Sunday, March 25, 2012

March Madness: Merrell Road Glove vs. Trail Glove Review

7/19/13 Updated:  If you want to see a review on the Trail Glove 2.0 (latest version), click HERE

Ok! I've think I've logged enough miles in both of these great shoes to be able to provide a good summary of my impressions from each.   Also, in February I did a review of the Trail Gloves which you can check out here.  Before I get into it the details, I wanted to give a shout out to Running and Rambling.. a terrific blog where I won the Road Gloves (and where you can check out a NB Minimus giveaway here!). And also a thanks to Merrell for giving me the opportunity to try out the Trail Gloves as well.

So, first of all, it may seem a little odd to compare a "road" shoe to a "trail" shoe, but in the case of Merrell, the distinction is somewhat blurred.  I know a number of runners that like the Road Glove for trail running, and some that love the Trail Glove for road running!

First of all, just a run down on a few of the comparative specs.   From a sole perspective, both shoes use a Vibram TC-1 rubber sole, and a 4mm compression molded EVA midsole.  I know this sounds like I know what I'm talking about, but I'm really just relaying whats on the official specs :-).  From there, the differences lie in the tread pattern, stack height, and rock plate.

Sorry for the water in the pic, but I had snapped these after taking a run in them and hosing off the dirt.  The Trail Glove is on the left, and while it has a slightly more aggressive tread compared to the Road Glove, it is relatively tame compared to other trail shoes, like the Vivobarefoot Neo Trail.  Also you'll noticed that both have kind of a molded arch that slopes upward. When wearing them, you do notice a little pressure back from this area in both shoes, perhaps slightly more noticeable (at least to me) in the Road Glove, however I seldom noticed that feel once I started running, and over time they have flattened a little also. Interestingly from a weight perspective, the Road Glove is slightly heavier than the 6.2 oz Trail Glove, but honestly, for a guy that has 35 more pounds to lose.. whats a fraction of an ounce? ;-)

The Trail Glove sits with about a 12mm ground height, and the Road Glove around 10mm.  Because of that, you do get a bit better ground feel from the Road Gloves.  A nice feature of the Trail Glove is that the mid-foot also contains a 1mm plastic rock plate that does a good job of dispersing sharp impacts, but remains flexible so as not to interfere too much with the ground feel.  Also, the Road glove, even with a slightly smoother sole, still grips relatively well on the trail.  I wouldn't feel comfortable in either for extreme traction situations, but when you are talking loose dirt/gravel/water etc... both shoes provide a reasonable amount of traction.

From a fit perspective, I found that there is a distinctive difference between these two shoes. Both shoes are comfortable to wear without socks.  They breath well, and the seams are relatively unobtrusive. However, based on running in both, my preference is for the Road Glove as it has a slight edge in barefoot comfort. From a KSO (keep stuff out) view, the Trail Gloves do fit snugger around the ankle, helping to keep rocks, sticks, squirrels etc from getting into your shoe.  The Road Glove isn't bad, but does run a tiny bit looser.

The most striking difference for me was the feel on my foot when laced up.  The Trail Glove has a distinct tightness across the midfoot..  kind of a band that runs across the first two lace crossovers nearest the toe and sloping back towards the arch.  The Tru-Fit lacing system on the Trail Glove (left) does allow for some customization, but regardless of how I adjusted, I still felt this snugness.  When I run in them, I feel that band squeeze with each foot strike.  Now, is it a bad thing?  For me it really didn't cause me any issues, other than I noticed it.  Perhaps if you have a narrow foot, it would be less of an issue, and maybe this fit would be better. It does however cause me to want to run more on my forefoot, and not always bring my heel all the way down.

 On the other hand, the Road Glove (right), did not have this feeling at all.  If anything, this shoe has to be one of the most comfortable shoes I have run in.  In many ways, once I get going, I almost don't notice that I am wearing them at all...  which is surprising for a shoe (versus non-traditional shoes like a huarache, or VFF's etc). As far as the toe box goes, both shoes were roomy and allowed flexing and stretching without issue.

Ok.. so to get a true comparative test on these shoes, I ran with one on each foot!  Ok, I wouldn't recommend this method with very distinct shoes as the difference could really mess you up..  but since they are pretty darn close, I threw one one each foot and hit the road.   And yes, I got some odd looks of course!  BUT... this test really brought home the key differences and similarities in the shoes.  While running on the road, I could sense the better ground feel from the Road Glove, as well as the comfort of the fit, and from the Trail Glove, that interesting tightness mentioned above is much more pronounced.  With respect to traction, I could not really tell the difference.

From the road, I of course headed off to my favorite proving grounds.. the Manitou Incline and Barr Trail.
Here again, both shoes performed very well, but as expected, the advantage goes to the Trail Glove, specifically for the extra shock dispersing action of the embedded rock plate.  I could sense a slightly better grip from the Trail Gloves, and in particular when up on my toes a bit more and climbing.  However, the Road Glove performed great on the trail...  I just had to watch my step a little more, since any nasty rocks were going to transfer pain just a bit easier.

And yes, as you can see from the picture, I applied my research scientifically.. ensuring that I swapped right to left the shoes each time I ran.. running three on the road and thrice on the trail..  I know.. I'm a nerd.  Anyway, here I stopped at one of my favorite photo op locations on the way down to connect with Barr Trail... never get tired of seeing Pikes Peak from here.

Ok.. so the final verdict?  Of course I can't just pick one...  ask any barefoot/minimalist runner to pick ONE favorite shoe from their collection of 6 or more pairs and they go into a mental lock up.  But seriously, if it were between these two shoes, I would have to go with the Road Glove, primarily because of the comfortable fit.  The perfect Merrell Barefoot Trail shoe for me would have the comfort/fit and ground feel of the Road Glove, combined with the rock plate in the Trail Glove, and a beefed up tread pattern for sloppier conditions.  I know... never happy.   Ah well..

I hope this was helpful to those of you considering one of these shoes, or if you have one and are considering the other.  Regardless, Merrell is a great minimalist shoe company, and they make a quality product.  Hopefully someone there reads this and designs my perfect trail shoe!!

As always, if I've missed anything (which I'm sure I have), please let me know with a comment below.

Happy Trails!

"You were born to run. Maybe not that fast, maybe not that far, maybe not as efficiently as others. But to get up and move, to fire up that entire energy-producing, oxygen-delivering, bone-strengthening process we call running." ~Florence Griffith-Joyner

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sea level is for sissies...

Ok... for those of you that have run or walked the Bolder Boulder 10K in Boulder, CO, you'll recognize this sign at the high point of the course.  Living at 8,500 feet, we would joke that this course was for sissies too!

This last weekend I had the opportunity to go to Seattle to visit my older kids, and of course had to run while I was there.  What I learned was that running at near sea level was in fact for sissies.... or more specifically.. ME!  Wow.. what a difference it made.

On Saturday I met a friend for what was to be a short run.. maybe 5K.  After a pleasant conversation along the Cedar River Trail, we completed 5.2 miles and it felt like less than 2!  I just couldn't get over how good it felt.

So of course, I couldn't wait to get out on the trail again the next day.  It was a little bit chillier (around 40F), and the rain was really coming down hard.  I actually sat in the car waiting a bit to see if it would slow down at all.

About the time it slowed down just a little, I decided to just get out and get going.  I figured I would warm up anyway, and you can't live in the Seattle area and be afraid to get a little wet.

So... off I went, and 1 hour and 17 minutes later I had just ran 8.2 miles.  My longest run to date, and at a pace faster than I have run before.  If I hadn't had a date with my kids for breakfast that morning that I needed to get to, I might still be out there running right now!  What was so great was that I could spend the time focused on my form and pace, and not distracted by trying to avoid a cardio-pulmonary seizure...
So.. I've come to the realization that we just don't have nearly enough oxygen up here!  Ah well, I am pretty sure that after a few more runs there, I wouldn't have felt nearly the boost that I did.  But it was a great ride!!

One thing that I did notice, was that running that far on smooth pavement really started to create a lot of tightness in my feet and calves.  Fortunately, I figured out that by periodically moving off to the side to run on the loose gravel and dirt did wonders to relieve that tension by providing an uneven surface that worked like a massage. 

In addition to visiting family, and running.  I did get the opportunity to do a few touristy things in Seattle.  Before moving to Colorado 4 years ago, we had lived in the area for 18 years, so it was really great to visit.  This included a trip to Pikes Place Market of course... where all the fresh flowers made me anxious for spring.

I also got the opportunity to pop into the Born to Run store.  It was really cool to be able to see and pickup a wide variety of minimalist shoes that I have been pining for.  I know.. spoken like a true "barefoot" runner :-). 

They did have a clearance table of what looked like returned shoes.  I dug around in there, but didn't find anything I "needed" in my size.  Was tempted to get one of their cool T-shirts, but $30 for a thin shirt that amounted to free advertising wasn't working for me.

Anyway, I'm back home now, and altitude or not, it is really good to be back.  Temps have been in the mid 60's and I was able to get out today for 3.3 miles in my Invisible Shoes...   I took them off for about .5 miles of it and that was awesome...  tender feet, but the feeling is the best and I look forward to getting more naked miles in as the weather improves.

Happy Trails!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Going with the Flow.. Vibram Five Finger (VFF) Flow Review

A little over a month ago, after a race on a Saturday I popped into Goodwill since it was nearby... lo and behold.. sitting on the shoe rack (with a golden aura around them) was a pair of basically new Vibram VFF Flow's just like the ones below... in my size... for $19.99...  no way I could pass that up, especially when they retail for $90 to $100... so, the shoe collection grew!  I must really be getting into "barefoot" running, based on the number of minimalist shoes I own :-).

Since that time, I've had an opportunity to put some miles on these, and I wanted to provide my initial impressions.

These are my first pair of VFF's, so I can't compare them to any other styles out there.  I can tell you that I really do like the feel of the individual toe sleeves, and the overall running comfort.  That being said however, this particular style runs really warm, and they fit really snugly... in an almost claustrophobic way.  The upper is a neoprene material, so it feels like a putting on a wetsuit.  Once I was in them, my feet felt like mini Jacques Cousteau's sans aqualungs.  

Now, the bonus of this 2mm neoprene upper is that these are very warm.  When I first put them on in the house, I could feel my feet and toes start to sweat a bit.  The material doesn't breathe very much, but I guess that is the point of this particular shoe, as it is targeted for cold weather and water sports.

My first runs in these were on the roads in the neighborhood, and all were around temps ranging from 15-30F (-9 to -1 C).  I had no problem with my feet staying warm in the Flows.  Had I been wearing other minimalist shoes, I may have included wool Injinji toe socks, but they were not needed here.  Not even sure I could get these on with socks however. On a few runs I purposely stepped into available puddles to see what the cold water would do.  As expected, the water soaked in, but then proceeded to warm up and stay warm around my feet and toes.

 From what I understand, the Flows have a 2mm insole, on top of a 3 to 3.5mm sole, so a little less ground feel than what would be expected from a KSO for example.  This extra insole probably helped with the insulation from the frozen ground.  Even with it however, I thought the ground feel was really great (probably the best out of the shoes I own), and I liked the ability to flex my toes individually.

As for the sole, there is some very fine siping cut into the forefoot and heel area, but my guess is that these probably help most on wet pavement (like tires) etc.  As you can see, besides the siping, there really isn't any kind of tread or traction design on these.   I avoided as much ice as possible, as you are not going to get any kind of traction.  I would be concerned with slick mud of course also.

Besides the cool looking camo soles, I also liked the ease of tossing these in the washer after trashing them in the mud.  They wash up nicely, and dry out quick also...  well, in Colorado's single digit humidity they do!

In addition to putting some road miles on these (including the bane of minimalist/barefoot runners.. the dreaded chip seal), I also took these out on the trail.

And where would that be?  The Manitou Incline of course!

The Flows performed well during the climb up the Incline.  Temps were around 20F  (-7C), but most of the railroad ties were clear of ice.  In the few places I had to go on compacted ice/snow, my feet stayed plenty warm.  I also appreciated the ability to "wrap" my toes around more things such as rocks to gain a little better feel as I worked my way up.  Certainly one of the advantages I can see in the VFF style of shoe over my other minimalist shoes.

Arrived at the top just at sunrise again...  never get tired of this view that is for sure.  From here it was the 3.5+ mile run down Barr Trail, and again, the Flows worked well.  They didn't have the same protection as I get from my Neo Trails for Trail Gloves, but I enjoyed the extra feedback and just took my time and watched my step...  and it certainly reminded me to keep the proper form while descending the sometimes rocky trail.

So, I do appreciate the extra warmth of these shoes for winter running, however once summer arrives, my guess is that I won't wear these much.  However, I think they would make a great water sports shoe, and I may try and use them for those occasions.  Regardless, I did enjoy my first experience with Vibram Five Fingers.  Since I love trail running so much, the pair I'd really love to try out would be the new Spyridon LS's as they were built for trail running.  Hopefully I'll get that opportunity sometime soon!

Once again, thanks for tuning in.   And of course, I'll leave you with yet more sunrise shots from the Incline and Barr Trail.

Last minute update!  Ladies, if you are looking for a chance to try out the new Merrell Barefoot Dash Glove..  check out this link to win!

Happy Trails!

 "You were born to run. Maybe not that fast, maybe not that far, maybe not as efficiently as others. But to get up and move, to fire up that entire energy-producing, oxygen-delivering, bone-strengthening process we call running." ~Florence Griffith-Joyner