The 2017 Berghaus Dragons Back Race concluded today in Llandeilo – five days of epic mountain racing over. By epic, we mean E P I C!
For those looking for one of the toughest races in the world, Wales and the Dragons Back Race is a perfect starting place. 223 runners toed the line in Conwy, just over 100 finished – yes, 50% of the field didn’t make the journey from the north to the south.
For the first two days the race was very much about 2015 champion Jim Mann dominating the race, for the ladies, Sabrina Varjee also built a very clear lead over her main rivals – Carol Morgan and Caroline McIlroy.
However, on day 3 it was all change for Mann. The 90-minute margin he had built over days 1 and 2 was wiped a way with two navigational errors and a charging Marcus Scotney. On day 4, the heat came and Mann used his 0730 start to press the pace and apply pressure. Scotney had a lead of almost 30-minutes, surely it was too much for Mann to pull back? Well yes, but he came close. The final days race was going to be brutal.
But the ladies race spiced up on day 4 with Verjee suffering in the heat and Carol Morgan having a great day – like the men’s race, it was all to fight for on the last day!
Morning in day 5 camp was one of mixed emotions, the end was in sight but a tough day was ahead and to add to the pressure, forecasts were predicting a scorching 30deg high.
The majority of the field started early at 0600 but all eyes were on the 0800 ‘chase’ starts. Scotney and Verjee would start on the stroke of 0800 and then 2nd placed runners, Mann and Morgan would depart as per their time deficits to the leader. The same applied for 3rd placed lady, McIlroy. Quite simply, the first man or woman across the line would be the 2017 Berghaus Dragons Back winner.
Scotney had complained the previous night of a sore knee and had contemplated not starting day 5, however, on reflection, he decided it was better to fight and run with a chance of victory in comparison to leaving questions unanswered. He was flying, the terrain suited him and allowed him to stretch his legs. By CP2, Scotney was pulling away from Mann and Verjee and Morgan were equally matched with McIlroy losing time.
More good running to CP3 and then the climb to CP4 and the run along the high ground with the impressive Llyn Y Fan Fact to the right saw Scotney extend his lead. When Mann arrived at CP5 he was over 30-minutes back and barring Scotney having any problems, the race was his for the taking. Mann no doubt paying a price for a tough first 3-days and a hard chasing 4th day.
Scotney crossed the line in 6:12:09 1st and Mann came in much later (7:43:40) having eased off the gas knowing that his place for 2nd was secure. Neil Talbott who had started later than the 1st and 2nd placed runners had a long day chasing all in front of him, his 3rd place secure in 7:31:04 placing 2nd on the stage.
In the ladies’ race, Verjee although in the lead to CP5 was struggling with the heat, the fatigue of 4-days of tough racing and being chased by Morgan and McIlroy. She looked agitated, stressed and not her normal self. By contrast, Morgan at CP5 was relaxed and when asked how she felt, “I feel great – fantastic!”
The possible threat of a blazing run from McIlroy didn’t happen and the race was now between Verjee and Morgan.
Morgan hunted Verjee down and by CP6 had caught and passed her. It was all about putting her head down and pushing on. Victory was hers in 7:57:16 and with it, the title of Ladies 2017 Berghaus Dragons Back champion.
Verjee and McIlroy made it to the line, 2nd and 3rd places in 8:52:04 and 9:30:54 respectively. Like Mann, Verjee’s final thoughts maybe ones of disappointment with questions of what might have been…
It’s been a tough race for all concerned but when you race over 5-days with the highs and lows that this type of race can throw at you, it’s about how the runner manages all aspects of the race and not just one day. The 2017 edition will go down in history as one of the most compelling, particularly in the final 2-days.
Attention will now turn to 2019 and the next edition of the race but as Ourea Events rightly say, don’t forget it’s the Cape Wrath Ultra in 2018 for those who need their fix!
Travelling from the North of Wales to the South via the ‘Dragons Back’ – the 2017 edition of the Berghaus Dragons Back Race looks set to have all the makings of a classic. A gigantic 315km route awaits the runners as they make the journey over multiple days.
Day 1 in its own right is a tough day in the mountains as the best of Wales provides a stunning backdrop and stage setter for the race. In past editions, the opening day has proved too much for many… will 2017 be the same? It’s expected that 30% of those who start will not begin day 2 – a frightening statistic!
Jim Mann, winner of the 2015 edition of the race has decided to return and defend his crown. After a tough 2016, Jim has recently returned to form after in ‘Winter Round’ record breaking run. Mann completed the Charlie Ramsay Round, the Paddy Buckley Round and the Bob Graham Round all within 1-month and set a new benchmark for the triple.
British ultra-running pioneer Jez Bragg toed the line in 2015 but was forced to withdraw through illness, no doubt he will look to put the record straight in 2017. However, Cape Wrath 2016 champion Marcus Scotney will want to make sure he continues a winning streak of Ourea Events multi-day success with a strong performance.
Nickademus Hollon from the USA is well known in the ultra-world but may well fly under the radar of the UK based runners. Hollon was the youngest runner to complete the infamous Barkley and has placed 2nd at the Tor des Geants. He loves a challenge and although the UK mountains may well be new to him, we can anticipate a strong performance.
Alistair Hubbard and Neil Talbot may very well be the other prime contenders to take top honors on this journey through Wales. Hubbard has won the expert category on the Great Lakeland 3-Day – a great build up race to the Welsh multi-day adventure.
With the absence of Jasmin Paris, the ladies’ race is open but many are tipping Carol Morgan as a potential favorite. Her recent victory at The Spine is a standout result and it confirms that she can keep pushing even when tiredness and sleep deprivation are prevalent.
Sabrina Verjee is a regular Ourea Event competitor and participated in the 2015 Dragons Back Race where she placed 14th overall. It’s fair to say that Verjee has improved since then and she recently won the Great Lakeland 3-Day.
Italian Emanuela Marzotto came to running late in life and has made up for lost time with a sting of back-to-back performances in the world’s biggest ultras and multi-day races. Her experience in the Marathon des Sables was no doubt instrumental in her success in winning the 2016 Cape Wrath Ultra. Without doubt, she will have her hands full racing against Morgan and Varjee in Wales.
A final nod goes to Canada’s Emily Compton who is a complete unknown on UK soil but she has accumulated a string of top-10 results dating back to 2012. Notable markers being 3rd at Vulcano Ultra Trail in 2013 and 5th at Yakima Skyline Rim 50k in 2016.
Action begins on May 20th when runners will arrive in Wales ahead of the May 21st start.
You can follow the daily action via this website in words and images and on Twitter – @talkultra and on Instagram – @iancorlessphotography
It’s a question I get asked a great deal and my answer is always the same – ‘Have you considered inov-8?’
inov-8 has been making shoes for muddy conditions for over 10-years and as such they are my ‘go-to’ brand when I need something to handle ‘off-trail’ conditions such as fell, mountain, open fields, mountain terrain and so on.
I photograph, test and run in many many shoes and no shoes come close to handling thick, sloppy and unpredictable mud like inov-8.
A firm favourite is the Mudclaw 300 which has a 6mm drop. You can read a review from 2016 HERE.
In the last 12-months, inov-8 has tweaked its line of shoes once again and the popular Race Ultra has now become the Trail Talon (one of my favourite trail shoes for dry conditions HERE) and we have the X-Claw 275 (HERE) which is a favourite for me when I want to mix up good trails with mud and rock for longer duration, the 275 version with wider toe box and 8mm drop is perfect.
The X-Talon shoe has been around for sometime as an inov-8 classic and certainly the 212 (6mm drop) is a shoe that I have used time and time again. HERE
Usually, I prefer 6-8mm drop shoes, however, if I am just running in soft mud, a lower drop of 4mm or 3mm is usually fine and providing I am not running for too long it is preferable as I feel lower to the ground and more connected.
The 225 is a 4mm drop shoe with a 3mm footbed and a stack of 19.5mm at the heel and 15.5mm at the forefoot. The lugs are the same as the Mudclaw 300 with 8mm depth.
It’s easy to see from the off that the X-Talon 225 is designed for a more efficient runner and having switched between the Mudclaw 300 and the X-Talon 225 the main differences come with a touch more cushioning in the Mudclaw, otherwise, both shoes feel very similar as they have ‘precision’ fit, same lug depth, similar lacing and a similar feel when running. Obviously, the X-Talon is 25% lighter and that does feel different!
Running off-trail in muddy and sloppy conditions requires control and precision, therefore, the X-Talon 225 is a precision fit shoe. You need your foot to feel controlled and yes, maybe a little tight in the shoe. This is what gives you the control and the security to let yourself go. The only time you would compromise on this precision feel is if you were running for hour upon hour or running a very long race where the fit may cause an issue. Therefore, I see the X-Talon as a perfect shoe for up to say marathon distance – it does depend on the runner?
They are feather light. You pick them up and you know straight away they will be a delight to wear. They are simple and no fuss. Good bumper around the toe with a reinforced section. The upper is durable, lightweight and designed to be breathable and protective. The tongue is lightweight and the laces almost feel inadequate but they really pull the shoe tight and give a wonderful secure feeling around the middle of the foot to offer that security and control that is so essential when running in the sloppy and unpredictable terrain that mountains or fells give us. The heel box is classic inov-8 and wraps around providing a comfortable and secure hold with no rubbing.
The X-Talon is ultimately what is on the bottom of the shoe and as the name suggests, you have a plethora of 8mm talons to provide maximal grip. The compound is DUAL-C as seen in other inov-8 shoes and this works well in transitioning from mud to rock without a compromise on grip. The configuration is designed to shed mud and debris, however, I have yet to find a shoe that when it’s really muddy sheds the mud as I run. Certainly, transitioning from muddy terrain to harder, firmer or dry trail and the mud falls away quickly.
Another key feature is META-FLEX which allows the shoe to bend just in the correct place to facilitate the propulsive phase. One of the tings I love about inov-8 shoes is this really does work! It’s not some name jargon that doesn’t mean anything.
My daily trail run requires me to run a 1-mile of road to the trail and 1-mile home. The X-Talon handles this well and just for kicks, try it yourself – you will here the outsole grip to the pavement and road. It’s quite a feeling! Of course, you want to keep road use to a minimum in a shoe like this – the outsole won’t thank you for rubbing it against such an abrasive surface. Ideally, this is a shoe that you will put on just before you start to run. Rest assured though, the shoe gives a wonderful feeling on hard pack. How wonderful depends on you, your efficiency and your need for cushioning. If you are looking for a shoe that can handle some road, some hardback trail, rocks and some mud – I recommend the X-Claw.
I mix between shoes with a wider toe box such as the Trail Talon and X-Claw and can quite happily use a shoe with a more precision or tighter toe box such as the Roclite, Mudclaw or the X-Talon, so, the precision fit is not a problem for me.
I prefer a higher drop shoe of 6-8mm but the 225 with 4mm felt really great on soft and muddy trails – I didn’t really notice the lower drop and the lightness/ flexibility is a real pleasure.
The shoes are really comfortable and secure. The heel box really grips and the lacing really holds the foot secure. I had no movement or sloppiness.
Toe protection is good. I’ve had a few toe collisions with rocks and had not problems. The 3mm footbed and 15.5/19.5 cushioning is certainly on the minimal side and when running on rocky, dry or stony trails I could certainly feel the ground beneath me. Again, this comes down to choosing a shoe that is fit for purpose and fit for the duration you are running. Again, need more shoe? Look at the Mudclaw 300 or X-Claw 275.
Grip is awesome and few shoes in the marketplace can compare to the grip offered by the 8mm lugs. The compound also works great when transitions from mud to rock – a real winner.
If you need a low drop, lightweight shoe with loads of grip and a precision fit, look no further than the X-Talon 225. This shoe has very little not to like and actually the negatives for some are what make this shoe great:
If all of the above is ‘too’ minimal for you, look at the Mudclaw 300 and if you need a higher drop (8mm), a little more toe width, good lugs but not as aggressive and more cushioning, you can’t go wrong with the X-Claw 275. If I was only going to have one pair of shoes for trail, mud and rock then I would go for the X-Claw. However, if I can pick and choose and use shoes shoes like weapons, the X-Talon 225 would be fast and light shoes for racing a fast and furious fell race, Skyrunning race or even a VK.
A glorious morning was followed by a windy and chilly afternoon but Lanzarote put a smile on every clients face as they arrived in 15-degree temperatures after leaving a -5 London behind.
It was an admin day as everyone checked in, stocks up on supplies, relaxed and then at 1700-hours it was an introduction to the terrain and conditions they will encounter for the next 7-days.
It was a stunning end to the day as we ran for 60-minutes in three ability based groups. The sun accompanied us and as we returned back to La Santa we were provided with one of this magical sunsets that made everyone realise in an instant, why they are here.
Light stretching followed the run and then in the evening it was casual drinks and a group meal.
Day 4 starts at 0800 with a full-on run that will see most participants on the trail for 4 to 6 hours.
Recently I was involved in a series of discussions about the Marathon des Sables, not the 2016 edition of the race but the 2017 and 2018 editions of the race. One thing that became very clear is the panic and apprehension many runners feel about a goal that may well be a ‘one-off’ or lifetime goal.
Experienced runners will know how to goal set, they will know how to periodise and plan their training so that they hopefully arrive at a target event in peak form. This was discussed in Planning a Running and Racing Year (HERE). However, goals that go beyond one macrocycle (one year) require a much greater perspective and overview. If you are new to running, well, it can be just terrifying.
A great deal of advice can be extremely counter productive as it makes many runners feel inadequate, inexperienced, lacking confidence and in the worse scenarios even questioning if they should even go ahead with the race.
Let’s be clear. Everyone is an individual, I have yet to find two runners who need the same training plan or structure. However, certain scenarios work for all and it is with this in mind that I am writing this post.
Why set a long term goal?
Long term goals provide incredible motivation to step out of the door and to train. You will have heard the saying, ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it!’
To that end, iconic races such as UTMB and Marathon des Sables, are races that for many are the ultimate race, they are races to be built up to and therefore a macrocycle is not enough time to prepare; hence long term goal setting.
Irrespective of experience, two key words come in to play when setting a long term plan: Structured and Progressive.
In this scenario, I am using goal setting for Marathon des Sables.
A macrocycle is one training year and this is broken down into mesocycles. It may sound like a fancy word but a mesocycle is a series of blocks of training that make up one macrocycle. For purposes of explanation, let’s assume that you are running the Marathon des Sables which takes place in April 2018.
I always recommend getting a year planner so that you get a big picture of what lies ahead. Fourteen months may seem like a long way off, it is, no need to panic, but also don’t become complacent. What’s important here is experience. I am therefore going to have two runners.
Runner A has run a marathon, runs to keep fit and has set the lifetime goal of Marathon des Sables. Priority is completion.
Runner B has been running for years, eats marathons for breakfast, races ultra races regularly and is going to Marathon des Sables as a challenge, to test him or herself and plans to compete over complete.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that runner A and runner B need completely different training plans and strategies. Keeping in mind that A has less experience, more insecurities and a great deal of anxiety about the big target, I will talk through the possible planning cycle for A.
Let’s break down the macrocycle. As I said, we have fourteen months to play with, so a schedule may look like this:
Phase 1: Feb, Mar, Apr, May with C race objective (marathon).
Phase 2: June, July, Aug with B race objective (50k to 50m).
Phase 3: Sep, Oct, Nov with A race objective (multi-day race)
Phase 4: Dec, Jan with B race objective and/ or specific warm weather training camp.
Phase 5: Feb, Mar.
Phase 6: Apr – A race.
Is all about consistent and regular running based on available time, ability and commitments. Set yourself a C race target for the end of this period. It could be a half marathon or even a marathon. It’s always good to have intermediate targets to work to and we often use C and B races as stepping stones to an A race, in this scenario, Marathon des Sables.
Be realistic here, it’s important. Ask yourself a couple of key questions:
How many days can I train?
How many hours a week can I train?
We are going to assume that running three/four days is possible every week with a fourth/ fifth day for cross training and strength work. A microcycle (week) in phase 1 may well look like:
Tuesday – key day
Thursday – key day
Saturday – Cross training
Sunday – key day
In phase 1 we want to just walk, run or walk/ run and build a base of fitness from which to build. No need to rush in and panic. Be sensible and progressive. A safe way to do this is build for three weeks and on the fourth week rest and recover, Yes, rest and recovery is just as important as running.
Use the 10-20% rule and never add more time than this to each run. An example for the first month may look like:
Over this phase, you would eventually cap the length of time for the Tuesday and Thursday runs at 60 to 90-minutes and the Sunday run would progress to 3-hours 30-minutes as follows:
Use this system in phase 1 building week on week over four months to lay a great foundation of progressive miles and time on feet. If you have built progressively, your Sunday long run will have progressed to over three hours which puts you in a great place for a C run target.
A marathon would be a good C target at the end of phase 1. You wouldn’t taper for a race like this, it would be a training run that would be added to your plan.
You have phase 1 under your belt and the confidence of completing a C target. Phase 2 now builds and at the end of this phase you will have a B race target as a goal. This race should be challenging but not so challenging that it becomes intimidating or breaks you. If you ran a half marathon as a C race, then your B race could be a marathon. If your C race was a marathon, then your B race may be a 50k or up to a 50-mile race if you feel that training is going very well?
It’s also important now to think ahead to Phase 3 and an intermediate A race target that will motivate you and boost your confidence for phase 4, 5 and 6.
Also think about planning and booking heat chamber sessions or equivalent for the final build up phase just before the race; this usually takes place in the final 2-3 weeks and sessions go quickly.
In the UK, a race takes place in November called the Druids. It’s a three day race where runners take on a marathon for three consecutive days. It’s a perfect ‘mini’ Marathon des Sables scenario and a great opportunity to test clothing, pack, fitness and build confidence.
Assuming that four days training are still possible and that you have had no injury issues or problems, we can now progress training building on endurance in the long runs and adding some faster/ strength sessions during the week.
A week may look like this:
Tuesday – Hills.
Thursday – Speed
Saturday – Cross training and strength.
Sunday – Long run.
As in phase 1, progression is really important and the plan would actually change and evolve over this period with each month looking different.
The above plan is a guide and this is where a run coach can step in and provide structure and remove the guess work away from how the plan is put together. It’s all about placing the right emphasis at the right place and at the right time.
You will see how month 3 changes from months 1 and 2 so that it is specific to the B target at the end of this mesocycle.
You have just completed your longest run in a B race, be that 50k, 50m or somewhere in-between and your confidence is sky high. You now have an A race on the horizon (November) that involves three back-to back marathons and suddenly your appreciation of what is required is much clearer. You respect the Marathon des Sables target but now it is less intimidating as you have moved your way up through logical and incremental steps.
Another three month phase of training that allows is to fine tune and hone in on the racing skills required.
As you may expect, phase 3 starts with recovery from your B race target. You will need to cross train or just run easy for 3-4 days. By the time the weekend comes around, you will feel as though recovery is well on the way, don’t rush. Take your time and the following week run easy Tuesday and Thursday for up to 60-minutes and then do 60 and a 90-minute run on Saturday and build on the Sunday run. An example of phase 3 is below. Please remember, YOU are an individual with specific needs and what I provide below is a possible structure leading to an A race in November.
The A race at the end of November provides a significant marker in your training. The experience will allow you an opportunity to find out what worked, what didn’t work, how your kit worked, what was good, what was bad and so on.
December is now upon you and Phase 4 is an opportunity to look at weaknesses and work on them so that you are in great shape to take on Phase 5 which is the final period before your key race.
1. If you lacked endurance in your November A race, keep working on consistency and build endurance with time on feet.
2. If you lacked speed and want to run faster, December is a perfect opportunity to cut back on distance and long runs and add some speed work.
3. Due to the demands of running with a pack, running long and all the associated fatigue, make sure that you incorporate a strength and core routine to make you a stronger runner. It’s easy to say here, ‘I don’t have the time!” You do, cut down your run time on a Tuesday and Thursday and free up time for strength and core. Maybe you can even find an extra day in your week (Wednesday) to allow you to work on this. Alternatively, work on strength and core at home maybe while watching television? The time is there, you just need to find it and be creative.
4. Practice walking. Effective and fast walking is a key weapon to a successful race in any long ultra or multi-day race.
With a new year coming, April and the heat of the Sahara looms on the horizon. January provides a perfect opportunity for a warm weather training camp just as the weather is wet, miserable and cold in Europe.
In conjunction with 2015 ladies Marathon des Sables champion Elisabet BARNES, we run a week long camp in Lanzarote that provides the perfect opportunity to test everything in a real situation. We even provide a bivouac experience. You can ready daily posts and view images from the 2016 camp HERE and you can listen to client feedback below:
Phase 5 is the last phase and ultimately you have 6 weeks to get prepared and ready for your key race. If you attended a training camp you will now have a full appreciation of everything that you need to do. That may be changing kit, more time on feet, looking at nutrition or even a combination of all elements
Now is the time to make sure you have all your admin sorted – insurance, medical, compulsory kit and so on.
Don’t leave anything to chance now. If in doubt about equipment, contact MyRaceKit, they are able to provide expert advice in regard to everything that you will need.
Think about heat and how you will adapt. With luck, back in phase 2 or 3 you will have thought ahead and booked time in a heat chamber. Ideally this will take place in the final 2-3 weeks before the race. No sessions booked? Train in a gym with additional layers, take a sauna, do Bikram Yoga etc
Again, consistency is key here. You have been training for this long term goal for sometime, don’t do anything silly, don’t do a long run that is really long; you up your chances of injury risk. Remember, training is about ALL the sessions you have done and not just one session
Phase 6 is race time.
Be organised, be prepared, think of everything and have the race of your life.
It’s in this final phase when you are so close that little things can go wrong. Be prepared as best as you can. You can’t account for the unexpected but reduce chances of anything going wrong by taking no risks.
The information provided above is designed to provide an outline and a guide on how to plan for a long term goal. Although you may be able to take this plan away and use it, please be sensible and assess your own experience, fitness and goals. Importantly, the scenario provided is with a multi-day race in mind, you would need to tweak and adjust this for a single stage race or a mountain ultra for example.
I can’t emphasise enough that we are all individual, so you need to find out what works for you.
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One month ago, the new ROCLITE arrived at my home, not just one pair but 3 pairs – the 290, 305 and 325. I wrote a first impressions article HERE and it would make sense to have a read of that before reading on.
In summary, the 290 is 4mm drop, the 305 8mm drop and the 325 is 8mm drop but a running boot. The running boot is for a specific audience I believe and although it’s a product I love using, I am going to save any talk on the 325 for my review that will come out in the New Year. Having said that, much of what I write in this review of the 305 directly transfers to the 325 – they are to all intents and purposes the same!
I run in shoes of varying drop all the time, however, lower drop shoes like the 290 (4mm) are usually reserved for shorter runs be they fast or slow. Once I run beyond an hour, an 8mm drop shoe works perfectly for me and without doubt it is my ‘drop’ of choice.
Therefore, when the ROCLITE’s arrived late November and I had a trip planned to La Palma (the home of Transvulcania) it was an easy decision to pick up the 305 with the intention of well and truly giving them a battering on this tough, challenging, rocky and gnarly terrain.
The ROCLITE range of shoes, for me, are designed for mountain running in wet or dry conditions when the trail can be very varied or unpredictable. Although the shoe can handle a little mud, it’s not a shoe for those conditions and without doubt, if you plan to run on grass, mud, fell or similar, I think inov-8 make far better shoes for that, try the X-Talon for example.
I have used many, many shoes and I have tried and tested countless inov-8 shoes and despite the ROCLITE being around for appx 10-years, it’s not a shoe that I have used a great deal. So, I hold my hands up, this review is based on ‘this’ shoe and I can offer no comparisons to previous incarnations.
As with many inov-8 shoes, the looks and colours are very pleasing. You can’t go wrong with red and black and out of the box they were saying to me, ‘wear me!’
Looking over the shoe, a couple of things stood out. The tongue is part of the upper and not a tongue sewn into the upper. Anyone who reads my shoe reviews knows that I LOVE gusseted tongues so I was eager to slide these shoes on. I was not disappointed. I would go as far to say that the 305 is THE most snug and comfortable shoe I have worn – that is saying something! They are the most slipper like run shoes I have worn, so much so, that I could imagine removing the laces and walking around the house in them. Adding to the package is a completely seamless inner, even the ‘insole’ is part of the shoe (you can’t remove it) making it snug, snug, snug!
Going for a run in them instantly felt comfortable. I mentioned in my ‘first impressions’ that I thought the shoes in the ROCLITE range sized a 1/2 size too small. Now I am not sure? Sorry for being indecisive but I have run in them for 1-month and I have been very happy, I must stress though that I used a thinner sock than normal. What is noticeable, say over the TRAIL TALON (here) and X-CLAW (here) is that the ROCLITE is narrower in the toe box. I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘precision’ fit shoe but it is certainly less spacious than the Talon or Claw.
The other notable point is that the front of the shoe (toe box) is just material with no additional overlays or support other than a reinforced bumper to protect toes against unwanted collisions. This had pros and cons. The pros were simple – a comfortable shoe that allowed my foot to flex, bend and adapt to the terrain. The cons were on technical descents, I found that at times I wanted just a little ‘more’ to hold my foot. It was a minor point and caused me no problems. What I did do to compensate was make sure I had the laces adjusted and tightened correctly.
The trails in La Palma are harsh, really harsh. It’s jagged, volcanic, gravel, sand and abrasive rock that is irregular and punishing. It ruins shoes. In recent years, I have been out here and I have had shoes last for just the holiday. I must stress that this is not a criticism of the shoes but an indication of how harsh the terrain is.
One’s foot is moved constantly to the left, right and it is twisted back and forth, noticeably the huge red ‘X’ on the rear of the ROCLITE offered some great stability and I didn’t roll my ankle once – unusual for me.
The out-sole did work well on all the dry terrain, be that gravel, soft black lava sand, jagged irregular rocks or solidified volcanic lava. A run through a river bed that offered all manner of possibilities to slip and fall through a technical boulder session were brushed at one side with ease with the ROCLITE. Once you have confidence in a shoe, you can push harder and faster and the 305’s gave me that.
Importantly though, on this terrain, protection is as important as grip and the META-SHANK and rock-plate combined with additional cushioning gave me a really solid and comfortable day out. The longest outing here has been 8-hours and my feet felt great. Rocks and rough terrain didn’t penetrate through the sole leaving me and my feet feeling jaded. Powerflow in the heel provided some real comfort and reassurance, particularly when walking… it’s tough out in La Palma and walking is a big part of any outing. Daily I always did anything from 400 to 2000+m of climbing and the META-FLEX at the front of the shoe allowed my foot to bend without hindrance.
The lacing is unique as you pull in on web loops. It really does work! It works so well that you can pull the laces too tight. I struggled with the lacing at first, at times I tied the laces too right and other times I tied them too loosely. I eventually found a balance after 3-4 runs and once I got it dialed in, I found I had no need to adjust or adapt my laces once running. I am pleased to say that extra eyelets are provided at the top of the shoe should you need to ‘lock-lace’ or similar. The heel box was plush and caused no issues.
inov-8 have thrown a curve ball in at the end of 2016 and may well have provided me with one of my favourite shoes of the year. Yes, the ROCLITE 305 is that good. I have battered them on the trails out here with approximately 50-hours of running and they are showing signs of wear but they have survived really well and are good for many more hours. I can’t say the ROCLITE is my all out favourite shoe as it has a specific use. By contrast, to explain what I mean, the inov-8 X-CLAW for example can handle grass, mud and sloppy stuff and it would still be able to perform on rocky and mountainous trails like here in La Palma. Is the X-CLAW a better shoe? No! However, it may very well be a better all-rounder? If you are running on trail, be that a canal tow path or a rocky mountain trail in the Alps, the ROCLITE will take some beating and without doubt it’s going to be a shoe of choice for me in 2017. The fit, the snug upper, the seamless build and the gusseted tongue just make the 305 one of the best shoes I have run in. Add to that package 8mm drop, cushioning, a great outsole and other key inov-8 features such as the ‘X’ Lock, Adapterweb, Meta-Flex and Meta-Shank and this shoe is one to consider.
There are some downsides. The upper may lack some support in the toe area when running on technical terrain allowing the foot to move a little too much. The toe bumper is adequate and does offer protection but maybe it could be a little beefier? It’s a minor niggle. Finally, although the ROCLITE 305 is not a precision fit shoe, it is narrower than the Trail Talon or the X-Claw and therefore it may not work for some people? However, I would counter that by saying that on mountain and technical trails, too much movement in the toe box leads to insecurity and a lack of precision and confidence.
As a year comes to end, it’s always nice to be able to look back and appreciate some of the highlights that all come together that allows one to decide if it was a good or bad year. For me personally, 2016 was a cracker and I am truly thankful for all the opportunities that came up.
Looking back and deciding on what a highlight is, is of course a tricky thing. It’s very personal and it also requires a great memory. So, I will declare right from the off that these are ‘my’ highlights and yes, I am going to miss some key performances, runners, experiences and so on that should be in the list. So, please feel free to comment and remind me.
It would make sense to start in January and move through to December in a logical way… I am not going to do that, I am writing this off the cuff.
Jim Walmsley has been on fire in 2016 and ironically, despite an amazing run and course record at JFK50, FKT’s for the Rim-to-Rim and Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon and countless other victories, it will be his Western States performance that well and truly cements Jim as one of the most exciting runners to rise in 2016. He said pre Western States that he was there to win and win with a course record. He flew along the trails and at one point was almost 30-minutes under the record. As he passed 90-miles everyone was re-writing the history books and then boom! Jim went off course. I caught up with a full and in-depth interview with Jim and you can listen to that HERE and read it HERE. Jim for many is the male Ultra-runner of the Year with victories at Stagecoach Line 55km, Franklin Mountains Trail Run, Lake Sonoma, Mesquite Canyon, Moab Red Hot 55k, Bandera 100k and the recent JFK50. 2017 is going to be a very exciting one.
Rob Young set off on a journey Across the USA looking for a new record, fame, glory and an opportunity to raise a load of money for charity. Somewhere along the way he lost a grasp of reality, perspective and ruined what was a remarkable story be cheating and deceiving the whole ultra running community. Ultimately, Rob is a story of an individual who tried to do good and maybe we should ask what went wrong rather than preach about his morals.
That brings me on to Mark Vaz. What is it with FKT’s and delusional behaviour? Mark seemed to think that running from Land’s End to John O’Groats 31-hours quicker than anyone else for the 860-mile journey was a good idea. It’s not even a convincing lie. As many pointed out, the god of ultra -running, Yiannis Kouros, couldn’t have done it as quick as Mr. Vaz claimed… oh dear!
Pete Kostelnick by contrast embraced the FKT concept and showed the world that the claims made by Rob Young are possible by smashing a 30+ year old Guinness record out of the ether by running Across the USA a full 4-days quicker than anyone else. As records go, this is an absolute doozy and when you look deep and hard into this 40+ day journey, you soon start to understand the difficulty and complexity of running 70+ miles a day. You can listen to an in-depth interview with Pete HERE and read the story HERE. In addition, we must also add to this story, Pete’s incredible and record breaking run at Badwater 135. This achievement has been overshadowed by the USA run but as a stand alone run, it’s also a cracker.
Karl Meltzer did it, he finally completed the Appalachian Trail in a new record breaking time after failing on two previous occasions. His time was some 10-hours quicker than Scott Jurek’s set in 2015, however, Karl did run in the opposite direction and has said, post run, he feels that they are two records. Notably, Karl helped Scott in 2015 and Scott helped Karl in 2016. It’s a remarkable story and one that truly reflects our sport of ultra-running. Karl’s record of 45-days, 22-hours and 38-minutes now sits in the record books and well and truly establishes Karl as one of ‘the’ greatest ultra-runners in the world. This is also backed up with his 38 100-mile victories and 5 victories at Hardrock 100. Listen to the in-depth interview HEREand readHERE
Talking of Hardrock 100, Kilian Jornet and Jason Schlarb held hands and crossed the line together in 2016. It was a wonderful moment that split the ultra-running audience in two. Some would have preferred a race to the line while others discussed the wonderful gesture and statement this moment made. Whichever camp you sit in, it was back-to-back victories for Kilian and a career defining moment for Jason Schlarb. Something he discussed in my in-depth interview HERE. For equality, we also need to mention Anna Frost nailing a back-to-back ladies victory. As I understand it, these three Musketeers will all return in 2017.
Aaron Denberg got a bee in his bonnet about Hardrock 100 lottery and decided to create a law suit. Many believe Mr. Denberg makes some good points but questioned if his approach was the correct one? Hardrock 100 released statements and have since removed the payment of a fee by each runner to enter the lottery, something which was apparently illegal! This will run and run (pardon the pun) but ultimately, is Hardrock a victim of it’s own success?
Caroline Chaverot for me, without doubt, female ultra-runner of the year. This French lady has been on fire all the way from victory in Transgrancanaria early in the year to a most recent win in Hong Kong on December 2nd. Along the way, Caroline won UTMB, became Skyrunning World Champion for the ultra distance and won the IAU World Trail Championships in Portugal. Add to these incredible results, victories at Madirea Island Ultra Trail, Mont-Blanc 80km and the UTWT world title for 2016 and I lower my head and bow to Queen Caroline. Plus she has made the lottery for Hardrock in 2017… exciting!
Adam Campbell survives a horrific fall and not only lives to tell the tale but has a remarkable recovery, listen to the interview HERE and read HERE
Lizzy Hawker sneaked from under the radar and once again picked up the gauntlet testing her personal boundaries and voyage of self-discovery. After years of injury, Lizzy completed the GHT (Great Himalayan Trail). A 1600km, east to west journey across Nepal. It was, as Lizzy promised, a “beautiful, rough, hard and unforgettable journey”. It was about many things, but also about trying to raise money to give opportunities to Nepali runners, particularly girls, for whom one chance can be a catalyst for much wider change.
Damian Hall set a new FKT on the UK’s South West Coast Path 10-hours, 15-minutes and 18-seconds for the 630-mile jaunt.
Jeff Browning, what a year…! Winner Hurt 100, 3rd at Western States, 4th at Hardrock 100 and 4th at Run Rabbit Run – that is some year, the WSER/Hardrock double a stand out and fastest combined time.
Kilian Jornet won Hardrock 100 and attempted to summit Everest. The Summits Of My Life project continues on into 2017 after Kilian and his team decided to pull the plug on a 2016 attempt as weather detonated.
Emelie Forsberg was quiet in 2016 after damaging her ACL and having an operation, she did however return to Trofeo Kima and put the record straight with a victory… she hopes the course record will come in 2018 when the race will take place once again. Emelie discussed her injury HERE
Beth Pascall went from strength-to-strength in 2016 and elevated the Lakeland 100 (UK) record to a whole new level by placing 4th overall. Listen to her interview HERE
Zach Miller did what he always does and lead from the front. At UTMB many predicted, me included, that it was going to be a story of glorious victory with a stunning ‘off-the-front’ performance or carnage with a monumental blow-up! In reality it was both, the blow-up came and he somehow managed to hold on for grim death to still get a top-10 place, he will win this race one day! Jump forward to December and Zach did it again at San Francisco 50. This time he had company and many are saying that ‘this’ race was one of the highlights of the year as Zach and Hayden Hawks traded blows at the front. Zach won with a course record and he took home the $10,000 prize. Hayden finished just 2-minutes back. Note that name! If you want to know what it’s like to put it ALL on the line, take a look at Zach’s final 2-minutes of that incredible 5:56:03 run.
Andrew Miller became the youngest winner of the iconic Western States and today, myself and so many others still know very little about this 20-year old. Certainly, Jim Walmsley had an impact on the kudos and plaudits that Andrew should have received. Running 15:39:36 at WSER takes some doing but I can’t help but think that Biology and chemistry are a priority as Andrew starts his sophomore year at Northern Arizona University. He will be back at WSER in 2017!
Kaci Lickteig has been nailing it and nailing it and finally got the Western States victory that she has longed for and then contrasted it with victory at the Bear 100. You can listen to Kaci’s post Western States interview HERE
Andrea Huser runs and races it would appear ‘every’ weekend. She is relentless. As I understand it, Andrea raced on thirteen occasions but I may have missed some/ She had victories at Raid de La Reunion Swiss Irontrail T201 Eiger Ultratrail 101km, Lavaredo, Trail d’Albertville, Trail Des Allobroges and Maxi-Race Annecy. Phew… any other year and the lack of Caroline Chaverot and Andrea would be female ultra-runner of the year.
Luis Alberto Hernando won Transvulcania, became Skyrunning World Champion for the ultra distance and became IAU World Trail Champion. That is a solid year and Luis has raced less having become a Dad. Had his feet not fallen apart at UTMB, he may well have been in the running with Jim for male ultra-runner of the year.
Diego Pazos is a name to watch and has surprised many in 2016. He’s my heads-up for the future. He had a notable result at Transgrancanaria early in 2016 but what followed was quite incredible, his victory at Mont-Blanc 80km a highlight!
Didrik Hermansen won Transgrancanaria and then placed 2nd at Western States. That is solid and shows real diversity. What will 2017 hold for him? Listen HEREand as Sondre corrects me, Didrik ran 6:45 and 6:38 for 100k.
Running Beyond Book was released in October and November to a worldwide audience and has been translated into Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish and of course is available in English. Containing 240-pages, this large coffee table books documents the sport of trail, ultra, mountain and skyrunning in images and words, HERE
Dan Lawson (UK) won the IAU 24 Hour European Championships in 2016 with a distance of 261.843 kilometres (162.702 mi).
Jasmin Paris has elevated herself to a whole new level in 2016. This quiet and shy fell runner set new records for the UK’s ‘Rounds’ and in the process placed 6th at UTMB (her first 100) won Tromso SkyRace, won Glencoe Skyline, became the Skyrunner World Series Extreme Champion 2016 and in addition to countless other races, also placed on the podium at the Skyrunning World Championships for the ultra distance behind Caroline Chaverot. Interviews with Jasmin Paris HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE
Joe Grant set a new record on the 14’ers in 31-days by cycling between trailheads and then summiting all the 14’ers (50+ of them) on foot to then return back to his cycle and then continue on his journey. He was self-sufficient for the whole trip. “I did set a speed record, but that wasn’t my goal,” says Grant, 33, an accomplished ultrarunner who finished second at the 2012 Hardrock 100. “The goal was to challenge myself and see the state, although the previous record served as a reference for how long I could take.” taken from trailrunningmag.
Megan Hicks also completed a ’14’ journey, the Nolans 14 in Colorado. She completed the journey in 57:19:19 to the summit of the 14th peak and then completed the journey back to the Fish Hatchery Trailhead in under 60-hours – 59:36. Her time is the fastest ever completed by a woman.
Nicky Spinks continues to inspire and while she may have lost her ‘Round’ records to Jasmin Paris, she went on to set a new benchmark with a record for a double Bob Graham Round – Nick is an inspiration! You can listen to an interview with her HERE
Ludovic Pommeret ran the most controlled and impressive UTMB ever moving from not being in contention to slowly but surely ticking off the runners ahead and taking the crown at the largest ultra in the world. Add to this victory four other victories and Ludovic is one to keep an eye on in ’17.’
Caroline Boller set new American Trail 50-mile record 5:48:01
Gina Slaby set new female 100-mile WR 13:45:49 for ‘any’ surface, Anne Trason had the previous record of 13:47:41 set in the early 90’s.
Skyline Scotland achieved a first with Glencoe Skyline achieving Skyrunner World Status in the Extreme category and as such, the 2016 edition of the race had arguably one of the best fields assembled on UK soil for a mountain race. HERE
Jon Albon transitioned from obstacle racing (something he still does and excels at) to Skyrunning and won the 2016 Skyrunner World Series Extreme category. We are going to see more of him in 2017! HERE
Samantha Gash ran across India in a project called ‘Run India’ as a means to create awareness and raise money. Covering over 3000km you can listen to her story in episode 125 of Talk Ultra out on Friday 16th December.
Ida Nilsson started the year with a win in Transvulcania, she took victory at The Rut and then in early December won San Francisco 50. Without doubt, Ida is a star of the future. Listen to Ida talk about Transvulcania HERE
Stu Leaney breaks Michael Wardian’s 50km treadmill record by just 7-seconds
Mina Guli ran 40-marathons across 7 deserts on 7 continents in 7 weeks to raise awareness for water, listen to the interview HERE
Jason Schlarb started his year by prepping for Hardrock 100 by skiing the course, listen to the interview HERE
Skyrunning and the world series (SWS) elevated to new heights with an increased circuit that traveled the globe and the addition of the new Extreme series.
And finally (maybe), Donnie Campbell just recently set a new Winter Ramsay Round record to finish a very solid year!
So what have I missed?
I am well aware that I will have missed some key performances in 2016 and I welcome you commenting and letting me know. Of course, many performances, races or experiences will resonate on a personal level for you. I can think of many British performances that are worthy of a nod – Jo Meek’s 2nd at the CCC, Paul Giblin 5th at Western States, Joasia Zakrzewski’s medal at the 100k World Champs for example.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked about the ROCLITE by inov-8. Every time I do a shoe review, I always get at least one email from someone asking, ‘Any news on Roclite’s from inov-8?’
Well for all those that have asked, you are now blessed with three new ROCLITE models:
The 290 with 4mm drop
The 305 with 8mm drop
The 325 with 8mm drop.
It’s a ROCLITE party!
The ROCLITE has been around for 10-years and was, is a firm favourite for the hardcore inov-8 fans, so, the inclusion of three new models for 2017 is certainly going to make many people happy. The ROCLITE was first launched in 2006 and has had many variations and adaptations over the years.
In recent years, inov-8 have certainly started to look at their shoes in a different way and I can certainly see RACE ULTRA, TRAIL TALON and X-CLAWinfluences coming into the new line-up of ROCLITE.
For most people reading a review like this, they will be drawn to the 290 or 305 as they are conventional run shoes. The 325 is a boot and therefore will appeal to a very different client, or should I say, a very different use.
The 290 is 4mm drop and the 305 8mm drop. I had expected to be able to say that the characteristics of both shoes are the same, the only difference coming in drop/ cushioning. However, that is not the case!
The ROCLITE 305 and 325 initial review
Lets start with the 305 8mm drop shoe first as this for me is a great all around shoe and will appeal to many users. The characteristics of the 305 actually transfer directly to the 325 boot and the comments below are relevant for both.
The 305 is a slightly heavier shoe with a little more cushioning than the 290 (if you didn’t know, the number in inov-8 shoe names refers to weight in like-for-like sizes, usually a UK8.5). It has an integrated gusseted tongue that is actually sewn into the shoe and therefore almost makes the shoe feel slipper like. The same applies for the 325 boot. This is a real winner in terms of holding the foot secure, firm and importantly it’s going to keep debris out!
On the rear of the shoe on the outside is a huge ‘X’ in plastic that is sewn onto the upper – this adds support and theory will provide a more secure foot placement and reduce the ability to roll an ankle.
The lacing is firm and secure and pulls in on web loops called ADAPTERWEB. In conjunction with the sewn in tongue if really does provide a secure and firm fit and hold of the foot.
The words ‘POWERFLOW’ on the rear refer to the cushioning and shock absorption.
The ROCLITE has a META-SHANK and rock plate which is a great addition for keeping the rugged, sharp and gnarly stuff from penetrating through the sole and providing discomfort or bruising while running.
The front of the shoe has a toe cap that has been rubberised that will protect with any collisions of debris on the trail.
The outsole is made from three different sticky rubber densities and has a 6mm lug that is designed to excel on trail that is rocky and technical in either the wet or dry. The outsole will handle some mud but other inov-8 shoes would do a better job of handling the wet, sloppy and slippery stuff. However, as is often the case these days, we are looking for a one stop shop when it comes to a running shoe and the ROCLITE may well set in the place nicely?
In the first 1/3 of the outsole is META-FLEX – this allows the shoe to bend in just the right place allowing for an excellent propulsive phase when running. Sounds like jargon but it does work!
Slipping the shoe on feels really smooth and although this is not a seamless upper, it feels like it. It’s one of the most comfy shoes I have used in a long time. However, the shoe does maybe feel a little small? I use UK9.5 in all my shoes, without exception and I always use UK9.5 in inov-8. All three of the ROCLITES (less so with the 290) but certainly the 305 and 325 make ne think I may require a 1/2 size larger. This may well be from the sewn in tongue and plush fit? I need to head out on the trails a little more to provide a definitive answer on this. Please remember this is a first impression article.
The toe box has room but certainly feels more of a ‘precision’ fit than say the TRAIL TALON or X-CLAW. Again, as mentioned above I may need a 1/2 size larger and that would certainly impact on how the toe box feels. However, the ROCLITE range certainly feels as though hey re designed to provide a detailed, responsive and controlled ride on the trail with a mire secure and precious hold so that fast moving on more technical trail has precision.
The heel box is plush, secure and holds the foot firm. In the 325 boot I have noticed a little additional pressure/ tension on my right achilles with the way the back of the boot drops down and is cut away. I will feed back on this more with additional testing. Again, I also refer back to the point that the 305 and 325 may well be a 1/2 size too small and this would impact greatly on this fell/ comfort.
I think the 305 is going to please so many runners who have been looking for a shoe that can handle a multitude of terrain in a plush, secure and comfortable shoe. This shoe is slipper like! Initial thoughts is that the ROCLITE is sizing a 1/2 size too small, so, if purchasing online keep this in mind. The toe box is not as wide as the Trail Talon or X-Claw so if you need or prefer a shoe that allows the toes to splay, you may want to try the ROCLITE on to see if they will work for you. The 325 boot is certainly a great addition for me and will suit those people who want to spend big days on the trail say fast packing or hiking but don’t want the weight or lack of feel from a heavy walking boot. The 325 feels just like the 305 shoe and even has an 8mm drop, the only difference comes with support around the ankle. I will feedback on this article after full testing for the 305 and 325.
The ROCLITE 290 initial review
The 290 has 4mm drop and less cushioning than the 305 and therefore will suit a more efficient runner who runs with a mid to forefoot strike. It would also work hand-in-hand with the 305 as a shoe for faster or shorter session. I for example will quite happily run in the 290 for up to 90-minutes and if I know I will run longer I will use the 305. This is all down to personal taste and how much or how little you want to feel the ground.
I had expected the 290 to have all the same characteristics as the 305 but no, it has a conventional tongue – why? I don’t get this… I am completely biased with gusseted and sewn in tongues as it just makes sense. I have tested countless shoes and one thing is guaranteed, a gusseted tongue offers better feel, more comfort, a secure hold of the foot and in addition debris is kept out. So why would inov-8 add such a great feature to the 305 and the 325 boot and not to the 290? Having said all this, the 290 is comfortable and the padded tongue causes no issues but they are not as plush as the 305!
The upper, the lacing and the toe box carries over all the characteristics from the 8mm drop 305 and 325. The only difference coming with the ‘X-LOCK’ support at the rear of the shoe. In the 305 and 325 it’s a definite ‘X’ for the 290 it’s erm… well, it’s erm… a line! Apparently it’s ‘Y-LOCK. Because the 290 is 4mm drop and with less cushioning, the runner who uses this shoe will be more efficient and therefore the need for the ‘X’ is not required but the ‘Y’ still adds some support.
The outsole is the same as the 305 and 325 just different colours and is made of three different compounds all with a 6mm lug and yes the META-FLEX is present to allow an excellent propulsive phase and a META-SHANK rock plate is present.
The 290 has many of the characteristics of the 305 and 325 and quite simply is a shoe that is lighter, more flexible and less cushioned for faster/ shorter runs for an efficient runner. The outsole is the same, the upper is almost the same but incorporates the ‘Y’ Lock instead of the ‘X’ lock and all these elements make sense to me. If you look at the inov-8 shoe range, these characteristics are reflected across the board. However, I am at a loss as to why the 290 does not have the gusseted tongue sewn in? Don’t get me wrong, the 290 is still comfortable but give me the 305 any day… I am a little biased too as 8mm drop will always be my ‘go-to!’
The three ROCLITES are going to appeal to many, many people as a great all round shoe for trail running and I can see many owners having two pairs. For the runners it may well be a pair of 290’s for fast training and short racing and the 305 for long days out either racing or training. By contrast (I fit into this scenario) the 305 and 325 make a great double. The 305 for long runs or races and the 325 for days out walking, hiking and/ or fast-packing. All the shoes are neutral and be careful on sizing, you may well need a 1/2 size larger?
A full in-depth review will follow after each shoe has been tested for over at least 100-miles.
My recent trip to Nepal for the 2016 Everest Trail Race provided an opportunity for me to try out some new kit items. I do plan to write a full article on the kit I used and provide an overview for those who plan to either run a similar multi-day race or maybe go trekking.
One thing that is key for any multi-day journey, trekking or racing is weight and functionality. You really do have to be brutal with your choices. Luxuries, in general, are a no, no as they just add weight.
Nepal in November provides some real contrasts which can really test kit choices. Days are sunny, warm (at times hot) and shorts and a t-shirt work great. However, as soon as the sun disappears, the temperatures drop dramatically. Depending on what altitude you are at and how exposed you are, those temperatures will continue to drop and exposed locations will drop well below -10.
I am all for layering my clothing and to provide some perspective, here is my kit list for the duration of the Everest Trail Race.
You will see from the above, I was keeping things light and functional. 3.2kg of apparel for 7-days and that included my sleeping bag. In addition to the above apparel and sleeping bag I had an Aarn pack, Aarn front photo pockets, 2 x Canon 5D cameras and 3 lenses: 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200. The camera equipment weighs a great deal. More on that in my next post when I summarise all the above kit.
One piece of kit was a stand out though. The inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ top.
Merino wool for me is essential as a base layer when working in cold climates. I make sure I have long leggings, socks, gloves and top all made from Merino.
Warmth when wet
So, when I first looked at the inov-8 product I was really impressed as it offered some key features that I had not seen on other Merino products:
The downside being that as a base layer top, it was a little heavier than the competition. However, the competition didn’t have the ‘extras’ that made the inov-8 attractive. To cut a long story short, I decided to go with the additional weight and put the product through its paces in Nepal.
If I wanted to be truly lightweight and despite the odourless qualities of Merino, potentially a little smelly, I could have gone with just one base layer. I didn’t! I took two tops. I had a simple reasoning and logic for this. I would wear one during the day and the other at night.
Unlike other products that are available, the inov-8 is not a form fitting product. Thank goodness! I hate feeling squeezed into my clothing. The AT/C MERINO LSZ is loose and not baggy and provides a snug and reassuringly comfortable warmth. The real selling points of this product are:
Hood – The hood adds great warmth, fits snuggly and if you zip up the 1/2 zip to the top you are left with a really warm base layer that works exceptionally well in the early morning before the sun rises. At the end of the day after the sun disappears and at night when inside a sleeping bag and you want additional warmth and the options to stop drafts going down your neck.
Hand Mitts – The cuff of the sleeve has a thumb hole as seen on many base layer products and what this provides is almost a half glove with no fingers. However, inov-8 have added an extra layer of fabric and by folding this back and over the fingers, it provides a simple hand mitt. Again this worked exceptionally well for early morning or late evening chills or when sleeping to keep extremities warm.
At the end of the day, the inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ is a base layer, there isn’t a great deal to write. However, this product impressed so much I was keen to give the product a nod. The addition of Superfine 18.5 micron Australian Merino wool delivers fantastic next-to-skin feel and fit, the hood and 1/2 zip is a great feature and the hand mitts is the type of simple innovation that I love.
This product is a winner.
As we are entering into the cold, dark, inclement months, an inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ would make a great addition to any kit list.
The inov-8 Mudclaw 300 has long been a favorite shoe of mine when I need a shoe with grip and secure feel. It’s a ‘go-to’ shoe for a couple of hours on muddy trails. (Review Here). However, the precision fit (which I love) and less cushioning has often left me wanting a shoe with a little more cushioning, a more relaxed drop and maybe a little more room in the toes for my feet to splay. Step in (pun intended) the X-CLAW 275.
In the past 12-months, inov-8 as a brand has looked at its shoe range and started to streamline the shoes on offer. For some, that may well be a bad thing, for me, it’s a positive! I seem to remember a couple of years back that the brand had over 90 shoes on offer.
The company that pioneered the arrow system to define drop, has stuck with its heritage and now 1 arrow (4mm drop) and 2 arrow (8mm drop) are the norm. The purists may well complain but 4mm and 8mm drop are for sure the most popular.
For me, I switch between the two drops constantly, happily running shorter and faster sessions in the lower 4mm drop but when I go longer, I prefer the relaxed and more forgiving drop of 8mm. The X-CLAW 275 has been a long time coming, but now it has arrived, I have a big smile on my face:
In brief, the shoe is a winner.
The X-CLAW 275 has the usual distinctive inov-8 styling and colours, I keep saying it but the brand always (nearly always) make good looking shoes with great colours. The lacing is standard and secure, the heel box is plush, holds firm and is comfortable. The tongue is secured into the upper on the left and right sides (thank goodness) and holds the foot firm, secure and in comfort. The toe box has standard fit and therefore there is more room for toes to splay and move around a little. The toe box also has great protection with some good rubber on the front of the shoe to protect against rock impact. The shoe is cushioned for longer runs and has protection from underfoot obstacles but without loosing a feel for the ground. Lastly, the grip is as one would expect, claw like.
The X-CLAW has been put through its paces on a multitude of terrain and in all scenarios it has been a winner. Several recent outings in the Mourne Mountains in Ireland really did provide an all-in-one mixed terrain circuit allowing for: road, stone steps, loose rock, gravel, scree, bog, water crossings, fell, fire trail and all with a mix of wet and dry weather. The X-CLAW just performed never causing me to question of grip would be compromised at any time. I had wondered if the standard fit would leave me feeling less secure and precise on technical trail – no so! I was able to compensate by pulling my laces a little tighter and the addition of the gusseted tongue held my foot secure and firm giving me 100% confidence. On a 3.5hr run, we finished off with a 5km stretch of stony fire trail that zig-zagged 600m downhill. It was the type of terrain in the past where I would have been wishing for a shoe with a little more comfort and protection… not so with the X-CLAW.
The cushioning was superb allowing me to run with protection while still feeling the ground beneath. The outsole handled the mixed terrain so well and I am always amazed how shoes with so much grip can feel so good on the road. Obviously, the Dual-C compound used will have less life if too much road is run on, but that is not the point, the combination of elements that are packaged in the X-CLAW 275 make it a real winner. Finally, despite running through wet ground, mud and small water crossings my foot actually only got wet in the final couple of miles of my run when I placed my foot in a puddle that was ankle deep, prior to that the water repellant upper had done a great job keeping my feet dry.
As the UK heads into winter, the trails will become muddier, the rocks wetter and I am convinced that the X-CLAW 275 is going to be one of my ‘go-to’ shoes – It delivers outstanding grip, comfort and protection while still remaining lightweight, flexible with great energy return from the Powerflow midsole technology that really does keep you on your toes with better shock protection. The toe bumper and full rand are also great additions that make the shoe really feel as though it’s up for some hard and challenging terrain.
The shoe fit as ‘true,’ I regularly use a size 9.5 and my X-TALON is a 9.5. However, if you are used to a tighter toe box (precision) you may well feel that the standard fit of this shoe makes it feel a little larger? My advice would be to lace up the shoe correctly and tighten the laces so your foot feels secure. Remember, the toe box is designed to allow for some movement and splay.
In summary, the X-CLAW is an excellent shoe for those who need a little more comfort, a relaxed drop and a roomier toe box. The shoes perform exceptionally well on all terrain (even road) and if you are out for longer days on the hills, mountains or fells, the 8mm drop and cushioning will make your legs and feet happier.
Finally, for all you precision fit, less-cushioning and lower drop fans (4mm) don’t worry… the X-TALON is available in a 225 version. Review to follow.
What inov-8 say:
For all extreme terrain running, including off-trail conditions encountered on mountains and fells.
Phenomenal grip: New X-CLAW outsole features DUAL-C compound (a mix of medium and hard sticky rubbers) for improved durability and stability. Refined claw cleat stud configuration ensures quick release of mud and debris.
Increased comfort on long runs: Unique POWERFLOW midsole technology delivers 10% better shock absorption and 15% better energy return than standard midsoles. Wider to box allows toes to splay.
Enjoy more protection: Super-durable, yet lightweight, upper material, full rand, toe bumper and internal gusset offer protection on descents and from debris. Water repelled by durable water resistant coating.
Does it all: Equally adaptable to training or faster running. Cutaways on the outsole increase flexibility and reduce weight. Dynamic Fascia Band delivers kick of energy with every stride.