Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Door to Trail": the Salomon XR Mission

The Salomon website bills this shoe as the "door to trail" option; I couldn't imagine a shoe that I would be more about, given out-the-door adventure is my middle name. Now, I'm a girl, so it's no surprise that colors are what drew me to this shoe in the first place. And, in my defense, the Salomon XR Mission comes in some pretty attention-getting colors (check out the women's pink!). But I stayed for a longer look, and a fitting, because of the features. A neutral trail runner that is lightweight, comfortable, and promotes better running form was appealing. The shoe is lightweight and flexible. And, as a huge fan of Salomon footwear, it had the features I have come to require in a shoe: comfort, fit, and a really neat lacing system. The best part is they felt amazing on. I couldn't wait to get out on a run in them! Here I recount my first few impressions of these shoes on a variety of surfaces and over different distances, and I report on the good and the bad. If you would prefer just to get my take-home message about this shoe, just skip my run reports and scroll to the bottom of the page: The Bottom Line. 

My first "run" in these beauties was a comical mud/snow/ice mis-adventure in North Branch Park; I'm not sure what I was thinking there. (Before I left, I decided I would leave behind my sunglasses because the leaves would shade my eyes for, what leaves? And where did I leave my brain that day? Even Odin was worried about me.) I will tell you, though, that these shoes handle quite well a thin layer of leaves over solid glare ice as you're bushwhacking your way around trail-shaped glaciers.

Anyways, my first real run in these came in Connecticut; we took an extended leave to catch up with family and we took the opportunity to get out on the dry trails to our south (no glaciers there!). When we got there, it was sunny and warm, true Spring weather. I got out of the car, said 'Hello', and put on my running stuff. My favorite part about running is the simplicity: just shorts, shoes, socks, a shirt, and I'm off, into the woods. It's so simple and freeing to have no gear, just you and the woods. And your trusty dog. My first run was a favorite section of the Nipmuck Trail along the Fenton River, alternating between eastern hardwood and conifer forests. The greens of moss and hemlocks were beautiful; the naked branches against a bright blue sky were uplifting. As I leaped and hopped over streams, rocks, and logs, I felt like I was flying. I'm sure the awesome colors helped, too. And as my stride took me over leaves, fallen needles, soft ground, and mud, I felt like I was floating on clouds; light, airy, lime green clouds. My lungs felt clean, my legs felt long and strong; Odin and I were having a great time. My two favorite things about this shoe, other than the colors, obviously, are the flexibility and the spaciousness (there is good support around the arch of your foot, though not too much support, a nice fit around the heel, and plenty or room in the toe box). Both features allow my foot to expand and move as it was meant to, as opposed to shoes that rigidly hold your foot into a "supported" shape.

The next morning was cloudy, but I set out on an early morning run with Odin on the familiar loop at Schoolhouse Brook. This trail is rockier and has some wet spots, plus a long down hill. I wanted to see how the roomy toe box felt on a sustained downhill. The shoe felt nimble and airy, and I found myself landing more towards the front of my foot as I ran, just naturally, since the shoe has enough flexibility to allow your foot to maneuver and better support your landings as I hopped over rocks. My foot did slide forward in the shoe on the downhill, and I could feel the tight lacing system against the top of my arch - a little uncomfortable, but not awful, and certainly not enough of a drawback to outweigh the roominess my feet were enjoying.

On the third morning I took a longer run that mixed pavement, trails, and dirt roads all in the five miles between Tristan's and my childhood homes. I headed down Maple Road, to Spring Hill, and over to my first leg of the Nipmuck Trail - 50 Foot. On the first stretches of pavement, the shoe did not feel great and my feet hurt, but I thought this might be because I was just warming up. When I headed into the woods, it was like returning home and the shoe knew just what to do. We hopped together over rocks, ran through mud, and navigated old wooden bridges. I popped out of the woods a couple of miles later, back on to pavement. Again, this did not feel good, and I knew I was warmed up by now. I found this shoe is not made for pavement. My feet quickly grew sore under my arch (I actually got small blisters there) and my foot muscles quickly felt very sore. I'm not a technical nor experienced runner, so I can't explain what happens with this shoe on pavement, but my guess is that the minimal support and flexibility of the shoe don't match well with hard surfaces. A mile later, when my path turned to dirt road, I immediately felt better. And then, back into the woods, where this shoe truly excels. I had a steep climb coming up and I wanted to see how this shoe handles - the traction is rather innovative and impressive. And the shoe did so well, even on steep, leaf-covered terrain! I finished the run with a short paved climb up to T's parents' house and was overall highly impressed. After 5 miles in pretty new shoes, I felt great!

I continued to do a few more runs, including a nice long, all-trail run through the Natchaug State Forest with Tristan and Odin. Tristan got these shoes, too. As Tristan said, "This shoe has renewed my love for trail running!"

My only gripe about this shoe is no Gore-tex. I do like waterproofing, especially in the wet conditions we have up north in the spring and fall, when I do most of my trail running. However, after about 10 runs in these (including one where I sank mid-shin in mud), I can say that I actually like that these shoes are not waterproof. They dry very quickly and are highly breathable. I am now very much looking forward to running in these through all seasons and weather; a good pair of wicking socks will keep your feet comfortable and safe in wet conditions (definitely don't wear cotton with these if there is a chance you will get wet - that would be very uncomfortable and would cause blisters and raw-ness for sure).

The Bottom Line: This is a great shoe and is truly a door to trail shoe, that is, if your path to the trail is dirt. I found this shoe to be uncomfortable on pavement, even short stretches. There was a short period where my foot had to become accustomed to less support and structure, but now my feet and I are quite happy to have some extra room. I was worried to buy a shoe for trail running that is not waterproof, but it dries quickly and, when paired with a quality wicking sock, it just as comfortable wet as it is dry. This roomy, flexible, nimble, and airy shoe is perfect for dirt road and trail running!

These shoes are available at Onion River Sports in downtown Montpelier or you can find them at your local sports store (remember, shop local!). See you out on the trail!

Running Back to an All-Familiar Time

When time passes, however fast or slow, there are some places that always remain familiar. Sarah, Odin, and I had not returned home in awhile and felt the pull to return - not just for a day, but for a good amount of time. One reason happened to be my mother's completion of her breast cancer treatment, which had entailed Chemo, a double mastectomy and radiation; quite the journey.  So upon our return we wanted to focus inward on family and perhaps the routine we so enjoyed when we so did live here in our childhood homes.

With unseasonably warm temps and beautiful weather, Sarah and I had wanted to spend as much time outside either riding or running.  When we lived home there were always places to do either and all were close enough to string together any kind of loop imaginable, right out the front door. As most of you know, this is something we strive to continue here in Vermont and have found endless possibilities. But it was on our second to last day home in the  midst of our last run that it all came together...

When we were younger we would always venture out to the UConn ski hill - or Husky Hill - when we had a lot of snow.  We would get dropped of at the top of the hill that would lead us down to the warming hut of an old ski hill, where sat the old diesel engine that once powered the old rope tow.  On this day, we chose to run through the Natchaug State Forest along the Fenton River, through my childhood memories. When we got to the Field of Dreams, I knew I wanted to try and find that old ski hill.

We took off up an old, barely used trail. A few wrong turns and flashbacks of memories brought us to the base of the rope tow, though! We are up the trail along the path of the rope tow. I was looking forward to finding the warming hut at the top, and the memories that would come along with it. Sadly, on our return run, we found that this structure is now just a pile of old white boards with the old engine underneath. With time, mother nature also reclaims what was once an open ski hill - the slope is now an overgrown young forest with a single track trail down the middle. Sledding here when we were kids, even then as the hill was starting to be reclaimed, was much more open and quite the thrill!

What struck us the most, though, was the rope tow: rusty, still there, and eerily open as if, if only it just had that hemp rope, it would still take you to the top! It even looks as if horses, runners and bike riders still use it to access trails from UConn. As I told a friend, if CT could have more consistent snow (this was not the year of course), I could see a renaissance that would reclaim the old hill. At the very least, this would be a great spot for the touring skis; again, if there was consistent snow.  This is wishful thinking of course and maybe it's for the best and even though the old hill fades back into forest the memories still feel familiar when we return.

From here as we ran up and down the old ski hill; we linked our path to all the other old trails we used to ride and run. It brought back a lot of good memories of building trails, riding, and growing up in the woods. We ran on into the Field of Dreams by the Fenton River, past the familiar old the pumping station, through the woods, and back to Gurleyville Road; back home.

 We all find new homes, find a place that feels our own, even start our own families. No matter how much our old home may change for better, or for worse, we still find that old feeling of familiarity when we return and for this it will always remain a home. After all home is where the heart or trail finds us.......

For more information on UConn's ski hill (including pictures, history, and current status), visit UConn's page on the New England Lost Ski Areas Project website (a very cool site overall).