Saucony invite you to pop in to the pop-up

I personally think that one of the things that some running brands could do a little more of, is talking about their heritage and the reason they do what they do. This is part of what we believe in at Freestak and it comes from a feeling that often people don’t just by what a brand produces it, that buy why they produce it. People engage with brands that have a story and tell that story as well as possible.

The Saucony Pop-Up Shop

Saucony Pop-Up Shop
Saucony Pop-Up Shop

So it was great to be invited to a pop-up shop that Saucony have set up in Covent Garden for a look around and to be fitted out with a pair of their new Kinvara 5 in a special, limited-edition London livery.

The shop is not huge but what they pack in there is really impressive. Broadly it is divided between performance on the left as you enter and lifestyle – in the form of their Originals range – on the right. But the two sides of Saucony’s offering merge into one huge run-fest in a shop that is really dedicated to our sport.

One of the most striking things about the shop is a case on one wall that contains shoes from throughout the years – leather-soled track spikes from the days when sprinters dug out their own footholes in the cinder tracks with trowels that they carried to each race all the way through the earliest EVA-soled running shoes, via the monsterous, built up trainers of the ’80s and ’90s to the latest innovations in running footwear. Interestingly some of the oldest Saucony shoes display a three-stripes logo that was dropped in favour of the swirl with three dots that now graces Saucony shoes. That three strip logo was later adopted by another famous running brand…

History informing the future

The Saucony Kinvara 5 London edition
The Saucony Kinvara 5 London edition

There is history here for sure, but as Jonathan Quint, European Marketing Manager for Saucony explained to us, it is all about development towards the ultimate running shoes. In recent years Saucony has looked deeply into the trend for minimalist footwear and even barefoot running to try to figure out what nothingness can offer runners and how those benefits can be incorporated into their shoes. That is why Saucony introduced shoes with a smaller heel-to-toe offset (or differential) of 4mm like the Kinvara 5 and now are bringing that lower-profile sole into many of their shoes.

Saucony Coaching Ambassador Nick Anderson
Saucony Coaching Ambassador Nick Anderson

At the event to talk about how the Saucony innovations impact on runners, was their in-house coaching ambassador Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs. He talked extensively about how to adapt to shoes with a smaller differential and why running in a shoe like the Kinvara 5 is so good for us, albeit only is the runner adapts slowly to the extra pressure that the calf and achilles comes under. That is worthy of a blog post all of it’s own and I will try to get Nick to go on record and tell me more about that in a future piece.

Style and performance

But back to the pop-up shop. I really enjoyed the opportunity to find out more about Saucony. It was clear that the whole company, from designers to marketers and from coaches to sponsored athletes pour a huge amount of effort into trying to make shoes that help runners become better. They are clearly not a brand that jumps on fads and – notwithstanding the Hattori that I believe they have discontinued – that have taken a very considered approach to the trend towards minimalism. I think that Saucony is a brand that can really be trusted and it is only by seeing all the years of development and research that you really get that message.

So if you have a chance to pop in to the pop-up, I recommend it. You will probably also end up drooling over the very smart looking Kinvara 5 London edition and the Saucony Originals on display – I know I did and it was probably for the best that there wasn’t a chance to buy on the night I went!

The power of strength

When I met my coach, Nick from RunningWithUs, he changed a few things in my life and my training – well, you’d expect him to, wouldn’t you. One of them (which I admit I’m still struggling to get to grips with) is core- and, what I will call, functional-strength. Nick is a great believer in being strong in all areas and I think that is something that runners can be pretty bad at. So many runners I know, think that as long as they are running, then they are building the strength they need to be better runners. Why worry about core strength or upper-body strength, when you have legs that are pure ripped muscle?

The benefits of strength

Well, as I say, I struggle with this aspect of it all, but a few things recently have made me think that all round power and strength is desirable, not only for running, but in life generally.

One of these things is the chin-up bar that hangs above our kitchen door. Going to the gym is very low on my priority list. So I try to put ‘temptation’ in my way. One of the ways I do this – which was particularly effective when I worked from home full-time – was a cheap chin-up bar above the kitchen door. The idea was that every time I went to make a tea or get a glass of water, I should do as many chin-ups as I could manage.

The bar is pretty obvious and, as we usually have dinner in our lovely big kitchen when friends come round, guests usually comment on it… and want to have a go. The reaction to the bar has been interesting and the results at times, very surprising. People that I really didn’t expect to be any good at chin-ups have knocked out 10 or more straight-arm pull-ups whilst still chatting. Others, that I have assumed would be pretty good, have managed… well, none!

Now I don’t believe that anyone gets good at doing chin-ups without training (same goes for almost everything, in my opinion) and when I ask those people who have been good at chin-ups, why they are good at them, the answer is usually a variation on the theme that it is important to be strong or functionally fit. Whether that importance is limited the the purely physical, or whether these people gain a psychological advantage from the fact they know they have that strength, is up for debate.

Outdoors gym

Then today my wife and I went to a really big local park. I have been feeling under the weather recently and was going to take another rest day today to make sure that the cold that I think I have beaten, didn’t come back with a vengeance this week. But with my wife and I tackling the first of a series of ultra trail races in a week, my wife was keen that we do something. I was reticent, but we ended using the forest as a huge outdoor gym – jogging, lunging, doing triceps dips on a fallen tree trunk, pull-ups on the branches of another tree, standing on one leg with eyes closed (don’t laugh – it is a lot harder than it sounds!), hand-stands on the grass and so on. Despite my initial reluctance, it was great fun and also exposed weaknesses that I don’t usually realise are there. By doing something other than running on pavements I was suddenly struggling with a weak core or my puny arms.

Then when I got home I saw this tweet from my great friend Charlie Dark: “I think it was the point that my daughter did 3 pull ups more than me that I realised I need to get my #spartan fam on. Homework commences”

So I am more sold on Nick’s assertion that he would like all his marathon runners to be able to do 60 press-ups. I think that having more dimensions to fitness is highly desireable and with the next three races planned for rough, hilly mountain or coastal trails, I think that functional strength will be a crucial factor in success. What do you think? Do you work on over-all strength or stick to a single focus on running? If you are multi-dimensional what are you top tips? What are the best exercises for runners? While you thinking about that, I’m off to make a cuppa… and crack out a personal best 7 chin-ups on the way.

 

Show me the evidence

Belief vs. empirical evidence – it’s a bit like a battle between love or magic vs. science or logic. The romantic in me always wants to believe that there is a magic and an art to running, but the truth is, I believe that running is a direct input-output relationship.

If you train and prepare well, you will get the result you want. If you don’t, you won’t.

So when I announced to my coach that after tackling three ultra marathons in three months, culminating in a 130 mile three-day stage race at the end of August, I would like to start a 15 week programme to race a marathon in Italy in December, I thought that he would simply tell me that it wasn’t possible, that I was being foolish.

Instead, he double-bluffed me. He said that me racing a marathon in December would be possible, but he would want to see something before we seriously contemplated the idea…

Evidence

So I have a target, which is not the one I thought I might have. Now I have to qualify for my own challenge, by running at least one half marathon personal best, between the end of the epic-ultra and the middle of November. If I can do that, then perhaps the marathon is a ‘go-er’.

Belief… or naivety

But many runners don’t have a coach who is used to greedy athletes wanting to revisit the sticky honey pot of racing time and time again. And I was reminded of this by a friend who told me of a group of new runners, training for a 10km road race, who had decided – for what reason I don’t know – that they were going to try to run sub-35 minute times on their debut.

I am not talking about seasoned 1500m, 3000m or 5000m track athletes here, going for their first road race. No, these are real newbies – people who have never really been very active or trained consistently. The fact is that they are completely naive and they have picked up the idea that 35 minutes is a good target from goodness knows where. They haven’t even tested themselves – no track sessions, no ParkRuns…

The truth is, maybe I am the one who needs to rethink things – maybe I set limiters on myself and everyone I come in contact with through running, because I don’t believe in magic. I believe in evidence. But then again, maybe a little evidence is always a good thing. What do you think?