Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Balance MT10 and MT20 :: A Subjectively Superficial Comparison

New Balance surprised many wearers of the original Minimus Trail in late May or early June when a few photos of the MT20 appeared on ShoeMart's website. Without much of an explanation to accompany this alternative to the MT10, speculations and theories about the Minimus Trail 20 went wild:
  • Was it a replacement for the MT10 in response to perceived complaints about the original model?
  • Was it an update in the product line for the sake of an update? If so, why so soon?
  • Was it the promised zero-drop version that so many of us had been wanting in the initial Minimus?
DISCLAIMER: This post is silly. I have no excuse for spending so much time comparing the aesthetics of two perfectly good shoes. If you are not interested in nerdy shoe stuff, you'll probably want to read someone else's blog before this post takes up anymore of your time.
Answers to these questions have not been readily apparent. But, RunningPundit's stellar investigative skills produced an insightful timeline of inquiry that probed the rationale behind NB's release of the MT20. So, go there to read what one or more NB reps have said about the differences between the MT10 and the MT20.

Stay here to compare the MT10 and MT20 from an artsy-fartsy perspective. As an aesthetically inclined fellow, I appreciate things that look nice, products that exhibit good design. And, I'm more than happy to subject two seemingly similar products to my unfounded opinions. So, let's begin:

MT10 vs. MT20: Profile

New Balance MT10 and MT20 profiles compared

From the first time I saw photos of the MT10 last Fall, I was enamored with it's unique design and ambitiously minimal construction (for a mainstream shoe company). Once released to the general public this past March, the MT10 met my expectations in spades. It looked great right out of the box. And, one of it's most conspicuous physical attributes is the toe spring.

That toe spring really adds some charm and down-to-earth ruggedness to the MT10. You can imagine your feet nimbly traversing rocks and roots on the trail when you look at that toe spring.

The MT20, on the other hand, seems to exhibit a much more minimal (pardon the pun) toe spring. In fact, from the profile, the MT20 resembles a sleek sports car or shark with the way the shoe's nose seems to form a blunt point.

Sports cars are cool. And, I like sharks even more. But, as far as trail running goes, I prefer the rugged, more loosely fashioned toe box profile of the MT10. I mean, yeah, of course, a shoe as light as the MT10 or MT20 should evoke a sense of speed. But, there's just something about the MT10's profile that makes me want to run on the trails more than the MT20's does.

Moreover, comparing the profiles of these companion shoes, I prefer the linear balance (omg another pun!) imposed by the strong lines on the side of the MT10. There's that black line extending from the midsole at the front of the heel up through the back of the "N" to the laces. This line is not present on the MT20, which really emphasizes that curved band running from the back, top of the heel to the midsole at the forefoot. With that black line missing as a counterbalance on the profile of the MT20, there's an impression of front-facing heaviness while the lighter orange color seems to beg for something to weigh it down, something like your heel.

So, if you look at the black lines on the MT10, you see that they appear to emphasize a foot strike towards the midfoot. And, the upward momentum of the toe spring gives a sense of active flow to the design.

But, the MT20's black lines put a lot of emphasis closer to the base of the forefoot, leaving the heel area open and a little incomplete. Plus, the flatter toe box seems to put a stop to the forward momentum that those black lines imply.

MT10 vs. MT20: From the Top

New Balance MT10 and MT20 profiles compared

Once again, the MT10 and MT20 direct our attention to their toe boxes. Each shoe clearly has a wide toe box with ample room for most runners' wiggly piggies (especially true since the Minimus is available in widths). And, while these two photos were obviously taken from entirely different perspectives, it's safe to assume that the lasts of these shoes are the same, thereby promising the toe box widths to be equally spacious.

But, look how the MT20 has that piece of black overlay where the MT10 does not. It covers an otherwise well-ventilated area with some sort of snake-skin-like material. Why would New Balance want to do that? I mean, sure, there are some grey dots on the black toe cover to add some sort of design interest. But, toes need to breathe!

Perhaps this extra bit of covering makes the MT20 look more like a traditional shoe, which would assure New Balance a more promising market share. Maybe not.

Clearly, I prefer the more breathable toe area of the MT10.

I'll also add that the wider black band punctuated by white stitching on the MT10 looks nicer than what we have on the MT20. It just does. I suspect that NB diminished the presence of this band across the top of the metatarsal area on the MT20 due to some complaints by the public about the MT10. There was some pinching, see, pinching that never bothered me.

If I were to complain of pinching, I'd attribute it to the little Vibram wave thingies on the medial and lateral sides of the midsole. These are the elements that exert pressure on my feet. But, it's not a bad pressure. I don't feel pinched. It may be that I bought the correct size for my feet.

MT10 vs. MT20: The Heel

New Balance MT10 and MT20 profiles compared

Ah, now, here we see a design altercation that can truly be labeled as a correction. The tab at the top of the heel seam on the MT10 appears to be sewn over on the MT20, rendering it nonexistent. (Do we really need pull tabs on our shoes? I never use them)

The tab itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But, the inner seam of the MT10's heel cup is problematic, at least for me and a few other runners. It irritates bare heels to the point of blistering. And, this is not a good feature on a shoe that's designed to be worn without socks. So, the MT20 clearly has a bit of seam padding sewn onto it. And, I'd be curious to know if that solves the irritation issue.

This view of the heels also gives us a close look at the MT20's black overlay material. It looks cheaper than the MT10's black overlays. Yet, these shoes are priced the same. So, surely it's not cheaper.

MT10 vs. MT20: Which to Buy?

If I hadn't already purchased two pairs of the MT10, I'd still choose the 10 over the 20 simply because the former looks better. One is clearly the less attractive sibling. Sure, they're both good looking, especially compared to some of their friends. But, the first is better than the second. That's just my opinion. But, I defy you to disagree!

Oh, and I'll leave you with this amusing, if not laughable (in the at-them ["them" being the perpetrators of this ad] rather than with-them sense of the word), new addition to the "Like Barefoot, Only Better" campaign:

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Raleigh 8000 :: 2011 Race Report

Raleigh 8000 Pint Glass
The Raleigh 8000 Pint Glass Award: 3rd Place AG
(photo courtesy of The Raleigh 8000 Facebook Page)
The inaugural running of The Raleigh 8000 took place in spite of hurricane Irene this past Saturday, August 27. Naturally, messages from the conscientious race director expressed intense concern for the safety of the runners and volunteers involved in the race. Consistent weather updates on the race's Facebook page conveyed a very slight possibility that the race would be canceled. But, luckily, Irene didn't pose as a big of a threat to Raleigh as it did to other portions of the state. So, The Raleigh 8000 started on schedule!

Along with the fact that the Raleigh 8000 was my shortest race distance, this race served as a first for me in a few ways:
  • first fully paved course
  • first 8K
  • first race in the rain

I registered for this race a couple of months ago, because I'd been wanting to try out a shorter race. I like the Tar River Running Company's well-organized productions. And, the fact that the course traveled primarily along the Capital Area Greenway in the vicinity of Shelley Lake made this particular race more appealing than the usual road race. Also, the host sponsor, Raleigh Running Outfitters, is my favorite local running store!

Raleigh 8000 Course Photo over the bridge
(photo courtesy of Raleigh8000.com)
Plus, I hadn't participated in a race since the end of May. So, I registered for this one knowing that I'd be jonesing for a race before September.

In keeping with my standard arrival time, just shy of an hour early, I pulled into the parking lot at 6:34 AM. It was still rather dark outside due to the cloud cover. A batch of heavy rain had moved away from the area about an hour earlier. And, only a slight sprinkling punctuated by strong wind gusts accosted the runners picking up their race packets.

The rainfall increased steadily then suddenly as I waited in my car. But, at a half hour before starting time, I needed to warm up and use the portaloo. Figuring that'd I'd be getting wet anyway, I decided there wasn't much point to waiting out the rain. So, I ran around the shopping center to the "facilities" and ran back with a couple of strides thrown in while under cover of the storefront awning. The rain and the running felt great at this point.

Surprisingly, the heavy rain actually stopped when we gathered on Six Forks Rd. to start. We had to confine ourselves to one lane as we crossed the mat at 7:30. But, after that point, we had two lanes of Six Forks Rd. all to ourselves for a few meters. There's something liberating about running down the middle of a road like Six Forks, having it closed off to traffic just so you can run. (Thanks to the Raleigh PD for taking care of that for us!)

I'd started close to the middle-front of the pack. But, I quickly moved to the side so that I could position myself closer to the front. I had it in my head that the point of a shorter race is to make yourself as uncomfortable as you can reasonably stand as soon as possible. So, that's what I did. I'd be curious to know how quickly I ran that first mile. But, I left my watch at home. So, oh well.

Raleigh 8000 Course Photo beside Shelley Lake
(photo courtesy of Raleigh8000.com)
I'll be the first to admit that I started out too fast. By mile two, I could feel my pace slipping. A shirtless dude who'd been running behind me for a little while finally passed me. Then, another dude passed as we ran up to the straight portion of path on the south side of Shelley Lake.

There were no trees blocking the wind at this point on the course. Irene's breath stormed across the water and right over the elevated greenway. And, I really felt like I was running against a wall here. I held my bib against my shirt, because the wind almost seemed to tear it away from the safety pins. Thankfully, this section was brief.

Raleigh 8000 Course Photo the tunnel
(photo courtesy of Raleigh8000.com)
Then I ran down an incline and into more tree cover as I fought to maintain some semblance of speed. Another dude passed me, this one wearing yellow. I missed seeing the 3-mile marker at some point. Perhaps it was the aid station.

The tunnel you see in that photo is smaller than you think. It was dark and not at all conducive to running. And, for some reason, it was less pleasant to run through on the way back than it was at the beginning. I guess I have a thing about small, dark spaces.

Anyway, through the tunnel, through some puddles, over some bridges (careful on that slick wood), and I'm finally on Long Street, which is an uphill climb for about a mile to the finish. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, because Facebook posts from the race director made it seem like climbing an actual hill. Really, this was more of a long incline.

Of course, the last mile could have been all flat for me and it wouldn't have mattered. I was tired. Rather, my legs were tired. I searched for extra speed and strength everywhere in my appendages. But, I couldn't find any. I just couldn't muster up that speed that I usually manage to find during the final meters of a race. I was frustrated.

And, what happens when you're frustrated towards the end of a race? Another dude passes you as he speeds toward the finish line. And, you tell yourself, "Okay, there's still time to catch that dude. I can catch him, find some strength for a sprint, pass him before the finish." But, no, you don't pass him. You're tired.

Raleigh 8000 awards time
The race director distributes awards before the rain gets heavy again
Anyway, I ran under the finish arch as the clock struck 35:24 (chip time was 35:13). I like that time. It's a nice time. I'm not going to complain about it. But, well, nevermind...

As we waited in light rain for the awards to begin, I really developed a profound appreciation for the race director and volunteers. I mean, sure, running in the rain is fun while you're running. But, standing in it to wave people along the course or hand out water probably sucks.

And, the race director, having to deal with all the concerns about the weather just before the race begins, scrounging for volunteers at the last minute, wondering if anyone will show up: he
My Trusty Inov-8 f-lite 230
Inov-8 f-lite 230: My Weapons of Choice for the Raleigh 8000
and his team really earned my respect for all of that. There were a lot of logistics that went into this race well before race day. And, if Irene had forced a cancellation, I can only imagine how disappointing that would have been for all of the organizers. So, thanks to all of you organizers and volunteers for everything you did.

I wore my trusty Inov-8 f-lite 230s for this race. They did not disappoint. The wet pavement really put their sticky rubber outsole to the test. And, their ability to flush water out quickly made racing through puddles fun and efficient with no squishy feeling afterwards. I love these shoes.

So, my first 8K is over. I spent more time eating and waiting for the award ceremony than running. It's an odd thing, really. I want to be fast and speedy. But, I also want races to last longer than 40 minutes. I should sign up for a 5K soon, though. I've been intimidated by that distance for so long. But, it's something that should be done.

Thanks for reading! I highly recommend the Raleigh 8000 to anyone looking for an 8K in Raleigh next year. The course is a good one, and the team putting it together is fantastic.

Raleigh 8000 runners waiting for the award ceremony
Runners waiting for the awards distribution.

Raleigh 8000 runners watching award ceremony
Runners gather to watch the awards distribution.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 :: Fifty-Mile Update Review

As promised in my first-impressions review of the Mizuno Universe 4, I'm posting this update for those who want to know how the Universe 4 handled its first few runs. More specifically, I'll address my initial concerns about the shoe's durability.
Mizuno Wave Universe 4 front and back
It's worth noting that a Mizuno representative indicated that the shoe is good for 150 to 1,200 miles. (That's not a typo. I asked) The rep knows an accomplished marathon runner who regularly wears the Universe for more than 700 miles. So, clearly, the Universe 4 will take you as far as you're comfortable wearing it.

As we observed previously, the Universe 4's outsole displayed some conspicuous wear and tear in the forefoot area after one 13-mile run. Sure, I expected some trade off in durability for lightness. But, I was surprised to see that much scuffing on the surface so soon. It's a good thing I didn't want to return them to the store.

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 outsole wear after 45 miles
Mizuno Wave Universe 4 wear and tear on the outsole after 45-ish miles of running on pavement.

Well, fifty miles later, the outsole wear is similar to what we saw in my first-impression review. I suppose the softness of the lightweight foam gives way to friction very quickly at first. But, it doesn't deteriorate at a constant rate. There's just that initial wearing down.

So, my concerns about durability are not as pressing now. The upper is still in fantastic condition. And, the small, black "lugs" populating the forefoot are quite durable, barely showing any sign of wear.

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 top and insole view
Mizuno Wave Universe 4 top and insole view
There are a couple of other experiences with the Mizuno Universe 4 worth mentioning at this point:
  • I experienced a hot spot in the left foot under my pinky toe after an hour of running. This occurred for the first three runs with two different kinds of socks. But, I haven't felt the blistering affect recently. So, whatever was causing the hot spot for me is probably corrected by way of a breaking-in period, or something. Besides, hot spots are probably more of a subjective thing and not necessarily due to a manufacturing defect.
  • The plastic piping (?) on the heel cup that follows the shoe laces through the midfoot is an interesting choice. I thought it'd be bothersome, because it's not a soft material like the fabric seams of most other heel cups. But, this element of the shoe hasn't bothered me thus far. It appears to hold the shoe in place around my ankles better.
    Of course, I wear socks that form a barrier between my bare ankles and the plastic material. So, someone who prefers not to wear socks might have a different experience with this black piping.

So, that's my update for you. Everything I observed about the Universe 4 during my initial run remains true after fifty miles. It's a comfortable shoe, something that's ideal for my longer runs on pavement. (I've only gone up to 13 miles at one time so far. But, I could see myself wearing this for up to three hours on asphalt without wishing for more cushioning.) The toe box has more room than any other shoe in my arsenal. And, that 3mm heel-to-toe differential really allows for some great running form.

If my observations of the Mizuno Universe 4 have helped you decide that it's the right shoe for you, then you might like to know that the good people at RunningWarehouse.com have lowered their price from the initially outrageous MSRP. I tell you this reluctantly, since I paid full price for my pair just so I could review the shoe for you, dear readers. But, I pay because I care. You're welcome.
Mizuno Wave Universe 4 upper view

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Runner, His Dogs, Open Space, and Badass Shoes

I like this video. I didn't at first, because the first-person perspective of watching a dude's legs in motion is somewhat awkward, at least for me. I just don't care for the extreme foreshortening.

But, after watching the video once, I was surprised that I wanted to click "replay" so suddenly. I mean, the music is okay. The camera quality is average by web standards. So, superficially, this video isn't exactly an award winner.

But, there are actually a couple of things here worth noting.

If you were to close your eyes and imagine running as a most basic human activity, you might imagine yourself as a kid running willy-nilly through the grass without concern for your surroundings, your pace, or your form. The point of view portrayed in this setting exemplifies that fantasy, I think. And, it's mirrored by the presence of the dogs in the video. I really like the dogs.

Looking at the terrain, you'll find yourself searching for the trail. Is there one? Is this guy just running down a grassy, muddy hill? It looks like that's the case. And, there are even more grassy hills to run up and down all around in this video's setting.

So, if you dismiss the practical paranoia that comes with finding yourself in the middle of—what looks like—nowhere, you might get a sense that this short video is a representation of unadulterated running for the sake of running. And, that's pretty nice, being reminded of this joyful sort of running. It's just a dude running, open space, his dogs, and some badass shoes.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Injinji Toesocks Non-Review

I purchased my first pair of Injinji Toesocks (it's supposed to be a compound word, I guess) a couple of weeks ago. And, I love them! So, my affinity for the aesthetic appeal of the word "Injinji" is validated by my preference for the product. I call that a win.
my feet demonstrating the fit of Injinji Performance Micro toe socks
Rather than show you some crisp, clean product shots of the Injinji socks; I'm keeping it real by presenting my own pair of socks fresh from a trail run. You're welcome.
There's not a whole lot for me to impart to you in a review of a sock. I mean, that's sort of like reviewing a pair of underwear, in my opinion. It's either comfortable or it's not. And, if it's comfortable to me, it may not be comfortable to other people.

If I were a sock expert, or someone who knows enough about sock-related textiles to evaluate the material comprising the Injinji Toesocks; I might be able to feign some sort of informative review. But, I am neither of those people.

So, I'll just say that the socks are great. They're great because having my toes separated by thin, breathable fabric while running solves a couple of issues for me.
  • Solution One: Injinji socks prevent sweaty toes from rubbing together. Traditional socks are notably more confining than Injini socks. And, this confinement is conducive to blister formation due to sweaty toes rubbing together. During these hot summer months, this sweaty-blister creation is more likely to occur. But, not if you're wearing Injinji Toesocks.
  • Solution Two: My evil fourth toe's nail can no longer cut into my poor third toe. It doesn't matter how often I trim my toenails. There's this rogue toe on my right foot, fourth from the big toe, that's angled in such a way as to make the toenail a hazard to it's neighbor on the left. If I'm running in not-so-wide shoes, I'll end up with a bloody sock, because that wicked toenail cuts a new hole into my third toe. Well, not anymore!
Injinji socks separate obtrusive toes.
Injinji Toesocks prevent rogue toenails
from cutting into neighboring toes.
That's all I have for you. I'm glad I treated myself to these Injinji Toesocks. I'll buy some more when I get around to it. So far, they seem to be least expensive at Amazon.

Try them if my issues are similar to your issues. Try them if you are bored with your conventional socks. Try them because buying socks makes you feel happy and they cost less than shoes.

Or, don't try them. If you like your current socks, there's no reason to go out buying more socks that you may or may not like. You can spend $11.95 on something else.

Friday, August 5, 2011

FY(effin')I: Huge Sale on Select VivoBarefoot Shoes Right Now

The good people at BirthdayShoes.com have alerted us to the fact that members of The Clymb are privy to a very attractive sale on VivoBarefoot shoes through Sunday (maybe, something like that).

If you've done any research on minimal shoes, you've probably encountered rave reviews of footwear from VivoBarefoot. Then you looked at the price of this footwear. And, you probably scratched them off your list of shoes to try. (I did)

I mean, $160 is a lot for a shoe. Sure, they're European. And, they're supposed to be amazing. But, still, it hurts to take a chance on a shoe that costs that much when you could be taking a chance on a shoe that costs less than $100 (We're talking US dollars, btw).

Well, if you're curious about the VivoBarefoot shoes (Neo, Aqua, Jazz, or Venus models), now may be the best time to order a pair. But, you've gotta be a member of the Clymb.

"How do you become a member of the Clymb?" You ask.

Yeah, I was annoyed, too, when I saw that you had to sign up to be put on a waiting list. WTF? What did they mean I had to be invited?
VivoBarefoot Neo
But, luckily, the internet is full of people who are happy to share their invitation links. And, now I'm one of those people. Feel free to join the Clymb via my personal invite link. (I think I get special credits, or something, if you do)

I haven't decided yet if I'll heed the impulse to purchase a pair of the Neos, even though they're marked down by more than 50%. I've got a little time to mull it over, though...Maybe after a drink or two this evening. But, let me know if you take the plunge. I'm curious to know if there's someone out there who's more impulsive about buying running shoes than I am.


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