Monday, April 29, 2013

Best trail running photo ever

I think 'Kilian training above Montenvers' by Tristan Shu is the best trail running photo ever.

What makes it even more exciting for me is the fact that I'll be running the Mont-Blanc 80K there in 2 months! The scenic and technical course goes through Montenvers at France's largest glacier Mer de Glace before finishing in Chamonix.

At the moment there is still plenty of snow in this area. I hope the weather will turn sunny and warm so it will all clear by June 28th.

Happy trails!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hoka Rapa Nui review

Hoka One One shoes have worked well for my ultra trail running. Initially I used to be a little sceptic of the oversized concept, but now I'm a big fan. Even some hardcore minimalist peeps seem to prefer Hokas for their longer races at least. We ultrarunners tend to put our money where our feet are.

April is like Christmas to me. That's when the latest Hoka collection usually becomes available in Europe. Last year I got Stinson Evo, my favorite ultra trail shoe. Now I wanted to test Rapa Nui, the little brother. I felt like Forrest Gump, who's momma famously said: "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

The most obvious difference is the lower price: Rapa Nui costs 'only' 135€, while Stinson Evo tops at 170€. The shipment from France cost me 22€, so these shoes are not cheap. Are they worth it? As far as durability is concerned the answer is most probably yes, based on my Hoka 1000-mile wear test.

Rapa Nui shares five features in common with Stinson Evo:
  • Synthetic upper made of PU/polyester mesh/TPU.
  • Outsole with 4mm 'Hoka Grip' lugs.
  • OrthoLite 2mm 'Time To Fly' -insoles.
  • 'Quick Fit' speed lacing system.
  • The heel strap and overall construction is similar.

The main five differences introduced by Rapa Nui are (compared to Stinson Evo):
  • Midsole 1.5x oversized HiR EVA (2.2x HiP EVA).
  • Cushioning thickness 21-26 mm (26-32 mm).
  • Heel to toe drop 5 mm (6 mm).
  • 10% reduced weight (my US10.5 Rapa Nui is 315g, my US10.5 Stinson Evo is 350g.)
  • Rapa Nui lacks the 4 mm molded EVA footbed (that Stinson Evo has). 

Ok, that sounds fine in theory, but how about actual running? I tested Rapa Nui on various surfaces:
  • Dirt path/road (quite smooth and hard): excellent, lighter and faster feeling than Stinson Evo. 
  • Soft (mud, snow, sand) single trail: good grip, feels better than Stinson Evo.
  • Ice (very slippery conditions): ok if you slow down, poles would help (about the same as Stinson Evo).
  • Alpine trail (hilly and rocky): easier climbing uphill, not as super-comfy as Stinson Evo in downhill.  
  • Asphalt/tarmac: obviously not meant for road races, but short passages are perfectly ok (Stinson Evo would be better on roads because it has more cushioning). 
  • Wet (rain, puddles, streams): no major problems (about the same as Stinson Evo).

In cold/cool weather all Hokas are good with thick running socks. I haven't tested Rapa Nui in hot weather yet, but I guess it would be about the same as Stinson Evo. In summer all you can do is wear thinner socks and hope for the best. If blisters or other issues appear during ultras, changing dry socks might be a great idea.

Rapa Nui felt surprisingly stable. Certainly more stable than Stinson Evo. This is probably simply because your feet are closer to the ground. Hokas don't have any specific stability technology yet, but I've heard they are developing something new to be released in 2014. Apparently some over-pronators have requested it. I don't need it though, I'm good with current design as the sole is pretty wide and I generally tend to dislike all anti-stability shoes anyway.

The outsole design is different from my 2012 Stinson Evo. I think this new outsole would be better in gnarly conditions like those experienced in UTMB 2012. Butt-sliding down muddy slopes in pitch dark has never exactly been been my forte, so I welcome this improvement with open arms. Bravo Hoka!

With the new thinner midsole, Rapa Nui is recommended from short to mid distances, whereas Stinson Evo is designed from mid to ultra long distances. Having said that, we should keep in mind that Rapa Nui still sports 1.5 times midsole volume compared to your average trail running shoe. So I plan to use Rapa Nui in my next race: 80km du Mont Blanc. After that experience we will know more.

One thing I should mention is the mild smell that you may notice when you open the shoe box for the first time. Like with many other shoes manufactured in China, this may be caused by the formaldehyde-containing glue or some other toxic stuff they liberally use. If you suspect that you might have any problem with that, you may be interested in this information about shoe allergies.

I think it's fair to say that the Hoka toe box is pretty large, but amazingly some runners have commented online that it's still not wide or high enough for them. I'm afraid this is bad news for their toes: the new Rapa Nui toe box feels a bit tighter than that of Stinson Evo. I hope it won't harm anything, but I can feel the upper being closer to my toes than I would like. Naturally this is a very personal thing as every foot is different. The only piece of advice I can give is that if you are wondering which shoe size would fit you better, I'd err on the side of too big rather than too small.

Like Forrest Gump said: "Mama says they was magic shoes. They could take me anywhere." And that's all I have to say about that!

Except if you are wondering what Rapa Nui means. I think it has something to do with Easter Island. Who knows, these shoes might be great in a race there.

[Edit: My final verdict.]

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Paleo fad debunked

This blog used to be titled Paleo Runner (as the url still shows). The main reason for it was that Google Trends showed skyrocketing interest in 'paleo'. With hindsight, the whole idea of recreating an authentic paleo lifestyle by pushing a shopping trolley down the aisles of the supermarket was rather silly to begin with. Sorry!

"Why not long to be aquatic, since life arose in the sea?", biology professor Marlene Zuk jokes in her new book Paleofantasy. "The catch is, if we want to go back to a healthier way of life, what exactly should we emulate?", she asks. Now that's a million dollar (and year) question.

"A growing movement seeks to reproduce the hunter-gatherer lifestyle: running barefoot, pondering polygamy, relying on a diet of meat. But even our ancestors never lived this way. And besides, modern humans have evolved", Zuk sums it up in recent article Paleomythic: How People Really Lived During the Stone Age.

Interestingly, Zuk also points out that "...Paleos are in direct opposition to a growing number of scientists and athletes who believe that running long distances can be healthy, and that humans have evolved doing just that."

The Meat Myth: humans have no known adaptations to meat consumption.

As paleontologist Christina Warinner shows in the TED talk below, humans have no anatomical, physiological or genetic adaptations to meat consumption.

Modern broccoli and other cabbages are developed by humans from wild flowers.

Our ancestors sure did a good job adapting to a wide range of tough conditions. They lived through dramatic climate changes. Whatever they were able to eat, it was probably something quite different from our modern man-made foods. And it was probably a lot more challenging to raise a family than today.

Christina Warinner presents the following three take-away points for us:
  • Fresh foods.
  • Whole foods.
  • Diversity is key.
That's it: paleo diet unhyped. There are no books, recipes, movies, supplements, apparel, coaching, retreats, seminars or anything else to buy.

Point 1: eat fresh foods.

Point 2: eat whole foods.

Point 3: diversity is key.

Still not convinced? Rationalwiki has more about Paleo diet, stating it's indeed a fad diet and concluding: "Eating like a caveman is not likely to be the healthiest option."