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2018–05–18

a human guinea pig jacket as a tent If any of the kit I tested was actually designed for such a race, it was the Hoka Clayton 2{.u-underline}. I’ve always been a minimalist runner at heart, but I’ve done a few ultras recently, and I always end up with sore feet, looking jealously at those people bouncing along in Hokas. So, I thought I would give them a try.

As well as the ample cushioning – which six hours into the race, I was very happy with – they also had space for my swelling feet to expand into. I did get a pair half a size too big, which helped, but they are intentionally wide with a big toebox to allow your feet to expand on landing as they will naturally want to do. Four hours later, I tried switching back to the other shoes for a bit, but I soon realised that, after 12 hours running, there was only one pair of shoes I could wear and that was the Hokas. So they quickly came back on and stayed on until the end.

Extreme kit testing: which gear is best for 24 hours of non-stop running?

Running round and round in circles for a full day and night? The things Adharanand Finn will do in the service of the running blog …

@adharanand

Fri 22 Sep 2017 [11.51 BST]

[[M]{.drop-cap__inner}]{.drop-cap}any years ago, I worked as a writer for Which? magazine, and often had to visit its testing laboratory in Milton Keynes. Without giving away any secrets, they test things vigorously at Which?. There were rooms for overheating microwave ovens until they exploded. There were sound labs peopled with experts sitting with their eyes closed. They had a bumpy treadmill-type thing for testing baby buggies to see how they performed over hundreds of miles.

I thought of all this when I signed up, in a moment of madness, to the Self Transcendence 24-hour track race in Tooting{.u-underline}. I would be a human guinea pig, I thought, running around in circles for hundreds of laps, testing out running products to see if they could really stand the heat. This was Which? magazine-level product testing. Like the Duracell bunny{.u-underline}, I could be the ultimate kit tester, for a day.

So, how did it go? I started out dressed head to ankle in Inov8. Rain was forecast, so I had on the Inov8 Stormshell jacket{.u-underline}. Over the first seven hours or so, we got frequent heavy showers, interspersed with bright sun. The jacket kept me completely dry, and was a joy to run in. It’s very lightweight and breathable, so I didn’t overheat in the slightest, and the hood was easy to pull up and down and comfortable to wear both ways. I actually enjoyed the rain spells, running with my hood up and peering out snug and dry, as though I was in my own portable tent.

I had planned to change to different shorts and leggings during the race, but as the day/night/next day wore on, the thought of needlessly getting changed was too tiring to contemplate. This Duracell bunny started running very low on juice after about 12 hours and so only the most vital kit was tested … which in itself was part of the test, I guess. Luckily, the Inov8 shorts{.u-underline} I started in were so comfortable that I didn’t feel any need to change them. They were lightweight and didn’t cause any problems of the chaffing variety. The only slight issue, if I’m being finicky, was the back pocket could have been a tiny bit bigger. My phone is quite small, but it was a squeeze to get it in. Anyone hoping to carry around a bigger phone, such as the more recent iPhones, may struggle.

And why did I need my phone? For music. I don’t usually run to music, but I thought for a 24-hour race on the track, it might help pass the time. People had suggested it could get boring out there running in circles for 24 hours. In the event, it was many things, but it was never boring. After a few hours, every lap was a journey in itself, an epic challenge to be overcome, and music was mostly a distraction. I did have two periods of the race when I felt like listening to music, which was good, as I had brought along two wireless headphones to try out.

The Plantronics Backbeat FIT{.u-underline} were comfortable to wear, lightweight and have amazing sound quality. They promised six hours of playtime fully charged, which was plenty for my needs. However, I may be the world’s dumbest headphone user, because I found it difficult to turn them on. I seemed to have to press and hold down the on-button about five times before it worked. And occasionally the tracks would skip if I bumped my phone.

Later on in the night, I switched to the Bose SoundSport Pulse{.u-underline}. These had none of the skipping problems, and the sound quality was also excellent. Rather than hook over your ear, though, these fit by burrowing in. I’ve never been a fan of this type of headphones as I always feel like they are about to fall out. However, despite my concerns and my movement (I’m not sure I could quite call it “running” by this stage), they stayed in place throughout.

Socks can make a big difference on a long run, so I can happily report back that the two pairs I tried, from Lululemon{.u-underline} and Inov8{.u-underline}, were light, snug and comfortable throughout. They did a 12-hour shift each with no problems, no blisters, no rubbing, which I would say is highly commendable.

Of course, on a long run, the vital piece of kit is the shoes. I brought three pairs along with me with the plan to change them occasionally so my feet weren’t spending 24-hours running on the same surface in the same shape shoe.

I started with my favourite running shoe of the moment, the Brooks Hyperion{.u-underline}. I use these to train in and love the lightweight feel. They also seem to have a nice, soft touch on the ground, even when you are running on the road. Some shoes seem to make a sharp slapping sound when you run, which always make me feel like I’m doing it wrong. But in these I feel light and smooth. Of course, being racing flats, these aren’t really designed to be worn for more than a few hours, so I knew that, after a while, I would need to switch to something with a bit more cushioning.

Next up were the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34{.u-underline}. These are a classic shoe and I felt as though I was stepping into a tried and tested product when I pulled them on, like when you get into an expensive car and everything feels comfortable and sleek. The shoes felt plush, and they looked good, too (I had the fetching pale blue edition). “Almost good enough to eat,” one of my fellow runners commented as he went by, eyeing them admiringly.

Hoka Clayton 2. But these, too, are not designed to be run in for ever. I managed four hours before my feet were ready for the final pair. If any of the kit I tested was actually designed for such a race, it was the Hoka Clayton 2{.u-underline}. I’ve always been a minimalist runner at heart, but I’ve done a few ultras recently, and I always end up with sore feet, looking jealously at those people bouncing along in Hokas. So, I thought I would give them a try.

As well as the ample cushioning – which six hours into the race, I was very happy with – they also had space for my swelling feet to expand into. I did get a pair half a size too big, which helped, but they are intentionally wide with a big toebox to allow your feet to expand on landing as they will naturally want to do. Four hours later, I tried switching back to the other shoes for a bit, but I soon realised that, after 12 hours running, there was only one pair of shoes I could wear and that was the Hokas. So they quickly came back on and stayed on until the end.

At which point I collapsed in a heap on the ground, my batteries well and truly drained.