Remember How I Said I Wanted to Run Sub-32:00 for My 4-Mile Race?

Well I ran 28:07, good enough for 78th place overall (out of 1508, I think), 15th overall female, and 6th in my age group. Really surprised myself!

The second to last hill was the toughest part of the race, as I knew it would be. I felt gassed and like I was breathing and breathing and getting no oxygen. But I stayed calm and pushed through. That final mile was my slowest of the race by far, but I lost a lot less time on that hill than I’d feared I would.

For almost the entire race I ran with a guy I didn’t know who looked to be about 55 years old, possibly current or former military. If he got a little behind me on a hill, he’d be sure to catch up; if I got a little behind him on a straightaway I’d increase my speed to match his. When we saw the huge crowd of runners on our way back from the turnaround point, he made a friendly comment about that. We paced each other without discussing it. I didn’t look at my watch until after I’d crossed the finish line, so I didn’t know what kind of pace we were maintaining. I knew it was challenging, but I didn’t know if it was sub-8:00, especially given how rough the fourth-mile hill was.

Well, it turns out that randomly latching into someone who wasn’t all freaky competitive worked out pretty well; I suspect we both helped each other.

I was bowled over by how fast I ran, especially considering how unsure I was that I’d meet my sub-32:00 goal. I dropped nearly 8:00 from my 2013 time of 36:01. Very proud of my effort and very appreciative of my dedication to my 50k training. This really motivates me to get out of bed each morning and hit my workouts hard so they continue to pay dividends.

I’ll sign off with a quote from the US President who I thought was hunkiest when I was a kid, Calvin Coolidge, that I think speaks to the importance of training:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrehearsed genius is almost a proverb… Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

New Balance 870v3 Review

20131230-222810.jpg

I’ve officially run 65.66 miles in my New Balance 870v3s (note: I purchased these shoes myself) and I feel ready to render my verdict on them. I’ll start with a one-sentence review, gloss over a couple of specs, and then dive deeper (much deeper, seriously, grab an oxygen tank) into how I arrived at my opinion. This is, after all, merely my opinion. Your mileage may vary. I subscribe to the belief that there are no bad shoes, just shoes that aren’t necessarily right for you.

One Sentence Review: The New Balance 870v3 is an excellent lightweight mild stability shoe that disappears on my feet.

Specs: Weight

Per the New Balance website, the 870v3 weighs in at a svelte 9.8 ounces. Generally, the weights provided by manufacturers are for a men’s size 9. Naturally, the weight varies across the sizes, and sometimes due to manufacturing differences. My version of the 870v3 is a men’s size 8D in the creatively named “Silver with Yellow & Red” color scheme (I often opt for men’s models in order to steer clear of pink overload), and I imagine that it’s less than 9.8 ounces. I don’t have a postage scale and I don’t obsess over shoe weight (I raced my PR 5k in the Brooks Glycerin, which is by no means a lightweight shoe), so I’m not going to check this. In my mind, a shoe with stability features that is under 10 ounces is a light shoe for the category.

Specs: Drop

The New Balance 870v3 has a ~8 mm drop.

The minimalist/natural running craze of a couple of years ago (I think we can partially attribute this to Born to Run) brought about a focus on the heel-to-toe midsole stack height differential, also known as drop. Traditional running shoes have a heel that’s significantly higher than the forefoot (as much as 16 mm higher in some examples), which promotes heel striking because there is so much heel to the shoe, it hits the ground first during the gait cycle. Conversely, low drop and zero drop shoes promote a midfoot or forefoot strike. Minimalist runners maintain that a midfoot or forefoot strike is more natural and more efficient than a heel strike. There are forefoot- and midfoot-strikers can run with a forefoot or midfoot strike, respectively, in both low- and high-drop shoes, just as there are inveterate heel-strikers that will heel strike no matter what type of shoes they wear. Shoes don’t always make a difference in gait, but they can have an effect.

About Me

Knowing a bit about me will help you evaluate my opinion of these shoes, and how it may line up with (or not line up with) your own.

I’m 5’4″ and 127 pounds. As far as I can tell, I’m a mild pronator, which means that my feet roll outwards during my gait cycle than slightly inward as I make contact with the ground, with most of the motion happening in my left foot. Rather than toeing off directly at the front tip of my shoe, my left foot will often toe off on the left (outside) edge of the sole. Likewise, the right foot will sometimes toe off on the right (outside) edge of the sole. The pronation is relatively mild and causes me no discomfort, so I generally wear neutral shoes, or shoes with minimal motion control features.

Perhaps due to the pronation, I’m hard on the soles of shoes — the rubber gets chewed up very quickly.

I prefer long distances and I am currently training for my first ultramarathon, which will be a 50k race. This fall I completed too many races for me to remember offhand, including eight weekends in a row with races of at least ten miles, including a four week stretch in which I ran two marathons, a half marathon, then another (and fastest of all!) marathon.

Because of my penchant for high mileage, I tend to prefer cushioned shoes, and I like to have as much material protecting me underfoot as is feasible.
However, my tastes run the gamut. My running shoe geekery is really just beginning. When I first started running in 2008, I wore innumerable pairs of the Mizuno Wave Rider 12, 13, 14, and I think maybe even the 15 — and while I believe in not fixing what ain’t broke, how boring is that?! I’ve since come to appreciate different styles of shoes, and I now employ a [large] rotation of different models that meet my varying day-to-day needs.

Runs I Logged in the New Balance 870v3

In order to accurately represent how extensively/not extensively I wear tested the New Balance 870v3, below are the eight runs I completed in my pair:

  • December 3, 2013: 4.12 miles, 37:33.57 (9:07/mile average pace) on mostly hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 4, 2013: 6.27 miles, 56:00.70 (8:56/mile average pace) on mostly hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 10, 2013: 9.05 miles, 1:25:57 (9:30/mile average pace) on some hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 13, 2013: 4.12 miles, 41:22.55 (10:02/mile average pace) on mostly hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 14, 2013: 10.30 miles, 1:31:54 (8:55/mile average pace) on mostly steep, hilly sidewalks
  • December 18, 2013: 3.30 miles, 27:02 (8:11/mile average pace) on a treadmill
  • December 21, 2013: 18.44 miles, 2:58:39 (9:41/mile average pace) on a paved trail, a hardback/gravel trail, and some hilly sidewalks
  • December 22, 2013: 10:06 miles, 1:37:01 (9:39/mile average pace) on hilly sidewalks and a paved trail

I didn’t do any speed work and I didn’t run on any technical trails, so those are two gaps in my testing (and really, in my training as I would probably benefit from both).

Comfort: 9/10
The 870v3 has a medium-cushioned heel collar and a lightly padded tongue. It’s not plush, and it’s not spartan either. It’s just right, and it’s comfortable. It’s comfortable to the point of being difficult to review because after the first run, I didn’t notice the shoe during my runs; it melded so seamlessly with my feet that I simply didn’t think about it.

20131230-224037.jpg

20131230-224050.jpg

During that first run in which I somewhat noticed the shoes, what I noticed most was the marshmallowy softness of the heel foam. It wasn’t that the midsole foam was too soft, or lacked responsiveness — it was just cushier than I was accustomed to.
The tightly woven exterior mesh has managed to keep my feet comfortable through chilly winter mornings. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that if I’m dressed appropriately for a run in the cold, I’ll be uncomfortable for the first mile or so and then warm up to the approximate temperature that I’ll be at for the duration of the run. I can accept a cold face, and to some degree, cold legs, but I just can’t countenance overly drafty shoes. The 870v3 hasn’t let in a single gust and my feet haven’t sweat any more than usual in them. I may not be so appreciative of this warm construction during blazing summer runs, but I’m thrilled with it for winter comfort.
Until recently, I didn’t wear running shoes casually. I now exclusively wear running shoes as my casual sneakers. I like the look of retro runners and I like the supportive comfort they offer. Since I don’t like putting unnecessary wear on my gear, I stick with a pair of Nike Pegasus 83/30s that I bought for a song (between My Coke Rewards points turned into a Nike gift card and a warranty voucher for a product I’d originally bought using a Nike gift card obtained with My Coke Rewards points, these sweet retro mashup Pegs cost me $12 and were shipped free — running gear isn’t cheap, so I save where I can).
However, when traveling light a couple of weeks ago, I wore my New Balance 870v3s in order to save space in my overnight bag. They have a very different feel as a walking shoe — the two tread pods under the lateral side of the arch are somewhat noticeable. I consider the feeling more reassuring and supportive rather than irritating, but I found myself stopping to check my soles for pebbles until I figured out what was creating the nagging sensation of something under the arch.
After spending too long in a pair of boots, I stepped into a pair of ultra-cushioned running shoes and literally sighed, “Ahhhhhh” in relief. That feeling is my benchmark for a perfect comfort score (10/10). The 870v3 hits the Goldilocks sweet spot of unobtrusive comfort, but isn’t quite enough shoe to be my go-to choice for a recovery run, so I give it a 9/10 — very high marks for comfort.
Responsiveness: 8/10
The flexible forefoot of the 870v3 has plenty of zip for me. You know that joyful, light-footed, bouncy feeling you get during the best part of your run? For me, that’s usually at least eight miles into a run; I suffer through my first three or four miles so I can get to that joyful place. These shoes are good for that: when you’re feeling it, they can fly high and, to steal a phrase from the marketing folks at Brooks, they can run happy.
I like feeling the road, and feeling connected to it. The 870v3 has plenty of midsole and outsole material to protect feet from harsh rocks and cracks, but still allows for ground-feel.
Matched up with the shoe’s overall light weight, the soft (but spring, not mushy) midsole material lends this shoe a very nimble feel. I had no trouble dodging thick crowds of pedestrians, even late into my longest run in the shoes.
These aren’t the lightest or pop-iest shoes around; I tend to think of firmer shoes as being zippier. When I first stepped into a pair of Mizuno Wave Elixir 7s, I thought, “Now this is my running shoe!” I immediately fell in love with the Elixir 7’s mostly-firm feel underfoot and the bank vault-like heel lockdown. For me, the New Balance 870v3 isn’t quite that much of a lean, mean performance machine, but it is my current favorite high mileage option for its adequately responsive, bouncy midsole. I give it 8/10 for responsiveness.
Durability: 6/10
I can’t fault New Balance for the construction of the 870v3. No seams are ripping and no parts of the sole are delaminating — it’s put together well, but the materials themselves aren’t particularly durable.
However, the outsole is far more chewed up than I’d expected it to be at this point. I know I’m hard on outsole rubber, but I’ve never gone through the forefoot of a shoe as quickly as I have in the 870v3. When I blow out a shoe, it’s usually in the lateral heel first.

20131230-223011.jpg

The rubber is soft — grippy and sticky, rather than hard and tire-like. If the wear decelerates throughout the life of the shoe, I may get more miles out of it, but at this point, it looks like a 250-mile shoe, maybe 300 miles if I’m lucky.

20131230-223136.jpg

20131230-223156.jpg

Another negative surprise with the 870v3: the upper over the lateral forefoot, just below the pinky toe is starting to fray slightly. I’ve never busted through an upper in a shoe ever, so this is completely unexpected, and completely disappointing if it turns into a hole.

20131230-223833.jpg

20131230-223848.jpg

Given the chewed up upper and chewed up outsole, I had to dock this shoe several points: 6/10.

Looks: 8/10

20131230-223507.jpg

20131230-223521.jpg

I like loud, flashy running shoes. The 870v3 is fairly conservative, relative to some of the other shoes in my collection. The yellow midsole of my pair gives this colorway some interest, but isn’t a real wow factor. However, the clean lines and silvery mesh make this shoe look sharp, so it earns its 8/10.

Overall: 9/10
Comfort and responsiveness push this score into the excellent range. So far the New Balance 870v3 is proving to be a stellar lightweight, supportive distance trainer for me. I’m hoping that it continues to hold up…in the long run.

Brooks Launch: We Have Liftoff

20131216-224823.jpgI really need to get a shoe caddy to hang over my door. As it is now, I’ve got a huge pile of colorful running shoes in the corner of my room (“There, that’s clean! It’s clean now!”).

Running nutrition arguably makes a bigger difference in my running performance, but no other running gear item excites me quite like running shoes do — each model is a design and engineering marvel. There’s only so much apparel companies can do with tights and shirts, but there are limitless possibilities when it comes to shoe innovation.

When I see that pile of running shoes, I get motivated to run. Running, even in the bitter cold, feels like a ‘get to’ rather than a ‘have to’ — I get to wake up at 4:00 am and play outside while everyone else is sleeping!

The Brooks Launch, the shoe so beloved by runners that they convinced Brooks to un-discontinue it, has been sitting in my pile for about a week. The just-short-of-rioting-in-the-streets furor surrounding the planned demise of the Launch piqued my interest. There’s inevitably grumbling when a company updates models in its line, but this was beyond grumbling, and it was loud enough, and passionate enough, that the company capitulated. I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.

There are other shoes in my pile that I need to run in, so I can write informed reviews of them sometime this…decade. (I’m getting close with the New Balance 870v3 and I’m thinking about doing a video review. Chew on that crumb of teaser!) But the Launch has been calling to me, insofar as a shoe can call to a not-insane person. With a bright teal and salmon colorway straight out of Miami, the Launch not only has the mystique of a shoe brought back from the dead, it looks like fun.

So I gave in: against my better judgment, I took my brand spanking new Launches out for a ten-mile run without even walking around in them first.

The running gods didn’t strike me dead. Even better: I get it now; I get why people lost their freaking minds when this shoe was pulled. The Brooks Launch is an awesome shoe. One run, and a mere ten miles in, I’m calling it. Awesome.

Some thoughts:

-Firm ride with good road feel, but enough material underfoot to protect my feet and joints during the punishing downhills on my running route.

-Lightweight upper with few overlays — the lightness of the Launch was most noticeable, and appreciated, during the turnover part of my stride.

-Cushy heel cup — I’m a sucker for a plush heel cup. This isn’t the most cushioned heel cup I’ve encountered in a shoe, but it manages to be plenty soft, supportive, and cozy without being huge or overstuffed.

We’ll see if/how my feelings evolve as I get to know this shoe, but as with all launch countdowns, the Brooks Launch started with a ten.