The North Face Spring Summer Range 2015 & The Ultra MT

I wasn’t sure what, if anything, to expect from The North Face in terms of new trail friendly product given the news that they would no longer be the headline sponsor for UTMB. However, having now had a peek at the new The North Face Spring Summer range 2015, it appears that it’s full steam ahead, with, dare I say it, some sexy looking product!

What’s more, my UK size 8 feet, also happened to be the right size to fit into a pair of the pre-production Ultra MT trail shoes which The North Face kindly supplied me with. I’ve been testing those out for the last couple of weeks now. More on that below.

Unfortunately, both the Men’s Storm Stow Jacket and Better Than Naked Long Haul Short were only available in size M and, even with recent weight loss and the best of intentions, there was little hope of shoe-horning my XL frame into those garments. But hey, can’t win them all!

The TNF Ultra MT – A First Look

I really liked the The North Face Ultra Guide, running a 33 mile ultra in them after just a couple of test runs, and continued to use them until the soles started to wear through. (TNF Ultra Guide review)

As such, I was really looking forward to the prospect of getting to test out the new TNF Ultra MT.

I have to say that the brochure just doesn’t do them justice. Again, I find myself resorting to use of the word ‘sexy’. Unboxing the TNF Ultra MT for the first time, I was impressed with the striking orange and black colour-scheme and the overall aesthetics of the shoe, and then there’s ‘that’ sole – the ‘gnarly’ new Vibram® Megagrip outsole.

Unlike the Ultra Guide, there’s no way the Ultra MT is ever going to be described as ‘retro’. There was also something else that struck me about the shoe and, it would appear, I was not alone…

The website running.competitor.com describes the Ultra MT as follows:

“The Ultra MT is the most technical trail shoe yet from The North Face. (And, yes, it was modelled off the Salomon Speedcross 3.) With a knobby array of sticky rubber Vibram outsole lugs and a water resistant upper, this shoe is built to run on gnarly terrain in the worst weather. 18mm/10mm heel-toe offset.”

(Sneak Peek: 17 New Summer/Fall 2015 Running Shoes )

Aesthetically and functionally, the latest offering from The North Face certainly invites comparisons with some of the offerings from Salomon, but then, considering the reputation and range that Salomon offer, this must surely be a good thing.

I’m going to leave a full review until I have had long enough to really test out the Ultra MT but first impressions are positive. I will say that I found the toebox on my right foot (my fractionally larger foot) slightly tight, and they are most definitely less roomy than the Ultra Guide. However, once running, this wasn’t something that I noticed. It will be interesting to see if that impacts at all on longer runs.

The fit is most likely a result of the new bodymapping layer system on the upper, intended to enhance support and, from initial tests, the shoes certainly are responsive.

My inaugural run in the Ultra MT was in the Quarrelwoods on the outskirts of Elgin, an often muddy, potentially technical trail at the best of times. On the day in question I was caught in a snow storm as well so it really was a baptism of fire as far as the Ultra MTs were concerned but they performed well as I charged around one of my favourite forest destinations.

Watch this space for a full review of the Ultra MT in due course.

The North Face Spring Summer Range 2015

The following information is taken from the TNF Spring Summer 2015 Performance Brochure.

Men’s Storm Stow Jacket

More daylight during summer means running longer, which is why you should be prepared if the weather changes. This ultralight jacket is fully waterproof and windproof, but also packs incredibly small, so you can keep it on hand for any emergency. When the trail takes you further, there is no better protection to carry with you.

Men’s Better Than Naked Long Haul Short

Stay comfortable on longer runs with a wider comfort-fit waistband, stitch-free design on critical seams, and maximum storage capacity for big days.

Ultra MT

No matter what terrain you’re on, the Ultra MT will keep you running along the toughest trails. Thanks to the new Vibram® Megagrip outsole, unrivalled traction will keep you close to the ground. You’ll also have the benefit of enhanced upper support as well as breathable Ultra Airmesh over the quarter. The innovation continues underfoot, where precise stability and protection ensures a better performance with every step.

  • Upper: A bodymapping layer system on the upper enhances support on the medial side, protecting the toe area
  • Bottom: 8mm drop between heel and forefoot ensures control on uneven surfaces and supports midfoot striking when needed / Overlasted midsole increases stability of the upper/bottom connection / ESS in the forefoot secures an impact distribution on the forefoot / Vibram Megagrip full length trail specific outsole.
  • Men’s Sizes: Approx weight pair: 580g (based on men’s 9)
  • Womens’s Sizes: Approx weight pair: 480g (based on women’s 7)

The North Face Enduro 13 On Sale

Update 21st July 2014: looks like the stock of The North Face Enduro 13 packs has gone already as the link no longer works. Hardly surprising they sold out at that bargain price!

A quick posting from me. Have just spotted The North Face Enduro 13 on sale at Blacks, down from an RRP of £65.00 to £45.00. An excellent pack for long distance/ultra runners with easy access to two rear mounted bottles and ample storage space.

Return Of The Mac’s Mojo

It’s been 21 days since my last post, hardly the scenario I expected when I put all that hard work into the www.pixelscotland.com revamp.

However, it’s not without good reason. For one, Harris has, as always, been keeping us busy, and also entertained. He has also taken to rising around 5am, something which tests even my penchant for early rises!  I’ve had to curtail the late nights just to keep up with him, with an obvious impact on the time available to me when I actually add to and develop this web site.

Secondly, I’ve been a man on a mission, finally getting around to all those jobs that I have put off for years. This weekend, for example, I managed to fit in a complete clear out of the garage, alongside playing dad and head chef at Mac HQ. I’ve finally cleared space to let me get my weights out and once again resume weight training.

As far as exercising is concerned, I have once again found my mojo, and it’s not just the running mojo! It all started with a swim in the newly opened Aberdeen Aquatics Centre, linked to the equally impressive Aberdeen Sports Village. What started out as a single swim is now a 4 times a week regular visit, slotted in to the day in place of taking lunch at my desk.

The overall impact has been huge and I would once again consider myself to be back ‘in training’, albeit still at a lesser rate than pre Harris days, and, of course, all done to fit in with his schedule. I’ve been mixing up swimming, walking, running, the spin bike, treadmill and cross trainer quite happily, with no actual plan, just taking what I feel like at the time, or what best fits the time available.

What’s more, in mixing it up quite so much, I haven’t found myself feeling like a ‘slave to the miles’, as I have done in the past when training specifically for ultras.

Even at this early stage of training, I am already formulating a full on ultra challenge that will see me tackle some of my favourite terrain, outwith an organised event and, with a bit of luck, in the company of a good friend. Hopefully more to follow on that front if things go according to plan.

I’ve also been busy on the review side of things, with a review of the Salomon Sky Tee for The Running Bug, and with reviews to follow of the Vivobarefoot Evo Pure, Vivobarefoot Trail Freak, Altra Lone Peak 1.5 and, finally, the long awaited The North Face FL Race Vest that I first spied on the backs of the likes of Jez Bragg and Sebastien Chaigneau a couple of years back.

In keeping with the minimal, zero drop, footwear approach, I have also been enjoying feeling slightly smarter than usual in a pair of Vivobarefoot Freud’s. Thanks to Vivobarefoot, I can now maintain my preference for minimalist footwear without having to wear out my trainers.

Finally, I’m feeling decidedly upbeat, despite being a Monday and back in the office, as I have only 4 more working days before we head back to The Cairngorms once again.

I can’t wait to get back on the trails and, this time around, we will be located in Rothiemurchus, close to Loch an Eilein, offering the best possible access to the numerous Cairngorm trails.

Expect loads more photographs, routes and reviews to follow, including a full review of the Croozer, a review of The North Face FL Race Vest, and, again if everything goes to plan, a review of a piece of kit that was recommended to enable me to cut back on the amount of water that I have to carry – a Sawyer Mini Filter.

“At just 65grams, and fitting in the palm of your hand, this is simply the best there is for Weight, Size and Performance. Drink directly as a straw, attach to Sawyer Squeeze Pouches, use inline, or attach to standard threaded bottles. The MINI uses the same exclusive 0.1 micron hollow fiber membrane filter used in our other filters. Although not quite as quick as the SP129 version, you will still be bowled over by the flowrate of this amazing little filter. The MINI comes with a 100,000 gallon (378,540 Litre) guarantee which is still the best rating there is ANYWHERE, and will last for anybody’s lifetime.

Simply fill up the pouch at a lake, stream or river, screw the filter directly onto the pouch and: 

  1. Squeeze the bag & filter water into your water bottle or container of choice
  2. Drink directly from the filter which has a built in cap for on/off functions
  3. Attach the filter onto most threaded water bottles including 2 litre bottles.”

[more information…]

Jez Bragg Interview

The following interview appeared in Issue 10 of Ultra Tales.

Ultra Tales reader Jonathan Mackintosh interviews Jez Bragg.

There can be few ultramarathoners who have not heard of The North Face athlete Jez Bragg. Jez’s long list of achievements include winning the 2010 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, wins and course records at events such as the Fellsman, Highland Fling, and West Highland Way Race, to name but a few, and a 3rd place at the 2009 Western States race amidst a strong international field of runners. Most recently, Jez completed the 3054km Te Araroa trail, having run and kayaked the length of New Zealand, from the tip of the North Island, to the tip of the South Island, in a time of 53 days, 9 hours and 1 minute.

Do you consider your completion of the Te Araroa trail to be your biggest achievement to date, or is there another running achievement that you rank above this accomplishment?

Jez: I think it has to be, but all these long runs present their challenges in different ways, and are hard to compare. Yes, the distance is epic, but the pace is a lot slower. In New Zealand the problem wasn’t so much the distance, but the unpredictable terrain and constant unknowns from one section to the next. Te Araroa drew upon every conceivable skill I possess, both as a runner and an adventurer.

Ultra Tales reader Dan Park asks “During the 3054km what was the highest and lowest moment (excluding the finish)”

Jez: The high point was undoubtedly paddling into Ship Cove in the Queen Charlotte Sound; the start of the trail on the South Island – having successfully completed a crossing of the Cook Strait immediately after finishing the North Island run. There was a huge dose of luck involved in having a weather window at the right time. But then part of me also thinks you create your own luck.

The low point was being stopped in my tracks for three days near Lake Emily on the South Island due to food poisoning. I lay in bed in the camper van for three days watching the clock tick by and wondering if I would ever regain the necessary strength to continue. The real frustration was that in hindsight I would easily have broken my 50 day target for the expedition had I not been forced to stop and then rebuild daily distance gradually.

Running up to 60 miles a day, was it a welcome relief when it came to the kayaking elements?

Jez: Definitely; there never really seemed to be enough kayaking for my liking. The kayak crossings were rather sporadic with the majority on the North Island; really just a means of crossing the natural water breaks in the trail, but they were official parts of the route. Spending a day and half paddling 120km down the Whanganui River was epic, as was the 9 hour crossing of the Cook Strait. Having said that, running all day comes a lot more naturally to me than paddling all day, so comparing the two I found the running much easier.

Did you ever doubt yourself and, if so, how did you overcome it?

Jez: No, I didn’t ever question my ability to complete the run. I did however feel anxious and nervous about it, both before and during, really because of all the unknowns involved. I think that’s natural and healthy; the body’s way of staving off any complacency. It would be easy to get the two feelings mixed up. I wanted to complete the Te Araroa journey so, so much, and to have that mental drive was essential to the expedition’s success. Where the mind leads the body follows.

Would you ever consider running the Te Araroa trail again in a bid to beat your time?

Jez: No way. The exploration aspect is where the mental drive comes from with something like this, and that has gone now I have successfully completed the journey. If I ever decided to run another long trail then it would have to be a completely different one to ensure that combination of excitement, interest and unknown were there to provide the mental drive required.

Did you learn anything about yourself on your journey?

Jez: Oh where to start. It would be impossible to put into words everything I learned about myself through the whole experience. On the physical side, I learned how resilient and responsive the human body can be when it is asked to do something so extreme. The mental side is harder to explain. As a whole the trail strengthened me as a person and my ability to push through the ‘lows’ that come and go so frequently on a journey like this.

The ability to walk/hike fast is an invaluable skill for an ultra runner. Do you have any training tips specific to this skill and can you give any idea of the breakdown between running and fast hiking on your Te Araroa expedition?

Jez: Practice, practice, practice. Lots and lots. Fast walking is a skill in itself; the trick is to be efficient in tackling whatever’s in front of you. The mistake people often make when transitioning from say marathon running to ultra running is trying to run every step of the way. Walk breaks become important, particularly if the hills are steep and frequent. When you head out the door the best approach is to focus on ‘time on your feet’ rather than pace, speed or distance.

I would say the split between running and walking on Te Araroa was around 60/40.

What kind of calorie intake did you have for the duration of the challenge?

Jez: Three substantial meals a day, plus snacks every couple of hours. I was eating a lot of very fatty foods in response to cravings from my body. I guess that’s natural and to be expected, given what was being asked of it. My strategy was to eat normal, wholesome, food rather than special energy products such as sports drinks and gels. It wasn’t particularly scientific, but it seemed to work anyway. It was a thoroughly ‘British’ approach; good, wholesome, food!

After 53 days of running such long distances, did you find it difficult to adjust to normal life?

Jez: The problem wasn’t so much adjusting to daily life, but physically repairing my body. I think the run itself took a certain amount out of me, but then the illness took it to a whole new level. You know the feeling you get when trying to return to work after a bad D&V bug? Empty, tired, energy less etc. It was like that but ten times worse, and then I had the added complication of trying to run all day again. The physical repair process took over six months – to get my speed back to a comparable level to before the expedition. I’m still working on it, but it’s definitely there or thereabouts now.

When it comes to racing, your preferred race strategy appears to be one of ‘settling in’ before then progressing through the ranks and you appear quite happy to start off further back in the pack. What are the perceived benefits of such a strategy?

Jez: From my experience the best way to find the ‘magic’ ultra running gears is to be patient, and start steadily. Even pacing, or ideally running negative splits, is the ideal approach to achieve this. By ‘magic’ gears I mean when you settle into a strong pace that feels effortless and like you can go on forever. It does happen; it is possible. That’s how the really special ultra running performances are achieved. The bottom line is that it’s very individual and it’s a case of finding out what works best for you.

This approach appeared to work well for you at UTMB this year. Have there been any times when it has backfired spectacularly?

Jez: I didn’t really have much choice about my approach to UTMB this year because I was still on the mend after the expedition. I was reasonably fit, but really not at full fitness. But I knew my mental strength from the expedition would be an asset over the full course of the race, and it was a case of being patient and maintaining a consistent pace.

I can’t think of a single instance of it back-firing as such, because it’s not like I set off at a really slow pace, giving myself too much to do. I don’t ever finish a race with anything left in the tank.

What’s your all-time favourite item of kit?

Jez: I have a Hammerhead rucksack by The North Face which is around 12 years old now, but is still going strong despite taking a regular pounding. I am sure it still has plenty of years left in it; I certainly have no plans to part with it!

What piece of kit is working well for you currently?

Jez: I’m a big fan of the Feather Lite Storm Blocker waterproof jacket and trousers by The North Face. They are incredibly lightweight but still offer a superb level of protection with fully taped seams, hood, visor etc. In New Zealand I was keen to stay fast and light but still needed to carry waterproofs in my day pack in case the weather turned, so the minimal weight was a huge advantage.

One of the perks of being a The North Face athlete must be your involvement in the development of new kit. Is there anything exciting that you have been involved in testing recently that you can share with us?

Jez: The North Face FL Race Vest is the running pack I wore in New Zealand and is due in the shops in a couple of months time. The pack was developed in conjunction with the athlete team over a period of a year or so and really is a great solution to the classic comfort issue of running with a pack. I’ve been using a prototype for the last year or two which has now covered around 4,000miles and is still going strong. The design is very much about you ‘wearing’ the pack, as opposed to it being strapped to you, making it incredibly comfortable.

Where is the most amazing place that you have run?

Jez: New Zealand was spectacular and so unbelievably wild. But my favourite place of all remains the Scottish Highlands. I grab every opportunity I can to get up to Scotland and I love nothing more than getting out and bagging some Munros on a clear day. I am trying to work my way round all the Munros but still have over half left to go. It’s likely to be a long term project.

The North Face website (http://uk.thenorthface.com/blog/eu/en/jez-bragg) lists your best ever run as the 2006 West Highland Way Race. “I have run much faster and stronger since, but for pure enjoyment it tops them all.” Is this still the case and why did you find this particular race so enjoyable?

Jez: My record breaking run of 2006 was completely unplanned so that’s the reason it felt so special at the time. My preparation was fairly poor, and I just set off with the goal of completing the route/ race, rather than make a record attempt. My only time goal was to reach Tyndrum by 9.30am (8.5hours), which I did almost to the minute, and then I just pushed on from there. With no pressure going into the race, and the excitement of running the full route for the first time, I was excited and motivated, and the run just felt natural and unforced. A very nice feeling!

Do you have any plans to return to the West Highland Way race in the near future to try and reclaim the course record?

Jez: Yes, definitely, one year. Unfortunately the race clashes with Western States, and I still have unfinished business at Western States, so that remains my priority. I believe sub-15hours is possible on the course, particularly with little improvements to the trail here and there, so I would like to have another crack at some point.

Have you ever considered permanently relocating so that you are closer to a preferred running destination?

Jez: We’ve definitely considered it, but for various reasons decided it wouldn’t be the best move for us. The excitement enjoyed from making trips to our favourite places would go if we lived there permanently, and wherever you live, it’s always nice to explore new and different areas. We’re based on the south coast in Dorset where there are plenty of great hills and some beautiful undulating countryside to explore right on our doorstep. There is also a really competitive local road running scene which is great for working on speed and leg turnover, attributes that are easy to lose sight of as an ultra runner.

There’s a 24 hour event, the Glenmore 24, that is run on a 4 mile loop in the forests of Glenmore, just outside of Aviemore. Would you consider running a trail race that uses a loop or is your preference for A to B style events?

Jez: I do much prefer single loop or point-to-point races where there’s a journey with a ‘purpose’ to enjoy, but I will definitely run a 24 hour race some day which I suspect will be on a short loop. When I do so I would prefer a fast and flat course because the appeal for me is seeing how far I can physically run in 24 hours with the terrain completely neutral i.e. flat. I’m still trying to get my head round the concept of a 24 hour race, but I’m getting there.

Your last minute decision to run the rescheduled 2010 UTMB race, including cadging a lift from iRunFar’s Bryon Powell having missed the athlete’s bus, is well documented. You went on to win the race on a course that was shortened due to atrocious weather conditions. At the end of the day, you won the race that was run. Does the negative attitude of some people towards your win ever get to you?

Jez: Not at all. It’s true there wasn’t a full field out and the course was shortened, but you can only beat the runners who are on the start line on any given day, and that’s what I did. I personally don’t count it as a ‘full’ UTMB victory because of the compromised course, but it was still a nice win to take.

In footage of you just after winning UTMB you look emotional and deeply contemplative. Can you recall what was going through your mind?

Jez: It had been a very difficult year after I suffered a nasty stress fracture of my calcaneus (heal bone) in early spring, and it was my first come back race after the injury. I feared the injury would have a significant impact on my career, and mentally was hard to get over through worrying about re-occurrence. The overriding feeling was relief and surprise because it’s a scenario I really didn’t expect to happen.

You placed well (11th) at the 2013 UTMB. Were you happy with the result given the problems experienced with UTMBs in the past couple of years?

Jez: It was never going to be easy returning to competitive racing after what I put myself through in New Zealand. The mental and physical recovery process was extremely tough, and whilst I trained hard for UTMB over the summer, I didn’t feel like I achieved a full level of fitness because of the ongoing long-term recovery process from the expedition. My previous couple of UTMB attempts have been unfortunate, and I know I can run the full course well, so I was pleased to get a solid, if unspectacular, run in on the full course. There’s more still to come at UTMB, for sure…

If there was one race that you could go back and run again, which one would it be and why? What would you do differently?

Jez: Western States 2011 when I came 4th. I was leading the race at mile 60 and running alongside Killian who went on to win, and the elusive race win really was on a plate, but unusually I didn’t have a strong finish that year. The heat catches you up very quickly at States, and my pace for the last 20 miles was atrocious. It was a golden opportunity to win the race, I just hope another similar opportunity presents itself this year.

Ultra Tales reader Dan Park asks “What would you consider the most essential elements to your training and what does an average week of running look like?”

Jez: Consistency is key – getting the mileage and sessions in week on week. Easy days will be two runs of say 7 and 10 miles. I will try and fit two specific sessions in; one interval session (marathon based) and a tempo run of 10 miles or so. I will try to fit in a medium run of day 20 miles mid week, and a longer one at the weekends of say 30 or 35 miles. I try to hit around 110miles a week when I’m building towards a race.

You’ve experienced intestinal issues in the past when racing. What kind of diet do you now follow and has this remedied the problem?

Jez: I suffer from a lifelong stomach illness that I have to manage. Ironically it was the reason I first started running, through my determination to not let it impact my life, and to give my body the best possibly chance of staying healthy. Over the past year or so I’ve switched to a gluten free diet which seems to help in keeping it settled and in check. The bonus is that it’s a positive step to make from a performance nutrition of view anyway. Many top athletes follow a gluten free diet and there are many known benefits.

Silence Vs. Music Vs. Podcasts – what’s your preference when out running? What songs and podcasts, if any, do you listen to while training?

Jez: Silence usually, particularly if I’m running somewhere new and interesting. I also like to listen to and enjoy my surroundings which is all part of the experience when running off road. But perhaps if I’m out on my usual training routes from home and there isn’t quite so much interest in the route then I will listen to my iPod on shuffle, or maybe a podcast.

Do you have a particular ‘go to’ motivational tune for training?

Jez: Not really. I don’t tend to have a problem with motivation, and if I’m running hard then I won’t bother with music because there’s too much going on!

You’ve claimed in the past that your navigation skills are pretty good. Have they ever let you down and, if so, what’s the worst situation you’ve ever found yourself in in terms of being lost?

Jez: Amazingly I only had one navigation nightmare in New Zealand when I ended up getting ‘bush whacked’ in a dense forest – effectively getting disorientated – and I ended up heading back down the trail the wrong way! The density of the forests over there makes it easy to do, particularly when you spend days on end moving through the same forest and it all looks the same. The meandering trail would often be blocked by fallen trees, and such diversions make it easy to lose the markers, then you spot one, but perhaps going the wrong way, but it all looks the same…

But across more normal terrain I’m generally pretty good. Everyone makes mistakes, for me it usually just comes through a lack of concentration. What really helps is that I love maps, and I love plotting new routes to explore new areas. In my mind the best thing about what I do is the opportunity to cover big distances to explore new places, on foot, within minimal intrusion, and the amazing sense of experience it brings.

Have you ever lost your running mojo and, if so, how did you regain it?

Jez: Not yet. I love it. I’ve had my fair share injuries over the past couple of years, and I think it’s easy to get dis-heartened during those periods, particularly when the injuries become protracted and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But injuries and setbacks usually fuel the hunger more, and I come back even more determined and motivated than ever.

Do you have one special running moment that stands out in your mind?

Jez: My dad was unfortunately only around for the first part of my running career, and I really wish he had been able to witness more of my successes. However he was there for the finish of my first win in 2004 at the Marathon of Britain (175miles/ 6 days), and I treasure that memory dearly.

Of all the runs you have completed, which one means the most to you?

Jez: That’s tough. For sheer level of difficulty it has to be Te Araroa, with the Cook Strait included. The idea of including the Cook Strait crossing in the Te Araroa route was so far fetched that I found it hard to bring myself to explain the idea to people beforehand.

Do you have a ‘go to’ place when times are tough, a point of reference in your life that makes you think ‘I can do this’

Jez: I have plenty since Te Araroa! There were sections immediately after my illness which I still don’t know how I summoned the energy to complete. The sense of ‘emptiness’ was unreal, and the only thing that really carried me through was the fact I done most of the hard work already, and the platform was too good to throw away. I had to finish.

Ultra Tales reader John Goodson asks “What keeps you going when you hit your lowest point and brings you back to carry on?”

Jez: It’s very simple; mental hunger. If you want something enough – whether it’s a race victory, a summit or the end point of a long distance trail – the mind will drag the body through.

Do you ever get emotional when running?

Jez: I do, yes. Running is a time to reflect and contemplate, and those acts invariably bring emotions with them. Also, I always think that long distance running strips you down to reveal your core emotions, so that’s another reason they come out.

What drives you?

Jez: I’m driven to be the best I possibly can be at whatever I do, and I feel fortunate to have found something I’m good at, and in applying that philosophy I can be successful at races and long distance challenges.

What do you think about the current state of ultramarathon running in the UK.

Jez: We’re doing well. There are a lot of top British ultra distance runners competing and being successful at the highest level around the world, so it’s an exciting time to be part of the sport. The sport definitely has profile now and is attracting more and more runners, which is great for future development. It would be great to see the international (representative) ultra running scene develop further so there is greater incentive for the top runners to compete in the championship events.

Given the speed events are now selling out, are you concerned that ultramarathon running in the UK may become too popular?

Jez: The sport is developing at an incredibly fast pace but I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. Trail races will always be constrained by the numbers the trails can sensibly withstand, and race organizers don’t seem to be pushing numbers too hard. They set a cap and stick to it. I guess the number of races will continue to grow to meet demand. There are some strong values amongst races, competitors and the community as a whole, and all we want is for those to be firmly retained. Despite the growth in the sport, there is no change in the type of person who tends to take on the challenge of ultra running; people who thrive in adversity, live life to the full and are full of positivity. I have made so many great friends through the sport and it definitely has a special feel to it.

Can you ever see yourself as a Race Director?

Jez: I’d love to setup a race one day and I have every intention of doing so. I’d love to give something meaningful back to the sport. My wife and I have talked about it already but we’ve decided we’ve got enough on our plate for now whilst we’re still competing. But watch this space!

Was there an interview, article or moment that made you sit back and think, ‘wow, I’ve made it’?

Jez: It’s definitely not about ‘making it’ and being completely honest that thought hasn’t ever crossed my mind. I appreciate and accept that being successful brings attention and I’m totally comfortable with that, but I still see myself as a pretty average guy who just works hard in training to be successful in races. I see myself as lucky to have found a sport which I’m good at, and rewards those who put the effort in.

Who inspires you?

Jez: Those who train the hardest to achieve ultimate success. The Brownlee brothers, Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe etc. The majority of the population have no idea the dedication involved in achieving what they have.

Best running advice you ever received?

Jez: Run with your heart.

And the worst?

Jez: Go out hard and try to hold on. In my opinion it’s a really bad idea in ultras. Of course it’s very different in shorter races.

Are there any races still on your bucket list?

Jez: Spartathlon, UTMF, Marathon des Sables, Hardrock. And plenty more.

What’s the most challenging terrain that you have encountered while running?

Jez: Some of the rough sections of Te Araroa were just ridiculous. Tussocks three feet high, cactus plants with spikes as sharp as a knife, and generally very precipitous train conditions out in the remote areas.

Ultra Tales reader Chris Edmonds asks “How come I never see him running around the Purbecks?”

Jez: Not out early enough? :o) I’m over there very regularly.

Do you have, and are you able to share, any plans for 2014 and beyond?

Jez: My 2014 race calendar is based around the Ultra Trail World Tour: Hong Kong 100, Transgrancanaria, The Fellsman, Western States 100, UTMB. I’ll also run the local road races in Dorset as part of the league.

Paul Ali, Ultra Tales editor asks “It appears you took part in the GUCR in 2005. Any plans to take part in some of the classic British Ultra’s or the new wave of 100 milers in the UK in the near future?”

Jez: I would love to run more UK races, but I also want to be competing against some of the best runners in the world on the international circuit, so the latter remains my focus. I do still throw in the odd UK race – The Fellsman is still on of my favourites and always works well in preparation for Western States. I would love to have a proper crack at the Lakeland 100 but the timing is never great.

Any more multi-day long distance runs/Fastest Known Times planned?

Jez: I do, but plans are under wraps for the moment. I would love to run another ‘long trail’ like Te Araroa, but it will have to wait a good few years because I am now prioritizing getting back into racing. I would also love to have a crack at some of the UK long distance challenges. It’s hard to know what to focus on really, but racing internationally has to be a focus while I still have the ‘speed’.

Big race or solo run – Which do you prefer?

Jez: Solo run.

There has been a spate of autobiographies and films by, and including, ultra runners recently. Can we expect a book and/or film from yourself at any point in the near future?

Jez: I promised I would write a book about Te Araroa, and then I started getting very busy with work, and before you know a full year has passed. I will put pen to paper at some point, but it may be more of a career overview rather than specific to the expedition. We’ll have to see. There is a film in the pipeline about Te Araroa – due to be released middle of 2014. Watch this space.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out in ultra marathon running and also any advice for those looking to improve?

Jez:

  • Focus on time on your feet rather than distance, speed or splits.
  • Think carefully about your nutrition because if you don’t get it right, you won’t be running much further.
  • Enjoy the journey – plan an interesting route.

What does the support of The North face mean to you?

Jez: The North Face has whole heartedly supported my ultra running career for around five years now, creating the opportunities to compete at the best races around the world, for which I am extremely grateful. To be working with such a leading, forward thinking, brand is a great honour, and provides even more motivation to get out there and compete strongly. I have also met a loads of great friends through both the company and the athlete team, so has been a real life changer in many respects.

Jez Bragg’s Career Highlights

2013

  • Completed Te Araroa Trail in 53 days, 9 hours and 1 minute
  • 11th The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

2012

  • 16th Western States 100, Sierra Nevada Mountains, CA
  • 7th The North Face 100 Australia

2011

  • 2nd The Highland Fling Ultramarathon, Scotland
  • 1st The Fellsman (Course Record – 10h 06m)
  • 4th Western States 100, Sierra Nevada Mountains, CA
  • 7th The North Face Endurance Challenge Final, San Francisco

2010

  • 1st The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc
  • 6th The North Face Endurance Challenge Final, San Francisco

2009

  • 1st The Highland Fling Ultramarathon, Scotland (Course record – 7h 19m)
  • 1st UK 100km Championships, Galway, Ireland (Personal best – 6hrs 58m)
  • 1st Commonwealth 100km Championships, Lake District, UK
  • 1st The Fellsman, Yorkshire Dales, UK
  • 3rd Western States 100, Sierra Nevada Mountains, CA
  • 3rd The Lakeland 100, Lake District, UK

2008

  • 1st Connemara Ultramarathon, Ireland
  • 1st Devil O’ The Highlands Ultramarathon, Scotland (Course record – 5h 22m)
  • 1st The Highland Fling Ultramarathon, Scotland (Course record – 7h 24m)

2007

  • 1st The Highland Fling Ultramarathon, Scotland (Course record – 7h 26m)
  • 1st UK 100km Championships, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • 18th World 100km Championships, Netherlands

2006

  • 1st The West Highland Way Race, Scotland (Course record – 15h 44mins)
  • 1st High Peak 40/ UK Trail Championships
  • 1st  The Long Mynd 50, Shropshire
  • 1st  Round Rotherham 50, Yorkshire

References

The North Face Isotherm 1/2 Zip Review

The following review was included in Issue 10, Autumn/Winter 2013 of Barefoot Running Magazine.

The North Face Isotherm ½ Zip Shirt arrived with me just in time for the drop in temperatures that heralded the end of a brilliant summer and, since that point, it has been in constant rotation, having been worn not just for running but for anything and everything from hiking and biking to general everyday use.

The Isotherm, billed as “an innovative hybrid trail running top designed for protection and warmth,” is available in both men’s and women’s styles and is definitely worth a look if you are considering what to wear to see you through the Autumn and Winter months.

When it comes to the worst of the Autumn/Winter weather, most notably the snow and rain, the Isotherm will be paired up with a breathable waterproof layer to add that additional element of protection. At the time of writing I haven’t yet had the opportunity to test the Isotherm in extreme cold but, from the forecast, it would appear that I will not have to wait too long to be able to do this!

Styling

The Isotherm ½ Zip Shirt comes in Nautical Blue/Estate Blue or TNF Black/Asphalt Grey colour combinations.

Fit

The Isotherm offers a really comfortable fit, neither overly large nor overly tight. My standard XL size provided the perfect fit and it was as comfortable sitting at a desk as it was out on the trail. The only potential issue would be with regard to the sleeves which, with their built in mitt protection, are slightly longer than standard sleeves. However, the mitt element can easily be folded up into the sleeve.

Build Quality

As you would expect from The North Face, the quality of the garment is excellent, well constructed with neatly stitched seams and good attention to detail. Despite repeated washes over the short time that I have had the Isotherm, it shows no sign of degradation at all.

The Isotherm uses proprietary fabrics developed by North Face, including FlashDry™, which incorporates microporous particles to improve moisture management and temperature regulation during outdoor activity. FlashDry™, used across a wide number of products in The North Face range, accelerates the removal of moisture from the skin, enabling the user to stay drier and more comfortable for longer. FlashDry™ is permanently embedded in the yarn and won’t wash out.

Performance

The Isotherm ½ Zip is part of The North Face’s Flight Series running collection, athlete tested and competition proven, and, as such, you have high expectations for the garment.

The Isotherm consists of a wind resistant core which blocks the wind and helps to retain heat, with a wool blend on the sleeves and FlashDry™ paneling for ventilation on the sides of the garment, down the back, and under the arms.

The built in sleeve mitts can be folded up inside the sleeve or simply rolled up around the wrists when not in use. However, chances are you are going to want to make use of the hand protection afforded by these, especially in the chillier temperatures. They are no substitute for gloves in really cold temperatures but are certainly useful on those days when gloves would be overkill and result in overly hot hands.

The double zip used in the ½ zip neck is one area where the attention to detail is evident. I actually overlooked this feature at first, not appreciating just how useful the double zip could be. It facilitates optimum control over ventilation, enabling full coverage when zipped up, ample ventilation when zipped down, or a combination approach if the bottom zip is used. Zipping up from the bottom permits easy ventilation of the chest area without the need to leave the neck flapping around, a useful feature for those days when the winter sun heats you up.

The neck of the garment has a cover to prevent the zip from rubbing against your skin.

There’s a useful zipped chest pocket that’s perfect for holding a key or a lightweight MP3 player.

360 degree reflectivity is provided as a result of reflective logos and use of reflective trims, with the traditional The North Face logo on the front, and a Flight Series logo on the rear of the garment.

I was initially quite surprised at the combination of materials on the Isotherm. The shiny core seemed at odds with the wool blend sleeves and FlashDry™ paneling. However, having tested the Isotherm in a variety of scenarios, I can see how well the separate elements work to provide the perfect conditions for running.

Price

RRP £85.00

Overall Rating

The Isotherm ½ Zip Shirt certainly ticks all the boxes if you are looking for a top that offers wind resistance, temperature regulation, breathability and comfort. It’s the quality product that you would expect to come from The North Face and the combination of a wind resistant core and FlashDry™ paneling results in a garment that doesn’t leave you chilling in your own sweat. The double zip and built in mitts are useful additions to the garment, adding to the overall functionality. Definitely a garment worthy of consideration if you are looking for something to see you through the colder months.

Specifications

Features

  • Two-way zip
  • Reflectivity at zip
  • Shaped hem
  • Thumbholes
  • Secure chest pocket
  • Reflective logo
  • Fabric
  • body: 200 g/m2 56% merino wool, 37% polyolefin, 7% polyester knit
  • panel: 76 g/m2 100% polyester woven

The North Face FL Race Vest

The North Face FL Race Vest has been in development for a number of years now and has been seen on the backs of The North Face athletes such as Jez Bragg and Sebastien Chaigneau throughout the development process.

Most recently, Jez Bragg made use of the vest on his Te Araroa trail expedition.

If you happen to follow Sebastien Chaigneau on Facebook, you will likely have seen how he likes to customize his own vest.

I have yet to see the vest in anything other than photos but Ian Corless provides an excellent overview of the vest over on his web site, describing it as sitting “between the inov-8 Race Ultra and Salomon S-Lab products”. Sounds like a great product that has found its own niche.

Kendal Mountain Festival The North Face Endurance Session Feat. Jez Bragg

Ultra runner extraordinaire Jez Bragg will be appearing at the Kendal Mountain Festival on Friday 15th November where he will give a talk on his recent Te Araroa journey.

“In February of this year ultra runner Jez Bragg successfully completed a unique end to end traverse of the whole of New Zealand – in just 53 days. The North Face athlete completed a 3,000km+ route down the Te Araroa trail which runs from Cape Reigna at the top of the North Island, to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. It was largely a foot-based trail running adventure, but also thrown in were a series of water crossings which Jez tackled by sea kayak, including the notorious Cook Strait, a feat which alludes many specialist kayakers.

Jez battled extreme fatigue, wild and rough terrain, numerous river crossings as well as a three day lay-up due to a stomach virus. In his talk Jez will provide a unique insight into his epic journey, illustrated by a series of incredible video clips and photos. It’s an inspiring story of endurance and determination, set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most beautiful countries.”

Jez is sponsored by The North Face

The Kendal Mountain Festival runs from 14th-17th November 2013

The North Face (UK)

Jez Bragg’s Blog

Check out my interview with Jez Bragg

The North Face Ultra Guide Review

The North Face ultra-running team is a veritable who’s who of endurance running, including Jez Bragg, Sébastien Chaigneau, Lizzy Hawker, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, Dean Karnazes, Nikki Kimball, Hal Koerner, Kami Semick, Diane Van Deren, Michael Wardian, Mike Wolfe and, as of January 2013, man of the moment Timothy Olson, who again won the Western States 100 (15:17:27), his second consecutive Western States 100 win and even more impressive when you consider that he won in temperatures of around 102F/28.9C!

Given the aforementioned roster of athletes, the huge foothold that The North Face has in the outdoor clothing and accessories market, and their continued support of high profile events like UTMB, UTMF and the San Fran 50 (to name a few), you don’t actually see that many pairs of The North Face running shoes on the start line of events. However, given the latest TNF product, this may all be about to change.

Despite The North Face accounting for around 50% of the gear in my wardrobe, I have to admit that this was my first pair of TNF running shoes. I doubt, however, that it will be my last.

I’ve been fortunate to review some excellent shoes of late and The North Face Ultra Guide easily falls into this category. The Ultra Guide can best be described as a luxurious, well cushioned running shoe, with ample room in a toebox that has been constructed to accommodate potential feet swell, making them perfect of ultramarathons and other endurance events.

After just a couple of 10 mile runs to break the shoes in, I put them to the test in a 33 mile event on a wet and miserable day. Despite the inclement weather, I finished blister free and with my feet in good condition, all the more surprising given the lack of training in the build up to the event thanks to a new addition to the family!

Considering the weight of the shoe (544 g for a pair of mens size 9), they pack a considerable amount of cushioning. I had to laugh at the comment from the ultra168.com review of The North Face Ultra Guide:

“I immediately felt the huge amount of cushioning North Face have crammed into this shoe. If I was blindfolded I would have sworn I was in a pair of Hoka’s. The expected rocky feel under foot was totally lacking, all I had to remind me I was on trail was the slight roll I felt when I got a little out of shape on loose rocks at speed.” (ultra168.com)

The cushioning certainly makes for a comfortable run and provides more than adequate protection from the terrain underfoot. What’s more, you never actually feel like you are being artificially ‘sprung’. Instead, I can only describe it as a feeling of comfort.

“For comfort and support on the trail, lace up The North Face® Men’s Ultra Guide off-road running shoe. This hard-working, hard-wearing shoe is built to give athletes the sturdy protection they require on tough runs and races. Incorporates abrasion-resistant mesh uppers and Snake Plate™ technology to protect the forefoot. Tenacious™ Grip rubber outsoles deliver a sticky grip on slick or uneven terrain. Support comes from the advanced Cradle Guide™ system that cushions the forefoot on impact and promotes natural movement from stride to stride, plus Northotic footbed and metatarsal fit systems. Engineered in a lightweight, streamlined package that belies its sturdy construction, The North Face® Men’s Ultra Guide shoe keeps athletes moving on the trail.”

The Ultra Guide handle the crossover from road to trail well, providing a perfect shoe for multi terrain events, as was the case with my 33 mile ultra, and/or for those of us who need to pound the pavement before reaching the confines of the forest. The well spaced, multi-directional lugs provide excellent grip which would best be described as ‘aggressive’, allowing the shoe to deal with rocky, rooty terrain with ease, and yet they are not as protruding as to be obvious once back on tarmac.

Aesthetically, the shoe has been described as having a ‘retro’ feel by some reviewers. I would certainly agree that the red colour scheme that I was testing had a fairly traditional look to it but, if anything, this is the kind of look that I have come to expect from TNF product. The blue/yellow colour scheme does have a slighty more modern look to it.

Despite throwing everything at the shoe over the past few months, the robust uppers look as fresh as the day they left the box. The sole is finally showing signs of wear around the gel box area in the heel but, certainly at this point, this appears to be cosmetic more than anything.

The Ultra Guides are staying firmly in my running shoe rotation. Having tested them in all conditions, I have yet to find a situation where they do not perform.

I will be really surprised if this year’s offerings don’t do something to increase the number of ultra runners wearing TNF running shoes and, from the sneak peak of what’s to come in 2014, as revealed at the 2013 Outdoor Retailer trade show that took place recently in Salt Lake City, Utah, The North Face are continuing their efforts to further increase their presence in this growing market.

On show were:

  • ‘The North Face Ultra Trail’, a lightweight, flexible trail runner with 8mm heel-toe offset, a full-length, low profile Vibram outsole, and a wider forefoot geometry to accommodate foot splay and swelling.
  • The North Face Ultra Smooth, a hybrid shoe built for running on roads and smooth trails, with 8mm heel-toe offset, and a combination Vibram/EVA outsole. Perfect for those of us who are not in a position to step straight on to the trail.

Expect to see a far greater presence from The North Face on a start line near you!

The North Face Ultra Guide, RRP £110.00

Technology:

Cradle Guide: Midsole technology engineered to naturally absorb impact, stabilize the foot and promote a biomechanically correct stride to achieve the perfect balance of stability, cushioning and comfort.

Snake Plate™

“The patent-pending Snake Plate™ consists of a forefoot plate that winds back and forth between the medial and lateral sides of the foot. Because it is not one solid element, it is not as uncompromisingly rigid from side to side and front to back. The result is a forefoot plate that allows the foot to do what it is physiologically designed to do: flex, bend, and contort to changing terrain. At the same time, the Snake Plate™ delivers rigidity where and when it is still needed. The thickness, composition and size of the Snake Plate™ vary from style to style as appropriate. For example, a thicker, more rigid Snake Plate™ addresses the technical, ever-changing demands of a mountain run. A thinner, more flexible Snake Plate™ reconciles flexibility with a decreased demand for protection while on smoother dirt paths.”

Tenacious™ Grip

“Tenacious ™ Grip: a high-abrasion sticky rubber designed for maximum off-trail traction, that will also withstand the rigors of rough off-trail surfaces.”

Unleashed Performance™

“A neutral design construction that allows a natural stride turnover, Unleashed Performance™ category footwear is geared toward the more mechanically sound runner.”

Cradle™ Guide

“The North Face Cradle Guide™ technology offers full Phase Impact Control, a system that guides the foot through all 3 stances of the gait cycle, impact, mid foot and Toe-off. This system is engineered to provide the perfect combination of cushioning, stability and protection for any foot on any terrain, letting the hiker or runner move swiftly and lightly over backcountry trails.”

(Information from http://uk.thenorthface.com/tnf-uk-en/men-s-ultra-guide-shoes-2.html)

Features Include

  • Neutral design ideal for mechanically sound runners

Upper:

  • Tongue scree collar
  • Abrasion-resistant, tight-weave mesh
  • TPU-welded midfoot support
  • C-Delta metatarsal fit system
  • Perforated EVA Northotic™ footbed

Bottom:

  • Dual-compression, EVA CRADLE GUIDE™ midsole platform
  • 16mm/8mm heel/forefoot EVA heights from center line
  • TPU Snake Plate™ forefoot protection
  • Tenacious™ Grip sticky rubber outsole

Product Specifications

  • Style: A4UM
  • Approx Weight: (based on Men’s 9)
    • ½ pair: 9.6 oz (272 g)
    • pair: 1 lb 3 oz (544 g)

The North Face Enduro 13 Review

Originally reviewed for Fitness Rocks:

Ultra distance runner Jonathan J Mackintosh shares his opinions on the North Face Enduro 13 backpack.

I purchased the North Face Enduro 13 rucksack in the week before the 53 mile 2011 Highland Fling ultramarathon. Despite owning bags by both the OMM and inov8, I wanted something that was super lightweight and that let my body breathe more than the packs I currently owned.

‘Testing’ a new pack on a 53 mile run is preposterous but it is testament to the Enduro 13 pack that it passed with flying colours and was rarely off my back in both training runs and races throughout the rest of 2011. Despite the arrival of new packs on the market, the Enduro 13 remains as my pack of choice for the forthcoming 2012 ultramarathon season.

The Enduro 13 is highly streamlined and it is therefore, not for those who like to pack for every eventuality. Having said that, the Enduro 13 appeared to be the pack of choice for many UTMB athletes and, as such, is capable of carrying all of the required kit for this, the toughest ultra in Europe. If you own minimalist waterproof equipment it will no doubt make packing for all weathers that bit easier. Even with space considerations I have regularly carried a waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, various Buffs, basic medical supplies, a map, energy gels and bars without problem. If anything, the space limitations prove beneficial in that the contents of the pack tend not to bounce about, something that I have experienced with other packs.

My initial attraction to the pack was as a result of the 2 side mounted bottles. These are perfectly positioned for easy use on the run and can be easily filled at aid stations/check points. There is the option to add a bladder to the inside of the pack and the bladder hosing can be easily accommodated on the packs straps. Personally, I have found it easier to keep an eye on hydration when using bottles as you can quickly see how much or how little liquid you have left from a quick inspection, something that is not so easily done with a bladder.

Retailing at approximately £65.00, the pack sits in the mid price point area relative to other packs.

Overall the Enduro 13 is well constructed and, having been used considerably for almost a year, shows no sign of wear or tear. A wipe down with a damp cloth soon removes any dirt and/or salt desposited through sweating.

Pros

  • Super lightweight
  • Easy to clean
  • Size – Minimalist size allows the body to breathe
  • Easy access bottles
  • Easy access side pockets, useful for carrying bars & gels

Cons

  • The pack often sells out & remains out of stock for long periods on the North Face store
  • The use of velcro on the front fastening mechanism can be unkind to technical t-shirts if you let the 2 come into contact
  • Size – May not be large enough for everyone’s packing tastes

Check out my review of the Salomon XT Wings 5 backpack if you are looking for a pack of this type.