SOLE Custom Footbeds Product Review

If you have ever considered insoles for your running shoes, here’s a product that might work for you.  It really just depends on what problem you’re trying to address and how much money you want to throw at it.  I had a painful bout of plantar fasciitis years ago and decided to pay $200 for custom orthotics which I ordered from my physical therapist.  If SOLE custom footbeds were around back then, I might have tried this product first.

softecregularThese products serve to correct leg and knee alignment in repetitive sports like running and cycling.  Arch support in the foot influences the ankle, then the knees, hips, and lower back.  A well-engineered footbed assists the muscles in maintaining the anatomical position of the arch, preventing problems in other areas.

SOLE Custom Footbeds has six heat-moldable insole types, with models made to provide arch support, better heel cup fit, extra padding, added volume, and sweat wicking.  These custom footbeds are clearly better than standard insoles simply because they can be molded to the contour of each foot.  They are molded by baking them in your oven at exactly 200° F for two minutes.  The size 12 insert was exactly the same size as my orthotics which I wear in a  size 12.5 running shoe.  It took a full five minutes in my oven before the patch went from silver to black, indicating they were ready to be molded in my shoes.  I placed them in my shoes, stepped in and laced up.  They hold their shape within two minutes.

I found the fit most noticeable in the arch and heel areas.  I guess that’s where they’re supposed to work, but I found the fit a little less comfortable than my orthotics.  The orthotics are made from a mold of your foot so they should fit better than any heat molded footbed.  I know some people swear by their orthotics and others have not had success with orthotics and wouldn’t walk to  their mailbox without SOLE footbeds. 

It’s hard to really know how well the products are working until you can put some miles in them under different conditions but I’ll admit I’m still a bit of a skeptic.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been paying for expensive orthotics for years which I replace every two years and I need to justify my investment.  I recently switched from a stability shoe to a neutral running shoe–the Asics Landreth.  I realized I had too much support with the previous shoe/insert combination.  The Landreth allows the orthotic to do it’s job and I’m never been more comfortable running.  I also prefer not to mess with success.  I haven’t had a significant running injury since I started wearing the orthotics, so I’m not inclined to change just because I found a cheaper alternative.  However, I’m going to try the SOLE in my Vasque trail shoes.  I wear trail shoes a half size larger than my running shoes and Vasque tends to run a bit large, so my orthotics are a tiny bit loose in my trail shoes.  I’m also going to try the cool looking SOLE platinum sandals for my next pair of sandals.

If you’re considering a less expensive alternative and you don’t necessarily need the stability of a rigid orthotic, this product is a great althernative.  Prices on the SOLE web site range from $34.95 for a light weight model to $49.95 for the signature editions with double the amount of cushioning.  I tried the mid-range “Softec regular” size.  They claim to last for at least one year under normal use conditions and can be re-molded up to five times before they lost their supportive shape.  They can also be used without molding them, especially if you require the maximum amount of support.  They only come in full sizes, so if you’re between sizes, order the next size up and always trim from the toe area.  The manufacturer provides an “ulitmate fit money back guarantee.”  If you are not satisfied, you can return them within 90 days for a replacement or refund.


Rancho Canada del Oro Trails

I ran some trails for the first time today in the South Bay that were so great, any avid trail runner would love the place.  I’ve been meaning to try these trails for a full year when my tri training partner and I discovered while on a long ride.  Today I went with another training partner from my running club. 

rancho-canada-del-oroPhotos courtesy of Santa Clara County Open Space Authority

It’s called Rancho Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve, a still relatively new 4000-acre preserve in the eastern Santa Cruz Mountain foothills.  Once part of the Pueblo lands of San Jose, it opened to the public in 2004.  The county web site describes the landscape as “native grasslands, live and valley oak woodlands, sage-chaparral scrub, and creekside habitats.”  Views of Mt. Umunhum,  Mt. Hamilton, the Diablo mountain range, and Calero Reservoir add to the visual cornucopia. Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? 

rancho-canada-del-oro-21We found the most accessible Mayfair Ranch Trail closed due to poor conditions so we started at the Serpentine Loop trail.  True to its name, this section of the trail is single-track and winds uphill for two miles.  At the Canada del Oro cutoff, it’s a mile descent down a fire road and more single track.  Then we picked up the Figueroa Trail for another good one-mile climb.  We reached the Javelina Loop, presumably named after the looped course of the Javelina Jundred.  The Cottle Trail and Chisnantuck Trail on the back side had some of the steepest climbs.  Just seven miles into the run, we realized we had already climbed over 2000 feet.  This course is probably steeper than the Quicksilver trails just a short distance from this location.  The last two miles opened up to breathtaking views of the south valley.  The hills were a lush green as the sun tried to break through the fog and low clouds.  We completed the 9-mile loop in a little under two hours.  The temp remained almost a constant 48 – 50 degrees, just perfect for trail running.

The single and double track and fire roads didn’t look like they get much foot traffic.  Maybe the recent rain had something to do with it.   The trails are open to bicycles and horses but but we didn’t see a single person or horse in two hours.  I wouldn’t want to tackle this kind of vertical on a bike even though it’s not technical.  We returned to a nearly full parking but it sure felt like we had the entire place to ourselves.

This area has some fascinating historical significance.  In nearby Almaden, mercury was discovered during the California gold rush.  Mercury (“quicksilver”) is used to recover gold.  If mercury had not been found in these hills, some have speculated we would have continued to get our mercury from Almaden, Spain, and much of the California gold would have ended up in Spain.  I’ve also seen the old “hanging tree” in Almaden where mining communities used to hang the men they caught chasing prostitutes from neighboring mining communities.

I’ve been trail running in the South Bay for several years and can’t believe I’m still uncovering new trails.  I think the many trails in the South Bay are the best kept secret in Bay Area trail running.  The views rival those of the Marin Headlands, Angel Island, or any of the popular Pacific Coast Trail runs.

From Highway 101 or Highway 85. Turn west onto Bailey Avenue. At the intersection with McKean Road turn left. Where McKean Road becomes Uvas Road turn right onto Casa Loma Road. Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve is at the end of the public access portion of the road.

3Bar Energy Bar Product Review

erin-demarines6The name comes from the three disciplines in triathlon, but can also stand for protein, carbs and essential fats.  3Bar is the only nutrition and energy bar made by a triathlete for triathletes.   That’s Erin DeMarinesin the photo, CEO and founder of 3Bar, certified sports nutrition consultant, and an accomplished triathlete.  It sure seems like Erin has thought of everything to produce the healthiest, most effective nutrition bar on the market designed for athletes.  It claims to be vegan, kosher, wheat free, dairy free, gluten free, trans fat free, cholesterol free, GMO free, and all natural.  Wow, is there anything left?  And can it still taste good? 

The Right Stuff— All the marketing-speak is another way of saying 3Bar is made with organic ingredients, is easily digestible, rich in antioxidants, a good source of protein, and diabetic-friendly.  Now that’s asking a lot from a nutrition bar.  3Bar is formulated to deliver the right balance of protein, carbs and essential fats to keep the athlete satiated and energized during and after training or racing.

The Taste Test— 3Bar comes in two or three flavors–chocolate peanut butter (Cocoa Crunch), chocolate coconut almond butter (Tropical Tri), and berry peanut butter (Blueberry Blast).  “Taste test” is a bit of a misnomer because I actually prefer not to taste too much when I’m out there for several hours and need some nutrition.  I go for the plain GUs and tend to grab boiled potatoes and PBJs at aid stations on long trail races.  I just need something with carbs, calories and nutrition that goes down easy.   Too much flavor makes me gag.  So I ripped open a Cocoa Crunch bar during a 3-hr. brick workout the other day.

I detected very little taste in the Cocoa Crunch bar.  There was a hint of chocolate and a small amount of crunch, but it was just what I needed–something that’s easy to ingest and packed with nutrition.  3Bar definitely passes the test.  PowerBars are so difficult to eat, especially on cold days, it’s a mystery how they got to be so popular.  I tried the Tropical Tri bar after a 16-mile run yesterday.  I’ve never been fond of anything tropical tasting and I didn’t care for this one, either.  But again, it’s not the flavor I’m after anyway.  If I could tweak the 3Bar recipe just a bit, I would make it a skosh more moist.  The bars didn’t crumble, but they came apart a little too easily.   I like something that holds together well while I’m on the bike or running.

At the end of the day, 3Bar is my nutrition bar of choice.  I just wish it was sold at a local store so I don’t have to pay for shipping and handling.  I’m taking one of my empty wrappers to the local running store and suggest they order a supply.  They always seem to be selling new nutrition products.  I’ll take the other one to the local Trader Joe’s.  3Bar seems like the perfect specialty product for the discriminating shopper at Trader Joe’s. 

3bar-nutrition-facts3Ingredients— Since this product is all about the ingredients, let’s break it down a bit.  Cocoa Crunch contains protein from organic whole soybeans and soy isolate, organic brown rice syrup, maltitol syrup, chocolate chips [sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, vanilla beans, soya lecithin (added as an emulsifier)], peanut flour, peanuts, xylitol, natural flavors, salt, and soya lecithin.

The 3Bar web site does a pretty good job of explaining what is meant by organic, vegan, diabetic-friendly, and explains the benefits of soy protein.  But it doesn’t explain the kosher thing.  In trying to understand this oddity, I did more research than I care to admit to understand what kosher really means.  Here is the full discription of kosher dietary laws if you’re really interested.  Kosher foods are those that conform to the culture of Jewish religion, but I’m not sure what benefit there is in a kosher nutrition bar.

Note the 6 grams of sugar alcohol.  Right under the nutrition facts there’s notation that reads, “Sugar alcohol is a slow to non-digestable, naturally occurring carbohydrate derived from corn, fruit, berries, Birchwood and other plants.  Individuals sensitive to sugar alcohols should avoid excessive consumption.”  So what is sugar alcohol and what’s the danger?  The key ingredient is xylitol, a sugar subsitute also used in Trident Gum.  It’s a natural substance that is absorbed more slowly than sugar, making it diabetic-friendly and won’t give you the sugar crash.  The downside is that for some people, even one serving of sugar alcohol can lead to bloating, diarrhea and flatulence because it is not absorbed in the small intestine.

The other interesting label is “GMO free,” which has become increasingly popular in the past decade.  GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, stem from genetically engineering products for biological, medical or agricultural applications.  The biggest nutritional concern over GMOs is the risk of allergic reactions.  In other words, if you’re prone to food allergies, GMO-free means 3Bar should be perfectly safe for you.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve become a bit paranoid about the peanut butter scare these days, probably more for my kids than me.  Cliff Bars were on the list of products to avoid.  The peanut butter in 3Bar claims to be ground peanuts and salt–nothing else.  But since all 3Bar products contain peanuts, I would take some comfort in seeing a note somewhere on the web site explaining that 3Bar is safe and not affected by the recent peanut butter scare.

Price — I found 3Bar for sale on The Vegetarian Site for a whopping $2.40 a bar, offering all three flavors.  The 3Bar web site now offers only two flavors (is BlueBerry Blast no longer available?) but at a very competitive price of $1.50.  I can buy a dozen PowerBars at Safeway for $1/piece when they’re on sale.  But at $1.50, 3Bar is a reasonably priced alternative with much better ingredients than PowerBar.

You can find store locations nationwide on the 3Bar web site, but there are no locations listed for California.  I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before the most health conscious state starts selling the most nutritious bar on the market.

History— Before graduating from the University of South Florida, Erin DeMarines became a certified personal trainer.  Her clients loved the chocolate peanut butter cookies she made from her grandmother’s recipe, so after working for years on improving her product to be all-natural and more balanced, 3Bar was launched in 2006.  With projected revenue of $361,000 in 2008, it looks like Erin has found a winning recipe and a market for people who actually want something that’s good for you.

Product Review–YouBars/YouShakes

youbars_logo1I was recently selected to write a product review for EveryManTri.  If you’re looking for a better alternative to Cliff Bars and breakfast drinks, these unique nutrition bars and protein shakes might be for you.  You can actually customize the packaging and name it anything you want, making these an excellent gift idea.  Here’s the review.

Book Review–Ultramarathon Man

Later this month, I’m hosting famed ultrarunner Dean Karnazes at Cisco where I work.  Cisco won the corporate challenge at the Silicon Valley Marathon in October.  Turns out the race director is also Dean’s agent, so with 37 people from Cisco running the marathon, we won a meet & greet and fun run with Dean.  Imagine that.  How do you prepare to meet someone who defies description?  I started by reading his first book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.

ultramarathon-man3If you don’t know Dean, he’s an extreme among extremes.  In 2005, he ran 350 miles in 80 hours and 44 minutes without stopping.  He completed the North Face Endurance 50:  50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days; ran the inaugural South Pole Marathon in running shoes; ran 148 miles in 24 hours on a treadmill in 2004; completed the 199-mile Providian Saturn Relay solo six times; and has finished the Western States Endurance Run 11 times in less than 24 hours each.  The 6-stage, 113-mile Transrockies Run I’m doing later this year is just a warm-up for Dean.

More recently, Dean tackled five of the world’s most hostile deserts in one year by adding a desert (or dessert?) to the Four Desert Challenge.  Beginning in March 2008, he ran the Atacama Crossing in Chile, completed the Gobi March in China in June, and Death Valley in California in July.  Beginning in Oct., Dean embarked on the Sahara Race, and ran the final race in Antarctica in Nov. – Dec. where he had to take precautions to prevent his trachea from freezing shut.

Dean’s first book is largely an account of his first ultra endurance races–Western States 100, his bid to be the first person to run a marathon to the South Pole, Badwater, and his non-stop, 46-hr. running of The Relay, a 199-mile race designed for teams of 12 people.  I ran The Relay in 2007 the “correct” way with my running club and thoroughly enjoyed Dean’s account of his solo trip because I knew the course. 

I was impressed Dean wrote this book without a ghost writer or partner.  He dictated much of it into a digital voice recorder while he ran.  The book is an easy read and very well written.  He is just an “average guy” by his own assertion, and certainly comes across like someone you would want to sit down with and have a chat over coffee or a beer.

It’s strange how much inspiration I get from Dean simply because we are the same age.  Somehow, that simple fact lulls me into thinking if he can do it, I can do it.  Except that I don’t necessarily want to do what he has done.  Dean’s incredible threshold for pain and suffering is hard to comprehend.  Last year, I ran over 10 hours to complete the American River 50 and can’t imagine running 24 – 48- 80 hours.  Still, a man my age has set the bar so high I can’t help but reevaulate my own goals.

I’m guessing the issue even accomplished runners want to understand about Dean is why he does these incredible endurance events, continually seeking to go beyond what any human being has ever attempted.  I read the whole book looking for an answer and don’t think any of his explanations adequately answer the question.  But then I realize I have never been able to fully explain why I do what I do, and my athletic ambitions are just a fraction of what Dean pulls off on a regular basis.

In the end, I found myself oddly relating to Dean.  “I run because if I didn’t, I’d be sluggish and glum and spend too much time on the couch.  I run to breathe the fresh air.  I run to explore.  I run to escape the ordinary.  I run…to savor the trip along the way.  Life becomes a little more vibrant, a little more intense.  I like that.”

Movie Review–Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135

running-on-the-sunYou should watch this movie.  A friend loaned it to me to watch over the Thanksgiving break.  I threw it on my laptop sitting in the kitchen while visiting my in-laws, trying not to be rude by just watching the beginning.  But once it started, I could not turn it off.  I sat in the kitchen and watched the whole thing.

This documentary style film is an unflinching examination of what is arguably the single most harrowing running event held annually in the United States, the Badwater 135.  The tagline captures the essence of this film — “There is a moment when the body gives up and the human spirit takes over.”  I watched with a morbid sense of curiosity, not unlike the way a child watches an insect die or a worm squirm on a hook at the end of a fishing line.  It’s just endlessly fascinating, except in this movie there are 40 human beings trying to run 135 miles by crossing Death Valley in 125 degree heat (it’s already 115 at the start line!), then climb Mount Whitney.

From a Marine built like a rock, to a man with a prosthetic leg, to a 64 year old man, to the current record holder of Badwater, to a woman from England who live in a tent and put herself in debt to make it there, I was amazed how many of these runners seem like very ordinary people.  You can’t help but wonder what drives these people to want to endure such punishment.  And some of those questions seem to remain unanswered.

You need to be prepared to watch some violent bouts of vomiting, the lancing of blisters that form over other blisters, and dazed athletes moaning in excruciating pain in dire need of medical attention.  There are many moving story lines of the various maniacs who undertake this crazy run of more than five marathons.  And there are surprises.  People you are sure won’t finish do while others who seem strong drop out with less than ten miles to go.

I ran the American River 50 last year and qualified for the Western States 100.  It took me 10 hours and 5 mins.  That’s a long day.  I still can’t wrap my head around the punishment that is Badwater.  The cut-off to be considered a finisher is 60 hours.  To even consider doing Badwater borders on the absurd.  There is no prize, just the satisfaction of conquering the course…and your own physical and pyschological limits.  Anyone who has ever pushed themselves to their limits will likely find inspiration from these courageous individuals.  The drama and emotion of their efforts is real, and that is this movie’s greatest strength.

Triathlon Movie Review–What It Takes

A friend gave me this movie last year and I never finished watching it.  I was in the process of trying to decide if I would do my first ironman in 2009.  Maybe the stories of the top triathletes running 60 miles a week, cycling 350 miles a week and swimming 18 miles a week left me wondering how I would ever find the time to train for an ironman.  After deciding to do the Transrockies Run this year instead of an ironman, I just finished watching What It Takes.

what-it-takes1This is a documentary about four world-class triathletes’ quest for greatness as they prepare for the 2005 Ironman world championships in Kona, Hawaii.  These three Canadians and one Australian have six world championships between them.  Their stories chronicle an incredible commitment to the sport, with training regimens of up to 35 hours a week.  But it also reveals some costly personal sacrifices some of the athletes make to be the best in the world.  It’s a very human story.  A great movie for the winter training season.  Easy to watch while you crank out the watts on the trainer.

This is also a movie that helps promote endurance sports, which have simply exploded:
+ Over 400,000 people finish marathons in the U.S. every year.
+ Membership in USA Triathlon has more than quadrupled since 1997.
+ 2.2 million people tuned in to OLN to watch the final stage of the 2003 Tour de France.
+ Since the Ironman 70.3 series launched in 2006, the number of events has grown from 17 to 29.

So the real question to me is why are so many people like me interested in endurance sports?  For clues to this phenomenon, I am reading Dean Karanazes’ first book, Ultramarathon Man.  Stay tuned.