Sunday, 21 September 2014

Gear Review: Ultimate Direction JUREK ESSENTIAL Waist Belt

In my quest for the perfect solution to carrying a small amount of kit/food on the run, I got chatting with Keith Godden at  He's in the great position of hearing opinions from a wide range of runners and sales reps, so was a good sounding board for talking through some options.  Knowing that I get as big a kick out of reviewing kit as trying it out, he sent me the Ultimate Direction JUREK ESSENTIAL Waist Belt to try out and review.  Having taken it out for a couple of hundred miles now, I've  come to know it pretty well.

The Ultimate Direction JUREK ESSENTIAL Waist Belt 

The belt is pretty simple - 3 pockets on a light belt.  If you want to carry water in your belt, you should have a look at the JUREK ENDURE belt instead (my review of it).  For my longer runs, and for shorter runs where I want to add some element of upper-body work-out, I've taken to carrying small handhelds with the ESSENTIAL belt.  It's an ideal combination, since I can carry soft-flasks and avoid any irritating sloshing noises.

The three pockets offer a great range of options for carrying everything I need on most runs.  Like the ENDURE belt, there are also two reflective race number snaps, which are both very bright and quite handy.  The buckle is easy to operate and the belt tends to sit quite comfortably.  Under the back pockets, the belt is a fine, breathable mesh which minimizes the heat retention on your back.

The small front pocket usually has some ID, some emergency cash, and my keys.  The pocket has a Velcro closure which has stayed secure so far.  Ideally, I'd rather carry my mini tin of Vaseline in this pocket than my keys, since I'm more likely to need that on the run.  But, it's not quite the right shape so doesn't fit particularly well.

The left main pocket is waterproof, and big enough for most smartphones.  My stupidly large Lumia 920 just fits, without its case.  An iPhone would fit just fine in a case.  I use the stretchy mesh right pocket for my first-aid kit, Vaseline, and if needed a few gels.  Because this pocket isn't waterproof, anything I want to keep dry (plasters, tape, etc.) goes into a small plastic bag first.  That's not really an issue for me, since I have my first-aid kit divvied up into small bags anyway, so I can quickly find what I need.  If I want to carry more, like a jacket, I tend to simply slip an extra pouch onto the belt.  So many jackets come with a carry pouch that has a belt loop, that it's quite an easy way to create additional space comfortably.

Sliding my jacket pouch onto the belt means I have everything I need.

The Fit

The ESSENTIAL belt fits very comfortably, and is easy to adjust.  On occasion, if I get tired of the weight imbalance from having the relatively heavy phone on one side, It's still comfortable if I rotate it so the waterproof pouch is on my right hip and the mesh pouch moves around to the front.  It sits easily on my hips and generally stays in place on the run.

Things I Like

I like having a waterproof pocket for my phone.  When I need to use the phone (calling for help, or more likely taking a work-related call while I'm sneaking a run into a sunny afternoon), I don't want to have to faff about with getting the phone out of a bag to use it.

I also like just how comfortably I can slip an extra pouch (or two) onto the belt if I want to.  Having that extra flexibility means I can tweak things for different types of run.

Things I'd like to see improved

I like the concept of the little front pocket, but it's just a touch too small and fiddly to be as useful as it could be.  Keeping the pocket area the same, but with a slightly larger volume would increase the flexibility of how the pocket can be used.

Things I love

There's nothing about the belt makes me purr, but I really like that it does everything I need for almost all of my runs.  It just ticks the boxes.  And, when it doesn't, because I need more gear or water, it's still light enough that I can still be pretty lazy and just chuck it into my backpack so I don't have to transfer any of my core kit from bag to bag.

Would I recommend it?

Yes, if you want a good, light belt that lets you carry pretty much everything you need, then this is a great belt.  If you want to carry water on your belt, or want to have more carrying capacity, then it's probably not going to do the job for you.

Monday, 8 September 2014

2014 Kenilworth Half Marathon: Sub-1:30 at Last!

I've heard about races where runners go in with a plan, do it, and come away happy.  I've seen proper athletes interviewed on TV talking about how they executed their plan (always seems to be sprinters, but there you go).  Me, I do the normal endurance runner thing of go into a race with a plan, watch it fall to pieces, drop back to plan B, etc.  Races longer than a mile seem, for me, to be all about revising the plan to manage some unexpected difficulty.  That's part of the fun of running long, isn't it?  For this year's Kenilworth 1/2, I had a plan, painstakingly worked out over several weeks, with margin built in to make sure I finally broke the 1:30 barrier that I've been intermittently attacking for the past 6 years.  As you can tell from the title, I got there.  Finally.

The plan was pretty simple:  aim for a 6:45 pace from the start.  The route, though, is pretty lumpy, so it's definitely much easier said than done.

There are two ways of taking on a lumpy course.  Option 1: keep the pace steady, so you're pushing hard up the hills and easing off on the way down.  Option 2: keep the effort steady, based on your flat route pace, and expect the slower uphill segments to be balanced by the faster downhill segments.  Based on my race in the Hilly Hundred this year, where I ran mostly on feel, I decided to stick more to Option 2.  So, I practiced on a short loop starting outside my front door where I could judge how much time/distance I would lose on the ups and whether I would be able to get it back on the downs.  Training said it was possible (in fact, I actually beat my 10K PB in one practice session).

After spending the race briefing in the front row of the pack (I'd left space for 60 runners to line up in front of me and they all waited until the last moment to move to the start line), I set off on pace.  On each uphill, I let the gap between me and my virtual pacer grow, and wound him back in on the flats and descents.  The pattern continued as expected, finishing the first 3 miles on pace.  Contrary to my memory of the course, the next 4 miles included more up than down, so I watched the gap to my pacer approach 100m, and had to hold my nerve and avoid chasing, having faith that I could pull the time back over the return the start.  Much to my delight and relief, it worked out and I hit 10 miles as planned, just ahead of my computerized rival.

I knew, at that stage, that I would get my sub-1:30, and that I might just have enough in the tank to hold on to my plan-A pace.  As one would expect, the final 5K was quite hard.  The final hills between 10 and 12.5 ate a bit into my time, but I had a good downhill to take me into the final half mile, and finished with a nice acceleration to the finish line.  I tried to sprint, but there wasn't much sprint left, and finished dead on 6:45 pace - 1:28:26.  I don't know if I'll ever execute another race plan so accurately.  In fact, I'd be shocked if it ever happens again.  That said, sometimes plans work because they accurately reflect training rather than just being a hopeful plucking of numbers from thin air.  Now, if I can just manage that at Rocky Raccoon 2015...

Winchcombe 10K - Another One Hill Wonder!

August Bank Holiday weekend, and what should be done?  Join the throngs and sit on the M5, M6, M25, M62, A66, M3, etc. only to pitch a tent and watch it rain?  Or, hop over to Winchcombe and put in a nice little 10K tune-up for my summer A-race at Kenilworth two weeks later?  I like the idea of avoiding the motorway craziness that kicks off every holiday weekend on a Friday lunchtime (we were on the Cotswold Way near Leckhampton instead).  Nic was working the weekend, so it was a perfect opportunity to join my fellow EVRC runners taking the scenic route from Sudeley Castle to Belas Knapp and back again.

The Winchcombe 10K is one of those events that get under your skin.  The first time I did this race was in 2009.  That day, I remember, I was mostly feeling quite ropey even during the warm-up, and I then spent 10km trying to keep my ill-chosen muesli down.  But, the desire to run the race properly stayed behind.  Since last year, I've been helping to publicise the event to help get numbers up and to get more people out enjoying our local trails.  This year, it fit my schedule (being both home and uninjured at the end of August has been tough for the past few years), so I was excited to be able to toe the line.

Together with 15 other Evesham runners, I rocked up at registration fairly early, curious about how many runners would see the dry weather and decide to come along.  Parking outside Sudeley Castle a little after 9AM, and warming up in its lush green grounds is certainly a nice way to start a Sunday morning.  Hanging around and catching up with friends just added to the pre-race enjoyment.

I headed over to the start line, in the shadow of the castle and just past the incredibly tempting play park, just in time to see the kids' 1K fun run finish.  I remember doing "fun run" events as a kid.  Not so much about "fun" and much more about "run faster than that kid next to me".  It finished in a tie, which was pretty cool to watch.  It wasn't one of those "let's finish together" ties.  The lad out front was running scared, trying to protect his lead from the 2nd place runner.  Over the final 20m they both went through the horrible push/pull of the sprint for the line, tying up as they pressed for victory, and finished close enough together to have needed a photo if it had been a pro track race.  It was definitely a good day for racing hard.

At 10:30, it was the adults' turn.  We did a lap of the field, including a few little undulations to make the first K interesting, and then headed along a lane towards the cricket ground and the foot of the hill.  I was running hard enough to make conversations short, when the climb began.  From the cricket ground to the top at the barrow at Belas Knapp is a nice little 600ft climb, with a few runnable sections and a few gut-wrenching speed-hiking sections (well, for me, anyway).  The views along the climb are quintessentially Cotswold, with towns, villages, and farms nestled into the hills and valleys.  Towards the top, if you want to turn around and look, is a fantastic view down over the Castle.  By the time I got there, sweat was pouring down my face as I picked up the pace along the flat path to the barrow, so my view was a bit obscured.

The run down the hill is, in my view, a much bigger challenge than the trip up.  We shot down the road back towards the cricket ground, at a gradient that makes running fast both easy to start and difficult to maintain.  Halfway down, the route leaves the road, and I shot through the gate at top speed and back into the field down to the cricket ground.  I was moving at something close to my one-mile PB pace, and started to chase down some of the runners who had left everything on the steep road section.  Normally, on this little section of the Cotswold Way, I would look up and enjoy the view as I dropped back into Winchcombe.  Normally, though, I am far more than 2km from the end of my run and in no great hurry.  This time, my eyes stayed on my footing and I enjoyed racing instead.

The final 400m of the route is on the Castle drive, which includes a nice fast down to a little bridge across the Windrush followed by an equal rise to the finish line.  I tried desperately to chase down the runner in front (Kevin Dunlop, who did very well at The Evesham Ultra), but merely succeeded in getting close enough to see him cross the line.

Standing by the finish, clapping runners in and chatting with friends and race volunteers gave me a chance to reflect on the nice post-race atmosphere.  The busking accordion player who provided the background music added to the fun with a selection of TV and video game tunes in addition to the more common repertoire.

Sometimes, it's tough to beat a one-hill wonder when you're after a short race.  Sure, a speedy road race can be a great way to get a good time, but if you want to get in touch with your inner 10 year-old, find a big hill and race down it as fast as you can.  If you want to do it in beautiful surroundings amid a fun crowd of runners, add the Winchcombe 10K to your race diary.