Snowline Snowspikes Review

I love fell and trail running in winter.

Cloudless, blue sky days with lying snow make running a joy.  But what about when the snow gets compacted and icy or melts and then refreezes over night; aren’t these conditions dangerous for running?  If just wearing your normal fell shoes then you will definitely need to slow down and alter your running style to avoid slipping.  There is also a higher chance of picking up an injury due to slipping, even if it isn’t due to a full on fall.

So in conditions like this I use a type of running crampon or micro-spike.  Snowline Snowspikes are Stainless Steel spikes which are attached by chains to an elastomer cradle which simply fits over your normal running shoe.

Snowline Snowspikes

Snowline Snowspikes

Snowline Snowspikes

12 Stainless Steel spikes give a reassuring grip

Snowline Snowspikes Light (there is a heavier version) weigh only 235 grams a pair (UK shoe size 4 – 7) and come with their own small travel pouch which means there’s no risk of the spikes piercing your bum bag whilst carrying them.

Snowspikes Light - 235g a pair

Snowspikes Light – 235g a pair

Snowline Snowspikes

handy travel pouch means no punctures to your bumbag!

They can be put on in seconds simply by stepping into them and pulling the stretchy elastomer over your shoe.  8 one centimetre spikes on the forefoot and 4 on the rear give a reassuring grip on icy ground and if you find that conditions underfoot improve they can be taken off in seconds.  They’re not just for trail and fell running either, they’re fantastic when the streets and pavements are covered in frozen snow.

This video shows how easy they are to put on:

We’ve been blessed by some fantastic winter running conditions in the Peak District over the last few days.  If we get any more icy weather this winter, don’t stop running because of the conditions underfoot, get a pair of Snowspikes and enjoy the snow!

winter running in the Peak District

winter running in the Peak District

It’s A Hill, Get Over It

Fell running is an increasingly popular sport, but have you ever wondered how it all began?

Steve Chilton’s excellent book, It’s A Hill, Get Over It gives a detailed history of the sport; from the early shepherds’ meetings in the 1800’s through to the rise of the Brownlee brothers and the possibility of Kilian Journet tackling the Bob Graham Round!  It describes the expansion of the fell race calendar including how some of today’s classic races came into being and also details the development of the Fell Runners Association.It's a hill, get over it

With chapters devoted to Ladies fell running, Joss Naylor, and the Bob Graham Round along with interviews with some of the greats of the sport past and present, It’s A Hill, Get Over It is a must read book for anyone interested in the sport of fell running.

It’s A Hill, Get Over It is available from Amazon and all good bookshops including Outside, Hathersage.

Montane Litespeed Windproof

Montane Litespeed Windproof Review

There’s one single piece of trail running and fell running equipment that I use more than anything else: my windproof jacket.  To be more precise, my Montane Litespeed windproof jacket.

I’ve had one for over 6 years now and although I wrote it’s obituary on a previous blog post, I couldn’t bring myself to retire it and so kept on using it.  But now I’ve finally bitten the bullet and replaced it.

Montanr Litespeed jacket

out with the old, in with the new!

What do I look for in a windproof?  Basically three things: it has to be small, lightweight and not least needs a pocket to stow a section of map and a compass for when I’m racing, training or working.  (The need for the pocket is why I prefer the Litespeed over the slightly simpler Featherlite jacket).  So how well does the Litespeed meet these criteria?

Size (I’ve got the small): Packed in its own stuffsack it’s about the size of a large orange .  I rarely use the stuffsack, preferring to simply stuff the jacket into my bumbag or rucksack in order to best fill the available space.

size of a big orange

size of a big orange

Weight:  The jacket feels light and the small version tips the scales at 177g including the stuffsack.

lightweight Litespeed

lightweight Litespeed

Pocket: The Litespeed doesn’t disappoint here, the chest pocket on the new model is even bigger than on my original, and easily swallows a printed section of map without the need to fold it.  The new version lacks the little tab attached to the zipper which makes it tricky to locate the zip (especially if wearing gloves), a minor flaw that I can fix myself.

Montane Litespeed

big pocket easily swallows a map section

Other Features:  The jacket also has an adjustable, stowaway hood; to be honest I rarely use this as I either wear a hat / buff or if it’s really hammering down wear a full waterproof.  However it’s good to know that the hood’s there for the odd occasion I might get caught out.

Montane Litespeed

little red adjustable hood!

Elasticated cuffs give a snug fit and keep the weather out whilst the adjustable hem can be cinched tight to prevent the jacket flapping whilst running.

adjustable hem prevents flapping

adjustable hem prevents flapping

Based on my experiences with my old jacket I can say that the ripstop Pertex is very durable; after 6 years use and abuse it is showing signs of wear on the shoulders under where my rucksack straps go, but there are no holes or snags despite numerous encounters with trees, bushes and other foliage.  The durable water repellency has long since worn off, but that is to be expected.  The once bright red fabric is now faded but the zip is fine and it’s still windproof – it just looks a bit tatty that’s all, so in the true spirit of fell running I’m still going to use it, just not for best!

So my fading star has been replaced by a bright new light – the Montane Litespeed, my favourite piece of running kit.  Here’s to another 6 years!

Montane Litespeed - my favourite bit of running kit

Montane Litespeed – my favourite bit of running kit

SplashMaps

SplashMaps Review

SplashMap neck

a map that keeps your neck warm!

Every so often I come across a product that I find really useful, different or interesting. SplashMaps are exactly that.  These lightweight fabric maps are washable, wearable and durable as well as being aesthetically pleasing.  Unlike paper maps they won’t turn to mush if they get wet and whereas laminated maps take up a lot of space these can simply be folded up and carried in a pocket or in your bumbag.

SplashMaps

SplashMaps – what a great idea!

They have a whole host of uses: you can wear them, wipe your nose on them (sacrilege!), clean your bike with them, use them as a table mat – or even use them as a map!  Based on Ordnance Survey and Open Street Map data they are accurate and come in a range of scales including 1:25,000 and 1:40,000 making them ideal for navigating.  You can even mark up your route and then wash it away when you’re done.

SplashMap

studying my SplashMap in the Peak District

The range currently includes the National Parks of Scotland, England and Wales, some areas in the south of England and some specialist events maps including one for the Bob Graham Round!  It is also possible to have one made to order with your chosen area and the title you want.

Bob Graham SplashMap

Bob Graham SplashMap

Novel and quirky they make a great present for trail runners, fell runners, mountain bikers, walkers or anyone who uses or is interested in maps.  So if you see me running around the fells with a map on my head, I’ve not gone mad – it’s a SplashMap!

Splashmap

is it a hat? no it’s a map!

Mule Bar Energy Products

Fell running over longer distances burns a lot of calories.

On long training runs where I’m happy to slow down or stop for a moment I prefer to eat something solid rather than take a gel.  There are plenty of energy bars on the market, some of which are quite pleasant but for the most part they cater for people with a sweet tooth.  So I was interested to see that Mule Bar had brought out an energy bar with a difference – containing Garam Masala and Cayenne Pepper!

Mule Bar Eastern Express

Eastern Express, spicy not sweet

Made in Great Britain, the Eastern Express energy bar contains a mix of natural ingredients including cashews, almonds, pistachios and various seeds, spiced up to give it a unique oriental flavour.  The 56g bar provides 265 calories all packed into a compostable wrapper – not that you should drop it on the hillside mind!

Eastern Express Mule Bar

not your average energy bar ingredients

Even though I knew the ingredients, psychologically my senses were expecting something sweet and it was odd to get a Bombay Mix type scent just before biting into it!  I’d say the taste is subtle rather than strong so it’s not going to blow your socks off if you don’t like hot spices.  It’s definitely worth a try as a change from overly sweet energy bars.

For me, consuming energy gels is a necessity rather than a pleasure.  I use them on long races where chewing and breathing whilst trying to continue running at a decent pace is likely to lead to inhaling more than just air!  I have also used them on endurance events such as the High Peak Marathon and the Paddy Buckley Round but to be honest the sickly sweet taste isn’t to my liking.  So I was keen to try a gel that might not leave me with that sticky, sweet after-taste.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually liked the taste of Mule Bar’s Salted Caramel gel.  Made with natural, organic ingredients the sweetness is counteracted by the saltiness (must be those Pink Himalayan salt crystals!)

Mule Bar salted caramel gel

108 calories per 37g sachet

The gels are designed to be taken with water although they are not as thick as some other gels and to be honest I just consumed one on its own half way into a two and a half hour run with no ill effects.  The gel contains electrolyte too as well as carbohydrate so will be a bonus in hot weather or for runners who tend to sweat.

fell running with energy gel

putting it to the test on a long run

So if you’ve had enough of sickly sweet energy products on your long fell runs or races and fancy something a little different you might want to try Mule Bars’ interesting new lines.

AP ProSeries 100 Lumens Head Torch Review

AP ProSeries 100 Lumens Head Torch Review

Active Products isn’t a name that immediately springs to mind when thinking of head torches.  However this little torch with its interesting features might be worth a look for easy trail running.

Those of you who know the Alpkit Manta will instantly recognise its design and whilst it shares some features it has some differences too, not least a built in motion sensor that lets you switch it on and off with the wave of a hand.

AP Pro Head Torch

AP Pro Head Torch

The key features of the AP Pro include the smooth dimming function: rather than clicking through a series of brightness settings you press and hold the on / off button and the torch cycles through 100 lumens down to 10.  You simply release the button when you have found your desired brightness.  The focus can be manually adjusted from spot to wide beam by moving a lever above the lens.  This is particularly useful when you need to change from illuminating the ground immediately in front of you to looking further ahead – for example looking for the gate or stile where your path exits the field.

As well as the main 100 lumen Cree the torch has 2 smaller red LEDs that work in either constant or flashing SOS modes.

3 AAA batteries supplied

3 AAA batteries supplied and a 3 yr guarantee

The stand out feature of the torch is the second button that switches to motion sensor mode: press this and the torch can be switched on and off by waving your hand in front of the lens.  It’s an interesting feature that might be useful for people wearing big gloves but I haven’t quite worked out where I might use it whilst night running, I certainly wouldn’t want to inadvertently plunge myself into darkness whilst on the hoof!

The 3 AAA batteries (supplied) are housed within the main unit and so all the weight is on the forehead although at 109g this isn’t too much of an issue.  A piece of foam protecting your forehead and the single, adjustable elasticated headband give a comfortable fit and the head unit can be angled down through 8 notches on a seemingly secure ratchet to give varying angles of illumination.  Battery life on full power is claimed to be 8 hours, however this doesn’t mean you will get 100 lumens all the way through an 8 hour night run!  The torch feels sturdy and is designed to last as Active Products give a 3 year guarantee.

All in all, a neat little torch suitable for non technical trail running, just remember though – if you set it to motion sensor don’t go wiping the sweat from your brow as you run, your lights will go out!

See the features of the AP Pro here:

Interested in trying out the AP Pro?  Why come on one of my guided night runs http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/courses

 

Berghaus Voltage Jacket

Berghaus Voltage Jacket Review

Depending on what type of running I’m doing I use different waterproof jackets.  For fell races I go for as small and lightweight as possible and use the Montane Minimus smock. However for day to day use on navigation and guided running sessions or for more serious outings in the winter months I’m prepared to compromise: a little more weight and bulk from something that is a bit more robust.

There are plenty of jackets that fit into that category and one that I would recommend is the Berghaus Voltage

Berghaus Voltage waterproof

Made from Goretex Active fabric the jacket has a full length waterproof zip, two generous sized pockets, volume adjustable roll away hood, elasticated hem and elasticated cuffs with an additional velcro adjuster.  At 365g (Medium jacket) and a small pack size it shouldn’t pose too many problems packing into your running sack.

The 3 layer Goretex feels comfortable on the move yet sturdy enough that it won’t de-laminate when worn under a rucksack (a problem with some super-light jackets).  It also feels a bit more reassuring than more lightweight jackets: you feel like it will keep you dry!

If I could change one thing on the Voltage waterproof I would add an external chest pocket for map & compass etc that is easy to get at when wearing a rucksack or bum bag (the two side pockets are good but you need to be careful not to cover them up with your rucksack if you want access to them).  Other than that it looks a great jacket if you want something a little more durable and protective than a super-light race jacket.   See more of the jacket in my video review:

Alpkit Headtorch Review

What’s the best headtorch for trail running?

Well if you want to light up the whole hillside with hundreds of lumens you could shell out the best part of £150 on a Petzl Nao or the 550 lumen Silva Runner.  Even with these “serious” torches you’re not guaranteed that the batteries will last the overnight section of a 24 hour event, especially in winter.

But what if mega brightness isn’t the be all and end all and you want an affordable headtorch that will do for a few hours night running on easy trails?

Last year I used an Alpkit Gamma (88 lumens) and loaned it to clients for guided night runs on non technical trails.  I also used it as my back up torch when doing more serious overnight running (I even wore it as a waist torch to supplement my headtorch whilst doing the Paddy Buckley Round) and found it perfect for my winter coaching sessions.

Lightweight at 118g including batteries

Lightweight Gamma at 118g including batteries

The Gamma has an overhead strap and rear compartment taking 3 AAA batteries and weighs in at only 118g (including batteries).  As well as the main Cree light it has single white, red and green LEDs which are useful when map reading or when lower brightness is all that is needed (such as when coaching as I can use the single LED without blinding the runners!)

Alpkit Gamma rear LED

rear red LED on the Gamma

Now Alpkit have launched a new torch, the Viper.  Again powered by 3 AAAs but housed in the main unit rather than in a separate compartment the Viper does away with the overhead strap and weighs in at a slightly lighter 97g (including batteries)  It is also slightly brighter with a 100 lumen main beam and two lower powered LEDs giving a wide beam option.

Alpkit Viper head torch

Slightly lighter Viper

Both torches have a tilt mechanism on the main body which move with a sturdy “click” (unlike some more expensive torches) whilst one press of the single button allows you to cycle through different brightness levels and flashing modes. (the Gamma has a second button at the rear for the rear red light with a choice of steady or flashing).

On the run the Gamma was slightly more balanced due to the batteries being at the rear rather than in the head unit.  It was interesting that the Gamma gave a cooler, blueish light compared to the warmer orange of the Viper.  The extra lumens of the Viper gave a slightly greater range of beam.

Alpkit Gamma vs Viper

Gamma left vs Viper right

Battery life for both torches on full power is around 4 hours (constant use) before gradually dimming – not enough for a full night on the hill but fine for a couple of hours. (I prefer to use rechargeable batteries so that I can go out fully charged every run).

Whilst neither torch is bright enough for fast, technical night running they are perfectly adequate for straightforward trails and footpaths and make a great, affordable back up torch.  At only £15 and £12.50 respectively (including 3x AAA Duracell batteries!) the Gamma and the Viper offer fantastic value for money.

So if you’re thinking of spending a lot of money on a headtorch you might want to ask yourself if you need reactive lighting, 250+ lumens, USB rechargeable batteries etc. etc. Unless you’re running very technical trails this winter….

… you could buy an Alpkit headtorch and spend the rest of the money on a decent waterproof jacket!

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Wild Running Review

Wild Running: “The ultimate guide to running the hills, dales and vales of Britain”

Wild Running book

Wild Running

Wild Running is the first running guidebook of its kind detailing some 150 routes ranging from Land’s End to as far north as Shetland.

Written by Jen and Sim Benson, two runners with a passion for the outdoors and a wealth of experience including ultra marathons and wilderness expeditions, the book is packed with beautiful photos, descriptions about each region and advice for those less familiar with running in wild places.

Each route listed gives information on length, ascent, terrain, difficulty and how easy it is to navigate.  A link to the Wild Running website www.wildrunning.net gives access to O.S. maps, route profiles and allows you to download detailed route directions and a GPX file of each run.

Informative and inspiring, the book is ideal for planning a day trip, a running holiday or simply flicking through as a coffee table book. Wild Running should be on every trail and fell runner’s bookshelf.

Firefly Electrostimulation

Fell running, particularly steeply uphill puts a great deal of stress on the lower leg muscles.

I frequently suffer from sore or tight calves, especially after racing and often need a couple of days recovery before I can run again comfortably.  Anything legal that can help speed recovery is worth investigating and so I was very interested to hear of the Firefly device. It’s a small battery powered device that you strap to your leg which delivers a light electric shock.

Firefly device

Firefly device

How does it work?

By neuromuscular electrostimulation!  Basically a small battery delivers an electric shock to a nerve which causes your lower leg muscles to contract, thus increasing blood flow.  This helps clear metabolic waste and reduces the dreaded DOMS – the delayed onset muscle soreness that we get the day after a hard run.

There is scientific evidence that the device actually works and several case studies attest to this.

The device is intended to be used immediately after exercise and has a peel off strip which allows you to stick it to your leg just below the knee.  You can also get a velcro strap that further holds the device in place.  Once fitted you can go about your normal routine including walking and driving.

Firefly attached to lower leg

Firefly attached to lower leg

What does it feel like?

Weird!  It’s a little bit like the shock you’d get from a gentle electric fence.  The device has 7 levels which allows you to alter the intensity of the stimulation which is delivered about once every second.  I played around with the settings and found that the effect ranged from a mild localised twitch to quite a pronounced twitch in the lower leg and foot.

The effect isn’t at all painful and not even unpleasant.  At first I was fascinated by the involuntary twitch and found that if I adopted different positions: legs bent, legs extended etc. I could vary the amount of twitch it produced.  After the first 20 minutes or so you forget the device is there and I even slept with it on overnight without it affecting my sleep.

Is it expensive?

The device costs £29 for a pack of two (the velcro straps cost more but it can be used without them).  It is designed as a disposable product although with a battery life of around 24 hours I actually used one 3 times.  So although it isn’t cheap if you plan on using it weekly it might be something that you occasionally use.  It works out cheaper than a sports massage and might be something that you use instead of.

Firefly neuromuscular stimulation

device with velcro strap

So the big question: Did it work?

I used the device on a number of occasions and only on one leg so that I could compare the results between a leg that had received the neuromuscular electrostimulation and one that hadn’t.  The first time was after an undulating 40 minute run.  I wore the device for around 5 hours immediately afterwards whilst I was mainly sitting on the settee.  The next day I couldn’t feel any noticeable difference whilst walking but if I pressed my calves one did seem to be a bit less tender than the other, however this wasn’t enough evidence to convince me!

The second trial was after a mammoth eight and a half hours in the Welsh mountains.  Again I wore the Firefly on only my left leg and this time kept it on overnight giving a good eight hours of stimulation.  The next day I was surprised that I didn’t have muscle soreness in either calf so again it was difficult to say if the device had worked.  However what I did notice was that when I ran again a couple of days later the stimulated leg’s calf muscles were less tight than those on the non stimulated leg.  Self massaging my calves afterwards it did feel like one was less tight than the other.  I was keen to get a second opinion and so I had someone else have a feel to compare the calf muscles on each leg and they confirmed that one was noticeably tighter.

My verdict

The Firefly is a very convenient way of recovering.  It takes seconds to put on and you can then carry on as normal for example driving home from a run or race.  I am still experimenting with the device, intending to use it after races to confirm if it really does reduce tightness in my calf muscles.  If it does I will be happy to purchase it again as I have had problems with calf and achilles injuries in the past which have been very hard to shift.

I have tried out several remedies such as compression socks and foam roller and there’s one thing I can confirm without doubt:  It might be electric shock treatment but it’s a lot less painful than a sports massage!