The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is, for many, the pinnacle of ultra-running events. Nobody uses it as a training race. Following the Tour du Mont Blanc hiking path (which usually has a par of 7-9 days), this 171km footrace passes through France, Italy, and Switzerland with the very best runners finishing around the 20-hour mark. You cannot run this race without meeting strict criteria. Every participant must have literally hundreds of competitive miles under their belt. And still, many do not finish.
I was lucky enough to attend the event this year and to witness the alpine town of Chamonix transformed into essentially a festival of running. On top of that, I also got to try out some of the latest trail running kit in the new Flight Series from The North Face, a collection of lightweight kit aimed at high performance on mountain trails. Here are the items that stood out.
Vectiv Flight Shoe
The Vectiv Flight, The North Face say, was designed specifically with races like the UTMB in mind. Of course, with such a race, every design aspect is critical.
Not only is sheer distance and repetition of movement a huge factor when it comes to designing the shoes the UTMB runners wear, but so is the lumpy, jagged terrain and potentially brutal weather conditions. And so, the design approach is twofold: the ideal trail running shoe needs to be extremely durable, tough enough to stay intact through a high-speed tour around Mont Blanc, while also containing lots of subtle technology to ensure the shoe is responsive, comfortable, and stable.
To strike this balance, The North Face Vectiv shoes employ two key elements, the 3D TPU Plate and the Rocker Midsole. The Plate is a piece of modern road running technology re-tooled for the trail. It adds multi-directional stability to accommodate for varied footfall, and, being made from robust carbon fibre and placed directly underfoot, it serves as an extra layer of protection from harsh terrain. Meanwhile, the rocker midsole is focused on performance; it uses unique architecture and a high-rebound composition to convert the energy of your foot strikes into forward momentum, literally rocking forward and propelling you on with each step. The carbon plate works in tandem to create a ‘fixed rocker’ which maximises shock absorption without compromising energy efficiency.
The North Face say that one of their primary goals for the Vectiv line was to reduce downhill tibial impact. Years of research have gone into the construction of these shoes, and as little as a 5% reduction in impact (I am told that they reached 6% compared to the previous shoe generation) can very much mean the difference between an injury and a top placement.
Last but not least the Kevlar and polyamide Matryx fabric – plus the reinforced toe caps – all work to make this a shoe that’s durable enough for repetitive use on harsh trails.