Walsh Spirit Peak.
Review by Paul Bateson.
I don’t profess to know everything about the development of running shoes but I am pretty sure that 30 years ago there was much less choice available and the majority of what was around were angled towards road running. Nowadays the situation is different with a huge range designed for trail and mountain runners.
Loads of manufacturers offering numerous models, colours, fabrics, outsole designs, lacing methods etc, etc and all backed by colourful advertising campaigns stating why their brand is best ‘because it was developed from running in mountains, on trails, in mud etc.’ as though all the rest developed their range on pavements and roads!!
Despite all the advertising speak there is growing movement that actually feel that a high percentage of the technical ‘improvements’ in shoes are actually the main reason so many runners suffer from running injuries. I won’t expand on this here as there is enough on going discussion, but I do feel that part of the problem is shoe companies trying to out-do each other with technical features that alter the way the individuals feet ‘prefer’ to run.
One company which has been around for longer than most is Walsh (www.walshsports.com). This company, founded by Norman Walsh back in 1961, is based in Bolton, Lancashire and it is estimated that the Walsh family has actually been involved in footwear production since the late 1800’s. It is also a company which has provided running shoes for British Olympic teams in 1948 but more interestingly it has survived despite producing shoes for what is possibly a niche in a niche market, Fell racing.
Fell racing is very much a branch of running which is generally pursued in the north of England, Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Scotland although there are other areas where it is popular. Despite this comparatively small market Walsh have stayed true to the sport and continue to produce a small but very popular selection of fell and mountain racing shoes which despite very little in the way of technical ‘enhancements’ do the job, and do it well.
I bought my first pair of Walsh’s back in 1983, they were a leather, bootee style which were called Continentals. I didn’t do many fell races, I was mainly a racing cyclist, but fell running was good training for cyclo-cross and it was fun. The shoes have served me well, been resoled, (try getting that done nowadays) and in fact I still have them. I also see they are still produced but under the name Fellsman.
Fast forward to 2010 and I now live in Andalucia, Spain. I have been here for 10 years and operate as a trainer/host for runners preparing for multi-stage ultra races, desert, trail and mountain races. I also promote the Al Andalus Ultra Trail, which is the biggest international multi-stage trail race in Spain (www.alandalus-ut.com). I also host training groups from all over Europe and write reviews on products that my Team Axarsport members test and report on. I also find time to race both road and mountain, so I was very interested to see that Walsh were now producing a new shoe range aimed specifically at trail and ultra running.
Walsh is not a brand available in Spain so I contacted the company and after some helpful discussions I was pleased to receive a pair of Spirit Peak. I thought these may fit the bill for those doing multi stage ultra races which require a shoe to be strong, grip well but are comfortable to wear for long periods, in other words, a bit less fell race specific.
I have now covered around 200km in this shoe and I am very impressed with them. Preparing and planning new sections of mountain single track for Al Andalus is time consuming but after the wetter than usual winter which saw many tracks destroyed it was necessary to go out and find alternatives. For much of this work I have worn the Spirit Peaks. The new Walsh Pyra-grip sole unit has been excellent, wear has been barely noticeable and the grip and feel of the shoe is fantastic. I had worried that the low profile sole, which gives the shoe the stability which all fell racing shoes in the range provide, would be too thin to provide any long term comfort and protection from rocks, this hasn’t been the case. The uppers are strong, and the nylon used is more closed cell than used in the fractionally lighter Spirit Lite, (a shoe which I also intend to try once we get up to the 35C-45C temperatures of July and August).
Many of you know that my recommended shoe for out and out desert racing is the UKGear PT-03Desert, (reviewed on Al Andalus Ultra Trail race site, plus www.trailrunspain.com and trailrunningSoul.com) but for many races, total sand proof shoes are unnecessary. What is most important is that the shoe needs to be comfortable over rocky terrain, strong, give good grip, have an upper which keeps out grit or will take the fitting of gaiters without tearing. They should have standard laces, (the thin ‘cheese-wire’ ones fitted to some makes may seem a good idea but they do slip, they do break, usually when you are miles from anywhere, and you can’t adjust them to suit personal foot anomalies).
Over the years I have used many makes and types of running shoes, I have generally been happy with them but there is usually some area which could be improved on, no doubt I will try shoes in the future but I think they will be hard pressed to tick all the boxes. At this point the Walsh Spirit Peak will take some beating and if you want a shoe for the majority of multi stage ultra races then this is definitely the one to consider.
Team Axarsport, Spain
Shoes after 120km use.
Al Andalus Ultra Trail 2010 is from July 12 to 16th. At the time of writing (May) we still have a few places left. The field, listed on the web site, is of a very high standard with 20 countries represented. Stars include Lahcen Ahansal, 10 times winner of the MdS, Widy Grego and Karim Mosta, both winners of many ultra races around the World and from closer to home, Joe Symonds, Colm McCoy and Mimi Anderson. Even the race doctor, Andrew Murray is a top ultra runner and only Brit to have won a Racing the Planet/4 Deserts race as well as races in the Arctic, Gobi and Namibia. This year we also have a medical research team from Coventry University testing and preparing data on runners performance in ultras and high temperatures.
If you are interested and missed out on the race this year then please contact us as we already have entries coming in for Al Andalus July 11-15th 2011.