Inov-8 Get a Grip Competition

News of a great competition from Inov-8 which will give seven lucky runners a 5 day, all expenses paid trip to the Lake District. As team “Get a Grip” the winners will have the chance to learn tips from Inov-8’s top runners, test out new kit and take part in the classic Skiddaw fell race.

It sounds like a fantastic way to spend the week!

win a week with Inov-8

win a week with Inov-8

Full details of the competition here – https://www.inov-8.com/getagrip

Good Luck!

 

High Peak Marathon – what kit and why.

The High Peak Marathon is a 42 mile fell race done in teams of four, overnight, in winter and covers some of the boggiest, pathless and most remote parts of the Peak District. In addition to the usual personal kit required for a long, winter fell race there is a certain amount of mandatory kit that must be carried by each team.

Deciding on the what items of kit to use can take almost as long as running the race itself.. “10 litre pack or squeeze it in to the 5? Two thin base layers or a thick one? Start in a windproof or waterproof? Thick leggings or thin? and will I really need all that food?”

This is what I wore, carried and ate on this year’s event with some reflections on whether it was the right choice or not.

High Peak Marathon team

all the gear…. (photo Jen Scotney)

Pack

My pack was always going to be a Montane but I couldn’t decide between the old style Jaws 10 litre with rigid bottles or the new Via series Fang 5 litre with soft flasks. After much packing, unpacking and repacking I opted for the Fang. With more pockets than the old Jaws the Fang actually takes almost as much kit despite its smaller size. It was important that I had easy access to certain things whilst on the run and it was this that finally swayed my choice.

My compass needed to be close to hand so went in the top front mesh pocket with its lanyard attached to the pack so that I wouldn’t lose or break it in the inevitable event of a trip or tumble. It was easy to reach when needed and also importantly easy to put away again when not required rather than constantly running with it in my hand. Maps likewise needed to be close to hand but not needed until the Bleaklow section. These easily fitted into the lower front zipped pocket. The lower front mesh pocket held a 500ml soft flask with a straw which allowed me to drink on the move rather than have to take out the flask and faff around trying to put it back in the pocket. Also in this pocket was a small ziplock bag with 2 electrolyte tablets for refills at the two food stations. The smaller, top front zipped pocket had three gels. One side mesh pocket held my Shot Bloks whilst the other had my GoreTex overmitts in and I used to stash my gloves when my hands got too hot and at the food stations.

The main rear compartment contained kit that I was less likely to need i.e. my waterproof trousers, group shelter and emergency primaloft smock whilst the smaller rear zipped pocket held my personal survival bag.

Montane Fang backpack

Montane Fang and what went in to it

Waterproofs

It had been raining for most of the day and was still doing so an hour before we started. It was also forecast for more rain overnight so even though it was dry at the start I set off wearing my waterproof jacket, the OMM Kamleika Smock. I do have lighter, more compact waterproof jackets such as the Montane Minimus and Alpkit Gravitas but I feel the Kamleika is a little bit more robust and likely to withstand being worn underneath a pack. I also carried Kamleika waterproof trousers which weren’t needed.

Clothes

I chose a thin merino wool short sleeved tee shirt under a thicker, long sleeved merino wool cycling top. I specifically chose the top for its rear pockets in which I carried some food and also the zip which would allow me to cool off if it got too warm. My leggings were a cheap pair of medium thickness tights. I have thicker and thinner pairs but these seemed just right. I wore a buff around my neck – really versatile to pull up over your face if the weather gets nasty and a windproof beanie as a hat. In my pack I carried an OMM Rotor Smock Primaloft top as an extra, emergency layer. This was compressed down and carried in a dry bag and wasn’t used.

cycling top with rear pockets for food

cycling top with rear pockets for food

Socks

I chose knee length compression socks which offer great protection against the cold, and to some extent against the knee deep immersion into the peat bogs that was to come. Over these I wore 3mm neoprene socks made by Rooster Sailing. I have recently converted to these from Sealskinz.

Shoes

Extreme grip over such boggy terrain was essential so the first thought was to wear Inov-8 Mudclaws. However I’ve also got a pair of Inov-8 X-Claw 275s which offer almost the same grip as the Mudclaw but have a bit more room and a bit more cushioning. This made them the ideal choice to accommodate the 3mm neoprene socks and the long sections of flag stones.

photo of Inov-8 X-Claw 275

Inov-8 X-Claw 275 for a mix of grip and cushioning

Gloves

I wore a pair of Rooster Sailing liner gloves and carried a pair of Tuff Bags Goretex mitts.

Rooster Sailing liner gloves

Rooster Sailing liner gloves

Torch

My main torch was a Petzl Nao, programmed to give 8 hours light on reactive mode. I also carried a second torch, a LED Lenser SEO 7R worn around my waist (I’m thin!) I do this in foggy conditions as it illuminates the ground much better than a head torch as the light source is closer to the ground and you don’t get the bounce back effect off the fog. It saves carrying a hand torch, leaving your hands free to do important things like hold the map and compass.

head torch on waist

err Dave, it’s meant to go on your head!

Map & Compass

I used laminated sections of the 1:25,000 map (printed from Anquet software) with checkpoints and route notes annotated on them and a Silva Ranger compass.

Watch

I wore a Suunto Core watch with altimeter. This is a non GPS watch so there was no way of using it to aid navigation other than by knowing our altitude and time running. I calibrated the altimeter at Edale and also checked it against a known height at Swain’s Head. I knew how long we should run past Swain’s Head before turning south and also at what elevation to exit Far Black Clough.

Suunto Core showing altitude

Suunto Core showing altitude

Emergency Kit

I carried an Adventure Medical Kits / SOL emergency bag as my personal kit and a 4 person group shelter as the team emergency kit. Other members carried a Blizzard Bag and small first aid kit. I also carried 3 spare AAA batteries, some Ibuprofen tablets and a few sheets of toilet roll – none of which were needed thankfully!

Adventure Medical Kit emergency blanket

Adventure Medical Kits emergency blanket (personal kit)

Food

I took 2 packets of Clif Shot Bloks, (already opened and put into a ziplock bag as they are a pain to open) 3 Clif Shot gels (including one double espresso which I ate just as we got to Kinder to give me a caffeine boost for the last leg) and 2 Ella’s Kitchen baby food sachets (the Mango Baby Brekkie ones taste much nicer than gels and contain over 100 calories per 100g). I also ate 1 slice of malt loaf at Moscar feed station (actually it took me until the heather climb after Cutthroat Bridge to get it down!) and half a ham sandwich at Snake feed station (which was delicious and left me regretting not having picked up the other half all the way to Mill Hill!)

I started with 250ml of electrolyte drink and refilled 500ml at both Moscar and Snake. I also gulped a cup of juice at each feed station and had a few quick sips of tea at Snake.

Cliff Shot Bloks, gels and baby food

Baby food, Clif Shot Bloks and gels (double espresso for the wee small hours)

What worked and what didn’t

The pack was definitely the right choice. Four front pockets plus two accessible side pockets meant that I could reach everything that I wanted and stow any kit that I didn’t need in my hands. It didn’t bounce and always felt comfortable. Being able to drink whilst still running without really breaking stride was really beneficial.

Getting the clothing right is always the trickiest thing for me. We were aiming for a fast time so I didn’t want to be faffing around putting layers on and off and thus slowing down. The forecast was for more rain and I expected to feel quite cold on the high, exposed section to Swain’s Head when the pace would be slow. However the clothing you need for that section isn’t what you need for the immediate steep climb up to Hollin’s Cross and inevitably I felt I had too many layer on early on in the race! In hindsight I would have skipped the short sleeved tee shirt and been warm enough with just one base layer. Although it never rained save for a few spots I think wearing a waterproof from the start was ok, however a full zip rather than smock would have been better. This would have allowed me to unzip it fully on the climbs to vent more heat. We encountered lying snow on Derwent Edge and Kinder and my feet were wet for most of the night, however the neoprene socks worked fine and my feet never felt cold. Likewise, my hands were fine, I took the liner gloves off for a time early on and the Goretex mitts were never needed. The X-Claws were definitely a good choice; loads of grip on the sloppy stuff but no discomfort on the flag stones (although hats off to team mate Marcus who coped with the conditions in his Hokas!)

I was a bit disappointed with the Petzl Nao. I had fully charged the (fairly new) battery and programmed the reactive setting to give 8 hours power, however crossing Bleaklow I got the dreaded “flash, flash” warning and a couple of minutes later the Nao dimmed to emergency mode. It had only lasted 6 hours (not bad in itself but still 2 hours short of what the computer software had told me to expect!) Thankfully it was approaching dawn and I also had my second torch. The waist torch definitely helped over the foggy sections as it meant I didn’t need to carry a hand torch so still had hands free for the map and compass.

Of the food I took I ate everything apart from half a packet of Shot Bloks and one gel; I was looking forward to the stew at the end though! I did feel thirsty at some points but not enough to warrant taking a second soft flask.

So nothing major that I’d change, maybe just a few tweaks for next time – but then the weather might be completely different next year.

High Peak Marathon team (photo Jen Scotney)

9 hours later! (photo Jen Scotney)

 

Sheffield Adventure Film Festival

The Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (SHAFF) takes place from March 17th to 19th 2017 and this year features a varied selection of running films from both here in the UK and overseas. With 14 films being shown over three days there will be something of interest to most runners and particularly those who aspire to tackle longer distances. The films focus on a wide cross section of runners of all abilities, from sponsored athletes to recreational runners. Films to look out for include:

Mira

The story of a young woman from small Nepali village who ran away to join the army where she discovered that her tough upbringing had given her a talent for mountain running. The film follows her as she travels to take part in her first year of racing in the International Sky Running Championships and compete against some of the best female distance runners in the world. She then returns to her village to share her story with her family.

Mira – from Nepalese village girl to world recognised mountain runner

Outside Voices

This is an arty black and white film following the slightly crazy American Ultra Runner Jenn Shelton (one of the characters featured in the book Born to Run). Shelton is a straight talking, hard living 31 year old who travels and lives in a small camper van. She likes to party but is also one of America’s top female ultra runners. Look out for the party game that involves running, beer and shotguns!

Outside Voices – follows unconventional American ultra runner Jenn Shelton

Films from closer to home include:

Cape Wrath Ultra

This follows the progress of some of the competitors on the inaugural Cape Wrath Ultra as they tackle 8 days, 400 kilometres and over 11,000 metres of ascent through some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes in Britain.  The film captures stunning scenery from the Scottish Highlands and talks to competitors about their backgrounds, motivation and their feelings and experiences as they take part in the event. It shares the emotional highs and lows, the injuries, exhaustion and elation as the runners make their way from Fort William to Cape Wrath.

Cape Wrath Ultra – 400km through remote north-west Scotland

Run Forever

Run Forever tells the inspirational story of how Yorkshire farmer Nicky Spinks attempted to become only the second person to complete a back to back Bob Graham Round in under 48 hours. The feat of endurance; 132 miles with 54,000 ft of ascent had only been done once before – and that was 37 years previously. Footage of the attempt is mixed with interviews telling of Nicky’s early years, life on the farm with her husband Steve and how she battled to overcome breast cancer.

Run Forever – the story of Nicky Spinks’ back to back Bob Graham Round

Beauties and the Bog

This short film follows 4 young women as they train and prepare to take on the gruelling High Peak Marathon; a 42 mile race through the remotest parts of the Peak District…. overnight in winter.

Beauties and the Bog – 4 women prepare for the High Peak Marathon

So, experienced runners and beginners alike will find something to interest and inspire them at SHAFF 2017

A full list of the films at SHAFF can be found here https://shaff.co.uk/shaff17/sessions

Staying Motivated for Winter Running

Grey, dull days, bad weather, long dark nights… It’s not very inspiring for running!

Inov-8 Stormshell in the rain

grey, dull and not very inspiring!

So with the long winter months ahead of us how do you stay motivated to get out running? Here are 5 tips to help get you off the couch and onto the trails, even on the darkest of days.

Treat Yourself

New kit always inspires you to use it so get set to tackle winter with some new toys! Go on you deserve a new waterproof, grippy shoes or even that fancy watch that counts how many calories you’ve used. Or if you don’t want to spend that much then just a nice new base layer, warm gloves or even some new woolly socks will give you more reasons to get out running whatever the weather.

Inov-8 Mudclaw grip

new shoes for winter!

Embrace the Dark

Just because it’s dark by the time you get home from work doesn’t mean you can’t still get out and run on the trails and fells. A reasonable head torch will give you enough light to carry on running through the winter months. What’s more night running is exciting, your senses are more alert to sights and sounds that you might not notice in the day time. A run on a clear, cold night under a full moon is a fantastic experience!

night running on technical terrain

night running fun

Buddy Up

When it’s chucking it down outside it’s easy to make an excuse for not going for a run. But if you’ve made a plan to go and your mates are waiting for you then you’re more likely to make the effort to get out and not let them down. Having a regular slot in your diary each week for a social run gets you into the habit. If it chucks it down then you’re all in it together rather than struggling on alone. If the run finishes at a pub or cafe with a cosy fire you’ll soon forget how grim the weather is!

singing in the rain?

singing in the rain?

Find New Routes

My favourite runs are out on the Peak District fells. However when the weather’s wet and wild running there can be a real struggle so I head for more sheltered areas. Running in woodland can give you shelter even on the windiest days whilst choosing low level valley routes will also keep you out of the worst of the elements. So if the forecast is bad then check out some new, less exposed places to run, you might even find some hidden gems that you would never know about if you stuck to your usual routes.

woodland offers shelter in bad weather

woodland offers shelter in bad weather

Set a Goal

Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated to run if you don’t have a purpose. If you know that you are training towards something then you’re more likely to keep at it. So, rather than just going through the motions have a look at the race calendar for next year and pick out an early event. That way, even in the depths of winter you will be able to tell yourself that your run is preparation for the race.

set a goal

set a goal

So with a little bit of self motivation you can make it through the dark winter months, and whilst there might be plenty of dull days there will be the odd day like this to look forward to!

running under winter skies

stunning winter running

fell running guide

Inov-8 X Claw 275 Review

Inov-8 have introduced a new model to their range of fell shoes; the X-Claw 275

The aggressively soled Mudclaws and X-Talons in their various guises are already well established favourites amongst fell runners; you only need to look down whilst at the start line of any fell race to see that Inov-8s tend to be the shoe of choice. So this being the case you might ask where does the new X-Claw fit in and is there any real need for it alongside its siblings?

photo of Inov-8 X-Claw 275

Inov-8 X-Claw 275

X-Claw 275 – Features

At first glance you might think that the X-Claw is a new model of Mudclaw. Although not identical the sole unit certainly shares the same aggressive look with triangular 8mm lugs whilst the upper has the durable water resistant material, rand and toe bumper that Mudclaw users will be familiar with. It requires a closer look to spot the differences.

Looking at the outsole of the  X-Claw you notice a change in the stud pattern compared to the Mudclaw (a design that it shares with the new X-Talon 225) It still uses the “Dual C” mix of hard and sticky rubbers aiming to give both friction and durability .

 Mudclaw 300, X-Talon 225 and X-Claw 275 compared

get a grip! Mudclaw 300, X-Talon 225 and X-Claw 275 compared

The X-Claw has an 8mm drop (compared to the Mudclaw’s 6mm) with a midsole that is said to give better shock absorption and energy return. A significant feature is that the X-Claw 275 comes in “Standard” fit whereas the X-Talon and Mudclaw are both “Precision” fit. This means that the shoe is wider in the toe box. This may come as welcome news to runners with wide feet who like the grip of the other models but find the precision fit too tight. Likewise, runners doing particularly long distances might prefer the extra cushioning and toe splay that the X-Claw allows. Looking at the X-Claw and Mudclaw together you notice that the shape of the heel cup is slightly different with the heel tab being ever so slightly higher on the X-Claw.

inov-8 X-Claw & Mudclaw

heel to heel X-Claw (L) Mudclaw (R)

inov-8 X-Claw & Mudclaw

and again Mudclaw (L) X-Claw (R)

X-Claw 275 – Tested

Anyway, enough of the technical stats – what are they actually like to wear? Although I’ve had the X-Claws for a while and been keen to give them a blast it’s only recently after a bit of wet weather that I’ve had the chance to try them in the conditions that they are designed for! I wear either X-Talons or Mudclaw 300’s for racing depending on the distance and type of terrain, and Mudclaws for winter training on the fells so I had a good idea of how I wanted them to feel.

First on they felt comfortable, I’m a 6.5 in almost all shoes and the six and a half were fine (and well done to Inov-8 for going back to making men’s shoes starting in a 6 – saves me having to get the women’s model!) Being used to the precision fit of the Mudclaws and X-Talons I wondered if the standard fit might feel a bit sloppy but it didn’t. I noticed that it wasn’t as tight but I didn’t feel that my foot was moving around inside the shoe. I was pretty confident that the grip was going to be positive even on the wet and muddy stuff, and so it proved as I was able to run quickly through thick mud, hopping over the biggest puddles and landing without slipping.

fast running on muddy terrain

fast running on muddy terrain

Running on mixed terrain the X-Claws gripped excellently on the gritstone boulders (as expected) but also coped well with thick muddy ground and damp fallen leaves.

running through mud

dealing with the deep stuff

On downhill sections of soft ground they allowed me to run fast with confidence and they were reassuringly grippy on steep wet grass. All this hints that they would make a good race shoe despite not being as snug as my usual choices.

Inov-8 X-Claw 275

race pace descent on soft ground

running downhill

reassuringly grippy on steep, damp grass

My only concern is with the heel tab; I’ve had achilles problems in the past and my old yellow Mudclaws used to aggravate it. However I’ve been using them for 3 weeks now without a problem so hopefully it won’t be an issue.

What are they good for?

The design of the new X-Claw 275 makes them suitable for longer training or racing over rough, muddy and boggy terrain. That makes them good for most of the year! They will particularly suit runners with wider feet who find the precision fit models too tight. I think that anyone attempting one of the big rounds i.e. Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley or Charlie Ramsay rounds would find the X-Claws to be an ideal shoe.

Personally I will be using them as my autumn / winter / spring training shoe on everything apart from hard packed trails whilst saving the X-Talons and Mudclaws for race days.

The Inov-8 X-Claw 275 are available from good retailers including Pete Bland Sports

fell running guide

 

Run Forever – Nicky Spinks’ Double Bob Graham Round

In May 2016 Nicky Spinks made fell running history.

Whilst most people are happy to complete the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours Nicky did a “double” (doing it twice) in a time of 45 hours 30 minutes, the fastest time ever!  She beat the previous record – which had stood for over thirty five years – by more than an hour and so became only the second person to do the “double” in under 48 hours.

Nicky Spinks on the Bob Graham Round

Nicky on the Bob Graham Round

As well as her remarkable running achievements Nicky has also battled cancer and her record breaking round marked ten years since her diagnosis.

Her inspirational story is told in a film, Run Forever which premieres at the Kendal Mountain Festival this November before general release. See trailer:


fell running guide

Lake District Trail Running – book review

Lake District Trail Running is a handily sized book detailing 20 off road runs in the Lake District National Park

The selected routes range from 5km to 17km in length and vary in difficulty in terms of type of terrain and amount of ascent. Each run includes a brief description of the route including distance, ascent, navigational difficulty and estimated time to complete whilst an altitude profile shows you where you will encounter the ups and downs. A more detailed description breaks each route down into legs with easy to follow directions which are clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map extracts.

Lake District Trail Running

Lake District Trail Running

The softback book is well set out with the shortest runs at the front, the longest at the back making it easy to flick through and find the one you fancy. It is useful for runners of all experience and ability and is ideal for anyone planning a trip to the Lakes who doesn’t want to plan their own route. Packed with colour photos it is interesting to read and makes a great addition to any trail or fell runner’s library. It is even small enough to stuff into your bumbag!

Lake District Trail Running by Helen Mort is published by Vertebrate Publishing and retails for £12.95

Also check out the sister publication Peak District Trail Running: 22 off-Road Routes for Trail & Fell Runners.

Peak District Trail Running

Peak District Trail Running

fell running guide

Montane VIA Fang 5 Review

Montane VIA Trail Series Fang 5 Backpack Review

Montane VIA Fang 5

Montane VIA Fang 5

I have used a Montane Jaws 10 running pack for a while now on long training runs, certain long races and for my day to day running work and so I was interested to see what changes had been made for the 2016 updated VIA Trail Series. Here I test the smaller Fang 5 pack.

Features:

The VIA Fang 5 pack comes in two sizes: S/M and M/L. I have the S/M which weighs 270g when empty. The most notable feature of the new Trail Series version is that it no longer uses rigid water bottles affixed to the shoulder straps, but opts for twin 500ml soft-flasks (supplied) instead – so no more sloshing! These are housed in pockets on the front straps of the pack, one of which is zipped, the other an open top stretch mesh. Above these are two smaller pockets, again one with a zip the other open topped stretch material. With the soft-flasks stashed in the lower pockets the upper ones are ideal for storing gels, compass, phone, car keys etc. The zipped pocket contains a small emergency whistle which can be removed if required.

Montane Fang 5 front view

pockets galore!

In addition to the four front pockets there are also two stretch pockets, one on either side of the pack above the hip. These are easily accessible whilst wearing the pack and are ideal for storing hat, gloves, food or a folded map section.

Montane Fang side pocket

accessible side pocket takes hat, gloves etc

Although the Fang 5 comes supplied with two soft-flasks there is also the option of using a bladder (not supplied). A large rear pocket with hanging loop will house a 1.5 litre bladder whilst loops on the right hand side of the pack retain and route the hose. If you choose not to use a bladder, this pocket can be used for additional storage but you’d need to pack it carefully as the mesh material offers little in the way of padding.

Montane Fang bladder pocket

large rear pocket takes a bladder (optional)

Low down on the back of the pack is a zipped, water resistant pocket that is large enough to carry a set of lightweight waterproofs. This ensures that the bulkiest items are carried low down and adds to the pack’s stability. An elasticated bungee cord allows the pack to be cinched down if required although I have never needed to use this. Two smaller bungee loops form an attachment point for carrying poles; not something I would use in fell running although the higher loop makes a handy attachment for a compass lanyard.

Montane Fang water resistant zipped pocket

water resistant zipped pocket and bungee cord

The pack is fastened using a wide, elasticated hook and loop belt at the waist and an elasticated chest strap that can be adjusted by clipping to any of four attachment points on the front straps.

Montane Fang chest strap

adjustable, elasticated chest strap and compass in top pocket

The elasticated waist belt allows the pack to be fastened snugly and because the belt stretches, along with slight elastication in the main chassis, the pack expands with your ribcage rather than feeling constrictive.

Montane Fang waist belt

elasticated hook and loop waist belt

On the top of each shoulder strap a small elasticated tab allows a rolled up map to be carried and forms a retaining point for the optional hose system.

Montane Fang map loop

map can be carried in shoulder loop

What I Like:

The Fang 5 is a very comfortable pack. I like the way the elasticated waist belt can be fastened tightly so that the pack fits snugly and doesn’t bounce around when running quickly or whilst descending. Despite the snug fit the Fang doesn’t feel constrictive, if you bend forwards to adopt a hands on knees approach to attack steep climbs the elastication in the pack adapts to your change of position rather than restricting your movement and breathing.

The amount of pockets and hydration options make it a really versatile pack. There is plenty of accessible storage from the hip and front pockets and using both soft-flasks gives you up to a litre of drink. Take just one soft-flask and you have another spare pocket or add a 1.5 litre bladder and you have enough fluid for a long run or race where replenishing water supplies is an issue.

What could be improved:

Very little. If I was being picky I would say that the hook and loop material sometimes snags on things such as other pieces of clothing and so I find it best to store the pack with the waist band fastened. The chest strap only fastens on the right hand side meaning you need to undo it with your left hand, whereas my older Jaws pack fastens on the left so it takes a little getting used to.

When would I use it:

The new Fang is ideal for long training runs or longer races when I want to carry more kit than I can comfortably fit in a bum bag. It would be a good choice for long days out or 24 hour attempts such as the Bob Graham Round. I used it on the Marsden to Edale “Trigger” race when the bad weather conditions meant that I wanted to carry more kit than on a normal race. The race required frequent use of map and compass which were easily accessible in the front pockets, much more so than with a bum bag.

Montane Fang in use

Using the Fang on the Trigger fell race

Verdict:

A comfortable, versatile pack with lots of storage options. I’ll use it a lot.

fell running guide

 

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)

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fell running guide

Black Combe route choice

Tips for Navigating in Bad Visibility

Thick hill fog greeted runners taking part in the first English Championship fell race at Black Combe in the Lake District this weekend.

Predictably the poor visibility meant that quite a few runners went off course and missed some checkpoints. For some runners this meant a lengthy detour, adding extra climb and distance to their route to get back on course whilst for others it resulted in a DNF as they failed to visit all the checkpoints.  The attached Strava traces show some interesting route choices!

Black Combe route choice

interesting route choices!

Bad visibility is not uncommon in fell races where navigation skills are seen as a key requirement for competitors and carrying a map and compass is compulsory.  However, carrying a map & compass is one thing, using them is another and in the heat of the race it’s easy to simply play follow the leader in the hope that someone at the front of the line knows where they’re going!

So what tips are there to avoid going wrong or to get back on track if we do find ourselves going astray?

Do your homework!

Before the race spend some time looking at the map to familiarise yourself with the route and try to memorise some key aspects of the route. Look at some of the key features you would expect to see during the race. Think about what direction you will be heading and if it will be uphill or downhill. Work out the distance between each checkpoint and how long you think it might take.

Mark your map

Jot some key notes down on your map or back of your hand such as compass bearings, estimated time taken or features to look out for. (see D’s below)

make notes on the map

jot some notes on the map

key bearings written on map

key bearings written on map

Don’t follow my leader follow the D’s

Break the race down into legs between checkpoints or obvious features and think of the following:

Direction – which direction should you be running? This could be approximate eg Northeast or precise eg 38 degrees.

Distance – how far is it from one feature or checkpoint to the next?

Details – should you be running uphill, downhill or flat? Should you pass any noteable features eg streams, valleys, walls, buildings etc. Can you identify something that will tell you you’ve overshot and travelled too far?

Duration – how long should it take you to get from one feature or checkpoint to the next?

Get your compass out early.

Lots of runners seem to carry map and compass in their bumbags, only getting them out when they get lost. By then it’s too late, they are meant to stop you going wrong in the first place! Running with your compass in hand will let you have a quick glance to check that you are going the right way whereas a quick look at the map can remind you that you should be heading downhill for example.  This would have helped in the examples below.

Example 1

navigation error

example 1

The green trace shows how a runner failed to navigate between checkpoints 3 and 4. They narrowly missed 4 and continued downhill then around and back up to eventually locate it. Using the D’s how could they have avoided this?

Direction – they weren’t far off, heading roughly southeast and only missed the checkpoint by about 100 metres but didn’t see it in the fog.

Distance – the distance from checkpoint 3 to 4 is about 500 metres however visibility was less than 100 metres so they wouldn’t be able to see checkpoint 4 until very close (they obviously weren’t close enough!)

Details! – this they could have used. The map shows that after checkpoint 3 the ground drops steadily then flattens off for around 200 metres (where 4 is located) before dropping steeply again. If the runner had noticed the ground flattening they would have known not to continue steeply downhill.

Duration! – this should have been a give away. How long does it take to run 500m metres downhill? Work it out; if you can do a 10k in an hour then you can do 1k in 6 minutes (so you can do 500m in 3 minutes) As this is downhill in a race it will probably be faster than that for most runners. A quick look at the watch or a press of the lap button at checkpoint 3 and if you haven’t arrived at 4 two minutes later then it’s time to stop!

Example 2

navigation error

example 2

In example 2 the runner leaves checkpoint 3 heading southeastwards towards 4 but then swings off to do a huge anticlockwise loop, visits checkpoint 3 again! and then continues successfully to checkpoint 4. What could they have checked?

Direction! – between 3 and 4 they should have been heading southeast. At no point should they have been going northeast! Or northwest, or north anything! Alarm bells should have been ringing.

Details! – the route from 3 to 4 is downhill and then flattening out. This runner started downhill but then contoured on flat ground for almost half a kilometre (crossing two streams) which should have alerted them that they were going wrong.

To sum up.

I believe people think that you have to be very skilful to navigate in bad visibility whereas really it’s just about some basics. You don’t have to be able to identify every tiny kink in the contours, just being able to run in the right direction is a start! Remembering the four D’s will help as will getting lots of practice. Take the time to go out in bad conditions and run with map & compass in hand. Get to know how quickly you cover a kilometre and if you have a GPS watch check your trace afterwards to see where you went. Don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes, get disoriented and find yourself again. Much better to be doing it on a training run than halfway through a championship race!

Note – I’m certainly not perfect and have also fallen into the trap of following the crowd rather than checking the map.  I just don’t do it as often anymore!fell running guide