Second Wind

Second Wind
"Run With Purpose!"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Product review: CEP RxOrtho+ Knee brace

First off, if you don't know already, I've had 7 knee surgeries.  So I'm testing this brace from that perspective... I'm not wearing this as a fashion accessory ;)

With that said, I hate knee braces.  Honestly, I despise them.  I think most of them are highly uncomfortable, they bunch up, they slide down, they twist, they turn, and they're all a placebo that just makes us feel better.  So, I never wear them.  I've had terrible luck.  I've worn walmart ones, I've worn sleeves, I've worn metal hinged cyborg ones, I've worn ones from various surgery centers.  I hate them.

The one exception I had found so far were these Tommy Kono Knee Sleeves for weight lifting.  But they are specific for weight lifting - they're terrible (by design) for running.

So again, here's my perspective on this:  my knees have been torn apart more times than I can count, I've had surgery on everything you can imagine on them, I've torn, ripped, chipped, chiseled, and replaced it all AND I hate knee braces.  Got it?

Alright, so, with all that said:
I was running the Virginia Creeper back in October and at about mile 15 my right knee (the "good" one) just quit on me.  Terrible pain, instability, the works.  I had to wwog (wabbly-walk-jog) the rest of the way and it sucked.

Then, 1 month from that run I had the 13"+" mile hell course in South Carolina in the Spartan Beast.  So, I reached out to CEP and asked them what they had from Medi (I respect them as a company and you may or may not know that CEP is CEPCompression is CEPSports is MediUSA).

What they came back with was the CEP RxOrtho+ Knee Brace

I was skeptical, but also out of options and quitting on this Spartan Race just wasn't an option for me.  The brace arrived and it was actually a touch big (I first ordered a V) so I returned it and they quickly got me out a size IV.  The IV fit perfectly, but since I had waited until the last minute, I got it 1 day before I left for SC for the race... so the first time I ever did anything in it was... the race itself.

The race day was cold and the about 1/2 the obstacles were in chest deep water which was freezing so I actually wore the knee brace and then wore a pair of compression tights over the brace (note that this is not recommended by CEP...).
The race was somewhere over 13 miles (combination of insane elevation change, water, and hypothermia temps that that people's GPS reported huge ranges of distance - anywhere between 13.5 and 16.6 miles) and consisted of lots of water, tons of mud, climbing walls, rope climbs, jumping, crawling, rope traverses, etc. etc. etc. (you can read the full account of the race Here).

The knee brace?  I loved it.  I couldn't believe it.  I've never even tolerated a knee brace before and this one I genuinely loved.  Not only did my knee feel great, stability was fantastic, and my knee cap tracked correctly... it never moved.  Honestly, it never moved.  Not once over that entire race, all those obstacles, up down, climb, crawl, jump, run, wet, dry, soaked, not one time did I ever have to adjust the brace.  I was floored.

Now, please hear me, this is not gushing to get free swag from CEP, I take knees very seriously and CEP was fully aware that I would be brutally honest in this review and I'm telling you the truth - it was amazing.  Better than any $300-$600 insurance paid surgical brace, better than... anything.

Here's some of the features (the how) that set this brace apart from everything else:

  • Lots of sizes:  1-7 (albeit the sizing is a little hard to match up-measure what's close and I would actually recommend going down 1 size)
  • Very breathable (50% polyamide, 30% polyester, 20% spandex) - this is not a neoprene brace!
  • It's compression - highly elastic (and good compression... it's CEP!)
  • Excellent anatomical fit 
  • The knee cap is 'open' but... closed:  it doesn't have compression or thick material over the knee, instead there's a loose "pocket" of covered material to protect but not restrict (see pic on my leg and you can kind of see what I'm talking about) --> 

  • inside, under that loose material pocket, there's a silicone horseshoe that stabilizes your knee cap, patella, and assists with proper alignment and tracking 
  • and, the Best part:  what really sets this brace apart are these integrated non-slip bands that run the full length on each side (see CEP stock photo below) - it's like ribs that grip and hold the brace perfectly in place despite whatever you happen to be doing.  This is what Makes this brace (the yellow ribbing in the picture below:)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Icebreaker Apparel: Quantum + Hoodie

Today we have another quality product from the folks over at icebreaker 

In the past I've done reviews on their GT Run Shorts, their short sleeve GT Run Top, and their LS Ace Zip.  Additionally, I recently named icebreaker the hands down winner of Best-of-the-Best: Apparel company

Now I have the chance to share with you their Quantum + long sleeve hoodie

This is from their 260 line (a midweight midlayer) which is still 98% natural Merino wool (2% elastane).  Like everything icebreaker makes, this is natural, ethically responsible, traceable back to the farm where the sheep came from that made that exact garment (how cool is that?), naturally odor resistant, and super breathable.  What this one adds is an extra level of warmth (above the 150 or 200 weight) and water resistance!

  • In addition to its inherent breathability, icebreaker added eyelet mesh panels in the underarms.  
  • It keeps the thumb loops in the sleeves, which I've come to love
  • It has 2 good size zippered hand pockets (large enough to fit your hands in them with gloves)
  • The zippered chest pocket with media cord port (and media loop in base of hood) is really nice in that it's actually usable.  So many of these chest pockets are so small I can barely fit my truck key in it.  This one comfortably fits my entire iPhone with Otter box case in it
  • I really like the slim fitted design of this hoodie.  
  • With that slim fit and light weight this hoodie is great to run in (and hike in, and wear out on the town, layer under a coat, etc, etc.!)
  • As far as warmth goes, this jacket will keep you plenty warm down to about 35 degrees or so and below that you simply layer it up (see icebreakers article on Layering)
  • The hood is fitted also.  Couple of things on this:  the hood is fitted so it stays in place well and doesn't allow a lot of wind to come in and 'fill' it up while you're running, however, for me, I would have liked the hood to be a little bit larger (the front of the hood basically comes just barely to my hairline - no further forward, no further down).

Now, one of the many things I love about icebreakers merino wool is that it is so unbelievably odor resistant you can sweat like a dog in it and then wear it out to a nice dinner that night and be fresh and fine.  
This odor resistance lasts forever.  It's awesome.  That is, unless you have kids ;)  I have already washed this hoodie more in the last couple of months then I've washed my LS Ace Zip in the couple years that I've owned it -  the difference?  
a 6 month old (our second).  
So, countless spitup and various other natural disasters have forced this hoodie into the washer a lot.  And, it holds up beautifully.  Nothing to it.  
Just throw it in the washer, with normal detergent (no fabric softner) and wash it.  Then just pull it out and let it air dry (I usually hang it on a drying rack or the back of a chair and put a fan in front of it to help it dry faster) and it's as good as new!  Can't beat 98% wool that can just be thrown in the washer!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday deals!

Dont forget to check out your favorite running brands for Black Friday deals!

A few I've heard about so far are:

Lens is offering 25% off certain shoes with code "TURKEY25"

And the folks over at Skora Running are offering 25% off site wide!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

SPARTAN BEAST Obstacle Race: Review and all obstacles (Winnsboro, SC - Nov 9th, 2013)

This past weekend I decided to try my first obstacle race ever.  That's right.  First obstacle race, of any kind, any brand, any distance, ever.  So, naturally, I decided I would start with the company that has hands down won the title of toughest obstacle race series (Spartan), at the their toughest trifecta distance (Beast), at the toughest Beast location in the country (Winnsboro, SC), in November.
pffff, what's the worst that could happen ;)

So I rounded up a few other completely insane friends to hit it with me (only 1 of which had ever done obstacle racing before and their longest race to date was a 6 mile Savage Race in the summer in ATL), vowed to stick together the entire race, no matter what - start together, race together, and Finish together.  We loaded up, made the ~5 hour drive, threw some Sport Beans in our pockets (well, mostly in my pockets of old shorts I had that had no drawstring and I had apparently bought when I was much heavier... the dang things tried to fall off of me the entire race).

So here you go sports fans, the obstacle breakdown of The Beast:

First off, the distance and terrain were intense.  The distance was somewhere between 13 and 16.4 miles.  The only 2 sure things about the distance was that
A:  their mile marker signs LIE!   and B:  EVERY water station, from beginning to end was heralded as the "official half way point!"  lol
The terrain was insane... I did not at all expect the hills.  Spartan had said "those who can climb will be well rewarded" which I thought referred to rope climbs.  Nope.  It referred to mountain goat climbs, stretching in elevation to 100 yards nearly straight up.  AROO!

Next thing to point out, anyone who has heard that you have to do 30 burpees for skipping an obstacle, no worries there, that's a lie.  You aren't allowed to skip obstacles* (1 was an exception based on time) and you have to do 30 burpees for any obstacle you fail, or if you don't finish the rep under control, or if you drop whatever you're carrying, or if you don't set it down gently enough, or if the marshal likes you ;)

*At most races you simply walk up to the start line.  Not so here.  Here, to even get to the start line to get ready to race you jump a 6ft flat wall.

*Then comes the mud pits (4 in a row).
First one is knee deep (but I got a running start and jumped and cleared it!)
Second one is waist deep
Third one is waist deep
Fourth one is Chest deep.

*Then comes the next wall, also a 6 footer

*Atlas carry was next.  You grab a 120 pound cylinder of concrete (as if you'd used something like a 5 gallon bucket for the mold), pick it up, walk 15 yards, gingerly set it down, do 5 burpees, pick it back up, walk 15 yards, and gingerly place it back down how you found it (dropping it at any point resulted in a 30 burpee penalty.  dropping one hard enough to break it resulted in a 100 burpee penalty).

*Next up you had a horizontal log hung about 50 feet up in the trees with ropes through pulleys under the log and you had to grab the rope and pull a 120 pound concrete block up to the log and then (gently) let it back down.  The girl next to me did it.  She was So excited!  So excited, in fact, that she dropped the rope when the block was still about a foot off the ground to excitedly clap for her accomplishment.  30 burpees.

*Next we had a down hill.  Now, remember what I told you about the ridiculous hills?  Yeah, and this was one was so insane that I still mention it specifically.  They had trees all down the hill to grab on to because you could Not physically walk down it.  Your options were to pinball your way down, tree to tree, or get on your butt and slide.

*You then come to a box full of concrete blocks attached to chains.  You lift one out of the box, set it down, and get to pulling it down this hill, maybe 80 yards.  At the bottom, you turn the corner and, you guessed it, drag it back Up the hill 80 yards back to the box.

*Next up you had the log flip.  This was really cool!  It was like a tire flip, but you had a long tree log instead.  You would flip it, end over end, 4 times.  Now, let me say this.  There were a lot of people who didn't get this one.  One of the guys that was with me deadlifts over 500 pounds and this gave him some pause.  I deadlift 300 and I thought I would just dip my back a little and hurl this thing up.  Denied.  I had to go in full squat, lock up, and beast this thing.  No idea what it weighed, but it was _heavy_.  Very cool obstacle.

*Then you come to a tire (pretty standard pick-up truck tire) attached to a rope.  You carry/drag the tire down a lane maybe 50ft or so, then run back to where you started, grab the rope, and pull the tire back to you.

*There's then a creek section where you wade the creek for a ways (remember that water of any kind is an obstacle because it is Cold outside and then the water was freezing!)

*Next up a pond to walk through, starting at ankle deep then increasing to chest deep.

Up to this point the obstacles have been quite spread out.  Now you come to a section of 4 right on top of each other:

*The traverse wall (a long wall of maybe a 100ft with small pieces of 2x4 screwed on at varying spans)

*Inverted wall.  A wall that was 10-12 feet high but that was like a ramp... only the ramp was on the other side and you were under it.  Pull/up muscle up skills are huge on this course.

*Then comes the obstacle Every Spartan is waiting for.  The Spear Throw!
I nailed it.  Dead center.  Fluke?  Probably, but I'll take it!

*Immediately after this is the rope climb.  However, a simple rope climb just will Not do!  This was a rope climb that starts you out in almost neck deep frigid water and you have to start your 30ft climb from there.  Once at the top, you ring the bell and make your descent.  Back into the frigid water.  When I hit that water... Both of my calf muscles completely locked out in the worst muscle cramps I have ever had.  Completely debilitating.  I was literally stuck, unable to move at all.  After a few moments I floated to my back and backstroked to the edge and was pulled out of the water, still unable to stand.  Luckily, (haha!) I had reached 27ft of the 30ft when my calves cramped up and I didn't make it the last 3 feet to the bell so I had my very first set of 30 burpees to warm myself back up... ;)

*After the rope climb, you take a brief run through the woods to thaw out and find yourself at the "Rolling Mud" obstacle.  Rolling mud is 4 mud pits filled with ice cold water that you drop yourself down into, wade through, and then meet a tall wall of mud that you have to try to climb out of, scale, climb over, and then slide back down the other side into the next pit.  The first one the floor was pretty solid underneath you and the water was waist deep.  Calves cramped immediately again.  Second one was chest deep and the ground underneath you so thick mud that you had to work really hard to pull your feet up with each step.  Now the quads are cramping.  Third one was the same as the second and the 4th was super thick, mixed with lower amounts of quickcrete for consistency.

(at this point my muscles were super cramped.  I never expected the damage of the freezing water on the muscles when you hit it.  Going into the rope climb I felt untouchable.  After the cramps at the rope climb, the cramps continued and were brutal - dramatically changed the race!)

*After rolling mud you had the uneven monkey bars.  They looked like fairly normal monkey bars from any playground, but the bars were at different heights, and then the last several the really spanned out the distance between the bars which caught me off guard and at a towering 5 foot 6 inches, I dropped with 1 bar left to go (I was ticked at myself bad for that one!).  Next (and final) set of 30 burpees.
Finishing the course with only 2 sets of penalty burpees (60)... I was reasonably happy with that, but sucked that the 2 I had the penalties on were ones that I shouldn't have had any problem with.

*Next up, 7ft wall.

*Then came the cargo net.  It was an up and over.

*Then came the Tyrolean Traverse:  a rope stretched out over the water that you had to wrap your legs over it, grab on, and pull yourself across the water.  Probably 50ft total distance?

*Then came the sandbags.  About 60 pounds in a sand bag.  Grab the bag, throw it on a shoulder, swap to the other shoulder, hold to your chest, cycle through again.  You hiked up a hill with it, around, and back down:  Check out this little "hill":

*After that you came to an area that had a dozen thin (4" diameter) pine tree stumps stuck in the ground at varying heights and distances that you had to walk across.

*Next up, place a strap around your ankles, locking your legs together, and maneuver a mini obstacle course - 1 legged race.

*Then came the bucket carry.  Similar to the sandbag carry, you grabbed a 5 gallon bucket full of gravel (~70 pounds) and hike up a big hill, around, and back down again.

Next up is another big section of obstacles all grouped up in about a
1/2 mile distance:

*Walk through a holding pond

*Mud slide hill

*8ft wall

*Barbwire crawl.  They really touted this thing.  They did Not disappoint ;)
The barbwire crawl was low, even for me (at a small stature).  You crawled 50 yards through thick mud, underneath barbwire, all Up-hill.  Then you crest the hill, glad to be finished, and realize you are still under the barbwire and have another 100 yards to go.  In this next 100 yards, it's not uphill, but their are mud pits full of water, places where the barbwire drags the ground, mud hills you have to crawl over, and... a water cannon.  A guy, holding a water cannon, that's hooked to a fire hydrant.  I hated that guy.  _hated_ that guy lol

*After you emerge from the the last strand of barbwire (that's real.  And new.  And sharp.  Just ask my pants.  And the cheek of the guy next to me ;)
you have to climb a wooden ladder that has been painted and caked with mud up 90ft to the top of a platform.  Once at the top, you have a 45ft long horizontal cargo net to get across, followed by the 90ft climb back down the same type ladder on the other side (lot of people had a very hard time starting the descent due to the extreme angle).

*At the bottom you get to climb up a slick mudwall with a rope

*Slide down the mud wall on the other side into waist deep water.

*Once in the water, there is a solid wall with barbwire across the top that skims the surface of the water so you have to submerge yourself to go under.  

*Once on the other side, you climb out and get to run and jump the fire wall (which was a lot higher and wider than one would think haha!)

*After the fire jump, just one thing stands in your way of your "I Finished, Can You?" T-shirt, your "Beast" medal, and your Spartan Glory.  4 guys with big jousting sticks who are well rested and looking to thump you on your way through - The Gladiators.  Fortunately for me, I pictured them as the guy manning the water cannon on the barbwire crawl, rushed through 

Done.  Spartan.  BEAST.

And..... my parting gift:  

No idea what from, never felt it - the advantage of having everything completely numb ;)

Don't Forget to Really see what it's all about by tuning into NBC sports network on DEC 7th to see the Spartan World Championships on TV!

--4/4/14 EDIT:  Check out the Spartan Founder's New Book:  Spartan Up!--

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Product Review: Lems ultra minimalist Boulder Boot

I have a long standing love for Lems.  I reviewed their first shoe (The Primal Origins) in May of 2011.  At that time, their brand name was "Stem" and it was almost 6 months before their first shoe ever hit the market.  It was raw, creative, innovative, brand new... it was an audacious idea put on by dreamers... it was awesome.

Since then (and 3 different branding names I believe) Lems has taken off.  But in the rapid success of a small start-up, they've kept true to their idea and continue to come up with new innovative products that are (on top of everything else) some of The most affordable on the market.

Today, I bring you their Boulder Boot:

When I got my prototype 'Origins' back in 2011, they were they only shoe I wore for a very long time.  I loved them.  They were like wearing house slippers.  Well, Andrew and the team at Lems have done it again and these Boulders are my new personal favorite shoe.  I wear them nearly everyday.  I wear them to work in the office, I wear them taking my daughter to the zoo, I've worn them camping, hiking, to split firewood, and to go to the movies.  Honestly... it's like secretly wearing house slippers everywhere you go.

The boots definitely take the prize in weight.  They weigh under 9 1/2 oz (ounces!).  For reference:  a Vasque Sundowner weighs about 3 1/2 pounds, the Russell Thula-Thulas weight about 1 1/2 pounds, and the Vivobarefoot Off-Road weighs a pound.
They're a blend of water-resistant nylon and real full-grain leather.  They are Not waterproof, but for general use in puddles and rain they have been perfectly water resistant.  I actually really like this because with no waterproof membrane and a 100% cotton liner they are perfectly breathable (unlike any other boots I've ever tested).
Of course, they have the 0mm drop and a 9mm sole made of proprietary injection "LemsRubber"
And I Love the 100% cotton liner (see picture above.

There is Nothing to this a good way.  No heel counter, no toe counter, no shank, no arch, no... nothing.  Just a barely there, perfectly flexible, bendable/twistable/foldable and perfectly packable boot.

Now for the kicker:  These boots are $115.  $115.00.
For a minimalist boot you're probably going to spend anywhere between $185 and $400, these are $115 and I'm telling you... you will Not be disappointed.

Check them out at 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Best of the Best: Apparel Company (non compression)

Easiest category to decide by far.  Without a doubt, hands down, the number one non-compression apparel company is:

Icebreaker "....Is the antithesis of fashion.  It's about simplicity and being natural and being long-lasting, as opposed to high-change fashion" (Jeremy Moon, founder and CEO).  

You see, icebreaker is a very unique company.  They have taken a stance (a real stance – not a marketing ploy) on environmental conservation, from their materials, to their factories, every step of the way. 
Now, this isn’t done by throwing a couple bucks at Al Gore to offset a carbon footprint, instead, icebreaker took a holistic approach:  from the raw materials, the farmers, the supply chain and transportation, to the manufacturers and their employees, icebreaker is striving (and doing an amazingly good job) to be in control every step of the way. 
Icebreaker is making a valiant effort to not only have a great slogan, “It’s about our relationship with nature and to each other”, but taking ground breaking steps in transparency all the way down to the end user on how they are living that slogan out (check out their ‘baacode’).  

I have had the great pleasure of reviewing a few pieces of icebreaker gear in the past (Run GT Distance Short, the GT Run Top, and the LS Ace Zip) and all have exceeded expectations.

Next up I'm looking forward to providing a review for their new Quantum Plus Hoodie 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Best of the Best: Compression wear

Some of these categories made it very hard to pick a winner.  Some of them I was torn while writing.  This one and the next one (coming in a few days) were very, very easy.

Best Compression Company:

SKINS Compression.  Despite also winning the funniest (and scariest if you're typing it in a work and thinking to yourself "oh this could end really badly...") web address:  SKINS Compression is hands down the leader in compression gear.

From biometric 3D scanning that gathers 800,000 measurements for each athlete scanned to make the fit just right to endless research and peer reviews, Skins is simply unrivaled.  

I have reviewed the short tights and long tights and they continue to be my number one, hands down, go to compression wear.


There is a Lot of technology crammed into these things while fitting/wearing very simply (good technology without bulky bells and whistles).  They include highly researched gradient technology in all of their compression gear.  

Additionally, the full length tights include a knee pocket (my term - not theirs) that was a huge plus for me, as most of you know!  The pocket (seen in the picture) is bio-mechanically placed Memory MX fabric that surrounds the knee, the IT band, and the TFL muscle group to provide even better constant, controlled compression while allowing for truly unrestricted movement (which of course is very important around the knee - and a place where many companies screw this up).

The pants and shorts both feel fantastic, no rubbing, no felt seems, no irritation of any kind.

The compression is nothing short of perfect.  
Many lower quality 'compression' companies simply squeeze you to death (thereby destroying what they are claiming to help), others fit so loose there is also no benefit at all.  With the Skins (they tout their "unique BMI/anthropometrical algorithm" fitting process), the fit is truly second to none!  

I wore these tights and shorts during runs as well as post run (even to sleep in post long run) and always felt comfortable and I truly felt better on my runs and less DOMS.

For this last part, ladies forgive me for TMI - the crotch on these makes them.  Really.  The fit, comfort, and support in the crotch fixes everything about that... region that makes me dislike (and some runs Hate) compression gear.  Their purpose designed "comfortably shaped crotch for better ball control" is a Huge benefit of the Skins line!

In Tennessee, like most places this year, we have had a crazy 'winter' so far.  As such, over the course of one week alone we had a day of 28 and a day of 67.  Remarkably enough, Skins claim of being able to wear these in any weather proved true - the long tights were great in the cool, but even on the 67 degree day, the long tights did not feel overly hot and did an excellent job at regulation temperature - largely due to the fact (I'm sure) that they transfer (wick) moisture extremely well.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the Skins long tights is their sizing.  As most of you know, I am a towering 5' 6" (on a good day...), so, needless to say, getting gear that fits properly is exhausting, if not impossible.  Skins has solved this issue (thank you. Truly.) by implementing their Size Matters sizing system that offers their tights in short, regular, and long configurations in every size!

  • Best sizing system of any company I've seen (S, R, and T options in all sizes)
  • Best (and very accurate) sizing chart (as seen above) of any line I've seen so far
  • Gradient Compression technology throughout
  • Memory MX fabric
  • Comfortably shaped crotch (ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)
  • Excellent temperature and moisture management
  • 50+ UV protection built in
  • Lifetime antimicrobial treatment

In conclusion, I think the Skins line of compression gear is truly world class.  They Are expensive.  As the company puts it,

"Why should I choose SKINS over a less expensive pair of tights?
Because no -one's invested as much time or money into research - or been able to replicate the benefits SKINS have been proven to deliver.  SKINS' unique engineered gradient compression has been developed by leading sports physicians over years of scientific research.  And the medical benefits that SKINS provide are backed by independent testing."

What I can say, is that for me, these shorts and tights have become my go-to staple on every run -  I love them

For more information, check out Skins own FAQ page: 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Best of the Best 1 Shoe Wonder:

Today I tried to look at "If I could only have ONE pair of shoes to do EVERYTHING in" What would it be?

To clarify, I really mean everything.  One pair of shoes.  To concrete run in, trail run in, sprint interval in, long distance in, wear casually out with blue jeans to the game/party/bar/church/date, to hike in, boulder in, climb ropes in, Crossfit in.
One pair of shoes.  The perfect jack of all trades.  Not necessarily The best in any one specific category, but when looked at as a whole... untouchable.

Enter the Skora Form

The perfect all purpose do everything shoe.  Leather, waterproof, breathable, light, wide toe box, sexy, solid flat bottom.
I Love this shoe.  I love it with jeans, I love it on the trails, I love it around town, I love it on the track, and I absolutely Love it in the gym.  At home on roots, box jumps, pavement, and ropes.  I've worn them camping, I've worn them working on a roof, on dates, preaching, through hundreds of miles of trail.... they really are THAT shoe.

From the first time I touted these shoes:

If you’ve never heard of Skora running, don’t feel bad, I hadn’t either.  
But if you choose to not immediately go find out more about them, I can assure you, you will regret it.  I'm quite confident that this is only the beginning... (boy was a right about that! ;)

Skora is a new company (as most of you know I have a huge soft spot for start-ups!) and they are bringing a fresh look to the market as they enter.  Their mantra is “Run Real” and I must say, they’re making great strides (see what I did right there?) towards that end.

The Skora Form is one of their first 2 shoes they are bringing to market (now shipping) and with it, they did a lot of things right.

Skora is immediately setting their entire company around minimalism and their idea of “Run Real”.  Their shoes are zero drop, minimal in cushioning, no support, stitch-down construction (more on that later), anatomical last, outsoles mimic foot shape, no heel counter, and a sole made to fit the natural shape of your foot and encourage medial to lateral movement.

Check this out this product Video (less than 90 seconds)

I’ll go ahead and say one thing right off the bat, the shoes look fantastic!  My first thoughts upon unboxing were that they were almost Too pretty to run in!  I Love shoes, and as a pure minimalist in that department (I only wear zero drop shoes:  running, casual, dress, hiking, mowing the lawn, everything) I really miss my old shoes style – these fit the bill!  Not only are they a great running shoe, they look great underneath a pair of bluejeans.

  • The FORM is a lightweight shoe (tipping the scales at about 8oz) – much lighter than traditional shod shoes.
  • The anatomical last, curved outsole forefoot, curved outsole heel, and absence of a heel counter make this shoe fit very well – the whole shoe is built… like a foot.
  •  Skora has really differentiated themselves in the material of the shoe.  One of my favorite things about this shoe is the fact that it’s made of Pittards Goadskin leather with their “WR100X” leather lining.  This stuff is Awesome!  It’s genuine leather, super soft and supple (feels like old perfectly broke in leather right out of the box) feel, all while being extremely breathable (was thrilled about that part) And water resistant!
  • The entire shoe, sole and all, is completely flexible!
  • Ground feel:  I actually expected to be unsatisfied with the ground feel and was pleasantly surprised.  There really is good ground feel, but not as much as you would experience in a pair of Nadas or VFFs.
  • The stack height is still quite low (9mm all the way across) and so it offers substantially better ground feel than say an Instinct or an A86, but again, not as much as The Most minimalist shoes I’ve tested (and this is a choice by Skora’s design team).  The sole itself is quite thin and it doesn’t have excessive padding and sports no extra hyped up support or protection (which is great)
  • I, personally, really like the aesthetics of the “cool” lacing design, but also appreciate the functionality of being able to choose the level of “snugness” a little better as well.
  • Another + for this shoe is the fit.  They wanted to focus on a glove like fit and I think they really achieved it.  I like that it has a narrow “snug” heel and then it widens just a bit as it goes forward.  The toe box is wide (all the way out to the end of the toes-not just where the toes join the foot) and allow for good toe splay.  Excellent foot fit.  I will say that I feel they probably run about a ½ size large, so keep that in mind when ordering.

So, on the conclusion end of things:

I really appreciate what Skora is trying to do and I Love new companies!   I knew I would like this shoe, but didn’t really expect to love it as much as I did.  I’m running in it (makes a good trail running shoe as well), doing some Crossfit in them, and they are also my go to casual shoe everyday now.  You will Love the goat Leather.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Product Review: SLS3 / SLSTRI Compression Socks

In today’s review we’ve got SLS3 (SLSTRI) – a team dedicated to triathletes .  
As we’re all aware, I have a crazy soft spot for companies with a good story and SLS3 hits it out of the park.  Are you ready for this?  SLS3 Literally started when 2 professional German triathletes met, fell in love, and started a small company together.  Dead serious.  Beat that!

So, after falling in love and starting a new company together, 9 years later they are a thriving world renowned company making top of the line compression gear.

Today, we’re taking a look at their FXC Compression Socks

I tested these socks in several different ways (running, recovery [sleep], Crossfit [rope climbs]).

On my first run the socks felt great, stayed put, with no bunching, sliding, rolling, etc.  They fit tight, but not restrictively (I Loved that they were compression based all the way around the foot), excellent ‘second skin’ feel.  The socks weren’t too hot, no hot spots or sweating.

I slept in the socks after a couple of hard days and had excellent results in diminishing DOMS and no ill effects from long term dormant wear (no tingling, no cutting lines from the compression, etc.)

For the Crossfit workouts they performed amazingly well!  I use calf sleeves or compression socks on rope climb days and put these through the paces on a 10 ascent day.  After 10 15’ ascents they had not only done an excellent job of protecting my shins/calves, they also showed No signs of wear at all from gripping and sliding up and down that rough rope – no loose fibers, abrasions, nothing!
This picture shows the ‘wear’ mark on the socks after using them for a month of rope climbs:

Also worth noting, I washed the socks and saw No change in elasticity/compression or fit.

Lastly, looks obviously have nothing to do with performance but…. 

These things look like a formula 1 race car – they really do look awesome!  The piping and attention to detail, while not helping their function, is really cool (there… I said it).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Best of the Best 4: Boots

This was a category that was largely empty for a very long time (way too long).  Minimalist boots just could not be found.

Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to test out several different ones that have come to market within the last 2 years, some good, some bad, 1 terrible, 2 fantastic.

Today I want to hit on the first of those 2 completely fantastic ones (the other I'll write up on the next blog - very excited about it!).

First on is one I reviewed back in June, the

Russell Moccasin Thula Thula

Russell Moccasin makes completely custom (and 100% by hand) shoes and boots to Your exact measurements - you measure your foot, heel, length, width, height, etc, send them in, and they build You your own perfect pair.

  • ·       The sole is Vibram, very thin, slip and oil resistant.  It's flat and does not take any mud at all while still providing excellent traction. 
  • ·       The leather is very nice, good looking, abrasion resistant, tough, waterproof, absolutely top of the line
  • ·       The bullhide mudguard around the edge (overlapping the sole to the leather upper) provides excellent protection against nicks, cuts, and scratches while also helping provide an added layer of protection from the elements (in water proofing).
  • ·       The tongue/collar is gusseted for water proofing and is so soft you won't believe it
  • ·       Speed lacing hooks provide stability and varied level of tension
  • ·       The 1/16" midsole provides good ground feel and superb flexibility while offering just the right amount of 'rock plate' protection and the sole is extremely flexible  - just what you would want and expect in a minimalist shoe of any kind.  The boot will roll up toe to heel and will also roll and torque side to side.  There are no stiff points, no stability webs or the like (perfect)
  • ·       There is, of course, no heel-to-toe drop (zero drop).  This is only the second ‘boot’ that I’m aware of that offers a zero drop (and the only one of this quality)
  • ·       The boots are very light weight, weighing in at only 1.5 pound!  For reference, my Vasque Sundowners weigh in at just under 3 ½ pounds (so the pair weights almost 1/2 pound less than a single standard hiking boot).
  • ·       One of the most important features of this boot to me is the fact that they are waterproof – and they really are, completely!  There are so many times where I require a waterproof platform but can’t stand my traditional (heavy, stabilized, and substantial heel drop) boots and these offer me a completely waterproof platform to fit my needs.

    Overall, hands down, the best minimalist (or otherwise for that matter) boot on the market.  That said, it's one draw back is a huge stopper:  as a custom, 100% handmade, American boot the price tag for these is $366.00

    Since this time I've had the opportunity to test out a brand new minimalist boot from Lems that I absolutely love.  Had I had it a bit earlier it would have even given these Russell boots a run and the Lems Boulder comes in at less than 1/3 of the price 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Best of the Best 3: Crossfit/Gym specific shoe

Here's entry number 3 in the best of the best series:

Crossfit/Gym specific shoe  (EDIT:  since the writing of this review I got a pair of Reebok Nano 3.0s and I really like them a lot!  I didn't care for the originals or the 2.0 but the 3.0 is a great Crossfit specific shoe and the one that I use daily now.  The only time I don't use the Nano is if it's an all running day, in which case I go for one of my more minimal running specific shoes)

This was an interesting one because it was largely a "process of elimination" task.  I tried lots of shoes that I didn't like (sole tore up, sole too 'squishy' and then not enough (for coming down off of AMRAP box jumps), to being too slick for rope climbs, to just getting torn all to pieces from rope climbs).

Here's what I found:

Right now, my default Crossfit shoe which I am mostly happy with is the

Inov8 Bare-XF 260

It has a perfectly flat sole, zero drop, reasonably 'sticky' sole for in the gym, super thin, and flexible in the Right places.  For that flexible part, the sole is stiff from the heel to the front pad of your foot (how you need it for power/OLY lifting) and then flexes from their to the end (to make them still reasonably nice for running).  The huge rubberized/plastic sides make them indestructible on the rope climbs.  Now, they also claim that it makes them grip better and thus make climbs easier but I have not found that to be true (the grip                                                   great... but no better than most other shoes).

My one knock on them is the dang velcro straps.  Why they did that?  According to them it's so you can get them 'super tight'... because apparently I lack the dexterity in my opposable thumbs to do that with laces?  There's the basic "I like laces better" but the big thing is is that these shoes are nearly entirely built around rope climbs.  Nearly every regrip (and certainly every climb) the velcro straps come undone.  This is bad.  If they had laces, or even a hook & loop closure I would like them immensely more.
That being said, the velcro is my one real knock, other than that, I DO find them (even with that) to be the best Crossfit shoes I have tried.
Here's the caveat:  I have tried Nike, Adidas, Saucony, 2 kinds of Inov8, Skora, and others for the purpose of this test but I have Not ever tried a new pair of the Crossfit specific Reebok Nano 3.0.  It looks like it would be a great one and I'd like to try it someday to compare.

Friday, September 20, 2013

TUNEfootwear: company and product review (Minimalist dress shoes!)

Today we have a company (and a shoe!) that I am pretty excited about. 
The company was founded by a normal 9-5 guy named Mike Norris who, like most of us, tried minimalist shoes and never looked back.  His problem?  Again, same as a lot of us, he was required to wear business dress shoes for work and “everyday felt like I was banging my head against the wall because I was wearing these shoes that were killing my feet!”  Where Mike is Not like most of us, he decided to do something about it and in 2011 launched the beginnings of TUNEfootwear

Currently, TUNEfootwear is using indiegogo to raise funds to get their shoes to the masses (tradeshows, etc.) so be sure to check out their video and their story here!

Introducing the TUNEfootwear Ornament

For all of us who have searched the world over for a minimalist dress shoe, who have scoured racks at cheap shoe stores trying to find something with no heal, who have given up and worn solid black Puma athletic shoes with pinstripe dress pants (yep… guilty)…. Search no more.

A little background:   Everything I wear is zero drop, everything, all the time.  Running shoes, workout shoes, casual shoes, hiking boots, trail running shoes, going to the grocery store shoes, everything.  So dress shoes… sucked.  For Brown I had to wear VivobarefootDharma (“but those aren’t dress shoes” I know.  You’re right.)  and for black, I literally wore a pair of Puma all black all leather athletic shoes (and tried to never need black dress shoes…).  For casual, I’d wear boots, all the time (because I did finally find a few pair of nice zero drop boots – another of which you’ll be hearing about in the next week or 2).
So, when I heard about this startup company, I was very intrigued.  Digging a little deeper I started holding my breath in hopes that they were as good as their marketing people (person ;)
They are.

The leather is beautiful, soft, supple, and genuinely feels like nice leather (which it is… but you know how some leather feels more like plastic?  Not these).
Attention to detail is great, from the stitching, to the hardware; truly a well crafted shoe.

They are built minimal from the ground up, extremely comfortable, and very sharp looking - at home beneath a nice pair of blue jeans, slacks, or a suit and tie.  For the review, I tried out the black ones but would LOVE to get my hands on a pair of the Tan – they are gorgeous!).
It’s like secretly walking around in a pair of house slippers camouflaged as dress shoes.  Also, should you decide to Clark Kent it one day and take off to run down a bad guy in your suit and tie, they are game (no kidding – the rubber sole and wide fit truly make them feel like any other minimalist shoe-as they should!)

·         Thin flat rubber sole
·         Soft leather
·         Zero drop
·         Nice wide toebox
·         Perfectly flexible
·         Extremely light weight
·         And a HUGE plus – these shoes are only $100 (as compared to certain other ‘minimalist’ dress shoe startups charging upwards of $350…)
·         They also wear great with or without socks.

TUNEfootwear offers a current lineup of 4 shoes in combinations of 3 different colors: 
Ornament, Tassel, Penny, and Boat:

I have to say, I really do Love these shoes.  Also, as always, I’m a huge sucker for a company’s story, and Mike has a great one!

Remember to check them out on and help support this startup!