The weather outside is frightful… which is just great! Nike Elements review.

One of my favourite DVDs is ‘On Thin Ice’, the story of James Cracknell and Ben Fogle racing to the North Pole with Ed Coates, a doctor they chose from hundreds of applicants to join them on the adventure.

The story is a bit like an epic A-Team adventure, with a challenge set at the start, set-backs along the way, the characters all being somewhat different from one another and yet gelling into a powerful team and, in true A-Team style, plenty of preparing for the challenge ahead. This is one of my favourite parts of the DVD: the kit coming together, pouring over maps and charts, the logistics and the training. The training is the best bit.

One aspect of the training involved Cracknell and Fogle going into a climactic chamber and living for 18 hours in -35C with a snow canon and a gale throwing out blizzard-like conditions. That really looked tough and as soon as I saw it I really wanted to have a go. But I accepted that wasn’t likely to happen… until Nike called!

Was Nike going to put us through this...?

My chance to try a climate chamber

The team from Nike and their PR agency Freud took a group of journalists and bloggers to MIRA, a testing facility near Rugby where all sorts of climatic conditions can be created in warehouse-sized sheds with heat exchangers the size of aircraft hangers. Even the security was impressive, demanding our smart-phones and cameras so they could have the lenses taped over to stop us taking photos of prototypes of things!

We were invited along to try out the Nike Elements range and to ensure it was given a thorough testing, we were going to run in the very same climate chamber where Cracknell and Fogle had endured their first taste of arctic conditions. Sadly we were not going to get as extreme as they did, but the guys behind the controls were going to make sure that we ran in pretty challenging conditions.

The Nike Elements range

Eeeee...KINS!

We met two of the EKINs who gave us our kit and took us through the range –Nike Free Run+3 Shield men’s running shoe (£85), Nike Element Shield Max Jacket (£130), Nike Element Thermal running tights (£50), a Dri-FIT Elements Jacquard Print Half-Zip top (£38), a Nike Speed Short-Sleeve t-shirt (£40), a pair of Nike Elite Storm-Fit Tech run gloves (£25) and a rather fetching Nike Cold Weather Reflective running beanie (£18). It was obvious we were not going for jog on a treadmill in a warm gym!

The main thing that I took away from the session is that Nike have used their technological might to build two things into their new collection – safety and comfort.

Reflections on safety

The safety aspect of the Elements range comes in the form of strips of reflective material. By which I don’t mean the half-hearted hi-vis stuff that is usually sewn onto jackets and gloves. This is an unassuming dull silver material that simple explodes in a lightening flash when a light source hits it – a car headlights would have the panels on the jacket and shoes shining like a supernova!

Take comfort

And comfort comes in the form of waterproof material on the shoes, meaning that any liquid that hits them simply beads and rolls off. And in a stretchy wind-proof and water-resistant membrane on the jacket. We were ready for anything the chamber could throw at us…

The chamber was set up so that three of us could run abreast on treadmills facing a huge funnel that would blow cold air at us while the ambient temperature was reduced.

As we started, I thought it would be interesting to see how the kit would perform at a decent clip, so I whacked the treadmill up to marathon pace – 6 min/mile – and tried to concentrate on how each item felt.

The Nike Elements range

To start with, I was a bit worried that I had a pair of Nike Frees to run in. I have owned a couple of pairs before and I love them, but not really for doing much running in. I tend to think that they are a bit too squishy for anything other than a very easy recovery run and so my Frees tend to be used for walking around as much as for running. But the new Free Run+3 Shield is a very different feeling shoe. It seems to be all in the upper. The sole retains the multiple decoupled blocks which makes them super-flexible. But the upper is much more supportive. The water-proof material and what looks like a new lacing system, really holds the foot tight and suddenly I felt that I was wearing a light, flexible and comfortable running shoe. I’m not sure is the firmer upper is an intended side effect of making the shoe ‘winterproof’, but it made the shoe much more usable as far as I am concerned.

The tights were great – they always are. Apart from a pair of very thread-bare Sugoi tights that are at least five years old now and a pair of ashmei tights that I save for ‘best’, I have three pairs of Nike tights and I love them. Simple and uncluttered, with a neat little zipped pocket at the back, just big enough for a set of keys or an iPod shuffle, I think they are great, with a deep enough crutch and rubberised strips around the ankle to make sure no flesh is exposed at either end.

The t-shirt and half-zip top were stylish looking and really comfortable. But really only there as a support act for the main item – the Element Shield Max Jacket.

This is very much like a soft-shell jacket that anyone who does outdoor activities like climbing or hiking will be familiar with. Not especially waterproof and nowhere near as useful in a downpour as a waterproof shell, this jacket is however shower resistant, windproof, light, warm and flexible. I did find that the built-in gaters in the sleeve that have a thumb-hole were a bit fiddly to manage and I got my hand stuck in a fold of fabric at least twice. But the main innovation is hidden in the hood.

In a slit in the back of the hood is a snood. I don’t know how else to describe it. Held between the lining and the outer of the hood is a piece of fabric which can be pulled over the head so that it sits around the neck like a buff and pulled up over the nose bandit-style. I have a concern, of course, that with the hood pulled over the head and the bandana/snood pulled up over the nose, I would start to resemble some hoodlum hanging around outside McDonalds, but at 10 mph on a treadmill, that was not my main concern. As I started running, with the chamber at 10°C, there was no need for anything over the face, but as the wind speed picked up and the temperature dropped, I thought I’d give the snood a go. The problem is, which I had seen from other people on the treadmill with the snood over their nose and mouth, that hot breath quickly gets the fabric damp which then makes it difficult to breathe. But if it was really cold and you were not working too hard, then it might be a rather good way to avoid chapped lips and a frost-bitten nose.

The climate chamber experience

On a treadmill in a windstorm!

The treadmill exercise involved the team dropping the temperature and increasing the wind speed. What I found interesting is that because I was working reasonably hard, with full-length tights, two tops, a jacket, a hat and gloves on, I was getting warm very quickly – after all if I race a marathon or half marathon in the autumn and the mercury sits at 7 or 8°C I might wear gloves, arm-warmers and a vest, but nothing more. But there was a point – around 5°C and a 50kph headwind, when the kit really came into it’s own – I suddenly felt right: not too hot, not too cold, not sweating particularly and still able to move fluidly at my marathon race pace. The gear continued to perform really well until we reached 4.7°C and 65kph wind-speed at which point the team turned off the fans and the temperature returned to normal.

Conclusion

And that was the end of our climate chamber adventure. I was really impressed with how well the kit performed:

The tights, t-short, top and accessories are typically good quality and wicked sweat well while keeping me warm in the chamber as well as in several runs afterwards.

The Free Run+3 Shield shoes were a revelation – they felt firm, light and comfortable. Despite being waterproof – and they are really waterproof: I ran them under the tap at home and after several minutes, not a drop of water got through – my feet didn’t get hot and if you’re out running in the rain, I’m sure the Free Run+3 Shield will prevent soggy socks which could help you elongate a run and keep you blister-free.

The Nike Element Shield Max Jacket is great: slim fitting, well designed with useful pockets, highly reflective in places and warm as well as breathable. I would have to say that this is a jacket for very cold conditions and I question the usefulness of the snood if you’re running (and breathing) hard, but for a slow run in the depths of winter, this jacket is just the ticket

After the running we tried on the Nike Flash running vest (£150) – although it was a bit too big for me, making me look like a highly reflective mushroom, but if you want a gilet that will make sure you’re seen on your run, this is worth a look.

And with that, we were on our way back to London. It was a great day and a very good way to try out the kit, which I am sure will be on many a runner’s Christmas list, who can look forward to the onset of real winter weather with relish!

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.

 

 

Nike: Back to the Future?

In the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to meet a few of the Nike contingency in London, who seem to be here to coincide with the Olympics. Understandable given the number of Nike sponsored athletes competing in the Games.

But Nike are also here to showcase some new products and this morning, at a breakfast hosted by Martin Lotti, Nike Olympic Design Director, I was able to get up-close to three new products and learn about one aspect of Nike’s business that I think many people do not know about and which I think is worth shouting about.

Skin in the game

The first new developement that was showcased by Martin Lotti and his colleague, Scott Williams, Creative Director Olympics and Innovation at Nike, was the new Nike Pro TurboSpeed suits which sprinters such as Alyson Felix will be wearing in London.

Cathy Freeman, Sydney 2000

Scott started off by explaining that the suit’s technology has been in the process of development since Cathy Freeman wore her amazing outfit in Sydney in 2000.

The idea behind the suits is that, compared to skin, the suits surface is ‘faster’ because it reduces drag and improves efficiency. There is clearly masses of technology that has gone into the suit (and if you want to learn more and satisfy your inner-geek, you can read more about the suit here) but as with Formula1 cars, the real interest for the majority of us, is finding out what all this technology will mean for us. After all, I can’t see too many people turning up to the local ParkRun in a suit that is designed to improve speed over 100m by 0.023 seconds and really leaves nothing to the imagination!

Alyson Felix, London 2012

The drip-down from the TurboSpeed suit, is more of a concept than a particular piece of technology: it is the idea of simplicity and ‘zero distraction’. One of the things that is very noticeable about the skin suit is that there is nothing fiddly to annoy the wearer. Indeed there aren’t any zips throughout the whole range of items. The sleeves are finished in a way that leaves a seamless end. The are no tags or buckles or clips.

And this is what every-day runners can expect from the range that is available to mere mortals in the future – fewer seams (and where there are, they will be flat-locked), neater finishing, less bells-and-whistles.

Super-fly

The next product we were told about was the FlyKnit shoe.

This is a product that I am really interested in trying (big hint there, Nike!) and so I hope that I will be able to post a review of the shoe from the point of view of having worn it soon. But in the mean time, having had a chance to talk to Martin Lotti about the shoe one-on-one and having seen a presentation of the shoe from Ben Shaffer, studio director for Nike’s Innovation Kitchen, I thought I’d let you have a look and describe why I’m excited about it.

Following the simplicity theme, the idea behind the Fly Knit is so simple that I can’t believe that it wasn’t thought up before – but then isn’t that true for all the greatest inventions in the world?

Put simply, the upper of the Fly Knit is knitted from fairly thick course yarn in one piece, which incorporates the super-strong, flexible Fly Wire strands that give the upper the strength it needs. That’s it! No waste, one piece construction and an upper that wraps the foot completely.

We were shown a few of the prototypes of the shoe, which I took some snaps of, and it seems like such an obvious development, especially when you see it in this context.

Fly Knit prototype one

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly Knit prototype two

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the meeting this morning the question of whether the shoe can be work without socks and i must say that the answer from the Nike team was a little less than convincing, but without trying the shoe, I can’t comment. But I will definitely be trying a barefoot run because this shoe literally is seamless!

You can’t improve what you can’t measure

Having looked at some of the simplest bits of kit I have seen for a while, we then moved on to Nike’s fascination with gamifying activity and measuring every aspect of sport.

From what I can see Nike is building a spider’s web of technology.

There is the Nike+ tab for their shoes where data can be uploaded to an iPod or iPhone and on the Nike+ website.

The Nike SportBand and SportWatch GPS track runs.

The FuelBand tracks everyday activity.

And now the Nike+ Training range of shoes, with sensors built into the sole, track “every rep, step and drill”

I don’t necessarily feel a great affinity for all this technology yet – I think that the Nike+ interface is not quite right and the data available is not what I want for my training. But Nike are innovating fast and I think that what we are seeing in the market now is just the start as far as what Nike+ will be able to tell athletes of all levels in the future.

The big story

So there are the three developments that Nike showed me this morning. All good stuff. But the overarching message that was delivered this morning was not what I was really expecting and certainly something I am excited about – sustainability.

The arsenal of Pro TurboSpeed items that are available to elite athletes at the 2012 Games are all made from recycled plastic drinks bottles, with 82% recycled polyester fabric.

The Fly Knit – aside from the benefits that Nike suggests comes from a knitted upper – produces no waste. Unlike a traditional shoe where the panels are cut from a piece of material where all the excess is thrown away, the Fly Knit is knitted into a single ‘butterfly shape’ and glued onto the sole. No waste. And talking about glue…

Nike told me today that they are so committed to the environment that when they designed the Fly Knit, they wanted a glue that didn’t contain the toxins that are usually present in shoe glue. So they developed a non-toxic glue and then offered the secret recipe to all their competitors.

Of course, Martin was a pains to point out that Nike are a performance-first company, but it seems that they really are finding ways to produce products that will help runners – from the most elite individuals on the planet (most of whom are in east London right now) to the slowest jogger out there – whilst also trying to reduce their impact on the planet. If they can do that, then I really think they’ll deserve a gold medal!

 

Nike nailing the zeitgeist?

New year: new ambitions or resolutions. That is the way many, many people mark another revolution of our planet around the sun. I have read hundreds of blogs and tweets and facebook updates listing plans for 2012 as well as quite a few people criticising the glut of new year’s resolutions. Those cynics might have a point, after all 1 January is identical to every other day so why decide that this is the point to get fit or save money or get a new job. But as regular readers know, I am a strong believer that as much as training is crucial for becoming the best runner you can be, motivation is equally important and if people find that an arbitrary date is enough to convince them to take on a challenge that they have shirked for the last 364 days, then I am all in favour.

I also think that the Christmas and new year period is a great opportunity for many people to take time to think about what they would like to do in the future – so many new careers, relationships or hobbies are formed in the crucible of a couple of weeks without work. Sadly however, many of the good intentions are also dead and buried by the time January comes to an end.

Softly, softly or GHOGH*?

The issue of broken resolutions in sport and fitness is one that I know many people are concerned about – from the government to personal trainers and from health professionals to gym owners, they are concerned by the initial rush of enthusiasm for getting in shape followed by the plunge in numbers as the reality of what it takes to change from a sedentary life to one gilded with sport comes into sharp focus. So what seems to happen about now is donning of kid gloves as those with a vested interest in getting the nation in better shape try to gently guide people away from returning to their old ways:

  • just exercise for 30 minutes a couple of times a week
  • if you can have two alcohol-free days a week
  • maybe try a 5km jog

But does the softly, softly approach work?

Make it count (or #makeitcount for the twitterati)

Nike seems to think that a more direct approach is required, which I am 100% in favour of. The new Make It Count campaign seems from my point of view to be a continuation of what, in some areas, Nike has been doing for a while: baring its teeth!

Sure there is still the slightly saccharine side to their marketing, most notably the advert of the girl who never stops running from dawn until dusk, foregoing all personal relationships and refusing to stop running even for a coffee (check out the ad here), while not breaking out in a single bead of sweat, let alone exhibiting any of the symptoms that someone running non-stop for days on end would suffer from. But this silliness has been rebalanced with a brilliant new campaign around making it count in 2012, following on from the #historystands campaign from last year.

Nike has taken a range of athletes – including two of my absolute idols: Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe – and built a campaign around what they are going to do to make it count in 2012. And then Nike wrapped this uncompromising message around the Metro newspaper. I love that idea. Take a tough medicine, refuse to wrap it in a sugar coating, use unusually challenging imagery and stuff it down the throats of slightly hung-over, depressed and podgy-from-Christmas commuters. That’ll give them something to think about. Indeed when I saw the campaign I had a very strong urge to ask the people sitting around me what they were going to do to make it count in 2012? Eh? Yes, you… what are YOU going to do in 2012 to make it count?

So Nike, my cap is doffed to you. Please, I implore you, keep on with this style of challenging advertising. Sure, you might alienate the terminally-lazy and uninspirable, but I think that there are many people who will have looked at the steely gaze of Mo or Paula and thought to themselves

maybe this year it would be great to do something that means when I review the year at the dawn of 2013, I have done something to make it count

And what about me? Well I am doing everything I can to make sure that I achieve the marathon time I want in 2012. That will certainly make it count for me.

*Go Hard or Go Home – adopted from the excellent RunDemCrew which you can check out here

 

There’s nothing you can’t do…..

Ed: This piece by Catherine Wilding is the first guest post on this site and I’m really delighted to have her on board. If you’d like to contribute please contact me.

I’ve noted that other runners write about pace, split times, race conditions and how their training has been erratic / hardcore / blighted by work commitments (delete as appropriate.) As my blog is about running, I may come on to that but it was the crunch of golden leaves under my Nike Structure-Triax this morning that compelled me to write.  It has to be one of my favourite sounds.  It reminds me why I love running and particularly so when the low Autumnal sunlight is streaming through the trees in Hyde Park.

As the trees turn, my thoughts are firmly fixed on an important event in my yearly calendar.  It is the New York City Marathon. For the past two years I have lined up as a professional athlete in New York, and on both occasions I’ve failed to achieve my goal.   The streets of New York City are both exciting and intimidating, running in the women’s professional field – which means mostly running alone.

New York City Marathon

This year, I am heading out to New York to run the marathon again, only this time I’ll be in the main field.  Like many people who have trained for a marathon my training has been upset by injury, illness and a stressful new job.  It’s hard to train like a professional athlete when you aren’t one.  Everyone who has trained for a marathon knows that the physical training is both hard and time consuming.  But equally important for any athlete and any runner – no matter how serious or good they consider themselves – is the mental preparation.  If you are reasonably fit and mentally strong, you will run a good race.  If you are incredibly fit and mentally weak, you are unlikely to achieve your goal.

Mental preparedness

And this is what has been worrying me the most.  Whilst my training hasn’t been quite what I’d like this year, it is the lack of mental preparation which has affected me the most.  The race has been on and then off.  Then on again after my achilles tendonitis cleared, then off when I got ill, then on again, and off when it all felt too overwhelming and I didn’t feel fit.

As an athlete, I didn’t want to run another disappointing marathon. As a runner, I couldn’t bear to give up my goal.  I sought advice from runners and non-runners but it was the wisdom of a Mr Simon Freeman [ed: gulp!] that impacted me the most:

“I know you have very high standards and I suspect that whilst you think that you are not in great shape, you are probably in better shape than you think. Still, I know how it is to feel below par and not at your best. However a good strong run in a city you love, at an event that I think could be the greatest marathon in the world, might just be great fun and I know there are many examples of runners being forced to take time off who end up having really great races because the intrinsic fitness is there and whilst the sharpness might be missing, the joy of running makes up for that.”

Why I run

His advice resonated loudly.  It reminded me why I run.  It’s because I enjoy it.  With one week to go, I am now able to mentally prepare myself for a race I’m going to enjoy.  With my goal fixed, I’m able to focus on the mental strength I need.

So, on Sunday November 6th, I will line up on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge as someone who just loves running and when I enter Central Park, just past mile 23, I will notice the sunlight through the trees and listen to the crunch of the leaves under my running shoes.  When I cross the finish line I will know I’ve achieved my goal.  The time on the clock will be an indication of whether the physical preparation outweighs the mental preparation, but that remains to be seen.

Ed: Catherine goes off to New York with all my best wishes and I have no doubt she will have a great race and learn a lot from the experience. She has promised to write a review of the event on her return that I will post here.

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

No news is good news?

On Thursday last week I was invited to the official opening of the Nike store in Westfield Stratford, on the Olympic park being built for the Games in 2012. The added draw was that Paula Radcliffe would be there, talking about running and giving tips and discussing her training and of course, discussing her meeting with IAAF president Lamine Diack to discuss the recent ruling that means that as of January 2012 Paula’s world record of 2:15:35 will be down-graded to a ‘worlds best’ from it’s current world record, because the race was a mixed race.

History stands

On arriving at the new store, everyone there was given a ‘History Stands’ t-shirt and we were able to nose around the very impressive new retail space, while a DJ played. But it was clear to me, that everyone was there to hear Paula being interviewed by Charlie Webster. And we didn’t have to wait long.

As I would expect, the message that Paula delivered from the IAAF was that they are sympathetic to the points she made and that they would look into the issue. Bodies like the IAAF rarely reverse decisions quickly or publicly, but my thoughts about this ruling are pretty clear;

  • if pacers are not allowed in women’s races then surely they have to be banned in men’s races too?
  • there doesn’t seem to be much compelling evidence that being in a mixed race actually provides assistance
  • the vast majority of big marathons have mixed fields which makes them ineligible for a world record attempt, so this limits women’s opportunities to run a world record
  • Paula didn’t use pace-makers. She did race men in the field, but at no time was she running behind a shield of pacers or anything like that
  • the ruling affects many more women than just Paula Radcliffe – for example the US women’s record is currently 2:19:36 by Deena Kastor at the London Marathon (not in a women’s-only race) and if the ruling were applied across the board, the record would suddenly belong to Joan Benoit Samuelson who ran 2:24:52 at the 1984 Olympic Games.

Paula Radcliffe on running in a group

I think that like many of the people at the event, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more positive news from the meeting with the IAAF, but when you have a super-star like Paula Radcliffe on stage being interviewed by a knowledgeable interviewer and runner like Charlie Webster, who was sporting trainers with ‘Break 3:30’ embroidered on the tongues, to remind her of her next target, there is always going to be some good stuff to take away.

Charlie asked Paula for any advice that she had for marathon runners who are starting out on training for the marathon and I was really pleased that Paula raised the subject of finding a training group, whether that is an athletics club or a group of friends. I have written about the value of running in a group which you can read about here and Radcliffe also talked about the importance of running in a group as the nights draw in from a safety point of view. Indeed after the talking was done there was an opportunity for the assembled crowd to go for a NikeTownRunners blast lead by a team from the store, which happens every Monday and Thursday and includes women-only groups, which I think is likely to be quite popular.

Paula’s focus on the Olympic Games 2012

Moreover I was delighted that Paula talked so positively about her experience in Berlin and the surgery that she had just afterwards. It was really great to see the fire in Paula’s eyes when she talked about the decision she had to make mid-race to back-off from challenging the eventual winner Florence Kiplagat who finished in 2:19:44. Paula has her eyes on the gold medal in London and I am delighted to see that she is prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure she is on the start line in the best shape possible. Can you imagine if she runs a world record that day… what would the IAAF say to that?

 

 

Lord Sebastian Coe and the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games are coming to London. In just over 300 days. And there is an increasing amount of opinion being spouted about whether London will deliver a great Games, deliver on the medal expectations and deliver on the legacy, the promise of which went some way to winning the opportunity to host the Games for this great city.

It is often said – and I believe it – that if you want to know the truth it needs to come from the horse’s mouth. Last night I was privileged and honoured to be a guest at a dinner hosted by Nike where Lord Sebastian Coe addressed 30 of us and talked about how far the Games have progressed and what is still to be done.

In logistic terms alone organizing the Games is a herculean task. The numbers are mind boggling, from the thousands that are already employed by the organizing committee and the thousands more that will be required in the coming months, to the 70,000 volunteers who will work at the Games to the massed ranks of police, medical and security staff that will be required. Then of course there will then be visitors in the millions. And not forgetting thousands of athletes from around the world.

I often hear people say that sport is an analogy for life and to illustrate the mindset for winning the Games, Seb told the story of one of his earliest senior races over 800m at the European Championships Prague in 1978. In that race he set off at a suicidally fast pace, partly to try to neutralise the threat of his greatest rival, Steve Ovett. However, predictably, having run the first 400m in 49 seconds, physiology caught up with Coe in the last 200m and also predictably as he tied up, who was alongside him? Ovett. What neither of them realized however, was that there was a further threat – an East German athlete who blasted past the pair of them to take gold in the last 20 meters. Lord Coe said that he was on all fours, desperately trying to catch his breath when Ovett came over, put his hand on Coe’s shoulder and said ‘Who the f*** was that?’ With a wry grin Lord Coe told us last night that winning the Olympics was like that, with London as the unknown threat. Paris and Madrid were odds on favourites to win the Games, but with stealth and passion and great preparation, who snuck up on the outside and took it at the line? Yep, London. Lord Coe, undoubtedly a man of great vision, passion and leadership, talked frankly about the challenges that his organization faces, but in my mind there is no doubt that it will all come together and prove to be an exceptional event. And I got that from the horse’s mouth.

But the London Games in 2012 is about much more than the few weeks of competition. There is the issue of legacy. And for that Lord Coe dipped back into his own past to talk about the importance that companies like Nike play in encouraging and supporting young people and ensuring that sport, and athletics in particular, capture the imagination of youngsters and fuel the desire in them to compete and be the best they can be. Can we deliver on that? Well, thanks to Lord Coe and his team I have no doubt that we will have a great Games. But the legacy – well that is going to take a massive combined effort from all of us. I sincerely hope we succeed.

Success and motivation

I have just watched this video on the BBC website with Paula Radcliffe talking about running and her career in athletics and the power that the games in London in 2012 are having over the decisions she is making in her life. It really made me think. Personally I think that Paula is an incredible person and an incredible athlete. Where the media and arm-chair pundits do criticise Paula, it is usually because in their minds she has under-performed at major championships – most notably the last two Olympics. But I doubt there is a serious runner in the world who doesn’t know how hard it is to arrive at the start line of a key race in perfect shape, and it is absolutely true that the closer one is to the edge, the harder it is to get the training just right and arrive without either under training or, possibly worse, over training.

I am really pleased to hear that Paula does not consider the issue of her not being in shape for the last two Olympics to be defining in her career or in any way indicative of an unfulfilled life. And at the same time I was touched by the fact that she is clearly still so affected and concerned by the opinions of the people who turn their gaze on her once every couple of years when she races a high-profile event, but in all likelihood have no concept of what it takes to do what she does. She mentions in the video that when all is said and done, running was the thing that Paula did as a hobby and I think, from the couple of times I have met her (albeit very briefly both times) and from the hours of video footage that I have seen of her, that Paula is still at heart a runner who runs because she loves it. I hope that it may always be like that for her and that she can have her dream of performing at the Olympics whilst retaining her sanity in the face of relentless pressure from the media and sponsors and the public.

So three cheers for Paula. Let’s all get behind her and the other runners who will hopefully be toeing the start line of the marathon in 2012 and aiming to be the best runners they can be on the day.

There’s no ‘arm in trying something new

I am afraid to say that the weather is turning towards autumn. It is September and now, during early morning runs or late evening runs, there is a distinct chill in the air. It is not cold, not by a long stretch, but I am tending to find that I want to add a little bit of warmth without breaking out the winter gear. This is why I have dug out and started wearing my arm-warmers.

What are arm-warmers or arm-sleeves?

Basically a tapered tube of technical fabric, arm-warmers cover the arm from the armpit to wrist, gently gripping the arm at the top. They provide an effective barrier against the wind and cool temperatures, whilst having the enormous benefit of being removable. A pair of arm-warmers gives me a little bit of extra comfort when I head out of the door, but can be pulled down to the wrist or removed completely and shoved in a pocket when I warm up.

When I started wearing arm-warmers it was during cycling training for triathlons. But soon enough I was wearing them for chilly runs and now that I am focused completely on running, I still pull them on when it is too cool for just a t-shirt, but not cold enough for a long-sleeve top or even a jacket. They can also have other uses, when it comes to pure fashion, which Ben Moreau wrote about here, but I am not sure that is what they are intended for!

What sort of arm-warmers are available?

For such a simple piece of kit, there is quite a wide range of arm-warmers on the market. By far the most extensive range is amongst the cycling stock. However due to the higher speeds that cyclists tend to achieve (because they use wheels which is cheating, but that is a different story!) the arm-warmers designed for cycling tend to be made of thicker and more wind resistant material. They also tend to have rubber or plastic grippers at the top and sometimes at the bottom, which most running-specific versions don’t have. That said, they are easy to find and therefore might be a good option, certainly if you are thinking you might use them for cycling and running.

Amongst running-specific arm-warmers, the price is often lower than that of cycling arm-warmers, simply because there is less work involved in manufacturing them if they don’t have arm-grippers and as mentioned before, the material is often thinner. However I have found that it is more important to make sure that running arm-warmers need to fit really snuggly in order to ensure they don’t fall down, which can happen if there are no grippers.

My favourites

With a plethora of products on the market, I am not going to attempt to provide a comprehensive review here. However of the arm-warmers I have, my favourites by far are my Nike ones. They fit, ahem, like a glove. They are quite thin but give just enough protection on a cool morning run and, despite not being in any way water resistant, they are great for reducing the chill when I wear them in the rain. They are also pretty good value in my opinion.

My other favourites are the Assos pair that I wear. I did initially buy them for use on the bike, but they are great for running. The extra weight of material, which means they are the ones I reach for when the temperatures really drop, is off-set by the grippers at the top which are just enough to hold the arm-warmers up without being irritating. The only downside is that, like all Assos kit, they are pretty expensive.

Other products that it is worth considering include those made from wool, which many runners believe are more comfortable, warmer and more perma-stink resistant than technical fabric versions. One example of this is the product from Smart Wool which you can see here.

And if you want to avoid the ‘long cocktail gloves’ look that I was rocking at the Florence marathon last year (see left) there are arm-warmers that are not black, although there don’t seem to be many interestingly designed options in the UK at the moment. However if you can find some or you have a trip to the US planned, these ones look great. Finally, I really like Kalenji kit from Decathlon stores because it tends to be so simple and good value. Their offering might be worth checking out which you can do here.

As I have written before, being comfortable is crucial when it comes to training and racing well and for that reason I would recommend arm-warmers as a useful and practical addition to any runners’ kit-bag. And just ignore the odd looks you might get wearing them with a vest; your arm-warmers simply mark you out as a serious runner!