Finding intensity

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Dennis Kimetto – a man with intensity

Recently I posted about happiness (or lack thereof) and I have to say I was pretty overwhelmed by the response I got to that – friends contacted me by the dozen to offer advice and ask if they could help (to those who asked if they could help, just asking if you could help, helped!) And I am really pleased to report that I have started to find my happy again. I’m not all the way back to unbridled joy – will I ever be? – but I am certainly above the line that divides happiness from unhappiness.

Now I feel as though I need to capitalise on the positivity and see what I can improve upon. My current thinking is about intensity.

I will admit that most of my life I have considered myself to be a lazy person. I don’t judge my laziness by any empirical measure and I don’t spend any time trying to compare myself accurately against other people. But the feeling that I am lazy is more like a nagging guilt that hangs around in the background.

I have thought about this long and hard and I now believe that the answer to feeling lazy is in finding some intensity.


We were having a conversation in the office recently about how we view ourselves and I tried to make the point that it can be difficult if the people you aspire to be like – the people that you consider to be your peers even – are actually outliers: those who are the best in the world or at least those who dedicate themselves to doing one thing at the exclusion of all others. For example it would be stupid for me to compare myself as a runner with Dennis Kimetto. But I do have friends who have run 2:20 marathons (and faster) and I think that I am more like them than I really have any right to because they are, and have been, more dedicated to becoming the best runners they can be that I am (and have been). When I find that I don’t have the motivation to go out running and I know that they are training, I blame myself for being lazy. Actually I believe that when it comes to running, those people just have more intensity than I do.


So what do I mean by intensity? Well I am defining it as a state of mind where there are no excuses, where the focus is completely on the thing at hand. Intensity to me means that the person has a clear goal and a plan to get there. And importantly, the discipline to make sure that they are not distracted.

In my life I feel like I struggle to maintain focus and that means that I don’t have the intensity that I need to succeed to the degree that I want to. I certainly get distracted too easily. So what do I need to do? Well here is a list that I have been thinking about (but if you can add anything to this, please chime in and tell me);

  • Have a goal or two and make them the priority. Don’t let other people prioritise things for me.
  • Have a plan – whether that is running or business, I know I need a plan to get me to the goals I have set.
  • Clear the decks – get rid of all the distractions that take time, emotions and energy away from the goals that are important.
  • Throw off negativity, especially people who want to drain my energy or focus.
  • Review regularly.
  • Have fun doing what I am doing.

Looking at that list it all seems so obvious. But in the last few months I have realised that the important things to me at the moment – especially my running – have suffered because of a lack of clear goals, a lack of a plan, too much mental clutter, the unwelcome distraction of negative people and – possibly as a result of all of those things – a feeling that there is not much fun being had.

I also know that when I look back on my running a couple of years ago, I had all of the elements I am now saying I need to put in place: I had intensity.

So, thank you to everyone who reached out when I was in a slump. Some of you know more about what was actually happening than others, but everyone I spoke to or who wrote to me or sent me a message was a massive part in helping me pull myself together. I am really grateful and humbled by the support.

Thankfully I feel that I have managed to clear the mental fog, I am back on track towards some clearly defined goals and I feel like I am regaining the energy and focus that I was missing.

Now is the time to bring the intensity.

Happy? It’s more important than you realise.

Me being very, VERY happy!
Me being very, VERY happy!

Greg Rutherford was recently on a documentary looking into the concept of whether people are born to win: if through genetic testing it is possible to see what sorts of sports any of us are ideally built for? Regardless of whether or not you think it is ethical or important or necessary to know these things – and I am not sure personally – another thing that came up in the programme was that there is much, much more to being a winner, or the best you can be, then whether you have the right genes.

Matthew Sayed was on the same programme and he says that genes are a tiny ingredient in a very complex and rich recipe. More importantly, for Sayed, are attitude and opportunity which he says are everything.

Back to Rutherford, and he says that being happy is key. Before his breakthrough at the Olympic Games in 2012, Rutherford actually reduced his training to three sessions per week and spent much more time making sure that he was happy.

Personally this is a bit is a light bulb moment.

At the moment I would say that I am not generally very happy. There is a lot of pressure coming from being half of the team running freestak with my wife, Julie, and – again with Julie – trying to continually improve Like the Wind magazine. Running a business is really tough. I am learning the difficult lesson that when you do something for yourself and put it out in the world, you become a target for people who think that their opinions matter, even when all they seem to want to do is be negative. I guess that is just spite and jealousy, but I am definitely affected by it.

At times I feel tired, stressed and anxious. Don’t get me wrong, this is not how I feel all the time. If I did I would have to stop! But I would say that on balance I feel unhappy often enough that it is having a negative effect on my running. In short, I find myself regularly thinking that I would rather have a cup of tea and curl up on the sofa than get myself out of the door.

So the answer is… well I’m not sure. I guess I have to think about how to make myself happier. If I think back to when I ran my marathon PB, I was really happy. J and I had launched freestak and we were in a honeymoon period with the business. I was happy to be my own boss and I believed that we were doing something important. Training therefore was going well and that made me… happier. As a result I raced well and enjoyed a few good results. And guess what? That success made me even happier!

Right now I know that if I can get myself out and start running more and get in shape, then I will feel happier and that will have a positive affect on everything. I guess I need to start being less sensitive about what people I don’t know think and try to look at all the positive things that are happening. That can then be the fuel to drive me towards more and more happiness. Let’s just hope that I’m genetically programmed to be happy!

Who the hell am I racing against?

In the second in a series of very self-indulgent posts this weekend (sorry!) I want to answer the questions: who am I competing with? Who am I measuring myself with? Who am I racing against?

Watching the best of the best

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Gwen Jorgensen winning the World Triathlon Series race in London against the best in the world

I watched the the women’s World Triathlon Series race that took place in Hyde Park yesterday, whilst relaxing on the sofa after a long run this morning and a picnic in the park with Julie at lunchtime. Gwen Jorgensen, from the US, took on the best triathletes in the world who made up the field of other elite women over the 750m swim – 20km bike – 5km run race course. It was magnificent to watch and fascinating to see the others in the race respond and react and in the end race for the minor places.

One thing that struck me as I watched the race – which, like pretty much all elite Olympic and shorter distance triathlons that I have seen recently, came down to the run – was the fact that Jorgensen was a couple of kilometers into the run and there were still elite athletes racking their bikes and heading out for the 5km on foot. The first thing that crossed my mind was “why bother?”

These are elite level athletes. Almost certainly all of them make their living from triathlon and coming 63rd out of a field of 65 is – in terms of their earnings and career prospects – totally pointless. Why not just rack the bike and go for a recovery shake and get ready for the next race when they might do better?

No expectation of winning: just doing the best you can

But then I realised that most of us – and I mean 99.9999999% of the people who do any sort of sport – aren’t doing it with the expectation of winning. Most of us have other reasons for training and competing. We must have, because we sure as hell aren’t going to win.

So now I am back to my initial question. Why do I care about what time I get in a race or what position I get? In reality I am never going to win anything (certainly not anything worthwhile or meaningful) so why care?

Well I think that the answer is that I am racing against myself. Trying to match up to the standards that I aspire to for myself. Half of why I race is so that I can feel proud of what I have achieved because – especially with endurance sports (and thank you to my training partner on my run this morning, who reminded me of this point) you get out what you put in. So if I get a what I think is a pretty good result, then I know that I have worked hard and achieved something. The beauty of this, of course, is that it applies to everyone, no matter how fast they are. So everyone can know the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from having put in the effort and come out with a result.

My results & my frustrations

Mario Mola, winner of the men's race in the World Triathlon  Series race in London
Mario Mola, winner of the men’s race in the World Triathlon Series race in London

So… why am I frustrated with myself at the moment? Because I know I am not putting in the work and I am therefore not getting results that I think I can be proud of. For me. Not results that someone else thinks they would be happy with: results that I would be happy with. The irony is, of course, that it is entirely possible to win races and still not really be proud of what you achieved, because there is no one there to challenge you – you get the bling but it is meaningless without meaningful challenge. What I love about sport like the Elite triathlons at the weekend, is that there are so many people at the same level that, for example, in the elite men’s race in Hyde Park this weekend, the winner can feel immensely proud that he beat the best in the world. Same for Jorgensen. Same for you and me, if we beat the expectations that we set ourselves!

And what about me? Well, I got what I deserved in the 5km run that I did on Saturday: a taste of blood in my mouth, sore legs and a sinking feeling that age and lack of training are catching up on me.

But you want to know the best thing? I know that I can pull it around. Whether or not I feel proud of my future results is entirely in my hands – I just have to work for them. Sounds pretty good, eh?

Training for a mile: must remember to smile.

I was recently invited by adidas to join them at the Westminster Mile and run the race alongside a bunch of other blogger and journalists. They then introduced a twist. I’ll come to that in a moment.

Me? I’m NOT a miler

Now I have not run a race for a very, very long time. Probably almost 25 years ago. The last time I tried to race a mile or 1500m was at school and I was probably 14 or 15 years old. And I was always well beaten by Phil (who was a really good swimmer, understood the need for training and didn’t bow to peer pressure and an addictive personality by taking up smoking). What I know is that even looking back through the mists of time, running those shorter distances was unpleasant. And that was brought home to me last night on a training session organised by the adidas team (bit late to organise training for a race in 4 days, but I guess it is the thought that counts!)

A session to prepare us mentally if not physically!

We were all still smiling at this point - the session hadn't started!
We were all still smiling at this point – the session hadn’t started!

We – that is me, two other writers, a member of adidas’ PR agency and Tom the coach – met at the London Marathon Store and changed into our kit before being presented with a new pair of the adidas adios Boost (more on them in a minute) and after quick introductions we were off with Tom leading the way to a park in Shoreditch, nestled between a railway line and the back of the Truman Brewery.

After the short jog to the park, Tom put us through some drills as a warm up and explained the need for warming-up before a mile race. To be honest, one of the things I like about marathons and long races is that you can use the first mile to get into it and warm up. For a mile, you probably need to do several miles of warming up before you start which seems counter-intuitive to me: run more distance than you intend to race in order to be ready to race. That is probably not the only thing that marks me out as a non-middle and –short distance runner!

One we were warm, we had the following session to do:

  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 2 x 3 minutes at 10km pace
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder

A nice neat session which really tested the remaining few fast-twitch fibres in my legs that have not yet capitulated in the face of old age and a focus on long, slow runs. I actually really enjoyed the session although my face didn’t betray the inner joy I was feeling. Tom actually said that I looked shocked, which was not entirely untrue!

Am I ready to race a mile?

So where does that leave me, running wise. Well actually the session made me feel worse about my chances on Saturday rather than better. The 200m reps were not on a track, they were between two cones on a path in a park, which may mean that they were more or less than 200m apart. I was hitting each one – even the last one in 32 or 33 seconds. But that is 4:08 pace for a mile at best. And remember we had recovery between the 200m efforts.

On Saturday, if I want to take in the challenge that adidas has set up, I have to try to run the mile as fast as Wilson Kipsang ran each mile of his world record in. That is around 4:47 pace. I suppose that it might feel less like my lungs are going to burst if I am able to run a few seconds slower on the day, but not much I would guess. So I would be amazed if I get anywhere near 5 minute pace.

The adidas adios Boost

At least I know that I will have a decent pair of shoes on my feet (there goes another excuse!) with the new adidas adios Boost that we were given last night. I have written about these shoes before and I stand by what I said then. As far as the racing shoes I have tried are concerned (and I don’t get to try them all by any means) these are currently one of my favourites. They are light, fit like a glove and I love the Boost mid-sole material which seems to be the perfect balance of cushioning and rebound for me. And they are orange which looks pretty cool!

So I will report back about the mile race after the weekend. In the mean time, if you fancy trying out this iconic – and for most of the runners I know – pretty unusual distance, there is the City of London Mile Race on 22 June. I think that the mile will be an interesting experience and is short enough that anyone can have a crack at it. And you never know, maybe I am about embark on a new running career as a middle-distance runner. Maybe…



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

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.

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…


Shoe review: Saucony Peregrine 2

At the moment I am having a great time in Chamonix, spending time running in the mountains and exploring all the trails on offer. Just before I left to come out here, the lovely folk at Saucony UK sent me a pair of their Peregrine 2s to go running in and I recorded a video review of what I think of them:

I actually have had a couple of pairs of the Peregrines before and I really like this shoe, mainly because it is:

  • lightweight
  • grippy
  • low-profile
  • has a 4mm heel-toe differential
  • provides a decent amount of toe protection
Image taken from iRunFar
Image taken from iRunFar

I think that the Saucony Peregrine feels fast thanks to the fact that it has so little bulk. Other trail shoes that I have run in seem to be massive. There is an increasing trend, as with road running shoes, towards less bulky trail shoes, but I would say that the Peregrine was one of the first to be so stripped back and light. That said, there is no compromise on cushioning or grip… so you have a comfortable, responsive, light shoe which has enough grip and a decent amount of toe protection: what’s not to like? The shoe even has a ring at the bottom of the laces for a gaiter to clip on to if you are running in very wet conditions or on trails where there is masses of loose debris. Small gaiters can mean the difference between a lovely run admiring the views and pushing your limits versus stopping every 400m to remove another stone or piece of wood from your shoe!

Anyway, I hope you like the video and please give me any feedback you can… good, bad or otherwise! And let me know what your favourite trail shoes are. I am out here for five weeks so maybe I will get to try them out too!


Running for my Nan

A couple of weeks ago my Nan – the wonderful Nellie – passed away. She was 97 years old. I was very, very sad and despite her amazing age, it came as quite a shock.

Born in 1915, my Nan has seen an awful lot and was an amazingly supportive, wise and thoughtful woman – a real role model if ever there was one. She lived through the Second World War staying the whole time in London while her husband was away fighting the war. She witnessed social and technological changes that must have been utterly mind-blowing for her – the advent of homes having electricity and the telephone, the birth of television, computing, satellites, mobile phones, microwaves, digital watches… digital anything actually. Fast food. The NHS. The United Nations.

In 1915 the Italian Umberto Blasi was the marathon world record holder with a time of 2:38:00 – that is how long ago my Nan was born.

My Nan and my sport

And it is fair to say that my Nan was not – as far as I know – a sporty woman. In fact I can’t remember her ever speaking about her own sporting interests. But she was interested in mine. In fact my marathon running prompted a unique event in the 38 years that I knew her: she asked me to do something for her!

My abiding memory of my Nan is as a fiercely independent woman, who certainly never asked me for anything. She lived alone in her own home until three days before she died. She cooked her own meals, collected and returned her own library books and did her own shopping for almost her entire life. She was, in fact, a very tough lady. And not one who asked for anything from anyone.

Running a marathon for Macmillan Cancer Support

So it was quite a surprise when Nan asked me if I would run a marathon to raise money for a charity that was very dear to her – Macmillan Cancer Support.

me and nanShe knew that I had run a couple of marathons for other charities – mainly because friends were running for them and I have said I’d pitch in – and Nan said that a number of her friends (she was in her 90s by this stage) had developed cancer and that Macmillan had been amazing in helping them. She wanted to see if there was something we could do together. Seeing as I was going to run the London marathon again, she asked if I would mind running to raise money for her charity.

I was delighted to be asked and really, really happy to do what I could to help. Even better in 2008, I had a Good For Age place so I didn’t need to pay for a Golden Bond place: every penny I raised would go to Macmillan.

I contacted the charity and told them what I would do. They were happy to have me as part of their team. They sent me a vest for me and t-shirt for Nan, so that we could pose in them for my JustGiving page. We set a target of £1,000.

In the end the race went well. I had written the fundraising total and the words “For Nan” on the inside of my forearm and when things got tough during the race, I glanced down and found my motivation to carry on.

I finished in 3hr 14min 36secs and Nan and I raised £1,254.60.

Now that Nan has gone

The last couple of weeks have been tough. I know that I won’t be able to see my Nan again, show her a medal and describe a race that I have done. But I know that she was really proud of me.

One of my favourite moments was running the 2010 edition of the Petts Wood 10k – the race in the village where she lived.

I was in reasonable shape and determined to do my best, so I gave it my all and finished in second place. The race finishes in a recreation ground in the village and I was so happy to see my Nan standing behind the barriers in the finish chute as I came in. I could hear her saying – to anyone who would listen – “that’s my Grandson, that’s my Grandson” It meant so much to me to make her proud.

I only found out later that to start with she was a bit miffed because she thought there’d be time to go for a coffee and cake while I was out running… sorry Nan – I was only gone for 36 minutes!

What I am going to do and what you can do

So here are my thoughts. I think that I will run a race in memory of my Nan. I will run for Macmillan Cancer Support. I’m actually grateful that she didn’t need long-term palliative care herself, but it was a charity that she cared about and I want to honour that.

I am going to use JustGiving again because I think that they make it really easy to run in loving memory of someone and in fact they have recently added some info for how to set up a page in memory of someone. You can see that here.

If you are doing something similar, please let me know. And I will update you on what I am going to do to honour the memory of Mrs Nellie Rosina Harrison, the most wonderful, supportive, bright woman anyone could hope to have in their lives.

Hot dang! An ashmei merino wool product review

Disclaimer – please read this: I want to make it really clear from the very start that as the co-owner of freestak, I work for ashmei supplying social media marketing services. Stuart, the owner of ashmei, was very generous and sent me some ashmei kit to try out and run in. However this blog is very much an “all views my own” thing and I don’t allow my work at freestak to influence my writing here, so this review is my honest feeling – I don’t write about what I don’t like!

ashmei product review

I recently received a rather lovely package from the team at ashmei – a white fabric bag containing a Running Merino Sweatshirt, a short-sleeve merino + carbon jersey and a pair of 2-in-1 Shorts.

I have been wearing then quite a bit since they arrived, but on Sunday I had the opportunity to really give the short-sleeved top and the shorts a proper outing – the 28 mile Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series marathon on the Flete Estate in Devon. You can read my race report here.

Perfect conditions

Due to a bit of disorganisation (freestak has been very busy!) Julie and I ended up getting up at 3am to drive to the race start. This all added to the sense of adventure and the brilliant, golden sunrise, as we passed Stonehenge – shrouded in mist – with a massive, forlorn-looking moon hanging in the sky in front of us, is something I will remember for a long, long time.

The sun came up and there was not a cloud in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful day. It was also going to be warm. Hopefully my ashmei kit would cope.

ashmei performance

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 21.34.53As we started I was wearing my ashmei short-sleeve jersey, arm warmers, the 2-in-1 shorts from ashmei, Runderwear from RunBreeze, calf guards from Compressport, socks from ASICS and Mizuno trail shoes. I also had my fantastic new pack from Ultimate Direction (a present from Julie). Finally I had on a running cap from Sugoi and my Naked Runner shades. Sorted, ready to go!

It was warm by the time the gun went at 8:50am and within a couple of miles the arm-warmers were in my pack (Julie did say ‘I told you so’!) but apart from that, my kit choices were spot on.

The merino jersey was great. It is reasonably fitted without being skin-tight, which meant that there was no rucking and the top grabbed any sweat and wicked it away, without restricting breathing or showing off my love handles. The heat didn’t bother me and the top was entirely itch-free. Even my back – which is usually very damp after running for 5 hours with a rucksack on, felt drier then normal.

The shorts did benefit from the Runderwear (please check it out – I think it is utterly genius!) and the merino inner shorts gave a nice level of compression without cutting off the blood supply. Despite the heat, there was no chaffing at all. As we passed another runner in our ‘marathon’ race who was wearing the same shorts, I thought how nice the shorts looked, which is an added bonus.

Race result, kit result.

In the end Julie and I took just over 5 hours for the 28-odd miles. That is quite a long time on your feet and especially in the heat.

I was worried before I started that being hot for that long would make for a pretty uncomfortable run, but not so. The merino seems to do exactly what it says on the tin and wicked the sweat away nicely. I didn’t itch and there was no chafing.

So I would say that for long, slow runs and ultra marathons, the ashmei kit is great. The shorts would be too heavy for me to race anything up to a marathon in. but for hours on the feet, I think the ashmei kit is an ideal choice. Once I have washed it, I’ll post an update. And in the mean time if anyone else has any experiences with or thoughts about merino wool for running apparel, please let me know.