Brooks Launch 5

Brooks Launch 5: Kinvara Vibes?

Brooks Launch 5
TL; DR: The Launch 5 features the outsole and midsole of the Launch 4 topped off with a new, one-piece upper. Less than the sum of its parts, the Launch 5 has a sloppy, slipper-like fit — reminiscent of the Saucony Kinvara 5.

Disclosure:
I bought these shoes myself and my opinions are entirely my own.

Further Disclosure: I have a lot to say about the Launch 5. Click here to jump to the overall, skippers.

I have been a big fan of the Launch since v1. It’s been a classic, do-everything shoe for me. Want to pop off 10 miles at half marathon pace? Lace up the Launch. Want to slog out a long run? Reach for the Launch. Want to do a five mile threshold run? You guessed it, choose the Launch, again.

Part of what made the Brooks Launch a classic line was its old school styling, high heel-to-toe offset, and midsole/outsole tooling that hardly changed from year to year. For v1-v4, that has meant that Launch lovers could rely on the model to deliver a lively ride, excellent ground feel, and a dad shoe-approved overlay-heavy upper. The Launch came up short on style points when measured against the likes of Nike, but it competed quite capably where it counts: on the road.

With a record that strong, why mess with a good thing? The Launch was updated for v5 with a sleek, overlay-free upper atop what seems like the exact same midsole and outsole used in v4. While the looks were improved, the shoe’s performance was not. It might be time to send this workhorse to the glue factory!

Brooks Levitate: My Human Hamster Wheel Shoes

Brooks Levitate

In thinking back about my runs in the Brooks Levitate, I realized that I haven’t taken them for a spin outdoors. As my motivation to run has waned (seriously, seriously waned), I’ve opted to throw on shorts and a T-shirt and hit the treadmill rather than take the time to pile on the layers and risk saying “to heck with it” and skipping a run altogether. Spending 10-15 minutes to get my gear together because I always seem to forget something and have to go from room to room looking for it is agonizing. It makes me feel like the run is taking forever and the run hasn’t even started yet! Cold weather and slippery roads are a good excuse to stay inside, but really I’m not afraid of harsh conditions, just afraid of getting too frustrated to stick with running through the tough times to get back to my previous fitness level.

So, I have a treadmill-exclusive pair of shoes.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Weight
My men’s size 8 weighed in at a hair under 10.6 oz. This comes as no surprise. The Levitate is a premium daily trainer with all of the bells and whistles: a plushly padded heel collar, a thick, full-coverage rubber sole, and Brooks’s new polyurethane-based DNA AMP midsole. I generally prefer lightweight shoes. If I start light my feet and I’ll stay light on my feet, plus less to carry over the long haul. However, some shoes’ performance belies their weight. The OG Saucony Triumph ISO springs to mind as a built-up model that feels ready to fly — it’s one of my favorite marathon shoes since it’s forgiving when I’m fatigued and my form deteriorates. The Levitate isn’t nearly as inspiring of a heavyweight. Its weight gets in the way of any springy sensation I’m supposed to feel from the DNA AMP. This might change when I put it to the test on pavement, but on a treadmill it just feels heavy. Sacrificing some of the luxe features might have made this a livelier shoe. 5/10

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Ride
I didn’t notice the promised energy return from the DNA AMP (Brooks’s answer to Boost, incidentally also licensed from BASF), but I didn’t hate the ride. The full-coverage blown rubber outsole provides ample cushioning and allows for smooth transitions. Heavy, but they don’t run like bricks. I like the feel enough to still reach for these for treadmill days and I am looking forward to new models that will make use of the DNA AMP midsole material. 7/10

Fit
Brooks is famous (with me, at least) for having pointy toe-boxes. The Levitate is no exception, but the smooth knit upper material is accommodating and allows my toes to splay. My narrow heel stayed locked in the padded heel cup. Not a tuned racer fit, but excellent for a trainer. 8/10

Comfort
The Levitate boasts a premium price and premium materials, but only manages middle of the road comfort as far as I’m concerned. I’m expecting an “ahhhh” experience when I step into these and they’re just alright. Disappointing given the components and cost, but taken alone, not bad. 6/10

Traction
I can’t offer an informed opinion about the traction in outdoor conditions. The traction pattern looks reasonably aggressive and I had no problems on the treadmill. I can’t in good conscience take any points off in this category. 10/10

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Flexibility
There’s not much of it. I think this is a plus as it seems to keep me in check (whereas the VERY flexible Altra Escalante had me flopping all over the place if I didn’t pay close attention). Stiffness is a plus for me on the treadmill as when I’m exhausted and pushing the pace at the end of a session I occasionally misstep onto the sides of the belt if my feet have too much free rein. 7/10

Durability
Another trait Brooks is famous for (again, with me) is its luscious blown rubber. This buttery soft sole material contributes to great cushioning and grip, but it also wears about as fast as butter would (unproven theory, obviously). Even with only treadmill miles on these, I’m already seeing significant wear in the forefoot and the lateral heel of each shoe. The upper seems to be holding up beautifully. If I stick to only using the Levitate on the human hamster wheel, they could last for 300+ miles (about what I’d hope to get out of a premium trainer if I ran my shoes into the ground instead of compulsively growing my collection), but that’s hardly a reasonable use case. 6/10

Looks
The Levitate is pretty smooth looking for a Brooks shoe. With only 3D-printed overlays and precious few of those, the Levitate has risen above (ha) Brooks’s “traditional old school trainer” look. I wouldn’t recommend wearing them on a date and they don’t compete with the likes of most Nike sneakers and some of New Balance’s suaver models, they’re just fine. They look sporty and there’s no need to make excuses for that since they’re a literal running shoe! I’d be happier with a white midsole (I have to admit that I like parts of the “traditional old school trainer look”) than the shiny silver, but that’s really just a quibble. 7/10

Price
At $150 retail, the Levitate is not cheap. There are more budget-friendly models available with adequately nice materials that can beat the Levitate in many of these categories, and a number of category peers that could too. The upper, midsole, and outsole strike me as overbuilt rather than premium since they make the shoe far heavier than it needs to be. I’m not so put off that I’ll steer clear of v2, but I’m not overly impressed. I might be missing out on how this shoe shines on the road. If that’s the case, I’ll post an update. But for now, I can’t endorse the price. 4/10

Suitability for Intended Purpose
I think a lot of people would like these for daily training, and despite my words of tough love, I am a fan too. The Levitate features a comfort fit, ample sole material, and enough cushioning to absorb high mileage. 10/10

Overall
Weight: 5/10
Ride: 7/10
Fit: 8/10
Comfort: 6/10
Traction: 10/10
Flexibility: 7/10
Durability: 6/10
Looks: 7/10
Price: 4/10
Suitability for Intended Purpose: 10/10
TOTAL: 70/100

Your mileage may vary unlike my all treadmill, all the time mileage on these shoes, so take this review with a bigger grain of salt than usual. The first iteration of the Levitate is a decent workhorse, but uninspiring. I’m hoping that Brooks can drop the weight (or at least the price) when they release v2.

 

 

 

First Impression: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4

The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v1 is one of my hall of fame shoes. Light, smooth, and so good looking that my first pair survived Mardi Gras 2015 in New Orleans and still drew compliments when I wore them with jeans. I have two pairs stocked, but I love them so much I can’t bear to waste them on unworthy runs. Unworthy runs? I’m glad that I can pass off being weird as “just a runner thing.”

I have run in every version of the Zante. The v2 just didn’t connect with me — it felt surprisingly heavy and the upper seemed like a huge step back from the sleek, race-ready fit of the v1. Fortunately, the Zante got back on track with the v3. The upper was still beefed up over v1, but the snappy ride felt more lively and directed than the ponderous v2. Not only that, but the looks of the v3 rivaled the classy style of the v1. I fell in love all over again. But the model lifecycle kept rolling on and the Zante v4 came out before I had a chance to pre-order it. How will it stack up against its predecessors?

I have exactly one run in the Zante v4 and I have some thoughts.

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4 First Impressions

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Weight: Just under 8 oz for each shoe (16 oz for the pair — why does nobody ever express it like that? It doesn’t sound nearly as appealing to haul a pound of footwear with you on your run.) They feel supportive enough to give me confidence, but they still disappeared on the run. I’m happy so far.

Fresh Foam Zante v4 weight

Ride: Buttery smooth through the gait cycle, as is typical of the Zante for me. The high toe spring keeps me light on my feet and turning my legs over quickly.

Fit: Dialed in. The secure midfoot hold and somewhat roomy (albeit pointy) toebox suits my foot perfectly. I’m not swimming in this shoe like the disappointingly slipper-like Saucony Kinvara v5 — this is a precision fit that’s still forgiving and comfortable.

Comfort: I don’t have enough miles in these to know how beat up my legs will feel after a long run. So far they feel great. Not pillowy soft, but not harsh. I expect they’ll work well for me for up to the half marathon distance, but won’t be quite enough shoe to go 26.2 for me.

Traction: Damp roads (not all the way wet — damp roads are way more slippery in my experience) will be the true test. No complaints on dry sidewalks after the first run.

Flexibility: I didn’t feel the shoe fighting me at any point. Must be good!

Durability: Questionable! I have a long history of chewing up soft blown rubber on many Brooks models. The cushioning properties of this kind or rubber comes at a cost, and the soles of my shoes look alarmingly well-worn after a single 4-mile outing. No issues with the upper, which seems far more solid.

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Looks: Simply gorgeous. The scarlet colorway will readily pair with casual clothes. I fly frequently for work, and being able to pack just one pair of casual sneakers is a huge plus.

Price: These retail for $89.95 at Running Warehouse. I used a discount code from a bigger, cooler blog for 10% off. Many shoes constructed with premium materials are priced well above $100, so durability concerns aside, these do seem like a good value. They don’t feel like a budget model.

Overall: I expect the Zante v4 to be a fun shoe for uptempo efforts and low double-digit outings. I’ll write an update once I’ve logged more miles in them.
 

Hoka One One Hupana Review

temporaryTL; DR: Not your mama’s marshmallow-y HOKAs. Light, fast, and responsive enough for fast efforts, the Hupana is a model I find myself reaching for over and over. Love it. (Click here to jump to the overall rating if you aren’t down for the full 1,200-ish word review.)

After some major missteps with the Clifton (making a near-perfect lightweight do-anything model heavier, more structured, and decidedly un-Clifton-like) HOKA One One gets its act together with the Hupana. This shoe has a sleek knit upper plus sole geometry and stack height comparable to a “regular” running shoe. A firmed up version of HOKA’s RMAT foam does double duty as both midsole and outsole, lending the Hupana a quiet, smooth ride. I put over 75 road and treadmill miles on these before I knew it — despite having loads of shoes in my collection (a truly unhealthy number of pairs), these were the ones I consistently wanted on my feet. It’s not all sunshine and roses with these, but it mostly is. Read on for my review of the Hupana in ten key areas, ultimately arriving at an overall numerical score out of a possible 100 points.

Disclosure: I bought these shoes myself and my opinions are entirely my own.

Weight
In the same way that I failed with my Saucony Freedom ISO review, I did not weigh the Hupana before I ran in them, and weighing them now after a fair amount of use is not only a gross way to use my food scale, but doesn’t give the model a fair shake. As much as it pains me to do it, I have to rely on the stated catalog weight. I have some reviews in the pipeline with at-home weigh-ins, so I won’t always make excuses! Running Warehouse has the exact same women’s model weight below listed for a size 8, not the size 7 specified by HOKA One One, so I’m leaving their specs out this time because I suspect that’s a mistake, not some different size, same weight sorcery cooked up by HOKA.

Per Hoka One One: 8.2 oz (men’s size 9)/6.3 oz (women’s size 7)

For about half an ounce more than the Saucony Kinvara 7 (Kinvara 8 review coming soon), you get a densely woven upper (will run warm in the summer, for sure), a semi-plush inner lining, and a thick, protective midsole. While the Hupana isn’t as lean as the Kinvara 7, it’s easily as spry and willing to pick up the pace. Its 8.2 oz weight matches that of the Nike Zoom Elite 9 (review coming soon) and is a couple tenths of an ounce lighter than the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v3 (review also coming soon). The Hupana is in good — FAST — company with these similarly lightweight models. 8/10

Ride
You already know what I’m going to say since I’m barely holding myself back from gushing on this point. Smooth heel to to transitions. Quiet footfalls (noisy shoes are a pet peeve of mine as they make headphones-free running less than serene). Good groundfeel and feedback without being bone-jarringly firm or harsh on my legs. In short, the ride is superb. 10/10

Fit
No-fuss fit with excellent lockdown thanks to the stiff knit upper. The heel is adequately plush without being skate shoe-like, allowing for secure foot hold at minimal weight.  Logos printed on both insoles are completely intact, so I know my feet aren’t sliding around. Pull the laces and these are good to go with no fine tuning needed. 10/10

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Comfort
The Hupana is another shoe that disappears on my feet so my thoughts don’t run to “ahh, so comfy!” as I’m running, but it’s also plenty cozy enough that it’s a delight to slip into after a long day in high heels. No complaints, but the comfort isn’t something to write home about. The Hupana is performance-oriented, so I don’t think that’s a knock against it at all. 8/10

Traction
The grip is surprisingly excellent. I felt as surefooted as a billy goat on wet roads and sidewalks in these. I was pleasantly surprised that midsole foam could grab the ground so well. Even wit some areas of moderate wear in the toe and lateral heel, the traction is undiminished. However, one thing to note about the Hupana’s midsole-outsole: it builds up static like crazy. Shuffle across a carpeted floor in these and you’ll turn yourself into a weapon. Worse, run on a treadmill and you’ll shock yourself over and over if you reach for a water bottle or incidentally touch the machine with your hands. I released a shock so powerful on my home treadmill that it actually turned the machine off. You’ve been warned! That said, I’m still very impressed with the traction and I can live with the perils of using the Hupana on a treadmill. 10/10

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Flexibility
It’s not reasonable to expect much flexibility out of a sole that’s just a thick slab of foam. Even with a number of flex grooves carved out, the Hupana is hard to bend, with a flexion point just in front of the first row of lace eyelets. I don’t think this negatively impacts the ride character, but it’s not an asset either.  7/10

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Durability
This version of RMAT foam is way more resilient than the easily shredded RMAT found in the Clifton 1. My pair of Hupanas is showing a bit of wear in the toe (light wear), forefoot (light wear) and lateral heel (moderate wear), but otherwise looks great. Much of the shallow texturing on the “outsole” is still intact. No creases in the midsole and no fraying in the upper or laces. The upper is stiff enough that it holds a sharp crease at the flexion point just in front of the first row of eyelets, so that may be a failure point in the future. 9/10

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Looks
The two-tone blue knit upper on my pair is accented with orange at the toe, heel, and eyelets. It’s more sophisticated for a HOKA (who has produced a veritable glut of garish models, like the Speed Goat), but it’s not quite there for me. You could slap a Skechers logo on the side and I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. A truly monochrome knit might have been more sleek. I don’t totally hate the looks of these, but they don’t excite me either. 7/10

Price
I’m pretty accustomed to spending between $120-$140 for running shoes. The Hupana’s MSRP is $115, which is pretty great. It’s not the cheapest performance model out there (that title probably belongs to the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v3), but it’s reasonable and given its durability and excellent ride, it’s a great value. 9/10

Suitability for Intended Purpose
HOKA bills the Hupana as an all-day shoe that can carry you from the grocery store and daily chores right through to your run. It’s meant to be as performance-oriented with its RMAT outsole as it is stylish with its knit upper. I agree with the performance side of this, but am disinclined to wear the Hupana with anything other than running clothes. However, it gets the uptempo running part of the equation so right that I can’t fault it too much for getting the lifestyle shoe part wrong. 9/10

Overall
To recap for you TL;DR folks:
Weight: 8/10
Ride: 10/10
Fit: 10/10
Comfort: 8/10
Traction: 10/10
Flexibility: 7/10
Durability: 9/10
Looks: 7/10
Price: 9/10
Suitability for Intended Purpose: 9/10
TOTAL: 87/100

I’m a tough grader, but in my defense, there are a lot of excellent shoes to choose from, so it’s important to know where a particular model shines and where it stinks. Overall, the Hupana is great and will likely be on my feet for a marathon this spring.

Until next time, happy trails!

-Ultrarunner Hope

Saucony Freedom ISO Review

img_2413TL;DR: If New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v1 and Adidas UltraBOOST had a baby, it would be the Saucony Freedom ISO. This shoe carries on the legacy of the smooth, quiet, Zante v1 as well as the marshmallowy midsole and high price tag of the UltraBOOST. Well worth adding to your quiver of shoes if it’s in your budget. (Click here to jump to the overall rating if you aren’t down for the full 1,500-ish word review.)

In prepping for this review I put over 70 miles on the Freedom ISO on a mix of roads and treadmill belts, with no runs over 10 miles. Having experienced some burnout from training (as much as I love it, it can start to seem like work at times if I’m not in the right headspace), I’ve taken a very conservative approach to ramping up my mileage in preparation for marathon and ultra-length efforts planned for this spring and my Freedom ISO use happened to fall at a time when I was focusing on shorter, intense workouts (read: FUN!) over long miles. I found it a bit difficult to collect coherent thoughts about this shoe because it simply disappears on my feet during a run. If I’m not thinking about it, I’m certainly not making intelligent and useful observations about it! However, not noticing a shoe is a great testament to that shoe: it feels natural, like an extension of your foot; it’s there for you and will do what you ask of it without complaint. That’s the Freedom ISO. If you’re looking for a more distinctive ride character from a shoe with an MSRP of $160, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re happy with a workhorse shoe with a smooth ride, a bit of squish, and that is lightweight enough to not slow you down on the long haul (I imagine), the Freedom ISO might be for you. Read on as I assess this model’s strengths and weaknesses over ten key traits, ultimately arriving of a score out of a possible 100 points.

Disclosure: I bought these myself and my opinions are entirely my own.
Further Disclosure: I may have eaten far more than one serving of Tagalong Girl Scout cookies in the course of writing this blog post.

Weight
I didn’t weigh these before running in them and I think it’s both unfair to weigh them now when who knows how much rubber has worn away, dirt has become embedded in the upper, etc. and gross to do so since I use the same little scale for food prep. So I have to place my faith in what I can find online.

Per Saucony: 9.0 oz (men’s size 9)/8.1 oz (women’s size 8)
Per Running Warehouse: 9.1 oz (men’s size 9)/8.0 oz (women’s size 8)

While the weight is totally outclassed by the dreamy, feather-light Hoka One One Clifton v1, those extra ounces get you a more structured, supportive upper and an almost-full-coverage outsole (the EVERUN is visible through a window under the arch) that is showing virtually no wear for me. As someone who routinely chews up outsole rubber (Brooks shoes with their soft blown rubber look abused after a single run on my feet.), this is a welcome feature. 7/10

Ride
The almost-full-coverage sole makes for smooth, quiet transitions, yet is flexible enough to feel nimble. When I’m dodging pedestrians in Washington, DC, I want to feel light on my feet and the Freedom ISO delivers. It’s not slappy on the treadmill either — this shoe readily picked up the pace for whisper-quiet footfalls on the ol’ human hamster wheel. The toe spring is adequate to encourage fluid motion without fatiguing the foot. A bit squishy like the Adidas UltraBOOST, but that protection will likely be welcome for longer efforts. Reminds me of everything that made the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v1 so great and such a game-changer. 10/10

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Fit
Saucony’s ISOFIT technology beats all comers in my book: knit uppers, engineered mesh uppers, plastic heel clips, Flywire, all of it. This is a shoe with no heel counter that offers such a secure heel lockdown (without using a lock-lacing technique) that the graphic on the footbed didn’t wear off for me on either shoe. My feet stayed where they belonged. Both the interior bootie mesh and exterior mesh feel plush and premium. They hug the foot gently, not in the way that many shoes which tout a “sock-like feel” really feel like squeezing your foot into a too-small tube top with a sole on it. The laces are stretchy without being bungee-like and it’s easy to dial in the fit before each run. 10/10

Comfort
There are probably shoes out there with better step-in comfort (Non-racer Asics spring to mind as ludicrously comfy, though they’re not really my cup of tea.), but these are fantastic. They feel cozy walking around and they feel just as nice on the run. You’ll sacrifice some snap in the ride in exchange for the soft midsole feel, and while these aren’t a great choice for serious 5k racing, they can still pick up the pace gamely. 10/10

Traction
Pretty crappy, honestly. In case you thought this was going to be a total love fest, it’s not. This shoe felt downright dangerous running in straight lines on damp roads, let alone cornering on smooth granite near the White House. Not a winter shoe, probably not a Belgium or Seattle shoe unless you’ll be using it exclusively indoors. I don’t know what it is about Crystal rubber, but it just doesn’t bite the ground very well in any application that I’ve seen. I don’t think this can be rectified with a different lug pattern; the shoe needs a different rubber compound entirely. 3/10

Flexibility
What the Crystal rubber lacks in traction, it makes up for in flexibility. No complaints here as the shoe bends in half easily (albeit in the very middle of the arch, which doesn’t seem completely useful) and doesn’t feel clunky on-foot. 7/10

Durability
With a careful wash, these shoes would probably look brand new still. No fraying on the upper or laces and barely any wear is visible on the outsole. No midsole creasing either. If I didn’t have such a serious running shoe addiction, I could probably put 500 miles on these without issue. 10/10

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Looks
Not as sexy as the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v1 or v3 (I have to watch my girlfriend around the v3 — she wants to steal it — that’s the measure of a beautiful performance running shoe with real crossover appeal), but very striking and pairs well with the loud outfits popular with road runners like myself. Not a great choice for casual wear for me personally, but if I want to let on that I’m a runner, I wouldn’t mind wearing it with street clothes. You can read “EVERUN” through the translucent Crystal rubber outsole, in case you forgot you had a teched-out, premium shoe, or missed the branding on the lateral heel. I’m being a bit snarky since I’d prefer grippy rubber over rubber you can see through, but I do think it’s a cool touch. 7/10

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Price
Oof. $160 is a lot for a running shoe, especially with great models from New Balance, Hoka One One, and even Nike (just to name a few) coming in at less than $120. You do get premium tech for this premium price, but you can get as good of an experience for far less coin elsewhere. EVERUN mimics BOOST in brand name capitalization, bounce, and price, and I think it does it better. 5/10

Suitability for Intended Purpose
Saucony hasn’t limited the Freedom ISO to the “uptempo performance trainer” category or anything like that, but instead has billed it as a shoe that “starts amazing [and] stays amazing.” It was indeed ready to roll out of the box with no break-in required and has remained consistent from day one. Its weight and form factor do put it in that “uptempo performance trainer” bucket, and I think it excels there, but doesn’t lead the pack. The Saucony Kinvara line with its simpler uppers and lighter weight is more of the ideal racer-trainer for me.The fit of the Freedom ISO isn’t race-ready for short distances, but for distances from the half marathon to the marathon it should be quite capable. It can go fast without feeling mushy and it can go slow without feeling ponderous. Without a real stated mission for this shoe from Saucony (at least that I’m aware of), it’s hard to measure its success, but it’s nicer to have an even ten attributes to rate, so I won’t let that stop me. 8/10

Overall
To recap for you TL;DR folks:
Weight: 7/10
Ride: 10/10
Fit: 10/10
Comfort: 10/10
Traction: 3/10
Flexibility: 7/10
Durability: 10/10
Looks: 7/10
Price: 5/10
Suitability for Intended Purpose: 8/10
TOTAL: 77/100

Pretty good score for an otherwise great shoe that’s held back by a steep price and sketchy traction. I’m not promising even a date for my next post since I’ve already proved myself to be a liar on that front, but I’m aiming to post more consistently while still keeping the “quality” (don’t roll your eyes!) high. Until next time, happy trails!

-Ultrarunner Hope

Let Me (Re-) Introduce Myself

Hello. (It’s me…) It’s been a long time since I last published an entry, but don’t think that I haven’t thought about this blog every day of my life. I breathlessly check for pre-order links for the new shoes that interest me, always with the goal in mind of producing a blog post about them. Sometimes I get so excited to read a new shoe review issue of Runner’s World I have to stop and collect myself for a few minutes before I can even handle it. Not caring about this stuff isn’t the problem — it’s that I care too much. After spinning my wheels for far too long, I’m going to stop letting perfect be the enemy of good and just write. It feels good and with practice I’ll get better, just like with running.

Finally writing (for a change) isn’t going to be the only difference around here. I’m changing the name of my blog to reflect what it’s really about: (this) runner’s reviews. To my mind, reviews are my thoughts on any number of topics: races, gear, nutrition, or even inspiring training runs. Your mileage may vary, so to speak, but my reviews will give you a sense of my experience with a given product or event and perhaps some actionable intelligence to use in your own training and gear buying.

With that in mind, I’d like to tell you a little more about myself. My name is Hope, but I’ll go by Ultrarunner Hope on here because once you huck your undertrained carcass over a 50 mile course, you’ll be damned if you let anybody forget you’re an ultrarunner. I’m 27. My Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ. I like shoes and Diet Coke, but not as much as I like dogs. I’m not sure if I like dogs more than pizza. I wear baseball hats a little bit crooked, not because I’m a douchebag, but because I do my ponytail just a little bit crooked. I have an ear for good quotes and some of those will appear here. My sneaker habit extends to casual sneakers too and the Asics Gel-Lyte V is my all-time favorite silhouette. I lift weights daily and am not ashamed to say that I skip leg day. I am ashamed to say that I don’t run trails basically at all except for races. That’s shameful since I love trail running, but am fearful of going alone. I aim to read at least 50 books each year across print, audio, and ebook formats with an emphasis on military non-fiction, literary fiction, award winners, and classic novels. I travel regularly for work, often internationally. I have no illusions about being cool, and certainly not too cool for anything; I do what I like and I don’t do what I don’t like and I buy what I like (and can afford) and don’t buy what I don’t like. I’m an enthusiastic runner, but not especially talented. I bring no formal high school or college running experience to the table and I suspect that my running economy is lousy, but I know what works for me and what doesn’t, what feels good and what doesn’t, and that will form the basis for my reviews.

I picked up a few of the early Spring 2017 shoes, so I’m excited to get some miles on the following models and let you know my thoughts (hint: if it says there’s a review, the shoe name is a link):

Altra Escalante

Hoka One One Hupana

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v3

Saucony Freedom ISO (reviewed  2/28/17)

Skechers GoMeb Razor

I’ll be back next week with my first review of 2017. Until then, happy trails!

-Ultrarunner Hope

Paris-athon

After a flurry of posts, I went silent because I was legitimately busy. Busy enough to not be guilted by those shirts that read, “Someone busier than you is running right now.” Last week I flew to and from Paris for work, ran my ninth marathon, AND AND AND…I ate all five bananas in the bunch before any of them went brown. *drops the mic*

*Picks the mic back up* In all seriousness, it was a whirlwind (and I did eat all of the bananas in time). Having never been to Paris before, I determined that I needed to see as much of it as possible on the day that I landed, my one free day before I had to work. So upon landing, I hustled from CDG to my hotel via the RER and metro, dropped off my bags, and instead of enjoying a daylight-consuming nap, I made hay while the sun shone: I walked around the City of Lights for over six hours, covering nearly a half marathon in distance per my Fitbit. The adventure exhausted me further, but I managed to check a number of “must-see” landmarks off of my list, so next time I visit Paris, it can be Anthony Bourdain-style, just eating well, drinking nice wine, and relaxing. My series of Selfies in Front of Notable Parisian Landmarks includes the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids at the Louvre (no time to go in, and it was closed anyhow), Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Tuileries, and the Musee d’Orsay. If I’m making a bad face in any of those photos (I’m not going to post them all here), it’s probably because someone is harrassing me about donating to the deaf mutes again. Who thought that in Paris it’d be the locals demanding to know if I spoke English!

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Is that an antenna sprouting out of my head, or is it the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair?

Fortunately, since my trip was so brief, I didn’t get adjusted to Paris time, so I wasn’t jetlagged upon my return. I flew out Monday evening, returned on Thursday afternoon, and made it into the office on Friday no problem.

More importantly, at least as far as this blog is concerned, the trip didn’t affect my race performance. Walking all around Paris helped refresh my legs after the 50k to Rock ‘n Roll Marathon debacle, so although my springs still weren’t 100% springy on Sunday for the Runners Marathon of Reston, I felt much better and managed a time less than 1:00/mile off of my PR. Given that my training got a bit derailed by the icy winter (and I’m not as painfully thin as I was when I ran the PR), I’m quite happy with that result. Since RMR is so very small, my time was still good enough for second place in my age group!

I love that the race is small. The logistics are a dream: I park in the parking lot of the high school where the race starts, and can leave without issue immediately after I’m done. No crowds. No depending on Metro to run enough trains with enough cars to accomodate the increased traffic during what otherwise wouldn’t be peak hours. It’s one of the few races for which I’d actually consider doing race-day packet pickup since it wouldn’t be a madhouse and I wouldn’t be stressing. Water stations are served by an abundance of friendly volunteers. (I’m looking at you, Rock ‘n Roll Marathon.) There are even finishers medals. Just perfection. I hope it never, ever gets big. (Oh darlin’ don’t you ever grow up, don’t you ever grow up, just stay this little…)

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Showing off my finisher bling from the Runners Marathon of Reston.

However, despite it being officially spring, my race day wouldn’t be complete without some weather-related misery, and Sunday certainly delivered. Temperatures hovered in the low 20s all morning, a biting cold that was worse than the six-degree start I experienced at Hashawha. I started cold and stayed cold. At one point I was convinced that the tip of my left middle finger had actually fallen off inside my glove, but I’m crazy enough that I wasn’t concerned enough to stop running. It’s a race and that’s just a flesh wound! As it turns out, I hadn’t lost any digits. It was so cold (How cold was it, Hope???) that at the mile 12 aid station, I spat out the contents of my cup, thinking I’d been handed a cup full of glass. As it turns out, it was a cup of water in which a thin sheet of ice had formed and broken as the cup was passed to me, mixing into the water like so many shards of glass. I’ve had cups frozen into ice cubes, but never frozen to this glass-like state before. It was pretty freaky at the time.

My Adidas Ultra Boosts were my constant companion during the Paris trip, so expect a review of those sometime in April…hopefully. For now, au revoir!

Slow Recovery

Each of my runs in the immediate aftermath of the Hashawha Hills 50k-Rock ‘n Roll DC gauntlet has felt as bad as the worst parts of those races felt. I’ve only gone for a few short jaunts and from the start each has felt like I’m out of gas and have already run 20 miles. Not fun. However, I’m learning an important lesson: I can stack road races like a maniac (though that isn’t a goal of mine anymore), but I can’t run an ultra so close to another long distance race. It’s entirely too draining. Ultras are beasts that must be respected. I can’t slay the dragon without getting burned a little. I’ll get through this slow recovery and be a better person for it, but it’s very frustrating wanting to run long without suffering or short and fast without praying for death and not being able to.

My Nathan Minimist Hydration Vest Stinks

IMG_7099After two ultras and countless training miles over 15 months of service, my Nathan Minimist vest stinks. I mean it, it really reeks. When I strapped it on this morning over clean running clothes, I had to check myself — had I grabbed a jacket out of the hamper? No, that infernal odor is one with the pack, and probably always will be. It’s only distracting during those crucial moments when I’m wearing it indoors as I get ready to leave; the stink is inescapable. Much of the reflective material on the vest is peeling so I’m afraid to wash it and risk losing those nighttime safety features. So, the stink is here to stay. But with a vest this suited to my needs, I’m okay with that.

Pros:

Value. I scooped this vest on Amazon in December of 2013 for $52.02 before tax and it came with its 1.5L hydration bladder. Out of the box the pack is ready to go, unlike some high end models that require the bladder to be purchased separately.

Lightweight. I get all of the features I need (a zipper pouch for the bladder, a zipper key pocket, an open stash pocket, an open stuff pocket, two chest straps, and a velcro pocket) in a thin, lightweight vest. I haven’t yet even so much as considered overnight runs, so I don’t need a full backpack. I can carry what I need (e.g. Clif Shot Bloks, keys, Imodium, and a rain shell) in the vest and save myself the weight of extra layers of fabric — critical during a long run.

Durable. With the exception of the peeling reflective elements, this vest is in fantastic shape. No tears or stretching/warping in the fabric. The velcro still sticks and isn’t fuzz-encrusted, and the zippers operate smoothly.

Comfortable. In addition to not weighing me down over the long haul, the soft shoulder strap material doesn’t chafe. I wouldn’t recommend wearing this vest without a shirt since the chest straps would probably be rough on bare skin, but shirted up, it works great.

Slosh-free. The bladder is fairly quiet normally, but goes into ultimate stealth mode if I turn it upside down and suck the air out until I hit the water before inserting it into the vest. Incessant sloshing is second only to jangling keys in annoyance during solo runs (moaning/huffing and puffing runners during the late miles of a race is the overall most annoying noise while running!), so I’m thrilled that this isn’t an issue with this vest.

Cons:

Fit. It can be tricky to dial the fit in from day to day if I’m dressed differently due to the weather. An improperly adjusted vest is distracting — too tight and it becomes hard to breathe; too loose and it bounces so much that the straw comes loose from its clip and/or strap and starts slapping around.

Straw tastes terrible for the first few months. I mean inhumanly terrible. I don’t turn my nose up at Florida’s funky, swampy tap water when I vacation there, and I found myself having to spit out mouthfuls of water that had spent too long marinating in the chemical-laden plastic of the straw. Just horrid. It’s no longer an issue, but when the pack was new, I started considering buying a replacement bladder.

I couldn’t find the Minimist on the Nathan website, so it may not be available except from specialty retailers, but if you can get your hands on one, it’s a good lightweight option. The 1.5L bladder is too small to go super long without refilling, but I’ve had the good fortune to have access to a route with a water fountain, so that hasn’t been an issue for me. Overall, this hydration vest scores 8/10 for me.

I Specialize in Misery

Four days after the Rock ‘n Roll DC marathon and I’m still feeling snarky. Por ejemplo, actual mean thoughts of mine from race day that are still rattling around in my head:

“Whenever I see someone in a pair of Altras, I have to look up to make sure it’s not Tony Hawk. Those things couldn’t look any more like skate shoes. I don’t care if the model is bounding four feet off the ground in the ads, you can’t convince me that it’s possible to run fast in Altras.”

“Guys, if you’re going to run a race shirtless and you’ve got monochrome black tattoos in all the different quadrants of your chest and back, I’m going to have a really hard time not asking you how your time in Russian prison was.”

The Rock ‘n Roll DC marathon did nothing to dispel my opinion of the Rock ‘n Roll series as the grimiest, most corporate, worst run race series around. Far be it from anyone on the Internet to have an opinion unmolested! But I do so dare. I figure the Rock ‘n Roll DC planning went something like this:

“Hey, DC is a really pretty city. Instead of creating a course that passes by most of the major monuments, let’s run everybody through some ugly parts of Anacostia.”
“Sounds good, but we need to be sure to include lots of pointless out-and-backs and clover loops, people love those. And let’s make it a point-to-point; transportation convenience, especially for out of towners, is overrated.”
“Does five volunteers seem like enough?”
“Ah, four is more like it. You only need four people to pass out water to a crowd of 10,000.”
“Ten thousand? Ha! We’re going to secure a permit for 1,000,000 people so we can be sure to not sell out and make the field as crowded as possible!”
“Muahahaha more money for us!”
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Suffice it to say, I’m not running this race again. I mean it this time.

A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead saying what I’m about to say: maybe the tutu wearers have got it right. They’re out there racing for the sheer fun of it. Maybe they put in serious training hours, maybe they didn’t, but either way, they’re not taking race day too seriously. Why race if not for fun? Don’t be that guy wearing a sub-4:00 goal pace pinned to the back of his singlet making a huge deal out of stopping to stretch frequently when he’s half an hour behind where he wanted to be to show that “SOMETHING WENT HORRIBLY WRONG.” Don’t let the clock make you miserable like that poor guy.

I always set three goals when I run races so I’m guaranteed to feel like a winner no matter what happens. Goal 1: Usually a reach time goal. Goal 2: A more realistic time goal. Goal 3: Have fun. This isn’t always my format. For the JFK 50 Mile Run, my goals were as follows: 1. Finish without crying. 2. Finish. 3. Have fun. Happily, I managed all three!

It’s important to truly enjoy training because you can’t control all of the variables on race day, you’ve just got to roll with the punches. If something doesn’t go according to plan, you can’t let that derail your entire experience. Find fun out there somehow.

Saturday’s race was a case in point: it poured down rain the entire time, and the temperature hovered somewhere in the low 40s. Far from ideal conditions — I actually got colder during Rock ‘n Roll USA than I did during the Hashawha Hills 50k because I got drenched. In a text message after the race, one of my friends commented that I “specialize in misery.” That’s pretty spot-on, but it’s a different kind of misery from the unhappy guy who missed his goal time. Rather than beating myself up for not putting up a certain time, my brand of misery lies in the tough race day conditions that I endure. When I sign up for a race, I’m committed to running it, regardless if the forecast includes rain, sleet, or frigid temperatures. As it happens, the nasty race day conditions that make other runners quit or stay in bed, have popped up a number of times for me so I’ve had the opportunity to prove to myself over and over that I’ve got no quit in me. That’s often a miserable experience, but it’s a life-affirming one, and fun in its own way. However, make no mistake: I do not think I’m a badass for running long distances and running them in lousy weather. I’m just a runner, and these experiences, although they demonstrate the depth of my grit and determination, are more humbling than anything else.

Even though I was not a fan of the race (despite getting the aforementioned satisfaction out of it), I’m not above showing off the finisher medal.

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