My Shopping List

I am lucky enough to have built up a good selection of ultra gear to mix and match which is versatile enough to do me for most types of races, so I no longer need to go on a shopping spree every time I enter a big race. My most used kit currently is

  • Jacket: OMM Kamleika smock or OMM Cypher Event jacket
  • Trousers: OMM Kamleika Race Pants or Raidlight Surpantalon Ultralight
  • Base Layer: Helly Hansen or OMM Vector Zip
  • Shorts: Ronhill Cargo Trail or 2Xu Compression
  • Hat: X-bionic Soma Cap
  • Calf Guards: Compressport or CEP
  • Socks: Compressport ProRacing High Cut or Drymax Trail Running Socks – 1/4 Crew High
  • Pack: Ultimate Direction PB Vest or Raidlight Olmo 20l
  • Gloves: Sealskinz Nordic ski Gloves or Asics winter glove

Some of this stuff is quite expensive, but by patiently watching for sales, taking last year’s model or by  Santa being generous I have rarely paid full price for it.

Throw in and an assortment of buffs and t-shirts and I am pretty much good to go most places.

There are however, still a few bits of kit on my Birthday, Christmas and lottery win list.


What I need it for

You don’t need  much of a head torch for summer running in Scotland so for races like West Highland Way or Great Glen Ultra pretty much any head torch will do. Running in the Alps in late summer is a different matter and with TDS coming up this year I need something which will give me a good bright light for up to 8 hours at a time.

What I have:

I have various head torches which work pretty well to a greater or lesser extent. My main torch is a LED Lenser H7R


It works well and gives a nice big beam especially in darkness. It represents very good value for money and a good balance between price and brightness, especially as I got it in a sale for about £35. Having had it for a few years, I am beginning to wonder if it has seen better days as batteries seem not to last very long any more.

I have run out of patience with batteries –  I have tried just about every kind under the sun and still have to change them every few hours. They are worth a separate post of their own…..

I also have the Alpkit Gamma which is the best value head torch on the market, mainly because it is so ridiculously cheap at around £15 but with a good wide beam and decent battery life.


Another very useful piece of kit is the LED Lenser Neo. This is a very small lightweight torch which is perfect as a spare or backup torch and with enough light to get you out of trouble. The battery life is very good indeed so you will get a good 12 hours out of the torch without having to change batteries. Again a very reassuring feature in an emergency backup.


What I want:

I might pick up one of the new model Alpkit Gammas or I might explore some of the high powered LED Lenser torches but I would always end up coming back to the Petzl Nao

Petzl Nao

nao_page_nao_photo1_enThis light isn’t cheap at over £100 and I have resisted the urge to buy one so far, but the brightness and battery life are very good and having borrowed my lovely wife’s one I have to concede that it is better than anything I have at the moment. Any torch that you can actually programme from your computer has to be good! If I was buying one I would probably also buy a spare battery for flexibility and to cover those very long races where you might be out for two nights. Again at £25 a go the spare battery isn’t cheap but better to be safe than sorry and with a spare it could be charged up on the go in your pack with a portable charger.


What I need it for

Poles are not allowed in Scottish races so it is really just for overseas ultras that I need poles. There is always a debate about poles but once you have used them in the big mountains you really feel the benefit of them. With more adventures in the Alps planned, I am looking for a pole which is very light weight which obviously means less weight to carry, but also means better balance when running with them in your hand.

They need to be strong enough to survive me being hashy with them, and they need to fold up small enough to fit inside a backpack or strap tightly to a running pack without flapping around. Ideally they will be easy to assemble and take down, especially with cold fingers and in a perfect world the length would be adjustable to allow for different types of terrain.

What I have

I have an old pair of Leki lightweight titanium walking poles. These were top of the range when I got them many years ago. There really isn’t much wrong with them. They are quite robust, are adjustable in height so can be altered depending on whether you are going uphill or downhill. They are pretty light. You notice you have them in your hand but not enough to imbalance you. I used these on the CCC race and never put them in my pack once, but strapping them to your pack can be a bit of a guddle especially when your fingers and brain are a bit fuzzy.

What I want


I am still undecided. I am tending towards the Mountain King Trail Blaze Skyrunner Carbon. This has the attraction that it is very light at only 106g per pole and by folding into 4 sections it will stash away easily and securely in my pack.

At around £90 per pair it feels like a lot of money for a piece of kit which I worry might be a bit flimsy, but the convenience is tempting.


634207454b51dee34548The other pole which catches my eye is the Leki Micro Vario Carbon. This has all the features I am after but while lightweight it is heavier than the Mountain King and it is significantly more expensive at £130-£150.

It is probably more robust than the Mountain King, has a sturdier handle and has the big advantage of being adjustable.

A couple of other alternatives come in to the mix as well. The Black Diamond Ultra Distance Pole which is similar to the Mountain King, but possibly a bit more sturdy if heavier.

The final one which caught my eye was the Raidlight Carbon Trail pole. A bit heavier than the others but still quite attractive and I am a fan of Raidlight gear.

Hard to choose but on balance I would probably go for the Mountain King over the Leki, just because it is the lightest, cheaper and less complicated.



What I need it for

This is a slightly mundane item after the previous two things on my shopping list but a decent pair of gaiters really does help keep dirt and stones out of your shoes. I also need a gaiter which is robust enough to keep excess water and snow from getting in to your shoe and which will give a bit of protection to your ankles from rocks and the odd time you kick yourself.

What I have

I have tried a range of different gaiters. The Dirty Girl ones are quite pretty and keep the dry stuff out, but I find they are a pain to attach to your laces and you need to velcro them on which is also more effort than I can be bothered with. They are thin so they do get wet.

I have tried the Inov-8 sock with the built in gaiter. These are ok, but the socks aren’t my preferred sock so that isn’t a solution on a long race where you might want to change your socks. I have also tried the Inov-8 race ultra gaiter but they have attachments for Inov-8 race ultra shoes and don’t fit other shoes well.

My favourite gaiter so far is the Inov-8 Debris Gaiter 32. This is a thick gaiter with a sock cuff, which covers your laces and which keeps water out as well. My pair has seen better days and the elastic straps which hold them on have worn out, so it is time for a new pair.

What I want

61regmy5awl-_sl1000_The easy solution to this is just get another pair of the Inov-8 Debris gaiters. There is little to fault them and at around £15 are not going to break the bank.



1394450414-52282600I am also quite fancy the Outdoor Research gaiter. These are a bit more expensive but might do the trick in very gritty conditions. At nearly £30 these are pricey for a pair of running gaiters.




The final pair on my list is the Raidlight STOP RUN gaiter. This is probably the main contender to replace my Inov-8s. It is pretty robust, and claims to be waterproof and has the added benefit of a wee bit of padding round the ankle bones. At about £20 it is not too expensive

Brooks Pure Flow 3

this is the second year I have been fortunate to take part in the Try It On promotion by Brooks where they let you have a pair of shoes to trial for a week.

I am a big fan of Brooks shoes. Most of my running shoes are Brooks.  I have been running in the Pure range of shoes pretty much since they were launched.

20140205-202148.jpgMy favourite Pure Project shoe remains the original Pure Grit trail shoe.  Despite the fact the grip on the sole wasn’t great, as a shoe, for fit,  feel and comfort it was pretty much perfect.

Last year’s update to version 2 of the Pure shoes didn’t work so well for me. I bought a pair of Pure Cadence 2 but they just didn’t feel as good as the version 1 shoes.  I tried the Pure Flow 2 as part of Brooks’ Try It On promotion and just couldn’t love them. They were too big, too soft and the upper rubbed my little toe. I blogged about them here.

I have been running in a pair of Pure Flow 3 for the past week as part of this year’s Brooks Try it On Promotion.

This year’s model feels much improved. These shoes are immediately comfortable and you can run in them straight out the box.

The ride feels lower and while there is plenty of cushioning,  it is a very responsive shoe.   There is plenty of cushioning to support my heavier frame. The shoe feels very well balanced. It nudges you towards a midfoot/forefoot strike rather than pushes you.  The shoe is very flexible,  allowing you to run fast, but still manages to feel substantial enough to protect you from the pavement.

It doesn’t feel too dissimilar to my beloved Racer ST5’s which are my preferred marathon race shoe.  After only a week’s running in them I am pretty confident that I could happily run a marathon in these shoes and be happy wearing them.

The fit is comfortable. The toe box is wide enough for my wide feet, without feeling too large. There isn’t too much excess volume on the top of the shoe. The fabric is soft and comfortable and hugs your foot very nicely. The heel is comfortably snug and doesnt rub. The asymmetric lacing has changed shape and is much more comfotable. The previous version tended to put pressure on the top of my foot (I have high arches) whereas the different shape is very comfortable. The tongue is stitched in place on the inside which again helps to keep the foot secure and in place.

I am still not convinced that either the Nav Band or the split toe add much to the shoe, but then again the shoe works very well so who am I to argue.

All in all there is very little more to say about these shoes. They are probably the best shoe I have tried for a long time and a shoe which I would be confident wearing for long distances and which are a significant improvement on the Pure Flow 2.

I will almost certainly part with my hard earned cash to buy a pair as I can see them becoming my workhorse marathon training shoe.




A bright idea

Here is a bright idea.

It is possible to buy Head Torches from Amazon which are build around the Cree LED. They are extremely powerful and very cheap.

Cree Headtorch, 3 light settings, zoom lens, red rear light.
Cree Headtorch, 3 light settings, zoom lens, red rear light.

You can pick up a headtorch for around £12-£15. The build quality is as you would expect from cheap Chinese imports, but they do the job rather well.

My experience so far has been that the lights are indeed extremely powerful. some of them are rated as high as 1200 lumens and on a recent night run through Mugdock wood the illumination was quite spectacular. Unfortunately my battery ran out of juice after about an hour.

Most of these torches are powered by 18650 Batteries which you can also buy from Amazon.  Many of the batteries available are branded as being manufactured by Ultrafire, but they are random both in their quality and their manufacture. Apparently if you peel off the cover you can find a myriad of suppliers.

Upon doing some investigation it turns out that the 18650 is in fact a laptop battery.

Ultrafire battery and generic battery extracted from a laptop

Even better, because the laptop manufacturers use good quality batteries, if you can source them they give much better performance than the cheap imports.

I had always assumed it was some fancy battery that was used in a laptop, but in fact it is just ordinary batteries, end to end, with a little circuitry attached to control the charging.

A clever tip from youtube is that you can recycle batteries from a laptop. It is easy to do. This video shows how to do it

Having access to old laptop batteries I gave it a go. Lo and behold, it was easy to do, and the output from the laptop battery is much stronger than the ones I bought from Amazon.

I have still to test the battery life but I am cautiously optimistic, and even if the batteries have a short life, as they are effectively free I don’t mind having lots of them for swapping out on a long run. I am declaring this little experiment a success!

A fine set of free, good quality batteries extracted from an old laptop

West Highland Way Race – time for reflection

The dust has settled, the West Highland Way Race report has been written and the 2013 WHW Race consigned to history.

Living inside the intense race bubble was an incredible experience and I found it difficult to give up the adrenaline and support network which existed in that bubble and return to real life.

Physically I am pretty well healed. I have run a few times since the race and while I am still a little tired I don’t have any race related niggles. I have picked up a bit of an achilles injury which didn’t come from the race itself but may be an indicator of trying to do a wee bit too much too soon. Or it could just be bad luck.

Some random thoughts on my race

Feet – My feet were great,  I had no issues at all. The taping I used over potential hot spots worked well and despite being on my feet for 27 hours I had only one small blister and a bashed toe but nothing which affected my ability to run.

Toilet –  unlike some others, I had no bother with toilet issues. In fact I didnt need to poo all the time I was running.

Sleep – doing without sleep wasn’t a huge problem. It was a bit of a struggle the first night, especially the half light in the early hours when I would fall asleep while running through the woods. Once the sun came up I seemed to get past being sleepy and although I had an unplanned sleep of an hour at Kinlochleven, I wasn’t unduly tired on the second night.

Shoes –  my shoes worked well for me. I ran the first section in Brooks Pure Grits. I changed into Inov-8 Roclite 365’s to take me from Balmaha to Bein Glas and ran the remainder of the Way in Brooks Cascadias. The Cascadias in particular did a good job over the stoney trails of the second half of the Way.

Gear –  I had posted about all the gear I had prepared for the race. In the end I used quite a bit of it.  The only gear surprise was that I wore compression shorts and calf guards over the first half of the race and discarded them for the second half which is the opposite of what I was expecting to happen. I had a bit of a wardrobe failure when my 2XU shorts and X-bionic pants got soaked and the seams caused some nasty chaffing.

My headtorches worked well. The Tikkina torch gave plenty light and the battery life meant no issues with batteries. Wearing a second torch on my wrist was genius as the ability to target light made a massive difference.

My OMM Kamleika smock was awesome. Despite some horrendous rain, it kept me dry and the ability to vent using the large zip helped keep me cool as well.

Food –  on the whole my food worked reasonably well. I probably didn’t eat enough in the middle section of the race which may have contributed to my big slump and subsequent vomitting on the Devil’s Staircase.  My breakfast of yoghurt and muesli at Balmaha worked well and I should perhaps have eaten some more of this at later checkpoints. Cheese rolls were tasty.  Soup was quite good,  but I struggled with the texture of real chicken. I had asked for baked potato and haggis at Glencoe but it didn’t really work – it was too difficult to eat at that stage which meant I probably had less of it than I should have.  Despite having trained with trail mix as my snack of choice for eating on the go, on the day I couldn’t face it which was doubly unfortunate because Helen had spent ages preparing lots of little bags of it for me!

Overall I was pretty happy with my first West Highland Way Race. I was disappointed that I got delayed at Kinlochleven and lost lots of time there, but equally I was pleased that I managed to get going again and finish well. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the actual running parts of the race went.  Lots of lessons were learned.  With a wee bit more experience I think I could shave a few hours off my time and I can’t wait to have another go at it.

Even if I am not running next year, I will definitely be somewhere between Milngavie and Fort William on West Highland Way weekend.

WHW Race Kit List

It is getting to that time when I have to make some decisions about what kit I will wear on the West Highland Way Race. After much trial and error, I am just about settled on my kit list. So barring exceptional weather I shall be wearing some combination of the following:

OMM Kamleika Smock  I love my OMM jacket. It keeps me dry in all sorts of weather, pulls down over my hands and has a good hood. Nice and light so can be carried “just in case”. Hope I don’t need it.

OMM Kamleika trousers Hopefully I wont need to wear these but they are a fantastic over trouser. Easy to slip on and off, keep the wind and rain out, and are articulated so you can actually run comfortably in them.

Swiss Alpine Marathon Race Jacket – this is a lightweight rip-stop nylon zip jacket, keeps the wind off and weighs nothing at all so really handy for keeping the chill off on a dry day. This was a freebie at the 25th Anniversary race.

Buff Everyone needs a buff. Multipurpose, keeps you warm, keeps the sun off, stops the sweat dripping into your eyes.

OMM Vector Tee   Long sleeved shirt, this is a really great base layer which really keeps you warm, but at the same time works well in the warm. Expecting this to be my night time wear and potentially my all day wear too if the weather is iffy.

Ronhill Trail zipped shirt A good compromise for a warm day. I really like the long zip which is a great way to cool down. This shirt comes with a zip pocket on the back as well as two elasticated hip pockets. To be honest I have never used these as I don’t like things bouncing around on my back, and if I have stuff to carry then I prefer my belt or rucksack.

X Bionic boxer shorts I did think Helen was being a wee bit cheeky when I received these as a gift but they actually are very good. They stay dry and provide a wee bit of support.  They also help avoid nasty chaffing in the upper thigh/groin

Hoko 3/4 compression tights Discovered these in Spain at the Barcelona marathon. Heavy duty compression, but comfortable with it. Expecting to pull these on at some point after Rannoch moor to try to keep my legs moving in something approaching the right direction.

2XU compression shorts I don’t really like wearing these but they do help. Expecting to wear them over the first half

Ronhill Cargo Trail shorts these are comfortable very lightweight shorts with a huge array of pockets and gel holders. None of which I use except for the secure zipped pocket on the waist. These will get an outing if it is a warm day if I decide that I don’t want to wear my 2XU compression shorts.

CEP Calf Sleeves I am a recent convert to Calf Sleeves. Having suffered some calf troubles earlier in the year I now wear these regularly when racing. These give great support, and help keep you warm. Funky colours as well.

Injinji Trail socks The latest fad. I have to admit I was very sceptical about these as socks with toes are just downright unnatural, verging on pervy. However I am a convert. Since wearing these I have had very few blisters and they are extremely comfortable. They are however a pig to get on and off especially if like me you have funny shaped toes. Fortunately on race day I fully expect someone else to do any foot care which is required (thanks support crew) as my chance of having either the flexibility to reach my feet or the coordination to remove socks successfully is slim to none.

Drymax Trail socks Again another item which is becoming increasingly popular with the ultra community. I have yet to learn to love these, but think I will wear them as a second pair on top of my injinjis just to give additional cushioning.

Inov-8 Gaiters handy for keeping the debris out of your shoes and socks

Brooks Pure Grit shoes Love my Grits, they give great flexibility and contact with the ground. Hoping to wear them through the first half of the race. Unfortunately as luck (or bad planning) would  have it, I wore them today and came to the conclusion that my current pair really have reached the end of their life. Eek! only 10 days to find and break in another pair. Fortunately they don’t need any breaking in, they are comfortable straight from the box.

Brooks Cascadia shoes these are a new addition to my shoe cupboard, but I expect to wear these over the second half of the race which is much more stoney under foot and where the stability and support will be more use to me than my speedy Grits.

Salomon XA 20 backpack does the job nicely. maybe a little large but  it carries all my stuff and is comfortable with handy pockets on the waist belt.

Inov-8 Race Elite belt expect to alternate this with my backpack, just to give me a change of posture. Will use this on the shorter sections. Has great roomy pockets without being too big.

Petzl Tikkina Headtorch. Probably frowned on by those who have big expensive head torches, but I have run plenty miles with this one in the winter so expect that it will be adequate. However bought a second bigger torch just in case. Will probably wear this one on my wrist to help give additional light where I need it.

Jazooli Q5 160 Lumens Cree headtorch Cheap and cheerful. Only cost £12 and has a massive beam. If it only does me the WHW Race then it will be worth the money.

On top of all of these I have various items as options for extreme weather, including woolly hats, goretex gloves, goretex shell, etc, etc etc

Having organised all of these variations and options you just know that I am going to wear the same few things from start to finish! And they say that running is a simple sport because all you need are some shoes……..  🙂

The postman always rings twice

Two new pairs of shoes arrived today, a pair of Brooks Cascadia and a pair of Brooks Racer T7. Opposite ends of the shoe spectrum. So obviously I had to go for two runs. Here are my first impressions:


I am still in search of the perfect trail shoe. I love my Brooks Pure Grit, but on long treks over sharp stones you soon start to feel the pressure on your foot. I have been on the lookout for something more substantial which would fit the bill between my Grits and my Inov-8’s which are great for technical stuff, but not so great for really long runs.

These are the Cascadia 7 which is last season’s model which is also why I was able to buy them half price from My first thought upon putting them on was that these were a solid pair of shoes. They look and feel substantial. They also feel comfortable straight off. The upper is soft and stretchy and on these shoes the asymmetric lacing seems to work for me. The toe box feels wide and roomy.

I took them out for a quick run through the woods. Mixed trail, some stones, mud, grass, gravel and a little tarmac.  Overall impression is yes, this is a good shoe.  The grip was good on all terrains. I was keen to find out how they felt running on sharp stones and they passed the test well. The sole gives good protection. They are a little more shoe than the Pure Grit so they are not quite as responsive, but they offset this by being very stable and well protected. These are the sort of shoes you could wear for an ultra over hard terrain. Having only worn them once, I am already thinking that I might wear them for the second half of the West Highland Way Race which is over stony ground and which has been hurting the soles of my feet when running in my Pure Grits.

In summary these feel like a comfortable, stable, well protected shoe which I expect to be well suited to long steady miles.

T7 Racer

These were a little bit of an indulgence. As they were only £35 or so in a sale, I thought I would give them a try. I had previously tried on a pair of these a few years ago and at that time immediately felt they were way too lightweight for my larger frame. Over time I have become a wee bit lighter and have also transitioned to lower drop shoes so I was pleasantly surprised when I laced these up just how comfortable they felt.

They are little more than some soft fabric attached to a sole, but that makes them very comfortable to wear. The fit is snug and really nice and the asymmetric lacing again works and holds the foot in place nicely.  They are incredibly light, but the sole is more robust that I expected. I already have both Green Silence and Pure Connect shoes.  This feels like a more structured shoe than the Green Silence and also has a much more comfortable upper and lacing system. I think that the Pure Connect has a more cushioning and the T7 doesn’t roll you on to your forefoot in the way that the Connect does. It feels like a slightly wider fitting shoe than the Connect as well. For me the T7 felt immediately more comfortable and better suited to my foot than either the Green Silence or the Pure Connect.

I wore these for a quick treadmill 5K at lunchtime and was very happy with them.  I don’t know how long they will last, but I look forward to trying them out in some 5K and 10K races.

Brooks Pure Flow 2

Update – for a review of the much improved Brooks Pure Flow 3 see here

I got the chance to try out a pair of Brooks Pure Flow 2 as part of a Brooks promotion. A great offer – wear the shoes for a week, take them back and get a £25 voucher to be used against a pair of Brooks Pure Project shoes. The Brooks marketing machine is pretty slick and even the box proclaims that this is more than just a shoe

Run Happy
Run Happy

I am a big fan of Brooks shoes. Firstly they fit my feet and secondly they have some nice technologies in their shoes.  I have previously worn two different Pure Project shoes, the Cadence and the Pure Grit. The Cadence is a very nice shoe, extremely comfortable and so far has done me for more than 400 miles. The Pure Grit is an equally comfortable shoe, and is a shoe I would willingly wear for many many miles. I was keen to try the Pure Flow because I was looking for a shoe for my next marathon, I am comfortable in the lower heel drop shoes and had read many good reports of the Flow. The chance to get  a pair to try was too good to pass up.

My initial impression of these shoes was one of disappointment. When I put them on, after the carpet slipper like sensation of the Cadence, they just didnt feel right. They pinched my right foot and my little toe pressed against the slightly hard edge of the toe box. My first run in these was on the treadmill and again slighlty disappointing. My toes went a bit numb, I got a hot spot on the ball of my foot and the heel cup felt hard and stiff as did the toe box.  Oh and I didn’t think they were very pretty!

pure project

grooves in sole allow flexibility

I was prepared to give them a chance, so wore them for a fast 10 mile run at the weekend. Again, I just couldnt feel the love for them. The still pinched my right foot, and they felt like they were wearing long, so that there was an extra unused bit of shoe like a flipper at the front of the toe. They weren’t so bad, but I wasn’t impressed. I also felt like the sole of the shoe was very wide compared to the upper and so were a bit like clown shoes. This was accentuated by the bright green rubber of the midsole.

For my next run, I decided to lace them differently,  using the loop lace technique to hold my foot in the heel. This was an improvement. On balance I don’t think I am a fan of the asymmetric laces. I find that the top inside eyelet creates a pressure point on the inside of my arch ( I have quite high arches). The same thing happens with a pair of Green Silence that I own.


On the verge of giving up, I remembered reading something on either or RunningShoesGuru about the thickness of the insole causing a problem. Following their tip I removed the Pure insole and replaced it with the much thinner insole from my Brooks ST5 shoes.

Flow and St5 insoles
Flow and St5 insoles

The difference was instant. My foot splayed correctly across the full width of the shoe and the extra few millimetres volume in the toe box made them much more comfortable. I took them for a steady 3 mile run and they were like a different shoe. They didn’t have the slightly spongy feel they had had previously. Instead they felt quite responsive, but with enough cushioning to feel comfortable. Had this been my day 1 experience I would have been saying this is a nice shoe!

The fabric is a slightly more robust fabric than that used in the Cadence which will probably make them more water resistant at the expense of that luxuriant feeling. The big Brooks flash on the front of the shoe doesn’t look very good, but it is a super effective reflector which makes you really visible to oncoming traffic in the dark. The other Pure features – the Navband and the split toe don’t seem to have any significant effect as far as I can see, though the Navband does seem tighter and more effective than in the first models.

I was really surprised that I was struggling with these shoes, but a little bit of research uncovered quite a few similar reviews with runners finding the new Flow 2 a little narrow and long, so maybe its not just me!

Overall, I am not sure they are the shoe for me. They are nice and flexible though a little soft under foot for my taste, but for runners who like a lot of cushioning they would be ideal. By changing the insoles I could use them as a long distance road shoe and be quite happy with them. I might wear them for long runs instead of my Ghosts which are well cushioned but a little stiff. Overall, if the shoe fits your foot this is probably a very good shoe, but for me I was just a wee bit disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be.

Every Picture Tells a Story

sweaty gym kit
sweaty gym kit

This picture shows my gear from my treadmill session at the gym tonight.

Nothing too unusual in anything in the picture. But there are a few stories to be told. Lets start at the bottom:

The Shoes

Brooks Racer ST5.  I wore these shoes as I walked to work this morning. Probably one of the few people to walk down the road in a suit and a pair of racing flats. There has to be a reason of course beyond sheer eccentricity and mine was straightforward. I had to walk to work because Helen needed the car. We live too far from work to walk in shiny work shoes and not far enough away to make it worthwhile running, not that I could have run this morning because the DOMS in my groin (don’t ask) were nipping. I had a treadmill session planned for after work so needed my gear and rather than carry yet another pair of shoes with me it just seemed easier to wear them. I did discover however that the venting in the shoes upper makes for chilly toes on a cold morning! If you are interested the ST5 is a great lightweight shoe, I refer to it as flats for fats because it is supportive enough that less svelt runners like myself can wear them right up to marathon distance. I still think they were faster in the previous colour scheme of blue and orange!

The Shorts

Sugoi 42K. Most marathon shorts are rubbish. I cant understand why manufacturers can’t come up with a split short which has a big zip pocket and some mesh pockets for gels. Most brands have a variation which has some but not all of these features.  The other problem with marathon shorts os that by the time you put a few gels in the pockets you have to pull  the string really tight to stop them falling down when you run. This in turn means that I end up with the skin on my back rubbed away and  bleeding from the elastic on the waistband rubbing.  One more place to have to remeber to apply vaseline. Sugoi gear is really good and the previous version of the sugoi shorts had big mesh pockets but for some bizarre reason they removed them and replaced them with silly flaps on the bum which have velcro fastenings so flimsy that if you put anything into them the fastening comes apart.  I guess at some point I shall have to try out a pair of Race Ready shorts now they are more readily available in this country.

The Towel

A piece of merchandising from the Swiss Alpine Marathon in Davos. This is one of those bucket list races. Scenery to die for, running over the Swiss Alps, you get glaciers, helicopters, alp horns, cow bells, chocolate and red mountain trains. It is also my slowest ever marathon. The altitude absolutely killed me and even though I felt I was running flat out, I was actually running in slow motion.

The Shirt

The shirt sums up this running lark for me. It is from the Little Rock marathon in Arkansas. Little Rock is renowned for the size of its massive marathon medal and for the fact it is the home of Bill Clinton. I haven’t run Little Rock, but was given the t-shirt by a lovely lady called Hobbit (yes Hobbit) at the expo for the marathon in Niagara Falls, Canada. She was there promoting the race and we got chatting, learned she was wanting to come to Scotland to run Loch Ness, exchanged contact details, and she kindly gave us a shirt. We were in Niagara Falls to run the marathon there only 7 days after running the Toronto waterfront marathon. We ran Toronto again this year because it was our first overseas race in 2006 and from running there, we met some wonderful people with whom we are now great friends, and every time we run another race there are more introductions and our circle of friends grows and grows.

So there you go. A routine picture which hides a tale or two.

Brooks Pure Grit

Pure Grit are part of Brooks Pure Project range.

These are probably the most comfortable running shoes I have ever had. If they matched my suit I would wear them to work.

Brooks Pure Grit
Brooks Pure Grit

There is something very natural about the way the front of the shoe is shaped. The Toe box feels wide and low, and your feet seem to splay very naturally. For me, when you put your feet in them it is the same feeling as putting your feet into your slippers. The heel is low, soft, and just fits, holding your foot without feeling stiff or aggravating your achilles.

I have been looking for a good trail shoe for some time vith a view to running long distances on trails. I have tried various options. I got a pair of Salomon X trails but they had so much cushioning and support they felt like I was running on stilts and I always felt my ankles were at risk from falling sideways off them.  I also did a season training in Brooks Adrenaline ASR shoes which were ok, they were like Adrenalines with a trail sole. They werent great for technical stuff, got a bit soggy, and were a bit slow, solid and clumpy for my liking but were ok.  I like Inov-8s. I ran the 53 miles of the Highland Fling in Inov-8 Terrocs, which worked suprisingly well even though I only wore them by accident, when I discovered on the morning of the race that the shoes I had neatly packed into a shoe bag were at home in Alloa and not in Milngavie where I needed them. Much as I love them for hills and bog, I have never been confident in my Inov-8s for long distances, even though I have a pair of roclite 365’s which are billed as being suitable for ultras. I did get a very good tip from Katie in Achilles Heel. She suggested putting a pair of cushioned insoles in my Inov-8s and that made a huge difference to how wearable they were over long distances.

WHWjan12 011Back to the Brooks. They are a snazzy colour which always makes you go faster. The tongue is thin and soft which gives a nice fit without all the volume you sometimes get. The upper has a slightly hard synthetic mesh which does a good job at keeping rubble out and is pretty robust. The shoes do a fantastic job of shedding water unlike any other pair I have owned. If you run through a deep puddle, the water just seems to skoosh right back out the shoe. Yes your feet get wet, but they don’t stay soaked. The other strange thing is that despite getting wet, your feet warm up again. I have tested this several times running through icy puddles in the Ochils!

WHWjan12 010If there is a drawback to these shoes, it is the grip. The sole has a peculiar grip pattern and is made from a soft rubber compound which doesnt feel desperately robust.  They are grippy on dry trail, and are very good on dry gravel and loose stones.  In the wet they are pretty lethal on stone, wood or grass and don’t grip well at all on slick surfaces. The first time I wore them, I took them on a tour of Menstrie Glen and running down a soaked, grassy hillside in pouring rain I went on my bum spectacularly several times.

Brooks Pure GritI have now run about 150 miles in mine, in bad conditions and they still make me smile when I put them on. They have been through mud, trail, rocks, water, forest and apart from making me nervous on slick surfaces have been great.  They also perform pretty well on the road and don’t have that feeling of running on studs that you get wearing trail shoes on the road.

A better sole has been promised for the Pure Grit 2 which is out any time now so I am looking forward to getting my hands on a pair. Finally I should say thanks to Gavin at Sweatshop Glasgow who went to great lengths to source these shoes as they are not readily available in running stores.

At the moment, these are likely to be my shoe of choice for the West Highland Way, especially if the Grit 2 version delivers the promised grippier sole. Enough of a trail shoe to cope with the terrain but really comfortable to wear for many hours. If it is pouring with rain I might just change into my Inov-8s for the trip over Conic Hill though as I would prefer to limit the amount of time I spend horizontal on the way down to Balmaha.