Avery Collins isn’t your everyday, afternoon jogger. He’s an ultrarunner, meaning he runs races that are even longer than marathons. In fact, he runs 100-mile races fairly consistently and The New York Times even hailed him as “among the fastest in the world.” It begs the question: what kind of gear does a person who runs 100 miles use? In this exclusive interview, Collins details the running gear he uses during his training and on race day.
I&T Today: What first drew you to running?
Avery Collins: It’s pretty simple and unfortunately not so fun. I was in college and my freshman year I had been paying for a gym membership. My gym membership expired, and I just didn’t feel like paying for it anymore. So, I actually threw on an old pair of running shoes that were my track shoes from middle school; the one and only time I did track or any kind of running sport in school. These [shoes] were legitimately like seven or eight years old.
But, I really enjoyed it. It was a massive suffer fest. And then I quickly learned I needed some different shoes.
It just kind of spiraled from there. More of a snowball effect, I suppose, I should say. And, the first year of running I did maybe like six half-marathons. I just really, really enjoyed it. And I grew to like that half-marathon distance quite a bit.
Then, in search of, I don’t know, a bigger challenge, I was looking for a mountain marathon race, but road, because at the time I had no idea there even were trail races and I was living in North Carolina. I found a race called the Blue Ridge Marathon in Virginia, which is only about an hour away from my Aunt’s place.
I decided to go ahead and do that. But, while signing up for the race, I realized on the website there was an option to do an un-official, official, double marathon. There was something about it that sounded kind of appealing and, at the time, I really had no idea what ultrarunning was. I didn’t know people did it.
It sounds ridiculous but a lot of the reasoning why I was doing it was because I thought nobody else was doing this kind of stuff. So, I thought it may be cool to do something one of a kind. As it turns out, it was far from that. But, I’ll never forget my favorite part of crossing the finish line and how much pain I was in. I never thought I would break through that type of pain barrier, up until that point in life, at least.
I&T Today: What sort of technologies and running gear do you incorporate into your training and competing?
Avery Collins: I think the biggest no brainer there would be the watch. I think one of the most important parameters that not only myself and my girlfriend use is Vertical Gain. The type of races that we’re most often doing are very big mountain races, so it’s just trying to capture a particular range of vertical gain on a daily, weekly, and then monthly basis. I think the watch would be number one.
But the shoe, at the end of the day, plays one of the biggest roles. It’s not an electronic, but it is what I would consider technology at the end of the day because every shoe differs.
I&T Today: You said that when you first really got into running you started on these eight-year-old shoes. From then to now, how have you seen running shoes develop as you’ve become a professional runner?
Avery Collins: There’s been two major trends over the last five to six years in the shoe market in general. Specific to the trail running market, max cushion has really changed everything. I think fifty percent of most runners are alternating more wearing a max cushion shoe, like a HOKA or an ULTRA with this massive inch-and-a-half, two-inch stack height underneath their foot.
Then, the other evolution has been low drop, heel-to-toe pitch. I think a couple millimeters down to zero millimeters is the standard for a low drop shoe, and it’s a minimalist concept. However, it’s a minimalist concept and you can still wear plenty of cushion underneath your feet. So those have been really the two major changes over the last five years.
People still wear Brooks and ASICS, but people are moving away from those traditional concepts of twelve-millimeter, heel-to-toe pitch, and are moving towards these companies that have what were a more a niche market. Companies like Soloman, HOKA, Ultra, those would be the three biggest companies that may have started a bit more as niche shoes that are now, in trail running, the three biggest companies.
I&T Today: What shoes are you running with?
Avery Collins: I like running with Inov8. They’re based out of the U.K. Very similar to what I’ve been saying minus the cushion part. And that’s large in part just where they are. They do a lot fell running, so the ground surfaces are really soft, so the majority of the shoes they make are pretty minimal.
Typically all of their shoes are a four-millimeter drop. They make one zero-millimeter drop specific to fell running and that is it. And then, right now they have a few eight-millimeter drop shoes that can apply to the U.S. market a little bit more.
I&T Today: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become a serious runner?
Avery Collins: I think what’s most important, and it’s difficult for everybody from a beginner to a professional, is listening to your body. While a professional can listen to their body probably a little better than a beginner, oftentimes, even like myself, we choose not to. It’s just so important to do what seems right. And it takes time to figure that out because you have to be able to know the difference between the physical pain that you can push through to better yourself and then physical pain that can lead to injury; and it’s just a matter of really, really dialing that in and just listening to your body and knowing what’s right and what’s wrong.