Friday, August 26, 2011

Merrell Trail Glove Review

All the cool kids do reviews of stuff so I thought I had better do it too.  It is my hope that this review will gain me a lot of cool points.  What are cool points you say?  Well, if you have to ask, you don't have any.  But reading this review will get you a starter set of one cool point and an Abercrombie baseball cap (subject to availability) that you can wear everywhere you go.  That is how you start collecting cool points.  With enough cool points you can earn free stays at Marriott Hotels (subject to participation).  Sharing this post with a friend will net you two bonus cool points.  You know you want them.  But I digress...

When I tell people I run barefoot they always say, "Oh!  You mean in those toe shoes?"  I reply "No.  No shoes.  Barefoot."  Then I go on to say I do have a pair of minimal shoes that I wear sometimes when conditions call for it.  Those shoes are the purpose for this post.

A few years ago, humans started walking the earth.  We mostly ate stuff that we found growing in the dirt or on trees, and occasionally we bagged a deer for dinner.  Before the invention of the .270 caliber rifle we used spears to get those deer but before that we actually ran those babies down.  Its called persistance hunting and some tribes still do it today.  You see, deer can't breathe or pant all that well when they are on the run and will quickly overheat if kept running for too long, allowing your caveman ancestors the chance to stick a stone knife in the deer and have venison for supper.  Our feet allowed for that awesome running ability and shoes didn't come into the picture for quite a while.  Even when Sir Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four minute mile his shoes were little more than a few strips of leather and some spikes.

Vibram put their Five Fingers shoes (the "Toe Shoes") on the market in 2005 and the minimalist shoe market has been expanding ever since.  Merrell Released the Trail Glove in February 2011 and were the first major name shoe company to release a zero-drop shoe.  I purchased a pair because I wanted to get going on my transition to barefoot running without taking as much time to desensitize my feet.  (You can read some of that adventure here.)  These are my first minimalist shoe, so this is my first review.  Bear with me.

These shoes are pretty sweet looking.  Price is about $110 retail and you can find retailers on their website, or buy direct from there.  I would suggest going to a retailer and trying them on.  The fit isn't custom, but it will be snug to your foot and you want them to fit correctly.  Sockless is the preferred method for this shoe.

There is a few different choices of color scheme.  I liked this one called "Dark Olive and Kryptonite".  I wonder if they had to license the word Kryptonite.  Inquiring minds want to know.  The uppers are mostly a super-breathable mesh, bonded to the sole.  The mesh keeps your feet cool, and would help the shoes stay a little drier if you are running in wet conditions.

Side views of the shoes.  You can see how thin the sole is, and how flat they are.  Zero-drop!  The average running shoe has a 12mm drop from heel to toe.

The soles are by Vibram.  That means a long life, like thousands of miles long.  You can see how the toe of the shoe curls up a little.  That is called toe spring and I'm assuming it is just due to the molding of the sole.  Not to worry though.  The soles are so flexible that they flatten out when you put them on.  The sole material comes up the front of the shoe to protect the tips of your toes in case you kick rocks on the trail.  Smart.

Here is one of the shoes rolled up.  If you are going to review a minimalist shoe properly, you have to do this.  It proves that the shoe can be rolled up, I guess. 

Here is the shoe on my dog.  Dogs love them, because Merrell doesn't test their products on animals. For the record, I have a big dog not freakishly small feet.

I started wearing these around just casually before I started running in them.  I love the way they fit close to your foot but they never restrict movement at all.  The large toe box isn't clunky in the least.  Running in them is also very comfortable, if using proper form.  I've seen some blog posts where people had a seam inside the shoe or something rubbing on their foot and they have a big hole in their skin by the end of a run.  I haven't had that happen to me.  The seams are very smooth inside.  The nail on my big toe does hit right behind the rubber at the front of the shoe on the mesh upper and I was worried that might cause some issues but it hasn't yet.  I have worn them to work a few times and one day wore them for 15 hours straight through the work day and part of Relay for Life.  They were comfortable all day.

If you have read some of my previous posts you know that I was trying to move to a forefoot strike before making "the big switch" so I was still running in a pair of New Balance shoes.  I finally put these shoes on for a run after my NB's got soaked on a run in the rain and were still wet the next time I was heading out.  I took the Trail Gloves out for a run that day, and I haven't put the NB's on since.  I was going to use the NB's for the Warrior Dash, but I ended up using the Trail Gloves instead.  Smart.  They cleaned up easily.  A few rinses in the hotel shower and then tossed them in the washing machine in an old pillow case when I got home.  Air dry them and POOF! Clean shoes.

I typically run on streets and paved trails, which is not technically what these shoes are designed for.  There are some lugs for traction under your toes, but they don't interfere on the pavement especially for someone like me who is newer to barefoot and minimalist running.  Some of the more seasoned barefooters don't like these shoes for pavement because of the bumpy sole.

I haven't run in them since the Warrior Dash, but it is starting to get dark a little earlier at night so my runs during the week will soon be in these shoes unless I can get out in the daytime.  I love running in them and they are as close to barefoot as you can get without being barefoot.  If you step on rocks, you will feel it through the shoe.  The pain will be significantly less however.  If you are interested in getting started in barefooting, but aren't ready to give up the shoes yet, these are a great choice.  Give them a try!

Merrell has a bunch of new minimal shoe styles coming out next year.  If you happen to be a Merrell executive, I'd love to help review them.  I know you were impressed by this review, so let's make it happen.  For a sneak peak of some of the upcoming styles, see what Last Place Jason had to say.  Personally I'd love to get my mitts on a pair of Rapid Gloves.  I think they look pretty sweet.

Run on, Runners!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Call me Magellan

When you are learning barefoot running form you should never increase your mileage by more then 10-15% per week.  Or, you can do what I did Wednesday night and just go ahead and double your longest ever barefoot run all at once.  Whatever.

Wednesday night involved a group barefoot run by an intrepid bunch of superheros from the greater Rochester area (Katie, Terra, Shalina, Jamey, Amos, and me) and two intrepid traveling superheros from parts unknown who wander the Earth and get into adventures (Jason and Shelly Robillard).  Jason and Shelly were in town for a little barefoot evangelism before heading to Minneapolis for the Naked Foot 5K this weekend.  We gathered at Tradehome Shoes at 7:00 PM and took off from the mall and towards Silver Lake.  I estimated that I would be home by 8:00 PM after a 30 minute run.  (That's called foreshadowing, people.)

It was a great night for a run.  I could tell that the miles were going to fly by.  I got to talk with Jason a lot and got some questions answered about barefooting.  I also got to talk to Amos a little for the first time that night.  Always good to make new friends!  We quickly got to our first scheduled stop for people who wanted to do a 5 mile loop and Amos, Shalina, and Terra peeled off and headed back to the mall.  Amos has been barefooting for a few months but this was Shalina and Terra's first barefoot run so I'm pretty impressed with their performance.  My first barefoot run was .3 miles.  They went five.  That's hardcore.  I hope they are feeling OK today.  I'm not worried about Amos.  He has a mohawk.  He will be fine.

I was planning to turn back to the mall at this point as well, but I was feeling pretty damn good.  The decision was made for me when Jamey said he was going to keep going.  I couldn't turn back if he was going to keep running! So off we went!  We kept on the asphalt and concrete trails that lead from Soldier's Field to Silver Lake.  Some time during the run to Silver Lake I mentioned to Jason that my furthest barefoot run to date was 3.4 miles.  He was quiet for a second and said "well, I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you to build miles slowly" or something like that.  Kudos to him for trying, but I was having too much fun to stop!

We finally made it to Silver Lake and it was at this point that I started to feel a little tenderness in my feet.  I decided the prudent thing to do would be to turn back.  The rest of the group was going to round Silver Lake before heading back to the mall for a total of just over nine miles, way further than I wanted to go. 
I let everyone know that I was turning back and I'd see them at the mall.  I mapped this first leg later and found out I turned around at 3.8 miles.  Already .4 miles further than I had ever gone barefoot!

I turned around and started back the way we had come.  There is a bridge that crosses Silver Lake at the narrowest point and just after the bridge I heard someone trotting up behind me.  He fell into pace next to me and said "Barefoot running, huh?"  This was the start to a pretty good conversation where I found out that he used to coach cross country for one of the Rochester Schools and promoted barefoot running to his athletes.  We kept talking and running and pretty soon things were no longer looking familiar to me.  Then I saw a trail marker that said Quarry Hill Trail 1 Mile.  I was no longer heading in the right direction.  I found out later this was at mile 5.  I went off course at mile 4.4!  Luckily I had my phone with me so I brought up a map and figured out where I was.  I made it back to 11th street, and then to 4th street Southeast.  A few blocks down 4th St. and I was back to the point where we exited the trail briefly earlier to cross the river at street level.  I made it back on to the trail and headed South towards the mall.  Little did I know...

There are two separate trails that converge at that spot.  One heads towards Soldier's Field and the mall, one heads towards Southeast Rochester and Cub Foods.  Guess which one I was on.

At this point it was dark and I was able to convince myself that I was on the right trail, even though I knew I probably wasn't.  Anyway, I was headed South and that was the way I needed to go.  My feet were starting to get pretty sore so I got off the trail and started running in the grass to save them a little.  Eventually I started to see the big halogen lights of a parking lot and some red sinage that I couldn't really make out.  I was pretty jazzed up about this because I thought it was the red sign of Hy-Vee Grocery store that is just east of the mall.  I soon realized that it was not Hy-Vee and I was pretty far from where I should be.  I exited the trail onto 12th St SE/Hwy 14 and started heading West toward the mall.  I called Jamey to leave a message that I was not going to be back by the time he was and to please not take my car keys that were clipped to his backpack in the store.  I also called Sara to let her know why I was so late and that I was OK.  I don't think she was very impressed with my location or the fact that I was walking through SE Rochester in the dark with no shoes.  I told her I was fine and I would get a hold of Jamey for a ride.

The truth is that I was fine.  My feet were sore but not bloody or anything.  The biggest trouble now was that all of the sidewalk on this street is torn up for road construction which meant I was traversing asphalt that had recently been milled and was littered with tiny and not so tiny chunks of debris.  In the dark.  With no shoes.  Oh, and no wallet.  Oh, and a phone that had one bar of battery left.  Huh.

I did get in touch with Jamey and I stopped at Kwik Trip to wait for him.  He thought it was pretty funny, and really it was.  Upon later mapping the route I took, I ran 7.03 miles last night, and walked .66 miles through road construction barefoot.  I can't believe I wasn't picked up by a cop or seriously injured.  It was an adventure though, so no regrets!

The damage to my feet was minimal.  I had one small blister on my left big toe that popped, and a blister on the ball of my left foot that is too deep to pop.  I've had those before and they heal well and quickly because they are so deep.  I had a little pain on the top of my right foot and both feet were pretty tender today, though they are pretty good now.  Seven miles.  Success!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day Off

I've been running every other day for the last three weeks now.  That's a much better schedule than I was able to do between my injury in June and the Warrior Dash.  The Warrior Dash on July 23rd was the last time I've worn shoes to run and I've been steadily increasing my distance even since.  In fact, my first barefoot run was only one mile just to see if I could do it.  I went out last Saturday evening and did 3.4 miles!  That was my third 5K distance last week.  I guess you could say that its been going pretty well.  I've been careful to not do too much and to just listen to my feet while I am out and the miles have come pretty naturally.  i'm pretty psyched up about my results so far.  I might even be wicked psyched.

I haven't had any new blisters for quite a while, but I'm still having trouble picking my left foot up and preventing a hard push-off.  I've literally been scraping the skin of my left big toe away on each run.  So I figured a day off is warranted.  I pretty much always have some soreness in my feet the morning after a run too.  I'm just assuming that is normal after doing 3+ miles barefoot on asphalt and concrete when you are still new at it.  I'll find out for sure on Wednesday when I get to ask Jason Robillard in person!  Tradehome Shoes and Merrell are sponsoring Jason to come and give a barefoot clinic in Rochester before is appearance at the Naked Foot 5K in Minneapolis on August 20th.  The Robillard's are rolling into Rochester on Wednesday and there is a group run scheduled for that night.  Here are the event detail links for the "Barefoot Week" in Minnesota.  (I just dubbed it "Barefoot Week".  I'm probably the only one, but whatever.)

Group Run
Naked Foot 5K

On interesting thing that has happened over the past few weeks is the change in how I view rocks on the trail.  When I first kicked off the shoes in July, a rock was any size of pebble on the trail that might be bigger than a grain of sand.  On my Thursday run, I missed spotting one that was your average sized river rock for landscaping and I hit it with the arch of my foot.  I must have been really spaced out at that point to miss a rock that size, but I'm still amazed at my reaction.  The instant I hit it, my whole body reacted and my foot came right off of it.  I hadn't even hit it hard enough to cause a sensation of pain, just a sensation of something that wasn't supposed to be there.  Our bodies can be pretty amazing when we let them!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Nail on the Trail

Last night was supposed to be a run night but I was not into it at all.  I was really busy at work Monday and Tuesday and I was kind of tired so I almost skipped it.  It turns out that I'm glad I didn't.

I knew I wouldn't regret getting out to run so I just put on some running clothes as soon as I got home.  We had some dinner and got the offspring to bed and I headed out right away.  I was not feeling it so I decided to take a different route than normal.  I figured if I took one of the usual routes I would know exactly what distance I had ran and I could have talked myself into quitting early.  I took off down the trail that runs through the park near our house and headed towards Silver Lake thinking I would go until I wanted to turn around and head home.  I really expected to "bonk" after about a mile but I decided that was fine if it happened.  It was a good plan.

For the record, I learned the term "bonk" from Super Mario.  Check his blog out here.  He is a multi-sport athlete, training for the Wisconsin Ironman.  He is also the reining champion of the Gilman Memorial Turkey Trot - probably the most important race of his career thus far.  As I understand it, "bonking" would be to pretty much run out of gas.  It is not the same as "boink", which is of course the sound of scientific progress.  (Calvin and Hobbes? Anyone?)
After about half a mile I had hit a good stride and my breathing was perfect with my cadence.  That's a pretty normal progression for me, but I'm always glad when I hit it.  When my breathing and cadence are in rhythm I feel like I can run forever (even though I can't).  I pulled a Forrest Gump and just kept running.  I even overtook and passed someone!  After a while, I decided that I had run far enough down the trail so I made note of my location and turned around for home.

A cool thing happened on my way home.  A kid on a bike rode by me in the opposite direction and as soon as he went by I heard him hit the brakes on his BMX bike, doing that cool sideways skidding stop that was so awesome to do when I was his age.  Especially when you were on gravel and could pull off a complete 180 or more.  Fresh concrete was good too since you could leave a nice black skid mark.  He caught up to me and rode along side watching me run for a few seconds, and then blurted out "Doesn't that hurt?"  Because I'm an egomaniac I of course answered "Not really.  It just takes some practice" and I smiled at him.  He kept riding along so I asked him if if looked like it hurt.  "Yep!" was all he said and he turned off the trail onto a side street.

Since I had just bragged to a 10 year old, I decided that I couldn't give up and had to run the rest of the way home.  I was still feeling good anyway so that was fine.  It was at about this time that I discovered a nail lying on the trail.  Luckily, I spotted it with my eyes and didn't find it with my bare foot.  Good times.

The rest of the run was uneventful.  I made it home, brought some food to the cat that lives in my yard, and grabbed my laptop to join my lovely wife on the patio and map my run to find the distance.  I use a website to map my runs.  Get this, it's called  Catchy, huh?  There is a lot of mumbo-jumbo on there, but I just map my runs on it to find the distance.

My dear wife asked me how the run went (as she always does) and I replied "Really good!" (As I sometimes do.)  I told her that I hoped it was three miles, but it was likely only two.  I really felt too good to have gone any further than that.  I sat down and drew out my route, ignoring the mile counter the whole time so that the end would be a surprise.  Total miles: 3.1!  A complete 5K run!  And it felt good! 

So that is the story of my first barefoot 5K.  Unbelievable in my mind.  That half marathon next May isn't looking so daunting now.  Only 10 miles further!

Friday, August 5, 2011

More Free Stuff for you! Courtesy of The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy

The MGBFG wants you to have some free stuff.  Go here to find out more about the upcoming Naked Foot 5K in Minneapolis and a give-away of Merrell minimal shoes.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

17 Weeks

Seventeen weeks ago today, April 12th, I began my latest running career.  The goal was to train for and run the Warrior Dash on July 23rd with Sara, my wife.  We had registered for it in December of last year and were really looking forward to it.  We found out the week before we were supposed to start training that Sara was pregnant with our second child. She was hit with morning sickness (lasting all day) about two days later and dealt with that for weeks.  I decided that I was going to train and run the dash anyway, and my office manager Terri ran in Sara's place.  I was disappointed that Sara wouldn't be able to run since it was something we were going to get to experience together but I wasn't just going to give up, and Sara encouraged me to get training. (Here is a re-cap of the Dash if you missed it.)

I downloaded a program from Jeff Galloway and got moving.  The first run was supposed to be 10-15 minutes.  Jeff is big on run/walk intervals so I decided that I would do three intervals of four minutes, broken up by one minute of walking in-between.  I made it, but it wasn't pretty.  I had started though, which is sometimes the hardest thing to do.  My shin splints returned immediately and I started icing my shins after each run.  I won't re-hash that whole story so go here if you need a refresher.

The main point of this post is this: at some point I have begun to enjoy running, and I'm getting pretty good at it.  I'm not good at it like some people, but I'm having a lot of fun and I think that is what makes a good run.  I still have goals, but the goal on top of it all is to have fun and enjoy it.  All of the other goals come secondary to that.  The run for fun idea is again attributed to Jason Robillard, the mentor I've never met.  After reading a post on his blog, I stopped doing intervals, and timing everything, and mapping everything, and posting each run to Facebook.  I'm just enjoying the process now.  It is the process of becoming a better runner with more strength and endurance, transitioning to all barefoot running, and hopefully inspiring someone else to believe they can do it too.  I will confess that I do still map my runs after I get home, but mostly because I get a charge out of seeing the distance increase. 

Tonight I went out about 9:00, wearing my Merrell minimal shoes due to the impending darkness and completed 2.5 miles.  Never stopping, no shin pain, no stitches in my side, no foot pain, just a lot of fun and a little time to myself.  I've come a long way in the last 17 weeks.  I finished a 5K in June.  I did the Warrior Dash in July.  I've lost 16 pounds.  My lungs and legs are stronger.  I've discovered barefoot running.  I sleep better.  I eat less.  I feel better.  The idea of going out to run excites me now, rather than annoying me.  It's just fun.

Fun or not, I still need a goal.  The spirit to complete things still lives inside me.  I love to check stuff off of lists, but I'm also a procrastinator of the worst kind.  The next goal is this: I registered for the Med City Half Marathon next May!  I registered this early for two reasons.  I figure I need to start training now, plus by registering on the first day it was open I saved ten bucks.  I'm cheap.  Thanks to Vanessa at Vanessa Runs for the heads up on the deal!  You can check her out here.  I'm also reviewing a couple of books for her as a guest reviewer so keep your eyes glued to her site for those.  (I promise I'm not procrastinating on those reviews, Vanessa! I'm 1/3 of the way through the first book.)

My plan is to do the half-marathon barefoot.  There is already a group of barefooters signed up, though I think most are doing the full marathon so I'll be on my own after 10 miles when the courses split.  I just figure that means I get to hit the after-party first!  Doing it barefoot will be a challenge.  I worry that I won't have my feet ready in time after the Winter months.  I'll just have to ask for advice from the pros and semi-pros and do what I can!  One cool thing has already come from registering for the half marathon.  I was talking with my friend Dave just before I registered about how I was planning on signing up.  I saw him a week later and found out he had registered too!  He told me I had inspired him to do it.  I'm quite influential, you know.  Now if only I could get him to ditch his shoes...