Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Skora Phase Shoe Review

After looking at this shoe for a while, I finally received the Skora Phase (click here to go straight to the product page) and I can now lay claim to all current models of the the Skora family, giving me a shoe in each of their models: the Form, the Base, and the Core. I received a sample of one of their new color schemes, available online from Skora on October 1, and have found the shoe to be put together quite well.

First off, the shoes look awesome. As I mentioned in my out of the box comments, the synthetic material allows Skora a platform to display vivid colors and a sense of style. They have bright neon colors (look for the orange and blue one coming out at the same time or the current black model if you want something more timid), something great for night running and also stylish by current market color schemes. They are bordered in a black material reflective material, that when hit with a bright light, is highly reflective. In fact, when you take a picture of the phases with a flash, they seem to be a different shoe (and to almost glow).

In terms of fit, the synthetic material is flexible and has a great give to it. Unlike in the Base, where my feet sometimes felt trapped, the material here is more conforming—it doesn’t depress, squeeze, or agitate. The toe box is spacious, not Core spacious, but roomy enough to avoid smashing your toes together like in conventional shoes, thus they allow for a natural feel. They are a roomy shoe, but much more snug than the Core, tightening up easily and reminding me of the Form. Breathability is high, whether sockless or not, and they shed water quickly and efficiently in the rain. These are not slosh around shoes, none of the Skoras are, and my feet while damp were not in the puddle of water Nikes would have provided.

Outsole only.
In terms of platform, they are zero drop and neutral in style, with an 11mm stack height. Lacking a midsole and with the same injection blown, RO2 platform as the Core, they have a ton feel. Rocks, pebbles, pieces of rubber on the turf—you feel it all. While I know people that run extreme distances in them, as of now I have limited them to recovery runs and workouts sub 8 miles, runs where I want to focus on form, regenerate the legs, and work to connect with each and every step or 400m style intervals where form is a focus as I push for more and more speed.


  1.  Synthetic materials are great in Florida. While I love the leather Skora models, a more breathable shoe is a godsend in the humidity.
  2.  You feel everything, with or without the insole. You can walk and run the way you are intended to, with full sensation.
  3. Flexibility. These shoes bend every which way, and they do so with little to no effort. They are neutral, they are light, they can run fast even though I tend to stay slower in them. As of late I've used them to do more and more speed based running though, so time will tell.
  4. This shoe is sexy. They are synthetic versions of theCore, we get colors, improved breathability, and an overall good looking shoe.
  5. As I noted with my review of the Core: the heel is fixed. On the Form, it tended to sag, now it is a bit more rigid and hangs where it should.

  1. You feel everything. I love this fact, but many people may not. Understand that Skora’s motto is run real. You will run real in this shoe. Expect to feel the run, but in the process you will run lighter, more efficiently. You will adapt in the way that you need to, but if you are used to an overly padded shoe, you will not like this fact.
  2. Padding. This is an elaboration of con one. If you want to run on a pillow, don’t buy this shoe. If you want to run real, it has sufficient padding for speed workouts, trail runs, and road runs.
  3. The heel piece is a bit tough. I have tender Achilles tendons so I notice this fact each time I put the shoes on. During my first couple runs it bothered me a bit on my left foot, rubbing and making me feel as if it might blister. I’ve only noticed this rubbing once, so perhaps it was a onetime deal for me, but it happened so I’m putting it down.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky: A Book Review

I was given Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell From the Sky at a national conference a year or two ago, either the MLA, AWP, or NTCE, each of which offer a book fair of sorts where publishers eagerly place publications in the hands of their constituents in an effort to push either classroom use and or publication subscriptions. While some people line up and race through the room in an effort to collect as many titles as possible, I tend to be more picky, and while I had never heard of the text at the time, a discussion with the publisher’s reps piqued my interest. Thus after allowing the text to sit fallow for a bit, I finally picked the book up and gave it a read.

In the end, I was pleased with my choice. Durrow’s text casts a nuanced journey through American race relations in the latter half of the twentieth century. The narrative is written from multiple perspectives—it crisscrosses back and forth from a first person narrative that follows an adolescent mulatto orphan, Rachel, and her new life with her grandmother while incorporating numerous third person accounts of multiple characters ranging from a young boy who falls for young Rachel and wishes nothing more than to meet her in the flesh and her late mother’s boss. Each of these narratives focuses on multiple fights: Rachel’s fight to adapt and survive in her new surroundings after miraculously surviving a fall from the top of a Chicago building that left her siblings and white mother dead, a father’s fight with addiction, a proud grandmother raising a grandchild she doesn’t quite understand, and society’s effort to both grow and adapt to a new generation of race relations in an ever changing landscape.

Beyond the theme of race, Rachel, who was born overseas, is forced to confront her cultural identity at every step, for she finds no acceptance. She is rejected by both white and black social groups, lacking a full comprehension of culture and belonging. She has no place and reels because of it. She recognizes her familial ties to addiction, but despite her struggles to avoid, she is forced to confront it—addiction, pain, and sexual pressure surround her. These facts, coupled with her amazing beauty and often noted blue eyes, mark her, force her to stand out in a Hester Prynne style as individual marked by sex, desire, and thus scandal. Her peers are jealous, the boys salivate, and her grandmother sneers in a protective combination of the two.

Against this landscape, in a narrative that spans 1970’s, we watch Rachel grow while trying to come to grips with the disaster that brought her to her grandmother’s door. Rachel is the girl who fell from the sky, but why did she fall and what does said fall signify? In the end, Durrow’s talent shows through, for the answers matter less and less as we search to understand the humanity of both Rachel’s survival and her predicament.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Varied Training Surfaces and Running


As a coach (if interested in a coach click here) and avid runner, people always ask me about training methods and training surfaces. Today, after frequent conversations on the subject in the past few months, I would like to discuss training surfaces in general. First off there is no one right surface and likewise no one wrong surface.  There are various opinions on surface in general and accepted ideas, some with academic data to back them up, others with less empirical observations. That said, I’m not going to link the bevy of articles to support what I’m about to type, but the reading is out there if you want scientific data; still, one of the best parts about coaching is getting a large sample size to support or refute claims.

So on to the fun:

Road: Typically the least forgiving surface, but a necessary evil in the modern world. Road is fast and fairly flat and even. Your feet do not have to develop advanced proprioception to run on the road, except for ramps and the occasional imperfection aside, the surface is predictable and hazards can been seen well ahead of time. Repeated road running can beat the legs down—they can have the lethargic approach, the exhausted feel as the force generated by running is deflected back into your body. Professional coaches often avoid road running unless their athletes are training for marathon length races and they limit it even then. Common injuries include overuse injuries, sore legs, shin splints, joint pain depending on your running style and form.

Grass: Grass, whether a manicured field, or a green oasis next to a sidewalk is soft. Much more forgiving on the body, the impact of running is absorbed by the surface instead of being deflected back. Your feet are much more alive here; proprioception is needed because each and every footfall is unique. Thus your balance muscles grow, but your feet and core work much harder compared to road. In addition to the extra work, the need to focus on landing patterns can slow you down here or there. We love to use grass for strides post run (always barefoot) and for any speed workout we can. If you are into minimalism or neutral shoes, grass is for you. The more time on grass running fast, the stronger the legs are. Common injuries include ankle rolls, overuse injuries, muscle soreness from repeated use of balance muscles.That said, running around a soccer field or a park creates a set of manicured trails for your use. Use for anything you can do on a track. 400's, 1000's, even mile repeats, especially if training for cross country.

Trails: A subset of grass, trail running also gives a highly productive surface, one that results in diminished impact on the body. Adding to the challenge comes the normal trail elements: mud, sand, and roots/rocks. The first two only force you to work harder, resulting in a stronger runner without the beat down of roads. Mud and sand (beach running as well) simulate hill running as they force you to dig in to generate force and momentum. This digging mimics running up and incline and will thus stress your muscles, building strength. Roots and rocks can create painful falls, but like with grass, focused running on trails will not only work on your balance muscles and core, but it will also increase proprioception and thus, over time, you will have more stable footing. I recommend using trails often, as in as often as you can, for some or all of your runs. Long runs can and should be done on trails to increase the overall training benefit.

Track: We use a rubberized track for training. If using asphalt, then consult the road section above while accounting for added force placed on your turn leg. Timber tracks are somewhere between grass and trail as well. That said, rubber tracks are very soft surfaces compared to the road (they do vary in both quality and hardness), they run fast and tend to push you along. Generating speed on this surface is easy, keeping it as well, it doesn’t deaden the legs right away, but your turn leg often suffers from the stress of constant turning. Typically, the turn leg is called on to generate a lot of the power and can fall into a condition of being over worked. Many track runners complain about having hip pain on their outside leg as well. We tend to avoid the track unless we are doing a track workout in track season, a couple days a week. Even then, we try to switch directions to vary the impact of the stress.

Treadmill: You're inside, on a low impact surface. Typically treadmills have a slight decline, and thus you seem to run faster because downhill running is faster. You are also not moving the air, a fact which makes the running a bit easier, but may cause increased perspiration. Your full running muscle matrix is not engaged, but the workout is still solid. Running at the same speed setting can be difficult though, for off of the machine, you tend to change speeds throughout your run, even if trying to hit an 8 minute mile, while on a treadmill you set the machine and go. Pay attention and be careful not to fall asleep on them.