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Writer's Block Mailbag; Upcoming Product Reviews, Running Camera Recommendation, Minimalist Track Shoes, and RunAmoc Troubleshoo

Posted Feb 27 2011 12:00am

I’ve often mentioned that running is the creative wellspring for most of my writing, so it shouldn’t surprise me that the opposite corollary is true as well: the less I run, the less material I find to write about.

That lesson was driven home especially well over our recent snow trip , where I spent a lot of time curled up on the couch with a book in between brief ventures into whiteout conditions for driveway shoveling, igloo building, or sled-run construction. It was an extended break from running – and consequently, I was kind of grasping at straws about what the next blog post would look like.

Ideal for relaxing; for running and writing, not so much

(And while I don’t have any intention to go into Jack London mode, here are a couple of random side notes from our recent snow trip …

1) If you think I’m exaggerating about the amount of snowfall we saw, consider this: my wife and I bundled up and went for a walk outside on the recently-plowed street in front of our cabin. We probably walked less than one mile out, with our feet sinking almost ankle deep into the snow … and when we turned around to make our way back home, our footprints from the outward journey had completely vanished.

2) When it’s 20 degrees outside and you think you’re a tough guy for leaving the warmth of the fireplace a couple of times a day to wade through waist-high snowdrifts for an hour or so, there’s nothing like a story about several people freezing or plummeting to death on K2 to help keep things in perspective; on that note, was not only a gripping read, but a nice reminder that I should never EVER get involved with high-altitude mountaineering.)

Back to the subject at hand: my little bout of slacker-induced writer’s block. I took advantage of the situation to catch up on overdue e-mails and review some of the correspondence I’ve had in recent months. It didn’t take me long to notice that several of the questions I’ve answered lately have common themes – and I figured that for each person who actually went out of his or her way to ask me something specific, chances are that there were others who might be wondering the same thing.

Guess what that means! It’s a mailbag post! As one of my favorite sportswriters likes to say, these are actual e-mails from actual readers.

1. Are you going to be reviewing (fill in the product)?

It’s generally been my habit to keep upcoming product reviews close to the vest for a few reasons. Sometimes I’m not sure if a certain product will post on here on Running and Rambling or on Feed The Habit , where I’m a regular contributor. Other times I’m uncertain of the timing – for instance, I have verbal commitments to review some products that aren’t yet in my possession, either because my particular size isn’t available for testing, or I’m waiting on shipments to arrive - so I have no idea if a review will come together in a few weeks or a few months. And on rare occasions, I’ve ended up sending products back to the manufacturer after informing them that I would most likely write an unfavorable review.

Having said that, I can certainly appreciate why some folks would like to know whether a review of a particular product is in the works. So here’s a list of items that I’m currently testing, which will probably appear here over the next several weeks
Black Diamond Spot and Storm headlamps
ZYM electrolyte tabs
Saucony Peregrine shoes
Hydrapak E-Lite vest
GoLite Tara Lite shoes
Somnio Nada shoes
Feetures socks
CamelBak Skeeter pack
Icebreaker GT shorts and short sleeve crew
Rokit Fuel breakfast mix
GU Brew electrolyte tabs

These are in addition to two new products from Soft Star Shoes which I’m not allowed to describe in detail, but which I’ll talk more about in an upcoming post.

Here are some other products that I have a verbal commitment for, but I’m still waiting on them to arrive
Merrell Trail Glove
Merrell Pace Glove
Patagonia Pau shoe
Jinga shoes
Vibram FiveFingers Komodo Sport
Vibram Fivefingers Bikila LS
Patagonia Nine Trails shorts
Stem Footwear
Altra Adam shoe

Like I said, I have no idea when or if the above list will ever materialize. Now here’s the audience participation portion of this post: would you like periodic updates on what’s on my gear review list, even if they're not 100% confirmed? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll see if there’s a consensus one way or the other.

2. What camera do you use for trail running?

For the past year I've used a , a 14MP camera which is perfectly sized (like a deck of cards with rounded edges) for tucking into a small pocket and seems to have relatively good durability. The only downside is that it’s actually too narrow to take timer shots if you don’t have a completely flat surface; in those situations, I often have to prop a small rock or piece of bark under the lens to prevent it from tipping over.

Canon SD1400 on L, Nikon L11 on R

Before the Canon, I used a , a 6MP unit which had a significantly wider profile but could still fit in the pocket of my waist pack, and was much easier to take timer shots with. The megapixel count and picture quality of the Nikon wasn’t quite as good as the Canon, but since it was very durable (even surviving a handful of drops on the trail) and served me well for nearly three years, I considered it a good investment.

Same two cameras from the bottom: notice the narrow, curved profile of the Canon

It's also worth noting that with both cameras, I also do a lot of photo editing with Picasa, which is a tremendous help in making my mediocre picture-taking skills look somewhat competent.

3. What shoes do you wear for track workouts?

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t do track workouts extremely often – and as my mileage on the trails increases this spring, my days at the track will be few and far between. Nevertheless, I do like to head out and test my speed every now and then with some quarter-mile or 1600m repeats – and when I do, I’m almost always wearing my Vibram FiveFingers Bikilas .

Of all the minimalist footwear I’ve tested, none offer the same combination of comfort, secure fit, and true barefoot feel that the Bikilas do. They were made for one specific purpose - fast running – and everything about the shoe fills the bill almost perfectly. In fact, part of the reason I’m so interested to test the upcoming Bikila LS is that I’m curious as to how Vibram could improve upon this model.

They're also great for playing in lettuce fields

Sometimes I’m asked if I wear track spikes for these workouts, and while there’s a lot of benefit to doing so from a minimalist standpoint, I don’t have any experience with particular models of track shoes to make any sort of recommendation.

4. Why does my toe poke into the top of my RunAmocs?

I’m realizing that I’ve become something of a Pied Piper for the Soft Star RunAmoc over the past year, and consequently, I seem to get a lot of questions about the fit, performance, or durability of them from customers who have bought a pair. Of all the questions I receive, this one is probably the most common.

Look closely (and click to enlarge) - you'll notice my big toes pushing against top of toe box

Even when the RunAmocs are fit properly – and for most people, that means sizing down one size – first-time wearers note that their big toe presses against the top of the toe box. It looks a bit strange, and people sometimes worry if this will be a source of pressure and/or blisters.

The good news is that this situation is perfectly normal, and the solution isn’t to get a bigger size – it’s simply to get running. The leather of the toe box will stretch a bit as you run in the mocs, and I haven’t heard anybody report any discomfort beyond the first run or two. If you think your toes will be sensitive, a good pair of socks is probably all it takes to make the first few runs go smoothly.

I’m perfectly happy to answer further questions about the RunAmoc, or any other gear that I’ve reviewed, or anything else related to this website that you’re curious about. Feel free to drop me an e-mail anytime – but please be patient in waiting for a reply, as it sometimes takes me a few days to get around to returning correspondence. If I spot a trend in fielding a lot of similar questions, maybe I’ll throw together another mailbag post sometime.

However, since I’ve left the snow behind and I’m looking to jump back into training soon, I’m hopeful that there won’t be any more shortages of things to write about this spring.

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