The North Face might have just changed my life

It is easy to by cynical when brands claim that they are inventing or re-inventing a concept and bringing it to the people, when in fact what they are doing is hitching their wagon on something really cool and riding it all the way to the bank. There are some really horrible examples of this. But there are also times when brands can really genuinely inspire and motivate. That is the power that brands have (in fact I believe it is their responsibility, but that is a post for another time). And today it happened to me.

For the past couple of years I have been struggling to fill the void that has been left by me not training for a tilt at my marathon PB. The truth is that without the motivation and focus to nail 9 or 10 runs a week, because of my commitment to, and excitement about, the businesses that my wife and I have launched, I have drifted physically. I have allowed my fitness to slowly ebb away (made worse by getting older and not adjusting my diet from the days when I was running 85-90 miles per week). Generally I have been feeling quite pissed off with myself.

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A stock image from TNF. Hopefully I’ll have one of me from them soon!

What I have been told over and over again, is that I should do more varied activities. More intervals. Different sports. Mix it up. There have been so many people telling me, or showing me, this that I won’t attempt to list them all here. But Julie (my wife) has been chief amongst them. My friend Tony from Nike. My friend and one-time coach Nick. The chap who did my body composition analysis a while ago. Every copy of every fitness magazine I have read. Charlie Dark from the RunDemCrew. They have all told me or shown me the same thing.

But today it feels that I reached a tipping point.

I was invited to the official launch of The North Face’s Mountain Athletics project. This is an all-encompassing programme that includes footwear and apparel, a training app and regular training events that The North Face stores around the world.

The idea behind this is that TNF have recognised that athletes – especially those doing amazing things in the mountains – train like maniacs to allow them to do the things that TNF ultimately sponsors them for. The brand now wants to wrap its arms around the hours, days, weeks and months that athletes spend preparing themselves as much as they want to own the moments of success.

The launch event started off pretty typically. A room full of journalists, influencers, athletes and brand people. Coffee. Pastries. Yoghurt.

Then we had a series of presentations. Bonita Norris, the youngest British woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, was the host. She introduced the head of Mountain Athletics from The North Face who described the idea behind the programme and the apparel and footwear. Then climber James Pearson took to the stage to talk about preparation for the climbing that he does with his wife.

And finally…

Sir Ranulph Fiennes. We were treated to the greatest living explorer in full-on dry humoured flow, talking about his youth, years in the army and the SAS and the incredible expeditions that he has undertaken and which are his career. I can only say that if you have the chance to hear Sir Ran talk, go. It is an experience not to be missed.

Then after all the talking, we were told that we should go through to the next room to get involved in some training.

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A stock image from TNF. Hopefully I’ll have one of me from them soon!

Now I have been to enough launch events to know that most of the time the safest option is to cater to the weakest possible attendee. By not making the physical activity in any way challenging, the cigarette smoking, just-back-from or still injured, out-of-shape journalists or influencers can take part and the brand will get the coverage it wants.

Not The North Face.

We were faced with three channels – training for skiing, training for climbing and training for trail running.

We were randomly assigned to a channel.

In each channel there were ten exercises paired into five stations.

We found a partner and did each exercise twice, alternating between us.

So that might be one person doing lunges whilst the other did step-ups.

For one minute.

Then we swapped.

Twice.

So each channel took 20 minutes (excluding a brief pause between each station while we moved). And we were ‘invited’ to do all three channels.

I have not felt so knackered, out of my depth, sweaty and in pain for quite a while (it could be getting on for years!) But I have also not felt so excited, exhilarated, alive and pumped for the same amount of time.

To put it mildly, I loved it. I was crap at lots of it. My arms and legs and core feel battered, typing this five hours after we finished. I am ravenously hungry. And I wish I could go back for more.

The kit, such as it was, did a great job. A really nice pair of baggy shorts and a t-shirt. And a pair of shoes. The shoes are interesting. They are not – in my opinion – right for running. But for what we were doing, they were perfect. Low-profile, grippy, light and they look pretty durable. You can check out the range here.

So where does that leave me? I have always said that I am a lazy person. Possibly part of the reason I ran reasonably well is that I did what was necessary. No more. I have shied away from the gym, cross-training and fitness. I just ran. But today I had the time of my life. I was sweating so much that I couldn’t grip the handle of the kettle bell. I was bend-double at times. My puny arms took a hammering. But I loved it. I am 100% convinced now that this is the way forward. I will always be a runner, but I have seen the light. Thank you The North Face – it was a very entertaining morning. But more than that, you have given me the chance to actually experience the thing that I have known I should have been doing all along. And it was excellent. Please check it out yourself if you are interested and if anyone wants to do some mountain athletics training with me, I’m definitely game.

adidas Ultra Boost review: are they really that good?

When adidas launch a shoe, they really launch a shoe. When they first announced their new midsole material – Boost – they took a group of people (me included) to New York where we joined journalists and blogger from all around the world at a stunning event at the Javits Centre – the home of the New York Marathon.

SS15_Boost_PR_FW1_LED_3x2So it was no surprise that when the brand with the three stripes (and the nobbly midsole material) announced the launch of the Ultra Boost – which they claim is the greatest running shoe ever – it was going to be a big deal. This time I was NFI for the trip to New York, but I was sent the PR material and I talked about the shoe coming out in an earlier post.

A few weeks later, a pair landed and I had the chance to try them out for myself. Here are my thoughts.

A shoe is just a shoe

The first thing that I have to say is that I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to the claims that shoe manufacturers make. Whether they are mega-minimalist sandles made from recycled tyres and hemp rope or huge, six-inch-deep platform shoes, I tend to think that running shoes are only as good as the person they are attached to. And they will never be a substitute for proper training and hard racing.

Nevertheless, good shoes can make a difference as much as bad shoes can and, as runners, I believe they are our only essential bit of kit, so they are not to be ignored.

Fundamentally though the adidas Ultra Boost is just a running shoe. I have tested them properly and I can confirm that they do not make me faster, less lazy, better looking or richer. No shoe can do those things (although some might claim they can!)

Ultraboost_FW_Exp_FunctionalA running shoe with benefits

There are differences however. And they are arguably significant.

Some time ago I expressed the opinion that the ultimate racing shoe for me would be a hybrid of the Nike Flyknit Races upper and the adidas adios Boost sole. The adizero Prime Boost comes close to being that shoe.

With the Ultra Boost, adidas have taken the same elements – the Prime Knit upper and the boost sole – and made a more usable shoe. They have made a shoe that could be used for lots of runs – easy, tempo, threshold, long runs and even races. The Prime Knit upper is great – flexible, breathable and it wraps around the foot meaning that my foot remained at the perfect temperature, there is absolutely no rubbing and the shoe feels really well held in place.

Underneath the combination of Boost midsole and Continental rubber outsole means that there is plenty of cushioning without the shoe being doughy and there are no problems at all with durability or grip.

The shoe is light, comfortable and for those who like a bit of heel-to-toe differential, it has that too (be warned if you are part of the zero-heel-drop-brigade, this is probably not the shoe for you)

Overall thoughts…

I think that the adidas Ultra Boost is a great shoe. I am sure it will sell well. As usual, adidas have put a lot of technology into the shoe in both the upper and the sole. The shoe will confirm to the shape of all but the weirdest trotters and there are no signs that the shoe has durability issues. It also – in my opinion – looks fantastic.

I am not going to race in the Ultra Boost – I prefer a lighter and less bulky shoe. But for everyday use and the odd session, this is a great option. Possibly not the greatest running shoe ever, but then I don’t think there ever has been or ever will be a greatest running shoe ever – it is all a matter of personal preference. I would say, however, that these are worth buying if you want a go-to shoe that performs well and looks great – they might just be the greatest for you.

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Click to open the infographic: ADIDAS_BOOST_INFOGRAPHIC

Training for a mile: must remember to smile.

I was recently invited by adidas to join them at the Westminster Mile and run the race alongside a bunch of other blogger and journalists. They then introduced a twist. I’ll come to that in a moment.

Me? I’m NOT a miler

Now I have not run a race for a very, very long time. Probably almost 25 years ago. The last time I tried to race a mile or 1500m was at school and I was probably 14 or 15 years old. And I was always well beaten by Phil (who was a really good swimmer, understood the need for training and didn’t bow to peer pressure and an addictive personality by taking up smoking). What I know is that even looking back through the mists of time, running those shorter distances was unpleasant. And that was brought home to me last night on a training session organised by the adidas team (bit late to organise training for a race in 4 days, but I guess it is the thought that counts!)

A session to prepare us mentally if not physically!

We were all still smiling at this point - the session hadn't started!
We were all still smiling at this point – the session hadn’t started!

We – that is me, two other writers, a member of adidas’ PR agency and Tom the coach – met at the London Marathon Store and changed into our kit before being presented with a new pair of the adidas adios Boost (more on them in a minute) and after quick introductions we were off with Tom leading the way to a park in Shoreditch, nestled between a railway line and the back of the Truman Brewery.

After the short jog to the park, Tom put us through some drills as a warm up and explained the need for warming-up before a mile race. To be honest, one of the things I like about marathons and long races is that you can use the first mile to get into it and warm up. For a mile, you probably need to do several miles of warming up before you start which seems counter-intuitive to me: run more distance than you intend to race in order to be ready to race. That is probably not the only thing that marks me out as a non-middle and –short distance runner!

One we were warm, we had the following session to do:

  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 2 x 3 minutes at 10km pace
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder

A nice neat session which really tested the remaining few fast-twitch fibres in my legs that have not yet capitulated in the face of old age and a focus on long, slow runs. I actually really enjoyed the session although my face didn’t betray the inner joy I was feeling. Tom actually said that I looked shocked, which was not entirely untrue!

Am I ready to race a mile?

So where does that leave me, running wise. Well actually the session made me feel worse about my chances on Saturday rather than better. The 200m reps were not on a track, they were between two cones on a path in a park, which may mean that they were more or less than 200m apart. I was hitting each one – even the last one in 32 or 33 seconds. But that is 4:08 pace for a mile at best. And remember we had recovery between the 200m efforts.

On Saturday, if I want to take in the challenge that adidas has set up, I have to try to run the mile as fast as Wilson Kipsang ran each mile of his world record in. That is around 4:47 pace. I suppose that it might feel less like my lungs are going to burst if I am able to run a few seconds slower on the day, but not much I would guess. So I would be amazed if I get anywhere near 5 minute pace.

The adidas adios Boost

At least I know that I will have a decent pair of shoes on my feet (there goes another excuse!) with the new adidas adios Boost that we were given last night. I have written about these shoes before and I stand by what I said then. As far as the racing shoes I have tried are concerned (and I don’t get to try them all by any means) these are currently one of my favourites. They are light, fit like a glove and I love the Boost mid-sole material which seems to be the perfect balance of cushioning and rebound for me. And they are orange which looks pretty cool!

So I will report back about the mile race after the weekend. In the mean time, if you fancy trying out this iconic – and for most of the runners I know – pretty unusual distance, there is the City of London Mile Race on 22 June. I think that the mile will be an interesting experience and is short enough that anyone can have a crack at it. And you never know, maybe I am about embark on a new running career as a middle-distance runner. Maybe…

 

 

Born Free: ten years of the Nike Free

I once heard someone say that the Nike Free is the best selling running shoe ever and whether or not that is true, this year Nike are celebrating 10 years of their iconic, floppy, flexible friend-of-the-foot.

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Sean McDowell, VP & Creative Director, Nike Running

As part of the celebration, Nike brought Sean McDowell, Vice President and Creative Director for Nike Running, over from Oregon to London and hired a space that they turned into a very cool museum and technology lab rolled into one in honour of the Free… and I was invited to check it out.

All cool and no fool either

It is undoubtedly the case that when it comes to ‘cool’ Nike are the kings of the runnerverse. Other brands might be purely dedicated to running or more likely to be worn by the fleet-footed speed merchants. But Nike will be on the feet of the trendy types and the fashion conscious.

And Nike also has some serious pedigree when it comes to running. The event that I attended last week really hammered that point home. The first and most immediate thing made it clear that Nike is a serious running powerhouse was the way in which I and my fellow invitees were made to wait on the pavement outside the space for quarter of an hour after the time we were asked to arrive, by big burly security men with ear-pieces. Apparently the Nike team weren’t ready for us… so who was getting themselves ready? None other than Olympian and marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who was joining us for a run. And she would be accompanied by future stars Jessica Judd and Charlie Grice.

The irony was that once we were inside, Paula, Jess and Charlie were all absolutely lovely and down-to-earth: not a hint of the prima donna amongst them!

The running pedigree of the brand with the swoosh was also really brought home when we heard from Sean McDowell and he went through a brief history of the brand, illustrated with picture of Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, standing with his coach and business collaborator Bill Bowerman – the man who invented the rubber waffle sole that revolutionised running shoes.

Whilst Nike has fingers in so many sporting pies, there is no doubt that running is deeply ingrained in it’s DNA.

Experiencing the Nike Free

Charlie Dark, founder RunDemCrew
Charlie Dark, founder RunDemCrew

The Nike Free Experience that I was invited to, was being run by Charlie Dark from the RunDemCrew – a very important man in my life as well as being a brilliant public speaker and motivator. He was the perfect person to get everyone invited to the event relaxed and receptive and was also the perfect partner for Paula, who clearly finds Charlie’s antics quite amusing!

After a quick introduction, Charlie had all of us go through a warm-up so that we were ready to head out for a run in the new Nike Free 3.0 that we had been issued with. As Charlie exhorted us to grab a foot and lift it behind us to stretch out our quads, you can imagine my surprise when I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder steadying themselves and I turned to see it was Paula – one of my all time heroes!

Out on the run in the Nike Free 3.0

After the introduction and warm-up, Charlie and his team had all of the invitees back out onto the pavement and off running.

IMG_1854I must admit that I was feeling a little bit worried about running in the Nike Free 3.0 two days before the London marathon. They are – to put it mildly – minimalist. As we were to hear later, that is the point. I was worried that a shoe with a very minimalist sole and a zero heel-to-toe differential might give me some Achilles grief, especially as I had pushed myself in my last few sessions and was feeling typically sore in my calves already. But running with Paula Radcliffe was too good an opportunity to miss!

We ran for about 45 minutes and there were lots of stops due to traffic and waiting for the group to come back together so I was absolutely fine in the shoes and didn’t feel that I was stressing my foot or lower leg all that much. And in terms of how the shoe felt on, I think the Nike Free 3.0 is exactly what it sets out to be. As Nike say:

Our the most flexible and natural ride, the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit Running Shoe features a lightweight, supportive Flyknit upper and an ultra-flexible, low-profile outsole…

Personally I don’t enjoy running on hard concrete in a shoe with so little cushioning and I must admit that I was pleased when I found myself running along next to Paula and we got on to the subject of what she wears and she pointed out that while everyone at the Nike Free Experience was wearing the new Flyknit Free 3.0, she was wearing a pair of Pegasus. She explained that with all the foot problems she has encountered, nothing would dissuade her from wearing the best shoes given her injury and the Free was not the best shoe in that situation.

The science and the application of the Nike Flyknit Free 3.0

Me, Paula and Like the Wind magazine!
Me, Paula and Like the Wind magazine!

Perhaps inadvertently, when Paula was talking to me – and by the way, what a privilege to spend 10 minutes one-on-one, running and chatting with such an amazing athlete – she predicted everything that we would hear later: that the Nike Free is a great addition to a runners collection of shoes, but it can’t be the only shoe you run in. When Paula is running on hard concrete pavements she does not wear the Free.

Having returned to the Nike Free Experience space, we were invited to listen to Sean McDowell from Nike talk about the development of the Free. And what was so refreshing was the open and rational way that Sean talked about the shoe; the fact that one of the shoes that Nike developed and which ended up as the Nike Free was in response to Mike Parker’s challenge to make a shoe that fits like a t-shirt for the foot; the fact that the Free was developed after meeting a running coach who had his athletes do bare-foot strides on the grass after track sessions; the way that a series of shoes – the 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 – were developed to allow runners to choose the Free with the right amount of cushioning for them. It all made a lot of sense to me and there was very little of the bombastic “Just Do It” messaging that Nike can sometimes resort to.

My thoughts about the Nike Free 3.0

Personally, I think the Nike Flyknit Free 3.0 is a bit too minimal for the vast majority of running that I do. It was fine for 5km with lots of stops on Friday, but anything more than that and I think I would suffer from the lack of cushioning and the minimal heel-drop. I could adapt but frankly at my age and with as little time available to train as I have, I don’t want to put in the time required.

However I do think this shoe might come into its own when I was to want a pair of shoes to do strides in after a session or if I am looking for a really light shoe for track sessions.

The Flyknit upper is great – really light and highly breathable so these will also be a great shoe for the summer when feet can tend to get a bit sweaty, which can cause rubbing and blisters.

I would say that the shoe is a great addition to the shoes that you probably have at home and would be great for shorter stuff on forgiving surfaces where you want to give your feet a good work-out. For people who are dedicated to minimalist running, this might be an all-round shoe for miles and miles on the pavement, but that is most definitely not me.

And finally, to confirm what I have heard so many times before, Paula Radcliffe is really one of the most friendly, engaging, fascinating and easy to talk to people I have met. She is a great ambassador for the sport and for Nike and it was a real privilege to meet her – thanks Nike!

 

 

 

The Nike Flyknit Free is available now – here – for £125.

Nike Flyknit Lunar2 review: light, cushioned and bright!

I was recently sent a pair of Nike’s latest Flyknit creation for runners – the Nike Flyknit Lunar2. This is the first Nike shoe that I have had the chance to try out for quite a while and I was excited to see if this would be the Nike shoe for me.

Me and Nike

The thing is, I like many things about Nike. I like the company’s philosophy. I like the history of the brand. The athletes that they support are usually heroes of mine (well the runners at least – the cheating cyclist and philandering golfer not so much). And I like the design of so much of the Nike gear.

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But since my first ever pair of running shoes – a pair of Nike Pegasus that I had to take back after they started squeaking as I ran (annoying in the extreme!) – I have not found a pair that I really liked running in. The Nike Frees have all been a bit too unstructured. The Marathoners were almost a bit too hard. The Flyknit Racer was almost too light and the midsole felt a bit too narrow for my trotters.

But what about the Flyknit Lunar2? How would they work out?

The Nike Flyknit Lunar2 review

Well straight out of the box and on to my feet, they felt great. If you haven’t experienced the Flyknit upper, you should. It simply confirms to every contour of your feet, fitting like a glove (I know that is an overused analogy, but in this case it is actually true!) and not leaving any voids that can crease and rub.

The Lunarlon midsole is now nothing new – it has been in Nike shoes for a while – but it still feels remarkable when one hasn’t run in Nike shoes for a while… which I hadn’t. It is a beguiling mixture of cushioned plushness and firm lightness, especially in this shoe. And for a runner like me, that has developed a mid-foot landing, it provides just the right amount of cushioning to deal with concrete pavements on longer runs. Which brings me on to the real review…

Erm, the Real Review

After wearing the Flyknit Lunar2s for a few steady pre-breakfast runs, all around an hour or so, I decided that I would see how the shoes felt on a proper run. I had 2 hours with the last 30 minutes at marathon pace in my training plan. That would end up being a touch over 20 miles and I wore the Lunar2s to see what they would be like in a simulated race situation.

The short version of the review – which is all I’m going to give bother you with – is that they were great. One slight criticism is that I did get a little bit of rubbing on my achilles tendon from the shoe’s collar. But if I am trying to hold on to 6 min/mile pace for half an hour after 90 minutes steady running, the odd rub is to be expected.

photo 2The shoes felt light, cushioned and stable and I would say that they would probably make a rather decent marathon shoe if you are looking for something that will give your feet a good amount of protection from the constant pounding and don’t weigh too much. Having completely woven uppers also means that no matter how far you run and no matter what the temperatures, my feet have not overheated in these shoes.

So there you go – the Nike Flyknit Lunar2. I reckon this is a rather good shoe from Nike. It is still not the racing shoe that I am looking for, to wear in half-marathons and marathons. But for me, this is a great choice for many of my runs from an easy 45 minute recovery run to a proper marathon preparation long run.

adidas Supernova Glide Boost review: from cold & wet to warm & sunny!

I am unashamedly a fan of the adidas Boost midsole material technology. In case you are not up to speed on what it is all about, my understanding is that adidas have developed a midsole material (the springy bit that provides the cushioning in running (and indeed most other sports) shoes) that replaces the EVA that is usually used with something made up of millions of little balls of material fused together – this is Boost. From my point of view, I think that the Boost material has a couple of advantages:

  • It is very light. I am not sure how the weight-to-cushioning ratio compares to EVA, but the Boost shoes I have feel like they have a really decent amount of cushioning but are as light as a feather
  • It is really resilient – the boffins at adidas say that because the Boost midsole is made up of many individual balls of material, the cushioning remains for longer. What I do know is that the first pairs of Boost shoes that I tried out feel as responsive now as the day I got them, well over 500 miles ago

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 14.08.46The latest shoe to receive the Boost treatment is the Supernova Glide. This is a new shoe for me. I have run in the adidas Bostons before and I love the adiZero Adios. But when I was looking for a reliable, everyday training shoe – which is what I consider the Supernova Glide to be – I always opted for the Mizuno Wave Rider. But my head has been turned by this new adidas shoe.

The team at adidas invited a few of us to the Highbury Fields Parkrun (in case you didn’t know, adidas are a supporter of Parkrun, the free weekly 5km runs that have sprung up all over the UK and further afield) to find out about the Supernova Glide Boost. Sadly the courier that was supposed to deliver a pair the day before the Parkrun didn’t, so the first I saw of the shoes was as I arrived 20 minutes before the run. Being tender-of-foot I had to decline the opportunity of trying the shoes that morning, sticking instead to my trusted adiZero Adios. But the shoes immediately impressed me straight out of the box.

First, the race

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 14.08.08There has been some controversy recently with the editor of Athletics Weekly and the people who manage Parkrun disagreeing on whether the events are ‘runs’ or ‘races’. I think that the distinction comes down to how much Parkrun wants to help UK Athletics hit its participation targets set up Sport England (or something like that – I can’t really figure out who is who and what is what when it comes to all the politics) and so they call their events a ‘run’ to avoid elitism and get as many people involved as possible.

However as far as I can concerned, there is a start line and finish line, the course is accurately measured, the organisers time how long it takes you to get around the 5kms and there are other people trying to get around said course faster than me. That is a race.

However training has been patchy recently and I have never been very useful over relatively shorter distances, so I had lowly ambitions for this race. My plan was to set off and stay as close to the leaders for as long as possible. The anonymity of Parkruns means that it is often difficult to tell who is who and whether someone is going to hammer out a 15 minute 5K. We will see, I thought!

The starter got us under way and immediately there was a group in front – probably 5 or 6 runners ahead of me. The first 200m were uphill and I tried to stay steady and make my way around the first of five laps as close to them as possible. By the end of the first lap, I was second.

The chap in front looked determined. I could tell that from the back of his head. He wanted this win and all I could hope was that I could make it as difficult as possible for him. So I closed up behind him on the hill at the start of lap two and by the top, as we headed into the wind on the downhill side of the park, we were working together to try to get around as fast as possible.

By the end of the third lap I was in trouble. My heart was in my mouth and I had a horrible raw feeling in my lungs, as though I was sucking in really cold, harsh wet air. Which I was. I hung on grimly and even managed to take the lead for the penultimate uphill section at around 4km.

Then ‘Determined Man’ put in a surge. We turned at the top of the park to start the last downhill into the wind and he pushed on. The string between us snapped. I was finished. Then I noticed a runner on my shoulder. It was Harry Benyon, one of the team from adidas’ PR agency who were there organising us bloggers. Now I know Harry is young, fit and enthusiastic, but when I grunted “Go Harry, GO!” he took off like he’d just started the race (sorry, run!) in pursuit of Determined Man.

For me, the world closed in. My great friend and the coach on the day Tom Craggs had jumped in with 1000m to go and was pacing me, 5 meters ahead. All I could do was stare at the back of his head and hang on. For the last two laps we had been running through back markers and now, as we hit the uphill for the last time, it was rather crowded. I couldn’t see D.M. or Harry. I didn’t care.

I crossed the line in third in 17:20. Not bad seeing as I am out of shape and it was a difficult course on a very windy day. D.M. won dipping under 17 minutes for a PB. Harry barely looked out of breath (bastard!)

What about the shoes?

So unfortunately I didn’t get to try the shoes in the race. Maybe if I had been in them I’d have stayed with D.M. and Harry. Maybe not. But since that cold, wet, windy Saturday, I have been running in the adidas Supernova Glide Boosts quite a bit. I’ve brought them on holiday with me and have been running in them between bouts of eating and relaxing (the balance of running to eating/relaxing has not been ideal, but I feel great!)

My impression is that the Supernova Glide is a great training shoe. Like all of the Boost range that I have tried, the shoe is light, but in this shoe there is a really good amount of cushioning. I will happily pull this shoe on for my mid-week steady runs. The upper is really well ventilated: a mesh with some welded overlays which forms Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 14.08.29a nicely generous toe-box. The heel is well cushioned. And the outsole has Continental™ Rubber which means there is no slipping and sliding in the wet (it has actually rained out here in the last couple of days!)

All in all, I think the adidas Supernova Glide Boost is a great all-round running shoes. It is slap-bang in the middle of the price range for similar shoes at £100 and I think that given the responsiveness and the long-lasting cushioning that the Boost delivers, this is a good choice if you are looking for a reliable, everyday training shoe and possibly a comfortable option for longer races.

Now you must excuse me, I have some essential eating and relaxing to do.

With age comes great wisdom: the ASICS Kayano 20 review

How do you work out the age of a dog in ‘human years’? The rule of thumb is that you multiply the age of your faithful hound by 7. Seven dog years for every human one. Actually that is not particularly accurate because different breeds of dogs live for very different amounts of time. But seven years is not a bad average.

But what about running shoes? Is it fair to suppose that a pair of running shoes lasts about 6 months? Well in that case a ‘shoe year’ is a lot shorter than a human year. So why am I trying to work out the equivalent of a shoe year? Well the ASICS Kayano is on its 20th version and was launched in 1993. According to all the animal year calculators, that means that the Kayano is the equivalent of 650 years old. That is like Yoda-old.

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Old Skool running technology

The shoe is named after its designer and has been sold as a high-mileage shoe since its launch – a marathon runners favourite. The first edition (right), actually called the ASICS GEL-Kayano Trainer, was no feather-light offering. But it did incorporate the latest technology. And it was white. Very white.

Fast forward 600-odd years and the Kayano has evolved. It still retains many of the things that the first edition – and every subsequent edition – aimed to do. But as L. P. Hartley wrote;

the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

Now the Kayano incorporates technology that it’s forefathers could only dream about.

I have to say that when I opened the box, the first thing I thought was “Wow! They look heavy”. This is a reflection of the anti-minimalist nature of the Kayano and also the colour. Ironically I think that black, when it comes to running shoes, adds the impression of weight rather than reducing it.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 21.15.04However as I lifted the shoes out of the box, I was really impressed. For such a significant shoe, this is as light as you could hope for. At the same time, the lack of weight does not compromise on cushioning. I remember pulling on my first pair of Kayanos at least seven years ago and thinking how amazingly cushioned they felt. The 20th edition does not disappoint on that front. The technology that provides the smooth ride is called Fluid Ride and is based on a 2-layered sole which it is claimed gives the runner improved cushioning and high levels of bounce back.

The top of the shoe utilises ASICS’ Fluid Fit technology, which means the shoe fits like a glove. There are very few seams and the mesh is great for keeping my feet cool and dry (except when it’s raining, obviously!)

ASICS also say that their Dynamic DuoMax technology gives extra support and stability for overpronators and that the Guidance Line guides the foot from impact through to push-off providing a more efficient running style. I usually think ‘bullshit’ when brands make claims like this about their shoes correcting the way people run: a runner hits the ground and a force equivalent to 2.5 times their body weight goes through their foot. So for me that would be 150kg. I struggle to believe that a little bit of plastic embedded in the EVA midsole is going to make much difference to 150kg of me crashing down on the ground. Still, what do I know?

What I do know is that these shoes do exactly what they promise. Exactly what they have always promised. They are super comfortable and perfect for everyday easy runs and long runs, when what you are looking for is the most cushioning for the least weight. The shoes are super-comfortable around the foot, with a lovely padded ankle collar. And they grip really well, even in the wet conditions that we have been enjoying of late. I even took them off-road for a trail run and they coped with the mud admirably. So overall, I’d say that the ASICS GEL Kayano 20 is a great shoe for all your everyday training. I suppose that should be no surprise – they’ve had the best part of 650 (equivlent-human) years to get them right!

Taking it off-road: a round-up of some of the trail shoes I used in 2013

This year, more then ever before, I was running more and more off-road. At the start of 2013, I tried to nail a decent cross-country season and with the heavy snow that we had throughout the winter, I found myself running in trail shoes more and more. Then after my tilt at the London marathon in April, I undertook a summer of ultra trail races – including the UTMB CCC race around Mont Blanc from Courmayeur to Chamonix. Spending time in Chamonix in the heart of the Alps for 6 weeks with my wife, the Trial-Princess Mrs. F gave me the ultimate chance to get off-road and into the mountains.

Throughout the year I was lucky enough to have the chance to try several different pairs of trail shoes and I thought that as the year comes to its end, I would round up some of the different trail shoes I wore and what I thought of them. Please note, these shoes are in absolutely no particular order. Right, let’s get started… and if you want more details on the shoes, click on the name to be whisked away to another website.


Saucony Kinvara TR2

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.45.13I am a big fan of the Kinvara as you can tell from this review and I was really excited to get my hands on a pair of the trail version of this shoe. It did not disappoint. The things that I really like about the ‘normal’ Kinvara has transitioned very well into the trail shoe: light weight, low profile, seamless upper, comfortable collar around the heel and ankle. Added to that are some really lovely trail-specific features including a mesh rock plate which offers protection without adding weight. Under the foot there is the addition of spike-like nodules which give superb grip on loose and wet ground.

My opinion: this shoe is undoubtedly for faster shorter efforts. Of all the shoes I tried this summer, it was the one that felt the most like a cross-country spike, which means that it is both light, grippy and low-profile but also a little unforgiving and I for one would definitely not want to be running in these on hard, rocky trails for hours and hours on end. They are idea for an off-road 10km or perhaps half marathon and would also be a great choice for a dry cross-country race.

Saucony Peregrine 3

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.45.54I won’t beat around the bush – I really like the Peregrine. Ever since I was told about them by a training partner, I have always had a pair on the go. Strangely they don’t seem to make an appearance on the shelves of many running shops, but they should. The Peregrine 3 has many of the same features as its predecessors with a 4mm heel-toe offset, which makes them feel really ‘racey’ and the excellent External Bedrock Outer Sole plate and moulded toe cap which do an excellent job of protecting the foot from sharp stones on the trail. There is also a gusseted tongue which keeps grit and gravel out and little metal loop at the bottom of the laces to attach a gaiter to – lovely touches.

My opinion: I really am a huge fan of this shoe. I wore them while I was in Chamonix for 6 weeks during the summer and they took a real beating in the mountains. For anything up to 3 hours, they were the shoes I wore. They coped with wet trails, some snow, dry conditions, rock-strewn routes and roads when I had to use them. The Saucony Peregrine 3 is a great shoe if you want something that feels fast and comfortable at the same time.

Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.49.06This is a BIG shoe – definitely at the fast-packing end of the Salomon range. Nevertheless it is worth a look. Salomon, with their roster of super-star trail running athletes, have a great team to showcase their lightweight trail racing shoes – the S-LAB range. These are the shoes I’d have loved to try out. However when I mentioned that I was going to race the 100km UTMB CCC race this summer, Salomon decided to send me this shoe.

The shoe is described by Salomon asLight, durable and stable on the most demanding terrain” and I think they have got two out of three right – durable and stable. Lightweight does not come naturally to a shoe that is durable and stable and so it proves to be with the XA PRO 3D ULTRA 2. This shoe is targetted at trail runners and fast hikers and I would suggest that it is the most ultra of ultra runners (or those who are very, very slow and therefore on the trails for a very long time) who will like these trainers. As a side note, the pull-and-secure lacing system is interesting and whilst it looks a bit fragile, I certainly haven’t magazines to break it yet.

My opinion: I like the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 but it is not a shoe that I would wear all that often. I like to consider myself to be a reasonably light and efficient runner, I usually aim to run continuously as I go and I rarely go out for more than 4 or 5 hours at a time, so I don’t have too many occasions to run in a shoe that I think is almost a hybrid trail shoe / hiking boot. But if you are after a really solid shoe, with immense grip and masses of comfort, this shoe is worth considering. 

adidas Adizero Xt 4

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.51.49Amongst the shoes I have reviewed here, this is most definitely at the lighter end of the scale. In short, this feels like a real trail racing shoe rather than a trail running shoe (perhaps there is no need to differentiate, but I am going to for the purposes of this review). This is the shoe that the adidas team gave me when I joined their team for the adidas Thunder Run 24 relay race and I have to say that I was hugely impressed with them.

The Thunder Run was the perfect opportunity to try out a shoe like the Xt 4. As a team, we decided to run a 10km loop each before swapping over. That meant that we were running hard for 35-odd minutes which was perfect for a racing shoe. Then we had very variable conditions – bone dry and hot at the start and then a deluge that turned the entire course into a shin-deep quagmire of sticky mud.

The shoes stuck to their task (pun intended) from beginning to last. Despite being brand new on the day of the race, I didn’t have a single blister or hot-spot which could be down to the fact that I do wear adidas shoes, especially the adiZero for marathon races. It could also be down to the fact that the shoes are very well made and despite my feet being soaked once the rain started, they didn’t move about on my feet.

My opinion: The Adizero bit of the name of the shoe denotes a shoe at the lighter, faster end of the adidas range and the Xt 4 does not disappoint on that front. This is a low-profile, grippy racing shoe. It is not very cushioned shoe and that might mean that it is not ideal for very long races on rocky trails. But if you want a shoe that you can tear around the trails on, that will cope with any conditions, then this is well worth checking out.

adidas Supernova Riot 5

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.51.07This is a fantastic all-rounder of a trail shoe and one of the shoes that covers as many of the bases as possible. The Supernova Riot is cushioned, light, grippy and resilistant to rocks and roots. I have hammered this shoe on every sort of trail and it has taken everything I have thrown at it and looks in as good condition as the day they came out of the box. adidas have included some proprietory technology called TRAXION® in the outsole, which gives amazing grip on everything from from dry, rocky trails to slippery, muddy routes. The outsole also includes sections of Continental Rubber (yep, the same that Formula One cars use in their tyres) which really do make the shoe feel safe and secure, even in very wet conditions.

My opinion: ironically there is not all the much that I have to say about this shoe. It is everything I think a trail shoe should be: light, comfortable, grippy and rugged. This is not a racing shoe in the same way that the adiZero XT4 or the inov-8 Trailroc is, but it is also not a big heavy shoe of the type that I think are perfect for real ultra distance races (think the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 or the Mammut MTR 201 Dyneema). This is a ‘go to’ or all-rounder trail shoe that will make a great choice if you want something that will cope with most distances and conditions. 

Scott Kinabalu

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.54.11Last year I was part of the freestak team that took 6 runners to Chamonix for the Trail Running Team campaign. While we were out there I seemed to hear about the Scott Kinabalu from everyone I spoke to. Luckily for me, Scott got in touch and offered to send me a pair, so I was intrigued to see what they were all about. It turns out, they were well worthy of their positive reputation.

Straight out of the box, the Kinabalu feels disconcertingly light. Almost as if the shoes were made from substandard material. But judging these shoes by the weight of others would be a mistake. They really prove that a shoe can be light and resilient at the same time, thanks to the AeroFoam midsole, which is 25% lighter than traditional EVA foams. The upper of the shoe is seamless, lightweight and comfortable: perfect for long distance races.

I had to make a choice this summer about which shoes I would wear for the 105km UTMB CCC and of course having never run that sort of distance or been on the go for that long before, I wanted to be absolutely sure that the I had the right shoes on. Thankfully I was in Chamonix for 6 weeks with Mrs. F. so I had a chance to try out a few shoes. In the end it came down to a choice of three: the inov-8 Roclite 315, the Mammut MTR 201 Dyneema and the Scott Kinabalu. Then I trod on a nail.

I was returning from a run up to the summit of the Brevant overlooking Chamonix and I was flying down the trails towards my breakfast at the apartment we had hired. Suddenly there was a really sharp pain in the sole of my right foot. I jumped straight up in the air and hopped along as I tried to come to a stop. I whipped off my shoe and checked my foot, which was OK and then looked at the bottom of the shoe. Stuck right through the sole was a big, rusty iron nail.

I decided that it was a sign. The thick Aerofoam had saved my foot and as I had loved everything else about the shoe, it was decided: the Kinabalu was the shoe for the CCC for me.

My opinion: I think that the Scott Kinabalu is a great shoe. It really is tremendously light and yet fantastically cushioned. The shoe has a lovely wide toe-box which allows for foot-swell after hours on the trail. And there are plenty of lovely little touches like the elastic loop on the tongue which the ends of the laces can be tucked in to.

There are some oddities – the laces are insanely long: far too long to be useful. And there is no arch in the sole, so you can’t use a gaiter that has a strap under the foot. But those things aside, I think that the Kinabalu is a great shoe. It was ideal for the CCC and I will definitely enjoy wearing them for other longer mountain adventures.

Mammut MTR 201 Dyneema

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.55.55As I mentioned earlier, I was part of the freestak team that took the six Trail Running Team members to Chamonix as part of their prize. The kit sponsor for the team was Mammut and they provided apparel and footwear for their part. The shoes that they supplied were the MTR 201 Dyneema.

The first impression that I, and most of the Trail Running Team members had, was ‘why white’? For a trail running show, white is probably the worst colour. But we were all sensible enough to realise that colour is less important than performance and the MTR 201 Dyneeema has enough technology in it to fly a man to the moon (probably).

Possibly the most interesting aspect of the shoe is the Dyneema part which refers to the material that the upper is made from. Dyneema is a very robust and abrasion resistant fabric that is used in webbing and express slings for climbing, something that Mammut, as a mountaineering brand, knows all about. Under the foot there is some very aggressive lugging and a very cushioned base, which means that the shoe is not the most low profile or elegant of those I have used. But it does deal with everything that the Alps had to throw at them and the other runners in the Trail Running Team all got on with them without complaint, which is pretty amazing.

My opinion: the Mammut Dyneema MTR201 is a great shoe. It is a real ultra-distance shoe, being on the big side and not really low-profile. But it is built to last – indeed unlike many of the other shoes I have tried here, the upper is pretty much bomb-proof and could easily outlive the EVA sole if you are running big mileage weeks. The shoe is also amazingly grippy and managed to deal with all the wet conditions I could throw at it. For a training and long-distance training shoe, you won’t find a much better shoe.

Inov-8 Trailroc 235

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.58.06The inov-8 Trailroc 235 is most definitely a “performance-focused trail shoe” (inov-8’s description). There is a zero heel-toe differential, meaning that the heel and the front of the foot are at the same height on level ground, which tends to force the runner onto the forefoot which is a more racey way to run. The shoe also has very little in the way of underfoot cushioning which gives the shoe something of a barefoot feel. This is not a shoe for runners looking for a plush, cushioned ride!

The upper of the shoe is really soft and flexible. Highly breathable and very lightweight, this shoe is almost certainly aimed at those looking to race relatively shorter distances (although obviously if you are a very experienced minimalist runner, these would probably suit you for much longer runs than I would use them for). On the bottom of the shoe, inov-8 have mixed three different rubber compounds varying in hardness which provide maximum grip on dry and loose trails. I would say however that on wet rocks, these shoes might not be ideal!

My opinion: these shoes are a great choice for shorter, faster races and training runs. I’d use them for dry cross-country races and off-road hill sessions. But they would not be the shoes that I would reach for if I was going for a longer training run and certainly don’t offer enough protection under foot for very rocky trails for me. But if you want light-weight, minimalist and speedy, then these are for you!

Nike Zoom Wildhorse

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.59.15Creating a shoe like the Zoom Wildhorse seemed to me, on first impression, to be a rather weird decision by Nike. I was initially skeptical about why anyone would want to go with a Nike shoe over one from a brand with much deeper trail running experience and credibility. And I was a little unsure about whether Nike would be able to create a true trail shoe rather than a road shoe with some ‘trailification’. But with the Wildhorse, they seem to have pulled it off. This is a great fitting, lightweight shoe with a breathable mesh upper, a supportive hold on the mid-foot, the fast, low-profile feel of a track spike and the aggressive traction of a proper trail shoe. The shoe is built upon a Nike Zoom sole which delivers low-profile protection and incorporates Dynamic Fit technology to provide an adaptive fit. The upper is primarily a mesh material which means the shoe is really breathable and conformed to my foot shape really well. And the backwards-facing lugs of the waffle outsole provides a decent level of grip. All in all, this is a great option for the runner looking for a familiar feeling shoe that is a good option for every-day trail running.

My opinion: I think that Nike have created a really interesting shoe with the Wildhorse – everything from the name to the look of the shoe means it stands out. But more than everything, the shoe’s origins in the USA means that this is a great shoe for dry to moderately wet, rolling, soft trails, which is what most runners in the US are familiar with. The sort of icy, wet, vertical rock-strewn trails that you can find in the UK and the Alps, are probably a bit challenging for Nike’s offering. But as an everyday trail shoe that will cope with pretty much everything you throw at it, the Wildhorse is a great choice.


So there we have it – a round up of some of the trail shoes I have been wearing this year. There is a huge range available, that much is clear. The shoes that I had the chance to try this year did seem to polarise between racing shoes and big, cushioned shoes that I think are for training and for very long distance races. I think that if you have a pair of each in your shoe cupboard, then you’ll be set for the winter no matter what the weather and trail conditions throw at you. If you have tried other shoes and you love them, please comment below and let me know what they were and why you like them… I might invest because after all, you can’t have too many shoes, right?

The Saucony Cortana 3 – a Porsche for your feet

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

My friends all have Porsches,

I must make amends…

Or so the song goes. But for me, I have always thought that the words to that song rang hollow. Why would you want a Mercedes Benz in preference to a Porsche? I’ll be honest, I would happily trade in the Hyundai Matrix that I am driving for either a Mercedes or a Porsche. But if I had a choice, it’d be the Porsche every time for me.

Why? Well my limited experience of Porsches is that the have a wonderful balance of raw speed and sportiness along with quite a decent level of comfort. Which is to say that they seem to be equally happy tearing around a twisty country lane as they are cruising along the motorway.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 22.58.09And so it is with the Saucony Cortana 3. This is a shoe that in my mind comes as close as possible to giving the wearer the cushioning, protection and comfort of a long-distance shoe, ready for a marathon and even beyond the classic distance and the lightness, responsiveness and grip of a shoe that will tear round a 5km Parkrun.

Initial impressions count

Straight out of the box, the shoe looks impressive. It is a tiger of a running shoe: all teeth and no nonsense. The welded overlays are something we are familiar with across much of the Saucony range now and in the Cortana 3 they play both an aesthetic and practical role, giving the shoe a wonderfully sleek look and ensuring there are as few stitched as possible. Indeed, shoving my hand inside the shoe revealed absolutely no seams at all, making this a very interesting option for triathletes and sockless runners alike.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 22.58.48The other things that I really like about this shoe are the Support Frame and the collar. The Support Frame is a moulded section at the back of the shoe that acts like an external heel-counter and aims to lock the heel in place. The idea is that this will provide a secure, stable fit and in my opinion it does just that. It is almost the antithesis of all the minimalist shoes with no structure around the heel, which I love for easy runs where I want my feet to work a little, but I am not pushing the pace. The Cortana is a shoe that has proven to be ideal for sessions and runs where I do want to push myself and not worry that my calves will be shot to pieces at the end. The shoe also had a very comfortable HydraMAX™ Collar Lining which is lovely and cushioned around the ankle and the top of the foot. Saucony tell me that this collar is also wicking, but I don’t think I get very sweaty ankles so I haven’t really had a chance to test this aspect of the shoe. If you do, please let me know and tell me how you deal with sweaty ankles.

Underfoot

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 23.00.50Under the foot, the Cortana 3 has Saucony’s PowerGrid and iBR+ which are designed to provide an amazingly cushioned and at the same time responsive feel. Having worn the shoes for long runs as well as threshold sessions, I can confirm that the designers of this shoe have got that balance just right.

As with many of the shoes in the Saucony range now, the heel to toe drop is a very slim 4mm, which adds to the speedy feel of the shoe, promoting a more fore-foot running style. But the level of cushioning is such that the shoes don’t feel like a racing flat, so they are great for those easy runs, recovery runs and long runs.

So there you have it – the Saucony Cortana 3. I think that this is a really great shoe. It is about as close a shoe as I have found recently to one that can be used for almost everything. There are other shoes that I think inhabit the same space – the adidas Boston is one that springs to mind. And obviously if you run on the trails or you want to race in super-light racing flats, etc, then this shoe will not be the only shoe you need. But so far I have found that it has been the shoe I have pulled on for so many of my runs that I am hoping that the pair I have will last a good bit longer. It really is my Porsche… at least until I can afford a real one!

 

ASICS Gel Super-J 33 and Muscle Support apparel reviews

Last week I was priveledged to be taken to Milan for the launch of two new lines in the ASICS extensive running range – some new apparel and a new pair of shoes. You can read my introduction to the launch and now, having had a chance to run properly in the tights and the shoes, I have written a review of each.

The ASICS Gel Super-J 33

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 21.17.04
The ASICS Gel Super-J 33

The name of this shoe is intriguing – from what I understand, the ‘Gel’ bit refers to the mid-sole technology that ASICS employ to provide cushioning. In fact the gel pods in the 33 series of shoes are placed so as to mimic the the natural fat deposits in the runner’s foot and are positioned to cushion and distribute the impact forces.

The ’33’ in the name refers to the shoe being part of the series of natural running shoes that ASICS have developed and is based on the fact that we have 33 joints in each of our feet. The idea is that this small range of shoes is designed to allow the foot to flex and move as naturally as possible, whilst still providing cushioning and protection and this is reflected in the fact that ASICS suggest that runners should have a pair of the ’33’ series shoes in their wardrobe as a second pair of shoes – not the primary shoes that you do most of your running in.

As for the ‘J’… I have no idea. Maybe that will be explained in due course.

What I do know for sure is that the ASICS Gel Super-J 33 is a very light and unstructured shoe. The upper is a mesh with welded overlays which means that there are virtually no seams in the upper and the shoe is feather-light on the foot. There is no heel counter to speak of and the mid-sole is on the thin side adding to the whole sense of minimalism.

However, and this is the really interesting part, this shoe is designed specifically for over-pronators. ASICS have identified that 45% percent of runners over-pronate and this shoe has been engineers to ensure that those runners have a stable platform when the foot is planted to launch into the next stride.

The way this has been done is by moving the FluidAxis – a groove through the outsole and into the mid-sole which allows the shoe to flex – closer to the outer edge of the shoe, thereby countering the effect of the over-pronation.

My impression after having had a few runs in these shoes, is there is not really much sense that these shoes are engineered for a foot-strike different to mine (which is pretty neutral) and I think that is a really good thing. There is an initial feeling of some denser material under the arch of the foot on first wearing them, but that doesn’t last and I think that unlike so many support shoes on the market, this one does it’s job as subtly as possible. I certainly don’t think that this shoe would be a bad idea for a neutral runner, especially if you are planning on running longer distances in them, where you run a risk of losing form anyway, as well as for over-pronators looking for a shoe that really will let their feet do their thing whilst providing a modicum of support and enough cushioning and protection.

ASICS Muscle Support apparel

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 21.16.27
ASICS Muscle Support apparel… in space, apparently!

I am going to say, right now, that I am deeply skeptical about the claims that many apparel firms make about their compression wear. In my opinion it is ludicrous to claim that a piece of fabric can have a direct effect on powerful muscles deep beneath skin and sub-cutaneous fat. You only have to handle a piece of meat to realise how strong muscle is and a thin sheet of nylon is not going to have much effect.

However I have experienced the benefits of compression, not least when I have worn my Compressport calf guards and a pair of Skins recover tights that I was sent by them to try out. But I remain unconvinced by the idea that running tights could do much to help maintain form and generate more strength in the legs.

So imagine my delight when the keynote speaker for the apparel section of the presentation, a sports doctor and physiotherapist, started by talking about his skepticism about the apparel. He went on the say that the proof for him was in the testing and that having tried the tights and top, he was now a believer and he explained why. He talked about the skin being a hugely sensitive organ that constantly feeds back to the brain about all the conditions it is experiencing. In the case of the Muscle Support tights and top, that feedback tells the brain that the quads and the area below the knee, where the compression is at its strongest, needs extra blood, which in turn brings more oxygen to those regions and leads to the muscles being… well, supported really.

After the presentation and before going for a run in the kit, I asked the doctor more about this theory and we talked about a treatment I had had for a damaged knee, when the osteopath, Gavin Burt from Backs and Beyond, used acupuncture to relieve the pain. Gavin explained that the wires that he inserted would alert the body to intruders and the extra anti-bodies rushing to the scene of the alien invaders would find nothing there and instead get to work repairing the injured knee. It really worked and a similar process is at play when the skin tells the brain that there is a weird tightness in the quads, so send reinforcements.

The same goes for the Inner Muscle Half Zip top that we were issued with. This is tight in the extreme with a diamond shaped panel running across the back from shoulder blade to shoulder blade. Obviously there is not much that a bit of nylon is going to do to hold your arms back and your chest expanded. But the feeling of the top is enough to remind you constantly to run tall and upright and keep your arm-carriage in the right form.

I must admit that I am not in a very heavy training period at the moment – I’m really only doing 50-60 miles a week of easy running at best (and sometimes much less) so I have not been able to really gauge whether the tights can have a dramatic impact on muscle fatigue. But I do subscribe now to the theory behind the Muscle Support range. It is tight enough that you know you are wearing compression apparel and I have no doubt that it is tight enough that the brain is receiving feedback from the skin. It could just be then, that this gives you the small gain that you need to go the extra mile, or hold your form a little longer, or push a little harder and it is all those small additional gains that add up to you becoming the best runner you can be. Which I guess is the whole point!

Tight tops and loose shoes

Overall I really like what ASICS have set out to do with both the Gel Super-J 33 and the Muscle Support range. As seems to the way with all the brands now, the names are all ‘hyper’ and ‘super’ and ‘mega’, but beneath that layer of hype, there is real science at work. I guess the ASICS ‘Apparel-That-Tells-Your-Body-To-Send-More-Oxygen’ Tights, doesn’t have the same ring, so I will happily defer to the experts on that!

My feeling is that the shoes are only subtly developed to accommodate those runners whose feet roll in as they land on them. The dual-density EVA and the repositioned FluidAxis are designed to help as much as possible for something that is made out of nylon and foam. If you think that a 5mm bit of foam is going to change the way you land, when your 70+ Kg frame comes crashing down onto it, you are deluded. But what the Gel Super-J 33 might do, is give you a little extra stability, a little less roll and add a few more percent to your training.

The same goes for the Muscle Support apparel. The science behind the kit is sound. The idea that a thin sheet of nylon, however tight it is, could force the way your muscles work to change is idiotic. But by telling the skin to tell the brain to change the flow of blood or the firing of nerves in a set of muscles, the top and tights can change the way we run just enough to make a subtle difference and that might be all you need to smash a session or get through a long run with less fatigue and better form, which will pay dividends when you come to race.

The final thing that really made me realise that ASICS are actually about performance above all else, was the guest that they had for the day in Milan – the great Stefano Baldini. This is a serious runner. He is a man who, I am sure, could eat out every night and never have to pay for his dinner. He is a national hero and a serious figure in the Italian world of athletics. He has no need to lend his support to a gimmick. It was extremely hard to get a word with him, but he did say, quite openly, that he thinks that both the innovations from ASICS are rooted in research and experience and if Baldini says that, then it’s good enough for me!

Moreover, I for one can do with all the subtle help I can get so you can be sure that I’ll be using the shoes and the apparel through the autumn and winter. We will see whether it’s helped come London marathon time next year!