Sunday, February 24, 2013

DIY MegaKey: The Solution to Jingle Free Running

Warm breeze, sun shining, steady breathing, and the soft crunch of dirt under running shoes as trees go by on the trail: my idea of the perfect, tranquil, run. Notice what isn't in that picture? The jingle of keys clinking together with every step - it's enough to drive a runner mad. Finally though, I've found a real solution to stopping keys from jingling during runs. 

Over the years I've tried a few different solutions that all left me wanting:
  • Shoe key pockets
  • Rubber bands
  • Stuffing tissue in my key pocket for padding
  • Holding my keys
  • Attaching them to my watch
  • Hiding them under a rock
Everything either felt awkward, seemed junky, or fell apart half way through the run. Now after a few test runs on the track and through the woods I can happily say my problems have been solved by MegaKey (or at least thats what I'm calling it). 

Ok so it looks like I stuck my keys together with a piece of chewing gum, bun in actuality a formulation of Formerol - the patented formable silicone technology that is now known by the name of Sugru. It's actually a "new self-setting rubber for fixing, modifying and improving your stuff" that really is amazing.

It comes out of the pack like modeling clay, then you have 30 minutes to mold it into shape. At that point you leave it over night and it cures at room temperature into a tough, resilient, rubber. You can try bending/breaking this key but it is really tough - the stuff is not peeling off and is leaving no room for any jingling between the keys. 

It looks a bit like a weapon at this point but it actually works great. It fits into standard running key pockets but it doesn't poke or bulge out. And best of all it's super light, super quiet, and actually allows for the tranquility running deserves. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Keep Your Shoes from Stinking

If you like to run without socks (which I think creates a lot more connection with the ground & makes it easier to feel correct form) then your shoes probably stink. Mine definitely do.

The best solution I've found to date: stuff them with newspaper after a run (apparently it's a very versatile tool) and then spray with Febreeze. Most the smell comes from dampness that's the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and this solution is the best one I've come to so far. I've also tried more outlandish things (like creating my own shoe boxes with vents covered in dryer sheets) and I've seen some highly technical solutions but I have no idea how effective those are.

Also: don't be afraid to throw your shoes in the washer. Take the laces out, give them a wash, and stuff them with paper towels or newspaper to dry, it works wonders.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Minimalist Running Philosophy

"Are you into those toe shoe things?" I get this question all the time (they're asking about VFFs: Vibram Five Fingers) and I take a deep breath before responding because it's usually the beginning of a long conversation.

In reality, there's a spectrum in running philosophies that has two ends: 
  1. Traditional (post 80's): Running is high impact, damaging, and brutal but healthy exercise (or punishment). New technologies can prevent injury by providing cushion, forcing foot alignment (pronation), and helping your body adapt to the world around you.
  2. Minimalist: Running is the most natural form of human activity in the world. We've been doing it for thousands of years, anyone can do it, and it's best done (nearly) naked. Any interference between the human body and the ground is screwing up a naturally harmonious relationship that can lead to lifelong running health. 
While I don't train in VFFs, the last 8 years have landed me closer to the 2nd end of the spectrum. I grew up running in standard high cushion trainers like everyone else from middle school to early college, and majority of my most competitive friends (including those qualifying for the Olympic trials) still tend to train in more traditional trainers. However 8 years ago (mid college racing & suffering shin splints) I started reading more about minimalist philosophies and have been running in some form of racing flat or minimalist shoe ever since. I consider myself a little too 'serious' of a runner to train/race in VFFs (be honest - you don't see these things in the Olympics) but I do own some, and I do think aspects of them have merits and may work great for some runners. When figuring out where you lie on the spectrum (or where a shoe lies) there are 5 major components that separate the two ends:
  1. Heel/toe height difference
  2. Padding/cushioning
  3. Support
  4. Foot & toe freedom/flexibility
  5. Weight
Note: Scientific studies do exist that back up the minimalist side of all these arguments, I just don't have them handy at the moment. I intend to make this post a work in progress and add citations but if you have any articles/papers you think are interesting include them in the comments, I'd love to see them.

1. Heel/toe height difference
This is one of the most impactful (and difficult to adjust to) differences between traditional and minimalist trainers.

  • The traditional view is that running/jogging is a heel to toe exercise: land on heel, roll forward to forefoot, lift, repeat. All that pounding on the heel sends a lot of shock up the leg, so running shoes have been designed with a large, cushy, heel to absorb  that initial impact. 
  • The core minimalist idea is that the human body as a machine is meant to absorb impact naturally by landing on the forefoot and absorbing force through the foot arch, & natural leg springs (achilles tendon & calf muscle) as the heel approaches the ground. If you're coming from high heeled shoes it takes significant time & work to adjust to this difference, and I would strongly consider doing it gradually.
Heel > Toe differences can range anywhere from 0mm in a Minimus to 12mm in a trainer. Check out the New Balance MR00 below (12mm heel, 12mm forefoot) vs the Nike Air Pegasus +29 (32mm heel, 20mm forefoot).

2. Padding/cushioning
"Why is the ground so hard?" is a typical first comment when trying on minimalist shoes, and it will probably be the first thing your feet notice.

  • The traditional view is that running is a high impact exercise, and reducing that impact at the ground will prevent harm to the body.
  • The minimalist view is that if you let the body act naturally, the force is dissipated through the body's intended absorption points. One aspect of this reduction is by using a forefoot strike instead of a heel strike (discussed above).

    The other aspect is that our bodies are actually very smart. The human foot is meant to be our connection with the ground - it's great at sensing it's environment & keeping us balanced. That means when you stride onto a cushy, unstable, surface the foot will naturally push down to find a balance point. And when you stride onto a hard, unforgiving, surface the foot will naturally land delicately, step lightly, and minimize contact. If you don't believe me try jogging barefoot across your driveway or sidewalk, then do the same thing with your shoes on (seriously). The effect is that by reducing padding you naturally step lightly, and not only does this reduce contact at the ground level, but the natural change in form makes a dramatic difference at how the impact is propagated up the body. A natural strike shows less force transmitted up through the knees and hips.

    Barefoot runners take this to the extreme and run entire marathons barefoot; personally I like a fairly thin layer of protection to the ground and I find thin racing flats or minimal trail shoes to be a good balance. Again, take a look at the picture above of the Minimus vs the Pegasus and consider even the thinnest part of the Pegasus is the 20mm cushioned forefoot vs the 12mm rubbery Minimus sole. 
3. Support
This is something minimalist converts need to be very cautious about.

  • The traditional view is that the foot is weak & needs arch support.
  • The minimalist view is that fundamentally, an arch is one of nature's strongest mechanisms. It's only weakness is if you stick something under it (which is exactly what arch support does!). The idea here is that in the western world our arches have become extremely weak and under utilized (see the number of flat footed people in the US) but that this can be reversed. There's near 0 prevalence of this disorder in undeveloped countries that haven't grown up with shoes.

    So the key here is that support is extraneous once your foot is used to supporting itself. You just have to be careful during that building process. 
4. Foot & toe freedom/flexibility
While the first two aspects probably make a bigger difference in your running mechanics  the visible toe freedom is what has made VFFs so well known to runners & onlookers.

  • The traditional view is that shoes just need to contain your feet. As long as they're not giving you blisters or uncomfortable they're probably fine.
  • The minimalist view is that toes should naturally spread & grip when barefoot, and normal shoes inhibit this.

    My personal view is that I like a wider forefoot with some space for movement (plus I run barefoot in my shoes which I think gives me a much better feel for the ground) but I've never felt like VFFs were really doing great things for my toes. 

5. Weight
I almost didn't include this as an aspect, because it's really a function of the above 4 design choices. However I mention it in all my reviews and I do consider it when buying shoes so I thought it should stand on it's own. Since barefoot is obviously the lightest shoe possible, minimalist runners love light shoes. I love the feel of light shoes but I also enjoy the mental aspect of knowing I'm not weighing my feet down with anything extra. Overall weight tends to be driven down by less cushioning, lower heels, and less support so if you pay attention to the first categories you'll naturally end up with a lighter shoe. It is fun to pay attention to though and the weight of my shoes always shocks my friends.

Monday, November 26, 2012

New Balance MR00 Minimus Road Review

New Balance has fully embraced the 'minimalist' movement and their latest road shoe shows just how serious they've gotten. I actually picked up this pair at a local store over Thanksgiving (Playmakers, can't be beat) and thought they were just racing flats. The flat style & light weight were enough to try them on, and the feel on foot was amazing. So imagine my surprise when I went to look up their actual stats after a couple runs and I realized they were from the Minimus line, and not regular flats. It was a pleasant surprise, and for the amount of comfort they provide I was shocked to see they actually have a 0 heel/toe drop.

Stats: Weight & Toe Drop
At 6.1 oz it's definitely in the featherweight class (I'm not sure if anything will be lighter than the old 3.9 Mizunos) but I think the extra heft comes from the quality Vibram sole (more on that later). On top of the light weight, they actually measure 12mm in the forefoot AND 12mm in the heel for a completely flat shoe. I was surprised, because the 0 drop shoes I've ran in before like the Merrel Trail Glove always felt like my heel was low, which made sense since most racing flats I've trained in still had a 3-5mm raised heel. However these MR00's felt more like the Piranha's or Wave Universe, so it was a pleasant surprise since that means I should be getting more natural strike out of my mid/forefoot & heel impact dampening from the little extra stretch in my calf & achilles.

Sole (Vibram)
The biggest problem with the lightweight flats I like to train in is often the sole. Racing flats love to save weight by using a hard tack that feels plasticky on the bottom. The New Balance MR00's go in the complete opposite direction with a great rubberized Vibram sole. The result is a great feel on the road, and I'm guessing great durability. I'll update this review after a few hundred miles and check in on that.

Fit / Feel
Technical stats aside, this is the reason I bought these in the store. New Balance gave these a nice wide forefoot that feels secure on foot but roomy, and a great inner lining that feels soft barefoot. The low, but solid sole is much better than the thick rubber of Nike Frees, and also helps prevent pronation since the sole can't compact all that much compared to a cushier shoe. These feel just as good as the Mizuno Wave Universe on foot, but the rubberized sole means they feel even better one when you start making contact with the ground.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


It's hard to classify this into 'running, gear, science' so for this post I'm just going to create a new wildcard category of 'fun.' My mom is taking her 30+ years of teaching & reading instruction experience and love of kids  activities and creating a new site called Funstructions

The ideas all center around a book like Hey Little Ant or Bear's New Friend and then spiral off into a day full of activities like science experiments, cooking, art projects, and songs. So if you're a parent, aunt, uncle or grandparent looking for some new ideas go check out whether Funstructions can help!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Balance MT10 Minimus Trail Review

I've been on the 'minimalist' train for about 6 years now but I've always stuck to lightweight racing flats (disclaimer: I do own a pair of Vibram 5 fingers but mainly use them for water sports - I've only ran in them a few times). In general, I think racing flats offer low heels, light weight, and high flexibility, and don't get you laughed off the track while a lot of the minimalist trend shoes (Nike Frees, Newtons, etc) have been over priced and lacking key features (ex: flexible but too much cushion). Lately though some new entries have convinced me to at least give them a try, namely the Minimus line from New Balance, and the Merrell Trail Glove (thoughts coming soon). Both have low heels, lots of flexibility, and nice Vibram soles but fit completely differently - which makes for an interesting comparison. For now I'll review the Minimus since I have a little more experience with it but I'm putting in some miles with the Trail Glove as well.

There are a few shoes in the Minimus line (Trail, Road, & Cross Train) but I quickly jumped to the trail shoe even though I do a lot of running on the roads. The road shoe looks too cushy (I believe in the theory that the feet will do the cushioning if you don't blindfold them with padding) and the cross training shoe just doesn't look designed for running. That being said, the trail shoe has some nice things going for it - 4mm of difference between heel and toe which is pretty close to my best flats, 7.1oz weight (my flats are ~4oz but the soles on these are much much tougher), and they're nice and flexible without too much 'support' feeling like it's pushing into my arches.

Fit: The Minimus line is made to fit barefoot which I was excited about. There are some nice features here - there's a bit of special padding in the heel that keeps it from rubbing, there's an elastic sock like tongue that grips the foot, and overall it just feels like the shoes is flexible but snug on the foot. Compared to my Mizuno's or Merrell's this seems to be an equally effective, but very different feel. I'm used to shoes with a big toe box that let my toes wiggle freely inside the shoe, but this is a more 5-finger like approach where the shoe is tight on the toes, but wiggles & bends with the foot. I was worried the increased contact points with my skin would cause more blisters or agitation on a run, but so far (a few runs in) this hasn't yet been a problem. Apparently they fit well enough and flex freely enough that they don't cause extra agitation.

Looking at the sole of the shoe in pictures I was worried that these would be pebble picking magnets - that annoying syndrome where small rocks get stuck in the soles or arches of a shoe and you either have to run sounding like a horse, or stop to pick them out with a wood chip. Thankfully the design is better than it looks - those yellow indents are tapered in a way that doesn't actually seem to pick up too many rocks. I'll check back in after 100 miles or so and see if I still have the same opinion.

Overall this isn't going to unseat my Mizuno's as my go-to trainer/racer but I really like it as a trail shoe and all around durable trainer. The hardest decision is going to be whether I ultimately prefer the sock like fit of the Minimus or the spacious fit & low heel of the Merrells. I can say this is the best looking minimalist shoe (no dorky toe box, toe separation, or generally wacky look) and that is helping to make it my favorite shoe so far for a hike or cross training as well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 Review

I'm in search of a replacement as my staple running shoes - the last of my Asics Piranha SP 2's completely lack any tread and can fill a small house with their aroma, yet the new Piranha 3's just don't feel as light & flexible as their predecessors. The good news is there's a bunch of new companies out there making great looking flats like Inov-8 along Merrell, New Balance, and Mizuno at the top of my list.

I use my road flats for 90% of my runs including long slow training runs (up to 24 miles ~ 7:30 pace) down to 5k races (realistically mid 16's, just under 16 on a great day) and I look for a few main things: light weight, flexible, low heel to forefoot padding difference, and comfortable barefoot. So far (about 30 miles in) the Mizuno Wave Universe 4 is doing well on all those points.

 Weight & heel/forefoot difference is easy to measure - Running Warehouse puts these at 3.9 ounces (size 9) with an 18mm heel and a 15mm forefoot for 3mm of difference. This just slightly beats the Piranha's (4.2oz & 4mm) so the numbers look great.

Fit / Feel:
On the foot they actually feel even better. It looks like these were designed to run barefoot, as instead of a traditional liner than can come out or slip around, they basically just have a soft piece of felt glued to the bottom. On top of this, the entire forefoot has no stiff stitching structure on the top of the shoot, so when the foot bends nothing bends down to rub on the tops of your toes. This is an issue I had with the Piranah SP 3's - they have an extra piece that would constantly fold down and give me a blister on the tops of my toes but in the Mizuno's there's no way this could happen. I did get a slight bit of irritation on my left heel from rubbing, but this didn't happen at all on my right foot so I'm guessing I'll just need to make sure I'm lacing the tops well - we'll see after more runs.

Sole: Flexibility, Grip, and Stone Grabbing
With running flats I don't expect much cushioning - just enough to keep sharp things from poking my feet and little enough to feel like I can feel the terrain I'm running on get good flexibility. Again the Mizuno does well here - definitely a good feel for the road with just enough padding to feel safe. My favorite flats have had a rubber bottom in the past, which means they last a little longer than the flats that have just the light, hard tack on the bottom. Mizuno has blended those two together here and you can see the black arrow like part is the hard tack stuff, but the rest of the bottom is rubber. It will take a lot more miles before I fully see how they wear down, but so far it feels like a pretty good balance. You can see the small grey plastic piece in the arch on the bottom of the shoe. I'm not actually sure what the purpose of that thing is but I was a little worried it would pick up small rocks in the grooves. So far I've been running on road & light trails with pebbles where that's often a problem, and it hasn't been an issue with the Mizuno's yet. As I get in more miles with them I'll definitely be watching for this.

Overall this seems to be a great new replacement as my go to running shoe. I'll know more after a few hundred more miles, but I've also picked up a few other new shoes including the New Balance Minimus, the Merrell barefoot trail shoes, and some Inov-8 flats and as I test those out I'll definitely put up some thoughts and comparisons.