Category Archives: Reviews

LifeBEAM Smart Hat review

As a triathlete and runner who utilizes heart rate based periodization training, I was very interested in reviewing the LifeBEAM Smart Hat.  As workouts are prescribed based on training zones, athletes need a reliable source of gathering heart rate data during the session.  For years I used a Garmin chest strap, which is generally considered to be the best measure of heart rate data.  However, the downside of a chest strap is that it can chafe the skin, causing redness, soreness, pain, and broken skin.  Fortunately for those of us who battle with chafing, products with optical sensors are becoming increasingly popular and there is a fair variety to choose from.  The downside of optical sensors has always been their tendency to be inaccurate at times, when compared to a chest strap.  Dips, surges in heart rate, and high or low readings tend to happen occasionally, which can be frustrating when the numbers don’t match your rate of perceived exertion.

Enter the LifeBEAM Smart Hat.  It comes in a nice carrying case with a charging cord.  You can choose a white or black hat.  One size fits all, with a Velcro strap for adjusting.

smarthatunboxed

There is a small electronic unit that plugs into the hat and tucks neatly into a small pocket on the back side of the hat.  The electronic unit is to be removed when washing.  The optical sensor is built into the hat, and rests above the brim, on the forehead.

smarthatunderside

The charging cord plugs into the electronic unit.  Tuck it into the pocket (it stays closed with a thin Velcro strip) so that the power button (small circle on the unit) aligns with the power icon on the back of the hat.

smarthatback

Put the hat on, adjust, press the power button (it will beep, and a blue light will flash through the clear circle next to the power icon) and pair with your watch or smartphone app via Bluetooth 4.0 or ANT+.

I found the hat paired easily with my Garmin 920xt.  It was comfortable to wear and I did not notice the presence of the electronic unit, much to my surprise.  The hat also easily fit my head, which can be an issue for me with Velcro straps.  I liked the feel, and the gray stripe around the edge adds some reflectivity.

I wore the hat, paired to the Garmin 920xt, on a free run which included one stop and some varied terrain. I also wore a Garmin 110, which was paired with a Garmin heart rate strap, for comparison.

Here is the data from the hat paired with the 920xt.

smarthat1

Here is the data from the strap paired with the 110.

HRM1

I was pleasantly surprised that the Smart Hat was in line with the readings from the chest strap. The biggest deviation I saw during the run was only three beats, and most of the time they were the same, or within one or two beats of eachother.  I took the hat on multiple runs and had good accuracy every time (even in the rain). The advertised battery life is 17 hours, which I found to be accurate as well.  The hat has an auto shut off feature, so when you’re done with the run, you can just take it off and be on your way.

I would recommend this product for anyone looking for accurate heart rate data in an easy to use optical sensor.  The Smart Hat will pair with most watches and smartphone apps (full list here http://support.life-beam.com/hc/en-us/articles/200832681) and provides heart rate, cadence, calories and steps.  This makes it quite versatile for the fitness enthusiast at any level of experience.  The price point does at first seem high at $99.  However, considering a premium chest strap alone can run $69, considering all this hat can do, I find it well worth the price tag.

You can buy the LifeBEAM hat at their Website or intermittently at the Amazon link below. Buying from either of these links will help the site out with a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thump Fin IPX8 Review

The Thump Fin IPX8 is a waterproof, 8G MP3 player advertised for swimming.  I add the qualifier “advertised for,” as the instructions indicate that this MP3 player can be used for both swimming and dry land activities.

The Thump Fin has “headlock design,” guaranteed not to fall off.  It looks like this:

thumpfull

It is worn like a headband, but on the back of the head (like sunglasses in reverse).  You can adjust it up or down on your head for comfort.  Nothing would actually prevent it from being worn like a headband on the top of your head except it feels a little tight that way to me.  For swimming, wear over the cap with the controls in the back.  The fit is snug, but not tight.  While swimming, I forgot it was on my head at all.

The Thump is a basic MP3 player, very easy to use.  The design is clever, the back unsnaps from the band, showing a USB, in which you plug into your computer, and then you can easily drag and drop MP3 music files and sync to the Thump.

thumpback

The front looks like this:

thumpfront

Here we see the power/play /pause button, volume up (+) and down (-), and arrows that skip forward to the next song, or back to the previous.  Note that the smaller button is the reset button.  The brain intuitively wants to use that button as the power on/off, but the unit is actually turned on by holding the play/pause button, which is the large circle in the middle.  The blue indicator light blinks when the unit is on.  Hold the + button, and the unit switches to FM radio. The green indicator button blinks.  Use the arrows on either side of the play/pause button to scroll through radio stations.  Hold the + button again to switch back to MP3.  A full charge lasts up to 10 hours.

The Thump comes with 6 sets of earbuds.

earbuds

The instructions say the spiral design buds are for waterproof activities, while the other buds are for dry land/sport activities.  I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t be interchangeable, and the Thump website advertises 5 interchangeable buds (the box I received had 6) for the most flexible fit for swimming.

I first used the Thump at the pool, with the smaller of the two spiral (long) earbuds.  I was highly impressed with the sound quality.  Sound quality has been an issue in years past with waterproof MP3 players, although Finis has done a great job with the new Neptune (although Finis uses bone conduction instead of an earbud).  The sound from the Thump was more clear, and richer than the older versions of the Finis Swimp3s that I have used.  The Thump fits well and does not go anywhere, even during speed sets, drills, and flip turns.

My main issue was that the buds kept falling out of my ears.  My solution to that issue was to keep putting them back in, trying each time to push them a little further so they would stay.  Just when I thought I had it, one of the buds fell off the unit.  While I was retrieving it, I realized that the other bud was jammed into my ear canal, and I was unable to get it out with my fingers.  Fortunately I found a sympathetic woman in the locker room (who just happened to be a nurse!) who was willing to get her tweezers from her car and pull the bud out for me.  Note: as with any ear bud, be very careful not to push it too far into your ear canal.   I did change the buds to the larger spiral, and had the same issue, where the bud would not stay.  I rigged them by pulling my swim cap down over my ears, which mostly got the buds to stay in place so I could enjoy the high quality sound, but I don’t see that as a solution to the issue.  I had the same problem with the other interchangeable buds, both in the pool and on dry land.

Thump does have a wraparound waterproof Bluetooth headset, the Thump Xtreme.

WetThumpX3_480_320_grande

It would be great to see this design (no earbuds) on the waterproof/non Bluetooth version.  This would solve the issue of the earbuds popping out.

The Thump website has testimonials of swimmers who have successfully used the MP3 player in the water as the unit was intended, with the earbuds staying in place, while keeping the water out of their ears.  I was disappointed not to be able to get the buds to stay in, as this product has great sound quality and a lot of promise.  The design is smart, the device is light, and the USB stays covered and dry.  I turned this on and off many times in succession, and it was never glitchy or refused to play like other waterproof MP3s I have used.  If it weren’t for the earbud issue, I could see using this model for many different activities.  Swimming, workout out on the spin bike, running, lifting weights or doing any other gym activity.  It would also be great for working in the yard or taking a walk, listening to the FM radio function, without worrying about wires or having to carry a phone.

Review: Topo Fli-Lyte

topo-flilyte-side2

Founded by the former CEO of Vibram, Tony Post, Topo Athletics is a portmanteau of his name. Keeping to his minimalist background, the company focuses on a range of athletic shoes catering to different sports from running to Cross-fit. They originally came out with a tabi, or split-toe design as shown below, but have now shifted to a more traditional shoe form. The Fli-Lytes are an example of these – a nice lightweight speedy trainer. They are spec’ed out to weigh 8.2 oz for size 9 and came in at 10.1 oz for my size 13.

topo-athletic

 Upper/Fit

topo-fli-lyte-top

I received the Black/Mango color way on my pair. Honestly, I think that they are one of the coolest looking pairs of shoes I have. They look both fast and aggressive, kind of reminding me of a muscle car.

The fit is very comfortable with a spacious toebox, without being too swimmy and I had no trouble feeling locked in at midfoot. I also like how they are using 3d printing to form the uppers, it’s definitely futuristic. Tony Post talks about this in the Gearist Podcast #3 which can be seen below:

Midsole

The Topo Fli-Lytes have a good firm ride, without being too stiff. They feel very similar to the ride of the Skechers GOrun 4s that I reviewed here. They are neutral with stack heights of 22mm at the rear to 19mm at the front putting them solidly in the minimalist category with a very small 3mm drop. I personally prefer drops right around the 4mm mark and I find them to be very comfortable. I definitely have solid proprioception when wearing them and that is very important to me.

topo-flilyte-side

Outsole

The traction on the Fli-Lytes is very solid. I feel like there is good grip without the shoes being sticky. I run roads and sidewalks primarily and they have a nice balanced feel.

I have over 40 miles in the shoes and don’t see any wear at all. They honestly don’t feel as if they have been broken in. I can see easily getting a good couple hundred miles in. With my weight of 200ish lbs, that is a good number for running shoes.

topo-flilyte-outsole

Conclusion

As a whole, the Topo Fli-lytes are really solid trainers. They are comfortably wide without being swimmy, light without being fragile, and tough without being clunky. Pretty solid all around. I personally feel comfortable with them from 10K – half marathon, but can see many wearing them all the way to marathon. They are one cool looking but solid all-around trainer.

You can find them at Amazon at our affiliate link below (the site gets a small commission if you buy through it at no cost to you).

Review: Addaday Type C and Junior Massage Rollers

For the past several months, I have been using a couple ingenious massagers created by Addaday. While the massaging stick popularized by the company The Stick has been around for years with a its very popular product, Addaday has taken the concept and improved on it.

I am currently using two of their products, the Type C Massage Stick and the Junior+ Massage Roller. I’d be hard pressed to say which one I like better. Honestly, I favor one over the other and then change my mind frequently.

The Type C Massage Stick is brilliant in its design. There are a series of “Gears” with one being “pinpoint precision”. The gears have different densities of surface to simulate different pressures. The Type C has “Surface Skin Technology (SST)” and is considered medium density. I find it to be a good amount of pressure when I use it. I especially like the pinpoint precision gear. With its placement along with adjacent gears, I really feel like I can comb along the muscles. I actually prefer using the device over the foam roller.

Between the larger gears and the pinpoints, I am able to shift back and forth to target specific problem areas. This is the first device I have been able to use on my shins. I found this to be possible because of the spacing between the gears. When using a traditional massage stick, I hit bone very frequently and it is too painful to proceed. And while using the Foam Roller, often, I can’t get enough precision. The Addaday really allows me to target specific areas effectively.

addaday-work

One of the most common places I used the Type C Massage stick is at work. I find that it works really well over my slacks or khakis. It doesn’t pull hair per se on my legs, but I find it more comfortable over material.

The other Junior+ Massage Roller is almost always with me. I keep in in my bag with electronics and also take it to races. It is so small that it is truly portable. I find that it can almost completely replace the lacrosse ball for hard to reach spots and it doesn’t roll away.

addaday-lacrosse

Also using the combination of the Type C stick and Junior Plus roller gives me nearly all the options for pressure density with the stick being of medium density and the Junior Plus being softer. I really can’t recommend these highly enough. Addaday also makes it a point of trying to support local running stores, so please check their site to see which stores near you carry them at http://www.addaday.com/.

Review: Skechers GoRun Ultra 2

The world is a buzz with the sport of trail running. Whether you are a 5k-trail speedster or a 100-mile ultra runner, big protective shoes have overshadowed the minimalist movement made popular by books such as “Born to Run.” The advent of maximalist shoes made trendy by Hoka One One were upon us a few years ago with companies such as Saucony, Nike, New Balance soon following suit. The big surprise to me is the addition that Sketchers brings to the table with the GoRun Ultra 2. Weighing in a 9.2 oz for a men’s size 9, it seems as though Sketchers was aiming to take a chunk out of Hoka’s extremely successful Clifton clientele. How does the model stack up? Read on to find out!

GoRun Ultra Upper

Upper/Fit

The upper for the GoRun Ultra 2 is a lightweight, breathable mesh in the toe box area that stretches well when running. If my toes jammed the front of my shoe on a long technical downhill on the trails, the material stretched enough to accommodate them resulting in no bruised toenails. Synthetic overlays around the mid-foot provide support for the upper so you can try to get a locked down fit. I say try because I have noticed that the overall fit is pretty large, almost a ½ size too big. While I like the loose fit for the eventual volume gaining swelling of feet at mile 20+, the beginning of the run can result in a sloppy fit. On a few occasions I hit an off-camber root and the shoe nearly slipped off my foot as if it wasn’t even tied. The fit problems could be alleviated by sizing down ½ size or wearing thicker socks (not a great idea in the Southern heat recently). The inside of the shoe is soft but not suitable for sockless wear because of the protruding overlay stitching within the shoe.

GoRun Ultra Side

Midsole

The midsole is where this shoe shines most! The 34mm heel to 30mm forefoot drop is very comfortable and the shoe has a mild rocker feel in the forefoot to aid in forward progression. The Resalyte foam is Sketchers’ lightweight, injection-molded compound that feels good on the roads but better on the trails. It is fairly responsive giving more “pop” than a Hoka Stinson ATR and has a softer underfoot feel than the Hoka Challenger ATR. In other words it is a perfect combination to provide plenty of protection on the trails but without feeling sluggish.

GoRun Ultra Sole

Outsole

The outsole consists of a high-density foam material called Resagrip. There is no rubber on the outsole. Because of this, the overall weight is low and the flexibility is very good for such a large shoe. Unfortunately because there is no rubber on the outsole, the life of the shoe will be significantly lower than most shoes. My pair of GoRun Ultra 2’s has barely 70 miles on them and the midsole wear is very noticeable. I haven’t lost any of the foam traction lugs yet but I have worn some down to half their original size as well as torn a couple.

GoRun Ultra 2 wear

Conclusion

Sketchers has come out with a shoe package that is comfortable, lightweight and available for the Average Joe costing only $90 MSRP. The only real issue I see with the GoRun Ultra 2 is the outsole life. If in their next iteration of the shoe they include some rubber pods to take the stress of traction off the foam, then I will be first in line to get a pair. If you want to make the leap into maximalist shoes but don’t want to throw down a hefty amount of money because you are unsure what the hype is about, try out the Sketchers GoRun Ultra 2. Your feet (and wallet) will thank you!

You can find Skechers for even less than MSRP at Amazon with our affiliate link below (we get a small commission to help support the site at no cost to you).

Review: MIO Alpha 2

For the past 6 months I have been dabbling in the new world of heart rate training thanks to the input from my good friend Eric here at Hampton Runner. At first I was using a standard Garmin chest strap with my 910xt and Fenix 2. It performed great except for the fact that I would chafe on my upper stomach where the sensors would rest on my skin. It became so bad I began to not wear my chest strap anymore to allow the scabs to heal, in turn making me run harder than I should have resulting in overuse injuries. I was in search of a remedy and Eric offered the new Mio Alpha 2. If you are in the market for a new heart rate monitor hopefully my thoughts below will point you in the right direction towards your new investment.

mio-alpha2-box

The Mio Alpha 2 is Mio’s newest, top-of-the-line wrist mounted heart rate monitor. The watch utilizes electro-optical cells on the underside of the face to detect your pulse. It is worn just like a regular watch and with it’s light 53 gram weight it feels very sleek and minimalist. The size is smaller than my Fenix2 and 910xt while being about the same as my wife’s Garmin Forerunner 15.

alpha2-compared

The soft rubber straps have enough “give” in them to wear the watch at the proper tension to receive an accurate heart rate reading without cutting off circulation. The instructions for the proper reading of heart rate is to wear the sensor 1”-3” above your wrist bone. (I had some runs with mismatched HR readings from my Garmin strap but once I moved the watch up my arm a little bit, my readings became more parallel to each other.)
The watch utilizes Bluetooth Smart 4.0 to connect to popular apps such as Strava or RunKeeper or BTLE enabled watches offered by Suunto, Polar, TomTom or Timex. This is all fine and dandy except for the fact that I wanted to connect the watch to my Garmin Fenix2 instead of my ANT+ HR strap (Garmin only supports Ant+). I also hate carrying my cell phone on runs so my ability to connect the Mio to an app for a run was almost never. In the end, I downloaded the free MioGo app to automatically download my HR. Then after the workout I had to look at my file on Garmin Connect to see when and where my HR spiked. In other words I was using two apps instead of one like would prefer.
Setting up the watch is easy. The watch itself has two buttons: the left controls the mode and settings while the right button acts as the HR sensor turn-on as well as the timer start/pause/stop. By holding the left button you can adjust your individual weight, height and HR zones on the watch itself, or you can do what I did and go on the MioGo app on your Smartphone to adjust the settings there. The ability to customize the display such as LED heart rate zone flashes or timer displays is a great feature as well. Holding down the right button will activate the HR sensor and usually after 10-30 seconds your pulse will be read. The watch is now ready for activity.

alpha2-hr

To start an activity, simply press the right button to start the timer or chronograph. The built-in accelerometers will measure your pace, calories burned and distance although side-by-side to my Fenix2 the totals were off. To stop and save the workout, simply press and hold the right button. When you open your MioGo app, it will automatically sync your workout displaying your average heart rate, max heart rate, pace, distance as well as a HR graph:

mio-alpha2-app

The Alpha 2 has a rechargeable lithium-poly battery giving the user about 20-24 hours of continuous heart rate monitoring, or up to 3 months without the sensor on. It comes with a USB magnetic charger that charges the watch quickly.

mio-alpha2-charger

The Mio’s built-in accelerometer that tracks the pace, speed, distance and calories is fairly accurate as well. In the dense foliage of on the East Coast trails, my Garmin Fenix 2 will often read a quarter mile short (or more) of the true distance of the trail. But, surprisingly, with the Mio Alpha 2, the accuracy was within a couple hundred yards on average. What makes this even more weird is when trail running my stride varies greatly when coming into technical sections (i.e. shortened, faster steps) than when I run on flat, flowy singletrack sections but yet the distances were pretty close to true. Running on the roads were just as accurate as well. There were many times that I wore my Mio over my Garmin because I knew the GPS signal would make my pace so far off from the truth and mentally hinder my performance.

Conclusion

The Mio Alpha 2 is a great tool for those who hate wearing the standard chest straps. The readings of heart rate were accurate on most occasions and the accelerometer was actually more reliable than good ol’ GPS in the dirt and trees. However, I really missed having ANT+ connectivity.

Another issue that arouse was the location the watch had to be on my wrist to get an accurate reading. On some days it needed to be higher up the wrist than other days and different extreme temperatures made the sensor not read the pulse correctly. On some occasions I had my HR read 20-30 BPM below my Garmin during a run. Sure these were freak occurrences but must be noted.

But the overall experience with the Mio Alpha 2 was good because the comfort of no chest strap outweighs the fact that I had to manually look at two different workout files at once to compare and contrast workout results. Besides the two issues stated above, I think Mio made a good watch that is accurate with your heart rate, pretty accurate with distance, minimalist in it’s design. It has solid ease of use, is comfortable to wear, but I do wish it has both Bluetooth and ANT+ capabilities.

The Mio Alpha 2 can be purchased at Mio for $30 off until August 31, 2015 – http://www.mioglobal.com/save-30-alpha2.htm

Review: Apple Watch for Runners

There has been a ton of excitement for the Apple Watch. So much that I had to wait for two and a half weeks for my wife’s to arrive before I could test – they were sold out within minutes of being available for pre-order. So, with all the Sturm und Drang in the wearable industry, should Garmin and company be worried? Let’s find out.

I took the Apple Watch out for three runs. Each time, I wore another device to compare the results. I made it a point of taking my iPhone as well so I could have the most accurate tracking possible by giving the Apple Watch the GPS assistance.

My first run was an easy 2 miler and I also wore the Microsoft Band to get a GPS comparison. The results were as follows:

apple-watch-first-run

The Apple Watch results are on the left with the MS Band results on the right. There was a bit of a discrepancy with the time. I had some trouble getting the Apple watch started and then there is a countdown with the Workout App when you press Start. This would explain the time difference along with the pace difference – I was shuffling when trying to make sure I had the Apple watch recording. I also struggled a bit pausing it with similar results. I really should have learned to start testing things before hand, but it seems against my nature.

first-workoutLooking at the data overall though, they seemed to agree with the Heart Rate at least. The Microsoft Band had me at 164 with the Apple Watch coming in at 163. This too I have to verify in more runs because the Microsoft Band was not accurate on heart rate to start, but has vastly improved since I got a smaller size and applied updates.

After the first run, I got my first Achievement badge. This particular one was a Star. There is a full screen of achievements you can receive in the Activity app on the iPhone (note: the Activity App is hidden until you pair an Apple Watch, then it mysteriously is findable). As you collect achievements, the faded badges fill out. You can tap them to zoom in and see what you did to earn the award. It’s interesting and kind of fun. It definitely adds a little gamification to encourage activity.

Acheivements

For the rest of my workouts, I wore the Apple Watch and the Garmin 920XT with the HRM Run heart rate strap. Each watch was on an alternate wrist. For my first run, I ran for 60 minutes easy. Unfortunately, I was bitten by the battery life of the Apple Watch. I had charged it the night before and had over 30 percent when I started. But, it went into power saving mode after it recorded just shy of 4 miles. Sigh.

aborted-run-apple-watchFor my next run, I was set to do 30 minutes with Fartleks. I thought this would be a good test and a way to get some feedback on how the Heart Rate monitor functions. I also was running very different paces throughout and wanted to see how this would be reflected with the Apple Watch. The overall results are below. You can see where there starts to be some variances between the devices. The heart rate average looks really good. Overall, it is only two beats off of the Garmin with a heart rate strap. This is excellent. If there were going to be a large difference between devices, I feel this is the type of run that would do it because of the varied intensities in the workout. However, the pace was off by quite a bit. This was because the distance was off between the two devices. The Garmin had the distance at 4.22 miles versus 4.04 on the Apple Watch. This is troubling. I really would like to have as accurate of a distance as possible. I was running with my iPhone and had it at my waist inside of a FlipBelt – my preferred way to carry for shorter runs. It is possible that having the iPhone next to my waist caused me to partially block the GPS signal. This is unfortunate, because I absolutely don’t want to wear it on my arm.

fartleks-apple-watch

The other issue I have with the results are in the details. If you look at the data I captured from the Apple Watch, you learn only a few things – I ran over 30 minutes with an average pace of just over an 8 minute mile and an average heart rate of 173. Considering the type of workout, this is not helpful. Here are some of the stats that are captured by the Garmin 920XT and available on Garmin Connect:

garmin-screens

This is where things really fall apart when using the Apple Watch for runs. There is a lot of information about the workout. Here is a basic list of items that are missing.

  1. A map showing where I ran.
  2. How the laps broke down. This is especially important because it was a Fartlek workout and done in intervals.
  3. Elevation information.
  4. Cadence information – how many steps per minute did I average.
  5. Other running dynamics available on high-end modern Garmin watches including Vertical Oscillation, ground contact time, stride length.
  6. Graphs that detail the progress of the run. These show the effects pace and elevation against my heart rate.
  7. Other features that are available on high-end Garmin watches (some of these features are also on Polar and Suunto watches as well) include recovery time and VO2Max. Actually, the Microsoft Band also offers recovery time advise in both the Health App and online dashboard which also offers an estimated VO2Max.

 

Elliptical Workout Tracking

One thing that is a very welcome feature of the Apple Watch is the ability to track elliptical workouts. This is a feature that is not native to any Garmin watches I have tried. The best I have been able to do is set them as an indoor run and then change the type of workout. The Apple Watch on the other hand has Elliptical as a choosable workout type and does a nice job of giving you actual data on the workout. Sadly, it has no way to know what kind of resistance was set or the ramp, but it does at least track the basics with both a time and distance (getting distance is rarer than you would think) as shown below. Oddly, the distance is only shown in the Apple Health App shown on the right below, not the actual Activity App, which seems to be a strange oversight. Hopefully that will change in the future with firmware updates.

elliptical-activity

Conclusion

There is a lot to like about the Apple Watch. But sadly, not much of it has to do with tracking runs. It is a really well designed smart watch that is super comfortable and works seamlessly with an iPhone, but for anyone who is serious about training and tracking endurance sports workouts (run, bike, swim), it falls woefully short. weekly-activitySome of this may improve with updates to the built-in Apple apps, but they seem to be directed more at overall fitness. Third party apps seem to be unable to pick up the slack either because they are not accessing the built-in heart rate monitor. This limits them to only getting pace and distance from the phone since the Apple Watch does not have built-in GPS. If you want heart rate, you will need a bluetooth capable strap. And in that case, there is no benefit between the Apple Watch and a Pebble watch that can be purchased for less than $100.

On the other hand, if you are primarily focused on endurance sports tracking and just want basic notifications on your watch, Garmin, Polar and Suunto all have solutions that will do this. The Garmin VivoActive at $250 is an excellent starting point.

The Apple Watch is a nice watch with a ton of features, but the endurance athlete is not its focus. More the general consumer who wants to add a little activity to their lifestyle. It is very encouraging for wearers to fill up all the targets in the week with basic fitness and activity goals. But until there is a built-in GPS chip and more thorough application support, it is more for a dabbler than someone who is trying to train seriously for running or triathlete goals.

Review: New Balance Zante

I was in the market for a shoe that was lightweight but had a good tread pattern for both roads and trails. While shopping in the New Balance store, the salesman explained that they have a new shoe that is named “2015 Shoe of the Year” by Competitor Magazine. Could this be the “Saucony Kinvara Killer” so many companies have tried to make? I was a bit skeptic since the Zante was only on the market for 2 days but I decided to check out what all the hype was all about.

Overview

The New Balance Fresh Foam category got a nice facelift this year coming out with two new Fresh Foam models: the Boracay, which basically a revamped Fresh Foam 980, and the lighter, more race-friendly Zante. Measuring 23mm in the heel and 17mm in the forefoot making for a killer 6mm drop half-marathon, marathon and possibly beyond shoe! Weighing in at 8.1 ounces (men’s size 9) the neutral support Zante is a great option for a lightweight shoe that can go the distance without weighing you down. Is it the right shoe for you? Continue reading to find out!

zante-worn

Upper and Fit

My immediate reaction upon sliding my foot into the shoe was, “Holy smokes this upper mesh is soft!” The no-sew upper truly wraps around your foot, hugging it snug while leaving plenty of room for your toes to splay in the toe-box while running on technical terrain or roads.

The upper breathed well in both humid East Coast heat and dry California heat. My only concern is that the upper is so minimal that your feet would not be too happy in the winter months in the more frigid temperatures.

zante-heelcup

Midsole and Ride

My experience with Fresh Foam midsole material began with the 980 last year. They marketed the shoe as a highly cushioned, soft shoe but yet this was not the case. The Zante feels more cushioned than the 980 with a more supple and responsive ride making for a great race or up-tempo shoe.

Overall the midsole is softer in the heel and firmer in the forefoot to create a more responsive ride. When I run I usually am a midfoot strike and there was plenty of cushion to support a runner wanting to use these in marathon distances.

One word of caution: there is a very distinct bump, called the Toe Spring by New Balance, near the forefoot. This bump feels like your foot is hanging off a ledge and does not feel natural but the feeling dissipates while you run. The bump put my foot in a mid-foot gait more naturally than with other shoes.

zante-side

Outsole

A fascinating feature of the Zante is how the weight can be 8.1 ounces yet have a full outsole. Many shoes in this category feature little pods of rubber for traction and the rest of the outsole is EVA foam like in the Saucony Kinvara and Hoka One One Clifton.
The full outsole is a low profile tread that can take the abuse from many road and trail miles. I ran a lot of trail miles in this shoe both in dry, dusty and sandy California as well as muddy Virginia trails after a fresh thunderstorm and the shoe gripped very well in all conditions for a road shoe.

zante-outsole

Conclusion

I bought this shoe as a “door-to-trail” shoe meaning I can run on the road to the trails and back all in the same shoe. I decided to wear this shoe at my last trail 50k while visiting family in California and the shoe held up wonderfully. The lightweight upper allowed my feet to stay cool and the full tread gave me plenty of confidence on the fast and steep downhills. The Fresh Foam midsole was protective enough on the rocks and roots to not leave my feet feel banged up after so many miles. It passed my final test with flying colors.

Is this the right shoe for you? The answer is yes if you are looking for a shoe with:

-A soft yet responsive neutral ride that can double as a daily trainer and race-flat.

-Has an upper that is sock-like.

-Has enough room in the toe-box for good toe-splay.

-You can run on the road or the trails with a full tread that will protect your feet through the miles but only weighing in the low 8-ounce mark.

This new lightweight cushioned option is what I believe to be the “Saucony Kinvara Killer” that New Balance needed to produce to stay relevant in today’s competitive shoe market.

Mitch-Purisma Crossover-452

You can find the New Balance Zante at our affiliate Amazon link below:

Review: Aminoskin

Getting nutrition down during a marathon can be a tricky thing. This is especially true in late miles when your stomach has shut down and you are hanging on for dear life. That is why the products at Aminoskin got me curious. Aminoskin offers a line of products developed in Germany that profess to supply amino acids during a workout from skin absorption.

I was eager to give the products a try. I had heard of vitamins and nutrients being applied to the skin for absorption and thought that might be an ingenious way to get some needed nutrients during a race. Previously though, amino acids were not thought to be absorbable through the skin.

Amino acid absorbtion through the skin is dictated by the size. Aminoskin has found a way to decrease the size enough to make absorption possible. Aminoskin points this out on their Facts page and The National Institute of Health study Interaction of nanoparticles and cell-penetrating peptides with skin for transdermal drug delivery appears to back the science up.

Before taking a chance on the product and skin allergies, I applied a little bit to my forearm and had no reactions of any kind for the day. It is very mild and has a very light citrusy scent. I then applied Aminoskin for two races on back-to-back weekends – a full marathon followed by a half marathon. For the full marathon, I applied Aminoskin Endurance.

Aminoskin Endurance contains taurine which helps to delay muscle fatigue during the activity. I dutifully applied the lotion to my quads exactly 20 minutes before the race in the porta-pottie. The consistency is very interesting. It is not as viscous as a standard lotion, it is almost frothy. That is good for me because I have always found lotion to be slimy. My wife likes to tease me about that. The product absorbs into the skin very quickly and was not noticeable as I exited the port-a-pottie.

There are other ingredients like mint in the product that may have exaggerated the effect, but I honestly didn’t feel my muscles as I started the race. It’s not like they were paralyzed and I had no control, but rather like they were gently held in a stasis and super relaxed. This may have influenced my decision to go out harder than I should have and I ran with a pace group 10 minutes faster than my goal.

For the first several miles, my legs felt outstanding and honestly I hadn’t run that well for a while. The miles were just clicking and felt effortless. Was this all the product? No. But I do think it made  a difference. Even if there was a placebo effect. The reason I credit the product is because I could tangibly feel the tingling and then numbness after application.

I shared my experience with Aminoskin and was advised to take a hot bath and apply some of the Recovery to help me the next day. I did this with Epsom salts and I will say that I recovered from the race better than I could have imagined.

The day after the race, I was able to walk down my stairs facing forward, not sideways (I still had to be gentle and used a handrail, but the difference was palpable). I saw my chiropractor the same day, and he was completely surprised. I was in better shape than I had been in 18 months of treatment. Was it all the product? No. But I do think it was a factor.

The rep at Aminoskin also advised me to use both the Power and Endurance product at the same time in my next race.

Amino skin Power contains Arginine which as described on their site as follows:

Arginine is used to make nitric oxid (NO) in the human body. NO dilates the blood vessels, faciliates an increased blood flow into muscle tissue and improves thereby the supplementation of oxygen and nutrients to increase the muscle power. AminoSkin Power is particularly suited to support your performance during sport specific interval and strength exercises, which are characterized by alternativ exercise phases and recovery phases (so-called intervals).

The rep also said to make sure I apply it to all muscles I will be using in the race. So, I made a port-a-pottie trip 20 minutes before the start of the Shamrock half-marathon and applied both to my quads, hamstrings and calves.

This time when I raced, I felt much the same as before. I started out the race tentatively because I was only one week off a marathon, hadn’t run a step all week and have a spotty injury history. My legs felt very good and I was able to set into a rhythm. I even was relaxed and comfortable enough to catch up to a friend that I sometimes run with and we ran the rest of the race together. I felt very good throughout the race and managed to get a 3.5 minute PR out of it.

I repeated the same process of recovery afterward and was feeling fine the next day. I actually was feeling so good that I was complaining that I wasn’t being allowed to run because I was in the middle of the recovery.

Again, the big question is are the results of my races and quicker recoveries caused by the Aminoskin? I would answer again. Not completely but they are a definite factor. But here is the bottom line, will I be using the product in the future. Absolutely. I will be applying some for my 20 miler this afternoon and I will be dutifully sneaking off to a port-a-pottie in 6 days for my third marathon and am very thankful I have this extra tool available.

Aminoskin is sold exclusively on their site at http://aminoskin.com (for English, click the American flag on the top right of the page).

Review: MilestonePod – Running Dynamics for $25

Not long ago, I saw a screenshot from Pete Larson of Runblogger showing results from a run that were collected from a device called MilestonePod. I immediately knew that I had to get my hands on one.

MilestonePod was initially introduced as a crowd funded Indiegogo project in early 2013. The initial devices were very straightforward. They automatically tracked the number of miles put on a pair of shoes. This was a valuable feature at the time because many running logs and sites were not tracking shoe mileage. Garmin for one just added this ability late in 2014 as an example.

While MilestonePod did not meet their funding goal, they were encouraged enough to release the product anyway. The original pods track shoe mileage and display the information in an app as shown below:

milestone-pod-version-one While the information is definitely useful and welcome, things have gotten really exciting in version 2. In this new version of the MilestonePod, the device tracks several valuable metrics. These include the following:

Distance: How far you ran
Pace: Average pace
Pace (peak): Fastest Pace
Duration: Total time of workout
Cadence: Average Number of steps per minute
Cadence (peak): Maximum steps per minute
Stance Time: Also known as ground contact time. Amount of time on average your foot remains in contact with the ground
Stance Time (peak): Average ground contact time taken from the fastest minute of the workout.
Stride Length: Average length of each step from the right foot and left foot touching the ground.
Footstrike: The percentage of time your foot contacts the ground first with the heel, midfoot, or heel.
Runficiency Score: A metric derived from cadence, stance time and stride length.

MilestonePod was kind enough to send me one of their version 2 pods and I excitedly put it on a pair of shoes to try out.

First Use

syncingWhen I received the MilestonePod, I immediately installed it on my pair of Skechers GoRun 4 and synced it with my iPhone. When it found the device, it started to update. I took a couple Facebook Messages and then went off to the gym and ran on the treadmill.

 

When I was finished, I tried to sync the data and there was nothing there. I popped the battery and replaced it and finally got the phone to see it. Unfortunately, it seemed like there was no data. I then reset the device to go with another pair of shoes, my Kinvara 5s and started to sync it. The app advised me again that it had to update the footpod and this time I was patient enough to see that it was asking me to not interrupt the process while it was happening. I didn’t and it updated successfully. It also gave me the option to set the number of miles that already existed on the shoes. This was a nice touch.

Second and Third Use

Now that I got the MilestonePod synced up and ready to go, I took it out on two long runs with my Kinvara 5s.

The first of these runs had the following results:

milestone_1st_run

 

I have been working on my foot strike for a while and increasing my cadence. I have been trying to hold a bit more of a mid-fore foot strike. Well, it appears that I may be missing the boat in the results.

I wore the footpad again and had slightly different results as shown below:

milestone_2nd_run

Well, there at least was some sign of a midfoot strike. Also, this was a 20 mile run and I was impressed that it got as close as it did for the distance. This was with no calibration, and the cadenced match my Garmin for both runs. After contemplating my foot strike issues, I decided that I should check the placement of the pod on my shoes and discovered that there may be a problem.

MilestonePod-placement

It appears that I suffered a case of failure to follow directions (it has happened in the past). I placed my MilestonePod between the first and second eyelet of the shoe instead of between the second and third eyelet as recommended in their video below:

So, I corrected the issue and put the MilestonePod on my shoe in the manner prescribed by the company. I then went on another run with the results below:

milestone_3rd_run

Sadly, it appears that my foot strike issue wasn’t caused by the placement of the footpad, but it is nice having the information. And that is the bottom line about this product. For $25, you are able to not only track miles on a shoe but also get some running dynamics to see if your form is as good as you would like it to be.

Keep in mind that getting this kind of information on a Garmin watch requires at least a Forerunner 620 which costs $400. Just this fact alone makes the MilestonePod an incredible bargain. It is inexpensive enough that you can buy more than one and have them on multiple pairs of shoes. You can then just reset them as you replace the shoes over time.

The MilestonePod can be bought at Amazon with my affiliate link below:

It appears that Amazon has sold out but more are on the way. In the meantime, you can visit the MilestonePod site at http://milestonepod.com/product/milestonepod/. Use coupon code “hamptonrunner” to get $5 off until 06/30/2015.