Testing Conditions on Helvellyn

The Helvellyn Triathlon run route is tough at the best of times.

Add strong winds, low cloud, heavy rain, sleet and patches of lying snow and you’re in for a real challenge.

Tough conditions on Helvellyn

Tough conditions on Helvellyn

Mark and Scott were booked on to the triathlon in September and were keen to see what the route had in store and Mark wanted some advice and the opportunity to try out some kit.

Rain was falling as we left Gillside Farm on the steep, stepped path.  I was already wearing full waterproof cover; Kamleika smock and trousers whilst Mark chose inov8 Mistlite trousers and an old goretex top, saving his Raceshell waterproofs for later.  Mark opted to try a rucksack rather than bumbag and used the inov8 Race Pac 4 whilst I used the larger Race Pro 12 to carry some emergency kit.  Scott chose the bumbag option with an Osprey Talon although didn’t include water bottles as there was more chance of drowning than dehydrating!

taking in the view of Ullswater

Taking in the view of Ullswater

Conditions worsened as we ascended Birkhouse Moor with the wind picking up and the rain turning to sleet and so the stop to admire the view of Ullswater was a brief one.  Although it was the last week of April the long winter had get to relinquish its icy hold and Red Tarn still had a covering of ice.

An icy Red Tarn

An icy Red Tarn

The route is firm and rocky underfoot and both Mark and I wore inov8 Roclites; 315 and 285 respectively which performed well both up and down.  Scott wore Newton Momentum trail shoes, an American brand I hadn’t come across they brightened up the day!

We ascended Swirral Edge into the cloud and thankfully gained some respite, sheltered from the wind although wet snow was now falling.  High on the edge a large patch of compacted snow forced a slight detour requiring an exciting bit of hands on rock scrambling.

Scrambling on Swirral Edge

Scrambling on Swirral Edge

As we emerged onto the summit we left the lee and were met by strong, gusting winds. This was no place to linger so turning Northwest we made haste towards Lower Man. Visibility was around 50 metres and I was conscious not to miss the path to White Side, easily done in these conditions.

Knowing that there is a “sting in the tail” with the climb of White Side is important for race preparation and Mark and Scott were glad to see it if not glad to have to run up it!

Descending White Side

Descending White Side

Running off White Side we swung East and used the zig zags to practise downhill running; important to try to flow rather than put on the brakes and use up valuable energy – the legs are going to be tired by this point on race day.

Dropping to the Youth Hostel the wind eased although the rain continued to fall heavily as we discussed race nutrition; gels, energy bars and sweets and Mark told me his recipe for making Spirulina palatable!  Safe now, we scoffed my emergency Jaffa Cakes as we trotted down the track back to the farm.

Mark and Scott were happy with the outing, it’s given them a chance to test the kit they need and now know what the route has in store.  It was a grotty day but it’s sometimes more rewarding to put yourself through testing conditions and it gives you an idea of how hostile the mountains can be.

A quote from Mark “Was brilliant today Dave – thanks so much for safe and expert guidance and advice. Looking forward to the triathlon even more now.”

If you are considering running the Helvellyn Triathlon and would like a guided run prior to the race, contact me.  Next recce date;

 http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/events2/helvellyn-triathlon-training/

 

Spring, Sun and Snow

Fell Running in the Peak District has been difficult of late.

But this weekend Spring showed her long awaited face and warmth returned.  Blue skies, sunshine and a respite from the nagging, bone chilling easterly wind that we have endured for weeks made for perfect conditions to get out onto the hill.

Snow still lay, deep in places too and consolidated into steep banks but this enhanced the conditions adding an element of interest to the run.

My route took me along Derwent Edge, picking up the route of the Ultra Tour of the Peak District to Lost Lad, then headed off to the beautiful Abbey Brook before climbing back up to rejoin the race route and follow it towards Derwent Moor.

Consolidated Snow Drift

Consolidated Snow Drift

 Equipment I used:

Montane Featherlite Jacket
Inov-8 Roclite 285
Helly Hansen l/s merino mix base + thin polyseter T
Ron Hill leggings
Windproof beanie
Rab Powerstretch gloves
Buff
Inov-8 Race Pac 4 sack containing:
OMM Rotor Smock
Montane Featherlite trousers
Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy
Emergency phone & food

Food & Drink consumed

4 cubes of Cliff Shot Bloks
I tend not to drink except in hot conditions even on this 3+ hour run, preferring to hydrate before & after.  (I was starving & thirsty at the end though!)

Video
Hopefully this will give you a feel for the stunning scenery and give you a taste of fell running in the Peak District:

Fell Runners Association Navigation Course

The Fell Runners Association holds two navigation courses every year.

The Spring course from Kettlewell YHA in the Yorkshire Dales is sometimes held in warm sunshine… but not this year – winter returned!

navigating in winter conditions

conditions on the “Spring” navigation course!

The aim of the course is to give runners more skills and confidence to enable them to navigate safely on the fells and to make their own decisions in races rather than simply following the runner in front.  It crams lots of information and practical activity into the weekend with participants split into small groups and allocated an instructor (a merry band of hand picked “experts” with vast experience of navigating, fell running and orienteering – or a bunch of old crocks who have all gone the wrong way at some time or other!)

"expert" instructors

“expert” instructors lead the way

Starting with introductions on Friday night then into a basic theory session discussing all things mappy, terms such as contours, handrails, attack points, aiming off and catching features were all added to the participants’ vocabularies.  Then it was off to the local hostelry for further getting to know each other but with a reminder that people would be “encouraged” to take part in the morning 7 am run!

Morning Run

morning run

The early morning run gave a taste of the day’s conditions with light snow starting to fall on the trot up to Hag Dyke.   Appetites whetted it was back down to the hostel for a hearty breakfast before the day’s practical activity.

The main part of the day was taken up by practical navigation on the hill with each participant being tasked to take their group to a specific location, usually an obscure point on the map, and then discussing their route choice and techniques used to get there.  It was great to see confidence growing throughout the morning as the runners learnt to accurately estimate the distance they were covering and use the features around them to make the map “come to life”

where are we?

where are we?

By mid afternoon it was time to let the students off the leash to take part in a solo, orienteering style activity putting into practice what they had learnt.  The hillside was soon dotted with runners counting their paces and following compass bearings looking for shafts, gullies and re-entrants.

gulley hunting

gulley hunting

After a long day on the hill the group were happy to get back for a shower and hot drink before tucking in to 3 courses of excellent food.

Then it was time for the much anticipated night navigation exercise!  A few rather uneasy faces looked up as they were given details of their task; to use the skills they had learnt to locate checkpoints but this time in the dark.  At least they were doing this in pairs so they had someone’s hand to hold!  The instructors headed out to take up strategic locations making sure no one went astray and could soon see a trail of head torches coming up the hillside.  This was a real test of navigation but there were plenty of major features to help re-locate if anyone went slightly wrong.

night navigation

the much anticipated night nav.

An hour later there was a real buzz in the pub as enthusiastic (or should that be relieved) runners exchanged stories of their experiences, the locals must have been wondering where all these gullies, boulders and contours were.

Was it the exertions of the previous day or the “re-hydration strategy” that lead to slightly fewer runners assembling for Sunday’s 7am run?  Those who got up had the chance to run around the night navigation course and see exactly where they went – or should have gone.

Another good breakfast was had before the FRA’s Access & Environment officer Chris Knox gave the group an insight into the role of the FRA.  Then time to prepare for the final activity; the individual 10k navigation exercise.  This took the form of a fell race with compulsory checkpoints but with the runners choosing their own route between them (although there was no pressure to race if people wanted to focus on the navigation rather than speed).

The one thing that hadn’t been anticipated was the weather as snow, strong winds and low cloud made for really testing conditions.

navigating in bad weather

testing conditions

The skills learnt allowed all participants to successfully complete the exercise and runners returned to base with a sense of achievement at what they had done.  Feedback from the group showed they had all gained confidence and achieved something they didn’t feel at all confident with when they arrived.

So a successful course and a happy gang of runners with a new set of skills ready to use in their next race.   Thanks must go to the staff at Kettlewell YHA, the instructors who give their time for free, Steve Batley for organising the course (again), Margaret and Jenny for their hard work behind the scenes to ensure the administration runs smoothly and finally the enthusiastic participants who make working on the event so rewarding.

The Autumn course is at Elterwater, September 27 – 29.  See you there.

 

Navigating when it’s Grim

Teaching navigation skills in bad weather is a good thing…

…and the last week has been particularly “grim”.  Cold, windy days with the Peak District hills hidden away under a heavy blanket of low cloud.  Normally, running in these conditions isn’t particularly pleasant, but the bad weather happened to coincide with two navigation sessions I was delivering and so provided a real test of the runners’ map and compass skills.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you can navigate when you’re warm; when you can relax your grip on the map without fear of it being whipped from your hand to disappear into the distance; when your bare hands can turn the compass dial unencumbered by thick gloves; when your eyes don’t stream from the fierce wind and blowing sleet; when you can feel your fingers, toes and nose and when the sun casts shadows on the distant hills.
But when it’s “grim”, what then?
Navigating in “grim” weather
On Wednesday, a bitter easterly wind and hill fog greeted us as we climbed onto the moor from Ladybower reservoir, leaving behind the security of the path and heading into the gloom.  
“How long do you think it will take?” I must have asked John the question a dozen times as he grappled with the numerous variables that were going to affect our speed: distance, terrain under foot, wind direction, ability to focus on recognisable features, and all whilst dealing with cold hands, running nose and steamed up glasses.  It would have been very tempting to call it a day, go back to the shop for a hot drink and look at expensive jackets, but he persisted.  A little hint here and there – “look at the contour lines” and then, BINGO! Out of the murk the tiny sheepfold we had been looking for emerged – well done! Confidence lifted, frozen feet temporarily forgotten, where next? “How long do you think it will take?”
Into the gloom
And on to Saturday, different location same weather.  The featureless Dark Peak moors can be intimidating at times and in poor weather the expression “godforsaken” springs to mind.  And so it was off into this harsh, unforgiving environment that we went, micro-navigating, looking for tiny features in the landscape.  Graeme and Lynne were familiar with the basic concepts of navigating and wanted to fine tune their skills to enable them to be more precise when locating features and thus become more confident for fell races and orienteering events.
Counting paces…60 steps…we should be there…where’s the pond?…stop…check the compass…have we drifted?…is this it?…call this a pond?!
You see that bit of heather?
And thus it continued, taking compass bearings on barely visible lumps of heather and counting paces. 
“It should be 100 metres in that direction.” 
“What does 100 metres look like?” 
“Well Usain could run it in under 10 seconds! I’d like to see him do that up here!!”
What does 100 metres look like Usain?
And again success, stream junctions emerging on cue, a change in the slope right where we expected it to be and two happy runners with more confidence in their abilities.
We like “grim” conditions, if you can navigate then, then you can navigate.

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

Winter Morning on Higger Tor

I love fell running on mornings when the air is crisp, cold and clear.

Sunrise Running
When last night’s forecast promised such conditions I decided to get up early and head out into the Peak District.  By 7.30 I was enjoying a glorious morning run.
Join me here!
 

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

Fell Running in the Peak District

The Peak District offers superb year-round running.

Crisp, spring morning sunlight, breath condensing as I run on White Edge hoping to spot the deer.  Long, blue sky summer days when I venture deep into the heart of the Dark Peak, hours exploring Bleaklow without seeing another soul.  Autumn mists and golden colours, running through Birch woodland as the seasons change.  And cold as steel winter runs, icy east winds cutting deep, moisture freezing on eyelashes.
Beautiful Peak District
Summer evening runs under salmon sunset skies then putting on headtorches and running through dusk to dark under twinkling stars.  Hard hills for training, longer steady runs along the gritstone edges, claggy days testing navigation skills over the featureless high moors.  Wild, windy days, rain lashing the van as I convince myself that getting out into the storm is a good idea, and better still watching the grey curtains of rain sweep up the Hope Valley as I sit, sipping hot tea, back in the refuge of the van having endured that storm – tired and invigorated at the same time.
Happy hours spent introducing others to the joys of this landscape, running with friends, running alone.  I never tire of this beautiful area, it has so much to offer.
A selection of my favourite images will hopefully inspire you.

 

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

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Running Blogs.

Navigationally Challenged

The only pre-requisite for attending the Navigation Training course was to successfully find the venue.

So things didn’t start well when my phone rang:… “Dave, can you tell us where to go? our Sat Nav’s taken us the wrong way!”  After 3 similar messages involving phrases such as “padlocked gate”, “dead end” and “town centre” our wayward, would be map readers finally arrived, having dispensed with satellite technology and resorted to good old verbal instructions.
The navigation course is aimed at runners who want to gain the skills and confidence to allow them to explore more remote areas and take part in fell races where navigation skills are needed.  Our runners had travelled from far and wide, not quite an Englishman an Irishman and a Scotchman but a handful of Lancastrians, some Geordie ladies and a Scotchman!
Introductions over we began by looking at common map symbols – many a puzzled navigator has looked in vain for a path when the symbol they were following was actually for a Parish Boundary, a political concept rather than a feature on the ground!
Then it was outside where the participants were challenged to draw their own maps and direct each other to precise locations on it.
Draw your own map
Once the basics had been grasped it was time to introduce compass skills and pretty soon we had everyone “setting the map” and “walking on a bearing”.  It was really rewarding to see the light bulbs coming on as the group members realised that the “pointy thing that points north” was actually a useful navigational device and that following it was quite straightforward.
Setting the map
After the recent bad weather we were blessed with a bright but cold day so it was good to get a warming brew before the next task; understanding contour lines.  For some people who are new to map reading those squiggly brown lines are quite confusing but being able to interpret contour features is a fundamental map reading skill.  Being able to plan your walk or run by looking at the contours will help you avoid nasty surprises such as having a mountain to climb to get to your destination!  To help our runners gain an understanding it was back to school and out came the Playdough! Each group was given a picture of some contour lines and challenged to make their own hillside.  A number of different shapes emerged as we discussed re-entrants, spurs, cliffs and cols.  The participants were all very mature and resisted the temptation to make elephants and aeroplanes!
Making a mountain out of a.. box of playdough
Is it a submarine? No it’s a hill with 3 summits!
Once the theory had been covered it was time for the bit that everyone had been waiting for – navigation practice on the moor.  Working in small groups, each with an instructor our runners took to the adjacent hillside and were challenged to navigate to specific locations using their recently acquired skills and knowledge.  Interesting discussions ensued over which was the best line to take – was it best to go direct over the rough moorland or better to “handrail” along the wall until the checkpoint was reached?
Putting theory into practice
The rough moorland and occasional remaining bank of snow made for “interesting” running with a few disappearing up to your knee moments!  However the runners happily dealt with the rough terrain and all too soon it was time to head back to the centre for a working lunch; preparing for the navigation race!
Working with an orienteering map our group had to plan how many checkpoints they thought they could visit in 45 minutes and plan their route accordingly.  We had added an element of competition for those who wanted to race but the main emphasis was on them working at their own pace and following their own chosen route.  But there were a few apprehensive looks when they were told that they would be setting off at 1 minute intervals.. on their own!  The biggest temptation in a fell race is to follow the person in front and there are countless tales of people doing just that only to ruefully admit afterwards that the person they were following hadn’t got a clue where they were going!  So one thing that we hope the navigation course will help runners with is to develop independence and the skills to make their own decisions rather than relying on others.
So off they went, onto a different bit of hillside, alone, frightened, vulnerable, naked ….well not quite but you get the picture! Would we ever see them again?
An hour later all runners were back at the centre, all smiles, buzzing from their experience as I listened to them discussing their particular route choices and explaining how they had “hand-railed the fence”, “dropped down the contours” and “taken a bearing”. They were even happy to share their mistakes explaining how they had misjudged the distance, run too far or not set the map.  Everyone agreed that the exercise had developed their confidence and wasn’t as intimidating as they had thought it would be.
A final classroom exercise on grid references before the debrief revealed that everyone had enjoyed the day, learnt some valuable skills and was more confident to enter a fell race, orienteering event or just get out running and explore less familiar areas.
So all in all a very enjoyable navigation course with a great group of enthusiastic runners.  I just hope their Sat Navs work on the way home!
Compass says this way

If you would like to book a place on a navigation course, visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk

Thought for Food

What is the best thing for a runner to eat during a long run?

Good question, and one to which there is no best answer.  However there are certain things that work for me and I’m happy to share my thoughts.
The basic science is that Carbohydrate is the body’s main fuel source for hard exercise.  This is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, however the body has only got enough stores to last for about 90 minutes of hard exercise.  So if your race or hard training run is going to take more than an hour and a half you are going to need to refill the tank as it were by eating carbohydrate rich food.  But with lots of choice of gels, energy bars and other food sources it can be hard to know what to use.
Fell Runners Favourite!
A lot of fell runners I know swear by jelly babies!  They are easy to chew / swallow and have a high carbohydrate content.  Whilst I have used them I find them too sweet and I prefer other types of jelly sweet. My current favourites are Tesco Cherry & Pomegranate Gummies.  These are more chewy but much less sickly than Jelly Babies whilst still having a high carbohydrate content.  I tend to look for sweets that contain fruit juice rather than just sugar such as the Gummies and Rowntrees Fruit Bottles.
Runners’ Fuel

There are also a number of specialist gels and bars on the market.  I use Science in Sport (SiS) isotonic gels.  These have the advantage that they can be taken without water whereas most others are designed to be washed down with a drink and thus diluted.  Some gels also contain caffeine although if I’m honest I haven’t noticed any difference between these and the non caffeinated ones.  The bars also come with and without caffeine and resemble a very chewy flapjack.  I tend not to use these as I find them difficult to swallow – they need a lot of chewing! – and it’s not ideal having a gob full of goo whilst trying to run fast!

The new kids on the block are Cliff Shot Bloks.  These are like the old fashioned squares of Rowntree’s jelly only slightly firmer.  They are easily palatable and not difficult to chew.  Although the packaging advises taking with water I have eaten them on their own with no ill effects.
Gels & Bars
As these products have been designed with the athlete in mind they are seen as “specialist” and with that comes the inevitable cost.  A single gel will cost £1, not a bank breaker on its own but if you are doing a high weekly training mileage, training for a long race for example such as the Ultra Tour of the Peak District, those pounds are going to add up.  So are there any cheaper alternatives?
I like to use Coconut bars, nice tasting with quite a high carbohydrate content and cheap (39 pence from Tesco).  Other options are School Bars, these are fruit concentrate bars, and Peanut Brittle.
Alternative Fuel

Whichever method of refuelling you choose you can check the carbohydrate content by reading the nutrition advice on the label.  Look for the value per 100 grams, that way you can compare like for like regardless of the weight of the packet.

My strategy is to use sweets and alternative bars when training.  Because I am not running as fast and can afford to stop for a few moments I am much less likely to inhale a peanut!  I save the expensive gels and Shot Bloks for races.  I might supplement the gels with a few sweets.  Make sure whatever you choose is easily accessible, I carry them in a side zip on my bumbag.  On a long run or race I will start snacking on the sweets after about an hour and take a gel after about 80 minutes of racing.  I try to time the gel consumption to a steep uphill section where I am likely to be going slow and thus find it easy to open my bumbag and scoff the gel – it’s much harder to do this at pace.  It takes about 10 minutes for the gel to take effect and the trick is to take the fuel on board before you feel the bonk.

Whatever fuel you use on the hill, please don’t drop the wrapper – including the little tab off the top of the gel.  Unfortunately empty gel packets are becoming a common site on some race routes.

I rarely take a drink with me unless I’m on a long run in hot weather.  Then I choose something like Tesco or Aldi’s own isotonic juice.  This is much cheaper than Lucozade / Powerade etc and it seems to work.
Cheap Isotonic Juice
So what about post race?  Well not only will you need to replace carbohydrate but protein as well.  This is essential to allow your body to rebuild and recover.  The general advice is to take on a carbo / protein mix straight after exercise.  I do this with Frijj milkshakes – the chocolate and fudge brownie ones are Dee-lish!  A cheaper alternative is Tesco Chocolate Milk, 2 for £2, better value but nowhere near as tasty!  I will also have a banana with the drink.
Post Race Food

As with any food, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, or just because it works for me it might not for you.  I know some people who react quite badly to certain gels whilst other people have no problem with them. The best thing to do is try a few different products and find what works best for you. And don’t use something on race day if you’ve never tried it beforehand – you don’t want to be diving into the bushes halfway through the race because your nutrition has given you the wrong type of runs!

To book a Peak District guided run or navigation training visit:

Fell Running – In Praise of Hills

Running in the Peak District involves hills!

..and thankfully I like running up them. From the longer climbs up Lose Hill and Win Hill, the zig-zags of Ringing Rodger and the heather bound flanks of Kinder’s northern edge to the short, sharp ascents of Carl’s Wark, Higger Tor and Stanage. The Peak District runner has a fantastic training ground to play in where hard efforts are rewarded with great views.
Here are a selection:

Above Ladybower
Climbing out of the Derwent Valley
Heading for those two
and another one
my favourite!…
…and its twin across the valley
on Ringing Rodger
suffering on Crowden
Summer or Winter, there’s fun to be had in them there hills!  The video shows a short climb onto Higger Tor:


To book a Peak District guided run or navigation training visit:

Snow Blows

Fell running in the Peak District isn’t always about blue skies & sunshine.

Today the wind howled, snow blew horizontally and the world was reduced to cold shades of grey.
cold shades of grey
This was no day to be out on the high fells, even at low level the wind’s icy fingers found their way through the smallest chink in my armour of windproof clothing, feeling for, finding then chilling any exposed skin.
Facing the wind, big damp gobs of snow numbed my face and drove into my eyes.  
Last week I learned a hard lesson when in even worse conditions on a remote hillside I had wished for my ski goggles lying unused back home.  Today I had anticipated the worst and packed them and it didn’t take long, running semi blind into the fusillade, before I stopped to put them on.
eye protection
Other than the blowing wind, running conditions weren’t too bad. It seemed that my route, exposed as it was, wasn’t producing those horrible, energy sapping drifts where you disappear up to your knees (and beyond), rather it was scouring the ground leaving a thin compacted layer. I had chosen a short tour of Burbage, using the snow covered Ringinglow road for the last 2 kilometres.  Here the few vehicles that had passed had compacted the snow into a thin icy layer and I stopped to don microspikes over my Mudclaws.
microspikes
Once down towards Lady Canning’s plantation the trees afforded some protection although large flakes still sped horizontally past – whirling away in their own mad dash, racing each other into oblivion – as I ran down the road.
blowing snow
The video shows a short section of the run:

To book a Peak District guided run or navigation training visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk