An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Skechers Go Bionic -- Another home run!

In my TGIF post last Friday, I mentioned that I'd be reviewing a new shoe from Skechers next weekend. Well, I got the green light early, so here it is!

Some months ago, I made a comment on the Runblogger Site about how I'd love to be a wear tester for Skechers, as I'd already bought a pair of the Go Run model, and loved them right away. Well, it wasn't long before I got an email from Skechers, asking if I would like to join their wear test program.

Hm... Let me think on that a bit.

(Dramatic pause of, oh, maybe 0.000005 seconds.)


I signed a non-disclosure agreement and within a couple weeks I had some new shoes on my doorstep, three different models. Of those, the Go Bionic is the one I'm most excited about, and the one I'm reviewing here.

The shoes sent to me are pre-production samples provided to me free-of-charge from Skechers. I was not paid to wear them, nor was I coerced in any way to post a positive review -- all I did was wear the shoes and give them my feedback. The views posted here are my own -- I don't owe Skechers anything, and likewise they don't owe my anything. I was provided with first-run Go Bionics, and there are some differences between these shoes and the ones that are going into final production, which I'll go into later.

When I first picked up the Go Run in a Skechers store, I was shocked at how light they are. They felt like racing f
lats in my hand. And that lightweight feel remained on my feet. The Go Bionic is even lighter -- my samples are almost two full ounces lighter than the Go Run, at 5.75oz (by my digital kitchen scale). Granted, my Go Runs are size 10.5, and the Go Bionics are a size 10 (and both fit perfectly). But with all this lightness, it doesn't skimp at all.

I'll start from
the bottom and work my way up.

The sole is made of a grid of pods of Resalyte with carbon rubber inserts at strategic wear points. I had an initial concern with the lack of a rubber insert at the lateral forefoot, but so far I haven't had any more wear in this area than any other area. In fact, the Resalyte seems to be holding up extremely well -- better than the material in the Saucony Kinvara, especially in the same area.

I did have so
me concerns about the nature of the space between the pods -- they go all the way through to the footbed. I've taken the shoes off-road, and these gaps do pick up small rocks. I didn't notice the rocks until I got back on the road, and they pick out quickly. On the road, I haven't had any of these issues. I have noticed that when I'm running in wet grass or mossy areas, they do soak up some water (strangely also not an issue on pavement), but they also drain very quickly.

I like minimalist shoes, but I don't like to feel like I'm running almost barefoot on pavement. The Merrell Trail Glove is a great shoe, but it doesn't have enough cushion for me on the road. And I don't like built-up heels. My shoe rotation has nothing with more than 4mm of drop from the heel to the forefoot. The Go Bionic is zero drop, thanks to the undercut heel (much like the Go Run and the New Balance Minimus Road). This undercut heel makes for a very nice transition from the mid- or fore-foot landing to the full foot loading.

With the Go Run, the undercut heel made it feel very strange when standing or walking. You get much less of the strange feel with the Go Bionic, and like the Go Run, that feel completely disappears once you start running. What you do feel is the total compliance of the shoe. Or more appropriately you DON'T feel the shoe restricting your movement. VERY flexible.

Moving up, the upper is made to complement a bare foot. Flexible, roomy, and well ventilated.

The entire interior of the rearfoot is made with a single piece of material wrapped around the heel. Very comfy and smooth. The heel structure is also one of the great features of this shoe. As in there really isn't any. No heel counter, just like the Go Run and the Nike Free. This mean the shoe doesn't try to dictate the foot motion. Along with that is the bonus that the heel tab doesn't dig into the achilles tendon, causing blisters -- it moves with your foot.

The midfoot hugs well, with no tight spots or binding, no wrinkles... The hallmark of good construction is that the shoe essentially disappears on the foot in this area, and the Go Bionic shines.

The toe box is one of the features I'm most excited about. It's wide! And not just wide, but rounded and foot shaped. Roomy. I wish more shoes were made on a similar last. This one design aspect is critical to me. My foot isn't wide, as I found out when measuring the actual width. But my toes splay out enough that I've gone to wide shoes more often than not, just so that my toes don't get
squeezed together. The toe box on the Go Bionic is one of few where I don't feel the shoe upper pushing against any of my toes -- they're free to wiggle and splay. Gushing on about this one feature, you'd think that I appreciate the thought that went into making a last of this shape. You'd be right! Beyond words.

Ventilation is good with the mesh over the forefoot. I've never felt that my feet are getting that "hot and slimy" feeling that can happen in some shoes, even ones that are touted to be "barefoot friendly".

The lacing is traditional, and adjusts very well to accommodate different tension zones. The tongue is sewn in like the Go Run, so there are fewer areas for dirt and debris to enter the shoe.

So what changed between the shoes I've been testing and the production shoes?

  • Skechers added a removable sockliner. They wanted to give the runner with sensitive feet the option to put this in if feeling the edges of the sole pods was an issue. I haven't felt the edges of the sole pods myself, or at least noticed them to be anything of concern. You can make up your own mind.
  • The laces are 1mm smaller in diameter. Again, I haven't had any issues with the laces as provided (though they could be a little shorter and be just fine). They've said the thinner laces provide a better feel. Hmmmm... Better? Then that's probably pretty good!
  • Skechers added a coating of 3M scotchgard which is a water and stain repellent. I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of super muddy runs. I've noticed that trail runs around here seem to pride themselves on finding the wettest, soupiest bogs available. That's not my bailiwick. So I can't say that I've really tested the shoe's mud-shedding capacity, but I also haven't noted that the shoe seems to pick up dirt easily. So the production shoes will be MORE dirt/stain resistant than the ones I have. Which means they stay looking newer longer. Never a bad thing. For some entertaining videos on the Scotchgard, check these out: Testing of various liquids and Mud Test
  • Sheckers made the rubber pods in the outsole slightly softer. These are the areas of carbon rubber in the sole to help with wear. Apparently some users thought they made hard points in the shoe (not something I found to be an issue). Making them softer will make for a more continuous feel.
  • Skechers is now using a Kaoke thread along the sockbed. This soft thread is used in undergarments and apparel. I mostly have been wearing socks when I run, and when I'm home, I kick off my shoes and go barefoot as much as possible. So maybe my soles are a little tougher than others. In any case, though I did feel the seams, I never had any rubbing or blister problems.
  • Skechers also moved a seam at the base of the big toe back, as one tester received a blister on his big toe from rubbing the seam, so this is no longer a concern. Also, using the optional sockliner would completely eliminate this concern.

The price point set for this model is just under $90 - still at the low end of the spectrum for minimalist shoes.

I've heard many people say they'd never consider a Skechers shoe after the Shape-Ups. Well, all I can say to them is that they'd probably never get anywhere in life if they were judged on their own past as harshly as they're judging this company on one shoe line. The GoBionic is a serious running shoe, purpose built, and firmly grasping mid- and fore-foot landing natural running form (in spite of the woman in their literature shown in an extreme overstriding gait). I say give the shoes a try and let them stand on their own merits.

I was very impressed with the Skechers Go Run when I first picked them up and put them on my feet. I was even more impressed with the test samples of the Go Bionic. Light weight, zero drop, cushioned (but not marshmallow soft), roomy, flexible. As is, Skechers has another winner on their hands. With the improvements made form these pre-production samples, even more so.

The only bad thing about these shoes? That we'll have to wait until July to see them on the store shelves.

Do I really have to send the samples back?

[NOTE: Images and videos were provided to me by Skechers.]

Monday, March 26, 2012

Breaking Dawn

Saturday morning.

The sky is a dark gunmetal blue-gray, with wispy shadows of a darker full-gray striped across it. The only sounds are my breaths, the pat-pat-pat of my footfalls.

The weather report said it was 39 degrees... in the valley. As I went out my driveway I saw frost on the cars. Black-space cooling. But I know it's under 39 here. And dark enough that I have to use the back-light on my watch.

On the back part of my loop the road turn east, and the sky is more a lighter blue, less gray. The sun is still well below the horizon, though.

It's been a long time since I've done a pre-dawn run. But this is my only opportunity today to do a workout, so I take it. My distance and pace are still nothing to write home about, but it's something. And seems a little more sane than an hour or more on the trainer before 6 am.

The run finished with a tribute to the wettest-winter-ever theme - I picked up a fist sized rick that was sitting in the middle of the road, and when I tossed it into the mossy shoulder, it went "fth" and didn't roll. Just buried itself half-way into the sodden ground. Nice.

My "day job" starts pretty early, so morning workout during the week would be pre-crazy time. But an early start means an early end, and a two hour ride after work isn't a hardship on the schedule. And now that we're celebrating Daylight Savings Time, it's not an issue for darkness either.

Sunday morning.

Today is different. No set schedule (unless you count the mid-afternoon showing of The Hunger Games that my wife bought tickets for), and I'm going to be headed out for a long ride in a little over an hour. The sky to the east is getting a light pink on the horizon fading to light gray-blue, just a few clouds...

Looking forward to almost four hours on the road.

Friday, March 23, 2012


I think this has been the wettest winter I've ever experienced.

Global warming? Tell me again -- I was sweeping the snow off my car yesterday morning.

Oh, that's right, it's not global warming any more... it's "climate change". Whatever.

I've been putting in a lot of time on the stationary bike trainer in my basement, and I'm about through all the "guy movies" in my personal library. Last weekend we went to the local public library, and I picked up several DVDs, loading them into the player in my family room (the BlueRay player is in the living room upstairs), waiting for the next "spinning to nowhere" session.

And a funny thing has happened this week -- I haven't been on the trainer since I loaded those movies into the DVD player. I've actually been able to ride outside all week (okay, twice, but they were both dry rides and longer than my trainer sessions). And the entire weekend looks to be sunny and (slightly) warmer. Though I'm working tomorrow at Mr. Crampy's , I'll be able to ride tonight and Sunday morning for some decent miles.

Even yesterday, after plowing my car out of the driveway in the morning yesterday (okay, a bit of an overstatement), I took the motorcycle up to my daughter's school to attend her D.A.R.E. graduation. And didn't even need the grip heaters.

This morning was crisp and frosty again, but dry. Rode the motorcycle to work...

Maybe spring is here for real.

And one more thought: In the "building anticipation" category, I'll be reviewing a new shoe from Skechers next weekend that I've been testing for a couple months now, one I'm really excited about. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Altra Samson and NB Minimus Road Zero

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit several running stores, from large to small, chain stores to sole proprietorships.

We were delivering flyers for the up-coming Lucky Cause Sports events in April and May, and in each location I looked at the shoes offered, with my eye specifically on the New Balance Road Minimus Zero 2E. And surprisingly (or maybe not), all but one store sis not have the wide offering.

Road Runner Sports, in Kent, WA, had the Zero's, but not in wide (at least this time the guy in the store didn't try to tell me that New Balance doesn't make a wide in that model), as did The Balanced Athlete in Renton, and
Plateau Runner in Sammamish. I did get some running shorts at Plateau Runner -- bowing to my wife's sense of fashion, and desire that I NOT run in my tri shorts. Brooks 2-in-1 provided just the ticket, at a lower price point than everything else I've seen to date.

Our final stop was the Born to Run Store in Bellevue. There I got a chance to try on the Minimus Road Zero in the 2E width, as well as the Altra Samson (!!), side by side.

I really liked both shoes, but for different reasons. I had one on each foot, the Samson on my left, the Road Zero on my right.

Having walked into the store in my New Balance 737 (Minimus Trainer) 2E width, a Christmas gift from my wife, I was surprised to feel that the Road Zero toe box felt a little narrow. Going up a half size might have remedied that, or taking my socks off (taboo in the store). I did like the feel of the sole/midsole -- very natural. Nothing felt like it was in the way there. I liked the construction of the upper and tongue -- the upper simply wraps under the laces from the medial side, so there is no tongue to get bunched up or misaligned. These shoes are very light and airy, and I suspect that there would be no heat retention issues at all. You'd almost think that the shoes would lack in durability in the upper, given the lack of reinforcing material where most shoes have it. I'll leave the durability assessment for some other time, and to those who have put some miles in the shoes, as I didn't purchase them (whew -- my wife would have had my hide). At some point I will need to try on the 4E version and see if it's too wide. Or maybe slip my socks off when they're not watching (kidding!).

This was the first opportunity for me to have the Altra Samson in my hands (and on my feet). To say they're comfortable is an understatement. Toe room is what I've come to expect from Altra, and the Samson has it in spades. Wiggle room is plantiful, without slop. I had tried the Adam on a few months ago, and I wasn't completely enamored with the strap system. The Samson is a traditional lace-up. While the sole/midsole and footbed felt overall thinner than the Road Zero, it really only felt so because I could feel that my left foot was lower than my right. By itself, it didn't feel too thin. Tread-wise, this isn't a mud shoe, but they've got the Lone Peak to address the more extreme trail environment. For most of what I run on -- roads, hardpacked dirt, and gravel service roads -- these would work wonderfully. The upper is light, and the reinforcements are minimal, but applied to the critical areas. These shoes are about as non-shoe as you can get without going to haurache sandals. There's nothing there to interfere with the natural foot function (though there are barefoot purists who will argue that anything between you and the ground deaden proprioreception).

I can see myself with both of these shoes in my running shoe rotation at some time. But currently with six pair in my rotation, and especially with my wife looking on, I couldn't justify purchasing another pair. So I guess I need to get running more so I can wear a pair out. Like the heads of the hydra, wear one pair out, and two replace it...

Such is the life of the running shoe geek...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wheel building -- a weekend of zen

There is a bit of art to bike wheel building. Very few of the steps involved will allow for a wandering mind. And yet none of them require a huge amount of concentration.

I guess there's a bit of zen involved, that meditative mindfulness where you need to keep your brain on task, but really think about nothing.

My first forays into wheel building were not long after I started bike racing, about 1990. I'd bought a new bike frame, and a new component group to hang on it. That group came with hubs, not wheels. I bought some rims, spokes, nipples, and a cheap truing stand, borrowed Jobst Brandt's The Bicycle Wheel, made photocopies of the chapter on building up a wheel, and started in on the task. I've still got those wheels, and ride them regularly. Since that time, I've built over fifteen wheels (I tried to count them in my mind this morning, and really couldn't get a 100% certain number, but I know it's at least that).


A few weeks ago I discovered that one of my wheels had failed. Or rather, I discovered WHY it had failed. And it wasn't my build. It was a titanium Nuke-Proof hub built onto a Mavic Open 4CD rim, 32 spokes laced 3-cross, and was my main rear race wheel. It had been stored for a while when I stopped bike racing, and while it was stored in a shed that had a lot of moisture and heat cycles, the bond between the titanium shell and the aluminum flange gave out. Toasted hub.

So I unlaced the wheel and tossed the hub. I bought a new hub, spokes, and nipples from Universal Cycles (great selection and quick shipping!), and last night started to build the same rim into a new wheel.

Why use the same rim? Well, it doesn't have a lot of miles on it, as bike wheels go, and I've got several other wheels using the same Mavic Open 4CD (28 spokes to 36 spokes) that have THOUSANDS of miles on them with no signs that they're getting close to the end of their life. These are about as bomb-proof as they get. The unfortunate part is that Mavic discontinued them long ago, but replaced them with the Open Pro (equally as bombproof, but more expensive).

This time, though, I'm trying an "exotic" for the first time -- mixed lacing. I decided to go with 3-cross on the drive side, and 1-cross on the non-drive side. And doing it without those photocopied instructions in front of me. So far it's going well. I should be doing the beginnings of the tensioning and multiple round/true/round/true cycles tonight. This is where the real zen comes into play.

And by Monday I should have another fully ready-to-ride back wheel again. Just in time for a nice weather day, according to the weather forecast.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Endless miles going nowhere.

Mindless droning...

The resistance unit buzzes under my rear tire. The volume on the TV is up so I can hear the dialogue, as Gerard Butler delivers a line as King Leonidas in the movie 300 ("Clearly you don't know our women! I might as well have marched them up here, judging by what I've seen.").

I look at my watch... It's been another 15 minutes, time to stand up for a little while.

Shift to the top gear, crank the resistance to max, and pretend I'm ascending an Alp or Dolomite.

Two minutes later I'm back down, getting back to my spin, watching a few men defend their nation against an advancing horde several magnitudes their number.

Another 15 minutes and I'll repeat the process.

That was two hours of my Sunday, probably my longest trainer ride in 25 years.

Miles and hours on the road go by much faster and easier. I need the movies (guy-movies -- emotional dramas just don't do it) to keep my mind off the mindlessness. On the road, my mind is activated by the act of moving, awareness of my surroundings, threats, where I'm going. When those things are removed... It's not that the discomforts become more, but that everything else becomes so much less that they're all that's left. Pushing one's self takes more discipline. The mental game of riding when you're not going anywhere.

My PT recommended I run on a treadmill for my return to mileage. He said it would be good for (1) reducing impact because of the flex of the treadmill, and (2) avoiding the crown of the road (but I do most of my running OFF road, so that's not much of an issue).

I've used a treadmill before, when the weather was nasty or I just didn't want to deal with it, and it was convenient because I was already at a company fitness center. Since I don't have that convenient access any more, it's been years since I've run on a treadmill. I was able to just grind away as long as I could watch my form in a mirror in front of me (and monitor how close I was to the end of the treadmill without having to look down). Watching a TV? I'd end up stepping half-way off the belt and fall on my tookus. Something about having the ground moving underneath me (instead of me moving over the ground) made it imperative to be looking straight ahead.

But I'm also not the most coordinated acrobat out there.

I may think strongly about a treadmill at some point. I've looked before, but found that the ones with enough power and speed cost about the same as a decent used car.

At least the trainer is still cheap.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Here comes the sun! (do-n-do-do)

Sun! Solar radiation! Vitamin D!

I ran on Monday, and it sucked. SUCKed! S.U.C.K.E.D.

No, my shin didn't hurt. Well, it was a little sore afterwards. I didn't crash, run into anything, step on anything I shouldn't have, or overdo it.

But there was a driving rain at 45 degrees when I started, which swiftly became a driven mix of rain and snow at 40 degrees by the time I got just over a half-mile out. And I was only doing a mile and a half. I still stayed out long enough to do my 25 pushups and 10 pullups after running my short loop, but my face was numb long before I got back. My wife commented that night that my face looked a little wind-burned.

But today... TODAY! Yeah, the day started out cold at about 25 degrees, but it was dry for the last day, enough so that I was fine riding my motorcycle into work this morning. And even though the temperature was only at 42 degrees when I went out, the same route today was a total one-eighty from Monday. Warm-feeling! Sunny! Enough that I went back in for sunglasses before I started out.

The sunshine does so many good things for my mood, too. I live for summer, warm temperatures, sweat, and not having to wear three layers.

This Sunday is when most of us set our clocks ahead one hour. For those that do morning workouts, there's the darkness issue (all over again). But for the rest of us, it means more daylight after work!


Still a bit early to be relying on nice weather. And I still don't have fenders on my road bike. But I definitely prefer this time of year for the daylight savings time shift. And it seems like the four minutes additional we get every day this time of year is much more usable.

Doesn't hurt that my work day is over by 3:00 most days...

Time to pile on the miles! On the bike anyway.

Thursday, March 1, 2012



Ride Around Mt Rainier in One Day.

152 miles of wonderful riding around the tallest mountain in Washington state, taking in two passes and a total of 10,000 feet of climbing.

I've done this ride a couple times, with a best time of 8 hours 15 minutes. That was back in my bike racing days, and I was in a group that made the first 70+ miles at an average of 25 mph. No way I'll come close to that now.

This year's ride is on July 26th, and because my wife and I volunteered last year, I have a guaranteed entry (bypassing the lottery).

Since I'm finding myself very frustrated with my running lately (as in I haven't been able to do much of any running), I was thinking about this ride as a means to take off some mental pressure. My goal last year was to do a couple half marathons. When that didn't happen for various reasons, I refocused on this year, and started the build-up. After doing some not-so-smart back-to-back days in December, the shin rebelled. And I haven't really run at all since the week before Christmas.

Focusing on RAMROD in July will allow me to take the running as it comes and not stress about whether I'll be ready in time to tackle 13.1 at any point this year -- those will still be here next year.

But I've also got to put in the bike mileage and hills to make sure I'm ready for the ride. I'm already looking at re-installing my road fenders

Tomorrow is the first day for entry into the lottery. With the guaranteed entry, I've got all month to sign up before the drawing on April 1st. No need to hurry that one.

So I think I'll wait 'till 9 tomorrow morning.