfortable and offer a nice thick Vibram outer-sole for traction. They fit well in the heel, and the mesh upper (w/ leather stripping) fits snuggly (I just couldn’t bring myself to say “like a glove”) without being too tight when laced up. I’m especially pleased with the extra wide toe box, which gives my toes plenty of room to splay as I walk. I can already tell that I’m adjusting into a more mid-foot strike, which is what I was hoping for in the first place. In the end, the Tough Glove is proving to be an excellent choice. Although I have no intention of picking up minimalist running any time soon, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to take them out for a mile or two just to see what it feels like!

Review: The Clean Bottle & The Runner

Mother Nature’s attempt to bake me while I run this summer has meant I’ve been more than a little invested in efficient hydration. I’ve experimented with bottles and packs and runs broken up incessantly by the high number of city parks (with water fountains) in my area. I’ve also done my best to ween myself off of Gatorade and Powerade, along with the extremely high sugar content in both. Mixing them 1/2 and 1/2 with water certainly helps, but I’ve found electrolyte tablets, such as the Hammer Endurolytes Fizz, to be just as effective, if not more. The also happen to taste really good with a nice subtle flavor!

My latest hydration-related purchase, at the suggestion of a friend, was the Clean Bottle, which came with The Runner. There is no question that the market is saturated with water bottles. Many are specifically designed for running purposes as well. I may or may not own several varieties myself 🙂 The Clean Bottle sets itself apart with its dual-access system. Both the top and bottom lids screw off, allowing you to thoroughly clean the bottle without as much hassle. The 22 oz. bottle is also BPA free, which pleases me considering some of the research I’ve been reading lately on the negative effects of exposure to BPA. The silicone washers on the lids are also great at preventing leaks no matter how much I might beat it up out on a run.

The Clean Bottle, w/ The Runner attached

The Runner, which can be purchased separately, but is marketed with the Clean Bottle, offers an alternative to armband iPhone holders. Sadly, my Garmin 405 has gotten to the point where it doesn’t hold a charge much over 4 hours of running or 5 hours of continuous use. Being the Virgo that I am, I NEED to track my stats, especially my really long training runs. This has meant bringing my iPhone with me on long runs. Wearing it on my arm tends to be a tad annoying, but I’ve put up with it. However, The Runner allows me to attach my iPhone to my water bottle and still have room for a few nutrition supplements as well.

The bottom cap comes off just as easily as the top.

At first, I was a bit concerned with the overall weight of a full bottle, along with my iPhone. However, now that I’ve taken it out on a few runs, I’ve found that I have gotten used to it pretty quickly. The elastic band that wraps around your hand as you hold it is mostly mesh, so it holds the bottle firmly to your hand while still being relatively breathable, which is great. I think the size of the bottle is about at the limit of what I’d like to carry in my hand, so others may find it a bit too large, depending on personal preference. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with my purchase and anticipate getting a great deal of use out of my new bottle system!

If you don’t have an iPhone, the pouch will hold several nutrition packets as well.

Hydration Highlights

It may only be the beginning of May, but with the unseasonably warm temperatures around the country, it’s already getting pretty darn warm! Although properly hydrating is always an important concern as a runner, it is doubly important during the summer months, when the heat sucks the water out of you that much quicker. Dehydration is a significant concern and should be dealt with appropriately to avoid health concerns and maintain optimal performance. This has not always been a strength of mine, and I generally need to work very hard just to drink enough water during the day. Now that my workout levels have increased, I’m realizing that I’m going to need to pay even more attention to hydration than I ever have before. With that in mind, there are a few areas worth commenting on for the purposes of proper hydration.

Dehydration & Hyponatremia: If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. For some reason, this advice from my high school gym teacher still sticks out in my mind. In more technical terms, dehydration results in nausea, dizziness, weakness, and cramps. Water loss varies by person during a run, so in order to find out how much you lose, weigh yourself nude before and after a run. One pound of weight loss typically equals 1 pint of water loss.  From there, you can calculate how many fluids you should be consuming per hour. On the flip side, you can also very easily fall victim to the voices telling you to drink constantly, and literally become drunk from too much water consumption, otherwise known as hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels). For this reason, it is that much more important that you understand just how much water your body is losing, and replace it efficiently.

Sports Drinks vs. Water: Sports drinks are designed to hydrate, as well as maximize performance by including carbohydrates and electrolytes. Gatorade and Powerade have become common drinks for athletes and non-athletes alike due to the high sugar content. Thus, you shouldn’t be replacing your water intake during the day with a sports drink. However, they provide crucial energy during a run as you work to maintain fluid and nutrition levels in your body. I’m partial to mixing sports drinks with water during long runs, as it seems to be easier on my stomach. I’m also taking in nutrition in the form of GU Chomps or Gels, so this balance works out well for me. If you are interested in a more in-depth analysis, checking out Running Times’ Guide to Sports Drinks and Gels.

Listening to your Sweat: In addition to the above mentioned signs of dehydration, I’ve found it very important to pay attention to your sweat. Especially when it’s getting hotter out, I tend to sweat profusely, so I’m losing more fluid than I would during a January run. For this reason, I Know I need to focus even more on hydrating. I plan on carrying a water bottle with me on longer runs this summer as well, which doubles as good training for many trail races, which require you to have your own hydration container.

Water Bottles vs. Hydration Packs: Last year, I bought a camel bak hydration pack, thinking it would be a wonderful addition to my running arsenal. On many trail blogs I have read, they sing the praises of hydration packs for longer runs and races, and logically, it made sense. I figured I would try it on the road first and see what I thought. Unfortunately, I chose to try it at the Okoboji Summer Games Half Marathon, which is a rather unpleasantly hot race, run mostly along an exposed highway, in JULY. This was not a good choice. I felt like I was running with a small child on my back during the entire race, and by the end, the warm water wasn’t refreshing anyway. Now, granted, these may not have been optimal conditions, and I know I need to give it more of a chance for running purposes, but as of right now, I’m sticking to water bottles for running. I do enjoy the flexibility carrying water can give you though in terms of route adjustment, and it makes it easier to regulate your hydration, especially on hot days where you should be drinking 4-8 oz. every 15 minutes most likely. My personal favorite right now is the Nathan Quickdraw Plus. You can check out a few other options here as well.

You should also remember that water-rich foods such as cucumber, watermelon, and plums can help with hydration so think about adding them more regularly into your diet. You may also want to keep in mind that warm water is absorbed into the bloodstream slower than cold water, so think about adding ice to your bottle when you go out, or even freezes your bottle the night before and letting it melt during your run!

If you’d like to read more about hydration, check out this great list of links. And, at the end of the day, keep your water and your pee flowing clear! 🙂

Digital Running: Pick Your App

After education, my two biggest passions in life are technology and running. Therefore, it makes sense that I tend to obsess a bit over any and all pieces of technology that can track, calculate, or otherwise influence my running. As an Apple iOS and iPhone fan, it then stands to reason that I would always be on the lookout for the most elegant, sophisticated, and technically exact application to track my running. However, if you did indeed guess that to be the case, you’d be wrong. Up until a month ago, I rarely used my iPhone for running. In fact, it was probably one of the only aspects of my life where my iPhone didn’t factor.

Then the GU 100,000 mile Challenge began. This competition, organized by Strava, provided the added internal competitive incentive I needed to check out what the field of running apps had to offer. The goal was to reach 50, 100, 150, 0r 200 miles in total running distance between March 9th and April 9th. Various GU prizes are then awarded, with the top prize for reaching 200 miles being a 24-pack of GU and GU Roctane. This was all the incentive I needed to test my mileage and try out the Strave iPhone app along the way.

I had always avoided using my iPhone in favor of my Garmin Forerunner 405. I like the small, compact size of my Garmin, and love being able to walk in the door and have it wireless sync via bluetooth with my computer and upload my data to the Garmin website. The thought of wearing my iPhone around my arm seemed like a hassle. However, after doing so for a month, I didn’t end up minding it nearly as much as I thought I would. I still wore my Garmin to check time, distance, and pace while running, because I didn’t need to stop. However, the Strava app proved just as accurate, and the interface and website design proved to be quite efficient and well-organized. I have enjoyed being able to connect with other friends through Strava and compare runs, and it has given me a little extra boost in terms of my own motivation over the past month.

Prior to using the Strava app, I had downloaded and played around with several other iPhone apps, including iMapMyRun and RunKeeper. Both offer similar advantages and do a nice job of tracking your progress. The iMapMyRun app has the added bonus of connecting with the MapMyRun website, which allows you to map out routes ahead of time and then send them wirelessly to your iPhone. This is certainly a nice touch and that level of connectivity gives it a slight advantage in my book.

The reality is that running and exercise apps are a large and growing category of iOS applications, with each one looking to be the “next big thing” (much like every other category of applications, I suppose). Folks have their own preferences, and there is no shortage of reviews online to give you a myriad of feedback. At the end of the day, you really just need to select a few and find one that works best for you, depending on what you want out of the application.

Are you interested in simple tracking or are you a statistics junkie?

Do you want to link your data with social networking sites or external websites?

Does the application back up your data somewhere in case your phone crashes?

Are you looking for additional features such as calorie-counting, training plans, etc.?

Do you want to pay for the app or is it not worth the $$$ to you?

Is it going to be your primary tracking device or a secondary tracking device?

These are all important questions to ask yourself. However, don’t spend more time than you need to looking for the perfect app. You aren’t going to find it. You can, however, find one that fits in well with your running routine, without causing you any additional hassle. Here are some additional review websites that you may find useful:

Mashable: 10 Essential iPhone Running Apps

RN Central: 50 Awesome iPhone Apps for Runners

Lifehacker: Roll Your Own Nike+ iPhone App Readers Choice Best iPhone Running Apps

Oh, and in case you are wondering- I hit 264 miles this month. My GU is in the mail…in 4-6 weeks!

Marathon Sports: Checking Out the Best of Boston

During my most recent vacation with the beautiful epicurean, we spent the tail end of our trip in Boston. Now, I may have no delusions of being able to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but being in such an energetic and active city still takes on additional meaning as a runner. As we walked through the various neighborhoods, I couldn’t help but think about the history of the roads I was passing. Which world record-holders have trained on these very same stretches of pavement? What segments of the Boston Marathon have the eyes of these communities seen? Boston is a city filled with history, and I would certainly welcome the opportunity to sit down and chat with some of the fabled buildings, perhaps over a nice beer.

Our time in the city was short, but I just so happened to be nearing the end of the life cycle on my current pair of shoes, and it seemed only fitting that I stopped in at Boston’s favorite running store to pick up a new pair of trail ready shoes for my upcoming race. Marathon Sports was founded in 1975, and has been voted as Boston’s Best Running store for 12 straight years. They now have six locations around the city, and have become a running icon in the Boston community. So, I snagged my Dunkin Donuts coffee and headed off to check out just what they had to offer!

When I walked in, I was immediately greeted by one of the three employees working at the time. I explained my current situation and let him know that I was looking for a trail shoe for my upcoming race. Before pulling out a variety of shoes, he asked me to take off my shoes and walk/run so he could judge my stride and foot strike. They call this “The Right Fit” and it has become a staple of their business. I was thoroughly impressed with his ability to analyze my gate and found it matched up pretty darn well with what I had already known. He then went back and grabbed three different pairs of shoes for me to try on.

I was pleasantly surprised when I indicated that I should head outside and run up and down the block to get a better feel for each of the shoes. This was the first running store I had been in where I was allowed to actually take a pair of shoes out for a legitimate “test drive” and it certainly made all the difference. After trying on all three, it became clear that the Mizuno Wave Ascend was my clear favorite and felt the most comfortable. He agreed and indicated that it would hold up the best over the long distances I was going to be covering.

Now, I didn’t exactly have room in my suitcase for an extra pair of shoes but I wasn’t leaving the store without them, so I committed to making them fit. They were even on sale! All-in-all, it was a great experience and a wonderful way to end our time in Boston. In case I needed any further evidence that Marathon Sports had recommended the right shoe, I broke them in the next day with a 28 mile run, and they felt great. Now, if only I could say I would be going back there for all of my running needs!

The Snowflakes Turn Into Snot…I Swear!

Global Warming is real. If you didn’t believe it before, than this winter should give you all the evidence you need. The tornadoes plaguing the US in the last week have wreaked havoc, and the lack of snow and cold all winter has led to unseasonably warm weather and very little precipitation. This is why when it started snowing this morning, I expected it to die out very quickly. The large snowflakes gave me hope that it would. However, they turned into small flakes, and it most certainly didn’t die out. However, I had a run scheduled for today, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

I logged 24.5 miles yesterday despite another windy day, and needed to get in another long run to keep up with my training. Although I wasn’t certain it would be snowing, I still planned to meet a friend and head out- accountability and peer pressure are wonderful things sometimes! By the time I left, it was snowing at a pretty solid clip, with no signs of slowing. As we continued, it became clear that it was only going to get worse, and sure enough, it did. It got heavier and our visibility disappeared faster than a group of college kids after the cops bust a house party. None-the-less, we pushed forward, determined to get through it.

Now, normally I bring a pocketful of tissues on long runs. However, I had emptied my pockets yesterday, and forgot to restock. As if on que, my nose apparently became aware of this fact, and decided to run along with me. My friend and I almost simultaneously commented on the excessive amounts of snot dripping from our noses- perhaps our noses were racing. At the same time, as is always the case, dehydration began to set in just enough to remind us to keep drinking water, despite the magic of the cold to make us forget.

Photo Credit:

That’s when it all started to make sense. How on earth could I still be mopping up the snot coming out of my nose after I had lost so much moisture. Clearly, the only solution was that our bodies secretly turn precipitation into snot. It makes perfect sense. I’ll keep wiping my nose with my gloves,
which are covered with snow, thus putting the snow right back on and in my nose, and the cycle repeats itself. It’s a good thing most running gloves are inherently made to double as tissues.

Luckily, I was at least somewhat distracted from the race I was having with my snot by the snow building up in my shoes. I love the shoes I’m running in right now, but the concave design of the sole serves as a perfect container for the wet snow on the ground. This in turn means I find myself needing to stop every 1/4 miles to dig a snowball out of my heels. Now, if I was out on the playground, this would be great. However, for distance running, this becomes annoying. I finally stopped back at home to pick up my ice cleats, which definitely helped, but the flaw in my soles remains.

Maybe, through some strange scientific oddity, the snowballs in my heels are converted, through osmosis, into snot, which is then excreted through my nose, which I then wipe up with my gloves, which I use to dig the snow out of my heels. Are you seeing a pattern here? Coincidence- I think not!

Running for Research

Do you ever wonder if mice are really secretly passionate runners and the wheel they run on, while being injected with various substances in the name of science, is an opportunity for them to contribute to science and enjoy it at the same time?

Yesterday, I participated in a running research study designed to assess the accuracy of a product line of comprehensive health monitors. They strapped two separate models on my arm, and I proceeded to walk & run on a treadmill, on an indoor track, and outside. It was relatively easy, and it’s always fun to learn about the specifics of the study, and what they are looking to gain from the research. The $30 I earned for doing it was a nice bonus as well.

This study was actually the second running-related research project I have been a part of while at Iowa State University. Last semester, I spent several weeks attempting to transition from a heel strike to a forefoot strike as a part of a study sponsored by Brooks Running. I went into a lab on campus several times a week, and ran on a treadmill, using a forefoot strike, while motion-capture sensors and cameras tracked my movement. It was fascinating to track the change in my running pattern, especially since I had always wanted to attempt to make this switch, having read about its benefits for trail-running. Ultimately, I was able to make the switch with a greater degree of effort, but never found it as comfortable. I have since attempted to reach a happy medium, and do include forefoot legs of my longer runs in order to work out different muscle groups. That study netted me another $30 too, by the way.

Needless to say, the academic in me loves being able to support other scholars as they pursue their research, and the fact that I get to do so while engaging in my second passion, while also getting paid, just makes for a match made in heaven. The input-driven individual that I am, I love the opportunity to learn more about my own running, as well as relevant research which may help me to improve my form and effectiveness as I train.

I may not have been injected with any experimental drugs while I was on the treadmill, but none-the-less, I love the opportunity to combine my thirst for knowledge with my thirst for distance!

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