What I needed for my summer of ultras: kit review and nutrition

One of the things that I love about running is the simplicity of it – if the weather is kind, all you need is a pair of shoes, a t-shirt, shorts and a pair of socks and you are ready to go. If you want to be really comfortable you could add a cap and sunglasses. And you might want a GPS watch. But there are no bats, balls or bikes involved, so really the kit requirements are very low.

However the further you go, the greater the requirement (or the temptation) there is to take stuff with you. And once you start running ultra distance trail races in the mountains, the kit requirements are really extensive. I realised this as I packed for the UTMB CCC the day before the race wondering if I would really need all the kit I was taking. I would find out as I attempted to run Over 100km in the mountains. (Click on the image to the right for a closer look).

What you need to take and why

The first thing that I would like to state for the record is that I am not all that concerned about how much kit I am required to take for a trail ultra. I am not one of those people who is constantly trying to game the system and take less and less and less. To be frank, the few grams I would be saving by spending a fortune on the lightest possible waterproofs or by trying to get away with not carrying everything on the kit list, seems pointless to me when I know that the real problem is that I have probably not trained enough and I am carrying too much bodyfat. So I just take all the kit.

The justification for my attitude to taking more rather than less was brought home to me a week before the CCC when Julie and I were in Chamonix. We decided to run up to Planpraz as a pre-race training run, carrying all our kit to give it our rucksacks good test. It was a beautifully sunny day and we were warm climbing all the way from Chamonix town centre to around 2000m altitude at the top of the Vertical Kilometer course.

As we arrived at the top and decided to stop for lunch, a bank of clouds rolled in and obscured the sun. Suddenly we were freezing – it was not raining and it was lunchtime. But the drop in air temperature was immediate and significant and the moment we stopped moving, we were cold! Suddenly we were hauling jackets and over-trousers out of our backpacks to keep us warm. Point hammered home!

So the UTMB CCC obligatory kit list is relevant and here is what everyone is obliged to carry for the entire race:

  • mobile phone
  • personal cup
  • stock of water
  • two torches in good working condition with replacement batteries,
  • survival blanket
  • whistle
  • adhesive elastic bandage
  • food reserve
  • jacket with hood made with a waterproof breathable membrane which will withstand the bad weather in the mountains
  • long running trousers or leggings or a combination of leggings and long socks which cover the legs completely
  • additional warm midlayer top
  • cap or bandana
  • warm hat
  • warm and waterproof gloves
  • waterproof over-trousers

My personal kit list

I had all of the above plus a couple of other bits and here, for the record, is a what I wore and carried during the race:

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ashmei merino carbon running top. Photo © Roy Belchamber

ashmei merino carbon running jersey – this was a simply brilliant bit of kit. It wicked sweat and kept my temperature regulated. The top never rode up and there was no rubbing at all. It just felt like the ideal thing to have next to my skin, it didn’t start to pong after 18 hours running and the zip neck allowed me to cool down more when it warmed up and keep my neck warm when it cooled down.

Nike shorts – an old favourite pair that I have run in at least 100 times and I thought would be great. Ended up causing the worst chafing I have ever had and ended up in the bin in a public toilets in Champex Lac. Will only wear tight cycling-style shorts for this sort of thing in the future.

ashmei merino trail socks – one pair, 24 hours and not a blister or even a hot-spot in sight. Brilliant!

Headsweats visor (won in a competition earlier this year) – super-comfortable, kept the sun and the sweat out of my eyes. And visors make you look like a trail runner… which is important

 

Me in my Naked Runner glasses at the 2013 VLM
Me in my Naked Runner glasses at the 2013 VLM

Naked Runner sunglasses – really light weight, the right level of darkness to the lenses and the most comfortable glasses I have ever owned – they never bounce on my nose! Basically brilliant for the price.

Scott T2 Kinabalu trail shoes – I had to choose between these and the inov-8 RocLite 315 which I really love running in. But in the end I wanted as much cushioning for the 20+ hours we would be on our feet and the Scott’s offered more than the inov-8s. In the race the Scotts were truly amazing: light, cushioned, grippy and just about roomy enough. A perfect choice for a race this long.

North Face Base Layer Light (long sleeve) – this top was recommended to me by none other than Jez Bragg when I met up with him at the North Face shop in Chamonix. It came out when the temperature dropped in the early hours and it was really super-comfortable giving me just enough warmth for the early hours.

Adidas Supernova tights – I pulled these on earlier than I thought I would because I had to take my shorts off, due to the searing pain of chaffing from the short’s liner. They were great, but I probably wouldn’t have worn them if I had made a better shorts choice.

Compressports calf guards and thigh guards – the calf guards remained around my ankles until about 50km when my calves started aching. Once I pulled them up, they made my lower legs feel great. Essential kit as far as I am concerned. The quad guards went on at the start of the day and I kept them on all the way round. They seem to support my quads on the downhills, my hamstrings on the uphills and stop any rubbing between my thighs. Another essential bit of kit as far as I am concerned.

Montane gilet – this is a minimalist masterpiece. It is made from pertex, so it crunches up super small (the size of a tangerine) and keeps the wind completely at bay. I wore this for the start of the race when it was a bit chilly and then later, once the sun went down and I was feeling cold again. One of my favourite bits of kit.

Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest – this was a present from Julie and in general I love this bag. It is really well thought out, with some great features. I especially like the fact that it will carry masses of kit without swinging around. In fact whether it is full or empty, it fits like a glove. I do have an issue though which is that the finishing is poor – zip pulls have popped off and can’t be replaced. The bungee holding the water bottle on one side snapped and Julie had to unpick the edge of the pocket to try to reattach it. So generally great, but frustratingly badly finished.

Black Diamond Carbon Z-Poles – OK, not something I wore, but these were not in my pack very much. They are brilliant. Light, sturdy and easy to stow away thanks to the folding mechanism. I think that poles are essential in the mountains and this model ticks every box for me. The use of poles helps take the pressure off your legs and back, making very long races feel much more manageable. And the winner of the UTMB used poles, so they must be right!

Suunto Ambit – this is a new bit of kit for me and I absolutely love it. The level of accuracy and detail is like nothing I have ever had on my wrist before and I especially love the accuracy of the altimeter. The watch is really, really easy to read and the backlight is superb, so it is great for running in the night. Best of all, is the battery life. I had this running for almost the entirely of the 24 hours and 20 minutes that I was running the CCC, with a little break in the middle because I was worried that I’d run the battery flat. Oh and as I like a chunky watch anyway, the size of the Ambit does not put me off in any way. All in all a superb bit of kit!

Here is the kit I carried:

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Forget Anton and Julie… focus on the inov-8 Thermoshell!

Inov-8 Race Elite 260 Thermoshell – this is a great bit of kit, that I took to the CCC as my mid-layer. It is really light and compact, but when you take it out and pull it on, there is instant warmth and protection. I would never venture out into the mountains without this again. During the race, I didn’t need to use it, but I have on other occasions and I knowing it was in my pack, was extremely reassuring.

Mountain Warehouse waterproof trousers – really compact and lightweight and with taped seams, these trousers fitted the bill as far as the obligatory kit was concerned. But they are not breathable, so I’d never consider running in them. They were for emergency use only and thankfully we didn’t have reason to pull them out.

Norrøna jacket – I bought this for trail running from one of the outdoors shops in Covent Garden – it was the last one on the sale rail and reduced by 75%. It fits me perfectly, is really comfortable, has useful pockets and pit-vents and is extremely waterproof. Whilst it is not the lightest jacket available, from a cost vs. functionality point of view, it was the best I could get and is definitely small enough and light enough for me.

LED Lenser headtorch – this is the business. It is really bright and whilst it can feel as though there is a bit of a lump on the front of your head, that is easily off-set by the huge pool of light that it provides. In the pitch dark it was perfect. I’m not sure about battery life and mine seemed to be on some sort of setting that meant that it would not stay on the dimmest setting, which would have been more than enough. But that is probably user failure, rather than a problem with the torch.

Nutrition

TORQ Bars - the business!
TORQ Bars – the business!

I carried quite a lot of nutrition products with me and I was rather glad I did. My main sources of fuel were TORQ bars and gels. I had 12 gels and 8 bars (I was basing that on one TORQ unit an hour for 20 hours which is only a third of what they recommend you take, but I couldn’t carry 60 bars/gels and thought that as I would be operating at such a low intensity level, that I would be OK just topping up glycogen levels with what I had). I also took some fruit blocks that are sold to kids in French supermarkets– they are essentially fruit juice and sugar in a jelly-like block.

I also intended to eat at the aid stations but tried to limit myself to as little fat as possible (that worked for most of the race!) so I was eating white bread, a clear broth with pasta that we found at some aid stations, ham and occasionally salami. I did eat the odd piece of cheese, but I was getting hungry after 8 hours of running.

We also had a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce at Champex Lac about half way round.

Towards the end of the race, I had used all my TORQ gels and only had one bar left, so feeling a bit worse for wear I sat in the aid station and had three cups of black tea with sugar and three chocolate chip cookies.  I felt fantastic after that and whilst I know that was not ideal nutritionally, the psychological boost and the sugar really got me going again.

Overall thoughts about the kit

So from a kit and nutrition point of view, that was my race. I think I had just about the right stuff. The shorts were a disaster, but then I know that I still need to learn and improve, so there was bound to be one thing I wouldn’t get right. And everything else was really perfect. I will certainly not be making many kit changes for next year…

Nike’s ‘non-mountain’ shoes: the Nike Free Hyperfeel

I have just returned from Chamonix in the heart of the Alps where I was racing the TNF UTMB CCC: that is The North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc Courmeyeur-Champex-Chamonix race… think I might stick to the acronym!

My race was 100km, involved 6000m of vertical ascent and took me a shade over 24 hours to complete. Shoe choice was always going to be important.

So when it came to choosing what to wear on my feet, I decided to go maximal. This was going to be about comfort and under-foot protection. At the best of times I tend to steer clear of really minimalist footwear, but given the duration of the CCC and the fact that most of the route is studded with rocks (or is just rocks and nothing else!) I was going to stay far away from shoes that are light on protection.

Now that I am back in the urban sprawl, however, I am back in what I think is one of the heartlands of minimalist footwear… central London! This is where people seem to talk about, and run about in, minimalist footwear. I certainly didn’t see anyone in vibrams running in the Alps (although there were a few pairs on runners post-race as they loafed around the town).

Perfect place then, for me to read about the new Nike Free Hyperfeel, out today.

In essence the shoe looks to be a Flyknit upper (which I like – here is my review of the Flyknit racer and Lunar 1+ where I talk about the upper) on a really flat Lunarlon sole with a waffle-pattern outsole along with a super flexible optional sockliner. Basically there really isn’t much to the Hyperfeel.

And I think that there ‘not being much to it’ is the point. In the video I have posted below, Tony Bignell, VP of Nike Footwear Innovation, talks about the shoe being designed to allow the runner to feel as though there is a little as possible both on and under the foot. In the video the shoe certainly looks to be very flexible and the sole looks very thin.

http://youtu.be/HU_tqJAto5o

Nike Free Hyperfeel
Nike Free Hyperfeel

I have not had a chance to try the Nike Free Hyperfeel so I can’t pass judgment myself. But my feeling is that this is Nike widening its offering even further with the Free Hyperfeel. They have pretty much everything covered from trail shoes – which I will be reviewing in the next few days – to these very minimalist shoes which I think should only really be used on surfaces where there isn’t anything to tread on or kick. I think that with this shoe, Nike might be about to crack the code to the minimalist market… they might even convert me!

adidas adiZero Adios Boost review – good just got better

I think that to a greater or lesser extent, all runners are creatures of habit and that is never truer than when it comes to our choice of footwear. The advice from experts and non-experts alike is often: find what works for you and then stick with it.

I have friends who find a shoe that they like and buy as many pairs as they can afford or justify – indeed at my club the demise of the ASICS Ohana resulted in panic buying the likes of which is only seen after the announcement of an impending tornado somewhere in the USA.

Other friends, including some highly regarded reviewers, wail and lament when a shoe that they like is discontinued or even just changed a little, as though the business decision about the shoe was a personal attack on them!

I have my favourites too

And I can sometimes see why. Whilst I do tend to look down on runners who put any success they achieve down to lucky pants or the fact that they have had the same vest since 1962, I do tend to get used to a pair of shoes and not really want to change.

My first Adios...
My first Adios…

When the original adidas adiZero Adios came out, all the faster runners at my club got a pair. I wanted a pair. They were too narrow for my Hobbit like plates of meat. I was gutted. Not only did they look cool but all the fastest people in the world were wearing them. Probably more importantly, the fastest people in my club and on the start lines of races I was running were wearing them.

In search of the perfect racing shoe

But I wasn’t able to join in the fun, so I kept looking for my ideal racing flat. I tried the Brooks T7 Racer and I liked them – but they were a little too flat for me. I went back to ASICS and raced in the Gel Hyperspeed but for the marathon they didn’t offer enough in the way of cushioning for me. The Mizuno Wave Ronin was a favourite for quite a while.

But then I heard a wonderful thing – there would be a range of adiZero Adios Wide… a troll-feet special! So I went to the adidas store on Oxford Street and there they were. The shoe I had been waiting for. I went crazy and bought two pairs in one go, because my man on the inside at adidas told me that the supply would be limited.

And so there I was, at the end of the Olympic year in London, training and racing in my new Adios Wides and dreaming of the London marathon in April 2013. What I would do in my new, light, responsive, comfortable movers. Then I found myself in New York, invited to the launch of the adidas Boost. Moreover I found myself sitting next to the man in charge of running at adidas for Europe. And he told me that if I liked the Boost (I did and still do) and the adiZero Adios (I did and I still do), then I would love the Adios Boost…

If Carlsberg made running shoes

The Boost midsole material
The Boost midsole material

WHAT!?!!?? All the things I love about the Adios – the perfect heel-toe offset, the light weight, the open-mesh upper – but with a Boost sole? I was really keen to get a pair on my feet.

Well now I have and I can report that unlike so many combinations that sound alright on paper but are a disaster in reality, the adidas Adios Boost is a triumph.

The shoe is everything that I loved about the adiZero Adios but with a firmer and more responsive feeling midsole. The shoe has the Continental rubber that certainly makes the shoe feel more grippy and if anything seems to have an even more open upper which keeps my feet lovely and aerated.

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 21.44.46If I have one tiny criticism, it is that if I am not very careful, the tongue, being really light, can roll at the edges and then there is a gap either side which allows the laces to rub against the top of the foot. But careful tongue placement (oh er missus) sorts that out.

In the races and sessions I have done so far in these shoes, they have felt great and that is despite there not being – as far as I know – a ‘wide’ version. I suspect that the new shoe is a little wider than the earlier adiZero Adios, which is great for me and the open mesh upper is probably also a little more forgiving. It probably also helps that these shoes are so striking looking.

Conclusion

For me, I think that adidas have done a great thing bringing their Boost technology and the design of the Adios together. I have sometimes thought that adidas has perhaps too wide a range of racing shoes and if they were to ask my opinion, I would say that they could do away with all the others and concentrate entirely on the Adios Boost. But then if they did, that would probably send me on a panic buying spree in case they sold out and I can not afford that, so adidas if you are reading this, please make sure you save a few pairs just for me… danke!

Guest post: Brooks & Moving Comfort Autumn/Winter Product Launch

When I was away in France recently, I was sadly unavailable for the Brooks and Moving Comfort press party. These are great events, where Brooks’ knowledgeable and passionate team talk through all the innovations and plans for the forth-coming season. But my great friend and awesome runner Dionne Allen came to the rescue and offered to cover the even for me. Here is her report…

 

I was very lucky and honored to be invited as a representative for Simon to the Brooks’ and their sister company Moving Comfort’s Autumn/Winter product launch. Even more so I was one of the lucky few to have the privilege of going to Brooks’ brand headquarters where the event was held.

A barn-like building in Steyning, West Sussex looking over the South Downs on a hot sunny day, it could not have been more idyllic: a small intimate location it really carried that Brooks ethos of giving the personal family touch and the ‘Run Happy’ spirit, which was flowing throughout the day!

We were taken through both the footwear and apparel ranges for Autumn/Winter and I could be here all day writing about the exciting new ranges they have on offer. Instead I have decided to review a couple of products at the premium end of their range to see if they are worth the higher price tag.

Brooks Glycerin 11

imageFirst off we start with the Brooks Glycerin 11, the most luxurious and pinnacle trainer within the Brooks footwear range. This is the key shoe Brooks are pushing as a brand, focusing all their advertising and social media campaigns on marketing the Glycerin 11, increasing consumer awareness of the shoe and more importantly getting it on people’s feet. After testing the product there is reason to see why Brooks have spent ‘BIG’ money on the marketing of this shoe.

Think of that feeling of lying on a comfy sofa or bed after a long hard Sunday run or getting into a nice cozy bed after a long hard slog at work: that is exactly the same feeling you get with the Glycerin 11. They immediately put your feet at ease and get you out the door. The comfort is second to none and the ride is like floating on clouds. This latest edition of the Glycerin introduces a number of new improvements to improve both its fit and feel for the better. Brooks have introduced screen printing technology so there is no stitching on the shoe and this gives it a nice smooth fit with no worries of rubbing or blistering. It also has a nice rounded collar which hugs the foot giving the shoe a nice plush custom feel. Brooks have also taken away any unnecessary foam that was in the previous Glycerin models which does not just have the bonus of making the shoe lighter but also enables you to feel the ground more allowing for a more efficient and smoother transition off the ground for better energy return and performance.

Although the shoe is stacked with cushioning it surprisingly has great flexibility, allowing the foot to move more naturally, due to its enhances Omega Flex-grooves on the sole of the shoe, which are shaped like a smiley face to add that Brooks personal ‘Run Happy’ touch.

Overall I am a huge fan of what Brooks have brought to the table with this latest Glycerin edition. Not only does the shoe have a nice sleek look, the ride certainly has that nice plush premium touch and I would say its worth every penny of its £120 price tag… an everyday trainer that caters for your every wants and needs! (If you want to be part of an exclusive Glycerin 11 club Alton Sports are stocking an exclusive color way only available at their store).

Brooks Silver Bullet jacket

image-1Next we have one for the ladies; the Brooks Silver Bullet jacket as impressive as its name sounds. This jacket is very ‘run practical’, designed with aluminum fibers which are woven into the inner liner membrane of the jacket to reflect your body heat back to you, to keep you warm on those cold winter runs. The jacket is also windproof and water resistant but beware because as the jacket is not seamless it is not fully water tight so you may still get a tad wet in a downpour. However this does allow for breathability to stop you getting too hot when running and to allow the sweat to evaporate away from the skin. There is another key selling point, which is flip mitts meaning if the hands get cold and you have made the mistake of forgetting your gloves you can flip the inner cuffs over with added thumb holes to cover the fingers… simply genius!!

The Silver Bullet Jacket has a great look, not only is it smart enough to wear to a job interview (guilty) this fashion based jacket is sure to gain a few admiring stares when out on your run. Plus you don’t have to worry about not being able to show it off at night as the jacket has 360 degree of retro reflectivity so you are sure to be seen. The runners amongst us that are not so fashion conscious it does come in a more discrete black.

Moving Comfort

Finally as Brooks sisters company I thought I would give Moving Comfort a mention. I personally am a huge fan and the products I have from Moving Comfort includes my number one sports bra of choice. They certainly have the active female needs at heart and you can read more in my product review here.

A brand inspired by women, their new Autumn/Winter range certainly aspires to their brand goals ‘to enrich femininity with inner strength’  they continue to make the most functionally and beautiful active wear to inspire and motivate the active female.

Thanks massively to Dionne for a great review. If you wear Brooks or Moving Comfort, we (that is Dionne and I) would love to know what you wear and what you think of it – the comments section is open for you now!

Mizuno Wave Ronin 5 review – black and blue shoes

I first came across the Mizuno Wave Ronin thanks to Toby Lambert at Alton Sports. After talking to a few runners about what they thought made for a good racing flat, I got so confused that in the end I emailed Toby, told him about me and my running, gave him my credit card details and asked him to suggest and send me a pair of racing flats.

My first Mizuno Wave Ronin

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 00.07.21What arrived was a pair of Mizuno Wave Ronin 3s. They were impressive out of the box, not least because they were jet black and I had never had a pair of black running shoes before. They looked stealthy and certainly drew a few comments and enquiries from other runners. They also felt amazing on my feet and have come to be one of my favourite pairs of shoes for races up to half marathon distance and for threshold and tempo sessions. I even raced a track 3000m in them once!

The other thing about the Wave Ronin 3 that came as a bit of a pleasant surprise, was their durability. Despite feeling like a real racing flat with an upper as aerated as Ron Hill’s famous string vest and an out sole that has sections of little dots that I always think wear away pretty fast, my good old Ronin 3s are still going, although I must admit that I now tend to just use them on the track.

So I was rather pleased when the lovely people at Mizuno offered to send me a new pair of Ronins. And rather surprised when I discovered that whilst enjoying my light, black, resilient 3s, I had skipped a generation and a pair of the Mizuno Wave Ronin 5s – in a bright electric blue with yellow accents and laces – landed on the doorstep. I just can’t help but wonder what the Ronin 4s were like…

Straight outta the box

The first thing about the Wave Ronin 5s is a familiar lightness. It is almost hard to work out how Mizuno manage to pack so much in to a shoe that weights so little: there is a proper grippy looking out sole, there is a decent looking heel to offer some cushioning, then there is the wave plate. On top there is a really nicely cushioned tongue and collar. And a solid feeling heel counter.

And yet the shoe feels like it is made out of helium. That must be in part due to the very open-meshed upper material that you can completely see your socks through. But then in my opinion, having a really open upper is a great thing: I can’t remember the last time my feet got too cold when I was out running in normal weather conditions and if it is freezing cold I tend to be wearing more substantial shoes anyway (but maybe that is just me)!

How do they feel? And perform?

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 00.07.04On the feet, like all the Mizuno shoes I have run in, the last is not too ‘racey’ and curved, so my feet feel really comfortable. The midfoot lacing means that you can find a really good level of snugness and yet there is a nice wide toe-box that perfectly accommodates my ample feet (do my feet look big in these…?) The lacing is also slightly asymmetrical, which is a development from the Ronin 3s, and mean that the upper of the shoe conforms to the shape of my foot really nicely.

Under the foot, the sole is nicely wide and feels really stable. The heel and midfoot also incorporates the plastic ‘wave’ that gives the shoe part of it’s name (the word Ronin refers to a samurai with no lord or master during the feudal period (1185–1868) of Japan and literally means ‘wave man’) and the design of the wave is intended to give the shoe high levels of responsiveness through the gait. There are also a couple of ‘bridges’ linking decoupled sections of the EVA in the mid-sole which also seem to be there to create spring during the toe-off.

When running in the Ronin 5s, I have been really impressed with the level of grip. The tiny dots of black material seem to ensure that no matter what is under foot there is as much as possible in contact, giving a really secure feel. Since I have been trying the shoes I have not actually managed to run in the rain in them – that has to be a record in the UK, because I have had them for at least a month! – but I will update this review when I have tried them in the wet. From what I can feel so far though, I think they will cope with typical English weather admirably.

Black or blue, the Wave Ronin still impresses

So there you have it. I have long been a fan of Mizuno shoes and the Wave Ronin 5 does not disappoint. I think that if you are looking for a racing and ‘fast-paced training’ shoe that is not of the minimalist variety – something that will feel appropriately light and fast for a track 3000m as well as offering cushioning sufficient for a half marathon or even a marathon if you are light enough – then the Ronin 5 is a good choice. And if anyone tried the Wave Ronin 4, please let me know what I missed out on!

Shoe review: Saucony Peregrine 2

At the moment I am having a great time in Chamonix, spending time running in the mountains and exploring all the trails on offer. Just before I left to come out here, the lovely folk at Saucony UK sent me a pair of their Peregrine 2s to go running in and I recorded a video review of what I think of them:

I actually have had a couple of pairs of the Peregrines before and I really like this shoe, mainly because it is:

  • lightweight
  • grippy
  • low-profile
  • has a 4mm heel-toe differential
  • provides a decent amount of toe protection
Image taken from iRunFar
Image taken from iRunFar

I think that the Saucony Peregrine feels fast thanks to the fact that it has so little bulk. Other trail shoes that I have run in seem to be massive. There is an increasing trend, as with road running shoes, towards less bulky trail shoes, but I would say that the Peregrine was one of the first to be so stripped back and light. That said, there is no compromise on cushioning or grip… so you have a comfortable, responsive, light shoe which has enough grip and a decent amount of toe protection: what’s not to like? The shoe even has a ring at the bottom of the laces for a gaiter to clip on to if you are running in very wet conditions or on trails where there is masses of loose debris. Small gaiters can mean the difference between a lovely run admiring the views and pushing your limits versus stopping every 400m to remove another stone or piece of wood from your shoe!

Anyway, I hope you like the video and please give me any feedback you can… good, bad or otherwise! And let me know what your favourite trail shoes are. I am out here for five weeks so maybe I will get to try them out too!

 

The hills are alive, with the sound of running: a trail running weekend in Chamonix

I think that one of the amazing things about running is the variety of ways that an athlete can out one foot in front of another and attempt to cover an given distance as fast as possible. Whether you are a 100m sprinter or an ultra-ultra distance runner, you are a runner. And that means that everyone can find the type of running that suits them.

The reasons that a person finds themselves drawn to one type of running over any other are many, varied and complex. To some extent the choice will be dictated by the proportion of fast vs. slow twitch muscle fibers one has. Opportunity, motivation and peer pressure also play important parts.

For me a range of factors have led me to become fascinated by the marathon and especially road marathons. I have had an inglorious and short (one race) attempt at track racing (3000m in my case). But time and time again, I come back to 26.2 miles of tarmac. But that is slowly changing…

Trying on the trails

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Running in the Alps with the Trail Running Team ©Roy Belchamber

Increasingly, thanks to the influence of my wife, I am finding myself drawn to running on long-distance trails. Over the last few years, my summers have been spent in the Alps taking on long races, multi-day running trips and even longer ‘fast-packing’ trips.

And last weekend that culminated in a weekend of running with six other trail runners who make up the Trail Running Team in the Alps around Chamonix.

Getting to know you!

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© Roy Belchamber

The Trail Running Team are a disparate bunch, who came together as the result of a social media campaign. Their ‘prize’ for being picked from the hundreds of applicants was the publicity of being on the team and in Trail Running Magazine, a weekend away in the Alps on a trail running weekend run by Julia Tregaskis-Allen  from Tracks & Trails and some pretty lovely kit from the team sponsors.

The runners all arrived on Thursday and whilst some knew each other from having been to the same assessment day in London or Church Stretton, really they were strangers. So we had a meal, cooked by yours truly, at the Gite Michel Fagot, where the team stayed, and got to know one another with the help of some lovely French wine!

The team was made up of the following six (click on their name to find out more about them)

Within that group there is an amazing range of experience and lifestyles, but three days in the mountains, with 60 miles of running, 5500m of altitude gain and 3800m of ascent, as well as an overnight stay in a mountain refuge, meant that the team really bonded. It was great to see people who share a love of trail running bring such passion and positivity together and that is what I have enjoyed about the weekend: getting to know other runners. Most of the group said at some point that they are used to running alone and in fact most of them enjoyed that aspect of trail running: the opportunity to be with your thoughts and enjoy some solitude. But at the same time, the experience of learning and sharing experiences together seemed to be a really positive.

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Night running with the Trail Running Team. Photo © Roy Belchamber

A quick mention should go to the sponsors who supplied the team with some great kit. Apparel, backpack and footwear came from Mammut and their new trail running range. Nutrition was all from TORQ Fitness, including gels, bars and recovery shakes. The team also had headtorches from LED Lenser, sun-glasses from Tifosi and calf-guards from Compressport. There will be a kit review on here in the next few days, but for now it is safe to say that all the kit performed really well, all the more impressive given the tough test that it all got from the amount and type of running we did.

Trail Running Team rules

All in all, the weekend was a really wonderful experience. We laughed, struggled, learned and experienced together. I have been really inspired by the six runners that I joined for the weekend and I can’t wait to see what they all achieve in the future. And I think that my focus on road marathons has definitely taken another step backwards while I have been taking forward steps along the trail.

 

Nike Free 5.0+ review

The people at Nike recently sent me a pair of the new Nike Free 5.0+ to review. Having always had Nike Frees in my ‘collection’ of shoes, I was interested in trying them. But I must admit that I have bought Nike Frees in the past as a shoe for walking around town, rather than for running. However since hearing Mo Farah talk about how he incorporates natural running into his training to strengthen feet and ankles (and my ankle is my (ahem) Achilles heel when it comes to injuries) I was immediately interested in seeing how a minimalist shoe like the Nike Free 5.0+ could help me get back into running since the Virgin London Marathon. The short answer is that they are a pretty good first step as far as I am concerned. The 5.0 refers to the amount of cushioning and support that the shoe provides, with the Nike Free 4.0 and the Nike Free 3.0 offering decreasing levels of both. So if you are after a shoe that can help you take the first steps (sorry!) into minimalism, perhaps give these a go. And if you want to have a look at them, here is a short video review – bad hair and all!

Running around Hyde Park with Liz, yelling.

You laughin' at me?
You laughin’ at me?

In my very humble opinion, I think that Liz Yelling has all the attributes of a top coach – she has ‘been-there-done-that-and-got-the-t-shirt’, she has a really friendly way with us normal runners and none of the unnecessary airs and graces that could come with being an elite athlete, she has bags of enthusiasm, she can still really run and… she has a great voice for barking out instructions. All this I know, because I met her tonight for a little training session along with some tips and advice in advance of the London marathon, in five week’s time.

Hyde Park, but no where to hide

We – that is Liz and the two other runners who were invited for the session – met at Marble Arch in central London, just as the sun was starting to set on a rather grey day. There were some quick introductions and then we were off, jogging through Hyde Park towards a spot on the side of the Serpentine that Liz is clearly all too familiar with.

After a short warm-up, Liz took the three of us through some drills, which she explained are better for activating the muscles before a session then static stretching. Since meeting my coach, I have started doing these sorts of drills, but it was nice to see a couple of different ones that Liz uses and she helpfully pointed out that the ones she showed us could be done standing still or moving forward, depending on whether there is space to move around.

The session and some clear instructions

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Me and Liz Yelling

After the warm-up and the drill, came the session. This was a mixed pace session, involving running on a set loop on the paths in the park. We set off at marathon pace for a set period and then, after a short standing recovery, turned and ran back the way we had come at threshold pace, aiming to get back to the start point faster than we had run the out-leg. Then we repeated the exercise with the out-leg at threshold and the return-leg at faster than that. The final set was – for me at least – a return to the first set.

Almost as we started the session a big group from British Military Fitness took up residence on the patch of grass that we were running around. There were at least 20 trainees and three military instructors and as they grunted and puffed and growled their way through the session the army instructors barked out instructions and orders and motivation. They were noisy in fact.

But Liz took this completely in her stride and covered the ground between where we started and finished to call out the end of each rep and the recovery times. I was worried that I might not hear Liz and I would need to time myself. I needn’t have worried – as clear as a bell, over the racket of the soldiers and their mini-squaddies, Liz’s voice rang out. A great attribute for a coach, to be heard like that!

I thought the session is a great way to get in some faster running with a clear focus on what needs to be done – measuring your effort on the way out and then upping it for the way back. It also means that a group of mixed abilities can train together starting and finishing in the same spot.

We finished off with some strides (I can confirm that retirement from international marathon running has done nothing to dent Yelling’s speed!) and a short cool-down as the darkness descended in the park, ending a really good – albeit short – session.

Tips from a seasoned pro.

While we were running, Liz shared some of her tips for the final few weeks of the marathon and I thought I’d pass them on:

  1. Liz said that on race-day she has a very light breakfast: three slices of white toast with butter and jam, maybe a slice of cake (cake featured quite prominently in the conversation throughout our time with Liz!) and a cup of tea or coffee. She said that anything heavy and fibrous like porridge can be hard to digest and went on to suggest that race-day breakfast should be practiced before the big day
  2. Gels form an important part of Liz’s race nutrition and she said that in a marathon she would take six of them. In her case the gels would be taped to bottles that were laid out for the elite athletes, whereas the rest of us have to carry them. But they are obviously useful and worth getting right in training
  3. We talked about pacing and Liz said that knowing your pace is crucial. I was pleased to hear that Liz used the same tactic I do in races – a stopwatch and target split times written on the wrist. She admitted using a GPS in a race once and said that due the inaccuracy that is standard with all GPSs, it was one of the biggest mistakes she ever made
  4. Liz has never needed to use the loo in a race. She told us that it is crucial that runners plan their race-morning preparation to make sure they are completely comfortable when they set off and remain so throughout a race like the marathon
  5. During the taper, Liz would maintain the frequency of her runs, i.e. if she ran every day, she would continue to do that all the way up to the race, but reduce the duration and intensity of the runs to the point where the run the day before the race would be a 30 minute jog. She didn’t like not running because it left her feeling stiff and tight

The future?

I asked Liz about her future plans and whilst she said that for now she is enjoying not putting herself through the rigours of hard training, which she has done from the age of 9 years old, she does love the mountains and thinks that one day she might have a crack at the North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, just for the experience. But it is clear that the plans are far from firm yet: it is just something Liz thinks she’d like to do one day.

One thing that is clear though, is that Liz is still driven and competitive. She admitted that she cares about where she comes when she enters a Park Run (first woman usually and overall winner in at least one race recently) and she is also focused on the athletes she is training. And one thing is for sure, Liz will make sure anyone she works with hear her and know exactly what is expected of them!

 

 

 

A note about the kit – I ran the session tonight in a pair of adiZero Boston. There will be a more in-depth review, but they have immediately become one of my favourite shoes. Light, firm and roomy in the toe-box, I think I’ll be using these for hilly races and lots of faster tempo-style training runs. The tights and t-shirt were old ones I had at home. The jacket is from the new London Marathon 2013 range, but I actually ended up with a women’s jacket, so the less said about that the better! Nice jacket though.

ASICS x Lakeland Trail Series

My first pair of off-road running shoes were ASICS Gel Trabuco. I bought them because at the time I was an ‘ASICS Man’ – every pair of shoes I owned were ASICS. So when I needed something tough and grippy for off-road ultra marathons that my best friend and I were going to run, I went for the brand of sound mind and sound body.

The shoes were wonderful and almost indestructible. I must have run close to 1000 miles in the first pair I got, through rain and snow and mud for hours at a time, before they finally gave in and went to trainer heaven (the back of a shed in the garden of the flat I lived in, I think!)

But ASICS never seemed to be about trail to me. For me, they were about nice, clear, flat road races, in Japan, on the feet of lithe, lightweight high-mileage monsters. The trail was reserved for the European brands such as Salamon, inov-8, Walsh or La Sportiva. Indeed once I returned to ultra distance trail running with my wife a couple of years ago, it was those brands (well, maybe with the exception of Walsh) that seemed to be on most feet.

ASICS award winning Fuji Trabuco
ASICS award winning Fuji Trabuco

But now ASICS have stated their intention of becoming a player in the trail running scene. They have got an enhanced range of shoes including the Gel Fuji Trabuco and they have just announced that they will be the sponsor for the Lakeland Trail series, which includes races from 10km up to 42km and all in beautiful and hills bits of the UK.

So I for one am excited to see what ASICS can bring to trail running. I reckon the shoes are pretty good and I am hoping to have a pair or two to test out as I start to prepare for the 100km CCC race around Mont Blanc this summer. If that happens, expect a review on this here blog. In the mean time, here is a gratuitous shot of some runners in the hills… lovely!

Runners. On trails. In ASICS.
Runners. On trails. In ASICS.