How fast?

I just saw this on Spinning Around and thought that it really is a brilliant idea – a 60ft screen that has an elite marathoner (in this case Ryan Hall) running along at race pace, while members of the public try to keep up with him. For many people who only see marathon races on TV, it is difficult to understand what 4:45 min/mile pace looks like and this is a great visual way to make it tangible. I’d love to see ASICS roll that out at other events or the other sponsors doing something similar.

Anyway here it is:

The answer; run more

Recently I posted a question on Twitter; “I love reading about running and writing on my blog. Any suggestions for what I should write about? Reviews? Training?” and I got a fairly consistent response

I’d like to read about what it takes to go from simply finishing a marathon to consistently smashing them out in sub-3hrs. (@nickersan)

I’d like to read about how to get my legs as strong as my heart & head over 26 miles. (@alphabetbyrne)

Tips on how to bring your PB down from 3.30 to 3 & beyond! (@stuholliday)

So it is clear to me that what people really want to read about is practical advice for running faster. And that is fair enough. That is what I want and am constantly searching for, but I may have forgotten that a little bit when it come to writing on my own blog. Thank you to everyone on Twitter who reminded me. So let’s start with the best bit of advice I was ever given.

A breakthrough

By April 2010 I had run a few marathons under 3 hours. In fact I had done that enough times that I was confident that I could run the distance quicker than 6:52/mile (8:32/km) every time I toed the line at a marathon. But I wasn’t really sure how I had arrived at that point. I was also getting quicker more slowly and each PB was becoming harder to achieve. Nevertheless I was improving and went to Paris to run the marathon and had a breakthrough finishing in 2:43.

On returning to London I went to the London marathon expo with my wife so that she could collect her race pack and I could receive a prize I had won in a competition set by ASICS – the opportunity to meet the members of the ASICS Pro Team of advisers. Actually I was interested in meeting one person – Bud Baldaro. A legend in the world of endurance running, former national marathon coach and a man with more accolades and coaching successes than I could shake a foam-roller at.

Brilliant, if simple, advice

When I got my moment with Bud, I whipped out my note book and asked the burning question: “How do I get quicker at the marathon?” Bud fixed me with a very steely gaze and after quite a long pause said…

Run more

Bud Baldaro is not this cheesy normally

What?!?! That was it? Run more? I felt a bit deflated to be honest. Here I was, sitting opposite the man that I believed had all the answers and he had given me… well, nothing very scientific really. Just “run more”. But actually there was a lot more to this than first met the eye. I didn’t let it rest and I probed further: how much more? what sort of running should I do more of? when? at what intensity? And the answers to these questions revealed that the answer was to add a specific type of training in a controlled and well thought out way.

Bud asked me quite a few questions about what I had been doing up to the point that I had just run my breakthrough time in Paris a week before. From that he was able to give me quite a few pointers and strongly advised me to seek out Nick Anderson and talk to him about coaching. Which I did. But at the heart of what Bud told me, and what Nick has subsequently got me to do, has been the simple premise of running more.

What can you do?

The difference has been made by how I have added miles. And this is the advice I would like to pass on;

add slow miles to start with – there is a high likelihood that if you add more miles at threshold or tempo pace you will breakdown
recover runs are a great way to add miles – I have 2 runs on three days of the week and those runs are easy, recovery runs in the morning before a session in the evening
don’t set a mileage target – chasing a certain number of miles for the week is not sensible. Instead add a little to your current runs and then add in some easy time-based recovery runs (for example 30 minutes three times a week as an additional run on a day when you already have a session in the evening)

Then it is possible to ease up the training – increasing the recovery runs from 30 minutes to 45 minutes. Increasing the speed, intensity and duration of sessions. Increasing the length of long runs (although I don’t base long runs on distance now as I will explain in a future post). But all of this is done very slowly and with plenty of periods of reduced training volume to allow recovery. After all, it’s a marathon not a sprint, right?

I’ll leave the final words to Bud Baldaro. When asked for a piece of advice for advanced runners looking to go one step further, his suggestion was to:

Take yourself out of the comfort zone on a gradual and realistic basis.

I think that the way to do that is to add miles and intensity but in a very gradual way so that it is sustainable. Slowly add recovery runs if you have multiple rest days in a week, so that you are running six days a week. If you are already at that point, think about one or two recovery runs on the morning of a day when you have a session in the evening. If you already run more than six times per week, slowly increase the length of your easy runs. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a little more can make.

The Spider and the Fly

The famous poem, The Spider and the Fly, was written by Mary Howitt (1799-1888) and published in 1829. It is the story of a spider using flattery to capture and eat a fly, which has become blinded to the dangers the spider posed, by its own vanity. It is a tale that a designer I used to work for would have liked, because he was obsessed with the phrase ‘form follows function’ which was coined by the American architect Louis Sullivan in 1896 to describe his approach to architecture. Sullivan and my ex-boss were not people who would be blinded by vanity – it was all about function for them.

Form follows function

I think that the same should apply to running shoes and apparel; form should be secondary to function. It is all well and good looking cool, but that is less useful than feeling good and having the right kit for the conditions. That said, heaven for me would be kit that is functionally excellent which also looks great and I know that all the major brands intend to produce great looking functional kit, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in my experience, the stuff that is the best to run and race in, is the stuff that I am least likely to want to wear in the rest of my life. However sometimes form and function seem to come close to being aligned in perfect harmony and I might have discovered something like that in Nike’s Gyakusou range for end-2011/start-2012.

I have been excited about some news that I heard at a recent Nike event about the launch in the UK of a new racing shoe – the LunarSpider. What I didn’t know was that I would get my hands on them in the form of a Gyakusou shoe. This could be the perfect combination of function (the LunarSpider) and form (from UNDERCOVER LAB which heads up the Gyakusou International Running Association).

Nike LunarSpider

My initial trial of the shoe is really positive. I was worried that the shoes are quite narrow but the flywire technology does seem to allow a bit of ‘give’ to the upper although the sole is not going to feel any wider. Overall this gives the shoe a real race-y feel. The shoes are very light indeed – 201g according to my scales – and they are very low profile. There is a really good amount of grip, but if you are looking for support or cushioning, this is probably not the shoe for you. These shoes compare favourably with all the racers I have tried recently – the ASICS Tarther, Mizuno Wave Ronin and the Brooks ST5 Racer – although I think that whilst they probably have a little more under the foot than the Mizunos and therefore might not offer enough cushioning for the marathon, they are a perfect shoe for everything up to the half marathon.

I was also lucky enough to get my hands on a very lightweight running jacket with a zip-off hood and sleeve unit which leaves a gilet for those cool autumn days that we are enjoying now. The jacket is not water- or even shower-proof and I must admit that I have only very, very rarely worn a hood whilst running, but I think that very lightweight jackets are great especially for long runs when the weather might be changable. And again, thanks to the UNDERCOVER LAB input, I think the jacket looks great.

The Gyakusou range

The whole range will soon be available and the video at the bottom showcases quite a few of the pieces whilst firmly positioning the brand in its cultural homeland; it is worth checking out.

And so I am left thinking about Nike’s Spider and how the new range might help you to ‘fly’ (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) I have only been able to try a couple of pieces – the LunarSpider shoes and the jacket. But I am impressed. These are both highly technical pieces and the LunarSpider shoes are a really great addition to the Nike racing shoe range and I will enjoy running in them, purely from the point of view that they are racing shoes. The fact that in my opinion they also look great is an added bonus. I would still say, however that we should still always choose our kit based on practicality first and foremost. But if you are not convinced, I’ll leave the last word to Mary Howitt;

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=–sJnZmvJis

Adidas’ new range for 2012

First of all a confession – I haven’t ever really run in Adidas footwear before (I did have a pair when I very first started running, but I can’t really remember them and they were consigned to the bin fairly quickly after I discovered I had bought a size too small for me). The reason for this is rather ridiculous, but is something that I hope many runners will understand; I had a bad retail experience and then never went back to the brand I was annoyed by.

After I started running I always went to a specialist running shop for my shoes, but after a few years, I started to think that I knew what felt good on my feet. So I went to a huge Adidas shop on Oxford Street, in London’s West End, with the intention of trying on, and buying, some Adidas racing flats. After all these were the shoes that Haile Gebrselassie had worn when he and I ran the Berlin marathon earlier in 2008; he set the then world record of 2:03:59 and I ran a PB in 2:51:52.

The problem is that I am not good at shopping. I don’t like hanging around and I don’t like what I perceive to be bad service. So after waiting for a preposterously long time to be served and for the shoes I wanted to try to arrive, the sales assistant dropped the shoes on the floor at my feet and started serving another customer… and I left and walked straight into the arms of ASICS, where I remained until earlier this year.

But I have always liked the idea of Adidas. My favourite racing shorts are Adidas. My favourite t-shirts, long- and short-sleeved, are Adidas. And so many runners I know love their shoes, I often felt I was missing out. But I can be a bit stubborn and there wasn’t really a good reason to stop racing in my ASICS.

But now I might relent and finally succumb to the lure of the three stripes. Why? Well I have stopped wearing the ASICS that I was so faithful to and started trying different brands. And the new Adidas range looks pretty interesting.

Shoes for racing

Being shown around the Adidas shoes today by Kirstyn from the KTB PR agency, I finally grasped the different ranges that Adidas have and who they are aimed at. There is the Response range, aimed at the beginner and designed to provide a choice of entry level shoes. Then there is the Supernova range, offering slightly lighter and rather sleeker-looking shoes with lower profiles and an overall racier feel, aimed at the ‘improver’. These shoes include Adidas’ torsion system in the sole along with a larger area of Formotion cushioning but without any extra weight. Next up is the adiStar range, which is considered to be for the serious runner with further technical additions and even lighter weight. And finally there is the adiZero range which contains Adidas’ racing flats, as worn by Gebrselassie and, perhaps more significantly, Patrick Makau in this years Berlin marathon, when he set a new world record for the marathon: 2:03:38.

The Adidas adiZero range

There are two shoes in the new adiZero range that I am really keen to try; the adiZero Adios and the Feather.

The Adios is the shoe that I think could become one of my favourites. Handling the shoe, it is undoubtedly light and feels well balanced and with just the right amount of flex. The innovation in this shoe that I think is really interesting is the link-up between Adidas and the tyre manufacturer Continental, who have supplied rubber that has been incorporated in key areas of the sole to aid grip. The areas of rubber are quite small to ensure the shoe remains extremely light, but the rubber is exactly where my racing flats always wear the fastest – mainly at the front of the toe-box – and if the Continental rubber adds traction (the KTB PR team informed me that some boffins somewhere have estimated that the rubber saves 1mm of ‘slip’ per 1 meter, which over a marathon adds up I guess!) and longevity, then I think Adidas could be on to a winner.

The other interesting shoe in the range, that caught my eye, is the Feather (see right). As the name would suggest this is a very light shoe indeed and has something that I haven’t seen in a long-distance shoe before. The ‘sprint frame’ that the shoe is built around is a full-length rigid plastic base – similar to the sole of a track spike – that the upper is bonded on to (thereby saving stitching which might make the shoe  more attractive to those who prefer running without socks) and onto which is stuck the adiPRENE cushioning material. I must admit that I am not convinced that a shoe that has such rigidity in the sole is going to be a good idea, but I hope I’ll get a chance to try them out and report back.

Adidas adiZero and Supernova apparel

The other things that caught my eye were the adiZero clothing range and the official London marathon apparel.

As I have said before, I really am a big fan of the Adidas adiZero clothing range. The latest offerings feel really great; super-light, well made with body-mapping technologhy which means that different materials are used in key areas to aid moisture management or improve ventilation. Oh and they are orange (and I mean really orange – see left!) I know that personally I am highly likely to end up adding to my already considerable collection of running wear with some items from this range and as soon as I do, I will post some reviews.

The final items I had a look at were the Supernova pieces that will make up the official London marathon range (at the time of writing this they are not available, but you can have a look by following the link). Again, orange is the colour of choice – see right – and I think that the collection looks good and really is high quality, so if you are keen to show-off that you have run the London, then this kit is the way to do it and is also pretty good technically.

So I would say that from what I have seen, Adidas have some pretty exciting products coming out in the next few months. I hope that I will have a chance to try at least a few out and I will put something in the review section. In the mean time if anyone reading this wants to add a review of some kit they are currently using please let me know (and that goes for any brand, not just Adidas) whilst I am going to pull on my new trusted Mizunos and head out for a little run.    

Shoe review – Mizuno Wave Rider 14

When I started running back in 2005, I was told a dozen times that I should go and get a proper pair of running shoes as soon as possible. That was very good advice. I took myself off to my local Runners Need and was fitted out with a pair of Nike Pegasus. They were a workhorse type of shoe, with lots of cushioning and a really plush feel. They also squeaked.

My second pair of shoes were ASICS and I bought them specifically because the Nikes squeaked. But I never forgot the value of a comfortable pair of shoes and so it was that after six years of running I still do most of my running in terms of distance in nice, plush neutral shoes. The latest of which has been a pair of Mizuno Wave Rider 14s.

I actually decided to buy these shoes in part because I was struggling with the complexity of the ASICS range and what felt, to me, like an inexorable rise in prices – not just ASICS, but they did seem to have the steepest curve. The top of the range AISCS now are well in excess of £100 and for a runner like me, covering around 80 miles per week, that means quite a significant expense every 6 or 7 weeks, if you consider that a pair of shoes will last 500 miles or so.

So how did I come to Mizuno? Well, I was researching Andrew Lemoncello and he runs in Wave Riders. His comment, on a video that you can see here made me think that they were exactly what I was looking for – neutral, lightweight, well-cushioned and grippy (not sure if ‘grippy’ is a real word, but I’m sure you know what I mean). Andrew says, during what is, it must be said, a pretty cheesy film “… you just love to run as many miles as possible in them” and I agree on two counts – the Wave Rider 14s do inspire me to run further than I might if I was wearing a less cushioned pair of shoes and they are also the shoes that I reach for first when I am heading out the door for a run. Admittedly I will usually take much lighter shoes for hard, fast sessions, but when 6 of my 9 runs each week are recovery, easy or long runs, the Wave Rider 14s get plenty of outings.

Now it is time for a new pair of shoes – the current pair of Wave Riders have done at least 600 miles – and I am pretty sure I will go for another pair, they are that good. So if you are looking for a neutral, light-weight and comfortable shoes that will become your feet’s best friends, maybe you should check out the Mizuno Wave Rider. Oh and let me know how you get on, please.

Running Shoes London – more than a shop

This is an unabashed plug. I will take just a moment to say that this is unsolicited and in no way have I been financially incentivised to write this. But whether you believe that or not is up to you and I don’t really care – I had a really wonderful experience in a shop (which almost never happens to me and you’ll see why if you keep reading) and I want to ‘big up’ the people behind Running Shoes London.

The first time I went to Running Shoes London was their first or second day of trading and I had been given a flyer or seen an advert or something offering a free pair of socks or a free t-shirt or something like that with every pair of shoes. Unfortunately when I arrived, I got there before the ASICS rep had been in so the shoes I was after were not available. And indeed aside from the lack of ASICS, the shop was pretty sparsely stocked. I left without the shoes (or the free gift). I haven’t been back since and that is probably 3 years or more.

The reason I haven’t been back is that in general I hate shopping. That was not always the case – in the days before I discovered running, I treated shopping like a social event, hanging out in Selfridges G&T bar after a busy afternoon destroying my credit rating.

Since those dark and depressing days I have completed many u-turns in my life and my old love of shopping is one of the things I now regret having done and vow to never get into again. This is partly due to my distaste for wasting money in general and also partly because I hate having limited choice, offered by mindless assistants in hot, noisy and crowded shops.

However a couple of weeks ago two converging factors saw me making my way, once again, to Paddington Basin to Running Shoes London – I wanted to buy a sportswear specific detergent to battle the ever present permastink that so many of my t-shirts suffer from and I was going away to the Forest of Dean on a training weekend where I would need gels and recovery drinks that I didn’t have time to order online.

The two chaps at Running Shoes London were super-friendly, helpful and informative to everyone I saw them deal with. The owner knew me and my recent time from Florence (I still don’t know how on earth he knew that – it’s not anywhere near the sort of time I would expect people to know) and knew my coach, Nick at Running With Us. We talked about the surge in interest in running that came about thanks to the economic crisis, the state of specialist retailing and innovations in running footwear and how to achieve the right balance of nutrition whilst training and working. Indeed I spent one of the most pleasant lunch hours I can remember in there as well as getting all the stuff I wanted.

Indeed the whole experience was so positive that I want to share my thoughts; there are very few good, independent retailers left – especially since the recent acquisition of Runners Need by Snow and Rock – and the big chains are simply transactional places I go to when there is a sale on to try to pick up a bargain, not somewhere I go to get interesting gossip from the running scene. There are very few shop owners and assistants who have the sort of experience, qualifications and enthusiasm that the guys I met in Running Shoes London have. There are very few places with the diversity of stock and range of shoes that they have in Paddington. And if we don’t support retailers like Running Shoes London, there will be even less of these places. So if you are in the area or indeed if you are curious and have the time to make a trip, go and see Running Shoes London and ask the staff there an interesting question – I assure you, you will leave with more than just a bag of new kit.

Brooks Racer ST5 – the future’s bright, the future’s orange.

Through my association with Ransacker I was recently invited to a party (erm, well it was called a party, which was unlike any party I’ve ever been to) to view the new products being launched to the running community by Brooks.

It was a really interesting evening and the Brooks team in the UK are really lovely people – knowledgeable and enthusiastic. And Brooks produce a very wide range of products to cater for all types of runner. However the thing that caught my eye was the Racer ST5.

Having long been a fan of the ASICS Tarther, I don’t really feel the need to try to find an out-and-out racing shoe, but what I was lacking was a middle ground between my workhorse Mizuno WaveRiders which I use for everything and the Tarthers, which I reserve exclusively for racing. I hoped the Brooks ST5 would fill the void.

The shoes arrived from Brooks this morning. I immediately pulled them on (breaking the tag at the heel with the first tug, but they were free so I’ve little cause to complain!) and stomped round the flat for an hour. I appreciated the wide toe-box, snug heel, flat profile and light weight. These, I thought, could be interesting…

So tonight I ran home from work in them. 45 minutes easy is what Nick, my coach from runningwithus, has suggested and that seemed like the perfect opportunity to try these ‘racer-trainers’ out. The run home was lovely. The shoes are as comfortable as any I have tried. They provided great grip on the slimy wet pavements through central London and the things I had liked when I tried them at home all remained – roomy forefoot, snug heel, low profile and super light weight for a trainer with quite a bit of cushioning. So you can tell, I am pretty delighted with the ST5s.

And then the story gets better.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that the Brooks ST5 incorporates a propriatory material in the sole called BioMoGo – the world’s first biodegradable midsole (unless you count the sandals worn by the likes of the Tarahumara of course – they’re pretty biodegradable). The fact that some of the technology from Brooks Green Silence is filtering through to their other shoes is a reason to jump for joy. The fact that I seem to have found a shoe that fits between my super-light racers and my heavy protective every day shoes, that happens to give a shit about the planet is a reason to run and jump for joy. So thanks, Brooks, you’ve made a really lovely shoe and I reckon I’ll be giving them an outing at the Great Bentley half marathon in 10 days. I’ll report on how me and my new orange movers get on.

Why I might buy ASICS’ entry level shoe

I read today that my favourite brand of running shoe, ASICS, plans to launch a $60 dollar shoe in the US in the near future, as part of its programme to double sales by 2015. This story, which seems to have made more of an impact in the business pages than the running forums, interested me because the price point they have chosen has been described as: the price they can sell entry level shoes at. The implication being that once someone has shelled out $60 for an entry level shoe, they will start to work their way up ASICS evolutionary scale until they are evenually rocking a pair of Kayanos, which retails for around $140.

However I think that ASICS might shoot themselves in the foot with this idea, especially if some of the comments I read are true. Toshiyuki Sano, an executive in charge of finance at ASICS, said that they are pitching the shoe at $60 because that allows certain aspects of the higher priced shoes to be retained, but others will have to go to save costs. And it is exactly this stripping back that ASICS might live to regret.

The barefoot running movement is really starting to gather momentum especially in the US and the UK – only last night a girl arrived at the Mornington Chasers in a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes – and caused quite a stir with certain older members of the club… but that is another story. And whilst I don’t know many people who I think are likely to go the whole hog and ditch their shoes, amongst my friends and peers there does seem to be a trend towards more minimalist shoes – racing flats if you like. I run in ASICS Tarthers. Others I know favour the Adidas Adios range or the Saucony Fast Twitch. Now please don’t misunderstand me – I know these are not barefoot running shoes in any sense of the word, but I do think that one of the residual effects of the popularity of barefoot running is that the rest of us are increasingly looking for shoes with less built into them.

I would certainly look at a cheap ASICS shoe if one were produced and sold in this country. Most of the time I want a really basic, light shoe and I accept that at the level I run at I will need to replace my shoes every few months, so no big deal. I am not a heavy runner and I don’t have any biomechanical issues that mean I need stability built into my shoe. So from a business perspective this could be a problem for ASICS if they find that it is not just first-timers who buy their stripped-back $60 shoe, but experienced runners who think that less is more and who don’t want to pay for technology with dubious benefits. And I think I might be one of them!