Monday, December 23, 2013

Alt Christmas post

Ah, Christmas time, that glorious time of year of over-indulgence, gluttony, greed, materialism, unbridled excess and an overall wanton disregard for the needs of others, especially those less fortunate. But not around here, that kind of stuff only happens in big cities like L.A., Seattle and Bend.

Interestingly, over the last several years I have witnessed a change in the hearts of humanity. While Black Friday still kills at least a few participants each year, I have noticed that many more are now staying home. This should be a welcome observation but what it has meant instead is closeted society, one that does not play well with others, so to speak. I have come to know many folks who are content with simply staying home and staying inside, not venturing out at all, except to maybe do a few things around the house.

What does this mean? That we seem to be losing the ability to interact with each other except in very isolated situations. I know a couple who has 2 kids. This couple has one or two close friends who they see at church and on a rare occasion around town. One of the sets of grandparents lives nearby so they see them a few times a year. The oldest child is involved in a couple of different activities, but oddly the parents don’t attend. The youngest child is a home-body and rarely comes outside to play. This wasn’t always the case but it certainly has been for the last few years. I don’t say all of this to condemn this family, but they are a perfect example of the interaction we are losing because of choices. This little family has not always been like this and it used to be common to see them out and about all the time.

Many a study has been taken that shows how as Americans have spread out across the map, we are losing our ability to interact with each other and are instead becoming more isolated. The trouble with each and every one of these studies is they never address the issue of why people become more insulated and don’t instead choose to reach out. I have yet to meet a family that moved into some distant corner of America, only to discover there wasn’t a single neighbor near them, within say, 5 miles. Instead, I am finding that more and more people (not everyone) move and then become as homogenized as possible and then have the audacity to claim that they are only protecting themselves. I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt, that humanity is what YOU make it, not what you hear on AM talk radio.

As we pass another Thanksgiving holiday and approach another Christmas season, we need to do better than simply remember that at the end of November we give “thanks” for everything we have (in abundance) and then look forward to December where we should be “giving” of ourselves and of our abundance to those around us, especially to those in need. However, in order to accomplish any of that, we have to step outside to see what needs to be given. We have to move outside of our comfort zones and choose to see others around us.

Not really

I don’t really want to write about Christmas, about this season that doesn’t seem to mean what I think it’s supposed to mean. I don’t really want to sit here and talk about the things I see every year that lead me to wonder about humanity. How hordes of shoppers descend upon stores to get that one indescribable thing that will be out of style, obsolete, broken or simply unwanted come the following year. I don’t want to talk about the war we wage on each other all in the name of materialism, just so I can say I got what I wanted, wrapped and under the tree. I really do not want to put one more word to paper in favor of, or against the use of, such phrases as Happy Holidays versus The Christmas Season.

It would be infinitely easier for me to take a vacation to a monastery in Tibet than to witness the same carnage year after year. It’s not that I become depressed or anxious. I don’t get angry or frustrated or flustered. It’s more of being disappointed, really. I want to believe that in the deepest recesses of the human spirit there is something far greater than just another wasted trip to the mall to stand in line for the latest temporary fix. My heart and my head tell me to hope, so each year I continue to do so. Each year I see a few things that lead me to believe that we are indeed capable of more than this.

In a world where everything happens so quickly and what happens winds up online even quicker, there is little time to react to most things properly. Yet, Christmas is something that comes every year and following Thanksgiving we typically have at least four weeks to prepare ourselves. My concern is that we seem prone to forgetfulness regarding the insanity that arrives on or around the first of December. Also, unlike any other major holiday, we spend weeks preparing as opposed to just a couple of days. And all of this preparation would be OK, if, in the end the reason why was different from what it seems.

How amazing it would be if we spent four weeks asking those around us, family and stranger alike, what they really needed for Christmas. And instead of mere gifts that come from a store, what if we gave the gift of time or energy? If you’re going to spend the money anyway, take a day off of work and spend it with your kids or with your parents, or God forbid, your neighbors.

To me, first and foremost, Christmas is about the birth of a child. Christmas represents an opportunity for me to give Him something, even though He doesn’t need anything. So, I give Him my heart, just so He can give it back, that I might serve those around me. What I’m left with is a desire to help, serve and love, at a time of the year when it is so easy to wonder what I’m getting.

In the end, Christmas was never meant to be about us anyway. It has always been about someone else, even when we’ve gotten caught up waiting in lines; or writing about it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shoe review - Brooks Pure Connect 1

For those that know me well, this was the shoe that began the whole "bright shoes guy" phenomenon. I got so many comments about these shoes, which were super bright, neon orange, that it would have been excusable for me to have become self conscious about them. Seriously though, Brooks did a wonderful thing with the roll out of this minimalist set of shoes. In spring of 2011, Brooks introduced the Pure Project as a way to break into the super lightweight, barefoot feel, minimalist movement of shoes that were hitting the market. At the time, I was doing a lot of research on the barefoot movement and relative minimalist shoes that were available. I was running and racing in a pair Scott T2 Comps and loved them for how light they were (9 oz) and the 8mm drop, which was the least I had run in at the time. I was hoping to transition to a 4mm drop next.

Along came the Brooks and my initial thought upon trying a pair on was no way. While they felt a little like a tight fitting pair of slippers, they had way too much instability when simply standing, as if I would just roll an ankle. But the feel was amazing and based on the design features, I felt compelled to run in them.

First, here are some particulars:
The Pure Connect is the lightest of the 4 shoe options in the Pure Project line, weighing in at 7.2 oz.
4mm drop from front to back. 10 mm forefoot, 14 mm heel.
Narrow design for a tighter fit, incorporating something that Brooks calls a Nav Band, which is located under the laces and helps lock the foot in place.
Ideal Heel, which is designed to move your heel forward, improve your center of gravity and help you to be more of a midfoot to forefoot striker.

I was certainly leery about these shoes initially, especially given how narrow they felt. I have slightly wider than average feet, primarily at the balls of my feet, where a narrower shoe can be a real pain. The first few runs with these were concerning as I was afraid I had made a mistake in buying them. The fit was so secure that I was sure that I would develop some wicked blisters. Instead, the shoes never moved on my feet while running, providing an almost glove like experience. One of the most noticeable things is the weight, simply because at 7.2 oz, you are much freer in your stride because your muscles are working less to bring each foot forward.

At the time I got these, all my races were on road so most of my training was on road. By that fall I began to run a lot more trails and as a side note, I bought a pair of the trail shoes from this line called Pure Grit. I wore them 3 times and gave them away, they did not work for me. As I hunted for a good pair of trail shoes to wear, I began wearing my bright orange Connects on the dirt. While these shoes were certainly made well, they were not made for the trail and within just a month, they were toast. That first pair netted 560 miles, which isn't bad, but I needed to test a pair strictly on road to determine longevity.

I bought my second pair in the fall of that year and chose the electric blue color. I didn't do a lot of road running that winter and the shoes were just 100 miles in when spring rolled around. By summer I had more than 750 road only miles on them and was also doing a tremendous amount of trails. I decided to turn them into a backup pair for trails by that fall and today, they are still in my closet with about 1200 miles total of road and dirt. However, I still wondered how many miles I could get on a pair if I was good and just ran road in them.

So in March of this year I bought pair #3 and had to go with the bright orange ones. As I rehabbed a stress fracture, they collected a bit of dust until May but to date, they have about 870 miles on them and have strictly been on road only. Until recently, I would have thought this would be the only pair of road shoes I would ever want to wear again, but even with that discovery (see Merrell Bare Access 2 review), the Connects are a simply amazing shoe. I have turned several runners onto them over the past couple of years and highly recommend them to anyone looking to transition into a 4mm drop shoe, especially one that has amazing longevity as well as the fit and feel.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shoe review - New Balance MT1010 Minimus Trail

New Balance was one of the first major shoe manufacturers to jump into the minimalist trend. When they first did it, I remember friends who bought the first pair. We all had a good chuckle later when they had to go back to something with more of a heel because, quite simply, they did give their legs and feet a chance to acclimate to the minimal heel drop.

With the Minimus line, New Balance went right after the natural barefoot feeling and after some initial success with a couple different road shoes, introduced a good looking trail shoe option. When I saw the first road shoes that were offered from this line I scoffed. But when this trail shoe came out I thought seriously about giving it a try. When it was time to buy a new pair specifically for trail, I picked these up for a fairly reasonable price on Amazon when New Balance was introducing their second version of the same shoe.
Currently, these are in my closet with about 250 miles on them. Before I get to how they perform, here are some specs:

4 mm drop from front to back. 10 mm forefoot, 14 mm heel.
7.8 oz weight per shoe. Super light weight.
RockStop rock plate that runs from the toe to the midfoot. Good for rocky terrain.
Designed to be worn without, seriously. (I wear socks with mine)

When I first got these shoes and tried them on, I noticed the tongue was very different in how it was integrated with the rest of the shoe. I am still not sure I like it in how it sits on top of my foot, but that is a minimal issue. The lace holes are as I like them, with 2 options at the top for best fit. The arch support is like most shoes in this style, meaning there is some but not much. The one plus for me was the toe box. Being a guy with slightly wider feet than average, these fit very well in that area. As far as colors go, I went with a muted red and black option but noted there were several color schemes available, which I always think is cool...I like the bright colors usually.

As for running in them, I was not terribly impressed. From the word go, they have always rubbed in a way that leave me with wicked blisters after every run. I dutifully game them a firm 100 mile break in period, believing that they would soften or work themselves in to a point where the chafing would subside but after more than 200 miles they still rub. I will honestly say that I have no idea why this is and I am fully aware that thousands of runners wear these and do just fine. It could also be due to the fact that the shoes were designed to be worn without socks. As of yet, I have not tried running in them without socks and am not in a big hurry to do so since I don't want my shoes to absolutely reek to high heaven.

One positive note is they do well on trail in regards to their overall grip and handling. They were definitely built with rugged trail running in mind and are very capable in any off road terrain. They also do well on both short trail runs and long ones. To date, they have been used on short 5 mile jaunts and a couple of 20 plus runs. Because of the chafing however, the longer runs tend to be a little more painful, so I tend to minimize my runs in these shoes to 8 miles or less, which is in my opinion, tragic.

I have also noted that I can transition from trail to paved on the same run with ease. Trail shoes can sometimes be clunky when run on road and yet these handled well and were comfortable to do so. They are wearing well though, as far as mileage, which is always good. The tread is still strong on both shoes and should last me for at least 200 more miles. If I can somehow manage to run in them without the rubbing, I would suggest that everyone try them.