CEP Compression Socks Review

Compression socks are a bit like Marmite; some people love them, some people hate them (even if they’ve never worn them!) There are plenty of claims by manufacturers that wearing compression clothing can result in: “increased blood flow, faster clearance of lactic acid, reduced swelling, reduced post race soreness, faster recovery times” etc etc however it is hard to find any scientific studies that prove that compression socks actually improve your performance. So why wear them?

I’ve recently been using CEP compression socks and calf sleeves for some of my runs. I must admit that a couple of years ago I was in Marmite camp 2 – thinking that compression was for the European Ultra runner and was worn more for fashion rather than function. Now though I can seen some instances where wearing compression socks is beneficial.

blue sky, blue CEP socks

blue sky, blue shoes, blue CEP socks

My first impression on opening the packet was “wow, funky colours!” Most compression socks I had seen before had been black but not these. Lime and Hawaii Blue “great they’ll match my Trail Talons” Sunset and Hawaii Blue “yep got some X-Talons in orange and blue” Lime and Pink!!… (yes they do women’s and men’s versions) A cursory glance through the accompanying literature had me smiling when I saw that there were instructions for putting them on; I’m an adult, they’re a pair of socks, how hard can it be! Ten minutes later I was rummaging through the bin looking for the instructions as I was having difficulty getting them on! The trick is to start with them inside out – obvious now. Once on (eventually) the 85% Polyamide & 15% Spandex socks give a snug fit around the foot, being shaped to fit left or right feet and there are compression bands around the midfoot, ankle and calf that target the compression to specific areas. They feel snug, comfortable and well made. It’s important to get the correct size by measuring your calf’s circumference rather than shoe size.

CEP compression socks

matching shoe / sock combo – very important!

The first few runs with them I was a bit self conscious, I noticed adults having a surreptitious glance at my legs whilst young kids just openly stared. (they are available in plain black if you are really that concerned) So other than wanting to be the brightest clad runner in the Peak District when else would I choose to wear them?

Chilly mornings. I prefer to run in shorts rather than tights, even in winter unless it’s really cold and a knee length compression sock helps keep the calf muscles warm. This is especially important if I’m planning on running fast or steeply uphill where the calf muscles will be contracting more forcefully.

CEP compression socks

CEP compression on a chilly spring morning

Extreme weather. At the 2017 Marsden to Edale “Trigger” race I wore a neoprene sock over compression socks. This combination gave some protection to my feet and lower legs from the numbingly cold snow melt streams that had to be crossed. Thankfully this meant that once across the streams I could run straight away as I was still able to feel my legs and feet. Long socks also give protection against the cold and abrasions when running in snow.

Montane Fang in use

cold legs! definitely not ideal for racing

Long mountain days. I wore compression socks when completing the Ramsay Round and also whilst supporting others on their rounds. The long climbs take a toll on the calf muscles and I like the feeling of a tight sock (I don’t claim that the sock makes the climbs any easier though!) They also offer protection from stones whilst ascending and descending scree and whilst negotiating pathless sections of knee deep heather! Also they can help guard against ticks especially in areas of Scotland where they are prevalent.

wearing CEP compression on Ramsay Round support

wearing CEP compression on Ramsay Round support

Recovery runs. I often get sore / tight calves especially after races or hard, hilly training so I often wear calf compression the following day on an easy paced recovery run. This isn’t down to believing that wearing compression will speed my recovery – it might or might not – it just feels comfortable.

CEP compression on an easy paced run

his and hers CEP compression on an easy paced run

As well as  compression socks CEP also make Calf Sleeves. What’s the difference and why would I choose one over the other? The socks offer compression around the foot and ankle, the calf sleeves only around the calf. The calf sleeve is a bit easier and quicker to get on. The socks get wetter and sweatier and so need washing more often whereas the calf sleeves can be worn a few times before they need washing. Calf sleeves can be combined with neoprene or waterproof socks for winter running whereas the sock would be too thick. The calf sleeves are cheaper.

CEP full sock and calf sleeves

CEP full sock or calf sleeves? – your choice

The case for CEP compression socks:

Well made
Comfortable
Supportive
Protective
They look great!

The case against CEP compression socks:

Expensive
No firm scientific evidence to prove enhanced performance / recovery
Tricky to put on – read the instructions!
Tan lines!
They look ridiculous!

The verdict:

CEP compression socks and calf sleeves offer support and protection in a range of funky colours. Other compression products may be cheaper but CEP feel like a quality product and made to last. They may or may not enhance your performance but they are guaranteed to enhance your appearance (fell runners take their appearance very seriously!)

RRP – CEP Run Socks 2.0 £39.99 CEP Calf Sleeves 2.0 £29.99

CEP compression socks and calf sleeves are available from Millet Sports

 

Charlie Ramsay Round

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

Ramsay Round

56 miles, 24 Munros 28,500ft

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

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery on a previous reccy

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

Starting the Ramsay Round

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

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

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

pit stop at Fersit

pit stop at Loch Treig (photo Pawel Cymbalista)

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

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

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

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

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

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor (photo Masa Sakano)

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

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

Equipment I used:

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

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramsay round map

laminated map with route notes

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

Food & Drink

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

Navigation

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

Schedule

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

Ramsay Round schedule

schedule with split and actual times

Lessons Learnt

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

Low Point

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

High Point

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

Thanks

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

Ramsay Round finish photo

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

Map used:

Click the logo to see more of what I do:

 

fell running guide

Petzl Nao

Petzl Nao (2014) 575 Lumen Headtorch

Some types of trail and fell running only require a modestly bright head torch giving a couple of hours battery life.  For more serious ventures you need a torch with a bit more power and one that gives you several hours of battery life on a bright setting.  For example an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon requires runners to spend upward of 8 hours in the dark during which they must navigate across the notoriously difficult Bleaklow, whilst 24 hour rounds such as the Bob Graham require route finding in the high mountains during the hours of darkness.  In these situations, having a powerful head torch to see the route and not having to stop to change batteries saves both time and hassle.  So is there a head torch that is up to the task?  Step forward the new Petzl Nao 575 lumen.

Petzl Nao 575 lumen head torch

Petzl Nao (2014) 575 lumen head torch

The first version of the Nao got good reviews for its brightness and Reactive Lighting feature but fell short of expectations on battery life.  The 2014 model not only has an upgrade in brightness from 315 to 575 lumens it also gives a much better battery life.  I tested Petzl’s claim of 8 hours on constant lighting at 120 lumens and the battery lasted 7 hrs 50 mins before the torch flashed a warning and dropped to Reserve Mode (a dim light of about 20 lumens which should last for an hour)

Reactive Lighting – is it a gimmick?
When I heard about this my first thoughts were yes.  However I then found myself navigating on a night run and being dazzled by the glare from my laminated map and having to manually adjust my torch’s brightness.  When I tested the Reactive setting on the Nao I didn’t think it was working – the change in brightness was instant as I looked down to open my bum bag and then looked up again to continue running.  I also realised the other benefit of the Reactive Lighting function; improved battery life.  As you look at close objects such as the ground immediately in front of you the torch dims, thus saving battery life.  Only when you point your head to the distance does the torch illuminate on full power.  If you don’t want the feature you can simply twist the switch to turn it on to constant lighting with a choice of two brightness settings (the default settings are 480 lumens or 120 lumens but can be altered using the OS software)

I’ve heard stories that the reactive lighting gets confused in foggy conditions or by your condensing breath in cold, damp conditions.  I haven’t really found this to be a problem although the torch was affected by the glare from the reflective trim on someone’s rucksack when I was following them and it kept flaring from bright to dim.  I don’t feel this is a major problem because if it annoys you then you can simply switch to constant lighting mode.

Programmable Power
A clever feature of the new Nao is that you can customise the brightness using Petzl’s OS software.  You simply plug the torch into a computer with the supplied USB lead and you can change the torch’s settings.  For example if you know that you are going to need the torch for five hours you can tweak the settings to allow this.  The software allows you to set up different profiles for different activities.  To be honest, unless you are going to be in darkness for over 5 hours you probably won’t need this feature.  However for an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon it is really useful to know how long your battery is going to last! Many people won’t use this software but the techie minded may love it!

customising the torch using Petzl's software

customising the torch using Petzl’s OS software

How easy is it to use?
Some torches can be quite confusing to operate requiring a sequence of press, double press, press and hold etc to select the desired light but not the Nao.  One big button needs a single twist to turn on (from the locked off position which prevents accidental turning on) and another twist to change between brightnesses.  A long twist changes from constant to reactive mode.  One thing I really like is that the big button is easy to find and twist even when wearing bulky gloves.  This is a huge advantage that the Nao has over Petzl’s other Reactive torch the RXP which is terribly fiddly to use.

A feature that is missing is a flashing / strobe. It’s probably the least used function on your torch but considering that the Nao is the type of torch that you are most likely to take on remote runs I’m surprised that it is missing.

The Lithium Ion battery pack is easy to disconnect and recharge, it simply plugs in to a USB charger (so can be recharged via 12v socket in a car).  A full recharge takes around 5 hours and three green LED’s indicate battery level.  These also illuminate briefly when the torch is turned off so you know how much battery is left.  In an emergency the battery can be replaced by two AAA’s but this gives reduced brightness and no Reactive Lighting functionality.

recharging the Nao's battery

recharging the battery (note the green LEDs)

The Nao is comfortable to wear and well balanced.  The whole unit weighs 185g with the head and battery units being connected by a simple elastic and cord system.  An additional over the head strap is supplied but I didn’t feel the need to use it.

Petzl Nao head torch

well balanced and comfortable

Performance
I’ve been using the Nao over the winter for both guided running and training.  I was particularly impressed when on a trip to an unfamiliar forest I was able to run on wet, technical, narrow trails at full pace; it was leg speed rather than illumination that was the limiting factor!  As much as the brightness it is the wide pool of light that the Nao gives off that is impressive.  Some torches give a narrow beam but the Nao allows you to use peripheral vision rather than you having to turn your head to see objects at the side.

I chose the Petzl Nao for my Charlie Ramsay Round. I needed a torch with enough power to illuminate the rough steep terrain (especially the descent off Chno Dearg) and yet enough battery power to last through the night with no faffing with battery changes. The reactive function also really came into its own, dimming every time I looked at the map then seamlessly brightening as I looked back at the terrain. I also pre-programmed the torch to give me 5 hours of battery life so I knew that it would last until dawn.

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor

brew stop on the Ramsay round

The power and spread of the Nao’s light is really noticeable when you compare it with other torches. When running in a group one thing you need to consider is that if you run behind someone with a dimmer torch you will put them in their own shadow!

the Nao outshines lesser torches

the Nao outshines lesser torches

Is it worth it?
Over £100 is a lot to pay for a head torch especially as there are some decent torches around for less than half the price.  But having used the Nao and got used to how comfortable and easy to operate it is and how it literally outshines the opposition I’d say it is definitely worth it. For serious winter fell running or for anyone considering night runs where both brightness and long battery life are important factors, the Petzl Nao is a great choice.

Nao 2014, good choice for serious fell runners

Petzl Nao 575 lumen, a good choice for serious fell runners

Verdict

Pros: Great battery life, easy to use whilst wearing gloves, simple sequence functions, reactive feature is excellent when map reading.

Cons: Expensive, no strobe function.

Like the review? Click buttons below to share on your social media

Fell Running Guide

Baby Food for Distance Runners?

Do you use energy gels for your long distances runs and races?

I do but I tend to find them a little too sweet and sickly.  I use Science in Sport gels and like the fact that they can be taken without a drink making them easy to swallow; particularly important when racing as I don’t like chewing things when I’m breathing hard.  However, sometimes I would prefer something that gave me the energy but with a less sugary taste. Also some people find that gels have a tendency to upset their stomach – ever seen people disappearing into the bushes or diving behind a wall on a long race? Not ideal is it!

So, is there an alternative to energy gels?

One thing that I have found to work quite well is baby food!  Yes those little pouches of mushed up food that I always thought must taste disgusting.  Well a little bit of trial and error with the flavours has led me to one that is actually quite pleasant!

baby food for runners

baby food for runners!

I have tried several brands and prefer Ella’s Kitchen; I particularly like the mango, yoghurt and rice baby brekkie. The mix of fruit and yoghurt gives a tangy rather than sweet taste and the rice means that is slightly thicker than a SiS gel (which is designed to be taken without water) although they are still easy to swallow. It has no added sugar and the 100g pouch contains 112 kcal compared to 87 kcal in a 60ml gel.  They cost around £1, the same as a gel and the twist top means that you can reseal the pouch if you don’t want to swallow it all in one go.  This also prevents the remnants leaking out into your bag when you’ve finished it.

baby food for runners

baby food: 112 calories and 20g of carbohydrate

SiS gel

Gel: 87 calories and 22g of carbohydrate

I use baby food as fuel on long training runs and also on very long races such as the High Peak Marathon whilst on both the Paddy Buckley and Ramsay rounds I carried baby food pouches as an essential part of my nutrition strategy. There are other flavours and other brands, I suggest you check which has the most calories per 100g.

High Peak Marathon equipment

essentials for the High Peak Marathon include baby food pouches

I put the baby food to the test on a long run, you can see what I found in the video.  Before you go though, a quick word of warning – give the fish pie and mashed potato pouches a miss – YUK!!

 

Click the logo to see what else I do:

fell running guide