Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Soleus GPS 2.0 Watch Only $95 Through Groupon

New Soleus GPS 2.0 Watch
If you have been considering getting a GPS watch but haven't taken the plunge, now might be the right time. Groupon's latest offer is Soleus GPS 2.0 watch, which hasn't been released yet. Unlike most Groupons, this one is only valid for a few days. It expires March 5, 2012, so you'd need to use it pretty much as soon as you printed it.

I've had the GPS 1.0 watch for a few months and really like it. The biggest gripe I hear about it is the lack of being able to upload data to your PC. The GPS 2.0 watch adds that feature, as well as an interval timer.

I like mine and don't really miss the features the 2.0 watch adds, but if I was in the market for one, this would be on my short list. It appears to be the same dimensions as my 1.0 watch, and it is the first GPS watch I've seen that can be worn as a regular watch without looking goofy. It does take a while to lock on, up to two minutes, but once it finds the GPS satellites, it doesn't lose them. I've used mine for about 350 miles on roads, forests, mountains and valleys and it has never lost signal.

The only thing that irritates me is I paid $89 for my 1.0 version just 2 months ago. Now for $6 more, I could have had the latest version. Oh well, all of technology is like that.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Heel Striking And Cushioned Running Shoes Is A Modern Invention

We've all been taught that landing with your foot in front of you on the heel is the right way to run. This is called heel striking because the heel strikes the ground first, followed by the rest of the foot as the body moves forward.

It turns out that this method of running, as well as cushioned heels in running shoes to make heel striking tolerable, is a modern invention. Before 1970, there were no cushioned heels and thus, no heel strikers. That means for thousands of years, man has run either barefoot or with shoes that have little to no drop. Drop is defined as the change in thickness of the sole from the heel to the forefoot.

Today's running shoes typically have a drop of 12mm, going from 24mm in the heel to 12mm in the forefoot. The Brooks Beast has an enormous 16mm drop.

It is interesting to note that injury rates haven't fallen one bit in the 40+ years since the introduction of a design that changes the way the foot lands, a change that takes it away from its natural movement. Try and find a company that asserts their running shoes actually reduce injury. A few may claim it may reduce injury, but none have been shown to do so.

Nicholas A Campitelli has written two articles that should be of interest to all runners. The first is Do Running Shoes Still Need Heels? The second is for runners that go one step further to modify how their feet naturally perform - Do Runners Need Orthotics?

Unfortunately, I know runners that are constantly battling injuries like plantar fasciitis, shin splints, knee pain, etc. Rather than peel away the level of shoe they wear, they bulk it up, getting shoes with even more motion control or support, and even going as far as getting orthotics.

Making matters worse, few runners get a new pair of shoes and then go put in a lot of mileage on the first run. They need to be broken in. As the mileage piles on, the shape of the sole changes, ultimately to a point where the shoe needs to be replaced with another pair you need to break in again. It doesn't make sense that you should run in shoes that are not only constantly changing the way you run, but the way they change it  morphs over time.

It is time for us to get back to how our bodies were designed to perform. Leonardo da Vinci said it best: "The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art." Why are we taking this marvelous creation and wrapping it up in a contraption that is often driven more by the marketing department than scientific research?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Vibram Five Fingers Spyridon LS

When Vibram announced their spring lineup a few months ago, the Seeya piqued my interest as a road running shoe, but the Spyridon did nothing for me. After getting more serious about trail running in January though, it was clear the Spyridon was something I needed to investigate.

Five Fingers Spyridon LS
Military Green w/grey & black accents
I've owned a pair of Five Fingers KSO Treks for about a year and a half and have occasionally used them for trail running. When running on dirt trails with relatively shallow grades or trails that have minimal rocks, they are pretty good. When the grade gets steep though, the kind that requires you to go up on your toes or down with very rapid shallow strides that are essentially a controlled fall, they could use improving.

After running just over 70 miles on trails this year so far, I was getting close to investigating other offerings, like the Merrell Barefoot trail shoes. My wife has a pair and loves them. Actually, I already have a pair of the Tough Gloves, but those are my dress shoes, so I'd need something for outdoor abuse.

That was when I recalled the announcement about the Spyridon LS from Vibram. The shoe is named in honor of Spyridon Louis who won the first modern Olympic Marathon in 1896. The "LS" in the name refers to the speed lacing system the shoes have rather than the Velcro strap most often seen on Five Fingers.

I received my pair via courier on Thursday and decided to test them out on a 10 mile run Monday through Whiting Ranch, an area that provides a wide array of surfaces and grades.

Outsole, including a view
of the "rock-block" mesh
The tread is an aggressive design, mimicking the tread on a BMX bike tire. The outsole is a mere 3.5mm thick, compared to the 4mm thread on the KSO Treks. Despite being a bit thinner though, the Spyridon's offer better protection from rocks. The midsole has a nylon mesh that spreads the impact from a rock over a wider area, thus lessening the impact. It is difficult to see in the pictures, but that white area just under the arch is a semi-transparent piece of plastic or rubber. Under that you can see the mesh that protects the midsole of the foot.

The tread also offers superior grip on loose surfaces, such as dirt or rocks. If you compare the sole of the KSO Trek and the Spyridon, you can quickly see the difference.

KSO Treks, top
Spyridon LS, bottom
The KSO Treks, the brown shoes on top in the image to the left, have 5 cross shaped lugs on the heel and just over a dozen under the ball of the foot. The rest of the sole has ridges of various thicknesses. After running on loose surfaces, I am convinced that sole is more for looks than actual traction. For trails with low grades, they are great, but steep grades causes more slipping than I would like. Part of the reason is those lugs wear out fairly quickly. I have 100 running miles and 24 hiking miles on those soles, plus a few hours of casual use. There is also about 10 miles on asphalt or concrete running to and from trails. With under 150 miles on them, those lugs have gotten too worn to be very useful. That tread may be more useful as a hiking tread than a running tread.

Tracks made by the Spyridon
The Spyridon, in contrast, has the same tread design over the entire sole. This tread continues around the edges on the sides, front and rear. I found this to be helpful when running on sections of the trail where the sides of your feet are likely to need traction in areas where water has washed out part of the trail, or on sections that are heavily banked. Of course, if you are going up or down a steep grade and the surface is completely loose, you are still going to slip. It is like thinking your fancy SUV with AWD is invincible in the winter. If you get on ice or aren't careful on snow, you will break traction. The same holds true on a trail. The Spyridon doesn't allow you to be an idiot oblivious to the surface, but it does give the focused runner more security than the KSO Treks. (In case you are wondering what an oblivious idiot looks like when running, check this video out.)

An example of a trail that, with
careful steps, you can easily tackle
with the Spyridon LS
When wearing minimalist shoes, you have to keep your eyes about 10-15 feet in front of you so you can anticipate where to step. Unlike shoes that have very thick soles and heavy cushioning, true minimalist shoes offer little more than a thin layer to protect the skin of your foot from the running surface. You can step on a dime and feel it. This is good because you are more focused on the run. This is both more enjoyable and can prevent the type of injury you get from stepping on a large object like a tree root or in a hole, both of which can cause a twisted ankle or a severe jolt to any number of joints not expecting the impact.

The Spyridon offers a good compromise between the these two extremes. You won't feel a dime, but very small rocks and twigs are noticed. Larger rocks, say the size of a small grape, though no longer cause as much pain due to the rock-block effect at mid-foot, the area you are most likely to get hurt. You will still feel small objects though, perhaps two dimes thick, so you aren't insulated from the run.

As far as comfort, the Spyridon's feel great. I quit trying to run sockless in Five Fingers a year and a half ago. I always run with Injinji socks. No matter how well Five Fingers fit, there is slight rubbing directly against the skin, and when running for several hours, that can cause blisters and eventually callouses. Injinji socks almost completely eliminate that possibility. There are people though that like to run sockless in Five Fingers and these should perform well. The fabric is made of a sock-like material, similar to other offerings from Vibram like the Bikilas and Komodo Sports.

Carrying the shoes on
my Camelbak
Tread life is an unknown at this point. In order to maximize tread life on my trail shoes and minimize the frequency I have to purchase a new pair, I've started driving to the trail heads instead of running to those that are closer to the house. The closest one though is still nearly two miles away, and putting that kind of asphalt mileage on trail shoes will take its toll. On my first run in the shoes today though, my wife needed the car so I decided to run to the trailhead barefoot. I figured I'd carry the shoes and put them on when I got there. The only flaw in that plan is my hands are the first things to sweat and carrying anything, especially a shoe in each hand, got annoying quick. While running on the trail, a place where I do a lot of thinking, I remembered by Camelbak has some straps on the back that I've never had any idea with to do with. Now I know. I ran barefoot home and this was a much better solution.

Styling is about what you would expect from Vibram. Toe-shoes always garner attention and Vibram throws a bit of flash in for good measure.

Top view of the Spyridon
before the run today. They will
never be this clean again.
The sides near the ankle have a rock pattern, suggesting their off road purpose. There are two colors of fabric accenting the shoe as well as reflective strips running from the toes swooshing to the outside edge. When it comes to running shoes, the more reflectivity the better. While it might not be very useful on a trail, the reflective properties could help if you run on a fire road or unpaved country road when the sun isn't up.

Cleaning is the same as all other Five Fingers. Wash in a gentle cycle then allow them to air dry in the shade or inside. I always recommend using a fan to speed the process to minimize any odor issues, a problem most likely to occur if you don't wear socks.

The shoes are $120. I ordered mine from CitySports, a store I've had good service with. You should be able to find them at your favorite online Vibram Five Finger supplier. Right now you cannot order them directly from Vibram. Immediately after launch, Vibram gives 100% of its production to retail partners until there is an adequate supply. If looking for them locally in a retail store, focus on stores that have a wide array of off road shoes, like REI. It has the shoes on its website, but when using the inventory tool, it shows all stores in my area "out of stock" which means they don't have them in yet.

If you have some Five Fingers already, the sizing should be the same as other models, both in men's and women's sizes. I have several pair and all of them are size 43, except for my KSO Treks (42) and Mocs (44). If you have Flows, KSOs, Sprints, Classics, Bikilas, or Komodo Sports, the size should be the same.

I highly recommend them for running trails, but only if you have experience with so-called barefoot shoes.

Related links:
Vibram Five Fingers Spyridon LS Page
Birthday Shoes Review - From the perspective of someone that runs with no socks

Monday, February 20, 2012

How Others See Me As A Vibram Five Fingers Fan

The latest in the "How People See Me" meme is from Vibram, and it pretty much describes me to a T, especially the one about friends. I've had to really dampen my enthusiasm for the shoes when they are mentioned by someone.

This comes from the Vibram Facebook page.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Run Up To Santiago Peak

Last week I was set to go for my longest trail run to date, a 24mi round trip run to Santiago Peak. It is the highest point in Orange County with an elevation of 5,689 feet. I was meeting other runners from the Orange County Trail Runners Group at the Maple Springs Visitor Center, which is somewhere around 1,800-1,850ft in elevation, so this was going to be a 3,800ft climb. And descent! The run was put together by Lauren at the Orange County Trail Runner's site. Ultimately, 6 of us showed up.

Camelbak 18x 100oz
Hydration Pack
Not knowing how long it would take for the run, I decided to take plenty of water and nutrition with me. I have a Camelbak XCT hydration pack (discussed here) that holds 70oz of water and a little bit of food in the side pockets, but not much else. I knew there would be no water available on this run, so I decided to get a Camelbak 18x hydration pack. I'd been looking for an excuse and this run was it! It holds 100oz of water and has the same side pouches, but it has extra storage in the back. Closed, as shown at right, it has 13.5 liters of capacity. If you unzip the center zipper, it the storage area expands to a cavernous 18 liters. I kept it closed and still put an insulated bag with two 11oz Zico coconut waters, a small ice pack and several energy bars. Given the temperature on the day I ran, I took about 30oz too much water with me, but when it comes to water, better safe than sorry! This pack is definitely my go-to pack for longer runs, especially in the summer.

I also had this idea that as long as I was going 24 miles, could I throw in another 6 in there and do an even 30? To do this I was planning to run three extra miles on the back of the mountain, then turn around and run 15 back to the car.

We started off at about 6:15am, which is still dark. It wasn't until 6:30 that there was enough light to see around you. Fortunately, the first three miles is on asphalt because I didn't bring my light with me. Had it been trail, I'd have just stood around for a while until the sun came up.

Ed and Kurt at about the 4mi mark.
 The road eventually turned into trail and we began the real ascent. This is a fire road used by local authorities and utility companies maintaining the array of radio towers at the peak. Most vehicles could make the drive, but only at about 10-15 miles per hour. The dirt parts are the best in my opinion. I wore my Vibram Five Finger KSO Treks for this journey. They have a decent tread pattern, but absolutely no rock protection. To keep the road from washing they periodically dump gravel or larger fist-sized rocks to hold everything in place. Good for tires, not so much for my feet. I ran on all but the largest rocks. While I can run on the larger rocks, it just isn't as much fun and I wind up paying for it later.
Matt and Kurt as the sun comes up
and hits the peak in the background.

At roughly the 4 mile mark, I stopped to take a few pics. Kurt and I had led the pack early on, though it wasn't a speed contest at all. In fact, I had no illusions I'd be dead last as we descended. Downhill isn't where I get speed. It never has been. Matt wasn't far behind and we got some pictures of him too.

The other three runners, Lauren and two other ladies were further back, so we pressed on ahead to the peak.

Matt and Kurt started to pull away in the next mile or so. I considered keeping up, but my 30 mile goal lingered in the back of my mind and I decided energy conservation was better, so I let them go on ahead.

Fun part of the trail
The image to the left is the kind of trail I prefer for long distances. It isn't pure dirt, but not too rocky either. There is plenty of area for me to find good footing without stepping on too many rocks. This too is why I have started to like trail running. I've easily done over 4,000 miles in the last 2.5 years of running on roads and on all 4,000 miles, my legs to the exact same thing over and over and over. With trails, you have to adjust, take the occasional shorter stride. I cannot remember what book I read this in, but it holds true. When navigating a trail, if you can make the same distance over an obstacle in two or three steps, always go for three. Much less chance of injury that way.

Somewhere in the 6-7 mile range
As I made my way up, I was feeling pretty good about going for 30 miles. The grade wasn't that bad and there was no speed here, I didn't ever resort to walking due to being tired, just in a few cases where the rocks were more than I wanted to deal with. My food and water were in good shape too.

The more I climbed though, the cooler it got, even with the sun coming up. Normally, I can run in temps as low as 30 degrees and my hands will warm up within 15-20 minutes and start sweating at 20-25 minutes. That is on the road though where I am running faster and also know exactly what is ahead. I was in unknown territory on this trail though and was keeping my pace down to save energy. Then my hands started to get cold. At about the 8 mile mark, I ran into this large puddle on the left. That's right - ice! It was melting but I also knew the temps up here were lower than they were just 30 minutes ago. It wasn't my imagination. I picked up my pace to get my blood circulating and after about 10 minutes I was warm. Well, warmer.

More rock than I wanted to deal with
and it would get worse in places.
The higher up I got, the more likely there was to be rocks. You don't ever want to come crashing down on these with your feet no matter what kind of shoe you wear. If you have classic trail shoes, you are likely to sprain an ankle or worse as your foot hits at an odd angle. With the Five Fingers though, your foot just wraps around it. No permanent damage, but it still doesn't feel great, and if you do that a few hundred times, you'll really start to feel it a few hours into one of these runs.

In the picture on the right, there was still enough room for me to maneuver between the larger rocks, but in some places there wasn't, so I'd walk that until it cleared up a bit. I probably walked a 1-1.5 miles in total due to the rocks, which in a run this long isn't too bad. Very few people run 100% of a trail run unless it is really short or a level dirt path. The walking parts gave me an opportunity to eat as well.

Santaigo Peak!
This picture is probably about three miles from the peak, though likely less than a mile as the crow files.

This was right at the peak. The Maple Springs Visitor Center isn't listed for some reason though. Bedford Road must be the asphalt part of the trail and being 3-3.5mi, that puts me 12 miles from where I started, which matches what my GPS watch says. Matt and Kurt were here and waiting on the ladies to make it up. I told them I was feeling pretty good and was going to start my descent on the other side and try and get in that extra 6 miles. What a dumb idea.

The problem was this was headed down to Holy Jim trail. This grade was steeper and a heck of a lot rockier. I only made it down 2 miles when I decided that was enough and I turned around. By the time I got back to the top, everyone had met up and left. It easily took me an hour to go those 4 miles, and it is hard to believe any of that distance qualified as "running" but that is my story and I am sticking to it. The run down was much slower. My feet were getting sore and after 6 hours, I was just wanting to get this done.

Ultimately, I went just over 28 miles in just over 8 hours. If you do the math, the time sucks. I felt good about the outing though and know I can do better on a second try now that I know what lays ahead. I am also getting a new pair of Five Fingers called Spyridons that have a nylon mesh that provides a rock-block effect. While the tread should be better than my KSO Treks, the key is that mesh. I'll have to test it out on some rocky trails around the house. I most likely won't do Santiago Peak this year again, but I am definitely going to do it in the near future.

You can see more pics that Lauren took as she and the rest of the group took the more sensible 24 mile route. I've also uploaded more of my pics to my Smugmug account.

I am glad I've added trails to my running routine. These are much more enjoyable to me than having to deal with traffic lights, women pushing strollers 3 wide covering the entire sidewalk, dog owners that think it is "cute" when Fluffy tries to get close and sniff my legs as I try to maintain distance, and the monotony of the concrete and asphalt.