running in deep snow

10 things you need for winter fell running

Trail and Fell Running can be a bit more difficult in winter.

Short days, darkness, bad weather, snow and ice; all these could dissuade you from getting out onto your favourite summertime trails but with the right kit and a bit of preparation you can still enjoy off road running right through the winter months. Here are my 10 essential bits of winter kit that allow me to carry on fell running all year round.

Waterproof Jacket

It’s Britain, it’s winter and therefore it’s going to be wet and windy at some point.  These conditions, more so than dry cold, are the ones that can lead to hypothermia and so it is worth investing in a jacket that will protect you from the driving rain. There are plenty of decent jackets on the market from the very small and lightweight Montane Minimus and Inov-8 150 Stormshell which I use for short runs to the slightly more robust OMM Kamleika and Raidlight Stretch Shell which I choose for longer, slower runs.

waterproof running jackets

a decent waterproof is essential

Fell Running Shoes

Those lovely, dry, summer trails can turn into mud baths in the depths of winter and steep, wet, grass requires a shoe with a decent amount of grip. My winter shoe of choice is the Inov-8 Mudclaw as its aggressive sole lets me run confidently on even the boggiest ground.

Inov-8 Mudclaw grip

Inov-8 Mudclaw’s aggressive grip – ideal for winter

Head Torch

Just because it goes dark before you get home from work doesn’t mean that you can’t get out and enjoy an evening run on the trails and fells. Of course you’ll need to see where you’re going and so a head torch is vital. You don’t need to break the bank, Alpkit’s Gamma, Viper and Arc or Unilite’s HV H4 are cheap and adequate for short runs on non technical terrain. If you want to hit the high fells or mountains you’ll need something a bit brighter with a longer battery life. Torches such as the Petzl Nao, Suprabeam V4 or Hope R1 LED are more expensive, good quality torches for more serious nocturnal running adventures.

head torches for night running

head torches for night running

Warm Layer

You can stay warm even when running in the worst weather because your body produces heat as you exercise, but if you need to stop or slow down for any reason you can become cold very quickly. Carrying an extra, warm layer gives you that added bit of comfort and safety. I use the OMM Rotor Smock which is incredibly light yet offers a high warmth to weight ratio and is effective even when damp.

OMM Rotor Smock, excellent warm layer

OMM Rotor Smock – an excellent warm layer

Decent Gloves

Not only are cold hands uncomfortable they also make it hard and sometimes impossible to do simple tasks such as tying a lace, undoing a zip or opening food. Dry, toasty hands are good for morale! I like to layer my gloves starting with a cheap pair from Decathlon and adding a pair of Powerstretch wind proof gloves on top. In wet weather I use Goretex Tuff Bag Mitts over the top, these are very light and pack away to a small size.

winter running gloves

warm hands are happy hands – waterproof mitts & windproof gloves

Debris Socks / Gaiters

Don’t you hate that feeling when you run through deep snow and it gets into the gap between the top of your shoe and your foot? It then tends to compact into a lump of ice which you try to hook out with your finger, inevitably pushing it deeper into your shoe! I’ve found that wearing Inov-8 debris socks prevents this happening, they are a comfortable sock with an extra piece of fabric that folds down and attaches to the shoe to stop anything getting inside.

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

Emergency Kit

I still like to run in more remote areas even in winter in which case I’ll take a bit more emergency kit with me just in case I or anyone I’m with is forced to stop. In addition to the usual map, compass, whistle and mobile phone I carry a survival bag such as a Blizzard Bag, a torch and some spare food.

Blizzard Bag in use

Blizzard Bag in use

Rucksack

This extra, winter kit is obviously going to take up more room and so in winter I opt for a running rucksack rather than a bumbag. There are loads to choose from, I use the Montane Jaws 10 which is a very comfortable vest type pack made from water resistant material that helps keep the contents dry.

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Micro Spikes

I love getting out running on the trails in really cold conditions, even when the ground is icy.  I use Snowline SnowSpikes; stainless steel spikes attached to a rubber cradle which simply slips over your running shoe. They can be fitted in seconds and really do work, allowing you to run on hard packed snow and ice.

Snow Spikes for running on ice

Snowline SnowSpikes for running on ice

Ski Goggles

If you’ve ever been hit in the eye by a hailstone you’ll know it hurts. Even a soft, fluffy snowflake in the eye is a painful experience! If you’re running into the wind whilst it’s snowing you’ll find it almost impossible to keep your eyes open and you’ll probably end up trying to run with a hand in front of your face in an attempt to shield your eyes. I carry ski goggles if I am expecting to it to snow and these mean that I can keep running even in a heavy snow storm.

running in ski goggles

ski goggles for eye protection

So, winter’s coming but you can still get out trail and fell running – just get your kit on!

running in deep snow

bad weather? No, just challenging conditions!

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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Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (2015) Review

I’ve had numerous pairs of Inov-8 Mudclaws over the years.

For me they are the shoe for winter training and racing in boggy conditions (and there are quite a lot of those in the Peak District!)  My present pair, the yellow version of the 300 have served me well having done almost 1400 km and so I was interested to see that Inov-8 had introduced a new version for 2015.

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (2015 edition)

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (2015 edition)

What’s New?
Well straight away the garish yellow has been replaced by a sporty blue / red colour scheme but this isn’t just the same shoe in a different colour.  Closer inspection reveals the main difference; the sole and heel design.  The latest model shares the same platform as the Mudclaw 265, having a flatter sole profile and without the flared heel of the yellow 300.  The distinctive bulge under the heel has gone.

flatter sole / heel profile on the new Mudclaw

flatter sole / heel profile on the new Mudclaw

The heel cup is less rounded and slightly lower and I found that that it doesn’t extend quite as high up the achilles tendon.  This could well be good news for runners who suffer from achilles pain.

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300

different heel shape, good news for tendon sufferers?

The rand around the lower part of the upper is now stitched rather than glued / bonded as on the 265 and previous 300 model and I wonder whether this will stand up to abrasion from rough Gritstone boulders and abrasive heather as well as the bonded upper does.  Time will no doubt tell.

Mudclaw 300

stitched uppers replace bonding – will it last?

What’s Not New?
The legendary grip from the distinctive 8mm lugs remains as does the 6mm drop as indicated by the double chevron.  The synthetic uppers are again treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating and the precision fit (ideal for runners with a narrower forefoot) of the previous Mudclaw 300 is retained.

The shoe gets its name from its weight, the standard size 8.5 weighing 300g hence Mudclaw 300.  On the scales my pair of size 6.5s weighed 483g (does that make mine Mudclaw 241 and a halfs?)

Mudclaw 300 on scales

size 6.5 weigh 483g a pair

The shoes felt comfortable straight out of the box and reassuringly grippy on my first run with them over waterlogged, muddy fields (noticeably more so than my well worn current pair!)

Conclusion
To me the new Mudclaw looks more like the 265 than the existing 300.  It has a different sole and thus feels a little more stable particularly when descending. However I felt that the previous rounded heel was a bit better for steep contouring – I suppose you can’t have both.  To wear, it feels like the 265 too.  The 6mm drop is the main thing that sets it apart from its lighter stable mate and more in common with the previous 300.  I guess in reality it sits somewhere between the two.

the new Mudclaw sits between the 265 and the 300

the new Mudclaw sits between the 265 and the 300

Whatever version it is, whatever you want to call it, it is undoubtedly a Mudclaw.  It gives great traction allowing you to keep going on steep, slippery, muddy climbs and the confidence to tackle muddy and wet, grassy descents at race pace.

Mudclaw 300 new

doing what they do best – clawing at mud!

The Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 is a great shoe for wet, muddy, boggy conditions.  I shall certainly be wearing it this season.
The range of Inov-8 kit can be found at www.inov-8.com

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Motivation for Winter Running

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.

Montane Minimus smock

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

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!

deep drifts

adventure running

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.

Inov-8 Mudclaws

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!

running with MicroSpikes

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.

winter kit needed

eye protection

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

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.

stay safe!

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:

the joy of winter running

the joy of winter running

Happy Running!

 fell running guide logo

Keep the snow out of your shoes

Inov-8 Debris Sock Review

I recently won a pair of Inov-8 Debris Socks.  Designed to keep grit and stones from getting into your shoes I promptly put them to the back of the drawer thinking they’d come in handy next summer.

snow wading

shoes full of snow!

However during last month’s running when I yet again ended up with shoes full of snow I remembered that I had them and wondered if they’d work in snow.

The socks are basically just that; nice, comfortable Coolmax sock but with an extra bit of sock that folds down over the laces of your shoes and hooks onto the lace with a metal hook – just as with normal gaiters.  I wore them over a pair of thin wool socks and pulled them up over the bottom of my leggings – this was mainly so they could be seen on the photos, I would normally wear the leggings over the top.

They have 2 thin plastic hoops that act as stirrups, going under the shoe to prevent the socks from riding up.

inov8 debris sock

hooked onto the laces

inov8 debris sock

securely attached with stirrups

Using the socks with a pair of Inov-8 Mudclaws, the lugs gave a secure grip for the stirrups and I experimented with several different positions (under heel, under instep etc.) all of which seemed to work.

So, how did I get on?  Well basically they did what I wanted them to do which was preventing snow getting into the gap between shoe and foot.

inov8 debris sock

effectively keeping snow out

inov8 debris sock

no snow in my shoes!

 

Running through deep snow lead to snow building up on the sock material  but not getting behind the tongue or into the shoe itself.

As with any wool mix sock they are not waterproof and my feet did eventually become damp, although not cold.

Another advantage was that they prevented the laces from freezing up which made untying them at the end of the run easier than normal.

The one thing I did find was that they were fiddly to get off with cold hands after the run.  My fingers were too cold to pull the stirrups off and I found that taking them off whilst they were still attached to the shoe was the best method.

I have since used the Debris Socks on all runs where I have anticipated deep snow and I’m glad that I discovered them.  I’m now looking forward to using them on dry, dusty summer runs!

Snow Blows

Fell running in the Peak District isn’t always about blue skies & sunshine.

Today the wind howled, snow blew horizontally and the world was reduced to cold shades of grey.
cold shades of grey
This was no day to be out on the high fells, even at low level the wind’s icy fingers found their way through the smallest chink in my armour of windproof clothing, feeling for, finding then chilling any exposed skin.
Facing the wind, big damp gobs of snow numbed my face and drove into my eyes.  
Last week I learned a hard lesson when in even worse conditions on a remote hillside I had wished for my ski goggles lying unused back home.  Today I had anticipated the worst and packed them and it didn’t take long, running semi blind into the fusillade, before I stopped to put them on.
eye protection
Other than the blowing wind, running conditions weren’t too bad. It seemed that my route, exposed as it was, wasn’t producing those horrible, energy sapping drifts where you disappear up to your knees (and beyond), rather it was scouring the ground leaving a thin compacted layer. I had chosen a short tour of Burbage, using the snow covered Ringinglow road for the last 2 kilometres.  Here the few vehicles that had passed had compacted the snow into a thin icy layer and I stopped to don microspikes over my Mudclaws.
microspikes
Once down towards Lady Canning’s plantation the trees afforded some protection although large flakes still sped horizontally past – whirling away in their own mad dash, racing each other into oblivion – as I ran down the road.
blowing snow
The video shows a short section of the run:

To book a Peak District guided run or navigation training visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk