I got in!

I hit the lottery — the 50k lottery! The 50k that I’ve been working towards is officially paid for and on my race calendar. I’ve been feeling pretty down about how cold it is, so I’m really glad to have this to look forward to. Even if it winds up being bitterly cold on race day, too.

PureCadence 2’s No Good Very Bad Weekend

I don’t torture test the shoes that I review. They’re all personal purchases, so I don’t want to destroy them. Moreover, I think it’s more useful to produce a review based on normal use of a product rather than adjusting my behavior in order to gather data which speaks to or subverts the validity of certain marketing claims about performance. If a shoe works for me, I don’t particularly care if it lives up to its own hype or not. I certainly don’t have an agenda in terms of finding means of bashing or praising any particular company out of blind hate for a brand or blind fandom for it.

When I incorporate a shoe (or any piece of running gear) into my regular routine, I can get a good sense of how (or whether) the experience I’m having is being influenced by the item in question.

I offer this as preface because I had a pretty lousy time with the Brooks PureCadence 2 this past weekend. And it’s not as though I meant to.

During a Saturday long run in the PureCadence 2s, my feet got drenched when it wasn’t raining, and on Sunday, I fell (and HARD!) during a run for the first time in my life. Yikes. I’m a little over halfway through my goal shoe review mileage of 60 miles, but I thought that this no good very bad weekend merited a post even though I’m not comfortable rendering a final verdict on this shoe just yet.

Having huddled inside while the bitter Polar Vortex was parked over DC, I was keen to log some outdoor miles in the milder winter weather, no matter the conditions. I woke up to light rain on Saturday morning, but it let up quickly, so I was able to lace up for a morning run on one of my favorite routes. The pavement was wet, but there wasn’t any standing water to speak of. What little there was, I was able to discern and navigate around easily.

Nonetheless, my feet were positively drenched about three miles into my 10+ mile run. I don’t mean just a little bit of moisture on my socks; I mean toes to heel completely saturated with water. I’ve run through downpours in non-waterproof shoes and had my feet stay drier than that! I noticed that drips of water were kicking up from the toe of my shoes, right where the sole material is missing, a feature that supposedly allows for independent flexion of the big toe. Moisture was able to come up and over the toe of the shoe in this spot, but not only that, it was seeping in at the big toe groove because that spot is only covered in fabric. The only good things I can say about the PureCadence 2’s inclement weather performance are that the shoe didn’t have any issues with traction on the wet pavement and that it didn’t make gross squelching noises, even when it was supersaturated late in the run when the rain started back up again in earnest and I ran through puddles (why not since my feet were already wet?).


I went to an open gym session in the morning and put myself through a BFit like workout for an hour: five sets of the following, as quickly as possible: 10 pullups, 10 ring dips, 20 kettlebell swings, 10 slam balls, 50 situps, 100 single-unders (100 jumps with a jump rope), 400 meter run. So on Sunday evening, I was tired and would have been content to skip my run, but I don’t like skipping workouts, so I laced up anyway. I was finally in the groove and speeding up a hill when SMACK! My right toe catches on an uneven bit of sidewalk and I go sprawling onto my hands and knees, tearing a small hole in my tights (let this be a lesson to you: get Target-brand tights since they are as good or better than some expensive brands and you won’t be so heartsick when something happens to them) and bruising and bloodying my knees. I’ve run a lot in DC so I’m familiar with its treacherous sidewalks, especially the sidewalks on this route since it’s a short one that I frequent. Even when I get in the zone or I’m tired, I pay attention since it’s easy to get in trouble while out running, so it’s not as though I was mentally elsewhere while zipping up the hill. So what happened?

Despite the reduced profile of the Brooks PureCadence 2, the groundfeel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There is a lot of rubber underfoot, and while it provides satisfactory traction and durability, it limits flexibility and groundfeel.

What happened to the PureCadence 2 after the kick to the sidewalk was disappointing, too. The whole shoe is wrapped in the same fabric with few overlays, and there are no reinforcing overlays at the toe, so when shoe met sidewalk, the shoe ripped. The fraying is minor now, but it could eventually compromise the integrity of the shoe.


Everyone has bad days sometimes, so I’m not going to write this shoe off yet. I’ll even concede that some of its crummy performance this past weekend could have been my fault; I might have tripped at that exact moment no matter what shoes I was wearing because I was really motoring, but I should be able to reasonably expect that my feet will stay mostly dry while running on recently-rained-on streets if it’s not actually raining during the run. Even if I was completely at fault and my expectations were unreasonable, I still have to question whether this shoe works for me. I run in the rain normally and I traverse uneven terrain in the urban jungle on a regular basis, and I need a shoe that can keep me comfortable and safe.

Playing Outside in the Rain

On Wednesday, I discovered that Netflix has every season of “Breaking Bad,” so I started watching that during my daily struggles on the moving belt of misery. Treadmilling already makes me cranky and I was beginning to worry that after running 30+ indoor miles this week due to the Polar Vortex, I was going to turn into Walter White. Time to get outside and do something that’s good for my soul: a run that feels like playing instead of feeling like work.

I woke up to a soggy, mid-40s morning. (Mid-40s is practically tropical compared to the frigid temperatures the DC area endured earlier this week!) Utterly undeterred, I zipped on a lightweight waterproof jacket and headed out without my phone. No music, no Audible books, just me, the outdoors, and the noises of the run.

And it was awesome.

Sure, the sky opened up and I got drenched with cold rain for the final 5+ miles of my 10.27 mile run, but I was outside! I heard my footfalls on asphalt instead of a relentlessly revolving rubber strip. I felt the wind on my face. I could speed up and slow down as I saw fit without pressing any buttons. If I weren’t running, being out in this morning’s lousy weather for as long as I was would have been miserable, but because I was running, it was joyful.

Brooks Ghost 4 Review

20140111-195553.jpgI really, really love running shoes. I love trying new pairs out and seeing how they affect, or don’t affect, my running. The latest models can attract me with strong reputations among runners, long pedigrees, smart design, innovative technology, or even factors as base as newness, good looks, and slick marketing. I’m only human!

As much as I love running shoes, I just can’t get excited about the Brooks Ghost 4.

I think my first pair of Brooks was the Ghost 3 in the white, lime green, and blue colorway. Small pops of color, often seriously heinous color, was par for the course in running shoe design at the time, so I considered these shoes to be pretty neat looking. They also performed like champs, so I really couldn’t complain.

Fast forward to (I think) early 2012. I went to my favorite local running store for my first real shoe fitting there. Instead of just picking a shoe off of the wall based on a Runner’s World review, an expert would analyze my gait and make some shoe recommendations tailored to my needs. I’d been running in the O.G. Brooks Pure Flow and I was looking for another minimal-esque shoe. The store employee who handled my shoe fitting didn’t listen to me. He served up the Brooks Ghost 4 for its mild pronation control and not only was it the most boring looking shoe on the wall, but it was way more shoe than I was looking for. Not wanting to ignore a pro’s advice, I bought the shoes despite not really digging them. I’d had a good experience with the Ghost 3, so the Ghost 4 probably would work just as well once I got over what I perceived as their lameness.


Problem was, I didn’t get over it. I ran in the shoes for a little while (this was when I ran only a couple of times per week) and went back to the same store for another fitting at the same store. A different employee helped me and I walked out with a pair of shoes I loved, the more performance-oriented, flashier Mizuno Wave Elixir 7 which I loved so much I stuck with through version 8, after which the model was discontinued. I have a pair of Elixir 8s that I wore for one ten mile race that I’m hoarding until quit grieving and give in and try the Wave Sayonara (maybe before the Sayonara 2 comes out?). But I digress!

Point is, I never really gave the Ghost 4 a chance. In 2013 I realized that I wouldn’t feel good about throwing this shoe away or giving it away since it was still in such good shape. So I put it in my rotation…occasionally. And that’s where it’s stayed. I run in this solid workhorse trainer only every once in a while. Because I think it’s ugly. Yes, really.

And seriously, isn’t it?


The Good:
-Price: If you can find this discontinued shoe, it’s sure to be steeply discounted.
-Sole: Plenty of rubber which has held up well against my sole-chewing stride and which offers a sure-footed grip even in the rain
-Comfort: No pain after a 15-mile run when long runs weren’t a regular thing for me. Lots of protection and a bit of pronation control is a recipe for a run-all-day shoe. Despite the Ghost 4’s weight, I forget that it’s on my feet when I’m running. It doesn’t blow my mind with pillowy softness; it just quietly gets the job done.






The Bad:
-Looks: Compared to all of the flashy competitive options available today, this conservative shoe is a snore.
-Laces: Ugly gray stripes (plain white would have been much better) and entirely too long. Strange that Brooks would whiff on something so simple.

The Bottom Line:
If you can get past the looks of these ugly ducklings, you’ll love how they fly, er, run. Sorry for the throwback review of a discontinued model, but hopefully this gives you a sense of what the Ghost family is like when you look at the current model. And who knows, maybe a comparison of the Ghost 4 and the Ghost 6 is in the future!

Saucony Kinvara 4 Review

After a fall full of races in the plush Brooks Glycerin 11, I was looking for a lighter, more minimal running shoe that still had ample cushioning. I wound up purchasing the well-regarded Kinvara, now in its fourth iteration.
The Kinvara 4 is a reduced running shoe. That means that it’s less shoe than many traditional models, but it’s not at the extremely minimal (e.g. Vibram Five Fingers) end of the spectrum.
The Minimalist Features of the Saucony Kinvara 4
-4 mm drop
-Thin upper with few overlays (check out the thin heel cup in the images)
-Limited rubber on the sole located mostly in the forefoot area
-Light weight: 7.7 oz. in a men’s size 9 (per the Saucony website)
A Bit About Me
-127 lbs, 5’4″
-35-55 miles per week
-Slight overpronator, worst pronation happens with the left foot
-Usually a mild heel striker or midfoot striker
-Prefer long distance (marathon, half marathon, ten miler)
-Training for a 50k
Runs Completed in the Kinvara 4 at the Time of This Review
-November 8, 2013: 1.43 miles, 11:23.33, 7:57/mile average pace, 5:45/mile max pace, hilly roads
-November 19, 2013: 4.17 miles, 38:18.48, 9:11/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-November 26, 2013: 4.10 miles, 35:02.74, 8:33/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-November 27, 2013: 4.12 miles, 39:06.54, 9:29/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-December 5, 2013: 8.24 miles, 1:20:54, 9:49/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks
-December 17, 2013: 6.40 miles, 57:59.90, 9:04/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-December 25, 2013: 8.22 miles, 1:07:07, 8:09.90/mile average pace, 6:58/mile max pace, treadmill
-December 27, 2013: 6.28 miles, 52:00, 8:16.82/mile average pace, 6:44.49/mile max pace, treadmill
-December 27, 2013: 1.82 miles, 14:40, 8:03.52/mile average pace, treadmill
-December 28, 2013: 10.02 miles, 1:31:58, 9:11/mile average pace, somewhat hilly sidewalks
-January 1, 2014: 10.23 miles, 1:28:57, 8:42/mile average pace, somewhat hilly sidewalks and paved trail
Total: 11 runs, 65.03 miles
First Impressions
My first few runs in the Kinvara 4 weren’t that enjoyable. The shoe felt stiff underfoot, and very slappy; each footfall was noisy. (Bear in mind that I was accustomed to smooth transitions and a Cadillac-like ride in the Brooks Glycerin 11.) Not only that, but it made my legs tired. Curiously, the Kinvara 4 felt soft and comfy when I was walking into my house after a run — I’ve never before had a shoe feel better after a run than during the run, without even taking it off.
Current Opinion
Little did I know, the walk-around comfort was a sign of good things to come. All the Kinvara 4 needed was some break-in time. After a few runs, suddenly it ran like a dream. A noisy dream. The slapping sound at each foot strike persists, even while walking on hard surfaces, but the slappy feel and stiffness do not. Initially I was scratching my head at the popular assertion that the Kinvara 4 is a soft shoe, but I do find the cushioning to be moderately soft now. Not soft or plush enough to be my top choice for long distances or recovery runs, but it provides ample protection from the ground while still allowing for good ground feel. The ground feel contributes to a fast, nimble, in-control  feeling in these shoes.
I’ve come to expect perfection out of the box, but the Kinvara 4 took patience. I broke it in, and it broke me in. Eventually I adjusted to the lower drop which, based on the tread wear patterns, genuinely does encourage me to land on my forefoot.
The Saucony Kinvara 4 by the Numbers
Comfort: 7/10
Not at all plush, and not very comfortable for me out of the box, but the Kinvara 4 warmed up into a surprisingly comfortable shoe.
Performance: 8/10
The Kinvara 4 effectively encourages me to run on my midfoot and forefoot a bit more. However, there isn’t enough protection from the ground for me, so while I appreciate the zippy feel, I probably wouldn’t choose this shoe for anything longer than a half marathon, if that.
Construction Quality: 8/10
I had to dock Saucony a couple of points here because the Power Grid logo is upside down on my right shoe — what the heck? But otherwise everything seems to be aligned well. No glue spots or errant sewing. I’d prefer more rubber on the sole, especially in the lateral heel and forefoot areas (I think this is coming in the Kinvara 5), but I understand that the limited rubber saves weight. However, I’m hard on shoe treads and my high-wear areas aren’t all covered in rubber on this shoe.
Materials Quality: 8/10
I can’t complain about the footbed or the moderately hard-wearing sole rubber, but I’m disappointed in the upper. It’s already ripping at the pinky toe area on both shoes. I’d been warned by other online reviewers that this would happen, but I really didn’t think that it would happen to me since I don’t typically put a lot of wear on the uppers of my shoes.
Value: 8/10
I purchased the Kinvara 4 at full price at my local running store for about $100. I’m used to buying shoes on sale, but for a full-priced shoe, this is a decent price. However, the limited rubber on the sole and the fraying upper indicate to that the shoe won’t last much longer than 300 miles for me.
Overall: 8/10
A fun, fast shoe that’s a departure from what I usually wear. I’d even go so far as so say that I love them. With the notable exception of the durability issues and the less notable exception of their noisiness, these are great shoes, and I think that I gave them less than perfect marks because of my preference for more traditional shoes and my (unreasonable) expectation that these shoes would deliver a more traditional ride. I’m eagerly awaiting the Kinvara 5, which is slated to debut in June 2014.

Honey Stinger Protein Bar Reviews

I was lucky enough buy some Honey Stinger 10g protein bars at steep discounts — everything with Lance Armstrong’s image on it must go! — otherwise I probably never would’ve tried these. The regular price of $30 for a box of 15 bars is far too rich for my blood. I found discounted Honey Stinger 10g protein bars online at The Clymb and Steep and Cheep and in person at REI. REI was practically giving them away on 12/26/13 at the store I visited, so if you’re interested, that may be your best bet.

I tried two varieties: Peanut Butta Pro, and Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond.

Honey Stinger Peanut Butta Pro 10g Protein Bar


Taste: 10/10

In a word, delicious. The Peanut Butta Pro flavor is reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It’s chocolatey and peanut buttery and it really doesn’t taste healthy at all. There’s no discernible honey taste, which is neither a good nor a bad thing as far as I’m concerned, just kind of noteworthy given that honey is touted as an ingredient. Unlike some other protein bars, the milk chocolate will melt in your hands because it’s real chocolate! These are stupid good: 10/10.

Texture: 10/10

There’s none of the weird protein bar chewiness in these bars. The smooth texture is about as firm as a Power Bar, but isn’t nearly as chewy and not at all as gummy; you can break these bars if you hit them just right, or pack them in a bag that gets crushed. No crunch from crispy soy or crispy rice, as the 10 grams of protein come from whey protein: 10/10.


Honey Stinger Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond 10g Protein Bar

Taste: 10/10

The whole bar has a strong cherry taste, especially the interior. Dark chocolate is a supporting character, but is a welcome addition that rounds out the candy bar-like flavor: 10/10.


Texture: 10/10

The texture of the Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond bars is identical to that of the Peanut Butta Pro variety, except that the Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond bars contain almond and cherry pieces. Almond bits add crunch, but not much taste, while the cherry pieces add a little raisin-esque chew. The mixed in bits aren’t so thick that they substantially change the texture of the bar; it’s not like a granola bar or some trail mix. They simply add some interest in a robustly flavored bar: 10/10.

Overall, perfection for their category: 10/10.

I’m going to be sad when there are no more sale boxes to be had, since I can’t justify $2 per bar (plus shipping shipping, depending on where I buy them) for small-ish bars with only 10 grams of protein. The calorie and protein content is comparable to my tried-and-true favorite Lemon Zest Luna Bar: both have 180 calories, while the Peanut Butta Pro and Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond Honey Stinger Bars come out ahead with 10g of whey protein to the Luna Bar’s 9g of protein. I don’t know enough about different proteins to speak authoritatively about how soy protein compares with whey protein, but my understanding is that whey protein is more easily absorbed by the human body. Another possible consideration: if you’re keen on getting your protein from a vegan source, then whey is not the way to go.