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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ultramarathons for the Lazy Runner: Chapter Eight- Drop Bags

What is a drop bag?

A drop bag is some sort of container used to hold supplies needed during a race.  The drop bag is dropped at some point along the race route.  You will have access to the bag when you reach that part of the course.

Is a drop bag actually a Bag?

Not necessarily, though that is the most common container.  Some people use backpacks, duffel bags, plastic shopping bags, or garbage bags.  Other containers can be used, too.  I like Rubbermaid containers.  Some people use five gallon buckets.  More or less any container will work, though it should be water-tight.  Each race may have specific rules that dictate size, shape, and acceptable containers.

Do you NEED drop bags?

If you have a crew and that crew has access to every aid station where drop bags are allowed, then no.  If your crew does not have access to some drop bag locations, they can be useful. 

What goes IN the drop bags?

Drop bags can be used to stash almost any supplies needed for the race.  Common contents include things like food, gels (technically food... but barely), electrolytes, first aid crap, lube, dry socks, spare clothes, rain gear, sun screen, insect repellent, anti-diarrhea meds, batteries, or whatever else you think you need.

How do you know if you pack too much?

For my first ultra, I had about 12 five-quart Rubbermaid containers full of assorted "goodies."  Each drop "bag' was packed with everything I thought I would need.  That turned out to be a huge mistake.  When I arrived at the aid station, it took way too long to dig through the container to find what I needed.  I had a ton of crap that just got in the way.  So how do you determine what is needed?  Make a list of everything you think you need.  Figure out what items will be available at the aid station and remove them from your list.  Now eliminate unnecessary items (no need for batteries at an aid station you'll pass at noon.)  Now put everything else in the drop bag.  Go to an open field and throw it as far as you can.  If you can't throw it more than 50 feet, you packed too much.

Experienced ultrarunners- what goes in your drop bags?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

POSE and Science: Need some clarification

First, I have to preface this entire rant with this disclaimer: I like POSE.  I use elements of POSE.  I recommend POSE as one option for new barefoot runners in the event they can't develop good form based only on feel.  This is in no way meant to belittle the ideas behind POSE, I agree with 99% of the entire POSE running program.

Having said that, many POSE followers will cite "science" that "proves" POSE is the pinnacle of running.  Correct me if I am wrong, but the five peer-reviewed articles posted on the POSE cite use control groups of heel-toe runners (what we often call "heel strikers".) 

I don't doubt that POSE is better than the typical overstriding/heel strike we often see from most recreational runners.  This research indicates this trend.  I also think the vast majority of barefoot running research could be generalized to POSE (found here.)

What I question- is there any peer-reviewed research that indicates POSE is superior to ChiRunning, Evolution Running, barefoot running, or any other form of "natural" running?  My review of the literature turned up nothing.

It would seem that POSE followers often recite POSE marketing information as if it were actual research.  Romanov's writings, no matter how logical, cannot be used as a substitute for reliable, valid peer-reviewed published research. 

I agree that POSE makes sense.  I agree that it is vastly superior to heel striking.  A very good logical argument can be made for the premise behind POSE.  What I disagree with is the belief that it is superior to any other similar method.  POSE followers, please provide me with anything from the literature that would clarify this issue. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Barefoot Running Book Update and Rumors About New Newton Shoe

The Barefoot Running Book

I received the first printing of The Barefoot Running Book on Friday.  I packaged and shipped all the pre-orders by Saturday.  With orders over the weekend, I'm only left with about 15 books.  In the event you are considering ordering, the books will likely sell out by late Monday or Tuesday. 

I already started the process of initiating the second printing, but they will not be delivered until Friday or even possibly next Monday.  I may still accept back orders for the rest of the week in an attempt to meet demand, but my supply chain will be a bit dicey for a few weeks.  I sincerely apologize for the delays. 

New Newton Shoe

Newton is developing a super-light moccasin-like shoe for the minimalist market.  Details are still a bit sketchy, but it sounds as if the shoe will weigh less than five ounces, has a zero heel to toe differential, and a relatively thin sole.  The sole will not be wafer-thin as Vibrams or Terra Plana's EVO soles.  Instead, it sounds more like a racing flat sole.  I'll share more details as they develop.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Evolution Running DVD Review- The greatest running technique barefoot runners have never heard of

Evolution Running is a running technique developed by Ken Mierke. Currently, it is a technique that lives in the shadows of more popular programs such as ChiRunning and POSE.  A few of my barefoot running friends have mentioned Evolution Running before, but my interest was minimal.

My philosophy on running form has always been based on individual experimentation.  Every runner should expose themselves to as many ideas as possible.  After testing, keep the stuff that works and discard the stuff that doesn't.  ChiRunning and POSE are great sources for information.  Evolution Running not only joins this exclusive club of techniques, but should be rushed to the front of the "must-have" list.

When I began barefoot running, I investigated ChiRunning but found the references to "Chi" to be too distracting.  I had no background with Tai Chi, so the concept seemed too foreign.  I investigated POSE, but found the focus on the tiniest detail did not fit my learning style.  Instead of these programs, I relied on information from other barefoot runners like Ken Bob, Ted, and Rick.  I used elements of Chi and POSE to enhance my own technique.  The result is a weird hybrid form pieced together from many sources.

That method served me well until I started to teach others.  I will often recommend ChiRunning or POSE to new runners that require more guidance than my "trust your body" approach.  Some succeed with these programs, some do not.  I requested to review this DVD in the hopes that this technique would fill the void for new barefoot runners that did not have success with ChiRunning or POSE.  Not only were my expectations met, but they were impressively exceeded.

Evolution Running is remarkably similar to the very techniques and drills I teach in clinics and workshops.  Of the three programs, this one would be most appropriate to teach form that would result in successful barefoot running.  The technique is based on the premise of developing efficiency.   Since distance running demands efficiency, I think Evolution Running would be an excellent resource for ultrarunners, too.

The video itself features Ken talking about the theory behind the elements of good form.  The video also features "right" and "wrong" examples of running form, quality animations, and excellent bonus material (drills, faqs, and background information.)

Ken dissects good form to six points:
  • Balance between cadence and stride length,
  • Foot strike placement,
  • Foot strike (EDIT- one of my points of disagreement),
  • Developing propulsion of the foot at impact,Movement of foot at impact,
  • Limb movement.
The balance between cadence and stride length emphasizes the need to take shorter, quicker steps.  Foot placement refers to the feet contacting the ground under the body's center of mass.  The foot strike section talks about how the foot will come in contact with the ground.  I'll talk about this in the next paragraph.  Developing propulsion of the foot at impact was new to me; it is an analysis of the muscles used to generate movement.  Of the techniques discussed this is one the variations from what I teach.  Movement of foot at impact is what I refer to as "paw-back", or the foot's direction of movement immediately before coming in contact with the ground.  Finally, limb movement discusses how the arms and legs should move throughout the gait cycle.

Ken advocates using a midfoot strike (though he refers to it as forefoot, but that's splitting hairs.)  This part is good.  My disagreement comes from the heel.  Ken teaches the heel should barely touch the ground.  In my experiences, both personal and as a barefoot running teacher, this will cause excessive stress on the calf muscles and Achilles tendon.  When just transitioning, this tightness seems to be a major contributing factor in post-barefoot plantar fasciitis (my won made-up term.)  Ken's technique would be very good for shorter distances.  Still, I would instruct runners to allow the calf muscles to remain relaxed, which will result in significant weight being placed on the heel after it gently touched the ground.  Thanks to Kelly Cox for pointing this out!

He also discusses the nemesis of many barefoot runners... hills.  His description of uphill running is perfect.  I previously use his method of downhill running until ultra distances caused too many patellar tendon problems... I teach a very different technique.

The true value of this DVD is the simplicity of Ken's methods.  I tried all of Ken's techniques and could instantly implement them successfully.  It wasn't much of a test as I've done most of this for years.  As a true test, I had five random students in a physical eduacation class at my school watch the video and try the techniques.  All five have horrid running form.  All five were able to implement each element successfully and experience immediate improvement.  Their technique was far from perfect, but the improvement was still dramatic.

Ken's Evolution Running method has moved to the front of my list of running techniques I will recommend to new barefoot or minimalist shoe runners.  Ken's techniques aren't inherently superior to either ChiRunning or POSE, but his descriptions and examples are very easy to implement.  I am somewhat surprised that Evolution Running has not already generated more buzz within the barefoot running community.  This product should be at the top of every barefoot and minimalist shoe runners' wish list.

Evolution Running can be purchased at the Barefoot Running University Store via Amazon or here.
The product was supplied by the manufacturer

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Barefoot Runners Meeting for Bolder Boulder 10k in Boulder, Colorado!

Rob Sanchez is working with Michael Sandler and runBARE to build barefoot running in Colorado.  He will be helping organize and run the Boulder Barefoot Group while Michael and Jessica are embarking on their book tour.  Rob is organizing an opportunity for barefoot runners to run as a wave in the Bolder Boulder 10k.  Here's the details from Rob:

The Bolder Boulder (the 2nd Largest 10K in the US, and recently named the All-Time Best 10K by Runner’s World Magazine) has reserved registration slots for Barefoot/VFF Runners and has assigned our group it's own wave!
To register to start the race with fellow barefoot and VFF runners, when entering your information on the Bolder Boulder Registration page, in the DETAILS Box, all you have to do is enter RUNBARE and you will be registered to start the race with our group!
Also, we will be meeting in section 209 after the race!
For more info on the Race, as well as registration, please go to www.BolderBoulder.com

If you can make it to this event, join them!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Be part of a world record! Calling all barefoot runners!

On May 7th, 2010 we will set a world record for Largest Barefoot Race!  We've been hammering out the details for a few months, and we're now set up to begin formal registration!

Race details can be found here: http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/barefootmeetup.htm

Overview of the race:  It will be a non-competitive (i.e. fun) 200 meter race.  We expect at least several hundred participants.  We will be conducting a workshop and question-and-answer session prior to the record-setting race.  A large number of us will also be running in the Fifth Third Riverbank Run the following morning (http://www.53riverbankrun.com.) 

If you want to be part of a world record, fill out the registration form under the "Participant Registration" section of this page: http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/barefootmeetup.htm.  Participation in the world record run Friday evening is free.

We're also looking for volunteers for anyone that wants to be part of the fun but has no interest in running.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Walmart Aqua Socks- Do They Live Up To The Hype?

Walmart Aqua Socks (a.k.a. water shoes, water socks, aqua shoes, calzado acu├ítico, or whatever you want to call them) are an often-recommended minimalist shoe for new and experienced barefoot/minimalist shoe runners.  Do they live up to the hype?  

To find out, I requested a pair from Walmart for this review.  After months of cutting through the bureaucratic red tape, I was on the verge of procuring a pair when their background check on me revealed that I am a pseudo-officer in my professional trade union.  Instead of receiving a pair of aqua socks, I received a letter warning me that Walmart would eliminate all "Barefoot Runner" positions in stores world-wide if I continued my subversive organized labor tactics.


Well, it appeared as though I would have to buy them myself.  I returned a garbage bag full of beer bottles (the benefit of Michigan's $.10 deposit on recyclable cans and bottles) to afford the steep $8 price tag.  We'll see how the 2010 incarnation of the Walmart Aqua Socks fare.






My History with Walmart Aqua Socks


I'm very familiar with Walmart aqua socks.  When I began my barefoot journey, I stumbled on the idea of using these on terrain that was too rough for barefoot running.  I bought about 10 pair of aqua socks from various stores, including four pair from Walmart.  


Those early versions (circa 2006) weren't very good.  They lasted about 150-200 miles, didn't fit well, and were butt-ass ugly.  Their single redeeming value- they were cheap.  At only $5, I could afford to buy A LOT.  As soon as one pair wore out, I could replace them with minimal expense.  


I even ran a 50 mile trail ultra in these shoes.  It was during this experience that I fully realized the benefits and shortcomings of Walmart aqua socks.


The 2010 Version

The 2010 version isn't significantly different than the earlier version.  They now have a single velcro tab that does nothing to modify the fit of the shoe.  It appears to have been added for aesthetics and differentiate the shoe from a slipper.  Like the old version, this model consists of a rubber sole with fairly aggressive traction and a stretchy fabric upper.  

Sizing is tricky.  They are sold in a S,M,L, and XL version, each with an approximate size.  I normally wear a size 11, so I chose the "L" (11/12 according to the tag on the shoe.)  This size is too large, but the "M" is too small.  A good rule of thumb with any minimalist shoe- go with the larger size.


As I do with all minimalist shoes, I removed the insoles for testing.  I tried the shoe with socks and without.  I ran on asphalt, technical trails, non-technical trails, hills, an indoor track, on snow, and through a grassy field.  This testing period confirmed that the Walmart aqua sock has not changed in regards to function since my first experiences a few years ago.  


Positives


Ground feel- This shoe ranks among the best I've tested in regards to ground feel.  Without the insole, it ranks slightly better than Vibram's KSO.  If ground feel is important, this would be an excellent shoe.  If you are looking for a shoe that offers superior protection, this shoe would be a poor choice.  I could easily feel every rock on the gravel roads.


Price- They cost $8.  Do I need to say more?


Potential for Cold Weather Running- As of right now, I have not reviewed a shoe that works very well in snow.  This shoe has fairly aggressive traction.  When paired with a thermal sock, it is one of the better winter shoes I've tried.  Prior to finding KSOs and now Terra Plana's EVO, this was my preferred winter running shoe.

Weight- Surprisingly, these are the lightest aqua socks I have found to date.


Negatives


Quality- They cost $8.  Do I need to say more?  


Actually, I will make a few comments.  I averaged about 160 miles from my previous Walmart aqua socks.  The sole would wear through after about 200 miles on asphalt, but the upper had a tendency to fall apart earlier.  The 2010 version suffers from the same lack of craftsmanship.  This is a poorly made product that is worth about $8.  


Fit- Unless you happen to have feet that fit perfectly in one of Walmart's four sizes, this will be problematic.  Aqua socks are good minimalist shoes because they are light and flexible.  They allow your foot to move in a natural way by clinging like a glove.  These particular aqua socks work more like huaraches- they are loosely held to your foot.  Your foot will move around inside the shoe.  The inner lining may cause significant friction (i.e. blisters) as a result.  

Aesthetics- These are the ugliest of the aqua socks I have found.  They look very similar to bedroom slippers.


Hills- This is related to fit, but deserves it's own section.  Running uphill in this shoe is not necessarily troublesome.  Running down hill is.  The poor fit of this shoe allows your foot to slide forward inside the shoe.  This causes the top of your toes to strike the inside of the toe box.  Even though the shoe is constructed of a thin, flexible fabric, it causes enough impact force to cause blackeded toenails.  This was the primary reason I switched to the better quality minimalist shoes (VFFS and EVO.)  

Performance in wet conditions- This shoe performs about the same as my KSOs.  If they get wet, they drain quickly and will dry within about 30 minutes if no socks are worn.  Wet weather performance is good, but a few other aqua socks perform better.  Some have drainage holes in the sole, which dramatically improve wet weather performance.  The Walmart aqua socks could benefit from that feature.


My recommendation


This is not a good shoe.  However, the price makes it desirable to a few groups.  Brand new barefoot or minimalist shoe runners that are not running significant mileage could use these instead of making an investment in the pricier options.  Road runners could use these if they do not encounter many hills.  Trail runners should avoid this particular aqua sock unless the fit is perfect.  


Aqua socks can be a very good option.  I will be reviewing another aqua sock in the near future (produced by Wave Runner.)  It is only $2.00 more than the Walmart version, but offers many significant improvements.  If you decide to try aqua socks, shop around.  The Walmart version should be a last resort. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

POSE and ChiRunning... a Clarification

After reading the comments, then re-reading my original post, I felt a clarification was necessary.  My original post was poorly worded and made a few points that were not clear.  I would consider this my "official" stance on both POSE and ChiRunning:

  1. Both methods are excellent techniques that would help the vast majority of runners.  I use elements of both in my own running.  I teach elements of both to my students.  I list both books as resources for new barefoot runners.
  2. POSE and ChiRunning's commonalities far outweigh their differences.  The differences are minor, especially when compared to the overstriding heel striking stride used by so many recreational runners today.
  3. I do not fault Romanov or Dreyer for profiting off their respective techniques.  Both have dedicated their lives to improving the running experience for others.  I may not agree with their marketing at times, but I do not consider either to be a "gimmick" in any sense of the word.
  4. My criticism of Romanov's research is simply that he's profiting off the same techniques his research supports.  There's nothing wrong with that, but it should raise some degree of skepticism.  We should demand ALL research be replicated by disinterested third parties, especially if there is a profit motive in the original research.  A single study or line of research by a single researcher or team is always prone to experimenter bias.  Example- Lieberman's research was partially funded by Vibram.  While I agree with his results, we shouldn't treat it as gospel until others are able to replicate his findings.
  5. My use of the term "pseudo-science" in describing POSE was unjustified.  If POSE research is guilty of anything, it would be over-generalization.  Again, that is an issue with all research.
  6. My problems with POSE AND ChiRunning has to do with the respective proponents of each technique, not the techniques themselves.  I do not believe either technique is appropriate for everyone.  Some elements of POSE may work for some but not all.  The same applies to ChiRunning.  As some of my Runners World Barefoot Running Forum friends have pointed out, both techniques fall into the same category as barefoot running.  It's not appropriate for everyone.  The followers of POSE and ChiRunning will often argue that their method is infallible.  What is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.  It is up to each goose to find their own way.

POSE versus ChiRunning... A Showdown For The Ages

POSE and ChiRunning are two programs that aim to teach runners to run with greater efficiency and reduced injuries.  Both programs are widely supported among barefoot runners.  Both programs have fiercely loyal followers.  I have no financial stake in either.

I've read extensively on both techniques.  As is my custom, I take what I can use from any available source and experiment with it.  Some things make me better.  I keep those.  Some make me worse.  Those I abandon.  I don't believe either is entirely correct for every possible individual.  To claim otherwise would be stupid.  Still, people often ask for a recommendation of one over the other.  My response is simple- try both.

 Both methods are extraordinarily similar.  POSE will wrap itself in a shroud of "science", most of which was conducted by Nick Romanov, the man that profits from POSE sales.  ChiRunning shrouds itself in Eastern mysticsm.  I consider both to be marketing B.S., though proponents of both will claim otherwise.  The real value of both can be found in the fundamentals.

Followers of both will often preach about the infallibility of their particular program, though Chi proponents tend to be a little less dogmatic.  I have encountered several hard-core POSE followers that refuse to accept the idea that POSE may not be the best possible solution for every single runner.  Their fanaticism reminds me of religious zealots... that annoys me.  POSE claims to be rooted in science.  A fundamental tenent of the scientific method states any theory must be able to be refuted.  That idea seems incomprehensible to some POSE followers, even when presented with contradictory evidence.

Personally, I use elements of both in my own running.  Anyone that has watched me run can see both ChiRunning and POSE-influenced techniques.  The Chi element of ChiRunning leaves a distaste in my mouth, as does the pseudo-scientific fanaticsm of POSE followers.  Still, I recommend any new barefoot or minimalist shoe runner explore both methods.  Both can provide an excellent knowledge base of techniques and drills to help you find your best running form.


What are your experiences with each method? 

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ultramarathon Guide for the Lazy Runner: Chapter Six- Do you need a pacer?

A pacer is another runner that runs with you during a race. In the ultramarathon world, pacers are not official race entrants. They may or may not run the entire course with their runner. This is often dictated by the rules of the particular race. A pacer's main duty is to get you to the finish line. If you are running for performance, they will help assure you stay on pace for your anticipated finish time.


When choosing a race, one consideration should be pacer rules. In my first 100 mile attempt (Burning River in NE Ohio), I could use a pacer after about mile 60. This turned out to be problematic as I had already crashed and was burning badly. I doubt a pacer could have saved that performance, but there were some dark times wandering around in the cold, dark Ohio Metro Parks.


In my second 100 mile attempt, I could use pacers after 1pm of the first day of the race. This equated to about mile 33 or so. This made a HUGE difference. My pacers were able to relay information to my crew. They were able to keep me motivated. As the night closed around us, my pacers literally kept me on pace. And entertained... more on that later.


Pacer duties vary based on runner needs. In my second 100 mile attempt, I was very lucky. None of my pacers had experience actually pacing. However, three of the four were experienced trail runners that had run in the dark. One was an avid reader of all things related to pacing. One was an excellent singer. All of those qualities made up for their lack of experience. Here are some common duties for pacers:


• Keep you from quitting

• Keep you on a specific pace

• Monitor your health

• Make sure you are eating and drinking enough

• Keeping you on-course

• Tolerate runner's mood swings

• Interpret runner's incoherent mumbling late in the race

• Keep track of distances and time between aid stations

• Act as a mule by carrying stuff for runner (if rules allow)

• Keep runner motivated

• Lie to runner if necessary (example- "You look GREAT!")

• Diagnose and fix problems (blisters, getting lost, etc.)

• Determine if a runner is injured or just bitching about routine ultra pains

• Distract your runner from said pain

• Keep runner well ahead of cutoff times

• Keep runner lubed up to prevent chafing

• Monitor runner's urination (frequency and color... though I'd rely on self-report for the color)

• Provide extra light at night; carry extra batteries

• Refill water bottles at aid stations

• Be prepared to bitch-slap your runner if they become delusional

• Always try to anticipate your runner's needs before they arise

• Be prepared for a lack of sleep

• Be prepared to meet your own needs so your runner does not have to worry about you

• Make sure your runner's clothing matches weather/temperature

• Take pictures when appropriate

• Be prepared for the terrain you will face

• Know the crew's race plan/strategy

• Be patient with your runner- they will likely be in a less-than-friendly mood

• Be prepared to answer questions for your runner. They may lose the ability to communicate late in a race


My Pacers for Hallucination


I was very fortunate to have an entire team of pacers for my first 100 mile finish. Each pacer had unique qualities that they brought to the table. Each of my four pacers ran a 16.66 mile loop.


Shelly, my wife, ran the first loop. She was not an experienced trail runner and this would be her longest run to date. I had been running for about seven hours, so I was still in good shape physically. Since it was light, I didn't have a lot of issues. This is the point where I was starting to get a little bored. I don't recall everything we talked about, but Shelly knows all of my interests. It was very easy for her to distract me. Admittedly, running behind her served the same purpose. :-)


Mark Robillard was next. We may be distant relatives, but he's my unofficially-adopted brother. Mark is an experienced trail runner and we occasionally train together. His job was to push me after the halfway point. This is where I crashed in my previous 100 mile attempt, so this was a critical stage. Mark was able to coax me into running the vast majority of the loop. If I remember right, nightfall occurred towards the end of Mark's loop.


Michael Helton was next. He's also an experienced trail runner and read everything he could find about pacing and crewing. We were far enough ahead of the cutoff to allow for a good deal of walking. The exact memories of this stage were fuzzy, but he kept me moving at a decent pace (at least it felt like that to me.) This was the stage where thoughts of quitting were constantly creeping into my head. Michael never allowed me to entertain those thoughts.


Stuart Peterson was next. Stuart was also an experienced trail runner. By the time he took over, I was a mess physically. I didn't think I could manage anything more than a slow walk. Somehow Stuart coaxed me into running small sections. He also kept me distracted by telling endless stories intertwined with singing show tunes.


I was very fortunate to have these pacers. What they lacked in specific pacing experience they made up for with a willingness to learn. All four adapted to the conditions and quickly mastered their unique roles. Needless to say, I would love to have any (and all) of them pace me for future races.

For more information on pacing, check out Kevin Sayers' site.  See my 2009 Hallucination 100 Race Report here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Barefoot Runners are Stupid...

Okay, maybe we're not stupid.  But sometimes we make bad decisions.  Sometimes we allow our inner-competitiveness and/or stubbornness to lead us into poor decisions.  This is my curse.

Sometimes us barefoot runners give an illusion of invincibility.  We often tout our resilience to common running injuries.  Truth is, we may avoid some injuries, but a new range of issues arise.  Abrasion injuries are one such curse.  My current demon- the chronically-injured big toe on my right foot.

On New Year's Eve, I ran a four mile race on wet asphalt in sub-freezing temperatures.  I'm a bit competitive in these shorter road races, so I pushed hard.  I was happy with my finish time, but developed a blister on both big toes that appeared to be quite deep.  I ran a six mile race the next day wearing Vibrams without incident.  Since there was little pain, I more or less forgot about the blisters.

Fast forward about a month.  On an especially warm late January day, I went for a winter trail run with some running friends.  The temperature was flirting with the freezing point, so I decided to go barefoot.  I also decided to run with Rick, the fastest of the group.  About half way through the run on icy, crusty snow, I noticed what could best be described as a dull pain emanating from both big toes.  Even though I was carrying my Vibrams in my hydration Pack, I decided to continue on.  At the six mile mark, Rick stopped to retrieve his coat from behind a bush.  We were stationary for perhaps 30 seconds.  When I took the next step, I was shocked to see a pool of blood about the size of a small pizza.

The dead skin that had covered the blisters had torn away leaving a very fragile, paper-thin layer of new skin.  The icy shards of ice had punctured several holes in the left toe.  The right wasn't as fortunate.  All that remained of the bottom of the right toe was what appeared to be the fat layer under the dermis.  Is that even possible?  At any rate, it hurt like Hell.

I still avoided the Vibrams based on the logic that the snow would help curb the bleeding.  The last two miles were spent gingerly running to avoid excessive pressure on my hamburger-like big toes.  When we arrived at our cars, I immediately applied a few Wendy's napkins affixed with discount duct tape.

The rest of the crew arrived; we exchanged small talk.  They commented that it looked as if a gun-shot victim had been running the trails.  I started feeling dizzy.  I'm sure it was the result of the pain, but I couldn't help but wonder how much blood I was losing.

I averaged about five miles per week over the next few weeks as the toes healed.  I have been able to slowly increase mileage in shoes.  Luckily I've been reviewing shoes, so I had a convenient excuse to indulge in their protectiveness.  At some point, I had to take the plunge and work on building barefoot miles on asphalt to prepare for Mind the Ducks, a 12 hour ultramarathon run on a 1/2 mile asphalt loop.

This last weekend, I managed six barefoot miles on asphalt without problem. Pace was about 9:30/mile.  I had some time to kill two days ago, so I decided to do a quick four mile run barefoot on asphalt.  The weather was wonderful... the road had a few hills... I couldn't resist the temptation to test myself.  I averaged slightly under a 7:20/mile pace.  The result- two hot spots and a few tiny cuts on my still-fragile right big toe.

I just don't learn.  I assumed the feet would be fine, so I went for an anticipated three mile barefoot run on a leaf-covered trail yesterday.  I made it about 1.5 miles before pain caused me to stop.  The cuts were significantly worse.  I taped the toe, wore my EVOs, and ran for another three.

Now my quandary... I am running the Irish Jig 5k in East Grand Rapids this Saturday.  If I go barefoot, I will have to go very slow.  If I wear Vibrams or EVOs, I may be able to come close to setting a 5k PR.  Running barefoot will be more enjoyable; running in shoes will satisfy my inner-competitiveness.  Running barefoot will help condition my feet for Mind the Ducks, but increase the change of further injuring the toe.  Wearing the shoes will do nothing to prep for MTD, but will eliminate the chance of injury.  Did I mention I hate running in shoes?

What would you do?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Newton Sir Isaac Review: Painting a portait with a paint roller

Newton Sir Isaac Review- Synopsis

Quality but fairly expensive cushioned trainer designed for a midfoot strike. This particular model is designed for runners that prefer cushioned trainers and is not intended to be a "barefoot" replacement.  The shoe would be a poor choice for barefoot or minimalist shoe runners due to a lack of ground feel, inadequate room to allow toes to splay, weight, and inflexible design. The Sir Isaac would be a very good choice for runners that do not want to give up cushioned trainers but are interested in changing to a midfoot strike.

Newton Sir Isaac Review- In Depth

When I decided to get into the reviewing game, I knew this time would come. I would have to review a shoe I did not like. It was inevitable, really. As a barefoot runner, every shoe will be inadequate in some way. Still, I knew I had something to offer my fellow barefoot runners. When conditions are either too cold or too hot, or the terrain is too rough, shoes are a necessary evil. I could help my barefoot brethren make an informed decision.

The moment I opened the Newton box, I knew this would be that shoe. There sat a giant, heavy, imposing piece of rubber that looked as if it could eat every other shoe in my collection. This shoe was the exact opposite of my ideal shoe. How could I possibly review this shoe? How could I even run in this shoe?



It was clear this shoe was a cushioned trainer. I haven’t run in a cushioned trainer in six years! This could be very interesting.

The specific model, the Sir Isaac, was unfamiliar to me. A quick check of Newton’s website revealed this shoe to be their transition shoe. It was intended to help runners transition from traditional cushioned trainers to Newton’s cushioned trainers. Great. Not only is this a heavy, cushioned shoe… it’s the heaviest in Newton’s lineup!

IMPORTANT- Newton DOES make several models that would be much more desirable to a barefoot or minimalist shoe runner, such as the Racer.  I should be reviewing this shoe in the near future.  The first part of this review is done from the perspective of a barefoot runner.  Later in the review, I address this shoe as a replacement for cushioned trainers.

Still, I was determined to give the shoe a fair chance. I knew many runners that have tried Newtons. About 75% loved them. For any shoe, that is a very good percentage. Unfortunately, none of those runners were barefoot runners.

A quick review of their website refreshed Newton’s theories. The shoes are designed to allow runners to use a forefoot or midfoot landing. Most cushioned trainers… okay, ALL cushioned trainers are designed for a heel strike. It is possible to use a midfoot strike in other cushioned trainers… it’s just difficult.

This particular model can be found online for around $150. While the price is steep, this is a very high quality shoe. Construction appears to be excellent. Based on my discussions of long-time Newton fans, these shoes are above average in regards to durability.

One quick note about Newton’s marketing… they associate themselves with barefoot running. Many shoe companies, even some that produce excellent minimalist shoes, use the same marketing strategy. This really annoys me. No shoe will approximate the same experience as running barefoot.

Newtons promote a midfoot strike by mostly eliminating the heel drop (difference between thickness of the sole compared to the thickness of the forefoot) and adding technology that will return the energy from your foot hitting the ground. As the theory goes, this will allow the shoe to propel you forward with each step.

At this point, I have to add this disclaimer. I’m a barefoot runner. I base all my reviews off the premise that bare feet cannot be improved upon by any technology. My own opinions of this shoe are not the opinions of all runners that have used this shoe. I think barefoot runners could generalize my review to their own probable experiences with this shoe. However, if you currently run in cushioned trainers, most of this review will be irrelevant.

Let’s jump into the actual review. The first time I wore the shoes, I immediately felt like I was wearing stilts. I was definitely not used to having so much material between my feet and the ground. The Sir Isaacs’ sole is approximately 30mm. The thickest shoes I normally wear have a 4mm sole. That 24mm (close to one inch) felt VERY significant.

As expected, the shoes felt like walking on giant circus peanuts. It took some time to adapt to the squishiness (very scientific term) of the shoes. Aside from the thickness of the sole, I also noticed the toe box was tight relative to the minimalist shoes I normally wear. My other preferred shoes have a wide toe box which allows the toes to splay.

The weight of the shoe was also significant. The weight is listed at 10.9 ounces. It’s not significantly more than my Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot EVOs or Vibram KSOs, but it felt significantly heavier. I believe the overall girth of the shoe created this perceptual illusion.

The last thing I noticed- the “Action/Reaction Technology” that propelled me forward really did seem to work as described. It was a very foreign and unwelcome feeling as it added to the cushioned feel of the shoe. I had to wait about a week to actually take them for a run as I was testing the EVO at the same time.

The First Run

I was dreading this run. I tried to force my negative expectations out of my head. This would be a three mile run on relatively flat roads composed of asphalt and gravel. The run started off a bit slow as it took some time to acclimate to the weight and lack of ground feel. After about a mile, I settled into my normal gait. Over the two miles, these were my initial impressions:

• The shoe actually allowed me to use a version of my normal midfoot gait. I was a bit surprised by this even though it is Newton’s main selling point. +1 for Sir Isaac.

• The “Action/Reaction Technology” was more distracting than helpful. It could be best described as a bouncy feeling. I hate cushioning under my feet. Not only did this feel like running on pillows, the pillows pushed back after each foot strike. -1 for Sir Isaac.

• The toe box was uncomfortably narrow. This would prove to be a major red mark for me. -1 for Sir Isaac.

• The shoe didn’t feel as heavy as it had when I wore it at home. I definitely knew I was wearing a shoe, but it wasn’t as bad as expected. +1 for Sir Isaac.

• The complete and total lack of ground feel made the run… well… feel like work. Being able to feel the terrain is one of the great joys I get from running. -1 for Sir Isaac.

• After two miles, my feet were already hot. Ventilation in these shoes was well below my expectations. -1 for Sir Isaac.

My second run was roughly the same distance over the same type of terrain, and the experience was identical to the first run.

The third run was a longer run of about 12.5 miles. I had the same complains as before, but the run went well. I was able to complete the distance without developing any unusual pains. This is significant. With any other non-minimalist shoe I’ve tried, injuries spring up on longer runs. I’ve tried racing flats to no avail. It was too difficult to maintain my normal gait. The Newtons did not interfere with my form. Based on this alone, I believe Newtons really are effective at allowing a midfoot strike.

My final test run consisted of about three miles on lightly technical trails. The Sir Isaacs still felt heavy and overly-cushioned, but I was able to identify one more positive characteristic: these shoes have awesome traction! Also, the shoes do not encourage heel striking, but they do allow it. When running down hills, it can be difficult to maintain a midfoot strike without eventually developing patellar tendon pain. My usual remedy is to traverse down hills using a slalom skiing technique. The Sir Isaacs pretty much allowed me to bomb down the hills at full speed.

Conclusions

I may be the worst possible reviewer for these shoes. Barefoot runners are not a demographic that will appreciate these shoes. I would not recommend these shoes to current barefoot runners. Likewise, I would not recommend these shoes to runners transitioning to barefoot running. Runners that enjoy minimalist shoes will find the Sir Isaacs to be too much shoe.  There are other shoes in the Newton lineup that would be more appropriate.

Based on conversations with other normally-shod runners, Newtons do meet the needs of shod runners adapting a midfoot strike AND have no intention to run barefoot or in minimalist shoes. The cushioning aspect that I found very annoying is preferred by many runners. The weight is actually lighter than most cushioned trainers. I talked to several runners that were very happy with these shoes. Newton has developed a reputation of producing quality shoes that meet the needs of many runners… I’m just not one of those runners.

Some of my running partners have no interest in barefoot or minimalist shoe running. I will suggest Newtons as a possible replacement for their Nikes, Asics, and Brooks cushioned trainers. There is merit to adapting a midfoot strike, and Newtons accomplish this. They will meet the needs of anyone that is unwilling to give up the cushioning of their traditional trainers, but want to adopt a midfoot strike. For this demographic, the cost of Sir Isaacs would be well-justified.

This is a good shoe, just not for me.  It simply does not fit my style of running.  Had I found this shoe prior to running barefoot, I may not have tried barefoot running.

None of my favorite running stores carry Newtons, so I recommend you purchase them from Marathon Sports in Boston.  They're barefoot-friendly!

This product was provided by the manufacturer.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why I Love Barefoot Running

After spending the winter running indoors or suffering with my feet being wrapped in some type of minimalist shoes, I finally got a chance to do a trail run on dirt with Shelly (check out her blog here).  I wouldn't even classify it as a run.  It was two and a half hours of playing.  The feeling of the trails on my soles was simply euphoric.  Sometimes people ask why I run barefoot.  My first instinct is rattle off the injury prevention aspect, increased tactile or proprioception, or even oxygen savings.  

Truth be told, I run barefoot because it is really f***ing fun!  For those of you that have just started, it can be discouraging.  Trust me, IT IS WORTH THE EFFORT!  Running barefoot has the magical capability to take you back to your childhood.  If you do not enjoy running- ditch the shoes!  





Newton's Sir Isaac Shoes: First Impressions

Newton is a company that has long-fascinated me.  They have associated themselves with the barefoot running movement, but seemingly produce shoes that have little do to with barefoot running.  The theory behind Newton shoes is both simple and complex.  The simple explanation- the shoes are cushioned trainers designed for a midfoot landing.  The complex answer- look here:


My First Impressions

I received these shoes on the same day I received Terra Plana VivoBarefoot's EVO.  The difference between the shoes could not be greater.  The EVOs are a true minimalist shoe with a 4mm sole.  The Sir Isaacs look like a traditional cushioned running shoe.  They felt heavy.  The sole looked like it was REALLY thick.  My measurements put the sole at about 30mm.  I couldn't believe these shoes were being marketed as shoes that "will make your feet think they are barefoot."  For those that have been reading this blog for some time, you will know I am VERY annoyed at marketing claims any shoe is close to or better than barefoot running.  Needless to say, I was skeptical of Newton's claim.


It took a about a week before I actually tried the shoes as I was infatuated with the EVOs.  The first time I wore the shoes, I was seriously questioning why they sent this shoe.  This particular shoe was designed to help shod runners learn to run with a forefoot strike.  As a long-time barefoot runner, I've been using a forefoot strike for years.  Furthermore, my ideal shoe would be the exact polar opposite of this shoe. 

My ultimate shoe needs a wafer-thin sole to provide good ground feel.  My greatest complaint of the EVO and Vibram's KSOs are the soles are too thick (about 4 and 3mm respectively.)  The Sir Isaac sole is 30mm. 

My ultimate shoe also must allow for good toe articulation which allows for toe splaying.  The Sir Isaac has a thin, restrictive toe box relative to my other shoes. 

My ultimate shoe must be somewhat flexible, the Sir Issac is stiff as a board. 

My ultimate shoe must be light, the Sir Isaac feels like lead weights attached to my feet. 

My ultimate shoe must be free of any cushioning, the Sir Isaac is like walking on pillows. 

What does this mean?  I may be the worst possible reviewer for this shoe.  Realizing I could not objectively review this shoe based on my running history and minimalist shoe bias, I solicited the help of others with more Newton experience.  This shoe was designed for people that wanted to adopt a midfoot strike but keep their cushioned trainers.  My fellow runners provided valuable feedback that will help in my full review. 

So far, I've used the Newtons for two shorter runs.  I do not like them.  The lack of ground feel and cushioning is far too distracting for me.  When barefoot, I do not have to think about my form... my brain can simply rely on muscle memory and reacting to the sensations under-foot.  When wearing these shoes, I have to consciously think about every step to maintain good form. 

HOWEVER, they do perform as advertised.  The design appears to be sound.  I was able to use a midfoot strike without a single problem.  The heel-to-toe drop is minimal (2-3mm.)  These shoes seemingly accomplish what no other cushioned trainer does... it allows you to use a midfoot strike.  I'm planning a longer run today to really test the shoes. 

Early returns- I would not recommend this shoe to barefoot runners.  Right now, I think I would recommend this shoe to individuals that are not interested in going the barefoot/minimalist route but still want to use a midfoot strike.  The POSE and Chi crowd that isn't willing to go minimal may find this shoe very useful.

I will be posting a full review within about a week or so.

What are your experiences with Newtons?  

This shoe was provided by the manufacturer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ultramarathons for the Lazy Runner- Chapter Five: Do I need a crew?

In ultras, a crew provides support.  They follow you around the course, usually in a vehicle.  They meet you at predetermined spots, often aid stations.  They may provide support in the form of supplies, tracking your pace to keep you ahead of cutoff times, helping you solve problems that may arise, and providing general moral support.  They will have the ability to make sound decisions in the later stages of a race, well after you've lost the ability to think rationally.  

So is a crew necessary?  No.  Are they extremely helpful?  Yes.  I've only used a crew in my 100 mile races.  In my 50 milers, I was able to complete them without outside help.  Generally speaking, the longer the distance, the greater the need for a crew.  

In my first 100 mile attempt, we were all rookies.  My two crew members had no significant running experience, let alone ultra experience.  We did a lot of learning on the fly.  Despite their inexperience, my crew did a great job.

In my second 100 mile attempt, I was better prepared.  One of my crew members from the previous attempt crewed again, so I had some experience.  The rest of my crew were either experienced runners or had done lots of research on the art and science of crewing.  There was still a learning curve for the first few aid stations, but my crew did a wonderful job.  I would not have finished this race without them.

Okay, you decide you need a crew.  How do you find crew members?  I lured my crew with promises of a fun adventure where they would have ample beer... essentially it would be a 30 hour party.  I failed to mention the lack of sleep, the rushing from aid station to aid station, and dealing with me in my absolute worst state.  

Friends and family are always a great option.  If they have running experience, that helps.  If they have ultra experience, that's ideal.   If they are also willing to pace you, do anything to get them on your crew.  

If you are having problems finding crew members, sometimes online running communities can be a good source of potential crew members.  Less experienced runners may be looking for an opportunity to learn.  More experienced runners may be looking for an excuse to get out of the house.  Others may be familiar with the course.  

Once you have your crew formed, it may be useful to designate someone as the "crew chief."  This will be the person that makes all the final decisions.  If you have a crew of several people, organization and coordination may wane in the later stages of a race as fatigue sets in.  Having one person ultimately responsible for decisions can help keep the crew operating as a singular unit.

This July, I'm planning on running the Burning River 100.  This is the race I DNFed in 2008.  I'll be recruiting a crew once again.  I haven't explicitly asked them yet, but I'm hoping to assemble as much of my previous crew as possible.  I may have to sweeten the pot this time.  I may have to bust out promises of a traveling keg and a visit to the local gentleman's club.  

Monday, March 8, 2010

Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot's new EVO- Is this the ultimate minimalist running shoe???

This is a VERY long review. I felt it was necessary to discuss the many facets of this shoe. Many people have asked very specific questions; this review is an attempt to answer all of them.

For those of you that want a condensed version, here you go!

Summary

Very good shoe, I would rate it as being slightly better than Vibram's KSO. The EVO would be a good winter and trail shoe. Ground feel isn't as good as KSOs, but offers better traction and protection. Toe box allows foot to splay, allows foot to function naturally within shoe. It's not as good as running barefoot, but I think it is the best minimalist shoe available as of March 2010. After testing the shoe in many conditions, I have no problem justifying the cost. 

The comprehensive review



 
Terra Plana's new EVO is one of the first true minimalist shoes designed specifically for running. Will they live up to the hype? Will they become THE minimalist shoe of choice for barefoot runners? Will the EVO be able to displace Vibram's KSOs as the reigning king of minimalist footwear? I spent my first weekend with these shoes with the goal of answering these questions.

My ideal shoe is no shoe. I base all my reviews off the premise that the human foot cannot be improved upon. Shoes should only serve as tools to be used when running barefoot is not feasible. I live in Michigan- running barefoot in the winter simply isn't possible on some days. I also belong to a gym that frowns on barefoot activities. I work as a teacher... I need shoes for the majority of my work day. If shoes are needed, there will always be a trade-off. You gain some benefit (protection, insulation, social acceptance, etc.) but also lose functionality. Based on this, there is no such thing as a "barefoot shoe." As a rule, no shoe will ever be developed that accurately replicates running barefoot. The EVO is no exception to this rule. In fact, I am mildly annoyed at the common claim that many minimalist shoes are an improvement on barefoot running. So goes marketing. Anyway, my goal for the review is to weigh the pros and cons of running in this shoe versus barefoot running.

I've known about Terra Plana for some time. Their Vivo Barefoot division was developed specifically to produce shoes that replicate being barefoot. I am always skeptical of such claims. Since their shoes were somewhat expensive and I don't have a pressing need for shoes, I did not consider purchasing a pair.

Terra Plana contacted me to review their Aqua. I expected a shoe similar to every other minimalist shoe on the market. It wouldn't live up to the claims made by Terra Plana. I was shocked to find the shoe worked exactly as described. The design allowed my foot to move as it does when barefoot. I still prefer being barefoot, but the Aqua was an excellent casual shoe. I wear them almost daily in school and dread the days I have to wear any other casual shoe. The Aqua was simply the best minimalist casual shoe I ever tried. The Aqua ruined other minimalist shoes for me. The Aqua didn't have much competition. The EVO wouldn't enjoy such a benefit... there are already some very good minimalist shoes that can be used for running.

Cost- The single most controversial aspect of this shoe is cost. The retail price of $160 is significantly more than every other minimalist shoe on the market today. Many people cannot fathom spending this much on a minimalist shoe. For me, the fact that this is a minimalist shoe is a non-issue. I suspect shoes cost roughly the same to manufacture regardless of the technology involved.

Here's an analogy. A good friend used to work for General Motors. The cost to manufacture a Chevrolet Cavalier was nearly identical to the cost needed to manufacture a Cadillac Escalade. Yes, the Escalade had more parts, but the manufacturing process is nearly the same. General Motors essentially lost money on the low-cost Cavaliers and made tons of money on Escalades. Related to shoes- "high tech" running shoes aren't going to be significantly more expensive to manufacture than cheap racing flats. The idea that minimalist shoes should be cheap because they are minimalist shoes is just dumb.

Terra Plana produces some fairly high-end shoes. They are not pricing their product to be sold at Walmart. They do take significant steps to increase their social and environmental responsibility, so that will add to the cost. I cannot fault Terra Plana for making their pricing decisions. I'd love for their shoes to be cheaper, but I'd love for Porsches to be cheaper, too. Hopefully this review will help you make the decision- are these shoes worth the cost?

Appearance: The EVO has a very distinct appearance. Unlike several other minimalist options (Vibrams, huaraches), the EVO looks like a "normal" shoe. From a distance, the hexagon pattern on the shoe resembles snake skin. I polled a large number of friends and students. About 80% loved the look, 15% hated it, and 5% gave a smart-ass answer. The appearance resembles some racing flats, except the EVO has a wider toe box.



Construction: Construction is of excellent quality. Terra Plana is a premium shoe manufacturer and the EVO is not an exception. The overall construction appears flawless. Upon close inspection, it was nearly impossible to find anything but the tiniest uneven gluing or wayward thread. Based on construction, I think these shoes would be exceptionally durable. Since there is nothing to break down, the shoe will last as long as the sole and upper hold up. I would cautiously estimate that these shoes could last for over 1,000 miles. I will continue to comment on this in the future.

The Positives: The construction is very simple (i.e.- not a lot of parts.) Based on experience, this is a very good quality for minimalist shoes. I remove the insole in all my shoes to increase ground feel, but the insole will provide about 1/8" of additional padding. The outer material is thin and very flexible. It is not waterproof, or even water-resistant. It is, however, extremely breathable. In tests of how the shoe handles water, it easily allows water to enter and drain. The materials dry VERY quickly. The sole is very flexible as it passes my "roll test." Thickness appears to be around 4-5mm. I lost my calipers...

The negatives: The base of the tongue protrudes down enough to touch your feet. This irritated the top of my left foot at the base of my toes after about four miles. My right foot was unaffected. I would suspect that this would not be a universal problem, rather an issue with my particular foot shape. This problem could be fixed with shoe goo, a piece of duct tape, or socks. So far, I opted for socks. Also, the sole is thicker than I prefer. Ground feel is very good relative to other minimalist shoes. Of the shoes I've tested, only Vibram's KSOs allow for better ground feel. I will address this issue in more detail later in the review.


How they fit/work: The fit of the EVO is unique compared to other minimalist running shoes. The shoe hugs the area around the upper heel. The entire midfoot and forefoot area have ample room to move within the shoe. This creates the unique experience. Unlike other minimalist shoes that attempt to mold to your foot, the EVOs allow your foot to move within the shoe without producing friction. I really like the functionality of the shoe. For those familiar with Vibrams or racing flats, this shoe will feel noticeably different.

Sizing: The EVO uses European sizing. My pair are size 44. To compare, I usually wear a size 11 (us) for most shoes. I wear a 42/43 KSO. The 44 fits perfectly. There's enough room in the shoe (without insole) to allow my foot to move freely even with socks.

Socks: I tested several socks with the EVO. I usually prefer Injinjis, which are great socks for ultramarathon running. They worked very well with the EVO. I also used a pair of Under Armor synthetic running socks without problem. In the spirit of experimentation, I tried a pair of thick thermal socks. They severely impeded the functioning of the shoe. I wouldn't recommend the EVO for ice fishing.

Toe splaying: There are a few elements that I consider a necessity for all minimalist shoes. The shoe must allow your toes to splay upon impact. My physical therapist friends have explained it as a trigger to a reflex that allows the rest of your muscles to coordinate excellent running form. If the toes are restricted, form suffers. The EVO, even though they are not as wide as the rest of the Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot line, have ample width to allow toes to splay. The only other minimalist shoe on the market that allows this much freedom are Vibrams. This characteristic alone dramatically increases the value of this shoe.

Ground feel: If there is a single characteristic that disappointed me about this shoe, it's sole thickness. At around 4mm, it is thinner than most competitors, but still slightly too thick for me. Ground feel is very good compared to other minimalist shoes, but not remotely close to barefoot. This is one of the trade-offs with minimalist shoes. As protection increases, there is an inverse correlation to ground feel. Most people using these shoes will be very happy with the ground feel/protection combination. I was able to run fast on very sharp gravel at night. I could feel the rocks, but not to the point where they caused discomfort. The sole also provides very good traction in a variety of conditions.

My own personal preference would be to have a thinner sole. I do run in conditions where more protection and better traction is desirable. For less rugged conditions, less protection and greater ground feel would be an advantage. In the future, I would like to see Terra Plana EVO model release a version of the KSO with a thinner, smoother sole. Hopefully they will not go in the opposite direction as Vibrma appears to be going and developing thicker-soled shoes.

Weight: When the weight of the EVO became public knowledge, there was an uproar of dissatisfaction within the barefoot running community. The EVO weighs approximately 8oz., 7oz. without the insole. Based on my early testing, the weight is a non-issue. The shoe weight was not noticeable on a 12 mile run. It is not as light as barefoot, but the weight would not be an issue if using these shoes for ultras.

Ventilation/insulation: Ventilation of this shoe is excellent. It is probably the most breathable shoe I've worn. The mesh-like upper easily allows air to flow around your foot. This would be an excellent hot-weather shoe. Unfortunately, ventilation also reduces insulation. I have never had a problem with cold feet. I run barefoot in temps down to 25 degrees (F) and wear vibrams down to -10F. I did a sockless run in 20 degree temps. My feet and toes did not get cold. If cold feet in sub-freezing temperatures is a problem, these shoes would not solve that problem.


Running experience 


I tested these shoes on a variety of terrain in a variety of conditions. The testing simulated the conditions i would normally run in both training and racing.

On gravel roads: For me, gravel roads are among the most demanding environments for minimalist shoes. The road I run on consists of sharp, unavoidable rocks strewn over a very hard-packed dirt road. Minimalist shoes help by eliminating the need for intense focus required to run these roads barefoot. The protection offered by the EVO was extremely good. I knew I was running over rocks, but the sole disbursed enough force to prevent injury or modification of form. This is one of the few surfaces I prefer wearing shoes to barefoot.

Distances: My ideal minimalist shoe MUST be adequate for distance running. Since I really only use shoes for cold temps or rugged terrain over long distances, this is an absolute must. My longest run in the EVOs thus far has been approximately 12 miles. This seems to be my reasonable threshold for determining a shoe's suitability for distance running. Based on the early returns, this will probably be my preferred shoe for rugged 100 mile races.

Speed: I don't normally do much speedwork. My usual "speedwork" consists of an occasional 3 mile tempo run or a local 5k. To give the shoes a fair test, I ran a series of 40 yard sprints and a one mile run at a 6 minute pace. The shoes functioned well at a fast pace. The weight of the shoe was not obtrusive. Based on these tests, I think this shoe would function well as a racing flat. This may be a good solution to high school and college cross country runners searching for a minimalist shoe that provides better traction than Vibrams.


Trails: I love barefoot trail running. There's no greater feeling than flying through the forest feeling the trail under foot. As much as I love barefoot trail running, there are some trails that are simply too rugged to run barefoot, especially when pace is an issue. A good minimalist trail shoe must provide good ground feel while offering some degree of protection. Any time you cover your foot, you lose some degree of traction. As such, it is also necessary for a trail shoe to provide traction. The EVO is one of the best minimalist trail running shoes I've found. As I mentioned earlier, the sole is a bit too thick for me. I prefer more ground feel and less protection, but I also prefer running barefoot whenever possible. Traction also factors into this equation. The EVO provides very good traction compared to my other trail running shoe- my Vibram KSOs. The EVO doesn't provide as much traction or protection as New Balanace's MT100s, but ground feel is far superior in the EVOs. I plan to do a thorough comparison very soon, but this would be a good summary (in order of best to worst):

Best traction- NB MT100s, TPVB EVOs, VFF KSOs
Best ground feel- VFF KSOs, TPVB EVOs, NB MT100s

Hills: The EVOs perform well on hills. Uphill running provides adequate traction for both running or power-hiking. Downhill is interesting. The design of the shoe prevents your toes from hitting the inside of the toe box. This has been a chronic problem with every other shoe I've used. Over the course of a long race, this is a major cause of bruised and blackened toenails. I don't know if this was a planned benefit or a coincidental consequence of the shoe's operation. At any rate, it is a major advantage over other minimalist shoes.

Non-running activities (crosstraining, other sports): I do quite a bit of corsstraining. Most involves high intensity interval weight training. Like running, I prefer to be barefoot when doing these workouts. Since my gym does not allow barefoot activities, I am always searching for a good minimalist solution. I tested the EVOs in two conditions. The first involved doing five exercises for a minute each in rapid succession, resting for a minute, then doing five more exercises. Good shoes should allow great flexibility, great traction, and enough stability to accurately place your foot. The EVO excelled in each test. The second condition involved a game that required sprinting on a basketball court, stopping, rapidly changing direction, and jumping. The EVOs passed this test, also. The slightly hard sole compound did not provide as good of traction as basketball shoes, but did fare better than my KSOs and Saucony Kilkenny XC2 racing flats.

Slippery conditions (snow/ice/mud): I tested the EVOs in snow, on ice, and on muddy trails. Traction was surprisingly good on all three, but fall short of the deep lugs of typical trail shoes. Ice was still slippery... nothing short of ice screws would be considered "good." Snow and mud traction was definitely better than KSOs. I have not tried Vibram's Treks yet, but I suspect they may provide marginally better traction than EVOs.

Unfortunately, Terra Plana released this shoe at the end of the winter running season. I think this shoe would be an excellent winter running shoe based on the combination of minimalist design and available traction. If needed, these shoes are sturdy enough to use a product such as YakTraxs. The ventilation would be an issue for some runners, but warm socks would negate that problem. I wish I would have had these shoes three months ago.

Water: As I mentioned earlier, this shoe is not designed to protect against water. Based on my tests, it acts like a trail shoe. It allows water to easily penetrate, but also allows it to immediately drain. The shoe itself is made from materials that dry very quickly. Once wet, performance and weight do not significantly suffer.

Temps: Based on design, this shoe would perform well in warm and hot climates. The ample ventilation would allow good airflow to your feet to both cool and dry them. Cold climates would be more difficult to predict. I didn't have a single problem with these shoes in sub-freezing temperatures, but I usually don't have problems with any shoe. As I mentioned before- if you have issues with cold feet, this shoe would probably require warm socks. If you do not have a problem with cold feet, cold weather will not be an issue.


Treadmill: I'm not a treadmill runner. I would prefer to run in any other condition. Still, I wanted to test the heat-transfer of these shoes. My home treadmill produces significant heat. Running barefoot beyond a single mile is nearly impossible. With Vibrams, I can approach three miles before the heat becomes a major issue. To test the EVOs, I ran four miles. I found the shoes did a fairly good job of insulating from the heat of the treadmill deck. I don't think I could do a long run on a treadmill, but if I did, I think these shoes would work well.

Comparison with similar shoes: Throughout this review, I mentioned a few other minimalist running shoes. I've tried many varieties and have extensive experience with aqua socks (or beach shoes if you prefer) and Vibram KSOs. I ran a 50 miler in aqua socks and a 100 miler in KSOs. I'm intimately aware of their pros and cons. The EVOs are clearly superior to aqua socks. The only reason this would be an issue is cost. The EVO sells for $160. Aqua socks can be found for as little as $5. Is the EVO really that much better? For the vast majority of barefoot runners looking for a minimalist shoe- yes. I would recommend aqua socks for brand-new barefoot or minimalist shoe runners only if they were not fully committed to making the transition.

Recommending the EVO over the KSO becomes a little tricky. Based on my tests so far, the only advantage KSOs have is better ground feel and price. Personally, I would lean towards the EVO because of my likely usage. For me, I would use a minimalist shoe in cold and snow OR over very rugged terrain. The EVO is definitely superior to the KSO in winter conditions. On rugged terrain, I would opt for the increased protection over ground feel trade-off. Again, that would lead me to favor the EVO.

The EVO may also be superior for individuals that cannot wear vibrams because of fitting issues. The nature of the EVO allows for a greater variety of foot anatomy. If you are looking for a good winter shoe, the EVO would be an excellent choice. Finally, the EVO may be a better choice if aesthetics are an issue. Some people simply prefer to avoid the attention from the novelty of Vibrams.

If Vibrams are working for you, the EVOs won't likely be a huge improvement. I would still consider purchasing a pair of EVOs at some point. I consider both to be very good products. Neither will replace barefoot running, but both are very good tools to use when conditions warrant. If the price were equatable, I would recommend the EVO without reservation. Since the EVOs cost almost twice as much, you will have to decide if the cost would be justified. For me, it is. Based on my usage and role running plays in my life, the added cost is a non-issue. This is the best minimalist shoe produced today. Terra Plana's first attempt at developing a great minimalist shoe was a success. I believe this shoe (along with shoes such as Vibram's Bikilas) will push the rest of the industry to develop true minimalist shoes.

The EVO and other Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot shoes can be found here: 

http://www.terraplana.com/vivobarefoot.php?osCsid=51ftv5hadcpdjbeijrsg7n3kl0

For a 30% discount (excluding EVOs), use the coupon code BAREFOOTU30 at checkout. This code is valid thought March 31st, 2010.


 
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