inov-8 athlete retreat and apparel testing

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The taxi drive from my hotel in Chamonix to Les Praz was short and expensive. Not sure if it was because I am English or because I was travelling closer to Switzerland, anyway, the price was worth every penny. My arrival at three impressive chalets was awe-inspiring. Nestled in a secluded cul-de-sac, our vista was the Mont Blanc Mountain range. Despite the fading light and the arrival of darkness I had immediately decided this was a place I could live.

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My welcome was a little like a new kid arriving at school a week after school starts. Everyone had settled in and felt really comfortable. However, I had no awkwardness. The inov-8 team made introductions and within minutes we were all best mates. In reality, I knew many of the people either from interviews for Talk Ultra or from previous races. Alex Nichols from the US I had met in Zegama along with Anna Lupton (and Keith), Florian Reichert, Sarah Ridgeway and Natalie White (and Dave). Aussies Shona Stephenson and Brendan Davies (and Nadine) I had spoken to and interviewed multiple times, to meet them both face-to-face was a real pleasure. Dave MacFarlane was working on video, Lee Procter and I had FB’d, emailed and tweeted for months so it was great to put a face to the name. Matt Brown (and Rosamond), arguably the brains behind much of the new apparel, packs and accessories that we would be testing in the coming days fulfilled my ‘geek’ side. Robbie Simpson and Ben Abdelnoor, both names I was extremely familiar with but runners I had not met before. Scott Dunlap from the US, Megan Hess from IMG and journalist Andy Blow would all leave us early on either Monday or Tuesday and Florian Schopf concluded the introductions. Florian was from inov-8 Germany and as I would find out, was somewhat an expert on ‘Pose’ running. The party was complete.

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I love the dawn of a new day and no more so than when I can see a blue sky, white fluffy clouds and possibly one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world. I was up early, I needed to get at least three hours work under my belt before heading out on the trails with the ‘crew’.

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The ‘crew’ is my affectionate term for the athletes, staff, videographer and myself as photographer. Our days had a relatively simple format; we hike up to altitude, find beautiful vistas, create some great imagery of the athletes running in new apparel and then finish off with some training… And of course some fun!

The snow has really lingered in the Mont Blanc Mountain range. As the locals say, spring has arrived late! This does provide some benefits. Clear mountain trails are currently interspersed with snow and some sections offer great potential for long snow runs. I tell everyone about the American runner Jared Campbell who has this great technique for running, or should I say sliding in the snow.  You start running but if the snow is soft and the gradient steep you can basically use your shoes as skis. The look of doubt across all faces of course meant only one thing, I was going to have to do it.

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Nervous faces looked as I headed down a steep slope. I could hear the minds behind me think this guy is crazy. However, when they saw me bounce down the snow and start to slide, ski and then comfortably come to a controlled stop the realization and glee was clear. Suddenly the whole team followed. Laughter, screams and pure fun were the recipe on the trail menu card. The odd tumble was shrugged off with laughter and to draw a line under proceedings everyone lined up for an ensemble run down the slope. We may all be grown up adults but it’s days or should I say impromptu moments like this that make you fully understand and appreciate why we do what we do. Children again, our love for the outdoors was like a birth of new life. We each found something in those moments together that hadn’t been there before.

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‘That’s a beautiful trail and the vista behind is superb’, I said. It was decided, we would do a whole series of images of the different athletes wearing different combinations of apparel and accessories. First of was Ben, Megan from IMG needed a front cover shot for a magazine. Ben sprinted down single track moving from left foot to right foot spending incredible floating moments in the air. I love my job! Nothing like looking in the viewfinder and getting that buzz when you know you have captured a moment.

©copyright .iancorless.com._1050186Brendan was next, I asked him to run at me and jump over me. My intention to capture him in flight. These shots are tricky. You need everything to come together. Arms need to be balanced, legs dynamic and face composed and committed. Unbelievably we nailed it on the first run. YES. I looked in the camera and with excited glee as I passed the camera around and a unanimous acceptance of a special moment was confirmed.

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Shona and I moved up the trail to a technical section that would demand some serious concentration from both runner and photographer. Lying flat on a ridge with a wide-angle lens I would shout ‘go’! The Aussie downhill demon would take the break off and throw her self down the trail. ‘How was it Ian’, Shona would shout, ‘It was good but we didn’t get the one, can you go again’ I would reply. It’s the nature of the beast, some times you nail it, others you need to work on it but patience is rewarded and eventually the shots come.

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inov-8 really has nailed the new product range. I’m very fortunate to do what I do, I feel as though I have the boxes ticked, not only do I write, photograph and podcast about what I love but I also do the sport. Maybe not at the level I have done in the past but I am we’ll aware of the pluses and minuses of great product. I may be working on this project but I was also wearing and testing everything the athletes had to test. From functional T’s to long sleeve warm layers, wind shells and waterproof layers. Matt and the team have started with a blank canvas and didn’t start with paint but started with a pencil outline, like any great painting they have built up the layers over time only adding what needed to be added. Ultimately they have finished with some wonderful masterpieces of lightweight and minimalist running apparel. It’s an exciting and innovative line that will make competitors look and question.

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On our first day, the sun was shining and we could utilize the lighter products in the new inov-8 range, T shirts, shorts, windshell layers and of course hats and rags as accessories. The Race Elite Windshell layer in particular is a great product, weighing in at just 70g for men this is a product that you can take on every run. Once stuffed into its storage pocket (provided) it can be carried in the rear of your shorts, waist belt or pack. You can even carry it in your hand if need be. A perfect wind proof layer with 1/2 zip and small front napoleon pocket.

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Photography over it was time to run. Joining the Mont Blanc marathon course we made our way back to our chalet. The pace relaxed, at least for some (not me) we twisted and rock hopped on the trails to Les Praz. As the sun beat through the foliage, the ground beneath us tested our ability to adapt to the terrain. I was using inov-8 Roclite 245’s a relatively minimalist shoe for me but I loved the secure grip and contact with the ground. Brendan and Matt were using F-lites, the most minimalist shoe in the inov-8 range. Not a shoe for me but in the right hands, or should I say on the right feet they were a pleasure to watch as light steps, high cadence and forefoot running of the highest order confirmed why Brendan has that incredible turn of speed.

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A stream gushed with increased water flow from the melting snow up high and as we made a final turn to our chalet day one on the trails came to a close. It was time to chill, eat and drink a beer or three. Does it get any better?

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In short, the answer is yes! Day two we took a drive into Switzerland for a full day in the mountains. Snow was in abundance and the trails interspersed the white like a pencil line on a blank page. I asked Alex to do some shots on a rock cluster with a wide and expansive mountain backdrop. It only took us fifteen minutes but when completed we were alone.

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Heading up the trails we followed footprints and then ran across fields and mountainsides of snow turning a pinky/ red in places as the flowers and vegetation underneath stained the snow. In the distance we could see Dave setting up his camera, he had found a place to capture some action shots.

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A picnic lunch was followed be a series of set up shots. A rocky section with a waterfall offered the perfect combination of options to capture the runners jump, splash and rock hop. ‘Shona, will you run through the icy cold water and create some splashing?’ I asked, ‘Of course’ came the reply! To be honest, I already knew what the reply would be. Shona just loved her first European experience, the mountains; the trails the company was making her feel alive.

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Repeatedly she ran at my request and then the boys turned up. I asked them to stand on a ridge and look down. Four silhouettes and Shona splashing in the trail. It was a great image.

©copyright .iancorless.com._1140283Alex jumped the waterfall, my idea to capture him in full flight with a wide and expansive backdrop.

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Standing on high I asked four of the them to run down the trail and cross as stream as though on a group training run and then finally I found a ridge that allowed Brendan and Anna to open up the the throttle and capture them flying along the trail.

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Ok it’s a wrap and with those words excitement built at the peak in front of us. Someone coined the phrase ‘The Mini Matterhorn’ and so the quest began. Climbing upwards on technical trails an ascent of the Mini Matterhorn was begun. It become somewhat interesting as trails turned to snow.

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Ever tried running up steep snow? No? Neither had I or probably anybody else until this second day. It soon became apparent that slow was best and that you had to ‘toe’ the snow. Basically kick the snow with your toe, make a hole for your toe to sit in and then do the same and repeat. It was hard! Although nobody was in any danger the potential to loose grip was high and basically a pretty fast and cold high-speed return to the bottom was guaranteed. Yes, you got it. I made that trip!

The peak conquered our return to our vehicles was interesting. Blue skies and high temperatures were replaced with cloud and showers. In the distance thunder could be heard. It was absolute confirmation of the fragility and danger that mountains offer. I can’t stress this enough, never go unprepared. Race Elite Windshells offered a breathable and lightweight option to the wind and light drizzle but a prolonged wait back at the car park saw me reach for my Race Elite Stormshield 150 as the rain started to fall at a more considerable pace. A coke in one hand and an energy bar in the other I was satisfied with a safe and stunning day in the mountains.

Stormshell mensDo you get a buzz when you pick up a product and think, wow, that’s light? Imagine a fully waterproof seam sealed jacket that fits in a storage pocket the size of your hand that weighs only 150g and ticks all the boxes for the TNFUTMB. The Race Elite Stormshield 150 does this and no corners are cut. It is a pullover style product to reduce weight from a full-length zip and of course have fewer seams to reduce possible leaking. The hood has a reinforced brim so that you can adjust it for your needs and also it has several toggle cords so that you can obtain the correct tension. A waist drawstring, thumb loops and front pocket completes the package. It’s an incredible jacket and one that will set a benchmark.

©copyright .iancorless.com.P1150625Day three was wet! Very wet. The close to day two of cloud and light drizzle had escalated during the night and we had a wash out! Perfect Dave and I smiled; we can now test the Stormshield and Thermoshell products and capture some images. You already know the answer to this… ‘Shona, do you want to run along the trail next to the river in the cold, hard, rain?’ I asked, ‘Of course’ came the reply.

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Brendan, Alex and Florian felt penned in and went out for a couple of hours to loosen legs and tag a summit. ‘Back by two’ Natalie confirmed with them and good to their promise at two we were in vehicles heading out for some cold, wet and misty imagery.

©copyright .iancorless.com._1140400Grey fluffs of broken damp mist moved through the valleys making the Mont Blanc mountain range look as though someone had taken a knife and removed the top of every peak and replaced it with a grey uniform line. Speckled in the monochrome were flashes of silver, it was illuminated by my remote flash. It was cold and we hadn’t headed upwards. It would have been crazy to go too high, as it happened we had no need. Our desire to meet the mist was realized when as a gesture of good will, the mist came to meet us. We were engulfed by dullness and we embraced it.

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Natalie, Brendan and Anna line out and I ask them to run in line along a stony path, the contrast of Stormshild jackets in blue and purple illuminated the monochromatic vista. A stony path and up the trail a tree bent over in silhouette as the mist engulfed it. One by one they ran towards me,  left to right foot, the inov-8 shoes providing a firm grip on wet and slippery rocks.

©copyright .iancorless.com.P1150574©copyright .iancorless.com._1140501©copyright .iancorless.com.P1150461©copyright .iancorless.com.P1150616The rain slowly began to increase and with it temperatures dropped, ‘are we happy’ I pleaded, ‘a unanimous, YES, came back’. A short run and we were soon back in our vehicles and donning Race Elite Thermoshells to get warm.

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The Race Elite Thermoshell is a warm insulating layer for when conditions become very cold or for pre/post runs. It has ‘Revershell’ technology that allows for two insulating options. On one side the stitch-through design offers mapped breathability in key areas whereas on the reverse no stitching is visible offering 10% more warmth. It also provides a different colour option. Boasting permeable Primaloft on one side and wind proof Pertex Quantum on the other side the Thermoshell weighs only 260g for men and 220g for women.

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It felt like a Sunday back at the Chalet. Sitting around a large communal table we chatted, worked and nibbled snacks. Music played, ‘Beck’ providing a mellow soundtrack to a busy table. The boys; Brendan, Alex and Florian once again headed out for another run, it was Brendan’s third that day! ‘Don’t worry’ he said, ‘it will just be an easy recovery’.

Replete from a great meal, a few beers lubricated our minds and our tongues. It was time to tell Jokes. Poor Shona, I still think she is trying to work them out!

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My final day in the mountains arrived. My pick up would arrive at 1300; however, I was not going to waste time sitting around the chalet. The prospect of some great weather lay ahead with a glimmer of blue amongst the cloud around Mont Blanc. At 0930 we headed out on the trail and the climb up to the summit at the Mer de Glace. I knew I would need to turn back at some point but I was going to delay it as long as possible. We started out nice and easy with a walk. The walk became a power hike as we hit the early slopes to the summit and then those that could, ran. Those that could not run, jogged. And if like me you couldn’t jog, you put your hands on your knees and perfected the art of climbing while doing a walk similar to a scene from Monty Python. I would occasionally break momentum with a shout, ‘guys, this is a great spot, can I get you to run along here for me while I get some shots’.

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Upward the trail became increasingly rocky and with it, slippery. Months of snow were disappearing but it was leaving behind a potentially hazardous residue. ‘The trail gets really interesting here Ian’ said Alex, ‘some ropes, some chains and ladders’. Alex was right, double ladders worked up through the rock face providing some really excellent photo potential.

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All too quickly it was time for me to say adieu. I needed to leave and make my way back for a rendezvous with a bus back to the airport. As I said goodbye, flashes of blue, black and purple disappeared in the mist and suddenly I was alone.

Chamonix and the Mont Blanc mountain range is a haven for the outdoor enthusiast. Beautiful, dramatic and dangerous, it’s a place that demands respect. I am extremely fortunate to have spent such a great time in such an exciting place. The Skyrunning VK and Marathon over the previous weekend had been a perfect entrée for my time with inov-8.

photo Matt Brown at inov-8

photo Matt Brown at inov-8

I want to sincerely thank Natalie, Lee and Matt for providing me with the opportunity to work and run in this idyllic environment. I also want to thank them for the opportunity to test such incredibly versatile new apparel.

Did I mention the new ultra race pack, waist belt and hand bottle?

No?

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Well, you are going to have to wait. But believe me, the above products are going to turn heads, create a stir and be seen on trails all over the world. More on that later though…

I used the following items whilst in Chamonix and I will provide a detailed review with images in the coming weeks:

CLOTHING:

  • Race Elite Windshell 70 HERE
  • Race Elite 150 Stormshell HERE
  • Race Elite 260 Thermoshell HERE
  • Race Elite 275 Softshell HERE
  • Race Elite 140 Trail Short HERE
  • Race Elite 195 3/4 tights HERE
  • Baselite 200 long sleeve HERE
  • Baselite 140 short sleeve HERE
  • Arm warmers
  • Hot Peak 60 HERE
  • Wrags HERE 
  • Prosoc HERE

SHOES:

Trail Roc 245 3mm drop HERE

trailroc 245 12 13 red blk

Trail Roc 255 6mm drop HERE

trailroc 255 12 13 ink orange

Roc Lite 315 9mm drop HERE

roclite 315 12 13

F-Lite 262 6mm drop HERE

f-lite-262-GREY-LIME-2-13LINKS:

Read the inov-8 Press Release HERE

http://www.inov-8.com/

About inov-8:

inov-8 is a fast-growing sports performance brand that manufactures innovative, lightweight gear for committed athletes wanting to run super-fast on all terrains and smash hardcore workouts.

Born in the UK in 2003, inov-8 now trades in 60 countries and boasts more than 80 shoes in its range, meeting the needs of athletes who want to push boundaries.

inov-8 sponsors a global team of athletes that represent committed competitors in mountain, trail and road running, functional fitness/CrossFit, as well as obstacle course racing. To learn more, visit our website at www.inov-8.com and blogsite at http://teaminov8.wordpress.com/team/

inov-8 launch new apparel range

The British-born brand is renowned for its production of stripped back, high-gripping footwear for committed athletes wanting to run fast on all terrains. Now, as it celebrates its tenth anniversary, the company is set to explode onto the off-road apparel market with an ultra-lightweight, athletic-fitting range.

International mountain runners have tested all the new jackets, base layers, tees, tights and shorts on the UK and Europe’s most challenging trails, summits and ridges.

Team inov-8 members, a selected group of committed athletes operating at the top of their sport, are currently wearing the new clothing range at an inov-8 off road running retreat in the Alps.

Last weekend, as part of the Chamonix-based retreat, athletes competed in both the Mont Blanc Vertical Km and Mont Blanc Marathon races.

Alex Nichols, who finished seventh in a world-class marathon field, said: “The range is ultra-comfortable and lightweight.

“You can tell it has been designed with the hardcore runner in mind and features things other companies often forget – like elasticated hems and the small stuff sacks which many of the items can be packed into.

“It feels fast to run in and because it is athletic-fitting it never gets in the way of natural movement.

“It is also a really deep range so, as a runner, you are equipped with everything you need to deal with all weather conditions out on the trails and mountains.”

inov-8’s global team of athletes will continue to wear the range when competing at the head of ultra distance and sky running races across the world in 2013.

Australian inov-8 duo Shona Stephenson and Brendan Davies wore garments from the new range when finishing second woman and fifth male respectively in the 100-mile Ultra Trail Mt Fuji race in Japan.

Brendan said: “I love the new apparel range and have been wearing it at all altitudes, in all conditions and over all distances. It has stood up to all challenges.

“In keeping with the inov-8 ethos it is minimalist and lightweight, thus very fast to run in.

“The shorts are super-comfortable, while the Stormshell and Windshell jackets have tamed the weather conditions I’ve worn them in.”

Wayne Edy, inov-8 founder, added: “We are really excited about our first apparel range, which we have designed for athletes wanting to push boundaries, gain an edge and win races.

“Every fabric, seam and zip has been minutely scrutinized to ensure we deliver outstanding apparel that will allow runners to play at the extremes – and do so faster.”

Included in the range is the Race Elite Thermoshell.

The unique shell features Revershell technology, providing two insulation options. On one side there is a stitch-through design to offer body mapped breathability in key areas. On the reverse side, the stitch-through is removed, offering 10% more warmth.

Weighing in at just 260g for men and 220g for women, the Race Elite Thermoshell boasts air permeable Primaloft Sport technology on one side and a highly windproof Pertex Quantum outer fabric on the warmer reverse.

England international mountain runner and Transalpine-run stage winner Ben Abdelnoor has been part of the testing team for inov-8’s new apparel.

He said: “The clothing is super light and athletic fitting but still gives great freedom of movement.

“I’ve worked it to the extreme on gruelling mountain runs and it has stood up to all challenges.”

The lightest Race Elite Windshells in the range weigh just 70g for men and 60g for women, while there’s also a super-breathable, fully waterproof Race Elite Stormshell jacket at 150g for men and 140g for women.

Action images copyright iancorless.com
Apparel images copyright inov-8

All the Race Elite shorts, made using a four-way stretch material for ultimate comfort, boast a durable water repellent finish. Meanwhile, the base layers and short-sleeved race tops are Polygiene treated to stop odor-causing bacteria from settling into the material.

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Inov-8 in Chamonix

Team Inov-8 copyright iancorless.com

June is proving to be a very special month for UK Company, Inov-8. Celebrating ten years in the business, 2013 has seen the company create an International Skyrunning Team bringing together runners from all over the world to take part in the Skyrunning World Series. Inov-8 started the 2013 campaign in Zegama-Aizkorri and will now follow with what will be a truly international field at the Mont Blanc marathon and Vertical Kilometer.

Natalie White, team manager for the brand has been influential in coordinating and bringing all this together, “Prior to me joining Inov-8 we only had a small team of UK based athletes. To get more brand awareness across the world I thought we needed an International team. So, the best athletes from around the world put them in one team and then send them out to run in the Skyrunning series. We support them and help them travel the world to race. We want to help them achieve”.

Brendan Davies and Shona Stephenson will arrive in Chamonix from Australlia. Brendan Davies (AUS), has had an incredible 2013 with top placing’s at the super competitive Tarawera Ultra in New Zealand, a top five at UTMF 100 in Japan and then a win and new CR at TNF100 in Australia. He has been fired up with an opportunity to race in Europe.

Shona Stephenson (AUS), like Brendan has had quite an incredible start to the year too, with impressive runs and results over a variety of distances and terrain. Shona was second at UTMF 100 in Japan, third at TNF100 in Australia and now she will race Europe and the high mountains for the first time.

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Alex Nichols (USA), unlike his Australian teammates has experience of Skyrunning, he scored a top 5 at the Sky Games in 2012, his first outing in a Skyrunning event. He said, “It was a learning curve’. With Pikes Peak on his doorstep in the US he has plenty of opportunity to practice ascending and descending, combined with natural speed he will be a force to be reckoned with in Chamonix.

Also flying in from the USA is Scott Dunlap (USA). Scott has already had a busy start to 2013, he PR’d at Boston Marathon with 2:44:35 and most recently he has run Silver State 50m in sub 10 hours.

Sarah Ridgeway, Anna Lupton and Natalie White all arrive from the UK and complete the International field. Natalie is fulfilling two roles as team manager and competitor. In 2012 she won the mixed pairs in the two-day mountain marathon and has placed fourth in the Skygames.

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Anna Lupton has two wins at the famous Three Peaks race and she will bring that skill and fell running ability to both the VK and Marathon courses.

Finally, Sarah Ridgeway lives and breathes mountain running, her home in Wales is the perfect training ground for courses like Mont Blanc. With Mt Snowdon on her doorstep, she will be adapted and ready to race.

Sarah Ridgeway copyright iancorless.com

The Mont Blanc Marathon is the second event in the Skyrunning World Series and will be preceded by the KM Vertical on June 28th where 400 runners will line up for a lung-busting 1,000 meters skywards over the short 3.5 km course.

Among the events over the weekend organised by the Club des Sports Chamonix, is the new Mont-Blanc 80K on June 28, the first time a race has been held on this course, although shortened due to snow on the course.  The race will represent a “test run” for the 2014 Skyrunning World Championships where the three events will be featured.

In addition to racing, inov-8 will host their first-ever athlete retreat in Chamonix, in the Alps, starting on Thursday. Twelve inov-8 athletes will attend over the nine days. They will test exciting new product and train at altitude alongside their international team-mates.

Great North Walk 100s 020b

Brendan Davies looks ahead to brutal Alpine double-header and first-ever Inov-8 athlete retreat

Brendan said: “2013 has been an outstanding year for me so far. Winning the TNF 100km ultra in my own back yard in Australia was brilliant, on the back of my fifth place finish in the 100-mile Ultra Trail Mt Fuji.

“Now I’m ready to hit Europe for inov-8’s first-ever athlete’s retreat in the Alps and to race in the Mont Blanc Marathon.

“The experience of being around my fellow inov-8 team-mates is one I’ve been looking forward to all year.

“It will be an opportunity to soak up years and years of collective trail running experience in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

“The nine-day retreat will also give us the chance to test exciting new inov-8 shoes, clothing and packs, and provide valuable feedback. This can only have a positive affect on the performances of inov-8 wearers around the world.

“I can’t wait to get to Chamonix (France) and immerse myself in the camp, test the product and train in such stunning mountainous surroundings.

“Although I’ve raced on three previous occasions in Europe, this will be my first time in the Alps.

“Sunday’s Mont Blanc Marathon – which includes 2,511m of vertical gain and 1,490m of elevation loss – will be my first true mountain trail event.

“It is an iconic race and I’m looking forward to doing battle against the crème de la crème of global trail running. It is going to be something truly special.

“Although not my preferred terrain nor distance, I’ll be giving the race absolutely everything.

“I also plan to do the Mont Blanc Vertical KM race which, like the marathon, is part of the 2013 Skyrunner World Series.

“Friday’s lung-busting Vertical KM race starts in Chamonix and involves running as fast as possible to a measured 1,000m height gain over a course that is around 3.5km in distance.

“I’m more akin to running longer distances, so this short, steep seriously fast race will push me to the limit. I can’t wait!”

LINKS:

Inov-8 – HERE

Skyrunning – HERE 

Mont Blanc Marathon HERE

Zegama Inov-8 team are ready!

The Inov-8 International Skyrunning Team are ready for Zegama – Anna Lupton, Sarah Ridgeway, Ben Bardsley and Alex Nichols along with team manager, Natalie White are excited to be racing at this iconic race.

It also sees the launch of the new Inov-8 Mountain Running Wear.

The team have been testing new products such as the Wind Shell 60 jacket for the ladies and the Wind Shell 70 jacket for the men. In addition, they have also been using the Base Elite ‘T’s and 3/4 tights.

Zegama will be the first race for Inov-8 using this new apparel.

Alex Nichols – Zegama pre race interview

Alex Nichols Inov-8 copyright Ian Corless

Alex Nichols Inov-8 copyright Ian Corless

Alex Nichols has had a long journey to Zegama. However, he has had some time to relax and recover and without doubt he is looking forward to the challenge that will unfold on Sunday.

Without doubt he is excited to be racing Kilian Jornet, Luis Alberto Hernando, Michel Lanne, Marco de Gasperi and more… he is new to racing in Europe and he appreciates the racing and trails are very different to the US. But he is here to race, his form is good and he plans to push at the front of the race!

YouTube HERE

Links:

 

 

 

Inov-8 head for Zegama-Aizkorri

Shona Stephenson - Inov-8

Shona Stephenson – Inov-8

Natalie White, is the sports and marketing manager for UK Company Inov-8 who this year celebrate 10 years in the business. With less than one week to go to Zegama, I caught up with Natalie to discuss the brand and the expansion for the future. In 2013, Inov-8 has put together an International Skyrunning Team, it is a new departure for the brand, I asked how this has come about and why now?

 

NW: Yes, when I began at Inov-8 in Feb 2012 budgets had already been set so I had to focus on what people were telling me to do based on the budgets we had. However, in September 2012 I sat down with the European marketing manager and I said that we need to get involved in Skyrunning. It is a passion of mine anyway but all the high profile athletes are at these races and we as a brand needed to be involved. So, it made sense. I set up an International Skyrunning Team with runners from Australia, America, UK and France. Hopefully we are going to make an impact.

 

IC: It is an ambitious project and one that will test the financial strings as much as the runner’s legs. How do you go about putting something like this together, particularly in this current market?

 

NW: It takes some serious logistics. I also have a 101 other jobs to plan and budget for. I really need to manage my time well. It’s a case of getting a small International team and focusing and what needs the athletes have. Such as kit, what they expect from the brand, travel expenses and then budgeting all that. We shall review the total cost at the end of the year and then make adjustments for future years. I am a runner myself so I know what the runners want. I need to balance all the costs, hopefully everyone will be happy.

 

IC: Is part of the project also to develop new products such as clothing and shoes that you can take forward in future years?

 

NW: Yes! We have just sent our SS2014 workbook to print with some very exciting new products. I can’t talk about that yet…

 

IC: Your lips are sealed?

 

NW: Yes, we have our launch this month, in May. We are also working on other new products. It is all very exciting.

 

IC: In the past, as a company you have been renowned for your shoes and packs but you are moving into clothing?

 

NW: Yes we launched AW2013 running apparel and showed it in February 2013. Our athletes will be wearing our new mountain running wear in Zegama. I hope it will make retail outlets in July and August. It’s a very exciting time for the brand and the athletes.

 

IC: How have these products been designed? Do they all have athlete input?

 

NW: Yes, everything we do has runner feedback and athlete feedback. We put everything together, produce a product and then test it. Our athletes test it in training and our marketing team test the products. We go out at lunch and run on local trails. We debrief and then make adjustments as appropriate.

 

IC: You have mentioned the athletes. You have some real variety for 2013. Such as Brendan Davies and Shona Stephenson from Australia and then we have Americans, UK runners and then somebody like Joe Grant who is a Brit who lives in the US. Zegama will see the British runners head to Zegama… it is quite a mix.

 

NW: Yes, it is a mix. Prior to me joining we only had a small team of UK based athletes. To get more brand awareness across the world I thought we needed an International team. So, the best athletes from around the world put them in one team and then send them out to run in the Skyrunning series. We support them and help them travel the world to race. We want to help them achieve.

 

IC: Skyrunning is a very different sport to a lot of other running. UK runners in particular seem to adapt well particularly if coming from a fell running background… of course fell doesn’t have the altitude but it does have some tough terrain. How do you think Brendan and Shona will handle Skyrunning? It will be very different for them. How do you help them and help them adapt to the challenges?

 

NW: I speak with Brendan and Shona every other day via email and we have regular Skype chats. Because I have done plenty of Skyrunning I can help them. They are currently preparing with adjustments for altitude. They are in form. Look at the results from UTMF and TNF 100. Incredible! (Brendan just won and set a new CR at TNF100 in Australia, a record previously held by Kilian Jornet)

Brendan Davies - Inov-8

Brendan Davies – Inov-8

 

IC: How will Brendan and Shona recover from these high profile and demanding races and be ready for Skyrunning?

 

NW: To be honest, they both seem to recover very well. I don’t think recovery will be a problem. Of course flying and travel may impact but I think, fingers crossed, they will be fine.

 

IC: Zegama is the first race that you will attend, yes?

 

NW: Correct, yes.

 

IC: Zegama is the classic mountain race. It is famous for the terrain, the racing and a top quality field. What team will run?

 

NW: Alex Nichols from the US, he is in great shape. We have three UK runners, Ben Bardsley who is coming from a SkiMo season. He has actually been racing Kilian. He has been in the Alps doing some fastest known time attempts too. We have two ladies, Sarah Ridgeway and Anna Lupton. Sarah has been training on the Isle of Skye doing some ridge running. Ana Lupton is in good form too…. Hopefully everyone will be fit and healthy and will be able to have a great race!

Ben Bardsley - Inov-8

Ben Bardsley – Inov-8

 

IC: Yes, it is going to be a great way to kick off the series for Inov-8. I have just done a race preview and I think Ben and Alex are potential dark horses.

 

NW: Ben came into our office just the other week and he looks super fit and healthy. He is very keen for the first race. He is very appreciative to be part of this team. It’s a dream come true for him. He is very happy.

 

IC: As the season progresses the priorities will fall with the Sky marathon and Sky ultra series. What at the end of the year will mean that this year has been a success?

 

NW: Ultimately brand awareness. We have many plans and we will attend many races. After Mont Blanc marathon we will stay on in Chamonix to do product testing, photography, video and so on. It will be great to have everyone in the same place at the same time. It is taking some planning but I am sure it will be fine! We then have Alex Nichols at Pikes Peak and then we have a team at Ultraks in Switzerland. Shona and myself will race Ice Trail Tarantaise…. Not sure why I signed up for that! Speedgoat and UROC will see some American runners participate and then we will have a team at the last race in Limone, Italy. It will be a great finish to the year. It will be a case of having representation across the world with athletes in the overall rankings. All about developing the brand.

 

IC: Inov-8 has been going almost ten years. As a company it has achieved a great deal. From a shoe perspective you have always been highly respected. You understood the needs of particular terrain and developed products accordingly. For example, the mud claw, it is a classic. How will the brand develop in the future? Will you have any shoes developed specifically for Skyrunning?

 

NW: My lips are sealed!

 

IC: Okay, enough said. That is a yes then!

 

IC: If we look forward to 2014, do you have a plan to increase your team or do you think you will look after the team you have and help them progress.

 

NW: We will progress the team we have and build on that. We are always inundated with requests for sponsorship but it is just not possible to help everyone. We just don’t have the budget. We need to look after the people that we have currently. We need them to have the results and we need to help them achieve that.

 

IC: Much better to have a hardcore team of eight to ten who you can help, finance and support so that they can get results. No point having a team of thirty and no results.

 

NW: Exactly!

 

IC: Finally, you have Joe Grant on the team. Joe has done some crazy exploits such as the Iditarod Trail Invitational… a crazy event! 350 miles in sub zero temperatures. Do you plan to help progress ideas like this as a brand, for example, will you create projects that your athletes can undertake. I guess adventures which Inov-8 can help finance.

 

NW: Definitely, we have Ray Zahab from Canada who is currently taking on a challenge of crossing the Gobi Dessert. He is doing that in June this year and we are helping to support him. We love this sort of thing. Crazy challenges… the crazier the better!

 

IC: It creates a story and it creates a buzz. Ultimately that is great for you as a brand. You need your name out in the arena and that comes from inspiration. It filters back to consumers.

 

NW: Yes, exactly. We are all about making the brand the best it can be and ultimately providing the customers with the right footwear and clothing for them to achieve!

 

IC: Natalie, it has been great chatting with you and I am looking forward to Zegama this coming weekend. Best of luck for you and the team!

Calendar:

SKY
1. SPAIN: Maratòn Alpina Zegama-Aizkorri – 42k, Zegama – May 26
2. FRANCE: Mont-Blanc Marathon – 42k, Chamonix – June 30
3. USA:  Pikes Peak Marathon – 42k, Manitou Springs, Colorado – August 18
4. SWITZERLAND: Matterhorn Ultraks – 46k, Zermatt – August 24
5. ITALY: Limone Extreme SkyRace® – 23k, Limone sul Garda – October 13

ULTRA
1. SPAIN: Transvulcania Ultramarathon – 83k, La Palma – May 11
2. ANDORRA: Ronda dels Cims – 170k, Ordino – June 21
3. FRANCE: Ice Trail Tarentaise – 65k, Val d’Isère – July 14
4. USA: Speedgoat – 50k, Snowbird, Utah – July 27
5. USA: Ultra Race of Champions “UROC” – 100k, Vail, Colorado – September 28

Links:

Race Elite 230 - Inov-8

Race Elite 230 – Inov-8