Archive for June, 2008

Shoe Review: Salomon XA Pro 3D

Salomon XA Pro 3DThis post is republished — and was one of the most popular articles — from a now-defunct blog I used to maintain.

It’s always a bit sad to retire a pair of running shoes, but alas, the time has come to move my Salomon XA Pro 3D trail shoes from my “running shoe” bin to my “general gym shoe” bin, also known as the place where running shoes go to die.

These shoes were my one of my first “real” pair of trail shoes, and after logging near 600+ miles in them on various dirt trails, muddy paths, and through streams in the hills of Mt. Diablo State Park, the Marin Headlands, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I want to offer a review of the Salomon XA Pro 3D. (So many shoe reviews on other websites and in magazines talk about the way the shoe feels out of the box or after running a dozen or so miles in them… Hopefully I can provide some further insight after exhausting the life of these shoes.)

First, the pros: Great looking shoe! To be honest, I bought them partly because of their aesthetic appeal and aggressive look. The gray on black color scheme, with a subtle multicolored label striping the tongue, reminds me of a well-polished, shiny black Dodge Viper resting quietly, but confidently, among a row of candy apple red and cobalt blue sport cars. These shoes do not a silly gimmick (Reebok Pump, anyone?) or an obnoxious color scheme to turn heads. Somehow, the understated yet sporty shoe looks fast and light just sitting in a box. It called to me. (Score one point for the marketing folks at Salomon.)

More pros: The traction is awesome and allowed me to confidently navigate the most technical terrain, slippery slopes, and slick logs and rocks.

I like the way this light shoe hugs the foot. It wraps the heel while providing enough room in the toe-box. The firm rubber toe-stop is great for preventing stubbed-toes on gnarly root and boulder strewn singletrack. It rises a bit towards the back, fitting somewhere between a low-top racing flat and a high-top hiking boot, providing just enough protection and flexibility in the ankle are

I also like the laceless, pull-tight “lacing” mechanism. I think Salomon uses some type of Kevlar type material for this and it is a neat design that provides an as-snug or as-loose fit as you want along the top of the foot. One never has to worry about a shoelace coming undone.

(One of my training buddies mentioned a potential drawback with this “laceless” system: If, for whatever reason, your “lace” gets stuck on the twig of a downed branch while you are running downhill, you are going to take a pretty painful fall: a regular shoelace would untie or snap, but these “laces” are bulletproof. This never happened to me, but I suppose it is something to note. Also, the lacing system is such that you cannot tie your car key to it, so be sure to have a little key pocket in your running shorts if you use these shoes.)

As much as I love these shoes, they have a limit to what they can handle. Invariably, whenever I got to the 12th-14th mile of a run, my forefoot felt bruised, sometimes painfully so. The sole of the XA Pro is pretty soft. The shoe’s flexibility makes it light, responsive, and fast, but also a poor choice for long-distance trail running. The sole is entirely too squishy.

A surprisingly large number of my friends and fellow trail runners have said they experienced similar problems with the Salomon XA Pro 3D and sent them into early running shoe retirement, opting instead to try other brands and models.

Bottom line: Would I buy another pair? Definitely.

These are great shoes for short-course trail running — fast and light with the perfect blend of technology and function. I have run a number of trail races, from 3 to 16 miles, and training runs up to 30 miles in my Salomon’s… They are wonderful until mile 12 or so, at which point I sometimes switch to another shoe (Asics GT-2120 trail shoes, which I will experiment with as my primary trail shoe for the next few months).

If heading into rocky trails or runs of more than 12 miles, however, I would suggest you try something with a stuiffer sole.

The retail price on these shoes are north of $100, but there are many places online or at the SportsBasement in San Francisco where you can get them for around $80. For that price, maybe try a pair and hit some short trails. They make a great light-weight and incredibly comfortable hiking shoe, as well.

RIP, Salomon XA Pro 3D.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood


June 26, 2008 at 6:07 pm 11 comments

Teachers being shown the money

Show me the money

“Oh, that is so wonderful! I wish I could do something like that. But… you know.”

“You are such a good person!”

“Those that can’t do, teach.”

“I always wanted to be a teacher. But I also want a certain amount of financial security as I raise my family and build my home.”

Public perception of public school teachers is streaked with an odd mix of admiration, pity, patronization, and guilt. Some people think that those that enter the teaching profession are missionaries or martyrs, sacrificing their own financial self-interest for the sake of others. (Some teachers are guilty of believing this, too.) And because everyone has sat at a desk in a classroom managed by a teacher in a school, a lot of us think we know what it’s like to work in education and (wrongly!) believe we know what it’s like to be a teacher.

Does the salary of a public school teacher contribute to this conception of life as a professional educator? In our society, the esteem of certain jobs is positively correlated with the earnings-potential of that profession.

Would more of the most ambitious and accomplished among us seek a career in teaching if the compensation package was competitive with the salaries offered in the fields of law, medicine, and business?

Would a higher salary attract better qualified, able, and effective teachers?

The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School in New York City thinks that the answer to these three questions is, Yes! And they are doing something about it.

Starting salary for public school teachers at TEP: $125,000 a year, with bonuses approaching another $25,000.

The TEP philosophy is based on research that reveals,”Teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in the academic success of students, particularly those from low-income families.” [Source: Dan Goldhaber and Emily Anthony, “Teacher Quality and Student Achievement,” ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Urban Diversity Series No. 115, May 2003: 1]

And their premise is that you have to pay to get good people. So pay they do.

It’s a radical — even revolutionary — experiment, one that I am eager from which to learn the results.

When I look back on my own student life, it was never the content, the format, the curriculum, nor class size that determined how much I engaged with my peers and the material. It was the teacher!

Some of my most important learned lessons — some of my best “life” classes — did not take place in the classroom at all, but in conversations that unraveled over the dinner table, while watching a baseball game, on a road trip, in a dorm room, on the phone, and via email. I am fortunate to be surrounded by friends, family members, and peers who are passionate about discovering and communicating ideas. Sometimes I ask them point blank, because it would be a magical, wonderful site, if they would ever teach. Most say they would like to, used to want to, will when they retire… When the concept of money didn’t matter, when they can dream that money doesn’t matter, when money won’t matter. Then they will teach.

Or, offers The Equity Project Charter School, you can teach now. Because right now, money does matter.

To learn more about the philosophy of TEP and their teacher recruitment efforts, peruse the The Equity Project website.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

June 26, 2008 at 12:00 am 3 comments

It doesn’t pay to think

I read somewhere that John Elway and Jay Leno were philosophy majors. But what if you’re can’t throw a football or successfully tell a funny joke? Those deep- and critical thinking skills have to be pretty valuable to a potential employer… Right?

Salaries by major

Source: The NYT’s Freakonomics blog.

June 19, 2008 at 5:02 pm 1 comment

Brain bucket

brain art

So. Much. Good. Stuff.

*** Can We Play?,” by Dr. David Elkind and published on the SharpBrains blog, is a summary of the “research [that] confirms the value of play.” It makes for an interesting, science-rooted companion to a book that deserves a deep and thorough re-read every year, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Thomist philosopher and Christian theologian Josef Pieper, who makes a compelling case that purposeless activity is the most purposeful activity that we can and should engage in!

*** What is the best way to boost cognitive functioning? By exercising the body or by exercising the mind? What about the use of nutrition supplements and the practice of meditation? Jeremy at PsyBlog explores these questions in, Brain Health: Physical or Mental Exercise?, also republished on the SharpBrains blog. (If you regularly peruse only one or two sites about the brain sciences, SharpBrains is the best.)

*** Light reading: Boris Johnson, the recently-elected Mayor of London, analogizes bike riding with and without a helmet to the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” sharp elbow game of politics in Get a bike helmet to get ahead – or maybe not, an opinion piece in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

*** To listen to: NPR’s Talk of the Nation has an audio archive of today’s discussion with Alan Schwartz of the NYT about his front-page profile of Kendall Bailey, a “6-foot-6-inch 19 year-old”  diagnosed with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and autism, but who also happens to be one the fastest disabled swimmers in the world. Kendall is so fast that he is favored to win gold, if not set a world record in the breastroke, at this summer’s 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. That is, if he is allowed to compete. Officials of the event have been slow to confirm whether Kendall, because of his intellectual and mental handicaps, would be allowed to compete alongside physically disabled athletes. The politics of sport and the heart of a champion. Read Schwartz’s article here.

*** Another provocative read: This story about how the government of Japan is responding to its own national obesity epidemic (it seems everyone, everywhere — not just those of us in the U.S. — is getting fatter) by imposing limits to the size of its citizens’ bellies. (!) If you are a male, it is against the law for your waist to exceed 33.5 inches; for women, the government says your waist can be no bigger than 35.4 inches. If you eat too much and are too plump around the mid-section, you can be fined and forced to attend health education courses. Too much government intervention, or a necessary public policy?

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

June 18, 2008 at 8:16 pm Leave a comment

Observation versus Perception

I read an interesting little blurb by Leah Garchik in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle about the programming at the Equal Justice Society luncheon:

Neurobiologist Maninder Kahlon described how the brain works and how biology can result in the formation of biased notions. Here is your workbook today: [Click here* to] take the Stroop test. This involves forcing one’s brain to use its power of observation rather than relying on habits of perception. It’s an astounding experiment that demonstrates only a fraction of what humans are up against when they try to change preconceived notions.

*Note, the link in the above excerpt requires you to have Shockwave software downloaded on your computer to take the Stroop test. If you do not have the Shockwave plug-in, PBS’s awesome scientific program, Nova, has a “non-Shockwave demonstration of the Stroop effect” available here.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

June 18, 2008 at 6:08 pm Leave a comment

Your Brain on Obama

My Amygdala, My Self,” by Jeffrey Goldberg, is a fun and fascinating article in this summer’s Ideas Issue of The Atlantic:

Intrigued (and alarmed) by the new science of “neuromarketing,” our correspondent peers into his own brain via an MRI machine and learns what he really thinks about Jimmy Carter, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bruce Springsteen, and Eddie Falco.


Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

June 14, 2008 at 6:12 am Leave a comment

The Long Run of Life; Kenyan Distance Running Dominance Debate

Runner heart beat

Be sure to give yourself 20 minutes to read “No Finish Line” by Alexander Wolff, a Sports Illustrated profile of former marathon world-record holder Alberto Salazar. It’s a fascinating story about a great athlete who, after suffering a heart attack, is forced to come to grips with the fact that “life is the only long run that really matters.”

The opening paragraph paints a vivid picture about the The Agony of Victory:

Death is one of those things Alberto Salazar used to run into. He’d finish a race and all but perish, as likely from fire as from ice. In 1978, at the end of the 7.1-mile Falmouth (Mass.) Road Race, he was read the last rites after collapsing with a body temperature of 108°. After he won the 1982 Boston Marathon, paramedics had to give him six liters of saline solution in an IV drip when his temperature dropped to 88°.

When done reading the SI article, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s blog post about Kenyan runners. Gladwell, citing Salazar’s observations about and experiences with the sport of running, makes a case for “put[ting] the genetic argument about Kenyan running dominance to rest.”

The genetic versus cultural debate does not die, however, as evidence by the string of lively, heated, passionate responses in the comments section of Gladwell’s blog.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

June 12, 2008 at 6:43 am Leave a comment

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

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