Friday 30 November 2012

Drymax Lite Trail Running Socks Review

When running for long distances there are many factors that can make the difference between a relatively comfortable experience, and an agonizing slog with the end nowhere in sight. Amongst the most obvious of these is the state of your feet, and for many people blisters can quickly put an end to what was once a fun experience. Blisters are typically due to a combination of excessive friction and a build up of moisture - two things that are only going to get worse if you are running a 100 miler. On my first 100 mile race last year, I got a hotspot on my forefoot within the first 10 miles and did nothing about it. Running over 90 miles on a gradually worsening blister is not much fun, and by the time I had finished it looked (and felt) pretty bad! However, with the correct choice of footwear it is possible to alleviate the causes of blisters and ensure that you have no excuses but to push on to the finish line!

As the main point of contact with your feet, choosing the right kind of socks can make a huge difference to your comfort while running. A cheap pair of Asda cotton socks might be fine for a quick jog around the block, but they probably won't last you long on the fells. There are several main types available to you, and as usual a lot of it will come down to what works best for you personally. I would love to give the foot-glove socks like Injinji and Wigwam a go (which have individual compartments for each of your little toesie woesies), but I am unfortunately a genetic freak with slightly webbed toes. I am hoping like hell that my daughter is born with Jen's perfect feet instead of my misshapen hooves! My good friend Dan Park has written a great comparison of the two from the point of view of a runner with normal feet here.

Until fairly recently, my sock of choice was the 1000 Mile Fusion sock, a twin layer sock designed in such a way that friction is reduced by allowing the dual layers of the sock to rub against one another. These have worked well for me over the years, but my main issue with them is that they are quite bulky, soak up moisture over long distances, and it is very easy for them to become rucked up inside your shoe which can lead to exactly the problems they purport to solve. These problems are particularly exacerbated on hilly terrain, as I discovered this year at the Lakeland 100.

As I have started to run more, I have found that I prefer to run as unencumbered as possible. With this in mind, I briefly entertained the idea of foregoing socks entirely by running in shoes such as the New Balance Minimus Trail 110s or the Salomon S-Lab Sense (drool...), which are designed with an inner liner to make them comfortable to wear sockless. However, I found that this led to rubbing on my little toe in the MT110s, so decided to look for a relatively minimal sock.

I have heard great things over the years about Drymax socks, but they were only available in the US and seemed to be quite difficult to get hold of. However, when Keith from the Ultramarathon Running Store announced that he was going to begin to stock them, I figured it would be a great time to try something new. Of the vast choice on offer, I decided in the end to go for the Drymax Lite Trail sock, firstly to go with my more minimal sensibilities, but also because I'm a stingy bugger! 

Monday 26 November 2012

Piece of String Fun Run - November 2012

Piece of String

This weekend I took part in the inaugural Piece of String Fun Run (billed as the "world's most pointless race"), a novel idea for a race from the fevered mind of James Adams and co-organised by James Elson of Centurion Running to run in parallel with the Winter 100. The main concept for this race is that when it starts, none of the runners actually know how far they will be running. The race organisers devised 5 routes of different lengths, ranging anywhere from 100 meters to 1,000 miles, and one would be picked at the start of the race. 

To enter, runners were asked to send in photos of themselves looking as miserable as possible, and the organisers picked the 16 most horrific looking. Whilst I don't have any photos of me looking miserable (at least not running-related photos), I had recently performed a toe-nail-ectomy with a pair of pliers (as you do) and documented the process. If you particularly want to see it, just scroll right down to the bottom of the post - my feet have never been my sexiest feature! The starting list is an amazing "who's who" of ultra-endurance athletes, with world record holders, deca Ironman triathletes, cross channel swimmers (there and back again), and... me. James did say that there was one "sacrifical lamb" in the list - I suspect that I know who that was!

The race route was devised in such a way that we would be given a section to run, head off and run it, then either be given the next section or else be congratulated for finishing. The race itself is held in Streatley at the intersection of the Ridgeway and Thames Path National trails, with access to several other nearby trails including the Chiltern Valley Way. This gives plenty of scope for keeping these loops interesting and varied.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

How long is a piece of string?

This time in 3 weeks I will have finished running the inaugural Piece of String Fun Run. Well, I hope so anyway. There is every possibility that I may still be going - who knows! For indeed, this is the concept of the run, and the reason for the otherwise confusing name; we don't know how far it is going to be! There will be multiple potential routes, ranging anywhere from 100 meters to 1000 miles (and beyond?!), one of which will be chosen on the day. We'll be given a section to run. We'll run. We'll return to the start. We'll be given the next section. We'll run. We'll return to the start. You get the picture. And we'll do this until the Race Director lays his hand on our shoulder and tells us "well done, you've finished". Or until we collapse in a heap and wait for the paramedics to rescue our battered corpses. Whichever occurs first I guess.

Well, that answers that question then. Sorted. From
The concept was thought up by the fevered evil minds of James Adams and James Elson. On paper, it doesn't sound so tough. It's in Oxfordshire, so the terrain won't exactly be up to Hardrock standards. We know the start time (despite their best efforts to lose some of us through the use of the ambiguous term "midnight Friday"), so there won't be any of the anticipation waiting for the conch shell to blow at Berkley. But the question is; if we don't know where the end lies, how can we mentally prepare for what's to come? When you inevitably feel like crap at mile 80 in a 100 miler, the fact that you only have 20 miles to go is a great mental boost. So how do you pull yourself out of the funk when you could be running for another 200 miles for all you know? Pacing is right out of the window, so this may end up as the slowest 10k of all time. Or I may be sprinting a 300 miler. The point is, it's going to be a bit of a mindf*ck, and I guess I'm just going to have to see how I get on. My saving grace is that I figure that mind games don't work so well on idiots like me!

But this got me thinking: how far can a person actually run without stopping? By not stopping I mean running with no obvious rests like stopping to sleep, whilst toilet stops, walking breaks and aid station stops are all part of the game and are going to be difficult to avoid. Obviously it is not possible to run forever, but history has certainly shown that we humans can run a really, really long way. From persistence hunting (essentially chasing your prey all day until it can't run any further) of the !Xo San bushmen of the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa and the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, through Pheidippides' running 150 miles from Athens to Sparta to request help against the attacking Persians, to Pam Reed running 300 miles with no sleep in under 80 hours (narrowly pipping Dean Karnazes to the 300 mile record), there are plenty of feats throughout the ages that make "only" running 26.2 miles look like a walk in the park (of course  I'm talking purely distance here - the marathon is a much faster event, but let's not get into that debate here).