Sunday, 23 August 2015

Gimme Some Lovin' - Spencer Davis Group

Sole 'Music'
Song Choice - this 1966 classic provides the great 'Gimme Some Lovin'' lyric, and whilst out running in the rain today it got me thinking about the things that I'm really 'Lovin'' about running right now. I'm loving that I'm running injury-free at 53 with 920 marathons on the clock and a 13th MdS on my 2016 horizon. I put a lot of that down to knowing my body... knowing when to rest and when to train hard and also knowing which running shoes to wear.

I'm very passionate about my running and extremely passionate about what I put on my feet as they are now my livelihood. I'm often called opinionated but I've got hundreds of thousands of miles of running under my belt and I thought I'd share here with you how my shoe opinion has been formulated.

I've been through a lot of pairs of trainers in my 21 years of running (and I mean A LOT) and have learned the hard way what works and what doesn't. And before you shout, 'One size doesn't fit all,' you are right BUT I've found a great brand of shoe and it's a good place to start for you too. I've stuck with them for many years now and my motto has always been if it's not broken, don't fix it. 

It started all those years ago when I discovered the further I went the more I liked it. I quickly got to grips with the idea that I needed motion-control shoes for the high mileages I wanted, and needed, to run. 

My way of thinking was that I could use mildly supportive shoes for up to an hour of running, or even up to a marathon at a push. Anything over that and I knew I needed something that was pretty bombproof as I destroyed most shoes without a medial post when I ran more than 26.2 miles in one go. A combination of ASICS shoes... specifically the original DS trainer and the MC... got me through a lot of my early marathons and some really successful early ULTRAs like the London to Brighton 55 and the Grand Union Canal Race 145.

By 2004, I'd worked my way through a complete a la carte menu of trainers and for my 2,004km run from London to Lisbon for EURO 2004 I'd opted for some Saucony trainers. When I reached Portugal I was blister-free. By this point I was wearing a Grid Stabil on my left foot and a Grid Hurricane on my right to allow for the camber of the road. This was a rather expensive solution, especially since the shoes only managed three or four 50km days at a time, but it worked perfectly.

Then, after a few years away from the MdS, I decided to return in 2006 wearing Saucony off-road trainers and then in 2007/8 wearing ASICS Gel Trabuco's. Both of these options got me through but were far from perfect so I took a chance on the 'clunky-looking' Brooks Adrenalin ASR5. It was modelled on the highly successful road shoe version and it worked brilliantly in the desert because it was slightly wider than the norm and kept the sand out nicely with my home-made glued-on gaiters.

Impressed with the ASR's performance in the desert, I then tried the road shoe version for my training - the Brooks Adrenalin GTS6. It was pretty much love at first wear. It was an easy shoe to get used to. The shoe has undergone years of re-engineering, both technical and cosmetic, the most significant of which has been the development of additional width fittings. The standard fitting is a 'D', the '2E' was introduced a couple of years ago to accommodate the wider-footed runner and more recently has seen the '4E' for all you hobbit-footed runners out there, myself included! 

This trainer was the natural choice for my 28 x 28 mile marathons which I ran in 28 days for the Government's STOPTOBER Media Awareness Campaign in 2013. Running 200 miles a week for four weeks isn't for the feint-hearted and I wanted a shoe that would keep me on the road, injury and blister-free. It did just that and more...

I ran the first few days in the same pair of shoes and, since they were working so well for me, I decided to see just how many days this pair could last. The answer was an awesome 20 days, well maybe 19 as I'd started to feel the shoe support pushing into the inner sides of each-ankle on the 20th day. Nonetheless, I was loathed to change them as they felt like a well-worn pair of slippers after 500 miles on the road. I'd folded down the tongues and tucked them into the laces to stop the dreaded Anterior Compartment Syndrome and the shoe-lace tension was just right across the top of each foot. They were the most perfect shoes ever! The brand new pair on the 21st day felt very weird indeed for the first few miles but safely got me to the end of the 784 mile challenge injury and blister-free. No other shoe would have done that.

Then it dawned on me that I'd never considered using road shoes for the MdS. Sadly, the ASR was never released in a wider fitting, so when the 2E was launched in the road shoe I took the plunge. I'd seen other folk use road shoes out there and they worked for them so I thought... why not?

They needed some work to make them race ready. For starters, the insoles have foot-beds with curved edges - these are the source of many a blister in the desert, particularly if you walk a lot of the race. Secondly, the velcro sewn onto them needed a few flex points to insure that the stitching didn't cause a hot spot on your little toe. But with these minor amendments, they were perfect. I use 'The Shoehealer' in Doncaster for sewing on the velcro and have done for the past six years. I'm sure there are other cobblers out there that provide a similar service, but my advice would be to use them as we direct stacks of people there each year so they are very well-practised!

In 2015, both Sir Ranulph Fiennes and I used the monstrous 4E shoes and both of us were blister-free despite walking almost all of the 156 miles of the race.

Now it all sounds dandy, doesn't it, but don't get me wrong... there are still alterations that I'd like to see made to the GTS. For some reason, the tongue length of the GTS15 4E is now about 1cm shorter than that of the GTS14 2E. I've asked Brooks why and haven't  been enlightened. They have taken a bit of getting used to as they rubbed the top of my foot raw the first few times I used them over 26.2 miles. I'd also suggest that the 4E width is actually more of a 3E as it's only just wider than the old 2E. That said, there's room enough in them to really allow for the well-documented foot spread associated with multi-day races. I go for the same size as I train in for the race, allowing for a thumb width space between my big toe and the end of the shoe when I'm standing up.

Brooks have also improved the forefoot by removing the foot-numbing rubber pad. It's either been softened or updated as my feet feel a lot better than they used to when I'm running day-in-day-out in the same pair. 

A couple of years ago I tried interspersing my runs every five days or so with a softer ride in the Saucony Omni. This is now a far less regular occurrence and a good job as the Omni's are a much narrower fit.

I thought I'd add in a few pics of my shoes so you can see just how much they get hammered both in training and at the MdS. The brand new pair (left) are just awesome and I've been saving them for a lovely Hot Summer Day in Cardiff (a rarity) to break them in on their first run. The MdS pair with the velcro (middle) have done 156 miles in the desert. The rather worn down pair (right) have clocked up 600 miles and are now ready for the great trainer cloud in the sky. The insoles in those you can see have been replaced with flat foot-beds to reduce the abrasion from the insoles I've already written about. A nice man at Profeet in London can make them for you.

For your information, Brooks now also make the Ghost in similar width fittings and I recommend them to lots of people who might not need such a heavy-duty ride as myself but are looking for a good place to start on their MdS Perfect Shoe Hunt. The standard 'D' fitting Cascadia has now been widened to a 2E and I'm looking forward to trying these out in the near future.

I'll be going to the MdS in 2016 in my Adrenalin GTS 4E of course as I know it's my best option and something less to worry about when taking on the World's Toughest Footrace next April. They are 'my choice' and work well both for me and for many of my clients tackling the MdS. Let's face it, have you got 21 years to do your research before then?

I acknowledge they may not be the perfect shoe for everyone, but I would say that they have proven effective time and time again both for me and the vast majority of my clients. Running is my life and I've got a lifetime of running in my legs... coaching is my full time job and I've seen a lot of serious foot problems and injuries that could easily have been avoided by just having better shoes. Shoes which are better suited to running hundreds of miles in training and 156 miles in a week in Morocco.

Brooks Trainers get a LOT of my Lovin' but then I'm really passionate about them and know just how important they are in keeping me pushing on towards that 1000th Marathon and 13th MdS.

Happy and Safe Running Folks.

Rory Coleman - 920 Marathons - 235 Ultras -12 Marathon des Sables
9 Guinness World Records - 21 Years Alcohol Free.

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