A Topo Ultraventure

BOOMZ! In the same instant I realised I had tripped, I had to accept that this was going to be a very hard landing. Running downhill on a rocky section of the MacRitchie Reservoir trail, it came down to just hoping that the body parts absorbing the brunt of the impact would not suffer catastrophic damage.

Lying there as the initial stinging sensations began to emerge from my left forearm and my left knee and shin, the idea that I might have gotten off easier than expected came to mind. Standing was not a challenge. The wounds on my left arm were hidden from view – as the elbow is one of those body parts rarely seen without the help of a mirror. My left knee and shin, in contrast, were in plain sight, where a few small rivulets of blood began their journey down from the wounds towards my sock.

I unscrewed the nozzle of my water bottle and rinsed the wounds on my knee as a passerby pointed out that I had been running too fast. I supplemented that feedback with an observation that there was too much gravity on this part of the trail. Having said that, heeding the adage that there is some advantage in walking off injuries before the affected limbs stiffen up, I trotted off at the usual pace to cover the last one and a half kilometres of the run.

It was only about four hundred metres from the scene of the tumble when I realised that my left wrist felt lighter than it had during the previous nine kilometres. Then it dawned on me; my chunky old Garmin 310XT Forerunner was missing.

After an abrupt u-turn I was on my way back to the section of the trail where I had fallen, scanning the trail and the leaf-covered areas alongside, but, despite the bright-orange colour of the Forerunner, there was no trace of it.

Enquiries have been made with the park’s lost and found desk, so there is a small chance that my Garmin and I might be re-united. The device has been with me for a while, a regular activity partner for cycling, running and swimming. It helped keep me at a sustainable pace during the sole marathon I ran in the daunting Singapore humidity in 2015, so yeah, we have been through a lot together.

Yet, the Forerunner was showing signs of fatigue. During the last kilometre before the fall, it had gotten stuck at the distance of 8.99 kilometres. As I continued down the trail the distance displayed failed to increase, even after tapping the start/stop and lap buttons – technology insisted that I wasn’t gaining any ground. Perhaps it was trying to say, “Look Dude, you’ve done almost nine kilometres. Why not stop now and use the remaining distance to cool down?”

Then came the fall.

Two items I had with me absorbed a lot of the impact. In my left hand I was holding a water bottle. The fall left the bottle with a big dent and the plastic was scraped. That damage would have been done to my palm if the bottle hadn’t gotten in the way.

Some time later in the day I noticed some scratches on my left forearm that came to an abrupt end just where the Forerunner had been. I was wearing it doctor-style, with the display on the inside of my wrist so it’s easier to read during runs. Because of this positioning, like the water bottle, the Forerunner must also have taken a hefty portion of the impact. Aside from the consequences to the screen, which might have been shattered, the strap probably got ripped from the device as well. In a fanciful way, I like to imagine that on impact the Forerunner simply vaporised and was absorbed into the organic matter of the forest.

Anyway, when disaster struck, my feet were comfortably wrapped up and happy in my Topo Athletic Ultraventures, a pair of shoes I’ve thoroughly enjoyed since I bought them in July. Now I’ve done about four-hundred kilometres in them, mostly for street running, and they’ve been great.

Despite my roughly forty-four years of fairly-regular running, shoe design features like toe-boxes and drop had not made it onto my radar. The last shoe review I did was for my first pair of trail running shoes, the Puma Trailfox MTS-Water. As you remember from that review, my initial impression was positive. The thing is, before long I realised that I had made the mistake of purchasing a pair of shoes that were a size too small. This literally became painfully obvious after runs as I was walking to cool down, and my feet became sore from being crammed inside a space that compressed them – uh – in a bad way.

So in July I walked into Red Dot Running Company on Joo Chiat Road in pursuit of a properly fitting pair of trail running shoes. As Red Dot is a niche running shop carrying brands that I’d never heard of, I was somewhat intimidated and actually did not expect to find anything within my intended budget. So I opened with a question to determine whether or not I should even bother to be there, “Have you got any trail running shoes for under SGD 200.00 (USD 150.00)?”

Thankfully they did. The Topo Ultraventures were just about SGD 200.00. There was one pair left in the shop, at that moment on the feet of another customer who was considering a purchase. He kindly let me try them on (they fit me prefectly) and he was gracious enough to let them go so that I could give them a new home.

What happened after that has been pure running pleasure (yeah, ok, with one painful fall, but why dwell on that?) Having a properly fitting shoe makes running immensely more enjoyable. Beyond a great fit, these shoes have a lot of attractive features.

Toe boxes. Like I said, this toe box thing is completely new to me. The wide front part of the shoe allows the toes to splay – spread out as nature intended, improving performance and comfort, reducing aches and the potential for injury. Why aren’t all shoes designed this way?

The Ultraventure is proud of its 5mm drop, and rightly so

Minimal drop. For most of my running days I’ve been on shoes with a wedge of a sole, which means that most of the time there’s been an exaggerated heel-strike. Before the Puma’s I was running on Mizunos with a 14mm drop. The Pumas had a 10mm drop. The Ultraventures bring me even closer to natural barefoot running with a 5mm drop. As a result I’ve almost eliminated heel-strikes during runs as I’ve been helped by the Ultraventure’s 5mm drop to land on the balls of my feet instead of the heels, which is how barefoot runners land, as nature intended. There is a lot of information available about this on YouTube and elsewhere, so I’ll let the experts explain the details. For me, I feel my calves getting more of a workout and I’ve acquired a more natural running gait, and a desire to do longer runs!

Lacing. The Ultraventures also motivated me to take lacing more seriously. The Pumas and previous shoes I’d been using had elastic laces with a clamp, so no tying was necessary. Red Dot Running Company doesn’t sell such elastic/clamp laces, and when I unboxed the Ultraventures I was taken by how long the laces were, much longer than I needed – unless…

Unless I started using the lace lock (a.k.a.; heel lock) method for tying the shoelaces. This approach makes use of what I thought was the excess lace, because the extra eyelets on the shoes that are often ignored now serve their intended purpose. Some runners employ this lacing technique for blister prevention, some just to keep the heel in place when running uphill, some to avoid having the toes hit the front of the shoes when running downhill, and some, like me, for all of these reasons.

Having enjoyed the Topo Ultraventures for 400 kilometres, I enthusiastically look forward to the next 400 which I am sure will involve an increasing number of trail runs. Although designed for trails, they perform just as well on pavement, giving the runner the confidence to hop off the pavement and onto grass or dirt when necessary to get around various obstacles, human or otherwise.

The claims that Topo running shoes are designed by people with a passion for running ring true, and as you might have guessed, they’ve boosted my own passion for running, not at all diminished by a few scrapes and bumps. In fact, I can’t wait to get back to MacRitchie and complete the circuit unscathed!

Photo credit: Me and my iPhone6

Published by Thomas Timlen

Where to begin? Perhaps the web content says it best...

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