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Breathing in the forest air, my heartbeat and footfall are settling into rhythm as I climb the trail... The autumnal canopy is scattering bronze, copper and golden jewels like a carpet beneath my feet. Ducking under a spiderweb laced with diamonds of morning dew, I see the stag as he scampers deeper into the forest.... My muscles and heart are pumped as I push up and out of the tree line and onto the ridge. Climbing up onto the top of the world, and a panorama I silently soak in. A buzzard lazily flaps away from the cairn. Now the fun begins as I run down the trail, twisting, turning, feeling every contour of the earth beneath the soles of my feet. A log to jump, a branch I scoop under, my feet going quicker, quicker, dancing down into the tree line as a fox darts across my path.... This blog is based on tales of my trail and ultra running exploits. Enjoy!!!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Merrell Mix Master Move Glide Review

Introduced in the Spring of 2013, the Women's Mix Master Move Glide is part of Merrells M-Connect range. It is a minimalist shoe designed primarily for road or trail.



The Move's are my current Ultra marathon shoe of choice, at least until I am comfortable wearing the very minimal Pace Gloves over such distances.

I recently won the Cotswold Way Challenge in the Mix Master Move Glides. The race was 60 miles off-road, over two days. Placing 1st lady and 3rd overall, I was more than happy with the performance of the Move's on a mixed terrain course.

APPEARANCE

Available in three colours the Move's look modern and appealing. They sport the wide toe box characteristic of Merrell shoes which is one of the main reasons I wear these products. Here I have fitted lock laces which work equally as well as the originals, but without me having to worry with tying etc.




CONSTRUCTION/PERFORMANCE

The Move's have 8mm of heel cushioning and 4mm under the ball of the foot, giving them a 3.5-4mm drop. They have an EVA insole which when removed instantly gives you better ground feel within the shoe. I find this incredibly useful, depending on the distance of my training/racing.

Although advertised as a minimalist shoe, because of the 18mm overall stack height, they could, with care be used as a transitional shoe for those looking to become more minimalist in their running style.

Although Merrell describe the Moves as being designed for the road in mind, the shoe performs very well on the trails as demonstrated by my recent races. The outsole construction provides durable traction in most trail conditions.



The Move's have very little arch support which to me is a good feature of a minimalist shoe, allowing natural strengthening of the foot. They have plenty of protection for the toes and lateral foot areas due to a robust but very lightweight molded bumper.

The synthetic leather upper is also very lightweight and is supported nicely by the molded eyelets that provide structure to the shoe. The shoes can be laced quite snugly without pressure points developing. An important feature for me when running off road and especially during long steep descents.

My size 8's weigh in at 235g/8.3oz which is lightweight considering the amount of protection the Moves provide.

With the 18mm stack height you would maybe question flexibility, but as you can see below, Merrell have retained great flexibility making them a great off road shoe.


I would recommend the Moves to those wishing to transition towards minimalist running and for those looking for a little more protection than Merrell Gloves on longer distances. They are comfortable, lightweight and friendly in every way and can be worn on any running surface.



Securing victory after 60 miles trail racing in the Mix Master Move Glides.

Behind the lens... Kristof Nowicki http://kristoftrails.blogspot.co.uk/



Merrell Pace Glove Review


Although the Pace Glove has been widely reviewed and it is solely the colours that have been updated in 2013, I feel the shoe warrants some words on how it has performed for me.




As an Ultra runner I strive to keep my footwear as minimal as possible yet with the required cushioning and comfort to complete the distance at hand.

My aim is to complete all Ultra distances in my Pace Gloves but as with all barefoot running, patience is a virtue and whilst my feet are strengthening my top distance to date is 24 miles.

The Pace Glove is part of Merrells M-Connect Series where the ethos is to connect your feet to the terrain. By encouraging mid foot landing in a minimal or zero heel to toe drop shoe, the feet and legs strengthen, improving running technique and hence efficiency.


APPEARANCE

With a vast selection of colours available for both the women’s Pace Glove and the men’s Trail Glove, there is something for everybody, from subtle to vibrant!
Although down to individual taste, I think the shoe looks modern with a nicely contoured shape and although the toe box is sufficiently roomy, this doesn’t take anything away from the overall look of the shoe.




As a matter of habit I fit all my new shoes with lock laces as a personal choice, although the original laces on the Pace Glove tend to stay in their knots a lot better than many other shoes I've worn.


CONSTRUCTION/PERFORMANCE

So, the Pace glove is my number one training shoe unless the conditions warrant studs, in which case I choose a fell shoe. This leads me on to the grip provided by the Vibram outsole.
Considering the tread is not particularly deep, the shoe remains pretty stable in muddy conditions and the good ground feel and zero drop keep you connected to the terrain well. 




Although I wouldn’t wear these on a very wet, steep fell race, I would certainly be happy on a steep smooth dry grassy descent.
They perform equally well on wet roads, to me there is almost a “ghecko effect” where there is suction when I land on the forefoot.


Although the Vibram sole is approaching 10mm, the shoe is still incredibly flexible and can be easily folded in half with one hand.



The ground feel provided by the Pace Glove suits the terrain I run on. Not once have I had bruising to my feet after encountering rocks, roots and stones.
The glove has a 1mm forefoot shock absorption plate, 4mm EVA mid sole and a fused rubber toe bumper.
Although I would say the proprioception is less than some other minimalist footwear, I do believe Merrell has got the balance right here.

Of all the features of the Pace Glove, the one that really stands out for me is the incredible “lightness” of the shoe. No other shoe to date has matched how light-footed and springy I feel whenever I put them on my feet and run. They literally make me feel as if I am dancing down the trails and skipping up them!

My size 8’s weigh just 185g/6.5oz per shoe, mostly due to the lightweight breathable mesh upper which although lets the water in easily, I find within a few steps on dry land any water has happily squelched back out!

Finally, the lacing system holds the glove securely around the mid foot enabling you to enjoy the roomy toe box without slipping forward in the shoe on descents. 
I would advise to go up a size or half size. The shoes are so unobtrusive generally that a size up should give your toes extra room to splay without any problems. I have read over and over how most runners run in shoes a size too small. Don’t be afraid to return them if the sizing doesn’t feel right.

All in all, a sleek, durable and comfortable minimalist shoe…

Happy running!

(Kristof Nowicki - Behind the lens) http://kristoftrails.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, 8 April 2013

Cotswold Way Ultra Challenge



The Cotswolds Way Challenge 2013 was an inaugural event organised by Extreme Energy whose events I'd raced in before. Knowing how well organised and welcoming their events were, I chose the CWC as my first target "A" race for 2013.

So during the first quarter of 2013 my training was geared towards this back-to-back Ultra weekend. I slowly increased my mileage, immersing myself in the elements of our never ending British winter.
I adopted the Maffetone method of training throughout the first few months, keeping my heart rate steady and building a fat burning base http://www.philmaffetone.com/bmaffmethod.cfm

In between work and family life, I managed to bring my weekly mileage up to 45 miles during my peak in March, then threw in some speed-play for fun whilst beginning to taper for my racing weekend on 6th and 7th April.

I must have done something right because I secured a clear win in the ladies field and was 3rd overall!




Although the field wasn't massively stacked I was pleased with my pace with respect to elevation gained.... I do love hills and the Cotswolds has some beautiful rolling hills that are deceptively tough!

Details of my training and both race days can be found here

http://app.strava.com/athletes/198829

http://app.strava.com/dashboard?feed_type=my_activity

I raced in my Merrell Mix Master Move Glides (review to follow) and although I missed what I call my "Fairy Shoes" AKA Merrell Pace Gloves.... The Glides gave me a little more protection over the distance, which was in fact 60 miles over 2 days.

I wore a combination of Salomon and Strava apparel, with the new Nathan Vapor Shape, women specific race vest/pack.... I had zero issues with any of the kit which I'd tested during training. There was no chaffing, flapping or rubbing... Everything felt good. Still laughing to myself at Austin's (my Day 2 running buddy) disgust at competitors who run 6 hrs with a map slapping against their ass every single step... or loose change shaking in a pocket for 32 miles!

So now I'm done with plugging of my favourite gear.... !!! Lets get onto the beauty of the race...

There were three of us Shropshire Lasses travelling down for this event and we took a hotel in Droitwich Friday night to break up the journey...

Now although my diet is generally low carb/Paleo stylie these days, I'm always up for a spot of light, pre-race carbo loading when it is in the form of beer ;-)



Race Day 1 was estimated at 27 miles, so essentially only just an "Ultra" but when there is another 30 to follow the next day, I'd say the distance needs respecting!

I set off waaaay too fast, I knew I wouldn't sustain a sub 9 min/mile pace with 3,000+ foot of ascent in my path, but I felt good! The sun was shining! The trails were dry!
I felt I'd got the peaking and tapering pretty much spot on, so I just went with my silly fast pace leaving a lot surprised runners in my wake until I settled into an easy (but not too shabby!) Ultra trot....

Now the trouble with having four different starting times for different paced runners, is that I really had no idea of my placing.. so there was not a lot of tactics involved. I really just ran as hard as I could whilst trying to keep my breathing steady, and stress hormones and heart rate low with the view to live for another day!

The Cotswolds Way is probably the most beautiful trail I have run upon. Hilly but not too exposed or vast, with a mixture of light sandy soil and grass. Beautiful idyllic villages strewn along a National Trail that dips down into and up over rolling farmland, common land and ancient woodlands. Forts and a multitude of viewpoints (even though one such viewpoint was actually described to me by Austin as the biggest dogging area in Gloucestershire!!) are scattered along the Way.

We had perfect running weather. Dry, sunny but not too hot with very little wind.

So after 10 miles or so the usual doubts kicked in. Every ultra runner would probably understand me when I started to question the aches and pains that were creeping up on me. "How the heck am I going to complete this ridiculous distance if I'm aching already??!"

Then as usual things either start to go numb or I become accustomed to the pain and just keep on running.
The navigation was pretty straight forward if you were pedantic about the way mark symbols. I indeed became very pedantic about these after detouring off onto a CW Circular Walk! Lovely for a Sunday ramble, but not on race day please!!

I climbed an extra hundred foot or so, added to my distance and lost two places during my little detour. But it could have been worse... I overtook the two guys (again) and I learnt my lesson.

So after 28 miles I dropped down off Cleeve Hill, flying down through the steep, open fields into Bishops Cleeve for a short road run to the finish. The usual warm welcome from the Xnrg crew and news of my 1st place in the ladies field and 4th overall ended a great days racing for me.

Once showered, refreshed and with legs massaged by the Xrng crew, Debbie suggested we head straight to the pub for a lazy pre-dinner drinkie. Yes please!

After a lovely big feast I had an early night and although I didn't sleep too well, my legs and body had a good horizontal rest. It was an interesting harmony of tired snoring competitors that night in the big school gym.

I was raring to go on Day 2. I was put with the late starters, the theory being we would catch the others up.
I get a real positive hit when I can start overtaking people even if they are walkers! When Austin pointed out some figures in the distance later, we soon realised they weren't even in the race.... But that didn't matter, we were reeling them in, like predators hunting a wounded bison!

After clearing it with the organisers, Austin had arranged to meet me at mile 9 on Day 2 and run to the finish with me. He knew the route, and being an ultra runner himself knew exactly what the score was. He was fantastic company and a real boost for my morale.


The hours flew by and I kept going strong. I only threw my toys out of the pram a couple of times when we hit the tarmac (tarmac does that to me... its not me... its the tarmac!). Thankfully the whole route had very little road, so my grumpiness was short lived.



The highlight of the day was my ice cream! Thank you Austin!



I had highs and lows, but even the lows were enjoyable, if that makes sense!?



Stretching a hamstring at a checkpoint.....




Final food stop... 7 miles to go.....




As with all my ultra races I felt like I could fly the last couple of miles... its all in my mind because it matters not what distance I am doing. Its always the last mile or two. Everything seems to stop hurting and I can pick up the speed. We flew down into Stroud at a 7.30 min/mile pace shaking off a couple of guys who were trying to stay with us.

I crossed the line and secured my win for the two days combined.
Kate was 3rd lady and Debbie was 4th Lady... a great result for "Team Shroppie!"

All in all a good start to the season for me...
My next target races are the Red Kite Trails weekend

http://www.redkite-barcudcoch.org.uk/

These are a lot shorter... which means faster! So as soon as my legs feel ready for action, I'll be on the hills trying a little more speed-play and quick foot turnover work and see what May brings!