Zerei Kbrom Mezngi ran 28:20 at Hytteplanmila 10km Road Race on Saturday, taking the overall win ahead of Narve Gilje Nordâs and Bjønar Lillefosse, 28:28 and 28:45 respectively. For the women, it was a record day for Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal who ran 30:32 breaking her old course record of 32:25 set in 2017 and the long-standing national record held by the legend, Ingrid Kristiansen set in 1989. It was a huge day for Karoline!
The Hytteplanmila 10km Road Race is a big deal in Norway attracting the best-of-the-best. Normally, 1000’s would toe the line but 2020 and Covid-19 changed all that and instead it was an invitation race only with specific criteria, 37.20 (38.20 *) for women and 31.20 (32.00 *) for men (10,000 meters / 10 kilometers in 2019/2020, or equivalent achievements) * If there are vacancies in the heats. The race took place in waves, 1 minute separating each with no more than 25-runners per heat.
The Ingebrigtsen brothers would toe the line, Jakob having won the race and set the course record in 2019 with a sub 28:00 performance. However, eyes were on mountain running legend, Kilian Jornet, who would toe the line in his first ever official road race.
Despite the profile of the race, it’s a low-key affair taking place the community of Hole, close to Hønefoss and approximately 1-hour from Oslo. The morning was cold, grey and mist was low making for an almost ethereal feel ahead of the 1330 start.
Kilian arrived in his camping car and despite having specific media documenting the process, his presence was not acknowledged by the rest of the runner’s. This is a Scandanavian thing but also an acknowledgement that although Kilian maybe a star on the mountain, ultra and trail scene, in a road race, he is unknown…
Donning a face mask, his number was collected and he returned to his vehicle to prepare. I asked him how he felt ahead of the challenge:
“I feel good but I have been carrying a tibial injury which has impacted on training for the last 2-weeks, but I hope for around 29:30. We shall see…”
The chill in the air was noticeable for all and 30-minutes before the start, Kilian added a jacket and hat and moved to the opening mile of the race route and gently warmed up.
Around him, the road was full of runners. Looking on it was apparent, with the exception of one or two, that Kilian was one of the oldest competitors amongst this elite field. His 32-years by no means old, but the average age was late teens or early 20’s. They ran up and down the road striding out, sprinting and looking focussed, almost blinkered. Kilian by contrast looked calm, relaxed and happy to do his own thing.
At 1345 the sound of a gun announced the start of the first group of 25 and amongst them was Kilian. A lead car showed the time. Several bikes had cameramen to live stream the race and Kilian had his own following bike and live feed.
Kilian was mid-pack and striding out looking relaxed and focused. No doubt looking around and trying to find his place. He went on to say post-race, “It’s a fun experience to race with so many talented runners but I am not used to having other people so close and I found it hard to find a place and avoid other peoples feet, especially in the early stages.”
Having run 29:42 in training straight after a VK, it was realistic that Kilian could achieve 29:30 or faster. As the race unfolded, the front of the race forged ahead. Kilian, jokingly said before the race, “I am no 9 but I will not finish in this position!”
The brothers did not have their day, Jakob had not looked good warming up and he dropped from the race. His brother, Filip would finish in 29:03.
Zerei Kbrom Mezngi was the winner opening up a significant gap and powering in the final stretch for the uphill finish crossing in 28:20, 8-seconds ahead of Narve Gilje Nordâs.
Attention then turned to looking down the road and the arrival of Kilian. Five runners went sub 29:00 and then 8-runners followed to go sub 29:30. The next runner 29:41, 29:44, 29:46 and then Kilian emerged at the bottom of the slope with the motorbike to his right hand side. One runner was ahead of him who crossed in 29:54.
Kilian was now in full flight, both feet off the ground and he was pushing for the line. No doubt desperate to go sub 30:00.
While those around him collapsed to the floor grasping for air, Kilian crossed the line, smiled, his 29:59 did not show… 18th place.
He looked content, and was soon able to provide comments on his first experience racing on the road.
“I felt the injury, so I am a little disappointed for that. It was very interesting, very different to when you go training, you can keep a steady pace. Here it was fast at the beginning and I am not used to so many people and being so close. It’s difficult to understand my place. The first km was fine as it is downhill. It was a great experience and it motivates me to have another try…!”
“I don’t think the injury is a real problem but I need to rest a little and get rid of it. When I run a VK the effort is typically 30-minutes but this is different. In terms of cardio, for me it was kind of easy all the time. It’s the legs, you need to feel light and keep the speed. It’s very different. The first 4 to 5km with more people was a challenge as you are almost cm’s from the other runners. I need to get used to that. I learned a great deal. I will try again, at least in the short term, but next year I want to climb… I have some specific goals. I just need more experience.”
Kilian said only 18-months ago that running on a road had no interest for him. But now we see him testing himself over a 10km distance. From conversations, I know he has the desire to toe the line of a road marathon. On paper, that would suit him better allowing him to combine speed with endurance. For now though, we can marvel at 29:59 and speculate what is to come in the future.
It shouldn’t be complicated, but it is. Go on any run forum and I will bet you that daily, someone will ask a question about run shoes.
I want a shoe that will allow me to run muddy trails and road?
Can anyone recommend a shoe for fell running?
I have Hobbit feet and I need cushioning and grip – what shoe?
I could go on and on. The thing is, while it may be okay to ask a couple of question like:
How does a specific shoe perform in mud?
How is the wear and tear of ‘x’ shoe?
Asking for a specific shoe recommendation can be a recipe for a disaster, the reason being, we are all individual and shoes are very personal based on a multitude of factors. Nobody on social media knows you, your needs, how you run and what type of running you do.
So, please do not ask for a shoe recommendation on social media unless you are specific. A good example being:
“I am male, aged 44. I have been running for 23-years and I have extensive history in cycling, triathlon, road running and now I am moving to trail running… I am 5ft 9. A little overweight. In regard to shoes? I am looking for a trail shoe that will provide great grip on muddy trails. I need support for my arch and cushioning but not something as cushioned as say a Hoka. In regard to foot width, I am in the middle, neither needing precision or wide fit. On a scale of 1-5 I would be a 3!’
With the above we have information from the runner and therefore suggestions and recommendations can be specific and targeted. Even then, the runner should go to a run store, albeit now he has a shortlist of options and then try on the shoes to find the one that best suits him, his feet and his needs.
IF THE SHOE FITS
Firstly, and importantly, not all shoes are equal and not all feet are the same.
Quite simply, the better a shoe fits, the more specific to the type of running one will do in that shoe, the more likely you will feel better. The foot will be happier and the miles you run will be more comfortable.
Our bodies are supported by our feet; they are the first point of contact with the ground and therefore, they are incredibly important. Getting a correct fitting shoe that is specific for purpose is crucial.
When I say specific for purpose, let me provide some simple clarification now and then explain in-depth later. Shoes come in categories; I see the main list broken down as 6 main groups:
Road to Trail
Ultra-Running (with sub heading of Ultra Road and Ultra Trail)
Now, one could break down the categories even more with very, very specific needs such as, “I need a mountain running shoe with an aggressive outsole with great grip in wet and dry conditions and superb traction in mud.”
But before we get into the discussion on the shoe for the job, getting a correct fitting shoe is vital.
HOW DO WE FIND A CORRECT FITTING SHOE?
Please don’t fall in with the generic advice that a run shoe should be one size bigger than say your every day casual shoe! For a start, this assumes you have the correct size casual shoe and trust me, from experience, very few people do. The recommendation for sizing up also comes from the assumption that a foot swells when running. From experience, feet rarely go longer but can go wider with repeated impact and stress; think of races like Marathon des Sables when a runner is in a hot/sandy environment. So, one may need a wider shoe but not a longer shoe. This comes down to getting the specific shoe for the job.
I wear the same size run shoe as my casual shoes (typically) but to clarify, I go for the ‘same fitting’ shoe.
Shoe sizing between brands is variable and inconsistent, an EU 44 in say Salomon is not necessarily the same as an EU 44 in inov-8. So, first and foremost, always try shoes on!
Length and foot width does change so it can be a good idea to have your feet measured if you are new to running with little experience. Some specialists suggest getting feet measured yearly, but for me, this still only gives a guideline to shoe size as comfort, feel and specificity come in to play.
“As a rule of thumb,” I have consistently found that a thumb nail of space above one’s big toe is usually ideal for sizing. This is classic for an ‘Egyptian’ foot shape (D). I say usually because I have seen some feet where the second toe is longer than the big toe, known as ‘Greek’ foot shape (C), so, this would require an individual approach. There is also ‘Square’ foot shape and the thumb nail width above the big toe usually applies here, but, a wider toe box may be required.
Remember, both feet are usually not the same size, so, take this in consideration. Go for fit and feel with the bigger foot!
NOTE: Specifics come in to play such as foot width and specificity of the shoe. As an example, If you are running technical trail, you will need a more ‘precision’ fit. If running long/road ultras, you may well prefer a wider fit that will allow toe splay. More on this later.
Wear socks that you typically run in and if you normally wear two pairs of socks, then wear two pairs when testing and trying. Two pairs of socks may require you to go a half or full size larger depending on the sock thickness. Note:nYou may wear the same shoes for Summer and Winter, but in Summer you use light and thin socks but for Winter you use thick Merino socks. This may well mean you need a different size shoe for Summer in comparison to Winter.
Insoles can give a good indication of the shoe size and its width. As a guide, the insole should match the shape and size of your foot.
With the insole back in the shoe, place your foot inside and firstly check for the space at the front. If you have the required space, lace up and tighten. On the top of the foot you have the ‘Navicular Bone’ and the shoes should be tight here but not so tight to restrict blood flow.
Stand up and move around. Key checkpoints are: 1. Thumbnail width between longest toe and edge of shoe. 2. Check pressure on your little toe. 3. Check pressure and feel on your big toe.
Ideally, you want to be able to run in them and most good run shops have a treadmill to try out shoes. Key checkpoints: 1. No slippage in the heel area. 2. No pressure on toes. 3. Instep feels secure and pain free. 4. You have support or a lack of support as needed.
If you see material bulging because of tightness you may need a bigger shoe, or you have the wrong width. If you see an excess of fabric, you may have a shoe that is too large or too wide.
Check the fabric of the shoe and the seams. Will they be breathable for your needs? Will they protect you for your needs? Does the toe bumper have enough protection?
Remember shoes flex when you run. In the propulsive phase, the shoe will bend behind the metatarsals and this can be a troublesome area if the shoes are the wrong size. Often a sign of a shoe that fits incorrectly is this area will crease and often tear causing failure in the shoe upper. If running uphill, think mountain, fell and trail running, this area of a shoe gets a great deal of stress.
A good running store with professional staff will help you with shoe choices and they should discuss the pros and cons of the specific brands and models available. However, gut feeling and how you feel goes a long way. Always be careful of ‘sale’ shoes! Don’t be influenced in buying the wrong shoe just because it is a good price.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG?
Marathon des Sables has some foot horror stories and the general story is because of the heat, the sand and how brutal the race is. The truth is, the issues (usually) arise through runner’s choosing the wrong shoe and the wrong size.
Old advice has said size up, go bigger as your feet will swell.
However, a shoe that is too big allows the foot to move inside the shoe. A moving foot causes friction. Friction causes blisters. The rest is self-explanatory. In addition, with each sliding of the foot, the toes may impact with the front of the shoe and result in bruising. Think of running downhill with shoes that are too big, your toes will be crammed at the front with room behind the heel.
Having said this, feet can swell through impact and heat. So, using Marathon des Sables as an example, one consideration may be going for a shoe with a wider toe box but still that thumbnail of space at the front. What often happens is a runner has a favourite shoe and decides they need more room, so, they just buy a larger shoe (than needed) because it increases the width/ space. Actually, what they should do is change the shoe. It goes back to specificity.
Shoe that are too tight and/or too small will result in black toenails but more importantly can damage ligaments and possibly result in damage to the metatarsals. Stress fractures are a real risk. Also, you will have foot fatigue and pain. The foot is full of nerves and bones. As an example, the soles are extremely sensitive to touch due to a high concentration of nerve endings, with as many as 200,000 per sole. *The foot receives its nerve supply from the superficial peroneal (fibular) nerve, deep fibular nerve, tibial nerve (and its branches), sural nerve, and saphenous nerve. These nerves come from peripheral nerves that arise from the L4 to S3 nerve roots and contribute to the somatic motor function, general sensory information, and the cutaneous sensation of the foot. In regard to bones, each foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, all of which work together to provide support, balance and mobility.
If you require stability shoes, the wrong size shoe may well put the support in the wrong place and instead of providing help, it will create onward issues and problems. Plantar Fasciitis is a risk.
Quite simply GET THE CORRECT FITTING SHOE!
IMPORTANT FACTORS TO CONSIDER
Okay, so we have given a guide to how you find the correct size of shoe. But now we need to be specific and address and look at some fundamental questions before going to any run store:
Supinate – Your weight tends to be more on the outside of your foot.
Pronate – Your weight tends to be more on the inside of your foot.
Neutral – Your weight is distributed evenly.
You need to know which of the above you are, as all brands and manufacturers produce shoes to answer these three specific needs. If you do not know the answer to this question, look at the soles of shoes you have worn for some time – you will see how they have worn. In a proper stride, your foot should roll forward and pronation should be neutral. Shoes that are geared towards supination or pronation are designed to bring you back to neutral.
Many runners who need specific support often see a Podiatrist and have Orthotics made that are transferable to any shoe. In this scenario, you should purchase neutral shoes.
**If you supinate, it can cause excess strain on your ankles. It may lead to shin splints, calluses, or bunions on the outer side of your foot, and pain in your heels and balls of your feet. Excess over pronation, means that as you walk, your foot rolls toward the inside and your arch tends to flatten out. Your shoe will show uneven wear on the inside part of the sole.
From barefoot running to bouncy marshmallow shoes, there is a plethora of cushioning options available to choose from and what is best may just come down to personal taste…
However, I beg to differ. I feel cushioning or a lack of cushioning should be applied based on what type of running one is doing and what conditions.
Fell running – Fell running often takes place in soft, boggy and wet ground. A feel for the ground is essential so that you can respond with ever-changing terrain. A shoe with too much cushioning will remove that feel, place you higher off the ground and may well increase the risk of injury. A sprained ankle being one of the most obvious.
Road running – Road is hard, it can jar the body, muscles and tendons and therefore a shoe with a little more cushioning may be preferable. For some, they require sofa like comfort. Others prefer some cushioning but not at the expense for the feel for the ground.
When purchasing shoes, look at the cushioning typically shown as, for example – Midsole Stack 8mm/ 14mm. This is 8mm cushioning at the front and 14mm at the rear. The higher the numbers, the greater the cushioning.
Some shoes include a rock plate which offers protection from sharp objects, useful when trail running.
Shoe drop is essentially the difference between the height/ thickness of the midsole under the heel compared to the same measure under the ball of the foot. Years ago, drop was not a consideration. On a personal note, thinking back say 8-years, I never considered shoe drop. Now, it’s all important.
Importantly, do not be confused by cushioning here. You may well look at say a Hoka One One and think it has a high drop. On the contrary, they typically have a low drop of 4mm. ***Drop refers only to the difference in thickness between the front and back of the shoe and is not a narrative on the magnitude of the thickness.
From experience, I do not consider that any runner has an ideal drop. I see drop as something that can played around with based on the needs and requirements of the shoe and the conditions it will be used. But I must clarify that I have been testing shoes for 8+ years and switching drop on a daily basis has been no problem, on the contrary, I actually consider it to be beneficial.
As a way to explain, I use 0 drop shoes all the way through to typically 8mm. I do have one pair of shoes at 10mm, but they are an exception.
Zero drop or barefoot advocates will argue and argue that zero is the only way to go and if you are adapted and have no injury issues, that is awesome. However, most people have not experienced zero drop and suddenly to do all runs in zero will almost certainly result in some injury. Zero takes adaptation.
Pure Sports Medicine are clear, “What we do know is that human tissues can be sensitive to sudden changes in the way they are loaded, and that it is biologically coherent (and in keeping with the laws of physics) that differing shoe drops may load certain tissues differently. As such, if you are currently uninjured there is no justification for changing the drop of your shoe, but should you want to then be mindful of allowing the body time to adapt to such changes (although many runners may be able to interchange between shoes of different drops we would usually advise being over cautious if this is not something you have done before).
So, if you typically run in 8mm drop shoes without injury, it makes sense you purchase shoes with 8mm drop. Equally, if 4mm is your thing, purchase 4mm.
Specificity of drop.
I personally (and others like me) see drop in conjunction with cushioning, or, a lack of cushioning as a tool to get the most from my body and my runs. For example, if running a muddy fell run, I will use a lower drop, say 3 or 4mm with less cushioning. By contrast, if I was doing a long trail run, I would prefer 8mm drop and more cushioning.
A certain drop may be beneficial in reducing sensitivity and complementing your overall management strategy – so consider this. ****Changing the drop of your shoes (or using multiple shoes which have varying drops in a rotation system) is not to be discouraged or feared, but be sure your body’s tissues can tolerate this, and are given the necessary time to adapt and attain the capacity if needed.
The outsole of a shoe is key as this is the point of contact with the ground on which you are running. Again, specificity is key. There is no one outsole that will do all jobs well and therefore the need for multiple shoes with specific tasks is an essential armory to a runner’s shoe cupboard.
Road shoes – Typically need little grip, just a good rubber.
Trail shoes – Typically require a good outsole that is durable and has grip, say 4mm studs.
Fell shoes – Typically will be aggressive and on first looks may look like football boots with 6 or 8mm studs.
Mountain shoes – Typically will be a mixture of trail and fell shoes and the outsole will be sticky to provide good grip in wet and dry conditions.
In an ideal world, if you ran all of the above scenarios, you’d have a pair of shoes for each scenario. However, shoes are expensive and many runner’s need to make some compromises. Brands realised this and for example, some offer road to trail shoes that provide a best of both worlds’ scenario. The inov-8 Parkclaw is a great example. “the perfect shoe for runners wanting to run on paths and trails, or those looking to make a transition from road running to trail running.” – inov-8
If you need grip for mud, you need to be specific, there is no compromise.
Like drop, shoe width can create many an argument. Simply put, if you have a slimmer/ slender foot, you can probably wear any width shoe providing you have the correct size and they hold you securely.
But if you are a Hobbit, shoe choice may well be compromised as you will need to look for a wider fitting shoe.
Shoe width is also a consideration based on other factors: 1. What terrain are your running on? 2. How long will you be running?
On a personal note, if I am running on technical and challenging terrain, I want a shoe that fits and holds my foot. I am not worried about toe splay – precision is a priority. By contrast, if I was running on groomed trail for multiple hours, a shoe with more width may will be preferable to allow my toes to splay and relax.
Like drop and cushioning, I mix the width of my shoes based on my needs.
Some companies, inov-8 for example provide a width guide to steer runner’s to shoes that will specifically answer their personal needs. This a great system that takes some guess work away. The system is simply rated 1-5; 1 being a tight/ precision fit, 5 being wide and spacious.
Brands such as Altra only offer one foot shape and believe that a wide toe box is essential, in conjunction with 0 drop. It is a toe shape foot box that allows toes to relax and splay. The big toe has space and in principal, this foot box helps reduce overpronation and increases stability. On a personal note, Altra has a place for long road, ultra or trail runs, but when the terrain gets challenging, they feel way to sloppy for me – but this is a personal thought. Altra fans or wide toe box fans will disagree.
WEIGHT AND FABRICS
Shoe weight can be an important consideration. Certainly, when racing, a runner may well prefer a lighter shoe so that they feel faster. However, if running an ultra, added cushioning and a little more weight will be worthwhile for comfort.
Shoe fabrics, seamless uppers, sock-like fits, Gore-Tex and other considerations may influence a shoe choice. Make a decision based on specificity.
A lighter shoe will typically not last as long – this may be an important consideration too.
CONCLUSIONS AND SUMMARY
Is choosing a run shoe really THIS complicated?
I suppose, yes! But once you understand the basics purchasing new shoes should not be too complicated. Below is a summary and process to follow:
Measure your foot.
Use a conversion chart to get your shoe size.
Understand gait and what you need. If using orthotics, you need neural shoes.
Ask yourself what terrain the shoes will be used on – This refers to what outsole.
Ask yourself how long typically you will run in these shoes – This refers to cushioning.
Do you need the shoes to be more precision fit or wider?
Look at brands/ options and based on the above make a shortlist.
Try the shoes on using the size provided from points 1 and 2 but then size up or down based on the thumb nail space rule.
Check the heel for slipping.
Check the instep and confirm a good foot hold.
If possible, try the shoes running.
Reduce the choices down to 3, then 2 shoes and then make an informed and educated decision.
Do not be influenced by the colour or the price.
Lacing can make a huge difference to how a shoe holds the foot. Lock lacing for example is very popular for off-road and challenging terrain as the shoe holds the foot more securely.
Compromise is a killer when it comes to run shoes. The more specific you can be, the better the shoe will be. But, if you have correct fitting shoes with appropriate cushioning, correct width and a good outsole, you will be able to head out the door and enjoy the process.
And yes, there are exceptions to the rule and somebody will use shoes that are too big and get away with it. Just as someone will run in sandals and get away with it. These are exceptions to the rule and not the norm.
The passing of September and the arrival of October can signify dread and a sense of despair in many as daylight disappears and the weather changes. However, one of the secrets of ‘surviving’ this new season is to embrace it. Don’t look at the negatives, on the contrary, the perceived negatives are actually positives. Seasons exist for a reason.
Lethargy, low mood and the perceived feel to hibernate are all characteristics we feel during the winter months and first off, don’t fight it, accept that winter brings an opportunity to recharge, relax, read a book, catch up on some movies, light a fire, get a blanket and yes curl up on the sofa and relax. There is no harm or guilt in this.
SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) is something we all can feel and yes, some feel it considerably more than others, particularly if Serotonin is reduced and this is often treated with drugs. But light, or the lack of it, is a great contributor. Top tip – Look at changing the bulbs on your lights to ‘daylight’ balanced and when required, adjust brightness throughout the day to help simulate the natural passing of light. It’s a great and easy way to help simulate the variable light intensity changes in one normal day.
Mindset is a key factor to a successful winter and once you get the mind tuned, you will soon appreciate and embrace the possibilities that the winter season can bring, especially as a runner or someone who enjoys outdoor life and activity.
As in all things, we are individuals and as such, we all treat circumstances and changes in different ways. I personally see winter as an opportunity to do things I could not do in spring and summer. I see the challenges that winter will bring as a test, both physical and mental and I look upon it as an opportunity to learn and adjust. Resources and circumstances do go a long way in making my ability to adapt successful, so, to start off, look at these aspects and put yourself in a good place before the cold, wet and dark hits.
In a discussion with a friend over a glass of wine, I was surprised to hear our discussion begin to deteriorate…
“I just hate this time of year. The daylight is leaving us earlier and earlier each day, the light is already arriving so late in the morning and I can feel the damp starting to creep into my body. It will be only a matter of weeks before I am in perpetual cold and dark, I cannot wait for spring!”
It is easy to see from the above quote that before winter has begun, my friend is defeated. I smiled and laughed with him and turned the conversation around.
“Yes, the darkness is coming as is the cold, the wet, the snow and the ice,” I replied. “But what a remarkable opportunity this brings. Just think about it. Cozy nights at home with candles and a movie. Adventures in the snow. Running with a head torch. Learning a new skill. Reading and yes, I could go on and on. Winter for me is just a wonderful opportunity and I cannot wait for it to begin.”
I already felt like a winner as mentally I was prepared and excited for the opportunity, whereas my friend, was already starting the hibernation process.
EMBRACE THE WINTER
I strongly believe that embracing winter and making the most of the season starts with mindset. With a good mindset as outlined above, you will already be in a great place to start.
Marino Giacometti, founder of skyrunning also made the summit on race day – ‘for fun!’
As runner’s and outdoor enthusiasts, we are all at different abilities and yes, we all have different reasons why we do what we do. A great example being an elite runner may well look at winter as an opportunity to address weaknesses and maybe spend more time in a gym working on strength and core.
Monte Rosa Skymarathon
A running enthusiast may well just want to tick over, keep fit and maintain a healthy weight during winter months. And then there is the outdoor enthusiast who may well accept that running is something that will go on a back burner for the coming months and accept that walking, indoor cycling, skiing, gym work and so on is the way forward. Whatever group you fall in, take a couple of hours with a pen and paper and self asses how the last year has been and what you want to achieve the following year, this will help provide some specific goals over the winter to keep focused. This planning and assessment can be as simple as complicated as you wish.
As an example, mine is to embrace the season and the weather and to seize every opportunity. I will hone my head torch running. I will practice my ice and snow running. I will experience my first snow shoeing and I look forward to multi-day snow adventures that will carry me from one point to another in a self-sufficient way. But I also want to write more. I want to read a couple of books that I have never found the time for and I also want to embrace the downtime to rest and recover. My connection with nature and breaking from the digital world is integral to a healthy existence and that cannot stop just because the season has changed.
We have all heard it before, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” It’s true I am afraid. Clothing is one of the key essentials that makes any winter adventure not only bearable and enjoyable. As outdoor people, we have never been as lucky. Technology in apparel has now progressed to a level that we can be warm and dry in super-light products. The downside of course is cost and yes, gearing up for winter can be expensive.
Layering is key with apparel, starting with warm layers against the skin, insulating layers on top and then waterproof and windproof layers as the final touch that will protect from the elements. Merino is great as a base layer and I have a long sleeve top and legs as a starting point. Now of course, I may or may not use them as this depends on the outdoor exercise I am doing. As an example, I would wear the top if running but not the legs. A mid-layer is more often than not either Primaloft, down or synthetic. Each has its place but if you could only choose one, Primaloft (or similar) would be the most versatile due to its ability to retain warmth when wet and still be lightweight. The outer layer should be waterproof and windproof with taped seams and again, it is essential to have jacket and trousers.
The above looks at the core, but if you are like me, the extremities are my most vulnerable in winter and after getting frost nip both in my toes and fingers on the summit of Monte Rosa several years ago, I know need to ensure that I have multiple options for keeping my feet and hands warm. I use Merino base layer socks and gloves which are very thin. For my feet, I then add thicker Merino socks over and inn certain scenarios I have even used Gore-Tex or Neoprene over socks. For my hands, mitts always provide the most warmth and I will use them as first choice. If I need finger dexterity, I often purchase gloves several sizes too big that will allow for multiple layers to retain warmth.
A hat, buff and glasses add the finishing touches. A good hat is one of the easiest ways to retain heat inside the body. A Buff is perfect for around the neck, pulled over one’s nose and mouth to keep out cold air or you can use as a hat. Glasses are an essential to keep out the elements from my eyes and particularly essential if doing any outdoor activity in snow.
Finally, footwear is an absolutely key element to make any outdoor activity successful. There is no one-stop solution here and as a runner, your everyday trail shoes may be ideal for a bulk of your runs, however, specific conditions require specific shoes.
Mud/ Wet – You need an aggressive outsole that will grip and gain traction not only of sloppy wet mud but also on tree routes, rocks, gravel and a multitude of other surfaces. Top recommendations are VJ Sport and inov-8 who have been producing shoes to handle the elements for years. Personal favorites are the XTRM (here) and X-Talon(here.)
Snow/ Ice – In soft snow, the shoes that you use for mud/wet will usually work fine providing adequate grip. However, ice brings new challenges and many runner’s avoid ice at all costs. However, products exist that allow for running in such conditions. Firstly, you can micro-crampons (Snowline or Nortec as examples) that simply adapt any running shoe for ice.
I personally prefer a specific shoe, such as the VJ Sport Xante (here) which as all the attributes of my favorite trail shoes and the added grip from 20 studs. Or the Arctic Talon (here) by inov-8.
As a final note on footwear, I use boots and more substantial crampons when venturing in to more alpine and challenging terrain. Read about a trip to the Atlas Mountains here. There is no one answer here but if moving fast and light, the new inov-8 Rocltite Pro G 400 (here) is a great cross over and then I use two specific mountain boots, La Sportiva G5 (here) or the Trango Extreme (here.)
There is no one solution here and having the options to adjust clothing based on weather conditions is key.
Carry a pack that will allow you to carry options of clothing. For example, it may well be dry when you leave but rain could come at any time, make sure you have waterproof layers with you.
Take off and add clothing as you exercise. When it’s cold, we often start with many layers as the first 15 min can feel uncomfortable. However, our core soon warms up. Take the layers off early to avoid sweating. Sweating is not your friend in cold climates. Be prepared to add and take off as required. One of the many reasons many people do not, is because it can disrupt the flow of exercise, however, a little time stopping pays dividends in the long term.
Avoid getting base or mid layers wet.
Carry an extra base layer.
Protect extremities – hands, feet, nose, ears and lips.
Protect skin with sun block as and when required and post-exercise use a moisturizer – winter is hard on exposed skin.
Start easy and build into any outdoor activity allowing for a gradual warm up.
Have appropriate footwear.
Don’t forget to drink.
Take snacks/ food and even a flask or consider the option to obtain hot drinks.
Even at the most basic level, winter brings extra challenges and risk. A simple road run has increased danger due to increased challenges not only for you as a runner, but for those who are sharing the outdoors with you – drivers! Reduced visibility, challenging conditions under foot and on the road can make that simple road run feel like an assault course, so, accept that sometimes staying indoors and or going to the gym is a better option. But we don’t want to be forced to stay indoors and why should we? If you have the correct apparel and footwear, all is good, yes? Well, nearly… Running on the road and I would most definitely consider adding the following:
Wear bright clothes or wear a reflective vest such as the Ultra Performance (here) which is minimal and light.
Add a flashing light to your arm and ankle. Example here.
Use a head torch.
Take a phone.
Moving from road to trail and the risk from traffic is reduced greatly especially if one can start immediately on trail with no road running involved. Therefore, the need to wear reflective clothing can be reduced. But the risk of falling is greatly reduced and depending on where you are, that risk can be potentially life threatening. So, adjust safety measures based on:
When you are running.
Where you are running.
The duration of the run.
If running alone.
Running for 1-hour on a local trail is very different than a multi-hour adventure. I personally have a standard kit list and I take the basic on every run. It’s an overkill for the 1-hour runs and for the longer sessions, I add to it as required and dictated to by location and conditions.
Spare Merino base layer.
Lightweight waterproof jacket.
Lightweight waterproof pants.
The above, is my absolute basic kit that will go in a lightweight pack.
I then add equipment based on:
What am I doing?
Where am I doing it?
When I am doing it?
What are the options exist to cut short my adventure?
How remote will I be?
What are the risks involved?
What weather can I expect?
What is the worst-case scenario?
The above is a great start point. Even a local run has great risk if one is alone. Imagine running in the forest with snow on the ground, the temperature is just below zero and you are at least 30-minutes from anyone else. If you hit the deck, sprain an ankle, break a bone or whatever, you are suddenly stationary in subzero temperature. This is high risk.
Adapting to the environment, conditions and challenges is not something to be feared. It is actually fun! I go back to the mindset approach at the beginning, I see this as an opportunity, an experience to learn and a great potential to be taken out of my comfort zone.
What equipment/ advice can make a run/ adventure safer and address the list of questions above?
If possible, share any trip with another person. It’s more social and you have a backup.
Check weather conditions.
Tell a friend/ family member where you are going and when you will be back.
Have a phone and if necessary, an additional charger. It’s worth considering purchasing a phone that is not a smartphone – battery life is usually amazing.
Carry a tracker such as Garmin InReach or Spot.
Think layers and have base layer, warm layers, waterproof layers, hat, gloves and buff. On a personal note, I take spare gloves, socks and a base layer should I get wet and need the comfort and warmth of dry layers.
Know where you are going and have a map and compass. A GPX file is also a great option for watch/ smartphone.
Carry micro-crampons if you think snow/ ice is high risk.
Carry a bivvy bag which can be a life saver if stuck in a remote location with an inability to move.
Goggles are better than glasses if you are in a blizzard or strong winds.
Carry an ice axe if venturing anywhere with winter conditions.
Hand spikes for ice (more details below).
Snowshoes (more details below).
In many scenarios, common sense comes in to play and quite simply, a little extra weight and safety is far better than the alternative. Accept in winter that you will move slower and in a different way.
WHAT OPTIONS EXIST IN WINTER
This question can be asked in two ways, firstly, one’s head can be lowered, shoulders dropped, hands below the waste, a look of desperation on the face and, “What options exist in winter…?” The person asking this question has already decided that the answer is none!
For me, the way to ask this question is standing upright, huge smile on my face and the question, “What options exist in winter?” Already has me ready and primed to list a plethora of activities to keep even the most hardened sport enthusiast occupied for quite some time.
Learn something new.
Spend time with family and friends.
And the list goes on! Location, finances and available time all have a bearing on what is and what is not possible. One thing is for sure, possibilities are endless.
Quite simply, you need your run apparel and appropriate equipment as listed above. Importantly you need a head torch. Not all head torches are the same and an investment in the right kit early on saves money later. If you are running in the city with a great deal of ambient light and just the odd foray on trail, you may well get away with a budget torch and something around 200 lumens would work. However, if you are heading into the pitch black, running in forest, venturing into the mountains and pushing the darkness envelope, you are going to need a specific tool for the job. As an example, Norwegian lighting company Moonlight (here) provide head torches from 700 to 7000 lumens. Be specific on your needs and requirements and importantly consider autonomy, beam direction and spread, options for spare batteries and the option to keep the battery in apparel while still using the head torch, especially important in very cold environment when warmth will make the battery last longer.
Layer up so that you have the flexibility to reduce heat and get warm as required. In many scenarios, particularly soft snow, a good aggressive trail shoe will work. However, consider the risk of ice so carry micro spikes. If in the mountains, knowledge and experience of snow conditions would be advisable. Be prepared with additional equipment such as poles and ice axe. Needless to say, gloves are really important.
Use micro spikes for specific shoes as mentioned previously to ensure that you have grip and traction. In some places, Norway and Canada a good example, summer lakes freeze over and they become an incredible playground. Caution, safety and experience is required and if you have never run this way before, take advice from those that have. Importantly run with hand spikes (pictured below) available at all times should a disaster happen – these help you get out of a situation.
Measure the ice.
What is a safe thickness? 4 inches or more is ideal.
Check the ice colour – clear blue or green is good.
Fresh ice is best.
Know rescue techniques.
Mountains in winter offer an incredible playground and if you are new or inexperienced, the first option would be to sign up for a weekend trip with experienced professionals. The equipment requirements, techniques and safety measures vary considerably.
No need to venture outside. In 2019 as an example, I started on a series of indoor ice climbing lessons which has now set me up for experiencing ice climbing outdoors. There is obviously a need for specific equipment: helmet, glasses, harness, ice axes, boots and crampons. However, most places, indoor or outdoor, offer the option to hire equipment as part of the lessons.
A great winter exercise that provides an alternative to skiing or snowboarding that is an extension of running. Snowshoes basically allow you to float and not sink in the snow. But there is a difference to snow hiking and snow running, both in the shoe used and the type of snow. Run snowshoes are smaller, allow for a more natural gait and require the snow to be har packed. Whereas in soft snow, you need a much larger snowshoe to stop you sinking in the ground. Either option provides a great challenge and workout. Of course, races exist that require snow running both with and without snowshoes, so, if you are signed up or plan to race like this in the future, seize the opportunity. Abelone Lyng (here), winner of the Ice Ultra does winter snow shoeing trips in Norway.
Peak Design Field Pouch attached to a Montane Pack when Fastpacking in Nepal.
Snow, ice and cold weather doesn’t mean that multi-day adventures need to stop, on the contrary. Find a route, plan accordingly, have the correct equipment and off you go. These adventures can involve winter camping (you need a 4-season tent, appropriate matt and sleeping bag) or you can run/ hike form hut-to-hut or hotel-to-hotel. You are only limited by your imagination. Accept that you will move slower. Nepal is a magical playground for winter adventures.
Wrap up and include the family. Sport and our pursuit of it can often be selfish, not purposely, but we can get engrossed in challenge and adventure and often exclude the ones we love. Share the journey.
Consider a training camp, maybe this could be something in warm weather to break up the winter months. I have been organizing a warm weather camp every January in Lanzarote for over 10-years, info here.
Sign up for a challenge.
Make it social.
Train in the home.
Learn something new.
Enroll in a class.
Ultimately, don’t letter winter get you in a spiral of mood swings, depression and locked indoors. It’s all about the mind and understanding that the variety winter brings is actually far more exciting and challenging than good weather and dry predictable trails.
Seize the conditions. Plan accordingly. Have the correct equipment. Test yourself with something new and trust me, by the time Spring comes around you may well be a little disappointed.
Mimmi Kotka (far left) at the start of the 2020 Transgrancanaria – (c)iancorless.com
Mimmi Kotka broke silence just last week after a string of below par performances and has acknowledged it is time to take a break from sport. In an open and honest post on social media, she clarifies:
“I have been suffering with my body since the end of 2018. I have finally connected the dots between my low immune system, anaemia, fatigue, stomach problems, lack of menstrual period, inability to run fast and my body always running in reserve: it is RED- S, Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport.”
Now for many, RED-S may well be a new term, however, the list of symptoms and problems Mimmi lists are not. In recent years we have witnessed the rise of many a runner, particularly in the ultra-world for them only to slowly disappear.
Caroline Chaverot at Limone Extreme, Italy – (c)iancorless.com
Recently, Caroline Chaverot, a dominant force and some would have said unbeatable in trail running, slowly removed herself from the sport with a string of below expectation performances. In an interview with Damian Hall for IRunFar, Caroline said, “…I want to be better. Everyone else is training a lot, so I will train like them.’ Maybe I did too much? Or maybe too soon? If training becomes like a competition, then you get tired. I probably trained too hard and fast.”
The story of Geoff Roes and his dominance, for a period over the 100-mile distance, who now runs for fun, forever fighting a battle with fatigue. “It seems like I take two steps forward and one step back. I can’t really do what I want physically, I still get pretty fatigued.” said Roes talking with Justin Mock in an article on IRunFar dating back to just April 2020.
To be clear, I am not saying that Caroline or Geoff had RED-S, I am merely pointing out that our sport, the challenges it brings, without close attention can be far more negative than positive. No runner or athlete intends to get RED-S or OTS, quite the contrary. As Mimmi says:
“I never had the intention to lose weight, nor do I have an eating disorder. I ended up with RED-S by mistake.”
The great thing about trail and ultrarunning is that it is a sport for all. All body types are welcomed and RED-S can happen to anyone at anytime. It can creep up without your realising.
“But a mysterious training condition is suddenly plaguing its ranks, robbing a generation of top athletes of their talents and forcing victims to wonder: Is it possible to love this sport too much?”
Mike Wolfe at The Rut, he is co race director with Mike Foote – (c)iancorless.com
The above is from an article, “Running on Empty” by Meaghen Brown that starts with the story of Mike Wolfe at the 2012 Transvulcania. I was there, I witnessed the day unfold. The article goes on to say:
“The past seven years have seen the rise and decline of at least a dozen elite competitors, including Anna Frost, who won the women’s division of the North Face Endurance Championship in 2011; Anton Krupicka, two-time winner of the Leadville 100; Geoff Roes, who set a new record at the 2010 Western States 100; and Kyle Skaggs, who demolished the Hardrock 100 record in 2008. Each of them reached the pinnacle of the sport only to mysteriously struggle to repeat their best results. Transvulcania was the start of Wolfe’s own precipitous fall.”
Now the context of the above article was OTS, (Overtraining Syndrome,) but the similarities with RED-S are noticeable.
What is RED-S?
Relative energy deficiency in sport, known as `RED-S `is the result of insufficient caloric intake and/or excessive energy expenditure. For Mimmi, it was the latter, excessive energy expenditure. The condition can alter physiological systems such as metabolism, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis, and cardiovascular and psychological health.
For many, RED-S was known as the Female Athlete Triad and is often directly related to not eating appropriately for the amount of energy one extends. This can be a particular problem for the ultra-distance runner. “Furthermore, the RED-S model includes both male and female athletes – so if you are a male athlete, please do not stop reading! Low energy availability can impact male and female exercisers of all levels and of all ages.”
Food restriction is a worrying scenario, both for male and female athletes. A simple analogy is taking a car and restricting the fuel you add to the car. Do not add enough fuel and the car will eventually grind to a halt, the body is no different. While the condition was often thought to be one for female athletes, medical professionals are now seeing similarity in male athletes and the usage of the RED-S term now applies to male and female.
Mimmi continues to write, “I have plunged myself into this condition over the last few years. I have simply put in more and more hours of training without adjusting my calories accordingly, dragging me towards incredible fatigue.”
Mimmi was eating healthy and good quantities, however, the balance was off. Her training volume was too high and calorie intake insufficient. It was not an eating disorder of any sorts, more a miscalculation of energy burnt/ calories in.
Mimmi, was the winner of CCC and TDS and for a period of time, was considered unstoppable. A force to be reckoned with. But as she says, since 2018 she has continually suffered to find the same performance levels. This in turn brings a negative cycle that only perpetuates the problem.
I will train more.
I will lose weight.
Two common scenarios that gradually add more issues and one cannot ignore pressure from peers, fans and sponsors. In the case of Mimmi, she trained more to get better. She had no intention to lose weight.
While eating habits are an indicator of RED-S, the overall picture is much more complex and of course, the differences between male and female are marked.
The BMJ (British Medical Journal) list several key notable factors as an indicator, the first is missed periods or no menstrual cycle. Now of course, this is specific to women, but what other factors should be considered?
Strange eating habits.
Inability to recover.
The long-term impact if unchecked can be devastating with affects on the health system staying with the body for the rest of the athletes life.
When hormone levels are altered, the impact is potentially far reaching and why it may be common to know and understand that immunity is impacted, recovery, growth, concentration and an impact on endurance, the cardio vascular system can also be impacted which could lead to heart disease.
This is not a condition just for the “elite” of the sport, quite the opposite. We look up to our idols and we copy them. We hear stories of mega training sessions, we hear about fasted runs and we hear stories of specific diets to maintain race weight… A picture builds and is one that many try to copy and emulate. For some and in the case of Mimmi, it was about being fitter, therefore adding more training. But for others, the pressure to be thin is very real and fad diets contribute leaving a myriad of question marks that few find the answer to.
Going back to the car analogy, sports people need energy and that energy comes from food full of nutrients and variety. One should not have a troublesome relationship with food but unfortunately, sport is littered with athletes who do. How often have you heard someone say, “I need to run to earn my calories!”
This mindset is the start of a potential problem and it needs checking.
As Mimmi says in her honest post:
“…I’ve dragged myself deeper and deeper into this condition during the last years. Just loaded on more training hours, not adjusting my calories accordingly and slugged through incredible fatigue. Being able to ignore the physical body is what makes a good ultra runner but it’s also what brought me down.”
Nutrition specialist, Dr Nicky Keay confirms in an article, “Fundamentally there is a mismatch between food intake (in terms of both energy and micronutrients) and the demand for nutrition required to cover expenditure, both of exercise training and for basic “housekeeping” tasks in the body to maintain health. If there is insufficient energy availability, then the body switches into an energy saving mode. This “go slow” mode has implications for hormone production and metabolic processes, which impacts all systems throughout the body.”
We train to get fitter, faster and stronger. But a complete athlete should look at all aspects to make a perfect picture. Food and nutrition is a key building block and without it there will be an inability to improve as expected in response to training and the risk of injury will increase. It´s a downward spiral we have seen all too often in the sport of ultra-running.
Counting calories rarely has a benefit in the long-term, however, in the short term, keeping a training diary that records food intake v expenditure can be useful. If an athlete consumes fewer than 2500/2000 calories (male/female) after taking energy expenditure in to account, your intake is likely to be inadequate
There are many fad diets out there but find a balance with nutritious food that has plenty of variety. Periodise food intake to coincide with training. For example, there is a time and a place for carbohydrate. Equally protein and fats. Eat fresh, minimally processed foods that include plenty of servings of vegetables and fresh fruit. Try not to avoid certain food groups unless advised otherwise by a medical professional and if vegan or vegetarian make sure you understand how to maximise calories paying attention to Protein, Fat, B12, Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Iodine and D Vitamin. “The No Meat Athlete Cookbook” by Matt Frazier is a great resource for all sports people
Post exercise, make sure you replenish your body with protein and carbohydrate. Protein will help repair lean muscle and carbohydrate will help restore glycogen for the next training session. How much carbohydrate you eat depends on what training you have coming up… This is where the help of a coach and nutritionist will help keep you honest.
Be sensible with training volume, less is sometime more!
To conclude, who is at risk of RED-S?
The reality is, RED-S can occur in any age or level of athlete but the greatest risk comes for those who are involved in sports that require high power. Power to weight ratio is a fickle beast and those most at risk are cyclists, climbers, triathletes, runners – yes, runners!
Ultimately, find a healthy balance between training, nutrition and rest. Go through the warning signs below and be honest with yourself. If in doubt, ease back, eat healthy and seek the advice of professionals who can help get you back on the correct path.
Below par performances
and of course, an unhealthy relationship with food.
Asif Amirat in the UK is still creating a stir with his 100-marathons in 100-days. Many have been questioning his runs and becoming very vocal on social media. I have reached out to Asif for an interview. At first he was cooperative, however, after I asked several probing questions, he blocked me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Montreux Trail Running Festival – Switzerland COMPLETED
Full results are online here https://montreuxtrail.livetrail.net/ in the main event 112km Jean-Philippe Tschumi and Ragna Debats were crowned champions. Remy Bonnet and Maud Mathys won the 30km.
Speedgoat 50k – USA COMPLETED
Noah Brautigam pipped Hatden Hawks and Anthony Costales to the top slot with Michel Hummel placing 6th on GC and winning the women’s race. Kristina Trystad-Saari and Lelly Wolf were 2nd and 3rd.
Fjallmaraton – Sweden – COMPLETED
Simen Hjalmar Wästlund (Norway) took a surprise victory of UTMB Champion, Pau Capell. In 3rd, Johan Lantz. Times8:50:04, 0:04:49 and 9:35:38.
Azara Garcia took the top slot for the women and placed 9th overall in 10:37:52. Anna Carlsson and Lena Trillelv were 2nd and 3rd.
In the 43km, Tove Alexandersson and Olle Kalered took the top slots
Rondane 100 – Norway – August 15h
Pyrenees Stage Run – Spain (now postponed to 2021)
Marathon des Sables – Morocco (now postponed to 2021)
Top ultramarathon runner Damian Hall has set a new record time for the 268-mile Pennine Way – while also cleaning the trail of litter at the same time.
The 44-year-old inov-8 ambassador completed the iconic route from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders to Edale, Derbyshire, which includes a section along Hadrian’s Wall, in an incredible time of 61 hours 34 minutes, beating the previous record by more than three hours.
The Pennine Way is Great Britain’s oldest – and arguably toughest – National Trail. Much of it is over remote, boggy hills, with a total ascent that exceeds the height of Mount Everest.
Popular with hikers, who usually complete it in 16-19 days, Hall did it in just two-and-a-half, battling sleep exhaustion and all manner of tough weather conditions along the way.
Damian and his team of pacers also helped clean the famous trail of litter as they ran, stuffing it in their packs before handing it to support team members at road crossing meet-up points.
“I feel overwhelmed, really. I remember writing about Mike Hartley’s 1989 record in the Pennine Way guidebook before I got into running and thinking ‘That’s insane, I could never do that!’It was a huge team effort and I couldn’t have made it happen without the support of my road crew, pacers and the people we met along the way. I had the inevitable low spells, but the incredible team got me through them. I felt hugely motivated by three things and had FFF written on my arm in permanent marker as a reminder. They stood for Family, Friends, Future – the latter relating to our need to protect the planet. There wasn’t lots of litter on the trails, but we picked up anything we saw. The road support crew did likewise from the places they met me at along the way. Also, the whole attempt has been certified as ‘carbon negative’ by Our Carbon, as has all my running and my family’s lifestyle for 2020.”
The record Hall beat had previously been set just a week earlier by his friend John Kelly (64 hours 46 minutes); an American ultramarathon runner now based in England. Listen to John Kelly on EP182 HERE – Before that it had stood unbeaten for 31 years, belonging to legend of the long-distance running sport, Mike Hartley, who ran 65 hours 20 minutes in 1989. Kelly ran the route south to north, starting in Edale, while Hall followed in the footsteps of Hartley by doing it north to south. Either way, the route is regarded as one of the toughest in the UK.
Damian, has achieved a great deal in recent year’s and notably finished 5th at UTMB as well as setting other FKT’s. This FKT was fuelled without animal products or plastic waste, while raising more than £4,000 on a JustGiving page for Greenpeace UK.
INTERVIEW : DAMIAN HALL
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In recent weeks, as restrictions on travel, social distancing and borders open, it has somehow felt that living in the times of a Pandemic is a little like toeing the line at Big’s Backyard Ultra. Instead of running loops around a yard, we wake up each morning for another loop of 24-hours not knowing where the finish line is and when it will come.
Covid-19 for us runners is a very unique ultramarathon.
In all honesty, I do believe that ultra-runners are somehow better adapted for the challenges that a Pandemic brings. Mental fortitude and resilience have come to the fore and when restrictions were really tough, runners rallied with running at home. Virtual suddenly became the next big thing. It filled a gap and brought people together from all over the world in a mutual coming together to enjoy a love of sport and community.
The impact on work has been huge for all and the consequences of this will continue on for months and years on personal levels and business. It’s a sad time.
But early on, I accepted that 2020 would be a wipe out. Being somewhat of an OCD character, this took a little time to adjust too. My year of work was planned out. The schedule was timetabled and suddenly, it was gone… What was full, soon became empty. I have felt my moods swing with positivity and at times I have wanted to put my head in my hands.
But quarantine and social distancing, in all honesty, was no big deal for me. I actually feel that I have social distanced most of my life and sport has only reaffirmed that.
Yes, I enjoy the company of friends. Yes, I enjoy a trail run with company. Yes, I enjoy a beer and a meal with others and yes, I have missed my family.
The summit os Slogen, Norway in July with Abelone.
But I am good alone, in isolation and finding my own footing. Time on the trail has always allowed me to switch off, think, contemplate, plan, work out problems, come up with solutions and form ideas.
When running with others, I am often asked, ‘Are you ok? You are quiet!’
‘I am perfect; I am just out of the office and soaking up the time,’ often my reply.
In recent months, or should I say for the whole of 2020 so far, I have immersed myself in a new life in Norway with my girlfriend, Abelone.
Little did we both know in February after being at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica that we would spend 24/7 for the coming months together. I laughed early on saying, ‘Well, this is one way to find out if this relationship will work!’
It has been the best thing to come from a Pandemic.
FREEDOM is something I always had being self-employed but the freedom to do ‘my’ adventures was dictated by travel and a hectic work schedule. Freedom often only really came in the middle of the year when I would block off some time in Summer and then December, which I would treat as sacred and my opportunity to explore and adventure.
2020 has seen my diary flipped with little or no work and constant adventure.
Here is Scandinavia, we were very lucky with Covid (exception coming from Sweden who handled things differently,) particularly in Norway, cases were low, death rates were low and although social distancing was required, our freedom was not impacted. In all honesty, many locals confirmed that the trails in Norway had never had so many people on them in March, April and May. No doubt helped by some amazing weather.
Scandinavians love the outdoor life and Covid only emphasized the need for space, outdoor adventure and exercise. A wonderful mental and physical prescription that all doctors should prescribe.
I am used to travelling when I like, eating in restaurants, meeting friends when I want, and I am used to being surrounded by people at a race. Some would say I was free.
But was I?
August is here and I am now looking back at social interactions in 2020 since March and lockdown.
I have seen no family.
I have seen 4 friends in Norway.
I have run on the trails with Abelone and one other person who we had to social distance with.
I have interacted with 3 members of Abelone’s family.
And that is it…
So, my freedom was and is still certainly impacted upon and I relish the opportunity to hug a friend, travel back to the UK and see my Mum and my son and equally embrace them like never before.
But no work has allowed me a freedom of time, not financial, to do what I want.
Adventure is on the doorstep for us all.
Now, here in Norway we have a pretty big doorstep. At a third larger than the UK, getting around Norway can take a while but with just 5.5 million people in contrast to 66 million, finding space and social distancing is no problem. Hardanger, Stranda, Romsdal, and Jotunheimen have all been on our list and even 1,2 or 3-day adventures from home have become regular.
Just yesterday, we ran 15km from home, wild camped in an isolated location and then ran 15km home.
I have always been a lone wolf with adventure. At best, I have shared an experience with just one or two others. I like my pace, my schedule and my itinerary and am somewhat inflexible, yes stubborn with changes and I do like to plan. I can see Abelone roll her eyes now…!
The escape of outdoor life has always provided me with an energy. I even got that with my work, often hiking out for hours on a trail to sit and wait, alone, for runners to come.
So, what am I saying?
The Pandemic is rubbish, for sure. Is it going away? I hope so, as soon as possible, but as I said at the beginning, currently we are all running loops at Big’s Backyard Ultra and nobody knows how many loops are to go and when the finishing will come.
One thing we do have, albeit at varying levels depending on where one lives in the world, is freedom to explore from home. So, embrace what you have and do not think or focus on what you do not have or what you cannot do.
It’s no surprise that FKT’s have never been more popular.
Many have said, ‘I cannot wait for life to return to normal!’ I agree to a certain extent, normal would be good… But then again, was normal good?
Will life ever be ‘normal’ again, or, are we looking at a new normal?
I don’t have answers.
But I will keep running the loops and enjoy the newfound freedom I have for now.
Have you found freedom in 2020? I would love to know.
I first got a hold of the original TERRAULTRA 2-years ago, the G260. It was a groundbreaking shoe for inov-8 not only introducing a zero-drop shoe to the brands line-up but also paving the way for Graphene technology.
A great deal has happened in the past 2-years with Graphene appearing in more and more inov-8 shoes but interestingly no other zero drop shoes have been added to the line-up.
The TERRAULTRA G260 was warmly welcomed, particularly by any trail runner using Altra who now had a zero-drop alternative now available with a brand who really know how to make off-road shoes from a long history in the fells of the UK.
Now, the G260 has been updated and we welcome the TERRAULTRA G270.
On first glance, it could look like the same shoe. That green colour is somewhat distinctive! However, one does not need to look longer to see some immediate significant changes.
The upper, the lacing, the outsole and the cushioning all sort of look the same but they are not.
In the words on inov-8:
Graphene outsole has 4mm deep cleats all now armed with dispersion channels and rubber dimples to give better grip on wet and dry trails. Cleats are repositioned in key areas and flex grooves fine-tuned for agile sticky traction that lasts longer.
Cushioning is a new POWERFLOW MAX that has been increased by 3mm for a plush ride, improved cushioning and double the durability. A BOOMERANG insole apparently will increase energy return by 20 and 40% respectively over the previous model.
The upper has ADAPTERFIT which adjusts to the foot and the use of stronger materials will add to durability and protection.
With a fit scale of 5, this is as wide as you can go in an inov-8 shoe, So, toe splay and room at the front end comes no better.
Cushioning is 12mm front and rear providing a zero drop. Using POWERFLOW MAX.
The footbed is 6mm and the lug depth of the outsole is 4mm made of Graphene grip.
It G270 has the necessary points to attach a trail gaiter.
At 270g (UK8) the new TERRAULTRA is 10g heavier than the previous version.
Sizing is true to size BUT take into consideration the wider toe box, maybe (?) a half-size smaller would be better. I always use EU44/ UK9.5 and these were ideal for me.
The G270 is light and it’s clear to see some of the immediate improvements over the previous version. The lacing is flatter, the tongue is different, the upper is different, the toe box protection is increased, and the shoes have the flagship Graphene outsole that looks very different.
Zero drop is NOT for everyone, so, what makes the G270 great for some also make the G270 potentially unusable for others. This is not a negative comment, it’s just a heads-up to say, that if you have not used zero drop before, don’t be tempted to get the G270 and start racking miles up… You will almost certainly get sore Achilles, calf and potentially get injured. Like barefoot running, zero drop running needs to be learnt and the body needs to adapt. Typically, 6-months would be a good transition period. However, some zero-drop running (initially short periods) is great for improving run form, so, the G270 could be a nice new weapon in your shoe line-up?
If zero drop is your thing, then you will already have a big smile on your face.
Following on from the G260, the G270 has a wide toe box that echoes what brands like Altra have been doing for years. Toe splay is king and the G270 has loads of room for that. I had issues with the G260 in that I always felt I had too much room, the room at the front was made worse by the upper and lacing system not holding my foot how I wanted to compensate for the additional width, space and foot movement.
Slipping the G270 on I was initially worried, the space in the toe box was as much if not a little more than the previous version. However, as soon as I adjusted and tightened the laces, I immediately noticed significant changes. The tongue was a much better fit. The lacing was great improved, and I could really adjust the tension from top to bottom. The ADAPTERFIT pulled in holding my foot. Walking around immediately felt 100% better than the G260. My foot was being held reassuringly.
The upper is far more breathable that the G260.
The cushioning and bounce were notable and the outsole at this stage left me with many questions.
The G260 was a little lifeless and felt flat. The G270 immediately felt different with a couple of miles on the road before hitting the trails. So, this was already a great improvement.
With META-FLEX at the front, the propulsive phase felt really good no doubt added to with the insole that inov-8 say increases energy return by 40%. I definitely felt some bounce, but 40% more?
The cushioning was noticeable, particularly over the G260 as was the zero drop. I use zero drop shoes occasionally, but always prefer 4/5mm for faster and more technical running and if going long, 8mm works perfect for me. So, considering the G270 is designed for long-distance running, zero drop would be a challenge for me.
The wide toe box still feels mega wide (too wide for me) BUT the lacing and ADAPTERFIT allowed me to compensate for the room at the front by tightening appropriately. However, I did fine once or twice I over-tightened the laces only having to stop and loosen them a little.
The transition from road to gravel trail was seamless and comfortable. The TERRAULTRA is an out and out ultra-shoe designed for trails that are more groomed, say Western States in the USA or UTMB in Europe. So hard packed single-track felt really good in the G270, equally rocky and stoney ground felt good.
Running up hill surprised me. The META-FLEX allowed for great flexibility and propulsion, but it was the outsole that really gripped. A massive improvement over the G260.
I have to say, I have not always been a fan with the addition of Graphene. At times, I felt it compromised the sticky outsoles and made them less grippy, albeit providing longer life. But on many occasions, for me particularly, grip is king and if it is compromised, I am not happy.
Here, in the G270 there was noticeable difference, and this was coming from just 4mm lugs.
The test of course would really come when I threw in some mud and wet rock.
Gladly, mud (loads of it) rocks, tree routes, climbs, descents, wooden planks, forests and yes, a little fire trail all make up my daily and local runs. So, throwing the G270 in the thick of things was easy to do. And yes, I was being unfair as I actively searched out and aimed for steep rocks with water on them and I aimed for every puddle and sloppy mud I could.
I was impressed.
At times, I would think to myself, almost wanting the G270 outsole to fail;
‘This will get them… wait for the slip!’
But the slip never came, especially on dry and wet rock. On a 3-hour run, as the minutes clicked by, I started to relax more and more and eventually stopped worrying and asking;
‘Will the G270 grip here?’
They did, at all times provide me with the grip I required.
Surprisingly, in really sloppy mud, I did not slip or move as I had expected. Partially due to the fact that I did apply the brakes a little and respect the conditions.
Technical trail is where the G270 shows some flaws. The wider toe box lacks precision, allows one’s toes to move and therefore I felt that there was just ‘too much’ shoe to navigate between rocks, roots, stones and a plethora of other obstacles. But of course, I am being unfair! The G270 is designed for less technical trails, long hours and all-day comfort – that they do really well!
The shoes are responsive and do work well when running fast. However, the wide toe box, zero drop and cushioning do make them feel a little like a saloon car… Plenty of room, comfy seats, and can get the miles done. But I craved a more performance car at times with more precision, tighter handling and a little more fire and daring, especially when coming of road, fire trails or single-track.
The cushioning was plush and considering it is only 12mm, it felt like more. Especially noticeable extra comfort over the 9mm G260 which also was a little hard and lifeless. One thing to note, I found on tree routes and some stones, I could feel them in the bottom of my foot, so protection from obstacles is minimal. The toe box though has a good bumper and that worked really well.
The heel box was noticeably secure on the flat and going uphill, I had little to no slippage.
Damian Hall just ran 260-miles on the Pennine Way in the G270 and set a new FKT, so, that gives some indication of the intended use of this shoe. Having said that, the Pennine Way is not all single-track and wonderful cruising trail, so, the shoe can handle the rough stuff too.
I was impressed by how versatile the 4mm Graphene outsole worked. There has been some significant improvement over the G260 and in the Graphene outsole in general.
The upper, lacing and tongue now really hold the foot and that for me is essential, especially with such a wide toe box. The toe box is one of the key selling points of this shoe. It allows toe splay, plenty of room and flexibility for a foot to swell wider with accumulated miles.
The cushioning increased from 9mm (G260) to 12mm for the G270 is noticeable. More importantly, the G270 now has life, the G260 felt a little dead.
The G270 is a marked improvement over the G260, so, if you liked the previous model you are going to love the latest incarnation.
Zero drop and a wide toe box will be exactly what some people are looking for and they will have a big smile on their face. For me, and this of course is very personal, I can’t run in zero for hours and hours and I feel that the toe box is a little roomier than it needs to be.
So, imagine a Trail Talon 290 made like a TERRAULTRA G270 – slightly narrower toe box (4 fit) 8mm drop; 11mm and 19mm cushioning and this Graphene outsole – that would be a winning shoe IMO. (inov-8 take note)
The G270 is a winning shoe and all packaged perfectly for ultra-distance runner who needs grip, cushioning and comfort for the long-haul out on the trails. It would even make a great road shoe if required.
For multi-day adventures, such as Marathon des Sables, just like the Trail Talon, the G270 would be really excellent.
If technical trail and mud is your thing, this is not the best shoe for that, however, it can handle it remarkably well, so, if you only wanted one trail shoe (with zero drop) to do all, the G270 would be ideal. By contrast, if you wanted a one-stop trail shoe with 8mm drop, I recommend the Trail Talon 290.
Hal Koerner is a legend in the world of ultra-running who was one of the early pioneers of the sport. He has victories at Kettle Morraine 100, The Bear 100, Angeles Crest, Western States hardrock 100 and so many more… He is the owner of a specialty running store, Rogue Valley Runners, located in the mountainous Southern Oregon town of Ashland. Hal featured in JB Benna’s feature-length documentary “Unbreakable: The Western States 100”. In 2014, he published “Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning” and was released by VeloPress. The book details training for an ultra marathon; from 50k to 100 miles.
TALK ULTRA podcast will be released as normal providing you long shows as it has always done with ideally two shows per month. The back catalogue will be released randomly via the INTERVIEWS and not chronologically.
I was fortunate to interview JB and Jennifer Benna early on in the life of Talk Ultra, you can listen to the episode 26 HERE
UNBREAKABLE for many ‘is’ the iconic Western States movie as it documented a golden age of the race (2010) featuring Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka, Kilian Jornet and Hal Koerner who had won the race twice.
‘Unbreakable: The Western States 100’ follows the four lead men on this amazing journey. Hal Koerner, two time defending Western States champion, and running store entrepreneur from Ashland, Oregon. Geoff Roes, undefeated at the 100-mile distance, an organic chef from Juneau, Alaska. Anton Krupicka, undefeated in every ultramarathon he has ever started, a graduate student living in Boulder, Colorado. Kilian Jornet, the young mountain runner and two time Ultra-trail du Mont-Blanc champion, from Spain.
Thanks to JB and Jennifer
“UNBREAKABLE, The Western States 100,”
has been made available for free.
The Western States Endurance Run, known commonly as the Western States 100, is a 100-mile long (161 km) ultramarathon that takes place on trails in California’s Sierra Nevada annually, on the last weekend of June. The race starts at the base of the Squaw Valley ski resort and finishes at the Placer High School track in Auburn, California. Runners climb a cumulative total of 18000 feet (5500 m) and descend a total of 23000 feet (7000 m) on mountain trails before reaching the finish. Because of the length of the race, the race begins at 5:00 A.M. and continues through the day and into the night. Runners finishing before the 30 hour overall time limit for the race receive a bronze belt buckle, while runners finishing in under 24 hours receive a silver belt buckle. – via wikipedia.
TRAIL TALON 290 (8mm drop) is one of my favourite all-round trail shoes of all-time, the previous incarnations were always a ‘go-to’ for everyday running and when travelling, they were the perfect shoe to take as they managed to cover a multitude of uses, be that road, hard trail, rocks and yes, even some mud and very soft-ground.
The new version of TRAIL TALON, named TRAIL TALON 290 V2 is all that the previous incarnation was with a new upper.
The plus side from the off, is the new TRAIL TALON 290 V2 has that all important 8mm drop that is great for everyday use, not too low and too high. Therefore, it’s perfect for those longer days.
Theoutsole has 4mm lugs with a classic configuration, the TRAIL TALON 290 V2 is very much a dry trail/ mountain shoe that can handle a little sloppy stuff if required.
The TRAIL TALON 290 V2 is wide (fit 4 – Shoes with the higher numbers on our scale will suit athletes with a wider foot and those wanting that extra comfort in the toe box) and it has plenty of room and it allows the toes to move and splay just as in the previous model but not at the loss of a secure feel and reassurance when on more technical trail.
When running long your toes have room to move and should you be prone to swelling, the shoes have room for the foot to expand. This ‘standard fit’ is something that inov-8 have worked on and by contrast, some shoes in the inov-8 range can be purchased on ‘precision’ fit which offers a tighter and narrower toe box. The TRAIL TALON V2, when running on long, flat and consistent terrain excel with a plush ride, great return in the push-off phase and all-day comfort.
The 6mm POWER FOOTBED and TWO PIECE POWERFLOW midsole provide a cushioned ride with 1imm at the front and 19mm at the rear. This only adds to the thoughts of inov-8 that the TRAIL TALON is a long-distance shoe, if going out for a long session or a day in the mountains, the Trail Talon 290 V2 would be ideal. Also, ideal if running a multi-day race like Marathon des Sables or similar. The higher drop allows more leeway and flexibility and I must add that the TRAIL TALON 290 V2 is a superb shoe to walk in. This is really important for those who are running long or doing multi-day races. Often, shoes are tested just running with no consideration of how the shoe transitions to a change of gait when walking. For me, the TRAIL TALON 290 is one of the best run shoes I have used when walking, the transition is seamless and comfortable no doubt attributable to the ADAPTERFIT met-cradle for better mid-foot comfort.
I am always wary of buzz words like ‘Powerflow’ and ‘Adapterfit’ as in real terms they can mean nothing. Breaking the words down, the TRAIL TALON 290 V2 has great cushioning and great mid-foot comfort.
When running, the feel of the shoe and the comfort level is high. In the 290 has a great ‘feel’ for the ground despite the extra comfort, really important for me, I never want to lose that connection with the surface I am running on.
As in the previous 290, the TRAIL TALON290 V2 incorporates the unique on-the-shoe gaiter attachment so that should you require a Gaiter you can purchase the item separately and attach/ de-attach with ease.
The lacing system and a gusseted tongue are winners contributing to the great out-of-the-box comfort. I have been saying this for ages, but a gusseted tongue just makes sense; It helps hold the foot in place, it stops the tongue moving and sliding to the left or right as you run and maybe most importantly it adds an additional protection to stop debris entering the shoe.
The lacing is added ‘on to’ the shoe by what effectively is a folded plastic layer. This works so well as it allows the shoes to be laced tightly or loosely as required but it also allows the front to swell within the shoe.
Toe protection on the shoe is good but not ridiculous. The heel box is snug, cushioned, holds the foot well and caused no rubbing on long sessions, even when walking.
Grip is compromised on any muddy trails but then again, the TRAIL TALON 290 V2 is not intended for this type of terrain, you are much better looking at a Mudclaw or similar which is designed for specific off-road and muddy use.
The key change and hence the V2 title; the upper. It is lighter and more breathable without a compromise to durability. Recently, inov-8 have had some complaints re upper durability but here in the 290 V2 I have no complaints. I have put 150-miles in them on a mixture of terrain and the shoes are holding up really well, both the upper and outsole.
Finally, the TRAIL TALON 290 V2 is gladly very similar to the previous incarnation and for that I am very happy. Often a brand feels the need to tweak a shoe looking for constant improvement when in reality, what they had was already fine! Gladly here, the V2 has just an upper change and that works perfectly well.
This TRAIL TALON 290 V2 was a winner before and it still is. I would go as far to say, that it is inov-8’s best shoe. It is most certainly the best all-rounder and if you were looking for one pair of trail shoes to handle many scenarios, the 290 V2 is perfect.
Iconic inov-8 rubber outsoles with multi-directional claw-shaped 4mm studs, each with a wide contact area, allow the quick release of debris and provide unrivalled grip and stability over rocky terrain.
The two-piece POWERFLOW midsole, constructed from two compounds – one designed to optimize comfort and the other to maximize energy return – delivers 10% better shock absorption and 15% better energy return than standard midsoles. An inbuilt Dynamic Fascia Band (DFB) mimics the “Windlass Effect”, delivering a kick of energy with each step, helping you run faster more efficiently.
An 8mm drop offers comfort, while new highly durable lightweight upper materials offer breathability and protection. Built around the natural anatomic structure of the foot, the next generation ADAPTERFIT met-cradle adapts to the natural movement and swelling of the foot on longer runs.
An External Heel Cage (EHC) wraps around the rear of the shoe and provides support in the heel – aiding foot stability and helping maintain a better gait when fatigued.
The new upper features extended welded TPU overlays and a rubber toe bumper to protect the foot from sharp rocks and stones. On-the-shoe gaiter hooks allow you to attach an ALL TERRAIN GAITER for additional protection, keeping loose debris out of the shoe.