My Rides

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cross-Training Shoes

I recently started a CrossFit style training program between cycling programs.  CrossFit seems to mean simple, old-school, exercises using mainly body-weight for resistance - push-ups, squats, jumps, lunges, crunches, etc. I'm following a progressive, periodized program from Mark Lauren's "You Are Your Own Gym."

I started wearing my New Balance MR759 running shoes - which I bought mainly for running hills, and general athletic pursuits.  With all the lunges, and single leg squats, and some of the pulling exercises I found my feet squirming around a lot in the shoe.  When I got them tight enough to feel "stable" for the movements, the shoes felt too tight.

I wanted to be able to "push into" the floor with my toes, etc. for a little more stability, and I like the idea of developing better foot strength and flexibility - benefits that are associated with barefoot training and minimalist shoes.  My garage isn't warm enough to exercise barefoot, and I plan to add sprints and "bounding" to my cross-fit program, so some minimalist shoes seemed like the ticket.

I've been a fan of New Balance shoes for years - I've had and worn a lot of shoes from Merell, Montrail, ECCO, Vasque, but always seem to find gravitate back to New Balance.  So, when I started looking into minimalist shoes, the New Balance Minimus MX20 was my expected favorite.  My local New Balance store didn't stock these - but they fitted using the MT20 (trail version).  They sent me away convinced I needed an 11 EE (even though I always wear 11.5 EE, and I've read to order the Minimus 0.5 size larger).

During my trial workout in an 11 EE, I felt 2 toes (my 2nd and 3rd toes extend past my big toe) squished into the end of the shoe.  Overall, I liked the shoe - flexible, I felt my feet were supporting me for my workout, instead of an inch or rubber...  On side lunges, I still felt squirming.  By the time I had the right size, I was in the 12 EE (one toe still squished up in 11.5 EE).  I was pretty content and ready to call my shopping done, until...

...Until, I decided to give Virbam FiveFingers a try.  I didn't like the squirming on side lunges, and thinking about what I like about the minimalist feel, and the gap to what I thought would be perfect, I started to see why those goofy shoes just might be the ticket...

When I tried them on in the store (REI) it took me about 5 minutes to put them on.  I was pretty skeptical that this would be a shoe I would put up with.  They felt good though - better than expected.  Real grippy - they have these razor-siped soles like winter tires, so on smooth surfaces (like retail store floors), they just stick.

I worked out a few nights in each - the Vibram and the New Balance, and in the end, the Vibrams were the clear favorite.  They just feel right.  I can plant my feet and they don't squirm, without the shoe feeling tight or constrictive.  I can use my toes to push off for lunges, and dig in for my "Let Me Ins".  When I wear them out  my feet feel sore - not like joint sore, but like muscles-got-a-workout sore.

With the decision made, I went for a walk with the boys (ages 3 and 5), one or the other riding on my shoulders 70% of the time.  We were in Houghton, Michigan, which is a hilly town, and there has been snow already this year - so it was a hilly, wet, gravel-ly walk.  We went about a mile total, with maybe 100' elevation gain (and loss - not uphill both ways).

I even found myself wearing them around the house - and wore them for the long (8 hours driving, 10 hour day on the road) drive home - including stops for my boys to "pee on trees" in the snow (on the long stretches between civilization).  Not as comfy as my favorite wool socks, but surprisingly comfy still - given first impressions.

I think the drawback with this will be that I can't really wear them a lot of places - not that that's too bad.  I have other shoes.  The New Balance are "neutral" enough that they look like normal shoes, and could be worn just about anywhere...

Friday, November 18, 2011


So, remember that abscess that put me out of commission for my big race.  Well, a hernia developed in the weakened tissue left behind.  So, guess what I get for Christmas...  Yup, another week in the hospital and another month of recovery with no exertion.

I noticed this as a soft lump in my stomach at the end of September.  Since then I tried a week of rest, and that didn't help (or hurt), so I went back to training.  I was at the end of my cycling program - where I'm supposed to take a break, or switch to strength training, so I switched to strength training.

I'm following a CrossFit type program of body-weight exercises.  I've got 1/2 of the garage taken over with benches, steps, medicine balls, and a pull-up contraption thing.  I'm really enjoying it, and I'm missing the bike less than I thought I would be.