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I felt as though I couldn’t accurately write about my experience with Hoka Stinson Evo until I had some experience and with my spate of injuries running across the spine of 2013 I felt I might never get the opportunity to properly test them. However, Govember has been a moderate success for me and this has in part been down to the Hoka. The first thing to note is that I’ve been running in my Stinson Evo on road and trail despite them being described as a trail shoe I have found them surprisingly engaging on the tarmac and very giving and while they aren’t perhaps the fastest shoe on the road they have provided me with the necessary support to avoid further damage to my Achilles while continuing to run.

Questions about the Hoka are many and varied, but the key information is that they aren’t heavy, especially given the size, they are well cushioned but you still get enough feeling from your terrain to get a rounded sense of where you are running and they love going down a hill. What I will concede is that they are less enjoyable going up a hill and compared to say my Vibram FiveFingers, Saucony Peregrine or even Adidas XT4 they aren’t as much fun but only in the uphill sections, however, this was as much down to my technique as the shoe and once I had gotten into the rhythm a little more I found the Hoka handled most hills (on Tarmac) with great aplomb. On trails, it’s slightly different, they will just eat up the hills – taking my Mafate 2 onto the Oliver Fisher 10km race a couple of months back I was able to witness firsthand how they scythed through the wet conditions and mud. Perhaps most interestingly from that race I noticed that as I came to the top of inclines they offered a very smooth and gentle transition that has improved my pace coming off an incline.

The ride is incredibly comfortable, to the point you do sometimes have to remind yourself that you are wearing them. I’d gone out on a 20miler to treat the feet, so to speak and noticed that my toes suffered none of the fatigue that I often came to associate with barefoot running, there was no dull ache from where I had accidentally heelstruck a branch, no mud or twigs got lodged between my toes and my legs felt free to stretch. I benefited, especially in the Stinson Evo from a wider toe box and having stuck with the fast lacing system have come to appreciate it despite not thinking that I ever would. Initially I was convinced that the Mafate where the more comfortable of the two Hoka I bought (yep that’s right I don’t bother with freebies from the manufacturers :)) but after going 250miles in the Stinson Evo and nearly 100miles in the Mafate I think I prefer the former rather than the latter. It’s possible that Hoka being such a young company are still learning the best forms for their shoes and they are obviously making regular improvements as even the Mafate 3 compared to the 2 are an improvement in the fit (well for me at least).

Are there any problems? Well just one that I found and that was there ability in very wet conditions. My Mafate came with me for the TG100 but the day, the race and course was more like a 100 mile swim than an ultra run and after they took a soaking my feet became pretty vulnerable to blistering and actually within five miles I had developed quite nasty blisters. Now in defence of the Hoka I was wearing some very old and worn out Injiji socks that day, it was about the wettest day of the year and I wasn’t in good form anyway. This hasn’t happened since but I’ve yet to have another significantly wet run to determine whether it was the shoes, my socks, my form or the conditions that played the part in destroying my feet.

Now as for some technical specifications, as I’m sure some of you would enjoy poring over details, these are the specs for the Stinson Evo, lifted directly from the Hoka One One site (thanks chaps)

Weight
10.4oz
Drop
6 mm
Upper
Debris-proof, closed mesh
Extending lacing for adaptable fit
2 elastic lace holders for customized lacing
Light weight tongue: foot conforming, slim, microfiber
Reinforced toe cap
Flexible molded T.P.U. support strapping/thermo-polyurethane reinforcements
Traditional and Quick Lace System

Midsole
2.2X Midsole EVA Volume
30% softer EVA
Profile: Late Meta-Rocker

Outsole
Varying lugs (large and small)
High version, sticky rubber compound
Interior small lugs
Outside larger lugs
30% wider

I’m not really a specifications runner, I tend to go on my gut feeling and prefer experience to technical specifications. But this information highlights the difference between these shoes and the ever increasingly popularity of minimal running.

In conclusion I can say the following – Hoka offer a range of great running shoes, but they aren’t suited to everyone, you’ll need to test them, you’ll need to get out on the trails and see if they are for you. Some styles will suit you better than others and you will be laughed at, stared at and generally mocked from those who’ve never seen them. They are visually appealing though regardless of their slightly moonboot likeness and they are like nothing else on the market. They are great across bigger distances and therefore are ideal for marathons and ultras but I find them rather pleasant over the shorter distance too – though they aren’t as swift as my MV2 or VFFs. They are pricey but you are getting a lot for your money in terms of technology, comfort and quality (and hopefully longevity), so buying these perhaps make sense if they suit you. But for my money they are at the very least worth a bit of a look if nothing else.

Happy running.

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Govember is going okay, I’ve run at leat 10 miles on each of the #RunCommute days and I’ve done swimming, cycling or both on the non work days. It’s 100% true that my hip feels a bit like it’s been sat on by a baby elephant and that I can barely move around my office all day. It’s true that the weather has been challenging and there simply aren’t enough showering facilities in my workplace but it’s good to be being out there and actually running on a daily basis. The questions are though, can my body cope with going from no training to a minimum of 50 miles per week? Does my bum look big in this very heavy heavy OMM rucksack? and can I afford not to be doing the training given that the Country to Capital is just around the corner?

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I used to be fast, well faster… 37 minutes over 10km, 1.36 over the half – I then started the transition to big distance running, started picked up injuries and my pace has never been the same. However, there have been glimmers of light at the end of a very slow tunnel, my comeback from the TG100 has been more muted than usual and despite the Achilles problem I’ve been building up slowly, doing all the stretching and looking after myself. My Royal Parks Half Marathon time was okay given I had done no training whatsoever and I came very highly placed at Xtreme Beach, this is all coupled with a pretty good first half to the Snowdonia Marathon – there is for the first time in ages reason to be a happy runner.

And so I entered Govember I was keen to push on from my gentle progress and my methodology is simple, 10 miles a day broken up into 2 x 2.1mile hill runs and 2 x 3mile urban run (one gently uphill, one gently downhill). As I write this sat in the train I realised I had hit my first of the hill sessions with at nearly 6.30per mile – congratulations to my Adidas Adios. This morning, so far I’m happy and if I can do my uphill urban running in under 20minutes I’ll be pretty content too, we shall see.

But the crux of this post is that no matter how bad your injuries are, no matter the setback – you will return to strike fear into the roads you run on. It won’t always feel easy and progress may be slow but you will get there. Now get out there, and yes, that does include you.

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Govember is the latest running based opportunity to run or exercise for a month – as I understand it you produce at least a miles worth of effort and log it somewhere, the better explanation comes here

http://runforthequiet.com/2013/10/govember-2/

As regular readers to this blog or some of my other online witterings will know I have spent much of 2013 injured or recovering from the various ridiculous events I have been doing. This has generally been fine but I have been looking for an opportunity to get my RunStreaking back online and the idea of Govember is a good one.

So far my Govember effort looks a bit like this

November 1: 5 mile cycle / 500 metre swim
November 2: 3 mile run
November 3: 3 mile run
November 4: 9 mile run

I’m not going to push it too far or too fast but I feel as though this will provide a good bounce into my ultra marathoning training for the the Country to Capital in January but its nice to out running again. All I need is for my achilles and hip to hold up and I’ll be one happy bunny

Three ultra marathons in 2013 (five in for 2014 so far) and the thing I really enjoy is the little nuggets of advice you get from fellow runners. Below are some of things they have suggested that I consider as an ultra marathoner to be worth listening to.

1. Walk the big hills
2. Walk the big hills as quickly as you can
3. Drink before you are thirsty
4. Eat real food
5. Prepare physically, do the miles
6. Prepare mentally, think positive
7. Train at night, prepare to feel lonely
8. Keep your feet dry as long as possible
9. Get kit you’re comfortable with, cheap, expensive, branded, white label – just make sure you’re happy with it and make sure it’s fully tested and fully prepared
10. Make friends as you run, chatting to make those miles drift away and if one of you struggles the others might offer words of encouragement
11. Know your route, maps, recces, GPS files (in my case my iPad mini has been known to go with me)
12. Always remember this is endurance and not a race, it’s more about completing it than sprinting it
13. Run your own race and own pace and don’t go out too quick
14. A crew can be invaluable, if you have people willing to join you as support on the course then take it
15. Be prepared to give up! Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop, injury, exhaustion or mental fatigue can kill an ultra. Not completing an ultra doesn’t make you a failure, it probably makes you a hero – knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to push on.

I’m sure there’s lots more advice, contradictory advice too in some cases, but these bits are things I broadly agree with. I’m looking forward to Country to Capital to pick up a few more useful things. One day I’m hoping someone will advise me about how to read a map…

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It was a busy morning at the base of Snowdonia, there were people all around, stretching and pulling and aimlessly muttering to each other. The sky was decidedly grey and the breeze was knocking gently against the rocks of the mountain around us. I couldn’t really think very clearly at all, my head was pounding from the headache that had been torturing me that morning and a tidal wave of sickness was consuming my belly but this was a start line and on a start line I do one thing and one thing only – focus.

To roll back a little we have to go back about two months and my epic failing at the TG100, here you may recall I managed not to complete the race – my first and only DNF. It was a combination of work being very busy, injury taking it’s toll, a hideously unlucky race day with the weather and a lack of training – it seemed that as I roll forward to the Snowdonia Marathon that I would be plagued by a similar set of circumstances. Just ten days before I was due to line up in the Welsh mountains I damaged my Achilles and with a long standing hip injury things didn’t look to cheery. However, if there’s one thing I’m full of it’s tenacity and I was going to run. My already limited training was cancelled completely, I stopped cycling and swimming and moved into a routine of icing and stretching at every opportunity – this had the benefit of soothing my aching Achilles and hips but wasn’t helping my preparation for distance. In a desperate bid for a pre-marathon event I signed up to Xtreme Beach and ran just one lap of the course (6km) before I felt the burn of my injuries and lack of fitness. There’s trouble at mill, I thought.

It was all made even worse by the fact the only pair of shoes that didn’t pull or run on my Achilles was my much loved but over used Newton Distance. Now I love my Newton Distance but these bad boys had done more than 600 miles – the mesh fabric has started to tear and worse the sole has pretty much collapsed – these shouldn’t be run in. However, when I was packing my kit to head off to windy Wales I knew that they would be coming with me.
Anyway an 8hr car journey to Harlech in Wales later and I was cosying myself in a little cottage – only mildly concerned that the gale force winds would tear the roof off – still an early night, a decent dinner and I was ready for the race!

I had decided that I was going to take the ultra dress route for this one, wearing my short OMM 0.5 Flash tights and Ronhill Vizion long sleeve top, both have always performed extremely well and I had no concerns that they would do anything other than perform well again. I added my Ultimate Directions PB vest and two full water bottles as I wanted to manage my own supply (and as you’ll see I’m glad I did), this also gave me the best location for my Montane Minimus waterproof and some delicious Kinder Chocolate. My only concern was footwear and I tried my Hoka Mafate, Merrell Barefoot, Salomon Speedcross 3, Adidas XT3, Vibram Komodo and several others before it became clear that my only choice was going to be the knackered Newton Distance. I looked at them and they stared at me and we spoke

ND: I can do this
UB: you can’t
ND: we won’t let you down, when have we ever let you down?
UB: well you were pretty shitty at the Bewl Marathon
ND: yes but even you agreed that was your fault and it was your dodgy toe that forced you into wearing us that day, we got you round!
UB: what about all those times you slip on the concourse at Charing Cross station because you’ve got no grip…
ND: look numpty boy, if you wanna race you’re going to have to wear me so stop this ridiculous conversation and slap me on UltraBitch!
UB: yes Newton Distance, sorry Newton Distance

That’s perhaps not quite how it went but you get the idea. Anyway fellow bloggers and runners I arrived to the race village and drifted into the main hall, grabbed my number, avoided the cameras and went back outside to the car to get my bearings, take in some of the very vibrant atmosphere and chat with some of the runners. Most notably I met Gavin and his lovely family, he was a bit of veteran and aiming for about 4.15/4.30 as a finishing time and his view was that you take your normal marathon time and add about 30 minutes. In my head this meant that even with the injuries I could probably still run 4.45/5.00 as my average flat marathon time is about 3.30 and trail about 3.45 with a hilly marathon just over 4.10. Gavin and family provided a nice distraction and as we left each other I felt rather better than I had done all morning. With a need for some food I headed on into the Race HQ and picked up a delicious bacon and sausage bap – something to ease the queasiness and put a solid lining on my stomach for what is billed as the toughest marathon in the UK. As I sat down to eat over in the corner of my eye I saw the face of a man I recognised – someone I had never met but the reason that I run Ultra Marathons and the bigger distances, this was the man my other half really wanted to murder and not me.

I strolled over to Tobias Mews, both a running legend and also a rather good writer – it has been my honour to occasionally design layouts for his writing and it was because I was reading his articles that I decided to become an ultra marathoner. I introduced myself and simply thanked him for introducing me to the stupid world of ultras and returned to my quickly cooling bacon and sausage bap. What a day it was turning out to be – filled with all sorts of good and bad things but meeting Tobias filled with further confidence that today was going to be a good day.

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The start was only about half an hour away and it was time for a few pre-race photographs (sadly not to be shared as UltraBoy likes his secret identity) and then off to the start. I hooked up again briefly with Gavin and his family and chatted about the upcoming challenge and also about football which distracted me from the slight rainfall that had started to come down but in my bones I could now feel the race energy swelling and all the injuries and excuses that had been shackling me where drifting away.

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The pre-race briefing bypassed me other than to not that we should smile for the cameras and I heard the sound of us leaving, my feet started off and the fury of pounding feet reverberated in my ears and surprisingly it was my own feet I could hear. It was a cramped start and actually it was a little difficult to get going but with the fire in my belly and knowledge that Kinder chocolate was in my pocket I proceeded to push my way through the groups of runners. The Snowdonia Marathon has three big hills in it and the first comes very early on and I assume is designed to destroy your spirit but I was feeling surprisingly spritely as I forced one foot after the other. I even managed a few laughs and jokes with Batman and a couple of there other competitors, it was quite a jolly field. The first hill for me was probably the most amazing in terms of the view – it had all the drama and mystery I associate with the Wales of my childhood. Having pored over the course profile I was expecting this to be challenging but what I hadn’t expected was for it to feel unrelenting, what kept my, and I suspect everyones, spirits positive was the knowledge that there was a significant downhill to come. As I reached the top of the first challenge I could see the runners in front of me dipping below my vision, clearly pelting away and I did much the same. For the first time in the race I stretched the muscles in my arms and legs, pumping away, looking down into the vastness below – wonderful and I was 10km in and only 55 minutes had elapsed – I was in good form. I passed by the turning at the bottom of the hill and there I was greeted by the very cheery face of Richard, the manager from the Dartford Sweatshop who I hadn’t seen since we ran a bit of the WC50 together – we chatted briefly as he ran alongside me and he wished me well and I left him behind awaiting the arrival of his other half! Onwards I hit the trail and left behind the steady path and used this as an opportunity to bounce around a bit, have some fun, race a bit and continue my usual chitty chattiness that I enjoy on a raceday.

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My only problem was one of a Paula Radcliffe/Call of Nature… I was hoping for a portaloo on the route but it never came and for a while it was all I could think about but clearly it must have focused the mind because when I saw the lovely toilets I was at mile 12 and even with an eight minute stop I still managed the first half in just under two hours. As the course continued it was a very light incline we were treated to and this posed few problems but the second of the big hills was a huge challenge, probably only as steep as the first but with people walking it felt like a much bigger task and do I slowed to a speed walk and used my ultra training method of dealing with the hill – walk it quickly. This got me to the top of the hill and I was away again, a little Kinder chocolate and some fruit strings and I felt pretty fresh.

It was about mile 14 where things changed for me, I was meandering round the course, trying primarily to ignore the pain on my hip, keeping hydrated and chatting to fellow runners and here I met Grant. Let me start by saying Grant is either a hero or madman, probably both because he entered the race with only three months training behind him and had this as his first marathon.

Surprisingly he wasn’t carrying any hydration and had unfortunately at the halfway point started to feel the burn of his knees – we’ve all been there, we know what it’s like but this seemed a new experience to him and given that his longest distance had been 16 miles (I’m sure you can confirm this fella!) I wasn’t sure he would make it without some support. Being rather jovial company we decided to run together for a bit but after a while it occurred to me that he’d come out of the blocks too quick and I suggested we stayed together to ensure we both finished a very tough course.

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As we came to mile 18 Grant was feeling his knees increasingly but he continued to make steady progress through the course and only once did I see his head drop and so hopefully my few words of encouragement got him through the moments of anguish and together we strode up the final hill, working together to make sure we didn’t lose sight of the prize. The final hill was an amazing experience and had circumstances been different it would have been fun to have run but our steady progress meant we reached the summit and were able to run the next couple of miles and along to the final water stop. With time ticking away though and daylight disappearing the weather also took a turn for the worse and rain began pelting down and with a whipping wind it became a harsh course.

Grant had, it seemed, won the mental battle to get to the finish – he wasn’t going to stop now and he looked visibly more positive, even if his knees hurt like hell. For my part I felt fresh and light on my feet and as we pulled in to the final water point something else happened – Grant was having a water stop and a young lady – Julia rocked up looking frozen and in dismay. She spoke to the marshall but she was barely audible on the hilltop and the marshall asked if I could talk to her. It turned out she was so cold and weak that she felt she couldn’t go on – mile 23 and a bit! I asked her what was wrong and she explained she was feeling light headed and cold, with a bit of effort I undid her jacket from her waist and got her covered up, gave her Kinder chocolate and some water and both Grant and I offered to stay with her to make sure she got to the finish.

We made our way slowly down the final hill, we could see the finish in the distance. Grant was slowing further but I knew that it was our new running buddy that needed the support and with just a mile to go I turned to see Grant and make sure he wasn’t going to stop and asked Julia if she was capable of running. Now warmed, watered and chocolated we set off at a fearsome pace and as we approached 800metres to go I waved goodbye to Julia aswell, safe in the knowledge she wasn’t going to stop.

Both feet now lurched forward, cries of ‘great finish!’ welcomed me and I thrust my chest forward and pumped my arms to my traditional sprint finish, the line was in the distance and with every ounce of my strength I flew under the giant red inflatable. I had done it.

Grasping my new slate memento I thrust it aloft and growled, despite a reasonably poor time I was happy I had finished the Snowdonia Marathon.

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The Race?
The race was actually tough but far from impossible and infact I found this a rather endearing course and will in the future be back to complete it in a faster time when less injured and more prepared. The course was in places in beautiful but as with all 26.2milers there were sections that were a little bit dull but overall you wouldn’t complain about the quality of the vistas. The atmosphere was electric at times, the support was fantastic almost all the way round and you could feel the quality of the field you were amongst – almost every person had trained properly and everyone was ready for a marathon.

There was generally ample water on the course and more than enough gels (though I’m not a gel fan), only one of the water stops was bereft of water, but this was a fairly vital stop, at the top of a hill and a number of the runners really felt the lack of water here – I was grateful I was carrying my own supply (and yes I did offer to share it where needed :)).

Goodies?
The goodies were surprising, the first was the excellent T-shirt which has been worn several times and although no medal there was a branded slate coaster, which while not amazing will provide an excellent momento of a great race. At the race finish though I was disappointed to note that there was no fruit, cake or sweeties – just a bottle of water and that was not what I wanted – I wanted chocolate.

Conclusion
Do this race, you won’t regret it but it wasn’t what I was expecting – perhaps that is half the fun of it.

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