Adidas’ new range for 2012

First of all a confession – I haven’t ever really run in Adidas footwear before (I did have a pair when I very first started running, but I can’t really remember them and they were consigned to the bin fairly quickly after I discovered I had bought a size too small for me). The reason for this is rather ridiculous, but is something that I hope many runners will understand; I had a bad retail experience and then never went back to the brand I was annoyed by.

After I started running I always went to a specialist running shop for my shoes, but after a few years, I started to think that I knew what felt good on my feet. So I went to a huge Adidas shop on Oxford Street, in London’s West End, with the intention of trying on, and buying, some Adidas racing flats. After all these were the shoes that Haile Gebrselassie had worn when he and I ran the Berlin marathon earlier in 2008; he set the then world record of 2:03:59 and I ran a PB in 2:51:52.

The problem is that I am not good at shopping. I don’t like hanging around and I don’t like what I perceive to be bad service. So after waiting for a preposterously long time to be served and for the shoes I wanted to try to arrive, the sales assistant dropped the shoes on the floor at my feet and started serving another customer… and I left and walked straight into the arms of ASICS, where I remained until earlier this year.

But I have always liked the idea of Adidas. My favourite racing shorts are Adidas. My favourite t-shirts, long- and short-sleeved, are Adidas. And so many runners I know love their shoes, I often felt I was missing out. But I can be a bit stubborn and there wasn’t really a good reason to stop racing in my ASICS.

But now I might relent and finally succumb to the lure of the three stripes. Why? Well I have stopped wearing the ASICS that I was so faithful to and started trying different brands. And the new Adidas range looks pretty interesting.

Shoes for racing

Being shown around the Adidas shoes today by Kirstyn from the KTB PR agency, I finally grasped the different ranges that Adidas have and who they are aimed at. There is the Response range, aimed at the beginner and designed to provide a choice of entry level shoes. Then there is the Supernova range, offering slightly lighter and rather sleeker-looking shoes with lower profiles and an overall racier feel, aimed at the ‘improver’. These shoes include Adidas’ torsion system in the sole along with a larger area of Formotion cushioning but without any extra weight. Next up is the adiStar range, which is considered to be for the serious runner with further technical additions and even lighter weight. And finally there is the adiZero range which contains Adidas’ racing flats, as worn by Gebrselassie and, perhaps more significantly, Patrick Makau in this years Berlin marathon, when he set a new world record for the marathon: 2:03:38.

The Adidas adiZero range

There are two shoes in the new adiZero range that I am really keen to try; the adiZero Adios and the Feather.

The Adios is the shoe that I think could become one of my favourites. Handling the shoe, it is undoubtedly light and feels well balanced and with just the right amount of flex. The innovation in this shoe that I think is really interesting is the link-up between Adidas and the tyre manufacturer Continental, who have supplied rubber that has been incorporated in key areas of the sole to aid grip. The areas of rubber are quite small to ensure the shoe remains extremely light, but the rubber is exactly where my racing flats always wear the fastest – mainly at the front of the toe-box – and if the Continental rubber adds traction (the KTB PR team informed me that some boffins somewhere have estimated that the rubber saves 1mm of ‘slip’ per 1 meter, which over a marathon adds up I guess!) and longevity, then I think Adidas could be on to a winner.

The other interesting shoe in the range, that caught my eye, is the Feather (see right). As the name would suggest this is a very light shoe indeed and has something that I haven’t seen in a long-distance shoe before. The ‘sprint frame’ that the shoe is built around is a full-length rigid plastic base – similar to the sole of a track spike – that the upper is bonded on to (thereby saving stitching which might make the shoe  more attractive to those who prefer running without socks) and onto which is stuck the adiPRENE cushioning material. I must admit that I am not convinced that a shoe that has such rigidity in the sole is going to be a good idea, but I hope I’ll get a chance to try them out and report back.

Adidas adiZero and Supernova apparel

The other things that caught my eye were the adiZero clothing range and the official London marathon apparel.

As I have said before, I really am a big fan of the Adidas adiZero clothing range. The latest offerings feel really great; super-light, well made with body-mapping technologhy which means that different materials are used in key areas to aid moisture management or improve ventilation. Oh and they are orange (and I mean really orange – see left!) I know that personally I am highly likely to end up adding to my already considerable collection of running wear with some items from this range and as soon as I do, I will post some reviews.

The final items I had a look at were the Supernova pieces that will make up the official London marathon range (at the time of writing this they are not available, but you can have a look by following the link). Again, orange is the colour of choice – see right – and I think that the collection looks good and really is high quality, so if you are keen to show-off that you have run the London, then this kit is the way to do it and is also pretty good technically.

So I would say that from what I have seen, Adidas have some pretty exciting products coming out in the next few months. I hope that I will have a chance to try at least a few out and I will put something in the review section. In the mean time if anyone reading this wants to add a review of some kit they are currently using please let me know (and that goes for any brand, not just Adidas) whilst I am going to pull on my new trusted Mizunos and head out for a little run.    

A world record… or is it?

I recently re-read one of my favourite books ‘The London Marathon’ by John Bryant and in one chapter, the author describes a fictional scenario for how the 2 hour barrier will be broken in the marathon;

It is 6 May 2024, London Marathon Day, the date set… after detailed discussions with the Ministry of Climate Control – the day when running 42.2 km should be perfect.

Millions are gathered around the course and a battery of television cameras are focused on the bright orange strip of all-weather running track two metres wide that snakes the miles from Blackheath to Buckingham Palace… Tufimu [the fictional athlete in this fantasy] is not wearing shoes as such for this marathon. His feet have been painted just 90 minutes before the race with a tough, flexible weatherproof coating – and one of the latest wafer-thin energy-return soles have been laser-glued to the bottom of each foot…

Bryant goes on to imagine that the runner will have an ear-piece plugged in to a feed from his personal hypnotherapist and that micro-chips under his skin will feed data back to a control centre, etc, etc. All very amusing.

The 2-hour marathon

But it makes a serious point. The 2 hour barrier for the marathon will, I have no doubt, be broken (hopefully in my lifetime) and it will also probably require a series of developments in both the way the athlete prepares and the kit they use. This was the case when Roger Bannister broke what many considered to be an impossible barrier – the 4 minute mile. In the case of Bannister’s historic run, it was the use of pace-makers that was the new (and in some quarters highly controversial) development, and one which has changed the face of athletics ever since. But does that mean that Bannister didn’t run a mile in under 4 minutes? No, it doesn’t.

That is part of sport. Things develop. Cars get faster, balls get lighter (or heavier or rounder or whatever), tracks and pools get ‘faster’ and sport should look forward. But I don’t believe that sport can, with one obvious exception, look backwards.

Paula Radcliffe’s world record

So how is it that the IAAF has announced recently that Paula Radcliffe’s world record for the marathon – 2:15:25 – set on 13 April 2003, will no longer be recognised as a world record (it will instead be listed as a ‘world best’ what ever the hell that means)? And the reason that this record is being down-graded is that Paula ran it in a race where there were men alongside her. Not men that Paula asked for and not, as we saw in the men’s race in Berlin this year, a peleton of runners in a ‘V’ formation in front and to the sides of her. The pace-makers in 2003 were just in the race, at most offering a target to help with the psychological challenges of keeping up the incredible pace Paula ran at.

Drug cheats

The obvious exception to all this, of course, is when it comes to drug cheats. And there the IAAF is in murky waters. I believe most strongly that if an athlete is found guilty of cheating by taking drugs, then all of their victories and all of their records should be disregarded. If they prove to be as capable clean, as they were when doping, then once they return after they have served their ban, they will surely regain their records. If they don’t… well then maybe the records weren’t legitimate anyway. But certainly in the case of many shorter distance events, almost all of the the women’s world records, mostly set in the 1980’s – before the introduction of mandatory drug testing was introduced – are so far beyond what the world’s current best are capable of, that there is a strong whiff of suspicion. There is a great article about this very subject here.

But Paula Radcliffe is not under suspicion of any misbehaviour. She is however in danger of having one of the most increadible feats of athletics, down-graded because of the occurrence of men on the course at the same time as her (ESPN have a great piece on this storm here). For what it is worth, I for one don’t think that is either sensible or fair and certainly brings into question whether ‘assisted’ marathon world records are going to be banned in which case Kenya’s Patrick Makau had better enjoy breaking the world record (2:03:38) last weekend, because he definitely hid from the wind behind a phalanx of pacers and if there is one rule for women, it is only fair that it should be applied to men. What do you think?

The wonders of warm weather and warm personalities

This week I ‘ave been mostly… running with a group of 30 people in the Algrave, in sunny Portugal. The trip was suggested by my coach, Nick Anderson, as an opportunity for a group of the runners he coaches to get together, have a week of running in the warmth of the Mediterranean and talk about running with Nick, Phoebe Thomas (the other half of RunningWithUs) and Bud Baldaro, a guru of endurance running and the man who introduced me to Nick Anderson.

I can now reveal that I was a little nervous about going. I feared, more than anything, that the week would turn into an adrenaline-fest with everyone trying to run the legs of everyone else and prove that they are ‘the man’! The reality is that I have never met such a wonderful bunch of open-minded, dedicated and thoughtful people in all my life. Apart from a couple of very minor blips the entire week was awash with support, humour, intelligence and a community spirit. And the running, while a little bit repetitive, was great.

The highlights for me were (in no particular order);

• recovery runs, run at 9 min/mile to start and which really genuinely ended with me feeling better than when I started
• two long runs where in the heat and on a hilly loop, I nailed 22 and 14 miles at sub-6 min/mile for extended sections
• two track sessions and a 6km time-trial (on the same cross country course where the recent euro-cross was run) in which I held my own and ran strongly
• running with people like Richard Gregory, Steve Scullion, Dionne Alan and Clayton Payne who are all superb runners and who gave me encourgement as well as a vest to chase
• having time to sit and talk to Nick and Bud about running and training in general and learning more about the sport I love
• discussing the next 12 months’ running with Nick (which was quite an interesting discussion – more on that soon!)
• taking the time to rest and relax between runs
• nailing 3 core and strength and conditioning sessions with Phoebe
• celebrating my birthday with my new found friends (but sadly not with Julie, which no amount of cake and “Happy Birthday To You” could make up for)

The list goes on and on. But the over-riding thing for me from the whole week, is the fact that I was surrounded almost entirely by positive people. The vibe was amazing and everyone was inspirational. I have really come home buzzing with excitement and really ready, both physically and psychologically, for the challenge ahead…. so here is to Portugal –

Thoughts on the Florence marathon 2010

This weekend I ran in the 27th Firenze Marathon, in beautiful Tuscany.This is some of what I thought of the race.

The weather forecast promised rain and it delivered. Man, did it deliver. I have to admit that I tend to be a cynic when it comes to weather forecasts and this isn’t inspite of being a geographer and meterologist – it is because of it. I know how susceptible weather systems are to winds and pressure systems, how a small pressure system dictating the weather can suddenly veer away thanks to a change in temperature or wind direction. So it was no surprise that in the week leading up to the Florence marathon today, I could find every forecast from torrential rain to clear skies. Sadly however, by Saturday morning all forecasts has coalesced on one certainty – rain. Oh, and low temperatures and a fairly stiff wind.

So how was it that here I was, atop a hill with what should have been a magnificent view of the beautiful city of Florence (or Firenze to give it is proper name) in a total downpour that ran off the plastic poncho we had been given and poured down my shivering legs to soak my shoes as thoroughly as if I was standing in a bucket of water?

Well those who have read these ramblings before will know that in August this year I started training with a coach – Nick Anderson from Running With Us. Nick suggested that we target a few races of varying distances culminating in a marathon before the end of the year to give us a benchmark. He suggested Firenze because it is a race he knows and if there is going to be decent conditions anywhere in Europe for a marathon at the end November, there is a good chance they’ll be in Tuscany.

The truth is that I decided the moment I first met Nick for a coffee in the cafeteria of a gym in west London, that I would trust him completely and follow his suggestions to the letter. I reasoned that he is an excellent and well-proven coach and that to do anything other than exactly what he said would be a futile exercise – better to give it a year and see how we go and then pack it in if it didn’t work, than half-heartedly follow a diluted programme and then never know if I was able to improve under his guidance.

I have to say though, that at 8.30am on 28 November under the rapidly emptying leaden skies of Firenze, I was starting to question whether my faith in Nick should be this total.

As expected from a mid-sized marathon with an over-zealous organising committee with questionable professionalism, on a day with such nasty conditions, the start wasn’t exactly smooth. We were herded into overcrowded pens at least 45 minutes before being lead down to the start line. By the time the barriers were removed and the line of linked-armed stewards lead us to the start line proper, I (and everyone around me) was completely drenched and shivering quite badly. We were then stopped again 50 metres from the group of elite and celebrity runners actually on the start line, before the marshalls finally stepped aside and a minute later the gun went and we were away.

The race follows a road downhill for the first mile and I was really aware of Nick’s advice that I should run conservatively and not get carried away by the overzealous Italians determined to break the 10 second barrier for the 100m as a primo piatto to the main course of the marathon. I suspect that as we reached the bottom of the descent I was probably somewhere between 200th and 300th place – I was confident I would see quite a few of the sprinters again.

Nick and I had discussed a plan for the race that would see me aiming for 6min/mile to 6:10min/mile – or 3:45min/km to 3:50min/km in Eurozone marathons – running conservatively to 16 miles and then attacking the last 10 miles. As is often the case for city marathons in order to get the miles in, the course tracked north and then west to the Parco della Cascine to eat up the first half, then tracked out east to take up another 10km before we headed back to the city centre for the cobble-y finale.

I was careful to not get caught up running with people too quick for me in the first 16 miles and indeed I struggled a bit with the fact that I couldn’t find a group at my pace so ran long stretches alone. Luckily the wind wasn’t too bad and I was so wet that there was no way the rain could affect me. I passed half way in 1:21:33 and decided to hold off my attack on the end of the race for a little longer. In fact even when I got to 27km I was still a bit concerned about over stretching myself, but a plan is a plan and I had to see whether I could do what Nick asked of me, so I pushed as hard as I dared. My average pace from 25km dropped from 3:53min/km to 3:46min/km.

As ever the last few miles were really tough and there were a few lonely stretches where I really zoned out and felt quite ‘out of body’. I was convinced that I had hit the wall and was staggering along, whereas in fact my pace only increased the closer I got to the end. Finally around 39km I remember snapping back into reality and realising that I had barely 12 minutes of running left. I started to focus and work out that I had a new personal best in the bag – I just needed to keep doing what I was doing.

And so I did keep the pace and suddenly I rounded the bend into the magnificent Piazza san Croce and the inflatable finish line. Time: 2:40:49 – a PB by 3 minutes, a negative split by 2 minutes and 48th place. Job done!

I find it difficult to describe how cold I felt at the end. I had to grab a foil blanket and a cup of tea and get back to the hotel as fast as I could for a 20 minute hot shower. But nothing – not the cold, nor the state of my feet or the fact that I knew I had no time to relax before I needed to head to the airport – could dampen my elation. I was really proud of myself!

So what does this all mean. Well I think that the conditions and the super-twisty nature of the course cost me a couple of minutes so I think that on a different day I would have gone under 2:40. This means that I am another big step closer to the next target for spring next year and it also validates 100% the faith that I have put in Nick. I am sure of one thing and that is that without his input I would not have run that time in those conditions. So I am looking forward with relish to the next phase of our training. But in the mean time I have two weeks off running and I am determined to enjoy that time and recharge so that when I start to build again towards London next year I am in shape to make me proud of myself again!