May 26, 2015

Review : Skechers GoRun Ultra
  • Type : Maximalist
  • Use : Road
  • Price : $90-$110

Sometimes, I get desperate. I’ve been experiencing a weird knee pain every once in a while for more than a year now, and I’ve never figured out what causes it. One thing for sure, I know asphalt doesn’t help it. To get rid of my problem, I’ve followed about every piece of advice I’ve been given, except maybe for one…

“Run in Hoka’s, man”.

No way. That goes against everything I think to be true. But then again, I have to admit I’ve seen tons of runners, some very good ones, too, use them and harp about the benefits of super-cushioned shoes. So right after my last asphalt adventure, I had the Ottawa Marathon coming up and I figured, this is a good a time as ever to see if maximalism is for me or not.

I had a pair of Skechers GoRun Ultra lying somewhere in my closet. They’d been sent to me to be reviewed about a million years ago (sorry, Skechers!) and I’d never got the nerves to take them out for a spin. Now with a bum knee still hurting from the last time I ran on asphalt and a road marathon to go, I thought the time had come.

Road test
I showed up at the marathon starting line in my brand-spanking new, never-before-worn bright red Ultras, feeling like I was wearing moon boots. The cushioning is so massive, it actually makes you taller. Any notion of proprioception is erased and flex also becomes a distant memory. I felt like I was thumping around with my feet shoved in a pair of giant marshmallows.

The gun went off, and my first thoughts were to try and maintain as much of a forefoot strike as I could. Pretty much impossible. This is a midstrike-at-best situation; there’s over 40mm of material between your foot and the ground. The sole feels square and flat, which is not unpleasant, even if it doesn’t “roll forward” like I expected it to with its monstrous 14mm heel-to-toe drop.

You have to understand that I come from a minimalist background, running in shoes that keep my feet close to the ground and as close to zero-drop as possible. So for me, wearing the Ultras was overwhelmingly different and an experience for which I don’t have a lot of reference points. I have to say that they did an admirable job of mitigating the pounding from the asphalt and absorbing any irregularity in the ground under me. I couldn’t quite shake off the feeling of running in moon boots, but that didn’t bother me much for most of the course. As the miles piled up, I was increasingly pleased with how fresh my legs felt.

Straight elongated leg,
toes pointing up...
Awfully looks like heel striking.
However, this massive shoe quite literally transforms the way you run. You have to basically yank your leg up using your hip muscles. I’m used to pushing off with my toes and landing lightly on the front of my foot; while wearing the Ultra, you kick your leg up and thrust it forward, elongating your stride. I’ve seen some race pictures where I quite obviously heel strike, which is consistent with the slight wear pattern that formed under the shoe. That’s a big worry on the long term.

I managed to finish my marathon with a less-than-optimal body, a finish I attribute at least in part to the thick protection of the Ultra’s Resalyte cushioning. The pain and unease I felt toward the end, I’m pretty sure, can be attributed to the radical difference in running form, to which my various next-day muscle sores can attest.

It’s hard for me to see the Ultra as a usual, every day running shoe. I think it can be useful to the runner who wants a shoe for every situation and who contemplates running long distances on pavement when previous similar experiences have proven painful. I think it is worthy of noting that it’s really hard to run fast in these shoes because of their inherent design philosophy. I’d add it might be a great mitigation shoe for someone who’s heavier and starts being active again and / or experiences pain, although I remain convinced pain should be a guide in respecting one’s body, not something to be masked by technical solutions. But that’s another debate.

While Resalyte once again proves its worth, I think there is such a thing as too much. However, it’s obvious to me I probably would’ve had a very hard time finishing my marathon if I’d wore anything that resembled my usual shoes, because asphalt just hurts. The impact absorption capabilities of the thick, cushioned GoRun Ultra will, ultimately, help you last longer on unforgiving hard surfaces. So I’m left with a conundrum; stop running long distances on pavement… or wear maximalist shoes when I do.

High points
  • Resalyte. Like, a metric ton of it.
  • Obvious impact mitigation
  • Very reasonable weight, at 9 oz
  • More than half the price of a pair of Hoka’s

Low points
  • 14-mm drop is way too much
  • Outsole lugged design is questionable; this can’t be a trail shoe
  • Will change your running form if you are a forefoot runner

The equipment for this personal review was supplied by Skechers free of charge, without any conditions.

May 11, 2015

Finish With Us America : Raw Inspiration

Patrick Sweeney - Credit: Stan Evans
Jup Brown
Jup Brown put his feet in the water next to Patrick Sweeney’s on Huntington Beach, California, last January and took a little sample of the water in a tiny tube. Next time he’d open it, he would be all the way across the United States, some 3,425 miles east from California, in Boston.

And just like that, both runners took a first step in a running journey too great for most people to even fathom.

As ultra runners, we sometimes have to deal with the awe and amazement of others when they discover we run distances of 50, 60 or 100 miles. Last Saturday, the one in awe was my own self. I’d traveled overnight to get to Boston to run the very last 50K segment of their epic adventure, to cheer them on and to witness something truly unique; the last step the two friends would take, this time in the Atlantic Ocean.

I stood there all jittery in Hopkinton, at the Boston Marathon starting line, staring at Jup Brown with a million questions bouncing around in my head. He, on the other hand, just sat there and smiled, relaxed, sharing some anecdotes that happened on the road.

“One night, I wanted to sleep in a little park kiosk just like this one”, he said. “It was at some church, so I really thought it’d be OK. Well would you believe it’s the only time I was refused to spend the night somewhere, and it wasn’t even inside! And the guy had the audacity to tell me ‘May God help you in your journey’. I told the guy *he* was supposed to be the closest contact I had to God!” he said, laughing.

I was Sweeney's breakfast surprise
Saturday morning :)
I knew Sweeney from before, of course, but it was the first time I was meeting Jup in person. I’d heard about him from friends who hosted the Run with us America team on the road, but in this first moment in his company, I was really struck by his humble sincerity and his friendliness.

“I don’t do all this for the sport, you know”, he added. “I do this to meet people like you guys, fellow humans I wouldn’t meet otherwise, and share part of the journey.”

In my opinion, Patrick Sweeney and Jup Brown are heroes. Not because they accomplish incredible human feats, but because their attitude, their outlook and their values raise the bar on all of us. Two guys performing an act of endurance beyond any comprehension, but insisting that what really matters in the connections they made with people all along the voyage and the kids they run for.

Start of the Race Across USA
See, Sweeney and Jup started their journey with Race Across USA because they had decided that the true meaning of their endeavor would be to support a great program called The 100 Mile Club, which encourages kids from all over America to walk or run 100 miles during a school year. While doing so, they would go and personally talk with those kids, in their school, along the way and share some inspiring moments.

Two more friends, Shacky and Vanessa Runs, offered to join in as the official crew for the long road ahead, volunteering the famous Summit Seeker they live in as a mobile house and aid station.

Somewhere along the way, their run morphed into Run with us America, in a more intimate setting following a route of their choosing. The two friends would run the rest of their adventure on their own, at their pace, sharing some of the segments and parting during others. And, of course, always running for the kids.

The Run with us America crew : Jup, Vanessa, Shacky, Sweeney and Ginger

Kara Lubin, 100 Mile Club
When asked about Patrick and Jup, Kara Lubin, founder and CEO of the 100 Mile Club, gets emotional. “Patrick and Jup are two incredible friends to the 100 Mile Club program. There are no words to express the amount of gratitude I have for what they have done and for the funds that they have raised for our program”, she says. “Every dollar that they have raised will go to fund the participation of students in need. Teaching kids to love exercise at an early age is essential for creating a healthier world. The 100 Mile Club is doing just that with the help of incredible people like Jup Brown and Patrick Sweeney. We are grateful to have them in our family”.

Sweeney totally thought
I was a Wellesley Girl

Last Saturday morning, however, you had to look very hard to find the heroes in our little group of runners. Both guys are so humble and unassuming, that every time we’d cross someone and tell them what was going on, they’d ask “So, which two guys are doing this?”. Sweeney was his usual, joyful self, joking around and playing his invented little games, such as “Crap found on the side of the road that isn’t fecal” which garnered an old lady’s wig, a porn centerfold and a skull-shaped fence segment, among others.

As the miles passed, I couldn’t help but notice how both Jup and Sweeney, even after putting their bodies to such extremes, looked healthy and solid. Aside from the obvious wear-and-tear, neither runners seems to suffer any particular damage, nor fear long-term effects. They noticeably covered the distance with incredible ease and good spirits (it’s 50K after all, a distance for which most people would train over substantial time and still be nervous about), smiling along and stopping to chat up passersby.

I told them both how I’d feared for them at first, when they announced their crazy journey. My only point of reference was Marshall Ulrich, who suffered terrible physical consequences from his transcontinental run, including some freaky permanent damage. Now, all I could notice was that both of them seemed to have become rock solid, zen and happy… while I was hobbling along with a bum knee, feeling half-broken and sorry for myself.

Our happy little group - Complete with little K-taped
ugly duckling in the back
I dropped out at one point, jumping in our crew Robin’s car for a couple miles. I didn’t want to slow everybody down, so I reluctantly stopped running and figured I’d just be at the beach to see the guys finish. They wouldn’t have any of it. A couple stops later, they told me they wanted to finish all together, and that they’d walk if it allowed me to tag along and be with them. It touched me in a way impossible to put in words. Here you had two guys finishing a 3,500-mile run, totally willing to make the last stretch longer and slower just for some dude to be able to share the experience. So I jumped back in, running 400M stretches and then walking, yo-yoing at the back of the group but somehow, somewhat able to keep up.

We finished the Boston Marathon course under a blue sky and a shiny sun, and simply kept going a couple more miles until, as Sweeney put it, they would literally “run out of country”. We meandered through downtown from Boylston street to Boston’s Long Wharf, through a neighborhood that much reminded me of San Francisco. At the end of a long street, finally, a beautiful patch of deep blue appeared.

Two happy, happy kids
And, just like that, just like a bunch of kids from the same block would run down to the beach to play in the sand, our little group made it across one last street and into the soft sand.

Two of the kids took their shoes off and unceremoniously walked into the ocean, then dove in. Something about their smiles, however, hinted that this little dip might have had some special meaning, maybe. Jup Brown opened a second little tube, filled it with ocean water and then mixed a drop of each into the other tube.

Both kids walked back on the beach, we opened the long-awaited box containing tequila-soaked water melon lovingly prepared by Robin, joked around and rejoiced for a little bit, then Sweeney and Jup simply said “Let’s go for a beer.”

Celebratory Sunday-morning mimosas, the day after

Patrick Sweeney and Jup Brown ran across the United States to raise funds for the 100 Mile Club. If you liked this story and are inspired by their adventure, please consider making a cash donation by following this link.

April 21, 2015

Review : Inov-8 Roclite 295

    • Type : Neutral
    • Use : Trail running
    • Price : $120-$130

    This is the third Inov-8 shoe I get to run in, and the second I review after the Race Ultra. I've always been impressed with the Inov-8 feel and its extreme expression; when I wear these shoes, I feel like a pro! The combination of grip and responsiveness is only matched, in my opinion, by a few top-of-the-line trail shoes such as the now-defunct Kinvara Trail from Saucony or my beloved (and also now-defunct, dammit) Altra Lone Peak 1.5.

    Trail Test
    This time around, the shoe feels light and quick, much more like the 235's I'd tried the first time. Unlike the Ultra, which definitely feels like it was made for a more cushiony ride over rough terrain, the 295 brings the aggressivity back while maintaining a great level of comfort. The shoe feels slim and long, with a lot of room at the tip but not so much on the side. When you lace up, you can feel how plush the upper is and I immediately thought how great that feeling must be while changing shoes in the middle of a long race.

    While certainly not a minimal shoe, the 295 doesn't overdo it and remains swift and nimble. The extra material between your foot and the ground becomes a great advantage if you're going to run long on terrain that switches from trails to pavement, for example, or if you're looking for a good overall winter running shoe. The grip is as good as always, with the outsole material soft and sticky. If you're looking for a firm grip in a comfortable shoe, this is it.


    While this is pretty much the bulkiest shoe I'd wear out there, I have to say there's a lot of things the 295 does well. The feeling of sturdiness and protection you get can be a great plus for beginning trail runners or to get yourself back together after some hard distance on rough trails. The 9mm drop is the only thing I wish was different; why does it have to be so steep? I'd give it all A's if it had, say, 4.

    High points
    • Excellent grip as always
    • Nimble and swift despite added material
    • Super comfy

    Low points
    • 9mm drop is just too much
    • Tiny laces make it real easy to overtighten the shoe