My Weekend with New Balance

This weekend I got to take advantage of a very cool opportunity.  I was a guest of New Balance at their Media Retreat, held at the Sea Crest Resort on Cape Cod.

About 15 media members and I got to spend the weekend hanging out at the beach, learning about New Balance products, and doing lots more fun stuff — yoga, a form clinic, good food and drink, and capping it all off by running the famous 7.1-mile New Balance Falmouth Road Race.

Among the guests were Competitor editor TJ Murphy, Adam Chase from Running Times, Tina from Carrots n Cake, Running Network president Larry Eder, and editors and freelancers who write for outlets like Fitness, Women’s Health, Women’s Adventure, and

No word on whether anyone realizes that these publications are about 19 billion times more legit than this little dog-and-pony show I run.  Shh!

The products

New Balance is definitely embracing the minimalist trend — there was a lot of focus on the heel-toe offset of shoes, (or “drop,” I believe it’s also called) which measures the difference in height between the thicker heel of the shoe and the midfoot.  Almost all of their newer models will feature decreased offsets over their predecessors, which of course encourages midfoot striking over higher-impact heelstriking.

Two examples, and shoes I’ve written about before:

  • The 890’s, which I love and are now splitting time with the Green Silence as my everyday road shoe, currently feature a 12-millimeter offset from heel to midfoot.  But on the new 890 v2’s, which will be out in February but which I got to sample and actually ran the Falmouth race in, the offset has been reduced to 8 mm.
  • The Minimus (you might have seen a TV commercial for it recently; it’s their minimalist shoe with the Vibram sole) currently has a 4-mm offset.  But a new version, the Minimlist Zero, will have zero offset, and the overall height of the shoe off the ground will also be reduced.  The shoe has also gotten lighter; one of the ways they’ve accomplished this is by digitally determining the “hotspots” on the sole, reinforcing those areas and reducing the amount of rubber around them.  (They asked us not to publish any photos of the entire shoes yet, but you can see what I’m describing in the photos below.)

Minimus Zero Trail sole:

Minimus Zero Road sole:

A few other notes about the Minimus, the line I’m most intrigued by:

  • Tom Carleo, New Balance’s General Manager of Running, told me that there is “no animal in this shoe.”  (While most running shoes don’t use leather anymore, many of the cements and glues contain animal products.)  I was actually surprised to hear how important this issue seemed to him — when I asked, I figured nobody would really care much about this!  It sounds like many, if not most, of New Balance’s shoes are totally vegan-friendly. Look for a post with more information about vegan-friendly shoes soon.
  • Besides the trail and road versions of the Minimus, there will also be a “Wellness” version — a shoe for everyday wear by athletes who want a near-barefoot experience throughout the day.  The women’s version is a Mary Jane style, and the men’s has a velcro strap.  Both looked pretty cool to me, and I can’t wait to try them (well, not the Mary Janes).

Good Form running clinic

While they’re embracing the minimalist trend, New Balance definitely feels that minimalist running is not for everyone (at least, not immediately).  Several times they mentioned giving sales reps in their stores the knowledge to “talk down from the ledge” people who come in to the stores hell-bent on going as close to barefoot as possible, when their body type or running style would make injury the very likely to result from doing so.

In an effort to educate, New Balance has partnered with Good Form Running to create a program which teaches exactly that — good form that’s easy to learn and remember, not perfect form that stresses six thousand details.

We went through a short Good Form clinic on Saturday.  This was one of my favorite parts of the weekend; I was so impressed with the simplicity and intuitiveness of the fundamentals of Good Form.  They are:

  1. Posture
  2. Midfoot
  3. Cadence
  4. Lean

See, told you it was simple!  Several of these, especially cadence, are things you’re probably familiar with because I’ve written about them on NMA, but check out the Good Form site for the details on each of these points.  And don’t expect nerdy, technical explanations: When I asked our instructor, Colin, what the Good Form take on dorsiflexion is, he essentially said, “whatever feels right.”

I can do that.

The take-home

So here what’s most interesting to me.

After a solid day and a half of learning all about the company’s new shoes and apparel, plus sidebars like the Good Form program and their top-notch New Balance Sports Research Lab where they test products, the thing that stuck with me from the weekend has nothing to do with any of that.

Instead, it has everything to do with the people.  I left the media retreat with an overwhelming sense of how passionate the people at New Balance are.  And not just about their own products (though they certainly are that), but about running as a whole.  They are runners, and they want to make products that will help them run better.

Every interaction I had with the New Balance people, from the way we were treated as guests and as fellow runners, was incredible.  Kristen, New Balance’s Global PR Manager, not only made sure that I had a specially-prepared vegan dish for every meal, but even did the same for my wife and son, who were able to come along for the trip and hang out at the beach.

Just as striking was the incredible amount of knowledge that everyone works at the company had about the details of the company and its products.  When anyone of us asked about prices or even weights or measurements of shoes and apparel during the presentations, someone always came up with the answer, right from their head, without having to look it up.  You just got the sense that they live this stuff, that they don’t stop thinking about running and shoes when they head home after work.  And just about all of them actually ran the seven-mile race on Sunday, too.

To make sure it wasn’t just me, I asked some of the other media folks there if they noticed this, and they absolutely did.  I thought perhaps all companies were like this, that this was just the way “media’ are treated, but those I asked assured me that wasn’t the case.

These people really, really care about running and about making the best possible shoes and clothes.  And when you see that kind of energy and care going into making sure that what they sell is the best that there is, it sure does make you feel good about choosing their stuff.

As I try out some of the new products, I’ll be sure to let you know what I think.  And don’t worry; there’s no rule that we have to write only nice things.  They want to know what people think about their stuff, so that they can keep making it better.

P.S. In DC? Come hang out with me at DC Vegan Drinks on Thursday!

This Thursday (August 18th) I’m going to head down to Washington, D.C. for DC Vegan Drinks at Bread and Brew, from 7-10 p.m.  I’m going to talk for 5 or 10 minutes, but mostly just relax and have a good time and a few good beers (and bread, I suppose).  I hope to see you there!  Check out the event on Facebook.

One more thing! I’m very happy to announce that No Meat Athlete is a sponsor of the 2011 DC Vegfest.  We’ll be there with a booth and some NMA shirts and (hopefully) a few new logo items.  It’s September 24th and it’s a great event, so mark your calendar!



The One Word to Ignore

Post written by Susan Lacke.

In the midst of being on the support crew for my friend Carlos’ chemotherapy treatments, I’ve been inundated with a million You should’s:

“You should tell him about this doctor.”
“You should come to bible study/temple/meditation with me.”
“You should read this book.”
“You should teach him about juicing.”
“You should be feeling more (insert emotion here).”
“You should be feeling less (insert emotion here).”
“You should check out this website on alternative cancer treatments.”
“You should go see my therapist.”

Though I appreciate the consideration and concern, whenever I hear a “you should,” I want to tell people what they should do. Hint: it isn’t pleasant…nor anatomically possible.

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Does Your Label Still Fit?

You can run without being a “runner.”  I did it for five years.

Even once I had run a handful of marathons and was close to qualifying for Boston, when I lined up at the start of a race among all these passionate runners, I still felt like an imposter.

I was just a tourist, doing what runners do, but without feeling like I really belonged.

Sometime during the training for my Boston-qualifying race, where I finally succeeded in breaking 3:10:59, something shifted in me.

Shortly after qualifying, when I was in that happy, weirdly cloudlike space you find yourself in after accomplishing something you’ve worked at for so long, I read Born to Run. And damn if I didn’t feel like a runner after that.

For the first time, I could say that I really loved running, not just as a means of staying in shape or for accomplishing goals, but for its own sake.

And so I became a “runner.”  Quotes and all.

Tourist vs. runner

When I was just a tourist, I sometimes took six months off after a marathon before I got motivated to start running again.

But once  became a runner, I always had at least two races on my schedule.  So even when I finished one, there was another there to get me back out on the roads.

When I was just a tourist, I always ran with a purpose.  Speedwork, hill work, tempo run, long run, easy run. I had a goal, and I did whatever I thought was the best way to get there.

But once I became a runner, I would just run.  Run the trail. Run the loop through my neighborhood. Run through town. And usually all at the same easy pace.

When I was just a tourist, I put everything I had into the race I was training for.  Eat right, warm up, foam roll, ramp up your mileage, taper properly.

But once I became a runner, I became too comfortable. “I know I can finish this marathon whether I train hard and eat right or not. I’ll make it through my 12-miler tomorrow; gimme another beer!”

Time to be a tourist

Looking at it that way, it sort of seems like I was a better runner before I was a “runner.” In fact, I’ll bet a few runners just took offense to my abuse of the title.

Having worn that label for a couple years now, I think I’m ready to put my tourist hat back on.

I want to feel free to experiment.  If, say, I want to just swim for three months (and finally learn to go more than eight laps and not look like a wounded duck), I’d like to be able to do that without feeling guilty about not running. Who knows, maybe that’s what it’ll take for me to finally want to do an Ironman.

Or if I want to lift heavy weights and pack on a few pounds, it’ll be a real relief not to worry about how that extra weight might slow me down. And that extra strength might end up making me a stronger trail runner.

So that’s what I’m doing.  Today I’m joining the gym again, and I think I’ll go lift some weights. Maybe tomorrow I’ll swim. Or be the only guy in the cardio-kickboxing class. (Although, if after that I come back and say I’m going to become an MMA fighter, please kick my ass before someone else does for real.)

I’ll still run when I want to. But for a little while at least, I won’t call myself a “runner.” And I am freaking pumped about that.

Does your label still fit?

If you’re a runner or a swimmer or a triathlete, an omnivore or a vegan or a Paleo, or an anything-else-with-a-label, give yourself a little checkup.  Take a step back and make sure that label still fits the person you want to be.

If it does, then think about what it really means, and make sure you’re living it — not just going through the motions.

And if you decide you’d be better without that label, even if just for a little while, then ditch it. It’ll still be there when you’re ready to come back.  And when you’re ready, I bet you’ll come back with more passion than ever.

And you never know — you might just find another label that’s a much better fit.



The Only Healthy Eating Guide You’ll Ever Need

Note: If you typed in (looking for Health Made Simple) but got redirected to this page, sorry about  that! Click here to go to the Health Made Simple page.

My friend Brian came to me recently with a problem:

“Matt,” he said, “the other day I decided I was going to start eating healthy and get myself in shape. But then when I got to the grocery store, I realized I had no idea where to even start!”

This post is for Brian and anyone else in that same boat.  If you don’t know where to start, start here.

The most important (incredibly simple) rule of healthy eating

A lot of seemingly “extreme” diets work.  But just when you’re tempted to buy into one, you hear about a diet that’s extreme on the other side of the spectrum that also works.

The Paleo diet (and its close relative, Primal) focuses on high-protein, high fat, and lower carbohydrates.  And it’s become huge among athletes, most notably the CrossFit crowd.

But then there’s fruitarianism (also known as “30 bananas a day“), which is 80 percent carbohydrates. And Michael Arnstein, the most visible leader of the movement, just won the Vermont 100-miler.

And of course, there’s “plain old” veganism, which today I’ll call “plant-based,” to remove any moral or ethical connotation. Ultramarathon great Scott Jurek eats what appears to be a pretty traditionally-balanced vegan diet. Then there’s Brendan Brazier, Thrive author and former pro Ironman triathlete, who also eats plant-based, but focuses more on raw and alkaline-forming foods.

How can such wildly differing diets all produce healthy people, elite athletes even?

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The Simple Art of Meditating While You Run

I mentioned last week that I had been dealing with a little bit of runner’s block.  And when you’re fighting runner’s block, you try new things to make running fun.

That’s what led me to the idea of meditating while you run.

While I’m not a Buddhist (or any religion, for that matter), I’ve been intrigued by the teachings of Buddhism and even its Western bastardizations for several years now. The ability to detach from your emotions, the silencing of the chatter in your mind and access to your creative subconscious, and the compassion for living beings — these are all things I find appealing, even with no overt religious meaning attached.

The connection with veganism is pretty clear.  But it took a conversation with a reader of this site for me to realize how just well meditation jives with running.  And since I’ve started, I’ve really enjoyed it — not just for the new fulfillment I get from running, but also for the sense of presence and calm I feel during the rest of the day.

Meditation without the weirdness

For the longest time, I thought meditation was a New Age or religious thing. But it doesn’t have to be that. I find it helpful just to think of it as a way to relax and play around in your head for a while.

You don’t need special flute music. You don’t need candles. You don’t need to sit with your legs folded and palms up, and you certainly don’t need to make circles with your thumbs and forefingers.

The only thing you need is something to focus on.

That focus might be:

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My Seven Links

As a blogger, I come across a lot of opportunities to play “blogger games.” (Think Hunger Games, only without the oppression and killing.)

For example, bloggers give out “awards” to fellow bloggers, which you’re supposed to post in your sidebar, and then give the award out to a few others, and so on.  Okay, I get it, but not for me.

But earlier this week, my friend Caitlin from Healthy Tipping Point did one that I really enjoyed reading (it’s more a meme than a game).  It’s called My 7 Links, and the point is simply to call attention to one post in each of seven specified categories.

Caitlin nominated me to be next, and since we’ve gotten a lot of new readers around here recently (including 13,000 fans on Facebook!), I thought it’d be a good way to highlight some of my favorite posts in the two-year history of this site.

Here goes…

Most popular post

63 Ways to Shake Up Your Running Routine.  This also happens to be the post that took me the longest to write, about eight hours.  But that work was rewarded when it went crazy on Stumbleupon, and to date it’s been viewed 133,374 times.

Most beautiful post

Beautiful??  Maybe this is why I don’t do these things very often…

Luckily, we have Susan for that.  Her post On Refusing to Settle and the Incredible Power of Denial, in which she reveals her disability and utter refusal to allow it to limit her life, is as beautiful as they come.  (Susan recently did an inspiring interview on the Badass Project where she talks more about it, so check that out.)

Of the ones I’ve written, I’ll go with An Open Letter to My Unborn Baby.  But as far as “beauty” goes, well, it was written by a dude, so don’t expect much.

Most controversial post

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How I Make Almond Butter, Juices, and Smoothies (and Your Chance to Win a Blendtec High-Speed Blender)

“$475 for a blender?  Does it do the dishes, too?”

When my wife first started pushing for us to get a high-powered blender, I just didn’t see how any blender could justify that kind of price (even if it could blend a golf ball).

But when I asked a few readers of this site what they thought of theirs, I was shocked when the responses ranged from “best investment you’ll ever make” to “I can’t believe you’re so into health food and don’t own one!”

So, I caved.  In what just might be our least romantic Christmas ever, my wife and I bought a Blendtec Total Blender as our gift to each other, as a sign of our undying love and commitment to blending excellence.

Well, it turns out that it doesn’t do the dishes (although it does clean itself pretty well).  But it does pretty much everything else… juice, smoothies, nut butter, nut milk, dough, ice cream, dips, sauces, even hot soup.

To demonstrate, I put together some videos to show you just a few of the basic things it does.

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The Thing that Keeps You From Doing Great Things

Somewhere inside your head, my head, and everyone else’s head is a traitor.  Meet the Resistance.

The job of the Resistance is to keep you where you are.  Because where you are is safe, and it’s pretty tough to fail when you’re standing still.

What the Resistance looks like

  • When you stare, paralyzed, at the signup page for your first marathon, telling yourself that the jump from 13.1 to 26.2 is just too great, that’s the Resistance.
  • When instead of just choosing a race, you research it to death until you finally decide on doing nothing, that’s the Resistance.
  • When you want to stop eating animals or putting junk in your body, but all you can hear are reasons why you can’t — your family, your work schedule, your friends — that’s the Resistance.
  • When you give in to the craving and eat the junk, that’s not the Resistance.  But when you bought the junk at the store because you knew you’d be craving it, that was the Resistance, doing its best to keep you the way you are.

It’s easy to recognize the Resistance when it shows up as fear.  It’s a lot harder when it’s in disguise.

Have you ever noticed that when you finally sit down (or stand up) to do something that’s important to you, that’s when every distraction in the world shows up?

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