Wednesday, May 29, 2013

TYR Cat 5 Wetsuit Review (Con't)

Not so long ago, I got a TYR Cat 5 wetsuit, and gave my first impressions. Because of weather and a full class load, I had been unable to swim in it until May 18th. I entered the Longmont Summer Open sprint-distance tri as a tune up race for Ironman Kansas 70.3, which I'll be racing in a week and a half.

My impression of the wetsuit: Very impressive. Very expensive for a beginner (at $650), but I love it. I must say, there is absolutely no difference with the so called "catch panels" as far as I'm concerned. I'm calling TYR out for a marketing gimmick, but hey, the placebo effect is probably enough to warrant them for the average Joe.

To be honest, I've never swam any open water race before. So to even have a wetsuit was a relief. The suit, as I mentioned in my previous post, is pretty darn tight. It's only gotten tighter on me as I've been swimming more, thus increasing the size of my shoulders and back. But it wasn't tight enough to cut off circulation or detriment my swimming in any way, so I'll let that sleeping dog lie.

I came out of the water in 11:02, which I consider slow for an 800 swim. But the wetsuit was not in any way at fault. Rather my lack of conditioning and technique was.

Bottom line: this suit is an all around performer. It was a little warm for the 70° water, but the buoyancy is excellent and the suit is tight in the right places. It's worthwhile to look on eBay if you're considering one (get one NWOT, like I did) because it is a pricey suit at $650.

Ed (6/11/13): Just did IM 70.3 KS. 71° water, slightly choppy, but tolerable. Wetsuit performed impeccably. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Skora Form Review

Like all my running shoes that I've tried, and inevitably reviewed on this blog, I like to wait about 100 miles to do a review. It gives me ample time to break in the shoes (except for racing flats), examine wear, and get a general feel for the shoe beyond how it feels in the shop.

After 100 miles, looking considerably less nice than when they came out of the box

Skora has just recently come to light in the minimalist market, although they eschew the term minimalist for the term "Run Real." From humble beginnings in 2007, Skora has blossomed into a premium company, with a premium price. The Forms will run you $185. For that, you get a Pittards Goat skin leather upper, WR100x leather lining for barefoot comfort, asymmetric lacing, and Skora's R01 system which is described on their website as "...composed of 3 parts: outsole, midsole and insole. With a total stack height of 13mm (9mm without insole), the R01 system provides a moderate amount of cushioning with excellent grip and great groundfeel. The outsole is made from a durable, high abrasion, high density rubber with low profile tread. The midsole is CM (Compression Molded) EVA, with anatomical flex grooves that allow for great flex and movement."

Nice and flexible, the way a minimal shoe should be

Claimed weight for the Form is 8.2oz, which puts it in the realms of weight of Nike's Flyknit Lunar line, as well as most of Newton's line up. However, this minimal shoe is made from more premium materials, and the price tag takes the brunt of that. At $185, the Form is the most expensive in Skora's lineup, and while the price may make even the most experienced runner balk, you can find the Form online for considerably less (consider The Clymb, an online discount store that specializes in outdoor gear).

Premium materials come with a premium price.

Enough with the tech, let's get to the run.

Bottom line: I LOVE THIS SHOE. It has displaced my Brooks PureFlow 2s on the shorter runs, speed workouts, and racing. I keep the PureFlows around for longer runs where I may need more cushioning, but I doubt I'll ever go to any other shoes (although the Mizuno Evo line is calling my name right now). The ride is unbelievable. I've struggled with finding Baby Bear's "just right" bowl of porridge in the past. It seemed that minimal shoes were either of the NB Minimus and Vibrams variety, with nothing between you and the road and an extremely harsh ride, or like the PureFlow/Nike Free/Saucony Kinvara and Virrata lines, which were quasi-minimal shoes with too much cushioning to feel the road well. Nothing really wrong with any of those shoes, many of the runners I know run in (and love) those shoes. But not for me. And then I had all sorts of fit issues. I loved my Brooks PureConnects, but the toe box was unbelievably cramped. I even sent a message to Brooks asking if there was a chance they would make them in a 2E size (they declined, but offered to pass along the message to their fit crew).

I've digressed. In any event, there's no way to describe the ride in this shoe except unbelievable. It's a perfect fit for my wide foot, with a comfortable upper that hugs my foot, but isn't nearly as tight as the PureConnect line, which has been referred to as a second skin by several runners I've talked to. The road feel is something that I really liked about this shoe. In fact, there is very little that I don't like about the Skora Forms. My one complaint is that the leather upper isn't as breathable as some of my other shoes, but in my opinion the sacrifice is worthwhile considering that the upper should have a longer life than a mesh upper. The asymmetric lacing performed as advertised, unlike Brooks' lacing, I had zero hot spots, even after a hasty transition in a triathlon, which involved not being very precise about my tying and such.

Asymmetric lacing that actually eliminates hot spots (take notes Brooks)
The Form is an all around performer. No matter the run, it lets you forget the shoe itself and focus on your body, which in my mind, is the hallmark of a perfect shoe. No, the price isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for the perfect minimal shoe, you've come darn close with the Skora Form.

Update (8/30/2013): My Skoras bit the dust the other day. Sad to see, but after nearly 1,075 miles, it's kind of expected. If you look at the picture, you can clearly see the midsole is separating from the outsole. But if you look even more closely, you can see that there is still a remarkable amount of tread, a true testament to the longevity of the Form. Time to place another order!

Pondering the wear on the Form

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why the UCI is Holding Us Back

I spend a ridiculous (and probably detrimental) amount of time surfing the web. Put it this way, if I'm not training, I'm eating, sleeping or on my computer. As most of you tri pundits know, since 2011, Aussies Aboard's Youtube channel has been posting full recaps of the Ironman World Championship. I was watching the 2011 recap and saw TJ Tollakson's bike. It was curious, rather reminiscent of the old monocoque Zipp 2001 bikes produced in the late 90s. So I googled the brand, Dimond and found that it is indeed based upon the design. Additionally, TJ used to race on a Zipp 2001.

Notice any other oddities? You should. His handlebars are at an obscene angle, almost straight up.

Apparently, TJ also used a combination of shin guards and athletic cups to make those arm rests.

I found it rather interesting that TJ was able to make all this himself. But it also makes me wonder, why the UCI is restricting this sort of innovation? Yes, it supposedly levels the playing field, and possibly makes it safer, since all the TT bikes are produced within these restrictions (must have a seat tube, 3:1 ratio, etc.) but really, I would love to see what the industry could produce. If TJ's Zipp was produced in the 90s, and is as fast as claimed, think of how fast bikes today would be.

For reference, here's my bike. Almost UCI compliant, except for the handlebar mounted hydration and the fact that the saddle nose is not 55mm behind the BB.

Allow me to point out the flaws in this bike compared to TJ's 2011 rig (he now races on a Dimond, which are slated for full scale production this summer). The seat tube adds significant drag, particularly at wide yaw angles. The standard pads only cover my elbows, so most of my weight is concentrated on one point, TJ's would be more evenly distributed across his arm if only he would level out his bars. Speaking of which, having his arms at the high of an angle blocks wind from contacting a major point of aerodynamic drag, his chest, making him significantly faster in a headwind.

If the UCI would relax regulations, my guess is that we would see significantly faster bikes. Graeme Obree's hour record still stands, and his bike was later outlawed. Look at the Specialized Shiv Tri. It defies the UCI to make a tri specific bike and it's a proven bike in Kona (Crowie won in 2011 aboard one). It seems a shame to waste all that innovative power of the industry.

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's More Than Just a Sport

While many of my readers know that I'm focusing on triathlon right now, it wasn't always like that. The last six months or so have been intensely focused on one goal: Ironman 70.3 Kansas. And it was in a moment of that intense focus that I realized something. No matter what happens on June 9th between 6:30 am and 2:00 pm, whether I finish or not, regardless of where I place, it's really the journey that counts. It sounds cliche to say, but it really is a huge part of this transformation. Not just a physical transformation, although I am probably the fittest I have ever been without specificity of training ie, training for cross country 5ks. No, this has been a transformation in lifestyle.

I'll be honest, I was never one to pay attention to how I fueled myself. I ate when I was hungry, drank when I was thirsty, and never payed attention to what it was I was eating or drinking. Yet as this journey has progressed, I've found an increasing engagement in the kitchen, paying attention to what goes in to my meals. It's a small comfort to be able to control things like that. While I can't necessarily control how my body feels during training sessions, I can control things like how I recover. I've discovered the little things, like the fact I perform best when I have my first two meals with a carb centered dish, and protein as the focus of the third.

Not only has it transformed the way I eat, I'm much more conscious of the activities I do during training. I've discovered that my body doesn't handle running six days a week as well as it did when I was training for cross country. That's fine, there are two other disciplines to train for if my body doesn't feel like running on a certain day. I've learned that as fun as hammering it on the bike is, I won't run nearly as well as if I hold back a little. Or that to be able to hammer, I should warm up at least 5 miles first.

But no matter the outcome on June 9th, I know that this is just the beginning. I can either switch my focus back to cycling, perhaps the activity I enjoy most, or I can keep pursuing triathlon. But I need to get a goal in front to motivate myself, which is the third part of my lifestyle that's changed. I've discovered that with a proper, motivating goal in front, I'm much less likely to abandon training sessions when I have that vision of crossing the line in my head.

No matter the activity of your choosing, sport is so much more than just an extracirricular. It becomes a lifestyle.