Running or Playing?

I have a little playground in the Peak District that is perfect for trail running.

Trail Running

between the boulders

Some days I don’t want to train hard, I want a recovery run or an easy session. Sometimes the weather is just too good to waste!

On days like this I exercise my inner child; boulder hopping, avoiding puddles, balancing up steep rocks trying to avoid using my hands, dodging shadows and hurdling fallen trees as I run through the woods.

trail running over boulders

up..

jumping over bouulders

..up..

trail running, boulder hopping

..and away!

trail running over puddles

avoiding puddles

steep running

steep stuff

steep running on boulders

going up!

trail running through trees

shadows and tall trees

So get out there, find your playground and release your inner kid.  Trail running is fun!

Many thanks to http://www.summitfever.co.uk/ for the fantastic photos.

 

 

 

Sparkling Autumn Day

The weather forecast for the Peak District promised a “sparkling autumn day”.

And so it turned out, clear blue skies with just a hint of cumulus building on the western horizon – perfect weather for fell running.

fell running under blue skies

fell running under blue skies

I usually record my runs: distance, heart rate, average pace etc and upload the data for further analysis later.  Today however I wanted to be free from all that, untethered from technology, I simply wanted to run, to enjoy the crisp air, the warming sun and the beauty of this little part of the Peak District.

I trot across the short stretch of moor leading to Higger Tor and up the short, sharp climb to the summit – easy pace today focussing on short, fluid steps.  Then hop-scotching the gritstone and puddles I cross the plateau and drop down the well worn path to Carl Wark.

climbing Carl Wark, Higger Tor beyond

climbing Carl Wark, Higger Tor beyond

The flat summit of this once inhabited prominence is a mix of gritstone boulders, heather and sheep cropped grass and I work my way southwards, relishing the warm November sun on my face.

gritstone & grass on Carl Wark

gritstone & grass on Carl Wark

I drop steeply off Carl Wark finding a faint path, newly accessible as the bracken dies back for winter and head down to the wonderful old packhorse bridge crossing Burbage Brook.

Descending off Carl Wark

descending off Carl Wark

crossing the packhorse bridge

crossing the packhorse bridge

I love this spot and pause for a moment to take in the view, tracing the line of my descent back up to the rocky outcrop, proud against the blue autumn sky.  Refreshed, I press on upstream winding my way between the plantations and making the steep, short drop to cross the brook.  I notice the sudden drop in temperature as I enter the shade and reach the stream.

crossing Burbage brook

crossing Burbage brook

What goes down must go up and it’s time to climb back out of the valley into the sunlight and I take the rising path northwards then divert towards the isolated boulder high amidst the bracken,

climbing past the boulder

climbing past the boulder

A spot of “bracken bashing” brings me out on a vague rising path and I leave the valley behind and head back towards Higger Tor.

leaving the valley

leaving Burbage valley

A final steep few metres through the rough grass brings me out at the road where I began.

leaving Burbage valley

the final push

A sparkling autumn day, perfect for fell running in the Peak District.

What I wore:

Montane Litespeed windproof
Ashmei 2 in 1 shorts
Buff
Gloves (cheap fleece ones)
SealSkinz waterproof socks
Inov8 Race Pro 4 bumbag
Inov8 Roclite 285

Hill Reps Hurt

“I reach the crest of the steep hill oblivious to everything except the pounding in my temples and the battle between body and mind; one screaming “stop” the other willing a few more moments of effort.  Relief, when it comes is temporary; I grasp my knees, bent double and suck in great lungfuls of air waiting for the drum in my head to quieten.  A few moments later I begin jogging downhill, losing the hard won ascent, all the way down to where I began.  I glance at my watch – 15 seconds left.  All too soon it is time to turn and repeat the climb and I am once more enveloped in my own little bubble of pain.”

Hill Reps

Working hard during hill reps

I am half way through a hill rep session (In order to get good at running up hills you need to do some training which involves…. running up hills) playing mind games trying to block out the thought of another 10 minutes of hurt.

My favourite (can you have a favourite type of pain?) session involves four repetitions up an increasingly steep 750 metre hill with jog down recovery.  The aim is to be consistent, i.e. all reps should take the same time give or take a few seconds.

Details:

4 x 750m with 4 min 30 sec jog down recovery.
Splits: 4.55, 4.59, 4.59, 4.48 (I mustn’t have been working hard enough in the first three!)

Graph shows heart rate during each rep. Heart rate at the end of each climb is 97 – 99% max.  (Data collected with Garmin 910XT and uploaded onto SportTracks software.)

heart rate during hill reps

heart rate during hill reps

The bottom line? Hill reps hurt!

To join me for an off road training session please email me on;

info@fellrunningguide.co.uk

 fell running guide logo

Trail Running or Fell Running?

Trail running or fell running, what’s the difference?

When I tell people that I’m a fell runner I’m often asked what the difference is between fell running and trail running.  What is a fell? Are trail runs and fell runs actually the same thing?  Do some people do both?

Fell is a term mainly used in the Lake District to describe mountains or high moorland. Hence the sport of fell running which emerged from the old guide’s and shepherd’s races traditionally held alongside wrestling and other sports at the annual games events in rural Lakeland towns and villages.

fell running photograph

fells: hills or high land especially in Northwest England

A trail is a track or path predominantly in countryside areas and is often well signed and easy to follow.

trail running photograph

trail running

Fell running, although a minority sport, has been taking place in the UK for many years with the Fell Runners Association (FRA) set up in the 1970s to oversee the sport.  Trail running on the other hand is a relatively new sport having its roots in America and Europe and which has only emerged in the UK within the past 10 years but is showing a huge increase in popularity; the Lakeland Trails Series began in 2006 and now attracts over 10,000 runners.

The stereotypical image of the fell runner may be a stringy, bearded old man in a vest running up a rough hillside (and there may be some truth in that!) but the allure of the sport is its simplicity.

fell runners or trail runners?

stringy old men! – fell runners or trail runners?

In today’s commercial world trail running has attracted the attention of some big companies with Salomon sponsoring events in the UK and abroad and the image of a trail runner may be more compression clothing and sunglasses – a slightly more upmarket fell runner!  There is certainly more extrinsic value in winning a top trail race than a British or English championship fell race.

So fell running is harder than trail running right?

Er no!  Probably the most iconic trail run is the UTMB – The Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc which covers around 170 kilometers and over 9500 metres of ascent!  However, trail races in England mainly tend to follow valleys rather than heading for the mountains. Trail running also trends towards Ultra Distance, i.e. further than a marathon and races such as the Lakeland 100 are becoming increasingly popular.  Which is harder; a 10 mile race on remote moorland in winter with low cloud, strong wind, heavy rain and poor visibility or a 60 mile trail in the heat of mid summer?  They are different types of hard.  It could be argued that the more remote and hostile terrain of a fell race is potentially more dangerous – but harder?

winter fell running photograph

winter fell running – a different type of hard

The one big difference between  the two sports is that true fell running requires you to be able to navigate (although plenty of fell runners play follow the leader and hope that the person in front knows where they are going!)  Many fell races cross remote, open moorland often without paths and with route choice being left to the individual.  So in bad visibility map and compass skills are essential.  In trail races it is more a case of following a good path on a set route with any junctions being well marshalled and signed.

Is the definition between trail and fell running always that clear?

Definitely not!  In the FRA calendar there are probably 500 races to choose from some of which follow low level, well marked paths and which the organisers mark out so that runners can’t (shouldn’t!) get lost.  In summer, evening races may start at a local cricket ground or country pub and do a 4 or 5 mile loop around the fields and woods – certainly not fell races in the true sense of the word.  Ennerdale Trail Race however visits the remote Black Sail Hut at the eastern end of the valley, some 10km from the nearest metalled road, it is certainly more remote than many short fell races.

Some races combine both trail and fell; The Ultra Tour of the Peak District follows footpaths and trails before heading out onto more remote moorland.

Ultra Tour of the Peak District

mixed terrain; Ultra Tour of the Peak District

Others sit somewhere in between the two; The Snowdon Race climbs to 1085 metres above sea level, much higher than many fell races, but does so on a well defined track on which runners then reverse on their way down.

So are you a trail runner or a fell runner?

A bit like a meso / endo morph, probably somewhere between the two.  Some fell runners wear compression socks and fancy shades!  Some trail runners can navigate and don’t mind getting their expensive shoes muddy!  Does it really matter?  I suppose the important thing is that whatever you wear, whatever surface you run on, trail running, fell running or whatever you call it.. just enjoy it.

trail running, fell running or a bit of both? Borrowdale Fell Race

trail, fell or a bit of both? Borrowdale Fell Race

Happy trail running, I mean fell running!

fell running guide

Summer’s End

The sun sets early now on my Peak District running adventures.

The long evenings and long shadows a fading memory, the warm evenings replaced by a noticeable chill in the air.

sunset run

sunset run

All is not lost; an evening run over Stanage Edge is rewarded by the Grouse’s cackling conversation, the calls and replies carrying far in the still air.  There is no breeze, the puddles between the gritstone boulders mirror the fading light, subtle pink hues and shades of stainless grey in a high sky.

evening run

dusk reflections

The light fades quickly and I slow the pace, cautiously picking my way along the uneven path.  It will soon be time for head torch running and although I am carrying one I resist using it, straining to pick out the path in the gloom, reluctant to accept that the summer is over.

If you would like to book a guided run in the Peak District, visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk

 

It’s Not Always Hard Work

Some days I run hard.

Race training: maximum efforts, hurting, oblivious to everything except the pounding in my temples and the battle between body and mind; one screaming “stop” the other willing a few more moments of effort.  I am enveloped in my own little bubble of pain.

Thankfully I also like to run easy.  Long steady trots when I can appreciate the scenery around me, when I can stop to gaze at distant blue hills or focus in on the minute details close by.  As the seasons change so does the view and it is seldom the same even on the bleak moorland.  This summer a vast sea of cotton grass covered the moors transforming them into a shimmering silver sea.

Cotton Grass

Cotton Grass transforming the bleak moorland

The heather, turning purple under a summer sky shows different hues and closer inspection reveals subtle differences between Bell Heather, Cross Leaved Heath and Ling.

Purple Heather and Blue Skies

Purple Heather and Blue Skies

Hidden away on the moors other plants can be found; the tiny Tormentil with its four bright yellow leaves, delicate Heath Bedstraw with minute white flowers, slender pale blue Harebells, Bilberry its crimson globes beginning to form the Autumn’s bounty and Cladonia a tiny lichen fantastically named the Devil’s Matchstick.

Tiny Tormentil

Tiny Tormentil

Whilst the Grouse and Meadow Pipits are ever present some birds are less common and thus grab my attention.  The Curlew has arrived and circles me, crying.  A Skylark’s constant conversation makes me look upwards to spot a tiny hovering speck that suddenly silences and falls back to the ground, camouflaged, unseen.  The Kestrel hovering, wings working, tail twitching, head stock still seeking out its unwary prey and the Wheatear, startled into undulating flight from its ground nest, a flash of white in its tail as it goes.

I spy a lizard camouflaged on a mossy wall and stop to take a closer look at its intricate markings.  It stares back at me unflinching, unmoving save for a rapid pulsing in its neck.

Lizard Lounging

Lizard Lounging

A Peacock Butterfly flits by me as I run and settles in the path a few metres ahead.  In no rush today I slowly approach, getting close enough to inspect its delicate iridescent beauty.

Admirable Admiral

Proud Peacock

A damp path offers a rare treat, a Slow worm lies across my way.  I stop, wary at first until I see no diamond markings then creep closer and admire the shining, almost polished bronze beauty.

Slow run, Slow Worm

Slow run, Slow worm

And when the colour fades from the day I run lazily towards the sinking sun on the blazing western horizon, happy to appreciate the beauty of easy running.

Sunset Run

Sunset Run

Come Run With Me

The beauty of running in the Peak District is that the Peak District is beautiful.

15 minutes.  That’s all it takes to escape the tarmac and traffic of Sheffield for the woods, trails and hills of the National Park.

Wide open spaces, fresh air and the sounds of nature greet me as I climb from the urban bowl and leave the city behind.  Driving west I crest the Ringinglow road, passing Lady Canning’s Plantation and the Ox Stones and the vista opens before me; the beautiful Burbage Valley, the magnificent gritstone edge of Stanage and the remote, rugged, distant uplands of Kinder and Bleaklow whilst to the south the White Peak stretches away lush, green and wooded.

It is a fantastic place to run – so forget the tarmac and escape to the trails and come run with me.

Cumulus and Cotton Grass

One thing I love about fell running in the Peak District is how the scenery changes with the seasons.

The last couple of weeks has seen an explosion of Cotton Grass, turning parts of the moors into a shimmering, silver sea.

A sea of Cotton Grass

A sea of Cotton Grass

Although it is now fading, the cotton heads being blown away on the wind like huge dandelion seeds, there was still enough to provide a pretty backdrop for the recent Introduction to Fell Running course held in the Goyt Valley.

Cumulus Clouds and Cotton Grass

Cumulus Clouds and Cotton Grass

Four intrepid women wanted to improve their fell running skills and the varied terrain and hills was a great location giving lots of opportunity to practise running downhill…

Practising downhill technique

Practising downhill technique

and back up again!

Making the uphill look easy!

Making the uphill look easy!

Watching each other’s individual styles gave us chance to discuss running techniques, race strategy and fitness training; (I delivered the unwelcome news that the best way to get good at running uphill is to spend lots of time running uphill!)  Some map and compass work saw us leaving the path and heading across the moors on a bearing and tough running through the deep mix of bilberry and heather.  Smiles all round when we found the path we were aiming for.

Where's the path gone?

Where’s the path gone?

The grey cloud of the morning gradually gave way to fairer weather as we reached the valley bottom and the pretty stream but it was lunch time for the midges and so we didn’t linger!  Escaping the woods brought respite from the voracious little things and we spend some more time looking and listening as we took turns at playing “guess the runner”

Guess who it is?

Guess who it is?

The runners all had a go at estimating distance covered – a vital skill for navigating – by counting the number of paces they took.  Backing this up with map work; interpreting the contour lines and other features we ran through the Cotton Grass under high, Cumulus clouds until eventually we arrived back where we had started.

Fell Running in the Peak District

Fell Running in the Peak District

Happy runners, friendly faces, lovely scenery – another great day fell running in the Peak District.

Bring Me Sunshine

It’s late May, I should be fell running under early summer skies.

But today the wind is from the north bringing cold, squally showers and even though the Peak District should escape the unseasonable wintry flurries forecast for Scotland and Snowdonia, dry days under blue skies seem far away.

So I need a reminder of the joys of fell running, something to hope for, to look forward to in days ahead.  Days like these:

Get the Best from your GPS

Tips for using your GPS watch to help with navigation.

Whilst teaching navigation skills to runners I often notice that they wear an “all singing” GPS watch but rarely use the functions to get the most out of it.  Here are a few of the features that I use that you might want to consider.  (I use the Garmin Forerunner 305 and 910XT but the following is relevant to most GPS Devices)

  • Go Metric

The Ordnance Survey or Harvey’s map that you are using has gridlines every kilometre and contour lines showing height above sea level measured in metres (unless you’re using your Grandad’s old 1 inch to the mile map which you shouldn’t be!)  So set your watch to kilometres and metres rather than miles and feet.  If you’re a runner who likes to know your min per mile pace you can always change it back for the road but a wild, wet & windy hillside is no place to be trying to convert miles to kilometres to work out how far you’ve covered on the map.

O.S. map; distance in kilometres height in metres

O.S. map; grid squares in kilometres height in metres

  • Read the Elevation

Lots of people like to look at how much climb they’ve done on a run.  This is interesting but you can also use the elevation feature to show your current height.  This is useful for working out your position on a hillside or knowing how far is left to the top of a climb.  Again this should be metric to match the contours on the map.

  • Know Your Pace

It pays to get to know how fast you cover various different types of terrain.  I set my watch to show how long it takes me to cover a kilometre (rather than kilometres per hour)  Over time I have come to know that I cover 1 kilometre in around 5 minutes on even ground.  This is invaluable for working out how far you have covered and so pinpointing your position on the map.

  • What’s the Time

By knowing how long you have been running you should be able to make a rough calculation of how far you’ve gone, especially if you know your pace (see above)

  • Add a Lap

Your watch should have a lap function, useful for recording your 400m splits in training but also very good for navigating.  If you are leaving a known feature such as a summit or stream crossing, press the lap button, then later when you need to identify your location you will know how far past the last feature you have gone.  As long as you’ve not been running round in circles this will give you a good idea of where you are on the map. (you need to know which direction you’ve been running in for this to work!)

  • Multiple Display

Some watches allow you to display several pieces of information on the same screen rather than having to scroll through (the ungainly 305 excels here allowing 4 bits of data per screen and scrolling through 3 screens so 12 bits of info at your fingertips!)  I prefer Pace, Elevation, Lap Time and Lap Distance on my main screen with Total Time, Total Distance, Heart Rate and Average Pace on screen 2.

4 bits of data per screen

4 bits of data per screen

The picture shows that I am running at a pace of 4 mins 27 seconds per kilometre, am at an altitude of 350 metres, and am 18 mins 33 seconds and 2.37 kilometres past the point where I last pressed the lap button.

  • Be a Map Geek

Your GPS will allow you to download your run data onto map software such as Anquet or Memory Map or onto Google Earth.  I spend hours after my runs with a glass of sarsaparilla (or similar) poring over the map to see exactly where I’ve been.  The extract below shows one such adventure into the less visited parts of the Peak District.

Anquet software

Anquet software

As with any skill the key is to practise.  These tips are just a suggestion to help you improve your navigation knowledge and you should learn to navigate without relying on GPS.  Always take a map & compass; batteries run out, watches break and remember that in navigation events GPS devices are not allowed!

So dig out the instruction manual to your fancy GPS, (spend half the day learning to reset it!)  get a map & compass, then get out, practise and explore – you’ve got nothing to lose but yourself!

For more information on navigation training visit:
http://fellrunningguide.co.uk/navigation-training/

fell running guide