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.

 

Sub-4 minute mile… I don’t think so.

Some of you might remember that a while ago I posted that two of the New Balance Milers – Andy Baddeley and Nick McCormick – had qualified for the 1500m at the London Olympic Games. You can read all about that here.

When New Balance announced the news, I was told that I would also be sent a present from the good people in Flimby. Well, I am an unassuming chap, easily pleased, so I was not expecting much. What was delivered this morning was a wonderful surprise. A Union Flag version of the New Balance 890 v2s.

To be honest, I have been wanting to try a pair of New Balance road shoes for quite a while, but I have been asked quite a few times if I want to try some and nothing has materialised. I did, to be fair, receive a jacket and some tights which I really, really rate. But shoes have never appeared. So to get a pair that look amazing and feel great to run in, put a huge smile on my face.

Looks aren’t everything

So first of all, looks. Well, as I peeled back the paper in the box, I was immediately impressed and I decided there and then, that these are the shoes I will be wearing when I go to watch some of the Olympic Games in a months time. In this Olympic year, so many of the brands are producing Union Flag versions of their shoes. Brooks have a recognisable but at the same time subtle red, white and blue version of a few of their shoes. K-Swiss (despite the name!) have a very bold take on the flag. I have even seen a pair of Vibram Five Fingers that are fit for the queen. But I think that the New Balance shoes look really great – not too much but at the same time not too subtle either. But then I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Feelings matter more…

The important thing, though, is how they feel on the run. Well, they are certainly comfortable straight out of the box. They immediately felt as though they have the right balance of cusioning and responsiveness for a tempo run or a quicker long run. Today I went for 10 miles this morning and 6 miles at lunchtime and they felt great on roads, trail and the canal towpath.

The only work of warning I would give is that there are not roomy shoes. They are snug around the midfoot and narrow in the forefoot. Luckily I was sent a UK9, although I usually take a UK8.5. I think that without the extra length from going up half a size, these 890 v2s might be a bit on the small size. Then again, I think these shoes fall into the trainer/racer category and I suspect many people will like the snug feel in a shoe they intend to race in.

The grip is really excellent (although today it was the first day it hasn’t rained in London in months, so I was running on dry surfaces for once) and I really like the feel of the heel and the collar around the ankle – cushioned without being restrictive. These shoes are also most definitely neutral and whilst I found that to be ideal for me, anyone requiring support in their shoes might want to look elsewhere (the Brooks ST5 trainer/racer for example).

So there we go. I think that the 890 v2 is a great shoe. So great in fact that I might buy myself another pair to actually go running in. What? You didn’t think I’d run in these and get them all mucky before the Olympics, did you?

The British Milers start on the long journey

You may recall that a while ago I was invited to an event run by New Balance to introduce a programme they had created called the British Milers. The piece that I wrote after the event is here. This is a documentary series on Sky Sports following a group of British athletes trying to qualify for the 1500m at the London Olympic Games. Well now it seems that two of them have done enough to be selected for the GB squad and have started on the road to potentially fulfilling their dreams and emulating great mile and 1500m track stars like Coe, Cram and Ovett, to name but a few.

Here is the New Balance press release in full:

Andy Baddeley and Nick McCormick, two stars of New Balance’s ‘The British Miler’ series, have qualified for the London 2012 Olympic Games after sealing their places on Team GB during the Aviva 2012 Trials in Birmingham.

Andy confirmed his selection in the 1500m after claiming the British Championship, while Nick finished second in the 5,000m race to join his fellow member of Team New Balance on the British team.

Having already secured the Olympic A-standard time in April with a time of 3:35.19 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, Andy required only a top two finish to seal his place in the team, and took Gold in 3:47.99 at Alexander Stadium to confirm his credentials as Britain’s foremost 1500m hopeful.

Nick, meanwhile, opted to concentrate on the longer 5,000m course after sealing the A-standard with a personal best time of 13:18.81 in Huelva earlier in June, and clocked 14:00.61 in Birmingham to claim a silver medal, as well as the all important place on Team GB.

Andy’s success saw him qualify for a second Olympics after competing in the 1500m final at Beijing 2008, and he immediately set sights on achieving success in his home town of London. He said:

“It’s been a long road over the last twelve months and this is part two of three. Part one was get the time; part two was the trials; part three is the Olympics. I haven’t been able to think about the Olympics until today. Now I can train harder!”

After qualifying for the Olympic Games for the first time, Nick McCormick said:

“I’m absolutely over the moon. I’ve made my first Olympics at 30-years-old, so it’s been a long time coming. I’m delighted to run into the selection after achieving the qualifying time two weeks ago. I need to work hard now in training and I want to make the final in London.”

Andy and Nick’s success comes as they participate in New Balance’s ‘The British Miler’, a multi-platform documentary series tracking their journeys to London. Forthcoming episodes of the series, which airs each Monday on Sky Sports, will chart the inside story of the Trials, and more information can be found at www.thebritishmiler.com.

Having met both Andy and Nick at the New Balance event, I can tell you that they are both really charming, friendly and modest and I for one wish them all the best in the coming weeks as they finalise their preparations for the marathon. I hope they have an amazing Olympic Games.

New Balance and the new British Milers

Last week I was invited to a New Balance event, billed as a celebration of 30 years of domestic manufacturing and featuring the athletes that are due to appear in an upcoming television series called The British Milers featuring seven British 1500m runners hoping to qualify for the Olympic Games in London. The seven athletes are:

  • Andy Baddeley – Olympic and World Championship finalist, former Oslo Dream Mile Champion
  • James Brewer – 2009 World Championship Team member
  • Lee Emanuel – Two time NCAA Mile Champion
  • Tom Lancashire – Defending UK Olympic Trials Champion
  • Nick McCormack – Defending UK indoor 1500m Champion
  • Colin McCourt – 1500m Champion Euro Team Championships
  • Ricky Stevenson – Former UK junior 1500m Champion

After presentations from the managing director and sales director of New Balance, Richard Nerurkar introduced the British Miler concept and the TV show and welcomed the athletes to the stage. Then, whilst everyone was enjoying the DJ spinning tunes and guzzling New Balance’s wine and scoffing the food they had laid on, I had the opportunity to interview three of the milers – Ricky Stevenson (RS), James Brewer (JB) and Andy Baddeley (AB). Here’s what they had to tell me:

SF: What special preparations are you making in this Olympic year?

Ricky Stevenson at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium ©Adam Fradgley

RS: I’m being sensible and trying to not over-reach. What has been different this year is that I am not pushing it all the way in training and following the advice of my coach Steve Shaw

JB: I am getting back to consistency, which has been lacking since Berlin in 2009 [when James missed reaching the 1500m final of the World Championships by fractions of a second] and I’ve strung together eight months of consistent training including six weeks at altitude in Iten [Kenya]. This all allowed me to run 3’38 indoors at the recent championships in Birmingham

AB: My preparations are different this year only in that they are simpler. I have experimented in previous years but this year I know what works and I’m sticking to that.

SF: Does the Olympic year inspire you more than others and if so how?

RS: It is exciting and inspiring, but as I said, I’m not thinking about it too much, allowing myself to get over-excited and then over-training

JB: My main focus is not the Olympics yet – it is to continue training well and then do my best at the World Indoors championships.

AB: Yes! The Olympics definitely inspire me and I want to be on the start line of the final.

SF: What are your specific targets with regards to the Games

James Brewer at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium ©Adam Fradgley

RS: The primary target is to qualify by running the required 3’35 and gaining selection but I’m not seeing the Olympics as the be all and end all.

JB: Qualify first and then reach the final.

AB: Qualification is essential. Then I want to make sure that I’m there for the final

SF: In general, what inspires you to train and perform at your best?

RS: I want to be the best at everything I try. When it comes to racing, I always want to win when I step on the track. That’s what inspires me.

JB: For me it is curiosity about what is possible and what I can achieve. Because I have been injury-prone I don’t have a very high weekly mileage, so I’m interested to see what I can do with that

SF: What is your hardest training session?

RS: We run a 2km woodland loop on trails and one session consists of four reps of that. Each loop has two big inclines in it and the effort is relentless

JB: My hardest session is probably the stuff we do in the gym – rehab and strength and conditioning work

AB: I enjoy most of my sessions on the track so the session I probably find the hardest is the Sunday long run, especially when the weather is bad

Andy Baddeley at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium ©Adam Fradgley

SF: What is your favourite training session?

RS: I don’t have one – they all hurt!

JB: It’s changing for me – it used to be speed work but recently I have been doing 30 minutes continuous hills at altitude in Iten. That involves varied paces but up one long hill that you run up non-stop for 30 minutes.

AB: Anything short on the track is my favourite

SF: What would be your top tips for someone looking to improve their running at any distance?

RS: My top tips would be: never stop believing and never let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve what you set out to achieve. The other things that are crucial are consistency and staying injury free.

 

 

JB: I would say, go out and explore – wherever you go, you can find somewhere to run to get outside and experience the world, enjoy the seasons.

AB: My advice would be to never give up – I wasn’t the fastest at school but I stuck with it when others gave up. I also think that it’s important to have someone to answer to: a training partner that you have to meet for example. I’d also say that it is really important to eat sensibly and don’t worry too much about what you eat.

As you can imagine, this group of amazing athletes were very much in demand on the night and I was extremely grateful to them for their time. I hope you agree that they offered some really interesting insights into their preparations for the Olympic Games and some great advice for the rest of us! I wish them all well for the trials and for their future careers.