Monday, 18 February 2013

Threshold Winter Series 10K

At last, a race report for 2013!  Usually, by now I would have raced 3 or 4 times in the year.  But, with two weekends of our own races, the usual post-Christmas chest cold, and my 40th birthday party, the first race of the year has only just happened.

On Sunday, I headed out of sunny Evesham to the delights of foggy Ilmington for a delightfully hilly road 10K put on by some friends at Threshold Events.  The race starts from the local sports club and heads gently down hill before a sharp left opens up a 2km+ ascent to the local TV transmitters.  It's a nice little climb to around 260m that left a few of the faster starters cracking back into a walk.  Luckily, it's followed quickly by a descent down the other side, including a 14% gradient for a bit.  Great, if you're on soft ground.  On the road, it's not quite so much fun.  All the knots that Sara had knocked out of me earlier in the week are now back with a vengeance as a result of that little 2km speed session.  Once down the hill, the route gently undulates around the village and surrounding roads before finishing in the playing fields.  It was the 5th of a series, and the route is challenging enough to make me consider doing the series in future.

So, how did it go?  Well, I felt tight in my warm up, so decided to take it steady from the start and try to run on effort.  I checked my watch once early on to make sure I wasn't going too quickly, and then when the hill came time ceased to have meaning.  Since I've never run the route, I have no reference point anyway, so the watch was just for recording the run.  The uphill wasn't too hard - I made use of the Autumn training and stuck to an effort level that was hard but sustainable, slowly picking up ground on those in front as the hill wore on.  About mid-way through the downhill, I eased off the brakes and opened a big gap behind and closed a couple up ahead, picking up in the region of 10 places.  Then, for the last 3K it was just a matter of not slowing down too much as my left leg found new types of discomfort.  In the end, I finished in 20th less than a minute off my 10K PB.  I guess I need to find a slightly flatter 10K sometime in the next 6 months to get that PB down a bit!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Gear Review: Injinji Performance 2.0

It’s amazing what you can learn just from showing a little interest.  Having been running in toe socks on and off for the past couple of years, I had come to realise a few things about them:

  • Separating the toes feels a little odd at first, but is a wonderful way to keep them from tearing each other apart on a long run;
  • Toe socks, in general, seem to be less robust across the toenail than normal socks;
  • I didn’t like any of the socks I tried, because those that fit well didn’t last very long, and those that lasted didn’t fit well.  They had all hit the range of "adequate, but for this price, I want more".
Then, last year, in came the Injinji Performance Sock line.  They fit fantastically, felt great, and I took them out for a spin.  They felt good, so I decided to wear them for a 40 mile race.  They only lasted 30 miles – the grit and wet combined with my toenails (yes, I still have them) rubbing against the toebox on steep downhills resulted in me stopping to empty my shoe of rocks and finding my big toes rather exposed.

What does all of that have to do with showing an interest?  Well, I asked a few questions when I found out the Injinji Performance 2.0 line was on its way to market, and was meant to be more robust than the previous version.  A couple of weeks later, we had a few pairs to put to the test, and here’s what we’ve found so far.

First, and probably least, the socks have a nice feature for a multi-runner household – the size is marked in the sock cuffs.  Now, if I accidentally order the same colour for me and for Nic, I’ll be able to avoid the discomfort of trying to put a small sock on my big feet.  It’s not a critical feature, but it shows the level of thought that’s gone into the design.

The midweight Trail version has seen the most miles so far, and certainly addresses the key flaws I experienced in previous Injinji socks:  floppy ankles and a short lifespan.  

The new double elastic cuff holds well against the leg, as it should.  Injinji socks used to have a nasty habit of catching mud that kicked up off the back of the shoe and flicked into an open gap just behind the ankle bone.  The new cuff is wide enough to allow a gentle compression over the lumps and gaps of the ankle area, closing off that irritating mud magnet.

Fits like a glove! No gap around the ankle

The sock upper is still a comfy mesh, like the Performance 1.0 midweight sock, which means it doesn’t hold onto much water and fits comfortably without any bunching fabric.  The midfoot on the sole is also fairly thin, with an elastic band that keeps the sock in contact with the foot even in messy conditions.

But, without addressing the lifespan issue, these great features would be meaningless.  I often found myself sewing up holes in my toe socks after just 50-80 miles – not what I wanted out of a product that comes at a premium price.  The Performance 2.0 series uses CoolMax® XtraLife™, which incorporates CORDURA® fabric to increase resistance to abrasion-related breakdown.  They also have reinforced toe and heel pads, to improve durability. Well done, Injinji, it seems to have worked!  The two most common sock failures I experience are on the big toenail and under the ball of my foot, where the callous can tear at the fabric if the run is hot and dry (fat chance, this year!).  I’ve put my Trail socks through 20 hours of unrelenting mud, grit, and water, with no noticeable signs of weakness.  That’s already longer than any other toe sock has survived in the seemingly destructive environment of my trail shoes.

The Run version has seen less action so far, but has the same tougher feel and improved cuff, with a lighter weight interface than the Trail socks.  I’ve done very little road running since receiving the socks, so I’ve had to take them out on the trails.  They have performed well, and I think they would also fare well as a summer trail sock when slightly lighter-weight fabric is required.

June 2013 update:  The road and trail socks have been with me through some tough races, logging something in the region of 25 hours of trail ultras each - no holes and still in great shape.  They get the bulk of my training mileage as well, so have seriously outlived their predecessors.  Best socks ever!

So, with the robustness issues a thing of the past, how do the Injinji Performance 2.0 socks fit?  Well, for Nic, who wears a size UK4-5 (EU37) shoe, the small fits perfectly. I wear a UK9.5 (EU43) shoe, and typically fall in between sizes from most sock manufacturers.  With Injinji, I still fall just into the margins between medium and large.  The Trail socks I’ve been trying are medium, and they are just slightly short in the toe, except strangely for the small toe which has a huge amount of extra fabric.  The Run socks are a large (EU44.5-47) and fit the big toes better, but still leave the small toe looking like a peanut in a pillowcase.  In the dry, this isn’t such an issue.  However, after 5 hours of wet trails, the spare fabric on my small toe tends to tuck under the toe next to it and cause some rubbing that doesn’t occur when the sock is first on and pulled tight onto the toe.

Ignore the grit - that came after the shoe was off. Note the tab of fabric on the little toe

Comfort-wise, aside from the issue with my left small toe, the socks are incredibly comfortable.  In the cold and wet, they are as warm, comfortable, and quick-draining as a wool-based sock.  The reinforced heel and toe give a nice cushioned feeling without adding any actual cushioning.  I have yet to manage a warm or dry run this year, so can’t comment on what that might be like.

In summary, Injinji have taken a giant leap forward with their Performance 2.0 range.  Maybe one day they’ll make a version for people with a stubby little toe, but at least now they make socks for runners who still have all of their toenails.  For the first time in over a year, I can put Injinji back on the (very short) list of sock manufacturers whose socks I am happy to pay for.  But when are they coming to the UK, you ask?  It shouldn’t be long – are aiming for availability in March. (