iThink iAm iFit

Those of you who would rather lop off one or more limbs rather than run on a treadmill should just stop reading now. There’s pretty much nothing that I can say that will convince you to come on over to the ‘dark side’. For everyone else, like myself, who appreciates that the treadmill can play a part in training, whether through choice, convenience or necessity, please do read on.

Long gone are the days when treadmills offered little more than basic functionality. Your typical treadmill now likely has processing power that surpasses that which put man on the moon (I have to admit to having tried treadmills in the past that require astronaut equivalent qualifications just to operate a ‘simple’ program. Rest assured, this is not the case with the treadmill in question). You no longer need to visit the gym to run on something that doesn’t feel like it’s just about to vibrate itself apart under the weight of your pounding. What’s more, all this technology is now far more affordable than it used to be.

I posted my ‘Confessions Of A Treadmill Lover‘ post on The Running Bug back in October 2011 so it should come as no surprise that I am a self confessed treadmill user.

More recently, faced with impending fatherhood (3 weeks and counting) and surrounding terrain that doesn’t lend itself to hill training, I started my ‘Munro challenge‘, aiming to run all 282 of the Scottish Munro Mountains (3000ft+) at a 10% incline on the treadmill.

The treadmill will continue to play a part in my training for the foreseeable future and, with a bit of luck, Bubbs will hopefully take to the rhythmic sound of the treadmill, finding it soothing and sleep inducing. What effect my thumping footsteps have on this, only time will tell. I can but dream!

Nordic Track T9.1

My treadmill efforts have been kindly assisted by Nordic Track who kindly provided a Nordic Track T9.1 treadmill on an extended loan. Having had some previous experience of Nordic Track treadmills I expected a robust machine with a superior build quality and I was not disappointed. The T9.1 provides a solid, no wobble, running experience, even as you progress up towards the top 20km/h speed (Note that it is possible to convert the display to miles, something that I did straight away). The running deck, which is suitable for anyone up to 150kg in weight, is wide enough and long enough for you not to feel overly constrained and is adjustable, depending on the level of cushioning required.

The T9.1 provides 15 on-board workouts (5 calorie workouts, 5 timed workouts and 5 distance workouts) that each automatically control the speed and incline of the treadmill, guiding you through an effective exercise session. Selection of the required workout is easy thanks to the separate Calorie, Timed, and Distance buttons that cycle through the available workouts. As you would expect, there is also the option of manual control, letting you set speed and incline as required.

A 2.5CHP commercial grade motor drives the belt at speeds of up to 20 km/h and the 1-Touch incline can raise to 10% to make your runs even more demanding.

Where this treadmill comes into its own is with the inclusion of iFit compatability, something that is now common to many new treadmills and which greatly enhances the treadmill experience.

The console has a slot at the back that takes an optional iFit Live Module. The module enables the treadmill to communicate with a wireless network which then provides connectivity to an online iFit account. The iFit Live modules lets you download personalized workouts, create your own workouts, track your workouts and race against other runners.

The iFit website is a central ‘control panel’ for all your exercise requirements and offers articles & resources relating to running, cycling, fitness, weight loss and recipes, the opportunity to join challenges and, of course, the opportunity to track your progress and workouts.

However, the main attraction for me came with the map functionality.

You will no doubt have come across Google Maps. I have to confess to having been a bit of a Google Maps geek back when they first came out. In my defence, it was usually as part of my job as a web developer. Then running came along and the attraction for out of hours map tinkering waned somewhat.

Until now!

I will confess to having spent most of my time with the Nordic Track T9.1 exploring the Google Maps functionality, basically enabling you to select a location and then run in it, making use of Google Map Street View (where available). What’s more, the incline of the treadmill automatically adjusts to that of the current route so you really can get a feel for a route. Heading off to a race somewhere for the first time? Why not train on the actual route and get accustomed to the gradient and scenery.

Creating running routes is easy. Select your location, which can be pretty much anywhere in the world, and then design your route with the simple to use Google Maps tools, which let you create anything from a simple run around the block to a full on exploration of your chosen destination. Your only limitation is the desired distance!

Note that you need to have a PC/Screen available to view this unless you have one of the newer, high-end treadmills which have a screen capable of directly displaying the maps. In the absence of a lightweight laptop or tablet I set up a monitor/PC combination that let me keep track of where I was thanks to the placement of the monitor on a wall in front of me.

The Street View display flickers slightly as you progress along your chosen route, just as it normally does when viewing Street View online, but it certainly adds that something different to your average treadmill workout and provides a point of focus in an otherwise unchanging exercise environment. I personally made the most of the opportunity to revisit holiday destinations, ‘returning’ to Banff, Canmore, Victoria and Vancouver’s Stanley Park, all in Canada, and to Menorca, where I have holidayed the past couple of years.

I found the ‘return’ to locations associated with fond memories inspired my workouts and I soon lost track of time, distance and, even, effort levels! What’s more, the scenery of, for example, Vancouver’s gorgeous Stanley Park, proved more than adequate distraction when the conditions outdoors were not favourable to running.

I also liked the automatic setting of the treadmill incline based on current location. This left you ‘at the mercy’ of whatever hill you happened to be running up at the time and provided some welcome variation.

The only slightly odd thing about the Street View is that it appears that you are ‘running at’ oncoming vehicles but this is only to be expected given that the map views are taken from a vehicle. It’s definitely not something you should try outside however!

So, iFit provides for some excellent personalisation of your workouts, whether it’s revisiting areas, planning ahead or even just exploring different parts of the world. There’s also an iFit Facebook account that posts new routes from around the world and motivational tips, well worth following if you plan on using iFit.

It’s also possible to purchase various workouts and routes from the iFit store so you really should never be stuck for workouts! The latest free offering is a series of short runs, totalling over 80 miles, that introduces you to 20 of the most beautiful U.S. National Parks.

When purchasing a treadmill be sure to consider the warranty. My first treadmill had only a 3 year warranty on the motor and, true to form, it died on me shortly after the warranty expired. I then found that the components used were highly bespoke, preventing a cheap fix and was quoted almost as much as the treadmill had originally cost me to replace the defective part. I have since avoided that particular brand when purchasing equipment!

The Nordic Track T9.1, as with all Nordic Track machines, has a generous warranty:

  • Lifetime Frame Warranty
  • 10 Year Motor Warranty
  • 2 Year Parts Warranty
  • 2 Year Labour Warranty

Nordic Track T9.1 Specifications

  • Dimensions Assembled: L178xW86xH151 cm
  • Weight: 89kg
  • Maximum User Weight: 150kg
  • Motor: 2.5 chp
  • Speed: 0-20 km/h
  • Incline: 0-10%
  • Incline Type: Digital Quick Incline. One-Touch Incline Selection
  • Walking Belt Size: 51 x 140 cm
  • Number of Progammes: 15
  • Pulse Measurement: Système EKG™ Grip (hand pulse sensor) and Polar belt included
  • Console Display: LCD Display Console Features: Speed, Time, Distance, Calories, Pulse and Incline
  • Folding: Yes
  • Speakers: Intermix 2.0 Audio with two speakers
  • Music Jack: iPod Compatible
  • Lift Assist: Easy drop shock with lock Impact
  • Absortion System: FlexResponse™ Cushion Deck (impact reduction up to 15 %)
  • iFit : IFIT Live compatible to get the latest Interactive Fitness technology (WiFi module not included)
  • Programme Types: 5 Calorie-Burn, 5 Timed and 5 Distance Workouts

My thanks to Nordic Track for the loan of the Nordic Track T9.1 treadmill.

UD Signature Series At The Ultramarathon Running Store

The latest offering from Ultimate Direction, the much sought after Signature Series packs, will be available from The Ultramarathon Running Store from early February.

AK Race Vest (Anton Krupicka Race Vest)

Designed by Anton Krupicka, the AK Race Vest brings minimalism to the world of hydration. Even though it weighs in at only 6 ounces (10 with bottles), the UD AK Race Vest still has plenty of capacity for food, clothing, and a phone, so you can use this vest for anything from 10 to 100 miles.

“The Race Vest is super light and minimal – but easily carries everything I need.” (Anton Krupicka)

SJ Ultra Vest (Scott Jurek Ultra Vest)

The SJ Ultra Vest is the result of collaboration with Scott Jurek, the world’s most dominant ultra runner. Weighing in at 7.5 ounces (11.5 with bottles) and offering 9.2 L of storage space, the UD SJ Ultra Vest has the best weight-to-capacity ratio of any hydration pack on the market.

“I’ve been using Ultimate Direction packs for years, modifying them to carry bottles in front – the Ultra Vest is the culmination.” (Scott Jurek)

PB Adventure Vest (Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest)

Peter Bakwin wanted a pack that could do anything from running to hiking, climbing to skiing. Featuring 12 L of volume and a variety of features, The UD Adventure Vest allows you to stay hydrated and comfortable on any size adventure from quick outings to all-day expeditions.

“The Adventure Vest is the pack I’ve always wanted but wasn’t available – until now!” (Peter Bakwin)

Trainer Transitions

Someone recently queried my trainer preferences and it is right enough that I have undergone some transitions on the footwear front these past 12-14 months. My footwear requirements are essentially two fold:

  • I require minimalist trainers for both running and everyday use
  • I require trainers suited to both training for and racing in ultramarathons

Of late, these two requirements have converged and I have found myself looking for a minimalist, ultra capable shoe.

When it comes to footwear I am on a journey of discovery, trying to ascertain what works best for a given situation, terrain and/or mileage. Given that the range of shoes on offer is constantly evolving, it is only natural that my preferences similarly evolve.

For a while I couldn’t see past Inov8 Roclite 305s, my favourite trainer for a long, long time and, by the time Inov8 stopped producing these (why, why, why???), I had gone through 5 pairs!

This time last year, my focus was very much on completing 7 ultramarathons and, in particular, on getting to the finish line of my first ever West Highland Way Race, a 95 mile race with 14,760 feet of ascent. As a larger runner, I was looking for a shoe that fulfilled all of the typical requirements of a trail shoe but, also, that might assist me in getting my bulk from point A, at the start in Milngavie, to point B, at the finish in Fort William.

To this effect, I began training and racing in Hoka One One shoes, to many people the antithesis of minimal running and yet a shoe that is both super lightweight and with only a 4mm heel to toe drop. As such, it shares many similarities with your typical minimalist shoe. This ends with the rather distinctive midsole that contains 2.5 times the usual midsole EVA, leading many to christen them ‘clown shoes’ and/or ‘platforms’.

I received my first pair of Hokas to try out in November 2011, the Hoka One One Mafate and, after some initial success, I purchased a pair of Stinson Evos in time for the 2012 ultra season, breaking them in at the D33, the inaugural race of 2012.

Aesthetically, the shoes may not be to everyone’s liking and I did find that opinion was generally quite polarised. Fair enough, not every shoe is to everyone’s liking. What did surprise me, however, was just how vocal some of the haters were, with some going so far as to even accuse Hoka wearers of ‘cheating’! Despite the anti Hoka backlash, their popularity has grown and they can now commonly be seen at ultras and other events.

At the same time as I was training in Hokas, I was also embracing minimalism in my running. You might not think that the two could sit together easily but, as mentioned previously, the Hokas had only a 4mm drop. The Hokas were worn for all my long slow runs and I spent pretty much the remainder of my time in minimalist shoes, more often than not Merrell Trail Gloves. This extended not just to shorter runs but also to daily life.

I have well documented my finish at the West Highland Way Race in apocalyptic weather conditions and with the additional complications of stomach ‘issues’ and projectile vomit. However, I did it. I got to the end. It wasn’t fast and it certainly wasn’t pretty but I crossed that finish line in Fort William and joined the West Highland Way ‘family’ – and I did it in Hokas.

I finished the race with what looked like the start of trench foot. Given the weather conditions I don’t think any footwear really fared well that weekend. If anything, I possibly benefited from the slightly raised sole of the Hoka. I also finished the race with acute pain in my hip which was diagnosed as ITB at the post race massage. I didn’t think too much about this at the time. In all honesty, I was just relieved to find that I hadn’t somehow cracked the joint as this was what was going through my mind at the time!

At the following race, the Clyde Stride, one of my Hokas split, resulting in some nasty blistering where my foot was attempting to break out from under the constraints of the shoe. I retired the Hokas as I waited for a replacement to arrive which, due to high demand, meant that I didn’t have them for the Devil O’ The Highlands or the Speyside Way Races. What I did find at both of these races was that I finished the events without the by now usual tightness in my ITB.

I decided to test the theory that the Hokas were in some way aggravating my ITB issues and kept running in more conventional trainers. The lack of continued ITB issues led me to permanently retire them and to add to my 2013 goals – Not only was the intention to complete the 2013 West Highland Way Race with a new PB. I now wanted to do it in more minimalist shoes.

One thing in particular stands out. It was great to once again feel more connected to the terrain. I had to revert to picking my line again rather than running roughshod over whatever lay beneath me but there was something preferable about once again having that level of connection.

Inov8 315s were the initial replacement but, in the last few months of 2012, I was fortunate enough to receive Merrell Mix Master Aeroblocks and then Merrell Mix Master Tuffs to test, both of which really impressed me. The Mix Master Tuffs are currently my go-to trail shoe for any distance of run and there’s a high chance that these will be the shoe that I toe the line in at the 2013 West Highland Way Race.

When it comes to minimalist running and every day use I am spoilt for choice. I still spend a lot of time in the Merrell Trail Glove and I am looking forward to seeing what the new Bare Access and Vapor Gloves have to offer. I have also taken to the Skechers GObionic and Vibram Five Fingers Spyridon shoes and am fortunate enough to have recently  been selected as part of the Mizuno EVO UK test team. These zero drop shoes are getting a lot of really positive reviews so it will be interesting to see how I fare with them.

So, that’s the story of my transition and takes us up to the current stage of my aforementioned ‘journey’. What works for me might not necessarily be suitable for someone else and I know a number of other runners who are, for example, running in Hokas without any issues whatsoever. It’s all just a question of seeing what works best for you as an individual.

2013 is going to be as exciting as ever with all the various running and non running challenges that I am going to face and, with a bit of luck, I will be able to add another West Highland Way Race goblet to the collection, albeit this time in a more minimalist shoe.

WAA Ultra Equipment ULTRABAG MDS 20L Pack

Whether you plan to run Marathon des Sables or not, you might find the latest product at www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com to be of interest. At £149.99 the WAA Ultra Equipment Marathon des Sables Pack is not cheap. However, the pack has a custom design specifically to meet the requirements of the Marathon des Sables.

“The Ultrabag MDS backpack has been perfectly designed to meet the expectations of the runners of the Marathon des Sables, whatever their needs, whatever their body types. Light, durable and functional, it is 100% customizable and adapts to you. Tested and approved in the Marathon des Sables 2012.”

The pack weighs in at 590g with the option to customise the pack to your exact specifications with accessories including:

  • Autonomous 4L front-pack
  • Nepalese carrying system
  • Rain-reflective cover
  • Inbuilt reflective poncho
  • Multi-position flask-carrier
  • 2 x 750ml flasks with drinking tube
  • MP3 holder
  • 4 detachable straps for floor mat
  • Interior detachable mesh pocket for separating heavy items
  • Extractable comfort back-foam,
  • 2 detachable tropicalized 0.5L front pockets

With 270° opening providing easy access to the entire contents of the pack and the ability to compress the pack from 20 litres to 4 litres capacity using the side compression elastics, the WAA Ultra Equipment Ultrabag MDS 20L Pack sounds like a pack worth checking out for longer, unsupported and multi day events.

Note: Videos are in French with no subtitles.

Filling the WAA Ultra Equipment Marathon des Sables Pack:

Utilising the front pack:

Speyside Way Race Entry Open

Entry to the Speyside Way Race is now open on Entry Central. The race will be held on Saturday 24th August 2013 with entrants running the 36.5 miles from Ballindalloch to Buckie. Race entry costs £23.00 for Scottish Athletics members or £25.00 for unaffiliated. The race can be entered via Entry Central or via cheque (details on the website).

Sealskinz Ultra Grip Gloves & Waterproof Beanie Hat

A pair of Ultra Grip Gloves and a Waterproof Beanie Hat arrived for me today courtesy of Sealskinz, perfect timing given the weather of late, and I am looking forward to testing these out on the weekend long runs out on the Formartine & Buchan Way.

Waterproof Beanie Hat

Totally waterproof, windproof and breathable knitted beanie hat. Suited to a multitude of outdoor uses.

  • Totally waterproof, windproof and breathable
  • Acrylic knitted outer for maximum water repellancy
  • Close fitting knitted construction with IMPROVED fit
  • Micro fleece lining for warmth and moisture control

Ultra Grip Gloves

The original, totally waterproof, windproof and breathable, close fitting stretch gloves. Incredibly versatile, multi-use and offering great grip, even in wet conditions.

  • Merino wool lined for warmth and moisture control
  • Grip dotted palm for excellent hold, even when wet

SUMS 2013 Self Transcendence 100km/50km

The SUMS Facebook page has just announced the addition of a further ultramarathon to the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series. The newest addition to the series is the Self Transcendence 100km/50km. Held on 31st March 2013 at the North Inches Park, Perth, the event includes a 100km and 50km option, starting at 7am and 10am prompt. The event is run on loops of approximately 1.5 miles with 42 laps required for completion of the 100km, and 21 laps for completion of the 50km.

What Running & Blogging Means To You

You may have heard about Write This Run, an event scheduled for 12th May 2013 and billed as “a chance for UK running bloggers to get together, learn from each other and hear from guest experts on all things running and blogging”. An email arrived from Write This Run today with a challenge to “write a blog post about what running and blogging means to you”, a challenge that I decided to accept.

From a purely running perspective, I think of running like a great friend, one who will, from time to time, lead you astray, who will, on occasion, punish you, and yet, regardless of any neglect or the time of day or night, will always be there for you. It never asks anything in return, and it doesn’t always treat you kindly, but you know that any punishment dished out is for your own benefit, a well intentioned reminder that you should visit this particular friend often. It doesn’t particularly mind if you are running just to keep fit, to explore, to experience nature, to create memories, to switch on, to switch off, to challenge yourself and test your limits, just so long as you are running.

As a web developer, I had dabbled with the idea of creating my own website for quite some time and had sat on the www.pixelscotland.com domain name for a number of years, never quite finding the time to develop the site, nor the direction to take the site in. However, my immersion into the world of running, and especially ultramarathons, soon provided the necessary direction.

In April 2011 I wrote my first blog post, a retrospective of my one and only DNF, at the 53 mile Highland Fling back in April 2010, and charting my efforts at the same race in April 2011, when I completed the race and successfully banished my demons from the year before. This was quickly followed up with race reports of the 2011 Devil O’ The Highlands and Speyside Way Ultramarathons.

What started out as occasional posts, usually race reports, soon developed into a site with approximately 20 posts per month as I blogged most days, covering everything from races, links, gear, routes and product reviews.

Towards the end of 2011, The Running Bug put out a request for bloggers and I duly ‘auditioned’ with the submission of a proposed first blog post. The post, ‘Setting the scene‘, appeared on The Running Bug website on 20th September 2011 and outlined my transition from overweight smoker to ultramarathon runner. Some 16 months and 46 posts later, I am still writing my Aim high, anything is possible blog.

Initially, blogging was something that I did purely for myself. It was a way for me to record the events that I competed in and the feelings that accompanied those events – The pain, the suffering, the satisfaction, the achievement – with the idea that I could one day point any children that I have in the direction of the blog, and hopefully inspire them to make sport a part of their lives.

In the relatively short time that I have been blogging I have received some great feedback, both verbally and in the form of comments. I always appreciate when people take the time to comment on my musings and, especially, when someone tells me that they find my posts inspirational or informative.

My journey has taken me from one extreme to the other, from actually despising running to running ultramarathons and, whilst I may now be in a much better place, I still have a long way to go. If what I write can be even remotely considered inspirational or convinve someone in a similar position as myself to at least give it a go, then I have already accomplished more than I set out to achieve.

There is another positive aspect to blogging. Thanks to The Running Bug and my own www.pixelscotland.com website I am now fortunate enough to receive product to review, my idea of heaven as a self confessed gear junkie!

I would definitely recommend starting your own running blog. You just never know where it might lead.

Helly Hansen Dry Revolution LS

Helly Hansen kindly provided me with a Dry Revolution LS baselayer to test out towards the end of the year and I have been putting it through its paces in and around both Ellon and the Cairngorms. I haven’t really favoured baselayers in the past as generally find that they make me feel a bit claustrophobic. However, I find myself loathe to take the Dry Revolution garment off, especially given recent temperatures.

The HH®Dry™ technology behind the Dry Revolution is described as a “moisture super highway creating a dry layer next to the skin, keeping you comfortable during highly aerobic activities in a wide range of conditions”.

“With long sleeves for warmth and all-over wicking power, this baselayer has everything you need for maximum comfort. The HH® Dry Revolution fabric is made from new Lifa® fibres that are even softer and more effective at drawing excess heat and sweat away from your skin, allowing you to maintain an optimum body temperature throughout your activities. It has a minimum of seams, sewn with flatlock stitching for a smooth look and feel, inside and out. Lifa® stripes add a splash of colour to the lower sleeves.”

SUMS 2013

Details of SUMS 2013 have been released on the new SUMS Facebook page.

All Scottish Ultras were invited to participate in the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series (SUMS) and, as a result, the series has now expanded from its original 9 races, excellent news for both the series and runners alike.

There are also a number of changes that will affect participants:

  • No minimum or maximum number of races will be imposed
  • Your 3 top scores will count for championship points (previously 4 completions were required)
  • Races will be graded short, medium and long, and points will be awarded accordingly (The detail of this is being finalised and will be in place before the 1st race of the season D33)

SUMS races will be as follows:

Check out the SUMS Facebook page for further details or the SUMS website.