Archive for the 'Review' Category


vivobarefoot breatho trail – shoe review

With the onset of training for the Berlin Marathon on the horizon, I’d been giving some thought to my choice of footwear. 26.2 miles is (give or take) twice as far as I’d ever run before and I needed to find a suitable shoe – I’ve been running in “minimalist shoes” for almost 2 years but have always reverted to “proper” running shoes for any race over 10k. And almost always regretted it as the normal shoes would feel clumsy and I’d find myself tiring quickly as I forced myself back into a different running style. I felt that I needed something that was the best of both worlds – a zero drop “barefoot” shoe that looked and behaved more like a traditional running shoe without sacrificing the feel of the ground beneath my feet or forcing me to transition back to normal trainers.

And I may just have found it. Vivobarefoot are a well established brand. They created the “barefoot shoe” back in 2003 so know a little bit about engineering a functional running shoe. There is plenty of detail on their website here and I had been impressed by what I had read and heard so was intrigued to see whether the shoes lived up to expectations.

The shoes did not disappoint. They are comfortable straight from the box, they have a removable insole to soften the blow for those transitioning to a zero-drop shoe for the first time (or to insulate the shoe if running in cold conditions – clever, eh!). The lacing has a system of reinforced material leading from the sole to each lace hole ensuring that when the laces are tightened, it pulls the entire shoe snugly around your feet and not just the area where the laces are. The shoes fit incredibly well, are light and roomy enough around the toes to allow you to splay your toes whilst running, exactly like you would if you were barefoot.

I walked around in them for a day or so until the opportunity arose for me to get out and run in them. Ordinarily, I would take it easy on the first run in any new shoe, but these had felt so good whilst walking around, I went straight out and ran 14 kilometres. They performed exceptionally well. As these are designed as “trail shoes” they have quite an aggressive tread pattern and I was concerned that a) this would diminish the feedback from the ground to my feet and b) that if I ran on tarmac, I would feel the tread pattern through the 3mm puncture resistant sole. In both cases, I was proved wrong –  the sole is flexible and responsive giving plenty of “feel” of the ground beneath your feet and affording a good deal of grip on muddy inclines and grassy banks – something which has always been an issue with my current “barefoot” shoes.

When the weekend came around, I went out for a longer run, taking in 18kms of trail, pavement, gravel, grass, mud and puddles. The shoes were great and I had no rubbing, no blisters, no aches and pains from having to get used to a different running style. I have struggled to find a fault with them – the fact that the laces supplied are a little long and need to be tied in a double bow is really the only criticism I can find.

Add to this that they are very reasonably priced (about the same as a regular decent pair of running shoes and about two-thirds the price of some other “barefoot” brands), look great, feel great, are produced sustainably in ethical factories and can be worn without people pointing and staring at the “barefoot weirdo”. They also have a London based Vivobarefoot Running Club which meets every Tuesday to help people better enjoy “barefoot” running. I was genuinely impressed by these shoes and really glad that I took the risk to try them -I would recommend anyone interested in minimalist running to get out and try a pair too.


go outdoors – even when it’s cold

I’d been toying with the idea of getting a warm running top for the colder months for some while but as November had, until now, been very mild, I’d been putting it off. When I could no longer deny that the nights were drawing in and the temperature was dropping, I meandered onto the Go Outdoors site to see what I could find. First stop was their “Thermals” section which had thermal base layers for skiing and walking but nothing for running. Changing tack I looked at their Base Layers range which seemed to be just the ticket. I was pretty picky discerning with the features that I was looking for (must be long sleeve, must have a zip that comes at least to mid chest level, good technical fibre, preferably black). The Helly Hansen Warm Freeze Half Zip Men’s Baselayer Top seemed to have everything that I was looking for so ordered it. The first surprise was that I ordered it on Friday afternoon and on Sunday (yes, Sunday, day of rest and all that) a delivery driver knocked on my door to hand the parcel to me. Hurrah!
The second surprise was when I took it out of the pack – I had always been wary of buying a technical top made of Merino Wool. I know everyone says it is a very good technical fabric but I was worried that it would look / feel a bit “jumper-y”. So I was delighted when I pulled it out of the pack to see it was not in the least wooly and was very soft, light and technical looking.
So, having delighted me twice already, the acid test would be to take it out in the cold and see how it performed and, right on cue, nature dropped the temperature a few degrees -enough for a heavy fog to descend and for ice to form on the cars parked in the street, so I heaved myself out of bed, pulled on the top and my shorts and set off into the mist.
Oddly, I like running in the fog… but I also like running in the dark… perhaps it’s the sense of isolation or being able to “tune out” of the surroundings but I was really enjoying being out and planned an 11k round trip. The top was performing admirably and I was pleased to note that the cuffs were long enough to pull down over my hands to keep them warm at the start of the run. Also, the back of the shirt is long so that it doesn’t ride up and keeps the warmth in between top & shorts – both positives. In fact, I found that around 6km it was keeping me warm enough to be able to open the zip at the collar to let some cooler air in. I noticed people waiting for buses wrapped up in big coats with scarves and hats and me running past, dressed in black, collar up and top open to the mid chest level. I must have looked a bit like this

Or maybe not. Anyway, I returned home 11kms later very pleased with how the top had performed. The temperature was about 4 degrees and although this is supposed to be a “base layer” I had used it without any outer layers and was kept warm and comfortable. So now I’ve really got no excuses to not get out and run – even when it’s below freezing. Bugger!

Soundtrack to this post: Butch Cassidy Sound System – The Putney


what we did on holiday – saucony kinvara 2 review

After a 9 week forced hiatus due to injury, I decided that I would return to running whilst on my Summer Holiday. 1 week before my injury, I had received a pair of Saucony Kinvara 2 running shoes… I was desperate to try them out but my abstention from running meant that I could only admire them from afar… occasionally taking them out of the box to feel how light they were (incredibly light, by the way. 218 grams according to the Saucony website. So light that, when they first arrived, I thought I had received an empty shoe box in the post)

As you can see, the pair I was sent were a fetching yellow – I have mentioned before about my dislike of white running shoes, so the bright yellow / green trim combination was perfect for me. They even look fast.

I’d decided to start my rehabilitation slowly, sticking to relatively short distances, walking if there was any sign of a twinge and sticking to level, solid surfaces until I felt confident. Initially, I planned to stick to the roads and paths that hug the coast of Fuerteventura. It makes for great running as the pathway is mostly traffic free and gives you the chance to view surroundings like this.

Owing to the heat, I had to get out and run early in the day – I would try to be out by 7.45 and even then the temperature was in the 20’s, leave it any later and it starts nudging 30 degrees. My first few runs were tentative – a 2.5km the first day and a 3.5km the second. From then on, I was doing 5km each morning and trying to mix up my routes and running surfaces as my confidence grew.

So, how did the shoes perform? I wasn’t sure how easy I’d find the transition back from VFF’s (which I had been running in exclusively for Juneathon) into a more traditional running shoe. The Kinvara 2 is from Saucony’s Minimalist range so aims to give a less cushioned, more responsive feel than a regular running shoe. I was surprised at how much I could feel through the soles of the shoes – the surface is felt beneath the sole but all the extremes are smoothed out. This was perfect for me as I was wary of jarring my foot. The shoe is very light and flexible and makes running feel smooth and easy. The heel to toe ratio is only 4mm which meant that the “barefoot” runing style that I had been working on worked perfectly, allowing for a fore/mid foot strike. I find traditional running shoes, with their built up heel actually encourage heel striking as the heel is so large that it is very difficult to run without the heel being the first thing that strikes the floor. Over the course of the 2 weeks, I ran in the Kinvara’s 11 times, over a variety of surfaces (pavement, tarmac, sand, gravel, volcanic rock) and found them to be great – light and responsive enough to feel the ground beneath but cushioned enough to confidently be able to run over more testing surfaces.
Once I arrived home, I was keen to get out onto my regular 10km route and see how the shoes fared and they did not disappoint – pavement, grass, towpath, gravel were all tried and tested. And another thing, these are the first pair of running shoes that I have used that have not given me any blisters in the first few outings.
And now the dilemma… What could be improved? Surely the whole point of a review is to give you both sides of the story. A balanced account detailing the pros and cons. I wracked my brains on the flight home trying to think of things that needed improvement, design tweaks that would make the shoe better… and the only criticism I could come up with was that there appears to be an extra lace hole at the top of the shoe that seems needless – unless you have the worlds skinniest ankles I can see no need for it. And that’s the only thing I could find. Without wishing to slip into embarrassing hyperbole, these are probably the best running shoes I have ever tried – immediately comfortable, light and well designed incorporating everything that makes a good running shoe with no gimmicks or unnecessary flourishes. Simply great.


slight return

It’s been another quiet few weeks for me… the niggling injury seems to be slowly healing but I have had to be sensible and forego any running activity and write off participation in both the Cranleigh 10k and the Bearbrook 10k. Ah well, I shall just have to postpone them and tackle them next year instead.
I haven’t been totally inert over the past 8 weeks and last week I participated in the Suffolk Coast Bike Ride.
Start time was flexible at “any time between 8am and 10am” which was great, particularly as I had a 2 hour drive to get to the event, which meant getting up at 5am to be on the road by 6am. Thankfully, I had been sent a sample of Orbana Healthy Energy Drink to try and so I put it through it’s paces during the drive there and on the first part of the ride. I had heard lots of good things about Orbana so was interested to try it for myself. It comes in a sachet as a powder and just needs to be mixed with water. Ordinarilly, I find it hard to quantify whether a particular product works… not the case this time as I know FOR A FACT, that I would normally feel wretched and half-dead having to get up at 5am after about 4 hours sleep and then drive for 2 hours. Once I’d managed to drag myself from my bed, I found that the Orbana gives you a sense of well being without any of the side effects associated with some highly caffeinated energy drinks. It also tastes good – often many sports drinks are syrupy-sweet which I find too sickly if I drink them for a period of time. Orbana tastes more like diluted fruit juice and kept me feeling positively spritely until at least a couple of hours into the ride, so a big thumbs-up!
The ride itself is a chilled, well organised and enjoyable affair – you can choose the short (30 mile) or the long (60mile) route, the route is through tranquil Suffolk countryside with very little traffic. There are a few short stretches along main roads but mostly it’s on gently undulating country roads and is both well marked and marshalled. Marshalling is friendly, as are the other participants and the whole thing is very civilsed and enjoyable. The route touches the coast at two points and it is nice to get to see the sea before heading back into the Suffolk countryside. We chose the 60 mile route, set off at 9am and were finished by about 2.30pm. This included a leisurely stop for lunch and a not so enjoyable stop to fix a puncture in my front tyre.
So with the year’s cycling events out of the way, I can convert the bike back to fixed gear and use it purely for fun. As for the running, I am hoping to recommence over the next couple of weeks as I am away on holiday and shall try to get out for a few, short early morning runs to see how well the foot has healed. I cannot wait…

Soundtrack to this post: Horace Andy – Do You Love My Music


voltz energy shot – review

After a hideous R*d B*ll experience many years ago, I’ve tended to steer clear of “energy drinks” unless absolutely necessary. Late night drives home when sensible people are all in bed or 13hr excursions along dull stretches of European motorway have been my only recent usage. So I was intrigued to see what the Voltz Energy Shots were like.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my love for coffee… I am a terrible coffee snob and as a by product of that, a massive fan of caffeine. But coffee is not always easy to come by before a run. Which is where Voltz Energy Shots excel. A tiny little 60ml bottle containing a shot with vitamins, minerals AND caffeine. Small enough, certainly, to fit in a small bag or even a pocket and easy to carry around and drink before any run.

They come in 2 flavours: Berry is the least appetising of the two with a distinctly medicinal taste. The citrus flavour is far more palatable and will have a strange resonance for runners of a certain age as they taste exactly like Refreshers. Just imagine grinding up a few Refreshers and dissolving them in water and you’re not far off. And, looking at the nutritional info on the bottle, each shot contains only 3 calories, which by my calculation is less than a single espresso with a teaspoon of sugar.
And they work too. I have experimented with them under carefully controlled laboratory conditions and can confirm… actually no, they weren’t carefully controlled or laboratory conditions. I have used them before a few runs, and prior to the Grim Beast In The East and Wheathampstead 10k and also whilst struggling to stay awake whilst slaving over a 45 page Powerpoint presentation I had to reluctantly write. The results are fairly subtle but noticeable. You feel a little more alert, you have a little more energy. Perhaps I have a higher caffeine tolerance but I found them to last for between an hour and a half and two hours although the blurb says 4 hours is the minimum time between shots.
So I shall keep a few of the little bottles in my car (for those late night drives home) and also be taking a bottle with me on Monday to have before the BUPA 10,000. Because until someone invents a self heating, pre-bottled, pre-sugared single shot of espresso that I can keep at hand before a race, this is the next best alternative.


trion:z dual loop review

I’d been curious about Trion:Z products for a while. After reading testimonials from sports professionals in the press I was intrigued to know if they worked. So when I was contacted and asked if I’d like to test their Dual Loop Bracelet, I jumped at the chance.

Trion:Z Dual Loop Bracelet

“Designed to balance the body’s magnetic and electrical fields, Trion:Z combines the therapeutic properties of magnets and negative ions, bringing you the most powerful complementary health product on the market today”.

Unsure if my body’s magnetic and electrical fields were out of balance, I decided to just wear the Dual Loop Bracelet and see what happened. There are many different colour combinations available on their website, but I went for the plain black version reasoning that it would be the least obtrusive and go nicely with my black running top and black shorts.

The Trion:Z website doesn’t make any claims to improve performance and a search of the internet fails to provide any hard and fast evidence of positive effects of magnetism on the body so I was unsure exactly what to expect. I didn’t feel any different when it was on but then was I supposed to? I got a few compliments about it (“that’s a nice bracelet”) and a few curious questions from those who were familiar with Trion:Z (“ooh is that one of those magnetic ones? So… do they work?”)

So, having now worn it for almost 2 weeks, I can confirm… actually, I still don’t really know what can be attributed to the bracelet and what is just a product of circumstance/luck/training/nice weather. In the past two weeks that I have been wearing it, I have run the Hertford 10k where I got a new pb and I have also shaved another 32 seconds off my 14.7km regular route. Maybe there is an element of “placebo effect” coming into play… who knows? Certainly, the Trion:Z Dual Loop has not had any adverse effect on my performance… it’s just difficult to prove it has any positive effect. Maybe if you’re curious, you should get over to their website, order one and see for yourself.


Product Review – Polaroid Vector 99 Sunglasses

It has been a little while since I’ve posted here. There have been many, many things happening – most of which you will hear about in subsequent posts. That is not to say that I’ve not been running… au contrere, I have run on a number of occasions and I’ve been testing the Polaroid Vector Sunglasses that I got sent a few weeks ago. In order to give a proper judgement, I felt I needed to test them throughout a spectrum of conditions so they have accompanied me on runs and cycles in differing circumstances.

The glasses come with the basic Polaroid “sunglass” lenses and also 2 additional sets of lenses – 1 clear set and one “amber” set for low light conditions. Also supplied is a soft fabric drawstring bag and a rigid glasses case that holds all the components snugly. This hard case is very, very useful if like me you are prone to grabbing all your running gear and throwing it into a bag – if the glasses case ends up at the bottom the bag and the trainers, running gear, Garmin, mp3 player etc. all sit on top, the rigid case ensures that the glasses remain intact.

The glasses themselves are very lightweight: rubber pads at the bridge of the nose ensure they sit comfortably whilst adjustable rubber grips can be positioned along the straight arms of the frame to ensure a snug fit behind the ears. These adjustable grips are actually incredibly useful as they keep the glasses in position close to the face and ensure everything stays put when sweaty. Lenses are easy to change – they simply clip into the channel above the bridge of the nose.

The glasses look very sleek and aerodynamic too… the design is somewhere between The Terminator and The Tokyo Bullet Train and even if glasses are unlikely to actually make me run faster, these would certainly make me look faster. A couple of my excursions were early morning runs and consisted of gloomy, overcast runs, bright sunlight and a combination of light and shadow when running along tree lined country lanes. The Polaroid “sunglass” lenses did a good job keeping the brightness of the sun at bay and increased the contrast of light and dark far more than my usual tinted sunglasses. This was particularly useful when out in the VFF’s as it allowed me to see and avoid small objects (stones, acorns etc.) that I would normally not have noticed until I had landed on them. In lower light conditions the amber tinted lenses again accentuated the light and dark but also made everything appear slightly brighter than normal. I’ve yet to test these out at night under streetlights so will have to plan a few night runs in the near future.
One of the handy things (and I’ve no idea if this is my idea or if this is by design on Polaroids part) but by supplying a soft drawstring bag, I am able to take an additional set of lenses when I go to run. So I would set off with the “amber” lenses as it was overcast and when the sun came out, take the tinted polaroid lenses from the bag, swap them over and continue to run in the sunlight. The changeover takes seconds and, with practice, could probably be done whilst running. The unused lenses then go back in the fabric bag and fit neatly into the small zip pocket in my running shorts.
I like these glasses – they are nicely designed and functional. They stay put even when you are drenched in sweat and pounding down an incline and the lenses are great and easily changed to suit the conditions. I usually wear glasses whilst running and am used to having to reposition them regularly throughout my runs – the nice thing about the Vector 99’s is that I could put them on and then forget they were there.

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Vision Treadmills at Fitness Superstore