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.

The long and the shorts of it

One of the most oft quoted reasons that running is so popular is that it requires very little equipment – a pair of shoes and you are off! Well as anyone who has been to one of the mass participation races in the UK or runs in an area popular with those out training will tell you, that is far from the truth. With the expansion in popularity of running has come a plethora of running kit innovations intended to make us faster and more comfortable. There are GPS devices, heart rate monitors, knee straps, ankle supports, MP3 players, hi-viz vests and every conceivable type of rucksack or waistpack. The list is seemingly endless.

And then there is clothing. The global sports apparel market is worth $122billion per year. It is a fiercely competitive market and as such there is a huge amount spent on marketing and innovating. So it is no wonder I have such an extensive collection of running clothing, the size and extent of which would make any fashionista blush with envy (and I am not alone in this – every runner and indeed sports person I know is the same). As runners we are encouraged, by every means available, to buy ever more kit.

One of the things that I see time and time again are runners wearing too much. I know that wearing exactly the right combination of layers can be a dark art (unless it is just a beautifully warm day – then it is simple), but one is far less likely to see someone wearing too little as one is to see someone wearing too much nowadays. The reality for many runners, I think, is that especially as the year turns darker and colder and greyer, there is a need to feel comforted by multiple layers to overcome the reluctance to get out of the front door. In the last few weeks – as we approached the weekend when the “clocks go back” – the over-dressed runner has become an ever more regular sight. Well that is fine with me. I for one am sticking with shorts for everything but the slowest run on the coldest day when I might pull on my well worn (but never holey) tights. And that brings me to the point of this post – shorts.

I think that for many shorts are a pretty big issue (although for some they can be a pretty small issue – more on that in a moment). OK, shoes are the most important bit of kit, but shorts are crucial to comfort, modesty and the image that a runner projects.

When I started, I ran in a pair of cut-off tracksuit trousers – the thick cotton sort. They were a disaster. Almost too hot in any weather, they absorbed all moisture like a sponge and after a rain shower they would feel like they weighed close to 10kg. And they were spectacularly unflattering for a red-faced, sweaty fatty like me plodding round my bi-weekly run. After a month or so I decided to upgrade to a pair of baggy, black Nike shorts that came to my knees. Massively more comfortable than the cut-offs they helped me take my running to a new level, although it is worth noting that at that stage – and probably for at least the first 6 months that I was running – one pair of shorts was enough as I was running so infrequently that I could wash and dry them after each run in time for the next one!

At this early stage the baggy black shorts were ideal for me. They covered a large proportion of my lower half thereby saving me from embarrassment and the general public from the need to hold down their lunch as I lumbered past. They were also made from wicking material and had a little pocket that was perfect for keys and a couple of coins.

However in time, as I started training for my second and third half marathon and I began to race in 10Ks and even contemplate a marathon I found that I needed more kit to keep up with the increased regularity with which I was running. Suddenly I was forced to make shopping decisions and I realised there are a lot of shorts out there.

I was still lacking the confidence to buy racing shorts so I stuck with the baggy ones but I did invest in a pair of tracksters (no tights for me at this stage). At the same time I started going to more races and I noticed that the fast chaps wore rather more racy looking shorts. It was inevitable that at some point – if I carried on running more and more – I would want to start to look more like a proper runner. And so I remember when I bought my first pair of ‘proper’ shorts. It was after the Brighton half marathon in February 2006. I finished in 1:40:37 in a monsoon. I think it had rained throughout the entire race. I was soaked and cold and tired and, worse of all, sore from the chaffing my big baggy shorts had administered. But I was a runner. And I knew that I wanted to upgrade my shorts.

I bought a pair of Nike drifit shorts that were racing cut but not too short. I felt like I now deserved to look like a runner and the shorts fitted the bill. After that there was no looking back. I have had some shopping failures – a pair of shorts so short that even now I feel too self conscious to wear them – although they are not as revealing as the shorts a friend of mine bought from eBay which were – oddly he thought – advertised in the ‘gay interest’ section… now they really were short!

Overall I think that investing in good kit is worth it. I don’t really have a brand affiliation although I tend to wear Nike most often as they seem to be the easiest to find in the sales or reduced online. I’d like to try Adidas after I saw quite a few elites and top club runners wearing them at recent races and I really like the matching shorts and vest combinations that Adidas seem to do so well, but shorts don’t wear out very often and so justifying buying new ones is difficult. I am also a big fan of Ronhill which seems to produce really good quality, comfortable kit at a reasonable price.

Overall then, I think that a few things are true for me when it comes to shorts; function first, fashion second; pockets are pretty much useless, so less is more; baggy shorts are less flexible and less comfortable; and unless it is really freezing, in the UK at least, shorts are the best for most conditions, especially in the wet.

Bristol half marathon race report

The Bristol Half Marathon is in its 22nd year and continues to grow as runners are attracted primarily by a flat course but maybe also by good organisation, a nice t-shirt at the end and the involvement of a number of the UKs best endurance coaches – not least Bud Baldaro and my coach Nick Anderson. The organisers this year delivered on all counts to the largest ever field of 16,400 entrants. Sadly what the organisers couldn’t control was the weather which was pretty bad.

Through Nick I was lucky enough to join the elite athletes in their starting pen and as we walked to the start from their hotel (I stayed in a local B&B – I might be able to start with them, but I certainly don’t qualify to stay with them!) there was a good degree of gazing at the leaden skies, trying to sound upbeat and making nervous jokes. The reality was that, while we all tried to convince ourselves that these were perfect conditions, in the hour before the start the weather worsened so that by the time we crowded onto the start line it was raining really heavily and, for the majority at least, that was not perfect at all.

The race starts in an overly-designed, concrete and glass area of formerly run-down docks near the town centre. Almost from the start the course heads out along the river and almost before I’d got into my stride we were below the cliffs of the gorge, racing along a road that can safely be described as, erm, flat. This bulk of the route is an out-and-back along this river followed by a rather wiggly four miles in the town centre, which annoyingly incorporating some cobbled sections.

The wet weather continued for almost the entire time I was running although towards the end it was intermittent. However one thing that didn’t abate was the headwind we faced on the return leg along the river. I for one, found that quite energy sapping, especially as I hadn’t managed to lock onto a group at that stage and was running all alone…

I finished in 1:16:20 which is a PB and gets me a WAVA score of over 78%. But I wasn’t happy – I’d really wanted to go quicker and maybe even break 75 minutes. Undoubtedly for me the weather played a part, although the same cannot be said for everyone – the winner Edwin Kipyego finished in 1:03:08.

There were others who fared much worse than me. I passed Liz Yelling hobbling along somewhere in the last third of the race. Afterwards she told me that she has a trapped nerve in her foot, but she was confident that within a few days she would recover. Richard Whitehead, the double amputee who broke the world record for his category at the Reading half marathon this year (where I ran with him for a mile or so), slipped on the wet roads and pulled his hamstring which ruined his race and put paid to his hopes of a new world record, although he ran to the end nevertheless.

And aside from the weather (nobody’s fault there) I do have a gripe that I mentioned earlier; a dark cloud, aside from all the real clouds – the timing chips were supplied with tyvek-type strips which I was naive enough to use and which had one rather significant design flaw – it ripped when wet. So I and several other runners from the elite pen arrived at the end with no chip. It now seems that there were thousands of runners who either had to stop to pick up chips or lost their chips altogether and didn’t have a time registered at all – check this out. This is an issue that the organisers must resolve for next year.

Aside from the chip issue though, I thought the race was great. There were plenty of well staffed drinks stations, great support from the people of Bristol despite the weather, a flat course and a wonderful atmosphere. I’m almost certain to be back.