Like the Wind x The North Face Partnership

 

Imagine doing something that you have never done before. Perhaps it is running further or faster than you have up to now. Or stringing together more training sessions than you thought possible. Maybe you can imagine doing something that no one you’re connected with has done before. Or perhaps something that no one in the world has done before.

Whatever you imagine, to achieve the goal you will need a recipe which includes a list of ingredients that you can control and a way to bring all those elements together.

For The North Face athlete, Pau Capell, the challenge he set himself was to do something that no one else had done before; complete the course of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – a 170km race that circumnavigates the Mont Blanc, through France, Italy and Switzerland – in under 20 hours. This challenge came to be called Breaking 20 and it would push Pau to his absolute physical and emotional limits.

At the start of 2020, the existing course record for the UTMB race, that had been set by Pau when he won the race in 2019, was 20 hours and 19 minutes. So all Pau had to do was run 19 minutes faster and he would have broken a barrier that was so tantalisingly close and yet so very far away. It sounded so simple.

And yet behind the seemingly simple, was a complex and ever changing reality that Pau Capell would have to face down if he was to have any hope of Breaking 20.

Pau and his team knew that there would be an ingredient list of elements they could control, that would be required for success; optimal physical and mental fitness, a great support team and the right kit. And that list of requirements is true, whether you are an elite athlete like Pau or someone simply looking to be the best they can be.

Physical and Mental Fitness

A few months into 2020, as Pau contemplated his racing calendar – which included a return to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – he realised that his year would be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Being based in the Spanish mountains, Pau lives in an ideal place to prepare for the mountain ultras that he excels at. But the lockdown rules imposed in the region limited Pau to short runs which he had to supplement with hours on the treadmill.

Still, Pau was determined to find a way to get in the best shape that he could. So he trained as hard as possible in the circumstances and adapted his regime as the pandemic laws allowed.

By the middle of the year it was clear that races would at best be postponed and most likely many would be cancelled. Nevertheless, Pau was still looking forward to this key race – the UTMB. Then that race was also cancelled. Pau knew that he was in decent shape and so he talked to his manager about doing something special so that the year would not be a write off. Perhaps it would be possible to set a fastest known time on the UTMB route without the incentive of racing the best trail runners in the world? That was how the idea for Breaking 20 came to be.

However despite all the training he’d managed to do, Pau knew that having not raced at all in 2020, his physical fitness was not where he would have liked it to be. As for his emotional preparedness? Well, pandemic lockdown was hard for everyone and Pau was no exception.


The North Face Speaker Series with Pau Capell and All Triangles

We recently had the chance to speak to Pau Capell and Pierre Minary from All Triangles as part of the Speaker Series from The North Face. This conversation ranged from the Breaking 20 challenge and Pau’s other FKTs, to the process by which the All Triangles team worked with athletes from The North Face to develop the VECTIV™ range and Pau’s future plans. You can watch the whole interview below.


A Great Team

Whilst Pau questioned his physical preparations for Breaking 20 and realised that the pandemic had taken an emotional toll, he could be sure that he had a great team behind him.

The main source of support for Pau is his family. First and foremost his family give him the encouragement and motivation he needs to train and perform at a world beating level. Pau often talks about how his family members regularly act as his support crew, following him up and down mountains, often through the night and in whatever weather is thrown at them.

Pau also counts The North Face as part of his family and his support crew. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Breaking 20 challenge when many fellow North Face athletes ran with Pau during different sections of the run.

The Right Kit

As every runner knows, apparel, equipment and especially footwear can make or break a run or race. And the more extreme the event, the more important it is to have the right kit.

For Pau Capell and the rest of the athletes at The North Face, a new footwear range – called VECTIV™ – has proven to be a game-changer. Shoes are a crucial piece of the puzzle that all athletes must get right if they are to perform at their best.

To create a range of shoes that would provide everyone running on the trails with the ideal platform, the team at The North Face collaborated with All Triangles, a creative agency based in Annecy, France.

The footwear team at The North Face, led by VP of Global Footwear, Jean Marc Djian, knew that if the brand was to launch into the footwear space, where it had traditionally not been a big player, it would have to be with something groundbreaking and exciting.

So it was with this in mind that The North Face and All Triangles developed the VECTIV™ range based on the midsole cushioning material of the same name.

The concept at the heart of the VECTIV™ range is a three part ‘sandwich’ under the foot. The platform is made up of a plate for enhanced stability, which sits on top of a rocker-shaped midsole designed to optimise foot strike and forward momentum, and finally a high-traction SurfaceCTRL outsole that is lightweight and created from 40% bio-based materials.

Within the VECTIV™ range of trail running shoes, there are three models;

  • The Flight VECTIV™ – with a full-length carbon plate, this is a shoe for winning races, setting FKTs and achieving personal best times. The rocker geometry and SurfaceCTRL outsole deliver speed and comfort – including a 10% reduction in impact – with zero compromise.
  • VECTIV™ Infinite – based on the same rocker geometry and outsole as the Flight, this shoe incorporates a dual-density Pebax® plate for even more comfort and flexibility
  • VECTIV™ Enduris – this shoe uses a TPU plate and is the most cushioned model in the VECTIV™ range, for the ultimate comfort.

Proving the concept on the trails

Of course, developing a range of footwear in the laboratory at All Triangles only takes you so far. Indeed, giving prototypes to athletes for their feedback is also not the perfect way to validate the concept. To really understand whether a range of shoes is perfect for the job, they need to be used on the trails, where it counts.

For Pau Capell the ultimate test would be trying to set a FKT on the UTMB route. Despite all the physical and mental challenges that he encountered in 2020, Pau set off at record pace. Frustratingly the conditions worsened and in the end Pau finished a little over an hour slower than he hoped. It was, nevertheless, an amazing attempt. And after a little rest and reflection, Pau announced that he would be back in 2021 to try again.

At the same time, alongside Pau and his Breaking 20 project, a number of other athletes from The North Face pitted themselves against the trails, the elements and the clock.

  • In February Kaytlyn Gerbin won one of the few races that took place – the Transgrancanaria, in a course record time in the Flight VECTIV™
  • Kaytlyn then went on to set a FKT on the Wonderland Trail in August
  • Corree Woltering set a FKT on the Ice Age Trail, completing the 1,835km in 21 days 13 hours and 35 minutes. He wore the Flight VECTIV™ for part of the challenge
  • In August Fernanda Maciel broke her own record for the Grand Paradiso trail covering 18km in 4 hours and 6 minutes
  • Mike Foote and Rob Krar teamed up to set a FKT on the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim route, covering 67km in 11 hours 32 minutes and 9 seconds, both wearing the Flight VECTIV™
  • And Pau was not done with his Breaking 20 attempt, returning to the Trail de Menorca, which was the scene of his first serious trail race, to set an FKT on the 185km route of 16 hours 46 minutes

From a desire to build an innovative range of shoes, to a collaboration between The North Face, All Triangles and the brands’ athletes, to putting the range through its paces in races and FKT attempts on trails around the world, the VECTIV™ range has proven itself to be a world-class product and a key ingredient in the recipe for anyone tackling the trails. You can find out more – including where to buy the shoe – here.

 

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