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Given that this is a running blog (and often a racing blog) you’d think that a posting about the Tough15 in Greenwich would mainly be about my racing but let me set my stall out immediately and tell you that you would be incorrect. This is the story of one mans journey to get to a race because 2 minutes can be the difference between a medal and not a medal.

I live in deepest darkest Kent but the journey up to Greenwich is actually not too bad and so I had signed up to the Tough15 race around the park – three laps of what I thought would be ambling round having a few laughs. I awoke on Saturday morning at about 6am and drifted into the warmth of the shower, layered up my nether regions with vaseline and threw on my favourite Ronhill top and teamed it with my Inov8 245 and a pair of old Nike shorts. I’d also decided to run with my Salomon hydration belt to ensure that the expected days higher temperatures didn’t catch me out.

I left bang on time and jumped on my train, just a short hop from my house and this is where the problems started, while the train was on time it was delayed outside the station I needed to change at – only for 2 minutes but I only had 2 minutes to spare. Anxious I stood glaring out of the window – watching my next train in the distance bellowing out to the passengers that its door where closing. Inside my head I could hear the muffled scream of a man who was watching his race day dreams fade into obscurity.

Poo.

My train started moving again and we finally pulled into the station just in time for me to watch as my ride drifted slowly away.

Double Poo.

Hand on phone, I immediately tweeted my situation because thats what people do who need immediate feedback and support and also a plan and while there was a lot of sympathy for my plight there wasn’t a plan in sight and then I had an idea. I opened the National Rail app on my phone and started checking times for the various routes I could take and saw that I could drift into London and grab a return journey that should put me into Blackheath for about 9.05, then platform to registration line needed to be covered in less than 15 minutes – it was only about a mile or so, but it was uphill, it was just moments before a race and I really needed a toilet stop and not the kind you can have at the side of a building in Blackheath.

From here the trains ran to time but my anxiety was growing and the thought of not hitting the start line was annoying me as this would pretty much be my finally preparation before the SDW50 and although not perhaps the distance I was looking for it would give me the medal that helps with the mental side of things and also offers the race experience which I find invaluable before an ultra.

At 9.04 I hit the platform at Blackheath station, and when I say hit I mean hit. I pelted out of the station and straight up the hill across Blackheath, beyond the church and straight over towards the wrong entrance to Greenwich Park and so I thundered down the road as quickly as my fat thighs would carry me and hurtled up to the registration desk. I’d made it and with a few minutes to spare – though I was now a sweaty, dishevelled mess and the lady who handed me my number looked at me quizzically – perhaps wondering if I had already done a 15km that morning. I chose to ignore her quizzical stare and instead slapped onto my Inov8 the timing chip and the number to my chest – I was ready

And so to the race (at long last I hear you cry).

I’ve run a couple of The Fix Events and they have always been pretty well organised as this was no exception. The start line was clearly marked, the registration line was clear and the numerous toilets were located just far enough from the start line to ensure they didn’t intrude on the main waiting to run area. There was an excellent lady manning the PA and her enthusiasm amongst a surprisingly muted crowd was much appreciated and she kept going throughout the event.

I took my customary place at the back of the field and listened to the runners chatting, being on my own for the race today meant that I simply waited for the race to begin. Funnily I wasn’t really feeling the desire to run and even as the race started I saw no great desire to push off at a great pace. My lack of enthusiasm though may well of been of benefit as the start was pretty slow – partly due to the human traffic on the course and partly because I wasn’t yet feeling it. We all turned into the first corner and suddenly things started to open up a bit and I hit the afterburner to get myself some space and once found I drifted back down a gear.

As we started down the first major hill I saw a chap go past me and he was pushing a Mountain Buggy Swift – a lovely little buggy seemingly perfectly suited to running with your child – I chased him down and we had a lovely little chat about the practicality of using one of these and he gave it a glowing recommendation. It turned out he wasn’t running the race but was there as support to his partner and so I was glad I realised I wasn’t to follow him as he went off the course.

The course then proved just how tough it was as the route started bending in and out of the hills, the turns meant that pace was knocked right back as you span round them and the hills challenged your knees. The final hill on the route was a real bitch too and in my Inov8 on the tarmac meant I could feel it, however, pressing onwards was never a problem and I felt rather sprightly as I picked up some water at the 5km mark and the start of the second lap. The second lap was when the heat of the day started to get to me and I once again (after the Sidcup 10) realised I was wearing one layer too many, but it was too late now. The second lap also meant that we had lost about a lot of the runners who were doing the 5km race and had now finished, I was therefore able to push on with a bit more space and I was finally finding my stride by about kilometre 8. The tough final hill came back around at kilometre 9 and I pushed through it once again, rather enjoying the experience this time and then swiftly into the third lap. The third lap was much the same as the first 2 but again with less and less people to overtake or be overtaken by. At kilometre 11 I briefly stepped off the course to kick the football back to some young kids who had blasted the ball as far from the pitch as was possible to and then at kilometre 14 as I endured the final hill I asked a girl for a bit of a push and she obliged a few feet against my sweaty back – what a sport! I of course thanked her with all my might and then pushed on for a reasonably fast finish.

Crossing the line was a nice experience and I really enjoyed it – this wasn’t a race I was bothered about my performance in but in truth I was quite happy with the way the race panned out. I didn’t push myself too hard, I enjoyed the hills. There was a good medal for the race, the cost was reasonable (£21), the course was challenging and despite three laps was never boring. The atmosphere while not over the top was certainly pleasant and I would highly recommend the race if you were looking for a last minute warm up to the London Marathon or any of the other April marathons. The other great thing about this one was that it was a Saturday race – this means that my Sunday is free for a bit of a swim or cycle, perhaps both. If you decide to do this next year, enjoy it!

Happy running chaps

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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)

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As regular readers will know I’m something of a Hoka One One convert, I started wearing them last year when I was looking to replace a couple of pairs of shoes and reduce the blistering problem I suffer with during ultra marathons. I love them but I can’t live in them, they aren’t the kind of runners you throw on when you need to put the bins out or when you need to run to the shop to get a pint of milk. If ever a shoe was designed for ‘proper’ running it is the Hoka.

So with that in mind I’d been considering Inov8 for some time. I’d already tried on a pair a few months back but hadn’t fallen in love with them and so had decided against it but when Snow and Rock had a bit of sale on Invo8 shoes and in particular the ones I was considering I was more inclined to take a punt.

What they say
Let’s talk about the shoe itself or rather what the manufacturer has to say

The Inov8 Men’s Trailroc 245 is great for everything from training to racing, packing the perfect combination of performance, cushioning and underfoot protection. The Meta-Shank™ midsole provides targeted metatarsal impact protection whilst the anatomic fit allows you toes to spread for a more natural feel. Reinforced in all the right places for extra support, the Trailroc™ has an innovative outsole that utilises three, sticky rubber compounds for the ideal combination of hardness, durability and grip, so that you can easily adapt; however the ground beneath you changes.

Anatomic fit
Synthetic, TPU upper
Mesh Lining
6mm Footbed
EVA injected midsole
3mm Differential
Meta-Shank™ midsole
TRI-C™ compound

It’s fair to say I’m often dubious about shoes when they sound too technical and the Trailroc with their anatomical fit, meta-shank midsole and TRI-C compound make my ears prick with caution but there is something to be said for a lot of this. The 6mm footbed is a blessing on trails as it really offers just that hint of support you want as you are running and yet manages to give enough connection with the surface you are running on for it to feel very real.

The TRI-C compound is also quite a nice little touch in that they’ve broken down the sole into three distinctive areas with differing degrees of flexibility and strength in the rubber so that your foot gets the best protection and movement for the ground it’s covering. This is where they really come into their own and actually running through wet or sticky trail simply ‘feels’. You know where you are because the rubber is working with you rather than simply absorbing the impact as with say the Hoka One One.

Upper
The mesh on the upper is lightweight and very breathable and even in wet conditions will bounce back pretty readily. Obviously they are in no way waterproof but they drain well and with the right socks, offer lasting protection against the elements. The concern with the upper is that it won’t last a million years but then if you will insist on running in a pair of slippers you’ve got to expect that they’ll wear a little easier than some of their hardcore cousins.

Fitting
I found the Trailroc came up a little small in the fitting and so rather than use my usual size 9 I went with the 9.5 – I did this for several reasons, the first is that I wanted to wear thicker socks with them (Drymax) and I wanted to give my feet a little more room than usual. The nice wide toe box of the Trailroc 245 is a very good fit for a runner with wider feet like myself. My toes never feel too locked in to the shoe but they always feel secure thanks to an excellent lacing system and loopholes in exactly the places that you want them.

Visual
Aesthetically the shoe is very nice, it’s not quite Salomon Lab Ultra nice but they aren’t far off and I always feel like a fashion icon of running when I find myself choosing my Trailroc to hit the ground in. The thing they have over the SLab Ultra are that in my case they fit properly.

Comfort
Once of the nice things about the Trailroc 245 though is that I find them very comfortable on the tarmac as well – I mean I’m not going to run a marathon in them but when I’m crossing London in an evening or hitting the road for my Virtual 10km races then these are ideal. They don’t suffer with some of the dull ache you get with other trail shoes that you might accidentally wear on tarmac – bonus.

Overall
So technically they appear a great shoe, you really can’t fault them but is my experience of them equally as good. I’ve now run about 80 miles in the shoes and feel that is enough to get a fair understanding of how I feel about them

Experience
As most people who read my blog will be aware I enjoy racing and I feel that every shoe I own should run at least one race. This happens to be quite difficult when you own dozens of pairs of running shoes but with the Inov8 I was keen to get them into a race as soon as possible and my wish was granted with the Valentines Challenge in Vigo.

The conditions were incredibly heavy going (as you can read in my earlier blog posting here) because of  all the rain and storms that the UK had suffered from over the months of December and January. I was wearing the Trailroc for only the second time and the first on trail and so I was filled with slight nerves about their performance. However, I need not have worried – the shoes chomped through most of the mud, skipped through puddles and waded happily through flooding. Yes, they were a bit lethargic through the top layer wet mud but then I think almost any shoe would have been – perhaps a super aggressive grip shoe would have fared better but then in the drier rockier sections the three rubber outsole worked its magic as I skipped over the difficult terrain with both enough protection and lubrication on my feet. Each soaking my feet took eventually dried out and the combination of shoe and sock was a magical one. Even as I was finishing the race covered in every kind of mud imaginable the shoes never let me down and even trudged to a reasonably fast finish.

Subsequent runs have been equally impressive but as with all barefoot or minimal shoes I find that when I run tired that my form slips and this then makes them less comfortable – but that is a problem with the runner and not so much with the shoe. Would I think of these for an ultra marathon such as SDW50 in a few weeks time? I suppose the honest is ‘possibly’. They will certainly be my back up shoe but they won’t yet make it to being my first port of call – the Hoka are simply too good for that. However, when I’m looking at kit for the Race to the Stones these will definitely be being considered because of the lower profile, lighter weight, ventilation and all round comfort.

Score
Great shoe 9/10 – dropping a point only because they couldn’t cure me of my Hoka addiction.

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This weekend saw a number of runners tackle the challenge of the Brighton Half marathon and even one of the runners I’ve had the pleasure to meet take on the Midnight Challenge. I was barred from the Midnight Challenge by my ever loving partner who reminded me that she wasn’t going to attend nor offer me any help with this one as she wanted a quiet weekend. The compromise was that I would be allowed to take part in the Valentines Run in Vigo, a very small village in Kent. Hosted by Vigo Rugby Club I had no doubt that we would get a professional race but had no idea that we would get such a well organised and delightful race experience. Let me explain how the day went…

At about 7.30am I woke up still singing ‘everything is awesome’ the very catchy little ditty housed near the start of the Lego Movie. My head was still a little bit leaden and my chest was still on fire from all the crappy gunk that I was trying to exhume but I hopped into the shower and simply pretended to my now also ManFlu ridden OH that it was ‘race on’.

I picked some sensible kit, long OMM flash leggings, my Ronhill VIzion LS top and my new Inov8 Trailroc, I’d coupled these with the Drymax socks I’d bought for C2C earlier in the year. The one addition I was glad I added was my Salomon race belt, I wasn’t sure how much water would be out on the course and this seemed like a sensible precaution out on the trail.

Vigo itself was about a 25 minute drive from us and so about 9.30 with the hounds packed in the car and the sun beating down above us, we headed out. Upon arrival we parked up on a slightly wet and muddy overspill car park but nothing that the car couldn’t handle although the local cadets were having to massage many a vehicle onto the mud.

I headed on into the race HQ or the bar as it’s normally known and spoke to a lovely lady who gave me my number. Given that I was a low number and had only registered a couple of weeks back I suspected that most of the entries would be taken on the day and in fact the race desk was very busy taking runners details.

I hung around the race start, chatted to some of the volunteers and some of the runners – introduced Indigo to the bustling nature of pre race, my baby springer spaniel was much in demand for cuddles and love. And then about 10.25 we all headed outside for the start.

We filed into a kind of pen just on the outside of the rugby field and as the starting approached the cannon fired off a round signalling the start – you wouldn’t have got that at the Brighton Half marathon!

The first section was to run around the sticky field of the rugby club and it was dense and hard going and I remember that by the time I got to the wooded section only a few hundred metres into the race my legs already felt heavy and my chest was on fire.

Regardless I crossed the log barred entry and started my run through the woods with their heavily pitted and watered tracks, with a desire to run reasonably steadily I lumbered from one side of the track to the next, trying not to get caught up in the overtaking through the puddles and focus instead on keeping my balance on the slippery ground.

The first few miles ran really quite well but I was going particularly fast and then the first of the major downhills came and I could feel my body urging me forward. However, the ground was rocky and uneven with large long clumps of thick wet mud to get through and my mind was telling me to be sensible. Thankfully body and heart won out and I was decided to give my Inov8 something to test themselves on and so we hurtled down the hill, bouncing between the rocks and I noted that despite being a reasonably minimalist shoe I felt very little trouble as went down, though I did feel suitable connected to the trail and therefore the Trailroc really where earning their spurs!

The course for the next couple of miles remained reasonably uphill, not in the ‘here’s a big hill, now climb it’ those I can deal with pretty easily, no, this was the kind of hill work that required a bit of tenacity and personality. I paced myself up most of it, going slowly but steadily and managing to take in some breathtaking Kent scenery.

At the half point there was a much needed water stop – located handily at the top of hill which was manned by a couple of lovely people handing out water and jelly babies. Having my own supply meant that I thought it best to leave the water for some of the runners behind me but used the opportunity to take on board my own fluid. I did take a jelly baby though and this yumminess pushed me up to the top of the next section and through onto the downhill where once again I pushed myself harder and chatted to a guy I’d met in the car park. It was a brief chat but in the few seconds we spoke he managed to curdle my blood with a tale of the last hill. Bloody hell as my only thought.

A shore while later I met Brendan who was struggling pretty badly and so we stayed together for the remainder of the race, I still felt pretty good, despite the ManFlu and knew that this chap needed a bit of push. I urged him to pull his finger out for the run up towards the hill and then we clambered slowly to the top. The hill as the photographs below show was a bit of a beast and required mental toughness to complete. I continued to support Brendan as best I could and had a bit of a joke or three with the girls at the top of the hill. I suggested Brendan catch his breath and then we headed out, the finish was in sight! well nearly. As we hit the track back to the rugby club we were ushered around the field once more. I had managed t claw back a place or two against people who had overtaken me earlier and it called back to Brendan that his goal was now not the finish line but overtaking me. However, I knew I probably had more in the tank than he did and so with a final push I crossed the line. Brendan came in a few seconds later looking tired but pleased as punch, he had given it his all. And if you read this, well done, you were brilliant.

I picked up my medal, my decent goody back (still wrapped foil blanket, mars bar, love hearts and a £5 Sweatshop voucher) and headed away with my loving Spaniels who had managed to get as filthy as their daddy.

This was a great race and highly recommended – especially if you like hills (nearly 1200ft of ascent and descent) and mud, lots of mud.

See you next year.

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I started writing about the Virtual Race a few weeks ago when I decided to sign up for it and last night despite a head that might explode any second and a stream of snot following me I decided that I would go for it. I’d been off work on the Friday and therefore my energy reserves where as good as they were going to get. I decided that I would take UltraHound, otherwise known as Thai and he opted for BattleDress – otherwise known as his waterproof coat.

We hit the road with my new cheap Chinese head torch (which will be reviewed at a later point) and a positive spirit. Many of the roads were flooded and in my Drymax socks and Invo8 Trailroc I was feeling pretty damn good, UltraHound was in good form and despite a bit of pulling we wrapped up the first 5km in decent time – stopping only for the traffic and for UltraBoy to adjust his head torch. The route out was mainly uphill and so when we reached the half way point and our turning we hit the speed button and set off but speed was an issue. My ManFlu was knocking me for six by now and so UltraHound and I plugged on through the oncoming wind and rain, neither of us would be beaten and the aim had always been to run under an hour and so as we hit the 10km point in about 57 minutes (59minutes for 10.33km) we were both pleased. UltraHound woofed in delight as we got home and then promptly fell asleep. I did not and immediately set about preparing the evidence of my 10km run and submitting it to the race organiser.

This was a hard run in really windy and wet conditions around the Kent hills coupled with a dose of ManFlu and my beloved hound adding to the challenge. I’d like to say a huge thank you to the VirtualRunnerUK organisers who have produced a truly brilliant event and I have already signed up for the March run, perhaps I’ll even think about the half marathon distance at some point.

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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.

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