Monday, 28 April 2008

Gearing up...(part I)

Well I said I'd talk about gear, so I guess I had better made a start. This is the low-down on (some of) the gear we use and our thoughts on what works etc. Hope you find it useful - please post your thoughts, especially if you have gear that you wish to praise or trash.

Assuming you're not happy to run barefoot (which apparently we all can do long as we build up to it slowly) then footwear is the most important piece of kit for runners. In my book the number one rule is to look after your feet and they'll carry you over anything.

The right footwear will always be different from one runner to the next. I would definitely recommend you buy your trainers from a decent running store, especially one where they can do gait analysis (i.e. watch you run - in slow motion - on a treadmill). I discovered that my feet tend to over-pronate (i.e. the feet tend to roll outwards when they land) hence I need trainers that have some sort of motion-control or stability that combats this movement. Most of the top manufacturers have shoes in their range that tackle this issue.

I also have broad (Hobbit-like!!) feet hence I am limited to certain manufacturers - for example Asics tend to be too tight around the arch of my feet. I find Saucony and New Balance to be pretty spacious, especially at the front of the foot, which suits me perfectly.

Finally, the size of footwear has to be bigger than your normal shoe-size - as you run the feet swell. Also you must ensure the toes have enough space so that they do not touch the front of the trainer (otherwise be prepared to have blisters or lose your toes Jo found out after doing London Marathon a few years ago). My "normal" shoe-size is UK 11 (USA 12), but when I choose running trainers the minimum size I end up getting is UK 12.5 (USA 13.5). Nowadays, however, I find I'm having to go up two sizes to UK size 13 trainers because of running in hotter conditions (feet swell more) and as a result of doing more hills (the toes will push that little bit further forwards on the downhills). I guess might as well go the whole hog and get those clown shoes - they'd give me an advantage pipping others at the finish line!!

When I first started running (2005) I ran in New Balance 856s. These worked great for the London Marathon in blisters and no lost toe nails. Then I tried Saucony Stabil MC 5 - a pretty good shoe, but it lacked cushioning hence I got really sore feet; just before the Helsinki Marathon (2007) I got a very sore pressure spot below my 3rd metatarsal (right foot) which impacted on my training. I had scans to ensure it wasn't anything serious like a Mortons Neuroma or a stress fracture - it wasn't. After the marathon (and a rest) I found the pressure spot moved from my right foot to my left foot (weird!). I have got used to the sore spot and it's not as bad as pre-Helsinki (I think the gradual mileage increase has helped) but I have now switched to New Balance 858s as they provide better cushioning (but weigh more as a result) - we'll see if that helps.

In terms of Trail shoes I'm not fussed about getting totally waterproof trainers as that usually means getting GoreTex which doesn't breathe very well, so I use the New Balance 782s which provide some water resistance but do not claim to be waterproof. These have been great in muddy and wet Wales and also in hot and rocky Lanzarote. I have just ordered a new pair (now model 783s) of UK size 13s, as the 12.5s were a little small (as discovered on Lanzarote's downhills).
If, like me, you suffer from sore feet - no doubt more common on heavier build runners then consider buying better insoles for your trainers. Decent insoles cost around £20 a pair - it is unlikely that the quality of insole used by trainer manufacturers will be on par with these independent insoles.

Body Glide
This is the 2nd most important item in a runners kitbag - unless they're happy to run naked!!! It's simple - to avoid chaffing use Body Glide. Vaseline works well as a (cheaper) alternative but in my opinion for distances longer than 10k you either need to keep topping up the vaseline (easy at London Marathon as they provide top-ups along the course) or use a longer lasting product (such as Body Glide). Body Glide is brilliant - it's a deodorant-stick-like product that goes on easily and comes off slowly, keeping areas lubricated hence irradicating any chaffing in that area. Say "goodbye" to chaffed nipples and...urm other chaffed areas!

Decent running socks make a massive difference. Proper running socks will wick sweat away from your feet hence keeping them dry and free from blisters. If you still have problems with blisters then go and get yourself a pair of dual layer running socks, such as the WrightSock Double Layer series. I don't have a problem with blisters, my primary concern is cushioning hence I use Thorlo socks. These are some of the best socks on the market - they provide great cushioning and also manage to keep blisters away (even though they aren't dual layered). My personal preference is always to get full length socks rather than crew socks, as I figure there's been research to back wearing (very) long socks to aid calf recovery (shifts lactic acid) hence surely long socks must be better than crew socks.

If you're running in conditions where your feet are likely to get very wet then you may want to consider something more robust to keep your feet dry. When Jo and I did that very very wet trek in Wales we wore Sealskinz socks. These socks are absolutely amazing - 100% waterproof and yet breathable. Expensive (£22.50 a pair) but worth every penny.

It always amazes me when I see someone running in cotton clothing. The biggest threat to performance is over-heating (and the dehydration it causes). The body cools itself via evaporation, i.e. you sweat, and when the sweat evaporates from the body it also takes heat away from your skin, hence cooling you down. If you run in humid conditions, or sweat soaked cotton clothing then this evaporation process is hindered hence you're likely to overheat. Furthermore, when you stop running the sweat will cool and you'll get cold quickly. I would, therefore, always recommend you wear the appropriate moisture wicking running clothing that all top sports manufacturers provide. Also proper clothing chaffes less - try running a marathon in a cotton t-shirt and decide whether you like having sore and bloody nipples by the end (ouch). Proper running gear is expensive, but it lasts and it works.

There has been extensive research that backs the use of compression clothing in sports. Apparently it "improves microcirculation and tissue oxygenation" thus aids performance and recovery. I started wearing old style compression shorts (aka lycra/spandex!) seventeen or so years ago. I played a lot of five-a-side football (soccer) and was constantly getting groin strains. I found using lycra shorts gave me a bit of support on the muscles as well as keeping them warm. I don't recall having a groin strain since! Skin shorts also help alleviate chaffing (if Body Glide isn't enough).

Nowadays there are a host of companies that sell compression clothing, including the big boys (Nike, Adidas etc) but my favourite is Skins; they last ages, can handle plenty of abuse (common when you're trying to take the damn things off) and they are comfortable (tight without being restrictive). Skins do a variety of garments for all shapes and sizes. Don't get the "long" size unless you really are very tall (i.e. over 6 ft 6 incles) as the long items really are very long!

Rucksacks (& Camelbaks)
Apart from having to carry fuel (food/energy bars) and extra layers of clothing in case the weather takes a turn for the worst we always carry a water bladder (i.e. a camelbak) whenever we do runs in excess of 1 hour (10km). It is essential to get into the habit of taking on fluids as we run. I know, from weighing myself before and after runs, that I lose between 0.5 and 1 litre of fluid (through sweat loss) per hour of running (primarily depending on the temperature). This is the net loss when I take a camelbak with me so god only knows how bad it would be if I didn't drink as I run; I find I drink about half a litre every hour (I know I need to improve that to force myself to drink a litre an hour). Apparently your performance suffers once you lose 3% of your body mass through dehydration, so as it stands my performance will begin to fade after about 3 hours of running.

The minimum weight of a rucksack (with a full camelbak) is about 3kg, and when we run to work (on Wednesdays and Thursdays) it can weigh close to 10kg (especially in Jo's case) - so the rucksack has a big impact on our running. We used to use our Camelbak rucksacks (which we had from mountain biking) but we found that our backs were getting badly scratched/chaffed. Constant rubbing over a period of two hours or more will have that effect! So the rucksack you use needs to have enough straps on it so that you can really tighten it down, and it needs to wick sweat away from your back. Some form of ventilated back panel is also desirable.

A few months ago I bought Jo an Osprey Talon 22 rucksack - it's brilliant; it's very light, made from a great durable material, it has a good back panel, it has two hip pockets (great for easy access to energy gels) and it has plenty of straps that allow you to adjust it to exactly how you want. In the interest of research I bought myself a (different) new rucksack a month ago - a Deuter Futura 28. On paper it looked impressive, and it had a great back panel but it was just so uncomfortable - I just couldn't run with it. Needless to say I took it back and swapped it for an Osprey Talon 33 (almost as light as the 22 but just that little bit bigger, just as brilliant).

Finally (for this posting) - I'd add a Buff to your kit bag. It is best described (by Buff) as "multi-functional headwear". It's made from microfibre, hence it wicks moisture, it's wind-resistant and breathable, it dries in minutes and retains it's elasticity (I should charge Buff for publishing this corporate propaganda). Basically it's easy to wear, and it protects from cold, heat, wind and dust. It's just so versatile - and I totally agree with the company when they state "it can be worn as a bandana, sun-guard, thermal scarf, balaclava, headband, scrunchie, wristband, helmet-liner, muffler or dust screen".

That's about it for this particular posting, hopefully it's given you some helpful tips. If any of the above-mentioned companies are interested in sponsoring our adventure then please don't hesitate to get in touch! ;)


Blogger J-one said...

Hi Sat,
I need to re-read your post, but I just wanted to say that I've lived in Thorlos (w/o blisters) for many years. I also believe in Camelbaks, but only the waist (fanny pack style). I need new trail shoes and need to explore what is new/good there. Have you got the Higher Peak system yet?

29 April 2008 at 21:12  
Blogger Sat Sandhu said...

Hiya Judy,

Yes we've got the Higher Peak altitude trainer. We haven't got a "tent" for it yet - which is what we need in order for us to sleep "at altitude" (don't fancy sleeping with a mask on).
Getting a tent is awkward so will have to make our own...

I'd try and do a posting on the whole thing in a week or so - once we've got it set-up and running.

Yeah I know some runners prefer fanny pack style camelbaks (we call them bum bags) because they don't interfere with their running style - I guess I should try them one of these days.

How's the training going?


30 April 2008 at 10:22  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home