Running Free, a new book from the author of Feet in the Clouds.
Richard Askwith tells of his journey through different ages of running, from his early years as a time and outcome obsessed runner pounding the tarmac to what he is today, a rural runner motivated by the pursuit of happiness. Turning his back on the modern world of corporate branded, packaged and regimented running he expresses what running now means to him.
At times poetic and humorous he describes his running adventures both abroad and in the countryside around his Northamptonshire home with his dog Nutmeg. Where once running was about personal bests he now takes pleasure in nature: the sight of a Buzzard or the dew soaked grass on a dawn run.
He eloquently captures the essence of that most basic of human instincts which we all felt as children: running for pleasure, running free.
If you enjoyed Feet in the Clouds then reading Running Free is a must.
One of my favourite runs in the Peak District is the trail run from Ladybower Reservoir to the top of Win Hill.
It rises 280 metres in just over 3km on good terrain. It is never too steep to force you to walk and so is a great training run. The views from the summit are probably the best in the Peak District and from the top you can carry on westwards to Kinder, drop south west towards Hope to climb its twin; Lose Hill or even retrace your steps and add another couple of hill reps!
the trail running route up Win Hill
Come with me on a video tour and see one example of what makes the Peak District such a fantastic location for trail running.
The Salomon XA Pro 3D is a trail running shoe rather than a fell shoe that I would normally wear.
However I do run on trails and wearing a more aggressive sole is sometimes overkill so with Salomon’s good reputation for their range of running shoes I was keen to put these to the test.
green and clean
First impressions on opening the box were good, a nice bright green colour to contrast with the leaden winter skies! The fit seemed fine, with my usual size 6.5 comparing similarly to other shoes and the asymmetrical laces ensured a snug fit. One thing I did notice was that they felt very stable, almost as if they had a wider, flatter base than I was used to. The Quicklace system is easy to tension but then a bit fiddly to tuck the end away.
I first wore them for a regular 8 mile training run over a mix of terrain including hard packed trail with some muddy sections and puddles, uneven stony trail and a wet, grassy uphill stretch. The XA Pros felt comfortable straight away and gave a reassuring grip on all but the muddiest sections where a pair of Speedcross or Fellcross would have been more at home. The protective rubber toe cap would be a good feature on looser, rockier trails where there is a risk of stubbing your toe. The extremely breathable upper did let the water in but that’s an accepted hazard of British winter running – it will be ideal if we have another long hot summer!
One feature that I did really like is the flush tongue which means that mud and grit stays on the front of the shoe rather than getting in down behind the laces. This makes cleaning the shoe easier than with a normal tongue.
at home on hard packed trail
Satisfied with their performance on trail terrain I decided to try them out over more fell running type ground. They performed reasonably well although I found it hard to contour on steep ground due to the stiff foot-bed and wide base whilst running downhill on wet grass was interesting! This is a bit of an unfair criticism as they aren’t designed for this type of terrain.
They did however cope well with a dusting of wet snow that fell during my run.
coping with a dusting of wet snow
I wasn’t keen on the Quicklace system, the laces were covered with gritty mud at the end and I had difficulty releasing the lace. I prefer good old fashioned laces but I’m sure it’s something I would get used to and maybe isn’t as much of a problem in dry weather.
a not so clean pair of heels
Overall I would say the Salomon XA Pro 3D is a good trail shoe for runners seeking style, breathability, stability and protection. It is perfectly suited to some of the Peak District’s trails and I would use it as a training shoe for less technical, drier terrain. I would even consider wearing it for dry, summer fell races where an aggressive sole isn’t required.
Sometimes the weather doesn’t inspire me to go running at all. But today was different.
We’ve had more than our fair share of wet and wind this winter. Running under dull grey skies, head down vainly trying to avoid the rain and finishing each run cold, soggy, caked in mud. So today it was great to wake up to a clear, frosty morning, the sort of day that makes fell running a joy!
I headed off to my favourite playground hoping to be inspired by the beautiful Peak District scenery. I wasn’t disappointed:
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!
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: 112 calories and 20g of carbohydrate
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.
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!!
It’s cold, wet and windy and dark by 4pm. Doesn’t particularly inspire you to go fell and trail running does it!
But what’s the alternative: Sitting at home watching telly with that nagging, guilty feeling that you haven’t been training? Or paying for a gym membership to run on the DREADmill? (set on an incline so you can pretend you’re running up the Ben!)
So what can we do to help motivate us to get out the door? Here’s what helps me:
Get kitted out. You’ve heard people say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing? Well they’re wrong! there’s some particularly grim weather, usually found on a bleak hillside miles from where you left the car!
Being cold and wet equals miserable at best and in danger at worst. Yes fell running is a cheap sport requiring minimal kit but it’s best enjoyed in the knowledge that your waterproof jacket will stand up to the rigours of the horizontal rain. Get the best waterproofs you can afford, (if that means economising by buying cheaper base layers, socks, underpants, going hungry, no Christmas presents for the kids etc then so be it!) After running shoes it is the thing I would spend most money on. I have 3 decent running waterproof jackets; an OMM Kamleika smock, an Inov-8 Race Elite Stormshell and a Montane Minimus smock, all of which I recommend.
Minimus in a hail storm – a day when I wish I’d worn my leggings!
I rarely wear more than a long sleeved base layer under my outer layer which is fine whilst you’re moving and generating heat. However if you need to stop for any reason you’ll soon get cold so I carry an extra layer. My favourite is my OMM Rotor Smock which, made from primaloft offers excellent insulation for its weight.
OMM Rotor smock
I hate cold feet. You know those first couple of minutes when you set off for a run and try to avoid all the puddles in a vain attempt to keep your feet dry. You know full well that they’ll soon be wet but you try anyway! I find that wet doesn’t need to mean cold. I use SealSkinz socks which claim to be waterproof but in my experience only remain so for a handful of runs after which they allow in some water so don’t keep your feet completely dry – more moist yet warm. They are quite expensive but what price warm feet? Thin racing socks are a definite no no!
Likewise cold hands, I remember a long winter race when I couldn’t grip the zipper on my bumbag to get to a gel, my hands were that cold. I’ve since learnt that a cheap pair of fleece gloves under a thin windproof pair works quite well. On really wet days I wear Tuff Bag mittens over the top which are great for warmth but not so for dexterity so map and compass work, opening food etc. becomes tricky. Also they don’t mix well with rough gritstone so no hands on rock scrambling adventures if you want them to last.
I’m not too fond of a cold head either so any form of hat is a must but nothing too bulky in case you want to take it off and stuff it in a pocket. In dry cold weather I go for a Buff with a second one around my neck that can be pulled up over my nose and mouth to make a balaclava. I also have a windproof beanie which I wear in wet weather. It doesn’t keep my head dry but I can live with that. I don’t like running with a hood up so would only use my jacket hood in the worst rain.
Although I carry waterproof bottoms for emergencies I rarely wear them on the run. What I do swear by are my Lowe Alpine Powerstretch leggings – which even when wet are comfortably warm. They can sometimes be too warm so if it’s not too cold then a pair of close fitting tights will do. I have some cheap Decathlon ones plus some Ron Hills (not the old school blue ones with red stripes!) Anything that doesn’t absorb water will do.
In summer I run with a bumbag but winter running requires more kit so I prefer a rucksack. This allows me to take the extra clothing I need plus extra food and some bits of emergency kit (see here). I use an Inov-8 Race Pro as I find rucksacks with zip pockets that can be reached whilst on the move are best as they allow quick access to food, map, compass etc.
Don’t be put off by snow. Most of our winters are wet and windy but in recent years we’ve had snow. This puts some people off running as they see it as dangerous. I see it as a chance for adventure!
Get a grip. For me there is only one shoe for winter conditions. From boggy ground to deep snow, it has to be the Inov-8 Mudclaw.
Mudclaws – must haves for winter fell running
MicroSpikes give a reassuring grip on ice and compacted snow and can be slipped over your trainers in seconds and are easily carried if not in use. Get a pair of these and you’ll be longing to get out in the snow like you did when you were a kid!
getting to grips with winter running
Running in falling snow or hail is the hardest thing to deal with as you instinctively close your eyes to protect your eyeballs (lovely soft snowflakes actually really, really hurt if you get them in your eyes!) I use ski goggles to prevent this.
Embrace the night. The long summer evenings are a fading memory but there’s no reason not to continue running at night. Night time fell runs are an adventure so persuade your mates that it is a good idea and head out to the trails and fells. You needn’t go far, even a run through the local park or woods adds a bit of variety and a new challenge. Choose somewhere you are familiar with at first as it is very easy to become disorientated in the dark.
head torch running
The first time you see sheep’s eyes staring back at you or you startle a sleeping grouse can be a shock but you do get used to it. (Actually I haven’t yet got used to stepping on grouse but I’m ok with the reflecting eyes!) So you’ll need a decent head torch and there are plenty to choose from nowadays. You can spend a fortune on programmable, reactive light models like the Petzl Nao but that’s probably overkill unless you’re doing some seriously remote running and need long battery life. You don’t need to light up the whole hillside with hundreds of lumens unless you’re in Mountain Rescue! My LED Lenser H7R does a great job and is USB rechargeable so I can always set out with it fully charged. Be aware that some modern torches don’t get gradually dimmer – they simply turn off when the batteries get low, something I found out to my cost! So remember to take spare batteries and unless you can find them in your pack, take the old ones out and put the new ones in all in pitch darkness with cold hands and in a howling gale you’ll need an emergency light or a partner with a torch.
Strength in numbers. Unless you’re very experienced it might be best to do your remote winter running with a partner or group. Make an arrangement with some mates to go for a run and stick to it – whatever the weather! It’s easy to decide against it if it’s just you but you’ll be more likely to run if you feel you are letting the side down. Get a gang together and share the love (of the rain) Having a few of you together is also safer should something go wrong.
share the fun and stay safe!
Time for a quickie. Even the hardiest of runners will not relish going outdoors when it’s dark and lashing it down. It’s here that you need to be flexible with your training. If you’ve planned for a long run and the weather’s awful, go for a quick one instead. A quick 20 minute tempo run will have a good training effect and keep you warmer than a steady plod.
So let’s face it winter’s here and there’s nothing we can do about it, but there are things we can do to make fell and trail running more appealing. So stick with it this winter, you never know we might even have a few days like this:
Inov-8 Roclite have been my shoe of choice this year.
I’ve used them for working, training and racing. Unfortunately the rough gritstone, coarse heather and acidic peat of the Peak District have taken their toll and after 878 kilometres (I know thanks to SportTracks training software which calculated it!) the uppers have given up the ghost!
Interestingly, compared to the uppers the sole has fared pretty well with quite a lot of tread remaining.
there’s miles left in them lad!
The shoes have done me well and have had some great adventures:
Roclites doing what they were designed for
And have seen some stunning running conditions:
blue sky running
struggling on Ennerdale fell race – me, not the shoes!
So I reckon that I’ve had my moneys worth out of them and whilst I’m always reluctant to throw my favourite bits of kit away, the good news is….
I’ve got a shiny new pair!
ooh – new shoes!
For out and out bog and mud I wear Inov-8 Mudclaws but for mixed fell and trail running I don’t think you can beat Inov-8 Roclites. So I’m off to hit the fells with my new shoes – it will be a shame to get them dirty!
I have a little playground in the Peak District that is perfect for trail running.
between the boulders
Some days I don’t want to train hard, I want a recovery run or an easy session. Sometimes the weather is just too good to waste!
On days like this I exercise my inner child; boulder hopping, avoiding puddles, balancing up steep rocks trying to avoid using my hands, dodging shadows and hurdling fallen trees as I run through the woods.
shadows and tall trees
So get out there, find your playground and release your inner kid. Trail running is fun!
So the clocks have changed and our trail and fell running is limited to daytime – we can’t possibly run off road in the dark can we?
Of course we can – fell running in the dark is great! All we need is a decent head torch and a bit of common sense. I’ve got a selection of head torches, the latest being LED Lenser’s new SEO5
So what do I look for in a running head torch? Well: bright, light and comfortable would sum it up. Years ago when I first tried fell running at night it was difficult to get a head torch that was bright enough without it being huge and cumbersome with a battery the size of a malt loaf! With today’s technology bright and light is possible at the same time.
My first impression of the SEO5 was that it was only slightly bigger than my old Petzl Tikka – I just hoped it would be brighter. On the scales it weighed in at 104g (nice to see that’s below the claimed 105g on the packaging)
LED Lenser SEO5 on the scales
It is powered by 3x AAA batteries housed in the light unit itself so no separate battery pack on the back of the head. The on / off / mode switch is a small button on the top of the torch. The torch came pre assembled with headband (removable for washing) and batteries plus a spare set of batteries – all Duracell too rather than some cheap rubbish which was a nice touch.
After spending 5 minutes trying to decipher the not very well translated manual I gave up and resorted to pressing the button numerous times for different durations and figured out that you had the choice of:
Bright (180 lumens) Dim (20 lumens) or Flashing. It is also possible to select a brightness anywhere between bright and dim. There is also a separate red Led that gives steady or flashing option. In steady white mode a turn of the housing around the lens allows you to alter the beam from a wide circle to a focussed point.
The headband is easily adjustable to allow for use over a hat and is just one single strap around the head (nothing over the top). This gave a good snug fit and despite vigorous head shaking the torch stayed firmly in place, a reassuring sign as the prospect of it coming off and tumbling down the hill in pitch dark isn’t a good one!
No separate battery pack means a comfortable fit
The light can be swivelled down on a ratchet through 8 positions if you need to look at things closer to hand; for example whilst map reading, and the ratchet is quite firm and it seems unlikely that the light will droop whilst on the run – a problem with some torches.
On test whilst night time fell running in the Peak District the torch performed really well giving ample brightness for the type of moorland and woodland terrain I was on. I prefer to run on floodlight mode giving a wider pool of light but sometimes a focussed beam is needed to pick out distant objects such gates or walls. The SEO5 on full power coped with this need, a simple twist allowing me to go from flood to spot and back again.
Bright and light
If I was to be picky and find fault with the SEO5 it would be that the on off switch and focussing beam are tricky to operate with gloved hands (however this is the case with several torches) and it takes a while to remember the sequence of presses and holds required to switch between the modes (again no real difference to other torches and not really an issue once you get used to it)
I haven’t tested the claimed 7 hr battery life on full power (25 hrs on low) but unless the claim is very inaccurate the torch will have enough juice to last all but the longest night run. If I’m unsure how much life there is left in my standard batteries I prefer to use rechargeables and set off all charged up to avoid being caught out.
Tip: If you are taking spare batteries with the intention of changing them “in the field” make sure you take a secondary light such as a key fob light. It will be almost impossible to find your spares, take the back off your torch, remove the old batteries, put the new ones in the right way round… all whilst in the wind and rain, with cold hands in the dark!
So whilst it might not be your chosen torch for an extended overnight winter outing such as the High Peak Marathon the LED Lenser SEO5 is perfectly suited to shorter night time fell and trail runs. Bright, light and comfortable it is.
LED Lenser SEO
If you would like to experience an off road night run contact me to arrange – I might even lend you the SEO5!