Earth Runners Minimal Earthing Sandals

Flip flop sandals have always filled me with fear, particularly the thong style with inter-toe strap, which seems like an horrific big toe accident waiting to happen.

Obviously I’ve been intrigued by the huarache sandals made famous by the Tarahumara and the book, Born to run. Intrigued, but not even slightly interested in wearing them – far too hardcore for my barefoot dabblings.

Earth Runners CircadianHaving said that, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so when Mike offered me a sneak preview of the new Circadian Earth Runner I jumped at the opportunity to try them out for size. The Earth Runner series include copper studs and coils which are designed to conduct electricity and “ground” you to the earth. I was of course deeply sceptical about this “grounding” stuff but when my sandals arrived I was disappointed that the grounding studs seemed to be missing. I needn’t have worried, the conduction system is still there, just a little less conspicuous in the Circadian model.

I don’t know if I’m feeling the benefits of being earthed but I do enjoy wearing them. I’ve taken to wearing them around the house like slippers, I feel good in them. I don’t apparently, look good in them, so I won’t be bothering you with photos of my sandals in action – I was not blessed with photogenic feet.

It is odd to feel the strap between your toes but I am getting used to it and the Earth Runners are amazingly customisable for such a simple product. The strap angle can be altered by shifting the buckle position and there are a few videos on the website to help with finding the perfect fit.

I’ve run with these on the treadmill but I’m taking it easy, I can’t shake off the vision of the big toe accident and so I’m nervous to take these out and run with abandon over trails where I risk snagging the sole and turning the lace into a cheese wire. Maybe I’ll get over this in time and relax into my Earth Runner, I hope so because they give a fabulous feeling of freedom. The underfoot experience is very similar to the RunAmoc Moc3 but the upper is more cabriolet style.

Earth Runners are currently running a kick starter campaign to send the Circadian into full production. It looks like they have hit their target so hopefully they will be available more widely soon but do check it out if you’d like to place an order and take advantage of the early adopter discount. I would strongly recommend the product quality and the comfort will only increase over the coming months as the footbed moulds to the shape of your foot.

I’ll be taking these on my summer holidays even if they do play havoc with my sex appeal.

 

New Balance Minimus Zero

The New Balance Minimus Zero is a surprisingly light shoe, the shoe box was so light that I half expected it to be empty. I know it’s billed as a minimalist shoe so was hardly likely to be bulky but it has such an imposing sole that I was expecting it to feel slightly more substantial.

20130301-144901.jpgThe Vibram sole is fabulous.

It’s like a field of Eden projects – colourful geodesic bumps forming a flexible platform.

The pod design enables excess material to be cut away and explains why the shoe is so light. The dark pods have a firm and grippy layer to extend the life of the high impact areas.

20130301-144922.jpgThe rest of the shoe doesn’t excite me as much the sole. The upper is made from a lightweight, almost transparent mesh and I’m afraid when I put my feet inside the sight of my hairy toes just ruins the visual appeal. I don’t think it is entirely my toes fault – not many feet are attractive through semi-transparent mesh.

With the New Balance Minimus all the design efforts appear to have gone into the sole and the upper has been left rather stark. The mesh is both unattractive and feels a bit harsh. For a shoe designed to be worn without socks I would have preferred a softer fabric. The ankle opening has slight padding but it has no structure and gapes quite unpleasantly when I wear it. The tongue is made from a soft felt-like material but it isn’t firmly attached to the shoe which means that it is a faff to get it to lay flat when you’re wearing it. It’s very easy to create a fold that would create a blister after a few miles of running.

I’m not overly impressed with the New Balance Minimus. It looks great until you put it on and then the minimal design of the upper lets it down. I have no complaints at all with sole which performs well for a midfoot or barefoot running style but the Minimus won’t be tempting me away from my barefot stalwarts the Vibram Five Fingers or the Softstar Moc3.

Newton Terra Momentus Review

I’m in search of the ideal trail shoe for next months Great North Trail Run, to be held around Keswick in the Lake District. I’m not really at half marathon fitness so I feel the need to be kind to my feet which are going to be painfully slow plodders.

20120527-222042.jpgSearching around the net I was drawn yet again to the Newtons. It’s hard to avoid them in their full green livery but its less the style and more the concept that intrigues me.

Newtons encourage the efficient forefoot running stance by the existence of the unique cushioned actuator lugs under the metatarsal region. These are designed to encourage the idealised barefoot running style. See this external review if you want to know more about the construction of the Terra Momentus.

Unlike the more minimal barefoot shoes such as Vibram fivefingers and Vivo Barefoot which can lead calf injuries if adopted in too gung-ho a fashion, the Newtons come with an acclimatisation guide and the store where I bought then sent me an email with similar information and a link to a video guide.

That’s corporate responsibility.

My first run was on the treadmill, not really the designed terrain but as I was acclimatising slowly, I thought it would be ok. After 2k I felt the lugs burning into my feet, rather as though I had a pencil taped under my shoes.

Quite irritating really.

By the time I took these out on to the trail I had replaced the insoles with my custom pair from profeet. That combined with the appropriate terrain removed my awareness of the lug. I knew it was there though and did have a fear of scuffing it on twigs and sending myself sprawling.

It didn’t happen thankfully.

Its hard to tell without video evidence, whether the Newtons affected my running style. I did find that I completed the Mitcham common circuit in double quick time but that could still be the Zombie effect.

My sense with these shoes and indeed with efficient mid to forefoot running styles, is that they are more suited to the faster runner than the plodder. I think they benefit and indeed encourage greater lift, which is easier with pace. I will keep at it though and keep you informed if I experience an epiphany.

The Muddy Demise of a Wondrous Shoe

My new shoes arrived just in time for the weekend and as luck would have it the forecast was horrendous – perfect for a trail running showdown.

I’ve been looking around for some minimal trail shoes and as the New Balance Minimus doesn’t seem to be available in the UK yet, the clear choice was going to be inov8.

I’ve tried inov8 before and found the mudclaw to be a little on the narrow side, fortunately the Roclite 295 has a softer upper and a wider fit.

I thought they were marvelous and pranced around the house joyfully in my new shoes.

Our weekend plans saw us hiding away in a beautiful romantic Yurt, toasting our feet in front of the open wood stove, nibbling chocolates and sipping champagne.

My plan for a mudfest interlude didn’t go down too well, especially when I pulled out pre-ordered trail shoes for me and the old Mizuna Wave road shoes for Lynn.

I was in my element, mud, trails and forest – just perfect. It’s a long time since I’ve felt this happy on a run and cantered in out of the puddles and gloopy hollows and probably came within inches of getting a countryside ASBO.

Lynn wasn’t quite so overjoyed and maintained remarkably clean shoes despite sticking with me all the way.

A Cretan Supply Run

Given that my route was going to take me along the dried river bed that forms part of the Diktamos Gorge, the Vibrams were never going to be an entirely sensible choice. Still, if I’m going to do a crazy run in the 42 degree blazing sun just to fetch breakfast I may as well go the whole hog.

I was quick to regret my shoe choice. I had to run most of the 4km route with a large pebble sized, hollow, impression in my right heel but at least it encouraged me to run up on my toes.

When I arrived at the village I slowed down to a nonchalant saunter hoping I could cool off and not look like a crazy dying thing in front if the locals. The air in the little shop was furnace like. I stepped in and immediately a gallon of sweat made it’s escape from my body. My hands were dripping as I selected the tomatoes.

After the tomatoes my purchases went downhill a bit. I was scavenging for breakfast but couldn’t find eggs, yoghurt or cheese.  In the end I came back with the heaviest products on offer – home made honey, a bag of flour and a bottle of dubious looking brown liquid.

I’m hoping it’s the famed Cretan wine and not some DIY plant fertiliser. I’ll have to wait til lunchtime to find out.

Now to bake some honey bread…..

Gadgets

I’m a self-confessed gadget freak and another close shave with eBay and a ridiculously expensive but absolutely essential running watch has triggered the creation of this page – my homage to sports gadgets (mostly running gadgets), gear and utilities that you can almost not afford to live without.

There is a link to most of my gadget reviews on the side bar but here are my top picks for essential running, swimming and strength equipment, software, books and resources.

Some of the product links are affiliate links, if you use these and then buy a product it will help towards the upkeep of my blog and make me grateful. A lot of the products have been sent to me to review but I also spend a lot of my hard-earned cash on gadgets, I try to indicate the source of the product in my gadget reviews but rest assured I will tell you the truth about product regardless of the source.

Activity Sports Watches

The sports watch seems to be my running gadget of choice and to date I have tried and reviewed many from the likes of Garmin, Polar and Timex, ultimately settling on the Garmin Forerunner series as the de-facto runners watch.

Forerunner Evolution

I’ve been through all of the above (and more) but as a stat loving but frankly useless runner, I’ve recently decided that the latest breed of activity trackers with GPS suit my needs very well. They blur the boundaries between lifestyle and athletic watch in my favour.

Garmin Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit SurgeIt was a close battle between the Fitbit Surge and the Garmin Vivoactive HR but if running and activity logging are your main requirements, you can’t go far wrong with the Fitbit Surge. It’s not as flash as its younger Garmin challenger but it does the job perfectly and Fitbit is undoubtedly the most socially connected platform around.

If you are a more serious runner, you are likely to be more tempted by the high end forerunner series. Whether you opt for Forerunner 630 or 735XT will depend on how seriously you take other sports such as swimming and cycling (and your bank balance). It’s well worth checking in with DC Rainmaker to read his extremely in-depth reviews on the latest available gadgetry before making your final choice.

And if you are and outdoor rugged type who hikes or climbs as well as everything else you may consider splashing out on the hugely expensive Fenix 3 HR. That’s where my gaze is cast at the moment.

Running Shoes

I’ve trialled a good many shoes over the years and ridden the waves as fads come and go. I started out with the traditional Asics Kayano but then moved through barefoot, to minimal to maxi-minimal, to plain weird and I am now stuck somewhere towards the middle of that journey, wearing a pair from each genre depending on the conditions.

Maxi-minimal running shoes

On the treadmill I wear Cloudflyer from On Running, the soles have strange rubber ‘clouds’ and they seem to offer the perfect level of spring. For serious mud running and OCR events I wear Inov8. In hot weather and holidays I tend to pull out the super-minimal barefoot shoes, such Vibram fivefingers and my goto daily wear are Hoka One Ones.

Hoka One One

In the photo above you have two pairs of Altras followed by three pairs of Hokas. Between them the two companies have owned maximal running technology. The first pair of Hokas I owned were Hoka Mafates and I loved them with a passion. Huge, heavy and deeply, joyously comfortable. They are not for everyone, they have relatively tight toe boxes and don’t last very long but I still love for the protection they offer my quads on downhill runs.

Hoka have expanded their range and no offer much lighter weight versions but I think they lose the essence of Hoka-ness and I avoid them. If you prefer a much more roomy toe-box, try the Altra. The shoe on the left is the Altra Torin 2 and is a shoe I literally live in. I walk everywhere in these and I’m sure the flat soled comfort has improved the strength of my feet.

Inov8

For trail running you can’t go far wrong by sticking to inov-8.

These are sturdy shoes designed for the British countryside and all it has to offer in the form of mud, wet and tears. I particularly like the inov-8 roclite 315 (wiggle) which is a unisex model designed for all terrain types (except road).

I’ve also tried the inov-8 mudclaw but I found the shoe a little too narrow. The Roclite 295 (wiggle) is another great trail running shoe and has a softer upper and wider fit for a greater level of comfort with no need to break the shoe in.

Vibram FiveFinger

I’ve caught the barefoot running bug and have now built up an armoury of minimalist shoes.

I don’t recommend that the inexperienced barefoot runner throws away the standard running shoe in favour of either skin on tarmac or minimalist shoe running but there is a place for barefoot running in most peoples training routine. Just take it slowly to avoid injury and you should reap the benefits of increased foot mobility, strength and better running form.

The defacto standard barefoot running shoe is the Vibram Five Finger and my particular favourite is the Vibram Five Finger Speed (wiggle) with its cool laces – perfect for attaching a foot pod.

Softstar Run Amoc

Barefoot or minimal running can become almost a spiritual experience where you begin to feel part of the landscape and the track you are running along. It’s a much more involved and gentle way to interact with the trail.

To me, these RunAmoc moccassins (Sofstar link) from SoftStar are the perfect “at one with nature” style of barefoot running shoe. They are hand-made in America and can be customised to your preferred colour scheme. I opted for the plain black version but asked for a slightly thicker sole (still only 5mm though) so that I could use it for trail running.

I really do enjoy running in these shoes, I may look a little bit crusty in them but I feel free.

 

Running Headphones

I’ve worked my way through a fair number of headphones in my running career, I’ve tried in-ear, over-ear, banded, wireless bluetooth and mp3 earpieces. For the last few years though I’ve always returned to the same manufacturer and have now settled on a specific model which I can happily declare to be the best running headphone ever!

Sennheiser PMX 680i Rugged Neckband Headset with Integrated Remote and Mic

I first came across the PMX680i when I was at an Adidas miCoach launch event. Adidas have paired up with Sennheiser to produce a branded product that offers significant improvements over the earlier Sennheiser models. Note that there are two Sennheiser PMX 680 models, the PMX 680 and the PMX 680i, the addition of the i does add nearly £14 to the product but with the addition of a microphone in the volume control it adds so much versatility. I use mine to take calls while out on a run, I can press the yellow button and chat away without breaking stride (admittedly I can be hard to understand while puffing away). I can press the yellow button for a little bit longer and trigger the voice control feature of the iPhone which then enables me to control the gadget remotely – “Play Amy MacDonald” and it usually does, “call Lynn cos I’m tired and need a lift home” usually results in the iPhone lady telling me “calling Charing Cross A&E Department”, which is sometimes more appropriate.

I was really upset last week when my first set of PMX680i headphones failed on me, it was hardly a product flaw though, I tend to leave them dangling from the treadmill and the cats can’t resist chewing on the cable. With visible gnaw marks and loose cabling the sound quality was somewhat impaired and it was time to buy another pair. There was no question of me buying a different set, these are the best I’ve ever come across, they fit extremely well, they don’t cause any discomfort, sound quality is excellent (so long as you keep them away from the cats) and they are waterproof. The volume control and mic unit is very light as well which means you don’t suffer too much with an irritating  unit that bounces on your chest as you run.

The only downside that I can see about these headphones is that headband style does restrict your headwear options, so they aren’t any use under helmets or headbands.

Running Books

I’m always on the look out for running inspiration and I devour running books at a blistering pace. Here’s a selection of my favourites but if you need more I usually have an Amazon recommends list on the sidebar where I add other books I’ve enjoyed.

Born to Run

This book filled me with excitement and has obviously had the same affect on many others as it’s often cited as having inspired the world’s obsession with barefoot running.

In parts it’s a hugely exciting tale of ultrarunning adventure, in others it’s an evangelical barefoot bible.

Here’s the link to my review for a full synopsis of Born to Run.

Running on Empty

I’m drawn to ultrarunners, I find their pain so intoxicating and it certainly helps me put my 5km woes into perspective.

Running on Empty (amazon) is hot off the press and covers Marshall Ulrich – the 57 year old guy who surgically removed his toenails as they were getting in the way of his running – as he runs across America. 3063 miles in 53 days. Nuts!

It’s a fascinating story though and there’s a bonus at the end as its polished off with details from Ullrich’s training and nutrition diary. I love that sort of thing.

Run Less Run Faster

This isn’t my usual inspiring read but anything training plan that suggests I can run less is going to attract my attention and this particular book is a nerdy runners dream.

The Furman Institutes (FIRST) method is based on a 3+2 schedule called Run Less, Run faster(amazon), not to be mistaken with “Train Less, Run Faster” because although you only run 3 times a week you are supposed to take part in some fairly energetic cross training on 2 other days in the week.

The key to the success of the FIRST plan seems to be related to the nature of the 3 runs. Each one is very specific and targeted at improving a key element of your running fitness. Key Run 1 is a track repeat session, ideally suited to treadmill workouts, Key run 2 is a tempo workout and Key run 3 is the Long Run a familiar staple of any marathon plan.

I’ve put together a whizzy spreadsheet that will spit out personalised FIRST trainings schedules for full and half marathon distances and is based on 5km paces from 15 to 40 minutes, so even the slow runners are catered for here.

Running Software – PC, MAC and iPhone

SportsTracks (PC)

sporttracks.jpg

If you’ve got a gps unit then you need SportTracks, don’t worry, this one is free so you definitely can afford it. Even it you don’t have a gps I reckon its still worthwhile having as your dedicated training log – it just won’t look so pretty without the route maps.

This screen shot just shows the basic activity screen but there is stacks more hidden away – weekly, monthly and yearly reports; splits; athlete stats including weight and injury/illness status. Again the blog is littered with examples.

Unfortunately it is not mac compatible so I’ve had to move away from the best training log available *weeps*.