The Christmas Shoes

Some background: I’m almost 51 years old and have only been at this running thing for 10 years. While I did eventually become fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I have never broken 20 minutes in a 5K road race.  I came oh-so-close in 2016 with a 20:03. In January of 2018, I ran a 21:16 5K on a sore hamstring, which, a month later, completely pulled and ruined my Boston Marathon training.

I’ve worked hard since May to strengthen and rehab the hamstring and in November ran a 21:14 5K, my second fastest ever, and coming up just short of my goal of a sub-21 time for that race.  Since that 5K in November, I have been heavy into training for a March 2019 marathon. Speed work hasn’t been on the agenda much, but my fitness level is really strong right now.  A few weeks ago, my son/coach commented “I bet you could break 21 now”, and some of my marathon workouts did seem to indicate that.

So, for a change of pace, I signed up for a 5K this week. I didn’t take a break from marathon training but this week has been a recovery week after a couple of higher-mileage intense weeks. I’ve still run over 30 miles this week, but they’ve been easy miles. Also, I’ve only had one strength workout this week, instead of two. Finally, with nine weeks until marathon day, there’s plenty of time to recover from a hard 5K. I’d never run a 5K within a month of a marathon.

The 4%

I was all set to be content with busting 21 for this late-year 5K. Then, Christmas happened. My son/coach received his gift: Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes. These are the shoes designed by Nike as part of their Breaking2 project.

Breaking2 is/was an effort by Nike to speed up the process of one of the marathon elites breaking two hours in a marathon in a controlled environment. These shoes have a carbon fiber plate (currently legal for competition, by-the-way) and supposedly improve speed by 4% (for the elites, anyway).

On May 6, 2017, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya ran a 2:00:25 in the first Breaking2 attempt in one of the first versions of the shoe.  In September of 2018, Kipchoge ended up setting the official competition world record marathon in 2:01:39 in Berlin. Again, he and many of the elites used this shoe. They’re now commercially available and a pair ended up under our tree.

Breaking… 20?

Assuming that I was in shape to bust 21, could it be that using the 4%’s would improve me enough to break that elusive 20 mark? Some math showed that it would be close – a 4% improvement on 21 minutes is around 20:10. With that in mind, I put my son’s new shoes to the test in the Cold Winters Day 5K in Columbia, SC on December 29th. Here’s how it went.

For a race plan, I decided to target a 6:20 pace for my first two miles and then hold on through the inevitable last mile of suffering. This completely ignored the fact I’d never run back to back 6:20’s. Ever. Unfortunately, the first quarter-mile of this course goes uphill, with about a forty feet of climb, but I managed to hit 6:21 for the first-mile split. Recent hill repeats workouts were paying off.

At the finish

Mile two started with a steep downhill that let me keep a sub-6:00 pace briefly, but a half-mile incline slowed me again, and I only managed 6:24 for the second mile. OK, not bad, I thought, as I braced for what was coming. This is the point where the hero needs to recognize glory is within reach and power through the rising pain wall.

I did my best, but rolling hills and another seemingly never-ending hill from about 2.75 miles to the 3.0-mile mark did me in.  My third-mile split was 6:39, and despite an all-out downhill sprint for the last few yards, I crossed the finish line officially in 20:08.

My Garmin stats

Conclusion

1st Place Male Grand Masters

This was my second best 5K road race ever, and I took home first place in the Grand Masters (over 50) category. Could I have gone that low without these shoes? I don’t think so. Improving over a minute in seven weeks while doing no 5K specific training is highly unlikely. But, maybe my body responds better to higher mileage marathon training. I do believe these shoes helped by at least 30 seconds overall.

Will I buy my own pair? Not anytime soon. While I enjoyed their light weight, these shoes feel weird to me. I would probably grow accustomed to it, but right now I’m not a big fan of the way the ground feels in these. Or rather, lack of ground feel.  It felt like being on springs, a very artificial feeling.

I also don’t think these would do well for me right now in a marathon. They support my feet differently, and I’d be concerned about resurrecting my currently extinct arch-nemesis, the plantar fasciitis dragon. I did have a bit of arch pain during warm-up today, but it went away.

Finally, for me, the cost wouldn’t be worth it. I think my son will see the gains he is looking for, though, and if so, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be very happy. At least I broke them in properly with a trophy.

Thanks for reading,

Greg

 

Product Review: Bose SoundSport Free

Disclaimer: I was employed at Bose Corporation for 10 years before they shutdown our Blythewood, SC manufacturing plant in 2015. They are the electronics manufacturer I referred to in my bio.

First, a bit of background. There are very few times when I run without listening to music. Occasionally, I tried listening to audio books, but that just did not cut it for me. My history with headphones and running starts with a rather simple $10 set of wired headphones, the kind with hooks that wrap around the back of the ear. When I first started running, I only ran with the left earbud in, and I hung the hook of the other earbud on my shirt collar, so I could hear traffic coming from behind as an extra precaution. I ran on the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic, but I liked to hear behind me as well.

When Bose came out with their earliest generation SoundSport wired headphones, I was able to purchase a pair at an employee discount. I was immediately impressed with the sound quality and ditched my $10 headphones for good. This is also the point where I began running with both earbuds due to the richness of the sound and the lack of hook to secure the dangling half.

The Old Wired SoundSport Headphones

Unfortunately, I would go through the early SoundSport wired headphones within a month or two because the control buttons around my neck were not exactly sweat proof, I guess, and they would stop working. Fortunately, I worked in the facility where Bose repaired and replaced returned merchandise, providing me a constant supply of replacement headphones. Life was pretty good, but that ended in 2015, as I mentioned earlier. I had one last pair of wired SoundSports, and I wondered how long they’d last.

Then one day the dog decided to chew up the controls on my last pair of SoundSports. I guess she liked the sweat taste.  I decided it was time to make the switch to wireless/Bluetooth headphones. For Christmas 2016, we snagged a Black Friday deal on wireless Beats Powerbeats 2, and I broke away from Bose. Soon, I decided I was a fan of wireless. Just to be clear, these were wireless as in Bluetooth. They still had a wire between the two ear buds, which housed the controls.

Well the Beats didn’t last long, either. The three pairs we purchased as Christmas gifts for my children and me did not last more than a few months before we had to return them all under warranty. A month after I received my replacement pair, those tore up as well. I had to resort to stealing my daughter’s Beats, while I decided what my next step in headphones was.

Father Day 2018

Father’s Day 2018 brought a huge surprise – a pair of Bose in-ear SoundSport Free wireless headphones. My wife did not know it, but these were the next step I had been considering.

As I’m finishing up the writing of this post, I’ve had the headphones for just over two months. But let me tell you these are by far the best headphones I have ever had.

Product features:

  • Truly wireless – no wire between the earbuds
  • Charge/carry case
  • Two earbuds: Volume & pause/play controls on the right earbud, Bluetooth disconnect on the left
  • Three sizes of Stay-Hear+ Sport tips
  • Available in blue, black, and orange. I have the blue.
  • Bose Connect app

Highlights

The sound. The sound quality is very good – rich, with plenty of bass.  Much better than the Powerbeats 2 and reminiscent of my earlier Sound Sport wired.

The fit. I was a little skeptical about how these would stay in. I’m a pretty heavy sweater, especially here in the heart of hell season, I mean summer, in South Carolina.  The SoundSport Frees come with 3 ear tip sizes, and I use the medium. I’ve had absolutely no issues with fit or the earbuds staying put, even as I sweated it out in the sultry South Carolina summer.

SoundSport Free Case

The case. To me, the storage case is brilliant and maybe the best reason to purchase these. One of the challenges with any wireless headset is charging the batteries. The Bose case does this for you. You charge the case and then you store the earbuds in the case. There are lights inside the case to tell you if the earbuds are charging. There are lights on the outside of the case to tell you the charge level of the case. According to the documentation, a fully charged case can do two full charges on the earbuds before needing to recharge the case. Bose claims the earbuds have a five-hour charge life. I haven’t tested this. Another sweet feature is the earbuds tells you the charge level when you pull them out and place them in your ears.

The BoseConnect app. The app is an interesting feature. After a couple of months, I have not really used it after the initial setup. I did test out the “Find My Buds” feature, and it seemed to work. Hope I never have to use that feature, though!

Lowlights

Not sure if this is a problem or not. One observation is the control buttons for volume and pause/play are much harder to press than other headphones I have. This takes a little to adjust to, but I’m hoping this actually means these buttons will work longer. These seems to be a weak spot on any headphones I’ve used in the past.

Occasionally, the left ear bud has lost its connection. A quick press of the bluetooth button resolved the issue.

Finally, I think I look a little dumber than usual with the earbuds sticking out. They definitely stick out more than other earbuds. Kinda makes me look like I have those ear gauges in, just a bit higher. Oh well, I’ll just run faster so no one can have a long look.

Conclusion

I love these headphones. Taking the wires away makes dealing with headphones so much better.

They solve several problems I had with my previous headphones:

  • No damaging sweat on the controls
  • No hollowing out/damaging the headphone jack hole on the phone while I run with the phone in my pocket
  • And my favorite – when running with one earbud in, the other one doesn’t have to dangle somewhere. I just leave it behind. (editor’s note: on pre-dawn runs, I only use one earbud. I do use a headlamp, but I don’t want the boogeyman sneaking up on me from behind!)

These headphones retail for $199.99, and my family fully paid for these.

My rating: 4.99 out of 5.0. Minor deduction for the sporadic mystery left ear connectivity problem.

Link to the FAQ on the Bose site: https://www.bose.com/en_us/products/headphones/earphones/soundsport-free-wireless.html#ProductTabs_tab3

Thanks for reading,

Greg