Thursday, March 28, 2013

Barkley Marathons

For something entirely different, check out this New York Times story on the Barkley Marathons, a 100 (or is it 130?) mile footrace through the Appalachians with over 60,000 feet of elevation.  And no aid stations.  While nearly 800 ultrarunners have participated in the race, only 12 have finished within the 60-hour time limit.

But really, is it as tough as the Times makes it out to be?  Matt Mahoney has pictures.  He notes that: 
In 2001, after several failed attempts, Blake Wood, 42, NM, and David Horton, 50, VA, finished together in 58:21, only to be disqualified for inadvertently leaving the course to follow a parallel route for about 200 yards. This route (on the south side of the stream instead of the north side) has slightly better footing and had been the normal route until 2000.   To give you some idea of the difficulty of this course, Blake had won the 2001 Rocky Raccoon 100 in 16:13, and the 1999 Hardrock 100 in 30:11. David Horton won Hardrock in 29:35 in 1993 and in 1991 set a course record for the Appalachian Trail, 2160 miles in 52 days.
And there's more -- much more -- in this old article from the Washington Post, including the story of a Swedish runner, Milan Milanovich who:
took a wrong turn and ran into the fence of the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. Suspicious prison guards, alarmed to spot a hiker in such a remote spot, forced Milanovich to the ground at gunpoint.
Now that's an excuse for not finishing!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Red Sox: 2013 Prediction Post

It's not quite the battle of the three of us on marathon day, but, for the sake of our Reading, Running, Red Sox righteousness, I'll put forth the first overall record prediction of the three of us.  My hope is that my colleagues will do the same, and at the end of the season, the poster who was closest will win a prize yet TBD.

Without anything further:


Monday, March 11, 2013

My Sox Hurt!

It's only spring training, but a number of folks are already hurting:

While that looks ugly, at least several people are looking healthy:
So to summarize, it appears that to start off the season, we'll have very few left-handers in our bullpen, will be without our biggest bat, and may or may not have our starting shortstop. But all five starters look good to go and Aceves will be there come hell or high water. Despite the latter, it appears that at least the clubhouse is "eleventy-billion times better." (That last one was for you, Joel!)

I'm tired of reading and thinking about this stuff. The regular season can't start soon enough.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mohsin Hamid on Haruki Murakami

"it made sense that while [Murakami] has to run to get fit enough to do what he has to do, I could manage with just walking . . . . Walking unlocked me. It's like LSD. Or a library. It does things to you."

--Mohsin Hamid, interview in The Atlantic

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Decline of the Mega Bookstore

The largest bookstore in the land - Barnes & Noble - will be shuttering some of its stores:
“…Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble's retail group, said that, over the next decade, the chain will reduce its outlets by about twenty a year to reach a figure of about 450-to-500 consumer stores, down from a peak of 726 in 2008.”
There are many reasons for this, including the power of as a disruptive force and, as the article states, that: “There was an initial belief that Borders' bankruptcy would bring a substantial portion of its in-store business to Barnes & Noble, but that has not turned out to be the case.”

The article ends with a plea to support B&N as the last remaining bookseller in America. Quite a strange place for it to be in – after all, it wasn't so long ago that we were bemoaning B&N for closing our friendly neighborhood bookstore! – and I’m not entirely sold. Still, amazon continues to be an incredibly disruptive force in bookselling and it’ll be interesting to see how the marketplace adjusts - especially as amazon ponders opening their own physical stores.

While I'm no expert, I also found their analysis about eBooks interesting:
“While holding on to ownership of nearly 80 percent of its Nook division, a $300 million investment in Nook from Microsoft last fall, followed by an $89.5 million commitment from Pearson, which sees value in the growing electronic textbook market, are signs that Barnes & Noble can forge a way to secure enough of the digital business to offset the problems it faces in traditional bookselling.”
It seems like the real challenge for any physical store is to offer an electronic delivery method that is convenient and profitable while not stealing business from their physical book business.


I thoroughly enjoyed Noreen Malone's rant in the New Republic about the ever expanding length of the Acknowledgments page chapter in books today.  And I was especially amused to learn that, because the New York Times Book Review has a policy of not assigning reviews to anyone who is thanked in the book's acknowledgments, authors will sometimes purposefully "acknowledge" the names of reviewers who they fear. 

But I have an idea for Ms. Malone: if you are so offended by lengthy name dropping in the Acknowledgments section -- don't read it.  It is almost always clearly labeled and can easily be skipped.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi E:Motion Road M3

I've been struggling to buy shoes these days.  My mind is practically blown on stats and opinions...  differential, stack height, support, weight, energy transfer, natural running...  who can keep it all straight?  All i want is a shoe that fits right and feels as good on mile 25 as it does on mile 1.

The shoes I run in tend to fall into what I've heard called the "moderate minimalist" category.  To me, this means they are slightly lighter with less differential between the heel and toe (say, 4-8mm)... and possibly some claim to more ground feel.

Why on earth would I pick up a pair of Pearl Izumi E:Motion Road M3's then, you might ask.  I don't really have an answer for you...  other than I certainly believed the hype.  The problem is, the hype got the better of the data in this case.  I've heard and read claims that the differential on these shoes is anywhere from 4.5mm to 11mm.  They claim to have a "dynamic offset" which indicates a lower differential at various times in the running gait.  I think this is common sense... any shoe will compress under the weight of a runner during the various stages of foot strike, changing what the differential is.

When the shoes arrived, my immediate reaction was to their appearance:
Photo: Pearl Izumi

I must say these shoes look sharp.  That doesn't matter much to me, but it is certainly remarkable.

The next thing that was clear was that these were not even moderately minimal.  These shoes were very beefy, with a heel well higher than what I have grown accustomed to running in.  I tend to believe the 11mm data more than any other.

But they were comfortable, initially.  The seamless upper is nice and they are surprisingly light relative to their bulk.  I only ran in them one time, so here are my brief observations:

- The "gimmick" in these shoes (in my opinion) is that there is a blade of harder plastic/foam running through the outside that is slightly raised.  It runs from the heel to the toe, curving inward.  I think this is why the shoe has such a smooth transfer, or "rock" from heel (or mid-foot) to toe-off.  I could have it wrong, but that is my best guess.

- The out-sole is very soft and compresses quite a bit, hence the "dynamic offset".  I didn't like this feeling.  Your initial foot plant feels squashy and then when the shoe bottoms out, it's sort of dramatic.  

- The upper is very light and the seamless design is nice, but my heels were not secure in the shoe and almost came out a couple times.

- The shoe is not very wide and, while having stability, definitely rolled a couple of times (maybe due to the high heel/toe differential?)

- My achilles did not enjoy either the spongy-to-hard outside, or the 11mm, or both.

- The shoes are quite light considering their relative bulk.  And, quite honestly, when not running, these are some of the most comfortable shoes I've ever had on. 

All in all, there were things I liked, but for the most part i did not like them.  I did not decide to keep them as I cannot take the chance that I will get used to them.  They were too far off the mark from the outset for me.

So, my search for new shoes continues....

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: Roclite 295 (old), Roclite 295 (new), Trailroc 255

Up until now, I have been a dedicated wearer of the Inov-8 Roclite 295 for my trail runs.  This year, Inov-8 released a significantly updated version of the Roclite 295.  In this review I share my first impressions of the new Roclite 295, comparing it against both the old Roclite 295 and the very popular Trailroc 255.

The bottom line:  Inov-8 appears to nail the update to the Roclite 295.  The Trailroc 255 provides a more protective option.

Roclite 295 (old version), Roclite 295 (new version), Trailroc 255

Typically when a shoe company updates one of its models, it does so with a lot of fanfare and discussion new technologies.  Not so Inov-8 with its quiet release of the new Roclite 295 a few weeks ago.  The specs on Inov-8s website indicate that the new Roclite has a 6mm heel drop instead of 9mm (in Inov-8 parlance, it is now a 2-arrow shoe instead of a 3-arrow shoe), but otherwise, they don't offer much in terms of describing the differences.  I love the old version, so it was time to get hands on and see how things had changed.

So let's talk about the changes.  First, this is almost certainly a lighter weight shoe.  (Running Warehouse agrees: they weighed the old version at 10.5 oz, and the new version at 9.7 oz).  So much for the claim that the shoe's model number represents the weight of the shoe in grams!

How was this achieved?  First off, a much lighter mesh in the upper.  The laces are also lighter, there is less of a protective rand around the front and the sides of the shoe, and the overlay material is thinner.  My only concern is that some of this material feels a little plasticky and less likely to wear as well.  We shall see.

Now lets move to the sole of the shoe.  Not only does the new 295 have a lower heel, the overall height of the shoe has also dropped.  I again turn to Running Warehouse for measurements.  The old 295 measured 21 mm at the heel and 12 at the forefront, including the 6 mm lug height.  The new 295 comes in at 17 mm and 10 mm.  And yet, the shoe does not feel any less protective.  I am not sure how this was achieved, but it may be through the use of injected EVA, which is becoming standard on new Inov-8 model.  (The old 295 used standard EVA).

The fit of the Roclite 295 hasn't changed.  A quick walkaround test suggests that the my toes will be happier now that the rand does not extend over the top of the toebox.  I can no longer feel the cleats, and I suspect that these shoes will run better on pavement, when necessary.  A slight concern is that the new 295s feel, less "sticky" -- perhaps the brightly colored rubber isn't quite the same, or maybe they just need to be roughed up a bit.

While the new Roclite 295 hasn't gotten a lot of attention, Inov-8's new Trailroc lineup has gotten a ton.     There's plenty of information about them floating around the web, but I wanted to compare them side-by-side with the Roclite.

The biggest immediate difference is in the fit.  Trailrocs are built on Inov-8s "Natural" last (formerly known as the "Anatomic" last).  By contrast, Roclites are built on the "Endurance" last (formerly known as the "Comfort" last).  Both provide plenty of room for the toes to spread, but from the heel to the midfoot, the Trailrocs fit like a tight glove, anchoring the foot firmly in place.

Underfoot, the Trailroc 255 has shallower lugs, but a thicker sole than even the old Roclite 295s.  (Running Warehouse measures them at 22 mm at the heel and 16 mm at the forefoot).  And indeed, they feel "high" to me.  That height will provide protection, but at the expense of groundfeel.  The sole is also narrower at the heel, so they felt a bit less stable.

Roclite 295 heel vs. Trailroc 255 heel

The Roclite 295 is a much more flexible shoe than the Trailroc 255.  In my hand, I can twist it every which way, which I can't do with the Trailroc 255.  This is, part, because the Trailroc 255 includes a five-fingered shank (or rockplate) that extends all the way up to the front of the shoe.  By contrast, the shank in the less protective Roclite 295 only extends midway up the sole.

Dig that flexibility!

As for the uppers, The Trailroc 255 seems to have a more substantial mesh.  The rand is softer and more flexible, and the heel is also more flexible than in the Roclite 295.  Frankly, the materials in the Trailroc 255 feel like they are higher quality, and I imagine they will get more miles before they wear out.

Inov-8's marketing suggests that the Trailroc line is designed for "dry and loose" trails, which makes sense given the amount of protection they offer.  However, other reviews suggest the soles are good on a variety of surfaces.  I expect that the deeper lugs of the Roclite will be better able to deal with mud, however.

I'll be running in the Roclite 295 because I appreciate its light weight, its relaxed fit, its ground feel and its suitability for a variety of trail conditions.  Here in the southeast, I don't need the protection that the Trailroc 255 offers, and would feel constrained by its more substantial upper, especially when the weather warms up.

Parting glance