Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Shoe Review: Nike Zoom Fly

The last time I was in the market for a new shoe, I wanted to try something different than my standbys - the Saucony Guides and Brooks PureCadence. In my online searches, the Nike Zoom Fly kept popping up as a shoe I might be interested in. Fascinating, captain - I had never thought of Nike as a serious running shoe producer, believing them as either a style or basketball shoe company. But the shoe sounded just like what I wanted, and was very reasonably priced. So I took the leap, having run in them three times. My reaction?
  • Good, if not great, fit for my feet. Roomy toebox, perhaps a tiny bit looser in the heel, but nothing that has been detrimental.  
  • There's a touch of support for us pronators.
  • Stiff sole. I'm hoping this loosens up a bit over time, but for the moment I would only want to take this on flat roads or the track,
  • Doesn't have as much cushion as I'm used to. Not a big issue, but I'm used to the softer forefoot of the Guide and PureCadence.
  • Light and fast. Feel very speedy in these shoes.
  • Stylish! I love how these look. Great colors. Not too much busy visual design like 99% of the rest of the current running shoe market.
Overall I can't say these are my favorite shoes but I do like them - and will like them even more if the sole loosens up a bit. Given that the price is extremely reasonable ($65 on sale at Running Warehouse), the Zoom Fly is a great value. 

Those of you interested in technical details, click here for more.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Stone Mill 50

Since finishing my first hundred miler, running has been all about just enjoying myself: no weekly schedules, no training program, no goals, only one run longer than 25 miles.  But as the Stone Mill 50 got closer, I decided to test what I had in me.  It's a great event, almost entirely on rolling single track, at the best time of the year for a day in the woods.

This year, the race was led by new race directors, and they decided to start and end the race at a local elementary high school, instead of the high school that had traditionally been used.   Brilliant! This provided more restrooms, as well as a warm place for runners to check-in, to store bags for after the race, to see old friends, and to make new ones.  (It also meant a little bit of pavement running to get to and from the trailhead, but that was no big deal.)

Saturday was the kind of day when just about everything went right.

It was 26 degrees at the beginning of the race.  I settled in toward the back of the pack, saving my energy until the train of runners spread out.  My plan was to keep things at an easy pace that I could sustain all day long, walking up hills and running the rest.  For the first 25 miles, I averaged about an 11:00 minute / mile pace.  I then sped things up a little for the three mile stretch along the towpath, knowing that my drop bag would be at the next aid station and I could take a breather while I got ready for the rest of the race.  The final 24 or so miles, went by at about 12:30 minute / mile pace.

With aid stations every five miles, I figured I could carry a single water bottle.  I love the Amphipod Hydraform.  It's a no-frills 20 ounce bottle that is comfortable to carry all day long.  I also wore an Ultraspire Quantum belt, perfect for carrying six gels and several small miscellaneous items.

While I mainly relied on gels for energy, the aid stations were a welcome respite, offering grilled cheese sandwiches, hot chicken broth, PB&Js, and other goodies.  The volunteers at Stone Mill were amazing, even by ultra-volunteer standards, and I really am thankful for their coming out on a cold day to support us runners.  Strava suggests I had about 25 minutes of stopped time, versus 31 minutes last year, so I'm getting better and getting in and out quickly.

I chose to wear North Face Ultra Guides over Drymax Maximum Protection socks.   Blisters have been my nemesis in the past, but I didn't get a single one, notwithstanding having had to submerge my feet in several (cold!) streams.  I did score a few black toenails from kicking rocks and roots, but that's OK.   The Ultra Guides (now discontinued) don't have much of a toe bumper, and I prefer that.  With a heavy bumper, I am more likely to catch my foot and end up on all fours.  The Ultra Guides have a traditional running shoe toe, and I can quickly lift my foot off of the obstacle and keep going.

North Face Isotherm pants and shirt provided the perfect mix of warmth and breathability.  Temperatures increased to 39 degrees over the course of the day, and I was never too warm or too cool.  I find a Buff is better than a traditional hat for keeping my head comfortable.

I recorded my track with a Suunto Ambit, which gave me 52.8 miles and 5,006 feet of elevation.  My final time was 10:27:20, a PR by about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl"

Gone Girl is  one twisted book. The first half of the novel – despite some rather cheesy diary sections – contains some excellent writing as Flynn paints a picture of Nick and Amy, a husband and wife struggling through a tough life together. While they ostensibly are doing the same things, the chapters that alternate between their points of view reveal they are experiencing two very different realities. Filled with insights for anyone who has been in a close relationship for any significant period of time, it's easily the best part of the book. And while it’s obvious that there’s a twist coming, this is not telegraphed nor does it detract from the power of the story. However, once the secret is revealed, the book transforms into a thriller – a highly accomplished and exciting ride, to be sure, but one that wasn't as consistently insightful and engaging to me as the beginning.

[Spoiler alert!] This is partly due to the fact that, in the end,  the wife Amy becomes a super-criminal, inspiring awe in her ability to plan her way out of the most incredible situations. This ability dehumanizes her and thus belittles the interesting observations that she’s made before. For example, the famous Cool Girl speech, one of the best moments of the book, takes on a new light once you comprehend the depth of Amy’s psychopathic personality. I suspect that Flynn would argue that Amy’s perspective allows her to achieve these bitterly insightful observations, but I found myself pondering why I would trust anything stated by such a twisted personality.

And it wasn’t just Amy, all of the characters got flatter and flatter as the book went on. The only one that remained real to me the entire way was Go, serving as the Greek Chorus, keeping us grounded as to the insanity of it all.

The ending of the book is just fucked up. Expertly executed, it floored me in its cynicism, leaving me quietly angry at both the characters and the situation. I haven’t been this affected by an ending since Fight Club – high praise indeed. As frustrated as I found myself with the book, it’s stuck with me a long time.

In closing, i'd like to thank Ms. Flynn for giving us Tanner Brock: the best name for a lawyer, ever.

Cross Posted in Thought Ambience

Hoka Clifton - Durability Update

This morning, I reached 150 miles on my Hoka Cliftons.  The miles accumulated far more quickly than I expected, as these are the shoes I reach for whenever I want a fast run with quick leg turnover and without having to think about my feet. 

Conversely, the Cliftons have not worked out quite so well as a shoe for long runs.  At a slower pace, my heel sinks too deep into the cushion, and starting at around mile 10 I develop blisters at the front of my arch that I've never gotten with any other shoe.  I've not been able to solve this problem with better lacing, and others have experienced the same problem: see here.  Nevertheless, it's a fantastic shoe for the right purposes.  (Here's Sage Canaday running 3 miles in 15:30 in his Cliftons).

When initially reviewing the Clifton, several reviewers, including myself, queried how durable they would be, given their insanely light weight.  So, let's take a look:

Overall, the uppers have held up very well, although frame is starting to delaminate from the mesh in some places. 

Turning the shoe over, the rubber overlays are holding up great.  However, the exposed foam near the front of the shoe has worn down significantly, and is starting to wear down elsewhere as well.

My biggest concern, however, is with the midsole.  On the medial (inner) side of the insole, the foam is showing numerous compression lines.  

However, on the lateral side it looks as good as new.

As a result, the shoes are starting to lean inward, and I can feel it when I run.  I worry that pretty soon, they'll be putting me at risk for injury.

But to be fair, the midsoles may last longer for lighter runners (I am 190 lbs), or those with different running form.

While I love the Cliftons, at $130 I'm not likely to pick up another pair for use as a frequent trainer.  However, I can't wait for them to go on sale. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Carbo Loading Time!

I'm two days away from the Empire State Marathon, and so it's time to start turning my attention to carbo loading. I did some reading and thought I'd share what I found.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I found was an article in the NYTimes that cites a number of studies that claim that a short, intensive carbo loading the day before the race is the best method:
In both studies, carbohydrates eaten at breakfast on race day, during the race itself or on days earlier in the week were relatively unimportant. It was primarily what people ate on the day before the race that mattered.
Okay, so focus on the day beforehand. Which can be a problem, given that I'll be travelling and away from my pantry. So what types of food should I pack or search out?
I often tell people to choose relatively concentrated sources of carbs, like juices, pasta, rice and sweets,” Mr. Wilson [a graduate student at the University of Minnesota who led the study] says. “That way, the volume of food needed isn't so enormous.” In addition, he says, “lower-fiber foods may be good, since that could reduce the potential for stomach distress during the race.” 
Dimity McDowell, writing in Runners World, provides me a detailed list:
"Tortillas, oatmeal, bread, pancakes, waffles, bagels, yogurt, and juice are all easy-to-digest options. Many fruits are high in carbs but are also high in fiber—and too much can cause stomach trouble midrace. "Bananas are a low-fiber choice," says sports nutritionist Ilana Katz, R.D. "And you can peel apples, peaches, and pears to reduce their fiber content." She also gives her clients permission to indulge in white bread and baked potatoes without the skin since both are easily digested.
Ryan suggests steering clear of high-fat foods—like creamy sauces, cheese, butter, and oils—as well as too much protein. Both nutrients fill you up faster than carbs and take longer to digest, she says. Pick jam—not butter—for your toast, tomato sauce in lieu of alfredo sauce on your pasta, and frozen yogurt instead of ice cream for dessert.
Cool - I can work with that. I absolutely love bananas and bagels anyways, so shouldn't be a problem. But how much should I be eating? The NYTimes article states that
...few of the runners in either study actually consumed enough carbohydrates to benefit, even if they thought that they were doing so. In both studies, the minimum effective “dose” of carbohydrates was at least six or seven grams for every kilogram of a person’s body weight, or about a quarter-ounce of carbohydrates for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. By that formula, a 220-pound runner would need to consume at least 25 ounces, or more than 700 grams, of carbohydrates on the day before a marathon to finish faster.
The Runners World article provides guidance along these lines:
At this point, 85 to 95 percent of your calories should come from carbs, says Katz. Ryan recommends eating about four grams of carbs for every pound of body weight (for a 150 pound runner that's 600 grams—or 2,400 calories—of carbs per day). 
What’s interesting is how this affects your weight:
Be prepared to see a number that's at least four pounds more than your usual weight. The extra pounds mean you get a gold star for carbo-loading properly. "With every gram of stored carbohydrate, you store an extra three grams of water," says Katz.
I think I've got enough for a plan now. But i'm curious: what kind of foods you you carbo load on? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Shoe Review: New Balance Fresh Foam 980

image from
I'll admit that I (at times) ride the waves of marketing trends in running shoe technology.  I tend to think that any informed shoe choice takes into account the extremes; and the pendulum's well-documented swing from minimalism to maximalism has caught my attention.  That isn't to say I went out and bought a pair of Hokas (I'll leave that to Joel), but I did get swayed by the concept of a lower drop, maximally cushioned shoe.  Also, I've been meaning to give New Balance a try again; its been a while since I've tried their shoes and they have a very loyal group of followers.

I don't tend to write shoe reviews until I'm very sure of my opinion.  I've already logged 200 (or so) miles on the Fresh Foam 980 at the writing of this review.  Sadly, while I've learned a lot about the shoe over that period of time, one glaring fact stands in the way of me fully endorsing them:  the fit.  Fit is highly variable...  makes sense, FEET are highly variable.  For whatever reason, the designers at NB just didn't make a shoe with the 980 that fits my feet.  I discovered this the first time I took them Fresh Foam on a long run, and ended up with blisters.  I reaffirmed this the second time I did so with the same result (I very, very rarely get blisters otherwise).

While that pretty much assures I won't buy another pair, I do want to point out some of the positive things I like about this shoe; a shoe I still use for short runs on occasion:

1. It's got a 4mm drop with tons of underfoot protection.  Massive.
2. I've heard folks mention the cushioning is very stiff.  From my standpoint, this is a good thing.  My feet feel very protected, the shoes are plenty plush and they are responsive enough to handle any paced running.  Tough to have all of those things at once, in my mind.
3. The upper is light, but doesn't seem fragile.  In fact, the shoes look quite new even after 200 miles.

On the flip side:

1. The tongue is absurdly puffy and bothers the tops of my feet, moves around during the run.
2. The "fit issue" for me is related to the narrow toe-box.  Widen it up, NB!!

All-in-all, its a well-cushioned, light, low-drop shoe that, provided it fits, will get you through the miles at any pace you choose.