Short Review of the Brooks Ravenna 9 Running Shoe

Ravenna 9I just posted this short review to Brooks’s site, and thought I’d share here, too.

The Brooks Ravenna 9 is the best Brooks shoe I’ve tried. It’s springier and faster and lighter than the Ghost 9 and Ghost 10. It holds up well, too, for 5-10-mile runs. It’s got good support, especially in the heel.

It’s not a stability shoe, per se, but it feels plenty stable, without compromising weight. Coming from the Ghost, I found this shoe really fun and easy to run in. It’s a good blend between being fast and supportive enough for longer runs.

My only complaint is that the amazingly bright yellow and blue color isn’t available in the wider version (black only for that). I had these bright shoes for a few days and got lots of comments. My runs were good, too, but the right shoe was too narrow, so I returned them (super easy process with Brooks) for the 2E wide black ones, which feel much better. That said, both the normal and wide width could stand to be just a bit roomier in the toe box, as the Ghost is.

All in all, a great shoe. Find it here on Amazon (affiliate link) or here at Brooks Running.

Thorlos Running Socks

Two or three black toenails ago, I got some good advice from a friend and running buddy: invest in some quality running socks.

I think I knew there was such a thing as “running socks,” but it never really occurred to me to try them. I reached out to Thorlo, Inc., maker of Thorlos socks, and they were kind to send me two pairs for review, which I share here.


Experia Energy


The first sock I tried was a “supportive performance compression” sock. I didn’t realize how much I’d appreciate the compression, coming off an ankle injury. I got the extra large, which fits shoes size 12-14.

Some pictures:






I have no idea how it works, but the “Copper Ion technology” is meant to keep away odor (and does), so I can use these socks for at least three runs before I even need to think about washing them. I guess one person’s “ew… gross” is another person’s “longevity!”

The cushion is thin, as advertised, but the compression and moisture wicking features make this a great sock for both short and long runs. There’s enough cushion that I no longer need to double-sock one foot, which I had been doing as one foot is ever-so-slightly smaller than the other, resulting in a different fit for each running shoe. The sock helps a lot with that, even with just a bit of reinforcement at the ankle and toe box. Other than reinforced areas the sock is pretty sheer, so it’s a super lightweight sock, and really breathable. I’ll be using this for a long time, and look forward to some 10-milers in it.

You can purchase or find out more about the Experia Energy/Compression socks here.


Classic Running Sock


I also tried the Thorlos classic running sock (ankle length, XL for shoe size 13-15). This is the most cushioned Thorlos sock you can get, so you need to make sure you have the room in your shoe for it. (If you can wear medium thickness wool socks with your running shoes, you should be fine.)

This one is “for feet that hurt during or after activity,” which I was especially keen to try so I could have more padding to avoid blisters and dark toenails. It works great on that front. It’s a heavier sock than the Experia Energy, but I’ve enjoyed running with all the padding, and it protects toes and toenails really nicely.






Moisture has not been an issue, as the sock mostly wicks it away. But feet will get warmer faster in this thick sock, so that’s something to be aware of. (As I write this, it’s barely in the double digits Fahrenheit outside, so I may opt for them if I can get myself out on a run today!) So far I wash these just as infrequently as the lightweight sock.

I have a slight preference for the Experia Energy, but your mileage will vary (running joke, get it?), depending on what your needs are and what kind of runs you’ll be doing. I especially like the classic sock for shorter runs where I want to just go fast and have the added stability. It’s much more comfortable than I expected any running sock to be. You can find the classic sock here.

Thorlo makes lots of other socks. Check out their site here. They make their socks in the U.S. (North Carolina) and are a third-generation family business.

Thanks to the good folks at Thorlo for the review samples—I don’t expect these two pairs of socks to wear out any time soon, but their site will be the first place I go for my next running socks.

My First Sprained Ankle

My 25K (15.5-mile) run in September was so invigorating, I decided to do another long race: a half marathon in early November with my spouse.

Here I am, ready to be done. (But, let’s be honest, also having the time of my life.)



My time improved by 0:20/mile from the September run, and my wife and I got to spend a rare Sunday morning together. The ocean views were stunning, and the route was awesome. Lots of fun, and a good challenge.

Unfortunately the next day I sprained my ankle playing basketball.

The good news is I made the shot I was driving in to take, before I landed on my defender’s leg and rolled my left ankle out, landing on it with all my weight.

My ankle ballooned immediately, and I was on crutches for the first couple days.

As I sat on the couch, my ankle elevated, the joy of making that shot dissipated. I had been looking forward to using the perfect November weather to achieve some new 5K and 10K personal records!

That was a month ago, and I’ve come a long way since then. I’m in physical therapy and just this last week got the go-ahead to start running again—a little bit at a time. My 1.5-mile run last night was so refreshing—even if I was a little sore afterwards, and despite my getting winded more easily than I did a month ago!

The day after my injury, I read Mario Fraioli’s excellent weekly newsletter, The Morning Shakeout. (Go here and subscribe. It’s one email newsletter you’ll read!)

He had a perfectly timed section called, “Everybody hurts.” As it is just three paragraphs, I reproduce it here (source):

“I realized quickly [after getting injured and having to pull out of this year’s Boston Marathon], getting over feeling sorry for myself, that I think, essentially, I needed that break. I hadn’t really allowed myself to ever really take any downtime or rest,” Shalane Flanagan admitted to me back in June. “I just am constantly throwing new projects and goals in front of myself, and I think I needed that break. Not until I allowed myself to just take a step back and rest, did I realize how tired I was. I think [taking a break] has rejuvenated me mentally and physically more than I ever would have thought, and it allowed me to appreciate the other amazing things in my life.”

I’m sharing this excerpt for all the injured runners out there. Flanagan had a stress fracture in her back that kept her out of Boston in April. Disappointing as that diagnosis was at the time, those 10 weeks of forced downtime allowed her body and mind to recover, reshaped her perspective, and helped her recharge for the remainder of the year ahead. Flanagan clawed her way back into shape over the summer and on Sunday posted the biggest victory of her career on one of marathoning’s grandest stages. Look at the emotion on her face in this photo. That’s a lifetime of hard work, sacrifice, disappointment, triumph, raw joy, and gratitude captured in one moment. I get goosebumps every time I look at it.

The lesson here? Injuries happen, even to the best amongst us. And when we’re forced to take time off from running, it’s not the end of the world—it’s an opportunity: to rest and recharge, refocus and re-evaluate, and return with renewed vigor and redefined purpose.

Here’s that awesome picture of Shalane Flanagan:



So this month I’ve done my best to (a) not feel sorry for myself, (b) quit complaining about this one thing (of many, many things) that was largely beyond my control, (c) use the time to write and reflect and enjoy relationships more fully, (d) wait patiently.

Now that I’m back on my feet, the trick is going to be not coming back too fast, so I don’t re-injure myself.

That said, round two of my basketball league’s playoffs is this Monday….

Review of TomTom Spark Cardio + Music Fitness Watch

It’s by no means the most advanced or visually appealing fitness watch on the market, but if you want to track the basics of running—and listen to music!—the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music watch is a great option.

I was able to get my hands on a cheap previous generation TomTom Spark Cardio + Music. The watch has now been updated to the Spark 3, which I’ll talk more about at the end of this review. The model I’ve used (apparently now the “Spark 2”, or just “Spark”) and the Spark 3 have quite a bit in common, though.


What It Looks Like


This is what the Spark looks like:



Unlike Garmin models, you can’t install (or even select pre-installed) alternative watch faces. More options would have been nice. But the watch looks pretty good:




The watch band clips together in three different spots, using a clasp mechanism I haven’t seen in any watch (fitness or otherwise) before. (The green in the photo below is the light from the wrist-based heart rate sensor.) At first I didn’t like the clasps, but the security of the band (and ease of putting it on and taking it off) caused the mechanism to grow on me.



Activity Tracking


Let’s jump right in with an activity. You can select one from the watch’s profile:



You can select various kinds of runs.



The TomTom does great with these options—I tried goals (distance, pace, etc.) and intervals, where it really shines. You can set up the intervals how you want: warm-up, work, recovery (“rest”), number of sets, and cooldown.



With your workout selected (use “none” to just get going), you wait for the watch to acquire a GPS signal. It’s not as quick as a Garmin on this front, but it’s still pretty fast (less than 30 seconds), with rare exceptions. Once you’ve got a signal, it tells you to get going. If you’ve got Bluetooth earbuds in, you’ll get an audio cue, too.



As you can see in the photos above, underneath the watch is a big plastic square, around which is a button that you press (up, right, down, or left) to make your way through the various watch menus. The TomTom is not a touch screen, and unlike other non-touch watches, its buttons are not on the side.

This looks awkward, but I got used to it fairly quickly. Not having a touch screen is actually really nice mid-sweaty run, where touch screens are harder to operate.

During an activity you can view three metrics at a time, and press up or down to see more. There is some customizability here, but the bottom two fields (the font of which is a little too small) remain the same while only the larger data field adjusts. It would be nice if TomTom would allow all three data fields to change at a time.



After an activity you can see your results, though getting to results is not immediately evident—you finish your activity by pressing left twice (once to pause, once to stop), then have to go into the new activity screen and press up to see past results. Results look like this:




The basics are there, but a big miss is the inability to see splits or interval time as soon as you finish a run. You can find this on the accompanying mobile app (which looks great; more below), but most of us will want this info right away before we get home to sync with phones.

The TomTom tracks steps:



You have to press left to see your steps, and there’s an animation to wait through. This would be good to streamline in future versions, or even put steps on the first screen.



The battery life is pretty good, even using GPS and listening to music, though I was bummed that a nearly fully-charged TomTom died mid-run when I went out 10+ miles in the woods—maybe because the GPS signal was working extra hard?

Treadmill workouts are possible—like the Garmins I’ve tried the distance and pace are inaccurate, but unlike the Garmin watches, TomTom allows you to adjust the distance after you finish a workout. This is great!



The “Cardio” version also adds wrist-based heart tracking, which others have noted is especially accurate (as wrist-based HR goes) with TomTom.


The TomTom Mobile App


TomTom’s mobile app (“TomTom Sports”) looks much better than Garmin’s Connect app.

There are two frustrating pieces to it, though: (1) A “Waiting for watch” message greets you every time you open the app. Unlike Garmin’s app, there is no syncing until you press down on the watch. Every time. (2) Every single time I open the app I have to dismiss (and dismiss again… and again…) a box that asks me to share anonymous data with TomTom. I like TomTom, but really don’t want to share that data… and would like to not be asked every time I’m in the app.

Other than that the Sports app is pretty good. There’s even an accompanying Website that shows you more watch-generated info.

You can see tracked sleep, steps, and activities. TomTom is very near to rolling out an update that gives you “fitness age” and VO2 max—a serious upgrade even to the older model watches! This is a generous move on TomTom’s part.

Here’s what the mobile Sports app looks like:





(The sleep tracking is not always accurate, as you can see.)




Music, Music, Music!


It is hard to adequately describe how awesome it is to use Bluetooth-enabled earbuds to sync to the watch and listen to music. That’s right—no phone. Just wireless earbuds, the watch, music, and the open road. That alone makes the TomTom Spark worth considering as one’s go-to running watch.

Syncing with earbuds is easy. Others have described the music upload system as clunky, but it’s not so bad. Once you’ve got mp3s in iTunes, you just create a playlist, which you then move over to the watch through the desktop app. You can control the music through the watch buttons or whatever controls are on your Bluetooth earbuds.

As I mentioned, for this review, TomTom did not provide me with a sample—I purchased one, though I ended up returning it because of a slow-to-respond (or sometimes unresponsive) menu button that led me to believe I’d received a defective unit. I have been using a cheap, used Garmin in the meantime, but I miss the TomTom’s music already! It’s beyond me why more fitness watches don’t also include music.


What’s New in the Spark3


If I can get my hands on a Spark 3, I’ll write about it again here. In the meantime, here’s what the Spark 3 adds that the above model doesn’t have:

  • route exploration (you can see where you are and how to get back to your starting point)
  • compass
  • capacity to upload pre-set routes and follow them on the watch
  • slight tweak to the wristband

See this Amazon review for more (including TomTom’s response).

Whether you go with a discounted Spark 2 or the newer Spark 3 with its “bread crumb” navigation, the TomTom watch is a solid option for runners, especially ones who want music on their runs.

You can check out the Spark 2 here at Amazon (sale units are at TomTom). Find the Spark 3 options here (TomTom) and here (Amazon).

App Review: Tempo Training Log for Runners

Tempo is an iOS training log for runners. It’s simpler than apps like Runtastic and Runkeeper, but it more than makes up for its fewer features with an excellent visual layout—the best of any running app I’ve seen.

Tempo doesn’t track runs in real time, but it pulls data from the iOS Health app. It’s explicitly designed to be a companion to the Apple Watch Workout app, but I’ve been testing it with my Health app, which receives workout data from both Runkeeper and Garmin Connect. In other words, Apple Watch or not, your running app or fitness watch can help you access at least 90% of Tempo’s features.

Here’s what the Dashboard looks like:



This is all the data I want in a running log, all in one place. You get year-to-date mileage, monthly mileage, and weekly mileage. You also can see “Last 365” (days), “Last 30,” and “Last 7.”

Underneath those top two rows is your “Intensity Trend,” which is the best way I’ve seen in any app to quickly scan through training patterns.

If you upgrade to Premium (easily the cheapest annual subscription I’ve seen in the App Store—$6.99/year), you get an Intensity Log that shows you data well before the most recent month:



A “Cumulative Graph” gives you another way to compare mileage (and pace!), week over week or month over month:




(My pace was thrown off by tracking some walks I didn’t intend to track. Oops!)

Here’s a sequence of weeks with pace above it—a great combination:



Also unique to the Premium version is “Trending Averages,” which look like this:



You can see all your runs as a list (“Runlog”—available to free users, too):



That button in the top right allows you to filter your runs. You can add notes to each activity, as well as tag it with your own tags (a Premium feature), even multiple ones (“Trail,” “Long run,” etc.).




Each individual run displays more activity if you click it:



If you have an Apple Watch (again—the assumption behind this app) you’ll get splits. If you’re connected to a device with a heart rate monitor, you’ll see that info, too. You can add any of your own notes, as well.

The Today widget is also really great, although seeing it next to Strava’s reinforces that the font is smaller than ideal. All the same, the widget gives you your last run, your weekly milage, and your monthly mileage—more data than other apps’ widgets provide.



There are two things Tempo lacks compared to other apps like Runkeeper or Strava:

  1. Social components
  2. Real-time run tracking

More and more, however, I see these as a strength. The app is focused—it’s a graphical training log, a digital version of what you might otherwise keep in a pocket notebook to track all your runs. Only this looks way better, and automatically imports your runs, as long as you have a watch or phone app that can feed data to Health. If you do run with a watch, you can run phoneless and still have all your data in a great-looking display.

The lack of social interaction on the app (you can’t connect via Tempo to friends) could also be a strong point, especially since Tempo seems intent on guarding user privacy. That’s not always the case with other similar apps.

Here’s some copy from the developer on privacy and lack of ads:

Tempo is built with privacy as a core principle. Your data is yours; we will never claim it, sell it, or share it with anyone. Tempo is for focussing on running and recovery without ad distractions, so it only has a paid model. You can download and try it for free, but your running will significantly benefit from pro features available with Tempo Premium.

It’s worth nothing that Runtastic Premium (advertised as ad-free) now regularly has Adidas clothing ads in my activity feed. I can’t remove them, and support acknowledges that they are there, but won’t admit that the ads are… well… ads. Which show up in ad-free Premium. No such detritus with Tempo.

The developer of Tempo is also a runner, and I think he’s succeeded in his aim to give you “your running visualized to delight you, motivate you, inspire you, and help you achieve your running goals.” Knowing mid-month that I’ve covered 50 miles is nice, but it’s even more motivating to know what I’ve done in the last 30 days, which Tempo shows you.

By the way (if I may sound off for a moment), the Health app on iOS has the worst layout of any Apple app. It’s as bloated and hard to navigate as iTunes is on a laptop. So if you do run with an Apple Watch, Tempo will relieve you from having to review data via the Health app—a continual exercise in frustration.

Tempo is free and available here. The Premium version is cheap and helps support further development. You can even try all the Premium features with a 14-day free trial.

If you want to read more of Tempo’s story, go here.



Thanks to the developer for the upgrade to Premium so I could review the app. I’ll be re-subscribing, for sure.

Race Recap: Around Cape Ann 25K


Yesterday I pushed myself to run a race that was 3.5 miles longer than anything I had practiced in training—and I’m really glad I did! On Labor Day 2017 I ran the Around Cape Ann 25K.

The 15.5-mile course is gorgeous… and really hilly. “More hills than miles” is the race’s motto. It sports 16 major hills, though most of the race feels like a series of rolling hills; not much of it is flat.

The route hugs the coastline, and I could see ocean for most of the first half of the race:



I didn’t run with my phone, but my wife caught these action shots. She and the kids met me three times along the way and at the finish line—their encouragement was huge!

Here I am running:




And the fam made me signs! My wife held this one up with a police officer standing right next to her.



Pre-Race Training


In the two months that I trained for the race (yeah… 12 weeks would have been better) I ran 101 miles per month, and did long runs almost every week of 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and then 12 miles. For the most part my long runs increased by a half mile or mile each week. (Usually by a mile—a little aggressive.)

In May I ran 6 miles twice. It wasn’t until June that I ran 7 miles (just once!) and then 8 (also just once!). In July I did a 10-mile run and 11-mile run, as well as getting my fastest 10K time at the end of the month. In August I stepped it up a bit with two 11-milers and a 12-miler. Kudos to my friend Nate for helping me realize that was enough of a base to sign up for the race—realizing it would be a challenge!

That 12-mile run (12 days before the 25K) was awful. I was a little dumb on the timing—it was the middle of the day, and the temperature was approaching 80. I had a water bottle with me, but had drunk it all by mile 9. I’d kept a sub-10 pace for the first six miles, but then my last six mile splits were more like 12/11/12/12/13/13. I was dehydrated and experienced some heat exhaustion.

I knew that was probably going to be my last long run before the big 15.5-miler, and it left a bad taste in my mouth and had me anxious. I had to keep telling myself it was just a fluke. I hadn’t signed up for the race yet and (briefly) considered skipping it after that.

Thankfully, the week before the race (last week) I got my fastest 5K time twice within two days. (I’m finally at the 25 minute mark!) In between those two fast runs I ran with Patrick R., which pumped me up big time. (Check out his running blog here. It’s good stuff.) Then I had a practice shake-out run of four miles where I practiced what I planned to be my 10:15 race pace. I felt great, so was confident heading into the race.


How the 25K Race Went


I ran just about the race I had hoped/planned to run. After running my last six “long run” miles at a 12-minute and 13-minute pace, I decided to start between a 10:00 and 10:30 pace and keep it that way as long as I could.

The last 2.5 miles of the race were tough. I felt good about it overall, though. It was a great challenge, and it feels awesome to have met it.



My chip time was a 10:34 pace. I stopped for the bathroom and to re-tie my shoes, so according to my watch, my actual running time was 10:18 per minute. I will be the first to acknowledge that is not fast (you have to scroll—ahem—pretty far down the results to see my name). But I had some of my best miles at miles 9 and 10, right after a huge hill I powered up.

And I met my goal of a 10:00-10:30 running pace! If there is one lesson I’ve learned with running more recently (actually, there are dozens of lessons) it’s that my primary competition is myself. And I ran the race I wanted to run. That feels huge.

I was so glad the race started at 8:00 a.m. It was barely 60 degrees then. It definitely warmed up along the way, but I don’t know that it ever got past 70.


On Faith and Running


I asked a few friends before the race for some good running mantras. And scoured the Internet. Here are a few I used:

  • I’ve got this
  • This hill ain’t nothing
  • Just one more song (this one is ironic because I kept the music off until about mile 8! I never could have done that a year ago)
  • “Run the mile you’re in” (my favorite—best running advice ever, and some great life advice, too)
  • It’s not like my legs are going to fall off
  • All I can do is keep moving forward (this is technically not true—I could’ve stopped and quit!)
  • This is enjoyable. I enjoy this! (“praying shapes believing,” right?)

Then on Sunday—the day before the 25K—our worship leader introduced the song “Your Grace Is Enough” by saying there is hardly any better mantra than this. !!!

So that became a running mantra, too, especially in the last half when it became clear I wasn’t going to blow away my pace goal, but was merely going to meet it. I kept saying, “Your grace is enough.” “Your grace is enough.” If I never meet this goal, it’s okay, because I already have received the best gift there is—the love of God in Jesus. Sure, running goals are still important, but God’s grace is enough, and present with me no matter how I do. I find that incredibly reassuring—and actually a truth that will help me run faster in the long run anyway.

“Come, Holy Spirit” also turned out to be a really good running “mantra” that never even occurred to me until I was about 10 miles in. I’m a pastor, so I feel a little embarrassed that it took me so long to figure that one out, but praying, “Come, Holy Spirit” is one of the best ways I know to try to invite God into my run—or to heighten my awareness of God’s presence that is already there. I prayed it for a few tenths of a mile, and the combination of that prayer, God’s answering it, and the lush ocean scenery led to a pretty powerful experience of the Holy Spirit as I ran.


What’s Next



I think race recaps are supposed to be shorter than this, but this is my first one, so thanks if you’ve read this far.

It’s a truism of running that we runners (pretend to) regret signing up for the race we’re slogging through, only to plan for the next one as soon as we cross the finish line.



My brain was kind of mushy at the end of the race, but by evening as I enjoyed a cool beverage, I’d already set my next goal: to run a half marathon with a pace of under 10:00 minutes per mile. That’s two fewer miles than I just did and 20 seconds per mile faster. I’d love to get a sub-2-hour half marathon time at some point. Hopefully this time next year I’ll be writing up that race recap.