Team inov-8: Coming Home

Quite possibly my favorite shoe of all time.
Last year I partnered up with Salming, a Swedish sporting-goods company which broke in to the domestic running shoe market in late 2014.  I felt very lucky to be included among their first crop of sponsored athletes in the US, and I put in many happy miles in the Trail T1 and the Race, an ultra lightweight road-racing shoe.  I greatly enjoyed my relationship with the company and I'm thankful for the support they give me, and I stand by their shoes, which are of excellent quality.

I'm thrilled to announce, however, that at long last I'll be rejoining Team inov-8 in 2016.  Inov-8 was the first company to take a chance on me, back in 2011.  Over the past few years, their team has moved in a number of different directions, as have I.  I couldn't be happier that we've found our way back together.

Inov-8 is known overseas as the industry leader in the absolutely insane niche of our sport known as fell running.  In the last few years they've expanded into orienteering, road running, and Cross Fit; but the trails remain their bread and butter.  They make shoes that are lightweight, flexible yet supportive, with incredible traction, and across a wide range of heel-toe differentials.  There is a shoe for every ultra runner in the inov-8 line.  Usually more than one.

The inov-8 team has seen many accomplished runners come and go, both in the US and internationally.  I'm the first to admit that I'm not on the level of many--maybe any--of my teammates, or even on the same level as many of the runners who are no longer associated with the team.  I'm under no illusion that this is a purely, or even mostly, performance-based relationship.  Whatever middling ability I've cultivated as a writer--and my willingness to contribute my writing to the inov-8 blog--is a major part (maybe the biggest part) of what I bring to the table.  And I'm ok with that.  I'm going to represent this company to the best of my ability, with pride and with joy.  I'm going to do everything I can to live up to the faith they've shown in me.  Hopefully we'll find some good stories to tell, and hopefully you'll join us for a fun ride.

As Max said when leaving Montrail for Salomon early last year, there are always mixed feelings when making a change of teams or sponsors.  You feel loyalty to those who have backed you in the past.  You don't want to feel like a "sellout".  You've made relationships that you are leaving behind.  These are never easy decisions.  But this one was made much easier for me because there is no other shoe company I want to run for.  Right now, I feel like I'm back home.

Inov-8 isn't my only sponsor.  I'm lucky to have support from a number of fantastic companies, including Mountain Peak FitnessRed Newt Racing (and, through the MPF/RNR team, GUUD, and Merrell), Orange Mud, and Yard Owl.  Check out my new and improved Sponsors page and please patronize these fine companies (in a non-patronizing way of course).

Salming: No Nonsense!

I've been lucky enough in my running career to receive support from some great shoe companies: from Nike, in college; to Brooks, when I ran for the Haddonfield Running Company during medical school and residency; and as part of the Inov-8 pro deal team in 2011.  And I'm thrilled now to announce a partnership with Salming, which entered the US market last year and is making great strides on the running, triathlon, and trail running scene.

The great Borje Salming.
Salming was started by hockey legend Borje Salming, the first Swedish player named to the NHL Hall of Fame and widely considered one of the greatest Swedish players of all time.  Like many industry giants, they make products for multiple sports: hockey, as you can imagine, but also floorball, handball, squash, and running.

The running shoes are borne out of Salming's holistic approach to evaluating running form, exemplified by their innovative RunLAB in Gothenburg, which incorporates real-time stride analysis, motion capture, and video to measure individual biomechanics and then derive coaching plans aimed at increasing performance and decreasing injury risk.  Salming's running shoes have garnered multiple awards overseas and debuted in the US late last year.  While the RunLAB has not yet reached US shores, the brand is committed to bringing the insights gained there to their shoe design.  Specifically, they focus on producing light, flexible shoes that allow for a "natural" foot strike and greater ground feel and proprioception.

Now, let's not get into a huge thing here.  Few things polarize a friendly running discussion more than the debate over "natural" running, heel-striking vs. forefoot striking, barefoot running, minimalism, maximalism, and Born to Run.  (BTW: They're making a Born to Run movie!  With Matthew McConaughey!  Tell me you're not gonna watch that.)  It's my blog, so I'll tell you what I think (and feel free to comment below) and then we'll move on: I think that the minimalist movement, although it got co-opted and taken too far, spurred some of the best advances in shoe technology and design in the past thirty years.  Whether or not you run in minimalist shoes, you've benefitted from the impact it had on the industry.  Without people talking about heel-toe drop and foot strike, you never see Hoka One One, Altra, Scott, or a host of great shoes from New Balance, asics, and the rest of the shoe giants.

So where does Salming fall on the spectrum?  They are certainly committed to the "natural" movement in shoe design, but in actuality the shoes do a nice job of walking the line between traditional and new-wave.  They have no zero-drop models; all Salming shoes (at least to this point) have a 5mm heel-toe drop, which is significantly less than the standard 10-12mm seen in most traditional designs, but obviously a big difference over the zero-drop offerings that have proliferated in recent years.  (For reference, that's right in line with many of the Hoka models--the Stinson and the Bondi are both around 4mm; the Conquest and the RapaNui are in the 5-5.5mm range.)  This does help to promote a more midfoot/forefoot strike, but without some of the strain on the calves and Achilles people notice with zero-drop models.  They are all light; the heaviest shoe, the new Trail T1, checks in at just over ten ounces.  Stack heights are low, which does increase the ground feel and responsiveness, to some extent at the cost of cushioning, but not overwhelmingly so.  They are modern shoes with a classic feel.  Overall, they embody the brand's tagline, "No nonsense."  These are no-nonsense running shoes.

The Distance A2.
So far I've been putting in miles in the Distance A2, which I've been enjoying a lot.  I tend to like low, light, flexible shoes, and these certainly fit the bill.  Salming hasn't quite yet mastered the "anatomic toe box" they talk about; the last is still fairly traditional, and it is certainly not up to Altra standards in terms of really expanding the toe box, but hopefully they will get there in subsequent models.  The Trail T1 hits the US in about three weeks, so I'm very, very stoked to check those out.

I couldn't be prouder or more excited to be representing Salming in 2015 with a fantastic group of athletes (including local legends Bec and Laurel Wassner!), who are all much, much more accomplished than I.  I'll be sporting the gear starting at next month's Mount Mitchell Challenge and throughout the rest of the year.  Please check them out and hit me up with any questions you have about the shoes or the brand.  Gonna be a great year!

Perverse, in a shoe way

Right now, as we speak, there are running shoes on the floor of my car.  Not one pair of running shoes.  Six.  There are running shoes on a small rack pushed up against the side wall of my garage, on the way inside the house.  There are running shoes in another rack to the left as you walk into the house, through the kids' playroom.  This does not count the shoe rack inside the hall closet next to the front door.  (There are running shoes there.)  Nor does it count the shoe rack in my bedroom closet, or the overhead shelf above my hanging coats.  Or the shoes that are stacked on top of shoe boxes, in my bedroom, three feet from my sleeping head.  You know what's in those boxes, the ones that all the running shoes are sitting on top of?  Running shoes.

I may have a problem.

It wasn't always this way.  In high school and college, I almost never changed shoes, and I never collected them.  My usual modus operandi was to acquire one pair of training shoes and run in them until they disintegrated.  I will grant you, I took this to extremes, some might say unhealthy extremes.  A single pair of shoes could last me upwards of 1200, 1500 miles.  My shoe maven friends cringed.  But I was happy.  Oh, was I happy.

It was in my post-collegiate years that I started, for lack of a better word, hoarding.  At first it was just the availability of the shoes.  I was hanging around the Haddonfield Running Company, a fantastic specialty shop in South Jersey, and sometimes running for their store team.  Shoes were plentiful.  I acutally started wearing racing flats for some track workouts.  I think that may have been what did it.  Then, I owned a shoe store for two years, which gave me an excuse to try all different kinds of shoes, all the time.  Now I can't go back.  Sometimes they're free, sometimes they're discounted. I almost never pay retail.  But somehow, I get them.

Right now there are thirty-four pairs of running shoes in my house.  I have thirteen pairs of Inov-8s, four New Balance, three adidas, three Brooks, two Asics, and assorted others. I have seven pairs of racing flats, including four brand new pairs of cross country or track flats that have yet to see the outside of their boxes.  I count nine pairs of shoes that are seeing some sort of regular use, and ten pairs that have been worn less than five times apiece.  I have seven pairs of shoes that have too many miles and too much mud on them for any further running to occur.  I have a pair of Brooks Adrenalines from 2008 with sheet metal screws drilled into the soles.  I have the black Nike Air Prestos that I wore to my wedding.  I have two pairs of shoes that I actually gave away to people and yet are somehow back in my house.  I have a pair of fell running shoes from Bolton, England that cannot be purchased in the US.  I have three pairs of Vibrams, for god's sake.

I can't help myself.  Two weeks ago I walked in to Rock and Snow to take a look at the Hoka One Ones (which I'll buy at some point, trust me) and left with an on-sale pair of New Balance 1010s because they were in my size.  Right now on my phone's "To Do" list, I have reminders to try out two other pairs of running shoes that I don't even own yet.

Which reminds me, if anyone wants to send me a pair of Montrail Fluid Flex or Salomon Sense Ultras, I wear a 10.5.