Friday, December 28, 2012

Umstead Trail Runners: Have You Seen the Company Mill Trail Revision?

Umstead Company Mill Trail has a new section
This is new.

There was a time when I declared that I hated surprises. But, this isn't necessarily true (except in cases where the surprise is decidedly unpleasant or maliciously calculated). I actually love the unexpected. So, I was thrilled to see that there have been some conspicuous changes to the Company Mill Trail's route.

Specifically, the rather steep staircase on the east side of the loop has been replaced by a series of switchbacks on manicured, albeit narrow, ground. This new route takes the east-bound runner up the hillside on a more gradual incline and flattens out across the top before joining the original trail.

Umstead Company Mill Trail
This is part of steep climb that
the new portion replaced.

While this new portion of Company Mill is certainly less challenging than the wicked staircase/rocky trail combo that it replaced, it's nice to see more of the park. It's a pretty little section of the woods.

Overall, this new path is just a brief sojourn from what I am used to running on Company Mill. My guess is that this new terrain adds a bit of distance to the original trail's 5.8-mile route. But, I haven't seen any official or precise measurements relative to the new section yet.

If you haven't had the chance to run Company Mill since this change to the trail, have a look at the photos below to get a sense of what awaits you.

Umstead Company Mill Trail where the steps used to be
This is where that staircase used to be.
Umstead Company Mill Trail
Umstead Company Mill Trail
Umstead Company Mill Trail

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Altra Instinct 1.5 Review: Or, Who's Got Altra Mania?

Altra Instinct 1.5 profile and outsole

The Altra Instinct 1.5 (not 2.0? Hmm.) is a zero-drop, amply cushioned shoe with a toe box wide enough for your toes to have a party. This update to the immensely popular original Instinct [1.0] is an excellent example of what so many shoe makers should have been doing for years: That is, Altra allowed the cushioning but ignored the heel lift. Let's hear it for zero drop!

Altra Instinct 1.5 both

Consequently, Altra is nurturing an almost cult-like (the cool kind, not the weird kind) following of "Maniacs" who absolutely love their foot-shaped shoes. "Awesome" appears in the review vocabulary fairly often. And, I can understand the mania.

My experience with another Altra shoe, the Adam, prepared me for the distinctive extra midfoot and toe box room that I now enjoy in the Instinct 1.5. But, as anyone would expect, the Instinct has even more features to offer than the barely-there Adam.

Pulling on the surprisingly lightweight, albeit husky, Instinct; I immediately noted the super comfy ankle cuff. Also, the asymmetric lacing design allowed me to secure the upper easily without feeling that it tightened in the wrong areas. I wiggled my toes and stood up for a walk around the room.

I bounced on my forefeet, leaned backwards on my heels, skipped to the fireplace, and bounded onto the coffee table. (Okay, I didn't jump on the coffee table. But, I wanted to!)

The Instinct 1.5 felt good!

Altra Instinct 1.5 profile

Cushioning? What?

Being that I tend to wear shoes with much less cushioning these days, you might imagine that I'd have reservations about running in shoes with this much padding between the ground and my feet. After all, the Altra site indicates that the Instinct 1.5's stack height is 22mm. So, yeah, you'd be right in your imaginings. You know me well.

Now, imagine my surprise when I first ran in the Instinct 1.5 and noted a degree of ground feel not too far off from that of the Merrell Road Glove! These are not a pair of squishy-cloud shoes.

Seriously, the smart folks at Altra respect the ground and decided to make Instinct wearers respect it, too. Thus, their rendition of Dual-Layer EVA over a rubber outsole conveys a density similar to what we're feeling in other minimally-centric shoes these days.

'Course, there's more of it, the EVA cushioning. So, please don't think I am saying that the ground feels the same in Instincts as it does in Road Gloves. It's just that the feeling is similar.

Altra Instinct 1.5 outsole


Since I'm being all honest and open with you, I'll admit, too, that I had doubts about the Instinct 1.5's ability to flex properly while facilitating a proper run. I mean, look at it. I defy you to roll it up into a ball. Before my first run, I pictured myself clopping across the pavement like a horse in these bulky shoes.

Well, score another point for the Altra design team, because they know exactly where their shoes need to flex in order to make a natural stride attainable. The FootPod™ outsole lives up to it's description on the Altra site:

Altra Instinct 1.5 front angle
...This outsole maps the bones and tendons of the human foot. With canted lugs mapping your foot, this unique outsole provides a natural, all-purpose traction system for a variety of surfaces from road to treadmill to dirt paths.

Similarly, the unobtrusive toe spring amplifies the smooth transition from ground to air and back during rapid leg turnover. I don't see that feature in the photos of the original Instinct. So, I expect that this is a nicety of version 1.5.

Yes, I was surprised by how easily I practiced a forefoot or midfoot strike in the Instincts. For a traditionally cushioned shoe, the Instincts provide the flex a runner needs on flat surfaces. (Trails? No, not for me. I'll pick something else)

Insole Options

If you've already read anything about Altra, you know that they typically provide two different removable insoles (sock liners, foot beds, etc.) with their shoes. There's a strengthening insole — for those who like it flat — and a sculpted insole — for those who like something under their arches.

Altra Instinct 1.5 back angle

I chose to run first without any additional insoles, mostly because I just wanted to see how the shoes performed with as little cushioning as possible. You can see the inside of the shoe sans insole pictured above.

The insole-free run was comfortable enough underfoot. But, I found that subtracting the extra millimeters that the optional insole usually occupies created an even higher toe box. This turned out to be a little too much for my low-volume feet to handle. So, I sustained a blister on the top of my toe.

Since that run, I've used the 3mm strengthening insole whenever I wear the Instincts. It's fine.

Altra Instinct 1.5 front and back

The Big Question

Are you looking for a zero-drop, well-cushioned running shoe with plenty of room for your toes?

If you answer "yes" to at least two and a half parts of that question, then you've just spent a lot of time reading about a shoe you should have already ordered.

I'll elaborate: The big factor here is cushioning. If you've been running in Skoras or something from the Merrell barefoot line, you've been running in shoes with a bit of cushioning. The Instinct 1.5 will give you more of that cushioning. Do you want that for longer runs, perhaps?

Now, suppose you've been running in, um, something like the Brooks Pure whatever. And, you want to see how it feels to run in a zero-drop shoe. The Instinct 1.5 would be an excellent choice for you. It has cushioning, but not the especially squishy Brooks cushioning. And, clearly, the Instinct has that zero-drop element.

I wear my Instincts in a US men's size 12, which corresponds to the sizes I wear in Merrell Road Gloves and New Balance Minimus. So, I guess that means the Instinct fits standard.

Other than the actual Altra store, you could order them from a number of reputable online retailers — is a fine place to start your Instinct-buying adventure.

Feel free to pose questions in the comments section. And, as always, thanks for reading!

Altra Instinct 1.5 back angle
Product provided by Altra.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Raven Rock Rumble 10-Mile Trail Race, 2012 Report

As I realized earlier last week that the 2012 Raven Rock Rumble logoRaven Rock Rumble had not yet sold out, my registration finger started to get twitchy. With the denial of my Uwharrie registration still fresh in my brain and a satisfactory time trial just completed on Loblolly, I had a hankering for a dose of race-day adrenaline. So, bam, I registered.

You may not know this, but the Raven Rock Rumble and I have a history. It's nothing personal. It's just that I had a little trouble getting to the race in a timely fashion when I ran it previously in 2010.

So, with that history in mind, my primary goal for this race was to just get there on time and without incident. Fortunately, I managed.

Saturday morning was bright and brisk at Raven Rock State Park. There was a slight breeze to punctuate the 40-ish-degree temperatures, which made waiting for the start and hanging around at the finish a little uncomfortable. But, it was perfect for running.

I ran the three-quarters of a mile from the parking lot to the start area twice as a warm up—maybe to kill time, too. Then I found Anthony and Shannon yukking it up and being encouraging at the start line. Shannon was snapping photos in expert fashion while I assured Anthony that there was no danger of me stepping on his heels.

The horn sounded and we followed the lead bike across the parking lot to the trail. I secured a position behind that tick-shirted runner as we crossed from pavement to trail. And, I was amazed to see that the single-track in this first part of the race had been cleared of leaves. So luxurious!

I lost sight of Anthony after about a mile when I slowed a bit to scold myself for starting out a teensy-weensy bit too quickly. Then I was by myself for a while.

It was very serene out there with the sun filtering through all the orange and red foliage still clinging to the trees. And, much of the single-track after mile one was still covered in leaves. So, the powers that be kept it real for us, too, terrain-wise; which is important, I think, in a trail race—keeping it real.

The ting-tang sound of music emanating from headphones gradually grew more conspicuous behind me. Then I heard footsteps trailing me. And, I had to accept responsibility for keeping more than myself on track for a while. I half listened to the music. Was that Nickelback? I stepped to the side so that the music lover could pass. Quiet again.

Anticipating the infamous Fish Trap Trail hill in the middle of the course, I refrained from going wild with energy during the first few miles. And, I'm glad I did, because that hill was harder to climb than I remembered. Bounding down those steps and over rocks was still my favorite part of the course. But, climbing back up from that descent just really took a lot out of me.

In fact, all the hills at Raven Rock seemed tougher for me this time. Maybe it was because I started faster. Maybe I wasn't as well trained for this race as I'd thought. Who knows, really. It certainly couldn't hurt for me to run more hills during training.

So, with the Fish Trap Trail hill behind me, I followed a yellow-shirted runner to the halfway-ish point with the aid station and the people cheering and taunting and saying stuff like, "There are two girls in front of you! You don't wanna get beat by girls, do you?" 'Course, I knew that the person saying this was kidding—not that I have a problem with being bested by a girl, mind you.

I traded positions with the yellow-shirted guy for the remainder of the race. Another runner (not this "another runner") in NB MT110s also leap-frogged with us for the last five miles until he eventually took the lead in front of me.

AG swag
Inov-8 Trailroc 235s were fantastic on this course.
photo by Shannon Johnstone

The course was really magnificent as far as Piedmont-area trails go. I almost wished that I wasn't in such a hurry to finish running. And, I really hoped to see that rock outcropping for which the park was named. But, no, I didn't see it.

(It was later decided in a conversation with Duncan Hoge, aka first-place Duncan, that the official Raven Rock was just outside the scope of our course that day)

As we closed the loop on the west side of the course, a final daunting climb separated us from the last stretch to the finish. And, that climb was ginormous. I'd been hoping that some mysterious reserve of energy would open and propel me up that last hill for a strong finish.

But, no. I plodded steadily with tiny steps over the rocks and roots in the wake of the NBMT110 runner. There would be no fight to the finish between me and him. But, the relief I felt after crawling over that hill and onto flat ground was enough to make me pick up the pace as much as I could until reaching the line. Volunteers cheered. And, I silently thanked them for that.

As I crossed the finish line with a 16-minute PR over my 2010 time, a photographer from On the Mark Sports snapped a picture; which, apparently, bewildered the hell out of me. (I need to work on my reaction to cameras on the race course. Because, I swear, I didn't feel as grumpy as this expression might make me appear)

So, aside from being terrible at posing for pictures, I've learned that I need more hill work. There seems to be a difference between being good at running hills and being good at running the same hills. Know what I mean?

AG swag
Socks for the age group awards!
photo from Raven Rock Rumble FB page

Thanks again to the volunteers and race personnel who make this rumble happen. Packet pickup was a breeze. And, the post-race replenishment tables were stocked with a marvelous array of carbs.

Thanks to Anthony and Shannon for being so encouraging at the start of the race. This is probably the second time I've ever talked to someone before a race.

Oh, and, reader, if you call yourself a trail runner, you'd better be running this race next year. The course is fantastic!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What I Was Like When Registering for Uwharrie 2013

I made my first attempt at signing up for the Uwharrie Mountain RunUwharrie Mountain Run 2013 when registration opened to the public on November 1. Like most of the Southeast trail running community, I was poised at my computer, ready to log in on the hour so that I could secure a spot before the race sold out.

I thought I was successful! But, as you'll learn in this brief tale of woe below, I was't.

Naturally, I bear no ill will toward the fantastic team of people that put this event together every year. They're great people!

The registration site is not necessarily deserving of scorn either. Uwharrie is popular! And websites can only handle so much traffic before going all crazy on ya.

I just thought it'd be fun to share this first-time-Uwharrie-registration story with you. It'll be quick. And, I imagine that some of you can relate. So, here's what I was like when registering for Uwharrie 2013...

When I was trying to access the registration page:

Then, I got in and my registration was confirmed! So I was all:

But, a few days later, an email from SPORToften arrives.
And, I'm reading it like this:

We regret that we will be removing your registration(s) from the 2013 Uwharrie Mountain Run and your confirmation will no longer be valid. SPORToften will be refunding your payment as well as all transaction fees immediately...The SPORToften system allowed your registration for the 2013 Uwharrie Mountain Run to be added AFTER the capacity was reached and the event was SOLD OUT...

Reading this last part of the email. And, I'm all:

We recognize this is not a replacement for running Uwharrie, however, we would like to extend a $15 credit toward entry for the 2013 Tar Heel 10 Miler and 4 Mile Run scheduled for April 20, 2013 in Chapel Hill, NC.

I was a little upset.

The next day—a message from the race director:

It is with sincere regret that we learned of the SPORToften registration failure for the 2013 Uwharrie Mountain Run...

We understand that you are very disappointed and we share your frustration. We want to clarify a few important points...[excellent and reasonable points made, recompense offered, good feelings ensued]...

Again, we are very sorry for the trouble. This is an isolated incident and in no way reflects the great tradition and direction of this race and the hard work of many volunteers who make it possible. [Couldn't agree more]

So, I was like...

The End
(until next year)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

SKORA BASE Real Review

The SKORA BASE in black and red

The clever people at SKORA appear to have a penchant for using all caps in their brand and product names. This is difficult for me to ignore and somewhat of a dilemma.

I'm of the mindset that the use of all caps is for logos, advertisements, and expressing anger in text across the internet. Every other example just demonstrates bad etiquette. So, one side of my pedantic brain wants to type the company name as a proper noun — Skora.

On the other hand, the empathetic side of my mind feels compelled to honor the branding desires of the company, thereby following their lead in always using capital letters for SKORA and their products, in this case the BASE.

Many of you will agree, I think, that using all caps in online discourse is tantamount to shouting. So, every time I see SKORA in the middle of a perfectly normal sentence, like this one; I imagine that the company's name is being emphasized rather frantically. Recall, if you can, those Sega game commercials in which the speaker grinds out the word "Sega" as if he'd just downed two cups of coffee, a Red Bull, and several sticks of beef jerky.

This is SkoraAlso, given the hard "r" sound and dual-syllabic structure, the word SKORA is quite similar in vocal action to, oh, say, Sparta. Thus, I imagine Gerard Butler fiercely shouting the word in that famous scene from 300 just before kicking that dude into a giant hole.

Is this good marketing? Clearly. SKORA's use of all caps inspired me to contemplate the brand name far more than necessary. And, the fact that the word's mere appearance conjures up aural and visual memories in my mind is definitely a good way to make an impression with minimal effort. That's real branding, folks! (Not that I know anything about branding)

I'm harping on the SKORA brand presentation, because the company's attention to detail should not go unnoticed. Their two shoe models, the leather FORM and mesh BASE are fairly unique. And, the company shares a lot of specifics about the manufacturing and design processes that mirror their Real Running philosophy.

Now, you've likely read a review of one of the SKORA shoes already, most likely the rather costly FORM. If not, it would be worthwhile to acquaint yourself with this perspective on both the FORM and the BASE. You'll get a good sense of the back story and see some interesting remarks in the comments section.

Back to BASE(ics)

Skora Base profile
Cool Fact: SKORA is Polish for skin. Thus, the Polish founder and CEO David Sypniewski took inspiration from the word to define the idea that the shoes are meant to fit like a second skin.

A 9mm stack height (13mm with the removable sockliner) and zero differential between the heel and forefoot certainly places this shoe on the minimal side of the marketing spectrum.

The midsole (black portion of sole you see pictured) is a rather dense foamy stuff. I guess it's EVA. But, it's not as soft and squishy as the usual EVA midsole material.

The outsole (red and blue pieces pictured here) are made of a dense, high-abrasion rubber that seems to be highly durable.

Skora Base

The rounded heel is a nice touch. Although, it can feel a little unstable while walking around in the shoe at first (good thing it's made for running!). This is probably why SKORA added more of that red outsole material to the heel of the shoe. It looks like extra weight to me. And, I'd be curious to know what the BASE would be like with some of that shaved off.

Skora Base insole

The removable OrthoLite® sockliner has little bubble things to "increase biofeedback". It is not too thick, as far as sockliners go. In fact, it's kind of dense for a sockliner. So, wearing the BASE with the sockliner inside is a very different experience compared to wearing the shoes without the liner. The shoe is very comfortable either way. And, if you prefer to run without socks, I don't think you'd be disappointed here.

Personally, I like the BASE without the sockliner inserted. It's even more flexible and relays a much higher degree of ground feel. It's fantastic, really!

Unfortunately, removing the sockliner means there's more space within the shoe. And, for me, that extra space is difficult to eliminate with the strapping system that secures the shoe to my foot. So, I'm left with a somewhat sloppy-floppy feeling when I take out the sockliner. If only there were a securing mechanism that allowed for a more precise shoe fit.

So, I wear the BASE with the sockliners. And, the dense sole in conjunction with the stack height makes the BASE's proprioceptive potential similar to that of the Merrell Road Glove. That's a really good thing, in my opinion. I get a sense of exceptional protection while detecting a decent amount of ground feel.

Mind you, the BASE definitely does not fit like the Road Glove. The latter offers a slightly wider toe box while the midfoot and heel are more fitted. Also, the BASE fits on the large side of standard. So, while I wear a size 12 Road Glove, I have plenty of room in a size 11.5 BASE.

Skora Base insole

Speaking of Fit

The REALFIT™ last on which the BASE and FORM are built is SKORA's version of an anatomical design. And, I'd say it passes for that. The toe box is wide-ish and probably allows for sufficient toe splay for people with a medium to narrow forefoot. Runners with exceptionally wide feet might find the toe box to be a bit pinchy, though.

The last curves somewhat dramatically on the lateral side, which gives the shoe something of an odd, banana-like profile from above. This profile is due, in part, to the extra body afforded by the upper. The actual last has a more foot-shaped appearance when you look at it from below.

Despite the seemingly obtuse profile curve to the last, I find that it works quite well for my foot shape. Unlike some shoe lasts that pinch the smallest toes, the SKORA BASE allows for plenty of room without having too much room there.

Skora Base

There is a slight curve under the arch area, especially with the sockliner in place. But, this is a very minimal structural element. And, I don't think it's worth noticing, really.

A pronounced toe spring is perceivable by most in the BASE's construction. But, I didn't find it to be conspicuous while running.

The counterless heel cup is pretty generous. There is a velcro strap at the back of the heel to enable a custom fit in this area. So, if the heel cup girth is too generous for you, the nifty strap may be helpful.

The x-strap system in lieu of shoe laces undoubtedly offers many runners relief when they do not feel like tying laces. I'm sure this innovative use of straps is awesome for triathletes when changing shoes during a race.

However, the x-strap system causes a conundrum for me. Due to the straps' limited cinching capacity, my low-volume feet are not substantial enough to enjoy a snug fit with the sockliners removed. This is disappointing, because I definitely prefer the BASE without sockliners.

Even with the sockliners in place, I must secure the straps as tightly as possible in order to obtain a secure fit. Obviously, this problem is not necessarily a fault of the shoe, but just a peculiarity of my foot.

Personally, I've decided that I just don't appreciate straps in place of laces on my running shoes. The BASE has helped me finalize this opinion. The Altra Adam's straps demonstrate the same shortcomings I've described here. So, running shoe designers, please, give up on the straps. They suck (for people with feet like mine, anyway).

Skora Base

Getting Real

Let's remind ourselves that SKORA's Run Real slogan is meant to describe the company's focus on creating shoes that "allow the human body to function as naturally and efficiently as possible". I'm usually skeptical of marketing verbiage like that. So, I've paid close attention to how well the BASE facilitates a midfoot strike.

After a few months with the BASE, I can honestly say that SKORA's shoe design makes learning and practicing a midfoot or forefoot strike simple. That combination of a zero-drop sole with the unique design of the outsole helps make it obvious to your body when your form gets sloppy. Again, I'll liken the BASE to the Merrell Road Glove here.

Skora Base

So, running in the BASE is essentially a pleasure. If my feet fit into the straps better, or if there were laces, I could wear this shoe for every run over appropriate terrain. But, as it fits me now, I'll probably just wear it for runs up to an hour or so. I have other road shoes that fit snugly enough to take on longer runs.

As for performance, the BASE serves well for all sorts of training activity. It feels fast enough for speedwork and comfortable enough for standard training runs.

The outsole works really well on pavement and gravel trails, of course. It could serve you well enough on technical trails if the BASE is all you have. (Plenty of accomplished runners have proven the BASE's potential over all sorts of trails) But, I'd pick a more trail-specific shoe over the BASE if I had a choice.

Should You Try It?

If I haven't totally put you off with any of the characteristics described above, then of course you should try the BASE. It's a great shoe overall.

And, at $110 with free shipping from the SKORA store, the BASE is as easy to virtually try as anything you'd find at RunningWarehouse or Zappos. It might just be your perfect shoe. I'll be anxious to see what SKORA has lined up for next season.

Thanks for reading!
Product provided by SKORA.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Glove Review

This is a post for parents who wonder if the Merrel Barefoot Kids Trail Gloves are really worth it.

Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Glove

In a word, yes. If a shoe were challenged to be a shoe while not getting in the way of allowing the wearer to be a kid, that shoe would be the Barefoot Kids Trail Glove. I'll elaborate further.

First, let's talk about kids. Rather, let me write a few words about parenting kids and outfitting said kids with shoes.

As a parent, you tend to want what's best for your children. You become a student of the fictional children from studies and TV shows; arming yourself with the theories that describe how kids should behave, how long they should sleep, what they should and shouldn't eat, and how they should dress.

Of course, your kids never behave, sleep, eat, or dress they way they should. By the time you've had the sandwich-versus-muffin-for-lunch argument for the billionth time, you're pretty much relieved that the children — your children — eat anything at all.

You take any semblance of parenting success that you can get. And, one of those successes most heartily enjoyed is when you find a decent pair of shoes for the kiddos.

The thing about kids' shoes is that kids generally don't want to put them on, not when they're very young, anyway. That means you have to do it — every time. And, that's one more thing to add to the list of chores required just to get everyone out of the freakin' house for a fifteen-minute trip to the grocery store.

Dog chews Crocs
Chews Crocs at every opportunity

Alternatively, you can introduce shoes that are easy for even the most lazy unpracticed shoe wearers to place on their feet. Crocs and their ilk are a popular option in this case. They're simple as hell to put on and take off, kind of flexible, and aesthetically pleasing to children. We've had many Croc-ish shoes for the children in this household.

Emphasis on had.

Crocs are so easy to take on and off that they get lost fairly easily. It's happened many times while children run across the yard or through the park. The foam sandals are also easily destroyed by pets with a penchant for shoe chewing. Seriously. A dog can chew a Croc to bits in a matter of seconds.

So, in spite of their convenience factor, Croc-ish shoes are not necessarily an ideal choice for active children. Enter the Merrell Barefoot Kids product line.

As a minimally-inclined(?) runner, I knew that the concept and construction of the Merrell Barefoot Kids shoes would be something I'd want for my own lads. I'd been hoping to find a foot-friendly shoe that my kids could wear when needed. And, the quest had been difficult until the Kids Trail Gloves appeared.

But, as a cheapskate, I had a hard time justifying a $60 purchase for shoes that my kids may not even wear after a week. They'd accepted foam sandals for the time being. And, who was I to push my luck by trying another shoe on them?

Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Glove

Fortunately, a savvy and generous representative of Merrell took note of my plight. She said, "How about you figure out which size Merrell Kids Trail Gloves would fit your kiddos."

Long story short: I arrive home from work one day to find Middle Child showing me his new Merrells. He's beaming as he tells me that they're made for running really fast. And, then he runs really fast across the yard. And, dammit, those are just the cutest kids shoes ever!

That was seven months ago. To date, not a single Merrell Barefoot Kids shoe has fallen off, been lost, or chewed to pieces by a certain lab-hound mix (and, don't think she hasn't tried!) in this household.

Practicality aside, my boys love the shoes!

Middle Child says his favorite things about his Merrells are "The color and that they're for running fast."

Oldest Child says his favorite things about his Merrells are, "That they can be worn without socks, and they're good for running."

(I swear, I didn't tell them to say anything about running)

In short the Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Gloves meet this parent's criteria for ideal kids shoes:

  • The velcro strapping apparatus means the shoes are easy for my boys to put on their feet.
  • They're flexible and designed without a superfluous rise in the heel, "zero-drop", if you will.
  • They feature a wide toe box, which allows kid-shaped feet to continue developing properly.
  • As you'd expect, the Merrell Kids Trail Gloves are incredibly durable.
  • They're suitable for pretty much every activity in which a kid participates.
  • My kids like them. And, that's saying something!
  • The Merrell Kids Gloves are machine washable. Just throw them in with a load of towels, or whatever, and wash them using your favorite detergent on a regular or delicate cycle. Don't put them in the dryer, though. I stuff them with newspaper and let them air dry overnight.

That last point is pretty important for two reasons:

First, kids get shoes really dirty. They step in anything. And, it's just easier to wash that anything off in the washing machine rather than scrape and scrub the crap off with a toothbrush.

Second, the antimicrobial insole touted on the product page is either somewhat faulty, or my oldest son's feet are severely toxic. After a week of wearing his Merrells sans socks, the aroma of Oldest Child's feet could clear a room. I mean, omg! OMG!

Middle Child's foot odor is not nearly as bad when he wears the Barefoot Kids Gloves without socks. So, it's clear that the smell a person creates with his shoes sans socks is an individual thing. And, of course, socks really help out with this unfortunate phenomenon.

Just be advised that, if you're not sure whether your kid is prone to stinky feet, you'll find out after he wears the Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Gloves sans socks for a few days. Luckily, you can wash the smell away in the washing machine.

So, are the almost-perfect kids shoes worth $60? That's up to you, of course. But, after observing my own active boys do everything outside in their Merrell Kids Trail Gloves for several months, I would definitely say that these are worth their suggested retail price.

Admittedly, as a frugal shopper, I'll avoid paying full price while I have the patience to wait for a sale. But, that's just me.

If you need new shoes for your kids now, I'm confident that you wouldn't regret purchasing the Merrell BKTGs (the product name could stand to be shorter, couldn't it?).

Of course, Merrell has gone and complicated the decision by introducing the Barefoot Flux Glove Kids shoes. Those would require tying laces, though.

Anyway, the Barefoot Kids Trail Glove is available in infant sizes (3 - 9.5), little kids sizes (10 - 13), and regular kids sizes (1 - 7). There are lots of colorways from which to choose, too.

Thanks for reading!

After months of wear, these durable shoes aren't even close to falling apart. The outsole is quite worn. But, not terribly.

Oh, the Barefoot Kids Trail Gloves have a Vibram sole, by the way.

Product provided by Merrell.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Running Shoe Survey - Take It!

It's survey time, readers! I've been curious about a few things for a while. So, I've finally worked up the courage to ask you.

"Would ya like to take a survey?"

This is a brief survey. And, none of the questions are required. You can take it as many times as you wish. But, I'm not giving away anything. So, really, you'd just be spoiling the results for no reason.

What am I going to do with the data I collect? I don't know yet. I could share it with you later, I suppose. Although, I'm probably the only dork interested in the responses.

So, before I lose your attention, on with the survey!

Thanks for participating! If you have additional comments, just use the comments section below for those.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Shoe Photo: The Weak Spot?

Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 with Stick through outsole
One of my Bare-Grips with the sole impaled by a small, sturdy stick. It went all the way through but didn't hit my toes. Still my favorite trail shoe.

Monday, August 27, 2012

MacNair's Farm 1st Annual 10K 2012 Race Report

While scouting the online listings for local trail races a couple of months ago, the MacNair's Farm 5K/10K* caught my attention. I suspected any race on a farm would have an unpaved course. And a thorough reading of the race director's description confirmed that hunch.

MacNair's Farm 5K/10K Race"MacNair Farms is a never run trail course that lays on 290 acres of land. The race itself will take you through fields, woods, and around the scenic grounds of the Horse complex. The 10k will be more challenging in not only distance but naturally elements. There will be mud, woods, water, and all things trail. Prepare to get a little dirty and have some fun.(Not a Race you want to wear New Shoes for)"

Yep, that sounds perfect!

The Athens Drive High School Track and Cross Country teams were the benefactors of the race proceeds. And, that gave the race an of-the-runners-by-the-runners-for-the-runners kinda feel, which was cool.

MacNair's Farm 10K Start areaThe realization that there would be quite a few speedy cross country kids running the race gave me a sense of trepidation. This is because one of the things that makes a runner my age feel especially old is when he gets dusted by someone under the age of 18. (The winner of the 10K was 17) But, being a grown up, I just have to get over that sort of thing.

Race-day weather was the best we'd seen all summer. Temperatures hovered in the mid-sixties with a wind tumbling across the fields now and then. A drenching rain overnight ensured muddy terrain wherever mud was possible.

MacNair's Farm 10K warm upI warmed up from the starting area, a wide expanse of ankle-deep field grass. There was a lot of this grassy ground cover on the course, in fact. And, that made this an especially ideal cross country trail.

As I turned back to complete the warm-up run, a deer paused on the trail in front of me and stared as if I had no business being there. Then she snorted and bounded into the woods. I've never considered deer to be especially polite. Can't say I blame them, though.

The 5K and 10K races began at the same time to the sound of a starter pistol. Runners of the shorter race lined up about a quarter mile further down the course from where the 10K runners started. So, it was good that the first couple of miles were wide enough for passing people as needed.

MacNair's Farm 10K Start
And we're off! photo by Patti DeBruyne

As we rounded the first turn onto that grassy course, I found myself just behind the lead pack of high school kids. What the hell was I doing? I'm not a lead-pack guy.

So, I slowed just a smidgen to keep pace with a couple of guys who looked like they were more my age. That didn't feel right, though. So, I just ran and jockeyed for position with the eventual-second-place 10K runner as we left the field and crossed into the forest. But, he eventually sped up to keep pace with the first place runner.

MacNair's Farm 10K
High five! Catch that old dude in front of you!
photo by Patti DeBruyne

We reached a turn that separated the 10K runners from the 5K runners. And, it felt nice to know that everyone with whom I was running had the same distance in mind. I don't know why.

I'd been ignoring a sore hamstring thing for the past week. So, I was trying to be slightly cautious as I ran. The fact that I found myself growing tired sooner than I'd hoped pretty much ensured that I wouldn't over do it, I guess. Also, my hamstring reminded me not to ignore it.

Passing a paddock with horses staring, I entered the portion of the course that counted as true single-track trail; or the "enchanted forest" as one volunteer put it. The terrain was fairly easy to navigate with just a few roots here and there.

My favorite features of the trail, though, were the water crossings! I almost caught the three leaders after the first stream. but, they managed to pull away again. It was then that eventual-fourth-place runner passed me. I recognized him from some other race, a fellow trail runner, no doubt.

Overall, the course was a lot of fun. The horse farm afforded a gorgeous setting for the race. And, there were quite a few different challenges with which to contend.

Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 at MacNair's Farm 10K
The Bare-Grip 200s are good for grass.

A handful of small, muddy hills challenged my pacing whenever I thought I could catch that lead pack. But, I'd say the toughest aspect of the course was the uncertain footing due to the grass creating an illusion of flatness. There were tons of dips and holes in the ground, imperfections that weren't readily visible until you stepped through the grass and stumbled for a second. That's a good kind of challenge, though. And, my Bare-Grip 200s handled the grass and mud perfectly.

As is the custom, I ran as hard as I thought I could until the end. There were lots of turns along the well-marked course. And, thankfully, there were plenty of fantastic volunteers to point the runners in the right direction.

When I found myself running along the course on which we'd started a quarter mile from the start/finish area, I tried to imagine that my form appeared effortless and efficient, because I'm sure I looked nothing like that. I was tired. I didn't even feel that kick of energy that usually saves a runner's ego during the last few meters of a race. So, I crossed the finish line like this:

MacNair's Farm 10K finish
Pretty sure that's a pile of horse manure in the background.
photo by Patti DeBruyne
Crossing the Finish Line at MacNair's Farm 10K
photo by Patti DeBruyne

I somehow pulled off a fifth place finish (probably because many of the local fasties were in Laurel Springs participating in some other trail running event). I like that.

But, I certainly didn't feel as awesome as I should have. So, I don't like that, the not feeling awesome. Specifically, I was disappointed by how tired I was before half the race was done. More tempo runs for progressively longer periods of time might help with that. I'll have to try again next year, I think.

Thanks again to the incredibly helpful volunteers. And, thanks to the race directors for putting together such a great off-road 10K course.

And, thanks to you, reader, for at least skimming down to the end of this overly lengthy race report!

*This was a race with two names. The race listings on various websites title it with "MacNair Farms", while the race logo and official name of the equestrian farm use the possessive "MacNair's Farm". For the sake of consistency, I'll use the logo's version of the title.


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