Monday, June 25, 2012

Merrell Barefoot Water Current Glove Review: More Than a Water Shoe

You might be surprised to see me review a water shoe, this Current Glove from the good folks at Merrell. But, I am a worldly fellow who recognizes a need for footwear with a purpose other than running. I also wanted to try something. Let me explain:

In the not-too-distant past, before there were so many choices in the minimal shoe market, the barefooterati and minimalist running pioneers sought replacements for the traditional running shoes they abhorred. And, they found those replacements in everything from fashion sneakers to racing flats.

Merrell Barefoot Current Water Glove above water

One of the most common running shoe alternatives among barefooters was the aqua sock. These were very inexpensive, offered excellent ground feel, and had a low differential between the heel and toe. (They may even be zero-drop. But, I'm not sure) Aqua socks were also ugly and ill-fitting, which is why I never tried them for running.

As with anything cheaply made and affordably priced, the universe demanded a higher quality, more expensive version. So, Nike introduced a fancier counterpart to the walmart aqua sock. And, it had laces! People went ga-ga in the barefoot running Internet forums. 'Course, that gooey excitement waned, which was to be expected.

Anyway, long story short, there are now many different styles of water shoes and aqua socks on the market. And, Merrell's Barefoot division had the good sense to incorporate a couple of water shoes into their line of footwear. The Current Glove is the laced option.

Despite the fact that the plethora of minimalist running shoes currently available negates the need to run in shoes designed for water sports, I couldn't resist that former sense of experimentation. So, I tried running in the Current Gloves anyway.

Merrell Barefoot Current Water Glove above water

Running in the Current Glove

Clearly, Merrell didn't build the Current Glove to be a running shoe. It's extra width and substantial toe protection make it feel somewhat bulky in comparison to the minimalist running shoes you could be lacing onto your feet instead. Most of you wouldn't care to buy this water shoe for running. And, you are all sensible people.

But, you're curious, right? You're a runner. And, you want to know how anything you put on your feet is going to hinder or help your running. So, allow me speak to you, dear runner:

In short, the Current Glove is something you could wear for running. But, you don't need to wear it for running, because Merrell makes other shoes for running already; shoes that are better suited to moving swiftly. And, those running shoes will serve your running needs better than this water shoe 99% of the time.

(Again with different words) If you intend to run through a lot of water, the Current Glove would be a great choice, ideal even. But, for all those other runs in dry conditions, you'll want to use an actual running shoe.

Of course, if you have the luxury of keeping shoes for special running situations, like racing through downpours, then Merrell's Barefoot Water shoes will serve you well. You could have a downright enjoyable running experience in the Current Gloves under certain circumstances.

Here we see Jason Robillard's review of the Current Glove's cousin, the Rapid Glove, from a running perspective.

Let's Compare the Current Glove to the Road Glove
(for curiosity's sake)

Being that they're both part of Merrell's Barefoot collection, it's not surprising that the Current Glove and the Road Glove share similar features.

The Current Glove is similar in fit and comfort to the Road Glove. And, my size 12 Road Glove fits just as nicely as my size 12 Current Glove. It's important to note that the Current Glove is a bit wider across the midfoot area, which might entice a few of you, now that I think about it.

They're also both very comfortable to wear sans socks. The toe box is wide. The Vibram outsole is Vibramly-dense without sacrificing too much flexibility. And, they're exceptionally lightweight (6.7 oz for the Current Glove and 6.9 oz for the Road Glove*).

The midsole construction feels pretty much the same on both shoes. And, the Merrell specs describe both as having a 4 mm compression molded EVA midsole. Naturally, both shoes are zero-drop.

Merrell Barefoot Current Water Glove with Barefoot Road Glove

I mentioned earlier that the Current Glove is wider in the midfoot area when compared to the Road Glove. And, this is possibly due in part to the lacing design. Note how the lace holes follow a more pronounced curve along the top of the Road Glove to create a tighter fit. In contrast, the Current Glove's lace holes are arranged in a straight line.

Merrell Barefoot Current Water Glove with Barefoot Road Glove top

The outsole design is where these shoes differ most dramatically. Sure, they're both flat from heel to toe while following the contours of the foot shape. However, the Road Glove's tread is clearly more grippy than the Current Glove's, making the former a better choice for gravel or similarly loose surfaces. But, if pavement covers your primary terrain, either shoe will keep you on your feet equally well.

Merrell Barefoot Current Water Glove siped outsole

See that fancy siping on the Current Glove's outsole? That's where water sports enthusiasts will really appreciate this seemingly smooth tread. Those little slits create extra grip on smooth, wet surfaces.

You may also see that the Road Glove's outsole seems to be somewhat wider than that of the Current Glove. I think you're right! You can feel this difference when wearing the shoes, too. I wouldn't say that this makes the Current Gloves less stable, though. It's just a peculiar difference.

Does What a Water Shoe Does — and More

Merrell doesn't make crap. And, they obviously know what a water shoe should do. So, of course the Current Glove fulfills its purpose in spades.

When I wore the shoes on wet surfaces, I didn't slip. When I wore them in the water for hours, they drained and dried more quickly than any of my running shoes would have. And, when I stepped on mysterious objects that I couldn't see through muddy water, the Current Gloves protected my feet.

Merrell Barefoot Current Water Glove siped outsole

The Current Gloves taught me, too, that sand flowing through the mesh and drainage holes in the toe box can get caught under my feet. This requires an occasional shoe removal and shake ritual that will remind you of the time you wore your hiking sandals to the beach.

Aside from being a water shoe, the Current Gloves make better everyday shoes than the Road Gloves, at least in my opinion. Their extra width and somewhat more neutral color scheme gives me a better excuse to wear them to work and around town.

I've also enjoyed wearing the Current Gloves while working in the yard most weekends. The protective toe bumper and sturdy outsole instill confidence when working with a shovel. And, the excellent air flow through that lightweight mesh makes them great for summary outdoorsyness.

The Current Glove is also proving to be quite durable. After tons of everyday wear and two cycles through the washing machine in maybe two months, they still seem practically new! (The pictures above were taken before a trip through the washing machine)

So, if you're looking for a rugged water shoe that can function as an all-around shoe, too, then I would highly recommend the Merrell Current Glove. The combination of Barefoot sensibilities and Merrell quality make this a fantastic choice, especially now that it's Summer and all.

*Weights obtained from the Merrell site for the Current Glove and RunningWarehouse.com for the Road Glove. I assume that the US Men's Size 9 is represented by those weights.

Review
Product provided by Merrell.

Monday, June 18, 2012

12 Trail Running Hazards That Could Kill You

Trail running is, in my humble opinion, the best kind of running. Streets and greenways are fine and convenient. But, running through the woods, across mountains, or over prairies — really getting away from suburban sprawl and urban drama — brings out the primal kid in you. There's just something about that combination of running and being in the wild.

Of course, stepping outside your man-made comfort zone requires a degree of caution. The trails of the world are not exempt from life's dangerous inconsistencies. Thus, it is wise to be prepared for those rare perils of the natural world through which we choose to run.

So, here are 12 trail running hazards that could kill you. (Granted, in most cases, you will not be killed by these things. But, it's possible. So... Yeah):

A Mamma Bear
Mother Bear and cubs

Bears are big, fuzzy things that probably inspire more awe than aaarrrgh! Just look at those wittle beady eyes and fwuffy, fat bodies. They're like extra large, huggable dogs!

Honestly, I'd love to see a bear in the wild sometime. I'd be scared shitless. But, it would still be a neat experience. And, of course, the bear that I see in this fantasy would be the gentle type that glances at me for a moment before disappearing into the foliage.

In reality, I'd have the sense to avoid the bear at all costs. Have a look at this list of fatal bear attacks in North America, and you'll understand. Being that they're rather solitary, evasive creatures, we are unlikely to see a bear on the trail. In those rare cases when people happen to cross paths with bears, none will be as confrontational as when there are cubs involved. Hell hath no fury like that of a mother bear who thinks you're about to steal one of her adorable babies.

So, it's worth being bear savvy before you embark on a trail run through bear country. Reading this handy bear escape tutorial would be a good use of your time.

A Cliff

Cliff Jumping

Sure, they make it look easy in the movies. Everyone survives a fall from a cliff except the bad guy. But, in real life, you should be so lucky as to have a body of water at the bottom. One of the primary causes of deaths among hikers is falling from a rock ledge.

Unless you're cliff jumping, like the person in the photo above, you'll probably be smart enough to stay away from cliff edges. But, imagine you're running along and accidentally step through a thicket, or something. And, on the other side of that thicket is a sudden drop off. Bam! You're a goner!

Or, perhaps more applicable to a running situation, suppose you are running along a trail that skirts a very steep cliffside. One wrong step and bam! You're a goner!

Just be careful around high places, okay?

A Copperhead
(and any of its venomous cousins)
Copperhead

As a kid, I walked the Colorado fields near my house for hours catching anything with scales. And, I never saw a venomous snake. Fast forward to when I'm twent-thir-four-ish and running on a NC trail for the second time. Bam! I almost step on a copperhead lazily stretched across the trail. It didn't even move!

I certainly agree that snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them. But, sometimes they're feeling sneaky and want to prove the effectiveness of their camouflage. So, they lie still and root-like on the path before materializing beneath your foot like the Cheshire Cat of the snake world, which is startling.

If you fall victim to this reptilian trickery, you might be rewarded with a painful bite, probably on your calf muscle just to fuck up your running for a while. Read Hiking Dude's snake bite tips to brush up on the appropriate actions in this scenario.

Keep in mind, too, that venomous snake bites are uncommonly fatal. Many times a snake doesn't bother to inject venom when it bites in defense. Deaths happen, though. So, take any snakebite seriously.

A Cougar

Cougar

Another rare killer of people, the Cougar will avoid you unless it's young and ambitious, protecting something it's eating, defending it's kittens, starving...the usual. Most cougars would rather eat a deer than snack on you.

But, these kitties like to roam. And, human populations don't make it easy for them to avoid us since we keep taking their habitats away. (Then, of course, it's the cougar's fault that Princess Scruffy got pulled into the night while she was dining on her kibble out on the back porch)

Anyway, these cats are faster than you. And, since people haven't been allowed to hunt them in a long time, they're not all that afraid of you either. So stay still and look as big as you can when you face one. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has some good advice for you with regard to cougars.

Hunters

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Trail runners frequently share space with hunters. Each party has a right to enjoy nature with his or her goals in mind. But, let's face it, people make mistakes, even the former VP of the United States.

So, it couldn't hurt for you to prepare yourself for the possibility that a well-meaning, overexcited dude with a gun might have a momentary error in judgement as you go sprinting past. Pay attention to signs posted around the trail and wear bright colors — bright colors.

A Pack of Hungry Coywolves
Coywolves

Contrary to what the name suggests, these wolf-coyote hybrids are not all that shy. They're the modern North American wolf, filling in where grey wolves have largely been killed off and coyotes are not afraid to venture.

Essentially, coywolves demonstrate the agression and pack hunting tendencies of wolves in conjunction with a penchant for areas populated by people. They're also larger, cleverer, and more brazen than the typical coyote. These are not your friends.

There's only been one recorded death by Coywolves according to Google search results. But, as an emerging species, it is not a good idea to assume they'll skitter off as soon as they see you. Handle encounters with these canines in the same way you would in the case of a bear or cougar.

This Killer Rabbit

Typically, killer rabbits are charged with guarding passageways and caves that lead to treasures. So, as long as you aren't greedy, and have the good sense to run away, you should be safe from these little beasties.

Getting Lost

Lost

There's getting lost and there's getting lost. Of course, you might take a wrong turn on the trail or lose sight of the blazes for a few steps. But, you're usually observant enough to find the path again.

It's not impossible to get really lost, though, especially after the sun sets on that trail you're running. And, that kind of lost is serious business. If the weather is cool, you could freeze overnight. Or, you might panic and wander into some deadly trouble before you can find your way out of the woods.

Read this set of instructions on surviving in the woods — just in case.

These Guys from Deliverance

Deliverance Rednecks

Unlike hunters, these Deliverance hillbillies are amused by your suffering. Avoid eye contact. Do not approach them. Run away if you can.

If you are unfamiliar with this Deliverance reference, feel free to look it up. I'm not going to embed the scene to which this image alludes, because, well, that's the kind of thing you can't unsee.

A Tick

Deer Tick

Okay, so reported deaths due to tick bites are scant. But, they can make you really, really sick. I mean, if you haven't already been warned about Deer Ticks and Lone Star Ticks, those purveyors of Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, let me welcome you to life outside the bubble.

Ticks are pretty much everywhere trail runners would want to go, except in the winter, I suppose—in some climates. And, they want your blood!

These suckers are beyond loathsome. I don't even want to waste anymore time and space writing about them. Read all you can to avoid and identify ticks here.

Crossing a Stream

stream crossing

Any moderately seasoned outdoor enthusiast knows not to underestimate the hazards of a moving stream. This is another case in which one wrong step can mean the difference between a successful stream crossing and a cracked skull or drowning.

Familiarizing yourself with these pointers on crossing streams and rivers might prove useful.

Your Own Carelessness

That's right, you could be the reason for your own demise; simply because you couldn't be bothered to inform someone of your trail running plans before leaving the house.

It's common for hikers, climbers, and runners to suffer a minor, albeit debilitating, injury in the wilderness. And, of course, these injuries are easily treatable. But, when those injured hikers, climbers, and runners embark on their adventures without letting someone else know where they will be and when they will return, they die.

I mean, if you break your leg in a bustling suburban park, someone will be there to help you. But, if you break your leg miles from the nearest road, you could be rendered immobile and alone for days.

Now, I know that the video clip above represents a true story in which the hero survives. But, it's a really good illustration of my point. And, most people in similar situations are not as fortunate as Aron Ralston. Besides, if he'd have amputated his leg instead of his arm, the story might have turned out differently, don't you think?

So, don't be an ass. Take a few minutes to tell someone where you're going and how long you'll be gone. In most cases, this precaution will seem superfluous. You, and everyone who loves you, will be glad when it's not, though.

Happy running!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Hardest Hill in Raleigh

Have you ever wondered which hill in Raleigh was the hardest to run? Of course you haven't. You're the type who always sees the forest past the trees. You don't waste your time with trivial, irrelevant questions. It's not as if knowing which 1,000 feet of Raleigh terrain is most challenging to ascend makes you jump in the car to find it. These aren't mountains we're talking about. It's rolling piedmont for pete's sake!

Elevation Profile out of context
Disclaimer: I dislike elevation profiles. Their dramatic, pointy peaks and valleys make small hills look perilous. But, I concede that they are necessary.

Well, I find time for irrelevant thoughts during my runs. And, now that I've got you wondering — surely you had a certain hill in mind when you read the title of this post — I'm going to present you with my version of scientific research to determine which hill in Raleigh is hardest. (Apologies if I offend actual scientists with my methods)

Method

Obviously, this whole examination was subjective. I could only consider the hills I've run here. And, I had to be the one to make up the definition of "hardest" as it would apply to a hill in this project.

So, I spent a few moments recalling the most memorable hills I've run in Raleigh. I came up with eight. Then I nixed two of them, because I arbitrarily determined that the hardest hill would have to be a single incline rather than a series of inclines punctuated by slight declines. Thus, the two I omitted were single-track trail hills.

So, my first requisite for hardest was that the hill could only consist of increasing elevation.

I also decided that the hill should fit within the space of one mile. But, I also wanted the hill to be longer than 1,000 feet, because there are a lot of short, steep inclines in Raleigh. And, I just don't think it's worth arguing about those short ones. If that were the case, my driveway would win.

Using RunningAhead.com's excellent mapping interface, I collected measurements of the hill within the span of a mile so that we could see its surrounding terrain.

Thus, each elevation profile below represents a one mile distance. And, the hill in question is marked by vertical magenta lines. (You can click the elevation image to see the profile in conjunction with its map)

I continued to rely on the mapping interface to measure the distance and calculate the elevation gain. With those two numbers, I figured out the grade (rise/run) of each hill to sort of account for the hill's degree of challengingness. Of course, a spread sheet made all of that a pleasure to analyze.
hill data

With all those numbers, I pretty much calculated myself into a corner, forcing the results to depend almost entirely on the grade of the hill. (I'll save the undeniable subjective variables for later in this post) So, without further ado, I present to you six of Raleigh's hardest hills to run.

The Hills
in order of increasing grade and referenced by vague geographic location

Lassiter Mill Rd. Hill

Lassiter Mill Rd.

Elevation Gain (ft): 171.8 | Distance (ft): 4,276.8 | Grade: 4.02%

Turkey Creek to Graylyn Trail Hill

Umstead N. Turkey Creek Trail to Graylyn Trail

Elevation Gain (ft): 148.8 | Distance (ft): 3,590.4 | Grade: 4.14%

Umstead Reedy Creek Lake Trail hill

Umstead Reedy Creek Lake Trail

Elevation Gain: 159 | Distance (ft): 3,801.6 | Grade: 4.18%

Crabtree Creek Trail East Hill

Crabtree Creek Greenway off Milburnie Rd.

Elevation Gain (ft): 74.3 | Distance (ft): 1,108.8 | Grade: 6.70%

North Hills Park Hill

Greenway to North Hills Park

Elevation Gain (ft): 107 | Distance (ft): 1,320.0 | Grade: 8.11%

Umstead N. Turkey Creek Trail (shorter) Hill

Umstead N. Turkey Creek Trail

Elevation Gain (ft): 88.6 | Distance (ft): 1,003.2 | Grade: 8.83%

For Discussion

Okay, you probably would have guessed that one anyway. But, I have to say, the runner-up hill in this list served as the inspiration for this little project. And, if I'd allowed for an 800' hill in this study, that little climb to North Hills Park would have blown these others away. It's a steep one.

But, of course, the Turkey Creek Hill is the winner! I mean, the fact that there are so many surrounding hills on that same trail pretty much merit this particular hill's win for the sake of respect.

That element of the surrounding terrain had me perplexed, though. I mean, my question was singular in nature. And, if a scientist asks a singular question, he can't allow for weird variables to interfere with the experiment. That just wouldn't be scientific, would it? (Would it?)

So, after much internal debate, I decided not to factor in the surrounding terrain when figuring out which of these hills was hardest. Otherwise, I would have had to account for ease of access, exposure to sun, proximity to food and beverage establishments, etc.

And, that would have just been too difficult. Hills should be difficult, not my scientific method.

Of course, none of this matters. A hill is a hill, and it's grade is only important to you while you're running it. Some days that steepness might be murder on your calf muscles. Some days you'll feel like you're visiting from the Rockies and running on the beach.

Really, I was just aching to post something new for you.

Feel free to suggest other hills for consideration or berate me for a lack of scientific training. And, as always, thanks for reading!

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