Friday, July 27, 2012

Film Review of Run for Your Life

I had a bit of a accident involving a charcoal grill and lighter fluid. My face was really badly burned but it is getting better finally. Last night, I was feeling sorry for myself and tried to finish-off a running book that I wanted to share on this blog. In the end, I decided I needed some passive entertainment to lift my spirits. I opted to watch a 2008 documentary called Run for Your Life. It's the story of Fred Lebow and documents how he started the New York City Marathon. I knew nothing about the topic, so I thought it would be an educational film to help evolve my foolishness. If you don't want a spoiler, don't read this post!

Fred Lebow had a sad childhood but grew into a very positive and savvy adult with visionary ideas. NYC Marathon was not the first urban marathon but it is credited with starting the Worldwide urban marathon trend. Fred is also credited with being a pioneer of running event marketing and PR. I think it's fair to say that he is the Godfather of modern day running events.

Fred was born Fischel Lebowitz in Transylvania, Romania and did look a little vampire-like if you ask me. Fred's family split-up to avoid the Nazi's and he moved with an older brother to Czechoslovakia when he was 14 years old. He didn't reunite with the rest of the family until he was in his 30's in Brooklyn. Subsequently, he was a little distant from them and the fact that he had changed his name probably didn't help. He worked in the garment district of New York City and became an avid runner. The film doesn't go into when and why he became a runner but his older brother said that running was his religion. Fred claimed that there was nothing that couldn't be fixed with a run. There was a running scene in the Bronx but because of increased traffic and the decline of that borough, Fred suggested to the runners that they move to Manhattan. He had fallen in love with running in Manhattan when he ran around the Central Park reservoir (1.8 miles) in 1969.

Fred Lebow in his signature running hat.
As soon as Fred became the unofficial leader of the running community, he worked with the NYC Parks Commission to get permission to organize races. After a few races, he formed the New York City Road Runners Club. He had a vision to have a Marathon and in 1970, they hosted the first NYC Marathon in Central Park. It was a four loop course where you had to avoid strollers and horses. Fred had quit his job and put his personal effort and money behind the events. It was very bare bones stuff. The 1970 NYC Marathon winner said that Fred asked him to return the trophy because he was short one and needed to give it to someone else. Regardless of these humble beginnings, the running community had become fired-up and the club had brought people even closer together. Fred pushed women's distance running forward too. He was asked by a sponsor to host a women's only marathon but knew he could only get 5 or 6 runners. He hosted a 6 mile run and called it a "mini marathon". By doing this, he made it accessible to many more women and created a lot of press for women's running. Women wanted to prove that they could run distance - something that the racing organizations of the time were discouraging.

Gary Muhrcke winning the 1970 marathon.
Joy Spitz gave Fred the idea of making the 1976 marathon a 5 borough race in honor of the Centennial.  The idea was to do it as a one-off event. Fred took the idea and ran with it. He created a lot of spin around the event even though he did not have the funding or runners. He somehow convinced the City to host it, convinced sponsors to give him money and his stroke of genius was convincing Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter to go head to head at the event. This made the race something that World class runners wanted to be a part of and the press went crazy. Fred was concerned about the safety on the course because some of the neighborhoods were rough. He did a lot of grass roots work to build community support. The stars were aligning because it was a turning point for the City coming out of terrible economic troubles. The public were ready for something positive to happen. The race was a resounding success. Bill Rogers won and subsequently won the next four. In '78 Grete Waiz called to try to get into the race. The club secretary didn't know who she was but Fred called her back and invited her to enter. She won 9 of the next 12 Marathons and they became close friends. As the race evolved and marathons became big business, Fred vision became apparent. There was a bidding war between the NYC and Chicago races. Bill Rogers didn't like Fred's deal, so he decided to run in Chicago. That next NYC marathon was won in a course record time by Alberto Salazar. He broke the World Record at the event the following year and won again after that. You may think this was dumb luck on Fred's part except for the fact that Fred had personally recruited Alberto and had created a huge PR drive behind him.

I guess the rest is history. Fred became a legend Marathon Director and continued to lead the NYC Road Runners Club. He was also quite the celebrity and was incredibly popular with the ladies although he could not commit to a permanent relationship. The twist to the documentary is that Fred developed brain cancer. He continued to run when he was in the hospital and after surgery, he ran even though it was slower than his walk. He told his friend Nina that he liked the soothing rhythm of jogging. Fred said that cancer had made him milder in personality and had brought him closer to his family. In 1992, he finally got to run the New York City Marathon for the first time. He had run many marathons around the World but never his own. He bravely completed it with his friend Grete Waiz.

"In running, it doesn't matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack or last. You can say, 'I have finished.' There is a lot of satisfaction in that."
- Fred Lebow (1932 - 1994)

A few other interesting facts..

  • In the 60's and early 70's, running was not a hobby. The people who ran were serious and fast. The general public thought that road running was very odd.
  • Fred was not a fast runner. His vision was to bring running to people like himself - people who were not elite but wanted a challenge. He understood the trend toward a fitness lifestyle.
  • In the beginning, there were no World class runners, so local NYC runners won. How awesome it must be to have those memories.
  • Nina Kuscsik (who later won a NYC marathon) was meant to break 3 hours for PR in the 1970 race. She didn't feel prepared and gave up after 15 miles. She said that she was a little embarrassed because it went down in history that no women completed the first NYC marathon.
  • The first race included some steps. One of the runners said that when they ran up the steps, their thought was "Bill Rogers had to run up these steps too?"
  • It's great to think that a lot of the people who watched the 1976 marathon had never seen a competitive running race in their lives. It was a process of education to get people to understand it and get behind it.
  • When Fred met with important sponsors and NYC dignitaries, he always wore his running gear. He was really in-tune with the idea that his quirky brand helped the reputation of the Road Runners Club and the NYC Marathon.
  • NYC supported the Marathon for free until Fred wrote in a book about how he had fooled the Mayor because he was paying the runners and not the City.
  • Fred pioneered things like running up sky-scrapers, the corporate challenge and themed runs that have become the norm today. 
  • Fred was known for waiting at the finish line and giving high fives to all the runners as they came in. He loved the event and was often terribly depressed when it was over.

So, how did this movie impact me? Well, I loved Fred's character and courage. He was a bit of a tyrant but people loved him anyway. His staff stayed with him and learned from him. He was a man who knew what he wanted and went after it without apologies. You have to admire that. The documentary really made me want to run the New York City marathon one day. I lived in New York for nearly 7 years. I have experience with the boroughs. I lived for a short while in Staten Island. I worked in the South Bronx as a case manager for kids with developmental disabilities. I visited Queens often to hang-out with friends. I lived in Flatbush and Brooklyn Heights in Brooklyn. I lived on the Lower East side and lived the longest stretch in the East Village of Manhattan. I would love to experience NYC in this unique way. I love that the neighborhoods come out to celebrate it. The scale of the city and the event would be pretty inspiring. Maybe one day...

You can watch the movie on Netflix here. It is an instant play as of right now.
You can buy the movie very cheaply on Amazon here.

See all the running movies I have seen to date.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Adidas Tribute Logo

Yes, I have a new tribute logo. Why? Let me explain.

As some of you may know, I have had this blog since September 2011. Initially, it was about having some fun, inspiring myself and seeing if I could get New Balance to play the game with me. I didn't expect it to be read by so many people and I certainly didn't expect to be inspiring others to run. It has been a fulfilling trip. The only real limitation has been the direct tie to New Balance. The folks at New Balance corporate didn't seem to care that I was giving them free publicity. That's OK, I know how brand teams are. They are a pretty self serving bunch. It doesn't change my relationship with the company. I am still a fan and I love their shoes. The one good thing about focusing on New Balance was that I made a friend in Jeff Mach who owns the Chicago area New Balance stores. He is a great human being and has a very passionate group of people in his stores. Please shop there in person if you have the chance and if you must shop online, they benefit from online sales here.

Here's the old New Balance tribute logo for those of you who have forgotten already:

Even though I have received free books to review and a running shirt sample from Jeff Mach, Adidas gets the honor of being the first running shoe company to send me pre-release shoes to try and blog about. I was very open about how exciting this was to me. It's a big milestone in the history of this humble little blog. I am very grateful to them and in honor of it, I am sporting an Adidas tribute logo.

I just want to reiterate. This is not about thumbing my nose at New Balance. It's more about opening-up the theme of the site. In future, I can see me creating more tribute logos and I'm open to doing it for companies I have had no connection with. It can be a fun thing to keep things interesting.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Adidas Adipure Collection - Initial Thoughts

As you may have seen, Adidas sent me a couple of pairs of their new Adipure minimal line. I'm not ashamed to admit that this was the first time a shoe manufacturer sent me shoes for me to blog about and it excited the hell out of me. It's awesome to get free stuff but to a runner, there is nothing more exciting than free running shoes.

These shoes are meant to be released late August. They are a family of shoes you can use to transition to minimal with the Motion being the most shoe and the Adapt being the most minimal. The specs that are floating around out there are as follows:

At first, I thought the notion of a family of shoes that you could use to transition was a ridiculous notion but when I tried them on, I couldn't help but believe that it was possible. More on that later.

Before I get into my first thoughts on the Motion and Gazelle, I just want everyone to be clear that I have been wear testing them walking only. I am recovering from a calf injury, so as soon as I am back, I'll add my thoughts about their running chops.

Let's start with the Adipure Motion
This is the least minimal of the line. The first thing I noticed is how light it is and how loud it is. Maybe it's because I am European but I love really bright running shoes. It makes me happy.

The main color is bright sky blue and the laces and collar are a very a very luminous salmony pink. I have seen a black version on the Interwebs and that doesn't look so good to me. This shoe is like having the padding of a Nike Free, the shape of a New Balance Minimus Road and upper of a Saucony Hattori (with more support). It works for me.

You'll notice that the outsole is pretty structured and provides durability across the whole shoe. It looks vaguely Nike Free-like from the side but if you try to fold it up, you are only going to see the toe section fold. The rest of the sole is pretty firm as you would imagine from the double midsole. There is some arch support built-into the shoe.

The upper material is a mesh sock-like material similar to the feel of the Saucony Hattori. The mesh has a shiny rubber pattern printed on it that may well add some structure along with aesthetics. 

What stops this shoe feeling like a sock is the two supporting elements either side of the midfoot (that is also home to the famous three stripes). These supportive elements laying over the sock help to secure the foot in position. 

The heel is rounded and recessed which I am sure the marketing folks will tell you is to promote a mid-foot strike. The back of the shoe has the classic logo. One thing I noticed immediately were the little velcro tabs on the tongues and the heels. It took me ages to guess what these were and I am pretty sure they are for pulling on the shoes. You open up the velcro, use the tabs to pull and then push them back down out of the way. I don't use them because I don't find the shoes difficult to get on but it's a neat little feature.

Instagram photo taken at the Damen Blue Line "L" stop.

So, what are they like? Well, when I first slipped them on, I thought they were a really snug sock-like feel. The material in the toe area pulls over your toes and this takes a little getting used to. After wearing them for a couple of weeks now, it doesn't bother me at all. The softness of the mesh makes it feel like there is ample room in the toe box. I have to say that I don't like the way the laces feel when you lace the shoes snuggly. The tongue is the same thin mesh sock material, so the laces tend to dig-in a little bit. The laces are too short. This may be because they are a pre-release pair. I tend to wear running shoes without socks and I haven't had a single hotspot with these shoes. I often find Adidas a little narrow for my feet but because of the flexibility in the sock-like mesh, it is very forgiving. This is just as well because the shoe really isn't as anatomical as say a New Balance MR00. The one thing about the fit that worried me initially was the spot where the side supports ended on the inside of my feet. I could definitely feel it and I was worried that it would start to rub. After a couple of weeks, I noticed it less and I have had no issues at all. For a larger stack height (for a minimal shoe), you get a decent amount of feedback from the ground. They don't feel as thick as you would imagine. I think the lightness of the shoe has a lot to do with that. The padding is soft but not as unstructured feeling as a Nike Free. For anyone who wants a transitional shoe, I would definitely encourage you to check it out. For someone like me who has already transitioned, it's just a little too much shoe and obviously too much of a drop. Having said that, I have been enjoying wearing these more than my Nike Free's and my New Balance MR10's. They have also been a show stopper. People just can't stop looking at your feet when you walk by. I got loads of comments from people in work about how cool they looked. One person stopped me on my dog walk and asked me where he could get a pair. Running shoes should have a personality like that. Running is fun, so why not the shoes!

And now onto the Gazelles. My pair were an orange red and is really vibrant. The thing I really like about these is that the Adidas stripes are silver and metallic looking.

They are very like the Motion in the upper but you'll notice the outersole only has protection mostly in the mid and forefoot. This makes them lighter and more flexible. You can fold these shoes up very easily from toe to heel.

You can see the big different in stack height with the more minimal midsole. The arch support also doesn't seem to be as pronounced as the Motion.

The front and back of the shoe are very like the Motion.

Here's the detail on the rubber pattern that the Motion and Gazelle have printed on the mesh.

Instagram taken at my office

My thought on the Gazelle? The upper fits exactly like the Motion. This is why I think it's an option for someone who wants to transition through a family of shoes. You don't have to get used to a new upper, you just need to adapt to a couple less mm of drop and less stack height. It's pretty clever. I had the same issues with lacing tightness because of the thin tongue. I had no issue barefoot with the Gazelle. No hotspots at all. Obviously, the ride is lower and firmer with these shoes but they feel remarkably comfortable to walk in. It's a great balance of comfort and ground feel. Just like the Motion, I got lots of positive feedback about the look of these shoes. They are brighter than the Motion but for some reason, the Motion catches people's attention quicker. This shoe is closer to the shoes I have been running in for longer runs, so I am so anxious to take them out. There is nothing like wearing a shoe that makes you want to run. It's a great feeling. I have found myself going back to this shoe time and time again of all the shoes I have in the closet. I just love wearing them. I still think these should have been a 4mm drop and the Adapts should have been zero but there has to be some reason why Adidas didn't want to go there right now.

So, that's it. Based on my wear testing them as daily shoes, I would recommend giving them your consideration. Stay tuned for when I run in them and provide updated information. Adidas, if you are listening, I really want to try the Adapt. I want to see what it is like to go from the side supports of the Gazelle to a full sock upper. By the way, thanks for sending them. Most appreciated.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Minimal for Kids

Have you ever watched a kid run barefoot? I mean, have you really watched? It's a thing of beauty. It's so unadulterated. I took this photo of my son Charlie (left) on Sanibel Island, Florida a couple of summers ago. He is running with a boy that he just met. Don't you love their ability to connect that quickly at that age? Look at the enjoyment on his face! The sun was setting and they chased each other across the sand barefoot. Great stuff. Form is not really a concern here obviously but if I was paying attention, I'm sure I would have observed them running mid and fore-foot depending on their speed. Running like this is the most natural thing there is. In fact, they are not even conscious of running. Just loving life!

Then, think about how kids run in traditional sneakers. It's a totally different experience. Charlie has a pair of New Balance sneakers similar to the ones in this picture. It's not an issue with New Balance. All kids sneakers that have a large stack height and too much support are problematic. Sadly, like adult shoe market, they are by far the majority of shoes you will find out there. When Charlie wears traditional shoes like this, he runs like he has bricks on his feet. It's a most unnatural movement.

When I started to get into more minimal footwear, I took a look at Charlie's sneakers and it all made sense. It's basic physics. If you have an adult shoe that is overly supportive, it isn't going to be that flexible. If you then shrink that same shoe to kid size, it's going to be even less flexible. Some kids shoes look like the stack height may be as high as the adult shoes. They look like platforms! Here's a little diagram I made. It's not rocket science and I don't need research on my side. All you have to do is grab a pair of supportive kid's sneakers and see how flexible they are to know that I speak the truth. I think you'll find that they are not very flexible. In fact, some refuse to bend at all, especially mid-foot.

Those of you who are not into minimal shoes are probably thinking that I am making a bigger deal out of this than I need to. All I can do is share my point of view and you can make your own decisions. I feel really good about giving Charlie a more anatomical shoe that allows ground feel and natural foot movement. As a family, we tend to be barefoot as much as possible. When Charlie and all our other kids were babies, we were advised to put soft shoes on them to avoid inhibiting development of their feet. When our kids started in City Garden Waldorf Early Childhood School (kids 2-6 years old), they made them wear soft slippers to help their feet develop and strengthen. Now that Charlie is going into first grade, would I really want him to wear massively supportive and inflexible house bricks on his feet? It makes no sense at all. Since we purchased Charlie a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves over a year ago, he runs with very natural form. In fact, we just got back from New Hampshire and he was trail running with me with that same spirit he is showing in the photo above. This last year, Charlie has come on a number of 3 mile runs with me and looked great. He discovered that running could be fun. Without any prompting, the Trail Gloves became his go-to shoes for everything. He even used them for hiking in Starved Rock State Park. When his sister borrowed them for gym class, she wanted her own and now claims that she can run much faster in them than she did in her old sneakers. Am I worried about the lack of padding? Not really. Kids aren't heavy like adults and they are super light on their feet. Neither one of them has ever complained about feeling the ground or having any discomfort. I would highly recommend the Trail Gloves. Charlie's have taken a real beating and stood up pretty well.

Since my personal minimal experiences and reading articles like this on RunBlogger, I have now become pretty firm in my view about having all three of our kids wearing minimal shoes as often as possible. I'm starting with running shoes but I'm trying to influence my wife to think about casual shoes too. So, what's out there for options?

Apart from the Trail Gloves, Merrell also has a couple of other minimal models. The Pure Glove (top) seems similar to the Trail Glove but it has a simpler double strap fastening. The Flux Glove (center) is a lace-up but seems to have a bit more padding and support. The Reach Glove (bottom) seems to be intended more as a fashion version of the Trail Glove.

New Balance recently came out with a line of the Minimus for kids. It seems like it is connected with the look of the MT10's and 20's. I don't have a personal recommendation to make here because we haven't tried them but if they are as well designed as my MT10's, they will be a great shoe. I'd love to see New Balance release some kids shoes that play off the design of the adult MT00's and the MR00's. That's a really hot looking line of shoes.

Apart from the colors above, I also got a sneak peek photo sent to me of some new colorways coming out very soon. I also see some velcro straps there. Not sure if that is a completely new model or just for the younger sizes.

Vivobarefoot has really embraced kids shoes. They have a lot of options that you can check-out here. They are pioneers in minimalist running but have plenty of every day shoe options for kids. The Ultra Juniors (A) can be used for sports and running but are great for water because there is no material to soak-up water. The Ultra Kids (B) are a similar shoe but look more like a sandal because they have a simpler velcro strap. The Zigzag Sandal (C) is a super comfortable looking sport summer sandal. The Pal (D) is an every day Mary Jane style shoe for girls. The Neo Junior/Kids (E) is much the same as the comfortable adult running shoe. The Neo Kids velcro (not shown) is the same shoe with a thick velcro strap. The Rooty (F) is a cool everyday shoe with two thick velcro straps. The Ra Kids and Juniors (G) is a fun summer shoe that comes in canvas and leather. Did I mention boots? I'm not even showing the Eskimo high boots for girls, the super cute Chelsea Boots for girls and the Off Road Hi Juniors and Kids that look like they are mostly for boys. Bravo Vivo! I admire the commitment. Vivo's are not cheap but I own a pair and I can tell you that they are exceptionally well made and they are kind to the planet too. To put it in their words "Vivobarefoot footwear is produced sustainably using recycled, locally sourced materials, with efficient and eco-friendly production techniques, in independently monitored ethical factories."

Vibram (yes, I'm talking Five Fingers) also has some kids models. The Sprint (left) is the most minimal with a velcro strap. The Speed has a traditional lacing system. The KSO is similar to the Sprint but is a little more shoe because it covers more of the foot. I haven't enjoyed wearing my Five Fingers. I have the Bikila's. I don't think the sole is comfortable. I feel all the lugs under my foot. I don't like the way putting my toes inside the toes of the shoe forces a slight splay. I've even been getting a little numbness on the side of my little toe wearing them to the gym although they are great for balance exercises. Ironically, I feel like my toes move more freely in a fingerless shoe that is an anatomical shape and has an ample toe box. It's a shame. I really wanted to like the Five Fingers. My kids have seen them on other kids and desperately want to try them.

Saucony make the Kinvara for kids and Nike make the Nike Free Run + for kids too. Both these shoes may be more flexible and therefore better than many kids shoes out there but I think the higher stack heights make them even less of a minimalist option for kids. Kids don't need as much padding. Let them feel the ground as much as possible I say!

The only draw-back with minimal shoes is money. Kids grow out of shoes so quickly that it's cost prohibitive to replace them all the time. I think it comes down to how important an investment you think it is. You know where I stand on the matter.

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