If you’ve read the book or sections on this blog you’ll know I actively go out my way to avoid running expos. They’re tacked on to a major running event and the organisers insist all entrants attend some damp smelling hall in the arse end of town to pick up a bib that could have just as easily been posted out. Some like Paris marathon even fix the layout and pedestrian routes in such a way you have to force your way past EVERY BLOODY STALL just to get back out.
My chief gripe with expos is the timing. The day before your major race should not be spent walking miles, crammed into public transport, on your feet all day. It should be spent at home, or at your hotel, relaxing with a cold beverage whilst mentally running through your checklist, reassuring yourself it’s all in hand. For this reason on the odd occasion I attend expos and can’t get someone to go in my place I approach it with an SAS level of preparation, identifying the optimum time to visit, studying the layout for shortest escape routes and retrieval options in case of casualties to under-cooked hot dogs. The whole experience is stressful and best avoided.
The downside of this is I do miss the interesting stalls, new running gear and advice. It was therefore refreshing to hear Mike, organiser of the National Running Show on The Bad Boy Running Podcast sharing this view and that he’d set up his expo specifically to be an antidote to that. Held in January, at the NEC in Birmingham it’s easy for a good portion of the country to get to and crucially is at the start of peoples training cycles for their spring races, not the end. With this in mind I applied to be an ambassador as well to help promote the event (and I can’t deny, hopefully promote the book as well by association).
As with any expos, whether for running or double glazing, the events break down into talks, demonstration areas and stalls.
The standard of speakers was impressive, from Olympians to those with amazing stories and great takes on the running scene. These varied from light-hearted to inspirational stories and a stark change from the usual formulaic pre-marathon talks where you wonder how many more times someone can say “don’t go off to fast, stick to your plan” before they struggle to fill their 10 minute slot.
The only danger of the more interesting speakers is arriving home to declare to the significant other that you’ve sold the house and car and are embarking on a 2000 mile run across Africa because it sounded like such fun.
Another good feature was the ‘Ask The Experts’ area where you could pop by and quiz runners on anything that was on your mind but either too busy or too embarrassed to ask during their main talks.
Demonstration areas –
The organisers set up a running track in the hall and at various stages suppliers arranged trials of their gear so you could get to really have a go on those new trainers you were considering. Sadly Nike weren’t in attendance as would have loved to try out the Zoom Vaporfly 4% before parting with silly money for them and their ‘guaranteed PB powers’.
Other areas had strength and conditioning talks and exercises for those that indulge in that sort of stuff and don’t just run until their legs fall off.
The treadmill demo area was a neat touch. They’re an expensive investment and so few shops have them out for use that taking the plunge based on a website review would be akin to buying a car without a test drive.
On the subject of treadmills, I decided that like a used car with too many miles under the bonnet I should take advantage of the Run 3D stand and get my running form checked. If you’ve seen footage of Hollywood stars converted into cartoon characters by wearing motion capture suits covered in ping pong balls then it’s a lot like that. Stand still as the staff stick multiple dots on your feet, legs and waist and then run on a treadmill where your motion is picked up by cameras and analysed.
The upshot for me is I have a very flat ultra-runner style, with minimal ‘vertical excursions’ (how much your hips bounce up and down) a low cadence (how many steps you take) and a little leg lift. I’m told it’s a very economical running style. The kids heard all this and declared it as ‘an old man shuffle’. Cheers. The staff did pick up stiffness in my right leg (the duck footed one) and gave some massage demos on how to loosen this up. A few days later the full report came through and makes for interesting reading.
Normally these are the most pointless areas of expos. It’s the worst time to pick up new kit or nutrition unless it’s something you’ve used before, in which case why wait until the day before to get it? Were you born stupid? In this case you have months to practice with any purchases and crucially without the time pressures of most expos you have an opportunity to sample and shop at leisure.
Being husky and apparently shuffling like an old man I am an expert at chaffing. A lot of Americans swear by Squirrel’s Nut Butter (or SNB) to prevent this. It’s recently made an introduction into the UK and they had a stall so I was able to try it out and picked up the SNB, a small travel size one for upcoming Transgrancanaria and also their foot repair cream “Happie Toes” so hopefully my hoofs will look more like feet on the beach in the preceding week.
Although a firm Adidas fan, I’d been debating Hoka for a while but they’re seldom in shops and often come up small on sizing so hard to order online without the risk and hassle of returns, queuing in the Post Office behind someone getting a postal order. Fortunately Hoka had a big stall so was able to try a lot on, chat to the salesman who had either genuinely run Transgrancanaria before or was an expert bluffer and picked up some trail shoes for £60. Bargain.
Last item for me was head torches. I’ve made do with pretty cheap ones in the past but figured falling off the side of a volcano is probably best avoided so keen to get something suitable. Unilite and LED Lensor both had big stalls and in the end I was convinced by the LED Lensor NEO10R at 600 lumens and with easily swapped single battery on the rear, and a Unilite emergency clip light that functioned as the mandatory red rear light for the race but could work as a normal torch in an emergency.
Other stalls had a good mix of nutrition and running gear, everything from hydration packs to seamless undies.
Overall I’d say the expo is a must visit to kick your training off. Early January is exactly the right time to pick up gear and get that injection of motivation when most of us are feeling festively plump, lethargic and would rather go into hibernation than for a run. I’ve already booked my ticket for next year and looking forward to it.