Monday, March 26, 2012

NBx Prism Short Sleeve Review

As some of you know, I visited New Balance Lincoln Square in Chicago to meet Jeff Mach and some of his team. You can read the whole story here. It was a good time and I was genuinely impressed by their passion for the New Balance brand and for helping their customers find the right gear. When I was there, Jeff was kind enough to give me a shirt to "try-out" and I feel like I owe him a review. I have shared some opinions on shoes in past posts but this will be the first time I officially review something. I never guessed it would be apparel but here goes.

The item Jeff gave me was the NBx Prism Short Sleeve in Tendershoots/Black (a sort of greenish yellow). Here are my honest thoughts:

Color / Design
I'm not a fan of luminous colors but the color of the Prism is growing on me. It also comes in a Black/Cherry Tomato (which looks dark gray) and Surf the Web/Black (a deep blue). I'm not a fan of the blue but the dark gray is very much my style for daytime running. Both the gray and the blue have a lime green vertical line down the back. This may help these darker shirts with visibility. I'm not a fan of that design element. The thicker diagonal lines on the back actually serve a purpose based on the way the shirt is constructed. More on that when I talk about material.

Reflection / Visibility
The NB logo on the chest and the NBx lockup on the hip are reflective. The diagonal lines on the back each have a reflective strip. The Tendershoots/Black color is a very high visibility color during day or night. I have done many runs in the dark on the streets of Chicago and visibility is key at those times.

I got a size medium and it feels pretty fitted but comfortable. I think they say the Prism is semi-fitted. The arms are a little shorter than many of my shirts and it is just over halfway down my bicep. I actually prefer a shorter arm like this.

New Balance says that the seems on the Prism are welded to help reduce weight. This is a super lightweight shirt. It is probably the lightest shirt I own. Shop New Balance says "Ultra-lightweight apparel gives you a distinct advantage in the great outdoors." I have no idea what that means but I shall look for this advantage they speak of.

Material / Feel
This shirt is an N1 Base Layer in New Balance's Layering System. It also has Lightning Dry wicking material and Crepe Knit with Polygiene® finish: 100% Nylon. I am going to be honest with you. The day sports companies stop using these trademark names and scientific mumbo jumbo for material, I will be a very happy man. Here's the skinny... The main fabric found around the front, arms and lower back is a very soft wicking material. When I was out for a run in cool weather the other day, a little wind was enough to keep it bone dry. Even in warmer weather when it retains more sweat, it is still much lighter than my other shirts. The shoulder and upper back area (above the diagonal lines) has a double layer with a honeycomb type material. I assume this is for venting and increasing the surface area to work harder at wicking moisture away from an area that typically gets saturated with sweat. This material may not be quite as soft as the main material but it does it's job. I was very impressed with this shirt's wicking ability.

Odor Resistence
I am very skeptical about products that claim odor resistence. Often shoes talk about it and I end up stinking them up every time. This shirt has Polygiene® silver-ion technology. I have to admit, after a few runs, I may be a believer. After the last run, I aggressively sniffed the shirt and could barely pick up my sweat odor. When the shirt is washed, it doesn't retain any odor at all. I am sure that the washing will reduce it's effectiveness over time but until then, it's stink free for me.

Wash / Dry
Many technical shirts require you to wash and then line dry. I often ignore this because it's just not practical for the way we do laundry. Who has a line these days? Most of my technical shirts dry wrinkle free, even when they are machine dried. This shirt wrinkles like crazy if it cools down in the drier and isn't folded when still warm. I had to wet it and re-dry it. Just something to be aware of. In reality, the creases would probably fall out with body heat but I can be really vain when it comes to things like this.

The Final Word
Probably the best running shirt I have from a wicking and weight perspective. It is up there with being one of the most comfortable too. I love shirts like this in the summer because they feel like you are wearing nothing. Obviously it could work as  winter base layer too. My two nitpicks... I think the design element of the line down the back is heavy handed and I wish it was a little more wrinkle resistant. If you are in the Chicago area, you can grab them at the four Chicago New Balance stores. If not, you can get them at the New Balance Online Store among other places.

POST UPDATE 03/28/2012
So, my first review got it's first criticism from a reader. Ouch. I am really not a chauvinist. I just wasn't thinking. I know I have women readers. I'm sorry. I won't make the same mistake again if I ever get to review any other products.

There is indeed an NBx short sleeve shirt for women. It comes in Tendershoots (the same greenish yellow as the men's), Virtual Pink and Dewberry (purple).

The women's shirt is obviously more fitted than the men's and has a shorter arm. It also has an additional design element on the right arm. The venting panel on the back is black rather than the same color as the rest of the shirt which looks really heavy in my opinion. What I do like about the women's is that the venting panel comes tighter under the arm.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Loneliness of the long distance runner

“Running has always been a big thing in our family, especially running away from the police. It’s hard to understand. All I know is that you’ve got to run – run without knowing why, through fields and woods. And the winning post’s no end, even though barmy crowds might be cheering themselves daft. That’s what the loneliness of the long distance runner feels like."

Colin running on a country road during the film intro.

Loneliness of the long distance runner is a famous British film from 1962 that was well known to me but I had never actually watched. It is adapted from a book by Alan Sillitoe and was Directed by Tony Richardson. It is set in a very bleak Nottingham (English Midlands) and follows the story of a boy named Colin Smith. It's in the tradition of "angry young men" works of the period that all dealt with post war disillusionment and class struggles. The film jumps from Colin's home life to his experience in borstal (juvenile detention center). This is my spoiler allert. If you are so inclined, please go watch the movie and then you can compare notes. Again, I'm not really a movie reviewer, I just capture what strikes me at first pass.

Through the film's constant flashbacks, we slowly pick-up Colin Smith's life story. Colin is played by Tom Courtenay who I remember well from the film Billy Liar. Colin's mother is very hard and very cold. She treats life, her sick husband, Colin and his three young siblings like a burden. We see Colin tuck his father into bed with a hint of love and respect. Later we get the sense that his father was a hard working and upstanding man – a different generation who valued the pride of a hard day's work, regardless of how little pay was involved. I can relate. My grandfather was the same way. He seemed genuinely hurt when society stopped valuing it the same way. Colin doesn't have a lot of respect for the law but at first, his crimes seem innocent enough, like "borrowing" a car to go on a joy ride with his best friend and two girls they pick-up. They all talk about London and getting away from their home town. There is a huge sense of discontentment among these teenagers and in the town in general. Colin puts a portrait of his parents face down on top of the TV. Later, we find out that his mother routinely cheated on his father and that she also constantly berated his him for not bringing home enough money. Colin respects his father but doesn't want his life. When his father finally dies, the family picks up insurance money and his mother immediately begins to spend irresponsibly. Colin starts to think of himself as the "man of the house" and is hostile to his mother's boyfriend. We see the first signs of Colin taking a different path to his father when he refuses to take orders from her. In an act of defiance, he burns some of the money that she gives him. When Colin realizes that he is on his own and that his mother doesn't intend giving him the role of patriarch, he breaks into a bakery with his best friend. They find over 70 pounds in a metal box (maybe as much as $2,500 in today's money). Colin likes to think of himself as cunning. He convinces his friend that they need to sit on the money for a while and stuffs it up the drainpipe of his house. It's a hiding place that immediately seems like a bad idea considering the weather in Britain. The police somehow suspect Colin and it's only a matter of time before the money is washed out at the most inopportune moment.

Ruxton Towers borstal likes to refer to itself as a reformatory. Michael Redgrave plays the Governor who genuinely seems to believe that he can rehabilitate the troubled young men. As soon as the Governor realizes that Colin can run, he becomes a "blue eyed boy." A boy named Stacy who was the former long distance champion is so frustrated by Colin that he absconds and is severely dealt with making Colin the "daddy" or alpha. Colin convinces his friends that he is playing the Governor but he becomes torn because he likes the perks and trust. You get a sense that he may even be starting to believe that he is destined for better things. A seminal moment in the movie is when the Governor starts to allow Colin to run long distance alone. He is clearly elated with the freedom. You start to suspect that he may actually enjoy running rather than believing that he runs to escape life or to get perks.
Colin running alone in the morning

There are many running sequences at this point of the film and initially, the focus is all on the sky which gives a sense of openness and freedom. You find yourself getting a little nervous during these moments because you don't want Colin to do something stupid and jeopardize his standing. The Governor starts talking to Colin about the potential for him to run in the Olympics in future but in the near term, he wants him to run in a race against a neighboring public school. It's the Governor's big chance to show people that he is making strides at Ruxton. 

Colin takes a breather in the woods and stares at the sky

You start to forget all about Colin's cunning ways. You forget that he set out to con the "screws" (guards). You start to believe that he is reforming until his best friend ends up at Ruxton and questions his character. The other boys are not interested in Colin's potential. They view racing for the Governor as betraying your class and validate a system that they believe to be failing them. The day of the five mile cross country race, Colin seems cool and calm. He even acts like a gentleman and exchanges well wishes with his opponent. During the race Colin catches the lead runner from the public school but as soon as he does, all the positive and negative influences of his life flood his head. As he builds up a strong lead, the negative thoughts prevail and you get to see scenes of Colin looking at his dead father for the first time. Unlike his father, Colin is not going to bend to the system. He stops just short of the line and allows the public school runner to win. The Governor is obviously bitterly disappointed. The film ends quickly with Colin working with the other boys in the borstal with no privileges. 

Colin allowing his opponent to win the race

It's a sad movie. On one hand there is disillusionment played out with defiance against the "proper" British upper class establishment. On the other hand, there is something very destructive and defeatist about it. There is pride in defiance but it comes at a bitter cost. Colin seems to have always hated his life. He talks to his girlfriend on the beach about trying to run away when he was a kid and always failing. You get the sense that Colin has learned that no matter how far or how hard you run, you can't stop being who you are. It's a shame. You really want the best for him. You desperately want to see him break through.

Some thoughts I had as I watched:
  • I’m curious to know what people really thought of long distance running in the early 60’s. Did they think it was bonkers?
  • The opening sequence is an instrumental of Jerusalem. The same stirring hymn plays on Chariots of Fire too. Later in the film, the boys in borstal sing it during an entertainment evening although they sing it like they are watching a soccer game. The film returns to it once more at the end.
  • I spotted a young Bernard Cribbins as one of the boys on the bus going to borstal. He is a much loved British actor.
  • Colin’s best friend is James Bolam. He was in a very famous TV series called The Likely Lads when I was young.
  • Arthur Mullard plays the second in command at the borstal. You may recognize him as the frightening man who gets a haircut by Mr. Pots at the fairground in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
  • It’s so funny to see things that may have a different connotation than they did when the film was released. There are inmates wrestling topless in their pajamas and the alpha dog is known as “daddy”.
  • It’s interesting to see how subordinates at work acted toward their boss in those days. There would have been class distinctions between the management ranks of course.
  • It was interesting to see the boys dismantling war-time gas masks as a part of their rehabilitation. It's a real statement about the change from war-time pride to post-war disillusionment.
  • It was funny to hear the boys at the borstal talk about eating horse meat. I know horse meat was eaten in the North of England before the war and maybe even after the war when there was a meat shortage. I’m thinking that prison inmates may have eaten the lion’s share of it.
  • Mr. Roach, the Physical education instructor at Ruxton seemed familiar. Wikipedia tells me that his is Joe Robinson, a well known British wrestler who has been in The Saint, The Avengers and numerous James Bond movies.
  • The concert scene is hilarouous. Fancy giving borstal boys a bird imitator and an elderly operatic couple as entertainment. You are asking for trouble!
  • The white public school track suits are ridiculous. 
“I’ve been learning a lot lately. Trouble is, I’m not quite sure what I’ve been learning.” – Colin Smith

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Minimus Zeroes in Austin Texas

It's been a while. I was out of town and when I got back, our internet was down. I had the good fortune of being sent to Austin to the SXSW Interactive conference. I was excited to see Austin and there was a great bunch of people from work there. The conference didn't stimulated me like I hoped it would and I don't really like clubby parties but it was worth going to get to know folks from our other offices and meet with a few old friends that used to work in Chicago. I was especially excited about doing some running in warmer weather.

An Instagram of the Capital Building in Austin.
An impressive building that looks brown in the day and white at night.

A shot of a closed-down store near my hotel in Austin

On Saturday, I was so bummed. I had to run in the hotel gym because it was raining and cold in Austin. It was warmer in Chicago at that point! The treadmill was really low quality and didn't feel substantial enough. I was dehydrated and my shinsplints were in full force. I forced out 2 miles and then called it a day. My colleague Paul and I were both wearing our New Balance MR00's in red. I was hoping that the matching shoes was going to freak him out more but he played it cool. My laces came loose toward the end of the run. What's with laces that untie themselves? Haven't running shoe companies moved past that yet? The zeroes performed as they have in my other treadmill runs. They felt comfortable and forced me into better form.

On Sunday, I woke with a terrible migraine. I haven't felt really well one day since starting to take Terbinafine. It's a medicine that I am taking to make sure that I have no microbial infection as my toenail hopefully grows back. The stuff is nasty enough that I have to take liver panels to make sure it's not doing something bad to me. I took some painkillers, blackened the room and slept off the migraine. When I woke, I had a desire to run the cloudy feeling off. I decided to hit Lady Bird Lake Trail. It's a reservoir off of the Colorado River. If you want to go on a nice long run, you can use bridges to cross over and loop around.

Lady Bird Lake Trail map
You can check out my route on DailyMile. I had to run about 1.5 miles to Lady Bird Lake. I ran from the hotel down Lavaca Street about 1.5 miles before finding a way down to the Lady Bird Trail. It is really lovely and it made me fall in love with Austin. The fact that the weather transformed from cold and rainy to warm and sunny was a big factor too. The trail was mostly fine gravel but there were some muddy patches prtially covered with mulch. There were other runners out but it was fairly quiet. It was easy to forget that you were running right in the middle of the City. Even though I didn't eat breakfast and hadn't been feeling great, I found my stride and just floated along. On DailyMile I referred to it as "epic". I have been so frustrated running 2 miles because of the shinsplints and all the water I drank the previous day must have paid off because my shins were so much better. It was a pleasure to run longer. I ran about 3 miles on the trail before taking the 1.5 mile Lavaca Street hill all the way back to the hotel. I was definitely starting to feel it at the end and running strides to beat the traffic lights didn't help.

My DailyMile route.
Even the restrooms are cool on Lady Bird Trail

On Monday, I ran later in the day. The weather got pretty hot and I was desperate to explore the trail a little more. This time, when I got to the trail, I turned right instead of left. It was much busier with walkers and runners. My legs were very tired but I managed another 6 mile run. I knew I'd be paying for it in the coming days but I couldn't pass up this opportunity to experience running in Austin. Even with heavy legs and a slow pace, I really enjoyed the run. It made me see the light at the end of the tunnel with this comeback. It was my first run in the heat. I forgot to take my hydration pack and that was a mistake. When I got back to the hotel, I was really worn out.

Since then, I have taken a few days off to let my poor legs recover. It was too much running for where I was in my recovery plan but it was a sacifice I made to have the experience. No regrets. I just need to go back to being smart.

New Balance Minimus Road Zero

So, what about the New Balance Road Zeroes? As some of you know, I just got a pair of MR00's. You can check out my visit to New Balance Chicago here. After multiple treadmill runs and a couple of 6 milers on varying surfaces, I am starting to form an opinion. Overall, I really like them but there is room for improvement. They are a handsome shoe – a real head turner. The weight is fantastic. It's easy to forget how much weight plays into minimalism. The midsole feels thin – more than I thought it would. At first that concerned me because I like protection but as soon as I realized how much this shoe forces me to run with better form, I forgot all about it. The outsole doesn't cover the entire bottom of the shoe. It was adequate for the surfaces I was running on. I'd be curious to see how the sole wears in general. The traction was great on the road and gravel. A few times when I ran over mud, I felt a slight skid. That's understandable. It's not a trail shoe at all and shouldn't be expected to perform that way. The upper is really light and airy. It's snug and I like the taco tongue because it doesn't add pressure or rubbing points to the top of the foot. I wish there was a recess for the achilles because it is high and I have had some light rubbing in that area – nothing too bad. The insole is soft and fleace-like. It is so much more comfortable than my MT and MR 10's are with bare feet. On Monday when it was pretty hot, I hoped that the material would dry a little more quickly. I ended up with a blister on the top of my right little toe near the nail bed. I suspect that it may have been caused my moisture and the toe box. At times, the toe box does feel a little too tight. It's very generous compared to a regular running shoe but it is noticeably less accommodating than my MT10's for example. Maybe they wanted to streamline the front for aesthetics – I don't know. I just think they should think about this more. The comfort overall is fantastic and I haven't had any other issues – not even the slightest hotspot. My main point of frustration with the shoe overall was that the fine gravel was getting into the shoe and under my feet. There has got to be a way to tighten the seal around the foot to avoid this. I know that it's a shoe designed for the road but a fine gravel trail shouldn't be a stretch for a road shoe. I'll let you know if I have any other updates on them. Obviously this is my point of view based on my feet. Shoes are different for everyone.

It's good to be back in Chicago with my family! Hope you are all well.

POST UPDATE 03/17/2012
I don't want people to think that the Zeroes don't have a lot of toe room in the toe box. I make it sound like the toes are squeezed together. They aren't. It's probably a more roomy toe box than most things you have experienced. There is just something about the way that they contoured around the little toe that makes them feel tighter at that point than the MT10's. This is based on my foot shape of course. Just wanted to clarify to be fair.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Visit to New Balance Chicago

I mentioned in an earlier post that Jeff Mach who owns the Chicago area New Balance stores had reached out and invited me to come by and try the new Minimus Trail 110's (MT110's). Jeff was nice enough to give me a shout-out on their Facebook page. He seems to get where I am coming from with this blog and I hope that I can continue to reach out to him for advice on how to crack New Balance and how to keep inspiring myself and others. After numerous emails and life getting in the way, I finally got a chance to meet him and some of his team at their Lincoln Park store.

Now don't get too excited. This doesn't mean that The Fool has arrived. I am not well on my way to sponsorship and all the spoils that come from recognition. New Balance stores are independently owned and operated licensee's of New Balance. Jeff and his partner are running a small business, they aren't New Balance corporate. Having said that, this meeting did give me faith that people out there are listening. If Jeff can discover my blog, so can the New Balance corporate running team or maybe even someone from the New Balance Wear Testing Program. Jeff and his business partner own three stores in Chicago (Lincoln Park), Oakbrook Terrace, Orland Park and Schaumburg. You can see the addresses on their website. I believe that Jeff said that Orland Park has a brand new space.

I was lucky to be fitted for shoes by Andrew. He was such a nice guy. Jeff asked him to show me how they go through the process. First I got measured and yes, my left foot is still a half size more than my right. I'm not sure why that freaks me out every time I hear it. Next, I ran on the treadmill. Now, there's not that much they can do for people like me who are hell bent on minimal shoes but for people who have issues, they do video capture and analysis it to help pick-out the right shoe. My form is terrible on treadmills—at least I feel like it is. Running in the MT110's, Andrew showed me that I was over-pronating with a subtle heel strike on my left foot but landing more neutral and flat footed with my right—interesting. I'm going to have sleepless nights about that. I also didn't know that it is more common to have issues be more pronounced on your less dominant foot. Next, he took me to a device that provides feedback on the pressure hotspots from your feet. He noticed that I have a lot of pressure on my metatarsal area. I have sensed this for a while. It was noticeably hotter on the foot where I had fractured my metatarsals and I have thickening from the repair. Based on his recommendation, I'd like to try their metatarsal inserts in my every day shoes to see if it helps. The heatmap also showed clearly that I have well defined arches. I was always told that I had flat feet and that seems to have changed over the last year and a half since I have been wearing minimal shoes. My podiatrist doesn't believe me but it's the truth.

Andrew was patient enough to let me try on three shoes. The MT110's, the MR00's and the MT00's. These were my impressions from my brief experience with them:

The MT110 is the shoe that Anton Krupicka (ultra trail runner) was very involved with. It's meant to be a minimal shoe with more protection for demanding trails. It has a rock plate in it, so I assumed it was stiffer which it is. This shoe looks heavy but it is amazingly lightweight for the protection it provides (it's only 7.75oz). It fitted my foot very well. It reminded me of the MT10 which is no surprise because Anton was involved with that shoe too and it's probably the same last (foot model made for making shoes). The inside is a little kinder to bare feet than the MT10. They felt great on the treadmill and by the feel of the sticky bottom, I bet they have great traction on the trails. I would love to buy this shoe for running more technical trails without worrying about bruising my delicate little feet. I would still consider buying the silver and orange but black is probably the most practical.

Next was the MR00's. These shoes just look so darned great. They fit my bare feet like a pair of socks. The taco tongue is really comfortable. The support across the front of the foot felt snug but not too much like I found the MT10 to be. The position of it is a little higher on the foot which helps. When I took them on the treadmill, I ratcheted the speed up to the mid 6 minute mile pace. I came up on my forefeet more and they felt as light as a feather (6.4oz). When I got off the treadmill, I realized that I hadn't been thinking about the shoe. A very good sign. The interior of the shoe has a comfy fleece-like feel to it. The green color looks so much better in reality than it does on the website but the red is so darned sexy.

The MT00's kinda blew my mind a wee bit. I have never seen anything like it. The upper is so paper thin that it boggles the mind. Andrew pointed out that you can see your bare toes through the shoe! The soles are all hollowed out which is why these things weigh nothing (4.4oz). When you fold them from heel to toe, there is almost no resistence. They are the most flexible shoes I have every tried on. Unfortunately, they did not have my size but I'd love to try running in them. I think these shoes will be popular with barefoot running types and they'll get plenty of road action. I couldn't see running on technical trails with a shoe like this—at least not fast as Andrew pointed out.  On smooth trails, I'm sure they would be awesome if you want super minimal.

So, that was pretty much my experience at New Balance Chicago. Jeff seems like an incredibly nice guy and everyone I met in the store seemed super friendly. It looks like Jeff fosters a really healthy team environment. The staff are knowledgeable and because it is just New Balance, they are passionate about the brand and have more detailed expertise. I have always been a believer in seeing shoe color and being fitted in-store. Plus, it's nice to connect good people. Before this visit, I had some great interactions with Sarah Grzybek over email. I believe she works in the Orland Park New Balance store. She seems quite inspiring. She is involved in the Tinley Track and Trail group that is sponsored by New Balance. They are lucky enough to spend time on the local Palos trails. I would love to join a group like that but it's a little too far for me to travel. If you are in that neck of the woods, check them out on their blog. Jeff invited me to run with their employees and friends when they have locally sponsored races. I told him that I would enjoy doing that.

Jeff Mach and yours truly holding a MR00
Did you buy anything I hear you ask? Yes, I got the red MR00's even though my friend Paul forbade me from getting them. We will both be in Austin for work and he said that he feels weird about running with me in matching shoes. Sorry Paul. There were no green shoes in my size and I liked the red best. We are going to look awesome together. I hope that Jeff knows that I didn't go to the store expecting anything other than the pleasure of meeting him. I'm all for getting freebies from corporate New Balance but I wasn't at Jeff's store to mooch off a hard working small business owner. He was gracious enough to discount my shoes and gave me a new technical running shirt to try-out. I believe he said it was called the Prism and it's made with Polygiene that stops it from getting stinky. I'll let you all know how the MR00's and the shirt go. I'm so looking forward to getting out of the cold Chicago weather and into the ideal running weather of Austin, Texas. Watch out for my runs on DailyMile.

I asked Jeff if he had any advice on how to get into the New Balance Wear Testing Program. He said that he didn't and told me that only one of their employees has ever been involved. Argh! It's so elusive!

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