Glyders Golden Dawn

Fell running has given me plenty of wonderful moments;

the thrill of a race, the sights and sounds of the countryside, the raw beauty of remote and hostile places.  But every once in a while something stands out, a moment above all others that inspires me and makes all the effort worthwhile.

There had been nothing special about the night so far.  We had left Llanberis at 1.30 in the morning, two of us supporting our mate on his Paddy Buckley Round, and trudging up through the quarries I was already thinking it was bad idea.  The promise of a pleasant night had faded as the earlier stars had disappeared behind thick cloud, and a cold wind was making it difficult to stay warm.   On the slopes of Elidir Fach we entered cloud, reducing the visibility and making navigation even more difficult; it was going to be a long, tough night.  I was tired, had a cold, should have been tucked up in bed not out in the Welsh mountains!

It was dark, properly dark, no moon behind the clouds, no faint outline of the mountains against the sky.  My world consisted of the the map and compass in my hands, the pool of light cast by my headtorch and the two lights of my companions just behind me.

Dawn crept upon us almost imperceptibly.  Descending Foel Goch the ink black sky began to lighten to the east but the worst wasn’t yet over as on the slow, silent trudge up Y Garn the cold wind increased.   In the strange half light we turned our torches off and battled with the loose, scree ascent of the Glyders.  The world was grey.  There was no promise of colour, no inkling of what was to come, the monochrome, barren landscape of the Glyders mirroring the dull stratocumulus above.

Then it happened.  The low clouds lifted for a moment and directly ahead, leading us onward the sun appeared in a blaze of gold.

sunrise on the Glyders

sunrise on the Glyders (photo Heather Marshall)

I paused for a few brief seconds to savour the moment, to reap the reward for the cold and tiredness of the previous night.  I drank in the sight; the harsh, eerie landscape around me, the contrast of grey and gold, the surreal shapes silhouetted against the rising sun.  I knew that what I was experiencing was precious.

surreal landscape - Glyders at dawn

surreal landscape – Glyders at dawn (photo Heather Marshall)

That moment of harsh beauty whilst the country slept was even more special because it was so fleeting.  It was too cold to linger and we had more running to do, more mountains to climb.

Fell Running Guide

What are the best shoes for Fell Running?

One question that I'm often asked is "What are the best shoes for Fell Running?"  The answer is simple; "It depends..."

what are the best shoes for fell running?

what are the best shoes for fell running?

Ok, simple but not very helpful!  That's because there are a number of things to consider before making a purchase so you need to ask yourself a few questions.

What is the terrain like?
The term "Fell Running" covers a wide variety of terrain including rough mountains, steep grassy slopes and hard packed trails.  Different shoes will be suited to different types of terrain.

What will I use them for? 
Are they for for training or racing?  Your day to day trainer can afford to be a little bit heavier than your racing shoe where you might be concerned about saving weight. Likewise with grip; a steady run requires less grip than when you're going eyeballs out with your nearest rival breathing down your neck!

What's the weather like?
We know what the British climate is like and a firm, dry path can change into a quagmire after a week of heavy rain.  Shoes that were perfectly adequate one week can have you slip sliding away the next.

fell shoe grip comparison

different grips for different trips

Quite often a run or race will include several changes of terrain.  The Moelwyns fell race in Snowdonia starts and finishes with a long section of hard quarry track where road running shoes would be fine, however the seven miles in between involves steep, wet, grassy descents where a shoe with an aggressive grip is vital.  The 3 Peaks Race swaps between fell and road and runners have been known to change shoes for different sections.

Unfortunately there is no one shoe that is best suited to all types of terrain so you need to compromise.  A heavily studded shoe is not ideal for a hard, dry track but it will cope but a road or trail shoe with little tread won't cope with wet or muddy conditions.  If in doubt go with the worst scenario. (or mix your trail and fell shoes, one on each foot!)

trail and fell shoes

mixed terrain? you could always try this!

So it seems that you probably need more than one pair of shoes, in fact you could convince yourself that you require several.  Personally I classify the type of running I do into 3 categories with a type of shoe for each one:

Winter training and racing.
This requires a shoe with the most aggressive grip.  Weight is less of a concern.

Summer racing.
This still requires quite an aggressive tread but I look for something lighter in weight.

Summer training.
This requires less grip and weight is not as important.  It makes up the majority of my running so needs to be comfortable,

There are several shoe manufacturers to choose from.  The once ubiquitous Walsh is nowhere near as popular as it was although some runners still swear by it.  Inov-8 seem to have taken over as the leading brand and have a huge range of shoes to choose from. Salomon have also appeared on the market and have a range of models to suit different conditions.

Personally I use Inov-8 shoes for the majority of my training and racing.  The Mudclaw is my weapon of choice for winter running and racing, it's super aggressive sole is what I have found copes best with the Peak District bogs.

inov8 debris sock

Mudclaws for winter running

For most other races out of the winter season I opt for Inov-8 X Talons.  The 212 are a good lightweight shoe with an aggressive grip that work well in a range of conditions.  I find these too lightweight for day to day training so they are saved as my race shoes.

X Talons for summer racing

X Talons for summer racing

For the majority of my running I need a comfortable shoe that can cope with a mix of terrain and I am currently on my third pair of Roclites.  These are my favourite workhorses and have served me well for a number of years.  I used them for the Paddy Buckley Round as I needed a shoe that would cope with the mountainous terrain yet provide a reasonable amount of cushioning and comfort.  I liked them so much that I literally wore them until they fell off my feet!

inov-8 roclite

Roclites, my faithful workhorses - they didn't look like that for long!

If I could only have one pair of shoes it would be the Roclites, for me they are the best all rounder.

Much depends on personal preference and I do have other shoes including less aggressive trail shoes and even a pair of road shoes for the odd run from home.  However these are my top three:

Roclite, X Talon, Mudclaw

my top 3: Roclite, X Talon, Mudclaw

So the best shoes for fell running?  It depends on a number of things and you're most likely going to need more than one pair.  One thing I'm sure of; there's always room in the cupboard for another pair!

Note - I am not sponsored by Inov-8, this post is based on my experiences of shoes that I have purchased myself.

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Spectacular Snowdonia

This year I’ve been lucky to experience some spectacular mountain running days in Snowdonia.

Time spent preparing for, supporting others on and completing the Paddy Buckley Round meant lots of trips to North Wales and fortunately some stunning days out in the hills.

These images are what inspire me to go mountain running:

2014-03-07 13.17.55 2014-03-07 15.17.55 2014-04-11 11.56.23 2014-04-15 11.00.59 Siabodleg5 #32014-07-11 20.37.54 2014-07-11 20.56.12 2014-07-11 20.56.21 night leg

This video shows a magical summer evening view I experienced whilst running:

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Paddy Buckley Round

The Paddy Buckley Round covers 61 miles and ascends around 28,000ft as it crosses 47 peaks of North Wales.

Moel Siabod leg in beautiful weather

Moel Siabod leg in beautiful weather

As well as the obvious investment of time spent training to get fit for the challenge it also requires a large amount of planning in terms of route choice, (it can be started anywhere unlike the Bob Graham Round which always begins in Keswick) equipment, food and support crew.

Planning the route:

The Paddy Buckley can be broken into 5 main legs, each finishing at road crossings where support can be accessed. I chose to run on a 23.30 hr schedule starting at 11am from Capel Curig, the idea being to get the longest and arguably most complex navigation leg over whilst I was fresh.  The 11am start meant that if I was on schedule I would be into the Snowdon leg as it went dark and would see dawn as I approached the Glyders.

Getting to know the route is important and so I made a number of visits to Wales paying particular attention to the section between Moel Siabod and the Moelwyns which features a number of knolls that have to be visited.  This part of the route is also particularly boggy and knowing the least wet line can save time and energy.  I also carefully reccied the Elidir’s section including the line to Mynydd Perfedd as I knew I would be running this in the dark.

I also chose to have support at the old quarries at Croesor where friends would walk in with more water and a little food.

Planning the kit:

kit for Paddy Buckley Round

do I really need all this?

One thing I found really difficult was deciding what kit to take: bottle or bladder? bumbag or back-pack? waterproof or windproof or both?  The weather is obviously an important factor and so with a hot, dry forecast I opted for an Inov-8 race pac4 with a 1 litre bladder that I would refill at the end of each leg.  I carried a Montane Minimus waterproof smock and Featherlite windproof bottoms.  I also had a dry bag containing my emergency kit consisting of OMM Rotor Smock, hat and gloves plus spare torch batteries, plasters, bog roll and paracetamol (thankfully the bag remained unopened!).  For the last couple of legs I swapped the sack for a small Inov-8 bumbag.

hot sun and steep hills

hot sun and steep hills – race pac and bladder

I wore a light coloured buff for sun protection rather than warmth and a new pair of wool socks.  Shorts were Mammut MTR 141 whilst my top was a short sleeved cycling shirt which I use for longer distances as the rear pockets allow easy access to gels, map compass etc.  I also carried a long sleeved top to put on if it got cold (I put this on at the start of the night leg).  For footwear I chose my trusty Inov-8 Roclite 285 shoes and had a pair of Inov-8 X Talon 212 in the support vehicle as back up just in case.  The leg over the Glyders has a couple of sections of loose scree so at the start of this leg I changed socks, putting on Inov-8 debris socks.  These worked well, it’s just a shame that the leg starts by crossing wet ground to the comfort of dry socks only lasted a few minutes!

For the night legs I used a Silva Cross Trail II kindly loaned by Matt at Lumenator.  I used the torch on medium power with just a couple of bursts on full power for route spotting.  The 3xAA batteries in the external pack easily lasted the 5 or so hours of darkness.  I also wore an Alpkit Gamma torch around my waist, angled down to shine just in front of me.  I find this helps maintain some depth perception and was really useful over the rocky ground after Crib y Ddysgyl and on Elidir Fawr.

on leg 4 in the dark

on leg 4 in the dark

I made laminated maps of each leg with split times and any important route notes annotated on to them.  I used the Paddy Buckley 1:40,000 for general planning but used a 1:25,000 scale on the actual day (for me particularly important for trying to map read at night or with rain on the map).

Planning the food:

I was pretty clear about the food that I would eat whilst running: a mix of gels (SIS and Mule), Clif Shot Bloks, baby food pouches (Ella’s kitchen) and Nakd bars.  This was washed down with High 5 Zero electrolyte.  What I wasn’t so sure of was what to eat at the support points.  I managed a couple of bananas but also knew I would want something savoury to counteract the sweet stuff so I opted for tuna sandwiches, boiled potatoes with salt & butter, Bombay Bad Boy spicy pot noodle and spicy rice crackers.  I also had a few cups of licorice tea.

support point Paddy Buckley

Bombay Bad Boy!

I found the sandwiches were a mistake, I simply couldn’t chew the bread and ended up just eating the tuna.  The potatoes were fine and the pot noodles were brilliant with the hot sauce being really welcome after hours of sweet tasting food.  I decanted the tea into a bottle to take with me and swigged it with the rice crackers as it cooled.

The schedule:

I worked on a 23.30 schedule factoring in 10 minute breaks on each leg.  The schedule and split times can be seen here Splits.  (the last 3 spits are estimated as my watch ran out of memory)

How did it go?

The weather on the day was hot and sunny giving the advantage of excellent visibility but adding to the risk of dehydration and hyperthermia.  The night leg was partly cloudy with a little hill fog over the Glyders at dawn but on the whole giving no problems with navigation.  Even overnight the temperature was mild and the sky never seemed to get fully dark, the distant hills always a faint silhouette.

starting the night leg

starting the night leg

I made one glaring error coming off the Glyders and descending the wrong gulley which cost me half an hour and a lot of stress!  Apologies to my supporter Mike who was even more stressed – an introduction to down climbing wasn’t on the agenda when he agreed to help out!  I also lost time on the last leg, coming off the very last hill where I lost the path and ended up in deep heather, not having reccied this section.

I completed the round in 23.05, twenty five minutes up on schedule.

Lessons learnt:

Route finding on a recce when you are fresh is totally different to doing so when you’ve been on the go for 18 hours.  Don’t assume you know it.
Recce as much as you can and in different weather conditions.  The only section I hadn’t checked properly cost me time.
Stay hydrated.  Using a bladder meant that I drank little and often which seemed to work, particularly in the heat of the day.  I chose an electrolyte drink rather than electro / carb mix and this seemed to work fine.
Keep eating, even if you’re not hungry.  Towards the end of the run I used Clif Shot Bloks in the side of my mouth, letting them dissolve rather than having to chew and swallow. Take a spare map: mine fell out of my pocket on leg 1 but thankfully we had a spare.

Thanks:

I had a great time on the round, helped mainly by excellent (if a little too hot) weather conditions.  It would not have been possible without the support of friends so thanks to Ian L, Tim, Ian F, Jules, Mike, Neil, and particularly Lynn and Darrell who drove lots of miles and met me at every support point.
Thanks to Ian F, Mike and Tim for the photos.

23 hours later!

23 hours later!

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