One thing I’ve learned as I’ve dipped my toe into off-road running in Ireland is that we don’t really do trails. Apart from forest paths, the bulk of what I’ve found is wet muddy bog. This causes me two problems - it’s difficult to run in it and American-style trail runners are useless in this environment. My poor Altra Lone Peak 3.0 may as well be slick tyres coming down from Mullaghmesha Mountain.
I was in London a few weeks ago for work and discovered that there is a superb outdoor shop called Ellis Brigham in Covent Garden. They have a large selection of Salomon and Inov-8 trail runners, which are designed for the more mud-centric Euro terrain. I was very impressed by the help I got there. It really is a great store and the prices are RRP without any of the uplift you’d expect from that location.
Shoe fit and sizing
My concern with all the Salomons is that the reviews say they have a narrow fit. The same is true for a lot of the Inov-8s which are described as “precision fit”. I don’t think I have particularly wide feet but when you have spent years in Vibrams and then Altras, anything narrow feels very constricting. It’s taken me a few months to feel completely comfortable in my Skechers GoRun 5 and that’s after my little toes were destroyed in the Brighton Marathon.
The other concern in general with running shoes is sizing. I continue to be annoyed by the almost random sizes put on running shoes. I can be anything from 8.5 to 9.5 UK based on the individual model within one brand.
Inov-8 X-CLAW 275
I trawled through every model that Inov-8 makes on their web-site. My requirements were Standard not Precision fit, not overly large drop and very deep 8mm lugs. Only one model fits that description perfectly, the X-CLAW 275. I emailed ahead to make sure Ellis Brigham had some of my possible sizes in stock in Covent Garden. They did. Once I got there, the big surprise was that a small size fit me perfectly without pinching.
The advice from the guy in the store was to avoid hard surfaces or the lugs would wear out quickly. However the site says they are multi-surface with a mix of medium and hard compounds.
Leki Voyager poles
As we were settling up, I asked what was the cost of the absolute cheapest walking/running poles they had. I’ve wanted to try out poles for ages but I’m not spending £120+ to discover I hate them. He showed me the Leki Voyager ones at £44 a pair and they seemed fine to me. Rubberised grips and aluminium body. He then showed me a pair of £120 carbon ones for comparison. They weighed almost nothing. I decided feck-it, let’s get the cheap ones and see how it goes.
I got back to the hotel and then reliased I was a moron. How do you fit two poles into carry-on luggage? Luckily you can completely disassemble the Lekis and they fit at a squeeze diagonally in resonably tall luggage. I gritted my teeth going through LHR x-ray but they didn’t bat an eyelid. Hurrah!
Mullaghmesha Mountain testing
I wrote recently about our Mullaghmesha Mountain excitement. Yesterday I decided to have another go. Yup, after a night of torrential rain and ongoing howling wind, I committed to making the same mistake twice.
This time I drove up the tiny lane beside the castle at 10mph to avoid wearing out those lugs. I parked at the start of the off-road piece of the Castledonovan Loop and headed out with the poles and my new Yi II action cam + gimbal (reviews of those coming shortly).
The grip on the Inov-8s was immediatlely obvious. My confidence going up a steep wet muddy “trail” was much higher than with the Altras. The waterproofing was pointless as I sunk ankle deep over and over. I then put away the action cam and started using the poles. It was a real suprise to discover I loved them. I had been worried about them being awkward, heavy or even tripping me up. But they made the incline much easier.
After less than a mile I headed back. The wind was incredibly strong and the fog had started to come in. Going down in these conditions is actually more difficult than going up. Despite the added traction of the 8mm lugs on the X-CLAWs, I still slipped a few times. I also took my eye off the ground for a moment and landed on my arse. The poles were a big help on the really steep bits.
I found my feet were moving around inside the X-CLAWs a lot more than I expected. But checking afterwards revealed that I hadn’t cinced down the laces well at all. I’ll also switch to heel-lock lacing on them as soon as they dry out.
Here’s a really cool video animation of the “run” from relive.cc (a very cool site).
And here’s some video clips quickly tacked together with no music.
Heavy breathing, wind noise and squelching included for free :-)
Two big thumbs up. For Irish mud, the X-CLAWs are perfect. For general hill walking and running, the poles are a bargain. However I’m sure the pole weight would be an issue over distances like 50k. I’ll report back on this from the Chiltern Challenge 50k Ultra in July!