Shoes

While I’m not one to change my shoe brand willy-nilly, the Hoka Clifton caught my eye. Let me start by saying that I’m totally new to Hoka shoes, I have always run in Asics Kinsei’s and this is the first brand swap I have had in my entire time running.

A quick bit about Asics Kinsei’s which are great shoes.  I’ve run in them since their 3rd incarnation up until the 5’s and they have always been very comfy and suited to my running style. I always developed blisters to the tips of my second toes but that’s just they way it goes isn’t it?? The only time I have swapped, I managed a month in some Asics Kayno’s before I started with some knee pain that then plagued me all year.  So, I returned to my trusty Kinsei’s.

The problem with the Kinsei 5’s however is that, in an effort to save some weight, they seem to have made the fabric too flimsy and this tears after a few months use, leaving toes sticking out.  Not ideal, especially given how much they cost.  So, that was what prompted my change…

Asics Kinsei 5

Taking the Hoka’s out of the box, you can’t help but notice how light the shoes feel. They honestly feel lighter than the advertised weight of 218g/ 7.7oz. Looking over the shoe, the upper appeared to be of a lighter construction than other running shoes but not like the mesh Asics and Nike are using.  The sole of the shoe has a great deal of soft, exposed EVA foam.

Hoka Clifton

When I slipped it on, I immediately thought “There’s no way this is a cushioned running shoe…. it’s WAY too light!” especially compared to my Kinsei’s which weigh a hefty 355g.

So, once out of the box, it was too tempting to not give them a try out… Looking down to confirm that I indeed was wearing a trainer, I tentatively set off for a quick jog round the block. My god was this shoe comfortable! I wore them around town for several days before I was able to do a proper training run in them, but they felt super comfortable and so springy walking around town. I got a few funny looks due to the built up soles but who cares! Then I had a chance to run properly in them……

A gentle Sunday 10 miler with my wife was on the cards and so I decided to try out the Clifton’s. Again, I immediately noticed how comfortable and lightweight these shoes where when I slid my feet in them.  I bounced out of the door and the true break-in began. During the run, the trainers were SO comfortable it was literally like running on pillows (which admittedly not everyone will like but I certainly approved).

Another thing to note: For the past several months I’ve been dealing with an ever-increasing amount of pain in my right knee (a bit of pre Tibia tendonitis from overdoing long fast runs and a lasting hang-up from the kaynos unfortunately).  I normally have some pain that starts either during the run or immediately after I finish and I had resigned myself to the fact that this would be forever thus. However, with the Clifton I had NO, ZERO, NONE, NADA, knee pain. It was amazing… I don’t know if this will change as I log more miles in the shoes, but for now it’s incredible.

I’ve now used them in anger in the Lancaster ½ Marathon and they were comfeeeeeeeeee through out, no blisters either which was an added bonus. As for the knee……. still nothing!!! I can’t say that I went at the race gentler than normal due to new trainers as I set a new ½ Marathon Pb of 1:28:23.

The next challenge awaiting my springy new shoes is the full 26.2 coming soon in the New Year.  Watch this space for the review…

For you guys wanting some specific stats on the shoes, here’s some info pulled from Hoka’s web site:

CATEGORY:

Neutral Lite Cushion

GEOMETRY:

Offset: 5mm

Heel: 29mm

Forefoot: 24mm

WEIGHTS:

7.7 oz.

SIZES:

Men: 7.5 – 14

Ultra-Lightweight No Sew SpeedFrame Construction

Early Stage Meta-Rocker Geometry

Full Length HIP CMEVA Midsole

4mm Heel to Toe Offset

Full Ground Contact Design

Strategic Hi-Abrasion Rubber Zones

Shoes: Update February 2015:

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? With the Hokas I think it might be. I’ve run some longer runs in them now and have started to develop some new aches and pains in my knees. My tame Physio (well as tame as any physio can be as the all love inflicting pain) tells me that the pain is probably cased by the shape of the shoes curved sole coupled with all that Cushioning allowing too much movement of the foot.

So it looks like its time for another change, which I am definitely not happy about as I am at true Yorkshire man and don’t like parting with my brass unnecessarily.

The Brooks Glycerin 12 is a premium shoe described as being built around the concept of delivering an ultra-cushioned running experience. Offering runners a solid daily trainer that is designed to be able to handle the demands of higher mileage while providing for a stable and comfortable ride, these sound like they’ll fit the bill. Sound good don’t they?  I guess 40 marathons counts as ‘higher millage’ so I think I’ll give them a go…

Shoes: Update March 2015:

Glycerin 12

Taking these shoes out of the box and looking at them made me happy. They actually look quite amazing; the super hero’s of the trainer world (they look like part of the modern superman’s costume); all style, power but with a certain elegance. Even their laces are two-tone strips of loveliness.

The Glycerin 12 was even lighter than I expected.  Yes, they are certainly heavier than the Hoka’s but they’re still lighter than the Kinsei 5 with the Glycerin 12 weighing in at approximately 10.9 oz/ 309g.  Given all this, I could have overlooked even a fairly major shortcoming in terms of performance, but there was no need; these shoes really do provide “the perfect ride for every stride”. I can hardly fault them, even on a first wear (13 miles straight out of the box); they felt as if they had been friends with my feet for years.  A slight bit of rubbing on the back of my left heel was the only disadvantage but that was it. Time will tell how my knees feel about this new relationship with the Brooks Glycerin’s but the initial response is a positive one…

Socks

I think I must be the only person to get blisters with every pair of running socks I have ever worn – even 1000mile socks with their no blister guarantee (I got my money back you’ll be pleased to know although I am starting to think now that this might actually be my shoes but we’ll see). I spend most of the year missing the toe nails off my 2nd toes on both of my feet much to my wife’s disgust! Out of all the brands I have tried, I have had the least problems with Injinji socks.

These are toe socks, which look pretty funky, the idea behind them is that they stop your toes rubbing against each other and therefore reduce friction.  There’s a similar Japanese version called Knitido but I’ve yet to find a UK seller.  When I track somewhere down, I’ll give these a go as, although the Injinji ones have been the best so far, they’re still not perfect…

Running gear

Unlike my shoes, I’ve shown very little brand loyalties over the years. From Gore to Helly Hanson, I’ve tried a few, but none of them would seem to do… Currently the winner of my affection is the Adidas Response range.

Adidas Response

It’s not the poshist of kit but it has a diverse range. From sort sleeves, long sleeves to no sleeves you can have it all. In a regularly changing colour range there’s a decent choice. The tops don’t seem to rub avoiding those horribly painful chafed nipples which is pretty important when you’re running 20 miles+ on a regular basis!

Race Pack

I’ve really been struggling to fit in some training runs in around work, family and all the 40 marathons I am doing this year, I need to be a bit smarter with my training and planning. The simplest solution is that I am going to have to run to work on a more regular basis (this is going to be fun on top of a 12½ our shift as well as running home at 10 O’clock at night but never mind). To do this though I am going to need to get a running backpack.

I’ve looked and tried a few running packs in the past (when I first started running, I seemed to need a lot more water) like Camelbaks, OMM packs and a North face pack with 2 x 500mls bottles called the enduro.

North Face FL Race vest

So when I started to look at these new generation packs two main brands stood out the Salomon S-Labs and the North Face FL Race vest. Price wise they are quite different with the Salomon packs ranging from about £80 to a £160 depending on which model you get and the North Face vest £85. I decided to go for the North Face Vest for a number of reasons (one being I’ve always been pleased with there gear in the past and I know how robust it is).

On first opening the packaging, I was impressed it’s an improvement on the Enduro and old OMM packs which were far more rigid and weighty. The straps are made from a woven fabric to make them robust yet lightweight (at 325g) and the main compartments/body a more standard a rip stop fabric. This gives the pack a lightweight, flexible feel. There are plenty of compartments including a large main one (which is hydration bladder compatible), an outer ‘stuff’ pocket and plenty of little places to stash things close to hand around the front and top of the vest. There’s even some external meshing to hold stuff you might need in a hurry (in fact there are almost too many compartments and pockets I keep forgetting were I have put stuff- perhaps its just my age).  One other major difference from race packs that I’ve tried in the past is the lack of rigid bottle storage, the FL having 2 flexible and adjustable mesh pockets on the shoulders. Keen to check out the back length, I threw it on and was immediately impressed with the ‘ride height’ – the FL vest sits on the upper back with all the weight taken through the vest into the shoulders rather than just the straps. The main differences with the North Face vest and the Salomon S-Lab packs are the amount of storage you get. The cheapest Salomon pack (at £80) holds about 1 litre so it’s more like a hydration pack rather than a race vest. To get a Salomon pack with a decent storage capacity you need to spend about £110 and you get 12 litres of storage were as the North Face vest has 8 Litres for £80 (the going rate seems to be about £10 per litre although the most expensive Salomon pack still only has 12 litres).

So with first impressions being good, there was nothing for it but to give the FL a road test that weekend…

Armed with supplies for a long day at work, a change of cloths and essential running gear I set of on the early 7 and a bit mile run to work. Murphy’s law prevailed and true to form, it was blowing a gale and throwing it down so out came the trusty Featherlight Storm Blocker Jacket.  With my new pack in tow, and my change of cloths safely packed in plastic bags to keep them dry. I didn’t have my usual headache of trying to second guess every little thing I would / wouldn’t need for the day at work and the runs to and home, as I could throw any unneeded items on my back.

It took a little while to get the straps aligned so they were sitting comfortably and at the right height but after a bit of fiddling, I was soon ready for the off.  I definitely noticed the difference in weight with the FL, and was pleasantly surprised how little I noticed it while heading down the road to work. With the vest sitting on the upper back and shoulders, rather than the lower back like a traditional pack there seems to be a lot less ‘bounce‘ as you run no matter what weigh you have in it.  As the weather turned again, I found myself heading for the pockets to grab bits of kit.  These handy chest pockets are much more spacious than when they are crammed into a waist strap, which meant that I never really needed to go into the main compartment for anything. The only problem I found was that the straps felt like they were slipping off my shoulders I would imagine it’s a bit like the feeling of a bra strap slipping down, (those of you who wear them know what that feels like, I guess if I ever start to were one I would be able to confirm this!) when I got home that evening I realised that the chest straps are repositionable, sliding up and down to tailor the fit of the pack. I’ve now re-tested the vest on another run to work with much better results.  I can’t help thinking however, that the pack would be even better with an additional strap much higher up.  Having the water bottles on the shoulder straps was something I was a little concerned about – would they bounce / fall out?  In actual fact, neither happened and they were perfectly positioned for ease of access.

Jackets

Again I’ve tried a few and none of them seem to work very well.  It’s quite simple – I want something that’s lightweight and keeps you dry. Most of them fail, they either don’t keep the rain out or you get that wet from the inside out that you’re still soaked when you get home.

The North Face men’s Feather Lite Storm Blocker jacket is a ‘Ronseal’ item though: it does exactly what it says on the tin! Mine’s a fetching ‘Power Green’ with reflective logos, perfect for cold wet autumn/winter nights. And, not only does it look good, it actually works!!

North Face Jacket Feather Lite Storm Blocker

Things have just got better! In the guise of ‘The storm Stow Jacket’ (not the most exciting of names) keeping some of the key features of the storm blocker, The North Face have improved the design. It still manages to keeps you dry (which is unfortunately a rare thing in waterproof running gear) from the inside and out; it’s thin enough to be breathable and strong enough to keep the proper wet stuff out. The hood’s a decent size with a pull cord system that keeps it on your head even in the strongest Pennine winds and it also keeps the water out of your face owing to the slight peak at the front (a real bonus). On the 2015-16 model, they’ve improved the design further so there’s no a little clip at the base of the neck which enables you to roll the hood up and clip it down when it’s not needed. They’ve added pull cords at the waist so you can alter the fit (especially good in those aforementioned winds to prevent the drag of a billowing effect) and another cord on the jacket’s sleeve so you can pack it away. The overall length of the jacket has been slightly increased so it now covers your lower back and bottom when running. It is ridiculously light weight, weighing still only weighing about 140g. This means it’s easy to carry or to bung in a pack or bum bag (especially with the new packing system). The new model is grey/green and orange, not quite as bright as the high vision yellow which some will find more appealing than the previous day-glo one however they have balanced this by adding 2 reflective arm stripes and logos so it maintains it’s usefulness when running in the dark.

North Face Jacket The storm Stow Jacket

For a lightweight jacket, it still has a hefty price tag of £155, it’s now £5 cheaper than the older version with quite a few improvements (things normally go up when they are improved and re-launched not down in price!). I guess with this jacket though it’s a case of you get what you pay for, yes there are cheaper waterproofs out there but are they value for money if they don’t work…?

The only thing I would still personally add to this jacket is some thumb loops to keep your hands covered and to stop the jacket riding up your arms but (as my wife will state!) this is a particular ‘fetish’ of mine so I might have to live in hope for those….!

For you folks now intrigued at what TNF have to offer, here’s some info pulled from their North Face web site:

Full-zip, packable emergency piece

Seam sealed

Polyurethane (PU) lightweight zips

Adjustable hem hardware

Reflective logo

Fabric: Body: 53 g/m2 100% polyester woven rip stop

Center back length: 69 cm

Approximate weight: 136 g

Lightweight Jacket

After running the first day of the Gin Pit double marathon I went in search of lightweight jacket (I did get lots of strange looks as I walked around the Trafford Center in running gear with muddy legs!). I had been quite cold on the run and felt I would have benefitted from an extra layer but nothing as heavy weight as what I’d been wearing over the winter or as heavy duty as a waterproof… I eventually settled on a bright orange (you’ll not miss me in this beauty) new North face GTD jacket.

North face GTD jacket
North face GTD jacket

It’s an ultra light wind stopper jacket, with mesh venting under the arms and on the back where you are most likely to sweat so it should be really breathable. It’s described as “water repellent”, so it’s not designed to be a waterproof coat by any means, but it should keep light rain from soaking through. It’s main function is to be windproof whilst also being breathable (thanks to all that mesh it should work really well). One of the main features of this jacket that makes it useful is how small and light it is. It is really thin and all stuffs into the chest pocket with room to spare, fitting in the palm of my hand.

This should make it absolutely perfect to carry in my bag as a layer when out running – it takes up practically no space and weighs next to nothing. Thankfully it’s made of a rip-stop fabric for the rest of the jacket, which helps to keep you protected from the wind. It might be thin and therefore look fragile but after parting with my £70 for it I managed to catch it on some pesky brambles in the car park thankfully it did no harm to the sleeve – no rip, no hole, no scratch.

Technology

Everybody loves Garmin, right.  Why though?? I’ve tried them and never really got on with them the last one I tried was a Forerunner.  I think it was the 210 (I gave it to my wife, aren’t I generous!) I’ve moved over to the dark side though and Suunto, in the form of the Ambit 2 (I can’t justify getting the Ambit 3 as very little has changed).

Suunto Ambit 2

I love this watch so much it has become my everyday watch as well. Yes, it’s a little bulky on my skinny girly wrists but who cares. I don’t use half the watch’s features, it can do so much (it would not surprise me if it could make you a brew as well!) but those that I do use are great.

The tracking system latches onto satellites quickly and the GPS plotting is really accurate. When linked with the heart rate monitor it gives me plenty of stats to pore over after a race to work out where it all went wrong (normally I went out too fast and couldn’t keep it up – wonder if Suunto can come up with something to help me fix that……?!?!?).  Again, at around £400 it’s definitely not cheap but as with most things, you get what you pay for and I’ve found over the years it’s better to invest in one quality item than spend lots of smaller amounts on cheaper things that aren’t quite up to what you want…