Winter gear and a review of the inov-8 Race Elite range

At the risk of sounding like a fashion blogger (and believe me, when it comes to personal style, I am in the bottom tier of the population!) there does seem to come a point in the year when I put away my summer running gear and bring out my winter kit.

It is not as dramatic as making a complete change on one day, but I certainly dig out my running tights, check that they don’t have holes in them, maybe wash them after not wearing them for 6 months. The same goes for long-sleeve tops and jackets that have not seen the light of day since before the London marathon in April. I then starting trying to remember where I put the running hats and gloves, etc that I know I will be looking for pretty soon.

My selection of winter kit
My selection of winter kit

Basically winter is most definitely coming and kit will be required to deal with the conditions. And dealing with the conditions is absolutely crucial if you want to be the best runner you can be. Hibernation is not an option: it is a scary thought but the London marathon is only 176 days away. That is 5 months and 25 days from today or perhaps 20 long runs… so it is important that you don’t miss many of them!

Winter miles = summer smiles

Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not a running masochist. I’ve woken up on many, many occasions, heard the rain tapping on the window and felt an icy draft blowing through the window and wanted, more than anything, to roll over and have another hour in bed.

However (and this is a BIG ‘however’) I have learned that if I was to take all the ‘want to roll over and go back to sleep’ and put it in a big pile of ‘want’ it would not be as big and important as the pile of ‘wanting to know how good I can be as a runner’. So I get up. Because by getting up and dealing with whatever the weather is bringing to the party, I am giving myself a little more chance of running the marathon PB that I so desperately want in my next marathon in April 2014.

Make the tough runs as safe and comfortable as possible

So I think that most of the time I have the mental toughness to know that I want the longer term goal more than I want the short-term enjoyment of an hour more in bed. It is a struggle though. And that toughness does not make me immune to the cold and the wet. I still don’t want to go out in miserable weather before the sun has come up. And that is where kit comes in…

The right kit can, at the very least, make a run more comfortable. In extreme circumstances, it can make a run safer.

The basics

If you are faced with cold, wet conditions, you need kit that strikes a balance between comfort and protection and gear that offers you so much protection that you can’t run properly in it. My advice is: if in doubt, go for less than you think you’ll need – you will soon warm up and to be honest, once you are drenched, all the kit in the world won’t stop you being wet. All you will do is end up carrying the water around with you.

The stuff that I have in my winter wardrobe is really simple:

  • tights
  • long-sleeved tops (a couple have a collar and a zip neck for extra warmth)
  • wind-proof jackets
  • waterproof jackets
  • accessories such as thin beanie hats, buff neck-gaiter things, gloves.

That is about it.

Then recently my kit had an upgrade when I had the opportunity to try out a couple of items that hit the spot as far as the protection vs. performance balance is concerned.

Inov-8’s Race Elite jackets

Anton, Julie and me (and my inov-8 Thermoshell!)
Anton, Julie and me (and my inov-8 Thermoshell!)

The lovely people at inov-8 were very generous and sent me two jackets from their Race Elite range to try out: the Race Elite™ 150 Stormshell jacket and Race Elite™  260 Thermoshell. Both arrived in time for the CCC and I suppose I am grateful that in the end the race was blessed with such great conditions that I had no need for either a warm layer (which is what the Thermoshell is) or a waterproof. But I have been wearing the Thermoshell in particular a huge amount for all sorts of activities and thought it would be timely to write down my thoughts about both.

Race Elite™ 150 Stormshell

The inov-8 Race Elite Stormshell
The inov-8 Race Elite Stormshell

Technology is a wonderful thing and in many spheres advancements mean that stuff is getting smaller and lighter. Waterproof apparel is no exception.  The Race Elite 150 Stormshell is feather-light. Inov-8 say that it weighs 150g, but I think that it might even be less than that. Either way, this jacket barely registers if you have it in your pack, bumbag or even stuffed in a pocket. But – and here is the really amazing thing – it is totally waterproof: 20,000mm Hydrostatic Head, water-resistant zip at the front and a hood that fits like a glove-for-your-head… Anyway, this jacket will do as good a job at keeping you dry as you can hope for, especially from something that is so light and compact.

The detailing is also great. The hood is wired so that it keeps rain out of your eyes and is adjusted to fit with a one-handed tug of a toggle at the back of the head. There is a waterproof chest pocket for a map, etc. The waist can be adjusted to ensure it doesn’t ride up or let any drafts in with another one-handed toggle-pull. And there are thumb-loops to make sure that the sleeves stay down over your hands.

Race Elite™  260 Thermoshell

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 11.50.41

The other jacket that inov-8 gave me to try is a marvelous bit of kit. Probably slightly specialised, but no less wonderful for all that. The Thermoshell is a reversible duvet jacket. It has Primaloft on one side (the blue side) and a Pertex outer on the other side (the black side). The idea here is that with the Pertex side outermost, the jacket is 10% warmer than the other way around, so you can regulate how warm you are on the fly. I must say that I have not been able to scientifically test this claim myself, but it definitely feels warmer with the black side outermost (but maybe that is just me being suggestible, who knows?)

inov-8 Race Elite Thermoshell
inov-8 Race Elite Thermoshell

The Thermoshell is not a down feather jacket – Primaloft is a synthetic insulating material – which means that this jacket is not as prone to being useless if it gets wet and the Primaloft is also ‘zoned’ so that there is 40g per m2 on the body and  25g/m2 in the arms and collar, so you have more warmth where you need it and more movement in the arms where it is important. There is also a nice long zip at the front that can be opened from the bottom to allow some cool air in if you start to get too warm. And if that is not enough, whip the jacket off and it goes into a stuff-sac and in your pack or you can carry it in your hand. At 260g it really won’t be a burden.

Winter gear… great idea!

So there you go. In my opinion having decent winter gear is really important. Make no mistake, when it is cold and wet and you’re tucked up in bed, you need all the help you can to get out for your run. Knowing that you have the right kit will be a big help.

I also think that if you can be comfortable while you are running, that helps you to stay out for those long runs and also run slowly on your recovery runs. I can highly recommend both of the inov-8 products and if you have any other recommendations for kit that works for you, please let me know – I am always curious to know what people use when they are running.

 

Hot dang! An ashmei merino wool product review

Disclaimer – please read this: I want to make it really clear from the very start that as the co-owner of freestak, I work for ashmei supplying social media marketing services. Stuart, the owner of ashmei, was very generous and sent me some ashmei kit to try out and run in. However this blog is very much an “all views my own” thing and I don’t allow my work at freestak to influence my writing here, so this review is my honest feeling – I don’t write about what I don’t like!

ashmei product review

I recently received a rather lovely package from the team at ashmei – a white fabric bag containing a Running Merino Sweatshirt, a short-sleeve merino + carbon jersey and a pair of 2-in-1 Shorts.

I have been wearing then quite a bit since they arrived, but on Sunday I had the opportunity to really give the short-sleeved top and the shorts a proper outing – the 28 mile Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series marathon on the Flete Estate in Devon. You can read my race report here.

Perfect conditions

Due to a bit of disorganisation (freestak has been very busy!) Julie and I ended up getting up at 3am to drive to the race start. This all added to the sense of adventure and the brilliant, golden sunrise, as we passed Stonehenge – shrouded in mist – with a massive, forlorn-looking moon hanging in the sky in front of us, is something I will remember for a long, long time.

The sun came up and there was not a cloud in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful day. It was also going to be warm. Hopefully my ashmei kit would cope.

ashmei performance

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 21.34.53As we started I was wearing my ashmei short-sleeve jersey, arm warmers, the 2-in-1 shorts from ashmei, Runderwear from RunBreeze, calf guards from Compressport, socks from ASICS and Mizuno trail shoes. I also had my fantastic new pack from Ultimate Direction (a present from Julie). Finally I had on a running cap from Sugoi and my Naked Runner shades. Sorted, ready to go!

It was warm by the time the gun went at 8:50am and within a couple of miles the arm-warmers were in my pack (Julie did say ‘I told you so’!) but apart from that, my kit choices were spot on.

The merino jersey was great. It is reasonably fitted without being skin-tight, which meant that there was no rucking and the top grabbed any sweat and wicked it away, without restricting breathing or showing off my love handles. The heat didn’t bother me and the top was entirely itch-free. Even my back – which is usually very damp after running for 5 hours with a rucksack on, felt drier then normal.

The shorts did benefit from the Runderwear (please check it out – I think it is utterly genius!) and the merino inner shorts gave a nice level of compression without cutting off the blood supply. Despite the heat, there was no chaffing at all. As we passed another runner in our ‘marathon’ race who was wearing the same shorts, I thought how nice the shorts looked, which is an added bonus.

Race result, kit result.

In the end Julie and I took just over 5 hours for the 28-odd miles. That is quite a long time on your feet and especially in the heat.

I was worried before I started that being hot for that long would make for a pretty uncomfortable run, but not so. The merino seems to do exactly what it says on the tin and wicked the sweat away nicely. I didn’t itch and there was no chafing.

So I would say that for long, slow runs and ultra marathons, the ashmei kit is great. The shorts would be too heavy for me to race anything up to a marathon in. but for hours on the feet, I think the ashmei kit is an ideal choice. Once I have washed it, I’ll post an update. And in the mean time if anyone else has any experiences with or thoughts about merino wool for running apparel, please let me know.