September 20, 2017

Review : Merrell Trail Crusher

  • Type : Neutral
  • Use : All-terrain
  • Price : $100

Intro
A couple weeks ago, if you’d asked me whether a jack-of-all-trades, all-terrain shoe was fit for trail running, I would’ve said no with quite a bit of assurance. Pretty much any shoe of that type that I’d seen before presented the same problem; an outsole too stiff and hard, designed to resist the wear of pavement, which made it unfit for the trails, where grip is key. That was until I tried the Trail Crusher.

Merrell has been making some excellent running shoes, with models such as the Bare Access and its Trail version (probably one of the very best trail running shoes made in recent years, in my opinion). Lately, they had seemed to have gone the maximalist route, with shoe models offering more and more stack height and cushioning, as seems to be the trend these days, and which was a huge disappointment to all the neutral-type shoe enthusiasts.

Well, it seems they are back on track with the Trail Crusher, with a reasonable cushioning of 18mm to 14mm, heel to toe and a drop of 4mm which should suit a large swath of runners. Although not the lightest of shoes, they kept the weight down to a decent 12oz and the shoe does feel a little heavy when you weight it, but that feeling disappears when you actually put it on.

Road test
I started testing the Trail Crusher on asphalt, as it is my personal nemesis. The hard surface kills my knees and requires me to use more cushioning than I’d like, making my choice of road shoe even more tedious and difficult. I want nothing to have with motion control or density variations in the sole, which even further limits my choices.

The shoe felt light and nimble, and as the miles piled up, provided enough protection against shocks to make me feel comfortable for going a little longer. In fact, I started to think that the Trail Crusher, despite its name, would probably turn out to be much more of a road runner than anything else.

Trail test
Then I headed for the trails. Although admittedly they were not the most technical, they still offered some roots, uneven footing, some loose rocks and various other hazards requiring at least some level of grip and agility. I was very pleased to find out that the outsole’s design, which doesn’t really look like a hardcore nubby trail shoe, actually works really well and retains surprising proprioception for a relatively-cushioned shoe. The bubble-looking tread concept has probably been borrowed from the hiking department, as I’ve seen very similar-looking soles on Merrell products before. My only worry is how the Trail Crusher will retain its grip with the eventual wear of the oval shapes, but that remains to be seen.

Analysis
With its decent flex, reasonable weight and no-nonsense design, it seems that the Trail Crusher has successfully combined the requirements to be both a road and a trail shoe, which is quite a feat, and excellent news for budget-weary runners who enjoy a variety of terrains. Merrell’s signature wide toebox and some reinforcements at both ends of the upper complete an intelligent design and impressed me almost as much as the Bare Access model, enough so that I will be buying extra pairs just in case they would choose to stop production before my first pair wears out.

Conclusion
If you run on multiple surfaces, enjoy light neutral shoes without excessive cushioning and don’t want to own 15 different models of footwear to cover every type of terrain you run on, the Trail Crusher is an excellent contender, very well-designed and reasonably-priced. As far as all-terrains go, it doesn’t get much better than that.


High points
  • In line with Merrell’s previous designs like the Bare Access
  • Sole design actually works on all terrains
  • Pretty good pricing

Low points
  • Not sure how the grip will be when the outsole starts to wear out
  • Heel cup is surprisingly high and reaches above usual on my Achilles tendon


July 17, 2017

Review : Enduroforce

  • Type : Nutrition / hydration
  • Use : Running fuel / tonic
  • Price : 2,29$ ea. / 22.99$ box

Introduction
When you’re an endurance athlete, it’s really hard to carry your healthy eating habits into your running fuel and hydration needs. A vast majority of foods, drinks and supplements use highly-refined sugars, such as maltodextrin or glucose-fructose, to trick your body into high gear. For health-conscious endurance enthusiasts, this is less than optimal, to say the least.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of endurance fuels which use only natural ingredients, starting of course with Mas Korima, a collaborative enterprise I’m very proud to be a part of. There are also other new and innovative products out there, and Enduroforce is definitely one of them.

Enduroforce uses maple syrup and spirulina, mixed with sea buckthorn and ginseng. That’s it. Four natural ingredients, nothing else. I like that a lot and, after sampling the product, got enthusiastic about its effects, too.

Testing
The idea behind Enduroforce is to be a tonic, a natural stimulant that forgoes the use of caffeine and taurine and that helps maximize endurance. The ingredient mix is rich in antioxydants, vitamins and minerals, comes in a tiny dose of 15ml and still packs 40 calories and a gram of protein.

Upon trying it the first time, I was expecting a boost comparable to the use of a gel, or maybe like a shot of espresso. This is not at all the effect of the product. It didn’t change much in my intensity; what it did is to increase my awareness and focus, and mostly to rid me of the impression of fatigue while I’m running. It’s a subtle effect, but an important one when going on multiple-hour endurance runs.

Compared to a straight shot of maple syrup (which is what I now use as a gel replacement as well as the sweetener for my pinole mix), Enduroforce doesn’t pack a big punch, and I don’t think it’s its intended purpose either. As a tonic, it brings a balanced shot of stimulation, nutrition and supplementation that really starts to shine in the long run.

Taken 45 minutes before effort, then subsequently about every 2 hours, Enduroforce maintains my energy and focus and decreases my perceived effort without playing yo-yo with my sugar levels.

Analysis
Taste-wise, Enduroforce takes a bit of getting used to. Personally, I don’t mind an “exotic” taste, as long as it’s not too strong or pungent. I won’t go as far as saying Enduroforce tastes good, but I got used to it pretty quickly and the fact that it’s fully natural weights a lot in my personal balance.

My biggest qualm about it is the strange little package it comes in. It’s a small plastic tube with a break-off tip which isn’t easy to manipulate at first. Furthermore, when you’ve used the tubes, they often drip into running vest’s pockets and leave a sticky little mess. Lastly, I’m not a big fan of single-use plastic and would love an option of a large container and reusable screw-top type “shots” to save on trash and skip the mess all at once.

Conclusion
In my opinion, Enduroforce is a good element in an endurance nutrition mix for the health-conscious athlete who wants to steer clear from the chemicals and highly-processed compounds that make up most fuels out there. Used side-by-side with your liquid and solid nutrition of choice (Andale! pinole and Korimalitas energy bites in my case), it can help you perform well without a nagging feeling of constant effort.

High points
  • Fully natural
  • 4 ingredients. Period.
  • A tonic that keeps you going
  • Mitigates fatigue and perceived effort

Low points
  • Break-tip containers are finicky
  • Empty tubes are messy
  • Single-use plastic





The material for this personal review was supplied by Leo Desilets / Enduroforce free of charge. Disclosure: I am part of Enduroforce’s ambassador team.





June 28, 2017

Jim Walmsley is a Champion

Canyon de Chelly, last fall. I had just finished setting up my little dirtbag camp (sleeping in the back of a rental Ford Escape with The Dragonfly) in beautiful Navajo country when a car pulled in our spot. It was pitch dark, and some guy stuck his face out the driver’s window and asked “Is it OK if I park it here?”.

“Sure.”

Two guys stepped out and we shook hands. “Hey, I’m Jim.” “Hi, I’m Myke.” And that was pretty much it. They got set up in the back of their car, just like us, cooked a little bit of dinner, and came to sit down at the Miller’s Casitalita. And you know what was really special about it all? Absolutely nothing.

We all took a seat and started chatting among ourselves. I found out that “Myke” was a photographer, that he traveled quite a bit, and that he documented Jim’s runs. My friend Nico was there too, and it was cool to spend a little time and have a beer before the grand day tomorrow, one of the most amazing runs an ultra runner could wish for. Everyone shared stories and like every eve before an epic ultra, it was relaxed and fun.

Walking back to our car, Julie told me “Wow, that guy I was talking with, Jim, turns out he’s just ran a world-record Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim just a couple days ago.” I had actually sort of met him before, running Mesquite Canyon in Arizona. He flew down a trail at an impressive speed, and I thought he really looked like Scott Jurek with his curly hair and his long legs. Julie was impressed. “He’s just this super casual dude”, she said, “He didn’t mention anything about his feat until I started asking questions.” Champions tend to do that, I thought to myself.

The next day started before sunrise as we made our way down to the sacred fire and shared the Dag’ha ceremonies, where elders and tribe members help prepare the runners for the long day ahead. I asked Nico where Jim was. “Oh, he’s just here for the experience”, he replied. “He’s not running today.”

I wished him good luck on what would turn out to be a pretty fantastic day for him (Nico flew like the wind and won the 2016 run) and set out on my own adventure with Julie, who was experiencing her very first ultra. It was an amazing day for us, too.

At the midpoint, atop the magnificent canyon after a tough climb, I got into the aid station with 1,000 things on my mind. Two hands eagerly extended at me. “Dude, do you have any trash I can take care of?” I lifted my eyes and there he was. “Are you eating well? Have you got enough to drink?”. Jim Walmsley was helping runners out at the aid station, and he wanted to take my trash to the garbage can. He was happy and excited and dedicated and he made me so proud of my sport.

“When was the last time you saw a sports superstar take care of some random guy’s trail trash and make sure he’s doing OK?”, I remember telling Julie, on the way back. A real champion will do that, I again reflected.

I never told this story until today, because I’m convinced Jim didn’t do this to get publicity or gratification. I’m convinced he did it out of his love for running and to share a special moment with the people who, he knows, “get it”.

So when some of these running people started speaking negatively of him after the Western States last weekend, it really bugged me. They accuse him of being brash. They find weaknesses in his strategy. They say all sorts of things, from the comfort of their little certainties, like they’ve had a front-row seat to Jim’s career all along.


The same people who would have written the exact opposite, should Jim have made it and won the race and smashed a course record. They would have lauded his boldness, they would have talked about every little bit that he’d done right. And that, too, is pissing me off.

I’ll be first to say, I don’t know Jim Walmsley that well. But I’m the kind of person for whom actions speak louder than words. And after seeing how he behaves and the respect he’s garnered from many ultra runners in the community I know and love, I’m taking his defense and I’m standing with him.

He went out there and he gave Western States his absolute best shot. He was convinced he could win, and he was unafraid to say it. And maybe some people didn’t notice, but he’s also unafraid to talk about despair and depression, of failing and mistakes, even of wanting to die. And then finding a way. Champions tend to do that, too.

I salute Jim for his bold attempt last weekend, as I salute every single one of us out there who builds up the passion and the determination to tackle ridiculously long distances in difficult environments with no certainty of success, yet who goes at it nonetheless. There will always be some naysaying bystanders to hit someone when they’re down. Often, they will also be the flip-floppers who will turn around and sing the praises of the same person when they actually succeed. I hope their words are as meaningless and inconsequential either way, to the people subjected to them.

After so many hours of training and sacrifice and dedication, ALL Western States runners, from Cat Bradley to Jim to that last person to cross the finish line to those who didn’t even make it to the start but tried, deserve a well-earned congratulations, a recognition of their hard work and some words of encouragement to keep going, to keep pushing the limits and to keep living this life to the fullest.

The bystanders are all the same to me. And I don’t care what they think.

Jim Walmsley’s a champion.



Photo credit : Myke Hermsmeyer




*** EDIT ***


I very rarely come back and edit a post, but I feel like this is important. Myke Hermsmeyer actually sent me a photo (that I didn't know existed!) of the exact moment depicted in my article. 

So here it is, Jim being a trail angel to my absolute nobody self, atop Canyon de Chelly :)