Tips for Running in the Summer Heat

Tulsa Triathlon 2015 Run

Doing My Impression of Burnt Toast

Yesterday I participated in my first triathlon, a 50 mile race where I crashed and burned in the run. In fact most of the field crashed and burned in the run. It was so hot at Lake Heyburn that the run became more of a survival exercise than a race. The heat index was well over 100, and the course offered absolutely no shade for relief.

Through the 9 mile run, I averaged 13 minute per mile pace consisting of a lot of walking and very little running. My heart was racing when I tried to run, and when it wasn’t racing, I was feeling a strange pain in my flanks that had me somewhat concerned about my kidneys.  Granted, that might have been from the 2000 meters of swimming and 40 hilly miles of cycling causing some muscle soreness, but when it’s that hot outside, I try to err on the side of caution.

At this point, you may be wondering why I would write an article about running in the heat. While I may not have my Hot Weather Running degree from Vermtech, I do have a lot of experience running in hot weather. During the Summer, I typically spend at least 2 days a week running midday in the Oklahoma heat. I routinely run sub-25 minute 5K’s in triple-digit weather, and I’ve been known to throw in 6.2 and 13.1 now and again. With what I learned yesterday, hopefully I can provide some insight beyond just hydrate and be careful.

Hydrate and Be Careful

Whaaaat? I said I would provide insight beyond hydrate and be careful, but I can’t just ignore the basics. If I failed to state the obvious, somebody might go out on a 20 miler without a single sip of water and then blame me when they wound up dead on the side of a trail. So since we’re here, let’s look at hydration and caution in depth.

Before you know how much and what to drink, you need to have a better idea of your sweat rate. While one person may only lose a few ounces in an hour of running, another person might drop a 2 liter with enough salt to supply the local Chinese restaurant for a few weeks. The only way I know to measure your sweat rate is to weigh yourself before and after exercise taking into account any hydration or elimination.

So far this Summer, my sweat rate has been absurd. Through a 30 minute run last week in a 107 degree heat index, I lost 3 pounds taking into account the 16 ounces of fluid I added back through hydration. That’s 6 pounds per hour if I continue at the same rate. In previous years, my sweat rate has been closer to 4 pounds per hour.

Since 1/2 a liter of fluid is around 1 lb, that means I need to drink around 3 liters/hour to replace all of the lost fluid. Needless to say, that’s absurd. My body couldn’t hope to process that much fluid in that short a time. And, that’s alright. Ending your run in a slight fluid deficit (3-4% body weight) is not going to affect your health or performance negatively. The goal is to avoid the level of dehydration that leads to fatigue, dizziness, and potentially other, more severe symptoms.

For a 1 hour run, a single, handheld 1/2 liter bottle would probably suffice. For 2 hours, I probably need 2 bottles. For 3 or more, I have to look at rehydrating at a much higher rate to avoid losing too much fluid.

But YOUR numbers will be different. You need to keep track of your fluid losses, come up with your own numbers, experiment, tweak, and go back out and try again. And when you’re out there running, look for these warning signs of a potential problem:

  • Chills: The first symptom I experience when body temperature and/or hydration have gone off the rails are chills.
  • Pit Stops: I don’t see this anywhere online, but it definitely happens to me. I almost never stop during a race, but when it’s hot and I get behind on fluids, I sometimes have to stop.
  • Swollen Extremities: Did your wedding ring suddenly get really tight? Maybe you’re having trouble making a fist? If it’s hot, chances are you’re dehydrated, but this can also be a sign of hyponatremia so you have to think clearly before you take action. Hyponatremia is deadly so you have to make the right decision in this situation or get medical help.
  • Dizziness: You’re too far gone. Stop running, cool off, and hydrate. Or, if you’re like that guy at my last triathlon, just keep moving forward and miraculously survive. Just don’t blame me if you take that route and end up dead.
  • Cramping: It’s tough to come back from cramping, but as long as you’re not dizzy and not vomiting, you can try to work your way through the cramps.
  • Fainting, Vomiting: Stop and get help.

Any Summer run you finish without a stop in the ER is a win. Check your ego at the door and be careful out there.

Adapt and Conquer

Like any other challenge in running, your body must have time to acclimate to the heat. It’s like running at higher altitude. Your body just needs some time to adapt to the new stress.

The easiest approach is to make sure you’re maintaining your running volume through the Spring warm-up. If it’s gradual, you may be able to adapt without any particularly difficult runs, but if it’s not gradual or you miss some training during the late Spring and early Summer, it may be more challenging.

This year, I’ve struggled to adapt after a cold, soggy May followed by a month off for vacation. When I resumed running in July, heat indexes were North of 100 degrees fahrenheit. My training pace fell from a high-7 average to high-8’s because of being forced to walk. After a month of more consistent training, I’m finally starting to feel better heat tolerance during midday runs.

Protect Your Skin

Unlike my training runs, my triathlon run took place after I had already been out in the sun for 3 hours. Even though I had used sunscreen, the trisuit I wore left part of my back, shoulders, and upper arms exposed. It also exposed more of my legs than normal. The result was a moderate sunburn in all of those areas.

It’s hard to find studies relating sunburn to endurance exercise, but I did manage to find one, Human Thermoregulatory Responses During Heat Exposure After Artificially Induced Sunburn. Unfortunately, the structure of the study did not mimic the kind of situation I experienced so it’s hard to draw too many conclusions, but one issue the study does demonstrate fairly conclusively is that you will produce less sweat from skin that is sunburned. It also demonstrates a higher rate of perceived exertion (RPE), but RPE is obviously completely subjective. I can’t imagine feeling better with a sunburn than without.

My guess is that there is more to sunburn than just sweat rate and RPE, but even if we just look at sweat rate, it’s clearly important to protect your skin. At extreme levels of heat, even a minor adjustment in cooling capacity can make a huge difference. Whether you prefer sunscreen or covering up with clothing, take the appropriate steps not to sunburn.

Delay the Inevitable

There are a variety of effective tactics to delay your body’s need to cope with the heat. It could be something simple like running with a non-insulated handheld filled with ice water. Even in the worst heat, your hand will still get too cold to hold the bottle for more than a few minutes at a time. Eventually, the ice will melt, and the water will warm up, but your body will have benefited from blood being circulated through the hand carrying the bottle.

A similar tactic I’ve used for long runs is filling my hydration pack bladder with ice water. How long it lasts will vary from pack to pack and bladder to bladder, but there’s a good chance you will get 45-60 minutes of cooling over your entire back. I’ve also heard of runners using ice gloves or various other clothing items dipped in ice water and/or filled with ice. If someone hasn’t invented a hat  with a pocket for ice on the back of your neck, then there’s your billion dollar product idea for the day.

At the triathlon, the water stops were offering towels dipped in ice water. On my first lap, I didn’t take one, and I paid dearly for it. Had I taken that towel, I might have been able to run most of the first 5K loop. Instead, I found myself less than a half mile into the first 5K struggling with heat exhaustion. Once you’re in that kind of deficit, it’s hard to get it back, especially on a course with neither shade nor wind. During the 2nd lap, I found a towel and started using it to keep cold water on my neck. The water stops also started giving us cold bottles of water to carry instead of just handing off cups. The net result was a drastic improvement in my heat stress to the point that I ran more in the last lap than I did in the first lap.

Running in heat is hard. Delay the full impact of the heat on your body as long as possible with whatever combination of cooling approaches is suitable for your race or training run.

Dress for Success

When running in the heat, you really have two choices: (1) Cover up (2) Strip down.

If the sun is out with little chance of shade accompanied by high humidity, covering up may be your best option. It’s the approach you see taken by people who work in the heat across the globe, and it’s hard to imagine they’re wrong. The clothing will protect you from sunburn and keep your temperature down by keeping the sun off of your skin. The obvious negative is that clothing will reduce the amount of cooling through sweating and blocks any wind or breeze.

On the subject of clothing, it’s probably good to discuss color. In my own experience, lighter colors will help in extreme heat, but there is considerable debate on the topic. My recommendation is to try both light and dark colors and see which feels better to you. If there’s no difference as shown in some studies, go with what you think looks best. That said, a Google Images search for Badwater Ultramarathon gives a lot of white clothing.  White might be good…

If there is any wind on the course or the humidity isn’t too high, stripping down may be a viable option. The more skin you can expose, the faster your body will cool through evaporating perspiration. That said, please don’t get nekkid and tell the cops I told you it was a good idea. You still need to keep all of the relevant bits appropriately contained.

 

 

 

 

Product Review: Altra Provision 2.0

Altra Provision 2 0

Heading into the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon undertrained due to a 3 week battle with the flu, I stopped in at Tulsa Runner to find a slightly more forgiving road shoe to protect me as I ramped up my mileage way too quickly. My original plan had been to train mostly in Newton’s and run in an existing pair of Brooks Pure Cadence, but after a couple of long runs, I knew I couldn’t get my lower legs ready fast enough without injury. So I tried on a few different shoes and eventually settled on the Altra Provision.

If you are not familiar with Altra, there are a few common features of their running shoes:

  • Zero Drop
  • Large Toe Box
  • Lightweight
  • More Cushioning

This is actually my second pair of Altra shoes. My first, the Lone Peak 2.0, served me reasonably well on the trails but disappointed me some in their durability. Nevertheless, they are a good pair of trail shoes.

My experience with the Provision, however, has not been all that good. In fact, the experience has been literally flipped upside-down from the Lone Peak 2.0’s.

Let’s take a look at the issues.

Blistering

Altra Provision 2 0 Big Toe Blister

The last time I blistered to any significant degree was when I trained for my first marathon in cotton socks and tennis shoes. I may have had wicking shirts, but yes, I was the newbie in cotton socks carrying around bandaids and athletic tape to deal with all of my well-deserved blisters. In my mind, blisters were just part of running because they had always been a part of tennis.

Fast forward a few months, and I discovered Injinji socks. The blisters were just gone. I could run as long as I wanted, and my feet would not blister. In fact, I haven’t had a significant blister in 3 years of training for trail and road races from 5K to marathon distance. That is, until the Altra Provision 2.0.

I’ve worn the Altra Provision 2.0 on a half marathon distance run, a 20 miler, and for the Oklahoma City Marathon. In all 3 cases, I was wearing Injinjji OTC Compression underneath Injinji original weight socks, and in the case of the OKC Marathon, I had a bandaid on my big toe as further protection. In all 3 cases, my big toe on my left foot was blistered severely.

Let me make the absurdity of this a bit more clear. The spot that blistered was a ridiculously thick callous formed back in 2007 while I was playing tennis. That skin was so hard you could cut it with a knife, and I probably wouldn’t feel anything. It hasn’t blistered since cotton socks and tennis shoes with a ton of side-to-side movement over 8 years ago.

I have run hundreds of miles between Vibram’s, Newton’s, Brooks’, Pearl Izumi’s, and even my Adidas tennis court shoes without blistering that particular piece of skin. Nevertheless, even with 2 layers of Injinji and a bandaid, the Altra Provision 2.0 blistered my toe like this repeatedly.

One major selling point of the larger toe box with Altra shoes is NOT having something like this happen to your feet/toes during a run.

Bruising

That’s right, my Altra Provision shoes bruised my foot. Admittedly, this wasn’t as egregious an issue as the blistering, but it’s something I’ve never experienced with any other shoe I’ve worn. My photography the day after my marathon was somewhat poor, but if you look closely, you should see two different bruises on the top of my right foot. One is just behind the big toe, and the other is midway between the pinky too and my leg.

Altra Provision 2 0 Top Of Foot

I’m honestly not sure how the shoe did this or why it was only my right foot affected, but somewhere in the last 10K of the Oklahoma City Marathon, I started feeling significant pain in both of these areas. My best guess is that something in the upper or the tongue was jabbing the top of my foot as I ran. The left foot was strangely unaffected much like the right was strangely unaffected by that blistering on my left.

Heel Slipping

Not unlike my experience with Newton’s, I found it very challenging to secure the Altra Provision on my heel. This often led to tying the shoes too tight around my ankle which caused a significant amount of discomfort. The tongue is a good thickness, but for whatever reason, it still wasn’t enough.

For the Oklahoma City Marathon, I actually resorted to an alternate lacing method to reduce the pressure on my ankle but still get the shoes secure on my feet.

Altra Provision 2 0 Lacing

It’s hard to see in the picture, but I skipped one hole before the last two at the top, went through both of those on the same side, and then crossed back to the skipped hole to tie in the middle. This allowed me to secure the upper sufficiently but transfer the pressure on my foot below where the laces were causing discomfort.

If you spend some time on Google, you can discover a variety of lacing techniques to circumvent various problems.

Tread and Cushioning

My experience with the tread and cushioning was much better than the rest of the shoe.

Altra Provision 2 0 Tread

I love the fact that Altra used a tread pattern somewhat similar to the Newton lugs. My main challenge with my Brooks’ in 2014 was that my metatarsals were getting sore because of lack of support in the mid-foot area. I had to use metatarsal pads for the 2014 Tulsa Run and 2014 Turkey and Tatur’s 25K trail race due to the damage from training in Brooks’. Newton’s always felt great in the mid-foot because of the excessive support from the lugs. Now Altra seems to have found a nice space in between the two.

The cushioning also worked reasonably well for me for longer runs. I usually run with more minimal shoes so I can feel the ground better. With 3 weeks of missed training due to illness, I bought the Altra’s in hopes that the extra cushioning would help protect my legs. The Provision are not soft and spongy like other maximal shoes I’ve tried. They’re a stiff, supportive cushion that is still fairly forgiving on the lower legs.

Pros:

  • Large toe box
  • Good tread with great mid-foot support
  • Zero drop, if you like that sort of thing (I do)
  • Firm but forgiving cushioning
  • Color options: Thank you for not forcing me to look like a peacock

Cons:

  • Blisters
  • Bruises
  • Insecure fit

I hate to say it, but if you’re looking for a good stability road shoe, I think you should pass on the Altra Provision 2.0. Altra has some work to do on the upper before this can be a good shoe.

 

 

Race Report: 2015 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon

OKCMarathon2015Medal

My last blog post was astonishingly prophetic. Looking over it today, I now wish I had reread it the morning of the 2015 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. If I had, maybe I would have made some better decisions on the course. I closed the post with this: “I hope we win.”  We did win….and we lost.

Although not nearly as severe as my first Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, the Oklahoma weather came out to play. The temperature swing from Saturday evening to Sunday morning was 20-30 degrees. The sun hid behind overcast skies, and the wind came up into the teens with gusts into the 20’s and 30’s. Having dressed for sun and less wind, I found myself cold through most of the run, bordering on hypothermia for the mile around Lake Hefner.

But being cold was the least of my problems. The wind was the variable that I think truly unraveled my performance.

If you aren’t familiar with the Oklahoma City Marathon course, it typically starts in front of the Oklahoma City Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City and heads South. There is a quick turn to the East into Bricktown, and then a turn North toward the State Capitol area. At that point, the race continues North toward Lake Hefner with various turns in and out of neighborhoods on its way there.  Once you arrive at Lake Hefner, you turn around and head back to downtown along a slightly different route.

My goal was to run 3:30, and I was hoping to stay near the 3:30 pace group for most of the race, but there was a problem I didn’t discover until I arrived at the starting line. The 3:30 pace group was in Corral A, and I was in Corral B. The 3:45 pace group was the fastest in Corral B. Looking back, I should have tucked into 3:45, but I was focused on 3:30 so I set out at 7:45 pace hoping to catch up with the 3:30 group.

7:45 pace is not too fast for me. I ran my Aquarium Run Half Marathon 2 weeks ago at 7:36 pace, and that was with 3 miles already on my legs and a final mile around 7:10. The problem is that I was adding a stiff headwind and much more significant elevation changes along with an injury. 7:45 was too fast given the conditions.

In the first 2 miles, the pain coming off of my achilles was severe. It was more severe than last year when I ran a 20 mile training run with my left achilles similarly injured. When I saw the 5K turnoff sign, I seriously considered calling it a day. Every push off on my right foot felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my leg, and I couldn’t imagine running the entire marathon that way. All I kept thinking, though, was that the rest of my body could do 3:30 if I could just endure the pain.

Even with the conditions against me, I finally caught sight of the 3:30 pace group around mile 8. I might not have noticed them, but I saw a teenager from the Aquarium Run who I knew was planning to run for 3:30 as well. He had stopped at a water stop and was being called back up into the group by the pacer. They were literally only a block ahead of me, and the kid sprinted past me to catch back up. The problem was I didn’t want to sprint because of the pain it would cause, and I never could quite close the gap to get into their group.

The 3:30 pace group was huge. When I saw them, all I could think about was tucking in behind the wall of runners to stay out of the wind. Maybe I should have sprinted to catch them. It might have been better than trying to close the gap slowly as I had been. I doubt I could have stayed with them all the way to the end anyway, but the wind break might have gotten me further into the race before I blew up. Unfortunately, they got away, and I knew at that point I was in serious trouble.

From that point forward, I was just trying to reel off 8 minute miles on my watch. Every mile I could hold 8 was a victory, but by mile 11, I began slipping. 8:15, 8:16, 8:22, 8:35, 9:00.

The wheels were coming off, and I knew I was going to have to walk a lot to get to the finish. My first walk by Hefner was mainly to switch my Salomon Hydro Park Handsets. The arm where I was carrying my gel was extremely sore, and I was out of water on the other arm so I thought switching for a while would help.

It was at this point that I started having a problem I’ve experienced at every marathon I’ve attempted to run to date. I couldn’t breathe well. It’s a strange problem, one I don’t fully understand yet. Most people that talk about hitting the wall seem to be referring to muscle fatigue, but honestly, I could have kept my muscles going if I could get enough air. I walked because I felt like I couldn’t get a good breath.

In my training during the past year, I thought I had solved the breathing problem. I started adding caffeine to my gel, and the breathing problem seemed to go away. It’s obviously something more complicated, possibly a confluence of factors. I do have a touch of asthma (not medicated) and the usual allergies so maybe the cold, windy day set off a chain reaction.  It’s hard to control the weather, though, so I need to figure out a way to work through the problem, and maybe that just means a higher volume of training in less than ideal conditions.

To add to the fun, whatever compensations I was making to deal with the pain of my achilles started causing serious problems in other parts of my body. To reduce the pain in my right leg, I was staying on the left side of the road where the camber made my right leg feel better. Eventually, that led my left calf to start cramping. As a result, I endured more pain in my right leg and ran near the middle of the road as much as I could.

My left calf seemed to do alright from then on, but my left hamstring flared up around mile 20 forcing more walking.

My arms even locked up on me due to the weight of my handhelds. The weight of my handhelds was one major concern I had going into the race, and it was worse than I expected. It’s hard to run without arms, and cramping forearms made the arm swing a challenge.

Somewhere around mile 22, my right hamstring cramped so severely that I didn’t think finishing was even going to be an option. I could feel with my hand that it was twisted up horribly, and I couldn’t imagine how it was going to let me run again. I saw another runner at the time dealing with calf cramps, and I could see his calf dancing in circles just above his compression socks. Weren’t we quite the pair?

I don’t know how or why, but the cramp worked itself out. I jumped back to the left side of the road to keep from stretching the right hamstring anymore than necessary and completed the marathon as best I could.

My official finish time was 3:55:05, a 27 minute PR over my last marathon. By any rational measure, that is a huge success, but keep in mind that I knew from a training run that I was already capable of a sub-4 hour marathon. This was just confirmation in the most difficult, painful way possible.

Within 24 hours of the marathon, my left leg looked like this:

OKCMarathon2015AchillesInjury

I can barely move my ankle at all and have kept myself in a walking boot and compression anytime I am up and around. It’s very slowly improving, but I’ve probably knocked myself out of running for a few weeks.

I also have some bad swelling and bruising on the other side of my leg near the bottom of my titanium fibula plate. There were some strange pains near the plate during the marathon so I’m hoping nothing major has gone wrong. Anytime strange pains show up in my fibula, I worry about fractures around the plate. Some people have to get rid of their hardware eventually due to complications, but mine has saved my ankle so many times that I would really like to keep it if possible. Hopefully these are all just symptoms of the damaged achilles and nothing more.

The rest of my body, however, was basically fine within a few hours. It’s frustrating, too, because feeling basically fine within 24 hours after a marathon makes me wonder if I didn’t push hard enough. In fact, I felt good enough Monday night to make it out to my Masters swim workout. I had to be extremely careful due to my achilles injury, but I still got in 1600 yards of freestyle swimming.

Moving forward, the next goal is to participate in a Half Ironman in the late Summer or early Fall. Then I’ll turn my attention back to the marathon and try to knock another 30 minutes off of my PR.

Official Results:

  • Overall:  438th out of 2,488
  • Age Division:  36th out of 201
  • 10K:  48:53
  • 15K: 1:13:27
  • 13.1M:  1:44:33
  • 27K:  2:17:08
  • 32K: 2:49:24
  • 26.2:  3:55:05
  • 8:58 mile pace

Believe it or not, I made the news. Several firefighters walk the half marathon with their equipment every year and ran across a half marathon runner struggling a couple of miles from the finish line. They helped her in from there. It was nice finding the story after the fact because it was a confusing scene for the marathoners around me while we were sprinting for the finish.

The Highs and Lows of Marathon Preparation

 

Feet Up, Recovery for Marathon SundayIt’s Wednesday before Marathon Sunday. I’m sitting in a chair with my feet up instead of standing at my desk because of shin splints and achilles tendinitis in my right leg. The shin splints are new to me as a runner, but I’ve experienced shin splints several times in my life due to basketball and tennis. I worked through achilles tendinitis in my left leg late last year. It led to a DNS at the 2014 Route 66 Marathon.

It hasn’t even been 2 weeks since the Oklahoma Aquarium Run, arguably the best I’ve ever run in any race. Instead of being the runner blowing up in the last few miles, I was catching runners and accelerating through the final mile. After running just under 1:40 for the Half Marathon, a sub-4 hour Full Marathon was a foregone conclusion. The only question was whether I should aim for 3:45 or 3:30. If the weather was in my favor, 3:30 was the likely answer. Maybe adrenaline and some wind at my back would push me below 3:30. If it was too hot or windy, maybe I would adjust my goals and look to 3:45.

3 weeks ago, I ran a 20 miler with my full hydration pack (extra weight) and a plan to run 9 minute miles to test my endurance without hurting myself. It was the first time a run of that length felt reasonable after 3 weeks battling Influenza B. Other than a minor foot problem due to tying one of my shoes too tight, it went perfectly. I ran an 8:30 mile 20 to finish up in about 2:55. That would have given me 65 minutes to beat 4 hours, and given the way I felt, 65 minutes was more than enough. I couldn’t have run a 45 minute 10K at that point, but I certainly could have gotten in under 65 minutes. A sub-4 hour Full Marathon was a foregone conclusion.

Sub-4 hours is no longer a foregone conclusion. I’m optimistic I might be able to walk without pain by Sunday, but I know from past experience that my achilles will flare up early in the race and continue to hurt throughout even if the pain abates over the next 4 days. And, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I will rest, roll, stretch, and strengthen, but a few days won’t be enough. There will be pain. The question is whether my calf will continue to function properly. If it will, I can endure the pain.

Why not go ahead and attempt 3:30? Sub-4 in and of itself might lead to a death march due to injury. The death march might be shorter if I go ahead and attempt 3:30.

It will take a remarkable injury to force a DNF out of me for this one. Looking back at 2012’s Route 66 DNF, I still regret stopping. I don’t want to stop again.

Years ago when my right ankle was in a cast, I used to hop around the house on one foot because it was quicker than crutches. If my achilles goes really bad, can I hop my way to the finish line?

And so it goes with marathon training and racing in my experience. I have had some great success in this training cycle, but I’ve also had injuries, illnesses, and a couple of unexpectedly tough races.

Now the optimistic and pessimistic sides of my personality will do battle until the gun goes off at 6:30 am Sunday morning. In that moment, there will be peace, but somewhere out on the marathon course the pain will begin again. Maybe it will be near Lake Hefner like my 2011 OKC debacle. Maybe it will be somewhere in the final stretch on Classen. Regardless, the battle will begin again. I hope we win.

 

 

 

 

Product Review: Brooks Pure Cadence

BrooksPureCadence 1

I’ve been a fan of the Brooks Pure line since I stumbled onto it in preparation for the 2013 Route 66 Marathon. I bought two pairs of Pure Cadence to train for and run the full marathon, and it was the first time I’ve made it through a marathon training cycle and marathon without any foot or lower leg injuries. Needless to say, I like the Pure Cadence, but it does have a few small warts.

The current version of the shoe is the Brooks Pure Cadence 4. It weighs a mere 8.8 ounces with a 4 mm drop. Beyond that, Brooks will tell you about BioMoGo DNA and Omega Flex Grooves. Whatever those terms might mean, they don’t matter. What matters is the Nav-band.

BrooksPureCadence 2

The Nav-band comes across the top of your mid-foot to help secure the shoe. The Nav-band gives the top of your foot a nice warm hug so that the shoe feels secure even if the laces aren’t cranked down so tight that you can’t feel your toes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could run without laces in a properly sized Pure Cadence.

If you decide to use the laces, which I do recommend, they route through the shoe in a unique way. In most shoes, the eyelets are positioned directly across from each other giving the shoe symmetry. The Pure Cadence are asymmetric with eyelets staggered on each side. The tongue is also attached more to the inside of your foot than the outside. These two design features combined with the Nav-band lead to a very secure fit that doesn’t require you to risk injury to keep your foot positioned properly in the shoe.

It’s not unusual for me to retie normal running shoes 3 or 4 times before leaving the house. With the Pure Cadence, though, I rarely retie the shoes, and I’ve never felt pain anywhere in the upper.

Beyond the lacing, the upper breathes well. The Pure Cadence do not breathe quite as well as the Newtons I’ve worn, but it’s a very close second.

The toe box is unfortunately a bit small, but for most runners it should be sufficient. I wear two sets of Injinji socks on most of my runs. Even though it’s a tight fit, I’ve never experienced any numbness.

As a mid-foot striker, the heel-to-toe drop of 4 mm is perfect for me. I’m generally happy with anything from 0 to 8 mm.

The tread is fine. Tread rarely affects me on a road shoe so there’s not much I can say other than that I’ve run in a variety of conditions, and I’ve never had any trouble with traction.

BrooksPureCadence 3

For Durability, I find the Brooks Pure Cadence decent but not great. I’ve had no issues with wear on the upper, and the tread has held up well. The only issue I’ve seen with durability is the cushioning. After 150-200 miles, I feel a dramatic improvement moving to a new pair of shoes. The only issue I have with that mileage is the fact that they’re sold as 250-300 mile shoes. That said, I find I wear shoes down faster than the advertised numbers. Most of these shoes were in heavy rotation when I was closer to 175 pounds so I carry a bit more weight than the runners for which they measure the specifications for marketing.

The Brooks Pure line is built to be lightweight for speed so there is not a lot of padding. The Pure Cadence are definitely not part of the maximalism revolution we’re experiencing in 2015. Even so, I find the level of padding sufficient for most purposes. Like I said, my first pair were the only shoes I’ve ever worn and been able to avoid foot and lower leg problems.

You might notice I said first pair. I’ve actually owned 4 pair of Pure Cadence, 2 Pure Cadence 2’s and 2 Pure Cadence 3’s. My experience with the Pure Cadence 3’s did not quite live up to the Pure Cadence 2. Even though I bought 2 identically sized pairs at the same time, the fit was decidedly different. One of the blue pair had some sort of unusual stitching in the tongue that rubbed uncomfortably, and one of the red shoes seemed to lead to pain in the bottom of my foot near the metatarsals. At the Tulsa Run in 2014, I actually resorted to using metatarsal pads in the shoe to reduce the pain.

I don’t think the Pure Cadence caused my metatarsal pain in and of themselves, but I do think inconsistency in the construction contributed to it. I only experienced the problem in 1 out 4 individual shoes. I’ve also rejected shoes at the shoe store due to odd fit variations. My main issue with the Pure Cadence is really an issue with Brooks in general. I just find their shoe construction to be inconsistent.

Stepping beyond the consistency, I also find it frustrating that Brooks (and most other running shoe companies) massively redesign shoes every year even if they are working well.  Case in point, the Pure Cadence 4 now has symmetric lacing with regular eyelets instead of the fabric loops from the Pure Cadence 2 and 3.

Regardless, the Brooks Pure Cadence are still the best road running shoes I’ve found. The negative issues I’ve experienced with other brands and models far outweigh the relatively minor issues I’ve had with Brooks.

My recommendation is you try Brooks, try the Pure line, but make sure you leave the store with a pair only if you are 100% confident in the fit and build.