Growing up, I had my fair share of heroes that I worshipped to varying degrees. Top of the list was Spiderman, but not far behind was the Olympic 800m champion Steve Ovett.
While I might kid myself that I can remember that epic victory in Moscow, where a ‘physical’ Ovett ran away from the world record holder Sebastian Coe, the reality is that my nine-year-old self has very little recollection of the events from 1980, a knowledge that has since been supplanted with frequent visits to youtube and repeats of any number of programmes documenting the event.
I used to have a book that Steve Ovett had signed (it’s since been confined to the annals of history, otherwise known as the bin). My ever-vigilant father spotted the middle distance supremo at Crawley athletics track doing a workout and – once Ovett had finished – asked for an autograph which he duly obliged. A few years later, Seb Coe did a book signing in my town, so I got him to sign next to his nemesis, an act that raised a few eyebrows (and dare I say a few pounds on ebay if I had been fortunate enough to keep the now-crumbling tome).
I was reminded of these events the other day during a conversation about today’s running heroes. Asked who I most admired, I struggled to come up with one name, let alone an exhaustive list. While I could reel off luminaries like Steve Prefontaine, Dave Bedford, Steve Jones, Ron Hill, Said Aouita and Emil Zatopek as ‘heroes’, from today’s leading talents, I would be hard-pressed to name anyone who could be close to a hero.
Where are the colourful characters of yesteryear, the mavericks who would make us smile or cheer with their antics and running prowess? Where’s the next Dave Bedford, all flowing hair and handlebar moustache, front running to a world 10,000m record? Where’s the next Steve Ovett, losing a race to John Treacy on the line because he’d had the gall to wave to the crowd with 100m left to go of his 5,000m race? Where’s the next Emil Zatopek who entered – and won – the Olympic marathon simply because he wanted to give it a go?
While I can stand and admire the talents of Mo Farah and Wilson Kipsang, fantastic runners that they are, could they ever be my ‘hero’. Sadly, the truth is no. God-given their talent may be, but charismatic? I don’t think so. Steve Prefontaine famously said “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.” I can’t imagine today’s runners coming up with something so pertinent – or heroic!
If you’re planning on running an ultra-marathon this summer – whether in the mountains or in the UK – then ski touring is a popular choice for winter training.
Kilian Jornet uses extensive ski touring to build his endurance base during the off-season and trail runners have increasingly taken to this great form of cross training.
Using ‘skins’ to ski uphill
Ski touring – also known as Ski Mountaineering – is simply uphill skiing, made possible by attaching ‘skins’ to the base of your skis. The skins are man-made with synthetic fibres but are modelled on the original seal skins and allow the ski to pass over the snow smoothly in one direction, but grip firmly in the other.
You can hire touring skis and boots from most hire shops in the Alps. If you’re on holiday many shops will let you trade in your regular skis for a day and try touring.
And if you happen to be on a ski holiday, but missing your local park run or the need to get competitive and race, then many resorts hold races, giving you a chance to test your lungs at altitude.
I recently took part in the Millet Ski Touring Race, which takes place weekly in Courchevel in the French Alps.
They say you learn from your mistakes, so with that in mind, here are my ‘7 Tips for your First Ski Touring Race’:
Treat your ski touring race with more respect than any normal running race. You need to leave enough time to get your kit ready, go to the loo, get to the start, warm up and get in the start gate.
If you’ve only just picked up your skis from the hire shop and like me, don’t have a lot of ski touring experience, then I strongly recommend you put your skins on your skis beforehand.
It can be tricky peeling the protective cover off the sticky side of the skin and you have to make sure they are a tight fit on the bottom of your ski or they will come off once you start touring.
Although some touring skis have hybrid bindings that will fit a normal ski boot, touring-specific ski bindings have two pins that clip into your touring boots. It can take a bit of practice to master this slightly different skill.
Even more importantly you then need to put the bindings and boots into ‘Walk’ mode. This means your heel will be free, allowing you to climb easily. On the way back down, you can set them into ‘Ski’ mode so your foot is held firm in the binding.
Some races can be mass starts, but most races send skiers off at 15 or 30-second intervals. Make sure you know the start process for your race, as racers tend to be seeded with the most inexperienced starting first.
If you miss your slot, it can be a depressing start as all the fastest racers will over-take you before you’ve even got round the first corner (and yes, this happened to me!)
It can be difficult knowing what to wear when the air temperature is less then zero, yet you’re going to be working hard. Your regular ski jacket and pants are not the right choice for this type of event. Instead choose warm, breathable and wickable layers, with a Buff instead of a woolly hat.
All ski touring races are point-to-point from the bottom of a hill to the top, so if you don’t have a support team who can meet you at the finish, then you’ll need a backpack with warmer kit to ski down in. Many races organise a bag drop so you can collect it at the top when you’ve finished.
It’s worth getting a feel for what you’re going to have to go through before you start. Is the course a steady, even ascent or are there super-steep sections?
For the latter, most ski bindings have different heel settings to make it easier for you when the gradient hits its peak. Make sure you know how to activate them before you start and you’ll find it much easier.
A classic beginner’s mistake is to ‘walk’ your way up the mountain. Instead you want to keep your skis in contact with the snow the whole time and ‘slide’ your way up the mountain.
Depending on your mobility and how fast you want to finish, you’ll probably be better focusing on smaller movements and maintaining a good rhythm.
Best of luck wherever you do your first ski touring race. The course record in Courchevel is held by Kilian Jornet at 23m36s. I clocked in at over fifty minutes, so I guess I’ll be chasing Kilian for a while yet!
See you on the mountain.
Arko Højholt reports from the Inferno Half Marathon
There’s a certain smell in the air. Part mountain scent, part minty massage gel, and part well-worn running shoes. Perhaps a hint of natural nervousness as well. It’s an hour before race start and the runners are mingling in the registration area at the Jungfrau campsite in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Four-hundred and twenty people are signed up for what is considered to one of the toughest running events in Europe, the Inferno Half Marathon. The distance is what it is, the handful of runners I chat with this morning aren’t worried about that. No, the intimidating part is the 2,175 metres of grueling climb to the finish on top of Schilthorn in the western Alps.
Jump to it
At 10.15 the starting pistol echoes in the valley and the runners are off. They quickly pass through the small and quaint village of Lauterbrunnen, where the locals are cheering them on with “Hop! Hop! Hop!” and “Schnell, schnell,” and then the runners suddenly find themselves in the hairpin turns leading the 11 kilometres and approximately 800 vertical metres up to the village of Mürren. This is considered the easy part, “merely a warm-up” as the organisers put it, and I suppose that wouldn’t offend any one the participants, even though a few show vague signs of regret when reaching Mürren. After all, the climb isn’t too drastic and they have smooth tarmac under their feet. For now.
Mürren is the halfway point, both physically and mentally. Mürren is the end of sweet and cool tarmac and the beginning of the steeper section of rough trails. It is in this little village balancing on the edge of a relatively narrow plateaux that many are wiping off their smiles and putting on their most serious stone faces.
Still, it’s hard not to smile while passing through the village. The locals here are cheering even harder than the folks down in the valley — and the view is simply fantastic. Across the valley mountains like Gletscherhorn, Nesthorn, and not least the monumental Jungfrau paints a beautiful picture that, I assume, never will be taken down from the runner’s memories. It’s quite the paradox that something called Inferno takes place in what most people would describe as a true paradise.
These people are crazy
“You’re looking strong! Just up the hill from here! It’s easy!” a young man is shouting in German. He’s leaning against a souvenir shop, sipping from a can of beer.
“Easy?” I ask him. “Why aren’t you running it then?”
He holds up his beer can with a telling smile.
“I actually ran it a few years ago. It’s not easy at all. In fact, I thought I was going to die,” he admits before he nods in the direction of the runners and concludes: “These people are crazy, trust me”.
I don’t know about that. Perhaps a little bit. I guess you’d have to be to put on your shoes and run up a mountain. Sure, there are people like Kilian Jornet who run much further in their respective mountains. But all is relative; my kilometres doesn’t necessarily feel like your kilometres. And the neat thing about a half marathon distance is that it caters to a lot more people — in this case to both big boys and girls and people who could easily be their grandparents. Or the four soldiers who’re doing this years run in uniform, solid boots, and with a heavy bag pack.
The faceless man
“How are you doing?” I ask a guy shuffling up the steep path behind Mürren. His calves quivers noticeably and his face looks like it’s about to slide off his skull.
“Hng,” is all he mutters while staring at me like I’m an unknown creature from an uncharted region of the universe.
A few minutes later another fella comes around the corner. He must be at least a decade or two older than the other guy, but his pace looks like it hasn’t slowed since the bottom of the valley. I’m about to ask how he is doing but instead he asks me with a grin. I nod and smile and tell him to keep it up — and that there are less than seven kilometres to go.
“Ja, fast da,” he laughs. Almost there. And then, with his eyes fixed on Schilthorn, he overtakes the first, soon-to-be faceless guy.
Soon after we’re above the treeline. Grass and bushes are replaced by porous brownish grey rock. Naked mountain. On top of Schilthorn balances Piz Gloria, the panoramic revolving restaurant where James Bond fought Ernst Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It still looks a bit like an evil lair, not least because of the heavy enveloping clouds, but there doesn’t appear to be any bad guys around anymore.
I place myself on the narrow ridge leading up to the finish line. It’s eerily quiet and I can’t see more than 20 meters or so ahead. I feel utterly alone up here. But suddenly something emerges in all the white. A guy wearing a red t-shirt and bright green shoes. Number 1204, Jonas Lehmann from Germany. He’s the first and unless someone uses a Bond-gadget, will win it. The final 500 meters are pure evil, even for someone who hasn’t run 20 something kilometres to get here, and obviously Jonas feels the same way. He slows down, bends over, uses his arms to climb in the worst places and eventually crosses the line in 2:04:47.
The Inferno ½-Marathon takes place on Saturday August 17 2019. Register from March 3 2019 at: www.inferno.ch/en/Events/Half-Marathon-Relay-Race – entry fee CHF60 per person (CHF80 on the day) includes pasta party, memento T-shirt, massage and clothes transport. Cash prizes range from CHF 100-600 depending on category. Arrival in advance to acclimatise to the altitude is strongly recommended. For lift passes, visit Schilthorn Cableway Ltd. (www.schilthorn.ch)
Stay in car-free Mürren, the highest resort and village in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland. Accommodation to suit all budgets (self-catering chalets to 4 star hotels) available at www.muerren.swiss
Getting there: Fly to Geneva, Zurich or Bern and transfer by rail to Murren BLM for details contact: www.myswitzerland.com
Since 2009, in Andorra during the month of July and under the full moon light, more than 3,000 runners from 70 countries have taken part in one of the five races of the Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord. It’s an epic event and one that allows you to discover a country full of mountains and exceptional landscapes.
This year Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord celebrates its 11th edition and from July 16 to 21 the village of Ordino will tremble with the start of each of the races.
You can choose between five different distances that pass through all types of terrain, from the highest peaks, to mineral areas, high mountain meadows, ridges, forests, glacier ponds, technical sections … sign up for the one that best suits you and find your limits!
Eufòria (233km i 20.000m+)
This is the biggest and longest race which is run in semi-autonomous pairs. A perfect race to share with someone special where you’ll have to be united and help each other at every kilometre.
Ronda dels cims (170km i 13.500m+)
This is the stellar event, a giant route around the whole Principality of Andorra, passing across 16 peaks and passes at altitudes above 2,400m and including a visit to its highest point, Comapedrosa at an altitude of 2,942 metres, touching on the border.
Mític (112km i 9.700m+)
Starting at night under the moonlight – a truly spectacular thing – this race takes in crests with spectacular panoramic views.
Celestrail (83km i 5.000m+)
A classic 50-mile race, this is very special because it sets off at midnight lit by the full moon and the runners’ headlamps. A magic moment!
Marató dels cims (42,5km i 3.000m+)
A dream trial featuring magnificent scenery with spectacular views, a discovery of our Valls del Nord (Northern Valleys).
Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord also organises two solidarity and inclusive popular walks, the Solidaritrail (10 km) and the Tamarro (2.5 km). Each participant can make a donation when registering to benefit one of the three NGOs with whom the event collaborates: Acció Solidaria i Logística (ASL), Cooperand and the Association of People with Autism of Andorra (AUTEA). In addition, the organisation will also donate €4 for each finisher to help other NGOs that organise Solidaritrails (at the same time as in Andorra) for people in socio-economic or health difficulties.
Solidarity, effort and companionship are the pillars of this event of more than 10 years of history, where runners from more than 70 countries take part in any of the races. Come and discover the country of the Pyrenees with the Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord!
SportsInjuryFix.com member Tim Veysey-Smith is a specialist Sports Podiatrist who runs Active Podiatry in Kent. Here he discusses the importance of the toes in stable running
We don’t pay much attention to our toes, unless its playing ‘this little piggy’ games with the kids, or if they make contact with a piece of furniture in the dark! However, our toes play an important role in stabilising our foot against the ground, contributing to a stable base of support for pushing off from the ground when running and walking.
Weakness of the toe flexors can lead to instability and overload in key structures of the foot, contributing to painful foot conditions such as Plantar Fasciitis. This can also lead to an imbalance between the toe flexors and the toe extensor tendons on the top of the foot, with the toe extensors becoming dominant, pulling the toes up into a hammer toe deformity. Instability at foot level means that the muscles above the foot around the knee and hip have to work harder to compensate for the instability. This can increase the risk of overload in those structures and, as these muscle groups are having to work harder, this can have an overall negative effect on running economy.
The muscles of the foot that control the toes can be thought of as the ‘core stability’ muscles of the foot, and some simple home-based exercises can build core strength in the foot and increase stability, reducing the risk of fatigue and overload to the other structures of the foot and lower limb. Try these 3 ‘foot gym’ exercises to give those tiny muscles a good workout.
1) Short foot exercise
With your foot in a neutral position on the floor, push your toes into the ground, slightly raising the arch and ‘shortening’ the foot. As a progression, try to push down just with the big toe, targeting the large abductor muscle which runs along the inside of the arch.
2) Toe crunches
Place your feet on a small towel and attempt to scrunch the towel up under your feet. Do this several times until you get a mild cramping sensation in the bottom of your foot.
3) Isometric toe holds
Bend your toes up slightly against an immovable object such as a wall and push against it for 3-5 seconds, contracting the toe flexors isometrically. Repeat 10-15 times in 3 sets.
Prevention is better than cure and giving attention to these tiny but important muscles in your foot that control the toes as part of your runners workout will increase stability, contribute to improvements in running economy, help you recover from foot pain and decrease your risk of injury in the future.
Seek further advice on improving toe strength and stability via your nearest running specialist therapist at SportsInjuryFix.com
It’s time to get connected in the running world, and in the case of the HOVR Infinite from Under Armour that means digitally tuning-in to a high-tech shoe with embedded sensors which enable you to track your pace, distance, duration and speed. These veritable Bobby Dazzlers do catch the eye and despite a bulky appearance – the sole has the thickness of what our Rock ’n’ Roll-loving forefathers called ‘Brothel Creepers’ – they’re actually comfortably lightweight and well cushioned without feeling clunk
That doorstep depth of the base and the ‘Infinite’ title emphasise the fact that this edition of the HOVR range is a shoe built for the long haul. As such I took it for a few endurance sessions along the Thames towpath to test the feel and try out the techie fixtures and fittings.
But the relatively mild winter conditions to date mean it’s hard to say for sure how the breathable mesh upper will perform in the wet.
The USP of this UA shoe lies deep within – and that component has its Pros and Cons. An accelerometer (movement sensor) in the shape of a 30g transmitter the size of a 10 pence piece is fitted in the midsole of the right shoe. The data it records is beamed, via Bluetooth, to the MapMyRun app. (But not to STRAVA – which is one of several down-sides to this otherwise adventurous and innovative product.)
These shoes will also only ‘talk’ to the map app when it’s on a smartphone – though plans are reportedly afoot to eventually sync it with Garmin and Apple watches.
Those who can tune-in to this future of footwear will reap the rewards of a shoe that records and stores running metrics as well as giving feedback on cadence and stride-length via real-time readouts. The sensor battery lasts as long as the shoe and – according to the makers – isn’t affected by pounding through puddles.
On the plus side, syncing the shoe with MapMyRun takes mere moments and the range of HOVR tech on offer includes a lighter Velociti version for speed and tempo runs.
Under Armour is certainly breaking new ground with the technology these shoes employ. But one’s own sensors are picking up on the fact that there are technical restrictions and consumer choices in apps and hardware that’s counting against them.
• Underarmour.co.uk, £120
MR talks to SKINS expert Nick Morgan about the benefits of compression clothing and just why runners should be wearing it
How has technology moved on in compression wear?
Fabric properties continue to improve in terms of quality, durability, stretch-recovery, whilst additional thermoregulatory properties added to the fabrics have also moved on. Integration of wearable technology is slowly looking at compression as a vehicle or partner and some garments have looked at sensors that might help measure physiological variables related to performance. How practical these garments are remains to be seen. Perhaps the most interesting technology is the integration of different fabrics linked to strapping and therefore creating more injury prevention products and/or more “stability” (exo-skeleton) related products. Ultimately, all of this is exciting but perhaps one of the most important aspects of any compression garment is quality of fit – if it doesn’t fit it doesn’t work and therefore all of this “new” stuff brings complexity to design and in doing so it is paramount that manufacturers continue to do the basics right in level of compression, and quality of compression over time.
Has this changed the key benefits? And what are these?
Not really, or certainly not beyond the evolution of compression from traditional blood flow related benefits to more support, structure, stability, proprioception. Compression has always been known to influence these variables but they are perhaps more interesting to more (or new) exercisers given the types of exercise they do or maybe even more specifically, their “goals”. For example, many people are new to exercise, or returning, or only exercise a few times a week so feel like they need extra support and stability – so the benefits are more about continuing to exercise, supporting exercise than truly “performance” (lower PB). I think as compression improves its relevance, structure and support is more relevant
Is compression wear pre, during or post exercise? Where would runners feel the most benefit?
It supports all three, such as helping to support a good quality warm up and skin temp before, energy expenditure, stability and rate of blood flow during, plus reduced DOMS and markers of damage post. Realistically most people don’t buy three garments, nor hygiene wise would they wear throughout the whole process, or maybe not after. The majority of research is actually in recovery and perhaps where many will say the strongest benefits are. But there is good evidence to wear during and if you include the psycho-physiological benefits, “during” would be the primary time point.
In a nutshell, what’s the theory behind the science?
There is a number of key papers that discuss blood flow and more recently reduction of energy expenditure. There are, of course, papers that don’t find a response but very few if any that report anything negative. The force applied to the skin/muscle by compression though is key for support, structure and stability and the influence on proprioception can be quite profound, so that is quite strong. The difficulty is not necessarily in the benefit, but the long-term consistency in the research in terms of the breadth of end variables measured, the different subject groups and the variation in garments used and pressures applied. Compression has good evidence but it needs to be credibly communicated to ensure that the best evidence is well reflected.
How can compression evolve? What are manufacturers looking at in terms of future proofing garments?
I think there remains more work to be done on education so more people appreciate the role they can play. I think integrated strapping is interesting, whilst more choice of fabrics lends itself to more distinct products for different environments or physical demands. I also think there is a huge occupational need for compression and there is more research evolving in this area. Running specifically, I believe more people just need more opportunities to try compression to appreciate the support it provides. Most of us (me included) love to exercise (run) and want to keep doing it without the frustration of niggles. This is where I benefit most and believe many more people can so should it be niche or elitest – on the contrary, it has probably more impact on the non-elite but these are the exercisers perhaps most cynical
Runners are a cynical breed – what’s the elevator pitch that will get them to change their minds on compression wear?
Good question – I’m the scientist not the copywriter, but if we could better communicate the benefits to injury, support, running efficiency rather than just “performance” it would help. Whilst runners love to talk “times” not many are necessarily trying to shave of seconds. The benefits of compression are important to those with prior injuries, current injuries or even the paranoia of running.
At Men’s Running, we’ve become somewhat of a headphones snob. That’s partly because we love running to music, and partly because we just love music. This makes headphones something of a key purchase.
The sports Bluetooth headphones market is a competitive space with brands like Bose and Sennheiser all producing quality products. But, at the top of the tree for us, is Jabra – and when the brand asked us to test its new Elite Active 65t wireless earbuds, we jumped at the chance.
Jabra’s research shows that the daily usage of headphones by frequent users focuses on calls (58% of users each day), music (53%) and voice control (35%). The Elite franchise is designed to meet the needs of these users who want great sound quality while listening to music and voice quality when making calls.
In addition to excellent sound quality, the 65t is packed full of nifty features. It includes one-touch access to Siri®, and Google Now™, new integration for Amazon Alexa on-the-go and has up to 15 hours of battery life (with cradle).
The earbuds have enhanced grip, through special coating, integrated accelerometer for tracking features and IP56 sweat, water and dust certification.
This is what our tester thought:
Out of the box
Initial impressions that they were a bit bulkier than expected. However, once on, they fitted perfectly inside the ear.
Truly excellent. The sound quality is brilliant but, at the same time, you don’t feel that they block out ambient noise, which is important when you’re running.
Used for a mix of running, gym workouts and general walking. Really liked the fact that they are intuitive to the extent that they control music or programmes (when connected to an iPad) when you put the bud back in to the ear.
They charge within the unit and automatically disconnect when you put them back which means don’t have to keep connecting – or accidentally leave them on. Almost always connect to multiple devices within a few seconds.
A great set of headphones that deservedly gets our Editor’s Choice badge of approval.
Find out more about the new Jabra Elite family at: www.jabra.com/elite
SportsinjuryFix.com Clinical Director Mike James, an endurance specialist Physiotherapist from South Wales, provides advice on calf pain in runners
The calf complex is composed of the plantaris, soleus, and gastrocnemius muscles and injuries to these structures are very common in runners. Although calf pain after acute muscle strain injury is expected and needs to be managed via a specific rehabilitation regime, runners often complain of calf soreness and fatigue without history of trauma to the area. In these cases, the crucial factor is identifying the cause and addressing it.
Non-traumatic calf pain tends to present in a particular pattern – pain onset when running that gradually increases or worsens as the run progresses. This often brings a feeling of tightness and fatigue within the calf and can cause the runner to stop. Post run, the runner often remains with the feeling of tightness for a day or so. Generally, when not running symptoms disappear.
There are many potential causes for this including neural and vascular mechanisms. However, I commonly find that clinical testing only reveals a fatigued and /or weak calf complex. Each muscle has its capacity of tolerance to load, strength and endurance, and when that capacity is exceeded it will start to feel tight, fatigued and painful.
Fundamentally, the root cause is either:
Should you experience these symptoms, it is important to seek assessment by a therapist, ideally specialised in running injury who will assess all the possible causes and help you get back running.
Some simple exercises performed regularly will help increase the capacity of the calf complex and help you reduce injury risk and maximise performance. As tolerance improves, you should be able to start increasing your running and have confidence in your calves.
Find your nearest running injury specialist at SportsinjuryFix.com
Take a look at these four shoes in our mini-review
Asics Roadhawk FF
Heel Drop: 8mm
First up, this is a neutral shoe and definitely not for those who over-pronate. The Roadhawk FF weighs in at a lightweight 245g and still provides plenty of plush cushioning (thanks to the Flytefoam midsole). The other noticeable feature is the comfort of the upper – very few seams, soft fabric, and a sock-like feel. We used the shoe for a variety of sessions but it ultimately performed best during a hard interval workout.
New Balance Fresh Foam Cruz v2 Knit
Heel Drop: 8mm
If you are looking for a casual looking shoe to double up for a bit of running, the Fresh Foam Cruz could be the answer. Cushioning is provided by the popular Fresh Foam compound, whilst the blown rubber outsole gave decent grip. The knitted upper won’t be to everyone’s liking as it is fairly minimal but does have a “natural running” feel to it.
Salomon Sense Ride
Heel Drop: 8mm
This is one of best all-round trail shoes which we have seen for some time. The Contragrip outsole gives great traction on nearly all surfaces whether they are wet or dry. The lugs aren’t quite deep enough for thick mud but handle the majority of other conditions well including some road running. The cushioning and fit is just about spot on, and combined with the grip gives you confidence that every foot strike will be comfortable and secure.
The North Face Ultra Cardiac II
Heel Drop: 6mm
This shoe from The North Face is not the typical hardcore trail shoe which we have come to expect from them. The sticky outsole is made from Vibram but resembles a road tread rather than a conventional lugged version. The result is a shoe whose grip feels at home on the roads, but just as happy on lighter trails too. Overall, this is a good solid, no-nonsense shoe which fits well too.