Thursday, 20 June 2013

Hokas Pocus?

I've been keeping my ear to the ground about good ultra shoes in preparation for running the Cotswold Way in August. It's mostly trail and some road, and I'm not sure my beloved MudClaws or cheapo road trainers are best suited to it. I've toyed with the idea of Hokas over the last few months, on account of recommendations from other runners who know their onions when it comes to long distance running, but have been hesitant a) because they look ridiculous and b) I'm a wannabe barefoot runner (who, sadly, over-pronates and has weak muscles and inflexible joints, and probably should just give up on the whole running malarkey full stop). 

And then I had one of those impetuous shopping experiences: I'd heard that Hoka's new Rapa Nuis were a bit less maximalist and ridiculous looking. Interest piqued I found that the online shops had all sold out. I'm a sucker for wanting things I can't have, and felt duly aggrieved that these cushiony trail-friendly shoes were unavailable to me. And then I chanced across the information that Tiso had them discounted in store in my size. It was fate. I had to make them mine.

While in Tisos I actually tried on several Hokas and was interested to see that they varied considerably in fit:
  • The Stinson Evos in size 7 were very short in length. I could feel my toes at the very end (even though I'm usually a 6 to 7 in other trainers). The 8s on the other hand felt far too loose. 
  • The ladies' pink and grey Rapa Nuis in 7 were very slightly too narrow for me (I have widish feet). 
  • The men's (unisex!) size 7 Rapa Nuis were perfect, which was a relief as I have an aversion to pink.
They all felt really quite odd as I jogged around the shop. If I stood on tiptoe, I could actually feel the spongy midsole squish into my arch. I wore them around the house and then out and about on the school run etc, and was amazed at how comfy they were. There was absolutely no rubbing from the inners (I tend to need a lengthy "wearing in" process, especially for my knobbly heel bump). A jog along the canal felt excitingly bouncy, and I noticed at the end of the day after hours of standing/walking/jogging my feet weren't feeling tired and achy as they would usually.

And that m'lud is why I made the mind-bogglingly stupid decision to take them out for a long hilly run. Matt and I had planned a day of toddling around Baddinsgill and the rougher southern tail of the Pentlands in our matching His 'n Hers Hokas. (I can't believe I lured him away from his resolute monogamy to his Inov-8s!) He had nevertheless decided to bring his usual shoes as back-up, whereas I, fool that I am, was sure that these fat-soled gutties would be just fine and scoffed at his suggestion to copy him. 

Guns don't kill people, Rapas do...
Within about three minutes of running up Faw Mount, I realised I'd made a bad call. The lumpy grass and tussocks that would pass almost unnoticed underfoot in hill shoes became ankle-wrecking hazards in my platforms. Matt changed into his old faithful Inov-8s and I struggled on hoping (I knew in vain) for smoother tracks further ahead. The strain of balancing on such uneven ground was incredibly taxing on my calves, and by the top of Faw Mount, I realised I was going to have to abandon the plans for the day. Matt redrew a route off the hills towards trail and road, and heroically resisted any tsking or I-told-you-sos. I ran on to Mount Maw in my socks, marvelling at how well-designed our feet (yes, even mine!) are for carrying us over rough terrain. 

Tussocky terrain. Bad...very bad.

Cauldstane Slap and the Roman roads around West Linton and Garvald enabled me to test the Rapa Nuis on about ten miles of gravelly track and road, which I guess is what they're designed for. I was willing them to feel good, so as to avoid facing the possibility that I'd made an expensive mistake, but they really did fare well. Interestingly, they felt more stable than my hill shoes over the large gravel. Where small rocks might cause my foot to seesaw to the side in my Inov-8s, the Hokas just seemed to engulf them in their smooshiness. It felt a bit like running on that springy tarmac you get in playgrounds. 

Gravelly track: bueno!

Descents (albeit gentle ones) felt particularly lovely: I'm a forefoot / midfoot runner usually, but tend towards heel-strking on descents, and it can feel noticeably jarring on hard ground. Not so in the Hokas, as I bounced and glided down. However, I'm dubious about the ascents. The blurb about Hokas says something about them encouraging a "rocker motion", and I'm not sure this is a good thing for me. It feels like my foot is held in one position, and not allowed to flex properly. I think I must be very forefooted in my ascents, running / walking almost on tiptoe, and the Rapa Nuis seem to hamper this. It feels like I'm missing out on the final springy take-off bit of my stride, and I'm concerned that it might lead to bad running form / less muscle strength if I were to train in them frequently. Any technical terrain which required nimble footwork also felt like hard work, but I think this might be a case of getting used to the out-sized sole. The shoes themselves are quite light, so perhaps I just need to get acclimatised to running with "bigger feet"?

And the day after? Well, surprisingly good considering I ran 16 miles with at least 10 of them being on hard track. I'd expect my knees to be a bit achy, but they seem fine. And no blisters, which I think is quite remarkable!

So, the verdict is out for me on the Rapa Nuis. I'll persevere with them on trail / road runs for a bit, and if they don't work out I can always keep them in reserve for Shawaddywaddy fancy dress emergencies.
They let him out for the day.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Dodging the Law

Through a series of cunning manouevres I managed to wangle my way out of racing at Traprain yesterday, although being appointed in sole charge of the wains, it was not an unmitigated victory. As far as family-friendly race events goes, it was perfect. The East Linton Gala day offered more bouncy castles than you can shake an (unsharpened) stick at, plus Luca's ice cream vans, and a great playground next to the final uphill sprint to the finish line...ideal for spectating/supporting while the urchins played.
Stewart and Cali
It's Trapraining Men!

 I felt very smug as the runners clustered near the start line. It really was Far Too Hot for running. In fact anything above midwinter Siberian levels tends to make me wilt. Luckily it was Just Right for ice cream eating, and as the runners sprinted at ungodly speeds towards nettles, rivers and a big nobbly hill, I made my way with equal haste to the Luca's van. Strawberry cones all round.

The least exciting ride.
I have a pet human on my shoulder.
 After some bouncy-castling and mini-train riding (the latter being a rather anti-climactic 20 second chug along the grass on what looked liked an oversized roller skate), we went to loiter near the finish. It was very exciting seeing everyone come in. Stewart Whitlie sprinted back in first, looking as fresh as he had on the way out, with second and third men hot on his heels. I was greatly impressed to see how many runners put on a final burst of speed on that last uphill drag. How do they have the energy? I can barely drag myself over the line at most races. Anyway, it made for some dramatic finishes, and I enjoyed trying to capture them on camera.

Stewart Whitlie - 1st Male

Peter Buchanan - 1st Super Vet

Jill Mykura - First Lady

Bob. Whoa there, boy.
Fionna flying...literally?

And then the stripper arrived.

Bill Gauld.

Cali looking far too cheerful.
I waited for Matthew to come in....and waited....and waited...and saw Matt Grove and thought aha! He'll be along soon! And waited...And began to worry as at least three quarters of the field had finished. Fionna (who, incidentally, had put on a truly formidable sprint at the end) came and relieved my angst by telling me that Matt had stopped to help another runner who was suffering from exhaustion in the heat. Gallant though this may seem, I reckon he saw it as an opportunity to stop running and wallow near the river for a bit. And who can blame him! The poorly runner recovered well, by the way.

Here he comes at last!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Yetholm Hill Race

With excellent weather forecast for today, we decided to descend upon Yetholm en famille. Matt decided to take the kids to see the Stob Stanes (towards the end of the route) while I trotted round the anticlockwise 7.7 mile circuit. 

We got there early, and between the five of us made extensive use of the non-flushing Portaloos. It was already pretty warm and I fretted a little over how much water to carry. In the end I packed about 200ml, just to tide me over. Despite the huge turnout (300+ I reckon), registration and kit checks were very efficiently managed. Strict rules were enforced, as one might expect from a race associated with BSARU, and they confirmed that I had to carry my bulky, heavy (not to mention fugly) full body cover. 

I prattled anxiously at Euan Boyd and Bill Gauld as the start-line jostling began. Having strained my left quad during a high octane ping pong match the night before, I was happy to loiter at the back and so was Euan (but then he would be, because he is fast and probably enjoys the extra challenge of nipping past people). The actual start was so low-key this time that I didn't actually hear it, but just noticed the herd shuffling forwards. Within seconds we were ascending Staerough Hill which seemed like a very good excuse to knock the running on the head for a bit.

 Gritty determination. 

I'd expected the terrain to be similar to sections of the Morebattle Monster which I ran last year: gentle grassy undulations. It didn't seem quite as forgiving as that. The hills were a bit punchier and the ground was a bit rougher. It might be that what seems gentle at 20 mile race pace is lost in translation at 8ish mile race pace. I fell in with a couple of Todmorden runners and we oscillated along Sunnyside Hill (it was very sunny!) and Wildgoose Hill (no wild geese to be seen). By Latchly Hill I was feeling pretty hot and tired. It occurred to me that suncream and maybe a parasol might have been more worth lugging around than my full body cover.

Nearing the summit, I looked for the trail of runners snaking ahead of me, but couldn't see any. Maybe we'd been given a reprieve?? Perhaps the next hill had been cancelled?? Perhaps I'd just miscounted the hills so far and was ahead of myself?? Hopes were dashed at I crested the summit, and saw a plunging descent and teeny weeny figures climbing The Curr. Mr and Mrs Todmorden overtook me as I wibbled down to the sheepfold, and JBF zoomed past me at the boggy base of the hill.

 The Curr is not the most lovable of hills. It's steep and a bit foliagey in places and goes on and on and on. Knowing that  this was likely to be the toughest bit, I just wanted to get it over with, so dug in and puffed and grumbled my way up, overtaking a few folk on the way. I treated myself to a few swigs of water, relieving my uncomfortably arid mouth. The first section of descent was disappointingly chopped up and squishy, which was unkind on the tired legs. However, Stear Rig was just lovely: a gorgeous, gently descending, smooth-turfed ridge. Catching up with JBF, he told me "It's just a fast run back now." Fast...hmmm. I tried to cock an eyebrow, but all energy was diverted leg-wards. 

Meanwhile on t'other side of the valley...

Stob Stanes

Multipurpose stone: waymarker, gypsy queen altar and chillaxing point.

 As the sun shone and a gentle breeze cooled me, I ran with gay abandon, taking in the miles and miles of Borders beauty, until  Oh NO! Serious quad pain. I think I must have just lengthened my stride a bit too enthusiastically, so tried to curtail left-handed stride length. It occurred to me that this asymmetry might result in me running in ever decreasing circles. I was really quite worried about it though as the muscle continued to stiffen over the course of about a mile. Walking back to the finish was a bleak prospect. 

"Luckily" I'd forgotten about a final ascent up White Law. My heart sank a bit at the prospect of this final inoccuous hill, but it seemed that a change from back and forward motion to uppy-downy stepping limbered up my unhappy muscle. Trundling off White Law, I decided to risk picking up a bit of pace, particularly as this was where I anticipated family spectating. I had to stride past my wains in a glorious fashion. No sign of them on the hillside. Perhaps they were at the finish line. They weren't. It transpired over post-race chat that they had waved and cheered the fast people, then GOT BORED WAITING FOR THEIR OWN MOTHER and gone to look at the stones. FGS.

Family relations were reconciled over Cadbury's popcorn chocolate (a strange yet beguiling creation) and paddling in Halter Burn. We spent so long footling around that we missed the prize-giving, and headed back to Edinburgh singing Honky Tonk Women, to the palpable disapproval of the children. Revenge is a dish best served loudly.

Euan and Lindsay


"We weren't there to cheer you because...[insert excuse here]"

Sock removal.

Astonishingly, this didn't end as you might expect.