Friday, May 3, 2013
As you can tell from my previous posts, I'm a bit of a PI and Salomon fanboy. They're both making high quality technical apparel. The fabircs, cuts, technology... it's just not being done in a regular $15 pair of shorts. You may ask, "But do I really need to spend $70 on a pair of shorts?". Nope. But it does make a difference: not in adding miles to your runs physically and not by quickening your pace, but YES.
I'll explain. When I'm going out for a quick 8 mile run that will take less than an hour, I'm not concerned with what shorts I'm wearing. I'll be back in an hour. When I go out for a 2-3 hour run, I DO care. What PI has done with this is solved my basic needs: A place to hold valuables that won't go bouncing away, and a place to store water and/or gels.
I don't know what else to say about a pair of shorts. Good length with a 5" inseam though I do prefer 4". And the ability to run more miles (because you can bring more water and gels) and run faster (because of the ease of access). These shorts are incredible.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Welcome back folks. Back in late November, I was lucky enough to review the "pre-production" Pearl Izumi E:Motion N2 road running shoe. You can see that review here. I left that post with an update that PI had offered to send me out a post-production pair when they became available.
Arriving at my doorstep a few days ago are the shoes pictured above, featuring the obvious new colors but more importantly a promised less firm midsole. Let me say up front I'm not opposed to a "firm" midsole, my current marathon shoe is a the firm midsoled Boston 3s by Adidas. PI listened to the opinions coming in from all their beta tests and decided that the midsole was just a little too firm for a trainer, and I agreed with my experience in them.
PERFORMANCE: Thank you, Pearl Izumi. Thank you so much. You have to feel this upper on your foot, you really do. It feels like a compression sock with areas of stiffness in all the right places. So go to a store and put these shoes on and you'll understand. I won't even spend any more time on the upper, and I hate to use the phrase as it's so overused but screw it, it fits like a glove. I'll skip down to the outsole, which is unchanged as far as I could tell other than the color. Still has that sweet curvey line running through the spine, still does exactly what it is supposed to. Finally, the new midsole is exactly what I want in a trainer when you're race shoe features a firm ride. It's noticable less firm, but not to the point of losing feel or responsiveness. I ran twice in them in the last couple days, a slow recovery run of 8 miles, and a medium pace 12 miler, a typical workout for me where I would be using trainers and not a racing shoe. I'm a shoe nerd. I have shoes for every single specific run you could thank of, from a 5k to a marathon, from a recovery run to a speed workout, to shoes that I will only wear if there's snow and others that I'll wear if it's raining. I rotate about 12-14 shoes at a given time. Based on my recovery run and my medium pace 12 miler, a bunch of those shoes are getting the boot. Pun intended. The shoes are trainers. The shoes are perfect trainers. Comfortable, cushioned, that oh so sweet upper, and just the right weight.
LOOKS: My original review used the phrase "jelly bean colors" to describe the pre-release model. I've got these new cherry/lime flavored ones, and I can't say I'm disappointed, but can't say they're my favorite color combination. I'd rather the lime be the color that runs through the mesh upper, with the symbol and accents colored in grey. But I want POW, and I applaud PI for making the choice to be a tad more subtle.
RECOMMENDED RUNNING: Training. Recovery runs, medium pace runs, your long run, and I'm sure some people will want these for marathons. I'm going to need more time to find out if I could use to race in a marathon, but I feel like if I needed just a little less weight I'd have to get my hands on the N1s. (which is something I'm considering)
NOT RECOMMENDED RUNNING: Races shorter than half marathon.
Overall: 9 out of 10. Based on what they are: trainers.
Final additional note: Pearl Izumi is my new favorite company. First, they had the best demo night I've ever been to, with a ton of swag, a great rep, and plenty of shoes to try. When I wasn't 100% satisifed with a pre-production model (which should be "wear at your own risk, deal with it, homeboy") they offered to replace them with the finished model, which was shipped to me with no expense coming my way. They listened to their customers feedback and adjusted accordingly. My training begins after my 3/24/13 marathon for the USATF Mountain Running Series again, so I'm even eyeing the Trail N1s, and as mentioned, thinking about picking up a pair of N1s for the road. Based on the quality of their products and customer service, they are now the first running company I'll be looking towards for shoes and apparel before I look elsewhere.
The N2s are currently available for purchase at Running Warehouse: Here
Friday, January 18, 2013
The Salomon Swift Hoodie, or as I call it, "the best damn looking hoodie on the trails." I searched and searched looking for a jacket/layer that I could use for winter temps in New England. I typically layer and use different weight Patagonia Capilene layers and hope I don't need something heavier. I didn't have that piece of attire I could count on when temps hit 20-30 degrees and I wanted to stay light. Enter the Swift Hoodie.
All the features in a paragraph: Thumbholes, a stretch knit fabric that bends and shapes with you, half zip for ventilation, a "watch viewing" slit in the left wrist, HIDDEN mittens!, zippered chest pocket, a hood that actually stays on AND lays flat, and cut for an active body shape.
If there is one criticism to Salomon, is that they over-design. Older school runners are going to think, "there's features on a sweatshirt???" I on the other hand, love when companies do stuff like this. This is a not a piece of attire, this is equipment for running.
To go quickly though each of the features: Thumbholes are my new favorite add-on to long sleeve shirts. It's a brilliant little idea to keep the sleeves from riding up and also to give you just a little more warmth, covering all but your digitis. BUT WAIT! What if you're fingers do get cold. For that there's fold out mittens sewn into the wrist, just enough to cover your fingers, though it still leaves your thumb exposed. Sure beats carrying a seperate set of gloves on the in between days, and a great addition if you realize after you started you should have brought gloves.
It's cut for a slender runner's body. If you've got that body, this thing looks like it was tailored for you. It's really good looking, with the back longer than the front to cover your butt a little and keep it warmer and prevent snow kick up from going down the back of your pants. There's a zippered chest pocket and also a zippered lower back pocket that's large enough to carry an extra pair of socks or gloves or stuff your winter hat if it warms up. And finally the hood on this thing is over-designed, again in a good way. It stays up when you're running, and if you're not using it, folds flat. We've all had that hood that won't stay on your head and is constantly falling off, so we push it back only for it to be bouncing around on your back. This won't do either.
This is another piece of perfect gear from Salomon. The only issue, and this is nit-picky, is I don't find the watch window to be useful for using a GPS watch. The window is just a bonus and is for viewing a normal watch, just pry it open and take a glance at the time. For that, it does exactly what it seeks to. Because I use a GPS watch, I still have to strap it to the outside of the hoodie.
OVERALL: 9 out of 10. I only knock one point off because it is really cut for an active runner's body, and if you have a larger frame, this isn't going to work out for you.
Monday, January 7, 2013
If you read my last review, you would have noted that I mentioned that when Kilian Jornet lost the 2010 Western States, he challenged Salomon to come up with a new way of hydrating and a new set of shoes. The new shoes they came up with were the Salomon Sense, a straight up racing shoe that cost you $200 and lasted you 200 miles. A buck per mile of shoe. From what I understand, you did get what you paid for, you got an incredible shoe, but not many people were biting.
In 2013, Salomon is releasing 2 altered versions of the Sense: The Sense Ultra, and here we have the Sense Mantra. The quick specs on mine (size 9.5) are 9.2 oz and a 6mm drop. These are marketed as a door to trail trainer, though you'll want these on your feet as often as possible.
These are true Salomon quality and style. I originally recieved a size 10 which is my normal size with this brand, but they were too big. These are shoes that are made to be worn barefoot or with a small sock on, and I had plenty of extra space. I swapped for a 9.5 and the fit was great, enough for a single pair of socks which is how I like to run. The Mantras feature a Endofit system for a close to "socklike" feel while the shoe is on, and they used their Quicklace system to button them down. They fit snug without feeling like you've got lacing digging into the top of your foot.
PERFORMANCE: These are touted as "door to trail trainers" so I tested them as that, asking them to perform not only on the trails but also on the "door to" portion. The day I received them I put them on headed straight out for an 8 mile ROAD run. Being winter in New England, I also had a little bit of ice and snow to deal with. Now, I've run plenty of awful miles on the road in trail shoes before, and they can be painful and heavy. With the Mantras, I still felt light, I was able to move at the pace I wanted to, and they acted no different than a straight up pair of road trainers. I had no problem with foot landing, no hot spots, nothing. I didn't have time for a trail run that same day so I only checked off the "door to" portion as PASSING.
The next day I woke up early and headed out to for an 8 mile trail run. The trail was 25% packed dirt, 25% rocky/rooty/loose singletrack, 25% flat traprock and 25% snow/ice. Looking at the traction on these shoes I thought I would be for a long day. Why I'm constantly surprised by Salomon I'm not sure anymore, but these only slipped on spots you expected them: the ice and snow. Unless I was wearing a cleated shoe, no shoe was going to grip on this stuff. The Mantras, even at 9.2oz, still felt really light and I almost think that's because they fit so well, they don't feel bulky. I intentionally made sure to put my foot down on sharp rocks, roots, hoping to be able to pass on some thoughts on the Profeel Film. Truth is I didn't feel anything other than my foot wrapping over the root or rock. Pain free.
There's enough cushion in these that they fit their billing as trainers. I could run mile after mile in these.
LOOKS: Meh. I think there's a huge group of people who are tired of the flashy colors and neon shoes, and these are your shoes. They are great looking shoes, and I'm actually pretty happy with the blue/white, but if you take a look at the green offering, I'm just not digging it.
RECOMMEDED FOR: Use them as directed. These are the best door to trail trainers on the market.
NOT RECOMMEDED FOR: Racing. I wish I could afford the Salomon Sense or the Sense Ultra, as they shave off the weight.
OVERALL: 10 out of 10. I'm giving that rating based solely on what they are marketed as. A $120 door to trail trainer. For that price you get above and beyond what you'd expect from a shoe at that price point.
UPDATE as of 1/18/2013: I have a race in the middle of the year that combines a 1 mile uphill road run, then a mix of ski slope and fire road, finished with technical trail climb and a technical downhill trail run. I said I wasn't going to recommend these for racing, but there's not another shoe I would want on my feet after putting some mroe miles on these. I've got them dialed in right now and am almost to that point where I want to just lock them up in a box and not touch them for fear of "ruining" them. The "weight" of the shoe is a non-issue, at less than 10oz they are still light enough for racing.
Friday, January 4, 2013
Courtesy of Salomon
Salomon hands down makes the best trail running specific apparel and accessories in my opinion. Salomon also needs to work on their naming structure. Say it with me: Salomon Sense Hydro S-Lab Handheld Hydration Set. I guess for short we could title it: SSHS-LHHS? Seashells?
Here's what it is: In the set, you get 2 gloves that slip over your hands with a thin elastic that holds the included 8oz soft flask. I'm going to talk about each individually.
First, the flask. Salomon is releasing 2 sizes of the soft flask, a 5 oz and an 8 oz. If you've been reading anything lately about "too much water", then you'll know that 8 oz is a really great size to have for runs up to 2 hours, you don't really need more even on really hot days. Remember when Kilian Jornet lost at the 2010 Western States? Well, he challenged Salomon to do two things: Make him better shoes, (the result of which are the $200 Sense shoes) and give him a better option for carrying water, as Kilian isn't a fan of handheld bottles. Salomon gave him these for the next year, the year in which he cruised to victory. The bladder is PVC free and BPA free as you would expect in the current year, and Salomon has put a bite valve on top. To work it, give the flask a squeeze and the valve a bite. Done. Leak free, drip free hydration. The bite valve eliminates the need for the "pull then suck then push back down". I really, really like it and find it much easier. One thing I really dislike about handhelds like the Nathan are that you need to use your hands to open and close the valve. I know you're supposed to be able to do it with your teeth, but while running I find that very difficult and even more so once that bottle has some use on it.
The glove: With the set you get a glove for each hand and can choose between a few different sizes to make sure you get the best possible fit. Pictured is the outside of the glove, so the elastic that holds the flask is on the other side. There's a terry cloth exterior for wiping snot and sweat on on the outside. That loop of cordage you see is to go around the neck of the bite valve, keeping the flask secured at 2 points.
So how's it work? Excellent. I've used the gloves and was really happy with how the flask fit in there and it gave me that typical "handheld" experience, where you are gripping your hydration without having to actually apply pressure. I had no problem running and supplying myself with water. But I only found myself using the gloves half the time. That's not a discredit to the glove, but a credit to the flask, which is the star of the this system. I found that the perfect time for the glove was during the fall, when I still wanted my water to be cold, but didn't want the cold flask touching my skin. Conversely, I found myself wanting to wear the glove when it was very hot and wanted to keep my body heat from spreading to the cold water.
The flask when full almost conforms to your hand and makes it very easy to carry with or without the glove. As you use up your fluid, there's no sloshing around, the flask just collapses in on itself. The only awkward moment comes when you empty the flask, and you have this flaccid flask with a floppy bite valve. The first couple uses I found myself just running with it, letting the limp thing just bounce around, it was only a distraction for a minute or so. From that point on I either tucked it into a pocket or waist band, (something you can't do with an empty handheld bottle comfortably) or blew air back into it, giving me something more solid to hold on to.
IS IT WORTH IT? You're looking at spending $40 or so for the gloves and one 8 oz flask. I've seen individual flasks priced at $18. Is it worth it? Yes. Yes, yes, yes. If you're comfortable with a handheld, and I mean you actually really like how it feels, not just accept that it's the current way of doing things, then stick with what you're doing. But even more so of a bonus of just how it feels and the ease of the bite valve, is that it collapses down on itself and is so incredibly light and compact after using it. When you're empty out of your 16 oz plastic bottle, you're still stuck carrying a plastic bottle. With this system you can just tuck the empty into a waist band or pocket or backpack and it's done, out of the way.
OVERALL: 9 out of 10
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
iRunFar.com (IRF from this point on) is one of my favorite websites to visit. Every morning I have a list of sites that I run through getting all the updates on the running scene, and for ultra and trail racing, nothing beats IRF. Contributors include Max King, Geoff Roes, Bryon Powell, and Andy Jones-Wilkins. But what I'd like to comment on is the store that they run right from the website.
I saw on IRF that they were the first to receive a certain pair of Salomon shoes before anyone else, so I rushed on over and purchased a pair in my normal size. I've never purchased through them before simply because I have found lower prices elsewhere, never by much, but just enough to go ahead and go with someone else. The price on the shoes I purchased was normal MSRP and shipping was very low. Withing 24 hours the shoes were out the door, and I was upgraded to Priority Shipping for free so that they would be here before Christmas, which IRF did at their own judgement and own expense.
Upon getting the shoes, they were a half size to a full size too big with my socks on. The shoes are meant to be worn sockless or with a thin layer and I just couldn't keep them. I knew nothing of IRF's return policy but emailed them back directly and asked if it was possible to return them for a smaller size if I paid the shipping. Again, a reply came promptly with the address to return them to and I was told he'd keep the size I needed on hold until they got back. Once IRF got them back, the new shoes were out the very next day.
I've dealt with shoe manufacturers, retail stores, blogs that have stores, and individual dealers before and this was the standout transaction, so much so that I had to create a "Review" just to post about it. I'll happily start paying the extra $5 for customer service of that level. Everything was courteous, prompt, and professional. IRF is a great blog/website, store, and gets a glowing review from me.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Photo Courtesy: Pearl Izumi
When I was lucky enough to attend the Pearl Izumi VIP Night down at Fleet Feet Hartford I also happened to win the "Grand Prize" which included the above picture Infinity Jacket. With a MSRP of $80 I was ecstatic as I've purchased plenty of PI apparel in the past and have been supremely satisfied.
The Infinity Jacket is windproof and water resistant and features the same barrier fabrics that PI uses in their "Elite" line of clothes. It makes it extremely breathable and lightweight. PI included vents right where the arms meet the shoulder and also in the back. The last final touches are a bicep pocket and on the inside of the wrist cuffs are "mittens" for colder days.
I've worn this on a multitude of runs from light rain to just plain cold and breathability hasn't been a problem at all. The medium fits me (5'9" 148lbs) absolutely perfectly and has a semi-fitted cut. I've worn it with a t-shirt underneath in 50 degree windy weather just to break the chill and have worn it over a long sleeve wool crew down to 25 degrees and was very comfortable both times. It's got plenty of reflective material stitched in to wear at night. As an out and out running jacket it excels.
Where I've been unhappy is with the "extras." I think most manufacturers have figured out that the ideal placement of a pocket for runners is the chest and this jacket helps prove that point. Anything you put in that bicep pocket really pulls down on your shoulder if it has even a little bit of weight (an iPod for example) or causes the jacket to flap around if it's smaller, such as a key. I ran the other night with 2 keys in it on a group run and kept thinking I wish I didn't even wear the jacket as it was such a bother. The second thing is this jacket fits me perfectly, from how it wraps my torso to the length to the sleeve location. The problem arose due to that, as one night my hands ended up getting chilly and I wanted to take advantage of the "mittens" on the inside. By curling my hands up and really stretching on the fabric I was able to get my fingers in, but then worried I was going to rip the sleeves off at the shoulder seams from all the strain I was putting on them. I found that PI either needed to extend the sleeves to make this possible, thus leaving you with extra bulk when not in use, or just not include them.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I don't give a crap about the mittens, and I don't give a crap about the bicep pocket. The pro's of this jacket heavily outweigh the con's. Maybe if my body wasn't so well proportioned and beautiful the sleeve mittens would work, but I usually just wear socks on my hands anyways when it gets cold. I still think pockets are a bonus on running jackets anyways, and will simply just use that sleeve pocket for a key and not worry about it. This jacket has become my go-to for these cool temperatures, though I can not comment on how well it would do in temperatures above 60 degrees as I haven't been able to test that. My plan is to use it in temperatures from 35-55 degrees, anything colder and I'll go with my Salomon hoodie, and anything warmer means no jacket necessary. It fits that temperature range perfectly.
9 out of 10: It fits great, it performs incredibly well, and I'm only docking the 1 point because the mittens aren't even needed so it was a nice try and it's still nice to even have a pocket on a lightweight running jacket, to the point I won't hold it against PI for location.