REVIEWS: Testing the Breathos on Snowdon

While being team manager for an international squad is about a fair degree of work, that does not mean there is not time for play.

Since I have aspirations to travel back and compete effectively at Snowdon in future years, I decided that I’d test the VivoBarefoot Breathos on the ascent and descent in conjunction with the technical improvements I’ve made especially in the last month.

Snowdon is the perfect testing ground because not only is it tough gradients but it is also very rocky and very hard surface throughout. A common argument against “barefoot technology” is that it is simply not suitable on such terrain. That argument is obviously a dead duck after Amidou came home with the 12th fastest descent on the day (25:02) running at an average pace of 18.9kph for the twenty five minutes down hard rock, scree and tarmac, dropping 1000 vertical metres. Safe to say, with the right technique, if this can be done, then they can run on anything effectively.

My field test

I ran my own test on the Friday evening, deciding to hammer down the 600m of steep tarmac (which reaches vertigo inducing gradients in places) and it never felt easier. My legs absorbed the force of each stride easily despite the only 5mm sole and I felt in full control of my pace, never needing to break (I could slow down using a technique Tony has shown me for decelerating by just reducing the stride “circles”). The key to this new control was definitely posture, and I could feel the benefits of new strength here in all the right areas. I ran the section at 2:30min/km pace (24kph) without any leg soreness or discomfort.

The next day, I decided I would run down from the midway cafe where I had placed myself to take pictures as quickly as possible to test the shoes on the rocks as well. My particular focus was here not to look down at my feet and just lift my feet off the terrain having memorised it in advance. This worked great in general and the Breathos and this style of running gave me better control and freedom of movement than at any previous time running down Snowdon.

This did not stop me taking a tumble as I got distracted by the many ongoings on the mountain, clipped my toe off a rock and found myself sprawling on the rocks. I landed very relaxed, almost sideways with right knee and elbow taking most of the fall. All the natural movement and change of perspective seems to have driven a lot of fear and tension out of my system because I leapt straight back up, thought to myself “Snowdon, is that really all you’ve got, can you punch no harder?,” and felt I could continue running downhill with good rhythm. I decided not to look down until I hit the gate, then I jumped into a squat position just in time to see the first runners coming onto the tarmac and snapping a few photos.

Once all the Irish lads and Amidou had passed I wanted to test another go on the tarmac to see if yesterday’s pleasurable experience had been a fluke. I had to keep my wits more about me to avoid interfering with any racers but with the leading internationals gone, and my fresh legs, once I was clear and moving at 2:40min/km pace, I knew I would not get in anyone’s way and only had to watch the hikers.

Conclusion from the second time down this bit was that the Breathos could be my weapon of choice for years to come especially if they’d make them lighter. If I can run down a slope as steep as that, on hard warm tarmac and feel no discomfort, but rather full control, then it means that the technique is now at a place where I can race in shoes that do not interfere with my gaits.

Running over the rocks, I rarely ever looked down, but much further ahead, and just focusing on lifting my feet off the ground while keeping strong posture. The fall was not elegant but you can never remove all risk but certainly this, to me, seems the ideal way to run over any type of terrain, no matter how rocky and uneven. My feet have been much more banged up in cushioned runners, so it really is all down to the execution of the running stride. It’s not the shoe, it’s the technique, but in this case the shoe was a perfect companion to the job and I look forward to doing what Amidou did and run the entire race in Breathos next year and “in anger”.