Saturday, May 25, 2013

Merrell Ascend Glove Review: A little test drive- Mt Wilson Loop, 27 miles- wow!

When  I got home from work yesterday I was excited to find that the Merrell Ascend Gloves that I bought on-line last week had arrived.    So at 6am this morning I hit the Sam Merrill trailhead to take the Ascend Gloves out for a test spin...the 27 miles Mt Wilson loop I've posted about the last couple of weeks; the loop has 7500 feet of climb and descent, on the decomposed granite trails characteristic of the front range of the San Gabriel mountains.  I was anxious to try the new Ascend Gloves because my feet have been getting a bit battered on this trail wearing the Trailgloves with their 4mm sole.   Its littered with scree and the descents are often 10-15% grade...feels fine up to about 20 miles but by the final descent back down the Sam Merrill feet are getting pretty tender in the Trailgloves.  The Ascend Glove was designed with a 6mm sole and was reportedly made for folks that want to run longer and need more protection on the feet.   That would be me!  But otherwise its basically the same as the Trailglove;  and although 6mm doesn't sound all that much thicker than 4mm, its actually quite a bit more rigid in the sole.

I took a pair of Trailgloves in my running pack as a backup  (cool that one can do that...they are so light and flexible) because this was my  first test of the Ascend Gloves ... a 27 mile test run straight out of the box... and there aren't any bailout points on this run.  Well, suffice to say I didn't need the back-up...the Ascend Gloves were superb.     The traction was noticeably superior to the Trail Glove on this  trail,  presumably because the thicker sole permits much more aggressive lugs to be molded than on the thinner Trailglove. Even on sections with sand and gravel on bedrock the Ascend had great traction.   The thicker sole is just what I have been looking for for my longer runs.  While I could feel the trail, the soles of my feet felt well protected even running through sharp scree.   

The Ascend gloves are noticably longer than the Trailgloves I own of the same nominal  size.  I was dismayed when I saw this and compared the shoes side by side, but I think its because the last is a bit different shape that the Trailglove-1-  the extra length in the Ascends is more in the big toe area and frankly I appreciated it at the end of the run today;  for the first time running this 27 mile loop my toes were perfectly comfortable after the run (unbattered).  Like the Trail Glove, the Ascend Glove also has a big, roomy toe box-  comfortable straight out of the box.
Trail Glove on the left, Ascend Glove on the right, both sized 11.5
What I like best about these Ascend gloves is that they feel just like running in Trailgloves but with more positive traction.  I had a sense that my footplants were more secure and I could push the pace a bit on terrain where previously a faster pace left me feeling a bit time today was 5:28, a bit faster than the last week.   Many other shoes out there have a base wider than one's foot, this is not the case with the Trailglove or the Ascend Glove...I really like this feature because my footplant is completely natural in these shoes.  For those that may be reading this review without the having read the context of this blog, I must add that the zero-drop feature of the Merrill Ascend Glove and Trail Glove have been decisive in eliminating knee troubles that  had been persistent over my ultrarunning career when I was running in traditional shoes with a big heel cup, arch supports and the like.  So this feature is, for me, a non negotiable requirement for injury free running.

Permeability of the upper:  Another issue I've had with the Trail Glove -1 is permeability of grit/sand through the mesh upper.  Its gotten hard to find a running shoe these days without a mesh upper, they all admit grit and sand...  The Ascend Glove has a sort of dual mesh upper and it did better than the Trailglove-1 has done in keeping grit out over the course of this 27 mile test run.  I did wear socks lightly greased on the inside with Cramers' SkinLube and didn't experience any discomfort from the grit.  I always do wear socks with the Trailgloves for the reason of grit (and to keep them smelling sweet).


Here is a photo of the pair of Merrell Ascend Gloves reviewed above, taken after the Angeles Crest 100.  You can see in the photo some Velcro tabs which I put on the shoe to hold some lycra covers I put on over the mesh to keep sand and grit out.  I did this as I was racing and didnt want to mess around with changing socks in the race.   These shoes are the most comfortable running shoe I have ever worn and are proving to be quite durable.  The tread shows virtually no wear.

Postscript Sept 6:  Question about the arch in the Ascend Glove as compared to the Trail Glove:

A question came in from "graphissste" about how the arch compares between the Ascend Glove and the Trail Glove.  Feeling it with my fingers the arch seems to have the same contour on the inside of the shoe for the two models;  however, because the Ascend has a more substantial sole, the bottom of the shoe was kept flat in the area under the arch, while the Trail glove preserved the curve of the arch (maintaining roughly constant sole thickness as the material sweeps up and back down in the arch area) unavoidably the arch is more structurally pronounced in the Ascend Glove than in the Trail Glove.  I was surprised and cncerned when I saw this and first put the shoes on, but this more burly arch has not bothered me in wearing the Ascend Gloves.  Flat footed folks may want to try the Ascends out... running... to see if the more substantial arch is a problem.
Ascend glove top, Trail glove bottom

Monday, May 20, 2013

Thoughts on shoes and socks and such...

OK its a rather prosaic title I know;  but one realization I have had in my training over the last couple of months is that while the Merrill Trailglove is an outstanding trail running shoe, its too light (un-armored) and permeable for me to run the AC100 in it.  Although I ran the Leona Divide 50 miler in them, I had problems in that race with sand and grit getting in and had to stop three times during the race to clean out the shoes and my feet.  Still, my feet held up reasonably well.

The AC100 course is another story.  My recent training runs on the Mt Wilson loop have brought home that the steep 10-15% grade downhills on rocky trails leave my feet pretty battered when only protected by 4mm of rubber/foam.

So I have been looking for  a zero drop shoe with a thicker sole than the Trailglove ideally with a fabric upper rather than mesh to keep the sand out.   As far as I can tell this shoe doesn't exist.  On the basis of Jason Robillard's post on the Merrill Mixmaster 2 (,  I ordered a pair of these in  the waterproof option (which has a fabric upper, rather than mesh).  This shoe has a 4mm heel to toe drop.  Its as stiff as a board (or so it feels since I've become accustomed to the Trailglove over the last 6 months) so I was worried about it...But I tried it on trails today and it seemed fine-  didn't interfere with my gait and the rock-feel was significantly attenuated;  the fabric upper kept all the grit out.  My feet were pretty sodden at the end though, the shoe doesn't breath much.

I've also ordered a pair of Merrill Ascend Gloves-  a thicker-soled version of the Trailglove.  We'll see how it works out; I expect the mesh upper will allow grit in.  I also ordered another zero-drop make, the Go-Bionic, as its been reviewed favorably and can be bought online for under $50.

I tried an old trick on my weekend 27 miler:  I coated the inside of my socks with thick grease (Cramers' Skinlube, like vaseline but much thicker).  It seemed to keep my feet free of grit..maybe it forms a grit barrier.  I am open to suggestions should you the reader  have any thoughts, please leave a comment.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

And again the Mt Wilson loop....

Got up this morning, like last week, at 0 dark thirty, slurped down a couple espressos and off to the Sam Merrill trailhead.  Same run as last week, the 27 mile loop over Mt Wilson returning via the toll road and Idlehour.  Today I did it in 5:41 all-in including stops to fill bottles and pump water from the stream (the GPS ran out of juice at Idlehour so I dont know the exact runtime);  so it was about 20 minutes faster than last week...due in part I'm sure to the fact that it was also a fair bit cooler (77F at noon vs 90F last week).  I ran pretty much everything except the first mile (warm up).  I felt strong during the run and  OK after although like last week my feet feel battered and generally speaking I feel pretty worked over.  Its a tough loop.  My knees hurt off and on during some of the uphills and downhills but they felt OK after the run, not like last fall when they stiffened up afterwords running in ASICs.

Yesterday I did the trail maintenance requirement for AC100 with "Uncle Hal" and 24 other race entrants.  It was a terrific day with great, earthy, bawdy folks;  great to hear Uncle Hal's war stories as well.  Spend 8 hrs on my feet and trudged about 7 miles carrying fairly heavy tools.  A good feet-toughening workout.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mt Wilson via Sam Merrill, Idlehour, 27 miles, phyew!

This morning I awoke just before my wrist watch alarm went off at 5:30am;  had a couple espressos and headed out to do my old Mt. Wilson loop via the Sam Merrill trail-/ Mt Lowe railway returning via the Mt Wilson toll road and the Idelhour trail through upper Eaton Canyon:

The GPS put the run at 27.2 miles;  I took 5:46 excluding time spent at Idlehour to filter water out of the stream.  A bit  slow!  The last time I did this run was July 21, 2007, when I did it in 6:12.  My notes from that run state "had to walk out of steam!"  It was the same drill  today.  At noon the temperature hit 90F in Pasadena and it was fairly humid besides (30%, lower than Thailand but high for southern CA).   I lugged 3 qts of water this morning which was good as the Mt Wilson gates (and so, the spigot within)  were locked when I arrived;  I had enough to get to Idlehour and I had brought a filter pump for the stream there.  The water was cold and delicious;  in hindsight I didn't take enough water at Idlehour as I got dry by the end of the run and had the empty belly/ cavitation feeling that I get when I'm a bit too dehydrated.  Although I drank 6 qts of fluids in the course of the run and immediately after at the trailhead, I was 6 lbs underweight when I got home.  Its a heck of a run, much harder than the routes I've been doing in the Verdugos.   Its very bail out points -  which is why Ive been doing the Verdugos while I "find my legs"-- but lately I feel fairly strong. The trail grades are brutal especially going down.    Total elevation gain was about 7542ft per the GPS:   Here is the elevation profile off my Garmen GPS:

I walked the steep section for the first 2.5 miles (see left)  to warm up,  and the climb out of Idlehour-  the second big climb in the figure, was mostly sun exposed, and was largely a power hike today, the heat load was just too much for me to trot the uphills.

The calves cooperated (I wore compression sleeves as over the last week Ive been rolling out a few knots) and I remain  ambulatory;  but I do have a dull ache in my lower legs and knees.  As I said, this is brutal route.  I should have brought a camera...its a beautiful route, particularly the trail through upper Eaton Canyon.   The vertical relief is stunning, down in the canyon the granite rises on all sides like broken bones, its magnificent.    Didn't see any runners today.  Saw lots of hikers on the Sam Merrill (it was Asian girl hike day apparently) and a few mountain bikers on the toll road -  cool- and on the Sam Merrill trail (unfortunately).  One pair passed and then had to stop at a switchback turn, pick up their bikes and rotate them 180 degrees to negotiate the turn while I stood and waited.  I followed their skid tracks the rest of the way.  Its not a mountain bike trail guys....

I met a cool guy who was starting his run as I finished mine.  He was a lean, weathered looking guy running shirtless with a white beard.  As it happens he knows and used to run with all the local veterans including the guys that started AC100.  His age?  68, and believe me he didn't look it, I'd have guessed mid 50s.  He attributes his health to a raw food diet, and I am pretty certain that folks chowing the "Standard American Diet" don't run trails on 90F days at age 68.  It was inspiring to meet this guy.