Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

I recently found that a local company had started producing gels. Being a fan of local produce, I ordered a trial pack to give them a go.


They duly arrived (very quickly!) and I opened the box to find three citrus gels, three berry gels and two cola gels (with added caffeine).

Tonight the plan suggested a four mile run, so that seemed like the perfect example to try out step one of what we will call The New Gel Procedure. There are only a couple of steps, but they go like this:

  1. Take gel before short run – this is the barf test. If I can go for a short run and not feel ill, “Go Windy” or feel generally unsettled then they pass phase one and progress to step 2.
  2. Use a few on a longer run and see if they do the job.

You should know straight off that I’m pretty picky about gels. They need to be vegan for one thing, which is always a bit of fun, but I got a very quick response to my question about the ingredients that they were fine. I also like my gels thin. To date I’ve stuck with High 5 gels because they’re easy to neck when you’re running with minimal water. In fact, the only thing that has drawn me away from the High 5 gels are Isogels by the same company, if anything even thinner and properly easy to take without any water at all. On one memorable run where the shops were shut, Isogels saved the day as I had a couple left that got me home when I ran out of water.

So, I chose a citrus gel – everyone makes a citrus gel, so they’re a good test. The tops are nice and easy to open, which is great once you’ve lost your senses on a long round, and the consistency was pretty much on a par with the High 5 gels, which is another big thumbs up. The taste was pretty good – not too sweet, not too tart – pretty much the baby-bear-porridge of gel tastes.

In it went, and off I headed. As I was feeling pretty good I had a bit of a turn of speed (for me, it’s all relative, 9 minute miles counts as speed) and figured this would jounce the contents of my stomach sufficiently to cause any upset of explosion.

To cut a long story short, they worked well, no undue effects, no discomfort, no feeling like I was going to be sick or otherwise jettison. I ran a tasty 9 minute mile, which is pretty good for me in the woods – could this be due to having the gel at the start? Quite possibly – we’ll find out the answer to that at the weekend when I head out for a longer run with a clutch of the blighters to keep me going.

I might even try the caffeine ones – I like a coffee, but I’ve always avoided caffeine gels as I have suspicions they’ll cause an unwanted effect.

So far so good, really happy with the gels. Watch out for the next instalment, the full Road Test.



Over the summer I picked up one of these tops, it’s lightweight, quilted and designed for running in the cold. It’s also orange, which is pretty good in my book. As it was warmish over the summer I’ve not had the chance to try it out, but now the weather is a bit colder I’ve had it out a few times. I’ll be honest and say the colder the better – in less cold weather I’ve sweated a remarkable amount, but in the quest to bring my views to you, gentle reader, I’ve stuck with it. I bet you’re glad… 🙂


The Thermoshell comes with it’s own fabulous wee stuff sac, it’s goes to about the size of a butternut squash (sorry, vegetable comparisons only), and weighs virtually nothing. Inov-8’s website says 260g, and I’m not one to argue.

The first thing you notice is it’s pretty thin – I thought maybe too thin, but then when you consider you generate heat while running it might just work out. As a larger framed chap I found that I fit into a medium pretty much spot on. I was a little surprised, as was the man in the shop who said he’d pegged me as a large. Thanks there. It peels off well, without needing to turn myself inside out, but I’d be worried about putting on much Christmas weight or it might get a bit snug around the middle (that’s the battle zone of my weight, too much fatty food and there it goes, like I had a sponsorship deal from Michelin*).

A nice long zip on the front, some nifty thumb loops on the arms (I’ll be honest, I think thumb loops are very cool, but I’ve only rarely ever actually used them) and a chest pocket big enough a few bits and bobs and you’re away.

Hang on, one more thing to think about – right way in or inside out?

What, I hear you ask, have you finally lost it?

Well, probably, but one of the genius things about this top is that it’s reversible. One (orange) side is smooth, with the other (black) side being quilted. If you have the quilt on the inside, it supposedly retains more heat (I’m not an engineer, so don’t ask me how). Does it work? Well, yes, I think it does – I ran some of the colder runs recently with the orange side out and I swear it was warmer than the other way around. Inov-8 say 10% warmer, so lets work on that basis. All I know is one side I’m the orange ninja of smooth warmth, and on the other I’m the black ninja or quilted warmth. Interestingly the black side also has reflective bits on it, so it’s bizarrely better to run in at night. The orange side is Pertex Quantum, so it should be pretty wind-proof. The black side is “air permeable”, so I guess that explains everything…?

For me, the fit is perfect, it’s like a glove. I’ve worn it on it’s own, with a Nathan VaporWrap and it’s done fine. It has very good wind resistance, and when I’ve been out in a shower it’s never felt wet any more than the amount of moisture I’ve built up. A word on that too – when I’ve worn it when the weather’s not been so cold, and when I’ve worn it with a pack especially, I’ve managed to build up a fair bit of moisture in the back. I’ve never noticed it while running, but when I take it off it’s sometimes shiny wet on the inside. I stick it on a chair by the fire and it dries off double quick time.

To be honest, I’m waiting for some truly shabby cold weather before I can report back on just how well it performs. As it’s small, I could just about fit it in my pack to put on over a running top if I stop or slow down. Another good thing is it’s a synthetic fill, Primaloft Sport, so not only does it cope well when wet (or sweaty) but it also doesn’t involve any animal products (I think, sent an e-mail to check, so will report back – update,  they came back super-quick, it’s totally animal free, so groovy if you’re a vegan runner – I also found out they’re just down the road from me in Crook, and they have a sale last Friday of the month… interesting!).

Price-wise, it wasn’t the cheapest thing I’ve bought, coming in at £108, but it compares favourably to the price of my Berghaus Ignite jacket, for example, which at £120 is a bit too insulated for running in. I’ve not seen anything quite similar to it, so I think it fills it’s niche very well. Teamed up with a waterproof shell I think it would be an ideal combination for deep winter running in the hills.

*Other tyre company jokes are available.

Yes, you’re right, it is odd to review an event like it’s a sort of t-shirt.

But I thought it would be a fund thing to do, so I’m going to.

Where I live, I’ve always assumed that either Newcastle or Gateshead Parkruns are my nearest. I’ve run to the Newcastle one before, and it was around 9 miles. So far so good.

However, in idly scanning the Parkrun website* I noticed one at Blackhill. I knew that was about where I am, as the Blackhill Bounders running club are from round here, so I looked it up on the map.

Blackhill, it turns out, is about 7 miles from my house, in Consett and pretty easy to get to. So, I decided I’d have a look and see what it was like.

The first time, last week, I arrived as the run started, so my later lack of knowing where to run, or where they’d hidden the finish is no-one’s fault but my own. Perhaps an arrow at the last turn marked “Finish” would have helped, but then again so would have asking before I started running (had I turned up in time, so we see it’s down to me again).

I went back yesterday, turned up a little earlier and knew which way to go. These were all good things.

They’re on to the 19th event, and seem to be getting into their stride – if someone had shouted out maybe five minutes before the start to see if there were any new people who needed directions (which I’ve seen at Whitley and Riverside runs, but not at others – I think it’s a good idea) then I think the organisation would be pretty much perfect.

The route has one small loop, then three long loops. The first one is designed to fool you into thinking that it’s a nice easy run, up the hill from the start which is pretty gentle, then peel right, down a lovely descent and back by the bandstand to pretty much the start. Lovely.

Three longer loops then? Back up the hill, but turn off left half way up, back down to the bottom on the path and then out of the park and past the allotments, running mildly uphill. Once you get to the top of the allotments, let’s have a steeper hill with a bank/steps choice at the top. Gravel and some earth on the hill, so a little bit of mud if it’s wet, but this is the bit that’ll get your heart rate up. Top of the hill, right and along the hillside, back into the park and across the top to come back to the lovely descent** to the bandstand. Do that twice more, and then when you get back here the next time, turn left rather than right and sprint*** back towards the park gates – the finish is on the bit of grass just by the gates.



Me, starting on the descent – look at my happy little face… (look Ma, I’m floating!)

This is not a PB**** course. It has hills. If you want a PB, then I’d recommend Whitley Bay – it’s flat and fun, much like a chocolate pancake. However, Blackhill’s got character and that counts for a lot. Because it’s not a straightforward “how fast can you run for 5km?” course, you pass people and they pass you back. One chap passed me on the uphill a couple of times and I passed him on the descent. I have no idea which of us came in first, but it was fun.

I’m not usually a fan of laps, but this one works, and it was lovely to see folk who knew each other where the faster runner was lapping the slower one and offering some encouragement as they went past.

If you’ve got kids who want to run, this looks like a good venue too – there were more children running this than I think I’ve seen at any other Parkrun – there were also folk with prams (not sure if they were running) and a couple of people with dogs taking part.

There was a good mix of people and ability – I’m no speedy runner, but I managed 24th this time and 23rd the week before. I was maybe a minute or two slower than I’d usually expect for this distance, and a good three minutes off my overall Parkrun PB, but I wasn’t going all-out to kill myself in the process like I was then (and I wasn’t chasing Mr Richie’s trainers speeding away like I was when I ran my fastest Parkrun at Whitley).

Afterwards, the people in the Bowling Club were putting on tea and coffee for Children in Need – I would have gone if I’d hadn’t needed to get away for an appointment. That kind of connection with the other park users is important. I remember being shocked at another Parkrun that the lady in the cafe there only ever gets runners coming in to use her toilet. Doesn’t send the right message.

In short, if you’re anywhere near Blackhill, I’d say give it a go – even if it’s just to have a pop at a hillier-than-average Parkrun.  I’ll be back when I can.

Blackhill Parkrun on Facebook

*This isn’t entirely true, I’ve never just gone to their pages for “a bit of a look” – that would be weird, like “just having a flip through the Yellow Pages”, not that you get them anymore… I’m just not sure what I was doing on their website at the time.

**I keep saying it’s lovely because it’s about the right incline that gets my legs pinwheeling to keep up, but not so much that I’m about to trip myself over. In short, in the two times I’ve done this run I’ve made up places on this descent because other people are keeping their brains engaged. And I’m no downhill runner, in case you’re thinking I might be…

***Assuming you’ve got any sprint left in you, by this point I was knackered.

****PB = Persimmon Migration sorry, no, it’s Personal Best, or if you’re American then it’s PR which is Personal Record, I think, but I’m not sure, as I’m not. I only found out last night that a Persimmon is actually a type of fruit, and not a marsupial at all. No wonder the pet shops banned me…

In the run up to the Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra Marathon, I figured that my warm layer would be rubbish in the wind, and that I didn’t want to add another layer as well in while I was trying to save space and weight. A last minute trip to the running shop to figure out if there was an alternative that might fit the bill.

The Asics Fuji LS 1/2 Zip top looked the biz. It’s a long sleeve warmer layer (tick), and the front panel and shoulders are made out of a wind-proof material without being a heavy waterproof. The lower arms are not wind proof, but are warm, and the ends are longer and shaped to fit over your hand with thumb loops. The back is the warm not-wind proof layer and a large mesh panel in between the shoulder blades to allow your back to breathe.

It comes in black, fluo-orange and a nifty blue.


I got the blue.

Those little black triangles at the hips? They’re tiny mesh pockets, which it turns out are perfect for storing the packets from used gels. I made good use of those wee pockets during the Jedburgh Ultra.

The shoulders have a silicon patten on them, which I suspect is there to keep rucksacks steady and possibly to reduce wear to the shoulders? I was wearing my VCAC running vest over the top, so I can’t comment on how well or otherwise they work. There’s also a little hole to put a headphone cable through if you like that kind of thing. Whenever I’ve used headphones I’ve just passed them down the neck hole, which also makes stripping layers easier as you don’t need to un-thread cables.

Over the 38 miles of varied terrain, with rain, wind and hail, the top stood up to everything. It’s not waterproof, but I ran through light showers without noticing any damp, only resorting to my waterproof when it properly tipped down. I certainly didn’t have any problems with wind.

The hand cover things are great – I ditched my gloves pretty early on, and they kept my hands just that little bit warmer over the first few miles until I’d warmed up.

I’ve used it again for a shorter run, and coming over the top of the hill with the wind gale  in my face I didn’t get cold – I could feel the wind pushing on the front material, but none of it got through.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the top, I can’t find anything negative to say about it – it ticks all the boxes I wanted it for, and has a couple of little extras I wasn’t expecting (hand covers and those nifty little pockets). At £60, the price was a little rich, but I found the blue ones reduced for no apparent reason (and luckily I liked the blue). Saying which, and having had the chance to try it out, I reckon it’s worth the higher tag, as it ticks of warmer layer and wind top very nicely. It packs up smaller than my Nike Element top, and certainly deals better with rain.

Capsule Review: Road ID

Posted: 16/06/2013 in Review, Running, Vegan

RoadIDI run a lot of country roads at the moment, often with no path, track or other escape to the side. I generally figure I’m savvy enough to be safe, but we all know that only holds until something goes wrong, right?

I’ve had a few instances where drivers have been going too fast and come close to me, and a couple of memorable ones where drivers I can only refer to as *arseholes* have deliberately passed as close to me as the can. I have to rely that while they are imbeciles, they are fully in control of their vehicle. Hmm.

I heard about RoadID a little while ago, and now I’m out in the country roads, I thought it was about time I made sure my flattened corpse could be identified and mailed back. You choose your band design (thin, thick, different materials, colours, etc.) and then enter your text – the site gives helpful hints of what to put on each line. There’s the option of a stand-alone set of info, or a one with a phone number to get in contact with RoadID and get any relevant medical details. As my most relevant medical detail is “trainee vegan” and I don’t know my blood group, I went for the unconnected (and thereby no yearly fee) option. I didn’t check whether it works internationally, it’s an American company, but as I already knew I was going for the basic version I didn’t do any more research.

My band has my name, year of birth (but not date!), area I live in, next of kin details, my laughable lack of medical details and a motivational phrase. I think the motivational phrase is going to come in useful – it did on my quick run today when I was contemplating a bit of walking…

Anyhoo, I got a nice e-mail thanking me for my purchase, and details of when it would be expected at the door. A package turned up on Thursday gone, a day early (I think), and there it was, fresh from across the Atlantic.

The basic red version I went for is a webbing strap with a velcro fastening, with the little plaque held on to a mildly elasticated strip, it looks well sturdy, and in taking it out in the woods for a swift five-mile on the trails I barely noticed it was there. You can take the detail plaque off and replace it, or stick it on another band, but it looks like there’s no way it could easily escape in normal use.

All in all, very impressed, and feel psychologically a bit better about running on odd country roads now. Taking it with me to run The Wall next weekend, in case my sugar-depleted body is found somewhere between Carlisle and Newcastle and I’m mistaken for a Roman corpse…

EDIT: The Sport version (the one that I bought) has reflective stitching – didn’t notice that until just now, so extra-safety fun at night… and it’s Vegan!

I’ve owned one of these for years, and it’s done me good while walking about the place. But what about running? Surely it’s too big and heavy, no? But it’s lovely, so I figured I ought to at least give it a go and see…


Paramo make this bit of attire, so what do they say about it?

  • Less prone to abrasion or damage through reversed zips.
  • Increased field of vision provided by a fully adjustable, wired and roll-away/ detachable, low profile hood.
  • Maximum freedom of movement and increased comfort provided by articulated shoulders and sleeves.
  • Access to inner layers and additional venting, even when wearing harness, with our front twin zip design.
  • Single-handed, on-the-move cuff adjustment provided by BiteTab’ closure.
  • Easy access storage from a large external ‘dry’ chest pocket.
  • Handwarming and OS map storage provided by an internal ‘dry’ pocket.
  • Excellent weather protection from our unique 2″ drip skirt and pronounced scooped tail.
  • Additional temperature control provided by single-handed hem drawcord pulls. Also helps eliminate rucking when load carrying.
  • Increased visibility in low-light conditions with the addition of reflective piping front and rear.
  • The Velez Smock benefits from a closer, contoured fit.

Wow, that’s quite a list, eh? I can safely ignore the “closer, contoured fit” comment, as when I bought it I was an XXL, whereas now I’m a healthier L. All of which means it comes under the heading of “baggy”. Not badly, there was a proper gale of a wind blowing up the coast and it didn’t flap around. I’ve got a theoretically-correct-fitting waterproof that suffers worse in the wind.

It’s not light though. Or is it, let’s consider that for a moment. My current jacket of choice is a Ronhill trail jacket that packs into it’s own pocket. It weighs nothing at all so far as I can tell. The Velez is made of sterner stuff, and it doesn’t stuff into a tiny, tiny space. You know you’re wearing it – though also in a good way – the aforementioned wind just didn’t touch me, nor did the chill.

The thing that was really worrying me was overheating, it’s a full-on jacket that I’ve worn while walking in sub-zero snowy countryside, and it’s always been toasty. But you know what, I was pleasantly warm, didn’t feel sweaty and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. A quick six miles including a few hills left me feeling sightly sweatier than if I’d not had a waterproof, but nothing dreadful.

The side zips are about perfect, slide ’em up and you can tug it over your head, if you need extra venting there’s a double zip on both sides so you can slide ’em down without the bottom flapping (and no-one wants a flappy bottom, let’s be honest). The front pocket had my head torch, a hat and a pair of gloves in it, with room to spare – that OS map-size thing is true too, done that before.

I’ve always had the feeling that the Nikwax Analogy fabric does work better than other materials – the whole magic of temperature control seems to work better in this than in any of my other waterproofs. Also, they describe it as being “like an animal”, and, well, that sounds pretty hardcore right?

In short, I think it’ll see more use during the colder weather, and I’m dying to get out in it in some proper rain – check out the hood. It’s now on my list for The Wall in case weather looks bad – that was the main reason for testing it out – not sure the Ronhill light top will make do with the hilltops along Hadrian’s legacy…

Would be nice to try one that was the right size – can only feel that would make it even better… 🙂 Also, the hood is detachable, can’t figure out if it is also roll-away or if that’s an either/or thing? When it’s not pouring down I tend to keep the hood in the front pocket, it would be nice if I could stow it in place.

This is my second pair of Vivobarefoot shoes, the other being the Breatho Trails I picked up when I saw them on offer. Now I’ve only just started using the Breathos on the trail, so I need to update the wee review on those in a while.

However, I got a pair of Neos a couple of weeks ago – after my wife decided to give running a go, and that she wanted to start with barefoot shoes. I’ve been planning to start transitioning for a while, but was holding off for a half marathon that got rescheduled to September. So now seemed like the perfect time. The fab folk at Start Fitness had the Neos in, and after a bit of comparative-size malarky, I ended up with a 45, one size bigger than in the Breatho Trails. A little tip – if you go on the American Vivobarefoot site, they have a comparison where you can say what size you take in another shoe (there’s quite a choice) and it will tell you what size to go for in one of their models – very handy, and it got the size for my Breathos and Neos spot on.

Anyway, on to the shoes – they’ve a lovely retro black plimsole affair, with the slightly wider toe box that’s a hallmark of barefoot shoes. Made of a woven material, with some slight-but-good padding around the top of the shoe where your foot goes in. The soles are white, which looks a bit odd at first, but I guess I’ve gotten used to it pretty swiftly. The regular Vivo hexagon design on the sole, these are not quite as thin a sole as my VFF Classics but thin enough to feel the ground very nicely.


I’ve been using them on very short transition runs to get my legs used to the change, in fact I’ve been using them with my family as they work their way through a 13-week walk/run programme. And on the shorter distances they’ve done very well. Sometimes I’ve run a further 1-2 miles after to get a bit more consistency in the runs, and they’ve been an absolute dream. My left knee, source of much angst in my running has been absolutely fine – my calves have been a little sore, but I’m clear this is only from them getting used to the new form, rather than a creeping injury.

Today I ran my local Parkrun in them, and a bit before, and a bit after – maybe a total of four miles. Again they were fine, the only odd thing being that the left insole worked its way out from under my foot and appeared at my heel. Easy solution was to pull it out and keep going, and I do believe it felt even better after doing that – odd, but true. The shoes feel fab, like socks rather than shoes, and they’re don’t slide around, while your toes have space to go where they please. I nearly got the next size down because I was thinking there was too much room in the toe box, but don’t be fooled – it’s a bit more than you’d be used to in a normal pair of shoes.

What next? Well, my half marathon plan for September / marathon plan for October is currently out of the window – if I can transition and build up distance, then I’d be doing the Hadrian’s Wall Half Marathon and Kielder Marathon, both trail races, in barefoot shoes. At this moment in time, I can’t imagine putting my regular cushioned shoes back on again.

Will it work out? You’ll have to come back an see… 🙂