Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: Zensah Compression Sleeves

Getting back into the rhythm of anything can be hard. Yes, you can not ride a bike for a decade, get back on, and probably be fine. But chances are good you’ll drop it on a tight turn, over brake somewhere, or run into a stop sign in a sheer panic.

The rhythms of recovery for me are always difficult to attain in regular training cycles, let alone when I’m getting back into shape. So, it comes as no surprise to me that this week, which is shaping up to be my heaviest week in some time, I totally forgot about one of my go-to recovery tools: compression sleeves.

Look, I’m not going to lie to you about compression, mostly because I don’t need to. I don’t need to sell you anything. The fact is, the science of compression is way conflicted, and far from definitive. In theory, the compression sleeve constricts the blood vessels in the calf, generating a higher local blood pressure, and thereby increasing the blood flow. Increased blood flow is good because that’s what we need to recover from hard training. When tissue blood flow decreases, problems start. Micro tears don’t heal, cells don’t get fed the necessary nutrients to function properly, and so on and so forth…compression has been in use on the medical side for a long time, but made its way into running over the past few years when companies who previously were limited to overcharging diabetics with circulatory issues, realized a market niche existed within the athletic world (OK, not an objective fact, but certainly a plausible hypothesis). The market has blown up, and every athletic apparel company has their child labor pool hard at work throwing compression-related apparel together.

I started wearing compression sleeves during my pre-Grandma’s training cycle. Not because they were was a convincing reason to, but there certain wasn’t a convincing reason not. When you’re putting in 90-100 miles a week, consuming every form of calorie you can get your sweaty fingers on, and sleeping like an infant; you’ll take whatever you can get if you even remotely suspect it might aid your recovery. So picked them up, and wore them after long runs and hard workouts.

I wish I could tell you that my recovery was appreciably faster, but I didn’t really notice too much. I still had heavy legs the day or two after long runs, and still hurt after a hard workout. So why would I continue to use them?

Well, for one, they feel good, and comfort is an overlooked aspect of recovery. Comfort allows you to relax. Being relaxed allows your body to function within norms. A body functioning within norms rapidly identifies what needs to be healed and does so. My other reason for wearing them is akin to Kierkegaard on God: in the absence of certainty, I’ll err on the side of caution. Caution in this case would be the hoped-for scenario in which the compression sleeves are actually doing what they advertise. Speaking of which, check out the Zensah site for the ones I wear. They’ll set you back about $40.

Making compression look good...but I still had a disappointing race.

Yesterday post-tempo run, I was getting changed to grab dinner and saw my Zensahs in my drawer. The light finally went on, and I donned those bad boys. In fact, I’m wearing them right now, as I type and get ready for my morning run. Who knows – maybe if I’d been wearing them all week, my legs would have felt much better yesterday?

Shoes, Training, and Stuff.

My legs are killing me right now. No kidding, I can barely walk down stairs. This breaks my heart because all I did was take a week off from running to go train here with Rigging for Rescue and the National Park Service Denali climbing rangers:

Moving up towards the Eklutna Glacier for a day of crevasse rescue technique training.

Great training, awesome location, but not a step of running.

With the craziness surrounding the last couple of weeks with Rider, I had to scale back my mileage goals, but up until last week, I was putting some good daily volume into my legs. 16-17 mile days with 10 mile runs as one of the daily doubles. I think I peaked out somewhere in the mid-50s for four to five days of running. I wasn’t sure how a week off would affect me, but I certainly didn’t think I’d be dealing with as much soreness as I am right now. But, it is what it is, and really, what’s a little DOMS between friends?

In other news, I tried out a local running group yesterday: Peak Performers Track Club. We did a pretty short workout: 11 x 200m hills. I hung with a UK expat named Mark and it was nice to run with some company for once, even if the workout wasn’t overly taxing. We started running the hill intervals at about a 6:10 pace but by the last few I pushed it down to 5:15 pace for funsies. Truth be told, it just felt good to stretch the legs a bit and work some turnover. Next week the group moves to a track only about a mile from the house, so I think Jen and I are going to hit it up and see if we both like the track workout scene. “Like” may be a strong word in Jen’s case, but as most of you know, I consider the track home. Hopefully it turns out to be worthwhile, as I think both of us could benefit from a group training environment.

Oh, remember those Brooks Pure Flow I talked a few weeks back? Yeah, starting to like them less and less. I’ve put in between 50-75 miles on them, and some longer runs of 10-12 miles. They are just too damn soft, to the point that I’ve had visions of running in sand. I have a feeling that they are going to end up as solely a pre-track warmup/post track cool down shoe, because anything over 2-3 miles in them is more work than it’s worth. I want to pick up a pair of the NB MR00, but I haven’t yet because I have a pro deal with NB and they aren’t available through the pro deal quite yet. So, I’m stuck with my trusty old MR10s for the time being.

Bubba and I strike poses

In other news, Rider is recovering well, peeing sideways, but not quite out of the woods yet. We’re hopeful for a full recovery over the next couple of months. Writing-wise, I’m still working on the last couple of Tsunami Debris installments, and I’m hoping to put out a Strength for Endurance series sometime in the next month. Stay tuned for that.

Well, I gotta run (literally, to work).







Pumped Up Kicks: Brooks Pure Flow

So this isn’t really a gear review, since I don’t consider the 10 or so miles I’ve logged in my new kicks the requisite amount of mileage to properly review the shoes. However, I thought I’d let you know my initial impressions. Most of you know I’m a big fan of minimalism. I’ve discussed the shoes I wear a couple of times, but you can check out my most “in-depth” post here. My current quiver until Wed of last week consisted of the New Balance MR 10 for the road, the Mizuno Peregrine for the trails and soft surfaces (like nasty mushy spring snow), the Asics Piranha for racing flats, and the Asics Japan spikes for track work. I can remember just five or six years ago, when the choices for minimal running shoes were pretty much limited to racing flats. Everything else was over-engineered, bulky, and just plain ridiculous if you ask me (do you really need a full-sole airbag underfoot when you run?) Fast forward a couple of years, and my, how the tables have turned. If you haven’t picked up the latest Running Times, I highly recommend you do so if you are at all in to minimalism. They also have a new section on the web site dedicated to minimalism. There is a lot of BS and rhetoric out there about minimalism, from ignorant family practitioners who know nothing about exercise phys, to minimalism fascists who push 200+lb individuals into Vibram FiveFingers like it’s a modern panacea. The reality is that the truth is somewhere in the middle, and all completely dependent on the individual and his history, mechanics, and genetics. Everyone has different experiences with minimal shoes, so beware of buying shoes just because Suzy or Johnny Crossfit Level 1 sez they’re the only way to go. Running Times has done a great job of covering minimalism from all viewpoints, and the Spring 2012 Shoe Review is chock full of different options.

One of the shoes reviewed in this issue is the Brooks Pure Flow, which I picked up last week and put through some initial paces. Brooks just put out an entire Pure line of shoes, and of course they put out their advertising spin. I never put much stock in a company’s own reviews or media push, because as always, they are a business first. And a biz needs to make money. But you can check their page out if you at least want to understand their Hyrda-esque development mindset resides.

Anyway, I picked up the Pure Flow last week because the MR10s are going to be ready for recycling in a a few weeks, having logged several hundred miles since last fall. To be precise, the purchase was actually an exchange for a pair of previously purchased studded Salomon Speedcross 3CS. As a general rule, I have a 10 Mile Out Of The Box test, which is to say that I need to be able to put in a 10 miler on new shoes with no issues. If I can’t, the shoe is either over-engineered for me, or just poorly engineered. The Salomons failed me miserably. For me, they were far too rigid, and narrow for my feet and stride. As a result, after only 13 miles, I developed blisters on the knuckles of my little toes, and my feet were killing me. I’m sure they work well for someone else (they better, at around $135 a pop), but they certainly didn’t work for me. So, back to Skinny Raven I went. I emerged an hour later with these bad boys.

Foot swagger.

They are marketed as being mid-range minimal: a low (4mm-ish) heel-toe drop, but more cush than than the Pure Connect lineup. The latter were far too narrow for my feet, much like the old Nike Free 3.0s, which left areas of my sole supported only by a bulging upper (think of a burger patty swelling outside the bun). So, I ended up with the Pure Flow based primarily on fit. The midsole material is the same for all the Pure shoes, Brooks simply chooses to tweak the patterns and outsole areas. Anyway, enough the technical mumbo jumbo. How did they ride?

In a word: Okay. I didn’t have time for a dime on the roads, so I hit the treadmill for some light cruise interval work: 4 x 1M @ 6:00 pace/.5% grade, with 1:00 rest between the miles. The shoes were very comfortable, but my initial impression is that the midsole is too soft for speed work, at least for a 5’11”, 184lb, neutral gait runner (that’s me, in case you were wondering). I hit my splits just fine, but I felt like I was fighting the shoe for speed. It wasn’t nearly as responsive as I like when I’m looking for speed, and I think that’s largely a function of the amount of cushion they put into the shoe. In fact, it reminded me a lot of my old Saucony Kinvara, which were a joke on the track as a result of the mushy ride. Running Times opines it’s an ideal “recovery” shoe, whatever that means, in the latest review and I have to agree at this point. I see this being a good shoe for those day-after or day-of recovery jogs (5-6 miles easy). I’m going to put in some longer runs on the Pure Connect this week and the next, and after about 100 miles on the shoe, I’ll give you my verdict. They feel like they will be fine for longer runs, but the proof is in the pudding. Right now, this shoe is no quiver killer compared to the MR10s, which I have always felt work well for both long runs and faster-paced road work. I’m also planning on picking up the New Balance MR00 today, so expect to hear more on them in the coming week or so.

Until then, compadres, keep logging those miles! Or kilometers, if you happen to be reading this in Euro-land.