Monday, May 20, 2013

New Balance RC 1600 Shoe Review

I've been wanting to write a shoe review for a long time now.  As my fiance can attest, I go through quite a few pairs of shoes a year, so I think I can offer some great insight for those who prefer to run in shoes in the more minimal/ lightweight categories.  I would like to begin by sharing my thoughts on one of my favorite shoes I've ever worn, the New Balance RC 1600.  This shoe is marketed as a lightweight road racing flat for 5k to marathon, but I have worn it beyond those prescribed limits and it has performed quite well.  Below, I will try not to concentrate too much on the specifics of the shoe, but more on how the shoes perform in a variety of conditions.  At the end I will provide a rating scale of the shoe on different types of surfaces and distances as I believe that shoes should be used as different tools for different situations.

Official Specs

  • weight - 5.4 ounces (size 9)
  • drop - 6mm
Upper (9/10)

The upper of the 1600 is one of the best I've ever worn.  It is mostly comprised of a dual density mesh with a system of honeycomb shaped overlays that wrap the foot on both sides and locks the shoe down onto the foot.  The tongue is made of the same material.  I found that the fit of the shoe was quite good for my foot as my heel is locked in, but my toes just have enough wiggle room to splay out on impact.  I have logged a total of 400+ miles on my original pair  and they isn't a single tear on the entire upper.  What makes this really impressive is that more than half of those miles have been on trails (technical and smooth).  I really like how the upper locked down the foot as well as I covered technical trails with less lateral movement issues than any other shoe I've worn.  The upper also drains very well, and after stream crossings they are almost completely dry in a couple of miles. The only negative I can say about this upper is that it sorta makes my feet hot when going sockless.  This problem isn't an issue when wearing socks though which is really weird.  Regardless, I haven't had a single blister from these (although I rarely get blisters ever).

Midsole (8/10)

The midsole of the 1600's is comprised of New Balance's excellent REVlite foam.  I really like how light this foam is and I think it nails a zone for me on firmness vs. softness, but it does have its slight drawbacks.  But first the good.  I feel like the foam provides just enough protection, even without a rockplate on most trails, gravel, and roads.  I've logged many miles on the gravely like surfaces of South Mountains State Park in these and rarely get poked.  The foam just dissipates the impact forces very evenly across the shoe.  Even on extremely technical trails, I've found the shoe to provide just the right amount of protection.  But all of this impact dissipation seems to come at a very slight cost.  The foam is only lacking the pop that some runners look for and you can definitely tell this on the roads.  It doesn't feel dead, but just needs something to make it just a bit more springy (which the foam does have in another shoe later to be reviewed).  Durability of the shoe has been great, but I feel that the foam starts to break down about 20 miles into a run so I haven't done any ultras in them.  This could probably be fixed with another 2mm of foam to the current stack heights (heel-21mm, toe-15mm).  Breakdown of the foam over time has been solid and I could probably get another 200-300 miles out these shoes on runs 10 miles or less.  Overall, I think the midsole is one of the best I've every worn.

Outsole (Road 10/10, Trail 7/10)

The outsole for this shoe is one of the greatest designs I've ever seen for a racing flat.  A lightweight, but very grippy rubber compound is found only on high impact areas of the shoe at the forefoot and lateral heel.  Very lightweight, and surprisingly durable, rubber nubs complete the grip near the toes and  at the back of the ball of the foot.  If you are planning on using these only for roads, this is all the grip you would ever need, even in wet conditions.  On most racing flats or traditional road shoes, there is either an over abundance of rubber that rarely makes contact with the ground and adds a ton of weight to the shoe or not enough rubber on the shoe which makes the shoe almost useless in wet conditions.  This outsole however strikes the perfect balance of those mentioned above and is perfect for roads.  Now for trails, it is a different story.  If you are running on gravel, buffed dry single track, or moderately technical rolling trails then the outsole is just as good as it is on the roads.  But if you are running on slickrock, muddy, leafy, and steep trails (+20% grades)  then it is another story.  The grip just doesn't grip well enough on those types of treads and you invariably start skiing up or down the mountain instead of running (which is quite fun if the trail isn't treacherously rocky).   Plus, there aren't any lugs on the tread so forget it in the mud.  Durability of the outsole is pretty good as the tiny little rubber nubs are still mostly present after 400+ miles of mostly trails, but the rubber on the forefoot kinda lost its slight lug potential very early on.

picture from

Overall Impression

I love this shoe and it has been my go to for everyday training and road racing for the past few months. I love it so much that I just recently purchased my second pair.  The thing I love the most about this shoe is that it is super lightweight, but extremely durable, a combination rarely found.  The upper is by far the best upper I've ever worn, although I can still think of improvements and the midsole strikes a great balance of firmness and softness.  Although the outsole leaves something to be desired on the trail, it out performs on the roads and that was what it was designed for anyway.  You can find these shoes here at Running Warehouse and I believe that they are on sale right now for around $70.  Below is a rating scale for the shoe on different types of surfaces.

Dry Road - 9/10
Wet Road - 9/10
Gravel - 8/10
Dry Buffed Trail - 9/10
Muddy Trail - 4/10
Moderately Technical Trail - 9/10
Extremely Technical Trail - 7/10
Leafy Trail - 5/10
Steep Mountain Trails - 7/10
Grass - 6/10
5k - 9/10
10k - 9/10
13.1 - 9/10
25k - 9/10
26.2 - 8/10
26.2+ - 7/10

Branching Out

This blog has mostly just chronicled my training and racing over the past few years, but I finally think that it is time to add a different element to some post on here.  Over my now 5 years off running, I've figured a few things out and I am really beginning to see the benefits of all my trial and error.  I still don't have it all mastered and never will, but I would like to begin to share some insight into things that I think work and share some opinions on other things revolving around the ultra community.

In this way, I am branching out and adding some new and potentially useful elements to this blog instead of it just being, "look what I did."  This is not to say that I want chronicle my training and racing anymore, but will try have some post related to different running subjects including: shoes, gear, cross training, wilderness tips, trails & other open spaces, etc.

Expect to see some of these post coming soon...

View from hawksbill rock off the snowball trail looking out to lane pinnacle

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Racin' Season

The past two weekends I have actually participated in sanctioned races.  This is typically a rare occurrence for me as I usually only race "official" races at most 3 times a year.  It seems that I have already filled that quota in 5 months and have at least 2 more official races on the calendar for the year!  What is happening to me (probably a paycheck).  Below I will give brief reports (yea, right) on two vastly different races.  Hope you enjoy!

The Drool Deer aka Stone Mountain Run

the crew... I look thrilled
Over many a day of perusing the interwebs, I discovered what looked to be a small little race with my type of vibe at Stone Mountain State Park.  The race's webpage and race director were quite eccentric and hilarious and I had to contact him to join.  One thing I found intriguing on the website was that bandits were welcomed.  How cool is that!  I let the "Rabid Squirrel" (race director's nickname) know my intentions and he was all for it.  I couldn't wait to race up and over Stone Mountain.

Race day arrived, and I began to fill guilty for not paying the extremely cheap entry fee, so I showed up with it to show my appreciation for Mr. Squirrel and his dedication to making this race as fun and goofy as possible.  The course would be the 5 mile Stone Mountain Loop trail.  It began by falling of the face of the earth down a ton of wooden steps beside a cascading waterfall, then leveled out for a bit, but soon enough climbed 700 ft up plenty of stone steps to the top of the appropriately named Stone Mountain.  After reaching the summit, you descended down a loose gravel trail, with plenty of switchbacks back to the start.

at the summit in 1st
After sizing up my competition, I thought that I had a really good shot of making the podium or even winning this thing, although that really wasn't the whole idea behind the "race".  It didn't matter too much as I was planning on putting out a race effort to be my last tune up before the next weekend's half marathon.  Soon we started and I found myself in a group of 4 runners headed to the stairs.  Upon arriving at the the stairs I was quickly dropped by 2 of these folks.  Apparently, I need to start doing downhill stair repeats because I was ridiculously slow.  By the time I reached the flat section, I was about 200 yards behind the duo that dropped me.  I began to kick it and hoped to gain ground slowly, which I did.  I was within 100 yards by the time we reached the climb and I had a feeling that I should catch the guys since they were both flatlanders.  I finally caught up with them mid way up the climb, but once I was back with them I decided to take a break and hike with them to the summit, which in hindsight was a mistake.  I was moving very well up the climb and running past them while they were hiking could have played some mental games with them and may have given me a better edge.  Once we neared the final summit push, I finally made my move and took over 1st place.  They weren't too far behind though as we hit the descent about 100 ft apart.  I tried to hammer it down the loose gravel trail, but the switchbacks were slowing me down considerably and they were making up time on each one.  The course finally started to even out and I began to pick up the pace even more.  I created separation between one of the runners, but I wasn't quite sure which runner was still close behind.  Once we finally hit the last .4 mile return section, I saw who it was and was surprised.  Surprised and concerned.  He soon caught up with me and we were running neck and neck until the final 100 yards of the course.  It ended on a slight uphill and he cranked it and I had nothing left to match him.  I crossed the finish line 2nd, losing the race in the last 100 yards.

getting out kicked on camera....great
Obviously, I was a little disappointed, but it wasn't a big deal.  We both ran a great race and I underestimated the guys downhill speed.  In the end I had a great time, got to hang and chat with some really good folks, and even one a door prize (which made me glad that I decided to pay the entry fee).  The Rabid Squirrel put on a great event and I hope to make it out to some of his more ridiculous races in the future.

Pisgah Nation represent!

New River Half Marathon

starting line
I haven't raced a half since the Mistletoe in 2011, and with Hannah's brother Tom wanting to attempt his first one, I suggested the New River Half and said that I would join him.  If I was going to run a road half, I wanted to make sure it was a beautiful course and you cannot go wrong with the High Country of NC.  I began "training" for a sub 1:30 time once the plan was set in stone, but after the first week of too much speed work, I tweaked my achilles and I was in recovery mode.  Before I could even begin to ramp the speed sessions back up I hit the 3 marathons in 2 weeks part of the training plan (isn't that how you are supposed to train for shorter races?)  Therefore, I cut the speedwork out and concentrated on recovering from those 3 runs.  Obviously, training didn't go as planned, but I did have a great time and some great runs during this phase.  Plus, I would rather have fun while running than strictly sticking to a regimented plan for 12 weeks.  Anyway, I still was feeling pretty much in shape and had recovered well from the 3 marathon efforts.  Sub 1:30 seemed very much unlikely, but a PR seemed possible so that became the goal.

post race
The night before the run, Beth Frye kindly opened up her home to Hannah, Tommy, Martha,  Michael, and I so we could avoid a long morning drive to the start of the race near Todd, NC.  It was nice to be back in Boone and even got a chance to slackline in Durham Park a bit (slacklining is kinda my new thing, even though I had seen the hippies in Boone do it for my entire tenure there).  Race morning came and we all hoped that the forecasted rain would hold off.  It was quite chilly at the start and we all decided to shed our warm layers right before the gun and hand them to Michael.  I found Scott and chatted a bit with him and then the horn sounded and we began to pound the pavement.

scott and i walkin' to the start

and we're off
The first mile I tried to take it easy knowing that a huge hill awaited during the next mile.  Apparently, I had taken it a bit too easy and was already off my planned pace. I picked it up and climbed solidly over our first 300ft climb of the day.  I was moving well, but my pace over the next few miles would vary quite dramatically.  The rollingish terrain of the middle part of the race I had underestimated.  I was clicking of miles everywhere from 7:30's to 6:20's.  Not really what I was expecting.  

Around mile 6 I began to fill the dreaded stomach issues.  This was probably some of the reason for the variance in pace as I was trying to keep everything in.  I kept debating on using the jon or not the entire last half of the race.  When we hit the next big climb of the day, I decided to relax a bit and hoped to crank down the last 4 miles which were all downhill/flat to make up time.  During these last 4 miles the stomach issues really began to bother me and I was beginning to wonder if I would just have to find a spot in the woods.  I kept pushing the pace though and hoped that I could hold out as  I was still near pace to PR.  During the last 3 miles though, a stiff headwind greeted us runners and it never relinquished its hold.  As we neared the final mile and the finish line, it actually got stronger.  When I hit the 12 mile sign, I really began to pick up the effort, although I think it had little affect on my pace as the wind had picked up as well.

final stretch
With about a quarter mile to go, my friend John Sugg had finally caught up with me and said "keep pushing".  I really kicked it then and began running as hard as I could.  I made the turn onto the grass finish chute and hurled myself over the finish line.  I crossed the line in 1:34:49, a mear 19 seconds off my PR time.  I was disappointed and collapsed into the grass to regain my breath.

Although I am still slightly disappointed, I do feel that I ran a PR effort especially while battling stomach issues, a stiff headwind, and a tougher course than my previous half.  If it would have been a flatter course without all those issues I could seriously see that effort turning into something closer to a  1:31.  I do not believe though that I can get under 1:30 just yet for the half so that goal is still on the mind and maybe something to shoot for at this year's Mistletoe.  I ended up finishing 16th overall in the half, so I am pretty proud of that and I can tell that I am getting faster and stronger and that is always a good thing.  

hannah at the finish

tommy at the finish
I would also like to proudly mention that Hannah and Tommy both ran an excellent race.  Hannah finished this course in 1:56 and Tommy finished his first half ever in 1:41!  Great efforts by both of them on a tough course and on a tough day.

it hurt so good