Monday, 17 September 2012

Hoka One One - Review

When I first heard about the Hoka One One trainers I was very skeptical about them. They looked totally wrong to me especially as I had spent the last 18 months running in more minimalist trainers like the Inov8 Road-X 155 and Bare-X 150: I had converted to a more barefoot approach to my running after a stress fracture in the spring of 2011. I had always favoured a more racer-trainer with my slight build.

My coach, Carolyn Hunter-Rowe: twice World 100 km Champion and World record holder for 40miles on the track, had always advised me not to wear racing flat for 100 km on tarmac as from her experience she had found them very unforgiving... and I believe it's worth listening to a double world champ and a world record holder.

So when I was selected to run for England at the British 100 km Championship I suddenly had a dilemma on my hands, could I risk ignoring my coaches advice? I was also suffering with a swollen 3rd metatarsal which was getting very sore after running in barefoot trainers.

So with an open mind I looked again at the Hokas. I was drawn to them because of the 4 mm drop and some of the online reviews: the Hokas were like Marmite, reviewers either loved them or hated them. I was intrigued by how some people were saying how less fatigued they felt in them and how they were recovering more quickly from running Ultra Marathons in them. I took the plunge and decided to try them.


When I first picked up the Bondis I had been sent, like so many people say, they felt incredibly light for so much trainer, the sole is rather large, but they felt lighter than an old pair of Nike Structure Triax I used to have. My first concern with such a big sole was: would I still be able to run on my forefoot as I am a forefoot striker?
I also had to go up to size 8, which is nearly a size bigger than Im used to wearing.
The Bondi felt very comfy on with plenty of toe room and walking around the house I enjoyed the feel of the rocker.

My first run in them was an easy 4miles the day after a fast hard 15 km road race, I did feel slightly self-conscious running in them with such a big sole and wondering if I looked like someone from the nineties! The Bondi felt incredibly bouncy: like I was just bouncing along the road and I found I could still run on my forefoot.

I next tested them out on a hilly 20mile road run, again they felt really comfortable on and considering the size of the sole they didn't feel clumsy at all. My metatarsal wasn't giving me any problems: I couldn't feel it at all. I found I could run up hills really quickly then the fun really began as I ran downhill! As they advertise they really do make you fly down hill.
I ran the 20miles in a comfortable 2hrs 11mins and was surprised how good my legs felt at the end of the run. I was even more amazed how fresh my legs felt the next day and I was not suffering with any pain in my metatarsal.

After another 20mile road run and several other road runs of different lengths I decided to wear them for the British 100 km Champs, I was now enjoying the bouncy feel of them and whilst at times I did miss the feel of being close to the ground I had in more minimalist shoes I was enjoying running without any pain in my metatarsal.

I was the only runner wearing Hokas at the British 100 km Champs. Some of the other ultra runners commented on the Hokas, some of them also said that they had tried them and had felt that the Hokas had changed their gait too much: something I hadn't really experienced.
You can read my blog for the 100 km on here and how hot it was and how I struggled with the heat and cramp! It was suggested that one of the reasons I was cramping up was due to the Hokas changing my gait, but I knew I hadn't done the mileage I normally put in for 100 km races as it was a last minute decision to run and I know I suffer really badly with cramp in heat. So it’s unreliable to state that the Hokas caused my cramp.

What amazed me was how quickly my legs recovered from the 100 km, though my time was 24 mins slower than when I finished my previous 100 km. Unlike back in 2009, when it took me 2 weeks before I could run again, I was out on the Friday (5 days after the 100 km) running 5miles. My legs felt like they had run an ultra but they didn't feel totally trashed and the following week I was back to normal training.

5 weeks after the 100 km British Champs I was competing in the inaugural New Balance Ultra Tour of the Peak District a 56mile trail ultra with over 2700 m of ascent. I had been able to get some quality miles of training in prior to the race but my metatarsal had flared up again having been aggravated running on rocky trails. The Friday before the race I was given a pair of Hoka Mafate 2 to try out.

The Mafate 2 felt a little heavier on my feet than the Bondi. On a short test run they didn't feel too bulky and I could run over stones and tree roots and not feel my swollen metatarsal. 

The Mafates were great on the trail ultra. They offered enough grip on the muddy boggy sections of Peak District trail and even with such a high sole I didn't go over on my ankles as I feared I could do. They also felt great on the intermittent road sections as I just bounded along.
Once again I was amazed by how good my legs felt after the 60mile trail race, they didn't feel totally wrecked like they have done previously and I was back out training again a few days after the NBUTPD.
It has been interesting hearing other peoples experience of the Hoka; they are a bit of a marmite of a shoe: you either love them or hate them! And as a barefoot fan, I probably seem like the most unlikely candidate for Hokas, but I really enjoy wearing them; they are real fun to run in. My metatarsal problem has been clearing up and I am really surprised by how quickly I am recovering after Ultra Marathon races.
Don’t get hung up on the look of them, rather than letting the aesthetics be the concern, let your legs decide, they wont be disappointed.

Thank you to Mark Barnes at HFP Consultants and Steve Couper at Sidas UK for letting me play with the Hokas.
Photographs courtesy of Ian J Berry and Accelerate-Big Run Weekend

Monday, 10 September 2012

New Balance Ultra Tour of the Peak District 2012

Once in a while a race catches your attention and you think I fancy having a go at that and would it fit into my racing/training schedule?

I first saw the website for the BIG RUNWEEKEND in May when I was getting back into proper training after a set back with depression, the route looked great and covered some of the old terrain I used to run on when I was a member of Dark Peak Fell Runners at the turn of the century (why does that make me feel so old?!). The only problem was: could I get fit enough to run 56miles of rolling trail?

Two weeks before the Anglo Celtic Plate I took the decision to run at the inaugural New Balance Ultra Tour of the Peak District or the NBUTPD. Thankfully I recovered quickly from the 100km and put some quality long hilly runs in the Lakes and on the Pennines and squeezed some big hill sessions in.

The BIGRW started on the Saturday evening with a series of talks from the inspirational Nikki Spinks who shared her running highs and lows so humbly and honestly, then Stuart Walker who in 10 questions talked inspiringly about his fund raising run across the Alps, the stats were mind blowing! Then Darryl Watton talked about his training and competing in the Marathon des Sables.

We then had a Q&A session with the main speakers, Julian Lings British Duathlon Champion, and Jason Ward who has ran 29:05 for 10km and 65:59 for a half marathon.

The weather during the evening had been pretty awful with heavy down pours of rain which continued during the night making for an unpleasant night in my tent. And when my alarm went off at 5am I’m sure I had had no more than 4hours of sleep if I was lucky!

I had a dilemma of what footwear to wear for the race, Inov8 had given me a pair of their new Trail-Rocs 245 which felt great on and I had also been given a pair of Hoka Mafate 2, I had worn Hoka Bondi for the Anglo Celtic Plate 100km. Leading up to the NBUTPD I had been struggling with a swollen metatarsal which made me wince anytime I stood on a stone whilst trail running. I had worn the Mafate’s for an easy 2mile run the day before the race and found they protected my metatarsal I had also been advised by a podiastrist from Honeywell Clinic that I needed to protect my metatarsal. So on his advice I opted for the Hokas, only time would tell during the race if I had made the right decision.

The race started at 8am under cloudy skies with a light drizzle, Stuart Walker, Dan Gay and myself set the pace at the front but even though the route was taped to the first control up on Burbage we still managed to make a small navigation error. Even Stuarts local knowledge didn’t help us. The pace was steady to start off with and we quickly found ourselves out up on Burbage Moor where the vista revealed some of the hills and terrain we would be covering before returning to back up onto Burbage.

The quick pace made the first section fly by and even with the delays at some of the checkpoints where the SI control boxes weren’t working we were running inside 8min/miles. From Burbage car park we skirted round onto Stanage Edge before heading down to Stanage Pole and then down to Rivelin Edge, the pace felt good and quicker than I had expected but it felt comfortable and even on the rough terrain across the top of Stanage the Hokas were performing well.

After crossing the A7 we climbed up some farmers field where Dan set a brisk pace, I opted for a steady walk whilst getting some food in and let him and Stuart open a gap. On the road to the first Feed Station at Moscar, Stuart disappeared for a quick comfort break, Dan still kept a quick pace along the road. I decided not to chase him down knowing we had a big climb shortly after the Feed Station, though Dan did slow his pace down and the 3 of us arrived closely together into the Feed Station only to discover our drop bags hadn’t yet arrived! Thankfully I had a small bottle of Elete water in my bumbag which meant I could make up a bottle and I filled my other bottle with Clif Electrolyte drink. Just as we were leaving the Feed Stations our drop bags arrived.

As we climbed up out of Moscar towards the Wheel Stones Dan was beginning to sit at the back of the group, up on Derwent Edge I slowly increased the pace over the rough boggy terrain and across the flag stones towards Back Tor I set a good tempo of pace to see how Dan and Stuart would respond, without looking back I sensed I had quickly opened a gap and whilst I knew I could go quicker there was at least 36miles of running still ahead. As we dropped down to Lost Lad I had eased off the pace and let Dan and Stuart catch me up.

Just as we came of Green Stiches and started the long decent to the reservoir road my left inside quad suddenly cramped up, I couldn’t believe we had only done 21miles and I was feeling so fresh. I washed down some Clif Blocks with Elete Water which appeared to flush the cramp out, unfortunately the cramp was to become a reoccurring theme for the rest of the race.

As we descended back down to Moscar we passed some of the tail end runners on the Ultra who cheered us on, I soon discovered back at the Feed Station that my Drop Bag for Feed Station 2 had been brought to Feed Station 1, I had a slight panic as my nutritional plans were now out of the window and I was going to have to improvise when I got to Feed Station 2. Stuart was the first to get out of the Feed Station, I was soon on his heels. Unfortunately it was becoming clear that Dan was slowing down and it would be the last time Stuart and I would see him, he did manage to make it round to Bradwell where he had to pull out with stomach problems.

Stuart and I headed up onto Stanage Edge where again I increased the pace to see how Stuart would respond again a gap quickly opened up which was only closed as when I got to where a checkpoint should have been there was no-one there. We dropped down the rocky path to the Feed Station 2 where I was hoping my Drop bag had been brought round unfortunately it hadn’t, and the marshals offered me only 1 Clif Shot, 1 Clif Block and 1 Clif Bar, I declined the bar and took a few more shots and blocks. I knew I had a long leg round Bradwell and would need some calories especially as my drop bag hadn’t arrived.

On the short downhill road run to Yorkshire Bridge my left inside quad vastas medial kept cramping up. The Hoka Mafate 2’s felt great on the tarmac and I quickly opened a gap on Stuart again, the climb up Win Hill through the trees was hard going, Stuart and I being reduced to a walk up the rough uneven path.

We left the summit of Win Hill together and then flew down the smooth grassy track towards the Kinder Plateau at the col before the climb up Crookstone Knoll my vasta medial quads both cramped up really badly reducing me to a walk, I struggled along the rough bridleway as Stuart pulled away and began to climb up Crookstone Knoll strongly, I knew I was running out of water and still had a long way to Bradwell before the next feed station. By the time I got to the checkpoint at Crookstone Knoll Stuart had opened up a minute lead on me, I filled my water bottle up with brown looking peaty water running down Jaggers Clough I didn’t care about the colour. The weather changed and as we were cooled down by a heavy down pour Stuart descended down Ringing Roger to Edale rapidly and contuined to open his lead whilst I was trying to ease the pain in my quads on the long descent into Edale.

I could see him climbing up Hollins Cross as I began the short muddy climb up and as I reached the col was told that Stuart now had about a 2 ½ minute lead on me, the race was now on, I knew I couldn’t afford to let Stuart get any more time on me. After the descent off Hollins Cross I increased my pace on the road run into Castleton, the rain had now cleared and the skies were clearing as the temperature began to rise. I needed more water. I was getting ready to dive into a local shop to buy some but thankfully I was able to fill up a bottle from race organizer Stuart Hale, who told me I had closed the gap down on Stuart and that I was looking very strong.

I began the climb up Cavedale not knowing how far Stuart was ahead but I kept my pace up on rough limestone trail hoping that I would catch a glimpse of him. As the dale began to open up I could see Stuart, I closed the gap down and deliberately went past him, he stayed with me as I eased the pace off. We ran up onto Bradwell Moor together and Stuart opened a small lead as I stopped for a comfort break, as we began the long tarmac decent into Bradwell I closed the gap down, Stuart placed his hands on his head and looked fatigued.

I used the long tarmac descent into Bradwell to open a lead on Stuart arriving at the sports pavilion in Bradwell first, as I found my drop bag my quads cramped up again after the long descent, I filled my drinks bottles up and grabbed a banana I decided to decline the pork pies on offer and set off out of the Feed Station just as Stuart arrived, with a banana and a bag of crisps in one hand and a bottle of coke in the other, proper ultra running food!

I was not looking forward to the next climb up onto Bradwell Edge having ran it many times before from a friends house in Bradwell, the climb was as a tough as I remembered and was ankle deep in mud in places after the last few weeks of rain, I worked hard up the climb hoping that I continued to open the lead I had on Stuart, after the steep climb up Bradwell Edge I dropped to Shatton and onto a footpath which runs along the side of the River Derwent, I tried keeping my pace around 7min/mile but my quads didn’t enjoy the undulations around tributaries that ran into the River Derwent. The temperature was rising too and I could feel the sun on my bare shoulders as I ran through the fields.

The climb up to the Millstone Pub on the A6187 from the checkpoint on the Grindleford Road was hard going and I was struggling in the heat and trying to reserve my fluid intake, I turned off the A6187 up towards Hathersage Moor to the penultimate checkpoint, I had two route choices: up the road and then cut across to Carlswark below Higgar Tor or cut up across from Whim Plantation. I regrettably chose the latter and struggled up the trail and between Winyards Nick, I could see Carlswark as I came through the Nick and managed to find a small trod which led me to the base of the Carlswark knoll. I climbed up the south side of the knoll surprising the marshal at the checkpoint. I decided to take the main path to the north coming off Carlswark and headed down to the corner of woods and Burbage Brook. As I crossed the stone bridge I spotted the taped route used in the 12.12 Trail race. I followed to a small track uphill and back onto Burbage Moor. My legs were feeling really trashed and were cramping up regularly. I had forgotten to pick up any Clif Shot Blocs at the Feed Station in Bradwell so was running out of fuel, I decided to take my last gel as I ran across Burbage Moor before getting onto Houndkirk Road unfortunately the thick glupy chocolate Clif shot didn’t go down very well causing me to be sick 3 times! I knew my energy levels would be low now and I was running out of fluid.

I didn’t know how far Stuart was behind me as I ran along Houndkirk Road on the moor, though with my legs tiring I was unable to run under 7min/mile hoping that Stuart wouldn’t be able to close me down. The last checkpoint was at the top of the Limb Valley and as I left the Checkpoint I finished the last of my fluid and began the fast run down the trail, half way down the valley my quads were cramping up again and I had to just push on through the burning pain in my quads, the last two stiles which led to the path back up to Whirlow Hall Farm caused my legs to cramp again thankfully with the finish now in sight I was able to push on through the cramping pain.

As I arrived at Whirlow Hall Farm I was greeted by a cheering crowd of spectators, I crossed the finish line in 9hrs 19mins and 23seconds I had won the inaugural New Balance Ultra Tour of Peak District. According to my Garmin GPS the route was longer than advertised at 59.71miles with 2776m of accent: more than the Lakeland 50.

Stuart held onto second place finishening in 9hrs 41mins with Lewis Banton in 3rd in 10hrs 59mins and Sally Fawcett was the first lady home in 11hrs 36mins and it was her ever Ultra Marathon!

Other than there not being enough water stations out on the course it was great weekend of running with lots of other races going on during the Saturday and Monday. Thank you to Stuart Hale & Lisa and all the helpers from Whirlow Hall Farm for organizing a great weekend and thank you too to all the marshals who helped out at the many checkpoints. Thank you to the guys at Acceralate for taking such great photos and more photos can be seen on the BIG RUN WEEKEND facebook page.

Here is a map of the route:

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

England Selection & Boddington 50km

Sunday 1st July 2012

I had entered the Boddington 50km Ultra with the sole aim of running a qualifying time for the World 50km Trophy in October, it had been a late decision to enter and meant I only had 8 weeks to train for it after having nearly 6 weeks off with very little running.

To say the race didn’t go to plan would be an understatement and I wont bore you with a 14 lap-by-lap report of the 2.2 miles covered in each lap.

The race had started well for me and I was comfortably running at 6min/mile and went through 10miles in 60mins then 20miles just a shave under 2 hours but at 23miles my legs began to tire and I started to struggle to maintain my 6min/mile pace dropping a few seconds a mile and at 28miles the wheels finally fell off as I struggled round the last 2 laps where my pace slowed down to 6:56min/mile and I dropped down from 4th place to 7th and Paul Fernandez and Allen Smalls went past me as if I was standing still!

I finished in 3:12.24, 6minutes slower than I had hoped for and knowing I had lost the chance of competing at the World 50km Trophy especially as the race had been won in a blistering 2:50! Results

Shortly after I had finished I had an invite from Norman Wilson to run for England in the Anglo Celtic Plate 100km in 3 weeks time on the 22nd July, I hadn’t been planning on running a 100km road race this year but thought the opportunity to run for England again was too great an opportunity to turn down.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A new blog

After many years of putting it off I have finally decided to write my own blog. This blog will predominately be about my running. The races I run and the training I do in preparation for those races and Im sure it will be peppered with ramblings musing and anecdotes related to my running.

Thank you for popping by and happy running