Saturday, 25 February 2012

Merrell Trail Glove Review – One year on

It’s about a year now since I tried and failed in my final comeback with my Asics Kayano 15s.  It was about as successful as the previous two and was the final straw in my decision to move to barefoot and minimalist running, more minimalist than barefoot but that’s my choice and I’m happy with it.

One great thing about that choice though was that it let me go from running about 150 miles a year with a constant fear of injury to 642 miles in 2011 and another 115 miles in the first two months of the year so far.  The majority of that (probably 80% or so) was in minimalist shoes with the majority of that in the Trail Gloves, plus some in huaraches from the summer onwards. 
Over the year I’d estimate therefore that of the 750 miles a good 450-550 was in the trail gloves, so I think that gives me a decent perspective on them.  They’ve been used on roads, trails, the beach and grass and in all weathers from minus 10 to plus 35 celcius.

So let’s start with my first impressions:
  • Good snug fit around the midfoot and heel, plenty of room in the toebox even for my fat feet.  I know some people don’t like the way that the midfoot hugs the arch, but I found it to be very comfortable to start with.
  • Lacing system lets you pull the upper in nice and close, but with even pressure across the foot, laces are a bit long though, so a double knot is the order of the day
  • Great ventilation from that upper
  • Like the rubber toe bumpers
  • Love the colour scheme – I went with the black and red.

Early Use
  • Really loved the way they fitted the foot and how they felt very snug but unobtrusive.  That close fit really gave a feeling of security and a feeling of connection between the foot and the ground
  • Had some early blisters from some rogue material just under the arch where the sockless liner ends and the mesh upper begins.  I know this was a common issue and easily sorted with a pair of beard scissors, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed with the lack of attention to detail in some areas where obvious time had gone into others.
  • Loved the ventilation in the hot summer we had last year
  • Rock plate – took the worst of the sharp impacts away, but kept a lot of the ground feel.  Not as much as barefoot or in huaraches, but I don’t think it would be fair to expect that
  • Really did get annoyed with the long laces and difficulty getting them on and off, so swapped early on to a pair of elastic Lock-Laces.  Where have they been all my life!  I can now manage to get out of bed, wake up, get my running gear on and out into an Aberdeen winter within 10 minutes at 5:30am
  • Came in very handy on vacation when my Birkenstocks started hurting my feet.  I did a lot of barefooting that week, but these were great to take into restaurants as they were comfy and unobtrusive
After a year
  • The silver impregnated liner worked wonders.  There’s a very small amount of odour, but by no means offensive after a year’s wear.  This is a great feature and well worth it
  • During the winter I spent a lot of time in Aberdeen which was generally cold and windy.  I found that I could get a thin pair of silk socks in these which worked wonders with foot comfort.  I suspect a thinner pair of the Injinjis would also work.
  • They’ve worn very well in the upper and the interior with no obvious signs of distress.  The picture from above shows a bit of distortion around the front of the foot hole, but the heel has kept its shape as has the mesh section. 
  • Those lock laces were the best buy ever and really add to the shoes.  Why don’t they come with them?

And now to my main bugbear with these shoes.  The souls soles!  You’d think this was the key part of the shoe, after all that’s all there is to a pair of huaraches, and they’d spend the most thought and effort to get the detail right on this bit but this is the only bit that I think really lets this shoe down.
It’s a great tread pattern on the trails and loose gravel and is pretty grippy on the streets as well, so that’s not the problem. 
It’s the wear.  Now I’m nothing special as a runner, Mr Average really I think, and that comes down to my gait as well.  I, like probably the vast majority of runner out there pronate to some extent i.e. I land first on the outside edge of my feet and roll flat.  It’s pretty common, loads of folk do it, even when barefoot.

So why, oh why did Merrell put the least amount of rubber and thinnest tread pattern in this area?

Check out the picture below and you can see that there is plenty of tread left on the majority of the shoe, but two areas starting to wear very thin and now wearing through the outer sole. So what do I do now? Bon the shoes as they wear through there even though the rest of the sole could probably do another 500 miles easily?  Reinvent my gait? Just carry on?

One thing that annoyed me as well was Merrell’s response to a message via their website asking about issue with uneven wear.  They seemed rather disinterested and just told me to go to Timpsons (a UK chain of shoe repairers).  To be honest, Timpsons are great with a pair of bog-standard shoes but with these, no chance.

The Verdict
Overall a great shoe when out there running.  Fits well, even with my wide feet and feel great on. The Glove is a great tagline for these.  Very impressed by the odour proofing.

Really let down by the sole wear.  I’m not expecting them to last for an eternity (get it? Eternal sole?) but I think Merrell missed a trick when they made one of the likely major contact points one of the areas with minimal tread and sole thickness. Attention to detail in the interior finish could have been better as well.
I’d give them about a 7.5 out of ten.  Without the sole issues, a definite 9, maybe 9.5.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Long and The Short Of It

I’m writing this on Monday after what was, for me, a great weekend’s training, which re-confirmed to me that what I have been doing since September seems to be having a positive effect, or at least it’s not holding me back, which is just as good really.

Saturday morning I had in mind to get out for a run, but after a tiring week opted to stay in bed instead, and go for a turbo trainer session in the evening instead.

My wife and daughter headed off to a nephew’s birthday party in Leicester whilst my son and I stayed home.  The party was at a kids play place and not the kind of environment he is comfortable with.  So we stayed home, went grocery shopping, made bread, made a gluten free coconut cake and generally bummed around for a day. 

Then in the evening, turbo time.  Not sure what to expect, but the intention was to set a marker for some interval sessions to come.  This time last year I would have been doing progressive intervals throughout the winter, but not this year.  The plan was therefore 5 mins steady warm up, followed by 10 mins “on”, 5 mins “off” x 3 with the final 5 mins easy as a cool down.  Total session 50 mins vs a normal TT lasting up to 35 minutes depending on the distance.   HR cap for the 10 minute work intervals was 165, in the big ring, resistance set at +2 or +3 if it needed it..

First task was to reinflate the tyre on the turbo trainer (now looks like a full puncture repair is required) before getting going.

5min warm up - easy 200W, HR to 136
10mins - 265W, AHR 153 , MHR 164
5mins easy, 200W HR recovery to 140
10mins - 265 W, A 161, M 165
5 mins - 200W HR rec to 147
10 mins - 265-270W, AHR 160, MHR 165
cool down 5mins 180W, HR to 136.

Overall Tacx 682 cals, Max 284 W, Ave 236W
Garmin 27.6km / Ave 33kmh / AHR 150 / MHR 165

Overall a pretty good session, when set against last year’s 2 x 20 mins at 250W with slightly higher HR.  I could certainly have done 15 minutes for the first two intervals, though the third may have been a stretch.  To me, that suggests that the base building work has done its job.

Then yesterday, I started the progressively increasing distance that I’m going to follow for my 70-miler in July.  The plan yesterday was 20-21km, and I plotted a route at about 20-22 across the fens by road and track.  Only problem was I ended up at 25km, a running PB for me and a definite PB in huaraches where I’ve only been up to 16km so far.    HR was mostly in control apart from a stretch of 3 km or so on very cut up farm tracks with heavy clinging mud really weighing down my feet.  This bit was also into the wind, which didn’t help. 

I’m beginning to get rather annoyed with my HR strap at the moment as yesterday for the first 3-4km it was playing silly buggers with the wind with the indicated HR bouncing up and down by 30bpm or more every time I went out from behind the shelter of a hedgerow or building.  I think the elastic in the strap is starting to give up after about 4-5 years or so and until it gets damp enough it’s slipping and sliding around.

Anyway, apart from that, the results were pretty good, as per the 3km splits below

1) 15:43.1 / 3km / 05:14 / AHR 155 / MHR 196 – spurious wind affected maximum, there’s no way my HR was that high at that pace
2) 16:23.7 / 3km / 05:28 / AHR 141 / MHR 158 – same as above
3) 16:25.0 / 3km / 05:28 / AHR 142 / MHR 150
4) 16:56.6 / 3km / 05:39 / AHR 145 / MHR 158 – sticky stuff, dragging at my feet, into the wind, should have slowed down
5) 16:43.1 / 3km / 05:34 / AHR 144 / MHR 152
6) 16:41.5 / 3km / 05:34 / AHR 144 / MHR 148
7) 15:58.6 / 3km / 5:19 / AHR 143 / MHR 149 – Back on the roads again
8) 15:41.7 / 3km / 5:14 / AHR 145 / MHR 150 – still on the roads
9) 7:15.8 / 1.39km/ 05:14 / AHR 147 / MHR 150

Total 2:17:49.2 / 25.39 km / 5:26 / AHR 145 / MHR 196

Overall I think that represents a decent weekend’s training and is a great marker to lay down for the distance stuff.  I hadn’t planned to be at 25km for another month and the only thing that stopped me going on was that I had told the wife I’d be home in time to cook dinner.

No decent pictures today either.  This is getting annoying now; I saw three deer lying in a field relaxing, but they got up and ran off before I could get a decent snap of them.  Plenty of other wildlife around as well, but all too fast-moving for me.

Plan over the next few months is minimum one harder session per week, maybe two, and a long run every other week alternating weekends with a 90min-2hr bike ride.   Plan for the 70 miler is to think more in terms of time on feet rather than miles run.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

It's Grim Down South

I've been up in Aberdeen all week again, as usual for this time of year as we finish off all of the emissions verifications before the end of March.  All winter, I can't believe how mild it's been up there; windy yes, but cold, no.  This week has been no exception really and I've been able to run on three out of four occasions in just the minimum amount of winter gear, tights, a long sleeved base layer and short sleeved top.  I even ran one day without gloves or hat, and only needed the windproof top layer once.  Three out of the four runs were in huaraches, with socks wedged up between my toes.

But then what a contrast when I got home.  On the way from Norwich airport to home, it was minus 13 celcius at one point, and when I went out shopping in town today, it was minus 10.  The market stall holders were really suffering today.  I had planned on a long run or ride tomorrow, but it looks like it'll be back in the garage for a decent erg session.

Picked up a good load of local veg, apples and a couple of partridge, one for the freezer and one for tomorrows Sunday roast.

Training wise, I managed to get an extra session in this week, giving me six, of which five were runs and this evening on the turbo trainer. 

Run - 5 sessions, 42.65km, 3hr 44
Bike - 1 session, 30km, 1hr

One thing I have been noticing lately is that the steady sessions have started to plateau in performance somewhat.  With the club TT season starting in April, I had planned to start building in some anaerobic sessions on both bike and erg from March onwards, but looking at that plateauing, I think I'll start this week instead.  That should give things a kick start.

I'm hoping that the weather breaks and spring appears soon enough in March though as this is the third week in a row that my outdoor long session has been FUBAR'd by the weather.

This weeks Sessions
Sunday - Run - 10.22km / 54:54 / 5:22 pace/ AHR 144 / MHR 159* - screwy HR reading in the first 2km
Monday - Travel to Aberdeen
Tuesday - Run - 42:43.6 / 8.19km / 5:18 pace/ AHR 144 / MHR 152 - cold but dry
Wednesday - Run - 43:06.8 / 8.14km / 5:18 pace / AHR 142 / MHR 179* - screwy HR reading again, very windy
Thursday - Run - 41:54 / 8.10 km / 5:10 pace / AHR 145 / MHR 154 - Damp and foggy, Garmin kept autopausing, very annoying
Friday - Run - 41:35 / 8.1km / 5:08 pace / AHR 142 / MHR 154 - back to chilly but dry again
Saturday - Turbo, 1hr / 29.9km / AHR 144 / MHR 152 / Average 206W / Max 235W

Time above the MAF threshold varied from 2:30 to ten minutes.  Of course in some, but not all cases, that includes the screwy readings.  I'm now thinking about getting a tube of the contact gel, but I also think the elastic strap of my HR monitor is a bit past it and needs replacing.

That's it for today, my dear reader.  Time is short and I am completely stacked up at work, but when I get time I will post some wintry pictures.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Six P's still apply

Being, Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

Equally applicable in work and our athletic endeavours.  This week I've had a real contrast with two different clients in the same week.  Although the outcomes were broadly the same, the route to get there was a breeze in one case and tortuous in the other case.

I will give the more difficult client a bit of leeway though as in the last three months they've gone from a department of four people (should be 5, but the boss is on extended leave) down to two.  As a result they had done little preparation for our visit and then had the gall to complain at us when they didn't have the answers to our questions easily to hand and prepared.

The other one, by complete contrast had everything to hand, ready to be checked.  A few adjustments were needed, and some cross checks completed, but in the same space of time everyhing was closed out and we'd even finished some of the administration requirements.  Only one difference, preparation, made possible by adequate resourcing.

So when it comes to our athletic endeavours, whatever they may be, it's that prior preparation and application of enough resources that make all the difference.  To me this includes training time, race preparation and planning, nutrition and diet, equipment and also resting.

I'm coming along nicely with parts of these, working on adjusting others, with a few remaining stubbornly not where I want them, but with a good 5 months before the main event this year, I'm not bothered about that yet.

So what am I doing well at the moment?

Training time and, more importantly quality is good at the moment with the aerobic base-building ongoing at the moment and showing progress.  That's going to continue until the end of February, and then I'll start throwing in at least one harder session a week on the bike to get ready for the start of the April TT season, even though I may not actually get started until May with work plans.  After that it'll be a slow build of volume through to July for the ultra run.

Race preparation - will come later as I start to refine the race plan, equipment and nutritional strategy.

Resting - a bit up and down.  Had a few days last week of good training and good sleeping, getting to bed early enough.  I need to be doing that more often though, including weekends. Too many opportunities to stay up late watching crap on TV.

Diet and nutrition, going well.  I've always enjoved a good range of fruit and veg and proper home cooked food.  I've been slowly reducing my intake of refined carbs and sugars in normal diet (i.e. not in training, where they do have a role), but there's still more to do.  I'm also enjoying an increasing variety of fruit and veg at the moment including some of it raw.  Where I need to work here, is reducing the booze intake, trouble is I really enjoy beer and wine with the huge variety and great quality we have these days in the UK.  I have gone totally alcohol free for an extended period in the past, but didn't find any general benefit training wise, health maybe, but that tends to be a longer term effect.

 Training has gone reasonably well this week, one long erg last Sunday, travel to Aberdeen Monday, run Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning.  Had planned Friday as well, but ended up going to bed later than intended on Thursday chatting with my boss who was also in Aberdeen on another job.

Tuesday - 8.15km / 42:59.6 / 5:16 / A144 / M187* - in reality nearer 150
Wednesday - 8.18km /42:27.5 /5:11 /A141 /M150 - no troubles with the HR strap
Thursday - 8.21km / 42:33.75 / 5:11 / A142 / M176* - again trouble with HR strap interference

All the same route, but Wednesday in reverse direction.  The screwy max HR readings came in the first 2km, downhill, so are really not representative.  Max in each case was about 150 or so vs the target of 148 max.  The silk socks were a godsend, but one now needs a hole repair.

Friday was a missed opportunity and yesterday was a 10km indoor row.

10,000m / 44:07.0 / pace 2:12.3 per 500m /23 strokes per min /A140 /M150  - only 20 secs above 148 HR.

Totals this week (Sun-Sat)

Rowed - 30,477m
Biked - 6.9km
Ran - 24.5km

This is the best of my HR capped rows since I started to erg a bit more again before Christmas, both in terms of pace and HR management.

About 4 inches of snow overnight, with drifting much deeper in places.  I'll be heading out with at least one of the kids to play in it this morning, then I fancy a long run this afternoon in some fresh snow.  May even take my shoes off for part of it.  Let's see how it goes. If I do I'll be trying to bring back a few pictures.