Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra – Update – problems fixed, now where?

I posted an initial review of the Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra in February and noted the changes from the Sense Ultra model from 2013 (final update here). To review, the primary changes between the two models are:

  1. simpler speed lacing design with a “bottom loading” lace pocket
  2. shape changes in the fused polymer overlay on the upper
  3. a higher heel counter height (about 5 mm on my US size 7.5 (EU 40 2/3)
  4. a more dense upper fabric- similar material to Sense Ultra, just knitted differently
  5. a shorter Pro-feel rock plate and significantly more flexible shoe
  6. slightly higher midsole support of the heel counter
  7. removal of lugs from the arch area of the outsole
  8. polymer overlays on all previously exposed EVA areas on the outsole
  9. lower price!

I would put all of these into the category of minor changes, “tweaks” if you will.

This morning I added a third pair of Sense 3 Ultras to my shoe rotation and quickly realized that after a little over 1200 km (about 750 miles) on pair # 1, they were done. Running in the the new pair emphasized exactly how worn out pair #1 is, particularly as it relates to cushioning. So the following is the postmortem, but suffice it to say that the Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra is a shoe that is likely going to be hard to improve upon.

L1020941

Salomon S Lab sense 3 Ultra after about 1200 km (700+ miles) in a 50/50 mix of rocky technical and smooth, buffed singletrack trail running. Uppers no longer show excessive wear at the outer forefoot.

Value

These shoes have about 770 miles (1240 km) so at US$160/pair that gives a wear value of about $0.21/mile (US$0.125/km). This is about the same calculated cost per mile as that experienced with the Sense Ultra from 2013. I should point out however that I have taken this pair of Sense 3 Ultras out of service earlier than I did the Sense Ultras as I have become more attuned to final wear-out. I could have run in this pair for longer but I have come to the realization that one must navigate a balance between wear-out and insufficient cushioning. I am erring on the more cushioning side of that balance as I do not want to risk foot bruising due to two upcoming races, a 60 km with 10k of vert and a 100 miler with 22k of vert both in rocky, technical mountainous terrain. Still 750+ miles (1200+ km) is very good wear in my experience even at the $160 price point.

Upper

I retired the Sense Ultras because holes had developed in the upper fabric. The precursors to the holes were seen in the upper fabric as early as about 900 km (550 miles). On this pair of Sense 3 Ultras there is no evidence of wear or holes in the upper after 700+ miles. It would appear that the minor modifications to the height of the fused polymer overlay and the upper fabric in the Sense 3 have succeeded in fixing this significant problem with the 2013 Sense Ultras. Close examination of the Sense 3 Ultra uppers reveals that the upper fabric is likely to be durable for many additional miles.

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Close up of the area where the Sense Ultras uppers wore out after about 900 km (550 miles). Salomon made the fused polymer overlay a bit taller and this seems to have solved the excessive wear issue.

I quickly figured out a technique for reliably tightening and stashing the laces in the new “bottom loading” lace pocket. This involves pulling up on the lace pocket tab prior to pulling the laces tight. This allows the laces to snug up on the tounge and leaves the lace pocket open to facilitate stowage. I was a bit concerned initially about this design but once you get used to it it works very well.

The higher heel counter did not bother me at all and this combined with the additional midsole heel support seems to provide more stability on steep downs, particularly long ones.

Although this has posed no issue from a running performance and/or comfort perspective, a new defect has appeared in the upper on both the left and right. This is a small crack in the material around the top at the ankle on the inside edge. I think the taller heel cup has changed the strain pattern in this area and the material is not tough enough to resist cracking. If the cushioning lasted longer, this might eventually lead to an issue.

Slide1

Crack forming on the inside edge of the upper material- does not pose any issue but is nonetheless a defect.

Midsole

As noted in the final update of the Sense Ultras, the midsole appears to reach a critical point with respect to cushioning somewhere around 1000 km (600 miles) for the type of use and terrain that I run on (about 50% rocky technical singletrack and 50% buffed singletrack). The same is true for the Sense 3 Ultras, as stated above. This may be an area where we might see Salomon come in with a different material that either lasts longer, is more cushioned, is lighter, maintains trail feel, or, hopefully, all of these.

Outsole

The outsole of the Sense 3 Ultra shows very similar wear characteristics to that of the Sense Ultra. This is expected since there were no apparent changes in design or material in the heel and forefoot sections.

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Outsole of Sense 3 Ultra after about 1200 km showing the expected similar wear characteristics. There is still plenty of grip, but the midsole has gone flat so this pair has been taken out of rotation.

The shorter the rock plate and more flexible arch region of the Sense 3 Ultra gives substantially more trail feel without any adverse affects. Even with direct hits on sharp rock in this area, the Sense 3 Ultra still protected my foot, partly due to the fact that some of the strain was accommodated by the additional flexibility. Additionally, I noted no decrease in traction by removal of the lugs in the arch area. All of this represents a significant design improvement over the original Sense Ultra.

Comfort

The S Lab Sense 3 Ultra remain a very comfortable shoe. This comfort is due, in part, to the additional flexibility offered in this latest model and is accomplished in such a fashion as to not affect trail performance. Of course the “endofit” inner sock is the feature that primarily gives this shoe its performance and comfort. The trail feel continues to be outstanding, the “slipper-like” fit is second to none, and traction is at the highest available level in anything but mud.

L1020947

Into the bin…. many enjoyable miles though!

Where to now?

Salomon have refined and tweaked the Sense to what seems to be an optimal level. So the question that arises is- where do they go from here? Not sure, but if history is any indicator we might see something very innovative from Annecy come spring 2015…. I hope so! Perhaps we will see something at OR this week (not likely), in the meantime the Sense 3 Ultra is still in the line-up for FW14-15.

Bottom Line

Salomon have tweaked the S Lab Sense Ultra to a shoe that is even better, particularly as it concerns trail feel and overall comfort. This is an accomplishment since the Sense Ultra was such a great shoe but the Sense 3 Ultra goes to another (albeit only slightly) higher level. So as before- only more so- a great, light weight, high durability, low drop, very comfortable shoe which can take on just about any terrain with confidence. Highly recommended.

Update 7 August 2014

Salomon are showing the Sense 4 Ultra and Sense 4 Ultra Soft Ground models for SS 2015 at OR Summer 2014 in Salt Lake. Based on the pictures, it appears that the outsole tread pattern has been changed significantly- perhaps to better shed mud? In any case it looks like we will not be seeing anything ground-breaking from Salomon in the Sense line for SS 2015.

“Training for the New Alpinism” – not for alpinists only

Training for the New Alpinism

Synopsis

House and Johnston have written an engaging, thorough, and well-illustrated training manual for alpinists or any endurance athlete. Although written for the alpinist, this book is particularly valuable for the mountain ultramarathon trail runner. The overlap between alpine-style climbing and mountain ultramarathon trail running is substantial and the committed mountain ultramarathoner will benefit greatly from a focused read of this book. From the long “event” time duration to the importance of core strength for optimal performance and injury prevention, alpinisim and mountain ultramarathoning are nearly inseparable from a training perspective. In fact in many sections of the text one can interchange the word “climb” with the word “run” and loose no meaning or relevance. Replacement of some of the upper body strength guidelines with similarly structured run-specific guidelines and and one will find the information in this book is nearly all directly applicable to mountain ultramarathon training. Given that there currently exists no such comprehensive training manual specifically written for mountain ultramarathon training, this work is a great resource for the ultramarathon athlete. Although the importance of the mental aspects of training and competition (or expedition completion for alpinists) is well accepted, there is very little in the literature directed to the mountain ultramarathon athlete. Again, this book stands as a solid offering on the subject of mental training and development for intensely hard and long duration endeavors, whatever form they might take. House and Johnston, with publisher Patagonia Books, have produced a beautiful book from a graphic perspective as well. The illustrations, pictures, and interesting “vignettes” from many of the world’s best alpinists serve, along with the excellent and thorough text, to make this book a classic tome that will be an important part of the canon for at least a generation.

Review

I have always subscribed to the importance of “tangential reading” and have made such reading a fundamental part of the pursuit of knowledge. “Tangential reading” is the study of work in other (allied or disparate) fields to enrich and cultivate deep understanding of concepts or subjects that are a primary focus. Examples include the study of chemical thermodynamics when pursuing a full understanding of statistical physics or a reading of classical geometry texts whilst grappling with basic calculus. The approach and perspectives brought forth by workers in “tangential” fields of study invariably bring new insight and a more thorough understanding of the subject matter at hand. Similarly, such studies of “tangential” fields are also important in non-allied fields as influences upon thinking in other, very far afield, endeavors. An example here being rigorous study of mathematics and mechanical physics and the resultant substantial influence on the work of artist Richard Serra in his forms of “torqued ellipses” and “torqued torus inversions”, for example*. It was in this spirit that I came upon Steve House and Scott Johnston’s book Training for the New Alpinism – a Manual for the Climber as Athlete recently published by Patagonia Books. Although it was expected that there would be some overlap between mountain ultra-endurance running and cross country skiing training with training for alpine-style climbing, I was surprised with exactly how large this overlap is. A reading of this book has not only reinforced many training principles that are part and parcel of any rigorous training for endurance sport, but the authors have also done an admirable job of distilling much of this information into a very readable, engaging, and well-illustrated discourse. The alpine “vignettes” that are strategically placed throughout the book nicely emphasize points made in the text and offer inspiring photographs of alpine pursuits.

But perhaps the most functional attribute of this book is the applicability of the contents to any number of endurance sports. House and Johnston have stripped away much of the overlay of sport specific context that impairs many other training texts when it comes to communicating fundamental training concepts. Here a neutral ground of endurance training is developed and then applied to the alpine discipline. As a result endurance athletes of any variety will  benefit from this book and, at the same time, be exposed to perspectives that are specific to the alpine discipline- much of which resonates with all endurance sports. Although Noakes, Daniels, Lydiard, Friel, Magness, and others have provided similar training precepts, each has done so within the atmosphere of running or cycling culture. In Training for the New Alpinisim alternative approaches based on the same training concepts are uniquely valuable to those athletes looking for broader perspectives, a deeper and more rich understanding, and, perhaps, some new direction to enhance one’s own training regimen.

The organization of the book is nicely done and follows a logical sequence from introduction to fundamentals to specifics to sensible nutrition to mental aspects. Along the way many detailed plans, progressive approaches, and suggested protocol are offered and documented in a straightforward manner. Although in excess of 400 pages, a reading goes swiftly due in part to the well written text but also due to the quality of the book including the paper, the illustrations, the pictures, and the collected short-form writings of some of the most accomplished alpinists. It is truly a pleasure to read. Thanks to House, Johnston, and publisher Patagonia Books for their focus on the graphic excellence and structural quality. Low quality books with sub-standard graphics are commonplace today and it is refreshing to read such a well-done product.

A few take-aways

1. The reiterative but often not followed precept of 80/20 (or 90/10, depending) proportions of L1-L2 to L4(L5). Here again the authors point out the critical importance of limiting the intensity of workouts in order to perform at an optimal level on race day (or survive a climb) and during scheduled hard workouts. I often drift out of this protocol and need consistent reminders to back it off and save the high intensity capacity for the high intensity workouts and races and not spend much if any time in the no man’s land of L3.

2. The importance of max strength workouts to develop reserve capacity power at a high power to weight ratio. This is such an important factor for competition yet there is very little written on the subject. The authors provide excellent information here.

3. Begin additional reading on mental aspects and develop some sort of operative approach to enhance mental thought processes under highly stressful conditions.

A few quotes from the text

“It is not our natural tendency to value struggle over success, a worldview that climbing sternly enforces. Embracing struggle for its own sake is an important step on your path”.

House and Johnston (p 21)

“Constantly overcoming difficult training challenges and examining ourselves along the way improves self-assurance. That confidence frees imagination. It opens doors to new, more difficult projects, and expands our problem-solving repertoire”.

Mark Twight (p 15)

I couldn’t recover when I did go long, and the old days when I could move for twelve to twenty-four hours non-stop were a distant memory. Thus ended my love affair with short-duration, high intensity “cross training” to the exclusion of other forms”.

Mark Twight (p 98-99)

“You get these high-powered people who want to climb Mount Everest, they spend $85,000… there is a Sherpa in the front pulling, a Sherpa in the back pushing, carrying extra oxygen bottles so you can cheat the altitude. You haven’t climbed Everest. The purpose of climbing something like that is to affect some kind of spiritual or physical change. When you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out, and you’re an asshole when you get back”.

Yvon Chouinard (p 365)

Summary

An enjoyable read with valuable training advice and programming, a slew of high quality illustrations and pictures, applicability across endurance athletics (in particular mountain ultramarathoning), and much insight into the operative physical training programs and associated mental training that has worked for many of the world’s top alpinists. Add this to your list of “must reads”. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

*Charlie Rose has done numerous interviews with Serra where he makes it clear how important curiosity and the associated pursuit of “tangential” reading is to the creative process. One such interview can be viewed here starting at about 23:00:

http://www.charlierose.com/watch/50142616

 

 

Kilian’s World View – Hardrock 100

The “real” Hardrock 100 profile:

Hardrock 100 elevation chart clockwise

 

Kilian’s View:

Killian Hardrock profile

A Case for On-Trail Intervals for Competitive Trail Runners

It is well accepted that intervals will facilitate the attainment of one’s highest ability in competitive running and many other timed, set distance sports (e.g. cross country skiing, swimming, cycling, etc.). Examples of the extensive literature supporting the efficacy of interval training are too numerous to list but I link here to that which is available from the Lydiard Foundation here and a Lydiard video here.

For running, such interval workouts are typically completed in a track setting, although Lydiard and others are also proponents of hill bounding as well. Hill bounding intervals will be the subject of a separate post.

Interval workouts on the track have a number of advantages including a smooth, consistent running surface, a compact loop, and the ability to accurately gauge and compare times for set distances to monitor progress and assess speed development. In addition doing standard distances (400 m, 800 m, 1600 m, etc.) is very straight forward on a track. For trail running competitors, track workouts are a staple of most training programs.

When I completed my last 1/2 mile track race in college (yes, way back then we did the mile, 1/2 mile (880 yards), 1/4 mile (440 yards), etc. and even odd distances like 660 yards during the indoor season) I told the coach that that race was the last time he would see my butt running around an artificial oval in the middle of a field*. At that time I had recently discovered trail running and much preferred the aesthetic and did not see any reason to continue with track competitions. That position on track running has held for almost 40 years- I have yet to run a lap on a track since that late spring day in 1977. This works for me and I am in no way suggesting that track workouts are less enjoyable and/or inferior. I prefer the trail, many (most) others love the track.

Since those college days I have been a highly competitive Category 1/2 road cyclist, an expert and sometimes professional mountain biker, and a competitive cross country skier. In each sport intervals have played a major role in my training plans and, due to the nature of each of these sports, the intervals have always been conducted on actual race courses or terrain similar to race courses. For instance in mountain biking I developed a few single track trail loops that provided appropriate interval stimuli for the sport, e.g. loops of steep 7-10 min race pace (L5a-L5b) uphills followed by steep 5-8 min race pace downhills and loops of more gradual 15-20 min uphills followed by full recovery downs. These loops were utilized in a structured way to develop aerobic muscle endurance, anaerobic capacity, and power. They served me well.

Having moved into ultramarathons in the past couple of years, the need for interval sessions has become clear should I wish to progress any further. The same has been true for my efforts in competitive cross country skiing and I have written about that here and, partly, here. In the second post on training plans for the current running season, interval workouts are an integrated and fundamental thread. Two interval sessions per week are included in the program plan. I debated about how to accomplish these workouts…. on a track? or…. should I hold to my 1977 proclamation and follow the rigor I used previously in road cycling, mountain biking, and cross country skiing by completing intervals on race course-like trails. I decided on the latter for numerous reasons, not the least of which was the 1977 proclamation, but also because the nearest track is 12 miles away and the school gets touchy about use from time to time. Also, I noted that Rob Krar mentioned in an interview that he regularly utilizes the Buffalo Park Loop in Flag for some of his interval workouts. This is a park that I had run in many times when I lived in Arizona so I knew exactly what he was speaking of.

I went about developing some trail loops that would accommodate both “track-like” sessions as well as hill repeat sessions. I found an almost exactly 2 mile single track trail loop around a natural meadow with about 50 m (165 feet) of vertical ascention/descention per lap- perfect for doing on-trail mile repeats, 800 m, etc. Here is an image of the Meadow Loop:

Proctor Meadow with track

Meadow Loop “track”. The Loop is almost exactly 2 miles and has two steeper ups and two steeper downs and descends gradually from the upper right to the lower left. Total ascention is 50 m. This loop is very similar to the Buffalo Park Loop that Rob Krar uses in Flag for interval workouts.

…. and here is an example of an 8 X 1/2 mile LT (L5a)- L5b (80% recovery) repeat session (also showing the 3 km cool down segment):

Meadow Loop half mile repeats example

Half mile repeats on the Meadow Loop. The terrain gives a good mix-up of repeats on gradual ups and on gradual downs- sort of a “structured fartlek”. Interval sessions begin with a 8 km (5 mi) warm-up (not shown) and a 3-5 km (1.8-3 mi) cool-down (shown).

I also found a nice 0.7 km/70 m, 10% grade uphill with a corresponding similar downhill that makes a good compact loop for hill repeats. Here is an image of the Hill Repeat Loop:

Hill Repeat Loop

Hill Repeat Loop. The up is 0.7 km and 70 m of ascention (10% average grade), the down is 0.8 km and 70 m of descention. Although not apparent from the image, this loop is on a significant hillside with direct uphill grades in the 50%-70% range- the switchback brings the average grade down to about 10%.

… and here is an example of a 5 X L4-LT (L5a) uphill repeat with the downhill as 100% recovery:

hill repeat example

These trail loops serve as the basis for my current two-a-week interval sessions where on Tuesdays I do a hill repeat workout and on Fridays I do “track-like” workouts on the meadow loop. The structure of the individual sessions vary and some additional examples can be seen in the training plans posted here. All interval sessions begin with an 8 km (5 mi) warm-up at L1-L2 and end with a 3-5 km (1.8-3 mi) cool-down at L1-L2.

This two-a-week interval protocol has worked out quite well as I can feel the endurance, strength, and power building up and I can see the times coming down. Although this is an expected result, there are other positive aspects to this on-trail interval training that have become apparent, aspects that I did not fully appreciate prior to putting the protocol into place and that are not developed in a traditional track setting. These additional positive aspects center around two very important elements in trail running:

  • downhill running skill
  • trail foot speed and turnover

Although I have worked hard at developing downhill running skill over the past two years, progress has been fairly glacial, with improvements in the 5-10% range over a season using “standard run” downhill sections for concentrated efforts. These improvements have provided passable speeds but not the sort of improvement that I know I am capable of. Enter on-trail intervals- what a difference!

Regular sessions on the Meadow Loop doing mile and 1/2 mile repeats at speed over single track terrain that includes some small, but real, downhills forces one to develop foot placement skills, stride skills, and associated small foot and ankle muscles that quickly lead to efficient (and fast) downhilling on trails. There is nothing like maintaining a 6-6:30 mile pace on a “semi-rocky” trail downhill to stimulate focus and skill development that is otherwise hard to push toward on a regular trail run. Particularly for a 58 year old!

Similarly, in the hill repeat sessions with, say, a 3 min LT(L5a)-L5b up with 1 min rest followed by a 3 min LT (L5a) downhill effort, one becomes viscerally aware of the needed focus to successfully navigate a downhill at that speed. There is no replacement for necessity to inculcate effective skill and fine movement muscle development.

I have found that the incremental skill and focus development during the interval sessions is much greater than that which I was able to attain in attempting to develop these elements on a regular distance run, independent of whether the run was a “standard run” or a “long run” effort. In the 7 weeks (14 sessions) that I have been including the on-trail interval sessions in my training plan, I have experienced a 25% increase in speed on typical 6-10% smooth downhill grades and a 35% increase in speed on typical 8-20% technical downhill grades in training. The intervals have had a remarkable impact on downhilling speed.

As far as foot speed and turnover, a similar effect is readily apparent in development of speed on flats and gradual up and downs. My rolling terrain mile times have come down by 15% at L2 and 20% at L3 since I started the interval session protocol. Whilst some of this speed is due to the enhanced, running-specific, aerobic and anaerobic cardio development, the level of comfort I have attained from a musculo-skeletal and skill perspective seems to be dominating. I say this because I come into the running season directly from the competitive cross country skiing season where my aerobic and anaerobic capacities have been highly developed by similar skiing intervals. So, although there is some additional running-specific cardio capacity development in the running intervals, the element that is new is running fast on trails and the collateral skill and muscle development. Perhaps I am an exception as it concerns the rate of improvement by including on-trail intervals in my training program, but if my past experience in training protocol is any indicator, then such will likely be the case for others.

Although it is clear that track workouts are an effective way for trail runners to develop speed and enhance aerobic and anaerobic capacities, it is also apparent that similar, on-trail, “track” and hill repeat workouts offer additional skill and small foot and ankle muscle development that is otherwise hard to stimulate in everyday training. I heartily recommend that you give some on-trail intervals a try as it might be what you need to accelerate your progress just as it has for me.

 

*Apparently the great Lasse Viren felt the same way as this quote from a nice article on Finnish “sisu” by Adam Chase indicates:

“Viren says he didn’t much care for running on the track outside of competition. Most of his training took place on forest trails, he says, where he’d do speed work and push the hills.”

Bliz Eyewear “Tracker” Review – a flexible, high performance choice

Background

Bliz Eyewear, a Sweden-based company entered the US market about a year and a half ago with their full line of eyewear products, from performance sunglasses to ski goggles to casual wear sunglasses. Prior to entering the US market Bliz developed a large following in Scandinavia for performance sunglasses and goggles specifically for Nordic skiing competition. Bliz is a young brand  having been established in 2007 by Future Eyewear Group AB (FEG). FEG also has other brands e.g. Prestige, Granite, Dr. Zipe, and Swing. FEG has been around since 1984 and has operated primarily in Scandinavia. However, the popularity of the Bliz brand has expanded well beyond Scandinavia including all of Europe, Russia, and the US. Many of the 2014 Olympic Nordic skiing medalists wear Bliz product, e.g. Marit Bjorgen, Marcus Helner, and Charlotte Kalla among many others. Bliz has been adding trail running athletes to their roster as well, most notably, Emile Forsberg.

The growth of the brand is the result of providing a high level of technology and design with an attractive price point. Where many other brands offer active eyewear products in excess of $200 a pop, Bliz has ventured forward at a much lower price point in the $100-$130 range for the same or better technology. We all know that eyewear is incredibly cheap to manufacture (like less than $5 for a high level model) and that we are therefore paying principally for design and marketing (not to mention profits!). Bliz has at least staked out a middle ground on the price equation thereby giving the other competing brands a run. Let’s hope this leads to an eventual normalization of pricing. Time will tell.

The Scourge of Fog

The primary challenges in eyewear for high intensity active sports such as Nordic skiing, running, and mountain biking are fogging (moisture precipitation on the surface of the lens) and changeable light conditions. Fogging in particular has been a big issue, for instance, because it will essentially incapacitate a Nordic skier who is traveling at competitive average speeds of 2-3 min/km (3-5 min/mile), not to mention regular sub 1:30 kms on downhills (60 km/hr (40 miles/hr)). It was common up through the mid-2000’s to see competitive Nordic skiers throw whatever sunglasses they were wearing to the side when conditions rendered them “opaque”. Anti-fog coatings, sprays, and potions generally did not work, particularly for the high humidity, active precipitation situations not uncommon in Nordic skiing (or running, or mountain biking for that matter). Fogging was one the more frustrating issues for participants in such events as it lead to non-optimal experiences and, in some cases, danger.

We are fortunate that products have been developed that very effectively deal with fogging. The product developers have made the realization that the only way to robustly deter the formation of fog is to optimize ventilation in and around the interior lens surfaces. Given the very large variation in human face shapes this required that the user be provided with the ability to adjust the sunglasses for optimal ventilation. This has been generally accomplished by utilization of fully adjustable nosepeice elements that allow for positioning the sunglasses well above the surface of one’s face and thereby allowing for substantial airflow across the inside lens surfaces. Bliz has been a pioneer in the development of such nosepieces and adjustable nosepeieces are included on all of the Bliz performance sunglasses. I can attest to the efficacy of this technology. In fact since switching to the Bliz product line, I have not not experienced any significant fogging in Nordic skiing, trail running, or mountain biking. Life has become better!

Bliz “Tracker”

Although numerous high performance models are available from Bliz, I have been most impressed by the “Tracker” model and now use this sunglass exclusively for all competitive sports that I participate in (Nordic skiing, trail ultramarathons, and cross country mountain biking).

Bliz Tracker

Bliz “Tracker” in “Red Carbon” colorway with red multi lenses. The “Tracker” model comes with a second, high contrast (orange) lens set, a second contrasting “jawbone” lower frame element, fully adjustable nosepiece and temple tips, a cleaning cloth, a strap for optional use, and a semi-hard-shell case.

The “Tracker” is a very flexible model in that it can be used in a full frame set-up as above or without a lower frame (“frameless”). In addition one can change the look of the frame by switching the lower “jawbone” frame element to the provided, contrasting color. Shown below is what comes in the box:

L1020767

What comes in the box of the “Tracker” model – the frame, two lower “jawbone” frame elements (in this colorway (shiny black) a matt black one and a matt orange one), a set of high contrast (orange) lenses, a strap, a cleaning cloth (not shown), and a semi-hard-shell case.

Here are a few of the ways the sunglasses can be configured:

L1020772

L1020774

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Three of the numerous ways the “Tracker” can be configured- top: with reflective lenses (high intensity light conditions) and contrasting “jawbone” lower frame element, middle: reflective lenses and “frameless”, and bottom: high contrast lenses (for low light and/or low contrast conditions) with coordinating lower “jawbone”.

Use

I have used the Bliz “Tracker” model for an entire Nordic skiing season (about 3000 km (1800 miles)) and the first part of this year’s running season (about 1600 km (1000 miles)). The conditions have ranged from super cold (-38C (-37F) – we just happened to be in West Yellowstone, Montana for their coldest day of the year) to very warm (35 C (95F)) and moisture ranging from active precipitation (snow and rain) with humidity ranging from 15% RH to 100% RH. Not all permutations of these conditions have been experienced but rather a full spectrum of those typically expected for these sports.

The most remarkable thing has been that in both skiing and running I have yet to have these sunglasses fog. I cannot say this for any other sunglass products that I have used, including models from Smith, Scott, Oakley, Rudy Project, Bolle, and Salomon. As far as I can tell the reason that the Bliz has performed so well with respect to fog is, as mentioned above, the adjustable rubber-coated nosepiece. Proper adjustment of this element allows the sunglass to rest far enough away from the surface of one’s face to provide sufficient air flow to prevent fogging. This position above the face also allows the lens surface to maintain a temperature closer to ambient and thereby reduce the driving force for condensation. Although other sunglasses that I have used have adjustable nosepieces, the sunglasses were all designed in such a way that I was unable to get the eyewear far enough from my face to maintain sufficient ventilation and close-to-ambient lens temperature. Another factor that plays a role here is slippage of the nosepiece where even when properly adjusted, some nosepieces slip into other, undesirable, positions. The Bliz “Tracker” nosepiece stays in position and does not move any significant amount- it would appear that the rubber-like material that Bliz uses on the surface of the nosepiece is very well selected for the purpose. I cannot say this for other product that I have tried, since slippage was always a problem.

I addition, Bliz, (as well as many other manufacturers) have used wire-core Grilamid in the temples for light weight and flexibility. The temple tips are also coated with the same grippy rubber material as is on the nosepiece. This helps with keeping the sunglasses in place and is another factor that makes fogging essentially non-existent, at least in my experience.

Also provided with the sunglasses is a strap that integrates with the temples that wraps around one’s head to allow for super-secure fitting. I tried the strap a few times but found it to be superfluous as I have yet to have any issue with the sunglasses staying put.

Setting fogging aside, the “Tracker” provides very good coverage and I have seldom been in conditions and orientations where I felt that the coverage was compromised. This is partly due to the width of the temples near the hinge which is rather wide but no much so that one might feel that the field of view is being compromised.

The optical quality is on par with any of the competing products, both in substrate materials and in coatings. None of this technology is “state-of-the-art” in any product and all of the physics and engineering was complete in the 1980’s. So do not let any manufacturer fool you in to thinking that they have some “superior” coating or substrate material, at least not as of this writing.

When I first began wearing the “Tracker” I felt that they were “huge” and this was partly due to the fact that I have  small face. But with continued use, I became enamored with the size mostly because I had very good coverage and the sunglasses were not right on top of my face. A far as looks- well that is a very individual thing and I will not comment on that here as my “taste” likely differs from most. But I will not be scared off from large-size sunglasses in the future, even with a small face.

Finally, I do like the fact that one can change-up the looks of the sunglasses by interchanging the “jawbones” to produce anything from a very mellow look to something with “attitude”. I think that Bliz would do well to offer a bunch of different “jawbone” pieces for sale separately as we know how much people like to customize their look- much as is the case with iPhone covers.

Price

$130. This is $40-$100 cheaper than what competitors offer as similar products, technology-wise and fit. A good deal and one that should encourage a buyer to take a close look at the “Tracker” as well as Bliz’ other models.

Bottom Line

A versatile, flexible, and high performance technical eyewear choice at a price point that is hard to beat.

Salomon S Lab Advanced Skin “M” Belt Review – a better belt

Salomon have introduced a new hydration belt product for the 2014 running season to compliment an existing belt that was offered in 2013. Last year the S Lab Advanced Skin S Belt was a popular choice for many trail runners and performed well but with a few issues. I reviewed the product initially here and did a final review here after a season of use. The “S” belt issues were primarily centered upon the belt cinches slipping when fully loaded and some construction issues with the cinch tabs.

The new offering is called the “M” belt and it is significantly improved over the “S” belt in numerous areas. I will go through these improvements below based on having over 1000 km (600 miles) of use of the belt on trails here in the Northern Rockies.

Overview

The “M” belts departs from the “S” belt in that it has a larger volume and therefore and can carry much more. Presented below is a comparison image of the two belts:

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The 2013 Salomon S Lab “S” belt (upper) and 2014 “M” belt (lower) showing the significantly larger volume of the “M” belt.

Clearly both segments of the “M” belt are larger but they are also designed better with respect to typical use for running. For instance the “front” segment* (left) of the “M” belt has one large continuous pocket rather than two individual pockets as on the “S” belt. This provides more flexibility to what one may put in this pocket. Similar design refinements are extant throughout the “M” belt.

The linking hardware on the “M” belt is the same as is found on the “S” belt and therefore the segments from both belts can be used with one another allowing for additional customization for those who own both belts. The “M” belt has a different material for the cinching tabs. This material is more substantial than in the “S” belt and has, so far exhibited much less slipping. The slipping was a major issue with the 2013 “S” belt and based on my use so far has been resolved in the “M” belt as I have not experienced any significant slippage after over 1000 km of use including “fully loaded” configurations.

“M” Belt Features

The “M” belt design is a derivative of the “S” belt in all respects including the “3D mesh” material that interfaces with the body. This material is highly formable and very comfortable, even on hot days. Shown here are the “body sides” of the two “M” belt segments.

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The primary differences between the “S” belt and the “M” belt are with respect to the design and placement of the pockets. Presented below is an image of the “front” segment of the “M” belt showing the various pockets.

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As can be seen above the “M” belt provides two pockets for soft flasks (with retaining cords) that is interconnected as one big pocket. This gives flexibility for what size flask one might want to carry and allows for other, bigger “stuff” to be accommodated in this pocket. Layered on top of this pocket are two individual pockets, one zippered (retained from the “S” belt design) and the other is open. The zippered pocket is useful for securing things such as cameras, keys, etc. that one does not want to fall out under any circumstance (e.g. during a fall). All pockets are constructed of the fine stretch mesh material that expands and allows for significant “stuffing” of all manner of items. Two elastic bands are provided and can be used for securing a jacket or vest, gloves, and even a crushable hat.

The “rear” segment of the “M” belt is entirely redesigned relative to the “S” belt. Presented below is an image of the “rear” segment showing the new design and features.

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The most significant change is that both of the rear pockets are now configured as single large pockets rather than two, smaller individual pockets. One of the pockets is zippered and the other is open. The zippered pocket also has a two-way zipper mechanism which is quite ergonomic when trying to get into the pocket on the trail.

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Also provided are two elastic bands for additional carrying capacity. I have stashed a light down sleeping bag using these bands to facilitate an overnight excursion- I am certain that there will be other many uses.

Basic Usage

Although I have found that the “M” belt can be used for very long (even overnight) excursions, the typical use will be for the 2-5 hour trail run. I will go through the typical set-up that I use for such runs; individual use will obviously vary, so this is just an example demonstrating the utility of the belt.

Presented below is an image of my set-up for a typical (2-5 hour) training run.

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In this set-up I have 3 237 ml/8 oz soft flasks (I use about 1 flask per hour) one accommodated by a hydro “glove”, 4 gel pacs, a sliced apple and/or PB&J in a baggie (in front pocket), placebo (salt tabs), and an S Lab Light jacket. In the case of longer runs (4-5 hours) I will take a 500 ml/16 oz soft flask as well. This fits in the large zippered “back” pocket and I move the smaller soft flask to the front. Here is what it looks like all zipped up and ready to go:

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A very neat package. The rear zippered pocket can also hold two of the 237ml/8oz soft flasks (or, as mentioned above, a single 500 ml/16 oz soft flask) and the S Lab Light jacket:

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The stretch mesh fabric allows this load to be zipped up very neatly.

In addition to what is shown above, there is a large stretch mesh pocket across the “rear” segment that can accommodate the S Lab Light jacket, a long sleeve shirt, a vest, and a UV water purifier. Meanwhile a light raincoat, such as the Fast Wing Hoodie, can fit simultaneously into the zippered pocket. This will allow for a an extended excursion well into the back country, as I can attest to.

Suspension and Fit

The primary drawback to the 2013 “S” belt was that, once loaded to any significant degree, the belt would continually and progressively slip down ones waist and eventually require “tightening”. Depending on the weight of the load and the ruggedness of the trail being traversed this “tightening” could be as often as every couple of minutes. I stopped using the “S” belt for anything but the lightest of loads. The “M” belt is substantially improved with respect to this issue. In over 1000 km of trail running with various weight loads, I have only tightened the belt twice and in both cases I was traversing across rugged sage steppe with no trail and a lot of missteps and off balance moves. On smooth trail I have yet to need to tighten the belt.

How was this accomplished? As mentioned earlier, Salomon have changed the fabric for the cinch tabs to a more textured version which apparently increases the friction grip in the attachment d-ring/hook element. Also, the cinch tabs are now two segments that can be individually adjusted to allow for even more flexibility with respect to fit around the waist. This facilitates even load distribution and will therefore minimize the chance that one cinch loop is more loaded than the other. Finally, the belt, being larger than the “S” belt, fits higher up on the waist and this puts the load more onto the top of the hips rather than “around” the hips as was the case for the “S” belt. This position is inherently more stable. These three improvements have lead to a very stable and comfortable fit. In addition there is very little bounce with the belt, even when fully loaded. This is also much improved over the 2013 “S” belt.

Thee were concerns expressed about the 2013 “S” belt with respect to fit for small waist sizes. Those with small waist lines, (less than about 27″ (68.6 cm)) found that they could not fully tighten the belt because one would run out of cinch space. As a result the belt was always loose for these users. I found this to be true for the “S” belt as I have 27″ waist and had to tighten the belt as far as I could to get a proper fit. The “M” belt design has fixed this as I still have a 27″ waist and there is about an inch more of tightening on either side (see images below). So it looks like the belt can accommodate users down to about a 25″ (63.5 cm) waist and still have a proper fit.

Here are some perspective views of the belt as it appears when worn. As can be seen, it sits higher on the waist than the 2013 “S” belt does. The fit and suspension give a very comfortable and “almost not there” feel. As shown the belt is quite loaded- two 237 ml/8 oz soft flasks (one front, one in rear zippered pocket), 4 gel pacs, a 148 ml/5 oz soft flask for fuel (in front pocket), a long sleeve shirt in outer back pocket, S Lab Light jacket in outer back pocket, placebo (salt tabs) in outer back pocket), a UV water purification pen (in zippered rear pocket) and a Fast Wing Hoodie rain jacket (in zippered rear pocket).

Front:

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Back:

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Side:

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Here is an image of what is in the belt for the perspective images:

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Items stowed in the “M” belt for the perspective images above. Note: UV water sterilization pen and placebo (salt tabs) not shown.

… and there is room for more. It is quite remarkable how much “stuff” one can get into this belt and still retain a high level of comfort and very little bounce. Access to the pockets is also good and the belt can be easily spun around whilst clasped to facilitate egress into the rear pockets. Overall the “M” belt is not only a great improvement to the 2013 “S” belt but is much superior on numerous fronts- basically, it is just a better belt than the “S” and competes well with anything currently available.

Price

$80. Given the improvements and the large load volume, the “M” belt is well worth the price.

Bottom Line

A versatile, comfortable, flexible trail running pack for anything from 2-5 hours- or even overnights if you are willing to go “minimal”. Highly recommended.

 

* as has been the case from the outset, there is no front or back to these belts, they are functional in both orientations as well as being able to be worn sideways as well.

 

Review of “Diet Cults” by Matt Fitzgerald

I looked forward to the publication of “Diet Cults” by Matt Fitzgerald after reading and enjoying his books “Racing Weight” and “The Racing Weight Cookbook”. I reviewed “Racing Weight” earlier this year and can highly recommend it and the companion cookbook as general, outcomes-based guides to what sorts of diets work for champion endurance athletes and how you might refine your own diet to help with your competitive endurance endeavors. In these books, Fitzgerald does not poo-poo any specific diet yet goes about substantiating the relevance of a healthy agnostic approach to diet for endurance athletes. The books contain sensible diet advice based on observations of what works for champions. Given that “Racing Weight” is now in a second edition, many others are similarly impressed with the contents of this work.

“Diet Cults” is an attempt by Fitzgerald to bring some rationality to the spectrum of religions that make up the current diet universe. “Food is Religion” is one of the many operative concepts that Fitzgerald discusses and analyzes with respect to the impact on the decison-making process of those in this world who have the freedom to decide what sort of diet they are going to consume. In fact the book starts out speaking to the origin of diets as coming from semi-religious and religious communities where such diets helped reinforce (and enforce) adherence to the religious tenets in place at the time. Religion as the origin of diets (and “diets as religion”) really helps one understand today’s current dogmatic, polarized situation. As Fitzgerald points out, “rationality” does not have a large place at this point and looking rather to outcome-based results is a defensible way to approach your own diet.

Fitzgerald does a reasonable job at describing the various popular diets (food religions) today and uses stories and “characters” (e.g. Brian MacKenzie of CrossFit) to help entertain the reader in the process- some with greater success than others. This “Gladwell-esque” style can be very engaging on such semi-non-fiction subjects but Fitzgerald needs to more fully develop the many sides of the “stories” rather than just concentrate on the “character”. He misses out on the powerful combination of presenting both the “focus character” and the “character(s)” behind the studies and science that may or may not support the particular diet (much as Gladwell does in some of his books and essays). There is a near total miss on the later and substantially detracts from what would, with such additions, be a landmark book. It would be a longer book, but a much better book.

His calling-out of Tim Noakes on the subject is well done and demonstrates that “religion” can infect even the best of scientists. This serves as a fair warning to all about the powerful polarization and irrationality that has always infused the subject.

Whilst I personally subscribe to Fitzgerald’s “Healthy Agnostic Eating” concept, he could make a much stronger case with the inclusion of some level of a comprehensive review of what the (currently defective) field of “nutrition science” is finding- in particular that there is very little that can be concluded from a rigorous scientific perspective based on what we know today.

The book is a quick read and quite enjoyable in stretches but lacks quite a bit of depth and has no index. It is more like a very long essay than it is like a book and would serve as a starting point for anyone who would like to make a study of diets, their origins, and their efficacy. Fitzgerald does however have an important message about diet- there is no one way. The extent to which he conveys this to the typical reader will determine the success of this book.

I recommend the book but be aware that it is an “hors d’oeuvre” on the subject. Hopefully the main course will come soon.

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