Mountain, Ultra, Trail and Skyrunning Review of 2017

As a year comes to a close, I always like to look back and consider the highlights of the year, not only personal highlights but global highlights of the running world.

It is a daunting task at times.

The running year is now so full that it can be difficult to remember what happened just weeks ago, never mind months ago. So, with this in mind, please consider that this article is my thoughts and not a definitive highlight of 2017.

Having said that, I am going to make some huge mistakes and I am going to miss some key people, races and performances.

I welcome you, the reader, reminding me of what they are – please, just be nice!

So, let us look at 2017.

I was considering going through chronologically and in all honesty, it may have been the better solution to the task at hand, however, I have just gone on impulse! 

Western States was won by Ryan Sandes and I have to say, it was a sweet victory for the South African who over the years I have considered a great friend. Ryan was my first ever interview on Talk Ultra podcast and I love his story. The non-runner who became a runner who eventually won Western States. It’s a dream story. While on the subject of Western, we also need to mention the ladies champ, Cat Bradley. While all the top contenders faded, Cat ran a sound and solid race to take the biggest win of her life. It was no one-off, something she has proven recently by setting a FKT in the Grand Canyon – Rim – to – Rim – to – Rim fastest known time in 7:52:20

Francois D’Haene racing in China, April 2017

Francois D’Haene is the best 100-mile mountain runner in the world – end of the story. The dude has been nailing it for years and when Rob Krar won 3 100’s in one year, so did Francois. The Frenchman has consistently dominated the distance and when the trail has vertical, he is almost unbeatable. In 2017, he elevated himself to a new level firstly beating the ‘unbeatable’ Kilian Jornet at UTMB and then setting (obliterating) the FKT for the John Muir Trail. He also ripped MIUT (Madeira Island Ultra Trail) apart, and the previous CR set by Zach Miller. Without doubt, Francois is the male ultra-runner of the year in my eyes. We just need to see him at Hardrock 100 now!

Andrea Huser blows my mind constantly. She is the most impressive and consistent runner in the ultra-world and I often ask the question, if she raced less, would she win more? She has a string of top results but often has missed the big win. But when you race as much as she does, you can’t help but just nod in respect.

Caroline Chaverot was unbeatable in 2016 and 2017 started with some issues, issues that she has battled with throughout 2017. Despite this, she won Hardrock 100. It was a great victory and not one without controversy… she left her bleeding pacer on the trail for others to help. Just recently she rounded out her year with a win at Saint E Lyon in France – the classic November night race.

Ida Nilsson and Tim Freriks kicked off their seasons with victory at Transvulcania. Ida’s win was to be expected, but Tim’s win was a revelation. The ‘cowboy’ then went on to set a FKT in the Grand Canyon. Ida continued her great running throughout 2017 and then the duo turned up at San Francisco 50 and both won again – they topped and tailed the year and we can expect big things in 2018!

Jim Walmsley and the PR machine in many ways signified a new era in the sport of ultra-running and not all for the better in my opinion. The hype around the 2017 Western States before the race pretty much had Jim with his buckle, the Cougar and a new CR. The reality was very different. Jim then went to UTMB and showed signs of learning the craft. He watched Francois and Kilian and paced his day. It eventually went wrong but he rallied and closed out strong. A definitive moment for Jim and I was well aware that this would be a turning point for his 100-mile future. He then confirmed he would run on Reunion Island at Raid de la Reunion! While I can admire the decision, for me, it was always going to be a questionable decision in regard to his ‘professional’ development. But I am being judgmental and I hope not in a negative way. I ‘get’ that Jim wanted to run on the island but the step-up from UTMB was huge and despite leading the race, he eventually dropped around the 100km mark. It has been a huge learning year for the fast man and I still hold true that up to 100km, the guy is pretty much un-matched. I am looking forward to seeing him nail 100-miles in 2018 (maybe 2019) and when he does, watch out, it will almost certainly be super-fast and mind blowing. 

Kilian Jornet pretty much was missing from the mountain, ultra and trail calendar for the past 18-months and rightly so. He had set targets on the final summit of his Summits of my Life – Everest. A failed attempt in previous year and then Nepal earthquakes had put things on hold. No bad thing. Kilian learned, progressed and then finally summited Everest twice in one week which blew the minds of the whole world. Of course, anything so amazing has questions raised over it and rightly so. Just recently an article appeared and Kilian responded. Read HERE. More will come to light in regard to Everest and ultimately one has to assume the Everest film will answer all questions. Post Everest, Kilian started running again and won a super-fast Sierre Zinal, he won Hardrock 100 with a dislocated shoulder, placed 2nd behind Francois at UTMB and won Glen Coe Skyline. In the winter, he has had operations on his shoulders and now is in recovery and waiting to get back into the SkiMo season. Kilian has nothing to prove in my eyes. What does 2018 hold? Who knows really, ultimately, Kilian is at the top of his game and he will go where his heart takes him… expect a Zegama appearance, a Hardrock appearance, maybe the Bob Graham will be on the cards and maybe he will be back in Scotland for Glen Coe. Who knows? Whatever the path, he will inspire.

Camille Herron won Comrades, wow, it is the holy grail of road ultra-running. She then followed with a DNF at Western States and Leadville and I, and others, was left wondering what had happened. Oh, my word has she put the record straight. In recent weeks Camille has set a 100-mile world record 12:42:39, a 100km USA track record 7:36:39 at Desert Solstice and then went on to run for 12-hours and set a 12hr All-Surface World Record 92.708 miles. She is the new Ann Trason and arguably, she will be in for a shout as ultra-runner of the year.

Courtney Dewaulter can push Camille close. This lady won Run Rabbit Run (again) this time losing her vision in the final 10km. She then went on to win Moab 200 (actually 238-miles) outright and then recently ran 250.079km / 155.391 miles in 24-hours setting an American record. Wow!

Nuria Picas came out of the wilderness of 2016 and quite rightly, finally won UTMB. Nuria was unstoppable for many years but the big loop around Chamonix had eluded her, I firmly believe she can consider her career complete with this win!

The UK’s Dan Lawson flew around the Gobi Desert to win with a new CR at the 400km Ultra Gobi. Dan is the UK’s hottest prospect at the long game, particularly when you consider past runs on the Grand Union Canal and 2nd at the iconic Spartathlon.

Marco De Gasperi pioneered the way for Skyrunning on Monte Rosa in the early 90’s and has had incredible journey as one of the most respected mountain runners in the world. Finally, in 2017, Marco became the Skyrunner World Series (SWS) champion after an incredible season of consistent running and podium places – a true inspiration.

Maite Maiora moved up several notches in 2017 and was a dominant force on the Skyrunning circuit with a string of victories and podium places. 2017 was her year in the sky! But let us not forget Ragna Debats, she had an amazing full season and triumphed over multiple distances in addition to a great run at the IAU World Trail Champs. Also, Sheila Aviles came of age… a name to watch in future years! For the guys, keep an eye on Jan Maragarit.

UTMB had arguably the greatest male line-up of elite runners ever and it turned out to be great show down and we saw the confirmation that US runners are getting UTMB. Tim Tollefson was again flying the flag with a 3rd place. It is only a matter of time until we see an American win the big dance around France, Italy and Switzerland – will it be 2018? It could well be if Francois d’Haene and Kilian Jornet don’t run.

Hillary Allen has represented the USA in Europe for a couple of years now and once again she was doing so in 2017. However, it all fell apart, before my eyes, at Tromso SkyRace in Norway. She fell many meters, bounced on the rocks below and came away with some serious injuries. Thankfully, the recovery process has gone well and I wish Hillary well for 2018.

Ruth Croft has been in the mix for some time and I think it is fair to say that her victory at ‘Templiers’ in France recently has elevated to the New Zealander to a new level for the coming year… what does 2018 hold for this lady?

2017 most certainly has been a FKT year – Iker Karrera, Darcy Piceu, Francois d’Haene, Tim Freriks, Cat Bradley, Alicia Vargo, Rickey Gates and so many more have all taken the Fastest Known Time discipline to new heights but I wonder if ‘Stringbean’s’ FKT on the Appalachian Trail is the one that should have had more press and coverage? He soloed the AT quicker than Karl Meltzer and Scott Jurek and without help, but, relatively slipped under most radars. Read here.

Jeff Browning crushed the 100-mile distance in 2016 and did so again in 2017, he is a great ambassador for the sport.

Luis Alberto Hernando is for me, arguably one of the most talented runners in the world. But he is a quiet guy who in many ways, keeps himself to himself. He races hard and crushes the competition. In 2017, he once again became IAU World Trail Champion on a course that he, and many others said, didn’t suit him. The guy is pure class!

The UK’s Damian Hall came to running late in life (not that he is old) but he has slowly and surely chipped his way through the ultra-ranks and this year just missed the top-10 at UTMB – an incredible result.

Tom Evans broke on the scene by placing 3rd at MDS Morocco and in the process set a new benchmark for UK based runners to aim for. He followed this up with some other solid results in 2017 and I, like many others, wonder what 2018 holds in store.

Rickey Gates ran across America. Nuff said! Read here.

Ueli Steck, the Swiss Machine, died on the mountains and left the mountain world devastated by his passing. Here.

Alex Honold free soloed El Cap in arguably one of the most awe-inspiring and risky climbs in the history of the sport. It is quite literally, off the scale and beyond comprehension. I know it’s not running but it is without doubt worth a mention! Here.

The infamous Barkley once again served up another serving of spine tingling history with John Kelly finishing and Canada’s Gary Robbins left wiped out on the floor in tears. You can’t make stories like this up.

Gary Cantrell (Lazarus Lake of Barkley fame) organised a race that went through his garden, The Big Backyard Ultra. Every 60-minutes, runners set off on a loop. During the night, the loop changed. The principal was simple, you keep going till one man or woman is left Standing. Well, Guiiiaume Calmettes was that man in 2017 running 245.835 pipping Harvey Lewis. 

Rachid Elmorabity once again won Marathon des Sables in Morocco proving that he is the greatest multi-day desert runner in the world at the moment. Elisabet Barnes, 2015 MDS champion once again returned to the sand pit after missing victory in 2016 and was unstoppable with a dominant and impressive force of sand running.

MDS Peru followed on the 32-year traditions of its Moroccan big brother with the first edition in Peru’s Ica Desert. This was the first time any event was allowed permission to take place in this amazing National Park. It was great first event with Morocco’s Rachid Elmorabity and France’s Nathalie Mauclair taking the top honours.

Michael Wardian did what he always does, run and run and run throughout 2017. But he kicked off the year with a world record running 7-marathons on 7-continents in 7-days. The guy just continues to impress.

Best shoes of 2017? Well, this is well and truly a can of worms and I can only answer from a personal perspective. The Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 here blew my socks off and is now my favourite day-to-day trail running shoe. For when it gets technical, gnarly, muddy and I need an aggressive shoe, the VJ Sport iRock2 here has set a new benchmark for me in regard to grip.

Best clothing? inov-8 have continued to impress me with not only excellent run shoes but appeared to match. They now have a really specific line of products (including packs) that make them an excellent one-stop shop for anything that you would need for a messy and muddy 5km fell run to the tough and challenging 100+ mile UTMB.

Best moment of 2017? That is a serious toughie but maybe Ryan Sandes finally taking that WSER top slot. I know how much he wanted it and he didn’t have an easy journey obtaining it. Huge respect! But hey, I have been inspired by so many in 2017.

On a personal note to conclude:

For me, I started travelling in January and I stopped in December. Yes, I have been on the road for 12-months and I consider myself to be truly blessed for the opportunities I have had to follow my dreams and make a living from it. I never take it for granted! While I could go into the details of each trip, I won’t. Every race is documented in words and images on this website and my social channels and you can find out about them should you so wish.

INSTAGRAM here

TWITTER here

FACEBOOK PHOTOGRAPHY here FACEBOOK TALK ULTRA here

PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITE here IMAGE SALES here

Don’t forget Talk Ultra Podcast which has documented this sport HERE

BUT, and this is a huge BUT. My passion, and my work calendar comes at a price. I have a son, a family and an amazing partner, Niandi. They have all been neglected in 2017 with my travel and race coverage. It’s a dilemma and one that keeps me awake. I struggle for answers but I want to say THANK YOU for the support to all those people who mean the world to me, you know who you are.

 

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 Shoe Review

Been a long time since I slipped on a pair of Nike!

The last time? Well, some Lunarglides, I used them when road running and for trail? I think it was probably a pair of Trail Pegasus.

Be honest, who at some point in their run life didn’t have a pair of Pegasus?

Nike moved into the trail scene some time ago and very much built a solid hardcore team that included Zach Miller, David Laney, Sally McRae and so on. I had anticipated that Nike would attack the trail scene with an aggressive plan of trail domination… It didn’t really happen. For sure, the runners on the team all did really well gaining prestigious results but the team stayed small and compact – not what I imagined!

A new team needs new shoes and Nike set to the task of creating shoes that could really cut it on the trails and in the mountains.

I picked up a pair of Wildhorse last-year but I wasn’t convinced on the fit. I found the heel cup didn’t hold my foot securely and I found the lacing didn’t hold my foot secure. I put them back in the box and back on the shelf.

However, this September I grabbed hold of the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4.

WHAT A REVELATION!

Neck on the line, THIS SHOE is currently my favourite trail shoe and yes, it is up there as one of my favourite shoes of all time. This is a bold statement.

All my worries and niggles from the previous model are gone and what we have now is an absolutely wonderful shoe for hard-pack, rocky, dusty, sandy, gravel and mountainous terrain.

First things first.

  • Neutral shoe.
  • 8mm drop.
  • Cushioned 28mm rear and 20mm front.
  • Wide toe box.
  • Fits true to size.

OUT OF THE BOX

The Wildhorse 4 comes in some serious colour options! Many just a little ‘too’ much for me but after one run and a good dose of dirt, dust and mud and they will look great. I chose the grey/ black pair with a hint of green. Apparently, Nike describe this as: Dark Grey/Black/Stealth/Wolf Grey.

Other options: Images by Nike©

Cerulean/Aurora/Pure Platinum/Laser Orange

Port Wine/Tea Berry/Pure Platinum/Sunset Tint

Sport Fuchsia/Racer Pink/True Berry/Hydrangeas

I take a UK9.5 and the shoe is light – not the lightest, but light at 275g.

Immediately the outsole grabs your eye and then the cushioning. The upper is very impressive with layers mesh/textile that make a durable and breathable upper. The most important aspect though is right in the middle of the shoe. The laces are held within a reinforced section that on first looks appears to be over the top.

However, when you slip your foot inside the shoe, you immediately notice the level of comfort and support this area gives. It is the best of any shoe I have tried – it is a dream! This is also enhanced by gusseted tongue and sock like fit. I have often said that Salomon set the bar with the ’S-Lab Sense’ for foot comfort, this has now been surpassed by the feel of the Air Zoom Wildhorse 4.

The toe box is wide and allows the foot to splay. I like this for long runs when the terrain is not too technical. However, the Flywire Cables that work in conjunction with the laces are so good, that I found technical running a breeze. There is no stitching or seams in the toe area, so, I had no issues with rubbing, abrasion or blisters.  A reinforced area protects all the toes and it works extremely well. It is not as robust (hard) as other trail shoes I have tried but it is adequate and caused me no issues on very rocky terrain.

The heel box is just so comfy! It’s padded, supportive and holds the foot firm giving 100% confidence when changing direction. No heel slip and no rubbing.

The outsole is ‘waffle’ construction made up of square lugs that cover the whole sole, the exception coming in the middle. Two rubber types are used – a lighter grey area in the middle and a darker area that runs the perimeter of the shoe that is harder wearing.

In the forefoot area, you can see a coloured area under the outsole (this colour area is different depending on which colour way of shoe you have), on my model it is a yellow/green.

This is the rock plate (called Stone Shield) and this provides awesome protection from rocks, stones, debris and sharp objects – I felt nothing coming through! Notably the outsole curls up around the heel of the shoe – more in this later!

Cushioning is wonderfully plush without losing a feel for the ground. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s not Hoka plush – I hate that marshmallow feel. This is cushioning with some rigidity that on technical trail keeps the shoe doing the job it is meant to do, propelling you forward – not losing energy by running into the ground as the cushioning keeps sinking and sinking.

It has been a long time since I felt that Zoom Air feel and it took me back. It is really great. In particular, I found the heel cushioning so comfortable when landing with a full foot and when walking. This would be a great shoe if walking is a big part of your training/ racing. Phylon foam is used in the midsole and equally this provides a wonderful ride, it’s a little firmer than other options but I loved the feel and durability is very good.

IN USE

Slipping the shoe on for the first time you immediately feel the sockliner, gusseted tongue and new lacing system holding your foot. Loosen the laces, stand up and move your foot around a little and let them settle in the shoe. Then lace up and tighten as required. This is one of the secrets of this shoe and it is a secret weapon. The Flywire lacing holds the foot so secure that running technical trails is a dream. In addition to the firm hold, it offers protection. For me, it’s the best in its class and THE most comfortable upper of any shoe I have used. I want ALL my shoes to feel like this.

The heel box wraps around, is plush and just holds everything in place. Climbing a 1000m vertical of rock, scree and grass and at no point was my heel slipping or trying to pull out of the shoe as I powered up very much on my toes.

The toe box is roomy and allows the foot to splay. If I was running long and relatively non-technical trail this would be my toe box of choice. If I was running for less time on technical trail I would normally choose a shoe with a more precision fit so that I have no sloppiness or indecision when changing direction. In the Wildhorse 4 this is not an issue, although my toes were splayed, the Flywire and lacing does such a good job that I had no issue over my ability to navigate rocks, boulders, snow, mud etc.

With 28mm rear cushioning, 20mm at the front and 8mm drop, this shoe is designed for running long with comfort. It is one of the most comfortable shoes I have used. The Air Zoom pod in the heel really is quite special – I had forgot how special! When landing with a flat foot you feel the pod in the heel compress and push you forward but most notably, this was incredible when walking. Trust me, if walking is a part of your training/ racing, the Wildhorse 4 should be on your list of shoes to test out. I have done some big walking days in these in mountainous terrain covering well over 30km’s and 2500m of vertical gain and descent and the Wildhorse 4 was a pleasure. It’s a shoe that would work so well in long races and multi-day races such as Marathon des Sables.

Importantly, when walking, the outsole wraps up and around the heel providing incredible grip – you need to try it to appreciate it. The remaining cushioning comes from Phylon which in conjunction with stone shield protection provides a comfortable and protected ride with durability. It’s a real winner.

It may come as no surprise, but these shoes run really well on the road. They are comfortable and the miles pass with no worries or concerns that you are in a trail shoe. Of course, too much road and the outsole will wear out quicker than normal. It’s important to know though that these shoes switches between different terrains seamlessly.

The waffled outsole on the Wildhorse 4 is not aggressive, so, it’s never going to cut it if running in mud – they are just not aggressive enough. If mud is your thing you need to look for a different shoe with an aggressive outsole such as the inov-8 Mudclaw or the VJ Sport IRock2. The small waffle squares cover the whole shoe with a small space in the middle and they extend up towards the front of the shoe to the toes and up and around the heel providing great 360 grip.

Two different compounds in theory cover all surfaces and challenges and the darker rubber is more durable. On dry trail, rocks, gravel, mountain paths, boulders and so on, I had complete confidence. The grip in conjunction with shoes hold and cushioning have made the Wildhorse 4 ‘my’ trail shoe of the year. They make me want to put them on and run. The only time I have felt any compromise is in mud – the sole is not aggressive enough but I knew this before I entered the mud. And on wet rocks the outsole is just a little firmer and less soft than some of the competition.

Images by Nike ©

CONCLUSION

Please note these shoes were not provided by Nike. They were purchased from TC Running in Minnesota. 

The Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 has blown my socks off. I never thought that a Nike trail shoe would do this but it has. It is now my ‘go-to’ trail shoe and one that I take with me everywhere as they allow me to run long, run short, be cushioned, be comfortable, be secure and all with an 8mm drop.

There are so many positives to the Wildhorse 4 that I am really struggling to find negatives. It is a shoe that I would recommend to anyone as I think it does so many jobs so well that if you only wanted one pair of trail shoes, the Wildhorse 4 would be my *recommendation. (*recommendation based on neutral gait and 8mm drop). In particular, walkers should take note of the comfort benefits this shoe brings.

I have run through rocky, stone and desert trails of the UAE, ran groomed trails in the USA, climbed variable terrain in the Pyrenees and I have walked and walked in them when working on race coverage. They have been perfect!

Are there negatives? Yes, of course.

It’s not a shoe that can handle mud. It can take mud sections as part of a drier trail run but if running in wet and muddy terrain I would use a different shoe. I also felt that the grip on wet rock was not as good due to the rubber compound of the outsole.

Ultimately though, the Wildhorse 4 is a winner!