Changing focus and changing my shorts: in search of a new challenge

The London marathon is less than three weeks away and it has really crept up on me this year. That is partly due to the fact that Freestak has been getting busier and busier and I have not been training as much as I should have been. But there you go – 13 April is the date and I have to accept that there are no miracles in endurance sports and especially marathon running: you get out what you put in and all the gels and stretches and last minute core session in the world will not make up for not training.

So my focus has changed – in previous years it was always all about the spring marathon. Now I am looking a little further ahead. I have got a few races in the diary that I am very excited about and my aim is to translate that excitement into action and get some spring training going, possibly starting with a 26.2 mile training run around the streets of London on 13 April.

Racing focus for 2014

CCC finisher - but want to go quicker!
Sporting a CCC finisher gilet – but I want to go quicker!

The first race that I have got an eye on is the Coastal Trail Series Classic Quarter on 7 June. I am going to ask people to sponsor me for this race as I will be running it in memory of my Nan. It was as Julie and I were driving to the 2013 edition of this race that my Mum called to say that Nan had passed away. Unsure what to do, we ended up starting the race, but we had only had 90 minutes sleep before the gun went at the start and I was in a terrible state emotionally. At half way – around 22 miles – I was done and had to drop out. This year I am back to honour my Nan and give this race my best shot.

Then on 5 July Julie and I are in France for the 60km La Montagn’Hard which we both ran last year and we absolutely loved it. It is brutally hard in terms of elevation gain – there is barely anything flat and we will climb over 5000m in 60km. It is a wonderfully organised by the denizens of a small village called St Nicolas and has such a wonderful relaxed, informal atmosphere that I can’t wait to have a crack at it already. I just wonder whether my adversary Denis from last year will be there.

But both the Classic Quarter and the Montagn’Hard are warm-up races for the main target for the summer – the UTMB CCC. This was the race that Julie and I took on last year. We were doing really well together before Julie fell and cracked her already-damaged knee, which meant that her race was over by 78km.

This year I think we are both determined to have a really good go at the CCC. I want to get around in under 17 hours. Last year the winner finished in 11 hours while I took over 24 hours. 17 hours seems like a touch but acheiveable target.

Getting the kit right for 2014 Ultras

Robbie Britton - racing the UTMB in 2014. And probably immune to chaffing
Robbie Britton – racing the UTMB in 2014. And probably immune to chaffing

And one of the things I have to refine for ultras in 2014 is my kit. Specifically my shorts. Last year I wore a pair of tried and tested shorts that I thought would be fine. But it was very warm and after 9 hours of running in the heat, with slightly damp shorts from sweat and water that I had spilled on myself, my inner thighs were rubbing raw. The chaffing was agony. Honestly… I was really suffering.

So in the middle of the heat of the day I threw my shorts in the bin in a public toilet and pulled on my tights for the next 15 hours. The pain was still intense, but less bad in the tights. I was hot though and I felt really stupid: I was in danger ofย  DNF because my undercarriage was sore!

So this year I am on the hunt for the ultimate ultra short. The team at inov-8 (thanks Lee!) have just sent me a pair of their Race Elite 135 Ultra Shorts and from only wearing them for a few hours around the house tonight, I think they are the business – I think they might be just what I am after.

inov-8 Race Elite 135 Ultra Shorts

The inov-8 135 Ultra Shorts
The inov-8 135 Ultra Shorts

The shorts have a really comfortable, high waist band. They come with a wide, double thickness gusset that will keep certain important parts of the anatomy warm. There are a couple of useful pockets at the front that are designed to take a gel or two. And they are made from a really comfortable, stretchy man-made material. Most importantly, they are tight and will stop my thighs and nether regions from rubbing (especially if I pair the shorts with the utterly amazing RunderWear from the team at RunBreeze).

Performance vs. appearance – what matters more?

However there is the aesthetics to take into account. Now the reason I started running in the first place was to try to reverse the effects of years of bad living. So my body-image has never been great. And tight shorts are never the most flattering look. Don’t get me wrong, the inov-8 shorts look great – it is just me in them that is the problem.

Some people – my wife included – have suggested that a pair of baggy shorts over the top make for a much more flattering look. But then I have done my best to get ‘shights’ – that is shorts over tights – trending and not for good reasons. I think that wearing something baggy over your tights – or you tight shorts – confers no performance benefit whatsoever and so must purely be a vanity thing. I want to be focussed on performance and believe that runners should not worry about how they look – just about how they perform.

Brendon Davies - inov-8 elite athlete and looking good in tight shorts
Brendon Davies – inov-8 elite athlete and looking good in tight shorts

So what should I do? Well first thing’s first – ask you, my dear friends. Tights or tight shorts on men: fine or a crime? What do you wear when you’re running, especially for ultras? What is the worst thing you have seen? And should anyone – ever – wear tight white lycra? Help me out here, people, because the inov-8 shorts feel amazing and I think they are the solution to my problems and will almost certainly contribute to me achieving my newly-set summer goals. I just don’t want people to be laughing at me in the street as I smash those goals…


  1. I always thought that runners look daft in everything we wear, but we don’t care because we aren’t sat on the sofa watching mind numbing TV?

    What about some padded cycling shorts? Then if you need a quick rest, it’s like having a chair with you ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Simon, I was once very against any tights that finished above the ankle. Somehow I was persuaded that I’d ‘look’ the business wearing tight shorts so I got a pair and they’re fantastic to run in. Really comfy, keep the hamstrings warm and I’ve smashed out some quick runs in them. So I’m a convert, short tights are well worth a look…. but not 3/4 length…no, no, no!

  3. I always have to wear some sort of tight short to stop the very problem you have highlighted here. I will generally wear a pair of shorts over the top – mostly for vanity, but also when you do most of your running at lunchtime from a boarding school, it seems somewhat inappropriate to be wearing just compression shorts! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. In my opinion tight shorts are fine on their own for races, but unacceptable for training in any populated area!

Leave a Reply