Inov 8 to Vivo Barefoot

I’ve been running in my Inov 8 X-Talon 212s for about 6 months now. My mileage isn’t high at around 20 miles a week and I run mainly on Pennine moorland, so plenty of peat, plenty of mixed trail and a good deal of rocky stuff (millstone grit). I have to say that I loved these shoes from the first moment I tried them on in a Glasgow running shop. They are fantastically light and snug, they feel secure and grippy on most surfaces (wet roads and rocks included) and, though a neutral shoe, they have enough cushioning underneath to be pleasantly comfortable. The lugs have worn a fair bit in that time, something I expected, given the soft, sticky rubber compound on the sole. I have contributed to this wear by running on roads and other unsuitable surfaces.

I have only one issue with them: they are narrow and the broadest part of my feet is exposed in that spot where bunions occur. On particularly rocky ground I have found that they offer little protection from sharp rocks that clip the overhanging bone there. This can be extremely painful. Otherwise though, these are a fantastic shoe…I’d fancy a similar pair with more of a road going sole.

Instead of that I found myself visiting in Bradford….a cheap running shoe specialist outlet. I went to get my son some Vivo barefoot shoes that I’d seen advertised at a bargain price. I’ve seen his form deteriorate since I got him cushioned sole shoes instead of footie trainers with thin plastic soles and I want to get him back to running more naturally again before it gets too late. He now loves the Vivos.

Whilst in the shop I saw the Vivo Barefoot Neo Trail and fell, I’ll be honest, for the way they look. They appeared very roomy at the front end for my broad feet and had quite an aggressive lugged sole. I tried them on in the shop along with some Inov 8 Mudclaws and the new Salomon S Labs. Despite feeling obviously harder than the two fell shoes, something about the Vivos felt right. I decided to go for them, thinking that my months of running in neutral and light X Talons would have sufficiently prepared me for barefoot running.

I was wrong. I wore the Vivos casually for just one day. I felt absolutely great in them. The following day I was due to run in the Windmills Whizz fell race on the moors above Halifax. I opted for the Inov 8s for the race as it’s a 7 mile course featuring a good deal of pretty hard and rough ground. I was in good shape, having run the course in about 53 minutes the week before at a canter. I reasoned that sub-50 would be well within my grasp.

Half way up the first 400 foot climb I felt my calf tighten. It’s true that I was climbing more quickly than on a training run but this is something I haven’t suffered from for a long while. I decided to slow to an easy pace to try and ease the tightness away…I even walked ten paces or so at one stage. I made it to the top of the climb but decided to retire as the tightness persisted….not painfully but I took it as a warning. Discretion being the better part of valor I opted not to be caught with a torn calf three miles from the start/finish.

I returned to the finish in time to see Tom Adams narrowly fail to beat the course record. He was still clearly in great form though and a time close to 37 minutes is really going some considering the very windy conditions.

The following day I had no ill effects so went for a gentle aerobic run in the Vivos. In fact I’ve run in them about 3 times since and I have very definitely suffered a degree of muscle soreness. Adapting to the Vivo Barefoot shoes is clearly going to take some time.

Because of the harder than usual feedback through the tough but flexible rubber sole, there is the temptation to over-do running on the forefoot. I think this is at the root of the soreness. However, the zero drop from heel to toe clearly has stretched my achilles and calf even when walking in the shoes during the day (I’ve scarcely had them off).

I think I’ll be reverting to the Inov 8s and running on a soft peaty surface for my next few runs but once I have adapted physically, I shall be making the Vivos my main fell training shoe.

The Giant’s Tooth Fell Race

So, on New Year’s Day, after precious little sleep (thanks to my lovely family) I made my way to Ogden Water, nestling in the Pennine moorland just above Halifax, and lined up alongside 121 others for the Giant’s Tooth Fell Race. This was it, some three months after deciding to take part, I’d lost the best part of two stones in weight and had cajoled my not inconsiderable frame to a level of fitness that would make getting around in a respectable time possible.
I knew the course well as I have been jogging and walking on these hills recreationally for twenty years. I wasn’t entirely confident of achieving the aims that I set myself back in October though: to finish in the top half of the field and to get round in under 25 minutes. The conditions were a concern. Relentless rain over the preceding weeks had rendered the peat either bottomless or very very slippery. Where the surface was too hard for the water to penetrate, it was simply running in newly formed streams.
We were all drenched before the start and the wind whipping off the moors was making the task of staying warm at the start line difficult. This was soon forgotten as the starter released us on our way.

The first quarter of a mile is a gradual incline up to a gate/stile: a muddy track which was intermittently transformed into a stream, several inches deep. I’d committed to go quickly so as not to lose time queuing. This kept me in touch with the leaders but shoved me into oxygen debt earlier than was prudent. The spray generated by this stampede was quite something.

There followed a downhill section of a few hundred yards but I kept pushing until I reached the bottom of the main 280 foot climb up to the Giant’s Tooth itself (a white painted monolith) high on the moor. The climb is deceptively steep but I knew that I could do it as long as I stayed aerobic. I was passed by some fitter fell runners but was encouraged to find myself passing others who were having to resort to hands on knees walking.
The summit area was wetter and boggier than I’ve seen it in two decades which made progress slower than normal. Frankly, it’s never quick as the myriad tussocks make sure-footed running impossible. Matters weren’t helped by a vicious, wet and westerly which blurred the vision and hammered at my fragile resolve.

Then the descent: 250ft of wet peat, pine needles and ankle snapping tree roots. The race organiser, a seriously good fell racer himself, described it as “dangerous”. It had been my plan to hurtle down this slope, picking a line I have rehearsed on many training runs. My legs, made insensible by cold and gallons of lactic acid, refused to co-operate. My brain engaged and started worrying about my fragile medial ligament. Prudence cost me half a dozen places and a little bit of time. Still, I got to the bottom in one piece.

The course followed a stream, Skirden Clough, for a short while. It was possible to run quickly and recover some aerobic equilibrium. I knew I’d need to as the second climb loomed.

It’s only about 150 feet, the second climb, but it’s steep in places and, again, I found myself passing walkers….the very same competitors who had overtaken me on the downhill. Come the following, much faster and safer, descent they passed me again. I became aware that the shoelace had come undone on my right shoe (Inov-8 X Talon 212). This had never happened before and it did niggle me. I lost concentration deciding whether or not it was worth stopping to tie it. I decided against.

I’d also started to become aware of a bad kit choice. I had elected to wear some New Balance running tights to keep my leg muscles warm and, hopefully, mitigate against injury. I was also wearing long socks underneath them to add calf compression. All this had served to do was to add several pounds in weight to my legs AND make them much colder than they would have been had I gone with shorts. This was a lesson that I won’t forget in a hurry.

There’s a long flat section in the race, which takes you around the perimeter of Ogden Water. The temptation is to believe that you are on the home stretch and gun it but I knew there was a sting in the tail to come. 850 metres from the finish, there’s a sharp right turn and climb up through the woods, back up to the bottleneck stile. It’s probably about 100 feet, but it’s steep for 30 metres and, on leaden legs, it can be soul destroying. I took this opportunity to overtake the quick descenders around me for the last time and, in severe oxygen debt, attempted to sprint to the finish. With icy water splashing over waist height, I tried to tell myself that it was fun. It wasn’t fun at all. It was horrible. There, I admit it….and bang go any fell runner machismo points that I might have accumulated.

I crossed the line to see the Halifax Harriers club secretary pointing a camera at me….the resulting photo o is above. He was quick to point out that I had my club colours on back to front….I’d have been quick to swear at him if I’d had any breath left to swear with. I slumped on a wall and announced my retirement from fell running to myself, silently.

Half an hour later, in the Causeway Foot Inn, still sopping wet through, I sank a pint of Taylor’s Golden Best with fellow runners, exchanged a few yarns and found myself talking about my next race. Retirement was short-lived.

How did I get on? I came 48th of the 121 runners and recorded a time of 23 minutes and 34 seconds. Given that it was my first competitive run in 30 years, not too shabby at all. Next year, I’ll be much much faster.

Videos of the year

screen grab - click the link below - or the picture

A decent selection from the fellas at the estimable “Science of Sport blog, some of which you’ll have seen already, but they’re all worth watching again.

Finding a six pack..

Got up this morning, trampled all over the scales and found that I weigh under 14 stones for the first time since around 1987. This was an agreeable sort of discovery, as was the unmistakable appearance of a six pack which has been cloaked in adipose tissue for decades. I suppose what is at work is the opposite of a vicious circle….a benevolent circle if you like: lose weight in order to make running up hills less painful then find that you can run up more quickly and often which, in turn, results in the shedding of more pounds.
As someone who is 6’1″ with the shoulders of an olympic swimmer, this isn’t a bad weight to be at. I’m not sure how much lower I want to go. I certainly don’t want to finish up looking as though I might blow away in a stiff breeze. Here’s the 6 pack as it appeared in the 80s, accompanied by suitably naff hairstyle. The six pack as was in the 80s, complete with crap 80s hairstyle.

So long tawny maiden….hello sleet, peat and soaking feet.

This year marked the end of a long love affair with a tawny maiden. Almost every evening for almost 25 years she would comfort me with her moist warmth, numbing the aches of the day and accompanying me to deep slumber. I’ll still see her now and again, for old time’s sake, but it’s time for me to move on.

Yes, it’s adios delicious Tinto Pesquera, ciao you lovely Barberas and au revoir to those sophisticated French temptresses. People will have to think of something else to get me for Christmas this year.
I’m not entirely sure what brought about this change in lifestyle. I suspect that the cumulative impact of losing people close to me over the last few years, my own health issues and the bruising my vanity took every time I saw a bloated face in the mirror or a photographs of me that were at odds with my self-image might all have played a part. The spectre of my own mortality and the desire to stick around for my kids and grandkids has been something of a pre-occupation.


adios - 3 temptresses

Something else happened too. My son won a cross country race, or two, last autumn and started to go to the local athletics club. Fondly remembering that I was a decent athlete in my youth and that some kind coaches used to help me, out of nothing more than the generosity of their spirit, I decided to give back and got into coaching myself. I soon realised that I was struggling to keep up with my 8 year old, which was a huge affront to my delusions of athleticism.
Then Jeff sent me a copy of Feet in the Clouds, a book about fell running (more of which in a separate review). The consequence was that I committed to run my first fell race for 30 years on New Years day, 2012. Now, one thing that anyone who has run up hills will know is that hauling any more bulk up a steep slope than necessary is extremely undesirable. The 16 stones I tried to cajole up the hill in question on my first attempt proved to be a burden Sysyphus might have baulked at.


So, that was it. The wine had to go. At 800 kcal a bottle (and I daren’t tell you how many of those I could get through in a week) I did the maths and realised I would inevitably lose a lot of weight simply by ditching the booze and running a few times a week.

I can now say, two months down the line, that I don’t miss my boozy floozy at all. I get my thrills and endorphin highs by running across wild moorland, skipping past gaudily dressed hikers as they battle torrential rain in the teeth of a gale, their faces peaking out from Mountain Equipment jackets as I cheerily wave, splashing through the sloppy peat in a t-shirt and not a lot else. I am lucky enough to run through some of Britain’s most bleak and beautiful landscapes, alone, beside waterfalls, careering down rocky slopes, along undulating woodland trails and around lakes. Running on the road holds no appeal for me at all but getting out into the wilds in all weathers and just celebrating the simple act of running through nature’s obstacle course has become my favourite way of having fun. It’s an expression of freedom I suppose.
Yes, it’s hard work at times and yes, it hurts…but it’s no more uncomfortable than standing in a freezing river in the middle of winter angling after some grayling and no more insane than sitting by a frosty carp pond at 4 a.m. when you could be in bed dreaming of Claudia Cardinale. The pay off so far is that I’ve lost over two stones, I can now run up hills without having to stop and hawk up embarrassingly and the athletic physique I had as a twenty year old has emerged from its fleshy cocoon. I’m experiencing a joie de vivre that I’d forgotten was possible and the approach of my half-centenary has stopped bothering me entirely. As long as the Irony God doesn’t strike me down with a massive heart attack as I skip across Heathcliff and Cathy’s skyline, I can report that this sudden change of course in my life has been a very positive one indeed. After the last two years, that’s most welcome.

A Beautiful Run

Training for the Giants Tooth race is going fairly well. My weight is down to 202 lbs and I have already run the route in under 25 minutes, which was my modest target time. It’s pleasantly surprising how quickly fitness can return after almost 25 years of abusing my system, simply with some enjoyable low mileage runs in scenery that inspires. Plodding endlessly and slowly on the roads is not for me.

I thought I’d share my favourite route with you. It comes in at just under 2 miles. As the google earth image is two dimensional, I’ve added a few photographs (taken during the summer) which might give you an idea why running in this landscape is such a pleasure.


The Giant’s Tooth

I was recently sent a copy of the fine paean to fell running, “Feet in the Clouds”, to review for the Caught By The River website.

Within minutes I found myself reading about the Giant’s Tooth fell race, which is not the most significant rumble in the calendar, it just happens to be where I haul my sorry 49 year old, 15 stone carcass two or three times a week in futile effort to turn the clock to back to my “proper athlete” days. Unfortunately for my poor body, which has suffered some fairly torrid abuse since the halcyon days when I would turn out to run for Birmingham University back in the early 80s, Richard Askwith’s writing on the torture, privation and sheer lunacy of fell running was perversely persuasive. I found myself resolving to get up on New Year’s Day morning 2012 and compete in this winter’s Giant’s Tooth race.

It’s not really a Giant’s Tooth you know. It’s a big lump of millstone grit, painted white and plonked at the summit of an arbitrary path at a Pennine beauty spot called Ogden Water. There’s some yarn attached to the stone, a giant called a Boggart lost his tooth whilst rampaging across the moor…or something. Whatever the tall story, it’s only marginally less plausible than the notion that I’ll be able to run this race in anything like a respectable time….by which lofty heights of ambition, I mean “mid-division”. This will mean a target of 25 minutes, when the winner will stroll home in around 16 minutes and the octogenarian plodder will manage about 35.

The good news is that I don’t weigh 17 stone, as I did about a year ago, before resolving to run a bit and cut down on the wine calories. I actually look and feel reasonably trim at just under 15 stone. However, my racing weight used to be under 11 and my target is to shift as many pounds as I can before the race, whilst improving my VO2 Max and anaerobic fitness. Carrying 15 stones up a naggingly steep incline for 5 minutes is, I promise you skinny readers, no fun at all.

As some sort of treat to myself and knowing that I have that boyish, “have new toy, will play” mentality, I bought some Inov 8 X Talon 212s (a review of those to follow separately). They have done the job in terms of motivating me to get out and run more, as has the Endomondo app on my phone.

So, you can have a peek at the route. It’s short, about 3 miles, not an especially hard climb (though it does feature some smaller slogs to kick you when you are down later in the race). I’ll relay the glorious tale of my progress over the coming weeks as the pounds evaporate, the wings on my heels emerge and the glory of an improbable top half finish beckons. Hollywood will want this story. You watch.