Category Archives: Gear

Gear review : ASICS Gel-FujiElite trail racer

Slurp, squelch, slide…fall. Bugger. It’s muddy out on the trails at the moment and even the hard packed gravel trails have become impassable for my road shoes. Time to get some trail shoes!

ASICS UK came to my rescue and sent me a media sample of the ASICS Gel-FujiElite trail racers to test and review. The FujiElite is a new release and is part of their ‘speed’ range of shoes featuring a racing last. I’ve now done over 100km in them, ranging from 5km races at my local Parkrun to 20+km training runs and have found them to be much more multipurpose than just the ‘racing’ tag-line they are marketed with.

ASICS-Gel-FujiElite-split-view

A low drop (6mm) racing shoe for trail, with a host of features made for trail

Read the rest of this entry

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Running recap, and : Still learning from my mistakes…

Life has been hectic lately, but I’m still getting some running in. It doesn’t resemble my marathon training plan that much, but at least I’m still running. More than I’ve been blogging at any rate…

Another thing I’ve noted is that I’m still learning. Unfortunately, largely through making mistakes…
Since my last post I’ve managed to keep up my ‘two-for-Tuesday‘ workout of hard run (usually hill sprints) followed by Yoga. I really like this combo – a hard run after my rest day, followed by an hour of enforced stretching and core work. I’m the first to admit it, I don’t stretch or do enough core work, so yoga is a good way for me to get in a flexibility and core workout.

Mental note #1: Stretch more. Like everyday, not just after a run.

Read the rest of this entry

Gear Review : Nike Aeroloft 800 running jacket

Well, in the UK it looks like winter has finally hit, with icy temperatures, arctic winds and those frigid days that follow clear nights.

Perfect timing then, as I was the lucky recipient of a Nike Aeroloft 800 running jacket for Christmas.

Light as a feather…

Light as a feather…

First off, it’s not actually a jacket. It doesn’t have sleeves or a hood. It’s designed as a ‘cool-weather’ layer for your core, and can be worn as an outer-layer in it’s own right, or under a shell jacket for when the conditions are really nasty. Also, the name sounds all ‘space-age’ but really its pretty simple – the jacket gets its name from the 800-fill ‘high lift’ goose down that is also responsible for giving the jacket it’s distinctive baffle look.

It’s also why it is so expensive. According to this article from Wikipedia, goose-down which has a ‘loft-rating’ higher than 750 is harvested BY HAND  from the natural moulting of geese kept for breeding, rather than as a by-product from geese raised for commercial purposes. I guess you get what you pay for…

I’ve done a full review under my ‘Gear’ page, (follow this link), so below I’ve just summarised the key points: Read the rest of this entry

ASICS Gel-Excel33 2 review

As many of you know I’ve been running in ASICS Gel-Excel33 2 trainers for almost a year now, and with over 1000km across three pairs, including a marathon, I thought I’d better get off my bum (or should that be my feet?) and write up my full review of them.

ASICS-Gel-Excel-33-sole

Boring in white…, but a very capable shoe. Most of the cool stuff is happening underfoot where you can’t see it in any case…

My thoughts on the ASICS Gel-Excel33 2:

The Gel-Excel33 2 is a great trainer for frequent runners and high mileage. It is a capable, comfortable long distance trainer and race shoe and I would recommend it to any midfoot/forefoot runner looking to move away from big support/stability ‘battleship’ shoes towards a more natural ride.

Positives:

  • Neutral shoe with natural feel promoting midfoot/forefoot landing
  • Really nicely fitting upper, good midfoot support
  • ‘Natural’ feeling midsole with 10mm drop, lots of bounce but with a firm base
  • Super high-wearing outsole, well suited to road, pavement and dry gravel

Negatives:

  • Upper of the shoes wear around the foot flexion point after about 300km (but no further degradation and no effect on shoe performance)
  • Store price is high compared to other comparable shoes, but Internet prices similar
  • White colourway is boring but other colours often slightly more expensive
ASICS Gel-Excel 33 2 special edition counter

The ‘special edition’ colour. £10 more expensive but they look WAY cool…
The heel clutch system is visible as the plastic wrap around the heel extending to just below the ankle.

ASICS Gel-Excel33 2 – General Info:

A few years ago ASICS started the ‘33’ line of shoes based on providing a more neutral ride and support of the natural motion of the foot. Named for the 33 bones in the foot the shoes are designed to protect and promote natural movement in, this was a departure from ASICS normal line of technically superior ‘full support’ and ‘stability’ shoes.

The first releases were already competent shoes thanks to ASICS focus on science and technology, but with the second iteration of the Gel-Excel33 2 it would appear ASICS have been learning some lessons about ‘natural’ shoes and have been applying these to an already competent shoe. According to ASICS, upgrades to the shoe include the introduction of FluidAxis (deep flex grooves in the outsole to allow for a more natural motion of the subtalar joint), changes to the trusstic system, improved responsiveness in the mid-sole and slightly more room in the forefoot.

ASICS have for some time been at the forefront of marrying science and engineering to make highly capable shoes, and it appears that using this philosophy on more ‘natural’ shoes is paying dividends.

ASICS Gel-Excel 33 2 – Out of the box:

First impressions are positive. The shoes are light for the amount of cushioning they have, with good flexibility and, above all else, simplicity. The white colourway is a pretty boring looking shoe, but other colourways are available for both men and women.

On putting the shoe on I found the fit to be excellent, very comfortable and quite cushioned. It just felt ‘good’ as soon as I put it on. The heel counter is stiffened on the outside for a very solid grip on your heel (ASICS call this the ‘heel clutch’ system) and overly padded, however the blurb about the shoes notes there is memory foam in the heel to ‘personalise’ your fit so it is will mould to your heel and provide a superior fit.  There is an EVA sockliner moulded to the shape of the foot, which can be removed to accommodate a medical orthotic or, as in the case of the photo below, your fitted insoles.

ASICS-Gel-Excel-33-side

Lightweight shoe, lots of cushioning. Note the massive padding to the heel counter before breaking the shoes in.

ASICS Gel-Excel 33 2 – The shoe itself:

The upper of the shoe is made from a lightweight mesh with ASICS trademark intertwined ‘hashtag’ logo in stiffer material to add structure to the shoe. The tongue is very padded, and like most trainers the shoe has two eyelets at the top to allow for butterfly lacing and people with small ankles. The mesh looks the same as the previous shoe, but with a bit more of it to add room in the forefoot over the metatarsal area.

As mentioned before the ASICS ‘heel clutch’ is utilised over a traditional heel counter and I have always found it a good system at locking my heel in position.

The midsole of the Gel-Excel 33 2 is similar to the v1 edition, being composed of two different foam materials sitting on top of each other. Directly under the foot is the spEVA layer for improved cushioning and comfort. The bottom layer is made of SoLyte which is denser and more resilient, also offering better energy return and stability. By using both foams together it provides a solid platform on the ground with consistent energy return, while reducing impact and stress into the foot. There is also a gel pod in the heel to assist with cushioning in the event of heel strike; however it is not as prevalent as with other shoes in the ASICS line. It’s basically there to absorb heel impact and to allow a smooth transition to mid-stance, but not for serious protection for heel-strikers.

ASICS guidance line, FluiAxis and Trusstic all on display. What all this means is a flexible shoe with a smooth transition, good support and energy return

ASICS guidance line, FluidAxis and Trusstic all on display. What all this means is a flexible shoe with a smooth transition, good support and energy return

In the v2 edition of these shoes the Trusstic system has been retained under the arch of the foot to mimic the plantar fascia area however ASICS say the Trusstic system has been extended to aid in propulsion. It’s not really noticeable at low speed, but at high speed when you really flex the shoe you notice a ‘spring’ effect at toe off.

Thanks to the splitting of the outsole by the Guidance Line (a long split to help separate the shoe along its axis) and the split segments running across the shoe there is good flexibility from the midfoot to the toe. When running forefoot these shoes feel light and responsive and natural. However, as the midfoot is stiffened by the Trusstic system it has very little flexion through this part of the shoe. Not an issue if you are a midfoot striker, but when I deliberately tried running heel striking you notice the shoe feels a bit ‘dead’ until you get past mid-stance and the flexibility increases. Again, this isn’t really a bad thing as the shoes are designed to promote a more natural midfoot and forefoot stance.

Very flexible forefoot, but the Trusstic keeps the midfoot very stiff which can make the shoe feel slow if you're a heel striker

Very flexible forefoot, but the Trusstic keeps the midfoot very stiff which can make the shoe feel slow if you’re a heel striker

The outsole is quite thin but is made of ASICS High Abrasion Rubber (AHAR) which is extremely durable. I did over 500km in one pair and the wear was minimal. The outsole is also split into little triangles, allowing a quite stiff rubber to flex easily along with the rest of the sole. Aside from the durability, I found the sole to be quiet, smooth with good traction even on wet surfaces and gravel. Off-road the shoe is capable, but only for compacted gravel trails or reasonably solid leaf litter. Larger stones can be easily felt through the sole and traction in mud is limited. However, I found it more than capable for dry off-road running and even did a quite technical segment of the ‘path of the Gods’ in them without any issues.

They're not designed for it, but you can still go through the mud in them. Expect wet socks though...

They’re not designed for it, but you can still go through the mud in them. Expect wet socks though…

Asics Gel-Excel 33 2 – On the road:

As I mentioned, I’ve now done over 1000km in these shoes across three pairs. Out of the box the shoe is very padded. The tongue and heel counter are especially soft. This would normally put me off a trainer as it can make the shoe ‘wallow’ because of the lack of compression between the foot, the upper and the heel. However, in this shoe the tongue sets down quickly and thanks to the memory foam of the heel counter the breaking in period is swift. On all three pairs it took three runs and roughly 25km before the shoes were fully broken in, after that they went on like a slipper and stayed nicely attached to my feet.

The shoes fit really well, have good room in the toebox, feel light on the feet, and when running swiftly feel flexible and really responsive. On the long slow runs the deep cushioning keeps muscles and joints protected and ready to back it up the next day. Also, I have custom insoles which I use in my ASICS Kinsei. In the Gel-Excel I tried them for the first run and took them out as soon as I got home, as they killed the ride in the shoe and were providing too much arch support. The supplied EVA insole is lighter, flexed better and worked with the mechanics of the shoe and I’ve not looked back!

Durability wise, the outsole is fantastic with 500km+ without any significant wear. One thing I noticed is that the shoes bounced back run-after-run until the runs starting going past 25km in length or 60km per week. After that point they appeared to deteriorate quickly. One pair I had was approaching 400km as I went into the big end of my marathon preparation and four successive runs over 25km with a last 32km left them feeling ‘dead’ and I retired them after about 500km total. This isn’t great for an expensive pair of runners, but I feel like up to about 40km per week these shoes could last for 700km or so. However, as testament to the fit of these shoes, my new pair arrived only five days before the marathon and I got little over 10km to bed them in before the race. They performed well in the race and left me with no blisters, no hot spots, and crucially, no black toenails. Also, they didn’t get that ‘dead’ feeling after the race and some 200km on they still feel good.

One negative point is the durability of the upper. After about 300km the flexion point around the forefoot shows wear through the mesh. It is only the very upper layer, the structure appears intact, and I didn’t notice any further wear after that, nor any impact on the performance of the shoes.

Cool shoes, but the mesh shows signs of deterioration around the foot flexion point after about 300km

Cool shoes, but the mesh shows signs of deterioration around the foot flexion point after about 300km

Asics Gel-Excel 33 2 – Bernie’s verdict: 9/10

I find this a great trainer for me, and I think it would suit other neutral or mild over-pronating runners seeking a good road shoe for serious mileage. I was impressed by the flexibility, the natural feeling while running and the easy transition through the toe-off phase. Price wise they are a bit expensive for the apparent ‘simplicity’ of the shoe but are still a fair bit cheaper than top of the line support or stability models in the ASICS stable or competitors shoes.

Do you run on ASICS Gel-Excel33 2 trainers? Let me know your thoughts on them below!

Happy running everyone!

Bernie

Get Going, Get Running!

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Running shoes : less, more, how many is enough?

Her – “Now you’ve finished your marathon, can you do something with your shoes?”

Him – “What do you mean, they’re fine?”

Her – “Bernie! Look at that pile!”

Him – “Oh, wait, I see what you mean…”

I’m sure every runner has had this conversation at some point, either (reluctantly) with their partner, or (even more reluctantly) with themselves.

Maybe you have a race coming up. You get a new pair of shoes because your careworn runners are looking ragged, but you don’t throw out the old ones. They’re backup. Insurance in case you don’t get on with your new trainers.

Or maybe you’re upping the mileage so you go to a two-shoe routine, alternating pairs so your shoes can dry out and the foam has time to recover between runs.

Or maybe you’ve introduced speedwork into your runs and you’ve added a speedy pair to your stable. Or spikes for track, or studded for trail.

Or maybe, you’ve done all three…

What constitutes too many shoes, anyway?

What constitutes too many shoes, anyway?

The trainer jumble starts to evolve, spill out of its tidy little storage place, but what do you do? Are you ready to part with the old pairs? Are some of them being worn as utility trainers for gardening or perhaps the cool ones double as casual wear?

It’s a conundrum that all runners have to face at some point. Which trainers need to go to the giant shoe box in the sky, which will pass inspection and live another day.

For me, today is not that day. I’m putting it off and procrastinating. By looking for new shoes.

I’m after a pair of road/trail hybrid shoes which will give me better grip in the muddy parts of the Heath but not feel like running in treacle on the pavement while I’m getting there, while suiting a neutral runner with a mid foot strike. Anyone have any suggestions?
Happy running everyone!

Bernie

Get Going, Get Running!

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Running Gear : New Shoes for the Marathon

 

Every runner loves a new pair of shoes…

I’ve (finally) received the delivery of my shoes for the marathon – a new pair of ASICS-GelExcel33 2. They’re even in snazzy ‘limited edition’ blue and green. Because this will of course make me go faster on race day…

ASICS-Gel-Excel-33-2-special-edition

 

 

Keen readers will note that apart from the colour difference, these are EXACTLY the same pair of shoes that I talked about buying last time I posted a shoe review. What can I say, I’m a runner. There is one thing I’m NOT going to do just before a marathon and that is change my model of shoes!

ASICS-Gel-Excel-33-2-special-edition-sole

 

 

So, while these aren’t the fastest of shoes, they seem to work well for me and I have a new pair for the marathon, still full of support and shock absorption. I would have preferred to have had them last week so I could do about 50km in them, but internet deliveries which say 4 days, sometimes aren’t.

ASICS-Gel-Excel-33-2-special-edition-counter

However, this is the third pair of these shoes I’ve had, so I know my feet fit them fine and, crucially, they don’t give me any hotspots. Just to be sure I’m going to wear them as much as possible between now and the marathon, along with my 3 easy runs this week, to help bed them in.

Seeing as I’ve had three pairs now I guess I should probably get around to giving  review of them. But that can wait until after the marathon where we’ll see if blue and green do go faster than boring white…

Happy running everyone!

Bernie

Get Going, Get Running!

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Trail Running : a good way to clear your head and make new friends…

What do you do if a horse is standing in the middle of the trail you’re running on? Stop to pat it and take photos of course! While at the same time keeping it from stealing your energy drink…

Today my girlfriend and I were up in Doncaster for the funeral of her grandfather who sadly passed away last week. Needless to say it has been an emotional week for my girlfriend and in some respects I’ve experienced some of the ‘overflow’. However, there is nothing like a run to clear your head and get some focus, so this morning I went out for a 12km trail run.

doncaster-trail-run

Last night we stayed with my girlfriend’s aunt and uncle at their house in Sprotbrough, right on the banks of the River Don. This gave me the means and excuse to head out off the tarmac and onto the trail along the river this morning. I didn’t have a map, but I’d looked on Google maps before I went out to get an idea of distance and route and headed out. Of course, the first thing I did after getting onto the trail was take a wrong turn at a fork which resulted in me crossing over the A1 on a footbridge and ending up in a field if beets. However, I could see the river half a mile away so followed the tractor marks through the beets to the river.

Not much of a designated trail, but a trail nonetheless. And no, I don't know if they're really beets, they just looked like it to me...

Not much of a designated trail, but a trail nonetheless. And no, I don’t know if they’re really beets, they just looked like it to me…

After a ‘delicate’ negotiation of a barbed wire fence I was on the riverside track and headed off. A few wrong turnings and a backtrack or two and I found myself popping out back at the top of the field of beets! I’d made myself a little 4km trail circuit!

doncaster-trail-run-aerial-image

If you wish to see the run for ‘real’ – clicking on the Image will take you to the Garmin Player

Now knowing the ‘right’ route I skipped back over the A1 footbridge, took the correct turning at the fork and found the stairs down to the river (much better than risking the barbed wire fence again) and headed back out on the trail. On the second circuit I was able to keep a tempo pace up because a) I knew the route and b) I wasn’t stopping every 5 minutes to take a photo of beets, cows, ducks or whatever. Until the horse of course (of course…)

I know these are cows, not a horse. Cows don't really do much do they...

I know these are cows, not a horse. Cows don’t really do much do they…

I had just entered a new field and had run around the corner to find a horse grazing in the middle of the track. He looked up as I approached, but didn’t seem concerned about me, so I kept approaching and slowed to a walk. Seeing that the horse was friendly, and pretty much ambivalent about my presence I went up to it and gave it a pat on the head and a scratch on the neck. This was fine until he smelled my energy drink. I had spilled some on my hand and he could obviously smell the sugar! Suddenly he was pushing and shoving with outstretched neck and lips puckering for my bottle. Greedy little bugger! Anyway, in this merry little dance we’d managed to turn around and I found myself on the other side of him, with an empty track in front of me. Seizing this opportunity I bid ‘adieu’ to Mr Ed and went on my way with an extra photo for the blog and horse saliva all over my arm!

Mr Ed, before he found out I had an energy drink with me...

Mr Ed, before he found out I had an energy drink with me…

The rest of the run was pretty uneventful. A bridge, some cows, some people walking their dogs, a lock, and 2km at threshold pace to finish off the run. I returned back to the house to find everyone had risen and breakfast was being prepared. I made excuses for a quick shower because, lets face it, no one deserves to sit next to a smelly sweaty runner at breakfast. Especially not one with horse spit down one arm and mulberry stains across his white (stupid choice for a trail run) tech shirt!

Disused rail bridge over the River Don

Disused rail bridge over the River Don

I’m starting to think the idea of a trail marathon is a good idea. Does anyone do trail races, and if so, what do you love about them?

A small p.s. – I found my 2XU calf guards really useful for my trail run. They stopped most things from scratching my shins, including mulberry bushes. But not stinging nettles. Definitely not stinging nettles…

Happy running everyone!

Bernie

Get Going, Get Running!

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Running Gear : 2XU Calf Guards review part 2

The other day I posted a review about 2XU Calf Guards, and the initial impression they made on me.

20130821-003713.jpg
I have now done a long run in them (a 26km TLT session) and wanted to top-and-tail my review to take into account for my experiences of them during, and after a long distance run.

Generally speaking the same feeling I described in my first review of a ‘warm, snug, squeeze’ was present for the whole run, along with the delay in onset of muscle pain in my calf muscles, particularly in relation to my quads, hamstrings and hip flexors.

As in my previous run, I kept the 2XU calf guards on for an hour or so after the run to see what the recovery was like. It is in recovery that I think these calf guards make the most difference. As anyone who runs knows, hard runs always result in a bit of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). My TLT session was a hard run, and I was feeling it yesterday. Today, some 48 hours after my run was the worst stiffness and soreness, however my calf muscles were largely pain free!

Overall, I am very impressed with how much of a difference they make both during a run and afterwards. I’m not sure they would help you go faster, but I’m confident they help you go longer and with less time for recovery after long runs.

I will certainly be continuing my use of my 2XU calf guards, particularly on my long runs and races!

Do you use calf guards or other compression gear? What have been your results with them?

Happy running everyone!

Bernie
Get Going, Get Running!

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Running Gear : 2XU Calf Guards review

No, this isn’t a post about some new form of protecting livestock, I’m talking about the calf socks for running.

calf-guards-2XU

Well, they are a bit more technical than that, but that’s basically what they look like. Having seen more and more runners using calf guards, I figured I would give them a try to see if they really helped.

Why? Because I’ve always suffered from tight calf muscles and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know my tight calf muscles have been responsible for both my bouts of plantar fasciitis, as well as my current issue with shin soreness.

I have amended my gait to a mid-foot landing, under my centre of gravity, with greater rearward extension to engage my hamstrings and glutes for propulsion, thereby putting less strain on my calf muscles for the same speed. I have also continue with my static stretching and foam rolling at night, along with regular physio sessions; however my calf muscles remain very tight. Having seen a lot of people using calf guards, especially distance runners, I decided to bite the bullet and try them out. I did a bit of online research and stumped for the 2XU Calf Guards.

calf-guards-2XU-rear

2XU say that their calf guards are a great muscle containment device that can be worn during training or competition. They are engineered for active use with powerful fabrics offering unparalleled breathability, moisture management and flexibility to keep the wearer comfortable and focussed”  along with these additional benefits:

–      High power denier offers extra calf + shin support
–      Reduced muscle fatigue + damage
–      Flatlock seam construction
–      UPF50+ Sun Protection
–      Antibacterial 
–      Moisture wicking
First impression out of the box was “Are these really going to help me?” They look so simple and insubstantial that it’s hard to see how they could do anything – they look like a slip of fabric with some logos on them. Closer inspection reveals that they are shaped specifically to the profile of your calf, as well as having a cuff at the base and top to snugly fit and hold them in place. Oh, and those logos, they’re reflective so at night your legs will look like some demented video game to drivers.Putting them on was simple, just pull them up like socks until they are in place, making sure the logos are to the rear. The fit was good, and the compression seemed snug but not restrictive. The cuff at top and bottom were perfectly sized on my pair to hug onto the tapering part of the calf to keep them in place.

Out the door for my warm up and the first thing I noticed on the walk up the stairs was how my calf muscles felt ‘contained’ – I could feel the compression tightening as the muscle flexed. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was a different sensation to both bare legs or compression tights. After my warm-up I trotted off and for the first 50 yards I did notice that my calf muscles felt different. There seemed to be less shock and a certain ‘squeeze’ during the contact and push-off phases, however after that I got used to them and really stopped noticing them.

In fact, I stopped noticing them to the point that my calf muscles became conspicuous by their absence in my regular body scans. Hip flexors tightening, yep. Hmm, twinge in left ITB, change side of road. Hamstring tightening on right side, need to watch that. Calf muscles. Calf muscles? Nothing.

Just a sensation of warm, snug, squeeze.

As I pushed on to the end of my seven miles (at race pace) I became acutely aware that as my quad and hamstring pain increased, my calf muscles continued to be conspicuously absent on my pain scale. This was really interesting for me, because it’s normally the other way around for me. Sure, as I neared the end of my seven miles, I started to feel my calf muscles, but they weren’t getting as sore as my other muscles, nor at the same rate of pain increase. I kept them on for an hour after the run as well, and noticed the next day that my calf muscles showed less muscle soreness than my hamstrings and quads.

Overall, I was very impressed with how such a simple looking piece of kit could make such a dramatic difference to how I felt during my run and to my recovery. I will certainly be continuing my use of them, particularly on my long runs and races!

Do you use calf guards or other compression gear? What have been your results with them?

 

Happy running everyone!

Bernie

Get Going, Get Running!

On Facebook? ‘Like’ my Facebook page and keep up with my day-to-day happenings, hints, tips and shares
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Natural Running : Initial thoughts on the ASICS Gel Excel 33

ASICS Gel Excel 33 counterHooray, just in time for the weekend! A post that is about leaving plantar fasciitis behind!

Well, enough to allow a return to running a few times a week and to clock up about 50km in my new ASICS Gel Excel 33 trainers. I figure now I’ve had the chance to go for a few runs it would be a good time to do a quick review of my experience of them so far.

First off, I rate this shoe highly. Great fit, good cushioning (but not too much), flexible and light, and well suited to my mid-foot to forefoot strike.

When walking the low heel drop feels strange at first, probably because I’ve always had ‘regular’ trainers, however when you are running you don’t notice the heel drop – just the ease with which you can land on your mid-foot and transition forwards onto your toes for the toe-off. I’m not sure these would be suited to pronounced heel strikers, the low drop seems to make it take longer for your heel to hit the ground, which could lead to over-striding. Certainly I noticed this on downward slopes at least.

I will put up a more detailed review once I have done some more miles, but in the meantime these shoes are shaping up to be a good solid pair of high mileage trainers.

Which means (checks to see if girlfriend is reading over shoulder) I’m on the lookout for a new pair of shoes for my fast runs and speed work…

Happy running for the weekend everyone!

Bernie

Get Going, Get Running!