Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc UTMB® 2016 Preview

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I won’t be at UTMB this year, Trofeo Kima is happening the same weekend in Italy and I wouldn’t miss this high octane extreme event for anything, especially when it only happens every other 2 years.

But UTMB has a stellar line up this year. It’s going to be a cracking race.

Just in case you didn’t know, UTMB is a 170km circular journey that starts and finishes in Chamonix passing through France, Italy and Switzerland with 10,000+ meters of vertical gain on non-technical trails. In 2014 Francois D’Haene of France set the men’s course record 20:11:44 and the female course record is held by Rory Bosio (USA) who ran 22:37:26 in 2013. Rory in the process ranked in the top-10 overall that year!

Recently, UTMB has hit the headlines after a top 10 finisher in the 2015 race, Gonzalo Calisto, was tested and found positive for EPO. This came to light in June when the IAAF added Calisto’s suspension to its website. However, UTMB were not notified of this positive test? In recent weeks and months, many investigations have been made and you can read them all on this website HERE. Ultimately, this positive test has raised alarm bells and certain aspects of the testing and notification procedure need to change. I hope UTMB will have testing once again this year and they provide data and information to the media.

Racing for the main starts on Friday August 26th at 1800hrs local time and it looks like a great weekend of weather is in store for spectators, it may be a little hot for the runners. Please also remember that many other events happen in and around the UTMB, the PTL, TDS and CCC.

MEN

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Luis Alberto Hernando is in a good place! He is a new Dad, has raced less and when he has raced he has been in top form. A repeat win at Transvulcania and dominant performance at the Skyrunning World Championships for a gold medal and world title and suddenly you begin to see everything clicking into place. Luis dropped from the 2014 UTMB and then came back, one year later to place 2nd. Luis does always race from the front and hard, he tempered this in 2015 but it still may well be his achilles heel in 2016? I hope not, Luis would be a popular champion!

David Laney third at UTMB and 8th at Western States in 2015 are two very significant performances and bode well for a great 2016 UTMB. What doesn’t bode well is the most recent 20+ hour finish at Western States. It leaves a huge question mark on David’s current physical and mental ability to take on the big dance in Chamonix.

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Andy Symonds for me is the dark horse. It’s his first 100 miler and that is a huge disadvantage. But Andy knows how to race, prepares meticulously and I know he’s fired up for this race. In the past he has often played 2nd fiddle at the big races but a podium at Transgrancanaria, a victory at Lavaredo and 2nd (silver) behind Luis at the Skyrunning World Championships tells me that the time is right for the Brit who lives in France. Listen to the podcast here.

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Zach Miller is relatively easy to write about… we will see one of two performances: 1. An all guns blazing early race that potentially will open up a gap that he extends and holds on to take the biggest victory of his life! 2. As 1 but a major blow up that sees him lose the lead and drop substantial places or a resulting DNF. Think Max King at Leadville.

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Didrik Hermansen is a potential revelation in Chamonix and I do believe that he can win. I said that at Western States after I saw his run and victory at Transgrancanaria. He didn’t disappoint in the USA and he placed 2nd at WSER. UTMB is a different playground but this guy can run and hike – he is going to need all those skills in France, Italy and Switzerland. Listen to the podcast here.

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Jason Schlarb was fourth at UTMB in 2014, won Run Rabbit Run, completed Marathon des Sables. skied the Hardrock 100 course, won the Hardrock 100 with Kilian Jornet and here he is, in Chamonix, looking to do an epic double – you know what, I think he can do it! I’m not sure that he will have those extra percentages for victory, Hardrock may well have but pay to that. But I do see a potential top 5 and even the podium if the stars align. Listen to the podcast with him here.

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Gediminas Grinius 5th at UTMB in 2014 and what followed was quite a rise in the sport of ultra-running. Gediminas has an interesting back story of post-traumatic stress and it is running that helped. When you have been to hell, pain in an ultra is nothing. It’s worth remembering that this guy can dig deep. A win at Transgrancanaria, a win at UTMF and a string of top 2nd places certainly elevate GG for a top UTMB place. Listen to the podcast here.

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Tofol Castanyer won CCC and was 2nd at UTMB in 2014. He has a string of top performances and results but his recent form seems a question mark. On paper, he’s a podium contender but I said that last year and he didn’t finish. We will have to see?

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Ryan Sandes had a tough 2015 and has patiently come back in 2016 with a 3rd place in Tararwera and 4th place in Australia at the Ultra Trail. Ryan never likes to race a great deal preferring to train and prepare meticulously for key events. He has done that in the past, Western States for example only to not race at the 11th hour due to injury or illness. Apart from FKT records, Ryan’s career highlights are his win at Transgrancanaria and top results at UTMF and WSER. Ryan has been in Chamonix for some time training and I hope he will arrive at the line fresh. He has all the potential to shake up the podium. Listen to the podcast here.

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Fabien Antolinus is an under the radar runner who is known in France and not many other places. A top consistent performer at Templiers and the Ice Trail Tarentaise, Fabien backed this up last year with a 6th place finish at UTMB behind a doping Gonzalo Calisto, so, he finished 5th really. I see a potential repeat performance.

Miguel Heras TNFUTMB 2013 ©iancorless.com

Miguel Heras TNFUTMB 2013 ©iancorless.com

Miguel Heras could win, could finish in the top 10, may not start and if he does start, may not finish. Yes, Miguel is a class act when the stars align but neither he or us can predict when this will happen. A highlight for sure was his UTMB 2nd behind Xavier Thevenard in 2013.

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Javier Dominguez just had a great run at the Skyrunning World Championships with 3rd place behind Luis Alberto and Andy Symonds. He also placed 3rd at Lavaredo. Although he will be in the mix he is potentially a top 5-10 finisher.

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Julien Chorier has the long game, strength and persistence for a top UTMB performance. I’ve seen him time and time again grind out great results. His victory at Ronda dels Cims a few years back is still one of the most dominant performances of running I have seen. Julien has backed that up at Western States, Hardrock, Diagonale des Fous, UTMF and of course UTMB. His best UTMB was 3rd in 2008 and in 2013 he finished 6th.

Paul Giblin for me is a dark horse. Last year he missed UTMB and compensated with focusing on Western States in 2016, he placed 5th. That’s one of the UK’s best performances at the race. He’s a runner and the 10,000m of vertical may go against his natural abilities but don’t rule him out! Listen to the podcast here.

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You have to draw a line somewhere but we also need to consider, Diego Pazoz who has illuminated several races in 2016, most notably victory at the Eiger Ultra Trail and Mont-Blanc 80km.

He could be a huge surprise as could Stephan Hugenschmidt from Germany who has had many notable results.

Zdenek Kris finished 9th at Ultra Perineu in 2015 and recently placed 5th at the Skyrunning World Championships.

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Two Frenchmen, Arnaud Lejeune who was 2nd at UTMF in 2015 and Thomas Lorblanchet who has wins at Leadville and 4th at Western States will also mix things up.

Ryan Smith, Pau Bartolo, Jez Bragg, Aurelian Collet, Ludovic Pommeret, Armand Teixeira, Jordi Bes and Bertrand Collomb-Patton all have top 10 and certainly top 20 potential.

Needless to say there is a whole stack of other male talent that have experienced UTMB before somewhere in and around the top 50. Any of these runners who could make a breakthrough performance and venture into the high ranking top 20’s or even top 10. It’s what makes the race so interesting.

LADIES

Rory Bosio TNFUTMB ©iancorless.com

Rory Bosio TNFUTMB ©iancorless.com

Rory Bosio holds the course record at UTMB – nuff said! Any lady that finishes in the top-10 overall rocks. But where has Rory been since her repeat victory in 2014? Well, believe it or not, she was filming a reality TV show… really, Rory is an actress! In 2015 she won the Atacama Extreme but other than that she has been relatively low key when racing. UTMB performances are backed up by 2nd, 4th and 5th at Western States so Rory needs no other boosting. I do wonder though if she is in the ‘A’ game frame of mind of 2013 and 2014? We will find out…

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Caroline Chaverot for me is the lady that will win UTMB 2016. Caroline is a machine who smiles from beginning to end and her performances over the last 18-24 months have blown me away. She does race a great deal and I think that went against her at UTMB in 2015 when she DNF’d. This year though I have noticed a difference… she obliterated the Transgrancanaria course, she obliterated the MUT in Madeira and she became Skyrunning World Champion at the Buff Epic Trail – 2016 is Caroline’s UTMB year!

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Nuria Picas has twice finished 2nd and I would normally talk Nuria up as the winner. Last year she dropped early and since has had very mixed performances. I do believe she has the UTWT curse of running and winning too many races in a short period of time which has left her drained. I have seen this in 2016 at Transgrancanaria and most recently at the Buff Epic Trail. Of course, Nuria may well have been savvy and kept her powder dry for Chamonix – I hope so! *August 24th, Nuria will unfortunately not run the 2016 edition due to an injury.

Magdalena Boulet will be there or thereabouts but for me, this course will not allow enough running which is Magda’s strength. No doubt she will be in the mix, her 2nd at CCC proved that but 170k and 10,000m is a big difference to CCC or Western States. Listen to the podcast here.

Uxue Fraille will be out of the mix early on and keep going and produce a solid finish. Uxue’s success is all about pacing and finishing. She lets the other ladies race and fade and then she sweeps them up in the final 1/3rd. Last year she placed 2nd at UTMB and she won UTMF.

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Jasmin Paris is one lady who may well win UTMB one day. I’d love to say that 2016 will be the year but I don’t think it will happen. Jasmin runs a great deal and therefore rarely ‘peaks’ for any one race. This is sometimes a good thing but also a bad thing. Although Jasmin can run long, this will be her first big 100+ miler and the Chamonix experience may well overwhelm her. This year she blitzed the Bob Graham Round FKT to a new level and a week after getting married took bronze medal at the Skyrunning World Championships and then won Tromso SkyRace. Personally, I feel Jasmin’s forte and skill set will be best suited to the Skyrunner courses where her fell and mountain running background really shines. She will do well at UTMB but this year will be a learning curve. Don’t get me wrong though, top 5 and certainly top 3 is possible. Listen to the podcast here.

Andrea Huser like Jasmin is a non-stop racer and for me always lacks that extra 5-10% when required due to a constant element of fatigue. Her string of top 2nd and 3rd places for me confirm this. In this 2016 field, Andrea can better her 2014 7th and potentially will make the top 5 and may even challenge the podium but I don’t see a victory.

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Fernanda Maciel is a another runner who mixes many sports, races regularly and is always in and around the action. Like Andrea Huser, I see her in the mix but not taking the top slot. If we look at recent results, the consistency is there – 4th at UTMB in 2010, 3rd at MDS, 3rd at Lavaredo 2016 and a string of other podium places at UTWT races. * Fernanda will not run 23rd August. News from her doctors: “They said I was in an advanced stage of injuries to my kidneys caused by my last 2 long races due to dehydration I suffered during the races. Now my blood tests from last friday done here in Chamonix seem normal but not 100% recovered, and of course I am thinking of the UTMB on friday… I’m really sad because they only told me it today!”

Emilie Lecomte has the long game, strength and tenacity for a 170km race but she lacks the speed of many of the other ladies. A top 10 is an almost guaranteed and as other ladies fade, we can expect Emilie to move up.

Francesca Canepa and Emilie Lecomte in many ways are similar runners and Francesca has a strong history with UTMB and Tor des Geants. On her day, she can be up there and in the mix. Recently her form has been questionable.

Amy Sproston has won Hurt 100 and placed 2nd at Western States. For me, Amy is a runner but then again, Hurt has some gnarly terrain on those 20-mile loops, so, is this the year that Amy puts UTMB demons to rest? Her history is not good with the race – three starts and only one finish when she placed 8th.

Aliza Lapierre is potentially the USA’s top contender behind Rory Bosio. Her list of results in all varieties of races bodes well for a solid UTMB. But at really specific races, Transgrancanaria for example the mountainous terrain has caused her to struggle a little. Aliza like to run and although UTMB has plenty of that, it also has plenty of hands-on-knee action.

Larisa Dannis likes a running race and like many of the American ladies the increased vertical causes an issue. On paper though, she has the racing pedigree for a top performance. you don’t get 2nd at Western States by accident.

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Ester Alves is a good friend and races too much (sorry Ester). One day, Ester will pick a race and prepare meticulously for it and then excel. I saw this earlier this year when she won and dominated The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. I think what worked there was it was the first race of the season and she could therefore be specific over the winter. What has followed is a string of races in many varied locations with a list of good results but no stand out results! Ester placed 8th at the 2014 UTMB so the potential is there!

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Gemma Arenas I know well in the Skyrunning circles but this will be her first 100 and it’s a tough one with strong competition. It will be a learning curve.

Like in the men’s race, curve balls will swing in and we can expect to see these ladies’ mixing it up, Silke KoesterNicky Spinks, Sally McRae, Sarah Willis, Sophie Grant, Frederica Boifava, Joelle Vaught, Alissa St. Laurent and Manu Vilaseca amongst others.

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Montrail TRANS ALPS Shoe Review

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Montrail call themselves, ‘The original trail running brand!’ And to USA based runners they may very well be. But to Europeans, they are just a name and in all honesty, I very much doubt that they have seen a Montrail run shoe, let alone used one. Of course, in the last 18-24 months that has all started to change and that is directly attributable to the UTMB.

Yes, when The North Face jumped ship sponsoring the big loop around France, Italy and Switzerland the American brand jumped it. Of course nothing is straight forward and UTMB sponsorship comes in the name of Columbia, Mountain Hardwear and Montrail. All three brands are under the same umbrella and are interconnected.

Topher Gaylord is president of Columbia’s Mountain Hardwear brand and ironically he was the man who originally set up the TNF sponsorship deal – what goes around, comes around.

As one commentator said, “Montrail was once the biggest brand in the American trail running scene, but many other brands have created more buzz in the past few years. This should certainly help create more traction for Montrail, which was acquired by Columbia in 2006.”

So as you see, a picture starts to form and although the above information doesn’t tell you if the Montrail FluidFlex FKT shoe is any good, what it does do is provide some perspective.

Dakota Jones, Ellie Greenwood and Max King have worn Montrail shoes in the past and I often looked on wondering how these shoes performed? Unfortunately, being based in Europe, the possibility to get hold of shoes was either extremely difficult or zero. With UTMB sponsorship, Montrail (Columbia and Mountain Hardwear too) are looking for increased exposure on a world platform.

Last year I tested and reviewed a limited edition UTMB Montrail shoe HERE. I recently reviewed the FluidFlex FKT HERE and I recommend you read that review before getting to grips with TRANS ALPS.

Montrail Trans Alps

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After the curve ball of the FluidFlex FKT I had high hopes for the Trans Alps. Opening the box and taking a first peak in I saw similarities immediately, the cushioning of the two shoes looked very familiar. However, as I peaked at the outsole I immediately became aware that the FluidFlex FKT and Trans Alps are like chalk and cheese – no similarity at all. Picking up the right shoe made the differences marked. The Trans Alps is heavy… I called a couple of friends, they quickly popped over to my apartment, and together they helped me remove the left shoe from the box; my back is far too fragile to lift out both pairs!

I joke of course but at 412g each for a UK9.5 these shoes are the heaviest running shoes I have ever tested.

Overall looks are pleasing, a strong blue contrasted by yellow works. Like the FluidFlex FKT the Trans Alps is on the face of it a simple shoe. So where does all the weight come from?

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Let’s first of all take one step back and clarify what this shoe is for and look at some simple specs.

The Trans Alps is a shoe that is intended to appeal to all with key buzz words like: Protection, Durability and Support. I agree, it does all these things with a huge tick. I still haven’t decided if the shoe is ‘neutral?’ It feels neutral, just neutral with support in a bullet proof casing. The Trans Alps has a full length ‘TrailShield’ to protect pretty much 100% from anything the trail can throw at you. In addition, a rubberized rock guard and reinforced toe and heel cap boosts protection to the max and with 6mm lugs on the outsole I had to start to wonder if I was looking at an approach shoe or a scrambling shoe and not a running shoe.

Ultimately, Montrail don’t try to sell or big up the Trans Alps as anything other than what is, the shoe does exactly what it says on the tin – a mountain running shoe that offers rigidity, support, aggressive traction while providing a smooth ride.

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The FluidFoam midsole was something that I loved on the FluidFlex FKT, especially the flex grooves which allowed me to run with a responsive and propulsive forefoot strike. In the Trans Alps that is all gone – yes the shoe is cushioned, it has 18mm at the rear and 10mm at the front (8mm drop) but the outsole and full length TrailShield removes any connection with the terrain leaving a flat and lifeless run, albeit protected! But this shoe is designed to protect and yes it does that with bells on. What I am getting at here is that if you require a mountain shoe and ultimate protection, this shoe does the job. If you want a trail shoe for some occasional aggressive trail and daily runs, this shoe is over engineered and too lifeless for that.

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The fit of the shoe is excellent with a padded tongue that is gusseted and sewn into the upper. If you read my shoe reviews regularly you already know I am a huge fan of this. In the Trans Alps it works well but not as well as in the FluidFlex FKT. The main reason for this is that the Trans Alps feels a ‘roomier’ shoe? I went for my normal UK9.5 but I would maybe like to try a UK9 for comparison, keep this in mind when purchasing or testing. The toe box has plenty of room allowing for good toe splay and/ or swelling. The heel box is Snug and secure.

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Drop at 8mm is perfect and completely appropriate for a shoe of this build. The drop allows for long days out and when you get a little tired or your form falters, the 8mm will work well and not punish you. The Trans Alps works exceptionally well when walking – I’d go as far to say that if you are a walker looking for something lighter and more ‘shoe’ like for mountain days out that may involve some jogging, this would be a good choice as an alternative to boots.

©iancorless.com_Montrail-06547The upper is simple, breathable and seamless. A real plus as this should almost certainly reduce the risk of getting blisters or rubbing from any seams. Reinforcement comes on the side of the uppers from thermoplastic strips which leads to the lace holes. Pull the laces tight and this along with the gusseted tongue holds the foot secure. The mesh is breathable and durable.

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The outsole has 6mm aggressive lugs which run the length of the shoe providing grip on a multitude of surfaces. Although aggressive, the grip is not great on mud or sloppy trail. It’s ok, at best adequate, but the Trans Alps is certainly not a shoe I would choose for regular running on this type of terrain. The Trans Alps excels in the mountains where rocks, scree, boulders and all sorts of obstacles and irregular objects can get in the way. But the shoe and sole is so inflexible it does contradict itself at times. It all comes down to compromise. At times I loved the rigidity as it offered confidence, at other times I wanted the shoe to flex more to allow me and my feet to reach more challenging places.

In conclusion, the Trans Alp is not a bad shoe if you use it for its intended use – tough mountain days either running, running and jogging, jogging/ walking or even just walking. Personally I feel it fits the latter options better. I spend many a long day in the mountains with a camera bag covering ground at a slower pace and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the Trans Alp for this use. As a run shoe, it lacks feel, responsiveness and excitement for me. It’s a shoe that you can turn to any day and it will do its job. A little like practical workwear, it will do the job but you are not excited to wear it. Having said all this, the Trans Alp will suit male and female runners who require a sturdy/ bullet proof shoe. It may well be that you are taller and heavier and a flimsy shoe just is ‘too’ flimsy for you and this where the Trans Alp has a place. Also, although not a shoe for a ‘racer,’ if you participating in a multi-day event on a mix of terrain, I am pretty sure the Trans Alp would be as solid on day 6, 7 or 8 as it was on day 1.

Finally, this shoe has lots of pluses – plush and secure fit, 8mm drop, cushioning, rigidity, stability, durability and if this criteria is high on your list, check it out. The Trans Alp is definitely not, responsive, light, fast with a connection for the ground or surfaces that you will run on.

Montrail website HERE

    

Montrail FluidFlex FKT Shoe Review

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Montrail call themselves, ‘The original trail running brand!’ And to USA based runners they may very well be. But to Europeans, they are just a name and in all honesty, I very much doubt that they have seen a Montrail run shoe, let alone used one. Of course, in the last 18-24 months that has all started to change and that is directly attributable to the UTMB.

Yes, when The North Face jumped ship sponsoring the big loop around France, Italy and Switzerland the American brand jumped it. Of course nothing is straight forward and UTMB sponsorship comes in the name of Columbia, Mountain Hardwear and Montrail. All three brands are under the same umbrella and are interconnected.

Topher Gaylord is president of Columbia’s Mountain Hardwear brand and ironically he was the man who originally set up the TNF sponsorship deal – what goes around, comes around.

As one commentator said, “Montrail was once the biggest brand in the American trail running scene, but many other brands have created more buzz in the past few years. This should certainly help create more traction for Montrail, which was acquired by Columbia in 2006.”

So as you see, a picture starts to form and although the above information doesn’t tell you if the Montrail FluidFlex FKT shoe is any good, what it does do is provide some perspective.

Dakota Jones, Ellie Greenwood and Max King have worn Montrail shoes in the past and I often looked on wondering how these shoes performed? Unfortunately, being based in Europe, the possibility to get hold of shoes was either extremely difficult or zero. With UTMB sponsorship, Montrail (Columbia and Mountain Hardwear too) are looking for increased exposure on a world platform.

Last year I tested and reviewed a limited edition UTMB Montrail shoe HERE and now I have the FluidFlex FKT and Trans Alps FKT (review to follow) shoes to review.

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FluidFlex FKT

Out of the box, the shoes feel light especially when on first impressions they look heavy. Styling is somewhat retro and I have to say, this has always been the case with Montrail shoes. Current styling has definitely improved over older models but in today’s plethora of shoes, Montrail still look a little dated. Of course, looks don’t play a significant role in the performance of a shoe but it does play a huge roll if you are standing in a store, looking at racks of shoes and you are trying to narrow down which ones’ appeal.

My version of the FluidFlex FKT is grey with yellow and arguably, it’s one of the more attractive shoes in the range. I do believe Rocket Red and Super Blue versions are available too. Ladies shoes are Bounty Blue and Chameleon Green.

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What’s noticeable immediately is that the shoe is ‘no fuss’ shoe. The toe box is clear of additional layers and moldings and has an adequate bumper for toe protection. The heel box has little to no reinforcing – just a patch on the very rear.

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On the sides of the FluidFlex FKT, 6 -strips of pliable reinforcement have been applied that lead to the lace holes. These strips provide some structure and support to the upper when the shoes are laced up. The is a blast of fresh air, the FluidFlex FKT feels reassuringly thought out but not over engineered.

Opening the shoe up, I am happy to see that the tongue is padded but more importantly it is gusseted and stitched into the sides of the shoe. This for me is a real winner – it stops the tongue moving around excessively when running, provides a more secure hold of the foot and it also reduces what debris can enter the shoe.

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The insole of the shoe is a surprise and most certainly has been thought about. It is cupped at the heel to provide a little more hold and support and the ‘arch’ area is pronounced, again providing some additional support.

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I am a neutral runner and found no issue with this ‘slight’ support, however, depending on your run style and preferences, you may wish an insole with more simplicity?

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Cushioning is good with 15mm at the rear and 11mm at the front – drop is 4mm. The shoes name, FKT (Fastest Known Time) starts to make sense here as this shoe is designed to be fast, light, cushioned for a runner who bio-mechanically sound. I switch from 4mm, 6mm and 8mm drop shoes all the time and when running long, I will always prefer a shoe with 8mm drop as I firmly believe that the longer we run, the more our form fails and falters and that is when an 8mm drop shoe can be more forgiving. However, the FluidFlex FKT did ‘feel’ more forgiving and I do believe that this was directly attributable to the cushioning. They are simple shoes – No midsole gizmos, no gels, airbags or plastic parts. Just pure, responsive foam from heel to toe.

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The outsole reminds me a great deal of Hoka One Ones’ original Bondi B shoe – a shoe that I used a great deal.  Grip is at the front and rear but not in the middle. Grip is also split into two colours, grey and orange. the grey sections being more durable and hard wearing, the orange sections softer and provides additional grip.

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The ‘Flex’ of the sole is incredible. You can clearly see 5 ridges across the outsole and this is where the FluidFlex name comes from. These ridges bend and flex with ease give the shoe an incredible feel, bounce and propulsion when running – it’s a real winner. Like many US ‘trail’ shoes, it’s clear to see that the FluidFlex FKT is for dry, dusty, rocky and hard trails. Don’t take them to mud – it will not be a great experience! I don’t own road shoes anymore and what I have found is that the FluidFlex FKT has become my ‘go to’ shoe if I want to pop out for 20, 30 or 40min road loop. Yes, they handle the road really well.

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Slipping the shoe on, the shoe immediately has a slipper like feel, directly attributable to the gusseted tongue and secure feel. The toe box is roomy and allows for a free and natural splay of ones’ toes and the heel box is snug and secure. The padded tongue allows laces to be pulled tight without causing any discomfort on the instep of the foot. I often find that when using a wider toe box, I like to compensate by lacing my shoe tighter – it’s a personal thing.

In use, the shoe was out-of-the-box comfortable and the combination of a cushioned sole, the ‘flex’ ridges and the gusseted tongue, it felt like I was on my 10th run not a first run. As time passed this improved but only marginally as they were so comfortable from the off.

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The shoe is cushioned and therefore if you really like a ‘feel’ for the ground, this is compromised with the FluidFlex FKT. But that is not a criticism, it’s just a warning shot to let you understand how this shoe runs. It is without doubt a shoe for dry, hard pack trail, rocks and road. Avoid mud, the grip just isn’t up to it. With a 4mm drop and the placing of the grip on the outsole, you need to bio-mechanically good. It’s a shoe that most definitely is designed for mid to forefoot striking. Having said that, the shoe is very comfortable to walk in. Should you heel strike, the grey section of outsole on the rear of the shoe would offer some protection and grip but let’s be clear, if you are heel striking, you shouldn’t be in 4mm drop shoes!

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As mentioned, the middle of the outsole has no grip or protection and it’s in this area that you may well see some early wear and tear. This could come from abrasion when running over irregular and rocky terrain or from small stones sticking into the soft cushioning. Road use will obviously wear any shoe down quicker but if running on the forefoot, the grip of the outsole should last well. Remember though, this is a trail shoe that works well on road, not an out-and-out road shoe. On wet rocks and road, providing you land on the ‘grip’ section of the outsole the shoe is reassuring, the compromise comes in the middle of the outsole where no grip exists. On odd occasions, particularly on large and/ or irregular rocks I found the shoe to slip a little. The shoe is true to size but remember it has a wider toe box so I always recommend trying a pair 1/2 size up and down to make sure you have the ‘feel’ that you like.

In conclusion, the FluidFlex FKT has thrown me a curve ball. I wasn’t expecting to like this shoe ‘that’ much and I have to say, I have been pleasantly surprised at how good this shoe is and how pleasurable it is to wear. It’s a shoe that has specific use and if you keep away from mud and sloppy stuff, you will enjoy running in it. It’s a 4mm drop shoe so it will appeal to those runners who like to get closer to the ground but not at the compromise of cushioning. The fit is slipper like and the ‘flex’ in the outsole is superb for ‘toe off’ propulsion. Feel with the ground is compromised with the cushioning but this is a personal thing. The shoe works well on the road (surprisingly well) its low weight is ideal for faster/ shorter runs but if you have good form (and can hold it) there is no reason why you couldn’t run 50k, 80k, 100k or 100-miles in these shoes.

Montrail website HERE

Recommended!

What Montrail say:

A lightweight, yet supportive trail running shoe with enhanced flexibility for a smooth and nimble ride

Gryptonite heel and forefoot rubber traction zones incorporate 3-point lug shapes for multi

Directional traction

FluidFoam midsole with increased flexibility through deep flex grooves

Patented FluidGuide technology for enhanced midfoot stability on uneven surfaces and a smooth ride on the trail

Seamless upper construction with a thermoplastic midfoot cage welded against a breathable body mesh for protection and support

WEIGHT: 9.2 oz./264 g

RIDE HEIGHTS: 15mm heel/11mm forefoot

DROP: 4mm

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® #UTMB 2015 In-Depth RACE PREVIEW

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It’s the end of August and that can only mean one thing, UTMB. 

UTMB has become one of if not THE mountain races to do. In many respects it is almost a victim of its own success. More and more runners want to participate in the big circular dance around the Mont-Blanc but the trails can only take so many people.

I could enter into a debate about the points system but I won’t. I actually think it’s a solution to an ever increasing problem that UTMB organisation face and as such we all know the score, we know what we need to run the race and ultimately we have a choice.

Should points come from qualifying races? Yes, why not!

Should races pay a fee to supply those points? Yes, why not!

I know my last comment will create some debate but to be honest, the fee to ITRA is relatively small and the cost per head is minimal and the races that offer points gain entries. However, I do think another option exists for points.

Why not let all races provide points? Say 0.5 points for an easy trail race of say 50km and then points increase by 0.5 up to a maximum 4-points for a big mountain ultra. If you then want the points, you the runner pay for each 0.5 point you receive. That way, the person who wants/ needs the points pays and the race and other runners don’t pay. Seems logical to me and in actual fact, I think it would generate even more money for ITRA and the UTMB. I welcome your thoughts on that and boy oh boy what a way for me to start a preview on the 2015 race.

UTMB is part of the Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) and as such offers points to a larger circuit. Francois D’Haene and Nuria Picas were 2014 champions.

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Well, I was supposed to be in Chamonix for this race but at the 11th hour I have decided not to attend. It was a tough decision and one that I didn’t take lightly. Particularly now that I am seeing all the social media posts of all the runners and spectators arriving in the endurance capital of the world.

The reality is I have been on the road since January with little or no break and next week I travel to the USA for over a week which is then followed by a succession of weekends travelling and providing photography and writing for a succession of races. I personally had great potential to break )ver training one may say), so, home I am staying and for once a relaxing weekend.

The main event starts at 1800 Friday 28th August. I always feel a little ashamed when I say the main event as a whole series of tough and challenging races take place during UTMB week. For example, the ridiculous PTL, the tough TDS, the challenging CCC and the OCC but I only have so much time and the UTMB draws the crowd and the most stacked field. For the first year, UTMB will not be a TNF event and the new sponsor Columbia, Mountain Hardwear and Montrail has a tough act to follow, I wonder if we will notice any difference?

One thing is for sure, the men’s and ladies’ races are stacked. Darn it, I used that word again! Let’s try again – A plethora of talent has arrived in Chamonix to do battle on this super tough and iconic 100+ mile course that circles Mont-Blanc.

MEN

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Tofol Castanyer made the podium last year and with no Francois D’Haene he for me has the nod for victory. He has been quiet lately no doubt keeping the powder dry and although not very experienced over 100-miles he is a super savvy and experienced mountain runner with the solid Salomon team who can offer support and backup.

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Luis Alberto Hernando should win UTMB but he won’t. Nothing would please me more to see Luis top the podium in Chamonix but the reality is, he is not a 100-mile runner (not yet anyway). Put him on a course from 50km-80km and he is unstoppable. Put him on a 100km course and he may or may not win but will podium. Put him on 100m route and he will go great for the first 80km and then fade. This is not helped by entering UTMB tired. He won Transvulcania, placed 2nd at the IAU World Trail Champs, won Ice Trail Tarentaise and then placed 2nd at Tromso Skyrace looking distinctly whacked at the end. That was only a few weeks ago and I just don’t see the recovery and training working in Luis’s favour. I hope I am wrong!

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Miguel Heras, well who knows? If he is fit and on fire he could win and almost certainly podium. However, he is extremely injury prone and his performances could come with a flick of a coin. In 2015, Miguel has been much more low key, he has raced but without any pomp and circumstance and that was intentionally so. Placing 2nd behind Thevenard in 2013, Miguel WANTS to win the UTMB and this may well just be the year!

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The Salomon trio is rounded out with Ryan Sandes. This is a really interesting inclusion into the UTMB mix. Ryan can climb, can run fast and is endurant (Drakensberg Traverse) and therefore may well have the essential credentials to podium at the least and may well just win. Certainly, Salomon could repeat the trio of results that we have seen in pervious years. Ryan has had a mixed 6-months with injury, a last minute withdrawal from Western States and I therefore think he is going to be super focussed on this race. One to watch!

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Sage Canaday enters the 100-mile distance for the first time and as great a runner as he is, I don’t see him making the podium. Controversial I know. He has the speed for sure. He has the climbing and descending but I have no reason to think he has the race plan or strategy for what will be at best a 20-hour race. Like Luis Alberto I would expect strength and dominance over the first 100km and then a fade. But he has been in Chamonix preparing and he is a student of the sport. He may very well have hidden himself away, changed everything about his training and come up with the perfect 100-mile training plan? A 5k track session (in 16min) just 3-days before the race suggest otherwise though.

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Xavier Thevenard won the race (surprisingly) in 2013 and then seemed to implode with the pressure. Last year he took the attention of himself and ran the TDS and won it. In doing so, he became the only runner to have won the CCC, TDS and UTMB; impressive! So the facts speak for themselves, super talented and obviously can perform with the best if the pressure is off. Will the pressure be on for 2015 is the question? I think it will but less than in previous years and that may just allow him to run his own race and find his 2013 legs and head. Good luck.

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Julien Chorier impressed the hell out of me a couple of years ago at Ronda dels Cims with a consummate performance. He loves the mountains and he can run fast too. He was 2nd to Ryan Sandes at Transgrancanaria in 2014 and 2nd to Kilian at Hardrock 100. A recent 6th at Western States shows us that all is in place for a great run and that’s why I give him a nudge over Gediminas.

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Gediminas Grinius has been a revelation. His rise in the sport over the last 18-months has been remarkable and you know what, he could win UTMB. He ran a great UTMB last year (5th), won Transgrancanaria and placed 4th at Western States. Expect him to be out of the mix early on and then he will close out super hard and fast.

Stephan Hugenschmidt is my dark horse and potential big surprise of the 2015 UTMB. He had a breakthrough 5th at Transvulcania, won Zugspitz and had a great result at Transalpine.

We are now in the territory of surprise packages and believe me, some of the fellas mentioned below will figure highly in the run for the podium and top-10.

Seth Swanson has been 2nd at Western States 2-years on the run and I still know very little about him. My head says he will need a UTMB run to find his legs before he can comeback and mix it up at the very front. However, nobody expected him to place 2nd at WSER and then go back and do it again!

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Sebastien Chaigneau is the old guard of the race, the wily old fox that everyone loves. Seb has had a tough couple of years and as time has passed, the competition has got faster. I’d love him to find some of that old form, that 100-mile sparkle and dish out to the newbies.

Jeff Browning may well be the best prospect from an American perspective as he is a true mountain man. But he may well lack some of the essential European speed.

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Franco Colle won Tor des Geants and then earlier this year placed 2nd at Mont-Blanc 80km. In addition, he has been at the IAU World Trail Championships, ran (and won) a Skyrunning exhibition event in Cervinia and recently ran Tromso Skyrace. Potential dark horse for UTMB!

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Sondre Amdahl like Gediminas has been a revelation. He is committed, sometimes too committed but I love his passion. He prepared meticulously for Transgrancanaria and placed 4th, went out to the USA to prepare for WSER and placed 15th and has spent recent months preparing in Chamonix for UTMB. Top-10 potential and maybe around 5th if he has a great day.

 

Best of the rest

 

Francois Faivre – 7th at UTMB last year.

Carlos Sa – He could win it but more than likely a top-10.

Pascal Giguet – Top-10 at Mont-Blanc 80km.

Ryan Smith – a Brit who may well be a real dark horse.

Robbie Britton – local lad, 3rd at the 24-hour and 7th at Tarawera. Placed just outside top-50 at UTMB last year but has been in Chamonix for months which will either mean he is in fine form or broken. I think the former. Good luck Robbie.

Yeray Duran – Always strong at Transgrancanaria.

Paul Giblin – another Brit with all the potential to spring a surprise.

Kim Collison – Another multi talented Brit who has speed and endurance.

Joe Grant – We all know Joe and what he can do.

Danny Kendall – The UK’s top MDS performer, not new to UTMB and this may well be his best year.

Jesse Haynes – Great at WSER but in Europe, who knows?

John Tidd – Won’t win but absolutely solid performer.

Stone Tsang – Every chance for a stunning or latter ‘teens’ performance.

Yoshikazu Hara – same as Stone?

 

I could go on….

 

LADIES 

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Neck on the line, this race is for Nuria Picas and I personally think she is going to have the race of her life and win it with a consummate performance. This is no way a reflection on the competition, just an observation of Nuria and an understanding of how this lady ticks. For the past 2-years, Nuria has raced a ridiculous schedule and still placed 2nd twice behind Rory Bosio. This year, Nuria has been quiet. Very quiet. A win at Transgrancanaria and then what? I will tell you, training and preparation. She will be on fire!

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Caroline Chaverot though has also been on fire! In the last 18-months Caroline has exploded with a series of remarkable performances that would suggest a solid UTMB is on the cards. Her victories at Lavaredo and the Eiger confirm that she can perform on the big days out.

Nathalie Mauclair beat Caroline at the IAU Word Trail Championships but that really draws no comparison to UTMB. However, Caroline beat Nathalie at Lavaredo. Take your pick! On paper, I would say Nathalie will be better over the longer distance and time that UTMB will offer and her victories at Diagonale des Fous will put her in a great place both physically and mentally for that.

The upset may well come from Stephanie Howe and I am sure that TNF and the USA would like nothing more than Steph picking up where Rory Bosio left off. Stephanie’s 3rd at WSER left her feeling tired but by all accounts, she has prepared well for the circle of the big white mountain. She has the speed, I just wonder if she has the legs for the climbs and descents and a 24+ hour run in her?

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Francesca Canepa may make the podium? I have always been impressed how Francesca can race UTMB and then just a week later race Tor des Geants. One thing is for sure, I don’t think we will see Francesca at Tor this year after last years’ controversy. 2014 was a great year for the Italian (until Tor) and then it all seemed to go to bits. Understandable really. So coming into UTMB we have little to go on, other than 3rd at the Eiger but she was 30min of the winning time. UTMB may well be a redemption year!

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Uxue Fraille has always impressed with her patience and calculated running. She is a diesel. Expect her off the pace early on and close well. She placed 5th last year and a repeat performance is a distinct possibility.

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Fernanda Maciel is solid on the UTWT circuit and although I don’t see her taking the top slot on the podium, top-5 is a distinct possibility and if she has a great day, the podium may well be hers. Fernanda spent a great deal of time at altitude over Christmas (too long) and this tired her. Let’s hope she is recovered and ready to race hard in Chamonix.

Darcy Piceu is an interesting addition and after that ding-dong with Frosty at Hardrock I am really eager to see what she can do here in France. She placed 3rd in 2011 in just under 29-hours, she will need to run much faster than that this year! One thing is for sure, the distance and time on feet will be no issue, the question mark will be recovery post Hardrock?

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Ester Alves from Portugal has already raced a great deal in 2015 with a string of top placing’s and I have no reason to think that a strong performance is a distinct possibility here. But by strong I mean top-10. A recent tumble at Ice Trail Tarentaise won’t have helped her preparation but she is strong and committed.

Lisa Borzani races and races and races. At TDS in 2015 she placed 2nd. I see her a consistent performance for a top-10 but not victory or the podium.

Nicole Struder ran 14:22 at Rocky Raccoon 100-mile. That’s fast! But she will need to add 10-hours of running to that Rocky time at a minimum for UTMB and through in some serious mountains. So although I see her potentially having a good race, I don’t think that those USA trail legs will handle the European mountains.

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My dark horse for the ladies is Veronica Bravo. She is a super strong adventure racer, has the mind for the long game and 100% commitment. She may not win but I expect she may turn a few heads and UTMB race day looks like it will be a hot one; she loves the heat! Earlier this year she won The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica.

Amy Sproston is a tough one to call. She won Hurt 100 but UTMB is a faster race with tougher competition.

Sally McRae may well offer the best prospects of a top USA performance outside those of Howe. Sally has been top-10 at WSER twice and although UTMB is a big step up from Western, she may well have the race to mix it up.

Gill Fowler from Australia may well rock the apple cart. She was 4th at Lavaredo, yes somewhat off the front pace but a top-10 at UTMB is on the cards.

 

Ones to watch

 

Shona Stephenson – Top-10 at UTMB before.

Sarah Morwood – 11th at UTMB previously.

Manu Vilaseca

Caroline McKay

Denise Bourassa

 

And so many more….

RACE WEBSITE HERE

Schedule HERE

Ultratrail TV HERE

Follow LIVE HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Montrail Bajada II #UTMB Limited Edition

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Montrail have been making run shoes for some time, 1997 actually. In all those years I have never tried or used a Montrail shoe. Criminal I know. It’s not because I didn’t want to, it’s just a case of never having the chance. They have always appeared to be (wrongly?) a US shoe.

I have many US based friends who have used Montrail and loved them but getting hold of a pair in the UK was never easy. So I guess I need to thank Columbia Sportswear (Montrail’s parent company) for stepping in where The North Face pulled out and becoming headline sponsor for the UTMB in France.

To signify this new collaboration, Montrail have released a limited edition of the Bajada II Trail Shoe  – The UTMB.

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Now information seems a little mixed at the moment how it will be possible to get these shoes. My contact at Mountain Hardwear (also part of Columbia Sportswear) has informed me that they are a ‘limited edition’ if so, I may keep my pair for years so that in the future they are worth millions…

Joking aside the Bajada II is an appealing trail shoe for longer distance races or training.

Drop is 10mm, so the more more ‘natural’ runners out there who prefer a low drop shoe will soon be clicking off this post. However, before you do, read on a little!

I love 4mm and 6mm drop shoes (not lower though) and I love the feel that these shoes provide. However, when I run longer and my technique gets sloppy, 8mm is my sweet spot. It allows a little more flexibility and certainly I can understand why Montrail have picked the Bajada II as the UTMB shoe.

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20mm rear cushioning, 10mm front cushioning, 10mm drop, good grip and a rock plate make this a great all rounder for the ‘neutral’ runner when running a long on the trail. The Bajada II will excel when time on feet is without question going to be 20+ hours and anything up to 40 ish hours or longer.

My standard shoe size is UK 9.5 and the Bajada II is true to size. Weight for the UK 9.5 is 12.5oz/ 353g to draw comparison, the TNF Cardiac (in the same size is) 10.6oz/ 300g and the Scott T2 Kinabalu is 11.6oz/ 328g.  So the Bajada II is not the lightest shoe on the market!

It’s a comfortable shoe to wear. The heel box is plush, padded and holds the heel well.

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The toe box has plenty of room but not too much room and protection at the front is good with a hard wearing reinforced stitched on section to protect from rocks.

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Lacing is threaded through nylon hoops stitched onto the upper and the laces are relatively standard but hold tight when tied. The tongue is stitched into the upper with elasticated panels on either side to allow some flexibility but most importantly to hold the tongue in place with little or no movement. The tongue is also well padded and when laced up provides a nice secure foothold.

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Reinforced panels on the side of the shoe provide structure and foothold. It works! Your foot feels nice and secure.

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The sole uses ‘FluidFoam.’ It may sound like a fancy name but I love Montrail’s description: ‘No midsole gizmos. No gels, airbags or plastic parts. Just pure, responsive foam from heel to toe.’ Praise be. Finally a straightforward description of cushioning in a shoe.

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The outsole of the shoe is interesting and very different to what other brands are using at the moment. Made up of a series  little squares, the ‘Gryptonite’ is used in different ways to enhance grip. Closed and condensed around the heel, rows of 2 all around the outer edge and the front and then groups of 5 spaced out in the mid section. It’s definitely a grip for trail running and not muddy or fell type racing. On hard trail and rocks the shoe runs and feels really great. It’s a soft outer sole but not too soft. One would almost be mistaken in thinking this was a Vibram sole. I’m impressed. Also the sole is flat (no cut aways) and that is very reassuring. Montrail say: ‘Sticky carbon rubber with multi-directional lugs delivers aggressive traction across a variety of surface conditions.’

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The blue section clearly visible in the outsole is ‘Trail Shield’ and this is Montrail’s rock plate. It works! I had little or no discomfort running on irregular surfaces and that is a real plus, especially when running long. Say at UTMB! This doesn’t compromise the shoes flexibility too. I found running mid to forefoot still had good feel and flex that allowed me to run in my natural way. Montrail say: ‘Trail Shield is a lightweight, flexible material that is co-molded between outsole and midsole for underfoot protection.’

The upper is open mesh over the toes that allows some breathability but at the sides of the shoe it is much denser and reinforced. They feel a little over engineered to me and that is almost certainly why the shoe is on the heavier side. BUT and this is a big but, the shoes will almost certainly withstand a battering on rough terrain and if you are a bigger or heavier runner, they will hold your foot firm and add some welcome security.

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Conclusion

I need more time in the Bajada II to test longevity, wear and tear and how long the sole lasts but on first impressions, it’s a great shoe that is pleasing to use and wear. It is without doubt a robust shoe and that is reflected in the weight. A 10mm drop and with plenty of cushioning (20/10), it will certainly suit runners who are going to spend a great deal of time on their feet (even though they are heavier) and the overall plush feel is welcome after many hours.

I need to be clear that the Bajada II already existed before this ‘limited edition’ UTMB version came out. As I understand it, this shoe will also be the same price as the normal Bajada II. Yes folks, you are not paying a premium for the UTMB badge! RRP £80

Finally, like it or not, the UTMB logo on the tongue…©iancorless.com_Montrail-8832 and on the insole…

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…will not make the shoe any better, lighter, faster or will allow you to fly with ease over the mountainous 100 miles that the Chamonix course will throw at you. But it is a nice touch and what I honestly feel is a good trail shoe at a very good price. Many comparable shoes are well over the £100 mark.

The Bajada UTMB will only be available in the UK from Accelerate and will be the only introduction from the Montrail range to UK shores in 2015. I also believe that the Bajada II will be available at the UTMB expo.

UROC – Ultra Race of Champions

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Registration opens today. Will you be toeing the line (for the Ultra Race of Champions) on September 28th in Breckenridge?

 www.ultraroc.com

The season closing race for the Ultra Skyrunning Championships. Of course it’s some 9 months away. But as the race fills up and you are made aware of ‘who’ is taking part in this race, you don’t want to look back and think… I wish I had entered in January!

Skyrunning Logo

Vail, Colorado, January 15th, 2013 – Registration for the Ultra Race of Champions, the Championship for the sport of ultra distance running is set to open on January 15th 2013 at 12 noon mountain standard time (MST), or 2pm eastern standard time (EST) at http://www.ultraroc.com. The date for the 2013 Ultra Race of Champions will be September 28th.

“We are very excited,”

says J. Russell Gill III, Ultra Race of Champions Event Director and Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports CEO.

“A lot of work goes into making this event possible, and it will be thrilling to see it all come together on race day. With UROC as the Skyrunner® World Series Ultra Final, I cannot wait to see how to field shapes up this year. We have already been getting inquiries from several top runners, whose names are right now top secret. After we open registration and as we confirm some of the elite athletes, we will be posting them regularly on the race website and on Facebook.”

“UROC is open to everyone,”

says Francesca Conte, Ultra Race of Champions President,

“and I am very excited to see what kind of response we get from the international audience, particularly from Europe. The International Skyrunning® Federation has been promoting the event as the Series final for months, and a lot of our Facebook Likes have been from Europe”.

Several factors contribute to the appeal of the race. As the ultra running championship, the race attracts most of the elite runners from the USA. As the Skyrunner® World Series Ultra Final, the race will now attract an even larger international field, and many of the best European athletes. The spectacular backdrop of the Colorado Rockies and the point to point course from Breckenridge to Frisco, to Copper Mountain, to Minturn and to finish in Vail Village is a big draw for runners of all backgrounds passionate about running in the mountains. Lastly, the Vail name is nationally and internationally recognized as a summer destination location.  The point to point course is contingent upon US Forest Service permit approval.

Runners will be able to register beginning on January 15th, 2013 at www.ultraroc.com

So what you waiting for….