For great running products checkout the Trailrunningman page on Amazon
Scroll down for reviews; Monkey Sox, Wigwam Vanquish NXT socks. ENERTOR Comfort Insoles, Attain socks from Wigwam, Tailwind, Get Fruity Bars, Altra Olympus 2.5 Trail shoes, Unilite Sport-H1 headtorch, Point Blank, Aquapure Traveller & Runderwear briefs.
Odd technical running socks – great looking and great performing.
I discovered Monkey Sox by accident. I was having coffee at the National Running show and started chatting to a mother and her young baby (I am a big softy when it comes to babies). Lianne told me she was an exhibitor and told me the background to the brand. Her husband, James - a doctor, was diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in July 2016. Lianne, a sports clothes designer, and James wanted to create an inspiring way to raise awareness and funds for the MS community. They also want to inspire an active lifestyle and open conversations about MS. Monkey Sox was launched in September 2018 and donates 50% of profits to three MS charities; the rest is ploughed back into the business to develop it further. Lianne gave me a pair of socks to try, I didn’t expect great things although they did look and feel good. There are a lot of people producing socks and a lot of them a not very good.
Wearing the socks
I wore them as casual socks to start with; I liked the intentionally odd sock design. They are designed to mirror how the body reacts and feels different, left to right, for those living with Multiple Sclerosis. I then took them out for a run – they were comfortable and performed well. I took them out for lots more runs. They stood up well to getting constantly muddy and being washed. I then bought two pairs. That says a lot.
The socks are made in a factory in Braga, Portugal using technical yarns, 96% Polyamide + 4% Elastane, and some nifty design: double cuff, reinforced heels and toe caps, breathable mesh upper and a support rib arch. Which all makes for one great looking and great performing sock.
They also make and sell casual and kids socks. If you want to give them as a gift but are unsure what design to get they also sell gift vouchers.
I am not a fan of low cut socks, however as the nice people at Hej International (Wigwam distributors for Europe) sent me some pairs to try it seemed rude not to run in them. Initially I thought they had sent me the wrong size because they looked small. That was not the case they were my size and fitted well; feeling soft and comforable. Something to do with an 'integrated zone-liner underfoot to give a great fit'. I took them out for a short run, 8 miles, that is short for me because I didn't expect to like the socks. I was shocked to find I loved them. A few days later I took them out for a 20-mile run - same result I loved them. They kept my feet cool and dry. The little tab at the back stopped them slipping down into my shoe (something I thought might happen). It felt like I ran faster in these socks, however I think that was an illusion. I'm sure the Vanquish NXT will be a favourite with 'racing snakes'. I will now use these socks for summer runs. In the winter I will revert back to a higher sock to give my ankles some protection from the elements and the mud.
Honesty statement: I became a Wigwam Ambassador in 2019 and a member of #teamwigwam. They give me free socks and publicity, however, I do not let this affect my opinions, if I thought the socks were rubbish I would say so. I have been a fan of Wigwam socks and have been using them long before I became an ambassador.
Wigwam socks are no longer available from the European site.
I’m not impressed by celebrity endorsements or fancy technology so when I was given a pair of these insoles at the Bloggers Forum during the Running Awards and told they were endorsed by Usain Bolt and used D30 smart technology to reduce shock and protect joints I thought “yeah, yeah – heard it all before”.
I took them home and went for a run replacing the insoles in my Scott Kinabalu trail shoes with the ENERTOR® ones. There wasn’t much difference in thickness. I am happy with the Scott shoes when running off-road, however on the road they lack cushioning. I started off on the trail and the insoles felt good, so I then chose a road route including a long downhill section to give them a good test. I am now a fan. The insoles felt firm, yet they provided excellent shock absorption without feeling spongey.
When I got home, happy that the insoles worked, I did a bit of research. The D30 technology is used in helmets, gloves and other protective gear used around the world by soldiers, professional athletes, industrial workers and motorcyclists. What impressed me a lot more than the endorsement by Usain Bolt was the fact that D30 is used in Dr Martens. If you have ever worn those you will know how they provide day-long comfort.
I also had a look at the reviews on the company website (73). I didn’t read them all, but I did read quite a lot, almost all were very complimentary with a few rather lacklustre. One complained that at £24.99 they were expensive. I don’t think they are because they work well. Another mentioned that they were heavy. I popped mine on my kitchen scales - just under 50g the pair compared to just over 25g for the ones that came with the shoe. I’m happy with an extra 25 grams to get good cushioning and shock absorption.
I cannot comment on how durable they are, yet! The company claim they last 7 times longer than traditional insoles. We will see.
Overall opinion – these work and do what it says on the packaging.
Attain socks from Wigwam
I was very excited when I first received these socks and still am. As well as having the usual excellent technical qualities I expect from Wigwam socks the sole is made from Repreve®, a material made from recycled plastic. The socks are good for your feet and good for the planet.
Wigwam is a family owned company based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA. All Wigwam socks are knitted in their Sheboygan factory. Their strapline is “Since 1905 Wigwam® has been committed to our employees, our community and knitting fine quality socks just for you." You could add to that committed to the environment.
The attain sock is available in the UK in two styles Attain Midweight Quarter (White, Fiery Red or Grass) and Attain Lightweight Low (White, Graphite or Grass). Both styles are also made with Wigwam's patented Ultimax® moisture control technology which keeps your feet dry & blister free. Other features include a breathable mesh instep and seamless toe closures.
I have tried both styles, racers will like the lightweight low style. As a lumbering trail-runner I prefer the slightly thicker and longer quarter socks which have some cushioning in the toe and heel. Both styles feel very comfortable and perform well thanks to the Ultimax® technology which consists of a mix of hydrophobic and hydrophilic fibres to move moisture away from your feet.
Wigwam socks wash well and last a long time so are a great investment that will keep your feet happy. The Attain styles will also help you do your bit to tackle plastic pollution.
Wigwam socks are no longer available from the European site.
Honesty statement: I became a Wigwam Ambassador in 2019 and a member of #teamwigwam. They give me free socks and publicity, however, I do not let this affect my opinions, if I thought the socks were rubbish I would say so. (In this case they are made from rubbish). I have been a fan of Wigwam socks and have been using them long before I became an ambassador.
I hear a lot of people saying good things about Tailwind so I thought I should give it a go. Usually I just rely on natural stuff without going in for any of the technical nutritional products. I just use real food, whole dried bananas, flapjack, jam sandwiches and Get Fruity Bars. If I need to rehydrate I drink water and if it is hot I have salty snacks. Hola Hoops are my favourite. However. I was due to take on the Kalahari Extreme Marathon and I wasn't as well training as I should have been so I thought some additional help would be good.
I bought a 7 stick starter pack of Tailwind Endurance Fuel and a few extra sticks. (No idea why they call them sticks.) I also bought 8 packets of Rebuild (single serving - chocolate flavour). One to take at the end of each stage and extra on after the long stage and one to try to see if the taste was okay. It was - I liked it.
Each sachet (they are not sticks) contains 200 kcal, but that was not what I was interested in. Although the extra energy dripping in as I ran was welcome. It was the electrolytes I wanted. You sweat a lot in the Kalahari and at times are drinking 1.5 litres of water every 10k so sodium and other electrolyte levels can get dangerously low. The Tailwind was an excellent way to top these up. It has a very light taste and with several flavours there will be something for everyone. I enjoyed the variety. They say they don't give you any stomach problems and I didn't have any. I don't think I would rely on just Tailwind in long races as I like to have something in my stomach. Having Get Fruity Bars to eat as well worked for me.
Some of the flavours are caffeinated; I saved those for the long day when I would be running during some of the night. They gave me a nice little boost and kept me alert.
All in all I was very impressed with Tailwind Endurance Fuel and will be using it again.
I used to use recovery products during multi-day events, however when I turned vegan they were no longer suitable. I know one one well known brand that uses soy protein rather than whey protein, but then makes their product non vegetarian by adding vitamin D from animal sources.
I was pleased to discover that Tailwind Rebuild is made from rice protein and coconut milk extract with no added vitamin D and is suitable for vegans. There seems to be a lot of science behind the formulation of Rebuild. The website talks about complete protein, amino acids, slow and quick release carbohydrates, healthy fats and electrolytes. That all sounds good, but does it work in practice?
Yes it did. It was easy to mix, tasted fine when made up with lukewarm water (which is all you get in the desert) and definitely helped me recover quickly for the next day's effort. My routine as soon as I got into camp was to get my shoes off, mix up some dioralyte (an excellent way to get essential electrolytes), mix up the Rebuild (which dissolved very easily) then lie down with my feet up and sip down both mixtures. Afterwards I would crunch on a packet of Hola Hoops, then I would be ready to think about sorting out anything that needed doing before preparing a meal.
The rebuild was great for getting some carbohydrate in me during that important 20 minute window directly after finishing. The taste was not too strong, but it had just enough flavour to make drinking it enjoyable rather than a chore. If you are going to use products in hot environments check what they taste like when made up with warm water. That butterscotch and caramel macchiato flavoured energy powder may taste fine when mixed with cold water in England, but could be awful when mixed with water that has been in the sun all day.
Get Fruity Bars
Super tasty snack bars that are great for long runs and refuelling after workouts. With 129 calories in a 35g bar they compare very well with the traditional sports energy gel. 100 calories per 32g gel. However that is not the whole story. The next bit is a bit dry (unlike the bars) and technical, skip to the bit after the picture of the bar if you want to avoid it.
The calories in gels come almost exclusively from carbohydrates, mainly added sugar, which also means that other stuff has to be added such as gellan gum (not a bad thing) to give the gel consistency and E211 (sodium benzoate) and E202 (potassium sorbate) which are preservatives. Although not natural ingredients they have been passed as safe for food additives.
The calories in a Get Fruity bar come from a mix of fat and carbohydrates (complex and simple) which you might think leaves it lagging behind gels as fuel for running. Carbs are king - the simpler the better. However, that is not the whole story for endurance events (anything over 10k) eating real food is probably more beneficial than gels. Endurance athletes bodies are generally adapted to fat burning and the fat in Get Fruity bars comes from coconut oil which consists of medium-chain fatty acids, that can be quickly converted to energy, allowing us to use the fat immediately for fuel.
I used Get Fruity bars during the 2018 Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. My main source of electrolytes and energy came from Tailwind, however, I wanted something solid as well. The Get Fruity bars worked well and were a real treat. Both Tailwind and Get Fruity bars are vegan.
Taste great, moist, easy to eat, easy to get out of the packet and not messy. All natural ingredients and no nasty additives. Available in several flavours, Marvellous Mango, Radiant Raspberry, Tangy Pineapple, Coconut & Lime, Moist Mixed Berry, Juicy Apricot & Ginger and Scrumptious Strawberry.
Altra Olympus 2.5 Trail Running Shoes
I won a pair of Altra running shoes of my choice at the Bloggers’ Forum held at the Running Awards.
The gift in no way affects what I say about the shoes, if I didn’t like them I would say so, but I love them - although I have one very sight criticism. More about that later.
Naturally I looked at the trail range of shoes and thought hard about which pair to get. I also asked for runners’ views on the Ultrarunning Community Facebook page. There were some very positive responses with the Lone Peak a clear favourite. I eventually went for the Olympus 2.5 as it has more cushioning than the Lone Peak. If I run from my house I have about a mile of tarmac before I get off-road and of course have the same amount on the way back so that cushioning is good. Also, as we enter into the summer the trails should be a little firmer.
The shoes look a bit weird as they have a big toe box, that is a good thing – no more pinched toes and black nails for me. They are zero drop, which is new for me, but it seems to work well. The first time out my legs were a bit sore, but after a few runs everything is okay now and my back, which is a problem, is not so stiff after runs as it used to get. I think that is because of the altered posture and running style due to the zero drop.
The shoes are very light and the extra room in the toe box means that you soon forget you are wearing them. I was running with happy feet. There is enough protection around the toe box for when you catch a rock. I thought that with the wider front this would happen more than usual, but that hasn’t been the case. The grip is good, although I haven’t tried them out in extremely muddy conditions. The Vibram sole gives good grip on the rocks which is a lot better than my previous shoes. In the winter I might switch to the King MT 1.5 as these have more grip although less cushioning. The mesh on the uppers means that the shoes drain well once you have been through water and they dry out quickly once you are home, so they are ready for another outing the next day.
The one niggle is that the laces are a little short and tying a double knot is a struggle.
So, to summarize – very comfortable, good grip and good for your toes. I am going to buy a pair of Lone Peak when I take on the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon again in October 2018.
I have been wearing these running shoes when I am not running because I love them so much, something I have never done with other brands.
The shoes are available from independent running shops. There is a store locator on the Altra website.
Unilite SPORT-H1 Head Torch
I was sent this headtorch a little while ago, unfortunately I have been injured and not running, however I am now back fit again so was able to take it out for a spin to see what it was like. I was running the 10k course of the Endurancelife Exmoor event as a final check before the competitors set off. This meant an early start in the dark so a great opportunity to try out the new headtorch. It was raining hard and the first section was through woods before heading out onto the coastal path. Being able to see well was going to be important so I had my normal headtorch in my pocket in case the H1 wasn't up to the job. I needn't have bothered with the back-up; the Unilite SPORT H1 is a great headtorch. Its 175 lumen beam provided a good light to see by, the light was bright so that I could see the hazards I might trip over and the beam lit up the route a long way ahead, so I could easily see the markings along the course.
The SPORT-H1 operates from a single AA battery, which is good news if you travel a lot, AAA batteries are not available in many countries, but you can almost always find AA batteries. The battery case is easy to open so it is a simple job to change the battery. Its IPX6 weatherproof rating meant the very wet conditions I was running in did not adversely affect the headtorch. The headband is easy to adjust, and its silicone lining helps to hold the torch in a firm position when in use, so you do not need to have the band too tight.
The light also has several different light options: high, medium and low white light, SOS white (hopefully I will never use that) high red and strobe red. The button is nice and big, so it is easy to turn the headtorch on or adjust the function even when wearing thick waterproof gloves. On high intensity one battery will last 5.5 hours.
I liked this torch, it’s not featherlight (but light enough), robust, uncomplicated and inexpensive. It is a torch I will use. Available in yellow green, blue and pink. The one downside is the amount of plastic in the fancy packaging. More information about the SPORT-H1 on the company website. Follow them on Twitter; they often run competitions to win headtorches.
Point Blank - natural energy drink
I first tried Point Blank during the Shine Walk, a marathon walk through London to raise money for Cancer Research UK. I was given it by Miranda Markham of Action PR, one of the people I was walking with. Point Blank is a client of the agency. Walking a marathon is tougher than running one, it takes a long time. Walking one at night after you have completed a full Tough Mudder that day is even tougher and I was feeling a bit tired at mile 20. The Point Blank perked me up and I finished feeling strong and awake.
A week or so later Miranda kindly sent me a case of Point Blank to try. I was intrigued by the blurb on the bottle. 'Natural energy, no sugar, no fat, 1 calorie'. When I looked at the nutritional information there were more zeros than a list of the UKs Eurovision scores. The product doesn't contain any energy; the energy comes from your body as the result of the caffeine in Point Blank - 65mg per 100ml. I won't go into the science behind the effects of caffeine - there is plenty of published research.
The product works for me, although the weight is a problem. I will only use it in races where I can leave it in a drop bag or have a second who can hand it to me when needed. I imagine it would be great for sports where the weight isn't an issue, cycling, kayaking and perhaps hiking. I am keeping a few bottles in my car for when I feel tired driving, although if I am very tired I will stop for a sleep. Better to arrive late in the morning than in the morgue. You need to experiment to find out how caffeine works best for you.
I like the taste (much better than those awful gels), but sought out the opinion of an expert, Emma Sabin of Sabins Coffee. Her opinion "Good coffee, but not great coffee". Sabins is a small batch roaster, Emma sources coffee from small producers and her husband lovingly roasts them to perfection. Currently (November 2017) they have a great coffee from Myanmar, but only have two sacks of it. Obviously Point Blank need to source coffee where there will be a regular supply (not just two sacks) so a "Good" from Emma is probably as good as they can get.
Aquapure Traveller from Pure Hydration
The great thing about this water filter is that as it is totally mechanical with no chemicals the water is available straight away - just squeeze the bottle and drink. The filter removes all the nasty stuff, including heavy metals, leaving just pure water. I have used these filters for quite a few years on long runs when I know I'll find a water source and on wild camping trips and have never suffered any stomach upsets. I normally try and find water that is relatively clean as this prolongs the life of the filter, but on occasions I've had to get water from puddles full of sheep's droppings or very unpleasant looking cattle troughs. I'm still here to tell the tale.
My only criticism is that the flow through the filter can be variable. Some I have bought just require a gentle squeeze of the bottle while others have required quite a strong squeeze. The filters are fail safe; when they stop working you cannot get any water through them. Buy from Amazon.
Before I tried Runderwear briefs I used to just wear normal pants, except on desert races when I used X-Bionic moisture management underwear. Now having tried a pair of Runderwear briefs I have bought more. They are very comfortable to wear and do not chafe due to the 360-degree seamless construction and flatlock edging. The technical fabric wicks moisture away and micro-perforations assist airflow. They work so well that I now use them in desert races (they are lighter than x-bionic). Previously, when running in cold weather, my bum would be cold once I got home and showered. This doesn't happen when wearing Runderwear. I know some people don't wear any underwear beneath lycra tights, or similar items, which can be embarrassing if you need medical attention which requires removing the tights. Give Runderwear a try to save embarrassment. Available from good independent sports shops. Or direct from the company.