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Hoka

You know Ming’s law Barin, outside his own Kingdom the hunter becomes the hunted.
I went to the Isle of Skye for two reasons really, the first I’ve discussed in my review of the Skye Trail Ultra which you can read here the second is perhaps the more important – Flash Gordon.

I swear by the great God Arbour I’ll not kill you unless you beg me too.
After I returned to my accommodation post Skye Trail Ultra I crawled up the stairs and went to sleep, disturbed only by one of the staff who thought the room would be empty and wanted to change the sheets, what she discovered was the remains of an ultra runner.

Sorry Munson you had your chance.
Anyway around 2pm after a few hours rest I started the process of cleaning myself up and preparing for my next adventure. I was going to head to the airfield on the Isle of Skye where the 1980 classic cult film Flash Gordon was part filmed.

Oh Flash!
My feet were sore but I had pierced most of the blisters, sealed them up, put thin socks over them and was wearing my most supportive Hoka (as all my Altra needed drying out). I packed a bag with GoPro and some lucozade and unfurled my cheat sticks which were the only thing that was going to make this 4.5 mile journey to the airfield possible.

This Ming’s a psycho
I moved gingerly through Broadford, taking in things I hadn’t seen before and admiring the bay, which on a bright late afternoon in May was delightful. I hadn’t realised how hilly the route would be but thankfully with my poles I was able to offset the pain in my feet. I’ll be honest I stopped a few times but this was more to check I was on the right route rather than for rest. I took the road via Lower Breckish which meant I came off the main road and could continue to admire the lovely scenery of Skye and about an hour or so after setting out from Broadford in the distance I could see the end of a runway.

If I had my time over, maybe I’d do it differently but I can’t help a man who’s dead!
Bugger, I was at the wrong end of it. Hmm. I decided that fortune had favoured the foolish or perhaps the adventurous and so dropped down closer to the coast, passing a small cemetery and parking for those wanting to get onto the beach. I now left the road to crash through the undergrowth once more. There was a stream that also needed crossing and so I carefully wound up my poles and leaped across the stones, much as I had during the race and clambered up the embankment. Here I was greeted by the barbed wire fencing and while I’m not normally noted for trespassing I vaulted over the fencing, Prince Barin style onto the airfield.

Forget it Ming, Dales with me!
The next half hour was spent shooting video calling out ‘Gordon’s Alive!!’ and ‘Flash, Flash, I love you but we’ve only got 14 hours to save the Earth’, many pictures were taken (see examples) and I felt a deep sense of satisfaction that is completed the two things I came to Skye for.

Flash Gordon to Vultan … Flying blind on a hawk man rocket cycle!
I may not be Flash Gordon, I’m not even a Zarkov or Bero but this visit let me connect to one of my favourite films of all time. Thank you Skye and thank you to the cast and crew of Flash Gordon.

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Why would you ever consider going to Finland? Well having recently returned from there I can tell you that it’s a properly awesome place – I was there for a ball breaking activity trip with a hunt for the Aurora Borealis thrown in for good measure. 2016 is going to be another year of adventuring and this put me in a very good frame of mind for those adventures.



If you head to northern Finland you’ll discover a few things, the first is snow, the second is the lack of people and third is some of the most beautiful land in the whole world. Three things I can wholeheartedly appreciate.

Now, given that this is mainly a blog about running you’ll be unsurprised to learn that in my relatively short jaunt there I squeezed in (with the family) quite a lot of running, a decent amount of hiking, some excellent cross-country skiing, mining, sledging, snowmobiling* and reindeer riding* – there was also a tremendous amount of eating with the highlight surely being the reindeer, berry and chilli sauce pizza. I doubt my words can really do justice to how spectacular a country Finland is and in particular Phya-Luosto where I stayed so below are some pictures from the experience.

What I will say is that although Finland is a relatively expensive country it’s a country where you get value for money. Every activity I engaged in felt like you were getting more than you had paid for and I like that – a lot.

It’s also a stunning place to go running / snow-shoeing in – a trail runners nirvana one might say. I chose not to go for the snow shoes as it was quite late in the season and I felt my Hoka Tor Speed were good enough for most Finnish trails and this proved the case even though I spent most of my time ‘off piste’ looking for deep trails in the middle of nowhere. I haven’t had this much fun running for years and I loved the fact that despite the chill in the air you could actually run in short sleeves if you chose to, it really wasn’t that cold and the lack of moisture in the air meant conditions were just perfect – I could have run there all day every day.



The bonus of course was that the northern lights came out to play on our final night there and so it was a trip that started brilliantly and finished on a huge high. So, if you, like me, enjoy your adventures and enjoy trying new things then northern Finland might be the right place for you.

Check it out.





*I just attended other people doing these activities, I was on parenting duty.

Waterproof, grippy, elevated, Hoka and boots – are these the shoes you’ve been looking for? I bought these with the specific reason of being able to run through the snow in Finland but it turns out they might be good for lots more than that.

 
What do Hoka say about them? Named after the Tor Des Geants, a 330km mountain race across the Italian Alps with 3 Everests-worth of ascent, the Men’s Hoka Tor Speed WP is the lightest trail running shoe to offer ankle stability with aggressive Vibram grip.

  • Weight: 349g
  • Offset: 5mm
  • Heel: 33.5mm
  • Forefoot: 28.5mm
  • Standard laces 
  • Anatomic ankle glove
  • Closed mesh
  • Waterproof membrane
  • Seamless synthetic overlay support
  • Vibram Grip
  • 4mm lugs

The first thing you’ll notice is how light they are considering the size – the boot gives them a look of bulk that they don’t deserve because the Tor Speed when on your feet are a good close fitting shoe that you feel nicely locked into. As a fan of the oversized shoe (see my general love of all things Altra) I knew what I was getting when I bought these – it was not going to be a minimalist shoe. On the visual end of things the Tor Speed is okay, black and red aren’t really daring enough for me – I’d rather that if you’re going to make a ridiculous running shoe then make it properly ridiculous – no messing around. However, that said they’ve grown on me much more than the Stinson ‘white’ ever did.

 
Testing Before they went to Finland I gave them about 40 miles of testing to bed them in. I’ve generally found with Hoka that my feet need a little bit of time to adjust to them but the Tor Speed were comfortable from the moment we hit the trails together. We banged up and down some muddy hills and I was happy to note that I had good grip on the ground, very little slipping – my foot was stable in the shoe and importantly my feet were dry despite the conditions being rainy. I took them into the city and did a few short urban trail runs and these too were comfortable affairs.

Bootiness Let’s not beat around the bush – these runners are boots and not running shoes, you’d think they have more in common with hiking boots but they really don’t. They simply feel like a properly bombproof runner. They won’t be for everyone but Hoka (and soon Altra) have a boot based running footwear option that will appeal to a certain market. 

Finland Testing I put another 60km (ish) on the Tor Speed during my visit to Luosto in Finland. I decided that I wasn’t going to go snow-shoeing, I was going to see how the Hoka handled smooth, deep, icy, slushy, hilly, flat, etc, etc, trails and I quickly got my answer.

 
On the XC ski trails the Hoka performed well, the grip held well and I could race around pretty much as I wanted. My feet were never cold and the combination with drymax socks was a winner, even when they dug into the deeper snow the Hoka retained their ability to get me out of trouble and unlike other Hoka I’ve used my ankles never felt at risk of going over. On the icier and slushier road they reacted the same as on normal Tarmac – they ate it up but it was when I hit the trail and decided to go ‘wild’ that they would have a real test.

Thicker and thicker snow greeted my feet, legs getting trapped in the thigh height snow and much colder as you went higher and higher but never once did they fail and my feet remained dry. Yes I dusted off excessive snow after I’d dug myself out of various holes but ultimately my Tor Speed were a great choice of footwear. Uphills and downhills I expected to be a little less comfortable than say my Altra Lone Peak 2.5 but actually they were fine for undulating trails and once you gotten used to the feeling of them you’ll simply forget you’ve got boots on at all.

So what are they for? I’ll be using them for the first sections (and possibly the whole) of the Skye Ultra Trail in May – so I’m happy that you can use them for ultra running but things like fast packing, hiking and geocaching will be right at the heart of the type of activity they were built for.

Would I recommend these? The answer is, of course, yes but with the caveat that they aren’t for everyone and they aren’t for every activity. Plus as Hoka they’re quite expensive usually retailing for over £100 but if you find them on sale they might be worth a punt as an option for a waterproof shoe where sprinting isn’t going to play a large part in the day. Would I buy them again I suppose I’d the litmus test? And yes I would, I’ll be looking for a second pair for my winter running but despite really getting into the groove with them they won’t replace the Altra as my shoe of choice for racing. 

For a proper Hoka hiking boot you could look at the Tor Ultra which is a more traditional boot.

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