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

The Joy of Winter Running

“In his autumn before the winter comes man’s last mad surge of youth”

What on Earth am I talking about?

It’s mid November, the sky is monotone, the landscape leached of colour as if nature is restricted to a drab palate with which to paint her surroundings.  Heavy rain and strong winds sweep in from the south, the ground is heavy, sodden and summer’s golden rays have long faded.   Running on a day like today just doesn’t inspire me, there is little aesthetic pleasure to be had, no urge to linger and drink in the sights and sounds around me.  Instead I speed up, not wanting to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in this environment. My gaze is restricted to the few metres immediately ahead of me, head bowed into the wind, squinting against the lashing rain.

But winter running can be a joy.  Some days sparkle like bright jewels glittering amongst the oppressive grey.

winter running in the Peak District

winter running in the Peak District

Clear nights lead to crystal blue days and the first hard frosts bring firmer ground.  The crunch of ice crystals replaces the squelch of feet in mud.

winter running

hard frost and the crunch of ice

On high pressure days the air is still, sounds carry: the tinkling of the icy brook, the dripping as a weak winter sun thaws icicles on gritstone boulders, the frosty remains of the bracken expanding as they slowly warm.  The landscape breathes.  These are my favourite days, when piercing blue skies seem to overload the senses and the clear air brings the distant horizon into sharp focus.   On such days I love to explore the remotest parts of the Peak District, making the most of the few hours of daylight to enjoy the solitude of the harsh environment.

running under a piercing blue sky

winter running under a piercing blue sky

On some winter days a layer of cold air in the valley bottom condenses forming a sea of cloud.  When conditions are right the hills above enjoy clear skies and sunshine whilst all below is shrouded in grey.  It’s a joyful experience to emerge from the cloud into the sunshine and enjoy the colour and long winter shadows.

winter running

above the sea of cloud

Even on cloudy days, there are rewards especially after heavy snow when running becomes a real adventure!  Then the landscape softens, sharp edges are smoothed by the snow, paths disappear and what was once familiar takes on a different aspect.

running in snow

adventure running!

Somehow snow brings on a surge of youth, the urge to “play out”, to explore and experience adventure!  The once tame trails of summer become a playground.  Nature offers up the challenge of running through deep snow and on ice.  The challenge has to be accepted!

snowy run

running or climbing!

So whilst all is wet, windy and grey, running is done simply for training rather than for any other pleasure.  But we can hope.

the joy of winter running

the joy of winter running – that’s what I’m talking about!

Winter is around the corner and maybe it will bring joy to running on the trails and fells.  That’s what I’m talking about!

 

Autumn Running

Trail Running and Fell Running in autumn is a bitter-sweet experience.

The long, warm, summer days are a fading memory.  No more long days out on the hill with the sun still shining at 9pm.  No more evening races where the best athletes in the sport line up with first timers and share a friendly drink and chat afterwards. The days are much shorter now, the weather harsher and more kit needs to be carried, even on short runs where once a tee shirt and shorts were sufficient.  Cold hands and wet feet become the norm, mud replaces grass and extra motivation is needed to head out into the wind and rain.

running in hail

wish I’d worn leggings!

But autumn running in the Peak District does have its rewards: gold, silver and bronze become the predominant colours as the heather and bracken die back, the leaves fall and the birches, stripped of their foliage reveal their bright bark.

autumn trail running

trail running through silver birches

autumn running

trail running through fallen leaves on a bright autumn day

The smell of bracken is replaced by the earthy scent of fallen leaves and occasionally the sound of a bellowing stag drifts down from the moor as he tries to establish his dominance over the herd.  On clear nights the first frosts form and, for me, the best thing about autumn running is on the cold mornings when still air has condensed in the Hope Valley forming a blanket of cloud whilst the hills above are bathed in sunshine.

morning trail run

frosty morning inversion in the Hope Valley

The dark evenings present opportunities too: out come the head torches and easy trail runs through the woods and moors take on a different excitement as owls screech, sheep stare with glowing eyes and the odd grouse gets wakened from sleep to flap away noisily – a sound guaranteed to quicken the pulse!

head torch running

head torch running

So although I’m sad to say goodbye to the summer it’s good to make the most of the sights, smells and sounds of autumn.  So get out between the October storms and enjoy autumn, for a trail runner or fell runner the season still has a lot to offer.

 

Trail Running at Night

Trail running at night – don’t be afraid!

I’m alert, senses heightened to the sounds and smells around me: an owl hoots away to my left, I notice the musky scent of fox and the damp, earthy smell of the newly fallen, autumn leaves.  Emerging from the trees my eyes are drawn to the faint afterglow of sunset just visible on the western horizon whilst away to the east the moon, big and bright is rising from behind the hill into a small, thin patch of wispy cloud.  This is night running!

the remains of the day on the western horizon

the remains of the day on the western horizon

A small group of us are making the most of the darker evenings, just because it’s dark doesn’t mean you can’t run off road!  Before the moon has chance to rise we turn our head torches off and look up.  Almost all of the day’s cloud has dispersed and as we adjust to the darkness stars come out before our eyes.  We take a few moments to share our knowledge of the various constellations before turning the torches back on and continuing on our nocturnal adventure.

Back into the woods and several pairs of bright, pinpoints of light appear before us – we are being watched!  But we have bravery in numbers and as we get closer the sheep look at us with curiosity as if to wonder what we are doing out after dark.

head torch running

headtorch running

Dropping down to the stream we notice the temperature change, our breath steams and a thin mist is just beginning to form in the colder air.  Our ears deceive us, the stream sounds like a torrent when in fact it is barely shin deep.   We don’t talk, the sounds of nature are enough: the stream, the snap of a twig underfoot, our breathing and our footfalls on the soft earth.

Climbing back up to the moor we snake our way along the ancient hollow-way, cut out hundreds of years ago when men toiled to make a living from this land.  As we emerge we turn around and see the moon again, risen now and casting its silvery light on the landscape.trail running in moonlight

We head back to the road, to our cars, to our homes, but we will return to the wonderful landscape and to the magic of trail running at night.

Fancy a night time trail run? Check out the dates of my next guided runs: http://fellrunningguide.co.uk/courses

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

 

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.

Fell Running in the Peak District

There are lots of reasons why the Peak District is a great location for fell and trail running.

First of all there’s the scenery; from rough open moorlands to pretty limestone dales, each with their own flora and fauna and the stark contrast between the gritstone and limestone landscapes.  Then the variety; tough, steep hill climbs or flat routes around pretty reservoirs or along valley bottoms.  For the competitive runner there are beginner friendly summer races and tough, long, testing challenges.  And all of this is easily accessible from the major road and rail networks.

trail running in the Peak District

fantastic Peak District scenery

If you’d like more information or would like to arrange a guided run, contact me:
info@fellrunningguide.co.uk

Have you tried fell and trail running in the Peak District yet?


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Blue Sky and Birdsong

One of my favourite times for fell running is early in the morning.

On the short drive out to the Peak District, passing cars heading in the other direction I reminded myself how lucky I am to be going for a run when the rest of the world is heading for the office!

Today the skies were blue and although the sun was up it had yet to warm the air and the chill breeze meant that a windproof was needed.  As I was getting changed the distinctive call of a curlew drew my attention and I saw a pair of birds on the moor close to the road.  I love easy runs when I can focus on the natural sights and sounds around me, nature is my earphones!

My run took me along the edge of steep ground with a fantastic view of the Hope Valley.

Running above the Hope Valley

running above the Hope Valley

Crossing the minor road I climbed Higger Tor and crossed its flat summit before dropping off the south side.  Easy running and a few short, steep steps brought me onto the old fort of Carl’s Wark, another flat top with a jumble of gritstone boulders on its southern flank giving way to easier running on a grass, heather and bilberry slope.

skipping over the boulders

skipping over the boulders

I headed downhill aiming to cross the pretty Burbage Brook by means of a hop over the rocks.

crossing Burbage Brook

crossing Burbage Brook

Warmer now I stopped to take off my jacket and spent a couple of moments soaking in the atmosphere: the warm sun, the burbling of the stream and the sound of a cuckoo in the woods to the north.  How wonderful fell running can be!

Setting off again I climbed gradually up to the wide trail that bisects the valley and turned north towards the cuckoo.  The trail gives fantastic views with natural and quarried gritstone edges to the east whilst to the west there is the forest and brook with Carl’s Wark and Higger Tor standing proud beyond.

running below Carl's Wark and Higger Tor

running below Carl’s Wark and Higger Tor

As I neared the head of the valley, from the rocks to my right I heard a different, rarer sound: the high pitched cheep of a Ring Ouzel.  This small, blackbird like migrating bird visits the Peak District crags in summer to breed before heading back to warmer climes in winter.

Leaving the thrush to it’s territorial feud I approached the end of the trail and below Burbage Bridge I crossed the stream again, swinging back towards Higger Tor.

running below Burbage Bridge

crossing the brook below Burbage Bridge

Almost finished, as I approached the car I again noticed the curlews.  I must have been closer to their ground nest this time as they were much more vocal in their calls.  One bird flew noisy circles around me before landing only a few feet away in a determined effort to distract me from its precious home.

Curlew

Curlew

Run finished, and not yet 9.00am.  A morning of blue sky and birdsong and I’m again reminded of how fantastic trail running and fell running in the Peak District can be.

fell running guide logo

Spring Feast

Fell Running is fun again!

After an interminably wet winter it seems that Spring has arrived.  Three consecutive days of blue skies and distant horizons has made running in the hills a pleasure once again and left me hungry for more.

mountain running under blue skies

mountain running under blue skies

Like a starving man at a banquet I have gorged on the season’s new promise, feasting on the mountains of Snowdonia under crystal skies.

Edale Skyline run

sun on my face

The Edale Skyline, relishing now the challenge of its energy sapping peat and delighting in the views across Kinder.

enjoying spring running

enjoying spring running

And closer to home the trails of Burbage and the splendid vista westwards towards Win Hill and Mam Tor.

And today as I ran away from Stanage Edge, warmed for once by sun rather than exertion, the sweetest dessert – the cry of a Curlew – surely a sign that the long, wet winter is behind us.