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I became a convert to the Altra way of running long before I knew what Altra were, I’d been using minimal zero drop shoes from Vibram and Merrell but had given these up in favour of Hoka as I was looking for a resolution to my feet being crucified during ultras. Hoka were never the answer due to the narrow fitting of their footwear so when @borleyrose suggested for about the 50th time that I consider Altra I decided to give them a whirl. Now a little over a year on I own six pairs of Altra, four different models and this is the review of the Altra Olympus 2.0

I didn’t wear either the 1.0 or the 1.5 so have no real comparison but if I were suggesting a shoe it reminded me of to look at then that would be the Hoka Stinson ATR. But what do Altra say about them?

You asked, and we delivered. Our popular, max-cushioned trail shoe returns with a completely revamped Vibram® Megagrip outsole and a softer, more flexible upper. The new outsole dramatically enhances traction in uphill and downhill terrain while maintaining the max-cushioned feel you love. Traction and durability improvements have also led to a reduction in weight over its predecessor for a faster ride. An impressive 36mm stack height runs evenly from front to back and features an A-Bound bottom layer to add a spring to each step and EVA™ top layer to take the bite out of the rugged terrain. And like every Altra shoe, the FootShape™ toe box keeps your feet happy, relaxed, and stable through uphill climbs and downhill descents.

  • Weight: 11.0 oz./ 312 g.
  • Maximal Cushioning
  • Stack Height: 36mm
  • Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking, Trail Racing
  • Designed To Improve: Running Form, Toe Splay, Stability, Push-off, Comfort, Traction
  • Midsole: Dual Layer EVA with A-Bound™ Top Layer
  • Outsole: Vibram® Megagrip
  • Insole: 5mm Contour Footbed
  • Upper: Quick-Dry Trail Mesh
  • Natural Ride System
  • GaiterTrap™ Technology

Weight?
In terms of weight these are rather pleasant, yes it’s no size zero (at 312g) but you really don’t feel the shoe dragging you back when you’re out on the trail. However, if you’re sensitive to the weight of your shoe then this might be a consideration. While I compared them in looks to the Hoka Stinson I’d say in weight they feel more like a Challenger ATR (v1) and I found both the Olympus and the ATR to feel light on the feet despite the numbers.

Fit?
There’s no doubt about it, Altra have yet to perfect sizing. There are complaints with every iteration of any of their shoes that they fit differently. The Olympus 2.0 suffers with the same complaints but not from me. I’m normally a 9.5 UK but in all Altra I’m a 10 UK. There’s some truth in that the toebox is less spacious than say the Lone Peak 2.0 but even to someone with Hobbit like feet I’ve got room to spread my hairy toes. The heel cup is also significantly better than say the Lone Peak 2.0, it doesn’t feel as bulky and is much more akin to the Lone Peak 2.5 – basically it fits nicely at the heel and midfoot but with room to breathe for the toes. These should feel a comfortable ride straight out of the box.

Comfort?
This is where the Olympus 2.0 starts to really shine. This shoe is like wearing really big slippers, because the fit is more secure while retaining its spacious feel you are rewarded with a shoe that feels right. The upper doesn’t rub and the heel has enough give in it to make it supportive rather than overly firm – like a memory foam pillow.

Maximal?
The maximal aspect of the Olympus 2.0 is one of its big selling points. At 36mm it certainly is a maximal shoe – there’s lots of cushioning from the squishy foam that sits under your feet. It’s an incredibly comfortable ride without feeling so soft that you’ve got no feel – on the contrary it’s got a good connection to the trail considering its so maximal. What I would say though is that unlike something such as the Hoka Stinson which had a firmer ride the Olympus 2.0 would benefit from a rockplate – the soft pillow like approach has made them more vulnerable to impact over longer distances. I genuinely don’t believe they need firming up at all because the ride is excellent but a rockplate might be the answer.

Upper?
There are anecdotal reports of the upper wearing too quickly but the seamless upper on the Olympus 2.0 looks in good shape so far (150 miles). That said the seamless upper does leave it vulnerable to assault from gnarly trails and sharp rocks but I’m no floating trail runner, I like to get right in to the bad shit and in all honesty the Olympus 2.0 has come through unscathed. Perhaps there’s a balance to be had between structure/overlays and a supple upper and it could be that the test bed for that is the Lone Peak 3.0, we shall see.

One of the areas that that Olympus 2.0 really excels is in drainage – the upper material, while porous, drains quickly and the shoe will eventually dry out. I had numerous opportunities over the start of the British Summer to get them wet and let them drain.

Ultimately the upper is a discreet delight even if it might not be the longest lasting.

Traction?
And so to the reason I bought the Olympus 2.0 – the Vibram outsole. I’d been hunting a pair of shoes that would road, trail, rock, mud and anything else a race threw at me. The Olympus 2.0 ticks lots and lots of boxes, it grips well through mud, it clings tightly to rocks and it covers the road to trail sections with great aplomb. However, they aren’t perfect, weirdly there’s nothing wrong with them but much like every other pair of shoes they aren’t all things to all terrains – and that’s fair enough. The tread with its multi directional lugs and differing strength compounds are excellent and a vast improvement on the very light tread of earlier versions.

The good news is that mud clears away quickly and despite decent mileage in them there is little show of wear and tear.

Stability?
The problem with all maximal shoes is the issue of stability and ankle rolling – the Olympus 2.0 sadly doesn’t buck this trend. On most surfaces actually there is no issue – generally they’re pretty stable. They don’t roll nearly as much as my Hoka have done.
During the Skye Trail Ultra they banged their way across the terrain without any issues and similarly at the Brutal Enduro they conducted themselves well. The problem seems to be when the grass falls away from you, you hit a dip in the trail, you lose control. The Olympus 2.0 struggles to help contain your fall and will actually accentuate the problem you’re facing. At Skye in the first 5 miles I rolled my ankle a dozen times in thick, tall, wet and boggy grass and during my first ascent in equally overgrown conditions my food didn’t feel well connected to either the shoe or the ground. However, this was one specific incident during a race, after the first few miles the Olympus 2.0 carried on magnificently but were there was seriously overgrown and uneven terrain they didn’t perform as well as the LP2.5 would have.

Visuals?
Altra need to stop sending the UK the wanky colour options – I don’t want black shoes, I want my shoes bright and vibrant. To this end I had to order my Altra from France as they had the awesome blue and yellow option.

The Olympus 2.0 are a nice looking pair of shoes – yes they look bulkier than a pair of Salomon but Altra have kept off weight excess so that you don’t look like you’re wearing clown shoes.

The maximal aspect of the shoe has attention drawn to it with a thick slathering of neon yellow – you certainly won’t miss these. 

Thankfully the gaiter trap has been retained and this remains a discreet addition at the back of the heel – but sitting much higher than I expected.

Sadly you won’t win any style awards for being in the Olympus 2.0 but they are no disgrace on your feet either and I really like them.

Experience?
So far I’ve taken the Olympus 2.0 up and across the Isle of Skye and through several laps of the Brutal Enduro as well as lots of trail running and even a bit of road.

As I’ve described previously at Skye they had issues bit mostly performed well. Through the worst of the rocky ascents and descents they gave solid support – though a rock plate would really have helped to avoid some of the underfoot damage I incurred (something for v3 chaps?).

Despite being soaking wet by the end of mile 1 they continued to perform well until I swapped them out at mile 27 (this had always been the plan). On the downhills I can say that the Olympus 2.0 protected my knees brilliantly and even at full pelt you had a good measure of control due to the enhanced traction underneath and the rolling of ankles is only an issue if you aren’t thinking about the route ahead. One might say it’s more to do with user error than the shoe itself.

Post Skye the Olympus 2.0 have been a good companion – joining me on RunCommutes through London and across lovely trails in the Kent countryside. They’re surprisingly quick as I discovered when I went bombing around local forests and the traction does mean you can leather it and not be too concerned about the surface you’re on. Let’s not get carried away though you aren’t wearing these for Parkrun. No. These are shoes built for going long, long distances – if I were thinking of a race they’d be perfect for it would be the Thames Path 100 and if I think of a race they aren’t suited to, well that would be the CCC.

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Conclusion?
The Olympus 2.0 is a really good and fun shoe but with some caveats – the biggest of which is the price. Are they worth over £100 when there are excellent alternatives such as the Pearl Izumi N3 Trail retailing at about £90? The answer is probably ‘just about’ if you like the wide toebox, the zero drop and the maximal approach then the Olympus 2.0 is what you’re after. I would like to see a removable rock plate added to the Olympus as I think this would shore up its defensive capability without adding to the weight and I’d be interested to see just how long the upper lasts.

However, there’s lots of great things going on in this shoe – the improved grip is very grippy, the upper is very comfortable, the ride is excellent, they’re much improved in the mud and best of all they kept the trail gaiter. When Altra decide to listen to their customers they do it well and the Olympus 2.0 addresses many concerns about the earlier editions but there’s still work to do.

My only other note is the lack of stockists for Altra and the lateness we get the shoes. In London we have one stockist and they don’t carry in store the Olympus. The U.K. as a whole has around 5 or 6 stockists I can find – Altra help me out, expand your reach. If you look at the statistics from WSER a couple of weeks back you can see that the second most popular shoe at the start line were Altra – there’s a lot of UK ultra runners and I think with better in-store visibility we’d see a swift rise in sales and appreciation for this brands footwear.

As with all footwear I’d suggest you try these before buying if possible – they aren’t for everyone but if you have hobbit feet like I do then these might just be for you.

Likes

  • Significantly improved traction
  • Soft supple upper
  • Excellent colour options (if you can source them)
  • Surprisingly quick
  • Surprisingly snug but excellent fit in all the right places
  • Retains the gaiter trap!

Dislikes

  • Price
  • Lack of colourways in the United Kingdom
  • Arrival into the United Kingdom much later than US and mainland Europe
  • Lack of stockists
  • Minor stability issues on certain terrains
  • Concerns over durability of upper

Waterproof, grippy, elevated, Hoka and boots – are these the shoes you’ve been looking for? I bought these with the specific reason of being able to run through the snow in Finland but it turns out they might be good for lots more than that.

 
What do Hoka say about them? Named after the Tor Des Geants, a 330km mountain race across the Italian Alps with 3 Everests-worth of ascent, the Men’s Hoka Tor Speed WP is the lightest trail running shoe to offer ankle stability with aggressive Vibram grip.

  • Weight: 349g
  • Offset: 5mm
  • Heel: 33.5mm
  • Forefoot: 28.5mm
  • Standard laces 
  • Anatomic ankle glove
  • Closed mesh
  • Waterproof membrane
  • Seamless synthetic overlay support
  • Vibram Grip
  • 4mm lugs

The first thing you’ll notice is how light they are considering the size – the boot gives them a look of bulk that they don’t deserve because the Tor Speed when on your feet are a good close fitting shoe that you feel nicely locked into. As a fan of the oversized shoe (see my general love of all things Altra) I knew what I was getting when I bought these – it was not going to be a minimalist shoe. On the visual end of things the Tor Speed is okay, black and red aren’t really daring enough for me – I’d rather that if you’re going to make a ridiculous running shoe then make it properly ridiculous – no messing around. However, that said they’ve grown on me much more than the Stinson ‘white’ ever did.

 
Testing Before they went to Finland I gave them about 40 miles of testing to bed them in. I’ve generally found with Hoka that my feet need a little bit of time to adjust to them but the Tor Speed were comfortable from the moment we hit the trails together. We banged up and down some muddy hills and I was happy to note that I had good grip on the ground, very little slipping – my foot was stable in the shoe and importantly my feet were dry despite the conditions being rainy. I took them into the city and did a few short urban trail runs and these too were comfortable affairs.

Bootiness Let’s not beat around the bush – these runners are boots and not running shoes, you’d think they have more in common with hiking boots but they really don’t. They simply feel like a properly bombproof runner. They won’t be for everyone but Hoka (and soon Altra) have a boot based running footwear option that will appeal to a certain market. 

Finland Testing I put another 60km (ish) on the Tor Speed during my visit to Luosto in Finland. I decided that I wasn’t going to go snow-shoeing, I was going to see how the Hoka handled smooth, deep, icy, slushy, hilly, flat, etc, etc, trails and I quickly got my answer.

 
On the XC ski trails the Hoka performed well, the grip held well and I could race around pretty much as I wanted. My feet were never cold and the combination with drymax socks was a winner, even when they dug into the deeper snow the Hoka retained their ability to get me out of trouble and unlike other Hoka I’ve used my ankles never felt at risk of going over. On the icier and slushier road they reacted the same as on normal Tarmac – they ate it up but it was when I hit the trail and decided to go ‘wild’ that they would have a real test.

Thicker and thicker snow greeted my feet, legs getting trapped in the thigh height snow and much colder as you went higher and higher but never once did they fail and my feet remained dry. Yes I dusted off excessive snow after I’d dug myself out of various holes but ultimately my Tor Speed were a great choice of footwear. Uphills and downhills I expected to be a little less comfortable than say my Altra Lone Peak 2.5 but actually they were fine for undulating trails and once you gotten used to the feeling of them you’ll simply forget you’ve got boots on at all.

So what are they for? I’ll be using them for the first sections (and possibly the whole) of the Skye Ultra Trail in May – so I’m happy that you can use them for ultra running but things like fast packing, hiking and geocaching will be right at the heart of the type of activity they were built for.

Would I recommend these? The answer is, of course, yes but with the caveat that they aren’t for everyone and they aren’t for every activity. Plus as Hoka they’re quite expensive usually retailing for over £100 but if you find them on sale they might be worth a punt as an option for a waterproof shoe where sprinting isn’t going to play a large part in the day. Would I buy them again I suppose I’d the litmus test? And yes I would, I’ll be looking for a second pair for my winter running but despite really getting into the groove with them they won’t replace the Altra as my shoe of choice for racing. 

For a proper Hoka hiking boot you could look at the Tor Ultra which is a more traditional boot.

I saw a post on Facebook a few nights ago (yes even I use Facebook) and saw that OMM were on the look out for people who could serve as ambassadors for the brand in 2016. For the first time ever I thought ‘maybe I could do that?

 

I’ve always been quite proud regarding the fact that I owe nothing to any brand if I review a product or event but OMM is a little different.

OMM is a brand that’s been at my side since I started running again in 2011 – my first running bag was the epic Classic 25 (still RunCommutes daily I might add). I ran my first ultra almost totally decked out in OMM stuff because it was the right fit and feel. Today I still use OMM kit, not because I’m brand loyal, but because it works but that’s not to say I don’t love other kit because I do – I’ll always be an advocate for using the kit that is right for you.

There are other considerations such as the platform that something like like gives you. That is an opportunity to, hopefully, inspire other people. Let’s not forget I’m no Scott Jurek, I’m just your average runner, getting out and doing, proving (mainly to myself) that anybody can do this.

There is also the allure that they want real runners and people who could take on The OMM race and that appeals a lot. The race is the right time of year, right kind of endurance, right kind of challenge and it has UltraBoy written all over it.

So, I find myself in new territory, having looked at their application process, even writing down answers to the application questions I’m genuinely tempted to apply, but also apprehensive.

The GingaNinja says I should apply, she tells me that I love testing kit, I’m always blogging, tweeting or Instagramming anyway and that I use their stuff daily – to her it’s a no-brainer. To keep my grounded though she did remind me that a slew of great runners will also apply and that my chances were slim – thanks GingaNinja.

So do I apply? 

I suppose I’m also writing this to encourage all those that read my blog to apply. It seems like a great opportunity to be a part of something interesting in a sport you do everyday anyway. More details are available here and if you do apply then best of luck.

Happy running.   

 
I’ve been rather anti-action camera since they first appeared a few years back because I felt they were a waste of money – nothing more than slick advertising campaigns to get us using more and more social media and sharing facilities. However, I did buy a Muvi Action Camera in about 2010 but found this to be somewhat lacking and I do own several Aquapac devices so I can take my cameras and iPhones into places that might otherwise destroy them but they aren’t exactly ‘action-camera’ level.

 

Then I discovered at short notice I was off to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights and I felt as though I needed to upgrade my camera setup with something a little more exciting. After poring over the Internet for several days has eyeballing the various cameras – Garmin, Sony, Polaroid, etc I finally settled on the GoPro, but which one? I finally settled on the GoPro Session, why? Well that’s the big question and equally importantly did I make the correct decision? 

Let’s look at the specifications first and then we’ll look at experience and finally is it any good for runners? 

  • App control: Android, iOS via WiFi
  • Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS
  • Sensor pixels: 8,000,000
  • LCD screen size: None
  • Video recording format: H.264 MP4
  • Video recording resolutions: 1440p (30/25fps) 1080p (60/50/30/25fps), 960p (60/50/30/25fps) 720p (100/60/50/30/25fps), WVGA (120/100fps)
  • Max recording resolution: 1440p (30fps)
  • Time lapse mode intervals: 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 60s
  • Video recording media: MicroSD
  • Sound: 32kHz mono
  • Maximum still image resolution: 3,264×2,448
  • Memory slot: MicroSD
  • Data connections: Micro USB
  • AV connections: None
  • Battery type: Li-ion
  • Battery life: 2h 04m
  • Size (HxWxD): 35x35x35mm
  • Weight: 74g
  • Price: £160 (Feb 2016)

To break down the specification above you’ll find that most of your photographic action camera requirements are covered. The default setting for video is 1080p/25fps and this is a very happy video quality – capturing an excellent field of view with not too much fish eye lensing at the edge of a shot. I was amazed at the quality of the actual video too when I played it back on a HD TV – it’ll be unlikely to win a BAFTA (either technical or content) but it was more than enough for me to capture high quality memories.

 
Photography: stills are okay on the move but obviously suffer with camera shake when you’re moving. However, as a static camera or time-lapse device then the Session reminds us why it has a camera capability. The photographs are like a very high quality mobile phone camera – but better and the time-lapse has a good range of time settings to capture long or short periods of time. I’ve been using the 0.5 second setting per shot when running post work and this had given me a mixed bag of results. In a half hour (night time) run you generate 3600 photographs of which a handful might be worth keeping but it offers a different overall creative and I’ll be interested to see how the time-lapse works in both Finland and during daylight hours. 

 
The lack of an LCD screen is sort of made up for by the use of the GoPro app which offers previews of what you’re about to record but ultimately this is a point and click camera that is designed to capture moments quickly and without fuss. The app itself is a little flakey but not without promise – the wifi connection is good, you can manage the media on the card via the phone and the changes you need to make to the setup of the camera are simple enough not to need to read the manual. Truth is I was able to use the app to successfully download clips I wanted – make minor cuts and then drop it into iMovie to make a 4 minute run and cycle movie without leaving the confines of my iPhone – view the footage here. That to me suggests a decent, well integrated product.

 
Battery life is good and in continuous shooting you can expect somewhere between 90 and 124 mins of usage (depending on wifi usage). Perhaps one of the nice things is that the camera when it completes a recording session will simply power down using the one touch button – less chance of recording the inside of your pocket for two hours (unless you like that kind of thing).

Size and weight at 35mm square this has a nice form factor, it’s more discreet than its peers and sits tighter to the body (with the right mounts). It’s small enough to fit in a pocket, a handbag or your race vest. In terms of its weight this wouldn’t too negatively impact your race day need to be as trim as possible, if GoPro decided this was the form factor for all cameras going forward I don’t think there would be much complaint.

Experience? I’ve had the GoPro now for about three weeks and have been testing it extensively – different settings, different mounts, different activities, different times of day – sadly weather conditions have remained consistent but living in the UK means this is guaranteed to change.

As my primary activity is running I’ve been using it for this and it’s fair to say that at night time in a city you get reasonable results with a chest harness and 1080p at 30fps. As you might expect there’s some judder from your jiggle as you run but if the camera footage was smooth I think this would look fake. I improved the overall quality of the footage by upping the frame rate just last night to Superview (super wide basically) 48fps which provides a significantly smoother picture and I expect they moving to 60fps will improve this further again (though at the time of writing I have yet to test this).

Swift turns, leaping over stuff and darting between people and the neon haze of London have proved no problem for the Session and the footage can be quite interesting when viewed as snapshots of what you did rather than an entire run (which would be tiresome). While the video has been excellent as I’ve indicated the time lapse while running is less successful but not without merit and simply requires a little time to separate the wheat from the chaff – examples of time lapse footage are shown below. 

This past weekend also provided me with a daylight testing option and I was able to dip out both on the bike and running trails to give the Session a proper go. For the bike I used the handlebar mount on the way out and the chest mount on the return journey and for running I used the monkey grip tripod for time lapse photography and the chest mount for running. Both systems worked pretty well with the least successful being the chest mount for the bike ride but that was the directors (my) fault. Technically footage was pretty faultless and it captured all the nuances of my run/cycle. Footage at the 30fps was much better in daylight and even managed to capture my gobbing green chest mucus all over the trail as we ran. 

So I had fun and more importantly the GoPro Session is leaving a last impression.

For runners or not? If you’re a bit like me and enjoy a wide range of activities but your main activity is running then the GoPro is a curious one.

Running itself isn’t something you might want to watch back over and over but I’ve found the testing I’ve been doing has been a lot of fun. The footage itself is technically high quality that you’ll enjoy reliving but will you watch your footage like a box set? Unlikely.

The GoPro Session is best suited to other sports but for the socially media-d runner this could be an excellent purchase to help share your awesome experiences and at around £150-160 this is an absolute bargain at the moment. 

 
Hopefully, if as a runner, you too decide to invest in one I think you’ll find extended uses for it – like strapping it to a child or the family dog (I’ve done both).

I’m now just waiting for the real dog harness to arrive so that I can throw ThunderPad into the nearest lake with the camera attached for some properly fun footage. 

Happy shooting.

 

NB. This is a product I purchased and has nothing to do with the manufacturer. No freebie testing here!

  
I’d like you to read the below email from Martin at Likeys, one of the best outdoor stores in the UK – if not the world. They are an independent retailer and like many others from all over the country they are being battered by the larger, more powerful companies and we as runners (both ultra and not) have an opportunity to do something about it. I’d also love you take a look at the event photograph above and see how much kit is there – tonnes of it and I’m confident lots of it was advised on by the independent retailers I’m writing about now. Read on…

This isn’t your typical email but I would like to share some thoughts with you….. and as a reward, there is a 10% discount code at the end of the email – but if time allows, please read the following first.

Likeys (like most other independent retailers) have over many years strived to provide the very best service to our customers. This service includes the following…..

* Sourcing the newest and best products, often putting our necks on the line in bringing innovative brands and products to the market – brands such as Hoka, Nuun, Raidlight, X-Bionic, Aarn, Injinji (and many more) were first seen in Likeys, long before the “Big Boys” had even heard of the brands.

* We freely give advice for all manner of running and adventures whilst always having the customers’ needs at the very forefront of our minds. We have had customers traveling from as far away as Zimbabwe specifically to pick our brains, whilst we have stayed open until 12.45 in the morning to make sure a couple of athletes got the advice and correct kit choices for an extreme ultra they were about to compete in. In a nutshell, we will always go that extra mile to look after our customers.

* We always try to be as competitive as we can be with our prices.

* We passionately support the sport we love – over the years we have sponsored the Questars Adventure Race Series (past 6 years). Have been the main sponsors of the popular 3-4-5 mile race series in Brecon (past 5 years), as well as giving away over £5,000 worth of sponsorship to ultra-runners in 2013. Plus year in year out providing numerous spot prizes for many races both locally and around the country.

* We organise both the Beacons Ultra (8th year in 2015) and the 6633 Ultra in the Canadian Arctic (7th year in 2015). Both races organised with the primary aim of providing the competitors with no frills ultra challenges at different spectrums of the range of madness…. These events are organised because we love the sport… simple!!.

Over the last 12 months there have been seismic shifts in the outdoor retail market, with a number of large corporate retailers picking up on the boom of off-road/trail/ultra running, the results of which for customers is that there have seen some wonderful online discounting, particularly on items that were once perceived as specialist. 

Naturally as a business we have noticed this, and a survey that we conducted a month or so ago confirmed that discounting is a significant factor when buying. However, it was equally obvious from that survey that the knowledge of specialist retailers, the personalised customer service and enthusiasm of independents which are freely given are also very highly regarded when making a purchase.

Independent retailers don’t have the financial clout to compete with these behemoths of the industry, so whilst I don’t have a crystal ball, unless there are changes, I can foresee Likeys closing its doors to the public in about 14 months when the lease on our current premises comes up for renewal. 

In the 9 years Likeys has been around, neither Sue or I have ever paid ourselves as much as the minimum wage, so please read the above knowing that we are not trying to line our pockets, we are simply trying to maintain a service that we truly think will be missed if Likeys go. Likeys (and I think this will equally apply to many other independents that are caught up in this current discounting melee) has always been a passion before any business sense could be applied to it, so making money has never been the overriding factor, but alas even we have to make enough to pay the bills and pay the wages of those that work alongside us.

Now before you go jumping to any conclusions…. This isn’t a begging letter, it is merely a statement of how I see the market panning out for specialist independents such as Likeys. 

So what am I saying….

Well, quite simply I would like you to consider supporting the independent stores (including Likeys) as much as you can in order that they can continue to support you in your adventures wherever they might take you. If you see an item for a few pounds more at an independent, please don’t assume they are being greedy, they are simply trying to bring products to the market at a fair price that will allow them to stay in business. Please support us independents, as your good custom means far more than you will ever realise. In return you will continue to get the excellent customer service, the free product advice, the enthusiasm and passion that only an independent store can provide….. and it’s only the likes of a Likeys that can offer you the chance to tackle what is probably the toughest race in the World!!!

Whilst I don’t imagine the above musing will change the world, I am a born optimist, so fingers crossed I am hoping enough people will appreciate the true value for money you get from independents that will see both Likeys and many of the other brilliant independents survive for many years to come so we can share the laughs and tribulations as you go on your merry way competing in daft events in this country and further afield.

Now, I mentioned a discount code….

Bearing in mind what I have written above, we would love it if you didn’t use it (wink wink), but equally we know everyone likes a bit of a deal….So, as a “Thank You” for a few minutes of your time reading the above – for 10% off anything you buy at Likeys (www.likeys.com) from now until Friday 26th, simply type in the two words coloured green above into the promotion code (without a space between) during checkout and the wizardry of the Likeys website will do the rest for you.

Very best wishes

Martin

P.S. Please feel free to share these sentiments with others that you think might appreciate them

I’m not including the discount coded because I’d rather we paid the price on the tin. But the point is that we as runners need resources like this, I don’t mind if you want to buy your Christmas sale bargains from Wiggle or. GoOutdoors or whoever but would it really hurt to spend that small bit extra to ensure we keep these places open?

To ensure I’m not being hypocritical I can tell you that 9 out of my last 10 pairs of running shoes came from independent retailers but I admit that my Salomon race vest came from Wiggle and some of my cheaper training kit comes from places Decathlon or buying direct from the manufacturer at things like the London Marathon Expo (though I still try and support smaller companies like Runderwear at these events). I’m also due to purchase my CCC shoes this week and given that I’ll be buying Altra Lone Peak 2.0 I know that I’ll be going to an independent retailer (either Accelerate or ultra-runner.com) because I think it’s the right thing to do and because the service and advice I have received from both these companies in the past has been really top notch.

All I’m asking is that you think about these companies, look beyond the giant discounts and try and remember that the deal you are being offered by Sweatshop and SportsDirect usually isn’t as good as you think (funny how Mike Ashley’s hand is involved in those two businesses and we are talking about the death of independent retailers). Let’s not forget these guys support the races we do with prizes, sponsorship, race day stores – if we undermine them too much then will the races that we love so much start to struggle to find funding? It’s a vicious circle isn’t it?

Help me out visit an independent retailer today and maybe make a purchase – do you really have to look that hard to find Run and Become? Likeys? Ultra-Runner? UltraMarathonRunningStore? Castleberg Outdoors? George Fisher? Accelerate? Endurance Store? Jog Shop, Brighton? Give them a chance and help them out – if not for you then for me – because I shop in them and I want them to stay around.

Just a thought guys.

   

  

  

  

 I’ve been through a fair few pairs of shoes and even more miles. There are probably only half a dozen pairs of running shoes that I haven’t gotten on with – most of them Salomon. On my own personal journey to foot comfort nirvana I’ve passed through Merrell, Vibram FiveFingers, Brooks, Pearl Izumi, Inov8, Adidas, Hoka, Asics and even a couple of pairs of Skora. I’ve worn them all and more in an effort to find the shoe that would serve me best.

Perhaps my search is now over as I’ve just discoverd the Altra Lone Peak 2.0

My interest in Altra has been relatively long standing, @borleyrose has been banging on about them since we first started chatting via Twitter but the combination of Hoka and Inov8 were serving me very well and I saw no reason to move away from a decent rotation of trail shoes. However, her enthusiasm for them did ensure that if I ever saw them in a shop and was in the market for new kicks then I’d try them on.

Then it happened, I was at the London Marathon Expo and I had visited the Hoka stand and they weren’t very helpful at all. When I asked if they had anything in a 9.5 that was a wider fit and suitable for the trail the man who a talking to me brought me out a pair of their new ‘Speedgoat’. Not only was he simply wanting to show off his new model but the speedboat is designed for the exceptionally narrow footed runner – he hadn’t listened and I was finally pissed off with Hoka. Luckily as I stepped away from the stand and looked left there in big bold letters were Altra.

Olympus, Lone Peak, Superior – they had them all.

‘Excuse me, do you have the Lone Peak in a 9.5’ I asked. The gentleman couldn’t have been nicer and he had me try the 9.5 but when he said I should consider the 10 I felt a little foolish.

‘Take them for a spin’ he urged – I did.

I bounded round the exhibition hall of Excel like nobody’s business with the Lone Peak feeling light and fresh on my feet. Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy went my feet as they pounded and spun around the various stands. I slowed, looked down at my feet and then bounded headlong back to the Altra stand. I told the chaps running the stand that they were possibly the most comfortable show I has ever tried, and I really wasn’t lying but at £110 they’re expensive and I’ve been trying to cut back on the amount of shoes I’m using at any one time.

‘I need to think about these, by the way do they come in any colors?’ I asked simply as I wasn’t keen on the rather muted black option. The reply was that ‘they come in yellow too’. But they didn’t have those in stock.

What was in my mind now was a shoe for the Thames Path 100, but that race was now only a week away from my trying the Altra on. I immediately left the exhibition centre, jumped on a train and opened up every bit of research I could find on the LP2.0 and viewed the excellent Ginger Runners glowing blog post about them – view it here. I then started looking for the yellow version of the shoe.

By the following morning I had (thanks to Twitter) sourced what I expected was the last pair of Altra Lone Peak 2.0 size 10 UK in yellow and the Ultra Runner Store (www.ultra-runner.com). They guys there were amazing and managed to get me the shoes by the Monday after the London Marathon – excellent service and I look forward to using them again.

But that’s how I came to the shoe, what about the shoe? Now for reviewing purposes I normally wear a pair for about fifteen runs and the total distance for that can be anywhere between say 100km and 200km but the Lone Peak have only done 3 runs but one of them was the awesome Thames Path 100 therefore I’ve put in around 180km on these and in the interest of avoiding bias I paid for them with my own money.

What Altra Say?

The Lone Peak 2.0™ was inspired by one of the most rocky, rugged mountains in the Wasatch Range and was designed to tackle the gnarly terrain of the Wasatch 100. The FootShape™ toe box allows your toes to relax and spread out naturally for more comfort and stability in uphill and downhill trail conditions. Sandwiched StoneGuard™ technology offers protection from rocks and other trail debris while the carbon rubber TrailClaw™ outsole combines unique uphill and downhill lug traction for every trail condition. Quick-dry, abrasion-resistant mesh on the upper allows you to plow through puddles, debris or whatever nature throws at you.

Technical Specs

Weight: 10.9 oz.

Cushioning: Moderate

Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking, Trail Racing

Designed To Improve: Running Form, Toe Splay, Stability, Traction, Comfort, Trail Protection

Platform: Zero Drop™ Platform, FootShape™ Toe Box

Stack Height: 26 mm

Midsole: Dual Layer EVA with A-Bound™ Top Layer

Outsole: Sticky Rubber TrailClaw™

Insole: 5 mm Contour Footbed

Upper: Quick-Dry Trail Mesh, Minimal Seams

Other Features: Sandwiched StoneGuard™ Rock Protection, Trail Rudder, GaiterTrap™ Technology

https://www.altrarunning.com/men/lone-peak-20

Altra are perfectly designed for that slightly wider footed runner and the design of being more foot shaped does indeed allow your foot room to breathe, room to land on impact, promote better form and give rider stability. I found that out of the box I instinctively knew that the Altra were going to be move with me and not against me.

Quality?

Upper: the upper claims to be a quick drying mesh and I was lucky enough to give them a thorough testing in both long wet grass and the rain of the TP100. The first thing you notice is that the upper stays dry and when it does finally get wet then it offers up a reasonably swift drying. However, if you put your foot through a river then the Lone Peak isn’t the quickest to drain and compared to say the Race Ultra 270 or even the Challenger ATR you’ll feel like you’re carrying the river away with you – at least for a few minutes. However, that’s a very minor negative and actually the upper feels light and not once did my feet feel like they were confined in a big fabric prison.

Durability and quality: this seems to be a bit of a bone of contention with some people suggesting that the LP2.0 start to disintegrate within 250km – well I’ll have hit 250km within half a dozen runs and to be honest they look pretty damn fine to me, the lugs look in good condition with almost no wear, the upper appears in one piece and strong and there is a whole feel to these shoes that Altra have listened to runners concerns. 

Cushioning: As a lover of most of Inov8’s range of footwear I know what it’s like to have your feet feel the ground below you. The Trailroc, the Roclite, the Race Ultra 290 and the truly awesome Race Ultra 270 know it’s important to have some contact with the ground, to know that you’re doing the right thing with the terrain. The Lone Peak are different, they claim to be of moderate cushioning, zero drop but with a 26mm stack height and a rock plate + lateral stone guard. What does this mean for you? Basically it means that you can feel the ground, you can connect with terrain but not so much that you’re going to take a battering in your feet over the distance. Over the TP100 I got to more than 70 miles before problems kicked in and that was less to do with the shoe and more to do with my own stupidity. 

It’s a weird sensation feeling the impact but not being affected by it, when you run in Hoka you don’t really feel the ground below you and when you run in Inov8 you feel pretty well connected to the ground – this is balance between the two. I’ve seen reviews describe the LP2.0 as a ‘limousine for your feet’ and this to me seems like a very good description.

Outsole?

The Lugs offer forward, back grooves intended for up and down the hills which are dense and deep enough for anything but thick claggy mud. The Lone Peak 2.0 aren’t the natural friend of mud or the UK ultra scene because we are always guaranteed mud somewhere on the route. These Altra were clearly built for dry, hard packed trail but the outsole on the LP2.0 goes some way to addressing the concerns of the European ultra marathoner that they are looking at the best ways to find a shoe to fit our conditions. Equally to note though with these are that the lugs are shallow enough to make going road to trail a possibility but deep enough that thy can force their way through the mud.

I did find that the outsole didn’t kick clear of mud very easily but this just required me to thrust my leg forward every few kilometres and flick it clean.

There’s something also about the beauty of the outsole, having already established that the outsole appears to be durable I’d like to give mention to the fact that the outsole is also tremendously beautiful, the foot shape as you lift your legs up gets shown to everyone behind you and that’s ankle talking point – you can also spot other Altra users a mile off. The big patches of yellow on my LP2.0 made for some exciting looking photographs (thanks Stuart March Photography for making them look awesome in my TP100 pictures).

Looks?

When I first put them on they looked more like clown shoes than any of my Hoka, they are wide, they are long and there does appear to be a huge amount of fabric encasing your foot. In the black and red I’m a little bit ‘meh’ about them – too safe but in the yellow they just look awesome and once they are on you don’t notice the clown shoe nature of them. These are a good looking pair of shoes and infact it was partly me admiring my new Altra in shop windows as I ran through Soho recently that was the cause of my newly broken finger (long story).

Weight?

The Ginger Runner and I disagree on this one, he says that the LP2.0 is too heavy, has too much fabric on the heel – could be lighter. I say that the nominal amount of additional weight gives you nothing but pleasure, my heel felt comforted over the 100 mile distance and my feet barely noticed that I had shoes on – I’ll admit they don’t feel like you’re wearing a pair of FiveFingers but then nothing does. The LP2.0 feel soft and light on your feet and I never felt fatigued in them. That said all of the latest generation of cushioned running footwear is so much lighter than it used to be and this is very much down to the manufacturers taking care with right balance of the right materials.

Sizing?

Half size up I’d suggest, however, I’d really suggesting going to a shop and trying them.

Price?

I paid, with postage, £103.50, which is a nominal saving on their RRP. What you can clearly say is that Altra (the whole range) is a but pricey but saying that it’s inline with its chief competitors like the Cascadia, the Mafate Speed, Challenger ATR and the various options from Inov8 and the like. I’ll be honest I don’t want to pay over £100 for every pair of running shoes I own but these were an investment in my feet and my running. I’d advise waiting until they come into a sale to buy Altra – but I fear you’d be waiting a long time.

Extras?

The gaiter trap is awesome with a small piece of protected Velcro to tie in your dirty girl gaiters is very much appreciated and actually made my gaiters much more effective in keeping crap away from my foot. The tail rudder I’m not so sure about but it served no harmful purpose and perhaps I’ll find a use for it when I hit some slightly more serious hills. The lateral stone guard and the rock plate give nice solid protection and yet are thin enough to still let you feel the ground – ultimately these are a finely crafted shoe.

Value for money?

£100? Are they value for money? Yes I believe so. Altra have a product with enough differentiation to make them standalone in a very crowded marketplace. They aren’t an alternative to Hoka or Inov8, they are a uniquely crafted piece of footwear that deserve to be considered as such.

Problems?

For some fitting may well be a problem as they are very wide fitting shoes but this is going to be a personal preference thing, this though leads me to the main problem with Altra and that is getting hold of them to try. It took me nearly 3 months to find a pair I could try on without visiting an online store and then it was the actual Altra representatives at the London Marathon. Come on Altra improve your supplier/retailer network.

Conclusions

Really good shoe with the caveat that they aren’t for everyone and if you can ‘try before you buy’. I’m an Altra convert and they have won a little place in my heart and will replace Hoka in my shoe rotation, and actually these bad boys might even make the grade for the CCC in August and replace the Inov8s I had earmarks for that race.

Good work Altra, looking forward to trying your other shoes.

In 2014 I ran more than 20 races and an additional 15 virtual races, that’s getting to be an expensive hobby. So I’m monitoring costs of running in 2015 and it’s already mounting up. Why am I doing this? Well firstly because of a blog post by ahealthiermoo which looked at the cost of running and secondly because I’ve become very aware that I spend way too much money on running.

Below is a breakdown of money spent in 2015

Races Vigo 10 £20, Darent Valley 10km £16, Ranscombe Challenege Day 1 and 2 £35 each day, CCC (+ map booklet, bus, etc) €150, Saintelyon €80, Hugin Challenege £35, Tolkien Run £35, Virtual Run March £6, Virtual Run June £10, Beachy Head £35 Kent Roadrunner £38 TP100 £125 SDW50 £65 NDW100 Free


Kit
Salomon 14+3 running vest £94 Hoka Challenger ATR £99 Inov8 Race Ultra 270 £99 Salomon soft flask 150ml £12 Compressport Trail shorts £65 Compressport trail top £50 Altra Lone Peak 2.0 £103.50 Runderwear Briefs £16 Drymax socks £25 Medical certificate £10 Gel Toe Caps £10 Compeed £20 Harvey’s Thames Path Map £12 Inov8 Roclite 295 £65 Montane Neo Further Faster Waterproof Jacket £215 Like the Wind £9

Travel Flights (London – Geneva) £380 Car hire £300 Eurostar (London – Lyon) £200 Lyon accomodation £300 UltraBaby passport £48

Race Day Costs Food, Gels, etc £40 (approx) Petrol Variable

Physiotherapy and sports massage £300

There are lots of things I’m not considering in these costs such as the actual petrol, souvenirs of the bigger events, return postage for online running purchases, races purchased pre2015, the free accommodation I’ll be getting during the CCC and the fact i’ll probably buy more race entries, more kit and more extras because running is my hobby.

The total approximate running cost, for the first 4 months of 2015, is £3073.

This to me seems like a lot – and I know I’ve got some big races coming up this year with specific mandatory kit and certain kit I particularly want to use – but the cost of running seems to be spiralling. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can afford to race the races I want to but not everyone is so fortunate and is it possible that running and especially racing regularly might well become something of an elitist thing where only those that can afford to do it, do it. I wonder if I’d still run as much as I do if I couldn’t afford to run ultras or earn medals and enter epically fun events? Would I run as much if the only events I entered where free ones like Sweatshop Running Community or Parkrun? The answer is actually ‘probably not’

Rather a sad thought I think.

As regular readers will know I started running (properly and consistently) pretty much in late 2011 with my first race the December 2011 (postponed to January 2012) Grim Challenge. I bought a pair of 7 inch Nike shorts, some 3/4 length Nike tights and a couple of decathlon running tops – I was all set save for some shoes. I went for the Asics Lahar because they seemed solid, had good tread and were muted in colour enough that nobody would laugh at me. I bought them from a Sports Direct in Kent because I knew no better. The service was terrible, the help in fitting was the passing of the box to me but the price seemed reasonable (£42) for a pair of shoes I might only wear for this one event.

Now sadly I bought a size 9 when actually I should have been buying 9.5’s but regardless that shoe and I did a lot of distance and I still have them in my ‘Shoe Nirvana’ (the loft). If they fitted I’d probably still be wearing those beauts!

Fast forward a few months and I’d gotten the running bug and discovered Sweatshop. Here I made a decision that would affect my spending forever – buy the best, most appropriate running shoes you can afford – don’t look at the price because buying cheap might not be the best got your feet.

With that as a retail mantra I found that £67 later and I was the very proud owner of the original Adidas Adios.

In those shoes I could move mountains, defy the speed of light and leap deep puddles in a single bound – 5km, 10km, 10mile, half marathons and even marathons fell at the altar of the Adios. These shoes made me faster and that made £67 seem like a bargain, especially as I did over 1500miles in those gods of running.

I added in the Adios 2 (£76) about 6 months later and slowly but surely I saw the price of my shoes rising and the general cost of shoes rising, well above rises in earnings. As an example, my original pair of Adidas Kanadia cost around £27, now bought from a conventional sports shop (rather than the disgusting sports direct) you’re looking at between £40 and £55 – that’s a decent price rise over the 3 years since I bought mine and the Kanadia are cack.

Yes you can find shoes heavily discounted online if you know where to look but when I’m looking for shoes it’s usually rather specialist ones like Hoka One One (over £100) Inov8 (around £100) or Vibram FiveFingers (over £100) and it seems that runners are being punished for loving their sport. Furthermore the cost saving in buying online is often negated by delivery and returns costs (as I’ve just discovered trying to buy new Hoka).

I saw a post from ahealthiermoo (which interestingly my iPhone recognised as a phrase I type!) which looked at a years running cost and in it there was the suggestion running should be inexpensive, but as the excellent post proved, running ain’t cheap, it becomes a very expensive business rather quickly.?

I know that manufacturing has improved, technology is improving, our trainers are super space age – Rmat, EVA, boost, torsion, Tri-C, meta-rockers, rock plates, etc but does it really justify significant price hikes in such a short space of time? I’m even aware that companies need to make money, they invest in R&D, sponsorship, marketing, etc but even so this is a multi-million pound industry and we are constantly being lured in by promises of better, faster, longer. Hmmm.

I suppose I’m lucky in that I can afford the shoes I feel I need but runners have lots of cost associated with their sporting endeavours and I’d urge running shoe manufacturers to keep in mind that keeping prices high is doing no favours to the community.

Failing that runners, buy last seasons shoes and get those well tested and reviewed shoes at what I consider to be a reasonable price for the right shoe for you. Remember you only get one pair of feet – treat them right but at the right price!

IMG_3059.JPG Recently I reviewed the Decathlon Trail Bag and described it as some of the best kit you can buy for under £30 – this remains very, very true. What I also said was that I had bought a second hydration pack and this is the review for my very different and possibly new most favourite piece of kit in the universe ever.

The Oxsitis Hydragon 17litre
I’ve been lusting over this pack since I first saw it in a slightly different form as the Hoka Evo R. I went to the London Marathon Expo and tried one of these things on and decided it was one of the most comfortable things I’d ever worn but I didn’t buy one. Reviews for the Hoka Evo R are scarce and owners seem even more rare. However, a little searching on the interweb led me to a site for a company called Oxsitis who actually make the Evo R and this is where it really began. Finally I found some reviews for the various versions of pack that this company produce – all in French (so thank you Google translate).

IMG_2545.JPG The reviews on the whole were incredibly favourable and the size combined with the style of fitting seemed the right combination for someone of my frame and running style (slow and steady). The problem was that there are no UK suppliers and so I forked out the €160 to bring this awesomeness to UK shores. And this is my review having now done 8 runs in it totalling about 75 miles.

Comfort
Close fitting, breathable but possible a little warm on the back in places. I’ve found while running in the pack that you can sweat a little but certainly no more than I do when I run in my Ultimate Directions PB. The shoulder straps are incredibly comfortable and the positioning of the pockets on the straps are even more accessible than on the Ultimate Directions PB. The main storage area runs pretty flat when its empty and when filled feels light on you back. Mercifully it sits as high on your back as the Salomon and Ultimate Directions of this world rather than the OMM packs. The higher back sitting point means you shouldn’t suffer from back fatigue mid race.

IMG_3061.JPG Fit
Three sizes are available, I’m in the middle of the medium sized pack and this fitted perfectly. If you do decide on something like this then make sure you pick the right sizing

Space
IMG_3062.JPG

This is a spacious pack, all in, it’s supposed to hold 17 litres of kit, that’s bigger than most of the OMM packs you see on the ultra circuit and certainly bigger than the Ultimate Directions kit. However, it never feels like you’re carrying that much kit and it’s clever compartment design means that space not being used is stored away and runs flat next to your body. These pockets are housed infront of the main bladder compartment which comes with the pack (Oxsitis supply a Source bladder which I’ve found very nice indeed after years of successfully using Camelbaks). All in all the main compartment is incredibly well thought and deftly crafted for all your running needs

IMG_2551.JPG

The front of the pack has three main pockets and a fourth slightly curious effort which I’ll explain later. The first pocket is an insulated section designed specifically for your smartphone, tracker or battery pack, I’m an iPhone 5S user and had no problem with the fit or access (which has been an issue on the UD PB vest). The zip feels nice and secure and this pocket will protect somewhat against external damp and body moisture therefore protecting your probably rather expensive mobile phone.

IMG_3060.JPG

The pockets located at the base of the packs front are both spacious and could certainly handle carrying my OMM water bottle but they could also carry lots of food/gels. I had at least five snack size chocolate bars and a few other bits in there and never felt it was going to be difficult to store them or retrieve. The pocket is part mesh, part ripstop fabric and this keeps it well ventilated. These pockets will also double up as bottle holders as well and despite having a bladder with pack I’ve been very happy to have one bottle on the pack in addition to my bladder. Now to the fourth pocket which you can see pictured above. When you first put it on this is the housing unit for the sports gel mixing unit (more on that later too). The magnetic closing (a feature on many of the pockets) makes its much more secure than you’d think and its very nature means that it has a large volume but limited use. I’ve found (like other runners) that the best thing for this pocket is either the water mixing device or an item of clothing – in the photograph I’m carrying my OMM windproof in there but it would happily store a T-shirt or other smaller item of clothing such as my Montane Featherlite trousers.

Technology
All of these vests and packs contain oodles of technology that are supposed to aid the ultra runner, this is no exception – there are quick release velcro fastenings on the arms of the pack to make adjustment and removal easier than ever before. For those worried that the velcro wouldn’t be strong enough or durable I am assured it is and my own experiences with the pack suggest this is a good quality build. The magnet fastenings help keep you kit nice and secure on the pack, it makes a huge difference from the various zip fastenings and drawstrings of other manufacturers and I’ve found accessing my stores much easier.

IMG_3058.JPG

There are quick access pole holders, for those like me, that own the Black Diamond Ultra (or similar Z fold poles) on the front of the pack and this makes poles for the first time useful to me. I’ve already mentioned the bladder mixer which can have isotonic gel drinks attached to mix with your water supply without contaminating it – if Oxsitis could get this made a little smaller it would be a great innovation and very, very useful. As it is the mixer is a little bulky and therefore a little cumbersome but if you have space to spare then why not try it out and see how you feel about it. The fabric is Ripstop and the claim is waterproof but also quick drying. In the rain I’ve simply added a very thin waterproof layer to ensure things like my medical kit don’t get damp but haven’t yet had any damp issues but then its summer and it hasn’t been that wet! Waterproofing is the thing we probably sacrifice first, my other packs be they OMM, Ultimate Direction, Camelbak or even Decathlon are not waterpoof – they aren’t intended to be a running Aquapac! The ripstop material is a nice alternative and I have yet to encounter any problems with this. Built in whistle. Weighing in at just 290g (without bladder or bottles).

Cost
It’s expensive – let’s not beat around the bush, it’s €160 worth of expense which makes it a little pricier than the UD and the Salomon and much heftier than even the most kitted out OMM bag. However, you do the get the bladder, mixer and rescue blanket included on the downside it is only available from mainland Europe so there is no trying it on.

Visuals
It’s bright, it’s a little garish, it’s filled with awesome typography, it’s very patchwork in the layout but its all clearly labelled and it’s huge fun. This is the right kind of pack for your ultra running adventures – you certainly won’t be missed. Oxsitis across the range have a variety of awesome products and colour ways – there’s guaranteed to be something for everyone.

What do they say about it?
Hydragon ® Ace ™ 17L is a full hydration pack that will allow you to carry water and essential accessories for your TRAIL and hydrate effectively.

This bag has been designed to optimize hydration and comfort. Its large storage capacity, its lightness and its innovative structure will allow you to calmly deal with all your adventures. The system of lateral adjustment optimizes stability and comfort. Equipped with ventilation system AIRBACK Control, specially designed to maximize the maintenance of backpack with maximum breathability and best comfort.

The hydration Hydragon ® Ace ™ 17L bag comes with a water bag 2L “antimicrobial & taste free” technology with a double connector for easy filling and cleaning. Also comes with innovation in hydration: the latest generation OXSITIS mixer, allowing you to achieve hydration in all situations.

Features
AIRBACK Control  fast drying ventilation technology for the back
Widepac 2L water bladder with quick connect for an easy water filling and cleaning of your pocket Mixing energy drinks V3 Third generation connectivity with your ease and adaptable to concerntré standard packaging
New Vacuum Tube easy to drink.
Equipped with the mandatory safety equipment (blanket, integrated whistle).
Easy fix pole system control: patented pole holder
Waterproof zip

Clever storage
Smartphone pocket with waterproof headphones passage
Easily accessible food bags to put your energy bars and gels
ottle holder pockets ergonomic and stable deavnt placed on the backpack
Pockets Internal ergonomic numbers: blanket, wallet, keys, headlamp battery room area, bicycle pump, textile, windproof
Zip anti-noise.

Unique settings in the world
Side velcro (scratch) adjustment settings (without strap that ride)
Setting Pectoral easy to connect with integrated whistle
Trimming ventral elastic sensitive

IMG_2549.JPG

Conclusions
This is my pack for the W100 where I am going to need a full set of kit, multiple changes of clothes and extreme levels of comfort. I wouldn’t use this on a 50km I think it would be a bit overkill but from 50 miles upwards this would be a killer pack that offers a high level of functionality, quality and distinctiveness. This won’t replace my Ultimate Directions pack, nor my Decathlon packs but it has very much earned a prominent place in my race day thinking. On other matters to do with purchasing from Oxsitis the delivery was amazingly quick, the processing of my order equally so and I can only thank the company for dealing with order. I’d recommend this pack over the Hoka Evo R any day of the week and moreover I’d recommend this pack. I’m now looking forward to putting it through a real challenge across the Winter 100 in search of my first 100 mile buckle.

And was it worth the money. Yes

More info?
http://www.oxsitis.com

IMG_2472.JPG

There are people who read my ramblings and would consider me something of kit hoarder but nearly everything I buy has seen race time and all of it has seen significant training time. In the last week however I’ve added two new hydration packs to my rotation. The first is the Oxsitis Hydragon 17litre which I shall be reviewing once I’ve given it a proper shakedown test and the second was a curious one from Decathlon, the men’s trail bag.

Now the first thing I asked myself was ‘do I need two new hydration packs?’ The answer was no, I already own the Ultimate Directions PB vest, OMM 15l and 25l packs, Camelbak XCT, Decathlon trail vest and a variety of others. But, at least in terms of the Kalenji vest, it was such a great price you couldn’t really say no, just £25.99 – a bargain I hear you cry.

The Pack
Let’s see if that was £25.99 well spent though. The first thing you notice is that the aesthetics are a closer to the Salomon race vest series than should perhaps be allowable but there is no doubt that this would qualify as it’s slightly tattier brother that’s hitched it’s way in to your cool party rather than being invited.

It has double front pouches to accommodate two bottles and on each of them it has a small side pocket for gels or small foods.

As we roll round the bag there are two generous zipped side pockets that lie nicely flush to the user and could easily hold all manner of items. I’ve been storing external battery, cables, keys, buff and gloves in them and there is still a bit of space free.

In the rear it’s all pretty simple, there is a large pouch – split into two (one section for the supplied bladder and one for gear) there is a small pocket at the top of the main section to keep valuables such as your phone or wallet and this seals shut using the Velcro fastenings. There is no zip access for this vest, it’s all done through the top of the bag which does take a little getting used to but once you’re there it’s actually pretty easy.

IMG_2458.JPG

On the back of the pack is a fine mesh stuff area should you wish to carry a jacket or small waterproof and this I’ve found is a little more resilient to the elements than even my Ultimate Directions PB pack.

You’d think that would be quite enough really for the money but the pack continues giving. On the back of the pack is a zip that runs the entire of the pack. Unzipping this adds an additional 5 litres of available space and as it’s controlled with pull cords you can still keep the pack tight. These draw cords could be used to attach additional jackets or poles to if you so desired but I doubt it was the primary reason they are there. Also enclosed are a whistle and a variety of loops and hoops that all will give you, as runner of hiker, every confidence that this pack has your back.

Fit
I’m currently 176cm and about 75kg and this is a nice fit but would be perfectly suited to small or slightly larger gents (there is a ladies fit version that I didn’t buy for obvious reasons). The front section is comfortable and well ventilated across the shoulders, the hook closing method is a nice touch and I find very useable. With most manufacturers preferring the clip this is a welcome change. It’s perhaps not as easily adaptable as the Ultimate Direction or Salomon but once it’s fit, it fits.

Sweat
An area of concern with all of these close fitting packs is the issue of sweat and hotspots but actually this does remarkably well. Sweat is no more a concern with the Decathlon pack than it is with it’s much pricier cousins.

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Space
I bought this as a bit of a commuting bag and if you were thinking the same then you’ll need to know what I managed to squeeze into it.

1 x full size towel
1 x 100ml shower gel
1 x standard office type trousers
1 x standard (size medium) TShirt
1 x pair of socks
1 x pair of thundercrackers
1 x OMM windproof jacket
1 x Apple earphones
1 x iPhone 5s and power cable
1 x external power supply
1 x wallet
Snacks

Yes it was full when I did this, probably a little over full but not by much (and there was no room for water in the pack) but it did handle all this stuff admirably.

Negatives?
For the money you’d be hard pressed to find any. I did have some discomfort at the shoulders but I simply moved the ties a bit and then it was fine. I really am struggling to find negatives about this bag. I’ve been using this daily whether I’ve been cycling, running or walking and for a kit hoarder like me that’s impressive.

Conclusion
So it’s not Salomon or Ultimate Direction but for £25.99 would you expect to see a fully featured single day ultra adventure pack? It is loaded with good stuff and will be popular in the ultra community. Obviously I’d suggest you try before you buy if you can’t I’m sure you can send it back! Don’t delay, go try this.

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When I was looking for reviews of the B.Fold 7 it was incredibly difficult and so I find myself writing the review I was looking for. Thankfully I’m reasonably close to a couple of Decathlon stores and so have looked at these things admiringly for a few months now which has helped significantly in my research.

But to start off there are a few things I wanted from my folding bike

– Reliability
– Gears
– Reasonable price
– Easy folding mechanism

I looked extensively at the Brompton bikes but not only am I a bit of a scrooge when it comes to biking but the three gears and the desirability for theft made these an immediate no go. I also quite liked the Tern and Dahon bikes but they were so similar to the B Fold that it made no sense to pay the extra for the name. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have had good experiences with both my Rockrider and Triban – both from Decathlon.

So the crux of the matter is that I bought a B Fold 7. Let’s see what Decathlon have to say about it:

Technical Description

Specifications:
Colour: Metallic grey
Weight: 13.65 KG
Suitable Size: 1.50 m – 1.85 m

Frame:
Aluminium 6061 provides low weight, responsiveness and sturdiness. The easy side-fold system means the bike takes up little amount of space: at home, at the office, in the boot of a car or in a camper.Once folded, the bike’s volume is divided by 3.

Fork:
Hi-Ten steel fork for greater durability.

Drive Train:
The B’Fold 7 is equipped with a Shimano push/pull SIS indexed 7-speed derailleur to handle most gradients. The gear shifter is easy to use with its “Push-Pull” system. Shifting gears is quick and precise. Derailleur guard protects the most fragile parts from impacts especially when transporting in folded mode.Distance travelled per turn of the crank: 288 cm – 576 cm.

Brakes:
V-brake, aluminium callipers and levers guarantee effective and progressive braking.

Handlebar, stem, steering:
Semi-raised handlebar provides good steering position and improves bike handling. Fixed aluminium stem provides greater rigidity compared to a height-adjustable stem.Ergonomic Lock on grips.

Distance from saddle to handlebar: 600 mm

Distance from saddle to pedals: 700 mm – 960 mm

Saddle, Seat Post:
Comfortable foam saddle and aluminium seat post with laser markings to make adjustment easier.

Wheels:
20″ single walled anodised black rims have been machined for effective braking.

Tyres:
20 x 1.75 city tyres for good performance and traction.

Chainset:
Suntour folding pedals: Fold up easily by applying pressure, so that the bike takes up less space. Once pedals are folded up and stem folded down, the bike can be compactly stored against a wall (28 cm width).170 mm aluminium cranks.

Equipment:
Chainwheel guard, mudguard with stays, pannier rack, derailleur guard, battery lighting. Compatible with the Btwin Tilt transport cover.

Dimensions:
Unfolded: length: 150 cm, width: 40 cm, height: 103 cm. Folded: length: 82 cm, height: 64 cm, width: 34 cm.

I bought the bike mainly for my new work commute as I’m keen to avoid getting back on the overcrowded London Underground and so I’ve been testing out my commute to my current job which uses some of London’s busiest roads and us also gently uphill. My current commute is a little less than 5km each way between Charing Cross and North West London.

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Before I did any commuting I gave it a quick whizz around my local area, disappointingly the seat slipped down (thankfully reasonably slowly) and so I went home and adjusted the seat a hint and then I was off. I spent about 40 minutes dipping in and around the town – shifting gears swiftly and confidently using the push-pull system. The 20 inch BMX wheels felt nice and secure on the road and the bike didn’t struggle to pull away from the traffic it encountered.

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The steering was light and the brakes sharp, gear changes as well as being fluid were quick and also felt like they would stay in place (unlike the shocking Boris bikes). Jumping on and off is also incredibly easy, I’m, as stated, a pretty crap rider but I find it simple enough to jump on and off. Commuting has been equally pleasurable and the bike fares very well across it’s town scenario but that’s what it’s good for – you wouldn’t take this across muddy fields. Equally it’ll handle a bit of a hill, actually a reasonable hill – but don’t ask it to do Mont Blanc, that isn’t what it was designed for. I have two killer hills just outside me house and it struggles up both of them towards the top – although this might have something to do with your rider and reviewer being a bit on the podgy side and wholly unfit 🙂

The folding mechanism is also fairly simple and I can get the B Fold 7 up in less than 30 seconds and down in about the same, there’s nothing very fiddly but if you are intent on carrying the bike anywhere then be aware that you might want a elasticated cable to keep the wheels together. Do consider the folded size too, that may impact your decision on purchasing – the Brompton does fold smaller and would be easier in the boot of a small car – but I don’t drive so this isn’t likely to be a problem for me, but worth checking if you’re doing a half and half commute.

And so to my only real negative, which isn’t a real negative and more of a reality check – it’s heavy. With the pannier rack and a lock on it this weighs in at a little over 13kg which makes it a double hander for lifting purposes really. That said you could push or you could use the handle on the underside which does make it a bit easier.

The truth of the matter though is that none of these things are very lightweight and carrying them is just part and parcel of ownership. I can only truly recommend the B Fold 7 for it’s excellent looks, it’s excellent performance, it’s perfectly suitable functionality for my particular lifestyle and it’s price point. Well done decathlon, go and test this for yourself in store you won’t be disappointed.

3hrs sleep
Carried weighty 12kg OMM 25litre running bag
Wearing my Inov8 Trailroc 245
Strode purposefully out of my workplace
Kicked open power of Suunto Ambit 2 GPS
Started running
Hit full stride by the time left Regent’s Park
Jumped across traffic lights into Marylebone
Burnt down towards Edgware Road
Turn of pace to avoid old people
Sprinted out toward Lancaster Gate
Waved in an annoyed fashion at tourists in Kensington
Troubled a hill as darted towards Kensington High Street
Doffed Snowdonia Buff towards the Albert Hall
Pressed afterburner as crossed Hyde Park Corner
Lurched heavily towards Victoria
Stopped for traffic
Thundered along Victoria Street
Thanked commuter for getting the fuck out the way
Saw traffic gap, took it
Ran past Run and Become, scanned shoes in window
Looked to Suunto, 9.91km
Continued looking to Suunto, pace rising
Nearly hit man as stopping
Finished outside Scotland Yard
Virtual 10km complete in 51minutes
Hips sore
Back sore
Ordered Trailroc 235s
Acedemundo (see Fonzie / Happy Days)

Day 14 and 15 had been rest days to try and see if I could rest the pain in my hip and back which had translated itself to my left shin – a reasonably common occurrence in my injury hit 2013 but thought I had gotten over it. Sadly not and my training challenge has now been severely compromised but ho hum.

So, after a pleasant dose of retail therapy yesterday I was determined to test out my new Inov8 Trailroc 245 – even it would have to be on the tarmac of London’s Zone 1 and in the midst of the normally sewer dwelling underground users.

5km later and my Trailroc officially broken in I can say my injury is here to stay! But that I enjoyed the trainers, now just time to do a lot of foam rollering and hope I’ll be okay for the St Peters Way Ultra in four weeks.

The last few days have been very frustrating – my Sunday bike ride seems to have killed off my hips and with the added bonus of a migraine on Tuesday this has not been a successful week. But the migraine has finally seeped away back into its ‘head hole’ until next time and despite my lack of day 16 running I remain in good spirits, this is primarily because my day 16 activity was walking through the tube strike human traffic littering the streets of London to fetch a new pair of trainers.

And here they are…

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…my Trailroc 245 from Inov8 supplied by the lovely team at Snow and Rock in Covent Garden for just £75. Don’t they look sad sitting beneath my desk? I’ll take them out later and give them a proper spin (hip dependant). Yay

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‘Anymore than about £70 and you’re paying for the label and the current seasons colour’ I was told this by a trusted running friend and this got me thinking. I’ll add the caveat that this was said in 2010 and therefore adjusted for inflation and other factors lets say £75 in 2014 money. Now to prove his point the first edition of the Adidas Adios Boost which was in Sweatshop for about £110 dropped to £75 in the winter sale…

Hmmm. Are we being duped into buying over priced running shoes? Unusually for this blog I’ve been doing some research – I’ll admit I’ve not gone very far with said research but its a start, but this posting is mainly about my own experiences in attempting to find the best pair of running shoes for my feet and just how much am I willing to overpay.

Let’s start with (some of) my current crop of running shoes, how much I paid for them and more importantly did I consider that good value for money.

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Newton Distance
Paid: £99.00 (per pair)
Normally: £125.00
Retailer: Sweatband
This was my first foray into the world of lugs and Newtons and I remember the first time I put them in the shop and thinking, that my feet had found a new home that they would never want to leave. Newton Running are a pretty specialist maker of shoes with a core band of supporters but have been growing in popularity, the problem with niche shoe makers is that their product tends to be expensive and these were no exception, even at the £99.00 I paid (per pair, I ended up buying several pairs) they were pricey. I found them excellent on dry roads but on wet surfaces they can be hard going and trail should be a no go for these road shoes, so they had a limited use, however, the first pair managed more than 700 kilometres, performed reasonably at the Bewl Water Marathon and the Snowdonia Marathon, neither of which would have trails suited to these shoes, but the wide toe box meant that (due to injury) I had to wear them. So in that sense they were excellent value and even now after 700 kilometres I still sometimes do a few commuting kilometres in them. All Newtons are built to a very high standard and clearly made with excellent materials and more than enough consideration is given to the design – they are shoes designed to stand out in every single way. They are also my shoe to lounge around the house in, I simply find them comfy and therefore they are worth the money I paid out, but could I recommend them at the full price? In this instance I could, the Newton Distance is a well put together shoe from a specialist maker, they won’t turn you into Steve Cram or Scott Jurek but they will provide excellence over the lifetime of the shoe. I’ll be buying more of these soon.
Value: 8/10

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Newton MV2
Paid: £50.00
Normally: £99.00
Retailer: Newton Running
I went back to Newton when I was looking for a replacement for my Adidas Adios 2 and I hadn’t wanted to upgrade to the Boost edition as they it was still such new technology that I wanted to give it a season before I tried them (plus at £109 I thought they were too expensive). Newton did a deal for their sprint edition model, the MV2, low profile, same quality materials as other Newtons and a decent set of reviews. When they arrived they were lightweight, compact, filled with lightweight producing technology and they felt as fast as lightning. But they came with a caveat and that was that they would not endure – some of the reviews suggested that the MV2 had a lifespan of about 200km and upon receiving them I could see why – the upper feels flimsy and after my happiness with the distance these were quite a disappointment. Now what I will say is they are fast shoes, they feel amazing but are they are £100.00 worth of running shoe? No not even close, my original Adidas Adios cost £75.00 and I ran over 700 kilometres in them, raced nearly a dozen times in them and they never once failed me – these feel like they are a 5km shoe but that couldn’t do that too many times in a week, just incase you were asking too much of them, I’ll be honest even at £50.00 these feel a little bit expensive but I still love them and we do to running together. Interestingly my experience with the MV2 will not dissuade me from trying other Newtons, but perhaps I’m best sticking with the Distance (a pretty fast shoe in itself).
Value: 4/10

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Hoka One One Mafate 2
Paid: £62.50
Normally: £120.00
Retailer: Snow & Rock
Pro: Quality build, good ride, good endurance
Con: Blistered on 100mile ultra at five miles in after getting soaked but user error, been excellent since
Distance: 300km (so far)
Value: 9/10

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Hoka Stinson Evo
Paid: £125.00
Normally: £125.00
Retailer: Pete Bland Sports
Pro: Build quality, ride quality, endurance, excellent road to trail ability, offer less fatigue on your knees.
Con: Expensive but worth it, my feet came away from last ultra in pretty good condition thanks to these.
Distance: 300km (so far)
Value: 9/10, for me a near perfect shoe.

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Salomon Sense Ultra
Paid: £75.00
Normally: £125.00
Retailer: Sportshoes.com
Pro: Build and ride quality, decent transition from road to trail but definitely a trail shoe
Con: Slightly too exposed to the elements, not a great fit only feet but that’s only my feet 🙂
Distance: 35km (so far)
Value: 6/10, at £75 these feel well priced but much more than this and they feel expensive

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Merrell Barefoot
Paid: £50.00
Normally: £75.00
Retailer: Blacks Outdoor
Pro: Lightweight, well made, Vibram sole, multi-purpose footwear, well designed alternative to VFFs
Con: Not suited to heavy trail but handy for road to light trail
Distance: 300km (so far)
Value: 7/10, reliable and fun shoes that can have any number of applications but as a specific first choice running shoe they aren’t quite there. Having said that I always take a pair with me as a backup during ultra marathons

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Adidas Adios 2
Paid: £80.00
Normally: £80.00
Retailer: Sweatshop
Pro: Lightweight, fast, well designed, reliable, have endured well
Con: Not as good as the original Adios
Distance: 1250km (over three pairs)
Value: 9/10, even though I’m not as keen on v2 these are an unbelievably good shoe that I use in training as well as racing.

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Adidas Ace 3
Paid: £35.00
Normally: £75.00
Retailer: Runners Need
Pro: Lightweight, bright, reliable, comfortable ride
Con: Not as good as the Boston or the Adios
Distance: 100km (so far)
Value: 6/10 at £35.00 you can’t argue that these make a nice change from the Adios or my other lightweight running shoes but at £75.00 they don’t feel as though they have enough under the hood and I’m not sure I would trust them over a marathon distance.

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Vibram Fivefingers Komodo
Paid: £135.00 Normally: £135.00 Retailer: Vibram
Pro: Unique, challenges your own perceptions, build quality, good for endurance, showstopper
Con: Get twigs trapped between your toes, getting your feet caught on the visually impaired aids on the road, they hurt like hell if you accidentally heel strike
Distance: 900km (original pair)
Value: 9/10 near faultless until they finally gave in, second pair just as good – very expensive but worth every single penny as I saw my times tumbling in Vibrams and my distances increase.

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Vibram Fivefingers Speed LS
Paid: £88.00
Normally: £110.00
Retailer: Field and Trek
Pro: Unique, build quality, showstopper
Con: uncomfortable
Distance: 40km
Value: 3/10 I can’t wear these for running, so I wear them as a work shoe – never understood how my Komodo were so perfect and these so nightmarish. Blisters, discomfort – the lot came with these. Sad as they are beautifully understated shoes.

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Skora Phase
Paid: £42.00
Normally: £75.00
Retailer: Sports Pursuit
Pro: Nice lacing system, beautiful to look at, nice comfortable ride, suitably barefoot, niche running shoes, well built
Con: Not so great as a big distance shoe – lovely sprint shoe though
Distance: 150km (so far)
Value: 8/10 I wear these both as running shoes and day to day shoes as I bought the black ones. Comfortable, inexpensive and nice to sprint in. Well worth £42.00, probably not worth £75.00

The reality is that I remain unconvinced that paying big money for big shoes means you’ll get any better results on the road, the track or the trail. What it does mean is that you’ve spent a lot of money on a pair of shoes. I tend to buy expensive shoes not because they are expensive but because they have a specific fit for me. The Hoka One One for example I own because they have a wide toe box and have helped to reduce the impact of blisters on my feet during ultras. But I’ve made mistakes – I was lured into the Salomon S-Lab Ultra shoes because of the name and now I own a pair of shoes that might occasionally get a 10km trail run rather than the ultras they were supposed to race in. Shoes like the Skora Phase were inexpensive enough and with good enough reviews to warrant taking a punt on something new and actually I really like them and when they pop up in sales I will certainly buy some more. I recall @Cat_Simpson_ saying that she never bought the current seasons shoes as she wanted to let the reviews come out (and presumably see the flaws) before buying. This is very much approach I’ve always adopted also and hence why I rarely pay full price for any shoe and if I do it really has got something special in its box of magic tricks.

But there does appear to be a trend to convincing us, through expensive marketing, about new technology in shoes and how much it will improve our running. Do you remember Nike Shox for example – lauded as the next big thing in training shoes or the the recent bandwagon for barefoot running or technology that springs us forward and returns energy to our bodies? And what do the manufacturers want? They want us to buy them, more often, in more colours – get rid of those old favourites that have been hiding in your cupboard for years because they believe, that you will believe that there is a Usain Bolt inside of you – and that can be brought out with your new runners. Hmph!

As runners we all know that finding a shoe that fits and works is invaluable regardless of the cost, brand, shape or size but there is an ever creeping group of marketeers who are convinced we will pay over £100 for knitted footwear or shoes with springs. Hmmmm, the only shoe I’d pay stupid money for are ones with jet rockets concealed in the soles.

The following articles offer some interesting insights – though of course it isn’t all to be agreed with and neither offer conclusive evidence as to whether we are being over charged by sports companies keen to take advantage of runners as the sport becomes ever more fashionable, but they do offer food for thought.

http://www.scpod.org/foot-health/2013-latest-news/news-archive/expensive-vs-cheap-running-shoes/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/6968891/Why-expensive-trainers-could-be-worse-than-useless.html

Mike O’Neill, podiatric surgeon and spokesman for the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists said “it is not the cost of the trainers that is important but the suitability of the trainers. 

How very true!

But we all go into a shop with a closed mind, I know for example that I won’t event try Asics on because my experience of trying them on is that they don’t feel comfortable and I don’t really like New Balance as a brand for the shoes – and I really haven’t tried even a small portion of the options they have available. Plus I know that if my shoes don’t come in some ludicrous colour then I’m not spending my money on them – I will not wear white trainers!!! Therefore, no matter the research or what we are told is probably best for us we all have a pre-determined picture of the shoes we are going to buy (hence why I ended up with a pair of Salomon I’m not that keen on – but love looking at).

The article from The Telegraph goes further and asks about the value of having shoes at all! Well for me I need some running shoes, mainly to stop myself form getting dog poo between my toes – yuck but you catch my meaning. So are we overpaying for shoes? Yes, marketing machines have seen a niche and are exploiting runners, but at the same time we are keen to be exploited with the aim to establish that new PB. How many of us could really go barefoot or buy that pair of Crane or Hi-Tec running shoes that according to Mike O’Neill are no worse than their expensive cousins. The cycle continues and until we are ready to admit we enjoy being conned and having the major manufacturers tell us what is good for us then we can never start down the real road to running glory.

Happy Sunday running guys

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Lets be clear before we start, this is not a technical review, I’m not going to be spending ages telling you about battery life, settings and sport configurations, no. I’m going to tell you if I love the Suunto Ambit 2 and more importantly how much I love it based on my experiences with it. I will add that this is a product I paid for with real money and was not supplied for a review.

The first thing to note is that I wanted to try it out across a few runs and cycles before I even considered trying to judge it – this had a lot to live up to as I’d really enjoyed my old Garmin Forerunner 410, but it’s usefulness was coming to an end. The Suunto was the intended replacement – could it fill the void? I had been umming about a purchase for several weeks, generally considering that nearly £400 was too much for any single piece of running kit, but I was also looking seriously at the Garmin 910xt which has had some generally excellent reviews. The big difference was the navigational ability of the Ambit2, a key element that made it stand out against the Garmin 910xt. So just before Christmas I placed my order with Wiggle who offered me the excellent price of just £270 (I already had a heart rate monitor, so this was solely the watch). I ordered in black because this as very much going to be a daily watch too and I wanted it to be as ‘everyday’ as it could be. Wiggle delivered as promised the day after Boxing Day and within seconds I had the box open, the watch strapped on and I was looking for my bike to go and test it out.

Before we get to the first test let me describe the visuals, thickness and general comfort. The first thing is that this is a big watch, I’m not a big chap so perhaps it looks a little out of place on me and with the added thickness of the device itself you can tell you are wearing it in a day to day scenario. It doesn’t fit so well under a shirt cuff but looks the business at the end of your arm when you’re wearing a T-shirt or some hiking kit. As for the fit and comfort, well it’s more than comfortable enough, the rubberised nature of the strap makes it feel pleasant next to the skin but for me the fit is a bit awkward. I come between two sizes on the strap so it’s either just a tiny bit too tight or a tiny bit too loose – ultimately this is a problem I have with any watch and the Suunto is no different, but saying this the strap aims to accommodate all wrist sizes and the triple hole system employed across the strap means you feel it is very breathable. As mentioned the watch is pretty thick and with that comes the height from your wrist, what I found having used it for nearly a month now is that this isn’t so much of a problem and the height means that the buttons are never interacted with accidentally as they sit high enough away from your wrists to cause a problem. In this sense the Suunto has been well thought through, it is very suitable for both cycling and running where wrist positions are very different. In weight terms the Suunto is heavier than my Forerunner 410 but within the same range as other multi sport watches.

Visually the Ambit is striking, the simple mono screen is highlighted by the beautiful black outer edging which serves as the bevel to protect the screen. Five nicely chunky buttons are found around the face of the screen, all clearly labelled nod it all airs on the side of understated. Only the little red triangle in the Suunto logo hints at anything special. Again Suunto have got the visuals really right for this high end GPS product.

Back to the bike! I’d saddled up, given the watch a half hour charge and set it up quickly and set off almost immediately. The Suunto had about a 5 second pick up time for the GPS – this meant no waiting around – my old Forerunner 410 even at the best of times was slower than this. I selected cycling from the preloaded sporting activities and then i hit start and away we went. On my first test there were no waypoints set up, no laps set up, I was just using it as a tracking device from point to point and back again. I cruised up and down the hills of Kent quite happily, forgetting completely about the watch as it silently did it’s job. On the bike the watch was comfortable and secure and I never felt it but I also never heard it – for me this was a bonus as I can become obsessed by the beep of a watch as it tells you which mile marker you’ve just passed. Upon completion of my cycle I hurled the iron horse to one side and kicked off my run, deciding I would do these as separate events rather than try the transition modes of the watch. Again the GPS was accurate, fast and kept an accurate record of my route – just what I was expecting. In comfort terms the watch again proved itself a winner and in its capacity as my primary running watch I found this comfortable and barely noticed it on my wrist.

At home I hooked up the watch via the USB and waited for the upload – this took a couple of minutes – just enough time for a recovery cup of tea. The good news was that the data I uploaded was extensive, full of little hits of fun for me to pore over, although the one that was missing was the calorie counter – I assumed this was because I didn’t have a heart rate monitor attached – but speed, pace, ascent, decent, flat, route, etc was all there. Excitingly MovesCount also felt like a better, if less used, online system than say Garmin Connect or Fetcheveryone (and I’m a big fan of broth of those systems), but the community is smaller than the one offered by Garmin and more diverse as the range of sports covered by the Suunto watches is greater. That being said the community is ever expanding and I’m looking forward to developing this element of my MovesCount experience.

So the first test had been a success and several more followed, I uploaded routes to the watch, added apps for sports that I like to do. I kept on adding hours to my new MovesCount account. The Suunto was earning it’s keep, but it had been bought with one thing in mind, keeping me on the right track during an ultra.

I made a route in MovesCount that led me from my workplace to the train station, about 3 miles – a decent test distance – and through the tall buildings of London would offer the Suunto the challenge of staying on target. This was a walking challenge because it was about the technology and not the exercise (plus I’d buggered my leg) and so together we set out. I could see the pointer directing me along the little line indicating I was on the route and for the next three miles we wound our way down every back alley I could have found and never once did the Ambit 2 deviate from the route – I was impressed. I was impressed primarily because it looked like my gamble had paid off, I could load the Country to Capital file onto my watch and then simply follow it to the finish line, and that is exactly what I did – adding some waypoints along the route to make it easier.

Country to Capital came and armed with my watch and loaded maps I felt confident that I wouldn’t go off path. At the start I clicked in for the GPS, chose my map and asked it to navigate, no drama. Country to Capital was made much easier knowing that navigation was being taken out of my hands, the additional waypoints also allowed me to be notified that I was still on course at regular intervals and this became something useful to hear as it meant another milestone had been met. Crossing the line at C2C was a very happy moment and despite loving my watch I was very happy to switch it off.

Specifics

Battery Life
I’ve read that the battery life can last up to 50hrs with the GPS locking on every 60seconds and in 1second mode it is more like 20hrs. However, I managed to burn through the bulk of the battery in a little over 10hrs but that was using the GPS constantly for both tracking and mapping. On a 100mile route I would probably need to carry with my a battery pack to give it charge as I ran. However, I really can’t complain, the battery life, given what it is doing is exceptional and you’ll be impressed with it on your own adventures.

Accuracy
The routes in comparison to my Forerunner are slightly better, but it’s very minor, the accuracy in both devices can’t really be faulted but the Suunto wins out in that it is measuring your height as well as ascent and descent. There is something just more complete about the Suunto Ambit 2 in the way it gives you data and the way it displays it.

MovesCount
I’m a big fan, as a designer I can see that some thought went into the user interface, it feels intuitive without being overly designed, it is bold and striking, something that Garmin Connect could never be accused of but doesn’t feel childish like Nike+ does/did (it’s been a while since i last used it). The synchronisation between watch and software is excellent and while it’s not the quickest it’s certainly far from the slowest. Some people will complain that there is no Bluetooth as standard but if I’m honest I prefer the USB upload – I used to wait an age for my 410 to connect via ANT+.

Multisport
I’ve used this for hiking, walking, running, ultra marathoning and cycling so far but have yet to really put it to the test in open water or the pool or one of the many other sports it supposedly tracks. The multi sport combined with the ability to create your own apps makes this pretty unique for measuring exactly how you do sport. I can say that in each of the activities I have tried it I have been very impressed but it’s a pretty limited pool of activity. I will be writing about my experiences in the water though over the next few weeks. I’m not even going to go into its capacity as a Triathlon watch as this is something I’ll be exploring in greater depth as the year rolls on and much like a swim review, I’ll be generating a Tri review too.

Conclusions
I have been accused by more than person of loving the kit more than the running – that’s not true, but I do love new kit and especially new kit that really helps. The Suunto Ambit 2 is a piece of kit that really gets what I need, certainly in terms of running and hiking – the rest is awaiting testing. It’s expensive but then if you want a feature rich, simple to use, dynamic and well built piece of kit then this is for you. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles in terms of colour screen that the new generation of Garmin does but I think they would be a distraction here. There are flaws but they are pretty tiny, a strap that doesn’t perfectly fit my wrist and a GPS that doesn’t have an endless battery supply – hardly crimes of the century. I’d love to see how they could improve this watch, perhaps an even more ergonomic shape and they might find a new home for the GPS sensor (currently it’s housed on the edge of the strap), they may even find a way of adding cutesy graphics to make it more appealing to the visually needy generation, but who cares? The Suunto Ambit 2 is an amazing watch and if you are thinking of upgrading this could be the device for you.

Other useful information
I would point you in the direction of the DC Rainmaker review website, here you will find a great deal of depth over exactly how much the watch weighs and what it does and also the Suunto website where you can get a full run down of specifications. Have fun runners.

DC Rainmaker Suunto Ambit 2 Review
Suunto Specifications

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Some things simply are meant to be and the purchase of my OMM Sonic Smock was meant to be. It was 17.34 on a dark Thursday evening in January 2014, just a couple of days before I would be taking part in Country to Capital an email arrived into my phones inbox. I opened it to see something rather glorious – the OMM Sonic Smock in a vibrant blue. I was near the Runners Need around the corner from Oxford Circus so I casually popped my head in – but they didn’t have any – that was that. Well sort of. I also needed an Aquapac map case and so I wound my way through the streets and casually ended up near Snow and Rock in Covent Garden, handily they have recently added a Runners Need next door… again i popped my head in and on the rail was every size of OMM Sonic Smock. I quickly tried on the large (experience has taught me OMM stuff can come up a bit small) and lo and behold it fitted. Purchase made – £29.99 a bargain, thanks Runners Need.

Obviously I tried it almost immediately and there are two things you can say straight off and that is a) it looks great and b) it weighs nothing – like 60g and that’s mainly the zip I think. The things you notice as you wear it are that it’s pretty good at keeping the wind out, it’ll repel a light rainfall, it stuffs into its collar and stows away at the size of a small apple and you can stuff it even as you run. Despite the lightweight nature of it the jacket feels tough and robust and I’m using it on a daily basis, which should tell you all you need to know about how much I love it. Visually I went with the shocking blue option which is very vibrant with a nice shocking orange zipper which pulls down halfway and has a little pull cord at the bottom. This is all brought together with just enough reflective material to help with running or cycling safety. I’m a big fan of OMM stuff and this jacket helps explain why. Go get one!

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One of the problems I have encountered during trail runs is the vast quantity of debris that lodges itself between your foot and your running shoe. It can be an irritant, it can be cold, wet even but most of all it is definitely unwanted. After doing my usual level of intensive research I decided I didn’t fancy the rather dull Montane or Inov8 gaiters to help resolve this issue – no, I wanted Dirty Girl Gaiters.

Why?
There’s two key reasons why I would choose DGGs over their rivals, the first is perhaps the most obvious – colour choice. DGGs come in every colour way imaginable (including plain) but given I generally look ridiculous as I run anyway I thought If go for a vibrant neon festival of colour (see picture above). Add to the colour we have a nice light fabric, which though not waterproof in any way should dry out quickly and this means they’ll offer some protection from the elements. The second reason for these as my choice of gaiter was the fastening, first attach a bit of velcro (supplied) to the back of your shoe, clip the front to your laces and then attach the new velcro on your shoes to the piece on the gaiters – simple. These gaiters avoid the need for under the feet hooks or stirrups – something I may come to regret but so far so good (though due to injury I’ve only been dog walking in them). I’m not 100% sure how they will be in terms of durability but it all looks very well made and that care and attention has been given to what a runner wants.

Fitting
I’ve tried these on several shoes. Hoka Stinson Evo, Adidas XT3, Skora Phase, Merrell Barefoot, Speedcross 3, Vibram FiveFinger Komodo and Vibram FiveFinger Speed. What I will say is that they fit a more traditional shoe better, my XT3, Speedcross and Hoka loved them, the Merrells and Skora were okay but some minor gaping issues where the trail could possibly get in occurred and the Komodo was a no go due to not having laces, the Speed would accept them but it wasn’t a great combination. A smaller size might have helped the the Merrell and Skora but then that might have made them too tight elsewhere. Regardless, they fit a wide variety of running shoe and I’m looking forward to my long relationship with them!

Value
About £17 from Ultra Marathon Running Store, the only UK stockist I believe and given the colour options combined with the ease of connection to the shoe I’d say these are great value – get some today!

As anyone who knows me I buy more running and training gear than is normal, it has gotten to the point now where I no longer have any real clothes – I have only running, hiking, swimming and activity kit. The few bits of real clothing I own are locked away in a cupboard somewhere and they almost never come out, my work clothes are on a bit of a rotation and I replace them only as they wear out – however, I’m not here to discuss the details of my wardrobe – no – I’m here to discuss some of the excellent retailers I have purchased from this year and perhaps the reasons I avoid other retailers

Sportsshoe.com
I’ve bought several pairs of running shoes from these guys, including my much loved and also much maligned S-Lab Sense trail shoes. These guys offer great value for money, they offer excellent service and I’ve never had a single days problem with them. Their website is pretty simple to navigate, although the top navigation could do with a little bit of clarity, perhaps the fact there is more than running gear here is the reason it can feel a little cluttered but it has never stopped me from finding the things I want and the payment system is quick and easy. Highly Recommended.

Wiggle
I only discovered Wiggle this year and despite a stupid name it offers excellent prices and excellent products. I was able to source my Suunto Ambit 2 from these guys at less than £300 and have purchased several excellent running tops from them. Their site tends to be crammed with goodies but it can be a bit of a chore going through it all and my recent search for gaiters led me to try elsewhere. However, the service is impeccable and incredibly speedy. These are good guys to buy kit from and the regular sales they run are generally very genuine. Perhaps the best bit is the inclusion of little Haribo sweets in their deliveries.

Sports Pursuit
There is something about trawling through my hundreds of early morning emails that I don’t mind and that thing is the offers that Sports Pursuit insist on sending me. Now this may sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. Again this is a retailer I discovered only this year and while you are required to wait a little longer for your products they offer great value items that you can’t get elsewhere. Skora runners and Vibram Fivefingers have been my primary purchases from them during 2013 and each purchase has been excellent. It’s fair to say that sizes can difficult to come by sometimes and the returns are a little haphazard in what happens (there is no guarantee on return that they can get you a different size) but SportsPursuit are clear in their endeavour – bringing you great stuff at a decent price. Communication is excellent, packaging and delivery is excellent – what more could you ask for.

Centurion Running
What an ultra runner really wants from his shopping experience is people who know what they are on about. The Centurion store is not jammed to the rafters with kit – no. It has a couple of choices in key categories. So for example if you want a running vest/bag they have Salomon or Ultimate Directions, both of which are very high quality products and both used by in the ultra community. Additionally this was the easiest place I could find to buy Harveys Maps! It’s also nice not having to wade through oodles of crap choices and they have lovely communication, great customer service and speedy delivery. The fact that Centurion is run by runners for runners really shows and I’m very much looking forward to further purchases and events with them in 2014.

Ultra Marathon Running Store
A bit like the Centurion store really in that it covers a great selection of good quality gear but with a little more choice (and the home of Dirty Girl Gaiters in the UK). Service and delivery are top notch and you feel it’s good value for money. Again they tend not to fill their site with things that ultra runners won’t use – we get a range of products at various price points. No complaints about this store whatsoever. I shall be looking forward to further purchases in the near future.

Decathlon
This is a bit of strange one, I’ve got some running Tshirts that are nearly a decade old from Decathlon that cost about £2.50 each and they rock but these days I find their running kit no longer fits me very well, but they do a great range of bikes and this year alone I have bought a rockrider, a triban and a hybrid (for my OH). I’m also a fan of their general equipment, things like lights, bandages, tapes, locks, etc and they do a decent range of swim kit – though I prefer mainly their speedo stuff. The great thing is that Decathlon staff are generally pretty well trained and not only know their own sporting area but also a bit about other departments. Add in regular vouchers and competitions through their loyalty card and actually you have a company that seems on the face of it to care. The letdown is their website which seems to have been built by a six year old or had a management hand in the navigation. Once you drill down to product pages it’s all pretty good but finding stuff is a nightmare. With. Decathlon I’d always say try and visit a store as the experience is so much better.

Sweatshop
These guys have been a bit a bit of a class act for several years and although I’m not as regular a shopper there as I used to be I still find them pretty darn good and with a good selection of items. I suppose though that Sweatshop has been a victim of its own success via both growth and attempting to be all things to all runners. This means that there is a decent range from beginner to very experienced runner but not as much depth as you might like, it feels quite mainstream – although saying this I have seen more obscure products like On Cloudrunners, Nathan running vests and Salomon S Lab clothing in store over recent months and this was also the store I got all my OMM packs from. Sweatshop remains the best of the major high street running stores. However, on a couple of occasions (and a less positive note) I have noticed in store there has been a lack of running knowledge, especially in younger members of staff, however, I am still a reasonably regular visitor to Bluewater, Dartford, Rathbone Place and Trump Street and these guys have always been on top of things, so when considering a store to purchase from where you can try things on, these guys remain good.

Run and Become
I’m a bit of sucker for a good shoe collection and great service and this is something that you always get from Run and Become. The staff are all runners, all very knowledgable (at least in the London store I go to), they have a great range of products in store and there is a feeling that they wouldn’t sell you a shoe that wasn’t fit for purpose. These guys are so popular that there is often a reasonable wait to be seen by the staff but it is worth it. My last purchase was some Vibram FiveFingers and Injinji socks and what I received was not only the basic back story to the shoes but also a bit of knowledge about the lady serving me, who was also a VFF user. If you happen to be near St. James Park and are in need of some kit or just to view some running porn – this is the place 🙂

Pete Bland Sports
Pete Bland will be getting more of my business in 2014, great service and quick delivery and a website that despite a rather strange navigation it just works. I bought my first pair of Hoka from Pete Bland Sports and they generally have a great range of running gear but being based in the Lake District is the thing that makes me love them as the Lakes are just about my favourite place in the entire universe. The little thing I loved the most was the later Twitter interaction about my experiences with the running shoes I had purchased. Classy

Cotswold Outdoor / Ellis Brigham / Snow & Rock
No good if what you are looking for is road running materials but if you are looking for trail running kit then Cotswold Outdoor, Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock are pretty fine. All have a good range of footwear, clothing and accessories covering brands like OMM, Rab, Salomon, Hoka and Inov8. If you are in London then all three can be found with big stores in the heart of Covent Garden and all have highly trained staff who generally know what they are talking about and if they don’t they’ll get someone that does. Each of these stores has provided me with key pieces of kit over the last year or so and will continue to do so. In terms of online then I find Cotswold to be the easiest to navigate and find what I’m looking for but both Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock offer excellent online services.

Sports Direct
I do have one bugbear though and that is Sports Direct. I find myself disheartened every time I walk past one of their stores and if I ever find myself in need of going in to one I generally find myself leaving quickly without purchase. I know some will argue that they offer competitively priced equipment but I find what little Karrimor equipment I do own never gets worn because it just isn’t as well made as some of the similarly priced clothing from Sweatshop or Decathlon – this of course is just an opinion but it is based on the experience and longevity and general feeling of the kit. The worst part of the experience is the staff don’t appear interested in whether you are being sold suitable footwear, suitable equipment or your general well being as a customer. I haven’t bought much here for quite some time and I don’t see myself heading back there anytime soon. Overall a disappointing retail experience.

Favourites?
Anyway, there are lots of very good retailers out there, these are just some of my personal favourites and ones that I have gone back to time and again. I’m sure you’ve all got your favourites and I’m always keen to learn about new places offering useful kit, great advice and most importantly brilliant customer service.

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