• No categories

RUNNING at NIGHT – with Kilian Jornet, Seb Chaigneau, Fernanda Maciel an…

The ultra-runners in Team Petzl demo the new NAO headlamp, and add their tips how how to dive into the darkness.
Most 100km ultras will involve some running in the dark, unless you’re of Kilian & Co’s calibre. I love running in the dark, but I have to admit it’s been a while. My standard ultra kit consists of two Petzl Tikka Plus2 headlamps (lightweight, with a 70 lumen beam) and a Petzl E+Lite for emergencies. I’ve been looking for a single headlamp with a minimum 100 lumen output, but most of them come with a heavy battery pack or an equally heavy price tag. Here’s hoping Petzl’s new offering of the NAO with Reactive Lighting Technology is portable AND affordable.
Running in the dark is easier mentally, your horizons are reduced and your concentration focuses more on the next 3 metres rather than the big picture. If you haven’t done it before, you’re in for a treat! Having reduced visibility tends to heighten your other senses in compensation, and it’s almost a surreal experience, you become aware of things around you that wouldn’t normally be noticed on a daylight run. If you’re running alone, the quiet and solitude is a great time to just connect with the trail and your running, everything distilled into the 3 metre beam in front of you.
From the video, here’s some tips and insights from the pros on night running:
1. If it’s your first time night running, train on a familiar or comfortable trail, preferably with a group. this enables you to try out different headlamps and lighting configurations, as well as having safety in numbers.
2. Find out what works best for you and take time to adjust. A headlamp isn’t restricted to being worn on the head, and runners sometimes carry a torch in hand or attach their lights to their shoulder or waist. Put your beam in a position that you feel most comfortable with when running. Remember that light cast from eye-level (i.e. headlamp positioned on forehead) will cast very little shadow. As such, your depth perception is reduced dramatically and you will have to train your eyes to pick up the nuances of the trail.
3. Don’t focus on a single point. Use your other senses to help build a more complete picture of your surroundings, and pay attention to what is around. 
4. Switch from looking directly in front of you to further ahead, and occasionally look side to side as well to gain a better awareness of your environment.
5. Be organised with spare batteries and emergency backup lights. Cold weather reduces battery life, so be prepared.
6. Three key factors to consider when choosing a headlamp – performance (illumination and beam width), weight and reliability.
7. Switch to a lower beam when running uphill to save on battery power. Widen your beam on descents and managed burn time so you get the most out of your battery life.
Further information on NAO’s new Reactive Lighting Technology can be found at http://www.petzl.com/NAO  
  • No categories

Salomon Sense – Review

Given all the hype it’s had, it’s natural to think that the Salomon Sense might easily disappoint. After all, this is Salomon’s first offering of a lower profile shoe, a huge departure from their range of well-cushioned trail thrashers. First sighted as the prototypes in which Kilian strode to victory at WS100 2011, and then all his subsequent victories for the past year or so, it would be natural to question how much can be attributed to the shoe, given the pure talent of the wearer.
Victory at WS100 2011. Image: Salomon.com
The unbearable lightness. Image: Salomon.com
The whole team gets in on the act. Image: Salomon.com
The Summer launch of the Sense in the US and Europe was a massive success, and the popular sizes were like gold-dust. Not due to launch in Asia till Fall 2012, I managed to get my hands on a pair from the US just after they were made available. When the package arrived it felt as if the courier box was empty! Then taking the shoebox out, it really didn’t feel like there was a pair of shoes in there!
First feel of the Sense! 
Straight out of the box, the Sense is gorgeous. It looks and feels fast, not surprising since it’s profile has been whittled down to a mere 180g for a size US10. Given that I’m wearing a US7.5, the shoe feels like a low-slung speedster. The clean red and white combo adds to the sleek visual.
Sparkly new shoes 🙂
Putting it on, the Sense is a snug fit. I have narrow feet and it fits like a glove. The Endofit sock-like construction inside is supposed to enable you to run in comfort without socks. I wear the same size in the Sense as I do my other Salomon shoes, but I also wear my shoes a size larger than my normal shoe size for ultras. These fit me well with plenty of room in the toebox. I found the best part about the fit to be how snugly I can lace the midfoot portion up. I find the length of the shoe doesn’t affect my running (unless it’s too small), but if I can lace up the midfoot portion so it hugs my foot well then I’m good to go. Also prevents my toes crashing into the front on descents, saving me a lot of pain and black toes. I would recommend runners with wide feet to try the shoe before buying. Going up half a size might be an option, but this really is built on a racing last and none of the other shoes in the Salomon range have a fit like this. It’s more like the Inov8 X-Talon 190.
I’d been running in my Inov8 F-Lite 230 to get used to the lower heel drop again. The S-Lab 4 has a 12mm heel-toe drop, compared to 4mm on the Sense, and plunging straight into the Sense would’ve given me very sore calves!
So then, there’s nothing left but to take them out for a spin. My first run in them was a revelation. I’d done a hard run on the same course the day before in the F-Lites, and it was the fastest I’d posted so far this year. I didn’t think I’d be able to push hard again in the Sense, but whaddya know. Almost the same time as my run in the F-Lites, this time without someone to chase and tired legs to boot. Could’ve just been a good day. Or it could’ve been the Sense. One run may have been too early to tell, but I LOVED it. I’ve clocked up some decent miles in it now, enough to tell that I’m totally smitten.
Fast maiden run! 
What’s so great about the Sense? First, it’s the fit. I’ve discovered I like mine laced up tight. I like the new improved Quicklace system, with a top-loading Lace Garage. It feels better and less fiddly, and whilst it took me several adjustments to get the pressure right, at least the toggle was much easier to get to! Bombing down the hills on the trail in confidence plays a huge part in the enjoyment of my trail runs, and the racer-fit and weight of the Sense makes you feel like you’ve got the agility of a mountain goat (in my dreams!). Another major plus are the TPU toecaps. There’s plenty of wiggle room despite the narrow fit, and the protection offered is an absolute godsend. I’ve kicked enough rocks from carelessness and fatigue to know it hurts like a bugger even at the best of times. The F-Lites are racing snakes in their own right, but have minimal toe protection. The Sense has this pretty well covered. My first toe stub on the trails was met with surprise at the absence of resulting pain, then followed by a new-found confidence in demolishing the downhills with my new toe guards. Result! I did test these further by loosening the laces to a comfortably snug fit, and my downhill capers hurt a lot more with my feet sliding forward in the shoe and smacking the front.
Since I’ve been ‘training’ in the F-Lites, a comparison is inevitable. I like the F-Lites a lot, and with all the hype I didn’t honestly think that the Sense would be much more than a glorified racer. The reality? There’s something about the Sense that makes you fast. It’s not just the fit and the weight. There’s a palpable energy return from the midfoot construction that’s significantly different from the ‘soft’ soles of the F-Lites.
All the specs! Image: Salomon.com
With the combination of the OS tendon (for balanced flex and energy return), Dynamic Traction (the offset lugs which adjust to provide the best grip in varied terrain), and the Profeel Film (a rather sexy carbon-look sheet in the midfoot section that offers protection from the nasty sharp stuff), Salomon seem to have gotten it really right with the Sense. There’s enough feedback from the soles to give you a great sense of the trail you’re on, but a surprising amount of protection from what I’m guessing to be the Profeel Film.
There’s something about carbon that’s really sexy! The new Profeel Film. Image: Salomon.com
Running the last few weeks in wet and slippery conditions, the grip offered is brilliant. This all adds to a great running experience, thumbs up in my books after my disastrous river crossing in the Speedcross 3!
Any downsides? Yup! I ran barefoot in these to test out the Endofit sockliner .. and came back with a massive blister on the back of my heel (and blood all over the lovely white lining!!). Running sockless in these isn’t for me – the back of the shoe is a little too high for me and rubs my Achilles raw. 
And the insole doesn’t detach .. I like taking the insoles out when I’ve washed my shoes! But if that’s as bad as it gets, I’ve no complaints.
I’m looking to use these in the upcoming 100km in Sabah, and we’ll see if I’m still singing it’s praises then!

These are now available at World of Sports for $299 .. and the XT Wings S-Lab 5 is out too!

Ultra168 have a great review on the Sense, and for the miles he’s logged in them, these should last far longer than the measly 200km they’re purported to be good for. Yay!

Image: Salomon.com
And in 2013? I’m looking forward to the new colour combo, and perhaps the Sense Mantra for heavy training days! Here’s a sneak preview from Alpenglow Sports. 
Image: Alpenglow Sports
  • No categories

An interview with Kilian Jornet

Here it is, for those of you who live in the wrong country .. or those who missed out on the December 2011 issue of August Man magazine.

The article I wrote has been shortened from the original version, and the trail shoe reviews were brief due to space constraints, but we’re looking to put up more in-depth reviews on AugustMan.com and my shoe reviews for Hoka One One (Bondi B and Mafate)  and Inov8 (Road-X 233 and F-Lite 230) are still to come.

Hope this helps with 2012 New Year resolutions to get out on the trails!

  • No categories

King of the Mountains

Photo credit: Charles Chua @ A Thousand Words

Best day ever!

I had the opportunity to interview Kilian Jornet today (THANK YOU, SB!!), and spent a blissed out 45 minutes chatting and taking pictures with the man himself. Also thanks to Julien for the translation services! 🙂 A private interview with the world’s top trail runner .. a chance of a lifetime!

I presented him with a giant jar of Nutella for his birthday (he turns 24 on Thursday) to break the ice, and proceeded to try and find out what he’s really all about. I can’t say too much about the interview just yet, but I can say that Kilian has truly impressed me with who he is and what he believes in.

Greg Vollet (former world-class XC MTB racer, and Salomon Global Outdoor Sports and Community Marketing Manager ) with Fatbird and Kilian Jornet 

Kilian has now won all the races in the Salomon 5 Races / 5 Continents project this year – the North Face 100 in Australia, the Western States 100 in America, the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc in Europe, the Table Mountain Challenge in South Africa, and the Mount Kinabalu Climbathon in Malaysia. He’s now due for a couple of weeks off before he hangs up his running shoes for 6 months and dives into the ski mountaineering season. His philosophy for life boils down to enjoying every possible moment. He’s living his dream, now go live yours.

  • No categories

TNF100 – Blue Mountains

I took an overnight flight to Sydney, arriving early Friday morning. The race registration started at 4pm so plenty of time to get to the Fairmont Resort in Leura, which was the race HQ. I’m still knackered from a long couple of weeks at work and training, and happily manage to sleep through the whole flight. The customs chap looking through the mountain of Hammer Nutrition products in my bag said “Good luck, you’re going to need it .. it’s been pretty cold up there!” when I said I was racing in the Blue Mountains that weekend. Not a particularly auspicious start .. given it was Friday 13th as well! 2 degrees C outside that morning!
Happily, I mt Andre and Paper having a coffee in the Arrival Hall. Andre is a HK based runner I met at TNF100 Singapore last year, and this year he’s done the entire Asian TNF100 series so far, including three 100km events in three consecutive weeks. The man’s a machine! Well done, Andre .. I’m still in awe ..
Turns out they’re meeting Andy Bowen, a great runner I met at GNW100s last year .. he’s attempting to run across the Nullarbor in August (33 marathons!) so the TNF100 is a mere skip in the park.
It  Might look messy, but I knew where everything was!
Sebastien Chagneau – UTMB 2009 winner at kit check

Great to see some familiar faces, and this gets me a little more motivated for the race. They head straight to the Fairmont Resort, whilst I go into Sydney to get some last minute kit and meet Buzz Lightyear (aka Keith Hong), who’s giving me a lift up to Leura. 
Buzz is another awesome runner I met at GNW100s .. and a fellow Singaporean. He’s also the most chirpy, smiley person I know, always ready to lend a hand or give some encouragement. 
At the Fairmont, the queues are forming for race registration and there’s groups of runners and crew everywhere catching up and talking shop. The registration hall is packed by the time I get in, but the queues for my number and kit check are relatively quick. I find a quiet corner to unload my stuff in order to get my checkpoint bags sorted .. nothing like last minute prep!

 Finally I’m ready. CP bags deposited, race number collected and kit check done .. time for some shut eye! Buzz sorts me out a lift back to Katoomba (about 5kms away) where I’m staying at a great little guest house called Number Fourteen. Not looking forward to the early race briefing tomorrow! I meet Jane, Blue Dog and Bernadette (more lovely GNW folk) back at the guest house and Jane offers me a lift to race start in the morning. Note to self: next time stay at the Fairmont .. much more convenient if you don’t have a car! 
Forgot anything?

CP3 drop bags in the van, ready for despatch
Race morning: I am ABSOLUTELY freezing. This is not funny at all. I’m wearing all the compulsory gear (hat, gloves, thermal top, tights, race top, jacket) and my extra fleece and waterproof trousers will be waiting for me at CP4. 
The race briefing starts with an intro from the organisers and then a welcome to the land by the family of the native tribesmen. It’s followed by a quick lesson on what local flora and fauna to look out for enroute. I realise the chap sat on the floor next to me is decked out in rather a lot of Salomon kit so I turn round to take a closer look .. it’s Kilian!! *HUGE grin* The entire Salomon team comprising Kilian Jornet, Ryan Sandes, Francois D’Haene, Grant guise , Devon Crosby-Helms, Jen Segger, Julia Bottinger and Nerea Martinez are all right beside me .. this must be what Bieber-fever feels like! 😉 
My camera battery chooses that very moment to bail on me (argh!) so I resort to getting a pic with Kilian on my mobile .. only to find all the reflective bits on my kit explode with the flash and it looks like Kilian’s taken a picture with a lightbulb. Perfect. He’s lovely enough to give me another chance .. not great but at least this time you can actually see my face in the picture! 😀
Kilian with Lightbulb Woman
Slightly better 🙂

Okay. It’s showtime. Standing at the start I opt for Wave 2 (estimated 14-17 hours finish time). I’m really not concentrating very well and I figure I’ll just go steady and get home in one piece. Wave 1 with all the elites take off, and when we finally go, all I can think about is how cold I am. 

Freezing at the start! (Photo: John Maloney)

5km in, I’m still freezing, but at least I’ve warmed up enough to take my jacket off. I was told to run steady for the first 6-8km. The trail narrows to single-track after that and you run the risk of getting stuck behind slower runners with no opportunity to pass.  The sun is coming up and the Blue Mountains are looking stunning. The trail and the views vie for my attention, and I decide to concentrate on the trail after falling hard a couple of times. The route was a real treat to run on, technical in some parts, challenging enough to keep it interesting and you definitely get your money’s worth in elevation. Absolutely no chance of getting lost either, with pink flag markers all along the route and big X’s along the wrong routes just in case you went off course. They knew I was coming, then! 🙂 
5:14:01 to CP1 at Narrow Neck (18km). The CP was a welcome sight. I topped up my water, tipped some stones out of my shoes (forgot to bring gaiters), grabbed a handful of lollies and carried on down the road. by the time I got to the Tarros Ladder, there was the option of a 5-minute wait to use the ladder  (only in place for TNF, so a unique opportunity of sorts), or a 4-minute run on the alternative route via Duncan’s Pass to get to the bottom of the ladder. Ordinarily I would have waited, but I was still freezing and would have gotten much worse if I’d had to wait around for 5 minutes. I did enjoy the detour, though .. at least it kept me moving! 
My progress getting slower and I’m definitely not all there. I’m weaving all over the track and knackered beyond my usual fatigue. I’m guessing it’s a combination of cold and sleep deficit. A long steep descent after Mount Debert reminds me of the mudslide we had in Sabah a couple of weeks ago .. except this time it’s dry and loose, but just as steep!
7:56:33 to CP2 at Dunphys Camp at 38km, and I try to make it a quick stop. Freezing fingers don’t help and I have to take my gloves off to top up my water. Stone removal, handful of lollies, and we’re off. Met a Singaporean lad doing his first 100km, didn’t quite catch his name, but we kept pace for a bit. 
It’s tough terrain to CP3, and I started to flag when we get to Iron Pot Ridge, feeling extremely sleepy and cold. The stick players at the end of Iron Pot Ridge were a nice surprise and provided great atmosphere though! On the way back from the ridge I tripped and fell hard. This was my fourth fall and I’d landed on the same spot on my right knee for the third time. I rolled off to one side of the track to recoup and wait for the pain to subside. Each time I fell, every passing runner offered a hand. This time was no different and I’m cheered by the camaraderie at these events. I get back up and limp along for a bit till the pain subsides enough to run and just try to make it to CP3 in one piece.  
I meet some lovely people along the way, one of them being Dave the Paramedic, who’d doing TNF for the second time. He’s great to chat with and helps me take my mind off the fact that I’m really not enjoying this as much as I hoped I would. We must look funny together .. I’m completely wrapped up with gloves and hat and warm clothes while Dave’s in t-shirt and short shorts!
8:13:19 at CP3 (The Six Foot Track – 54km), and it’s nice to see Tall Geoff there (we ran most of GNW together), and he takes it on himself to make sure I have everything I need before setting off. Geoff’s done this before in a very good time, so I take his advice and encouragement on board. Not far to CP4, just 11km. He forgot to add it’s ALL uphill! By this time my jacket is back on as well. The weather’s turned cold and I wish I’d put my fleece and trousers at CP3 instead.
Half a mile out of CP3, I trip and fall again, this time coming down hard on my hip and elbow. I lie on the ground for a few minutes, waving off concerned runners .. I worry I’ve broken something until the pain eases off .. NOT having fun here! I get up and plod on through Nellies Glen, and by the time I start the ascent up The Six Foot Track I’m really freezing. I haven’t taken my hat and gloves off since I started and I’m wearing every item of clothing we’re meant to carry. Halfway up the long, steep climb I pass a chap sat with his head in his hands on the side of the track. I know how you feel, mate. I offer some encouragement and he wearily gets up and continues his ascent behind me. Sometimes you have to draw strength from others. Give what you can. Knowing he was plodding on behind me gave me a little more strength to keep going. Thanks, mate.
10:23:24 .. I finally get to CP4 at the Katoomba Aquatic Centre (65km). Despite the steep climb, there were a few short descents and each time I went downhill I also got increasingly cold. It was just starting to get dark now, and I was very grateful to see that CP4 was indoors. I get through the doors, see Tall Geoff and then inexplicably burst into tears. Not my finest moment. Poor Geoff didn’t really know what to do with me, and ushered me to a bench and went off in search of hot tea and noodles. I’m sat in a corner in tears, put my extra fleece and waterproof pants on and dreading going out into the cold again. I take as long as I can to rifle through my drop bag, pick out some salted nuts and start getting my headlamp and hi-vis vest ready. I don’t want to carry on. The fact that Buzz is at CP5 is an incentive to carry on, but a small one. (Sorry, Buzz .. no offence meant!)
Two cups of tea, two bowls of noodles, and nearly an hour sat under the heater later … I’m still cold. This is despite having had heat packs in my hands as well. I wasn’t mentally prepared for this and my brain’s decided to shut my body down. I’m still weighing my options and Geoff’s been patiently sat across from me the whole time. Bless him. He says its a couple of hours downhill then another couple steady walking uphill. Not sure how accurate that would be given my current state but it sounds achievable. Just not very appealing. 
I see-sawed between wanting to finish and throwing in the towel. I’d spent the last hour trying to warm up without much success. Going out now into the dark, going bush and downhill would definitely render me cold beyond despair. This wasn’t a main race for me. I’d signed up to get more challenging terrain for UTMB training. I’d never DNF’d before. I didn’t want to DNF. But I didn’t want to be out there for another 10 hours either. Or have a fall in the dark.
Finally, after much deliberation, a little advice from Geoff and the Desert King, I decided to call it a day. I went over to sign my name on the withdrawals list and took small comfort in seeing the previous three withdrawals had all listed their reason for DNF as ‘freezing’. No drama then. Once I’d actually made my choice, I didn’t have any regrets. Live to race another day. I needed to go back ready for more hard training, not having to be nursed back from the brink of hypothermia. 
Geoff very kindly drove me back to Number Fourteen. I sat in the long bath in some lovely hot water and felt the sensation come back slowly to my finger and toes. Definitely no regrets. I was in bed by 8pm and glad of it.
I did feel some small regret the next day at prize-giving though .. like I didn’t quite belong because i hadn’t finished. But it wasn’t a big deal and it was good to see the Salomon Team sweep the podium, with Kilian smashing the men’s record. Julie Quinn was the only non-endorsed athlete on the podium, beating her own record from 2010 to take first place in the women’s race. 
Unlikely I’ll do this one again .. too cold for my liking. But I’d recommend it to anyone who fancies a challenging 100km with fantastic views and great company. Just don’t forget your thermals. big thanks to Khaliq who helped me get my thermals .. might have pulled out at CP2 or CP3 without them! 🙂
I’ll add the official pics when I get round to downloading them .. think it’s time to get a new camera .. my poor little compact has definitely seen better days now!