Sunday, August 23, 2015

Midnattsloppen 10km - Stockholm

I was in Stockholm last weekend on a short city break. While wandering around the old town we stepped into a shop selling local crafts. The lady working there started conversation and asked me if I was running that evening. I pressed her for more details and it was a 10km run at midnight. 

When we stopped at a cafe with wifi I set about looking into the event and more importantly seeing if I could get an entry. 

It didn't take long to appreciate that this race was not a small affair. With 40k runners spread over multiple starting waves getting an entry at the start was not going to be possible. I started looking on social media to see if there were any entries being sold or available. This was a problem as I don't read or speak Swedish! With Twitter being the easiest place to communicate there was nothing coming through. 

I had resigned myself to not being able to take part. 

I was then in the Stockholm Adidas store later that afternoon, just browsing. It was quiet and the assistant struck up conversation with me asking if I was running that evening. I replied that I wasn't as I couldn't get an entry. He then said that a colleague of his was selling one.

Five minutes later and I had an entry but for the 22:30 start. A quick check with Sue, we were going out for dinner that night, for clearance (!) and it was set, I'd be running that night. 

The entry comprised a race t-shirt, wristband and timing chip. No race number as all runners wear the shirt. 

I got a taxi to the start, or as close as possible as the roads were closed. On course there were hundreds of runners streaming along. Along the course music, bands and dancers kept the atmosphere buzzing and the energy high. Not sure which way to the start I fell in with a small group and walked with them. 

The start was well organised, each wave falling into their group 20minutes ahead of their start time. For me that was 2210, it was then a steady walk through to the start. In that short walk there was a warm up led by some dancers on a stage, a runners pledge (in Swedish so no real idea what that was about) lots of singing and lots of hand clapping. Looking around and it seemed that every woman had a blonde pony tail and every man a hipster beard of some variety. 

At 2230 on the dot we were off, the start line erupting in bright lights and a busty of even louder music as we passed over the timing mats. 

I had positioned myself about 3 rows back from the start to try and see what the runners were like and take it from there. Within 400metres of the start I was at the front of my wave having made up ground on all the runners. Ahead were runners from previous waves. This is where it got crowded.

The roads were closed but with the volume of runners were nowhere near wide enough. I set about weaving and looking for gaps between runners to keep my pace high. This was retry good fun but made it quite difficult. Just ahead of me there was a young chap running, he appeared to be running a similar pace to me (because I couldn't catch him) so I started following his path. 

We ran down the edges of the roads and weaved our way through. Him completely unaware of me on his tail. I didn't want to over take him just follow him. I felt like I was running fast and felt pretty agile. The cobbles serving to accentuate that feeling. 

The course then wound its way up a short, but sharp hill. It was carnage, people strewn across the road walking. I used the space that on the edges of the road to try and keep running but with people just stopping it did become difficult. Cresting the hill I powered down the other side. Making up more ground on those running way more conservatively down the hill. 

There were two more hills to come the next one was awesome and the last one proved how much my fitness is just off. 

The second hill was the longest of the three (i think) and through a park. With no street lighting the course was marked by glosticks on either side leading to an arch that was heavily branded with Boost (Adidas were one of the title sponsors) and lit up. The lights creating a tunnel a bit like when the Millennium Falcon used to go into light speed. With smoke from machines spilling out it was quite atmospheric through this section. 

The rest of the race followed a similar pattern. Fast flats along well supported streets. It was just over the 30 minute point that I started to feel the impact of my exertions and slow down. I have not trained much in the last couple of months due to injury and it started to show. I did not feel strong. My head was snapping back a bit. 

The final hill was particularly steep and I ended up walking as the people traffic was so heavy. It was then along straight to the finish. I did pick up my pace in that final stretch as all around people continued to walk and drag their feet. 

I crossed the line in 43:25. A fair bit slower than the sub-40 I was hoping for but in the circumstances a perfectly acceptable time. Far from disappointed it had been a great fun and a lot of fun. 

The Brazilian dancers towards the end being a particular highlight!

At the finish there were chutes guiding you through to get a banana and energy bar, drinks and then medal. I hung around at the finish for a while, soaking up the atmosphere and just enjoying being there. People were happy to chat, it was a lot of fun. Eventually I made my way back to the hotel, opting to run back. Turned out it was a little over a mile, if only I had know the way when I set out. I jogged back and was looking forward to a beer in the hotel bar only to find it closed. 

I headed up to the room, showered but was still buzzing, it took me quite a while to come down from the race. 

It was a brilliant race, really great fun and with a fantastic atmosphere all the way around. While it felt a bit different to a UK race it also felt very familiar. While the differences were slight the runners are the same and that's what made it the race it was.

Oooh there's a short video here...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Is this the best running shoe ever?

That's the bold claim made by Adidas in relation to the Ultra Boost
running shoe. The latest (and best?) incarnation of the Boost family
of shoes.

I have had a pair now for a few weeks and covered around 120 miles in
them. I have been using them as I rehab from my latest injury. My
longest run in these shoes has been 12 miles and around 90% of the
miles have been on Tarmac, the other 10% being on groomed or compact
trail. Nothing too mucky!

Just to recap that I switched to Boosts on recommendation from my
local Up and Running store. Having had a couple of pairs of Hoka's
which I really loved but that disintegrate after around 300/350 miles
I was looking for something soft but durable. The Boosts truly fit
that bill. I have had a couple pairs of the Adiboosts - they are
great. The upper is flexible and comfortable, no chaffing or
blistering from these and the outer rubber, made by Continental no
less, durable in the extreme. I have a pair with 800 miles of them and
they still look great, even if they do feel a little less than
responsive by now.

I was therefore very excited to be finally getting my hand so a pair
of the Ultra Boosts. Excited and disappointed that my attempts to get
a pair to trial for Adidas never came to anything.

I opted for the orange ones, they are incredibly bright. I love them.
If bright is not your cup of tea then they currently also do black and
blue. I saw on an email today that a green and a yellow pair are now
available for pre order. The colour ways are fantastic, modern
production techniques are really being used here to develop some funky
eye catching designs that in a running shoe also serve the purpose of
highlighting the runner on the road. Reflecting light or simply
catching the eye.

These shoes have a knitted upper that is a single piece. Your foot
slides into the shoe and is actually pretty secure without lacing then
up. The laces are threaded view a basket type arrangement that uses
the Adidas 3-stripes to secure the shoe and provide some stability
through the width of the shoe.

The heel cup is, as it is on the Adi-Boost, is an external skeleton.
Rather than have the plastic in the heel, for the heel to rub on, it
is external. With the shoe on the first thing I noticed was how low
profile they are. They sit incredibly low around the ankle. This did
take me a while to get used to and to feel secure in. I did worry that
my ankle would roll. It doesn't, hasn't and shows no signs of doing

These shoes have a drop going from 33.1mm at the heel to 23mm at the
front. In this age of zero or low drop shoes it is quite interesting
that Adidas has decided to keep to a more traditional style running
shoe. They are not alone in this with Salomon also have a heel to toe
drop in many of their models. Thinking about this the rationale makes
sense as if these shoes are designed for ultra's then in the latter
stages of a race form will be ragged and heel striking will creep in.
Also when running down hill fast you use your heels. It's why the foot
and ankle can flex both ways.

I run on the mid/forefoot and these shoes feel great to me. The
softness in the Boost sole seemingly at odds with its depth.

The outer rubber is, again, Continental rubber so there will be no
issues with durability. They are also incredibly sticky; out of the
box they were squeaking like new tyres in a car park as I walked
around my kitchen and on the road they feel no different.

What I have started to experience when I run now is the boost return.
My recent injuries have been due to poor form. Essentially running
using my hips and quads and not engaging the glutes and hamstrings. As
I recover I am making a more conscious effort to pick up my heels and
use all the muscles that are necessary for running. As I do this in
these shoes my pace picks up naturally for little additional effort
and I feel like I am bouncing along. It's really a fantastic feeling.

It's like achieving flow on every run.