Staying Motivated for Winter Running

Grey, dull days, bad weather, long dark nights… It’s not very inspiring for running!

Inov-8 Stormshell in the rain

grey, dull and not very inspiring!

So with the long winter months ahead of us how do you stay motivated to get out running? Here are 5 tips to help get you off the couch and onto the trails, even on the darkest of days.

Treat Yourself

New kit always inspires you to use it so get set to tackle winter with some new toys! Go on you deserve a new waterproof, grippy shoes or even that fancy watch that counts how many calories you’ve used. Or if you don’t want to spend that much then just a nice new base layer, warm gloves or even some new woolly socks will give you more reasons to get out running whatever the weather.

Inov-8 Mudclaw grip

new shoes for winter!

Embrace the Dark

Just because it’s dark by the time you get home from work doesn’t mean you can’t still get out and run on the trails and fells. A reasonable head torch will give you enough light to carry on running through the winter months. What’s more night running is exciting, your senses are more alert to sights and sounds that you might not notice in the day time. A run on a clear, cold night under a full moon is a fantastic experience!

night running on technical terrain

night running fun

Buddy Up

When it’s chucking it down outside it’s easy to make an excuse for not going for a run. But if you’ve made a plan to go and your mates are waiting for you then you’re more likely to make the effort to get out and not let them down. Having a regular slot in your diary each week for a social run gets you into the habit. If it chucks it down then you’re all in it together rather than struggling on alone. If the run finishes at a pub or cafe with a cosy fire you’ll soon forget how grim the weather is!

singing in the rain?

singing in the rain?

Find New Routes

My favourite runs are out on the Peak District fells. However when the weather’s wet and wild running there can be a real struggle so I head for more sheltered areas. Running in woodland can give you shelter even on the windiest days whilst choosing low level valley routes will also keep you out of the worst of the elements. So if the forecast is bad then check out some new, less exposed places to run, you might even find some hidden gems that you would never know about if you stuck to your usual routes.

woodland offers shelter in bad weather

woodland offers shelter in bad weather

Set a Goal

Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated to run if you don’t have a purpose. If you know that you are training towards something then you’re more likely to keep at it. So, rather than just going through the motions have a look at the race calendar for next year and pick out an early event. That way, even in the depths of winter you will be able to tell yourself that your run is preparation for the race.

set a goal

set a goal

So with a little bit of self motivation you can make it through the dark winter months, and whilst there might be plenty of dull days there will be the odd day like this to look forward to!

running under winter skies

stunning winter running

fell running guide

Run Forever – Nicky Spinks’ Double Bob Graham Round

In May 2016 Nicky Spinks made fell running history.

Whilst most people are happy to complete the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours Nicky did a “double” (doing it twice) in a time of 45 hours 30 minutes, the fastest time ever!  She beat the previous record – which had stood for over thirty five years – by more than an hour and so became only the second person to do the “double” in under 48 hours.

Nicky Spinks on the Bob Graham Round

Nicky on the Bob Graham Round

As well as her remarkable running achievements Nicky has also battled cancer and her record breaking round marked ten years since her diagnosis.

Her inspirational story is told in a film, Run Forever which premieres at the Kendal Mountain Festival this November before general release. See trailer:


fell running guide

Charlie Ramsay Round

The Charlie Ramsay Round is a running challenge in the Scottish Highlands, the aim being to cover 56 miles, 24 Munros (mountains over 3000ft) with a total of over 28,500 feet of ascent in under 24 hours.

Ramsay Round

56 miles, 24 Munros 28,500ft

Standing outside Glen Nevis Youth hostel on a sunny day in late May I was feeling a little nervous.  The plan was to tackle the “round” with my mate Ian with only limited support; a couple of people meeting us at Loch Treig (about eight and a half hours into the run) with food and supplies for the next leg, and someone at a remote point by Loch Eilde Mor another 6 hrs later, again with food and enough supplies for us to get to the finish.  We would have no support on the hill so would have to navigate ourselves and carry all our own kit.  This also meant that we would have to “manage” ourselves i.e. keep an eye on our schedule, make sure we were eating and drinking enough and motivate ourselves when the going got tough.

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery on a previous reccy

My main concern wasn’t the physical difficulties of the Ramsay Round but the fact that I’d only managed one reccy of it and had no knowledge of the route through the Grey Corries. This was going to make route finding a bit more difficult and meant that we hadn’t had chance to check out the quickest lines. I was pretty confident that we could navigate the route but we couldn’t afford to spend lots of time studying the map. Choosing a bad line would be costly.  Not having run the first section also meant that it was difficult to know what schedule to use as we had no idea how hard it felt.

Starting the Ramsay Round

and they’re off! Leaving Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (photo Masa Sakano)

We set off clockwise just after midday on Monday (our original plan for a weekend attempt had been postponed by bad weather) in warm sunshine. The forecast was for dry weather and equally importantly light winds. After 15 minutes of jog / walking up the Ben Nevis tourist path we passed a group of lads looking hot and tired who asked us “how far to the summit?” Not sure they believed our “a few hours!” reply!

Things went well for the first few hours, the rock was dry, visibility was good and navigation was straightforward. After Aonach Beag we found a good line down “Spinks’ Ridge” named after the line Nicky Spinks took on a previous round. We were slightly behind our schedule but had heard that it wasn’t a big deal to be slow on leg one and not to worry if we were 15 minutes or so down. However towards the end of the leg Ian wasn’t feeling too good and by Loch Treig we were over half an hour down. Helen and Pawel our 2 support crew were sheltering on the dam wall from the un-forecast rain shower (thankfully the midges hadn’t yet emerged) with our supplies and we were soon wolfing down some real food.

pit stop at Fersit

pit stop at Loch Treig (photo Pawel Cymbalista)

Ten minutes goes very quickly and no sooner was my chilli con carne scoffed than it was time to go again, picking up fresh drink, food, map and head-torch for the night leg.

We’d had the chat beforehand about splitting up if one of us was struggling and so as we headed up the lower slopes of Stob Choire Sgriodain Ian did his “Captain Oates” impression and urged me to press on. That was definitely the lowest point of the round, leaving my mate who was struggling and heading off into the gathering gloom alone. It was going to be a long night!

I hit Sgriodain on schedule and turned my torch on. The good news was that I was back on schedule for that summit and confident that I could make up lost time, the bad news was that low cloud was covering the summit and navigating to Chno Dearg was going to be tricky. I wasn’t looking forward to the next section, I had reccied it and knew it involved a rough, steep descent off Chno Dearg and an awful, steep climb through heather up on to Beinn na Lap. In daylight I had been able to pick out the lines of least resistance but it would be harder in the dark.

Coming off Beinn na Lap in the dark I was trying to run on a compass bearing but managed to get myself into some thigh deep heather with large boulders that hadn’t been there on my reccy! Thankfully it didn’t last long and I was soon on the good track leading to Loch Treig and I knew I could make up time with some fast running. I’d opted for support at the ruin at the NE end of Loch Eilde Mor which meant crossing the river (Abhainn Rath). I hadn’t reccied this bit but had marked the exact crossing point on the map based on a friend’s attempt. Once I’d successfully negotiated this I could again run quickly on a good track to the support point. I was relishing the thought of a welcome brew when my head torch flashed, warning that the battery was failing! I was still a good 10 minutes away from support, track or no track; “Please don’t fail on me now!”

Masa had cycled in from Mamore Lodge the previous evening and was waiting by the ruin in his tent with hot water and my supplies for the next leg. I struggled with my ration pack bacon and beans but the licorice tea was fantastic! I had made some time up on the previous leg despite being solo in the dark and with a grey hint of dawn in the eastern sky I knew that the worst was behind me. I’d reccied almost all of the next leg through the Mamores and as long as I kept eating and drinking I felt I could continue to make up time.

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor (photo Masa Sakano)

Refreshed and resupplied and with Masa’s spare head torch I set off on the long haul up Sgurr Eilde Mor. By the summit the torch was off and I’d whacked 9 minutes off my schedule without killing myself. With the night behind me and the sun rising into a cloud free sky I knew that I could do it. It was just going to be a long run, in lovely weather in the glorious Scottish mountains – what was not to like!

The Mamores passed without incident apart from meeting two people!  At each summit I looked ahead and identified my next target, then looked at the schedule and said to myself “No way!” The time allocated seemed impossibly short “It will take me loads longer than 35 minutes to get up there!” But it didn’t, I was knocking time off at every Munro. Feeling strong towards the end I was able to push on and when I managed to take 12 minutes off the Stob Ban split I knew that barring disaster I was home and dry.

Equipment I used:

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried on the Ramsay Round

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried

The route is a mix of different terrain: rocky, heather, track, short grass so for footwear I chose Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 which I knew would cope with everything. My feet were sore at the end and I had a couple of bruised toenails but no blisters. The only time I noticed my feet hurting was coming along the hard track and road at the end – you could possibly consider changing into something more cushioned for the last 30 minutes or so.

Running for over 23 hours with a backpack means that it needs to be comfortable! I used the Montane Jaws 10 which was big enough to fit in enough kit for a solo attempt. Mine is the older version with rigid bottles and I carried one bottle which was easy to refill from streams. The front pockets carried my compass, folded map and emergency phone whilst I adapted the pack by using an attachment from another bag to carry my Garmin Etrex GPS.

I wore a short sleeved cycling top with rear pockets to carry my food for the hill and long socks to protect my legs when in long heather (also in case I encountered any snow patches, again to protect my shins). Shorts were Ashmei 2 in 1 Merino (expensive but wonderfully comfortable!)

I chose the Petzl Nao head torch for 2 reasons; its long battery life and its reactive capability which would make map reading more comfortable (it automatically dims and so doesn’t dazzle with reflected light from the map). Unfortunately I made the mistake of selecting high power reactive rather than low power reactive which meant I only got four and a half hours from the battery rather than the anticipated 6 hrs +. Thankfully it got me through leg 2 – just!

I carried OMM Kamleika waterproofs (top & bottom) and had to wear the jacket (smock) when it started raining towards the end of leg 1. I kept this on until dawn, the deep zip allowing me to vent the smock when working hard. I wore thin gloves for the night leg and carried a buff (not worn). I carried an OMM Rotor Smock as an emergency layer as well as a long sleeved base layer (not used). Other emergency kit incluced a SOL emergency bivvy along with a small first aid kit comprising of bandage, plasters, paracetamol and 2 sheets of toilet roll – not needed! – and a mobile phone. I also took 2 spare batteries for my GPS.

I laminated sections of map, annotated with route notes and compass bearings. Having these back to back meant that I needed 5 separate maps for the whole round.

Ramsay round map

laminated map with route notes

I recorded the run on an old Garmin Etrex hand held GPS (I changed the batteries after 15 hrs) and recorded the split times on both a Garmin 910XT (which lasted about 16 hrs) and a Polar 610 sports watch (non GPS).

Food & Drink

Being unsupported on the hill meant carrying my own food and so was a balance between taking enough and being overloaded. I found on the Paddy Buckley round that I took too much and the same was true this time.  Food for the hills was a mix of Nakd bars, Aldi pressed fruit bars, Cliff Shot Bloks, assorted gels and my secret weapon: baby food in the form of Ella’s Kitchen pouches. I used Elivar Endure and Hydrate Plus powder mixed with water that I found on route and from the 2 resupply points. I ate “real food” at the resupply points: Adventure Food chilli con carne with rice and bacon and beans.  I was planning to have my favourite Bombay Bad Boy pot noodle in the middle of the night but as I was behind schedule I didn’t want to wait for it to rehydrate (it tasted good at the end though!) I had a bottle of Lucozade at Loch Treig support point and cup of licorice tea at Loch Eilde Mor. Water was plentiful on the route. I started fully hydrated and rather than carrying drink from the start I put powder in my bottle and filled it when I got to the Red Burn.

Navigation

This was by good old fashioned map and compass with pre prepared maps annotated with split times, heights of significant points, important compass bearings etc. I also had most of the summit waypoints loaded onto my GPS so that I could confirm that I was in the correct place if needed.  I only used this twice, to check that I had reached Chno Dearg in the dark and clag and to confirm the correct location for the river crossing on the night leg. There was still a bit of snow on the Ben and on a couple of north facing slopes but nothing that caused us to deviate from the planned route.

Schedule

We planned to start soon after midday going clockwise. The thought process behind this is that you’re starting having had a decent night’s sleep and have only been up for 4 hours or so (an evening or early morning start means that you’ve been up for hours already and are starting “tired”). A midday start also meant that we would run the long flat section after Beinn na Lap in the dark. Navigation on this section would be easy and the terrain conducive to fast running, lessening the need to slow down in the dark. Also psychologically dawn is a good morale boost which is more welcome after several hours of running. We were hoping for a 23.30 round looking to start on schedule and pick up time on the last leg. The chart below shows the schedule times and indicates where I was behind (red) and up (blue) on schedule.

Ramsay Round schedule

schedule with split and actual times

Lessons Learnt

The schedule wasn’t realistic. In hindsight I’d add time to leg 1 and take some off leg 3.
Know thy torch! I chose the Petzl Nao for its long battery life – having it on full power defeats the object!
I took too much kit. I could have done away with the long sleeved top and about a quarter of the food.
It is very unlikely that two people running on the same schedule will be evenly matched; one may be finding it easy whilst the other is struggling so it’s good to have a plan for that situation.

Low Point

Leaving Ian, behind schedule and setting off alone into the night.

High Point

Approaching Binnein Mor around 5am and getting back on schedule. The sun rose into a cloudless sky and a little bird was singing away. I felt then that I was going to do it.

Thanks

A big thank you to Helen Smith and Pawel Cymbalista for supporting us at Loch Treig where they waited in the rain, optimistically arriving early in case we were up on schedule! Also to Masa Sakano for cycling in to Loch Eilde Mor at night with a tent, stove and food for both of us (and for loan of his torch) and for waiting for Ian to arrive and lending him his bike to get back to Kinlochleven. Also thanks to Ian Loombe for his company on leg 1 and for encouraging me to press on when he was struggling.

Ramsay Round finish photo

back where it all began 23 hrs 18 mins later (photo Masa Sakano)

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fell running guide

Black Combe route choice

Tips for Navigating in Bad Visibility

Thick hill fog greeted runners taking part in the first English Championship fell race at Black Combe in the Lake District this weekend.

Predictably the poor visibility meant that quite a few runners went off course and missed some checkpoints. For some runners this meant a lengthy detour, adding extra climb and distance to their route to get back on course whilst for others it resulted in a DNF as they failed to visit all the checkpoints.  The attached Strava traces show some interesting route choices!

Black Combe route choice

interesting route choices!

Bad visibility is not uncommon in fell races where navigation skills are seen as a key requirement for competitors and carrying a map and compass is compulsory.  However, carrying a map & compass is one thing, using them is another and in the heat of the race it’s easy to simply play follow the leader in the hope that someone at the front of the line knows where they’re going!

So what tips are there to avoid going wrong or to get back on track if we do find ourselves going astray?

Do your homework!

Before the race spend some time looking at the map to familiarise yourself with the route and try to memorise some key aspects of the route. Look at some of the key features you would expect to see during the race. Think about what direction you will be heading and if it will be uphill or downhill. Work out the distance between each checkpoint and how long you think it might take.

Mark your map

Jot some key notes down on your map or back of your hand such as compass bearings, estimated time taken or features to look out for. (see D’s below)

make notes on the map

jot some notes on the map

key bearings written on map

key bearings written on map

Don’t follow my leader follow the D’s

Break the race down into legs between checkpoints or obvious features and think of the following:

Direction – which direction should you be running? This could be approximate eg Northeast or precise eg 38 degrees.

Distance – how far is it from one feature or checkpoint to the next?

Details – should you be running uphill, downhill or flat? Should you pass any noteable features eg streams, valleys, walls, buildings etc. Can you identify something that will tell you you’ve overshot and travelled too far?

Duration – how long should it take you to get from one feature or checkpoint to the next?

Get your compass out early.

Lots of runners seem to carry map and compass in their bumbags, only getting them out when they get lost. By then it’s too late, they are meant to stop you going wrong in the first place! Running with your compass in hand will let you have a quick glance to check that you are going the right way whereas a quick look at the map can remind you that you should be heading downhill for example.  This would have helped in the examples below.

Example 1

navigation error

example 1

The green trace shows how a runner failed to navigate between checkpoints 3 and 4. They narrowly missed 4 and continued downhill then around and back up to eventually locate it. Using the D’s how could they have avoided this?

Direction – they weren’t far off, heading roughly southeast and only missed the checkpoint by about 100 metres but didn’t see it in the fog.

Distance – the distance from checkpoint 3 to 4 is about 500 metres however visibility was less than 100 metres so they wouldn’t be able to see checkpoint 4 until very close (they obviously weren’t close enough!)

Details! – this they could have used. The map shows that after checkpoint 3 the ground drops steadily then flattens off for around 200 metres (where 4 is located) before dropping steeply again. If the runner had noticed the ground flattening they would have known not to continue steeply downhill.

Duration! – this should have been a give away. How long does it take to run 500m metres downhill? Work it out; if you can do a 10k in an hour then you can do 1k in 6 minutes (so you can do 500m in 3 minutes) As this is downhill in a race it will probably be faster than that for most runners. A quick look at the watch or a press of the lap button at checkpoint 3 and if you haven’t arrived at 4 two minutes later then it’s time to stop!

Example 2

navigation error

example 2

In example 2 the runner leaves checkpoint 3 heading southeastwards towards 4 but then swings off to do a huge anticlockwise loop, visits checkpoint 3 again! and then continues successfully to checkpoint 4. What could they have checked?

Direction! – between 3 and 4 they should have been heading southeast. At no point should they have been going northeast! Or northwest, or north anything! Alarm bells should have been ringing.

Details! – the route from 3 to 4 is downhill and then flattening out. This runner started downhill but then contoured on flat ground for almost half a kilometre (crossing two streams) which should have alerted them that they were going wrong.

To sum up.

I believe people think that you have to be very skilful to navigate in bad visibility whereas really it’s just about some basics. You don’t have to be able to identify every tiny kink in the contours, just being able to run in the right direction is a start! Remembering the four D’s will help as will getting lots of practice. Take the time to go out in bad conditions and run with map & compass in hand. Get to know how quickly you cover a kilometre and if you have a GPS watch check your trace afterwards to see where you went. Don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes, get disoriented and find yourself again. Much better to be doing it on a training run than halfway through a championship race!

Note – I’m certainly not perfect and have also fallen into the trap of following the crowd rather than checking the map.  I just don’t do it as often anymore!fell running guide

running on steep snow

Running in Snow

There is something special about running in snow.

Maybe it’s because our winters tend to be wet and windy with muddy conditions underfoot that I relish the chance to run in the snow. It brings a welcome change to the ordinary, a different challenge, a break from the routine. When snow is falling the world shrinks, visibility drops and the sky loses its form. The boundary between earth and sky blurs and the horizon disappears. With paths obscured even the most familiar of trails become alien as the landscape becomes uniform and it is difficult to judge distances.  The only colour that exists is on my clothing, the rest of the world is monochrome. Falling snow muffles sound, the only ones I hear are the ones I make; my footsteps creaking in the fresh snow, my breathing, my heartbeat on the hard uphills.

running in snow

the only colour that exists is on my clothing

After the snow comes a different challenge. The well trodden paths that I usually take become buried and there is no such thing as an easy run. I struggle to lift my feet clear of the drift, gratefully find a patch of hard snow that takes my weight and tentatively begin to run, trying to make myself light. A few metres gained and crunch, I’m up to my thighs again and the process starts over. Who needs the gym, this targets muscles that are rarely used – and it’s free!

running in snow

no such thing as an easy run

There is something rewarding about breaking a trail. Of standing there with virgin snow ahead of me and being the first person to set foot on it – being my own pioneering explorer.

And when the weather system has passed leaving its white blanket covering the landscape and high pressure brings clear skies and freezing temperatures, those are my favourite conditions. They are a complete contrast to when snow is falling, now colour returns and the sky is impossibly blue, the horizon stretches for miles and sound carries on the still air. Shapes and shadows appear where snow lies, sculpted by the wind.

running under winter skies

the horizon stretches for miles

I long for conditions like this and on those rare, precious days when they occur I head out into the depths of the Peak District. In midweek it is possible to spend a day out without seeing a soul, being more likely to encounter a mountain hare making the most of one of the few days when conditions suit its winter coat.

mountain hare tracks

shapes, shadows and the tracks of a mountain hare

All too soon the mild air returns, the snow thaws and the landscape reverts to its customary winter condition – damp and grey. But the memories remain long afterwards of those few precious winter days and my adventures of running in snow.

running on steep snow

adventure running

fell running guide

running in deep snow

10 things you need for winter fell running

Trail and Fell Running can be a bit more difficult in winter.

Short days, darkness, bad weather, snow and ice; all these could dissuade you from getting out onto your favourite summertime trails but with the right kit and a bit of preparation you can still enjoy off road running right through the winter months. Here are my 10 essential bits of winter kit that allow me to carry on fell running all year round.

Waterproof Jacket

It’s Britain, it’s winter and therefore it’s going to be wet and windy at some point.  These conditions, more so than dry cold, are the ones that can lead to hypothermia and so it is worth investing in a jacket that will protect you from the driving rain. There are plenty of decent jackets on the market from the very small and lightweight Montane Minimus and Inov-8 150 Stormshell which I use for short runs to the slightly more robust OMM Kamleika and Raidlight Stretch Shell which I choose for longer, slower runs.

waterproof running jackets

a decent waterproof is essential

Fell Running Shoes

Those lovely, dry, summer trails can turn into mud baths in the depths of winter and steep, wet, grass requires a shoe with a decent amount of grip. My winter shoe of choice is the Inov-8 Mudclaw as its aggressive sole lets me run confidently on even the boggiest ground.

Inov-8 Mudclaw grip

Inov-8 Mudclaw’s aggressive grip – ideal for winter

Head Torch

Just because it goes dark before you get home from work doesn’t mean that you can’t get out and enjoy an evening run on the trails and fells. Of course you’ll need to see where you’re going and so a head torch is vital. You don’t need to break the bank, Alpkit’s Gamma, Viper and Arc or Unilite’s HV H4 are cheap and adequate for short runs on non technical terrain. If you want to hit the high fells or mountains you’ll need something a bit brighter with a longer battery life. Torches such as the Petzl Nao, Suprabeam V4 or Hope R1 LED are more expensive, good quality torches for more serious nocturnal running adventures.

head torches for night running

head torches for night running

Warm Layer

You can stay warm even when running in the worst weather because your body produces heat as you exercise, but if you need to stop or slow down for any reason you can become cold very quickly. Carrying an extra, warm layer gives you that added bit of comfort and safety. I use the OMM Rotor Smock which is incredibly light yet offers a high warmth to weight ratio and is effective even when damp.

OMM Rotor Smock, excellent warm layer

OMM Rotor Smock – an excellent warm layer

Decent Gloves

Not only are cold hands uncomfortable they also make it hard and sometimes impossible to do simple tasks such as tying a lace, undoing a zip or opening food. Dry, toasty hands are good for morale! I like to layer my gloves starting with a cheap pair from Decathlon and adding a pair of Powerstretch wind proof gloves on top. In wet weather I use Goretex Tuff Bag Mitts over the top, these are very light and pack away to a small size.

winter running gloves

warm hands are happy hands – waterproof mitts & windproof gloves

Debris Socks / Gaiters

Don’t you hate that feeling when you run through deep snow and it gets into the gap between the top of your shoe and your foot? It then tends to compact into a lump of ice which you try to hook out with your finger, inevitably pushing it deeper into your shoe! I’ve found that wearing Inov-8 debris socks prevents this happening, they are a comfortable sock with an extra piece of fabric that folds down and attaches to the shoe to stop anything getting inside.

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

Emergency Kit

I still like to run in more remote areas even in winter in which case I’ll take a bit more emergency kit with me just in case I or anyone I’m with is forced to stop. In addition to the usual map, compass, whistle and mobile phone I carry a survival bag such as a Blizzard Bag, a torch and some spare food.

Blizzard Bag in use

Blizzard Bag in use

Rucksack

This extra, winter kit is obviously going to take up more room and so in winter I opt for a running rucksack rather than a bumbag. There are loads to choose from, I use the Montane Jaws 10 which is a very comfortable vest type pack made from water resistant material that helps keep the contents dry.

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Micro Spikes

I love getting out running on the trails in really cold conditions, even when the ground is icy.  I use Snowline SnowSpikes; stainless steel spikes attached to a rubber cradle which simply slips over your running shoe. They can be fitted in seconds and really do work, allowing you to run on hard packed snow and ice.

Snow Spikes for running on ice

Snowline SnowSpikes for running on ice

Ski Goggles

If you’ve ever been hit in the eye by a hailstone you’ll know it hurts. Even a soft, fluffy snowflake in the eye is a painful experience! If you’re running into the wind whilst it’s snowing you’ll find it almost impossible to keep your eyes open and you’ll probably end up trying to run with a hand in front of your face in an attempt to shield your eyes. I carry ski goggles if I am expecting to it to snow and these mean that I can keep running even in a heavy snow storm.

running in ski goggles

ski goggles for eye protection

So, winter’s coming but you can still get out trail and fell running – just get your kit on!

running in deep snow

bad weather? No, just challenging conditions!

fell running guide

Suunto Core vs Garmin 910XT

Using GPS Watches and Smart Phones in Mountain Marathons

Mountain Marathons are a true test of a runner’s fitness, campcraft and navigation skills.

Only those who have trained to run in mountainous terrain, practised carrying and using a minimal amount of equipment and honed their map and compass skills can hope to do well.  Mountain Marathons have traditionally been regarded as “map & compass” events with rules stating that GPS devices must not be used and runners have generally accepted this.

In the past this has not really been contentious as the term “GPS devices” meant dedicated units designed solely for the purpose of aiding navigation.

a traditional GPS device

a traditional GPS device

However, advances in technology have meant that running watches and smart phones now have GPS capability and can be used as aids to navigation, even if the user does not intend to use them as such. It is now common for runners to record their training and load the data onto programmes such as Strava and understandably a Mountain Marathoner will want to know how far they ran during the event. Whilst in all likelihood most competitors would never attempt to gain an advantage by using their watch or phone as a navigation aid, it is impossible to disprove that they haven’t and this puts the race organiser in a difficult position.

Why is a GPS watch or Smart Phone a navigation aid?

Some runners will claim that their Garmin watch or iPhone isn’t a navigation tool because it doesn’t have maps loaded onto it. Regardless of maps these devices can be used to help navigate in a number of ways, most noteably:

1 – Displaying Location:

Many modern GPS watches such as Garmin’s 910XT have the function to display a very accurate grid reference.
Imagine the situation – a competitor in poor visibility finds themselves disorientated, the lake they were expecting to appear out of the fog doesn’t do so and they realise that somehow they aren’t where they thought they were. How tempting would it be to press a couple of buttons on the watch to gain a grid reference accurate to within 1 metre!?

GPS watch showing 10 figure grid reference

GPS watch showing 10 figure grid reference

There are also several free apps that can be loaded onto smartphones that give accurate grid references even when there is no mobile signal. So even if a runner only wants to “map their run” or take photos using the phone the capability and therefore the temptation to get an accurate position fix is there.

smartphone grid reference app

smartphone grid reference app

2 – Measuring Distance:

The ability to record distance travelled is a huge navigational aid and even basic GPS enabled sports watches have this as a function.  A simple press of a button will begin recording a lap distance allowing the wearer to measure distance travelled over the ground.  Devices without inbuilt GPS but using foot pods still give the user this function.

GPS watch displaying lap distance

GPS watch displaying lap distance

Here’s a scenario:

mountain marathon map

locate control number 52

Competitors trying to locate the re-entrant at control number 52 could use the bridleway and path to the east and find where it meets the change in angle of the boundary wall or fence (the solid red line) and use this as an attack point. If they then ran on a bearing of 250 degrees for 300 metres they would be at the control.  The ability to accurately measure 300 metres over rough and in this case marshy ground gives a runner a huge advantage over someone who is trying to estimate the distance by timing or pacing.

What about altimeter watches?

The use of altitude to assist with navigation is allowed, as long as the watch or the device is not a GPS device that could also be used to give location or measure distance.  These such devices use barometric pressure rather than satellite to measure the altitude.

Suunto Core vs Garmin 910XT

barometric & GPS altimeter watches

Altimeter watches such as the Suunto Core are similar in size and appearance to more sophisticated GPS watches and it is difficult for a race organiser or fellow competitor to see at a glance if a runner is wearing a GPS watch.

What if you want to use your phone or watch in an emergency?

The policy at events where GPS is not allowed is usually to allow a competitor to place the device in a sealed bag which must be intact at kit check at the end of the race. This means that the phone or watch can be accessed in an emergency situation but if the seal remains unbroken then it is clear that the device hasn’t been used.

How to use your GPS watch as a training tool:

The great thing about GPS watches is that they make it easier to develop your navigation skills. If you have such a watch but don’t know how to use the functions mentioned above then you’ve got an expensive device that you are not making the most of!

For example if you set the pace function to minutes per kilometre you can soon get used to how quickly you run over a variety of terrain. Set the lap function and run uphill for a kilometre, then turn round and go back down noting the time taken for both laps. Run on the rough stuff, on the boggy stuff, with and without a rucksack, walk up the very steep hills and all the time keep an eye on your pace. Make a note of your pace over all the different types of terrain you encounter.

Use the GPS to measure 100 metres and count how many steps it takes to run it. Again do this both up and downhill on a variety of terrain. You’ll be surprised how this changes with only a small change in slope angle or type of terrain. Over time you’ll be able to get an idea of your paces per 100 metres and so be able to apply this to scenarios such as in the previous example.

Use the altimeter and compare your time over a certain distance on the flat with the same distance that includes a few hundred metres of climb (use metres not feet as that is what the contours are shown in on the map).

With practice you’ll get the hang of estimating distance covered and the time it takes to do so over all different sorts of terrain.

If you’re not a confident navigator (you might already be scratching your head about re entrants and attack points) or want tuition to learn further skills then it’s a good idea to book some running specific navigation training.

A solution?

It is understandable that runners want to see and analyse their track after an event but unfortunately battery life on GPS watches isn’t sufficient that they last the whole of a 2 day Mountain Marathon and so the option of turning it on before the race and leaving it running for the 2 days isn’t viable. The logistics of overseeing and allowing competitors to turn on their devices, get a satellite fix then bag them up on the start line then do the reverse at the end of the day is just too time consuming for a race organiser who will have enough on his or her plate dealing with downloads, retirements, broken or lost dibbers, emergencies, results etc etc.

Using a tracking system that collects satellite data and records the route of the competitor may be an option. This would allow runners to analyse their own (and other runners’) route choices after the event but inevitably there would be a cost involved that would be passed on through the event entry fees.

So please try to understand it from a race organiser’s point of view. They know you wouldn’t dream of gaining an unfair advantage over your fellow competitors but it has to be a level playing field. If you are allowed to carry your smartphone or wear your GPS watch there is no way of anyone knowing if you pushed that little button a couple of times when you were lost in the fog!

fell running in bad visibility

“It would be handy to know our grid reference right now!”

fell running guide

Trail and Fell Runs from Peak District Stations

The Peak District is a fantastic location for trail and fell running.

A wide network of paths link woodland trails, gritstone edges and more remote, wild, moorland terrain and offers something for everyone regardless of fitness level or experience.  But what if you want to run in this beautiful landscape yet don’t have access to a car?  Well the good news is that the Sheffield to Manchester rail line runs through the heart of the Peak District and trains call at several village stations along the way.  You can hop off the train and be running off road within seconds!

Here are four chosen routes on the Sheffield side of the Peak District.

Grindleford Station Run
Distance 14km, Height Gain 450m

trail run from Grindleford Station

trail run from Grindleford station

The route shown is for a clockwise run starting up Padley Gorge, along White Edge and finishing along Froggatt Edge.

Trail running on White Edge

frosty morning trail run on White Edge

Hathersage Station Run
Distance 16km, Height Gain 600m

trail run from Hathersage station

trail run from Hathersage station

The route shown is an anticlockwise loop taking in Padley Gorge, the Burbage valley, Stanage Edge and North Lees.

trail running in the Burbage Valley

trail running in the Burbage valley

Hope Station Run
Distance 13km, Height Gain 600m

trail run from Hope station

trail run from Hope station

The route shown is anticlockwise ascending Win Hill before descending to then tackle Lose Hill.

running up Win Hill

splendid views from Win Hill summit

Edale Station Run
Distance 17km, Height Gain 740m

fell run from Edale station

fell run from Edale station

The route shown is clockwise starting steeply up towards Mam Tor then tackling the boggy, pathless section over Brown Knoll (tricky navigation in bad weather). It then follows the southern edge of Kinder to Grindslow Knoll before a steep, technical descent off Ringing Roger back to Edale.

fell running near Kinder

high and exposed, the moorland near Grindslow Knoll

No car? No excuse! Just hop on the train and make the most of trail and fell running in the Peak District.

fell running guide

Going Downhill Fast

“How do I get better at running downhill?”

This is the question I get asked more than any other by trail and fell runners seeking to improve their running technique.

running downhill

running downhill

 

“I overtake people on the uphill only to have them fly past me again on the downhill”, “I feel out of control”, “I’m scared I’m going to fall”.  Do any of those statements sound familiar?  You’re certainly not alone if you feel that your descending skills are something that need to be worked on in order to make you a better fell or trail runner.  So what can you do in order to improve?

Some people will tell you that it’s simply a matter of disengaging the brain and letting go.  Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as that; if you haven’t got the core or leg strength to cope with the added impact forces or don’t have the neuromuscular development that allows rapid reactions and quick movements, then no amount of bravado is going to get you to the bottom of a steep, technical descent still upright and in one piece!

So is there any way of improving your descending skills?  Just like getting faster on the flat or stronger on the uphills, descending at pace and in control is something that needs to be trained.  And like most aspects of running, whilst a few people seem naturally gifted, the majority get better by hard work and regular practice.  Lots of runners make the mistake of only trying to run fast descents in races, to make improvements you should work on it in training too.  Developing an efficient technique is important so try to focus on the following:

Downhill Running Tips:

  • Don’t lean back.  Whilst it feels safer to lean back and land heel first this is inefficient.  Try to keep an upright posture or even a slight forward lean.
  • Fast, short strides – particularly on steep, technical ground.  If the angle decreases or the ground gets less technical then you can open your stride.
  • Midfoot landing.  This gives more stud to ground contact and prevents you overstriding.
  • Relaxed upper body.  Let the arms go!  They act as a counterbalance.
  • Practise on a variety of terrain.  Start on a gentle, smooth slope and work up to steeper, more technical terrain as your technique and confidence improves.

Practising downhill running

There are also other types of training that you can do to supplement the downhill run training.  Doing drills such as fast feet or ladder exercises will help develop your balance and coordination and activate those fast twitch muscles needed for a rapid stride rate. Good descenders rely on a strong core so work on this too.  Exercises such as planks, bridges, and lunges will all help, it’s not just about running.

The key to improvement is practice; you didn’t learn to ride a bike in one go and likewise it takes time to develop the various skills to improve your downhill running.  Try to incorporate downhill training into your regular runs.  This video shows how you might practise running down a short, steep hill:

So, work on your technique and you never know, it might be you flying down past others as they tentatively make their way downhill.

Fell Running Guide

Blue Skies and Skylarks

Summer is here; blue skies with high clouds, long days fade to warm evenings and trail running in the Peak District is a pleasure.

No longer is there a need to don my windproof or carry a waterproof, hat and gloves are left behind and I relish the chance to run unencumbered by rucksack or bumbag.

summer evening trail running

The ground is dryer now, the wet, peaty trails turning dusty and it’s good to finish a run with dry feet for a change.  Skipping across the dry, gritstone boulders the dry rock gives excellent traction.

trail running fun

But the thing that gives me most pleasure is running with the sights and sounds of nature. Running below Burbage rocks I hear the high pitched cheep of the Ring Ouzel whilst on open moorland I am often circled by Curlews, distinctive with their long curved bill and mournful, whistling cry.  Of all the little, brown, ground nesting birds I am fascinated by the Skylark.  I hear it long before I see it, singing away melodiously.  Today I noticed its song was particularly loud, yet it was a tiny speck, high in the sky.

So the joy of summer running; dry trails, blue skies and the sound of the Skylark, singing away high on the wing.

Fell Running Guide