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.

SOCKS!

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.

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 ALittleCampy.com 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:

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

MIDSOLE/OUTSOLE
• 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...

Gear Review: Brooks PureGrit Trail Running Shoe – Part 1…

Instead of patiently waiting until I’ve been able to put some miles on these shoes to fully field test them before starting my review, I will be breaking the review up into 3 parts.  The first part will focus on the technology behind the shoe and what the manufacturers profess about it’s design and construction as well my personally first impressions of the shoe.  The second part will describe the actual time, mileage and conditions of the field testing and summarize the shoe’s performance.  The third part will layout my final conclusions and pit the actual performance against the manufacturer’s claims.  So, without further adieu…

PureProject – PureGrit Trail Runner

Part 1

Specifications

  • Midsole Height:  Heel (15 mm), Forefoot (11 mm)
  • Outsole Height:  Heel (3 mm), Forefoot (3 mm)
  • Heel-to-Toe Offset:  4 mm
  • Tooling Height:  Heel (18 mm), Forefoot (14 mm)
  • Weight:  8.9 oz (M’s) / 7.6 oz (W’s)
  • Surface: Offroad/Trail
  • Pronation: None/Normal, Mild, Moderate
  • Build: Small, Medium, Large
  • Competition: Trail racing
  • Arch: Flat, Medium, High
  • Performance: Light Weight
  • Category: Trail
Technologies

Design

Brooks designers worked with ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, to develope a unique one-piece outsole that has a concave shape. According to their website, “When forces are applied, the piece splays out to provide a more balanced lay-down.” This dynamic outsole and unique lug design are intended to help the runner find better grip and balance on the trail.  Also built-in to the new outsole is a split toe design meant to allow independent function of the big toe for more natural balance and stronger push-off.  Brooks also boasts their outsole is, “Designed from the most detailed anatomical form…” which is intended to create unparalleled fit and feel.

The PureProject midsole offers a minimal 4mm drop and made of  “earth-loving BioMoGo technology blended with the responsive ride of Brooks® DNA”.  BioMoGo technology is brooks biodegradable midsole composite that “degrades 50 times faster than the standard midsole“.  Brooks DNA is a responsive midsole system that immediately adjusts to the runner’s size and stride as well as offering 30% more cushioning than standard midsoles and 2x the energy return.  Built into the midsole design is a new minimalist heel designed to encourage the runner’s, “contact points to shift forward, aligning your center of gravity for optimal spring.”

The PureGrit upper has had just as much thought put into its design as the rest of the shoe.  The upper is made of an ultralight, breathable mesh over a die-cut conforming foam for a firm fit.  Their Nav Band is an elastic band built into the upper that stretches across the instep to insure a glove-like fit and security while you run.

As for durability, Brooks says, “Just like our core line, we hold PureProject to the industry’s highest weartest and durability standards. Because of their lightweight construction and fewer materials, runners should generally expect shoes from the PureProject line to last approximately 250-300 miles.

First Impressions

These shoes are incredibly light.  This is the closest thing to a minimalist running shoe I’ve tried on.  Brooks did a great job in material selection here, even thought they are lightweight they don’t feel weak.  So many lightweight shoes feel as though structure was sacrificed to lose the extra ounces which just won’t cut it in a trail runner.  The outsole feels like it would chew up the trail, but the soft midsole seems like it might not take the abuse so well.  Especially out here in Arizona where the trail comes at you from all sides.

I have not felt any significant difference in my run experience due to the toe split or the concave outsole, but in all honesty I have not had them on the trail yet.  I’ve had them out for a couple of short jogs around the streets here and they feel very comfortable with really no break-in period.  I have very high arches and typically have to spend some time breaking in new shoes so that they don’t kill the tops of my feet.  My PureGrits were immediately comfortable and after a couple of short runs I did not feel any pain, fatigue or hot-spots related to my arches.

I am, after only a few miles on these, feeling fatigue in my ankles.  My assumption is that the design of these shoes is doing something to alter my natural stride and alignment (hopefully correcting it!) and it’s causing some fatigue as my ankles adjust.

In short, I am impressed so far and can’t wait to get them on the trail.  Look for Part 2 – the Trail Test coming soon…

Gear Review: Sanuk Footwear

 

Sanuks

You know when you finish a long, tough hike nothing feels better than slipping off those hiking boots and letting your poor, abused feet breath? For me, it was always a pair of sandals or just go barefoot to give my feet some relief.  Sandals aren’t always the best option, though.

SanuksLast year I discovered the joy of wearing Sanuks!  Sanuks are not shoes, but they’re not sandals either…they are a loose, casual, flexible shoe built on a sandal footbed.  The result is the comfort and feel of a sandal with the security and coverage of a shoe.  And they are FANTASTIC!  I originally bought my first pair (my awesome brown Chibas $65) in Reno because I needed a casual shoe I could wear around town.  I loved them so much I bought a second pair (my ever present Khaki Carpe DMs $60) just because.

Sanuks have now become my pre and post-hike shoe of choice.  They pack easily, weight very little and stand up to a lot of abuse.  Wear and tear just add character, so mine have been almost everywhere with me.  I wear them heading to the trail, take them with me if I plan to stop or camp, and slip them on as soon as I get off the trail.  When they get dirty they wash easily in a stream, lake, pool or a quick spin in the washing machine.  Couldn’t be easier!

sanuk01I am looking forward to my next pair of Sanuks from their R.A.S.T.A. collection!  All RASTA Project products are made from recycled, low eco-impact materials and shipped in biodegradable bags.  Check out their website for details!

Many retailers carry Sanuk Products these days and there are A LOT of imitators out there.  Be sure to look for the SANUK signature green logo tag.

 

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