Friday, December 30, 2011

Viva VIVOBAREFOOT! Neo Trail Review

As you know, I have spent a bit of time researching a good cold weather, minimalist trail shoe for those times (like now) that I am not able to run in my huaraches.  After a lot of research and agonizing, I decided on the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trails.  Well, they arrived yesterday, and I've never been more excited about getting new shoes! And my wife reminded me of the "new shoes" song (which is posted below) :-) But I digress...  anyway, I had to hit the trail bright and early this morning of course!!

Before I jump into a review of my impressions, please note that these are my first minimalist shoes, and my only other experience has been with my 6mm Contacts huaraches from Invisible Shoes.  So, I can't give any comparison to other barefoot shoes (or bareshoes, minimalist, natural running shoes... whatever you want to call them!).  I can only compare them to my sandals, old running shoes, and of course barefoot!

Yesterday after the shoes arrived, I put them on and wore them around the house, and out and about just to get a feel for them.  Immediately after putting them on, I noticed a certain amount of toe spring (which I expected from reading other reviews), however it was really only most noticeable when standing or walking.  Also, after putting a few miles on them, it was not nearly as apparent.

Also, I was happy with the toe box and width, as they fit well, and still allowed good room for spreading/flexing my toes as needed.  The lacing was snug, and it was so great to put on a full shoe with a zero drop from the heel.  I also really like the lug pattern on the bottom, and was hopeful they would provide good winter traction.

The shoes also came with 3mm insole, which ultimately I removed for better ground feel. The outsoles are 3mm, with 5mm lugs, so without the insole, the thickness was close to that of my 6mm Contact huarches.  I probably would leave the insoles out, but I can see using them if you were new to minimalist shoes, or needed an extra layer of insulation against the frozen ground.. otherwise it just serves to muffle the feedback from the ground.

So, this morning I put them on to climb the Manitou Incline, and to make the run down Barr Trail (4.5 mi).  We had a lot of snow last week, and much of it was still around, but had been compacted, melted, and refrozen in many sections.  I left my YakTrax behind, hoping to see what kind of traction I would get from these shoes. In retrospect, I should have carried them along, but more on that in a bit.

Heading up the Incline, a good portion of it was covered with compacted snow and ice.

Here the Neo Trails performed very well..  I only had a slight slip in a few spots of solid ice, but otherwise the grip was strong.  Also, they just felt really comfortable... and warm! That was my other requirement.  I did wear Injinji toe socks this morning, but had a feeling that I could have gone barefoot in them without too many issues.  I could still feel the cold seeping up through the sole, much like on my huaraches, but that is the tradeoff for a better ground feel.

Upon reaching the summit, it was time to put them through a good trail run.  The Barr Trail from the top of the Incline is mostly downhill, with a few flat and short uphill sections.  At 6 am all the sections that had melted the day before had frozen over solid.  What I learned (some what painfully), is that as long as there was some kind of variation in the surface, the lugs on the Neo Trails would grab... but, on some sections where the ice had frozen some what smoothly, no such luck.  Granted, these are areas that you would only get traction on provided you had YakTrax, or spikes/screws etc.  What made it worse was that it was just starting to warm up, so the ice was developing a nice wet surface.

I did fine, taking it easy, until about halfway down. Things were feeling great and I picked up the downhill pace.. only to hit an icy section with no way to slow down.  Needless to say, I found myself laid flat out on the trail, wondering what happened :-).

Here's a few shots of the flat and down hill trail conditions:

So, aside from the pratfalls I took on the ice, it was a good run down, and the shoes performed well.  In many ways, the ground feel through the soles was very much like wearing my 6mm huaraches, only with the extra protection and warmth around my foot.  This was helpful for those times that I would drag across a larger rock etc.  I was also quickly reminded of the minimal sole when I made a misstep, and stepped squarely on a sharp medium sized rock.. which promptly elicited an s-bomb...   (is it considered cursing if you are in the middle of the woods and no one is around to hear it??).  Anyway, that did a good job of reminding me that just because it felt like wearing a traditional shoe, I had to keep focused as much as in my huaraches or barefoot.

One of the best things about this test run was how great my legs/knees felt. Since we've had so much snow, I've been relegated to running in my old chunky heeled running shoes, and even though I worked very hard at maintaining the "natural" running style and avoided heel striking,  the fact that the heels were so thick, was creating bad knee pains that just continued to get worse.  I really wanted to shave them off! (the heels, not my knees). So, getting back to a zero drop shoe allowed everything to click back into place, and it was such a relief to run without pain.

So, there you have it... my first impressions of the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trails.  I plan to put a lot more miles on these, as we still have bit of winter to go.  After a few more months, I'll have better feedback on durability etc.  So far, the only negatives I have on these are the price of the shoes, and the cost to ship ($15!), too bad the nearest retail shop to Colorado is in New York City! But, it seems that, at least for now, quality minimalist trail shoes are going to be expensive.

If I've missed anything, let me know... I'd be happy to share my experiences.   I'll leave with the obligatory sunrise picture from summit of the Incline...  you all are probably getting tired of them, but I'm not!

Have a very safe and Happy New Year...   looking forward to a great 2012!  And stay tuned as I'll be launching the Happy and Healthy 2012 Contest next week!



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jeff 2.0 and more contest info!

So today I had a check up with my Dr, primarily as a follow up to my initial appointment a year ago.  What a difference a year makes! Moving to a healthier lifestyle by focusing on whole foods, avoiding processed foods, exercising regularly have all contributed to a great year.  No longer a candidate for cholesterol medications, I have dropped down to the "normal" range. My blood pressure was 108/60 ( I didn't have high BP before, but normally was around the 120/80 range).  Resting pulse rate down to 61 (used to be 75-80). And I'm down almost 40 lbs.  

So... I will start the new year as Jeff  version 2.0!  The best part of all of this is that I was never looking at this from a point of "once I get my cholesterol under control, and my weight down, I can go back to eating or doing blah blah blah".   For once in my life I got to this point with complete and permanent lifestyle changes... as my doctor said, this is my "new" normal! 

So, for a "Healthy and Happy 2012", I will just continue to do what I'm doing, add more distance and events to my running, and see where I end up.

And speaking of 2012, I am excited to announce the sponsors of the contest giveaway that will begin next week.  Look forward to great prizes from Invisible Shoes, Road ID, and Pikes Peak Sports!!

So stay tuned.. I'll announce stuff next week.  In the meantime, have a great week, and a safe and happy New Years eve!

Jeff (2.0)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas! And a Happy & Healthy 2012!

Just a quick note to wish everyone one a very Merry Christmas!  Take time to be thankful for all the blessings we have, and enjoy the precious time with family and friends near and far.

Looks like a white Christmas in Colorado!  Below are a few pics that I took on the way back down from the Incline on Thursday.. 

Also, stay tuned for a Happy and Healthy 2012 contest that I'll be running the first week of the New Year...  I've enjoyed participating in a number of blogger contests (and actually won a few), so it's time to give back.  Be on the lookout for some terrific prizes from some of my favorite companies!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shop local, Run local

For those of you that have been following along, you know that I am a bit addicted to climbing the Manitou Incline, followed by a run down the Barr Trail.  I run it 2 or 3 times per week, and its around a 30 mile round trip drive up and down Ute Pass to get there.

For a change of pace, I decided to stick around home, but get a good trail run in today since it was so beautiful. Believe it or not, a really terrific trail (Lovell Gulch) is less than a mile from my house. I've hiked and biked parts of it, but have never been around the entire loop.  

If you go to the link above, you'll see that its about a 5.5 mile loop, with a 900 ft elevation gain.  I believe the highest point is the farthest eastern part of the trail near Rampart Range Rd.

It is mostly single and double track, with some great ups and downs through mountain meadows, gulches, and ridges with amazing views.  Here's a pic from the first part of the loop going counterclockwise (recommended)

The first section is a pretty steady climb, leading up to Rampart Range Rd, where it reaches a peak, and then follows the power lines for a bit. 

From here the trail heads West, offering more downhill (thankfully), and some great views of Pikes Peak and our little town of Woodland Park

After a bit of a drop, there is a pretty steep climb on the western end of the trail, finally reaching the top of a really crazy drop that I am sure MTB'ers LOVE...  I just got a pic as I reached it, but you can't really see the drop down the hill.  Glad I had Yaktrax on to help with the braking on the way down!

Anyway... such an amazing morning... it was in the mid 40's when I was up there.  The sky was that deep blue/black color that I love in the Colorado Rockies..  and the sun was warming up the pines and the smell of the breeze was incredible.

So, what did I learn, other than the fact that I had been neglecting one amazing trail run right in my back yard?  I learned that I really need to work on running uphill! Granted, the Incline is an intense climb, but for me it's a steady grind up steep steps.  Trying to maintain a running pace up these hills... especially at 9,000 ft (2700+ m), was tough... I was sucking wind, and walked 50% of the time up the steeper uphills.  But, I did the 5.6 miles (9 km) in 1:19, which I'm not too unhappy with.  At least now I have a goal to knock that down to an hour or less.  And, I realized after finishing, that this was the longest run I had done to date, so that was cool.

I will absolutely be back on this trail, and soon. I can't wait to run it in the summer either in my huaraches or barefoot.  I think it offers great variety, a good training distance (maybe someday I'll do two loops), beautiful scenery, and it's so close.

Anyway, just another example of thinking locally... support local business, buy food grown locally, and run local too!

Hope you all have a great week! I'll leave you with this little passage from Walt Whitman in the late 1800's that I borrowed from Barefoot Ted:

"I would advise that each runner leave shoes and stockings at home, but of course this should be optional with the individual; next to bare feet are sandals, next to sandals moccasins, next to moccasins, soft, low shoes."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Meteor Shower - 0, Snow Shower - 1

I knew that last night and tonight were the best times to view the Geminid meteor shower, so I was really hoping to see some if it before dawn this morning from the Incline.... however when I left home this morning around 5am, it was just starting to snow.  So, no meteors, but I was looking forward to climbing and running in the snow this morning.

Unfortunately, it was really only snowing up here in Woodland Park, and by the time I got to the bottom of the pass, there was no snow, just a little overcast.  Oh well, at least it was fairly warm.. around 35F (2C).

I didn't bring any YakTrax today (I had borrowed some before, and I have ordered some online, but they haven't arrived).  So, instead I grabbed my $12 Nike trail type shoe since they had better traction than my running shoes..   bad call..  first of all they are heavy... who knew that a few extra ounces would make a difference, but when you are climbing straight up you feel it right away!  I guess I should look at it as a better workout :-)  And I got a few hot spots near the bottom...  1/2 mile longer and I would have had blisters.

If it doesn't snow anymore between now and Friday, I should be able to go back to my Invisible Shoe and Injinji sock combo.

Since winter isn't going anywhere, I finally settled on ordering the Vivobarefoot Neo Trails for winter trail running. It was a tough call because there are some really great minimalist trail shoes out there like the Merrell Trail Glove, and the New Balance Minimus.  After reading numerous reviews, I've decided the Vivo's would be best for my needs.  I need a winter shoe, with good traction, and good proprioception (I love that word!).  My intent is not to use them for road running, or for warmer weather (these shoes can get hot), as I would default back to my sandals then.   If you want to know more, check out this video review, that provides a comparison to the other two shoes mentioned.

Anyway...  I can't wait for them to arrive, and I'll provide a full report!

Here is the obligatory photo form the top of the Incline, on the way down, and a shot of the snow I came home to.  Trying out an app on my iPod touch, hence the watermark.. but I like the program, so will spring for the $1.99 full version :-)

Have a great day!

I have no idea how far I ran or how long it took me, but I do know that all the crap that was swimming around inside my head is now laying on the street behind me. -M. Van Staaveren


Friday, December 9, 2011

Running into the new year..

Since we are approaching the end of the year, I know many folks start thinking about New Year's resolutions and such.  This year I am so thankful not to have "eat right and exercise" at the top of my list of things to do in the new year, because I've already been doing them for almost a year now. That feels really good. But, I think it's great to set goals, and a new year is always a perfect opportunity for that.

Each day I realize how important it is to me to have some kind of event on my calendar in order to stay motivated to keep moving and improving. Knowing that I have something coming up in the next month (5K etc), keeps me running and working out on a regular basis.

For that reason, I signed up for a membership at Pikes Peak Road Runners so that I can get discounted entry fees on hosted races next year.  Then, I went to the Running in the USA website because its such a great resource for finding upcoming events in any area. 

I know this is going to sound crazy (especially to me!), but I have gone ahead and put on my calendar specific running events next year, with the ultimate goal of running a 1/2 marathon by the end of next summer. Of course, I'll still be doing the Incline at least twice a week, because I'm addicted and I love it. I think its a reasonable goal, but I say this having only run 5k's, and my longest unofficial run being about 5.5 mi.  But hey, here it is, and will be cool to look back on this post a year from now and see how I did:

Sat. January 7th:  Monthly Nielsen Challenge - 2M

Sat. January 14th: PPRR Winter Series Race 1 - 3.3M

Sat. January 28th: PPRR Winter Series Race 2 - 4M

Sat. February 4th: Monthly Nielsen Challenge - 2M

Sun. February 5th: PPRR Super 1/2 Marathon and 5K - 3.1M

Sat. February 11th: PPRR Winter Series Race 3 - 5M

Sat. February 25th: PPRR Winter Series Race 4 - 6.2M

Sat. March 3rd: Monthly Nielsen Challenge - 2M

Sat. April 7th: Monthly Nielsen Challenge - 2M

Sat. April 14th: PPRR Tortoise and Hare 5K - 3.1M

Sat. May 5th: Take 5 in the Garden - 5M

Sat. May 19th: Run to the Shrine - 10K (6.2M)

Mon. May 28th: Bolder Boulder 10K - 6.2M

Sat. June 2nd: Monthly Nielsen Challenge - 2M

Sun. June 10th: Garden of the Gods 10 Mile - 10M

Sat. July 7th: Monthly Nielsen Challenge - 2M

Sat. August 4th: The Top Ten Mile Race - 10M

Sat. August 18th: Leadville Trail 100 mi run... HAH... NOT  :-)

Sun. August 19th: Warrior Dash Rockies - 3.2M with obstacles!

Mon. September 3rd: American Discovery Trail 1/2 Marathon - 13.1M

Ok.. that's as far as I got.  Honestly, just typing this has made me tired :-)  Beyond this, I know I want to do the PPRR Fall Series in October as well.

Anyway, I think this is reasonable to work up to a 1/2 marathon, but I guess we'll see how it goes.  Any advice and feedback is appreciated!

"Everyone who has run knows that its most important value is in removing tension and allowing a release from whatever other cares the day may bring." - Jimmy Carter

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Injinji Outdoor Series Toe Socks Review

As promised, here is a follow up to the review I did on the Injinji Performance Series Toe Socks in mid November.

As you know, I love trail running and climbing the Manitou Incline in my huaraches from Invisible Shoes.  As winter has arrived, I've been looking at ways to keep running in them, but trying to stay warmer at the same time! After trying the Performance Series, I talked to the folks at Injinji and they were kind enough to send me two pairs of the Outdoor Series to try out.

The key difference between the two series is in the fabric content.  The Performance series uses a blend of 70% Coolmax (poly fiber), 25% nylon, and 5% Lycra. The Outdoor series uses 70% nuwool (Injinji's Australian merlino wool instead of the Coolmax).

Although both series boast the patented 5-sleeve seamless design for the toes, I found that I had a much easier time getting a nice fit from the Outdoor series, versus the non-wool Performance series. They had a really nice feel to them, and I seemed to have an easier time getting all toes in snug, and them staying there (my little toe seems to not want to part with his neighbor very easily).

For my first test, I ran a 5K in the neighborhood, on a slightly breezy day, with the temps right around 35F (2C). I wore one Outdoor Series original weight mini-crew on one foot, and the same weight in the Performance series on the other foot.  From a warmth perspective, I noticed a significant difference between the two.  Primarily, when the breeze kicked up, I could really feel it much more in the Performance series sock, but it was barely noticeable in the Outdoor.  The cold I could feel coming up off the frozen pavement was more noticeable in both, with only a very slight advantage in the Outdoor. I've noticed that even running with the 6mm "Contacts" from Invisible Shoe, the transfer of cold off of frozen surfaces is pretty quick. Guess I need to keep my feet moving more quickly!

In addition to the "original weight" socks, I also tried out the "Lightweight" Outdoor Series sock, in a "no show" cut.  As you can see in the picture, this cut rides lower than the mini-crew. I originally avoided that cut, thinking it may not work as well with my sandals, but as you can see in the picture below, the design works very well with the heel cords on my sandals.  I took these socks up the Incline, and 3.5 mi down the Barr Trail one early morning when the temp was right around 32F (0C) when I started. As you would expect, the "lightweight" version was thinner than the original weight, however to me it felt like I got the same temperature control out of them.  My feet stayed warm, even through the wind, and I really like the feel of the thinner material.  One concern I had with the original weight material of these socks was the fact that it muffled some of the groundfeel that I was used to. With this thinner material, that was much less noticeable.

Injinji notes that the Outdoor Series materials are designed to provide good temperature control, providing warmth when it is cold, and cooling when it is warm.  Granted, if its warm, I'm not going to be wearing socks, so I can't speak to that.  But I do know that the wool blend in these socks is terrific.

Finally, on Friday I ran the Incline/Barr Trail again, with sub-freezing temps, and about 3+ inches of new snow. Because of the snow/ice, I opted to run in regular running shoes, yak trax, and the original weight Injinji Outdoor Series.  Again, the socks were very comfortable, and I had no issues staying warm.

So, after all this fiddling around, I am going to stick with the Outdoor Series, Lightweight, no-show cut version.  I really like the warmth I get from them, combined with the very comfortable fit and minimal interference with my sandals. They are absolutely worth the few extra $'s over the Performance Series.  I've heard from other runners that they really like these socks in regular shoes also, as the toe sleeves help prevent blistering.  I'm guessing that the lightweight versions may also work with with VFF's, however I don't have any experience in running in those, with or without socks, so I can't comment.

On a side note, I did follow the manufacturers recommendation to hand wash these socks in mild soap, and to let them air dry (easy to do with Colorado's single digit humidity). I figure at $12-$16 per pair, I'm want them to last!  Also, I've found that after repeated wearing, the socks begin to take shape to your foot/toes, and each time I put them on, it takes less time and they stay put.

Wow.. ok, if you've taken this much time to read about toes socks and minimalist sandals, then you are as crazy as I am :-)

Good luck, stay warm, and happy running!

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
--Robert Frost