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!

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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:

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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.
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:

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Dig Deep

Here’s a little taste of what you can expect to see on this year’s Dig Deep races!

Whether you choose the full 60 miles Ultra Tour of the Peak District or just the 10k – we can’t guarantee sunshine (or snow!) but we can guarantee some fantastic Peak District scenery.

What’s in the Bag?

Winter conditions can be fantastic for fell running in the Peak District.

But with cold winds and snow & ice on the hills, the remote fells can be inhospitable places, surely not the best place to run? However with a little skill and knowledge and some sensible precautions there really is no reason not to continue training on the fells and enjoy some fantastic winter landscapes.

winter fell running
Winter fell running

Here I talk you through some of the extra things I take with me on a remote winter run.  These are in addition to hat, gloves, wind/waterproofs and food for the run.

Hope this helps you stay safe on the hills.  Happy running!

fell running guide

View from the Hill

Fantastic winter conditions whilst fell running in the Peak District.

Nicely Icy

Snow; fallen and frozen, air; calm, cold, crisp, sky; blue & high cloud. Fantastic conditions for a run on the higher ground of the Peak District.

Stunning winter conditions
The Hope valley was wreathed in its customary cloak, the cold air, subsiding overnight forming an inversion and resulting in cold, grey conditions.  Climbing the flanks of Win Hill I emerged from the fog into stunning winter conditions.
Temperatures were sub zero but the climb proved sufficient to warm all but the exposed skin on my face.  Soon I was treated to a fine summit view – eastwards blue sky and high cirrus, westwards the distant high moors stretched away under a thicker, opaque cover.
Win Hill summit
Distant hills under opaque skies
Joining the route of the Edale Skyline race I dropped down toward Twitchill Farm, leaving behind the brightness to descend into the bank of fog again.
Into the fog
On reaching the railway bridge I decided to divert from the race route and take the scenic fields rather than road, then rejoining to climb Lose Hill.
And out again
In the valley away to the south, emerging from the fog the cement works chimney pointed a slender finger towards the sun.
Slender finger to the sky
A few minutes hard work and the summit was achieved.
Last steps to the top
The view south showed the Hope valley, the remnants of the fog mirroring the pearly opalescence of the sky.
Lose Hill under a pearly sky
The ridge to Mam Tor gave good running, the snow having been scoured to leave a crisp, icy crust and good grip.
Leaving Lose Hill for Mam Tor
I descended the steep icy path on Back Tor with caution.
Descending Back Tor

A cold wind greeted me on Mam Tor and I paused just long enough to drink in the view before I descended quickly into the shelter of the Edale Valley, leaving the race route for now.

Mam Tor looking to Kinder
Through Edale and into Grindsbrook to tackle the steep zig zags up Ringing Roger, back on the “Skyline” route, this being the start where fresh legged runners begin their gruelling struggle.
Climbing Ringing Roger, Grindslow Knoll behind
Ringing Roger gave fine views across Grindsbrook to the edge of Kinder.

Right turn, homeward bound now I followed the sinuous path, contouring round the head of Jagger’s Clough and dropping down towards Crookstone and the solitary fingerpost.

To Jagger’s Clough
Above Crookstone heading for a distant Win Hill

 The old gritstone way-marker of Hope Cross has withstood many a harsh winter and I wonder who passed this way, mapless, relieved to see it reaffirming their location.

Hope Cross marks the way
Back to Win Hill

 Hungry now, my snacks long since eaten and beginning to feel the cold I pushed on to Win Hill, pausing briefly at the trig before descending through the trees to emerge at the reservoir.

Tired, that satisfyingly tired feeling after another wonderful run in the Peak District.

28km 1475m climb

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Burbage Snow

A couple of hours of heavy snow followed by clearing skies made for an interesting fell run in the Peak District.

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Return of the Sun

A ridge of high pressure extended a friendly finger across the UK making running in the Peak District a pleasure once more.

The drab, grey skies were replaced by blue and a bright sun enticed me to take to the hills in eager anticipation of splendid views, something that I had missed over the last month.  The weak sun was fighting to burn off the remnants of an inversion as I passed Surprise View and mist remained over Froggatt, however the skies above Bamford were crystal clear.
Parking by Ladybower reservoir I headed for the high ground to the west, passing Crookhill Farm onto access land and onto the delightful subsidiary to Crook Hill.  Cold valley air was soon left behind as I climbed the hillside and up the grassy flank.
Crook Hill with Ladybower and Bamford Edge behind
The reward for my effort was a fantastic panorama and I stopped to take in the view, there was no need to rush today, I wanted to drink in the sights, satisfy my craving, to scratch the itch that had been growing for weeks under leaden skies.
Away to the south-west the Great Ridge along Lose Hill and Back Tor, to Mam Tor and Rushup Edge was etched sharp whilst the northern flanks of Kinder stretched to the west under a line of thin cirrus.
Lose Hill, Back Tor and Mam Tor
Northern Flanks of Kinder
My route took me north-west along the thin ridge, bordering the woodland on my right until reaching the bridleway leading to Hagg Farm.  Crossing this I headed for Lockerbrook Heights.  A quick look at the map and I decided to “handrail” a wall, down through woodland, heading east-wards to the valley.  The open ride between the conifers, runnable at first, was blocked by fallen trees in a couple of places but a little ducking and weaving saw me emerge on the bridleway.
Down through the trees
Straight ahead a well maintained track led down through mixed woodland and allowed good running for a few hundred metres before it popped out of the trees at Fairholmes with its visitor centre and cafe.
Good path through the woods
Good running terrain
No tea and cakes for me, a brief pause to admire the view of Ladybower; the tranquil waters unruffled and highly reflective in the still air before I pressed on, heading for the eastern shore and the more remote hills once again.
Still reflections on Ladybower
Crossing below the dam wall a short climb on the road led me to Jubilee Cottages and the smell of woodsmoke.  Although the next stretch is a popular walking & biking route it is quiet in midweek and I met only a couple of walkers.  
Ladybower’s eastern shore
The road fades to track and the easy running ended abruptly as I chose the bridleway climbing steeply up Grindle Clough.  As I reached the old barn I looked back to the west, across the reservoir and saw on the skyline the outline of Crook Hill again.
Crook Hill, high to the west
A lovely narrow, walled track led me up the hillside and onto access land where it gave way to a rough path across rough moorland.  Ahead of me the rocks of  the Wheel Stones stood proud against the blue sky on the near horizon, their profile resembling an ancient stagecoach and horses. 
Rocks or a coach and horses?
I was heading for the skyline and the final uphill effort again gave stunning views as a reward.
The final climb
From the high ground above Hurkling Stones the view reinforced why the Peak District is such a fantastic place to run. 

I stood a while, taking in the glory before heading off along the rocky path to Whinstone Lee and down into the trees before meeting the main road at the viaduct.
Run with a view
The last woodland
Ashopton viaduct
Taking the path alongside the reservoir I ran the last leg enjoying the warmth, the light, the colour in the landscape, tired yet somehow invigorated by the return of the sun.
16km and 800m climb

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Grey Festive Days

Christmas week, bleak.  

Not the bleak mid-winter of tales and imagination with deep snow and icy winds, the landscape frozen in nature’s frigid grasp.
Just wet, windy, dark.  Incessant rain, water levels rising.

High water

Days that didn’t seem to grow light as if the sun, hungover on festive excess, found the effort of rising beyond midday too much and slumped once more, dragging any vestiges of brightness with it.
Days without sky, just a low, wet fog blurring the boundary of land and air.
Days when colour drained from the landscape; land, water, sky all monochrome.

Running continued despite less than inspiring conditions – a couple of days on the high fells with map and compass in hand, enclosed in a grey world extending 100 metres, sometimes less.  Good practice.
Sub hour runs fighting wind and rain.  Returning cold and wet.
Short hill reps on a day when I couldn’t face battling the elements on the higher hills, hoping the effort would overcome the strong wind and rain and keep me warm.  A vain hope, cold and wet again.

A day with a little respite, a brief hour when the sun tried, weak shafts reaching tentatively through the grey, a fleeting glimpse before the sky’s steely grey shutters slammed once more and the rain returned.

A brief snatch of sunlight 

And now the rain has finally stopped, its mark has been made, the land sodden, rivers swollen, fields flooded.

Swollen stream

But at last, now that the year has turned, for a short while at least there is a little ray of hope.

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