Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shoe Reviews: Racing Flats

Okay, so since I have been racing so much, most of my blogging has been about racing or training for races.  However, in an effort to make this running blog about more than just competition (and since I will be racing less between now and Umstead), I plan on doing some reviews and comparisons of the large selection of running shoes that have made it onto my feet.  Since I have a rather large shoe closet, these reviews will come in installments by category, beginning with racing flats.  I have used all of the shoes in this post (with the exception of the Adios) in multiple races, and I intend to provide objective, anecdotal responses based on my own personal running style.  Therefore, my cheers or jeers need not be taken as factual testaments to the quality (or lack thereof) of any of these products...unless you and I are very like-minded.  Further disclosure: In no way do I officially endorse any of these models or the manufacturers that produce them.  I purchased these shoes myself, except in one or two cases where the shoes were a gift from family or friends; none of these shoes were comped by their respective manufacturers.  Point of order: while all of these shoes are intended as racing shoes, I use most of them for more than just racing, and one or two may in fact fit the role of daily trainer for me in particular.  Okay, my disclaimer is finished.  Now, off to the road-burners!

Adidas Adizero Adios 2
The Adios is the heaviest, most built-up underfoot shoe in this list.  That being said, at under 8 ounces for my size 9.5, it's still much lighter than most daily trainers.  I originally intended this shoe to be a marathon racer, and I considered donning it for the recent Charlotte 50k, but I opted for the trusted Green Silence, which I will describe below.  The Adios is very firm considering the amount of EVA foam and the 9mm heel-toe drop, but firmness is a trait of many Adidas shoes.  While a firm response is a desirable trait in a racing flat, I think the Adios is a bit too for racing long distances.  I have a feeling my feet would be pretty beat up after 26.2 or 31.1 miles in these babies.  The outsole is very durable and and tracks well on roads and non-technical trails.  The upper is a bit constrictive around the lateral edge of the toe-box, and the hard heel cup gives the Adios a slightly back-heavy feel in my opinion.  The shoe is a good trainer, and it has performed well on long intervals and intermediate steady-state workouts, but I'm not so sure it will move into that marathon racing niche for which it is intended.

Adidas Adizero Hagio
Like its big brother, the Adios, the Hagio is a firm racing flat with excellent traction on roads and non-technical trails, but the similarities end there.  At just over 6 ounces for a size 9.5, the Hagio is racer light but still has just enough material to be durable.  The toe-box is ample, and the 6mm offset in the heel is very conducive to an efficient foot strike with some added protection of medium-long races run at near maximal effort.  I have PR'd a 15k in these shoes, but I think they would perform well at a Half Marathon or 30k length race while still being lithe enough to be a solid 5k racer.  They are among the most versatile racing flats in this list.  My only gripe with the Hagio is the short laces' tendency towards coming untied.  After a 6 mile training run where I re-tied (and double knotted) my laces three times, I replaced them with elastic speed laces and have since ran with impunity in these shoes.  The Hagio is a common choice for my track work as well.

Brooks Green Silence
The Green Silence (which is slated for discontinuation by Brooks this year) will always have a special place in my heart.  This is the marathon racer in which I qualified for Boston for the first (and hopefully not the only) time.  Looking at the shoe in the box or on a display wall, one first notices the burrito-like one-piece upper that folds over itself, and the substantial midsole made from Brooks' BioMogo EVA foam.  The shoe is surprisingly light for its appearance (just over 7 ounces for my size 9.5), and has more heel drop that I usually care for.  The Green Silence is the most comfortable shoe on this list, with the soft mesh hugging the foot due to the fold-over tongue construction.  Walking around in the GS, the cushion feels very soft and mushy for a racing flat, but at marathon paces and above, the shoe responds well to a well-planted mid foot strike.  This shoe can go the distance without slowing me down or being too firm to beat up my feet.  After marauding down the mountain at Ridge To Bridge in the GS, my legs were trashed, but my feet felt great.  I will continue to use the GS for marathons and Road 50k's until I wear it out and fail to find anymore size 9.5's left in the world.  As a bonus, the GS is completely biodegradable when tossed in an active landfill.  Karma points.

Inov-8 Bare-X Lite 150
While I do a lot of training in zero-drop shoes, the Bare-X Lite 150 is the only zero-drop flat I race in regularly.  I have several pairs of Inov-8 shoes, and they all seem to fit their own specific niche.  The 150 (which stands for 150 grams/US size 9, which is my Inov-8 size) is pretty much a race-day only shoe.  In order to save weight, the 150 uses a one-piece, tongue-less upper with minimal overlays, an integrated speed-lacing system, and no rubber outsole.  The thin midsole is blended with denser foam to make up for the lack of blown rubber, but the result is still a low-mileage lifespan.  I have put maybe 50 miles on my 150s and they shoe considerable wear, with barely any outsole detail remaining on the lateral side of the mid foot.  The optimal race distance for the 150 is 5k, although I did set my current 8k PR in this shoe at the Leprechaun Loop 8k.  I also used these for my only (as of yet) 1-mile time trial, in which I ran an uncertified 5:27.  Also, because of its slipper-like fit and quick on/off, this would be a great go-to for triathletes at Sprint and possibly Olympic-length events.

Inov-8 Road-X Lite 155
The 155 is a road racing demon in bright yellow.  It's weight and materials are similar to its zero-drop cousin, but it has a more conventional tongue and lace design, a slight 3mm heel lift, and a flatter outsole surface that seems to provide more longevity for the light fusion outsole material.  The shoe is very light (5.5 ounces), extremely flexible, and has a very comfortable toe-box.  All in all, it is a very fun shoe in which to run or race.  I have set a few fast 10k times in this shoe, including my current PR, but it also served me well at the hilly Charity Chase Half Marathon.  I would not feel comfortable racing with this shoe in anything other than dry or nearly dry asphalt,  but that clearly is its intended role.

New Balance MRC1600
The 1600 is one of New Balances new racing flats, and it is advertised at a lightweight choice that is suitable for racing up to marathon distance.  For its sub-6 ounce weight, the 1600 has a decent amount of RevLite EVA foam in the midsole, and the grip pattern on the outsole gives it a fair amount of traction.  The upper, which consists of soft, thin mesh with many strategic overlays, is comfortable for a racing flat, although the toe-box is a little pointy.  My 9.5 is very comfy, but it leaves room up front so as not to fit totally snug like my flats do.  If I were to size down to 9.0, I would achieve snugginess, but then I would be crowding my 4rth and 5th toes like I would with the Adios.  Also, after racing Richmond Marathon in this shoe, I find its marathon worthiness dubious.  For me, the optimal distance for this shoe is 13.1.  In fact, I raced my current Half Marathon PR in the 1600 this past New Year's Eve at Freedom Park.  Aside from racing, I do many mile-repeats and other road intervals in the 1600.

New Balance MRC5000
This not only is my lightest racing flat, but it is the lightest shoe I have ever worn, and that includes sandals!  At 3.1 ounces for my size 9, the 5000 is considerably lighter than the box in which it comes.  It uses the same RevLite material as the 1600, but much less of it, and the thin mesh upper lacks the overlays of its marathon-touting sibling.  The nothing-but-mesh upper hugs my foot nicely, and the cushion and traction are surprisingly smooth and reassuring for a shoe that's too light to even serve as a paperweight.  One cannot help but run fast in these flats.  My third run in them was the Huntersville Holiday 5k, which was a decisive PR.  The 5000, as its designation may imply, is a go-to speed racer for 5k's, but I believe it would hold its own at a 10k, and it certainly would be good weapon for 1-mile races, 3ks, or anything in the "shorter" road race category.

There are many varieties of racing flat on the market now, and I would welcome any readers' thoughts and/or reviews of the models listed or any other road flats that I have not had a chance to sample.  Among the list I would like to hear about are the ASICS Gel-Hyperspeed, the new ASICS Blazingfast, Brooks T7, Mizuno Wave Universe 4 (or upcoming 5), Newton MV2, and Saucony A5.  Of course, I have read several praising reviews of these go-fast shoes from various sponsored sources, but any private and objective remarks are welcome comments to this blog.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Do you Run Reckless?

I'm very excited to announce that I now am an official brand ambassador for Reckless Running!  If you have seen me at a race in the last 8 months or so, odds are you have seen me in a Reckless Running singlet.  I'm pumped to represent the homegrown company and share how awesome their athletic apparel line is AND how much they do to better the sport of running.  To those who are reading this, you get to take advantage of this opportunity.  Go to the Reckless Running online store and enter the discount code "CHAS" (case sensitive) in the appropriate field during the checkout process in order to receive 15% off of your order (not counting sale items or shipping).  You can use this code whenever you visit the store.  Now get out there, support our local brand and what they do, and Run Reckless!
Me with Bobby Aswell at NYE Half.
I'm wearing the Coat of Arms singlet.

Sporting the Gray Fray singlet at the
Charlotte Ultra Run.
Me with fellow DARTer Jeremy Alsop,
both wearing the Royal Blue RR racing singlet

Hoodie and tapered warm-up pants (with ankle zippers) by RR.

From the About Us section of the RR homepage:

Anthony Famiglietti, a 2-time Olympian and 6-time US Champion, co-founded Reckless Running with the hopes of changing his sport for the better. Our dream for this brand is to set an example of self reliance and set the stage for many young and older runners alike to follow their dreams.

Our brand is all about runners supporting other runners.  Our clothes help you perform and your dollars help us live out our dreams.  And hopefully we will inspire you to greatness along the way. 
The Reckless Running logo was created to encapsulate and symbolize the philosophy of the brand. The name relates to the logo since we embrace the concept of running with pure reckless abandon. The idea is to abandon fear, trepidation, self doubt, fatigue, lack of focus or anything else that limits individuals from reaching their full potential. The goal is to run free of any pre-disposed limitations set upon us in life either metaphorical or tangible and overcome all barriers we may face with ease.
RR stands out among the sea of sameness in running. We hope you do the same and stand with us to change the sport for the better in the 21st century.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Recap of Charlotte Ultra Run 50k

2013 has been a busy year so far.  It's 35 days into the new year and I have logged well over 300 miles of running, including two 50k's and a 13-mile trail race.  The last of these--the Charlotte Ultra Run 50k (CUR)--was two days ago.  I had to give myself a little time to think about this race in hindsight.  I learned a lot about myself as a runner from this race, and from the weeks leading up to it.
Exactly four weeks prior to CUR, I ran a very successful (according to my goals at the time) Frosty 50k at Salem Lake.  Logic, and most training plans would have it that I take three to four weeks to recover before resuming my regular training, or at least set up a modest recovery/taper pyramid if I had another upcoming race, as I did in the form of CUR.  I did neither of these things.  Instead, I ran my regular pace and mileage beginning the day after Frosty and resumed 20 and 30 mile runs the very next weekend.  Part of it was the fact that CUR was not a focus race, and that my real focus was keeping my training volume high for Umstead without interuptions from a taper/recovery cycle.  I also wanted to experiment a bit and see what I could do without a taper...ya know, to see if all this ultra marathon training was making me tougher, weaker, or some functional combination of the two.
With the early February weather placing the starting tempurature in the mid-twenties, I was glad the race HQ was at a Montessori school with a heated gymnasium.  I was also glad to have picked up all my new Reckless Running race gear and warm up clothes from Fam and Karen the night before.  Fam even lent me his RR arm warmers.
Keeping warm before the start.
CUR took place on Mallard Creek Greenway.  The course consisted of five out-and-back laps with a double turn-around spur near the 5k mark.  There also was a 10k race option that consisted of a single out-and-back on the course.  The pancake-flat course was built for speed. 40% of the surface was unpaved dirt road with some gravel, and the rest was smoothly paved asphalt.  There was water and food at the start/finish and the turn-around, as well as an additional water station about halfway down the path, so we were never more than 1.5 miles from water or aid.  In addition, medical personel were patroling the course on four-wheelers throughout the race.  One could get pampered at a race like this.
As with Frosty, I carried my own water and nutrition and resolved not to waste any time at the aid stations.  When the race began, a handful of people shot out ahead, most of whom I assumed were 10k'ers.  I fell in with a conversational group including last year's female champion Meg Hovis, Bill Shires (who was pacing Meg for much of the race), Jamaar Valentine, and ultra-running guru Jonathan Savage.  Savage could dust most of us if he wanted, but he had raced the mountainous Sultan 50k the previous week and logged over 100 miles of training runs in the brief interim.  He was on another level altogether, although I figured his cumulative training stress might give me a chance to keep him in check.  Soon enough, I realized I was getting caught up in the social front-running pack and establishing too quick of a pace.  I had to force myself to back off.  Jamaar and Savage did the same not long after me, because I caught up to them before we completed the first 10k. 
One more lap to go...
It was easy to get into a rhythm on this course because of its predictability, but this would prove to be a double-edged sword; I was too comfortable running too fast.  In fact, I ran much of the first half at a sub-7:20 pace.  I ate and hydrated at regular intervals and just let the miles pass by.  A couple of regretable restroom stops ate up a few minutes, but I was still on pace for a sub-4 hour 50k, which I guess was my goal.  February 2nd was an appropriate day for this race, because the repetative out-and-backs gave me a Groundhog Day kind of feel.  At 35k, I started to feel the fatigue coming on, and I tried to adjust my pace accordingly, but I could tell I was going to reep what I had sewn.
At the start/finish turn-around (40k), I was happy to hear a couple of familiar voices.  Heidi, my wife, was there to cheer me on, as was fellow ultra-running DARTer Chad Randolph.  With the race clock at 3:11:xx, I muttered that a sub-4 finish was going to be very hard as I passed by Chad.  10k at slightly sub-8 minute miles doesn't sound too hard unless you already have a hard 25 miles on your legs, which I did.  When I got to the 42k mark--which is about as close to a marathon split as the course markings had--I checked my time.  3:20:xx, about the same as my marathon split four weeks earlier at Frosty, but I was feeling a lot more broken down this time.  I think it was here that I started bargaining with myself, which is when paces start to spiral downhill.  I gritted my teeth through two more 8-minute miles and resolved to make it to the 5k mark (45k cumulative) before I walked.  90 seconds later, I started running again, but my 8-minute miles were over.  When I came to the 4k out mark, Savage ran by me, still on his outbound leg.  That meant he had 6k to go, and I had 4k.  Okay, at least I can keep Savage at bay.  Easy does it.  In those last 2 1/2 miles, I threw in two more one-minute walk breaks, but I would rather slog the last couple of miles and come across the finish line strong than drag myself across with a glazed-over facade for want of keeping up a plodding jog.
A bit battered, but finished.
I finished with an official time of 4:03:27, about 200 seconds slower than my goal.  But, I finished in the top ten (9th overall, 8th male), which was another informal goal.  Savage finished about five minutes later, still with an impressive 4:09:xx.  The man is a machine.
So what have I learned?  I learned I can be competitive at a fast 50k even in the midst of over-training, so I'm tougher than I thought...though still not as tough as Jonathan Savage...not even close.  I also have been thinking about this competitive monkey on my back I've been feeding for the past few months.  I've raced A LOT.  If I could channel that competitive energy into just training for Umstead, then I can stop worrying so much about running 100 miles and just know that it's there for me to take.