Inov 8 Roclite 243 – The Review (517 miles and counting)

SAMSUNGA few months ago I wrote my very first, first impression review of a shoe, this shoe.  I normally don’t do first impressions, but I was so excited about it I couldn’t wait!  But now it’s time for the truth – Is this shoe any good?

Well come on, is it any good?

As you can see from the above photo, they have been worn.  In fact I’ve currently done 517 miles (832 km or 98,271,360 barleycorns) in them, getting close to my target of 700.  The uppers needed reinforcement at about the 250 mile mark.  You can’t tell this from the photo’s – I used a clear flexible rubber glue called FreeSole.  Great stuff, much better than Shoe Goo or Black Witch – with the advantage of being transparent it doesn’t look like you’ve run through wet tarmac, which is very important for someone like me who doesn’t want anyone thinking that I go anywhere near a road.   I reinforced the areas just after the rand on both sides of the shoe, when I started to notice some fraying.

So apart from the usual durability issues the shoe is trés bon.  I found that after an initial bedding in period of around 50 miles they felt like home, like a lovely pair of slippers, albeit a nice fitting responsive pair of slippers, with good grip and a gorgeous sticky sole for running over slippy rocks – so not really like a pair of slippers at all.  The fit is tight, but not constrictive – no blisters to report of – but I did get two black toenails (one on each foot, second toe along – a matching pair if you like) after a running a long mountain race in them.   Saying that, my feet don’t feel pinched and I can’t really blame the shoes for my toenail problems, in fact for a very minimal racing shoe, they feel well protected.  Okay, you’re not going to want to drop an iron bar across your toes, but if you accidentally take your mind off the trail and hit a stone it’s not as much of a life changing event as when you do the same thing in a pair of five fingers.

Testing conditions

I ran a 50km race in the big mountain and they were great.   Running for me is mostly all about the climb followed by a descent, generally pretty steep. Sometimes I might get a bit of ridge running in, or if I’m pressed for time I’ll do a lower route in the forest.   If you follow my blog you’ll know that I live just outside of Foix in the Barguillère valley, infamous for that nails on the road indecent during the 2012 Tour de France.  The valley lies below the Arize Massif, which is a pretty decent, middle mountain chain reaching a respectful 1700 metres in altitude.  I live at 500 metres, so in the course of a week I get some pretty decent vertical in, on average about 2500 metres of up and down, with about 35 miles, or around 9 hours of running, all of this on rough old raggedy trails!

This year saw record amounts of snow in the Pyrenees, and we still had a few lingering patches up to July… Basically I’ve thrown nearly everything the mountain has to offer at these Roclites and in my opinion they perform really really well.  In fact they are so close to a one shoe quiver…

…But

The tread is not suitable for steep wet grass or steep mud.  You’ll get down it okay, but you’re not going to have the confidence that a pair of X-Talons or Mudclaws would inspire.

Longevity

I said in my non-review that I want the shoe to last 700 miles, and they’re not looking too bad after 500…  Now here’s the thing, without the FreeSoleing they would’ve blown a long time ago, so the unmodified shoe as the manufacturer sells it is not going to last.  Well, not for Mountain Thrashers like us.  But with the mod they are great and I intend to do this with all my shoes from now on.

After about 450 miles I started noticing a lot more trail feedback through the forefoot, there is no rock plate (which I think I prefer) so protection comes from the EVA alone, and once this degrades, logically the protection does too.  To the extent that I started getting spiked by some pesky pointy stones when I ran on packed forest road, unfortunately this caused a bit of a nasty bruising and a week off, and spurred me on to buying the 295’s (review coming soon) to cope with the Montcalm Marathon.

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It’s not all bad

In fact it’s all good, since getting over my bruising I’ve been heading out in the 243’s more, and I just love them.   I’ve had to adapt a bit to the greater feedback but in all honesty it’s helped me regain a bit of decent form.  I’m still getting the odd pointy stone coming through but now I’m finding this easier to deal with (might be, I’m just getting tougher?)   I wouldn’t wear them if I had miles and miles of forest road to run on (although at the start of their life they were perfectly fine for this) but for most other trail duties they’re just fine.

Up Hill Running?

Great stuff, light and responsive with amazing up hill grip. I love going up in these shoes, both in running or power-hike mode.

Down Hill Bombs?

Great responsiveness and ground feel make a good combination for fast technical descending, I’m finding I can open up on most grades and for the steeper big mountain stuff they’re fine.  Great on slippy rocks too!   The grip is great for most things mountain and trail, but really preferring drier conditions.  In comparison much, much better than the NB 110’s or the Merrell Mix Master, but what’s great is, if you do hit a bit of tarmac it’s not like running in a pair of soccer boots (read: Mudclaws).

What’s not to like then?

Umm…

Err…

Well, If I could have my way I’d extend the rand to cover the edges of the shoes past the arch area, perhaps adding a reinforcement patch over the arch.  And I’d copy the Merrell Mix Master toebox shape, it’s just slightly better in my opinion, I really think Merrel nailed the lasts on their shoes.  Inov 8’s are okay, but not as good.  Overall though I prefer the Roclite 243.  It’s f’ing brilliant.

SAMSUNGSo in summary; with the glue mod expect to get up to 450 miles of solid forefoot running in these, you’ll be fine running Big Mountain, Skyraces and ultras (providing you got the training of course) and they work great below the treeline too.  And if you have to bust out some road running you’ll be okay for a few miles.  Great all rounder; good for training superb for racing, comes pretty close to a perfect shoe for me.

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Race Report – Marathon du Montcalm 2013

It’s been a little while since I ran this race, but as it’s kind of my “goal race” of the year I thought I get this report finished and on my blog, so first things first lets have a look at the mountain…

Getting on to the top of the mountain (photo credit http://www.auzat.fr)

The Race

I was about an hour and a half in to the race and the old chap with the two ankle braces had just motored past me for the second time – pushing himself uphill with a small stick that he’d most probably whittled down that morning.  A true man of the mountains… and again I’ve been passed by someone at least twice my age.

“Gandolphed” Is what it’s called.  Definition:  It’s when a wizened old man passes you in a race. So it’s similar to being “Chicked” although not half as nice.  To rub salt in to the open wound of my athletic pride the Gandolphs of this world usually float past with very little effort at all, as if the laws of gravity do not apply to them.  How do they do it?

Montcalm_2013 281

Monsieur Gandolph!

Just under 2 hours earlier I was standing at the start line in the village of Auzat, amongst about 300 nervously excited runners.  Britiain’s Shane Ohly was supposed to be there with his wife Heather.  Shane is famous for many things on the British mountain running scene notably his record for the Winter Ramsy Round.  A quick scan about but I couldn’t spot him – no doubt up front with the contenders.

I’m not a contender, I won’t pretend any different.  What I get from racing is the satisfaction of completing a challenge or beating a personal best.   Last year I ran the Montcalm race in 8h34 minutes, slowed down no doubt by the raging heat that day, but also probably due to a distinct lack of conditioning.  I was here to do better and a sub-7 was the goal…

I decided to run this race with a handheld bottle, there is plenty of water on the course – a few streams and loads of aid stations – you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a bit too easy.  The elite don’t bother carrying much at all, but I knew I’d be out there for a bit so a bottle seemed a good idea, plus it’s a portable shower unit.  I also made a decision to run in a slightly more robust shoe – my 243’s are almost at the end of their useful life and I’ve been very happy with them, but a mountain race like this is a real upper shredder – lots of sharp rocks and scrambling, scree, roots… So I went with the roclite 295.  At 6mm drop it’s a bit more than I’m used to, but it’s light and very protected; it has a full rand and the toebox is a lot wider.  The last bit of gear I took was my new UltrAspire Spry pack.  Not much of a pack at all just a skimpy piece of material with a few handy pockets.  I needed something to carry gels and a jacket and this did the job well – review coming soon.

At 7.00 we were off, passing through the village of Auzat and heading up the valley following the main road.  The first mile of the race is on the road which is a great idea enabling the runners to spread out.  Pretty soon the course heads off road on a spindly little single track that quietly climbs the first 300 metres.  45 mins in and we top out on a balcony path that traces the contours of the mountain side as we make our way up the valley.   The views were amazing but at this point the sky was still pretty cloudy after the mother of all thunderstorms the night before.   I spent that night in my van, not really sleeping, being woken about every five seconds by either a blinding flash of lightning or the deafening crash of thunder.  But lack of sleep wasn’t really my biggest woe, for the majority of the previous week I’d been suffering from a nasty bout of stomach illness, with associated mad dashes to the toilet which had only really calmed down the night before the race… I wasn’t keen on pushing too hard for the first 10km.

This turned out to be a good tactic, normally I can’t help myself – I’ll shoot off like an arrow at the start of a race, I’ve learned recently that this tactic only works in the following cases:

1.  If you are a good runner.

2.  If you are likely to win the race.

As neither of these apply to me, the mind boggles why I shoot off from a start line so ferociously.  But this time things were different, I forced myself to run slow, deliberately choosing a mid pack start, and then getting stuck on the first bottleneck as we hit the single track.  In fact as I entered the first major checkpoint I was at least 10 mins down on my time last year.  That wasn’t a problem as I knew the race didn’t really start until that point, where the race route joins up with the main hikers path towards Montcalm.

Me, starting slowly.

The push to the top was to take another 3 hours and 20 mins.  As I recounted at the start I was Gandolphed, but not chicked, all of the fast women had already passed me – they all started ahead of me anyway.  Last year on this steep section of exposed rocky mountain terrain It seemed like I was being passed by the entire race – such was my fitness levels at the time.  This year I was pleased to be actually overtaking some people.  This and the fact that I could actually “run” when the track occasionally “levelled” out bouyed me up no end. With motivational tunes pumping out through my MP3 player I strode confidently to the top of the first peak – the races namesake – Montcalm.  At over 3000 metres altitude Mont-C is the highest peak in the Ariège Pyrenees, a steep loose path leads to quite a pleasant flattish peak.

On topping out the race course then asks you politely to descend back the way you came, but asks of it’s participants – “before you pop back down, would you mind just nipping over the border to Spain and climbing The Peak d’estats?  “No that’s no problem,” you reply as you descend back down towards the Col between these two giants.  Then as you make your way up the other side you politely tell the course that, “Actually my legs are finding it rather difficult at this precise moment, would you mind awfully if I just went back down now, perhaps on a chair lift or if it’s not too much trouble, maybe a helicopter?”  To which the course replies, “Oh I’m terribly sorry, but there’s no helicopter or chair lift and if you really would like to finish this race then you’ll just have to drag yourself up to the next mountain summit – Is that all right?”

To which one has no choice but to reply, ” Damn you, despicable race route, I’ll solider on but I’m not going to like it!”  So one foot at a time, saliva dribbling out of the corner of your mouth eyes firmly fixed on the prize you stumble on up hill.   Past the next aid station where you drink sugary water, salty water and normal water in some kind of attempt to get the right water, then crawling on your hands and knees you drag your way up to the top of Estats.  A quick “hola” towards Spain and it’s all you can do to bum-slide back down to the Col.

But with the advantage of gravity, things did start to get easier, the quads that I had been saving for the descent started to perk up, and I thought to myself that I could still be on for a 7 hour finish.  This gave me renewed energy and although things felt tough I knew I’d get back down.  Navigating the snowy bits on the way down was fun, I kind of half skied and then decided that the Alpine technique of glissading would suit me better – who am I kidding, I tumbled over like a rag doll, complete lack of control and worse still I looked like a knob.   The earlier checkpoints came back quickly, I was soon rounding the lake next to the palatial refuge de Pinet where a huge buffet like aid station was situated.  I paused here for a minute as I was getting really hungry and decided to eat cheese and saucisson, a French mountain race staple, before carrying on with the descent.  By now I was a couple of hours in to it and was still on for the 7 hour finish, but my quads were getting more and more sore.  Normally the longest amount of downhill training I do is about 1-1.5 hours so I was coming up to my limit really.  I kept chugging down the gels, but knew it was a lost cause.  My quads were trashed.

View from 3000 metres

View from 3000 metres

So I sat down semi-defeated.  Damn you marathon du Montcalm, why are you so tough?

I had to keep moving, there was no choice, my watch was telling me that the chances of a sub-7 were getting remoter and remoter, I plodded on, now resorting to my tried and tested “Zombie Stumble” descending technique – Just imagine a shriveled husk of a runner staggering on down the mountain like a slightly cleaner version of the living dead.   I had a goal in mind and that was just to get back to the treeline, but the path was full of challenging rocks, it was steep and the sun was really warming things up.  I managed to keep it together but my descent for all intents and purpose had the attributes of a walk – I was walking.   I lolloped through the aid station just before the trees and didn’t bother stopping – every second counted at this point.

Through the trees, I felt much better, and managed to muster up a bit of speed, I ended up pretty much on my own, passing a few walkers, some of whom were involved in the hiking race that was being held the same day.  As I was nearing the final steep part of descent another competitor came tearing past me and uttered something incomprehensible to me in French.  I was wearing my headphones and when I replied back in French that I can’t hear a damn thing he shouted again at me in French.  I gave him a vague look, and confirmed that it didn’t matter how load he spoke I still couldn’t hear anything – He was wearing headphones too so I imagine that he found it hard to hear what I was saying.  So I decided that he had told me that we weren’t far from the end and if we run hard we may get under 7 hours.

I looked down at my watch.  Sorry mon amie it’s not going to happen,  The time was approaching 6h20 and we still had a 10km stretch in front of us.  Last year I almost blew up on this last bit and I wasn’t going to let it happen again.  I figured that the best time I can run a 10km on trails with fresh legs is about 50 mins, so I was aiming now for a sub 7h 30 finish.  The last stretch was mainly downhill but my legs were really properly trashed by now.  I’d just have to see if I could dig deep.  As we emerged from the woods and exited the trail head, I grabbed loads of sweets from the aid station, soaked my head with water and then carried on down the road as fast as possible.   I knew from last year that I just had to settle in to a pace the majority of rough ground was behind me so I just had to keep on cruising.  For the next 5-6 km I played yo yo with the headphones guy who tried to communicate with me in the Forrest, until with about 4km to go I strode past him as our trails became a more sedate river side path – why can’t it all be like this I thought.

As I came up to just one kilometer of road separating me and the finish line in Auzat Monsieur le headphone emerged right behind me, he’d managed to find a bit more pep – perhaps the idea of almost being at the finish gave him renewed energy and he surged ahead of me.  Bastard.  I was spent, at this point I was probably running a 11-12 minute mile pace and my body had just gone in to Ultra running self-preservation mode – there was nothing left.  I ambled back in to the village, the streets were full of cheering supporters and it was with Bravo’s and Allez, Allez’s resonating around me I finally crossed the line in 7h36 mins.  Pretty much a full hour quicker than the year before.

Next year, with a bit more training – I’m going for the sub 7…

What I ate

I always like to write about my race nutrition, but it was such a blur I can’t remember exactly what and how much I ate, suffice to say I ate a lot of pâte des fruit – a kind of french fruit pastel, which is very popular amongst runners.  I also ate bananas, oranges, cake, cheese, dried sausage and about 5 of my own cliff bar chocolate gels.  At one point I had an extreme craving for the single Nuun tablet that I had bought with me – so I went with it and I really think it helped, after that I made sure to drink some of the salty water at aid stations.  I’ve been a bit skeptical about salt before but on this occasion it seemed to help.