French Bloke Runs

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Category: Tests & Reviews (page 1 of 2)

Test: Vivo Barefoot Primus

On my way towards barefoot running, I’m willing to try a lot of different kinds of minimalistic shoes. My latest finding is the Primus, by UK company Vivobarefoot. I’ve immediately been seduced by the looks of this shoe but also because the company says it ‘lets your feet do their thing’ and because I had a 30% discount thanks to Running Heroes, which brought the price to a mere 60-odd quid instead of the hefty £90 announced on the online store.

Vivobarefoot Primus

Vivobarefoot Primus (all rights reserved)

When I unboxed the shoes, I was pretty excited: they really look awesome and they are very VERY light and flexible. I immediately tried them on and they felt really comfortable. They have a really wide toe box and that’s really good for my boat-sized feet. They come with a big warning saying “Don’t run with our shoes” then explaining that if you want to run with these shoes you have to know what you’re doing and make sure that you use proper mid-foot strike form. I think it’s a good thing that they put this warning on because if you heel strike with these shoes, you’re on for a proper knee destroying party.

After 100 km of running with them, they’re still the most comfortable I’ve owned but like most other shoes I’ve worn, they start showing traces of wear and tear on the sides (see the photos of my Altra and my Merrell after a few hundred Ks). I have a very thick instep and this just kills all my shoes, these ones are no exception and I’m sure they’ll crack pretty soon. I’m still looking for shoes resistant enough for my monster feet.

Another thing that annoys me with these shoes is how bad are their laces: they’re so slippery that they often untie by themselves and they’re just too short to allow for a double knot.

Finally, if you buy them to feel like you’re really running barefoot you’ll be disappointed. Of course, the ground feeling is much better than with cushioned shoes (these ones simply have no cushioning at all) and you feel every stone you run on, but the sole is too rigid for my taste and it’s nowhere close to actually running barefoot or even running with the FYF. But no worries, I still have another bunch of minimal shoes to try, like some Vibram FiveFingers or the Soft Star RunAmoc, so my quest for the perfect shoe is not over. To be continued…

Shameless advertising: Anaïs Photography

Not so long ago, I had a photo shooting session with a professional photographer and I have to admit that I’m pretty impressed. First of all, the pictures were taken in Greenwich Park, which is my favourite running place. But she also managed to make it look like I’m not ugly, and that’s quite a feat! Well, she couldn’t change my flawed running form (bloody arms, I need to make them have a nice 90° angle) but that’s my own freaking fault.

In any case, I recommend you use Anaïs Photography for all you photo needs (corporate, events, advertising, weddings, pregnancy, engagement, etc). She’s available in the Northern Hemisphere (France and UK) in the summer, and in the Southern Hemisphere (Fiji and New Zealand) in the winter, even though technically it’s summer too – yes, she is cunning and manages to live in summer for the whole year.

French Bloke Runs by Anaïs Photography

French Bloke Runs in Greenwich Photo by Anaïs Photography (All rights reserved)

Book: 80/20 Running

It has been a long time since I haven’t reviewed a book (maybe because I can’t read). The last time around it was ‘Born to Run‘, by the way, if you still haven’t read it: buy it now and read it! Shortly after I had read it, my dear friend Lanky Pole recommended ‘80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower‘ by Matt Fitzgerald and he even lent me the book.

I’ll spoil the book for you: the killer is the butler. Oops, wrong book. Joking aside, this book is all about how to improve your performance by running 80% of your training slowly and 20% of your training at medium or high intensity. The book starts with a little bit of history and explains how runners like Zátopek already knew that you have to train hard to improve your running, but some running coaches like Arthur Lydiard had the intuition that you should add a lot of easy running to make it even more efficient. And now most elite runners follow more or less the 80/20 rule, whereas recreational runners usually do 50/50.

The author goes on about all the research that has been made to support his claims. Even though he mostly cites studies that do not specifically focus on the 80/20 rule but on polarised running (no running at medium intensity: just low-intensity and high-intensity training), it kind of makes sense and his argument is pretty compelling: running mostly slowly will allow you to enjoy it more, but it will also give you the capacity to run more. He then makes the case that high volumes of running condition your body to refine and optimise the act of running (like playing scales on the piano) thus making the high-intensity training more efficient. One thing that he mentions though is that it only works if you train really hard in the 20%.

I can’t really go much more into the details because it is very technical and even a bit boring at times. To be honest, I’m happy the book was sprinkled with anecdotes because it is sometimes particularly abstruse. I read it a year ago, and even now that I have more knowledge about running than back then, I still think this book is too technical for me. The last third of the book is all about how to build your training plan based on his rules and his training plan templates. Boring.

I still learned a few things:

  • It is a good thing to monitor your Heart Rate (HR) while training. Although I learned the hard way that if you do that, you must imperatively adjust your HR zones precisely. It is also better to calculate your HR zones based on HR reserve rather than % of max HR. The book explains how to do it, but then again it does so in a very technical and boring manner.
  • If you decide to train based on HR zones, it is better to pace yourself using the HR monitor for slow runs (psychologically you’ll tend to respect the upper HR limit) and using pace for faster runs (you’ll tend to try and runs faster than the target pace, which isn’t a bad thing for high-intensity sessions).
  • Matt Fitzgerald is right: running slow is really enjoyable. Now I can’t wait for Sundays and my long runs!

As a conclusion, this book, like any book about running, couldn’t possibly be better than ‘Born to Run’ (because I loved it so much). All the same, I was expecting it to teach me a lot but it was just too technical for me – however it will certainly suit very well to more advanced runners.

Test: Free Your Feet (FYF)

On my path towards barefoot running, I think I have found the most minimalistic footwear one can imagine. It started as a Kickstarter campaign last year and I felt immediately attracted to those. I had read Born to Run not long before and I had ran completely barefoot a couple of times and loved it. I could only be seduced by the promise of the closest feeling to actual barefoot running ever (even better than Vibram’ FiveFingers) with the added safety and peace of mind of running with shoes.

Free your feet (FYF)

Free your feet (FYF) by the Swiss Barefoot Company

The FYF are some kind of super socks made of an extraordinarily strong fibre called Dyneema®. The Swiss Barefoot Company claims it is 15 times stronger than steel and I’m inclined to believe them. These super-socks are cut resistant (so no fear of glass shards), super resistant to stretching and they have some kind of grippy material under the sole. Unfortunately they are not really abrasion resistant (more on that later) and they are not puncture resistant (a stingy nail or a sea-urchin could still hurt you). Like the Vibram FiveFingers, they have 5 fingers allowing your feet and toes to fit snugly in them.

So even though they are not specifically for running, I backed the project. Despite the fact that the maker recommends the full size FYF, I couldn’t bring myself to buy those and become a live Swiss Flag so I bought the low-cut FYF. A good thing is that they promise other designs in the future, but I guess they have to fulfil their Kickstarter orders first, as well as the pre-orders they have received since, which could take a while considering they’re already 2 months behind their schedule (I was supposed to receive my pair in February but I only received it in April).

The day I received my FYF, I was so excited that I tried them on immediately. I ignored the recommendation against using them on the road and went off running. My first impression was that the feeling is great, very close to actual barefoot running, much better than any pair of shoes I had ever tried before, including all my minimalistic Merrell Road Gloves.

Freeing my feet with FYF

Freeing my feet with FYF

Of course I started running short distances to get used to them, as barefoot running uses slightly different muscles than running with shoes, even when running with the proper technique, but very quickly I could run up to 6 kilometres at an easy pace without any issue.

OK, I may be overly enthusiastic with these and there are some negative aspects to the FYF:

  • They are socks, so it’s not great running in them when the ground is wet (I actually hate the feeling of wearing wet socks)
  • They are not resistant to abrasion and the Swiss Barefoot Company is right: you should not use them on the road. My pair started having tiny holes after only 30 km. This is a lot compared to normal socks (which would probably be ruined after 500m) but some people have been using them for hundreds of kilometres on natural surfaces

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with them, even though I can’t use them on the roads (which accounts for most of my running), but once they have new designs, I’ll definitely buy a pair for trails or simply to run in parks.

Test: Merrell Road Glove 3

For the first time, I’m writing a review for the pair of shoes I’m currently running with, but for the first time, I’m also reviewing a pair of shoes that aren’t available any more (Merrell actually discontinued the whole “Road Glove” range). That’s useful, innit? And for a change, they were recommended by my favourite shoe god: the Quiet Roman, so you already know the outcome of the test.

OK, after this promise of a boring review. Let’s go to the nitty gritty.


What? You want a real article? You’re kidding me!

OK, here’s a nice pic:

Merrell Road Glove 3

Merrell Road Glove 3 – Courtesy of Merrell

And here’s what I think of it in a few bullet points:

  • It’s a very good, incredibly light and comfortable shoe
  • It’s even more minimalist than the Merrell Bare Access 4 (no shit Sherlock, it’s all in the name) and gives even better sensations, but unfortunately it’s not red
  • It isn’t as resistant as the aforementioned Bare Access and already shows serious traces of wear and tear after 500k (I think seeing my socksthrough some holes on the side counts as wear and tear) but it hasn’t cracked after 200k like my Altra
  • It gave me a PB on a half marathon

As a conclusion, I definitely recommend that you should buy that shoe. Ha, ha, what a pathetic joke. What did you expect? A real review? By now, you should know that it’s not my game bruv’.

Test: Fitbit Aria

By now you should know that I initially took on running to lose weight. Even though I wasn’t a couch potato, I still needed something to keep me motivated and I found out that for me, numbers are a great motivation. Numbered objectives and metrics are a simple way to help you achieve your ambitions (more on that in a later post). But I also like myself a good gadget so I decided to buy a scale that would help me doing just that.

The choice

I could have bought a simple scale for a tenner at my local corner shop, but I wanted more than that. I wanted a nice gadget with all the bells and whistles, a useless app, plenty of metrics and fancy stuff that I would never use. I also though that it would be cool if it could be part of an ecosystem and use the same app / web interface as the watch I would buy later. So naturally, my first thoughts went to Withings. I was already eying on the Withings Activité, a classy activity tracker that looks like an analogue watch with all the trimmings: a leather band, stylish face and hands, and great features. Withings offered 2 models of smart scales: the WS-30 Wireless Scale and the Smart Body Analyzer. They also had the added advantage of being a French company. But as awesome as they are, their products are just too damn expensive. Anyway, I realised that I would probably want a proper running watch rather than a simple activity tracker so I had to give up on my idea on relying on a single ecosystem.

So I went for the Fitbit Aria. Fitbit has shedloads of different activity trackers that are all uglier than the next (despite what they say) but their smart scale is surprisingly as elegant as the ones from Withings and was much cheaper at the time.

Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scales – Black

Using the scale everyday

Yes, I do use the scale everyday. Yes my weight sometimes vary wildly from one day to another, even though I always weigh myself at the same time of the day (first thing in the morning, before eating or exercising). The difference can sometimes be up to 1 kg from one day to another and this is not due to the scale but to the nature of human metabolism, which is why I weigh myself everyday rather than once a week like most people recommend: it allows me to calculate my average weight over the week.

Configuring the scale wasn’t too hard, although it didn’t work on the first try (the initial pairing process via the computer was a bit flaky). The scale now sends the data without a problem even though WiFi signal is really weak in the bathroom. I haven’t changed or recharged its batteries since I bought it nine months ago, which is also a good point. In terms of features, it allows multiple users in total confidentiality (and recognises them automatically), measures weight and fat percentage and offers a user-friendly user interface on the website. It gives you charts of your weight, fat percentage and BMI over your selected period of time. If you have a Fitbit activity tracker and/or if you synchronise your Fitbit account with a running app (I sync it with Runkeeper), it will give you even more data regarding number of steps, calories spent and sleep tracking.

The web interface is rather pleasant and so is the mobile app, but even though it sounds like it gives a lot of data, it is actually kind of limited if you just have the scale like me. Also, syncing with Runkeeper is supposed to work both ways, but I have never managed to get it to push my weight to Runkeeper, only to receive my daily activities. The major drawback of this scale though, is that it will automatically add you an extra 2 or 3 kilos after Christmas, as you can see on this graph, and you’ll have to lose them again.

Fitbit Aria interface

Fitbit Aria interface (yes, I’m bragging a little bit)


I don’t regret this purchase at all, I still use it everyday after nine months, which kind of proves it is good! So I would definitely recommend to buy the Fitbit Aria, especially if you already have an other Fitbit product or if you intend to invest in one of their activity trackers. However, if you are concerned with privacy issues, then this might be a problem because the scale only syncs with Fitbit’s cloud (the computer is used only once, for setup) so you don’t know where or how your data is stored.

Test: synchronise your running apps with Tapiriik

The issue

I will guess that you’re like me. I have several friends who run and each of these bastards use a different running app, which is a real pain in the neck because I can’t run with five different apps at the same time. For example, I have an Endomondo account just to follow a couple of old friends in France and to participate in UKRunChat‘s challenges. Besides, I used to tracks my runs with Runkeeper where I have other old friends, then switched to Strava where I have newer friend.  Then I switched again to Garmin since I bought my Forerunner 225 but I still use Runkeeper when I rollerblade to work. So I needed to have all my activities on all these apps.

That fragmentation of the data and of the people is a real shame, because the social aspect of these apps is a great source of motivation (more about that in a future post). Also, each app shows the data in a different way, and it’s pretty cool to see the same activity from different angles. So I had a real need for synchronisation of all my data.

The choice

I found several ways of doing this:

  • Specific connectors between 2 platforms (e.g. TomTom has a connector to Runkeeper). This solution works if you have only 2 apps, but if you have 4 or 5 apps to synchronise, it becomes really messy and you’ll end up with some runs synchronised twice. Besides, some connectors simply don’t exist.
  • CopyMySport: I never managed to get this one working, so I concluded it is shit. Next!
  • SyncMyTracks: Really cool looking Android app, it even has a Runtastic connector, which is rare. But I couldn’t test the sync before buying it, so I didn’t test it. Also, this wouldn’t help iPhone owners. Who knows, I may try it in the future.
  • Tapiriik: My app of choice for synchronisation!
Tapiriik running sync

Tapiriik running sync – Original photo by Maurizio Pesce


I like lists and bullet points, so here’s the list of the “pros”:

  • Really easy to use and to connect your apps.
  • Has connectors for all my apps and even more (the guy who developed it is probably more of a bike nut than a runner).
  • Totally free for manual synchronisations and without any limitation with regards to the number of activities to synchronise, or the number of apps you want to synchronise.
  • Synchronisation is done server side and is automatic if you go for the paid version, so you don’t have to remember to sync after each run.

And for the “cons”, they all derive from the fact that it looks like Tapiriik is made by a lone developer in his garage:

  • No connector for Runtastic, TomTom, FitBit, Polar, Suunto, Nike+, and probably a bunch of other apps.
  • This app is rarely maintained, so if there’s a new app, you probably won’t have the connector. And chances are, the apps listed above will never have a connector either.
  • If the server is down, it can take a long time to come up again. The synchronisation may not happen for up to a couple of days, because the guy is on his own to support it.
  • A little bit annoying: my rollerblade activities tracked on Runkeeper are synchronised as “ice skating” on Strava.

All in all, I think that Tapiriik is a very good solution. But if you have some experience with SyncMyTracks, please share!

Test: Merrell Bare Access 4

Just a week before my first official 10k race, my Altra One 2, the only pair of shoes I had at the time, split apart after only 200 kilometres of running. I really liked them, but I didn’t want to buy the same pair and risk ripping them apart again after a month. Also, I wanted to go down the route of minimalistic shoes but not too fast. So I turned to my favourite running shoe encyclopedia: the Quiet Roman.

He’s a big fan of Merrell shoes and, as a first step to barefoot running (no pun intended), he recommended the Merrell Bare Access 4 for transitioning. They’re zero-drop (no difference in height between the heel and the toes), weight only 181g per shoe, have a 13.2mm stack (half the stack of the Altra One 2) and reasonable cushioning (8mm) for a runner who’s new to minimalistic shoes. But most importantly they’re red and they look awesome! Even more awesome, the colour is called “Molten Lava”, you’re welcome Anakin Skywalker. And they look equally badass in black (here come the M.I.B.’s).

I had only one week to get used to these shoes before my race, which is not a good thing. On the first try, they were very comfortable and even though they felt a bit narrow for my very wide feet, I really loved them. To my greatest surprise, I also loved the fact that there isn’t too much cushioning, that I could feel the ground better than with my previous pair. Also, they’re red.

But I was still a bit scared for the race, because after my first try on 5 kilometres, I could feel my calves much more than with the Altra. This was because these shoes forced me into a proper form. This worried me because I wasn’t sure I would be able to run 10k like this without feeling excruciating pain in my calves. But my worries faded after my second run (5k) and went completely away on the third run: I went for 11k without any pain. Did I mention that these shoes are awesome because they’re red?

On race day, I was all chuffed (having new gear is a great motivator) and I didn’t feel any pain. I also set my first PB for the distance at 47m 01s, which I reckon is pretty good for a first race. I’m pretty sure I made a good time thanks to these awesome red shoes (yes, they’re red).

Now I’ve moved onto other, more minimalistic, shoes. But I still remember these Bare Access fondly. They’re really comfortable, I don’t recall having had black toes with them, they’re much more resistant than the Altra, and just in case you haven’t understood what is really important in a pair of shoes: the best thing about them is that they’re red.

Documentary: Town of runners

Ethiopia is a big country in the world of running. I didn’t know it before Lanky Pole went there to spend a month-long holiday (I already mentioned that this mad man mostly travels for running) but it is the home of running legends such as Haile Gebrselassie and Abebe Bikila, who both held the World Records for Marathon & Half-Marathon in their times, and a plethora of super fast men and women.

I recently watched Town of Runners, a documentary by Jerry Rothwell about young runners in Bekoji, a town in central Ethiopia, famous for producing top notch runners such as the olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and her two amazing sisters Ejegayehu and Genzebe. Unsurprisingly, many younglings in this area train hard (very hard) to follow the footsteps of these giants. For many of them, it is the only hope for a better life, they dream of going to the capital Addis Ababa and then to Europe or North America to make a living out of running or even to become legends themselves.

Town of Runners

Town of Runners

The documentary follows two hopeful and talented young girls who dedicate their lives to running (on top of going to school and helping their parents at home and in the fields). The beginning made me feel quite optimistic, as we meet their ever-smiling coach who’s confident that he can train world-class athletes, as he has already done. But disenchantment comes soon enough as they encounter cheating and nepotism in competitions they enrol in.

When they finally make it to running academies, things get worse and worse: they’re far from their families, underfed and poorly treated. In short, the documentary isn’t really optimistic and gives us a glimpse into the misery of the masses who fails for a few chosen ones.

You can watch the full documentary on Vimeo or on Netflix UK. Once you’ve watched it, you can read an update one year later, but I got attached to the characters and I wish I could read an update now, five years later.

Test: Garmin Forerunner 225

For this test, I was tempted to reiterate my feat of comparing the Altra One 2 with the iPhone, and to stack up the performances of the Garmin Forerunner 225 against those of an artichoke or those of chair. But gadgets are serious stuff, so I’ll try to be serious here.

The choice

I didn’t like running with my phone, be it in my pocket, in an armband, or attached to my waist, it’s just cumbersome. And I don’t use my phone for listening to music while running either because running is entertaining enough by itself except on a firkin’ treadmill (and if I were listening to music while running, I’d probably use something like the Sony NWZ-W273S, which comes highly recommended by Brainy Owl). So buying a running watch was my best option.

I wanted something:

  • Light and convenient
  • Thought and made for running
  • Possibly with GPS tracking
  • Possibly with a heart-rate monitor but not attached to my chest

I had to exclude two very good watches: the Garmin Forerunner 620 (best features on the market then) and the Polar M400 (very good and very cheap), which both required a separate chest monitor. I also excluded activity trackers like the Fitbit Surge and the Withings Activité, even though the latter is a beautiful product, both of them lack a GPS and running-specific features.

My list came down to the TomTom Multi Sport and the Garmin Forerunner 225. Eventually I chose the Garmin, thanks to DC Rainmaker’s very comprehensive test. Even though the TomTom caters for running, cycling and swimming while the Garmin is only for running, the Garmin can also do some all-day activity tracking and seemed more reliable (better heart rate sensor, faster GPS).

Garmin Forerunner 225

Using the watch every day

I don’t regret my choice at all. I use this watch every time I go out running, although I don’t use the activity tracking and sleep tracking features (I like wearing my good old mechanical watch). You can connect it to your phone, but it also works completely independently, allowing me to rid of my phone when I run.

One of the great things of having this watch is that it helps me find my pace during races. It has been very beneficial so far since I have beaten my PB every time I’ve ran a 10K!

But it also really helps my daily running. Something I found extremely useful was the possibility to upload free training plans directly to the watch. The process isn’t very natural and the UX could be improved, but it’s OK once you understand that everything is done through the website (just don’t forget to “push” whenever you update your calendar, or at least every 45 workouts otherwise your calendar will be empty) and the app is just here for synchronising.

I chose a heart-rate based training plan, which is what you should really do, but the beginning was a catastrophe because I hadn’t configured my heart rate zone properly. My piece of advice is to set it to %HRR (percentage of heart rate reserve) rather than %HR Max (percentage of maximum heart rate), but you have to spend a bit of time figuring your max heart rate (usually 220 – age) and your resting heart rate (lie still for 20 minutes, then measure). This is really important and I lost 4 weeks of training for being too lazy to try and understand this.

Note: your Max HR doesn’t change that much over time (it slightly decreases over the years) but your rest heart rate will decrease if you train a lot, so keep these numbers updated.

Once your training is on the watch, you just have to follow what it says: “run for 10 minute at this pace/HR”, “rest for 2 minutes”. That’s really convenient for intervals for example, it will beep & vibrate if you run too fast or too slow and it will tell you when to start/finish your intervals.

Another feature I really like is the tracking of the cadence. This can really improve you running technique (aim for 180 to 200 strides per minutes). I wish it could measure oscillation and impact time, but you’d need the Garmin Forerunner 630, and that’s a hefty price to pay, knowing that you need to buy the chest HR sensor as well.

The downside is that the HR sensor can fail sometimes, you just have to re-adjust your strap (not easy to do while running) and the GPS is sometimes jumpy, so the instant pace isn’t always reliable, but it’s the case for all running watches.

Garmin app

Garmin app


I definitely recommend that you buy this watch. Alternatively, you can go for the new Garmin Forerunner 235, which is basically its replacement with cool new stuff (larger display, VO2 max estimation, race predictor, cycling-specific features, etc) but more expensive.

I also recommend that you take the time to run without a Garmin. Well, not literally, because you’re a data freak like me and you want to keep all this good data in Strava or Runkeeper, but sometime, try to run without glancing at your watch or even without thinking about it. Now, every time I go for an easy run or a long run, I don’t use the training plan feature, just the basic tracking, and I run following my feelings: I just want to run at an enjoyable pace without having to care whether it’s too slow or too fast. In short: to be free!

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