Robbie Britton and inov-8: two great things come together

Robbie getting the jump on the competition (I'm sure he'll get indigestion doing that) © http://www.xnrg.co.uk/
Robbie getting the jump on the competition (I’m sure he’ll get indigestion doing that) © http://www.xnrg.co.uk/

I have recently had the chance to get to know ultra runner, adventurer and all-round top-bloke, Robbie Britton and we have crossed paths at a number of events – almost literally at the Bristol half marathon last year when he was pacing a group (did they have any idea of the caliber of the runner leading them along, I wonder?) as I ran past on the road back into Bristol. I was gritting my teeth and trying for all I was worth to hang on to 75 minute pace. Robbie looked as cool as a cucumber as he floated up the hill with a peloton of runners glued to his back. He easily managed to shout some encouragement to me. I could barely wave in response!

The last time Robbie and I met for a coffee, a few months ago, we were chatting about plans for the future. I was getting ever more embedded in freestak work and the launch of Like the Wind. Robbie was clearing the way for a tilt at ultra-running stardom.

Well, I am pleased to say that I have managed both of my targets – freestak is growing daily and Like the Wind issue #1 is out.

But what about Robbie? How is he getting on?

Pretty bloody well is the answer. Having been crowned 2013 UK Ultra Runner of the Year, Robbie has now announced that he is joining inov-8 as one of their sponsored athletes.

He is already a fan of their shoes and has raced in them quite regularly. Inov-8 are looking for committed athletes to join their team. It is a match made in heaven!

What’s next for Robbi-v8?

So having joined the inov-8 team, Robbie has announced that he is not resting on his laurels (presumably the same ones that he picked up in Athens at the end of the Spartathlon). His next big race is in a place very close to my heart – the Canary Islands, where I just spent a glorious week with Julie – where Robbie will take on the Trans Vulcania in La Palma on 10 May.

Robbie’s thoughts about the Transvulcania are typical from what I know of him:

I have been to La Palma once before, taking in a few epic days in the mountains before setting off to sail the Atlantic in a boat built by a crazy old man advertising for crew on Gumtree!

At 51 miles, Transvulcania is a little bit short for me but it has more ascent – there’s 2,000m in the first 11 miles – than the 24-hour stuff. I will go there, chuck myself in the mix and see what happens. I am always up for challenging myself.

Winner, winner, Robbie Britton
Winner, winner, Robbie Britton

I really admire the fact that Robbie is up for challenging himself, whether that is on a relatively short 50 miler or over hundreds of miles on the roads in Greece. He’s always up for giving it a go.

In the spirit of having a crack at all sorts of different events, Robbie is also going to resume international duties and take on probably the most iconic trail ultra of them all:

I have the World 24hr Running Championships. The target this year is a top-10 finish. I’m already feeling good about my chances as I feel fitter and stronger than I was last year.

And what year would be complete without a trip to the Alps? The 103-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) was shortened due to awful weather conditions the last time I ventured to Chamonix in 2012, but the atmosphere of the race got into my blood and this year I will return. I can’t wait.

Interview

I had a few questions for Robbie after he told me about the inov-8 link-up and being the thoroughly lovely bloke that he is, he was happy to answer them for me:


SF: What is it about inov-8 that attracted you as an athlete?

RB: I love their shoes and the fact that lightweight is king for the kit. When I race I want my kit to be as light as possible because running 100 miles is difficult in the first place. It is great to be supported by a British brand and to be able to take that to races across the world.

SF: What are you most excited about in the coming 12 months?

RB: Most excited about… So much. The competition in TransVulcania, the chance to fight for Team Medals in the World Champs (The Mens & Womens Teams are both strong enough to contend this year) and then all the British runners at UTMB, we’ve got a good bunch going!

SF: If you could take on any challenge, what would it be and why?

RB: One day I will travel to both Poles on foot. I had to step out of my Antarctic expedition (www.south2014.com) to concentrate on my running but I will get there. The Antarctic continent is the toughest place on earth and the men who have lived and died there inspire me. Oh and Western States, because I have to race that one day.

SF: Who inspires you to train and race as hard as you do?

RB: I take a lot of inspiration from explorers & mountaineers, people like Walter Bonatti and Doug Scott, who crawled off the Ogre with two broken ankles. In the World of Sport I admire anyone who gives their whole to compete at the highest level. Mark Cavendish is an great athlete who trains hard and races as if nothing else in the world mattered. [Obviously Robbie intended to include me in this list, but probably ran out of time… or something like that…]


What about inov-8?

I am a big fan of inov-8, both the company and the products. As a business, they seem to be completely authentic. The people I am in contact with there – hello, Lee, Natalie and Matt – are all committed athletes themselves. They really walk-the-walk and I think that makes all the difference.

I also think their gear is great. I was lucky to have one of their Race Elite 260 Thermoshell tops in my bag for the UTMB CCC and it is a constant companion when I am out running or fast-hiking. It is just warm enough for after a race or as an emergency top when out and about but scrunches up really small and weighs very little (well, 260g as the name suggests!) Julie has a Race Elite 140 Stormshell which is a super light-weight waterproof jacket that is perfect to carry in your pack and pull on when the weather suddenly turns. It was ideal for when we were running in Gran Canaria last week and we went from warm sun by the coast to snow at 1500m above the sea inland.

As for shoes, I think that inov-8 have a great range of running shoes, although I am particularly a fan of the trail shoe range that inov-8 produce. I know that Robbie is a big fan of the X-Talon 212, while I have really enjoyed running in the Trailroc 235 and the Roclite 315 for longer stuff. But I think there is something for everyone if you want a shoe to tackle off-road running.

Greatness assured

So there you have it: a great athlete teaming up with a great brand. Greatness is assured. I have to throw in a plug here and say that Robbie was very kind and contributed a story for Like the Wind magazine which if you get a chance to read it will resonate with his comments about wanting to give his all when he trains and races and also the fact that he admires people who hold nothing back.

I think that the final word should go to Robbie who finished answering my questions with a quote that he should have embroidered on his inov-8 racing kit:

Racing is life, everything else before and afterwards is just waiting

Steve McQueen

Says it all, really!

 

 

You can read more about Robbie joining the inov-8 team on his blog post at: http://team.inov-8.com/2014/02/25/great-britton-an-ultra-committed-athlete/
inov-8 designs and manufactures naturally fast, stripped-back products and shoes with best grip for committed athletes across the globe. Born in the UK in 2003, inov-8 now trades in over 60 countries and remains passionate about delivering performance through innovation. To learn more visit www.inov-8.com

What I needed for my summer of ultras: kit review and nutrition

One of the things that I love about running is the simplicity of it – if the weather is kind, all you need is a pair of shoes, a t-shirt, shorts and a pair of socks and you are ready to go. If you want to be really comfortable you could add a cap and sunglasses. And you might want a GPS watch. But there are no bats, balls or bikes involved, so really the kit requirements are very low.

However the further you go, the greater the requirement (or the temptation) there is to take stuff with you. And once you start running ultra distance trail races in the mountains, the kit requirements are really extensive. I realised this as I packed for the UTMB CCC the day before the race wondering if I would really need all the kit I was taking. I would find out as I attempted to run Over 100km in the mountains. (Click on the image to the right for a closer look).

What you need to take and why

The first thing that I would like to state for the record is that I am not all that concerned about how much kit I am required to take for a trail ultra. I am not one of those people who is constantly trying to game the system and take less and less and less. To be frank, the few grams I would be saving by spending a fortune on the lightest possible waterproofs or by trying to get away with not carrying everything on the kit list, seems pointless to me when I know that the real problem is that I have probably not trained enough and I am carrying too much bodyfat. So I just take all the kit.

The justification for my attitude to taking more rather than less was brought home to me a week before the CCC when Julie and I were in Chamonix. We decided to run up to Planpraz as a pre-race training run, carrying all our kit to give it our rucksacks good test. It was a beautifully sunny day and we were warm climbing all the way from Chamonix town centre to around 2000m altitude at the top of the Vertical Kilometer course.

As we arrived at the top and decided to stop for lunch, a bank of clouds rolled in and obscured the sun. Suddenly we were freezing – it was not raining and it was lunchtime. But the drop in air temperature was immediate and significant and the moment we stopped moving, we were cold! Suddenly we were hauling jackets and over-trousers out of our backpacks to keep us warm. Point hammered home!

So the UTMB CCC obligatory kit list is relevant and here is what everyone is obliged to carry for the entire race:

  • mobile phone
  • personal cup
  • stock of water
  • two torches in good working condition with replacement batteries,
  • survival blanket
  • whistle
  • adhesive elastic bandage
  • food reserve
  • jacket with hood made with a waterproof breathable membrane which will withstand the bad weather in the mountains
  • long running trousers or leggings or a combination of leggings and long socks which cover the legs completely
  • additional warm midlayer top
  • cap or bandana
  • warm hat
  • warm and waterproof gloves
  • waterproof over-trousers

My personal kit list

I had all of the above plus a couple of other bits and here, for the record, is a what I wore and carried during the race:

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 09.02.45
ashmei merino carbon running top. Photo © Roy Belchamber

ashmei merino carbon running jersey – this was a simply brilliant bit of kit. It wicked sweat and kept my temperature regulated. The top never rode up and there was no rubbing at all. It just felt like the ideal thing to have next to my skin, it didn’t start to pong after 18 hours running and the zip neck allowed me to cool down more when it warmed up and keep my neck warm when it cooled down.

Nike shorts – an old favourite pair that I have run in at least 100 times and I thought would be great. Ended up causing the worst chafing I have ever had and ended up in the bin in a public toilets in Champex Lac. Will only wear tight cycling-style shorts for this sort of thing in the future.

ashmei merino trail socks – one pair, 24 hours and not a blister or even a hot-spot in sight. Brilliant!

Headsweats visor (won in a competition earlier this year) – super-comfortable, kept the sun and the sweat out of my eyes. And visors make you look like a trail runner… which is important

 

Me in my Naked Runner glasses at the 2013 VLM
Me in my Naked Runner glasses at the 2013 VLM

Naked Runner sunglasses – really light weight, the right level of darkness to the lenses and the most comfortable glasses I have ever owned – they never bounce on my nose! Basically brilliant for the price.

Scott T2 Kinabalu trail shoes – I had to choose between these and the inov-8 RocLite 315 which I really love running in. But in the end I wanted as much cushioning for the 20+ hours we would be on our feet and the Scott’s offered more than the inov-8s. In the race the Scotts were truly amazing: light, cushioned, grippy and just about roomy enough. A perfect choice for a race this long.

North Face Base Layer Light (long sleeve) – this top was recommended to me by none other than Jez Bragg when I met up with him at the North Face shop in Chamonix. It came out when the temperature dropped in the early hours and it was really super-comfortable giving me just enough warmth for the early hours.

Adidas Supernova tights – I pulled these on earlier than I thought I would because I had to take my shorts off, due to the searing pain of chaffing from the short’s liner. They were great, but I probably wouldn’t have worn them if I had made a better shorts choice.

Compressports calf guards and thigh guards – the calf guards remained around my ankles until about 50km when my calves started aching. Once I pulled them up, they made my lower legs feel great. Essential kit as far as I am concerned. The quad guards went on at the start of the day and I kept them on all the way round. They seem to support my quads on the downhills, my hamstrings on the uphills and stop any rubbing between my thighs. Another essential bit of kit as far as I am concerned.

Montane gilet – this is a minimalist masterpiece. It is made from pertex, so it crunches up super small (the size of a tangerine) and keeps the wind completely at bay. I wore this for the start of the race when it was a bit chilly and then later, once the sun went down and I was feeling cold again. One of my favourite bits of kit.

Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest – this was a present from Julie and in general I love this bag. It is really well thought out, with some great features. I especially like the fact that it will carry masses of kit without swinging around. In fact whether it is full or empty, it fits like a glove. I do have an issue though which is that the finishing is poor – zip pulls have popped off and can’t be replaced. The bungee holding the water bottle on one side snapped and Julie had to unpick the edge of the pocket to try to reattach it. So generally great, but frustratingly badly finished.

Black Diamond Carbon Z-Poles – OK, not something I wore, but these were not in my pack very much. They are brilliant. Light, sturdy and easy to stow away thanks to the folding mechanism. I think that poles are essential in the mountains and this model ticks every box for me. The use of poles helps take the pressure off your legs and back, making very long races feel much more manageable. And the winner of the UTMB used poles, so they must be right!

Suunto Ambit – this is a new bit of kit for me and I absolutely love it. The level of accuracy and detail is like nothing I have ever had on my wrist before and I especially love the accuracy of the altimeter. The watch is really, really easy to read and the backlight is superb, so it is great for running in the night. Best of all, is the battery life. I had this running for almost the entirely of the 24 hours and 20 minutes that I was running the CCC, with a little break in the middle because I was worried that I’d run the battery flat. Oh and as I like a chunky watch anyway, the size of the Ambit does not put me off in any way. All in all a superb bit of kit!

Here is the kit I carried:

IMG_1363
Forget Anton and Julie… focus on the inov-8 Thermoshell!

Inov-8 Race Elite 260 Thermoshell – this is a great bit of kit, that I took to the CCC as my mid-layer. It is really light and compact, but when you take it out and pull it on, there is instant warmth and protection. I would never venture out into the mountains without this again. During the race, I didn’t need to use it, but I have on other occasions and I knowing it was in my pack, was extremely reassuring.

Mountain Warehouse waterproof trousers – really compact and lightweight and with taped seams, these trousers fitted the bill as far as the obligatory kit was concerned. But they are not breathable, so I’d never consider running in them. They were for emergency use only and thankfully we didn’t have reason to pull them out.

Norrøna jacket – I bought this for trail running from one of the outdoors shops in Covent Garden – it was the last one on the sale rail and reduced by 75%. It fits me perfectly, is really comfortable, has useful pockets and pit-vents and is extremely waterproof. Whilst it is not the lightest jacket available, from a cost vs. functionality point of view, it was the best I could get and is definitely small enough and light enough for me.

LED Lenser headtorch – this is the business. It is really bright and whilst it can feel as though there is a bit of a lump on the front of your head, that is easily off-set by the huge pool of light that it provides. In the pitch dark it was perfect. I’m not sure about battery life and mine seemed to be on some sort of setting that meant that it would not stay on the dimmest setting, which would have been more than enough. But that is probably user failure, rather than a problem with the torch.

Nutrition

TORQ Bars - the business!
TORQ Bars – the business!

I carried quite a lot of nutrition products with me and I was rather glad I did. My main sources of fuel were TORQ bars and gels. I had 12 gels and 8 bars (I was basing that on one TORQ unit an hour for 20 hours which is only a third of what they recommend you take, but I couldn’t carry 60 bars/gels and thought that as I would be operating at such a low intensity level, that I would be OK just topping up glycogen levels with what I had). I also took some fruit blocks that are sold to kids in French supermarkets– they are essentially fruit juice and sugar in a jelly-like block.

I also intended to eat at the aid stations but tried to limit myself to as little fat as possible (that worked for most of the race!) so I was eating white bread, a clear broth with pasta that we found at some aid stations, ham and occasionally salami. I did eat the odd piece of cheese, but I was getting hungry after 8 hours of running.

We also had a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce at Champex Lac about half way round.

Towards the end of the race, I had used all my TORQ gels and only had one bar left, so feeling a bit worse for wear I sat in the aid station and had three cups of black tea with sugar and three chocolate chip cookies.  I felt fantastic after that and whilst I know that was not ideal nutritionally, the psychological boost and the sugar really got me going again.

Overall thoughts about the kit

So from a kit and nutrition point of view, that was my race. I think I had just about the right stuff. The shorts were a disaster, but then I know that I still need to learn and improve, so there was bound to be one thing I wouldn’t get right. And everything else was really perfect. I will certainly not be making many kit changes for next year…