Rediscovering Trail Running

The hard part about getting back into running after a long time away is the shortness of the runs.  It usually takes me a mile or so to get into sync and find my rhythm.  Another mile of decent running and I’m starting to feel fatigued and tired enough that I have to really pay attention to form.  These short distances usually mean I’m doing quick, boring loops on the streets or at the park in my neighborhood.  I miss being able to run 6-8 miles on an average run and really get to see some stuff, vary the route, make it interesting.  That’s what I’ve missed about trail running.

It hardly seems worth it to drive out to a trail for a run if I can only pull off a couple of miles.  But I finally started to get some strength back and the knee is holding up really well.  I’ve been (very) slowly adding on distance to my runs and bike rides.  Saturday, I decided I wanted to get a little bit of a longer run in and thought that hitting the trail would be the way to do it.  Getting out on the trail I would have more to look at, a chance to vary the route if I wanted to and I would be away from the familiar “track” I usually run.

Trail Running Trail 100

I drove out Saturday morning and lucked out to find one spot left in the tiny parking lot at the east end of Trail 100 through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  As I got my stuff together and got on the trail I was disappointed to realize I forgot my headphones.  Running on pavement I usually have music and had planned listening during my trail run.  As I began running though, I remembered that I gave up music on the trail a long time ago.  Sound is one of the big draws to trail running for me and I almost ruined it for myself out of thoughtlessness.  I really enjoy hearing the crunch of rock under foot, the chirp of birds and insects, the wind blowing through rocks and trees as I run.  Most importantly, I rediscovered, is the importance of hearing the mountain bikers coming up behind me so I can move off trail for them.

I also forgot about how trail running effects pace, especially out here in the rocky, thorny desert trails we have.  Settling in to a slower pace allows me to go further and enjoy the run much more.  Rather than running on a long flat surface where I can get distracted and complacent about my run, the trail is varied and interesting with hills and washes, obstacles and debris, wildlife and scenery.  I can run more naturally without feeling like I am over-thinking the mechanics of running.

A runner friend encouraged me to run by feel, not paying attention to the “data” as I run.  Trail running is where this makes the most sense to me.  I am out for the joy of the run and the beauty of the trail, I should be worried about pace, distance or calories burned.  I wanted to get 4 or more miles in on my run this Saturday but I didn’t want to pay attention to the GPS.  I wanted to just run a comfortable run at an enjoyable pace.  I actually ran a little under 4 miles, so I didn’t hit my goal (unless you include the short warm up walk).  But really, I felt the run was successful and comfortable and it felt great to get back out on the trail.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve Trail 100

My Tips for Enjoying a Trail Run

  • Lose the Tunes – Connect with the outdoors and the trail by losing the music and allowing yourself to experience the sights AND the sounds of the trail.
  • Slow it Down – Be OK with the fact that you probably won’t run the same pace on the trail that you do on pavement.  It’s a very different experience, adjust accordingly.
  • Just Run! – Running on the trail for me is more about the trail and less about the performance.  Get the run in and make it fun without the constant GPS obsession.


Trail Shoes

I recently picked up some new shoes for running as most of my other shoes are old and beat up from before my injury.  I had just purchased a new pair of running shoes before I broke my foot, but didn’t like them and gave them away so I was still in need of new shoes.  I picked up some light trail shoes from Columbia to try out in hopes that they would do the job.  I really liked the Conspiracy Outdry trail shoes I got from columbia but they’re a little bulky for running so I ordered the lightweight Conspiracy Vapor.  They are a low profile, lightweight, multi-sport shoe with well thought out reinforcing and a nice low 3mm drop.  I was starting to run in zero drop shoes before my injury and I do like the low angle of the Vapors.

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

Like the other Conspiracy shoes I’ve worn, there were pretty comfortable right out of the box, although they don’t have the same awesome shape of the original.  I liked the wide toe box on my original Conspiracy’s and they felt great, the Vapor was narrower through the toe box and took a little time to break in.  The weight is nice and about 9-10 oz. per shoe and the tread has a nice grip to it.

I’m not terribly happy with these shoes when running on pavement.  Unfortunately, I can’t really explain why.  They just seem to be harsh on my feet running on pavement compared to other running shoes (I have been running in my Altra Zero Drop shoes as well).  Once I got the Vapors on the trail, it was a different story.

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

On the rocky, dusty desert trails around here the Vapors performed great.  The sole/midsole assembly is rigid enough to protect my feet from the sharp rocks on the trail, but flexible enough to be agile on the technical terrain.  They breathe well and the reinforced outer provides some nice protection.  I was pleasantly surprised at the difference in how these shoes felt on the trail vs. the pavement.  They are a “trail shoe” and not a true running shoe and it shows when I run in them on different surfaces.

I just started using them so we’ll see how they hold up.  If the other Conspiracy shoes are any indicator, they’ll do fine and at $80 they’re cheaper than any running shoes I’ve ever had and most trail shoes I’ve purchased.


I also wanted to add a note about the socks.  I have been using a variety of socks over the last couple of years to try out new brands, styles, materials and fits in an attempt to find a great sock.  I have a few brands that I really love including Point6, Ausangate and Smartwool.  The first gear review I ever wrote was for the Smartwool PhD hiking socks that I wore for a month on the Colorado river in 2007.  I was really impressed with how the socks held up to daily abuse in and out of water day after day.  Smartwool recently sent me the socks shown above to try out as one of their Fan Field Testers.  They are the NEW and improved ultra-light PhD micro running socks and I love them.  They quickly reminded me of why I was so enamored with Smartwool in the first place.  The socks fit well, hold their shape and take a ton of abuse without the slightest whimper.  The only other socks I have that have held up as well are my Point 6 socks (which I really do love) but the PhDs are much thinner which I really like for running socks.

A Good Run…

I didn’t want to run today.

I haven’t really been out on a real run since the wedding in October.  My failure to complete 30 Days of Running coupled with all of the travel from the wedding/honeymoon, then the stress and fatigue of moving in November.  I just haven’t felt good enough to run.

My wife and I have developed a tradition of running on Christmas and Thanksgiving.  I didn’t run on Thanksgiving, but I did bike.  This Christmas I knew we’d be running and we did a decent cold and windy 5 mile run.  That’s not a lot of miles for most of you “runners” but it’s a fair amount for me after 2 months of no running and dealing with pain.  So it took a toll.

Then we did another short run two days later.  Still sore but we did it.  And then there was today…

Getting ready to run at Memorial Park

I really didn’t want to run.  My feet were sore, my quads very sore and I just didn’t feel like it.  I lobbied heavily for No-Run, she almost bought in but ultimately didn’t and we left for a run.

The Memorial Park Loop was busy, people everywhere.  As we started our run my feet settled in pretty quick and the pain went away.  It was a nippy 34 degrees but the sun was out so it was nice, just the way I like it.  As we passed more and more people I started feeling better and could feel my body settle into a solid stride.  For once, I was setting the pace on this run (Merelyn usually sets the pace as I struggle to keep up).

The more people I passed the more people I wanted to pass.  I started getting the race mentality and looking for stronger runners along the trail that I could chase down and pass.  Soon, we were passing nearly everyone and my stride felt easy and natural and I pushed it on.

I didn’t make any new PRs or break any records but it was a good run and, more importantly, it felt good.

I’m glad I ran today.

Suunto Ambit mapping vs. OpenGPS…

Side by side comparison of the map and stats of the track recorded on the Suunto Ambit and simultaneously tracked using the OpenGPS app on my 4G phone.


The data from and the data stored on the watch says 2.38 mile total distance. But when I load the GPX track in to Google Earth (via the track distance is 2.8 miles.


The actual stats from OpenGPS show a total distance of 2.9 miles AND you can see in the map below it shows MUCH better accuracy of the route. If you zoom in on the map you can see the THIS track actually follows the trail indicated on the map very closely. The track above from the Ambit does not perform as well.

My biggest problem with this comparison is the Ambit’s distance tracking. I don’t mind a sloppy GPX track, especially if I’m just tracking fitness runs. But the half-mile difference in distance (especially considering the total hike route was less than 3 miles) is troublesome.

Speed Tracking

This is another place where the Ambit advertises superiority. The Suunto speed tracking software us supposed to be super accurate and sensitive to stops and starts. Looking at the speed charts below, I think you can see that the Ambit does perform better when tracking overall speed and variations in speed.



Has anyone else experienced similar issues with the Suunto Ambit? I’d really like to test it against Garmin’s new Fenix if they’d let me.

30 Days of Running – Day 5…

Today’s run started late and I was a little worried about the heat, but it turned out to be pretty nice.  After the shorter run yesterday, my legs and feet felt great and the run finally felt easier.  I kept an easy pace that didn’t feel too sluggish, my breathing was pretty controlled and it didn’t feel like a struggle.

At about 20 minutes in I decided to push a little harder and up the pace some.  Still not breaking any records, but my time is improving.

Neighborhood Running on pavement

Today’s Run…

Left the house at 8:40AM.

Weather was a sunny 78 degrees with a clear sky.  Ran on pavement.

Total run was 3.25 miles in 29 minutes 45 seconds.  Felt good and finished strong.

I’ve still got some random twitchy thing going on in left leg above the ankle.  The bottoms of both feet are sore and tender too, but I am chalking that up to the trail run.

Followed the run with a dip in the pool and a protein shake with banana and peanut butter.

30 Days of Running – Day 4…

I treated today as a rest day.  I was still feeling the effects from the trail run in my ankles this morning and felt like I could benefit from something a little different.  So I did a much shorter run today and focused on trying to open up a little bit and run faster.  I think this proves I still have a long way to go to get back even to where I was before Summer.

Pavement Running...

Today’s Run…

Left the house at 7:50AM.

Weather was a sunny 77 degrees with a clear sky.  Ran on pavement.

Total run was 1.5 miles in 12 minutes 30 seconds.  Felt slow at first but I finished strong.

Left ankle and foot are sore but muscles feel good.  I’ve got some weird twitchiness the tendons just above the ankle joint, not sure what to do with that.

Followed the run with a cup of coffee and water.

30 Days of Running – Day 3…

When my buddy sent me a message last night asking if I was up for a hike/trail run in the morning I was excited at the opportunity to get off the pavement!  I prefer trail running over pavement running any day of the week.

I got up earlier than usual to make sure we could hit the trail before 7AM.  The weather was amazing this morning and the trail wasn’t very crowded at all.  I strapped on the GeigerRig 500 and we hit the trail.

View from the summit of Thunderbird Mountain

Today’s Run…

Left the house at 6:30AM and was on the trail by 7AM exactly.

Weather was a nice 74 degrees with a clear sky.  Ran/hiked Thunderbird Mountain trail.

Total trail was 3.6 miles and we probably ran close to 3 miles of it.  Total time on the trail was 51 minutes.

Run was slow, but felt good.  My legs were not as sore or tired as I expected them to be.  My left ankle felt weak but I’m sure that’s due to running pavement and will improve with more trail running.

Followed the run with a protein shake with peanut butter and banana.

30 Days of Running – Day 1…

Thanks to some of the new treatment I’ve been getting from the Body Tune-up Shop here in Scottsdale I am feeling good enough to start running again.  Dave has done amazing things in a just a few short sessions to make me feel stronger, lighter and pain free.  The type of work that he does is all about restoring the body’s natural alignment, core strength and postural correction.  The difference is pretty impressive.

So, with my body feeling better and the weather getting much nicer out here in the desert, I want to renew my running routine.  I’ve been reading a new book called Running the Edge by Tim Catalano and Olympic runner Adam Goucher.  Even though I’ve been super busy I’ve been voraciously reading this book every chance I get and it has me excited about running again.

I plan to run every day for the next 30 days and log each day here, like a running journal.  By the end of 30 days I hope I will have developed a running habit and will either create another challenge for myself or just keep running because I want to.  But these 30 days I will try to get back in to running and will make getting the run in a priority.  They won’t be long runs, and I’m sure they won’t be fast runs (not yet) but I will get something in every day.

That said, I am getting married and going on my honeymoon next month so, I will have to be flexible and adjust as needed.  But the intent is there…run every day.

If anyone wants to share any tips, advice or encouragement….comment below!

Today’s run

Left the house at 7:10AM

Weather was a beautiful 75 degrees with a cloudy sky.  Ran on pavement.

I ran (if you could call it that) 3.25 miles in 31 minutes.

The run felt slow and awkward since I haven’t run much all summer.  I am also not a huge fan of running early in the morning but this morning was nice and I wanted to get it in.

Followed the run with a quick dip in the pool (felt great), and a protein shake with banana.

Recipe: No-Bake Protein Bars…

This is adapted from a recipe originally posted by Jessica Allen over at  For awesome fitness related content check out her site or follow her on Twitter.  To see her original recipe post, click here.

Peanut Butter No-Bake Protein Bars...

The first time I made these No-Bake Protein Bars they were amazing!  I have adjusted and tweaked the recipe every time I’ve made them to experiment with flavors and texture.  I like to have a more solid, slightly drier bar so that they will hold up better on the trail.  The original recipe was very soft (and yummy) and would essentially melt once it started to warm up.

So, here’s what I use:

  • 1 cup organic Almond Butter
  • 1 cup Peanut Butter
  • 1 1/2 cup organic local honey
  • 2 cups of protein powder
  • 1 cup of rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder (optional)
Protein bar ingredients...

Collect all your ingredients along with a microwave-safe mixing bowl (Pyrex or glass)...

Then start mixing…

mix peanut butter, almond butter and honey...

Add the Almond Butter, Peanut Butter and Honey to the bowl. Then microwave for 90 seconds...


Mixed butters and honey...

Carefully mix thoroughly until smooth...


added dry ingredients...

Add the remaining ingredients, except for the oats, and stir. I find that it's easier to mix the oats in last after all the seeds and powders...


chocolaty mixture...

Add the rolled oats and mix everything trying to get the oats evenly integrated.


mixture poured in to Pyrex storage containers...

Pour the mixture into Pyrex containers or a glass baking sheet with the lid (you could cover with plastic wrap if you don't have a lid). Spread the mixture evenly across the bottom and place in the refrigerator to let the bars set up. I usually leave mine overnight...then cut the servings I want as I need them.


If you are not a big fan of chocolate, you can use plain or vanilla flavored protein powder and skip the cocoa powder.  The natural peanut butter and honey flavor is awesome so the chocolate is just a bonus.  These make a great post-workout snack with a good ratio of natural sugar, carbs, fat and protein.

I tend to do a lot of fasted-state workouts if I run or lift in the mornings so this is a nice snack to have directly following the workout…followed by a real meal about 30-45 minutes after the workout.


Gear Review: Merrell Barefoot Sonic Glove…

Merrell Sonic Glove barefoot training shoes

Nature Shop UK was gracious enough to participate in the Spring in to Adventure Giveaway with a couple of pairs of Merrell Shoes.

The Merrell Siren Breeze was review by Tiffany at and I received a pair from Merrell’s new barefoot training series, the Sonic Glove.  I had been considering barefoot training and had read many articles and research about the benefits of barefoot running for foot health and muscle strength.  There is a huge trend in running circles toward a more natural zero-drop, barefoot style of running that focuses on natural bio-mechanics.  Merrell has jumped into this trend with both feet (pun intended) and launched a whole campaign and product line around barefoot running here.  This new section of their website encourages you to “Go Barefoot” and “Run Naturally” with their new line of minimalist shoes and offers a huge resource of good information for those who want to start.

I studied up on the mechanics of barefoot running and took my Sonic Gloves out for a spin.

Shoe Details:

• Textile upper
• Microfiber footbed treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution resists odor
• Merrell Omni-Fit™ lacing System provides a precise, glovelike fit

• 4 mm compression molded EVA midsole cushions
• 1 mm forefoot shock absorbtion plate maintains forefoot flexibility and protects the foot by distributing pressure
• 0mm ball to heel drop keeps you connected to your terrain
• Vegan friendly footwear
• Vibram® Trail Glove Sole/Rubber Compound TC-1
• Men’s Weight: 6.5 ozs (1/2 pair)

My very first run in the Sonic Glove was uncomfortable.  I guess I expected it to be.  Most of the articles I read stated something to the effect of “it will take some getting used to…” which usually means, “it will hurt!”  My first run was slow, very focused on mechanics and a little painful.  The shoes worked as they should, it certainly had the feel of running barefoot.  The Vibram outsole was actually pretty nice and the tread gave me enough protection while still letting me feel connected to the ground.

Merrell Sonic Glove barefoot training shoes...I wore the shoes without socks.  The Sonic Glove (and all of Merrell’s barefoot shoes) have a permanently bonded anti-microbial shield embedded in the upper material and the footbed to protect against odor, staining and deterioration caused by bacteria and fungus.  My skin did not handle the direct contact with the shoe well and my feet were rubbed raw after only a short 1-mile run.

The next time I tried them I went barefoot again, but taped up the parts of my foot that had been rubbed raw on the previous run.  I wanted to wear the shoes as intended and, by all indications, that meant no socks.  I put 3.5- miles on the shoes on my second run.  It took a couple of miles of awkward, uncoordinated running for me to find my barefoot stride.  Unfortunately it also took a couple of miles for the shoes to wear through the tape.  So just as I was starting to feel comfortable with the movement of barefoot running, I was starting to feel the rub.  I pushed through and finished the 3.5-miles and, bleeding aside, felt good about the run.

For the next few days I was sore in places that running had never made me sore before.  I took this as a good sign that barefoot running was working muscles and joints in a way (hopefully a good way) they hadn’t been worked before.

I avoided running in these shoes for a little while afterward because I wanted my skin to heal before trying them again.  The next couple of runs in them I decided to wear my thin Injinji toesocks to provide a little protection.  This helped.

What I liked about these shoes is that they are lightweight and do, near as I can tell, offer a very close-to-barefoot running experience.  Even the shape of the Vibram outsole mimics the natural shape of a human foot.  I also like that the anti-microbial coating and feel like with regular, long-term usage these shoes would be a nightmare without it.  My footing felt secure, but there was not so much protection that it was comfortable to run on the extremely rocky Arizona trails I usually run.  I do feel like if I had the softer trails of the Pacific Northwest to run on I would enjoy these as trail runners much more.

My biggest disappointment was that I really wished the upper was more comfortable.  With a softer, more comfortable upper it would have been a much better and more realistic “barefoot” experience.  But the upper was stiff and rubbed my feet in a way that constantly reminded me I had a shoe on.  Perhaps, with time, I could break-in the upper a bit more and build callouses in the right spots to make this a non-issue.

I do like the support system that Merrell offers for the barefoot running community.  The literature that comes in the box has tips and instructions on what to expect with minimalist, barefoot running and how to get started.  Their website also has a great deal of information for the beginner and seasoned barefoot runner.  I find this encouraging to keep it up and work barefoot running into my regular training.

All in all, it’s a decent shoe and at $125 retail, it’s a little on the high side but still competitively priced.  I would definitely recommend getting fitted properly and trying on several different pairs, brands and styles before making a decision.  Having a resource like the Nature Shop can be your best path to finding the right barefoot trainer for your feet.

Nature Shop has this pair currently on sale for $87.50 (30% OFF) here.

Gear Review: Brooks PureGrit Trail Running Shoe – Part 2

When I got my PureGrit Trail Runners I started a 3-part review of the shoes.  In Part 1, I laid out the specs and tech on the shoes and my out-of-box impressions.  For this part, I will describe the time, distance and conditions I’ve worn and tested the shoes along with some basic reactions to the performance.  I will write a more in-depth analysis of the performance of the shoe in Part 3.

PureProject – PureGrit Trail Runner

Part 2

These shoes were purchased specifically with trail running in mind.  I really like my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes and I was using them for both hiking, trail running and occasionally street running.  I wanted something lighter and more specifically design with trail running in mind.  When Brooks came out with their PureProject line I was very excited to get my hands on the PureGrit and get more serious about trail running.

Since I got the shoe’s in late January, I have put over 30 miles of trail running on them.  I also started using them for my street runs to see if I could tell if there was a performance difference on pavement (also, I was growing to like them and wanted to wear them more).

The trails out here in Arizona are very hard on footwear.  The Sonoran Desert is littered with jagged, rough terrain and mean, prickly cacti that usually equates to a short life for shoes.  The main trails I’ve been running are the Main Loop at Thunderbird Recreation Area (3.6m loop) and the trail system behind North Mountain (Shaw Butte and Trail 100).  The terrain in both locations is a combination of loose rock, rugged exposed bedrock and sandy washes.

The PureGrit outsole has proven to be incredibly tough against these conditions.  It’s thin, so you can still feel the ground even through the padded mid-sole but I like to have a sense of what’s under me when I’m running.  The unique tread design on the PureGrit is amazingly functional.  It really grabs the trail for traction when pushing forward or climbing uphill.  The impressive part was how effective the reverse tread at the heal of the shoe allows control on the downhill.  I have never once felt as though my footing was compromised in these shoes.  The durability of the outsole is also commendable.  With over 60 miles on varying terrain, I have seen no real wear and barely any scuffing of the tread.  The open tread design also means it doesn’t pick up small pebbles and rock as you run.

The outsole design has two specific features that are part of what makes these shoes unique.  According to Brooks, the Toe Flex (a split in the outsole to isolate the movement of the big toe) and the Ideal Heel (designed to shift your stride forward) are key features of the PureGrit that allow for greater stability, control and better form.  I really have not noticed much benefit from the Toe Flex feature.  I’ve even been wearing toesocks with my PureGrit runners in the hopes that it would allow me to feel more of the intended effect of the Toe Flex feature, but I don’t notice it.  The Ideal Heel design, however, does seem to have altered the mechanics of my stride.  I do feel a difference when wearing these as compared to my other running shoes.

The midsole was one of the pieces that worried me when I initially looked at these shoes.  It’s soft, allowing for fantastic comfort, but I didn’t expect it to hold up to trail conditions all that well.  Luckily, I underestimated the durability of the material.  It’s got a couple of scratches and stains, but otherwise has held up perfectly and has yet to let me down.PureGrit upper...

The main body of the shoe is so super light-weight that I expected to have some problems with it.  I had a pair of Nike running shoes a few years ago with an ultra-light material upper and it began to fall apart after only a few runs.  The upper of the PureProject shoes is remarkably resilient.  It conforms to my foot amazingly well and yet, somehow has really done well against the elements.  The outer material is a mesh, which I feared would let dust and fine sand in to the shoe and create problems in the footbed during runs.  Even running on very dusty trails and through sandy washes, I did not have any issues with small particles finding their way in to the shoe.

The cut of the upper is very low, offering no protection or support for your ankles.  On a trail shoe, this can be a little dangerous.  However, I have never felt unstable or uncomfortable running in these.  Other than my ankles feeling sore and fatigued afterward (something I attribute to my running mechanics rather than the shoe), I really have not had any trouble due to the lack of ankle support.

PureProject PureGrit from Brooks on the trail...