Monday, 28 January 2013

Trail report: Coast to coast on the mineral tramway

Mineral Tramway near Bissoe
We wanted to complete a long run at a steady, consistent pace this weekend as part of the build up to the Duchy Marathon, so chose to leave the coast path and instead take the Mineral Tramway from Devoran to Portreath and back. 

This route, popular with cyclists, follows the old mining tramways used to transport copper ore from the rich seams around Redruth to the ports at Portreath on the north coast and Devoran on the south.  From here the ore was shipped to Swansea for smelting with the returning vessels bringing coal back into the county.

Overall the ascent is about 400 feet, but spread over 5 miles or so it’s not too noticeable.  Although most of the route is off road, nowhere is it in any way technical, mostly being on well maintained level paths.

It’s surprising to realise that the county can be crossed so easily and without much apparent change in elevation.  The first few miles follow the path of the Carnon River and pass numerous mining remains.  Scorrier is the highest point of the route, after which the trail descends gradually through farmland and wooded valleys before finally arriving back at sea level at Portreath.

If you have a car at each end then a one way trip is a pleasant 11 miles or you can do the whole thing there and back; of course on the way back all those little changes in elevation become more noticeable as fatigue increases, but at least the last few miles will be downhill.  It’s also worth noting that this is a popular route (did I mention cyclists?), in summer it’s likely to be pretty congested.

Friday, 25 January 2013

New Balance Minimus Zero MR00 review

New Balance Minimus Zero

I have to admit I've been lazy. Towards the end of last year I started running barefoot, fully convinced I would soon be recognised as that weirdo that runs around Cornwall unshod, gliding effortlessly along the roads, passing silently as my bare feet caressed the pavements, fully immersed in the primal joy of running as man had ever evolved to do.

Then it got wet and cold.  It’s not much fun running barefoot in November in England.

Enter the New Balance Minimus Zero running shoes.  Now if you are Barefoot Ted or a Tarahumara these are still going to look and feel like a running shoe.  However, for most mere mortals this is what is now generally known as a "barefoot-style" shoe.  

I've run about 50 miles in my pair which is enough for me to know I like them (a lot).

On the advice of the shop owner I went a size up so for me that’s a UK size 12.  This fits perfectly, rather than going too big in some places to get room in others.

So the first thing I noticed when I picked these up is their weight, they really are very light.  According to the New Balance site they weigh 124 grams; I assume this is for a size 9. In the interests of science I weighed my 12’s and they come in at 200g.

Putting them on is like putting on your favourite pair of socks. The upper wraps around your foot – accentuated by the “Taco-style” tongue – and I found I just had to do the laces up rather than pull really hard to bring the shoe tight to my foot.

The toe box is very roomy so, if like me, you want to be able to feel your toes splay out then these will suit you well.

The uppers appear to be very well made; the mesh has a kind of honeycomb pattern and is sort of double thickness.  There are several bands of paper thin tape in strategic points. I’m not sure if these are for structural or aesthetic reasons.  At first I thought these could come unstuck fairly easily but having worn them a bit they seem well adhered to the upper; only time will tell.

Underfoot there is a 12mm Vibram sole with no heel lift.  You can feel the ground underfoot and it is very obvious that you have no structural elements coming to bear – no arch lift or stiff sole – when you walk it’s like you are barefoot.

The insole is glued to the base and is comfy enough, although, rather than a smooth transition between insole and upper there is a definite ridge, which might annoy some people.  Unusually for me I hardly notice it (I am ridiculously fussy about this sort of thing).

Taking the Minimus out for a first run I had it in mind to carry a second pair of shoes and change after a couple of miles.  In the end I didn’t bother and ran six miles with no problems.  The sole is thick enough to absorb the odd stone without giving you a nasty bruise but you really do want to be landing mid foot or you’ll certainly know about it.

These shoes make me run fast!  I’ve still not gone over 6 miles and may never do. I ran in them three times the first week and three the second; to be honest this was a bit much and, with all the other running I was doing it left me feeling a bit like I’d done too much too soon.  So now I’m running once a week in them, though I will probably build that up over the next few months but, with the marathon looming, I want them as a tool to strengthen my feet and improve my style and once a week is fine for that.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Trail report - Trevaunance Cove to Holywell Bay

This week the long run took us from Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes, to Holywell Bay and back again.  Starting early on Sunday morning, we were first in the little car park above the slip.  Its a free car park with an honesty box though later in the day you might well struggle to find a space.

It was cold on Sunday, but dry, which was a very welcome change. The runs starts, as you might expect, with a hill.  You can either head up the road and turn left by the Driftwood Spars hotel or take a path through a memorial garden above the public toilets.  Both are steep and converge after a  hundred yards or so; the climb goes on much longer.

Once up top you'll fast become aware of another drop approaching.  Take the time to look over your shoulder beforehand as the views of the Cove from the cliff top are impressive.  A steep rocky path takes you down to sea level. Follow the road a short distance, past the entrance for Blue Hills Tin before regaining the path again.  There are a couple of options but both lead up and both have their fair share of the ubiquitous steps to contend with.

At last you reach the top of the cliff and from here an enjoyable romp along largely flat trail takes you past Perranporth airfield and, in a few miles, to Perranporth itself.  Even in winter it tends to be heaving here and is a popular dog walking venue, though we were early enough to beat the crowds (on the way out at least). 

After negotiating the town, which can be confusing, head up onto the dunes of Penhale Sands.  There are numerous paths to choose from and it can be difficult to find the right one; staying as close to the cliff edge as possible seems the best option.  An alternative if the tide is out is to run along the beach, there is a path leading up at the far end.  We chose this for our return rather than brave the strength sapping soft sand of the dunes a second time.

On the way back, Penhale Sands 

Towards the end of the dunes you enter Penhale training camp, an Army facility and are warned to avoid straying from the path.  This is easy enough as there are red and white way markers showing the route. Keep these to your right to avoid straying into any war games or unexploded ordinance.

You will round a headland, after which the camp itself appears and a rather disturbing section of the run takes you between a wooden fence at the cliff edge and razor-wire topped chain link to landward.  With the ageing barracks to the right its easy to imagine you are arriving at a prisoner of war camp.  Soon though you are free, although another worrying installation, a grid of metal hoops with the sign "Ionising radiation and high voltage" is passed on the right before the camp is finally behind you.

Now follows the pleasant descent to Holywell Bay, with its beautiful Dunes and beach.  This was the turn around point for us; just over 9 miles. Much of this run is through mine spoil, along crumbling, decaying cliff tops but the rugged beauty is easy to appreciate.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Should I be worried?

I might have a problem. Its possible I may be fast becoming the Imelda Marcos of running shoes. Hannah is not particularly impressed with my monopolising the porch.  Seriously though, each shoe has its purpose and, to be honest, one pair are on the way out.

The theory goes that by rotating the shoes you run in you add some variety into the way your feet hit the ground during the week. This, combined with different terrain, distance and speeds, helps reduce the likely-hood of developing injury from all those repetitive impacts. And of course its working; I haven't been injured at all recently (yeah, right!).

So, from the top down:

New balance Minimus MR00 - minimal almost (but not really) "barefoot" shoes.  These are for shorter runs up to 10k and speed work.  The thinking here is less shoe helps develop foot strength.  I love 'em; I'll be writing about them very soon in more detail.

Next, Brooks pureflow - 4mm heel lift and fairly minimal structure (which I like) but enough cushioning to get me through a road marathon.  Ran a 1/2 marathon in them straight out of the box so I reckon they'll do.

Third is the Roclite 315 - these are my new trail shoes.  Not worn them yet other than around the garden.  Meant to be the most durable shoes on the market.  They certainly look the part and are light but fairly supportive. I intend to run the Classic Quarter in these.

Finally, my old pair of Saucony Peregrin 2 trail shoes.  I've run every trail run I've done this and last year in these shoes.  They are a good shoe, though durability is an issue.

I'm going to review the lot in the next few weeks.  In keeping with other, more successful, blogs I must point out that none are marketing samples supplied for free so my reviews will be wholly my own opinion and not biased in any way.  If anyone from Asics, Adidas, Brooks, Inov-8, Mizuno, New balance, Saucony, Salamon or any other manufacturer wants to supply me with free shoes in future I will be happy to oblige with a review from a Mr average, middle of the pack, middle aged no-hoper.

I won't be holding my breath.