Trail Running at Night

Trail running at night – don’t be afraid!

I’m alert, senses heightened to the sounds and smells around me: an owl hoots away to my left, I notice the musky scent of fox and the damp, earthy smell of the newly fallen, autumn leaves.  Emerging from the trees my eyes are drawn to the faint afterglow of sunset just visible on the western horizon whilst away to the east the moon, big and bright is rising from behind the hill into a small, thin patch of wispy cloud.  This is night running!

the remains of the day on the western horizon

the remains of the day on the western horizon

A small group of us are making the most of the darker evenings, just because it’s dark doesn’t mean you can’t run off road!  Before the moon has chance to rise we turn our head torches off and look up.  Almost all of the day’s cloud has dispersed and as we adjust to the darkness stars come out before our eyes.  We take a few moments to share our knowledge of the various constellations before turning the torches back on and continuing on our nocturnal adventure.

Back into the woods and several pairs of bright, pinpoints of light appear before us – we are being watched!  But we have bravery in numbers and as we get closer the sheep look at us with curiosity as if to wonder what we are doing out after dark.

head torch running

headtorch running

Dropping down to the stream we notice the temperature change, our breath steams and a thin mist is just beginning to form in the colder air.  Our ears deceive us, the stream sounds like a torrent when in fact it is barely shin deep.   We don’t talk, the sounds of nature are enough: the stream, the snap of a twig underfoot, our breathing and our footfalls on the soft earth.

Climbing back up to the moor we snake our way along the ancient hollow-way, cut out hundreds of years ago when men toiled to make a living from this land.  As we emerge we turn around and see the moon again, risen now and casting its silvery light on the landscape.trail running in moonlight

We head back to the road, to our cars, to our homes, but we will return to the wonderful landscape and to the magic of trail running at night.

Fancy a night time trail run? Check out the dates of my next guided runs: http://fellrunningguide.co.uk/courses

Spectacular Snowdonia

This year I’ve been lucky to experience some spectacular mountain running days in Snowdonia.

Time spent preparing for, supporting others on and completing the Paddy Buckley Round meant lots of trips to North Wales and fortunately some stunning days out in the hills.

These images are what inspire me to go mountain running:

2014-03-07 13.17.55 2014-03-07 15.17.55 2014-04-11 11.56.23 2014-04-15 11.00.59 Siabodleg5 #32014-07-11 20.37.54 2014-07-11 20.56.12 2014-07-11 20.56.21 night leg

This video shows a magical summer evening view I experienced whilst running:

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Paddy Buckley Round

The Paddy Buckley Round covers 61 miles and ascends around 28,000ft as it crosses 47 peaks of North Wales.

Moel Siabod leg in beautiful weather

Moel Siabod leg in beautiful weather

As well as the obvious investment of time spent training to get fit for the challenge it also requires a large amount of planning in terms of route choice, (it can be started anywhere unlike the Bob Graham Round which always begins in Keswick) equipment, food and support crew.

Planning the route:

The Paddy Buckley can be broken into 5 main legs, each finishing at road crossings where support can be accessed. I chose to run on a 23.30 hr schedule starting at 11am from Capel Curig, the idea being to get the longest and arguably most complex navigation leg over whilst I was fresh.  The 11am start meant that if I was on schedule I would be into the Snowdon leg as it went dark and would see dawn as I approached the Glyders.

Getting to know the route is important and so I made a number of visits to Wales paying particular attention to the section between Moel Siabod and the Moelwyns which features a number of knolls that have to be visited.  This part of the route is also particularly boggy and knowing the least wet line can save time and energy.  I also carefully reccied the Elidir’s section including the line to Mynydd Perfedd as I knew I would be running this in the dark.

I also chose to have support at the old quarries at Croesor where friends would walk in with more water and a little food.

Planning the kit:

kit for Paddy Buckley Round

do I really need all this?

One thing I found really difficult was deciding what kit to take: bottle or bladder? bumbag or back-pack? waterproof or windproof or both?  The weather is obviously an important factor and so with a hot, dry forecast I opted for an Inov-8 race pac4 with a 1 litre bladder that I would refill at the end of each leg.  I carried a Montane Minimus waterproof smock and Featherlite windproof bottoms.  I also had a dry bag containing my emergency kit consisting of OMM Rotor Smock, hat and gloves plus spare torch batteries, plasters, bog roll and paracetamol (thankfully the bag remained unopened!).  For the last couple of legs I swapped the sack for a small Inov-8 bumbag.

hot sun and steep hills

hot sun and steep hills – race pac and bladder

I wore a light coloured buff for sun protection rather than warmth and a new pair of wool socks.  Shorts were Mammut MTR 141 whilst my top was a short sleeved cycling shirt which I use for longer distances as the rear pockets allow easy access to gels, map compass etc.  I also carried a long sleeved top to put on if it got cold (I put this on at the start of the night leg).  For footwear I chose my trusty Inov-8 Roclite 285 shoes and had a pair of Inov-8 X Talon 212 in the support vehicle as back up just in case.  The leg over the Glyders has a couple of sections of loose scree so at the start of this leg I changed socks, putting on Inov-8 debris socks.  These worked well, it’s just a shame that the leg starts by crossing wet ground to the comfort of dry socks only lasted a few minutes!

For the night legs I used a Silva Cross Trail II kindly loaned by Matt at Lumenator.  I used the torch on medium power with just a couple of bursts on full power for route spotting.  The 3xAA batteries in the external pack easily lasted the 5 or so hours of darkness.  I also wore an Alpkit Gamma torch around my waist, angled down to shine just in front of me.  I find this helps maintain some depth perception and was really useful over the rocky ground after Crib y Ddysgyl and on Elidir Fawr.

on leg 4 in the dark

on leg 4 in the dark

I made laminated maps of each leg with split times and any important route notes annotated on to them.  I used the Paddy Buckley 1:40,000 for general planning but used a 1:25,000 scale on the actual day (for me particularly important for trying to map read at night or with rain on the map).

Planning the food:

I was pretty clear about the food that I would eat whilst running: a mix of gels (SIS and Mule), Clif Shot Bloks, baby food pouches (Ella’s kitchen) and Nakd bars.  This was washed down with High 5 Zero electrolyte.  What I wasn’t so sure of was what to eat at the support points.  I managed a couple of bananas but also knew I would want something savoury to counteract the sweet stuff so I opted for tuna sandwiches, boiled potatoes with salt & butter, Bombay Bad Boy spicy pot noodle and spicy rice crackers.  I also had a few cups of licorice tea.

support point Paddy Buckley

Bombay Bad Boy!

I found the sandwiches were a mistake, I simply couldn’t chew the bread and ended up just eating the tuna.  The potatoes were fine and the pot noodles were brilliant with the hot sauce being really welcome after hours of sweet tasting food.  I decanted the tea into a bottle to take with me and swigged it with the rice crackers as it cooled.

The schedule:

I worked on a 23.30 schedule factoring in 10 minute breaks on each leg.  The schedule and split times can be seen here Splits.  (the last 3 spits are estimated as my watch ran out of memory)

How did it go?

The weather on the day was hot and sunny giving the advantage of excellent visibility but adding to the risk of dehydration and hyperthermia.  The night leg was partly cloudy with a little hill fog over the Glyders at dawn but on the whole giving no problems with navigation.  Even overnight the temperature was mild and the sky never seemed to get fully dark, the distant hills always a faint silhouette.

starting the night leg

starting the night leg

I made one glaring error coming off the Glyders and descending the wrong gulley which cost me half an hour and a lot of stress!  Apologies to my supporter Mike who was even more stressed – an introduction to down climbing wasn’t on the agenda when he agreed to help out!  I also lost time on the last leg, coming off the very last hill where I lost the path and ended up in deep heather, not having reccied this section.

I completed the round in 23.05, twenty five minutes up on schedule.

Lessons learnt:

Route finding on a recce when you are fresh is totally different to doing so when you’ve been on the go for 18 hours.  Don’t assume you know it.
Recce as much as you can and in different weather conditions.  The only section I hadn’t checked properly cost me time.
Stay hydrated.  Using a bladder meant that I drank little and often which seemed to work, particularly in the heat of the day.  I chose an electrolyte drink rather than electro / carb mix and this seemed to work fine.
Keep eating, even if you’re not hungry.  Towards the end of the run I used Clif Shot Bloks in the side of my mouth, letting them dissolve rather than having to chew and swallow. Take a spare map: mine fell out of my pocket on leg 1 but thankfully we had a spare.

Thanks:

I had a great time on the round, helped mainly by excellent (if a little too hot) weather conditions.  It would not have been possible without the support of friends so thanks to Ian L, Tim, Ian F, Jules, Mike, Neil, and particularly Lynn and Darrell who drove lots of miles and met me at every support point.
Thanks to Ian F, Mike and Tim for the photos.

23 hours later!

23 hours later!

Fell Running in the Peak District

There are lots of reasons why the Peak District is a great location for fell and trail running.

First of all there’s the scenery; from rough open moorlands to pretty limestone dales, each with their own flora and fauna and the stark contrast between the gritstone and limestone landscapes.  Then the variety; tough, steep hill climbs or flat routes around pretty reservoirs or along valley bottoms.  For the competitive runner there are beginner friendly summer races and tough, long, testing challenges.  And all of this is easily accessible from the major road and rail networks.

trail running in the Peak District

fantastic Peak District scenery

If you’d like more information or would like to arrange a guided run, contact me:
info@fellrunningguide.co.uk

Have you tried fell and trail running in the Peak District yet?


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Blue Sky and Birdsong

One of my favourite times for fell running is early in the morning.

On the short drive out to the Peak District, passing cars heading in the other direction I reminded myself how lucky I am to be going for a run when the rest of the world is heading for the office!

Today the skies were blue and although the sun was up it had yet to warm the air and the chill breeze meant that a windproof was needed.  As I was getting changed the distinctive call of a curlew drew my attention and I saw a pair of birds on the moor close to the road.  I love easy runs when I can focus on the natural sights and sounds around me, nature is my earphones!

My run took me along the edge of steep ground with a fantastic view of the Hope Valley.

Running above the Hope Valley

running above the Hope Valley

Crossing the minor road I climbed Higger Tor and crossed its flat summit before dropping off the south side.  Easy running and a few short, steep steps brought me onto the old fort of Carl’s Wark, another flat top with a jumble of gritstone boulders on its southern flank giving way to easier running on a grass, heather and bilberry slope.

skipping over the boulders

skipping over the boulders

I headed downhill aiming to cross the pretty Burbage Brook by means of a hop over the rocks.

crossing Burbage Brook

crossing Burbage Brook

Warmer now I stopped to take off my jacket and spent a couple of moments soaking in the atmosphere: the warm sun, the burbling of the stream and the sound of a cuckoo in the woods to the north.  How wonderful fell running can be!

Setting off again I climbed gradually up to the wide trail that bisects the valley and turned north towards the cuckoo.  The trail gives fantastic views with natural and quarried gritstone edges to the east whilst to the west there is the forest and brook with Carl’s Wark and Higger Tor standing proud beyond.

running below Carl's Wark and Higger Tor

running below Carl’s Wark and Higger Tor

As I neared the head of the valley, from the rocks to my right I heard a different, rarer sound: the high pitched cheep of a Ring Ouzel.  This small, blackbird like migrating bird visits the Peak District crags in summer to breed before heading back to warmer climes in winter.

Leaving the thrush to it’s territorial feud I approached the end of the trail and below Burbage Bridge I crossed the stream again, swinging back towards Higger Tor.

running below Burbage Bridge

crossing the brook below Burbage Bridge

Almost finished, as I approached the car I again noticed the curlews.  I must have been closer to their ground nest this time as they were much more vocal in their calls.  One bird flew noisy circles around me before landing only a few feet away in a determined effort to distract me from its precious home.

Curlew

Curlew

Run finished, and not yet 9.00am.  A morning of blue sky and birdsong and I’m again reminded of how fantastic trail running and fell running in the Peak District can be.

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Spring Feast

Fell Running is fun again!

After an interminably wet winter it seems that Spring has arrived.  Three consecutive days of blue skies and distant horizons has made running in the hills a pleasure once again and left me hungry for more.

mountain running under blue skies

mountain running under blue skies

Like a starving man at a banquet I have gorged on the season’s new promise, feasting on the mountains of Snowdonia under crystal skies.

Edale Skyline run

sun on my face

The Edale Skyline, relishing now the challenge of its energy sapping peat and delighting in the views across Kinder.

enjoying spring running

enjoying spring running

And closer to home the trails of Burbage and the splendid vista westwards towards Win Hill and Mam Tor.

And today as I ran away from Stanage Edge, warmed for once by sun rather than exertion, the sweetest dessert – the cry of a Curlew – surely a sign that the long, wet winter is behind us.

I’m Running Up That (Win) Hill

One of my favourite runs in the Peak District is the trail run from Ladybower Reservoir to the top of Win Hill.

It rises 280 metres in just over 3km on good terrain.  It is never too steep to force you to walk and so is a great training run.  The views from the summit are probably the best in the Peak District and from the top you can carry on westwards to Kinder, drop south west towards Hope to climb its twin; Lose Hill or even retrace your steps and add another couple of hill reps!

Trail run route up Win Hill

the trail running route up Win Hill

Come with me on a video tour and see one example of what makes the Peak District such a fantastic location for trail running.

Frosty Burbage Run

Sometimes the weather doesn’t inspire me to go running at all.  But today was different.

We’ve had more than our fair share of wet and wind this winter.  Running under dull grey skies, head down vainly trying to avoid the rain and finishing each run cold, soggy, caked in mud. So today it was great to wake up to a clear, frosty morning, the sort of day that makes fell running a joy!

I headed off to my favourite playground hoping to be inspired by the beautiful Peak District scenery.  I wasn’t disappointed:

A Year of Trail and Fell Running

Another year of trail running and fell running and some great memories.

January gave some cold, crisp, blue sky winter days, probably my favourite running conditions.

the joy of winter running

my favourite running conditions

In February I organised a “navigation for fell runners” course.  It was great to meet new people and pass on skills to help them gain confidence for more remote runs and races.

navigation for fell runners

navigation for fell runners

March saw winter return with a vengeance, instead of spring sunshine it was deep drifts – exciting running adventures!

deep drifts

interesting running!

The snow stayed into April on the high moors.  Where some people see bad weather, others see perfect conditions for practising navigation!

fantastic weather - for practising navigation!

fantastic weather – for practising navigation!

In May I led a recce for runners who had entered the Dig Deep races including the Ultra Tour of the Peak District.  When they did this section in the race they would be 55 miles in!

race familiarisation run

race familiarisation run

June, summer.  Not the month you’d expect me to be testing a new waterproof!  The Montane Minimus coped well with the horizontal hailstones, my legs not so well!

Montane Minimus Smock

Ouch –  me legs!

July, the Ultra Tour of the Peak District sponsored by Mammut, and here he is!  Well done to all runners who undertook such a tough event on a scorching day.

Mammut, Ultra Tour of the Peak District

The Mammut behind the UTPD

August, and much to the amusement of my friends a familiar face is seen on the cover of Trail Running magazine.  A beautiful landscape shot spoiled!

Trail Runner Mag

cover star

In September the sun shone as I trained on the hills of the Peak District.  I never tire of the fantastic views from my playground.

Hill Reps in the Peak District

hill reps in the Peak District

October and more blue skies.  Seen in green testing Mammut’s trail running range, available at Outside, Hathersage.

Mammut trail running kit

going green with Mammut

November, and still the sun shone.  Chill, crisp autumn days and enjoyable running.

autumn running

crisp autumn sunshine

Finally December and before the storms we had more blue skies.  I was found enjoying a photo shoot with the excellent Summit Fever Photography  here capturing my favourite Inov-8 Roclites in action.

Inov-8 Roclites

getting to grips with gritstone

So that was the year.  Thank you to those who have helped including;

Inov-8 (Roclites and Mudclaws have been my shoes of choice throughout the year) Montane, Mammut and LED Lenser.  Also to Summit Fever for their brilliant photographs and video clips.

Finally thanks to everyone who has used Fell Running Guide this year, for coaching, navigation training, race preparation and guided running.  Hope to see you again next year.

Best wishes, Dave

coaching for trail and fell runners

 

Motivation for Winter Running

It’s cold, wet and windy and dark by 4pm. Doesn’t particularly inspire you to go fell and trail running does it!

But what’s the alternative:  Sitting at home watching telly with that nagging, guilty feeling that you haven’t been training?  Or paying for a gym membership to run on the DREADmill? (set on an incline so you can pretend you’re running up the Ben!)

So what can we do to help motivate us to get out the door?  Here’s what helps me:

Get kitted out.  You’ve heard people say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing?  Well they’re wrong! there’s some particularly grim weather, usually found on a bleak hillside miles from where you left the car!

Being cold and wet equals miserable at best and in danger at worst.  Yes fell running is a cheap sport requiring minimal kit but it’s best enjoyed in the knowledge that your waterproof jacket will stand up to the rigours of the horizontal rain.  Get the best waterproofs you can afford, (if that means economising by buying cheaper base layers, socks, underpants, going hungry, no Christmas presents for the kids etc then so be it!)  After running shoes it is the thing I would spend most money on.  I have 3 decent running waterproof jackets; an OMM Kamleika smock, an Inov-8 Race Elite Stormshell and a Montane Minimus smock, all of which I recommend.

Montane Minimus smock

Minimus in a hail storm – a day when I wish I’d worn my leggings!

I rarely wear more than a long sleeved base layer under my outer layer which is fine whilst you’re moving and generating heat.  However if you need to stop for any reason you’ll soon get cold so I carry an extra layer.  My favourite is my OMM Rotor Smock which, made from primaloft offers excellent insulation for its weight.

OMM Rotor smock

OMM Rotor smock

I hate cold feet.  You know those first couple of minutes when you set off for a run and try to avoid all the puddles in a vain attempt to keep your feet dry.  You know full well that they’ll soon be wet but you try anyway!  I find that wet doesn’t need to mean cold.  I use SealSkinz socks which claim to be waterproof but in my experience only remain so for a handful of runs after which they allow in some water so don’t keep your feet completely dry – more moist yet warm.  They are quite expensive but what price warm feet?  Thin racing socks are a definite no no!

Likewise cold hands, I remember a long winter race when I couldn’t grip the zipper on my bumbag to get to a gel, my hands were that cold.  I’ve since learnt that a cheap pair of fleece gloves under a thin windproof pair works quite well.  On really wet days I wear Tuff Bag mittens over the top which are great for warmth but not so for dexterity so map and compass work, opening food etc. becomes tricky.  Also they don’t mix well with rough gritstone so no hands on rock scrambling adventures if you want them to last.

I’m not too fond of a cold head either so any form of hat is a must but nothing too bulky in case you want to take it off and stuff it in a pocket.  In dry cold weather I go for a Buff with a second one around my neck that can be pulled up over my nose and mouth to make a balaclava.  I also have a windproof beanie which I wear in wet weather.  It doesn’t keep my head dry but I can live with that.  I don’t like running with a hood up so would only use my jacket hood in the worst rain.

Although I carry waterproof bottoms for emergencies I rarely wear them on the run. What I do swear by are my Lowe Alpine Powerstretch leggings – which even when wet are comfortably warm. They can sometimes be too warm so if it’s not too cold then a pair of close fitting tights will do.  I have some cheap Decathlon ones plus some Ron Hills (not the old school blue ones with red stripes!)  Anything that doesn’t absorb water will do.

In summer I run with a bumbag but winter running requires more kit so I prefer a rucksack.  This allows me to take the extra clothing I need plus extra food and some bits of emergency kit (see here).  I use an Inov-8 Race Pro as I find rucksacks with zip pockets that can be reached whilst on the move are best as they allow quick access to food, map, compass etc.

Don’t be put off by snow.  Most of our winters are wet and windy but in recent years we’ve had snow.  This puts some people off running as they see it as dangerous.  I see it as a chance for adventure!

deep drifts

adventure running

Get a grip.  For me there is only one shoe for winter conditions.  From boggy ground to deep snow, it has to be the Inov-8 Mudclaw.

Inov-8 Mudclaws

Mudclaws – must haves for winter fell running

MicroSpikes give a reassuring grip on ice and compacted snow and can be slipped over your trainers in seconds and are easily carried if not in use.  Get a pair of these and you’ll be longing to get out in the snow like you did when you were a kid!

running with MicroSpikes

getting to grips with winter running

Running in falling snow or hail is the hardest thing to deal with as you instinctively close your eyes to protect your eyeballs (lovely soft snowflakes actually really, really hurt if you get them in your eyes!)  I use ski goggles to prevent this.

winter kit needed

eye protection

Embrace the night. The long summer evenings are a fading memory but there’s no reason not to continue running at night.  Night time fell runs are an adventure so persuade your mates that it is a good idea and head out to the trails and fells.  You needn’t go far, even a run through the local park or woods adds a bit of variety and a new challenge.  Choose somewhere you are familiar with at first as it is very easy to become disorientated in the dark.

head torch running

head torch running

The first time you see sheep’s eyes staring back at you or you startle a sleeping grouse can be a shock but you do get used to it. (Actually I haven’t yet got used to stepping on grouse but I’m ok with the reflecting eyes!) So you’ll need a decent head torch and there are plenty to choose from nowadays.  You can spend a fortune on programmable, reactive light models like the Petzl Nao but that’s probably overkill unless you’re doing some seriously remote running and need long battery life.  You don’t need to light up the whole hillside with hundreds of lumens unless you’re in Mountain Rescue!  My LED Lenser H7R does a great job and is USB rechargeable so I can always set out with it fully charged.   Be aware that some modern torches don’t get gradually dimmer – they simply turn off when the batteries get low, something I found out to my cost!  So remember to take spare batteries and unless you can find them in your pack, take the old ones out and put the new ones in all in pitch darkness with cold hands and in a howling gale you’ll need an emergency light or a partner with a torch.

Strength in numbers. Unless you’re very experienced it might be best to do your remote winter running with a partner or group. Make an arrangement with some mates to go for a run and stick to it – whatever the weather!  It’s easy to decide against it if it’s just you but you’ll be more likely to run if you feel you are letting the side down.  Get a gang together and share the love (of the rain) Having a few of you together is also safer should something go wrong.

stay safe!

share the fun and stay safe!

Time for a quickie.  Even the hardiest of runners will not relish going outdoors when it’s dark and lashing it down.  It’s here that you need to be flexible with your training. If you’ve planned for a long run and the weather’s awful, go for a quick one instead.  A quick 20 minute tempo run will have a good training effect and keep you warmer than a steady plod.

So let’s face it winter’s here and there’s nothing we can do about it, but there are things we can do to make fell and trail running more appealing.  So stick with it this winter, you never know we might even have a few days like this:

the joy of winter running

the joy of winter running

Happy Running!

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