Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Merrell Road Glove Wear-and-Tear Update Review

As a responsible reviewer of things, I wouldn't just recommend a brand new pair of Merrell Barefoot Road Gloves and leave you to your own trials and errors. No, the real test of a shoe reviewer's mettle comes after a sufficient testing period to gauge the durability and overall value of a thing. In short, you need to know how the Road Glove will fair if your dog assumes it's a play thing.
Merrell Road Glove Durability Test

Well, I'm happy to report that The Road Glove holds its own against the gnashing teeth of a 10-month old mutt. I took this pair on a 12-mile run a few days after taking the photo above. And, they felt better than ever.

I suppose you'd like to know about running-related durability, too. Aside from an incredibly puncture resistant upper, the Vibram outsole is typically tough stuff. It's more solid than most of my trail shoes, actually.

You'll see in the photo below that this outsole does not wear down quickly. After 100-ish miles of running, there's just a bit of black coloration giving way to the orange color beneath on the big toe area. Those nubs just don't want to go away, providing exceptional grip on all sorts of road-like surfaces for miles and miles!

Merrell Road Glove Durability Test

(Okay, yes, my imperfect form is betrayed by those fading nubs at the heel of the shoe on the right. Sorry. I'm working on it. Maybe the dog did that)

So, as far as durability is concerned, I have to say that the Road Glove is one of the best I've tried. (And, I've tried more shoes than most)

Merrell Road Glove after 100-plus miles

There's something of a breaking in process with these shoes, too. They feel fine and dandy when you first put them on. Maybe you have to get used to the grip around your arch area. (Maybe you decide you can't get used to it, which is fine and understandable; because not everyone can accept such a unique element of a shoe)

Merrell Road Glove Durability Test
It's worth mentioning that the Merrell Road Glove is not designed for dogs.

Perhaps, too, you feel that the ankle cuff is a little conspicuous as you walk around in the new Road Gloves. "Did Merrell make a faulty, bothersome ankle cuff that will cause chafing?" you wonder. No, no that's not it at all. You just need to let these shoes get used to your feet.

They change, morphing into custom gloves for your running endeavors. The somewhat rigid-for-a-minimalish-shoe midsole and outsole loosen up after a while. The toe box and midfoot area of the upper conform to the motions of your running feet. And, pretty soon, you wish you had another pair.

You may even find yourself surprised by how quickly you run in the Road Gloves. The appearance of such a wide toe box incites the prejudices of your subconscious shoe aesthetic. But, do not worry. The grip and natural efficiency afforded by these Merrell road runners makes them a capable racer. I've witnessed first-hand one fast barefoot runner wearing the Road Gloves in a trail marathon. So, think about that.

There are new colorways coming out in the near future.

Merrell Road Glove Durability Test

Product provided by Merrell.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Neuse River Greenway Segment 3 Construction Update and Photo Tour

I've been anxious to know how construction on the Neuse River Greenway Segment 3 is moving along, especially since the powers that be forbade access to said segment last Fall. I noticed that the "No Trespassing" signs were down a couple of weeks ago. So, I figured that was pretty much an invitation to check it out.Starting from the Raleigh Beach Rd. access point

It's not an invitation. There are still workers and large machines on Segment 3 throughout the week. And, I'm sure they'd prefer that the general public stay out of their way. As you'll see in the photos below, there is still much work to be done.

Saturdays and Sundays appear to be fair game, though!

So, yesterday I headed out on Segment 3 from Raleigh Beach Road to see how far I could go. The cleared area to the left of the port-a-lou in that photo above wasn't there before. So, I went that way.

My secret hope was that Segment 3 would be connected via bridge to Segment 2, which is also under construction. And, if that were the case, I'd be able to run all the way to Segment 1, which is complete. And, that would mean I could, theoretically, run all the way to Falls effin' Lake!

I'll go ahead and tell you now that Segment 3 and Segment 2 are still, at this time, very much separated by the mighty Neuse River. They'll probably connect the segments the day after I move, thereby diluting the thrill of the occasion for me by, like, 78 percent.

Anyway, I'll skip from the port-a-lou at Raleigh Beach Rd. to the section behind the Hedingham Neighborhood, which will seem very confusing if you haven't been here before. We're going to be running this trail out and back, though. So, I won't let you miss anything.

Neuse River Trail behind Hedingham
The Greenway behind Hedingham still looks very much the same as it did six months ago.
used to be single-track
This used to be about a quarter mile of single-track trail. Sigh.

And, it just gets smoother. That's dirt, not concrete.
retaining wallYou know they're serious about the Greenway when there's a retaining wall involved.
Caution TapeHmm. Caution tape. What could that mean? How will I get around that?
South end of Segment 2
This is where Segment 2 will join Segment 3 once the bridge is put in place — someday.

The remainder of Segment 3 to Abbington Ln. is smooth and ready for paving. The parking area is blocked off at the moment.

So, now we're turning around and re-seeing the stuff you just saw in the photos above. We'll skip past Hedingham again and resume the photo display at the marshy area surrounding a wooden bridge that serves as the entry to the Hedingham section from the south.

Marshy area suitable for bird and fish watching.
nice view
Oh, say, that'll be a nice view once the canvas fence is gone.

Here's a bridge I resisted crossing after I passed that port-a-lou at the beginning. Saving the best for later, and all that. Wonder where it goes.
Neuse River DamDaaayuuum! Who knew that was there?
south view from bridgeHere's the other view from the bridge. Of course, there's a piece of trash on an otherwise picturesque river island.

So, the bridge takes us to the east side of the river, where there's a small parking area off Old Milburnie Rd. People use this parking lot for fishing and kayak access. I figure this won't take me anywhere. But wait...

some sort of access road
There's some sort of access road heading north-ish from the parking area. Hmm...
no access
Oh. A few minutes later, I see that we're facing a gate barring access to this access "road" from Old Milburnie. The other side of that sign reads something like, "No Trespassing. State Owned. Blah, blah, blah." Time to turn around.

The sojourn on the access road wasn't completely wasted though. I saw a little fishing trail leading into the woods. And, here's a nice scene! Apparently, I'm not supposed to be here, though.

Back across the bridge and cross the port-a-lou intersection to proceed south from the Raleigh Beach Rd. spur.

Bridge is out
It looks like they're redoing that bridge, or getting rid of it. The detour on the left is a little inconspicuous. It's not a long detour, though.
new intersection
Well, this intersection wasn't here before. The right side is old. The left side is new. Let's see where that one takes us.
bridge ready for placementAh, okay, that left-side path reconnects with the right side at the point where they're going to place another new bridge. This bridge will connect the quarter-mile Knightdale "greenway" with the Neuse River Greenway's awesomeness. That'll be cool.

This last photo pretty much marks the end of Segment 3. Anderson Point Park is just around the bend and across a highway overpass from here. So, we'll turn around and head back to the start.

The City website indicates that this greenway segment will be complete in the Fall of 2012. So, in a relatively short time, all of this will be paved. That's okay, though. I've matured over the past year and a half. And, I'm much more tolerant of paved running terrain. I've learned to appreciate any sort of runnable space, really.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Altra Adam Review and Minimalist Shoe Revelation

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

Shoes like the Altra Adam (and the feminine counterpart, the Eve) are a testament to running footwear evolution. Men and women who abide by the minimalist/barefoot/natural way of running want to apply the closer-to-the-ground philosophy to their every day lives. And, shoe designers are somewhat happy to assist.

Consequently, such sensible individuals no longer suffer the plight of having to choose between harsh work shoes and white, wedgy running shoes with khakis; like our hero from Crazy, Stupid, Love. Observe:

If you haven't seen the movie, Ryan Gosling's character goes on to espouse the benefits of minimalist footwear in a very insightful dialogue with Steve Carell's character.

If you have seen the movie, and you don't remember it that way, then you need to watch it again. ;-P

Anyway, what I'm saying is that minimalist running values are more of a lifestyle choice than a scientific set of rules applicable to just one or two activities. And, that translates to practical shoe designs. By practical, I mean more stylish and functional. And, by that I mean both my running shoes and daily-activity shoes do not have to be big, clunky, and ugly. In fact, they can now be the same shoe.

So, I find myself wearing the Adams—or something similarly stylish, lightweight, and conducive to running—more often these days. For instance, the Adams are good for wearing while kicking the ball around with the dog, going to Whole Foods for breakfast before work, or hiking with the lads.

In the not-too-distant past, I'd have to change out of my work shoes before venturing into the yard for fast footwork. Or, I'd have to wear heavy hiking shoes when taking the kiddos to Falls Lake. (I have boots in my closet from 2003 that I've worn maybe 10 times!)

Not so with the Adams and other multipurpose minimal shoes of their ilk. They look good with jeans and fit quite nicely in a casual work environment. Yet, they're ready for a run should you ever find yourself chasing down a common thief or stray cat heading toward a busy intersection. You could be a hero!

There is also the long-standing belief that a runner shouldn't wear running shoes for anything but running, because such careless applications of a specially designed athletic device would only cause unnecessary wear on the substantial midsole and highly technical outsole. And, of course, that is tantamount to driving a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT around the streets of Chicago just for kicks. [sarcasm]

So, the distinctive differences in past shoes, coupled with my misguided understanding that running shoes were only for running, made it hard for me to accept that my current shoes are actually just shoes for moving around in. And, it took a little while for me to stop feeling guilty every time I put the Adams on for a trip to the store or a romp with the pup. I ran in them, too, sure. But, their excessive comfort made me want to wear them for other activities.

Then, I read this reviewer's remarks on the myriad uses for the Adams. And, everything just clicked for me.

I'm wearing the Adams right now.

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

More Minimal than a Barefoot Shoe

As far as I can tell, the Altra Adam is about as minimal as a shoe currently gets in the running shoe market. It's stack height sans removable insole is a mere 4.4 mm thick. It's upper material is super light and thin. And, it doesn't even have laces! Check out further specifications here.

I did not compare specs of the Adam with those of the various VFF models. I've also never tried on a pair of VFFs. I only assume that the Adam comprises everything I'd like about VFFs without having to, um, get used to the toe-shoe look. (It's not for everyone, okay)

In previous posts, I've hesitated to call a shoe minimalist, preferring instead to use made up words like "minimalish" or "minimalistish". This is because I didn't believe in calling something minimal just because marketing folks decided it should be labeled as such. As someone with an art history degree (with a concentration in not using it), minimalist means something more to me.

Granted, a flip flop is minimal. It's basically two parts, three or four if you're buying the fancy ones. But, flip flops are not for running. They flip and flop all over the place and pose a significant tripping hazard. Also, a flip flop does not conceal hideous toenails. So, a minimal running shoe requires more than two parts.

Thus, the Adam is one of the first shoes I've tried that I happily describe as minimalist!

It's got rugged strappy things for securing the shoe to the foot. It has some super smooth material making up the upper so that my hideous toes are not exposed to my work colleagues or the natural elements. There's no cushioning unless you put it there. And, it's really freakin' lightweight!

Boom! Minimal!

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

Toes Under Toes

The fact that the outsole of the Adam represents the shape of a common human foot should tell you that this piece of footwear has your foot's best interests in mind. There are five toe shapes there, people. Count them!

Okay, I'm kidding about the significance of those shapes. But, the modest outsole really does take care of your foot. It's thin enough to provide the ground feel and real-foot maneuverablility you'd want in a minimalist shoe. But, it protects your soles from the sharp, pointy things that might surprise you in the dark of the night.

As for traction, the outsole of the Adam performs marvelously on pavement. And, it's fine on unpaved, gritty surfaces, too. But, I wouldn't trust it on anything especially slippery. (I slid on some damp grass during a run one morning).

Still, this outsole's best quality is the feedback it conveys to your feet. So, you're going to be a lot more stable in the Adam while on peculiar surfaces than you would be in something with several millimeters of midsole between your foot and the ground.

And, the flexibility oozing from every fiber of the Adam will allow your feet to bend and secure themselves over precipices easily (assuming you practice).

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

Inside and Inserts

You're probably already aware that the thoughtful geniuses at Altra send along two insert options with the Adam, one for strengthening (more minimal) and one for supporting (less minimal). I've been switching between the strengthening insert and no insert. There's a difference in cushioning, for sure.

The slightly bothersome thing about the alternate-inserts option is that the size and fit of the Adam depend on your plans for the insert. If you intend to wear the shoe with one of the insoles, then your standard shoe size (Merrell Road Glove, NB Minimus MT10 US Men's size 12 for me) should be fine. But, if you're going to wear the Adam without the insole, you might find the shoe to be a tad large. This is especially true if you don't wear socks.

So, I'd recommend trying two sizes and opting for the one that you think will best suit your future plans for the Adam. My guess is that most people will eventually want to wear the shoe without inserts, in which case those people would want to order a half size smaller than what they'd wear in the Road Glove.

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

The Adam is made for people who like to leave socks out of their lives. And, I've found myself becoming one of those people. The fabric and insert material is soft, smooth, and pleasant. The seams are unobtrusive. And, not wearing socks just makes one feel so carefree.

Really, though, my shoes have never been more stinky than they've been these past few days sans socks. Maybe it's just me. But, my feet sweat a lot in shoes without a moisture-wicking sock buffer. And, I don't like the smooth fabric enough to forego the sense of security an unoffensive foot odor affords.

Plus, the first time I ran in the Adams without socks, I developed a blister on my little toe. This is partly because I have weirdly angled feet, I think. My little toes will always rub against a shoe upper. Always.

My name is Ash. And, I am a sock wearer.

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

Velcro and Toes

Velcro straps are not as efficient as I thought they'd be, not straps of this length, anyway. They're also noisy. So, if you're putting these on your feet in the dark so as not to awaken your significant other, you'd better be sure you secure those straps properly the first time. Pulling them back to realign them will not be an option if silence is an issue.

Besides the noise, the straps are great. They feel a bit different if you're used to wearing shoes with laces. But, I haven't felt any strangeness about them while running. They definitely secure the Adam to your midfoot while allowing the toes plenty of splay room.

(The Altra Samson is described as a laced version of the Adam. And, I'm very curious to feel the difference)

Are You Adam Enough for the Adam?

(I don't know what the hell that sub-headline is supposed to mean. I'm on a Mini-Egg-induced sugar high. And, I don't want to use something like "Who Should Buy the Altra Adam?")

Whether you are in the final stages of your minimalist "transition" or a hardened barefoot runner who's having to settle for footwear due to some godawful natural element that keeps bothering your crusty calluses, the Adam is worth your serious consideration. The sole requirement is that you are open to letting your feet do the work. Think of the Adam as just something to protect your bare feet from hot pavement, pieces of glass, and prejudiced shop owners refusing service to people without shoes.

I like the Adams a lot. I wear them a lot. They serve a lot of purposes thanks to their down-to-earth design and minimalist heritage. Even better, they're made for running!

'Course, they're made for a certain kind of running, the "natural" kind. And, that's something that one must learn to do. I mean, I only thought my calf muscles were strong until I went for my first run in the Adams. Whew boy!

So, practice if you need to practice. You know who you are.

Don't need to practice in the take-it-easy sense? Then the Adams will fit that niche you've been wanting to fill since you caught yourself wishing your VFFs didn't have five toes. (Yeah, I went there!) Check out this review for a more VFF-experienced perspective.

Overall, this reviewer highly recommends the Adam to anyone wanting a shoe with fantastic barefoot sensibilities. I can only repeat that so many times.

Thanks for reading!

Product provided by Altra

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mountains to Sea Trail 12-Mile Challenge 2012 Race Report


First, I'll go ahead and apologize for the lameness of this race report. Aside from the fact that the Mountians to Sea Trail 12-mile Challenge took place almost a full week ago, I've just not felt especially race-reporty these past few days. And, that's going to be readily apparent to you if you choose to continue reading past the stats section.

stats section

  • Weather Conditions: Nice, sunny on the eastern shores.
  • Finish Time: 1:43:14 (besting last year's time by almost one minute)
  • Placement: 19
  • Shoes worn: Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 (because it rained the night before. And, I figured there'd be mud. And, I just, basically, look for any excuse to wear these shoes)
  • MST 12-mileSwag: One "State Orange" Mountain Hardware tech shirt, featuring the MST 12-mile/50K logo among sponsor logos, and one pint glass, featuring said logo.
  • Number of conversations overheard in which a participant exclaimed that this was his or her first trail race: Five
  • Winning time: 1:22:something
  • Stumbles: One
  • Falls: Zero
  • People met: Two (Hello Garth and Bronwyn!)
  • Favorite dog breeds at the finish line area: Two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, one Aussie, and one Cattle Dog/Border Collie mix


Falls Lake Trail in heavy saturation
This is not a picture from race day. This is a picture of the Falls Lake Trail that I took last summer. My phone's camera did this to the color saturation. It does that sometimes, the phone.

While many of the cool kids in the local running community were running, or supporting, the longest day of running in the Triangle this past 3/31; I was anxious about a smaller race taking place the next day.

I say anxious, because my March running log looked more like my social engagements planner (blank) due to an ankle-tendon thing that kept me out of my running shoes for most of the month. I'd overindulged in the Umstead Marathon on 3/3 and paid the price. My longest run since the marathon was a mere 5.2 miles. And, that kinda hurt.

But, the MST 12-miler was to be my first do-over race, my opportunity to compare a previous performance with current abilities on the same course. And, I'd had high hopes for my performance since registering for the race several months ago. You might even say that it was my goal race for the Spring season.


I woke up thinking about the 100 milers at Umstead. A strong storm that passed through the region during the night had me worried, mostly concerned that the Umstead 100 race directors had to cancel the race due to inclement weather. And, that would have been a majorly disappointing thing for someone who'd pushed themselves to 80-plus miles and fully intended to complete 100 miles before the cut-off time. I mean, if there's anything I'd hate for an ultra runner to suffer besides death, it'd be disappointment due to things beyond her control.

Anyway, I wouldn't find out about the 100's results until after my race.

So, I drive the short distance to the pickup place in front of Kohls department store and wait with a bunch of other fellow runners. It's chilly, but not terribly cold. I am wearing jeans over my shorts, because there's nothing quite like the feeling of damp denim over sweaty legs after a race when you stop at Starbucks for another shot of carbs and that coffee you didn't allow yourself to have before leaving the house.

One of the most delightfully personable people I've ever met hails from Greensboro. We chatted a bit on the ride over. And, that's probably the first time I've ever talked to a complete stranger in a van. She was chewing gum. And, I hadn't bothered to brush my teeth. So most of my responses to her questions were of the tight-lipped, head-tilted-down variety. (And, I'm suddenly recalling Larry Appleton from Perfect Strangers)


I obtained my yellow drop bag from the check-in table, admired the orange shirt, and threw my outerwear into the bag for retrieval after the race. Then, I headed down the road toward the boat ramp for a view of the lake. Water has magnetic properties, you know.

As I was walking toward the shore, the first batch of the 50K runners sped through the starting area. This was a fantastic precedent to our own race. Cheering for other runners helps ease an anxious runner's mind, I think.


And, we're off. The usual stint on a stretch of pavement to allow for positioning ensued, with myself and another runner joking about how tired we were already. Fun stuff.

The trails were as splendid as I remembered them. There were periods of steady pacing behind a group of people followed by a burst of speed as I passed and caught up to the next group. Each fartlek of fast left me wondering if I'd just spent too much. But, I think I managed my energy levels fairly well.

Since I have no pictures from the race, and I do not know of anyone taking pictures during the race, I'll just offer the following image for your trail-inclined expectations. Imagine that's me, there, in front. (It's not)
This is not a picture from the MST 12-mile race
This image has nothing to do with the race I ran on 4/1. It has nothing to do with me or anywhere I've ever been. See it in context on Sarah's Blog of Running, which is my new favorite site.

Before I was ready for it, we'd passed the halfway point. It was Section 2 of the Falls Lake trail. I knew pretty much everything that lay in store for us. So, I felt confident and sped up.

Then I got tired.

Three people passed me. And, I was alone for a while, as if I were on a solo training run. I wanted to catch someone!

A handful of 50K runners ran in the opposite direction on their way back toward their start/finish line. This inspired me. I thought I could surely muster enough speed to push back a few more seconds if these runners could carry themselves so much further today. I passed other 50K runners going my way toward their turnaround point. And, we all encouraged each other.

But, I didn't catch any of those three guys who passed me. I saw one of them when we were several meters from the finish. But, he was too far ahead for me to catch up. This competitive urge forced me to finish strong, though. And, that's something, right?

cookies for all

Yes, when I think about the MST 12-mile Challenge, I think about the cookies. There were a lot of them last year. And, they didn't disappoint in 2012 either. There were at least three kinds of yummy cookies, plus bananans, plus bagels, plus a bunch of other stuff I didn't bother to consider because of all the cookies at hand.

After I'd satiated my cookie appetite, I meandered a bit, sat a spell, and found myself talking with the very speedy Garth; who finished in fourth place, I believe. It was good to meet such a decent fellow with excellent taste in running blogs.

And, as I squeezed myself into the van for the return trip to Kohl's, denim-clad legs protecting other legs from my sweaty skin, I felt good. Sure, I'd hoped that I would finish in less time. But, considering my anxiety over just finishing at all, I was happy with my time.

But, who cares about time when there's an awesome race like the MST 12-miler to run? The volunteers were, once again, stellar beyond belief (thank you!). And, Bull City Running is definitely one of the best race-putter-onner groups in the region.

The van driver and the lady in the passenger seat began discussing pacing and volunteering for the Umstead 100 runners. I listened intently, reminding myself to check the updates as soon as I arrived home. The updates were fantastic.


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