Category Archives: Gear

Homage to the Walsh PB Elite/Ultra

For me, the simplicity, fit, and grip of the Walsh PB is unbeatable whether for a short fling up the mountain or for a 52 mile trail ultra (I find the Walsh PB ‘Ultra’ than the ‘Elite’ more comfortable for distance) – their history is below, taken from the Walsh website, but first a video homage by runner Finlay Wild, in the mountains with Walsh’s. Natural Obsession video.

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Norman Walsh began making athletics footwear upon leaving school in 1945 at the age of fourteen, following his father into the footwear business and serving his apprenticeship at Bolton based Foster Bros Footwear, where he became a master craftsman. Mr Foster was the grandfather of Joe and Jeff Foster who both went on and founded “Reebok”. In 1945 Norman’s skill was recognised early by Mr Foster which led him to become responsible for the professional athletic customers. In 1948 he was chosen to make many of the shoes worn by the British Olympic team for the 1948 Olympics held in London. His name became known by many top professional athletes around the world. In 1961 he founded Norman Walsh Footwear. Throughout the 60’s Norman Walsh continued to manufacture sports shoes of an incredibly diverse range such as; Track & Field, Road and Fell Running, Rugby League, Football and Cricket, all handcrafted and made for his individual customer needs. In the 1970’s Norman decided to ‘go off-road’ and designed his first fell-running shoe with fell runner Pete Bland. With a soft, flexible upper and a tough sole, they where quickly taken up by rock climbers and also used by Sir Chris Bonington to make the first ascent of the notoriously tough Mt. Kongur in China. The PB Trainer is the bestselling Fell-running shoe of all time and still a market leader today worn by the best athletes in the country.

 

Fell running in Northern Ireland: a pair of Walsh PB’s and Slieve Donard

Walsh began making running footwear in the 1940’s, and during the 70’s teamed up with the legendary fell runner Pete Bland, to produce running shoes that took British fell running to new heights – the Walsh PB. The grip was, and still is, astounding on mud, wet grass, rock and ice: it is a shoe that may see further, renewed interest with the current trend towards ‘natural’, ‘barefoot’ running. As I slipped a pair on for the first time, it was impossible not to be surprised by both the bright yellow and blue colouring, but also the level of comfort, in a shoe that is incredibly uncomplicated. But the only way to judge a fell running shoe is to find a handy mountain. With that in mind we took a trip to Newcastle, and ran down the highstreet, before heading into Donard Park and started the climb up towards Slieve Donard – the tallest of all the peaks in the Mourne Mountains, and indeed Northern Ireland. Check out the attached link which has some good photos of the Slieve Donard, including the Ice house, and the Black Stairs which was the route we took to the top.

As we climbed the temperature dropped, and the wind increased. Underfoot the ground was wet, icy, some residual snow, along with plenty of mud. The Walsh PB delivered a firm grip, and only its owner caused issues due to poor balance and inability to land in the best place. A great, albeit tough, climb, to the windswept top, and a brief respite out of the wind leaning against the wall of the stone hut beside the higher cairn. Whilst there we spoke to a couple of walkers, one of which had bravely brought the smallest of dogs, shivering respendeltn in a bright red jacket. Fearful of seeing the canine blown of the summit we began the descent, trying to avoid any serious falls. Walshes are truly amazing shoes, designed over 40 years ago, and yet as tested on Saturday, a match for anything that is currently out there on the market – and many would say better. I like not only the grip, but also the low profile of the shoe. My feet felt secure, and low against the ground, feeling the mountain underneath, rather than bouncing over the top. I would recommend the shoe for anyone looking a hard working, performance mountain shoe, who is looking flash technical claims, but rather something that delivers.

Vibram Five Fingers

The Vibram Five Fingers arrived today as an early Christmas present to myself – Wiggle were having some discounts. I’ve been enjoying a more minimal running style for some time, using a range of Inov8 shoes on, and off, road and I wanted to take the next step, literally. The sales of Vibram’s shoes must have drastically gone up with the success of the book ‘Born to Run’ which popularises ‘barefoot’ running, with one of the central characters, Barefoot Ted, a strong proponent of their brand. The fit is excellent, having measured to my longest toe, and using the chart on line. Once the toes are in their mini pockets the heel is enclosed at the back, and the velco strap is used to give a snug fit. They feel great, just like you aren’t wearing them, strangely. I must confess I may try wearing them out at night on the roads first, as it looks like I have the feet of a gorilla: even my dog will be shocked. In terms of trialling them I’ve only tried the treadmill so far, but will start to increase some distances a couple of times a week and see how it goes.

Let it Roll

Personally I prefer being outside, rather than being stuck indoors, especially when cycling. However, our weather in Northern Ireland, even in the summer can be unpredictable. When the rain is coming down by the bucket load, it is still often easier, and safer to get a good workout indoors rather than outside. Many people are fans of turbo trainers, and whilst they offer a great, and safe means to train at all levels I prefer riding rollers. Without a doubt rollers take some getting used to, and there are some excellent videos of the falls people suffer whilst trying to balance on them, but there are benefits. Firstly and most importantly they require concentration, and for me this helps pass the time. Then once you are in the groove, with music or a DVD to watch, you can settle in and spin at high speed or just simply tick over. For me they are a worthwhile investment, and 30 minutes of interval sessions can be slotted in to a busy day very easily, and give some real training benefits. I use TACX rollers on the attached advert and find them very stable, with curved rollers to help resist drifting off the roller edges. Initially you will find yourself bouncing on the bike as you hit the higher speeds but you soon learn a more fluid style, as you can feel and hear the tyre/roller contact – these improvements will be noticeable on the road. I love using my fixed wheel bike, with the hope of achieving the smoothness of riding style that the French call ‘souplesse’ – clearly I have a long way to go – by alternating between a fast spin, and an insane spin for one minute intervals. I also believe the fast turnover on a fixed wheel offers some real benefits and cross over for running. Geared bikes work well too, again using shorter intervals at different gears, or aiming for a longer time at a gear that can just be held. Whichever way you train on rollers take care, certainly initially.

Merino wool tops – believe the hype

I have been using a long sleeved merino wool top for almost a year, as a single layer top through all but the warmest days of summer, and almost every outing in the winter as a baselayer. As a material it is fine, soft, flexible and lighweight: it keeps the wearer warm, even when wet, and cool when conditions hot up. It really does live up to the hype. Its even anti-bacterial so you can leave it to dry after that sweaty cycle and wear it again for the run in the morning and it wont smell – believe me, I’ve done it. I have a Icebreaker 200 long sleeve top – where the number relates to the thickness (150, 200, 260). Its worn well, despite the odd fall, and lack of care during washes, and its shape has retained along with its softness. Though not windproof it does do well at withstanding much of the weather.  Overall, fairly expensive, but its going to be well used, and withstands most wear and tear.

Inov-8 Flyroc and Roclite Shoes

Inov-8 produce some truly excellent shoes for off road running. In many ways they embraced the concept of barefoot running long before the latest revival (check out the very enjoyable ‘Born to Run’ book by Chris McDougall).
For rough, muddy, rocky, true fell running conditions I love the Mudclaw 270’s (left) that I’ve owned for over a year now.  The grip is fantastic and has kept me out of trouble on many a tough, steep descent on the Mourne’s and beyond. There is no waterproofing at all, but the water flushes out as easily as it comes in, and having swallowed my foot in many a watery bog a waterproof shoe would only retain the water.
My preferred shoe on the other hand for longer endurance, or trail like runs is the fully waterproof Roclite 318 GTX.

The grip is still good, though less agressive than the Mudclaw, but gives much better stability, comfort and a great long ride.

The Inov-8 are very good shoes, and I’ve had other models over the last 5 years – all of which are grippy, low profile and practically indestructible. Perhaps give them a try, and get off the road, on to something more interesting.

Carbon Fibre Racing Bike for under £1000

Last year I was looking for a lighter, faster racer to use for medium to fast outings on a Saturday morning and the odd triathlon. I’m not a particularly fast cyclist but wanted something with a little more ‘va va voom’ than my aging Specialized Allez. After reading a number of writeups, forums, and with price being an issue, I found the Ribble Evo Pro Carbon. Ribble is well established, and sell their bikes online; they even allow the customer to customise with frame size, groupset, crank, seat, handlebars etc. I settled on the SRAM APEX groupset due to the good price and the positive write ups I’d seen.
Once ordered, the delivery was quick: once out of the box some minor alignments were needed before my new steed was ready to roll. I love the bike, so much so that I have been avoiding using it in anything less than perfect weather. The frame is light, strong, responsive but stable. The SRAM gears are exact, and allow fast and efficient changes. A full carbon framed bike for under £1000: what a good buy.

Brooks Saddles, a touch of class

There is nothing that gives a bike a touch of cycling heritage like a Brooks saddle. Even the cardbox box the saddle arrives in is a reminder of a bygone age, when life was simple, less plastic and didn’t require USB chargers. I purchased my ‘B17 narrow’ over a year ago, and the smell of the leather, and the gentle rubbing in of the profide, embued my bike with a timeless, magical quality. It does take a little while for the leather to shape under your body weight, but each venture on the saddle takes you nearer to the perfect fit. Give one of their saddles a try, and add that retro magic that will keep you in comfort for many, many years to come.