Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Balance 890v2 Impressions

So I picked up a pair of the 890v2 from Running Warehouse on Black Friday and just got them today. Here's what I think of the shoe from trying it on...

First, the sizing is kind of weird. I normally wear a men's 9 in Brooks shoes but an 8.5 was actually the same length in the New Balance. Lengthwise the shoe was fine but has people have complained of before, the toebox is wayyyyy to short. As in, the top of the toebox squeezes the top of my foot. Oddly enough, the right shoe seemed to be okay and actually had some room to spare but the left shoe was ridiculously tight. I could feel the overlays pinching the top of my left foot. For this reason, I plan to send these back as I've had issues with tight shoes causing extensor tendinitis in the past (not fun). 

But aside from the horrible toe box (don't know what they were thinking, the toebox is just so dramatically tapered height-wise), my impressions of the shoe are generally favorable. First of all, the shoe is light! When I got the box I thought it was empty, haha. Also, the upper is not very structured. Especially the front of the toebox, where most brands have some sort of pleathery bumper, was made of a soft suede-like material. Can't see this being too durable but it was definitely comfortable. Weirdly enough, the heel collar of the shoe was extremely padded. It made the shoe kind of look funny, cause there was just so much material around the heel and then the toebox was so tapered. But, toebox nonwithstanding, the upper was pretty comfortable. 

One thing I noticed was that there was extremely little arch support in the insole. But, the shoe didn't feel particularly unstable. I love the midsole on this shoe even though I've only jogged across my living room in it. The midsole is full contact and lowish drop so I felt in contact with the ground at all times, but at the same time the midsole was cushioned. Definitely a very unique feel to it. I'd say this is the epitome of responsive cushioning. Not squishy but not jarring or excessively firm. Probably one of the better midsoles I've seen, as it seems to provide enough cushioning for solid miles but is responsive enough for faster running. Of course, keep in mind I haven't really run in these and don't plan to since I will be returning them, so these are just brief first impressions. Reading around online though, it seems that most people agree with me in that the midsole is great but the upper just doesn't fit well if you have anything but low-volume feet. 

Well these are my impressions of the 890v2. Sad to say I won't be keeping them as the toebox is a complete dealbreaker, but if the 890v3 (out February 2013) fixes the toebox you can be sure I'll be getting those. But if you have low volume feet and are a neutral runner, I'd highly recommend looking at this shoe. Incredibly light and the cushioning/midsole is unlike anything I've ran in before. The 890v2 is a great shoe, but sadly the toebox design prevents it from appealing to a larger crowd. I hope New Balance changes the toebox in the 3rd version of this shoe because they have a potential Kinvara-killer in the 890. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Injury woes

Running, like life, is full of ups and downs. Unfortunately, I've had more downs than ups in the past year. Throughout high school I experienced a handful of injuries, but perhaps the most frustrating ones have been those that I can't figure out. As in, pain that is not easily pinpointed. Among these have been what I guessed where a peroneus strain senior year of high school, some sort of nerve or hip issue freshmen year of college, and now, what seems like pes anserine bursitis. Sometimes it is easy to see in retrospect the causes of injuries (for example, some form of too much too soon). Other injuries do not have obvious causes, and this can be extremely frustrating. After not running from October 2011 to March 2012, I finally had shaken my injury from last fall, and started building mileage again. Despite being extremely out of shape, I ran the most miles I have ever ran this summer, hitting several straight 70+ mile weeks off singles. Coming into the cross season I was probably in comparable shape to the end of cross season my senior year of high school. Trained pretty solidly through August and September, ran my first 5 mile race, and was just ready to cut mileage and start racing more (I had only raced twice this season). Then, I was coming down the fire trail on my usual Tuesday run when I felt a soreness in my knee. Was almost home so I ignored it, forgot to ice that day, and probably took a day off. On Thursday it felt a bit better so I ran a workout, and even did a shortened long run cautiously on Saturday. After than, things just went downhill. The knee wasn't getting any better and was bothering me coming down stairs. Usually knee pain seems to be localized in two spots: the outside (lateral side) which is ITBS, or under the kneecap, which is runner's knee. For me, the pain was on the medial side, below the kneecap and felt on a bony area. I had absolutely no idea what to do and pretty much haven't run for the past month. Seems like it is bursitis, but a combination of being busy with school and not wanting to spend money has kept me from going to a doctor. So if any of you guys have experience with bursitis, please let me know how you recovered. I've been icing and stretching and it seems to be slowly getting better.

But I guess the main point of this post isn't to whine, but to say a few things. First of all, a lot of runners get injured, so if you are healthy, be thankful. Second, training can get tedious and there certainly were days when I did not want to run, but when you are healthy you should take every opportunity you have, because the ability to run could be gone just like that. As those who are injured know, every day of healthy running is a blessing, so be thankful that you have such an opportunity. And finally, if you are currently injured, don't give up on running, and be patient. Sometimes some time off of running is a good opportunity to achieve balance in other aspects of your life, and you will return with even more motivation to train. And while injuries are annoying, there is always a lesson to be learned. So spend a little time analyzing your log, and see what could have caused the problem, so you can be on the watch for the signs that you need a rest day in the future. Best of luck!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Apple iPod Shuffle 4th Generation Review

Hey guys, today I have for you a review of the iPod Shuffle. I know running with music is sometimes a point of contention in the running community, so I'll just state my opinion. I do agree that running with music can be a safety hazard. No matter what you may argue, its harder to hear vehicles, other runners, and your environment when you have headphones on. But on the other hand, at times running can be boring, especially when you're logging a lot of miles, and music undeniably pumps you up and makes hard runs seem just a little easier. As such, I think that when deciding whether to run with music, there are several things to consider. First, what is the environment? Are you going to be running on a road and need to hear cars coming? A bike path or heavily populated trail with other people around you? If so, probably not a good route to listen to music on. Also, a lot of races have a no iPod policy, and I'd strongly discourage music during races, simply as a safety precaution. You never know when another runner is coming up behind you. On the other hand, if you're running along a less heavily traveled area, its probably okay to play music, but at a low volume. You always want to be able to hear your surroundings, so if others can hear your music its probably too loud. Personally, I'll run with music on most of my runs simply because I do most of my miles alone and it gets pretty tedious at times. But, I'm always cautious of my surroundings and keep my volume low.
The 4th generation iPod Shuffle
Now, on to the review. I've owned several MP3 players, including the SanDisk Sansa (never ran with it), iPod Nano 3rd Generation (ran with until battery started dying), iPod Nano 5th Generation (ran with until recently), and now the iPod Shuffle 4th Generation. My decision to purchase it was based on a few factors: for one, I was just sick of wearing an armband all the time to carry my iPod. It was cumbersome, uncomfortable, and had the makings of a nasty tan line. Also, my Nano's click wheel was starting to act weird, probably from all the sweat that has gone into the device. And lastly, I had a coupon that allowed me to pick up a refurbished Shuffle for around $20. Not a bad price at all.
This thing is small! For comparison, plug is standard USB size (~1 inch)
The 4th generation Shuffle is a beautiful device, sporting the typical Apple aluminum exterior. Also, this thing is SMALL! Thin and light so not gonna add any extra weight. Although it may lack fancy extras, it has a number of features that are essential for most runners. The first of these is the clip. You can literally clip this thing onto any piece of clothing: waistband, shirt, hat, etc. The clip is pretty strong and the device is light so it doesn't work its way loose too easily. Still, I prefer to keep it clipped on my waistband to have gravity on my side. Among the other features essential to runners are the 5 buttons on the front. Play/pause, fast-forward, rewind, volume up, and volume down. The previous Shuffle lacked these in favor of a finicky headphone control, but now they're back. Having physical buttons instead of a touch screen such as the 6th generation Nano is helpful when you're covered in sweat and trying to change that song. The other buttons on the device are a switch that controls the mode (off, shuffle, play sequentially), and the VoiceOver button. Given the lack of a screen, I actually found the VoiceOver to be helpful once I got it working (it was a little difficult to set up, but I'll cover this later).
The clip, VoiceOver, and mode buttons
My biggest concerns before purchasing the Shuffle were the small storage size (2GB) and the lack of a screen. Having never owned an MP3 player without a screen before, this was something of a foreign concept. How would I select songs or see what's playing? Well, luckily this is kind of the whole point of the Shuffle. First off, 2GB of storage is plenty as long as you aren't trying to bring your whole library. I have a playlist that is about 2.5 hours long, so long enough to cover my long runs and then some, and this is only a couple hundred MB. So if you're like me and you have a few running specific playlists, you'll be fine. If you'd rather have your whole music library on and just play songs from it randomly, then you may need more space. I'm guessing this isn't too much of a concern for most runners, and worst case you have to rotate your songs every once in a while. Still not bad for the price.

To address my fear of the lack of a screen, well, that is also why I found the Shuffle refreshing. Instead of the distraction of a screen and picking what songs I want, I'd load up 2 hours worth of songs I want to listen to, and just have it shuffle them at random. That way I'd always be listening to something I want, and I wouldn't have to worry about fumbling with the device to change tracks. The utter simplicity is refreshing. Clip on, turn on, and go. Now don't get me wrong, I love gadgets and technology (hence my decision to major in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science), but when I'm running it is refreshing to be able to focus solely on the run. Not to mention, the Nano's click wheel or the newer touch screen tend to dislike sweat (meaning they fail to work at times). Nothing is more annoying than having to stop in the middle of a run to fumble with your iPod, or trying to turn the volume down only to have the click wheel malfunction and blast your eardrums. And if you really must know what song is playing, just press the VoiceOver button and the robotic voice will announce it (assuming you have the feature enabled in iTunes).

Speaking of VoiceOver, I'll admit it was not that easy to install. I tried several times, and each time the installer failed or froze (even after a complete restore of the iPod). This problem isn't specific to me either, as a quick search revealed many other users with the same problem. Eventually I gave up, and then one day I accidentally pressed the VoiceOver button and it worked. Seems like it had installed behind my back. So just don't be surprised if you have difficulties installing.

Another view of the top
I'll address one more point before I move on to the negatives of the Shuffle. Each of my past iPods have suffered from less than stellar (in my opinion) battery life. I charge my iPhone basically every day without thinking twice, but for some reason having to charge an iPod every week annoys me. Probably because I only use it for running, but I don't know. The Shuffle however, has shown excellent battery life so far. There have been times when I feel like I haven't charged it in way too long yet have been surprised to find there is still plenty of battery left. Of course only time will tell how the battery holds up, and I will be sure to let you guys know of any problems.
Special USB cable for charging and syncing
To be clear, the Shuffle isn't all positives. Obviously, the difficulty in installing VoiceOver ticked me off. Also, the charging cable uses the headphone jack instead of the typical Apple connector, so you won't be able to use your iPhone/iPod cable to charge your Shuffle. As I mentioned before, some people may find that 2GB is not enough space for them, though a little organization should solve that problem. The lack of a screen I found refreshing, but others may find annoying. The headphones that come with the Shuffle suffer from the typical Apple earbud problem, which is that they fit some peoples' ears but won't stay in others, and have relatively poor sound quality. Also, the cord is quite short. I'm not that tall (5'9") and found the cord too short to run from my waist up my back. Easily remedied by some cheap headphones I had lying around. And finally, it is an iPod so iTunes is necessary for the most part, but that is not a huge deal.

To sum it all up, I am pretty impressed with the iPod Shuffle. It fit what I was looking for perfectly. Simple, no frills, and easy to use. Thus far I have not had any serious issues with it, and I'd highly recommend it for anyone who runs with music and is looking for a new MP3 player. Especially if you want one JUST FOR RUNNING (something cheap but high quality that you can sweat all over and not worry about). The pricing is pretty good, although you can certainly find other MP3 players for less. If you aren't into Apple products or just want an alternative, I'd take a look at the SanDisk Clip. I've heard good things about this player but I've had relatively good experiences with Apple products so I decided to go with the Shuffle. Refurbished Shuffles typically go for around $30, and less if you can dig up a coupon. Probably the only reason I wouldn't recommend a Shuffle is if you plan to use it a lot outside of running. When it comes to casual music listening, the lack of a screen and small storage can are serious shortcomings. But, if you already own a more expensive MP3 player and don't want to cause damage from sweat and rain, I'd strongly recommend the Apple iPod Shuffle.

As always, thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or experiences!