Put a sock on it…

Up to November last year, I never really thought much about my feet, much less the socks I was wearing when I went for a run. Generally I’ve been blessed with low maintenance feet and aside from the odd toenail lost though a lazy lack of adequate trimming, I have not suffered from blisters of dry skin or athletes foot or any other afflictions that seem to blight runners so commonly. Lucky me.

However last November, as I stood in the start pen waiting for the gun to signal the start of the Florence marathon, I didn’t know that my feet would become an area of deep concern and long-standing contemplation just 26.2 miles later. In case you are interested, my race report is here, but the salient point for this piece is that it rained very heavily for most of the race and I, along with every fellow runner, got soaked. Not least my shoes.

When feet become an issue

Needless to say, by the time I finished soggy socks and shoes had conspired to give me some pretty whopping blisters. My area of concern was not actually anything to do with the effect of the blisters in the race – they didn’t slow me down at all. But 10 days after the race, when I started running again, there were still some rather sore spots and this got me thinking. What would I do if I got bad blisters during a crucial training phase? How do you continue to train if your feet become increasingly painful? So suddenly I decided to focus a little more on socks in order to make sure that my feet were in the best possible shape they could be.

I bought decent socks but often with a sense of resentment that I was shelling out what I felt was quite a lot of money for something as uninspiring as a pair of socks. And I didn’t always get the right thing; some socks would be too small, some a big baggy. Some were rough after being washed while other seemed to shrink while I was on a long run. Some were too hot or thick for my racing flats. Socks became an annoying complex subject that I had to concentrate on.

RunBreeze – sock saviours?

In light of all this, I was rather pleased to find out about RunBreeze from a forum that I and one of the two-man team behind the brand had both posted on. Here was a company that seemed to offer a no-nonsense approach to socks and a promise of good quality at an affordable price. A few days after contacting Richard and Jamie, I was invited to their offices/distribution centre in south London to meet them and learn more about their aims.

You can read about the team behind the brand here. What I discovered is two individuals who are extremely driven and passionate, with clear goals in mind. I must admit that initially I was a little skeptical about their stated aims which coalesce around helping to motivate people to run more or faster or longer (in their words):

If we can help you make your runs more enjoyable, a little less painful, snip a bit of time off your personal best and save you some money, we will have met our objective and will be very happy with ourselves

But on reflection I think RunBreeze is absolutely right to have such lofty aims. The more runners I get to know, the more I realise that inadequate kit is a barrier to personal success. I must admit that on the one hand I am slightly disdainful of those who seem to think that they can buy their way to better performance simply through the power of their credit card, but I also know that not having the right kit can be enough to stop people enjoying their running and that without enjoyment, training becomes a chore, which itself becomes a limiting factor.

Kit test

So given all that, I was intrigued to put the RunBreeze kit to the test. Would it be as good as I hoped? Would it lift me to a new level of effort in my training? Well, I can report that whilst I am always of the opinion that no kit, however good, is going to make up for inadequate mental toughness or a lack of hard-won fitness, the socks I tried did have a pretty positive effect.

The lightweight sock

I remember reading once that some pro-athletes find that if they have a psychological dip in training then a new pair of shoes or a new t-shirt will give them the tiny boost they need to make the extra effort required to nail a session. Well for me, the RunBreeze lightweight socks that I pulled on for my track session were just the boost I needed to get over the malaise that had descended on me thanks to a tough day at work and the thoughts of Christmas just round the corner. The ‘liner’ style socks were really light weight and comfortable in the very light racing flats that I was wearing for the session. I really liked the tab of material that protects the achilles tendon from the shoe rubbing on a very low-profile sock (which looks pretty cool as well) and the socks didn’t slip around or ruck-up at all. I had comfy, dry feet for the duration of the session.

The anti-blister sock

The next day I went for an hour’s run in the anti-blister sock. This time the benefit of a lovely new pair of socks was less psychological – after all I love longer runs! – but I did really enjoy the feeling of the double layer. Unlike other double layer socks I have tried, my feet did not get hot and sweaty which was the thing that put me off double layer socks when I first tried them. Again, despite taking on quite a bit of muddy trail during the run, there was no slipping and my feet felt really snug without the socks feeling tight in any way.

So there you have it: I think that the bah-humbug old-skool attitude that I have to running gimmicks will remain in force and I think that no bit of kit will ever replace hard, consistent training. However I really value having comfortable feet and I know that every care should be taken to ensure that hard-earned fitness does not leak away while waiting for blisters to heal. And most importantly, in these times of austerity measures, at £7 (for the lightweight sock) or £8 (for the anti-blister version) I think that every runner can now afford to treat their feet as well as possible, while they get on with becoming the best runner they can be.

How to tackle the perma-stink with Halo Proactive Sports Wash

It’s true that most people training for a marathon will run several times a week. There are people I know who are training for a chance to run for their country who manage twelve runs per week and even I have nine or ten runs a week. One of the challenges we all face is keeping on top of the laundry, especially in winter when the pile can grow at an alarming rate.

The issue of laundry mountains is made worse in my case by my tendency towards frugality – put simply I quite like to get the maximum possible wear out of my kit (except for shoes which I do replace regularly). This miserliness however leads all too often to the dreaded perma-stink, where kit never really loses the pungent odor that builds up. By the middle of last year I was finding that almost every item of kit I owned has a musty smell even straight after washing. The worse bit of this was that the kit that I liked the most and therefore wore the most, suffered the most.

That is where Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash came in. I think this stuff is great! I must admit that the first time I used it, I was a little disappointed because the kit that I washed, whilst definitely more palatable, still retained a background whiff. But I washed it all again and the second time was a revelation! Gone was the perma-stink and in its place there was a light, fresh fragrance, which is even better than the floral smelling regular liquid detergent I had been using. Even when holding the armpits of my favourite tops close to my nose, there was not a trace of lingering perma-stink. It seems that after the first double wash, the years of ingrained pong have gone and I now use the Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash every time I wash kit. The kit always smells great and comes out completely clean, even the dirtiest vests, shorts and socks from cross-country races.

I always like to give a balanced review and that often means finding a downside or two. For Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash the only things I can think of are; one, the relative difficulty of getting hold of it (but there is a link to stockists on their website) and two; it is relatively expensive – £5.50 for 1 liter vs around £4 for a normal liquid detergent.

However I don’t think that either or indeed both of the negatives that I have mentioned outweigh the benefits of Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash and any extra cost will almost certainly be saved by extending the life of those items of kit that you thought would have to go in the bin (or if you’re really mean to the charity shop!) that will now last for several more seasons. If like so many of us runners, you are dealing with a weekly laundry-mountain, I’d say give it a go (for everyone’s benefit!)