Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gear Review: Brooks T7 Racer

Once in a while, a shoe company gets something right. You wear a shoe and end up falling in love with it, because it's the closest thing to perfection you're going to find without making the Olympic team and having Nike make a one-off custom shoe specially for you. In 2007, I found one of those shoes when I bought the Brooks T5 Racer. At first, they stayed in my closet much of the time, because the store team I was running for at the time was sponsored by Nike, and to be completely honest, it wasn't love at first sight anyway, since coming from wearing spikes in college, I was more into the faster, lower to the ground feel that the Nike Zoom Katana offered. However, when I left that team, I gave the T5 another chance, and God was I ever glad that I did, because it's, hands down, the best flat I've ever worn. When you find a shoe that good, you're always afraid that it's going to get discontinued or get changed. My second favorite racing flat, the Adidas Adizero PR, was discontinued, even though that shoe had a cult following. And though I don't own the A4 or Fastwitch, Saucony just changed those shoes pretty drastically, as I talked about in my last post. Thankfully, the T6 remained mostly unchanged, other than it got a slightly nicer upper that fit my foot even better. In Februrary '11, Brooks released the T7 Racer, and I'm happy to report that the engineers at Brooks must know a good thing when they see it, because, while it looks a lot different from the outside, on the inside, it's still the good ol' T Racer that we've come to know and love.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brooks Pure Project

UPDATE 4/2/11: Brooks has recently released more information on the Pure Project, including pictures of the shoes and details about the technology itself! Check out my new post on the updated data!
UPDATE 11/16/11: Review of the Brooks Pure Connect now posted!
UPDATE 2/9/12: Review of the Brooks PureFlow now posted!

A while ago, when I was in high school (so sometime before 2003), I saw a shoe at Champs Sports that was marketed as mimicking a bare foot. It looked super gimmicky and like it was marketed towards weekend warrior types rather than serious athletes (I can't even remember if it was a running shoe). Obviously it did not do well, because I can't even find information on it today. Then, in 2004, Nike developed the Free, a flexible running shoe that was supposed to simulate barefoot running, after talking to then-Stanford coach Vin Lannana about training barefoot. There were a few Free models available, rated on a number scale with 1.0 representing barefoot running and 10.0 representing a traditional trainer. In 2007, seeing as I was running on a Nike-sponsored store team, I gave in out of curiosity and bought a pair of 5.0 (now known as the Free Run) and a pair of 3.0 (more on that later). Meanwhile, Vibram was producing a "barefoot alternative" of their own, intended for paddling and sailing, known as the FiveFingers. However, it all hit the mainstream with Christopher McDougall's 2009 book Born to Run. Born to Run set off the minimalist and barefoot explosion, where people suddenly decided to try running sans shoes, claiming that it cured all their injures (also more on that later) and allowed them to run more naturally (aaand more on that later too). At first, it was mainly small companies that catered to this market (outside of Nike), with lesser-known companies like Vibram and Terra Plana producing minimal shoes meant to do little other than protect the sole of the foot from rocks. Then the running companies started to get involved. In 2009, New Balance axed their 790 (why, NB why?!) and replaced them with the MT100 (now the MT101), and in 2011, they released their Minimus line. Similarly, in 2010, Saucony introduced the Kinvara, the first of a line of more minimal shoes (along with the Mirage, Peregrine, Cortana, and Hattori), and reworked some of their racing flats to decrease the heel-toe differential (like the A4 and Fastwitch). Additionally, other small companies popped up, like Altra, Somnio, Luna, and Soft Sole, as well as companies better known for non-running shoes, like Merrell. Early last year (2010), Brooks CEO Jim Weber released a letter detailing his thoughts on the matter, as well as a lot of other information from "The Experts," who are all generally considered authorities on the topic. Despite the information, people continued to post on Brooks' website begging for a minimalist shoe. Brooks has now responded with Brooks Pure Project.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why Running Store are Awesome and Running Store Etiquette

Last week, my podiatrist suggested talking to Matt Byrne of the Scranton Running Company to look for a pair of off the shelf orthotics. I finally made it into SRC today, bringing along an anatomy textbook and about four pairs of running shoes in various states of wear. The first thing we did was go over some background information, which included talking about my shoe and injury history, showing Matt my anatomy book to explain what was going on versus what was supposed to be going on (anatomically, not biomechanically), and checking out the wear pattern on my current shoes. Next, he set me up on a treadmill and videotaped me barefoot. A slow-motion viewing showed moderate overpronation with the right foot and supination (underpronation) with the left (which is crazy, by the way...I always thought I mildly overpronated with the right and was neutral with the left, which is somewhat normal, but instead it looked like we were watching two completely different strides). For the record, Matt was as surprised as I was that I had posterior tibial dysfunction in my left foot. While supination is not a neutral footstrike and supinators often have injury problems related to their footstrike, posterior tibial dysfunction is not usually one of them. After talking for a while how to best address such a radical difference in foot motion, in order to stabilize the right while not overcorrecting the left in the wrong direction (without going the custom orthotic route), we started to play with insoles in different shoes, and eventually settled on the Brooks Launch (one of the many shoes I brought along) with Berry Superfeet. The entire process took about an hour.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gear Review: Garmin 405 GPS Watch

It wasn't all that long ago that if you wanted to know how far a run was, you had two options: you could either drive your running routes and check your car odometer, or you could time the run and estimate how fast you were running, then divide the time by your estimated pace to get the miles. The first method was often inconvenient. Who really has time to drive all their routes? And what if your routes take a shortcut across someone's yard or go down a trail or something? And the second method was woefully inaccurate. I can't even tell you how many "long 7s" the Bucknell women's team had, because we decided to assume we were always running 8:00 mile pace. Only it was the fastest "8:00 pace" in the history of the world, and a lot of those runs were 8 miles or longer. Then came MapMyRUN. Now you could figure out how far your runs were by tracing the route on your computer. It still was a little problematic if you ran on trails or MUPs, but it was a huge improvement over the "divide by your pace" technique. It even showed little mile markers on the map, which should have made figuring out mileage for tempo runs a lot easier...except that a mile marker in the middle of a long road on a computer is nearly impossible to figure out in the real world. And for some reason, my team still didn't adopt this, so our distances were still short (which makes me wonder what my mileage really was in college...hmm...). Then in fall '06, one of the freshmen showed up for cruise intervals with this big freaking computer on her wrist and told us we were running 20 seconds too fast per mile. No one believed her...but then our coach yelled at us for going too fast. That was the Garmin Forerunner 205. A few years later, a sleeker version was introduced: the Garmin Forerunner 405.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Progression, Specificity of Training, and the Value of Having a Coach

The other day, my friend Luke wrote a commentary on his progression as a climber versus his progression as a runner. I told him I was going to comment on his post, but I felt that there was some value to posting it on here.

First, a little background. I met Luke sophomore year of college, when two of my teammates and I decided to check out the rock climbing wall. Luke was one of the better climbers: super strong, and extremely dedicated to not only his own improvement, but also the progression of the people with whom he climbed. After graduation, Luke began running, jumping in pretty hardcore and managing to qualify for Boston in his first marathon, though climbing remains his primary endeavor. Anyway, if you haven't read his blog post yet, Luke compares and contrasts his running training with his climbing training. For the most part, he's pretty spot on. However, I did want to make a few comments pertaining to the later progression of running.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gear Review: Brooks Ghost 3

I wore the Nike Pegasus for nine years. Don't get me wrong, I messed with other shoes for workouts and races and trail runs and whatever else, but the Pegs were my go-to workhorse shoe. I had a few issues with them, for example, the instep of the shoe never quite fit me right, and to prevent extensor tendinitis, I generally had them tied so loose that they never had to be untied, but for the most part, they worked great. They even got me through second semester freshman year relatively unscathed, when I decided it would be a good idea to go from 40 miles per week to 70 miles per week over the span of a month (and the 40 miles per week was already a significant jump from high school). They also got me through my second year after college, when I went from 80 to 100 miles per week in a couple of weeks. What more can you ask for from a pair of shoes?

Um, how about for the company not to change it? Last summer, I ordered my regular pair of Pegs in a size 8, the same size I've been wearing since 2002, and they didn't fit me. Weird. I did a lace lock to prevent my foot from sliding around so much, but predictably, ended up with extensor tendinitis a week later. I also noticed the ride felt like it changed slightly, and less than two weeks and 150 miles after picking up the new Pegasus, I strained my hip flexor (I had never had a hip flexor problem before).

Back at the National Running Center, my friend Rob told me that yes, the Pegasus has changed, but that most people loved it. Well, that didn't bode well for me, since that gives Nike even less of a reason to change it. After trying on nearly every shoe in the store (including a different size Pegasus), I had it narrowed down to two shoes: the Brooks Ghost 3 and Saucony ProGrid Ride 3 (the only two that fit me). I really love Brooks' T Racer, so I went with the Ghost.
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