huaraches

Review: Earth Runners Circadian X

This review has a bit of back story. To get the most out of it, I suggest that you read the review of the Earth Runners Alpha X sandals that I posted a while back. (You don’t have to, course. I’m just sayin’.)

Circadian X top view

You’re looking at state-of-the-art Earth Runners Circadian Xs here. At time of writing, they’re not even on the Earth Runners website. That’s because mine are kitted out with fully conductive leather straps. If you take a look at the Earth Runners site (which I heartily recommend you do), you’ll see Circadian Xs with conductive nylon straps and Circadian Xs with non-conductive leather straps. Soon, you’ll see Circadian Xs with fully conductive leather straps as well.

What does that mean?

It means that Mike Dally, the founder of Earth Runners sandals and the guy who designs and builds them, has come up with the conductive straps, not just as an enhancement to an already-good existing product, but as part of a re-design of that product.

To go back a step or two, let’s compare my new Circadian Xs with my Alpha Xs. They’re similar – but different.

For one thing, the Circ Xs have a thinner footbed. They come in at 8mm, whereas the Alpha Xs have an 11mm sole.

Sole thickness comparison

Second, the Circ Xs sport a Vibram pebble-textured sole, rather than the Vibram “Woodstock” tread pattern on the Alpha Xs.

sole_pattern

Those two differences suggest using the Circ Xs as a road or light trail sandal and the Alpha Xs as a sandal for more heavy-duty trails. That’s how I’ve used the latter (and how I’m currently testing the former). I’ve also found the Alpha Xs to be ideal as a general purpose, wear-all-over-the place sandal. And I’ve worn them with Injinji Trail 2.0 socks as pretty decent winter footgear, at temperatures down to -18C (28F).

The simplest way of putting it is that the Circadian Xs offer better ground feel and are closer to being barefoot, while the Alpha Xs offer more cushioning and more protection. How that plays out for you will depend on where you run, what kind of surfaces you run on, and, of course, personal preference.

Now, let’s look at the whole thing about conductive leather straps.

Currently, the Earth Runners Circadian X sandal can be ordered with either nylon or leather straps and copper plug inserts in the sole of the sandals to provide the benefits of earthing. In the very near future, it’ll be offered with a choice of nylon or leather straps, but without the inserts. As Mike Dally explains, “After testing the new conductive leather straps, conductive inserts have become obsolete. The conductive straps test slightly better than the inserts. Factoring in the manufacturing difficulty of the inserts and the unsustainable nature of this process, we have decided to slowly phase out this option.”

Mike also says that his tests show that inserts or conductive straps are about 97% as effective as going barefoot, in regards to earthing.

OK. That leads us to the question of earthing. Does it work? Yes, emphatically, it does. It may be a new concept to you, and may sound a little flaky at first, but it’s based on solid science and verifiable by experience.

The benefits of earthing yourself are basic, but impressive. Earthing appears to minimize or eliminate inflammation through the transfer of negatively-charged electrons from the surface of the Earth into the body (where the electrons neutralize positively-charged destructive free radicals involved in chronic inflammation). Naturally, this has a positive effect on your brain, heart, muscles, immune and nervous systems, and, in turn, the whole body and the aging process.

The most convincing argument for earthing I’ve is this short video of how earthing was used by the Discovery Team in the Tour de France:

I first learned about earthing soon after I got my (non-conductive) Alpha X sandals. That lead me to purchase an earthing mat and a set of earthing patches. Now I’m delighted to own a pair of conductive Circadian X sandals. And yesterday, I ordered a pair of conductive leather straps for my “old” Alpha X sandals. The conductive leather straps are currently available on the Earth Runners website for US$15 (plus shipping), with the regular, non-conductive leather laces still available for US$12. (My advice? Go for the conductive straps. They’re well worth the additional three bucks.)


Circadian X side view

One thin piece of rubber. One leather strap. One plastic buckle. And earthing. That’s all you really need!

Note: Product for this review was supplied by Earth Runners.

Race Report: Run4RKids 8 Hour

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Above is an image of the indoor track at the Toronto Track and Field Centre at York University. My plan last Saturday was to run that track for eight hours at the Run4RKids 8 Hour Ultra. The reality was that I bailed at about five hours, having completed approximately 38K. I was still feeling good, had no aches or pains, and was pretty much on target pace.

So what happened?

Long story short – Asperger’s.

As I’ve explained in a previous post (“Running and Asperger’s”), I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Two of the primary manifestations of that are social isolation and a sensitivity to sensory overload. That means I don’t function well in groups of people, and that I don’t function well when there’s a lot of sound or movement around me.

Think about that for a minute, and you’ll understand why I always run alone, and almost always without music. And why running in races is somewhat problematic. Sometimes I can manage races, sometimes I can’t. When I can’t, I simply can’t.

Last January, I ran the Run4RKids 6 Hour successfully, and had a wonderful time. I met a number of very friendly and supportive people (ultra runners are like that), and completed a respectable 52K. So I was looking forward to this year’s 8 Hour. In fact, I’d worked out some specific strategies, building on solid feeling, pacing, and psychological learnings gained in the past twelve months.

Some days you’re the bug, some days you’re the windshield. On Saturday, it was my turn to be the bug.

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Above is a pre-race photo of the full field of runners. About 25 people were in for the 8 Hour, a few for the 6 Hour, and the rest for the 30K, marathon, and half marathon events. That’s yours truly in the back row, wearing a white shirt (and looking as apprehensive as always when in a group of people).

The five hours I ran went according to plan and were smooth sailing. I followed my usual drill for the race. Minimalist sandals and compression clothing, a short breathing exercise/meditation before the race start, an easy pace going out, low-carb high-fat fueling (a couple of handfuls of macadamia nuts, a couple of small pieces of salami, a couple of pieces of 89% cocoa chocolate, and water were enough for the five hours), and a Morton Stretch every two hours. For this race, I also added power-walking breaks of 400m every 90 minutes.

No problem. Everything felt good physically, and I was well on pace. But the feeling of dissonance was there from the start. And that soon grew into a familiar feeling of disassociation. Too many people, too much interaction, too much sound and movement around me. It’s hard to explain to neurotypical (i.e., “normal”) people, but, if you read though my ““Running and Asperger’s” post, you’ll get a sense of what I was going through.

So I decided to call it a day. I sat down at trackside to think it through, made my decison, and headed for the door. No regrets.

None of that took anything away from my appreciation of the race itself, nor did it diminish my appreciation of the friendliness and support of the other participants. I simply knew I shouldn’t be there.

I’m not sure what to do about my upcoming race calender. I’ve got two ultra races scheduled. One’s a 100K road event in June, and the other’s a 24 hour event in September. For the time being, I’m going to leave the calendar as it is. But I may revise my thinking, opt out of all organized events, and explore long-distance running on my own. I’m still passionate about running, but I need to do it the way that makes most sense to me.

Review: Earth Runner Alpha X Sandals

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X minimalist sandals. That’s been a treat – they’re very good sandals indeed, with a couple of features that set them apart from others that I’ve worn.

Overview

That’s not to say that the Alpha Xs stray very far from the basic huarache-like minimalist sandal concept. The soles are cut to size and shaped to the foot, there’s a strap/lace system to hold them on, and they allow your feet to stay open, flexible, and to breathe. All good.

But they’re different. You can see a couple of the “set apart” features in the photo below.

Earth Runner Alpha X sandals

First, the straps… They’re leather, rather than the usual nylon – a lovely, soft, treated leather with the Earth Runner logo showcased nicely. They’re incredibly comfortable. And they’re complemented by a suede leather footbed that adds some moisture-wicking capabilities to the footbed, and has – even over a couple of weeks – already helped the sandals shape to my footprint.

The Alpha X strap pattern is different from that on the Bedrock and Xero Shoes sandals I own. From the toe, it comes back and across the foot to the outside, crosses in front of the ankle, goes around the heel, then back to fit into a locking buckle. It’s a design that works very well for my high instep feet. (If you’re uncomfortable with a strap between your toes, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.)

Alpha X strap

The photo below shows the bottoms of the Alpha Xs.

Alpha X soles

The Alpha X soles are from Vibram, which is no surprise, as almost all minimalist running sandals do that. But the tread pattern on the Alpha Xs is something called “Woodstock.” It’s not a very aggressive tread, but sturdy enough to hold its own on most surfaces except the most technical. (I find that good running form usually trumps extreme tread patterns anyway.) The Alpha X soles are 11mm thick, but surprisingly light, each sandal weighing only 141 gm (5 oz.). For all that, they’re reasonably flexible. Not the “once ’round the circle” flexibility you get with 6mm or 8mm soles, but still pretty good.

Alpha X flex

Testing, testing…

As I said, I’ve been testing the Alpha Xs for a couple of weeks. That means running in them – on neighbourhood roads and sidewalks – and walking in them as well. They’re good to run in, and even better as an everyday sandal. The leather straps are easy to adjust, which is a good thing, since they stretch a little at first. Not a big deal at all, just something to be mindful of.

It’s the combination of the leather straps, the lightweight/light-density sole, and the tread pattern that makes the Alpha Xs into a sort of “do everything” minimalist sandal. That was a bit of a surprise – I’d expected to wear them for running, but was completely unprepared for the other. The simple fact is that these are an extremely well-designed and well-constructed sandal. Given the attractive price point of the Alpha X (US$72 , not including shipping), they’re a good choice in the increasingly busy minimalist sandal market place.

A couple of caveats… As noted above, the toe strap thing might not be for everybody. And the strap pattern may not work for everyone’s foot shape. Leather straps? Great for comfort, good for security, but I’m not sure they’d be ideal for a lengthy trail ultra. And I worry a little bit that the bit of leather that goes under each side of the sole (see photo of the Alpha X bottoms) may wear out over time. As for the “general purpose” tread – you may want a more aggressive tread pattern for very technical trails.

Bonus!

I have to add that Michael Dally, the man behind Earth Runners, was kind enough to send, along with my pair of Alpha Xs, a pair of Smartwool tabi socks.

Tabi socks

These, to use a phrase from a much younger generation, are The Bomb! Here in southern Ontario in mid-November, my morning runs happen in temperatures at about 0C to 5C (32F to 41F). That’s certainly doable without socks, but the tabis make cool temperature running just that much more comfortable. I’ve never worn tabis before, but am now a convert!

Conclusions

The Earth Runners Alpha X is a great sandal. I recommend it highly.

The thicker sole means that there’s not as much groundfeel as with my Bedrock Synclines. That’s to be expected. But Earth Runners also offers the Circadian (6mm sole) and Circadian X (8mm) models for that. They’re similar strap design, but with less sole and are available with nylon laces.

I think the Alpha Xs will really come into their own when I’ve run and walked long enough in them that the footbeds have become even more shaped to my feet. When that happens, they’re going to be close to slipper-like comfortable, while keeping to their minimalist sandal roots. I’m looking forward to that!

For comfort, looks, and general goodness, I don’t think there’s a sandal on the market that can beat the Alpha X.

Earthing

I have to say something about the concept of earthing. It’s controversial, so bear with me.

Earthing is central to what Earth Runners are all about. In a nutshell, the theory behind earthing is that one’s health and well-being can be improved/enhanced by “grounding” oneself to the earth. The idea is that “earthing can help normalize your circadian cycle and avoid the harmful effects of high-frequency-man-made EMF” (from the Earth Runners website).

I’ve looked at it from all sides, and read and watched testimonials froma number of sources, including this video from Earth Runners’ own Michael Dally:

I’m willing to entertain the idea that there are benefits to earthing oneself. I’m not entirely convinced. I know how much better I feel when I run barefoot, but have always ascribed that to improved form, the joy of contact with the ground, and optimized groundfeel. But perhaps there’s more to it than that.

As it is, my Alpha Xs are only marginally conductive. You’ll see in the photo of the underside of the Alpha Xs that there’s a copper plug at the bottom of the toe plug. If the leather straps are moistened (by rain, sweat, or pre-soaking), they will, according to Michael Dally, become minimally conductive. For earthing to be fully effective, though, Earth Runner sandals with the full range of conductive copper inserts are needed. (The good news is that Alpha X sandals are available with conductive nylon straps instead of the leather straps I have.)

As I said, I’m reserving judgement. I will say, though, that I like the design and quality of my Alpha Xs enough that I can see myself ordering a pair of Earth Runner Circadians sometime in the future.

Note: Product for this review was provided by Earth Runners.

Earth Runners

Spoiled for Choice

I have a very good life. Sometimes I think I’ve got it all.

Right now, part of “got it all” is that I’m testing two great minimalist sandals – the Earth Runners Alpha X and the Bedrock Gabbro 2.0. I’m truly spoiled for choice.

It’s a great opportunity, because, while the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros are similar, there are enough differences between them to make it interesting.

Upper comparison

A top view of the sandals shows some of those differences. Most obviously, the strap methods are different. So are the strap materials – the Alpha X features leather straps, while those on the Gabbro are nylon. The footbeds, too, are different – the Alpha X footbed is suede leather, while the Gabbro is ballistic nylon. They weigh about the same – each Gabbro sandal comes in at 119 gm (4.2 oz), while each Alpha X weighs 141 gm (5 oz.).

Sole comparison

Underneath, it’s again a story of “like but different.” The sole thicknesses are very close – the Alpha X sole is 11mm thick, while the Gabbro sole is 10mm. Both sandals are made with Vibram soles – but those on the Alpha X are a pattern called “Birkenstock,” while the Gabbro soles have a more aggressive technical tread pattern.

No wrong answers here, obviously. I’ve run (and walked) in both of them, and can confirm that they’re both high quality, performance-oriented products. I’ll soon post full reviews of both. Separate reviews, not a comparison – each one of them deserves its own treatment, and I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by putting them mano à mano (not quite the right phrase, but you know what I mean).

So stay tuned. I’ll post the reviews after I’ve put the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros through some serious testing.

Earth Runners

Bedrock Sandals

Earth Runners Affiliate

I’m pleased to announce that I’m now an affiliate for Earth Runners minimalist sandals.

That means that, if you follow a link on this blog and then buy an Earth Runners product – such as a pair of their sandals or socks – I’ll get a small commission.

I don’t often do this sort of thing, but I want to support Earth Runners, because I believe that their products are worth it.

So have a good look at the Earth Runners site – and feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

I’m currently testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X sandals, and will post a full review soon.

Coming Up: Earth Runner Alpha X Sandals

Earth Runner Alpha X

I’ll soon be testing – and reviewing – a pair of Alpha X minimalist sandals (shown above), which are coming from the good folks at Earth Runners. The “X” stands for an “extreme” version of their existing models; you won’t see this one yet on the Earth Runners website.

Earth Runners does things a little bit differently, both with its products and in its philosophy.

The company’s website says that Earth Runners’ goal is “to create affordable USA-made earthing sandals that allow your feet to function closest to how they’re naturally designed – and that’s barefoot. We’re passionate about promoting a more grounded way of living that’s possible when we’re connect to the electrical energy of the Earth.” “Earthing” is a new concept to me, so I’ll explore that a bit in my review.

Earth Runners is also doing its bit for a larger community. For every ten sandals it sells, it donates a pair to Seva Sandals, a non-profit organization which provides protective footwear to children in India. I like that a lot.

After the AlphaX’s arrive, I’ll do some serious testing, then write and post a full review. Stay tuned!

Good Things

Bedrock Sandals Synclines

My Bedrock Syncline sandals arrived soon after I got home from the Elk/Beaver 50K ultra. I’ve been wearing them ever since. As I said in the review I posted previously, “The Synclines represent the evolutionary peak of minimalist sandals technology for me right now.”

They’re just plain good. They’re great on the roads, and they’re great on the trails. They’ve made my post-EB healing journey a pleasure rather than a chore, and they promise to deliver even more quality in the weeks and months to come.

Ditch those running shoes and get yourself some Synclines. You’ll thank me!

Kinetic Revolution 30 Day Challenge

James Dunne’s 30 day challenge has been a revelation. Each day of the free program offers a specific 10 to 15 minute set of targeted techniques, drills and exercises, with the promise that, if followed consistently, they will “transform your running” in the course of a month.

It’s working.

Today is day 10 of the challenge. It’s getting harder as the days go by, but in a good way. I know my muscles are being worked, and I can see results. My daily runs – whether long or short, fast or slow – are significantly improved in terms of form, pace, and feel. I’ve been lazy about my training for quite a while, content just to muddle along, so I’m pleased that I’ve finally hunkered down to do something worthwhile.

In fact, I’m so impressed with James’ training that I’m about to sign up for his six-week online course. I’m a Kinetic Revolution believer!

Music

As I noted in a previous post, I recently started listening to music again after an absence of many years. I don’t carry my iPod all the time, but I enjoy having music for many of my long runs. The playlist I listen to most often is a mix of blues and psychedelia. Think mid to late 1960s. Think Chicago and San Francisco. Think tracks like Crystal Blues, by the always wonderful Country Joe and the Fish. Have a listen:

Good things happen. Life is good!