Robbie Britton and inov-8: two great things come together

Robbie getting the jump on the competition (I'm sure he'll get indigestion doing that) © http://www.xnrg.co.uk/
Robbie getting the jump on the competition (I’m sure he’ll get indigestion doing that) © http://www.xnrg.co.uk/

I have recently had the chance to get to know ultra runner, adventurer and all-round top-bloke, Robbie Britton and we have crossed paths at a number of events – almost literally at the Bristol half marathon last year when he was pacing a group (did they have any idea of the caliber of the runner leading them along, I wonder?) as I ran past on the road back into Bristol. I was gritting my teeth and trying for all I was worth to hang on to 75 minute pace. Robbie looked as cool as a cucumber as he floated up the hill with a peloton of runners glued to his back. He easily managed to shout some encouragement to me. I could barely wave in response!

The last time Robbie and I met for a coffee, a few months ago, we were chatting about plans for the future. I was getting ever more embedded in freestak work and the launch of Like the Wind. Robbie was clearing the way for a tilt at ultra-running stardom.

Well, I am pleased to say that I have managed both of my targets – freestak is growing daily and Like the Wind issue #1 is out.

But what about Robbie? How is he getting on?

Pretty bloody well is the answer. Having been crowned 2013 UK Ultra Runner of the Year, Robbie has now announced that he is joining inov-8 as one of their sponsored athletes.

He is already a fan of their shoes and has raced in them quite regularly. Inov-8 are looking for committed athletes to join their team. It is a match made in heaven!

What’s next for Robbi-v8?

So having joined the inov-8 team, Robbie has announced that he is not resting on his laurels (presumably the same ones that he picked up in Athens at the end of the Spartathlon). His next big race is in a place very close to my heart – the Canary Islands, where I just spent a glorious week with Julie – where Robbie will take on the Trans Vulcania in La Palma on 10 May.

Robbie’s thoughts about the Transvulcania are typical from what I know of him:

I have been to La Palma once before, taking in a few epic days in the mountains before setting off to sail the Atlantic in a boat built by a crazy old man advertising for crew on Gumtree!

At 51 miles, Transvulcania is a little bit short for me but it has more ascent – there’s 2,000m in the first 11 miles – than the 24-hour stuff. I will go there, chuck myself in the mix and see what happens. I am always up for challenging myself.

Winner, winner, Robbie Britton
Winner, winner, Robbie Britton

I really admire the fact that Robbie is up for challenging himself, whether that is on a relatively short 50 miler or over hundreds of miles on the roads in Greece. He’s always up for giving it a go.

In the spirit of having a crack at all sorts of different events, Robbie is also going to resume international duties and take on probably the most iconic trail ultra of them all:

I have the World 24hr Running Championships. The target this year is a top-10 finish. I’m already feeling good about my chances as I feel fitter and stronger than I was last year.

And what year would be complete without a trip to the Alps? The 103-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) was shortened due to awful weather conditions the last time I ventured to Chamonix in 2012, but the atmosphere of the race got into my blood and this year I will return. I can’t wait.

Interview

I had a few questions for Robbie after he told me about the inov-8 link-up and being the thoroughly lovely bloke that he is, he was happy to answer them for me:


SF: What is it about inov-8 that attracted you as an athlete?

RB: I love their shoes and the fact that lightweight is king for the kit. When I race I want my kit to be as light as possible because running 100 miles is difficult in the first place. It is great to be supported by a British brand and to be able to take that to races across the world.

SF: What are you most excited about in the coming 12 months?

RB: Most excited about… So much. The competition in TransVulcania, the chance to fight for Team Medals in the World Champs (The Mens & Womens Teams are both strong enough to contend this year) and then all the British runners at UTMB, we’ve got a good bunch going!

SF: If you could take on any challenge, what would it be and why?

RB: One day I will travel to both Poles on foot. I had to step out of my Antarctic expedition (www.south2014.com) to concentrate on my running but I will get there. The Antarctic continent is the toughest place on earth and the men who have lived and died there inspire me. Oh and Western States, because I have to race that one day.

SF: Who inspires you to train and race as hard as you do?

RB: I take a lot of inspiration from explorers & mountaineers, people like Walter Bonatti and Doug Scott, who crawled off the Ogre with two broken ankles. In the World of Sport I admire anyone who gives their whole to compete at the highest level. Mark Cavendish is an great athlete who trains hard and races as if nothing else in the world mattered. [Obviously Robbie intended to include me in this list, but probably ran out of time… or something like that…]


What about inov-8?

I am a big fan of inov-8, both the company and the products. As a business, they seem to be completely authentic. The people I am in contact with there – hello, Lee, Natalie and Matt – are all committed athletes themselves. They really walk-the-walk and I think that makes all the difference.

I also think their gear is great. I was lucky to have one of their Race Elite 260 Thermoshell tops in my bag for the UTMB CCC and it is a constant companion when I am out running or fast-hiking. It is just warm enough for after a race or as an emergency top when out and about but scrunches up really small and weighs very little (well, 260g as the name suggests!) Julie has a Race Elite 140 Stormshell which is a super light-weight waterproof jacket that is perfect to carry in your pack and pull on when the weather suddenly turns. It was ideal for when we were running in Gran Canaria last week and we went from warm sun by the coast to snow at 1500m above the sea inland.

As for shoes, I think that inov-8 have a great range of running shoes, although I am particularly a fan of the trail shoe range that inov-8 produce. I know that Robbie is a big fan of the X-Talon 212, while I have really enjoyed running in the Trailroc 235 and the Roclite 315 for longer stuff. But I think there is something for everyone if you want a shoe to tackle off-road running.

Greatness assured

So there you have it: a great athlete teaming up with a great brand. Greatness is assured. I have to throw in a plug here and say that Robbie was very kind and contributed a story for Like the Wind magazine which if you get a chance to read it will resonate with his comments about wanting to give his all when he trains and races and also the fact that he admires people who hold nothing back.

I think that the final word should go to Robbie who finished answering my questions with a quote that he should have embroidered on his inov-8 racing kit:

Racing is life, everything else before and afterwards is just waiting

Steve McQueen

Says it all, really!

 

 

You can read more about Robbie joining the inov-8 team on his blog post at: http://team.inov-8.com/2014/02/25/great-britton-an-ultra-committed-athlete/
inov-8 designs and manufactures naturally fast, stripped-back products and shoes with best grip for committed athletes across the globe. Born in the UK in 2003, inov-8 now trades in over 60 countries and remains passionate about delivering performance through innovation. To learn more visit www.inov-8.com

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

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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.

 

Meeting the inov-8 team in Chamonix

I have long been a fan of inov-8. And not just the shoes, though it is worth saying that I think their shoes are ace and since I tried on a pair of the Road-X 233s I realised how much more there is to the inov-8 range than just trail shoes. But also what I perceive to be the philosophy of the company. I like the ‘challenger’ attitude that the company started with and the way that innovation (see what I did there) is at the heart of what they do.

So I was absolutely chuffed when Lee Proctor, from their marketing team, got in touch and asked me if I’d like to review some of their products. I was even more chuffed when, on discovering that inov-8 were taking their newly formed international trail running team to Chamonix for a training retreat and a chance to tackle a couple of iconic races out there, I was invited to come and meet the team at their chalet. I jumped at the chance.

The inov-8 story

To provide some background to my meeting an international team of top quality trail runners, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the history of inov-8, which is 10 years old this year.

Inov8_logoThe company was founded by Zimbabwean Wayne Edy, who had been working for some time as a consultant to the outdoors industry. Based in County Durham, Wayne decided that there was a gap in the off-road running shoe market which at the time was dominated by Walsh.

Wayne was advised against heading into muddy territory, but persisted by designing and manufacturing the first inov-8 shoe: the mudroc 290, ordering 2,500 pairs from China. With a house full of pairs of shoes, Wayne started calling retailers and trying to drum up orders for his shoe. As good timing and luck would have it, Wayne was the right man, with the right product in the right place at the right time and the notoriously close-knit off-road and fell-running communities started to talk about his shoes – word spread and sales grew.

The story of inov-8 is one that shows how important a great product, along with a charismatic team and a strong philosophy is. Soon Edy had done a deal with the most influential retailer in the UK fell running scene: Pete Bland Sports. And from there, as demand for the new inov-8 shoes grew amongst runners, the retailers became more and more receptive.

Then inov-8 struck real gold…

Melissa Moon and the mudroc 290

In 2003, the year that inov-8 launched, a runner by the name of Melissa Moon was training hard for the World Mountain Running Trophy in Gridwood, Alaska.

Melissa has travelled to Gridwood in advance of the big race to train on the route that the race would take. She had given herself eight days to get familiar with the course. Nothing was left to chance in her preparations and as Melissa knew that it hadn’t snowed during the summer in this part of the USA for the last 15 years she had the right racing flats for the day.

Shockingly, on the day of the race the assembled athletes awoke to find a blanket of fresh snow all over the course! Luckily for Melissa the English team came to the rescue and offered to lend her a pair of inov-8s. As you will probably have guessed, the shoes were perfect and Melissa went on to win the race and the World Champion’s crown. It was perfect PR for inov-8 and kicked the brand into the limelight.

The story since then

Since hard work and a little bit of luck both played a part in helping to make inov-8 a worldwide force in off-road running, the company has expanded to create products for a range of committed athletes. There is not an extensive road-running shoe range as well as shoes designed specifically for ‘functional fitness’ athletes (cross-fit crazies as I like to call them).

And inov-8 has a range of running apparel and accessories to go with the shoes it produces.
You can check out the entire range of products on the inov-8 website here.

The latest chapter in the inov-8 story, at least as far as trail running goes, is the creation of an international team of trail runners, who came together in the last few weeks and travelled to France to a chalet near Chamonix, for a week of bonding, training, learning, product testing and racing. And I was lucky enough to get to meet up with them…

The inov-8 trail team

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 17.53.58The members of the inov-8 team in Chamonix included:

Brendan Davies from Australia – recently the winner of TNF 100km in his native Australia after a magnificent 5th place in the 100 mile Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, Brendan is a really lovely chap and a teacher to boot! Check out more here.

Shona Stephenson (also from Australia) was third in TNF 100km recently and won her first 100 miler: the Northburn 100

Alex Nichols is from the United States of America and races anything from 5km to 50 miles.

Scott Dunlap, also from the US, is a full-time executive and masters athlete who manages to boss the trails as well as training for and competing in triathlons. Busy chap! Check out his biog here.

Oli Johnson is the first of a clutch of home-grown UK athletes running for inov-8, with a particular appetite for fell running and orienteering. Check out his blog here.

Robbie Simpson is a Scottish athlete competing for inov-8 and a big fan of technical routes in trail races.

Ben Abdelnoor seems to have an affinity with the stranger races available and is also stepping up in distance this year. It will be interesting to see what he can do, especially in the 50 mile races he has planned.

Anna Lupton is a fan of the Three Peaks race and has competed at the World Long Distance champs, so she is no stranger to the sorts of longer races that are so popular in the Alps. Check her out here.

Sarah Ridgway is the last of the UK athletes who joined the team in Chamonix. I have saved her for last because I really love her blog and there is a wonderful video of her that is well worth checking out, here.

Florian Reichert is the only German athlete on the team to come to Chamonix, Florian (known as Flow) is another teacher and he runs for Arc’teryx as well as inov-8.

Meeting the team

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Shona getting ready for (another) run!

When I met the team, they had only just come together and were all nervously anticipating a weekend which would test them all the the limit – for many of them, they were hoping to take on the Kilometre Vertical on the Friday and the Mont Blanc Marathon on the Sunday. And they were all going to race it!

I was shown around the chalet that the team were staying in by Lee Proctor from inov-8’s marketing team and then invited to stay for lunch as I heard the athletes plan their races, talk about their favourite inov-8 products and share their recent racing stories.

While I was with the inov-8 team, the sense of excitement at being in Chamonix, surrounded by the mountains, was palpable. In fact I heard that the two Australian athletes had arrived at the chalet in the dark after a flight around the world and were still excited enough to want to go for a run with their head-torches on!

I was also really happy to be given some inov-8 shoes to try out. The first was F-lite 262 and I was given a pair of the Trail Roc 235. It was great to have not only Lee’s thoughts on the shoes along with inov-8’s official line, but I was also able to discuss the shoes and the best distances and conditions in which to use them with the elite athletes who use them day to day. Along with the Roc Lite 315’s that I have with me in Chamonix, there will be product reviews on here in the next few days.

IMG_1148
Brendan relaxing after lunch

For now let me say that I have tried all the shoes and love them all. In order of weight and substance…

The Roc Lite 315s are amazingly stable, grippy and almost seem to be a bit water-resistant, so great for long days out on the trail, racing over rocks and roots, hiking up inclines and splashing through the streams that wash down the mountain sides.

The F-lite 262 have an amazingly comfortable upper – almost sock-like – with a grippy and cushioned sole. These could become my favourite trail shoe for shorter races up to 40km or so. They also look great in my opinion!

The Trail Roc 235 is similar in feel to the F-lite 262, but the three different materials used in the out-sole make this a super-grippy shoe and I will be interested to try this in a variety of races, possibly even some cross-country races when the season starts back in the UK this autumn.

Great for inov-8

So I would like to say thanks to the inov-8 team for making me feel so welcome and for the shoes to test. There are some very exciting things happening at inov-8. While I was there, one of the team, Matt Brown, showed me some prototype elite kit that looks utterly amazing, while Lee and most of the team paraded around in a two-way half-zip duvet jacket that is immediately on my ‘most coveted bit of kit’ list (yes, I do have one of those!)

Along with the quality of athletes that Lee and his colleague Natalie have brought together – three in the top ten of the Mont Blanc Marathon, by the way – the new products and the way that the people at inov-8 are treating trail running, means that this young company, with modest roots in the UK, could go on to become a powerhouse in trail running, taking on the more established ‘mountain brands’ from the Alpine countries and beating them at their own game. It’s certainly going to be interesting watching what happens next…

 

A love of running in the mountains

When I met my wife, I was an unashamed pavement-bashing flat-land runner. The less corners and hills the better as far as I was concerned. But my wife’s love of running in the mountains has started to work it’s magic and whilst I am still aching to set a new marathon PB, I also love running off-road, up and down, over rocks and grass and through streams and snow-fields for hours on end. I am grateful for my wife’s influence in this.

So suddenly this film has resonance with me – I know exactly what Sarah Ridgway is talking about and I am more inspired than ever to don a pair of grippy trail shoes and hit the rough stuff. Enjoy…

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ASICS Gel Lyte 33 review

A while ago, the good people at ASICS invited me to go to Berlin with them for the launch of the new Gel Lyte 33 shoe. Unfortunately work commitments meant that I couldn’t go, but my friend and collaborator Catherine Wilding was able to take my place and enjoy some Germanic hospitality. Her write up of the weekend is here.

The whole focus of the weekend was to promote the new Gel-Lyte 33 shoe, which is ASICS’ offering to the natural running sector of the market. Unashamedly targeted at the more serious runner, I was very excited to get my hands on a pair (at least that might make up for not getting to go to Berlin!)

Initial impressions

The Men's version of the ASICS Gel-Lyte 33. Hard to miss it in the dark!

This is actually quite a deceptive shoe. It looks very simple and feels very light, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

The main thing that impressed me from what the ASICS team have told me, is the way that the sole has been developed to take into account the way the foot moves. This is the antithesis of the shoes that are available which try to counteract pronation or supination. This is a shoe designed to go with the flow. There is a groove running all the way along the length of the out-sole which ASICS calls the FluidAxis, which means the shoe allows the subtalar joint to move in any way it wants.

How do they feel on the run?

Catherine and I met up once my shoes had arrived for a run around the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park. It was a really beautiful morning and being a weekday, not too busy.

Catherine was looking elegant and very sporty in her new ASICS gear (lovely jacket for any of you looking for a new one for running this winter) and she said immediately that her Gel-Lyte 33s felt great. I must say that mine did too, but at that stage I had only walked in them.

As we headed off on the run, we started chatting about all the things we had to catch up on. It was probably only after a mile or so that we both thought we should probably think about the shoes we were wearing. And here is the rather pleasing thing for me…

Why I really like the ASICS Gel-Lyte 33s

… I hadn’t really noticed the shoes at all. They are really lightweight so there was no feeling of clumpiness that I often feel with more traditional built-up running shoes. The upper is very light and open, so there was no hot-feet feeling. There is no heel-counter (the rigid plastic bit that sits around the heel in most running shoes) so nothing to irritate the Achilles tendon.

 

A cool-looking diagram showing the Fluid Axis groove... groovy, baby!

And the FluidAxis groove in the sole meant that there really was no interference with my foot strike. The shoe is cushioned so I didn’t feel like my feet were being hammered by the tarmac we were running on, but not so cushioned that I couldn’t feel the ground.

So my review is this, really: the ASICS Gel-Lyte 33 is one of the few shoes I have run in that does nothing to interfere with my natural gait.

To compare it to other shoes I have run in: the Saucony Kinvara (especially the most recent third version) has a very similar feel to the Gel-Lyte 33 and I love the Kinvara. The Nike Free always felt to squishy underfoot to me and has been relegated to a shoe that I wear when I’m out and about, but not when I am running. The inov-8 Road-X 233 is really hard underfoot – almost too hard for anything longer than 45 minutes for me.  And racing flats? Well I think they are something different.

The ASICS Gel-Lyte 33 is going to become a staple of my running shoe collection – a shoe that might not be for beginners or heavier runners, but for those of us looking for a light shoe with some cushioning but not too much, this might be the shoe for you.

But don’t take my word for it, what does Catherine think…?

Asics Gel Lyte 33 Review by Catherine Wilding

With the trend for lightweight minimalist running shoes it’s no surprise that all the running brands are competing with each other to launch a revolutionary shoe with the most innovative technology.

The Asics Gel Lyte 33 is the latest of these minimalist shoes from Asics and they are promising a revolution in natural running with the launch of their Fluidaxis.

To find out more I was privileged to be asked to test the shoes ahead of their launch this month.  I considered myself the ideal person.  Firstly, in my eight or so years of running I have been loyal to only one shoe brand.  I have tried different types of shoe but they have all been Nike.  I stuck with what I knew, liked and looked good.  Secondly, having had many foot and ankle injuries – all on the same foot –  I was interested so see if Asics technology could be the solution to an undiagnosed problem.

The women's version of the ASICS Gel-Lyte 33

The one thing the Gel Lyte 33 (and other minimalist shoes) does is allow the foot to move in every direction and therefore pronate.  The Fluidaxis that Asics have developed and introduced with this shoe is based on the natural movement of the foot.  Most running shoes allow the ankle joint to move only in an “up and down”  movement,  however the foot also rotates around different angles and the subtalar joint in the foot controls the side to side movement.  When both these movements are combined the ankle and the foot are allowed to move completely naturally.  The Fluidasxis is designed around a deep groove in the sole of the shoe which is aligned directly with the subtalar joint axis.  This allows the foot to pronate naturally and give the runner a more natural movement in the foot.  The design of the Fluidaxis is also based around the re-design of the mid and outsole, where the deep grooves fan out allowing the foot to strike the ground more naturally.

So with the technical stuff out of the way, I was keen to try the shoes – especially as I was easily convinced that there was some intuitive sense to allowing the subtalar joint to move.

The shoe immediately felt nice and light on the foot and the lower heel drop of just 6mm was instantly noticeable.  The foot felt much lower to the ground and even just walking around there was a feeling that the foot was moving more naturally.  Being a lightweight shoe with no support, I was sensible enough to test the shoe with an easy, recovery run.  My running mate (aka: Simon Freeman) and I went for a jog around the Serpentine in Hyde Park.  At an easy conversational pace we were able to compare notes.

The Gel Lyte 33 has enough cushioning to enable runners to feel that they have adequate protection and also a little bit of support for the foot, whilst still being able to feel the ground.  This gave me more confidence for running in the shoes.  Having already been schooled in the motion of the subtalar joint by Asics, I was aware that there was noticeably more movement in the foot and ankle. Rather than being scared by this, I actually liked the more free movement.  On a 30 minute run I felt no twinges from any muscles that may have been activated by a change in running gait.  However, I would caution any runner and certainly a less conditioned runner to be wary of using these shoes for distance.  As with any minimalist shoe with a low heal drop, there is a risk of aggravating the Achilles.

These seem to be a good shoe for training perhaps once a week to transition to a more natural running style.  I certainly liked the feel of them and having felt no adverse affects in my foot or ankle following the run, I would be inclined to think that allowing the movement of the subtalar joint is a positive thing.  I would happily add these as an additional pair of shoes to my collection.  Interestingly, or unsurprisingly, my running companion drew the same conclusions.

My only other minimalist shoe is the Nike Free which I consciously choose not to run in.  However, I definitely feel comfortable running in the Gel-Lyte 33.  For long training runs, I wouldn’t be tempted to veer from my heavy stability shoe – certainly not yet, but maybe it’s a process of adaptation.

Finally, we compared notes on appearance.  There was no debate. The light silver-grey and blue of the women’s shoe definitely scores more highly than the men’s for aesthetic appeal.  But when it comes to aesthetics, the Nike Free wins hands-down.