Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bit o’ This, Bit o’ That

I had another hard tempo run on Saturday: 9-10 miles on the local lanes. There are an abundance of quiet roads and byways north and west of where I live, which are especially useful at this time of year when the days are long. Winter is a different story: it’s very limiting around where I live when it’s dark.

I once more enjoyed the feeling of going fast for a decent period and ran the last mile in about 6:40, which is fast for me.

I ran the Castle Combe Circuit (CCC) on Sunday. It was my first chance to use my new Merrell Trail Gloves (TGs), which Merrell very kindly gave me to aid in my big running summer for Excellent, because I make regular contributions to their Facebook page (general reports on my outdoor activities with mostly praise and a little constructive criticism of their ‘barefoot’ shoes).

I’ll keep using my old pair of TGs, which have far less tread, on firm trail and road runs: when I compared them to the new ones, I was shocked to see how much tread I’d managed to get through. The new ones give a little more confidence in softer going, although much of the CCC was earthy rather than muddy. The luxury of having a ‘good’ pair and a worn down pair is great!

Seeing as Merrell have been so kind to me, I’ll definitely use TGs on the South Downs Way 100 and report back to them on this fairly extreme test.

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Push the Tempo Once More

I was out on one of my favourite runs last night: over the downs near Baydon to The Ridgeway, west along The Ridgeway and back to my van over another part of the downs.

It was the first time I’d run since the Ridgeway 40 and my legs didn’t feel too sluggish. I really pushed the tempo, because I don’t want to lose too much speed as I do the endurance events over the summer.

It is exhilarating to run fairly fast and be able to maintain it for a decent period of time (about an hour in this case).

Let’s see what the weekend brings. I was supposed to be driving up north, and was going to do the Shining Tor fell race, but I’ve just heard that the job’s been cancelled! Ho hum.

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Merrell Bare Access Review

Rating: rated 4 of 5 stars
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: £67.50

Summary

Very lightweight, zero heel-toe differential running shoe with some cushioning. Marketed as an ‘entry to barefoot’ shoe, hence the odd name (makes me think of a naturist right-to-roam law), but also a good racing shoe for minimalist runners.

Pros

  • Very light
  • Some cushioning
  • Zero heel-toe differential

Cons

  • Strictly road use only
  • Not very hard wearing sole

Obviously pros 2 and 3 could be cons and con 1 could be a pro, depending on what you want!

When I tried the Bare Access, I immediately loved their super light weight and simplicity, and had to buy them! I bought them for my attempt at sub 3:15 in this year’s London Marathon. I ran it in 3:17:15, but that’s another story.

Even though I do most of my running in ‘uncushioned’, ‘barefoot’ shoes (inverted commas for both, because just about any shoe will add some cushioning and the only proper way to run barefoot is in bare feet), I value some cushioning when racing so I can hammer along in a more carefree manner than I otherwise would.

The upper has a wide toe box to allow the toes to splay, and it works really well. My feet are quite narrow but with a fairly high volume, and the fit is great for me. The upper doesn’t spread the pressure of the laces that much, so getting a secure fit without over-tightening is a fine art.

The one feature of the Bare Access that is rather mystifying is the sole –

Only the green parts, the Vibram ‘pods’ are hard-wearing rubber; the light grey parts are soft, mid-sole material. Why the harder rubber doesn’t at least extend to the big toe area, I don’t know, as this part of the sole has got pretty chewed up from hard running. The grip on tarmac is excellent, but the lack of tread depth rules out wet trails, and the bumps on dry trails ‘chew’ soft parts of the sole, so they really are just for road.

Despite the downsides, I love running in them. They’re a great fast training and racing shoe, and complement my other shoes well. I’ve got another marathon, the Kent Coastal Marathon, in September, and if I don’t hit sub 3:15 then, I won’t blame my shoes!

Disclosure: Merrell have recently given me a new pair of Trail Gloves because I post very regularly on their Facebook page. I am a fan of the brand, but I say what I think and I do post some constructive criticism. I wrote his review before they gave me the new shoes.

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Merrel Trail Glove Review

Rating: rated 4.5 of 5 stars

Source: bought it used
Price Paid: £50 (‘nearly new’ off eBay)

Summary

A true ‘barefoot’ shoe with a tough sole that is good for trails, provided they’re not too muddy. The very ‘precise’ fit makes them a good shoe for technical trails.

Pros

  • Precise fit
  • Tough sole protects the foot well
  • Wide toe box

Cons

  • Tread is too shallow for muddy trails

The Merrell Trail Glove (TG) is one of the new generation of ‘barefoot’ running shoes. The TG’s cushioning is very minimal, but what makes it a true ‘barefoot’ shoe is that it has no heel-forefoot differential, that is the shoe does not lift the heel relative to the forefoot at all. Standard running shoes have 8-12mm (1/3-1/2 inch) differential, with ‘minimal’ shoes around 4mm.

I bought them in May 2011. I’m a UK-based ultra runner who is used to minimal (but not ‘barefoot’) shoes, ie Brooks Mach Spikeless, Inov8 F-Lite 230, and even I have found the Trail Gloves a huge change! The TGs engage all the leg and core muscles, not just the more limited range normal shoes do, making for a very intense running workout!

The fit, not just the sole is ‘barefoot’. The wide, ergonomic forefoot allows the toes to splay: this is key to getting your feet working fully. The fit is very glove-like, although the upper has no stretch so they can take a bit of putting on, but this is a small price to pay for the very precise feel of the shoe, which makes them good for ‘technical’ trails.

The TG has a shallow tread for a trail shoe, so it makes a pretty good all-rounder, but not suited for muddy conditions.

In August 2011, I did half of the 85-mile Ridgeway Challenge in the TGs, at which point I was happy to change into a more traditional (although still light’n’low) shoe, in big part because it was very wet and slippery, so the shallow tread made it hard to stay stable, and my feet and lower legs had got very tired as a result.

I continue to use them very regularly and in May 2012 ran another ultra trail event on the Ridgeway, the Ridgeway 40 in mostly hard conditions and my feet felt tired at the end, but only in the normal way you would expect for that distance!

The process of getting used to a barefoot shoe like the TG is a pleasure and the reward is simply a more natural running experience. I’m now pretty used to them and enjoy using them as my ‘default’, day-to-day running shoe.

Disclosure: Merrell have recently given me a new pair of Trail Gloves because I post very regularly on their Facebook page. I am a fan of the brand, but I say what I think and I do post some construction criticism. This review was recently updated, but most of it was written before they gave me the new shoes!

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Rockin the Ridgeway Pictures

Some pictures from the Ridgeway 40, mostly the first half. The runners in white tops are my friends Paul (black shorts) and Ian (blue shorts), and there’s 1 shot of me running up a hill (black long-sleeved top and black shorts). Glynn, the guy running in Huarache sandals is in picture 7.

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Rockin’ the Ridgeway

After the London Marathon 3 weeks ago, a fast 20 miler the weekend after, and 28 hilly, muddy miles on Monday, I was happy to drop my plan to run the Ridgeway 40 (RW40) both ways, as outlined in my crazy plan.

This year the RW40 was on 12th May, and was celebrating its 50th anniversary. I arrived at Overton Hill on the A4, the rather underwhelming western end of the Ridgeway National Trail, on Saturday, 25 minutes before the ‘runners start’, with my friends Ian trussler, Paul Byrne and Peter Cusick, together with Ian’s partner Lynne, who was there to see us off. In running terms, you couldn’t find a more disparate bunch:

  • Ian is my main running buddy, a lover of rough, hilly and esoteric races, as well as the more mainstream stuff. I like Ian because he can be talked into just about anything, and so has joined me in some pretty extreme hill races (the llanbedr to Blaenafon fell race most recently) and a couple of ultras (the 2011 Ridgeway 40 and Ridgeway Challenge).
  • Paul has been running for a few years now and has really developed as a runner. He has done many marathons, half marathons and shorter races, and several muddy, hilly trail races. He has been intrigued by ultras for a while now and had always wanted to go beyond 26 miles.
  • Peter makes me look like a slacker. He can run a sub-3 hour marathon, is an excellent triathlete, is super fast on trails and runs ultras, the longest being the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR).

Lynne and Ian tried and failed to light the camping stove that had lit first time the night before. They had hot water in a flask and some rice pudding they’d heated up at home, and planned to get both properly hot in situ. As it was, we had cups of tea and sufficiently warm rice pudding; a good way to start the day.

It was sunny, but cool, verging on cold, with a bit of a breeze; a huge contrast to last year, when I stumbled into the start in stormy weather after running it the ‘wrong’ way overnight from Streatley, to be sheltered by Ian and Lynne in their car and given a good breakfast, ready to go back with Ian.

The Ridgeway 40 is a walking event that takes runners, not a race, although it’s probably pretty competitive at the ‘top end’. Peter was mildly surprised to learn we weren’t to be issued with numbers to pin to our fronts. Most of the entrants start at 8:00, but can set off any time until 8:30. Runners are supposed to set off at 8:30 so that they don’t get to the checkpoints before they open. All entrants have a tally card, which is signed by a marshall, who also records the time on it and their record sheet.

The runners bolted off bang on 8:30. Except for Ian, Paul and I: we were finishing off the rice pudding. That was the last we saw of Peter. He’s doing the GUCR again in three weeks time, and I’d tried to persuade him that a leisurely RW40 would give him more benefit for that than a quick one, but he had his sights on ‘sub 6’ and stuck to it.

My only plan was to stick with Paul and give him any support he needed to get to the finish. He’d ran the Manchester Marathon 2 weeks ago, had a tough time of it in terrible weather, and was feeling less than optimum as a result. Once we set off, a couple of minutes late, Paul, Ian and I soon started catching the slowest walkers and one slower runner, Glynn, who was running in Huarache sandals, earning him instant kudos with me.

I ran with Paul and Ian, at a pretty reasonable pace , except if we hit a steeper slope, where I would pull away from them a bit so I could take photos and then wait for them. We got to the first check point (CP), Barbury Castle at 7 miles, pretty easily: there are 9 CPs on the RW40, so the average gap is only 4 miles. The RW40 cuts a corner off the national trail just after CP1, which makes the route more direct, but cuts out the beautiful Smeathe’s Ridge as well as the rather scrappy trails on the north-east of Ogbourne St George.

The short-cut crosses the wide valley that carries the A346 south to Marlborough, and the national trail is rejoined on the ridge at the other side. It’s easy to carry on straight over instead of turning left back onto the RW, which a woman entrant would have done if I’d not been sat on the junction taking photos and put her right: I’d been told that one year several entrants had turned right and ended up back at Barbury Castle, adding something like 8 miles onto their route!

Back on the RW proper, Paul was starting to show the strain: the distance we’d covered thus far was within his experience, but not over that kind of terrain. I started a relentless stream of encouragement, sometimes bordering on lies (“Fairies will  meet you at the next checkpoint to lift and carry you onward.”) to keep his spirits up and, as much as anything, distract him from his discomfort and fatigue. CP3 at Foxhill (14.5 miles) was the first point at which he started to talk about dropping out, but a bit of rest and food, and the thought that the next CP wasn’t that far, was enough to keep him going.

At the next 2 CPs, we fell into a pattern of Paul pretty much deciding to drop out, then him getting a bit of food and rest, and me persuading him to keep going. The best parts were when we lost ourselves in conversation and the country just rolled by. Ian had headed off by this stage: he’d struggled to keep his pace down to match ours, which can be surprisingly difficult, and I encouraged him to cut loose. Sometime around 25 miles Paul told me that he intended to drop out at CP6 (28 miles) and that I should push on, and I knew from his tone that he wouldn’t be dissuaded. I headed off, happy in the knowledge that his was pleased with the thought of having run further than he ever had, and on a hilly trail.

I was really looking forward to CP6, as it was the legendary ‘tea & cakes’ CP. When I got there, sure enough there was a good selection of cakes, including professionally made ’50th anniversary’ cup cakes and banana loaf made with cardamon. I stayed there long enough for Paul to roll in, pretty wrecked, but also happy to have joined the ‘ultra club’.

Once I’d had several cakes and flapjacks, plus 2 cups of tea, I made ready to head off, determined to hit the remainder steadily, if not hard, without taking any more ‘long’ breaks at the CPs. I said a slightly sad goodbye to the CP6 crew, who had decided to retire from this annual duty, having done it for quite a few years. I also met Alan Smith, the RW40 director there, and thanked him, as he too is ‘retiring’ after many years. I wonder what will happen to this lovely event in the future?

It was good to pass walkers for the last time, having ‘yoyoed’ with them for several hours, running past them, then seeing them again as I rested with Paul.

The weather had been ideal through the day; sunny with some cloud and a cool breeze. By this time, the breeze seemed to have died down a little, and I took my long-sleeved top off and was running in my new, rather excellent Patagonia Capilene ‘tank top’ (as they call it), a light stretchy singlet which has one crucial quality: it’s long enough to tuck into my shorts and not bunch under my rucksack waist-belt. It’s also worth mentioning my Merrell Trail Gloves, which were a joy to use, even over such a long distance.

Inevitably, I was feeling the strain by this point, and just wanted to be finished. I hammered along pretty relentlessly, but still took the time to chat to a few walkers and have a few biscuits at the last CP.

I saw Ian, who had finished about 2 hours earlier, just before I got to the finish at Streatley Youth Hostel. We were all taking advantage of the frequent, relatively cheap train service back to Chippenham to get home, and Peter and Paul (who had been driven to the finish) had both gone.

To add insult to injury, the finish of the RW40 is in an annexe of the YH, up its steep drive and a few steps, which seen very taxing by this stage. I handed my tally card in and enjoyed the laid-on nibbles and camaraderie of the finishers.

Peter was actually the first to finish, in 5:50, which would have been 5:48 if he’d been able to find the annexe a bit quicker! Ian finished in about 8:40, which he was very pleased with. I finished in about 10:40, and obviously hadn’t done the event to get a ‘time’, and so was pretty happy too.

I’ll ‘watch this space’ with interest (and a little worry) to see how the Ridgeway 40 evolves (survives?) as Alan hands the reins over. It’s a great event; long may it continue.

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A Tour of the Ten Trigs of Bath

I set off with running buddies, Ian Trussler and Dave Jones at around 10:00 on 7th May. Dave had been planning to do a circumnavigation of the ‘green belt’ around Bath, visiting 10 trig points and covering 25+ miles, for a while. Those of you who know Bath will know it’s pretty hilly (it’s supposedly built on 7 hills, something claimed for many cites to emulate the 7 hills of Rome).

The route is a mixture of rural trails, quiet roads and some suburbs. It seems to have developed into an unofficial ‘challenge’ route, but I can’t find anything online about it, so it’s still pretty low key.

The weather when we set off was pretty awful; gloomy with light rain, although quite mild. We were expecting plenty of mud underfoot after our super wet April. Once we’d got out of the car and changed into our running shoes (Vivobarefoot Neo Trail for me), as usual in bad weather, I was raring to go just to get warm!

It rained steadily, although not too hard for the first 2 hours or so of our run. Because the Neo Trails are water resistant, my feet felt quite dry for a surprising amount of time: it wasn’t until we ploughed through a field full of long, wet grass that my shoes got properly soaked.

The mud wasn’t as bad as I expected: there were only a few really sloppy places around gates where livestock congregated.

The weather steadily cleared after the first couple of hours. Although it stayed fairly cloudy and we got the odd spot of rain, we also had some sun and I was shocked to be able to see the Westbury White Horse, approximately 16 miles away from the viewpoint on Prospect Stile, near Bath Racecourse. I think we could just make out the White Horse on Roundway Hill, near Devizes later on too, which is even further away.

I wasn’t really bothered about actually seeing or touching all of the trigs, which is just as well, as some have no right of way next to them or are in dense undergrowth! We spent some time faffing about finding the ones we could get to, which was good fun.

We did however get properly lost in the valley to the west of the A46, Bath to Stroud road. I can’t find a name on the OS maps for what is actually a compact complex of valleys leading into the Avon, bounded to the north by the A420 Chippenham to Bristol road. I’ve often admired the beautiful combes to my west as I’ve driven up the A46, so it was a wonderful place to be lost in.

We ended up going too far north, as far a Tadwick. Once we realised we were lost, we knew we needed to get across to the east side of the main valley, then head south. I’d just finished saying how the valley bottom would be really difficult to cross – fences, dense undergrowth, the small river – when I looked over again and realised that I’d missed a path and footbridge, which were nearly obscured by a large, lone tree in the field below us! We were back on track, ambling along a tiny road in no time.

I’d ran most of the steep climbs, but allowed myself the luxury of walking most of the severe gradients up Little solsbury Hill (as sung about by Peter Gabriel), our penultimate trig, which had fresh breeze blowing over it that chilled me a little.

Our final trig on Banner Down proved troublesome to find, I think because the woodland boundary on it has changed since the map survey. We made a corny gesture of touching it in unison. A downhill through some paddocks and a short road section got us back to the car.

We ran almost 28 miles, and it was the best training run I’ve done for a while 🙂

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