Friday, August 8, 2014

The North Face Ultra Smooth Road Shoe

TNF Smooth Ultra pic from

It has been a bit difficult to post reviews lately since I've been so busy, but here I am on a Sunday morning... no plan to run (trying to relax a bit before I tackle the next week), only a little bit of studying to do, and hopefully a lot of relaxation. Time to write a review!

I received the The North Face Ultra Smooth Road Shoe quite a while ago, but I had other items to review before I could review these. Since I got these shoes back in late-February or early-March, I've put about 100 miles on them. For those of you who are not familiar with TNF's move to making road shoes, you should not be shocked that they are pumping out quality gear. This is the second pair of TNF shoes I've had the opportunity to review, and they do not disappoint. 

Like all shoes that we review here on Vagabond Running blog, we try to highlight the strengths of the shoe given the purposes for which they were created. That is, don't expect a shoe designed as a high mileage trainer to be your go-to shoe for track day. It's really just common sense.

What I Liked
This shoe is oddly reminiscent of the Saucony Kinvara 4. So, what is the TNF Ultra Smooth designed for? Here's what TNF says:

Dash across pavement or hard-packed trails wearing a featherweight trainer that's designed with CRADLE™ technology to encourage a natural, continuous stride across smooth terrain. The Ultra Protection Series provides critical impact and element protection while eliminating excess weight for unrivaled performance on any terrain. Constructed with a Pebax® plate and EVA midsole for a springy feel with cushioned impact protection underfoot.

As you can see from the description, this is a shoe that's really meant to be a daily trainer. Think about it this way: easy runs, mid-to-long runs at LSD pace, city-trail (from the road to hard-packed trails), etc. And this is what it excels at!

I've taken this shoe out for runs up to about 13-14 miles, but mostly at an easy pace. I did do one 8 miler in about 56 minutes during an ice-y March morning, and it seemed to perform well (as well as any shoe can perform in ice-y conditions). 

Since this shoe has quite a bit of cushion, an 8mm heel-to-toe drop, and weighs in at 9.3 oz, I tend to use this shoe primarily for easy paced runs and runs when my legs feel very sore from the previous days track workout. It feels like I'm running on pillows, but it's still pretty stiff under foot. 

This is also a great shoe for road-to-the-trail, too. And by trail I mean compact trails, jeep trails, gravel trails. Given the sole of the TNF Ultra Smooth, you won't pick up rocks or twigs, which is a huge plus from perspective! 

Other things I liked about this shoe: the classic FlashDry technology of TNF really does work. This shoe doesn't stay wet for that long, and it will dry fairly quickly on-the-go. It's super breathable, and I have yet to develop an hotspots or blisters running in this shoe. It sports a "track-like" tongue, which is kind of nice because the tongue of the shoe feels almost non-existent and I like that.. it's just more comfortable when you don't notice the tongue. 

What Didn't Thrill Me
I tried a few tempo runs in these shoes (as mentioned above), and they performed OK, but they didn't have the pop I was looking for. AGAIN, they weren't made for this, so it's kind of hard to judge it based on this perspective.

I didn't really notice the Cradle Technology, which is aimed to help with a more natural gait. I have a pretty natural gait as it is, so maybe that's why I didn't notice it. I also didn't really notice the Pebax Plate, which is supposed to provide a springy feel. Again, these shoes don't have that "pop" when running quickly. Not a complaint, but just an observation.

The one thing I did notice, however, is that after about 9-10 miles of running, my arches start to ache a bit and then a shooting pain would develop around miles 11-12. If I took a short walk break or sat on a bench for a few minutes, the pain would go away and I could keep on running as usual. I'm wondering if the combination of the Cradle Technology and Pebax Plate makes the shoe a bit less flexible and much more stiff compared to what I'm used to? CAVEAT: I do a lot of my runs in zero drop, super flexible shoes, so this could explain why my arches respond somewhat negatively to a firm, less responsive ride.

Here's the deal: this is a great easy paced, LSD run shoe. TNF elite athletes have been rocking these in ultra marathons across the globe at distances way longer than I could ever run and at paces I could not even fathom. The North Face is putting out quality running shoes for the road now, too, and the Ultra Smooth is a step in the right direction for which they can base future models. If you're used to running in a 4-8mm drop, firm shoe, I suggest trying out the Ultra Smooth. If you're used to running in a traditional trainer and you want to make your way to a lighter, more minimal shoe, the Ultra Smooth is a good transition shoe for that purpose. I look forward to seeing what TNF comes up with next!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The North Face S/S'14 Running Gear Review

Wearing my TNF gear, yo.

As much as I love reviewing shoes, I really like reviewing running apparel. You can have the most amazing shoes on your feet when you go out for a run, but if the apparel doesn’t feel right it can still make for a pretty lousy run.

After our Fall/Winter ’14 The North Face apparel review, The North Face sent us some of their Spring/Summer ’14 running apparel and Mountain Athletics line-up to review for our blog. I’ll definitely say that over the years The North Face has become one of my favorite companies for both casual and running apparel. Here’s a list of what is reviewed below:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Skora Running Sale

Quick reminder, folks!

From June 25 to June 30, get 25% OFF all Skora Running shoes! Free shipping on orders over $90 + Bonus FREE Gift Card Offer. Click here for more details:

These are the shoes I've been running and racing in lately. I've put a lot of miles on the following models: Form, Fit, and Phase-X. I highly recommend trying them. The Fit is a great choice if you are transitioning to a lower profile shoe.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Newton Gravity III Review

Pic courtesy of
Intro- We here at Vagabond are really big fans of Newton Shoes (see our review of the BoCo AT, MV3 and Energy NR). While we are generally skeptical when it comes to new shoe technology, The Newton line up is one we've come to really believe in. The Gravity III is marketed as a distance racer/trainer and I would agree that it fits well into both categories. For those who are already used to low drop shoes (0mm-6mm), and particularly Newton's unique Action/Reaction technology the Gravity III will be a good next step after one of their more transitionary/introductory models like the Energy or one of their new Pop 2 line of shoes. It has fast become my favorite daily trainer. 

Looks- Newton is known for its intensely bright color schemes. These yellow/red Gravities are tame by comparison featuring only two bright colors. The colors of the Gravity III kind of look like a well-known fast food chain ;). Free association aside, the color scheme is more cohesive than many Newton shoes have been in the past (I'm looking at you 2012 Lime/Neon Orange/Red/Yellow Distance). Frankly they were a bit overwhelming. I came to like them but only in the way that I like pugs i.e. in the so-ugly-it's-cute sort of way. Newton's new line of shoes seem to know who they are from a design perspective at this point and I like what I see.
Great reflection at 4am in the morning!

5th Lug- Proprioception is the name of Newton's game and Newton is winning so hard that it would make Charlie Sheen blush. Thanks to their patented lug and chamber technologies, Newton found a way to shatter the dichotomy of cushion and ground feel. Originally Newton's featured four lugs in the four foot. The lugs however did not stretch across the entire width of the forefoot which, for some, felt unstable especially around corners. Newton's response was to add a fifth lug. They first introduced the 5th lug in the Energy NR which we really liked (read our review here). I've run in the four lug Distance S and did not notice and instability, but I understand intuitively what the problem was and can not discount other runner's experiences. Joshua noticed increased stability with the addition of the 5th lug when running fast repeats on the track.

Gravity III with 5 lugs (pic from

Distance II with 4 lugs (pic from

Performance- Not a shoe I'd run a short race in (maybe half marathon), but my favorite daily trainer. If you're looking for a Newton shoe with a bit of pop, check out the MV3. Especially in my long slow distances (LSD's) the Gravity III is well cushioned, but I never feel like I'm fighting the shoe. Joshua liked these for longer road repeats, such as 1 mile or greater, as well as long slow distance runs. They perform pretty well on dry mud trails and jeep roads, but when there is trail with lots of rocks, the pebbles get stuck in the lugs. That's ok, though, as this is a road shoe and not a trail shoe. The farthest Joshua ran in these was up to 13 miles, and he wouldn't hesitate to use them for distances up to the marathon. It just kind of lacks 5k/10k road speed requirements.

Fit- One thing we loved about Newtons is that we always know what we are going to get in terms of fit. With the exception of the MV3, Newton shoes fit our feet exceptionally well and are consistent across the models. There's plenty of room in the toe box without feeling sloppy and they are accommodating yet secure through the midfoot and heel. Consistency with a brand is important, and exceptional fit goes a long way in my book.

Overall- We put quite a bit of miles on these shoes. Jordan fractured his ankle and couldn't run as much in this shoe as Joshua, but Jordan said that that this is the first shoe he's going to run in when he gets clearance from the doc to start running again. Overall, we give this shoe 5/5 stars since it feels comfortable (secure throughout the midfoot with enough forefoot room), performs well on longer runs, and the fact that the lugs on these seem a bit more durable than the one's on the Energy NR. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mizuno Wave Rider 17 Review

Pic from

The Wave Rider is Mizuno's flagship model. The Mizuno Wave Rider 17 is most traditional road trainer we at Vagabond Running Blog have reviewed. Even though we generally prefer shoes on the more minimal end of the spectrum we were very excited when Mizuno provided these shoes for us to review. That they have now released the 17th iteration of this shoe spanning 16 years to meet the demand should speak volumes for the kind of lasting success this model has had among runners. I say all of that to reinforce how much there is to enjoy about this shoe despite the fact that our Vagabond Runners experienced some difficulties with it. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Doing What I Can Now, To Do What I Love Later

I just finished a lovely run in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin next to Lake Michigan for National Running Day. It wasn't an easy run, but it wasn't too difficult either. I'm back on the training saddle guided by my coach, Caleb Masland of Team Wicked Bonkproof, after a 2.5 month hiatus to finish my master's degree. So it's nice to not worry about what type of training I need to do and just trust in coach to put a plan together for me. The goal for today's run was the following:
  • 20 minute easy running to warmup 
  • 5 x (2min assertive pace, 2min easy pace)
  • 20 minutes easy running to cool down
I managed to hit 6:25min/mi-6:30min/mi pace for the assertive section, which felt very smooth but a bit more difficult than it should have been. This is normal since I've only been doing easy running for about 2 months now, so it's time to slowly shock the legs back into fast running to prep for October's half marathon. (My brother's HOT and HUMID apartment, 18 hours of driving, and dehydration probably make running difficult, too.)

During the run I couldn't help but to think about my upcoming races. On June 15, I'll be racing a road mile and the goal is to get as far under 6 minutes as I can. In training I've run 5:49, but that was with a 3-4 second rest at a busy intersection.

And this made me think. My ultimate goal is to run really fast on the trail (relatively speaking), but I'm training to run fast on the road since I currently don't have access to the type of trails I used to run in New Mexico. So why run fast on the road?

Before I answer this question, I should mention that it's an exciting time for me right now. I just finished a master's degree in theology from Boston University School of Theology, which culminated in a Summa Cum Laude designation and a 134 page master's thesis. I currently moved from Boston and all of my belongings are at my future housemate's--and future medical school classmate--parents' house in Ohio while I spend the next week living in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin until I can move to Cleveland the second week of June to start medical school in July.

My ultimate goal, as of right now, is to be an academic physician at a teaching hospital conducting research in the social sciences and humanities and treating patients in underserved communities. I have more "ultimate goals," which I do not wish to rehash here, but needless-to-say, a lot of people originally questioned my desire to pursue cultural anthropology for my bachelor's degree and theology for my master's degree before beginning medical school.

I had a vision of what I wanted my life to be, and it required spending a few more years of education in fields other than the natural sciences to make those future dreams possible. And as I am about to matriculate at an amazing medical school affiliated with the #4 hospital in the country, it's fantastic to look back on those decisions over the years and to see the work doing "other stuff" paying off.

So what about running?

I don't have the opportunity to run in the mountains right now because I haven't lived in the mountains for 2 years, and I won't be living in the mountains for the next 4-5 years while I'm at medical school. (Though there are some really nice trails nearby.)

Instead of complaining about the lack of mountains where I live and feeling dejected, my "short term," or 4-5 year, goal is to get fast on the road and nearby trails because I know that this speed will translate to faster paces in the mountains (as long as I keep throwing in hill repeats, get in trail time, etc.).

So today I ran 2' on, 2' off for 20 minutes, and later this week I have a 60min progression run on tap. A week later, I race a road mile. It may not be a mountain 50k race, but I know that the hard work now will translate to running fast in the mountains later, which is one of the few activities in which I feel truly alive and, for whatever reason, understand my place in the cosmos.*

I should also thank Kyle Kranz of Skora Running for always providing helpful reminders about slowly building up to reach longterm goals. He's currently training to one day make the 2022 24 Hour U.S. National Team. To do that, this year he is aiming to go sub-17 minutes in the 5k and sub-1:18 in the half marathon. Love the longterm focus!

Do you have similar experience? Please share below! 

* While I derive profound joy from running in the mountains, I should also mention that there are few things I love more than running fast on the road. So, it's a win-win!

I'd also like to announce at this time that I have been named a Brand Ambassador for Skora Running!! I do 90% of all my runs in Skora, and I could not recommend them more. If you're interested in Skora, contact me via the contact page for more information. Cheers!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Run Janji Apparel Review

I originally became acquainted with the Janji brand by reading a review on Believe in the Run. After some back-and-forth emails, Janji was kind enough to send me a shirt and a pair of shorts to review for my blog (Note: I received these samples for free to review).