Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Inov8 Sticky Grip! Not a review.


If you are a fellrunner, and you have any presence on any type of social media, you cannot help but have noticed (or, indeed been overwhelmed) by the huge marketing push for Inov8s latest offering. X-talon “sticky grip” in various shapes, forms and sizes. You’ll probably also have noticed that there is the whole Graphene thing coming as well - that is shoes with a new, expensive material that has generally been used to make mobile phones thinner (amongst other stuff), which will apparently revolutionise the fellrunning shoe market.
What to make of all this. The new stuff, the claims, the market bombardment?


It has to be said that I am not the best one to complain about being bombarded by news of better shoe grip.... There have been various times where I’ve opened my mouth and moaned about lack of grip on fell shoes, especially on wet rock, and openly wondered when, oh when will someone create a shoe that ACTUALLY grips on stuff (as opposed to *saying* it grips to stuff). So, if inov8 have genuinely created a rubber that is excellent on grass and mud, and still performs well on wet rock, wow, they really do have something to shout about, and shout they should.


I remember when the x-talons originally came out. An amazing racing shoe that was far ahead of the pack. All the best runners wore them, all the top places in fell races were taken up by runners wearing them. Yes, a load of them got given the shoes to wear, but they were a decent shoe. It puts me in mind of the Kayak rodeo events of the early 2000’s. If you couldn’t cartwheel, you were stuffed, and the best kayak for the job at that time was the pyranha Storm. You wouldn’t get into a top 10 without one. And the best guys got given them.

Will the grip make me a better runner?

2 years ago I stood on the start line of Teenager with Altitude. It is a long race in the Lake District across some fairly challenging terrain. There is a lot of up and down, a bit of bog and it is generally somewhere you want a decent amount of grip. I had mudclaws on. Adam Perry - yes- he of Helm hill - stood there at the start line in a pair of terraclaws - which are lovely on trail, but on out and out fell? Not so much. I wasn’t going to say that I didn’t expect him to do well - I’m not that naiive… but I expected him to perhaps struggle a bit. We set off, I got to the top of the first hill before him. Then he nailed me on the next 14 miles and came 4th. I was 12th. Did the perceived lack of grip hold him back? Not a bit of it. If you’re a good enough runner, you’ll just get on with it…. Which brings me to….


Will they make me faster?

Let’s just think about this for a moment. In sports like cycling, kayaking etc, yes, to a point, the kit does make a difference. Im not saying that I’d beat Geraint Thomas up a hill on a bike if I was on a Pinarello and he was on a Chopper, but the kit does make a bit of a difference. This is why I enjoy running, it is more about your physiology and the amount you train than the kit. Although there *is* kit choice, at the end of the day, whether you are better or worse does not come down to what you are able to afford, it comes down, pretty much entirely to how much you train. Another short anecdote… summer fell race, everyone is on the line. Someone turns up in a pair of sandals, baggy shorts and a cotton t-shirt. Destroys the field. Comes 1st. (I believe he might have been British Champ at some point - or maybe Im misremembering the story). Anyhow, there wasn’t a massive rush out to buy the new Inov8 Jerusalem running sandals. It was just accepted that he was an excellent runner and, dammit, he could run in whatever he damn well wanted and he could still win.

So when the likes of sponsored runners start winning races in these shoes, and say they are the best things since the original x-talon came out, and that wow- these will revolutionise your running experience, personally, I’d be holding my head to one side and wondering a bit. Are they winning because of the shoe? Is it because they are a fairly decent runner anyway?

I suspect the latter.

And damn, if I was given a new shoe to try, develop and demonstrate, I would probably be ranting and raving about how good it was as well.


Is the grip all that good?

To be fair - never touched it - I don’t know. I do have this perspective though… sticky rubber tends to be short lived. That seems to be what makes it sticky. 5:10 C4 rubber on climbing shoes has always been awesome. My perception is that it used to be even stickier than it is now, but the amount of shoes you had to buy was absurd because the rubber wore out so fast. You could walk up walls in them though…. If Inov8 have made a really sticky rubber that doesn’t wear out in 6 months, I’ll be proper impressed. If they’ve made a shoe that actually holds together for that long, again, I’ll be impressed. I haven't seen that kind of workmanship on inov8s for quite a while.


Worth the cash?

This is entirely my ill-educated viewpoint. From a person who has not worn, or even touched a pair of sticky grips, I have to say, I really don’t know how they fit, what the grip is like, or anything like that. Personally, I recently had some money and the need to buy a new pair of shoes. The choice -£110 on a pair of sticky grips, or £50 on a pair of old school mudclaws and £60 on old school x-talons.

I must be turning a bit Yorkshire. I went for the 2 older pairs instead of the new tech.
At the level I am running at, for the moment, a snazzy pair of “cutting edge” shoes is not going to make me any faster. It won’t make me enjoy my runs any more than I currently do, and 2 pairs of shoes will tide me over for more running than a single pair.


The bottom line…

I might buy some when my current shoes wear out, but until then, I think I’ll cope. The whole Graphene thing is going to be interesting, if only because I’ve heard prices of £150 and £160 being bandied around. Jeez… I like the idea of innovation - but not at any price…. That just seems a bit much. (I may be wrong about the price point though - tis just rumour).

If this is a game changer, then yes, inov8 will have the right to shout from the roof tops… call me a cynic, but the whole massive ad campaign just seems a bit too contrived to me.

a thing of the past?

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

New Chew Short Score 2018

First of the Glossopdale Harriers Fell Champs- a navigation race that lasts 3 and a half hours and is over some of the most amusing (read: un-runnable) terrain locally.
Setting off from Chew Sailing Club at about 9am, it was a little chilly, but the sun was out and it was clear on the tops. You could see a small amount of snow on the ground on the moors, but nothing crazy. Contrary to what seems to be normal practice in Orienteering events - from what I can see - I went against the grain of heading off near the end of the time slot, and went as early as possible. The benefits of heading out when others have trogged around looking for a checkpoint, leaving footprints in the snow... or even still being there in gaggles - is obvious, but our strategy was a little different. The earlier we start, the earlier we finish, and the sooner we get to have some of the legendary spread of food laid out at the end.

I jogged off up the main path/road onto the moor, working out a rough route plan. Not really knowing quite how far I was going to be able to go in the time, a couple of ideas were playing around in my head. As the ground was pretty rough further out, it would be a LOT harder to get home in a decent amount of time. There are always a decent number of people who under-estimate how long it takes to move across broken and un-even terrain, and there are a good amount of competitors who over-run by not inconsiderable margins.
Having "done" the over ambitious thing in Peak Raid last year, the idea today was to get out, go hard and get as many checkpoints in a wide circuit as possible, and come back in as wide a circle as possible, picking up anything else that might be in my way. With that in mind, and with a couple of escape routes planned, depending on timings, I hammered out past the easy 10 pointer - 1 to get should I have time when I arrive back, and straight up to the tops, collecting a 20 pointer just on Chew Edge, before doing the thing that not many people seemed to do- ignore the other, smaller points around that area which would take up a fair amount of bog bashing and descent/ascent, and cracked on across the tops to the Laddow side.

It took a while to get to the next CP, but I dropped into it pretty well - guided in from a fence by a series of tributaries, then it was back up to the fence and follow it all the way along to the next CP. Easy nav.
Fence line. Easy Nav. If the fence is actually there. In this case, it was.
From there it was a bit of a fun gallumph downhill through a load of moderately ankle twisting turks heads, a drop down a bit of a cliff, more broken ground and then a significant climb to a sheepfold. The sun was still out, it was clear above, and there was no-one anywhere near me. It was simply glorious to be out.

Now came the interesting point. I HAD planned to go straight back up to Crowden Castles, but had only been out for an hour... there was the opportunity to drop into Crowden Little Brook and sweep north picking up 3 40 pointers, and then come back across the moor from Black Hill towards Chew... and there were options there as well.
Go long.

Little more than 10 minutes later I was cursing my decision as I made my way through epically horrible terrain. 2ft+ high Turks heads with knee deep bog inbetween slowed me down to a crawl- in some cases, literally. No turning back now... I moved as fast as I could through this purgatory of floor space, tripping, cursing and ocassionally losing my map, and eventually came out down near the sheepfold. Clipped the card, and got myself on the track for some well earned running time. As fast as I had been moving previously, my average pace still needed to be faster in order to get back in time.
The Path. No pics of Turks heads. I was too busy doing other things. Like falling over. And cursing.
Up to the waterfall and the next point was easy enough and no real nav was needed, but the next section, north up the stream, without going too high onto the moor above and into a restricted area, while the mist was coming in, at a height where knee deep snow was now becoming apparent were all factors that did not point to a particularly fast leg. Not really what you need at the furthest point out of a race where you are master of your own route choice...

The bottom of the clough was horrible and boggy. Half way up it was clagged with Turks heads, on top it was turksheads and kneedeep snow. Above that was forbidden ground. Not a whole lot of choice, so I made my way north as fast as conditions and my legs would allow, spending the final 300m in the bottom of the clough nigh on wading through the stream to make sure I didn't miss the control.

Once found it was up on top find a trod and head direct for the Pennine Way. It is pretty obvious at this point on the moor, but there are still a number of groughs to cross to get to it, which don't go down amazingly well with tired legs.
The Pennine Way. And the Mist, coming in.

Hit the PW, and yet, not home and dry by a long way. Time ticking away, and still a bog drenched moor to get across with checkpoints strewn across it. My first reaction was to go for the one immediately closest to me, up a clough, but once there, knee deep snow and bog made me think again, considering the amount of moorland I would still have to traverse to get back a from there. The decision was made to go south a little on the Pennine Way (icy as an icy thing, and very slippy), and then hang a right up a grough to another Checkpoint in a very obvious place- considering the contour lines, and then back across the moor...
not a problem.
I can't honestly remember where this was, so consider this to be a witty comment

Found the grough, went up - found the right place. No CP. Odd. There was a really obvious feature, and the CP wasn't there. Another competitor was also looking for the same one, and after a good while looking for it, I took some photos to prove it wasn't in the right place and headed West up the grough to gain a point where I would traverse the moor.
And then came across the CP about 100 metres further upstream that it should have been. Clipped it, and started across the moor.
Time was beginning to tick away. I figured I might just get another point in, and went North to the one that looked like it would be easiest to find. It was. But it was not the easiest to get to. Instead of having horrendous turksheads and bog on a slope as before in Crowden Little Brook, this was turks heads and bogs on a flat piece of ground. Even worse because it LOOKED like it should be runnable.
Eventually I clipped the point, and realised that going across the tops was not going to be an option... no-where near enough time considering the conditions underfoot - so elected for the get off the hill quick and take the massive path down past the reservoirs to home. Added bonus- there was a CP just at the end of the path. Even more added bonus, if I kept up a decent pace and got back to the Sailing club with 15 mins to spare, I might just be able to snag that final 10 pointer that I ran past at the beginning.

Down the clough at ankle twisting speed, off the hill and through a river to clip a CP. Back to the path, which is essentially as good as a road once you've been battling across the equivalent of fields of man-traps for the last 3 hours.... and bash as hard as possible to the end.
Go Go Go Go.
Do I have enough time?
I get to the bottom of the hill, turn right is home, turn left up the slope is 10 points.... I have 17 mins. Easy.

Hard work and Hamstrings threatening to cramp all the way. The watch gets checked a couple of times, but there is still a decent amount of time in hand. The downhill won't take much time. Clip the point, map, compass etc put away and down - no nav left to do, just a final last ditch run to the end.

Finished in 3:25 with 280 points. And a bit ruined.

Another person ended up with more points than me, but was late, and ended up on 270. A lot of others were late back as well - the terrain really does mess with peoples time keeping abilities.
The food at the end was excellent, as was the tea and the company.
And I came 1st.
Yes, a low key, local race, but flipping heck. I won.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Kong MMM Bethesda 2018

Thanks to Travs on the FRA forums who restored my toungue in cheek faith in my ramblings.
Lynne and I were over in Wales this weekend just gone for the Kong Mini Mountain Marathon. I got an SI dibber for Christmas so decided to enter a few nav events this year. It's also pretty good to practice my navigation away from the comfort of the Peak District, hence the Kongs.

Saturday was proper grim, and we were fairly pleased not to be running the race then. The guys putting out the controls on Sat must not have had an enjoyable time.... Sunday dawned beautifully and continued into a bright, but very cold day. We wrapped up warm, and I anticipated being out for the full 4 hours. A small niggle in the back of my mind said "you haven't run for 4 hours in quite a few months..." so I ignored it.

At the Start we got our maps and I headed on up the hill at a swift-ish pace (not quite as swift as Welsh/Calder Matt) trying to work out a bit of a strategy. Kong, it would seem, put out a boat load of checkpoints which only a superhuman would have a hope of clearing, so it really is a matter of being intelligent with route and checkpoint choice.
Unfortunately my maths is terrible and as much as I try and create different routes with different point scores, I generally go with gut instinct.

Snow was down to about 550metres, so a lot of the first few checks were in open green territory. I ticked off a few of them, clocking up a fair amount of ascent and descent, and getting myself creatively engaged in the navigation as well.... not exactly lost, just occasionally slightly geographically embarrassed.

All was going relatively well until I bashed across a hill in the right direction and then came across an unrelentingly steep, heather covered (infested?!) hillside that needed to be bashed through. Not fun. I did so with aplomb, getting warmer and warmer, took off a buff, checked I had everything, carried on, 2 mins later, checked again. No dibber.

1hour 50 into using my Christmas present, it is lost on a welsh hillside. So I stopped and searched for about 20-30 mins, covering and re-covering my steps, searching in heather and generally cursing, til I gave it up as lost. Dammit.

Right, consume food, look at map, work out best route home.
The option was a pretty formidable down and up, or a quite considerable round the valley, up and over. Had I still been racing, the direct would have won without a shadow of a doubt. Slightly dejected and downcast, chewing on a bar I made my way back around the valley, up and over Bera Bach and home, via, it has to be said, some pretty amazing views. The snow was crunchy and it was a delight to be out.

At the end, the guys on control took pity on me, asked where I had been and inputed the contols manually, so that at least I had a score. Not a very good one, but a score nevertheless.
Lessons learnt today.... put a cord on your dibber. Take more food. Don't underestimate a 4 hour run. The hills in Wales are a bit bigger than at home.

The soup, cake and tea at the end was well worth it though.
Bought a new dibber, and will be out competing at the next Kong in the Lakes. See you there.