Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Back in the groove - Nike Free 5.0 review

It's funny how things turn out. Only 2 days before, I had been telling eatingtrees that I really needed some new trainers as the current ones were a little worse for wear and lo and behold I get an email telling me that the senders finally had my size in and were offering me a chance to review the new Nike Free 5.0. I jumped at the chance.

The shoes I had run my first ever Half Marathon in were a pair of Nikes but weren't exactly running shoes. Once completed I realised that I needed a proper pair of shoes and went off to be checked and fitted and my wallet emptied. I have worn those shoes or the latest variations of them for around 4 years now. Reason being as I've always been scared of the dreaded iliotibial band syndrome as I knew a couple of people who 'got' it when they changed their shoe but it was time for a change.

Nike say of the Nike Free 5.0... 'Natural Barefoot-like Feel'. Well my previous foray into the world of minimalist running was with the New Balance Minimus range but for someone who comes in 'overweight' on a BMI basis they didn't have the comfort needed despite the enjoyment of a more forefoot strike. These Nike Free 5.0 are an absolute bloody joy. The 'barefoot-like feel' makes sense now I've tried the shoes. Yes there's cushioning on the soles for which I can hear the barefoot traditionalists shouting 'it's not proper barefoot running' and you know what, they are completely correct. It's not. But that's not what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to be as efficient as I can be while being comfortable and enjoying my running. These are as light as a feather, still encourage me to forefoot strike and so far, I'm injury free. I love these shoes and the colour.... WOW

It's like they were designed by someone who works in a cave all day and once they came out, they wanted to spread a little colour around. I have to say, when I got them out of the box and was brave enough to remove my sunglasses, I was a little shocked but they've grown on me and I absolutely love them now. There's loads of equally bright colours (plus probably a black and white option) available but I wouldn't change these for anything now.

I've run the same 6km route 3 times in the last week in them now and I love how they feel. I've also upped the pace a bit although that's probably down to me enjoying running in them a lot more than my olds shoes but that's worth it's weight in gold. They offer me a good amount of support, they are comfy to run in and I know I'm still forefoot running as my calf muscles always feel they are given a good work out. And the best thing in the world about them???? They have Waffle Outsole Pistons. Nope I have no idea either but that's genius... What sane man in this world would NOT want Waffle Outsole Pistons!

I just have to add, the Nike Free's are also available on the rather cool NIKEiD. You can completely customise the shoe. I've just done it. A lot of fun and you can get the exact shoe you want. Not only can you muck around with the colours of EVERYTHING, you can also use different parts of different shoes. For example, using the sock-like feel of the Nike Free 3.0 with the cushioned midsole of the Nike Free 5.0. Or vice versa. Get it feeling exactly as you want it but in the exact colour combo you want too. For now, I'm completely sold on my neon ones but when they do wear out, I'll be heading out to find some more. Chuffed

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Maas Half Marathon Race and Trip report

One of the best things I've ever done! The planning I mean. It was spot on. As for the rest of the trip, sublime. 6 days, 5 nights with one of your best mates who shares the same beliefs of doing something a little bit silly and pushing your boundaries as you do.

From the first Royal Parks Half Marathon we ran in 2008, we've almost egged each other on, year on year. From eatingtrees first suggestion in a pub afterwards that we should do a European Half 'next year' which put us in Prague to our first Dunwich Dynamo in 2011. We like a challenge and this little adventure had been in the making for 2 years but got put on hold when we decided to tackle the Berlin Marathon last year. Now it was time for the silliest one yet.

If you've read anything of mine recently, I won't go through all the detail again but essentially it was a 3 day cycle across Netherlands & Belgium with one day of rest (when we did a little more cycling) before running the Maas Half Marathon. Oh sod it, here's the detail...

After meeting at the station, the first day was a gentle 30ish km to Harwich to catch the overnight ferry where we froze to death (almost) due to some Dutch cargo loader deciding that lorries were more important! I have to be honest this is the only thing the Dutch did wrong the entire time!! When we disembarked at the other end, we just had these views (and quite a lot of mist).

If fact it felt so good, we decided on a 25+ km detour to Rotterdam purely on the basis of 'we could'. Thats the kind of thinking that came back to bite us on the arse later as surviving only on coffee and cake that we had earlier, we struggled to find anywhere for lunch. Eventually and by the power of Open Source mapping and GPS, we came across the tiniest of places and by the power of charades, play acting, guesswork and luck, managed to get coke, coffee, water, chips and rolls. Honestly, it's like the carb gods were smiling down on us! Oh... and a mars bar!

After finding our most wonderful B&B which I fully and whole heartedly recommend, the heavens opened and stopped our trek up the road to find a restaurant BUT... we were then saved by our wonderful B&B owner who took some of our cash and drove up the road to get us a Chinese takeaway. After explaining the eatingtrees only eats trees and not proper food, she headed off to get us a mixture of stuff. Vegetarian to Chinese restaurant owners in Netherlands means the following. Try and hide the meat under the non meat. Needless to say, I ate like a king. Grant enjoyed some rice. And some soup. Well until he found meat in that too. The chicken omelette in a sticky sauce wasn't exactly welcomed either. Anyway, this completely unstaged picture was taken the next morning when still full from the banquette, we headed off!

Day 2 was the most enjoyable day cycling for me. Nearly all on wonderfully flat, even cycle paths without a pothole in sight through some absolutely beautiful countryside as Grant demonstrates below.

We also cycled along the massive Albert Canal which for a transport geek like me was just brilliant. Huge, huge ships and the canal was as straight as an arrow for miles upon miles on the smoothest bike path that the world could throw at us. Lunches were planned slightly better too meaning we didn't starve and when we got to our apartment, an awesome 3 bed place near nowhere but a forest and a bar, it gave the perfect end to the perfect day. Well that was until we tried to get food. On a public holiday. In Belgium. After a 14km round trip, we had a box of pasta and a jar of sauce. Still it could have been worse, the Chinese might have been open!

That evening, after discussing where we were heading with Josee, the apartment owner, she made an up and down movement with her arm. Grant assumed this wasn't an up and down movement at all, more a we were going from place to place movement and there would be no hills. In the morning when we left, Josee's husband confirmed my fears. There were hills. After 2 days when a bridge over a river was our biggest problem, it seemed we were going to be tested a little more. With that in mind, we decided, after a breakfast of coffee and biscuits (the shops were shut remember) to try and crack on that morning and get a good portion of the days ride done before lunch. Although there was still time for an action shot!

And one to prove there were hills!

Anyway, we certainly did and 60km was ticked off before a lunch of milk rolls containing pate, cheese and sweet chilli crisps and a can of beer. Don't judge me, it was all fuel...

Mid afternoon and rush hour in Vise meant that we arrived and saw more traffic in 15 minutes than we had for the entire trip previous! And then the second biggest hill of the trip so far which over the next 2 days, we rode up and over too many times to mention!

Anyway, to the race itself. The Maas Half Marathon. Brilliant. Organisation was second to none (they had 6 different distances from 300m for the very young children to the full marathon for odd people). The Half was our race of choice and having cycled 370km up to this point, I wasn't expecting a quick time. In fact completion was the goal and because of the lovely course, great support and shere bloody mindedness that my my aching legs would get me over that line, I finished in just under 2 hours. That I didn't expect and was chuffed to bits. The screen shot shows my relief quite well I believe!

This race cost me 10 euros. For that, I got a brilliantly organised race, loads of support, a full buffet, race rucksack, a technical t-shirt and loads of great memories. This trip will live on with me for a long time so next time you fancy a race that's outside of your local area and has some good cycling routes on the way, this is a must! Here's the post run shot for you all!

For the final jaunt, we had to get changed (very quickly), get back on the bikes and head off to catch a train. By the time I got home late Sunday night, the odometer was reading 400.5km ridden and 21.1km run. Not bad for a weeks work. Now if I could just stand up without other people's help or having to use furniture as a balance, everything would be fine!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The 'we should know better trip' Day 1. 48.4km

Day 1 and we're currently sat waiting for the ferry! We made it across London without any problems and despite Greater Anglia's best efforts to the contrary, managed to get the bikes on train, get a seat and relax.

Once we got to Colchester, we managed to haul the bikes out of the very front of the train and get them down a lift and back up the stairs, and finally hit the road again.

A lovely countryside cycle (well once out of Colchester) was ruined only by the lack of open countryside pubs. Do they not have alcoholics in the countryside? We plodded on regardless and ended up in a cheap chain pub which has done the job.

Now I'm stood looking at a ferry I can't board for another 30 mins but hey ho, inside I have a bed, maybe a pint and I get to get out of the cycling underwear that I've had on for quite a while. It's like a nappy.... Now I know how my kids feel!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Nearly ready, nearly packed & nearly fit enough!

Tomorrow, the final packing will be completed and the only thing left for me to do will be to get on my bike and pedal!

This is gonna be awesome. A reminder of what myself and eatingtrees have planned for our 2 beautiful singlespeeds is as follows:

Tues: Get the train to Colchester in Essex early afternoon for a 30km cycle to Harwich to catch the night ferry to Hook of Holland.

Wed: Approx 95km ride to the Netherlands/Belgium border where a lovely B&B awaits.

Thurs: Around 80km ride following the Albert Canal to an apartment in the middle of nowhere with the only thing close by, being a bar. Liquid dinner then!

Fri: The final long ride will be approx 105km all the way to a place near Vise in Belgium. This is our base for 2 nights.

Sat: Nothing, a quiet day resting the legs before Sunday.

Sun: Take part in the Maas Half Marathon on very heavy legs before getting back on the bike and cycling another 20km back to Liege before getting on the Eurostar from Brussels and *hopefully* getting home at a reasonable hour in Sunday night.

See simple. As long as we don't get lost, crash, have a mechanical breakdown we can't fix, find our places to stay, get injured, find enough to eat, are able to run 21.1km, not miss our train, get the bikes on the train and South West trains still run on Sunday night without engineering works to allow me to make it home. What could possibly go wrong?