Thursday, 28 August 2014

Trail Running in Edale and Kinder Scout

CavemanClarke enjoying Kinder Scout
The bank holiday weekend just passed will hold fond memories for me for many years to come. It was pure and simple freedom. As a keen trail runner and reviewer of the latest off-road running gear I was keen to take some of my favourite trusty pieces of kit, along with my newest Suunto toy to the quaint little Derbyshire village of Edale in the Peak District; a trail runners paradise! Living in rural Cambridgeshire leaves me needing hills and mountains, and the Peak District is by far the easiest accessible place for me to get my fix and some decent training in. 

The view from the top of Jacobs Ladder
Since deciding a couple of months ago to invest in a campervan, my wife and I have managed to get away quite a bit at the weekends. Often making a long weekend of it, we take a Friday or Monday off work to make it worth while travelling that bit further. This weekend we managed to work it that we would travel Thursday evening and Monday afternoon, leaving plenty of time to get lots of interesting runs in. So, just before leaving I got my new Suunto Ambit 2R out of the box, connected it to the laptop and begun planning routes for the weekend.

Unboxing the Suunto Ambit 2R
I absolutely adore the Peak District, of which Edale and the surrounding area never fails to excite and satisfy my desire to get out and run beautiful technical trails. This weekend passed was by far the best visit to date. Not too hot, not terrible weather or constant rain, the atmosphere and temperature were perfect for exploring the hills at speed.

Kinder Downfall
It was decided that Fridays route would allow my wife Hannah to get a good feel for the 'Peaks style' of trail running, as she has only run flatter routes in the past. So, I planned a nice little circular route from Edale. It ascended and descended over Mam Tor and into the stunning village of Castleton for a break and a pint, before returning via a different lower route. I have never been so surprised at someone's natural ability to run hills and technical terrain with so little previous experience. I was so proud of the effort Hannah put in, despite suffering a little with a sore ITB. The day was perfect. Time spent doing what I love most with the person I love most. You can't get better than that! 

Hannah and Bella at the summit of Mam Tor
Saturdays route would see me climbing Jacobs Ladder onto Kinder Scout, traversing the Edale skyline and returning via Grindsbrook and the Pennine Way back to the campsite. Hannah would rest this day to allow an epic run for her on the Sunday. It was time to try a route that in the past had left me lost at the top of Kinder Scout in 10m visibility, and so for me, a perfect opportunity to try the 'Run a Route' navigation feature of my new Suunto Ambit 2R. This was the main reason why I got the watch in the first place; to allow trail runs in unfamiliar territory. So, packing some water, food and basic emergency equipment in my trusty Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin Hydro 12 set race vest and pulling on my trusted, grippy Salomon S-Lab Fellcross 2 I was off! 

A view of Edale from the Edale Skyline
This is the point where I cannot hold it in any longer; the Suunto Ambit 2R was faultless! Amazing! Immediately finding the GPS and loading the route, I stuck to the on-screen track I had planned and it directed me perfectly and accurately from start to finish of the route. Yes, I took a map and compass just in case I had any problems, and I always think this is a good idea in unfamiliar territory, but I never once thought of using them. The watch informed me of everything I needed to know (and more) and safely guided me across a previously terrifying route that I had once got horribly lost on. It goes without saying that the rest of the gear I had chosen to run in also performed flawlessly. I would happily say that a run which had previously been labelled a disaster had become one of my favourite trail runs to date. I loved it. 

Grindsbrook
Sundays route would take us both to see Kinder Downfall, the peat bogs on top of Kinder Scout and then a second visit of the Edale Skyline for me. Once again, Hannah really amazed me. She powered up the hills, admired the views, had a really good go at the downhills and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. And what a fantastic experience it was, once again guided perfectly by the Suunto Ambit 2R's route navigation features. You just don't get hills and views like this in Cambridgeshire!!!

Kinder Scout Summit
Bella loved it too!
Bella takes a drink while I put my hardshell on for a windproof break!
What a blessing to be able to down tools and head to the Peaks to do what I love most. Trail running has brought so much joy, peace and excitement into my life, (as well as a whole host of cool gear!). I have explored beautiful new places, met great people and felt so free and alive. Creation is an amazing thing and trail running is the way I like to explore it. And all the cool gear and shoes? What really defines 'good' shoes and apparel? Well, I would say:

'Good trail running gear leaves you able to focus solely on the activity and experience itself'

CavemanClarke Trail running Kinder Scout
Hannah Trail running Kinder Scout
We decided to have Monday as a rest day due to heavy rain and poor visibility, and so I would try my tired legs on a fast flat route back home in Cambridgeshire farmland later that evening! The hill training certainly showed; a home route that usually takes me 36 minutes was blasted in around 31.....a great excuse to get back to the Peaks soon ;-)

Admiring the view at the top of Jacobs Ladder
Happy running everyone
CavemanClarke

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Womens Inov-8 Trailroc 236 review

Inov-8 Trailroc 236
It is with great excitement that I bring you my second guest review! After previously being really impressed with the mens Trailroc 235's, but discovering after only 150km that the uppers split across the metatarsal flex point, I was keen to see any improvements that Inov-8 may have made in the 236's.The Inov-8 Trailroc 236 has proved a very popular trail shoe for women in both training and racing situations, and with the help of my wife Hannah I hope to help you make the choice of whether this may be the trail shoe for you. I have been sending her out on the local trails in all weathers and dragging her to races across the country to enable me to interrogate her on the pro's and con's of the women's specific shoe in the well-known Trailroc series. And so, it's over to Hannah to fill in the blanks.....



CC: Why did you buy the Inov-8 Trailroc 236?

Hannah: "I was after a more minimal lightweight trail running shoe with good grip, as my road shoes were not cutting it in wet weather. I didn't want to spend huge amounts of money and I came across these on offer in my local sports retailer, so I thought I would give them a try."

CC: I sadly found the durability of the men's Trailroc 235's not up to scratch, as they split at the metatarsal flex points after 150km. How many Km's have you run in these and how have you found the durability of the 236's?

Hannah: "I have no idea how many Km's I have run in them, as I don't have one of your fancy GPS watches yet, but I run a couple of times a week and have had these shoes for a year now and they are not showing any signs of significant wear and tear. They do get cleaned after running in muddy conditions though, which always helps increase the life of a trail running shoe, as mud is slightly acidic which, over time, eats into and weakens the stitching, materials and glue." 


No wearing on the metatarsal flex points this time!
CC: How comfortable are they?
Hannah: "Personally, not extremely comfortable; because they are a minimal trail shoe I find them less comfortable than the more cushioned road shoes I wear to fitness classes and work, and I find the soles quite ridged compared to other minimal shoes I have, such as the New Balance Minimus I wear to Bootcamp sessions. I haven't had any blisters or hot spots so I don't have any complaints with the comfort and the shape is perfect for my very narrow feet."


Quite a narrow fit, ideal for people with narrow feet
CC: What is the grip like?
Hannah: "I think it's really good for what I need. For muddy fields, grass footpaths and slightly technical terrain they provide a good all-round level of grip, however I don't like them on pavement or road sections as they are too clumpy, like most trail shoes. The only time I have found the grip to fail is on sticky mud when the tread pattern clogs up and you lose the effect the lug pattern should have to keep you from slipping."


Inov-8 Trailroc grip is great for varied trails
CC: What is the best thing about these shoes and what would you like to see improved, if anything?
Hannah: "The best thing about them is their reliability and trustworthiness. Every time I put them on I know they will perform well, grip well and not cause me any comfort issues or blisters. I also think the design is pretty cool too, which is always a welcome bonus! The only thing I would like to see improved slightly is if Inov-8 could make them a bit more comfortable by increasing the flexibility of the sole and softness of the uppers. But this is being picky!"     

CC: Would you buy these shoes again and why?
Hannah: "Yes, definitely! They always perform reliably every time I wear them. I just put them on and go, no issues! If you start noticing things about a shoe it is usually because of a slight problem. When you put on your shoes and just run, you know the shoe is right for you and the terrain your running on. These do just that for me."


CavemanClarke's take on the Trailroc 236:
With the popularity and proven track record of the Trailroc series this shoe seems to have been a real success in the minimalist trail running world. The original Trailroc's that I trialled many moons ago suffered with poor durability across the metatarsal flex points, and resulted in splitting after only 100-150km, but later models seem to have improved on this. At close inspection of the Trailroc 236, the area that usually falls foul and splits seems to have been injected with a clear glue substance to strengthen the upper material and prevent splitting. Combine this with a slightly narrower foot of some runners and these shoes seem to perform effortlessly for their user. If, however, you have particularly wide feet you may find the durability of the uppers will be reduced somewhat due to stretching of the upper material to accommodate your wide feet. 

All said and done, my wife loves them, and that means more miles together on the trail. Just please don't get them too dirty, as I know just who will be given the task of cleaning them up again!

Hannah loves getting her Inov-8's dirty!
She also loves getting her husband to clean them for her!
Happy running everyone!
CavemanClarke

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ashmei Ullswater 9 & 20 mile trail runs, 2014

CavemanClarke and new run buddy Paul Yeoman
Not too long ago, I had a fantastic weekend trail running in The Lakes. Pooley Bridge, a small village situated by the quietly lapping waters-edge of Ullswater was to host the 2014 Ashmei 9 and 20 mile trail runs. Thirty and a half miles later (more about that in a minute!), a few new friends and with fun tales to tell, I fondly look back at what turned out to be a really great event.


It all started early Friday morning, packing my new favourite toy. After much consideration and saving, my wife and I decided to invest in a comfortable way to travel and stay all over the UK without having to slum it in a tent or pay through the nose for a B&B. So we bought ourselves a campervan; a Mazda Bongo to be exact. After shuddering at the weather forecast, carefully remembering everything on the race kit list, and not forgetting the espresso maker, (after all, we are glamping now!) we headed off on the 4.5h journey to Ullswater. Upon arriving we pitched up in a lovely spot with all the other campers staying for the weekend and sat back to ponder what the weekend would bring. Ashmei events had set up a huge tent-marquee with race registration, chill-out area, food section and shop selling their merino wool run clothing and merchandise. A fire pit was smouldering away and an inspirational running movie was playing on a big screen. Nice!

Much more comfy than a tent!

Home from home
Coffee for the morning








The 9 miler

Ready for the start of the race
I awoke Saturday morning to glorious sunshine for the 9 mile trail run. Note to self: never believe your iPhone weather App! Meeting and greeting the group of runners from all backgrounds and abilities is always a pleasure at races. Comparing shoes, hydration systems, GPS watches and talking all things running is always a highlight for a gear-geek like me. And to top it off, some of them had even read my reviews in the past! Lining up and bearing in mind that I was running this 9 miler as a 'warm-up' for the 20 miler the next day, the race started and the super-fit bounded off into the distance leaving all the 'normal' folk like me in the main pack. The course was a double loop of 4.5 miles, and began by climbing a relentless and energy sapping hill up onto the fell. Once on top it stayed there, winding through rocky paths and heather-clad trails until it worked its way steeply back downhill to the start/finish. A quick glug of water and a couple of helpless jelly babies and it was back up the thigh-burning hill for the second loop. It was at this point that I realised my Cambridge-born weakness; uphill! "Must train harder" I said aloud to myself at one point. But every cloud has a silver lining. A group of lads who overtook me on the hill and left my site in no time were not to beat me! This is where I discovered my strength! Hours of admiring Kilian Jornet's downhill technique would pay off, and flying down the steep rocky paths I overtook them just before the finish. "Where did you come from?" was their surprised gasp as I passed them on the home straight! 






The 20 miler (aka The 21.5 miler!)

20 mile briefing
Reading the map of the route
The next day, after a chilled out afternoon post 9 miler the previous day at the local pub in Pooley Bridge it was time to conquer the 20 mile single loop of the Ullswater Lake. Once again, the iPhone-predicted thunder and rain was nowhere to be seen and the sun shone blisteringly hot on the 50-something runners ready for a good trail run. I teamed up with a new-found friend Paul Yeoman from the day before, and we agreed to stick together, as he had never before run the distance and I had been out of training due to an irritating ankle injury that just won't shift. At just after 8:00 in the morning the race was under way. 



Now, I'll get this off my chest straight away; the 20 miler soon turned into a 21.5 mile race, partly due to local youths moving some of the signs, sending the whole pack in a loop through a forest, and partly due to a large proportion of runners missing a signpost and having to take an extended pathway to rejoin the route! Imagining those youths standing at the finish line of the run certainly helped with the sprint finish, believe me!!!



The route was spectacular. It looped the entire lake and provided some of the most breathtaking views I had seen in months! I love the Lakes. It is like Heaven on earth for me. It can also be like hell on earth when you are attempting to run up some of the mountains and hills! It turned out that Paul did most of the waiting for me, especially on the uphill sections. Together, we made our way along the beautiful trails, taking in glorious views, sunshine and lush green scenery as we ran. Comradery between runners was much appreciated by all, with constant support and friendly chatter the entire way to the finish line. Also, the two aid stations along the route were well stocked with energy gels, water, squash, cola, sweets, flapjack and crisps!




What is important to learn.....
After what I had found 'one of the hardest trails to date' due to my lack of training, hills and the heat of the day, the finish line was a welcome sight to all. With crystallized sweat dripping from eyebrows, empty water bottles and energy tanks, and a great new sun tan it was a sprint to the finish line. Paul had stuck with me all the way, and could have finished quite a long way in front of me had he run solo, but he was there beside me. A guy I had only met the previous day on the 9 miler. 

This is what trail running is all about; not just keeping active, moving across beautiful landscapes at pace or pushing your limits in the great outdoors, but also making new friends and supporting one-another all the way. This is why I love trail running so much. 

If you are angry and over-competitive, trying to prove yourself or constantly beat others, take up another sport. Yes trail running has a competitive aspect at the higher levels, and this is healthy, but deep down in every true trail runner is the desire to get outside, enjoy pure freedom and share this experience with like-minded runners, encouraging and supporting all the way. Thanks Paul for showing this spirit in all its glory!

CavemanClarke and Paul Yeoman approaching the finish line of the 20 miler
Ashmei 20 miler finish line
A huge thank you and well done to Ashmei for organising and running this event. It was a great weekend and a fantastic trail running experience. I hope to be back next year :-)

Happy running everyone
CavemanClarke

Paul Yeoman has just completed running at least 1 mile a day (many more most days!) in remembrance of his Mum who sadly died of cancer a few years ago. He has decided to continue this to 1001 days running in a row. He is raising money for Cancer Research UK and if you would like to sponsor him please go to https://www.justgiving.com/PaulYeoman22/ and help to save lives!

Disclaimer: Pictures courtesy of and thanks to Ashmei (http://ashmei-events.com/category/blog/), Paul Yeoman and Hannah Clarke

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra review: a comparison with the Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground

Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra
Welcome everyone to what I feel is a very exciting post, in which I will be reviewing one of the newest and latest releases in the top quality Salomon S-Lab, athlete-inspired line-up; the Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra. I will also be comparing it to its wet-weather twin, the Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra SG (soft ground). For a full review of the Sense 3 Ultra SG please click here!  

I have tried a lot of minimalist trail shoes over the past few years (as you can imagine), and occasionally one pops up that feels right, grabs your attention and takes you miles, and miles, and miles.....It is very seldom that two come along at the same time, but this has certainly been the case in relation to the Sense 3 Ultra and Sense 3 Ultra SG. Racing footwear has become far more of an easy choice. Simply look out of the window, and if its dry and hot out there, put on the Sense 3 Ultra. If its wet, slip on the SG version. Sorted!


What a beauty the Sense 3 Ultra's really are!
What Salomon say:
The evolution continues from Killian Jornet’s input through races like the Western States™ 100. Ideal for dry and hot conditions, this ultra-distance trail racing shoe boasts increased durability and stability in its 3rd iteration.
Designed for ultra distance, breathability and to be lightweight.


S-Lab Sense Technologies
Natural running:
Natural motion frees the foot to move, with a reduced heel drop for an even foot strike. S-Lab construction reduces weight to make the S-Lab Sense the lightest, lowest racing shoe in Salomon's range. 
Low Heel Drop:
To promote midfoot striking and better agility

Salomon Sense 3 ultra: low, light and fast
Features:
  • Breathable open mesh uppers
  • Super lightweight around 230g (size 8)
  • Low differential at only 4mm (13mm heel and 9mm forefoot)
  • Seamless SensiFit and 2nd Skin seamless construction enhances comfort
  • Quicklace system with lace pocket
  • Tongue cover prevents trail debris entering shoe
  • EndoFit sock-liner holds midfoot well and allows shoe to be worn with or without socks
  • TPU protective toe cap
  • Dynamic traction from non-marking Contagrip sole
  • Profeel Propriotection rock-plate in the forefoot with OS Tendon

Photo's:







Review and Comparison to the Sense 3 Ultra SG's:
To help you understand how these shoes perform I will score them 1 - 10 (1 = low, 10 = high) on 10 categories which encompass a good minimalist trail shoe, giving them an overall CavemanClarke score out of 100. Furthermore, under each category I will include any relevant comparisons to the Sense 3 Ultra SG's:


1) Weight: 9/10
A lightweight trail shoe is paramount to me, allowing an unaltered, natural running technique and stride. The Ultra's come in a fraction lighter than the SG; 255g and 280g respectively. This is largely due to the absence of huge rubber lugs jutting out the bottom of the shoe, but also taking into consideration the lighter weight mesh uppers. I certainly do not have any complaints here, and the only way I could see to lighten the shoe further, without compromising durability, would be to lower the 4mm heel lift, therefore losing some material. Some though, would argue that this would limit its use as an ultra distance shoe.

2) Ground feel: 9/10
The Sense 3 Ultra's allow sufficient proprioception to make for a safe, agile and comfortable run over a variety of terrains. The rock-plate in the forefoot, known as 'Profeel Propriotection' dissipates sharp stones and trail debris well without compromising too much on ground feel and sensory feedback during your run; ideal in a long distance race. The Ultra does have better ground feel than the SG version, and therefore gains a point in this area.

Not too much between your foot and the trail
3) Protection: 10/10
The Sense 3 Ultra's provides perfectly adequate protection in all the right places, keeping your feet safe but still maintaining a lightweight construction. I have not noticed any difference between the Ultra's and the SG's here.


Perfectly adequate protection for the toes and feet
4) Natural foot position: 6/10
The 4mm heel-toe differential in both the Ultra and the SG's means I have to knock-off a few points (one for each mm drop) as I have done in past reviews, as the foot is not in a completely natural position. This may be better suited for ultra distance races and training runs, but I personally still prefer a completely natural foot position.

5) Natural shape of foot: 9/10
Along with its soft ground wet weather twin, the Sense 3 Ultra's are the best shaped Salomon's I have tried, fitting like a slipper! In the past, Salomon's always came up way too narrow for my feet, but the Sense range seem to fit more naturally by becoming far wider in the forefoot and toe box. There is still room for a slightly wider option for people like me with a very wide toe-splay, but they are definitely wide enough to comfortably use on training runs and long races.

Both identically shaped
6) Comfort: 10/10
The seamless EndoFit/SensiFit constructions holding the foot in all the right places, and the more natural shape of the S-Lab Sense range, means the Sense 3 Ultra and SG's are easily the most comfortable pairs of Salomon's I have ever worn and run in. They both feel identical to wear in terms of shape, with the only noticeable differences being a more breathable upper in the Ultra's and a heavier sole unit with marginally less ground feel on the SG's.

7) Grip/traction: 10/10
I have still, to date, never been disappointed by the performance of the Sense 3 Ultra SG when it comes to grip and traction in wet and slippery conditions. Here is an insert from my previous review of the SG's:
"I have tried these shoes on grass, mud, gravel, rock, hard-packed trail and even pavement! In wet, muddy and sloppy conditions I would put it on par with the Fellcross 2 and have not really noticed any significant differences between them on this type of terrain. Where the Sense 3 Ultra SG comes into it's own and surpasses the abilities of the Fellcross 2 is its ability to perform effortlessly over a wider variety of terrain. Yes, of course, it is not at home running the pavements and roads of a city street, but it does provide better stability and grip on hard-packed trail, rock, gravel and dry mud than other serious off-road trail shoes I have tried in the past from a variety of manufacturers."
When it comes to the Sense 3 Ultra's, I have been equally impressed. Yes, of course they don't perform as well in wet and muddy conditions, but that is why Salomon have cleverly and sensibly released a wet and dry version of the same shoe. But, if the ground is dry and hard, whether it be pavement, road, dry grass, dirt tracks, rocks, mountain paths or gravel, the Sense 3 Ultra copes perfectly with it all. I can't really say anything further that would be more helpful than this!

Here you can clearly see the difference in the wet and dry versions of the Sense 3 Ultra's
Fantastic grip for ascents and descents
Wet or dry, choose your shoe!
8) Durability/Quality: 10/10
Still no issues with the SG's, and I have put quite a few miles on them now. To date, the grip and the uppers are still showing no signs of premature wear and tear. I assume the Sense 3 Ultra's will perform similarly, although the uppers are a more breathable mesh material. I can't see this making a huge difference, and once again, only time will tell!


9) Pricing: 8/10
Both the Ultra and the SG retail at £140 in the UK. Therefore, the excellence of this magnificent trail shoe does come at a price. As I mentioned in the SG review,
"The Sense 3 Ultra SG's are part of the prestigious S-Lab racing range, carefully designed and manufactured to meet the requirements of their top athletes such as Kilian Jornet and Emilie Forsberg. Therefore they will always come at a slightly higher price, but if the cost of these shoes was to drop to around the £100 mark the Sense 3's would obliterate their competition in the trail running market."
To me, if I find a shoe that is comfortable and performs just as I require (as is the case with the Sense 3's), price is less of an issue. However, I would want both the Ultra and the SG available in my arsenal of trail running weapons to fully equip me for the unpredictable UK weather, and this gets very expensive! 


10) Design: 10/10
I have completely fallen in love with the design and colourways of both the Sense 3 Ultra and Sense 3 Ultra SG. When I put them on I immediately feel like a Salomon athlete, fast and light on my feet! Of course, due to the fact I live in flat-as-a-pancake-Cambridgeshire, this soon comes to an end when I encounter any kind of incline!

Both fantastic looking shoes!
CavemanClarke score: 91/100

Conclusion:
What a fantastic duo the Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra and Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground really make! With the ability to run naturally in a comfortable and lightweight trail shoe for racing and training situations in either wet or dry weather conditions, this is a fantastic and well designed combination. Simply throw both pairs in your kit bag and decide at the race location which pair is the most suitable for the terrain and conditions underfoot. A match made in heaven for the trail running footwear world! Both pairs are a pleasure to run in when worn for their desired conditions, with both allowing a certain level of 'cross-over' if weather conditions vary across the entirety of the run route. The Sense 3 Ultra range gets a double thumbs up approval by me! 

Thank you Salomon for the opportunity to test and review these beauty's!

Happy running everyone
CavemanClarke