Compression Socks: Vitalsox -vs- Zensah

Disclaimer: The folks at Vitalsox (@vitalsox on twitter) were kind enough to send me a pair of their "Recovery Sock" compression socks to test wear and write a review of. Other than the product itself I have not been, nor will ever be compensated for this review.

I've actually been very excited about this as it is the first bona fide product review that I have done on my blog. I mean, yes, I've blogged about how awesome certain products that I use are (i.e. Smartwool Socks, Body Glide, Yak Trax, etc.) but I've never written a specific product review before...

I'd like to preface this review by saying I'm not here to get into the debate of whether or not compression is the real deal or all smoke and mirrors. I like compression. Big fan. Especially after races and long or particularly strenuous workouts. I find that compression really speeds along recovery and I'm not nearly as sore, if I'm sore at all, for the next day or two. Since just before the 2010 Boston Marathon I've been using the Zensah Leg Sleeves religiously. I'm not sold or convinced that the compression actually improves performance per se, but I like to wear the sleeves during races because they feel good. Maybe it's become a mental crutch, but so what. You should run happy in whatever you feel comfortable running in, right?

I have only one issue with the sleeves... I can't wear them more than a few hours at a time because they make my feet swell. I found this out after the first time I fell asleep with them on. Not a big deal, but not exactly pleasant. So, I've been talking to my wife about finding the "right" pair of compression socks to try out. Wouldn't you know, I received the Vitalsox Recovery Socks just before Christmas, and Santa brought me a pair of the Zensah Compression Socks for Christmas. Yay me! And perfect timing for me to write a comparative review.

My first impression of the Vitalsox Recovery were that they try to cram an awful lot of information onto the packaging and it looks a bit too busy. I mean, their target audience are runner's, triathlete's and other endurance athlete's who all tend to be a very well-informed bunch that do their research before seeking out a certain product. If we're out looking for a compression sock you don't need to sell us on the benefits of graduated compression by putting a bunch of information and illustrations all over your package. The Zensah packaging got it right. Simple. Black. With the Zensah name, logo, and "Compression Socks" printed on it. Or at least that's all I noticed before I removed it and threw it in the trash.

The Vitalsox Recovery Socks were white, with red logo, blue lettering and an arrow design to point you in the right direction like "insert foot this way!" Which I found kind of helpful in keeping them straight while working them onto your legs. They looked and felt a little more "clinical" than the Zensah Compression Socks. The Zensah's were black with silver toes and heels and were labeled L and R, but I haven't quite figured-out why. Just for fun I wore them on the wrong feet one day and didn't really notice a difference. Zensah says they have a "built-in arch support" on their website so maybe that was the reason, but there isn't a noticeable difference. The Vitalsox were also significantly lighter in construction and material. The Zensah were much thicker and heavier. At first try, the Vitalsox went on easy and felt a bit snug yet comfortable. The Zensah were quite difficult to put on and had significantly firmer compression. This is where the direct comparison needs to end however, as I've found that they are completely different products that each serve a purpose in an athlete's recovery.

The first time I tested the Vitalsox was after a 14 mile long run. I stretched, showered and put them on right away. I found them to give a comfortable, gentle compression. The DryStat fabric was also very breathable and kept my feet fairly cool and dry. Which I wasn't expecting at all as my feet usually don't agree with synthetic fibers and tend to sweat a lot when any synthetic fibers even touch them. Call me pleasantly surprised. However, when I put my shoes on to head to the mailbox, my feet began to sweat as usual. The Vitalsox were so comfortable in fact that I went to bed with them on. When I woke up in the morning my legs and feet felt fresh and ready to go with little or no residual soreness. Every time I've worn them since, I've had the same results.

I wore the Zensah for the first time after a particularly strenuous hill workout. I found them a little more difficult to put on, especially with damp legs out of the shower. But, once they were on they felt great. They gave the perfect amount of firm compression. In no time, I was bouncing around the house like I hadn't just flagellated myself on that hill. They were so comfortable that I decided to wear them to bed as well. Unfortunately, sometime around 130 am I woke-up and had to yank them off because they were squeezing the life out of my feet. Very uncomfortable to sleep in. Yet, my legs still felt great when I woke-up the next day.

After a couple of weeks of high-milage training while using both of these compression socks I've come to the conclusion that there is room in my routine for BOTH of them. They each give a different type of compression (though both are "graduated"), that has a place in every endurance athletes routine. If I feel I'm in need of an effective yet gentle compression (say, after a shorter or slower-paced run) I wear the Vitalsox Recovery Socks. If and when I feel I'm in need of a firmer compression after a longer or more strenuous run I put on my Zensah Compression Socks, and I put the Vitalsox on when I go to bed if I need to. Overall, I like both products and would highly recommend either product to anyone who asks about compression.

Now I just need to find a compression sock I can actually run in to complete my compression repertoire. Maybe I'll give the Smartwool Compression Socks a try for actually running in since I pretty much strictly run in their PhD Running socks. Anyone from Smartwool want to send me a pair? Speaking of running socks, Vitalsox also sent me a pair of their running socks. I must say with my penchant for merino wool or natural fiber running socks (like the above mentioned Smartwool) I wasn't very optimistic that I would like them as they are also made of the same DryStat material (a synthetic blend) as the Recovery Socks. I don't know if it has to do with the weave or exactly how they do it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the feel of these socks when I gave them a chance. First, I put them on and just wore them around the house all day and found them to be comfortable- Great cushion, and they kept my feet fairly cool and dry.

I decided I liked them enough to give them a shot on a 5 mile run. I found they performed well. It was a cold day out but they kept my feet comfortably warm and dry. I sensed a couple of hot spots forming, but I don't know if it was a mental thing or not, because in my head I knew they were synthetic. It's possible. Overall though, I'd say the Vitalsox running socks are comfortable and performed well above my initial expectations, but I'd still be hesitant to wear them on a long run (especially in the heat of the Summer). I'd like to thank Vitalsox again for letting me review their products. I actually really enjoyed the whole process of wear-testing and writing a review, and look forward to doing more of them in the future.

Remember... There is NO tomorrow!
Go out and get it TODAY!


New Year, New Surprises

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself."  - Neil Gaiman
On December 31, 2009, I found myself sitting next to Lex in Symphony Hall watching the Boston Pops perform with one of our favorite musician's, Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, as the featured artist of the evening. We had recently found-out that Lex was pregnant with our second child, so this New Year met us with all the anxiety and hope for the future that is requisite for all expectant parents. It ended-up being one of the most amazing spectacles we had ever witnessed, with fabulous performances all around! After the clock struck 12 and the chorus of "Auld Lang Syne" trailed-off into the evening, streamers launched, balloons dropped and popped, and Amanda introduced Neil Gaiman as her new fiance' (apparently he had proposed to her earlier that day). He then gave a powerfully moving benediction which included what I quoted above.

Neil's performance was the one performance that stuck with me through the year. It still resonates with every new milestone, and every transformation that I realize in my personal, professional and running lives. You see, I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions. I never have. After all, much like rules, in my life, resolutions are made to be broken. I prefer to make commitments to myself. The one commitment that I made for 2010 was to surprise myself. I'd say I accomplished that in spades.

So, I've been struggling for over a week to write a "year in review" or retrospective blog post. Then I found I would also have to write a post about my goals for the year, etc. I've written and re-written this in my head as well as on the 'puter too many times to count. Once, I actually sat down and got going on the retrospective and realized it was an exercise in futility. Not only was it futile because it was such and eventful and transformative year for me that it would likely have been the World's longest blog post, but I also realized that that type of writing just isn't me. I almost got sucked into the trap of "this is what you should do" as a blogger. "Everyone else does it." I told myself. If you're a blogger it almost seems that your readers expect it of you. But if you regularly read this blog (as irregularly as I write it), you know I am not about doing what is expected of me. In fact, if I believe something is expected of me, I'll go out of my way to do exactly the opposite.

It's not that I am not capable of self-analysis, introspection or goal-setting. In fact, because of running I feel like I live each day in a state in which I am constantly doing these things. Every run I gain perspective. Through running I've learned a lot about myself and about life. As cliche' as it sounds I've learned that I truly can accomplish anything I put my mind too. And that's saying something for the fat kid that never saw a challenge he didn't back down from. However, running has helped me to realize that to put my mind to something I need to work hard to keep it in focus. I need to set goals and reassess those goals on a monthly, daily, hourly and even minute-to-minute basis. Goals need to be mutable, not fixed in order to keep charging forward, otherwise it's just too easy to rest on your laurels once a goal is reached. In other words in order to keep improving, I have to move the goalposts.

2010 was a year of huge accomplishments, growth and surprises. It was also a year full of sadness, disappointment and death. In other words it was a real roller-coaster that was at times exhilarating and really sucked at other times. But you know what was the most important thing about 2010? Experience. And that I wouldn't change for anything. Sure, I could've done without some of the experiences, but I wouldn't have learned and moved forward. It saddened me on New Years Eve to see all of the posts on facebook and twitter cursing the year and hoping for a better year in 2011. **Newsflash** It wasn't the year's fault it was yours! You decide what to make of every situation. You decide how to react and respond to everything. In other words, you make everything happen either by your actions or inaction. In order to truly have hope, you have to be willing to take decisive action.

There is no tomorrow! Get out there and make things happen, today! Live in the moment. Be present in what's happening right now. Don't sit idly by and let things happen. Make the most of every opportunity. If there is the possibility that you are going to fail, then just go for it and fail epically! The bigger the failure, the larger and more important the lesson is. The bigger the lesson, the bigger the success! This is how I plan on approaching 2011. It is my sincere hope that all of you will too. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. I know I will....