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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 22.39.55

Click to open the infographic: ADIDAS_BOOST_INFOGRAPHIC

adidas Boost – the next chapter

SS15_Boost_PR_FW_Neon_3x2When adidas announced Boost as their latest technology, I honestly thought that they were on to something in terms of changing the paradigm. They had created a material that would challenge the ubiquity of EVA as the stuff that was on the bottom of every pair of running shoes (excluding the most minimalist of minimal shoes which have no cushioning at all). But as with all technology, the proof is in the pudding. How would Boost stand up to millions of miles of running? What would runners think of it? Would it become the default cushioning material for running shoes everywhere in the way that EVA had in the past?

My personal Boost experience

Personally I think that Boost is brilliant. It is firmer that a lot of the EVA that is found in trainers. And what I really liked is that now it has found its way in to the adios adiZero – my marathon racing shoe of choice – there is what I think is the perfect balance of weight, cushioning and firmness.

In fact in all the adidas shoes that I have had the chance to run in, that have Boost in them, I have found the material to be just about right.

SS15_Boost_PR_FW1_3x2As an aside, I think that when the adizero Prime Boost came out, adidas had come pretty close to the perfect racing shoe for me: low-profile Boost cushioning with around 9mm drop, durable rubber outsole and a flexible breathable upper. Only problem is the price at the time of the launch – £185!

Now Boost continues

Today adidas have announced the next chapter in the Boost story – the Ultra BOOST. adidas tell me that this trainer features 20 percent more BOOST cushioning material which they claim has the highest energy return cushioning in the running industry.

The shoe looks pretty amazing and there is a very sumptuous video to go with the launch. As soon as I can, I will run in the new Boost shoe and post a review, but for now… enjoy:

http://youtu.be/oqpTJP36okk

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…

 

 

Two’s company, three’s a crowd and more is better…

I have certainly written before that I think that training with other people – whether that is one training partner or as a group – is really crucial for me. I can’t imagine how many times I have finished a training session with one or more other people and said “there is no way I would have done that session as hard as that on my own”.

Group training works for me

RunningWithUs coach Nick talking to the training group
RunningWithUs coach Nick talking to the training group

Last week I was on a training camp, organised by 2:09 Events, where my coach – Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs – and a number of the other runners he coaches and with whom I train, were enjoying some warm sunshine, enjoying a lack of daily commute & office hours and enjoying the benefits of running in a group. In particular a couple of sessions with Tom and Hayley went really, really well and I know for a fact that I would have turned those runs into a steady effort if I had been left to my own devices.

I actually do as much as I can to be able to train with other people. This morning I drove across London to meet one of my training partners to get our long run done. That was nearly 2 hours in a car for a two and half hour run, but I knew that I wouldn’t run as well if I wasn’t motivated by running with someone.

adidas 26rs

I was rather excited to be invited to the launch of adidas’ 26rs – a community of runners all focused on the marathon, housed in a space below the London Marathon Store, near to Liverpool Street in central London. adidas have done a really nice job of setting up a smart space that I’m sure runners will appreciate, with three-stripe memorabilia on the walls including Jessica Ennis’ vest and Haile’s racing flats. There are changing facilities and lockers. And on the launch night there were a few inspirational runners there including Scott Overall, Aly Dixon and Liz Yelling. If adidas can infuse the space with the positive vibes they had on the night, I have no doubt it will be a success. But what would be considered a success…?

I am told that the idea is that runners can come and join in on guided runs and use the lockers and facilities in the basement space to keep their gear safe. And more than that, I think that the Virgin London Marathon, Sweatshop (who were commissioned to set up the London Marathon Store) and adidas, all hope that the 26rs will create connections between runners all aiming for the same thing – running the best marathon they can manage.

I imagine that part of the drive to set up the 26rs came from the (perhaps) surprising statistic that I read recently, that around only 10% of regular runners (as defined by the Active Britain survey) are members of running clubs. These people probably have less opportunities to run regularly with other people. And as I have said, I think that no matter how fast or slow you are, a group will help you run better. If you want evidence for that, all you have to do is look at the way the best marathon runners in the world train in Kenya and Ethiopia – there are huge groups that come together to run and track sessions where dozens of the best runners in the world are jostling for position on the inside line.

I think that adidas and the other stakeholders in the 26rs have their work cut out if they are to make this project a real success and not just end up paying lip service to the idea of creating a running community. There must be a critical mass of runners required to make the idea work: a group of six or eight runners – with a sub-3 hour experienced runner at one end and a novice aiming for a 5 hour finish at the other end – will stretch out to such a degree on a 26rs’ run that they might as well be running on their own. This is exactly what we saw on the launch night run, when, as we tried to negotiate the rush-hour commuters, traffic lights, taxis, bicycles and dug-up pavements on Liverpool Street, the group almost immediately splintered into pairs and mini-groups with some people getting lost and left behind and others charging ahead.

However if there are enough people, then the chances are good that there will be at least one training partner for each runner. And that will be a great resource for London’s marathon hopefuls!

My feeling is that the adidas 26rs is a great opportunity for marathon runners to find kindred spirits for a range of runs and especially for their long runs. And if you go down to Liverpool Street and go for a run with them, I’d love to know what you think. And maybe I’ll see you down there at some point (my locker is #22 by the way!)

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.

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!

TR24 adidas Thunder Run: race report for 2013

If someone asked me if I wanted to get involved in a 24-hour relay race, where I would be pushing my physical limits as far as I dared, with a group of complete strangers, miles from home, where I would be camping – but not sleeping – for a couple of days during which we would experience searing heat that baked the ground rock-hard and then a night of torrential rain and thunderstorms which would turn the ground into a quagmire, with mud thigh-deep in places, I would have rather politely (or more likely rather firmly) said “No!”

But that is exactly what I did this weekend as a guest of adidas at their adidas Thunder Run at Catton Park, just north of Birmingham. It was one of the most fun, most bonkers, most exhausting and most life-affirming things I have ever done!

The team

TR24_2The whole shebang started off about three weeks ago, when I was contacted by Speed Communications about whether I would like to be part of a team of journalist, writers and bloggers, at a 24 hour relay race that adidas sponsors. My instant reaction was that it sounded like a lot of fun and I was definitely up for the challenge.

We were to be kitted out before the race with shoes, a jacket, shorts and a couple of t-shirts, although sadly my trail shoes arrived in the wrong size and with too little time to replace them before the race (more on that later). On Friday afternoon, the team would travel to the race location where upon we would try to run as many 10km loops as possible between midday on Saturday and midday on Sunday.

On the team, along with me and Mrs. Freeman, would be:

• Kieran Alger from T3 magazine (who is a friend of mine)

• Tobias Mews, writer, film maker and ultra-event athlete

• Charles Rodmell from Gear Selected

• Adam Purser who would be representing the excellent Run247

• Sam van gelder from Sport Locker

• Harry Benyon from Speed Communications

On Friday afternoon, most of the team (except Sam and Kieran) met at the adidas offices in Covent Garden along with another of the Speed Team, Ciaran Pillay and eight other runners who made up a second adidas team. As none of us knew each other, we all made introductions and there seemed to me to be an immediate warmth and enthusiasm about everyone that augured really well for the weekend.

The venue

After a fairly long drive, including a service station stop for something to eat, we arrived in Catton Park, where the race was being held, in the pitch dark. One thing was obvious, though: this was a big event. There were fields and fields of tents, a big canvas race village and even some camp fires burning away.

Thankfully the adidas team had reserved an area for us close to the start finish line and within a short while we all had our tents up and were ready to get some sleep. Little did we know how the calm, controlled Friday evening, would be such a different experience to the race itself.

The race

Kieran Alger handing over to me © Charles Rodmell
Kieran Alger handing over to me © Charles Rodmell

We had agreed with the Speed team to meet at 9:30am to run through everything and have some breakfast before the race started at midday. adidas had been great and really sorted us out: we had a pass which meant anything from the catering tent was free, we were given kit – a race t-shirt, buff – and in my case I was given a pair of the adiZero XT shoes, in a very bright yellow (but not for long!) because the trail shoes that I was originally sent were too small.

I was delighted – I love the adiZero range and for 10km legs, they would be ideal. The Speed Team had also brought along Maxifuel energy products and recovery drinks for everyone, which was a lovely thing to do, although I didn’t partake of any of the energy stuff and only drank a couple of the recovery drinks, because Ciaran from Speed has one made up for each person as they crossed the finish line. That was much easier than tramping all the way back to the tent in the rain for my own TORQ recovery powder that I had brought with me.

In the couple of weeks leading up to the race the team had been in contact about tactics. Only one of us had experience of a race like this before and whilst there was no doubt that we had some pretty useful runners on the team, getting the tactics wrong – or indeed not having any – would have probably made for a crappy weekend.

So Tobias ended up suggesting the same idea that I had and we all agreed on that – a pairing system that would see two people in our team alternating one 10km lap each for four laps between them and then having around 10 hours to rest, eat, sleep and recover for another double-lap session later in the race.

The course and conditions

As mentioned, the course was 10km long and runners had to complete a full lap before handing over to their team mate in the relay. It was the hilliest, twistiest and most off-road course imaginable, which was tough enough when the sun was beating down and the ground was baked as hard as marble.

© Charles Rodmell
© Charles Rodmell

But then the rain came! It had been predicted and it arrived just on time. A torrential downpour with huge lightening bolts and thunder that crashed and roared as the darkness set in. It was going to be a long night.

The impact of the rain was pretty instant. Almost as soon as it started, the runners comng back from their laps were beginning to get covered in mud. From the extremes of the roasting conditions we had from the start of the race, this was quite a challenge.

The twisty course, now became a quagmire. There were muddy puddles of slurry-like water which were thigh deep. The sides of the trails became soft and loose, offering no grip at all. The tree roots disappeared under a slick of dark mud. Athletes came back to the start/finish line, covered in the stuff. I had mud up the entire length of my legs, in my shorts, up my back and in my hair and ears.

The race unfolds

Kieran back from a lap - we all looked like this! © Charles Rodmell
Kieran back from a lap – we all looked like this! © Charles Rodmell

As the race developed and the teams spread out a little, we started to really work well together. Appointed team manager, Ciaran from Speed, was at almost every handover where one runners came in and handed the baton (actually a wrist band) to the next runner. Ciaran would hand the incoming runner a towel and a recovery shake and noted down their time. It was like clockwork.

The rain was predicted and so no real surprise, but it did add significantly to how difficult the course became and my hat is most definitely off to the runners who tackled the course between 11pm on Saturday and 3am on Sunday when the rain was really torrential.

I had a double shift on Saturday afternoon and made the most of dry conditions to really push myself to gain time for the team. I then had 2 hours sleep between 11pm Saturday and 1am Sunday, with my next run at 3:30am and my final 10km at 5am, but which time the rain had stopped, the sun had come up and the warmth of the day was turning gallons of mud into a brown, churned up glue that made running so hard it wasn’t funny!

The result

This photo pretty much captures the team spirit throughout the 24 hours! © Charles Rodmell
This photo pretty much captures the team spirit throughout the 24 hours! © Charles Rodmell

There are two results to report. The race result – we came 7th in our category of mixed team of 8. I think that is an amazing feat from all the 8 runners and is testament to the fact that we had a runner on the course for the entire 24 hours without a break. Other teams stopped for a couple of hours in the middle of the night and that is where I believe we stole a march on them.

But there was also another result – the fantastic camaraderie and incredible spirit of our team.  Remember that of the eight, I only knew two (one was my wife!) and for the others, they didn’t know anyone on the team at all. And yet, in the middle of the night, when we were cold, very, very wet, tired and covered in mud, everyone was up for their next 10km lap or were simply hanging around encouraging the runners on the course on. There was amazing genuine enthusiasm and unfailing positivity. As Charles wrote to the team today:

Everyone in the team was so positive. Conditions were awful and everyone in the team had their own extra challenges (battery failure, shoe choice etc), but everyone was ready for a smile at all times and to encourage each other. You might think this was due to the type of people races like this attract, but I talked to some other people during the event and lots of them were really miserable. Even the solo winner said it wasn’t any fun. What made the event for me was being with the perfect group of people who were prepared to see the fun side of any adversity.

I could not agree more.

As for kit, I will be updating the site with a review of the adidas adios XTs in due course, but for now suffice it to say, they were great in the dry and the dust of the early part of the race and equally up for the challenge of the flooded, muddy bog that the course became later on. Light, grippy and comfortable, I will definitely be using these again (well not this pair – they were lent to another member of the team and I don’t expect them back – but I will hopefully have another pair soon enough). I will also hopefully have a chance to try the adidas adiStar Ravens which were the shoes we were supposed to have for the race and I’ll post a review of them as soon as I can.

For now, I would like to say a massive thanks to adidas and the Speed team for an amazing opportunity and for the efforts they went to,  making the event run smoothly. My legs ache, my elbow is bruised black from the tumble I took on my second lap and my feet are stained from all the mud that was in my shoes. But I met amazing people and made connections that will hopefully become good friends. I also discovered a new side to running. And if it is a testament to how good the event was, I am already thinking about tactics for next year… who’s all in 24 with me?

adidas got sole… the adidas Springblade release

Last year I was extremely fortunate to be taken to New York by adidas for the global launch of their Boost shoe. You can read all about the remarkable time I had there, here.

While we were there, the CEO made an announcement on stage about another innovation about to be launched and an image flashed up on the screen that really send a ripple of noise around the room – it looked like a shoe balanced on a bed of stalks… almost alien-like. The Springblade.

What we saw was fleeting so there was not much to go on, but my main thought was this: adidas want to change what we run on. The Boost technology is all about taking the usual format of a shoe and replacing the boring old EVA with Boost! Something innovative that would hopefully be better than what we have. The Springblade is doing away with midsole material as we know it and replacing it with something completely different. It was as though adidas wanted to own the idea that we don’t have to run on what we have always run on.

Anyway, everything on the trip was about the Boost and the Springblade seemed to be a long way off, so I didn’t think much about it, until a press-release and images dropped into my inbox. So here, ladies and gentlemen, is the first proper sighting on the adidas Springblade:

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 16.35.47 Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 16.35.31 Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 16.33.06

The shoe will not be available in the UK for quite a while – I have been told it will be the end of this year of early 2014 before we can see what this shoe is all about.

There is a little video which gives you a very short intro to the technology:

http://youtu.be/YBvOfN8HThE

But in the mean time here is what adidas have told the world:

Today adidas introduces Springblade, the first running shoe with individually tuned blades engineered to help propel runners forward with one of the most effective energy returns in the industry.

Unlike standard EVA midsoles that deliver energy return in a vertical direction, Springblade features 16 forward angled blades made out of a high-tech polymer. The highly elastic blades instantaneously react to any environment, compressing and releasing energy to create an efficient push-off that feels like you have springs under your feet. Each blade is precisely tuned in geometry, thickness and position for each phase of a runner’s stride to provide support and a full range of movement. Additionally, Springblade’s flexible construction was designed to hug the top of a runner’s foot, locking it in to harness the energy returned from the springs on the outsole.

aIT (adidas Innovation Team) tested hundreds of materials to ensure each spring produced maximum energy efficiency with every step and conducted rigorous ballistics tests to maintain long-lasting durability. For top performance in all environments, Springblade is seven times more temperature resistant than shoes with adidas’ standard EVA cushioning.

Springblade will be available for $180 on August 1 at adidas.com and retailers in the US… lucky them!

I for one am going to restrain my cynicism until I have a pair to try. Sure there have been all sorts of attempts to redefine what a running shoe is, few with any success. But adidas are, at least, trying to come up with something new and I will be intrigued to find out what the Springblade feels like. It might just be the end of shoes as we know it, Jim!

 

 

Three is the magic number – interviewing Kipsang, Mutai and Makau at the 2013 London marathon

Mutai, Makau, Kipsang
Mutai, Makau, Kipsang

It seems as though every year, the organisers of the London marathon bring together “the greatest field ever assembled” for their race – London is one of the six major marathons and is an iconic race on the bucket list of runners from the very elite all the way to the back of the pack. So the job of getting the best runners in the world to London, whilst obviously not easy, is something that the London marathon organisers pride themselves on. But perhaps this year more than any other, in the afterglow of the Olympics, Hugh Brasher, the London Marathon race director, has outdone himself by bringing together a really incredible men’s field. And today, thanks to the marathon’s sponsors adidas, I got to meet three of them: Patrick Makau, Wilson Kipsang and Geoffrey Mutai – the fastest three men over 26.2 miles ever.

Patrick Makau

Serious business
Serious business

Patrick Makau is the marathon world record holder, having run a time of 2:03:38 in Berlin in 2011. Sadly he pulled out of the London marathon last year with an injury and subsequently was not selected for the Kenyan marathon squad for the Olympics.

I started by asking Patrick whether he knew, in Berlin, that the world record was in his sights. He said “From the average spilts that I got during the race, I knew that the world record was possible” and he confirmed that he went in to the race knowing what the record was and what splits would be required to break it.

I asked Patrick what he thinks will be required for his current record to be broken and he told me that it will require

someone to train very hard and be in good condition on the day of the race

This idea that hard training is the key was repeated again and again when I talked to the athletes. I wondered if there are other requirements when it comes to running fast and Makau told me that racing along with a fast group, like the one assembled for Sunday, really helps and that whilst he doesn’t train with Kipsang and Mutai, he knows them and they meet at races, so they will be familiar with each other on the day.

Terrible photo. Great athlete!
Terrible photo. Great athlete!

When it comes to training, Patrick told me that he doesn’t have a coach and that he trains himself. He said that he has been running for so long that he “know what I need to do and how to do my speed sessions” which for me, reinforces the theory that all the fundamentals required to create a world-class training programme could be written in a single side of A4!

So I asked Patrick what he thinks is the best advice for someone looking to improve their running.

Quite simple – you need to be good and consistent in training. Be disciplined and follow your training programme. And don’t forget to train twice a day

See, I told you it was simple!

 

Geoffrey Mutai

The fastest man over 26.2 miles!
The fastest man over 26.2 miles!

Geoffrey Mutai is the fastest man over 26.2 miles having run the 2011 Boston marathon in a blistering 2:03:02 – which is 4’42” pace! However this is not recognised as the world record because the course layout and profile of Boston is not within the regulations the IAAF stipulates for marathon record courses. Nevertheless, 2:03:02…! And if you need more convincing that Mutai is an incredible runner, his (legal) 58:55 half marathon PB should suffice. That an a victory in the New York marathon, again in 2011, in 2:05:05.

I started by asking Geoffrey whether he goes into races with a plan. He told me:

I cannot ever say how I will race and I never start with a plan. The plans only come during the race and I have to adapt and make decisions as the race develops. Instinct plays a big part

Like Makau, Mutai said that having a fast group like the one we will see in London this year is a good thing. He said that he enjoys the challenge of a race and that having fast runners with him will provide an added boost.

Keep. It. Simple.
Keep. It. Simple.

Unlike Patrick Makau, Geoffrey does train with Wilson Kipsang and they know each other well. He said that when it comes to race day he knows that sometimes he will beat his rivals and sometimes he won’t. But whichever way it goes, he is ready to race again as soon as the opportunity arises.

Mutai also said to me that he knows that running is a solo pursuit. He said that being the fastest in the field is not important and that all he worries about is himself. I asked him what he does if he feels that a race is not going well and the simplicity that seems to be a theme for all three runners I met, came through again:

Reacting to problems is all physical. If I can respond it is physical – if I have the energy to push I will. If not, then I don’t

For Geoffrey, this London marathon is a race that he has been looking forward to for a long time. He seems genuinely excited and happy to be here and said to me that racing is one of the best things about being an athlete. His philosophy is just that:

one of the best things about being an athlete is having discipline and enjoying your career. You must be happy when you run. You must be happy when you win and when you lose

I had to ask Geoffrey what he would advise any runner who wants to improve, aside from enjoying running. He told me that “through focus you can get the most from your training and if you sacrifice yourself in training you will succeed”

I finished by asking Mutai whether he thinks that he will win on Sunday. He said that he has done the training and feels prepared. He said that

God willing, I will win

I loved meeting the fastest marathon runner ever – he is a truly lovely man and I for one really hope he does have a great race in London.

Wilson Kipsang

VLM defending champion.
VLM defending champion.

Wilson Kipsang won the bronze medal in the London Olympic marathon and returns to the street of the capital as the defending champion, having won in 2012 in 2:04:44. This made him only the second man, after the great Haile Gebrselassie to finish three marathons in under 2hrs 5mins.

His 2:03:42 in Frankfurt in 2011 makes him the second fastest marathon runner ever, behind fellow Kenyan Patrick Makau and he has a pretty handy half marathon PB too – 58:59.

However by the time I sat down in front of Wilson Kipsang, he was ready to leave. The interviews were taking their toll and he was hungry. I had just given Geoffrey Mutai a couple of TORQ bars that I had in my bag after he told his agent that he was hungry. Wilson said something in Swahili and the second, unopened bar that Mutai had was handed over. Then he looked at me, smiled and said

Hi, I am Kipsang!

I only had a couple of minutes so I ploughed straight in with a question about tactic for the race on Sunday. Like both Mutai and Makau, Wilson said that whilst he had a rough idea of what he would like to do, the plan would be developed at the race went on.

I asked what he would do in the couple of days left before the race and he said that he would keep it simple: go for a gentle run, relax, drink water and eat well. He said that he also wanted to make sure he stayed focussed.

When it comes to the race, Kipsang said that he will constantly think about how he is feeling as they motor along. He said it is essential that you “feel the pace” and think about how far you have left to go in the race. And this translates into the advice that he gave me for the marathon itself:

Make sure you train so you feel comfortable running at a faster tempo. Be sure in the race to listen to your body and try, as hard as you can, to increase the tempo at the end of the race

My time with Wilson was up. But he finished by telling me, once again, that simplicity is the key – train hard, focus in training and racing, enjoy what you are doing and be dedicated.

Three really is the lucky number

It was an amazing experience to meet Patrick Makau, Geoffrey Mutai and Wilson Kipsang. I think that I was expecting – or is that actually hoping for – demi-Gods or people who are somehow other-worldly. After all, what they are doing seems super-human. But the reality is that they are just lovely, easy going, friendly and enthusiastic runners who keep their approach simple, dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to their sport, train hard from an early age and race to win every time they go out. It is those qualities that I think make them the best runners alive and the knowledge that miles ahead of me on Sunday they will be duelling it out on the streets of London, will certainly spur me on to do my best.

As for whether one of them will win… well I asked them all the same question. They were all too shy to really answer, but you know that they will make sure they give it their best on the day. If you’re running, I hope you do too.

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

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 00.08.31
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.