Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The new Zoot shoes - Part 2

In part 2 of this assessment of the new Zoot shoes, I am going to discuss feature #1, "Sockless Wear," and see how successful Zoot is with this feature.

The idea of sockless wear is nothing new, and is practiced by many already, but many a triathlete has experienced the negative consequences of such a choice in a race or training. Bloody, mangled feet, limping down the home stretch, a DNF or even possibly pain for weeks depending on the severity, are just some of the issues one might face if running without socks in a race.

What makes sockless wear so important? Well, speed of course! It's certainly faster to eliminate the process of putting on socks during a transition. How much faster depends on the overall dexterity of the athlete, but a fair estimation would be 20 to 30 seconds.

So how much value does 20 to 30 seconds have? This again returns to the basic premise of being relative to the dexterity and ability, but also in this case the length of the race. Obviously, if you're an athlete competing for a podium spot at the USAT Nationals, then 20 to 30 seconds can mean the difference between top of the podium and not even being on it.

This doesn't even take into consideration what a blister can do to your time, or better yet, what a lack of blisters can mean for your overall time! Certainly limping in the final mile of a 10K will be slower than turning on the jets and really getting after it, pain free.

Certainly, the more competitive you are, the more important this feature is to you. If you've ever lost a race by a few seconds, or missed a Kona slot by the same, you certainly would appreciate anything which could help give you back those precious few seconds. There are also plenty of people who just don't like to wear socks in a race, whether they need the seconds or not.

Ok, so now you've determined what the value of this "sockless wear" feature means to you, now what the heck does it mean? What makes this shoe so special that you don't need socks?

The first thing Zoot did with their new shoes is make the entire upper fit like a sock, with some elasticity and smoothness. (The upper is the part of the shoe which encases the foot, above the sole.) This upper is a single piece, unlike traditional shoes which have a tongue, and quarter panels on the sides. This single piece not only helps with the snug-fit, it offers a great side benefit of no seams. (Interior of shoe shown below.)

Normally, when we get blisters from running without socks, it comes from high friction points between our feet and the shoes. This lack of seams virtually eliminates high friction points within the shoes, as there is no single place rubbing more than any other.

Zoot added a very cool secondary support item for this feature, what they call a "friction-free coating" was added to the interior of the shoes. This is actually a small layer on the interior of the upper, which acts as a constant lubricant within the shoe. This further reduces the impact of rubbing within the shoe.

So that sounds great in theory and all, but does it really do what it claims?

When I got these shoes and heard about the features, I was excited. Then honestly, I was very skeptical of it. As a competitive triathlete, I certainly valued this feature, and have faced many of the negative consequences of sockless wear in regular shoes. I always just accepted it as something which was a necessary evil of the sport. I also have some mutations, (you could say), on my feet, which makes even a good shoe have some increased friction points which may not even happen for most people. (I will spare you the details and photos of my mutated feet!)

The first thing I did was walk around in the shoes without socks. The shoes claimed to have great breathe-ability, with the sock-like upper, and I thought maybe my shoes wouldn't smell if I didn't wear socks. I was wrong on that aspect, the shoes still smelled bad after walking around in them without socks all day. In fairness, I am a heavy, profuse sweater, and my feet are no exception. If you are not a heavy sweater, you may have different results.

However, I had no blisters. First test for blisters, and the shoes passed.

If you read Part 1, you know I mentioned the shoes run about a half-size large for me, but I wear orthotics. I decided for a more accurate test though, I would run in the shoes without my orthotics. I did this also because I did not want the orthotics to create any seams and therefore cause a blister themselves, as this would be unfair to the shoe.

The fact that the shoes were already running a half-size big would be compounded by sockless wear though, as the size of my foot would therefore be reduced without a sock.

My first runs were my typical bay loop here in San Diego, approximately 10K, about 40 mins each time. No blisters, each time. Impressive so far. It seems clear so far that if I were to use the shoes in an Olympic distance race or shorter, I would be fine without socks. The next test would be to see how things went over the longer runs.

The first long run I did was 90 mins, and no issues with any blisters, but I did begin to get a hot spot on the inside of the left Achilles, just above the heel. I believe these spots came from the fact I am a severe pronator, being a big guy, who was running without his normal orthotics, and in shoes which were about a half-size big. It seemed pretty clear that extra space within the shoe allowed for extra rubbing, along with my running style. This certainly made clear the importance of fit for a pair of shoes, much like many claim for bikes.

The other long run I did was about 1 hour and 45 mins, and included a 4 mile road race on flat roads, in the middle of the run. This run had about the same results of the previous run, with a water-filled blister in the same spot on the inside of my left foot. Later this blister popped, and became a sore spot on my foot.

I also used the shoes with runs following these, with socks and with my orthotics, and no issues. At Kona, I made the decision to run with socks and orthotics, and had no issues with my feet on the run. Afterwards, in the evening, I noticed a small spot on the lower, medial part of my heel, where it had a water-filled blister, but it was small and no pain. (It probably didn't help that I ran over 4 hours for the marathon, but the fact it didn't hurt was impressive.)

Ok, so based on these experiences, what would I suggest? Here are my thoughts:

1. If you're doing a short course race, sprint to Olympic, possibly XTERRA, you should be able to run without socks, and without issue.
2. If you're doing a half-Ironman, you should consider how long you will be on the run course. If you're looking at more than 2 hours, you may need socks still, but this can be tested in your training. If you running close to 90 mins, and you don't have mutated feet, (like I do), you should be just fine without socks.
3. If you're doing an Ironman, the need for an extra 20-30 seconds is greatly diminished, yet the need for avoiding a blister is heightened, so I would suggest wearing socks for this distance.

You can also get a better sense of if you need socks by training in the shoes for your long runs.

All in all, I would give the shoes a B+ in their ability to provide a shoe with "sockless wear", but I reserve the right to change this grade to an A- if I am able to run in shoes which fit me better.

Coach Vance

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rest is So Underrated!

At the XTERRA World Championships today, one of my athletes from the past 2 seasons, James, had the race of his life. He finished 39th overall, 4th in the 25-29 AG, and was only 1:19 off the winner's time in his AG. His time was over 20 mins faster than last year on the same course, in hotter, and windier conditions.

It was the first time he ever finished in front of the women's winner, as well as beat many people in his age group he has never really been close to. He told me today that he couldn't believe who he had beaten, and how he road away from riders who he has always believed to be better than him.

James certainly worked extremely hard, as that was never what was holding him back. In fact, the struggle with him was always trying to get him to rest enough, to really peak for the big races. He could never back off. I would have to actually scold him a little at times, because he would add workouts to the schedule while he was in a taper. As a coach, I was pulling my hair out!

His other best race of his life came after being sick, and him being forced to stay in bed for nearly a week. This time the air quality issues of the terrible fires in San Diego County forced him to keep his workouts indoors, short and to the point. He was only able to try and just stay sharp with short workouts, not risking damage to his lungs.

Not surprisingly, as my previous article in this blog stated, the fires forced him to rest and let his body utilize all the fitness he has spent many months developing. Come raceday, his body responded and he produced beyond a level he could have imagined even possible.

Even today, he agreed. I was happy to hear it!

Congrats James! You deserve the success, but not just because of your hard work, but because of the work you didn't do. You did it with rest.

Rest is so underrated!

Coach Vance

The new Zoot shoes - Part 1

Disclaimer: The author is a sponsored athlete of Zoot Sports, and the shoes given to the author are NOT the completed, production models.

As an athlete who demands the best in products and performance, I was excited to hear that Zoot was attempting to the raise the bar in shoe performance, with the first triathlon-specific footwear line. The features of the shoe are definitely advances in the right direction of trying to meet the specific needs of triathletes.

Zoot has determined and focus on 4 big needs they claim triathletes have, and their shoes address:

  1. Sockless wear for quicker transitions
  2. Improved drainage of water from the shoes to reduce weight
  3. Speed of entry for quicker transitions
  4. Biomechanical differences of running off the bike versus running fresh are attempted to be addressed.
This is the first part, in a multi-part assessment of the new Zoot shoes, and how well their new shoes do in accomplishing the goal of the meeting the above 4 needs they claim to address.

I received my shoes a few months ago, and got some really funky designs, but nonetheless functional, and cool. I was given 2 pairs of size 11.5, with an all-white upper, and burnt orange tongue, (think Texas Longhorns). On one pair I decided to experiment a little, and actually traced the Zoot graphic on the outside of the shoe with a black Sharpee marker. (Notice in the photo.)

A few weeks later I received a more official pair, with the logos more clear, and more production-like.

My initial observations:

1. The shoes run about a half-size big. I ordered 11.5's, but it was clear they were a little too big for me. I wear orthotics though, so this may end up being about right.

2. The shoes are fairly comfortable, just walking around. I found no issues of discomfort.

3. The shoes look pretty good, not awkward on my feet.

4. The new lack system is clearly visible with it's differences, and for walking around, almost not even needed, as the shoe itself fits like a sock.

Those are the initial observations, and I have much more to discuss in the coming blog posts, as I will break down each of the 4 aspects of the shoes.

Stay tuned for more...


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Training During the Fires

If you live in San Diego County, there is no doubt you are facing some tough decisions with the fires, as to whether or not you should be training.

Obviously if there is smoke outside your windows, you're not too concerned with your training volume and schedule. However, if you've been displaced or are not in immediate threat of flames, chances are you're looking outside your window and considering training.

So what are your choices, and what is recommended at this point in time? This situation is rare, and most people don't fully know or understand the situation, or more importantly, the consequences of training in these conditions.

As a coach, I called all my clients this week and told them NOT to train this week, aerobically. I live in Pacific Beach, where we have not been threatened with any flames or worry of evacuations, but I can look out my window and see ash covering my truck. If I sat and watched out my window, I could see the ash in the air. It's important to recognize, if you can see particulates in the air, chances are there are plenty more you can't even see.

A great website I checked for confirmation on this decision was:


Last check on this website, had all beach communities, from Oceanside to Downtown, and even inland areas, listed as "Unhealthy", and measurements not far from "Very Unhealthy".

The other key item to consider is your season. I am done with my season as an athlete, since Kona was my last race. But if your last race is the 70.3 Worlds, or some other race, you need to consider your training.

Here is the biggest tip I can give anyone still worried about training, REST IS YOUR FRIEND. Chances are, you can use this situation to your advantage, and use the downtime to rest and prepare for your finale.

The most important thing during rest and peak time is intensity. If you maintain intensity, you can keep your fitness. If you need to workout, you need to be working out indoors, with your sessions being quick and to the point. Warm-up, get in the race intensity you need to simulate your race, and then cool down. Down worry about endurance training, your whole season has prepared you for that, now is the time to focus on rest and sharpening.

Also realize, a few simple workouts in this air quality can leave you coughing for weeks, and certainly affecting your ability breathe in the big race you're worried about.

So check out the air quality in your area, and make the smart decision. Either bag it, or make every effort to do your workouts indoors, but brief.

Best of luck!

Coach Vance

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Welcome to Tri Tech Review!

***This blog was imported, as I found when it stood alone I did not utilize it enough.***

Welcome to my other blog, which is devoted to the review of products and technology I am exposed to, as an elite triathlete. The products are not limited to anything specific, only that they might be used in training, racing or some other capacity for the sport.

I hope to use this blog to bring lots of cool reviews, thoughts, and opinions on new products you may be considering purchasing, or even just wonder about. This blog will be updated based on opportunities, but I am pretty sure a weekly or bi-weekly contribution is likely.

Stick around, because this should be very cool!

Thanks for tuning in!


Introducing my new coaching blog!

This is a blog I'm excited about, and I decided I needed to create months ago, but was too busy. Now I have the time and am commited to making the most of this cool idea.

I already hold a blog as an elite triathlete, (http://ironmanexpedition.blogspot.com/), and I realized there were times that blog did not have a clear direction, as I was writing a lot of coaching-like posts, and other items. So in order to keep that blog clear in its focus of the trials and tribulations of a professional triathlete, I have started this blog as an opportunity for people to learn from me, as a coach.

I hope to post many articles here, or provide links to articles I will write for other publications, and provide some unique perspectives in our sport. This blog will not be updated as much as my athlete blog, but certainly I hope to make weekly contributions.

I'm also starting a third blog, (http://tritechreview.blogspot.com/), devoted to review of new technologies, or some of the cool products I get exposed to as an elite triathlete. I think this will provide some cool insight, as well as possibly help my sponsors, (I say "possibly" because I will be honest in my assessments, and I don't like everything my sponsors bring me.)

The new blog is called Tri Tech Review, which I think is a fitting name.

So stick around, and check back in, as I hope to make this worthy of visits!

Coach Vance