Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Run Therefore I Am..... a Marble?

Here's my two cents on a shoe which had created a big stir before it was launched. 

Kudos to Adidas for having achieved the buzz, even though the answer to the title of this post is: "no, I ain't no marble"

Much to my chagrin, I bought into the marble buzz and here I am with the boost.

The last Adidas I'd purchased was the Adizero Feather, which didn't agree with my wide feet. My "experience" can be summed up in the following photo (December 2011, after my first, and last, 10K in the Adizeros).

The Boost intrigues me because of the new outsole material, AND, the purported "stretchy" TECHFIT upper material.

When I picked up the shoes (where I still had a chance to decline purchase if the forefoot is not roomy enough), I was pleasantly surprised to step into the shoes, and found the Boost to be adequately sized around the forefoot area, aided by the stretchy Techfit upper. Would it be comfortable enough to run in though? 

I took the boost out for a 5K run this morning, and here is my experience:

FIT: I have wide feet (the NB store people says I need 4E), and this plays a lot into my shoe choice. The Boost's "Techfit" upper lives up to its promise, as it accommodates my forefoot comfortably. There are only 5 eyelets for the shoelace (as opposed to the normal 6 to 7, see photo below), which means more of the mid-to-forefoot area is covered with the stretchy Techfit.

Having been blistered by previous Adidas, my main concern is not getting one in these. The boost stretched well during the run, but I felt tightness towards the midfoot (just inside of the second eyelet). I am hoping that this tightness would disappear with more runs in the boost (instead of becoming a hotspot, as these shoes are too expensive to become, well, a hotspot). Fit-wise, using "snug-but-comfortable" as the parameter, I'd give the Boost a temporary 6,5 out of 10.

TOEBOX: I have separated this, because a generous toebox is very important for me. To help promote a more natural stride, I only wear 5-finger socks. In the same context, I also prefer a flexible outsole, and this first variant of the boost is not flexible. As for the toebox, the boost is adequate in this regard; I can feel my toes having relative freedom to splash-and-splay within the confines of the forefoot area. I am quite pleased to have run blister-free in an Adidas for the first time.

RIDE and COMFORT: I was pleasantly surprised to find the Boost weighs in at 300 gram (10,6 oz) per shoe (size 11,5 US). This is pretty light, which is a major plus point in a shoe's comfort factor for me.

In terms of comfort, I did experience the aforementioned tightness around the midfoot area during the run. Overall though, I ran comfortably in the Boost. 

I am used to shoes with heel-to-toe drop of around 6 mm or less. I asked +Peter Larson over at Runblogger, and he estimated the Boost to have a 10 mm drop. I did notice a lot of heel material in these shoes, and the Boost didn't feel as natural as I'd like. I am looking forward to future variants of the Boost, with a lower drop than this first iteration.

In terms of ride, the "this-will-change-running-forever" and marble-bouncing outsole fell short of expectation. Even though I know I'm not a marble, I still expected to bounce in these shoes. During the run, the mid and outsole felt (surprisingly) a bit hard, with some springy action felt throughout the run. To Adidas' credit, this is the first sole that did not feel soft, yet have that springy feeling (to my feet).
TECHNOLOGY: I am always wary about shoe-related "technology," as I believe that the primary "technician," i.e. the runner, is the most important part of the endeavor. Case in point would be the following three shoes with "innovative" technologies (from top to bottom) =  the Boost, the HOKAS with the Hubble outsole, and the ON Clouds with the pods on the outsole.

Amongst these three shoes, I would rank them: (1) Hoka (2) Boost (3) On Cloud.

The HOKA's combination of ample (and comfortably soft without being squishy) cushioning and low drop (4 mm) has proven to work for me. Given that I've only ran 5K in the Boost, and I still prefer it over the On Cloud, may mean the new outsole's technology does have merit.

CONCLUSION: With just one run, I cannot say too much about the Boost. The new outsole material DOES feel different (positive) than other shoes', and, the Techfit upper is excellent. 

In terms of value for money, unfortunately the Boost falls short. It is a pretty expensive pair of shoes, and the over-hyped marketing buzz may actually do more harm than good. IF the Boost had been priced at, say, 30% less, it would be a GOOD BUY. 

In terms of looks, I must say Adidas got it right. These shoes look GREAT in black (no choice for the pre-order crowd), and that in itself is a plus point. 

I am looking forward to more runs in the Boost, and that's always a good thing (especially at the shoe's price point).

UPDATE (Sunday, March 3rd 2013):

Just did a 10 K in the Boost. Can't say enough good things about the upper Techfit material, which makes the shoe feel like a "compression shoe." As for the "will-change-running-forever" boost outsole, again it felt positively different, not soft but springy. This shoe will definitely get lots of "playtime" in my shoe rotation.

In terms of overall value, at $150 (or Rp.1,6 million here in Indonesia), I still think the Boost is significantly overpriced. Skecher's Resalyte material on the GoRun Ride also gives a different kind of springy and bouncy feeling, and it is priced HALF of the Boost, AND the Ride is considerably lighter at 235 grams (vs. the Boost's 300 gram. The difference in the shoes' weight is important because research shows it affects running economy). Comparing the Boost to another shoe at the Boost's price range, the Hoka Eva Stinson (which is also a very bouncy pair of shoes), I prefer the Hokas for long runs.

Now, if only Adidas will introduce a 4mm to zero-drop shoe, with tall stack height (utilizing this Boost outsole material) and Techfit upper, and do it all in an under 10 oz (285 gr) package, that will be something indeed.

IMHO the current variant of the Boost can be summed up as "a rather overpriced marble-licious shoe" (this is a compliment).

Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Go-to GoRun

I started running regularly in 2012 using the Skechers GoRuns, and because of that, my shoe preference has been towards lighter ones with not-too-much padding, and heel to toe drop of around 6 mm or less.

I love the GoRuns, because they feel "cushiony" while retaining a very thin outsole and feather-weight. While training for my first marathon, I encountered no problem with the GoRuns, including the couple 25 km or more long runs in them. I used the GoRuns for the inaugural BII Maybank Bali Marathon, and halfway through it, I pulled my left hamstring on a steep downhill. I'm still not sure if it was the shoes, my lack-of-control going downhill, or all of the above. Though I finished the marathon (barely), I became quite wary of using the GoRuns for runs longer than 20km.

Just when I thought my love affair with Skechers was coming to an end, came the GoRun Ride. I'm fortunate to have multiple shoes in my rotation, and so far, the GoRun Ride (GRR) has been my "Go-to" shoes, when I'm unsure what to put on. Here's the brief review:

The Skechers GoRun Ride, in Black and Red

FIT: I have wide feet, and this plays a lot into my shoe choice. Most shoes (including the GoRuns) only come in regular D width, particularly in Asia. With normal width shoes, I need flexible and non-constricting uppers, and in this regard, the GoRun Ride stands out. Being used to the GoRun, stepping into the Ride version has a "coming home" feeling to it, albeit a more cushioned one. With the GoRuns, you can feel the middle bump, which was not a problem for me but others have found to be a big negative. This GoRuns' "rocking" feeling is not an issue with the Ride. In four words, the GoRun Ride is "snug-but-comfortably-roomy."

TOEBOX: I have separated this into its own review category, because a generous toebox is very important for me. I like to feel my toes having the freedom to "splash and splay" within the confines of the shoes (aided by 5-finger socks). The GoRun Ride,with its flexible uppers and generous forefoot area, is excellent in this regard.

RIDE and COMFORT: at 235 grams per shoe (25 grams "heavier" than the GoRuns), the Ride is still crazy light, and, crazy comfortable. I have always found the Resalyte materials in the original GoRun to be the perfect mix of light yet cushioned. With this iteration of the GoRuns, the ride has turned from cushiony to confidence-inducing comfortable, as in no trepidation to pick up speed, or go uphill or downhill when the occasion calls for it. There is none of that rocking motion, and the extra cushion gives you that extra confidence in your strides (you can see the difference in the outsoles shape, between the Go Run and the Ride in the following photo).

TECHNOLOGY: I am always wary about shoe-related "technology," as I believe that the primary "technician," i.e. the runner, is the most important part of the endeavor. The GoRun Ride again promotes the mid-foot strike sensors, which presumably help your feet land on the middle part of the shoes. Has it worked for me? Based on the wear pattern from the photo below (taken with the GoRun Ride having more than 100 miles on it), my strides are landing more towards the outer right part of the shoes (for the right foot), anywhere from the midfoot area towards the heel portion of the shoe. Just as importantly, I am not feeling pains other than regular aches, after long runs in the GoRun Rides.

CONCLUSION: With the taller stack height, the GoRun Rides are missing that close-to-the-ground feeling of the GoRun. There is still good feedback from the road, but the original GoRun is better in this aspect.

Other than the "less-than-total" road feedback, the GoRun Rides are pretty much great shoes to run in. I think they look good (beauty is in the eyes of the beholder), and I took it for the ultimate test, journeying through Singapore at the inaugural Craze Ultra (78 km / 48,5 miles).

I rode the Ride (sorry can't resist) through that CrazeUltra ordeal safely. Except for a busted toenail (due to, ironically, too much anti-chafing powder in the socks), my feet and legs escaped unscathed, and, most importantly, injury-free.

The biggest test of all would be the "wallet-test," and there are two pairs of the GoRun Rides on my shoe rack. In summary, yes, I like to ride this particular rendition of the GoRuns.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Game Changer (?)

The MIO Alpha, the first accurate Heart Rate Monitor, WITHOUT chest strap!

I have the Nike GPS watch with the Polar HRM chest strap. Using them involves the extra steps of:
(a) wetting the sensors on the strap adequately
(b) putting on said strap on chest.

These, plus the discomfort of the chest strap (and chafing on long run), became tiring after a while. I found myself "forgetting" to put the chest strap and just going straight out the door to run.

I was so excited to read about the Mio Alpha when it was on Kickstarter. I was looking forward to purchase one, and expected it to be available in Asia around mid 2013. Lo and behold, I came across the watch at the Velocity Mall in Singapore this past January.

I've been using the Mio Alpha for a couple of weeks, and here's the review thus far:

FIT/DESIGN: the strap is thick, and has a three-prong buckle. The watch needs to be worn TIGHT, for the LED light sensors to have a constant distance (between sensors and surface of your skin), which will in turn give you a consistent Heart Rate readings. The three-prong buckle certainly helps the strap to be worn tight, while maintaining relative comfort (not pleasant, but way better than a chest strap). When I bought it, only the white/grey combo was in stock. I would've preferred the "shadow" (grey/black) combo, as it would be much more wearable to work. That said, the design is handsome enough and looks quite presentable (as opposed to being dorky and toyish). Beauty is of course in the eyes of the beholder.

FUNCTION: activating the HR monitor is easy, just press the button on the right and wait a couple of seconds for the LED light sensors to do their thing. Voila! Your heart rate on display, which the watch calls the "EXERCISE" mode. You can even activate this mode, after you start running, as long as the watch has been worn snug on your wrist (not moving around).

To activate the TIMER mod, you have to press the right button one more time. If you have set the LOW and HIGH Heart Rate numbers, the in-between "area" is your preferred training zone. Once in TIMER mode, the watch would BEEP and emit Blue lights if you are below the LOW HR number. And it would BEEP and emit Red lights if you go above the HIGH HR number. If you can maintain exercising in the training zone (between your pre-set LOW and HIGH heart rate numbers), the watch emits green light and stay silent (GOOD!).

PROS: the watch's HR monitor is the primary function of this watch. In this respect, it is a very well-made device, and one that works wonderfully (chest-strapping be gone!). In fact, HR monitoring seems to be the only thing this watch is good at (adequate for some, lacking for most).

CONS: if you expect additional features like pace monitoring, extra heart rate zones, then you are out of luck. My only expectation was to banish said chest strap, while getting accurate real-time HR readings. Having said that, I did expect a button to illuminate the display, in cases when I'm running in early dusk and/or evenings. As it is, the display is unlighted, and remain that way throughout the run (save for the blinking lights). This is a negative.

To see the time of day, you have to push the left button twice, which, if you are in the middle of running, is not exactly easy to do (the button has to be depressed "deep"). This is a minor but nonetheless negative point.

BONUS: a friend saw this and commented that he'd like to buy it for his father, to have the latter's heart rate readings available at all time, for health monitoring reasons. INTERESTING! Without the cumbersome chest strap, I think you can find all sorts of non-exercise usage for this watch, with the heart-rate readings on at all time. If you have heart-rate readings mode turned on, without TIMER function (see above), the watch runs silently with your Heart Rate on display at all time, and will do so for over 15 hours.

CONCLUSION: this is a wonderful heart-rate monitor watch, the first of its kind that offers accurate real-time HR monitoring. Taken as it is, the Mio Alpha simply works. As the first of its kind to be released, I may even call it a game changer.

That said, I can't wait to see Mio Alpha version 2.0, with extra functions (or, at least, lights to read the display in the dark). 

The BASIS BAND watch, with the same LED lights sensor, just came out with LOTS of extra bells and whistles. So, exercise gadget-freaks, hold on to your seats (and credit cards), as new gadgets will always turn up. Cheers!

Single. And unattached.

Here's a review of something not usually associated with running, a single-earpiece bluetooth headset.
The JABRA Stone 2 (above photos are mine. Here is the LINK to more photos on google)
I've been using stereo headset since I started running, either to listen to music / podcasts / audiobooks. As I run almost exclusively outdoors, I've come close to a couple of incidents, because stereo headsets didn't allow me to be fully aware of my surroundings.

Ever since these close-calls with danger, I've used wired single-ear headsets = one ear with tunes/podcasts/audiobooks for "entertainment," and the other ear free to be aware of my surroundings/talk to people.

The Jabra Stone 2 bluetooth earpiece caught my eye, because it doesn't look like a "telephony tool" (with microphone sticking out). And, of course, no dangling cables!

I've now used it for 7 runs, and so far, it's working wonderfully.

2 out of the 7 runs have been for 10 km, and battery was still "medium" after these 1-hour usage.

COMFORT = the unit comes with 4 different ear-plugs, and the one that worked for me was with "the tail" (pictured). It's not an "immersive" in-ear fit, but it stays there and doesn't dangle around (which is what I was looking for). If you need completely in-ear fit, I'm not sure you'll get it with this. The earhook secured the whole thing nicely around your right ear. In terms of overall comfort, I almost can't feel it being on my right ear, which is a good thing. In fact, the unit fell to the ground once, because I forgot that it was on my ear, and the earpiece got pulled when I took off my shirt after a run. Fortunately, the earpiece still works after the ground impact. By the way, it's important to note, this thing is designed for Right Ear use ONLY.

SOUND QUALITY = I didn't have high expectation in this department, so I wasn't disappointed. If you are looking for high fidelity, look somewhere else. The sound is a bit thin, but not shrilly. Ironically, I haven't used this for phone calls so I can't report about the microphone (other reviews indicate it works quite well).

SET UP = very practical and easy. Just turn on my iPhone's bluetooth, and press the headset, Voila! Once paired, the next time you use it, you only need to turn on the bluetooth on your iPhone and select "jabra stone." The headset would say "connected" and you are ready to go (I believe it should work the same with Android or other smartphones).

DESIGN/FUNCTION = very sleek, almost pretty. And the earpiece comes with its own portable charging unit (pictured, I call it the "cocoon"). There is no button. To turn volume up and down, you just slide your finger upward / downward on the earpiece.

CONCLUSION = if you are looking for a single-ear, wireless, headset for running, the Jabra Stone 2, knowing all its limitations and plus points mentioned, is worth considering.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Minimalist musings

I had dabbled in minimalist shoes since I started running regularly in December 2011. My first shoes of choice, to my friends' horror, were the Skechers GoRun.

Why the GoRun? I didn't know much about shoes then (thank God!), and when I first had a chance to handle them, I liked the GoRun for its feather-weight and flexibility. And, I was a victim of the "mid-foot strike sensors" marketing materials.

My previous shoes before the GoRun were the Nike Frees, and the GoRun became the "logical next step," i.e. lighter and more flexible.

Since then, I'd accumulated quite a number of shoes, more than half of which fall into the minimalist category (labeled in the photo with following numbers):

1. Brooks Pure Drift
2. NB Minimus Trail
3. Skechers GoBionic
4. Vivo Barefoot Neo II
5. NB Minimus Ionix
6. Skechers GoRun
7. UA Charge RC
8. Nike Frees

FIT: I have wide feet (the NB store people says I need 4E), and this plays a lot into my shoe choice. In fact, the reason I purchased the NB Ionix was because they had the 4E width at the store (the first time I came across minimalist shoes available in 4E).
I had the Adidas adizero feather and they gave me a nasty blister around my forefoot, most probably because of its narrow width.

Fit-wise, using "snug-but-comfortable" as the parameter, from best to least = NB Ionix (4E), Skechers GoBionic, Brooks PureDrift, Skechers GoRun, UA Charge RC, Nike Frees, NB Minimus Trail, the Vivos (they may be half-a-size too big, and my feet feel "loose" in them).

TOEBOX: I believe adequate toebox is an important "feature" of a minimalist shoes. Going sockless is probably the ideal way to "use" minimalist shoes, but since I still prefer a layer of protection (and sweat absorption), I always use Injinji's 5-finger socks now. Using normal socks feel constricting to my feet, and I would encourage people to either go sockless or wear 5-finger socks (for those wanting to shift to natural running).  I believe an ample toebox space would allow our toes to "splash and splay," aiding in balancing our strides to (hopefully) become more natural. In this respect, best to least = Brooks Pure Drift, NB Ionix (4E), Vivos BF, Skechers GoBionic, Skechers GoRun, UA Charge, NB Minimus Trail, Nike Frees.

HEEL to TOE: Of these eight shoes, half of them have 4mm differential between the heel and toe. The zero-drop in this crowd are the Skechers GoBionic and the Vivo Barefoot Neo II. The Under Armour Charge and Nike Frees are at 6mm, with the rest at 4mm (the PureDrifts have removable insole that will make them zero-drop if removed, but I prefer the insoles intact). I've found that I cope well with shoes with 6mm to zero-drop heel-to-toe differential. I do find that I am more careful with my strides when running with the zero-droppers, i.e. the GoBionic and the Vivos. I still use traditional shoes occasionally (more support, cushioning and higher heel-to-toe drop) and, for inexplicable reasons, my legs get tired faster with these. To summarize, I've found that the heel-to-toe drop factor plays less significant role, at least for me, compared to other "features" of the shoes (as long as they fall within the range of 0 to 6 mm).

RIDE and COMFORT: minimalist shoes by definition will have minimal material between your feet and the road. And this may mean harsh impact for those feet that have been shielded by thicker shoes in the past.

My first 'minimal' shoes were the Nike Frees, and they felt marshmallowy to me. I much prefer the feeling of the Skechers GoRun, which is firm but adequately soft, during running (yes, they feel weird if you are just standing in them, because of the middle-bump. But I don't feel the bump when I run in them).

The "hardest feel" amongst these, for me, would be the NB Minimus Trail and the Vivos Barefoot.

In terms of overall ride and comfort, my best to least: Skechers GoRun, Skechers GoBionic, Brooks Pure Drift, UA Charge, NB Ionix, Nike Frees, NB Minimus Trail, Vivos BF.

SUMMARY: So many things come into play when determining the right shoes to wear. If I have to name a favorite amongst these eight, I'd have a hard time choosing one, because each shoe excels (or under-perform) in at least one area. 

My top four (meaning they get the most in terms of wear-rotation) would be = the Skechers GoRun and GoBionic, Brooks PureDrift, and the Under Armour Charge.

For those who've gotten their feet in minimalist shoes, which one do you like? And why?