They say necessity is the mother of invention. For John Ellis, needless chafing was the mother of invention.
During the 298-kilometer Hong Kong 4 Trails race, Ellis experienced chafing so severe he ran the last mountain (Lantau Peak) without undies.
“Any decent ultra trail runner knows that chafing is a big issue, so our first product (commandos anti-chafe running underwear) seemed a pretty obvious one to us,” he says. “We have struggled to find running gear that works great in hot and humid conditions so that's been our goal for subsequent products, like our Sherpa Shorts with integrated running belt for storage.”
It’s a simple concept, really. T8 combined a silky yet durable fabric with a sewing pattern that moves the seams away from highly sensitive areas. Ellis says they put it to the test for about a year before launching.
“We probably ran over 30 ultras in hot and humid weather and no lube insurance until we had tested and perfected anti-chafe design!”
Putting them to the test
Ellis has been a runner since age 7. After flirting with triathlons and completing an Ironman, he has settled into his “sweet spot” — 70K to 100K ultras. That’s similar to my preference for races of 50K or 50 miles, with the occasional 100K thrown in.
Recently, Ellis sent me a couple pairs of the T8 commandos to test out.
During my testing, the temperatures ranged from the 60s to the 20s Fahrenheit, my runs were generally between one and two hours long and they were conducted mostly on trails.
I found the commandos to be very light, comfortable and — like Ellis promised — chafe-free. While I did not run any races with them, I would not have any issue in using them for distances up to 50K or 50 miles. For longer distances, I would personally prefer to wear shorts that also included compression.
Ellis considered a design that used compression but opted for the current T8 version.
“I used to wear compression but always found it hot and uncomfortable, especially when drenched in sweat,” he explains. “The performance benefit is really for recovery and not during an effort. So people can wear compression for chafing but we think it's definitely not fit-for-purpose, especially if you live somewhere hot like us in Hong Kong. That's why we went the other way with the commandos with the anti-chafe design but also super lightweight and really comfortable, even in hot sticky conditions.”
Mind over mountain
The name T8 is symbolic.
“It's quite a common term in Hong Kong where we live and refers to the warning signal for a particularly big typhoon when people get the day off work,” he says. “For us, it basically means the worst weather out there, and we want to make running gear that will work in any conditions, especially hot and humid where other brands don't do as well.”
It’s clear Ellis has put a lot of thought and research into his product. Right down to the slogan emblazoned on the undies — Mind Over Mountain.
“It's a play on mind over matter, which relates to human willpower to overcome physical problems — except we're trail runners so our physical problems are mountains!” he says. “That's what we're about at T8, using some clever design to create innovative products that help trail runners conquer trails and mountains.”
Name: John Ellis
Hometown: Perth, Western Australia
Number of years running: Since I was 6 at Little Athletics so I guess that's 35 years with a big break in the middle for drinking too much and getting fat!
How many miles a week do you typically run: Last year, I ran 4,300K but will generally average 100K-130K during a serious pre-race training block with maybe 5,000M of vert as well.
Point of pride: I guess winning the Asia Trail Master Championship last year was pretty special. It's a competition between Asia's best trail runners over around 30 races and was much tougher than expected, so was sweet to bring home the crown. And definitely need to thank the missus for being so understanding with the training and all the travel!
Favorite race distance: 70K to 100K is my sweet spot.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Tailwind — love drinking my calories and so easy on the stomach.
Favorite piece of gear: My Sherpa Shorts as I can usually get all my mandatory race gear in these bad boys and don't need a top or backpack!
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Anything Linkin Park or Hilltop Hoods has a great up-tempo beat that gets me subconsciously running faster.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Pain is temporary, online race results are forever!
Where can other runners connect or follow you: https://www.facebook.com/johnneyrv